Jessica Liberman sat alone on the front porch of her home. She stared blankly into the morning rain falling inches from her feet. The safety of the porch overhang was enough to keep the drops from soaking her, but the wind seemed to change directions each time she moved, and it blew the mist right at her. It wasn’t like it really mattered. The pain of the grueling detoxification process, the loss of her brother, the disappearance of her husband, and Becky moving away left her numb. She couldn’t feel the rain on her face.
Becky had packed up and left before Johnny’s body was cold in its grave. The house Becky shared with Johnny now held nothing but painful memories. She knew the man she’d loved with all her spirit would never walk through their front door again. She packed whatever bags she could carry, kissed Jessica and Katie goodbye, and jumped on the next plane for her parents’ home in Florida. Jessica knew deep down that the two of them would probably never see each other again.
Johnny acted in the service of a friend when he tried to help Toby, but Jessica knew her brother well enough to know that he must have gone about it in the wrong way. He’d always been too hotheaded and impatient. Only Jessie McGee knew what fate had really befallen her brother, and he was a little too busy to talk right now. With his daily speeches in the town square and organizing of search parties, McGee riled the people into a frenzy and had them ready to shoot Toby on sight. If she’d tried to warn Johnny, it would’ve only made the situation worse for everybody. She didn’t believe a word of McGee’s fantasy.
Toby was the biggest mystery of all. Her soft-spoken, easygoing husband had allegedly killed four people, escaped from a concrete cell, and eluded the authorities and vigilante mobs for almost a week. This was not like him at all. Sure, Toby had given Jessica bits and pieces of information over the years regarding his military days and the training he received, but she didn’t believe him capable of the deeds done. She hoped he was headed south and had made it into Mexico, or that he at least found a safe hiding place. Neither of those scenarios offered Jessica much more than a shred of peace for her troubled mind. The money and food were beginning to run low. There was no other source of income in the house. With Johnny and Becky gone, there was nowhere to turn for help. As for the townspeople, they wouldn’t so much as look at her. Jessica was a murderer’s wife.
Normally, sobriety was hard enough without coming up against these multitudes of problems. Every now and then, a twinge of her addiction would wash over her, and she dug deep within herself to keep it from taking over. There were several times Jessica’s alter-ego wanted to call Jessie McGee for one last bump, but she knew she would most likely claw his face before he made it through her front door. Hell, Katie would probably do something worse than clawing. Jessica had never felt so lost.
There was no telling what the future held for Jessica and Katie. It was a dark cloud which shadowed her every waking moment, and even haunted her dreams. Living minute to minute became difficult enough without worrying about tomorrow. Jessica’s face was so wet from the rain she didn’t realize she was crying. It was a good thing.
“Mom?” the innocent voice of Katie Liberman rang out behind her. “Can I please go back to school today?”
“No, baby,” was Jessica’s monotone reply. “I don’t think you’re ready to go back yet. The kids are going to taunt you to death. You don’t need that.”
“I can handle it, I swear!” Katie whined. “If I have to stare at these walls for one more day, it’s going to cause more permanent damage to me than going to school.”
“No Katie,” Jessica replied, gently raising the volume of her voice. “Not today.”
Rejected and irate, Katie Liberman slammed the screen door. Her footsteps faded up the stairs and into her room at the back of the house. Mother and daughter returned home on the day Becky left, and Jessica hoped the familiarity of their own home would bring Katie some comfort. If it did, Jessica couldn’t see it. She knew a ton of homework awaited Katie when she finally returned to school, but there was too much going on and not enough explanations to send her anywhere alone. Katie would have to deal with it or get used to the idea of home school. At least there were no bullies at home.
As Jessica slowly retreated into herself, falling into nothingness, she stared blankly into the yard at the falling rain. She still couldn’t help but think everything had been her fault, even the accusations against her husband. It was difficult to believe Toby was capable of murder, but he wasn’t quite in his right mind after seeing what he did. It was easy to push the blame onto Jessie McGee, and it would sound good in a public forum or at a twelve-step meeting, but everyone is responsible for their own actions. A simple ‘no’ could’ve prevented all of this. It’d been quoted to her time and time again that “you don’t know what you truly have until it’s gone,” but she never believed it until now.
