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Authors: Stanton, Mary

Angel's advocate

Table of ContentsTitle PageCopyright PageDedicationOneTwoThreeFourFiveSixSevenEightNineTenElevenTwelveThirteenFourteenFifteenSixteenSeventeenEighteenNineteenTwentyEpilogueA Note on the Celestial SpheresTerrifying TailgaterOne by one, the streetlights went out. And the whirling tower of dark, shot through with a sickly yellow, advanced toward her down the street.Bree’s dog, Sasha, drew his lips back in a snarl, crouched low, and crept toward the apparition. Bree judged the distance between the thing and the safety of her car. Sasha bounded forward. Bree yelled, “Heel!” in sudden terror for her dog, and sprinted down the sidewalk. The tower of oily smoke grew taller, wider, as if gathering itself for a ferocious charge. Bree flung herself at the driver’s door, pushed Sasha in ahead of her, and jammed the key into the ignition.The smoke swirled around the windshield. In the midst of the shifting mass, Bree caught a glimpse of a grinning white face.She slammed the motor into life, gunned the car forward, and left the mist behind.Berkley Prime Crime titles by Mary StantonDEFENDING ANGELSANGEL’S ADVOCATE

 

Titles by Mary Stanton writing as Claudia Bishop

 

Hemlock Falls MysteriesA TASTE FOR MURDERA DASH OF DEATHA PINCH OF POISONMURDER WELL-DONEDEATH DINES OUTA TOUCH OF THE GRAPEA STEAK IN MURDERMARINADE FOR MURDERJUST DESSERTSFRIED BY JURYA PUREE OF POISONBURIED BY BREAKFASTA DINNER TO DIE FORGROUND TO A HALTA CAROL FOR A CORPSE

 

The Casebooks of Dr. McKenzie MysteriesTHE CASE OF THE ROASTED ONIONTHE CASE OF THE TOUGH-TALKING TURKEYTHE CASE OF THE ILL-GOTTEN GOATTHE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUPPublished by the Penguin GroupPenguin Group (USA) Inc.375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USAPenguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada(a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, EnglandPenguin Group Ireland, 25 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.)Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia(a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.)Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi—110 017, IndiaPenguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632, New Zealand(a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.)Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196,South AfricaPenguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, EnglandThis is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

 

ANGEL’S ADVOCATE

 

A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with the authorPRINTING HISTORYBerkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / June 2009

 

Copyright © 2009 by Mary Stanton.

 

All rights reserved.No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group,a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

 

eISBN : 978-1-10105374-4

 

BERKLEY®PRIME CRIMEBerkley Prime Crime Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group,a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.BERKLEY®PRIME CRIME and the PRIME CRIME logo are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

 

 

 

http://us.penguingroup.com

For Nathan Stanton SchwartzOneA lawyer has no business with the justice or injustice of the cause which he undertakes.—Tour to the Hebrides, James Boswell

 

“This seventeen-year-old high school cheerleader stole one hundred sixty-five dollars and twenty-six cents from a Girl Scout?” Most lawyers learned to keep a poker face early on. Bree was no exception. She sat up a little straighter in the kitchen chair, but otherwise didn’t react. “What happened, exactly?”Bree’s aunt Cissy zigzagged around the kitchen in a distracted way. “Lindsey—that’s the grabber—and a couple of her girlfriends were tootling around the mall parking lot in her daddy’s Hummer. She pulled up to the front entrance, jumped out of the car, pushed the little girl flat, and grabbed the shoebox that had the money in it. Then she got back into the Hummer and buzzed off with the loot.” Aunt Cissy rolled her eyes. “There were a couple of eyewitnesses, including the Girl Scout’s mamma. The teeners thought the whole thing was a hoot. Hung out of the Hummer’s windows, laughing their keisters off.”Cissy was eight years younger than Bree’s mother, but where Francesca Winston-Beaufort was soft, round, and red-haired, Cecily was blonde and angular. Her sun-streaked hair was courtesy of Fontina, Savannah’s most popular beautician; her wiry frame owed a lot to the gym on Front Street and weekly games of tennis. Cissy hopped onto the blue tile counter that topped the kitchen island and bounced her heels against the lower cabinet. “Thing was, some kid with a fancy cell phone videoed the whole thing, called up WKYR as quick as lightnin’, and you can just bet the sorry mess is going to hit the six o’clock news. Carrie-Alice is just beside herself.”“And Carrie-Alice is Lindsey the cheerleader’s mother,” Bree said, just to keep the narrative straight. She added a few notes to the yellow pad in front of her. “I don’t think I’ve met Carrie-Alice. She’s a close friend?”“Not all that close,” Cissy admitted. “But the police called her right there in the middle of our Thursday afternoon bridge game. Carrie-Alice and I were playin’ partners. I was dummy. We were,” she added with a broody air, “about to make a small slam. Carrie dropped the cards and pitched a fit. That blew any chance of a slam.” She leaped off the counter and onto the floor. “So what was I supposed to do? Just leave her all distraught in the middle of the card room at the club? No, sir. I have a niece, I said, who’s probably the best lawyer in Savannah and she can get your Lindsey out of jail quicker than blink.”Bree raised an eyebrow. “Lindsey’s in jail?”“As near as makes no difference. The police took her down to the station on Montgomery after they caught up with her. Impounded the Hummer and for all I know, impounded Lindsey, too.” She shook her head. “Well, now, I’m a liar. The kid’s back home, come to think on it. Carrie-Alice hared off down after her and I hared off to find you.” Her aunt narrowed her bright blue eyes. “I would have met up with you at your office, but damned if I couldn’t find it, Bree. And I’ve lived in Savannah pretty near all my life. Just whereisAngelus Street?”“I’d come home for lunch anyway,” Bree said evasively. Very few people knew that the only clients who could find 66 Angelus were the dead ones. The law firm of Beaufort & Company had another office on Bay Street for those clients currently among the living, but renovations were still in progress after a deadly fire. Bree offered her usual diversionary fib: “Mamma might have told you the Angelus Street office is temporary until Great-Uncle Franklin’s old offices are ready for me to move into. Anyhow, it’s much more comfortable here.”“Here” was the family town house overlooking the Savannah River. It sat at the end of a row of rehabbed brick buildings, two stories above the cobblestone-lined River Walk. Bree loved the location. She could clatter down the steps, with their wrought-iron rails, and walk to the brick bulwarks of the centuries-old wharf and her favorite shops in less than three minutes.“I hardly think you’d want to meet Carrie-Alice in the kitchen instead of a nice professional-looking office,” Cissy complained. She shook her head. “Whatever. I guess you can get on out to Carrie-Alice’s place on Tybee Island just as easy.” She reached over, twirled Bree’s yellow pad, and wrote down an address and phone number. “Be best if you followed me there. I’ve got a late afternoon massage over at the spa.”Bree needed new clients, but she wasn’t wild about representing a kid who’d ripped off an eight-year-old Girl Scout. “I’m sure the family lawyer is well equipped to handle something like this. If not, I can give her a refer ral to an attorney better suited to criminal law than I am. I’ll be happy to meet with Carrie-Alice and tell her so. And what’s the family name, Aunt Cissy?”“Chandler.”Now that was interesting. “As in Probert Chandler? The drugstore king?”“Marlowe’s. That’s the one. Pots of money, of course, which is another reason I thought about you right off. It can’t be easy starting out all on your own. And it’s a case that will get you a lot of attention. I was thinking about a defense, Bree honey. Probert’s been dead less than four months and here his little girl is stealing cookie money in broad daylight.”“I heard something about Chandler’s death. He wasn’t very old. Late fifties, I think?”“Fifty-eight. Car accident,” Cissy said with a shake of her head. “All by his lonesome on Skidaway Road in a rainstorm.” She flung her hands wide. “Clearly—clearlythe child is suffering from some kind of displaced grief.”“Delayed some, too, since it happened four months ago,” Bree said. She remembered the accident, now. It had made international news, the way anything Probert Chandler did. Marlowe’s Drugstores, Inc., had annual revenues that rivaled the GNP of a small South American nation. Probert Chandler was famous for building the megacor poration up from a nothing drugstore located in Portland, Oregon. That, and for his unpretentious lifestyle. The car he’d been driving when he went off Skidaway Road to glory was a Buick.Cissy beamed. “This kid’s case is just the sort of thing that can put you on the map, lawyer-wise.”Bree tapped her pen against her teeth. She didn’t want cases that got her a lot of attention. She had her hands full with the weirdness of her current caseload. The last thing she needed was a spotlight on the activities of Beaufort & Company. On the other hand, at least some of her clients had to be alive and ready to pay reasonable fees. She looked down at her feet, where her dog, Sasha, lay curled up, nose to tail. Somebody had to keep him in kibble and the office rent paid. Not to mention keeping up with the pitifully small salaries of her secretary and paralegal. And that somebody would be her. But she said, “The Chandler family’s got lawyers up the wazoo, Aunt Cissy. I don’t see what I can bring to the party.”Cissy put her hands on her hips and snorted. “You’re kidding me, right? Is this seventeen-year-old teenager going to relate better to you, or some middle-aged, potbel lied banker type who’s only interested in protecting the family name? You’re twenty-eight and gorgeous. You’re somebody she cantalkto, Bree.”
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Bree made a face.“And besides, it’s something of a challenge, isn’t it? It’s going to be quite a trick to make this little girl look sympathetic.” Bree took a deep breath. Cissy raised both hands and yelled, “Sorry, sorry, sorry! You’ve got the same look your mamma gets when she’s about to give me a lecture on the overprivileged, which she thinks is you, me, and anybody with the least little bit of a trust fund.”“Weareoverprivileged,” Bree pointed out. “You, me, Mamma, and Antonia, too.” She thought a minute. “I take that back about Antonia.” Her little sister lived at the town house on the incredibly feeble wages she made as a tech director at the local repertory theater. Somehow, she managed to pay her half of the living expenses and for acting and singing lessons, too.“This is why you should take this case on,” Cissy said. “This is what I should have said from the beginning. What I reallymean, Bree, is that this girl needs your help.”Bree nudged her dog with her toe. There were times when her dog was more than a dog to her. “What do you think, Sasha?”Sasha lifted his head and shoved his nose into the palm of her hand. Bree looked into his amber eyes. He panted happily, tongue lolling, lips drawn back in a doggy grin. Under her steady regard, he glanced away, glanced back, and barked. A wait-and-see sort of bark.“That’s an awfully big dog to keep in here,” Cissy said, her attention momentarily diverted. “Haven’t the other owners gotten a little hissy? I thought the covenants didn’t allow any pets over forty pounds.”Sasha stood thirty inches at the shoulder and weighed over a hundred and twenty pounds. His broad chest and powerful hindquarters came from his mastiff forebears. The gentleness of his expression and golden coat were all retriever. “Nobody’s noticed anything yet,” Bree said truthfully. And very probably, nobody would. The dog had a unique ability to make himself scarce when necessary. It was nothing short of . . . angelic. “As for representing this case”—she rubbed her nose—“I think I’ll take a pass. This girl sounds like she needs a shrink more than she needs a lawyer.”“Your daddy didn’t raise a daughter fool enough to turn down a case from the Chandler family.” Cissy slung her tote over her shoulder with a knowing air. “So are you going to come out with me to Tybee Island?” She drew her eyebrows together. A Botox devotee, her forehead never wrinkled. “If you can’t find the time to give this little girl a hand, Bree, honey, you need tomakethe time. I suppose you’re all booked up this afternoon?” A trust fund baby herself, Cissy had a touching pride in the success of her professionally employed niece.Bree didn’t have to look at her Day-Timer to know that the rest of her afternoon was depressingly free of client appointments. And she knew her aunt Cissy. She was as determined as a bulldozer. She sighed and threw both hands in the air. “Okay. I give. But I’d rather set up an appointment than show up unannounced.” She pulled out her cell phone and glanced up at her aunt. “And I don’t mean to come over rude, Aunt Cissy, but we’d both be better off if you didn’t come with me.”To her mild astonishment, Cissy nodded agreement. “Be embarrassin’ for everybody if Carrie-Alice didn’t want to hire you after all.” She stooped over and kissed Bree on the cheek. “Thank you, darlin’. I’ll be off. Will I see you at Plessey this weekend?”“At Plessey?” Her family’s estate was in North Caro lina, a good six-hour drive from the Savannah town house. Bree loved her family, but one of the reasons she’d settled in Savannah was because shewasa six-hour drive from her loving, intrusive relatives. She shut her eyes in sudden recollection. “Hoo. I forgot. Saturday’s Guy Fawkes night.” For reasons lost in some time around the Civil War, the Winston-Beauforts had a huge party for it, but November fifth fell on a Thursday this year, so her mother had set the party for Halloween weekend. Bree’s excuses for staying put were lamer than usual. Everybody knew she was dateless since Payton the Rat dumped her three months ago. “I don’t think so, Cissy. I’ve got a ton of work stacked up.” Her aunt’s shrewd blue eyes twinkled, and Bree added feebly, “Research.”“I thought that’s what your paralegal’s for.”“Petru’s Russian,” Bree said. “Needs a little help with his English now and then.”“Hm,” Cissy said. “That’ll not cut ice at all with Francesca. But it’s on your head and not mine. Go ahead. Stay home. Just don’t answer your phone, that’s all I can tell you.” She rummaged in her large tote, pulled out her compact, and examined herself critically in the little mirror. “I’m wonderin’ if I shouldn’t step up the Botox a little. What do you think?”“I like faces that make faces back at me,” Bree admitted.“You think? Wait twenty years. Once you’re nudging fifty you get a whole different perspective.” She snapped the compact shut, dropped a kiss on Bree’s head, and slammed out the back door.Bree ran her hand over Sasha’s neck. It had been several weeks since she’d rescued him from an animal trap in the depths of the cemetery that surrounded her office. The cast had just come off his leg this morning. He’d put on a healthy amount of weight. His muscles rippled under his golden coat. Pink, healthy skin replaced the sores that had covered his hindquarters and chest. “This is another kind of rescue, dog. So I suppose I could at least give the poor woman a call. We’ll walk back to the office and do it from there.”Bree put her lunch dishes in the sink, snapped on Sasha’s lead, and set out on the short walk to Angelus.It was a fine late October day. The high humidity that plagued Savannah in late spring and summer was gone. The family town house sat above the warehouses and naval stores that had been built into the bluffs overlooking the Savannah River these two hundred years past. The town house was part of a series of converted offices connected to one another and to Bay Street by a series of wooden bridges and cast-iron arches.Bree paused at the top of the cobbled ramp leading down to River Street. Huey’s beckoned. So did Savannah Sweets. Huey’s made a great cup of coffee and Savannah Sweets had the best pralines east of New Orleans. Sasha nudged her knee in a mildly reproving way.“You’re right. And yes, I’m going to work. And no, I’m not stopping for pralines.” Bree inhaled the scent of the river, wondering if she caught a faint touch of brine from the Atlantic three miles to the east. With a sigh, she turned and headed across East Bay to Mulberry, walked one block down, turned east, and found herself facing Georgia’s very own all-murderers cemetery and the small Federal-style house that contained the office of Beaufort & Company, advocates for those who had died and gone to Hell (or, often as not, Purgatory).Somebody, most likely her secretary, Ron Parchese, since he was the fussiest—and most able-bodied—of her employees, had weeded around the wrought-iron fence and sunken graves and tidied the kudzu from the grave-stones. The azaleas, camellias, roses, and rhododendrons that made such a glory of Old Savannah in spring and summer weren’t flowering now, of course. But Savannah in autumn had its own peculiar beauty. Silver-gray Spanish moss draped the live oaks like graceful shawls. Hedges of Russian olive, boxwood, and bougainvillea flaunted the full spectrum of greens, from pale celery to near black. It was a lovely spot, if you could ignore the noxious odors from the graves. Bree took a cautious breath. The dank, earthy smell was charged with a horrid undercurrent of decay this afternoon. She narrowed her eyes against the sunlight and looked under the magnolia tree. Was it her imagination, or did a faint smear of poisonous yellow smoke foul the air?No. She wasn’t going to talk herself into a case of the heebie-jeebies. Bree shook her head, walked up the crumbling brick steps to the front door, and let herself in.“Yoo-hoo!” Ron caroled. “Did you stop for pralines or not?”“Not,” Bree responded. She was in the foyer, and Ron’s desk was out of sight around the corner in the living room, at right angles to the brick fireplace. He didn’t need to see her to know who it was. He always just . . . knew.She set her briefcase on the first step of the stairs leading to the second story. Her landlady, an elderly woman with the energy and mischievousness of an eight-year-old, had painted the stairs with a parade of brightly colored Renaissance angels. The figures marched up the treads and disappeared into the shadowy recesses of the second-floor landing, a blaze of gold, red, purple, and royal blue.Bree caught the odor of strange and exotic flowers and heard the faint skittering of paws on wood floors. Lavinia must be up there, tending to her “littlies.”“I’m not going to stay long,” Bree said as she walked into the office area. “Cissy talked me into going out to see a new client on Tybee Island. I’m just going to call . . .” She stopped and looked around. “What happened to Petru’s desk? As a matter of fact, what happened to Petru?”“He’s in the kitchen,” Ron said primly. “Himandhis pesky desk.”“He and his pesky desk,” Bree said; sloppy grammar sometimes made her itch slightly. “What about him and his desk?”As usual, Ron was dressed in impeccably ironed chinos, a striped shirt, Countess Mara tie, and loafers without socks. He folded his hands on top of his own desk—also, as usual, furiously neat—and gave her a wounded look.“WhenIsaid ‘him and his pesky desk,’ the clause was the object of the sentence,” Bree explained. “Whenyousaid . . .” She struck her head lightly with the palm of her hand. “Never mind. Just tell me why Petru’s moved his stuff into the kitchen.”“Break room.” Ron corrected her with an air of mild triumph. “You did say that it’s more professional to refer to the living room as the reception area and the kitchen as the break room. And the reason he’s in the break room is I couldn’t stand one more minute of that Russian’s mess. And Bree, he hums to himself when he works.”“So you made him move to the kitchen?”“I didn’tmakehim move. He volunteered.” Ron wrinkled his nose. “I may have made a pretty heavy suggestion, though.”Bree had discovered very quickly that working with angels did not guarantee angelic temperaments. Ron liked things pathologically neat. Petru worked best as a little mole, hiding behind teetering stacks of files. And he did hum when he worked, a lugubrious drone that made her think of peasants starving to death in the revolution of 1917. She drew a breath and yelled, “Petru!”There was a brief pause from beyond the door to the break room, and then the shuffle-thump that told her Petru was walking across the floor with his cane. Her paralegal came into the reception area, stopped, folded his hands over his cane, and peered benignly at her through his thick black beard.“You moved your desk into the kitch—that is, the break room?”He shrugged. “Ronald was reacting ke-vite badly to my singing, perchance.” Petru’s spoken English was heavily accented, and somewhat idiosyncratic. His written English was exemplary. “Also, he kept filing those papers which I did not wish to be filed.”“Because his idea of a filing system is to throw everything all over the floor,” Ron said. “Honestly, Bree. Why should I have to put up with that?”Bree cleared her throat. “Gentlemen,” she began.Petru thumped his cane onto the pine floor. “I am ke-vite happy in the kitchen. It’s closer to the coffeepot, for one thing, and it is quieter, for another. I like it.”“You do?”Petru nodded.“And Ron?”“As long as I don’t have to stare at his mess or listen to him hum,” her secretary said crossly, “it’s fine. Just fine. Though I suppose if we don’t get a case pretty soon, I won’t have anything to file anyhow, so never mind.”“About new cases . . .” Bree settled herself onto the leather couch that faced the fireplace. She cast an involuntary glance at the painting propped on the mantel. It was similar in style and content to Turner’sSlave Ship: a three-masted schooner surrounded by drowning men struggling in the depths of a roiling sea. It was a horrible subject, and it hung there as a reminder of Beaufort & Company’s mission to save those unfortunates, abandoned by fate, who came to them for help. Even though, as Bree had learned with their last case, their clients might not have been the kindest of men and women in life. “Although I’m not sure if this is our case or my case.”Ron looked confused. Petru blinked at her wisely. “You have, perhaps, a question about the scope of our cause? Do we defend the living as well as the dead?”“Exactly,” Bree said.“That’s easy,” Ron said promptly. “Souls in the temporal sphere don’t need us. There are thousands of real-time lawyers out there.”“Oh, dear,” Bree said. “I suppose I’ll have to turn this one down, then.” She tugged irritably at her ear. “To be blunt about it, it would have been a pretty decent fee, too.”“On the other hand,” Ron said, “the living are the pre-dead, so to speak. Souls in transit.”“ ‘Life itself is but the shadow of death, and souls departed but the shadows of the living,’ ” Petru said. “Sir Thomas expresses it ke-vite well, I think.” Ron scowled at him. He scowled back. “Although, of course, he was not thinking of the need to pay the electric bill.”Bree’s head began to ache. Whoever Sir Thomas was—More? Could Petru be referring to Thomas More? Anyhow—she’d bet he was a soul departed and not a shadow of death. Petru had an unsettling way of referring to long dead poets and philosophers as though he’d just met them for lunch. For all she knew, maybe he had.“Which is to say,” Petru went on, “that you may take on cases outside the venue of Beaufort & Company. And that we can assist you in the normal way.”“Nonangelic,” Ron explained. “No extras, if you know what I mean.”Bree didn’t have a clue what Ron meant. She did have a million questions about what her employees did—and where they were—even what they looked like—when they weren’t helping her at the office. All of the questions seemed incredibly rude and impossible to ask. She had once asked Lavinia the actual form and function of her “littlies” and received, accompanied by an ominous roll of thunder, a sweet, impenetrable smile in response. She supposed they’d let her know when the time was right. In the interim, she roundly cursed herself for a well-mannered coward and let all of her questions boil around in the back of her mind.
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“A paying client?” Ron urged. “Go ahead. Do tell.”“Well, this one’s a doozy,” she said. She explained, briefly, about the cheerleader, the Hummer, and the victimized Girl Scout.“Dearie me,” Ron said. “What a little witch it is. Lindsey Chandler, you say? I’ve read about her. Richer than she should be and nasty with it, from all accounts. Bree, you can’t pass this one up.” He reached forward and waggled his fingers. “You have the phone number? Hand it over. I’ll set up an appointment right now.”TwoPiù non ti dico e più non ti respondo.I will tell you no more and I no longer answer you.—The Inferno, Dante

 

