P. 1
The List

The List

|Views: 93|Likes:
Published by chainbooks
Eleanor Swift became a judge to please her father, but her career took a different path and years later she finds herself embroiled in a world of corruption and case fixing. She wants out but she needs to take on one more case - defend Vincent Morelli, the man who introduced her to the underworld. As Eleanor is drawn deeper in, she is forced to draw up a list of people she must kill. The problem for Eleanor is that Detective Robert Harding’s name is on that list. A man who cannot die. Eleanor needs to find a way to give Morelli the defense he needs while managing to keep Robert alive.
Eleanor Swift became a judge to please her father, but her career took a different path and years later she finds herself embroiled in a world of corruption and case fixing. She wants out but she needs to take on one more case - defend Vincent Morelli, the man who introduced her to the underworld. As Eleanor is drawn deeper in, she is forced to draw up a list of people she must kill. The problem for Eleanor is that Detective Robert Harding’s name is on that list. A man who cannot die. Eleanor needs to find a way to give Morelli the defense he needs while managing to keep Robert alive.

More info:

Published by: chainbooks on Apr 03, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

Availability:

Read on Scribd mobile: iPhone, iPad and Android.
download as PDF, TXT or read online from Scribd
See more
See less

01/21/2013

pdf

text

original

1

2

The List CHAPTER 1 Eleanor was making a list of the people she was going to kill. The ink was still wet on Robert’s name. Eleanor watched as the blue liquid turned from dark to light on the cream parchment paper willing the process to stop. Seconds later the ink had dried. Inevitability had run its course. It was too late. Holding back a scream, Eleanor threw her Mont Blanc pen across the desk. It bounced, spun and came to a stop at the end of her blotter, its trajectory halted by the oak framed picture on her desk. Eleanor and her father. She sat still for a moment. A throbbing pain was taking hold of her head. It had started early that morning, when she had made the decision to write the list, and had been gathering force ever since. She couldn’t afford to allow it to mutate into a migraine so she pushed two pain killers out of their foil pack and threw them back with an inelegant glug of Evian. Eleanor rubbed her temples in an attempt to soothe the pain. Standing, Eleanor strode to the mirror, her black robes flapping heavily at her ankles. She hated those damn robes and everything they had come to represent. She’d worn them for nearly fifteen years, each day the outfit becoming more and more a part of who she was until somewhere along the way she had lost sight of where she ended and the robes began. The crisp, thick, starched material disguised the shape of the woman underneath, but her outline could not be mistaken. At six feet tall, the sight of Eleanor was commanding, even more so as her athletic legs carried her frame the five long, confident steps across the plush carpeted room. When Eleanor appeared, people stared. She enjoyed it. The feeling of importance and power exuding from her like she was born to be stared at in awe. In a way, her height determined that she was.

3

Eleanor reached the mirror and fiddled with her collar. She wished she could take a long hard look at herself in the eye, ask herself why she had become the woman she was, how things had come to be the way they were-but she couldn’t do it. She tried more than once, but each time her pupils flickered towards their counterpart reflection, they would dart away, holding no more than a second, hiding from the truth. Eleanor stared past herself into the distance of the mirror as she did so. It was a skill she had practiced for years. Looking, but not seeing. Not properly. With her collar straight, she checked her watch. She was due in court in ten minutes. Leaving the mirror, Eleanor started to pace around her chambers. It was a grand space, but economical in size. She headed to her favorite wall, the one that housed row upon row of old bookshelves. They would have remained dusty from underuse had the night shift of the cleaning staff not been so efficient in keeping her room spotless. She trailed her hand over the volumes, remembering the same action from her childhood in her father’s study. She had loved the woody, earthy smell of the heavy tomes. Many of her childhood Saturday afternoons had been spent watching her father hop from one volume to another, making notes, marking pages with scraps of paper, creating a chain of thought as he picked his way through the legalities of his latest case. Becoming a judge had meant so much to Eleanor. Her father had made it seem so worthy. He was the reason she had tortured herself for four years at Harvard followed by Bar School. Then there had been countless, painstaking years as a lawyer before she finally, eventually, and deservedly got the offer she had coveted. Judgeship was an institution in her family. Her father, her grandfather, her great-grandfather, back and back, she could trace the legal lineage of her family. She was the first woman with the Swift name to achieve the honor and she knew her father would have been so proud to see her achieve his dream.

4

Patrick Swift had failed to bear a son. Eleanor had arrived easily and within twelve months of marriage. To Patrick it must have felt like there was plenty of time, but for the rest of his wife’s child bearing years there had been nothing more than one miscarriage after another. By the sixth loss of life, the Swifts admitted defeat. They were blessed with Eleanor, they were to be grateful for the one miracle they had been given. But deep down it was clear that the lack of a son caused her father a significant degree of disappointment, not that it was ever voiced, but the fact followed Eleanor through her life, each time she was taken to a sports game or when she was given a basketball for her sixth birthday. Ultimately, Patrick wanted someone to carry on the Swift name. Eleanor couldn’t do it through paternity, not that she wanted children anyway, but she could give him the next best thing. Another Swift on the bench. She could become a judge. She had toyed with the notion from her early teens but the promise was made when her father was coughing through his last days of lung cancer. It was a death bed promise. Never to be revoked. Ever. Whether due to superstition or respect. The swell of pride on his face when she had declared her intention was still with her, even now. It was enough to get her through even her darkest days. Today being one of them. Eleanor thought about that promise. She had never said she would be a good judge. At least not the kind of good her father would recognize. She threw her eyes at her desk. She wanted to imagine her father proud of her if he could see her now. But it wouldn’t be true. Eleanor continued to pace. With her long legs and the small square footage of the room, she found herself looping. After the wall that contained her legal library, she passed her sink and mirror again, turning her sight away to avoid the scrutiny of her reflection, before continuing on to the window. The panes of glass were long and well-polished affording her an expansive view

5

from her office in Foley Square. She was directly across from the Office of the City Clerk and a two minute walk away from Centre Street where several of her Supreme Court cases were held. Eleanor made the walk quickly, even in heels. The truth was Eleanor Swift had never enjoyed the law. As much as she had tried, for her father’s sake, she couldn’t find it within her. She loved books and words, and the law offered her plenty of both, but the initial appeal she had felt watching her father had worn off before the end of her first semester. As it turned out, passion for the law didn’t run in her family, at least not as far as she was concerned. It wasn’t that she didn’t understand the point of her role, it was simply that she didn’t care. If she was honest with herself, something she hadn’t been for some time, it was probably boredom that had sent on the path that delivered her to her current fate. Led her to the list. What a horrible idea, she thought. People were going to die for the reason of boredom? Lack of excitement? Eleanor sighed, a deep, frustrating pant out of breath. She had bowed to her father’s desire, pursued with vigor a career that she hated, ventured down a dark path. She couldn’t change it. Still at the window, Eleanor took another long, hard look at the panorama before her. It was a New York that felt brand new every day, a place where time could never be captured or forced to stand still. Lost were the traditions of justice and truth. Words that had become so alien to Eleanor she wouldn’t even begin to know how to rediscover their meaning. She turned her back on the view, feeling like an impostor standing in its midst, and continued her circular path back to where she had started. The sturdy, mahogany desk. It had no doubt been used over the centuries by many men, and fewer women, to sit and write the noble judgments she had once pledged to hand down. That was not the purpose of her desk now. In the center was the seemingly innocent sheet of paper. The list. Eleanor’s heart

6

picked up pace again and the dulling efforts of the pain medication she had taken began to unravel, the pounding returning with vigor. She tried an in-out breathing method she’d once learned on a family trip to India. It had no effect. As hard as she tried to put the list out of her mind, the heavier its weight became. It would not shift. The clock on the wall told her she had five minutes to go. A sense of foreboding settled as soon as she saw Morelli’s name on her trial schedule. Their paths hadn’t crossed in nearly a decade. Eleanor had been starting out then. She’d relished the challenge he’d given her, exceeded his expectations – she was a smart woman. She’d taken the money, not that she had needed it--but she had earned it, why shouldn’t she be rewarded? After that first case, Eleanor found herself with a steady stream of extra income, and Morelli had put her name around, in circles Eleanor didn’t care to know too much about. She’d taken the cases and frittered away the money on material items that satisfied her no more than her work. The unnecessarily large six bedroom house, the place in the Cayman Islands, the yacht. It wasn’t small change she was making, but still that wasn’t the point. Eleanor liked achieving the unachievable. She liked risk and danger. Or at least she had, until the price had become too high. After her first job for Morelli, she had sworn no more. Not for him, at least. There was a core of evil that lingered deep within his being. Eleanor hadn’t realized this until half way through the job but by then she had already passed the point of no return. That was when she had promised herself it would be her first and last case for him. She had been petrified at how she might extricate herself from his association. She had done an excellent job; he was sure to want to use her skills again. But fortune had favored her and he hadn’t come knocking on her door since. He’d sent his colleagues her way, and she had been happy to oblige. There was mutual benefit. She got a whiff of excitementas they used her power and position.She was rewarded

7

handsomely and no one got hurt. Not really. There were victims, obviously. False verdicts would do that. But no lives were lost. At least none directly by her hands. In time, Eleanor had come to forget that first job for Morelli. Until his name had reappeared. At first she thought it might have been coincidence. No. She been selected on purpose, of course, but unlike the first time, he didn’t just want Eleanor’s help. This time he needed it. Morelli was the defendant. She hadn’t disagreed. Not because of the challenge but because of fear. Work for Morelli this one last time, then she would stop, she told herself. She would retire. Hand back her title, her position that she had abused so often she no longer knew what her real role was. She’d known what she was getting into. Hadn’t she? Back at her desk Eleanor looked at the five names one last time. Robert was at the bottom. Maybe he had a chance? Eleanor picked up the list and applying a firm crease, slipped it into the matching envelope. Then she reread the note she had penned earlier. It was only one paragraph long, but it was enough. He would know what to do. She hoped. Eleanor folded the note and placed it into the envelope to join the list. There were fingerprints and handwriting analysis that could all point to her. She licked the gummy edge of the flap. Now DNA, too. But it wouldn’t matter. Sealing the envelope, Eleanor fought her hesitation as she penned the recipient’s name on the front. It had to be this way. Eleanor tapped the flat edge of the envelope on the table, a tick of nervousness she hadn’t shown since she was a teenager. Her mind raced and her thoughts ran through the possible outcomes. No, it was too difficult to contemplate; she turned her mind in another direction. How far would it go before it was stopped? Could it be stopped at all? Eleanor thought of Robert again. He wasn’t entirely innocent, not like James and Laura, the first two names on her list. Yet, oddly, despite their innocence Eleanor felt nothing about killing them. What did that say about

8

her as a person, she wondered with curiosity? She hadn’t been abused as a child or suffered any life altering trauma. Maybe she had just been born bad? Proof of the power of nature over nurture? But there were other names on the list that did concern her. Did that mean there was a corner of her soul that wasn’t black? He was in her thoughts again. Robert. She hadn’t known Robert that long. They were not lovers. Never likely to be – that was a door Eleanor had sealed shut many years ago. She didn’t want a husband, or a family. Yes, there were men. When she felt like it. She had needs and urges, the same as all women. But it was sex she wanted. Not romance. No flowers. Never breakfast, no kiss goodbye. A quick and skillful slither back into her clothes and out of the hotel room quicker than it had taken to check in. There was no denying Robert was good looking and if she had met him in a bar, perhaps his future might have been different. He would have been another number, a man she’d had a onenight stand with, not someone on her list. God, how was she going to do it? She shuddered at the idea. Not the physical side of it, that was pre-determined, but mentally. Maybe there was another way, she hoped. Eleanor traced her finger over the name she had written on the front of the envelope. Another time check. Two minutes. Taking a small make-up bag from her desk draw, Eleanor reapplied her bright red lipstick and tucked a stray bottle blonde curl into her up-do. Her hair color was a once a month, a high maintenance job, but one she took seriously. The implications of the grey creeping around her temples and roots of her scalp were too threatening to contemplate. Anyway, the hints of age in her hair, would make all of her Botox and recent facelift pointless expenses. She blotted her lipstick with a tissue, the way her mother had taught her and checked her teeth. All good. She took a deep intake of breath. Ready.

9

Timely as ever, Eleanor’s clerk tapped on her door. She knew it was him. She would recognize his timid rap anywhere. She paused a beat, the list at the front of her mind, before she beckoned him in. “Do something for me,” Eleanor commanded before the young clerk had barely passed the threshold. “Yes.” He was obsequious to the point of annoyance. Never questioning, always complying. She bore her eyes into his, trying to read him. He had the same look every time he spoke to her. What was it? Shyness? Fear? Knowing? All three? She couldn’t quite pin it down. “Post this.” Eleanor passed him the envelope, relieved as responsibility for its contents passed from her to him. Her gaze lingered on the envelope a second longer than they should but it was already done. There was no taking it back. Her clerk took the envelope with a slight shake to his hand. He read the front and a flash of confusion riddled his face when he saw the name. Detective Robert Harding. His lips parted as he went to speak, to question the latest task he had been given. A small sound escaped but he hushed himself, disguising the noise with an unsubtle throat-clearing cough. He’d changed his mind. He wouldn’t ask. Judge Swift would not be questioned. Not by a lowly clerk; it wasn’t worth it. But in that second of indecision – to ask or not to ask, Eleanor saw it. She knew he knew. Eleanor could pass the letter to Robert herself. Anytime she wanted. She could do it that day. Before court. After court. He was right there now, sat in the galley, watching her latest case with interest. Vested interest. The fact that it needed posting was all the confirmation her clerk needed.

10

“Certainly.” James finally acquiesced, his voice high pitched and trembling. Yes, he definitely knew. And that was James’ problem. He knew too much, which was why he was first on her list.

CHAPTER 2

Robert Harding glanced at his watch, wondering when the proceedings would begin. There was a feverish wave of anticipation washing over the court room. He surveyed the room noticing almost every seat in the room was filled. Journalists’ pens were poised and pursued any hint of a scoop like a rabid dog stalks a rabbit. He recognized one of the reporters and barely suppressed his annoyance as she moved towards the empty seat beside him. Mallory Crenshaw gave him a dazzling smile and he gave up any hope of her not recognizing him. “Detective Harding, it’s a big day for you.” She sat down gracefully, smoothing her navy pencil skirt and straightening her matching jacket. “Do you think this will be the day you finally bring Vincent Morelli down?” She had a pencil tucked behind her left ear and he found himself thinking of Lois Lane. Like the comic book character, she was inquisitive, stubborn and fearless. “Well, considering it’s only day one of the trial, I’m not getting my hopes up.” She studied him with bright, sparkling blue eyes. “Still, it seems like you might have enough evidence this time around to get him on something.” Her stare was bold and even a little defiant when she continued, “If he hasn’t bought the judge.” Robert Harding gave her a hard look. “I’m sure Judge Swift will give a fair, impartial ruling.”

11

Mallory released a sound that was a mixture of chuckle and snort. He couldn’t really blame her. There had been rumors swirling around for years about the honorable Judge Swift. When he discovered she would be trying the case, he began to research the judge. The first thing he learned was she was a total knock out. The second thing he discovered was a lot of big fish seemed to never get a guilty verdict in her court. He didn’t want to accuse her of anything openly though. Especially to a journalist as ruthless as Mallory Crenshaw. There was no such thing as off the record with her. He found out how itchy her pen finger was two cases ago. She leaned closer to him so her next words were private. He could feel her breath against his ear and smell the spicy scent of her perfume. “You’re not still mad about the Giovanni case are you, Robbie?” “As a matter of fact, I do get angry when someone lies to me.” “I never said it was off the record.” She moved back a little and she gave him another one of her devastating smiles. He always wondered how she avoided becoming a news anchor. She wasn’t quite the knockout the judge was, but she certainly had something special. He always had a thing for redheads. She continued, “In the situation we were in, I could see why you thought you were off the record though.” “Well, that whole evening was a mistake if you ask me.” “Not for me.” Even though she was flippant about the whole thing, he noticed a flash of hurt in those mesmerizing blue eyes. “Well, if it meant something to you I think you have a funny way of showing it.” “You were out of there so fast I didn’t have a chance,” she snapped. Her eyes narrowed a little then she looked away.

12

Her response actually surprised Robert. He never had the impression their encounter was anything more than a passionate, one night stand. He had no idea she expected anything more from that night. Just the memory of that night made him feel restless. Even though it had been months ago he could still remember the softness of her flesh and the sweet taste of her kisses. He hadn’t been with anyone since. Then Vincent Morelli walked in. The buzzing of the court room ceased and every eye was trained on the defendant. Morelli oozed sophistication. His black suit was Armani and he wore it with confidence. Gold flashed from his wrist in the form of a Cartier watch and the rest of him seemed to tick with the same elaborate expense. His dark brown eyes worked the crowd and he gave a winning smile. The handsome criminal seemed like a man who had no care in the world. Mallory whispered, “He doesn’t look like a man who believes he is facing prison time.” Robert replied, “Well, he’ll believe it when he’s sitting in a cell.” She turned and gave him a thoughtful look. “What do you know, Robert?” She seemed sincere in wanting to know but Robert didn’t fall for it. He had given in to her charms once before and ended up on the losing end. “Well, keep watching court and I’m sure you’ll find out.” Robert Harding knew for a fact the man’s world was crashing down around him. Robert wished he could take credit for the inevitable toppling of the mafia boss. Yet, he had very little to do with the situation. Instead, credit went to a young woman named Honey Wilson. Honey Wilson and more than his fair share of dumb luck. When Honey Wilson walked into the precinct, he almost delegated the situation to one of the younger detectives. In the end, he decided to take her report himself. He trusted his instincts

13

and he was right. Honey Wilson, with her long legs and impossibly perfect breasts, decided she was feeling vindictive. He could still hear her grating voice when she snarled, “Fucking bastard, I can’t believe he was sleeping with the bitch. I told him I was going to rip his nuts off. I decided this was even better. Less messy.” The bastard she referred to was Vincent Morelli. Honey Wilson flew in from an undisclosed location this morning and was ready to testify. While he was thinking about the woman across town the one next to him dug her elbow into his side. “I already know about Honey Wilson. They know about her too and they’ll kill her if they get a chance.” He made sure his face concealed his concern about her words. “And how do you know this?” She gave him a defiant look before letting her mouth shift into a sly smile. “You’re not my only resource, Detective Harding.” Just then Morelli’s eyes settled on the voluptuous redhead and he gave her a grin. She smiled back politely. Robert felt a mixture of anger and fear bubble up. “So, Mallory…do you fuck all your sources?” “Did it ever occur to you my source might be one of your boys in blue?” She didn’t comment on his accusation. He didn’t like her words even though he knew they were true. There was a leak at his precinct which is why he chose to handle all the details around protecting the young model who was the star witness. He took solace in the fact he was the only person who knew where she was staying, the fact she dyed her light brown hair black and let her fake tan fade over her ten months in the witness protection program. Still, nothing was guaranteed until she took the stand and

14

delivered her damning testimony and indisputable evidence. He couldn’t afford for her to show up dead in some river or trash can. She was pivotal to this case. “I’d be careful about your ources. Don’t think they won’t come after you if they feel you know too much,” he warned. She didn’t reply. She grabbed the pencil from behind her ear and scribbled a few sentences into her notepad. He found it strange he could experience such conflicting emotions about the reporter. He wanted her yet, she pissed him off to no end. No matter how desirable she was he couldn’t look past the fact she used him for information. He continued, “Vincent Morelli is a ruthless man and he has no problem killing anyone who gets in his way.” She once again made eye contact with him. “I don’t plan on getting in his way. I’m just here to document the journey.” He couldn’t really argue with her logic so he stopped trying. * * *

James dropped the envelope into the post exactly twenty minutes before he pulled his last gasp of air into his obliterated lungs. He dropped the letter off as he agreed and then went to his car. His sedan was parked on the second floor of the parking garage and he scanned the cars in the lot. Fear clutched at him like a desperate child as he realized he forgot the exact location of his car. His eyes scanned the dark for the forest green Corolla. Seeing only threat in the shadows and light of the garage, he began to walk faster. Then, towards the very end of the last row of cars, he saw his car. He climbed in and let out of a rush of air. He turned the ignition key with a shaky hand and eased out of his parking

15

spot. Navigating his car through the twist and turns of the garage, James finally exited. With every mile he put between him and the courthouse, he could breathe a little easier. The phone rang and he answered cautiously. “Hello?” The female voice on the other end of the call answered, “Hey honey! So when are you meeting me here?” “I fly out tomorrow morning,” he replied. “Oh, I wish you could see how beautiful it is here. So different from anywhere in the United States.” James sighed, happy she sounded so blissful all the way across the world. Yesterday morning, they went to the airport and bought a ticket for Bangkok in cash. He made certain they weren’t followed and just to be sure, he had her enter the bathroom at the airport a blonde and come out a brunette. She changed clothes for good measure. She had a fake passport and identification, so James prayed she wasn’t traceable. Then she flew away from him. His heart sank because he knew there was a very good chance he would never see her again. He knew Laura was safe and that was enough. He never had any intention of falling in love with her. His assignment was simply to perform surveillance of the judge. He had done that. Every movement she made was documented. Tonight he would download all the information and tomorrow he would be on a plane to Bangkok as well. “James?” Her questioning voice snapped him out of his reverie. “Sorry, sweetie…traffic is crazy right now. A game just let out of the stadium.” “Okay, well I’ll let you go. I can’t wait to see you.” “Me too.”

16

“I love you,” she stated and then waited for his response. “I love you too, Laura.” The call ended. A few moments later he entered his house and flipped on the lights, throwing his jacket on the couch. He placed his briefcase down and walked to the refrigerator. After popping the top off a cold Heineken, James gulped savoring the strong flavor. He loosened his tie and plopped down in the computer chair. He pulled the memory card from his cell phone and began downloading all the information into the computer. The download was twenty percent complete and James found himself wishing his computer would move along a little faster. Thirty percent. His foot tapped the floor impatiently and murmured, “Come on….let’s get this over with.” Forty percent, fifty percent, sixty percent flashed as the status bar filled with the green indicating progress. James never stood a chance. The figure emerged from shadows and plunged the knife into his back. James barely registered the brutal assault before the knife penetrated again. He tasted the coppery flavor of blood in his mouth. He gasped for air, terrified by the gurgling sound in his throat. The knife plummeted into his back one more time before death wrapped its hands around his heart and squeezed. The figure leaned down and pressed the cancel button on the computer. One hand reached down and grabbed the memory card, slipping it safe and sound into a jean pocket. The person listened to death rattling in the dying man’s throat. The boss would be very interested to find out the man was downloading something onto the computer. Very interested indeed. Pockets were searched and another interesting discovery was made. Tucked in the right side of the man’s

17

wallet was a badge. Turns out the man wasn’t what he appeared to be. He wasn’t who he said he was either. His driver’s license said his name was Mark Redford. Yes, the boss would be very interested indeed. Laura hung up the phone with James and frowned. Nothing felt right about the situation but she was trying to make the best of it. Two nights ago, James told her he was a law enforcement officer involved with a huge case. She thought he was crazy at first until he showed her his badge. She couldn’t think of him as a Mark. She had known him for seven months as James and in the end, both of them agreed he’d continue to go by that name. One, because it felt more natural for her. The second reason is he didn’t want her to slip and accidentally call him Mark at the office. Of course, the plan didn’t matter because the next day he was shipping her out of the U.S. to Thailand. He gave her an envelope full of fake documents, money and more curiously, a little four gigabyte memory card. “Hold on to this just in case,” he said with quiet urgency. “In case of what?” “In case something happens and I can’t meet you in Bangkok,” he said. “What is this all about, James?” she asked. He never answered her. She got on the plane having no idea if he would join her or not. The little black disk rested in her palm and she stared at it warily. Maybe she should see the contents. She wondered who might want this disk. She decided she didn’t want to know. Whatever lingered on the disk was probably trouble. She didn’t need any trouble. Laura worked hard over the last few years to leave a life of difficulties behind. She completed her internship with Judge Swift and was surprised when the judge offered her full

18

time employment. She never even told Judge Swift she was leaving. She imagined she’d be filing for unemployment by the time she returned to the U.S. Yet, with the amount of money James gave her, she didn’t really need to. Once again she wondered if she should see what’s on the disk. Obviously, she was already involved with something. Wouldn’t it be better to know what it was?