Just a few days earlier, Jessica would’ve given anything for Toby to offer her a divorce or disappear from the face of the Earth. Now that it happened, all she wanted was to be sitting next to him again on her rain-soaked porch. She wished Toby was the last and only man with whom she’d shared her bed. More than anything, she wished like crazy he was there to comfort Katie.
It wasn’t long before the slow footsteps crept up behind her again and she was more than prepared to repeat herself. Katie Liberman was relentless in her efforts to convince her mother to allow her to return to school. No such luck.
“Katie, go back to bed! You’re not going to school!” she ordered without looking. “We don’t know what’s going to happen from one minute to the next and you need to be rested up if the time comes…”
“And exactly what would we need to be rested for?” came a familiar and frightening voice that made the cold October rain seem suddenly warm and familiar, like an old friend. “Are we going somewhere?”
Jessica whipped around and glared at Sheriff Jessie McGee with fear. She’d known for days this moment would arrive eventually, but she didn’t think now was the right time. She wasn’t ready for the confrontation. Regardless, it was about to take place, and it was as good a time as any. She took a deep breath and prepared for the worst.
“Mrs. Liberman, is your husband home by any chance?”
Of all the things that could’ve rolled off Satan’s tongue at that moment, what did he mean? With the frequent drive-bys from patrol cars and pick-up trucks loaded with pissed off, drunken rednecks with shotguns, the answer to this most peculiar question was obvious.
“No, Jessie. You know damn well that he isn’t here,” she barked at him. “And you’re never going to find him if this is the only place you and everyone else continues to look.”
“I was just curious, my dear,” he explained. “After all, I haven’t received a single phone call from you in days. I figured it was because you didn’t want him to hear our conversation. Just like old times.”
“I haven’t called you because you are the last person on Earth I want to speak to!” she began to boil. “Since the other night, I’ve lost my husband, my family, my life, my brother, and my best friend. The damn list goes on and on! Do you want me to keep going?”
“You’re blaming me for everything that’s happened?” Jessie McGee stated in shock. “I’m just doing my job.”
“Jessie, you’re doing much more than your job and you have been for quite some time!” Jessica interrupted him. “You’ve been taking this way too personally for too long. I can’t help you because I don’t know how. I don’t know where he is or what he’s doing. Please leave!”
Jessie McGee took a very deliberate step closer with a powerful, downward motion of his boot. His sudden anger radiated off his body like heat, and Jessica was close enough to feel it. It sent a powerful shiver up her spine.
“Oh, trust me honey, I can tell you what he’s doing,” McGee said angrily. “He’s running around in the woods and jacking up my rotation!”
“What in the hell do you mean, now?” Jessica demanded.
“Oh, nothing. I find it interesting that one of the few people I’ve taken to my little underground fortress in the forest just happens to be the estranged wife of the man suspected of killing everyone inside of it and burning it to the damn ground!” the Sheriff yelled, panting and short of breath.
Jessica Liberman was totally confused. She’d never mentioned anything to Toby, or anyone else for that matter, about her relationship with Jessie McGee or any of his dirty dealings. She was ashamed of their illicit affair, but she was too fearful for her own safety to ever leak any information. People who crossed the Sheriff tended to disappear.
“Toby wouldn’t do that, Jessie. Toby couldn’t do that.”
“See? There you go defending the son of a bitch again! He killed three people before I brought him into custody, and now, I don’t know how many of them were down there because they’re all burned to a crisp. It’s not like I can bring the damn coroner out there! It would blow me wide open!”
She’d never seen Jessie McGee so upset before. He was an erratic, frantic mess. The one thing she knew for a fact was that the good Sheriff’s world was beginning to crash down all around him. Even though she was scared for her life, this realization gave her a small glimmer of hope. McGee continued as though it was a school lesson.
“Dammit, Jessica, your husband is freaking dangerous! First, he kills a couple of paramedics that were attempting to rescue an injured kid and second, he breaks out of my jail like a super soldier. He keeps me up day and night looking for him. Third, he tracks down my dope lab, slaughters everyone inside like they were animals, and burns the place to the ground! I don’t mean killed, like stabbed, shot, or any other kind of death you’d imagine a killer was capable of. I mean slaughtered!”
