A Sarah Cross Legal Thriller
About the book
Her only lead lies in a pool of blood...
Experienced prosecutor, Sarah Cross takes on a case that just might cost her her sanity. Once the chief of police asks for her help in the violent attack on his daughter, she finds herself trapped between morality and justice.
With the number of assaults rising, a phone call leaves Sarah with a single choice: in order to solve the case, she must denounce every value she has ever stood for. Trapped amongst people too terrified to talk, Sarah and Lee’s last hope hides in the victim’s own blood.
I could see the fight coming from a mile away. It started the same way they all start these days. Over nothing. Except it wasn’t nothing. It was a vent for the festering feelings we both had. Feelings we’d both decided not to confront, but could not suppress.
“Sarah, I wish you wouldn’t leave your work crap all over the place. This is supposed to be my study.”
Carl wasn’t shouting. His voice was level, but there was an exhausted whining quality that was like nails down a blackboard to me. I was in the kitchen baking with Vicky. Or rather, I was assisting my vivacious eleven-year-old wannabe chef, who in turn was following a YouTube video tutorial. We were a mess. The kitchen was a mess.
“Sorry. Forgot to put my files away when I was done. Just put them in a pile in the corner.”
I pushed my long blonde hair from my face, along the way smearing flour across my cheek and forehead. I had put in a couple of hours after dinner, promising Vicky to spend time with her after that. Did I leave that stuff over Carl’s desk deliberately, knowing it would drive him crazy?
“That’s not the point.” Carl came into the kitchen carrying a sheaf of papers in one hand and my laptop in the other. “If we share a work-space we should respect each other’s needs. I can’t work in this mess.”
He was wearing sweats that didn’t flatter him like they once had. There was a paunch that had gotten worse in the last few months. His face was ugly with resentment, mouth twisted. He looked around at the kitchen. Don’t be a dick, Carl. Don’t you dare just dump that stuff in here.
He looked around for a moment and then dropped files and computer onto a corner of the flour strewn counter, shaking his head as he walked out.
“Give me a second, honey,” I said.
“Mom, just leave it.” Vicky tried to be the adult in the room.
I scooped up the stuff Carl had dumped and followed him. I heard Vicky sigh and mutter something under her breath that would have got her grounded under different circumstances. I was too angry to stop myself.
“Carl! What the hell! You can’t just throw this stuff around. I said leave it somewhere out of your way.”
Carl was behind his desk, petulantly plucking post-its from around the computer monitor, another habit of mine he disliked intensely.
“This is important stuff. It’s covered in flour. How would you like me to treat your work like that?”
“It wouldn’t be a problem if you didn’t make such a mess. Look at that kitchen. It’s ridiculous. It’s like having two kids.”
“I’m spending time with my daughter...”
“If that’s suddenly so important to you, maybe you should be here more, and in the office, less. Or in this particular office less. It’s like you come home late. Then come in here, then disappear into Vicky’s room. I don’t see you at all.”
“Oh, and that bothers you?” I retaliated.
“Yes! You’re my wife.”
“You haven’t always remembered that.” I said, going for the jugular.
The look of hurt on his face made me briefly sympathetic. But only briefly. He deserves it for what he did. I’m not going to feel sorry for him.
“That was uncalled for.”
I threw the office door closed. It banged loudly.
“What you did to me was uncalled for. You remember what that was. You remember the woman you did those things with?”
“Keep your voice down,” Carl snapped.
“I will not! Why shouldn’t Vicky know what a lying, cheating son of a bitch her father is!” Anger had me by the throat. I was horrified at my own words but couldn’t stop the torrent.
“So, why the fuck are you still here! That’s what this comes down to every single fucking time. You pick a fight over nothing and it always comes back to the same thing.”
I didn’t have an answer. After the Miranda Miller murder trial, Carl and I had talked for a long time about our future. He had pleaded with me for another chance. And I had given it to him. Tried to put his affair with Miranda Miller in the past along with her murder. Why? Why didn’t I just take the chance for a clean break?
“You can’t keep beating me over the head with...with her. I’ve said I’m sorry. I don’t know what else I can say. It’s been two months.”
I dropped the files and laptop onto the couch, under the window.
“I can’t just forget what happened, Carl.”
“Don’t pressure me into giving you a schedule of events, ok?” I shot back with hostility. “You’ve got no right. None.”
“I have the right to get on with my life...”
“Your life? Your life, not ours. That’s pretty telling, Carl. You’ve been talking like that a lot recently.”
“Stop putting words into my mouth!”
“The words are coming out of your mouth. I’m just listening.”
“You’re twisting what I’m saying!”
