About the book
Lawyer Laura Jones needs to find her missing son before it's too late.
Blackmailed into taking on a hopeless case, the decades-old secret she has been holding is threatening to spill to the public. The more she digs deeper into this new profound murder, the more complex it all becomes.
But little did she know, this is a town with crimson walls. Dark scandals that people pretend never happened and shocking tales relating to the case hide behind a carefully constructed mask. And Laura has to get to the bottom of this before her client is pronounced dead and her reputation is forever ruined.
“I’m going to kill you and your whole family.”
The voice was muffled. Male and tinged with excessive alcohol. I thought I recognized the voice despite the attempt at a disguise.
“Son of a…,” I exclaimed.
“What?” Bryan replied.
He looked confused but it was rapidly turning to anger. He had been talking when I had picked up the voice mail that had been waiting since the early hours of the morning. Now he feels like I’m ignoring him. He was standing in the doorway, hazel eyes the mirror of mine but now slitted with growing anger. Tousled brown hair had a hint of gold to it, not from me and neither was his height. That’s from the father that he’ll hopefully never meet.
“Know what, Mom? Forget it.” He snapped.
He slammed the kitchen door behind him as he left the room. I put my phone down on the kitchen counter, harder than I should but not caring at that moment. I shouldn’t have picked up my phone while he was trying to talk to me. How long have I been waiting for him to open up? But on the heels of that thought was a fresh wave of annoyance at the unfairness. I’ve just had a death threat!
I followed him. He was putting on his sneakers by the front door, his backpack was sitting by the door.
“Bryan!” His name came out too loud.
I took a breath, defusing myself. We can’t communicate if we’ve both lost our tempers.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have picked up my phone when you were trying to talk to me.” I said in a calmer tone.
“Forget it.” He replied sullenly, not looking up from tying.
“No. I won’t forget it. You were talking to me. Come on, pal.”
“I’m late.” He said.
“Not that late. Please, Bryan.”
He sighed, rubbing at his eyes in the way he always did when he was trying to get his emotions back under control.
“I’ve been trying to tell you something for a couple of days. There never seems to be a good time.”
I sat down on the stairs beside him, clasping my hands together between my knees. “Now’s a perfect time for me.”
“Yeah, as long as it’s the right time for you. You need to deal with your death threat.” Bryan said, standing and reaching for his bag. I grabbed it first. Childish, real childish but I’m not letting both of us start our day like this. I stood, turning the impulsive move into just helping him, holding out the strap for him to put his arm through, just like when he was a kid.
He saw it and smiled, though he tried to hide it. He shrugged the bag onto his shoulder.
“It’s nothing important. Seriously, a death threat?” He said.
“A drunk detective who didn’t come out of my last case too well. It’s nothing. I don’t want you to worry.” I assured him. “Now, what was it you’ve been wanting to tell me?”
He seemed to think about it. “About a week ago I started talking to this…girl online and…”
I knew my face had lit up and I fought to control the grin I could feel wanting to spread across my face. From childhood there had been nothing we couldn’t talk about. When he hit his teen years I knew the walls had been going up between us. I felt like I spent half my time trying to tear them down. Girls were a subject he was always reticent about.
He saw the gleam that I knew was in my eye.
“Stop.” He said, not completely seriously. “Don’t get excited.”
The grin burst through.
“Don’t get excited? Bryan, how can I not get excited? You never tell me about your girlfriends.”
“She’s not a girlfriend…”
“Not yet maybe.” I said. “So, tell me who this girl is. Where’s she from?”
Bryan looked pained. “Mom, come on! I’m talking here. I told you, I was talking to her and she…”
In the kitchen I heard a ring-tone. I looked towards the kitchen door, a reflex. Bryan’s face hardened.
“That’s what I thought.” He said and tore open the front door.
