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Mending Fences

Chapter 1                           


Grady Rodriguez had been a police officer for nearly twenty years, but he’d never gotten used to interviewing young women who’d been the victims of date rape. It wasn’t quite the same as talking to those who’d been assaulted by strangers. For those women, there was little ambiguity about the attack. It was usually random, unexpected, violent and degrading. It could happen to any woman at any age who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.                                 

Date rape tended to happen to young, often inexperienced women who knew their attacker. They were left with a million and one questions about what they might have done differently, how their judgment about the guy could have been so wrong, why saying no hadn’t been enough. He’d responded to too damn many of those calls, listened to too many brokenhearted sobs, seen too many injuries.                                 

In either case, the women questioned everything about themselves. They dealt with unwarranted shame, sometimes made a thousand times worse by the well-meaning reactions of the people who loved them. In all instances, it changed who they were, made them more cautious, less trusting. Sometimes it destroyed relationships or even marriages.         

From everything he could see as he and his partner, Naomi Lansing, walked into the off-campus Coral Gables apartment where tonight’s attack had happened, Lauren Brown was typical. A pretty college student with shiny, long blond hair, she barely looked old enough to date. A kid that young shouldn’t have had her innocence stripped away in a manner that left her eyes glazed with pain and disillusionment. Seeing her huddled in a corner of the bed in her room in tears, Grady wanted to punch his fist through a wall, but Naomi was cool and calm, the kind of soothing presence the situation required.

   Naomi’s compassion allowed him to remain in the background, to study the scene in a coldly analytical way. They were the perfect team for this kind of investigation, something he’d never have predicted back when they’d first been assigned to work together and every encounter had been a test of wills.

“She was like that when I came in,” Lauren’s roommate, Jenny Ryan, told them in an undertone. “Just rocking back and forth and crying. She said her date had hurt her, but she wouldn’t say anything else. She asked me not to, but I called nine-one-one anyway. The creep shouldn’t get away with this. I don’t care who he is.”

Something in her words gave Grady a chill, the hint that Lauren’s attacker was well known, perhaps well-respected in the University of Miami campus community.                           

“You did the right thing,” Naomi assured her. “We’ll take it from here. Could you wait in the other room?”

For a moment, Jenny hesitated. “I’m not sure I should leave her.”                        

Naomi sat on the edge of the bed, careful not to crowd Lauren. “You’ll be okay, right? You’re up to talking to me?”                                   

Lauren’s head bobbed once, but she didn’t look up.

As Naomi began murmuring the most intrusive questions in her quiet, matter-of-fact voice, Grady studied the bedroom. Painted and carpeted in the bland beige of inexpensive rentals, it was decorated in a style that was too shabby to be chic. There were mismatched pieces of furniture, a few snapshots—family pictures, it looked like—stuck into the dresser mirror, a laptop computer next to a stack of textbooks and an antique rocker he would bet had been a prized possession from home.                     

Other than the tangled spread and sheets on the bed and a few pieces of clothing that had been tossed on the floor, the room was neater than most coed rooms he’d seen. Carefully gathering the clothes she’d apparently been wearing, he noted the buttons missing from her blouse, the torn strap of her bra and a rip in her panties, all consistent with someone intent on having sex, perhaps with an unwilling partner. He found three buttons scattered around the carpet and added those to the evidence.           

Leaving it to Naomi to retrieve the sheets and spread and whatever trace evidence they might contain, Grady walked into the living room to join the roommate. “Any idea who Lauren was out with tonight?” he asked her.                   

“Evan Carter,” she said without hesitation. “You know who he is, right?”                      

“Yeah, I’ve heard of him,” he said, struggling to maintain a neutral expression.              

Carter was a star football player at the University of Miami. Only a sophomore, there was already speculation about him becoming a top NFL draft choice before graduation. News reports, however, also cited his excellent grades, good enough for the career he hoped to have in the legal field representing professional athletes. He had brains, talent and charm—the kind of trifecta that made it easy for people to miss any hints of a darker side, the sense of entitlement and immunity that came with being a celebrity of sorts.

A local boy, Carter was already used to the spotlight by the time he entered UM. He’d been courted by both the Florida Gators and by Florida State Seminoles, top UM rivals. When he’d opted to stay close to home, there’d been a sigh of relief from the Miami fans, who’d followed his stellar high school career.                           

