Horror to Hope
Lois Cloarec Hart
With grateful thanks to my wonderful betas, Day, California Kathy, and Betty, who must groan every time October comes around and they have to scramble at the last minute because of my tardiness.
If you’d like to comment, I’d love to hear from you. I can be reached at
“Are you insane? More to the point, is he?”
The attorney sighed as she watched the agitated woman spring to her feet and pace the living room. Callie Ayrs had known it wouldn’t be easy to obtain the cooperation that the Crown Attorney’s office needed.
“Do you?” The woman whirled and glared at her unwelcome visitor. “Was your wife stabbed to death for a grand total of seventeen dollars by some murderous thug with nothing better to do that day? Have you had to stand by for over two years and watch in fury and helplessness while a lawyer paid by my tax dollars fights to free a killer?” Jean smashed her fist against the wall. “God, I wish we still had the death penalty!”
“Ma’am...Ms Calder...I really do understand how you feel.” Callie ignored the snort of disbelief. “As hard as his defence counsel has been working…that’s how hard I’ve been fighting to see Navarro convicted. It’s within reach. He’s agreed to plead guilty, not only to your wife’s murder, but also to six other murders.”
“If I’ll meet with him.” Shaking her head, Jean Calder sank into a chair. “Why? What could he possibly have to say to me?” She glowered at Callie suspiciously. “What kind of sweetheart deal did you offer him for all these confessions, anyway?”
“Nothing. There is absolutely no offer on the table. Our evidence was solid on your wife’s murder, so we didn’t have to deal.”
“Then what’s his scam? You know he’s got one. Men like him always do.”
“Normally I’d agree, Ms Calder, but I’ve examined this from every angle and if there is some way he can benefit in the slightest, I can’t see it. Navarro has even fired his legal aid representative.”
“He didn’t ask for anything — no minimum term, no preferential prison placement, nothing?”
“No, Ms Calder; nothing. I swear it.” Callie reached out a hand, but then withdrew it. She glanced from the gaunt, grey-haired woman slumped in the chair to the picture over the fireplace. The vibrant, laughing image in that painting was worlds away from the desolate figure opposite her. Callie’s gaze flicked to the other woman in the photo. She was a tiny, sweet faced woman who exchanged adoring looks with her partner. Hope Nichols. A damned waste. Calder’s right. Navarro should die for what he did that wretched night. But that’s not an option and I’ve got a job to do.
She steeled herself to try again.
“Ms Calder, there’s absolutely nothing I can say that will comfort you or make things the least bit better, but I ask you to consider those six other families. You know what happened to your wife. Despite your pain, at least you know who killed her and how. If you’ll agree to this request, six other families will have the relief of knowing what you do.”
“Relief? You think knowing who killed my wife is some sort of relief? Ms Ayrs, it’s been 734 days since that bastard stabbed my wife and left her to bleed out on the filthy street where she died. 734 nights that I’ve gone to bed and every single night weeping at her absence. 734 mornings that I’ve woken up and wished I’d died in the night so maybe I could be with her again. Relief? The only relief I expect to have ever again is seeing that fucking asshole thrown into prison for life. And believe me, every time our misguided, bleeding heart justice system allows him to apply for parole, I’ll be there. And when his petition is denied, and he’s locked back in his cell, then maybe I’ll feel relief -just for an instant.”
Callie shivered at the way the deep-set eyes burned with vengeance.
“And if he ever gets out... If he ever gets out, I’ll be waiting with a knife of my own.”
Callie had dealt with enough crime victims that she wasn’t shocked at the statement. However this was one of the rare times that she considered it a strong possibility that a victim would fulfill their threat. “Ms Calder...Jean, please, you don’t mean that.”
“Don’t I? My life ended the day Navarro ended Hope’s. Do you think I give a damn what happens to me? All I want is to see him suffer like he made her suffer.”
Callie reached into her briefcase and pulled out a file folder. She removed a photo of a woman with two small children clinging to her skirt and slid it across the coffee table.
Jean ignored it.
“Ms Calder, this is Anne Rimes and her daughters, Madison and Courtney. Her husband is one of the men we believe Frank Navarro killed. Can you actually tell me that the woman Hope Nichols loved is so hardened that she can’t find it in herself to be merciful to this family? Anne Rimes has been going through agony for ten years. Compound that with two little girls who only know that their daddy didn’t come home one night.”
