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Sunshine Injection, Chapter 1

by Charles Boyd 2 months ago in fiction
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The Beginning Of A Unique Investigation

Content warning: this story contains direct depictions of racism, homophobia, and other forms of bigotry, as well as various forms of police violence/misconduct. In this capacity, for the purpose of realism, it includes certain villains using slurs against various groups. It also contains references to incidents "off-page" that involve pedophilia, other abuse of children, and torturing of animals. There is also a level of profanity similar to a typical R-rated film. Reader discretion, especially for readers under 17, is advised.

Saint Albans, Vermont, May 17, 2015

Bert Jarvis was sitting in his in-home office with Mycroft, his hundred-fifty-pound Great Pyrenees at his feet, when his cellphone rang. “Hello,” he said, picking up the phone. While this was normal business hours for his detective agency, the fact that the call had been made on his personal cellphone number indicated to him that it was a friend and not a potential client.

“Hey, Bert, it’s Heidi!” the voice on the other end said.

“Heidi, good to hear from you! How’s it going?”

“I wish I could say it’s going better. I guess I should start at the beginning. One of my colleagues in Amnesty International brought an old case to me. Back in 2002, a man in Tampa named David Johnoche was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death for allegedly killing a twelve-year-old boy named Cameron Hausman.”

Bert winced at the murder, the execution, and the reference to the Florida city. “Tampa?” He repeated.

“Yeah,” Heidi said, recognizing the significance of the town to Bert. “Tampa. The evidence in the case was shoddy. There was no fingerprints or DNA evidence, and he had been at the Tampa Indian Reservation all day when the body was found. The boy had gone missing the day before, but the coroner originally determined that he’d died a few hours before they found him. The doctor changed his original assessment at some point before the indictment and said the boy could have died as much as twenty-four hours before police located the body. We don’t know how or why he changed his assessment, but the jury wasn’t made aware of it during the trial. My colleague only found out about it because she got a court order to unseal the original autopsy years later.”

“That sounds very shady. Why did the jury think he did it?”

“A few reasons. For one, Johnoche was a stonemason, and he was doing work on the property of Cameron’s parents while the parents were gone, and Cameron was home with his teenage sister. The sister said she was alone in her room doing her homework for a couple hours, and when she came out, Jonoche was gone, and so was Cameron. Neighbors said they’d seen the two talking earlier while Johnoche was working. The poor kid also had been bludgeoned by the kind of hammer Johnoche usually carried on him, although let’s face it, a Hell of a lot of people carry hammers.”

“You’re not wrong,”

“And the third reason is, he confessed. He claimed they never read him his rights, the detectives who arrested him said they did, I don’t think anybody knows the truth on that. Florida, unlike your native state, my native state, or even my adopted state of Texas, has no laws about recording police interrogations. He was held for forty-eight hours at a police station without having access to a lawyer. He claimed that during that time, he was denied food or water and was tortured into a confession. He even said that at one point, they drove to a river outlet in the city and threatened to feed him to the alligators if he didn’t confess. The detectives who arrested and interrogated him denied all of that, and since there was no recording, it was their word against his. He showed pretty severe bruises on his throat and bandages where his ribs had been cracked, but the prosecution and detectives on the case said it was from fights with other prisoners. Johnoche was of partly black and partly Seminole ancestry. The jury was eleven whites and one Hispanic in a county that’s around fifteen percent black. It’s not impossible for a jury to end up with that kind of racial breakdown randomly, but it’s enough to at least give me pause. The local Seminole leadership tried to claim jurisdiction, since he was living on the reservation and recognized as a member of the tribe, but a judge ruled that because the crime took place off the reservation, it was a matter for the Tampa police and county D.A.. And as I said, the jury wasn’t told that the original coroner’s report didn’t back up the timeline the prosecution was claiming wherein Johnoche supposedly held the kid hostage overnight and killed him the next day. The jury voted to convict, and the judge sentenced him to death by lethal injection. Afterwards, Johnoche claimed that he’d feared for his life during interrogation and been promised life imprisonment instead of execution. Obviously, if that was offered, it was never in writing.”

“So he’s on death row now?” Bert asked, ruefully.

“No, not anymore,”

“So his sentence was commuted,”

“I’m afraid not. He was executed six months ago. The injection went wrong, and it took nine minutes to kill him. The account I read said he was convulsing for most of it.” Bert felt sick to his stomach as Heidi continued. “My friend has been trying to get him exonerated posthumously and make the state of Florida admit to killing an innocent man, and she recently asked me to help. I told her I’d talk to you. I figured you’d have a special interest in the case for a couple reasons besides your general desire for justice and sticking up for the marginalized. For one thing, we both have a score to settle with the Tampa Police Department. And for another, I haven’t told you the name of the senior detective in the case.”

Bert immediately knew the name before she said it. “Holland Smathers?”

