Chapter 61 - Reaching a Verdict

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A day later, Rebecca Little sat in the same room in the center of the police station where she had grilled so many suspects in the past. Now it was her turn to be interrogated.

On the other side of the table sat Captain McCullers. Through the course of her Valentine investigation, the trust between them had gradually broken down under the pressure, deteriorating to a point that there was no longer any pretense of support or civility. The shoot-out at the distribution center was the last straw. During the aftermath, McCullers assured Rebecca that he would do everything in his power to have her dishonorably dismissed from the police force.

But Rebecca couldn’t be let go quite so quickly or easily since she was the only available witness to most of the events that occurred in the warehouse. The lead story on the local news stations was that four men had died in an attempted warehouse robbery, two of them from among the robbers and two of them being responding security guards.

What did not make the news was the information that Johnny and Stella Valentine were also at the distribution center that night and somehow escaped. Nor was the public aware that Frank Valentine and Nick Lowry both survived a plunge from the second-floor balcony to the floor of the loading area. McCullers withheld these key details from the press in all public accounts of the incident.

Frank Valentine remained hospitalized, drifting in and out of consciousness after suffering a concussion from the impact of his fall. Nick Lowry also received injuries from his plunge, including a fractured left forearm, but he’d been released the morning after the incident.

Lowry was now energetically utilizing the clout of his company to maximize pressure on the city government and police force, ratcheting up the blame on the city of Santa Ramona for not stopping the robbery, and holding it responsible for any perceived liability or wrongdoing that might arise out of the shootings.

If the city of Santa Ramona had been doing its job, Lowry complained in countless calls to McCullers and officials during a twenty-four-hour period, the police would’ve arrested the Valentine family and all their cohorts long ago, and his security guards would still be alive.

Now the captain was alone with Rebecca, preparing for a meeting with Lowry and other executives from Great American. A city attorney was present as well, girding for the oncoming legal confrontation with the retail giant.

“So let’s go through it again, before they get here,” McCullers said. “The thing I plan to make clear to them is that this is about you being a poor detective, unfit for police work. There was nothing malicious about you shooting that security guard. But they might see it differently. They might say it was premeditated and that you deliberately murdered that man.”

“It was self-defense!” Rebecca sighed, exasperated. “I don’t know what else to say. We’ve gone through this a hundred times. I gave every detail to internal affairs. What do you want from me?”

“I want you to level with me. How in the hell did you let the key suspects get away? If this leaks out, it is the mother of all humiliations. You still haven’t given me a good answer, Rebecca. You’re the only one who saw the shootings. You’re the only one who saw Lowry and Frank Valentine go over the balcony. And you mean to tell me that somehow you missed the fact that Stella and Johnny Valentine walked out of that warehouse with half a million dollars’ worth of cancer medicine?”

Rebecca paused and looked around the room again, not willing to give McCullers the satisfaction of a quick response. Scanning it, she saw the television with the video player. She knew this would be in the room when the Great American people arrived. This was her ace in the hole if she needed it.

“It was chaos in there,” Rebecca finally answered. “I was just trying to stay alive. I told you before, I had people shooting at me. I couldn’t keep tabs on every single thing happening in the warehouse. The place is the size of a football stadium. Couldn’t you track Stella and Johnny through the video footage? That place was covered with cameras.”

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