Project Novel: Tongue In The Mail, Chapters 18 &19

There’s big news in this installment: an arrest has been made in *one* of the law school murders. Guy Zeringue the white supremacist frat boy is charged with the murder of Bill Sutton, former news hound and legendary gossip. Our narrator is dubious after attending the news conference announcing the arrest. You should be too. When did the most obvious subject ever do it? Unless, that is, he’s the butler. There are no butlers in Tongue In The Mail. I didn’t have the budget.

In Chapter 19, it’s graduation day for our law students. We meet the parents of some of our characters and our narrator begins to think the unthinkable. To know what the hell I’m talking about, read this entry.

I’ve been asked if the characters are all based on real people. Many are but others are not. Ironically, I know many cops and media people but that didn’t happen until the 21st Century. The media and police characters are all figments of my imagination.

There’s only one musical shout-out in this installment. You should be able to guess what inspired it:

Another day, another Squeeze song.

A reminder that you can catch up on Project Novel by clicking here.

Our story continues after the break.

CHAPTER 18

For the rest of the morning my head felt like a linebacker had kicked it. The night before was unusual. I rarely got drunk and never while home alone. If I wasn’t more careful, I’d wind up in some twelve-step program and be forced to spout new age jargon. The mere thought of such a ghastly prospect should keep me sober; that and the way my head hurt that morning. Maybe some black coffee and a handful of extra-strength Tylenol would make me feel nearly human again.

I softly hummed the Squeeze song “When The Hangover Strikes” as I cleaned up. I dusted, sneezed, and pondered my wakeup call from Zoltan Nagy. I wondered if they really had enough evidence to make any charges against Guy Zeringue stick. Now that I was awake, I couldn’t help being skeptical because Camille had despaired of making an arrest just two days before. The politically incorrect Zeringue was a tailor-made defendant, especially for the press; they’d eat him alive. Zoltan’s story signaled the start of another feeding frenzy. I hoped that Zeringue was the killer, but I didn’t plan to join in the blood sport right away. I should have been relieved that I wouldn’t be getting any more meat in the mail but instead had a lingering sense of unease. The only way to end my doubts was to go and see for myself if it was really over.

It was fitting that the arrest would be announced in Room 102. It was where the nightmare had begun. Every time I walked in there and saw the “Rogues Gallery” staring at me from their frames, I remembered the night Sophia was murdered: her speech and plans for the party; the look on Ian’s face as he described finding her; her corpse bound, gagged and posed. I missed Sophia. Law school had never been much fun, but her death had drained all the life out of it.

When I got to the law school that afternoon, Room 102 was packed with reporters, students, law professors and the sort of people who slow down to gawk at fatal car wrecks.

Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted Louis Bonseigneur waving me over. He was sitting in the third row, just high enough to see over the photographers who were jostling for position below. To my surprise, Zoltan Nagy was sitting next to Louis.

“Gentlemen.” I nodded to them and slid into an aisle seat next to Louis. I said, “Thanks for saving me a seat. Where are all the big shots? Offstage limbering up for the show?”

“Now, now,” said a frowning Louis, “Let’s hear what they have to say first. Don’t be unduly cynical, Nicholas.”

“Leave that to the press, my friend. Cynicism is our job, with you it’s just a hobby,” Zoltan said with a predatory grin.

“Don’t you find it strange,” I said sharply, “that the day after Mason Nash goes on TV and declares the existence of a conspiracy against the legal profession that an arrest will be announced? Well, Louis?”

“That man will do anything to get on television,” said Louis, shaking his head. “But it’s my impression that they were ready to arrest Zeringue before Nash delivered that tasteless harangue.”

“What the hell is he doing here, then? This should be the police’s show. Camille’s been eating a daily diet of shit over this case and he’s the one who deserves any credit.”
Zoltan laughed. “Come now, Nicholas. You must know that the D.A. never met a camera that he did not try to seduce.”

“I’ve heard that Nash no longer believes yesterday’s conspiracy theory, if he ever did,” Louis sighed.