CHAPTER 3

"All rise," the sound bellowed out of the Deputy that stood guard next to her entranceway. His voice echoed off the walls resonating throughout and halting any last minute whispered conversations that were continuing. "This court is now is session, the Honorable Judge Eleanor Swift presiding." The scurrying and bustle of the court room came to a deadened silence when the large oak door swung open and Eleanor Swift began to walk into the room. An imposing figure, given her stature that was heightened by the black flowing robe and slender figure. That is the way it should be, she always thought. The Judge should be a figure to be respected ,even threatened by. She played the part well. As she walked in, she quickly but purposefully scoured the courtroom, her eyes daring from corner to corner as she eyed every inch for a new face or something out of the ordinary. The courtroom was fairly large with high ceilings, dark and cold. Long ago, she decided that immediate eye contact with the attorneys would not only set the tone for the trial, but would send a message to them that this is her court and their demeanor was being as carefully examined as the evidence that was being presented. "How many more times will I hear that?" she asked herself softly.

19

"The State of New York versus Vincent Morelli". Vincent Morelli continued to smile. That wiry Cheshire cat smile. That no one can touch me smile. Morelli leaned over and softly spoke to his attorney an inaudible line or wording. "Mr. Morelli?" Eleanor spoke as she raised her gavel preparing to strike the desk in the same worn spot that she had for the past 15 years. A depression marks her target; splintered wood has been removed, waxed over and coated to ensure that the Judge, who is meticulous about her confined appearance, did not have ammunition with which to fire at her staff. "Do you have something to share?" Her facial expression is that of a grade school teacher that has caught a student with gum and is about to determine if there is enough for the entire class. The judge's tone strikes Morelli off guard. His smile, while continuing to blanket his face, turns slightly as he weighs the possible severity of the situation. This was not his first time in court, nor did he assume it will be his last. In his line of work, Court appearances are common, but not for Vincent Morelli. He had been able to avoid them for the past two decades, always finding someone to put in his place. This time, the state actually has a case, they have a witness, they have a good chance of conviction. Right now he needs to err or the side of caution as he plans and plots how to kill Honey Wilson. The smile fades. Robert Harding turns to Mallory. “Oh, this is going to be fun. The Judge is on a roll today.” His words left his mouth at a volume much higher than he anticipated and Eleanor’s stare slid from Morelli toward the Detective. Cold and piercing. She wasn’t sure at first who had muttered the words nor their exact verbiage so everyone was a suspect during her first glance.

20

Guilt riddled Robert as he looked down ;it was his turn to fall victim to the stare from Judge Swift. At the moment her eyes fell on the Detective, Eleanor knew that it was he that had made some comment. She began to speak and then thought better of drawing attention to herself in relationship to her next victim. The stare slowly turned to Mallory. “Ms. Crenshaw,” her tone continued from her open reprimand of Morelli, “I believe that, should you like to remain in my courtroom, we may need to have words during the break.” “But...” is all Mallory could muster before she was cut off by a slight squeeze on her leg from Detective Harding. He knew all too well that Mallory was not in the position to openly criticize or correct the Judge this early in the trial. Her job was to report on this trial and she could not very well do it sitting outside those massive brown doors attempting to gather what she could from others between work sessions. “But nothing.” With those words Eleanor put her thin finger to her mouth and motioned for the reporter to cease speaking. Mallory slumped down, dejected and a bit embarrassed by the proceedings, but aware that the turn at favor between she and Robert just swung into his favor. That little squeeze may have saved her job right now. “Counselors, approach the bench,” Eleanor barked and made a curling motion with her finger. Looking down from the heights of her bench the two attorneys made their way toward her. Steven Barrett was the first of the two to make his way to the bench. The young District Attorney was on his first major trial case. And major, this was going to be. Young, good looking, ambitious, and full of energy, the recent graduate had an impeccable reputation for hard and

21

thorough work in every other case that he has been involved in. He has moved up through the ranks quickly, almost too quickly in some people’s opinion. As he turning to wait for his opponent in this trial, Steven was struck by the middle aged, heavy set woman that walked toward him. Apparently he was anticipating a different counselor as when she arrived at the foot of the massive bench, he said “Madam, good morning.” “I’m not a madam, there Sparky, I’m the person that is going to kick your...” she started to say with a matter-of-fact tone that was cut short by Judge Swift’s quick notice of the impending disagreement. “Elaine...” She moves the microphone that is recording all of her conversations to the side. Not completely happy that she still wouldn’t be heard, she places her hand over the mic and peers down toward the attentive audience that she has called to her bench. “Folks, let’s get to it. First off, my court. Because of the high visibility and obvious interest in this case, we will have no shenanigans, no bullshit, no arguing, nothing that is going to disrupt this case. I do not want to have a mistrial. Have I made myself clear?” “Yes, your Honor,” both chimed in unison as they continued their awkward stare of each other. “I mean it. Don’t push me on this... I will have you both disbarred if necessary or heads will roll.” No sooner had the words left her mouth than she glanced over toward Robert Harding. Heads will roll. If there was a theme for this trial and what she had to do as a result that would be the phrase. Now, she wondered for a brief second how she had to carry out her other responsibility. * * *

22

Three calls went unanswered. Then four. Laura decided that maybe James had gone out to dinner with the guys from the office after work one last time. But that feeling that something wasn’t right just wouldn’t go away. “One more call before breakfast,” she thought to herself. The time difference was going to play havoc with her until James arrived tomorrow. Once again she pulled the small folded piece of paper from her clutch and dialed the number that she still failed to memorize. Another time she dialed and another time she failed to reach James. “Damn,” she pressed the button three or four extra times in frustration. She knew it wouldn’t help but frustration was taking over after nearly three hours of calling. As she walked back into the small room that she has rented until James arrived, she flicked on the light located next to the doorway. Nothing. “Great,” she thought to herself. Laura made her way over to the bed and reached under the lampshade and twists the hard plastic knob two times. On the second revolution, the dim light under the shade fired up and barely illuminated the room. She had yet to completely unpack. Arriving late in the night, she had only found time to remove the envelope that James had given her and secure it in the room safe. She picked up the telephone that is positioned on the night stand and dialed the number listed on the face that read “Housekeeping”. “Hello, Mrs. Smith.” That is the pseudonym that she gave when she registered at the hotel last night. Maybe she should have thought of a better name, but after the flight that was the only name she could conjure up.

23

“I have a light out in my room,” she said to the young sounding person on the other end of the phone. “Could you...” She stopped short of asking for someone to visit her right now. She needs to find out what happened to James, maybe the light being out and him not answering is somehow related? “Nevermind,” she continued, “it just came back on.” Would she believe it if she was on the other end of the line listening to her trembling voice? “Miss,” there was a long pause and dead silence, “... is everything okay?” “Yes, thank you.” Laura hung up the phone, rattling the handset in its cradle. What if something did happen to James? What did he say the last time that they saw each other? “Hold onto this memory card in case something happens.” Had something happened? Maybe she needed to see what is on that disk. Laura pulled the disk from the envelope and sat on the corner of her bed for what seemed like an hour. Everything was racing through her mind right now. Was James okay? Why wasn’t he answering her calls? Should she open the files on the disk? Would they tell her anything or would she even be able to view it? Once more time, she picked up the phone to call James. One more time she was disappointed with the result. Nothing. “I have to do something,” she said to herself, softly as though she was being listened to by a mysterious hidden person hiding in her room. She stared at the safe where her laptop was stuffed inside offering a sense of security to it. James made sure that she had a voltage converter for it before she left. Now it was time to load the computer up and look at what was on that disk.

24

The familiar chime of the computer acknowledged that it was time to find out exactly what was so important on that disk that James put such a sense of urgency upon her securing it. What would it hold and would it help her put together the pieces of this puzzle that is in front of her? Laura slid the small black disk into the slot on the side of computer. Nothing. Maybe it needs to load up, she reasoned, attempting to convince herself that time will resurrect the informational device. Suddenly she remembered the small locking notch on the side of the disk. She removed it from the computer and slid the notch to the other end, unlocking the information. “Okay, let’s try this again.” Laura’s hands were trembling to the point that she could barely force the disk into the slot. Finally, it engaged and the computer screen went black for a second. Suddenly there was a knock on the door that made Laura jump, losing her grip on the computer, which slid off her knees and onto the floor. “Miss, are you okay?” the voice following the rapping on the door cried out in broken English. “You scared the life out of me,” she replied as she made her way to the door. Suddenly, fear gripped her as her mind raced to the speed at which someone was replying to her call. She slowly walked to the door to look through the peep hole but decided at the last minute to avoid doing that, just in case the person was an intruder that would notice when she was at the doorway. “I’m fine, thank you. Goodnight, all is okay now.” “Are you sure, I would be happy to check it for you?”

25

“No, please leave, thank you,” she replied. When Laura made her way back toward the computer the screen is now filled with the picture of a familiar face. The only words on the screen that are emblazoned above the picture are the words “Client to Protect”. The time was now. I have to call someone, I have to let someone know that something is wrong, Laura said to herself. It had to happen now, she thought. She picked up the cellphone, and dialed a number she had memorized from dialing it countless times over the past years It wasn’t someone you typically call at this hour, but there wasn’t anyone else that she could call and trust. Her fingers were trembling as she slowly dialed the number, no sense in misdialing now. She was already concerned that someone might be tracing her calls. Maybe that was why James hasn’t answered her calls. Maybe something was happening and he was keeping his promise to protect her. The number was on the screen and Laura made the decision to follow through with the call. She pressed “Send” and listened for the familiar sound of the electronic international ringing. One ring. “Come on... please pick up.” Another ring. Is it too late to be calling? She did the quick math in her head to try to figure out what time it as in the US. “It’s almost noon, that should be okay,” she whispers softly to herself. Somewhere between ring three and four the silence on the other end of the sweaty phone was interrupted by a loud click. “Hello?” the voice on the other end of the phone sounded comforting and strong. “Hi, I’m sorry to bother you right now. It’s Laura.”

26

“I know, Laura. Where are you? You just bolted the other day. What happened, what is going on?” “I know, you deserve better, but I will explain all of this later. Right now I need some help,” the quivering of her voice conveyed that something serious was going on. “I have found something, something big. I need to talk to someone. I need to know what to do.” “Are you in trouble, Laura?” the other voice questioned. The concerned voice was somehow comforting, like a friend that you knew would be there to help you, help make decisions and protect you. “No, Detective Harding, I think you may be.” CHAPTER 4 Eleanor fell to her white leather sectional in her spacious living room and silently moaned. Day one of the trial over: only the beginning of the end, and the end nowhere in sight, like a long, winding black tunnel. She rubbed her temples, her headache back full force. She moaned again, that time a long, drawn-out sigh, before leaving the couch and downing another two pain killers. I should really go to the doctor, she thought. Get something stronger. These headaches are getting worse, not better. Eleanor knew her headaches would not improve in the near future, not with all she had on her plate. She didn't care about the deaths; she was immune to feeling any remorse over the loss of those lives. She couldn't fathom why she should be getting those headaches, but she could only assume they had something to do with the list. Otherwise, why had they arrived the same time she had finished composing the list? Coincidence maybe, she thought. But whatever the reason, she needed them gone. It was too hard to concentrate with that horrendous beating, like

27

hammers working away on a railroad, pounding spikes into her skull. And she had a lot of concentrating to do in the next little while. If she lasted that long. After a last gulp of water, Eleanor sauntered into her bedroom to change into something comfortable. It was unlike her, but she was going to waste the rest of the evening by lounging in front of the TV until her headache subsided. * * *

Robert Harding slowly hung up the phone after his conversation abruptly ended with Laura. Bangkok? How in the world did she end up there? If she was even there. Her story didn't make sense. He, Detective Harding, in danger? He didn't know her well, but he had the impression she was a bit of a flake nut and had often wondered how she had ever secured an internship with a judge. He had last seen Laura a few days previous at the courthouse while there on unrelated business. He hadn't realized that Laura and James were an item. James? He was a skinny little runt, a milquetoast. What did a beauty like Laura see in him, even if she were a flake? From the frantic tone of her voice, it sounded like he meant a great deal to her. Robert had had his life in danger previously, so he wasn't unusually scared for himself; more so, he was suspicious of the words Laura spewed off to him and wondered if he was being played for a fool. The connection had been bad and then, in the middle of a rush of tear-laced words, the conversation had ended. He attempted to call her back. It was probably Laura with her head full of imagined terrors. He finally gave up and decided to forget about it. If her issues were that important, she'd call back. He couldn't waste time trying to reach someone in Bangkok, if, in fact, that's where she actually was. Robert's phone rang a couple of hours later while out on a routine call. It was Sgt. Vic Lacey.

28

"Hey, bud, we got a problem." "What is it?" asked Robert, barely listening. He still had Laura's phone call on his mind, even though he tried to dismiss it. Something nagged at him, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it. Vic, one of the officers in his detachment, was a married man, with two children. Happily married, from what he heard in office scuttlebutt. Several of the officers bragged about their extra-marital affairs, as did Robert, but, of course, he wasn't married, so he had every right to see various women. Robert hoped once he settled down, if he ever did, that he would remain monogamous. Lately, he thought more and more about having children, and if he did, he wanted them to be proud of him. He would remain faithful, he was sure of it. Someday. He wasn't sure when that day would arrive. "Sorry, what did you say?" asked Robert. "I said James McAndrew's body was just found. In his home. A neighbor heard a commotion." "James McAndrew? James, like James from the courthouse?" "Yup, that's the one. You better get over here. 2895 West Cooper Avenue. Found something you'll find mighty interesting." Immediately, Robert's thoughts went back to the phone call and Laura's distress over not being able to contact James. Something's not right, he thought. "I'll be right there." Robert barely disconnected from Vic, when his telephone rang again. "Harding," he barked.

29

"Hey, you don't have to be so rude." Ah, damn, Mallory. "Sorry. What's up?" "You tell me," said Mallory. "Nothing much since I last saw you." "That's not what I heard." "Well, what did you hear, Mallory?" "Someone boffed off James. That's what I heard." "And how did you hear that, Mallory?" "I have my sources. So what gives? What happened?" Robert sighed. "I don't know. And you know I can't give you that kind of information even if I did know." "Aw, come on, Robbie. You can trust me." "Yeah, sure, Mallory. Sure I can trust you." Robert laughed, even though he didn't feel like laughing. He slammed his foot on the brake, when the car ahead suddenly stopped without warning. "Damn." "Hey, I gotta run. Talk to you later." Robert tossed the phone on the empty seat beside him, turned on his flashers, and sped by the stopped car, not without a dirty glance at the driver. A woman, of course. What else is new? Robert remembered the last time he had been with Mallory, when she had cooked an intimate dinner for the two of them, during which they had both drunk too much wine. When he woke up at four o'clock in the morning and found her out cold, he seized the opportunity and slipped out of her house without a word. Vanished like a thief in the night. Robert knew she'd be pissed, but realized he didn't much care. He was only using her, like he had every woman in the past.

30

He couldn't seem to settle down; he didn't want to settle down, truth be known, and was quite happy being the playboy. He suspected—and hoped—that someday he might change his ways. Maybe he hadn't met the right woman yet; maybe it wasn't him at all, although he enjoyed his life the way it was and didn't think it had anything to do with commitment. The women he dated were somehow aware of his attachment phobia, at least no one had laid down the law to him yet. Perhaps they were afraid of his law enforcement background. On the other hand, perhaps his career was what attracted the women to him in the first place. Women were constantly coming on to him. * * *

Laura's tears dribbled down her cheeks. Detective Harding hung up on her. She couldn't believe it. Right in the middle of their conversation. The connection was bad, she had to admit that, but she was almost convinced he had hung up on her. She knew he was a playboy, but still, he was a detective, and their relationship had been purely professional. That had been a business call, not phone sex. Laura thought back to when she had been hired as Judge Swift's intern and the months she had worked for her. Almost a year, actually. During that period, she crossed paths with Detective Harding many times. One time she had come on to him, but he hadn't taken the bait. They remained friendly after that and continued with a professional relationship. After she fell in love with James, any thoughts of seducing the detective, or anyone else, flew out the window, although she had the impression that Detective Harding might have reciprocated had she tried one more time. She stared at her reflection in the pitted wall mirror, hardly recognizing herself. She fingered her dark hair, hating it with a passion. She was a true blonde; she didn't need to use a

31

bottle to achieve her light shade. How ironic she darkened her hair. How many blondes did that? And her new name: Holly Fletcher Williams. Another thing she hated. She wondered if she had made a mistake when she registered as "Mrs. Smith." Mrs. Smith? How lame. What in the world was she thinking? She should have registered under Williams. What if the hotel wanted to check her passport? She'd be screwed. She wiped the tears from her face before turning away from the mirror, not wanting to stare any longer at a stranger. More tears came when she thought of her past. She was aware, because she was a blonde --and one with curves in all the right places— that she was made fun of, and she knew most times she deserved the ridicule. She did do stupid things sometimes, but she still considered herself fairly intelligent, even though she often came across as a fluff-head. Those blonde jokes became old very fast, but it was something she learned to live with and laugh off. She wished she'd been able to deal with the rest of her past as easily. She had a forged passport. Fake I.D. Money. A new look. Everything she needed to start a new life. What if she were in danger? Maybe she should book a flight somewhere. Get out of Dodge, so to speak. Maybe Paris or London. Maybe Bermuda; no one would think to look for her in Bermuda. She could hook up with James later. Thailand wasn't really that important to either of them; it was just a place that James had randomly picked. But, she had to let James know where she was. Otherwise, how would they ever connect if his cell phone wasn't working? One more call to James. If she didn't reach him, she was flying back to New York. It was a rash decision, but she made up her mind quickly. She really wanted to be home, not in some strange place. She didn't want to start over. Or did she? She hesitated for several minutes, while she pondered the situation again.

32

"Yes, I'm leaving. I've had it here," she said, as if someone were standing beside her. Two days in Bangkok was all she could handle. She had tried to make light of the situation during the phone call with James, telling him how beautiful Bangkok was. She hadn't wanted to worry James. Maybe under different circumstances it was a beautiful place, but her room was a dive; nothing worked, not even that damn light. And she was scared, scared of the hotel employees, scared of the area. Thailand. It had only brought up bad connotations for her when James first mentioned it as their destination. But it was different then. James was supposed to be with her; she wasn't supposed to be there alone. And it likely was a beautiful place, if she had someone to share it with. As it was, the heat was atrocious, and the bugs were even worse. All those flying creatures, with names she didn't know. Who knew what germs they held and when they might pounce on her. I think I'll call Judge Swift, she thought. Perhaps I should have called her instead of Detective Harding. I actually owed her an explanation more so than Robert. Maybe she'll give me my job back, if I beg enough, and James and I can remain in New York. I should have been grateful for the opportunity she gave me. She picked up her cell phone again and dialed Judge Swift's home number, but nothing happened. No ring, no busy signal. She pressed redial. Still nothing. She checked to see if she still had service. Maybe it's the long distance lines, tied up or something, she reasoned. I'll try her back later. * * *

Eleanor's headache gradually subsided and before she knew it, she had dozed off. When she woke from a sleep she did not want, she wanted to scream in frustration. More time wasted. She rubbed her temples for the umpteenth time, amazed that the throbbing had dissipated.

33

She walked into the dining room, sat at the table and pulled her notebook towards her. One page missing from that notebook; one page missing from the other notebook. Two important pages that had, hopefully, slid down the mailbox chute. She gave the post office two days before the envelope would be actually delivered. She didn't think it would arrive at its destination the following day. Or would it? And would Robert figure out it had come from her? Did James even mail it? She picked up the pen and absently doodled on the pad. Then, as if the first line at the top of the page showed a name, she roughly drove the pen through it, as if crossing one name off an imaginary list. After all, one name was gone from the list: James. Poor James. Not that she really cared about poor James. He crawled under her skin, and she was glad he was finally gone. She hadn't needed confirmation of his untimely passing directly from the source. She figured she'd hear of his death eventually, probably sooner than later. Laura, you're next, she thought. She had rather liked Laura, although she was a bit of a flutter head. She often wondered why she had hired her as an intern. When she offered her the full-time position, she knew full well that Laura wouldn't be around to begin the job. But she never expected her to disappear as she had. Where had she run off to? Laura was hers. No one knew Laura was next, except Richard of course, when he received the envelope. But the dirty deed was to have been completed before he received the list. With Laura's disappearance, her demise was up in the air. Eleanor was worried that her plans were in disarray before they had barely begun. She had it all planned out in her mind how the happy event would unfold, and she wondered again at her sudden gleeful, lustful feelings of death. Feelings so unlike her. What had turned her into this horrid woman? No one would ever believe she was capable of five deaths.

34

Even if all of them weren't actually committed by her hand, she was still the mastermind behind them. The plan had been hatched in her head. "Laura, Laura. Where are you?" she muttered, as she doodled some more. Maybe I'll have to go to Plan B, she thought. I can't waste time waiting for Laura to reappear. I don't have the time. She scrawled Laura's name on the line underneath James' invisible, crossed-out name. Eleanor hesitated before writing the next name, almost unaware she had written it until the dark blue ink stared back at her: Beatrice Sally Swift. After a pause, she drew an arrow down from Laura's name, effectually moving Beatrice's name above Laura's. She hated postponing Laura's death and she didn't want to move the next name up before it's time. She paused, her pen in the air, wanting to write down the fourth name, itching to replicate the list that had left her hand hours previous. She needed to see it in its entirety, needed to feel that rush flow through her veins, almost like an addict who needed his drug. For a fleeting second, she wondered if she had made a mistake, but then she shrugged her thoughts away. She wasn't wrong. It wasn't possible. Or was it? * * *

Laura slept peacefully for about five hours until the morning light shone through the slats on her window awoke her. Her stomach growled, but the thought of food sickened her. What would they feed her in Thailand? Rice? No thanks. Her situation seemed less threatening with daylight and after a bit of sleep. She was relieved that the individual at the door the night before had left at her instructions. She had been surprised he hadn't returned, then wondered what she had been so afraid of. Who knew she was

35

there? No one. No one except for James. And even James didn't know she was in that hotel. No, she was safe here, she thought. After a splash of water on her face and a quick run through of her fingers through her unruly hair, she picked up the phone, for what seemed like the zillionth time. One more call. If she didn't reach James, she would return to the airport. The call went through this time, but the ringing was incessant. Laura panicked then, more so than previously. There was something seriously wrong. Something had definitely happened to James. She shut off her phone and threw the few items she had unpacked back into her suitcase. She hid the memory card in the compartment in the little makeup bag that she carried in her purse and inserted her computer into its case. It was at least a twenty-four hour flight, depending upon whether she could secure a flight with one stop in Tokyo or with an additional layover in Houston, but if there was an available flight that morning, she could be home the next day. Maybe she'd call Judge Swift when she landed and ask her to pick her up at the airport or if she were busy, perhaps she could send someone else. With James missing, Laura wasn't sure who else she could trust. Laura left the hotel and arrived at the airport without incident. After an exhausting six-hour flight, she set foot in Tokyo, where she had to change planes for her connection to Houston, Texas. By the time she located Gate 39, she had an hour and a half to wait for boarding. She grabbed a seat and picked up her cell phone.

36

CHAPTER 5 The call came at exactly the right moment. Kept awake by her headache and the need to reorganize, Eleanor had come to her office early, very early. It was dark outside her window sill, and would be for several hours. She was sitting behind her wide desk, cases laid before her, old ones she had been able to judge fairly-ones her father could have been proud of. She regarded them with a distant coolness. How much did they really matter? More important was her reworked list. It sat at the upper right corner of the desk, a white, rectangular island of darkness amidst the colorful files spread over the rest of the dark blue blotter. The photo of her father and her looked down on it, like a judge gazing down at a guilty defendant. The low ring of her office phone disturbed the early morning silence of her office. An uncomfortable tingle made its way down her spine. Who, besides the security guard who had opened the courthouse doors to her, knew she was here? She let her perfectly manicured fingertips rest on the back of the cold plastic receiver for a moment before picking it up. The shock of hearing the voice at the other end made her stand up, her chair flying back on its wheels. “Laura? Where are you?” “Tokyo.”

