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Authors: Sandra Brown

Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #Suspense

The Alibi (65 page)

BOOK: The Alibi
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saw her tell him to fuck off. In those words. But smiling

sweetly.

He was watching the rear door when Smilow escorted

Alex in. Their gazes locked and held, gobbling

up each other. They had spoken on their cell phones

while en route, but that wasn't as satisfactory as seeing

for himself that she was, finally, safe. From prosecution.

From Steffi. From Bobby.

Smilow motioned her toward an empty chair next

to one in which Frank Perkins was seated. The lawyer

stood and hugged her warmly. Smilow relinquished

her to Perkins, then moved down the outer aisle toward

the dais. He motioned Hammond over. Nonplussed,

Hammond excused himself and stepped

down from the temporary platform.

"Good work," Smilow told him.

Knowing the pride that the compliment must have cost the detective, Hammond said, "I just showed up

and did what you advised me to do. If you hadn't coordinated

it, it wouldn't have worked." He paused a

moment. "I still can't believe she came after me. I

would have expected a surrender and confession

first."

"Then you don't know her very well."

"I came to realize that. Almost too late. Thanks for

all you did."

"You're welcome." Smilow glanced toward Davee

and caught her looking at him. Unless Hammond's

eyes were deceiving him, the detective actually

blushed. Quickly he returned his attention back to Hammond. "This is for you." He extended a manila

envelope toward Hammond.

"What is it?"

"A lab report. Steffi gave it to me this morning. It

matches your blood to that found on Dr. Ladd's

sheets." Hammond's lips parted, but Smilow shook

his head sternly. "Don't say anything. Just take it and

destroy it. Without this, any allegations Steffi makes

about you sleeping with a suspect will be unsubstantiated.

Of course, since Dr. Ladd turned out not to be

the culprit, it's really only a technicality."

Hammond looked at the deceptively innocuous

envelope. If he accepted it, he would be as guilty as

Smilow had been in the State v. Vincent Anthony Barlow case. Barlow was guilty as sin of murdering his

seventeen-year-old girlfriend and the fetus she was

carrying, but Smilow had fudged some exculpatory

evidence which Hammond was obligated by law to

disclose.

It wasn't until after he had won a conviction that

he learned of Smilow's alleged mishandling of the

case. He could never prove that Smilow had deliberately

excluded the mitigating evidence in his discovery,

so an investigation into malfeasance was never

conducted. Barlow, now serving a life sentence, had

filed an appeal. It had been granted. The young man

would get another trial, to which he was entitled no

matter how guilty he was.

But Hammond had never forgiven Smilow for

making him an unwitting participant in this miscarriage

of justice.

"Don't be a Boy Scout," the detective said now in

an undertone. "Haven't you earned all the badges you

need?"

"It's wrong."

Smilow lowered his voice even more. "We don't

like each other, and we both know why. We operate

differently, but we're working the same side. I need a

tough prosecutor and trial attorney like you over

there in the solicitor's office, not a glad-handing

politician like Mason. You'll do far more good by

serving this county as the top law officer than you

would by making a confession of sexual misconduct,

which nobody gives a damn about anyway. Think about it, Hammond."

"Hammond?"

He was being summoned back up onto the dais so

they could begin. Without turning, he said, "Coming."

"Sometimes we have to bend the rules to do a better

job," Smilow said, staring hard at him.

It was a persuasive argument. Hammond took the

envelope.

* * *

Mason was drawing his speech to a close. The reporters'

eyes were beginning to glaze. Some of the

cameramen had lowered their cameras from their

shoulders. The account of Steffi's attempt on Hammond's

life and subsequent arrest had held them

spellbound, but this portion of Mason's address had

caused their interest to wane.

"While it pains me that someone in our office is

presently in police custody, soon to be charged with a

serious crime, I'm equally proud that Special Assistant

County Solicitor Hammond Cross was instrumental

in her capture. He demonstrated extraordinary

bravery today. That's only one of the reasons why

I'm endorsing him as my successor."

That received a thunderous round of applause.

Hammond stared at Mason's profile while his mentor

extolled his talent, dedication, and integrity. The envelope

with the incriminating lab report was resting

on his knees. He imagined it to be radiating an angry

red aura that belied Mason's accolades.

"I won't bore you any longer," Mason boomed in

the good-natured, straightforward manner that had

endeared him to the media. "Allow me to introduce

the hero of the hour." He turned and motioned for

Hammond to join him.

The cameramen repositioned their video recorders

on their shoulders. The newspaper reporters perked

up and almost in unison clicked their ballpoints.

Hammond laid the envelope on the slanted tray of

the lectern. He cleared his throat. After thanking

Mason for his remarks, as well as for the confidence

he had placed in him, he said, "This has been a remarkable

week. In many ways it seems like much

more time than that has passed since I learned that

Lute Pettijohn had been murdered.

"Actually, I don't consider myself a hero, or derive

any pleasure from knowing that my colleague, Steffi

Mundell, is to be charged with that murder. I believe

the evidence against her is compelling. As one familiar

with the case--"

Loretta Boothe rushed into the room.

Hammond's heart lurched; his speech faltered and

died.

Only those standing near the door noticed her at

first. But when Hammond stopped speaking, all

heads turned to see who had caused the interruption.