I felt my own anger rising. He’s so damn touchy! I didn’t actually do anything!. I wrenched open the door that he had shoved closed behind him and caught him starting the engine of the small foreign car I’d bought him to celebrate his graduation from high school. I was barefoot and in my sweats, not yet dressed for the office. My long brown hair cascaded around my face. It made me look like Medusa first thing in the morning, before it was tamed. I didn’t care about any of that.
Inside the car he rolled his eyes, hitting the steering wheel in frustration. Jensen Deville, the architect who lived next door was taking his garbage to the curb and was trying to watch the show without being caught. Again, I didn’t care.
“You’re not leaving like this.” I told Bryan, fighting to keep a reign on my temper.
Deep breath in through the nose. Out through the mouth. The rage is flowing out through your hands, through your feet into the ground. Out into the ether with your breath.
“Mom! Get out of the way. I’m gonna be late.” Bryan protested.
“No!” I said firmly, planting my feet. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have picked up my phone earlier. You are more important to me than work.”
“It doesn’t feel like that!” Bryan shot back.
He was like me. In the heat of the moment we could have been the only two people on earth for all the restraint we had. That’s the Jones fire, right there. My father’s legacy.
“I’m sorry. Come on, pal. You know the rule. We don’t leave on a fight. You don’t know what’s going to happen once you leave this house, to either of us. Please?”
Bryan looked away, visibly trying to calm himself. He punched the passenger seat a couple of times. “OK.” He finally said.
“It’s me and you against the world. Always has been and always will be.” It was something I had told him since he was small. I stepped to the side of the car, leaning in through the open window on the driver’s side. “I love you. Just take a minute to calm yourself, OK? This is your first week at college and I want you to start in the right way.”
“I know. I know.” He said, exasperated.
I was repeating myself, I knew it. But I couldn’t stop myself. I’m too much of a control freak. I have to actually let him live his life.
“You say the same things to me over and over.” Bryan complained. “I’m not a little kid…”
“I know you’re not…” I said, instantly regretting not letting him finish his sentence. He was looking straight ahead now, clenching his jaw.
I trailed off, giving him room to speak. But the moment was lost. His mouth was tight.
“I love you.” I repeated, wanting it to be the last thing he heard before he left.
“Love you too.” He mumbled finally. I took what I could get. I smiled and tried to lean into the open driver’s window to give him a kiss. But he was already driving away. Way to go Laura. Created a fight where there wasn’t one. I walked back into the house. Bryan’s anger was fiery but brief. It burned bright then was gone. So was mine. But he was a good boy and he was beginning a new chapter in his life.
I went back inside. The kitchen was minimalist, black floor tiles and white everywhere else. Chrome appliances. The effect was spoiled by the toast crumbs that had accumulated across the counter over the last week and the drops of orange juice on the glass topped table. My own anger began to simmer again when I saw the phone and was reminded about the drunken voicemail. I picked it up and called my boss, Kevin Hood.
“Kevin? It’s Laura. Sorry to call you so early but I didn’t think this could wait until I got into the office. I woke up to a death threat today, a voice mail on my cell. And it sounds to me like Detective Lyle Summers.”
There was a pause. Then Kevin’s deep, age darkened voice. “That’s the detective who was in charge of the Alice Hicks case.” It wasn’t a question.
“Yes, he’s clearly blaming me for his suspension.”
“From what I’m hearing, half the Everwood Police Department blames you for his suspension. At least the vets do,” came the reply. His voice was painted with years of cigars and experience in the court room. It was rich and resonant.
“He manipulated a vulnerable young woman, asked leading questions, intimidating her. I just stood up for her constitutional rights. I don’t deserve to be attacked for it.” I protested. The fire was alight in me once more and I went through my mantra. Breathing and imagining the molten anger flowing out of me.
“Calm yourself, Laura.” Kevin replied. “I’m on your side. The firm backs you one hundred per cent. I would have gone after him too. He’s corrupt and he’s getting what he deserves. Make sure you save the message and I’ll file a formal complaint.”
