Grier Childe sat in front of a stainless-steel table on a cold stainless-steel chair that was across from another stainless-steel chair. All of the furniture was bolted to the floor and the only other fixtures were the security camera up in the corner and an overhead lightbulb that had a cage around it. The walls were concrete block that had been painted so many times it was nearly wall-paper smooth, and the air smelled like rotgut floor cleaner, the cologne of the last attorney who’d been in the room, and old cigarettes.
The place couldn’t be more different from where she usually worked. The Boston offices ofPalmer, Lords, Childe, Stinston & Dodd were like a museum of nineteenth-century furniture and artwork. PLCS&D had no armed guards, no metal detectors, and nothing was screwed into place so it couldn’t be stolen or thrown at somebody.
There the uniforms came from Brooks Brothers and Burberry.
She’d been doing pro bono public defending for about two years, and it had taken her at least twelve months to get in good with the front desk and the staff and the guards. But now it was like old-home week whenever she came here, and she honestly loved the people.
Lot of good folks doing hard jobs in the system.
Opening up the file of her newest client, she reviewed the charges, intake form, and history: Isaac Rothe, age twenty-six, apartment down on Tremont Street. Unemployed. No priors. Arrested along with eight others as part of a bust the night before on an underground gambling and fighting ring. No warrant needed because the fighters were trespassing on private property. According to the police report, her client was in the ring at the time the police infiltrated. Apparently the guy he’d fought was getting treated at Mass General-
It’s nine o’clock on a Saturday morning . . . do you know where your life is?
Keeping her head down, Grier squeezed her eyes shut. “Not now, Daniel.”
I’m just saying. As her dead brother’s voice drifted in and out of her head from behind, the disembodied sound made her feel utterly crazy. You’re thirty-two years old, and instead of cozying up to some hot boy toy, you’re sitting here in the police station with sucky coffee—
“I don’t have any coffee.”
At that moment, the door swung wide and Billy rolled in. “Thought you might like some wake-up.”
Bingo, her brother said.
Shut. Up, she thought back at him.
“Billy, that’s really kind of you.” She took what the supervisor offered, the warmth of the paper cup bleeding into her palm.
“Well, you know, it’s dishwater. We all hate it.” Billy smiled. “But it’s a tradition.”
“It sure is.” She frowned as he lingered. “Something wrong?”
Billy patted the vacant chair next to him. “Would you mind sitting here for me?”
Grier lowered the cup. “Of course not, but why—”
There was a beat. Clearly, Billy was waiting for her to shift around and not inclined to explain himself.
Pushing the file across the way, she went to the other seat, her back now to the door.
“That’s a girl.” He gave her a squeeze on the arm and rolled out.
The change in position meant that she could see the filmy apparition of her younger, beloved brother. Daniel was lounging in the far corner of the room, feet crossed at the ankles, arms linked at the chest. His blond hair was fresh and clean, and he had on a coral-colored polo shirt and madras shorts.
He was like an undead model in a Ralph Lauren ad, nothing but all-American, sun-kissed privilege about to take a sail off Hyannisport.
Except he wasn’t smiling at her, as he usually did. They want him facing the door so the guard outside can keep an eye on him. And they don’t want you boxed into the room. Easier to get you out this way if he gets aggressive.
Forgetting about the security camera, and the fact that to anybody else she was speaking into thin air, she leaned in. “Nobody is going haywire—”
You’ve got to quit this. Stop trying to save people and get a life.
“Right back at you. Stop haunting me and get an eternity.”
I would. But you won’t let me go.
On that note, the door behind her opened up and her brother disappeared.
Grier stiffened as she heard the tinkling sound of chains and the shuffling of feet.
And then she saw him.
Holy . . . Mary . . . mother . . . of . . .
What had been brought out of holding by Shawn C. was about six feet, four inches of solid muscle. Her client was “dressed in,” which meant he had his prison garb on, and his hands and feet were shackled together and linked with a steel chain that ran up the front of his legs and went around his waist. His hard face had the kind of hollow cheeks that came with zero body fat, and his dark hair was cut short like a military man’s. There were some fading bruises around his eyes, a bright white bandage at his hairline . . . and a red flush around his neck, as if he’d very, very recently been manhandled.
