17. Conversation

“You know him?” Carter asked again, just to be sure.

“Yes, of course – you can see that I’m talking to him there.” Finch frowned and looked more closely at the photograph. “Where did you get this? It looks like… like it’s from a surveillance camera…”

“You’re right. We got it from a hotel lobby. This morning,” Carter said, watching his expressions closely.

“You can do that?” Finch asked, both eyebrows raised in shock. “Isn’t that… well… an invasion of privacy?”

“We’ve been tracking this man because he’s extremely dangerous,” Carter explained, her eyes never leaving Finch’s face. “He’s wanted in connection with several murders.”

“Murders! No… You must be mistaken,” Finch declared. “You have the wrong man, Detective – John is a kind, gentle soul. He would never hurt anybody, let alone murder them!”

“Mr. Burdett… Harold, isn’t it?” Carter asked, which he acknowledged with a nod. “We have reason to believe that this man was one of the gang that robbed the evidence lockup. In fact, I think he’s the exact same man that grabbed you and supposedly threatened you.”

Finch let his mouth drop open.

John? No, it’s not possible! There must be some mistake, Detective – it has to be a case of mistaken identity! This is just… preposterous!

Carter noted that Finch had not reacted at all to the word “supposedly” which she had used on purpose. He seemed to have missed that she had as good as accused him of perjury, so intent was he on clearing the other man’s name.

“So tell me, Mr. Burdett, how do you know this… John?” she asked.

“Well, since you have that picture, I’m assuming that you’ve already seen the hotel security tapes from this morning… so I’m sure you realize that John and I are… romantically involved. We met a few weeks ago, at a bar. In fact, it was right after the robbery…”

Finch glanced up at Carter, as though struck by the coincidence, but did not comment on it.

“I know it’s a bad idea, mixing alcohol with my drugs… I’ve been taking some very strong painkillers ever since my accident, and my doctor has warned me not to drink. But after that incident, I just needed something to… to take the edge off. I suppose I wanted to forget the whole thing… I don’t deal with stress well, I know. But anyhow, I went to the bar around the corner for a drink and happened to meet John there. We started talking and found out that we had a lot in common – favorite books, that sort of thing – and John… Well, he offered to give me a shiatsu massage.”

Here Finch blushed, quite naturally, as he remembered how intimate their first massage (only yesterday) had become.

“Detective… Ms. Carter…” he began, as though groping for words. “Have you ever suffered from chronic pain?”

Carter gave him a wry smile.

“Does childbirth count?”

“Oh, ah… I suppose so. I really wouldn’t know,” Finch hedged, then regrouped. “What I wanted to say is, I don’t normally invite strangers that I’ve met at a bar to come into my home. But John was… John was different. There was just… something about him. And that night… he spent over an hour, just working out all the stiffness and tension from my body. Do you have any idea what a gift that is? To be given such relief from the pain – something that has hounded me every minute of every hour, every day since my accident – and he hardly asked for anything in return…”

Here Finch blushed again, for the memory was still new and vivid – he could almost feel how warm Reese’s hands had been upon his private member.

“He understood my needs, Detective, and he fulfilled all of them,” Finch continued, keeping his gaze on the kitchen counter. “As much as I hate to admit it, my physical limitations are… quite inconvenient. More so in certain situations than others. But John has been willing to take the time, and the care, to accommodate my… challenges. He’s a very attractive man, as you know – he could have anyone, absolutely anyone he wanted. And yet he’s kind enough, and patient enough, to spend his time with me. He is, quite simply, an exceptional man.”

Finch turned to meet Carter’s thoughtful eyes.

“He simply cannot be this… murderer, or criminal, that you think he is. It’s just not possible.”

“What if he came to you, and did all of this, because he felt bad for roughing you up during the robbery?” Carter asked quietly. “What if he’s gone to such lengths to ease his guilty conscience?”

“No… No, you don’t understand,” Finch responded, showing some aggravation. “I stared into the eyes of that man – the robber – and thought I was going to die. I thought, I was staring into the eyes of Death himself. They were cold, and cruel, and… ruthless. The eyes of a killer. I’d never understood what that meant before, but in that moment, I knew. He would have killed me with no remorse if he thought I posed any sort of threat. John…” Here he inhaled deeply, having run out of breath in his eagerness. “John’s eyes are warm and kind. They… They light up when he laughs. They practically sparkle when he’s joking. And he’s so… so caring. You have no idea…”

Finch trailed off with an expressive shrug.

“Does this ‘John’ have a last name?” Carter asked.

“Westerton. John Jacob Westerton. He said he was named after his two grandfathers.”

“How often have you been seeing him?”

“As often as his schedule allows,” Finch answered. “Sometimes he has to go out of town for work, but he calls me every night, just to ask how my day went. We’ve gone out for dinner a couple of times. Sometimes we just get take-out and… he stays here. I’d say I see him about four or five times a week.”

“He stays here? Overnight?” Carter said, unable to hide the note of excitement in her voice.

Finch nodded, unconcerned. “Yes, when he can. And then yesterday was… special. He wanted to take me to a fancy hotel (as you know) and treat me to a spa retreat. We soaked in the Jacuzzi for… goodness, it must have been an hour! I dozed off for a while… And then he spent another hour just rubbing my back, and even gave me a pedicure and a foot massage… I must admit, I’ve never been so pampered in all my life! And then we had dinner upstairs, at a very nice restaurant, and on our way down to the jazz club, we met former Senator Russwood.”

“Oh! So you met in the elevator?”

