"Lieutenant? There's a guy here who says he has relevant information about Nathan Stern."
Grizzled Lieutenant of Detectives Hiram Baker looked up with a frown. "Not another crazy theory about how the girl was killed?"
"No, sir. We've started weeding them out, like you told us. This guy says he has real information about Stern."
"Fine, send him in."
Much as he hated to admit it, Baker feared they'd never be able to establish how Sarah Feldman's neck had been broken. It would have required superhuman strength; and even assuming that strength, none of the marks on her neck were consistent with external trauma. No depressions left by human fingers, or by any type of garrote; no indication that a heavy object had struck or crushed her neck.
Privately, he also feared they'd never learn who had killed her. It was the higher-ups who'd insisted on arresting Nathan Stern and Tommy Dolan. The D.A. had it in for Stern, the best and most successful defense attorney in all California. And Baker had to admit that in years gone by, KZAK's Tommy Dolan had sometimes been a royal pain. The station itself was a royal pain!
But Baker had paid close attention to the just-completed trial. The case presented by Stern - based on logic, and the testimony of dozens of witnesses, who couldn't all have lied - had convinced him Dolan was innocent before Dolan himself took the stand. Therefore, as he saw it, Dolan's testimony must have been truthful. An innocent man has no need to lie.
If there was no perjury, the higher-ups were wrong in arguing that Stern and Dolan had killed Sarah Feldman because she'd overheard them discussing perjury.
And he was sure, not only that those two men couldn't have broken Sarah's neck, but that Stern's shock and grief over her death were real. Good defense attorneys develop some acting skills, but not the kind that would have been needed in this situation.
Unfortunately, he wasn't sure Stern and Dolan wouldn't be tried, convicted, and hanged.
Let's hope this - potential witness, or whatever he is - has something good to say about Stern!
The man ushered into his office was in his mid-twenties, bespectacled and earnest-looking. He introduced himself as Charlie Fitch, an apprentice jeweler with Roseboro's Jewelers.
"Good of you to come in, Mr. Fitch. I know your firm. What do you have to tell us?"
"Well, I read in today's paper that you've charged Nathan Stern with murdering Sarah Feldman, and someone said there's no proof they were engaged. When I looked at his picture, I realized he came in our store a few days ago. The day before the murder, it would've been.
"I didn't know who he was at the time. I mean, I'd heard of Nathan Stern - who hadn't? - but I didn't know what he looked like.
"When he came in the store, he said he couldn't decide whether to buy a diamond ring for his fiancee and surprise her with it, or bring her in and let her pick it out herself. He got real flustered about it, said they'd just gotten engaged, and he didn't know what was the right way to go about buying the ring! We kidded around, talking about girls. But it was clear he was in love with his Sally.
"When I think what happened to her the next day...God, it's terrible!"
"Yes, sir, it is," Baker agreed. "Can you tell me whether Mr. Stern did or didn't buy a ring?"
"Oh - he didn't. When I found out he didn't even know Sally's ring size, I told him he should definitely bring her in. We wound up having a good laugh about it.
"And now...now..." Fitch shook his head. "I can't believe what happened. But I know Mr. Stern never would have killed her!"
Baker dutifully recorded everything, including Fitch's contact information, and sent him on his way.
This was very good. The brass were claiming there was no evidence Stern and Sarah Feldman had been a couple. Even her parents couldn't confirm it. Stern had provided a plausible explanation: they'd only been engaged for a few days, and Sally had meant to tell her parents in person, when she took him to meet them. But the only people he said had known were close friends of his, whose testimony couldn't be trusted.
Of course, it was a trifle odd that he'd forgotten about Fitch...
And that Fitch hadn't recognized him at the time, when his picture had been in the paper every day of the trial. If Fitch had been aware that customer was Nathan Stern, he could have come forward three days ago, when it was first reported that Stern had been taken into custody and the engagement was being questioned...
But Fitch had referred to the dead woman as "Sally." All the news reports had given her name as Sarah. Many, perhaps most, Sarahs were nicknamed Sally. But the jeweler's apprentice would hardly have risked using that nickname if he wasn't sure.
Baker smiled. Yes, on balance, a credible witness.
An hour later, he was gazing across his desk at someone he'd thought would never walk into a police station voluntarily. A local crime boss, Seth Janssen.
Janssen said reproachfully, "I was sure you people would come to your senses, Lieutenant, and release Nathan Stern. That's why I didn't call or come by days ago. But since you've actually charged him and Dolan, I have to speak up.
"I phoned Stern's office that morning - was probably the last person to speak with Sarah Feldman, except for, maybe, the killer."
Baker nodded. "Yes, we know. Miss Feldman kept meticulous records of calls, even the time. It was only ten minutes before she died." He'd wanted to touch base with everyone she'd spoken with that morning, but his Captain - sure they had the killers - had ruled out using police time that way.
"I was hoping to retain Stern to represent one of my, er, associates, Joseph Van Vranken -"
"Ah, yes. We know." Joey Van Vranken was a thug. Even Stern could probably have done no better than get the murder charge against him reduced to manslaughter.