“You think so? I’m not holding you here. You obviously weren’t happy, or you wouldn’t have slept with someone else. So, just have the guts to say you don’t want to be with me anymore and go. I’m not stopping you.”
“I could say the same thing...”
I wasn’t prepared to let him finish a thought. As it always did, the anger unlocked the resentment I carried around since I had seen those photographs of Carl and Miranda Miller together. The burning pit of acid in my stomach that always threatened to erupt.
“No, Carl. You can’t. I’ve done nothing to drive you away.”
“Are you fucking kidding me? How long since we slept together, Sarah? Even before...all that stuff...how many times in the past year? We’re not a couple. We’re room-mates.”
That cut through. That was a knife that left me gutted. He was right. I had been cold towards him. Distant. Repressed. Why? Maybe, you’re not the man I want anymore, Carl. The thought left me cold. Even thinking it made me feel like I was teetering on the edge of a precipice. I shied away from it. Letting go of our marriage was like sailing beyond sight of a familiar coast. Losing sight of landmarks. Heading into the unknown.
I sat on the sofa, pushing at the files so that they spilled across the floor. I put my head in my hands. I was in my PJs, pink shorts and a t-shirt, my hair loose. My fingers found the old scar under my eye. Then the faint white lines across my forearm.
Carl was silent. His anger spent. I heard him get up from his desk and felt him sit down on the sofa next to me. He put his arm around my shoulders. It didn’t comfort me as once it had. But I leaned into him, letting my head rest on his shoulder. It was an automatic movement. It brought me no comfort.
“I’m sorry. I was the one picking a fight. I shouldn’t have got so out of shape about something so trivial.”
“I’m sorry too.” I mumbled.
He kissed my forehead. I let him hold me for a moment.
“I better check on Vicky.” I said, giving myself a reason to disengage.
“OK. Sarah, tonight...”
“Don’t, Carl. Please. I don’t want to fight. But I can’t just switch off how I feel.” I was being honest with him.
“Ok.” He put up his hands defensively. “I’ll stay in the guest room if that’s what you want. I just...”
I knew what he just. He just wanted me to tell him when everything would be ok again. Bastard.
His eyes lingered on my breasts and then my bare legs. Bastard. Do you not understand anything? How can you expect intimacy where there’s no trust?
“I’m going to check on Vicky.” I said flatly, folding my arms protectively around myself.
Carl gave a disgusted snort as I left the room. “Fine. I’ll just stay here and flog myself some more. Just let me know when you think I’ve been punished enough.”
I ignored the comment. Vicky wasn’t in the kitchen. I headed for the stairs, to go up to her room. Suddenly the porch light came on, shining in through the side windows flanking the door. There was a loud bang, as though someone had kicked the door. Then the sound of running footsteps and the screech of a car pulling away at speed.
I approached the door slowly, feeling particularly vulnerable half naked as I was. Carl came out of his office.
“What the hell was that?”
“Have you got your phone?” I asked.
He patted his pocket and looked back into the office.
“Get it,” I ordered, moving to one of the windows beside the door and peering out. I could see something lying on the porch. Something white and flat. It looked like an envelope. The porch light winked out.
“Mom? Was that someone at the door?” Vicky was at the top of the stairs. “I saw a car outside.”
“Go back to your room, honey.” I said as I moved to the door.
“No, I want to see.”
Carl was still standing there in the door to his office.
“Carl, take Vicky to her room please?” I asked, keeping my voice level but trying to tell him with my eyes how urgent this was. He finally got it.
“Come on, sweetheart,” he said casually, heading up the stairs. But Vicky dodged around him and came down as I opened the door a crack.
There was a white paper envelope on the porch, a breeze tickled at the corners, but something was weighting it down in the middle. I crouched and reached out, taking hold of a corner of the paper and pulling it towards me. There was a bullet on top of it.
Taking a breath, I scooped up paper and bullet in one movement and shut the door. Vicky was crowding close, trying to get a look. I showed her the blank white envelope while keeping the bullet hidden in my hand.
“See? It’s nothing. Just a letter. Probably a courier driver. I get urgent documents dropped off all the time.” I told her.
“But Mom. They usually make you sign. You can’t leave legal stuff on the porch like that.”
I gave her a quick hug. She’s sharp as a tack. “Sometimes the couriers just don’t do their jobs right,” I lied.
Vicky pulled away, looking from me to Carl suspiciously. “I know something’s going on, Mom. You can’t keep stuff from me. I’m not a little kid.”
“Nothing’s going on honey,” Carl said reassuringly.
Vicky gave him a flat look of utter disbelief.