“Zoltan, you should at least make the son-of-a-bitch recant last evening’s hallucination,” I demanded.

Nash’s cheap Hollywood-style theatrics made me sick. Murder is a serious business and ambitious pols, like Nash, shouldn’t be allowed to use it as just another chance for free publicity.

“I intend to, dear boy…”  Zoltan was interrupted by the deep and sonorous voice of the anchorman, Keith Archer.

“…and if you don’t, I will. Keith Archer,” he said, introducing himself to Louis and me.

Louis smiled and said, “I recognized you.”

“Of course, you do.” Archer adjusted his jacket and tightened the knot on a hideous red paisley tie. Louis and I exchanged amused looks as Archer primped. Archer was as humble in person as he was on the air.

After Archer shook my hand, he smiled and said, “Pappas? Where have I heard that name? Oh, that’s right. Aren’t you that law student who helped Doucet on the case?”

“Yeah. But I’m no Darby Shaw.”

“Bet you Tulane types are relieved it’s all over,” said Archer as he ran a comb through his ink-black hair. I kept waiting for him to pull out a blow dryer and call for his makeup artist.

“If it is,” I muttered.

“So, you’re skeptical that they’ve got the real killer?”

“Let’s just say that when it comes to this case, I’m like a judge; hearsay is inadmissible and that’s all we’ve heard so far. I want to hear it firsthand.”

Zoltan had held his tongue long enough and spoke up. “Keith, Nicholas is so cynical that he makes Gore Vidal sound like Dale Carnegie.”

After a flash of false recognition, Archer said, “Codrescu? What are you doing here? I didn’t know you did news too.”

“Wait a minute,” said Zoltan indignantly. “I’m not…”

Archer cut him off. “Here they come, I must get to my post.” He sounded as if he were going off to the front to cover a battle and might not return alive.

I only had a second to enjoy Zoltan’s consternation because the performers were hitting the stage. Jim Granger led the triumphant procession followed by DA Nash, Police Superintendent Odom Smith, and a sheepish-looking Camille Doucet. Camille saw Louis and me, gave a weak wave and looked down at the floor. What was wrong? Camille should be beaming. My skepticism began to spread faster than a virus at a day care center.

Granger spoke first. He concluded his brief remarks by saying, “At long last, we may have reason to believe that our nightmare might be over.”

I grinned at Granger’s use of the clever lawyerly qualifying modifiers, may and might. Granger is a shrewd attorney and that day he used ambiguity as freely as a Cajun chef uses cayenne pepper.

Then, Granger introduced Police Chief Odom Smith. Smith seemed to have only two qualifications for his job; he hadn’t made any enemies in twenty years on the force and he had played on the St. Aug. football team alongside Mayor Bart Moreland. New Orleans is the only place I know of that where you went to high school is more important than where you went to college.

As Smith walked to the podium, I watched Camille. In contrast to the shit-eating grins worn by the others on stage, Camille looked as miserable as a man whose trousers are two sizes too small. My efforts to make eye contact with him were thwarted by his apparent determination to count all the tiles on the ceiling. His somber demeanor puzzled me; it was as if he was having a flashback to his undertaker days. I knew that he wouldn’t look like his dog had just been run over if this were a genuine moment of triumph. He was acting like he had something to hide. I wanted to find out, so I leaned over and whispered to Louis, “Can you help me grab Camille when it’s over?”

He nodded.

The usually pallid Odom Smith was strutting like a peacock. “It’s my pleasure to announce an arrest in the Tulane Law School murder case,” he said. “A notorious white supremacist, Guy Zeringue, has been charged with the murder of Mr. William Sutton. Although Zeringue has been under suspicion for some time, we had insufficient evidence to make an arrest until now. For now, he’s only charged with the murder of Mr. Sutton, but further charges may be forthcoming. Now, I’d like to yield the floor to our esteemed District Attorney, Mr. Mason Nash.”

Self-esteemed, I thought.

