The Last Hope
To prove his innocence, she'll have to believe the impossible.
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June 23, 2015
Secret Hiking Spot, Maine
Warm, salty air kissed Kate Murphy’s freckled skin as she sat, perched in surroundings that embodied her emotions.
Early summer rays bombarded the ocean, forming tiny diamonds that sparkled in the distance. Mere minutes later, the same peaceful, glistening water would morph into powerful waves that crashed onto the jagged rocks one hundred feet below Kate’s dangling legs, pulverizing any debris that may have been floating along for the ride. She sipped her bottle of water while soaking in her favorite scenery. The soft chirps and warbles of a few birds accompanied her thoughts.
Life was pretty good these days, even though Kate’s latest attempt at becoming a detective had been rejected yet again, but at least now she was part of a different district. It meant fresh opportunities and new people. Maybe her next application would be approved.
Kate stood up, finished her drink, and then returned the empty stainless-steel bottle to her backpack. It clunked against her phone, which she dug out: it was 1:03 p.m. Five missed calls and one voicemail.
The message must have come in during the past hour when she came into range. All she ever got around here was one bar, and it only appeared if the winds were blowing in the right direction (with no clouds on the horizon) and lucky leprechauns sprinkled their magical signal-boosting powder around her.
She should change cell providers. Then again, there was something to be said for enjoying quiet time and being unreachable, especially when she was here.
She tapped her way to the voicemail screen. Unknown number. She pressed “play” and listened to it over speakerphone.
“Miss Murphy, I’m calling on behalf of Kenneth Murphy. My name’s George Hudson, and I’m the defense attorney who’s been assigned to your uncle’s case. He’s been arrested. He wanted me to let you know he’s currently being held at the Roxbury Precinct, accused of murder. Your uncle says he’s innocent, and I’ll do my best to prove that he is. Sorry for leaving this important message on voicemail. I would have preferred doing it in person, but your uncle said I might have a hard time reaching you, and I didn’t want to wait too long. I’ll give you a call later this week with more details.”
Kate jumped to her feet, staring at her now-silent phone. Had she heard that right?
She listened to the message again, this time with the phone pressed against her ear.
She had to head back if she wanted to get enough cell coverage to do anything. Kate stuck her phone back in her bag, strapped it on tightly, and then ran the three miles she’d just hiked, back to her car.
When she reached her Subaru, it was already 1:45 p.m. She was starting to regret her decision to drive out-of-state on her day off. She was 170 miles away from the Roxbury station.
Kate drove fast on the winding, scenic roads, ignoring the breathtaking views she would usually savor. She far exceeded the speed limit, mastering the unpaved bends like a professional race car driver. The skills she’d honed during police training certainly made driving her Impreza even more fun than before, but this time her mind was on autopilot.
Why was Uncle Kenny accused of murder? He was the last of her living relatives, the only human being she felt connected to and loved by. He couldn’t have killed anyone.
After fifteen years of psychotherapy, Kate was mostly over the gory memories of finding her own mother, father, and little brother murdered in their family home, throats slit, her mother half-naked and raped, and blood dripping down the kitchen walls.
Today was June 23rd, the twentieth anniversary of that awful day. It was why she’d requested—and had been granted—a day off.
Kenny, her dad’s older brother, had taken Kate in when she was thirteen years old. He didn’t have children of his own, so he and his wife, Lucy, had decided to adopt her. They’d done the best they could to protect and help her get over her horrible loss and trauma. The therapist’s bills had been expensive, especially on Kenny’s welder’s salary. Lucy’s chain-smoking had quickly ruined her health. She’d died of lung cancer when Kate was twenty-three. Tragedies seemed to occur every decade for Kate, and now, at the age of thirty-three, her uncle was in jail. And for murder? Kenny was all she had left in the world.
He couldn’t have killed another person, could he? No, no way.
A white-tailed deer crossed the road two hundred feet in front of her, snapping Kate’s attention away from the past and returning it to the present. She knew this part of the countryside like the back of her hand. Another two miles and she’d be on paved roads, and then it’d be five more miles to the state highway where she could get decent cell reception.
When she finally reached the end of the cellular dead zone, Kate pressed the voice command on her steering wheel.
“Call the district commander at the Roxbury police station.”
Siri confirmed her request, and then Kate heard a ringing sound, followed by Susan’s British accent. “Captain Cranston’s desk. How may I be of service?”
“Hi, Susan. It’s Officer Murphy.”
“Yes. Kate, right?”
“Yeah. I got a voicemail from a lawyer saying my uncle, Kenny Murphy, has been brought in for murder and he’s being held at our station. Can I talk to the district commander and find out what’s going on?”
“He’s in a meeting right now, and there’s a queue of people waiting to see him, but I’ll let him know you called.”