37

She listened to the young woman’s garbled story, her hand cramping where it held the receiver tightly. Shifting her weight from one pointy-toed Louboutin to the other, she stayed quiet as Laura explained James’ insistence she flee the country, how she could not get ahold of him now, and her plans to return. Eleanor let out a deep breath she didn’t realize she was holding. She glanced at the new list, glad she would not have to resort to that just yet. She thought about Beatrice Sally Swift, who was unaware that what little time she had left had just been extended ever so slightly. Not that that meant much, anyway. “What time will you be getting in?” She waited for Laura’s reply. “Yes, yes, I’ll have a car waiting for you at the airport. Come straight here.” Eleanor hung up and reached back, groping for her escaped chair. As she settled into it, she leaned her head back and closed her eyes. Even though her headache was pounding worse than ever, her lips lifted in a smile. Maybe she would be able to get some sleep before the Morelli trial resumed this morning after all. * * *

Robert watched as Judge Swift’s black robes disappeared through the door after ruling that the court would resume with the trial after a two hour lunch recess. Immediately chatter erupted across the courtroom. Morelli was escorted out, a uniform at either elbow. He grinned as he passed Robert. The smug bastard. Robert felt his muscles coil, wanting to leap out at Morelli. The only thing that stopped him was knowing Honey Wilson would be testifying in the next few days. And she was the golden lynchpin of this case, the one who would nail this smug mobster to the wall. This time, Robert had him.

38

He exhaled with force and filed out of his row, joining the queue of people walking out the heavy, wooden courtroom doors. The crowd dispersed in the wide hallway outside and Robert strode away, heading for the entrance. He was exhausted. He had been up most of the night at 2895 West Cooper Avenue, watching as the Crime Scene Unit had photographed, fingerprinted, and swabbed every inch of James’ apartment. Not James, he reminded himself. Mark Redford. Agent Mark Redford. He had known him in passing, the tiny, twitchy guy who worked in the antechamber of Eleanor Swift’s chambers. Sometimes, while he waited to speak to her, he felt James’— Mark’s—eyes linger just a little too long on him. His detective spidey-senses had always perked up around the guy. Now he knew why. An undercover agent. He was not sure how he had missed it. Robert had watched the stiffened body lifted from the chair it had crumpled in and zipped into the dark body bag. The blood on the computer he had been sitting in front of and on the light carpet beneath his chair was as disturbing as ever, a dark crusty puddle. He had helped string the canary yellow police tape over the front door before leaving. All the while he wondered what James had gotten himself involved in. Robert had gotten up early to meet the coroner before the trial was back in session. Cause of death: stab wound through the back into the heart. Efficient and impersonally cruel. An execution. Maybe a “rubbing out”? He wondered if it had to do with the Morelli case. He knew what he had heard about Eleanor. The timing was dismaying. Had Mark been investigating her? Had he found something

39

out about this trial that he shouldn’t have? Robert debated calling in for an extra detail on Honey, his shining star witness, but decided against it. The less attention he brought to her, the better. “Afternoon, Detective,” came a chirping voice behind him. As she caught up with him, he looked to see Mallory Crenshaw hurrying alongside him, taking two steps for every one of his. She was wearing navy again, a dark back drop for her bright hair. “That teller looked a little green around the gills, eh?” Robert grunted in reply, too exhausted to care about politeness. The bank teller, a young guy in a too-big suit that was probably his father’s, had looked very green under crossexamination about some missing records involving the rental of several safety deposit boxes that had been traced back to a minion of Morelli’s. He shook like a leaf when he took the stand and saw Morelli sitting before him, smiling placidly. Robert didn’t blame him. He hadn’t known what he was getting involved in, and now that he did he was terrified. Morelli was a dangerous guy. “You look like hell, Robert,” Mallory said, brash as always but with something like genuine concern on her face. “Late night. Early morning.” “Ah, yes. The clerk’s dead. And I’m hearing he wasn’t just a clerk.” Robert spared Mallory a longer glance as they came down the wide staircase leading to the grand entrance hall of the courthouse. “Who do you hear these things from?”

40

“As if I’d tell you.” Mallory held her nose stiffly in the air. “Knife to the heart, though. Brutal, isn’t it?” “What kind of murder would you consider not brutal?” Mallory’s lips pulled down in a frown as she thought. “Smothering. A fluffy pillow can’t be brutal, even if it is suffocating you.” Robert rolled his eyes. They were crossing the marble floor entrance hall now. Just through those doors and a cab ride away was his bed. And maybe a tumbler of whiskey. And then blissful sleep. “What was on the computer?” Robert looked sharply at Mallory. Her face was emotionless as she stared him down, waiting to see if he would crack. “If you have any more information about this crime scene I’ll arrest you on suspicion of murder,” he told her, halfway serious. For once Mallory looked slightly taken aback. “I think it’s odd, is all. An undercover agent working for years undiscovered as a judge’s clerk. Then, just as the biggest mob boss this city has seen in years comes into that judge’s court, this undercover agent is murdered. And sitting in front of his computer. Was something on there? Did something get wiped off it? Come on, throw me a bone, Robbie.” Robert looked at her incredulously and then pushed through the heavy door outside. She followed at his elbow, still trying to stare him down. “You’re insane, Mallory. I told you, I’ve

41

learned my lesson about talking to you. Go back to your source for this information if you want it, but I’m not saying another word.” “Robert!” she called as he strode away. She caught up to him at the row of thick columns at the edge of the terrace outside the doors and he stopped reluctantly, unwilling to make a scene outside the courthouse, where the case of his career was being tried. “I have tried to apologize about that.” “Tried being the operative word.” Mallory’s freckled cheeks started to turn as red as her hair. “You haven’t tried to apologize for sneaking out.” Robert grit his teeth. All he wanted was sleep. And for Vincent Morelli to rot in prison. But mostly sleep. Not Mallory Crenshaw to be so...emotional. They had screwed each other and then she had screwed him, big time. The trouble he had gotten into for talking to a reporter had almost gotten him put on probation at work. His sneaking out paled in comparison. And it didn’t matter right now, when his head was beginning to pound with lack of sleep. He leveled his eyes to hers. “I’m not interested. In anything you’re talking about. I’ll see you later, Crenshaw.” For a moment, he saw a shocked look in her usually steely eyes. He was surprised to feel a ripple of shame, but he walked away just the same. He started down the wide stone steps to the street.

42

At the base of them, a dark-haired woman was hastily disembarking from a cab, loaded down with two large suitcases. She started hurrying up the steps towards him, but he didn’t take much notice until they were five steps apart and she shouted, “Detective Harding! Oh, thank goodness I’ve run into you!” Robert looked at the woman. Her voice was familiar but he couldn’t place her face. She came a little closer, struggling under the weight of the baggage. “Laura?” he asked, surprised. “Your hair—” “James made me dye it. I tried to explain this to you on the phone the other day but you hung up on me.” She huffed to a stop in front of him, dropping her bags. Robert’s stomach clenched. She didn’t sound like she knew James was dead. “I did not. That line was terrible. Where were you calling from?” “I told you, Bangkok.” “You really were there?” “Yes! A few days ago James confessed he was working undercover as Judge Swift’s clerk and that it was dangerous for us to stay in the country. He took me to the airport, made me dye my hair, and sent me off with a fake passport. But I can’t get him on the phone and I got worried. He was supposed to call before he got on the plane to meet me there. So I came home. You don’t think something’s happened to him, do you?” “Laura, I have to tell you—”

43

“And liked I tried to tell you on the phone, he gave me this disk. He told me to take care of it in case for some reason he couldn’t meet me in Thailand. And when I didn’t hear from him, I opened it on my laptop—” “Laura, really, just wait a moment—” “No, Detective Harding! I tried to tell you, I think you’re in danger!” “Laura, stop being silly. I’m a cop, of course I’m in danger, but no more than I should be. I need you to calm down so I can—” “There was your picture, and all this information about you, and some locked files I couldn’t get into. I didn’t know you volunteer for the Humane Society, by the way, that’s very sweet of you—” “What?” Robert said, derailed. He never told anyone about that. He felt spreading around the information that he liked to spend Saturday mornings playing with shelter puppies would somehow threaten his colleagues’ view of his respectability. “Where did you find that out?” “Are you listening at all, Detective Harding? The disk James gave me. It had all this information about you. Your schedules, your pay stubs, your grades from the police academy, your tax return, even your bill from your last dentist visit. I knew you whitened.” Robert felt rocked to the core. “And why did James have all this information on me?” “It looked like he was keeping an eye on you. A protective eye. Like I said, there were files I couldn’t open.” Robert didn’t understand. “I’m going to need to see that, Laura. But first —”

44

“Of course, of course. But Judge Swift is waiting for me. I need to go in and see if I can get ahold of James. I’ve tried calling since getting off the plane, but no answer.” “Laura, wait.” Robert restrained her with a hand on her elbow as she tried to move up the stairs towards the courthouse. “Something has happened.” She turned her head to look Robert square in the eye. “What? To James? Something has happened to James?” Robert, sucked in his breath. He hated giving this news. And he shouldn’t even be giving it. She wasn’t James’—Mark’s, he reminded himself— next of kin. “James is dead. He was stabbed.” Laura dropped the bags she was carrying. The color seemed to drain out of her face. “I knew it,” she whispered. “I knew it.” It was just then, while Robert was watching her closely to see if she would remain standing through the shock or faint, that he saw the flash of light halfway up the skyscraper across the street from the courthouse. He didn’t have time to say or do anything; he leapt onto Laura and slammed her down onto the hard stone steps. There was a sharp whistle and then another and a horrible thud from several feet behind them on the staircase. Screams went up around them from the others moving up or down the stairs as everyone ducked and ran for cover on the street or back into the courthouse. Robert stayed over Laura and looked back at the skyscraper. There was nothing there to see anymore. He turned his head towards where he had heard the thud behind them.

45

At first he couldn’t understand how she had gotten there. He had left her up at the row of columns. But sometime in the last few minutes she must have begun to descend the stairs because now she lay spread-eagled just behind him and Laura. When they had ducked, two bullets had passed through the empty space and rammed into the next person behind them: Mallory Crenshaw. Time slowed down as Robert rolled off Laura. Shouting at her to run, he pushed her up the steps. He moved after her, grabbing Mallory by the shoulders and dragging her body back towards the columns, across the terrace, and into the courthouse entrance hall certain a bullet would come for him any second. She was still alive, eyes open, breath shallow. Her navy suit was darker where two wounds bled profusely. Robert tore off his tweed jacket and pressed it to her side, trying to slow the bleeding. “Somebody call an ambulance!” he roared, but sirens were already sounding down the end of the block, coming closer. “Mallory! Can you hear me?” Her eyes tried to focus on his face and failed. “Robbie,” she said breathily. “Something weird is going on with this case.” “Don’t worry about the case now,” he said, exasperatedly. “You better figure it out... soon,” she said, her eyes fluttering closed. “Mallory, don’t close your eyes! Stay awake.” “I’m awake,” she said, her words slurring. “I can hear you... just fine... just taking... a little rest.”

46

Terrified people shuddered around them in the entrance hall, shouting and crying. The sirens were directly out front now. Robert looked around, about to ask if there was anyone present with medical training. But his eyes stopped on a tall figure standing still on the staircase from the above floor. It was Eleanor, out of her robes, clad in a long white coat, holding an expensive briefcase in one hand. She stared at the scene calmly, as if it were just a photo entered in evidence in one of her cases, rather than a real live emergency happening right in front of her eyes. She was looking between Mallory beneath his hands and Laura, who was crumpled on the floor beneath a large potted fern, sobbing. Her face was dark, her lips pulled down in a frown. Some sort of uncomfortable feeling roiled around in Robert’s stomach. He couldn’t look at Eleanor any longer, nor could he look at Mallory’s steadily bluing lips. He turned his face outside and stared hard at the steps, willing paramedics to appear on them. But all he saw was a trail of dark red streaks. Mallory’s blood, staining the pale stone.

CHAPTER 6

47

“Mallory!” Detective Harding shouted at the reporter. “Mallory! Stay with me... Mallory!” The reporter’s eyes fluttered and rolled back into her head. Robert shook her a little. “Don’t you dare...” he threatened. “Stay with me,” she whispered. “What?” Robert asked, pressing his ear against her lips. “Say it again, Mallory, say it again.” “Stay with me, Robert. Don’t leave me like before.” Robert felt a flash of guilt as he was transported back to their night together. “I’m not going anywhere,” he said, raising his head so he could look into her eyes. He wanted to tell her that the past was behind them. They would start with a clean slate. They would be friends again. And they could see where things went from there. But she needed to live now. As Robert drew his eyes up her face, he knew it was too late. When his eyes reached hers, they were met with a cold stare. Robert shuddered and placed his hand over her face, closing her eyes. The paramedics arrived on the scene at the same time the squad cars squealed to a stop in front of the courthouse. Robert rose, wiping his blood stained hands on his blood soaked shirt. The paramedics rushed to his side. “You okay, man?” “Are you injured?” they asked in rapid-fire succession.

48

“I’m fine,” Robert said, in a daze, shoving them aside. “Help her,” he continued, pointing to Mallory’s dead body on the pale stone below his feet. The paramedics looked at one another as one knelt beside the young, vibrant looking woman on the ground and placed two fingers on her neck, looking for a pulse. The second man put his ear against her heart, waiting for a beat. They looked at each other again and shook their heads. She was a DOA. Robert stumbled toward the police cars as they screamed up to the curb. “What the hell, man?” Sergeant Vic Lacey shouted as he piled out of the second car to arrive. “Sniper,” Robert said, “up there.” He pointed to the skyscraper across the street. “We’ve got a shooter,” Lacey said into the communication device clipped to his shoulder. “Office building. Across from the courthouse. Request back up. Over.” Robert watched as the officers began to form a perimeter around the area and evacuate the people who were milling around in terror, trying to take cover from whoever might be shooting at them. Robert felt calm for the first time since he’d heard the initial gunshot. There would be no more shots. He was certain. That bullet had been meant for someone. Whether or not it was Mallory Crenshaw, he didn’t know. But he was determined he would find out. Robert fell in line behind the other officers as they snaked their way down the street and toward the building in question. Mallory had said there was something fishy about this case. The best thing Robert could do in order to make peace with her death was to find out what she meant by that comment. The best way to find out what she meant was to figure out who had been doing the shooting...and why.

49

Judge Swift slammed her office door behind her and placed her long, large hands on her desk, dropping her head to her chest. “Dammit!” she cried out loud, slamming her fist against the desk. This was getting sloppy. There was no room for error. This reporter... this Mallory Crenshaw hadn’t even been on the list; how the hell did she get involved? Eleanor felt the pounding in her head take over as her fist throbbed from the resistance the desk had provided. She saw little see through bubbles float before her eyes as she rubbed her temples with her uninjured hand. She had kept her cool in front of the crowd, but now that she was alone, she could let it out. She clenched her fists as she sank into her hair and winced at the pain in her right hand. Things were spiraling out of control. She had known the risks the day she sat and wrote the list in the first place, but she had never really thought of the collateral damage it might cause. And a reporter? The news media would be all over that story. Eleanor picked up the picture of her and her father. If it weren’t for him, she wouldn’t be in this mess right now. If he had been able to have the son he had always wanted, she wouldn’t even be a judge. The possibilities for her would have been endless. She could have gone into a career she would actually enjoy. Or, even better, she could have fallen in love and maybe even gotten married... had a few kids. Judge Swift drew the picture back behind her head and was about the hurl it across the room when she heard a swift, sound knock at her door. “Yes?” she answered, putting the picture back in its place on her desk.

50

“Judge Swift?” the voice called, as the door swung open. Bailiff Elbe entered her chambers, his hat in his hand. He had always been a kind, sensitive man, but he was also no nonsense when it came to the courtroom. Eleanor appreciated all of his attributes and treated him with respect. “Yes, what is it?” she asked shortly. She did not have time to talk today. “Sorry to bother you, Judge,” he said in his normal, polite manner. “The police were just short handed and wanted me to ask those in the courthouse if they saw or heard anything surrounding the shooting. Did you notice anything suspicious?” “Bailiff, I am an officer of the court,” Judge Swift snapped. “If I had seen or heard anything suspicious, don’t you think I would have been the first to report it?” “Yes, ma’am,” he replied, lowering his eyes. “Sorry, ma’am. You’re right. Sorry to bother you, Judge.” Bailiff Elbe bowed slightly at the waist, as if Eleanor were royalty and quickly exited the room. Eleanor shook her head. The nerve of the police to send some minion in to question her. Had she send or heard anything suspicious? Well, yeah, she heard a gunshot and saw a reporter drop dead on the stone walkway. That was pretty damn suspicious. And it was all wrong. No one knew just how wrong it was. No one but her, that is. She swiveled her chair away from her desk, facing the long row of books in the glossy, wooden bookcase behind her. The books gave her comfort. In the world of the law, where things were always changing, she always had the books. She ran her hand down the row she could reach and traced her manicured nail over the titles until she reached the fifth book in the row.

51

Nine Principles of Litigation and Life, the title read and she extracted the book from the shelf and placed it in her lap. She had gotten the book from a law school acquaintance. At the time, it had almost been a joke. Then, they both knew enough about the law to realize that there were no principles involved at all. At least none that couldn’t be broken. Or so Eleanor discovered as her career as a judge flourished later in life. And the principles of her life had evolved as well. She flipped through the book until she found what she was looking for. A small scrap of paper near the middle with her small block letter printing filling every inch. She smiled. This was the reassurance she had needed. She had simply needed to see it again. It was a great reminder to her. It was the reason she had done everything she had done, up to this point. The money was great, of course. But money in a world without principles, didn’t mean much. Eleanor had written up her own principles and, over the years, she had changed them often. Since she became a judge, however, they had remained the same. She ran her fingers over the depressions in the paper. If anyone ever found this paper, she would be cooked. But there was no way she could get rid of it. It had been her saving grace once again. She placed the small four by four square back inside the book and snapped it shut. She returned the book to its rightful place on the shelf and swung around in her chair, back to her desk. The clock showed that the recess she had called in the Morelli trial was coming to a close. Because of the events in front of the courthouse, she would likely have to halt the trial for the day. Maybe even for the week. Until the investigation was complete outside the courthouse. But she would have to make it official.

52

Eleanor stood and tucked a piece of blonde hair behind her ear. She needed to get a trim the next time she had it colored. She made a mental note to make an appointment as she grabbed her files, adjusted her robe, and strode out the door and back to the courtroom. The courtroom was a buzz with the events that had occurred on the steps not an hour earlier. No one was really concentrating on the trial. Everyone expected the judge to call a recess for the remainder of the day. Vincent Morelli smiled as he took his seat. Things were definitely going in his direction. It didn’t matter how damning the evidence that sat before the court was. He had this thing in his back pocket. When Judge Swift entered the room, his smile grew. She was a towering sight of confidence and high stature, but he still remembered her like she was. The only thought Vincent Morelli could think about whenever he saw Eleanor Swift was that woman he had met in the bar over a decade ago. At the time, he had seen her as a lively conquest. One he easily defeated. When he found out she had just been appointed district court judge, and was aspiring to one day be appointed Supreme Court judge, he thought she might come in handy in the future. He was not yet the boss in his line of work, but he was loyal to those in power and he had aspirations. Having a judge in that position of power in his pocket could only help his causes down the road. Eleanor had been an easy catch. He had laid a few lame lines on her and watched as her eyes twinkled in the dim lighting of the bar. She had played with her hair and slouched in her seat, so he couldn’t see how tall she was. But when she had finally stood to leave with him, her height only turned him on further.

53

And the attraction hadn’t gone just one way. Vincent Morelli was certain that Miss Swift was taking his dark brown eyes and flashy watch in with deep gulps. He gave her his winning smile and he knew he had her in his clutches. At that time in his life, Morelli appreciated a good woman, but he usually only appreciated her once. With Eleanor, things were a bit different. He liked the fact that she was a commanding presence and he was infatuated with her career path. She was going to be a judge. There had to be more he could do with that. So on their third night together, he had set up a camera in the corner of his room and he had taped the night’s events. It was how he had gotten through his first trial, along with the money he threw her way. He was certain it would get him through this trial as well. There was nothing a judge hated more than being taken down a notch or two. The tape Morelli had featured Judge Swift more than a notch or two down. Morelli smiled at the judge as she informed the court that due to the events that surrounded the courthouse that day, the trial would be in recess until further notice, pending the investigation of the shooting outside. Morelli caught Eleanor’s eye and he wiped the smile off his face as she scowled at him. He would get away with it this time, just like he had last time. It didn’t matter if she liked him or not. She had liked him once. And that was enough. Laura was still shaking. She couldn’t believe what she had just witnessed. She had just watched a reporter gunned down, outside the courthouse, of all places! The police had taken their time questioning her and now, she felt very late in meeting the judge. But that didn’t matter anymore. All that mattered was that another human life had been taken from this earth. Was it her fault? Was it her fault that James had been killed as well?

54

Oh James, Laura thought, as she felt fresh tears start up behind her closed eyelids. She pushed the elevator button and rushed onto the waiting car. She would make her meeting with the judge quick. The police wanted to seal off the courthouse and she did not want to be stuck inside. Laura was relieved to find herself alone on the elevator. She needed a few minutes to gather herself before she met with the judge. She needed to think through what she was going to say and how she was going to say it. With James’ death and the most recent turn of events, everything was all jumbled up in her head. She ran her hand through her dark hair. She wasn’t sure she would ever get used to the new color. She didn’t think she could ever get used to people dying around her. There was no doubt about it. This had to stop. And the judge was the perfect person to stand in the gap between the insanity and the solution. Laura was glad she had connections to Judge Swift. She was a strong personality that could get things done. She would see to it that this mess was cleaned up and that those responsible answered for their wrongdoings. Laura was so lost in her thoughts that she didn’t hear the tile in the ceiling of the elevator slide back as the person above lowered a thin wire, tied into a noose down into the car with her.

CHAPTER 7

District Attorney Steven Barrett had tried not to panic when his key witness in the Morelli trial hadn’t shown up at her appointed time. When his legal aid, Trent, had slid a slip of paper into his view during a short recess to review his notes for the pivotal interview, his mind

55

went completely blank. At 10:35 Honey Wilson was nowhere to be found in the courthouse. A quick call by Trent to the officer in charge of her transport had led to a vague explanation. The only fact the prosecution had was that their star witness, who was certain to put Morelli behind bars, was not coming.

Steven had taken a deep breath after reading the case-crushing note at least four times and then calmly placed his notes in his briefcase. He pulled out the list of witnesses he had left to interview and scanned through the names stopping when he came to Karmin Morales: a maid in one of Morelli’s mansions. She had attended court every day, even though Steven had warned her that the prosecution would most likely not need her testimony in court. She had been able to identify a few of Morelli’s shady business partners in a lineup, all of whom were already in prison for their deeds. Karmin’s recognition only served to add a few years to their already extensive sentences. Still, Steven knew he had seen her in the courtroom that morning; her bright red and gold scarf was difficult to miss. She was insignificant--a fact proven by the fact that the defendant had made no attempt to silence her as he had previous witnesses in his numerous dealings with the court. Steven had no other choice but to call her to the stand. No other witnesses on his list were in the courtroom, except for Detective Seth Hobart, whose testimony had to be after Honey’s to corroborate her story. If he called the lead detective on the case before the key witness, then the effect of the Honey’s testimony, the shock of what she had witnessed firsthand, would be nonexistent. He couldn’t risk it. He read through the notes from her interview in the police report during the last few minutes of the break, searching for any scrap of information that he could use to his advantage.

56

The courtroom was called back to order and Judge Swift once again took her place at the bench. “Counselor, are you ready to call your next witness?” she eyed Barrett with cautious anticipation as if she could tell from his demeanor that something had occurred.

“Yes, Your Honor, I am. Although there has been a slight change in plans.”

The audience members in crowded courtroom behind him seemed to collectively inch forward in their seats eager for his announcement. Judge Swift simply raised her eyebrows waiting for him to continue.

Steven forced himself to speak the dreaded words, the ones that were sure to make the defense squirm with glee and the audience with curiosity. “The scheduled witness has been delayed in transit and will not be able to give testimony to the court today.”

Before the judge could respond the opposing counselor was on her feet, “Your Honor, the defense was not made aware of this change. I am appalled at Counselor Barrett’s lack of required communication for such important information...”

Judge Swift’s raised hand brought Elaine Dunahey’s insincere rant to halt. Steven mentally laughed at her attempt to make it seem like the defense was just as deterred by this hindrance as the prosecution was. As if losing the testimony of Honey Williams was a terrible blow for their case, and the fact that the defense wasn’t informed soon enough was an utmost grievance.

57

“I agree, Counselor Dunahey,” Judge Swift said to Elaine. “Counselor Barrett, why was this not made to known to the defense or even to me?”

“Your Honor, I was only informed of the situation a few moments ago during the short break. I assure you that had I had the time to do so I would have told Your Honor and Counselor Dunahey.”

“Very well. Continue, Counselor. You may call your next witness.”

