Fool Me Twice
By Kevin G. Chapman
Part 1 –
The body was still wet when Mike Stoneman bent down to examine the dried blood clotted into the dead man’s thick black hair. There was a good sized gash in the scalp, and a small lump, which might have been bigger if he hadn’t drowned in the swimming pool immediately after hitting his head. A splash of blood was still clinging to the blue painted concrete lip of the pool – probably where his head made contact. The deck around the pool was teeming now with uniformed police, the departing EMT crew, and at least one female journalist, who was flirting with one of the EMTs. Mike’s thought was, “who let all these people into my crime scene?”
“Officer,” Mike barked at the closest uniform. “Get these people back off the pool deck. I don’t want any more shoes trampling my evidence.” And when the officer hesitated, he shouted, “Now, officer! Please.” He had to remind himself to say please.
“Is the Coroner here yet?” he inquired of his partner, Dave Curry, who had been elevated to Detective status only a month earlier.
“I don’t think so, Mike,” he responded, then quickly added, “but I’ll go check” when he saw Stoneman’s unhappy glare. He hurried into the house, which was crowded with neighbors, officers, reporters, and a mortician who had already arrived to claim the body. Mike took a tour around the expansive back yard, then went into the house in search of the sole witness to the night’s events.
“Is that the daughter,” Mike asked Dave casually, motioning to the crowd around a plush velvet sofa on one side of the living room.
“Oh, yeah,” Dave leered in response as he whipped out a small notebook. “Miss Susan Fenton. Age sixteen. Only child of Stuart and Eleanor Fenton. Mother died a little over a year ago. Ovarian Cancer. Very nasty. Father works – worked -- on Wall Street. Long hours. The neighbors say the kid is pretty wild – lots of parties here in the house. She’s seeing a shrink since the mother died. Pretty messed up, in other words – even before tonight.”
Mike approached the sofa and told the female officer who had been keeping the assembled riff-raff away that he would take it from here. He dropped to one knee so that he was on eye-level with the daughter and introduced himself. Mike was gentle with the girl, whose red puffy eyes showed all the signs of lingering tears. She had a scuff mark and a bruise on her right cheek, and a gash under her left eye that had been patched with a Band-Aid. Mike recalled the large gold and diamond ring on the hand of the dead man by the pool. That gash could easily have been made by a backhand slap. But Mike didn’t want to get ahead of himself.
Susan Fenton, through tears and choked breaths, told Mike that her father was seldom at home, particularly since her mother’s death. When he was home, he drank a lot, and got angry with his daughter for, as she put it, “everything.” He wasn’t happy that she dropped out of her expensive private school in Manhattan, or that she had friends over to the house when he wasn’t home. She volunteered that she had been seeing a psychiatrist since her mother’s death and that she was on anti-depressant medication. “I guess I may need to up the dosage, huh?” she said with a grim smile. She looked into Mike’s eyes at that point, hers were moist and bloodshot. Mike Stoneman was a hard-ass, but it was easy to melt a little looking at this pretty and pathetic orphan.
Under gentle questioning, she described her evening. She had been out at a party. Her father was home when she arrived – already drunk and holding a tumbler of scotch. He yelled at her, called her a “whore” and a “little tramp” and told her that she would never be half the woman her mother was. Susan had responded by telling her father to go screw himself, which made Mike smile – the girl had sass. At that point, her father grabbed her and told her to go to her room. She refused and told him to go to Hell. He slapped her across the face with the open palm of his right hand. Mike noted the red blotch on her cheek as the girl sniffed back tears. After he slapped her, she kicked him in the nuts. A good strategy for getting away from an attacker in most cases, Mike thought, but also a good way to piss somebody off if you can’t immediately get away.
“What happened next?” Mike asked in as soothing and calm a voice as he could muster.
“I ran out the back door, toward the pool.” Susan turned her head to look in that direction, reliving the moments. “He came after me. He was yelling; crazy. He caught me by the hair and spun me around, then hit me again with the back of his hand.” She stroked her Band-Aid with a slender finger as a single tear trickled down from the corner of her eye. “I fell by the corner of the pool and he came at me. He said he was going to kill me . . . yelled that I was worthless. When he came at me, I tried to kick him in the balls again, but I missed and caught his leg instead. He lost his balance and fell over me, into the pool.” She paused, gasping for breath. Mike waited patiently in silence. “I ran back into the house to call 9-1-1.”
Mike smiled at her reassuringly. “Did you speak with the 9-1-1 operator?”
“Yes. I was starting to panic, but then I realized that I didn’t hear anything – no splashing or yelling or anything. I looked out toward the pool and saw him.” She closed her eyes. “floating. He wasn’t moving at all.”
Mike reached out and patted her hand. “That’s fine, dear. Thank you. I think that’s all I need for tonight. I might need to speak to you again, though.”
