When you think you know it all, you make mistakes. Big ones. Criminology student Billy Frayne set his own trap when he bet his professor and classmates that he could get Rachel Clarke to confess to premeditated murder. Even though she was acquitted for the crime years before and no one knew where she was.
His obsession with the old murder case had alienated most of his friends but nothing dissuaded him from pursuing the “truth.” Not even Susan Sparks, the one person who still loved him.
Unwilling to let anything stop him, Billy follows every lead, no matter how flimsy to track down the elusive Rachel Clarke. From the lead detective on the case, to the bitter author Lucas Webster, who has his own reasons for bringing Rachel Clarke to justice.
Desperate to prove his theory, Billy goes in with Webster and takes part in a devious plan to expose Rachel and make her pay for her sins. But Billy discovers that once you open the door to the truth it cannot be closed. And if he’s not careful, it may kill him.
Billy hugged the shower wall as the hot water pounded his neck and shoulders. Being a handy man was a lot more work than he thought it would be. After three weeks his ass was properly kicked and he felt like he was a hundred, not twenty-one.
He alternated between admiration and resentment of Rae but the admiration was winning out. He turned up the hot water to burn it out of his head. No good would come of his siding with Rae. He had to stay focused on the end game. He had to recapture the certainty he felt of her guilt when he arrived. But since he’d gotten to know her, he had doubts. He constantly ran different scenarios of the murder through his head. As though looking for an excuse for her. A good enough reason for her to get away with it.
He turned off the water and stepped out of the shower. When he stepped out to the hall, his eyes darted to the front door of the cabin, as though Hanks would be there gawking at him. He’d taken to locking the door but Hanks probably had a key anyway. For all Billy knew, Hanks rifled through his stuff while he was working his balls off at Rachel’s.
But Hanks wasn’t there and he went to the bedroom, locking the door behind him. He pulled on his shorts and sat on the bed. The overhead fan hummed as he spread his evidence out before him. Looking at all of it at once, it seemed like a lot. The files from Lucas, the charm bracelet and Billy’s own clippings and notes combined into a personal reference library on the case. When the time came, the book would probably write itself. Except, he was no wiser than when he arrived. Other than the occasional telepathic communication between them, the sisters appeared to be a couple of middle aged women running a daycare center. Something had to give. And that meant he had to man up and place the bugs in the house. The invitation to the barbecue though might be the breakthrough he’d been hoping for. If they wanted to bring him into the inner circle, it could be they’d feel fine about leaving him alone in the house. He made a mental note to offer to work on the weekends.
He studied the picture of Tommy Clarke. He had the kind of face that women liked – open, friendly, handsome but not too handsome. In every picture he wore the same smile, as though honed until it reached a state of perfection. Maybe it was his smile that had drawn Rachel in. Charmed her and led her down a path that would eventually result in death and disaster.
Clarke was broke when he married Rachel. Though a scholar and a well-respected literature professor at the
material wealth had escaped him. How thrilled he must’ve been to marry the
beautiful Rachel Bennett and get the family fortune to boot. Billy didn’t
understand why people stayed in a bad marriage but money and position could be
a good motivator. Had Rae tried to leave him? Or did she love him in spite of
his abuse? University of Mississippi
He ran his finger over the charms of the gold bracelet. It was expensive, perhaps custom made. It was obviously Libbie’s. Was it a gift? She was blunt and plain spoken. Not a woman to wear something so whimsical and feminine. He picked up the bracelet and studied it. “What happened to you, Libbie? What made you so bitter?” He jangled the bracelet. “Was this from your one and only suitor?”
The jangling bracelet triggered another image. The hand slapped him hard in the face. He dropped the bracelet and put his hand to his cheek to ease the sting as though it had just happened. But he knew it wasn’t Finn’s hand that slapped him. Her hands were thin and childlike. Was it his mother’s hand? Had Finn saved him from her? For a moment he saw life through her eyes and it hurt. Nothing came easy for her. Love dodged her. Every man she ever knew betrayed her and drove her to the drink more. Billy was a problem to her, with his stuttering and painful shyness. And because she had no patience for the problems of children the only tools she gave Billy to face life with were impatience and an easy going fatalism.
