Cover image for Ransom for a killing
Title:
Ransom for a killing
Author:
Hunter, Fred.
Personal Author:
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Press, 1998.
Physical Description:
228 pages ; 22 cm
Language:
English
Geographic Term:
ISBN:
9780312193232
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

DNA tests prove Ben Harvey innocent of the rape he was convicted of nearly a decade ago. But when his conviction is overturned and he is released, his accuser is mysteriously and brutally murdered. To solve this murder, Ransom -- with the help of his friend Emily Charters -- nmust reopen the ten-year-old crime.


Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

In the detecting team of Chicago cop Jeremy Ransom and Emily Charters, Jeremy's elderly and beloved friend, there exists an unlikely yet beguiling pairing of the young and the not so young, the streetwise and the sweetly intuitive. Charters's razor-sharp mind flourishes despite her limited frame of reference; Ransom is unusually erudite and proper for a city cop. Ransom does the bulk of the legwork; in this absorbing case, he's intent on unraveling the interlocking destinies of Laura Shay and Ben Harvey, the man whom Laura accused of rape nine years ago. Ben was convicted and imprisoned, but the results of a new DNA test have now set him free. Shortly after his release, Laura is found murdered and Ben, naturally, falls under suspicion. Ben has been traumatized by nearly a decade of incarceration, while Laura was known to be both promiscuous and a second-generation drunk, who mysteriously came into some money soon after Ben's conviction. After Laura's mother dies an untimely death, Ransom is convinced that finding the identity of the true rapist will lead him to the murderer. Charters doesn't have much of a presence in this fifth in the series (which follows Ransom for a Holiday, 1997) beyond noting an odd turn of phrase in Ben's first televised interview after his release. The mutual devotion between Ransom and Charters continues to be both chaste and charming, however, and contrasts dramatically with the tone of the plot, which features doings that are notably darker and tougher than those in earlier books in the series. (Dec.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Excerpts

