It was a beautiful sunny day in Laconia and Orville returned to his deck out behind his house as he brought everyone another round of beers. Alberto, Harry, Kathryn, Vicky Wells, Barb Harris, and Sarah sat around the large table and once more clinked bottles together as they celebrated Sarah’s release from custody. She had only been back out for a couple weeks, and Sarah was still not quite back to the same woman they had all known before this whole nightmare began. She was much thinner than when she had been arrested and to Orville it looked like she had aged dramatically in the many months she had had this ordeal hanging over her head. He could see her slowly recovering with each day, but also knew this was just the beginning of what was likely to be a long road back.
Just like Finley, both Robertson and Holding had eventually folded when Arnold Redding and Alberto presented the situation to them together following Redding’s interview with Finley. Redding had been initially skeptical of Alberto’s motives and basis for trying to reverse the court’s decision, but Alberto knew that was just in the nature of any DA out there. There reputations and reelections depended on as near an unblemished conviction rate as possible. But despite who Redding was as a person, at least from Alberto’s perspective anyway, he saw that he would end up in much greater peril and a poor light from the voting public if he refused to address this: the faulty conviction based on the perjured testimony of two witnesses that had been the basis for the conviction in the first place.
It came out after multiple interviews and a number of depositions from locals who had seen all three at Pete’s Pub the night of Joe’s murder celebrating loudly. In the end, it was just as Finley had described in his revised version of the crime. Holding had killed Joe as an act of vengeance and hate toward Sarah for the restraining order and divorce proceedings. He had then recruited both Robertson and Finley as accomplices to transport Joe’s body from the murder site to his apartment and to plant the murder weapon in Garrity’s unit where it would be easily discovered by police. He knew that Sarah’s knife would be loaded with her prints. All they had to do was add Joe’s blood.
And to even the debt owed to him by Robertson and Finley he got them to testify that they had been with him in Memphis the day of the murder as an alibi. Their fabrication of fights and arguments between Joe and Sarah were pure fiction to just seal the deal. The tampering of evidence from way back was no longer applicable to Holding due to the statute of limitations, but Redding did not care since he was about to add three new convictions, all for a murder, to his tally sheet. He added in the perjury charges as well, stating he had been misled all along by the men, which Alberto figured was probably accurate. Even as much as he disliked Redding, he could not envision him conspiring with the two to convict Sarah just to close a case.
Alberto watched from afar as Redding held yet another of his choreographed press conferences to announce the “shocking and scandalous” reversal in the Joe Garrity murder trial. He had to admit that Redding could play an audience. He had spoken well and eloquently in what Alberto was sure an adequate oration to keep his ambitious rise to higher office on track. But he did not care. Justice had been served and Sarah was free. Perhaps through some slight of hand, Alberto mused humorously, but served, nonetheless. Not totally ethical he knew, but also nothing that would cause him to lose any sleep. He walked away after Redding had hit the high points announcing Sarah’s immediate release and what even to Alberto seemed a heartfelt apology. After declaring indictments for all three: Finley, Robertson, and Holding, Alberto left the area in order not to be late for a meeting with a new client he had just picked up.
Orville was glad she was finally out and that he had been instrumental, along with Harry and Alberto in securing her release and identifying the real criminals in Joe’s vicious murder. But as he looked over at her just now, he tried to imagine what he would be feeling if he had been in her shoes all this time. He could not. Even this short incarceration had broken down the woman he had known. And on top of it all, she was still mourning the loss of Joe. Orville was amazed at how well she was holding up all things considered. It was in this regard that he had referred her to his former therapist, Dr. Emily Fote over at the Anderson Clinic who had been so instrumental in helping him in the days just after his TIA event.
“I know you may not be ready yet,” Orville told Sarah in a private moment, “but keep Emily in mind. I never thought a psychologist would ever be necessary for myself, but it made all the difference for me. Emily is great. She’s kind and compassionate and has a gentle hand in her approach. Once you are more settled just consider it. You’ve experienced quite a bit of loss in this whole thing, Sarah. Do not try and shoulder it all alone, OK?”
“OK, Orville…I will think about it. Therapy has just never been my thing, you know?”
“Mine either, Sarah. But you may need someone more trained and knowledgeable about what you went through than what support we as friends can offer. Just try it. Emily may be good for you or if not I’ll bet she can recommend someone who is a better fit. Just don’t try and ignore this trauma, please?”
Sarah nodded and wiped away a tear as she hugged Orville tightly.
“How can I ever repay you, Orville? And Alberto and Harry and Barb and….geez, the list just goes on and on…”
“It’s what friends are for, Sarah. Just take your time and realize this adjustment will take some time. Don’t expect to just wake up one day and that everything will be back to normal.”
