Angels & Demons
IMAGINING THE WORST: Scott Hopkins, an investigator with the state attorney's office, sits on his boat near the place in Tampa Bay where Christe Rogers' body was recovered. One evening, a few months before the trial, Hopkins took his boat to this site and tried to understand what had happened to the Rogers women the night they were killed.
Late one night, an investigator stared into the dark water where the bodies of the Rogers women had made their way back to the surface of the world. It was a few months before the trial was scheduled to begin. Scott Hopkins, an investigator with the state attorney's office, had been cruising in his 17-foot Boston Whaler, clearing his mind, getting away from the case for a couple of hours. He was near the mouth of Tampa Bay, steering toward home, the Sunshine Skyway shining behind him, when it occurred to him how close he was to the place where the first body -- Christe's body -- had been sighted.
It was a gorgeous evening, cool and clear, no moon to speak of, the dome of the sky lit with a thousand stars. The air was still. The water calm. Hopkins checked the coordinates on the glowing screen of his navigational computer, just to make sure he was in the right spot. He turned his engine off.
He stood on the bow, his eyes fixed on the water, and tried to envision the scene from that other boat on that other night. He thought of Jo and the girls, lying on the deck, the duct tape over their mouths, the ropes around their necks. How long had they been forced to wait for it to end? One hour? Four? He wondered who had been thrown over the side first. Was it the youngest or the oldest? And what about their clothes? They all had been found naked from the waist down. What had been done with their shorts, their underwear, their shoes?
Hopkins, a father of two daughters who had been close to Michelle's and Christe's ages at the time of the murders, knew he was trying to comprehend something incomprehensible.
Of one thing, though, Hopkins was certain. He looked at the lights of St. Petersburg, glimmering to the northwest like some scene invented by a child, and he looked at the bay stretched about him like a sheet of ruffled satin, and he felt himself wrapped in the solitude of the night air, and he realized that, for Jo and her daughters, all of these wondrous things would have been turned upside down. That night, the bay would have seemed so vast and cruel, and the lights of the shore would have looked so out of reach, and the silence would have been absolute, mocking them, suffocating them, amplifying the pounding of their hearts.
Now, gazing into the distance, Hopkins did what so many of the others working on the case had done over the years. He prayed.
Hopkins prayed every day about the case. But this prayer, here tonight on the water, was different. This was a prayer of desperation.
The trial, Hopkins knew, would not be easy to win. Yet he had no doubt that Oba Chandler was guilty and no doubt that if Chandler went free, he would kill again. So Hopkins asked God to guide him and the rest of the prosecution team on to the right path, to lead them toward a conviction.
When he was done, Hopkins turned the engine back on and headed for shore.
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