And he was free on bail.
"Miss Feldman told me she couldn't make any promises, because Stern had so much work, and he never had represented any of my...associates. She said she'd speak to him about it, when he was finished with the meeting he was in.
"But she was very pleasant, not in a rush to cut me off. I wanted to make a good impression, so I said some flattering things about her boss. And then she spoke of him - what's the word I want? - glowingly.
"I thought I'd kid her a little bit, about having a crush on him. She laughed and said I'd caught her, but it was more than a crush. They were in love, and planning to be married! She sounded so young and h-happy -" His voice broke, and Baker realized the tough crime boss was blinking back tears. "She m-made me think of my own daughter, you know? Hoping Margie will find happiness like that, when she meets the right guy.
"And you cops are claiming that girl was about to report Stern for some crime or other, and he was about to come out of his office and kill her? You're nuts!"
Another hour, another potential witness. Or rather, two of them.
Patrick Robbins and Blake Anderson were insurance adjusters, two of several who worked out of the office suite directly across the hall from Stern's.
Baker remembered what they, and the many other workers on that floor of the building, had initially told his officers. Still in shock, they'd related how they'd been terrified on hearing a man's screams. They'd rushed out into the hall - thinking mostly of fire. But a visibly shaken Tommy Dolan had come out of Stern's office, and quickly told them Stern's secretary had been murdered. He'd said the killer had probably gotten away, or at least off their floor; but to be safe, they should go back in their offices and lock their doors. He'd call the police.
They'd willingly let him do it. Tommy Dolan was a take-charge kind of guy.
And it's a good thing he is, Baker reflected. Under the circumstances, he undoubtedly did the right thing.
Robbins said now, "I was so upset when I talked to the cops that I wasn't thinking clearly. Later, I got to thinking I might have heard something else, something that could be important. But I wasn't sure whether I was just imagining it, or was wrong about the timing -"
Baker was about to butt in and demand "What?" But before he could, Robbins was droning on. "And then, when it was reported you were actually charging Mr. Stern and Mr. Dolan, I got talking to Blake about it."
Anderson chimed in, "And I'd been having the same worries, not sure I'd heard what I thought I had, when I thought I had. But now we know we couldn't both be wrong."
Reining in his impatience, Baker asked, "What did you hear?"
Then they both started talking at once.
But Robbins finally emerged as the spokesman, and explained that from within their suite, they'd heard the door of Stern's suite open and close, and had then heard "footsteps hurrying away," about ten seconds before Stern began screaming.
Nathan Stern was bewildered on hearing he and Dolan were suddenly being released, all charges dropped. But when it sank in, the first words out of his mouth were, "Did you find out who really killed Sally?"
Lieutenant Baker, who'd delivered the news in person, shook his head. "I'm sorry, Mr. Stern. We'll keep trying, but I won't be surprised if this one is never solved.
"I'm glad, though, that we can release the two of you. The public's been on your side from the start - thanks mostly to Kay-Zack." Here he gave a grudging nod to Dolan. "And enough new facts have come to light that everyone agrees they couldn't get indictments."
They, not we, Nate noted. Meaning Baker had never identified with the higher-ups who'd wanted those indictments.
He thought of asking about the "new facts." But Dolan - sticking to him like glue - seemed in a hurry to get away from the station, and some instinct told him explanations could wait.
When they stepped out onto the street, a car was waiting to pick them up - at the wheel, a grinning Walt Ellison. Dolan sang out, "I knew you'd come through for us, Walt!"
An hour later, they were finishing a restaurant meal. Ellison had explained the "new facts," while he and Dolan tried mightily to suppress their good cheer in deference to Nate's grief over Sally.
Leaning back in his chair, Nate said carefully, "I don't quite understand this." But he thought he did. "Sally was the ultimate professional in her conversations with callers. We were in love, yes. But she wouldn't have gushed about me on the phone, or talked about her personal life with someone like Seth Janssen.
"The door of the suite across the hall would have been closed at that hour. With it closed, Robbins and Anderson wouldn't have been able to hear my door open and close.
"And I've never set foot in Roseboro's Jewelers!"
"Well, Nate..." Ellison weighed his words. "Think of it this way. You did me a good turn, when you got all public-spirited and insisted on defending Tommy pro bono. You saved me a lot of money. And a penny saved..."
Nate frowned. "...is a penny earned?"
"I like to finish that saying differently." Ellison gave a broad wink. "A penny saved is a penny that can be spent on something else."
Author's Afterword: For fans who don't know: Daniel Knauf originally planned to have Tommy Dolan killed by the enraged mob before the police could take him into custody. Clancy Brown talked him out of "killing off" the character; but I doubt we would have seen Tommy again. With the character written out in midseason, actor Rob Knepper wouldn't have been under contract, and probably wouldn't have been available if he was asked to return. My guess is that viewers would have been told - or left to assume – that Tommy had been hanged.