Main From the Grave

From the Grave

Disbarred defence attorney Edward Hall discovers that in order to win his case he has to lose in this tense and twisting legal thriller. "You want me to represent the most hated man in Houston?" Disbarred Texas lawyer Edward Hall returns to the courtroom after accepting an offer from the District Attorney to represent the most obviously guilty defendant in town. It's a poisoned chalice. Not only is his client charged with kidnapping the DA's sister, he is already well-known for the previous kidnapping of a celebrity's son. But if Edward handles this well, he has a chance to regain his law licence. And Edward understand that by 'handling the case well', the DA means he needs to lose. Labouring under this impossible conflict of interest, Edward prepares for the trial with the help of his resourceful girlfriend Linda. But as the trial approaches, Edward finds himself having to solve and prove a completely different case: one of cold-blooded murder.
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Contents

Cover

A selection of recent titles by Jay Brandon

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-One

Chapter Thirty-Two

Chapter Thirty-Three

Acknowledgments





A selection of recent titles by Jay Brandon


The Edward Hall series

AGAINST THE LAW *

FROM THE GRAVE *

The Chris Sinclair series

ANGEL OF DEATH

AFTERIMAGE

SLIVER MOON

GRUDGE MATCH

RUNNING WITH THE DEAD



* available from Severn House





FROM THE GRAVE





Jay Brandon





This ebook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author’s and publisher’s rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.





First published in Great Britain 2019 by SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of

Eardley House, 4 Uxbridge Street, London W8 7SY.

First published in the USA 2020 by SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS of

110 East 59th Street, New York, N.Y. 10022

This eBook edition first published in 2019 by Severn House Digital an imprint of Severn House Publishers Limited Trade paperback edition first published in Great Britain and the USA 2020 by SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD.

Copyright © 2019 by Jay Brandon.

The right of Jay Brandon to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988.

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.

ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-8900-3 (cased) ISBN-13: 978-1-78029-644-9 (trade paper) ISBN-13: 978-1-4483-0343-4 (e-book) Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.





This ebook produced by

Palimpsest Book Production Limited, Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland





Long-time friends are the best friends.

This is dedicated to Marina Sifuentes and Barbara Hervey.





ONE


A wall-wide window across from Edward afforded a gorgeous view of downtown Houston from this twenty-fourth-floor vantage. It was a clear day, the blue Texas sky as innocent as a virgin’s whisper, and the skyscrapers seemed to give each other breathing room rather than jostling together as they appeared from a distance. It looked like the Emerald City. Around the conference table of this international construction company were several executives, but the important one was the fortyish young woman to Edward’s left, the COO. In her two years with the company she had managed to extend its contacts into agreements with the heads of some Middle Eastern partner companies. This firm was now putting up their first office building in Dubai. Their security concerns had grown more complex, which was why Edward was here.

He had impressed Vivian Long with his seriousness and quiet attention to details in the proposal he’d shown her last time. Around the conference table now were five of their highest-level officers. They didn’t talk details of computer systems, intranet versus internet, or any of that techie minutiae. They hired people for that. At this meeting these people did most of the talking and Edward mostly nodded. They noticed that he didn’t take notes, and approved, especially after he quoted back from memory a sentence the COO had said five minutes earlier. Nothing in writing. Security.

What Edward had missed was this high level of negotiation, so high that no one treated it like a negotiation. The officers acted as if Edward were already working for them, and he in turn acted as if he were already their partner. While in fact they hadn’t told him one thing he could use against them if they booted him out the door in the next two minutes. And they all knew he understood that. They didn’t have to bullshit each other. Which meant they were all operating at a very refined level of bullshit.

‘Our people will never see anything inside your system,’ Edward said. ‘They will only build walls around them. Your secrets are safe with us because we won’t know them.’

‘Like the slaves who built the pyramids,’ one of the partners said, and Edward chuckled along with the rest of them.

‘Exactly. And every few months we kill them and hire new ones.’

That got an even bigger laugh. Buried bodies was an apt subject matter for a security consultant.

A few minutes later Vivian extended her hand. She had given him twenty-three minutes, a huge chunk of her day. After murmured exchanges of respect, Vivian said, ‘Do you feel up to meeting with our Mr Windsor, our attorney, to discuss details?’

‘Absolutely.’

‘Good. Mr Windsor?’ Her hand was still in Edward’s, and she didn’t break their gaze as she spoke to one of the other men at the table. Neither did Edward, until Ms Long intensified the gaze one last time and abruptly turned away.

‘This way, please,’ said Bill Windsor, who looked as if he might actually be a member of the British royal family, at the grey-at-the-temple stage. As he led Edward to his office he glanced back over his shoulder and said, ‘We’re not going to talk details, just broad parameters, OK?’

A few minutes later they were Bill and Ed. None of the very few people who knew Edward well called him anything except Edward, but the world beyond those few was littered with his nicknames.

A few minutes later still, Bill leaned back, looked at him more closely, and said, ‘Your name sounds awfully familiar to me. Ed Hall. Are you a lawyer?’

A more complicated question than it might seem. ‘No. I was. I got bored with it.’

A lie. Sort of the secret handshake of the legal fraternity.

‘I know what you mean. So many of us do. Awfully high burnout rate.’

‘Awfully high.’

‘Want to know my theory on that?’

Less than anything. Hear this mid-six-figures sellout who hadn’t really practiced law in years explain why people got tired of it? As if this asshole even knew what practicing law really was? Less than anything.

‘Sure, Bill.’

So Edward sat and listened to the blowhard explain why lawyers got tired of solving other people’s problems, Edward sitting with a slight smile because he was imagining the silence of his team burrowing through the firm’s firewalls into all their secrets, the lies they’d told to judges, the clients they’d overbilled, the mistakes they’d covered up. He was going to keep his promise to Vivian the COO to stay out of this firm’s confidential information, with one exception. He was going to know this guy’s ugliest secrets. Edward was going to take whatever he could get, like a thief in a bank vault at midnight.

‘That’s interesting,’ he finally applauded the lawyer’s smug, quiet rant.

‘Right? That’s what happened to you, right? Just reached a point of saying, Look, solve your own problems, idiots. It’s not that tough. Right?’

Edward closed his briefcase. ‘That’s it exactly.’

At the same time, down there on the ground in a very different part of town, a SWAT team of police assembled around a little wooden house in the Third Ward, a building little more than a shack. The cops could shoot it full of holes and not change its essential appearance all that much.

But they wouldn’t do that, at least not yet. This wasn’t just an arrest, it was a rescue.

The negotiator, not part of the team, was closest to the house, unarmed, talking in an only slightly raised tone of voice. The negotiator, a thin African-American of middle height, dressed like a civilian, glanced back over his shoulder like he didn’t trust these mostly white cops either. ‘Listen, man,’ he said, back to the house, ‘you need to let her go. That’s your only good move now. That’ll show some good will on your part. That’ll help you in court. ’Cause unless you’re digging a tunnel in there, you got no escape route.’

Amazingly, in that cluster with all its potential for din, a silence began, at first a newborn absence of talk, then growing swiftly into a bubble engulfing the whole scene like tear gas. Then a voice emerged from the house. A deep voice but jagged with a high whine close under the surface. ‘She’s a free agent, man. I ain’t holding her. I don’t even know what all you assholes are doing here.’

‘If that’s true then let her go. You and me’ll talk.’

‘Yeah, and then your friends will shoot my ass up.’

‘No, man, no. Not if you let her go.’ The negotiator stepped closer to the house and lowered his voice. ‘There’s a camera crew here, Donald.’

That silence spawned again, groping for a character. Just before it would die of natural causes there was the scrape of a shoe from inside the house, and the door shot open. The negotiator, in the bravest act of his life, stood his ground and held a hand behind his back with the fingers spread, pushing down. Hold your fire.

A woman screamed, then came running out. Luckily, the SWAT team members had good reflexes, and the scream had alerted them this was probably a civilian. It was. It was the civilian they had come to rescue. Mrs Diana Greene, prominent Houston socialite, disheveled, frantic, her fashionable shift twisted at the shoulders.

Her husband Sterling threw off the two officers restraining him, broke through the ranks, and held his arms wide. His wife ran into them. They were the picture of a loving couple happily reunited.

Now the negotiator knew it was going to be OK. He’d talked the kidnapper out of the hostage, his main job. Now his armed colleagues could just shoot up the house.

Except for that camera crew.

‘Now you, man.’ The negotiator was surprised to hear more than indifference in his own voice. ‘No point in doing that unless you surrender … Donald?’

Slowly two large hands emerged from the doorway. They hung there for a minute. When nothing happened, arms started emerging too. This took longer than one would think, because they were very long arms. Finally, very hesitantly, a large brown shaven head followed the arms out.

‘Get down!’

Immediately the man threw himself face down on the ground, arms outstretched. He clearly knew the drill. Now the silence was dead forever, as the SWAT team screamed orders and ran and jostled equipment, while the news crew shouted questions.

The prostrate man on the ground risked death by raising his head slightly. He just stared at the happy couple, an enormously sad expression on his broad features.





TWO


‘Let me get this straight. You want me to represent the most hated man in Houston? Again?’

Edward looked around the room: Julia Lipscomb, the District Attorney of Harris County, which meant Houston. David Galindo, one of her chief assistants. A representative of the State Bar Association, which had not so long ago excluded Edward from its membership for the minor infraction of burglarizing a court chamber in the Justice Center to steal cocaine. She was a young woman of Asian extraction who had said almost nothing so far. Edward looked at her for a long moment before returning his eyes to the DA.

‘Since you put it that way,’ Julia said. Edward used to call her that, when they were assistant DAs together. ‘Yes.’

They were in Julia’s office, the biggest one in the Justice Center. Julia had the power seat, of course, behind the big antique table she used as a desk, its surface almost empty except for a blotter and a small desk calendar. Around the room were plaques and certificates and pictures of Julia with other important people. Big windows had views of downtown Houston including the baseball stadium. She could almost see the pitcher’s mound from here.

Edward sat in one of the chairs in front of the desk, the supplicants’ chairs. He crossed his legs. Edward was well-dressed today, his best pin-striped, charcoal gray suit, because he had been pulled here from another presentation to a huge corporate client in his new role as software salesman. ‘Then shall I,’ he said, ‘be the first to mention the elephant in the room?’ He looked at the State Bar rep. ‘What with me—’

He and the district attorney finished the sentence together: ‘Not being licensed to practice law anymore?’

‘That’s the beauty part,’ Julia continued. She had her arms down on the conference table. She was almost ten years older than Edward, in her mid-forties, attractive and very well-kept. Her blonde hair seemed natural and went with her light blue eyes. They twinkled at the moment. Edward waited breathlessly to hear the beauty part of being outcast from the profession he had loved.

‘The State Bar will rescind your disbarment and place you on probation. A condition of the probation will be you can only represent this one client in this one case. But you do a good job and they’ll consider extending the probation. Isn’t that correct, Ms Swan?’