As always, Nash’s performance was shameless. “I’d like to start by congratulating the Chief and his crack homicide investigators for a splendid job.”

I wanted to puke after hearing Nash’s insincere praise of an investigation he’d called “amateurish and inept” on TV the night before. But I was interested in hearing what his new story would be, so I listened carefully as he continued.

“We intend to seek the only appropriate sanction for these brutal murders, capital punishment,” Nash said sternly.

My ears pricked up; did he say “murders?” My hearing is rotten, but I was sure that Smith had said that Zeringue had only been charged with killing Bill.

“Furthermore, I am proud of my own role in this arrest,” bragged Nash.

His role? I thought, what role? Nash had all the modesty of a political pundit on one of those TV panel shows where journalists interview each other and tell the rest of us how smart they are.

“Yesterday, I mentioned the possibility that killers were conspiring to destroy the integrity of the Louisiana bar by damaging Tulane’s reputation,” Nash said, soothingly as if he were Aaron Neville crooning a ballad. “We believe that Zeringue may have confederates among certain hate groups, such as the skinheads, who were ready to facilitate his escape. The police requested that I make that statement because they felt that it would be useful in keeping the suspect within our grasp. I apologize for the need to employ this subterfuge, but I can assure you that it was necessary. As you are all aware, my reputation for integrity and probity is beyond reproach.”

I’d sat silently through the rest of Nash’s barrage of bullshit, but that last statement was too much to take. I lost control and began laughing. I couldn’t stop until Louis dug a sharp elbow into my ribcage. I looked around and noticed that I wasn’t the only one to laugh aloud at Nash’s rhetorical somersaults. It reminded me of the time Nixon said, “I am not a crook.” I didn’t believe him either.

Like most prosecutors, Nash didn’t have a sense of humor and I could feel his shifty dark eyes glaring at me. If looks could kill, I’d have been incinerated on the spot. I was pleased that my laughter had rattled Nash. He had it coming; he’d driven me to drink the night before.

Nash concluded his remarks by introducing Camille to take questions. As Camille stepped up to the podium, Nash and Smith exited stage right. That maneuver increased my suspicion of this event but nobody else seemed to notice or care. I never thought that I’d see Mason Nash voluntarily fleeing TV cameras. That clinched it. The whole thing smelled worse than a French Quarter gutter during Mardi Gras.

Keith Archer kicked off the questioning. “Camille, is it true that Mr. Nash spoke last night at the request of the police?”

Camille’s affirmative answer seemed robotic as if he couldn’t bring himself to lie with any fervor at all. I was astonished that this canned reply satisfied Archer.

Then, Archer posed the question that we all wanted answered. “The Chief told us that Zeringue is under arrest only for the Sutton murder. Are there any other suspects currently under investigation for any of the other murders?”

Camille paused for a second, chewed on his lower lip and looked down at his size twelves. “Not at this point in time,” he said in a tiny voice. Then the buzzing of the press corps overwhelmed the room. They love a crime story with a happy, and sensational, ending. I could almost see the TV set-ups and front page stories being written:

Right-wing extremist law student Guy Zeringue was arrested today in the Tulane Law School murder case. Zeringue, an avowed white supremacist, was charged in the murder of the African American law student and former Washington Post reporter, Bill Sutton. Although Zeringue was not charged with the other murders NOPD spokesman, Camille Doucet said that the police were no longer investigating other suspects.

Zoltan Nagy leapt up from the seat next to me. “The District Attorney implied that Zeringue is in league with other white supremacists, is that true?”

Camille fiddled with his tie before speaking. “We’re investigating that possibility,” he said, edgily. “But it’s also possible that he acted alone.”

Zoltan got in the last question. “Let me ask you about the murder of Professor Stephen Cohn, who was both Jewish and a noted civil rights attorney. Do you believe, given Zeringue’s racist views, that Mr. Cohn’s murder can be classified as a hate crime?”

