The verdict rang out through the silent courtroom.
And after that Shannon heard nothing. A gun could’ve gone off next to her and she wouldn’t have noticed. Her mind was reeling. Not guilty?! But… how? In a fugue daze she sought out the young police detective who had liaised with her on the case. There he sat down below, shaking his head, but not looking surprised.
Shannon grabbed the rail in front of her and started pulling herself to her feet, before her boyfriend Martin caught her.
“Don’t,” he whispered, his voice soft as the breeze amongst the hushed conversations that had started up. Without looking she knew the cameras would be on her, waiting, hoping, for a reaction.
The only sign she gave them of her breaking heart was her clenched jaw and the nail marks in her palms. Her grief was hers, not for the passing buzz of the tabloids. And the very pointed conversation between her and the detective was definitely not something she wanted posted all over the newspapers.
The rest of the legal business was conducted behind the noise of the blood pounding in Shannon’s head. All she could focus on was Martin’s grip on her arm, her comfort and her rock, and yet… And yet the person most likely to kill me. As much as she hated to think it, how could she not after today?
The first she knew of the case being closed was when everyone else started to gather their things and leave, and the low muttering finally broke into the full-blown conversations everyone had been dying to have since the verdict.
“Can you believe it?”
“I was sure it was him.”
“Probably, but there wasn’t the evidence, was there?”
“Do you think they’ll keep looking?”
Shannon’s breath caught in her throat. Yes. Yes I will bloody well keep looking, even if I have to do it alone. It was the least she owed Catherine.
Daniel Mason, the defendant-as-was, finally stood up in his box and turned to leave. The movement drew Shannon’s eyes, and when he looked back up at her she couldn’t stop herself from snarling. It was all she could do to stop herself jumping down and trying to swing for him. Her mind was a mess, insults and curses tumbling over and tangling up as they caught in her throat.
“Come on,” Martin said, surely able to read the situation. “We should go.”
It took some coaxing, but at last he got Shannon out of there, and out of the public gaze. The next time her mind was clear enough to focus properly they were in one of the witness rooms, and the hapless detective was with them.
“You promised!” Shannon shouted at him, charging up and almost swinging for him. “You said he would pay! You said there’d be justice!”
“I…” There was no denying that, and the detective looked like a deer in the headlights. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said those things. I am still sure that he did it, but… there just isn’t the proof. He has an alibi for the time of your sister’s murder, and–”
“But the insurance, and the boat tickets! All the other, odd things. You said yourself, the only reason for them would be if he’d planned to kill her. Ditched her body.” Talking about her older sister like that still brought tears to Shannon’s eyes, but at that moment they were outnumbered by her tears of rage.
“Yes, I know.” The detective shared a quick glance with Martin, which did nothing to ease Shannon’s nerves. “And he still hasn’t explained them. But his alibi is solid, and there’s no evidence that he got someone else to carry out the murder. I am sorry, truly.”
“Thank you, detective,” Martin said, before Shannon could get her breath back for another outburst. He put one arm around her chest and held her, but to her it only felt like suffocating. “Thank you for everything that you’ve done. I know you’ve done your best.”
The detective nodded at both of them, then leapt on the chance to escape. This had been his first case, and it would be the last one where he’d promise justice to the family.
“Daniel did it,” Shannon muttered. “I know he did. He had to–”
“Hush. I know my love, but there’s nothing we can do now. Come on, we should find your parents.”
Outside the courthouse Shannon’s mother and father were giving the press conference, reading out some pre-composed, wishy-washy toddle written up by their lawyers. It didn’t say anything about what they were really feeling. Nothing about the heartbreak that their daughter’s murderer was loose again, or the betrayal at the fact the police couldn’t stop it. They mentioned the pain at loosing their eldest child, but how could that even begin to get across the depth of their anguish? Once again Shannon was walking on ice; one slip and the grief would swallow her whole, leave her cold and numb. She could already feel it leaking into her life. After her brother-in-law had done such an evil thing, how could she trust her own boyfriend? How could she trust anyone?