The young representative of the Bar finally had to speak. ‘Yes,’ she said. Edward didn’t want to inquire further, not at the moment. The young woman extended a slender arm and said, ‘I’m Elizabeth Swan, by the way.’ Edward took her cool hand briefly.

The DA continued. ‘And as you pointed out, Edward, you’ve already represented Donald Willis once. And did an excellent job for him. He’s asking to have you again. At first, of course’ – she looked around the room as if rounding up a team – ‘we all said no way. But then I thought about it a little more and I said to myself, “Why not?”.’

‘So you worked out a deal on my behalf,’ Edward said. ‘Don’t you think you should have consulted me on that first?’

‘Does that mean you don’t want it?’ Julia leaned back in her padded chair, giving him a level stare.

Oh, he wanted it. Badly. Maybe it was just a natural contrary streak that made him question her. Or maybe it was that Edward had practiced law for quite a while, and knew a strange deal when he heard one.

He glanced at Ms Swan. She appeared completely indifferent to his response. For that matter no one in the room seemed to be waiting with bated breath. So he decided to let the air out of the balloon. ‘Sure.’

‘What do you know about the case?’ Julia asked.

Edward knew nothing about it as a case, just as a news event, which he had naturally noticed because of his former client. When he’d read it he’d shaken his head. Poor Donald.

‘Not much. Rich woman went missing, her rich developer husband got a demand for ransom. He dropped it off somewhere, then got a call his wife was in some dangerous block in the Third Ward. He went to find her and took the SWAT team along. According to the paper either the kidnapping victim then escaped or the kidnapper released her. Then the usual ending, with Donald back in jail for the same crime that got him sent to prison the last time.’

He’d left out part of what he knew, but Julia apparently had withheld information too. ‘What you don’t know is the rich woman is my sister, Diana Greene. Because of that, I’m recusing my office from the prosecution. A district attorney pro tem will be appointed. We’ll try to get the judge to appoint someone you can work with.’

Edward glanced at David Galindo, who had been his opposing counsel in his previous trial, the one Edward had participated in while technically not allowed to do so. Actually there’d been no technically about it. He’d been a disbarred lawyer who shouldn’t have been allowed in the front of the courtroom. But he’d also had a sister accused of murder who’d wanted no one but Edward to represent her, so what was a fellow to do? Edward wondered if David was disappointed not to be involved in a big case like this had the potential to be. But David’s expression was impossible to read, as he stared at Edward with lowered brows.

Edward returned his attention to Julia. She was watching him with an almost fond expression, not like someone who’d be defending the man accused of holding her sister hostage and terrifying her in the process. ‘I’m sorry I won’t be working with you, Julia,’ he said politely.

‘Oh, I’ll be monitoring the case closely, no worries.’

‘Is that the beauty part you mentioned?’

Julia leaned toward him. ‘The beauty part, Edward, is this is a win-win for everyone. I know the defense will be handled by someone I know to be a good lawyer, and you have the chance, if you do it well, to get your law license back.’

All that sounded accurate. So it was odd Julia was the only one smiling.





THREE


Edward knew exactly why the district attorney was oddly cheerful as she gave him this wonderful opportunity. She had little choice but to recuse her office from this case where she had a very personal interest. But it was a case she still badly wanted to control; she wanted the man who’d terrorized her sister to go to prison for a long time. That much seemed obvious. So she’d hand-picked a lawyer to represent him, a lawyer who’d be particularly vulnerable. Edward knew what Julia Lipscomb had meant when she’d described the terms of his release from purgatory as handling the case well. He was expected to do what criminal defense lawyers nearly always do: talk his client into pleading guilty or go to trial and lose.

Edward sat staring at her for a moment before the meeting broke. Julia had brilliantly used what he’d done recently – come back from the dead legally speaking to represent a client in a courtroom again. Their eyes met briefly, hers slid across his as she stood, and he knew she was counting on that. His trial addiction.

But there was still that conflict of interest. Edward explained all that to his client as soon as he saw him.

Edward was standing when a guard pushed Donald into the other side of the attorney–client booth at the Harris County Detention Center, on the other side of the thick Plexiglas from Edward. The booths were as dingy as Edward remembered, unchanged from the times he’d visited clients here in the past, to more recent times when Edward had seen his sister on the other side of that smeared plastic; when Edward himself had been on that other side for that matter. The walls on both sides were white stucco, or at least what had started out white. A metal tabletop extended across both sides, so the lawyer could write on this side and the client could read and sign things on the other, if the lawyer passed him paper through the thin opening at the bottom. But Edward was empty-handed today. He hadn’t brought a briefcase or even a legal pad. He wasn’t doing the masquerade today.

Big Donald stood there in his jail orange, hands cuffed in front of him. The prison nickname was no joke. Donald stood six-four or -five, with thick biceps and a gut that stuck out. Even his head was big: medium brown, shaven, thrusting up from his tree-like neck. The man just intruded on the world. After the door closed behind him with the guard on the other side, Donald’s face split in a huge grin.

‘Man, it’s good to see you. Good to see a friendly face.’

‘It’s good to see you too, Donald. I wish it were somewhere else.’

Donald shrugged as he sat on the plastic chair on his side. ‘Just like old times. Except you should be on this side. Watching my back.’

Edward remembered their time together in prison very differently. He lowered himself into a chair too.

‘I’m really glad to see you, man. Glad you’re going to be representing me again. This is some bullshit here. I didn’t even—’

Edward held up a hand. ‘Don’t tell me your story yet, Donald. We’ve got to get some things straight first.’

‘Yeah.’ Donald leaned forward and put his forearms on the table, his handcuffs clanking against the metal. ‘I asked for you, but I didn’t think they’d let you be a lawyer again. Not after, you know … When we were inside you always said you’d never go back to it.’

Let me be a lawyer again, Edward thought. Very aptly put. That’s exactly what the system was doing, letting him be himself again as long as he played it the way the system wanted.

‘It’s complicated,’ he said. ‘But Donald?’

‘Yes?’ The big man looked so eager to hear what he had to say, child-like.

‘As my first advice to you as your attorney—’

‘Yeah?’

‘You’re stupid to have me as your attorney.’

Donald leaned back, looking as if someone had just punched him. Someone Edward’s size, for example, so Donald wasn’t hurt at all, just surprised and beginning to be annoyed.

You did not want Donald to be annoyed at you.

Edward explained quickly, holding out a hand the whole time as if to hold back a tide. Explained that the district attorney would have a hold over him, Edward, a hold so good neither of them would ever mention it but it was still there. He could only get his law license back by doing a lousy job for his one client.

‘So I have a conflict of interest, Donald. You see that, right? You want a lawyer who’s only thinking about you, not about what’s best for himself. Understand?’

Donald nodded slowly. ‘Yeah, man. But you know and I know you’ll still do your best for me. You can’t help it. And I’ve seen your best. It’s very damned good.’

Six years earlier, Edward as a new defense lawyer freshly out of the DA’s office had defended Donald Willis on his previous charge, the one that had made him semi-famous. That one had been a kidnapping charge too. Donald had snatched the young son of Ryan Jennings, the star running back for the Houston Texans football team. It had seemed a crime of impulse. The boy was with his father at a baseball game during Ryan’s off-season, the football player had turned his back for a minute to get them both hot dogs, when he’d turned back his son was gone. The city had gone crazy for three days, police and everyone else scouring every neighborhood for the boy while the father waited by his police-tapped phone for a ransom demand that never came. That made the crime look worse, as if the boy had been taken for some reason other than money. The newspaper and radio and television stations issued the parents’ frantic pleas to the kidnapper to let the boy go.

Which had apparently worked, because at the end of the three days Donald had dropped the boy off in front of the boy’s own house and watched him run up the huge lawn to his parents’ arms. Donald had let the boy call ahead so they’d know he was coming. Donald had watched the happy reunion, then made a half-hearted attempt at escape, leaving on foot through the neighborhood, knowing it would be swarming with cops. He’d successfully eluded capture for nearly three minutes.

And Edward had defended him, very well, so that Donald got convicted, which was inevitable, but given a sentence of only eight years. Because the boy had been returned safely, unharmed, nearly untouched, well-fed, with stories of watching television and nothing worse. Donald had been incredibly apologetic, first to the boy’s parents, then to the jury, and it had worked.

This time was very different.

‘I didn’t do this one, Edward. I was just there with that woman. I didn’t snatch her, I didn’t take her there, I didn’t hold onto her. We were just there together. Waiting.’

‘Waiting for what?’ Edward asked, a hand hiding his mouth. Apparently they were just going to blow through what a bad idea it was for Edward to defend him.

Donald hesitated. That was bad. He usually blurted out whatever he was thinking.

‘I wasn’t quite clear on that. Mr Sterling hired me. Sterling Greene, her husband. He hired me a few days earlier, not long after I got out.’

‘Hired you to do what?’

Donald hesitated again. Shit. ‘Sort of bodyguard work. He said he needed protection. Sometimes he carried a lot of cash as part of his business, sometimes his wife went out wearing expensive jewelry. He just wanted someone around. Someone, you know …’

Someone Donald’s size. Edward got it. Just stand around looking menacing, so bad guys – other bad guys – wouldn’t be tempted.

‘Did he run an ad for that?’

Donald didn’t seem to hear the sarcasm. He shrugged his heavy arms and shoulders. ‘I’d been out for a while, trying to find work. You know it ain’t easy after you’ve been inside, especially for somebody like me, who kind of …’

‘Got famous while committing your crime.’

Donald shrugged again. ‘Yeah. You know. Although you didn’t seem to have any problem, man, going right back to work as a lawyer.’

Edward declined the opening to give him career advice, if that’s what Donald was asking. ‘So Mr Greene hired you, the most notorious kidnapper in Houston history, to guard his precious wife.’

‘Yeah.’

What a terrible story. If Edward did take on this case, that was the worst defense ever. He sat there looking at Donald’s broad, brown, earnest face and for a moment it shimmered into Julia Lipscomb’s, grinning at him. She wanted him to defend this?

‘What were you doing in that house in the Third Ward?’

The Third Ward was one of the poorest and most crime-ridden neighborhoods in Houston. It might as well have been called the third world.

‘Mr Sterling—’

‘That’s what you called him?’

‘Yes, sir.’ Donald folded his hands in front of him. ‘Mr Sterling and Miz Diana.’

Nice touch, actually, as if he’d known the happy couple long enough to establish pet names.

‘Anyway, Mr Sterling called me and asked me to get over there right away, so I—’

Edward sat forward. ‘He called you?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Where’s your phone?’

Donald shrugged his massive shoulders, indicating where they were. ‘I don’t know, lock-up? Evidence locker?’

‘OK, continue.’

‘He called me and said to hustle over to this, uh, drugstore, somewhere in West U, you know the area?’

