The three of us went to the Liberty police station where Gary had earlier arranged a meeting with Butch. Gary told us he would meet us there as soon as he was done in court. Liz remained at home with her mother. Although it had been more than twenty years, we had rehearsed our story so many times in our youth; it rolled off our tongues like the Apostle’s Creed. We impatiently sat in the cold waiting room, stale coffee and glazed doughnuts wafted through the air. Gabby nervously feasted on her nails and paced the laminate floor. “Maybe we should just tell him about what Mr. Townsend did to her.”
“Aw’ you kiddin’ me?” snapped Sherry.
“She was molested for God’s sake. I deal with this sort of thing all the time. Young girls come forward years after they’ve been violated,” explained Gabby. I agreed with Gabby, this had gone on far too long.
“She’s right, Sherry. We read about it all the time now. Maybe it’s time we convince Liz to get some help and deal with it. She’s not a child anymore.”
“You’re both right about her getting professional help. But we say nothing about anything else. They might charge us with accomplice charges.” Sherry told us.
“What?” Gabby shouted.
“Shh,” Sherry whispered, “We’ve lied about evidence, lied about motive. And let’s not forget Sam.”
And just like that, we were back to keeping it a secret again. No matter how much we thought the truth would set us free, Sherry had us convinced it would only validate Liz’s motive. We had kept her secret this long; we’d keep it even longer. But now it wasn’t so much to hide Liz’s past, as it was to keep us from looking guilty.
“Besides, if Butch is still the blundering boob he was then…”
We heard a loud voice clear itself, “Uh...hmm…ladies, please come in.” Sherry’s eyes popped when she saw Butch standing in the doorway. “Holy freakin canoli!” She nudged me with her arm. “When did he get so damn hot?” She whispered. I stepped into his office first.
“Nice to see you again, Butch.”
Gabby extended her hand, “Hi Butch, you look terrific.”
He pleasingly patted his belly, “Thanks. Been trying to get to the gym at least three nights a week. How have you been Gabby, and your family?”
While they were exchanging small talk, I could see Sherry’s face tighten as she waited for him to acknowledge her. He extended his hand first, “And you, Sherry, I can see you haven’t changed a bit. Still the same wise-cracker.” I laughed under my breath. He had obviously overheard the rude comment she had made earlier.
Sherry fumbled with her words, which was so un-Sherry-like.
“Oh Butch, I didn’t mean anything by that, I…I…”
“Please don’t insert your foot any farther. You’re right,” he paused, as he patted his tummy again; his chest slowly rising as he inhaled. “I was a big blundering boob. But just so you know where I’m coming from,” he hesitated and the tone of his voice strengthened, “I’ve learned to use that to my advantage.” Then, he began rifling through some old files, getting right to the point. “You see, something is telling this blundering boob,” he looked directly in Sherry’s eyes, “you know more than you’re telling me.”
I watched as Sherry sank in her seat and her complexion turned bright cherry. “Now here’s the biggy…this ole’ fat, redhead that everyone enjoyed picking on is all grown up now.”
“Honest, Butch, I was only kidding,” Sherry tried apologizing again.
“I’m sure you were. But I’m not. This is a murder investigation, and had you been more upfront twenty years ago, maybe things would be different now.”
I looked around the room, studying the different frames on his office walls. Each was methodically covered with police commendations. My eye was drawn to the one of Butch and Officer Simms. It must have been taken just after Butch graduated from the police academy. They were proudly shaking hands. Butch had always idolized Officer Simms when we were younger despite what most people said about him behind his back.
We called Simms the Andy Griffith of Liberty. He was an ass-backward hillbilly but a heck of a nice man. Maybe that explained Butch’s affinity for him.
To Mr. Simms, Liberty was a thriving metropolis, so when our town was racked with its first murder investigation in decades, he was really caught by the heels. I can’t say anything about him as a person; he was always nice to us. He even let us off the hook a few times when Fanny, the neighbor, would rat us out.
Butch cut right to the chase. “There’s no sense in my interviewing you gals separately, we’re all adults now,” he reached for a file sitting neatly on the desk in front of him. “According to your original statements you each admitted to being at McNurney’s.”
"But should't we wait for Gary?" I questioned.
"If you aren't hiding anything then I don't see why me asking some questions is gonna change anything."
I took a deep breathe hoping he could not sense my apprehension.
“For God’s sake Butch, you wa’ thea’ too,” remarked Sherry.
“I know, Sherry,” he added, “and Officer Simms had no reason not to believe any of you...hmm…us,” he corrected himself.
“Then what’s the problem, Butch?” Gabby asked.
“The problem is that we were only together for a few hours, that leaves a large time slot.”
I was beginning to grow uneasy with his insinuations, but I didn’t want him to pick up on my insecurities. He leafed through a few more papers, and his silence continued to stir concern in me. He began reading from the file again.
“According to the evidence, blood was found fifty yards from McNurney’s…near the path leading away from the water.”
