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A Deadly Affair
By Tom Henderson
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2001 Tom Henderson
All rights reserved.
It was Thursday, August 12, and Leann Fletcher wasn't sure if she should be happy or not. Her instinct was for joy. She had just administered a home pregnancy test and it came back positive, and there was nothing she loved more in life than parenthood and her only child, Hannah, who had turned three just weeks earlier. If there one thing in the world she was truly gifted at, it was motherhood.
But her marriage had been a struggle the last two years, and while she and Mick had never been happier — he'd been everything she wanted since his last return at Easter — it was still too soon. Better to wait a year or so and make sure she and her husband were going to make it, make sure the judge she suspected of being his lover was really out of the picture.
Maternal instincts gained sway over rational thought. She was pregnant, again! Yes! She couldn't wait to tell Mick when he got home from work.
* * *
Though Lindy was her oldest sister, fully ten years her senior, she was Leann's best friend. Facially, they were nearly identical. They looked nothing like their other sisters, Lori and Lisa. They talked on the phone every day and they and their husbands socialized, as well.
Tonight, Saturday, August 14, they were double-dating, going out to dinner, then catching a movie. But this was going to be a special night. She hadn't told Lindy about the baby, yet, and couldn't wait.
This Saturday night movie thing was going to be fun, too. The week before, she and Mick, Lindy and her husband, Mark Termarsch, and a close friend, Jeni Hughes, and her husband, Jeff, had gone out to the movies and promised each other they'd start doing this regularly. Jeni had never really been close to Mick but he was so much nicer now since moving back in April.
Leann called Jeni to ask her if they were coming. They couldn't. Jeff had to work.
"Come on, you can come without him," said Leann. "Please."
"Nah, I don't want to go without Jeff."
"Come on, please?"
"No, I really can't. I'm waiting for my sister, Wendy."
"Well, she can come."
"No, she's gonna be here later. I really can't."
They said their goodbyes. It was the last time Jeni would ever talk to Leann. She would tell a courtroom more than nine months later that she had never forgiven herself for saying no to Leann, for missing out on seeing her one last time.
* * *
Lindy and Leann talked on the phone and looked at the movie guides. The Sixth Sense was playing at the Oakland Mall, a few miles away. People'd been raving about that. There was a Red Robin, there, too, where they could eat. It was set.
Lindy and Mark, Mick, Leann and Hannah all met at the Red Robin. "Tell her, Hannah," said Leann after they'd been seated awhile. "Go on, Hannah, tell her."
Hannah, a round-faced cutie, sharp as a tack, with a big vocabulary and an endearing way of substituting her "R's" with "W's," had been coached ahead of time to break the news. "I'm going to have a baby bwothuh oh sistuh."
Lindy squealed. She and Leann stood up and hugged. Mark congratulated Mick.
She'd found out Thursday, she told them. It was early, just three or four weeks along, but there was no way she could hold the news and wait till the pregnancy was past its most dangerous stage.
"I just asked Mick if we could move from Hazel Park by the time the new baby comes," said Leann, referring to the need for a larger, more suburban house.
"I might have to get a second job," said Mick. It was no secret his law practice hadn't exactly taken off. He was doing okay, but that was about it. Still, he was making some contacts and applying for high-paid assistant prosecutor positions around the area.
After the meal, Mick and Leann took Hannah in his truck to the Miseners', just a couple of miles up the road, then returned for the movie, which they loved. The movies shocking trick ending surprised the heck out of all of them. It was a night for surprises, and Leann had one more in store.
Out in the parking lot, Leann asked Lindy and Mark to swing by the Miseners'. She couldn't wait to break the news to her parents. The Termarsches wanted to head home, instead.
"You don't need me."
"Ple-ease," said Leann, stretching the word out. Since the time she'd come home from the hospital, she'd had her siblings wrapped around whatever finger she chose. She gave Lindy that special, pleading, so-cute look that always worked. "Come on. Please."
"All right," said Lindy.
When they got there, it was Mick's turn to prod Hannah as they all sat around the family room in the back of the house. Jack was in his La-Z-Boy chair, as usual. The Miseners' only son, Chris, was there, too. "Come on, Princess, tell Grandma and Grandpa. Tell Grandma and Grandpa."
Hannah said her lines. Jack and Gloria were elated. There were hugs, handshakes, words of congratulations. Jack couldn't stop beaming. He'd traded in his beloved Taurus for a van just so he could haul his grandkids around, and now he was going to have another one. Leann said she had planned on waiting till Hannah was five, but she was really happy it happened, anyway.
"Leann was a great mother and it was nice to see she was going to have another one," Jack would say later. "That's all she wanted in life, to get married and stay home and have a family."
Before they left, the Fletchers made plans to stretch this happy day into two. How about if the Miseners and Fletchers went to church together in the morning — a rarity for the family — and then went out to dinner Sunday night? The Outback, our treat, said Mick. The Miseners hadn't been there, but had heard it was something special. That was the place with the line out the door, wasn't it? And that fancy thing they did with the onion and those big steaks? Yep, that was the place.