“Let’s go,” he snapped at Dave. It was late. “We’ll get the 9-1-1 transcript tomorrow and check with the Coroner. No point hanging around. Nothing to see here.”
- - -
Three days later, Mike was back at the Fenton house to follow up. He had received the Coroner’s report and the toxicology. Cause of death was drowning. The victim was probably unconscious from the blow to the head when he hit the water. Blood work showed high alcohol content, along with Sudafed, Lipitor, and a prescription drug called Monoclodimide that Mike had never heard of. The Assistant Coroner said it was an anti-depressant.
In the medicine cabinet in the master bedroom Mike found the Sudafed, the Lipitor, and a bottle labeled Calmix, with the drug Monoclodimide listed in tiny letters under the brand name. The prescription was made out to Susan Fenton. Mike mumbled to himself, “Looks like the father decided to borrow a pill.” The Coroner said that the anti-depressant would have had a bad interaction with the alcohol. “Pretty damned bad,” Mike thought.
He walked the scene again, retracing the steps of the daughter and the father, according to the girl’s story. He noted the place where the father’s head hit the side of the pool and calculated where the daughter could have been when the guy fell over her, hit his head, and landed in the water. It checked out. It was all pretty routine. Tragic, but routine.
Part 2 --
Eight years later, Mike had become a Senior Detective. He turned down the opportunity to apply for a promotion. He liked working cases. He did allow his Captain to talk him into teaching new Detectives about crime scene protocol and interrogation technique. He found that he really liked teaching, and enjoyed it when his former students called him for advice on their cases.
Over the years, Mike had made mental notes whenever he saw her name in the papers, or heard something on the TV news. Sue Fenton, poor little orphaned daughter of Wall Street mogul Stuart Fenton, arrested for drug possession. Sue Fenton sex tape revealed. Sue Fenton to appear on an MTV reality show. Sue Fenton dating baseball star Alex Ramirez. She was a tabloid dream. Pretty, tall, and not shy about showing off her body. She lived the bright lights life. She had a boatload of money, including the proceeds of a huge life insurance policy on her father. Mike wondered if somewhere under all that makeup was the scared girl he remembered on the sofa.
He was not shocked when he found himself kneeling down next to that same swimming pool, and examining another stiff. This guy was an ex-boyfriend, or so the uniforms reported. Dirk Stegman. A punk-rocker with a long rap sheet. Drug possession, assault, disorderly conduct, drunk driving. A woman in London had a restraining order against him. A real winner.
This time Sue was not crying on the sofa. When Mike asked to speak with her, she sauntered down the long central stairway wearing a tight black cocktail dress with spaghetti straps that showed off her slender arms and shoulders as well as her knock-out breasts, which she had felt compelled to surgically enhance a few years earlier. When she entered a room, every eye in the place followed her – the women included. She glided toward Mike and threw her arms around his neck, pressing against him and bursting into tears. Mike was caught by surprise, but recovered and guided her to a chair. She was still crying, but starting to compose herself. “Oh, officer – I remember you from the night my father died. I can’t believe it’s happening again.”
“It’s Detective, actually,” Mike corrected gently. “I remember that night as well, Miss Fenton.”
“Oh, Sue, please,” she gurgled, “nobody calls me Miss Fenton.”
“OK, Sue. That’s fine. I’m Mike. Why don’t you tell me what happened tonight.”
Sue calmly narrated the events of earlier that evening. She had been out with friends in Manhattan. It was after 2:00 a.m. when she arrived home. She was alone in the house when Dirk started banging on the door. They had been an item a year before, but she had dumped him. He had not taken “no” for an answer and pursued her on and off since the breakup. He hit her a few times when they were together, which was why she left him, although there were plenty of other good reasons. She had endured violence at the hand of her father and she was not about to take it from a boyfriend.
Dirk was in New York making a record and saw her at a nightclub. She blew him off. Mike made a mental note to check that story with the other people in her party at the club. Dirk showed up at her house and pleaded with her to take him back. She let him inside, but the more she rebuffed him, the more insistent he became. She asked him to leave, and he grabbed her and threw her on the sofa. She threw an ashtray at him, the broken shards of which were scattered against a nearby wall. He jumped on top of her and tried to kiss her, then tried to force himself on her. He pulled up her dress, but she put her knee into his groin and squirmed away.
He chased her to the kitchen where she threw a bowl at him to slow him down while she ran to a closet where she kept a baseball bat. She told him to leave but he came at her. She took a swing, but missed. He backed away, through the back door toward the pool, then lunged at her. She swung again – this time connecting solidly with his head. She dropped the bat when he fell into the pool. She went back to the kitchen and called 9-1-1.
Mike walked around the house after that, noting the Pyrex salad bowl lying on the kitchen floor. The baseball bat, an Alex Ramirez model, was on the pool deck, an ugly blood stain on the trademark. He supervised the officers who were collecting and tagging the evidence, while his gaze drifted back to Sue. A few reporters had arrived and she was holding court; smiling for the cameras. He found that he could not take his eyes off her. Eventually there was nothing more to see and he closed his book and called it a night.