Ten minutes later, Bree drove onto President Street, which would take her to 80 East to Tybee Island. Sasha sat in the passenger seat, head out the window, eyes blissfully closed against the breeze, ears flying in the wind. The Chandler place was on the south end of the island, facing Little Tybee. A pricey neighborhood, but not Old Savannah. The Chandler place was set back from the main road, surrounded by a ficus hedge more than twenty feet high. Ficus was rare in lower Georgia; Bree was willing to bet a large amount of money went each year to replacing frost losses. But it was an elegant hedge, no doubt about it.The house was a Mizner clone. Like its sister houses in Palm Beach, it had a comfortable elegance all its own. The red tile roof, pink stucco, and elaborate wrought-iron fencing spoke of quiet good taste. The lawn was lush, with that velvety green cropped grass that was as soft as moss to walk on. She caught a glimpse of a pool out back surrounded by brick paving. Well-cared-for teak chairs and tables offered an oasis of comfort around the pool. Amazingly modest when you knew how much the Chandlers were worth. Bree felt a flicker of genuine interest in Lindsey’s behavior, in spite of herself. The family obviously downplayed their huge wealth, which argued for pretty good values, as a rule.Or maybe not.She settled Sasha in the front seat of the car, left both windows open, and walked up the brick pathway to the colonnaded front porch. Carrie-Alice Chandler opened the mahogany front door as Bree came up the steps.“Brianna? I’m Carrie Chandler.” She took in Bree with a brief glance and said dryly, “My goodness. You’re related to Cissy? You’re gorgeous, aren’t you?”As this complimented Bree at her much-loved aunt’s expense, she wasn’t sure how to respond, so she didn’t.Carrie-Alice was shorter than Bree, but then, many women were; Bree was five-foot-nine in her stocking feet. Bree knew the woman couldn’t be more than forty-five, but she looked older. Her face was tired. She hadn’t bothered to tint the gray out of her brown hair and she wore foundation that was a slightly lighter color than her actual skin tone. Her lipstick was an old-fashioned matte red. She was dressed neatly, if unimaginatively, in a well-cut linen skirt and cotton twinset in pale pink. A pearl necklace, small pearl earrings, and flat Todd loafers completed a look that was fine for the over-sixty set, but odd in a woman with a teenaged daughter. When Bree thought about it later, she decided it was a defensive way to dress.Carrie straightened up, as if it were an effort to be courteous, and stood aside to let Bree pass. “Thank you for coming so promptly. Please come in.”Bree followed her through the wide, black-and-white-tiled foyer to the rear of the house. The house had a refrigerated flower smell, like an expensive florist. The furniture consisted of good-quality reproductions. The flooring was narrow-planked oak with faux pegs, a composite wood over subflooring, popular now in expensive homes.“Would you like to sit in the sunroom or the study?” Carrie paused in the hallway and glanced over her shoulder. The door to her left was halfway open. Bree saw a room arranged with desk, bookshelves, and some very nice watercolors on the walls. The sunroom was straight ahead. The French doors were open to the pool area. A streaked blonde head peeked over the top of one of the recliners.“Whatever you think best,” Bree said politely.“The study’s where Probert used to have his little talks with Lindsey. The sunroom’s where she and her little buddies hang out when she isn’t harassing innocent Girl Scouts.”“Little talks?” Bree said. The phrase had unpleasant overtones. Involuntarily, she rubbed her arms.“Lindsey’s been a handful since she was a toddler,” Carrie said briefly. “I left most of it up to Probert to handle. But of course, now that he’s dead, it’s up to me, isn’t it? The study might give you a home court advantage, that’s all.” She smiled. It didn’t reach her eyes.“Why don’t we let Lindsey decide?” Bree made it a question.“Fine. She’s out by the pool, I think.” Carrie walked ahead into the sunroom. “You coming along?”Bree left her briefcase in the hall and followed Carrie through the large, sun-filled room and out to the pool. The streaked blonde head was gone from the recliner. Except for a tote bag tumbled in a heap on the patio bricks, the area was empty.“Now where did that child get to?” Carrie murmured fretfully. “She was just here.”Bree scanned the backyard. “Is there another way into the house without going back up front?”“No.” Carrie gestured. The sunporch wrapped around the entire rear of the house. “She’d have to pass us in the hall to go anywhere.”“Then she must have walked around to the front.” The west side of the house was dense with shrubbery. The east side had a fine path of raked gravel and slate steps. Bree set off down the path, rounded the side of the house to the front, and saw a slender blonde figure leaning into her car. Her right elbow swung in and out of the window.“Lindsey!” Carrie said in exasperation.Lindsey jerked upright. “Is this your dog?” she demanded. “She’s, like, totally awesome.” She had a peeled wooden stick in one hand. It looked as if it’d come from one of the willows at the side of the house. Casually, she tossed it onto the ground.Bree bent and peered into the passenger-side window. Sasha gazed alertly back at her with an “I want out” expression. The remaining tenderness in his hind leg made him sit at an awkward angle and he shifted uncomfortably in the front seat.“Looks like she hurt her leg,” Lindsey said. She wiped her hands down the sides of her jeans, which were skin-tight, low-slung, and exposed a fair amount of skin from her waistline to her hips. She was too thin, her neck rising from her cropped T-shirt like a baby bird’s. She had a butterfly tattoo on her right shoulder, a gold nose stud, and clever, wary blue eyes. The pupils were slightly dilated. Uh-oh, Bree thought.“He,” Bree corrected gently. “And his name is Sasha. As for his leg, he had a cast that just came off. And he’s glad of it, aren’t you, boy?”“She wants to come out,” Lindsey said helpfully. “You can just see it. She probably wants to pee.” Her giggle was high-pitched. She shot a nervous glance at her mother.“Do you mind?” Bree asked Carrie. She wanted Sasha with her, where she could keep an eye on him.Carrie shrugged. “Certainly.”Bree opened the passenger door and Sasha hopped to the ground. He inspected Carrie with a courteous wag of his tail. Bree, fearful, ran her hands over his coat, looking for spots where this miserable child might have poked him with a stick.“We haven’t had a dog in the house for ages,” Carrie said. “Not since we had to give away our Irish setter.”“Oh?” Bree said. It was her firm belief you could tell a lot about people from their relationship with animals. And she sure didn’t like what she’d seen so far. “Why was that?”“Too nervy,” Carrie said briefly. “We couldn’t stop him running away from home. Found a nice farm for him to live on in the country.”Sasha looked at Bree.That’s a lie.“She’s beautiful!” Lindsey knelt on the gravel drive and flung her arms around Sasha’s neck. “And not a thing like that old neurotic Maxie. You’re a nice sane dog, aren’t you, girl?” She rubbed Sasha’s head with frantic fingers. Sasha bore this with the kind of calm possessed by only very large, self-confident dogs. Lindsey burrowed her head into his neck and cooed.“She’s a ‘he,’ Lin,” Carrie said. “And don’t hang around the old boy’s neck like that. It’s a meddlesome thing for a dog.”Sasha sneezed, and then wriggled out from under Lindsey’s grasp.“See?” Carrie said. “I told you.”Lindsey narrowed her eyes and stared at her mother. Sasha shifted on his feet and growled a little.Bree waited a moment, to see if this tension was going to go anywhere, and then said, “Let’s go into the house. I’d like to sit down and get to know you better, Lindsey.”“Ma hates dogs in the house.”“I do not,” Carrie protested. “I had dogs in your grandmother’s house all the time I was growing up.”“In Portland, Oregon,” Lindsey chanted. “In a little three-bedroom ranch with a big stupid oak tree in the back.”“That’s right,” Carrie said without expression.“It’s nicer outside,” Lindsey said. She smirked at Bree. “And if you want to sit down and get to know me better, it ought to be a place where I feel comfortable, right?”“Right,” Bree said.They ended up by the pool, seated around one of the tables sheltered by an umbrella, Sasha curled up at Bree’s feet.“Would you like some iced tea?” Carrie said. “It’s a little late in the day for coffee.”Bree declined, with perfunctory thanks, and said, “Do you know who I am, Lindsey?”“Some kind of lawyer.” Lindsey slid down in her seat and tucked her hands around herself. Then she leaped to her feet, scrabbled in her tote bag, and sat back down, this time with a pack of cigarettes and a lighter in hand.“Cecily Carmichael asked me to look into the incident at the mall on your behalf.”Lindsey blew a plume of smoke into the air and shrugged. “I guess.”“I take that to mean you’d like me to represent you?”Lindsey shrugged.“Yes,” Carrie said. “We would.”Bree took a notepad from her purse. “I’d like to get a sense of what we’re dealing with here. As I understand it, the police have been talking to you about the theft of some Girl Scout money?”Lindsey dropped the cigarette and ground it out with the toe of her shoe. “It just seemed like a good idea at the time.”“What did?” Bree asked patiently.“Like, me and Hartley Williams and Madison Bellamy were at the Oglethorpe Mall, okay? Just to, like, check things out. And we were cruising for a parking spot closer to the entrance than, like, Iowa, and Hartley’s going through the wallets to count up the cash we had on hand, and there was, like, nada.”“Youallforgot your wallets?” Bree asked skeptically.Lindsey snorted. “Madison forgot hers. Hartley and I had our purses, stupid.” She shot her mother a look of intense dislike. “I’m on restriction, so I get, like, zero cash a week, and Hartley’s stepfather, Stephen, is a real asshole when it comes to, like, allowances and stuff. There just wasn’t anything in them. And, honest to God, I could have killed for a double latte. So there was this snotty-nosed kid selling those freakin’ cookies, and I remembered how much cash the little buggers collect and we just decided to borrow the cash. Just,” she said, “so’s we could get a cup of freakin’ coffee. I mean, you would have thought we were a bunch of freakin’ terrorists, the way this thing’s been blown up. Way out of proportion. Way out.”“The charges are assault, battery, and misdemeanor theft,” Carrie said without emphasis. “She was arrested by two patrol officers and they took her down to the Montgomery Street courthouse and kept her there until I came by. I talked to a detective there—Sam Hunter, I think his name was.” She made a vague motion. “Something like that. I have his card around here somewhere.”“I know Lieutenant Hunter,” Bree said, then added, with some surprise, because she hadn’t really thought about it before, “he’s a fair man.” And way too senior an officer to deal with a mere juvenile. She drew a question mark on her yellow pad.“Whatever.” Lindsey pulled her knees up to her chin and lit another cigarette. “They put me in a room with some dyke cop until Mamma came running to the rescue.” She reached over and punched her mother’s arm, with no affection. “Came through for me again, Ma.”“And the two other girls with you? What happened to them?”“Those two. My best friends. My former best friends.” Lindsey expelled smoke through her nose. “Backed each other up, didn’t they? Said it was all my fault.” She leaned over and whispered in Bree’s ear, “Hartley’s dad’s a judge, and even though her mom’s remarried, he’s, like, not about to let his little darling get in trouble with the law.”“I know Judge Williams,” Bree said. The judge wouldn’t be averse to making a few pointed phone calls, but she doubted he’d resort to outright pressure. She also knew Sam Hunter. He was the last man you could accuse of playing politics. If Lindsey’s two buddies had been set free, it was more than likely somebody believable had witnessed the whole sorry episode and that the thing was Lindsey’s fault.Bree sighed. It wasn’t her job to judge Lindsey; it was her job to represent her interests as best she could. And if the kid were to confess to something, the confession should be protected by attorney-client privilege. Which meant that before this went any further, Carrie would have to sign anad litemagreement and arrange for a retainer.But first, Bree would have to agree to represent this brat.Life was too darn short.She clasped her hands on the table and leaned forward. “Lindsey, Carrie-Alice, I’d like to make some phone calls on your behalf to see if we can find exactly the right lawyer to handle this case.”“I thoughtyouwere going to get me out of this,” Lindsey said.
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Bree avoided Carrie’s eye. “And indeed I will, if I can. What you want from me, Lindsey, is the best advice I can give you.” She held up her hand and ticked the points off on her fingers. “First, you’re seventeen, is that right? That’s underage here in Georgia, and you need an advocate who knows the juvenile courts inside and out. That’s not me. Second, we’re dealing with felonies, here. Minor felonies, to be sure, but we’re looking at criminal charges. I’m more at home with torts and the ways to enforce performance bonds. Now, I take it you have a law firm that represents the family interests?”“Stubblefield, Marwick,” Carrie said.Bree didn’t roll her eyes, but she wanted to. The firm was notorious for its late-night infomercials soliciting business from the brain-damaged, the handicapped, and elderly people who’d fallen down in supermarkets. And John Stubblefield, the senior partner, was one of the most truly obnoxious men Bree had ever met.“Stubblefield, Marwick,” she said diplomatically, “seem to be more expert in civil law than criminal. But there are several excellent firms here and in Atlanta that can give Lindsey the kind of support she needs.”“So that’s it?” Carrie said.“That’s it,” Bree said firmly. “If you’ll excuse me for a moment, I’ll make a few phone calls right now.” Bree got up. There was no way she was going to make the calls with the two of them sitting in front of her. But her conscience wouldn’t let her totally abandon Aunt Cissy’s friend. Once the story hit the evening news, Carrie and her daughter were going to be besieged by local reporters. The Girl Scout angle was just too cute and the Chandler name too big. They needed an advocate, and fast. “If there’s a quiet place where I could get through to some of my friends, I’ll try and get you set up with an appointment right away.”Carrie hesitated. “Lindsey’s being arraigned, is that the right word?”Bree nodded.“She has this arraignment on Monday at ten. This is Thursday. That doesn’t leave us a whole lot of time to get somebody new.”“We can always ask for an adjournment,” Bree said cheerfully. “Do you mind if I use the office we passed by? I’ll be out in just a few minutes.”She didn’t exactly run from the scene, but she didn’t linger, either. The unhappiness between mother and daughter, the truly scary look in Lindsey’s eye, was a genuine miasma, an unhealthy fog in the air. What kind of kid mistreats a dog with a cast on its leg? Or a dog with no cast on its leg, for that matter? Sasha seemed to share her uneasiness. He stuck close by her, ears forward, a ready sentinel.In the short hallway, she picked up her briefcase and went into Probert Chandler’s home office.Unlike the rest of the house, the den had a perfunctory air, as if furnished from a catalog. A couple of tennis trophies sat on top of the maple credenza. A formal studio photo of Carrie-Alice, in the same pearls and an identical twinset, sat on the desk. There were two kinds of books on the shelves: worn paperback tough-guy adventure stories by people like Vince Flynn, and bound copies of trade magazines with titles likeToday’s PharmacyandDrugstore Weekly.The latest copies were dated four months earlier. A framed, fading color photograph of a much younger Probert Chandler and two other young men sat on the credenza, too. All three were dressed in the really ghastly college kid uniform of the ’70s: bell bottoms, embroidered vests, and tight shirts with pointed collars. Bree grinned a little at that. A formal oil portrait hung over the bookcase: Carrie-Alice, Lindsey, and two other kids who had to be an older brother and sister stood around a seated Probert. Probert looked just like Harry Truman, down to the wire-rimmed glasses. An indefinable air of unhappiness emanated from Carrie. But the artist had given Lindsey a healthy pink to her cheeks, and ignored the gauntness at her temples. The portrait was familiar. It must have run inTimeorPeoplemagazine at some point in the last few months. Bree contemplated it for a moment. Lindsey’s older sister had a matronly air. Her brother looked smug.A leather executive office chair sat behind the desk. Bree hesitated a moment, but the only other chair in the place was a reproduction wing chair patterned in green and yellow plaid. She sat down, put her briefcase on her lap . . .The blow came out of nowhere. Directly under her heart. She tried to breathe. Couldn’t. Couldn’t take in air. Couldn’t scream. Could only strike out with both fists . . .Bree leaped out of the chair and half fell against the desk.“No,” she said.Sasha sat on his haunches, his eyes wise.“No!”Bree said again.And then the horrible, grainy, bad black-and-white movie image of a middle-aged man flickered in front of her. Silent flames bloomed like evil flowers around his feet. His hands reached out to her. Clawed talons pulled at his face, his chest, his hair, and drew him down.“Help me help me help me . . .”Probert Chandler.And then a whisper . . .“I didn’t die in the car . . .”“Phooey!” Bree said. “Phooey, phooey, phooey!”I didn’t die in the car.That’s what her first dead soul had claimed—that he hadn’t died in the sea. Bree’d taken a lot of risks to prove that—and that he had been unfairly convicted of greed by the Celestial Court.Marlowe’s. Lindsey. Blood. Blood. Blood.And now Probert Chandler pleaded with her from the midst of these black and vicious flames.“Fine,” Bree said a little bitterly, “this is justfine.”Beaufort & Company had a client after all.ThreeNothing in his life became him like the leaving of it.—Macbeth, William Shakespeare

 

“I can’t believe my own sister stood up in front of the entire TV viewing population of Savannah and made excuses for that little creep!” Antonia slung her legs over the back of the theater seat in front of them and rolled her eyes. Bree sat next to her in the second row of the Savannah Repertory Theater.It was six thirty in the evening.Three hours earlier—twenty minutes after her encounter with Probert Chandler’s ghost, and ten minutes after Bree had accepted a five-thousand-dollar retainer from Carrie-Alice—the WKYR news van had pulled into the Chandler driveway. The media circus had lasted all afternoon. Bree chased the last of the reporters away at five thirty, then left the Chandler house and sulky Lindsey. She stopped for takeout from the Park Avenue Market, then drove straight to Savannah Repertory Theater to get some sympathy from her sister.She’d have been better off soaking her head in a tub of tomato juice.“You’d get more business hanging around the Chatham County Ambulance garage,” Antonia added. “At least you’d get a better class of client.”“Snide,” Bree said gloomily. “You’re being snide.”The stage was busy with last-minute prep for that evening’s production ofThe Return of Sherlock Holmes. Far overhead, a tech fiddled with the lighting over Reichen bach Falls. Antonia broke off to holler: “Too blue! Try a number two gel!” She scribbled in her stage manual for a minute, then said, “Your hair looked great, though. That white-blonde usually doesn’t come across all that well on camera.”Bree’s hair was long, thick, and silver-blonde. It had been a constant nuisance until she’d taken to braiding it and piling it on top of her head. It was good hair, but good hair didn’t mitigate the circumstances one little bit, even in the South. As a matter of fact, it made Bree a lot more recognizable than she wanted to be. Lindsey’s escapade had made the six o’clock news, as Bree thought it would. Lindsey was persona non grata in Savannah at the moment, and so was anyone who championed her cause. When Bree’d arrived at the theater, dinner for Antonia in hand, one of the ushers tsked at her in a really irritating way and muttered, “Shame! For shame!”“Phooey,” Bree said. Then, “Don’t I get some points for not losing my temper?”“You didn’t bust the reporter in the nose, that’s true. But you came across as snippy. Very snippy.”Bree thrust a tuna panini at her sister. “Shut up and eat.”Antonia paused, her sandwich halfway to her mouth, her eyes intent on the stage. “Perfect!” she shouted. Then, “That’s a wrap!” She sighed. “Oh, God. Oh, God. There’s bound to be a major screwup somewhere. But we’ve gone over and over it. It’s in the lap of the gods, Bree. In the lap of the gods.” She bit into the sandwich and chewed frantically.“It’ll be fine,” Bree said. “And it’s dress rehearsal tonight, not the actual premiere.”“The critics!” Antonia could have been Richard the Third calling for his horse, the despair in her voice was so strident. “The critics!”“They’ll love it. Anyhow, local critics are always really kind when it comes to hometown productions. You could be staging the musical version ofGilligan’s Islandand they’d love it. And how much attention do they pay to the technical part of it any . . .” The look on Antonia’s face was chilling. Bree shut herself up.“I am an employed professional,” Antonia said coldly, “and this is professional theater.”“Of course it is.”“It’s an Equity production,” Antonia continued, her eyes narrowed. “And I’m the assistant technical director. The only thing hometown about it is that it’s being produced in the theater’s hometown. And the only thing local about the critics . . .”Bree raised her eyebrows encouragingly.“. . . is that they’re local.” Antonia relaxed and grinned at her. She reached over and patted Bree’s knee. “It sounds like you had an exceptionally lousy day, sister. I am well and truly sorry.”Aside from a certain similarity in their voices, which one of Antonia’s sappier boyfriends had described as molten honey, the sisters couldn’t have been more unlike. Antonia was small, with her mother’s red-gold hair, bright blue eyes, and curvy figure. Bree was tall, slender, with green eyes and that strange, silvery hair. Their temperaments were different, too. Bree had a rare, explosive temper, but generally got through the day with an equable attitude. Antonia was as volatile as vinegar and baking soda.Bree sighed heavily. “Yeah, well, that’s what I get for letting Aunt Cissy in the back door. I should have known better.”“So, you’ve taken on this lost cause for Aunt Cissy’s sake?”Bree rallied. She’d eaten her own tuna panini in the car, and the protein was kicking in. “I don’t know that Lindsey’s a lost cause. I’m a pretty decent lawyer when push comes to shove.”“C’mon, Bree. The kid primped for the news cameras like she was on a fashion shoot. Has she expressed any remorse for what she did?”“Allegedly did,” Bree said.“The fact that the mall security camera caught it all on tape means it’s still an alleged crime? Is that some kind of legal thing, flying in the face of the facts?”The security tape was an undoubted fly in the ointment of Lindsey’s defense. Bree snatched a potato chip from Antonia’s stash and admitted, “So she did it. And I wouldn’t say she’s expressed remorse. As such.”“There you are. A brat. I especially loved Cordelia Eastburn’s decision to push for the ‘full penalty allowed by law.’ ”“She’s running for reelection,” Bree said of the district attorney. “Cordy, that is. I don’t think poor Lindsey could be elected dogcatcher at the moment.”“What is the full penalty allowed by the law, anyhow?”“For assault? Battery? Robbery? And Cordelia’s come up with something worse, if you can believe it—menacing with a deadly weapon.”“Lindsey had a gun?” Antonia said in astonishment.“Nope. She had her daddy’s Hummer. Now, you and I might agree that a Hummer’s a deadly weapon just from the fact it gets six miles to the gallon in an age when that’s a crime against humanity, but Cordy’s claiming Lindsey tried to run the little kid down. So on that charge, given Lindsey’s age?” Bree bit her lip. “Depends. Could be as much as five years.”“Jeez. In a county lockup. I don’t wish that on anybody.” Antonia balled up the sandwich wrapping. “I’ve got to get backstage. Thanks for the food. You coming to the show tonight?”“I might drop in. I’m meeting Hunter at Isaac’s, over on Drayton”—she glanced at her watch—“ten minutes ago.”“Hmm,” Antonia said.“No ‘hmm’ about it,” Bree said crossly. “It’s not a date. He’s the one that did Lindsey’s intake interview. I just have a couple of questions.”“A Savannah police lieutenant did an intake interview for a juvenile?” Antonia furrowed her brow. “As a dedicatedLaw & Orderwatcher, that doesn’t sound like usual police procedure to me.”“Nope.” Bree got up and dropped a kiss on her sister’s head. “Which is why I offered to buy him a drink. Good luck tonight, sis.”“Aaagh,” Antonia said, her attention back on the stage. “Aaagh, aagh, aagh.Who left that dolly on the apron?Somebody’s going to break a leg!”Isaac’s was a fifteen-minute walk up Drayton from Chippewa Square, where the theater was located, so reluctantly, Bree decided to drive. Her back and leg muscles ached a little, which was what she deserved, she supposed, for skipping her morning run. She could have used the walk, but Hunter wasn’t Southern, and couldn’t be depended upon to wait for her for long.She lucked out and found a parking spot less than a block away. Sasha sighed and settled nose to tail in the passenger seat, and she patted him sympathetically. “You want to go on home without me?”He rolled a golden eye at her.“They don’t let dogs in there, even on the rooftop.” She ran expert fingers over his leg. “It’ll be a bit of a walk for you, with this leg still a little weak. Tell you what. I won’t be long. And I’ll bring you a crab cake.”The brick building that housed Isaac’s was more than three hundred years old, and had seen a lot of restaurants come and go. Bree climbed the stairs to the rooftop bar, which was almost empty although the evening was mild. Hunter sat at a table with his back to the bar, long legs extended in front of him, nursing a beer. Cops had hard lives, in Bree’s experience, and most of them looked older than they were. Hunter’s premature aging lay in his expression, which was a little weary, a little watchful, and at the moment, as he watched her approach, somewhat ill-tempered.
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“My mamma used to say that if I didn’t quit frowning, my face was going to freeze like that,” she said cheerfully. “Not to say that a frown doesn’t improve your looks, Lieutenant!” She fluttered her eyelashes at him. “I’m a little late, am I? I apologize.”He nodded, then cast a look over his shoulder at the bartender, who came halfway toward the table with an inquiring look.“Just a spritzer for me,” Bree said. “With a lot more soda than white wine, if you please.” She smiled at Hunter. “Can I get you another beer?”“All this charm is in aid of something,” Hunter said. “Let me take a wild guess. Lindsey Chandler.”“You saw the six o’clock news.”“Not your usual sort of case, is it, Bree? I thought the Winston-Beauforts specialized in civil law.”“More of a favor for a friend of my aunt’s,” Bree said. “But this isn’t your usual sort of case either, Hunter. According to my sources, you did the intake interview.”“True enough.” He shifted back in his chair. He had good shoulders, Bree thought, and an even better chest. It was hard to tell just how much better since she’d never seen him without his leather jacket.“So, maybe we can exchange a little information?” she said hopefully.That made him grin, which lightened his face and did in fact make him better looking. “Now, what kind of information have you got about this case that I don’t?”“Not a thing,” Bree said promptly. “That was just an opening ploy, to get you off your guard so that you’ll lighten up a little. This isn’t a big deal. I’m going to try and plead the child out, get her some counseling, maybe. Do my best to make it go away. I’m just wonderin’ if there’s more to this than meets the eye.”He ran one hand through his hair, which was thick and curling a little with the evening damp. “Like what, for example?”“Like maybe Probert Chandler?”“Daddy?”“Daddy.” The bartender placed her drink in front of her, and she took a cautious sip. “I understand he was killed in a single-car crash about four months ago?”“That’s right.”“And, I’m guessin’ here, so don’t go thinking that you’ve got a leak in the police barracks, but was there something funny about the crash?”“Funny how?”Bree took a deep breath. This was the tricky part. “Like maybe he didn’t die in the car?”Hunter ran his hand over his mouth and didn’t say anything for a long moment. Then, “You’ve got mobile corpses on the brain, maybe? You didn’t think Ben Skinner died in the sea, either.”“I don’t have anything on the brain other than my own good sense,” she said tartly. “And I was right about Skinner, wasn’t I? And you’re Homicide, Hunter. Senior Homicide, at that. Four months after the man dies in a car crash—which last I heard was Traffic’s business, and nobody else’s—you’re asking his daughter questions about a snatch-and-grab at the mall.” She took a larger sip of the spritzer and choked. “Now that would have been a real zinger of a point if I didn’t have spit dribblin’ down my chin.”Hunter’s laugh was reluctant, but genuine. “You’ve spent some time with the family. What do you think?”“Not an appealing child,” Bree said. “But she’s seventeen, and it comes with the territory.”“And you’re how old, Beaufort?”“Twenty-eight,” Bree said. “What’s that got to do with anything? Oh! Was I sounding wise beyond my years?”“More like full of yourself,” Hunter said unkindly. He sighed. “Go on.”“Wild child, and not playin’ at it. She’s on the road to some kind of self-destruction, that’s for sure. As to why . . .” She frowned. Something about Carrie-Alice’s reference to those “little talks” gave her the creeps. “Her mother’s disengaged. Gave up a long time ago. The two of them sure don’t like each other.”“You sound surprised.”“I suppose I am. My own mother . . .” Bree broke off. She didn’t know her own mother. But the mother who’d raised her from a two-day-old infant, Francesca Carmichael Winston-Beaufort, would have died for either one of her daughters. “Francesca wouldn’t have given up on me, no matter what.” She looked down at the table, suddenly depressed. “What am I talking about? This kind of family dysfunction comes down all the time.”“We were lucky to get good ones,” Hunter said easily. “Here’s to Mom.” He raised his glass. Bree raised her own; the glasses chimed together, and Bree swallowed the last of the spritzer.“So at first glance we’ve got the standard American dysfunctional family,” Bree said. “Or do we? From all we hear through the media, Probert Chandler was a down-home kind of guy. Let out that he drove a Buick when he wasn’t driving Pontiacs. Didn’t like the high life. Believed in all those Boy Scout virtues and then some: honesty, thrift, and love of God, country, and his mamma. Mean Lindsey doesn’t fit this picture. Carrie-Alice doesn’t fit this picture. The Hummer doesn’t fit this picture. There’s a lot of wriggly little questions under this supposed rock of stability. I’m not at all surprised there was something about the car crash that made you antsy.”Hunter shook his head in feigned admiration. “You’re good, Beaufort. But not that good. I didn’t say a thing about the car crash.”Bree thought about batting her eyelashes again, and didn’t.Hunter grinned unpleasantly. “How did you express it? You’re planning on pleading the child out? You’re going to make it go away? I think that’s a smart thing to do.”“Look,” Bree said, “you know Cordelia Eastburn.”“We all know Cordy Eastburn.” Hunter nodded approvingly. “One hell of a prosecutor.”“She’s a glory hound,” Bree said bluntly. “I love her like a sister, but the woman’s got ambition like a hound has ticks. Did you hear her on the six o’clock news? I had the radio on all the way back from Tybee Island, and this woman’s out to shiny up her reputation at the expense of this miserable little cheerleader. You would think,” Bree said more to herself than to Hunter, “that she’d pick on somebody her own size. Did you hear what Cordy said? Well, did you? She’s thinking about adding assault with a deadly weapon to the robbery charges. Says the security tape clearly shows Lindsey menaced that poor little Girl Scout with the Hummer.”“Lindsey seems to be her own worst enemy,” Hunter pointed out. “She’s a heartbreak waiting to happen. But I can see that’s not going to stop you riding to the rescue. You ought to think about stabling your horse, Bree. Nothing good’s going to come from this case.”“Cordy’s playing to the cameras,” Bree said indignantly. “Where’s thefairnessin all this?”“Fairness. Not only do you need to stable your horse, you need to hang up your sword and shield.” Hunter looked at her a long moment. Then he leaned forward and said with an intensity she hadn’t seen in him before: “Let it go. Do whatever it is you have to do to keep the kid out of jail this time—and I saythistime, Bree, because with a kid like that there’s going to be a next time and a time after that. But let it go. Chandler skidded on a wet road and ended up on a slab in the morgue. A lot of drunks end up—”Bree sat up. “He was drunk?”Hunter clenched his teeth. “He had been at the Miner’s Club much of the afternoon. After a round of golf.”“The children of alcoholics . . . ,” Bree began, then stopped, pleased. Here was a darned good defense. Except it went against everything the media had presented to the world about Probert Chandler. Harry Truman drunk? Hmm.“Drop it, Bree. The guy had a bit more to drink than usual, that’s true. We checked it out. It wasn’t a habit. Maybe if he had been a drinker, he’d’ve been smarter about driving home while under the influence. As far as you’re concerned, Chandler’s case is closed.” He pointed at her. Bree hated it when people pointed at her. “If I find out you’ve been screwing around with it, I’m coming down hard. Got that?”The bartender, a reserved young black man who’d been quietly polishing glasses behind the bar, suddenly raised his voice. “Hey! Shoo out of here, you.”“Guess he doesn’t like raised voices any more than I do,” Bree said with deceptive amiability. “Don’t let the door hit you on your way out.”Hunter stared over her shoulder. “It’s not me he wants out of here. It’s your dog.”“My dog?” Bree turned around. Sasha trotted toward her. Some trick of the half-light made his eyes glow a deeper gold than usual. He came up to her and put his head on her knee.“Hey, Sasha,” Hunter said.Sasha looked up at her, panting slightly.“You’re lookin’ for your crab cake,” Bree said, conscience-stricken. “I totally forgot.”“Miss?” the bartender said. “That your dog? We can’t have no dogs up here. Not allowed.”“Yes, it’s my dog, and of course it’s not allowed. Sorry, sorry. Come on, Sash. We’ll get on home and get you some food.” Bree gathered up her purse and got up. Hunter got up, too.“I’ll walk you out.”“You just never mind about that,” Bree said sweetly.Hunter grimaced. “You’re going Southern on me.”Bree raised innocent eyebrows.“It’s something I noticed,” he said with a grin. “You get your temper up, you get more . . . regional.”“Regional,” Bree said. She took a deep breath through her nose.Beside her, Sasha rumbled a little. Then he nudged his great head against her hip. Bree tamped down her annoyance and reached for a reasonable tone of voice. “Look, Hunter. Iknowthere’s something wonky about the way Probert Chandler died. And surer than sunshine, if you lie to my face, I’m going to look into it all the harder. So why don’t you save both of us a couple of pounds of aggravation and tell me right out? Last time I looked, this kind of information ends up in the public domain anyhow. Unless,” she added triumphantly, “the car crash case is still open. Is it?”Hunter rubbed the back of his neck and sighed. He glanced in the direction of the bartender, who had stopped wiping down the bar with a rag and was frankly listening. He grabbed her arm and directed her to the stairwell. He didn’t speak again until they were outside on the pavement. “Where’s your car?”“A block away, down Park.”“Good. I want you to walk to it. Get into it. And go home.”Bree took another deep breath and slowly let it out. Then she said, “You’re a pestilential man, Lieutenant. But am I letting that get to me? No. I am not. I am, as you see, calmly and happily headed off to my car. You, on the other hand, are in about as much trouble as you deserve.”“What?”She jerked her chin toward the restaurant stairs. The bartender stood glowering on the bottom tread. He had his cell phone to his ear. “I’ve got a five-dollar bill that says he just called 911.”“What?!”“BecauseIdidn’t pay for those drinks. And it looks like you didn’t, either.” She bit back a giggle at the chagrin on his face, then turned and walked down the street to her car. Sasha pressed close to her, his big body so close that she nearly stumbled over him.“You upset about that crab cake?” She reached down, grabbed his collar, and pulled him to her side. He gazed up at her with an intent, worried expression. Bree drew a breath to tell him to heel, when the stench hit her.She jerked her head up in alarm. Under the glow of the streetlights, the place was deserted. Her car sat a few hundred yards away. At the far end of the block, an ominous pillar of smoke took shape against the night. It grew, man-high, and the scent of decaying corpses grew stronger. A low growl gathered in Sasha’s throat. With her left hand, Bree grabbed her briefcase more tightly and swung it, like a weapon. With her right, she closed her fist around her car keys, so the sharp metal ends of the keys stuck out between her knuckles.One by one, the streetlights went out. And the whirling tower of dark, shot through with a sickly yellow, advanced toward her down the street.Sasha drew his lips back in a snarl, crouched low, and crept toward the apparition. Bree judged the distance between the thing and the safety of her car. Sasha bounded forward. Bree yelled, “Heel!” in sudden terror for her dog, and sprinted down the sidewalk. The tower of oily smoke grew taller, wider, as if gathering itself for a ferocious charge. Bree flung herself at the driver’s door, pushed Sasha in ahead of her, and slammed and locked it. Wildly, she jammed the key into the ignition.The smoke swirled around the windshield. In the midst of the shifting mass, Bree caught a glimpse of a grinning white face.She slammed the motor into life, gunned the car forward, and left the mist behind.FourAnd I smiled to think God’s greatness flowed around our incompleteness—round our restlessness, His rest.—“Rime of the Duchess May,” Elizabeth Barrett Browning

