Guilty Until Proven Innocent
Notes: As you know, my DM stories are in an Alternate Universe, where all the characters are present. So anyway, this story takes place at the beginning of Season Three, only with Jack and Delores still around too! ;) Also, I'm not the one who came up with basic story idea; that would be Becca T at the DM Fanfiction Challenge page! Thanx for a great story idea! :) Also, just for those who are wondering: Since this story takes place around Season Three, it technically takes place before any of my other DM stories, which take place during the present time ;)
Mark Sloan walked down the corridors of Community General, looking in each room to find the other doctor he was searching for. As he passed by the Doctors' Lounge, he paused, then turned and went back.
"There you are!" he declared.
Jack Stewart looked up from the chart he was looking at. "Oh, hey, Mark. What's up?"
Mark came in and sat down. "Well, Norman just told me that a young intern will be joining our staff soon."
"Oh really?" Jack said with interest. "Do you know anything about him?"
Mark paused, thinking. "Well, his name is Jesse Travis," he stated. "He's from the Mid-West, I believe. . . . He's been working down at the Capital Theatre recently in his free time . . ."
"You mean with that play they're putting on for the kids with disabilities?" Jack interrupted.
Mark nodded. "That's right."
Jack smiled. "Well, that's cool. When's he getting here?"
"Tomorrow morning," Mark replied.
The next day when Jack arrived at Community General, he spotted a new face and went over to say hello.
"Hey," he greeted. "You must be Jesse Travis."
"Uh, yeah," Jesse replied a little uncertainly.
"I'm Jack Stewart," Jack said. "I wanted to welcome you to Community General."
Jesse looked relieved. "Thanks!" he replied.
"Hey, listen, have you met Dr. Sloan yet?" Jack asked.
Jesse shook his head. "Actually, I've been looking for him."
"I'll help you find him," Jack offered. "He's really a great guy."
"Thanks," Jesse said again, looking a little surprised by Jack's friendliness.
As they walked down the corridor, Jack said, "So I hear you're working with the play at the Capital Theatre."
Jesse looked down at the floor. "Well, I am . . . kinda."
Before Jack could question what Jesse meant by "kinda," they had arrived at Mark's office. "Well, here we are," he said, making a move to go on in.
"Aren't you going to knock?" Jesse asked.
"Nah. Mark's like a father to me," Jack replied. "I go in unannounced all the time."
With that, he opened the door and went in. Jesse followed a little reluctantly.
"Hey, Mark!" Jack greeted.
Mark looked up from his paperwork. "Hi, Jack," he said, getting up from his desk. "And you must be Jesse," he addressed the young intern, holding out a hand to shake.
"Yes, sir, I am," Jesse replied, feeling more at home every minute. This was different than the other hospitals he'd tried to intern with.
"Well, I've gotta be going on my rounds," Jack said. "You two get acquainted."
They said goodbye to Jack, and then Mark invited Jesse to sit down. "So tell me about yourself," he said. "Did you just move to Los Angeles recently?"
"No, Dr. Sloan, I've been here since I started medical school," Jesse replied. "Over at Benchmark Regional. Then I started my internship at Lakeview."
Mark nodded thoughtfully. "So what made you decide to switch to Community General?" he asked curiously. "Lakeview's a pretty prestigious hospital, from what I'm told."
Jesse looked embarrassed. "I guess so. But, well, I wanted a change," he said evasively.
Mark knew when to drop the subject. "How's the play at the community theatre coming along?" he asked.
"Good," Jesse said vaguely.
"Is Charlie Dwight still the director?"
Jesse nodded. "Yes he is, Dr. Sloan."
"So what does he have you doing? Are you in the play or working backstage?"
"Actually . . . I'm kinda just in the background right now," Jesse said.
Mark nodded. "Yes, old Charlie usually does start new actors out by using them in the background." He looked at his watch. "Well, it's been nice talking to you, Jesse. I guess I'd better get you acquainted with your new patients now or Norman will have a fit."
Jesse smiled, almost laughing at the thought. Norman Briggs had seemed very high-strung when he had met him that morning.
After Jesse's shift was over, he decided to head over to the Capital Theatre. As he went out the door, unknowingly observed by Amanda Bentley, he reflected back how different CG was from the other hospitals he had been working in. The people were so warm, so friendly . . .
