Absence of malice
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Two: Shadow of a doubt

Joey paced the floor in the police station waiting area, every now and then frowning at the officers behind the desk. They were going about their business as if she wasn’t there, offering no help in finding out what was happening with Nora. Joey checked her watch impatiently for the fifth time in as many minutes. She felt as if she had been waiting for hours, when in reality they had only arrived at the station twenty minutes ago. Joey’s mounting anger was abated slightly when Pacey walked in the door.

"Hey, I got here as soon as I could," he said immediately. Pacey’s face was etched with concern and obvious astonishment that Nora had been brought to the station. "What the hell’s going on?"

Joey took his arm and pulled him to the far side of the room so the police officers could not eavesdrop.

"I was at the house giving Nora the flowers when Doug came in with a warrant," she explained hurriedly. "They got a preliminary report from the coroner who claimed the cause of death was from a morphine overdose. They found a syringe and empty ampoules under the mattress in Nora and Lewis’ room."

"So he killed himself?"

Joey shook her head. "Nora said he died on the couch downstairs."

Pacey pondered this a moment, a slight frown creasing his brow. "Euthanasia?"

"I never heard Lewis was sick, did you?"

"No," he replied, a hint of frustration in his voice. Pacey ran a hand over his chin. "Surely they don’t think Nora could have done it?"

"I’d say that’s the whole point of bringing her in for questioning, Pacey," Joey answered in annoyance. Immediately she regretted allowing her temper to get the better of her, and fixed Pacey with a repentant look. "Sorry, I just can’t believe this is happening."

Pacey placed his hand on Joey’s shoulder and ignored her ill humor. Under the circumstances he couldn’t blame her for being on edge. Joey had always had a special bond with Nora Coleman, as she was the only steady maternal figure Joey had had in her life after her mother died and her father was sent to prison. Pacey could definitely understand her anxiousness now, even though common sense told them both the idea Nora had anything to with her husband’s death was ludicrous.

"Where is she now?" he asked gently.

"They’re taking her prints before they question her. I’m going to sit in on the interview," Joey said, calmer now that Pacey was there.

"What can I do?"

Joey smiled to herself, grateful for her partner’s willingness to help. But then, that had always been Pacey’s nature and she wouldn’t have expected any different.

"I need you to find out first hand what the police know — who they’ve spoken to, where they’ve been, everything. Talk to the officers here, Maretto and Sykes were at the house. Then go the coroner’s office and see what you can find out. I want to know what Kathleen’s findings were in the full autopsy report."

"You know she won’t tell me anything."

"Use that charming personality of yours and find out. We have to know what Nora’s up against," Joey replied tiredly.

Pacey looked at her carefully and opened his mouth to ask her a question. Joey glanced at him, waiting, but then he seemed to think better of it and pressed his lips together.

"What?" said Joey, holding his gaze.

He bobbed his head and took a deep breath. "Jo, did you get a chance to ask her if she did do this?"

Joey leveled him with a disbelieving stare. "Of course I didn’t, and I won’t. You and I have known this woman all of our lives. You don’t honestly think she’d be able to kill anyone, do you?"

"No, I… I don’t know, it seems so far fetched… But what I do know is Lewis could be a right son of a bitch sometimes," replied Pacey, already regretting bringing it up.

"She didn’t do this. I know she didn’t do this," Joey said with determination. "Just find out what you can, okay?"

Pacey nodded, willing to let it go for the moment for the sake of harmony. He turned around to go but stopped when he saw Doug approaching them. His brother lost the slightly haggard look he wore when he saw Pacey, and almost swaggered towards them.

"Well, if it isn’t Perry Mason himself," Doug smirked.

Joey grimaced and Pacey just set his chin. He found it hard to believe how easily Doug could still antagonize him, even though they were both grown men. He guessed he and Doug were just destined not to be as close as brothers were supposed to be. Pacey knew his father had never quite forgiven him for becoming a defense attorney, believing he did so just to spite him. Doug and the Chief took it as a personal affront that Pacey had chosen a career that tried to set free the very criminals they arrested. Pacey and his brother had never seen eye to eye on anything, and it seemed they never would.

