“You have no choice, Marcus. You’re testifying,” said Assistant DA Eileen Stanley. “I’m putting you on the stand, and the charges will go forward.”
What was it with her? Eileen had dark hair and dark eyes, and her long nails were painted deep red against her dark skin. She was standing behind her desk, where she was preparing to throw the book at Reine Colbert.
To make it worse, Marcus hadn’t heard back from Karen since the one text she had sent to tell him to stay far away from Reine after he’d shown up at the jail behind her to see what he could do to help. Apparently, because of his badge, he’d be forced to use everything Reine said against her. Maybe that was why he was standing before the assistant DA now, pleading for someone to see reason.
“Your charges are ridiculous,” Marcus said. “As you saw in my report, she didn’t understand what was happening. She was just trying to survive with her daughter the best she could. She knew nothing about Tommy Marshall, aiding and abetting, child endangerment, conspiring to aid and abet, hindering apprehension of a fugitive… Seriously, Eileen? You know, what really pisses me off is this charge of obstruction of law enforcement engaged in official duty, which is a new low even for you.”
It was on her face, in her expression. Evidently, she didn’t like how he was speaking to her. She roughly tucked a file in her briefcase. The arraignment would be in just under an hour, and she wore a suit with a long skirt. It was Judge Thompson’s court, and he insisted on formality from his lawyers: women in skirts, no pants, and men in a full suit and tie. Then there were his hair preferences: either short or tied back, with no long hair for men, and beards either freshly shaven or neatly trimmed.
“Look, there’s no way you can prove she knew anything about an outstanding warrant on Tommy,” Marcus said. “She had no idea he was a fugitive with a warrant out for attempted murder, and the circumstances of the charges against him were extenuating…”
She dragged her gaze up to him and held it, leaning on the desk on the palms of her hands. He knew she was working her way up to setting him straight. “Deputy O’Connell, I am well aware of your soft spot for the accused. It’s been duly noted, but it is not up to me to prove or disprove the charges or clear the name of Tommy Marshall. He fled. There was an outstanding warrant. Reine Colbert was with him. Whether the sheriff decides to bring criminal charges is entirely up to him. You know this, Marcus.”
She stood up and roughly gestured to him. “She was there in that house with him and was a party to the offense by aiding or assisting. Regardless of whether she did so before, during, or after the actual offense is completely irrelevant. The charges were filed, and I see no reason not to pursue them. If the judge decides to dismiss any of the charges, that is up to him, and the defense, I suspect, will likely have a bunch of motions to dismiss, but I guarantee you Judge Thompson is unlikely to do so. I’ve read both reports, yours and that of Deputy Lonnie Bush. Even if I were to choose not to pursue the matter of aiding and abetting, there is still the issue of her hindering the apprehension of a fugitive. Did you or did you not notify Tommy of his outstanding warrant in the presence of Reine Colbert?”
That was just something else that could add a nail to Reine’s coffin. She would never again have her freedom. It wasn’t looking good.
“As I thought,” she stated before he could answer.
“You seem to forget she walked out of there with her daughter,” Marcus said. “She didn’t know any of this, and as soon as I was in there to clear it up and reason with Tommy to let her go, she was out the door. That isn’t an accessory but a victim. A kidnapping, if you will. And child endangerment? Uh-uh, no way.” He was shaking his head.
Eileen nodded, a tight smile on her lips. Just then, there was a knock on the open door, and he turned to see an older woman dressed much the same way Eileen was.
“Excuse me,” she said. “You told me to remind you of the sentencing hearing for the Bower case at four?”
“Right, thank you, Susan,” Eileen said, then inhaled. He could see she was hurried and not really in the mood to be reasonable when she turned her gaze back to him. “Look, Marcus, I understand you want some leniency here, but Montana laws are clear on child endangerment. If you hurt a child, you will be punished. In case you need a refresher, in the crime of child endangerment, the laws are broadly applied at the discretion of the DA and the sheriff. Considering an adult has a legal responsibility to make sure a child is free from unreasonably dangerous situations, when an adult screws up and fails to adequately protect her daughter, which is exactly what Reine Colbert did, it is called child endangerment.
“Let me clarify, if you’re still unclear. Child endangerment occurs whenever a parent, guardian, or other adult caregiver allows a child to be placed or to remain in a dangerous, unhealthy, or inappropriate situation, whether intentionally or not. The beauty of this is that I don’t even have to show that Reine Colbert intentionally meant to expose Eva to a dangerous situation. The courts are clear and apply a reasonable person standard in child endangerment cases. As you’ve said, Ms. Colbert didn’t know, but that doesn’t fly with the courts, because even if she didn’t realize the situation was dangerous, reasonable people in that situation would have understood their actions could endanger the child’s wellbeing.
“Being in a home with Tommy Marshall, who was both armed and dangerous… For that offense alone, she could get up to ten years, and with all the charges against her, I’m asking for a minimum of life unless your sister wants to talk a deal. At this point, though, I’m not too inclined to negotiate one, considering the strength of my case. It’s a winner, and the final say is up to the judge in matters like this. You should know Judge Thompson is a stickler and is not known for leniency in these kinds of cases, and the DA has already made it clear that this is the kind of case that can go a long way to making the office look really good.” She lifted her wrist, looked at her watch, and reached for her briefcase before striding around her desk to the door.
“What about the little girl, Eva?” Marcus said. He wondered if he’d ever get her image, her voice, out of his mind. She’d looked to him to help her, to save her, and where was she now? He didn’t have a clue.