“I know…I know….”
The celebration went on for a few hours and Sarah finally stood to make a public announcement of her extreme gratitude to them all for the lengths they had gone to in order to secure her release. They sat in silence until Sarah broke down near the end of her short speech and all raised their glasses high to toast friends, justice, and how all their hard work had paid off in spades.
Harry leaned over to Orville and whispered as applause covered his voice.
“Even our version of getting there, huh, Orville?”
Orville looked at him with a grin but inside was still bothered about how much deception and lying he had been required to be a part of to get to the correct outcome. He knew justice had been served at last, but it still gnawed at him a bit to what lengths they had been forced to go to get there. It was just not in his normal character, he guessed. He motioned for Harry to follow him over to the side of the deck away from the group.
“And you are OK with this? I mean…the ends justify the means and all that?” Orville asked back.
“Look, Orville…I understand how you feel. I really do. But sometimes in this line of work that I got myself into years ago, I discovered it is not always so pretty and clean. Do not get me wrong. I would never do something strictly illegal to benefit one of Alberto’s clients. But bending the rules and tiptoeing over the line when I know they are innocent? That is another thing.”
Orville did not reply.
“Look,” he continued, “try and view it in the bigger picture. One…Sarah was innocent and she got exonerated. Two…three scumbags got caught and are on their way to a lengthy stay in prison. And three…you and I made it happen…along with Alberto. Pretty good damn day at the office I would say.”
Orville nodded his agreement and clinked bottles with Harry when the PI offered his. And he supposed Harry had a point, but all the same, Orville truly hoped this was his last brush with the legal system and the courts.
“By the way, Orville,” Harry asked, “you ever going to tell me who your source was on all of this?”
Orville grinned but said nothing.
“So this is going to be one of those things you take to the grave?”
“Afraid so, Harry…if you are around when I am on my death bed, drop by the house, Maybe then…”
Harry laughed loudly and clapped him on the back and the both wandered back to the group.
Fall in Laconia had been brief that year and it looked as if winter was making an early entry. The normal pleasure Orville had always taken in the transition from summer to fall had been short-lived that year and the colorful foliage of all the trees out behind his bungalow seemed to come and go in just days instead of weeks. Early late fall/early winter winds swept through the woods and ripped the golden and red leaves from the branches leaving just bare, lonely-looking limbs all around. It was disappointing to Orville as he sat early one morning with his coffee during a brief lull in what had been non-stop breezes all day long for what felt like weeks now.
Despite feeling cheated out of the fall bazaar he had become accustomed to in past seasons, Orville smiled as he thought over all that was otherwise good in his life these days. Sarah was back home in her apartment and as far as he could tell she was moving forward with her life. She had taken his advice and called Emily Forte for an initial session. She liked Emily, but after a couple visits they both discovered that Emily, regardless of how effective she had been for Orville, was just not the right fit for Sarah. It was a mutual revelation to both women and no hard feelings were experienced on either front as Emily referred Sarah to a colleague of hers that she felt would better serve Sarah in her recovery.
It had indeed seemed the right move as the last time Orville had spoken to Sarah he could see more than one instance of bright flashes of the old Sarah Holding breaking through the hard façade that the ordeal with Joe’s murder had dealt her. She was back at Middle Way Books as well which he saw as just as good apiece of therapy as her sessions with Bradley Gibbons, Emily’s colleague, who had taken her on as a client. Orville and Kathryn checked in on her regularly until Sarah finally told them they could relax about her…she appreciated their concern, but she had finally reached the point where she was needing to toss away as many emotional crutches as she could in her recovery. They still got together for dinners and lunches from time to time, but the frequency had tailed off at Sarah’s request as they all went back to their own normal routines.
Richard Finley, Thomas Robertson, and James Holding were all locked away. This was perhaps as satisfying to Orville as having Sarah back home and safe again. Despite Alberto’s underlying disdain for Arnold Redding, the DA had gone full bore in his prosecution of the trio. They had all pled out to obtain reduced sentences, but it seemed unlikely any of them would be seeing daylight anytime soon. For his cooperation in initiating the toppling the whole scheme, Finley got the best deal of the three, but with the perjury charge on top of the accessory to murder charge he still found himself facing a long stretch.
Robertson, like Finley had the two charges leveled at him as well and received a slightly more severe penalty than Finley just because he had been coerced into his confession when Finley rolled over on them all. Which brought Orville to consider James Holding’s fate. Holding had been the mastermind of the whole plot and in the end the one responsible for Joe’s murder and as such he had been sentenced to life without parole, his plea allowing him to escape lethal injection. Orville supposed that if he had been more of a vindictive person than he was, that it would have annoyed him that Holding had avoided what Sarah surely would have been facing, but he was not. Life without, Orville reckoned, was in many ways worse than death. It was a day to day hell that Orville could not imagine enduring. To him it was a fitting punishment for the man who had nearly gotten away with framing Sarah.