Jessica’s stomach was turning with every cruel word which spewed from the Sheriff’s mouth. She held fast to her belief Toby was incapable of such brutal carnage, but who else would be running around causing headaches for Jessie McGee? After all, Toby was the guy who witnessed McGee having his way with his wife only hours before all of this started. Granted, she was certain there were several people out there pissed off to the point of revenge because of Jessie McGee, but this one was hitting a little too close to home. The story got worse with every passing second.
“He took one guy and cut his head off, and then threw it through the wall! My guys down there were packing heat, but he still gutted every one of them! And then, Archie Weldon, wait until you hear this shit…”
“That’s okay,” Jessica attempted to interrupt him. “Because I don’t want to. I think I’ve heard quite enough.”
“Oh no, you haven’t!” Jessie continued. “He cut off Archie Weldon’s hands at the wrists and then dumped the chemicals from the lab all over his face! It’s freaking gruesome!”
“Jessie, if you’re finished with making me sick, what is the point of telling me this?” she asked him.
Jessie McGee looked at her as honestly as possible and attempted to appear concerned. He truly loved Jessica Liberman and had done so since they were school children. He’d caused most of Jessica’s current troubles, but in his twisted mind, he was being chivalrous.
“I love you and I’m frightened for you,” he spoke in much softer tone. “I want you to come out of this house and stay with me where you and Katie will be safe.”
“Jessie, you’ve lost your ever-loving mind!” she fired back.
Her response served to rip away Jessie’s feigned sincerity.
“No, Jessica Liberman. You are out of your ever-loving mind. You were the only one, outside my inner circle, that knew where my place was and what went on there. I believe you shared this sensitive information with him so he could get back at me for what he walked in on the other night. I’m beginning to believe what you and I had together was never real. It hurts me.”
“You whining bastard!” Jessica spat as she rose to her feet. She now stood defiantly facing Jessie. “You know nothing of hurt. You’re crying me a river because you lost your fucking dope lab. I’ve lost everything because of you!”
McGee was taken aback by her anger and seemingly sudden change of heart about their relationship. He desperately searched his thoughts for anything to say to throw the blame back onto her.
“And that’s exactly why I think you’re helping him, you slut! Don’t worry though, I’ll get him, and it will be one less thing for everyone to worry about.”
“Jessie,” she was tired of playing games. “It sounds like you’re the only one who is worried about any of this. I haven’t seen him, but he’s taken a personal interest in you, your kind, and your hobbies. He’s your problem now, not mine.”
Sheriff Jessie McGee was so engrossed in his conversation with the object of his affection that he hadn’t noticed the small frame of young Katie Liberman standing behind him. He was focused on the heated argument bashing her beloved father. Katie spent a lot of time with her mouthy Uncle Johnny during her impressionable years. That, and the fact she’d inherited Toby’s inquisitive nature, freed the anger she managed to keep caged until now. The heated conversation was about to be joined by a new participant.
“Now listen here, you law-dog bastard, my father would never hurt anyone unless it was you. Why don’t you just get back into your little car and drive away from here? We don’t want you here. My mom doesn’t want you here. If my dad is out there killing everyone on his list of people that have hurt him, I’m almost sure he’s coming up on your name.”
“Katie, go back inside!” Jessica pleaded with her.
“No, Mom, I’ve held my tongue long enough,” she said as she turned her angry gaze back to Jessie McGee. “I know what you’ve done with my mother, and I know what you tried to do with my dad. I’m almost sure I know what you did with Uncle Johnny. Your problem is you don’t think anyone will ever challenge you. You think everyone in the county is afraid of you. It will be one of those people who gets you in the end, trust me.”
Jessie McGee was amused by the accusatory outburst from the young girl. He was amazed at how she seemed to have inherited her wit from her Uncle Johnny’s part of the gene pool. Her words seemed to roll right off him without inciting the slightest bit of anger. McGee reminded himself there was a time and place for everything. He was, however, convinced now was as good a time as any to show the teenaged spitfire exactly who held the authority in the situation.
“You better learn to listen to your mother, young lady, because that mouth of yours isn’t going to fly well at my house,” he said matter-of-factly.
Jessica jumped in immediately before Katie could retort.
“Well, she won’t have to worry about that, Jessie McGee, because she’s never going to your house and neither am I for that matter! She can say whatever she wants, whenever she wants! You’re not her damn daddy and you never will be!”
“What about our plans, Jess? What about all the plans we made and the times we shared? Are you going to just throw all of this out the window because you’re confused about the love of a man that is probably going to kill you the first chance he gets?” he pleaded.