Soon he arrived at the theatre and went in. Spotting Charlie Dwight onstage, he went on up. "Hey, Mr. Dwight," he greeted.
Dwight barely looked up. "Hey, kid."
There was a silence. Finally Jesse asked, "So, what do you want me to do, Mr. Dwight?"
"Nothing." Dwight turned a page in the script he was reading.
"Uh . . . nothing?" Jesse repeated.
Dwight looked up, annoyed. "Yeah, kid. Nothing. I'm letting you go!"
Jesse was silent. He'd figured this was coming, but he had been hoping he was wrong. "You're letting me go?"
"Why do you have to repeat everything I say?" Dwight yelled. "What part of 'I'm letting you go' don't you understand?"
"But sir . . . why?" Jesse asked.
"I got Joe Brickman to sign the contract," Dwight replied.
"But sir . . ."
"No buts!" Dwight snapped. "You knew I said I was going to get rid of you when I got Brickman to sign on."
Jesse nodded. "Yes, sir, I know, sir, but I was hoping you'd have changed your mind and would give me another chance."
Dwight started to laugh. "You're pathetic. I *never* change my mind and you know it, Travis." He stopped laughing. "Now I want you out of my theatre."
"But sir, Joe Brickman may be a better actor than me, but he only cares about getting his big break and making money. He doesn't care about the kids!" Jesse protested.
"OUT!" Dwight thundered. "Get out or I'll throw you out personally!"
Jesse quickly backed off the stage and out of the theatre.
Thirty minutes later, Jesse got out of his Volkswagen Beetle and determinedly walked up to the theatre again. He had been in his car all that time, just replaying the scene with Dwight over and over in his head. Now he had decided to try again to get Dwight to listen.
He opened the door and entered. The theatre was now so dark and empty, not like it had been before. "Hello?" he called. "Mr. Dwight?"
He went backstage, where he saw the director on a couch. "Uh, Mr. Dwight?" he said cautiously, tapping him on the shoulder.
He was in for the shock of his life as Dwight fell off the couch and onto the floor. As Jesse kneeled down next to him, he saw something shiny and gasped. "A knife!" Jesse grabbed the handle and pulled it out of the man's flesh in horror.
Suddenly he heard a sound and started to whirl around, but was stopped by a harsh voice.
"Steve, you've gotta be kidding!" Jack gasped. He, Mark, and Amanda were talking to Steve Sloan at the police station.
"I wish I was," Steve sighed. "But the new doctor *was* found holding the murder weapon, and he confessed to me that he was the last person to see Charlie Dwight alive, and he was upset with the guy for firing him."
"Come on, Steve, that's all circumstantial!" Jack protested.
"Even so, if no other suspects turn up, or even if they do, we have enough to convict him," Steve said. "He *was* holding the murder weapon, and no one else was around. There's no one to confirm that he was really sitting in his car for thirty minutes."
Amanda shook her head. "I just can't believe it!" she declared.
"He seemed like such a nice young man," Mark agreed. Realizing he needed to get back to the hospital, he said goodbye to Steve and prepared to leave.
"Aren't you coming, Jack?" Amanda asked.
"Nah. You guys go on ahead," Jack replied.
"Well, alright then," Amanda said uncertainly, following Mark out the door.
Jack turned to Steve. "Can I see Jesse?" he asked.
Steve sighed, but nodded. "Go ahead." He led Jack to the Interrogation room where Jesse was and unlocked the door.
"Hey," Jack said to Jesse, who looked up.
"I didn't do it, Dr. Stewart," Jesse said adamantly. "I didn't kill that man!"
"I believe you," Jack replied. "I'll help you prove your innocence."
Jesse looked at him gratefully. "You would do that?" he asked, almost disbelieving. "Why? You barely even know me!"
"I know enough," Jack said. "I know what it's like when no one will give you a chance and then someone finally does." He paused. "Can you think of anyone who might've wanted to see Charlie Dwight dead?"