Excerpts

Chapter One MARCH 1997                                          The first set of sturdy metal bars slid back with a loud crash that reverberated inside Ben Harvey's skull just as vividly as when they'd closed on him eight years earlier. His lawyer, John Livingston, shook his hand and led him down the stark hallway. There was a guard standing against the wall with his arms folded defiantly across his chest. He had greasy, gray-streaked hair and a matching mustache from which a few crumbs of food were dangling. He narrowed his eyes, his expression clearly showing that, evidence or no evidence, he believed Ben had gotten away with something. Ben returned the gaze coolly, then turned away and faced forward, determined not to make eye contact with anyone else.     Ben had grown into a man behind bars. There was no more of the gangliness of his youth. He carried himself slowly and carefully, like a man accustomed to the encumbrances of invisible fetters. All of the awkwardness of his teenage years was gone, replaced by a cold stoicism that made him look as if his skin had tightened around his already slight frame and was holding him hostage. He wore the dark brown suit that Livingston had brought for him, a white shirt, and a brown tie. The clothes hung on him as if he were a human coat hanger.     "There are some reporters outside," said Livingston as they continued down the hall. "It figures. They'll want to know how you feel."     Ben glanced at him out of the corner of his eye.     "But you don't have to talk to them if you don't want to," Livingston continued. He'd long since grown used to his client's silence. "I can talk for you if you want."     They passed through the last checkpoint, and the final set of steel bars slid open with the usual sickening clang. It occurred to Ben again that they sounded exactly the same when they opened as when they closed, and he'd learned enough to know that there was a reason for that: whether he was coming in or going out didn't matter. Now that he'd spent almost a third of his life here, he would never be free.     They passed through the last door and out into the blinding sunlight of the parking lot behind the prison. Just as Livingston had said, several reporters were there, some carrying microphones that they jabbed in his direction as they shouted questions to both the lawyer and his client. They were accompanied by several cameramen jockeying with each other for position, occasionally bumping into each other but by longtime tacit agreement not stopping for apologies for fear of missing something important. It was apparent that these people traveled in packs, familiar with each other from all the time they'd spent covering the same events. Most of the questions were variations on a theme: how did Ben feel?     Ben said nothing as he made his way through them. In his mind the same answers played over and over again: "I don't feel anything, any how, any way."     When a particularly aggressive reporter from an evening news team darted forward and loudly asked the same thing again, Livingston interposed himself between the reporter and Ben and said, "My client is naturally happy that his conviction has been overturned. The DNA test has proved conclusively that he was not guilty, and both my client and I could only wish that these tests had been more widely available back when he was falsely accused."     Livingston propelled Ben forward toward his nearby car as the reporters shouted follow-up questions, most of which concerned what the future held for Ben, legally. As Ben was climbing into the passenger side of the front seat, the same reporter yelled out, "How do you feel toward your accuser? How do you feel about Laura Shay?"     All of the reporters fell silent: it would be the big question on the minds of their audiences. Ben stared dispassionately over the roof of the car at the reporter who'd asked the question. After a lengthy pause he replied, "Those people have taken up enough of my life. I'm not gonna give them any more."     He dropped into his seat and closed the door softly. Livingston got behind the wheel and with one continuous motion slid the key in the ignition, started the motor, and shifted the car into reverse.     "Well, you're a free man now, Ben," he said as he hit the gas pedal.     Ben didn't respond. Laura Shay hadn't slept since she heard the news. She could hardly leave her apartment because of the reporters that kept coming around. She hadn't been back to work for days. She learned of the release of her supposed attacker from a reporter who showed up unexpectedly at the drugstore where she was a cashier, shoved a small tape recorder in her face, and asked her what she thought of the fact that the man she swore had raped her eight years ago was about to go free. Laura was caught completely off guard by the question, not just because it was so unexpected but because the case hadn't even made the news when it originally happened. Like the majority of crimes, it had passed through court like a greasy hamburger, not stopping for general digestion. Laura was shocked that Ben Harvey's release should be news when his conviction had been so quiet.     "Why ... why are you here? What do you want?" she stammered at the reporter.     The reporter realized at once that Laura didn't know what had happened, and was more than happy to break the news to her so that he could avail himself of the opportunity to get her first reaction.     "He was ... they think he didn't do it?" Laura had said, her eyes wide.     "They know he didn't do it," the reporter replied.     "They know ..." Laura's voice trailed off, and it seemed for a moment as if she had trailed off with it.     "So what do you think, Miss Shay?" the reporter pressed, trying to get some reaction from her. "You were sure he was the one that attacked you, weren't you?"     Laura suddenly had come back to the present and nodded vigorously. "He did do it! I don't care what anybody says!"     She burst into tears and fled into the back room of the store.     She gave a hurried, practically incoherent explanation to Mr. Gibson, her employer, for why she had to go home early, then slipped out the back door. She walked all the way home to her dingy studio apartment, keeping mostly to the alleys for fear of running into another reporter. Even though the alleys were considered dangerous, facing them was preferable to facing more questions about what had happened that night eight years ago and how she felt now. All the way home, she had had one thought in her mind: now the truth would come out.     She spent the next two days locked in her apartment, barely getting out of bed and never getting dressed. The third morning found her lying in bed staring at the tiny black and white TV that sat across the room on the dresser she had taken with her when she moved away from home. She absently picked at the threadbare elbow of the pink sateen housecoat she had bought three years earlier at Kmart. When she saw it on the rack, she felt there was something comfortably familiar about it, and after a long internal debate over the cost, she had bought it. When she got it home and put it on, she realized why it was familiar: it was exactly like something her mother would wear. In fact, when she looked at herself in the mirror, her expanding waistline accentuated by the wide sash of the robe, she realized how much she was starting to look like her mother. This realization brought on a flood of tears, during which she sat on the foot of the bed and gently stroked the hem of the robe, lamenting the fact that she wouldn't be able to enjoy it.     