“We’ve been looking into that for quite some time, Mr. Nagy. That’s all I have right now. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.”     Camille fixed his eyes on the floor and raced out of there. As Louis and I tried to catch up with him, I heard the network TV reporters bitching that Camille had snubbed them in favor of the local press. The woman from CNN was livid; they were broadcasting live, and she had to fill expensive satellite time with speculation. It was the only part of the event that satisfied me.

We couldn’t catch up with Camille; he was too fast for us. Louis called out but Camille ignored him. We stood at the back door of the law school and watched helplessly as Camille jumped into his car.

As we watched him drive off, Louis turned to me. “That was a farce,” he said, scathingly. “I’ve known Camille all my life and he’s always been a bad liar. He looks you in the eye when he’s being truthful. Did you notice how he kept looking at the ceiling or the floor? When I saw that shifty look on his face, I knew he was lying like a rug.”

“Why do you think he went along with it?”

“He had no choice. The police caved into the political pressure. The powers that be wanted an arrest before graduation and what they want they get. Zeringue is a perfect scapegoat, a white supremacist with a motive. Who’s going to lose any sleep worrying over him?”

As Louis and I walked slowly toward the foyer, we ran into Jack Goodfriend. He was wearing a black suit and a big smile. He looked like a preacher who had just emptied a full collection plate.

“I take it that you gentlemen were at the news conference,” Jack said. “It appears that they finally got the right man. I’m glad it’s all over so we can enjoy graduation.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure, Jack,” I said.

“Really? But Zeringue surely had a motive to murder Bill because he’d discovered those ugly secrets about the Zeringue clan; pun intended. And I can just see Zeringue cussing every time he saw Cohn on his TV screen talking about affirmative action.”

“As far as I know, a connection between Zeringue and Cohn that can stand up in court has never been made,” I shot back. “The mere fact that Cohn was Jewish and Zeringue has neo-Nazi tendencies just doesn’t cut it on its own. It’s possible that Zeringue killed Bill, but what just happened stinks.”

Louis nodded and said, “It looks to me as if they’re hanging Zeringue out to dry by implying that he’s guilty of all the murders. It’s something that people will want to believe; me too.”

Jack’s posture stiffened. He shook his head and said, “Come on, aren’t you two being too harsh? Face it, Nicholas, you don’t know everything that the police have been up to.”

As much as I hated to admit it, he was right. I nodded. “But you can’t tell me that you believe Mason Nash’s nonsense about a skinhead/Klan conspiracy?”

“That was you laughing at Nash, wasn’t it, Nicholas?”

“How about answering my question, Jack?”

“Well, it’s true that the D.A. is prone to exaggeration. And he did sound rather paranoid, but neither Smith nor Doucet stressed a conspiracy in their remarks. Frankly, I think that Nash was just trying to scamper off the limb that he’d climbed onto last night,” Jack said, with a tiny smile which grew into a full-tilt grin. “It’s funny, I would have thought that your liberal souls would feel gratified by Zeringue’s arrest.”

I was used to Jack’s pontificating but Louis was annoyed. “The fact that Zeringue is a bigot does not make him a serial killer,” Louis growled. “And this whole scenario is too pat. It’s more like a film than real life. “The Birth Of A Nation” in reverse; the noble African-American officials riding to the rescue.”

Jack laughed and rolled his eyes. “So, I guess that you gentlemen are allowing your compassion for criminal defendants to overrule your hatred of racism. That’s very broad minded. But let me ask you this, both of you concede that Zeringue may have killed Bill, right? Well, I’ve concluded that the murders are too similar to have been committed by multiple perpetrators. If not Zeringue, then who else could have done it?”

Who else indeed, I thought.

CHAPTER 19

For three long years, I’d looked forward to graduation but when it finally came, I felt empty. The murders had made what should have been a happy day feel more like a funeral. I kept looking around for the pallbearers.