“But Officer Simms knew about that blood in ’76,” hinted Sherry.
“He did,” Butch nodded, “but he didn’t have DNA tests back then. We could only prove that the blood was type A negative.”
“I’m sorry, Butch, but I thought he died from strangulation,” Gabby probed again.
Discreetly, Sherry stretched out her left foot beneath the desk and pressed it against mine as if to tell me she was onto something. I figured Sherry’s legal mind must have sensed where he was heading with this. Suddenly, referring to Liz’s diary, Butch shifted gears, “Any idea why she hated her dad so much?”
I didn’t see the harm in defending Liz’s feelings, “Come on Butch, we were teenagers. We hated our parents if they disapproved of our music or our friends.”
He sifted through the stack of papers again and began reading the powerful words Liz had written twenty years earlier. I hate him so much. I wish one day he wouldn’t come home from school! He makes me sick, Butch dragged his index finger to the next spot he had highlighted. Jan 5th 1976. There was no school today because of the snow. I hung with Gabby and Pepper. I spent most of the day with them at Pepper’s house. Anything to avoid being around him. “Sounds to me like these issues are ongoing.”
When I looked over at Gabby, I could see her diligently manicuring her fingernails with her upper incisors, a nervous habit she had done all through childhood.
Butch flipped through his papers one last time. “This entry is dated July 2, a few days before John Townsend’s murder. I told my friends today. They are already treating me differently, but I believe them when they say they’ll never say a word. We pinkie swore on it. What did you promise Liz?”
I could feel the heat from Butch’s eyes as they burned through me. Sherry remained unruffled, maybe because she was used to the scrutiny of a courtroom, but as for Gabby and me, we were slowly breaking.
Gabby was spitting tidbits of her cuticles on Butch’s floor. At the rate she was chomping; I thought she’d look like an amputee by the end of the interview.
Butch had gotten up from his chair, circled his desk, and leaned against it directly in front of us. We pushed back in our chairs almost in unison with one another. “You’ve heard of DNA?” We nodded, since we were familiar with recent studies involving the testing of it. Sherry hoisted herself upright in a kind of defensive posture.
“The DNA they found was Mr. Townsend’s,” he confirmed. Gabby was quick to jump in, “But I thought you said he was strangled?”
“According to the autopsy, he was,” Butch confirmed.
“Maybe that’s from when he hit his head,” Sherry slipped.
“Who said anything about a head injury?” Butch sarcastically replied.
“I…I’m sure Officer Simms had told us he had a head injury.” murmured Sherry.
Butch’s interview tactics were beginning to wear us down. I knew it wouldn’t be long before one of us flubbed up again. It had been so long ago that even we couldn’t remember the details we had told the police or how much information they had shared with us.
“Actually, there was a bruise found around the base of his neck, possibly sustained during a struggle.” I could hardly believe Herman Butcheviwietz was controlling this interview. He was narrowing in with extreme precision. The overweight, geek born and raised in Liberty, was piecing it all together.
Gabby spun the bottle and it landed right at Butch. He was wearing nothing but his shorts and we assumed his tighty-whities were underneath. Reluctantly, Gabby called for his underpants. He eagerly began tugging at them. As he fumbled to get them off, he passed gas. “Geez, Butch!” Danny yelled, fanning his hand in front of his face. Butch giggled.
I was too embarrassed to say anything. None of us had ever seen Butch make it this far in the game. Usually he and Liz were the last ones in the circle, almost always fully dressed. We even rigged the bottle when Butch wasn’t watching just to get it to land on one of the other boys.
I tried not to look at Butch, but when curiosity got the best of me, I peeked. Butch was terribly overweight. Each of his stomach rolls rested neatly on top of the other. Sherry was cruel about it, “Holy shit Butch, you’ve got more rolls than my parents’ deli!” Everyone laughed including Butch, who wiggled his stomach like a bowl of Jell-o just to get us to chuckle -always at his own expense.
The bright side to Butch’s heaviness was the tire that hung around his waist. It provided a canopy for his boyhood package. No one ever called for him to take off his underwear after that game. But Butch always seemed to like making us laugh. And, so did Sherry.
Even though Liz idolized Sherry most of the time, there was a time Sherry’s bantering went a little too far, and Liz stood up to her in Butch’s defense.
A few days before Liz told us about her dad, we were out at the pond swinging from a rope that hung from an aged Weeping Willow tree. Danny, Gary and Sherry were all over Butch’s case that afternoon. They teased him every chance they got. Nothing new, Butch was an easy target because he made himself the brunt of his own jokes.
Each of us would take turns hanging from the twine, gliding out as far as we could before dropping into the pond. We’d try different things to see who could make the biggest splash. Liz never participated. She said it hurt her hands so we made her be the judge. Truth be told, I don’t think she was strong enough to support her own weight to make it across. Anyway, Butch held the title for the biggest splash ever made.
“Holy cow! That sounded like a turd hitting the bowl,” howled Danny.
“Tidal wave!” Gary shouted.