Jesse sighed. "Well, Charlie Dwight wouldn't get the Humanitarian Award, as I'm sure you already know." Jack half-smiled in agreement. "He's fired a lot of actors, and even crew members, just because the line was wrong even just *once* or the lights were pink instead of blue. He's hurt a lot of feelings and stepped on a lot of people even just in the little while I've known him, but I didn't think any one of them would be angry enough to kill the guy."
"Unfortunately, *someone* was," Jack said grimly. "Do you remember seeing anything . . . unusual when you went back in the theatre?"
"Well, I don't know about you, but seeing a guy with a knife sticking out of his chest is pretty unusual," Jesse replied sarcastically.
In spite of the seriousness of everything, Jack had to crack a smile. "Yeah, for me too," he said. "What I meant was anything else, anything that could be a clue."
Jesse paused. "I don't think so . . . no, wait a minute! I *did* see something . . . a piece of paper . . . kind of green. . . ."
"Money?" Jack suggested.
"It could've been," Jesse agreed, "but it looked a little different."
"Do you remember where it was on the stage?" Jack asked.
"Actually, I think I accidentally pushed it under the couch when I went over to Mr. Dwight," Jesse replied almost apologetically.
"Hey, don't worry," Jack said. "That's actually a good thing. The police haven't really been over the stage all that thoroughly, so the odd are pretty good that it's still there." He didn't add aloud the rest, that the police hadn't looked very thoroughly because they were so convinced Jesse did it. "As soon as my shift's over tomorrow, I'll go check things out at the theatre," he promised.
"Gee, thanks, Dr. Stewart," Jesse said gratefully.
Jack grinned. "Hey, no problem," he said as he got up to leave. "Just hang in there and I'll have you out in no time!"
The next day, Jack got off his shift around sunset.
"So where are you off to, Jack?" Mark asked.
Jack paused. "Actually, Mark, I'm going to poke around the Capital Theatre."
Mark looked at Jack seriously. "Jack, you know it's almost an open-and-shut case here."
"Mark, usually you don't believe in open-and-shut cases," Jack returned. "You've taught me to never overrule other possibilities."
"I know, Jack, and you're right," Mark agreed. "I'm just telling you because sometimes there really are open-and-shut cases. And Dr. Travis *was* holding the murder weapon."
"Well, Mark, thanks for your concern, but I honestly believe Jesse is innocent, and I'm going to prove it!"
And with that, Jack was gone.
Mark watched him go. "I hope you're right, my friend," he said softly. "I hope you're right."
By the time Jack reached the Capital Theatre, it was totally dark outside. It wasn't much lighter inside, he discovered, opening the door after picking the lock. He tried to turn on the light, only to discover the bulb was burned out. The only lights he could get to come on were the brightly colored stage lights. "Well, it's better than nothing," he decided ruefully.
The backstage area no longer had the yellow "Crime Scene" tape around it, though the police's outline of where Dwight had been was still on the floor.
The couch was right above the outline, Jack noted, and started to inspect it. "Aha!" he exclaimed, upon discovering bloodstains deep inside the couch cushions, where it never could have just splattered if Jesse had stabbed him while he was standing up, as the police claimed.
After a thorough inspection of the couch, Jack slid it along to look underneath. There wasn't any green piece of paper. Instead there was a long, wide, empty wooden box. Jack looked it over for a minute, then pushed it aside. Underneath was a perfect square in the floor. Jack blinked once or twice and looked again, but it was still there . . . some kind of trapdoor. "Probably just some kind of storage unit," he decided, but he wanted to investigate it further anyway.
He tried to pry it up, but found it stuck. "I need a crowbar," he muttered, standing up.
He didn't get any further. Without warning, something very hard and very heavy crashed down on his head. Everything exploded in a mass of color before fading to black.
Somewhere in this strange world of oblivion, Jack could hear voices, rough voices, in the form of a strange dream he was having.
"You took care of him, Harry!" the first, sporting a harsh New Jersey accent, cackled.
"Yeah, but now what're we going to do with him?" the one called Harry asked.
"Ahh, just leave him there. Someone'll find him. It'll look like an accident," the first replied.
"You know, I really wish we hadn't have murdered old Dwight," Harry muttered.
"Hush up, Harry!" the first one hissed. "Don't you know that unconscious people can sometimes hear conversations around them?" He gave poor Jack a swift kick.
