Sarah waited until eight o’clock on Friday night to go to the hospital to see Alexa. She knew Jim would be leaving about then because he called around nine every night when he got home to report on his work for the day and Alexa’s progress. She dreaded talking to her alone, but under the ethical rules that Coleman had disparaged so thoroughly, it was her responsibility to maintain communications with her client. Even if she felt horribly guilty because her client was still alive.
Alexa’s room was dimly lit, and Jim was helping her settle some pillows to keep her head raised because she still had discomfort from the healing wound in her neck. He was wearing his navy sport coat, the one he’d worn that first night at Trend. It made him a stand out in the tall and sexy department, and Sarah resented the way her heart went flip flop when she saw him. The two were absorbed in getting Alexa’s head at just the right angle and in making sure the pitcher of ice chips was close enough for her to reach in the night. The sweet intimacy of the little moment sent Sarah’s stomach churning with resentment.
“I’ll be back at seven thirty in the morning, and I’ll bring you my amazing scrambled egg sandwich.”
Alexa smiled up at him, and Sarah saw what a dangerously charming woman she once had been. Her killer intellect was hidden under a veneer of naive, sweet femininity. No wonder Michael Reed had thought she’d always play the role of long-suffering wife and mother and would never object to any of his affairs.
Suddenly Alexa looked up and saw Sarah. Michael’s eyes followed her startled ones. He said, “You didn’t tell me you were coming by tonight.”
“No, I didn’t,” Sarah agreed but volunteered nothing more.
“Do you want me to stay?”
“No, I’m sure you’ve had a long day.” His look of disappointment cut through her heart. He didn’t want to leave Alexa. And he’d be back early on Saturday morning. Well, they would be good together, Sarah had to admit if she was honest. After all, she could never have had Jim even if Alexa weren’t in the way. Joey Menendez had seen to that. Now she had another reason to save Alexa’s life: for a man who was actually capable of loving her.
“Good night,” Alexa smiled up at Jim, and he squeezed her hand. “See you in the morning.”
He hurried out without making eye contact with Sarah, as she pulled up a chair by Alexa’s bed.
“You’re looking better.”
“Thanks.” Her voice was less raspy but still very low. “Jim brought in a hairdresser, and it really helped.”
“Of course.” Sarah hoped her disappointment in the exemplary way her investigator was doing his job didn’t show. “I hope I haven’t come too late. But it’s been a busy week, and this was my first chance to tell you what’s been going on.”
“That’s fine. I have trouble sleeping, anyway.”
Don’t I know about that, Sarah thought. “Have you been able to remember anything else about that night or about why you went to Dr. Brigman’s?”
She shook her head. “I’ve tried and tried. I know the video shows me there, but it doesn’t make any sense. The only time I ever went to Ronald Brigman’s was to drop the children off for the so-called ‘therapy’ he had ordered to set them up for a change of custody. Meggie and Sam weren’t with me that night, so I had no reason to go to his house.”
“Ok. I understand. But if you do remember anything, even the tiniest detail, you’ll let me or Jim know?”
“Absolutely. I can’t stop thinking about it. But all I can remember is Michael lying on the floor in that pool of blood. Alexa became thoughtful in the soft twilight of the room lit for sleeping. “Honestly, I can’t imagine shooting anyone. I bought the gun because Bob told me to, and I took the introductory class. But I wasn’t any good at it. The recoil made me miss the target every time.”
“Well, there are some facts we might be able to use. The bullets in Brigman and Michael were deliberately placed. If you’re a lousy shot, that tends to rule you out. Do you remember who your firearms instructor was?”
“No, but it’s on the certificate they gave me. At home.” Her face suddenly fell. “You know, I never asked what happened to our things.”
“After the court made us leave the house Michael and I bought in La Jolla, I rented a cottage in Pacific Beach for me and the children. I was arrested on June 3, so I assume Mary, my landlord, has thrown out our belongings by now and rented to someone else.”
“No, you’ve been amazingly lucky. She’s one of the few people solidly on your side. Everything is just as you left it, waiting for you to come back.”
Alexa’s eyes suddenly filed with tears. Sarah handed her a tissue from the box by the bed. “I had no idea.”
“Yeah, Mary’s on your side. We’re hoping to have you stay at the cottage under house arrest until trial. If I can win the bail hearing.”
“Jim says you are an extraordinary attorney.” Alexa fixed her big blue eyes on Sarah adoringly, and Sarah realized this same gaze must be irresistible to any man on earth.