The interview with the maid was short and, as Steven knew it would be, insignificant. He questioned her about the meetings she had witnessed at the mansion in upstate New York. Did she see what went on during the meetings? Did she hear anything that was said? Each question was met with a disappointing answer for the prosecution. The defense had a few cross examination questions which only confirmed the fact that Karmin Morales was of no use to the case.

Why is she here? Steven wondered. Why does she come every single day to sit in the audience and watch? The thought bothered him as he watched her climb down from the witness and walk back to her seat. She glanced at Morelli as she walked by the defense table. The defendant didn’t acknowledge her presence at all. There has to be a reason, Steven told himself.

58

Judge Swift called a two hour lunch recess, and Steven Barrett and the rest of his prosecution team headed down the street to a corner deli in Foley Square where they could eat quickly and then review their strategy. Without Honey Wilson the charges against Morelli had no validity; he had no way to prove Morelli’s guilt. Steven looked at the worried faces sitting at the table around him. “I want to know what happened,” he insisted, “I need answers.”

When Steven received a call from one of his legal aids on an errand informing him of the events during the lunch break, he moved quickly. A shooting outside the courthouse was incredible news, but Steven’s only thought was how this would affect his case. The judge would have to put the brakes on the trial, at least for today, and the police would most likely evacuate and seal off the courthouse for investigation. Steven’s entire portfolio for the Morelli case consisting of boxes of evidences, folders of police reports, and research for precedents and previous cases was in his locked office on the third floor. He was already anticipating a late night trying to revive his case; he couldn’t do that without the portfolio.

He set off toward the courthouse, but as he neared the front of the building and saw the flashing lights of ambulances and police cruisers, he took a turn down a side street to loop around to the back and get inside via the janitor’s entrance. The activity outside had yet to reach the inside of the courthouse. The hallways were completely empty, and Steven breathed a sigh of relief that he wouldn’t have to battle through a panicked crowd of courthouse employees to get to his office. He ran up a flight of stairs to the second floor before ducking inside a conference room when he heard voices of people coming down the stairs above him. He didn’t want to be seen and didn’t want to have to explain his actions or listen to prolonged stores about what had

59

happened outside. He needed to get in, get his stuff, and get out. He hit the elevator button when he stepped outside the room and immediately stepped onboard when the doors opened. Steven didn’t notice the petite brunette already in the elevator until it was too late to escape. To his relief the woman didn’t seem to notice him. She was huddled in the corner with her face in her hands. A soft whimper came from the squatting figure, and Steven took a step back thinking he shouldn’t intrude.

Then he remembered the shooting. He cleared his throat and ventured, “Miss, are you okay? Are you hurt?”

The woman tilted her head up to look at him and wiped the tears from her cheeks. “I’m fine,” she answered and reached out her hand for him to help her to her feet. Obviously embarrassed, she kept her eyes looking at the floor and let go of his hand as soon as she was steady. She breathed deeply and slowly exhaled.

“Steven Barrett,” he introduced himself, hoping to lessen her distress.

“La...” she started, then swallowed the lump in her throat and continued in a stronger voice, “I’m Holly.”

The tiles from the ceiling of the elevator car rattled and Steven looked up, startled.

60

“Oh, God, please don’t let us get stuck in this elevator!” the hysterical woman next to him pleaded.

Steven could feel that the elevator car was still rising. “I think we’re okay. We’re still moving,” he tried to allay her fear.

The doors opened to the third floor and both passengers stepped out of the car. Steven turned to the left toward his office as she moved to the right toward the suite of offices for some of the Supreme Court judges including Judge Swift. He smiled and wished her good day, and she nodded and returned the sentiment. He wondered about her as hastily dug his keys out of his pocket and opened his office door. Something about her seemed familiar, her voice, the angles of her features.

Steven quickly forgot about the woman in the elevator when he saw the inside of his office. The floor was littered with files and looseleaf papers; the ransacked boxes from the Morelli case were overturned, their contents haphazardly strewn around the office. Every cell of his being filled with dread as he bent to pick up one of the empty file folders on the floor. It was a labelled Honey Williams.

***

Detective Robert Harding arrived at his apartment building feeling like a completely different person than when he left that morning. He was wearing an extra cadet uniform from the

61

police department as the suit he had worn to court was confiscated by forensics as evidence. He was sure that he would never get it back, and if he did, the blood and sweat stained material would be worthless. He shuffled toward the elevator in a haze, the events of the day replaying in his head in flashing scenes. He tried to close his eyes to stop the memory of watching Mallory Crenshaw release her last breath; he didn’t want to remember her cold, blue-green eyes staring at him with pain and remorse.

Robert was exhausted from the hours of searching the building where the sniper had been and the surrounding areas. He had insisted on being a part of the hunt, although Sergeant Lacey was not enthused about the idea. He was determined to find whoever was responsible for Mallory’s murder. Somewhere in the back of his mind it registered that this surge of a thirst for justice was an effect of the guilt he felt for the way he had treated Mallory. The passionate redhead seemed to be haunting him already despite the fact that she had deceived him just as much, or even more, than he had betrayed her. In the end she had been nothing like the vicious reporter he had grown to hate.

Robert started to step on the elevator before remembering to check his mailbox. When he returned, he waited for the elevator again while flipping through the bills and credit card applications. The last envelope at the bottom of the stack stopped him; It was addressed to him with no return address. The letter was lightweight and thin, and Robert deduced that it was most likely only one page.

62

He stood in front of his apartment door considering who it could be from. The only personal letters he received were from his mother in New Jersey who sent updates about once a month to keep him in the loop with his siblings and nieces. This letter was not from his mother, and something about it made Robert suspicious. Maybe he was overly paranoid from the events of the day, but through his experience as a detective he had learned to trust his gut. His instinct had saved his life more than once in his career.

He carefully opened the seal and pulled out two sheets of stationery. He slowly read the five names written in a perfect cursive script:

James McAndrews Laura Harrington Beatrice Sally Swift Chasity Honey Wilson Robert Harding

Robert stared at the first page, trying to comprehend the implications of a list of names with one person already dead and the next involved in a murder attempt only hours ago. The next name was one he didn’t recognize, but with the last name of the presiding judge on the Morelli case, he assumed their must be some relation. The witness from the trial who had been mysteriously absent from her scheduled appearance in the courtroom was fourth. He read the last name with confusion and dread, wondering why it was included. He quickly flipped to the next page hoping for answers and felt his heart sink even further in his chest.

63

CHAPTER 8

“You’ll never prove it” was written in bold, black letters in a highlighted marking pen staring him straight in the face on the second page. What in the hell did this list mean, and what did these names convey. One of them was dead; another name wasn’t even on the list. Why in the hell was his name there? Laura said, she thought I was in trouble, but over what, Crenshaw’s name wasn’t even on the list and she was dead. The woman was a definite snoop; could she have

64

gotten tied up into something she had uncovered without knowing it. Maybe this has to do with her secretive source. Damn, if it doesn’t beat it all to hell, I bet that’s where the answer lies. Morelli was too cocky for my liking, he knows something. You don’t suppose he’s the source.

Robert walked to the mahogany bar, and reached for a bottle of whiskey to pour him self a shot, grabbing the thick full bottle as he went to crash on the solid black leather couch. It had certainly been a day from no return. He wanted to wake up and pretend none of this ever happened. He might not have cared for Crenshaw’s tactics, but the woman could deliver the goods in bed. He had definitely let his guard down and let loose a few things he shouldn’t have in the heat of the moment. She had plastered him with red wine, and the attraction was there, but he thought he was more than just another source of revelation. Then again he didn’t want any thing more than a one night fling, so it worked out in the end; he sure wasn’t going to cry over spilt milk. He had seen her regularly in the court house setting on business, and she was always haunting him for tad bits of information. He had kept it together till that night.

He laid back with his head squarely resting on the large tattered couch pillow with his eyes shut thinking, where is Honey, how did she disappear under their very noses? I know my men are out looking for her, but how did she give them the slip. Had Morelli’s men gotten too her, and she ran or did they kidnap their star witness. He didn’t want to think that she was all ready dead. He had put plenty of officers on that detail, it shouldn’t have happen. The DA was madder than hell, his case was falling apart. It was sewn in the bag with Honey, if she’s on the list this can’t be good. Once again if he couldn’t figure this out Morelli was going to get off scotch free again, if this was connected.

65

Harding scratched his head in confusion speaking aloud, “Damn it why was his name on that list,” who was after me this time. He’d been this road before, but with dead bodies coming out of nowhere, the familiarity was a little more threatening. It would make sense if Morelli had devised a hit list to turn the trial upside down. If Crenshaw wasn’t on the list, they were either aiming for him or Laura. They certainly didn’t plan on missing. Hope do God, there is more clues on that disk than I have. Who in the hell would want to know every aspect of my life, all I do is work. Could it possibly be where to locate him for a clear unsuspecting shot? He may have to consider wearing a bullet proof vest; if every where he went he could end up like Crenshaw.

Taking another round from his small whiskey glass, he reached for the list out of his pocket. Scanning the names one by one, and what role they could possibly play. Dang, who was Sally Swift, the only Swift I know is Judge Swift. Are they related some how? I never did get real close to Judge Eleanor Swift, she was known for no nonsense, tough as her old man Judge Patrick Swift. He’d send any criminal away for the maximum sentence if he could; the old boy was tough on crime. Robert Harding had always been attracted to Eleanor Swift wondering what that buxom, sexy woman held under those robes. He had held back so far, didn’t think it was good for business, then again if the right moment ever came he might be persuaded. He knew for sure she couldn’t be part of this; the old gal didn’t tolerate anything to sway her proceedings. Did she know James was undercover as her clerk? If so, why he was under cover, the FBI didn’t let their sources or cases out. He did have an acquaintance in the record department at the FBI; maybe good old Misty Hornbeck could give him some information. He’d banged her a time or two.

66

Why did James send Laura to Bangkok? He must have known about the list to save her, but save her from what. James must have stumbled on to something, and he had given her the disk to hold until he could get there. Perhaps that bullet was meant for her today and not Crenshaw. Mallory plain got in the way of things, Laura had information I bet my bottom dollar has something to do with Morelli. He’s one fierce, conniving mob boss who trains his help well. He had no qualms about putting hits out if they got in his way. This trial was in the way of his underground corruptions, the man was definitely a drug smuggler out of South America, and I am sure he had more than one source. He heard he had been involved with a prostitution ring too; all these dealings would definitely affect his wealth. Mulling it over in his head, he remembered Morelli had a connection to a casino boss in Atlantic City a while back. Morelli was a silent partner from what he had uncovered and that could be a key clue. The man had way too many dangerous acquaintances that might jolly well save his butt or let him hang. It just depended who he pissed off or who was in his financial corner. Robert knew if he was found guilty the man wouldn’t see the light of day, especially with all the men or women he knocked off that no one could prove. The judge would probably give the man life. You said something wrong or undermined him; he only had to snap his fingers for his security to go to work.

The bottle was half empty by now, and Harding was definitely feeling the effects. His mind was working on overdrive and he had to get some rest for tomorrow. Crenshaw’s funeral was tomorrow and he was going to pay his respects, as well as scout the area for suspects. They always like to come back to revel in their conquests, sometimes the suspect was right under your nose. One couldn’t see the forest for the trees is how he looked at it. He was going to have to

67

look at each suspecting tree. Maybe someone was on the list who was the actual killer to throw the investigation off.

**************

Dearly beloved we are here to celebrate Miss Mallory Crenshaw’s life and to mourn her passing. The woman was a true giver and had a knack for sharing with her fellow Christians. We are at a loss for this senseless and useless death, may God carry her to the gates of heaven and take her under the wings of his angels. We all loved her sense of humor and tireless contributions to others. She was always upfront and never had anything unkind to say about her neighbors. Robert scratched his head thinking out loud to himself, “Are we talking about the same woman I know? Mallory had more secrets than she would ever tell. For being Christian, she’d go a mile to get what little tidbit she could out of someone. Guess she had this group of suckers fooled, they only saw her at her best.”

Scanning the room, he looked for people who might be on the list, but could only see fellow reporters upfront. All the pall bearers were acquaintances in the newspaper industry lined up on the left and right side on the church near the front pews. Several family members were sitting in the immediate family section roped off; who he had no clue of their identity. Searching the back of the church he spied Judge Swift dressed in black sitting in the last pew in the corner of the aisle way. She wore a black veil with a black hat and dark sunglasses underneath. Her name wasn’t on the list, but the name Sally Swift was, and that was the only Swift connection he had.

68

She must be here to pay her respects for a senseless ending. I am going to have to corner her before they get to the cemetery, perhaps invite her for a cup of coffee

Leaning over the back pew, he whispered in Eleanor’s ear, “I need to speak to you immediately.” Eleanor cocked her ear and tried to hush him with, “Not now.” He tapped her on the shoulder and whispered in her ear, “There are more murders planned, we need to talk now.” She rose from her seat and followed Detective Harding out into the hall of the church entry way carpeted in a beige tone with the smell of sweet smelling flowers on the hallway table in the air.

“Now, what is it that couldn’t wait? Who’s going to be murdered? Don’t you see there is a funeral going on and it’s not very polite to leave in the middle of it.”

“I understand this”, he replied. “Do you mind if we get out of here, there’s a coffee shop around the corner?”

“This better be good,” she snapped.

Seated at the Morningside Early Bird Café by a young waitress with her black hair tightly wound in a bun with the name Charlotte printed on her name tag asked, “May I bring you some coffee?” Detective Harding nodded his head, as she left for her station returning with brightly colored menus and dark brown mugs in hand.

She stated, “I’ll give you a few minutes,” making beeline for the back of the kitchen.

69

Robert slowly pulled out the white crumbled paper from his raincoat pocket with the list sketched upon it, and handed it to her across the table. I received this last night in the mail. Judge Swift removed her glasses attempting to adjust to the cafe lighting to view the list in front of her reciting the names one by one.

“You are the only Swift I know, are you related to Sally Swift?” Robert asked.

Judge Swift replied, “Yes, she is my cousin. She works as a paralegal for Deidre Henson of Patterson and Henson law firm. What is this all about?”

Robert took a deep breath, and said, “Here’s page two that went with it, shoving it across the table, YOU’LL NEVER PROVE IT!”

“Prove what?” she asked.

“That’s it I don’t know, but look at that list again, your cousin is connected in someway. One of those players is dead, and did you know he was with the FBI? Your clerk was an undercover informant, but I have no clue what he was investigating. The FBI is mum on these things. I would have let it go, but after Crenshaw was killed yesterday by a sniper, things didn’t smell right. I was talking to Laura at the time on the court house steps, and she and I are both on that list. My bet is Crenshaw got in the way and that bullet was meant for one of us. Do you think this is tied in with the Morelli case?”

70

Judge Swift quickly responded how could that be, then again this Honey witness was missing yesterday. Who knows, maybe she couldn’t take the heat or one of his men threatened her and she took off like a jack rabbit. There is no telling, or they could all be related to James, the informant. We don’t know what the FBI was up too? This could be something entirely different.

“Oh my God,” she announced, “My cousin works for Deidre Henson. She’s Morelli’s attorney. Sally and I aren’t very close; she came to live with us when I was a teen, and left after my father died. She couldn’t bear living there any more; the loss was too great for her. She’s Deidre’s secretary, what ever this is it certainly is suspicious. You could always go talk to her, but I don’t think she’ll be able to tell you much, you know client privacy. I guarantee her boss, Deidre won’t let you. She doesn’t want to give away her strategy; you know how we lawyers are. We don’t want the other side to get wind of things. Deidre’s one hard ass and can tackle any attorney on the opposing side. I have been up against her a few times, and frankly I’d hate to meet that woman in a dark alley, she’s meaner than a pit bull. My guess is this is why Morelli chose her, sort of two peas in a pod. They both won’t give up what they don’t have too.”

“Are you not concern about this, Harding asked?

“Well, I really don’t know what to make of it? Why don’t you do some more snooping and get back to me. Better yet, why don’t we have a business dinner? We could have it in at my apartment or if you prefer we could go to the French restaurant close to me.”

71

*****************

The elderly white doorman stood at the entry door of Waterloo Apartments on Thirty-Sixth Avenue with rigid stance, watching those entering and leaving his station. Detective Harding arrived at the door, and greeted the old man with a casual nod and said, “Judge Swift is expecting me in apartment thirteen. I am Detective Harding.”

The doorman entered the building and Robert caught his name tag as he turned, reading Lester. His job was to apparently call up to the tenant and asked if they were expecting a visitor and whether to let them in or not. Lester buzzed the apartment for Judge Swift, and she picked up to reply, “Yes, Lester.”

“Judge I have a Detective Harding out here for you, shall I send him up?”

Eleanor replied, “Absolutely, we have a business engagement.”

Lester hit the buzzer opening the door for the Robert landing him in the marble lobby filled with a lounge area, elevators and a snack shop on the ground floor. He pressed the nearest elevator button, and took the trip to the first floor. Getting out of the elevator at the end of the hallway, he walked to the end of the brightly lit hall to be greeted by number thirteen. Knocking on the door, Judge Swift opened it and showed him in, “Come in Robert, you don’t mind if I call you that do you. I get so tired of the formality, please call me Eleanor.”

72

“All right Eleanor, are you ready to go?”

“Well”, she replied, “I tried to get reservations, but they were full up for this evening. They were having some festivity for a corporate dinner, so it didn’t leave much room for others. They had apparently rented it out in advance. I thought we would just have a little dinner for two here. You didn’t happen to bring any wine, did you?”

“I’m sorry I thought we were going out, so I came unprepared,” he smiled. “That’s okay; I have a bar stocked you never know when people stop by. Why don’t you see what you can find over there, as she pointed towards the bar? See if you can find a nice Chablis, we’re having chicken this evening.”

Finishing dinner up, Eleanor suggested, “Let me put these in the kitchen. See if you can find some brandy, please. I have a nice fire going to take off the evenings chill.”

Eleanor hastily took the dishes into the kitchen and came through the swing back door, and headed towards the back of the apartment. Robert was thumbing thorough the various liquors till he spied a half bottle of Brandy opened, sniffing it he got a roaring pleasant sensation all ready accelerated by the wine itself. Reaching for two brandy glasses out of the wooden cupboard above the bar, he poured them each an inch of brandy to round out the evening. Eleanor entered the living room in a sheer gown covering of pale light blue. It was low cut and her breasts were revealed peeking thorough the top. Detective Harding was speechless; her golden hair was down flowing in front of her resting at her shoulders. The gown was held up by straps only and as she

73

turned it was apparently backless. Robert thought he died and went to heaven himself. He was tempted beyond all reason, and decided if this is what she wanted, he certainly would cooperate all in the line of duty. Perhaps he could get her to finally talk, nothing like pillow talk to get her to reveal her uttermost secrets.

CHAPTER 9

Richard Guise was not a man who made mistakes. Ever. He was equally effective with all manners of death. Poisons, knives, garrote wires, his beloved sniper rifle; in his hands even a straw could become the perfect instrument of death. This was why he was sought after by the who’s who of the criminal underworld and the occasional dirty cop. This was why he was paid a king’s ransom for his services. And that was why missing his target not once, but twice in a single day was unacceptable. Laura Harrington had first slipped from his crosshairs just a breath before the bullet bit through the redhead behind her. Had she felt that nearly imperceptible wind as the bullet sailed by her ear? Had she known it was her blood that should be painting abstract across the courthouse

74

steps? It didn’t matter. What did was that the detective had good instincts and better reflexes. He’d remember that when he got to the second to last name on his hit list. Climbing the fire escape, he let his thoughts turn to the second failure where Laura was concerned. Another three seconds, four fleeting heartbeats, and he would’ve had his garrote noose around her neck. Her life should have ended with a skillful tug to snap her neck, not with three expertly placed thrusts of the knife he held in his hand. Damn that prosecutor for interrupting him in the elevator. It wasn’t that Richard was against killing people in the same method; it was just so…common. While good at it, killing held no mystery for him after all these years. No challenge. When given the leeway by his employers, he preferred to vary the nature of all the deaths in a job. It kept him sharp and kept the cops from connecting the dots until he was onto the next assignment. And it was fun. Predictably, Laura’s window wasn’t latched. Give a woman a few days to let the shock of a shooting wear off and they went back to their sloppy, oblivious ways. Though it put him behind schedule on his hit list, it was worth not coming for Laura immediately following his failures. A smile touched his withering face as he thought of the wire coiled in his pocket. Perhaps there’d be no need of the knife tonight after all. He set the knife on the window sill with a gloved hand as he slipped into her bedroom. The laptop was on her bed, open yet off, and the fragrant steam from a recent bath still floated in the air. A glass of wine sat on her nightstand surrounded by balled up tissues.

75

So she was either sick or sad. From the bars of a melancholy blues album playing in the other room, Richard’s money was on sad. Good. That worked for him tonight. He typically preferred his prey to put up some sort of a fight, to make it interesting, but there would be no fourth attempt at this name. Tonight was it for the sorrowful Laura Harrington. He slipped into the closet just as she entered the room, hair still damp from her bath. Were he a different sort of villain, her short silken robe might have tempted him to delay her death just a bit. But he wasn’t. A killer with no ethics was a killer soon killed. Laura folded back her comforter, oblivious to his observation of her from the closet. She might have seen him, had some sense of movement from the corner of her eye if only she weren’t already on her last glass of wine from the bottle. Sadly for her, her attention was drawn by the suitcases left unpacked in the middle of her bedroom floor from her whirlwind trip to Bangkok. Of course, he’d known where she was the entire time, had observed her emergence from the bathroom with her new loathsome hair. He was just glad she’d spared him the effort of flying across the world after her. Killing in other countries could be messy. Richard watched as she unzipped her bag and rummaged through its contents until she found a makeup case. Women. Was she making herself pretty for the Sandman? Or did she perhaps subconsciously know a little rouge now would make her appear less pale when the police found her? It didn’t matter. There would be no time for beauty tonight. Richard was behind schedule enough as it was because of her.

76

Moving like the jungle cat going after the hapless zebra, he emerged from the closet and slipped the garrote around her neck in a fluid motion. Her surprised utterance was choked off as the contents of her makeup case spilled around her. With her body already sluggish from alcohol, death did her a kindness and came quickly for her. Richard left her lifeless body sprawled over her bags, her hand resting on the precious makeup bag that had distracted her. Two down, four to go. Typically, the professional in him would never dream of taking two bookings at the same time. Making the exception this one time had seemed a prudent choice, given that his hit lists differed by only a single name. He picked up the laptop and snapped it closed on the way back to the window. As he was climbing back to the fire escape, he glanced at his knife still on the sill. He’d left none of his DNA on the knife he’d used to kill the first man on his list. Why not leave the first murder weapon at this scene as a taunt to the police? In fact, he could leave the garrote with the next body, though he wouldn’t dream of killing his next victim with it. Oh, this game with the police would be delicious fun with one of the investigators on his list. It was unfortunate that he’d have to kill the good detective before moving to the final name, the only one that was different between the two lists. Such a waste. Watching Harding try to solve the murder of the dishonorable Eleanor Swift would have been fun indeed. Pity. ***

77

Seducing Robert served no true purpose. Eleanor realized it even as she led him by the hand to the white sectional sofa in front of the waiting fire, glasses of brandy quickly forgotten on the bar. With the tendrils of a familiar pain wrapping around and tunneling into her brain, it wouldn’t even be an enjoyable interlude with the man she’d marked for death. If she could push the pain aside long enough to get some release, the headache might give her a few hours reprieve. Doubtful. Pain too often trumped pleasure in the real world. But her time with the detective didn’t have to be a total waste. Robert’s questions were becoming problematic, just as she knew they’d be when she penned the list and sent it to him. At the time, it seemed like a good idea, but now that his questioning eyes were fixed on her…No, better to have his gaze dark and trained on her with lusty intent. Men were so easily distracted by the sight of a little female flesh. After being plied with wine, he’d be putty in her hands tonight. Any questions about the meaning of the list or his placement on it would soon be forgotten. Robert’s hands were on her shoulders, sweeping her golden hair out of his way. He pressed his lips to the nape of her neck in a fleeting kiss. “Are you sure about this, Eleanor?” No. If she was honest with herself, really honest, she hadn’t been sure about anything she’d done since the moment Morelli had shown her that distasteful video of the two of them. “Absolutely.” She cast him an alluring look over her shoulder and lifted an eyebrow. “Problem, Robert?”

