Trial of Duty Preview

A Laura Jones Legal Thriller

About the book

Laura Jones thought she had seen everything. But no one could prepare her for the arrest of her son, who is accused of the worst crime America has ever seen. 

With no other choice, she struggles to prove his innocence. But what she didn’t expect was the image of her son shattering before her eyes.  As piles of evidence surfaces against him, she knows she could lose this case and the only family she has ever known. Until the day a threatening letter reaches her door…

Chapter One


I sit staring at the door for a few seconds before I rush over to the window, pushing the curtains apart slightly. Bryan has his back to me, and he is walking away. He rounds the corner and is gone. I have no idea where he is going, what he is dealing with, or how I can help him. The only way that I can help myself right now is to get more wine.

My wine glass is filled this time, and I grab some more chips from the cupboard, emptying them into a small bowl so that I do not eat too many. I walk back to the living room, put down my drink and snack, and lift up the DVDs. I flick through them, but they are not appealing to me anymore.

I flop back down on the couch and take a deep breath. There are some issues with kids that life just does not prepare you for. And, at times like this, there is usually only one thing that helps. I grab my phone from the table and scroll through my contact list. I find the number and hit the call button.

It only rings once before it is answered. “Hello,” says Jenny. Followed up by, “What is wrong?”

“Why does anything have to be wrong?” I ask, sipping my wine. “Can’t I just call up a friend for a chat?”

“Now, I’m even more suspicious,” she says.

“How are you doing?” I ask, trying to throw her off the scent.

“Wow, so it is going to be like that, is it?” she asks. “You think that I don’t know you? Come on, share with me.”

“All right, it’s Bryan.”

“What? What’s wrong? What happened?” asks Jenny

“No, nothing happened. I’m just worried about him. He’s been going out more and staying out late. Whenever I ask him where he is going or where he has been, he always fobs me off with an excuse.”

“And you want to cross-examine him?”

“No.” I scoff. “Well, yes. Kind of. When a guy tells you he is going out and won’t tell you where he is going, it’s hard to trust him.”

“Bryan is not your ex, Laura. You know that, right?”

“He’s nothing like him,” I say, knowing that it is true. “I don’t know where this is coming from. I want to be there to protect him, but I feel like he won’t let me. I just love him so much.”

“And he loves you too; that much is obvious. What is he now, seventeen?”

“Yeah.”

“Seventeen! Children want their freedom, especially when they get to that age. Do you remember what you were like when you were that age? What you were doing?”

“I don’t want to talk about that,” I say with a smile.

Jenny breaks into a chuckle on the other end of the line. “See what I mean? Did your parents ask you where you were going when you went out? Would you have told them if they had?”

“See, this is why I call you, Jenny. You always know the right thing to say.”

“No, I don’t. I only keep people talking until they say what they truly feel. You know you have to give Bryan space without me even telling you, but it is easier to accept something when you can talk it through with someone else. That is what I am good for.”

“You are good for a lot more than that,” I say.

“I suppose,” says Jenny with mock sadness. “Anyway, how are you doing with everything else? Any new and exciting cases after the last big one?”

“They are all dull,” I say. “And I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am sure that I will yearn for a big case again sometime soon, but I am happy to deal with the mundane for now. You know, the cases that sort themselves out. You stand in front of a judge, and an agreement is made before it even gets to trial.”

“I know the ones. You hate them when you have them, but they are the best ones in retrospect. And they put food on the table.”

“With how complicated my life seems sometimes, it is nice to have simple cases.” I sigh before continuing. “I think that Bryan wants to see him.”

“By ‘him,’ you mean your ex?”

“Yeah, my ex.”

“Have you told Bryan?” she asks.

“Tell him that my ex used to beat me, that he was abusive towards me, and that he is a vindictive and evil man?” I let go of the breath that I am holding in, and reach for a tissue from the table, dabbing my eyes before they start to run. “No, I haven’t. As much as I want to, it’s not fair to Bryan. My ex treated me badly, but that shouldn’t stop him from having a relationship with his son, no matter how much I hate him.”