"Always a pleasure, Dougie," Pacey replied evenly. "So, not content with sniffing out a local gang of bicycle thieves, now you’ve taken to arresting innocent old women?"

"Why don’t we wait to see what she has to say, little brother. You and your partner might be surprised."

"Have you been talking to her, Doug?" Joey snapped. "I told you not to question her without me present."

"Relax, Joey, I haven’t said a word to her about Lewis. I’m ready to interview her now, though. So if you’re quite satisfied no injustices have been committed…" Doug pointed the way to the interview room.

Joey rolled her eyes and nodded to Pacey to go ahead with her instructions. "Perhaps we can finally sort out this ridiculous insinuation that Nora had something to do with Lewis’ death," she said haughtily. "I hope you can think of some way to apologize to that poor woman for what you’ve put her through tonight."

Doug just smiled knowingly at them. "I think I’ll be able to live with myself."

"Just as well, no one else can," Pacey bit back, throwing Joey a faint grin. As lawyers, they loved antagonizing the resident detective. It was just an added bonus that the detective was Doug Witter.

Doug was less than impressed with the comment, however, and as Joey passed him on her way to the interview room, he slapped his forehead sarcastically as if he’d forgotten to tell them something important.

"Oh, that’s right, I should have mentioned… We’ve identified the prints on the syringe and morphine ampoules. They belong to Nora."

Joey turned and glared at him, while Doug just smiled to himself and walked towards the interview room. "Whenever you’re ready, Counselor," he said over his shoulder.

Pacey and Joey were left staring at each other in shock.

* * *

"This is a digitally recorded interview with Mrs Nora Coleman on the 22nd of January at 7.05pm. Those present are Josephine Potter, legal representative for Mrs Coleman; Police Officer Bernadette Symonds; and myself, Detective Douglas Witter."

Doug finished the routine interview introduction and looked across the table at Nora and Joey for the first time. The room was small and cramped, creating an intentionally claustrophobic atmosphere that was already making Nora uncomfortable. The recording devices were hidden around the room, so the interviewee always felt distinctly paranoid. Doug was busy arranging some papers in a folder before him, in no hurry to get the questioning underway. The obligatory female officer present sat behind him, showing no interest in them at all. Joey knew Doug’s stalling tactics well by now, so she tried to remain patient while he examined his notes.

Finally he was ready to start.

"Mrs Coleman, at this time I’d like to remind you that you’re not under arrest, and you are free to leave the station at any time. I’d like to ask you a few questions about the events of last night and today. I should caution you that anything you say can be used against you in a court of law. Do you understand?" Doug’s tone was surprisingly cordial if a little impersonal. He was obviously trying hard to remain unaffected by the fact that he too had known Nora all his life.

"I understand," replied Nora evenly, keeping calm. She looked steadily at Doug until he turned away first. Pretending to be busy shuffling his notes, he waited another long moment.

"Could you tell us, in your own words, your movements since yesterday evening?"

"Certainly. I worked in the drugstore all day as usual. We were quite busy so I didn’t get away until after five o’clock. I bought some groceries at the market, then went home to make dinner."

"And where was Mr Coleman during all of this?"

"He was still at the pharmacy, he never leaves before 6.30."

"And after that?"

"Lewis came home in time to watch the football match that was on. He ate dinner in front of the television as usual. I ate in the kitchen and then read in my bedroom until about 9 o’clock when I went to sleep. Lewis was still watching television downstairs." Nora shifted in her seat as she remembered the events that followed. "I woke up around six this morning, and went downstairs to wake him. He was still on the couch… and when I went to tell him it was time to get up… he was so cold. I called out to him and shook him, but he wouldn’t wake up. So I phoned the paramedics and waited with him until they came. They told me there was nothing they could do, that he’d been dead for a few hours at least."