He noticed the time then gathered up the files and stuffed them back into his briefcase, which he hid in the closet. The bracelet, he put in a plastic baggie and hid it under the mattress.
He pulled on khakis and a white golf shirt. Ran his fingers through his damp hair — now cut short because of the heat. He slipped bare feet into scuffed moccasins, grabbed his keys and headed out. When he opened the door Hanks smiled at him as though he was expected. “Hey there, little buddy.”
Billy blocked Hanks’ entry into the cabin and nudged him toward the porch. “Hey.”
“So, what’s the word?”
Billy plopped into a
chair on the porch. “You mean since you asked me three days ago?” He hunched a
shoulder. “Nothing much.” He stared at his cut and blistered hands. “They’re
working me like a dog.”
Hanks leaned against the railing and narrowed his eyes. “Looking pretty sharp for a working stiff.”
Billy shifted in his seat. “Yeah, I’m done for the day. Had to get out of my work duds. Stunk to high heaven.”
“Where you off to?”
Billy shrugged. “They’re having a barbecue and invited me.”
Hanks nodded approvingly. “Getting tight with the sisters then? It’s about time.”
Billy nodded. “Yeah, I’m trying to. Seems like they’re trusting me a little more.” He smirked at Hanks. “Slowly easing into it. Right? Like I said I would. Like I said I needed to.” He held up his hands. “I think I can get them to leave me a lone in the house, soon.”
Hanks nodded. “Better be soon, son.” The tone in his voice made Billy cringe. “Webster is pretty disappointed with your progress so far.”
Billy stood up. “I know, I know. But I told him it was going to take time. Not like they’re going to give a stranger the run of the place off the bat. Right?”
Billy moved toward the steps but Hanks blocked his exit. “You ain’t found nothing?”
“You mean, something that would prove she killed Clarke in cold blood? Nope, she hasn’t confessed yet, if that’s what you mean.”
Hanks put his hand on Billy’s shoulder and squeezed. “No diaries and such?”
Billy removed Hanks’ hand from his shoulder. “Like I said, I’m working on getting the run of the house.” Hanks grunted and followed Billy down the steps to their vehicles. Before Billy got into his truck, he turned to Hanks and said, “What do you guys want from her anyway?”
“Webster wants justice, son. Me, I’m just doing my job.”
Billy twisted his lips. “Define justice.”
Hanks stopped and cocked his head. Quietly he said, “That’s something you’ll have to discuss with Webster.”
Billy was tired of the evasive answers. “What’s the hurry? Does justice have an expiration date or something?” Billy chuckled. “Oh come man, it’s only been three weeks.”
Hanks stared at him for a long moment then said, “Three weeks for you, fifteen years for Webster. You do the math.”
Questions and Answers:
What inspired the Character of Billy?
Billy is that crazy, inexplicable, spontaneous character that we all have inside of us (at least a little). He’s wreckless, charming, charismatic and always has at least ten people mad at him at the same time. All he’s really trying to do is find himself, but he takes the most difficult route possible to make that discovery. And I’ve had plenty of “Billy moments” in my life, so I had a wealth of information to draw on.
Why did you do a rewrite?
I originally wrote the book several years ago and almost by accident got published. I was so thrilled to have a publisher’s interest that I didn’t give a thought to editing, cover design or anything really. Later on, and wanted to revamp and revise but the editor wasn’t interested in my doing that. So, when the rights reverted back to me, I was eager to dig in and make it the book it should’ve been in the first place.
Who’s your favorite author and why?
I have several favorites but two come to mind:
Dean Koontz because of his incredible prose and his deep connection with his characters. For tight, terse, somewhat dark crime fiction, I love Michael Connelly.
What character do you empathize with the most in False Witness and why?
Susan Sparks, Billy’s girlfriend. Because of her strength of character and her love for Billy that sees him through his rather reckless journey.