About the book
Concealed corruption disguised as a crime of passion...
Robin Lane thought she was done with murder cases. She has her time off planned out; family, holidays, and rest. And it alls seems to be working out. Until the day she gets a fateful call from Charlotte, her partner, who is being arrested for the murder of her abusive ex-husband.
Now, Robin is stuck in a hopeless game of danger with no way of knowing the truth. What happens when she finds out Charlotte hides dark secrets? And what happens when this case turns out to be bigger than anyone ever thought?
It takes me more than a few minutes to realize what the noise is. The rumbling noise invades my dreams for a short while, and when I reenter the waking world, I find the noise is approaching my room. It sounds like a train is thundering through my head. As the fog leaves my brain, the noise quietens until it is a gentle thrum.
Silence for a brief moment before the rumbling returns. I hope that it will cease, but after the third stop and start, I know that it is going to be something important. I get up from the bed, peeling my face from the sheets, my pillow nowhere to be found, and stumble my way to the kitchen table where my phone is lit up.
I look down at the screen.
I hit the button and bring the phone to my ear. Landis starts shouting into the phone, and I take it away from my head, the headache screaming through my mind. When he stops shouting, I bring the phone back.
“Again, Landis, but a little quieter this time.”
“Kit is here, and he’s going off on me. He’s been thrown out by Debbie for fighting, and he’s going off on me!”
There is obvious frustration in Landis’s voice.
“Wait, why is he there? He was fighting?”
“He got in a fight in the bar last night, and Debbie chucked him out. Does that give him a right to go off on me? I don’t tell him how to live his life, do I?”
“Hold on, hold on.” I take a breath, trying to make sense of the situation. “Just…I’ll be over in twenty minutes. Can the two of you try to keep it civil until then?”
“I can’t promise anything.”
“I will try; I can’t be responsible for Kit.”
That was as good as I was going to get. “I’ll be there soon.”
I hang up the phone and go and look at myself in the bathroom mirror. Considering my lack of a decent sleep last night, I don’t look half bad. I pull my hair back and tie it into a ponytail before splashing some water over my face, freshening me up a little.
It’s the weekend, so I change into a pair of tan pants and a thin sweater, something casual but not too casual, and I am on my way, dreading what I am about to walk into.
“Come on in,” shouts Kit. I can’t see him from the doorway, but I know my brother’s voice.
Landis stands in the doorway. His eyes are wide, and I can tell exactly how he is feeling from the look on his face and the way that his shoulders are tensed up.
“Come on in, Robin,” Landis says with a slight smile on his face. That smile immediately puts me a little more at ease. This is not the first time that Kit has ended up at Landis’s house, and it sure won’t be the last. I wonder if Landis remembers Kit taking care of him when they were little. Kit was already eleven when Landis was born. If he does, then maybe this is his way of repaying his older brother, even if he doesn’t realize it.
“Am I here as a lawyer or a sister?” I ask.
“Sister, hopefully,” says Landis. “Though, you never know.”
Landis leads me through to the living room, and Kit is sat on the couch with a wide grin on his face. He is also sporting a fresh black eye. I hold his gaze for a few seconds, and the smile disappears. His eyes change too. There was defiance when I stepped into the room, but it quickly converts to shame. Kit looks away and down at his feet, and I know that he is ready to talk.
“So?” I let the question hang in the air and then follow it up with, “What happened?”
“Some guy punched me,” says Kit.
Landis scoffs behind me, and Kit’s gaze flickers from me to Landis before coming back to me again.
“You want to tell me the real story?” I ask.
Kit shrugs his shoulders as if it’s no big deal. “There was a guy in the bar last night who was selling drugs. Or, he might have been. He was doped up to his eyeballs.”
I fold my arms across my chest. “What is it about people taking matters into their own hands?”
“Huh?” Kit looks up at me as if he is waiting for some revelation.
“Nothing. So, what, you witnessed a drug deal going down? This guy tried to sell drugs to you, and you took it personally? Someone overdosed in the bar?”
“No. I mean, you’re twisting what I’m saying. He just…” Kit looks over at Landis quickly. “He was selling drugs, alright?”
“And fighting.” I can almost hear the smile on Landis’s face as he speaks, but I don’t turn around.