78

Before he could respond with any hesitation, she spun on him, shoving him back onto the pristine sofa. Eleanor didn’t give herself so much as a second to rethink her decision. She pounced, attacking with eager lips and exploring hands. Instead of returning her enthusiasm, he gently pushed at her shoulders. “Hold on.” “I don’t think so.” “I’m serious.” He squirmed beneath her until he was able to retrieve his vibrating cell phone from his pocket. “I need to take this.” “You really don’t.” She made a grab for it, but he was able to hold it just out of her reach. “It’s work.” With a sigh, she slid off his lap enough that whoever was on the other end of the line wouldn’t hear her. She should have had him drink his brandy before making her move. No man would take a work call when properly lubricated with liquor. It was a quick conversation and the detective gave away nothing on his end of it. He was silent for a long moment after disconnecting. Finally, she said, “I take it you’ll be leaving now.” His face was a mask of stone. “Yes.” After a beat, “Laura Harrington was murdered tonight.” ***

Eleanor had been playing him tonight, Robert mused on the elevator ride to the lobby. Actually, she’d been playing him from the second he pulled her out of the funeral. He shouldn’t

79

have missed the obvious ruse until she was working her little seduction scene on him? Why hadn’t he? Because his emotions were still raw from the funeral of a woman he wasn’t sure how he was supposed to feel about.

If Mallory’s death hadn’t dominated his mind, he would’ve realized there was something off about the judge’s behavior since the shooting. If the idea of losing himself in a woman – any woman – for the night hadn’t seemed like the best way to distract himself from his confused grief, he would’ve thought sooner how rushed the whole evening seemed. There’d been no natural progression to the evening. It was all business one moment and sexy outfits the next.

Stepping out into the chilly night, Robert knew he wouldn’t have slept with the judge even if they hadn’t been interrupted. Something in her eyes when she’d looked back at him before pushing him onto the couch told him her reasons for rushing to sex had nothing to do with any kind of attraction to him. While he’d slept with women with ulterior motives before, he wasn’t in the mood for more games tonight. Eleanor Swift was too cagey to give up anything over pillow talk. Perhaps under other circumstances the two of them could’ve been lovers, but not these. When Robert got to his car, the driver’s side window was rolled down and long ribbons of white smoke danced out into the night air. A well-manicured hand emerged from shadow to flick an ash at the dirty street below. Without hesitation, Robert grabbed the wrist at the same time he pulled the handle, yanking the woman to her feet and trapping her between him and the car.

80

“I see you still like to move fast, Robert,” the brunette purred, completely unfazed by his actions. He knew this woman, he realized right away. Something seemed off about the dark chocolate strands of hair cascading in silken waves well past her shoulders, but he definitely recognized those vivid green eyes. If he could just place her voice, he might be able to remember her name. Regardless of her name, one thing was certain. His one night stands didn’t normally turn up in his car to wait for him. “Who the hell are you?” A smile spread slowly across her full lips and twinkled in her eyes before she spoke. “Cassidy Shields.” Of course. The chick who’d been in town on business from somewhere down south a few months back. Out of all the women he’d been with, she was the first to ever throw him for a loop. Instead of getting to pull his patented slipping out in the middle of the night move, he’d awoken to find her already cleared out of the hotel room and a note on the pillow about how she’d had fun. Interesting that she didn’t have a southern drawl the way she did that night. After a few moments of protracted silence, she reached into the pocket of her tailored slacks and held up her credentials. Extending her right hand what little space was between their chests, she added, “Agent Cassidy Shields. Pleasure to meet you.” Robert didn’t accept her hand. He didn’t move to give her space either. “You lied to me.”

81

Her hand dropped and she shrugged as though he’d just commented on the weather. “I couldn’t very well tell you that I’d run into you in the middle of a dead drop exchange with my partner, now could I? Besides, I recall you not being very interested in my name and occupation at the time.” He couldn’t dispute that. She’d been a redhead in a short skirt at the time of their meeting. “All right. What are you doing in my car?” “I thought I’d catch a ride with you to the crime scene.” “I wasn’t aware the FBI was invited into this investigation.” “Invited? That’s sweet that you really think we’d need an invitation after the colossal screw-ups that have gone on in your precinct.” The humor fell from her eyes. “Get in the car, Robert. I’m driving.” “Like hell you…” “This isn’t up for debate. I could overlook the fact that you’ve spent the better part of this evening cozying up to the woman my division has spent thousands of man hours investigating. I could overlook taking you to a crime scene with alcohol on your breath and lipstick on your collar. What I will not overlook is a cop who dances on the line of a DUI.” Robert tossed the keys at her and walked around to the passenger side. There was something about being chauffeured around in your own car that he’d never liked, but he still complied. While Shields might be a bitch with a federal badge, she wasn’t wrong. He shouldn’t drive right now.

82

Once they were following the navigation system’s directions to the crime scene, she slid her glance in his direction. “How long did you really think the FBI would let the death of one of its own go unnoticed before stepping in?” When he didn’t respond, she added, “Mark Redford was the best deep cover agent my division had. It’s no coincidence the chick he was so hot to protect gets murdered not long after he does.” Robert thought briefly about the list in his pocket, but thought better of saying anything about it yet. There were more pressing matters to deal with. “You can dress this up however you want to pretty it up, but we both know this is about your agency wanting to take credit for bringing down Morelli.” Of all the reactions the agent might have had to being called out, she laughed. It wasn’t a nervous laugh or one meant to buy time. The laugh was genuine and lengthy. When she was done, she flicked a small tear from the corner of her eye. “I never knew you had such a developed sense of humor. I’ll add that to the list of things I know and like about you.” “What’s that supposed to mean?” “What conviction do you really think you’re getting? The case is imploding in on itself. Even if it weren’t, Swift has been in Morelli’s pocket for her entire career.” She pulled the car onto the shoulder and threw it into park. Counting on her fingers, she added, “Sampson, Van Wooten, Aldridge, Errington, Lafferty…If you have cash and legal troubles, you get yourself on Judge Swift’s docket and you buy yourself an acquittal, a dismissal or a slap on the wrist. “As for your case against Morelli…” She shook her head. “The prosecutor’s office was broken into, probably by Morelli’s people, the day of the courthouse shooting. They got Honey Wilson’s location.”

83

“Shit.” He squeezed his eyes shut and thought of the fearful look on her face once the realities of testifying against a man like Vincent Morelli began to sink in. He’d sworn to keep her safe and now she was joining Mallory and Laura on the list of women he couldn’t protect. “I wish you’d stop looking so maudlin about this, Robert. I picked her up at the bus station before she could board a bus to Toledo. My people are guarding her in a secure location and you can bet your last nickel my division doesn’t have the leaks your precinct does.” His relief over her safety was momentary. “Were you ever planning to share that information with the prosecutor or were you waiting for our case to finish imploding, as you say?” “Don’t make me out to be the bad guy because you didn’t properly secure your witness, Harding. I picked her up after her missing court appearance.” Her hand tapped his knee to get his full attention. “I don’t need the collar on Morelli. If we can keep your witnesses from dying, that’s your baby. I want the bitch who had one of my agents murdered. I’m after Swift.” “Why are you so sure she’s got anything to do with that?” “Because Redford’s last communication to me was that he was sure she was onto him and that his days were numbered after what he’d found in her office.” “What did he find?” Cassidy shrugged and put the car back in gear. “I wish I knew. He was supposed to send the information the day he died, but it never came through.”

84

Robert considered Mallory’s final words to him about something being funny with the case. The elegant handwriting on the list in his pocket burned through his brain. It was probably a woman’s handwriting. Could it be the judge’s? It was time to lay his cards on the table with the woman beside him, come clean about the list in his pocket, but he needed to know something first. “Why are you trusting me with all this information? Couldn’t I be the leak in my precinct?” The agent was silent for a long moment, so long he began to wonder if she was even listening. Finally, she drew in a breath and said, “Because you’re the key to unraveling this, Robert. My case, your case…everything.” She parked behind a squad car in front of Laura Harrington’s apartment building and turned to look him fully in the eyes. “I don’t know how or why, but Mark was sure of it. I’m praying my people will turn up some shred of something in this woman’s belongings to explain why he felt that way.” Her eyes grew serious. “Until they do or we figure it out, you’re not leaving my sight. Robert Harding, you cannot die.”

Chapter 10 The sight of Laura Harrington was hard to bare. She lay sprawled across the bed, bluelipped and naked as the flimsy silk robe had proved no match for the struggle. The forensics team had blocked the crime scene to all but essential staff and it would be some time before the detectives would be permitted to enter the apartment. Detective Harding stood by the door and watched the scene unfold. A momentary wave of nausea forced him to turn his face to the wall.

85

He struggled to gain his composure, happy that Agent Shields was too intent on the crime scene to notice his momentary loss of composure. He thought of the last time he saw Laura, and wondered how he could possibly have forgotten about her, about the disc. He had been so caught up in Malory Crenshaw's death that he had put poor Laura right out of his mind. Why had he dismissed her? She clearly knew something or Mark Redford would not have gone to so much trouble to protect her. Naturally, Harding had assumed Redford's protection stemmed from his feelings for the girl, but she had told him that she had the files. "Goddammit!" he exclaimed. Agent Shields turned to him. "Friend of yours?" She asked. Harding's natural impulse was to lie, to play his cards close; but his tells were blatantly obvious to Agent Shields who now gave the wrinkles around his eyes her full attention. Thoughts rushed through his head as he examined his fairly poor record of police work over the past few days. He had let Laura go and focused on finding Mallory Crenshaw's killer because of the emotional connection he had to her, he had overlooked Judge Swift as a possible accomplice because of his assumptions of legitimacy thanks to her office and he had walked around with this list in his pocket when it should be in forensics being analyzed for handwriting and DNA evidence. He shook his head. Nothing he had been doing made any sense. How the hell could he be drinking brandy with the half-naked judge while poor Laura was having the life squeezed out of her?

86

His internal struggle evident on his face, Shields made a mental note to challenge him to a game of poker at their earliest possible convenience. "Look," she said, "you know I don't have any truck with this inter-departmental bullshit. We are both here to catch a killer. I have been straight with you - full disclosure. We need to end this thing. I can help you, but you're going to have to trust me." She smiled, "Okay, and I'm sorry I didn't tell you who I was before. I'm sorry that I left in the middle of the night. If it makes any difference, the note was accurate; I did have a good time." He took a deep breath and gave himself a metal slap in the face. He turned to the open doorway. "Cover her up will ya!" he commanded. The forensic photographer who was closest to her looked at him, shrugged and complied, pulling both sides of the robe over poor Laura Harrington. Harding turned to the nearest police officer: "Who's in charge here?" he asked. The man nodded over to a balding, middle aged man who was kneeling in the center of the room, examining the carpet for evidence. Harding asked the officer for a word: "This is a very important case for us and this woman has some vital evidence in her possession. Bag everything you need, but let me have a look at it before you remove it from the scene. Got it?" The officer nodded his compliance and went back to the carpet. "This is going to take a while still," Harding said to Agent Shields, "let's get a coffee." "And then you'll come clean?" she asked. Harding smiled. "Only if you buy me some pie."

87

*************** The list bagged and sent with the forensics team to the lab, the body removed and the room so abuzz with activity before now eerily silent, the two detectives surveyed the scene. "So what are we looking for exactly?" asked Agent Shields. "A computer disc, maybe a USB," he said. "Great, USBs can be shaped like a bazillion things these days," Shields replied. "Look at this," Harding held up the computer power cable. "See how it's pulled slightly out of the wall socket? Like..." "It was still connected to the laptop when the killer left," she finished his sentence for him. "Hey, does that mean he went out the window?" she asked, tracing the cable from the wall to where Harding was holding the end. He walked to the window, opened it and whistled. He reached into his jacket pocket to retrieve a latex glove which he used to pick up the knife. Shields smiled. She was on her haunches looking at the bed. "Why do you think she was putting on her makeup?" she asked. "What do you mean?" said Harding. "Tissues, empty bottle of wine and already in bed. I think she was mourning agent Redford," said Shields.

88

"So why would she get into bed and put on makeup?" Harding continued the thought. The both moved over to the bed and Shields picked up the makeup bag. "Start checking for a disc in one of the compacts," she instructed. She carefully removed the makeup, piece by piece, from the bag and placed it on the bed. Then she stuck her finger into the small side pouch. She pulled the disc from it. "Bingo," she said. "Let's get this to the office." "Stat," agreed Harding. "Hang on, what if the killer realizes that the files are not on the computer?" "He may come back for them," Shields got on her cell phone and requested a backup unit to keep an eye on the apartment in case the killer returned. The two detectives got back in the car, feeling pleased as punch at their haul. Back at the precinct, Harding handed in the knife while Shields got to work on the files. "Find anything?" he asked as he returned to his desk with two cups of coffee balancing precariously on a box of jelly donuts. "There's a file on you with surprisingly detailed information. I didn't know your second name was Marion. Isn't that a girl's name?" she asked with a sly grin. "Get on with it will you?" he said. "And if you tell anyone..." "It looks like yours was downloaded from a detective agency, so that's why it's not encrypted. However, the rest of the files are in code. It's an old CIA code that is almost impossible to crack," she said.

89

"Except by FBI agents?" he asked hopefully. "You bet," she smiled. She hit the enter button with Harding peering over her shoulder, they both whistled. "Wow, your entire legal career, all that studying, all those late nights, and all your achievements; expunged by a single photo. For the rest of her life, she's going to be known as the judge who did that to Morelli," she said. Harding was turning his head to the side, trying to figure just whose limbs belonged to whom. He smiled, relieved that it was not him in a picture like that with the judge. He had, as they say, dodged a bullet. "Call it in," said Shields. Harding shook his head. "I've been enjoying my good karma of late. I'm not going to take advantage of the cosmos' good will. I don't deserve it. Besides, I owe you for fishing Honey out of the pond. You call it in." He smiled, waited for her to vacate her seat and then sat down to study the rather compromising photo of Judge Swift and Morelli. ****** Agent Redford's files proved invaluable. It had taken him years, but Redford had gathered more damning evidence against Eleanor Swift than you could shake a sharp stick at. "It still doesn't add up," signed Shields. "What do you mean?" asked Harding in amazement. "I thought you'd be pleased."

90

"The list," she said. "The same names on your list are also on Mark's files. Why would he have files on these people? It's obvious that someone has made a hit list, but why? What connection do these people have to each other and who the hell made that list? And why did they send it to you?" Detective Harding shrugged. He had asked the same questions, but the effects of the alcohol had long since worn off and he was feeling tired and a little hung over. He rubbed his eyes. Shields was studying him closely. "You're right," she said. "Huh?" he looked up confused. "Let's get some sleep. It’s been nearly 48 hours since you got any shut eye and we could both use a break. Let's send a squad car to pick up Judge Swift and charge her while we get some sleep. She's going to be a hard nut to crack, but we're going to have to get her to tell us all about that list," said Shields. Detective Harding nodded his head in consent as he allowed Shields to drive him back to her place where they both thought he would be safer. **** Detective Harding tried to suppress the sound of the ringing phone and focus on the fastdissipating vapours of a dream he had been quite enjoying. But the more he tried to reach for it, the further it skipped away. He opened his eyes a crack as Shields entered the room and sleepily answered the phone.

91

Her monosyllabic responses gave away little as to the content of the call, but as she replaced the receiver, she turned to Harding and said; "The honorable Justice Swift is ready for questioning. Apparently she has been hissing and scratching her way through booking and fingerprinting." She managed a wry smile before gesturing towards the bathroom. "You take a shower while I put on the coffee," she said. "Thank you, Shields," he said, "your mercy knows no bounds." He was enjoying the feeling of the warm water massaging his tired neck muscles when he heard the bathroom door open. He wrapped the shower curtain around himself and poked his head out to glare at her indignantly. She giggled. "It's nothing I haven't seen before," she said. "Here is a clean shirt for you and some clean socks. They belonged to an old boyfriend, but I don't think he would mind." She pretended to look him up and down before fleeing the bathroom to avoid the wet sponge he had thrown at her. On his way to the station, Detective Harding was feeling in remarkably fine fetter. The train wreck that yesterday had been was starting to arrange itself into not only one, but two huge cases. Morelli and Swift, what a great double whammy! His thoughts began to stray to Agent Shields but, just as they were getting interesting, the car pulled into the station and Harding had to put on his game face. Judge Swift was not going to be a pushover. ********** Judge Swift sat tapping her fingers impatiently on the desk, lips pursed, while her attorney sat nervously next to her. They were both fixated on the detectives who were talking to

92

their superiors outside the interrogation room. The detectives were actually catching up on the weekend sports scores with their boss, but everyone kept glancing at the accused in a ploy to unsettle her. Although she went to great pains to hide it, the ploy was working; Eleanor Swift

felt very far from settled. Finally, Detective Harding broached the subject. "So what's the deal, boss?" he asked as he looked at Judge Swift. He held her steely gaze until she looked away. She had lots to be ashamed of, she had demanded to see the files and she had even seen the pictures. "Well, I want to know what that list is for. You've got to find out if she knows anything about it and how the names on that list are connected. She must be able to give you something of real valuable to cut any kind of a deal at all. The district attorney is looking for scalps, so don't make any promises you can't keep. Just get the information and she can thrash out the details with the DA herself, you stay out of it. She's probably going be a real hardass; have to have your ducks in a row before you question her. Harding, I know you're up to the task, but what about Agent Shields here?" asked the chief. "No one I'd rather have in the ring with me," Harding said and turned to head for his desk. They discussed the case at length; referring to the files Agent Redford had given his life to compile to come up with a strategy that would break the imposing Judge Swift. Finally they felt up to the challenge and strode off to the interrogation room. "Do you have any idea how long we have been waiting!" spat Judge Swift as they walked through the door. Both detectives ignored the outburst and settled down in their chairs.

93

Detective Harding opened the files and began laying out the evidence one piece of paper at the time. When the whole desk was covered in papers, he looked up at Judge Swift. Her eyes bored into him. He wanted so badly to swallow and look away, but he forced himself to meet her gaze. She was wrapping up a lifetime of hatred and frustration at her career in her own selfloathing and directing it all at Detective Harding. He continued to hold her gaze as he took one final piece of paper from the file and threw it on top of all the others. She couldn't help herself, she looked down. The tangle of limbs she could see from the periphery of her vision was exactly what she had suspected it would be; the picture of her and Morelli. "You bastard!" she whispered, but the vehemence was gone from her voice. Her lip began to quiver a little and she placed her hand over her mouth to hide it. "Judge Swift," Harding began, "the evidence here is..." "Inadmissible!" she shrieked, her desperation beginning to show, "all illegally obtained. None of it can be entered as evidence." "I assure you, all of the surveillance was approved by Judge Sparrows. You don't think we'd go after a judge without the proper paperwork, do you?" Harding asked calmly. Eleanor Swift opened her mouth to speak, thought better of it and pressed her lips tightly together again. "Now," continued Detective Harding, "the only reason we are speaking to you is because we have an on-going investigation that we know you can help us with." Eleanor Swift turned her head and looked away; "You mean the list?" she asked in an almost imperceptible whisper.

94

"Yes," replied Harding, somewhat taken aback. She nodded her head and sighed. She looked tired and emotional. "Can I have a glass of water?" she asked almost meekly. Shields got up and opened the door to the interrogation room and asked for a bottle of water. She settled back down in her seat, Judge Swift was looking down at her hands, fidgeting with the edge of the table. "I never wanted to be a judge you know," she said, "my father was a judge and his father before him. In fact the unbroken line of Swift judges stretches back to time immemorial. It was a heavy yoke to bear. I wish I had never taken on the responsibility, real or imagined, that I thought my father was bestowing on me." The water arrived and Shields got up and opened the door. She passed it on to Judge Swift who took it without looking up. Harding and Shields were veterans of the interrogation room, they knew that they had to be patient, and let Judge Swift come round to the pertinent information in her own time. They waited quietly as she twisted the top off the water and threw her head back, downing half the bottle before replacing the lid. She cradled the bottle in her hands and began to pull off the label. "Judge Swift," Harding coaxed gently. He was surprised to see her eyes welling when she finally looked up to meet his gaze. "I wrote the list," she said. Detective Harding felt elated. He would never have said that Judge Swift would....

95

She doubled over clutching her stomach and screamed. Both Harding and Shields were on their feet and across the table in seconds. "Eleanor," said Harding; "Talk to me, what's happening?" Judge Swift began to convulse and froth at the mouth. Shields and Harding lifted her from the chair and laid her on her side on the floor, holding down her limbs as to prevent her from injuring herself. "Get an ambulance!!" Shields yelled at the pale lawyer who was pressing himself up against the wall in panic. "Get a freaking ambulance now!!!" she yelled when fear prevented him from springing into action. He ran from the room shouting for help and a doctor. A paramedic filling in a statement was rushed to the room, but it was too late, Judge Eleanor Swift was already dead.

96

Chapter 11 It he hadn’t been there to witness it, Harding wouldn’t have believed it. The idea that Judge Eleanor Swift could have been rubbed out right before their very eyes seemed too incredible to be believed. Even the unflappable Agent Shields seemed shaken by the unexpected turn of events. The obvious conclusion was that she’d had a heart attack, but when EMS arrived on the scene, it had only taken them a few moments to realize that she had to have been poisoned. The severity of her convulsions had been such that she’d literally bitten her tongue. It would take Harding a long time to get the image out of his head of the once imposing Eleanor Swift, contorted in agony and flopping on the floor like a fish out of water.

Her attorney was beside himself, and was himself helped out of the room behind the covered gurney while Harding and Shields stared helplessly on. For the longest time, neither of them could think of anything to say but simply sat there. It was Shields who had finally sprung back into investigative mode. She made sure that after the body was removed, the water bottle the judge had been drinking from moments before was summarily bagged and tagged, and then the officer who’d fetched it was brought in. He was a tall, towheaded youngster named Rafferty who looked like he’d been on the job less than a year. He had that “baby cop” sheen Harding knew all too well – uniform still crisp, shoes shone perfectly, hair trimmed with military precision. The realities of life on the streets will dull that enthusiasm soon enough, Harding thought cynically, as he watched Shields interrogate the young man.

97

“I got it from a case just outside the locker room,” he said for the hundredth time. “I don’t know. I just thought . . .” “And you say you didn’t see who put it there?” Shields interrupted. “No.” “There’s no case of water there now,” she pointed out. Her tone was clipped, her questions coming rapid-fire as she tried to unsettle Rafferty, or else catch him in an inconsistency. “No one else remembers seeing it.” “I can’t explain that,” Rafferty said, running a hand over his face. “I don’t know what happened to it, but I swear . . .” “You sure you didn’t get it from someone else, Officer Rafferty? Someone who handed it to you, and you thought what the hell, save myself the walk? Because no one here would blame you if that’s what happened, would we Harding?” “Nope. No one would blame you,” Harding confirmed automatically. It was tough to remain mentally present, to be honest. He didn’t think for a moment this kid was some plant who had managed to get a bottle of poisoned water into the interrogation room and to the appropriate person at the appropriate time. It was a little too far-fetched. Unless of course, Eleanor Swift hadn’t been the appropriate person. His name was the one on the list, so wasn’t it more likely that the water bottle had been intended for him? But even that didn’t make sense. When Shields had asked for the water, there was no telling who it was for. No one except those in the room would know that. Not to mention the fact that there wasn’t even any guarantee they would ask for water at all. No, this had to have been an opportunistic strike, not a planned one. But if the kid got it from a case, what was this unseen assassin’s plan? Poison the whole

98

precinct just to kill Robert Harding? None of it made sense. Harding made a quick decision and went for it. “Alright, Rafferty,” he said. “We’ll call you if we need you.” Officer Rafferty looked from Harding to Shields and back again, uncertain as to whether his ordeal was truly over. He shook his head. “I feel terrible about . . .” “Thank you, Officer Rafferty,” Harding said. Shields glared at him as Rafferty left the room and when the door shut, turned with her arms folded, one eyebrow arched. “That wasn’t going anywhere,” Harding explained. “The kid was scared shitless and his story’s so crazy I’m inclined to believe him.” “Yeah, that’s good ol’ police work for you,” Shields said drily. “The crazier the story, the more likely it is to be true.” “Look,” Harding said, his voice rising. “You really think Rafferty planted that water bottle?” “Doubtful,” Shields admitted. “Exactly,” Harding said. “Gimme a minute. I gotta hit the head.” Outside the interrogation room, there was still a buzz in the air as patrolmen and detectives alike milled around talking about what had just happened. A judge – no, not a judge, but the Judge presiding over the Morelli case, no less – had been hauled in for questioning and soon after, had been wheeled out in a body bag. The curiosity had to be killing them. Across the room, Harding could see the beginnings of a flurry of activity, men in dark suits tapping out urgent messages, leading a procession that Harding knew meant one thing: Police Commissioner

99

Paul Campanella. So they’d called the Exalted One himself down here. Well, Harding couldn’t say he didn’t understand. The death of a judge while in police custody? To say that it would be a public relations nightmare was an understatement of epic proportions. And if Harding wasn’t mistaken, he’d seen shots in the Post of the Commissioner dining with none other than the judge herself on more than one occasion. That the two were personal friends had to make Campanella more than a little motivated to get to the bottom of this. Realizing that he would likely be trapped for some time to come answering Campanella’s questions, Harding made a sharp turn down a corridor and took a circuitous route to his originally intended destination. Just as he had expected, Officer Rafferty was inside, head down, both arms braced against a sink. He glanced up and when Harding entered and quickly turned on a faucet, beginning to wash his hands. “Tough break,” Harding said, taking a place in front of a urinal. “What?” Rafferty asked. His voice bore evidence of the strain he was under. “Being the one to bring the judge that water. Could’ve been anybody. Tough break that it was you.” “Yeah,” Rafferty said, his voice flat. He splashed some water on his face and took a deep breath. “Hey,” Harding said, just as Rafferty turned to leave. “You have a brother over at the one-six didn’t you?” “The two-seven,” Rafferty said, hesitating. Harding decided to take another shot in the dark. “Patrick, right?” “Joseph.”

