Back Door Man

A slash from the past…

Trish Straithorne hires Hartford PI Zach Barnes to check the background of her band’s webmaster Jack Fisher—who also happens to be her lover. Barnes discovers Fisher was the prime suspect in the killing of his fiancée and her entire family, but the police couldn’t prove he did it. Five years later, the case is still open.

Trish Straithorne hires Hartford PI Zach Barnes to check the background of her band’s webmaster Jack Fisher—who also happens to be her lover. Barnes discovers Fisher was the prime suspect in the killing of his fiancée and her entire family, but the police couldn’t prove he did it. Five years later, the case is still open.

And what will they do when Barnes keeps asking those questions?

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Barnes feels Trisha’s tension before he even holds her chair. He’s invited her back to explain what he’s found, which would account for some of it, but she sits with her legs crossed now, and her fists are clenched, more defensive and alert than the last time they talked.

“Coffee?” he offers. “I can do tea, too, but I don’t get as many requests. Maybe it’s not as good.”

“I’m fine.” She crosses her legs in pleated slacks that would make her look vaguely corporate except that her worn sneakers undermine the effect.

“That means no coffee.” He tries a low-wattage smile and it might as well be a breeze in the trees. “OK, this was a lot more intricate than I expected it to be.”

Her eyes bore into his. “So you want more money, is that it?”

“No, that’s not my point.” He wonders what else is going on.

“Jack Fisher is a common name so I expected to have to do lots of digging right up front. But none of the people I found seem to be that right one.”

Her hands come up and she rests her lower lip on a knuckle. It makes her look like a young girl.

“But you said you found something. That’s why you called me here.”

“I did,” he agrees. It’s drizzling outside again, silver droplets beading the car windshields and the buds forming on the trees. It looks cold and damp, but he feels hot in his long sleeves. He never rolls them up in front of clients because of a scar on his left forearm, forty-six stitches from a knife.

“I looked through social security, military records, tax records, birth records, and DMV in Connecticut and the surrounding states, and found a lot of Jack Fishers, but none matched the age or birthday you gave me. I even called an associate who makes her living doing deep searches and security checks, and we eventually found the same stuff.”

“You’re stalling.”

“No.” Barnes shakes his head. “I’m trying to make a point. I know, it sounds like showing off, but I want you to understand how unusual this is. Practically nothing matched anything else. I finally found the right Jack Fisher in DMV. The picture on his license is the same man you showed me. He only got a driver’s license in Connecticut about four and a half years ago.”

“I told you he was from around Albany somewhere,” Trisha says. She seems to center herself in her chair, a strong woman who has clearly put up with stuff before. Well, she was divorced in less than a year.

“You did,” he agrees. “But I couldn’t find a Jack Fisher in any of the surrounding towns for about twenty-five miles. No birth record or parents that seemed right. So I finally thought of something else, and my associate had the same idea at about the same time.”

Trisha rolls her hand to tell him to move along. He’s never thought of it as a masculine gesture, but it makes her appear stronger.

“OK. I went into court records throughout the state and found another document that only appeared a few days before Jack Fisher got a driver’s license. He changed his name from Jacek Fuskiewicz, which meant he had to change all his identification, too. Driver’s license, credit cards, checking account. I haven’t checked all of them, but social security matches the change, and it’s only a few days later.”

Trisha looks down and purses her lips. She doesn’t wear lipstick.

“Well, maybe he wanted it for business,” she says. “It’s shorter, easier to say. Maybe he thought it would be better for the web design. Did you check when he started that business?”

“I didn’t, as a matter of fact.” Barnes almost smiles. The woman is sharp and she got him there. “But if he’s only twenty-six now, he wouldn’t have been out of college when he changed his name. It would screw up his transcripts and records. And he might not have his degree—if he has one for that. I don’t know if you really even need one.”

“So there you are…” Trisha seems to realize that there’s more he hasn’t told her yet.

“There we are,” he says. “I went back and checked on Jacek Fuskiewicz and Jack Fisher. Obviously, Fuskiewicz was a lot easier to find.”