Part of the ceremony paid tribute to Sophia and Bill, but it left a bittersweet taste in my mouth. My classmates may have believed that the Tulane Law killer was behind bars, but I didn’t. It was simply too tidy: Guy Zeringue was the perfect patsy. Who would object to the arrest of a white supremacist for murdering an African American professional man?  Nobody except for other wingnuts and even they might prefer having a new “martyr” to rally around. It was a perfect setup. Bill’s murder looked like a hate crime on the surface and the authorities had implied that Zeringue was a serial killer. Despite my own doubts about his guilt, I couldn’t sympathize with that dumb S.O.B. Zeringue either. But I was disgusted by the sensational press coverage of his arrest. The press was too busy hyping the story to be bothered with minor details like the facts. People who had little or nothing to do with the case, like Chief Smith and D.A. Nash, were made into heroes.

After brooding about the murders during the ceremony, I decided to try and enjoy the rest of the day. I could at least act as if I was at a wake, instead of at the funeral itself.

Feeling silly in my cap and gown, I waded into the crowd searching for Hope and my parents. I felt like I was running for office whenever I stopped to greet the families of my classmates; a handshake here, a peck on the cheek there and a smile everywhere. Diana’s mom seemed determined to take her picture with anyone that she could corral. I was roped in. I saw Charles listening to his father talk. It was the first time I’d ever seen him speechless. I stopped to chat with Ian’s parents, both of whom were excited about his graduation and upcoming marriage. Dr. Carolan agreed with me that his son was crazy to tie the knot the weekend after the bar exam, but Ian loves stress. I noticed that Susan’s teenaged son looked eager to take off his suit, which he seemed to regard as a straitjacket. I knew how he felt; Hope calls neckties jewelry for men, but I think of them as a hangman’s noose for yuppies.

Finally, I found my own father. Leftherios (Lefty) Pappas was talking to Jack’s father, the Reverend Cyril Goodfriend. My tall father towered over the short minister. Lefty has perfect posture and still carries himself like an athlete. He was an all-state basketball player while I was just an all-state klutz. The older I get the more I look like Lefty; only without the pencil-thin Don Ameche mustache. I just hope that I’ll look as good at seventy as he does. I think I’ve got a pretty good chance. He had to survive combat duty in World War II and all I had to survive was sex, drugs, and rock and roll. No contest.

I walked over and shook hands with the two men. My father smiled and said, “Congratulations, son. Do you know Reverend Goodfriend? I believe his son is a good friend of yours?”

I laughed politely. Punning must be encoded in my genes; I’d cracked a variation on the same joke the first time I met Jack. “How are you today, Reverend Goodfriend?” I said. I studied Cyril’s face and noticed for the first time that father and son shared the same long thin nose and bashful, winning smile.

Before Cyril had a chance to answer, Lefty said, “Son, Cyril here was just telling me that he’s spent some time in Greece. He loved it, especially the Peloponessus.”

Lefty tends to judge people by their level of enthusiasm for his ancestral land. And Jack’s dad had obviously aced the test by praising our family’s native region.

“Oh yes,” Cyril said. “I’ve always loved the mountains and the Greek people are so friendly and charming. I hope to visit there again.”

While Cyril spoke, Lefty scribbled on the back of one of his business cards then handed it to Cyril. “If you ever get to Greece in the fall,” said Lefty, “you must visit us.”

“Thank you,” Cyril said. “If you’re not careful, I may take you up on your kind offer, Lefty.”

Lefty. I’ve always thought that my father’s nickname is ironic; he’s neither left-handed nor liberal. But irony is lost on my hard-headed and arch-conservative father. I’m in charge of irony in our family.

Lefty excused himself and went to look for my mother. Cyril put his hand on my shoulder and smiled at me. “Nice to see you again, Nick. Jack is so mysterious about his personal life that I rarely see his friends. I’m so proud of his recent accomplishments.” His smile faded into a slight frown. “But I was uncertain that he could handle the pressure of law school.”

“If Jack felt the pressure at all, he certainly hid it well,” I said. “He’s so cool that he doesn’t even seem to sweat, which in this climate is quite a feat.”