Callie held her breath as Jean’s eyes reluctantly focused on the photo. For a moment the woman’s features softened, but then the cold mask dropped back into place. Callie pulled out her ace.
“All right, if you can’t do it for them or any of the other suffering families, then do it for yourself. This is your chance to tell Navarro what he’s taken from you, the one and only time you’ll be face to face with your wife’s killer. He is the last person to see your wife alive. Surely there’s something you want to tell him.”
Jean’s head swivelled sharply and she stared at Callie. “I don’t have to just sit and listen. I can say anything I want?”
“Within reason, yes.”
Jean sniffed, but Callie could tell that she’d finally gotten through. The woman’s foot twitched back and forth for several minutes as she considered the inducement. Finally Jean nodded.
“All right. When?”
“Next Tuesday. I’ll pick you up at ten a.m. and take you to the meeting.”
Callie gathered her papers and the photo, and stuffed them back in her briefcase. She stood and regarded Jean seriously. “I’ll be in the meeting, too. Please remember that we have to pass through metal detectors and turn over our bags for inspection. Don’t do anything stupid, like bringing a weapon; I won’t hesitate to press charges against you if you do.”
For the first time a tiny, wry smile broke through Jean’s scowl. “Ms Ayrs, if I planned to kill him, I wouldn’t need a weapon.”
Callie nodded. She knew Jean retired from teaching after losing her wife, and taught evening women’s defence classes for over two decades prior. “I’m aware of that, which is why there will also be a guard in the room with us.”
“For his protection?”
“And ours. Navarro has killed at least seven people, probably more. He is a dangerous man, Ms. Calder.”
As she walked to the door, Callie heard Jean’s sotto voce rejoinder.
“And he made me a very dangerous woman.”
Callie closed the door quietly behind her as she whispered a silent prayer that she hadn’t just made the biggest mistake of her career with the Crown Attorney’s office.
Callie regarded Jean as they stood waiting in the grey, cinder block antechamber. She had expected to find Jean in her customary faded jeans and worn cardigan, but had been surprised to see the woman had gotten a haircut and was dressed in a smart navy blue suit with a starched white shirt. Judging by the fit, it was obviously a recent purchase. Callie wondered if Jean had gone shopping over the weekend. She wasn’t sure whether to be worried or re-assured by the thought.
A door could be heard clanging open inside the room by which they waited, and Jean drew in a deep breath.
“It will just be a moment now, Jean. Do you remember everything we reviewed on the drive up?”
“Let him speak first so you can get his confession on record, then I can say anything I want.”
“Exactly.” Callie chewed her lip as she watched her companion. “Navarro may try to intimidate you, or aggravate you, or—”
“Relax, Ms Ayrs. Nothing could aggravate me more than the very fact that he’s drawn breath these past 738 days. Nothing he can say stands the slightest chance of getting to me. I’d have to be afraid of Frank Navarro for him to intimidate me. I assure you, I am not afraid.”
In that moment, Callie was a little afraid of Jean Calder. The woman was almost too calm, too glacial, too remote. Callie was glad that she’d briefed the prison staff ahead of time. She desperately wanted the full confession Navarro had promised her, but was apprehensive about the possible results of putting Calder in the same room with Hope Nichol’s killer. She prayed it wasn’t the final straw that would push Jean Calder over the edge. If she isn’t already there.
The door in front of them swung open, and Callie entered first. She was relieved to see that her instructions had been followed to the letter. A long table would separate Jean Calder and Frank Navarro, who sat at the far end. A guard stood behind Navarro’s right shoulder. His eyes were alert and wary, and one hand rested on his gun.
Two wooden chairs were placed opposite Navarro. Callie took one and indicated that Jean should take the other. Once seated, Callie wondered what Jean saw. Did Ms Calder see a sallow, thin, surprisingly calm man with a pockmarked face and an old scar bisecting his left eyebrow, or did she simply see a monster—the nightmare of her wife’s loss embodied in the manacled convict?
Callie removed a recorder from her briefcase, turned it on, stated the date, time and place, and then nodded at Navarro.
The prisoner glanced at Callie, then focused his attention on Jean Calder.
“Ms Calder, I want to thank you for coming. I know it ain’t easy, and I know I’m probably the last person in the world you want to talk to, but it’s important.”
