Authors: M.J. Rodgers
But first she had to get things moving on Connie Pearce’s defense, which meant this meeting with the private investigator couldn’t be delayed. Still, the second she saw the man waiting for her at reception, she came to an immediate stop.
He was in his early thirties, over six feet and wearing a hand-tailored suit that emphasized his wide shoulders and long legs. His thick, dark hair had been sculpted, not cut. His Technicolor blue eyes and wide-screen smile could easily stop a female heart at fifty feet.
He was Jack Knight. No wonder the receptionist had been so breathless. White Knight Investigations had sent her an actor!
Diana cursed to herself. What in the hell was she going to do now?
Courtroom dramas—where talented legal adversaries match wits and reveal shocking new evidence with every witness they call to the stand—have always been favorites of mine.
But once I had a chance to work on real criminal defenses, I met the unseen and unsung heroes of the legal process—private investigators. Without the skillful and dedicated private investigator tracking down both evidence and crucial witnesses, most defense attorneys wouldn’t have the proverbial leg to stand on in a courtroom.
This is a story about a defense attorney and a private investigator fighting to free an accused woman. But it isn’t full of the dramatics played out in front of judge and jury. Rather, the story focuses on how the two work together to build their case before the trial starts. Because the truth is that’s how a case gets won—or lost.
Now one expects defense attorney Diana Mason to win her case. Jack Knight of White Knight Investigations is her only hope. But what can Jack do when eyewitnesses verify the defendant committed the crime, and the defendant herself admits she did it? You might be surprised.
I hope you enjoy Jack and Diana’s story. Drop a SASE in the mail to me (at P.O. Box 284, Seabeck, WA 98380) and I’ll send you an autographed sticker for the front of your book.
because her heart is filled with love.
NIGHT COULD THINK
of at least a dozen other places he’d rather be about now.
He rested his shoulder against the cold stucco wall as he watched the entrance to the gambling casino. The wind swirled rain up his nose and whipped the soggy rope of long, black hair against his neck. His pinched toes ached inside the beat-up triangle-toed boots he’d dug out of the Goodwill rejection bin. The chilly night air seeped through his threadbare overcoat, sending shivers up his back.
Being a private investigator was such cushy, glamorous work.
It was almost midnight. A minute before, he’d stood at the casino’s window, watching the man cash in his chips and the woman heading for the rest room. They should be along anytime. Jack made sure the video camera lens was peeking through the enlarged buttonhole in the front of his ragged overcoat, his fingers firmly on the controls inside the torn pocket.
Places! Camera! Action!
The words echoed in his head bringing a wry smile of amusement to his lips. A rain-drenched Indian Reservation was about as far away from a dry and comfortable television studio as a guy could get.
When the doors to the casino burst open, he tensed in anticipation.
The couple staggered out. The man’s face was flushed from too many drinks, the woman’s from having to lug him around for the past hour. His heavy arm was draped
over her sagging shoulders. As they hobbled by, the woman’s eyes scanned Jack.
He knew what her look meant. She’d hold on to the man she was with only until a better offer came along.
When she was close enough to make out his filthy features in the shadows, Jack sent her a toothless grin. The woman grimaced and quickly turned back to her companion.
Jack’s grin faded as the couple headed toward the Lexus at the curb. This man and woman were such a pathetic cliché. Not even a burned-out soap writer would sink into the banality of including their characterizations in a script.
After using a keyless remote control to open the car door, the woman dumped her drunken companion onto the passenger seat and circled around to get behind the wheel.
When she drove away, Jack turned off the video camera. He didn’t need to follow them. He’d already filmed them in a body-crunching clinch that morning at the SEA-TAC airport. He’d shot more footage of them that afternoon mauling each other on the open patio of the condo where the woman was living and chronicled their subsequent evening out on the town. Considering how much bourbon the man had put away, Jack doubted he’d be capable of any more debauchery tonight.
Not that it mattered. Jack had the conclusive proof his client needed. Her husband’s business trip to Washington State was an excuse to meet with his mistress. The guy hadn’t even gone to see the employees at his new Seattle branch office.
Jack sprinted through the rain to the old blue pickup at the far corner of the casino parking lot. Once settled on the driver’s seat, he pulled the wet black wig off his head and carefully hung it up to dry on the hook beside him. A private eye had to take good care of his props.
Sometimes on nights like this, he missed his life in show
business. Sure, he’d played some villainous parts, but at least at the end of those days, he didn’t have to deal with a flesh-and-blood victim.
