ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY LOVELL: Detective, were you working on the evening of March 19?
DETECTIVE JOHN MORRISON: Actually, I was off duty that night.
Q:I see. Do you have a specific memory of that night?
A: Yes, I do.
Q: And why is that?
A: Because that was the night that I walked into the Nite & Day Convenience Store and the clerk told me he'd just been robbed by a guy with a knife.
Q: Can you describe the condition of the victim when he told you this?
A: Yes. He was obviously very upset. He was nervous. His hands were shaking, and he kept looking around, like he was expecting--
ATTORNEY WILSON: Objection.
DETECTIVE MORRISON: --some surprise or something.
ATTORNEY WILSON: Objection. Move to strike.
THE COURT: The answer is "He was upset and nervous. His hands were shaking, and he kept looking around." The rest of the answer is stricken.
ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY LOVELL: Did you have any further conversation?
DETECTIVE JOHN MORRISON: I asked him if he knew who had robbed him, and he said that he recognized him as a regular customer, but that he couldn't remember his name.
Q: What happened next?
A:I suggested that he come down to the station with me to look at mug shots, but then the clerk remembered that the robber had been in the store a few days earlier at the same time as me.
Q: Did you remember this incident?
A: Not at first. But then the clerk started to describe the guy to me--long, stringy hair, kind of slouched all the time, looked down a lot--and then suddenly he shouted, "I remember! His name is Babe! Babe something." And then I knew exactly who he was talking about. Babe, uh, Rufus Gardiner.
(Commonwealth v. Gardiner, Volume IV, September 10, 2004, Pages 61-63)
April 5, 2004
Five months earlier
Attorney Terry Tallach knew that it was the obligation of every lawyer to take certain cases for free. The bar association called it taking a case pro bono, which translated from the Latin as "for the good." God, lawyers couldn't even be nice without being pompous.
From one perspective, it made sense for Terry's partner and best friend, Zack Wilson, to decide to take the Gardiner case without charging. Rufus himself had no money--he was living hand to mouth when he got arrested. And his mother, who had called to ask them to look into the case in the first place, was barely making ends meet as it was.
But when Terry saw their new client present himself to the MCI-Wakefield prison guard for a final search before their first meeting, he couldn't help but turn to his partner and say softly, "I'll buy you a pizza if you change your mind about this one."
Zack said nothing as Rufus entered the attorney/client visiting room. As he turned to close the door behind him, he fumbled with the file folder he had been carrying. Somehow, the papers in the folder managed to fly all over the place. He bent down to pick them up. "Make it two," Terry whispered.
Rufus Gardiner was technically an adult--he had turned thirty early last month--but he still managed to project the image of a recent high school dropout. His waxy skin and watery eyes were unhealthy looking, his shoulder-length greasy hair was a mess, he breathed through his mouth, and he carried himself in a perpetual slouch. He looked fundamentally stupid, but worse than that, he looked spectacularly guilty. Of everything. He didn't make eye contact, he mumbled, and he shook hands like he was afraid that such intimate contact might allow you to read the dirty thoughts that kept running through his tiny mind.
He was the walking, talking embodiment of the worst defendant in the world. If he was on the witness stand and testified that the sky was blue, half the jury would think he was guessing.
The other half would think he was lying.
Zack, of course, acted as if Rufus was just like every other defendant he'd ever met for the first time. Innocent until proven guilty. Entitled to Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination. Encouraged to help in his own defense. Relied upon for honesty in communications. Protected by the attorney-client privilege.
Rufus just stared at the table as Zack went through his new-client spiel. He might as well have been speaking Swahili with a Chinese accent. At the end, Zack said, "I know this is a lot to take in all at once, Rufus, so if there's anything you don't understand--"
"Can you call me Babe?" Rufus asked, looking up and establishing eye contact for a full half second before lowering his gaze back to the table. "Instead of Rufus. Nobody calls me that anymore."