Navarro blinked at Jean, and Callie waited to hear his answer. She wasn’t clear as to exactly what Jean was asking, but she had already decided to interfere as little as possible in the dialogue between these two.
“Because I got a message for you.” Navarro turned his attention to Callie and tapped his hands on the thick stack of loose leaf paper on the table. “Ms Ayrs, I wrote out what you wanted. I ain’t signed it yet, but I will once I have my say.”
Callie nodded at the guard who slid the stack of papers down the length of the table. She swiftly perused the pages and had to suppress a low whistle. Navarro had gone beyond what he had promised. Despite the barely literate account, even a quick scan of the information contained in his confession indicated that more than seven murders would be cleared from the books. He had detailed robberies, assaults, drug dealings, and various other offences committed in his lengthy criminal history.
“Frank Navarro, do you confirm that this is your freely given confession to the murders of John Rimes, Brady Culverton, Guy LaChance, Edward Scott, Farid Boroujerdi, Leonard Lincy and Hope Nichols?”
“Jesus, Lincy’s name was Leonard? No wonder he went by Lep.”
“Mr. Navarro. Do you confirm the confession contained in these pages?”
“Yeah, I do. That’s my confession. Can we get on with this?”
“What is the message?”
Jean’s stern, cold voice echoed in the bleak room, but Navarro shook his head. “No, ma’am, if I tell you right off, she tol’ me you’d head for the door. So I gotta start from the beginning.”
Jean shot Callie an angry look.
Callie frowned at Navarro’s misrepresentation. Although she did suspect Jean would depart as soon as she’d had her say, Callie hadn’t forewarned Navarro while setting up the meeting.
“Those papers pretty much tell the story of my life. I’ve been in the system since b’fore I needed to shave, and my life’s been shit so long that I can’t remember no other way to live. At least I couldn’t until two years ago.”
Navarro leaned forward to the extent his chains would allow and Callie was startled to see the pleading look in his dark eyes as he stared at Jean.
He’s actually trying to reach her. Huh. Not likely. She’d rather break your neck, you son of a bitch.
“Ma’am, I’ve killed a lot of guys needed killin’ over the years, but Ms Nichols, your...um...”
“Wife. She was my wife.” Jean spat the words at Navarro, who didn’t flinch.
“Yes, ma’am, your wife. Well, she was the first good ’un I ever killed.”
Jean snorted. “What about Anne Rimes’ husband?”
“Jackie? Hell, he ran more coke down on the east side than anyone. He wasn’t no angel. ’Sides, it wasn’t like Annie would’a missed him anyway. Only time he took a break from beatin’ the hell outta her and the kids was when he was out dealin’. I did her a favour.”
Jean scowled at Callie, who remained outwardly impassive even as she cursed inwardly. Navarro was telling the truth. All of his reputed victims were as vicious as he was. Callie had selected the photo of Anne and her daughters as the best chance to touch Jean’s heart.
“Anyway, like I said, until that night, I fought an’ killed my own kind.”
“So why her? Why my Hope? Why did you kill her?”
Navarro shook his head, and Callie was surprised to note a baffled look on his face.
“Ma’am, I been asking myself that same question for two years. I’m maybe figurin’ things out a little now, but I gotta go back to explain. Me an’ my old lady had been at it since I got up that mornin’, fighting about... Well, hell, I don’t remember what we was fighting about since we fought every day. It don’t matter anyway, but I was sitting outside having another beer when I saw your wife comin’ down the street. She was lookin’ ’round, like she was tryin’ to find an address; she had a bunch of papers in her hand.”
Navarro stopped and looked questioningly at Jean. “What was she doing down there? I always wondered that. Didn’t usually see her kind of lady in my ’hood.”
Jean sat stony faced; her icy eyes were fixed on Navarro.
Callie interjected, “Ms Nichols was a community worker affiliated with the Elizabeth Fry Society. She was looking for a client who had called in distress earlier that evening.”
“Shit. Might’a known it.” Navarro shook his head in disgust and then with a sigh picked up his narrative. “I ain’t makin’ excuses. There ain’t no excuse for what I did, but it was like somethin’ inside me snapped. I started thinking—who did this bitch think she was? Like was she Miss High and Mighty runnin’ the world cuz she’s a white woman dressed pretty? Did she think she was so much better’n me just because she had money and a nice home to go to at the end of the day? I started getting worked up, and pretty quick I decides to teach her a lesson about who was boss on my street. I waited until she got close. I don’t think she even saw me, because I was sittin’ in the shadows, not movin’ or nothing.”