Orville himself was considering another trip. After all the stress and tension that had been involved in obtaining Sarah’s freedom he needed some time away from Laconia. And winter in Tennessee, his least favorite season of all here, was a perfect time to find some more pleasant climes. Ecuador had been on Orville’s radar for some time and he had begun putting together a trip there a few weeks prior. The draw of the Galapagos Islands was the centerpiece of this journey but never having been there before, he also was looking at adding more time to explore the rich colonial heritage of Cuenca, the high altitude gem of Quito, and some of the smaller towns and villages into the foothills to the east above Quito such as Otavalo and Cotacachi as well as the beaches of Esmeraldas and Salinas.
He was still considering a canine companion, but with what the last few months had brought him that search had been put on hold. Orville fully intended to return to that once he returned from Ecuador. He had not had any more health scares since that awful day at RMD, but he was aging. He figured some of this had to do with what had been necessary to free Sarah, but he also knew he had some family history to consider. Ecuador was, he thought, maybe his last extended trip abroad, and if so ,then that would be the ideal time to get a dog from the shelter. Orville had never considered himself a real homebody but in the back of his mind he could easily picture himself relaxing in the woods with his new best friend.
The one other loose end in this whole adventure, of course, had been Kathryn. He knew she still had this suspicion about how he had come to provide Alberto and Harry with the new evidence that had sprung Sarah. For a long time he considered trying to explain the secret of the urn to her, but it just never felt right. Whoever or whatever it was that had come to him from the ashes in the urn, Orville did not feel it fair or respectful to try and turn that into some sort of show-and-tell event to convince Kathryn that he was not losing it. In he end, he saw this as more about addressing her opinion of him rather than cluing her in on it all.
As good a friend as Kathryn was, Orville did not want to feel as if he was taking advantage of the situation with his guest in the urn. There had been no further appearances from the urn since that night when the apparition had appeared to him about Sarah’s situation. Orville did not know if this meant it had moved on after fulfilling some required task or if it was still with him in some manner. Orville had done some reading about such theories and experiences of the supernatural and paranormal events, but other than some general education on it all was still uncertain. He had, though, surely changed his views on the whole idea. Between La Mala Hora and the urn, Orville guessed he would describe himself now as a full-fledged believer in such things.
He debated with himself for some time about it all and Kathryn but finally saw no need to involve her any further in any of it. She had not pressed him for anything more on the subject, though with what he knew of her Orville was sure she was still curious. She had, gratefully, respected his wish to stay silent on the matter. The negative outcomes of trying to make her a believer in this issue far outweighed any positives that Orville could envision. If he filled her in and had her come to the house for a possible sighting to prove his point, Orville saw only disaster possible. Either nothing would happen and Kathryn would think him possibly going mad. Not only would he alienate a good friend, but it was likely she might summon authorities to the situation in concern for his mental stability. Neither option was appealing.
And suppose whatever it was that lived in the ashes of the urn did manifest? So what? Would that be only to satisfy his own ego to prove to her how he had come to be of such assistance to Sarah? The more he thought about it, the more this latter possibility felt real to Orville. It was selfish and small-minded, he figured. So Orville said nothing more to Kathryn about it and life went on. Each day, though, that Orville passed by the urn he smiled and sent along his thanks and gratitude its way in the hopes that if he was still sharing his home with someone there that they knew how appreciative he was.
He was not sure as he made his final reservations for his flight to Quito and firmed up the final details for his tour of Ecuador what he wanted as the resolution for the status of the urn. In some ways he hoped that if what had appeared to him had been some psychic task assigned to the entity in order to be released from its earthly ties that the spirit had indeed been able to move on. But he also had to admit that he still longed for another episode. The malevolent overtones of La Mala Hora had been so upsetting and terrifying to him that this experience, in stark contrast to that, had made Orville look differently upon such things. Despite what Hollywood and TV tried to impart…that all apparitions are evil and have bad intent…that this is a misnomer.
Orville realized that entertainment mindset sold tickets and cable subscriptions. Who wants to see a show about a friendly and helpful spirit, he told himself as he chuckled at the thought. Just like the media would have trouble selling good news versus making everyone petrified with disaster, health scares, supposed terrorist threats, and general mayhem. But he did not have to buy into it. And he refused to do so now. Life was good, Orville mused as he once again lifted the Tijax talisman from under his shirt and thought again of Francisco as he gazed at it. And he had no reason to believe it was only going to get better.
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