Edward nodded. His doctor sister had lived there. Very upscale neighborhood.

‘And when I got there I picked up Miz Diana and she told me where to go from there.’

Edward tried to construct all this in his head, knowing what he knew of Houston. The distance from West U (short for University, because of its proximity to Rice University) to the Third Ward was maybe five miles. And a million.

As he sat, silence captured the room. It was as if he and Donald noticed it at the same time. Noticed their crummy surroundings. Noticed that behind Edward was Houston, one of the great cities on earth, evidence of what humans could accomplish given enough will and grit and concrete. Behind Donald was one of those really well-built concrete structures.

For a minute the two looked at each other. They’d had many chats in prison. This was different, because one of them could walk out of here.

Donald leaned forward, his big brown eyes getting bigger, consuming all the space.

‘Edward?’ he said.





FOUR


Walking out of the jail – walking out of a detention facility, what a wonderful, wonderful experience, it never got old – Edward turned and looked back at it. It towered, like all prisons or jails do, not because they’re so gigantic, but just because they’re so much bigger than an individual person. From a certain distance it would look like a place a person could step over. But as Edward knew from personal experience, inside they were enormous. A giant boot crushing individuality, personality, whatever it meant to be human.

He turned and walked away with incredibly mixed feelings.

And after one stop Edward drove to the Heights. Not nearly as upscale as West U, but lovely. More of a village within the city. Very close to downtown, it was one of Houston’s first suburbs. Edward had lived in the city long enough to have seen the Heights emerge from a rundown period when some houses had been abandoned, to a period of resurgence into what it was now, a genuine neighborhood with its own character, modest but well-kept houses interrupted by an occasional mini-mansion someone had squeezed onto a too-small lot. Houston didn’t have zoning restrictions and the city planners didn’t care about uniformity of housing.

Linda’s house was made of wooden slats painted yellow, with white trim. It was April, the small flower bed in front of the porch was abloom with azaleas and violets and others. On the porch two wicker rocking chairs made the place look like a home.

Edward loved Linda’s house. It had been a place of refuge for him from the time she’d first brought him here the day he’d been released from prison a year and a half ago and she’d picked him up, even though they were little more than acquaintances. Her letters and packages had given him something to look forward to during his two years in prison, then she’d saved his afterlife by bringing him here and into her life. It had been amazing, because they had known each other only very slightly before he committed the crime that got him put away.

The door opened before he could knock. Linda beamed at him. She had great cheeks, made for beaming a wide smile, lively green eyes, light brown hair hanging to her shoulders. ‘Hi, you,’ she said, then stepped back as if suddenly shy.

He walked inside, dropped his suit coat on a chair, and took her into his arms. Linda’s lips were luscious, always, and she always brought her full attention to the kiss. After a minute they broke apart, a little breathless.

Houston was already hot in April. Linda wore cut-off shorts and a T-shirt filled with Linda. Edward wanted to start removing clothes so he’d look as casual. But now Linda grew distracted. ‘I’ve been waiting for you.’

He was a little later than usual because of seeing Donald, but he’d left work early to do that, so it was still only a little after five. But Edward knew what she meant. Linda led the way to the kitchen just off the living room. There was a large brown envelope on the wooden table. ‘It came,’ Linda said.

‘I see that.’ Linda just stared at the envelope, not making a move to open it. ‘Shall we call the bomb squad?’ Edward asked.

She punched him lightly in the arm. ‘I didn’t want to open it until you got here. It’s from the examining board.’ She was still staring.

‘Linda?’

She raised her eyebrows.

‘They’re not going to use that big an envelope to send you a letter saying, Sorry, you failed.’

‘How do you know? Maybe they sent forms to fill out to apply to try again.’

‘If only there were some way to find out.’ But Edward put his arm around her, understanding her nervousness. It was like when he’d waited for his bar exam results, or the decision from the parole board.

Linda had been taking a course in being a court reporter, the people who make the records of trials in court. It would be a step up in income from her current job as a paralegal. It could also bring her into the courthouse full time. Maybe helping Edward in his recent case representing his sister had inspired her, or maybe she’d already been contemplating this career move. She hadn’t said. But she’d finished the course and taken the exam.

They moved together and Linda finally picked up the envelope. She handed it to Edward and he opened the flap for her, then handed it back. Linda took a deep breath, exhaled, and pulled out the contents. Edward had dropped back a little and Linda had her back to him. He couldn’t tell anything from her shoulders. But he could when she turned around with an even bigger smile, holding a certificate so he could see it.

‘The letter says congratulations.’ Her eyes were moist.

His were too all of a sudden as he saw how much this meant to her. ‘Babe, that’s so great. You so deserve it.’ He hugged her again as Linda carefully held the certificate out to the side. When they broke apart Linda looked at it again. ‘Can we get pizza or something to celebrate?’

‘Sure. Uh, I need to step out for just a minute, OK?’

Linda’s lips twisted. ‘Going to the store for a cake?’ Her tone implied it would have been nice if he’d been prepared for her good news, knowing it was on its way soon.

‘Something like that. I’ll just be a second.’

Linda stood there as he went out, looking at her certificate as if it would vanish if she took her eyes off it. ‘Stop being such a sap,’ she finally said aloud. ‘It’s not that big a deal.’

Her front door opened again. She went into the living room and saw Edward coming back in. In one hand he had a big bouquet of roses, in the other three helium balloons that said Congratulations! One had a banner with her name on it.

‘I didn’t want to bring them in first in case it wasn’t good news.’

‘Oh, Edward.’ She took the roses, inhaled them deeply, then set them down and grabbed him. The balloons rose to the ceiling.

When they broke apart a long minute later his shirt had somehow started unbuttoning itself. ‘We’ve got a reservation at McCormick and Schmidt’s,’ he said, naming her favorite restaurant.

Linda grabbed him again, completing her job on his shirt. As it opened they stared into each other’s eyes as if this was new territory. ‘Maybe the pizza after all,’ Linda said. Edward nodded, reaching inside her T-shirt.





FIVE


Much later, at her kitchen table in enough clothing not to have shocked the pizza delivery boy, they ate slowly, occasionally looking at Linda’s certificate on the other end of the table. ‘I have news too,’ Edward said. He didn’t want to steal the occasion from her, but he knew Linda would want to know.

‘All right, but we already celebrated mine. If yours is good news too I’m going to be exhausted.’

‘Mine is more mixed.’

He told her quickly, just the outlines of the deal the district attorney had offered him.

‘You’re going to represent that guy who kidnapped the socialite? What’s her name, something Greene?’

‘If you’re going to work in the criminal justice world, it’s going to be important to remember things like the presumption of innocence.’

‘It was on television!’

‘There’s that.’ Like a reality TV show.

‘Plus this wasn’t his first time. It’s more like his career.’

Yes, all the news outlets in town had helpfully informed potential jurors of Donald’s infamous past.

Linda slumped back. But then she came forward again, smiling. ‘But this is good.’

‘Wow. Tell me the good part, Opti-Miss.’

Linda took his hand. ‘Julia doesn’t want you to win. To get your license back you need to lose, and fairly big time.’

Yes, Linda had grasped the big picture quickly.

‘So it’s great that your client is so obviously guilty. Because you can do your absolute best, not hold anything back, and you’re still going to lose.’ At Edward’s expression she took both his hands and looked into his eyes with total affection. ‘Babe, you know I love you and I think you’re brilliant. But there’s no way to win this one.’

Edward chuckled. ‘You’re amazing. You did manage to find the pony in all this shit.’

She came into his arms again, tasting of pepperoni and scented lipstick and woman and love.

The rest of the pizza went cold.

A week later Edward returned to the courtroom. It had been a hell of a struggle to get here. Not just the part about getting out of prison and being given a second chance and all. It had been physically almost impossible to get into the building. Since Edward’s last trial Houston had had a visitor named Harvey. The hurricane had been incredibly destructive. It hadn’t levelled the city, not even close, Houston was too strong for that, but it had ruined hundreds of homes, knocked out factories, landed many, many people stranded on their roofs, left large parts of the city without power and food and drinking water for weeks. One of its victims had been the Criminal Justice Center, the twenty-plus-story downtown tower where Edward had spent his legal career. The building still stood. From even a near distance it looked untouched now, but inside it had been rendered non-functional. The heart of the electrical system in the basement had been flooded, ceilings had burst throughout the building, carpets, of course, ruined. A sewer pipe had burst in the district attorney’s offices, leading to very obvious jokes.

The inhabitants of those offices, the assistant DAs, had been dispersed throughout the city to ‘temporary’ offices that were threatening to become permanent.

Houston’s justice system was a complex. The old courthouse, the Criminal Justice Center, a family and probate courthouse, a juvenile courthouse, and a giant civil courthouse all stood within a few blocks of each other. The busiest of these by far had been the Criminal Justice Center, where trials were always going on, and in courtrooms that didn’t have a trial in progress dockets were being called every day, plea bargains made, the steady influx of prisoners accused of crimes either released or, much more commonly, sent on their way to prison. When the building could no longer hold all that activity, it had to go somewhere. The most obvious somewhere was right next door, the gleaming and newer civil courthouse that was equally imposing against the skyline. The two buildings were near twins, of similar height and similar appearances of steel and glass. But the difference in the atmospheres of the two courthouses was the same as between an auto repair shop and a cathedral. The Criminal Justice Center was a working courthouse, every day, so swarming with business it took forever to get an elevator to one of the upper floors. In the civil courthouse many fewer cases were called and many fewer still actually went to trial. The busiest area of civil law was family law – divorces, child custody, and so forth – and it had its own courthouse. The civil courthouse was for people or companies suing each other. The great majority of those cases were settled or dismissed, and most of the bargaining that led to those results took place elsewhere. So the civil courthouse was a quiet, serene place where impeccably dressed lawyers answered respectfully to judges in nearly empty courtrooms, making their arguments in measured tones.

Then the criminal world had come swarming in. Barbarians at the gates, then inside the gates. Then taking over the courtrooms themselves. That’s what county commissioners had worked out, again on a ‘temporary’ basis. Civil judges shared their courtrooms with their criminal law counterparts on a rotating basis, week on and week off. The once pristine courtrooms were defiled by criminals and criminal lawyers – the latter almost as bad as the former in the eyes of civil practitioners.

So when Edward returned to a courtroom it was to one of those, on the sixteenth floor of the civil courthouse and again, it had taken forever to get the elevator up here. He’d arrived early, but it was still after nine a.m. when he rushed in, heard Donald’s name called by the judge, and immediately called, ‘Here, Your Honor.’ The judge didn’t even glance up, just went on down the docket, and Edward had a moment to catch his breath.

There were prisoners in orange jumpsuits in the jury box, hands handcuffed in front of them, and Donald stood out among them, his shaven head rising above the rest. He smiled at Edward, obviously relaxing at the sight of his attorney.