“If he does have a relationship with his dad, he is soon going to find out what he is like. It could be a win-win for you. You come out of this looking like a good person for letting your son make his own choices, and he sees exactly what his father is like. If you keep them apart, Bryan is always going to have this idyllic view of his father—put him on a pedestal.”

“Once again, you are filled with infinite wisdom,” I say, wiping my eyes again.

“I make for a good sounding board.”

“You make for a good friend,” I say.

“You can always call me when you need to talk,” she says.

“I—” There is a sound at the door that cuts me short. “Sounds like Bryan is home. Maybe he forgot something.”

“It’s fine, go. We can talk more another time.”

“Thanks for the chat,” I say.

“Talk to you soon.”

I hit the red button to hang up and grab the tissues again to wipe my eyes of any tears. I don’t want Bryan to see me like this. I hope that he has returned home for the night, but prepare myself for him leaving quickly again.

There is some more noise at the door, but the sound of a key in a lock does not come, and it goes quiet again. I sit on the couch, staring at the door, but it does not open. I start to become afraid. I am sure that someone is there. Tentatively, I go to the door and look through the small glass window.

No one is outside, and that both scares and relieves me all at once. I stare out of the small window for a few more seconds, scanning the immediate area, before I find enough courage to open the door. When I do, I do not find anyone standing there, but I do find an envelope on the doormat.

Once more, I scan the area around, but no one is there. I pick up the envelope and go back inside, locking the door behind me. As soon as I do, I hear a car scream to life and drive off. I look back out the window in time to see a dark car drive down the street, but I don’t know what make it is, nor who is in it.

I stand at the door and open the envelope, wanting to get it over with. I pull out the note inside and read it.

We told you to stay out of our business. You just won’t listen, will you? If you want to take everything from us, we will take everything from you.

I crumple the note in my hand and hold it tight. My mind flies through the possibilities. As a lawyer, I have always had enemies, but nothing has ever really come of it. Besides, I’m not in the middle of any big cases, so I can’t think of anyone who would threaten me. The only person my mind can land on is my ex, Tommy.

When we were together, I realized what he was mixed up in. It started with petty crimes and only grew from there. I pretended for a while that I never knew what he was into, and when it became more obvious, I turned the other cheek, telling myself that it was better for our relationship and for our son. He knew that I knew, even if he didn’t come out and say it.

The whole time we were together, I never said anything, and I have not spoken a word of it to anyone in the years we have been separated. To be honest, I’m scared of what he would do to me. The beatings that I received when I was with him were bad enough, and he claimed the entire time that he did it out of love, or it was my own fault or some other ridiculous reason that I lapped up.

I would hear noises from the other rooms. I heard what he did to people who didn’t do what he said. Those noises still haunt my dreams and keep me from saying and doing anything. I have Bryan, and I can’t do anything to jeopardize that. But still, my mind goes to him. If he is sending the letters, why? And why now? My whole body shudders, and I want to run from here, to take Bryan far away from everything and keep him safe.

I take the note and envelope straight to the kitchen and throw it into the trash. As soon as I do, the tears come streaming back. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve all of this, and I have no idea what I can do to stop it from happening. My life should not be this complicated, but somehow it is.

I think about calling Jenny back, but I don’t want to burden her with more of my troubles. So instead, I go back into the living room and sit by the window, looking out and waiting for Bryan, as foolish as that is. I don’t expect him home anytime soon, but part of me wants to hope. There are a couple of times when I think that he has rounded the corner, but it turns out to be someone else.

It gets late, and I know that I am just wasting my time. With a shrug, I leave the window and retreat to my bed, drawing out my bedtime routine just in case Bryan returns home, but he does not, and I find myself under the blankets, unable to sleep. The last time that I look at the clock on the nightstand, it is after 2 am.

The vibration wakes me, and I feel like I have only been asleep for a few minutes. I reach for my phone, the source of the ringing, and glance at the clock. It is just after five. I answer the phone, a number that I do not recognize.

“Hello,” I say.

“Mom, it’s me.”

The way that Bryan says it sends a chill running down my spine. I sit up against the hard headboard. “What’s going on? Are you okay? Are you hurt?”