“Is that the crowd Lauren hangs out with—the jocks?” he asked Jenny.  

“No way. To tell you the truth, Lauren’s never dated much. She’s basically pretty shy and quiet. She’s here on a scholarship, so she studies a lot. Evan’s the first guy she’s really talked much about. They’re in the same biology class—I’m in it, too—and they’ve been working on this project together for a couple of weeks now. When he suggested dinner and a movie, she couldn’t believe this superjock had asked her out. She was so excited.” Her lower lip quivered and her expressive dark eyes filled with anger. “Damn him for doing this to her!”   

“Were you here when they left? Did you see them together?”      

Jenny shook her head. “I had to go to the library to do some research for a paper that’s due on Monday. I didn’t get back till about two minutes before I called you.”

“So you can’t be sure they actually got together tonight,” he suggested.  

Jenny practically quivered with indignation. “Are you trying to say she made it all up or something?” she demanded. “Lauren would never lie about who she had a date with or about what happened. Lauren doesn’t lie. Period.”

“Maybe a girl who doesn’t date much developed a crush on this unattainable guy, built herself a whole fantasy scenario,” he suggested.        

“No, absolutely not!” Jenny said emphatically. “She’s the most honest, grounded person I know. Her dad’s a minister, for goodness’ sakes. She has this whole moral code she lives by. Most of the time the rest of us fall way short of meeting her standards, but she never judges any of us for that.”                                

Satisfied, Grady backed off on any suggestion that Lauren could have exaggerated anything that happened with the Carter kid. Instead, he focused on what Jenny herself knew firsthand. “But you yourself didn’t witness any part of the date, correct?”

She sighed. “No. I never saw them together, but I imagine there are plenty of witnesses in the building or on the block. It’s mostly college kids living in this area, so there’s always somebody going in or out, especially on a Friday night. And Evan’s the kind of guy who attracts attention. He makes sure of it.”              

Grady knew the type. They thrived on being the center of attention, being recognized. They also thought they were above the law. Maybe tonight Grady would get lucky and that tendency would seal the case against Evan Carter.               

“If Detective Lansing looks for me, tell her I’m going to knock on a few doors, see what I can find out from the neighbors,” he told Jenny. “I’ll be back in a few minutes. You’ll stay put, right?”                    

“Of course. I’m not leaving Lauren.”                     

The white stucco building on the fringe of the UM campus only had four units, two upstairs, two down. He tried the downstairs doors to no avail, then loped back upstairs and knocked on the door across the hall from Lauren’s. When it swung open, the sound of classic jazz flowed through the air. The long-haired kid wearing boxers, a T-shirt and flip-flops stared at him with blurry eyes and a bewildered expression.

“Is the music too loud or something?” he asked Grady. “I try to keep it low.”

“The music’s not a problem,” Grady assured him. He showed him his ID. “Mind if I ask you a couple of questions?”                 

“Am I in trouble?”              

The kid sounded nervous, which made Grady wonder what he was up to. Then he caught a whiff of marijuana and knew. That, however, was a problem for another night.                    

“No, no trouble,” he assured him. “This is your apartment?”                     

“I have a roommate, but he’s out on a date.”                     

Grady made a note. “What’s your name?”             

“Joe Haas.” 

“And your roommate’s?”

“Dante Mitchell.”

“He plays football, doesn’t he?” Grady asked, trying to envision the huge defensive tackle sharing a place with this skinny, unassuming kid.

“We’re from the same hometown. His folks think I’m a good influence on him.” He shrugged, his grin self-deprecating. “As if he’d ever listen to me. Still, we get along okay.”

“Have you been home all night?”

“It’s Friday night,” he said as if that was answer enough. “I’ve been here just chilling out.”

“Seen anybody? Heard anything unusual?”

He stared at Grady with a blank expression. “Like what?”

“Anything that seemed out of the ordinary?”

“Did one of the apartments get robbed? Is that why you’re asking all these questions?”

“No. I’m just trying to get a feel for what was going on around here tonight.”