Who wasn’t actually an attorney. Edward saw a few heads turn to look at him. One of them was Ms Swan, from the Bar Association. He walked down the aisle and stood in front of her, frowning curiously. She was slender and elegant in a brown suit. ‘Are you going to be here monitoring me every time I come to court?’

‘Do you have a problem with that?’

‘It just seems weird. Do you need to record every move I make?’

‘What if I do?’

‘Are you going to answer every question with a question?’

‘Why should that bother you?’ She had a hint of a smile with that one. Edward turned away.

One of the other people who’d watched his entrance with interest was Julia Lipscomb, the District Attorney. Oddly, she was sitting in the audience. When she caught Edward’s eye, she smiled.

Julia Lipscomb, the two-term District Attorney, was edging gracefully into middle age, a little more padded but much better made up and dressed than when she and Edward had first known each other. Julia had been his supervisor in the DA’s office at one time. She had thought him overly independent to the point of insubordination, which unfortunately for their relationship Edward had taken as a compliment. Julia had achieved the administrative level of the office very quickly because she was good at that sort of thing, the paperwork, budgets, moving personnel around. She had even spent time in Law Nerdland: appeals. Trial work was different. No matter how well one prepared a case, trial work required being fast on your feet, flexible, making up what to say as you were saying it; being a good judge of character of prospective jurors, witnesses, opposing counsel, judges. Its main requirement was a feel for people, achieving rapport with a smile and a quip. Trial work had not been Julia’s specialty.

As Edward stood there Julia retained her seat, just smiling. He finally said, ‘You do know that recusing your office means you’re not involved any more, right?’

‘Oddly enough, Edward, it doesn’t. It just means I have the rights of any other citizen, including observing court.’

Edward pivoted and sat in the seat beside Julia. ‘Julia?’

‘Yes, Edward?’

‘There are two people, a couple, next to you, a few seats down. They seem to be glaring at my client. Would they be your sister and her husband?’

‘Yes.’

‘What the hell, Julia? First appearance? Are they going to be here for every setting?’

Julia glanced to the side. ‘I doubt it. But possibly. My poor sister, Diana, said she wouldn’t feel safe until she saw him in jail coveralls.’

‘OK.’ Edward stretched out the word. Abruptly he decided there was no more to be gained from conversation with Julia at this point, so he stood and strode down the aisle, going inside the bar. He went to the State’s counsel table, said hello, and asked for the file. At that point it was very thin, but contained a police report and a complaint. Edward used it as a cover for looking back into the spectator seats from under his brows.

Sterling and Diana Greene stood out in the sparsely-filled seats. They seemed to be dressed for a very different occasion, he in a three-piece suit, she as if on her way for lunch with the ladies who lunch, the ones who notice the state of everyone else’s nails and hair and clothes and marriage. But their expressions were those of typical victims. Mr Greene glared into the jury box, occasionally shifting that glare from the criminal to his lawyer. When the glare passed across Edward, he could actually feel it.

Diana Greene, on the other hand, was sunk in her chair looking fearful even of being there. Wearing a dress of a shade of blue that made her stand out in the courtroom, she had it buttoned almost to her neck, but Edward saw it could look very stylish with only a few changes. Mrs Greene shot him a glance as if afraid of Edward too. She clung to her husband’s arm.

Edward sighed internally, suspecting he was going to have to contend with that sight every day if this case went to trial, which seemed unlikely. Still riffling the State’s file, he walked over to the jury box and, with a look at the bailiff to make sure it was OK, sat beside his client. The chairs were hard, with thin cushions. Donald filled his like ice cream in a generously-scooped cone.

‘Edward. Man, I’m glad to see you. Those folks been starin’ at me like they got laser eyes. And that other one’s her sister, right? The district attorney herself?’

Edward kept his eyes lowered, and pointed at something in the police report as if showing his client. ‘Donald? Just listen. I’m sitting here beside you to show someone cares about you and you’re not a dangerous man at all. You’re a big puppy dog. Nod your head like you agree.’

Donald nodded, mimicking Edward’s gesture of pointing at the police report. At least he took direction well.

‘Yes, that’s the DA. And yes, that’s the Greenes, your new best friends. Want to wave to them?’

Donald glanced that way. ‘They wasn’t like this, Edward. It wasn’t like this at all.’

‘Had he paid you, Donald? When Mr Greene hired you, had he paid you yet?’

Donald nodded. ‘Eight hundred dollars in advance for that first week.’

That was good. A connection. ‘How? Did you deposit it?’

‘Cash. He took it right out of his wallet, in hundreds and fifties. First money I’d seen since I got out, Edward. I’d just been living off family handouts. So I—’

‘Didn’t have a bank account,’ Edward finished for him. Damn. Donald’s story continued to be unverifiable. In Edward’s experience, there was usually a good reason why a story couldn’t be confirmed by other sources.

Donald was actually reading the police report now. ‘This says I called him to bring the ransom to that little house in the Ward and I’d let her go. Says I gave him a few hours to get five hundred thousand dollars in cash.’

‘So?’

Donald frowned into his lawyer’s face. They’d want to stay away from that expression in future court appearances. It made Donald look fearsome even when he was only frowning in perplexity.

‘It don’t work that way, Edward. You don’t have the victim and the ransom in the same place. You have the guy with the ransom money drop it off some place where you can pick it up, then later you release the victim from some place far away. You don’t bring ’em together. Too much can go wrong, just like happened this time.’

Edward gave his client a look. Donald shrugged. ‘Yeah, man, I know how to do this. And you gotta give a guy more than a couple of hours to get that much cash together. I know that. You make it short, sure, but not that short.’

So Sterling Greene had called the cops instead. Edward risked a glance out into the audience. Mr Greene still glared at him, his shoulders straining the sleeves of his suit coat. Had he brought the money to the kidnapping, or only the SWAT team?

‘Edward?’ Donald tugged at his sleeve. ‘You’ve got to get me out of the jail, man. I can help you investigate this thing. Besides, I don’t like the way some of the guys are looking at me inside.’ Edward looked at him skeptically. ‘I know, man. You know and I know I can take care of myself. But I got nobody watchin’ my back now, and some of these guys …’

Edward shrugged. ‘Maybe I can get your bond lowered, but … What’s it set at right now?’

‘Eight hundred thousand.’

That sounded about right, for a two-time kidnapper who’d committed the second one within a few weeks of being released from prison. Edward was surprised it wasn’t higher. A bail bondsman would charge ten percent of that to put up the bond. Edward strongly doubted Donald could raise anything in the vicinity of eighty thousand dollars.

‘I’ll see what I can do. Do you have any source of funds?’

‘Maybe.’

That surprised Edward. He gave his client a long look. Donald, as big and tough as he was, had a childlike appearance at times. Edward was afraid only he could see that. Donald had done his time in prison for his previous crime, but he was still widely loathed when he came out. So he and Edward had something in common.

‘Let me ask you something, Donald.’

‘Sure.’

‘Why the hell did you come back to Houston?’

Donald shrugged. ‘It’s home.’

Edward just watched him. There had to be more to it than that.

Donald felt his stare and turned to take it on his shoulder, mumbling something.

‘What?’

‘I said people know me here.’

Edward laughed harshly. ‘Yeah, like Dallas knew Lee Harvey Oswald, but that didn’t mean he’d want to go back there to live afterwards.’

Donald just shrugged. Edward thought he understood. After all, Edward had come back to Houston too, even though it had been the scene of his disgrace, and sights reminded him of that almost daily, especially if he came anywhere near the courthouse. But he’d returned. There was a guilty knowledge he and Donald shared: notoriety was almost as good as fame. Being known, even for something bad, gave a person substance. It made you somebody.

‘I’ll see what I can do,’ Edward repeated. ‘Try to stay out of trouble.’

Edward left the jury box and went and sat in one of the lawyer chairs inside the railing. As he crossed the room he saw Julia and her sister and brother-in-law were gone. They’d apparently achieved whatever they wanted with their appearance. Edward sat and read the police report. Nothing jumped out at him like it had for Donald. Distraught husband had called police headquarters, been transferred to a detective, and the team had been assembled quickly. This early in the case there was nothing else, no lab reports or crime scene photos. There was one picture of the victim, a full-face shot of Diana Greene looking disheveled and distraught but unharmed. Edward stared at her face for a long minute.

He returned the thin file to the young prosecutor. ‘Your office is off the case, so I can’t negotiate with you. Who do I talk to?’

‘Him, I guess.’

Edward turned to see David Galindo standing behind him. David had been Edward’s chief rival when they were both prosecutors, but that just meant they competed for promotions, not that they were enemies. In fact David had been strangely helpful when they’d opposed each other in Edward’s first trial since getting out of prison, when Edward had defended his sister against a charge of murder.

‘Hello, David.’

‘Edward.’

‘Why were you in the room yesterday when they pushed this assignment on me?’

David ignored the question, pulling Edward aside. David was tall and lanky, wore suits well. He had a long, earnest face with expressive eyebrows. ‘You need an opposing counsel,’ he said. ‘The office hasn’t decided yet whom to recommend as district attorney pro tem.’ That was the legal term for a special prosecutor appointed as the prosecutor for only one case when the DA’s office had removed itself.

‘I don’t think the office gets to make a recommendation.’

David shrugged. ‘Then you want to ask the judge right now to appoint someone? I’ll just stand there. We’ve already filed the motion to recuse the office and appoint someone else.’

Edward looked at the woman on the high bench for the first time. A Hispanic woman of about fifty. Edward vaguely remembered her as a former prosecutor, but he’d never dealt with her. As much as he liked David, Edward suspected a trap. At this preliminary hearing this wasn’t the judge who’d eventually hear the case.

So sure, let’s take a shot with this one. The odds seemed to favor an unknown quantity doing him a solid. He was asking someone to make a decision that would be huge in the case, who would be prosecuting it. With a reasonable person on the other side, the case might be worked out with a plea bargain. If instead a prosecutor was appointed who wanted to get some publicity, this was the case to do it, especially by taking it to trial.

Indicating the judge with a nod, Edward said, ‘Tell me about her.’

David seemed taken by surprise. Then he gave the question honest consideration. ‘Judge Valencia? Fair judge,’ he said slowly. ‘Prosecutor for fifteen years or more, then a few years as a defense lawyer before she decided to run, so she’s had experience both ways. I got the impression she didn’t like defending people, that’s why she ran for judge. But she’s fair in her rulings and sentencings. Calls things for both sides.’

It sounded like an honest evaluation, and it coincided with what Edward remembered of this judge. Edward did trust David. He looked around the courtroom for someone else to ask, but didn’t see any lawyers he knew. Edward had to make this decision on the spot. Once the case was re-set today it would probably be in another judge’s court the next time. Did Edward want to take a shot with her or take his chances on who the next judge would be? He ran through in his head the judges in the criminal justice system. There were so many, and he’d been out of touch for a while. How many liked him and would do him a favor, how many who would really like to screw him over, from his time as a prosecutor, his time as a high-flying defense lawyer (when he may have cut a corner or two), and just the interplay of personalities over the years? Of the ones who he wanted to make this decision and the ones he wouldn’t, he figured the over/under was about forty. Thirty/forty, as to whom he’d want to make this decision, with him on the downside of all those, if he waited for the next setting.