- - -
Once again, he arrived back at the house three days later, having reviewed the Coroner’s report and the toxicology on Dirk Stegman. Sue met him at the door wearing pink low-rise sweat pants and a white t-shirt that dangled from her breasts, exposing her diamond and gold belly ring as well as the outline of her nipples. She also sported a pink sweat band framing her black ponytail. Beads of sweat danced around the hollow of her neck and on her cheeks. It didn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure that she had been working out, and looking good doing it.
She invited him into the kitchen and offered him water as she poured a tall glass for herself. He declined. He was there to tie up loose ends, and he was not happy that there were still loose ends. He was about to begin the interrogation when Sue slumped against the marble counter and started crying. Mike took a few steps toward her and she fell into his arms, still sobbing lightly.
“My life is so messed up, Mike. I’m a screw-up.” She buried her head against Mike’s chest. He could feel the gentle pressure of her breasts through his suit jacket.
“Now, Ms. Fenton, you have had some bad breaks, but I don’t think you are a screw-up.” He patted her back, feeling the moisture of her sweat on the thin fabric.
Sue looked up and smiled, wiping a tear from her eye. “Oh, come on, Mike, I told you to call me Sue.” She leaned back against the counter, looking up at him through dark, wet eyes. “All the men in my life are creeps. I can’t seem to hook up with anyone who’s not a drug addict or a criminal. All the nice guys like you are taken.”
“I’m actually not taken,” Mike replied awkwardly. “Not that I’m suggesting anything.”
Sue smiled again and laughed, which gave Mike a twinge in his chest. “Why not – a big strong cop like you? You never got married?”
“Nope. I don’t think it’s fair to a woman to put up with me, or my job.” Mike scolded himself internally for engaging in such a personal conversation with a witness. He was violating several of his own rules of interrogation.
Sue reverse-dipped herself up onto the counter top, her legs dangling down into space, but her face now closer to Mike’s eye level. “That’s better,” she cooed. “Maybe we’re not so different, you and me. We’re both lonely and don’t want to burden anyone with all the crap in our lives.” She dropped her chin toward her chest, and Mike took a step toward her, wondering if she was going to cry again. As he did, she looked up, slid her arms around his neck, and kissed him hard on the mouth. He was surprised and pulled back, but she had a good grip and slid forward along the counter top as he moved away, maintaining her lip lock.
She came up for air and Mike looked down at her – confused, surprised, and also aroused. As Mike hesitated, Sue took control of the situation. She brought up her legs, wrapped them around his waist, and launched herself off the counter top. Mike instinctively put his arms around her back, to keep her from falling, although she had a firm grip and wasn’t going anywhere. She kissed him firmly, sliding her tongue toward his and moaning softly. When she felt him returning her kisses and felt his hand pressing against the bare skin of her lower back, she released her legs, slithered down to a standing position, and looked up into Mike’s eyes. Then she unwrapped her arms from around his neck, and in a movement that surprised Mike with its quickness, pulled her sweaty t-shirt over her head, exposing her perfect breasts and milky skin, still glistening from her workout. She then slid her arms back around Mike’s neck and pulled him down toward her.
- - -
“What did she say about the drugs?” Scott Cooper, Mike’s current junior partner inquired when Mike sat down at his desk three hours later.
“She said she didn’t know. Any word from the dead guy’s family about whether he was on any anti-depressants?”
“No, but none of them were close enough to him to even know. He had a pharmacy in his hotel room – must have been a dozen different prescription bottles, along with heroin, cocaine, and pot. The guy was a junkie. You saw the toxicology – it’s amazing he was able to walk into that house under his own power.”
“Yeah. You’re right. It’s not worth worrying about.”
“I can see what the guy saw in her, though. What a babe! Rich and hotter than a pistol. I would certainly comfort her in her time of need, if you know what I mean.” Scott shot Mike a leering smile.
“Sure,” Mike replied softly. “I know what you mean.”
NJCCA member Kevin G. Chapman is the winner of the NJCCA’s Legal Fiction Writing Competition (for this short story). He is Assistant General Counsel at Dow Jones & Company, where he specializes in labor and employment law, collective bargaining, labor relations, EEO and NLRB litigation. He is a former co-chair of the Labor and Employment Law Committee of the NJCCA and a former Secretary of the Labor and Employment Law Committee of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. Mr. Chapman was formerly a management-side labor and employment attorney at Kauff, McClain & McGuire and at Proskauer Rose Goetz & Mendelsohn, both in New York City. He has served as an adjunct Associate Professor of Legal Writing at New York Law School. Mr. Chapman is a graduate of Columbia College (‘83) and Boston University School of Law (magna cum laude ‘86).