The Charity Case

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 13 (v.1)

Submitted: June 04, 2013

Reads: 79

A A A | A A A

Submitted: June 04, 2013

A A A

A A A

“What do you mean you know who killed him?” Cooper asked.

 

“The headless man from your case. I think I know who killed him.” Larson said.

 

“Who killed him? And how do you even know the identity of the victim?”

 

“I can’t tell you right now, you’ll ruin the surprise.” Larson explained. He pulled out a cell phone and started furiously typing some kind of message out. Moments later, Cooper’s phone buzzed. “I just texted you a list with a few people’s names on it. Grab all of them and have them assemble at the Parsons residence by five today.”

 

“Where are you going?”

 

“There are a few things I need to confirm first.”

 

Larson left without saying anything else. Cooper looked at her watch and realized there were only four hours until five o’clock. The list only had five people’s names on it: Nate Parsons, Sarah Parsons, Lieutenant Anders, Jason Bennett, and Alan Woods. Two of the people by default would be at the Parsons residence: Nate and Sarah. She just had to inform them that a group of people would be stopping by regarding their foster son David.

 

That left three more people to talk to. The Lieutenant, Cooper had thought, would be the hardest one to convince. But as soon as she mentioned Larson’s name, the man was on board.

 

“Thomas Larson? He thinks he’s solved our case?” Anders scowled. Apparently Larson had enough of a reputation to last the six years he had been retired. “Well, either we get to close a case or I get to see the bastard make a fool of himself.”

 

Once Anders was convinced to play along, it was easy to compel Bennett and Woods to come. The four of them drove to the Parsons’ house in two separate cars to meet up with the final two members of the group. They all wondered what this was all about, but Cooper told them she didn’t know and that she wasn’t the one running the show.

 

“This is the guy that accused me of cheating on my wife! What is he doing here?” Nate said the moment he saw Larson.

 

“Just calm down, sir. Once we handle this, we’ll get out of your hair. This man claims to have information on a murder.” Anders told him.

 

“He’s not associated with the police. Why are we listening to him?” Nate asked.

 

“Because once upon a time, this man was a pretty damn good consultant and if he says he can close a case for us, I’m going to hear him out.” Anders said to Nate. He then turned to Larson and said, “Just don’t expect me to bail you out if you go too far. And you no longer have the Captain to fall back on if you hang yourself.”

 

“Why the show though? Why are we here, in my house?” Nate asked.

 

“Well…” Larson finally decided to speak up. “Sarah is worried about her foster son. And you? I just wanted you to be here so I could annoy you because you could care less about the kid.”

 

“Real mature. You want to just add to the libel charge you’ll be facing after this is over?”

 

“You can’t sue someone for libel if it’s true, Nate. Which reminds me, I got a hold of Crystal and she wants to know why you didn’t tell her you were married.”

 

It sounded like a threat, but Nate knew it wasn’t because Larson found out the real name of the person he cheated on his wife with a couple of nights ago. That got Nate to close his mouth real fast. Larson decided to start the show.

 

“I’m sure, like Nate here, that you all wonder what you are doing here.” Larson addressed the rest of the group. “You are probably aware that a 16 year old foster kid disappeared suddenly one night and that Detective Cooper over here has been unofficially investigating this incident. After a few days of running around questioning people that were connected to David in some way, I’ve determined that he simply ran away.”

 

“Why are we here if this is about a runaway? And what does a missing kid have to do with a murder investigation?” Anders asked.

 

“I’m glad you asked. See, not only did a kid run away a few nights ago, but he also witnessed a murder.”

 

“Who’s murder?”

 

“Roger Hummel, Houston Foster Aide’s own Treasurer.” Larson answered. “You might recognize him from the commercials he acted in that the charity had been running for the past few months.”

 

Woods and Bennett both gasped when they heard that it was Hummel who was murdered. It was a huge blow for the charity to lose someone that was considered the face of the organization.

 

A flash of realization came over Cooper as she figured out why the victim’s head was cut off. If Hummel was relatively easy to recognize because of the commercials he was in, they would need to cut his head off to make him unidentifiable. Cutting his fingers off wouldn’t have been enough.

 

“Something you might not know about Roger Hummel is that he was stealing money from the charity.” Larson said.

 

“How do you even know all of this?”  Anders asked.

 

“Bennett told us about this when we talked with him, and he also said he was blackmailing Hummel.”

 

“I wasn’t blackmailing him. He was paying the money back to the charity.” Bennett said. “We didn’t want to involve the police and the media and damage the reputation of our charity over just a few thousand dollars.”