 

“Who was Probert Chandler? Where did he come from? What was he like as a man? And how did he really die?”Bree folded her hands on the conference table and looked at each of her employees in turn. It was, she felt, an impressive start to Beaufort & Company’s morning meeting. Four of her colleagues were there: Lavinia Mather, her landlady; Petru Lucheta, her paralegal; and Ronald Parchese, her secretary. Sasha lay asleep in the corner.“Did I ever tell you about the time I walked dogs for a living?” Ron set a tray filled with the coffeepot, a plate of beignets, and four coffee cups in the middle of the conference table and settled into his chair. He was more than usually well dressed this morning: cream-colored linen trousers, a pale blue dress shirt, and a pink and blue rep tie.“Dog walker? No. It wasn’t in your résumé,” Bree said. “As a matter of fact, neither was your otherworldly address.”Ron blinked and smiled at her.Bree sighed. Her dramatic opening comments had fallen flat. She’d practiced the lines in front of the bathroom mirror just that morning, too. She accepted a cup of coffee and took an absentminded sip. “None of you listed angelic employment. But did that get you fired when you finally fessed up? It did not.” She pointed at herself with a demure twinkle. “You’ve got a pretty good boss in me, if you don’t mind a little bragging. So I figure I’m owed a little respect. If we can get to the point here, I’d appreciate it.”
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Ron fussed with the coffeepot. Petru sat with his hands folded over his cane. Lavinia Mather added three tea-spoons of sugar to a cup that was mostly cream and regarded them all with bright black eyes.“Thereisa point,” Ron said. “If you’ll just let me make it. I was a dog walker, as I said. For about ten seconds. Horrible job. When I was living in New York. Four dogs at a time. A Boston pug, a fox terrier, and two whacking big black Labs. The minute I got those dogs onto the pavement outside the Dakota, they set off in all directions. I about split into four separate parts. That’s what this case is like. Four different directions. Well, two anyway.”Bree looked at him with some perplexity. She still hadn’t figured out how her angels managed their temporal existence. But every time she asked any one of them about their earthly lives away from the office, all she got were angelically innocent smiles and charming evasions. Like this one.“Perhaps the robbery and the death of Mr. Chandler are not connected,” Petru said. “That is perhaps what Ron is trying to say. We should not concern ourselves with the bumptiousness of teenagers, but rather with the appeal of Mr. Chandler for a reversal of his sentence.” His expression behind the thicket of his big black beard was hard to read, but his Russian accent somehow made everything he said sound wise. If Tolstoy had been a paralegal, he would have sounded a lot like Petru.“Now, I can’t agree with that. That chile’s behavior comes from something bad in that family,” Lavinia said. “And that daddy of hers got called down instead of up when he died ’causehedid something bad.” She took a huge, appreciative sip of her coffee. “You come right down to it, everything’s connected.”Bree rubbed her forehead. She hadn’t slept well. The attempted attack on the street last night had unsettled her, even though she’d decided not to bring it up. Plus, she wasn’t too sure about the mayonnaise in the tuna panini. Now her dramatic opening failed to inspire her employees to direct and immediate action. Just blabber blabber blabber about dog walking. “I don’t know, Lavinia. Do you think that’s true? Do you think some people are just born bad? Or that they get made bad?”“Everybody,” Lavinia said firmly, “gets at least a couple of chances to choose.”Which was an answer of a sort, Bree supposed. “Well, we need to find out what kind of choices Probert Chandler made when he was alive, or I won’t be able to plead his case now that he’s dead.”“What’s he in for, anyway?” Ron asked.“In for?” Bree said blankly.“You know, Ben Skinner was originally sentenced to three to ten” (not years, but millennia, Bree had learned) “for misdemeanor greed. What’s Chandler done?”“And where’s he servin’ time?” Lavinia bit into a beig net. “Purgatory or Hell itself?”“Y’all don’t know?” Bree said.“Gosh,” Ron said. “Should we?”“If you don’t know, who does? Wait a minute.” She frowned in concentration. “Gabriel Striker told me about the initial charges against Ben Skinner. Who told him?” Then, because she wasn’t really sure she wanted to know the answer to that, she amended her question. “How did Striker find out?”“I s’pose you should ask him,” Lavinia said vaguely.Bree scowled. Striker was a PI who had been recommended to Bree by her former law school professor Armand Cianquino. Striker’s function within the Company, as near as Bree could figure out, was to get in her way. As for the professor, Bree found him mysterious in law school and even more mysterious now. Armand’s job seemed to be to point her in the right direction, stand back, and let her fall flat on her face.Petru tapped his cane on the floor. “No need to bring in Striker. I will check the reports.”“The reports?” Bree said blankly. Then, “Oh! Thereports.” The depositions of all criminal and civil cases, from arraignment to final outcome, were listed in reports filed daily at the courthouse. In municipalities like Chatham County, at any rate. Bree wasn’t sure about matters celestial.“And then, of course, since Chandler has filed a request for an appeal, you will need a copy of the original case. I will obtain that also. Ke-vite routine, dear Bree.”“Of course,” Bree said. “Then I suppose those will be located . . . where?”“On the seventh floor of the courthouse, ‘dear Bree,’ ” Ron said, with a scowl in Petru’s direction. “Ican get those for you this morning.”“Iam the paralegal,” Petru said. “Such is the occupation of same. I will retrieve the files.”“I’m the secretary,” Ron said. “Such is the occupation ofme.”“Cool it, you two.” Bree looked at them thoughtfully. “You know,” she said, “I think I’d like to do this little chore myself.”“I’d better come with you,” Ron said briskly. “If you’re new to the process, it can take forever to get copies of the appeal.” He winked. “Thank goodness we’ve got friends in high places.”The Chatham County Courthouse was a newish, rather ugly six-story building made of concrete block painted the color of scrambled eggs. Bree found a parking spot just off Montgomery, opened her purse for inspection by the police officers on guard, and went through the metal detector, Ron at her heels. The hall was crowded with lawyers in suits, policemen in both the brown uniform of the Chatham County Sheriff’s Department and the navy blue of the city police, and ordinary citizens. Most looked either bewildered or sad. Nobody looked happy.Bree stood in front of the bank of elevators, surrounded by three cops; a large lady in flip-flops, baggy pants, and a T-shirt that readI’ve got PMS and I’ve got a gun; and two young kids making a noticeable effort to be cool. A sign by the elevator listed the function of each of the building’s six floors.Bree and Ron rode to the second floor, where the kids got off; the fifth floor, where the belligerently T-shirted lady got off; and then to the sixth and last floor, where the cops got off. The older cop held the door for her politely—she noticed he didn’t seem to register that Ron was in the elevator, too, and she smacked her head with the heel of her hand. “Forgot something!” she said. “Thanks!”The elevator doors closed and the car kept on going up. The doors swished open to a place Bree had been just once before: the home of the Seventh Circuit of the Celestial Courts.She’d been too nervous on her previous visit to register much of her surroundings.Sunlight from a series of skylights in the ceiling flooded the hallway. The floor was of terrazzo tile, and the walls had wainscoting of warmly polished cedar. Or a wood that looked very much like cedar. The air was fresh and springlike.Instead of the Great Seal of the State of Georgia, the wall opposite the elevators held a seal lettered CELESTIAL COURTS. She did remember that. The symbol in the center was becoming increasingly familiar: a pair of the Scales of Justice surrounded by angel wings. To the right of the seal was a directory:Justice Court—Circle One (Justice Azreal presiding)Circuit Court—Circles Two, Three, and Four (Justice-in-Residence)Court of Appeals—Circles Five, Six, and Seven (St. Peter presiding)Appellate Division—Circles Eight and NineHall of RecordsClerk of Court(Recording Angels)DetentionThe directional arrow to the Court of Appeals pointed up. The arrow to Detention pointed down. All the other arrows pointed to either the east or the west. Ron touched her arm. “This way.”She followed Ron down the hall to a door marked RECORDS. Ron tapped lightly, and then opened it up.The records room was dim, dark, and cavernous. It took her a moment to adjust to the low light, since the main source of illumination was lanterns. Rows of breast-high pedestal desks ran the length of the space. The floor was paved in stone. The ceilings soared up, a series of vaulted arches. Flaming sconces flared on the walls. The figures huddled over the desks were . . .“Monks?” Bree said, in a half whisper.Ron rolled his eyes. “Complete with quill pens and inkwells. Can you believe it? I’ve been trying to get them to modernize since 1867, the year you temporals invented the typewriter. But am I getting anywhere? Not so’s you’d notice. Tradition is everything around here.” He walked briskly down the center aisle. Bree had to trot to keep up with him. A few of the cowled figures looked up as they passed; Bree caught a glimpse of eerily bright eyes. And there was a hum of recognition, the words as soft as a dove’s murmur.“Leah’s daughter . . . Love the hair . . . Did all right in the Skinner case . . . ’spect to see her moving up one of these days . . .”“Ron!” Bree caught at his arm. He stopped and turned. “Did you hear that?” She kept her voice down, despite the urgency she felt. “Somebody said ‘Leah’s daughter.’ That’s my mother. The one who gave me up. Ron! Do they know her here?”Ron smiled at her. The smile suffused his face in light. A feeling of warmth and safety flowed over her like a cozy blanket. Lavinia had smiled at her in just that way. A faint—very faint—rumble of thunder sounded beneath her feet, and then died away. “We’ll find the files over here.”Stonewalled again. Or rather, angel-walled.Ron wound his way briskly around the desks to a chest-high oak bar that ran the length of the far wall. Bree had to stand on her tiptoes to look across its width to the activity. A narrow aisle ran between the bar and the wall, which held hundreds, perhaps thousands, of cubicles. Ron shook his head. “Goldstein modeled it after the library at Alexandria. Never mind the fact that any decent software program could free up this whole space for other stuff.”“What other stuff?” a surly voice demanded. “I ask you. What other stuff would there be? This space is here forthisstuff.”“It’s you, is it?” Ron said unenthusiastically. “Hello, Goldstein.”“If it isn’t St. Par-chay-se,” Goldstein sneered.“If it isn’t St. Luddite,” Ron sneered back. “When are you going to computerize, Goldstein?”Goldstein was short and bald, with a belligerent lower lip and a pair of large, melting brown eyes. He wore his cowl shoved back onto his shoulders, and Bree could see the tip of a feathery wing beneath the folds of fabric around his neck. “When will I computerize? When Hell freezes over!” Goldstein shouted. “Ha! Ha-ha!”“That joke’s older than Adam,” Ron muttered.Goldstein smiled at Bree. “And this, Ronald, is this Leah’s daughter?”“Of course it is,” Ron said. “Bree, this is Goldstein. He’s section head of Records.”“How do you do?” Bree said. She extended her hand over the counter. Goldstein reached across the boards and shook it gravely.“Welcome,” he said. “I knew and admired your mother. She is sorely missed. Now, how may I assist you?”Ron’s hand on her shoulder forestalled any questions. He said, “We think we have a new client. Probert Chandler. He’s filed an appeal. We’d like to see the case file.”“Chandler.” Goldstein closed his eyes. “Hmmm. Let me think. Chandler. What jurisdiction?”“We have no idea,” Ron said. “Aren’t you cross-referenced by name?”“The name doesn’t help a whole lot,” Goldstein grumbled. “Do you know how many millions of Chandlers have lived and died since the Word?” He blinked twice. “Oh, my. I recall it now.” He frowned and tsked. “You’re going to have your work cut out for you on this one. It’s a ninth-circle case.”“Hm,” Ron said. “Quite serious, then.”“Quite.”Bree looked a question.“Nine circles of Hell, nine court jurisdictions,” Ron said briefly. “The charges get worse the higher you go. Mr. Skinner, now, he was a circle one, which is your basic misdemeanor greed. This one must be a doozy . . . hand it over, Goldstein.”The records clerk pulled a thick roll of parchment from one of the cubicles and passed it over to Ron, who tucked it under his arm. Goldstein pulled out a fat, leather-bound book, paged through the dusty leaves, placed it flat, and turned it to face Bree. He shoved a quill pen and inkwell set in her direction. “How long will you want it for?”“Just until we copy it, I guess,” Bree said.“Thisisa copy. Copy number one. We track all the copies, of course. Just sign your name and check the relevant due date.”“A month, then?” Bree hazarded. She grasped the quill pen, signed her name with some difficulty, due to the thickness of the ink, and looked on in amazement as the signature styled itself in perfect Copperplate:She hesitated, then checked the30-day duecolumn.“Thank you, Bree.” He smiled at her, and that sense of cheery comfort flooded her with calm and warmth. There were advantages to dealing with angels, even testy ones. She doubted that she’d ever need Prozac.
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“Think Microsoft in future, Goldstein,” Ron said. “It’d save us a trip down here. C’mon, Bree. This is going to be interesting. A ninth-circle case. I can’t wait. Shall I take a look?”Bree turned and swept the huge room with her gaze. One of the torches in the wall snapped and sputtered. The angels in their monk’s habits scribbled away peacefully. Bree breathed in the dusty, library-scented air and said, “I don’t know if I can handle anything much more interesting than this.”“La, la,” Ron said, unrolling the parchment, reading as he went. “Simony. Profiteering. Hm. That’s all seventh-circle stuff. Not nine. Doesn’t matter, though. So maybe he did get a raw deal. It’s been known to happen, especially if the prosecution’s zealous.” He shook his head. “If Chandler’s appeal isn’t reversed, he’s going to have an uncomfortable time of it, hereafter. Looks like a worthy case, Bree.”“Let me see.” Bree took the paper and scanned the first few paragraphs. The petition was laid out in an elegant Gothic script. “This isn’t an appeal. It’s a request for a retrial based on evidence not in fact.”“Humph,” Goldstein said. “That’s what they all say.”Bree looked at him with a slight frown. “Mr. Chandler’s disputing the suicide charge. He says he didn’t kill himself. He says someone else did.“He says it’s murder.”FiveIt was not that legislators, judges and attorneys weren’tgood and decent human beings—though some certainly were not, Ford thought. The problem was theyand their legal forbears had gradually perverted thelegal system for the protection of their own profession.Jurisprudence was no longer a moral process. It wasa competition in which the competitors—attorneys—created their own rules.—The Heat Sand, Randy Wayne White

 