I looked over my shoulder and saw Hope introducing my parents to Amalia. My father beamed when she greeted him in Greek. It was no surprise that he found the combination of a pretty face and the Greek tongue irresistible. I just hoped that he wouldn’t propose to her for me.

“I’m glad to hear that,” Cyril said. “Jack hasn’t had an easy life. He had some serious emotional problems in the past, but I hope and pray that he’s over them.”

What did he mean by that? I was about to ask when a worried looking Jack joined us. “Hi, Nicholas. Dad, we have reservations and need to go now,” he said irritably, looking at his watch. “We’re running late!”

As they left, Cyril looked over his shoulder and said, “You must visit me. Give me a call, I’m in the book.”

“Come on, Dad. We’ve got to go,” Jack snapped. His face never lost its fixed graduation day smile, but his rigid back and strident tone surprised me. He obviously wanted to end my one-on-one conversation with his father before it went on any longer. Why?

As I watched them walk off, I was puzzled by Jack’s reaction, but I was soon distracted by having to deal with my parents. I joined them and Hope. They were still talking to Amalia and her father, Panos Chavalas. The two men were cracking jokes in Greek. I didn’t know what was so funny because I speak very little Greek. And what Greek I do know is limited to profanity and words used for ordering in restaurants. I’m very good at cussing out rude Athenian waiters.

In between rapid-fire bursts of Greek, Amalia introduced me to her father. Panos looked quizzically at me and spoke haltingly in English. “Niko, good to meet you.” He pumped my hand so hard that I was afraid it would fall off. “Why is good looking Greek boy like you not interested in my beautiful daughter?”

I stammered equivocally before being rescued. “Papa! Please stop it,” Amalia said with a laugh. “We’re good friends, that’s all. Just because we’re both Greek doesn’t mean that we’re fated to marry and produce your grandchildren.”

Panos rolled his large dark eyes and sighed, “Okay, Andaxi. Okay, Andaxi, Amalia. I didn’t mean to cause any fusseria, a man only wants the best for his daughter.”

I felt relieved. It was about time that Amalia used her manipulative skills to bail me out of trouble instead of getting me into it.

Lefty chuckled, then spoke to Panos in English. “You see? Your kids are American now,” crowed Lefty. “She’ll marry whoever she wants. Don’t worry, Panos, Inga is a non-Greek and we’ve been happily married for forty years.”

I turned my attention to how Hope was faring with my folks. I’ve always been hesitant about subjecting my girlfriends to the scrutiny of my parents. My parents had informed past girlfriends that my first son would be named Leftherios because that was the family tradition. Fat chance. Can you imagine what a hard time third graders would give a kid named Leftherios? The poor little bastard would never forgive me. I speak from experience; it’s bad enough having it as a middle name.

My mother was known to interrogate my girlfriends about their family trees with a ferocity that would put any TV lawyer to shame. Hope was luckier than most because her father, Sven Stensgard, was Norwegian and she was shielded by a presumption of niceness as far as Inga was concerned. I had a fantasy of my parents arguing over who I should be with, Hope or Amalia. It would be the first war ever between Greece and Norway. I’d root for Norway. Ja, you betcha.

My mother put her hand on my shoulder and said, “Hope is so nice!”  Since nice is the highest word of praise in her vocabulary, I knew that Hope had survived the Inga inquisition. But it was only the first round and my mother always went the distance.

I was so distracted by my odd chat with Cyril that I sleepwalked through the rest of the day. I recall going to lunch at Commander’s Palace. And I think that we had a drink at the McConkey’s house, or was it the Wright’s?

After I dropped my parents and then Hope off and went home, the cats and I reflected on the events of the day. Well, I reflected, and they purred and watched me think. All the talk about Jack’s emotional problems had disturbed me and led to a series of questions, each one wilder than the next. How well did I really know Jack? What had motivated Cyril Goodfriend to bring up such intimate matters with a relative stranger like me? Was Cyril trying to warn someone about Jack’s mental instability? How severe were Jack’s emotional problems? Why had Jack been so nervous when he saw me with his father? Did Jack want to keep us apart or were they just late for a restaurant reservation?

