The Cost of Betrayal(14)

By: Dee Henderson

He understood Ann’s point. “I agree. I’m reading interviews which on the surface are emotional sister-of-the-victim statements about her brother, her best friend. But then you take a look at the information she’s laying out, and it’s lining up like ducks in a row, everything cops would need to view Janelle as the guilty party. There was one recorded statement in particular.” Paul flipped back through the detective’s report. “Tanya mentions that pink pocketknife in her first conversation with the detective while still at the beach. Quoting her, ‘You think Janelle did this? That’s crazy. I know my brother was stabbed, but you said he was also robbed. Ask Janelle for her pocketknife. You’ll see she didn’t do this—she’s got it in her purse.’ The detective asks Janelle for it, she says ‘sure,’ reaches for her purse, and the pocketknife isn’t in it. That was a risky leading statement on Tanya’s part, but she sold it with the right emotion, defending her best friend while also driving the knife home—pun intended. Every statement Tanya gives after that is more subtle, nuanced, but she knew the core sentence she had to provide the detective that first night, how to set this unfolding in the direction she had planned. She’d practiced how to deliver it to get the job done.”

Ann gave him a nod. “It’s calculated, Paul. Planned. Rehearsed. I concede it’s the fact I don’t like her that makes me willing to say she’s cold enough to plan the crime far in advance. The truth is probably kinder to her. She found her brother that night and said, ‘No, I’m not letting his fall ruin my life,’ so she came up with a way to kill him and keep attention off herself. She’s a selfish woman capable of killing her brother and framing her best friend to protect herself. But maybe she’s not so cold that she planned it months in advance.”

Paul rested his head back against his office chair. “Does it matter?”

“Not really. I simply want to understand her. Because if I’m right, for six years she’s let her best friend sit in prison.”

“Friendships rupture. Even those who have been best friends since second grade have periods where they’re at odds with each other.”

Ann shook her head. “Putting this kind of blame on a friend, it’s not normal behavior. You might do it under stress, but you feel guilty about it afterwards and try to fix it. That’s what bugs me the most. I see the betrayal, but it’s foreign to me how you get to that point. Friends protect friends. It’s the friendship code.”

“Maybe Tanya lives with what she did by warping that friendship code to suit what she needs—she reframes this as ‘Janelle is protecting me. She doesn’t know that, but if she did, she’d agree to do this for me. She knows why I had to get free.’ People can justify anything to themselves.”

“That’s true.”

Paul shifted his focus. There were two people in this case, and he was still developing what he thought of each of them. “Let me see the interviews with Janelle again, the first night in particular.”

Ann sorted out the case materials and passed them over.

“Are we in agreement on one thing, Ann? If Janelle did this, it was spur-of-the-moment. She fights with Andrew, intentionally or not stabs him once, he tumbles, and she flees the scene. There’s no premeditation on Janelle’s part, no planning of what happened, just a bad breakup that she didn’t see coming. Andrew ends up hurt, and she runs away from the scene?”

Ann smiled. “Our first full agreement. Even the DA wasn’t pushing any consideration that Janelle thought about this in advance. The two argued, she stabbed Andrew, he falls, she panics, ditches the knife, tries to cover herself and say she didn’t do it. But it’s all a breakup fight and its aftermath.”

Paul felt something click as Ann spoke, something resonating with what he had read earlier. Finally. Just as Ann had her sense of when she had the right thread to pull, he had a point when something jelled, and it had just done so, deeper than his conscious mind. It would surface.

“What time is it?” he asked idly.