Guilty?

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic
A short story in which Inspector John Teague wrestles with his conscience whilst giving evidence at the trial of a man accused of murdering the men who raped and killed his wife.

Submitted: November 08, 2011

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Submitted: November 08, 2011

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‘And can you tell the court, Inspector, what you did after you found the bodies?’

The jury of seven men and five women were bathed in pale, watery sunlight as they watched Inspector John Teague take another sip of water.

Teague himself was conscious of how dry his throat had become, and of how warm he felt in spite of the coolness of the courtroom, and he nervously adjusted the collar of his shirt.

He hated giving evidence…even more so in this particular case.

‘I had been conscious of the sound of a piano from the moment I had entered the defendant’s house and so, after confirming that both of the men in the hallway were dead, I decided to investigate the source of the music.’

‘And that was when you found the defendant, in his library, playing…what was it…?’

‘Sonata facile, the Allegro from Mozart’s Piano Sonata number 16 in C, yes…only, it didn’t sound right, as if some of the notes were being missed out.’

 

‘This is…was…Melissa’s favourite piece of music, John. She used to love that combination of positivity and calmness. I took her to see Paul Lewis play it in Bristol last September. I never could play it quite as well as I would have liked, and I certainly can’t now, not after…well, after…’

 

‘How would you describe the defendant’s demeanour, Inspector? Was he agitated, frightened…?

Teague could feel his face beginning to glow. He hated the fact that his body still paraded his inner nervousness so wantonly, even after all these years.

‘I’d say his demeanour was remarkably calm, though at the time I put that down to him being in shock. He continued to play even when I asked him if he was aware of the fact that there were two dead bodies in his hallway.’

 

‘Ah, yes, the bodies. I guess it would have been hard for you not to spot those.’

 

‘And how was the defendant physically? It would be reasonable to assume, would it not, that he would have sustained some kind of injury in a violent struggle with two large, powerful intruders.’

The Inspector feigned a moment of uncertainty and referred to his notebook, though in truth he already knew the answer to the question.

‘At that time, the defendant did not appear to be in any pain and there were no obvious injuries, apart from the wound on his right hand which he had received in a previous incident. That was weeping blood onto the piano keys.’

 

‘There’s so much blood in this house, John. It seems to be everywhere. Even when it’s been cleaned and scrubbed a hundred times, I can still smell it, can still taste it.’

 

‘Of course, Inspector, you were already aware of the manner in which the defendant had received that particular injury, were you not?’

Teague nodded slowly, conscious of the direction Prosecuting Counsel’s questioning was now heading. In truth, he would very much have preferred not to revisit that particular memory, a scene lifted straight from a horror film.

‘I had been leading the investigation into an incident which took place approximately six weeks before the incident in question, during which the defendant and his wife were viciously assaulted in their home by two masked men. The defendant was bound and gagged by the intruders, and he was then forced to watch whilst his wife was repeatedly raped before being bludgeoned to death. The defendant himself was severely beaten to the point where he suffered permanent hearing loss in his right ear, blurred vision in his left eye, not to mention the loss of countless teeth. He also had two of his fingers hacked off with what we believe to have been a chisel.’

 

‘They took more from me than just my two fingers, John. They took away my reason for living.’

 

‘So, Inspector, having ascertained that the defendant was relatively unharmed and reasonably compos mentis, what did you do next?’

For the first time since he had taken to the witness stand, Teague glanced up at the dock. He was there, head in hands, sobbing ever so gently, just as he had been when he had questioned him about the murder of his wife.

Lost.

Forlorn.

Pitiful.

‘I knew the ambulance and other support units were on their way, so I took the opportunity to ask the defendant if he could tell me what had happened.’

 

‘Do you remember what they did to her, John? Do you? If you do, then you already know the answer to that particular question.’

 

‘So let me get this straight, Inspector. The defendant told you that he had just been getting ready for bed when he had heard noises downstairs. Upon investigating, he became involved in a struggle with two masked intruders, a struggle during which both the intruders received fatal stab wounds to the heart, whilst the defendant received barely a scratch.’

The Inspector, like the jury, had heard the notes of incredulity in Prosecuting Counsel’s voice; he answered calmly in spite of it.

‘That is correct.’

The Prosecutor laughed sneeringly.

‘And tell me, Inspector, whilst the defendant was telling you this tale, was he still playing the piano?’

Inspector Teague did not appreciate the Prosecutor’s mocking tone, and nor it seemed did some members of the jury, judging by the disdainful expressions that suddenly appeared on their faces.

Teague’s answer was appropriately short and dismissive.

‘No, by this time he had stopped.’

 

 ‘I told you, John, that it’d only be a matter of time before I found them.’

 

‘So, Inspector, I guess it must have come as something of a surprise to you to discover that the two men found dead in the defendant’s hallway were, in fact, the two men you yourself had been looking for in connection with the previous incident at his house?’

Teague could feel the first bead of sweat beginning to run down the left side of his forehead. He wondered, as he always did, whether it was better to ignore it and hope no-one noticed, or whether he should use his handkerchief to mop it from his brow. To do so, of course, would draw attention to the fact that he was sweating like a pig.

He decided to do nothing, at least for now.

‘When the DNA report came through, matching the victim’s DNA with that of the men who had raped and murdered the defendant’s wife, then, yes, I have to admit that I was surprised.’

 

‘It’s easier than you think to have someone found, John, if you know who to talk to…and you have the money. Maybe the police should try that some time.’

 

‘Don’t you find it odd, Inspector…some would say more than a little suspicious…that these two men, having committed such a heinous crime, should choose to go back to the scene of that crime.’

Throat still parched, more than ever in fact, prompting the need for another sip of water.

Another bead of sweat, this time on the right side.

Teague adjusted his collar again.

‘Not really. As we have yet to establish any link between the two victims and the defendant or his wife, we still don’t understand the reasons for the original crime. As such, we can only speculate about any reasons for them to return a second time. But it’s certainly not unheard of for criminals to target the same house, or the same person, several times in a row. Perhaps they were hoping to steal more valuables, or maybe they simply wanted to terrorise the defendant further. It’s impossible to say at this stage.’

 

‘They were wide awake when I plunged the knife into their hearts, John. I felt the warmth of their final breath upon my face. I watched as the life slowly slipped from their eyes. I heard their pitiless hearts beat for the final time…and I enjoyed every moment of it!’

 

‘So let me ask you this, Inspector. In your professional opinion, do you believe the defendant acted in self-defence, as he has claimed, or do you believe that the defendant committed two cold-blooded acts of murder upon the men he suspected of slaying of his wife?’

When he glanced once more at the defendant in the dock, Inspector John Teague found his gaze being met by two tearful, empty eyes.

They were not the same eyes he had stared into on the night of the rape and murder; those eyes had been awash with disbelief and anguish and pain.

Nor were they the same eyes he had stared into on the night of the two stabbings; those eyes had been hard and cold and pitiless.

No, these were the eyes of a man whom life had pushed beyond caring, a man left bereft of hope by the cards that fate had recently dealt him.

And maybe, just maybe, those eyes deserved to see the prospect of a brighter tomorrow.

‘I would suggest it is more believable that the defendant, overcome with terror at the return of masked intruders to his home, was able to surprise and kill them, than it is for the defendant, overcome with rage and the need for vengeance, to have traced two killers who had evaded the police for six weeks, somehow capture them, bring them to his own home instead of some secluded woodland and, once there, calmly stab them in the chest.’


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