 

“Well, he got tired of it. And I bet you were surprised to find a note on your desk one afternoon, asking you to meet him at midnight at a neutral location to discuss your ‘situation’.”

 

“Whatever, this is your story. I’m not admitting to anything.”

 

“The evidence is there, Bennett. You know it exists. There is no point in denying that you drove to this very neighborhood on the night of the murder to meet with Hummel.”

 

“Fine. I admit that I was there.” Bennett finally confessed. “But I had no intention to kill him. I waited in my car for about thirty minutes a block away from the meeting spot, thinking maybe I’d let him sweat a little. But when I finally went to confront him, he wasn’t there. Punk didn’t even show up.”

 

“That’s a nice little story, Bennett. It really is.” 

 

“It doesn’t matter. I’ve given my version of the events. You know that the evidence you have against me right now isn’t enough to get a conviction. No gun, no fingerprints. Not even a motive. Why would I kill someone when he was better to me alive? It makes no sense.”

 

“It is a bad theory isn’t it?” Larson asked rhetorically.

 

His voice was a lot softer, almost as if he was giving up on pinning this murder on Bennett. But Cooper saw the familiar smirk that Larson flashed every time he was certain he had beaten someone. What could his angle be?

 

“The truth is, I don’t have any evidence to suggest you killed him. And if you are going to play the lawyer card, I guess I’m out of moves then am I?” Larson admitted.

 

“Is that all you have, Larson?” Anders asked from across the room, starting to get angry that Larson made this scene for no reason.

 

“Something like that, Lieutenant.” Larson said.

 

“So you basically dragged everyone here to waste our time?”

 

“Not exactly. Bennett brings up a good point. He doesn’t have a motive that makes sense. Why would Bennett need to kill Hummel?”

 

“Exactly.” Bennett agreed with Larson.

 

“Now, if it had been the other way around, Hummel killing you… that’s a crime that made sense.” Larson said. “After all, you were blackmailing him. You were the only person that knew about his embezzling from the organization. If he kills you, all of his problems go away. Talk about a motive.”

 

“I suppose.” Bennett eyed Larson, wondering what he was getting at. Larson wasn’t looking at Bennett anymore. He seemed to be wrapped in his own mind.

 

“It would’ve worked too, if you think about it. He sends you a note asking for a meeting at night in order to get you by yourself. And as soon as you show up… blam-o! Dead as a doornail.”

 

“Do you have a point or do you just like to imagine me dead?”

 

Larson ignored him and continued on. “An investigation would start. They would find the note he sent. It wouldn’t be long afterwards that they would figure out that he was stealing money. They wouldn’t even need to put the gun in his hands. If they put him at the crime scene at the time of the murder, with the biggest motive in the world, he goes to jail for murder. Pretty straightforward case, really. I bet that’s how you planned for the events to really happen.”

 

“What are you talking about?” Bennett asked.

 

“I’m not talking to you, Bennett.” Larson said. Cooper looked, and she realized that the past few minutes that Larson wasn’t making eye contact with Bennett. It looked like he was gazing off to the side, but he was really staring directly at Alan Woods with his trademark smirk.

 

“Why are you looking at me like that?” Woods asked trying to sound calm, but everyone could see the signs of panic on his face.

 

“Wasn’t that the plan, Woods? Send them both notes to meet that night? The note for Hummel said the meeting was thirty minutes after the note for Bennett. That way Bennett would show up, you would kill him, call the cops, and they would get here just in time to catch Hummel standing near the body.”

 

“Y-you’re wrong.” Woods nervously said.

 

“The problem was…” Larson continued with an air of confidence around him. “…Bennett tried the old power play and waited an extra thirty minutes and Hummel got there first. Now you had a problem, because if you actually allowed them to both meet, they would figure out what happened and it would be the end of you. In a rush you killed Hummel. Cut his head and fingers off using a saw you probably swiped from someone’s garage. And I bet that’s when David showed up and caught you red handed.”

 

“You said yourself that you don’t have the evidence. Why are you wasting our time?”

 

“I might not have evidence, but I have a really good theory that explains everything.” Larson said.

 

He sounded completely sure that he had Woods beat, despite freely admitting that the only thing he had was a theory. Cooper sat and watched the events unfold in front of her, and despite being the only person in the room other than Larson with intimate knowledge of both the murder and the abduction case, she didn’t know what his plan was.

 

“But you can’t convict someone based solely on a theory.” Woods said.

 

“I don’t have to.” Larson said. “Think about everything we know now. We know that Hummel was murdered. We know that he was embezzling from the company and that Bennett took matters into his own hand instead of telling you or the police. And we also know Bennett intended to meet with Hummel and was there at the same time and place that a 16 year old foster kid disappeared.”