Kate tapped her fingers on her steering wheel and shook her head.
A message wouldn’t do much to help Kenny… but that’s all Susan could do.
“I’m on my way to the station. I should be there in about two hours. Do you think he’ll still be around?”
“I don’t know, love. Not sure how long his meeting will be, but doubtful he’ll stick around after it’s over and he’s done seeing these other fine folks. But who knows? You might be able to catch him on his way out. I’ll leave him a note to call you back ASAP.”
Kate returned her focus to the road, sneaking intermittent glances at the phone in her cup holder, and hoping he’d call her back. Then again, why would he? That wasn’t proper. She wasn’t following the chain of command. She had no right to go to him directly. As far as she knew, there was no official police handbook designating the appropriate person for police officers to talk to when their loved ones were arrested for murder. When she’d first joined the district, Capt. Cranston had told her that his door was always open. She hoped he’d meant it.
A giant billboard promoting Clark Ferguson, a handsome, brown-haired Boston mayoral candidate with a million-dollar smile, welcomed her to Massachusetts. Kate still had a solid hour of driving to get to Roxbury and traffic could be wicked bad. She checked the clock on her dash again: 3:30 p.m.
She might just get there in time to see Capt. Cranston before he left for the day.
* * *
Seventy-five minutes later, Kate veered into the station’s lot, parked her car, and then ran three flights of stairs to the district commander’s office, only to find it empty and locked.
Shit. Too late.
She wouldn’t be able to hear the official word on Kenny’s arrest, but she should still be able to talk to her uncle and learn what they’d told him and see if he was doing okay. The poor man was probably scared to death.
She made her way down to the detention area and found the officer on duty; his name tag read “Reynolds.” She recognized his face but couldn’t remember his first name.
Dave? Don? Dean? One of those “D” names.
“Hey, Murphy. What brings you here? Aren’t you supposed to be taking a few days off?”
She smiled. She’d only been here a couple of weeks, but being a female officer seemed to help her male counterparts remember her name… and her schedule? Maybe it had nothing to do with being a woman in a man’s world. Wasn’t it always easier for any group to remember the new kid’s name?
“Today was my only day off. I got a message telling me my uncle has been arrested and is being detained here. Do you have a Murphy in the cell?”
“Let me see. I’m just here for a few minutes covering for Matthews. Bad burrito,” Reynolds said with a laugh. He then looked at Kate and became serious again. He returned his attention to the computer screen. “Don’t know who he’s got in here. Let’s see… Kenneth Murphy?”
“Yeah, that’s him. Can I see him?” Kate asked.
“Sure, do you need an escort?”
She shook her head. “He’s my uncle, no need.”
Reynolds nodded and stood to open the door. “You know the drill. Leave your stuff here.”
Kate emptied her pockets and left her backpack with him. Reynolds and Kate then walked over to Kenny’s holding cell, their footsteps echoing against the bare, white concrete walls. An antiseptic smell reminded her of her last hospital visit. Most cells were unoccupied, and Kate soon spotted her uncle’s balding head a few feet away. He was sitting on a jail bed, staring at the floor in front of him. What was left of his hair was restless and out of place. His white mustache had seen better days.
He looked up, eyebrows raised, faint dimples appearing on his cheeks from his growing smile.
“Katie, sweetie. I’m so glad to see you.”
“Mr. Murphy, please put your back against the wall,” Reynolds said. After her uncle complied, Reynolds unlocked the door to let Kate in, relocked it, and then addressed her on his way out. “Holler when you’re done. Fifteen minutes max. Matthews will be back shortly.”
Kate hugged her uncle. He was seventy-six years old and frail, but his arms held onto her like she was a lifebuoy in a violent storm.
She sat next to him on the bed and looked into his tired, brown eyes. They seemed sadder than usual and confused.
She tapped his leg and gently squeezed his knee, “How are you holding up?”
He answered by raising his shoulders and shaking his head, his mouth forming an upside down U.
“Tell me everything,” Kate asked.
“I don’t know what happened. Why do they think I killed that man? That’s the craziest shit I’ve ever heard.”
“Tell me about the arrest.”
“They showed up at my house this morning. Two plainclothes officers with a warrant and four or five uniformed men.”
“What did they say?” Kate asked.
“They wanted to know if I was Kenneth Sam Murphy, so I told them I was. Then, they said I was under arrest for the murder of Paul McAlester.”
Kenny’s eyes widened. “That’s what I said! But one of them got ahold of my wrists and handcuffed me while they read me my rights. They said they had a warrant to search the house. I was too dumbfounded to remember anything else they said after that. Next thing I know, I’m being questioned about what I did three nights ago.”
“What did you say?”
“I said I didn’t remember, but I probably heated my dinner and watched a movie while drinking a scotch or two.”