100

“That’s right. Good guy, your brother.” “You know Joey?” Rafferty asked, sounding skeptical. “By reputation. They say he’s a good guy.” Harding moved over to the sink to wash his hands. He noticed out of the corner of his eye that Rafferty wasn’t looking like he wanted to leave any longer. “Good cop,” Harding continued laying it on. “How many years he got on you?” “He’s ten years older than me,” Rafferty said. “No, I mean on the force.” “Eight,” Rafferty said. “Went into the academy pretty young, Joey did.” “And you followed, huh? I got a big brother, I know what that’s like,” Harding laughed, lying through his teeth. “Nah, I was following our father. And his father before him. And a few uncles too,” Rafferty said with more than a little pride in his voice. Harding turned off the faucet and looked around for paper towels he knew weren’t there, finally wiping his hands on his trousers. Then he looked up at Rafferty, directly in the eye, man to man. “So you’ve got blue running through your veins, pretty much, huh? I bet you never considered anything else for a career, like becoming a welder or something.” Rafferty gave a harsh laugh. “Nope.” Harding nodded. “So I can understand,” he said carefully. “I can understand why you wouldn’t want to ‘fess up to making a stupid mistake.” Rafferty shifted his weight from one foot to the next. “I don’t know what you . . .”

101

“A stupid mistake like maybe taking that bottled water from someone and passing it into the interrogation room. Instead of going to get the bottle of water yourself. I mean, it’s bottled, right? What the hell could be wrong with taking a simple bottle of water from . . .” Rafferty exhaled then, running both hands over his face. “My career . . .” “Kid,” Harding put a hand on his shoulder. “You just lied to a federal agent. What do you think that would do to your career?” “I know,” Rafferty moaned. “I know. I just, I panicked, y’know? I thought . . .” “Look, never mind what you thought. What you have to do now is come clean. All the way clean. Tell us what actually happened.” “If I do that I’m screwed!” Rafferty said. Just then, another patrol officer walked in and the two men fell silent. Rafferty looked like he wanted to make a run for it but Harding held him in place, not physically, but with a hard stare, making it clear, without uttering a single word, that staying put was the only available option. When they were alone again, Harding patted him on the shoulder. “Here’s what I’m going to do for you. The agent back there, she and I have, let’s call it history. If I ask her to, she’ll forget that other conversation even happened. Clean slate. As long as you tell the truth.” Rafferty looked doubtful. “I mean it. Clean slate. But Rafferty so help me God, if you leave a single detail out and I find out about it later, I will make sure you’re the only member of your family to be tossed off the force in complete and utter disgrace.” Rafferty laughed mirthlessly. “I guess I’ve got no choice then.”

102

Harding shrugged. “There’s always a choice. It’s just that the only other one besides telling the truth doesn’t turn out too good for you.” “And you’re sure you can square it with that agent whatshername?” “I’m sure I can square it,” Harding said, though he was nothing of the sort. “But you should start with making sure you know her name, and use it with respect. It’s Shields. Agent Shields to you.” “Okay, so let’s go do this,” Rafferty said, taking a deep breath. “No. You hang tight. Go back to whatever you were doing and I’ll come find you in about a half hour.” Rafferty nodded. “Okay. And thank you. I wasn’t feeling good about what I did back there, lying about . . .” “Forget it, kid. Just make sure you’re around when I come find you.” Harding turned to leave but looked over his shoulder one last time. “If I were you I’d use this time to recollect every single detail that you think we might need to know. And I mean. Every. Single. Detail.” “Yes sir,” Rafferty nodded. “Thank you.”

*

*

*

The interrogation room was considerably more crowded when Harding returned. Commissioner Campanella had commandeered the desk where less than an hour ago, Judge Eleanor Swift had met her maker. As Harding entered, several pairs of eyes turned to look at him: the chief, Agent Shields’ and four of the Commissioner’s aides. Campanella pursed his lips

103

and looked up at Harding laconically. Clearly, he’d been waiting, and he was not a man accustomed to being kept waiting. Shields stepped forward. “Commissioner, this is Detective Harding, sir.” “I know Harding,” Campanella said slowly. “Don’t I, Bobby?” Harding knew him alright. He’d served with Campanella for a couple short years; but it was just long enough for Harding to peg him as an ambitious little prick who cared little for policing, and a great deal for politicking. He was one of those cops who was always looking up, trying to make the next grade, the next promotion, the next high profile case. To say that Campanella’s rise had been meteoric would have been an understatement. He’d climbed the ranks so quickly there were a few guys who thought he was an import, rather than homegrown NYPD. When Campanella was sworn in, Harding wished he’d had a dime for every rank and file officer who’d wondered aloud who the hell he was. A short, squat man, Campanella had compensated for this by wearing only the most expertly cut suits. The one he was wearing now looked like it easily set him back in the very high hundreds. And the shoes, Harding noticed grudgingly, were a thing of beauty. Only the finest of Italian leather no doubt. “Good to see you, Commissioner,” Harding held out a hand which Campanella ignored. “No, Bobby. Not good. Not good at all,” Campanella said. He studied a spot on his sleeve. “Unless I’m in the wrong place. I was under the impression I was in the interrogation room where not too long ago, an esteemed member of the bench keeled over from a heart attack while being harassed on some trumped up charge that she’s been bumping off random reporters.” Harding opened his mouth to comment on the Commissioner’s characterization of Judge Swift’s death as a heart attack but caught Shields’ eye. Ever so slightly, she shook her head: No.

104

“Do you mind telling me why Judge Swift was here?” Campanella asked. “The chief here filled me on some list you found, but I’m not sure I understand how that all relates to Judge Swift. Mind sharing?” He still hadn’t looked Harding in the eye, but somehow managed to make it seem as though it was only because he didn’t deign to do so. He brushed an imaginary piece of lint from his pant leg. “Agent Shields and I developed some information that suggested she might be involved in . . .” “Commissioner, with all due respect,” Shields jumped in. “The information you’re asking for could compromise an ongoing federal investigation.” This time Campanella did look up, fixing a cold stare directly on Shields. “Agent, if my officers can know about this ‘federal investigation’ – as I assume Harding and the chief here does – then I certainly get to be in the know as well. Not to mention that you’re in one of my stationhouses conducting an interrogation. So I suggest you start talking.” “I’m not prepared to do that,” Shields said coolly. “You goddamn better!” Campanella abruptly lost his cool, causing his aides to look up from their previous engrossing email communications. “This is my turf, Agent. And you have no right, no right . . .” “Perhaps you’d better take it up with my boss,” Shields suggested, keeping her voice level. “Detective Harding and the Chief cooperated because I gave them the impression that he had no choice,” she lied.

105

Campanella stood. “I don’t have time for this,” he said, resuming his prior composure. “So I think I will contact your superiors, Agent. And after I do, I expect to see you – and you as well Harding – down at One Police Plaza to give me a full briefing of what went on here today. And I mean full.” He stood and turned toward the door and then stopped, looking back at Shields and Harding one last time. “I don’t expect either of you to understand just what a mess this is,” he said. “But before the six o’ clock news tonight, the public and Judge Swift’s colleagues on the bench are going to want to have some answers.” Campanella and his entourage swept out of the room, leaving Harding and Shields alone once again. “Where the hell did you make off to?” she demanded. “I had to bluff my way through ‘til you got here.” “I was in the Men’s Room, with Rafferty,” Harding explained. “Sounds cozy. What the hell, Harding?” “I got him to admit that his story was BS. He’s prepared to come clean but I saw Campanella and didn’t want the kid spooked so I came back to see whether we could do some temporary damage control before we called him back in.” “Good thinking, although you almost spilled the beans about the water.” “So no one knows? I thought for sure . . .” “Just Swift’s lawyer and he’s probably curled up in a fetal position somewhere right about now. The Chief wasn’t in the room so he has no clue, though it’s a fair bet that right this

106

moment, he’s telling Campanella all about Redford’s surveillance of the Judge. So the window of opportunity for us to get to the bottom of this is fast closing, Harding. You game?” “Oh, I’m game,” Harding said with certainty. “This case is starting to get more and more curious, as they say.” “So what’d the kid say?” “He didn’t. Just that he didn’t want to tell the truth for fear of losing his career.” “So what’re we waiting for? Bring him in.” Harding stepped out into the stationhouse and looked around for some sign of Rafferty and when he didn’t see him, simply hollered his name. “Rafferty!” The din of cops walking in and out, processing arrests and taking reports made for a noisy workspace, so no one even looked up. That is, except for one uniform, a dark-haired guy holding his hat. “Yo!” he said. “Nah,” Harding said. “The other Rafferty. Blonde kid.” The redhead looked confused. “Not at this house. I’m the only Rafferty here.” Harding could feel his heart rate begin to increase, ever so slightly. “He was here though. This morning. Not even half an hour ago.” Rafferty number two shrugged. “Sorry buddy, there’s definitely no other Rafferty here.”He turned to walk away. Harding shook his head slowly. “I just got the wrong guy is all. Sorry about that, man.” He turned and headed back into the interrogation room, wordlessly shutting the door behind him and sitting on the edge of the table. He looked up at Shields.

107

“What?” she said impatiently. “Where’s Rafferty?” # Richard Guise listened as Ian Gannon described his close encounter in the precinct house and swallowed his disapproval. That kind of stunt was one of the reasons he preferred to work alone. The young guys like Gannon liked interjecting these dramatic flourishes into the work. The dumb-ass had actually gone into the precinct and assumed the identity of an off-duty officer, even going so far as to pilfer a uniform and badge out of a locker. “I had a fifteen minute conversation with the FBI agent and lead detective,” Gannon boasted. “And neither of them suspected a thing. They were so consumed with beating up on me – this green patrol officer who’d accidentally poisoned a judge – that they didn’t even consider that I might be the guy.” “But now they know what you look like,” Guise pointed out. “So what?” Gannon scoffed. “I’m on a plane tonight, back to New Orleans. And it’ll be awhile before I come back to this cesspool of a city anyway.” “It was reckless,” Guise insisted. “All you were supposed to do was pick her off from afar as she left the station.” “Ah, but this was so much more fun,” Gannon said, laughing. “I even got to watch as they wheeled her out of there. Now how often do you get to do that?” “Never,” Guise said. “And it’s why I’m still alive and in this business after thirty years.” Gannon rolled his eyes. “Whatever. Let’s just go in and give our report so I can get my money.”

108

Guise maneuvered the Lincoln Town Car into a vacant parking spot two blocks from the brownstone where he and Gannon were to meet their employer. Guise was surprised that he’d been asked to bring Gannon along; this job was one that had required the utmost discretion. He only knew who had hired him because the man appeared so often in the newspapers. There was an additional element of risk attendant with working for someone like this – high profile clients did not like to leave loose ends untied. It was for that reason that Guise used disposal cell phones and dummy addresses, which he dumped after each assignment. As far as he knew, no one had ever discovered who he really was, or that he lived a sweet, uncomplicated life with his high school sweetheart in Great Neck and had two daughters and five grandchildren. No one knew much about him at all because he had made it his business to be a ghost. Ian Gannon and the young guns like him were different – they sought notoriety, even if only among their shadowy set. “Fixers” they were called. Men who, for a price would take on jobs that most people were hesitant to admit they even wanted done: the disappearance of a troublesome mistress they had grown tired of, the roughing up of an admissions officer responsible for denying your kid a place at Princeton, or as in this case, a series of untimely deaths. What Guise couldn’t figure out about this job was why his employer didn’t seem to care whether the deaths were made to look like accidents. In fact, he seemed to want them to be reported as murders. Clearly he was sending a message. But figuring out to whom was not something Guise was inclined to dwell on. The less he knew, the better. He led Gannon down the block and as instructed, they entered the imposing brownstone from an alley on the side. A door had been left open for them, and a narrow staircase led up to the foyer where they waited. There was no need to announce their arrival: Guise was punctual to

109

a fault; a fact that helped build his reputation for reliability. Gannon tapped his feet impatiently, and was just about to speak when the man emerged from a room to the right. He was tall, with patrician features and a shock of white hair. He wore a smoking jacket and chinos with velvet slippers. To Guise, it all looked like an affectation, but of course, he was the Chief Justice of the highest court in the state, so perhaps he was entitled to these vanities. “Gentlemen,” he said, as though greeting old friends. He ushered them into the study which was impressive to say the least. The walls were bookcases that went from floor to ceiling and were occupied with tomes that looked like collectibles, far older even than the man who owned them. Gannon looked momentarily unsettled, but took a seat where the judge indicated he should. Guise sat in an armchair nearby while the judge remained standing. “Your job went well, I’m told,” he said looking at Gannon. “It went,” Gannon nodded. “Good. I have your envelope being brought down for you. Thank you for your work.” Gannon looked uncertain of how to respond, but finally managed a nod. As if on cue, a door to an anteroom opened and a man emerged. He was tall and wearing a blue suit, carrying an envelope in one hand, car keys in another. “Thank you, Abe,” the judge said. “You’ll make sure Mr. Gannon gets safely to JFK?” “That’s alright,” Gannon said, already reaching for the envelope. The judge looked at him, his blue eyes steely. He smiled. “I would be remiss if I didn’t make sure you were safely on your way,” he said. Gannon took the envelope and seemed to consider for a few moments.

110

“Okay, sure,” he said. Guise waited as Gannon exited the room with Abe. He had the definite feeling that Gannon might not be going to the airport, but tucked it away for future examination. This would be something to consider as his work with the judge drew to a close. Extraordinary measures might have to be taken, lest he get offered a ride from Abe as well. When they were alone, the judge took a seat behind the enormous Hepplewhite desk and leaning forward, made a steeple with his fingers. His expression turned to one of pained concern that, if he didn’t know better, Guise would have thought was genuine. “So tell me,” Chief Justice Charles Marbury said. “I do hope Eleanor didn’t suffer.”

111

Chapter 12 Chief Justice Charles Marbury reached across his desk for the humidor and withdrew a fine Cuban cigar. He clipped and lit the smoke and sunk comfortably into the Corinthian leather of his favorite armchair. The judge watched his guest closely. He may have given the orders from time to time but the man across from him was an actual killer. His colleague’s corpse on its way to the morgue was proof that Guise and his associates could get it done. It took a certain kind of person to kill someone. The judge had order deaths both in and out of the courtroom before but this one was different. He almost wished he’d had another choice. “No, I don’t think it hurt much.” Guise replied dryly. “The boy slipped in, impersonated an officer and slipped her some poisoned water. I believe it was cyanide. A bit more risky than I would have liked but it got the job done.” “I don’t need the details,” the judge said with a wave of his long fingered hand. “The fact that Eleanor Swift is no longer breathing is sufficient.” The judge paused a moment before he continued. “This whole business is distasteful. I knew Eleanor, years ago when she was first raised to the bench; she was different. She possibly could have followed in her father’s footsteps in the pursuit of justice and relative poverty as a result. But as they say, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts… or some such nonsense.” Marbury mused and then focused on Guise directly with a slight smile. “There is money to be made in the law but far more on this side.” The judge puffed at the cigar, “It may be distasteful but this kind of business is bound to have casualties. That will of course include your young protégé I’m afraid. Abe has been with me for quite some time. He knows what to do.” Guise nodded and struggled not to seem uncomfortable as he pondered his own fate.

112

The judge puffed at the cigar. “Now you and I have an understanding. I am buying out your contract for Morelli. So, contrary to his wishes we need to make sure that Miss Honey Wilson lives long enough to testify. Morelli will go up river and my business will continue to thrive unimpeded by his meddling.” The judge paused for emphasis. “I don’t need to threaten a professional like yourself, but I would remind you that I have means, other than Abe, to insure people do what they need to do.” Guise simply nodded again. The older man enjoyed the cigar. He did not offer one to Guise. That did not surprise him assassin in the least. The judge was a cautious and calculating man. Not offering the smoke was a subtle show of power. Guise did not like the idea of going back on a contract, but he really had no choice. The damage the judge could do would put him out of business. The judge could be killed of course, but why do that. It wasn’t like he wasn’t getting paid. It was just money not to do the job. # The Continental rumbled down the street leaving the brownstone lined street behind. Abe guided the large Lincoln through the streets clogged with cabs and commuters. “Please help yourself to a drink. The scotch is particularly good.” Gannon smiled and took the crystal bottle from the rack and poured a substantial drink into the glass. “You know, I think I like your boss, Abe. He’s got real class. One of these days, maybe after one or two more jobs, I’ll be all set up nice like this, too.” Gannon gulped the scotch and winced as it burned in his throat. “Smooth,” he gasped. “Glad you like it. We’ll be at JFK in about thirty minutes. Just sit back and relax and let ole Abe take care of you.” The judge’s manservant spoke over his shoulder, his well-trimmed

113

salt and pepper beard scratching the fabric of his tailored suit. There seemed to be a satisfied twinkle in his eye. No Gannon thought, it’s just the light. The man is just doing his job. Then there were two of him. Gannon’s vision swam and everything blurred. He swayed in the seat. “You alright, Mr. Gannon?” The black manservant asked and then snickered. Gannon buckled over in his seat in pain as the Lincoln came to a halt in an alley a few blocks from the port authority. The rear door opened and Gannon was dragged from the car by a strong pair of hands. “This is the end of the line for you, sonny,” Abe said. “I know that sounds cliché, but in this kind of business it sort of fits.” Gannon felt himself forced to his knees. He was helpless. The pain in his stomach and his head was so intense he could not resist. He heard the snap of a telescoping baton opening and a moment later everything went black with the impact. Abe struck Gannon twice more for good measure and then wiped the small traces of blood off the baton onto the dead man’s jacket. He checked for a pulse. He was fairly certain that the man was dead. It wasn’t the first time he had killed after all. Abe had worked for the Judge for years. Their association went all the way back to a meeting the judge had with a diamond cartel boss in Freetown, Sierra Leone nearly two decades ago. Abe was an enforcer in the cartel and had been sent to the United States to accompany the Judge and the first shipment of diamonds to make sure the Judge, then only a district magistrate, kept up his end of the business. He had. The judge had connections in one of the largest diamond houses on 47th street through his marriage to a broker’s daughter. They trickled a few of the blood diamonds in with the legitimate stones and had made a fortune ten times over. Abe had stayed in the United States and assumed the guise of a manservant. Business was still good but Morelli had made a mistake and that would cost him. Gannon had done the job for them, but he was expendable. There was no pulse. With his gloved hands Abe retrieved the envelope full of

114

money from the man’s interior pocket and tucked it into his own before climbing into the Lincoln. He whistled as he drove away. # Shields drove with Harding down West 57th, a street clogged with traffic. Tensions were high and Robert waited for the agent to speak. “What the hell was that?” she asked. “What kind of police force do you have in this city? A suspect gets killed in the police station and we have no idea where the killer is or who the killer was.” She paused and exhaled with frustration. “Months of surveillance, not to mention the lives of an undercover agent, his sweetheart, and a nosey reporter who was standing too close to the target. If this could be more messed up, I can’t think how.” “Let’s take it one step at a time.” Harding said. “I can ID the guy. Maybe I should go through some of the mug shot books and see if we get a hit or use that facial recognition software your guys are always touting.” Shields groaned. “That was a hired hit. Even if we do nail him, I doubt the guy in the police station even knew who is real boss was.” She turned the corner before continuing. “We need to work out who had the most reason to off the judge. In this case we can eliminate Morelli since he had the most to lose by the Judge’s death.” “No kidding,” agreed Harding. “Those photos meant he could make the judge dance like a puppet on a string. It wasn’t some other agency.” He raised his hands in quotes. “I know the government doesn’t order ‘hits’ on US citizens. But what if in this case someone wanted to…”

115

Harding broke of and snapped his fingers. “It’s some sort of law enforcer vigilante that knew the judge was corrupt and got fed up with her giving thugs like Morelli a pass.” Shields looked away from the street and glared at Harding. “Are you serious? You think someone out there in uniform or on the bench gives a rat’s ass about what Judge Swift was doing?” She paused. “I mean Morelli is a bad apple, I grant you that. But who would risk their own career or prison time just to take out a corrupt judge? Disbarment is far less messy.” Harding scratched his and looked out the window as the rain started to pour down. Harding turned back to Shields as he grasped a flash of insight. “What if it was not only someone that didn’t like what Swift was doing, but was also someone that had business to resolve with Morelli? Someone that wanted to make sure that the Morelli case ended up in a court that wouldn’t rubber stamp an acquittal?” Shields’ eyes lit up at the suggestion. “Someone was cleaning house, but also had an ax to grind with Morelli. Or it could be a rival criminal, someone trying to muscle their way into the city. If they made sure that Morelli’s pet judge was not able to let him off, they’d have the streets to themselves. At least until he got an appeal or some other backhanded way of getting out.” Shields did a U-turn suddenly eliciting a resounding chorus of honking horns. She gunned the accelerator as she weaved through traffic heading for Federal Plaza and the FBI headquarters in New York City. Shields dialed her cell as she drove wildly through the streets. “Yeah, this is Shields. I need McDonough, Reilly and Spitcov in the conference room in ten minutes. Tell ‘em I want everything they have on Morelli’s competition.” The agent hung up quickly and much to Harding’s relief returned her attention to driving. “Someone got wise to Morrelli’s plan to eighty-six the witnesses so that

116

Judge Swift would have an excuse to dismiss the case. Somebody that wants to see Morelli go down this time.” Harding caught up with Shields train of thought in midstream. “It has to be somebody that has something going down soon. They needed to make sure Morelli stayed in custody. By killing the Judge, there will have to be a continuance,” Harding suggested. “With the charges he’s facing they’d never let Morrelli out on bail. It could take a week or more before they could get the case reassigned. Whoever is behind this has got something they need to do while Morelli is safely behind bars. This could be a major shift in the city’s underworld and we’re sitting on top of the powder keg.” Agent Shields nodded and pressed the accelerator to the floor. # In the hotel room, Honey Wilson emerged from the shower and wrapped herself in a pair of towels: one for her long golden hair and another tucked around her shapely figure. She had been a bit put out when the FBI had shown up at the previous accommodations and demanded they pack up and move her to this out of the way flop house. She had to admit though that the FBI agents that they sent to guard her were a lot cuter than the NYPD boys Harding had assigned. She strode pass Agent Calvin Warren and sat on the edge of the bed and slowly crossed her legs at the knee, the towel shifting to give just a hint of what lay beneath. The young agent, no more than twenty-five, gulped and turned his eyes away. She could have him if she wanted to. That might help relieve the boredom of being cooped up for weeks under “protective custody.” The other agents she’d seen in the past twenty four hours since the changeover had all been handsome, but Calvin seemed the most interested. He was shy of course. He was from the south and had that accent that reminded her of home. The woman had been raised outside Richmond

117

but had run away from home at seventeen. She had hitchhiked her way to New York with the hopes of becoming an actress but instead had ended up working a street corner and sleeping her way up the ladder of Morelli’s organization, finally ending up the big man’s bed. It had been a hard road, but once she was in a relationship with Morelli she knew she had made it. All she had to do was cater to his fantasies and stroke his ego and she’d have all the furs, jewelry and drugs she could stand. Yes, over the past year she’d strayed a little and had one of Morelli’s boys on the side once or twice, but who could blame her. A woman gets tired of the same old thing all the time. She’d also stopped working out. Vincent had bought her one of those exercise gyms after he saw some infomercial with some celebrities. He went on and on about how he’d throw it into the female even though she was almost sixty. Vincent insisted that since she wasn’t getting exercise walking up and down Broadway anymore turning tricks she needed something to keep in shape. Morelli had said he couldn’t stand sex with a fatty. She hadn’t touched the damned thing in three months. Morelli hadn’t touched her either for a while. Honey had found out from one of Morelli’s goons, as a part of a post coital confession, that Vincent had another woman. The worst part was that the woman had fake boobs. Honey was a lot of things, but she wasn’t fake. Every inch of her body was all her, no silicone implants, no lifts or tucks or anything. She was proud of her body; it had gotten her where she was today. She thought about that and put her head in her hands. She was a stool pigeon for the FBI, in protective custody, living on take-out pizza and Thai and Chinese food. This was success? With a knock at the door, Warren opened the chain and let in the older of the two agents on Honey’s detail. Jefferson was in his mid-forties and though not ugly, in Honey’s estimation,

118

he was past his prime. “Hey, Cal. Since it’s quiet I’m going to head down to the lobby for some fresh coffee.” The younger agent nodded. “Sure thing. I’ll keep an eye on things. There’s nothing going on.” Jefferson stepped out into the hallway and Agent Warren relocked the door and replaced the chain before turning his gaze in Honey’s direction. Honey rubbed her long hair dry with the towel from her head, facing the window. She let the towel fall onto the floor and ran her fingers through her hair as it fell in damp cascades over her shoulders. Warren blushed slightly as Honey eyes met his. “I guess that means it’s just us.” The former prostitute rose slowly from the bed and released the small tuck in the towel that held it taut across her breasts. “Yeah, what a shame. Whatever will we do about it?” Honey asked. The damp hotel towel landed in a heap on the carpet. “Whoops.”