“Thanks Kevin.” I replied.
“I want to talk to you as soon as you get in. Might be a good idea to head in earlier than usual.” He continued. “I want to talk about a case with you.”
My curiosity was piqued. “Oh? What case? I thought I was going to be picking up the Hanson case next…”
“I’ve given it to Elise. I need you on something more high profile. Not going to discuss it over the phone. Get yourself in here and we’ll talk.”
The line went dead. That’s how conversations with Kevin always ended. No wasted breath. I had an idea of the case he was talking about. There was one that had made the headlines and word was that the suspect had rejected his court appointed attorney and at least one other. I felt cold inside.
If the firm was handling the defense of Hunter Watson, it was a ticking time bomb. And it could take my career with it.
My office was across town, a short drive from the leafy idylls of Hawthorne Hill with its turn of the century timber framed townhouses, of which mine was one.
The whole town nestled in a hollow among the Holland Hills, about one hundred miles south of Seattle. The mountains were visible everywhere, dark green with trees and often mysterious with ephemeral mists. They made me feel safe, hidden away. Everwood was a long way from Los Angeles.
I crossed on the Red Bridge over the Brandt river. Beyond was downtown, taller buildings of mostly red brick.
I used the journey time to prepare myself. I focused on the road, rolling by beneath me and used landmarks to count down. Denny’s Gas Station, push away the anger of my fight with Bryan. Red Bridge Cafe, push away the worries about Bryan skipping class. Everwood Auto Shop, push away the worry about the toxic case that I thought might be coming my way. With each step I felt calmness spread through me. Thank you, Jenny, for teaching me this. I could kiss you.
By the time I pulled up outside the offices of Hood, Kramer and Glass I was glacial. It was a four story redbrick building which sold advertising space on the windows of its third story, a floor used for record storage. It was flanked by the fire station on one side and a dry cleaners on the other. Across Mason Street from the office was a string of cafes and delicatessens, their owners fighting a constant but good natured war for customers with each other for the past decade.
Kevin Hood called it Heart Attack Alley; he was their best customer and never took the healthy menu option. Inside I greeted Carole Daly, the receptionist, who looked up at me from a book on social media marketing.
“How’s school?” I asked as I walked towards the door to the stairs.
“Good, thanks Laura. Mid-terms are coming up. Elevator’s out of order by the way.”
Thank god. “Keep at it, kiddo.”
I took the stairs, grateful not to have to hide my discomfort at using the elevator. Have to get past that, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. At the third floor I walked along the hall past the offices of the two other partners towards the door bearing Kevin’s name. Portraits lined the walls of the firm’s founders and the buildings it had occupied in its century of existence. Kevin’s executive assistant looked up as I approached her desk. She was the guardian of his time and privacy.
“Morning Laura.” She greeted me with a pretty smile that dimpled her cheeks. She was in her mid-fifties, having worked for Kevin for the last twenty years. But her smile always melted the years from her.
“Morning, Gretchen.” I replied. “He asked me to come straight up.”
“I know. But he’s got Alexander in there with him right now. While I’ve got you, do you have the files I need for the Hick’s case? I’ve got to get the month end billing over to the accountants today.”
I opened my briefcase and pulled out a sheaf of papers, glancing at Kevin’s door.
“He won’t be long.” Gretchen said. “You did a great job on this case, by the way. Kevin mentioned you at the partners’ meeting yesterday. Good job. Couldn’t have been easy.”
“It wasn’t. I got too involved. That always makes it harder.”
“I think that’s an asset. You’re passionate. This job isn’t just a transaction to you.” Gretchen replied. “I think that’s why you’re one of Kevin’s Associates. He likes the law to be a vocation.”