“I’m fine…I think. Mom, I’ve been arrested. They think that I killed someone.”

“What!” I glance around the room as if there are going to be answers hanging in the air.

“They think that I killed someone, and I don’t know what to do.”

“Where are you?” I ask. “I’ll come and get you.”

“They’ve arrested me, Mom. I’m at the police station, and they said that I could call you, and I’m scared. I didn’t do it, I swear. Please help me, Mom.”

“I’ll be there as quick as I can,” I say. The line goes dead.

Chapter Two


I’ve been shot in the chest. At least, that’s how it feels. His words reverberate in my head, and the tone of his voice struck a chord in my heart. He was my little boy again, a scared little boy that was lost in the world. My little boy.

“No,” I say out loud. There is no way that he could have killed someone. He is only seventeen, and I know that doesn’t matter when it comes to things like this, but I know my son, and I know that he would never do a thing like this. There is just no way.

I am out of bed and ready to go in less than five minutes. I sit in my car and look up and down the street. Someone came to my door last night and left a note, and I wonder if I am being followed. They know where I live, I know that, and that could mean that whoever is warning me is also following me. I don’t have time to mentally deal with that at the moment and start the car, pulling away from the curb and heading for the police station.

My son is the most important person in the world to me, and any other problem pales in comparison to the one that I am currently facing. My lawyer brain kicks in as I drive, and I go through several possibilities. It must be a mix-up, and I start to become more hopeful as I travel. A plan forms in my mind—a rudimentary plan that involves me getting there, pointing out their error, and returning home with my son.

Something tells me that it is not going to be that simple, but I cling to it anyway and switch on the radio, something to distract my brain.

When I pull up at the police station, my mind is whirring. I have been here numerous times before, usually to meet with new clients (and some repeat ones), and I still cannot believe that my son is inside. I will get him out, I know that, but my heart does not agree and is firmly lodged in my throat.

From that moment on, it is all a blur. I move in through the front doors of the station as if in a dream. There are people around me, noises, movement, but I don’t take it all in. My feet propel me to the desk. I do not remember asking to see my son nor waiting for him to be brought out from the holding cell, and I am only snapped out of my reverie when I am looking into Bryan’s eyes.

“Mom,” he says, and my heart breaks. I dash across to my son and take him in my arms. I hold him close to me; I don’t want him to see the tears streaming down my face. He does not want to let go either, and the two of us stand holding each other in the middle of the interview room.

Bryan pulls away first, and I quickly wipe the tears from my face and eyes, trying to compose myself. His eyes are red, and I know mine are too. We look at each other with slight smiles on our faces as if everything is fine. I take a deep breath and motion to the empty seat on one side of the table, my lawyer instincts kicking in, and I take the seat on the other side. I have a notebook and a pen out on the desk a second later, my body working the same routine that it has countless times.

“Mom, you have to get me out of here,” says Bryan. I look into his eyes and can see the plea there; it’s in his voice too. My little angel is lost, and I am the only one who can help him.

“Don’t worry, I am going to get you out of here,” I say. As a lawyer, I mentally kick myself for saying that; I have never said it to a client before, even if I am sure that they are innocent. You never know what will happen when someone is arrested. I try to backpedal in my mind. Am I my son’s lawyer? He’s not guilty anyway, and I am going to get him out of here as soon as they realize that they have made a mistake. I try to comfort myself with hopeful thoughts, and then I catch his face again—the worry and anguish.

“You are going to be fine,” I say, kicking myself again for promising something that I have no idea if I can follow through on. “We start at the beginning, okay?”

Bryan nods his head and wrings his hands together, unable to sit still for a second.

“First rule,” I say. “You don’t talk to anyone unless I am with you, okay?”

“Okay,” repeats Bryan.

“Have you talked to anyone so far?” I ask.

“No,” says Bryan. “Maybe, I don’t remember. I’m sorry, Mom. It all happened so fast, and I don’t remember what I said to people. I might have talked when they were arresting me. I don’t know.”

“It’s fine,” I say, reaching my hand across the table to take his. “You are going to be fine. From now, you don’t talk to anyone unless I am present. Say it for me.”

“I don’t talk to anyone unless you are there,” he says.