“Come on, Cordy,” Bree said. “The kid’s seventeen years old. Her hormones are running amok. Not only that, there’s a lot of case law about the wonky developmental stages of the teenage brain. I can make a pretty good case for diminished responsibility.”Cordelia Eastburn snorted derisively. She was good at it. “The wonky defense? Give me a flippin’ break, girlfriend.” Cordy’s charm and presence reminded a lot of people of Oprah Winfrey. Unlike that smart and genial talk show host, Cordy had a temper to rival an F5 tornado and an unabashed ambition to become the first black female governor of the State of Georgia. Most of the time, she scared Bree to death. The rest of the time, the two of them got along like a house afire. “She’s a spoiled rich kid with an attitude. You tell me how that’s going to go over with a jury.”“Well, not so hot,” Bree admitted. She settled back in the visitor’s chair. The district attorney’s office occupied a corner suite on the fifth floor of the courthouse. Cordy’s Stanford law degree hung over the credenza, surrounded by photos of Cordy with the current governor of Georgia, two former presidents, and two of the Take Back Our Street missions to which she dedicated much of her off-duty time.On impulse, Bree had stopped to see if she could catch Cordy on the fly. She’d sent Ron back to Angelus to begin researching Probert Chandler’s background. The thrifty family man image was at odds with the charges in his original case, and there was a pile of investigating to do. Cordy was in, and agreed to spare Bree a couple of minutes.She wore what Bree had come to think of as the uniform for professional Savannah women: a dark suit with a skirt that came to below the knees, a silk turtleneck, and low-heeled shoes. Cordy’s only concession to frivolity was her earrings, which were large, splendid, and handmade.Bree looked her right in the eye. “Let’s be blunt here. Is this push for a prison sentence because she’s a spoiled rich white kid?”The DA glared at her. Her temper was legendary. Bree was hard put not to sink down in her chair, close her eyes, and stick her fingers in her ears in anticipation of the coming storm. But Cordy controlled herself with an effort, expelled her breath with a sharp “Pah!” and then said, “I’m not going to dignify that with an answer.”“Your current drive to break up the street gangs has the support of a whole lot of people,” Bree said. “But you and I both know that the drive’s been politicized. And it’s not just that small segment of the African American voters who’re screaming your cleanup campaign is racially motivated and that you’re an Auntie Tom. A lot of white liberals are, too. If I were in your shoes, Cordy, you bet that I’d be taking a kick-butt attitude about this little case, if only to demonstrate that the law applies equally to everybody. It’s high profile enough to make your point without you having to defend yourself on the early morning talk shows. So—do I think you’re pushing this because she’s a spoiled rich white kid? You bet.” She leaned forward and said firmly, “I’m not going to holler about a rigorous prosecution. You want to push the aggravated theft charges, that’s fine with me. But this business of threatening bodily harm with the Hummer is a real stretch. I watched the video of the surveillance tape on the late night news before I went to bed last night. What Iamhollering about is your excess of zeal.”Cordy tightened her lips, thought a moment, and said, “You’ve got a point.” There were a lot of good things about Cordy; chief among them was that she conceded with grace and a no-hard-feelings attitude. She chuckled. “The kid’s gonna hang herself the minute she opens her mouth anyway.”“No kidding,” Bree said gloomily. “So we can deal a little on these charges?”“Tell you what. The kid allocutes to the crime on camera.”“Cordy!”“Not negotiable. Sorry. I’ve got to feed the ravening herd. The people of this state want to see some groveling. And I want to see her express a little remorse. But then we can talk about a community service sentence. Scrubbing public toilets, maybe. Like that model.”“I’ll talk to her.” Bree extended her hand. “Thanks, Cordy.”Cordy reached across the desk and took Bree’s hand in both of hers. “I’ve been hearing a lot about you lately, Bree. Ever think about joining the good fight down here at the DA’s office?”“Me?” Bree said. “Really?” She could feel herself blushing. She had an enormous respect for the DA’s office and the furious focus that Cordy brought to the job.“Liked the way you stood up to John Stubblefield over that Skinner case.”“If I went into public service, I can’t think of anyone I’d rather work for than you,” Bree said honestly. “But I’ve got my hands full at the moment. Maybe in the future . . . I don’t know. Let’s meet for a drink sometime.”“I’ve got high blood pressure, and problems with sugar. So I don’t drink. But I’ll be glad to buy you one, any old time.” Cordy grinned at her, released her hand, and stood up. “All right, then. You’ll let me know if the kid agrees to the deal?”“Fast as I can. I’d like to get this one out of the public eye sooner than quick.” She followed Cordy to the door. “By the way . . .”Cordy paused and sighed. “How come there’s always a ‘by the way’? I give a lot more than I was intending to, let you push me around, and instead of a ‘Thank you, Miz Cordy, for all your help’ I get a ‘by the way’?”“Probert Chandler?”“Probert Chand . . .” Bree could almost see the data retrieval going on behind Cordy’s eyes. “Okay. Got it. The kid’s daddy. DOA on Skidaway Road about four months ago. What about him?”“Have you heard anything about the resolution of the investigation into the car crash?”Cordy raised one eyebrow. She had an open, very readable face. “And what should I be hearing?”“I don’t know. That the case is still open, maybe?”“I can find out, I suppose. Any reason why I should?”“Just lookin’ for every possible exculpatory road.”Cordy shrugged. “Guy was rich. Got himself drunk and misjudged the turn in the road on a wet and stormy night. Just have to praise be he didn’t take any of our innocent citizens with him. Now, if you don’t mind, Bree, I’ve got to get along.”“I owe you one, Cordy. Thanks.”“You owe me a lot more than one.” She smiled widely—not an angelic smile, by any stretch of the imagination—and stepped aside to let Bree through her office door. “One last thing. If the kid doesn’t agree to my terms, she’s looking at some jail time for sure. You got that? This is the deal. I’m not open to any further negotiations.”Bree nodded. “You’ll be hearing from me. One way or the other.”“So if there is an ongoing investigation into Chandler’s death, the DA’s office doesn’t know a thing about it.” Bree sat at the desk in her tiny office. She’d gone straight from the DA back to Angelus Street, flushed with the minor victory. Petru sat in the only other chair the space allowed. Ron perched on the edge of her desk. Lavinia hummed away in the corner, brushing the feather duster over the bookcase under the room’s sole window. She looked at her team with affection. “If we can prove it’s murder, it mitigates the other charges, don’t you think? At least it can help. And poor Mr. Chandler gets to move out of the ninth circle to a far sunnier place, just like that.” She snapped her fingers.“There are the other charges to consider,” Petru said gravely. “Simony. Profiteering. I do not believe we can guarantee sunshine. At least not yet.”Bree smiled confidently. “We’re going to give it our best shot. Which means all the usual info, guys. Autopsy report, accident report. Interviews with any witnesses. Just for a start. We don’t have a ton of info from our client, to be sure. Just ‘Marlowe’s. Lindsey. Blood. Blood. Blood.’ And, of course, ‘I didn’t die in the car.’ But I think it’s safe to assume that this is one case with three connections, not two cases that are unrelated.”Ron nodded. “Got it.”Petru shook his head. “Perhaps.”“Petru, please get me all the background data on Chandler and his company that you can find. Who was he? Where did he come from? Who did he associate with? Anything you can turn up on the Internet. We haven’t got a lot to go on. Just his ghost’s reference to his business. But any lead’s better than no lead.”“Ihave already started a file,” Petru said with a rather smug air. “I assumed we would be following the procedures established by our last successful case.”“Well, whoop-dee-do,” Ron muttered.The two angels glared at each other.Bree paused a moment. This antagonism was new. Finally, she said, “Is there something the two of you need to discuss? With me? With each other?” Neither of her angels looked her in the eye. “No? If not, can we get on with this case?” She locked her hands behind her head and leaned back in her chair. “I think procedures are a good thing, myself,” she said. “But we’ve got to be flexible. Each of us has to be able to take on all kinds of things. Circumstances are going to be different with each new case. I don’t need to remind you both that we’re a team here, and a pretty specialized team at that. We’ve got a live client here who’s going to need a pretty aggressive defense right here in Savannah, if I can’t get her to plead out. And I’m no expert in juvenile cases.”“You sayin’ you might need to bring somebody else in to help with this chile’s defense?” Lavinia said.“I hope not. So Petru, I’d like you to start researching similar cases involving minors, so I can get a better sense of the pitfalls ahead. If you can get the names of the two or three top juvenile specialists here in town, I’d be grateful. And Ron—could you set up meetings with Madison Bellamy, Hartley Williams, and the Girl Scout and her mom? What’s her name? Sophie Chavez, that was it. And I’d like a copy of that surveillance tape from the mall.” She got to her feet and slung the strap of her briefcase over her shoulder. “I’ve got to go. I’m going to get Lindsey to agree to allocute, apologize, and get the outward and visible signs of this case out of the way.”Ron rolled his eyes. “Apologize? That kid? When pigs fly, Bree, sweetie. When pigs fly.”Bree frowned. “Why do you say that?”“You have not seen it yet.” Petru sighed heavily and shifted his cane across his knees. “I thought perhaps you had not.”“Seen what? What are you guys talking about?”“That chile went on Bonnie-Jean Morrissey’s talk show and said how’d she do it again, that’s what,” Lavinia said repressively.“What?” Bree said. She sat down, slowly. “Bonnie-Jean Morrissey? That’s theBonny Good Morningshow, right? Lindsey went on the talk show and said she’d do it again? Do what again? Mug a Girl Scout?”“Yes, indeedy,” Ron said. “Said it was a real gas. A hoot. A scream.”“At least it’s just a local show,” Bree said feebly. Bonnie Morrissey was one of those round, pink-cheeked, silver-haired, extremely pretty women the South seemed to breed like hamsters. She looked like Paula Deen’s little sister. Her seven A.M. talk show was gossipy, verging on the scurrilous. “Nobody watches it, though,” Bree said confidently. “Cordy hasn’t seen it, for instance. She would have said something. She would have said alot.”
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“Our little princess looked right into the camera and told all the folks at home that she couldn’t see what half of the fuss was about. And”—Ron leaned forward, his face solemn—“she’s got some modeling contract, she says. Out of L.A. She’s headed out west sometime this week to do interviews.”“She’s out on remand,” Bree said crossly. “What in the name of all that’s holy is that idiot child thinking?”The office phone rang. Lavinia picked it up and said, “Beaufort & Company. If you need he’p, you come to us.” She listened a moment. “Uh-huh. Is that right?” Then, softly dismayed, “Isn’t that too bad, honey. The courthouse or the jail?”Bree gritted her teeth.“Sheriff’s office, then. You don’t worry, now. Ms. Beaufort’ll be along directly.” She rested the handset on her thin chest and smiled sunnily at Bree. “Well, I can tell you whodoeswatch that morning show, and that’s the po-lice. Lindsey’s down there right now.”“She’s in jail?” Bree clutched her head with both hands. “Damn it all.”Lavinia waved the phone. “You want to talk to Mrs. Chandler?”“Sure.” Bree stretched her hand out, then spoke into the receiver. “Carrie-Alice?”Carrie-Alice’s voice was detached and tired, all at once. “They say she’s violated the conditions of her release with that escapade this morning. Did you see it?”“Did I see it? Not yet. We’ll ask the station for a copy.” She looked across the desk at Ron and wriggled her eyebrows. He nodded competently and bustled out of the office. “Where are they keeping her?”Bree had two phone lines into the office—the rep from Southern Bell had managed to convince her that nothing irritated callers more than a busy signal—and the button for the second one lit up. Ron wasn’t wasting any time.“In a holding area with a couple of other juveniles.” Carrie-Alice paused, and added doubtfully, “She seems to be safe enough.”Ron glided into her office, a pink While You Were Out phone message slip in one hand. Except that she wasn’t out; she was right here. She looked at the scrawled message with some irritation.Hartley Williams on line 2.Lindsey’s other friend from the mall. Now that was interesting. Bree held her forefinger up in a wait-a-minute gesture and said into the phone, “Do you want me to come down right away, Carrie-Alice?”“I called George,” Carrie-Alice said.It took Bree a moment to process this. “You mean your son?”“Yes. He’s in Ames. Both my older children are. He works out of the head office. Katherine’s in graduate school at Iowa State.” She caught herself up. “I’m rambling, sorry. In any event, George will be flying in later today, depending on his schedule. To be frank, I’m not in any hurry to have Lindsey back home until he gets here. If we just let her sit for a bit, would that be a bad thing?”“It’s up to you,” Bree said noncommittally. “I wouldn’t want her to spend the night there. I’ll set the process for the new arraignment in motion. When they give me a date and time I’ll make sure and be there. I suppose she’s safe enough in the holding pen at the sheriff’s office. Where areyounow?”“Home,” Carrie-Alice said briefly. “The police picked her up a few minutes ago.”The lighted button on the second line went dark. “Then I’ll call you when I have a time set to see the juvenile court judge. I’ll meet you there, and we can see how successful we are at getting her back home.” Bree hung up with a brief good-bye and looked at Ron in dismay. “Hartley Williams was on line two? She just hung up.”The phone beeped discreetly, and Bree picked up and identified herself. The voice on the other end of the line was high-pitched and childish. “This is Hartley Williams,” she said rather breathlessly. “I need to speak to Lindsey’s lawyer.”“You are,” Bree said. “I’m very glad you called me, Miss Williams.”“Oh. Good. I was thinking maybe I should talk to you about what happened out at the mall.”“I think that’s a great idea. Would you like to set up a meeting?”“I tried to find your office,” she said petulantly, “but the GPS in my car’s all screwed up. Well, it’s my stepfather’s car, which just goes to show. I mean,everythingabout him’s screwed up, including his car. So. Anyways. I’m at Savannah Sweets. You know where that is? It’s right down on the river.”“Sure,” Bree said. “I’ll be there in ten minutes.”“And is there, like, anything I have to sign?”Bree frowned, puzzled. “Sign? Are you looking for representation, Miss Williams? Have you been charged with anything?”“You mean, like, a crime? No! I haven’t done a thing. But you said, like, you could represent me? That’d be very cool. I want to get on the talk shows, like Lin did this morning.”Bree stretched out in her office chair and stared at the ceiling. “I don’t do that kind of work, Miss Williams. But I would like a little insight into Lindsey, and I was hoping you could provide some. Are you willing to talk to me under those conditions?”“Will there be any reporters with you?”“I’m afraid not. I’ll tell you what, I’ll spring for a cup of coffee and maybe a praline. How’s that sound?”“Okay, I guess. Could you maybe bring some reporters?”“No. Sorry. I’ll see you in ten minutes, then.”“Better make it twenty. I’ve got to, like, get my face on and stuff. I just bombed out of the house this morning after watching Bonnie-Jean Morrissey, and I look like, God, I don’t know. A total mess.”Bree put the receiver gently into the cradle. “Oh, Lordy,” she said to Petru. “Has the younger generation gone completely nuts?”“ ‘The young of this city have no respect for tradition.’ ” Petru’s thick black eyebrows drew together. “Cicero, perhaps. But Cicero found the younger Romans to be just as flighty as this Miss Hartley Williams. Things do not change, dear Bree.”Bree looked at her watch. It was less than a five-minute walk to Savannah Sweets. “Did you get your hands on a copy of the surveillance tape? I want to go over it again, just to see how much Miss Hartley Williams contributed to this caper. I’m not sure the television station ran the whole tape.”“I did obtain it. It is stored on my computer.”“Let’s take a quick look.”Petru limped out and returned with his laptop. He settled it carefully on her desk, then brought the file up.The snatch-and-grab didn’t take long: two and a half minutes from start to finish. An adorable little girl in the familiar Girl Scout uniform stood just outside Bloom ingdale’s. She had long, curly dark hair.“Sophie Chavez,” Bree said aloud.“A charming child,” Petru said. “The jury would love this little girl, I think.”The cookies were stacked on a rickety card table. A middle-aged woman in jeans and a light jacket stopped, examined the cookies, and picked up a box of the peanut butter (Bree’s own favorite). The Hummer came down the parking lot. Lindsey leaned out of the driver-side window. A very pretty, athletic-looking girl, whom Bree knew was Madison Bellamy, leaned out of the passenger side. The middle-aged lady gave Sophie Chavez a few bills, received change, and walked on. Sophie put the money in a Skechers shoebox. The Hummer rocked to a halt. Lindsey jumped out. Madison got out the other side, frowning. Lindsey, giggling so hard she couldn’t stand up straight, dashed forward, grabbed the shoebox, and danced backwards. Sophie Chavez started to cry. A thin, anxious-looking woman who had been hovering a few yards away dashed up and grabbed Sophie protectively.“Mrs. Shirley Chavez,” Petru said.Madison turned and began to argue with Lindsey. A third girl, plump, with a thick lower lip, leaned out of the open passenger door, her eyes round with dismay.“Hartley,” Bree murmured.Sophie, mouth open in what must have been a resounding shriek, ran toward Lindsey. Lindsey whirled, pushed the kid over, and jumped into the Hummer. Hartley withdrew into the depths of the vehicle. Madison ran forward, helped Sophie to her feet, and jumped out of the way as Lindsey gunned the car past her.“Not menacing,” Bree said. “But even so . . .”The Hummer came to a second, jolting halt—the brakes on the thing must need relining every other week, if Lindsey drove it that way all the time—and Madison climbed back into it.The image went blank.“T’cha,” Petru said. “KGB potential, that one.”“Lindsey, you mean.” Bree leaned back with a sigh. Petru picked up his laptop. “Did you notice the T-shirts? All three of them were wearing the same T-shirt.”“I did not,” Petru admitted.“Looked like ‘Social Club’ from what I could make out.” Bree shook her head. “Argh. Do you suppose there’s a teenage club for muggers?”“Savannah Sweethearts Social Club,” Hartley said, some twenty minutes later. Then, with an air of reproof: “It’s our band.”“Oh,” Bree said.Hartley sucked on her Black Cow milk shake. They sat outside Savannah Sweets at a small table. The Savannah River rolled placidly by. Even in late October, the riverfront here was clogged with tourists.“Madison even wrote us a song,” Hartley said. She was dark-haired and plump, with a pudgy, marshmallow-like prettiness. She sang, in a thin, true soprano:“Sweethearts send a sentimental sound to the guys, to the chicks, to the people all around. If you’d like another version that’ll get you off the ground, it’s the singing Sweet Savannahs where the happy can be found.”The guy at the table next to them—in shorts, white socks, sandals, and a red plastic windbreaker—broke into enthusiastic applause.Hartley preened. “Isn’t that, like, totally cool?”“Um,” Bree said.“My stepfather manages us.” Hartley swished her straw vigorously up and down in her milk shake. “And he is like,sointo getting us out there and on camera. We’ve had, like, three or four gigs at other high schools so far this year. I was thinking maybe Bonnie-Jean Morrissey would be, like, over the moon to have us on her show, but I suppose now that Lindsey’s gone and hogged all the air-time, we haven’t got a chance.”“You never know,” Bree said diplomatically.“ ’Course, now that Lin’s going to jail, we might get even, like, the networks interested.”For a brief, insane moment, Bree wondered if the Girl Scout cookie heist was a publicity ploy on the part of the Savannah Sweethearts Social Club.“ ’Course, Madison doesn’t think so. Madison thinks all this publicity is bad for the band.”“Madison sounds pretty sensible,” Bree ventured.Hartley rolled her eyes in scorn. “Huh. Any publicity is good publicity.”Bree took a sip of coffee. “Hartley, I talked to Lindsey for the first time yesterday. She seems bent on self-destruction.”Hartley’s eyes grew vague. “Well, you know, she’s always been kind of like that.”“Like what?”“Like you said. I mean, she’s got enough money to buy Switzerland and she’s, like, got to grab money from this little kid?”“Exactly.” Bree leaned forward. “Can you think of any reason why she might be this way?”“Genes,” Hartley said wisely.“Genes?”“Yeah, you know, it’s like she’s been programmed from birth.” Hartley heaved a huge sigh. “We’ve got genes in science this year.” She made it sound like an unwelcome rash.“Hartley, I’m Lindsey’s attorney, which means I’m a pretty safe person to tell things to.”Hartley blinked, as if this actually made sense.“You guys into any drugs?”Her lower lip stuck out. “No way! My father’s ajudge, for God’s sake.”“What about any other—episodes like this one?”“You mean stealing stuff?” Hartley scratched her arm-pit unself-consciously. “Well, not me. And not Madison. But Lindsey . . .” She wiggled her hand in a “maybe so” gesture. “But she’s nutso, you know. Like, psychotic.”Bree considered this off-the-cuff diagnosis. Then she considered the source. “Can you back that up with any specifics, Hartley?”Hartley looked into her milk shake. “Not really. Not that I know about, anyways. What you should do is, you should talk to Madison.”“Boyfriends,” Bree said, a little helplessly. “Does Lindsey date anyone on a regular basis?”“Date.” Hartley frowned. “Well, there’s guys you hook up with, and guys you wouldn’t be seen dead with, but date? God. Lin’s had, like, nothing but bad luck with guys. You know what you should do? You should talk—”“—to Madison,” Bree said. “Right.” She picked up her briefcase and got to her feet. “Hartley, if you think of anything, anything at all that’s going to help me with Lindsey’s defense, will you call me at this number?” She held out one of her business cards. Hartley took it and squinted at it with absorbed attention.“Sure thing.” She looked up at Bree, her brown eyes sincere. “Anything to, like, help. You know? Because Lindsey’s one of my very best friends.”
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SixThere’s small choice in rotten apples.—Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare

 

“What in the world were you thinking? Do you really believe you can get away with spitting in the eye of the law like that? What’s all this baloney about Los Angeles? Modeling contracts? You were let out on your own recognizance. You’ve still got to face these charges. Good grief, girl.” Bree was kind, but firm.Lindsey looked out the car window and shrugged. They were on their way back to the Chandler home on Tybee Island. It’d been a long day, getting Lindsey out of jail and back into her mother’s custody, and Bree was getting pretty tired of The Shrug. Quick sound bites of the endless hours of negotiations cycled through Bree’s brain.His Honor Juvenile Court Judge Tyree Washington: “Is there any reason why this court should believe you intend to stay within the confines of your home, Miss Chandler?”Lindsey: (Shrug.)District Attorney Cordelia Lucille Eastburn, Esquire: “Your Honor, I demand this unrepentant prisoner be equipped with an ankle bracelet until trial!”Lindsey: (Shrug.)Carrie-Alice Chandler: “Lindsey, your father’s spinning in his grave at this!”Lindsey: (Shrug.)Shirley Chavez, mother of the victim: “Your Honor, my daughter and I forgive Miss Chandler with all our hearts. We have no objection to an at-home remand. We are dropping the charges, Your Honor. No one was hurt, and my Sophie has the money back.”Lindsey: “Screw you.”Motherhood, Bree decided, was something she was going to put off for a long, long time.“Does it chafe a little?” Bree asked, not without sympathy.Lindsey looked down at the bracelet circling one tanned, smooth-shaven ankle and shrugged.“If you shrug one more time,” Bree said, “I’m going to scream. And if you tell me to fuck off, I’ll stop the car, get my grooming kit out of my gym bag, and wash your mouth out with soap.” She took her eyes off the road for a moment and smiled at her. “Just a friendly little warning.”Lindsey rolled her eyes, which made a change from shrugging, but she said, “Whatever.”Bree drove on in silence. Carrie-Alice followed close behind them. Her daughter had refused to get in the Buick with her, and Bree, exasperated to the point of shouting, shoved the girl into her own car and told Carrie-Alice to follow them.Lindsey chewed gum and stared out the window. An exasperated social worker had confiscated her iPod, and Bree had turned the radio off, but Lindsey bobbed her head back and forth, swaying to some internal music.“We were lucky that Sophie Chavez’s mother didn’t want to press charges,” Bree said. “Doesn’t make a whole lot of difference as far as Cordelia Eastburn’s office is concerned, but it sure looks a lot better.”“That busy black bi—,” Lindsey began. Bree reached out and closed her hand firmly over Lindsey’s mouth. “Not in front of me,” Bree said. “Not ever. You got that?”Lindsey tightened her lips and Bree took her hand away.“As for Miss Priss Chavez,” Lindsey said, as if nothing had happened, “she’s not about to rat me out. Scared to, isn’t she?”“Sophie’s eight years old,” Bree said, astonished. “You’re thinking about intimidating an eight-year-old?” She smacked her own forehead lightly. “Silly me. Of course you aren’t going to balk at that. I mean, you’ve already threatened to run her over with a six-thousand-pound urban tank, pushed her to the ground, and stolen her money. Why stop there?”“Don’t be too much more of an idiot. Her mom works at one of our stores. She’s not about to lose her job over something like this.” She furrowed her brow. “What I don’t get is, if she’s not going to press charges, how come I still have to go through all this rock and roll? She got the money back, for God’s sake.”“You recognized the mother as a Marlowe’s employee and figured you could snatch that money and stay out of trouble?” Bree made a point of keeping her hands firmly on the wheel. “You’re joking.”Lindsey’s shoulders went up in the start of a shrug. She glanced at Bree and took a breath instead. Bree considered advising her client of the difference between civil and criminal law and decided not to waste her breath. Instead, she said, “You’re looking at jail time.”“I’m a minor.”“Twelve is a minor. Fourteen is a minor. Seventeen is close enough to legal age to put you in real danger of incarceration. There’ve been a number of precedents where the court has petitioned to allow seventeen-year-olds to be prosecuted as adults.”Lindsey’s eyes widened. “No shit?”“No shit.”“I think I need a better lawyer.”Bree bit her lip, but couldn’t keep the laugh back. “I told you that at the beginning, didn’t I?” She pulled up at the Chandler house.Carrie-Alice had taken her advice, and the place was alive with private security guards. Two of them sauntered toward the car as Bree put it into park; the taller, more apelike one peered into the driver’s window. Carrie-Alice pulled alongside Bree’s car and sat there, waiting.“Out,” Bree said to Lindsey.“You aren’t coming in?”“I’m going home.”Lindsey paused, one sandaled foot out the passenger door. “What happens now?”Had all the hoopla at the courthouse just now gone completely over the child’s head? “What happens now is that Cordelia Eastburn has absolutely refused any kind of plea bargain. Either we plead guilty and accept the sentence of the presiding judge, or we go to trial and let a jury decide what happens to you. I’ve told you this. Your mother’s told you this. The decision’s been made to go to trial, and I”—Bree took a deep breath—“I am going to put everything I have into coming up with a defense for you that makes some sense.”Lindsey grinned bleakly. “Good luck.” She stepped onto the pavement. The two guards stationed themselves one on each side and escorted her up the walkway to the house. Carrie-Alice pulled past Bree to the garages at the east end of the property.Bree backed into the road, turned around, and went home.“That poor, poor child,” Francesca Beaufort said.“I don’t know, Mamma.” Bree tucked her legs under each other and sat cross-legged on the couch. It’d been too much of an effort to stop at the deli to pick up something to eat, so she’d heated up a can of tomato-basil soup at home. She held the soup mug in one hand and her cell phone in the other. The couch faced the small brick fireplace that occupied the end wall of the town house. An ornate mirror that had belonged to her great-uncle Franklin hung over the mantel. It tipped forward slightly, since Bree had hung it on a nail instead of sinking mounts into the wall, and she could see her own reflection. She looked tired and washed out.Her mother’s voice sounded bright and cheerful in her ear. “Only seventeen!”“She’s not an easy kid to like,” Bree admitted.“All the more reason for the pity,” her mother said. “Just imagine how awful for them all.”“It does sound as if you have your hands full,” her father, Royal, said.Bree figured he was most likely on the extension in his library. Goodness knew where her mother was calling from. She had stashed extensions all over the place, and Plessey was a big plantation. And her mother hated cell phones.Her father’s voice was full of affection. “If you need any backup, darlin’, I can be down there like a shot.”Bree winced. She loved her parents. But it was much easier to love them at the safe distance of the three hundred and fifty miles that separated Savannah from Raleigh-Durham. “I think I’ve got things under control, Daddy. But thank you all the same.”“It’s all over the news, you know,” Francesca said. “Cissy said Carrie-Alice’s not all that popular with the folks she knows, so everybody down there’s blamin’ the poor mother. Although, apparently the girl’s a true handful.” She sighed. “We’ve been so lucky with our two, Royal.”“Did Cissy say anything about any rumors of abuse?” Bree said.Her mother was too old a hand to be shocked at Bree’s question, but she paused for an appreciable moment before she said, “No. No, she didn’t. And that kind of thing stays underground, dear, as you probably know. But it doesn’t stay underground forever. If there’d been anything in the girl’s childhood, we’d probably hear about it eventually.” She added, reluctantly, “I take it you want me to put out a few little feelers?”“Physical, emotional, sexual,” Bree said. “Whatever you can pick up, Mamma. It’s not gossip as such, you know. Well, it is, but it’s justifiable gossip, if you see what I mean. I’m going to need all the help I can get. Cissy still thinks of me as a kid, or I’d put the pressure on her to do some digging and spare you. Plus, it’d be putting her in an awkward place to rat on her friends.”“I’ll do what I can. I might have something for you when you come on up for the party tomorrow.”“The party.” Bree made a face into the phone. Sasha, who’d been peacefully asleep on the other end of the couch, jerked awake and thumped his tail on the cushions.“Now, Bree, darlin’ . . .”Bree let her mother’s light, pretty voice wash over her while she thought seriously about the party. Antonia was tied up with the play. Lindsey should be safe at home over the weekend, guarded by the security detail her mother had hired. And if she left early in the morning, she could get into Plessey around noon. The six-hour drive back on Sunday would be a pain—but better than tackling weekday traffic.Suddenly, Bree longed for the broad, gentle acres of her old home. The big comfortable kitchen, the cheerful fire in the living room, her old bedroom with the white muslin curtains and the wide-planked pine floors. And no white-faced evil charging at her out of a cloud of dreadful smoke.“I’ll be there, Mamma,” she said suddenly.“And you know how nice it’d be to see—what? You’re comin’ up?”“Yes, Mamma. Just for the night, mind. I’ve got to be back here Sunday night.”“I don’t suppose that Tonia . . .”“Not a chance,” Bree said. “The play opened last night. Well, it was the dress rehearsal.”“How were the reviews? Did they mention her at all?”“The reviews!” Bree made another face into the phone. She’d completely forgotten her promise to see the play tonight. Sasha plodded heavily across the couch cushions and thudded his head into her lap, in sympathy. “I forgot all about reading the reviews! I’m an awful sister, Mamma. She was still in bed when I left for the office, and I haven’t had a chance to talk to her all day.” She looked at her watch. Seven thirty, and she was as whipped as a dog. “I’ve got to go. I promised her I’d look in opening night, and I’ve got, like, two minutes to get there.”“You give her our best.”Bree promised, clicked off the phone, and sprinted into the bathroom. She took the fastest shower of her life, flung on a little black jersey dress that was the most reliable thing she had in her closet, and shot out the door before she remembered Sasha. She skidded to a halt and went to the couch, where he was comfortably sprawled. He opened his golden eyes and looked at her.“Your dry food’s in the lower cabinet.”He blinked.“Just a bowlful, mind.”He grinned at her, tongue lolling.She was pretty sure she could trust him to nose open the door and stick to the promise of a single bowlful. There were distinct advantages to a dog with angelic antecedents.Nothing in Historic Savannah was more than a mile from anything else, which meant that she was in the foyer of the Savannah Rep by five minutes to eight. The remains of a largish crowd drifted into the auditorium. Bree wiggled her fingers at the two ushers standing at the head of the aisle and decided against heading around to the backstage door. Antonia would have her hands full. Beside the older usher was the same guy who’d scowled disapprovingly and muttered “Shame” at her the night before; not only would he discourage her from ducking backstage, he’d probably ignore the informal pass Antonia had scrawled for her and insist on a real ticket. Fortunately, there was nobody in line at the little box office, and Bree got one of the last tickets available. “Practically SRO,” the box office attendant said proudly. “Standing room only, you know.”“Seventy-five dollars?” Bree said in dismay. “Seventy-five?”“Sorry. It’s the dress circle. Only thing left.”Bree made it to the front of the house just as the lights dimmed for the first act. The seat was terrific; on the aisle, second row back. Bree sat down with a smile for the usher, and a second, more distantly polite smile for the person in the seat next to her, then did a classic double take. “You!” she said in disgust, as recognition set in.Payton McAllister gave her a pained look.Payton the Rat. Of all the people to attend the premiere of a Victorian mystery in which he had zero interest, it had to be the guy that dumped her several months ago when she was still practicing law at her father’s firm in Raleigh-Durham.
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The last time she’d seen Payton, she’d encouraged Sasha to pee on his shoes. The time before that, she’d tossed him over the restaurant table at Huey’s.He was still gorgeous, though.Bree scowled at him.“Yo, Bree. How’s it going?”“Nobody says ‘yo’ anymore, Payton.” Aware that this was the feeblest riposte possible, Bree settled herself into the velvet cushions and stared intently at the stage.“You’re looking great.”“Shh.”The overture began, a sprightly, ominous piece that fit perfectly with the Victorian theme of the play.“I didn’t know you liked Sherlock Holmes.”“Will you shut up? The play’s starting.” Bree glared at him. “What are you doing here, anyway? The last play you went to voluntarily was the third grade Christmas pageant, and that was only because you played a sheep.”He opened the program and pointed at the actress playing Irene Adler.“Lorie Stubblefield?” Bree’s eyebrows shot up and she giggled. “You’re dating Lorie Stubblefield?” The significance of the name hit her. “John Stubblefield’s daughter? You’re dating the boss’s daughter? Payton, you are . . .”The woman seated behind Bree leaned forward and hissed,“Shhh!”Bree was so annoyed she missed the opening scenes of the play. When she finally focused on the action, it was to admire the deftness of the staging, the really outstanding performance of the actor playing Sherlock Holmes, and the satisfying awfulness of the performance of Lorie Stubblefield. Lorie was pretty enough, but too young for the part and way too vapid to convey the sophistication and depth of “the woman,” as Sherlock Holmes always referred to the great Irene Adler. The light from the stage was sufficient to read the program; Bree thumbed through it and was happy to see her suspicions justified: Stubblefield, Marwick was a heavy contributor to the Savannah Rep.At the interval, she stood up to go find Antonia and at least wave at her, but Payton grabbed her elbow.“How’s about I buy you a glass of wine?”“No, thank you,” Bree said.“Seriously, I think there’s some things we need to talk about. I’ll buy you a glass of wine now, and later you can come with us to the cast party. John’s holding it at his house on Oglethorpe.”Bree cocked her head and looked at him coolly. “I can’t think of anything that we need to talk about, Payton. Except maybe why you don’t pack up and leave that sleazy law firm you’re working at and get a job with some integrity attached to it. Like maybe campaign manager to elect Attila the Hun to the Georgia legislature.”Payton smirked and gestured at someone over her shoulder. “You remember our senior partner, John Stubblefield.” Bree turned. Sure enough, there was the artfully styled white hair, the clean-shaven chin, and the beady blue eyes of John Stubblefield, Esquire, whose TV infomercials, soliciting class action plain-tiffs the world over, ran on the airways of late night TV in Savannah.“Miss Winston-Beaufort,” Stubblefield said, his eyes cold. He made a mock bow. “Sleazy at your service.”Bree nodded, unsmiling.“The thing is”—Payton took her arm and led her up the aisle to the foyer—“we may be seeing a lot of each other in the next couple of months, and John wanted me to sort of sit down with you and clear the air.”The penny dropped. Of course. “The Chandler case,” Bree said. “Stubblefield represents some of the store’s interests? Your firm isn’t large enough to handle anything of real corporate importance, Payton.”“The family, however,” Payton said smoothly, “is another story altogether. We represent George Chandler’s personal interests in Savannah.”Carrie-Alice’s son—and Lindsey’s brother. Well, Bree thought. Well, well.“And ‘sort of’ sit down with me? What’s that supposed to mean? Why?” Bree turned to face him, wondering for the hundredth time what she’d seen in those sculpted cheekbones and athlete’s body. Lust, that’s what it’d been, which just went to show you that lust was rarely a good thing. Behind those good looks was the soul of a sewer rat. “You aren’t going to try to warn me off an investigation into Probert’s death, are you? The way you tried to keep me out of Ben Skinner’s murder investigation?”Payton’s electric blue eyes widened. Their color had charmed Bree, until she’d learned that the deep violet blue owed everything to his contact lenses. “You’re looking into Probert’s death?” His grip on her arm tightened. “His death was an accident, pure and simple.”Bree cast a swift glance around the crowd. They were surrounded by well-dressed, happy playgoers. At least three of her distant relatives were within hollering distance. She dropped her voice to an angry, ominous whisper. “If you don’t let go of my arm right this minute, I will toss you out the front door and splat onto Magnolia Street.”Payton backed off. Bree calmed down. She had no real control over the fierce, whirlwind power that was occasionally at her command, but Payton didn’t know that. The last time he’d provoked her, he’d ended up chin over teakettle on a barroom floor. She knew he wouldn’t want to chance that again.“So what’s up with my client?” she said briskly.“We’d just like to be kept current.” Payton rubbed the back of his neck. “And John. That’s Mr. Stubblefield, of course. John wants to be sure that any residual feelings over . . . you know . . .”“Over what?”“Over my dumping you. He wants to be sure that you’re not keeping anything back. Out of spite.” He chuckled. “John and I know how women are.”The back of her neck prickled. A slight wind stirred her hair. A tall, silvery shape slid past the corner of her eye. She didn’t have to turn to know who it was. Gabriel Striker, private eye and nosy angel who seemed to show up every time she threatened to lose her temper. She kept her head with an effort, since Gabriel’s presence meant everyone in the foyer was at risk if she lost it. “You couldn’t possibly be implying that I’d withhold information critical to the well-being of my client.”Payton shifted from one foot to the other. “I suppose not.”“We’ll plan on sending you a weekly progress report.”His shoulders sagged in relief. “Really? That’s great. You promise?”“Don’t push it, Payton. You’ll get the reports.”The houselights dimmed, and then brightened.“There’s the signal for the interval. You’ll want to be going back to your seat.” She wiggled her eyebrows. “Give John my sincere wishes for the state of his health.”Payton looked momentarily puzzled, but turned obediently and disappeared back into the theater.Bree waited until the foyer was empty, and then went to the corner opposite the box office, where Gabriel leaned negligently against the wall. “So here you are,” she said.He nodded soberly. “Here I am.”Gabriel was tall, with the heavily muscled body of a boxer. He moved like a dancer, lightly and with precision. His eyes were the color of the Savannah River at dawn. “Interesting new case.”“Mr. Chandler’s, I suppose you mean, since he’s the one that’s dead,” Bree said. “Yes, isn’t it? I haven’t had a chance to go through the pleadings yet, but it looks a lot”—she searched for the right word—“graverthan the Skinner file.”“Armand is a little concerned.”“Really?”“Really. We’d like to talk it over with you.”“Well, sure,” Bree said. “Would Monday morning be okay?”“Now,” Gabriel said.Bree looked at her watch. Nine thirty, and she had to get up early to get to Plessey.“It can’t wait?”He shook his head. “The Pendergast graves are empty.”SevenCan these bones live?—Ezekiel 37:3