“I think everybody’s out, except me. Dante left around seven. Jenny headed out about the same time with a bunch of books. She always goes to the library on Friday night. She says it’s quieter then. The guys downstairs, they always head straight for happy hour after their last class on Friday. I don’t think they’ve come in yet. They’re usually pretty noisy, so I would have heard them if they’d come back.”

“What about Lauren? Have you seen her?”

He shook his head. “I know she had a date with some jock, a friend of Dante’s.”

“Did she tell you that?”

“No, Dante mentioned it. He thought it was pretty hilarious for some reason.”

“Why was that?”

“I guess because Lauren’s really shy and this guy thinks he’s some big hotshot.”

“You know a name?”

Joe shook his head. “I’m not that into football. Dante probably said, but it didn’t stick.”

“And you never saw Lauren with this guy?”

He shook his head, then frowned. “Lauren’s okay, isn’t she? Nothing happened to her tonight, did it?”

Grady ignored the questions. “Thanks. If you think of anything else, give me a call.” He handed him his business card.

Joe followed him back into the hall, his expression filled with concern. He bypassed Grady and headed straight for Lauren’s door. Grady intercepted him. “Not tonight.”

Alarm shadowed the boy’s eyes. “I just want to check on Lauren. She’s a sweet kid, you know?”

“Talk to her tomorrow, okay? She’ll need a friend then.” He leveled a look at the kid. “And you might want to lose the weed before I come around again. Next time I won’t look the other way.”

“Shit!” Joe said, his expression immediately guilt ridden. He all but ran back to his own apartment and shut the door.

Grady shook his head. For a fraction of an instant he was grateful he didn’t have teenagers, but then he thought of his beautiful little Megan and his heart ached. She would have been sixteen now and he would give every last breath in his body to have his daughter back, no matter what sort of foolish mistakes she might make.

Tonight wasn’t the night to travel down that dark path, though. Another young girl needed him.

Inside Lauren’s apartment, Jenny was exactly where he’d left her, blindly thumbing through a magazine, her attention directed toward the room where Naomi was still questioning Lauren.

“Did anybody see anything?” she asked when she realized he was back.

"The kid across the hall was the only one home, and he confirmed she was supposed to go out with some jock tonight, but he didn’t see him and didn’t have a name. He says his roommate had told him that.”

Jenny smiled. “Joe’s a little spacey most of the time, but he’s a good guy. It might not seem like it, but he’s practically a genius. He’s studying physics, but most of the time he’s bored, because he knows as much as the professors. He puts up with a lot from Dante, who thinks he’s God’s gift to the universe. Will it help that Dante knew about the date, too?”

“It might,” Grady conceded.

“What happens next?”

“We’ll need to get Lauren to the hospital, get her checked out,” he said. “Can you come along? It might make her feel better to have a familiar face around.”

“If she needs me, I’m there,” Jenny told him.

A few minutes later, Naomi emerged with Lauren and the four of them made the trip to the Rape Treatment Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital for the necessary indignity of a physical examination.

As they waited outside while a physician gathered evidence and offered counseling to Lauren with Jenny at her side, Grady sat beside Naomi and compared notes. “You think she’ll go through with this? Will she press charges against the Carter kid?” he asked. “It’s a tough road, especially with his high profile. The publicity could be pretty devastating, even if her name’s kept out of it.”

“She’s scared,” Naomi said. “But she’s starting to get angry. If she weakens, something tells me her roommate will make sure she fights back.”

He nodded. “Jenny’s mad enough for both of them. I wish all the girls we come across had someone in their corner like that.”

Naomi nodded. “Me, too.”

“We need to do this one by the book,” Grady said wearily. “I want an arrest warrant in hand before we go anywhere near that kid.”

"That could take time,” Naomi warned. “It’s almost morning now and half the judges are going to be on the golf course and the rest are probably out on their boats.”

“We’ll call the state attorney’s office and leave that problem up to them. I don’t care how long it takes, I want that warrant before we say boo to that kid. The media’s going to be all over this case and I’m not losing it because we didn’t cross every t and dot every i.”

Just then the weary-looking physician who handled for too many of these cases emerged from the treatment area.

“How’s it going, Doc?” Grady asked Amanda Benitez.

“I’m starting to have a very jaded outlook on life in general and men in particular,” Amanda said. “This guy roughed her up pretty good. He was smart about it, almost as if he knew how to go about it without leaving the kind of obvious visible marks that would call attention to what he’d done. Her stomach, her upper thighs have some nasty bruises, though. He was strong and he was mean.”

