Thursday, May 22

"It looks like you have enough for an easy conviction," ADA Whitney said. He and Captain Ross were standing beside the detectives' desks in the squad room. "Why not save yourselves the trouble of an interrogation - Ackerman's lawyer isn't going to let him talk to you."

Ross exchanged glances with both his detectives. "Don't be too sure about that," he said. "Come on, Counselor, let's get into the observation room." Ross led the ADA away.

They'd seen Ackerman's lawyer ushered through the squad room well over an hour ago, but neither Alex nor Bobby had done more than briefly glance up from their research.

Now, with their plan in place, they were ready to begin the interrogation. Bobby held a large stack of papers under his arm as he and Alex approached the interrogation rooms.

"You want me to take some of that?" Alex asked. She carried one thin folder.

"No, thanks, I'm going to, um..." Bobby gestured with his free hand.

"Ah, I see," she said, smiling at him. "Never a dull moment." Her partner was planning a show to put Ackerman off his guard.

He winked at her as he reached for the door handle, and then his face relaxed into a bored expression. In a loud voice he said, "..but when I got to the repair shop they'd already replaced the whole-" Bobby's head turned sharply, and he stopped short as he looked into the room at Ackerman and his lawyer.

Alex tried to swerve, but she ran smack into Bobby.

He'd swiftly pivoted so that she collided with his arm that was supporting the papers. He tilted into the room, and just barely got to the table before the stack slipped from his grasp. It all took only a second or two, and even though Alex knew it was coming, it still surprised her.

She was glad the two men seated at the table focused their attention on the mess that was spilling into their laps, because she couldn't hold back a short laugh at Bobby's perfect performance. She quickly peeked toward the mirror, hoping the captain would recognize the tactic.

By the time she turned back toward the others she was grimacing in annoyance at her clumsy partner. She picked her way around him to the chair at the far end of the table.

As Bobby shoveled the papers back toward himself, he said, "Sorry about that- I was surprised to see you here so early."

"Early!" the lawyer shouted. "Are you serious? I've been sitting here almost two hours, waiting for you!"

Bobby stared at him open-mouthed, then turned to Alex, and back to the lawyer. "Really? We understood you wouldn't get her until..." He checked his watch.

"Never mind," the lawyer said, angrily slapping the loose papers away. "Just get on with this... this charade."

Alex smirked. They were going to try and brazen it out, were they? That was fine with her – it would be all the more satisfying when she and Bobby called their bluff. "Oh," she said, "you mean the charade where your client tried to bash in my partner's skull?"

All eyes focused on Bobby's forehead. He used the moment to wince as he traced his finger over his injury.

"That," Ackerman said, shaking his head, "that wasn't my fault."

"It's kind of hard to make that claim," Alex said, glaring at him, "when you resist arrest so... energetically."

The lawyer clamped a hand on Ackerman's arm to prevent a reply. He glared right back at Alex. "If all you have is Resisting Arrest, make your charge and let's get this over with."

"There's more than that," said Bobby, still sorting and straightening the papers, "We, um..." He vaguely scanned a few pages, eliciting a huff of impatience from the lawyer. "Here!" he said, grinning mildly and holding up one sheet. He looked at it again and set it down. "Well, it's here somewhere..."

In her folder, Alex had the evidence against Ackerman that would wipe the condescending expression off the lawyer's face, but she didn't want to spoil Bobby's fun. She leaned back and crossed her arms.

"We were interested to learn," Bobby said, "that you and your wife have been living with her mother for about a year."

"So?" Ackerman said. He'd been sullen before; he now turned positively hostile. This was obviously a sore spot.

Alex poked again. "What's wrong? You don't like your mother-in-law?"

Ackerman glanced away and squinted angrily at his reflection in the mirror.

"You used to own your own home in Elmhurst," Bobby said. "Two bedrooms, nice neighborhood. What happened, Jim? How'd you end up in your mother-in-law's spare room?"

Ackerman took a breath to reply, but the lawyer cut him off. "Don't! You don't have to say a word. They're fishing."

"No," Bobby said, keeping his tone soft, "it's not fishing. We know he used to be in better financial condition - a lot better."

Alex joined in. "Now, if you were spending your money on drugs... But Safety Shield does regular testing, and you've been clean all along."

Ackerman's face darkened, and the muscles in his jaw flexed. He spoke through clenched teeth. "I never used drugs!"

"I believe you," Bobby said. "But you know what we did find? You took out a second mortgage on your home to buy a restaurant." He laughed. "Really? A restaurant?"

"Last time I looked, it's not a crime to do that," Ackerman said, ignoring the tap on his arm from his lawyer.

"True," Bobby said, "but it had to make your blood boil when your money went down the drain, didn't it? You lost the restaurant and your house within a year." Bobby raised both hands, palms up. "What made you think you could run a restaurant, Jim? Did you think that doing security rounds at a restaurant was enough experience to open your own?"