As soon as the press conference was over the lawyers hurried her parents away into taxis, and Martin got her into one just behind them. She didn’t get to talk to them until they were back at the family home. What was left of it, at least. With the door between them and the cameras, Shannon and her mother broke down, leaning on each other, crying their souls out.
“I’m sorry,” her mother said at last. “I’m so sorry. I thought he…”
“No, mum. He did do it. I know he did.” Shannon held her mother tighter. And I’m going to prove it.
Finding the chance to prove it took longer than Shannon had wanted. Each day she waited was agony, and all she could think about were her plans and schemes, the places she could follow Daniel, the people she could ask. It didn’t take much to get compassionate leave from her boss, given that he was avidly following the whole thing in the newspapers, and knew all the gory details.
Blood trails. The abandoned car. The earring in the boot. The shoe by the side of the lake. No body.
Being off work just gave Shannon more time to plan, and more time to drive herself crazy thinking about it. Martin had realised something was up straight away, something more than just grief. After several long debates with herself – some of them out loud – Shannon finally told him her plan.
“Are you insane?!”
“I know he killed Catherine. We just have to prove it.”
“Shannon, not even the police could prove it. What makes you think you can?”
“Because I have nothing better to do.”
“… All right. I’ll help.”
“I… thank you.”
As much as she hadn’t wanted to get him involved, as much as her gut still worried about trusting him, having him there took the edge off her fear. She was chasing a murderer after all.
Through a long chain of friends, the far edges of which still believed Daniel’s innocence, Shannon learnt he was getting rid of the house. My sister’s house. Where we had her hen party. Where we had Christmas dinner last year. Who could believe life could change so drastically in such a short time?
The sale had happened so quickly, as far as Shannon was aware, that she didn’t have time for any elaborate plans. “We turn up, we find evidence, we go.”
“What evidence?” Martin asked. “Do you really think we’re going to just find a piece of paper saying, ‘I murdered my wife’?”
“I. Don’t. Know. All I know is I have to try.” The weeks had been hard on their relationship, not at all helped by Shannon’s subconscious trying to push him away. “I can go alone.”
“No. I’ll come.” Though Shannon couldn’t help noticing that he didn’t make any promises which side he’d be on.
By the time they made it to the house though the removals van was leaving.
“Damn it!” Shannon swore. She didn’t miss a beat, swapping to trailing them instead.
“Wait, Shannon, stop. What are you going to do now, ram them off the road and demand to go through their stuff?”
“If I have to, yes.”
“Shannon, get a grip. I know you miss her, and I am so sorry. But this is madness. This’ll only get you locked up, not him.”
“I don’t care! I have to know! He did it, I know it. He just has to confess.”
“Shannon–” A car tried to pull out between them and the removals van, and Shannon accelerated round it, swerving back just in time to avoid a head-on collision. “Bloody hell, Shannon! Stop! Please, you’re going to kill us!”
“I don’t care!”
Though his knuckles were white Martin didn’t say anything else for the rest of the trip. There was no reaching his girlfriend now.
For her part Shannon couldn’t speak either. Her mind was racing, as she scrabbled for one last chance to get him to confess before he was out of her reach.
The removals van finally stopped at the docks, pulling up alongside a stack of shipping containers. Stopping next to some other cars near a security hut Shannon drummed her fingers on the wheel.
“Now what?” she mumbled, more to herself than to Martin. “He’s going abroad. That proves it doesn’t it. Why would an innocent man run?”
“There has to be something in that van. Something– look, there he his! That proves it, he’s checking everything’s safe. We have to get in there–”
“Not now! Okay, he’s going over there, so we can get into the van if we run–”
“Look.” Martin was pointing, to a vague figure that had appeared from between the crates.
A woman? “Two-timing son of a bitch. At least we have a motive now. Now we just need proof. Come on.” She had a hand on the door handle before Martin caught her arm.
“No, Shannon. Look.”
And at last she actually looked at the woman, and registered the face that kissed Daniel Mason on the lips. Even through the haze of grief and fatigue, it was one that Shannon would never forget.