Joey placed a sympathetic hand on Nora’s and looked pointedly at Doug. They could all see how difficult it was for her to be relating this.

"Did you go anywhere else after coming home from the grocery store, Mrs Coleman?"

"No, this is the first time I’ve been out of the house since yesterday."

"And is there anyone who can corroborate your story? Did you receive any phone calls, a neighbor stopping by to see you perhaps?"

"No, there’s no one. Lewis and I were alone."

"And he’s not able to give us his side of things, is he?"

"Detective," Joey said as a warning.

Doug glanced at her, a faint smile on his lips that was supposed to be apologetic.

"Tell me, did Mr Coleman appear to be upset or annoyed about anything last night? Any changes in his behavior?"

"I didn’t talk to him much," replied Nora. She was obviously unsettled by Doug’s previous comment, but was trying to remain clear-headed.

"Any reason for that?"

"I’m not supposed to interrupt him during Monday night football."

Doug seemed interested in this. "What would happen if you did?"

"He would get angry, I suppose."

"You suppose? Had it happened before?"


"Is that what happened last night? He got angry… maybe there was an argument…"

"No, I left him alone with his television and went to bed as usual."

Doug made a few notes in the folder, keeping them waiting. Joey noticed that a faint line of perspiration had appeared on Nora’s upper lip. When he was ready to start questioning her again, Doug didn’t even bother to look up from his notes. He fired the queries at her in rapid succession.

"Do you keep any drugs in the house?"

"Just some aspirin and my blood pressure medication."

"No morphine?"


"Do you keep morphine at the drugstore?"

"Of course, we—"

"Where is it kept?"

"In the dangerous drugs cabinet, but—"

"Did you bring any morphine home with you when you left work?"

Nora let out an annoyed breath, frustrated that Doug was not letting her explain things properly. "No, I did not. The drugs have to be checked and the lock-up secured before Lewis leaves for the night. He would have noticed if something was missing."

Doug pounced on this last comment, looking up at her sharply. "Is that why you had to go back later that night when Lewis was asleep?"

"No, I didn’t mean that. All I said was Lewis would have noticed and mentioned it to me."

"Maybe he did… Again, we’ll never know," Doug said quietly. He made some more notes, taking his time once more. "Who has access to this dangerous drugs cabinet?"

"Only Lewis, Zachary our junior pharmacist, and myself."

"Could someone else have broken into the lock-up somehow?"

"No, not unless they had a key. It has a tamper-proof lock."

"Mrs Coleman, officers checked the cabinet this afternoon and six ampoules of morphine were missing. Can you explain that?"


"You didn’t remove those ampoules?"


"Then how did they come to be found under your mattress?" Doug’s voice grew increasingly louder.

"I don’t know."

"We’ve checked the serial numbers — they came from your drugstore."

"I don’t know how they got there," Nora cried vehemently.

"Your husband died from a morphine overdose, Mrs Coleman. He was injected in the back of his neck at the base of his skull. This was not self-inflicted. Besides, he could hardly have injected himself, then safely stored the syringe and ampoules under your mattress before going back downstairs to die, now could he?"

"Doug—" interrupted Joey, but he was not listening to her. Doug was focusing intently on Nora, going in for the kill.

"Your fingerprints were found on the murder weapon, Mrs Coleman. You killed him, didn’t you?"

"That is not true!"

"Then how is it you were the only person to see him after he returned home from work? The syringe was found under your mattress with your fingerprints on it. You had access to the morphine… You even knew exactly how much was needed to kill a man Mr Coleman’s size."

"Why would I do it? I loved my husband!"

"I don’t have to prove motive, Mrs Coleman. That will be up to the district attorney assigned to try your case," Doug informed her coolly.

"What?" gasped Nora.

"Detective, I’d like a moment to confer with my client," Joey broke in, putting her arm around Nora.

"Fine. Maybe you can convince her to make things easy for herself and make a full statement." Doug stood up, scraping his chair noisily on the concrete floor, and stalked outside with the other officer.

