The reporter pulled out her tape recorder and, with practiced precision, used her thumb to flick it on and adjust the volume. Terrence listened to the sound of his voice being played back.
“…he knew I wasn’t going to let him live. That’s when he really started to struggle. But I knew how to tie a rope – learned it from my Daddy. He was in the Coast Guard when he was younger. He never taught me much. It’s not like he was around to play football or throw a baseball with me, like you see on television. He was always off doing his own thing, but he taught me how to tie a rope, and I learned that lesson well enough. The little cocksucker wasn’t going anywhere.”
A buzzer sounded on the tape and the reporter pushed the stop button. “That’s where we left off Terrence. Would you like to continue from there?”
Terrence sat looking at the recorder, but his mind was back at the cabin. It had taken him less than three weeks to track down the bastard who killed his daughter. The police had let the slimy, drug dealing Mexican go after questioning. They didn’t even deport him. Lack of evidence, amnesty…it was too much. In the end he was glad they let him stay in the country. Finding him in Mexico would have been difficult.
“Terrence,” the reporter prodded.
“What do you want to hear? How I tortured him until he confessed? You’ll just print that he confessed because of the torture. But you weren’t there! He did it. I could see it in his eyes. The eyes never lie.”
“I want to hear anything you are willing to tell me Terrence. If you don’t want to talk about something then you don’t have to. Remember, you’re the one that invited me. I’m just here to record your story.”
“Yeah, but you want to hear the torture part, don’t you? It’s the blood and gore that sells papers today. A father avenging his daughters’ death is just the side story.”
“Then tell me about your daughter. What was she like?”
Terrence closed his eyes. He pictured a five year old Kara on a swing at the park. He heard her squeals of delight as he pushed her faster. He saw with a blurring clarity all the birthdays, dance recitals, and nightly homework rituals that followed. He felt the joy of a high school graduation, followed by the heartache of losing her to college. Letting her go was the hardest thing he had ever done.
“She was beautiful, like her mother. After Emma died…”
“Take your time.”
Terrence opened his eyes. The red light on the voice recorder was now on. Wiping away a tear, he looked toward the ceiling and focused on the light overhead.
“After Emma died it was just Kara and me. I did the best I could for her, but I wasn’t rich. Every penny I saved went to her college fund. It still wasn’t enough. But she was smart, that girl – got not one, but two scholarships. The University of Miami offered her a full ride. It was a long way from home, but she couldn’t pass up that opportunity. We both knew it, even though it was killing me inside to let her go.”
“She was in her third year?”
“She had just finished her third year. I was so proud of her. Her mother would have been too. Our little girl was a doctor in training. We visited Emma’s grave when she came home for break. Kara left her a stethoscope…” Terrence closed his eyes and dropped his head. A tear fell on the table. “She told her mama that the stethoscope was a direct link to her heart.”
The reporter stole a glance at the clock on the wall.
“Did she mention Manuel Rivas during her break?”
Terrence took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He sat up straighter in the chair, wiped away the last vestiges of tears, and shook his head.
“No. Not by name. I’m sure she didn’t know it or she would have told me.”
“But she told you about the incident with one of her fellow students?”
“Yeah. She said that one of her friends had a drug problem and she was trying to help.”
“Did she say how?”
“Kara was trying to get her friend to take a semester off to go into rehab. That’s why she didn’t stay the whole break. Someone had texted her about the drug dealer being back on campus. She left early to go check on her friend.”
“Her friend,” the reporter said, checking her notes, “Rachel Aretino. She stayed on campus during the break?”
“Kara said Rachel refused to go home in her current condition. She was ashamed of what her parents would think. I told Kara she was more than welcome to bring her and stay with us. In fact, I offered to drive her back to school so we could pick her up. Wish I had insisted. Kara was focused on the rehab idea though. She felt sure Rachel was close to agreeing on it.”
“After Kara returned to school, did she call and give you an update on the progress?”
“No. When I kissed her goodbye in the driveway she told me not to worry.”
Terrence paused, then took a deep breath so he could continue. “That was the last thing she ever said to me. Three days later and I got a phone call from the police saying she was dead. Stabbed to death.”
“What did you do?”
“I flew to Miami and picked up my daughter. I brought her home and buried her beside her mama.” Terrence closed his eyes again. He remembered seeing the stethoscope on Emma’s grave, right where Kara had left it a week earlier. A small sob escaped through clenched teeth.