 

Armand Cianquino lived six miles out of town in a two-hundred-and-fifty-year-old cotton plantation named Melrose. It had been converted to apartments aimed at those people who wanted elegance, seclusion, and the beauty of the Savannah River. The plantation house was a classic example of architecture in the wealthy Old South: two stories high, with wraparound upper and lower verandahs that completely surrounded the building. The main building was well over eight thousand square feet. A wealthy banker had rescued the property from rot, mildew, and decay in the late 1970s and converted each floor of the main house into three spacious apartments. The outlying buildings—former slave quarters and the original kitchen—had been converted into little cottages.Surrounded by lush gardens of azaleas, roses, and hydrangeas, the sprawling white mansion brooded on the riverbank. Savannah had the reputation of being the most haunted city in America, and Melrose was believed to have its fair share of “haints.” Marie-Claire was the cast-off mistress of a late-eighteenth-century river pirate. Like Virginia Woolf, she filled her dress pockets with stones and drowned herself in the river. The other ghost, a son of the original builder, Augustine Melrose, was hanged in 1805 by an outraged populace after a murderous attack on the wife of a fellow planter.Bree, who had reason enough to believe in the existence of the ghosts of the newly dead, was not as convinced about the presence of either the wailing Marie-Claire or Augustine Melrose’s vicious offspring. But she wasn’t anxious to run into either one of them. As she drove up the long, semicircular driveway to the front door, the late night mists of a Georgia autumn evening drifted over the lawns and twined around the boles of the cottonwood trees. Spanish moss trailed from live oaks like seaweed floating in an ocean of earthbound clouds. Bree surveyed the Gothic scene somewhat glumly. Then she got out of the car and walked up the shallow front steps to the large basswood front door. It was open. Bree walked into the foyer. The floor was wide-planked pine, polished to a high shine. The air was fragrant with the scent of freesia. A classic Sheraton lowboy stood against the back wall. The large vase on it held fresh flowers, as always. A wide, graceful staircase rose from the center of the foyer up to the second story.Armand Cianquino’s apartment was to her immediate right. She tapped on the door. Gabe Striker opened it, and stepped back to let her in.“He’s in the library.”Bree nodded and followed Gabriel across the living room floor. The paneled door into the library was made from an exotic wood. Rosewood, Bree thought, or perhaps a lacquered cedar. Artfully shaped spinning spheres were carved into the panel, the same shapes that formed the wrought-iron fence surrounding Bree’s office at 66 Angelus Street.Gabriel knocked twice, opened the door, and Bree followed him into the familiar room.The library was in stark contrast to the spare elegance of Armand Cianquino’s living room. A leaded window looked out over the gardens. All four walls were covered with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. The shelves were crammed with books of all kinds: thick ones, thin ones, old ones bound in dark, crumbling leather, and new ones in shiny covers. Bree glanced at the shelves that had held the professor’s set of the hundred-volumeCorpus Juris Ultima, that body of celestial case law that had first alerted her to the fact that her old law school professor was not quite what he seemed. The books were still there; the set he had sent to the Beaufort & Company offices must be a copy.A long table occupied the middle of the library. It was loaded with files, more books, a couple of lamps, and a bundle of old material covering most of a long sword. A wire cage sat smack in the middle of the table. The cage door was open, and a large, owl-like bird sat on the perch inside. His beady black eyes regarded Bree with a somewhat baleful air.“Hello, Archie,” she said.“About time, about time, abouttime,” Archie said.“Hello, Bree.” Armand Cianquino rolled his wheelchair into the light. He was a slender man, wholly Chinese, despite his Italianate name. Bree had known him forever, it seemed. She remembered his visits to the house at Plessey when she was small. And, of course, she remembered him from her years at law school. Highly respected (and much feared), he occupied the Religion in Law chair for most of his tenure. Retired from teaching just after Bree had taken her bar exams, he still gave an occasional lecture, wrote an article or two for theAmerican Bar Journal, and consulted on international case law, especially those cases that involved religious freedoms. In the short time from retirement to this, he had changed a great deal. His once black hair was now totally white. And something—he had never told Bree exactly what—had put this vital, challenging man into a wheelchair.He rolled forward into the light, and Bree was dismayed to see that in the few short weeks since she had seen him last, he had aged further still. She laid her hand lightly on his shoulder. “I hope you’re keeping well, Professor.”He grimaced slightly and moved his shoulder away from her touch, not in distaste, but in discomfort. “Sit down, Bree.”She drew a carved wooden chair a little way from the table and perched on the edge. Gabriel stood just out of the circle of lamplight, arms folded across his chest.She spoke into the silence. “I’m glad to see you. We haven’t had much of a chance to talk since we settled the Skinner case.”“Successfully handled,” Cianquino said. There was a hint of approval in his eyes.“Thank you.” Bree took a breath. “But it would have been a lot smoother going if I’d been better prepared. I’m at a bit of a disadvantage here, Professor. If I could just—”“Curiosity killed the cat, the cat, the cat,” Archie squawked. He snapped his beak greedily. Professor Cianquino held one frail hand up, and the bird subsided into cranky mutterings. “If you could just?” he prompted.“Well, interview my client properly, for one.” Bree plunged on, not sure how far she would get before the professor reminded her of what she’d had to accept at the beginning of this new—and unwelcome—career: she could only learn the ins and outs of this job through experience. He and the other angels in her company were there to guide and protect—not inform.
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“You had several conversations with Mr. Skinner, I believe.”“Very spotty,” Bree said. “It was like being at the end of a tunnel. I think I solved that case through sheer dumb luck. And I’m running into the same problem with the ghost of Probert Chandler. I can barely understand what he’s asking me to do.” She hesitated, pretty sure that she didn’t want to know the answer to her next question. “Is there a . . . a place where I can sit down and talk to him properly?”Archie shrieked, as if he’d been burned.“There is,” the professor said dryly, “but it’s unlikely that you would return to continue his defense.”“You mean I can get there but I can’t get back?”“Not precisely.” The professor thought a moment, his eyes shuttered. “Probert Chandler’s keepers would be delighted to keep you with him. You would be an enormous asset.”She recalled the black flames and the taloned claws that tore at Probert Chandler’s shade and shuddered. “Couldn’t Gabriel and maybe Petru and Ron go with me? Kind of like bailiffs? Or security guards?”“No.” He lifted his finger to forestall her next demand. “We’re not keeping things from you out of choice,” he said testily. “Do you remember how you learned to swim?”“I . . . huh?” Bree blushed. “Sorry. That was rude. Yes, I surely do. But I don’t see . . .” She stopped. The professor lifted his eyebrow. “You’d like me to say? Well, Mamma took me into the water and floated around with me. She held me up until I was able to figure out the strokes.”“There is no one to walk into the water to keep you afloat until you learn the strokes.” He made an impatient movement. “Don’t you see? You do not. Very well. If there was no one to teach you to swim, how would you learn?”“I’d wade into the water and paddle around until I figured it out, I suppose.”“And if I were on the shore, shouting instructions?”“I’d be listening!” Bree said indignantly.“You would be concentrating on me and not on the task at hand. And, what’s more, you might take chances in the expectation that I would jump in and pull you out if you started to drown. You are a prudent and resourceful woman, Bree. And you like to win. You only go ahead when you are reasonably sure of a victory. I cannot prepare you for what lies ahead. It’s your decisions, your choices, and your free will that push you forward here. Those decisions must be unhampered by any considerations other than the success of the case and your own survival.”The only possible reply to this was a polite variant of “That sucks,” so Bree kept her mouth shut, partly out of respect, but mostly because she’d get something along the lines of “Tough!” as a response, and that’d get her dander up for sure.“Can I quit?” she said suddenly. “I mean, what if I don’t want to do this anymore?”“There are those that would be delighted if you quit,” Cianquino said equably.Bree thought about the pronoun: “that” as opposed to “who.” “That” applied to nonhumans. To things, not people. She thought of the yellow mist that chased her, and what terrifying thing it might conceal. “I see,” she said, although she didn’t, not quite. “So. Getting a sit-down interview with Probert Chandler is a no-go.”“Your investigative skills are considerable,” Cianquino said with his characteristic obliqueness. “I have every confidence that you can answer the questions revolving around his death, and that you can prepare a spirited and truthful defense. He will get in touch with you when he is able to do so.”“How tough is it? For him to talk to me, I mean? We’re dealing with a legal system here, and he seems to have the usual kind of rights. If he’s got the right to representation, how come he hasn’t got the right to use it?”“You remember your logic classes and the argument againstargumentum in circulo?”Bree squinched her face up. She’d been a hardworking student, but not an inspired one. “That’s one in Aristotle’s list of flaws in logical argument, and it has something to do with the argument going around in circles.”Gabriel muffled a laugh. Archie flapped his wings, stretched to his full height on his perch, and shrieked, “La-ment-able!”“More or less. Mr. Chandler’s awareness of his own mistakes in life keeps him from giving full disclosure to you.”“You mean, that’s the static interference I get when I talk to these guys? Their sins, so to speak? Sort of a visual pollution?” She rubbed the back of her neck in frustration. “The only thing he said that could possibly be a clue is that his death was connected somehow with his business. Marlowe’s. The static interfered with everything else.”“Static. That’s as apt an interpretation as any of what prevents the dead from speaking to us clearly. It is the sense of sin carried within us. All men—and I use the term advisedly, Bree, since it applies to women, too—are error-filled. It is a perquisite of being human. And if he was not human and free of mankind’s sins of greater and lesser degree, he wouldn’t be in need of a lawyer like yourself.”“‘Perquisite,’” Bree said. “That’s an odd word to choose.”“A benefit and a boon, human failings,” Cianquino said. “As well as a curse and a damnation. As you might say yourself, dear Bree: ‘You betcha!’ ”Gabe spoke from the shadows behind the desk, a let’s-get-on-with-it tone to his voice. “It’s close to midnight, Armand. Something urgent has come up. It’s why we came to see you.”“And we’re nearing All Hallows Eve,” Cianquino agreed. “Yes. To the business at hand. You are aware, Bree, that there are those who want to”—he paused and thought for a moment—“disrupt your activities.” He smiled. “We are aware of all that happens, you know.”“Yes!” Bree said indignantly. “I am. And it’s hardly fair, is it? Somebody on the defendant’s side is violating some kind of canon of ethics, aren’t they? At least, I presume there is a canon of ethics in celestial matters. I mean, where better? So I’d like to file a complaint against the harassment.”“Do so, by all means,” the professor encouraged. “Petru should be able to draw up the necessary Summons and Complaint. But I doubt it will have much effect.”“Those Pendergasts,” Lavinia said from the shadows. Bree jumped a little. She hadn’t realized Lavinia was in the room. She looked into the corner of the library. Gabriel’s tall, silvery form spun next to a short, lavender-tinted whirl of light. “Never did take much account of the law when they was alive. Even less so when they died off.”“Ah, yes. Josiah.” The lamplight dimmed, as if a hand had passed over the flame. Cianquino frowned.“The Pendergasts are an old Savannah family,” Bree said. “I was in prep school with one of them. Jennifer.”“Who married that no-good son of Mr. Benjamin Skinner,” Lavinia said tartly. “Mm-hm. Josiah was her great-granddaddy. And a real no-good, for certain. Not much out of the ordinary for the times, though, since there were a lot of no-goods walkin’ the streets of Savannah back then.” Lavinia’s shade coalesced into her temporal form and she moved into the light. “My first sight of him, I’ll not forget, not for all the time left in this world and the next. I was a-playing in the Nile with my cousins.”“The Nile?” Bree said.“The part that’s in Africa,” the professor answered.“He took the head off of N’tange with one sweep of his sword, and put the rest of us in chains.” Lavinia’s voice trailed on the air like soft dark silk. “And I spent the rest of my earthly days near this very place. Melrose. Melrose.” She fell silent. “Not too long after I come here, Josiah sold me to Melrose’s oldest boy. I didn’t see too much of the sunlight for the longest time.” She shut her eyes and hummed softly, all the while rocking gently on her feet. “There now,” she said to herself, “there now.”Bree’s chest was tight. She drew a short, shallow breath.“Betimes,” Lavinia said slowly, “betimes whilst I was living out my days in the dark, Josiah met and married Olivia.”“Olivia,” Bree echoed. She’d come across Olivia Pendergast’s gravestone in the cemetery that surrounded the house at 66 Angelus Street.“Olivia didn’t take to Josiah and his wickedness. So she run off with a handsome lover. It’s on her gravestone, her epitaph. One Chronicles twenty-nine, verse fifteen: ‘Our days on earth are as a shadow, and there is none abiding.’ Yes’m, Bree, and the rest of that verse was poor Olivia to the life and death. A sojourner and a stranger. A stranger to these parts and a sojourner who didn’t get too far with her fancy man before Josiah killed them, too.”“Did he stand trial?” Bree asked.“He did. And her poor corpse did, too, for a-killin’ of the child she was to have borned before she went off with her lover. They hanged Josiah. And they put her corpse in the murderers plot, alongside of his. And there they lie to this day, the revengeful dead.”“Except that they’re not lying in their graves the way they’re supposed to,” Bree said. She looked at Gabriel. “You brought me here because the Pendergast graves are empty.”“And so they are,” Lavinia said.“What’s this?” Cianquino said. His eyes, brilliant and black, bored into Lavinia’s. “Are you certain, Lavinia?”“I stand between those graves and this life each mortal day,” Lavinia said. “And I know when there’s been a harrowing. They’ve gone. Oh, yes. They’ve gone.”Bree’s imagination whirled with terrible images. Lavinia as a young girl, lying chained in the hold of a slave ship. Lavinia in the hands of Burton Melrose, whose crimes against his female slaves had been so crazed, none of the older histories of Savannah detailed them. She wanted to wrap Lavinia in her arms, but the look on the old woman’s face kept her from moving an inch in her direction. Instead, she swallowed hard and asked, “But, where have they gone? Josiah and Olivia?”“They’ve been unchained from the pits they lie in,” Lavinia said to Armand. “And I do believe they are after my girl. My Bree. I’m here to see what you are going to do about it.”“Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war!” Archie said, as if it were a suggestion and not a quote.“Perhaps,” Cianquino agreed. He smoothed his chin. “I’ll make some inquiries about that, Archie. In the meantime, I’ll have to do some research. This doesn’t augur well, I must admit. I can only think of one precedent, and it’s not a comforting one.”“What doesn’t augur well?” Bree demanded. “And what happens when a body leaves a grave? Except that the bodies would have rotted a century ago. So what exactly was in those graves? And what happened to it—them—the bones?”“The dead exist in a universe parallel to this,” Gabriel said. “And the physical Bridge between the two is always closed. You will see them, hear them, perhaps even feel the cold of their presence, but they cannot touch you. Your body crosses it when you die. And your body can’t cross back.”“Always closed,” Bree said, “this Bridge. That’s good.”“It’s almost always, though, isn’t it?” Lavinia said. “Because they’re here now, the two of them. And they are loose.”“Loose,” Bree echoed hollowly. She cleared her throat. “And what does that mean, exactly?”“Always takes her fences head-on,” Gabriel said to Cianquino. “Brave as anyone we’ve ever had in the job.” He glanced at her. “You’ve asked a direct question. You deserve a direct answer. Do you want it?”“Of course,” Bree said. She folded her hands on the table—to stop them from shaking, if truth were told—and looked at each of them in turn.The professor spoke slowly, as if remembering a past life. “When the Bridge between the spheres is breached, it lets loose a certain amount of true evil into the world. Active cruelty. Deliberate malice. Destruction of a kind that, unchecked, could destroy most of what you and yours hold dear. Those large events that horrify mankind come from massive armies of the Adversary. Pogroms, massacres, genocide. The smaller, more private evils come from those like the Pendergasts, slipping through when the attention of the Guardians is elsewhere.”“So I don’t have to save the world this week, at least,” Bree said. She was proud that her voice wasn’t trembling. Her mind was filled with the horrors of serial killers, torturers, rapists, and mothers who drowned their children.Professor Cianquino smiled wryly. “Not this week. Just yourself. And those that are close to you. Take care, Bree.”“And you’ll send some help?” Gabriel said.“I’ll send some help.”Eight“Of all the gin joints in all the world . . .”—Casablanca

 