“That’s right,”

“I sure would like to make that bastard pay for everything he’s done. Hell, I’d love to choke him out and leave him in a puddle o’ his own saliva. But I gotta tell you, if I take this case, I have to go where the evidence leads. If I figure out Johnoche was innocent, I’ll move Heaven and Earth to get him exonerated and get the state of Florida, the Hillsbourough County D.A., and the TPD hosed in court. But if I figure out he was guilty, I can’t lie for you or anyone else.”

“Of course, Bert, we’ve been friends for over forty years, I’d never ask you to lie for me. Besides, I want the truth as much as you do.”

“I figured you’d say that. In that case, I’m in. I can be in Tampa in two days.”

Jacksonville, Florida, May 20, 2015

Ned Cheney and Rebecca Roth sat stuck in traffic with Hermione, their Great Pyrenees, and Harry, their three-month old baby, in tow. Hermione was, for whatever reason, apparently not happy with the car being stopped for an extended period of time and was loudly barking nonstop. Harry, who had been sleeping peacefully previously, was now bawling. Their car had already been stopped and searched for no reason—or, rather, for a reason they were all too familiar with—a couple of hours ago.

“How long does the GPS say we’ve got until we get to Tampa?” Ned asked.

“What?” Rebecca called out to him.

“How long does the GPS say we’ve got until we hit Tampa?” Ned shouted.

“The GPS says three hours and fifteen minutes! But at the rate things are going now, four or five hours looks more likely!”

Ned groaned. “At least Hermione and Harry both pooped recently,”

Like Ned, Rebecca shouted to be heard. “You didn’t tell Albert and Shirley we were definitely coming at a specific time, right?”

“No! I didn’t do that in case this exact thing happened!”

Next to them, an old, white man in a pickup truck rolled his window down. “Can’t you two shut that dog and baby up?” he yelled. “I’ve been listening to the racket from the two of them for the last two minutes!”

Rebecca was about to roll the window down and likely curse at the older man, but Ned warned, “Just ignore him, he might have a twelve gauge in that car for all we know!”

“Fine, fine. I’m really glad we’re getting to see your maternal grandparents, they’re really cool, and they haven’t gotten to see Harry in person since right after he was born, but next time, we’re taking a plane!”

“Here, here!” bellowed Ned.

As far back as Ned’s ancestry could be traced, his maternal ancestors were Georgians. (His paternal grandmother also came from a long line of Georgians going back to at least the Revolutionary War era, although his paternal grandfather had been from Mississippi.) However, his maternal grandparents had lived in a number of different locations over the past eighty years or so. After both growing up in Atlanta, where Ned’s mother, Ella, had been born in 1962, they had spent a chunk of the 1970s in Washington, D.C. working as fairly well-paid lobbyists for a liberal interest group called Americans for Democratic Action. The money for the lobbying jobs allowed them to pay for Ned’s mom, Ella, to attend National Cathedral School in D.C. two grades behind Ted Kennedy’s daughter and then attend Reed College in Portland, Oregon. Later, they had used it to pay for Ned to attend a fairly expensive high school and college himself. They made a point of describing themselves as middle class. Ned’s paternal grandmother, in a nonjudgmental but blunt way, called them wealthy, as had Ned’s paternal grandfather when he had been alive. After retiring from their lobbying jobs in the late 1990s, they had moved to Tampa, Florida where they were enjoying a long, comfortable retirement. Living his entire life in Atlanta, Ned had never spent as much time with them as he had with his maternal grandmother. Or, for that matter, as much time as he had with his paternal grandfather, Ned, Sr., prior to the man’s untimely death when Ned had been nine.

After another thirty minutes, traffic finally began moving. Just as it did, Hermione vomited, and Ned smelled the familiar, sickening scent of feces in Harry’s diaper.

“Ned,” Rebecca said, holding her nose. “Please tell me I’m just having a nightmare where our furkid and human kid both performed bodily functions in our car.”

Pulling over, cleaning up, changing Harry’s diaper, and getting back on the road took another half hour. By the time they reached Tampa, it was dark outside. Shirley and Albert lived in a three-story, white house in a neighborhood called Belmar Gardens. Belmar Gardens was an upscale, mostly white and Hispanic community of which Ned’s maternal grandparents were among the few black residents. The house had a spacious garden as well as a fire pit and swimming pool. “Whoa, you weren’t kidding when you said they did well in the lobbying business!” Rebecca said. She noticed a Lamborghini and a jaguar car in the driveway. “Holy shit, either of those cars is about eighteen months’ pay!” As if to distinguish the vehicles from most of the other fancy cars in the neighborhood, both of them were affixed with various liberal bumper stickers. Rebecca began carrying Harry in his car seat, while Ned took Hermione by the leash. The huge dog lifted her left leg and was about to urinate on the jaguar before Ned whisked her to the nearest tree and let her pee there.

