“Ben, Ben, over here!” The media formed a semicircle around the makeshift podium outside the courtroom.
“Ben, what’s your next move?”
“Ben, what about you and Special Agent Simon?”
“Ben, how does it feel to be a free man again?” asked Action News’ Dan Cuellar.
The August humidity was stifling and he loosened his tie. A trickle of sweat coursed down past his temple.
Free at last.
“I am, of course, pleased with the outcome.”
He paused to survey the familiar faces of the local media and the not-so-familiar faces of national media and media obscura.
“But wish that I had been given the chance to prove my innocence, while shedding a proper light on the events that took the lives of five people last October.” Travers paused, unexpectedly overcome with emotion that he’d buried for months now. Mickey put a hand of support on his shoulder while the crowd of reporters snapped and tweeted and Instagrammed the shareable moment.
“Five deaths,” Ben continued, “that remain suspicious and unresolved! There’s a murderer out there and mark my words, nobody in this city is going to do a damn thing about it.”
Travers was pleased to answer the torrent of questions that followed, but repeatedly referred to future articles on his blog and a book deal. The Truth continued its spiral down the drain into the dark underbelly of Philadelphia history.
Not only was the Court of Common Pleas unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Ben Travers murdered “Pants” Deleon, but the prosecutor dropped the case once defense witness, Seymour Purnell, agreed to testify about one small event that occurred at the beginning of the case — the nature of the delivery of Nicolas Hodges’ corpse to the city morgue. Nicholas Hodge, whose murder remained unsolved.
When Assistant DA, Cheryl Garton, approached the bench to withdraw the charges, the look on Judge Parise’s face was a mix of amusement and disgust. The blindfold worn by Lady Justice is a dream illustrated by a statue. In the real world, judges have their eyes wide open. In the real world judges don’t always get the opportunity to do the right thing, which in this case had little to do with Ben Travers.
“Why here? Travers asked.
“What, you have a better spot?” Simon asked.
They lay together, legs tangled, while the top of the Eiffel Tower showered twinkles of light through the high windows of their sixth floor flat.
“I mean, why not New Orleans or Austin of Vegas? Why did we have to come all the way to Paris just to see each other?”
“Things are different now Travers.” Simon’s gazed locked on a space just beyond the window and Travers saw the twinkling of the tower light in her eyes, behind which the truth was locked. Travers’ journalistic Spidey senses were tingling off the hook, and he was determined to get to it. All in time.
Travers stood naked in the kitchen of the tiny flat and set about finding the coffee maker while Simon lay silently.
“Is anybody looking for Barr?” he asked.
“Steve Barr is a ghost,” she replied. “He got over on both of us, Travers, and now, he’s gone.” She swaddled herself in a cotton sheet and stood at the window. Below her, the market stalls in the Rue Cler were laden with a kaleidoscope of Paris’ finest produce for early morning shoppers, barely visible in the pre-dawn darkness. “Whatever. He’s not my problem anymore,” she said.
Travers handed Simon the steaming cup of café noir and joined her at the window where they watched the first rays of sun splinter through Paris’ night sky.
“You know I can’t just let it go, right?” he said.
“I wish you would,” she answered. “But I know you can’t.”
“And us? What happens when we go back?” Travers asked.
“Our worlds are too far apart,” she said. “Too many forces pulling us in different directions to build anything serious.”
“Serious?” he said. “How about real? Isn’t that what we are? The real thing?”
“Ben,” she lay a hand on his shoulder. “Don’t be a man here, please. Look out the window. Look around you. Don’t fuck this up.”
She put down her cup and turned him to face her.
“Here we are Ben. This is what we have. That’s why Paris. Philly is the past.”
He pressed his forehead to hers and ran his hands up her smooth back while she leaned into his thigh. Simon looked up at Ben’s face and saw the twinkling light of the Eiffel Tower in his eyes. She kissed him with a tenderness that surprised even herself. Soft. Real. They shared each other’s breath and kissed again, deeper. They were the real deal.
Travers lifted Simon in his arms and carried her back to bed.
Steven Barr could wait.