Navarro shot Callie a shamefaced look. “I didn’t mean to kill her. I swear I didn’t. Wasn’t none of that premeditated shit or anything. I was just going to scare her, take her money, and send her cryin’ home to her husband and kids.”
When neither of the women responded, he sighed and hung his head. “Yeah, I know. Don’t much matter what I intended. She didn’t even resist or nothing. When I pulled my knife on her and told her to give me her wallet, she opened her purse and just gave it to me.”
Navarro clearly struggled with his next words. Callie was surprised to find herself wondering if he’d be able to get through his confession. She had spent over twenty three years with the Crown Attorney’s office and could count on the fingers of one hand how often defendants were truly remorseful for anything other than being caught. Yet she found herself believing Navarro’s account.
“Then why? Why did you kill my wife?”
Callie started at Jean’s words. There was an unnerving dispassion to the question, as if the answer was merely academic. She wondered what was going through Jean’s mind.
Navarro drew in a deep breath and raised his lowered head to meet Jean’s gaze directly. “She looked at me, like...like she knew me and she was real sorry that I’d come to this. Like she wanted to help me. I couldn’t stand it. Who was she not to be afraid of me? To feel sorry for me? Was she fuckin’ nuts? I had to show her, so...I stabbed her.”
Callie tensed as Jean leaned forward and rested her arms on the table.
“So to sum up, you killed my wife of thirty years—the woman who would never knowingly hurt anyone or anything in this world, because you felt she was...what? Disrespecting you?”
Navarro scratched the grey stubble on his chin. “Yeah, I guess. Ain’t like I thought it all through first, but that sounds ’bout right.”
“You contemptible scum. You miserable, low-life, bastard! You sorry excuse for—”
Jean’s voice rose as her anger finally erupted and shattered her calm façade. Callie put a cautionary hand on Jean’s arm, but it was Navarro’s next words that cut short the invective.
“Ain’t nothing you can call me I ain’t called myself, Ms Calder. You’re right. I wasn’t worth her littlest finger. Still ain’t. I think I knew that when I stuck my blade in her belly, and I sure by God knows it now.”
Despite her intentions to stay out of the exchange, Callie couldn’t stop herself from blurting a reprisal of Jean’s question. “Why? What’s changed since then?”
Navarro twisted his head to look at Callie. The genuine pain in his eyes was in stark contrast to the soulless gaze of most murderers with whom she’d dealt.
“It changed right that second. She grabbed my wrist as she fell, and I couldn’t shake her off. I just wanted to pull out my knife and run, but she wouldn’t let go. I shook her, even hit her, but she had a grip on my arm like goddamned steel. And then... I ain’t ever gonna forget what she said.”
Callie strained to hear as Navarro’s voice had dropped to a near whisper. “What? What did she say?”
“You gotta know, she was dying. I’d gutted her up bad trying to get my hand away and there was blood everywhere. She was dying. She knew it too, but still she hangs on. She says to me, clear as a bell, ‘All souls are equal’, and then she falls back dead and my knife comes out. I stood staring at her body. I couldn’t believe what I’d heard. I’d just killed her. How the fuck could she say our souls were equal? Then I ran like Hell itself was after me. She’s been haunting me ever since.”
“Good! I hope you see her every time you close your eyes, every moment you’re awake, and with every lousy breath you take. I hope she haunts you every hour of every day.”
“Like she does you?” Navarro regarded Jean with odd compassion. “But you don’t understand. I ain’t just haunted by the memory of taking her life; I’m really haunted by her. Her ghost’s been with me since that night.”
Callie groaned inwardly. Navarro’s confession was worthless if he was mentally incompetent or pretending to be so. She hissed impatiently and reached out a hand to turn off the recorder, only to feel Jean’s hand close around hers. Callie turned to Jean in surprise and saw the woman’s gaze was fastened intently on Navarro.
“Why should I believe you? She’s never once reached out to me from beyond her grave, and we spent over thirty years together.”
