A Short Story by James A. Graves, Jr.
The headlines on the front page of the Post Dispatch were ominous that morning; Coed Brutally Murdered. Headlines like this were not at all typical for this sleepy little college town and although the details were sketchy, the gossip was spreading like wildfire.
The victim was Jenny Sikes, daughter of federal judge Drake Sikes. She had been a senior at City College, a pre-med honor student, captain of the cheerleading team, beautiful, and popular.
Her murder was gruesome. Jenny had been bludgeoned to death with a baseball bat. The entire town seemed to be in shock. There was no doubt about the outrage, it could be felt in the air and heard in every conversation. Everyone wanted to see the killer brought to justice. They wanted blood.
This sentiment was felt even more strongly by the county judge, Joe Greely. His son, Billy, had grown up with Jenny. They had dated throughout high school. Joe and his wife, Faye, loved Jenny like their own daughter. Consequently, he was following the investigation very closely, but for more reasons than just matters of the heart. Judge Greely also owed his seat on the county court to judge Sikes. Sikes had provided financial backing for Greely’s first run for the judgeship. The highly publicized personal endorsement by a federal judge before that first election, and the following two elections as well, had virtually guaranteed Greely’s chances. Now, Greely’s third term was nearing its end and he had a bad feeling that the outcome of this investigation and murder trial would play heavily toward his future on the court.
Immediately upon hearing the news, Greely and his wife went to the Sikes home to offer their condolences and help. Drake Sikes, understandably devastated, looked Greely straight in the eyes, “Joe, I want the bastard that did this to my Jenny. You hear me? I want him to burn! You owe me, Joe. Do what you have to do, I don’t give a damn what it is. You run into a problem, I’ll make it go away. Just get the son-of-a-bitch! Do you hear me? Get him!”
“I’ll do my best, Drake. We’ll get the guy, don’t worry.” Greely knew better than to make promises that he couldn’t keep, but he feared what Sikes could do to his career. Sikes was vindictive and when you crossed him, you paid dearly.
The Sikes home was barely out of sight when Greely’s cell phone rang. It was Jack Dixon, the county attorney. “Judge, it’s Jack. I’ve just talked to Judge Sikes.”
“Jack, this is awful, just awful.”
“Yes, a real tragedy. Jenny was such a wonderful girl.”
“I need you to move on this.”
“I’m just calling to let you know that we’re on top of it. We have the murder weapon and it’s in the lab now. We’ve already matched the blood and it looks like we have a good set of prints. I should to have a suspect within twenty-four hours.”
“You’re a good man, Jack. You’ve certainly earned your pay today.”
“Thanks, Judge. That’s high praise coming from you.”
“I know that we’ve not seen eye to eye on some things, Jack, but let me assure you that you have
always had my utmost respect. Right now we need to put our personal differences aside and pull together on this one. A lot is at stake here. Our little town is going to be under a microscope until this is over. We screw this one up and we will never live it down.”
“Judge, there’s nothing to worry about. This one is already in the bag.”
“I’ll feel better after I’ve seen some hard evidence. Just keep me in the loop.”
As Dixon hung up he stared at the phone and muttered, “You crooked old bastard. You probably didn’t trust your own mama.”
The following day, Jenny’s boyfriend, Ray Walton, a medical technician at Mercy Hospital, was arrested and charged with the murder of Jenny Sikes.
The guard had just served Ray his evening meal and was about to walk away when he turned back and asked, “Ray, do you mind if I ask you a question?”
“No, not at all, Ron.”
The guard hesitated.
“Please, sit and join me. I hate to eat alone.”
The guard pulled up a chair outside of the cell and smiled nervously.
Ray started eating and then asked, “Now, what was your question?”
“Well, this is probably your last night here. The scuttlebutt is that you’re to be transferred upstate to death row first thing in the morning, so I probably won’t get to talk with you again. You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to, but…”
“Ron, you and I have been friends for years.” Ray smiled, ”What’s on your mind?”
“I noticed that toward the end of the trial, well, you seemed to have a… sort of a smile all the time. Like the cat who ate the canary. I’m not the only one that noticed either. Some think that you’re guilty, just by that look on your face…”
Ray finished the question, “And you want to know if it’s true. Am I really guilty and, in some twisted way, enjoying all of this?”
Ron looked at the floor, “Yea. I guess that’s about right.”
“Do you remember just after I was arrested, there was an article in the paper about mishandling of evidence?”
“Yea, I remember that.”
“My lawyer actually dropped the hint that created that news story. The reason that she did it was because of the way that the county attorney’s office was conveniently over-looking any evidence that pointed in the direction of Billy Greely. Some really intense pressure was being put on the county attorney from judge Sikes and judge Greely. They wanted me convicted and, since there was only the one piece of hard evidence implicating me, they knew that anything that threw doubt on my guilt would weaken the case and maybe rob them of a conviction.
It was a good shot. My lawyer did her best, but she was fighting a lost cause. They killed the news story and got the reporter fired. I felt bad about that, I mean, he didn’t do anything but write the story…”
“What was the evidence that pointed to Billy Greely?”
“The baseball bat. It was supposedly mine, but I’ve never owned a baseball bat. Jenny and I were at a party at the Greely’s one evening just before Jenny was killed. Billy pulled me aside to show off his dad’s trophy room and handed me a bat that was signed by some pro that was supposed to impress me. After I looked at it, he told me to just put it on the desk. After I was arrested, I remembered that night and realized what he had done. He got me to put my fingerprints on it. In the courtroom, I looked at the bat. It looked familiar, except that the signature was gone. He had just scribbled something on it with a marker, and then carefully removed it after I had touched the bat. I looked at Billy and he couldn’t even look me in the eyes.”