‘Let’s approach,’ he said.

‘Good morning, Your Honor.’ Judge Gloria Valencia looked up at the sound of Edward’s voice. For a moment she looked at him blankly, then she glanced at David, which seemed to put things in context. ‘Good morning, Mr Hall,’ she said.

Edward hesitated. He had to make one of those quick judgments about someone, as good trial lawyers do. He could let this end with the greeting, saying he needed to re-set the case, or he could ask this judge to appoint his opposing counsel, the one who would largely decide the course of the case.

She smiled at him. ‘What can I do for you?’

That’s what decided Edward. The judge sounded pleasant and helpful, like a butcher behind a meat counter. ‘Your Honor, I’m sure you’ve been told about the special circumstances of this case.’

‘Yes, the young lady from the Bar was very informative. I hope it works out for you. And of course for your client.’

‘Thank you. All I’d ask the court to do today is appoint a prosecutor pro tem so I’ll have someone to negotiate with. Mr Galindo of course can’t—’

‘No. All right. Do you want me to appoint someone this minute, or do you want to take some time? Of course I’m not asking you or the DA’s office for recommendations. That wouldn’t be proper.’

‘No.’ Edward nodded deferentially. ‘I was thinking Cecilia Long or Kevin Lewis.’ One was a hard-core defense lawyer, the other a complete incompetent, either of whom would give Edward a sweetheart deal. The judge laughed along with him, then her expression grew serious. She stared at Edward then glanced at David, as if picturing someone in the prosecutor’s place. Edward suddenly wanted to take back his request.

‘I’m thinking Veronica Salazar,’ she said slowly.

‘Uh,’ David said immediately, a sound as if he’d been punched. He recovered quickly and said, ‘I think she’s barely gotten her feet on the ground in private practice, Your Honor. I’m sure she’s too …’

Edward glanced back and forth between them, lost. The name sounded familiar, but he didn’t know the woman in question.

‘I was thinking exactly that,’ the judge was responding to David. ‘This should help her get started. And of course she knows how to prosecute cases. Where’s the order?’ The judge found the right file, opened it to the State’s motion, and flipped its pages to the attached order with a blank for the name of the DA pro tem.

‘You know the circumstances of Veronica’s leaving the office, Your Honor?’ David Galindo said, taking one last shot.

The judge filled in the blank, signed the order, and handed it to her clerk. ‘Make a copy for Mr Hall.’ Then she turned back to the lawyers. Her face had hardened. ‘I don’t believe those rumors,’ she said flatly. To Edward she smiled. ‘Have a nice day.’

That was a dismissal. Edward and David walked away. When Edward thought they were out of earshot Edward said, ‘What just happened? Who’s this Veronica person?’

‘She left our office just last week,’ David said. ‘I forgot Judge Valencia is friendly with her. She’s doing her a favor because Veronica’s just getting started in private practice, I’m sure she doesn’t have very many cases yet.’

‘Why would she leave if she didn’t have a good place to land set up?’

David looked at him. ‘It wasn’t voluntary on her part.’

Oh, shit. She’d been fired from the DA’s office. Good, maybe it was for being a lousy trial lawyer, making too many easy plea offers. But from looking at David, Edward didn’t think that was it.

‘What can you tell me about her?’

David shook his head, looking around the courtroom.

‘David?’

‘Just watch your back,’ David said, and turned and hurried away.

Edward stood there alone, then noticed his client staring at him hopefully. Edward felt lost.

First mistake.





SIX


Edward decided he’d wait a day to put in a call to Veronica Salazar. He wanted to do some asking around about her first. He went back to his real job, the one paying the bills, and ended up making a small sale to a company looking for a new email server and cyber security system. He got a call from his biggest client, their CEO wanting to make another appointment with him. He went about his business as if it were an ordinary day, all the while in the back of his mind thinking, Shit shit shit.

This reflected Edward’s still being out of touch with the courthouse world. After being in prison for two years, out in the world for one and a half, then trying only one case in the ensuing year, he didn’t know all the players any more. He shouldn’t have gone to Judge Valencia, not on that particular day. On the other hand, it had been a crapshoot. The next judge might be worse. These are the kinds of thoughts that make lawyers wake up at four a.m. In Edward’s case, though, it was something else that did that: his phone ringing at that time of the morning.

‘This is a call from the Harris County Detention Center,’ said an automated voice.

What the hell? Edward looked at the clock as Linda moaned beside him. They didn’t let inmates make calls at this time of the morning. ‘Hello?’ he said automatically.

‘Mr Hall? This is Dr Jones. I’m in the infirmary at the jail. I’m sorry to call you at this time of the morning, but your client is here in the infirmary. He’s been asking for you and he’s very insistent.’

‘Donald’s in the infirmary?’ Edward was confused. The inmates should all be locked down in their cells. ‘Is he sick?’

‘The incident happened hours ago,’ the doctor said.

‘Then why are you just now calling me?’

‘Your client just now regained consciousness.’

Edward was at the jail forty-five minutes later. It’s not possible to get anywhere in Houston in less than forty-five minutes, even at a lightly-trafficked time of the morning. He didn’t have a bar card to show the guard, but they were expecting him, and another guard led him to the jail infirmary.

Bruises don’t show up well on African-American skin, but the black eye was spectacular enough to draw attention, accompanied by a gash on the temple showing the eye had probably been hit by an implement. Donald’s whole face looked swollen.

‘What happened? Did guards attack you?’

Donald shook his head. ‘Inmates. Four of them. We were in the dayroom and one of them kind of motioned me over to this corner. I should’ve known better, but I went over there. Turns out it’s the one spot that’s out of sight of the guard station and the camera.’

He used to know that kind of thing, Edward thought. But Donald hadn’t been in this jail long enough to learn the layout. ‘And?’

‘I just asked what’s going on and that’s when he punched me.’ Donald stopped to swallow. He was stretched out on a metal cot that he almost hid from view. The other beds around them were mostly filled with sleeping inmates. They kept their voices down. ‘He tried to hit me in the throat to cut off my wind but I lowered my chin and blocked that. Then I heard the others coming up behind me.’

‘Three others.’

Donald nodded. Clearing his throat sounded like scraping mortar off brick. ‘One of ’em is going to be limping for the rest of his life, and another one is probably still nursing his swollen nuts, but the other two jumped me and beat me down pretty good. Got me down on the ground.’

That’s all he had to say about that. Edward had witnessed such ‘fights’ in prison. Never as a target, thanks in part to Donald. But when more than one guy got the victim down on the ground, then they could go to work on him, kicking from various angles while the helpless victim tried and failed to cover all his vitals at once. Donald was lucky to be here rather than the morgue.

‘I managed to get to my feet—’

‘Really?’

‘Well, my knees. And I knocked one back far enough that he was in the guards’ line of sight. Still took ’em a hell of a long time to get there.’

Paid off, then, Edward thought. A coordinated attack with the overseers paid to look the other way. Donald was damned lucky to be here.

‘Who were they? What’d they have against you?’

Donald shook his head. ‘Never noticed ’em before. And you know me, Edward, I ain’t done nothin’ to nobody. Hell, I ain’t been here long enough to piss anybody off. I’ve just been keepin’ my head down and shufflin’ along.’

Edward did know that about his friend. As much space as Donald took up, he tried his best to keep a low profile. Didn’t join a gang, didn’t reject them in a way to piss anybody off, just did his time and tried to make each day pass as quickly as possible.

‘Somebody hates you because of your last caper?’ The kidnapping that had made Donald famous in a bad way.

Donald shook his head then groaned. ‘They were hired, Edward, you know that. Somebody wants me dead in here.’

‘Somebody from your prison days?’

Donald shrugged. His eyelids were lowering. But his eyes snapped open for him to say, ‘You’ve got to get me out of here. They say they’ll put me in ad seg, but if the guards’re in on it too …’ Ad seg, administrative segregation, protective custody inside the jail. But Donald was right, he could be protected from inmates but not the keepers.

Edward shook his head. ‘Maybe I could get your bond lowered based on this, but that would take a day or two.’

Donald grinned the most hideous grin ever, with one tooth hanging. ‘Then you need to get yourself put in here with me so you can cover me.’

No, let’s stick with option A. Edward quickly ran through everyone he knew, with the thought of Donald’s eighty-thousand-dollar bond fee the goal. Someone in Edward’s family would have the money, but he didn’t want to go to them. Didn’t really want them to know he was practicing law again. Besides, how could he guarantee Donald wouldn’t skip? It seemed his best option at this point.

‘There’s only one guy,’ Donald said, reading his thoughts.

Edward’s eyes widened. ‘Are you crazy?’

Donald’s eyes were closing. Man, even his eyelids were bruised. ‘I’ll get him to call you.’

‘You will,’ Edward said. ‘You two are phone buddies?’

But his client was asleep, probably from the pain meds pumping into his arm.

Edward looked around, hoping Donald would be safe here, hoping these inmates really were sleeping. He went to find the doctor who had called him.

It was only late that same morning when Edward got the call on his cell phone, the number Donald knew. ‘Edward Hall?’ said a deep voice.

Edward found himself nodding. ‘Yes, sir.’

‘You can come see me. I’m at home.’

‘I can?’ But he was speaking to dead air. That had been the whole call.

Forty-five minutes later Edward knocked on the door of a mansion in The Woodlands, a large, beautiful community north of Houston, where one moved after striking an oil well or an NFL contract. His caller had expected Edward could learn his home address, and Edward had with a couple of calls, finding his caller had paved the way for him by giving permission to let him have the information. Edward looked up at the house. It was large but understated, made of stone that looked old even though the house couldn’t have been more than five years old. The yard sloped down to the street, where Edward saw a security guard in a golf cart sitting idly, not looking at him.

The heavy wooden door opened and Ryan Jennings himself was standing there, in T-shirt and shorts. This close, the African-American running back was an amazing sight. As tall as Donald at six foot five, but where Donald was bulky Jennings was honed. His T-shirt strained around his biceps. His legs, his source of income, were intricately muscled and huge, but he was light on them. Jennings was handsome, too, his short hair showing off a face with imposing cheekbones and a noble nose. His penetrating brown eyes fixed on Edward, who felt like a member of a lesser species.

‘Thank you for seeing me,’ he said.

The football player waved him in and closed the door behind Edward. He still hadn’t spoken. They stood in an entryway that showed imposing twin staircases at the back, forty feet away. An antique credenza sat beside the door. Jennings just stood there. This was as far into the sanctuary as Edward was getting.

‘Did you really agree to do this?’