“Is this to do with that...guy...the one that took you hostage?” She asked in a voice smaller than the bravado she showed outwardly.
“You mean, my brother, Jason,” I said, naming him to take away the sense that he was some kind of bogeyman. “No, he’s dead. He got shot by police.”
How much more worry will I be putting on her if she thinks she’s being kept in the dark? What might she imagine is happening?
I knew what the envelope contained. There had been similar deliveries to my offices and a couple of occasions where I had been physically threatened, even attacked. But I had believed Jason to be behind those threats.
Carl knew me well enough to see the internal debate I was having.
“Sarah...” He began in a warning tone.
“It’s not...is it...like divorce papers?” Vicky asked, looking from me to Carl with wide eyes. “India said her dad got papers delivered to him and they were divorce papers from her mom.”
“No, it isn’t,” I said, putting my arms around her and hugging her. I decided there and then. She needs to know we’re not hiding anything, and she needs to know it’s being dealt with and is under control. I opened the envelope. Inside was a mismatched message comprising words and letters cut from newspapers and magazines. It spelled out a crude insult and a threat to my life.
“There.” I showed it to Vicky. “It’s some person I’ve prosecuted and had locked up. A bad man or woman who can’t accept justice and thinks they can frighten us.”
Carl threw up his hands. “I don’t believe you sometimes, Sarah! I really don’t. Why the hell would you show this to an eleven-year-old?”
“Because it’s nothing, Carl. Its empty threats from someone who can’t do any more than pay some loser to drop this at our door. They don’t have the power to actually hurt me. Or they would have done that instead of delivering this.”
I waved the paper. Vicky reached for it, looking at it with a frown. She picked out a particular word.
“That’s not how you spell that. Jeez, Mom. Who are these morons?”
I looked where he was pointing and couldn’t help but laugh. “And how exactly do you know how to spell that word?”
Vicky arched an eyebrow. I took the paper back, putting it back into the envelope.
“I’ll report this in the morning and Larry will send it over to the police.”
Carl was glaring daggers at me, but I was looking at Vicky.
“Does this worry you?” I asked.
“Does it worry you?” she replied.
“Nope,” I said with conviction.
“Ditto. Can we finish the cupcakes please?”
And just like that, it’s over for her. I wish I could do that.
I followed her into the kitchen, ignoring Carl’s impotent seething anger. No more fighting tonight, Carl. Please. As I passed him, I reached out to take his hand, a peace overture, an invitation to join us. He pulled away and stomped into his office, slamming the door.
I woke in a sweat and with a gasp on my lips. It was the same dream that had plagued me during the nights when I didn’t just take sleeping pills. A dream of Jason and being held hostage in the Marshall County Courthouse.
Except in this dream Lee tried to be a hero and got shot. The echoes of the dream reverberated inside me, leaving an anxious feeling. I lay in Vicky’s bed, my daughter curled up beside me, I stared up at the ceiling and took deep breaths, trying to dispel the bad feeling it had left behind it. The sense of loss was particularly acute.
How many nights now? Seven? Ten? I got some advice from the shrink about dealing with PTSD. I didn’t even listen, I just wanted her to sign me off so I could get back to work. The only nights I hadn’t been troubled had been when I took sleeping pills. I hadn’t last night, Vicky and I had stayed up watching MTV until she had fallen asleep and I had stayed in her room. It had felt safe there. I couldn’t face the big empty bedroom Carl and I hadn’t shared for a while now.
Vicky stirred blearily, my phone on the floor next to the bed showed just after six. I stroked her hair and she snuggled into her pillow, never quite awake. I gave myself another moment with her. Another moment when I was just a mom and nothing else. Not a wife. Not an attorney. Not an alcoholic or a survivor of abuse. Just Vicky’s mom.
It was nearing six thirty before I rose, quietly leaving Vicky’s room and going down the hall to my own room. I was thirty minutes out of my routine. The run would have to go this morning. No time for it. I showered and went to Carl’s office. Snores rippled out of the small bedroom, once Vicky’s, at the back of the house. Now the guestroom and Carl’s bedroom.
In leggings, a baggy sweatshirt and with hair tied up behind a tribal print scarf I took a steaming mug of coffee through to Carl’s office. It was Monday, Vicky would need rousing in about half an hour. Carl would be up around the same time. One of us would take Vicky to school.
I let work absorb me for half an hour until I heard Carl stirring, calling on Vicky. Heard her grumpy reply. I used the smart speaker to drop into her room, adding my own voice to the dawn chorus and singing a song, deliberately off-key until I heard feet on the floor. Same every morning. She’s like a bear with a sore tooth. Takes after her father.
