In The Victim's Shadow

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Chapter 24

A week later, John walked into Katherine’s office in the middle of the afternoon. She was sitting at her desk reviewing some notes for court the next day. She heard the door open and, thinking it was Beth, said, “Just put them on the table with the rest of the papers you’ve stacked up, you slave driver.”

“I’m not a slave driver. In fact, I’d like to take you away from all this work.”

A huge grin broke out on her face as she looked up. “Welcome home.”

He opened his arms. She rose from the desk and walked into them.

He kissed her and she kissed him harder. “I see you’ve missed me,” he said.

“More than you’ll ever know,” she said.

He set down his briefcase and sat in one of the chairs, pulling her down with him, where they kissed some more, adding a little passion to it.

Reluctantly, she pulled away, looking down at him. “Beth might walk in on us, or worse—Mr. Walker.”

“So let them,” he said. He reached a hand up behind her neck, ready to pull her lips to his again.

She shook her head. “We said we wouldn’t do this at work, remember?”

“Ugh. Yes, I remember.”

“Harder than we thought?” He nodded. She rose from his lap and walked back to her desk. “Let’s concentrate on Beth.”

“How’s she doing?”

Katherine sighed. “Better than I thought she would be, but I can tell it’s breaking her.”

“Any word from Prince Charming?”

“No, and I’m worried. Her hearing is only three weeks away. That’s not much time to prepare him.”

“Do you think he’ll come forward?”

“I have no idea. He swears he loves her.”

“Hard way to show it,” John scoffed.

“Try telling Beth that. How did your trip go?”

“Terribly. I missed you so much.”

She smirked. “I meant for your client.”

“He’s in some pretty deep trouble.”

She fiddled with a file folder on her desk, avoiding his eyes. “Are you going to represent him?”

John took her hand, trying to reassure her. “I have to.”

She nodded. “I know. It just means you’ll be away a lot and, well, we just got started on being us.”

“It’s only Los Angeles.”

She sighed. “Maybe I could join you sometimes.”

He shook his head. “It’s corporate trouble. You’d be at a loss to know what was going on.”

“I don’t have to go to court with you. I could go on one of those Hollywood tours, or go shopping.”

He grinned. “Only if you visit some of those swanky lingerie stores.”

She grinned back. “I could do that.” Then she was on his lap again, and they were making out like a couple of teenagers whose parents had left them alone for the day.

“I like this new flirty relationship,” she said when they came up for air.

“I kind of like it myself,” John agreed, and he pulled her head toward him for another kiss.

Beth knocked, instead of her usual habit of just walking in. Katherine jumped to her feet, smoothing her clothes. Beth rolled her eyes. “I knew I’d find you two behaving badly.”

Katherine threw back her head and laughed. “We were just discussing John’s trip.”

“With lip language.” She laughed and pointed at Katherine. “She has to get back to work now.”

Katherine saluted. “I’m ready, Captain.”

John kissed her again and strode to the door. “I have to brief Walker.”

When the door closed, Katherine asked, “Any word from Jack?” Beth shook her head, and Katherine could see the trouble in her strained face. She moved to sit behind her desk, gesturing Beth to take a seat, as well. “Your hearing is in three weeks. We need to move forward as if he isn’t going to be there.”

Beth sat down in the chair opposite Katherine. “I expected him by now.”

“You just might have to accept the fact that he won’t show.”

She looked at her friend, who was on the verge of tears. She had always known Beth to be a strong-headed woman. She wondered what it was about Jack Cole that would make her throw everything she had worked for aside for him. She opened her mouth to speak, closed it again and turned away from Beth.

“What?” Beth said.

Katherine shook her head. “Never mind.”

Beth’s expression turned stony. “Just say it.”

Katherine inhaled, letting her breath out slowly. “Have you thought about what’s going to happen to your relationship with your father when he finds out you plan to renew your affair with Jack?”

Beth shrugged. “He never liked Jack,” Beth said as if this weren’t already news to Katherine. “But Jack’s different now.”

“Is he?”

“What’s that supposed to mean!” Beth screeched. Her shoulders tensed.

Katherine shook her head. “It’s just that you worked so hard repairing the damage that was done the first time around. I don’t want to see this come between you and your family.”

