Wrong Turn: Chapter 1

Lieutenant Lucinda Pierce had one foot across the threshold of the homicide department when the voice boomed out, ‘My office, Pierce!’

She watched the back of Captain Marcus Holland receding down the hall. For the first time, she noticed that the red bristles on his head were speckled with white and a spot on the crown of his head was thinning. She shook her head and sighed. It was no time to think about the ageing of her commanding officer. The order had been given; she’d lost track of the number of times she heard those words. They were always the precursor to bad news. She followed him down the hall with apprehension dragging at her heels.

As she entered his office, Holland was scanning through a stack of file folders on his desk. Most of them had worn-out, tattered edges and bent tabs as if they’d been wrapped in rubber bands for quite some time. Without looking up, he said, ‘Please have a seat, Pierce.’

Lucinda started. Holland never said ‘please’. Must be really bad news, she thought. Still, her instinctive urge to remain standing whenever she was told to sit down, kept her on her feet.

Holland looked up at her. ‘Please, Pierce,’ he said, gesturing to the chair in front of his desk.

Lucinda looked at him. No throbbing in his temples. No redness blotching across his cheek bones. No evident signs of anger. He looked more defeated and sorrowful than irritated or wrathful. Definitely not his typical demeanor after calling her into his presence, raising Lucinda’s level of apprehension but stirring her curiosity, at the same time. She slid into the chair and regarded him with wary fascination, her fight or flight response on high alert.

Holland looked back down at his desk, fiddled with his files and cleared his throat. She’d never known him to be at a loss for words unless he was too enraged to speak. ‘Sir?’

He cleared his throat again, raised his head and twisted his neck in the collar of his shirt. ‘Do you remember when you joined Homicide, Pierce?’

‘Yes,’ she said recalling that dreadful, pivotal moment captured by Court TV cameras. Lieutenant John Boswell had been on the stand all morning, and for most of the afternoon, in the trial of Marsha Sherman who’d been charged with first-degree murder in the death of her stepdaughter Emily. The judge had decided to dismiss the court for the day and leave Boswell’s cross-examination for the morning. Boswell had risen from his chair, then the color had drained from his face and he’d slumped back down. He’d struggled to speak as his face turned gray and he’d keeled forward, his head making a loud thump as it hit the rail of the witness box.

Heart attack. Boswell was dead before he reached the hospital. A thirty-year law enforcement veteran with more than twenty years in Homicide, he’d brought some of the most dangerous men in their jurisdiction to justice. He’d survived bullet wounds, head trauma and countless tense situations in the field. So many risky situations; so many opportunities to die and yet it was the betrayal by his own body that ended his life. If it weren’t for his death, she wouldn’t have gotten the job – at least, not at that time, and she had to admit, maybe never.

‘Yes, sir. I most certainly do. It was because of Boz. That bothered me a lot at the time; in fact, it still does when I think about it.’

‘Do you remember what happened after Boz died?’

‘There was a delay in the trial. Then, the funeral. I escorted Mrs Boswell that day. When I finished with my duties, I got the message that I was wanted in your office.’

‘Did you know why?’

‘No, not really. Frankly, sir, I assumed that as Lieutenant Boswell’s next-in-line, you wanted a report on how well his family was holding up; I thought you wanted to know if there was anything you could do. I was more than a little surprised when you offered me a position in Homicide. I really wanted it, but I thought it would be years – even with the vacancy created by Boz’s death.’

‘Remember I told you that Boz had spoken highly of you and that you were on my shortlist for an opening?’

Lucinda nodded, ‘Yes, sir.’

‘I didn’t tell you the complete story at that time and I never planned on telling you. But now, there have been some developments that make it necessary – regrettable, but necessary.’

Lucinda’s brow furrowed. Would he ever get to the point?

‘Remember Sergeant Carmody?’

She remembered him only vaguely. ‘The one who left about a month after Boz died?’

‘Yes. He took a job in Homicide down in Raleigh. He was not pleased that he was passed over in favor of you. We lost a good man when he left; he’s done some good work down there.’

‘And now he wants to come back? And he wants my job?’ The thought flew out of Lucinda’s mouth before she even had a chance to absorb it.

‘No. No, Pierce. Nothing like that. Please bear with me.’ Holland pulled a hand across his face, leaving a weary expression in its wake. ‘At the time, Carmody was one of my top two choices. I was also considering hiring from the outside. Getting some fresh blood into the department. And, honestly, you were the third option – but you were a distant third.’

Red tinged Lucinda’s cheeks. That bald statement of fact wasn’t all that surprising but it certainly was embarrassing and humbling. She had a thousand questions in her head but she sat mutely waiting for Holland to continue.

Holland sighed. ‘I’d already decided that I needed a replacement for Boz sooner rather than later. I planned on Carmody taking his place. I was going to tell him after the funeral. But before I left for the service, once the DA walked through my door with the Chief of Police, everything changed.’