“So what do you think?” Antonia flung herself onto the living room floor and gazed up at the ceiling. It was cof fered. In a fit of Georgian-inspired artistic fervor, a long dead Winston-Beaufort had commissioned paintings in each of the squares between the moldings, and Antonia looked up at simpering shepherdesses and bilious sheep.“I think I made a mistake when I decided to go to law school instead of becoming a veterinarian.”“I didn’t know you thought about being a vet.”“I didn’t think long enough. Or maybe I should have been a chef.”“Get out!” Antonia shouted gleefully. “You’d starve to death without takeout!”Bree was exhausted and wound tight as a guitar string. She was scared and angry with herself for being scared. Professor Cianquino had promised help. Of what kind, he couldn’t say. Except that she would know it when it showed up. She hoped it was soon.She’d almost cried with relief when she’d pulled into her parking spot outside her town house and seen that Antonia was home. For the next few days, at least, she didn’t want to be alone.“When I said what do you think, I meant about the play, not your career.” Antonia flopped over onto her stomach, shoved her fists beneath her chin, and looked at Sasha, who was sprawled next to her. “With all due respect, sister, your career seems to be having a totally negative effect on your outlook on life. Tim Adriansen said you were in the theater tonight for about five seconds and then you bombed on out with some good-looking guy, without so much as a peep about the show. I suppose you hated it so much you couldn’t stand it. Or it bored you so much you took off with the first good-looking dude that flexed his pecs at you.”
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“Isn’t Tim the usher that dissed me out for representing Lindsey Chandler? I thought so. You believe him over me? The guy’s a sneak, a rat, and a toad. Which brings me to who I was with. The good-looking guy was Payton the Rat. The ticket I bought sat me right next to him and his creepy boss, John Stubblefield. Ifyou’dleft me a real ticket, I would have sat somewhere else and stayed for the whole thing. Plus I would have saved myself seventy-five bucks.”“Oh, shoot. I’m an awful sister. I’m the worst!” Antonia sat up and ran her hands through her hair, which was pretty frazzled to begin with. “They didn’t let you in with the pass I wrote for you? I suppose I should have known better. Was he awful to you? Payton?”“No more than usual,” Bree said. “My main feeling when I see him is total self-disgust. I mean, how could I?”“He’s gorgeous, for one thing,” Antonia said. “Not thatIwould have fallen for that, but never mind. Anyhow. I’m sorry. About the ticket, anyway. And about thinking you finked out on me. So, what’d you think? About the play?”“Wonderful,” Bree said promptly. “The best part was the staging, no question.”Antonia grinned. “Seriously?”“Seriously, the staging was brilliant. You’ve taught me enough about that stuff so that I know it can make or break a play, or pretty nearly. And you made it. The guy who played Holmes was sensational. But Irene Adler—really, Tonia. Did Stubblefield give the Rep so much money they had to cast her, or what?”“You think Gordon would cast a play because a backer bribed him? You’ve been watching too many old Preston Sturges movies. No, Gordon cast her because she’s sleeping with him. Also,” she added, in a more reasonable tone, “she was the best of a bad lot. I mean, the only other serious actor up for the part was me, and I know I’m way too young. Although I canplayold, which is more than I can say for Lorie.”“Lorie Stubblefield is sleeping with Gordon, your director?” Bree said with interest.“Yep.”“She’s sleeping with Payton, too.”“Get out!”“Well, he implied that she was. Maybe it’s just another one of Payton’s little maneuvers to get under my skin. Although it’s so like him. Sucking up to the boss’s daughter. Anyhow, I loved the play, I loved your work, and I’m going to bed. I’m wiped out.”“You don’t want to go down to Louie’s for a pizza? Gordon’s probably there, and maybe Lorie, too.”“Antonia, it’s almost one o’clock in the morning. I have to get up in five hours to drive home.”“You’re going to the Guy Fawkes party?”“Yes. Although why Mamma just doesn’t come out and call it a Halloween party beats me.”“The fifth falls on a Thursday this year, and nobody would come, or not as many as would come on a weekend. Anyhow, I say God bless you for throwing your fair body into the breach.That’swhy they haven’t given me much of a hard time about not showing up. You’ll be there.” She jumped up, grabbed her purse, and patted Bree’s knee. “You go on to bed. I’m going down for a pizza. I’m about starved to death.”Bree bit her lip. She was afraid something was going to come out of the mirror. She was afraid to go to sleep. Afraid of her dreams. “You’re sure you just don’t want to go on to bed?”“You’re kidding! You know about theater hours. During a show I never get to bed before three.” She headed toward the kitchen, and Bree stood up. Sasha got up, too, and stood with his head pressed anxiously at her knee.“Hang on. I changed my mind. I’m coming with you.”Antonia skidded to a halt and stared at her. “You’re kidding. You’ve changed your mind about going home?”“No, no, no. I’ve changed my mind about pizza. All I had to eat tonight was some soup.”“But you aren’t going to get any sleep.”“I’ll be fine.” She gave Antonia little shove. “I’m right behind you.”Antonia peered closely at her. “Is something wrong? You look—I don’t know—kind of run over.”Bree thought:Well, let’s see. In the past twenty-four hours, I’ve retained another dead soul as a client, dealt with a kid so screwed up she torments dogs, and discovered that yep, I’m being followed by a pair of corpses who’ve jumped through the barricades between this world and the next so they can take me on a permanent, highly unpleasant tropical vacation.Aloud, Bree said, “I need to unwind with a cold glass of wine and a nice cheesy slice of pizza. Forget sleep. I can do that anytime.”In fact, she fell asleep in the corner booth at Huey’s. A number of cast members had dropped by, after making a dutiful appearance at the cast party hosted by the Stub blefields. Bree was grateful for their presence, and the noise that accompanied it. She tucked herself into the far end of one of the booths, put her head back, and only woke to Antonia’s tug on her hair. “You’re drooling,” she announced. “I had to explain that you weren’t the sister that showed up on TV today defending that Lindsey character, but the idiot sister I keep locked in the closet like Mr. Rochester with his first wife. Everybody,” Antonia said with satisfaction, “believed me.”Bree looked blearily at her watch. Four in the morning. She looked down at Sasha, who had positioned himself on the floor at the end of the booth, and said, “What d’ya think? Shall we take off for Plessey right now?”“Now?” Antonia shrieked. “You’ve got to be kidding!”“If I get there early, I’ll have time for a nap before the party. Much better than trying to get a couple hours of sleep right now.”And much better than facing whatever awaited her, alone in the dark in her bedroom.Antonia made her a thermos of strong coffee before she took herself off to her own bed, and Bree found herself driving down I-75 with the sun coming up behind her, and the clear road rolling in front. She was in a cheerful state of mind. Sasha sat strapped in the passenger seat next to her, and the fears of the night before ebbed like water down a drain.She reached the turnoff for Plessey by ten o’clock, and was so pleased with her progress that she decided to stop for coffee and a bite of doughnut before wading into the maelstrom of her family’s affairs. “Time to brush my hair, wash my face, and get oriented, Sasha. Where do you think we should stop—Tim Horton’s? Dunkin’ Donuts?”Once off the interstate, she’d slowed to forty-five, so she had time to brake when Sasha pressed his nose to the passenger-side window and barked once.Here!“The Saturn Diner?” She squinted at the printed slogan below the neon letters. “ ‘We run rings around the competition. ’ Cute. Very cute.”She pulled up in front of the plate glass window. There was one other car in the front lot, an old Ford Dually that looked the worse for wear. She glanced at it again. It looked vaguely familiar.At the rear of the diner, she could see a few other cars parked up against the dumpster; an older model Chevy and a Toyota that probably belonged to the waitress and the chef.The glass door to the entrance was plastered with signs for community events: Denville Farm Days, the local Elks pancake dinner, a pumpkin festival sponsored by the local Baptist church. Inside, the large dining area was floored with black and white linoleum squares. A dozen or so red plastic-topped stools stood in front of the counter. A glass-fronted tiered stand held plates of pies and cakes topped with cherries and whipped cream. A fryer smell filled the air: fried chicken, chips, and barbecue. Bree loved diners. She loved the hash brown potatoes, fried peach pies, and grits swimming in butter. The only thing she didn’t love was the coffee, which was generally boiled to death and burned to perdition. Bree held the door open and waved at the waitress wiping down a table near the cash register.“Y’all mind if my dog sits outside this door while I come in for some pie?”The waitress, fortyish, with pale brown hair tucked back in a ponytail, waved lethargically back. “Hell, honey. Bring him on in. If the sheriff stops by, put on a pair of sunglasses and tell him he’s a guide dog.”Bree seated herself at the counter. Despite the pickup in front, the dining room was empty of customers except for her and Sasha. The waitress slapped her rag down, pulled an order pad from her pocket, and put her elbows on the counter. The name Kayla was embroidered in red stitching on the pocket of her checked shirt.“What’ll it be?”“Iced tea, please. And maybe one of those fried peach pies.” Bree smiled at her. “I’m Bree, by the way. And this is Sasha.”“Got it. Bree. And for big boy there?” She nodded at Sasha. “Think we got a blade bone from last night’s pot roast in the back.”“He’d love that. Thank you.”Bree resettled herself onto the stool and felt the tension leave her shoulders, neck, and back. She was twenty minutes away from home. A truly sensible person could stay there behind the big wrought-iron gates and phone in her resignation from life in Savannah and 66 Angelus Street. She could get a nice, undemanding job. Maybe like this one, where the only dangers lay in bad-tempered Bubbas wandering in from the beer joints down the road after a rowdy Saturday night. She closed her eyes against the glare of the sunlight through the plate glass windows and thought about nothing in particular for the first time in days.Suddenly, Sasha jumped to his feet and growled.“Bree? Is that you?”Bree jerked upright. The owner of the pickup—it couldn’t be anyone else—stood at the end of the bar, a half smile on his face. Bree’s heart bumped twice in her chest. “Abel?” she said. “Abel?” Suddenly, she was off the stool and in his arms.At six-foot-four, to Bree’s five-foot-nine, Abel always made her feel small and feminine. She gave herself up to his hard, muscled chest for a long moment, then drew back, suddenly aware of Kayla the waitress, grinning cheekily at them both, and Sasha, who looked perplexed.“What’s it been—five years?” Her voice was husky. She stepped back, blushing, then sank onto the counter stool. She reached for the iced tea and took a long drink, resisting the impulse to pour it over the back of her neck. “Well,” she said, “well. It’s good to see you, Abel.”He leaned against the counter, thumbs hooked into the belt loops of his jeans. It was the only sign of his own loss of composure. The steady gray eyes were the same. But there was a hint of gray in his black hair—how old was he now? Forty-two or -three, at least. His face was weathered, and his smile just the same.“You look wonderful,” he said.“Thank you kindly, sir. And you look well. Still opting for the outside jobs, I see.” She gestured at his hands. “You’re as tan as an old saddle. And those calluses on your hands didn’t come from scrawling quadratic equations on the blackboard.” She drew her eyebrows together. “Itisquadratic equations you mathematicians go on and on about, isn’t it? Math is so confusin’.”“Now, don’t go all Southern sappy on me, Bree. I like my women smart.”“And my hubby tells me my romance novels are so much gush,” Kayla said with an exaggerated sigh. “Y’all want your pie now? I hope not. I can listen to this kind of stuff all day.”“Yes. Well.” Bree took the peach pie in one hand and the glass of iced tea in the other. She looked around rather wildly for a booth, realized with a start they were all unoccupied, and nodded toward the one farthest from Kayla’s ecstatic grin.“Blueberry for you?” Kayla said to Abel.“Peach.” Bree looked at the pie in her own hand. “He always liked peach.”“Peach coming right up.”Kayla disappeared into the kitchen. Bree followed Abel to the booth. After a long moment, Sasha walked to the glass door at the front of the diner and sat down. He looked back over his shoulder at them.We should go right now.“Handsome dog,” Abel said.“Yes, he is. His name is Sasha.”Abel craned his neck to look at the scar on Sasha’s hind leg. “Looks like that’s just about finished healing.”“The cast came off two days ago.” She looked at him. “A spring trap. In the yard of my office building. Remember how you found those guys who were setting the spring traps at Plessey? And beat the tar out of them, too.”He nodded. Abel’s job as manager at Plessey had lasted three years. It would have lasted forever if Bree hadn’t fallen in love with him. She never knew if he’d felt the same for her, although, in her wilder, Scarlett O’Hara moments, she was sure that if circumstances had been different, if he had been free . . .Bree cleared her throat. “And Virginia? She’s well, I hope?”“Just fine. Still working at the clinic. She’s steadier with a regular paycheck coming in.”Bree was never sure how to approach asking about Virginia’s illness. Abel never discussed it, although he was a tender, attentive nurse to his wife. Virginia herself was exhaustively, comprehensively, endlessly focused on it. She had one of the many forms of multiple sclerosis. Sometimes she was wheelchair-bound, and sometimes she wasn’t.“And you? Still finding the classroom too claustrophobic to stick at for long?”He nodded, but didn’t volunteer anything more.Bree shoved her pie back and forth along the table, almost overwhelmed with feeling. With a sudden, unwelcome flash of insight, she saw her infatuation with Payton McAllister as a blind and stupid hedge against her love for this tall, brilliant, caring man. She had a flash of amused comfort with herself, though: her affair with Payton was explained at last.“And you, Bree? I hear you moved on to Savannah.” He leaned forward and moved his hand toward her. “You okay? You look a little”—he hesitated—“ ‘careworn’ is the word that comes to mind.”“Yes,” Bree said. “Yes, I’m fine. Something just occurred to me that should have occurred to me long before.” She wanted to laugh and cry, all at once. Instead, she ate a piece of her peach pie, which was as good as she hoped it would be. “And I’ve opened a practice in Savannah. Uncle Franklin—you remember Uncle Franklin? Of course you do. Just before he died, he added a codicil to his will, leaving his practice to me.”
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“I didn’t realize he still practiced law. I thought he spent most of his career on the bench. Is it interesting, his caseload?”Bree opened her mouth and closed it. “You could say so,” she said thoughtfully. “More interesting than I’d anticipated, that’s for sure.” The peach pie suddenly tasted like cardboard. She sat back in the booth, exhaustion hitting like a brick. “Whoa. Sorry. Guess the drive down here took more out of me than I thought.” She rubbed her hands over her eyes. “And you? We didn’t hear much about you when you left Plessey.”“I did some work for the forestry service. And you remember my brother? Charles?”“I do indeed.” It seemed so strange to have this normal, chatty conversation on the surface, while the unspoken conversation underneath roared on like a river in spring spate. “He’s much older than you, as I recall. And he’s got something to do with horses.”“The Seaton Stud.” Abel’s face was impassive. “And he did have a great deal to do with horses. But not anymore. He died three weeks ago. I agreed to stay and help Missy out until she can find someone more permanent. Or sell out—she hasn’t decided which.”“My gosh. I’m truly sorry to hear that, Abel. I know you two weren’t close, but . . .”“A brother’s a brother.” He finished the sentence for her with a slight smile.“That’ll be quite a challenge. It’s huge, isn’t it? The Seaton Stud.” Her mouth was dry. She took a sip of the iced tea and choked a little as it tried to go down her throat.“Four stallions at stud and forty mares in permanent residence. And the number of mares doubles in early spring, of course.”“So Virginia’s fine with this? Pulling up stakes again and moving to Savannah?”Because that’s where the Seaton Stud was located.Five miles west of the office at 66 Angelus Street.NineGrace me no grace, nor uncle me no uncle.—Othello, William Shakespeare

 

“I ran into Abel Trask today,” Bree said casually. She sat curled up in one of the big wicker chairs that lay scattered across the wide verandah. Francesca perched next to her on the porch swing. Her mother was dressed in her usual fashion when she was at home: a long cotton skirt, a brightly colored tee, and comfortable old loafers. Her bright gold-red hair (recently “refreshed” at a darling new shop in Raleigh, she had informed her daughter) was coiled in a careless way on the top of her head. She wore small gold earrings in the shape of a heart.Plessey surrounded them both like loving arms. Wisteria vines curled around the porch railings, the leaves a yellowy green. The dried heads of hydrangea clustered among the hedges hugging the brick walls of the house were a creamy beige that only faintly recalled the riotous pink of summer.The old house stood in the middle of five hundred acres of cotton, and had something of the appearance of an oasis among the wide flat fields. Royal’s great-great grandfather had planted sycamores in the half acre surrounding the house and old outbuildings, and the trees had grown to huge, dignified heights. On this, the last day of October, the last of their leaves provided a minimal shade from the autumnal sun. Two large canvas tents had been erected on the wide front lawn. The whole party area was a hum of activity. White-jacketed waiters set up chairs, smoothed the linens on the two big bars, and fussed with the wooden dance floor that lay open to the sky.The road was a quarter mile away from the house. Since Bree had last been home, her father had skimmed another coat of blacktop on the long drive, and the lawn on either side had been neatly mowed. She looked down the length of the new tar to the wrought-iron gates, open in welcome, as they always were during the day, and said, “Mamma?”“Yes. I heard you. Abel Trask.” Francesca fiddled with her hair, and said, suddenly, “You’re looking thin.” Her mother nudged the porch floor with her toe and set the swing going. “Have another one of those shrimp thin gies.”Bree took another tiny shrimp sandwich from the plate on the wicker table at her elbow. Sasha’s ears went up and he cocked his head at her engagingly. Bree gave him her sandwich.“How is he? Abel Trask.”“Fine, or so it seemed. Hasn’t changed much. He has a little gray in his hair.”“That woman,” Francesca said with an audible snap of her teeth, “would put gray in the hair of the Kaiser.”Bree wondered if she should ask why the Kaiser, and not, say, some Episcopalian saint, but decided against it. Her mother’s thought processes were a continual delight to her family, but rarely logical.“Virginia,” Bree said. “He said she’s doing pretty well.”“Virginia. Yes, indeed.” Francesca lay back in the swing and stared at the porch ceiling. She looked so much like Antonia at that moment! “There are very few things harder than living with long-term illness,” Francesca said. “So I should shut my mouth and hope for glory.” She sat up and fixed her brilliant blue eyes on her oldest daughter. “The two of you have much to say to each other?”“Not much,” Bree said. “He’s moving to Savannah, I hear.”“Yes. That nice big brother of his, Charles, that was his name. Well, Charles up and got himself kicked to death by a horse last week. Stands to reason that Abel would step in to help out Missy Trask. That’s what—”“—brothers are for, yes, Mamma. Kicked to death? That’s not a usual thing.”“I should hope not.” Francesca rubbed her nose, which was small and pert, like the rest of her. “Maybe he wasn’t kicked to death. Maybe he broke his neck going over a fence. Cubbing’s started,” she added, not all that irrelevantly, since if he had been riding to hounds, Charles Trask very well could have fallen to his death. “Anyhow, yes, we heard. Word like that gets around, of course.” She rocked violently, and then stopped the swing’s motion with a sudden stamp of her foot. “Your father and I always liked him. Abel Trask.”A short silence fell.Francesca had never questioned Abel’s abrupt resignation. And after he’d gone, his name never came up in family conversations. It was as if he’d never existed. But Bree remembered that in the weeks after he’d left, her mother had engaged in a sudden flurry of activity: hauling Bree to Charleston to visit one of Bree’s best friends; a series of unwelcome, but pretty, gifts of clothes, shoes, and purses.If her mother didn’t want to discuss it then, she surely wouldn’t now. Bree gave it up. “Has word gotten around about my wild child client, Mamma?”“Lindsey?” Her mother’s face cleared into a smile. “Well, now, we haven’t heard much. The Chandlers weren’t Southern originally, you know. They came from the Midwest someplace.” She waved vaguely. “Ohio? Is that right?”“Iowa, I think,” Bree said. “Ames, to be precise.”“Anyway, you know what it’s like, their not being local, I mean.”Bree knew. Her mother was openhearted and open-handed. But even she tended to close ranks to outsiders.“Besides, they were just the most tight-assed people.”“Mamma!” Bree couldn’t help but laugh, although a little shocked.“That was truly vulgar, wasn’t it? I do apologize. But the man was stingy, Bree. He had a stingy heart. You know how much he gave to the Overseas Orphans Fund when Bea Forester asked for a donation? Fifty dollars. Fifty dollars! And the man had an income bigger than the annual revenues of Southern Rhodesia. Or so your father says.” Her face brightened to the glow she kept for Royal Winston-Beaufort and nobody else. “And here he is. You can ask him about those Chandlers yourself, Bree.”Royal came around the side of the house, walked up the verandah steps, and settled himself into a wicker chair with a sigh. He reached over and gave Bree’s hand a gentle squeeze. “How’s my best girl?”“Just fine, Daddy.”Royal Beaufort was tall and thin, with a long, horsey face and a deceptively gentle manner. “Glad you could make it up, darlin’. Looks like we’re going to have ourselves a real party here tonight. Wouldn’t want you to miss it. Now, that sister of yours . . .”“She’s just desolated she can’t make it,” Bree said promptly. “But she can’t run out on her play.”“I suppose she can’t.” He sat back and folded his hands over his lean stomach. “So, you’re looking a little worn-out, child, since I saw you last.”“You saw me last a few weeks ago, and not much has changed since,” Bree said a little tartly.“You finished up that Skinner case okay?”“No problems at all. I gave two depositions in evidence. And I got a check from the client.”“Prompt payers are a blessing,” her father said piously. He winked at her. “So I guess you won’t need a check to tide you over.”“No, Daddy, I surely won’t.” Bree felt a familiar surge of chagrin, annoyance, and exasperated love. “I’m doing just fine.”The front door opened, and General’s dark head peeked out onto the porch. “Can I get y’all something? A whiskey soda, Mr. Royal?” He let the screen door shut gently behind him. “And it’s Bree! How’s by you, my girl? We haven’t seen you this age.”Bree jumped up and gave General a brief, warm hug. She couldn’t remember a time when the old man hadn’t been an important part of their lives. “I’m just home for the weekend, General, but I sure am glad to be here.”“I musta been out back with them deliveries when you come by,” he said regretfully. “And I see that you ain’t eatin’ enough to feed a birdie. I’ll get you a nice chunk of Adelina’s pecan pie, shall I? Along with that whiskey soda. Glad you’re back where you belong. And you brought that nice dog with you, too. I’ll see about some scraps for him.” He twinkled gently at Sasha and disappeared back into the house.Bree found herself smiling. Her mother reached over and nudged her. “What?”“It’s good to be home, Mamma.”“It’s good to have you home, darlin’.” She clapped her hands briskly. “Now, Royal. My little round of phone calls to make discreet inquires about the Chandlers turned up bukiss.”Bree and Royal looked at each other. Finally, Bree said, “You mean bubkes, Mamma?”“Whatever. I didn’t get much of a handle on Probert at all. He kept himself to himself, as the Irish say. A proper Methodist, he seemed to be, and that isn’t much of a compliment when you consider John Knox.”“Knox was a Presbyterian, Francesca,” Royal said. “But don’t be blaming him, either. What your mother is saying, Bree, is that the man stuck to business and family, and ran the both of them in what might be called a parsimonious way.”“You’re being gentlemanly, Daddy. Marlowe’s known worldwide for predatory pricing practices. They’re notorious for driving competitors out of business with cut-throat tactics. And they’re perfectly horrible to their suppliers. I know that much from skimming the business pages every day.”“The liberal press version of the business pages,” Royal murmured. “Now, don’t get your feathers ruffled. Any laissez-faire economy’s bound to have a version of Mar lowe’s. It’s the price of doing business.”“It doesn’t have to be,” Bree said hotly.General came back onto the porch with a whiskey soda, a fine slice of pecan pie, and a small, steaming teapot. He handed the drink to Royal and the pie to Bree (who set it aside on the table) and poured a cup of tea for Francesca. He dropped a large hambone at Sasha’s feet, and then went gently away.Royal put his right leg over his left knee and sipped his drink. “I made a few calls myself, on your young client’s behalf. Did you know Probert had a partner?”Bree thought a moment. “Yes. I think I did. Lindquist, his name is.”“John Allen Lindquist. He and Probert were frat brothers at the University of Oregon in the pharmacy program. Lindquist’s kept pretty much in the background all these years, but he carried a lot more weight than you’d guess, just looking at the company from the outside. He’s a registered pharmacist as well as an MD, and has in fact done a whole lot of research into developing generic drugs.”“That’s where Marlowe’s makes most of its profits, isn’t it?” Bree said. “They have a huge plant down in Ames, I think it is, and they manufacture a lot of the generics themselves.”“Actually, the largest plants are in China.” Probert held his glass up to the sunlight and gazed appreciatively at the amber color. “Labor’s cheap. No one inquires too much into their employee practices, and so far, no one has imposed a whole lot of tariffs on the imports.”Francesca cleared her throat loudly. “Isn’t thisinteresting?” she said fervently.Royal grinned at her. “Francesca. Light of my life. If you wish to duck out on this conversation, I can’t blame you one iota.”“Thank mercy.” Francesca got up in a flurry of skirts. “If I told you talk about some old plant in China was going to be the conversational highlight of my day, I’d be lying like a rug.”“You’d perk up right enough if you saw what those plants in China are like,” Bree said. “They stick those poor workers in warehouses you wouldn’t want a cat to live in, and they make them pay for the privilege.”“Now, Bree,” Royal said.“Sixteen tons,” Francesca said.Bree, about to spout off like the fountain in their rose garden out back, was abruptly silenced.“Of course,” Royal said. And then, in a chancy baritone he sang,“Sixteen tons, what d’ya get? Another day older and deeper in debt.”Francesca chimed in:“St. Peter, don’t you call me, ’cause I can’t go, I owe my soul to the company store.”“You’re both crazy,” Bree said, laughing.Royal set his glass down with a flourish and rose to his feet. “Crazy like a fox. Guess who’s coming to the party this afternoon?”“Oh, I don’t know. Tennessee Ernie Ford’s been dead a while. So, who?”“John Allen Lindquist was pleased to accept an invitation to Plessey’s annual Guy Fawkes Day Dinner and Dance,” Royal said. “What do you think of that?”
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Bree shook her head at them both. Parents. “I think that’s just fine.”“Then that’s all settled,” Francesca said with satisfaction. “Bree, honey, I have to go check on the caterers and make sure that Adelina isn’t cooking herself dumb and exhausted in the kitchen. And I talked to Antonia this morning. She said you didn’t get a lick of sleep last night. So I want you to trot right on up to your old room and take a nice long nap. I’ll come and wake you up in time to get ready for the party.”This was the best idea Bree had heard in a week. Her father made his leisurely way down the steps to the front lawn, and Bree followed her mother into the house.Plessey had been rebuilt as a center-entrance Georgian in the late 1820s, replacing the low-ceilinged cedar wood frame building that had preceded it. The house was three stories, surrounded by verandahs on all three levels. All of the large rooms—the parlor, library, sewing room, and dining room on the main floor, and the bedrooms and sitting rooms on the upper stories—had mullioned double doors that led out onto the porches. When Bree readPride and Prejudicefor high school English, she read about the inside of Mr. Bingley’s home, Nether-field, with a little jolt of recognition.The ceilings were high and the walls were trimmed top and bottom with crown molding. Francesca had become very interested in the late Georgian period, so she’d gotten rid of the wallpaper and commissioned hand-painted murals in the public rooms. The private rooms for the family and the staff were painted in a variety of bright, cheerful colors likeeau de nil, warm persimmon, and cadet blue.And the house had a smell—one that Bree would have recognized anywhere in the world. It was compounded of lemon floor wax, lavender from Francesca’s potpourri bowls, and a comfortable moldy sort of odor that came from the wood frame itself.She walked wearily up the main staircase to her old bedroom, Sasha bounding ahead of her. Her mother’s elderly retriever, Beau, lay in front of her parents’ set of rooms, which were directly at the top of the stairs. Beau got stiffly to his feet, wagging his tail slowly. He thrust his head close to Sasha, as if trying to figure out whether he was actually a dog or a fur-coated, four-legged Something Else. Bree had noticed this oddity about Sasha before; other dogs treated him as a noncanine. There weren’t any of the jousting, sniffing, tail-flagging behaviors that happened when two new dogs met one another. Beau greeted Sasha and backed off. Then he did what Bree’d seen other dogs do: he extended his forepaws, bent his graying head, and wagged his tail in the upright position, a classic offer to play.Bree’s room hadn’t changed since she was six years old and moved out of the nursery and into her own room. A small fireplace occupied the back wall, flanked by a pair of shabby built-in bookshelves. Copies of her best-beloved childhood books were still there:Lad: A Dog;The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy; and a whole slew of Anne of Green Gables. Her bed was spindled four-poster, with an ancient patchwork quilt her grandmother Annette had made as a christening present. General had put her briefcase and her overnight bag under her little vanity table.Bree was too tired to unpack her dress and hang it up in the pine wardrobe. She kicked off her shoes, fell onto the bed, pulled her pillow over her head to shut out the sunlight, and fell into a deep sleep.She woke to a place she had been to once before. A field of grass so deep and green it felt like velvet beneath her feet. A scent of flowers and nearby water was in the air and the sound of silvery chimes. Bree opened her arms to a bronze flood of sunlight.A slight hissing in the grass. A cold hand crept around her ankle. A smell of dead, decaying flesh hit her, as if Something had actually gathered the odor up and flung it in her face. Bree shouted, drowning . . .And woke with a shriek in her throat and the feel of clawed hands around her feet. Sasha’s furious growls assaulted the air. Bree struggled to open her eyes, to get up, to getout, and fell off the bed onto the floor with a thump.Sasha nudged his head into her side and pushed. Bree sat up slowly, leaned against the bed, and put one arm around his neck. After her breathing slowed, she said, a little hoarsely, “That was some nightmare, Sash.”She bent forward to rub her ankles, and snatched her hands away. A smear of filth, grave-ridden and corrupt, covered them from palm to wrist. She looked at the smear in horror. She closed her eyes and took a deep, calming breath. Sasha nudged her again. “The professor said he was going to send some help, Sasha. I sure as heck hope it’s soon.”Bree set her teeth. She struggled to her feet, and clutching Sasha by the collar as if he were a lifeline tossed to a sinking ship, she went to take a shower.After a long, hot shower that scrubbed away every trace of the filthy hands on her skin, she dressed for the party and sat down in the little rocker next to her fireplace. She was still there when her mother knocked and walked into her room.“Notthat little black dress again!” Francesca said in dismay. She clapped her hands over her mouth. “What I meant to say is that you look beautiful, honey. But what about that nice red dress you wore at the open house party a few weeks ago? You looked like a queen in that dress.”Bree smiled. Her face felt stiff. “It’s still at the cleaner’s. If I’d stopped to think this week, I would have picked it up. But I only decided to come at the last minute, Mamma. There wasn’t time to go fetch it.”“Well.” Her mother fussed around her. “I do have to say I like the way you’re doin’ your hair. Those braids are brilliant.” She looked at Bree with a soft smile. “Once in a while I miss the old look, though. I know it wasn’t professional to wear it fallin’ down your back. But it was so pretty! So. You ready to come down? You want me to send somebody up with a plate of sandwiches or you want to go down and grab some of that barbecue? People are starting to show up already.”Bree tucked her arm under her mother’s. “You let me at the barbecue. I can smell it from here.”She’d slept for several hours. The sun was low, and streaks of pink, orange, and a misty mauve spilled over the lip of the west horizon. White lights twinkled among the branches of the sycamore trees, and the smell of pulled pork and cracklings was mouthwatering. The canvas tents glowed with candlelight from the dining tables. On the opposite side of the low brick wall that separated the house and grounds from the cotton fields, a giant pyre of wood stood stacked and ready for the midnight firing. Once, when Bree was eight or nine, a relative had brought a Guy to throw onto the fire, the way they did in England. One of the brattier Carmichael cousins told Antonia it was a real body. Bree had plunged her hands into the fire to get the Guy out, to stop Tonia’s frantic screams, and Francesca had banned the Guy ever since. She’d dressed Bree’s burns with olive oil and gauze.The evening was cool. Bree accepted a silvery wrap from her mother to wind around her shoulders. She paused at the top of the steps to the lawn and watched the milling flow of people. Most were old friends. Some were clients of her father’s firm. And more than a few were relatives from both the Winston-Beaufort and Carmichael sides of the family.Bree spotted Aunt Cissy, waved, and plunged into the crowd.“John Lindquist? I’d like you to meet my daughter Brianna. Up until a few weeks ago, she was a junior associate at the firm. She’s opened her own practice in Savannah now.” Royal clasped Bree’s wrist and gently drew her into the circle of his acquaintances as he spoke. Bree had wandered out to the wall where the pile of dry wood stood waiting for the torch, away from the noise of people chattering and the pianist. She watched her father expertly shepherd a small group of men toward her.“So I hear.” Lindquist looked like a pharmacist, if pharmacists could be said to have a look. He was very clean and neat, of medium height, with a trim, flat body that spoke of dutiful work at a gym. He looked accurate, that was the word, as if he rarely made mistakes. He had pale blue eyes and a rather remote manner. Bree thought about it, later, and decided that he was a party watcher, as opposed to a party participator. Here was a man who saw little difference between strolling through a museum and talking to actual people.“How do you do?” Bree extended her hand, and he shook it with an air of mild surprise. Maybe he thought she was an interactive exhibit.“And you remember Francis and Arnie, Bree.” Bree smiled at two of her father’s golfing buddies, and waited until they had moved away before she turned to talk to Lindquist. He was looking at the pyre. “Pine, mostly? And a bit of cedar.”Bree blinked. She didn’t know much about wood. “Yes. That is, probably. We collect deadfalls all year long and save them up.” She considered the height of the pile. “My guess is there’s some of the old chicken house in there, too.”“Mm.” He shook the ice in his glass, and then drained it. “Carolyn tells me you’ve taken on Lindsey’s defense.”“Carolyn? Carrie-Alice, you mean?”“She was Carolyn when we were all at school together, and she remains Carolyn to me,” he said, rather pedantically. “She adopted this Carrie-Alice stuff when we decided to move some of our operations to Georgia.”“So Marlowe’s has a manufacturing plant here, too? I thought most of your divisions were either in Iowa or China.”“Just a small research facility,” he said. “And the store itself, of course. Both are under my control. Bert liked the area. Cost of living’s good, no state income tax, and what taxes there are, are low. Labor’s cheap, too.”Mostly the poor, the broke, and the uneducated. A news story from several years before suddenly popped into her head. “And we don’t have as much oversight as some states,” she said. “For our aid to dependent children programs and our food stamp bureau. Weren’t y’all depending on the state welfare programs to make up for the low wages y’all pay your part-timers?” There’d been a memo, she recalled, that urged the local Marlowe’s managers to keep a list of state and federal aid programs on hand. Employees who asked for full-time employment—which would mean minimum medical benefits or more wages—were urged to turn to the state for help rather than to work longer hours and have state labor laws regarding full-time workers kick in.She couldn’t read Lindquist’s eyes in the low light cast by the lights in the trees, but he said, without heat, “That’s right.” There was so much indifference in his voice, Bree had to make an effort to keep her temper. She shifted her glass of white wine from one hand to the other. “I was hoping you could give me a little guidance, as far as representing Lindsey.”“Guidance?” he said blankly.“I’m going to try and mount the best defense I can. And to do that, I need to get some idea of how Lindsey got to this point.”“And what point would that be?”The words were more insolent than the tone itself, so Bree said, patiently, “This is a seventeen-year-old girl who seems to have the world by the tail. Her mom and dad are still married after some thirty-odd years. The family’s worth the weight of the Sears Building in gold bullion, but they make a point of avoiding the extravagant lifestyle that brings so many kids of wealthy families into trouble. Her older brother and sister seem to have sane, adult lives, too. Her brother’s on the way up in the company, but it looks as if he has to earn his way. Nothing’s being handed to him because he’s the son of one of the five richest men in the world.” She let a little annoyance creep into her voice; it wouldn’t be a bad thing to rattle this doofus’s cage. “And her sister teaches middle school. Now. Does this sound like the kind of family that would send a teenager off the rails?”“You seem to know a lot about the family.” He sounded disapproving.“I have a terrific staff. Especially when it comes to research.”Lindquist rattled the ice in his glass. “Well, I can tell you this much. Lindsey was a problem from the day she was born.”“Oh?”He nodded firmly. “Very different from the other two. It was a tough pregnancy, and things got even tougher after the child was actually born. Lindsey was a fussy baby. Didn’t sleep much. Had a lot of colicky stuff wrong with her. As a toddler, she was prone to temper tantrums. She even bit her brother once. On the arm. I remember the teeth marks distinctly.”“Fancy,” Bree said dryly. “I don’t know much about babies and toddlers, Mr. Lindquist, at least not yet, but this doesn’t sound like a disturbed child to me. Just a fussy one. There are lots of those.”He nodded eagerly. “Too many, wouldn’t you say?”Bree shrugged. “Maybe. Anything else?”“Well, she was a poor student. Pulling down Bs and Cs. Almost impossible to motivate her. Bert and Carolyn don’t—didn’t—believe in excessive reliance on doctors, but they did make an effort to get her treated.”
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“I don’t understand. Treated for what, exactly?”“She didn’t fit in. She was a disruptive influence on the family. Do I need to make myself any clearer?”Bree made a face into the depths of her wineglass. “Let’s take a look at this from Lindsey’s point of view. I know that Mr. Chandler and you were close . . .”“Close enough,” he said. “We met at school. We were all chem majors with minors in business admin. Funny, when you think about it. Not that usual, the combination of business and science, you see. So it was natural for us to gravitate to one another.”“Mrs. Chandler is a chemist, too?” Bree said in some surprise.“Carolyn?” he snorted. “Not on your life. Where in the name of God did you get that idea?”Bree knew she shouldn’t let this guy get under her skin. “You said you were all chem majors,” she pointed out rather tartly. “ ‘All,’ not ‘both.’ So of course I assumed you were talking about three people and not just you and Probert. And why shouldn’t Carrie-Alice be a chemist?”“Steve Hansen was with us for a time,” Lindquist said with a “gotcha” air. “And Carolyn’s never had much interest in anything outside the home and the kids. The kids, mainly.”Bree bit down on her lower lip, to keep herself from continuing this inane verbal competition. “What I really would like to discuss with you, Mr. Lindquist—”“It’s Doctor Lindquist,” he snapped, suddenly testy. “I added an MD to my PhD in pharmacology.”Bree nodded agreeably. “Dr. Lindquist. I’m going to give Lindsey the best defense I possibly can. And to do that, it’d help to know as much as I can about her background. Do you have an opinion about Mr. Chandler’s parenting skills?”“He was a good and devoted father. He loved his children.”Right out of the press kit prepared for you by your New York PR firm,Bree thought. Aloud, she said, “And Carolyn—Mrs. Chandler—you’re closer to her? Or am I making another assumption?”“I don’t think I care for the tone of your voice, Miss Beaufort.”Bree shook her head in mock sympathy. “It’s a problem that’s plagued me all of my life, Mr. Lindquist. My tone of voice. So. You and Mrs. Chandler were how close? Too close?”He looked at her in contempt and paused for a long, long moment. “She’s my sister.”“Your sister.” Bree’s cheeks got hot. She remembered, too late, the hoary advice to defense attorneys: never ask a question to which you don’t already know the answer. His sister! Something she should have known, for sure. Well, she deserved the embarrassment; never, never, never get cocky without being willing to pay the price.“My younger sister. I only have the one. No brothers.”Bree drew a circle in the grass with the point of her shoe. “Hm. So. As the concerned uncle of this child, what can you tell me that might help me explain to a jury why she mugged an eight-year-old Girl Scout and stole her cookie money?”“Genes,” he said, in an unconscious echo of Hartley Williams’s addled diagnosis. “It begins and ends with what you inherit.”“Bullshit,” Bree said.Lindquist made a small adjustment to his tie and gazed at her, his face utterly expressionless. “I don’t think I can help you, Miss Beaufort.”“I don’t think you can, at that, Mr. Lindquist.”He turned on his heel and marched off across the grass.“Well,” said her father, from behind her shoulder, “that went well.” He looked sympathetic. Bree supposed he’d heard the entire conversation.“It did, didn’t it?” Bree swallowed the remains of her wine and set the glass on the top of the brick wall. “Serves me right, I guess. That sanctimonious so-and-so.”Royal chuckled.“Honestly, Daddy. I suppose I should have handled that better.”“No ‘suppose’ about it. You surely should have. You let your convictions get in the way of building a good case for your client. It’s a charming failing, Bree, but it’s definitely a failing. I’ve told you before, a good lawyer—the best lawyer—suspends her personal beliefs in defense of her client. You’re an advocate, my dear. It’s an important role.”“It’s a lot more honest to be an advocate for the innocent.”At that, her father looked seriously displeased. “I don’t need to remind you our whole legal system’s built on the presumption of innocence. And the question of guilt isnotyour job. You are not a judge.” He tugged at her ear affectionately. “Not yet, at any rate.” He glanced at his watch. “Nearly midnight. Time for the fire. I’ll get your mother.” He turned to walk away, and then turned back. “You’re going to be all right, you know. You’ll handle this case as well as you’ve handled all the others. I’ve got a lot of faith in you, Bree.”She went forward and hugged him.Royal smiled, patted her back, and then strolled over to the pianist, who struck a series of loud, trilling chords on the piano. He waited until the crowd of partygoers settled into expectant silence. She let her father’s speech to the guests wash over her, thinking of all the celebrations like this one, in the past. She wondered if she’d be around for the ones in the future. Sasha’s familiar warmth was at her knee, and she bent to stroke his head.Help, Professor Cianquino had said. He was going to send help. Well, she hoped it got here soon.She tilted her head back and looked up at the stars. The moon carried herself across the sky like a little ship. A feathering of clouds washed across the very top of the heavens, veiling the Pleiades and the Dipper. When her mother tossed the flaming brand on the fire, the flames shot up with a whoosh! The bright glow pitched the moon and stars into dark relief.And from the heart of the pyre, two huge black dogs leaped over the wall and landed at Bree’s feet.TenCry “havoc!” and let slip the dogs of war.—Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare

 

“You’ve got to be kidding. They’re giants! The town house people don’t mind looking the other way when it comes to Sasha—I mean, he’s such a peach. But these guys? We’re going to get fined. Maybe even kicked out.” Antonia rubbed her arms nervously. It was early Sunday evening. Bree had left Plessey just after breakfast, her two new guardians jammed into the backseat of her little car like two sumo wrestlers in a rickshaw. “What breed are they, anyway?”Bree looked at her new companions with some doubt. “Newfoundland, partly. I’m not sure about the other part. Maybe more mastiff, like Sash.”Both dogs stood fifty inches at the shoulder. Their chests were massive and their paws tipped with sharp white claws. Belli opened her mouth and grinned at them. She had a mouthful of sharp white teeth. She seemed to have more of them than the usual canine allotment. Bree was opposed to the flaunting of aggressive, macho behavior on principle, but she was glad to suspend her principles in this instance. These guys made her feel safe.“Bella. And that’s Mee-lace, you said?” Antonia patted the other guardian nervously on the head.“It’s spelled Miles. M-I-L-E-S. And her name’s Belli, with ani.”“Belli. Kind of a nice name, I guess. Italian?”“In a way.” For the first and only time in her life, Bree was glad that Tonia had flunked Latin.“But Bree, they can’t stay here.”“I’ll take them to the office. They’ll be there most of the time.” She eyed her sister. “You usually like dogs. Do they really make you that nervous?”“They’re just so . . .still. You know. They don’t move around a lot. They just sit and stare at you.”The dogs had taken positions on either side of the fireplace. There they sat, upright, their watchful eyes following back and forth as Antonia paced around the living room. Sasha pranced around with her, his tail wagging cheerfully. He’d greeted the arrival of his two compatriots with the air of a general reprimanding the late arrival of the troops. Occasionally, he directed their movements with a snap of his jaws and a preemptory bark. Mostly he looked at them with a proprietary air and left them alone. They didn’t eat, or if they did, they hadn’t, yet. Maybe they ate once a month, like pythons. They didn’t like to be petted or brushed, although they accepted both from Bree with an air of indifference.And they didn’t leave her side.“You found them wandering along the side of the road at some rest stop?” Antonia said again, as if Bree hadn’t already lied to her twice about the appearance of the dogs. Although it was only partly a lie. They’d been waiting for her in the parking lot of the Saturn Diner that morning after their brief, reassuring appearance at the bonfire and they had slept beside her bed at night. “I can’t believe you just picked them up and brought them back with you. How do you know they don’t belong to somebody?”“They’d been abandoned,” Bree said, shortly. “Don’t keep going on about it, Tonia. I figured it’d be a good idea for them to keep an eye on things at the office.”“Sash keeps an eye on things just fine.”“He’s not tough,” Bree said, ignoring Sasha’s reproachful look. “These guys are warriors. Ignore them. Pretend they’re a pair of porcelain Fu dogs. You know, those Chinese temple dogs. Come on, Tonia. Sit down and tell me all about last night’s show. Everything go well?”Her sister perched on the arm of the couch, and then got up, unable to stop staring at the dogs staring at her. “Let’s go into the kitchen. They can stay in here, can’t they?”Bree looked at Sasha.They stand guard at the mirror.“I think as long as they know I’m within shouting distance, they’ll be fine in here. And I brought you back some barbecue and some of Adelina’s pecan pie. I’ll heat some dinner up for you. You should eat before you go back to the theater.”Antonia trailed her into the kitchen and pulled a stool up to the kitchen counter. Bree bustled about, putting the barbecue into the microwave and serving the pie up on a small plate. Her sister watched her with the same grave attention as the dogs. “You’re, like, totally cheerful.”“Am I?”“I mean, totally. I can’t believe the difference in you.”“I wasn’t that much of a gloomy Gus, was I?”Antonia poked at the pie with her fork. “Not gloomy, no. But really anxious.” She swallowed a bite with an air of pleased surprise. “Yum. Nobody makes pecan pie like Adelina.”“I keep telling her she should quit housekeeping at Plessey and go into the pie business. She and General would make a fortune.”“Hm. And she said, ‘G’wan with you’ and kept on baking, I bet. So, anything particular happen at home? Other than you picking up a pair of elephants to bring back with you?”The elephants. Thank God for the elephants. “Not really,” Bree said evasively. “Mamma looks well. So does Daddy. And I got a chance to interview John Allen Lindquist.”“Who’s he when he’s at home?”“Lindsey’s uncle. I’d hoped he’d give me some help for her defense, but no soap.”“You’re still thinking about taking on that case?”“I have taken on that case. Hers and her father’s, both.”“Her father’s?” Antonia’s eyebrows went up. “I thought he was dead.”“Heisdead. But there’s some question about how he died.” Bree folded a dish towel into neat quarters and leaned against the kitchen counter. “I can’t help thinking the two things are linked somehow—Lindsey’s behavior and her father’s death.”Antonia shrugged. “Whatever. You seem to be attracting a lot of corpses, sister.”Bree shivered. “Yes. Well. I’m going to put Ron and Petru on an intense search for some background on the guy, that’s for sure. It’s going to be a busy week.”“Anything else?”“Anything else what?”“Anything else happen at home I ought to know about.”Bree flushed.“Mamma called after you left this morning.”Bree bit her lip.“Said you ran into Abel Trask.”“So I did.”“Said he was moving here to Savannah?”“Just for a bit. He’s taking over the Seaton Stud until his sister-in-law decides what to do with the business.”“Hm.”“Hm, what?” Bree demanded testily.“Just putting that together with you being so cheerful, sister. That’s all.”Bree bit her thumbnail. “Look. I can take care of myself.”Antonia got up and put her plate in the sink. “You’ve said that from the day I was born. And you know what? You mostly can. But I’m not so sure about this time. Mamma isn’t either.”There were times when as much as Bree loved her little sister, she wanted to smack her silly. This was one of those times. Antonia took a quick look at her expression, rolled her eyes, and grabbed her tote bag from its place by the back door. “I’m off to the job. I’ll be late. Don’t wait up.”Bree thought of Miles and Belli, guarding the mirror. “I won’t have to, will I? Thank goodness.”But she said it to the air; Antonia was gone.The evening passed quietly; the night was still and the nightmares held at bay by the stern bodies of the dogs at her bedroom door. Her cheery mood held well into the next morning, when she arrived at the office so early, even Lavinia wasn’t downstairs yet. Sasha went directly into the little kitchen, while Miles and Belli stationed themselves beneath the painting that had heralded so much grief: theRise of the Cormorant.Bree stared at the sinking ship, the hands grasping at air from the depths of the roiling sea, and dared to hope, a little. The scene revealed in that picture had haunted her childhood and brought her gasping awake from dreams of drowning too many nights to count. “And if that bird flies out of there to get me, you two’ll bite him, won’t you?”Miles blinked his solemn yellow eyes.Bree stared at the painting, unafraid, or pretty nearly. There was one face on that ship, one figure, she actually longed to see. The pale-eyed, dark-haired woman who had given birth to her, only to die a few days later, leaving her to Francesca and Royal.
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The dogs growled. A slow, subterranean rumble like an aural earthquake. Bree whirled. Her secretary and her paralegal stood at the foyer.“Oh, my God,” Ron said.“Do not move, dear Bree,” Petru said. He raised his cane as if it were a weapon. “I will fend them off. And where is Sasha?”“He’s in the break room,” Bree said cheerfully. “I thought you’d know these two. Miles and Belli.”“ ‘War’ and her ‘Soldier’ brother.” Trust Petru to know his Latin. “And where have they come from?”Ron edged into the room. “Oh, dear,” he said fretfully. “I don’t know, but I can guess. Armand sent for them, didn’t he?”“You don’t know them?” Bree said in surprise. “You haven’t met them before?”“Something has happened,” Petru said glumly. “Something not so good, I trust.”“It’s all right,” Bree said to the dogs. “Hush now, hush.” The rumbling died away, as if an avalanche had rolled out of hearing. “Come into my office, then, you two.” She didn’t wait to accompany them, but forged ahead, and sat down behind her desk. Petru thumped in and took the sole chair. Ron perched on the edge of her desk. “Friday night, I went out to Melrose. Lavinia called on Striker to tell him that . . .” Bree paused and bit her lower lip.“Somebody’s gotten over the Bridge,” Ron guessed. “But who?”“Josiah, I guess,” Bree said lightly. “Anyhow, somebody, Archie, I think, suggested these guys as protection, and here they are.” She rubbed the back of her neck. “I’m a little puzzled that you two don’t know about it.”“Well, we had no idea,” Ron snapped. “Honestly. You should know, Bree, that this entire organization is run on a need-to-know basis. It’s something I’ve complained about for centuries.”“This is a distressing turn of events,” Petru said glumly. “There is a hierarchy, to be sure. We are all aware of that. But I would have been glad to have been in the noose.”“The loop, Petru, the loop,” Ron said crossly. “I’m not surprised nobody told you, but I’m somewhat flabbergasted that no one thought fit to tellme.”“Now you both know. And let’s not borrow trouble until it shows up at the door,” Bree said briskly. “We’ve got a case to investigate. Two of them. And I, for one, feel much safer going on now that those two are in the picture.” She tapped her pen on her desktop. “We’ve got a lot to do, and not a lot of time to do it in. Cordelia Eastburn is pushing Lindsey’s case as fast as she can. I haven’t seen you since Friday afternoon, but you should know that Lindsey’s absolutely refused to allocute to the robbery and Cordy’s headed for trial like a flipping locomotive. So you, Petru, need to dig up as much as you can on Probert, particularly anyone who had a grudge against him. Use the Internet and make me a list. And Ron? We need a complete reinvestigation of the accident out on Skidaway Road. And I want both of you to read over the pleadings for Chandler’s request for a retrial. I need a summary of all the cases cited in the original indictment.”“This summary is a paralegal’s job, perhaps,” Petru said. “Ronald is not equipped to render an opinion on the pleadings.”“I wantallof us to read them,” Bree said firmly. “One of us may pick up something the others have missed. I’m including myself in this, too. Okay? Are we all set with the assignments? We’ll have a progress report tomorrow morning about this time.”“I donotsee the connection between this young girl’s case and our client,” Petru said. “But I will search diligently for such, dear Bree.”“Thank you. I’ll be searching, too. I’m going to talk to Miss Madison Bellamy.” She smiled at the looks of in-comprehension on the faces of her colleagues. “Nobody knows a girl like her very best friend. And if Lindsey doesn’t want to dig herself out of the hole she’s in, let’s hope Madison does.”Petru and Ron went off on their separate tasks. Bree recalled enough about juvenile law to know that everyone’s interests would be better served if she went through Madison’s parents first, so she called Madison’s mother to set up an appointment.“She’s at school, of course, until just after three this afternoon,” Andrea Bellamy said over the phone. “Why don’t I ask her to leave school and come home right now?” She sounded anxious, and her tone held the sort of exasperation most parents reserve for their teenagers.“I’ll be happy to come by later this afternoon,” Bree offered. “There’s no need to interrupt classes.”“Classes,” Andrea Bellamy snorted. “It’s her senior year and she’s already been accepted at Pepperdine. Maddy’s body may be in class but the rest of her is in la la land. The school’s done a pretty good job of keeping the TV people off school grounds, but they’re waiting like a pack of vultures the minute the bell rings to let the kids out. All this attention isn’t doing anybody any good.”Bree, realizing that Andrea Bellamy wasn’t going to come up for air anytime soon, interrupted firmly. “Then I’ll see you and Madison at three thirty this afternoon?”“Sure! I’ll make you some latte. And maybe you can give me a clue about when all of this is going to die down.”“Soon, I hope.”If I can keep the miserable Lindsey from more grandstanding.Bree rang off with relief. Madison had looked like a smart, sensible kid in the surveillance videotape. Maybe, just maybe, she was going to get somewhere with Lindsey’s defense. In the meantime, she wanted a clear idea of Probert Chandler’s movements on the last night of his life. There was just time enough to get a handle on that, before she was due out at the Bellamys’.She’d begin with where Probert Chandler spent his final hours as a temporal: the Miner’s Club.The Miner’s Club, a bastion of the Savannah Old Guard, was on Abercorn facing the Colonial Park Cemetery Square. James W. Oglethorpe had left a variety of legacies behind him, but the best was the layout of Historic Savannah herself. He’d divided the village into twenty-four town squares. Originally, each square was created as a center for some good civic purpose, like a church, a school, a park, or a government house. Each of the squares was surrounded by homes.In the three hundred-some years of her history, Savannah had been burned to the ground, ravaged by hurricanes, and bombed by pirates. A hodgepodge of architectural styles was intrinsic to the city’s heritage. Queen Anne, Georgian, Victorian, Greek Revival, Spanish, and Art Deco homes existed peaceably cheek by jowl. The Miner’s Club occupied a large, New Orleans-type building that had housed, successively, an expatriate French duke, a whorehouse, an orphanage, and a flour tycoon. Bree drove the half mile down Liberty and parked on Abercorn, not far from the old mansion itself. The exterior was blue-green stucco. Scarlet bougainvillea wound its way across the wrought-iron porches and balconies and the last of the hydrangea bloomed like puff-balls against the wrought-iron fence.Bree pushed open the heavy mahogany door and walked into a small foyer, covered in a thick blue wall-to-wall carpet. A second mahogany door led directly off the foyer. It was partly open. Bree heard the clink of glasses and the low hum of conversation. She pushed the door open all the way and walked into a wood-paneled bar and dining room.The ceilings were low. A clutch of small round tables sat scattered next to the row of windows that overlooked the street. There were perhaps half a dozen people seated there, mostly men, mostly dressed in suits. Bree waited by the long polished bar until the man behind it finished polishing the doubles glass he held in his hand and put it on the shelf. “Montel,” she said, “how have you been?”He turned and cocked his head a little. “Miss Beaufort,” he said, as if satisfied he’d identified the right species of bird. He came toward her, folding his bar towel into a neat square. “I’d like to take this opportunity to tell you how much we miss the judge.”“The judge” was Bree’s great-uncle Franklin. His death, and the subsequent inheritance of his caseload, was the reason Bree had the practice on Angelus Street. She’d loved him, but been unnerved by what she’d learned about him after his death. She still wasn’t wildly happy about his legacy.“He did enjoy coming here after sitting on the bench all day,” she said.“May I get you something to drink?” Montel was a grave, slender black man who could have been anywhere from fifty to seventy, a well-known, well-liked fixture at the club.Bree perched on the nearest bar stool. “Just a club soda, if you would.”Montel took a slim Tom Collins glass from the shelf and filled it with ice, lemon, and club soda. Bree accepted it with thanks and sipped it gravely. She let the silence run on a bit. Then she said, “Uncle Franklin never talked much about Mr. Chandler. I understand he was a member here, too?”Montel nodded thoughtfully.“You recall he had that tragic accident just after he left here, the last night of his life.”“Some four months ago, that would be.” Montel nodded. “Mm-hm. I do remember that.”“Do you remember who he was with?”“Now, the po-lice asked me that,” Montel said cautiously. “And he met with a number of folks, as I recall. Didn’t really sit down with nobody, though. Sat right where you are right now.”Bree looked down at the bar stool. She hoped Probert wouldn’t choose this moment to make an appearance.“Had him more than a few, he did.”“Drinks?” Bree said.“Drinks. Manhattans, as a matter of fact.”“Hm,” Bree said. “His usual?”“Not like the man at all. No, sir. Strictly a draft beer, if he was here during the week, and on one or another great occasion, a champagne cocktail. But that was about the extent of it. Until that night.”“Did he seem upset at all?”“That he did,” Montel said. “That he did.”“Did he say anything to you? Perhaps mention why he was upset?”A peculiar look chased itself across Montel’s face. “Well, Mr. Chandler was from up North,” he said. “He wouldn’t be of a mind to talk to me about that, now, would he? Or the members, either.” Bree remembered what her mother had said about Probert not being “local.”“You didn’t, um . . .” Bree searched for a diplomatic way to ask if Montel had eavesdropped. There wasn’t one. “You didn’t happen to overhear anything you think I might need to know?” She lowered her voice. “I think we’re looking at a case of murder, here, Montel. I wouldn’t want you to betray a confidence, but it’s important.”“Murder, you say.” Montel folded his bar towel into neat thirds. “Blood.”“Blood?”“He say something about blood. Into his cell phone. Mad-like.”“Mad-crazy? Or mad-angry?”“Angry. I would say very angry. He was so mad, he was like to spit.”“Was this before he started drinking more heavily than usual?”“Oh, yeah.” Montel nodded in a dignified way. “To my way of thinking, that phone call set him off.”“And he finished how many Manhattans . . . ?”“Four.”“Yikes,” Bree said. “Four. And then staggered out of here and went on home?”“Well, now, I suppose he did.” Montel smiled gently. “His permanent home, you might say.”“You wouldn’t happen to recall who was here that night, offhand? People that knew Mr. Chandler?”“Well, now, he come in with Mr. Lindquist, the one that he started his stores with. And his son, George, was here for a bit. But Mr. Lindquist went off to the opera with his wife. George, he drifted off somewheres. Mr. Stubblefield was here. The judge was here, as a matter of fact, and some others I could name. Mr. Chandler did stop and have a word with Mr. Peter Martinelli.”Bree wrote the names in her notebook. “But Mr. Chandler wasn’t here with anyone in particular?”“No, I can’t say that he was. Spent some time on his cell phone, though, after that one call that made him mad.” Montel frowned disapprovingly. You didn’t do business at the Miner’s Club, and cell phones were a particular anathema. But it was a lead, anyway. She could ask Hunter for Chandler’s cell phone records. And she could check on Peter Martinelli. The name rang a faint bell.Bree fished the lemon slice out of her club soda and bit into it. “I may be back to ask more about this, Montel. Thank you kindly for your hospitality.”“You’re entirely welcome. You take care, then.”Bree went back into the crisp, sunny day not much wiser than she’d been going in. Except that Montel was a shrewd judge of character and hard to fool. Probert Chandler’s drinking the night of his death had been atypical. And a man not used to drinking, on a wet, curving road . . . easy pickings for anyone wanting to cause an accident.Except that Skidaway Road wasn’t the quickest route back to the Chandler home. It was the quickest route out to the Marlowe’s on Highway 80.Bree didn’t read a lot of detective stories—sometimes she thought she’d be better off in this new career of hers if she did—but she did recall a useful aphorism from a book she’d found abandoned in an airport on a trip out to Hawaii with her sister. The detective was a huge fat guy who never left his brownstone apartment. He had an athletic young assistant, whom he frequently admonished: never theorize in advance of the facts. Which was pretty good advice. So Bree put a clamp on her imagination—John Allen Lindquist murdering his former partner for acing him out of Marlowe’s billions? Son George killing off Dad to get more shares?—and drove out to the fatal bend in Skidaway Road.Bree had reviewed the police diagrams of the accident thoroughly. The car had gone off the road opposite a little white house surrounded by a white picket fence. Bree parked her car a fair way beyond the bend of the road, to avoid getting clobbered by traffic headed the other way, and walked back to the spot where it’d happened.The guardrail was bent, whether from Chandler’s accident or another, Bree couldn’t tell. She hiked her skirt above her knees and stepped over it. The bank dropped abruptly to a deep swale choked with kudzu. Bree made a face. Four months since the car had gone over the side, and the greenery had grown so rapidly, so ferociously, that there wasn’t a sign of where the car had actually landed.
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“Chiggers,” Bree said aloud. The little bitey creatures would make her legs a mass of blood in seconds. Not to mention snakes, spiders, and who-knew-what lurking in the coils of the greenery. She straightened up with a sigh. If she were smart, she’d come back later, with jeans, rubber boots, and a long-sleeved shirt.She narrowed her eyes and squinted, hoping to see something, anything, that would keep her from wallowing about in a mess of stuff that had to contain poison ivy, poison oak—anything.And she found it. There was a huge scar in the trunk of a weeping willow not forty yards from the embankment. The kind of scar made by a car crashing into the tree. Bree hesitated a long moment, cursed herself for a coward, and started down.Something moved in the grass. She paused, then took a step forward . . .Into cold. Into cold that bit at her bones with crocodile teeth. Into a wind that carried death and decay like a trophy. And a sound like a jackhammer tearing up the earth.Bree stepped back, cautiously, and the vision ebbed. She stepped back again and stumbled over a smooth round object that she knew hadn’t been in the grass before.It was a paperweight. It was made of Lucite, and it contained the distinctive Marlowe’s logo, an elaborate ‘M.’Bree picked it up. Waited. Heard nothing, felt nothing. Whatever it was, whoever it was, was gone.She checked her watch. It was past time to keep her appointment with Madison Bellamy. But first, she’d go back to the office and pick up Belli and Miles. She wasn’t going anywhere without the dogs.Not anymore.ElevenA faithful friend is the medicine of life.—Ecclesiasticus 6:16

