Authors: Diane Leyne
“Please don’t hurt him, miss.”
“Please call me Nelly. And do you mean Jack? Why would I hurt him?”
“I’ve known Jack since he was a boy and used to come to the original O’Dell’s garage with his dad. The boy had a talent for cars and we all loved having him in the shop, teaching him things. Then he grew up and it was sad that he was going away to college, but exciting, too. The boy was smart and we wished the best for him.
“It was a shock for all of us when he ended up back here a year later, married, a college dropout and a baby on the way. But he wanted to do right by Jenna and the baby. They had been high school sweethearts and she was a lovely girl, but this wasn’t the type of relationship that was meant to survive into adulthood. But they had the baby and they both wanted to do right by Tyler.
“I don’t know if he’s talked about Jenna and Tyler and it’s not my place to tell you if he hasn’t. I’ve probably said too much already…” he fretted. “I probably shouldn’t have mentioned them at all, but we all love him and don’t want him hurt again. He turned off his emotions for ten years, throwing himself into building the O’Dell business. There are a half dozen garages now, but he still goes home alone. It’s not right.”
“He told me everything, Phil.” She put her hand on his shoulder, her voice soft. “He told me about how they were going to split up and then the accident.”
Phil looked at her in amazement and then, to both their surprises, gave her a big hug.
“Glory be, Nelly. He never talks about her or Tyler. Ever.” He took her hands and looked at her. “Please don’t break his heart. If you don’t love him or don’t think you can love him, don’t drag this out and make a clean break. But if you want this to work, go after him with everything you have. If he pulls back emotionally, from fear of taking another chance, don’t let him. He’s a good man, Nelly. If you really want him, fight for him when the time comes.”
He stood up. “Well, I’ll leave you to your boxes. I’ll come get you when the police arrive.”
He walked out, but she didn’t notice. She was already digging into her boxes. “Aha!” She triumphantly pulled out her cell phone charger. Her phone had died a few days ago right around the time she had the accident, but she’d been too distracted to worry about finding a way to get it recharged.
She took the charger out of the box and plugged it in and dug her phone out of her purse and set it in the charger and then started taking the files out of the first box. She didn’t get far before Phil returned.
“They are here.”
There were two cops, both in plain clothes. Detective Ramirez was your classic tall, dark, and handsome. He looked like a television cop. Detective Clouder was female. She was tall, blonde, and very attractive. But no one would ever mistake her for a dumb blonde. The intelligence shone from her eyes. Nelly liked her on sight.
“Is there somewhere we can talk to you alone?” asked Clouder.
“Anything you can say to me you can say in front of him,” said Nelly. “I don’t want to have any secrets.”
“We’d rather talk to each of you alone, if you don’t mind.”
Jack looked at her.
“I’ll be okay, Jack.”
“Okay. I have a few errands to run, but I’ll be back within half an hour. If you two aren’t done with her by then, I’m not leaving again.”
“Fair enough.” Clouder smiled as Jack stalked away
“Can you walk us through the events leading up to when you lost control of the car and crashed?” asked Ramirez.
“It was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. I wanted to make an early start, so I worked through lunch copying some key files and printing out others because after spending the holiday with my family, I planned to spend a few days working at home on this really important brief for the senior partners. It could make my name and give me a shot at Junior Partner. So I didn’t want any distractions, which is why I didn’t want to go back to the office after visiting my folks. I figured if someone saw me, I’d get loaded down with other work and have no time for the brief.”
“We’ll get back to what you were working on. Describe what happened when you left for the day.”
“Well, I’d already taken the boxes down to the car after lunch, along with a company laptop so I could sign into our network, and a cell phone charger.”
“Did you park in the same place every time? A reserved spot, perhaps?”
“Only partners get reserved spots. Us associates were on a first-come, first-served basis which usually meant a long walk to the main door. But one of the partners had left a day early for the Thanksgiving holiday and his assistant let me use his spot by the door so I didn’t have to carry the boxes too far.”
“Which spot, exactly, were you parked in? We’ll have someone in the city force go and have a look before everyone gets back to work tomorrow and any possible evidence is lost.”
“It was Mr. Abernathy’s spot, right beside the elevator on B2. His name is on the spot. They won’t be able to miss it.”
Ramirez walked away to place the call while Clouder asked her to continue. “Remember, don’t leave out any details. You never know what might be important.”
“There’s not much to tell. I left at three thirty. Oh, and I passed Mrs. Abernathy coming off the elevator when I got on. She was looking like a thundercloud, so I didn’t talk to her. I remember being surprised to see her since her husband was gone for the weekend. I did wonder if she was mad because there was a car in her husband’s spot and she couldn’t use it. And then I was worried she had blocked me in out of spite. Or maybe scratched it or something. I heard that he cheated on her once and she went ballistic. He showed up at work with a black eye and the paralegal he’d been fooling around with never came back to the firm.
“But I digress. When I got downstairs, my car was fine. No scratches. No car blocking me in. I got in and headed home. And my timing was perfect. I made great time, even with the rain, until, of course, my power steering and power brakes went out. At least I still had some control, even though it was like trying to steer through wet concrete. And the emergency brake was still working. But I knew better than to engage it until I had some control over the steering and my speed lessened. So I took my foot off the gas and let the car naturally slow down. I almost got it under control when I hit something on the road and started skidding sideways again. I yanked on the emergency brake and managed to slow it down enough so I hit the tree on the passenger side. I was shaken up, but only a few bruises from the seat belt. Nothing major. I got lucky.” She exhaled sharply. Describing it in detail like that brought it all back. “I don’t know what else I can tell you.”
