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Authors: Virna Depaul

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BOOK: Deadly Charade
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“Even though Guapo’s dead now?”

God, he wished it wasn’t so. “Guapo has plenty of men who are willing to do his dirty work for him. That’s going to be especially true now that his drug business is up for grabs.”

“But it’s not up for grabs now, is it? You’ve apparently taken it over.”

“So long as I’m in jail, there’ll be plenty of contenders. But taking over his game? Yes, it was the plan all along, babe.”

“Since when?”

He stared at her though hooded eyes. “Since you and I both accepted what I truly am.”

“I never accepted that you were a bad man or a criminal, Tony. Just because you make mistakes doesn’t mean you’re unlovable. I just couldn’t be with you. You know why. You know what you are.”

As if unable to keep still any longer, she stood and paced beside his bed. He watched her with his heart in his throat. Her long-limbed stride was beautiful. Graceful. Agitated.

She suddenly halted and placed her hands on her hips. “Why?”

He dragged his gaze from her hips to her face. “Why what?”

“Why are you trying so hard to convince me you’re a bad guy? Why did you confess to murdering Guapo? Given our history, given how susceptible I’ve always been where you’re concerned, why aren’t you trying to play me? To gain some leniency? It’s what most people would do in your situation.”

He forced himself to smirk. “I hear the rumors. I know how hard you’re working to be a judge. To get the respectability you’ve always wanted. Maybe I just don’t want to ruin that for you. Or maybe throwing me out of your life finally proved to me how unsusceptible to me you really are.”

“Stop trying to make me feel guilty for that, damn it. It wasn’t what I wanted. But you gave me no choice.”

He scowled and before he could stop himself, he spoke from his heart rather than from his head. “How? By being weak? By being tempted to do something I knew I shouldn’t? Making mistakes doesn’t mean I’m unworthy of being loved, Linda? Isn’t that what you said? What a crock. You kicked me out of your life.”

“Not because I didn’t love you! Because you got hold of those pills knowing full well you were going to take them, Tony. If not that night, then on another one. You chose them over me and I couldn’t trust you anymore.”

“Well, we’ll never know for sure whether I would have taken them, will we?”

She froze. “What do you mean? It’s been years since we broke up...eighteen months since Mattie left...are you trying to tell me you never took those pills? That you’ve been clean since—”

That’s exactly what he’d been implying, but it had been a damn stupid move. Somehow he managed to keep his gaze directly on hers. “I didn’t say any such thing. Even if I had, you’d be a fool to believe me, wouldn’t you?”

She had nothing to say to that. And he knew she was getting ready to leave.

Desperately, without meaning to, he tried to stop her. “So despite throwing me out of your life, are you saying you
are
still susceptible to me?”

Her mouth pressed into a thin, bitter line. “I really would be a fool to admit that, wouldn’t I?”

The way she echoed his own words made him sigh. “Yeah. You would. Because you know who I am, Linda. I don’t have to pretend with you. Even when we were together, I always knew what I was.”

“You were always a little too willing to think badly of yourself. I suppose I didn’t help you with that, did I? Yet aside from the drugs, you always did the right thing, Tony. You were almost too damn perfect, in fact. I saw it most in how you were with Mattie and Jordan. Anything they needed, you were there, even before they could think to ask. You never forgot Jordan’s birthday. You were there for every ballet recital. You were there to babysit anytime Mattie needed you. And you didn’t just help your family, Tony. You helped total strangers. Do you remember Mrs. Ramsey from the Sunrise Nursing Home? She still asks about you. Still asks about those damn chocolate-chip cookies you used to bring them. You brightened up the day of total strangers and were always putting others first. You did it again a few hours ago by protecting someone more vulnerable than you.”

Too perfect? She’d thought he’d been almost too perfect? Hardly, he thought. No matter what he’d done well in her eyes, she’d always seen him as weak. Too weak to take a chance on. But even so, she was making a good argument and suddenly he wanted to cry, Why? Why had she left him if she’d really thought so well of him?