Ackerman crossed his arms and glared over Bobby's head. He was clearly furious, but Alex knew that within a few minutes his anger would turn to panic. They could use the turnabout to get the truth about Robert Winter's murder.

"Detective," the lawyer said, "this is a waste of time. My client doesn't have to talk to you about his investments or business endeavors."

Bobby ignored the lawyer; he leaned across the table to make eye contact with Ackerman. "Or was it your cousin who screwed up? Richard Ackerman was listed as co-owner with you." Bobby shuffled the mound of paper on the table and magically pulled out the one page he was seeking. "You mortgaged your house to buy the business, but Richard only put in twelve thousand. He was supposed to run it - was that the deal, Jim? You provide the money, and he provides the work? But it only took him nine months to lose everything. Ouch, that had to hurt!"

Ackerman was sitting like a statue. He wouldn't look at either of them.

It was time for Alex to pile on. "Poor Jim. All you were left with was your measly income from Safety Shield; you couldn't get a raise," she said, ticking off each point on her fingers. "You messed up the promotion twice; the restaurant tanked; you lost your house; you had to move in with your wife's mother."

"So there you were," Bobby said, "pushing fifty years old; no house, no restaurant, no savings, and – well, frankly – not much of a job."

"And then it occurred to you," Alex said. "As a security guard, you had a lot of money right there in front of you."

That got a reaction out of Ackerman: he blinked and swallowed hard. His gaze dropped from some point on the ceiling to his hands, clenched on the table top.

Alex continued, "If you were careful about it, the customers might not realize you'd taken anything. If they noticed at all, they might chalk it up to bookkeeping errors."

The lawyer interjected a few words of denial, but Bobby kept his focus fully on Ackerman. "Errors: that's what we thought when we looked at Winter Market's books. We thought Ron Winter was careless, or even skimming from the registers himself."

"Ron Winter had everything handed to him!" Ackerman said. "He's, he's not...

"Not much of a businessman?" Bobby asked. "Maybe – but he respected his father too much to steal from him. He's not a thief."

"Now you, on the other hand..." Alex slowly opened her folder. "We looked at their books and your new credit union account side by side. Guess what?" she said. "The dates and amounts match exactly: Winter Market's loss was your gain."

Ackerman shook his head. "No, you've got it wrong. That money's from odd jobs I do for neighbors and friends; my wife walks dogs and babysits and... and stuff like that."

Neither detective reacted, but Alex knew they'd just been handed an important bit of information – and it didn't even matter if it was true.

"Hmm, I don't think so," Bobby said. "We asked Safety Shield about other clients you've been assigned to." He stood and strolled around behind Ackerman. He leaned down to speak into his ear. "By the end of the day we'll have the record of their cash losses, too."

"Care to guess what we'll find there?" Alex asked. "That web cam app came in pretty handy, didn't it?"

"It's not... I never..." Ackerman still looked angry, but panic was creeping up on him. He shifted in his seat to gain some space, but Bobby moved with him.

"The funny thing is," Bobby said, hovering about an inch from Ackerman's face, "if you'd been content with those smaller amounts, you might have gotten away with it indefinitely. Why'd you get impatient all of a sudden?"

"Oh, I know," Alex said, raising her hand. "It's because of Ron Winter and his iPhone. You got a look at the security logs, and you figured out he was causing the shutdowns with his six-dollar app."

Bobby nodded, and finally moved away from Ackerman. He backed up until he was at the wall, using the mirror to keep eye contact. "Did you say something to Ron to scare him?" Bobby asked. "Hmm? Did you drop a hint to make him think he'd be in trouble if he admitted he'd been experimenting? That way, you could try it out yourself."

"No, no – I didn't know..."

"Our IT guys found the same app as Ron's on your iPhone," Bobby said. "Now that we know what to look for, it's a simple test to prove you caused those shutdowns at the store."

"You did your own test: you crashed the system a couple times," Alex added, "and when you saw no one had a clue what was going on, you made your plan to clean out the safe at the new Winter Market just before the grand opening, when you had the best chance of the store being empty."

"But Robert Winter caught you there," Bobby said, "and he died for it."

"No, no!" Ackerman said, shaking his head and looking down at his hands. "You've got it all wrong. I never did any of that – I never stole from customers; I never killed anyone!"

"You never meant to kill him," Bobby said. "It was supposed to look like someone found the store open and disappeared with the cash. Or maybe you thought Ron would be blamed. You checked the parking lot, and you thought the store was empty..."

The lawyer smacked his hand on the table. "You're wasting your breath. My client has nothing more to say."

They all looked up at a knock on the door. It opened, and Captain Ross stepped in only long enough to hand a couple of stapled sheets to Alex.