Since Butch was entertaining us and didn’t seem to be bothered by it, we laughed with him. Gabby and I never made any rude comments, but I’m ashamed to say, we never stopped them either.
I could see Liz whisper in Butch’s ear, “Why do you let them laugh at you like that?” For Butch, it was a matter of acceptance. He liked belonging to the in-crowd despite being teased and since Sherry’s arrival to Liberty - we were the in crowd. Butch jumped for the rope again. As he swung across the twine, it frayed and snapped free in midair. Butch swiftly dropped to the ground, completely missing the water. He hit hard enough causing a bellowing sound to eject from his body unlike anything I had ever heard. The angle at which he had fallen had caused his wet bathing suit to come down just below his rear end. We raced over immediately. I was the first to kneel beside him.
“Butch, are you okay? Don’t move!”
He rubbed his hand on the back of his head. Gary checked his head for bleeding. There wasn’t any.
“I think I’m okay but my ass hurts.”
When he rolled to his side, I could see a small object had punctured one side of his buttocks. At a closer look, it was a twig from a branch. “Don’t move, Butch.” I gently held my hand against the stick to prevent it from further protrusion. Gabby and Liz kept him preoccupied.
Sherry came running from the water , “Jesus, Butch you look like a pig roast!” I shot her a look. “Not now, Sherry!” I scorned her. I didn’t want to alert Butch as to what was happening to his backside.
“It’s throbbing,” Butch whimpered, as he reached for his bottom. “What is it, Pepper?”
I pushed his hand away.
“Don’t worry, Butch,” I leaned over and whispered to Danny and Sean to run for help. “It’s a small twig, but I don’t think we should remove it.”
“What?” he howled. “It’s in me?”
“Small? With an ass that big you’re lucky you didn’t get the entire trunk of the tree jammed up it.” Sherry joked.
Liz had finally hit her breaking point. She stood up, dusted herself off and let Sherry have it. “Speaking of trunks Sherry, what’s it like carrying one around like that all day?” Sherry had always been self-conscious about her nose; it was prominent and the one feature we knew she disliked. She often made comments about how the models’ noses looked and how she wished hers could be like theirs. But teasing each other was something we had never done before. The guys started chuckling, including Butch and Liz didn’t let it rest.
“Come on Sherry, what’s it like seeing down that slope?”
Sherry’s cheeks tightened as everyone laughed in unison, even Gabby and I couldn’t help ourselves. Despite his pain, Butch added, “We’d better stand back in case she sneezes.”
“Okay guys, I think you made your point,” I said in hopes of stopping this comedic settling of scores.
“Ha ha,” mocked Sherry.
“It’s not a good feeling, is it?” Liz whispered in Sherry’s ear.
Butch had to go to the emergency room that day. He needed a tetanus shot and 12 stitches. Things were quiet for several days after that incident. That was the last time I could ever remember Sherry making fun of Butch.
Butch finished explaining the evidence Officer Simms had found at McNurney’s. “There was more blood found about ten feet up the path, leading away from the pond.” At that point I wanted to tell Butch exactly what had transpired on July 4th. I believed in my heart Liz was innocent, and my gut was telling me Butch knew more than he was telling us. Could he be toying with us? But I couldn’t bring myself to betray Liz. A promise is a promise.
There was a rap at his door and over Butch’s intercom we heard, “Counselor Angeli is on his way in, Sir.” Butch was a Sir - it was ironic, yet somehow, I felt he had earned it. He was quite respected now and it was well merited.
Gary walked in with a briefcase in hand, “Ladies,” as he acknowledged us, I sensed he was a bit peeved that we started talking to Butch without him present.
“That was quick,” Sherry said.
“They found him guilty… so we’ll appeal.”
“I hope your track record is betta’ than that,” Sherry mumbled under her breath.
“Glad you’re here, Gary. I was just telling these ladies about the other blood found at the crime scene.” Butch said.
Other blood?” Sherry asked. Gary whipped his hand up as if to hush Sherry. “I haven’t had a chance to talk to them about all the evidence yet,” Gary explained to Butch.
Gary nudged up closer to Butch. I could barely hear the exchange between them. Every so often I could distinguish a few words. It sounded as if Gary was pleading with Butch by using our youthful past as a negotiating tool.
“Surely you can’t possibly believe Liz, of all people, could kill someone?” With their backs toward us, Butch answered, “Until they can give me evidence that says otherwise, I have to go with the facts and continue to follow the leads, Gary.” Butch stretched his head over his shoulder glaring at Sherry, “And believe me they’re hiding something.” I couldn’t make out the rest of the conversation but when it ended, so did Butch’s questions. “You’re free to go for now.”
Sherry popped out of her seat like a contestant on The Price is Right. I reached down for my pocketbook, and Butch’s hand clutched my forearm. “Pepper, you of all people know I had a special place in my heart for Liz. I’m just doing my job.”I pulled my arm back and flung my pocketbook over my shoulder. “She didn’t do it Butch - that much I can assure you!”