His client was a scared Idaho housewife who had recently seen the last of her five children leave home. She had a high-school education and no marketable skills. A vague feeling of unease had generated her call to Jack. All she really wanted him to do was relieve her mind.
He wasn’t going to be able to do that. Her husband was not only cheating on her, he was also planning to divorce her to be with his twenty-five-year-old mistress.
Jack had found a bank account the guy had taken out in his name only the year before. A lot of cash had since been deposited into that account. The condo where he’d stashed his mistress was also in his name only, as was the Lexus she was driving.
No doubt in Jack’s mind that the guy was hiding other assets as well so that when he sprang the divorce on his wife he could cheat her out of as much community property as possible. The best his wife could do was to get a good lawyer and get her husband before he got her.
And that’s how their thirty-year marriage would end.
Jack grabbed some hand wipes and worked at removing the mud he’d earlier smeared on his hands and face to camouflage his features. The more he saw of marriage, the more convinced he became that it was a sucker’s bet.
Hell, the majority of men and women he knew had trouble committing to the same cell phone carrier for six months, much less another person for a lifetime.
He flicked the black-tinted contact lenses out of his eyes and carefully placed them in their protective case. Next, he slipped the false, blackened teeth out of his mouth and stowed them away.
Since joining his family’s private investigation firm the year before, he’d become an expert at surveillance. His
theatrical background enabled him to blend into any crowd, much to the dismay of the errant husbands and wives he’d caught on videotape. Problem was, he’d gotten so good at tracking them, cheating-spouse cases had become his specialty.
Thank God this was his last one.
Yanking the too-tight boots off his feet, he threw them in the back seat and eased his aching toes into loafers. He slipped his watch back onto his wrist and combed his hair with his fingers.
His father had agreed that Jack had proved his mettle and was ready to take on the meaty stuff. Next Monday he’d tackle his first criminal case—a nice, clean murder.
Amazing how refreshingly wholesome murder could sound after the sordidness of marital deception.
Jack turned his cell phone back on and checked the messages.
His twin had called a couple of hours before. Doubtful he’d still be warming a barstool at their favorite watering hole. Still, some of the regular Friday-night crowd would definitely be milling around, including, in all likelihood, an unattached female eager to engage in some wrestling under the sheets.
All the more reason Jack wouldn’t go there. He wasn’t interested in women who frequented bars.
When Jack saw his second message was from Heather, he smiled. She was an actress he’d worked with, someone who wouldn’t dream of letting herself be picked up in a bar. Being with a woman who valued herself made the exchange of physical pleasure so much more enjoyable.
Jack punched her number on his speed dial, a smile on his lips. She’d been shooting a movie in Canada for the past six months. Getting reacquainted was going to be fun.
Heather’s voice greeted him with warm enthusiasm. “Jack, I’m so glad you called. I have great news!”
She’d gotten that new hot tub installed?
“I’m getting married!”
Damn. All Jack’s hot tub fantasies swirled down the drain.
As Heather’s excited voice related all the scintillating details of the whirlwind courtship with her new co-star, Jack diligently deleted her name and number from his cell phone list.
He’d give the marriage ten months, tops.
Jack had already selected another candidate for late-night company by the time Heather had finished her tale. Wishing her well, he released the connection and punched in the next number.
Thankfully, his address book still listed a dozen or so women who knew their demanding careers didn’t give them time to think about marriage.
she didn’t have time to think about marriage with everything else going on in her busy life, but she couldn’t help herself. The whole idea was so mind-boggling.
When her mother had announced her upcoming nuptials the week before, her face had positively glowed. The groom-to-be had looked pretty happy, too. Ray Villareal was not as handsome as Diana’s father had been. He was something better. He was in love with her mother.
Because of that, Diana was ready to forgive him for both his obnoxious stepson and for making her move.
But damn, she hated moving. She had neither the focus nor energy for the chore. Connie Pearce’s life was in her hands. Guilt poured through her when she even thought about taking time to—
“Mason, are you listening?” Vincent Kozen, one of the two senior partners at the law firm, demanded from the other side of the conference table.
The insipid argument had been droning on for more than an hour. Diana’s only hope of staying awake had been to tune out. Snapping back to attention, she stopped doodling on her pad and raised her eyes to Vincent.
“To every word,” she lied, straight-faced.
Replaying her set-to-automatic mental tape, she retrieved the rapidly fading sentences. Yep, the topic was still Vincent’s new, incredibly complicated time-allocation study, which would see if the law firm’s staff was tracking case expenditures correctly.
Just another one of those useless projects that was so dear to Vincent’s little number-crunching heart.
