Afternoon had advanced before they talked to Stendon. He sat in a small interview room containing a rectangular table and four chairs. A recording device was bolted to the table. The room contained no windows and no see-through mirrors, and overhead florescent lights buzzed and hummed. Stendon wore dark jeans, a black shirt, black leather boots, and a tan leather jacket that came down just below his waist. He didn’t look up when they came into the room.
Slomann and Busch took seats at the table across from Stendon. Henry leaned against the wall behind them.
“Well, Ray,” said Slomann, as he clicked on the digital recorder, “we’ve met before.”
“Yep,” said Stendon. “Know your partner, too, Dave Busch. Always thought you should play for the Eagles, man, big as you are.”
“Ray,” said Busch with a nod.
“I think you also know Dr. Henry Blackwell.”
“Sure do,” said Stendon, looking up. “How’s it going, doc?”
“For the record,” said Slomann, “you’ve been read your rights and you understand they’re still in effect, right?”
“Sure, you bet,” said Stendon. “I know that Miranda shit backwards and forwards.”
“Okay, I was talking to your parole officer—” said Slomann.
“Your boys made an illegal search of my car,” said Stendon.
“You mean the pot?”
“My Jew lawyer’ll tear that shit to pieces,” he said. “Those joints don’t even belong to me. Somebody else left them there and I think I know who it was—Stanley Bundt, that little fuck up. I’m clean, man, ain’t touched a thing. You can give me a piss test, if you want.”
“Let’s not worry about that right now,” said Slomann. “Tell me what you’ve been doing since you got out of prison.”
“You talked to my PO, Sibilantos,” said Stendon.
“Yeah, but I’d like to hear it from you.”
Stendon twisted his index finger until the knuckle popped. “Not much besides working at my old man’s garage,” he said.
“What the hell you think, man? Working on cars,” said Stendon. “I’m good at that shit, too.”
“How else do you occupy your time?” said Busch.
“Watch TV mostly,” said Stendon. “Love those reality shows, especially the ones where they got these hot girls bitching at each other. You ever check any of those out?”
“Anything else?” said Slomann.
Stendon shrugged. “Went to a Flyers game the other night. They lost, as usual. Besides that, detective, nothing. I’m clean. That Sibilantos is a regular hound, man, won’t let me get away with anything.”
From the back of the room, Henry listened for any signs of stress in Ray’s speech patterns or any inconsistencies in his statement.
“Did you hear what happened to Sheryl Jenkins, Bobby Jenkins’ niece?” said Slomann.
“Read it in the paper,” he said. “That was a damn shame. Only met her once, but she seemed like a nice girl. You know?”
“Where were you on Thursday night, last week?”
“That the night she was killed?”
Ray cracked another knuckle. “At home,” he said.
“Anybody with you?”
“Not a soul.”
“Anybody see you?”
“Not much of an alibi,” said Slomann.
“Why would I need one?” said Stendon. “And let me save you some trouble. Now I know what you’re fishing around for, I can tell you you’re wasting your time. I didn’t have anything to do with killing that girl. Like I said, only met her once, and I liked her.” He propped an elbow on the table. “And just between us, fellas, she came on to me in a big way. This was a few years ago, she probably wasn’t more than fifteen at the time. We’re at this backyard barbeque, everybody else is outside, while we’re both waiting for the john, and she’s pushing me up against the wall, trying to stick her hand down my pants. Goddamn, you never seen anything like it. I told her no, which is rare for me, but I knew her uncle’d be pretty pissed if I went and fucked her, her daddy too, of course, but I didn’t really know him. She was mad at the time. You know, a woman scorned and all that. But, anyway, like I said, I didn’t have anything to do with her getting murdered.”
“I tried to tell them you’re not a killer,” said Henry.
“Thank you, man,” said Stendon, looking up at him. “I appreciate that. You know, I always pegged you for a regular guy, even when you were trying to put my old man away. I mean, I get it, right? That fucker’s crazy. You should’ve seen some of the shit he pulled when I was a kid. Flashing old ladies, shooting out car tires, putting cigarettes out on my arm. Hell, he probably did kill Phyllis.”
“Your mother?” said Busch.
“Yep, dear old mom,” said Stendon.
“You call her Phyllis?”
“That’s her name.”
Henry took a step forward. “Why’d you rape Tracy Collins?” he said.
Ray was twisting another finger, trying to get the knuckle to crack, but stopped. “I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about,” he said.
“You were convicted,” said Henry.
“Hey, buddy, that was assault and battery,” Stendon said, “not rape.”
“Whatever the outcome of the trial,” said Henry, “you and Bobby Jenkins both raped her. You just worked a deal with the cops for a lesser charge.”
“Like I said, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Besides, there’s also your juvenile record and that other rape the police couldn’t pin on you.”
“Fortunately, none of that shit counts.”
“You don’t understand that I’m trying to help you, Ray,” said Henry. “Slomann and Busch think you’re a cold-blooded killer. They think you murdered Sheryl Jenkins. I’m trying to explain to them you’re a rapist, not a murderer.”
“Hey, man, I ain’t either,” said Stendon, raising his voice for the first time. “I never raped nobody.”