Jennings poked a finger at him and Edward flinched back. ‘That’s exactly the sort of question I don’t want to be asked by anybody else. Understand?’

‘Yes, sir. But why would you put up his bond?’

Jennings looked angry, but it was just concentration, studying Edward. ‘He gave me back my boy. You understand? Easiest thing for him would’ve been to kill him and run. Nobody’d seen him, he would’ve never been caught. Instead he brought him home. Gave up eight years of his life to do that. People make mistakes. Donald realized his and he made up for it. You never heard me say a word against him, did you?’

That was true. Before and during Donald’s trial the Jennings family had kept conspicuously silent, having no comments for the press and testifying only minimally to the facts of the case. The prosecution hadn’t called Jennings or his wife in the punishment phase to say how this crime had ruined their lives. They’d kept as much out of sight as possible, for one of the most famous men in town and the object of the best-known crime in years.

A checkbook and pen lay on the credenza. Ryan Jennings leaned over them. ‘Here’s how we’re going to do this,’ he said over his shoulder, beginning to write. ‘I’m making out the check to you. You pay the bond fee. Keep my name out of this.’

‘Listen.’ Edward licked his lips, risking further speech. ‘Could we have a’ – he resisted saying photo op – ‘a public occasion where you’re seen making his bail? It would do a lot to show people Donald’s not … What’s the problem?’

Because Jennings was turned back to him, shaking his head. ‘I’ll do this, man, but if you let anybody know it’s me I’ll back right out. I can’t have this scene. I’m doing this because I don’t think he’s a bad guy, but I can’t look like the moron who paid the bail for my son’s kidnapper.’

‘But you are. Not the moron, the good guy who thinks what you just said. Donald’s not a bad guy, he just made a mistake and then made up for it.’ Suddenly Edward was looking him in the eye, talking to him man to man. Jennings, who could have taken Edward’s head between his thumb and fingers and squeezed until his eyes popped out, did him the courtesy of looking him back in the same way. But his eyes were hard as stones. ‘You talk a good game, counselor. But that’s not happening.’

Edward shrugged, accepting. The football star finished writing the check, tore it carefully out, and handed it to Edward. Jennings’ stare said their meeting was concluded.

‘OK, thank you. This is amazingly—’

But Edward found himself back on the front porch, wafted there gently. As he turned back toward the house the door was closing in his face.

Edward raised his hand in a salute. ‘Big fan!’ he called. The door gave him no response.





SEVEN


‘Now what?’ Linda asked. Linda was so lovely, especially at times like this when they were alone in her house and she wasn’t trying. Her light brown hair hung to her shoulders, she wore only a T-shirt and cut-off shorts, her best outfit in Edward’s opinion. Barefoot. Sexy toes. ‘What does the defense do next?’

He lay back on the white sofa, also in T-shirt and shorts. Interesting to talk about a court case like this. ‘Well, obviously meet with my client again, now that he’s out of jail, hear his story, tell him what crap that is, beat the truth out of him.’

Linda smiled. ‘No, really.’

‘Well, some version of that. But also … you know.’

She did. ‘Research the victim. Or victims, if you count the husband.’

Edward nodded. Linda turned away and he followed her into the second bedroom, the office she had turned into an office for both of them, with two desks, one desktop and a laptop open on the other desk. The room still seemed like a work in progress, but her court reporter certificate was already framed and on the wall. Photos also adorned the walls, some of which now included Edward. One prominently placed on the wall above the desktop was of Linda sitting cross-legged, grinning up at the camera. In her lap lolled a much-adored cat, now gone.

Linda sat at the laptop. ‘Reminds me of the shorthand machine,’ she said, and got to work. Edward half-heartedly opened Google and put in the Greenes’ names, first seeing if there were any articles that mentioned them as a couple. Only two. One mentioned them as attendees of a reception at the River Oaks Country Club. Edward would have guessed they lived in his parents’ neighborhood, where he’d grown up, the old-money suburb. But this was Houston, the boom town, so the club was also always ready to welcome new money. He didn’t bother to open that one.

The other one was about the opening of a show at an art gallery. He assumed that one would also be the lovely couple beaming at the camera, so he didn’t bother with clicking through that link either. Instead he typed in only Sterling Greene and found several articles, mostly Sterling announcing the launch of a new vast construction project. Edward did look at a couple of those, always about grand plans of Greene and his partners. Different partners for each project. Probably smart, to be the only guy with a finger in all the pies.

He didn’t find anything about just Diana. Interesting. She kept a very low profile. He wondered whom he could interview to find out about her. River Oaks offered possibilities, starting with his own mother.

‘Hey,’ Linda said quietly. When Edward went to stand over her shoulder she closed out the page. ‘Let’s go somewhere,’ she said, rising and taking his hand.

Twenty minutes later, dressed a little more formally, they were in the car heading for Bissonette, a street on the edge of West U, near the museum district of Houston. Linda had kept her little secret so far. Whatever it was, she liked it. They talked about what they had learned about the Greenes, which was very little.

‘I don’t see any reason why he would have hired Donald,’ Edward was saying. ‘Nothing about making it a particular project of his to rehabilitate ex-cons.’

‘No. Their only charitable work was attending the occasional reception.’

Linda pulled into a strip center with only three stores, one of them a long white stucco space with wide windows. ‘Art?’ Edward asked.

Linda nodded. ‘You like art, don’t you?’

‘Sure. In its place.’

They went in. A receptionist’s desk, minimal and chrome, sat empty. They walked slowly through the rooms. The first featured works by modern artists, none of whom was familiar to Edward. Linda took his hand and led him onward.

They discovered the reason the receptionist’s desk was empty was because she, a willowy brunette in a black dress, was earnestly explaining a sculpture to a middle-aged, well-dressed couple who kept nodding as if they appreciated it. Linda hurried them through into the final room. This was different. Portraits, all by the same artist. This must have been the reception Edward hadn’t bothered to read about. This was where the gallery would have made its money. The portraits were of well-known Houstonians, a former mayor, an owner of the Astros, his wife, another of a dignified woman known for wielding her wealth carefully, building up certain projects and letting others collapse. They didn’t by any means know all the subjects, but enough of them to get the gist. These were works on loan, commissioned through the gallery and already sold to the subjects. That reception must have been something, rich people coming to admire themselves and each other.

The portraits were good, most of them life-sized, placed in settings that demonstrated the subject’s interests, such as a man leaning back on a desk holding a blueprint. Edward studied the eminent dowager. ‘He’s good,’ Linda murmured, an art gallery hushed voice. ‘I can see why he gets the big commissions.’

Edward saw what she meant. He happened to know this woman, through his family connections. She wore a simple frock, as if for an afternoon cocktail party. Her hair was carefully coiffed, her faded blue eyes gazing out of the frame with a quietly kind expression. It looked like its subject, very much, but it also looked better than she ever had. The artist had emphasized her eyes and minimized the wrinkles Edward knew encircled those eyes. While she wasn’t a mean woman by any means, Edward had never seen her with this kindly an expression.

‘The best version of herself she’s ever seen,’ Linda said. Edward nodded.

‘But why—?’ he began, when Linda took his hand and led him to the next full-sized portrait. This one showed a younger woman dressed in a simple, elegant, dark-blue dress, standing next to a waist-high column on which her hand rested. It was a youthful hand, unmarked, slender. The woman was turned slightly, as if listening to a nearby conversation. But her eyes were a little slanted, looking out of the frame even as her body inclined away. The eyes were a deep blue intensified by the gown. Edward stepped closer, as the woman’s stare invited him to do. She seemed about to say something, something witty and fascinating and designed for his ears only.

‘Portrait of Mrs Diana Greene,’ Linda read from the small plaque.

Of course. But Edward had seen Mrs Greene in person and this portrait, like the last, was at least slightly more beautiful than the woman looked in life. She had a small smile, no, the beginning of a smile, as if she saw him approaching and knew how charming he was.

‘This guy’s very good,’ he said.

Linda nodded. ‘I want him to paint me.’

They looked around and found the artist’s name. ‘Antonio Alberico,’ Edward read. ‘Really?’

‘No,’ said a voice behind him. He and Linda turned to find the woman in black had found them. ‘Really his name was Tony, but he adopted a sort of nom de brush he thought suited his subjects better.’ She turned to Linda. ‘And as for painting you, I’m afraid not. This is a posthumous exhibition.’

‘That’s terrible. Was it recent?’

‘Yes, it was tragic. I think the medical examiner still hasn’t decided if it was suicide. May I show you something?’

Of course. She led them to an alcove. Inside was one painting on each of three walls. Edward and Linda stepped closer. The largest painting was a landscape. Somewhere in Appalachia maybe, or possibly east Texas. At any rate a very wooded area, the trees intricately detailed, with the suggestion of an overgrown path through them and the hint of a building in the far, secluded distance.

‘This was Tony’s real passion,’ the woman said. ‘The portraits he did for the money, and they became very successful. But that was just to allow him to do this.’

‘Beautiful,’ Linda murmured.

The receptionist nodded. They all stood lost in admiration for a long moment. Then she said, ‘Let me know if I can show you anything else,’ and glided away.

After a while they returned to the portrait of Diana Greene. She still seemed to carry that amusing secret.

‘Now you need to get to know the real her,’ Linda finally said.

‘I know. And I sincerely hope she can convince me she was a kidnapping victim. Then I can just talk Donald into pleading guilty.’

‘Is there anyone you can ask about her?’

Edward thought for only a few seconds. ‘Oh yes. There is.’





EIGHT


The next morning, a Sunday, Edward and Linda went to the Avalon Drug Store, in a small shopping center a block from River Oaks. The Avalon had been an institution for decades. It was indeed a small drug store, but it was better known for its luncheonette, the place for Sunday breakfast among those who cared. They had to wait for a table, of course. As they did, Edward looked around. Almost immediately he saw three people he knew, two he’d gone to high school with, one a well-known real estate developer. But Edward was looking for one particular person, and quickly spotted him. ‘A minute,’ he said to Linda, and strolled into the restaurant space.

Gerald spotted him just as Edward pretended to notice him for the first time. They exchanged names and greetings. Gerald held court here most Sunday mornings, taking up a table for hours, sometimes with company, sometimes not. Today he had a young man across from him who ignored Edward. Gerald leaned his cheek on his hand and said, ‘Well, the famous Edward. I heard all about your trial, after of course your prison stay. You must tell me all about that someday.’

‘Love to.’ Edward widened his eyes. ‘Which reminds me. I need to talk to someone who lives in River Oaks and knows everybody.’

Gerald smiled. ‘That does sound like me. Today, as you can see, I’m preoccupied. But I’ll be receiving at home tomorrow. About noon?’

Edward said fine, didn’t need to ask the address, and strolled on into the shelves.

‘Who’s that?’ Linda asked. ‘Old friend?’

‘Not exactly. But we’ve known each other a long time. Gerald has known everybody a long time.’

