, ,

Queen of Swords: a novel

Chapter XXI – The Chariot

The courthouse was abuzz with excitement because today we would get to hear Haymaker’s testimony. I, alone, was bored by the burly man brought before us in an ill-fitting oatmeal linen suit. Imagine allowing yourself yo be shackled. To be caged! I despised him. Rather than testify before a packed courtroom about how “my beloved made me do it” I would take my own life. The tiny gold dagger I wear around my neck is razor sharp, but I could accomplish my goal in a thousand ways. Even if I had to eat a bedsheet. Cleopatra had the right idea. Anything other than become a trophy to be displayed as a triumph for the Other Side. Anything rather than grovel before those gawkers, allowing them think – even for a moment – they’d gotten the better of me.

Today’s card was the Chariot. Any Major Arcana card is exciting. The Chariot symbolizes control. Take control. From her flight above the cold world the Goddess peers down, planning where she will alight. Her eyes glow with the power of ideas, her hair ripples with glory. Even the horses that power the chariot gaze back at her adoringly.

What would she say if she could see the creature before me; a tie-less worm with the three-day beard? A man, once vain, now brought low. A man who no longer has any need for mirrors.
“State your name and address, please, spelling your name for the record,” said the clerk after the witness had been sworn in.

“Reuben Haymaker – H – A – Y – M – A – K – E – R,” he said in a raw voice that crackled as if rarely used. “Colorado State Prison.”

The courtroom leaned collectively forward. Karen Sivarro gazed at him plaintively.
“Mr. Haymaker, how do you know the defendant?” Wilmot bearded the monster.

“She was my personal assistant at my insurance agency for four years, from 2003 to 2008. Well, actually she started out as an agent, but she wasn’t much good at that.”
So you thought you’d take it out in trade. The joke’s on you.

“And what were your personal circumstances at the time?”

“It was a growth period. We were making a lot of money. I opened a new office in Boulder and I hired two agents to man it. We wrote all kinds of policies, personal and corporate, and it looked as if business could only get better. Unfortunately I wasn’t making very good decisions at the time.”
“What do you mean by that?” Wilmot fixed him with that “confession is good for the soul” look.
“I started using cocaine on weekends, at parties. I thought it was part of the good life. Everyone was doing it. I didn’t realize until later how much it impaired judgment.”

“Where did you get your cocaine?”

“Barry Tobin. I was spending about a thousand a week.”

I suppose if they’re going to talk about your dad I should force myself to listen. I’d so much rather fill up my juror’s notebook with lovesick scrawls to you.

“Did the defendant ever use cocaine with you?”

He looked at her for the first time. I assume he would look at her with hatred. Not only had she gotten him into this mess, she’s the one who turned him in. But he looked at her with sadness. Love? He still felt something. A heart still beat in the ruins of that body.

“Did you do it in her presence?”

“No. Not after the first time. I tried giving it up but…when I emerged from my coma, the news sent me right back in. My business was starting to dry up. My fourth wife and I had bought a huge home on the mountain and she had just given birth to twins. Some of my agents went into business for themselves so I started a lawsuit against them. My wife and I were threatened with foreclosure… I just couldn’t pay the mortgage. I was borrowing from clients. We were having group sex parties at our house on weekends. I thought inviting bankers and loan officers might help with our foreclosure problems.” He choked. “That was a fantasy!”

He tried opening his own sex club! I’m not sure a sex club whose only slave is a soccer mom is going to get the job done. What an idiot. And these are the people everybody envies! I gave a sidelong glance to Lacey to see how she was taking this. She was paying close attention but keeping her face immobile. I could tell from their rigid poses the other members of the jury that they were shocked and disgusted by our witness. Good. Make it easier to condemn Karen and get this over with.

“The sex parties stepped up our need for cocaine. I had to keep my wife supplied.”
“Tell us again why you hired Karen Sivarro?”

The witness shrugged. I saw a blush creep up Sivarro’s neck.

“I thought she was gorgeously beautiful. In sales, that can only help. I admired her upscale tastes. She was the kind of person who can always encourage the people she’s with to spend more than they planned.” He chuckled hollowly. “It certainly worked with me.”

O’Hara stood up as if he were going to object, then sat down. “Never mind, your honor.”

“She did better with men rather than women…but most insurance decisions are made by men, so that counted in her favor.”

“She tell you about her family custody case?”

Haymaker grimaced. “It was difficult to shut her up on the subject. The very first day of work she was crying about it all over the office.”

