Audrey heard footsteps approaching from behind. She cringed. Without looking back, she already knew who it was. Ramirez made no move for the pad and pen. The other detective held out an evidence bag. Audrey carefully dropped them in.
What am I gonna do about Pope? Audrey wondered. Pope had already made up his mind that Parker did it, but Audrey didn’t see any evidence that pointed to Parker other than his presence, which was circumstantial at best. They could arrest him if they found something more, but was Audrey supposed to charge the boy just to make Pope happy?
Was that really the way things worked around here?
Audrey knew the answer before she even finished thinking the question. It was bad enough the detectives had already grilled Parker like he was the chief suspect without anything other than Pope’s interference pushing them forward.
What’s the deal with Ramirez anyway? Audrey frowned. Does Ramirez have a connection to Rachel or Gregory Pope?
Ramirez had been professional if prickly in the past. Why the change today?
“Why’d you let him go?” Pope demanded before Audrey turned. Ramirez looked gleeful, like she was looking forward to watching Audrey get dressed down.
Pope was still Audrey’s secondary concern. Parker had noticed Pope and stopped dead in his tracks on the stone bridge as if expecting to be immediately called back.
Audrey wasn’t surprised when Parker turned.
Was that the action of a guilty man?
Audrey didn’t think so.
Pope had probably spoken loudly on purpose to get the boy’s attention, perhaps hoping the detectives might arrest Parker since Audrey had apparently failed Pope. The boy looked like a fox who was about to have the hounds released. He couldn’t decide if it was better to run or wait for them to catch him.
This was just further evidence Audrey’s initial conclusion about Parker was correct, but it also didn’t help the situation because she could feel Pope’s eyes boring into the young man.
Audrey waved the boy away, urging him to leave, and then turned to Gregory Pope, who looked at first like he was heading toward her, but it quickly became obvious he was planning to go past her to the bridge. He thought things had gone far enough and was determined to take matters into his own hands.
“Sir,” Audrey said, running to catch him, “you come back here right this second!”
“No.” He glanced at Audrey. “You failed me. I never expected this of you, especially not so soon, but you did.” He ended the sentence as if he’d just pronounced a final judgment and was about to send her away for execution. “I thought you believed in justice,” he added in a ragged voice.
Ramirez chuckled softly while the other detective frowned. He did not seem amused, but he also wasn’t attempting to help either. Audrey didn’t have time to analyze what he was thinking. She could just tell he wouldn’t intervene.
Audrey caught up to Pope, grabbing him by the arm, which he ripped free.
“I put you in charge because I didn’t think you’d make mistakes like this. You’re letting the perp go minutes after we found him. What kind of prosecutor are you anyway?”
Audrey frowned at his words and suppressed her first response.
She now knew why Gregory Pope had put her in charge. If Pope thought he could influence her to do his bidding, he had another thing coming to him. He’d picked the newest Deputy District Attorney to handle this because he was planning to backseat drive the prosecution.
Free rein, huh? Is this what it looks like? Did he think my interview with him was an act?
I won’t be walked on.
Audrey would set him straight, even if he fired her afterward.
“You’re the one who’s about to make a mistake,” Audrey said, letting her exasperation show. “That boy had nothing to do with this, at least not from what we presently know. I believe in justice, but I also believe a man is innocent until proven guilty. We don’t even have enough evidence to arrest him, let alone charge him. He satisfactorily answered our questions and even stopped to wait when he saw you charging him. Don’t you think he’d have run the other way if he was the perp, especially after I told him he was free to leave?”
“What are you babbling about?” Pope didn’t stop, marching like a soldier to the battle of his life. He had his hand in his suit coat pocket as if he held a weapon.
A chill ran down Audrey’s back. She had to stop this now before things got worse.
“The boy was sitting at a picnic table when our detectives found him. He wasn’t trying to run. He was studying. Do you really think he could stab another person and then return to his studies while waiting for the police to show up, all so he could taunt us by pretending he had nothing to do with it?”
“Nonsense. He did it.”
“Not from what we can tell. There’s no evidence.”
“He wouldn’t actually—”
Audrey jumped in front of Pope, holding her hands in front of him. “Stop! Please. You have to think this through. You’re not thinking like a prosecutor. Shake it off!”
Pope stopped, his sides heaving. He scowled. He also looked murderous. His hand was still in his pocket. Whatever he had in there, he was thinking of using it on her.
“I just got his fingerprints. If there’s anything on that knife or anything else that ties him to this, we’ll pick him up, but at this point, we don’t have the requisite evidence. He was just nearby when it happened. That’s all we have. That’s all we know. Yes, that is a remarkable coincidence, and we won’t discount it, but at the same time, we can’t jump the gun.”
Pope stared down at her with flaring nostrils, like he was looking at scum under his feet. “You better not be wrong, Spencer.”
“I don’t think I am, but if I am, we can always pick him up later.” She took a deep breath and let it out slowly while holding his eyes. “It’s better if we are extra cautious now, especially since you are so personally involved. We don’t want to make any mistakes that would let a perp get off on a technicality.”
Pope shook his head. He looked like he was about to say something more but then stalked the other way.
At least he’s headed away from Parker.
Audrey let out a deep breath once he’d gone. She’d known she was taking an enormous risk when she’d agreed to this, but she hadn’t seen a way to turn Pope down, and she didn’t see a way out now.
She’d been forced to confront Gregory Pope head-on, and she got the feeling this was just the first of many potential confrontations with Pope.
How could she figure out who did this while also managing Pope?
She took another deep breath and held it for several seconds before finally releasing it.
Her patience with Pope would run thin if this went on much longer. She could cut him some slack today, but the man had to pull it together before too long.
He shouldn’t be here, but who is gonna tell him to leave? It wasn’t like Audrey could just go to Pope’s boss.
Everything he had said and done was understandable in light of his grief. Unfortunately, there wasn’t anybody in a position to tell him to take a step back, not unless she took drastic measures, and that had career suicide written all over it. The man had just lost his daughter, but he didn’t need to have everything else he’d worked for put into jeopardy too. Once he had time to calm down, he would soon recognize she was correct and that he needed to take a step back.
No, the only choice she had was to proceed carefully, hoping she could manage Pope while figuring out a way through this mess.