“Jim exaggerates. I won a big case some years back that law enforcement thought they could never lose, and people have been telling crazy stories ever since. When a prosecutor gets too confident, he gets careless, and the defense can profit. Taking advantage of another’s mistake doesn’t make me extraordinary. It just means I’m doing my job.”
“You said some things happened this week that you wanted to tell me about.”
“Yes. To make a long story short, we were able to get Ronald Brigman’s bank records, but not Michael’s.”
“Let me guess. Coleman sent a squad of his Warrick, Thompson buddies to tell the court Michael’s were covered by attorney client privilege. Bob and I saw this all the time in the family law case.”
“Actually, Coleman had to use some attorneys from King and White. But otherwise, that’s pretty much what happened.”
Alexa brightened slightly. “I wonder why Warrick, Thompson wasn’t involved.”
“Probably because Alan Warrick doesn’t share Coleman’s view of you and this case.”
Alexa brightened even more. “Did Alan tell you that?
“No, Coleman did. Alan is still in Paris with Brenda.”
“Okay, now I get it. Coleman called to offer you a bribe to throw my defense.”
“That’s a shorthand way to explain it. After Tara Jacobs couldn’t protect either Michael’s or Brigman’s financials, Coleman called to pressure me to withdraw my subpoenas. He knew I was going to get Brigman’s records even though he could protect Michael’s. And he didn’t want me to see either one.”
“What did he offer you?”
“A partnership at Warrick, Thompson. But I had already turned that down long before I was appointed to represent you. Alan asked me to join the firm when I came out from New York, but I said no.”
“So what else, then?”
“He offered to send some of his former clients who are now with Warrick, Thompson my way. In short, he offered to make me a rich woman.”
“And you said no? Even though you know you’ll lose my case?”
“I don’t know that I’m going to lose.”
“I’ve been researching Battered Woman’s Syndrome as a defense.”
“Jim told me.”
“It rarely results in acquittal.”
“That’s right. Usually the jury finds voluntary manslaughter or maybe second degree murder. Voluntary manslaughter will get you eleven years; second degree murder is fifteen to life.”
“So you can save me from lethal injection, but you can’t get me back to Meggie and Sam.”
“We don’t know that right now.”
“But being back with my children is a long shot.”
“Right. A long shot.”
Alexa was silent for a while, staring at the blank wall opposite. The she said, “That so typical of Coleman.”
“Offering you a bribe. He thinks money is the reason for living.”
“He’s not alone. I just happen not to agree.”
“Do you think you can learn anything from Dr. Brigman’s bank records?”
“We’re going to try. Of course, if Michael was bribing him, having Michael’s would make it a lot easier to figure that out.”
“I guess Bob told you we suspected Brigman was being bribed.”
“Yeah. He said you lost too many hearings you should have won.”
“That’s true. I went from being an attorney who could write persuasive majority opinions for a United States Supreme Court Justice to an attorney who couldn’t win even one motion in family law court. My self-esteem went to zero.”
“That’s not hard to understand. You were one of the top attorneys in the country, and you felt you should be able to use your skill to save your children.”
Alexa gave her that soft, charming smile. “I was never able to put it into words the way you have; but, of course, you’re right. I wasn’t much of a lawyer if I couldn’t protect my children from Michael and Ronald Brigman. And I couldn’t.”
“Losing in family court wasn’t the mark of your ability as an attorney. You were up against an unfair system.”
“Bob said that. He told me to leave San Diego and not to look back because the court would forever keep me dancing to Michael’s tune. Bob told me to go where the really good attorneys are — the ones who’d appreciate what I do. You did that, didn’t you? You left San Diego and moved to New York?”
“I don’t talk about my life. The past is better left where it is. You may find that to be true one day.”
“Maybe. It’s just I can’t imagine never seeing Meggie and Sam again.” Her eyes filled with tears once more, and Sarah handed her another tissue.
“It might be better for now not to think that way. Just focus on getting through each day.”
Alexa nodded. “You’re right. Thank you for taking this case. I know it hasn’t made you popular.”
“I wasn’t destined to be popular here. I don’t practice law the way they do.”
“You know, you ought to reconsider Alan’s offer. I don’t mean because of Coleman’s influence. I’m sure Alan would want you because you’d be an asset to the firm. You’d like working with Alan and his partners because they play by the rules.”
“I know. But I was with a big firm for a long time, as you probably know. And I could go back to Craig, Lewis in a heartbeat if I picked up the phone and told Hollis Craig I was ready to come back. But that’s not what I want.”
“I understand. I’m lucky to have you.”
“Thanks. Now try to get some sleep. Jim will be around with that egg sandwhich in the morning; and although I’ve never had one of those, I know he is very talented in the kitchen. Should I turn out this light by the bed?”