Eileen stopped in the doorway and turned to him, gripping her briefcase. “With child protective services, somewhere safe, and that’s where she’ll remain.” It was so final, the way she said it. Then she added, “I expect you to be in court, Deputy, for the arraignment. I’ll see you there.”
Then she was out the door, and all Marcus could do was shake his head. There were times, and this was one of them, when he really hated the law and how it didn’t always work. His cell phone rang as he took in the empty office, feeling tired, his stomach rumbling. He pulled it out and saw the number for the coroner’s office.
“O’Connell,” he said as he started out, seeing all the clerks, lawyers, and security on his way over to the courthouse across the street. Maybe he could catch Karen and find out if she would be able to work some miracle for Reine Colbert, considering the DA’s office needed him to crucify a woman who just needed a fucking break.
“Deputy O’Connell, this is the coroner’s office. I was told to let you know the next of kin for Tommy Marshall is here. We left a message for the sheriff, but your office said to call you.”
He ran his hand through his hair and yanked, surprised as all hell. “Didn’t expect his father to show. Guess everyone can have a change of heart…”
“It’s not the father,” the clerk said. “It’s actually the deceased’s mother and sister. They’re here now. Did you want to stop by and speak with them?”
It took him a second to understand what he was saying. They were there now? He took in his watch, seeing court started in just under an hour. “You know what? I’m on my way. Will be there in five.”
He’d made it to the county medical examiner’s office in just under four minutes and parked out front, then pulled open the steel doors in the basement, feeling the eeriness of the place. Something about it had always bothered him. He spotted the desk and two women, one young and blond, pretty, and one older, weeping. The resemblance was clear. He stopped at the desk, and the man in scrubs and a white coat behind it looked up.
“Deputy O’Connell,” Marcus said. “Is this Tommy Marshall’s next of kin?” He gestured to them, his voice low.
The clerk nodded. “Yes, that’s the mother and sister. They just finished IDing the body. They’re waiting for the coroner to sign off.”
He only nodded, tapping the counter, and then stepped over to the two women. The younger one gave him all her attention. She was medium height, and it appeared she was expecting, with a small baby bump under her blue and white shirt.
“You’re the family of Tommy Marshall?” he said. “I’m Deputy O’Connell, with the Livingston Police Department.”
“I’m Samantha Lawson, Sam for short,” the woman said. “I’m Tommy’s sister. This is our mother, Helen.”
Helen was teary eyed and said nothing. He couldn’t imagine what she was going through, losing a son.
“I’m so sorry for your loss,” he said. “This was a terrible tragedy.”
Helen pulled a Kleenex from her pocket and wiped her eyes, her nose. Sam, though, seemed guarded as she nodded and said, “We haven’t seen Tommy in years. We were told he refused to drop a gun, but it wasn’t loaded. The coroner said he was shot several times, and one fatal shot to the chest killed him. I guess I don’t understand why.”
He could see her agony, which could likely turn to anger. “I guess he didn’t see a way out. When was the last time either of you saw Tommy or spoke with him?” He wondered if they knew what had really happened, why Tommy had beaten the captain in the army.
“Not since he attacked that captain,” Sam said. “He called me after and told me it wasn’t what it seemed. I didn’t know what he meant, but I begged him to turn himself in. At the same time, I knew he wouldn’t. Dad wrote him off. He was furious with him for enlisting to begin with, for dropping out of college, for not becoming Thomas Marshall, Junior, and working under him in his company. At the time, I couldn’t blame Tommy. He wasn’t Dad. Right now, though, I wish he was. Maybe he’d still be here. You were in the cabin with him? That’s our family’s summer place. Haven’t been there in years. Do you suppose we could go there, see it? Is there anything of Tommy’s that we could have?”
As her daughter spoke, Helen seemed to pull herself together. The woman was in a fall coat and blue jeans, and when she looked up to him, he could see that she had the same eyes as Tommy.
“Yes, I was in the house,” Marcus said. “I tried to talk him out of it. I’m sorry, though. The cabin is off limits. It’s a crime scene. I know my office spoke with your husband, ma’am.”
Helen shook her head. “Old fool! Unforgiving. He and Tommy never got along. You’d think they were polar opposites, only they were so much the same, with the same personality in some ways—strong minded, strong willed. Only Tommy was sensitive. My husband wouldn’t even allow his name to be spoken, said he was a disgrace.” She pulled in a breath, and he thought she was trying to hold it together.
The double doors opened to reveal the coroner, who walked over with a clipboard and papers. “We can release your son to you,” he said, then began to lead Helen out of the room. “You said you’ve made arrangements?”
Sam stayed where she was, arms crossed. Sadness seemed to ooze from her. “I heard what you tried to do for my brother, Deputy O’Connell. I spoke with the sheriff here, who said you did everything you could to reason with Tommy.”
For a minute, he didn’t know what to say, so he simply nodded. Finally, he said, “I wish I could have done more.”
“We’re having Tommy cremated here. Mom and I are going to the graveyard to decide on a headstone to memorialize him, but Mom wants to sprinkle his ashes at the cabin, so we may omit the stone. I’ll leave it up to her. Tommy loved that place, so I can understand why he went there. At the same time, I know Dad will sell it now.”
She said nothing else, and he glanced over to Helen, who was crying again as she strode back in with the coroner. Marcus pulled out his wallet and lifted out one of his cards, holding it out to Samantha.
“If you ever have any questions or just want to talk, there’s my number,” he said before he turned and left the coroner’s office.
A family was grieving. A life had been lost.
He started over to the courthouse, knowing he couldn’t do anything for Tommy, but Reine Colbert was still there, and so was her daughter, Eva. He could at least do what he could for them.