The question was on the tip of his tongue, and he clenched his teeth to keep it inside. Damn it, stopping her from leaving had been a mistake. She needed to go before he made another one. “I told you, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I know. And that makes me sad. Because despite everything we’ve been through in the past, you never lied to me, Tony. Yet something tells me you’re telling a whole bunch of lies now, starting with what happened with Guapo. I can’t help but wonder why.”

He shrugged. “Wonder all you like, Linda. But as of this morning, I’ve hired new counsel. Roger Lock. If you want to talk to me further, you’ll have to go through him.”

Chapter 10

M
olly Snow was a professor’s wife whose husband devoted himself to his college students during the day but gave himself fully to her at night. It always turned her on to see the transformation in him—in herself—when the day was over. He would shed his conservative wool jackets with the dated leather patches at the elbow. Ruffle the hair that had been ruthlessly smoothed down with gel. And kick off the staid, ugly shoes that reminded her of a traveling salesman’s.

It was what kept their marriage strong. Shared secrets. A willingness to stretch boundaries and do anything the other needed. Even if it meant taking the latest street drug to spice things up.

Neither had an aversion to drugs. They didn’t do things like acid or heroin, but contented themselves with things that were relatively harmless, like pot or the new “in” thing—bath salts. They added a nice zip to reality. She loved how they made her feel, and how they made him feel, and how, in the morning, he’d kiss her gently, sweetly, as if she was the most precious thing in the world to him.

But at night... Oh, at night... He’d turn to her, just like he had tonight, with heat in his eyes and a wicked grin and she’d shiver at what she knew was in store for her.

“You like this, don’t you?”

He squeezed her nipple, pinching it hard through her clothing so that the pain sunk all the way to her core.
Yes, yes,
she thought when he grasped her silk blouse and ripped it from her in three vicious pulls. Her skirt suffered a similar fate. Despite how rough he was with her clothes, his hands were gentle as they roamed over her.

That’s why she frowned when she felt the pinch of fear...and anger that washed through her. Anger and fear that was definitely directed toward him.

He leaned in to kiss her. “I love you, baby, I love you so much. Are you going to be a good girl for me? Let me do whatever I want? Say it. Say you’ll let me do anything I want.”

She almost couldn’t speak over the emotions washing through her. She hated him. He was a sick man and he was always trying to drag her down with him. But she forced herself to say yes, which made him smile and kiss her again.

Her eyes flickered to the lit candles that flickered fragrantly beside the bed.

In terms of weapons, they were deceptively harmless.

But she’d just have to be creative.

And she was.

An hour later his hands and feet were bound to the bedposts and she was sprawled on top of him.

She wasn’t sure if she hated him now or loved him.

Trying to figure it out made her head hurt, so she stopped trying.

For an instant she thought of the man she’d met at Club Matrix. He hadn’t looked like a drug dealer any more than she and her husband looked like users.

Her husband...

She turned back to him.

When she reached for the candles, he laughed, likely thinking she’d repeat the wax play they’d engaged in a few months ago. But that wasn’t what she did.

As the bed sheets started to catch fire with her still on top of him, Toby screamed, “Why? Why are you doing this?”

Why? Her brow crinkled when the lick of heat against her skin made her gasp.

Once again she thought of the man who’d sold her the Rapture.

She shrugged. “Why not?”

Chapter 11

S
everal days after visiting Tony in the jail infirmary, Linda sat in the courtroom audience as Neil handled Tony’s preliminary hearing. While Neil questioned one of the responding officers, Tony sat with his defense attorney, Roger Lock, a man who had an impressive reputation for getting his clients off the hook. At this point in the proceedings, however, Lock’s skill was hardly necessary. Neil simply had to establish probable cause that Tony committed murder so the court could hold him over for trial. As soon as the judge learned about Tony’s confession, that standard would be met.

“Who discovered the weapon on the defendant?” Neil asked.

Scott Anderson, a baby-faced police officer, leaned toward the mic, his gun belt creaking softly. “The EMTs. They were there when my partner and I arrived and were already working on the defendant, who was unconscious. They pointed out the weapon they’d found on the defendant’s person.”