Grady read between the lines. “He’s done this before?”

I’d say yes. You know the pattern as well as I do. It’s not just about the sex. This is a guy who gets off on hurting women, the more innocent and defenseless the better. You have a name?”

Grady nodded. “And when this goes public, the shit is going to hit the fan.”

                                                 * * *

It was well past midnight on Saturday and Marcie had just finished cleaning up the kitchen, putting every dish and glass back into place, polishing every piece of chrome and mopping the floor for the second time that day, when the doorbell rang.

Worried that it would wake Ken and the kids, she hurried into the living room to answer the door. Startled to see two uniformed officers and two other people in plain clothes outside at this hour of the night, she was tempted not to open the door, but weighed her caution against the possibility that they’d wind up waking her family by continuing to ring the bell. She finally opened the door a crack, the security chain still in place.

“Can I help you?”

“Pinecrest police, ma’am,” one of the uniformed officers said. “We have two detectives from Coral Gables who’d like to speak to your son. Since they’re out of their jurisdiction, we came along.”

“I don’t understand,” Marcie said.

“You’re Mrs. Carter?” the female detective asked. “Evan Carter’s mother?”

Marcie’s breath lodged in her throat. “Yes, why?”

“We need to speak to your son,” she repeated. “Is he here?”

“He’s asleep. What is this about?”

“I’m Detective Lansing,” the woman told her. “And this is Detective Rodriguez. We need to talk to Evan. Would you get him, please?”

Though it was phrased as a question, Marcie recognized a command when she heard one. She tried to think what Ken would do. He’d probably tell them to go away and come back at a civilized hour, but Marcie had been brought up to respect authority. Four very somber police officers from two jurisdictions were more than enough to intimidate her.

“You’ll have to give me a few minutes,” she said at last. “He’s a sound sleeper.”

“No problem. We’ll wait,” the woman told her.

Reluctantly Marcie let them inside, then started to climb the stairs. After only a couple of steps, she turned back. “Maybe I should...” she began, her tone apologetic. “Could I see some identification?” She’d read stories about fake police officers, even in uniform, and home-invasion robberies. Even though she recognized the Pinecrest logo on the uniform and saw the marked car in the driveway, it was smart to be absolutely sure.

Without comment all four of them held out badges and ID, removing any doubt that they were exactly who they’d said they were. She almost wished she hadn’t asked. Until that instant, she’d been able to hold out a slim hope that this was all some hoax or maybe a case of mistaken identity.

Evan was a good kid. He always had been. Oh, he had a mouth on him. He was like his father that way, but he’d never given them any trouble. He’d never so much as put a ding or dent in the car, never gotten into mischief the way some of the other boys in the neighborhood had. His dad had seen to that. Ken was a stern disciplinarian and both her kids showed him a healthy amount of respect.

Thinking about that made this whole scene feel surreal. Once again she hesitated. “Why do you need to see Evan at this hour? Is he in trouble?”

For the first time, Detective Rodriguez spoke. “Ma’am, could you just get him? We’ll explain everything then.”

Filled with a sense of dread, she climbed the stairs. At the top she debated waking Ken but decided against it. Who knew what he would do or say? He had a quick temper and a sharp tongue. He tended to act first and think later. He might wind up making a bad situation worse. If Evan needed him, there would be time enough to wake him then.

Inside Evan’s room, she found him sprawled facedown across his bed with a sheet barely covering him. Sometimes when she saw him like this, it caught her by surprise. In her heart, he was still her little boy, not a full-grown man with broad shoulders and muscles toned by hours of training at the gym. His cheeks were stubbled with a day’s growth of beard and his blond hair, usually so carefully groomed, stuck out every which way. Seeing him reminded her of the way Ken had looked when they’d first met, way too handsome for his own good.

“Evan,” she murmured, her hand on his shoulder. “Wake up! Evan!”

He only moaned and buried his head under the pillow, just as he had for years when she’d tried to wake him for school. Marcie knew the routine. She yanked the pillow away and then the sheet, averting her gaze from his naked body as she did so.

“Wake up!” she commanded, shaking him.

“Wha...? Go ’way.”