119

Chapter 13

Chief Justice Charles Marbury reclined in his leather chair, biting down on the tip of the Cuban and grinned. He is not an attractive man, Guise thought and exhaled out his nose. Being bought off to shove off, was not something he was used too. He was used to getting the job done. Quietly. Thoroughly. He pawed at the back of his neck and nodded his concede, silently rising from the chair he occupied across from the Chief Justice, he returned the path he came as the Chief's goons held doors and gave robotic gestures toward the exits, knowing there would be a handsome amount wired to his account, and knowing it wouldn't be enough money to make the voice at the base of his skull quiet it's disagreement. Guise knew this all would end badly and he was going to be damn sure he'd be far enough away to avoid it. Chief Justice Marbury watched the Hit-man exit his office. Placing forefinger and thumb on the cigar, he gently rolled the smoke from his lips to avoid tearing the delicate leaf, and rested the ember end in a lead crystal hand cut ashtray sitting at arm’s length. Charles Marbury studied his own hand as it carried the smoke to the edge of the heavy glass ashtray. The side of his mouth curled upward as the memory of obtaining the fine piece flashed across his gray matter – that was a good day – he thought to himself as his head agreed to no one in a slow nod. It was just supposed to be a meeting to go over a case, this one in particular was a thorn in his side. A young man was accused of raping and murdering his wife for his lover. This in itself wasn't anything unusual, for the average juror it would've been a crime of passion, but evidence had come to light that the lover that had asked for the wife to be killed, had a seat on the Senate and 'he' had a lot at stake. So the case turned ugly and political. Finger pointing and gay-bashing from both sides could make even the most stoic, upset. And Charles Marbury got

120

upset. Oh, he didn't care the outcome of the case, the Chief Justice just wanted to make it go away, the childishness of it had become an embarrassment to the Justice Department, so he had a private meet with the accused lover. When John Taylor walked into the parlor of the Darby Social Men's Club, he certainly made an entrance in the private club room, he was beautiful by men's standards and impeccably dressed, with an air of arrogance worn like an ascot. Charles Marbury was already seated at the heavy mahogany table, smoking a Cuban; much like now, but he was agitated, the case could've been cut and dry, the prosecution was even hinting at a deal of manslaughter. But this pretty-boy, John Taylor decided to turn the case into his own freedom-ofsexual persuasion campaign. There weren't too many times in the Chief Justice's career that he felt impelled to uphold the law, but this case had got under his skin, because it seemed everyone had forgot about the one who had died. Taylor would make headline worthy statements regarding his sexuality that made the reporters chomp at the bit...and this woman who had been murdered hadn't so much as had her name mentioned in the footnotes for 6 months. Marbury crushed his cigar at the thought, at the indecency of it. And the man that started it was standing in front of him, the ornately carved door closing without a sound behind him, hand on his hip, his voice still hung in the air with sarcasm, “Oh please don't tell me, we're going to talk about that case.” Chief Justice Charles Marbury stood, his hand still clutched part of the destroyed cigar and the edge of the lead crystal cut ashtray. He looked down at his lapel, dusting off a few specks, briefly wondering if it was time to purchase a new one. Marbury's forehead folded at his own distraction as he squared his shoulders and lifted his head. Marbury looked at Taylors smug face and without expression, picked up the lead crystal hand cut ashtray and slammed it into the side of his head as hard as he could. The ashtray was

121

bigger and heavier than Marbury had thought, as it succeeded in shattering Taylors jaw, freeing a handful of molars from his mouth, crushing his eye socket and dislodging his left eyeball. Taylors body fell to the old wide pine wood floor in a heap, blood spilling out of his face like a rogue faucet. Chief Justice drew a deep breath and exhaled through his nostrils as he stepped back to avoid getting any fluids on his Italian leather shoes and watched the young man straight-faced with little more compassion than morbid curiosity. The pretty-boy no more, he fought his inevitable death-rattle end, all the while Marbury clutched the fine hand carved lead crystal ashtray. Chief Justice put his head back against the soft headrest, with his eyes closed a small smile played at his lips, “I can't remember when I cared that much,” he paused and drew a deep breath, as he had done then, picking his head up, staring coldly into stale air, “until now.” Morelli. The incompetent “Gangster,” Marbury chuckled to himself. A clumsy wanna-be that never understood the true power of fear. Chief Justice sighed loudly. “When will they learn?” he asked out loud, shaking his head in pity, he placed both hands flat and firmly at the leather bound writing pad inlay on the desk and pushed himself away from the piece of furniture. Marbury stood, at almost 6'5”, just his entrance into a room was impressive. He rubbed the prominent bridge of his chiseled English-decent nose, pinching it at the base and closing his eyes in thought.

He knew Morelli needed to stay alive long enough for him to squeeze the necessary information out, then whatever happened to the idiot didn't matter to the Chief Justice.

122

Marbury stepped behind his chair as he often did to mentally sketch out a game plan and scrubbed at his pointed chin. It puzzled the Chief as to how that second rate criminal could come upon this information and he shook his head in slight disbelief, but Marbury knew better, he had hired one of the best private investigators to find out if Morelli was off his rocker and just talking crap, but it seemed Morelli had actually stumbled on some very important information. Information that Marbury was willing to do anything for. Almost. Chief Justice Charles Marbury had always been a silently greedy man. He understood at a young age that people want to hear what they would tell themselves and any diversion from that created resistance and resistance wasn't always fun. So at that young age, Charles Marbury payed attention. Occupying the corners of holiday festivities and elementary school classrooms....to get a good view and to listen without interruption. Watch and learn who would become competition, finding their weakness and using it against them or as collateral to do Marbury's bidding. There weren't many that would challenge him as he grew, his height helped, but he found that knowledge was more powerful than any clique of popular kids in school. Knowledge is equal to power. That was the equation that Chief Justice Charles Marbury began to live by, at the age of 15, he had the entire Middlesex County High School eating out of the palm of his hand – Principal George included. Those were the days Marbury thought as he admired the expansive view from the top floor of the building, and see how far I've come, I have the whole city under my thumb and it doesn't even know it. Yet.

123

Marbury scratched at his forehead to gather his thoughts. It was time to focus. He stared out through the glass, ignoring the crappy job the window washers did and began to review what he knew. Morelli had been trying to obtain a larger clientèle, which had lead him to Africa. Marbury was still mystified as to why Morelli chose that country, and would amuse himself by creating an image of the ignorant Morelli, blindfolded in front of a map, throwing a dart to locate his next venture. The Chief snorted loudly and caught himself glancing around his office to ensure no one heard the outburst, though he knew he was alone. Collecting himself he resumed his thought process. The private investigator had reported a lot of bullshit talk accompanied by handshakes and empty promises for the first week, yet still peaking his curiosity, Marbury encouraged the investigator to continue, no matter what the cost. Marbury had wondered if the former prostitute turned snitch that had tipped off the Chief Justice had her information wrong. Then the private investigator had a break through, exposing Morelli's dumb luck. Morelli had found himself the right bedside companion—.and she loved to talk. Blabbing about an untapped diamond mine in the mountainside. Just the thought of it made Marbury's mouth water. The control he would have if he possessed his own diamond mine. The power Chief Justice Marbury had over this city was nothing in comparison to having power over an entire country. Justice Marbury believed he was just the man who could do it. But Morelli wasn't talking. Marbury reminded himself that Morelli couldn't possibly know of the Justice's intentions. Morelli seemed to be clueless about a lot of things in the city he was feebly trying to overthrow,

124

he had created such a small group of underlings, that he failed to see the big picture. Marbury was the one pulling the strings, no one else. The Chief Justice grinned and scratched at an imperfection in the glass. The wanna-be tough guy had grown tight lipped in the recent weeks though. Marbury chalked it up to the pending days in court, but wasn't completely convinced with his own words. The Chief Justice had a feeling Morelli was keeping something, a vital piece of information. But what? The question had kept the Chief Justice awake more nights than he would have liked. Feeling as though control was being taken from him unjustly by an unseen source, called forth nightmares that plagued him...even when he was lucid, and Marbury hated that more than anything. Marbury sighed deeply, causing brief condensation on the glass before him and resumed clasping the high point in the bridge of his nose, closing his eyes, Marbury tried to ignore the nagging pull of distrust about Morelli. Charles Marbury knew he had to keep a clear head, gather as much information as possible and then make a clean, conclusive decision. Knowing the final determination would be Morelli's execution, gave Marbury little comfort. A small bead of perspiration suddenly blossomed on the Chief's upper lip, bringing with it momentary doubt crawling up his spine. What if this was all bullshit? What if Morelli was smarter than anyone expected and was playing everyone involved, just to live a long and comfortable life? What if the diamond mine didn't really exist? The Chief Justice grappled for the leather chair without looking as the thought of a conceivable ruse made his head spin. He pulled the chair around in time to sit in it without much

125

grace, as images took shape of the possible humiliation that could invade his house made nausea rise to the back of his throat as he tried to catch his breath. The knock on his door shattered the horrible effigy like a hammer on ice. “Chief Justice Marbury, sir, is everything all right?” The slightly distorted voice asked through the door. Marbury began to nod, clearing his throat, he answered, “Yes, yes I'm fine,” leaning his head back in an attempt to relax, “Thank you.” “Okay sir,” the voice paused. “Shall I divert all phone calls, sir?” Marbury nodded to the empty room again, and answered the faceless voice, “Yes that would be fine.” Collect yourself man. Marbury scolded himself. This kind of behavior is weak and unacceptable, a backup plan is needed in case Morelli decides to surprise us all. Marbury shifted in his leather chair, sitting correctly, he pulled his seat close to the desk. He smoothed back his hair and stretched his neck from left to right, composing himself. One hand reaching for the cigar as his other hand found the sterling silver engraved lighter, Marbury paused, his eyes landing on the lead crystal hand cut ashtray.

“Morelli, Morelli, Morelli, you are becoming another thorn in my side.” The Chief Justice exclaimed into the room and leaned forward, placing the Cuban between his teeth, releasing the flame from the lighter and touching it to the sleeping smoke. Settling back into his chair, he drew the tar vapor into his mouth, rolled it around, then blew the aromatic fumes out as he continued to speak to no one, “Lucky for you,” Marbury gazed at the hand cut crystal ashtray with pride, “I am seasoned at handling the kind of burden you've become.”

126

Chapter 14

Morelli scratched at one of the buttons of his favorite silk shirt as he allowed to pair of officers, each built like a bear, to lead him through the squeaky doors of the all too familiar downtown precinct. He was not sure if it was entirely legal for them to bring him in like this but he needed to swing by the precinct anyway, so why not with a police escort? His new favorite pet since the loss of Judge Swift was clever enough not to walk right up to him but Morelli saw the quick burst of shock followed by a small wave of fear cross the young mole’s face when his fellow cops brought the handcuffed gangster through the front door. The last message Morelli received from him told Morelli to run. The feds helping the police with the case thought they were onto something involving, if not spearheaded by, Morelli himself. The underworld was a funny place and this beat cop was still green. Poor boy could not have been more than twenty four with an IQ of about the same. But he had a good set of ears and a sickly mother to care for so Morelli grabbed him quickly before any of his competitors had the chance and so far it had paid off well. Were it not for his mole in the precinct, Morelli would not be where he was right now: handcuffed to a table in a questioning room, staring at the only person in the world who could help him into the next stage of his plan. Detective Robert Harding had never been powerful or cunning enough for Morelli to take any real interest in. To work undercover for the mob, a person had to possess at least one evil bone in their body or at least have one hell of a flaw to exploit or weakness to take advantage of. Like the young officer standing by the coffee machine, not so tactfully trying to spy on what was happening in the small interrogation room.

127

As far as Morelli’s research on Harding had told him, the detective steered away from any sort of lasting personal connections: from family to partners to sexual attachments, with the latter two changing every few months if not sooner. One of his guys suspected the now dead reporter could have been Morelli’s in, but that idea took two to the chest before he even had a chance to consider it. No matter. His plan was still playing out beautifully, just the way he imagined it. “Do you know why we brought you in today, Morelli?” Harding asked from where he stood in the corner. The FBI agent, Shields according to the badge she flashed curtly when he was brought in, currently serving as his partner was seated across the table from Morelli, staring at him intently. Morelli could not tell if she was trying to come off as genuinely interested in how Morelli was going to answer the question or if she was trying to intimidate him. Either way, he had no interest in buying it or playing into their hands. They may not know it yet, but this was his game. Had been from the start. “I assumed it had something to do with the untimely death of the late, great Honorable Judge Swift,” Morelli said coolly, allowing his eyebrows to knit in what he hoped looked like a sympathetic glance. “I hear she was called to the pearly gates in this very room. Poisoning. Tsk, tsk, tsk. What a way to go.” “Is that a confession then, Morelli?” Harding asked crossing his arms across his second rate department store suit. Maybe Morelli should have tried to buy off Harding. Not only did he pay better than the City of New York, he would have thrown in a new wardrobe for nothing. “Of course not, my dear sir. If I was going to confess to something, I would have asked for a lawyer.”

128

“Then how you possibly know not only where but how the judge was murdered? None of that information has been made public.” “Maybe not officially but you are more of a fool than you look if you honestly think that every inch of this building isn’t being watched by those looking to turn a profit. And believe me,” he dramatically let his eyes wander up and down Harding’s slouching frame, “that’s saying something.” Harding made no verbal response but he straightened up and tugged at the bottom of his jacket in a useless attempt to straighten out the years of wear apparent on every inch of cloth. “You have a source in the precinct?” the female agent asked. “Who doesn’t?” he oozed, letting his signature smug smile cross his aging face. “Why would you tell us that?” Harding chimed in, a look of honest confusion dominating his chiseled jaw. “We’re all adults here,” he laughed, leaning forward in his chair. His wrists tugged in the handcuffs as he tried to stretch his arms out to gesture to the three people in the room. “That, and I haven’t been Mirandized and am therefore unaware of my rights. Pretty sloppy on your part, really. Nothing I say here is admissible as evidence.” “Evidence that you called for a hit on Judge Swift?” “I’ve already told you, son, I had nothing to do with that. I’m just idle to privy gossip. I think you know that I had nothing to do with it though. If you did, my lawyer would have demanded a warrant before you ever could have brought me through this door. I think you know

129

that I have nothing to gain from Judge Swift’s death and I think you know why,” he smiled, winking at Agent Shields. She laughed bitterly. “Figures you’d know about our investigation on Swift’s extracurricular activities.” In one seamless motion, she reached forward, opened a manila folder, and drew out a picture that Morelli knew only too well. He could not help but smile at the memory of that night with Judge Swift. So young, so eager. A blossoming rose made only that more beautiful stained by years of self-loathing and inadequacy. Shields snapped her fingers in front of his eyes, breaking him out of his daydream and drawing him back into the banter. “And this is just the tip of the iceberg. From what we know about you, you pretty much own this town.” “That I do,” he said, leaning back in his chair once more. He kept the pleasure swelling in his chest from showing in his eyes. The conversation was going exactly as Morelli had imagined on the ride here. “That can’t be easy though,” Harding said, pulling his chair out and taking a seat. He was hoping the conversation would take this turn as well. “You must have enemies.” “All powerful people do.” Morelli had spent years training his eyebrows how move exactly as he commanded, when he commanded them, and right now, his right one raised without missing a beat. The motion gave him just the right hint of confusion. “You think one of them was after the judge?” “And possibly many more,” Shields said, looking up at Harding before turning back to Morelli.

130

Morelli let his other brow rise as he made eye contact with the pretty blond across from him. “That’s why you haven’t read me my rights. You’re not looking to arrest me. You want my help. That’s precious.” “There’s a possible deal in it for you.” “You can get my trial thrown out?” he asked, knowing the answer before he even asked. “Um, no. You broke the law—” “That was never proven.” “On the level here, Morelli. We need you alive. Someone is trying to make sure that you join Swift, one reporter on your case, and five others, including myself, on the other side. We think it might have to do with whatever information Honey Wilson leaked that led to your current predicament. Now, we can’t get the trial cancelled. You broke the law. But we might be able to make a deal to get your sentence shortened with the possibility of early release.” “For being a good boy?” “Yes. Assuming that you know how to play nice with the other incarcerated beasts, you might be able to be released well before your designated time.” “All I need to do is spill the beans?” “That would be extremely helpful. Along with any competitors you may have hiding in the dark that could seriously benefit from getting Honey Wilson’s testimony then seeing you either behind bars or preferably dead.” Morelli pretended to ponder for a moment, knitting his thick black brows and biting gently on his lower lip.

131

“You mentioned something before… Five others including yourself? I understand, given the circumstances, why an enemy would want me dead but why you and the others?” This part was news to Morelli. He had barely given Harding a second thought before today let alone ever called a hit on him or any reporter. He had never wanted Swift dead either. Not yet anyway. Harding shared a tense glance with Shields before reaching for the manila folder. His hand had barely lifted off of the table when Shields slapped it away, grabbed hold of Harding’s shirt with both hands, and yanked him to his feet. “I need to speak to you outside. Now.” *** “What the fu—? Harding?” Shields hissed over her shoulder at him as she continued to drag the confused detective through the halls of the precinct until she found an empty observation room to shove him in. Her shoes slapped flatly against worn linoleum as she slammed the door behind them. “Why did you tell him about the others?” “I figured he would be more likely to cooperate if he knew the stakes were higher than someone trying to bump him off! In his line of business, he gets that daily!” “And you think telling him that your life is on the critical list is going to loosen his jaw? Correct me if I am wrong, but aren’t you the officer that brought him in in the first place?” She pressed her fingers together and tapped them harshly against her forehead. “Think before you speak, Harding.” An uncomfortable silence fell between the two. Shields stood with her back to Harding as she thought of how best to proceed with the interrogation. They had not formed a solid plan of

132

attack before going in but Shields had convinced Harding not to make it an official arrest. Apart from the handcuffs which Harding has refused to remove for some kind of vindictive pleasure, Morelli was to be treated as their guest, or even as their next victim in a series of murders that had yet to take place. It was clear to her from the moment they started talking about bringing Morelli in to conspire, that the New York native had a separate agenda. Even with the loss of her partner, this whole situation was more personal to him than it was to her. She thought that he would have been able to set that aside but, as the evidence had shown, it was beginning to swallow him whole. Harding on the other hand was trying to figure out not only why the only person that could possibly help them right now needed to know nothing about that damned list but why Shields could not see that they were running out of time. She was being so cavalier, taking her sweet time dragging the smug slug in, and acting if though they had months to bring this murdering bastard down! He grunted and shook out his hands from where they had been clenched so tightly that the circulation had all but stopped flowing. When they began to recover, the blood pumping through them, he tucked them into his jacket pocket to keep from punching the ugly striped wall in front of him. His assassin could be watching from the building across the street. Several minutes passed before the water cooler made a chugging sound as it released air through the tank and broke the two officer’s increasingly uncomfortable silence. Shields was the first to turn around. As she drew her breath in to start rattling off her brilliant plan to bring Harding to her way of thinking, she was cut short by the gentle buzzing of

133

the vibrating phone in her belt holster. She let it go, this needed to be resolved now. She drew in another breath as the vibrating stopped. “Listen, Harding. Let’s wait to tell Morelli about the list until he starts to clam up, then we give it to him after adding his son’s name to the bottom of it. Then it becomes more personal and he is guilted into playing canary.” “That’s tampering with evidence!” He hissed, taking several steps toward her. “There is already a leak in your precious bullpen. Who’s to say Morelli doesn’t already know about the list? Why let him know that we are giving him our only ace!” she hissed back, pointing at the door to her left. Several halls over, his co-workers… his brothers were joking around, complaining about paperwork, and playing different scenarios through their mind as they tried to figure out their newest cases. It was hard to think that anyone out there had blood that did not run quite as blue as the others, tainted instead by betrayal and, hopefully, guilt. The kind of guilt that grows ulcers over time. Yep, that’s what that guy needed. “He already said he had nothing to do with Swift’s death? Toying with him is only going to waste more time that we don’t have!” Shields lifted her right hand and brought it swiping down across Harding’s face. Her own was almost as red as his from anger by the time he met her eyes. His own were so full of shock he had not yet had time to feel pain or an anger of his own. “Stop. Getting. Emotional.” She grabbed him but his jacket once more, straightening his posture, and slammed his into the soda machine behind him.

134

“I’m sorry about your girlfriend. I’m sorry you never got to bang Judge Swift. I’m sorry that someone is trying to kill you. But unless you want me to go to your superior and have your ass thrown off of this case, from this point forward you, will follow my every command. To the letter. You’re too close to this Harding. Trust me on that.” She was cut short for the second time as her phone continued its incessant vibrating. Releasing the stunned detective, Shields clicked the cell out of its holster and checked the screen to see who needed to get in touch with her so badly. Harding watched her fingers swipe across the flat screen in a pattern too quick to determine hoping to find out as well but when she finished unlocking the device the screen illuminated to such a degree that he could not make out anything written on its surface. “Balls,” she sighed. “I need to take this now. Well actually, I needed to take it like twelve minutes ago but it’s too late for that.” Shields shoved Harding against the machine once more for good measure before completely releasing him. “I want to see you back in that room when I get back,” she called over her shoulder as she made her way to the door. “Walk it off, take a few shots of whatever you keep hidden in your desk if you need to, but remember: Morelli is our only hope right now and he will zip his lips tighter than the security detail on the president if he knows he knows it!” *** Honey Wilson had succeeded once again in using her naturally perfect body to get her way with men. It had paid off for her so far and with any luck, tonight would be no exception. She smiled as she took one last look at the cold body in bed beside her. Only minutes before, the

135

young man had been glowing, his skin practically radiating by the thought of sex with someone like Honey. She thought it would have taken longer for that sort of shimmer to fade after the heart stops. She had hoped it would be like watching a sunset, a sunset she created. This was her first kill, her first shot at playing god. Instead it was like watching candle blown out. Not nearly as beautiful or memorable. But there would be sunsets in Africa, and in Africa she would be, shortly. Morelli had promised that there were cliffs that ran for miles where there were no trees or ugly concrete buildings to dabble her delicious skyline. Just her and Morelli paying respects to another day ended in paradise. They just had to survive the next phase of their plan. She pulled up a mental checklist in her head as she dug under the bed for the small suitcase that Karmin had slipped in earlier when their connection at the precinct had released Honey’s intended location. As the most trusted employee of the Morelli house, and therefore one of Honey’s future employees, Karmin Morales was the only person Honey would have trusted with her personal belongings— chiefly, the first diamond necklace Morelli had ever given her. After all, if Morelli trusted her to come to court every day to spy on the jurors, the lawyers, and everyone else present in the courtroom, she was sure that the still pretty older woman would have no problem fighting the temptation to take it? Karmin Morales had been in the country for nearly fifteen years. Morelli used her on one of his jobs south of border and found her talents so useful that he paid off a senator to get her legalized with a working permit and full benefits immediately. However, the longer he had been back in New York, the more tedious he found the language barrier, and eventually took it upon himself to make her fluent in his native tongue.