“She can’t reach you. You’re too angry and she can’t break through that. She did tell me to tell you something, though.” Navarro turned over his right hand, and Callie saw some writing on the wrist. “She said she was sad you wasn’t looking after Mr. Rigley. I wrote it down so I wouldn’t forget. Who’s Mr. Rigley, your dog or something?”
To Callie’s shock, Jean blanched and swayed. Callie quickly put her arm around Jean who uttered a strangled response.
“Our elderly neighbour, Mr. Jacob Wrigley. Hope adopted him as a surrogate father. She fussed over him constantly, and urged me to do the same. I always told her I had a perfectly good father of my own, and besides, I was generally so tired after work that I only wanted time with her. I haven’t seen him...”
“Since she died?”
“Since you murdered her. So you’re telling me that my wife, whom I cherished and adored, has regular ghostly visits with her killer, but has not so much as made a candle flicker in our home?”
“It ain’t like it’s been a barrel of laughs, Ms Calder. I thought I was going outta my fuckin’ mind for the first coupla months. Miss Hope just would not leave me alone. Lining up for chow, goin’ to the infirm’ry, trying to sleep… Hell! She wouldn’t even leave me alone in solitary. Every one started callin’ me Nutty Navarro, cuz I talks to thin air.”
“Good. I hope she’s made your life an unending nightmare.”
“Ma’am, I’ve only knowed your wife these last coupla years, and even I know better than that. Do you really think that Miss Hope would use her afterlife just to haunt me and make me miserable?”
“All right, this is getting a little too surreal. If we could revisit the facts of the confession—”
Callie’s attempt to return the discussion to saner ground failed as Jean and Navarro ignored her.
“You’re right. Hope wouldn’t do that. I would but she wouldn’t.” Jean leaned back and regarded Navarro speculatively. “So why exactly is she spending time with you?”
Navarro rolled his eyes. “She says she’s tryin’ to educate me, raise me up. She always hammers me with ‘If not you, who? If—’”
“Not now, when?” Jean laughed softly, a sound so unexpected that even the guard looked shocked. “Hope used to say that all the time. It was her mantra. Every time I’d get angry at one of her causes taking up all her free time, that’s what she’d say. ‘If not you, who? If not now, when? I told her over and over, it wasn’t up to her to save the world. She said she wasn’t trying to. She only wanted to make her tiny corner a little bit better.”
“Yes, ma’am, and that’s the thing. Six months ago Miss Hope started working on me to confess it all. I told her no way, that they’d throw the key away and I’d never get out. She said there are worse prisons than iron bars.”
“She’s right. There are.”
Callie looked at Jean sympathetically, aware that Jean’s prison had been far more unbearable than Navarro’s. He at least knew he deserved to be where he was.
“Yeah, I learnt that finally.” Navarro looked at the sheaf of papers sitting in front of Callie. “I’ll sign those anytime you want, Ms Ayrs.”
Callie stood and pushed the papers and a pen back across the table. As Navarro laboriously began to sign, Jean spoke up.
“So that’s all? The whole message from Hope was to look after Mr. Wrigley?”
Navarro finished and gave the guard the papers and pen to return to Callie. “No, ma’am, but I tried to tell Miss Hope you wouldn’t want to hear the other part.”
“No, ma’am. I think you’re gonna have to just believe me on this.”
“Even your death would not begin to pay me a fraction of what you owe me, Mr. Navarro. If my wife gave you a message for me, then you owe me the courtesy of delivering it.”
Navarro shook his head. “She wants you to do something you ain’t gonna want to do, and I don’t feel like askin’ you.”
“Because it would mean you havin’ to see me again, and that ain’t right. Two years of talkin’ with Miss Hope—I know what you lost. I hurt you worse’n I ever hurt anyone. I don’t want to do that no more.”
“Tell me what Hope wants.”
“How come you believe me anyway? Ms Ayrs don’t.”
“Ms Ayrs did not know Hope. You are clearly an uneducated man. There is no possibility that you could’ve guessed Hope’s mantra or known of her concern for our elderly neighbour. There is certainly nothing in any public or private record of those facts, and, believe me, I’ve read obsessively on your case. Ergo, the only source of that information is Hope herself. I find that simultaneously disquieting and comforting.”
Navarro grinned and shook his head. “She said you’d talk like you swallowed a dictionary. Said you can’t help the teacher in you.”