“You don’t remember?”
Kenny shook his head, and Kate felt a black curtain of despair fall over them.
He has no alibi.
“I’m getting old. Most nights blend into one,” he said. Then, he gazed at Kate’s face, softening some as he smiled at her. “You don’t come and visit often enough. All I have left are memories. Some good, some bad. Lately, the awful ones have been on the reel, and I drink to shut them down. Normally works for a few hours until I fall asleep.”
Kate hugged her uncle again, feeling guilty for not being there for him more often. Her failed marriage had been at the forefront of her mind lately, and she had needed more alone time than usual. And then the anniversary of her family’s murder… That was no excuse, though. Her uncle didn’t deserve to be neglected just because she couldn’t get her shit together.
“I’m so sorry. I’ll make things right. I’ll talk to the district commander tomorrow and see if I can find out something new that could help us.”
Kenny nodded, and he scratched the back of his neck. A forced smile appeared under his mustache. Kate knew that look too well. It meant he was terrified, just like when he’d found out about his wife’s cancer and how large her medical bills were going to be. Kate knew better than to tell him to voice his feelings. No way would an old, Irishman like him spill the contents of his heart.
Changing subjects was always the best option when he scratched his neck or faked a smile.
“I got a call from your lawyer,” Kate said. “How did you find him?”
“You know I can’t afford one, so they assigned him to me. Seems nice enough.”
Kate knew how tight her uncle’s finances had been, and still were. He’d been poor for the past twenty years. He ate lots of canned beans and could barely keep the heat on some months. Once again, guilt got ahold of her. She should have given him more than ten percent of her paychecks. He deserved more; especially after all he’d done for her. But she didn’t make that much, and the job forced her to live in Boston, which wasn’t cheap at all. Ten percent was all she could afford most months. However, she was hopeful things would change soon when she finally made homicide detective and had the chance to get murderers off the street. Real murderers, like the one who’d killed her family.
A cacophony of emotions stirred inside her—rage fighting against fear and sadness—but none reached the podium. She hated feeling out of control when facing a terrible situation she couldn’t do anything about. Kate forced herself to take a deep breath and see the silver lining to this dark cloud. At least her uncle would be getting three square meals a day for free.
“Most of the court-appointed lawyers are good,” she said. “Be honest with him. Tell him everything you can. It has to be a mistake. Did they say anything else?”
Kenny shrugged again and shook his head. “They found my blood and my DNA at the crime scene.”
“What?” Kate couldn’t comprehend how his genes could have made it there without him. “Did they say where the murder occurred?”
“No, but they asked if I had a car or access to one. He must live somewhere far from me.”
“When was the last time you drove?”
“I told them. About thirteen years ago. I sold the car to cover some of Lucy’s medical bills. I haven’t driven since, not even a rental car. Remember your graduation from the police academy? I took the bus then a cab to get there. Made it in the nick of time.”
Kate smiled and kissed him on the forehead. She remembered how much perspiration had been on his shirt that day. He must have run a lot as well after getting out of that cab. He had worn his best outfit: a short-sleeved beige shirt with vertical brown lines, a matching pair of brown pants, and a wide orange tie. But she also clearly remembered the smile on his face when he finally snuck his way to the family section of the reserved seats just as the guest of honor was delivering his speech. Kenny had been so proud of her.
He leaned toward her, his bony hands grabbing hers, and he said, “I’m not perfect, but I’m no murderer. I don’t want to die with this label added to the Murphy name. Our lineage has had enough of a bad rap. I still want to take you to Ireland before I die, you know? You need to see the Irish coast for yourself, see how green it is, how beautifully rugged the scenery is. You have to meet your cousins. Our family is bigger than you think. You’d love it there in Cork.”
They sat still, hanging onto each other’s hands as Kate let their physical bond temper the harsh reality.
The sound of a key in the lock brought her back to the here and now.
“Time’s up,” Reynolds said.
Kate gave Kenny one last hug and looked at him, “I love you. I’ll do everything I can to make this right and get you out, okay? Just be brave and patient, and we’ll fix this.”
He squeezed her hands, nodded, and, for the first time in the fifteen minutes she’d spent with him, she saw hope appear in her uncle’s teary eyes. She had to turn away before her own started to water.
After making her way back from the cells, she grabbed her things from the front desk and then headed home.
* * *
Kate sat alone in her apartment, realizing there wasn’t anything she could do until tomorrow. Nothing but hope that Capt. Cranston would tell her what was really going on and that their evidence wasn’t airtight.
In the meantime, she occupied her mind by Googling the victim’s name and found two articles that mentioned his death. There was no reference to her uncle… at least not yet. But chances were, his name would be in tomorrow’s headlines.
She had to find a way to prove his innocence, and fast.