"Oh, that's hogwash," Harry growled, but quieted down. "The guy's probably dead anyway, or will be soon."
"Come on, let's go somewhere else," the first one said, leading Harry off the stage. Their footsteps faded away.
He felt fingers running through his hair. Long fingers. At first it seemed to be part of this strange dream, or rather, nightmare, but then he realized it was real, and, as a matter of fact, was quite pleasant.
Then he heard a very familiar female voice calling him. "Jack! Answer me! Say something!"
By now semi-conscious, Jack moaned softly.
Another voice, belonging to one Steve Sloan, remarked slightly caustically, "Well, so he *is* alive. He even had me a little worried there."
Jack managed to pry his eyes open. He was still laying on the stage, looking up into Amanda's worried brown eyes. "Amanda, Jesse didn't kill Charlie Dwight," he said weakly.
"I know you believe that, Jack," Amanda replied soothingly.
"No, really. I heard the murderers talking," Jack said, struggling to get up.
"Jack, you'd better rest," Amanda said. "You were hit on the head with that loose door over there." She pointed to a large wooden door laying on the floor.
"They hit me with it," Jack insisted. "I'm not stupid enough to make it fall over on me!"
Amanda had to smile, but then turned serious again. "And why would they hit you with it, Jack?"
"Because they didn't want me investigating that trapdoor," Jack replied simply, rubbing his head.
"Excuse me, trapdoor?" Steve interrupted.
"In the floor," Jack said. "Underneath the couch!" He looked around. "Hey! They moved the couch back where it was before!"
"Jack, the police didn't find any trapdoor," Steve insisted.
"Yeah, well, that's because the *police* didn't look hard enough!" Jack snapped back. "You've all been so convinced that Jesse did it that you didn't even bother to thoroughly search this place like you might normally do."
Steve paused. As much as he hated to admit it, Jack was probably right. Steve himself hadn't been involved in the searching of the theatre, but he realized that the officers who were probably really didn't look as thoroughly.
"What are you guys doing here, anyway?" Jack asked.
"Well, Jack, you may not know it, but you've been gone for quite a long time," Amanda said. "My shift ended, Mark was getting worried, and he sent me to find you."
"You too, Steve?" Jack turned his attention back to the police lieutenant.
Steve shook his head. "Actually, no. I had no idea you were here. I was driving down the street when I noticed it looked like the door was open and I decided I should check things out." He paused for effect, then couldn't hold back a mischievous grin. "When I did, I found Amanda about ready to have a nervous breakdown."
Amanda glared at him. "I was not!"
Jack had to grin too. "Really, Amanda? You were really worried about me?"
Amanda tried to look deadpan. "No, Jack, I knew you were fine," she replied. "Any yelling Steve might have heard was me being angry at the ridiculous predicament you'd gotten yourself into."
"That's not the way I saw it," Steve said, his blue eyes twinkling. "When I came in, Amanda didn't see me at first and she was shrieking 'Speak to me, Jack, speak to me!'"
Jack looked back at Amanda, who was doing her best to remain deadpan. Nothing she could do could hide the blushing from her face, though. "You were, Amanda! You *were* worried about me!" he declared.
Amanda broke down. "Alright, so maybe I was a *little* worried," she admitted. "But we're getting off the subject. What about that trapdoor?"
Steve sighed. "Well, maybe I can bring some officers back tomorrow to look at it . . ."
"C'mon, Steve, why can't we just go down now?" Jack pleaded. "Jesse's been in jail long enough already!"
"Jack . . ."
"We'd be with a police officer," Jack went on.
Steve sighed. "Oh, alright. I don't want you coming back and sneaking around in here at midnight."
Before they could attempt to go down, the door opened and Mark came in.
"What's going on in here?" he exclaimed. "First Jack comes here and I don't hear anything from him, then Amanda goes out looking for him and I don't hear anything from her either! Is everyone alright?"
"Yeah, dad, everyone's fine," Steve replied. "Now, anyway."
"Oh, Mark, I'm sorry, I should have called," Amanda said apologetically, "but there was so much going on, and I was so worr . . . er, well, I just didn't think about it," she finished hurriedly.
Mark looked at them seriously. "There's something you three aren't telling me," he declared.