“If you’ve been listening, Mason,” Vincent challenged in his typically high and condescending tone, “then by all means tell us how you would handle the matter.”
He folded his hands in front of him and glared at her. She knew he was looking for a target. He always seethed when one of his “wonderful” time-tracking ideas met with dissention, as this latest had.
Diana plastered a look of concern on her face. “Although I recognize that the contributions from everyone at this table have been both thoughtful and insightful,” she said, intent on not offending anyone who actually was naïve enough to express their real opinion, “I do believe that the wisest course would be to heed your considerable expertise in this area.”
Bushy gray eyebrows rose in surprise as Vincent shifted his bony butt in the chair. “In the future, Mason, don’t make me have to prod you,” he said in a tone still annoying but far less combative. “I want to hear everyone’s opinion.”
Like hell he did. Vincent Kozen didn’t care what she or anyone else at the law firm thought, unless that person was agreeing with him. He and his brother, Ronald, were very similar in that regard.
Still, Diana had learned when to fight, when to surrender and when to walk away. This morning’s subject required a waving, white flag and nothing else.
Vincent pontificated for another ten excruciating minutes on his open-mindedness before the meeting finally came to a close. A sigh of collective relief wafted through the air as the staff members stood and gathered their belongings.
One of the midlevel associates at the firm, Leroy Ripp, sent Diana a look of open disdain as he shuffled toward the door.
“Nice going, Mason,” he said, his whisper hot with ill humor. “Now we have to waste fifteen minutes out of every hour filling out one of his idiotic forms.”
She didn’t answer Leroy. No point. Whenever Leroy got angry at anything, he ended up angry at everything. Vincent had already made his decision to institute the new time-tracking procedure. Nothing she nor anyone else had said in this meeting would have affected the outcome.
As Diana headed toward the door of the conference room, Gail Loftin, another one of her colleagues, fell into step beside her.
“Was Leroy accusing you of crossing over to the Dark Side?” Gail asked, a big grin on her face.
She’d known Leroy for three years, Gail for nine months. All the words in the world wouldn’t get a point across to Leroy. Gail often understood without any.
“What’s gotten Leroy in such a foul mood these days?” Diana asked.
prosecutor creamed him in court last week.”
“Ah.” Diana knew Gail meant Silver Valley’s thoroughly detestable Chief Prosecutor, George Staker. Although she’d never classify Leroy as a friend, at this moment she felt for him.
“Hard not to take it personally sometimes,” Diana said. “At least three of our other attorneys have lost cases to Staker recently. Getting to be a damn epidemic.”
“Except Leroy keeps insisting that Staker knew things he shouldn’t have when they went to trial. I overheard Leroy tell Ronald that there must be a mole in our office.”
Diana shook her head. “Shoot me before I get that paranoid.”
“You have my promise,” Gail said, unlocking the door to her office. “Come in for a minute. I need to talk to you.”
As soon as Diana had stepped inside, Gail firmly closed the door behind them.
“I heard you got the Pearce case.”
“Ronald gave it to me a couple of weeks ago when you were tied up in that trial on the coast,” Diana confirmed. “He told me Earl said the case conflicted with another one he had.”
“What the case conflicts with is his drive to become a junior partner,” Gail said, the irritation thick in her tone as she circled her desk and plopped onto the chair.
Yes, Diana had figured that as well.
With Gail’s smarts, experience and expertise, she should be a shoo-in for the junior partner slot that the Kozen brothers had dangled before her eyes to get her to join the expanding private law firm of Kozen and Kozen.
But Earl Payman was vying for the position as well. Although Earl possessed not one tenth of Gail’s talent or
experience, he wore Armani suits, had finagled a membership in the private club the Kozen brothers belonged to and always said the politically correct thing. Gail wore a size fourteen bought off the rack, never played golf and often made the mistake of speaking her mind.
That latter failing was one Diana shared with her friend.
“You shouldn’t have let Ronald dump the Pearce case on you,” Gail said.
Diana snorted in amusement as she slipped onto Gail’s guest chair. “You think I had some choice when our beloved senior partner charged into my office, dropped the file on my desk and said, ‘You need to take over this court-appointed defense case that goes to trial in two months, so get up to speed’?”
Gail exhaled heavily. “I’m sorry. Of course, you didn’t have an option. I’m only mad at the unfairness of seeing this happen to you.”
“Don’t be,” Diana said as she stretched her arms above her head, trying to encourage some circulation back into her shoulders after sitting hunched over for so long in that pointless meeting. “I know Ronald only gave it to me because everyone else probably ran the other way when they saw him coming. But I’m glad I’ve got it.”