“Good,” I say. “Now, let’s do this from the beginning. You went out last night. Where did you go, and what happened?”

“I went to a club.” Bryan lowers his head. “I was supposed to be meeting some friends.”

“Supposed to?”

“I did meet them. I was supposed to meet some friends, and I did. They were in the club, and we had…some drinks”—he looks at me sheepishly as he speaks—“and danced, and I don’t know.”

I’m learning more and more about my son, and I am not sure that I truly know who he is anymore. “What happened at the club?”

“I only spoke with her for a few minutes.”

“Her?”

“Becca.”

“Who’s Becca?” I ask.

“She’s the one who was killed. They think that I did it, but it couldn’t have been me. They are setting me up, Mom. I didn’t do it.”

“Setting you up? Who is setting you up?”

“I don’t know. That’s what happens, isn’t it? I’ve seen it in the movies. They set people up to take that fall. That’s what’s happening with me.” He wrings his hands together again and flattens them on the table, straining to stop the tremors running through his fingers. I catch his eyes, and they are still red.

“Let’s put that to the side for a moment,” I say. “Whether you are being framed or not, we have to worry about getting you out of here. Tell me what happened with this girl. Becca, right? She’s a friend of yours?”

“No, I barely know her. I had seen her around the club a few times, but she was not my friend. She was the one who called me.”

“At the house before you went out?” I ask. I don’t tell him that I listened in on the conversation and that I heard him shouting at her.

“Yeah, she called me.” Bryan takes a moment before speaking again. “She’s more like a friend of friends, and she told me that people were meeting at the club. She’s going through some stuff, maybe. Was going through some stuff. It’s complicated.”

“Yeah, it is,” I say. “You sound like you are not telling me everything, Bryan. I’m here to help you, so you need to tell me everything that happened.”

“I am, Mom,” he says, some anger showing through. “She called, and I went down to the club. There were a bunch of people there, and I barely spoke with her. She singled me out at one point, and asked me to get her some drugs. She thought that I was dealing.”

“And you weren’t, right?”

“Of course not, Mom. Who do you think I am?”

“I just need all of the facts, that’s all. You’re my son, but you are also my client now, and it doesn’t matter what you did last night, as long as you tell me the truth.”

“I am telling you the truth,” he shouts.

“Bryan! I’m trying to help you.”

“I know.” He calms a little. “She asked me to get her some drugs, and I snapped at her. We argued, and that was the last I saw of her.”

“Did people see you arguing?”

“Probably, I don’t know. The club was busy, and there were a lot of people there. She took me aside, so it was possible that people saw us arguing.”

“What happened after that?”

“I went back to my friends. We danced for a bit, had some more drinks, and then I left. I was walking to get the last bus home when a police car pulled up, and they suddenly jumped out with guns. I saw my life flashing before my eyes for a moment, and I thought that they were going to shoot me there and then. I got down on the sidewalk, and they cuffed me and dragged me into the back of another car that pulled up.”

“Did they read you your rights?” I ask.

“Yeah, they did. They did everything by the book.”

“By the book?”

“You talk about procedure a lot. I have taken some of it in. I might have talked to them, but only to tell them that I didn’t do it. They told me that I was being arrested for Becca’s murder.”

“Did they question you when they brought you back here?” I ask.

“Not officially. They said that I could call a lawyer if I wanted to, and I called you.”

“That’s good,” I say. “You did everything right.”

“You believe me, right, Mom?”

“Of course, I do,” I say. I do believe him. There might be things that I am finding out about my son, but I know who he is, his character. He would not have done something like this.

“Please help me.” The words come out quiet and croaky. His eyes are wide and still red. The shaking in his hands has made its way up into his arms. I put down the pen on my notebook and get up from my seat, making my way around the table to my son. I embrace him again and hold him tight.

“I’m going to help you,” I whisper into his ear. “I need to leave you for a little just so I can find out what is happening, but I am going to have you out of here as soon as I can.”

“I can’t stay in here any longer.” He whimpers as he speaks. He starts to shiver in my arms, and I almost can’t bear to let him go, but I have to. It breaks my heart, but I have to leave my son for a little longer. What breaks my heart more is that I don’t think the way he is acting is through fear of what is going to happen.

