Daddy's Prosecution Trick
Aaron snapped awake to the sound of keys jangling. Dusty sunlight peeked into his cell from the square-foot window near the ceiling. His back ached as he sat up—metal cot on cuts and bruises did not make for much comfort.
The guard, a short, plump man named Ernie who wore an upside-down looking mustache, gazed with wide eyes into the cell. “Look, kid, I didn’t give you a pen to mark up our walls.”
Aaron rubbed his head, looking from his scribbles on the brick to the guard’s perplexed face. “Well, I didn’t have any paper, sir.”
“Reckon you’re right.” Ernie squinted and stroked his chin. “What’re you writing about, anyway?”
“I’m studying the homicide case in town. That’s what I was trying to learn more about when I got arrested.”
Ernie glanced nervously in both directions. “You ain’t involved, are you?”
“Oh. No, sir. I’m only trying to understand it.”
Aaron shrugged a little. “It’s something to focus on. And it’s really interesting.”
Ernie looked both ways again. “Then I’ll bet you’d be interested to know more about the interview with Gerald Archer, son of the victims.”
Aaron perked up. “I’m listening.”
“Now, for obvious reasons, I’m not supposed to tell you about this stuff. I was only a guard in the room, and I can’t shake the feeling that something’s wrong with the fellow.”
“Eager kid.” Ernie leaned close to the bars, still keeping a wary eye out. “So the cops have Gerald in a room, you see, and they’re asking all about his relationship with his parents. Gerald says they get on just fine and that he misses them, but he doesn’t show any sadness. Looks down once or twice, but no tears, no nothing. When they ask him how he feels about their murder, he says he’s still in shock. But I couldn’t overlook his lack of emotions. He can’t be that shocked still, now can he?”
“I don’t know,” said Aaron, hoping Ernie had more interesting information to share. “It’s only been a couple weeks.”
“Yeah, a couple weeks, and he’s still shell-shocked out of all emotions!”
“What else did they say?”
“Nothing much, really. Gerald said he loved his folks and would never hurt them. Then he said he’d been to a movie that night, and he had five friends to back up the story.”
“Rocky III, premier night, he said. Been meaning to see that one myself if I ever get time enough off.”
Aaron’s brow knitted, and a smile teased the corner of his lips. “But that’s impossible,” he muttered. “Rocky III premiered two days after the murder. I know because I saw the release date at the cinema yesterday.” As the realization sunk in, he contained his surprise and gave Ernie a straight face. “When was he interviewed?”
“They meant to interview him long before they actually got around to it. It finally happened last weekend.”
“And the police didn’t check his alibi?”
“Sure, they talked to all five of his buddies.” The guard thought for a second, stroking his chin, wrinkling his brow. “But I guess they didn’t check the date. By golly, that was plum foolish of them. I think they looked up the wrong motion picture altogether.”
“Hey, I wouldn’t expect much from those fellows anyway. For one thing, why have they got you in here rather than in a hospital?”
Aaron frowned and leaned back. “What do you mean?”
“Clear as the sky to me that you’re getting hurt at home. I can see the burns on your hands and feet. I see other marks and bruises too. If they’re not looking into the people that caused your pain, then there’s really no hope for this department.”
Aaron didn’t know what to say. Ernie noticed in a few minutes what everybody in his life had ignored for years. Sure, some of the police might have noticed his injuries during his arrest, but they took his mother’s word instead of investigating further. Aaron had been wondering if he should try explaining more about his home life or if it was even worth it.
“Look, I hate seeing kids like you suffer,” Ernie said. “Why don’t we bring the cops in and tell them to find whoever’s hurting you?”
“What would they do about it?”
“They might arrest whoever’s doing this. Erase the harm forever.”
Aaron looked down at his feet. Charles hadn’t beaten him since he promised not to talk about his stepfather’s umpteenth affair, but he could still see reminders from the last time. He had been cowering on the floor, hugging his knees, keeping his head down. Halfway through the knuckle-heavy attack, Charles failed to get any response from Aaron. Furious, he began jabbing his lit cigarette onto the boy’s bare feet, just as he had done before to his hands a few times. Aaron had come very close to hitting back, but an open lighter kept him at bay. And Charles had shouted—how he had shouted—breaking decibel levels as he called Aaron every nasty word and wished for his early demise. Aaron couldn’t comprehend where such intense hatred came from.
But in the end, he had reduced Charles’ violence on his own, with no help from the police. The threat of telling Mother who he was cheating with was apparently enough to keep him off Aaron’s back. Maybe, Aaron thought, he could find a similar ploy to get rid of Mother too. Did he really need police help?