Jack returned the look with a curious one. "Mark, how do you always know?"
Mark smiled. "Intuition," he replied. "Now, would someone please tell me what's been going on here?"
"Jack was nearly killed by that heavy door over there!" Amanda burst out.
Mark's mouth dropped open. "What?!"
"Mark, really, it was nothing," Jack said. "I'm fine."
"Fine, my foot!" Amanda exclaimed. "I couldn't wake you up for the longest time!"
Much to Steve's amusement, Jack was turning red with embarrassment. "Uh, well, let's just forget about that for now," he said. "Let's investigate that trapdoor!"
Mark looked at Jack with concern. "You were unconscious, Jack?"
"Yeah, Mark, if you want to put it that way, I was unconscious." Jack looked frustrated. "I was knocked out by the guys who murdered Dwight."
"Are you sure?" Mark asked.
By now Steve had moved the couch and saw the trapdoor, just as Jack had described, and was prying it up with Amanda's nail filer.
"I'm positive, Mark," Jack replied. "Jesse really didn't do it!"
"Hey," Steve called suddenly from under the stage, "there's something down here!"
Mark and Jack rushed over and looked down. Steve and Amanda were standing directly under the opening in the stage. Amanda was holding a handful of greenbacks.
"There's money down there?" Mark asked, astonished.
"That's right," Steve confirmed. "But not just any money. This is what is known as 'funny money.'"
"Counterfeit money?" Jack exclaimed.
"But what in the world is it doing under the stage of the Capital Theatre?" Mark wondered.
"It doesn't look like it's been here long," Amanda announced.
"Jesse said he saw some green piece of paper when he came in and found Dwight," Jack said.
Steve got out his fingerprint kit and dusted a nearby shelf. "Well, we'll just see what we can find out from these," he said, upon seeing several almost perfect prints.
Jesse looked at Jack in amazement. "A counterfeiting operation?" he exclaimed.
"That's right," Jack said. "Right under the stage. Steve said he found the printing press and the ink and everything. Unfortunately, the guys behind it all have skipped out, but the police have put out an APB."
"Have they found a match for the fingerprints yet?" Jesse asked.
"You know, actually, they did," Jack replied. "Some of them belong to a guy by the name of Harold Marx, and the others, well . . ." He paused. "You won't believe this, Jesse, but they belong to one Joseph Brickman."
"The guy who Dwight replaced me with?" Jesse *couldn't* believe it.
"You got it," Jack said.
Jesse shook his head. "And I thought I was confused when I *didn't* know what was going on!"
Jack grinned. "Well, there's still definitely some loose ends to be tied up. Tell me, what do you know about this Brickman guy?"
Jesse shrugged. "There's really not a lot to tell. He's self-centered, rude, and a real snob." He grinned lopsidedly. "I could be describing Charlie Dwight."
"He just walked on the stage one day, upstaged me, and Dwight loved it. He shoved me into the background and started trying to get Brickman to sign a contract." Jesse sighed. "I didn't really care what part I had, or even if I had any part at all. I just wanted the kids to enjoy the show and have a good time, and unfortunately, Brickman is not the kind of guy you want to do a show for kids. He calls them brats and just wants them to get out of his way."
Jack nodded. "You know what I think happened? Charlie Dwight must've learned about the funny money being printed right under the stage and threatened to report it. So the murderer, or murderers, hid under the stage, waited for you to leave, and then killed him. When they heard you coming back in, they went under the stage again, and that's why no one saw anyone but you going in the theatre."
"Maybe," Jesse said slowly. "But things still aren't making much sense." He paused. "And how long do I have to keep staying here in jail?"
Now Jack paused, then grinned. "You know, I just had an idea. Now if I can just convince Mark and Steve to go along with it!"
"This is nuts!" Steve grumbled. He, Mark, Jack, and Amanda were hiding behind a bush, watching Jesse, who was standing by his Volkswagen Beetle, looking around anxiously.
"I'm getting cramped in here," Amanda complained.
"Come on, guys, just a few more minutes," Jack said. "They'll be here."
Basically, Jack's plan had been for the police department to pretend to release Jesse because they didn't have enough evidence to hold him, whereupon Jesse would announce to the press that he had proof on who the real killer was. Then, just as planned, someone had called Jesse and they negotiated to meet there near the woods.