Her first thought was . . . she was glad good old Billy McCray had made her switch seats. She wasn’t sure how she knew it, but she had the sense that if her client chose to, he could have taken Shawn C. down in the blink of an eye—in spite of the cuffs and the fact that the guard was built like a bulldog and had years of experience handling big, volatile men.
Her client’s eyes didn’t meet hers, but stayed locked on the floor as the guard shoved him into the tight space between the vacant chair and the table.
Shawn C. bent down to the man’s ear and whispered something.
Growled something, was more like it.
Then the guard glanced over at Grier and smiled tightly, as if he didn’t like the whole thing but was going to be professional about it. “Hey, I’ll be just outside the door. You need anything? You just holler and I’m in here.” In a lower voice, he said, “I’m watching you, boy.”
Somehow she wasn’t surprised at the precautions. Just sitting across from her client made her wary. She couldn’t imagine moving him around the jailhouse.
God, he was big.
“Thanks, Shawn,” she said quietly.
“No problem, Ms. Childe.”
And then she was alone with Mr. Isaac Rothe.
Measuring the tremendous girth of his shoulders, she noted that he wasn’t twitching or fidgeting, which she took as a good sign- no meth or coke in his system, hopefully. And he didn’t stare at her inappropriately or check out the front of her suit or lick his lips.
Actually, he didn’t look at her at all, his eyes remaining locked on the table in front of him.
“I’m Grier Childe- I’ve been assigned your case.” When he didn’t raise his eyes or nod, she continued. “Anything that you say to me is privileged, which means that within the bounds of the law, I will not reveal it to anyone. Further, that security camera over there has no audio feed, so no one else can hear what you tell me.”
She waited . . . and still he didn’t reply. He just sat there, breathing evenly, all coiled power with his cuffed hands set on the tabletop and his huge body crammed into the chair.
On the first meeting, most of the clients she’d had here either slouched and did the sullen routine, or they played all indignant and offended, with a lot of exculpatory talk. He was neither. His spine was straight as an arrow, and he was totally alert, but he didn’t say a word.
She cleared her throat. “The charges against you are serious. The guy you were fighting with was sent to the hospital with a brain hemorrhage. Right now you’re up for second-degree assault and attempted murder, but if he dies, that’s murder two or manslaughter.”
“Mr. Rothe, I’d like to ask you some questions, if I may?”
Grier sat back. “Can you even hear me?”
Just as she was wondering whether he had an undisclosed disability, he spoke. “Yes, ma’am.”
His voice was so deep and arresting, she stopped breathing. Those two words were uttered with a softness that was at total odds with the size of his body and the harshness of his face. And his accent . . . vaguely Southern, she decided.
“I’m here to help you, Mr. Rothe. You understand that, right?”
“No disrespect, ma’am, but I don’t believe you can.”
Definitely Southern. Beautifully Southern, as a matter of fact.
Shaking her head clear, she said, “Before you dismiss me, I’d suggest you consider two things. Right now, there’s no bail set for you, so you’re going to be stuck in here as your case moves forward. And that could be months. Also, anyone who represents himself truly does have a fool for a client—that’s not just a saying. I’m not the enemy. I’m here to help you-”
He finally looked at her.
His eyes were the color of frost on window glass, and filled with the shadows of deeds that stained the soul. And as that grim, exhausted stare bored through the back of her head, it froze her heart: She knew instantly that he wasn’t just some street thug.
He was a soldier, she thought. He had to be- her father got the same look in his eyes during quiet nights.
War did that to people.
“Iraq?” she asked quietly. “Or Afghanistan?”
His brows flared a little, but that was the only reply she got.
Grier tapped his file. “Let me get you bail. Let’s just start there, okay? You don’t have to tell me anything about why you were arrested or what happened. I just need to know your ties to the community and where you live. With no prior arrests, I think we’ve got a shot at . . .”
She stopped as she realized he’d closed his eyes.
Okay. First time she’d ever had a client take a snooze in the middle of a meeting. Maybe Billy and Shawn C. had less to worry about than they thought.
“Am I boring you, Mr. Rothe?” she demanded after a moment.
