Jackie Flowers's lizard pumps pinched unmercifully as she clattered up the granite steps to the office she shared with other lawyers on Denver's former Millionaire's Row. A chunk of gingerbread trim loosened by the recent snow chose that moment to dislodge itself from the porch, narrowly missing her honey-blonde head. The Gothic Victorian mansion was no refuge for the wicked, she thought sourly, and wondered whether she was thinking about the robber baron who'd built the place or her own clients. Her favorite arsonist's preliminary hearing was days away and more than the roof was coming down around her ears.
The only traces of the blizzard three days earlier were patches of slush that had evaded the relentless Colorado sun. March was notoriously fickle and the heat had been on full blast at the county jail. The richly paneled foyer was cool in comparison. Jackie ignored the unsorted mail on the hall table and began climbing the stairs to her second-floor office.
"Where do you think you're sneaking off to?"
Pilar Perez was standing at the reception desk in the ground-floor alcove, where she'd been deep in conversation with the latest temp. In black fedora, silk vest, and tailored slacks, Jackie's investigator managed to look both stylish and comfortable. The temp was already imitating the way Pilar held her cigarillo.
"The landlord's notice is waiting on your chair," Pilar said. If there were any way to make the sanctity of Jackie's office less appealing, it was to remind her that the building's lease was about to run out. "How's Ted?"
"How do you think? He's facing the big bitch." Catching the shocked look on the temp's shiny face, Jackie added, "Habitual Criminal Act: life with no chance of parole. And all because they caught him with a Stanley Wonder Bar stuffed down his pants."
"Ice cream?" the temp asked, and Pilar rolled her eyes at Jackie behind the girl's back. Had either of them ever been that young?
"No, sweetheart," Pilar said. "That's a pry bar, the savvy burglar's tool of choice. Costs you five bucks but you don't want a knockoff. The cheaper ones are too blunt to file."
"I thought Mr. Wolsky was charged with burning a warehouse," the girl said. She was interrupted by a bellow from above.
"The Xerox crapped out again!"
Cliff, the estate planner from across the hall. No will too small to earn your trust. Suddenly Jackie longed for the jail's controlled chaos. Taking advantage of the distraction, she slipped off her pumps and continued up the stairs. If she could just make it to her office and close the door --
Cartons stacked in the stairwell slowed her progress and Pilar caught up with her. The stocky investigator had run track in high school and had the legs to prove it.
"Thirty days before the lease is up," she said.
"Afraid we'll be out on the street?"
"We should be so lucky." Pilar's nostrils quivered faster as she stared first at the worn Oriental runner on the stairs, then jerked her chin up like a hunting dog. "What is that stench?"
The maroon-and-peach-striped wallpaper, a tribute to the robber baron's Victorian taste, smelled like a closet full of old sneakers. A mossy stain in the shape of the continental United States was migrating down the wall like Baja California. Jackie beat a quick retreat to her office.
"We've got to get out of this place," Pilar said after closing the door behind them.
If it's the last thing we ever do.
Jackie balled up the landlord's notice and lobbed it at her wastebasket.
Sinking in her chair, she began massaging a stockinged foot. Her aunt always said you could go anywhere in a good pair of shoes -- how right that was! God knew you couldn't show up at the county jail and expect to see your client before hell froze over if you dressed comfortably. As the cramp in her instep slowly worked itself out, images of Cliff's ongoing war with the copier and the moldy wallpaper receded into the more soothing sight of her leather-bound treatises and immaculate desk.
"By the way," Pilar said, "you look lousy. Forget lunch again?"
"I grabbed something on the way to jail." Not true, but it would do.
"Your blood sugar looks low. You should be eating fruit."
Fruit was Pilar's latest kick. For each cigarillo, an apple; for every martini, an orange or a pear. Jackie had tried telling her fruits were carbohydrates, but Pilar swore she'd lost five pounds without sacrificing anything she cared about.
"What are those cartons?" Jackie asked.
"Phil's moving out."
Right into Pilar's trap.
Phil was the pots-and-pans lawyer across the hall, who specialized in breaking prenuptial agreements. No matter which side of the case you were on there was always money in those. Jackie was in no mood to be reminded that Phil carried the lion's share of the overhead. "Ted's prelim is Friday, and I -- "
"You could have hung out your shingle years ago. There'll never be a better time to set up an office of our own, where -- "
" -- the ceiling doesn't drip and the walls don't stink. We'll talk about it after I pull another rabbit out of my hat for Ted."
Some clients were more equal than others.
Ted Wolsky had been shuffled to Jackie's desk her first day at the Public Defender's office. A burglar who wore Italian loafers on his elfin feet and shied from residences because he didn't want anyone to get hurt, he'd stuck with Jackie after making the transition from second-story man to the more challenging work of arsonist for hire. And the loyalty ran both ways; even in his new trade Ted only torched empty buildings. But with two felony convictions he was about to strike out and go away for good. The big bitch, as lawyers and their clients called it.
"You think Ted's good for the warehouse fire?" Pilar asked.
"Frankly, no. It's not up to his usual standards."
"Whoever did it splashed gasoline on the walls. Pros don't waste their time."
Jackie's bond with Ted was more basic than loyalty. She remembered the first time she'd interviewed him. He'd skimmed the consent form, then scrawled his signature with a flair worthy of a quill pen. It was the odd flourishes that gave you away....
"What were you and the temp jawing about when I came in?" she asked.
Pilar plopped into the seat across from Jackie. "Amy Lynch."
Jackie didn't really want to hear anything more about the CU coed's abduction and apparent torture. For some reason, hearing about Amy Lynch made her think of Lily, her nine-year-old neighbor. Lily still believed in her own invincibility. Amy was young enough that she had probably felt invincible too. Not now, though.
"Has she talked yet?" Jackie asked.
"Still in a coma. Combination of shock, exposure, and swelling of the brain."
"You hate to think of a guy like that loose in the foothills."
"The News said she had scars all over -- " Seeing Jackie's expression, Pilar backed off. "It's a miracle she survived."
"What a shock to that high school kid who found her."
"Teach him to take a girl necking in Left Hand Canyon. I'd say it made him grow up pretty fast."
"Too fast," Jackie said, reminded again of Lily.
"And did you hear she was wearing a dog collar?"
"Of course, with a daddy like Bryan Lynch, you never know who the real target was...."
Without many hard facts, reporters had been pushing the heartstring angle. From soccer and cross-country skiing to homecoming queen and Habitat for Humanity, the Kent School grad had it all on her résumé.
"How did Lynch make his pile?"
"Real estate. Or was it securities?" Pilar shook her head, eager to move on to something more tantalizing. "Now, no one's supposed to know this, but..." Pilar's sources were never wrong. "They traced the handcuffs."
"They had a serial number."
"They belong to Glenn Ballard."
"The federal judge?"
"How do you like them apples?" Tossing her boss a Red Delicious she had taken from her pocket and polished, Pilar was gone before Jackie could say another word.
Copyright © 2003 by Stephanie Kane