September 23, 1999
Alanton, Virginia, 6:30 a.m.
Detective Ray Robideaux pulled his cruiser to the curb in front of a small clapboard
house. Morning shadows hung long down the empty street. People in this
neighborhood tended to sleep in, perhaps because few of them had much to get up
early for. Through the quiet air Robideaux could hear the rumble of traffic from
a highway overpass. Approaching the house, he flipped open the snap of his
holster and glanced at his partner. Bill Campbell's gun was already out, held
low at his side. Robideaux tried the doorknob, which turned in his hand, and he
knocked. The wood was soft under his knuckles and resounded hollowly. "Police,"
he called. "We have a warrant to enter this building." By his side Campbell
counted seconds off in a whisper. At eight he nodded and Robideaux threw the
The uncertain dawn spilled inside the house, revealing shabby furniture and the faint glow of a television. From the couch a man turned dull eyes on the officers. He wore a sleeveless T-shirt that looked like it had been slept in, and from a quick whiff, Robideaux guessed he'd made a start on the day's drinking. Or, at this hour, that the night wasn't quite over.
"Earl Harper?" he asked. The man grunted an affirmative. "Where's your boy?"
"We have a warrant for the arrest of your son," Robideaux told him. "For the murder of Leslie Anne Clarke. It'll go easier if you cooperate with us, now." He looked up as a woman in a housecoat entered the room. "Mrs. Beth Harper?"
The woman ignored him. "Don't you lie to the police, Earl," she said. "You know what they're here for." Harper shook his head. He lifted a bottle from the floor and took a deliberate pull.
Harper gave a guttural laugh that exploded into a phlegmy cough. "You can ask him all you want. I don't think you'll be getting many answers." His wife's face tightened. She drew the coat closer around her and, as Robideaux watched, jerked her head almost imperceptibly to the side. He followed her gesture down an unlit hall. The door yielded to his touch, and he entered, one hand on the butt of his pistol, squinting into the darkness.
The room was small and cluttered. As Robideaux's eyes adjusted to the gloom, he could see clothes on the floor and clumps of dust that looked long undisturbed. Squalor and solitude, the parents of violence. Unidentified shapes slowly resolved themselves into tattered dolls and children's toys, used and broken beyond repair. For a moment Robideaux wondered if he'd stumbled into the wrong room, but the figure in the bed bulked man-sized. The detective fumbled for a light, found the switch, and flicked it on. The figure sat up, blinking.
"Wayne Harper?" A slow puzzled nod. Robideaux pulled the cuffs from his belt and wrestled the man facedown, pulling his wrists behind his back.
"You hurtin' me," Wayne complained thickly.
"You are under arrest for the murder of Leslie Anne Clark," Robideaux said. "You have the right to remain silent. If you give up that right, anything you say may be used against you. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford one, an attorney will be appointed to defend you at the state's expense. Do you understand these rights as I have read them to you?"
"You hurtin' me," Wayne repeated. "What'd I do to you?"
Excerpt from In the Shadow of the Law by Kermit Roosevelt. Copyright © 2005 by Kermit Roosevelt. Published in June, 2005 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.
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