Something about the routine was comforting. Is that why I’m still with him? Is it just too comfortable? My phone beeped. Seven thirty. Breakfast and family time before Vicky goes to school at eight. Carl put his head around the door, already in his university polo shirt and slacks, sandals on his feet, looking every inch the hipster professor.
“I’ll take her today. I know it’s your turn, but I have to do some teaching today, so I want to get in early to prep.”
So casual. So ordinary. Like there was nothing between us to be resolved. And I’m complicit.
“Sure. That’s ok.”
Revise the schedule. Head out with Carl and Vicky. Get to the office by eight forty-five. I got up and headed for the kitchen. Vicky was tumbling downstairs in her uniform, already deep into her phone. Carl plucked it out of her hands as she passed.
“Family time. Not phone time,” he said, not unkindly.
“You know the rules kiddo.” I said supportively, when she started her daily protest. “Five minutes for some toast and some juice and to tell us about your day.”
“Jeezo Mom. I’m not six anymore.” She muttered, taking a seat on a stool at the breakfast bar.
Carl served coffee and we ate together, or rather Vicky wolfed some toast, drained her orange juice and ran through a breakneck rundown of her day before putting out her hand for her phone. As she did so, my own phone began to chirp. She looked victorious.
I let her go and went back into the study to check my phone. It was Larry Croix-Toney, Silver City District Attorney. My boss. I checked the time. Seven fifty. Ten minutes too early for work.
“Larry.” I answered.
“Morning, Sarah. Sorry, to disturb you so early. But someone saw fit to disturb me even earlier.”
“No problem, Larry. What’s the emergency?”
“I’ve been asked to assign you to a sexual assault case. Quite a bad one. The victim is daughter to Dagher Macey? Chief Dagher Macey? You get it?”
“I get it.”
“Seems she was always a fan of yours, but the Krazinski case really set you apart in her eyes.”
“Ok, Larry. Who am I working with at SCPD?” I ran through a list of detectives with experience of these cases. But the name Larry gave me wasn’t one of them.
“Lieutenant Black,” Larry answered significantly.
“Lee? He’s Homicide. Why is he being assigned a sex attack case? They have specialists for that.”
“He was asked for specifically. I know the two of you have worked together before. I’ll let you tell him. I expect you on the case from...well, now basically.”
I hadn’t worked with Lee for two months. Not since the Miranda Miller case. He was the best. There was no question about who I would choose if I had my pick of Silver City’s Detective Bureau. The sudden anxiety I felt had nothing to do with his ability to do the job. I had missed him. And that was frightening.
Get it together Sarah. Control.
“Yes. I’ve got his cell number. I’ll give him a call. Send me the case details.”
“Already in your inbox. Assign your assistants to handle your casework for the rest of the week. I’m under pressure to turn this one around. Chief Macey wants to see you both at HQ by nine.”
“Understood.” I had found Larry’s email and begun opening the attached files, scanning and absorbing the contents. “I’ll get back to later today.”
I hung up and then paused in the act of hitting Lee’s number. Purely professional, Sarah. I dialed.
“Hello?” A female voice answered.
For a moment I was lost. “Hello, may I speak to Lee please?”
“Sure.” Came the voice. It sounded young. Younger than me anyway.
“Lee? There’s a Sarah on the phone for you.” I heard the woman calling out.
I found myself blushing. What did you expect? Lee is no monk. Get a hold of yourself.
“Sarah.” Came Lee’s deep voice, Georgia drawl a subtle undertone. “You start work early these days.”
“Sorry, Lee. Don’t know why I didn’t even...I just got a call from Larry Croix-Toney. We’ve been tapped to investigate a sex attack. Dagher Macey’s daughter.”
“Shee-it.” Lee whistled. “Two sugars for me, darlin’” He said, clearly talking to whoever was with him. “So, I’m guessing I’m being called in early.”
“Yes. I’m afraid so. We’ve got a briefing with Chief Macey at nine. You want to meet at Headquarters?”
“Sure. I’ll call Hal on the way in. He was working on the Halloran case with Macon, should be free now and desperate to work with a real cop again.”
“It’s good to be working with you again, Lee.”
“Well, now I hope you ain’t fishing for compliments, Counselor. I don’t need to tell you I always jump at a chance to work with the best.”
“So, you do.”
“Damn straight. I’ll get my ass into gear. Meet you at HQ in, thirty minutes. I’ll put on my Sunday best. See you.”
I ended the call feeling foolish for intruding and angry at feeling foolish. He’s nothing to me but a colleague. A damn good detective. It shouldn’t matter who he sleeps with.
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