Except your mother. And the court system. Oh--and the prison administration, too.
"Uh, sure," Zack said. "Sorry."
Terry couldn't wait any longer. He clicked his pen and pulled his legal pad in front of him. "So, Babe, let's talk about how all this happened."
"I picked it myself," Babe replied, with a shy smile as he shuffled the papers he'd brought to the meeting.
There was a prolonged silence as everyone tried to figure out what the hell had just happened. Babe certainly didn't look crazy. "What?" Terry asked.
"My name," Babe explained, looking up for a second. "I picked it myself. That's how it happened."
Terry ground his teeth and tried to speak slowly and calmly. "Not your name." Numbnuts. "The charges against you. How did all that
happen? What were you doing that night? Why did you get busted for robbing the convenience store?"
"Oh, yeah. That night." Welcome to the conversation, Babe. "Did my mother show you that tape from the store? I didn't do it."
Well, that certainly cleared things up.
"We haven't met with your mother yet," Zack replied.
"She has health issues," Babe offered into the silence.
Who was this guy? Rain Man?
"Let's put aside the tape for a second," Zack said. "I think what Terry is asking is if you can tell us what you were doing that night. Starting from after work. Your mom said you work at a factory or a warehouse, right?"
"Yeah," Babe said. "I got through with work around five, and then I drove to this restaurant called The Burger Barn to have dinner."
Terry was familiar with most of the restaurants around Springfield, but he hadn't heard of that one. "Where's The Burger Barn?" he asked.
"It's like a little place off of Route 22," Babe said. "Up past Norton."
That's why he hadn't heard of it. Up past Norton
was code for "indoor plumbing optional."
"Okay," Zack said. "Walk us through the evening. You left work around five and went to The Burger Barn. When did you get there? Do you remember?"
Babe was now using a well-chewed pencil to make doodles in the margin of a piece of paper on the table in front of him. "Uh, I dunno. I guess it was about six. Maybe quarter of. I dunno. It's kinda hard to remember."
"Well, it's kinda important for you to try to remember, Babe," Terry said, wondering if the sudden sharp pain in his head meant that it was going to explode right off his neck, or that he was just going to have a stroke. "We're trying to establish whether you had an alibi for this crime."
Babe stopped doodling. Probably to concentrate extra hard. It didn't work. He returned to the doodling. He seemed completely befuddled.
Zack jumped in. "We want to know exactly where you were and when that night, so that we can figure out if it was even possible that you committed this crime."
Babe struggled with that one for a minute, and then explained, "But I didn't
commit this crime."
At least he was consistent.
"Right," Terry said. "We know that. But what we also want to know is what you were
doing while you weren't committing this crime."
There was a moment of processing, and then new understanding washed over Babe's incredibly unappealing yet remarkably expressive face. Dawn breaks on a vacant building.
"I was home," he said.
"Great," Zack said. "When did you get home? Did you go home right from The Burger Barn?"
"I'm not sure," Babe answered. His eyes shifted away, and suddenly his body language proclaimed, "I am not only the biggest liar in the world, but the worst one, too." How could he not be sure whether he went straight home? Was he confusing this night with the several other nights he was accused of armed robbery?
Terry put his pen down. At the rate this was going, they'd all die of old age before the trial even began. Would the local gun-shop owner waive the waiting period for buying a pistol if Terry promised to shoot himself before he left the store?
"Why don't we do this," Zack suggested. "Babe, you just tell us the story, as best as you can remember, of what you did that night. From when you left work, until you got home and went to sleep. Try to tell us details, but it's okay if you don't remember everything. Just do your best. Whatever you recall."
Babe was back to doodling. Whether that was a sign of comprehension or a complete psychological collapse was anyone's guess.
Zack continued. "Meanwhile, Terry and I will do our best just to take notes and not interrupt you. Then, the next time we meet, if we have any questions, we'll ask you about them. How's that sound?"