 

“You still don’t have a case.”

 

“We might not have a case, but as soon as we confirm that our headless murder victim is Hummel, all of the board members become potential suspects. Then when the media finds out what we know, this murder investigation will become the biggest story to hit the city of Houston in years and your charity sits right in middle of it all. Maybe you survive with your reputation relatively unscathed, but will Houston Foster Aide be able to endure the huge black mark that will have been put on it?”

 

“And you are just going to allow the charity I’ve spent years building to just crumble to pieces for the sake of your witch-hunt? This charity has done good work in the city. As much as you have found out about us, all you have to show for it is a greedy board member and another that wanted to protect the story from the media. We’re not a corrupt bunch of individuals here. You know you can’t make a case, so you are just going to destroy the one thing I care about. And for what?”

 

Cooper could empathize with Woods and his horrible situation. Woods was stuck in between a rock and a hard place, not necessarily because of anything he did. It was all the actions of people like Bennett and Hummel that put him in the position he found himself in.

 

“There isn’t anything I could’ve done about the media fallout, that’s just the nature of the beast. But you can stop it, you know.”  Larson said.

 

“How?”

 

 “Right now the story will be about an investigation into the city’s biggest charity. But if David were reunited with his foster parents and if Hummel’s murderer confessed to his crime, suddenly that becomes the focus of the story. Since there would be no investigation, that means they don’t find out about Hummel’s embezzlement and Bennett’s blackmail.”

 

“You want me to confess?”

 

“If you take the fall for this murder and abduction, you go to prison, but Bennett takes over and the charity continues to run smoothly. Houston Foster Aide comes off looking like the victim in all of this.”

 

And now Larson’s plan had been fully revealed. He knew he didn’t have evidence, but he was sure Woods was behind this. It just made too much sense. So he put on this act in order to set up his final play. He wanted Woods to confess to both of the crimes in order to save his charity.

 

Woods had a stressed look on his face as it looked like he was mulling over his options. Everyone in the room was dead silent as they waited for him to speak again. Cooper wondered if maybe Larson was wrong about all of this. All he had was a theory after all. And if Woods turned out to be innocent, then they were going to completely destroy the reputation of this charity for nothing.

 

“I’ll tell you where David is.” Woods finally said. “I never intended for him to come to any harm.”

 

“What were you planning to do with him?”

 

“I don’t know… maybe when all of this blew over I would try to find a family to take care of him out of state.”

 

Cooper was shocked. She never could’ve imagined that someone like Woods would be capable of kidnapping, let alone murder.

 

“How could you?” Cooper asked in disbelief.

 

“I started Houston Foster Aide and built it up from nothing. In the beginning, everything that the charity accomplished was because of my effort alone. And I was proud of everything I had done.” Woods started to say. “Until I met Jason Bennett.”

 

He avoided eye contact with Cooper, choosing to stare at the ground instead. But upon mentioning Bennett’s name, he gave him an angry glare.

 

“The decision to make Bennett the Vice President was the worst decision I’ve made in my life. His business experience vaulted us to a higher tier of success and exposure. But I quickly realized that I was losing control of the organization. The years went by and I no longer recognized the charity I originally created. And when I found out that my Treasurer was stealing money from us and the Vice President was keeping it a secret from me? That was the final straw.”

 

“You are a fool, Alan. An idealist fool.” Bennett said at Woods. “Always reaching for the stars but never quite getting there.”

 

“And you are the smartest businessman I’ve ever had the opportunity to work with. I hope for the sake of the foster kids in Houston that you realize the opportunity you have to do some good in the community instead of serving your own selfish goals.” Woods responded.

 

“You don’t get to call me selfish after admitting you tried to kill me and frame someone else for the murder.”

 

Anders pulled out his handcuffs and told Woods to turn around. As Anders handcuffed him and led him to the back of the squad car, the Lieutenant recited the man’s Miranda rights. Woods looked resigned to his fate and didn’t say anything or resist in any way. They drove off, heading for the police station.

 

Larson watched as they drove off. He smiled at the fact that he had solved two cases simultaneously despite having no solid evidence to threaten a suspect with. I guess I still have some skills, Larson thought.

 

Cooper came from inside the house to update Larson on what was happening. “Hey, just wanted to let you know, I was going to take Bennett and go to the place Woods said he was keeping David. It’s not too far from here.”

 

“You do that.” Larson said.

 

“Do you want to go? Maybe David will want to see the person responsible for setting him free.”

 

“I’m fine, you two go on ahead.”