Impervious to the stir she had created, Loretta was

frantically motioning him toward her.

With all the other events unfolding so rapidly

today, he hadn't had time to call and tell her that Alex

was no longer a suspect, therefore her whereabouts

last Saturday evening were irrelevant.

But Loretta was here, with one of the brawny

marines from the fair in tow, and there was no way he

could avoid her. "Excuse me a moment."

Despite the murmur of puzzlement that rippled

through the crowd, he stepped off the dais and made

his way to the back of the room. As he went, he

thought of all the people the next few moments

would inevitably embarrass. Monroe Mason.

Smilow. Frank Perkins. Himself. Alex. When he

passed her, his glance silently apologized for what

was about to happen.

"You wanted to speak to me, Loretta?"

She didn't even try to mask her irritation. "For almost

twenty-four hours."

"I've been busy."

"Well, so have I." She stepped back through the

door and spoke to someone who had been left standing

out in the hallway. "Come on in here."

Hammond waited expectantly, wondering how he

was going to explain himself when the marine gaped

at him and declared, "He's the one! He's the one that

was dancing with Alex Ladd."

But it wasn't a fresh recruit who came through the

door. Instead, looking self-conscious and miserable, a

slight black man with wire-rimmed spectacles

stepped into the room.

Hammond released a short laugh of pure

astonishment. "Smitty?" he exclaimed, realizing that

he didn't even know the man's last name.

"How're you doing, Mr. Cross? I told her we

shouldn't interrupt, but she wouldn't pay me any

mind."

Hammond looked from the shoeshine man to

Loretta. "I thought you went to the fair," he heard

himself say stupidly. "That's what your messages

said."

"I did. I bumped into Smitty there. He was sitting

in the pavilion all by himself, listening to the music.

We started chatting and the subject of the Pettijohn

 

case came up. He's moved his business to the Charles

Towne Plaza."

"I saw him there today."

"I'm sorry I didn't talk to you, Mr. Cross. I guess

I was feeling sort of ashamed."

"For what?"

"For not telling you about Steffi Mundell's

switcheroo last Saturday," Loretta cut in. "First he

sees her in jogging getup, then in one of the hotel

robes, then in jogging clothes again. All very

strange."

"I didn't make much of it, Mr. Cross, until I saw

her on the TV yesterday, and it reminded me."

"He was reluctant to get anyone into trouble, so he

didn't say anything to anyone except Smilow."

"Smilow?"

The detective, who had moved up beside Hammond,

addressed Smitty. "When you referred to the

lawyer you saw on TV, I thought you were talking

about Mr. Cross."

"No sir, the lady lawyer," the older man explained.

"I'm sorry if I caused y'all any trouble."

Hammond laid his hand on Smitty's shoulder.

"Thank you for coming forward now. We'll get your

statement later." To Loretta he said, "Thank you."

She frowned, grumbling. "You got her without my

help, but you still owe me a foot rub and a drink. A

double."

Hammond turned back into the room. The cameras

were whirring now. Lights nearly blinded him as

he made his way back to the dais. He could have

skipped like a kid. The bands of tension around his

chest had been snipped loose. He was breathing normally.

 

Nobody knew about him and Alex. There wasn't

going to be any surprise witness who had seen Alex

and him together last Saturday. Nobody knew except

her. Frank Perkins. Rory Smilow. Davee.

 

Well... and him.

 

He knew.

 

Suddenly he didn't feel like skipping anymore.

 

He resumed his place behind the lectern. As he

did so, Monroe Mason gave him a wink and a

thumbs-up. He glanced at his father. Preston, for

once, was nodding his wholehearted approval.

He would agree with Smilow. Let it drop. Accept

the job. Do good work and the misbehavior

would be justified.

 

He was a shoo-in. He would win the election in a

landslide. He probably wouldn't even have an opponent.

But was the job, any job, worth sacrificing his

self-respect?

 

Wouldn't he rather tell the truth and have it cost

him the election than keep a secret? The longer the

secret was kept, the dirtier it would become. He

didn't want the memory of his first night with Alex to

be sullied by secrecy.

 

His gaze fastened on hers, and he knew in an instant,

by the soft expression in her eyes, that she

knew exactly what he was thinking. She was the only

one who knew what he was thinking. She was the

only one who would understand why he was thinking

 

it. She gave him an intensely private, extremely intimate

smile of encouragement.

In that moment, he loved her more than he had 11 ever thought it possible to love.

"Before I proceed ... I want to address an individual

whose life has been unforgivably upended

this week. Dr. Alex Ladd cooperated with the

Charleston Police Department and my office at the

sacrifice of her practice, her time, and most importantly

her dignity. She has endured immeasurable

embarrassment. I apologize to her on behalf of this

county.

"I also owe her a personal apology. Because...

because I knew from the start that she had not murdered

Lute Pettijohn. She admits to seeing him that

afternoon, but well before the time of his death. Certain

material elements indicated that she might have

had motive. But I knew, even while she was being

subjected to humiliating interrogations, that she

couldn't have killed Lute Pettijohn. Because she had

an alibi."

Nobody knows. Really only a technicality. Why be

a Boy Scout? You 'II do far more good. .. Nobody

gives a damn anyway.

Hammond paused and took a deep breath, not of

anxiety, but relief.

"I was her alibi."

BOOK: The Alibi
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