“Then why did you assault Tracy Collins, if you didn’t rape her?”
“Yeah, I’d like to know that, too,” said Busch.
“That was all guilt by association, man, I’m telling you. I didn’t do a damn thing. Jenkins was just fuckin’ infatuated with that girl, couldn’t get her out of his mind, you know? So we’re having a few beers, right, the night he banged her—”
“The night he raped her,” said Henry.
“Yeah, sure. Anyway, we go and watch her perform at some dive, and afterwards he tries to chat her up at the bar, and she won’t give him the time of day. I can’t blame her, really, fuckin’ ugly as Bobby was. Anyway, that really puts a thorn in his side, so he says we’re going to wait out in the car for her to leave. He drinks a few more beers and gets himself all riled up, so when he spots her, he follows her and, you know, jumps her. I didn’t lay a hand on her myself. Like I said, guilt by association. Cops thought I had something to do with it for sure, so I gave the DA a statement and pleaded to assault.”
“Why did she always insist that you raped her, too?”
“Hey, man, I don’t know—who can figure out why girls do the things they do, right? She probably wanted the attention.”
“What about Tammy Fitch?” said Slomann.
“What about her?”
“Raped and murdered—beaten to death, and not long after you got out of the joint for the Collins assault.”
“Yeah, the cops tried to pin that shit on me, man, but I walked. Insufficient evidence.”
“That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about,” said Henry. “You just wanted to rape that girl, right? But you had to beat her up to do it, and she died incidentally from the beating. You didn’t mean to kill her, right?”
“I didn’t have nothing to do with that,” said Stendon.
“A witness put you at the scene of the crime,” said Slomann.
“Yeah, and that dude turned out to be a big fuckin’ liar.”
“And then we have this most recent conviction of yours,” said Slomann.
“That was all one big misunderstanding, man. I met her in Fairmount Park. We were getting real friendly—you know, drinking, having our own little party. She was coming on to me like you wouldn’t believe.”
“Just like Sheryl Jenkins,” said Henry.
“No, not just like,” said Stendon. “This ain’t at all the same. This girl, whatever her name was—“
“Susan,” said Slomann. “Susan Michaels.”
“Right,” said Stendon. “Only she called herself Suzie. Anyway, our little Suzie’s one of those types likes to think she’s in charge, you know what I mean? Thinks she can drink your beer, bum your smokes, and boss you around all she wants.”
“So you put her in her place?” said Slomann.
“No, no, man, no. It wasn’t like that. You’re not listening. All I’m saying is, we were getting friendly. Things are taking their natural course, right? And, okay, maybe I got a little rough with her, but she was acting like she was really into it. She wanted to be slapped around a little, you know? So, hell, I obliged her—that’s all. And then she starts screaming like I got a gun to her head, and this cop happens to be passing by.”
“You were arrested on another assault charge.”
“She had a few bruises on her arm—that was it. Probably there before I even touched her.”
“And you did what, a year and a half?”
“A little less,” said Stendon.
“Where’re you from, Ray,” said Busch. “Your file says you were born in Philly, but you don’t have the usual accent.”
“Yeah, I was born in Philly,” he said, leaning back in the chair, “but raised in the South.”
“Kentucky,” said Henry.
“Bingo, Professor,” he said. “Kentucky, little place near Hodgenville. You know it? That’s where Abe Lincoln was born, believe it or not. The old man had a job down there for a few years. We moved back to Philly when I was thirteen.”
“And you never tried to lose the accent.”
“Why would I?” he said. “Girls like it, you know? That little Sheryl Jenkins told me she thought it was sexy. Her word, not mine.”
“Did you attend school in Kentucky?” said Henry.
“Some. The old man kept pulling me out, said it was a waste of time. He never even made it to high school.”
“And you had your difficulties at school here in the city. You never graduated.”
“I’m not ashamed of that,” said Stendon. “I admire people like you who’re educated, doc, but that whole school thing just wasn’t for me. Too many rules to follow, for one thing. Bunch of loser teachers trying to tell you what to do.”
Slomann clicked off the digital recorder and slid his chair back from the table. “Excuse us a minute, Ray.”
“No problem,” he said, sitting back in the chair. “Take your time.”
In the hallway Henry huddled together with Slomann and Busch. “I know what you’re going to say,” said Slomann.
“He’s not our man,” said Henry.
“He doesn’t fit the profile.”
“No, he doesn’t. He’s definitely a predator, hates women, loves to use them. But he’s not a serial murderer. He seems to have good instincts for people’s weaknesses. He’s able to find women who are vulnerable and attack them. I’m sure he’s assaulted any number of women we don’t even know about. But he wouldn’t even bother to drug them—he probably enjoys it when they fight back. Domination and rape are his motivations, not ritualized murder.”
“He didn’t kill Sheryl Jenkins or Kelly Morris,” said Slomann.
Henry shook his head. “No, I’m sure of it.”
“Besides,” said Busch, “a smart college kid like Kelly Morris would never let that guy get close to her.”
“All right,” said Slomann. “I’ll check with Sibilantos to see if he wants to violate him for the weed. Otherwise, we’ll cut him loose.”
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish