Page 72 of Detective


"It's like Cynthia walked into her own mousetrap," Bowe observed.


Malcolm Ainslie, his thoughts in turmoil, said nothing.

* * *

A phone call from the state attorney's office, requesting Ainslie's presence, came in late afternoon. He was shown into Adele Montesino's office. Curzon Knowles was with her.

"We've listened to the tape," Montesino said. "I presume you have as well."

"Yes, ma'am."

She nodded.

"I thought I should tell you this personally, Sergeant Ainslie," Montesino said. "The grand jury has been summoned for next Tuesday morning. We will be seeking three indictments of Commissioner Cynthia Ernst, the most important being for murder in the first degree and we'll require you as a witness."

Knowles added, "That gives us the weekend and Monday for preparation, Malcolm, and we'll need all of it arranging witnesses and evidence, including a statement from you about what Jensen has revealed, and a good deal more. If you don't mind, we'll go right from here to my office and begin."

"Of course," Ainslie murmured automatically.

"Before you go," Montesino said, "let me say this to you, Sergeant. I have learned that while everyone else accepted the Ernst murders as part of the other serial killings, you were the one the only one who didn't believe it and set out, with patience and great diligence, to prove the contrary, which you finally have. I want to thank and congratulate you for that, and in due course I'll convey those thoughts to others." She smiled. "Have a good night's rest. We have four tough days ahead."

* * *

Two hours later, driving home, Ainslie supposed he should feel a sense of triumph. Instead he felt nothing but overwhelming sadness.

3

"We've worked like hell to put everything together," Curzon Knowles told Ainslie. "Everyone's cooperated, we think the case is strong but, Christ, this heat sure doesn't help!" It was nearly nine o'clock on Tuesday morning, and Knowles and Ainslie were on the fifth floor of the Dade County Courthouse in Miami, in a small office reserved for prosecutors. Close by was the grand jury chamber where today's business would be done.

Both men were in shirtsleeves, having shed their jackets because the building's air conditioning had failed overnight and a repair crew was reportedly working somewhere below so far without effect.

"Montesino will be putting you on as the first witness," Knowles said. "Try not to melt in the meantime."

Voices in the corridor outside signaled that the grand jury members were filing in. There were eighteen, with an equal number of men and women and a mix of Hispanic, black, and white.

* * *

The primary purpose of any grand jury is simple: to decide whether sufficient evidence exists to initiate criminal charges against a person. Some grand juries have a secondary function to stage inquiries where local civic systems are corrupt or malfunctioning but the direct criminal focus is more significant and historic.

Unlike a regular court trial, grand jury proceedings are surprisingly informal. In the Dade County facility a circuit judge was available but rarely present. His duties were impaneling and swearing in the jury usually for a sixmonth term and appointing a foreperson, a viceforeperson, and a clerk. The judge would give legal rulings if required and, at the end of any proceeding, accept the grand jurors' decisions.

Within the grand jury chamber, jurors sat around four long tables. Along one end of the tables was another table at which the foreperson, the vice-foreperson, and the clerk sat facing their colleagues. At the opposite end was the prosecutor, usually an assistant state attorney, who described the evidence available and examined witnesses. Today the state attorney herself would do both.

A court stenographer was present when witnesses were examined.

Grand jurors could, and did, interrupt proceedings with questions. Everything that transpired, however, was secret all those involved in the process took an oath to that effect, and unauthorized disclosure was an indictable offense.

At the outset, standing at the multi-table complex, Adele Montesino began casually, ''I apologize for the excessive heat. We've been promised that air conditioning will be restored soon; meanwhile anyone who wants to shed some clothing may do so within reason, though of course that's easiest for the men if less interesting."

Amid mild laughter, several men removed their jackets.

"I am here today to seek three indictments against the same person," Montesino continued. "The first is for murder in the first degree, and the accused is Cynthia Mildred Ernst."

Until this moment the jurors had seemed relaxed; now, abruptly, their tranquillity disappeared. Startled, sitting upright in their chairs, some gasped audibly. The foreperson, leaning forward, asked, "Is that name a coincidence?"

Montesino responded, "No coincidence, Mr. Foreman." Then, facing all the jurors, "Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I am speaking of Miami City Commissioner Cynthia Ernst. The two people she is charged with feloniously killing are her late parents, Gustav and Eleanor Ernst."

Mouths were agape. "I don't believe it!" an elderly black woman declared.

"At the beginning I scarcely believed it, either," Montesino acknowledged, "but now I do, and I predict that before I'm finished, and you have heard witnesses and listened to an incredible recording, you will believe it, too or at least sufficiently to order a regular jury trial."

She shuffled papers on the table in front of her. "The second indictment I am seeking, also against Cynthia Ernst, is for aiding, abetting, and concealing a crime while serving as a police officer. That crime was the murders of two other people, and I shall bring you evidence in support of that charge also. The third indictment is for obstruction of justice by possessing knowledge of a crime, namely the perpetrator of a murder, and failing to report it."