Jean ignored his digression. “What did my wife wish me to do in her stead?”
“Teach me to read proper.”
“Miss Hope gave me a list of books to read. Said it would start opening my mind. She says that’s the first step to opening my soul. I can get most of them through the prison library—they can order them in for me. I tried the first one on her list and it’s like it ain’t even written in English. Miss Hope said you been a teacher all your life, and you could teach me. I told her you’d rather stick hot nails in your eyes, but she said you never could resist a challenge and that you swore you’d never met a student you couldn’t teach.”
Jean closed her eyes for a long moment, and turned to Callie. “I cannot begin to tell you how many times she said those words to me. How macabre. My wife wishes me to teach her killer to read so he can attain enlightenment. It’s so Hope and so hopeless. How could she possibly think I’d agree?”
“That’s what I tried to tell her. But she said,” Navarro awkwardly pushed up his left sleeve to read the long string of writing on his forearm. “Tell Jean, I will not lose her to the darkness. With all my love, I ask this final favour. Remember November 7th. Remember my promise.”
Jean gasped and stiffened.
Callie turned to her and was shaken to see that the woman was crying. “Ms Calder? Jean? Are you all right?”
“May I...may I look at his arm? I need to see it for myself.”
Callie started to shake her head, but Jean had such an entreating expression, that she reconsidered.
“I swear, Callie. I won’t try to hurt him.”
“It’s okay, Ms Ayrs. Even if she did, ain’t no more’n I deserve.”
Callie shot a look at Navarro, who was holding his arms extended forward. She glanced at the guard, who looked bewildered at the odd exchange between prisoner and victim. He stiffened as he realized the attorney was sending him a nonverbal caution, and he nodded firmly.
“Okay. Go ahead, Jean. But no nonsense.”
Without another word, Jean rose unsteadily and walked around the table. When she was within arm’s length of Navarro, she stopped and stared at him. Navarro didn’t flinch. Jean drew reading glasses out of her bag and perched them on the end of her nose.
Callie watched Jean bend and study the words inked on Navarro’s arm. When she finally straightened, Callie held her breath. Jean Calder would never be in closer proximity to her wife’s murderer. Had this been a ruse to get near him? Could she let this opportunity pass?
When Jean turned her back and walked away, Callie let out a long breath and relaxed. Navarro slumped in his chair, as if the effort of exposing his arm had taken all his strength.
“Can I go back to my cell now?”
Callie turned off the recorder. “Go ahead. Thank you for your cooperation, Mr. Navarro. May I assume that you’re willing to testify to everything you’ve written in your confession?”
“Yeah. Miss Hope made me promise that, too.” Navarro gave a rueful snort. “Probably means I’ll spend the rest of my life in solitary, but she said it would give me lots of time for learnin’. I asked her what good that would do since I can’t understand the damned books anyway.”
Feeling somewhat silly, Callie asked, “What was her response?”
Navarro shrugged. “She said to have faith.” He turned and went through the door had been opened by the guard.
Callie gathered up the written confession and put it into her briefcase. She glanced at Jean, who had stopped in front of the door to the outside corridor. “Are you all right, Ms Calder?”
Jean turned her head and gave Callie a genuine smile. “I am. I should’ve known Hope would kick my ass one way or another. She never could leave me alone with one of my black moods unresolved.”
For the first time, Callie saw Jean’s resemblance to the woman in the painting. Her expression had softened, and there was an introspective calm about her that had been absent since the two had first met in the days following Hope’s murder.
“Callie, may I buy you lunch and tell you a story?”
“I’d like that.”
An hour later, the women were seated in a small diner not far from the prison walls. They had placed their orders and Callie could wait no longer. “Do you really believe that Navarro is being visited by the ghost of your late wife?”
Jean smiled. “I know he is, but I certainly understand that you have doubts.”
“Why don’t you have doubts? Maybe he guessed those things he told you, or had some inside information.”
“Those weren’t guesses. There was simply no way he could’ve known that thirty two years ago, on November 7th, I met Hope for the first time. Even though we always celebrated December 1st as our anniversary since that was our first date. It was in the aftermath of a very messy break-up with my first love. I was in the dumps, trying to drink away my pain in a bar, and this insufferably upbeat little thing sat down beside me. She absolutely refused to leave me in my funk, even when I bitterly complained about how annoying she was. It would be three more weeks before we went out—it took her that long to talk me into it. Before she left me that first night, she told me that we were meant to be together and I might as well get used to the idea. Then she promised she would always be there for me, no matter how bad things got. And she always was.”