“So, Billy really did kill Jenny?”
“I’m sure that he did. And Sikes and Greely weren’t about to let somebody go nosing around, pointing a finger towards Billy and trying to find out where and when he might have gotten that bat. Anyway, when I realized that there was nothing that I could do, I decided to keep all of it to myself and just enjoy the irony.”
“I don’t understand.” Ron looked mystified, “Keep all of what to yourself?”
“Jenny had told me that the reason that she and Billy had broken up during their freshman year at City College was that he had, to put it in her words, ‘become a slut’. She had caught him screwing around and that was the end of that. Well, after they broke up, he really went wild. Big stud on the football team, yatta, yatta.”
“Yea, I know. It’s a small town.”
“Right. Well, as you know, at the beginning of the year all of the players have to get a physical. Just for the hell of it, I tested Billy’s blood for STD’s and HIV. He tested positive for HPV and HIV.”
“You’re shitting me! The guy’s got AIDS?!”
“Yes, it’s no joke.”
“Did you tell him or his parents?”
“Neither. I did the test illegally. I would have been fired. I was just fishing for something to hold over the jerk because he was always harassing Jenny. But, I did tell Jenny. We talked about telling Billy anyway, but at the same time, she also felt that he got what he deserved for being such a slut. So we decided to keep it to ourselves. We were concerned about him transmitting the disease, so Jenny just started a rumor around the college that Billy had AIDS. That pretty much put an end to his sex life, at least, at the college anyway.
Billy was continually trying to win her back and she was getting really tired of it. A few weeks before she was killed, Billy grabbed her out on the football field during practice and kissed her before she could push him away. She slapped him, told him that she was sick of his bullshit, called him a diseased freak and told him she wouldn’t let him touch her again if he were sterilized. Then, she called him a slut. And she said all of that right in front of the football team and the cheerleading team.”
Ray chuckled, “Yea, she was a pistol. I guess that’s one of the reasons that I loved her so much.”
Ron grew serious, “You really loved Jenny, didn’t you?”
“Yes, Ron, I really did. And she loved me, too.”
“I never believed that you killed her. But, why do you think that Billy did it?”
“I really don’t know. Maybe he figured that if he couldn’t have her, then nobody would, or maybe he took revenge for being humiliated in front of his team and the cheerleaders. Or maybe he was just messed up in the head, but it don’t matter now anyway, the bastard’s gonna suffer long before he dies and that tickles me to no end.”
“Well, judge Greely will also pay by losing his son. But what about judge Sikes? His daughter’s real killer got away with murder.”
“Oh, Sikes’ misery has just begun.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I found out just recently that ol’ Billy boy has been even more busy than any of us figured. He’s been screwing Tammy, Jenny’s little sister.”
“But, she’s only fourteen! Oh, man! That guy is a total sleaze ball.”
“It gets even better… Billy is also screwing Mrs. Sikes.”
Ray laughed a genuine belly laugh, “Way! He’s nailed every one in that family but the dog!”
Ron’s mind was racing, “But… that means… Ho! Ho! That means the whole damn Sikes family may have AIDS!”
“Yep, it’s a distinct possibility. I called in a favor from one of my pals at the lab not long ago. Tammy is hypoglycemic and they check her blood sugar levels every few months like clockwork. She’s got HIV. Probably has HPV, too, for all I know. Not that it matters.”
Ron shook his head, “Well, I’ll be damned!”
“Ironic, ain’t it?”
Then Ron grew serious, “But, what about you, Ray? You’ve been falsely accused, convicted and sentenced to death for killing the girl you loved? There has to be something that we can do.”
“Do you recall the big deal that the prosecution made about me and Jenny having arguments in the weeks before she was killed?”
“Yea, I remember that. They made it sound like you were jealous of Jenny and Billy and that was supposed to be what y’all were arguing about.”
“Well, actually, we were arguing because I was trying to push her away and make her go on with her life without me.”
“Why? She loved you and you loved her. Why push her away?”
“Some time back, I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It has spread into my lymphatic system.”
“But, Ray! Why didn’t you testify about that in court? Maybe it would have made a difference.”
“It wouldn’t have helped. The prosecutor would’ve just turned it around and made it look like I killed her because I was dying anyway and didn’t care about my life.”
“I guess you’re right. But what is your prognosis?”
“The doctors estimate that I’ve got less than a year. I’ll never see an execution. With appeals and such, I’ll die in jail, with all of my room, board, food and medical care being paid by the state, a burden to no one. It’s actually better this way.”
“Damn! I’m sorry, Ray.”
“Don’t be, ‘cause pretty soon, I’ll be with my Jenny again.”
“Yea... Well, tell her I said, ‘Hi’.”
“I will, Ron, I sure will. But, you know, it’s funny.”
“What’s that, Ray?”
“The day that I told Jenny to just go away and let me die, she said that the only way that she would ever leave me is if she died first. Then that bastard goes and kills her and gets away with it. But, it’s like God just looked down on Billy, the Greely’s, and the Sikes’ and said, ‘I don’t think I’ll let you folks wait for Hell. Here’s your punishment now.’”
Ray leaned back on his cot and propped his feet up. His eyes twinkled as that familiar smile returned to his face once more, “Now, that’s poetic justice if I ever saw it...”
©2003 James A Graves, Jr.