Something else is causing his body to react like it is.

Chapter Three


I walk out of the interview room with my heart beating faster than it has ever beaten before. I don’t want to turn around to see my son again, helpless and small, but my body is on autopilot, and his eyes hold onto mine until I can move far enough away to not see him anymore. I take a deep breath and let it out.

I can’t imagine seeing my little boy in handcuffs. Only a few hours ago, he would have been face-down on the ground, having cuffs placed on him. I shake my head, trying to wipe away a million images of Bryan helpless and in trouble. I need to get myself together and find a way to get him out as quickly as possible.

“Sid,” I shout as I get back to the reception area.

An older cop is walking past the desk with a folder in his hand. Sid knew my mom, and they went way back. I think they might have gone to school together, and even though they might not have ever been friends, they were friendly towards each other, and he was at her funeral. That is a blur too, and I don’t think that I spoke to him there.

“Hey, Laura,” he says, stopping in his tracks and flashing me a large smile. That smile quickly slides down his face, and he shakes his head a little.

“You were here when they brought him in?” I ask.

“Yeah,” he sighs as if the weight of the world is on him. I don’t know much about him, but I do know that he has compassion. Sid looks around, hoping to escape, but I don’t let him.

“How did he seem to you when he came in?” I ask.

“I didn’t really see the kid,”

“Sid?” I fold my arms across my chest, barely keeping it together.

“He was scared.”

“That’s not what I meant, and you know it. He’s coming down from whatever he was on when he was at the club, and it wasn’t just alcohol. I can see it in his eyes, the shaking, the way he was acting in there. Did they do a tox screen on him?”

“No, I don’t think so, but I did get a look at him when they brought him in for processing.”

“What was it?” I ask.

“I’m not sure. Could have been anything, but he was definitely pepped up on something. I don’t know all of the narcotics that kids are into these days, not that I’m saying that your son is into anything.” He holds his palms up in front of him.

“I know, Sid. I know that kids don’t tell their moms everything. I just want to know how this went down.”

“As I said, he was scared. Other than that, he was calm. A little jumpy with whatever he had taken, but he was calm. He complied with everything he was asked to do and didn’t put up any sort of fight. It’ll all be in the arrest report. I have to get these reports filed.” He taps on the folder with his ring finger.

“Go ahead,” I say. “Hey, if you hear anything, you’ll let me know?”

“Of course,” he says before walking off.

I go to the front desk and talk with the receptionist, hoping to get some information immediately, but there is nothing that she can tell me, and I go straight to file the paperwork to get the initial police reports. We didn’t establish it in the interview room, but I know that Bryan will want me to represent him if this does progress further, and I need to make that official.

When I look at it, there is a text on my phone, and Jenny wants me to call her. I didn’t get back to her after we talked last night, and she must be wondering what is going on. I will call her, but not just yet. I need to get the ball rolling on this case before I do anything else.

The first thing to do is to get a hold of any case files and see what they have on my son.

***

I’m going out of my mind. What I thought would be a simple mistake has turned into two days of my son locked in a cell while I wait for the relevant files to come through. From what little I know of the case so far, I don’t have much chance of getting him out of custody.

Thankfully, I have the reports, and I am sure that I can find something in them. I sit down at my kitchen table with everything laid out so that I can take it all in. I know that more information will come in later, but this is all that I have to work with at the moment. I’ll go into the office tomorrow and do more, but I need to prepare first.

There is a bottle of sparkling water on the countertop, and I fill up a glass, adding some ice. I feel like I have a headache coming on, and I am not sure that I can do anything about it. The water is cold when I sip it, and it stops my throat from feeling so dry. The stress of the arrest is taking its toll on my body, and I feel more alone than ever. Even more than when my marriage fell apart—if you can put it like that.

I take another sip of water and get back to the job at hand. The club that Bryan was at is a little ways from home, so he must have taken the bus there or gotten a lift. I know the area where the club is, and there are plenty of bars there and a few clubs too, but I have not heard of this one, not that I know many clubs. It’s been years since I have been to one.