Linda glanced at Tony. He sat sprawled out and loose limbed in his chair, as if he didn’t have a care in the world. Nonetheless he seemed unusually subdued. Was he still feeling the effects of Moser’s beating? Was he in unbearable pain? Or was he so high on painkillers that he really was lost in his own world?

“Who took possession of the weapon?”

“I did. I bagged it. Took photos of the defendant before he was transported to the hospital.”

Neil had the officer authenticate the wrench and then continued with his direct examination.

“Was anyone besides Mr. Cooper there?”

“There was a dead body. Of a man later identified as Mark Guapo.”

Neil stopped to pull out some photographs, which he then marked. “Your Honor, I’d like to mark these photographs as People’s Exhibits 7 and 8.”

“They will be so marked,” the judge said.

“Now, Officer, in Exhibit 7, is this the man, Mark Guapo, you’re referring to?”

Anderson studied the picture that Neil held out. Linda knew what that photo looked like—not pretty. “Yes.”

“Did you take this photograph?”

“Yes.”

“Does this photograph accurately represent the man’s condition that night?”

“Yes.”

Neil held out another picture. “And in this picture, Exhibit 8, is this the man you found unconscious?”

“Yes.”

“Was the man injured?”

“Yes.”

“Can you please tell us if those injuries are reflected in the photographs?”

Once again Linda looked to Tony. This time he lifted his chin and stared at her, a tight line in his jaw. But his eyes didn’t hold the same anger and insouciance they’d held the first time she’d seen him in court. He looked away again.

The officer pointed out the injuries as he spoke. “He had trauma to his head and leg. He was bleeding from both.”

“And it appears you’ve taken a close-up of those injuries in Exhibit 8, correct?”

“Yes.”

“Okay. Now, do you recognize the man in those pictures in the courtroom today?”

“Yes.”

“Please identify him for us.”

“He’s sitting at the table with defense counsel. Wearing the orange jumpsuit.”

The officer pointed at Tony. The bruises he’d sustained from the other inmate’s attack stood out, adding to the picture of a career criminal in the making.

A twinge of pain passed through Linda as if her body experienced his pain in sympathy.

“Your Honor, may the record reflect that the officer has identified the defendant?” Neil requested.

“The record will so reflect,” the judge said.

“Thank you, Your Honor.” Neil walked to his table, took a sip of water then turned back to face the witness. “At some point, Officer, did you obtain further information connecting the defendant to Mr. Guapo’s death?”

“Yes.”

“What was that information?”

“His confession. When Detective Derek Humphries interviewed him.”

“Were you present for that confession?”

The officer glanced worriedly at Tony. “No.”

“So how do you know about the confession?”

“Detective Humphries relayed the defendant’s statements to me.”

“What did the defendant tell Detective Humphries?”

Again the officer hesitated, as if waiting for Tony’s attorney to object, which of course he didn’t. Unlike at trial, hearsay was perfectly admissible at a preliminary hearing. Even if it hadn’t been, statements by the defendant fell under a hearsay exception. “The defendant said he’d killed Guapo to protect what was his.”

“Thank you, Officer.” Neil sat down.

The judge turned to Tony and his defense attorney, Roger Lock. Given the state of the evidence and the way these things normally went, Linda was expecting them to say they didn’t have any witnesses. The defense often let the prosecution’s evidence speak for itself at preliminary hearing. Even so, she once again willed Tony to look at her. She wanted to know what he was thinking. How he was feeling. She wanted to know if he indeed viewed Neil’s appearance as the prosecuting attorney as another abandonment on Linda’s part. Or if he was even thinking of her at all.

“We’d like to call Detective Derek Humphries, Your Honor.”

Linda stiffened at the defense attorney’s words. She’d questioned the thoroughness of Humphries’s investigation herself but it was still unusual that the defense was calling him at this point in the proceedings.

She watched as Humphries took the stand.

