This story is by Julie A Martin and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
This Time-Writing Prompt: What does NCIS Agent John Rathbone do when he is forcibly retired as the result of a botched investigation?
He sits in a chair in the darkness of an unused room, stewing. For more than thirty years, NCIS has been his marriage. How many criminals had he put in prison? Rapists? Murderers? And now because an investigation didn’t go their way, he was about to be put out to pasture like an old cow with no milk. Involuntary retirement, they called it. All because of a woman. Leona Valeri had lied. That was no surprise.
Leona Romero Luciano Scaletti Valeri. On her fourth husband. About to be on her 5th. How many men had to die before they finally got it?
Even worse, the murder weapon turned up missing. One might say it stood up, dusted itself off and walked away, from the back of the man it had destroyed. It had entered between ribs L4 and L5, upward at an angle. The margins gaped widely, with contusions around the angles. Eight-inch non-serrated blade with a four or 5 inch hilt. The knife had gone in hard and fast. The look on his face said he felt it. What made things worse was that this time, Leona had a solid alibi; she had spent the afternoon with her sister. Of course, her sister would back her up. This time. Next time.
NCIS Special Agent John Rathbone had been saying that to himself for years. Every time he couldn’t quite crack someone’s alibi. There would be no next time. This time was all he had. Three days until his Retirement party. Still, he had those three days. He had his folders.
He forced his mind back to the night NCIS had been called out to the Valeri house. Dead husband on the floor right inside the foyer. Face down. He had been a big man. 6’3” at least, the guy had to weigh at least 220. A military man. A Navy man. Rathbone had been a Navy man once, had done a couple of tours on a Destroyer. How did one get the drop on a guy like that?
The house was everything Rathbone imagined that Leona would desire in a domicile, located in a gated community with 24 hour guards on duty. White tile floor, vaulted ceilings. Accent walls. Time of death was 8:06pm EST. There were no signs of a struggle. There were no signs of forced entry. The guard at the gate said his log book showed Mr. Valeri arriving entering the gate at seven pm, and did not show anyone else going to or from the Valeri house until 8:25pm that night when Mrs. Valeri arrived home. Which was weird because there was no log showing her leaving the house, at all.
John checked his notes, his heart pounding out a dangerous rhythm in his chest. Mrs. Valeri drives a 2014 Lexus ES350. Gold. According to the surveillance stills the gate guards printed out of cars coming and going that day, someone else was driving her car. That someone else had blonde hair. Wore glasses. The still frame shot with the time stamp of 8:25pm showed the blonde woman driving Leona’s car and using the remote to get in the residents’ side of the gate. They made a mistake. But how did her car get outside the gate without being logged?
For the next three hours, he went through his notes, of the interrogations of Leona, her sister, and the gate guards. One of them seem enamored of her, enough to defend her when John and his partner asked hard questions. Innocent crush or was there something there?
John went back to the photo of her car. He scanned it into his computer and enhanced the image. There looked like a big pile of something in the backseat. He enhanced it to 200% and looked at it. Why was there hair coming out of the clothes in the back seat? 8:25pm.
There were surveillance photos taken outside the home as well. Mr. Valeri had installed a camera, two of them, three months prior to his death. One was mounted above the garage door, it blended well with the Bouganvillea vines creeping up the house. The other one mounted to a branch in the carrotwood tree in their front yard.
“Steve, John. The surveillance tapes from the Valeri house, do you have them?” John asked, breathless.
“John, what are you up to?”
“Surveillance tapes. Have you seen them yet?” Steve pondered whether to tell him that now that he was being retired, he was off the case and no one was allowed to share information with him. At risk of their jobs. John explained that he had a theory that would blow Leona’s alibi to pieces and prove she did it.
“Okay Fine, John. Yes, I have them.” Steve answered, eyes closed with a sigh.
“He died at 8:06pm right?”
“Yes, that’s right. Why?” John laid out the timeline again, right from his notes.
“We’ve been through this already, from 806 until 9pm the only people coming and going were neighbors and no one even went near the house.”
“That doesn’t mean someone didn’t leave the house while he was still breathing. We’ve been thinking about this all wrong. He got home at 7:05, maybe 7:10.” Now Steve was excited. He sat down at his laptop and pulled up the video for that night. It was a Thursday. Damn weird night to kill your husband, Steve thought, looking for the correct time slot.
Three minutes. 7:50pm to 7:53pm. Tree cam. Leona coming out the side door of the garage, in black capri pants, black shoes and a red t shirt, running down the street and then cutting through backyards.
“So much for shopping.” Steve said. That had been Leona’s alibi.
“What did you see?” John asked.
“I see Leona Valeri in an orange jumpsuit doing 20 to life with no parole.”
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