Nora waited until they were gone before rising abruptly from her seat. She paced the floor behind the table, stopping to stare at herself in the reflective mirror that covered the side wall. Unbeknownst to her, Doug and another man were watching her from the other side as they talked to each other in low voices.

"This can’t be happening, Joey… they think I killed Lewis!" Nora ran a nervous hand through her hair. "What do I do?"

"Don’t say anything else for now… We haven’t heard the final report from the coroner yet, and they haven’t collected all the evidence," counseled Joey. She stood up too and turned to face Nora slowly. "But they have your fingerprints on the syringe, Nora."

The older woman looked at her, shocked. "You don’t think I did this, do you? He was my husband! You don’t actually believe I killed him, do you?"

Joey glanced at the floor, ashamed that she was thinking just that. She couldn’t help it, there were too many damning facts tying her to the murder weapon. Nora crossed the small space between them swiftly and forced Joey to look into her eyes.

"I did not do this, Joey, I swear to you. I did not kill my husband." Nora’s eyes blazed with fierce intensity, and Joey found herself believing her. With a slight nod, she affirmed this.

"All right, Nora. We’ll get to the bottom of this." Joey took both her hands in her own and squeezed them reassuringly. "But for now, I don’t think you should say anything else. Doug’s just trying to intimidate you so you’ll say something incriminating—"

"But I didn’t…!"

"I know, I know… But Doug has a way of twisting a suspect’s words until he gets the information he wants," Joey explained.

"A suspect," echoed Nora flatly, her spirits dropping.

Joey took a deep breath. "I’m afraid that’s what you are Nora, at least in the Doug’s mind… But not in mine."

Nora looked relieved that Joey believed her, but still afraid of what was happening. Doug chose that moment to reenter the room, this time with another man in a wrinkled suit and tie.

"Mrs Coleman, this is Assistant District Attorney Campbell White. I believe Ms Potter has already had the pleasure," Doug said by way of introduction.

Joey eyed the red-headed D.A. with a measure of distaste. "I don’t know that I’d go so far as to call it a pleasure," she replied coldly. "Campbell."

"Joey," Campbell said without emotion. "I think you know why I’m here."

Joey looked at Nora with concern, but there was nothing she could say to avoid what was to come. "My client won’t be answering any more questions."

"Of course not," said the D.A. a little snidely. He gave Doug a nod.

"Nora Coleman," Doug intoned. "You are under arrest for the murder of Lewis Coleman. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you by the court…"

"Spare us Miranda, Detective," Joey silenced him. Nora was breathing heavily and Joey kept a supportive arm around her.

"The Grand Jury will convene in Barnstable in the morning, after which she’ll be arraigned," said Campbell.

"Counting your chickens again, Campbell?"

"I think this one's a pretty safe bet, Joey," he replied unfazed. She met his eyes with a hot stare, trying to control her temper.

"What happens now?" Nora asked Joey timidly.

"You’ll spend the night in a cell before going to court tomorrow, when you will be able to enter a plea on record and a preliminary hearing date will be set," Campbell cut in authoritatively.

Nora ignored the D.A., wanting only to speak to Joey. "I have to spend the night in jail?"

"I’m afraid so," Joey replied regretfully. "But don’t worry, Pacey and I will be with you tomorrow and we’ll talk about what we’re going to do. In the meantime, try not to worry, Nora. I believe you."

"Mrs Coleman," Doug said as he stepped towards her. "We need to process you now."

"I’m not a piece of food, Douglas." Nora still managed to sound indignant even though she was obviously scared out of her mind.

She kept hold of Joey and followed the district attorney out of the room, trying her best to keep her head held high. But Joey could feel Nora shaking against her and the young lawyer's anger resurfaced. She hoped Pacey was able to find something that would clear Nora’s name, but a little voice inside her head said this wouldn’t go away anytime soon. Nora was going to need all the help she could get.


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