I can’t help myself and take a look at the crime scene photos. Rebecca Lazaro was eighteen years old. There is a photo of how she looked before she died—a photo from social media. There is nothing to be gained from it other than the contrast between this one and the ones after the act was committed. Looking at the social media photo, she looks carefree and happy. I hold the picture up and take a deep breath before delving into the other photos.

For some reason, she looks older. There is a large purple bruise around her left eye and a small cut under the same eyebrow. Everything would suggest that she was punched in the face or that she fell and hit her head, but the former seems more likely. The smile on her face is gone, and her lips droop slightly at the corners, her eyes are lifeless.

My eyes move down to her neck. I don’t have to look at any reports to know that she was strangled. I study the headshot, lingering on her bruised and swollen neck. An image flashes in my mind of Bryan with his hands around her throat. I throw the pictures down on the table and look away, bringing my glass back to my lips to sip again. I wish that I had something stronger, but I need all of my focus for this.

When I am ready, I go back to the evidence. The cause of death was not strangulation, and that surprises me a little after looking at the initial photographs. I scan the reports and pick up the other photos. She was stabbed, and that was what killed her. I leaf back and forth from the report to the photos, seeing a bright red stab wound in her chest. It looks like a knife was used, but no murder weapon was found at the scene.

That fact gives me a little hope. Bryan was not found with a knife on him, and I don’t think that he has ever owned a knife. I am completely sure that he did not do this, and I have to hope that the evidence supports that. From what I know so far, she was punched, strangled, and then stabbed. No murder weapon was found. That does not mean that it will not be, and when it comes to the police in this town, that does not mean a thing.

The other main piece of evidence is a series of statements from people in the club. Most of the statements show nothing, but there are two that corroborate Bryan being the last person to talk with Rebecca. Not just talking, but arguing and shouting. One report is from a waitress who heard the shouting and looked over to see them arguing.

The other is from one of the bouncers who was called over to break the two of them up. Someone approached the bouncer, perhaps one of Rebecca’s friends, and asked for his help. Bryan was shouting at Rebecca and pushing her. He stopped aggravating her before the bouncer got there, and there was nothing that needed to be done. No one else saw Rebecca talk to anyone else after she spoke to Bryan.

And that is where we are at. The evidence so far seems to be Bryan being in the wrong place at the wrong time, arguing with and possibly getting physical with Rebecca, and being the last one to speak to her. It is not a whole lot to go on, but there are no reports of her fighting with anyone else or any other arguments. There are no phone records here, but I know that Bryan spoke with Rebecca before going out on the night of the murder, and I would not be surprised if they had contact before that too. I am sure that will be brought up if this goes to trial.

I know how cases like this work. They are going to push for the most likely suspect in the case, and that happens to be Bryan, even though there is no way that my little boy could have done this. I was hoping for something, for a thread that I could pull at, but there is nothing here that suggests another suspect, nor anything that can absolve Bryan absolutely. And that means that I need to do some work of my own.

I always research cases thoroughly when I am representing any client, but this is different. I am going to get to the bottom of who really did this, and then Bryan can get on with his life, and I can get on with mine. There are no more reports to go through, and I collate them all into a neat pile, placing them back in the folder. Her eyes find me again as I close the folder—dead eyes staring at me. I want to tell her that Bryan did not do this.

The sparkling water is not doing the job, and I grab myself a glass of wine. I pull out my phone, more as a distraction than anything else, and I know that I should call Jenny back. It’s been a couple of days since her text.

As I am about to scroll through my contact list, my phone lights up, and a name appears on the screen.

Tommy DeLuca.

I was wondering when my ex was going to call me. He would have heard about the arrest when I did, and I thought that I would have heard from him sooner.

“Hello,” I say.

“We need to talk,” he says. Always straight to the point.

“We have nothing to talk about.”

“Don’t give me that. Umberto’s tomorrow for lunch. We fix this then.”

 I want to scream at him. I want to tell him no. He abused me for years, and I hate the man with every fiber of my being. But he is my son’s father, so, instead, I say, “Fine.” My heart leaps into my throat at the thought of seeing that awful man again.

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