The doors opened revealing two men. One was tall, with a Roman nose and dark eyebrows beneath steel gray hair. His mouth turned down at the corners. He wore a double breasted suit with an ornate, gold tie pin. The other was in his shirt-sleeves. He wore dark green suspenders and his shirt strained over a bulky body. He was bald and had a creased face with sparkling blue eyes. The tall man walked away without a word. The other glared after him, his left hand absently caressing a large gold sovereign ring on his right finger.
“Laura, come in.” Kevin Hood said, without taking his glare from the back of the tall man. “Gretchen, no calls.”
I followed him into the room, glancing back once at the stork-like figure of Alexander Glass. I knew better than to ask. Kevin’s office was expansive, occupying a corner of the building, looking over the fire station at one side and Heart Attack Alley on the other. It was decorated with a jarring combination of southwestern native art and artifacts of the Old West. A portrait of a running horse dominated one wall. His desk was ancient as was the green leather chair into which he deposited himself.
I took the only seat in front of his desk, putting my briefcase beside me and crossing my legs. Here it comes.
“I’m giving you the Watson case.” He didn’t waste time asking if I’d heard of it.
I nodded, not giving any hint of the sinking feeling I now had. “I thought so,” I said.
Kevin grunted, folding his arms and resting them on the desk. “I knew you would. We both know this case is a poisoned chalice. Hunter Watson has fired three attorneys. A charity working on behalf of the family have approached us to defend him. The others got fired because they focused on mitigation instead of acquittal. That includes both Lambert and Locke. You understand the significance.”
It wasn’t a question. He expected me to read between the lines.
“Watson is black, and even the state’s most famed African American lawyers don’t think they can get an acquittal.”
“Even with their crusader’s record of winning impossible cases, they both wanted to try for plea bargains.”
“So, he came to us.” I said.
“The charity that’s helping him find representation came to us.” Kevin corrected.
He finally smiled, a wide beaming grin that never touched his eyes. “And I came to you.”
I didn’t voice the view that, in five years with the firm, I had never lost a trial case. That I had the best record of any lawyer in the firm, aside from Kevin Hood and Marilyn Kramer who had a combined half century of trial law between them. That Hunter Watson had already been tried and convicted in the public eye. We both knew how difficult this case would be. It just made me more determined.
“I won’t lie to you, Laura. I wanted someone else to take this case. I don’t think we can win. I’m damn sure we can’t win. But Alex got to Marilyn first and I got outvoted. Fucking politics. I can’t stand it.”
“It doesn’t matter, Kevin. I intend to win.”
It sounded like hopeless bravado but I meant it. I would be defending a black man who was accused of murdering a popular doctor well known for providing free consultations and treatment to the city’s most desperate inhabitants. He had in fact been found standing over the body with a gun in his hand, the murder weapon. He had violently attacked the man just hours earlier. And I was as excited as hell.
I left Kevin’s office with my heart racing. The exhilaration was beginning, the thrill of a new case. They were like puzzles, at the beginning seemingly impenetrable, but eventually the solution yielding itself. My mind whirled with the options in front of me. Review the case files in my office. No, obtain all the necessary interview transcripts and evidence from the police. No, I need to speak to Hunter Watson. First priority, meet the client, quickest way to buy into their innocence.
It was Jenny’s voice I heard giving that advice, deep and with an edge that came from a lifetime of nicotine abuse. Gray eyes that could see through me like she had x-ray vision. I needed to make Hunter’s innocence an immutable fact in my mind. He was accused and in America, he was entitled to legal representation. It was my duty to defend him and to do that, I had to believe he was innocent.
I jogged down the stairs back to the first floor. I strode quickly to my office, directly beneath Kevin’s. Doors to either side bore the names of the other five Associates who worked for the firm. Before I reached mine, I knocked at another door, opening it almost immediately.
“Nic, can I see you in my office?”
Nic Malone was in her mid-twenties. Her hair was fair and cut short, a mass of tousled curls held in place with hairspray and attitude. When I put my head around the door she had her feet up on her desk, eyes closed. They opened in a heartbeat as I opened the door, hooded and dark. She greeted me with a customary sardonic smile. Her lips were dark today, matching her nails.