Linda didn’t like him. She didn’t like his methods. Most cops were good ones, and truly cared about finding out the truth, not just scoring an arrest. But despite the rumors of dirty cops still going around, Linda believed Humphries had good intentions. Unfortunately he still lived by the motto that the ends justified the means. If he could walk the line to get a confession, he’d do so. Sometimes it worked to his advantage, sometimes it didn’t.

Would it work in this case? She wasn’t sure.

“Detective Humphries, you heard the officer tell us that Mr. Cooper confessed to killing Guapo. Was he correct?”

“Yes.”

“After Mr. Cooper regained consciousness from his wounds, how long did you wait to start questioning him?”

“I was there within an hour.”

“And you read Mr. Cooper his Miranda rights?”

Humphries practically rolled his eyes. “Yes, I did.”

“Uh-huh. And he understood his rights?”

“Yes, he did.”

“How do you know that?”

“Excuse me?”

Tony’s defense attorney walked closer to Humphries. “I said, how do you know that he understood his rights?”

Humphries laughed. “He said he did. He waived them. Voluntarily.”

“But he was in severe pain, wasn’t he? Was in the midst of fighting off an infection?”

“He seemed uncomfortable. But cognizant.”

Roger Lock nodded. “How long did you question him before you got him to confess?”

Neil raised his hand. “I object to counsel’s insinuation, Your Honor. There’s no evidence that Detective Humphries coerced a confession out of Mr. Cooper.”

The judge shook his head. “Well, that’s why we’re here, isn’t it, Mr. Christoffersen? Overruled.”

“How long, Detective?”

Humphries shifted in his seat uncomfortably. “Two hours.”

The attorney raised his eyebrows dramatically. “Two hours? You questioned Mr. Cooper, who was obviously ‘uncomfortable’ and probably high as a kite on pain meds, for two hours? Did you offer him a drink? A break?”

Humphries glared at Tony. “No.”

“Did you obtain a written confession from him?”

“No.”

“Why not? Isn’t that standard police procedure?”

“It is. But...”

“But what, Detective?”

Detective Humphries mumbled something unintelligible.

“Speak louder,” the judge commanded. “The court reporter needs to get this down.”

“He was too weak to write. But I recorded his oral confession.”

Linda’s eyes widened. “What?” she whispered to Neil. There hadn’t been an audio recording in Tony’s case file.

Neil stood. “Your Honor, we don’t know what tape is being discussed here.”

Tony’s defense attorney held up a tape. “This is the tape, Your Honor. It’s the defendant’s oral confession. We learned of its existence after interviewing Detective Humphries. Since Humphries is an agent for the D.A.’s office, I assume the D.A. has no issue with us playing the tape now? Unless, of course, they have doubts about Detective Humphries’s...veracity?”

A tense silence pulsated around them. Damn, Lock was good. If Neil questioned Humphries’s motivation in providing the tape to Lock, it would be virtually the same thing as challenging the accuracy of the confession he’d taken.

Neil settled back in his chair. “We have no objection to the tape at this time,” he clipped out.

“Proceed,” the judge said.

Lock smiled. “Thank you, Your Honor.” He turned back to Humphries. “You signed this. Just so we’re clear, is this the tape you sent to my office?” He handed the tape to Humphries, who studied it carefully.

“Yes, it is.”

“Your Honor, with your permission, I’d like to play a portion of the tape.”

“Granted.”

The defense attorney stuck the tape into a tape recorder he had placed on counsel table. The tape started right where he’d wanted it to.

Humphries’s voice warbled distinctly from the machine. “Come on, Cooper, admit it, so we can all get out of here. You killed him!”

Next, Tony’s voice. Quite a bit weaker. Shaky.

“The guy came after me,” Tony said.

“Don’t feed me a line about self-defense. You were taking over his drug business and didn’t want to give it back to him.”

There was a long pause before Tony spoke again.

“Yes. Okay. I killed him. Killed the bastard so I could take over his business. Now can you leave? Have you gotten what you wanted?”

Tony’s defense attorney stopped the tape. Linda shifted in her seat, wishing Tony would look at her.