136

He was so discreet in his lessons that he even taught her how to maintain her broken English façade when talking to anyone other than Morelli himself; he had so far been able to keep even his closest men from knowing that Karmin was more than just their Head Housemaid. It was not long after that when he began using her as his personal spy when it came to watching people without drawing any attention. She used her habit of staring straight at people’s mouths when they spoke to watch what the other members of his household and team were plotting without drawing suspicion. Honey only knew the truth that Karmin spoke English now better than most native speakers because of her engagement to Morelli. Since becoming his future misses, Honey had found out more about the people she worked with than she had in ten years of knowing them. Between Morelli’s drunken, euphoric pillow talk and Karmin’s daughterly trust of her, Honey was beginning to suspect that she knew even more about the business and the people in it than Morelli did. She laughed as she clicked open the small leather suitcase and was pleased to find that everything was present: her necklace, her papers including a plane ticket to Africa, a change of clothes so that she could leave the ones she had been wearing earlier behind for the police to find when they found the dead bodies of the young officer in the bed and his partner downstairs, and a cell phone pre-programmed with any number Honey may need to help her get to the airport without detection. She hated that she was flying alone but the knowledge that Morelli would be right behind her almost made it worth it. Soon the world would think that she and Morelli were dead, those that threatened their happy future would actually be dead, and she and her future husband would be drowning in diamonds.

137

Not bad for a girl that never thought she would make it past prostitute, she thought as she flipped open the cell phone, dialed 2 just as Morelli had instructed her, and pressed the green “call” button. No answer. She tried again. Still nothing. Cops. Never around when you need them. This time she dialed 3. “Hola? Senior Morelli’s line?” “Karmin! Sweetie! I’m finally free! Can you bring the car around back in three? No, I haven’t reached Mama Bear but I’m sure she’s just in the shower or something… What do you mean that’s not good? What’s happened?” Honey stared down at the phone as the line went dead. She could not believe that little rat had just hung up on her. What could be so bad that-? Nevermind. She did not have time for this. Grabbing the clothes, Honey dressed faster than she had all those nights she had to sneak out of client’s houses because their wives came home early. She did not have time to call back and harass her now but Karmin had better rest assured that she would get it for that one. Once clothed, she leaned her head out of the fire escape window and watched for the signature black Morelli Mercedes to pull around the corner. Groaning at the thought of climbing down all of those stairs in the pair of new heels she found tucked away with her clothing, she opened the phone and dialed 2 once more. “Where the hell have you been? I’ve been calling you for like twelve minutes! What do you mean they’ve got Papa Bear?” Honey had never liked the way Morelli handed out names. She should have been the Mama Bear. She was his future wife after all! Nevermind. She would have the meddling pawn thrown off a cliff to a pride of hungry lions once they reached Africa.

138

God, I cannot wait until Morelli kills her, she thought as she imagined the blonde’s body being torn apart. Then she would demand the Mama Bear nickname and Karmin can have her seldom used “Brass Knockers” and all would be right with the world. “So what the hell am I supposed to do now? How does this change our plans?” she shouted at the receiver tucked tightly between her shoulder and her right cheek. “So you get on your stupid plane and enjoy your in-flight movie,” the voice at the other end whispered back. “The next phase doesn’t concern you and Morelli wants you out of the line of fire. Someone may still be trying to kill you. Someone that we haven’t pretend hired. So be a good little girl and do exactly as Karmin says.” “Whatever! You’d better know what you’re doing and there had better be a plan. Send Papa Bear my love.” “Will do! I’m sure Papa Bear cannot wait to have it,” Shields spat into her own receiver. God, I can’t wait until Morelli kills her, Shields thought as she tucked the device back into its holster. She had made it to the crowded sidewalk overlooking the precinct before finally hanging up on the moron. It was hard to believe how she could be so stupid that she actually counted on Morelli marrying her once she got to Africa. Little did she know that her plane would not make it halfway over the Atlantic before engine failure caused it to plunge back to earth and into an icy grave. Shields took pleasure in the image of the disaster playing across her mind. Now she just had to cool Harding down enough that she could “send Morelli home to think over their offer”. Then she would meet him at his safe house, show him the list without the police ever finding out, discover who killed the judge and was therefore going to kill Morelli, and get out of town to the little beach house the mob boss had bought her only a stone’s throw from the untapped mine that

139

would make the FBI agent turned mafia wife the richest woman on earth. Her eyes glazed over with diamonds as she made her way back to the precinct to get her future husband out of dodge and back on track with the next phase of their total underworld then planetary domination.

140

Chapter 15 FBI Agent Cassidy Shields was an enigma, a conundrum. Detective Robert Harding was intrigued. He had experienced many one-night stands in his life, but this was the first time a woman had really gotten under his skin. But there was something he couldn’t quite put his finger on…a trust issue. She was extremely intense. He reminded himself not to let her fragrance cause him to forget his mission or common sense. It was never a good sign to develop doubts about one’s partner, and they had become partners of a sort since they were both investigating the same murders. Oh, yes, she could be rough and tough. And fearless and unflappable, but she was smart and dedicated. Without being conceited, he figured he was a good looking man and a good catch; and he was used to women looking at him the way she had looked at him that first night when she disappeared before dawn. Well, he could overlook that. He had done that many times himself. But he did not appreciate the way she had tried to intimidate and embarrass him in front of his peers, or that she had slapped him for no good reason! He would call her a bully in an extreme situation. He glanced at her in the seat beside him, sleeping, breathing softly. Neither of them had had much sleep lately. And now they were following another lead and who knew when they would have another chance to sleep. This case was really getting under his skin too. First James—Mark—then Mallory, and even though her name was not on the list, she died anyway because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He really regretted his unfinished business with her.

141

Then there was Laura, sweet, ditzy Laura. In a way, she was just in the wrong place at the wrong time too. She didn’t deserve that; none of them deserved what they got. And what the hell was going on with the Judge getting bumped off? And how in blue blazes did he let her suspected killer slip through his fingers? And where did Beatrice Sally Swift fit into this puzzle? Too many unanswered questions. People around him were dying like flies. And now Honey Wilson was in hiding and one could only hope that she didn’t do anything stupid. There were still three names on the list who had escaped, at least as far as he knew. His thoughts swirled around for a few moments then returned to Agent Shields. Her take on all of it was that someone else wanted the Judge silenced; the scuttlebutt around town was that Morelli had the Judge in his back pocket and she was sure to have let him walk away without a scratch. He agreed with Shields. But who would benefit from Morelli being off the street? Surely that person would have to realize that Morelli had very long arms. He had been driving for quite a while, and now they were approaching their destination and man, it would sure feel good to get out and stretch his legs. A billboard advertised The Coffee Cup, located in a rinky-dink hotel at the next exit where Shield’s FBI informant was supposed to be waiting for them. ***** The day before, Agent Shields and Detective Harding had turned up at the courthouse with permission to look around Judge Swift’s office and library to continue their investigation. Guards on duty had checked their badges and escorted them into the antechamber.

142

Chief Justice Charles Marbury was a tall, weathered old man like the ruin of a gothic tower, the snow white growth on top of his head; the fire in his eyes still burning beneath thick white brows. He was seated behind Judge Swift’s desk. “The entire assembly is very saddened by this turn of events,” he told them. “Tell me how we can help, Detective.” “I wish it were that simple, Your Honor. Right now I'm just trying to get a lead.” They faced each other across the desk in the private office, a large room like a comfortably cluttered study in an old Victorian mansion. Agent Shields was nonchalantly browsing the shelves of books. “How long had you known Judge Swift, Sir?” “Since she was a skinny little girl. I knew her father, Judge Patrick Swift. Eleanor was an amazing Judge. Her father would have been very proud. We're going to miss her.” “I heard that she was not very well liked, but do you know of any reason why someone would want to kill her?” “Eleanor had made enemies, yes. It goes with the territory. Disgruntled family members of a felon, or their friends eager for retribution. But I knew nothing about her personal life as an adult. We're not a social organization to the extent that many corporations today are. No office parties, clubs, that sort of thing. The reason, of course, is that most of our work is highly confidential and crucial for justice to prevail. Each of us has our own laptop and records that we guard carefully. It's an efficient system but not one that encourages much camaraderie, I'm afraid.” Marbury played constantly with a slender silver chain from which dangled a reddish gem, trying one-handed to flip the stone up to tie a knot in the chain. Harding wondered if the idiosyncrasy had grown from an attempt to hide the tremor in his right hand which was apparent whenever he stopped.

143

Marbury caught the direction of his gaze. “It's a fire opal,” he explained with a slight smile. “Opals are supposed to be bad luck unless they happen to be your birthstone but I've always carried it just to tempt fate. Spitting on superstition, so to speak.” “Never talked about her home life?” Harding persisted in spite of Marbury’s negative replies. “You don't recall ever hearing anyone discuss Judge Swift, or show any particular interest in her?” “I'm sorry,” Marbury said. “I’m afraid I can’t help after all.” The Chief Justice stood and led them to the door. For his age, he walked with surprising agility. “Good luck with your investigation, Detective… Agent Shields.” Once back in the car, Shields said, “Look what I found!” She held up a small square white piece of paper. “What is it?” Harding asked. One of Judge Swift’s books was slightly askew on the shelf. When I pulled it out to look at it, this paper fell out.” “What was the name of the book?” Harding asked. “Nine Principles of Litagation and Life,” Cassidy said. “And what’s on the paper?” “Printed in perfect, crisp letters… I’m almost sure it’s Judge Swift’s handwriting: ’Parallels between being a successful trial lawyer and living a purposeful life: Courage; Rapport; Skepticism; Observation; Preparation; Structure; Candor; Empowerment; Presentation.’

144

“Then, at the bottom, ‘What a crock! You’ll never prove it!’” ***** “Cassidy, wake up. We’re here.” She stretched, yawned, sat up straight and looked around. “Great nap,” she said. “Thanks, I needed that. Where are we?” “We’re having lunch at ‘The Coffee Cup,’” Harding said. “Hopefully, we can rendezvous with your operative, get our bearings and figure out our next move.” “Perfect…I’m starving!” Harding parked in a space across from the entrance to the hotel and Shields opened her car door and joined him in front of a flight of stairs where a sign pointed down to a lower level and the café. A short hallway was well lit and the black and white tile flooring looked as if it had not seen a mop in quite a while. Harding saw something very odd. Right in the middle of one of the white squares was a small circle of dark red. Blood? It still looked wet, but Shields not noticed it and Harding stepped over it and didn’t mention it as they were led by a waitress to a small corner table. She set menus on the table and left them. Then someone touched Harding's shoulder. A young man said, bending awkwardly toward him, “That man in the corner wants to speak to you a minute. He said he was sorry to trouble you

145

but it was very important.” Harding stared at him, past him, into the corner. There was no doubt of the appeal stamped on the bony face. The look of those who are in trouble is unmistakable to people who get around as Harding had. He said, “Okay, tell him I'll be right over.” To Shields he said, “Funny thing. Haven't the vaguest notion who he is. You'll excuse me? I'll be right back.” “Of course.” Harding got up, crossed the floor. A faint harsh but not unpleasant voice said in what was practically a whisper, “Would you please sit down for a moment? I find myself in a little trouble.” You're a master of understatement, Harding thought. Aloud he said, “Of course. Anything I can do? Are you ill?” The dark eyes, enormous now in deep bony sockets the color of stained plaster, didn't swerve from his face. “Want to get a room upstairs. You’ll help me up? Register for me? It would be very good of you. I have money," the man said, as if concerned at Harding's hesitation. His clenched hand unfolded, dropped several hundred-dollar bills on the table. He said to Harding, “Sign Jacob March, Helena, Montana.” Harding nodded. They crossed the floor arm in arm, managed the short elevator ride into the hotel lobby. Harding said, “Stand here by the elevator.” He approached the desk clerk and said briskly, “My friend Mr. March over there wants to stay overnight. He'd like a room, if you have one. His eyes are bad and I'll sign for him.” He

146

tossed the hundred-dollar bills on the counter with one hand and picked up the register pen with the other. A moment later Harding and his companion were standing in the elevator again, slowly ascending to the third floor. Harding closed and bolted the door of Number 333. When he turned, Mr. March had managed to cross the big old room and had sunk down in a battered leather armchair beside a battered desk. His eyes were closed again. Harding said sharply, “Look here, March, I'm going to get you a doctor.” March’s hair was plastered with sweat, but the head shook. “I’ll be all right in a moment,” the raspy voice said. Harding began to lose patience. “This really is none of my business,” he began, “but…” “Thank you for your help,” said Mr. March. “I would never have made it by myself. Please, one more favor? Please make a phone call for me?” “Sorry, I’d rather not do that. Bet you anything the hotel could get you a doctor, though.” The eyes opened. The look in them was now that of a lost dog who knows he is irretrievably lost. “Your name?” said the voice. “Robert Harding.” A bony hand was extended; the other still pressed against his side. The man's grip was surprisingly strong. “Mine's Franklin,” he said, with a coy grin which dismissed Mr. March to permanent limbo. “Got a funny job… work for the FBI.”

147

“What?” said Harding, genuinely surprised, thinking nobody in the FBI uses their real names. It made him wonder again about Shields. “Yes, my credentials are in my pocket. Wait.” He managed to get his right hand into the overcoat pocket and brought out a worn zippered card case. He let it fall on the desk beside him. “Inside,” said Mr. March…rather Agent Franklin, and closed his eyes again, as if in darkness there was rest. Harding opened the case. There was a worn metal badge, and on the other side of the case under a scratched sheet of cellophane a card bearing the coat of arms of the United States of America stating the name and photo of Morris Franklin and went on to make a number of statements which Harding didn't bother to read. He put the case gently down in Franklin’s right hand and said, “Okay, fine. Appreciate your confidence. But let's be smart; you're in a bad way, aren't you? Wounded? I saw blood on the passageway floor as I came in downstairs.” Agent Franklin opened his eyes. He said, in a much stronger voice, “Had a little trouble. Working on a case…one of my boys was murdered, stabbed to death…tracked down a connection to a mafia kingpin. Two of his goons, maybe more, stabbed me in the airport washroom. I got away. This is as far as I could make it. S’pose to give this to a fellow operative, but I’m afraid I might not be able…please, don’t trust anyone; put this in your pocket and take it to FBI Headquarters. They will be very grateful.” He shakily handed Harding a tiny blue computer disk, and Harding slipped it into his pants pocket in one fluid motion. “Can I get a doctor for you?” “Feeling better by the minute. Be all right… soon.”

148

You will like hell, Harding thought. He stretched out his hand toward the hotel telephone and the telephone rang. Shields' husky voice said, “You trying to run out on me, pal? Don't forget you have my car keys.” “Oh Lord! Listen…uh…Cassidy. It's a bit complicated. Take the elevator up to the third floor, will you? I could really use your advice.” “Be right with you,” she said calmly, and hung up. Harding said “That was the lady I'm with. We’re in her car.” “Car?” said Franklin eagerly. “Car? Could she give me a lift? Feeling much, much better.” “I don't know.” A word with Shields alone seemed indicated. “I'll ask her,” he said. “I'll go get her at the elevator. Be back in two seconds. Take it easy.” The waxen face nodded. Harding grabbed the door key, unbolted the door and closed it behind him and went quickly down the long hallway to meet Shields as she stepped off the elevator. “The fellow is on his last legs, no question, Cassidy. He wanted me to help him get a room. Now he wants a ride, but I don’t think he'd last very far. He was wounded in some mix-up in the airport; I think he's bleeding badly but he won't have a doctor. Said he was with the FBI. After all, it's your upholstery, your car and it could be your FBI informant. What do you think?” Shields felt a moment of ironic surprise, because there had not been an FBI informant. She had made up that ruse to get Harding out of the action and on a wild goose chase until

149

Morelli had time to get to his safe house. “Is he really very bad?” “You come and take a look,” Harding said with sudden decision. The door of Number 333 was exactly as Harding had left it. He tapped twice. No answer. He knocked hard. Silence. With the key still in his hand, he unlocked the door and peered in. The room was empty. “Ah, he's in the bathroom,” Harding said. “Wait here a moment, Cassidy.” He went to the bathroom door, which was now closed. “Franklin!” he called. “Franklin!” There was no sound. He opened the door. Agent Franklin lay flat on his back in the long narrow space alongside the bathtub. The long overcoat had swung back to reveal its interior soaked and matted with dark red. His face was now the color of very old parchment. There was not even the faintest sign of life. Shields' face in the bathroom doorway was a pale question mark. Harding said quietly, "I told you to stay outside. He's dead." The dark eyes widened, but there was no other change. Harding liked that. He didn't want a hysterical woman on his hands at this point. She said calmly, “So what do we do now?” The telephone on the desk gave a long shrill ring. They stood looking at each other. The back of his neck felt suddenly cold. He made the desk in three quick strides. “Yes?” he snapped into the receiver. “Mr. March?” came the clerk's voice. Harding hesitated, then he said, “Well, I'm up here with him. He isn’t feeling well. I'm the man who signed for him. Any message?”

150

“Yeah. Tell him his friends are on the way up.” He sounded mildly amused. “What?” “His friends.” “What friends?” Harding's voice was rough, his lips suddenly stiff, his throat dry. “Why, I dunno their names. Three of 'em. They just came in and asked if a thin guy had just checked in and I told 'em yeah. I told 'em he had some other friends with him, meaning you and the lady, and they busted out laughing and said that was fine, not to announce 'em, they'd come up and surprise you. But I thought I better call.” Harding stood for the space of perhaps six heart-beats without moving. He had no doubt who the “friends” were; they must be the thugs from the airport who had found their escaping victim after all. Oh, crap, he thought. His weapon was in the car. He looked at Shields. He looked at the window. Then he leaped toward the window and wrenched it up. Outside, an old fashioned iron fire escape angled steeply down to the courtyard three stories below. There were several cars in the courtyard but no sign of movement. Harding jerked his head back into the room. He said, “Quick, Cassidy, out the window and down!” Shields hadn't moved. He had the door-bolt slid with one hand and his other arm under the girl's elbow in simultaneous moves and then he was pushing her toward the open window. She said in a whisper, “What's wrong? Is it the police?” “I wish to hell it were. I think it's the men who killed Franklin. Possibly Morelli’s

151

men. Hurry, Cassidy, for the love of God!” She was out the window like a graceful gazelle going over a hedge as she crossed the sill. Harding went out after her. He slid the window shut. The courtyard below looked miles away. But what threatened to stop Harding’s heart was the thought that at any instant he would hear the grating of the up flung window and look up and see sadistic faces grinning down at him. They were perfect targets, at practically point-blank range. Steps, steps, more steps. Incredibly, he felt his foot strike flat solid ground and he glanced back and Cassidy was standing close behind him and he seized her arm and pushed her around the corner of the building. It was a narrow little alley but it was as good as any rat hole. Shields looked at him for an instant. She was panting too. Then she put her hand to her mouth and began to laugh. He said, “Cassidy! Snap out of it! This is no laughing matter!

152

Chapter 1 Authored by: Jo Fitzsimons Chapter 2 Authored by: Chapter 3 Authored by: Chapter 4 Authored by: Catherine MacKenzie Catherine A. MacKenzie enjoys writing poems, short stories and essays, some of which have appeared in anthologies published by Chicken Soup for the Soul, Dancing With Bear Publishing, and Rebel Ink Press. Her writings have also won several contests. Along with more short stories and the occasional poetry (when her muse strikes), she is currently working on a novel. Cathy also paints, pastels being her favourite medium and her grandchildren her favourite subjects. Cathy lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, with her husband, and they winter in Ajijic, Mexico, where several of her works have appeared in local publications. Cathy is pleased to be a part of this Chainbooks venture. Visit Cathy’s website at: http://writingwicket.wordpress.com/

Chapter 5 Authored by: EmmaLee McCrickett I'm a big fan of words with double leTTers.

153

Chapter 6 Authored by: Brooke Williams Brooke Williams has a Bachelor of Arts Degree with a double major in Mass Communications and Religious Studies. She spent the first 12 years of her professional career in radio, both on the air and behind the scenes. Brooke produced the commercials and other things that happen between the songs and she also had several different radio shows. Her work was honored by the Crystal Radio Award and the Nebraska Broadcasters Association Award of Excellence. Brooke has been married to her husband Sean for 10 years and they had a little girl, Kaelyn, in 2009. Once Kaelyn was born, Brooke left the radio world and embarked upon freelance writing from home during the hours in which she was awake and Kaelyn was not. She writes book reviews and a number of articles on a variety of topics such as travel, children, animals, and really everything in between. She also has a personal family blog, but enjoys writing chapters for chainbooks above all else. Brooke wrote chapter 8 in the first Chainbooks publication, “Shadow Lake,” and she has dozens of her own starter chapters. She also assisted in the research for the book “Rapture, Revelations, and the End Times” written by her college professor. Brooke hopes to help with as many publications in the future as her daughter Kaelyn and the rest of her life will allow.

Chapter 7 Authored by:

Chapter 8 Authored by: Sarah Madderra Sarah Madderra resides in Mountain Grove, MO with her husband of twenty-seven years and three children. She has two grown step children with their own families. She lives on a hundred acre farm and raises beef cattle, horses, boer goats and has nine mini aussie dogs.

154

She trains and raises her own horses, which consist of thoroughbreds, arabs, minis and arab crosses.

Her background includes medical assisting, CNA, clerical, real estate, early childhood education and farming. She is working on her first romance novel, which she is finishing up called, Beginnings Farm: Rebuilding Love and Trust. Hopefully to be released in the next few months. Her website is www.sarahmadderra.com.

Chapter 9 Authored by:

Chapter 10 Authored by:

Chapter 11 Authored by:

Chapter 12 Authored by:

Chapter 13 Authored by: Patty Greywacz Patty Greywacz was born in Joliet Illinois, my parents moved to NH in the early 70's. She discovered that she liked creating stories at the age of 10 and became published in her first literary magazine at 12 years old. Patty has been published in different media--from paper to the internet--and is currently working on a short story anthology and completing a children's book.

Chapter 14 Authored by: Abigail Ford

155

Although her professional writing experience is mostly in journalism, Abigail Ford has been interested in the fiction genre and becoming a published author since childhood. She is bursting onto the e-book scene with her current project, Safe in the Dark. The companion blog to the novel is available to read online at http://tiderollsin.blogspot.com and for those that have no interest in the horror genre, a personal blog full of stories, random acts of poetry, and other shenanigans is available at http://theabbyis.blogspot.com.

Chapter 15 Authored by: Sandra Mackey Writing under the name of Mackenzie Saunders when writing fiction, Sandra Mackey has been writing for over three decades. She has had two non-fiction, Bible-based books published: “Better Than Gold and Silver,” and “The Spirit of Truth.” Her inspirational poetry has been published in seven separate anthologies and her self-published “Poems of Faith and Love” continues to be popular locally. Sandra’s home based business, Webwords.US, provides desktop publishing for business and religious newsletters, church bulletins and brochures. She has been proofreader, editor, consultant and freelance writer for three other authors of published books. Her creative technosavvy energy and computer skills promote her design, creation and maintenance of websites, and exhibits her abilities as a Virtual Administrative Assistant, as can be seen on her personal websites, http://webwords.us and http://sandramackey.com. Sandra is an artist, poet and public speaker, who has presented motivational workshops in eight Southern States.

156

Mother of four and grandmother of three, Sandra resides in Roswell, Georgia where she has worked for the past fourteen years as an Administrative Assistant for a multi-billion dollar company. Chapter 16 Authored by: Ty Mall Ty Mall’s writing adventure took off in third grade when a small story he wrote for class was turned into a play. Even though it wasn’t smooth sailing from then on, he knew each step he took brought him a little closer to becoming a better writer.

Ty lives in Northern Illinois with his family, where he loves to deal with words in all arenas— including reading, proofreading, and writing. His website reviews have been published online.

Chapter 17 Authored by:

Chapter 18 Authored by:

Chapter 19 Authored by:

Chapter 20 Authored by:

Chapter 21 Authored by:

Chapter 22 Authored by:

157

Chapter 23 Authored by:

You're Reading a Free Preview

Download
scribd
/*********** DO NOT ALTER ANYTHING BELOW THIS LINE ! ************/ var s_code=s.t();if(s_code)document.write(s_code)//-->