“Crying?” Wilmot encouraged. Karen whispered to the Bond girl who squeezed her shoulder comfortingly.

“Something had happened. She told me her sister had married this very sleazy guy who got off tormenting her family. Said the guy was abusing her niece but the courts move too slow and the kid was being ruined.”

“I’m assuming she didn’t ask you for a hitman?”

The witness smiled faintly. “No, not on that first day. She waited until we were sexually and emotionally involved.”

Frantic whispering at the defense table but O’Hara did not object. How I wished you were in the courtroom so we could laugh about this together! But the clerk says witnesses are “sequestered.” They hear only their own testimony.

“When did the affair actually start?”

“November 2004…I had frequent out of town trips. Karen said she would be glad to go along. I took it as a proposition.”

“And you took her up on it?”
“I did. We went to Chicago.”

“After that, what happened to Ms. Sivarro’s work product?”

“Oh, that was just a disaster… Straight downhill. She just couldn’t seem to get anything done. I have no idea how she managed to finish school. She couldn’t generate new business. She was very poor at follow up, and she was constantly losing files. She seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time at the gym, the hairdresser, the tailor… But once I fell in love with her I didn’t care. I put her on salary, so she could be my personal assistant. I was obsessed with her.”

“What else did you do for her financially?”

“She was living with her folks. I got her an apartment at Tyrolean Villas. I had a fantasy that she would lose interest in the situation with her niece.”

“And did she?”

He laughed ruefully. “Not a chance.”

Control! Control! You should have been consulting the cards, Mr. Haymaker. She had you right where she wanted you. She’s still scheming to slide out from under.

The defendant glanced down, her face hidden by her sheet of hair. Was she consulting astrological promises temptingly tattooed upon her inner thigh? I had already cast her fortune. Venus in Cancer; what can she hope for? She is clingy, weak-willed. Gluttonous. She will, like any parasite, soar over the cliff with any creature to whom she becomes attached.

Wilmot had the floor. He checked his quiver for another sword. “You described yourself as “obsessed.” Anything she asked for, you felt compelled to give her?”

“Objection!” shouted O’Hara sarcastically. “This is just a bald-faced attempt on the part of the state to smear the defendant with anything he can get into the record. Plus, what does he know about compulsion? This man hasn’t been qualified as a psychiatrist.”

“He can give evidence as to his own state of mind,” said Wilmot.

“The jury will decide whether or to what extent his testimony self-serving. Overruled,” said our flounder-faced judge.

I felt a cold thrill of excitement. The jury will decide. Yes.

“I’d say so, yes.” Haymaker answered the original question.

“Cast your mind please, to January of 2009. What notable events occurred then? What specifically did she ask you to do?”

“She told me her father said, “this problem could be completely taken care of for about ten thousand dollars.” But no one in the family possessed ten thousand dollars. I took it that we were discussing a possible hit.”

“Did you think she was looking to you for the money?”

O’Hara stood up wearily but Wilmot forestalled him. “Just his impression, your honor!”
“I took t for granted. But she also asked me, did I have any idea where to get a hitman?”

Get more people involved, I thought cynically. These two were made for each other. She wanted someone else to take the heat and so did he. What could possibly go wrong? You and I will do our own wet-work ourselves.

“What did you say?”

“I told her I had a connection who was always bragging about the murders he’d committed. I asked her to get me a picture of her brother-in- law, his addresses both home and work, and the marker numbers on his vehicles.”

“What did the defendant do?”

“She pulled them right out. She had everything in her purse in a manila envelope.”
“She was well-prepared wasn’t she?” asked the beady eyed prosecutor.

“Your Honor, please!” shouted O’Hara.

“Withdrawn. So what did you do next?”

“The next day I drove by Barry Tobin’s house. He was usually there in the mornings, and we never wanted to talk about… things over the phone. Anyone with a baby monitor can listen in on a cell phone conversation.”

“He was home?”

“He was. We went outside because he said his girlfriend was upstairs, asleep. We sat in my car.”
“What did you say exactly?”

“I said I knew somebody who needed a hit. I said this guy was abusing children and it was obvious he would never stop.”

“What did Mr. Tobin respond?”

“He said right away, “I’ll do it for eight thousand dollars.”
“Was that figure acceptable?”

“What did I care? I was stealing from escrow funds at that point. I told him to drop by the office. Then when I saw Karen next, I said, “It’s all arranged.”