“You should have seen him when I was done with him,” says Kit.
I sigh and walk over to the couch, sitting down beside my older brother, the person who I am supposed to go to when I am in trouble or need a dose of wisdom. His eye looks swollen. I know that his heart is in the right place, even if he doesn’t go about it the right way.
“And Debbie?” I look him in the eye, genuinely concerned for my older brother.
“Yeah, she threw me out again.”
“She was at the bar with you?” I look over to Landis and motion with my head for him to sit down instead of towering over us as if he is a complete angel himself.
“No. When I got home, and she saw the shiner on my face, and she blew her top.”
“It’s not the first time you've gone home with a bruised face.”
“We’re just… going through some things right now. I love her; she knows that.”
“She’ll come around,” I say, hoping that I’m right. “She just needs time to cool down, and you need time to think how you are going to make this up to her.”
“She’s…” Kit shakes his head and looks away.
“So, now that we know the reason you are here,” I say, trying my best to ignore the headache that begins erupting in the back of my head, “do you want to tell me why the two of you can’t be in the same room without it turning into a shouting match?” I look from Kit to Landis, but neither seems willing to speak anymore. “Okay, I’m out of here. I have better things to do.”
“I was gracious enough to open my home to him.” Landis stands back up, gesturing wildly with his arms. “I open my home, and he just can’t keep his mouth shut. I don’t judge how he lives.”
“You do.” Kit throws in his two cents, and I turn to glare at him.
“I gave him a place to sleep for the night,” continues Landis. “Yet, he can’t help himself from having a go at me.”
“Just some constructive criticism,” says Kit.
“Oh, real constructive.” Landis takes a step forward, but he is at a loss of what to do. “You want to tell Robin what you said? Maybe without all the cussing.”
“Well, he's wasting his life away, that’s all. He could have so much more if he just got out there and found a good woman,” says Kit.
Landis shakes his head. “If you had put it like that, then maybe I wouldn’t have been so pissed off with you. You told me that I spend all my time online, probably creeping on women, or spending my time on those websites where guys complain about how women don’t like them because they are too nice.”
“Could this have something to do with the fact that you had just come from beating up a guy who was high and got no thanks for it?” I ask, turning back to Kit.
“He wasn’t just high, he was out of his mind, and he was probably a dealer. And I don’t need any thanks.”
“I just want Debbie to know that I’ll provide for her, protect her.” Kit’s eyes are glistening, and I’m not sure I have seen my brother as emotional as he is right now.
I move over to the couch and put my arm around him. “Do you think that you were upset about your own life and not about Landis’s?”
“Maybe,” concedes Kit.
“Case solved!” shouts Landis.
“Hey, where are you going?” I shout as Landis walks off towards the kitchen. “I’m not finished with you.”
“What?” Landis shouts. He returns a few seconds later with a glass of orange juice.
“Do you think that maybe he has a point?” I ask.
“What?” asks Landis again, and my patience starts to wear thin. I’ve had better responses from people in court, and they were stupid enough to get caught for the crimes they committed.
“Don’t you think that he has a point about your life? What is it you do online every day, anyway?”
“Not what he’s saying, Robin.” Landis paces across the room and back again.
“So?” I ask.
“I don’t know. I play games, some online betting. The usual stuff.”
“The usual stuff?” asks Kit. “I don’t know about any of that. Kids play games online.”
“See how he treats me, Robin?” Landis paces the room again.
I get up from the couch and walk over to the window, opening the curtains. I’ve gotten used to the smell in the room, and that is definitely not a good thing. I have to admit that Landis could take care of his place a little better and that it wouldn’t hurt to go outside more, but he needs to come to that conclusion himself.
“I can’t believe that we come from the same mother.” I open the window, letting in some fresh air. “I really don’t need this. The weekends are supposed to be relaxing, and I have two brothers going at it. Can we all just step back from this mistaken sense of justice? Kit, if you want to get Landis out of the house, why don’t you invite him out for a beer. Maybe he can stop you from descending into bar brawls each time that you go out.”
“I was just—”
Kit does not get to finish his sentence before I shoot him a glare. He nods his head, and I look to Landis, who only shrugs. That is as good as I’m going to get.
I walk back over to the couch and sit down. The headache is starting to dissipate, and I am starting to feel like myself again. There is still tension in the air, but I know it will eventually simmer. They have had their differences in the past, but blood has always been thicker than water.
“You want an orange juice?” asks Landis.
“Yeah, that would be nice,” I say.
Landis turns to Kit and does not say anything, but he does raise his eyebrows and stare at his brother.
“Sure,” says Kit.
Landis goes off to the kitchen, and Kit and I sit there in silence. I am about to ask him what he is hiding from the two of us when I feel the phone vibrate in my pocket. I do not recognize the number and for a moment, think about not answering, but I do.
“Robin? Is that you?”
“I need your help, Robin. They’ve arrested me. They think that I killed him.”
16 Hours Earlier
“It’s so good to be out again,” says Charlotte.
“Yeah, it really is, Charlotte.” I take another drink of the beer from the bottle, the fizz making up for the lack of taste; Charlotte is staring at me with an amused look on her face. It could be that she is trying to work me out, or it could be the four beers that she has finished.
“Girl’s night out!” The outburst pops out of nowhere, and I almost burst out laughing as Charlotte shouts it. She raises her hand to order two more beers, and I do not object. “She’s never lost a case, Your Honor!” Charlotte addresses the barman as if he is a judge.
I burst out laughing as she waves her hands around in the air, and I almost choke on my beer. The bar is mostly empty, but I’m tipsy enough not to care about her making a scene.
Charlotte brushes the hair away from her eyes, a glean of sweat appearing on her forehead. “That first case, though?”
I can feel her probing me for more, and I don’t really feel like sharing. My first case back in this town was a murder case. I started big, and it was all downhill from there, in terms of excitement, at least. Charlotte is still staring at me, and I know that I cannot escape her.
“Again, luck. I was new to the town, took a case that no one else wanted, and it happened to go my way.”
Charlotte snorted. “Read about him. This ‘Altar Boy.’ Some piece of work he was. You know, it’s cases like that, that make you really think. I’m not advocating for that sort of punishment, but he did get what was coming to him, and I only got what I read in the newspapers. You probably heard a lot worse.”
“Yeah,” is all I can manage.
“I’m glad she didn’t do it. Though a part of me kind of wishes that she did. There are some people out there who deserve to get what’s coming to them. Sometimes you have to take things into your own hands.”
“What are you talking about?” Charlotte was starting to scare me. I lower my voice and look around the bar. “You can’t go around saying things like that.”
“Who cares who hears me! In this day and age, we women have to look out for ourselves or we are going to be walked all over. Some men think that they can do whatever they want without any consequences.” Charlotte stands up from her barstool, and I try to tug on her sleeve to pull her back down, but she is surprisingly strong for a woman so petite. “Do you hear that! You men go around thinking that you are in charge, but you better be careful of us, or we are going to take matters into our own hands.” Charlotte eventually sits back down on the stool. “Justice.”
“Justice?” I ask. “That’s your closing statement? You go off on a rant, and you want to finish this by stating ‘justice?’”
Charlotte bursts into giggles, and I cannot help but smile too. I look around again, and no one is paying attention to us.
My mind goes back to the moment when Dona told me the truth. She had been found not guilty, but the truth was that she had done it, and she was proud of it.
I still feel like a fraud. I’ve been caught up in criminal activity before, but I’ve always tried to do the right thing. I defended her tooth and nail in that case, and I thought that justice had won, and maybe it had, in a way, but not in the way that I wanted it. I could tell Charlotte, and she would probably applaud the fact. That wouldn’t help me. Justice was a funny thing when you really thought about it.
“I’ve missed you,” I say. I try not to think about Dona, but it is hard. I replay the case over and over in my mind, trying to work out how she fooled everyone, including me. I used to think that I was cautious. I’m not so sure anymore.
“You are so sweet,” says Charlotte.
I remember when we used to drink together in law school. She could handle her drink a lot better back then, and so could I. We’d have no problem drinking all night and then going to school early the next morning. As it stands, I already know that I’m going to regret this tomorrow.
Charlotte gets up from her stool and gives me a big hug. It really is good to see her, and I hold onto this woman, again noticing that she is a lot stronger than she looks. That goes for what is inside as well as outside. She was tenacious as a law school student, and I know that she must be the same as a lawyer.
“We need to do this more often,” says Charlotte.
“Yeah, we do.” I truly mean that. I always enjoyed hanging out with Charlotte when we were in school, but we fell apart when I moved away to do my own thing, if helping some crooked politicians can be classed as doing your own thing. I had always planned to get in contact with her, but life has a way of throwing your plans out of the window.
It had taken coming back to this town for us to rekindle our past relationship. I take a quick glance at my watch; it’s not yet ten.
“Do you need to go?” asks Charlotte.
“No, no,” I say, though I should try to get more sleep at night. “Wasn’t sure what time it was; time flies and all that. Let’s not talk about work anymore. We are supposed to be on a night out, right? We are supposed to be having fun, so work talk stops, and definitely no talk about justice.” I whisper the last part, though Charlotte is probably right about no one in the bar caring.
“You are so right.” Charlotte flashes a large smile, and I can see why men like her so much.
“So, what else is new with you?”
“Well, I did go on a date recently. Just someone that I met online, but there might be something there. I don’t know.” Charlotte brushes her hair away from her eyes again and takes another swig of her beer. She suddenly looks a little nervous.
“You like this guy, don’t you?” I ask.
“Yeah.” Charlotte takes a longer chug of her beer this time. “I mean, I don’t know, alright. What’s with the third degree? We are supposed to be taking a break from work, right?”
“Seems like a pretty open and shut case to me. I don’t need to do much digging to find out that Charlotte Jackson is in love!”
Charlotte bursts out laughing and spits beer all across the bar. “I am not in love! You are…you are evil sometimes, and it is going to catch up to you. He was sweet, that was all. He treated me well, like a woman.”
“That’s good, because, last I checked, you were a woman,” I say.
“I don’t know whether to laugh or cry with you, Robin. You know what I mean though. As a woman, you get treated a certain way. Especially so as a female lawyer. We both know that we are not treated equally. If only I could dose out some justice.”
“Will you stop talking about justice, Charlotte. As your lawyer, I instruct you to keep quiet and say nothing more. Don’t want you to incriminate yourself.”
Charlotte smiles and looks down at the floor. “You know what I mean.”
“I do,” I admit. “It’s hard to navigate this world, especially in a small town, but, just for the record, will you please tell me that you are not going to take justice into your own hands.”
“Sure,” replies Charlotte, drawing out the word.
“Come on; I need to hear you say it.”
Charlotte smiles and stares at me, but I am not going to let her off that easily. Finally, she says, “Okay, okay. I promise that I am not going to take matters into my own hands, even if someone deserves it.”
“We trust in the process, right?” I ask, not trusting in it myself.
“We trust in the process,” repeats Charlotte.
“Good.” I down the last of the bottles, and Charlotte does the same. Without having to say it, we both know that the night has come to an end.
“I really did enjoy this, Charlotte. I’ve not been in contact with many people since I came back to town, and it’s nice to have a friend.”
“Friend?” Charlotte stands up with her hands in the air, palms facing me. “Whoa, slow down there. Buy a lady some dinner first.”
“Well, I gave it my best shot,” I say. “So long, stranger.”
We both descend into fits of laughter again, and Charlotte grabs me again for a hug. Someone shouts for us to get a room, and I roll my eyes. It’s time to leave.
The outside air is cool, and the freshness of it begs me to walk home. My apartment is not far, so I bid Charlotte farewell, helping her into a cab, and then I take a deep breath and walk.
The moon is out, and I can feel the threat of a hangover slowly slipping away. It’s the weekend. There’s no way that I would drink so much if I had work the next morning; I can’t afford to do that anymore.
When I get home, I fumble with my key in the lock and realize that I might be drunker than I thought I was. The fridge in my kitchen offers me little, and I pop a cherry tomato in my mouth before pouring a large glass of water. It won’t cure my hangover, but it will lessen it.
My phone lights up, and it is a selfie of Charlotte making a ‘kissy’ face at the screen. I send back a heart emoji and toss my phone on the kitchen table before going to bed. I stretch out and feel sleep coming for me, and the promise of a peaceful weekend. It’s nice to have Charlotte in my life again.
Driving down to the station, I still can’t believe that Charlotte has been arrested. It has been less than a day since I was with her. There is no way that she could have gotten herself into this much trouble, no way.
It is getting warm, and I turn on the air conditioning in my car. There was no time to go home and change, and I left straight from Landis’s house to go visit Charlotte. She has not yet officially hired me, but there is no way that I can say no. My recent cases had been pretty dull, but this is not what I wanted.
I park, paying the exorbitantly high parking fee, and stride up to the building. They know me in there, and when I enter, someone immediately motions for me to take a seat. The waiting area has an aroma hanging over it. I want to say that it is desperation and hope, but it is more likely sweat and a mix of perfume and cologne as if each person’s scent has stuck around to mingle with the others while the person has gone off to jail or freedom.
After a short wait, an officer comes to get me, and I am led to a holding room. Charlotte sits behind a small table, and she looks how I felt when I woke up. She perks up when I enter the room and stares up at me with the hint of a smile on her face. I’ve seen that smile many times before.
I wait for the officer to leave, and then I sit down on the opposite side of the table and stare at her for a moment. “You know how this works, Charlotte. So, tell me whether or not you did it, and we can start there.”
“You know I didn’t,” says Charlotte.
“I don’t know anything, so just give it to me straight. Did you kill him?”
Charlotte looks at me for a long time as if the answer should be obvious to me, but she eventually relents. “No, I did not kill my ex-husband.”
“Good. Let’s take it from the beginning, shall we?” I take out a notebook and set it on the table, clicking my pen.
“So, are you going to defend me?” Charlotte has a look on her face that tells me that she was not even sure if I was going to come or not.
I offer her a small smile even though I don’t much feel like smiling. I’ve learned from experience that the innocent and guilty will both claim their innocence to the bitter end. It’s always better to wait for the facts before making a decision.
The smile seems to help, and Charlotte visibly relaxes, sitting up a little straighter and placing her hands on the table. “I did not do it. I swear to you, Robin. He may have been a moron, but I didn’t want him dead.”
“From the beginning,” I say. “What happened last night after you got in the cab?”
“I went straight home to bed.”
“Give me a play-by-play. Humor me, will you?” I start writing the main points down in the notebook as Charlotte continues.
“I got in the cab, and the driver took me home. No detours or anything like that. It must have been close to eleven-thirty when I got home; I can’t say for sure.”
“If I call the cab company and talk to the driver, they will confirm that?” I ask.
I take in Charlotte’s mouth and eyes as she speaks. I’m no body language expert, but she seems relaxed and composed and does not look to be hiding anything.
“After that? You went straight in, or did you go for a walk or anything of that sort?” I ask.
“I went straight inside. I grabbed some chips and a glass of wine and watched TV for half an hour, maybe. Another glass of wine in bed, and I was asleep soon after.”
“Alone?” I ask.
“Yeah, alone. I don’t have an alibi for the time I got to my apartment to the time they turned up hammering at my door.”
“And what time was that?”
Charlotte looks up at the corner of the room. Without turning around, I know that there is a camera up there recording the visuals but not the audio. The room is built to look sterile, but it really isn’t. The walls have been scratched up with pins and nails. The floor is littered with grooves from chairs being moved in and out of the table. The table itself has worn down over time. It would have looked sterile when it was first built but now, it just looks old.
“Seven,” says Charlotte.
“Do you know when he was killed?” I ask.
“They came for you quick.” I have not had a chance to look at any of the paperwork, and I am sure they won’t have an exact time of death yet, but if it is earlier in the evening, then the case will be over before it begins. If not, then we have some work to do.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought too. I don’t know anything about what they found other than Lewis being dead. No idea how it happened, when, where, nothing. Do you think that he was murdered?”
“There has to be some reason why they came for you so quickly, but, don’t worry, I’ll find out. Seeing that they arrested you so early this morning, may actually help your case. Sniffs of desperation to me.”
“I’ve never been on this side of the desk before,” says Charlotte. “I can’t even think what I would ask myself. There are a million thoughts running through my mind, and I keep assuring myself that I have nothing to worry about, but what if? I’ve seen it more times than I can count, and I know that you have too. What if I still get put away for this even though I’m innocent?”