 

“I don’t really know how long the media’s going to keep an interest in the case,” Bree said in response to Andrea Bellamy’s repeated question. Madison’s parents lived in a large, expensive new home just off the Sweetlands golf course. The floors were composition bamboo. The walls were painted in deep fashionable colors like iron ore gray and grasslands green. The kitchen, where they sat, had an overwhelming array of Smallbone cabinetry, black granite countertops, and stainless steel Viking appliances. The coffee arrived hot and properly milk-infused from a built-in cappuccino maker.“Decaf, unless you prefer something else.” Andrea placed the cups on a place mat that coordinated with the deep green walls, then sat across from Bree at the kitchen table.“This is fine.”Andrea regarded her with frank, interested eyes. She was a little too thin, with well-cut brunette hair and a dermabrasion-smooth complexion. “So you’re Bree Beaufort,” she said chattily. “We’ve read about your family, of course. Your aunt Cissy’s quite the thing at the Miner’s Club.”“You know her, then?” Bree asked politely.“Me? No! We haven’t applied for membership. I’m not sure we could afford it—and I don’t think they’d let us in anyway. Mason,” she added, “my husband, is in plumbing. You meet any plumbers at the Miner’s Club?”Bree ignored the edge to her voice. “I don’t spend a lot of time at the club.” She smiled, opened her briefcase, and took out her pen and yellow pad for taking notes.Andrea cocked her head. “Huh! I hear Madison. Too bad. I was looking forward to some good gossip about the inner circle.” She rolled her eyes dramatically.“I’d have to disappoint you, there.”Andrea smiled tightly. And she looked snubbed. Bree, remembering her father’s caveats about attitude, added cravenly, “But if I had any, I’d be happy to pass it on.”“There’s my girl,” Andrea said in an artificially up-beat voice as the back door to the kitchen opened. “You made good time, honey. I hope you didn’t speed! We’ve got an officer of the court sitting right here waiting to talk to you!”Bree got to her feet as Madison came in. She was a slim, well-exercised kid with long red hair that had been well cut and artfully highlighted. A high-rise T-shirt exposed her flat stomach. She wore three small earrings in each ear, and had a small butterfly tattoo on one ankle. She looked just like the hundreds of teenaged girls that swarmed over the Oglethorpe Mall on Saturday afternoons. A nice kid. A well-grounded kid. Not a kid who’d participate in the robbery of an eight-year-old Girl Scout.“Say hello to Bree Beaufort, Madison.”“How do you do, Ms. Beaufort?” Madison flipped her hair back with one hand, took a bottle of water from the Sub-Zero, and sat at the table, at some distance from her mother. “You’re here about Lin and the business at the mall?”“In a way,” Bree said. “I read the statement that you gave the police about the incident. You were pretty clear that Lindsey stopped the car on an impulse, and that neither you nor Hartley Williams had time to stop her.”Madison folded her lips together and nodded. “That’s about the size of it. Lin’s, like, prone to this kind of pushing the edge. Nothing huge. But it’s happened before.”“Robbing a Girl Scout?”Madison shook her head, taking Bree’s flip comment at face value. “Oh, no. But if we’re, like, shopping, she’ll go: ‘Watch this!’ and stick a lipstick into her bra, then go out of the store without paying for it. Or if we’re at school and there’s this tough test she’ll write stuff on her wrists so she can cheat. Like that.”“Acting out,” Andrea Bellamy said rather piously. “Madison’s tried to help her. She’s going to be majoring in psychology at Pepperdine, Madison is, and wants to go into social work. She feels, as I do, that she has an obligation to be friends with poor Lindsey. I think her mother and father really appreciate Madison’s influence.”Bree bit her lip and scribbledYikes!on her yellow pad, in very small letters. Then she said, “Have you known Lindsey a long time?”“Gosh, yeah. Forever. Since, like, eighth grade, I think it was.”“That’s when we decided to send Madison to private school,” Andrea said. “The local schools are so scary, don’t you think? And the opportunities there are . . .”“Mom,” Madison said.“What, honey?”“Maybe you could leave me and Ms. Beaufort to talk alone. Okay?”“Honey, I don’t like to feel that there’s anything in your life that we can’t know about. You know how proud I am of the kind of relationship the two of us—”“Mom. It’ll be fine. It’s not secret stuff about me that I want to talk about. It’s secret stuff about Lin.”Andrea Bellamy looked very much as if she wanted to hear secret stuff about Lindsey Chandler. “Well, if you’re sure . . .”“I’m sure. Besides, if Ms. Beaufort finds out something, like, detrimental to me, she has to tell you, right? I mean, you’re the parent. I’m the kid. Who’s in charge here?”Bree, concentrating hard on the scribbles on her yellow pad, was pretty sure who was actually in charge here.“If you’re sure.”Madison reached forward and patted her hand. “I’m sure. I’ll come and tell you all about what’s going on in a bit. Have you done your Pilates yet? You go on and start. I’ll be in to, like, work out with you as soon as we’re through here.” She watched until her mother went through the swinging doors that led to the dining room. As they closed behind Andrea, she got up, crossed the kitchen floor on silent feet, and put her ear to the door. She sighed noisily. “Mom!” She cocked her head, waiting until she heard her mother move away from the door, and then trailed back to Bree.“My goodness,” Bree said. “There’s more to you than meets the eye, isn’t there?”“Yeah, well.” Madison twirled a piece of her hair into a ringlet, and then let it spring free. “She’s not bad, as mothers go. I get along better with my dad, though. He’s a lot more on the ball. And he doesn’t give a hoot about Savannah society or private schools, or being best friends with the Chandlers.”“You don’t, either?”Madison shrugged. It was the Lindsey shrug. The “I’m seventeen years old and what doyouknow?” shrug. Then she grinned. “Well, yeah. I guess I do. I mean, it’s better to be rich than poor, right?”Not right. At least Bree didn’t think it was right. But she was honest enough to admit she might think a lot differently if she’d been brought up in a trailer park. So she just said, “It depends, I think, on how you handle it.”Madison’s eyebrows went up in a look of mild surprise. “Ha. I suppose. Anyway. About Lin. How much trouble is she in, really?”“A lot,” Bree said.“No kidding? I mean, she can afford the best lawyers, and that. You don’t think you can get her off?”Bree gritted her teeth. “If the courts decide she’s broken the law, I’m going to have one heck of a time keeping her out of jail. I don’t care how manyLaw & Orders you’ve watched, Madison, but in the real world, there isn’t one kind of justice for the rich and another for the poor. And if, once in a great while, it may seem that way, well . . . it’s not that often, that’s all.”“You like being a lawyer,” Madison said shrewdly.“Yes, I guess I do. And I hate it when people think what I do is for sale.”Madison nodded thoughtfully. “Right, I’m cool with that. So, if Lin’s looking at jail time, what can we do to, like, make it community service or whatever?”“Show mitigating factors,” Bree said. “You know what those incidents might be?”“Stuff that shows she was, like, fated to rob the little kid because she didn’t know any better.”Bree rubbed her knuckles along her bottom lip to conceal her smile. “Yep. Things like that.”“Hm.” Madison leaned back in her chair and took a long drink from her water bottle. “Okay. Her parents were, like, very distant and strict. But it wasn’t because they were all that strict themselves. It was because they didn’t like her.”Bree sat up, pleased at the insight—Madison was going to be a very good social worker if she decided that should be her career—and it confirmed her own feelings about Carrie-Alice as a parent. John Lindquist had told her more than he realized. But there was a big gap between parental coolness and parental abuse. And Bree had read enough about bad kids to know that the most devoted parent could be pushed to the edge. Royal had been most insistent about the need to be impartial when you evaluated witness statements. So Bree did her best. “Any real reasons for that dislike?”“I don’t know. She can get on your nerves, no question. But her folks were older when they had her. My mom’s, like, thirty-five, you know. She had me when she was eighteen. Lin’s mom was forty when she was born and her dad was, like, even older.”Bree, facing thirty, suddenly felt ancient.“So maybe you should talk to the brother and sister. See what their take is.”“I intend to.” She set her pencil down and took a deep breath. “Madison—did you know her father very well?”“Mr. Chandler? You’ve got this ‘serious issue’ look on your face, you know. You think he was, like, having sex with her? No way.”Bree felt older than ancient. She felt positively Methu selahian. When did seventeen-year-old kids get this knowledgeable? “Well, that’s one good thing,” she said feebly. “There’s something about him, though. I keep feeling if I can get a handle on him, I can get a handle on why Lindsey’s such a problem kid.”Madison shrugged. “Her folks don’t like her. A lot of kids at school don’t like her. Sometimes I don’t like her much myself.”Bree didn’t respond for a minute. Then she said quietly, “That’s pretty callous, isn’t it?”Madison flushed bright red. “I guess.”“So. Now that your mom’s not in the room, do you want to tell me anything about drugs?”“Not me,” Madison said. “No way. A little weed now and then, you know, marijuana, but nothing else. I swear.”“I’m not concerned with your defense, Madison, I’m concerned with Lindsey’s. If you tell me she’s not on something, I’ll tell you to your face you’re a liar.”Madison bit her lip.“Well?” Bree said impatiently. “I’m checking hospital records, with the school, and if she’d got a juvenile record, I’ll find that, too. So you might was well tell me what you know. It’ll show up in the blood tests.”“She goes around with this guy,” Madison said reluctantly. “And he’s sort of known for it, drugs and that, I mean. So once in a while she takes maybe an upper or two. No big deal.” She gazed at Bree, her eyes candid. “If she’s on something stronger, I don’t know a thing about it. Honest. Lindsey, Hartley, and I, we spend, like, practically all of our waking moments together. At school, after school, on weekends. We’re in this band together, you know?”“The Savannah Sweethearts, sure.”“And we go on trips out of state together. If she were taking serious drugs, I’d know about it. And I haven’t seen a thing.”Bree rubbed the back of her neck. Madison’s hot denial had a truthful ring. And amphetamines might account for Lindsey’s behavior the first time they’d met at the Chandler place. “Okay. That’s it, then. I may have some more questions for you later . . . and I’m certainly going to have to depose you before we go to trial, but I can’t think of anything else right now.”“What are you going to do now? Is Lindsey, like, condemned to the joint, or what? Is she ever going to get back to school? And that Mrs. Chavez decided not to press charges. So that has to count for something, doesn’t it?”“It doesn’t matter if Mrs. Chavez presses charges or not—what matters is what the district attorney’s office wants to do.”“Golly. So she’s in the soup.”“Maybe. I’ve got a couple more things up my sleeve,” Bree said with more confidence than she felt. “I’ll have to talk to Hartley again. Maybe she’s noticed something you haven’t.”“Good luck on that,” Madison said with a sudden grin. “I just finished readingThe Three Musketeersfor my French lit class . . .”Bree blinked.“Stay with me here. Well, we’re kind of like the Three Musketeers. You remember Porthos? Big, sweet, and dumb? Well, I love Hartley like a sister, but she’s our Porthos.”
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Bree rubbed her forehead. Kids. Although there was something endearing about the showing off. “Be that as it may. I’m going to talk to Lindsey’s brother and sister. And I’m curious about why Shirley Chavez decided to drop the charges, too. It’ll do Lindsey some good if she’s willing to stand up in court and forgive her the way she did at the arraignment. Maybe I can get Mrs. Chavez to agree to that. So we’re not dead in the water yet.” She got up. “Thank your mom for the coffee. Or do you think I should find her to say good-bye myself?”“Wouldn’t she like that, you being a Winston-Beaufort and all? Nah. She’s slogging away at her little home gym. If we interrupt her once she’s into her routine, she’ll freak. I’ll walk you out.”She led the way out the back door. Bree caught up with her and said, “There is one more thing, Madison. This guy you mentioned. The one that supplies her with the uppers.”Madison made a face. “We hang out with some guys, yeah. But the guys in high school are, like, well, so high school. I prefer older guys myself, and my parents won’t let me date older guys, so I don’t really date at all.”That was the other thing about teenaged girls that Bree’d forgotten: as sensible and grounded as Madison was, it always came back to Me. Bree gave the conversation a gentle shove in a more productive direction. “We’re talking about Lindsey, though. She doesn’t date, either? This guy you mentioned . . . what’s his name?”Madison, who seemed to be a fastidious soul, wrinkled her nose. “She broke up with him a few months ago. Or rather, she said he did. His name’s Chad Martinelli.”Bree went on alert. “Martinelli. He’s from around here?”“Yeah. Chad’s, like, a total loser.”“He’s in high school with you?”“Not anymore. He was a year ahead. He was supposed to go on to college, but not good old Chad. Total stoner.” She waved her hand dismissively. “Got a job out at Mar lowe’s, for God’s sake. I mean, I ask you. And his dad’s some big-wheel lawyer in town.”“You wouldn’t happen to remember the name of the firm his father works for?”“Sure. It’s that creepy old geek that runs the late night commercials on TV.”“John Stubblefield?” Bree couldn’t suppress a grin.“I think so.”Suddenly, the Martinelli name kicked in. “And his dad is Peter Martinelli?”Who was in the Miner’s Club the night Probert Chandler died.“So Chad’s what—eighteen? Nineteen?”“Something like that,” Madison said vaguely.An adult, legally, then.Madison sighed as she followed Bree out of the garage. “Now there’s a guy I wouldn’t trust an inch. I mean, talk about drugs. Whoa!” She stopped short. “Are those your dogs?”Miles and Belli stared silently from the backseat of Bree’s car.“Sort of. They’re kind of on loan.”“Awesome.” Madison backed away.“Those two are, that’s for sure. But you see that good old boy in the front? That’s Sasha. Everybody likes him. Would you like to meet him?”“Me? No. No, thanks.” Madison retreated to the inside of the garage. Her face was pale. “I’m not a real dog fan, if you know what I mean. I got bitten when I was a kid. Never really got over it.” She waved at Bree from the coolness of the interior. “Nice to meet you.” She turned and slipped inside the house.Bree got into the front seat and turned to look at her two protectors. “It’s not that I don’t appreciate you. I do. But if you’re going to scare the living daylights out of everybody, I can see that we’re going to have a problem.”Belli rumbled at her, like a mountain speaking.Bree shook her head, and put the car into gear. She’d grab some lunch, and then she’d stop by the Marlowe’s where Shirley worked for the father whose kid knocked her daughter flat on the pavement at the Oglethorpe Mall. And she wanted to speak to Chad Martinelli. She absolutely wanted to speak to Chad Martinelli. Before Peter Martinelli knew about it and stepped in to bring the full weight of Stubblefield, Marwick onto her shoulders.TwelveYou’re breakin’ my heart.You’re shakin’ my confidence daily.—“Cecilia,” Paul Simon

 

She drove to the Marlowe’s out near the Oglethorpe Mall, and decided to ask for Chad Martinelli before she asked for Shirley Chavez.Chad was a skinny, sullen kid with a postnasal drip and a long shock of black hair that hung over his eyes. He was also, to Bree’s mild astonishment, in charge of inventory. The very polite Marlowe’s greeter who met her as she walked in got a shade less polite when she asked to see Chad.“In the office. He works with the computers.”The administrative offices were behind the returns and exchanges area, immediately to the left of the front entrance. Bree walked down the wide, linoleum-covered hall and tapped at the metal door. There wasn’t any answer for a minute, then the door opened to a largish room packed with metal desks, a long rank of computers, and neatly arrayed filing cabinets.“So what d’ya want?”Bree glanced at the kid’s name tag, which indeed identified him as Charles “Chad” Martinelli. “You,” she said bluntly. “I want to talk to you.”Chad looked over his shoulder. There were two other people in the room, both middle-aged women. He stepped into the hall and closed the door behind him. “So you’re talking to me,” he said. “Who are you and what do you want?” He ran his eyes insolently up and down her figure. “You look like a lawyer. You from my dad’s firm?”Bree’s response was immediate and involuntary. “No way.”A brief smile lifted the sneer, and for a minute, Bree caught sight of a shy good-looking kid behind the sullen façade.“But I am a lawyer. Mrs. Chandler hired me to handle Lindsey’s case.”The smile grew into a genuine grin. “You mean the cookie heist?” He punched the air with one hand. “Way to go, Lin!”“Yeah. Well, it’s the way to go if you want to spend a fair amount of time making license plates.”This appealed to Chad’s sense of humor. “Heh,” he said. “Heh-heh.” He bit his lip a little nervously. “She can buy her way out of it, right? People like the Chandlers can always buy their way out of it.”“Maybe. Maybe not. I’ll be frank. It doesn’t look good. Not good at all.”Chad rubbed the back of his hand against his nose. “No shit.”“No shit.” Bree cocked her head to one side. There wasn’t any way that this kid was going to admit anything about drugs. But the look on his face when she’d mentioned Lindsey’s possible prison term gave her an idea about how to get into Chad’s head. “So. Are you and Lindsey seeing each other?”Chad leaned against the wall and moved his shoulders up and down, scratching himself. “Maybe.”“Madison Bellamy said you two broke up a couple of months ago.”“Yeah?”“Yeah. And what I want to know is, did Lindsey break off with you, or did you break off with her?”“Why don’t you ask Lin?”“I will,” Bree said with deceptive cordiality. “But I’m asking you now, aren’t I?”“Her folks did it,” he said abruptly. He screwed his eyes shut in a brief, spasmodic gesture.“You mean her father? Probert?”“Whatever.”“That must have been a while ago.” She watched his eyes. “Because he’s dead, isn’t he?”“You bet he is.”Bree didn’t like the look on his face at all. “Chad?” she said sharply. “When was the last time you saw Mr. Chandler?”“What’s it to you?” That strange tic again; Chad’s eyes closed and opened again.Bree resisted the impulse to grab the kid by his Mar lowe’s ID tag and pull it tight around his neck. “I’m trying to help her avoid jail time. I’m trying to come up with something, anything, that can help me understand her better.”“You know what would help Lin? To get away from that freakin’ family. To get away from those freakin’ friends. You accomplish that, you might get somewhere.” He shoved himself away from the wall and came toward her, his hands clenched tight. “You want to know when I last talked to that old fart? About forty freakin’ minutes before he spun out on that road and splattered his brains all over the place. I told him what he could do with his freakin’ ‘parental responsibilities.’ ”Bree refused to back up. The kid was taller than she was, so she had to crane her neck to look him in the eye. “You told him this face-to-face?”Chad let his breath out in an agonized sigh. “He ran into my dad.” Bree felt a chill run over her at the venom in his voice when he referred to his father. “And jumped all over him about it. Then my dad freaked out at me, and Chandler called me, and the whole freakin’ thing with Lin just blew up.”Bree took a minute to sort out the pronouns. “So your father called you—on your cell phone? Yes. And then Mr. Chandler called you. So then what did you do?”“I was here, wasn’t I?” He jerked his thumb toward the office door. “I called Lin, and she freaked, and then I freaked, and I went home.”“By way of Skidaway Road?” she asked softly.His look was totally blank.“Chad,” she said firmly, “there’s something else that can help Lindsey’s case enormously. She’s got more than a flying chance to get into rehab instead of jail, if we can prove she needs it. We need to talk about drugs.”Chad scowled, suggested she perform an unnatural act, and then slammed himself back in the office.Bree took a moment to collect herself. She’d put the Company on a search for Chad’s record. Ron was good. Petru was even better. Chad’s father—and Stubblefield’s firm—might have a lot of the wrong kind of influence in Chatham County, but they wouldn’t be able to hide it all. If Peter Martinelli’s son had been involved with drugs, her angels would find out. And if Chad had been supplying drugs to Lindsey, it could be the best way out for her. The juvenile system had more than a few ways to help drug abusers; there was a lot less support for a kid who was unapologetically mean and nasty.She took a deep breath, went back to the cheery greeter, and asked to see the store manager. She found him in the small appliances aisle, checking inventory with a handheld gizmo that scanned the product codes.“Shirley?” The Marlowe’s manager said after Bree identified herself and asked after the worker. “She’s not on today.” He frowned worriedly. “She in more trouble?” His name tag was clipped to the breast pocket of his bright green Marlowe’s shirt: MEL JENSEN. He was middle-aged and middle-sized, with soft brown hair that was losing out to acres of scalp. He held her business card between his thumb and forefinger.“She’s not in any trouble at all, as far as I know.”Bree had regretted her decision to tackle Shirley Chavez at work as soon as she’d walked into the main body of the store. It was massively busy, and unless she could draw Shirley to a quieter spot, conversation was going to be difficult. The place was crowded with cheap, brightly colored clothes, boxed microwaves, stacks of coolers, and boxes of toys from China. Customers of all kinds pushed overloaded carts along aisles littered with candy wrappers, crumpled tissue, and an empty pop bottle or two. Jensen, apologetically, refused to leave the floor so they could talk in private. The manager leaned over, picked up a discarded cotton glove, and looked around in a distracted way. A chemical smell hung in the air; from the solution used to size the clothes, Bree thought. She’d had a roommate in college who washed the jeans she picked up at Marlowe’s three times before she wore them. The pharmacy at the far end of the store dominated the space. Long lines of customers waited for service there; most of them seemed to be from among the retirees who’d flooded south Georgia in recent years.“We’re open twenty-four/seven,” he said apologetically, in response to a question Bree hadn’t asked. “Hard to keep the place picked up.”“It looks just fine,” Bree said reassuringly, although it didn’t. “And I just dropped by to have a word with Ms. Chavez. No problem at all. Is there somebody here who might know where I can find her this time of day? One of her friends?”Nervously, he looked her up and down, as if confronting an unfriendly dog. Bree dressed in a professional way when she was working: a skirt, a suit jacket, and a plain silk tee. She carried her briefcase in one hand. “They didn’t tell me they were sending you down today, Miss—Beaufort, is it? I would have made sure she was here. She’s a good worker, by the way. Very steady.” Then he added hastily, “Loves her job. Loves it. She’ll make an excellent witness.”For a second, this statement made no sense at all. “Oh! No, Mr. Jensen. I’m not from your company. I’m a lawyer. I represent the girl who’s been accused of stealing the Girl Scout money. See? It says so right on my card. Brianna Winston-Beaufort, Esquire.”Mel Jensen didn’t seem to be a man who actively disliked anybody. He had a soft, anxious face and the manner of a puppy who wanted to please. But he looked at her with some distaste. “That wasn’t a good thing,” he said. “Not at all. Shirley’s a good worker, and that kid of hers is a good kid. And it’s just like that Lindsey to take advantage . . .” He stopped and bit his lip.“Lindsey comes into this store? Does she come here very often?”“I’d prefer not to comment.”“Absolutely,” Bree said. “But you know what? I could have guessed that. You know that Mrs. Chavez stood right up in court and said she didn’t want to press charges against my client. The Chandlers are a pretty powerful family, Mr. Jensen.”Jensen’s jaw set stubbornly.“As for Shirley, we’re very grateful to her. Only a really nice person would have withdrawn the charges, don’t you think?” Or somebody who’s gotten a hefty bribe. But she didn’t say that aloud.“But she’s still a witness in a criminal case,” Jensen said, unexpectedly shrewd. “Maybe you shouldn’t be talking to her.”“She’s taken Sophie right out of the case altogether, Mr. Jensen. She’s refused to let her testify at the trial. The DA’s office has her deposition and Sophie’s, the tape from the security camera, and the testimony of the girls who were with my client. That’s what they’re going to trial with.”
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