Alexandra Swann and Joyce Swann
“What was the verdict?” called a voice to Jack Forbes as he slowly opened the glass doors of the once majestic residence that now housed the law offices of Pratt, Forbes and Magoff. Forbes was in no hurry to respond to that question. In fact, he had been hoping that his colleagues would not ask. Of course, jury trials are unpredictable at best, Jack reminded himself, and it is impossible to second guess the legal system. In spite of the outcome, he would get his check. His client’s fate was not a source of great concern to him; Jack had begged Sam Dyer to plead guilty to manslaughter, and he had stubbornly refused. As far as Jack was concerned, it was Dyer’s own fault that he was headed for prison.
“What was the verdict?” repeated the voice, and Megan Cleary walked out of her office to find out why there was no response to her question.
“Guilty,” Jack replied a little disgusted.
“Guilty!” Megan’s tone reflected her surprise. “How could you possibly have lost?”
“It wasn’t hard,” Jack muttered as he poured himself a cup of coffee. “The jury came back and announced, ‘We find Sam Dyer guilty of murder in the first degree.’”
“But he didn’t really do anything,” Megan took the coffee pot when Jack had finished.
“He killed a man; I call that doing something,” Jack retorted.
“He killed a thief who was breaking into his home. It was self-defense,” Megan countered.
“People are not supposed to go around shooting other people. They’re supposed to leave that to the police; that’s why our tax dollars furnish this city with a police department. I told him to plead guilty to manslaughter. He didn’t have a prior record. With parole he would probably have been out in a few months. But he wouldn’t listen to me. He thought he knew more than his lawyer. So tonight he’s sitting in jail waiting to be sentenced. You should have seen him as they led him away. He was screaming something about ‘a man’s right to protect his home and family.’”
“How long a sentence do you think he’ll get?” Megan turned to go back to her office.
“It’s hard to say,” Jack thought for a moment. “My guess is he’ll draw fifteen years.”
Megan shut the door of her office and surveyed the desk covered with papers—last week’s work still to be done on this Monday afternoon. It seemed that she was always running—and always running a little behind. She looked at the clock; the hour hand was nearing six, and she still had stacks of work to finish. No, those briefs could not wait; she would just have to stay late and finish them.
1. The Wedding Night
My new husband looked like a mound of biscuit dough. He had his mother’s hips. Unless you actually saw his private parts, you might not realize he was, in fact, a man. He waited for me under the hotel blanket as I tiptoed out of the small Vanderbilt bathroom in my chenille robe, reluctantly exposing my skin to conditioned air as I slipped it off. He smiled like a dimpled three-year-old about to eat pudding. It was dark except for glowing shafts that wound around the open bathroom door. I hurried into the stiff, clean sheets with him, a bit of moonlight misting in through a crack in the heavy sixth-floor drapes. The clock on the polished nightstand said 1:15 a.m. I missed my mother.
An hour ago, somebody else’s wedding party reveled in the lobby as we arrived at the hotel. The other bride still wore her finery, her updo falling in a sexy droop, and her friends laughed and glistened with perspiration in their cocktail dresses, like they’d been dancing for hours. They looked breezy and comedic, in the way of Eddie Bauer models. A hunky groom stood by this other bride, joking with tuxedoed friends. Her gaiety gagged me—I had no idea why. At this moment in the sheets with Ted, I thought of her. She was happier than me.
Just do it already.
Without prelude, my husband hoisted himself on top of me, facedown, balancing on his toes in plank position, ready to perform the deed for which we’d come to this fancy Nashville hotel. We observed this milestone in our human development as if following instructions from a textbook on how to create a Christian marriage—the chapter: “On Your Honeymoon.” I detected a faint breath of reluctance in him, the weight of his body pressed me into the fresh linens. I thought I might suffocate, my lack of oxygen causing hallucinations of “Eugenia,” who’d made this bed for us today and left her scraggly signature on a white envelope resting against the pillows. I saw her standing in a corner with her feather duster.
I saw myself leaping up from that bed, pulling the telephone into the bathroom with me to call my mother. At this moment, she slouched in a metal folding chair with a lapful of cranberry ribbons plucked from my wedding decor. You’re so fortunate to have a man who loves you.
Ted pounded against my tight young thighs while a screen full of inappropriate images played on the backs of my eyelids. I thought of all those Waltham boys I did not marry. Because they did not ask.
“She jumped, I saw her!”
“She was pushed. There was someone in the window behind her. Look!”
“She fell. She definitely fell!”
Edwardo made his way through the throngs of people beside the canal. The noise was deafening. Everyone wanted to be heard, but no one seemed to have seen the same thing.
Edwardo knew it was serious when his manservant had burst through the door, pale and shaking, barely able to speak. He had placed his hands on the boy’s shoulders to calm him. Still, it took the servant several minutes to pull himself together enough to tell Edwardo that it was Anna. Something had happened to Anna. Edwardo could scarcely believe it. They had left each other mere moments ago. They should have been more careful. He blamed himself.
He did not stop to listen further to the boy’s stuttering attempts at explaining. He grabbed his coat and was in the street. No thoughts were in his mind other than Anna. He was running as fast as his military-trained legs would carry him, and stopped dead when he saw her.
Her long dark hair drifted as though in a gentle wind around her beautiful face, and her golden dress puffed around her in the green water of the canal.
Today was a day for writing at home, and Mar-tin Leon was grateful for that.
Even if he didn’t have any ideas.
In the best of times—and those were long gone—penning a daytime television soap opera was a grind, two hundred and sixty episodes a year, two hundred and sixty scripts, minus assorted holidays and breaking presidential press conferences. That kind of schedule could turn Hemingway into a hack. For nearly two decades, Martin had churned out episode after episode of “After the Loving.” Any illusions he had about being Hemingway had long faded to black.