“Please. But leave the night-light on.”
Sarah noticed a nursery night-light with pink bears plugged in under the window. Alexa looked a little embarrassed.
“I’m afraid I’ve become a child again. I can’t sleep if there is too much dark. Jim brought it too me.”
“Of course.” Sarah’s heart twisted at the kindness in Jim’s gesture for the woman who was might soon be facing death’s eternal darkness.
* * *
It was eleven thirty when Sarah got home. She had stopped at Trend for a drink after she left the hospital because she hadn’t wanted to face her guilt over Alexa alone in her empty house. But sitting at the polished bar, staring out at the dark ocean, had made her feel even worse. She’d kept wishing that by some miracle Jim would walk through the door.
You could call him, she told herself, as she sipped her wine and watched the waves dance under the stars. And if he weren’t otherwise occupied, he’d probably drive up from Pacific Beach and join her. But she knew she wouldn’t feel any better because she would spend their time together thinking about the way he’d settled the pillows behind Alexa’s head, and their smiles of anticipation when he’d said he’d be back in the morning.
She sat in her dark car in her dark garage for a few minutes, summoning her courage to go inside and face the too quiet house where her own thoughts could swarm unchecked. Suddenly she felt tears like pin pricks behind her eyes, so she got out of the car quickly and hurried into the kitchen to self-medicate with more wine before she could actually begin to cry. That was another one of her hard and fast rules. Never look back, and above all, never cry. She poured a large glass of cabernet and took a few quick gulps before going into the bedroom and slipping into her black silk pajamas.
She turned back her bed, settled comfortably against the down pillows, and tried to concentrate on the mystery thriller she was reading. But the picture of Alexa and Jim in the hospital continued to haunt her.
Bob Metcalf was right about Alexa. She was a sweet woman. Sarah thought they would probably have been friends if they’d had jobs at the same law firm. Craig, Lewis always liked to recruit former Supreme Court clerks as associates, and the ones who went the distance with the firm, always became partners. Sarah would have liked having a young associate in her practice who knew constitutional law as deeply as Alexa did. And she was bright and charming; and above all, juries would have warmed up to her. Sarah would have liked mentoring her to partnership in the firm. And without any doubt, Alexa would have become a Craig, Lewis partner. If only she hadn’t thrown away her career and her life by marrying Michael Reed.
“It’s your job to get her life back for her,” the Universe reminder her in the too-quiet house.
“I know. But I’ve already told you, I don’t want that job.”
“Too bad because it’s yours.”
“But I want off this hook.”
“Want away, but you have to come through for her. You know that.”
Suddenly her phone began to ring. The clock said midnight, and her heart began to flip flop like a teenaged girl’s, hoping Jim was calling.
“Hey, babe!” David Scott. Her heart stopped dancing and became as still as stone. “You stood me up tonight.”
“No, I didn’t. It’s over.”
“Like I said, it’s not over until I say it’s over.”
“I don’t have time for this. I’m trying to save a woman’s life.”
“And that just happens to include sleeping with your investigator?”
“I’m not sleeping with anyone. But if I were, it would not be your business.”
“Wrong again. It is my business, and I’ve got my man watching you right now. You’re lying to me about that investigator.”
Sarah shivered. “I’m going to get a restraining order for you and anyone connected to you first thing Monday morning.”
David laughed. “Please do. You know those orders aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.”
And that was only too true.
“Don’t cross me any more, Sarah. You don’t want to get hurt. And no one would ever know I’m responsible. I’ve done it before, and I can do it again. Why do you think Tessa stays in line so nicely?”
Sarah shivered again but said firmly, “Good night.”
A wave of raw terror washed over her as soon as she put down the phone. She crept through the silent house and peeked through the blinds in the front hall without opening them. Some sort of generic white car was parked in front of her neighbor’s house. It hadn’t been there when she’d come home.
She stood in the hall trembling and considering what to do. One part of her wanted to call Jim, but yet another part of her knew she should not to become dependant upon him. She had always fought her battles alone; nothing had changed in that department. She moved silently down the hall and into her bedroom. She decided not to turn out the light because she didn’t want whoever was in the white car to think she was going to sleep. She picked up her phone and dialed the San Diego police.”
“911, what’s your emergency?”
“I live in La Jolla Shores and there’s a suspicious car that’s been parked in front of my neighbor’s house for over an hour. My neighbor isn’t home, and I think they’re casing the place for a burglary.”
“Ok, ma’am. We’ll get right on it.”
And ten minutes later, Sarah smiled as she watched the police shine a bright light into the private investigator’s car. Ten minutes after that, he was gone.