* * *
If Sunday dinner on Mick was a surprise, there was an even bigger one before they left. Leann had a habit of borrowing money from her parents in dribs and drabs to pay for bills. She was only working part-time at Incognito, a hair and nail salon, and Mick's invoices for his work at court could be really slow in getting processed. They had, in fact, built up a little more than $2,500 in debt to the Miseners in the last year or two, doled out in a series of small checks. It included $500 Jack had given Leann for her attorney when Mick had filed for divorce in January, but once she took Mick back, instead of figuring it was a gift, he added it to the debt. Jack had no real expectation of ever getting any of it back.
But — holy cow! — there on the kitchen table, Gloria found an envelope Leann had slyly set down when they arrived. When Gloria opened it, there was a check inside, paying them back for the entire amount. And a note, reading: "Dinner comes with this." Mick had sold his old clunker of a truck and Leann said it had been his idea. "Let's pay your parents off," he said.
Jack drove the five of them in his van to the Outback, near the huge Lakeside Mall, one of the nation's first monster malls, built in the middle of a cornfield twenty years ago and now surrounded by other malls, strip centers, restaurants and office buildings. They got there about 5 p.m., peak time. There was a line, as usual, and the place didn't take reservations, but Leann, ever outgoing, went in and was able to get them a table in the bar right off, no waiting. Jack ordered a beer, a Bud or Miller, something American. Mick ordered something Jack had never heard of; he didn't even know if it was a beer or not. A Foster's, he called it. It was a beer, a huge, blue-canned Australian beer.
They ate their steaks. Good as the reputation. Mick had another one of the giant beers.
They got back to the Miseners' about 7 p.m. Half an hour later, the Fletchers got ready to go. Hannah got in the back seat of the Dakota truck, Mick got behind the wheel, and Leann went back in the house with Gloria to get Hannah something to drink for the ride home. Jack stood at the passenger door, which was open.
Mick leaned over and said, "Are you going to be home tomorrow?"
"Yeah, I suppose we are."
"I'd like you to babysit for one hour while Lee and I go to the firing range. Just an hour."
Leann by now had returned to the truck and Jack turned to her and looked quizzically. She didn't like guns. It seemed odd she'd be going to the range to shoot one.
Leann looked at him, according to Jack's later testimony at Fletcher's arraignment, "just kind of meeky, like, 'cause I knew my daughter didn't like weapons."
Jack said sure, he'd babysit. Leann got in and the Dakota pulled out of the driveway and took off. Hmm, thought Jack, that was odd. Odd she'd go shooting. And odd Mick would ask. In six years, he had never asked the Miseners to babysit. It was always Leann who asked. They babysat every Wednesday and Friday regularly, and other days as the need arose, and never once had Mick done the asking.
Jack went back in, turned on the TV and sat back in his La-Z-Boy.
* * *
Twenty minutes later, the Fletchers pulled into their driveway on Hazelwood. The sun was still high in the sky — Michigan is at the far western edge of the Eastern time zone, really ought to be in the Central zone, and gets the latest light in the continental United States.
There was another surprise left in the weekend. Mick told Leann he had some work at the office that he really needed to wrap up. He had a hearing at the court in Warren first thing in the morning that required his attention. He wouldn't be long. Leann went inside with Hannah and Mick drove off. He didn't go to his office in Center Line, though — he went to Judge Chrzanowski's house in Warren, had sex with her and told her he loved her.CHAPTER 2
"HOW MUCH MY LIFE WAS ABOUT TO BE CHANGED"
Monday, August 16, dawned, already a scorcher. Newcomers to Michigan, especially those from the south, are shocked to find how hot and humid it can be that far north. The state is surrounded by the Great Lakes and is filled with thousands of lakes, creeks, rivers and streams. Close your eyes in the summer months and you might as well be in the Everglades, or the Mississippi Delta, the air's that heavy and wet. This day would be no exception.
The sun rises early here and sets late, and in between it bakes down on the morass of concrete highways and freeways that snake throughout southeastern Michigan and down, too, upon the acres of blacktop parking lots at the malls and shopping centers that replaced the wetlands and cornfields of a generation or two ago. The sun bakes from above and the cement and blacktop bake from below.
"Ozone action" days are declared, meaning no one is supposed to fill their gas tanks or cut their lawns between sunrise and sunset, though no one pays attention.
Cops on traffic patrol worry about road rage.
Mick Fletcher slipped out of bed, took a shower, put on one of his conservative dark business suits and headed out at 8:55 for his 9 a.m. pre-trial in Warren's 37th District Court. He left the court at 10 for his office in nearby Center Line, then stopped at the Rite Aid drug store across the street to pick up a can of Coke and a Hallmark greeting card for Leann. When she had told him she was pregnant, his first words were that he hoped it was a boy. She'd taken it the wrong way.
