Exclusive Excerpt from A World Apart
by Mel Gough
“Is this Stacy Miller?”
“It is. Who’s asking?”
“Ms. Miller, this is Sergeant Ben Griers, Corinth PD. Did a man by the name of Donnie Saunders have an appointment with you yesterday afternoon?” Ben mentally crossed his fingers that the mention of his rank would suffice to elicit this piece of innocuous information. Legally, he had no leg to stand on, but his experience had taught him that a courteous yet firm manner often got you surprisingly far.
And his experience held true again. After a moment, the woman on the other end said, “Yes, he did.”
“And he attended?”
“What time was his appointment?”
“Three p.m. But we were running late, so I think I started with him around three fifteen.”
“And how long was he there for?”
“About forty-five minutes. Officer, is Mr. Saunders all right?”
That was a surprising question. In Ben’s experience, state employees had no time or interest to worry about the hundreds of people that passed by their desks every week. But then, here Ben was himself, trying to help Saunders as well with as little delay as possible. Maybe some of us do still care.
“He’s fine. Ma’am, if I were to check your office’s visitor register for yesterday, would the record back up your statement?”
“It would,” Ms. Miller said composedly. “And you’d find a parking permit in Mr. Saunders’s name as well. We don’t have much space out front, so clients get timed permits for the parking lot at the back.”
That was more than good enough for Ben. “Thank you for your time, ma’am.”
“You’re welcome, Officer. Have a good day.”
Ben put the phone down, nodded at Lou, and turned his back before the desk clerk could make a comment or ask any questions.
As he walked down the corridor toward the interrogation room, Ben’s mind was on the phone call, even as he told himself that, beyond establishing a suspect’s alibi, what he had just learned was none of his business. But he couldn’t help wondering about it. Why had Saunders gone to the Medicaid office? He didn’t look ill. Of course, there were a dozen possible reasons. A sick family member. An old injury that no insurance would cover. Or even trying to get at some extra state assistance for no good reason at all. None of this was relevant to the case, and as he reached the interrogation room, Ben tried his best to push the thoughts from his mind.
He opened the door but didn’t rejoin the other two at the table. “Mr. Saunders, your alibi for yesterday afternoon was confirmed by Ms. Miller. You’re free to leave.”
Jason looked around at Ben, scowling. Ben ignored his partner and kept his eyes on Saunders, who, after a fleeting look of surprise, raised his shackled wrists. “You gonna let me keep them as a souvenir?”
Surprisingly, he didn’t sound aggrieved. Ben had been prepared for righteous indignation and anger, and wouldn’t have blamed the man for it. But Saunders just sat there, looking tired and defeated. He held his arms out without comment as Jason leaned over with the handcuff keys. Once he was free, Saunders got up and, without a glance at Jason, walked toward the door. When he drew level with Ben, he stopped, eyes on the floor in front of him.
“Thanks,” he muttered, then strode out of the room.
Ben glanced after Saunders as the man continued down the hall, shoulders hitched, face averted from the people milling around the lobby. A strange sensation rose up in him. Was it pity? He tried to tell himself that it was only natural to take an interest, feel something, after what Jason had put this man through without a single good reason.
And for Ben, the whole thing wasn’t over yet. Turning to his partner with a scowl, he asked, “Why were you so sure it was him? You practically had him convicted already.”
Jason shrugged. “Witness said they saw a dark brown pickup, same as Saunders has. And today, he was just sort of hanging around the gas station on Fullerton. Thought we should check him out.”
“Did you have anything else to go on? Description of the driver, partial number plate, anything?”
Jason sounded smug, and Ben had to take a deep breath to keep his voice level. “Did he maybe behave in a suspicious manner?”
“Maybe,” Jason agreed as he got up. In Jason-speak that meant: Just didn’t like the look of the dude.
Jason sometimes got like this; he was all guts and instinct and reaction. That had its uses in policing, too, and Ben often made excuses for his friend’s hot-headedness, because it came from the right place in his heart. But somehow, this time he couldn’t find an excuse. Maybe it had happened one time too many. Or maybe, because this time Jason’s ire had focused on an innocent party, he’d rubbed Ben the wrong way.
As he followed Jason out of the room, Ben hissed, “Since this was your party, brother, you can write it up for the captain as well, all right?” This would annoy Jason more than anything. He hated writing reports.
Without another word, Ben strode down the corridor and out into the parking lot. He needed a moment to calm down or else he might well punch his partner and best friend in the face before the day was done.