“Always?” Callie’s own romantic history was sporadic; few women would put up with the demands of her career.
“Always,” Jean answered firmly. “I used to come home drained from long hours of trying to teach teens with zero interest in learning, and she’d always lift me out of my gloom. She’d remind me over and over of my cocky statement that there was no one I couldn’t teach if I set my mind to it. Over the years I actually earned the right to say that.”
“But you retired early.”
“I had to. After I lost Hope, nothing held my attention, nothing except my fantasies of vengeance.”
“And now Hope has sent a message that she expects better of me. How can I refuse to live up to that?”
“So you’re going to teach Navarro to read?”
“I’m going to continue the work my wife began with Navarro. She was a passionate advocate for the underdog.”
Callie couldn’t help herself. She reached across the table and took Jean’s hand. “But are you sure? Are you sure this is what Hope would want and not some kind of scheme Navarro has cooked up?”
“To what end? You have his signed confession. There was no inducement. How could he have trumped this up? There is no other way he could have known the things he told me this morning. Even our closest friends weren’t privy to all that information.”
“I understand, but I just don’t trust men like him.”
“With good reason, Callie, I’m sure.” Jean smiled and gently extricated her hand as the waitress returned with their order. “Did you notice anything about Navarro signing his confession?”
“No, why? Do you think there was something wrong? Even if he signed the wrong name, I’ve got him on tape admitting to the truth of his confession. He can’t back out of it now.”
“No, that’s not what I meant. He signed with his left hand.”
“Yes, so? He’s a southpaw. That’s in the forensic evidence file.”
“My wife’s words were written on his left arm.”
Callie frowned and then recalled that Jean was correct. Navarro had exposed the writing on his left arm. “So maybe he’d hurt his writing hand or had someone write it for him.”
“I wondered about that myself, which was why I wanted to see his arm.”
Jean’s eyes reflected awe. “It was Hope’s writing on Navarro’s arm, not his.”
“No!” Callie gaped at Jean. “You’re kidding me!”
“I assure you, I’m not. For thirty years Hope left me notes, wrote me cards, and sent me to the grocery store with lists. I know her writing as well as I know my own. The writing on Navarro’s arm was the elegant script of an educated woman not that of a barely literate con working with his subordinate hand.”
“Indeed, wow.” Jean’s eyes sparkled. “Do you know what this means, Callie?”
“It returns hope to my life...lower case ‘h’.”
Callie chuckled. “Well, I didn’t think Hope was going to pop up in the back seat on our drive back.” Changing the subject she gestured at Jean’s untouched plate. “Hey, I thought you ordered a hamburger.”
Jean glanced down for the first time. “I did. Oh, Miss? I’m afraid you got the wrong order here.”
The waitress turned from the table she’d been waiting on and pulled out her order pad. Flipping a couple of pages, she shook her head. “No, ma’am, says right here, Cobb salad.”
“May I see that, please?”
The waitress shot her an annoyed look, but handed over the order pad.
Jean read it and returned it with a smile.
“My mistake. I apologize. The salad will be fine, thank you.”
The waitress hurried off, and Callie frowned. “But I heard you order a hamburger and onion rings. I know I did. She must’ve written it down wrong.”
Jean started to laugh as she picked up her fork. “No, she wrote it down right. It’s just that Hope was forever fretting about how few vegetables I include in my diet.”
“Uh huh. Hope’s busy writing again.”
Callie knew that three hours ago she’d have dismissed that statement as hopeless fancy. Now she not only accepted Jean’s interpretation, she felt mildly envious that Jean had someone concerned for her welfare. “That is truly amazing.”
“No, that’s just Hope. No doubt I’ll get home to find my cobweb covered walking shoes and umbrella set out by the front door, too.” Jean shook her head with affectionate indulgence.
“So, Callie, would you happen to know who I should talk about a prison literacy program?”
“I might. I could certainly get you in to talk to the warden. You want to get started right away?”
“In my wife’s immortal words, if not now...”
Callie grinned, basking in Jean’s radiant smile. “When, eh?”
Jean nodded firmly. “And when is now.”