Leann was on the phone to Lindy when Mick pulled in the driveway about 10:30. Leann was feeling kind of punk, a little morning sickness she thought, and was lying on the couch. She and Lindy made plans to go for a walk, after the trip to the shooting range. Mick had to go back to the office later, and Leann had to pick up Hannah at her parents'. Lindy said she'd meet her there, and she and Lindy and Hannah — maybe Jack and Gloria, too — could go for a walk on the trails at a park near the Miseners'.
Leann heard Mick pull in, told Lindy she'd have to go. She hadn't realized the time; she'd planned to be dressed and up off the couch before he got back. She didn't want him thinking that's all she did all day, lie around and talk on the phone.
They hadn't broken off the call when Mick came in. He handed her the card. She was thrilled, bragged about it to her sister, then hung up so she could open it and read it, then she stuck it in her purse to read again later. To show Lindy and her mom. Whatever had caused it, he was a changed man since Easter, better than she'd ever hoped for.
The printing on the front of the card said:
When I met you, I had no idea
how much my life
was about to be changed ...
but then, how could I have known?
A love like ours happens
once in a lifetime.
You were a miracle to me,
the one who was everything
I had ever dreamed of,
the one I thought existed
only in my imagination.
And when you came into my life,
I realized that what I
had always thought
couldn't compare to the joy
loving you brought me."
Inside, Mick had written:
I might not always tell you, but you mean the world to me.
I love you so much, sweetheart; and girl or boy, so long as they are a part of you, our children will all be beautiful.
I love you!
The Fletchers drove separate cars to Leann's parents', so Mick could just drop her off there later. Leann stopped for gas along the way at a Citgo. When they got there, Jack and Gloria both walked outside to greet them as they pulled into the driveway, then all five of them walked back inside.
Leann and Mick were inside just a minute or two. They said they'd be gone for an hour. Mick would drop Leann off and go back to work. Leann said she'd made plans to go to the park with Lindy and Hannah. Jack and Gloria had just started exercising, and they asked if they could go, too. As they were leaving, Gloria pulled her daughter aside, just outside the house and said, "How come you guys are going to the firing range?"
"Mick wants to teach me how to shoot, in case I ever need to use the gun. And he's been so good lately, I want to keep him happy."
Then, joking, Gloria said, "Mick didn't take out an extra insurance policy on you, did he?"
Leann rolled her eyes and said, "Oh, Mom, he's not going to shoot me."
Those were the last words Gloria would ever hear her daughter speak.
It was 11:50 a.m. when Mick and Leann got into the Dakota truck and left for the Double Action firing range a five-minute drive away.
* * *
The Double Action range is off Dequindre, the same main north–south road the Miseners live near. It looks like any of the myriad other low-slung, cookie-cutter buildings that line Dequindre — engineering firms, small manufacturing facilities making auto parts, medical offices.
Inside, the action was sparse, but still deafening. Most of the alleys were vacant. Paul Yaeck, the head of security at St. John Hospital, was there with a couple of other men testing new firearms.
They noticed the young couple at the far end of the range. Yaeck knows his weapons, and knew that Leann was using a .45, a big, powerful gun for a fairly small woman. Heck, a big gun for anybody, for that matter. It has a terrific recoil, and it seemed clear to him that Leann was neither proficient, nor comfortable firing it.
About 12:15, maybe 12:20, the young couple stopped shooting. They were calling it quits a little early. An employee who just happened to be watching thought it was kind of cute, endearing even, that the woman bent over and picked up her spent cartridges. A rookie, obviously, who didn't know it was okay to leave your cartridges where they lay.
Instead of heading north the two or three miles to the Miseners', the Dakota turned south. The couple, Mick would tell police later, had decided to take advantage of Hannah's absence and race home for a quickie. It is about 15 minutes from the Double Action in Sterling Heights to the house on Hazelwood Avenue. So that would have gotten them there about 12:30, 12:35.
Much of what happened next is disputed. Leann went to the bathroom, removed her blue shorts and underpants, washed her hands and returned to the small bedroom.
At some point very soon, the Smith & Wesson boomed out with a roar made deafening by the closeness of the wet-plaster walls. Leann was shot in the right ear, her brain stem severed, death a certainty even before gravity could exert its tug. A mist of high-velocity blood, an aerosolized spray of red, shot out her right ear the instant the bullet went in. Blood poured out her nostrils. She fell to the carpet and soon a pool of thick red had formed around her.
At 12:48 p.m., Mick Fletcher called 911 at the Hazel Park police station. His wife, he said between gasps of hysterics and a high, keening whine, had shot herself. He'd gone to the bathroom. He was in there when the gun went off. He came out. His wife was shot. His honey was dead. The dispatcher told him to stay on the the line, not to touch anything. Mick called out to his his wife, got hysterical. The dispatcher tried to calm him down. He told him again not to touch anything. "I'm not, I can't even be in there," said Mick, who had walked outside with the cell phone. He lit a cigarette and stayed on the phone with the dispatcher.
Excerpted from A Deadly Affair by Tom Henderson. Copyright © 2001 Tom Henderson. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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