 

Cooper didn’t immediately go, instead opting to relieve her curiosity. “What made you suspect Woods anyway?”

 

“As soon as I realized that Hummel was the headless murder victim in the other case you were investigating, it didn’t really take much more effort. My logic basically went the same way I presented it just now. I suspected Bennett at first, but then realized he didn’t have the motive. That’s where I got the crazy idea about Woods trying to frame one guy for the other’s murder.”

 

“You got all that from a well dressed headless murder victim?” Cooper asked incredulously.

 

“Once I had that theory in mind, everything else made sense all of the sudden. After Woods found out that we were investigating the kidnapping and we were already looking into the charity angle, he knew that it was possible that we would soon connect the two crimes together and come after him. That’s why he tried to get you off the case by filing a complaint with your boss and then used Hummel’s credit cards to buy a bunch of bus tickets to make it look like Hummel was on the run.”

 

“Still, that was quite a leap in logic.”

 

“It worked out in the end, and I have you to thank for it.” Larson admitted.

 

“How so?”

 

“You tried to convince me to go along with your crazy scheme to catch Hummel at the bus station. And I thought that if Woods was as passionate about his charity as you were to your job, maybe he would try something just as drastic to deal with Bennett and Hummel.”

 

Cooper didn’t know how to respond to Larson’s verbal jab. Does he really think I would ever go as far as killing an innocent man? Even if doing so would accomplish something positive, it just wasn’t worth it, thought Cooper. And that reminded her of something he said earlier.

 

“Larson, when I asked what your plan was earlier. You said that you didn’t want me to ruin the surprise. Did you think I would sabotage your plan by telling Woods and giving him the opportunity to run away?” Cooper asked.

 

“If I had told you, would you have?” Larson asked in response.

 

“Of course not!”

 

“Good.” Larson said without really answering her question.

 

 She knew that Woods and herself shared the same passion for helping people, and the effort they put into their work was similar. But Cooper never would kill an innocent man. That’s what made them different.

 

The news of Hummel’s murder and Woods’ involvement spread fast. It quickly became the city’s biggest story. The angle the media went for portrayed Woods as the nut job that snapped and went after another board member, even going as far as cutting his fingers and head as well as kidnapping a teenager that had unfortunately witnessed the crime. Woods being completely silent when reporters tried to get a statement from him only cemented that image in their minds. Bennett and the charity in general came off looking like victims in this story.

 

Later that night Bennett called a quick press conference to talk about the recent events that happened. He brought his wife up to the podium with him for support. David and Ashley were also off to the side. A representative from every media outlet in the city and a few national reporters were present at the press conference. The rest of the audience comprised of people involved with the charity and a few people from HPD, including Cooper and Larson who sat way in the back. Everyone sat down and patiently listened to what the new charity President had to say.

 

“I’ve called a press conference to discuss everything that has happened in the past couple of days. I just want to make sure all the facts are out in the open so that we can begin the healing process.” Bennett began to speak. He went on to discuss everything that happened, obviously leaving out Hummel’s involvement in an embezzlement scheme and the fact that he hid it from the public.

 

Larson chuckled to himself as Bennett continued to give his speech. “It’s almost admirable how good he is at making people think that he actually gives a damn.”

 

“Why do you have to be so negative? We should be celebrating our victory.” Cooper said.

 

“We shouldn’t be celebrating. Woods, the benevolent former charity president went down for murder and kidnapping. Meanwhile, business shark Bennett gets the keys to the organization. And I’m sure he’ll treat the responsibility like it’s just another notch in his portfolio.”

 

“The way I see it, we put a murderer behind bars and were able to rescue a kid that had been kidnapped.”

 

“He ran away, it was only by coincidence that he was taken away by Woods as well. It’s only going to be a matter of time given what we know about his foster parents that he’ll do it again.”

 

“I don’t think that’s going to be an issue.”

 

Larson wondered what she meant by that, but Cooper just pointed toward the stage where Jason Bennett was still giving his speech. He was talking about his “promotion” to charity president when Larson started listening to what he was saying again.

 

“When I was the Vice President, you probably never got to meet me unless you were donating money to the charity. I handled all the business paperwork and never really participated in anything else. I invested a lot of time and money in this charity and got to watch from the sidelines as someone else’s vision came to pass.” Bennett paused, letting his words sink in a little.

 

“But now as President I can’t just sit around and let other people make things happen for me.” Bennett continued. “I have to really step up if I want to take this charity into a new era, and to do that I need to lead by example. That’s why I’m announcing today that my wife and I plan on adopting both Ashley and David into our family. They’ve been through so much and I can’t think of any two other kids that deserve this more.”