She studied them for a few moments, then beckoned to her partner. The pages were merely photocopies of the information already in Alex's folder, but she pointed out a couple entries, arching her eyebrow as though she was surprised. Bobby took the papers and took a step back to lean against the mirror.

In the silence, Ackerman's self-control slipped even more. He rubbed his neck while Bobby and Alex delayed.

The lawyer recognized their tactic; he whispered in Ackerman's ear, clearly trying to settle his nerves.

Bobby didn't let Ackerman calm down. "This new bank account," he said. "You said you and your wife both use it?"

"Uhh, yeah... yes," Ackerman said.

"Because..." Bobby paused while he resumed his seat beside Alex. He tilted his head to whisper into her ear. "I'll step out and you... Okay?"

Ackerman had blundered into their trap, and Alex knew Bobby was eager to press ahead with the questioning. It was a gesture of immense generosity to offer it to her.

Bobby turned his attention back to Ackerman. "...Because that means we're going to need to talk to her, too." He stood abruptly; one long stride took him to the door, where he paused with his hand on the doorknob.

"My wife? What are you talking about?" Ackerman said, his voice rising.

"I'll, uh... take care of it," Bobby said. He met Alex's eye, nodded, and in another second he was gone.

Ackerman began to stand, but Alex was quicker. She jumped to her feet and jabbed her finger into his chest before he was halfway up. "You need to stay in your seat!"

Ackerman dropped heavily into his chair. His face had been red with anger; now he went pale. "He can't... Don't... She doesn't... My wife has nothing to do with any of this!"

Alex remained standing and kept her face stern. She pointed to the papers Ross had delivered. "The bank records say otherwise, Jim. My partner told you we'd be getting information from your other Safety Shield assignments. Well, now we know: the client losses and your cash deposits are too perfectly matched to be a coincidence."

They hadn't actually received that information from Safety Shield yet - it would likely take a few days – but Ackerman wasn't denying the accusation. They'd taken a shot in the dark and had hit the mark.

"And really," she said, "all of that pales in comparison to your final deposit on Tuesday morning." Alex didn't need to check, but she looked down at the paper anyway. "You deposited seven thousand seven hundred forty dollars in cash. That's the amount missing from Winter Market's safe and Robert Winter's wallet."

Ackerman and his lawyer both sat motionless now.

She took her time before continuing. She knew Bobby was watching from the observation room. He wouldn't wait too long before returning.

"It's adding up, Jim," she said. "The iPhone app, your financial problems, the stolen money... The DA is offering you ten years on a plea of involuntary manslaughter."

The lawyer whispered in Ackerman's ear, but he shook his head.

The door opened and Bobby entered. He said, "They'll be bringing in Mrs. Ackerman."

"No!" Ackerman said. "She has nothing to do with any of this!"

"Actually," Bobby said as he shrugged, "her name is the primary name on the account, and you told us she uses it – um, you said dog walking money, babysitting? That makes her an accomplice to all the thefts."

"And to Robert Winter's murder," Alex added.

Ackerman drew in a sharp breath, and his eyes grew wide with fear.

"The only way you can protect her is to confess," Bobby said, sliding into the chair across from Ackerman. "She doesn't use that account, does she?"

"No," Ackerman said. He looked down, pressing his fingers on his forehead. "I never told her. I thought it wouldn't attract attention if it had both our names."

"You never withdrew any money," Alex said. "You were saving up for something?"

"I wanted us to get out of New York," he replied. "Maybe Florida, or North Carolina... Just away from my mother-in-law."

Alex shook her head. Ackerman had sabotaged his own plans with bad choices at every turn.

"Sooo... On Monday," Bobby said, "you thought the store was empty?"

"The place was mostly dark," Ackerman said, nodding. "Winter must have been in the front of the store when I came in the back door. When I came out of the office, I practically bumped into him! I, uh, I tried to tell him I was there to check on the security system."

"But he didn't believe you," Bobby said. "Why?"

"The money was sticking out of my damn pockets."

In another few minutes they had a full confession. Robert Winter had pulled out his phone to call the police, but Ackerman knocked it out of his hand. There'd been a short struggle, and Winter went down, striking his head on the table. Ackerman had watched him die. Then, from his parked car down the block, he'd seen Ron arrive.

When Captain Ross and ADA Whitney joined them in the room, Ackerman accepted the plea deal rather than go to trial, which might involve his wife.

They watched as Ackerman was led away in handcuffs, followed by his lawyer and ADA Whitney.

Alex was glad they'd gotten the confession, but, as always, the thought of irreversible loss diluted her satisfaction. She remembered the tears of Frannie and Mrs. Winter at the cemetery.

"Leading-edge technology," Ross said. "For all the good it does, it can cause just as much damage."

"I don't blame the technology," Bobby said. "It comes down to people making choices."

Alex knew they were expecting a clever comment from her. "I need to call my mom," she said. She felt Bobby's light touch on her arm as she passed him.