Linda gazed at the man. Gerald didn’t turn his head, but he grew a smile that said he was aware of her scrutiny and enjoyed it.

Big Donald called later that day, anxious to see Edward. ‘We’ll get together very soon,’ Edward assured him. ‘You just keep a low profile while you heal. And try to figure out who wanted you dead. Four strangers jump you in jail, that wasn’t a warning. That was supposed to be a hit.’

‘Man, you don’t have to tell me.’

‘So who wants you dead, man?’

Donald didn’t answer. Edward thought he himself would lapse into such a silence if someone put that same question to him.

‘Think about it. I’ll see you Tuesday, man.’

His week was filling up.

Edward kept his appointment, if that’s what it was, with Gerald the next day after a busy day of appointments that made him forget he was a sort of lawyer again these days. Gerald lived in a smaller River Oaks home, two stories in the traditional red brick, with vines trailing up one side wall. A bay window in front looked like an eyeball keeping watch on the neighborhood.

Gerald himself opened the door, no boy toy in evidence today, or anyone else in the house. Gerald, who was maybe ten years older than Edward with a world-weariness older than both of them, gestured him into a sitting room. The home was beautifully furnished in a slightly old-fashioned style of angular furniture and elaborate window treatments. The sitting room could have been called a library, since one wall was floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with individual volumes, no matched sets sold by the foot.

Gerald himself was slim and elegant, with a slightly bulging forehead, languid brown eyes that could turn piercing, long-fingered hands. He had tea for them. Many people thought he must have inherited his wealth, since he never lifted a finger to earn a dime, and Gerald encouraged that perception, but Edward happened to know he was a self-made man. From an early age Gerald had been a traveler, fierce to devour the world. And he had written about his travels, in books that became a series under a pseudonym. In the digital age the series had blossomed into apps and websites, long since sold to some conglomerate for enough to keep Gerald comfortably at home.

‘Your girl is lovely, Edward. Are you engaged? Has she left that firm where she’s a paralegal now that she’s earned her court reporter’s certification?’

‘Not yet,’ Edward said, acknowledging Gerald’s research with a smile. ‘And why am I here, do you know?’

Gerald’s smile turned musing. ‘I suppose you want to know about the Greenes, what with you being appointed to represent her kidnapper.’

Well, that was easy, it had been reported in a small story in the paper. Edward just nodded.

Gerald frowned, stopped fussing with the tea things, and looked Edward in the eye. ‘They are a toxic couple. He’s up from nowhere into supposedly a lot of money doing this and that. She’s old school Houston rich, the riches probably faded away by this time. They live about three blocks over in some huge eyesore. Sterling, so called, is a thug in a tux. Or a hardhat some days. Diana, she’s more interesting. Her family raised her to be a socialite, which to her distress is a category that no longer exists. So she married money, which is the other thing that term means.’

‘And the toxicity?’

‘No one wants them around but you can’t not invite them to things. So you see them at receptions and parties, either avoiding each other or glaring across the room, her flirting with a few carefully selected targets and him clumsily trying to do the same thing and just making a fool of himself with women who wouldn’t be caught dead with him. I mean that literally, they would drag themselves back from hell so their bodies would not be found in bed with him. Meanwhile Diana is just expert. She can flirt with a man while talking to his wife. She can flirt with a man while suggesting a new mistress for him. She can …’

‘Gerald?’

Gerald stopped his monologue and leaned across the space between them, touching Edward’s hand just for a moment. His smile was a work of art.

‘Are you sure you’re not imagining some of this?’

Gerald leaned back and gave the idea due thought. ‘As if she’s the perfect incarnation of my love of gossip? Edward, you’re brilliant. As I always knew. Yes, I see it now, I’ve been projecting …’

Edward shrugged modestly, waiting to get to the real stuff.

‘Nothing!’ Gerald suddenly said, leaning back into his face. ‘Edward, Edward. Edward. When have you ever known me to be wrong? So shut up and let me give you the deal. Diana is designed for this. I love her from afar.’

‘So you have a list of her lovers?’ Edward mentally took out a pen and notepad.

Gerald stared at him in a very level way, no longer doing anything arch at all.

‘No.’

‘No? No confirmed kills?’ Gerald shrugged. Edward continued, ‘So for all you know she’s just a serial flirt? And her husband’s just jealous over that?’

Gerald opened his mouth, obviously started to explain, then just shrugged. ‘Whatever the Greenes’ other failings, they’ve been very discreet. Or nothing ever happened. Who knows?’ He raised his eyebrows.

Edward was exasperated. ‘You should.’

Raising his shoulders and his eyebrows, mad at himself, Gerald said, ‘I know.’

They finished their meeting with idle chatter about people they knew, what Edward was doing, nothing about Gerald, who never talked about himself, until Edward rose, saying, ‘Well, if you hear anything …’

He was walking away when he heard a tone in Gerald’s voice. ‘Are you recruiting me?’

Edward opened his mouth and Gerald continued, ‘As one of your team? As your sort of celebrity gossip consultant?’

Edward almost fell for it, stopped his tongue, and said, ‘Yes.’

Gerald grew a slow smile. ‘Thank you so much, Eddie, for thinking of me.’

Eddie. Edward knew the joke. He smiled back.





NINE


Almost as soon as he left Gerald’s place, he called Diana Greene. Her sister the district attorney had actually given him her phone number.

The worst thing about being a defense lawyer was interviewing the victim. But you had to do it, or try. When Edward had been a prosecutor it had been wonderful, bringing in the victim and the victim’s family, laying out just how you were going to achieve justice for them. But talking to the victims as a defense lawyer, the representative of the person who’d victimized them, not nearly so wonderful. He’d sometimes been afraid he was going to be punched.

Of his two choices, Sterling Greene was definitely worse. Besides, he needed more background on the tycoon before he took him on mano a mano. So he did the cowardly thing and called the woman instead.

To his surprise, she answered, sounding sleepy at one-thirty in the afternoon. Or was that languor in her voice? ‘Oh,’ Diana said when he told her his name, and her voice went a little squeaky, Little Red Riding Hood talking to the wolf. ‘What can I do for you, Mr Hall?’

‘It’s Edward. And I just want to talk to you. Half an hour of conversation. Can we do that some time?’

‘Of course. I guess. Are we allowed to do that? Do I have to do it?’

For someone whose sister was the district attorney, Mrs Greene seemed strangely ignorant of legal proceedings. He could take advantage of that.

But not yet. ‘You have no obligation, Mrs Greene. But it would be nice.’

Her hesitation was very brief. When she spoke again she sounded more decisive. ‘You are a lucky man, Mr Hall.’

‘Am I?’

‘Yes. Partly because you have a voice I trust and partly because I just two minutes ago had a friend cancel. So could you meet me for lunch? At three? Would that be OK?’

Edward thought, three o’clock for lunch? What was that? Very late lunch, very early dinner? Lunner? High tea? This was a fashion Edward had obviously missed. But, ‘Sure,’ he said quickly. ‘Name the spot.’

Without hesitation, she did. A little stand-alone café also River Oaks adjacent. Almost next door, in fact, to the gallery where Diana Greene hung. As it were. He could go look at her while he waited for her.

Diana was only a few minutes late. She wore a lightweight dress that ended somewhere around her knees, it was hard to tell from the swirls, and almost covered her cleavage. She must have been just about to go out, because she was expertly made up, to the extent she didn’t look made up at all. But her eyes were bright and her lashes long, her lips very red. Her auburn hair danced around her head. She looked nothing like a woman coming to meet the lawyer representing the man who’d kidnapped her.

And she didn’t come alone. Julia Lipscomb was at her side.

That must have been quickly arranged. Julia was dressed like a business person, as she was, the head of the biggest law firm in town, the DA’s office, that employed upwards of four hundred lawyers. Her eyes were clear and her hands empty.

Edward stood to meet them, his face neutral, and shook hands with each. After exchanging greetings he looked closely at Diana and she did him the favor of looking back. Really lovely blue eyes. Her handshake was soft and quick, and she glided into the booth across from him. Her sister pulled up a chair – one of those cushioned items with a bent wire back, like from a boulevard in Paris – and placed herself between them on the table’s end. Oddly like a chaperone on a first date; literally the big sister. Or like a lawyer with a very important client. She smiled at Edward and placed her hand briefly over his. ‘Thank you again, Edward, for handling this case. I very much appreciate it.’

It was odd having her here. He wondered if Julia understood what her office being removed from the case meant. But of course she had a dual role.

‘You’re very welcome, Julia.’ Her thanks were odd too. She needed to keep reminding him he was doing her a favor. A waitress quickly appeared and took their orders, salads for both women, nothing for Edward. He kept his attention on the sister.

Under his scrutiny Diana’s shoulders rose and she sank in the booth. ‘I don’t know how any of this works. I gave a statement to the police.’

‘And I’ll read it. But I wanted to hear directly from you what happened.’

‘So he can see if there are any discrepancies,’ Julia said, not unkindly. She and Edward exchanged a pleasant look.

‘There always are,’ Edward said reassuringly. ‘Don’t worry about that. So where were you when you first … encountered Donald?’

Diana leaned forward. ‘All right, Mr Hall, I’ll—’

‘Edward, please.’

Diana frowned briefly. ‘Edward? Always? So formal. Never Ed or Eddie?’

‘No,’ Julia answered for him. She knew Edward well enough to know he didn’t like nicknames. He had a perfectly good name, it didn’t need a substitute. Why did people have a hard time with that? Anyone who called him something other than Edward didn’t know him well, even if they pretended to do so.

Diana shrugged. ‘Anyway, your client. That giant man. I first saw him the day he grabbed me. Actually I didn’t see him at all at first. I was about to go into a store, a drug store, when someone grabbed me, put a hand over my mouth, and whispered right into my ear, “If you scream I’ll kill you”.’

Her eyes widened, reliving the terror. ‘Then he put a bag over my head. I was terrified. I dropped my purse and he dragged me like a child. I heard a car door open and he shoved me into the back seat. I lay there face down. He hadn’t tied me up, but after what he said I was too scared to make a peep.’

Edward nodded. He felt Julia’s stare on the side of his face, but kept his eyes on her sister. ‘Where were you when this happened?’

‘West Gray, I think, near my home. It was early afternoon, I was supposed to meet a girlfriend for lunch and I was early. Anyway, we drove what seemed like forever. I think we were going in circles sometimes, like he was afraid someone was following us.’

‘Were you in your own car?’

‘Yes. I wasn’t sure of that at first, but when we finally stopped I got a glimpse of it as he dragged me out and I saw it was my own. Then we went into that horrible house. It seemed like a crack house, almost no furniture, trash on the floor. Terrible smell.’

‘So he’d taken the bag off your head?’

She shook her head. ‘It was one of those cloth bags, you know? Maybe burlap. I was getting to where I could see a little bit between the fibers. Then he – your client – shoved me down into a chair and said to stay there. Told me again he’d kill me if I moved.’