 

Both Ashley and David walked up to the podium with Bennett and his wife as they waved to the cheering audience. A few people stood up to congratulate the two of them even more. More and more people joined until everyone was on their feet giving a standing ovation. Ashley was able to spot Cooper in the back and waved even harder as her smile became even bigger.

 

“Did you have anything to do with that?” Larson asked about Bennett’s announcement.

 

“I talked to Bennett after they arrested Woods and suggested that this would be the perfect way to boost the charity’s image in the midst of all the bad news.” Cooper admitted.

 

“So adopting the kids is just a publicity stunt?”

 

“If someone else had adopted them, you would just claim it was guilt, or a cry for attention or something else. What matters is these two kids have a permanent home. Jason Bennett and his wife will give them a nice place to live and allow them a great opportunity to succeed when they become adults.”

 

“I guess everything worked out perfectly then, didn’t it.” Larson said sarcastically.

 

“It’s not perfect, but I’ll take these results.”

 

The press conference soon ended and media began to file out as uplifting music played over the loud speaker. It was the sort of thing that Larson knew that Bennett had planned in order to keep the mood up after his announcement had already been made.

 

Larson knew that people liked these types of good stories that made them feel good about society. But most of the time those feelings were artificial. How much of that good feeling came from the carefully scripted speech that was made or the music that played afterwards?

 

Sometimes that feeling was based on something real. But Larson thought that even then it was dangerous to get your hopes up when a good thing happened because he knew how easy things could’ve gone the other way.

 

Back when he was a consultant with the police, even when they had successfully solved the case, it always seemed like they had done so in spite of all of the things that could’ve gone wrong. And then finally when their luck ran out and Chuck Cooper died from a gunshot wound, Larson couldn’t bring himself to stay.

 

When Amanda Cooper first reached out to him, he didn’t want to work the case for that exact reason. Larson thought David was a runaway while Cooper thought it was an abduction. It turned out that they were both technically right. He ran away from home and got himself kidnapped because he witnessed a murder.

 

In hindsight this case was definitely one where things could’ve turned out differently. If it wasn’t for the murder, David would’ve just kept running and he might not have come back. And if the murderer had been anyone other than Woods, he might’ve killed him in cold blood instead of kidnapping him.

 

Cooper noticed that Larson was in deep though and asked, “What’s wrong?”

 

“How do you do it?” he asked.

 

“Do what?”

 

“How can you stay so positive in spite of the fact that any case you work can end in disaster?”

 

She pointed at the stage. Ashley and David were talking with their new parents. Ashley still had the same smile that had been there since she was told that they found David.

 

“Because of that smile.” Cooper said.

 

“I don’t understand.” Larson said.

 

“That smile exists only because I was able to reunite Ashley with her foster brother. It’s knowing that you’ve changed the course of someone’s life for the better and truly made a difference.”

 

“It doesn’t always work out as nicely as that. This case could’ve gone wrong in so many ways. What do you do when things don’t work out?”

 

“All you can really do is just relish the smiles that you get when they happen and think back to those moments when things get bad. Because if you get frustrated and give up, you won’t be there to create that next smile.”

 

Her father had a similar philosophy. Chuck believed that all he could do was give his best effort. As long as he did that, he could live without regrets. He took that passionate attitude and made a great career out of it.

 

But sometimes having a passionate attitude and giving your best effort isn’t enough, Larson thought. That kind of attitude was what killed my best friend. It also landed Alan Woods in jail for murder.

 

Larson knew that a person could have exhibited all the effort in the world and still end up losing. Just because you tried your hardest doesn’t mean you’ll succeed. But as he remembered the specifics of this case, the odds were completely against them, but because of her perseverance they were able to catch the bad guy and bring David back. What she had done was nothing short of a miracle.

 

Maybe all you can do is just take the good with the bad, Larson thought.

 

Cooper’s phone rang and she picked it up, said a few words to the person on the other end of the call before hanging up.

 

“What was that?” Larson asked.

 

“Back to work. I’ve got a murder on the north side of town I need to go check out.” Cooper said.

 

Larson realized that with the case finally ending it was like a hole had opened up inside of him. As much as he pretended to not want to be on the case, he realized how much missed chasing leads and putting the clues together. And he certainly missed the moment at the end where he got to show off how clever he was to the murderer and see the look on their face when they realized that they had been beaten.

 

What would he do now that it was all over? Go back to his house and draw pictures in his office all day?

 

“Mind if I tag along?” Larson asked.

 

“Sure, but only if you promise me you won’t antagonize anyone there.” Cooper said.

 

Larson smiled. “I can’t make any promises.” 


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