‘Something was wrong with Carmody?’

‘No. Absolutely nothing. He had excellent performance reviews. His outside life was squeaky clean. By rights, he was next in line to move up to Homicide. He earned it. But the DA and police chief convinced me that there was something bigger at stake. The judge had ruled on the motion submitted by Martha Sherman’s defense team. He’d thrown out the testimony of Detective Boswell since the defendant no longer had the opportunity to cross-examine him. The state had to present that evidence all over again. Of course, that meant you.’

‘Yes. I’d been assisting Boz since the first day of the investigation. I was with him all the way. I knew the case inside and out. I was on the witness list from the beginning but the DA had said he wouldn’t be calling me because Boz could cover it all. I was ready and willing already. Did he think I needed to be bribed with a promotion to do a good job on the stand?’

‘No. He didn’t have a doubt that you’d do an excellent job. In fact, he remarked on the eye patch you wore back then as something that would add to your gravitas while simultaneously tugging at the sympathies of the jurors.’

Lucinda rolled her eye. ‘Then what are you saying, captain?’

‘He insisted that I give the job to you and the chief concurred. They believed it was vital that whoever took the stand to deliver the evidence was a detective – someone who would be addressed that way by the state. And if the defense refused to use that honorific with you, they could appeal to the female majority on the jury by pointing out that lack of respect at every opportunity.’

Lucinda’s palms flew to her temples, her fingers sticking through her hair on either side. This was awful. In a quiet voice, she whispered, ‘I only got the job so the state could use me as a political tool in the courtroom? I got the job because my gender was right – not because of anything I’d done?’

‘Not exactly, Pierce. No matter who assisted Boz on that case, male or female, they would have found a spin for it. The DA was just using what you were to their best advantage. They were determined to get a conviction in that case and they knew you were the only person who could get them there.’

‘And you went along with this?’

‘You’ve got to understand, Pierce. Andrew Sherman, the dead girl’s father, could apply a lot of pressure. He was powerful, wealthy, and a major political contributor. He wanted his second, and soon to be ex, wife to spend the rest of her life behind bars for killing his daughter. I really had no wiggle room.’

‘Really, captain,’ she sneered.

‘Really, Pierce,’ he said giving her a hard stare before continuing. ‘They did give me an out, though. They said after the trial was over, I could demote you as fast as I promoted you. And they’d back me up all the way.’

Lucinda exhaled sharply through her nose and pursed her lips. She was well past the embarrassment and humility phase now. She was flat-out pissed. She moved her focus away from the captain and stared at the wall behind him.

‘Well, I didn’t, Pierce, did I?’

Lucinda turned her head towards him then jerked it back facing the wall. She didn’t trust herself to speak. Too often words she’d spoken in the heat of the moment had come back and knocked her off her feet. She was trying to get some control over her temper, but it wasn’t easy.

‘I didn’t because I didn’t believe it was fair. You did perform admirably in the courtroom. The state did get a conviction. It only seemed right to give you the opportunity to prove yourself.’

Lucinda jerked back. ‘Or fall on my face?’

‘Yes, Pierce. Or fall on your face. I gave you control of your own destiny and quite frankly, I think that is significant. And you did prove yourself. Every time. Never once did you give me reason to regret my decision.’

‘Oh, stop, captain, you know that isn’t true. Stop patronizing me.’

‘OK, Pierce, there were times when you made me doubt the wisdom of my decision. You caused me to question it from time to time; but in the end, you always came out on top. Not for one moment did I ever regret offering you the job.’

‘OK, I’ll take your word on that, sir,’ she said, not really certain whether she should believe him or not. ‘But why are you telling me all of this now?’

‘The body of Emily Sherman has been found.’

‘That’s wonderful – I thought we’d never find her.’

‘Actually, the circumstances surrounding the discovery of the body are a bit problematic for all of us.’

Lucinda tilted her head to the side. Why would he be conflicted by this? Andrew Sherman would finally be able to bury his daughter. Isn’t that what we always wanted – to bring a missing victim home? ‘I don’t understand, sir.’

‘Emily Sherman is now part of the Mack Rogers case.’

‘What? That is ridiculous. Why would anyone come to that conclusion?’

‘Last night, the forensic anthropologist identified one of the skeletonized bodies you found in the basement.’

‘No! That can’t be true.’ Lucinda jumped to her feet and rested her hands on Holland’s desk. ‘It couldn’t be her. It just couldn’t.’

‘It was, Lucinda. The forensic odontologist suspected it when he compared the dental X-rays, but couldn’t be positive about his identification because of the rodent damage to the skull that dislocated some of her teeth. But the DNA results are in now. There’s absolutely no doubt that one of the bodies in that basement belonged to Emily Sherman. And very, very little doubt that Martha Sherman was wrongfully convicted.’