Her hand shook as she reached for her water glass. Edward imagined her telling this story on the stand and winced internally. He hoped she’d have to rehearse her story several more times before trial so its freshness would wear off, but right now she was the perfect witness, obviously reliving the nightmare. He wanted to comfort her; anyone would. At the same time he realized as believable as Diana Greene appeared, his client was a liar in direct proportion.

‘How long did you sit there?’

‘Hours. When we were still in the car I heard him talking to my husband on a cell phone. He had me say something, then shushed me right away. I wanted to call out to Sterling but I was too afraid. They were talking about money, that’s all I could hear. Then at the house I just sat there. I heard him talking to somebody else. Finally I told him I was suffocating and asked if he could raise the bag a little. He said he’d take it off, but not to look at him. So I closed my eyes.’

‘Did he tie you up?’

‘No. He didn’t need to. You’ve seen him. There was no way I was going to make him mad by trying to get away. Besides, I didn’t know where I was. From the glimpse of the neighborhood I’d gotten I could see it was no part of town I was familiar with. He told me he just wanted the money, he wasn’t going to hurt me unless I did something stupid.’ She picked at her salad.

It sounded like Donald’s snatching of Ryan Jennings’ son years ago, a crime of sudden opportunity. He hadn’t come prepared with rope or much of a plan.

Diana had her head down, looking at Edward with her lips pursed, like an injured child. He wanted to take her hand and say it would be all right. She blinked at him in quick succession.

‘Then we just waited. I didn’t even know how much money he’d asked for, but I imagined Sterling trying to pull it together, rushing to the bank, taking out an emergency loan, I don’t know. I wondered what time it was. When the banks would close.’

‘Did you and Donald talk?’

‘Very little. Mostly he stayed behind me, looking out the window, I think. When I started to turn my head he told me no. He let me walk around a little a couple of times, but I kept my head down.

‘Finally police came. We heard them. They didn’t have sirens, but you could hear all the cars. He – your client – ran to the back of the house but then he came back. Then the hostage negotiator started talking to him. I almost felt bad for him. But while he was distracted I ran to the door and ran out.’

‘She’s lucky police didn’t kill her,’ Julia said coolly. Edward looked at her. He’d been so immersed in the story he’d almost forgotten the district attorney’s presence. They looked at each other for a minute. Julia knew how good the story had been, how sympathetic a witness her sister made. As she’d talked both Edward and Julia could hear the numbers clicking upward in their heads, the number of years a prosecutor would offer Edward’s client.

‘Did he have a gun?’ Edward asked Diana.

‘I never saw a gun, but I don’t know. He didn’t have to hold a gun on me, Edward, I was terrified. I wasn’t going to do anything.’

‘Did he ever—?’

‘That’s enough for now,’ Julia Lipscomb said. She rose quickly. ‘You’ll have other opportunities, I’m sure. Right now Diana and I have a family function to attend.’

Diana stood too, more slowly. She looked down at Edward, they both seemed about to speak, then she turned away.

He watched them walk away, thinking how much easier this made his life. The victim was not only sympathetic, she was very convincing. Now it was just a matter of negotiation. That, and talking his client into pleading guilty.





TEN


On his way home Edward made one more stop, at a small apartment complex. Inside one of the units he met the manager. Looking around one more time, he said, ‘I’ll take it.’

Then he went shopping for furniture.

A week later he sat in court with Donald again. Time to meet the special prosecutor. District attorney pro tem was the actual term, but everyone called the person appointed in place of the DA’s office the special prosecutor. Edward had hopes for her. Veronica Salazar would have no stake in posting a big win in the case. She wasn’t angling for promotion in an office she wasn’t part of. They should be able to work something out.

Sitting in the spectator seats beside Donald, who looked uncomfortable and massive in a dark suit without a tie, Edward answered the docket when the case was called and waited for a response. There was none. The judge glanced at a note, said, ‘She’s running late,’ and went on to the next case.

Donald looked better than he had the last time Edward had seen him, in the prison infirmary. The bruises were fading, but the scrape beside his eye still flared. Donald sat sullenly, looking around at everyone with suspicious glances, as if wondering which was the secret hit man with a contract on him. Nothing good had ever happened to Donald in a courthouse.

But last time he’d gotten off relatively easy, and he knew it. He knew he’d screwed up, he’d done his time willingly. This time …

‘We need to talk,’ Edward said. Not words anyone wants to hear in any type of relationship.

‘So talk. We seem to have time.’ His thunder-rumbling voice sounded strange saying something so mild.

‘I met with the victim. I’ve heard her story. It’s going to terrify a jury. She might break down in tears on the witness stand.’

Donald turned to look at him full on. ‘You sayin’ you believe her?’

‘It doesn’t matter what I believe, big guy. You know that.’

But Donald continued to look at him. Even his stare seemed to carry weight.

Edward said, ‘What I want to do—’

‘Mr Hall.’

Edward looked up and remembered Veronica Salazar. He’d tried a case against her as a defense lawyer, when she was a young prosecutor. Edward had done in the trial what defense lawyers usually do, lost, but it had been hard-fought.

He stood and shook the hand she offered. Slender hand, long fingers. She had brown eyes that slanted down a little at the inner corners. Luxuriant dark hair, eyebrows expertly done, a long mouth. Very attractive features. She was as tall as Edward, taller in her heels. Her skirt suit had pinstripes and was very crisp. She kept watching him, without looking at his client. ‘Can we talk?’

She meant outside, away from the client. Edward nodded and followed her out, glancing left and right rather than at Ms Salazar’s back. They found a bench out in the hall but neither sat. The corridor was bustling with lawyers and citizens.

‘Well. Very unusual circumstances for both of us, what?’ She suddenly smiled. ‘But I’m glad to see you again, Edward. Glad to see you working your way back into the profession.’

‘I’m glad to see you too, Veronica. Let me know if I can help with your transition from prosecutor to defense lawyer.’ He made it sound like a medical procedure. ‘I did it myself a few years ago. It can be fun.’

A mean-spirited person could have pointed out it was excess of fun that had gotten Edward sent to prison, but Veronica didn’t take the shot. ‘Well. Too soon to start negotiating, don’t you think? Have you gotten all the discovery you need?’

‘I guess. What there is of it. Couple of police reports. No witness statements except from Mrs and Mr Greene. The only other witnesses seem to have been cops.’

Veronica shrugged. ‘Third Ward. Nobody saw nothing. You remember.’

He did. It was a poor neighborhood, predominantly African-American, where few residents would have any love for the police. Maybe Edward, or better yet Donald, would have better luck canvassing the neighborhood for witnesses. Wow. An advantage.

‘But I certainly think I have all I need. Very straightforward case. Well. Here’s my card. Maybe before our next court date you can come to my office to discuss. Then you can give me that advice on morphing into a defense lawyer.’

Edward didn’t have a card to give her in return, not a lawyer card. He only had the one case. ‘You know right now, Veronica, I only have a provisional law license, sort of a learner’s permit. Here’s a business card from my outside job, and here’s my cell number.’ He wrote on the card quickly.

Veronica set down on the bench a new leather briefcase and opened it. It didn’t contain much, only three or four manila folders. She took out the top one. ‘We’ll be seeing each other soon at any event. I got the case indicted this morning. There’ll be an arraignment hearing next week in the court where we’ll actually be trying it. In the unlikely event we don’t work something out, of course.’ She smiled. Then handed him a copy of the indictment. The court was in the top corner. The 439th. The number didn’t mean anything to Edward.

‘Judge Roberts’ court,’ Veronica said helpfully.

Edward stared at her. ‘How did you manage that?’

She shrugged and smiled. ‘Just luck of the draw.’

Edward strongly doubted that. Watch your back, David had warned him, but Edward couldn’t think of any way he could have dodged this. It was up to the prosecutor to take a case to the grand jury, so she could time that so the case would land in the court she wanted. The system wasn’t supposed to work that way, but as a former prosecutor Edward knew there were ways. Veronica obviously knew it too.

‘So I’ll see you next week? You’ll tell the court clerk here?’ Veronica waved her hand, brushing away details, or rather brushing them all over Edward.

‘Sure,’ he said, and watched her walk away, hair swinging. Hips too. Knew she was relishing the moment she’d just had.

And Edward walked back into court with the document in his hand, to explain to his client that his case was going to be heard in the court of the judge whose offices Edward had burglarized, the judge who’d insisted he get prison time rather than probation.

‘So tell me about Veronica Salazar, David. How do you get yourself kicked out of the DA’s office with a trial record like she had?’

They were in David’s office in an office building several blocks from the courthouse. Hurricane Harvey had evicted most of the DA’s offices from the Justice Center, and they’d grabbed office space wherever they could. David’s office had a makeshift quality. He hadn’t hung diplomas or photographs, defiantly suggesting this accommodation was only temporary, more than a year after the big storm.

In answer to Edward’s question David raised his eyebrow. ‘I’d say too much ambition?’

Edward gave David an ironic look. Both of them had been damned ambitious as young prosecutors, furiously winning cases in order to get promoted to even bigger cases. David acknowledged that with a shrug. ‘Maybe I mean too nakedly ambitious. Gunning for the felony chief’s job when the felony chief still very much wanted it, thank you. Plus there were other things. Veronica cut corners. Spent all her time right on the ethical line. Maybe over it. She’d dump a load of new discovery on defense lawyers on the first day of trial, including maybe witness statements that had been taken weeks earlier. That sort of thing. Rumors that she’d even withheld evidence in some cases. Nobody listened to the defense bar bitching for a while – what else do defense lawyers ever do? – but after a while it got to be a roar. Then something else happened. I don’t know, I wasn’t in the loop, but Veronica and Julia had a closed-door meeting and while it was going on one of our investigators was packing up Veronica’s office for her. She got escorted out of the building.’

‘So you’re saying Julia could give me better information?’

‘I guess she’s the only one who could,’ David agreed. ‘Except Veronica herself.’

They both laughed briefly at that idea. David sobered up quickly. ‘How’s your sister?’ he asked.

A few months earlier, David had prosecuted Edward’s sister Amy for murder, with Edward defending.

‘She’s fine. Relishing her life. Everything tastes better, she says.’

‘Good.’

‘So tell me more about Ms Salazar.’

David shrugged. ‘Like I said, she cut corners. As a special prosecutor with only one case to prosecute, what’s her incentive to follow the rules?’

Edward thought of how she’d gotten the case indicted into the one court she wanted. The two of them looked at each other. David’s empathy was palpable, but he was still on the opposite side from Edward. He didn’t wish Edward luck when he rose to leave.





ELEVEN


‘So now you have another good reason to drop me and get a real lawyer,’ Edward said to his client. Donald took up most of the space in the front of Edward’s car. They were swooping around the elevated wing of Interstate 45