“Yes. Well, actually, John had met them earlier in the day when he’d run out to go shopping – I was practically comatose after my massage, so he decided to check out the Mary Kay convention downstairs for some… ‘retail therapy.’ Apparently he’d met the Russwoods on his way back.”

Carter whipped out her notebook and began scribbling.

“Go on. What did he talk about with the Senator?”

“Well, Mr. Russwood asked John what he did for a living, and John explained that he installs electronic surveillance equipment – I don’t understand all the technical jargon, but he does high-end security systems, you know… very discreet cameras set up around people’s homes, like if they suspect their nanny of being abusive. That sort of thing.”

“Huh,” was all Carter said as she continued to jot down notes.

“Mr. Russwood was concerned that someone had set up unwanted surveillance devices around his home – he said he’d been feeling ‘watched’ for some time and asked John to come out to see if he could find anything of the sort. His house is in the Hamptons, so I’m not expecting John to come home tonight…”

“I see…”

“Detective… you’ll keep this information confidential, won’t you? I don’t know how the Senator would feel if he knew I was telling you all this…”

“Of course. I’m not interested in the Senator’s problems, real or imagined, to be honest,” she stated. “I’m more concerned with your friend John, and with making sure that he doesn’t hurt any innocent people.”

Finch stared at her for a long moment before stating, “Detective, I can assure you, John simply isn’t capable of hurting anyone! He’s too… kind!

Carter set her jaw in a grim scowl and returned, “Mr. Burdett, I can assure you, your friend is very capable of hurting people, and has on many occasions. In fact, he just left a would-be mugger with a broken elbow and injured knee last night. You were with him when he went outside the hotel, weren’t you?”

“Yes, we took a little walk after we left the jazz club, before we went upstairs,” Finch said, trying to look calm. “And yes, a young man jumped out of the shadows and pointed a gun at us. But he was a complete amateur – at least, that’s what both John and Mr. Russwood said. John distracted him by showing him the money in his billfold, and then easily disarmed him.”

“Disarmed him?” Carter asked pointedly, her eyebrows rising.

“Yes, he just grabbed the gun out of the boy’s hand. Apparently, the boy hadn’t even turned off the safety switch, so there was no way it could go off. I suppose it must have scared the boy when John pointed the gun back at him and warned him not to choose a life of crime… He told him that someone else might have shot him with his own gun, and that crime really doesn’t pay. Then Mr. Russwood said he would call the police, and the boy tried to run away, so John had to tackle him and knocked him out. He may have gotten injured in the scuffle, but that’s hardly what I would call ‘violence.’ And at any rate, he was the one who’d threatened us first, so it was only self-defense!”

“So then, if you had nothing to hide, why did you leave?”

“We didn’t have our coats with us, Ms. Carter. We hadn’t planned to be outside for very long, so we only had our suit jackets on, and it was getting cold. Mr. Russwood assured us that someone would come by shortly to pick up the young man, so we thought it would be safe to leave him there. Although… truth be told, I think Mr. Russwood wasn’t very keen on getting… embroiled, in that sort of situation. You know how the media would pounce on a story like that, especially with a well-known politician involved – even if he is retired.”

“So you’re saying that it was the Senator’s idea to leave the kid and go back into the hotel.”

“Well, we all agreed to it, so if anything happened to the boy before the police arrived, then I suppose we’re all culpable, but… Is he all right? You said he was injured, but it’s nothing serious, is it?”

Carter pursed her lips for a moment before telling him, “He’ll live. He may have a limp to match yours, Mr. Burdett, and he’ll never become a professional athlete, but he’ll live.”

“I see…” Finch murmured, looking somewhat concerned. “Well, he really should have considered the risks before he chose to assault three men at once. But I suppose if he were high or whatever, he wasn’t capable of making good decisions to start with…”

“Mr. Burdett… if you’re so sure that your friend – Mr. Westerton – has nothing to hide, would you mind setting up an appointment for me to meet him? In person?”

“Of course,” Finch replied with no hesitation. “I’m sure once you meet him, Ms. Carter, you’ll realize that this has all been a terrible mistake! He’s a wonderful man… warm, compassionate… He would never hurt a fly.”

“I look forward to meeting him,” Carter said with grave sincerity.

“I’ll ask him tonight when he plans to be back in town – he had no idea how long it would take to inspect the Russwoods’ house to the Senator’s satisfaction, but I’m sure he’ll be happy to clear up this… this misunderstanding.”

“Actually,” Carter asked, “would it be all right if I called him myself? Could you give me his cell phone number?”

“Oh… Well, I suppose it would be all right… He is working on a project, you know, and with a client like the Senator, I would hate to distract him… But as long as you respect his time, I suppose he won’t mind…”

“I’ll wait until after five to call him,” Carter promised.

Finch wrote it down, from memory, in her notebook.

“One more thing, Mr. Burdett – I called your firm earlier, and they said that you were no longer working for them.”

“Yes, that’s right – I tendered my resignation a week ago. I’ve decided to sit for the bar exam.”

“Oh! Well, good luck with that.”

“Thank you. I was slated to take it when I was in the accident, just two days before the exam,” Finch explained. “It took so long to regain my motor skills, and I’ve never been a very good test-taker, so I’ve kept putting it off… John finally persuaded me to go for it. He’s been coaching me with some of the questions, making it into a game so I won’t be quite so nervous about it.”

Carter thanked him for his time and left. As soon as she was inside of her car, she dialed the number for Reese’s cell phone.

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