“Shouldn’t you be working?” I asked.
“I was waiting for you.” She replied, her accent still clinging to Dublin though she’d lived in the States now for ten years. “Heard you’d been called in to see the Sheriff, figured you’d be looking for a wingman.”
“Looked like you were sleeping.” I said as I walked along the hall to my door, Nic following me. “Another late night?”
“No, actually. I was just walking through my memory palace. Reviewing some family law precedents.”
“I believe you.”
Nic wore a plain, dark suit as was prescribed in the firm’s rules, but in the office she wore a battered pair of sneakers, when she wasn’t just barefoot. She was a junior associate, had recently passed the state bar and often acted as my assistant. I trusted her completely, her capacity for memory was phenomenal. It made her invaluable. As I walked into my office I saw a man, in a gray suit with a royal blue sweater over his shirt, was perched on my desk scrolling through his phone. He looked up as we came in, his smile as false as his tan.
“Jesus, Neill what are you wearing?” Nic commented as she took a seat. “Did your mommy dress you this morning?”
Neill’s smile slipped a little as he glanced at Nic then turned his brilliant white teeth back in my direction. “I understand you’re taking on Hunter Watson. Congratulations.”
“Hunter Watson?! Sweet Jesus, what have you got us into?” Nic commented, looking at me. Her every comment produced a minute twitch in Neill Drummond’s facade of professionalism. Nic knew it, which was why she couldn’t keep her mouth shut in Neill’s presence.
“We’re busy, Neill. What can I do for you?” I said, impatiently.
I took a seat behind my desk, folding my hands and meeting Neill’s eyes.
“I’m going to be taking on a few of your cases. I’ve just emailed you the list, to free you up to focus on your…career kryptonite.” He said, smile flashing to a snarl towards the end.
Nic chuckled loudly. She had her phone in her hand, apparently absorbed.
“That’s good of you Neill. I’ll look over them and let you know if I need any help.” I told him, keeping my cool.
“Alexander’s instructions are to take over all…”
“Kevin didn’t give me any instructions. So, I’ll let you know if I’m struggling. Now, if you don’t mind?”
The smile was definitely becoming more feral but Neill smoothed his sweater and pulled on the lapels of his jacket. “Fine.” He said. “I’ll speak to Alexander.”
“Do I sense a power grab?” Nic commented after Neill had left.
“Neill is Alexander’s boy. Alexander doesn’t like that I have some of the firm’s prestigious clients. I wouldn’t be surprised if he hadn’t engineered this case coming to us so he can take them for himself under the guise of helping us out.”
“Over my dead body.”
“I imagine that would be Neill’s preferred option.” I said drily.
Nic laughed, a single overloud bark. Putting her phone away she leaned forward, hooded eyes sharp as fish hooks.
“So, what’s the plan, boss?”
“I need to meet with Hunter Watson. You need to get us everything the prosecution have. Transcripts of the police interviews, evidence. Everything. I know from the media coverage that Hunter didn’t make the bail required so he’s in the Stone. I’ll speak to the DA on my way out there, let her know we’re taking the case and find out exactly where we are in the court process. I’ll let her know you’ll be in touch for the evidence they’re holding.”
Stone Mountain Penitentiary was the nearest prison, known simply as the Stone. Nic gave a single nod, she didn’t take notes but I knew she was filing everything. I could see the exhilaration I was feeling reflected in her dark eyes. She doesn’t like being told what she can and can’t do any more than I do. That made me think of Bryan. How much trouble has he gotten himself into because he won’t be told? How much trouble do I get into for the same reason?
“Let’s move.” I told Nic. “We’re wasting daylight.”
She grinned and rose to leave as my phone rang.
“Laura Jo…” I began.
“Laura! It’s Carole in reception. Could you come out here please? I need…”
She cut off with a scream of terror followed by the crash of breaking glass.
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