“Can you tell us about the case you are working on? Could it have any connection to someone trying to kill you?”
“You know I can’t tell you any specifics due to lawyer/client privilege. I can’t even tell you the name of the client. I can tell you it is a simple product claim case and I believe it has no merit. It’s important because if we lose this one, then our client will be flooded with similar cases and even if they all have no merit, it will cost a lot of money to defend the suits.”
“What about your personal life? It seems you are involved with Mr. O’Dell. How long have you two been together?”
Nelly coloured. “We actually just met when he rescued me after the crash.”
“You never met him before then. Never saw him?”
“Well, actually, I met him briefly. I stopped for gas just after I turned off the highway. He pumped my gas and told me the cost. I paid him and said thank you.”
“And that was it.”
“No other talk. No other meeting?”
“None that I can remember. Look, where is this going?”
“When he pumped your gas, did you see him at all times? Did he ever look under your car?”
“I don’t know. I—well, I went to the ladies’ room while he was pumping the gas. I don’t know what he did.”
“And how long were you in the ladies’ room?”
She coloured. Ramirez and Clouder exchanged glances. Ramirez stepped away to make a call.
“I don’t know. A couple of minutes at most. Wait. Do you think Jack did that to my car? But he rescued me from being stranded. He even told me that he saw the fluids on the gas bay ground and deliberately came after me because he was worried. And then he called his staff to look at my car and report anything suspicious to the cops.”
“It wouldn’t be unheard off for the perpetrator to also play the hero. Happens more often than you’d think. And are you sure he told his guy to report things to the police? Maybe the employee did it on his own?”
“Why would Jack even send anyone out to my car if he’s the one who sabotaged it?”
“He owns a garage. You’d be suspicious if he didn’t.”
“You are trying to confuse me. I’m a lawyer and I think I’m a decent judge of character. Jack didn’t do it.”
“Look, you are a lawyer. That means you examine evidence before you draw a conclusion.”
“Come with us to the station. We have a few more questions. And we have someone going out to examine the spot where you parked at the law firm. If there is any evidence at all that the tampering was done there, then O’Dell is in the clear. If there’s no evidence, then you promise us you’ll keep an open mind.”
“How about this. I’ll wait here. Jack’s coming back shortly. You all go and get your report from the parking garage. If there’s no evidence there, then and only then will I listen to your alternate theories. And before you try to persuade me to come with you, remember I am a lawyer and I know my rights. I’ll be waiting in Jack’s office.”
Ramirez’s phone rang. He stepped away to take it.
“Was that call from the city?”
“No. Smith and Durance have picked up O’Dell for questioning. They’ve taken him back to the station.”
“You are kidding me.” She was furious.
“He had the skill and opportunity. And he seems to have wormed his way into your life pretty quickly. I’d say he was a person of interest in this case.”
“Bullshit. He’s an easy target. You haven’t even got the report back from the city cops. If there’s any evidence that the tampering was done there, then there’s no way Jack could have done it. He was working at the garage all day. You couldn’t even wait a few hours?”
Ramirez shrugged and Clouder had the decency to look a little shamefaced, but then she put her cop face back on and stated, “We did what we have to do. If he’s innocent, he’ll be released. If we get back word that the tampering was definitely not done in the city, then we can get a warrant to search this shop. We’ll look at the bay where he claims to have seen the fluids and we’ll examine the tools. If we leave him free and he’s guilty, he’ll have a few hours to clean up. I’m not going to risk him tampering with evidence.”
“Now we’d like you to come with us to the station to make a formal statement,” said Ramirez. “We need to get what you’ve told us into the formal record.” He took her by the arm. “We can drive you with us.”
Nelly shook him off.
“I’ll drive myself. And when I get there, I’m going to want to see Jack immediately. And if I see any evidence he’s been improperly handled, I’ll file charges immediately. Do you understand me? You will treat him with kid gloves until such time as you have any evidence against him. And I do not consider any possible lack of evidence in my parking spot at the office to be positive evidence against him. Understand?”
Ramirez and Clouder looked at each other and then at a furious Nelly. Discretion being the better part of valour, they gave her directions to the station and told her they would be waiting.
When they police left, Nelly sagged against the wall, fighting back the tears. It was all too much. Someone tried to kill her, and the police suspected the man she loved. Except she hadn’t even had the chance to tell him she loved him. And more importantly, she believed him. He hadn’t cut her brakes. Maybe it was something to do with the papers she’d taken out of the office, or maybe it was even crazy Mrs. Abernathy, but it wasn’t Jack. She wouldn’t believe that without clear and unambiguous evidence. So she took a deep breath and prepared to do battle.
She heard someone clear their throat. It was Phil. She’d forgotten he was still around. He’d made himself scarce during the cops’ visit. Probably wise of him.
He held up a set of keys and a cell phone.
“I put the boxes and your laptop and phone charger in the backseat of Jack’s truck. Here are the keys and your phone.”
“Are you sure he’d be okay with me driving his truck?”
“If he’d seen you in action with the cops, he’d be afraid to say no to you on anything. Now go down to that station and kick some cop butt and get the boss out.” He hugged her. “Good luck.” He paused. “I take back what I said about considering if you should walk away from him. You love him. I could see it in your eyes and hear it in your voice. And I think he loves you, although he’s probably too stubborn or afraid to say anything, but I saw how he treated you. You are good together. But he’s probably sitting in that jail thinking you’ve turned against him. If he thinks that, he’ll withdraw again, but don’t you let him. Fight for him.”