After a day of strained revelry, I tried to sleep but whenever I closed my eyes, I was again tormented by the image of Sophia and Bill’s lifeless bodies. I knew I couldn’t shake it until their killer was brought to justice; and probably not even then, but it would help me sleep.

Lying awake at three in the morning, I began to think the unthinkable: could Jack, and not Guy Zeringue, be the murderer? There were certain things about Jack that suddenly seemed suspicious. He’d disliked Steve Cohn and Salvador Maragall, but he was fond of both Sophia and Bill. Jack could have entered and exited the library from the law review office on the night of Cohn’s murder, but the police had already questioned and cleared him.

A more disturbing inference could be drawn from the two threats made on my life. Long before I got the tongue in the mail, I was the busybody the killer warned to butt out in the letter found in Bill’s office. But why would this self-righteous murderer threaten me-not once but twice-if he wanted to kill and not just scare me? As far as I knew, no threats were ever sent to any of the victims. I remembered having lunch with Jack the day after I found Bill’s bloody corpse. I thought nothing of it at the time, but Jack had been very relieved to learn that I was getting out of the amateur detective biz. Was it because he was my friend or because he’d have to kill me if I didn’t?

Since sleep was beyond me, I got up, raided the refrigerator, flicked on the boob tube and sat down on the couch. Rather than watching “Citizen Kane” or “Sunset Boulevard” for the zillionth time, I foolishly pondered the symbolism of the calf’s tongue. I had described Jack’s dry wit as tongue-in-cheek more than a few times myself. And the homicidal maniac who had terrorized Tulane Law had a sick sense of humor. I wondered if the tongue-in-the-box could have been a twisted visual pun on Jack-in-the-box. But if Jack really was the killer would he have taken such a reckless chance? If he wanted to be caught, even subconsciously, he might have. Then again, the killer was arrogant and thought the police were corrupt dolts as did Jack. This is crazy, I told myself, Jack may be the sanest person I’ve ever met.

In the middle of my inchoate fears was something tangible, my conversation with Charles on Susan’s porch. Charles thought that Jack had told the cops about his problems with Steve Cohn. And the police had dragged Charles in for questioning right before Zeringue took the fall. Charles had said something else that resonated through my weary, wary mind: “Those calm types bother me; I don’t trust them.”

I had figured that Benjamin was the snitch but it could have been Jack. It fit a pattern; Jack was always stirring the gossip pot and ladling out tidbits of innuendo for me to serve to Camille. Jack’s stories nourished suspicion of his targets but since he used a carving knife and not a meat cleaver, he never seemed to be malicious. I recalled the sly way he had told me about Bill’s affair with Steve Cohn’s wife on the day after Bill’s murder. Down boy, I told myself. I had to calm down. If a taste for vicious gossip could be used as evidence, then everybody at Tulane Law School would be rotting in jail.

I was jumping to some premature and insomnia-fed conclusions about Jack and I had to knock it off. The term “emotional problems” was so vague that it could mean almost anything. Without knowing how serious Jack’s problems were, it was ridiculous for me to think that he could be a killer. Maybe I was the one who needed help. Had these months of sleepless nights and worrying about the murders made me paranoid?

As the long night dragged on, neither the doubts I felt about the case nor the guilt I felt about suspecting Jack would go away. Jack was my friend, but I’d lost confidence that I really knew him and not just his public facade. I decided to pay Cyril Goodfriend a visit after Jack left for Boston. I hoped that a visit to the father would dispel my suspicions of the son. For the time being, I resolved to keep my mouth shut. I was sure that I was wrong and didn’t want to form a one-man firing squad based on fear and speculation. The last year had taught me just how devastating false accusations can be.

©2020 by Peter Athas

The next installment will be posted on Wednesday. See you then.

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