The doodling continued. Babe had filled up all of the blank space on the top page of his stack, and had moved on to the margins of what looked like a copy of a disciplinary report. Maybe he was writing his memoirs. I Named Myself Babe
Babe finally set the scarred pencil down, and then he nodded to the table. "Okay," he said. "I think I can do that."
Terry took a deep breath, exhaled very slowly, and picked up his pen again. With any luck, they'd be done by his next birthday. He had plans to go out that night.
Detective Vera Demopolous watched with satisfaction as thirty feet down the sidewalk the small can of baked beans hit the escaping thief right between the shoulder blades. He yelped in pain, reaching awkwardly behind him as if to touch the spot that would later be marked by an ugly bruise, and then stumbled forward, tripping and falling to the ground. Vera was already sprinting toward him and shouting over her shoulder to Dotty to call 911.
At least she still had her aim.
It figured, though. Her first real police work since she'd moved to Massachusetts, and it was with a can of vegetables.
She had just finished her morning run--a little ahead of schedule, because the nightmare woke her up an hour early today--and was cooling down, walking to her neighborhood store for a quick cup of coffee before showering and heading in to the station. As she entered Bo's Big Grocery, which was neither big nor owned by anyone named Bo--go figure--a scruffy teenager was at the front counter, paying for a newspaper.
Five seconds later, the owner's sixty-eight-year-old mother, Dotty, was screaming and falling backward into a rack of magazines, the kid was tearing through the door with a handful of money that the family business could not afford to lose, and Vera was looking around for something about the size and weight of a softball.
Now, thanks to the baked beans, she was only a few steps behind the creep, and moving in fast. He had no wind, and was wheezing as he staggered ahead. Vera closed the remaining distance between them, and tripped him from behind, taking care to land on the small of his back with her knee as he fell onto his face.
Her dad always told her that size was overrated. That was good, because this kid was over six feet tall, and Vera was about five-five on a good day. But with the wind knocked out of him, and now with his right arm twisted up behind his back, and the crescendoing wail of the cruiser's siren as it pulled up to the curb next to them, the kid wasn't going to give her any grief.
The uniforms jumped out of the black-and-white, cuffed the suspect, threw him into the back of the car, and then chased after Vera as she ran back to make sure that Dotty wasn't seriously hurt.
Any grief would come from Vera's own conscience, later, when she started coming down on herself about how she should have realized that no scruffy-looking teenager would be up at six-thirty in the morning, buying a newspaper.
Was she ever going to get her instincts back?
Enough time had passed. He had to get rid of the evidence. This was going to be the most important part of the whole mess. Elmo was going to have to be very, very careful if this thing was going to work itself out.
He was alone in his workshop. Well, to be fair, it wasn't really a workshop. It was actually a garage.
And if you were going to be picky, he wasn't really alone, either. Not if you counted the dead body in the trunk of the car in front of him.
He lit a cigarette, took a drag, blew out the match and threw it down on the floor.
It was good that his partner was in on this, because he needed the help--he'd fucked up bad. But that's what partners were for. They watched out for each other, and helped clean up each other's mistakes.
Luckily, Elmo didn't have anything planned for tomorrow, because this was probably going to take a while. If he rushed the job, or was sloppy, he'd make the situation worse. He had a couple of shovels, lots of extra plastic bags, duct tape, a few bottles of different kinds of cleaners, rubber gloves, rags, a cooler full of beer, and some of the other stuff, which he really shouldn't be using, but it was nice just knowing it was around if he needed it.
Like his partner said, the main thing was just to take his time and do the job right. Everything would work out. It had to.
He finished his cigarette, put the gloves on, put the cooler of beer in the front seat, threw the rest of the stuff into the trunk with the body, started the car, and drove off into the night.
Excerpted from Suffering Fools by Ed Gaffney. Copyright © 2006 by Ed Gaffney. Excerpted by permission of Dell, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.