At least here, in the home office of his master bedroom suite, he could plot in relative peace. No long boring meetings with micromanaging suits from the network trying to dictate story. No narcissistic actors pounding on the door, proposing he make the show revolve around their character. Martin stared at his computer screen littered with plot threads to nowhere. Thanks to his bereft imagination, “love in the afternoon” had become “ugh in the afternoon.” His dark hero skulked about the manor with no agenda beyond listening to his beard grow. His hot head nurse, reading charts at the hospital, could barely raise a pulse. The only thing threatening to engulf the fictional town of Point Disillusion was a tidal wave of boredom. If Martin didn’t come up with something and quick, his perfectly clad, perfectly coiffed characters would be milling around the country club with nothing to murmur about and nothing to fear—except perhaps ax-wielding network executives lurking in the shadows.
At his side, the family cockatoo peered over his shoulder in envy. Unlike Martin, Jezebel loved to be on the computer. The problem was, Jezebel loved literally to be on the computer, and right now, the bird had that chomp-on-the-space-bar gleam in the eye.
“Stay on your perch.”
With a ruffle of blush-colored feathers, Jez demurred.
Rocking back in his chair, Martin stroked his chin. A murder, perhaps? They were due for one. He’d pencil it in for November sweeps. Glancing at the calendar on his desk, he racked his brain for potential victims. Surely Barbara could stand to trim the bottom line again, give somebody the heave-ho. Then he realized there was hardly anyone left. She’d already made him kill off a third of the cast in the Great Mudslide two years back.
Martin’s cell phone rang, and the rapid-fire whinny of his boss’s voice came over the line. “I just got off the phone with Bob Hackett,” Barbara said, referring to the aptly named head of daytime programming. “He had news. You’re not going to like it.”
Cat stared into her closet and realized she needed to make some decisions before the plane left without her. It should not be this hard to pack for a girls’ weekend in Vegas but this was not her normal group of friends that she was going with. Should she go with the cute but comfortable attire with the flat shoes that would allow her to walk the strip and save on cab fare? Or would the other women be dressed up in sexy little dresses with impossibly high heels? If this were a normal girls’ weekend, Cat would have no qualms about sending a quick text to her friends to find out the game plan but these women were not her friends. Instead, she was guilted into attending the bachelorette weekend of her brother’s soon to be wife, Gabrielle, and all of Gabby’s equally snobby friends. But this weekend meant a lot to Mike because it made him feel like they were bonding as a family so she would go along and smile.
Cat glanced at the clock one more time and realized that she only had about fifteen more minutes before she had to head out to the airport or she would never make it through security. With a shrug of her shoulders, she decided to just back it all – casual, glam, and everything in between. It’s not like she was much of a fashionista anywhere so the choices weren’t exactly overwhelming either way and they easily fit into her suitcase. Besides, Mike knew that Cat’s freelance jobs as a marketing strategist had been fewer and farther in between lately so he had slipped her some extra funds for the trip so she could always pick up something if she didn’t have the appropriate apparel.
Mike had always been the successful sibling. He was the president of the local bank and had recently expanded into five more branches. He also had a heart of gold but Cat suspected that Gabby’s interest in her brother had more to do with his financial success than his abilities to be a great husband. As much as Mike had always tried to look after her, Cat couldn’t help but wonder if part of the reason he had given her such a sum before the trip was because Gabby was afraid that Cat would embarrass her by showing up in something that suggested she was marrying into a real family as opposed to simply a bank account.
Cat shook off the thought and tried to remind herself that Gabby was going to be her sister-in-law and she needed to try to keep an open mind and heart if there ever was truly to be a relationship there. Cat grabbed her suitcase and her keys. Once the tiny apartment was locked up, Cat bounded down the stairs toward her old black Jetta and hopped in. She said a silent prayer for a safe and uneventful trip. However, she already had a feeling in the pit of her stomach that wouldn’t be the case.
Thank you for flying with us today, folks. Please ensure your seat backs and tray tables are in their upright positions as we make our final descent into Albuquerque, New Mexico. And remember to choose American Airlines for your next adventure.
Hailey took a deep breath and put her boarding pass into the middle of the book to save her place. It was the perfect metaphor for her life – using whatever she had with her in a completely different function than it was intended because her life was beyond planning and hope. The man next to her began to shift his weight back and forth again, as he had done the whole flight, clearly nervous about what awaited him in Albuquerque. Hailey had no clue what would await her in Albuquerque but she knew that whatever it was, it had to be better than what she was leaving behind in Seattle.
Before she knew it, the fasten seatbelt light was off and the whole plane was in a flurry of activity with people rushing to get their bags and either get home to their loved ones or start their trip. The common factor being that these people knew where they were going next and they were anxious to get there. When it came time, she got up and grabbed her bag and went with the flow to get off the plane. It was almost comforting to be a part of the rush for just a minute in that path from plane to baggage carousel. At least she had a purpose: get off plane, follow people to baggage claim, get bag. However, once Hailey grabbed her army green faded duffel off of the carousel, that’s when she completed her purpose and it was back to reality once again.
She had two options here. She could rent a car but there was a matter of limited funds and credit cards could be traced. Or she could jump back in and call someone to pick her up. There would be no hiding from reality then. It would be time to face the music, however loud that music chose to play. She touched her growing stomach and knew the decision had been made for her. She wouldn’t chance being found by using a credit card just to avoid the judgment a little while longer. And with the decision made, she moved forward to the pay phone and dialed the number that she knew by heart.
“Hey, Gram. It’s me, Hailey. I’m actually here in Albuquerque. Can you pick me up from the airport?”