When Ned rang the doorbell, it took a few minutes before Albert answered. At eighty-two, he was 5’8” and wiry with a bald head, coffee-colored skin, and a white mustache. “Grandson!” He said, genially, giving Ned a hug. “Papa!” Ned said. “It’s great to see you again!” From there, Albert gave Rebecca her own hug, ruffled Hermione’s fur, and began cooing to Harry. “My goodness, you’ve grown since I last saw you! Did you miss your great grandpa?” Shirley walked to the door next. She was 5’2”, eighty, and a bit overweight with very dark skin and curly, white hair. While she had slowed down in the last couple of years due to a hip replacement, she made a beeline for the new arrivals, hugging Ned, Rebecca, and Hermione, then grabbing Harry and insisting on holding him. “Remember me?” she told the baby. “It’s Nana. Nana.” Harry cried for a minute, but she successfully rocked him to sleep. Ned and Rebecca stared at her with gratitude. “You all get down here okay?” Albert asked.

Ned and Rebecca looked at each other. “It took us eight-and-a half hours,” said Ned. “Make of that what you will.” After everyone had enjoyed a laugh, Rebecca said, “This place is so beautiful! I love your cars too!”

“The neighbors don’t so much like the bumper stickers,” Albert said, wryly.

“I’d imagine not,” Rebecca said, ruefully. “Pretty conservative neighborhood, I take it?”

“That’s right,” said Albert. “We had a Black Lives Matter lawn sign last month, and the neighborhood homeowners’ association made us take it down. They insisted it was just part of a blanket ban on political signs, nothing to do with the specific message on ours. But we had other people in those neighborhood with ‘Support Our Troops’ signs and ‘Blue Lives Matter’ signs who clearly aren’t being forced to take them down. Hey, Shirley, can I have a turn with the baby?”

Shirley reluctantly obliged, handing the baby over to her husband, who rocked Harry back and forth. Hermione had settled down by the staircase, already making herself at home.

The five of them (Hermione stayed at the house) went out to dinner that night at a local seafood restaurant. Harry occasionally cried but was mostly calm during the meal, which Ned and Rebecca were both extremely grateful for. During dinner, Rebecca kept her elbows on the table, slurped her drink, and chewed with her mouth open. When Albert and Shirley had first met her years ago, they had not said anything about her dining habits but had stared at her open-mouthed. By now, however, they were used to it and, aside from briefly raising their eyebrows, seemed unfazed by their granddaughter-in-law’s near-total lack of conventional table manners.

“It’s such an amazing coincidence that the two of you went to the same college over a decade apart,” Shirley said.

“Yeah, I just sort of always knew I wanted to go to Emory,” said Ned. “I thought about NYU a little bit, and I thought about going to Reed like Mom, but Emory was always by far my first choice.”

“Reed College!” reminisced Albert. “Now that was a school like I’ve never seen before. I saw more drugs when we went for your Mom’s graduation than I did the whole time we lived in D.C. during the height of the crack trade.” He laughed and shook his head. “Say, Rebecca, didn’t I hear you lived in Portland, Oregon at one point?”

Rebecca suddenly seemed enraptured by a piece of octopus on her plate. “N—N—No,” she stammered. “I never lived out there. I was offered a job in Portland, but I…well, let’s just say I didn’t think it would be a good fit.”

Ned inwardly groaned, remembering the time that this exact topic had come up in conversation with him, Rebecca, and his parents. Thankfully, while Otis had wryly remarked on what he suspected Rebecca’s motivation for avoiding Portland was, neither he nor Ella had taken offense. Ned doubted his maternal grandparents would either, but he would have rather not taken the risk.

“Really, now?” Shirley asked, seeming surprised. “Why did you think Portland wouldn’t be a good—” Then, she looked at both Ned and Rebecca, and it looked as if a lightbulb had gone off of in her head. “Ohhhh,” she said as the reason dawned on her.

“I was afraid the, err, racial demographics, of the city might not fit with my dating preferences,” Rebecca said sheepishly.

Thankfully, Albert and Shirley simply snickered slightly and changed the subject. Ned breathed a sigh of relief.

Back at the house, Shirley asked, “You two want to take a dip in the swimming pool?”

Ned and Rebecca both eagerly agreed and changed into their bathing suits while Albert and Shirley watched Hermione, who was still relaxing, and Harry, who remained asleep. Ned had always loved the fact that, unlike most pools these days, there was a deep end. There was also a diving board, although Ned and Rebecca were cautious enough to jump rather than dive off of it. Hopefully, Harry doesn’t try to dive off it when he’s older, Ned thought. Then, it occurred to him, I’m really turning into an overprotective, worrying parent. Mom and Dad warned me this would happen. He chuckled and shook his head. After having some ice cream, they sat and talked in the spacious living room until about eleven o’clock, when they went to bed. Ned, Rebecca, and Hermione slept in Ella’s old room, where Ned had slept when he had visited as a child. Harry slept in a nearby nursery room that Albert and Shirley had designed for his visits and woke up several times in the night. Ned and Rebecca took turns getting up, with Ned changing his diaper around one thirty and Rebecca feeding him from a bottle around four.

fiction

About the author

Charles Boyd

I'm a dog dad, historian, activist, and writer. I taught for 3 years and am starting a History PhD program. I write fantasy, mysteries, and historical nonfiction. I'm proud to get blocked by white supremacists, antigay activists and TERFs.

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