Again the grand jurors seemed stunned, glancing at each other as if asking, Can this be true? There was a low buzz of spoken exchanges.

Adele Montesino waited patiently for silence, then called her first witness for the murder-one indictment Ainslie, who was escorted in by a bailiff and directed to the prosecutor's table. Before entering, Ainslie had replaced his jacket.

The state attorney began, "Mr. Foreman, ladies and gentlemen of the grand jury, this is Sergeant Malcolm Ainslie of the Miami Police Department, a Homicide detective. Is that correct, sir?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"A personal question, Sergeant Ainslie: Since you are not being charged with anything, why are you sweating?"

The room erupted with laughter.

"Would you like the bailiff to take your jacket?"

"Please." In a pocket of his mind, Ainslie reasoned that Montesino was smart to keep the jury happy; later they were more likely to give her what she wanted. He wished he were happy himself.

"Sergeant Ainslie," Montesino began, ''will you tell us, please, how you were first involved with inquiries into the deaths of Gustav and Eleanor Ernst."

Ainslie, tired and strained, breathed deeply, summoning strength for this personal ordeal.

* * *

Since last week, after learning conclusively first of Cynthia Ernst's concealment of Patrick Jensen's guilt of a double murder, then that Cynthia had arranged her own parents' murders Malcolm Ainslie had accomplished what was required of him in the way of duty, though at times he moved more like a robot. Certain things, he realized, he had to do himself; today's testimony was one, so were other initiatives and responsibilities. But for the first time in years he wished desperately that he could walk away and have someone else take over.

Through the few preceding days so packed with action and disclosures his mind had been in turmoil. Last Fri day night, when all the substance of the investigation came together, sadness had overwhelmed him. And on that occasion and so many others, central in his thoughts was Cynthia Cynthia, whose passion he had once welcomed and shared; whose competence he had so often admired; whose integrity he used to believe in. Then, more recently, there was the Cynthia he had desperately pitied after learning of her childhood abuse, and of her child having been snatched away before she even saw it.

True, there had been forewarnings. Malcolm recalled the sense of foreboding that had touched him a month ago in the temporary office where he instructed Ruby Bowe to search through the boxes retrieved from the Ernst house after the murders. By then they knew for sure that Doil had not killed Gustav and Eleanor Ernst, and that was when Cynthia's possible involvement had fleetingly crossed his mind. He had kept the thought to himself, scarcely believing it possible, then dismissed it. Now it was back, and it was real.

What must he do now? Of course, he had no choice. Despite all of his pity for Cynthia, his compassion for her suffering, and even understanding the hatred she had felt toward her parents, he could never, ever, condone their murder; and what he had to do as at this moment he would do, though with pain and sorrow.

There was one thing, though amid all the conflicts and emotions that he knew for sure.

A year and a half ago, at a time of great personal distress that Malcolm's work in Homicide had caused him, Karen had asked him, "Oh, sweetheart, how much more can you take?" And he had answered, "Not too many like tonight."

That answer had been an equivocation, and both knew it. Now he had another, different answer, and he would tell Karen before the ending of this day. It was, Dearest, I've had enough. This will be the last.

But for the moment Ainslie focused on answering Adele Montesino's question: Will you tell us, please, how you were first involved . . .

* * *

"I was in charge of a task force investigating a series of apparent serial killings."

"And did the Ernsts appear to be victims of the same serial killer?''

"Initially, yes."

"And later?"

''Serious doubts arose."

"Will you explain those doubts?''

"Those of us investigating the case began to think that whoever killed the Ernsts had tried to make their deaths appear to be one more killing in the series we were investigating, though in the end it didn't work."

"A moment ago, Sergeant, you referred to 'those of us investigating the case.' Isn't it true that you, initially, were the only detective who believed the Ernst murders were not serial killings?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"I didn't want you to get away with too much modesty." Montesino smiled, and some of the jurors with her.

"Is it also true, Sergeant Ainslie, that a pre-execution interview you had with Elroy Doil, an admitted serial killer, suggested that the Ernst murders were not serial killings, and that afterward you followed an investigative trail that caused you to decide Cynthia Ernst had planned them and retained a paid killer?"

Ainslie was shocked. "Well, that's passing over an awful lot of "

"Sergeant!" Montesino cut him off. "Please answer my question with a simple yes or no. I think you heard it, but if you wish, the stenographer can read it back.''

He shook his head. "I heard it."

"And the answer?"

Ainslie said uncomfortably, "Yes."

He knew the question was flagrantly leading; it skirted facts, and was unfair to the accused. At a regular trial, defense counsel would have leapt up with an objection, which any judge would have sustained. But at a grand jury hearing there could be no objections because no defense counsel was allowed, or a defendant, either. In fact, so far as anyone knew, the accused Cynthia Ernst was entirely unaware of what was taking place.

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