Jessica had reached her limit with this reunion, and it was time for Sheriff Jessie McGee to be on his way. She’d begun the encounter with fearful ‘what ifs’ and ‘maybes’ but that trepidation had given way to unbridled anger. It was time for her to show her true feelings to him with the hope those revelations would be enough to send him running away with his tail tightly tucked between his cowardly legs.
“Jessie, I hate you. I’ve always hated you,” she began. “Sure, I’ve tolerated you at times, and when I was hooked on dope, you were a cool person to have around. All I had to do was lay still long enough for you to get your rocks off while I pretended you were somebody else. Not a celebrity, either. I just pretended you were Toby, just that he was maybe sick and his dick had shrunk. I have no need for you in my life anymore, and I never did. That was the other Jessica. That Jessica is dead now, and I never want to see her again. I never want to see you again. You were nothing but a dealer to me.”
“Jessica, you don’t mean any of this,” the Sheriff interrupted, nearly in tears.
“No!” she continued with the ferocity of a Texas springtime thunderstorm. “I mean every word of this, Jessie! I was hooked on dope, and you were giving it to me. How hard is that to comprehend? I love my husband, regardless of what you think he’s done, and I haven’t helped him at all because I haven’t seen him. Chances are, when I do see him, I will help because that’s what I vowed to do all those years ago in front of God and everyone else in this stupid, one-horse town. You caused all of this! You caused my problems with Toby and, even though I can’t prove it, you killed my brother just to sweep him out of the way. If Toby is out there killing people, I’m with Katie. I hope you’re next!”
Katie Liberman stood behind the two of them with her mouth wide open in disbelief. Never had she heard her mother use so much colorful and hateful language, especially not with the one who held the most powerful position in the county. For the first time in a very long time, she looked at her mother with a sense of hope.
“Katie!” Jessica said in a tone Katie hadn’t heard since she was a toddler, “Do what I said and go to your room! The grown-ups are talking.”
Without a snappy retort, Katie went back inside. She slammed the screen door behind her and bolted up the stairway for the safety of her bedroom. Jessie McGee was struck dumb by the sudden truths revealed to him by the woman he loved more than his own miserable life. He slowly turned and looked at her as tears welled up in his eyes, obscuring the windows to his rotten soul. “So, this is how it’s going to be, Jessica Liberman?” the Sheriff asked as calmly as he could, given the circumstances.
“Yes, Jessie. This is how it’s going to be. I’m going to find Toby, he’s going to clear his name, and we’re going to live happily ever after the way that we were always supposed to. By then, hopefully I can find a way to pin my brother’s murder on you, and you can be the one rotting in a jail cell. I don’t love you. I never did. Now, get in your damn car and leave my property before I join my husband in his alleged killing spree and take care of you before he ever gets the chance!”
The Sheriff was still reeling from the hate spewing from the angry woman. Not that much time had passed since she’d been his whole world. It was becoming apparent to him there was nothing he could say or do to win her back. He’d callously swept so many people out of his life over the years. People who’d served their purpose in furthering his career and outlived their usefulness. He wondered how he would ever place the memories of Jessica in the same compartment of his consciousness that held the memories of those he no longer cared about.
“Then, so be it,” he spoke finally.
McGee rose to his feet and headed toward his squad car. He’d parked it around the corner to make sure he maintained the element of surprise upon his arrival. He was unable to shift his focus back to the tasks at hand. He was still trying to process all the revelations thrown his way over the previous ten minutes or so. There were no thoughts of the murderous Toby Liberman or his recently deceased friend Johnny Haynes, taunting him during his school days. There were no thoughts of the others he’d destroyed on his treacherous ascent to the top. All that occupied his mind was Jessica’s cold stare. Well, that and the words of her uncontrollable brat of a daughter. As much as he hated to do it, they had to be swept away, too. In a final effort to win forgiveness, he turned toward Jessica and pleaded his case again.
“Johnny pulled on me first, Jessica. I had no choice.”
Jessica was unmoved. “Jessie McGee, I know you and Johnny never liked each other, but my brother respected you as an authority figure. He was stupid at times, but not that stupid. Just get out of my life, and we’ll call it even. If Johnny were here today, I’m sure he’d agree. Go home, Jessie.”