Trisha clenches her hands again. “I’ll bet you didn’t find thousands of them, did you?”

“Three, actually. But one of them—the one my associate and I agree is the right one—lived in Danbury when he changed his name. And we understand why he changed it.”

He looks at her again. She looks back at him without blinking.

“Jacek Fuskiewicz was the prime suspect in a mass murder in 2007.”

Trisha’s face loses all expression. Her eyes still focus on Barnes, but he’s not sure there’s anything behind them now.

“What?”

“Five people were killed in a house in Elmwood, and one of them was his girlfriend. Several people saw him argue with her only a few hours before, and he was found in the house dead drunk, along with the bodies.”

“Oh, my God.” Trisha’s hands become a tight white ball in her lap.

Barnes forces himself to swallow. “The forensic evidence didn’t tie him to the crime—the police thought the crime lab messed up the labels or something—but no witnesses came forward so the case collapsed and he was released in a few days. No other arrests have ever been made.”

Trisha bites her lip and looks down at her clenched hands.

“Fuck,” she whispers. “Fuck, fuck, fuck.”

Her voice gets louder and she pounds one fist on the arm of her chair. Barnes expects her to pick the chair up and heave it through his plate glass window and gathers himself to stop her.

“Fuck, fuck, FUCK.”

She stops yelling and sits quietly. One tear slides from her left eye and down her cheek, a shiny trail behind it. It reaches the corner of her mouth and her tongue flicks out. Barnes doubts that she even realizes it.

“You’re sure this is the same man? Absolutely sure?”

He nods. “Yes. And so is my associate.”

“Shit,” she says. “He seems so…”

Barnes knows better than to offer some stupid cliché. He watches her face go through the five stages of grief…except that she doesn’t get through all five.

“Did he do it?”

“The case is still open,” he says. “Like I said, the police haven’t arrested anyone else. The killings were almost five years ago, so they probably don’t have anyone who’s still actively working on it.”

“Do you think he did it?” Trisha leans forward and her eyes bore into Barnes again so strongly that he feels himself shrink back in his chair.

“I don’t know. I haven’t met the man, I don’t have any sense him at all.”

“Find out.”

He feels his eyes open wide. “Excuse me?”

“Find out. If Jack Fisher is a murderer, I want to know it. If he isn’t, I want to know that, too.”

“Trisha—Ms. Straithorne—that could take a lot of time and expense. The police don’t release files to just anyone. I used to be a Hartford cop and I know some people on the force, but it would be really close to the line to ask them for information. And even if they gave it to me, they’re better equipped for an investigation like this than I am.”

“Dammit, Mr. Barnes, I love this guy.” Trisha looks at him again and now tears fill her eyes and trickle down both cheeks. “I…we…he stood up for me and the band last night, he put his ass on the line for us—me.”

She fumbles in her purse and he hands her the box of tissues from his desk.

“If he did it, I want him punished and the hell out of my life. But if he didn’t do it and I dump him…”

She wipes her eyes and crushes the tissue in her hand.

“I was an idiot once. I don’t want to be an idiot again.”

Barnes knows what it’s like to love and lose. Erin Cavendish Barnes was five months pregnant when a drunk driver T-boned her car as she returned home from the obstetrician. He and his partner answered the accident call, and she and the unborn baby died in his arms. He turned into a drunk and lost his badge. Svet finally pried him away from the bottle, and he was coming up on three years sober when he met Beth Shepard.

He can’t walk away from this.

“You’re sure,” he says.

She nods.

“Why don’t I do a little more digging, just a few more hours. If it looks like it’s worth pursuing, I’ll do it. If it doesn’t, no charge for those few hours.”

He watches her face.

“And I can’t guarantee I’ll find an answer. And I definitely can’t guarantee that you’ll like it if I do.”

“I’ll take an answer,” she says. “Even a shitty one. But not knowing one way or the other…”

He turns to his computer and prints out two copies of a new contract.