“You okay, kid?” Ernie asked.
Aaron nodded, eyes downcast. “I don’t know what to say to the police.”
“Just tell them everything. It’s your best bet.”
“Maybe I’ll talk to them if I can’t handle it anymore. But I need to at least try.”
“But you will call if it gets real bad?”
“Yes, Ernie. I’ll call.” Aaron was touched by Ernie’s genuine concern. No one other than Haley expressed such empathy. He cleared his throat, now wanting to direct the attention away from himself. “Can you tell me more about the interview? More about how Gerald behaved?”
“Well, he was a bit jumpy, I noticed. Didn’t show emotion, but jumped at every loud noise or sudden movement.”
Aaron looked up suddenly.
“Funny thing, too. He had to keep hitching his pants up because he didn’t wear a belt. The officer asked why, and Gerald says, ‘Just don’t like ’em,’ or something to that effect. Never seen somebody so poorly dressed with such a weak excuse.”
Aaron’s eyes slowly grew.
“Oh, and the sergeant,” Ernie went on. “Halfway through, he decided to get a little tougher. Raised his voice and all that. Gerald clammed. Covered his face and clammed.”
“Why?” Aaron’s mouth went dry.
“Said, ‘No shouting. I’ll tell you everything.’ And tell them he did, exonerating himself all the way. Poor kid, losing his parents at seventeen. Still, I would expect more sadness. Rebellious teenager, you suppose? Didn’t like to listen to them?”
There was a bang on the wall from the prisoner in the next cell, and the man yelled, “What are you yammering on about over there? I want you to fetch the sergeant for me.”
Ernie glanced over his shoulder. “Nuts. I oughta’ finish my rounds. Do me a favor and don’t say we talked. I’m sure that interview was confidential.”
“No worries,” Aaron assured him.
“Take care, kid.” Ernie soon walked on, leaving Aaron to stare at the wall in a state of semi-shock.
Aaron got up and continued writing down what he’d learned. He wrote and created diagrams and scratched off theories until a visitor appeared an hour later.
“Oh, Haley! You’ll never believe what I found out!”
Haley carried a rolled-up newspaper under her arm and a wary smile on her lips. “What?”
“I’ve just go so much more information now. Inside details on an interview. I think I might actually crack this.”
Haley’s face fell. “I’m doing fine, thanks for asking.”
The pen in Aaron’s hand dropped to his side and he looked her in the eye. “I’m sorry. I won’t say anymore about the case.”
“Good. How are you feeling?”
“I’m okay. Just a little sore.”
“I missed you at school. We did some experiments with planting seeds.”
Aaron tried to look excited. “Fun.”
“I heard Peter’s doing better too. And his uncle was arrested this morning.”
“That’s great.” It really was, and this time he showed some enthusiasm.
Haley sighed. “Well, you’ll be out in time for the quiz, right?”
“I guess so.”
“I’d be happy to study with you, if you’d like.”
“I’d like that.”
She hesitated. He knew he wasn’t giving her the enthusiasm she wanted, and he tried to look more conversational. He knew he looked disheveled on top of everything else and wished he’d had a chance to freshen up in the morning.
Then Haley sighed again and held out the newspaper. He took it, and tried to smile.
“Thank you, Haley. And please know that I am really sorry about how this happened. I’m sorry I can’t be with you more.”
“It’s okay. I’m not mad.”
“I’ll see you when I get out.”
“Okay, Aaron. I hope so. Because class is boring and the bootblack who’s substituting for you has no head for conversation.”
“Don’t be. I have to get back to school now. Enjoy your time off.”
He waited for her to disappear down the hall before throwing open the paper. ARCHERS’ TEENAGE SON NO LONGER A SUSPECT IN PARENTS’ MURDERS — HUNT CONTINUES FOR MARK NEWTON.
Below the headline were two photos. One of Newton, scowling above his jail number, and the other of the Archer family. Aaron immediately noticed the coldness between Mr. and Mrs. Archer and their son. The couple had hands on each other’s shoulders, but neither touched Gerald. Gerald stood in front of and away from them, staring blankly ahead.
Aaron looked deep into Gerald’s eyes as he processed all the behavioral details he’d been given. He recognized the stare as the same one he had seen in the mirror a hundred times. The hidden pain of abuse stood out starkly in his eyes, and Aaron knew that he alone could see it.
“Motive,” he whispered.
He looked up to see the overweight guard continuing his rounds across the hall. “Ernie!”
