Haley had never before seen Aaron so excitable. He walked to and fro in the tiny cell, sharing a string of random thoughts from earlier in the day. He would sit briefly and describe some precise detail, then get up quickly and make dramatic gestures with his hands. He came close and touched her hand through the bars, then turned and explained another thought behind his erratic behavior. Oddly, the bars and locked door seemed to free him mentally more than it held him captive. Now he wanted her to understand everything from why he refused to go home to how enthralled he felt about studying the double homicide.
Haley watched him worriedly. She didn’t like seeing her friend in navy blue jail garb and bare feet. Why couldn’t they let him keep his shoes to cover the cigarette burns on his feet? She had seen the rough, pinkish marks on his hands occasionally but didn’t care to see those he normally tried to hide. Maybe she should ask the guards to give his shoes back.
At least they hadn’t taken the twisted red strand of string tied around his finger. Haley still wore her own thread ring as she gripped the bars.
For once, he didn’t look fearful. His brow was not furrowed with anxiety, and he didn’t twitch nervously every few minutes. He didn’t act like somebody might come around the corner at any second and throw him into the wall. In this way, it was slightly easier to watch him. But she still didn’t understand why he risked his freedom and safety just to look at the scene of a violent act. While she studied his unrepressed mannerisms, she wasn’t really listening to what he’d been saying.
“So do you forgive me, Haley?”
Her fingers curled tighter around the bar. He must have just explained his actions or apologized or something, and she missed it. But she didn’t plan to deny him any peace of mind. “Of course I forgive you. I’m just glad you didn’t get in any worse trouble.”
“Trouble? This is no trouble. I couldn’t be happier about the outcome. I get three days to myself, away from home, and with plenty of time to figure out this case.”
There he went again. The case. “Aaron, that is the job for the police. I don’t think you should be getting involved anymore, especially where a dangerous killer is on the loose.”
“But I’m not the police, so he won’t come after me.” Aaron shook his head and sighed. “It’s like I tried to tell you: this case, I can’t explain it. It’s like seeing a wounded deer run past and disappear over a ridge. I can’t just stand there or walk on. I’m seized with curiosity over how it got injured and where it’s going now. I have to follow it however far it’s running and discover its secret. Is it running to a safe place? A place to die? Is it looking for its family? Is it simply lost and delirious? You see, I have to follow through. I have to know how the story ends. With this case, it’s so intriguing and so thrown across my path, I can’t ignore it. I must know where it’s going.”
“That doesn’t make much sense.”
“I know, I know. I don’t understand it myself; I can’t explain it. Haven’t you ever seen something that made you so curious you had to follow it to the end?”
“I wouldn’t follow a wounded deer. It might be dangerous.”
“That was a bad illustration anyway. How about this. The killer is still out there. If I feel that I can do anything whatsoever to help find him and keep him from killing again, I think I should do it. Or at least try.”
“There are other people who are supposed to do that. Besides, I don’t like it.”
“Well, I’m sorry. I guess we’re different on this.”
Haley hated the friction she was feeling. She had to direct the conversation away from Aaron’s budding obsession. “So what am I supposed to do while you’re locked away?”
“Are you still willing to visit me?”
“Then could you bring me the latest issue of the newspaper? I need to see where the police are at with this case.”
Haley sighed out of frustration. “I can do that, Aaron, on one condition.”
“You don’t talk about crime or any cases around me.”
His sad brown eyes looked disappointed. “Alright. I promise.”
“I really, really miss you.”
He touched her hand that squeezed the bar and leaned closer. “I miss you too.” He pressed his face against the bars and kissed her forehead.
Haley gave him a quick peck on the cheek, then hurried out of the jail. She knew she shouldn’t be so frustrated. They both had different interests and should be allowed to pursue them. Her main concern was his interest getting in the way of their friendship.
Why couldn’t she understand his interest in the case? He didn’t have a problem with her interest in dancing. Was one any more harmful than the other?
It was difficult to describe how he felt being surrounded by violence on a daily basis, and how that made him want to understand other violent cases. He almost felt that it was his responsibility to stop whatever offenders he could since he was powerless to stop the ones in his own house. How could he make Haley understand that?
Aaron couldn’t worry about her now. He did, after all, have a case to solve.
He began by sketching and scribbling what he already knew on the wall, using the pen he convinced the guard to give him. He knew that Mr. and Mrs. Archer had their throats slit while they sat at their kitchen table. The table was set for three, but apparently no food was served. There had been no forced entry, and the two bedrooms with accommodations for three all looked lived in.
The primary suspect was an escaped burglar named Mark Newton. There was no known relation between Newton and the victims other than his fingerprints on a kitchen chair. Aaron didn’t see any motive there. He had overheard at Mr. Brooks’ store that the Archers had a seventeen-year-old son named Gerald who lived with them, but he was removed from the suspect list after an interview that found neither motive nor evidence. Gerald apparently had an alibi too—a late night out with friends at a movie.
But why would the table be set for three if Gerald wasn’t home? Perhaps they had a visitor. A visitor like Mark Newton. Aaron had to know what connection existed between Newton and the Archers.
Aaron fell asleep contemplating the case. In his dream, he saw a marble bathroom counter and a slowly trickling faucet. Tiny black whiskers floated in the sink, and globs of shaving cream plopped on top of the drain. He looked up and saw the face of his eleven-year-old self peering out of the mirror. At his side, Father leaned over the sink and guided a razor over his chin.
Mr. Hotchner was explaining: “Then the defense asked me, ‘How can you prove that the victim ever came into contact with the defendant before he was made a suspect?’ And I had called up an expert witness to the stand. This fellow was a psychiatrist, see, and he explained how the woman who was robbed was able to point out the offender from a line up, even though she never saw his face during the crime.”
“How could she recognize someone she’d never seen before?” Aaron asked as he handed his father a wash cloth.
“I’m getting to that, Mr. Urgent. Apparently the robber revealed during the crime that he had been orphaned as a child. Just so happens the victim had been orphaned as a child as well. When she looked at the men in the line up, she recognized the one that endured the same loss she had gone through. She could tell just by looking at them which ones were not orphans.”
“No way! Nobody can tell just by looking at somebody.”
“She could, because she could recognize the same signs she carried herself. Anyway, the jury didn’t buy it, but I still believe there’s something to that. Do you think we can point out the people who have been through the same things we have?”
Aaron thought for a minute, youthful brow furrowed. “Well, I can always tell when Frank and Bobby fail a math quiz, because I... That is, I think I know what that’s like.”
“Aaron...” The razor stopped moving. “Is there something you need to tell me about?”
Caught, Aaron looked down. “No, well, yes... it’s just the last two chapters in math have lost me.”
The shaving resumed. “Then why don’t we go over it together after supper?”
Aaron grinned. “I’d like that.”
With that resolved, he stood still and kept his mouth shut as he listened to more stories of prosecutions gone wrong. In every story, he marveled at the genius behind his father’s methods, though they didn’t always pay off. He always wanted to know more.