Though she was still young, that experience had left her strongly aware that up to that point, her life had been a complete and utter failure, and there was no reason to believe that would ever change. And now even the housecoat was falling apart.     She reached over to the nightstand and wrapped her fingers around the neck of a bottle of vodka. She tilted some of the liquid into a tumbler. She had long ago convinced herself that she would be all right as long as she didn't drink it straight from the bottle. When she righted the bottle, her hand brushed against an empty carton of orange juice, knocking it onto the floor. She thought for a moment that she would really like to have some more juice to mix with the vodka, but that meant a trip to the store and the possibility of being spotted by a reporter. Besides, she thought she had reached the point where it was easier to drown her sorrows undiluted.     Laura managed to keep her senses dulled to the point that she was only dimly aware of the slow passage of time during the morning and afternoon. Her mind was clouded with thoughts that seemed to inflate inside her head until they were too large and too close for her to see them, but she sensed their general theme. It was that horrible night her senior year in high school that had ruined her life. It had all been so promising, but something had gone wrong. Through her mental haze she could remember the attack and how awful it had been. But then beyond it there had been a ray of hope that something that had been so horrible could be the turning point for her, would end up being the spark that would change her life for the better. It was like that Bible verse they used to read to her when she was in Sunday school: all things work together for good. Laura had seen the good that could come out of that terrible night. Her father had made her see that. But the rug had been pulled out from under her, and the good she had tried to make for herself was coming back to haunt her.     And now things were worse. She could barely afford the rent for her tiny Uptown apartment as it was, and she hadn't been able to go to work for fear the press would show up again and spread her shame across the front pages of the news and on television. Not that they weren't doing that anyway. And maybe things would get even worse. She hadn't heard from the police yet, but if the newspeople kept harping on the story, might the police want to reopen the case?     She drained the glass, then reached for the bottle again and found it was empty. She let the bottle slide from her fingers onto the floor, then lay there on the bed looking down at it glistening on the filthy rug. She realized with disgust just how much she hated the place. All of the furniture except the dresser was other people's throwaways; the rug was never cleaned and the walls never painted because the building owner couldn't get high enough rent in this neighborhood to make keeping the place up worth his while. Half the time when she came home from work there was someone lying drunk or passed out on the stairs, and the hallways smelled of urine. What made it all worse was knowing that there'd been one chance for her to improve her lot in life all those years ago, and she'd blown it. She'd made a fatal mistake.     She lay back on the bed and let her tears flow. In a way she felt like that same young teenager she'd been when the attack occurred. The shame and humiliation, and mostly the anger, all washed over her again.     But in the midst of the swell of emotions a single thought fought its way through the fog in her mind: maybe it wasn't too late. As she considered once again the possibility of renewed interest in the case and all the media attention it was getting now, what her father had tried to do for her back then came back to her. Maybe her father had been right, and only his timing was wrong. Maybe Ben Harvey's release and the attention it had drawn was a blessing in disguise. Maybe it was all God's way of giving her one last shot at improving herself. For the first time in days, she felt like getting out of bed.     Laura hurriedly threw on an old gray sweatshirt and a pair of jeans, then pulled open the top drawer of her dresser. The little cup which she kept full of quarters and dimes for the laundry was empty, but occasionally some coins would fall out when she opened and closed the drawer, so she ran her hands under the disarray in the drawer searching for loose change. She found two quarters and three dimes, which she stuck in the pocket of her jeans. There was a pay phone down by the 7-Eleven and she could use it to make the call and even pick up some more liquor while she was at it.     She stopped for a minute and frowned down at herself in the hand mirror that was lying on top of the dresser. Did she have enough money for booze? She knew there was seven dollars in her purse, but she was going to use that for food, since her minuscule paycheck wouldn't be coming for another four days. A smile slowly broke out on the image in the mirror as she realized that after tonight, that wouldn't be a problem anymore. She grabbed her keys and headed out the door.     Laura paused in the poorly lit vestibule and looked out through the cracked glass panel in the door. Nobody was there. Whatever reporters had been there on the day of Ben's release had gone away. For a moment, she was stopped short in her newly formed plan. Maybe the media wasn't interested anymore. But her smile reappeared. She knew they would be interested if she decided to talk.     Laura wove her way unsteadily down the sidewalk to the store on the corner, at first praying that one of the two public phones on the outside of the building would be working, then praying that the person she needed to call would have a number that the phone company would give out. If the number was unlisted, then her plans would be over before they were begun. At least for the time being.     Her first call was to Directory Assistance, and they gave her the number she wanted, which Laura took as a sign from God that she was on the right track. She carefully repeated the number over and over to herself as she replaced the receiver, then picked it up again and dialed.     The phone rang five times before it was answered.     "Hullo?" It was the voice of a small child, drawing the word out tentatively.     "Hello there," said Laura, trying as best she could not to sound drunk. "Who is this?"     There was a beat before the child said slowly, "Uh... I'm not supposed to say."     "That's all right," Laura replied. She was starting to enjoy herself. "Listen, is your daddy home? Can I talk to him?"     "Okay," said the child. There was a loud double knock through the receiver as the child clumsily put the receiver down. It was picked up almost immediately.     "Very good, honey," said a male voice to the child. Then he said into the receiver, "Hello?"     Laura took a deep breath and said, "Hello. Remember me?"     "Who is this?"     Laura laughed inwardly. "It's Laura. Laura Shay."     The mention of her name was met by a stunned silence.     "I know you remember me," she added.     "Why are you calling?"     "Why am I calling? Don't you read the papers?"     There was a pause before the man said, "What about it?"     So you do know about it , Laura thought. Then she said, "There've been some reporters want to ask me questions about that night. Seems a lot of people are interested now that Ben's been cleared. Funny, nobody was interested back then."     The man gave a smug laugh. "You know you can't prove anything."     "I don't have to," said Laura, measuring her words carefully to give them more weight. "All I have to do is talk ."