The guard came huffing and puffing. “Everythin’ okay?”
“I just want to make a phone call. Can I?”
“Should be doable. I’ll get with the sergeant.”
Soon Aaron was standing with ankles and wrists cuffed in a narrow room with one-way glass in one wall and a payphone on the other. The police had taken everything from his pockets following his arrest, but he had managed to get one last look at the shiny business card. After straining to remember the number for only a few seconds, he picked up the receiver and dialed.
The line rang. And rang. By the fifth ring, Aaron started to worry. Maybe the office was empty. Or maybe he had remembered the number wrong.
He was about to hang up, disappointed, when the other end suddenly picked up.
“FBI Special Agent Jason Gideon.”
“It’s me, Aaron Hotchner.”
“The, uh, the bootblack at the hardware store you visited...”
“Oh, yes, I remember you, Aaron. What can I do for you?”
Such a generous gesture. Aaron paused for a minute to collect his thoughts.
“I’m here, sir. I just wanted to tell you I’ve been following the case, and I think that Gerald Archer should be made a prime suspect.”
He heard the phone shifting and papers shuffling. “Why do you think that?”
“Well, sir, there are cracks in his alibi. He clearly lied about what movie he’d been to. There were also three places set at the table on the night of the murder.”
“That much I figured out. The police work around here isn’t worth much mention. But why do you think he did it? Couldn’t he just be scared and forgetful?”
“That’s unlikely, sir. It’s been two weeks and he’s bound to be over the initial shock. But here’s the thing. I believe he secretly hated his parents and wanted to get away from them.”
“He’s distant from them in their family picture. He showed no sadness. More importantly, he kept flinching and behaving strangely during the interview. When I looked at his picture, suddenly I knew.”
“He was abused by his parents, verbally and physically.”
“You looked at his picture, and you knew?”
“Yes, sir. I can tell by his eyes.”
“What kind of behavioral expert are you, Aaron?”
“I’m no expert. It’s just... I saw the signs. It takes one to know one.”
The line went silent.
“Aaron. Are you telling me you suspect the Archers of having abused their son because you are familiar with the signs of abuse?”
Aaron swallowed. “That’s right, sir. And I’m afraid he snapped. It makes sense, slitting their throats. He wanted to stop the hurtful voices.”
“How can you be sure...?”
“I can’t, Agent Gideon, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t know what it was like. What it’s like to want to stop the pain no matter what. How you might fantasize about the ways you could stop them, even violent ways... In all honesty, sir, I have often thought about killing a couple people in my life who have put me through Hell.”
“Aaron, are you getting help for this?”
“Don’t worry about me. I’m at the police station right now.” At least it wasn’t a lie.
“Hold on one moment.” Aaron heard the phone shift again. Then he heard Gideon’s muffled voice saying, “Dave! Where have you been? I need you to find that address, you know the motel...”
“What’s going on?”
“Wait.” Gideon came back on the line. “So Aaron, let’s say you’re right about this. It still doesn’t give us enough reason to suspect Gerald.”
“I suppose not, but I think it’s a lead. I can’t help wondering if Gerald is in some way connected to Mark Newton. I mean, isn’t it unlikely that a kid like me could pull this off on his own? Maybe he worked with Newton.”
“Who’s on the line?” he heard Agent Rossi ask. “Is that Hotch?”
“Yeah.” Gideon again. “Aaron, you do realize that your suspicions alone do not warrant probable cause for Gerald Archer’s arrest?”
“I think I know what you mean.”
“We can’t arrest or even suspect Gerald based only on your speculations.”
“I understand, but it’s not just speculation, Agent Gideon! I wouldn’t call you if I wasn’t sure.”
“Alright. It’s worth looking into. Thanks for the call, Aaron.”
“I’m honored to speak with you, sir.”
“No big deal. Just call anytime you have a question.”
Rossi’s voice came on. “Maybe we should call him with our questions!”
Gideon came back: “Aaron, look after yourself. Make sure you’re getting the help you need, understand?”
Too quickly, it was over. Aaron was returned to his cell and left to ponder every angle of the case. When he got tired of going over the same facts and theories, his thoughts drifted back to Haley. He hoped he hadn’t turned her away. Hopefully they could find something to do together after his release.
By the end of his jail term, Aaron was ready to give the case a rest. He hadn’t found any new details, and he figured Gideon and Rossi could handle it fine from here. With gradually increasing intensity, Aaron’s greatest concern became that of facing his family again. He feared he wouldn’t have any time to even think about the case or see Haley once he left the freedom of jail and returned to his parents’ imprisonment.