The reporter gave Terrence a moment before checking the clock again. “But you came back…”
“Yeah, I came back. I took a leave of absence from work. I had four weeks of vacation time coming, but I didn’t plan on returning – not with her killer walking around breathing my air.”
“You said it took three weeks to find her killer. Were you looking for Manuel Rivas the entire time?”
“Honestly, I didn’t know who I was looking for. The drug dealer was at the top of my list though. Kara’s academic advisor was kind enough to put me in touch with a few of her friends, and through them I found Rachel. She was staying in a little apartment run by a rehab center.”
“They let you talk to her while she was in rehab?”
“It’s not the kind of rehab place you’re thinking about. Patients shop for their own groceries, do their own cooking, and have freedoms not granted in a hospital setting. It was new to me too, but Rachel said it was working for her.”
“What did she tell you about Rivas?”
Terrence remembered that conversation well. He relayed it to the police within an hour after leaving her apartment.
“She told me his name, what he looked like, where he could be found and such. She told Kara the same thing when she asked her. Rachel said Kara promised her she would be safe there, and that she would make sure of it.”
“Kara told Rachel she was going to confront Rivas?”
“No, she didn’t say it like that, but Rachel thinks it’s what she meant.”
“And she’s the one that told you about the knife?”
“Yeah, he kept it in a sheath in his boot. It was the cowboy boots that helped me find him. Most all the damn Mexicans look alike to me, not to be racist or anything.”
“Of course not. So you went looking for him?”
“I admit I did drive by a couple of the locations Rachel told me about, but I didn’t see him.”
“So you went to the police instead?”
“For all the good it did, yeah.”
“They found him, and then let him go?”
“Eight hours after he was hauled into the police station he walked out without a care in the world. He didn’t have any drugs on him and there was no knife in his boot. Not even a drop of blood. They had no DNA evidence that linked him to my daughters’ murder. They couldn’t even deport him because he had some type of amnesty deal. It was ridiculous! I gave them her killer and they let him walk right out the damn door!”
“And you followed him?”
“No, I didn’t even know they let him go until half an hour later. I was sitting in one of the conference rooms when a detective came in and told me.”
“What did you do then?”
“What could I do? I ranted and pleaded Kara’s case. They said they were sympathetic, but their hands were tied. So, I left. I got in my rental car and went back to the hotel.”
Terrence saw the reporter checking the time on the clock. He looked as well. Their eyes met in mutual understanding.
“What do you want to know, really?” He asked.
“The only thing that pointed you to Manuel Rivas was a conversation with a drug user in rehab. Now he’s dead and we only have your word that he confessed to the murder. Even you admit that torture was involved to get this confession.”
“What’s your question? How can I be sure he killed my daughter? “
“How can we be sure he killed her?”
“By we, you mean the readers of your paper?”
“Think about it – a Mexican drug dealer that carries a knife facing off against a headstrong young woman intent on protecting her friend. Your readers shouldn’t need a confession to figure out how this turned out.”
Terrence and the reporter turned their heads toward the door as the buzzer sounded. A moment later the guard came in with the customary apology.
“Sorry folks, times up.”
The reporter watched as the guard unlocked Terrence’s leg-cuffs from the floor. She looked at the second guard standing by the door and gave him a nod. She was almost done.
“One last question Terrence; do you have any regrets?”
He looked back at the pretty reporter. She was young, probably about the same age his daughter would have been.
“Lady, there are a lot of regrets in my life. There are things I wish I could change – plenty of things I would do differently, but killing that drug dealing murderer isn’t one of them. Print that in your L.A. Times.”
“I work for Mundo L.A., not the Times. Although, I did read in the Times last week that Rachel Aretino was arrested for the murder of her parents. She used a knife to stab them to death. My cousin Carlos brought you a copy of that story, along with a complimentary copy of my paper. Of course, you’ll have to learn Spanish to read it.”
The guard standing by the door tucked both papers inside Terrence’s jumpsuit. Terrence looked at Carlos, then back to the reporter. He could see the resemblance now. It was in the eyes…the same eyes he tortured a confession out of. His body turned to ice as the guards dragged him down the hallway.
Becky Rivas, with practiced precision, picked up the recorder and switched it off with her thumb.
- Originally published at the ‘Going for Coffee’ blog, for one of my favorite authors’ (and editor in chief), Jo-Anne Teal.