His public defender’s voice was a kind of lullaby in Isaac’s ears, her aristocratic inflection and perfect grammar soothing him so much he was oddly afraid of her. Originally, he’d closed his eyes because she was simply too beautiful to look at, but there had been an added benefit to the lights out. Without the distraction of her perfect face and her smart stare, he was able to fully concentrate on her words.
The way she spoke was poetic. Even to a guy who wasn’t into the hearts and flowers routine.
Not a question, a demand. Clearly she was getting fed up with his ass.
Cracking his lids, he felt the impact of her nail him in the sternum—and tried to tell himself that she was making such a big impression because it had been years since he’d been around a true lady. After all, most of the females he’d fucked or worked with had been rough around the edges, just like him. So this precisely coiffed, clearly educated, perfumed exotic across the table was some kind of stunning anomaly.
God, she’d probably faint if she saw his tattoo.
And run screaming if she knew what he’d been doing for a living for the last five years.
“Let me try to get you bail,” she repeated. “And then we’ll see where we are.”
He had to wonder why she cared so much about some scrub she’d never met before, but there was an undeniable mission in her eyes, and maybe that explained it: Clearly, she was exorcising some kind of demon, being down here with the riffraff. Maybe it was a case of rich-guilt. Maybe it was a religious thing. Whatever it was, she was damned determined.
“Mr. Rothe. Let me help you.”
He so didn’t want her involved in his case . . . but if she could set him free, he could take off and he was undoubtedly safer out in the world: His old boss would have no trouble sending a man into this jail on a charge and engineering the assassination right under the noses of the guards.
To Matthias, that would be child’s play.
Isaac felt his conscience, which had been long silent, send up a holler, but the logic was sound: She looked like the kind of lawyer who could get things done in the system, and as much as he hated to involve her in the mess he was in, he wanted to stay alive.
“I’d be grateful if you could do that, ma’am.”
She took a deep breath, like she was having a break in the middle of a marathon. “Good. All right then. Now, it says here you live over on Tremont. How long have you been there?”
“Just over two weeks.”
He could tell by the way her brows went together that that wasn’t going to help him much. “You’re unemployed?”
The technical term was AWOL, he thought. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Do you have any family? Here or elsewhere in the state?”
“No.” His father and brothers all thought he was dead, and that was just fine with him. And them as well in all likelihood.
“At least you don’t have any priors.” She closed the file. “I’ll go up in front of the judge in about a half hour. The bail’s going to be steep . . . but I know some bondsmen we could approach to put up the money.”
“How high do you think it will be?”
“Twenty thousand—if we’re lucky.”
“I can cover it.”
Another frown and she reopened his file, taking a second gander at his paperwork. “You stated here that you have no income and no savings.”
As he stayed quiet, she didn’t give him flak and didn’t seem surprised. No doubt she was used to people like him lying, but unfortunately, he was willing to bet his life that what he was keeping from her was far, far deadlier than what her Good Samaritan antics usually brought her in contact with.
Shit. Actually, he was betting her life on it, wasn’t he. Matthias cast a wide net when it came to assignments, and anyone standing next to Isaac ran the risk of being in the crosshairs.
Except once he was out, she was never going to see him again.
“How’s your face?” she asked after a moment.
“It looks as if it hurts. Do you want any aspirin? I’ve got some.”
Isaac stared down at his busted hands. “No, ma’am. But thank you.”
He heard the clip-clip of her high heels as she got to her feet. “I’ll be back after I—”
The door opened and the muscle who’d taken him up from holding came barreling in.
“I’m off to talk to the judge,” she said to the guard. “And he was a perfect gentleman.”
Isaac allowed himself to be dragged upright, but he wasn’t paying attention to the guard. He was staring at his public defender. She even walked like a lady—
His arm got yanked hard. “You don’t look at her,” the guard said. “Guy like you doesn’t even look at someone like her.”
Mr. Manners’ death grip was a little annoying, but there was no faulting the SOB’s opinion.
Even if he’d had a garden variety job and nothing more than a couple of speeding tickets, he wasn’t anywhere near that league of woman. Hell, he wasn’t even playing in the same sport.
Copyright 2010 by Jessica Bird
All rights reserved. Maybe not be reproduced in any fashion in whole or in part without the express written permission of the author.