Jessie was as compelled to keep talking as a drowning man would be to keep reaching for the surface of the water.
“Jessica, I love you, but there’s nothing I can say or do to change your mind about me. This is all I want you to understand, though…,” he paused, choosing his words carefully so as not to be misunderstood. “You and Katie don’t need to bother hanging up your funeral clothes, because you’re going to need them soon. I’m going to catch your husband and the only justice that will be awaiting him will be at the end of my gun. Your daughter won’t have to worry about embarrassing visitations at the county jail, and you won’t have to wonder if he’s being violated by some of his fellow inmates. I’m going to hunt him down like the murdering dog he is, and when I do, I’m going to shoot him dead, along with anyone else who happens to be present. Mark my words, Jessica Liberman, you’re a widow waiting to happen, and when you’re down on your luck and you have no one else to turn to, you’ll need me again.”
With that, Jessie McGee turned headed for his squad car. He took cold comfort in the knowledge that the conversation hadn’t ended with him being dumped by the trophy of his mortal enemy. True to form, Jessie McGee had the last word. He could tell by her expressions and the heat of the conversation Toby wasn’t staying with them and hadn’t shown his face since escaping the jail. It was time to look in new directions. It was truly time to do some actual police work like he’d been trained to do so many years earlier, rather than rely on his strength, influence, and what remained of his paid thugs. With a turn of the key, he brought his vehicle to life and squealed his tires in the direction of his office.
Finally, Jessica could breathe.
She was in a state of disbelief at what she’d done and who she’d just stood up to. Many a man, woman, and child had fallen at the hands of Sheriff Jessie McGee for saying and doing much less. Her newfound courage and sense of empowerment was dampened by the realization she was nearing the end of her miserable rope. As her conversation with Jessie had drawn to a close, she’d secretly wished he would’ve taken out his gun and finished her off to save her the trouble. Katie needed her, though. Jessica was all she had left to cling to. On top of that, Jessica had learned to need Katie just as much. The only thing missing in the equation was her daughter’s father, her missing husband, to make her family whole again. Her mind raced wildly wondering if she’d ever see Toby again and, if she did, what condition he would be in.
The Sheriff made sure he left her full of dread upon his departure, but she couldn’t help but consider Toby’s recent cleverness. She’d been careful not to reveal her growing suspicion that perhaps he was capable of destroying McGee’s dope lab. For years, she’d listened to Toby’s psychobabble about potentially harming those who wronged him in the past, but she knew in her heart he didn’t possess the courage to take on such a long list. Every man had superhero delusions of grandeur from time to time, but it seemed as if perhaps Toby was living his over the course of the previous days. What in the hell was he doing, and who was he doing it with?
For the most part, Toby was nothing without Johnny’s nerve to say and do things normally considered totally out of line. Johnny told her time and again of the numerous occasions he had to take up for Toby at work, in school, and in the bars. It was almost like some kind of repressed childhood anger issue that caused him to cower in the face of adversity. Perhaps what Toby watched the night he walked in on her and Jessie had been the straw that broke the camel’s back. Maybe the jolt of seeing Jessica wrapped in the arms of another man awakened something lying dormant inside. If Toby was the one giving the Sheriff and all his goons such a hard time, he’d have a lot to answer for if he ever got caught. Jessica Liberman knew there would likely be no capture involved. There would be only death. Sheriff McGee would make damn sure of that.
Glancing back into the pouring rain and attempting to zone out without any more surprises, Jessica began to concentrate on where things went wrong. What was happening and where was it leading? She feared the worst from the Sheriff and was beginning to think Katie would no longer be safe, either. It was as if she was standing at a crossroad where all the lanes were magically erased by some unseen force. Suddenly, her concentration was broken yet again.
“Damn, Mom, you sure told him!” Katie plopped down beside her.
“Katie Liberman, I’m not kidding! Go to your room and leave your mother alone for a little while.”
“But Mom…,” came the angelic voice.
“Don’t ‘but Mom’ me, Katie,” Jessica responded surely. “I’m so nerved out right now that I can’t see straight. Please, honey, just give me a few more minutes, and I swear I’ll be inside.”
“Fine,” Katie replied with disappointment before stomping the hardwood floor back toward her room.