“Get up now,” she said urgently. “There’s someone here to see you.”

He blinked up at her. “What? Who?”

“They’re police officers, four of them. Two local and two from the Gables.”

“Shit, oh shit,” he muttered, raking his hand through his hair.

Something in the panicked expression that flitted across his face terrified Marcie. Had there been an accident? Had he left the scene? Or drugs? She knew there were kids at college who used them, but Evan had always been smart enough to steer clear. He’d wanted his football career too much to risk messing it up by experimenting with drugs or steroids. Ken had hammered that lesson home years ago.

“Do you know what this is about?” she asked. “Should I get your dad?”

“I’ll handle it,” he said, grabbing a pair of jeans and yanking them on, then snatching up a T-shirt from the end of the bed and pulling it over his head. “Don’t come downstairs, Mom, okay? I’ll take care of this.”

Marcie fought to stay calm. “I don’t like the sound of this, Evan. I think someone should be with you. Do I need to call a lawyer?”

“I said I’d handle it,” he snapped. “Go to bed.”

Marcie winced at his tone. She should have been used to it by now. Ken used that exact same tone when he spoke to her, but it was relatively new coming from Evan.

“You’re not going down there alone,” she insisted. “Now either I come with you or I get your father.”

“Whatever,” he said belligerently.

Marcie followed him downstairs. At the bottom of the steps, the two detectives stood in his path.

“Evan Carter?” Detective Rodriguez asked.

“Yes. What the hell is this about?” he demanded, his voice radiating antagonism.

Again, he sounded so much like his father, it gave Marcie goose bumps. Instinct kicked in. She was about to try to smooth things over with the detectives, but realized they were oblivious to his attitude and totally focused on their own mission.

“You’re under arrest for the rape of Lauren Brown,” the woman said quietly. “Anything you say can and will be used against you...”

Rape! Marcie was incredulous. This simply couldn’t be happening. As the detective read Evan his rights, Marcie fought back the bile rising in her throat and ran upstairs to wake her husband. She couldn’t shake the sound of the word rape. It kept echoing in her head.

“Ken, get up now! The police are arresting Evan. They say he raped somebody.”

She didn’t have to say it twice. Ken bolted out of bed with a curse and ran for the stairs, Marcie right on his heels. She heard Caitlyn’s door open and knew that her daughter had been wakened by the commotion as well.

“Mom, what’s going on? Why is there a police car outside?”

Marcie couldn’t bring herself to explain. “It’s all a terrible misunderstanding,” she said. “I’m sure that’s all it is. Your father will straighten everything out, but I need to go with him.”

“Go with him where?” Caitlyn asked, her eyes wide. “It’s the middle of the night.”

“To the police station. I’m going to call Emily and see if you can go over and spend the night at their house, okay? I don’t want you here alone.”

“Who’s been arrested? Is it Dad?”

“No, sweetie, it’s your brother, but like I said, it has to be a mistake.” Her hand shook as she picked up the phone and hit the number on the speed dial for Emily.

Her friend and neighbor answered on the first ring, instantly wide awake. “Marcie, is everything okay? I saw the flashing lights on a police car turning onto your street, but I never heard a siren. What’s going on?”

“I can’t explain now. Can Caitlyn stay with you?”

“Of course,” she said at once. “Send her over. Is there anything else I can do?”

“Pray,” Marcie said, her voice catching on a sob. “Pray that the police have made some horrible mistake. My boy...” She couldn’t even finish the sentence.

“They came for Evan?” Emily said, sounding as shocked as Marcie felt.

“Yes. Please, just watch out for Caitlyn. She’s on her way. I don’t know how long we’ll be gone. I’ll tell you everything tomorrow.”

“Go. Don’t worry about anything here. Just promise that you’ll call me if there’s anything else I can do.”

Marcie sighed as she hung up. She wondered if Emily would sound half as supportive once she found out what Evan had been accused of doing. There were some things even a best friend could never understand or forgive.

And if there was any truth, any truth at all to the charges, Marcie wasn’t entirely certain she’d ever understand it, either.

Copyright © 2009 Sherryl Woods

Mending Fences
by by Sherryl Woods

  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Mira
  • ISBN-10: 0778319776
  • ISBN-13: 9780778319771