Guilty by Innocence by Deirdre O'Dare
Jax is a cop by choice and to honor his father who was killed in the line of duty. His allegiance to his fellow officers and the code of ethics he lives by are the ruling factors of his life. When he finds an unconscious young man at a hideous crime scene with a bloody machete in his hand, Jax confronts a quandary. He can hardly believe this beautiful youth could have committed such an atrocity but if he didn’t, who did?
Gabriel awakes to blood and horror—and to a total blank of who he is, what has happened and how he got there. He finds himself charged with horrific multiple murders. Unless he can regain his memory, how can he prove he’s not guilty? Protective custody soon assumes new aspects as Jax and Gabriel develop a strange friendship that wants to blossom into much more. Can someone be guilty by innocence?
Jax dropped the three pages of careful notes on his desk. Not a lot there to go on and the girl's report shed no light on Gabriel Suarez at all, although it did hint someone else had been the killer. Still, Gabriel had been found holding the bloody machete. It made no sense.
Wonder if the kid has gotten his memory back? Maybe talking to him again would prove productive. Probably by now he'd overcome his confusion and fear, but not much chance he'd speak without a lawyer. It was almost funny how fast the low-lifes caught onto that ploy.
They might pretend not to know two dozen words of English, but they could demand, "Quiero un abogado" with complete confidence and refuse to say one word more. There seemed to be plenty of do-gooder lawyers who showed up, glad to work pro bono, unless they were paid under the table by the cartel. These days, you never knew.
No harm in trying, though. He walked over to the jail section and asked to talk to detainee Suarez. A few minutes later, one of the jailors led him to an interrogation room as another brought Gabriel in by a different door. The young man looked pale still, hunched in the orange jump suit and wary as he sat carefully on the edge of one straight chair across from Jax.
"I'm Detective McDermott. I was wondering if your memory has started to come back. Have you got anything to tell me today?"
For several seconds, Gabriel looked down at his clasped hands. "I remember some, but still not what happened or why I was at that house. Not even when or how I got there. I know my name, for sure. I started to remember my old home and I asked to call my father. He refused to accept the call.
"After that I began to recall more. About a year ago, I finally told my parents I was gay. My father disowned me that very day, cut off the money he gave me to go to college, took away my car, my computer--almost everything and drove me out of the house. Left with nothing, I ended up on the street."
He hunched even tighter, as if he tried to shrink into himself. "It gets worse from there," he said, barely above a whisper. "After a few weeks, Armando Contreras took me in. I didn't know at first, but he's a hoodlum, maybe with the cartel. I never dared ask. He put me back on the street, sometimes as a decoy or a courier and then as a male prostitute, but I had food and clothes and shelter. So long as I did what he said, he took care of me and provided some protection. People knew I was his property, so few tried to hurt me. I'm not proud of this, but I had to live."
Despite his rigid moral code, Jax felt a stir of sympathy. The young man had been raised very sheltered, probably over-protected. Then suddenly he was cast adrift in the jungle of the street, as innocent as a child, more naïve than Catalina Rodriguez, although he was six or eight years older. When a clearly powerful older man offered him aid, he expected another father figure; instead, he got a master who saw in him only a useful tool, little more than a slave.
Still Jax knew he had to push in a final effort to jolt some more information out of Gabriel. If nothing else, maybe some fact that would help to clear him.
"Contreras ever asked you to do anything like a hit, maybe a drive-by shooting?"
Gabriel shook his head. "I... " He looked down at his clasped hands again, twisting them in his lap. "I don't think he believed I could do anything that critical, that huge. He called me names like baby and sissy; treated me like a boy instead of a man."
"What if there was a witness, one who can place you at the scene of the killings? Someone who managed to survive?"
Gabriel's dark gaze flashed to Jax's for an instant, something almost like hope in his face. "Is there? Did you find someone, a person who saw it? I would sell my soul to be sure, to know the blood of those people is not on my hands by my deeds. Yes, I know, I was holding that machete when you arrived. But I cannot, I will not believe I slashed people to death--old people and children. Por Dios! There are not enough drugs in all El Paso to twist me that far. If Contreras told me to do such a thing, I'd tell him to kill me because I could not obey him."
The young man's vehemence sounded real and sincere. Jax studied him in silence for a few seconds, waiting to see the liar's squirm or some other hint he knew more than he admitted. No such sign came. Finally, he had to speak his own mind.
"I don't think you did it. We do have a witness, a survivor. She speaks of another man who broke into the house, a man who doesn't resemble you at all. And she says he's the one who did the butchery. I'm not sure if she has a name or not, but the description was clear and detailed. I'm just not sure where you come in--that's what we need you to recall."
"I keep trying," Gabriel said. "I try all the time. Slowly, I do remember more of the past, but nothing of that day...not yet. I think, I pray it'll come back in time. Until then--I can stay here in jail, can't I? I have nowhere to go now for sure."
Jax shrugged. "Probably. You're still a person of interest, and we'll see after your arraignment tomorrow. It's up to the judge whether we have enough to charge you or not. With the witness' statement, he might say to let you go."
Gabriel went stark white. "No! Oh, please, God, no. I mean I don't think I'm guilty, but I don't want to get out, to go back on the street. I'd be dead in hours. They--Contreras or someone in the cartel must've put me in that house for a reason. I know how he thinks and works. I was supposed to die or be found guilty to take the heat off someone else. He decided I was expendable when they needed a scapegoat. If you let me out, I might as well kill myself."
Jax had to restrain himself from laying a hand on Gabriel's shoulder and offering reassurance. Since he could not do that, he did what he could. "If you get your memory back, you might become a witness. Under such conditions, you'd probably merit protective custody. That's what's being done for the survivor, a young woman. You'd better pray for that."
He stood then and wheeled around to leave. If he stayed any longer, he'd very likely say or do something he shouldn't. Cops and sympathy made a bad combination. He had to remember the blood and the machete clenched in this young man's fist. That was real. Until evidence and hard proof changed the scenario, he had to stick with that one.
Jax knew a jailor was watching through the one-way glass and would immediately take Gabriel back to his cell so he did not look back. He stepped out the first door when it swung clear for him, heard it click behind him and then the next one opened to let him back out into the normal world. He couldn't say right off if the interview had helped him understand the case better or not, but he did have a lead or two to pursue. The name Contreras was one he knew.