“What did she do?”

“She jumped up and down. She hugged and kissed me. Showed her appreciation…” his voice roughened. The broke. “Right there in my office.”

The poor bastard. He never had a chance.
“So what happened next?”

“Tobin came by and I wrote him a three thousand dollar check.’
“From a client fund account?”

“Your honor, I would like to submit this check into evidence.”

The check was solemnly passed among us; touched carefully as if written in poison ink. An ordinary little document on green “safety” paper. So much for advertising.
“Did you hear any reports from Tobin on his progress?”

“He used to call me once a day. He was full of ideas, trying to acquire an old car, an untraceable gun. I thought he was treating it a little too much like a kid’s game. I warned him to be careful, to never to come to the office. “

“Why not?”
“I was trying to protect Karen.”

Karen’s eyes widened. She stared at the jury with a “Who-me?” glance.

Haymaker went on, “I saw him one day while we were dining. He was dressed in a full camouflage outfit, with black smears under his eyes, like he had just come out of a jungle. He looked ridiculous. I went out on the street and yelled at him, told him never to go through town looking like that. But he’d already seen her. He said, “She’s the one, isn’t she?”

If we needed any more evidence that you’re the one who pulled the trigger, that your father was too much of a loser, this was it.

“My wife threw me out when she found out about the affair. I didn’t think she had grounds for jealousy after the group sex stuff, but she saw it differently. By March I was living at Karen’s.
We got a call one Sunday morning, about six a.m. Karen’s mother said she heard it on the news: Zanelli was dead. Karen said we better go over to her parents’ house. When we arrived the cops were there. Two state police cars blocking the driveway. Said they were from “major crimes” Asked a lot of questions. They knew all about the bad blood between the families.”
“What did you tell them?”

“Karen and I had an alibi. We were at the Hotel Boulderado till ten, and then we stopped for gas at ten-thirty. Using plastic everywhere. Karen’s neighbor saw us entering the condo at eleven. The police took Mr. Sivarro’s hunting rifles. We gave them our business cards and left. I went straight to the Best Western to give Barry the rest of the money and tell him to get out of town.”
“Did you and Karen discuss the situation?”

“She refused to talk about it. She seemed to me to be having a mini-meltdown. She worried that the car was bugged. She said she was planning to act like we had nothing to do with it and that should be my policy, too.”

“That’s what she said?”

“That’s right. She said maybe it was time for the two of us to take a breather.”
“When did you see or hear from Barry Tobin next?”

“Two weeks after the murder he called me on my car phone. Said he lost every dime I gave him in Miami and he had to borrow money to get home. I went to the bank and got him thirty five hundred dollars.”

Everybody was lying to everybody! And all the liars expecting the other lairs to be telling them the truth. It was reality show entertaining. All trials ought to be televised. All executions, too.

“Didn’t he tell you something else when he gave you that money?”

The witness paled. “Said he’d had his son along for the hit! Fifteen-year-old kid! So there was a witness, and it was a child! I just about gave up then. I realized it was hopeless. All of us were going down.”

Three people can keep a secret. If two of them are dead.

“Karen was doing what during this time?”

“She said we ought to leave the country. I really couldn’t afford it. I’d bled everybody dry. I sold my wife’s jewelry to buy Karen a plane ticket to France.”

“Did you maintain phone contact with the defendant?”

“I did. We talked every day.”

“What was going on in the Zanelli case?”

“Barry said the police showed up with a search warrant. He was hanging around town like he promised me not to. His girlfriend spent just enough time in jail to tell them everything she knew.”
“And what did you do?”

“I went to California.”

“But you were still calling Karen?”

“I couldn’t live without her voice.” The witness looked like he might break down. The courtroom hushed as we all studied him. Romantic love. Isn’t that what everybody wants? But you have to have a soul to be a soul mate. “Parasite mates” is not very romantic.

“I told Karen Tobin was already in jail and there was no way he would stay clammed up. I said we needed new identities. Could she join me in Mexico.”
“What did she say?”

“She played me! Told me she’d call me January 5th, 2010 eight p.m. my time, at the phone booth outside my motel.”

“Was she there for that phone call?”

“No. The feds got me. That’s when I knew.”
“What did you know?”

“That she set up.” He was quivering with rage. Karen sank down behind her table.
“No more questions!” Triumphant, the prosecutor caromed away from his witness. I studied the audience, searching for a perfect sacrifice.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: