A Megan Corver Legal Thriller
About the book
To prove her client’s innocence, she must serve her own head on a silver platter to a town stained with blood...
Megan Corver would rather drink her morning coffee without a side of murder. When the mayor’s ex-wife is found stabbed, she has to defend a young man from the worst charge imaginable. And in the process, she’s thrown right in the middle of a high-profile case and a family feud someone has been trying to bury…
Forced to recruit the help of the same town that hides her worst nightmares, things go downhill. Fast. When her client confesses his love for killing, this just might be the first case she will lose. But as the sound of bells announces a second murder, Megan quickly realizes that the target painted on her back reflects the one on her family as well...
“Morning, Jim!” I said, standing in the doorway of the Westby Police Department.
Westby’s chief of police looked up and squinted like he was looking into the sun, and his mouth hung slightly open — his customary expression. He was holding a cup of coffee, and had been talking to Paula, who worked the front desk. Paula was more than a secretary; she was the station’s five senses. Information in the world that needed the police’s attention came through her.
Jim continued to stare. He wasn’t wearing his glasses and it would take him a second to recognize me, but when he did he would — Yes, there it was: Jim Nixon’s famous smile. When Jim smiled his teeth didn’t show, but his mouth stretched open and his eyes crinkled up, disappearing into the deep creases surrounding them. Being smiled at by Jim was like being in on a joke, or sitting by a warm fire. If Paula was the station’s five senses, Jim was its heart.
“Look who the wind blew in,” Jim said. “Westby’s finest attorney. I was beginning to think you didn’t like us anymore.”
I crinkled my nose. “I know, I’m sorry. I’ve been a ghost. Work’s just been . . .”
Jim put up a palm. “Say no more,” he said. “We know all about work around here, don’t we Paula?”
“We certainly do,” Paula said with a quick roll of her eyes.
Jim and I hugged. I smelled his aftershave and morning coffee.
“You look good,” I said. “Cheerful. I can’t blame you I suppose. I’ve heard things have been pretty quiet arou —”
“No, no, don’t say it!” Jim covered his ears. He was of course worried I would jinx things, bring an end to the streak of low crime by mentioning it.
“Sorry!” I said, cringing at my own mistake. I’d hung around the station enough to know better.
“It’s OK, kid,” Jim said with a smile, and patted me on the shoulder. “How’ve ya been? Let’s sit down and take a load off.”
Jim was allowed to call me that. Kid. He was like a father to me after all. Actually, no — I don’t want to compare Jim to fathers. Not to mine, at least.
“I’ve been OK,” I said, as I followed Jim over to the worn leather couch that dominated the station lobby. The station was small, just like Westby. I sat down next to the chief. “We’ve been getting lots of clients lately, so I’m up to my elbows in work.”
“I’ll bet,” Jim said. “That’s because the word is out that you’re working in Westby now. They’re gonna flock from far and wide to get the best legal representation in the state of California.” He smiled at me.
I smiled back, embarrassed but flattered — though I didn’t think what he said was true. He was right that our clients generally weren’t from Westby, but I didn’t think it had anything to do with me; often they came from the city, attracted to the relative anonymity and discretion that our small-town firm provided.
“How’s everything with you?” I asked, shifting the attention away from myself.
“Oh, can’t complain — Hold on, we didn’t get you any coffee.” Jim began to get up, wincing in pain because of his knees. I knew his arthritis was bad, even though he never complained.
I reached my arm out. “Let me get it.”
Usually Jim would insist that he get the coffee himself, and the fact that he didn’t this time worried me. Made me think his knees had gotten a lot worse. I wondered sometimes if maybe I should be taking care of him now. The way he once took care of me. I worried that he got lonely, living all by himself, now that his wife . . . She was taken from us too soon.
“Are you counting steps too?” Jim said, as I went over to the coffee machine. “Rachel got us these things for Christmas that count how many steps you take every day.”
“Is that right?” I said, returning with my coffee. It made me laugh how Jim marveled at modern technology. He’d tell me about different things in the station getting “computer-fied.”
“Yep. You move and it knows. Gives me the heebie-jeebies.”
“That sounds pretty wild,” I said, sinking back into the sofa. “So how many steps are you averaging per day?”
Jim shrugged. “Beats me. Mine’s still in the box.” He winked, then took a sip of coffee and said ah. Jim loved his coffee. He turned to me. “How’s Catherine? Keeping you on your toes, I’d imagine.” The chief knew my sister had a bit of a wild streak.
“You could say that.”
“You’ve done a lot for her, you know,” Jim said. “Built a nice life for the both of you. Your mother would be proud.”
I hoped he was right. Sometimes I wondered if she would’ve wanted me to choose a different path in life. Like, one that put as much distance as possible between me and the world of crime.
“Thanks.” I tried to smile, looked down, and hid behind my long brown hair. I appreciated what Jim had said but I got tongue-tied when I had to talk about my own feelings. Put me in a courtroom and ask me to describe a brutal murder to a jury — no problem. But ask me to talk about my own life? . . . Yeah, that’s not going to work out so well.
Jim could sense my self-consciousness, so he changed subjects.
“Hey, I’ve got some pictures of the critters to show you. They are just growing like weeds.”
“The critters” were Jim’s great nephews and nieces. His sister Rachel’s kids. They brought out Jim’s soft side. And the way they lit up his face when they came to visit made me wonder if Jim sometimes regretted not ever having had any children of his own.
We started down the hallway to the chief’s office, Jim leading the way. I was about to ask Jim how Rachel was doing, but the sound of someone entering the station grabbed my attention. I spun around just as a man came bursting through the station’s entrance. His eyes were wild with terror and pain.
“They killed her!” he cried, and fell to his knees, clutching at his dark hair.
He began to sob, crumpling lower to the floor. Jim and I rushed over, crouched down beside him. I touched his shoulder, but he didn’t seem to feel my hand; he was covering his face now and shaking violently.
“Sir . . .” I said.
Now he looked up. His pale blue eyes were bloodshot.
“They killed her,” he said, his voice a tremulous whisper now. That’s when I noticed his hands: stained with blood. He brought those hands to his face, and broke down. Heaving and shaking in the middle of the station.
“They killed who?” Jim asked. Patient. Experienced. I wanted to scream. To shake the man. We might still have time to save her. Whoever “her” was . . .
“Her heart . . .” the man gasped. “It was . . .her heart was bleeding.”
“Who?” I demanded, more harshly than I’d intended. The man looked at me with wide eyes, like he was surprised I didn’t already know the answer to my question. Jim touched my arm lightly. A warning to tread carefully.
“Th-th-they k-killed her,” the man stammered. I almost screamed: They killed who?!
“They did, didn’t they?” Jim said, positioning himself right in front of the man. The way the chief was crouching, his knees must have been killing him. But he didn’t show it on his face. That was Jim: stoic as a stone when the situation called for it. “Who did they kill?” the chief asked.
“Rosalin Mackaney,” the man said, in a shocked whisper.
I hustled over to the front desk to tell Paula, and I heard Jim ask the man, “Where did this happen?”
I had no idea who Rosalin Mackaney was, but suddenly I cared about her deeply. She needed to live, which meant we needed to find her. My stomach began to churn as adrenaline spiked my blood. Feeling almost out of my own body, I walked over to Paula and gave her Rosalin’s name. My voice sounded distant in my own ears. Then I went back over to Jim and the man.
“Why did you leave her?” My tone was accusatory. I couldn’t help it.
Jim shot me a warning glare.
The man looked at me, his face quivering with the trauma of what he’d seen. “I called the police,” he managed to say. “I called them a-a-and . . .”
And you left her.
I didn’t know what to say. I’d left someone bleeding to death once. But that was a long time ago. I’d never do something like that now. At least that’s what believed. What I needed to believe.
“That’s exactly what you should’ve done,” Jim said, drawing the man’s attention back to him. The man nodded, before succumbing to a fresh wave of tears. I felt hot, claustrophobic — all this emotion in such a cramped space. I needed to get some air.
Just then, I heard a car door slam. I went over to the window and saw two officers get out of a squad car. Officer Chambers, a hard-ass cop who always seemed to be in a bad mood, and Officer Fenster, an intense, tough-looking, red-haired woman who’d recently joined the department.
They pulled a suspect out from the backseat — a young guy, blond hair. The suspect was flailing around, not exactly cooperating. I rushed over to Jim and whispered in his ear that some cops just arrived with a man in cuffs. Jim nodded slightly and turned to the man, who was still on the floor.
“Sir, I didn’t catch your name. I’m Jim.”
“Alec,” the man said. He sniffed and wiped his cheek with the back of his hand.
“Let’s go into my office,” said the chief. “I’ve got coffee and two ears. Let’s talk. You did the right thing.”
To the untrained ear, Jim’s tone and choice of words might have sounded patronizing, condescending. But I knew better than most how crucial it was to make the traumatized feel loved and supported.
Jim helped Alec to his feet. I watched the chief take the man under his arm and usher him down the hall to his office. I felt a pang of gratitude tinged with sorrow as I remembered that day Jim was there for me. When I needed him most. Underneath his gruffness, Jim had a wellspring of compassion that never seemed to run dry.
Once upon a time, I thought I wanted to be a police officer, just like Jim. Maybe part of me still did. Maybe that’s why I hung around to see what this was all about.
Or maybe I could already sense that I was going to get dragged into this somehow.
Officers Chambers and Fenster entered the station, suspect in tow. The suspect was still struggling. I felt like now would be a time to get the hell out of there.
But I didn’t move. I had to see this. Had to know more about what had happened.
“I didn’t do it!” the young man cried out, his voice hoarse. His cry of injustice filled the station. And that’s what it sounded like — like he really believed he was innocent. Maybe he was. The kid’s eyes landed on me.
And he was a kid really — maybe early twenties, even late teens. He looked like a model from an Abercrombie ad. Ruffled, curly blond hair, surfer tan. Except his face was dirty. Muddy or . . .
Smeared under his nose and across his cheeks. I looked into his piercing blue eyes and his gaze latched onto me like I was a life preserver and he a drowning man.
“Please!” he said, his voice breaking. “I’m innocent. I need help.” He directed his words at me, like he knew I was a defense attorney. Or maybe he could just sense my sympathy. I looked away and swallowed nervously.
“You’ll have plenty of time to talk to us once you can calm down,” Officer Chambers said. He had a firm grip on the kid’s upper arm and the back of his neck.
The officer claimed to be willing to “talk,” but I could see it in the officer’s eyes; he didn’t think there was anything to talk about. He was already convinced the kid was guilty. He knew an interrogation had to be done, but only to secure a confession, and not because he thought the suspect might be innocent.
I’d advocated for a long list of clients, but this was a new experience, being trapped in the heat of the moment like this while a suspect was in the process of getting arrested. And it was a process. They’d take his fingerprints. His mugshot. Have him remove his clothes. Do a humiliating full-body search. This young man would have to do all of those things while millions of thoughts zipped through this mind. Or rather, one thought: I can’t believe this is happening.
Don’t get me wrong, if he had killed the woman — and I knew he very well might have — I hoped he would be locked away for life. The man that came before him had made it painfully clear that the crime scene had been horrific. Anyone capable of doing such a thing to another human being deserved zero sympathy.
Still, I hoped that they would at least hear him out. Give him a chance. The kid’s spirit seemed to deflate though when he looked at the officers — from Fenster to Chambers and then back to Fenster. Perhaps he saw what I saw — that they had no doubt in their minds that he was guilty as sin. They took him away for booking and a strange silence fell over the lobby. I could hear my heart beating in my ears.
I turned to Paula, who was fiddling with her bracelet. She looked up.
“Just another day at the station,” she said, flashing me a hollow smile. I didn’t know what to say. The ring of my cell phone broke the awkward silence. I pulled it from the pocket of my navy dress pants and answered the call. It was Jasmine, who worked at the front desk at my firm.
“Hey Jasmine,” I said, “what’s up?”
“Hey Megan, sorry to interrupt you, but we have an urgent matter at the office. Someone’s here to speak to you. And, uh . . . only you.”
“OK, I’ll be right there. Leaving right now.” I hung up before she could respond, turned to the secretary. “I gotta go,” I said, while thinking: I should’ve never come.
I couldn’t get what I’d just seen out of my head. The anguish and fear on the face of the man who had discovered the body. The thrashing limbs of the suspect, the flash of his blue eyes as they sought an ally in all of this. The image of the victim I’d already created in my mind.
They stayed with me as I drove to the next emergency.
Even though I knew I was walking into an urgent situation, there was something calming about pulling up in front of that squat, black office building baking under the California sun. Despite being situated in a small town that most people drove right on by without a second’s thought, this law firm had grown quite a name for itself. I was one of the lead attorneys at my firm, and as soon as I passed through the revolving doors each day, I entered a space in which I was somebody significant. Someone with power. Respect from her colleagues. This was where I was in control. Where no one could catch me off guard.
Or so I thought.
A text from Jim. I was proud. I’d given him two or three texting tutorials and now he was finally catching on. And the way he’d throw in random emojis. Honestly, it was pretty adorable. Jim was getting a little softer in his old age. But don’t let that fool you, he was still tough as nails.
This text had no emoji. It just said:
Suspect’s name Oliver Hopkins. Local kid.
I took a deep breath.
Another murderer in our midst. Terrific.
I checked my reflection in the rearview mirror. I’ve never liked my face. I don’t dislike it or anything. It’s fine. Catherine tells me I’m soooo pretty, but then again, the word soooo does show up in a lot of the things she says. If anything, she’s the pretty one. With her full lips and golden hair and sharp cheekbones. I look . . . serious. Dark hair. Dark eyes. Small mouth and nose. A cautious face.
I’ve gotten the “you should smile more” more times than I can remember -thankfully, because they’re not exactly pleasant memories. But I don’t like smiling. Showing my teeth. It feels silly. Unless I’m really happy. But I’m not one of those people who can just bust out a big smile for a photograph.
I leaned forward in my seat and admired my eyebrows in the mirror at close range. I’ve always liked my eyebrows. They’re strong, dark, well-defined — especially now, having been recently contoured by Catherine.
Satisfied with my appearance, I got out of my car and headed across the parking lot to the office’s glass doors. I could almost feel all the anxiety I’d felt at the police station sliding off as I got closer to the building. Other people’s problems took center stage here.
A blast of cool air greeted me as I walked inside, and I felt the last lingering bits of fiery emotion blow away like embers in the wind. Calm, focused, I went upstairs to my office. Game face on. Ready for whatever — or whoever — was waiting for me.
Jasmine’s brown eyes were drawn in under the weight of worry and her dark hair was pulled back in a tight ponytail. She looked alert, sharp — not her usual lighthearted and playful self. Something was up.
“Good afternoon,” she said. She looked even more gorgeous than usual with her businesslike expression. She had a round face, full lips, and strikingly green, almond-shaped eyes, made all the more dazzling by violet eyeshadow. Her husband was a lucky man.
“Good afternoon,” I said, in a tone that made it clear I knew she was acting differently. I leaned closer to her and lowered my voice. “So, what’s up?”
Her eyes darted towards a middle-aged man sitting in the corner, whose eyes were cast down at the floor. His body was pulled in on itself, like he was cupping a feeble flame in his chest that he feared would get blown out. Like something had come along and wrecked his world.
“He won’t leave,” Jasmine whispered. “When I told him you weren’t here, he said he’d wait until you got back, no matter how long it took you. He wants to speak with you and only you. He seems pretty upset.”
“Looks it,” I said, discreetly eyeing the man. I patted Jasmine’s hands. “Give me back-up if I need it,” I said, sort of joking . . . sort of not.
“Always,” Jasmine said, and winked at me. There she was — the sassy friend of mine who knew how to make me laugh, even on my worst days.
I approached the man, cautious in my curiosity. Each step I took was deliberate. Whenever I met with potential new clients, I was like that — hyper-aware of my movements, my voice, my facial expressions — everything. I cared about the people I defended. That’s why I worked as a defense lawyer. But I never forgot that many of them were criminals, accused of doing terrible, sometimes downright brutal things.
“Good afternoon, sir,” I said, as the man’s head slowly lifted. I offered my hand. “I’m Megan Corver.”
He shook my hand. He had a firm grip, the hand of a carpenter or some other manual worker. His pale blue eyes held oceans of worry. His blond hair was graying at the temples, and something told me it was about to start going gray even faster. “Marcus,” he said.
“It’s wonderful to meet you. How about you and I speak in my office?”
He nodded in that faraway manner of someone who is buried underneath their emotions. What happened? Now I really was curious.
I led him into my spacious office. The walls were a sage green, and the carpet was a light beige. I’d picked the shades myself, knowing full well that such details could make the difference between a client storming out in a panic and a client sticking around and giving me their trust. I walked over to my big, maple desk, which had nothing on it except for a paper weight, a few legal pads, and my desktop computer. There certainly weren’t any pictures. I kept this space as impersonal as possible, from the stately leather-bound books on the shelves to the painting of the lake on the wall behind me.
I took a seat and out of habit, grazed my finger against the emergency call button under my desk.
But looking at Marcus, who’d sat down across from me, helped ease my initial spike of worry. He looked emotional, sure. But he also looked worn down. Not angry, just . . . defeated. Like his entire being was suspended by a single strand of hope.
“What can I help you with, Marcus?” I asked, holding his gaze.
“I heard about your work,” he said. “Even before all of this. You represented one of my son’s friends. Kid named Rich Davies . . .” He paused. I nodded; yes, I remember the guy. A troublemaker who wasn’t a bad person, but whose family issues had led him down the wrong path.
“The kid was like a son to me,” Marcus continued. “I’d done everything I could to help him and I was probably more concerned than his parents were when he got arrested. Yet you fought for him when others simply gave up. Instead of jail, you got him ordered to a rehab facility, anger management classes, and community service. You kept in touch with him too, and gave him information about online college.
“Anyhow, Rich is doing much better now. He still volunteers even though he achieved the court-ordered number of hours a long time ago. You saw something in him that others didn’t and . . . well, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say you saved his life.”
“Thank you for letting me know,” I said. I really was grateful to hear that my work had helped Rich. I put in more hours than my colleagues did. Often went the extra mile and sometimes I wondered if it was worth it. It could — in my darker moods — feel like I was pouring my energy into a black hole. Into something that gave nothing in return. I justified it by telling myself that I was helping victims indirectly by doing everything in my power to make sure the people I defended —when guilty— didn’t go on to offend again. Depending on the day, I believed it was true.
“No,” Marcus said, “thank you. Really. You have no idea how big of a difference you made in this kid’s life.”
I smiled, shifted in my seat. “It’s nothing,” I said. I didn’t do so well with compliments. I let him continue.
“Anyway, because of that, when I ran into trouble myself you were the first person I thought of. And, to be perfectly honest, you’re the only lawyer I want to work with.” Marcus paused.
I nodded for him to continue.
“You see, now it’s my actual son who’s in trouble. But unlike his friend, he didn’t do what they’re accusing him of. I know it. He’s . . . he couldn’t have done it. He’s just not capable of —” He got caught in some wave of emotion and cut off, took a deep breath. After gathering himself he looked me squarely in the eye. “I beg of you . . . please, represent my son. He’s been accused of murder.”
I swallowed and heard Marcus say what I hoped he wouldn’t.
“His name is Oliver.”
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