Unknown to his distraught wife, Toby was watching the confrontation from a high perch in one of his yard’s numerous ancient trees. His first instinct when he saw Jessie McGee coming around from behind the house was to take him down quickly and quietly but, if it had all gone south, it would’ve put Jessica and Katie in danger. Instead, he watched from above and loved every minute of it.
His heart sang joyously for the love of his wife and daughter with every taunt McGee received at the hands of his two strong women. The look of sadness on the Sheriff’s face delighted Toby to the point he nearly laughed himself out of the tree on more than one occasion. Jessica was still in love with him after all. Now, all he had to do was figure out a way to make things right. The only thing standing in his way was McGee and his posse. He would most definitely have to take them all out if he were to ever get his life back and rejoin his family. Toby needed to prove to the people of Twin Oaks that he wasn’t responsible for the heinous crimes he’d been accused of but, there was still doubt in his mind. Now he knew exactly what he was capable of, and even though the acts of violence at the dope house were of his own free will, there was still no telling what he’d been doing under the influence of the animal on the first night of his transformation. For all he knew, he was guilty of killing Ryan Weldon and the two paramedics. He shuddered at the thought.
Heartened by Jessica and Katie’s expressions of support for him, he knew he had something worth fighting for. For once, Toby held the power to set things right in a place where so much had gone wrong. It was his reoccurring superhero dream come to life in many ways, just without the fancy costume… and with too much hair, way too much hair. The main question was, would people accept him? If he were to expose the Sheriff for all he was and all he’d done over the years, the murders, the drug trafficking, would the people rally behind Toby and accept him, or would they see him as a hideous monster set on devouring children at any given minute? No matter what, he knew he had to try. It was the only way.
Turning quickly, he began the change to make his way back to the cemetery. He had to tell Johnny what he learned and warn him that his sister and Katie were about to be in just as much danger as he was. With Johnny’s help, Toby figured he’d at least have a heads up in any situation along his rocky road to redemption. After all, no one could see Johnny but Toby, and that gave him a tactical advantage unlike any other. He paused suddenly.
Drawing the large tufts of developing hair back inside his skin, his heart sank with the realization of what could happen to his family if he didn’t act quickly. What if they met their demise, like so many others, at the hands of McGee without ever knowing the truth? Watching them nightly from the safety of the trees was comforting, even though Jessica and Katie had no idea he’d been so close. From what he could make out from her conversation with the Sheriff, Jessica hadn’t even suspected he might be nearby. Changing the minds of the townspeople would be impossible if he couldn’t convince his own family first. There would be no point in even trying. It was now or never.
Sliding down the mighty oak and slipping onto the porch, he made his way behind his wife and pondered what to say. Perhaps something funny to ease the tension would be appropriate. He didn’t want to trigger any sudden outbursts or alarms. For nearly a week, the only people he’d engaged in conversation were either dead, about to die, or doing the killing. Innocence was nearly forgotten when it came to personal interaction. Neither of the individuals, who were about to learn of his presence and the secrets he held, had seen death or caused it before. Taking a deep, cleansing, and quiet breath, he cautiously approached his Jessica from behind and prepared for the worst. It didn’t take her long to pick up on a presence.
“Katie, this is the last straw!” she explained in a rage. “You’re not too old to spank, little lady, and so help me, I’ll do it!”
Standing and turning in a single motion, expecting to see her persistent daughter before her, she fell to her knees as she looked upon the face of her husband. Tears began to fall from her eyes. She was comforted by his warm hand as he placed it gently upon her cheek.
“Don’t worry, Tiny Dancer,” he spoke gently. “Everything is going to be all right. I promise.”
Winner – 2011 Reader’s Favorite Award
Toby Liberman is nearing the end of his rope. After a fateful confrontation with his wife’s lover, he is chased into the woods only to be discovered by an unidentifiable creature. He is attacked and rendered unconscious. Upon waking at the scene of a gruesome triple homicide, Toby is arrested as the sole suspect and thrown into a jail cell with a strange man that knows way too much about his predicament. The stranger reveals to Toby that he now possesses the curse of the werewolf. Using his new-found strength to flee his captors, Toby begins to discover that things are not what they seem in the sleepy town of Twin Oaks, TX. Now hunted by law enforcement, as well as the town’s gun toting civilians, Toby seeks vengeance against his false accusers and embarks upon a quest to clear his name once and for all.