I put the pen down on the top of the open notebook and fold my arms. There is a slight chill running through the room, and I am suddenly cold. I wrap my arms tighter and take Charlotte in again. She looks smaller than she did the previous evening, as if they took away her spirit when she was arrested. She had a petite strength about her, but sitting in the chair on the opposite side of the table, she looks crumpled, folded. There’s a shell there, but whatever was inside has since disappeared.
“How are you holding up?” I ask.
Charlotte sighs. “You know.”
I look at her across the table. I do not know. I have not been on that side of the table either. I cannot imagine what she is going through. I look at Charlotte and tilt my head to the side, my eyes widening a little.
“It is hard,” says Charlotte finally. “I can’t believe that he is actually dead. I mean, I hated him, but I never wished this on him. He was horrible to me, and not just to me. Could this have been another woman? One that he was with more recently?”
“Let’s not speculate,” I say. “Look, I believe you when you tell me that you didn’t kill him, but you were acting strangely at the bar last night. Do you not remember talking about justice and all that?”
“I was joking about taking matters into my own hands. I wouldn’t actually do it,” says Charlotte. “I was drunk and angry.”
“That’s a dangerous combination.”
“What? Are you interrogating me now? Are you going to go tell them out there?” Charlotte furrows her brows and looks away.
“If you are innocent, you have nothing to worry about,” I say.
“I am innocent.”
“You’ll be questioned a lot harsher than that. And, yes, if I am asked about our time together, I’m not going to lie for you. If you are innocent, then you tell the truth and trust in the process, right?”
“Yeah, trust the process. Are you here to represent me or mock me?”
I look over at Charlotte, but she refuses to look back. She’s frustrated and annoyed and probably hungover, but she’s going to have to deal with much worse than this. I hope that she is innocent; I really do.
“When they find out your last steps, they’ll check who was in the bar and talk with everyone. From the way that you were shouting, I doubt that it will only be me who heard you saying that. At least you didn’t mention anything about your ex-husband. Though, it won’t look good that you were shouting about taking matters into your own hands right before he died. Well, I doubt that this will go to trial regardless. I’m here to make sure of that.”
“Yeah, I’m sorry.” Charlotte finally looks at me, and her features soften. She looks tired, but she looks more like herself again. I am not sure if reconnecting with Charlotte again was good timing or bad timing. I don’t really want to get caught up again in another murder case. The last one still has me doubting myself and my clients. I have to believe that she is innocent.
“I know that you are here to help me, and I appreciate that, I really do. So, you’ll take the case?”
“I’ll have you out of here before you know it. Unfortunately, there is not much that I can do right now. Do you know where the murder happened?”
“I really don’t know.”
“I’ll check out his house anyway. Do you know the address?”
Charlotte nods. “39 Windmere Street. It’s not far from here.”
“Okay.” I write the address down in my notebook. “Surname?”
“Harold. Lewis Harold.”
I write that down too. “I need to go and see what they have down there, and maybe we’ll have a better idea of what we are looking at. You just sit tight here. Oh, did they formally arrest you or detain you?”
“They just detained me, but I got the feeling that the arrest was coming sooner rather than later. You know, it was weird.”
That piqued my interest. “What was weird?” I pick up the pen again, ready to write anything down.
“I knew some of the officers who came to my apartment this morning. In this line of work, you get to know the faces and the names, but there was one kid, looked new, and didn’t seem to know what he was doing.”
“Anything I should know?”
“Everything was by the book. They told me why I was being detained, read me my rights, told me that I could call for a lawyer if I needed one. All the standard stuff. They even let me get changed, and there were no handcuffs or anything, no undue force.”
“What did he do?” I ask.
“It’s not what he did; it’s what he said. As we were going down the stairs, one of the officers was holding my arm. I felt the young one walking on the other side of me, and he leaned in so that he could whisper it to me.”
I write down ‘new officer?’ on my pad and underline it. I look back up at Charlotte for her to continue.
“He said, ‘You’re going down for this.’ Seemed like the usual cocky cop stuff, but there was a confidence there, too, like he knew something that tied me to the crime. I’m worried that someone has planted evidence. If he was so sure, what was he so sure about?”
I write down ‘what does he know?’ on my pad and underline that too.
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