Suddenly Mark exclaimed, "Here comes someone!" and everyone quieted down.
Jesse gulped as three guys approached him, then tried to sound tough. "So you came," he said.
"Yeah, we came," the first said. "So what is this so-called proof you have?"
"Well, when you guys went into the theatre to murder Dwight, you must've noticed a strange-shaped thing at the top of the stage," Jesse said, hoping he sounded convincing.
The three guys looked at each other, then back at Jesse.
"It was actually a security camera," Jesse announced.
They all burst into laughter. "Oh yeah," the second guffawed. "Like the police wouldn't have looked at it!"
"They didn't believe me when I told them what it really was," Jesse replied. "They insisted it was really the remains of the old boom, which is what it did look like from a distance. That was done on purpose, so no one would know what it was."
"Then how do you know?" the third asked.
"I was the only one with Mr. Dwight when the man came to install it," Jesse said. "After the police released me, I went to the theatre and got the video out of the camera. And sure enough, there were you guys, murdering Dwight!" Jesse pulled a tiny camera out of his pocket. "It's all right here. And I'll turn it over to the police unless you guys let me in on your counterfeiting racket."
"Gosh, Joe, look at that!" the third one gasped.
The second one grabbed the camera and looked it over. "He isn't lying!" he exclaimed. "This really is a security camera! He really can prove we murdered old Dwight!"
The first one, Joe, muttered to himself. Finally he said aloud, "Alright, you're in."
"Great!" Jesse rubbed his hands together. "I've always wanted to pass out funny money."
Behind the bush, Steve smiled. "Good! They admitted they murdered Dwight, and thanks to the tape recorder Jesse's carrying, it's all on tape!" Quickly he spoke into his microphone. "Officers! Move in!"
Instantly six more police officers appeared, and they, along with Steve, came out.
"Police! Freeze!" Steve yelled.
Jesse shuddered, remembering only a few days before when those very words had been spoken to him.
The three baddies gasped, and then Joe and Harry tried to run, but were stopped by Jack, Mark, and Amanda and brought back.
Harry gasped when he saw Jack. "You!! But . . . you're supposed to be *dead*!"
"Oh really? It takes more than a hunk of wood to kill me!" Jack replied, as the police cuffed the baddies and carted them off.
Jesse gaped at Jack. He hadn't been told anything like that! "You were nearly killed trying to prove I was innocent?" he gasped.
"It was nothing," Jack replied.
Amanda took Jesse aside. "Nothing, my foot," she said in low tones. "He was hit on the head with a door." She smiled and said louder, "He was the only one who believed you were innocent, and he was willing to go to any length to prove it." She paused. "Will you forgive me for not believing you?" she asked.
Jesse grinned. "Sure," he said. He had a feeling he was going to like this Amanda a lot!
"Me too," Mark said, coming up. "Dr. Travis, I am truly sorry I didn't believe you."
"It's okay, really," Jesse said. "I'm just relieved that you all finally know that I am innocent."
"Jesse, I havta ask," Jack said, coming up to the young intern, "what's *really* in that camera?"
Jesse grinned sheepishly. "Actually, what I told those guys was partly true. This is a security camera. But it didn't come from the theatre. There aren't any security cameras there." He paused. "There's one thing I really feel bad about."
"And what's that?" Mark asked.
"Well, Charlie Dwight was the one putting the play together for the kids. Now they probably won't get to see it." Jesse looked down at the ground.
Mark looked thoughtful.
"Mark, are you thinking what I think you're thinking?" Amanda queried.
Mark grinned. "I think so," he replied. "The kids will get to see that play yet!"
As they walked to their cars hidden in the brush, Jack said, "Well, congratulations, Jesse. You've successfully completed your first murder mystery here!"
Jesse gave him a funny look. "My 'first'? You mean there will be others?"
Jack grinned. "Well, let's just say we're all kind of amateur detectives here. There will probably be many more cases, but hopefully no more where one of us is accused of the murder!"
"Many more cases? What have I gotten myself into?" Jesse joked. He paused. "You know, I might just get used to this."
Mark smiled. "Welcome to the family, Jesse Travis."