“That an accurate recording of your conversation with Mr. Cooper?”

Humphries looked decidedly uncomfortable...and all of a sudden Linda wondered if his discomfort was an act. But that couldn’t be right. Could it?

“The tape’s accurate,” Humphries said.

“And Mr. Cooper was correct. You got what you wanted, right?” Tony’s defense attorney looked at the judge. “We’re done, Your Honor.”

“Very well,” the judge finally said. “I don’t like what I’ve just heard. I especially don’t like that the tape you played came as a surprise to the District Attorney. Even so, given the evidence, I find there’s sufficient evidence to hold Mr. Cooper to answer on the offense charged in the information. Is there anything else?”

Despite the fiasco with Humphries, Linda wasn’t surprised the judge held Tony over. However, she was surprised when Tony’s attorney stood again. “Yes, Your Honor. We’ve filed a motion asking that Mr. Cooper be released on his own recognizance pending trial.”

The judge frowned. “And what supports such a motion? Given he’s charged with first-degree murder?”

“He’s charged with the first-degree murder of a known drug lord, Your Honor. And there are indications Mr. Cooper was acting in self-defense, just as he told Detective Humphries, since he sustained an injury to the back of his head. Plus, there are court records that will confirm Mr. Cooper acted as a confidential informant against Mr. Guapo, leading to the man’s initial incarceration. That’s further evidence, not only of Mr. Cooper’s willingness to cooperate with authorities, but of Mr. Guapo’s motive to attack Mr. Cooper without being provoked.”

Linda kept her gaze on Tony, who seemed to be breathing more heavily.

His attorney was making a good argument. It wouldn’t have been enough to win the preliminary hearing, but with the issue of bail and Humphries’s strong-arm tactics to get Tony to confess when he’d been in the hospital, the judge had a lot more latitude. The motion would probably still fail, but did Tony know that? Or had his attorney raised his hopes? She couldn’t tell. He hadn’t changed positions. What little she could see of his expression was blank. As if he had no preferences about whether he stayed in jail or was released, even for a short time. She knew Neil would oppose the motion for bail but—

“Your Honor, the prosecution has no objection to Mr. Cooper being released on bail.”

Linda’s eyes widened and her gaze shot to Neil. What? That was completely contrary to office policy.

Obviously the judge knew this. He raised a brow.

“So you agree with Mr. Lock that the defendant is not a flight risk or a risk to society if released on bail?”

“Based on this record, I do,” Neil confirmed.

The judge shrugged. “Very well. I’ll release Mr. Cooper on his own recognizance. I hope you know what you’re doing, Mr. Christoffersen.”

As soon as court was dismissed, Linda asked Neil, “Why didn’t you object to bail being granted?”

Neil looked slightly surprised. “I thought I was doing what you wanted me to do. Giving your friend a fair shot at proving his innocence.”

Linda shook her head. She hadn’t asked any favors of Neil. Had he misunderstood? “I didn’t ask you to bend the rules.”

“Not in so many words. But I was reading between the lines. Especially after hearing that recording of Humphries’s. You don’t think he’s guilty, do you?”

She hesitated. In her gut, she still doubted Tony’s guilt. But why wouldn’t she? She still had lingering feelings for a man who looked nothing like the one now sitting at the defense table. “That’s irrelevant,” she said, forcing herself to be objective. “I had a prior relationship with him. That’s why I asked you to take my place. So that you’d be impartial.”

“And that’s what I’m being,” Neil said. “Everything Lock said was true. Added to that is the fact I have faith in you, Linda. If you’re not sure about his guilt, then neither am I.”

* * *

Tony fought off the nausea bubbling in his stomach and concentrated on a spot on the courtroom carpet a few yards ahead of him. Released on OR? How the hell had that happened? On the one hand he was overjoyed. He wasn’t sure he could take living in a crowded jail anymore, not after all his body had gone through in the past few days.

But on the other hand?

Getting out of jail meant once again leaving Linda and immersing himself into a world of drugs and vice. That prospect made jail look like paradise in comparison.

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