“Daddy will come around,” Beth said, and only wished she felt as convinced as she sounded.

Katherine pulled open her desk drawer and pulled out Beth’s file. She kept it locked in her drawer. She kept her clients’ files in a file cabinet near Beth’s desk, for public access—company policy in case one of the other lawyers needed to review something.

Beth’s was different, however. Katherine didn’t want anyone seeing it. “I’m going to put your father on the stand as a witness to your character.”

“Are you sure that’s wise?”

“Despite your differences in the past, he’s come a long way toward building a bond with you and his grandson. The judge needs to know that. Your father is a strong figure in the community.

“Of course, your successes speak leaps in your favor. You’ve been a good mother, a great employee for the company, haven’t had any trouble with the law since the last time.” She looked at Beth so she would catch her meaning. “You’re still on probation from your last encounter with Jack. Getting caught with so much cocaine in your possession—not to mention just being with Jack—is going to go against you.”

Beth took in a huge breath, letting it back out with an exaggerated blow. “I’ve screwed up.”

“It’s fixable,” Katherine said, and only hoped she could convince the judge of it. She closed the file. “I’ll finish compiling my list of character witnesses, and we’ll be ready to roll.”

“Are you going to have to tell Mr. Walker?”

Katherine’s face softened. She tipped her head slightly and gave Beth a sympathetic frown. “You know I do. He’s probably going to want me to back away from the case.” Beth gasped. “But I won’t.” Beth took another large breath and let it out. Katherine reached across the desk and patted her hand. “It’s going to be fine.”

Beth looked down at her hands. Katherine could tell she wanted to ask her something but was hesitating. “Say what’s on your mind,” Katherine said.

Mustering strength, she looked into Katherine’s face. “In case it doesn’t go well could you do me a favor?”

“Anything, Beth—I thought you would know that.”

“I want you to take care of Timmy.”

“Me? I have no experience taking care of children. What about your parents? Or your brother?”

“Austin!” Beth laughed. “I know he’s a new dad and all, but let’s face it, he’s a far cry from being all there. I want them to be involved in Timmy’s life, but you’re the one I want to look after him.”

“It’s not going to come to that.”

“You don’t know that.”

“I’m going to do…” but she trailed off at the look on Beth’s face. “Of course, I will take care of Timmy for you. But you have to be the one to tell your father.”

“Done.” She held out her hand to Katherine, and she shook it.

“Gentlemen’s deal,” Katherine teased and enjoyed the laugh that came out of Beth. “How about a girls’ night out soon. We’ll do dinner and a movie or something.”

“Margaritas at the Cantina?” Beth asked, grinning. “Sounds like something we both could use. Better make it in the next three weeks.” For some reason, that sounded hysterical to both women, and they laughed uncontrollably.

Katherine put away the file, signaling an end to the conversation. She rose and stood beside Beth’s chair. “I have a meeting.”

Beth nodded, already knowing this, and rose to leave. She said, “May I ask one more thing?” Katherine nodded. “Could you ask for Judge Ryan? He’s got young kids, and he likes me.”

Katherine nudged her playfully. “I’ll see what I can do.”

***

When Beth got home, she felt weary and saddened. The day had been grueling, and her talk with Katherine had worn her down.

She opened the front door and caught sight of her son playing with his cars on the living room rug. Timmy had a boy’s dream of a bedroom, yet for some reason he always wanted to play with his cars in the living room. He turned and saw his mother. Abandoning his toys, he flew to her, jumping up into her arms. “Mommy!” he cried, smothering her with kisses as though she had been gone a year.

“Baby!” she returned. “Mommy missed you so much today.”

Linda, Beth’s housekeeper, occasional cook, and Timmy’s babysitter when Beth couldn’t get off work, to pick him up in time, came in. “Welcome home, Beth.”

“Thanks for picking him up, Linda.”

“Not a problem. We went to the park.”

Timmy thrust a Hot Wheels car at her. “Look, Mommy. Look what the man in the park gave me.”

She took the car from her son, examining it. “What man?”

“Your friend, Mommy.”

She tried to smile but worry pulled down the corners of her mouth. She looked at Linda for clarification. She shook her head. “Some man in the park. He sat next to me on the bench, watching Timmy play. I felt uncomfortable and outright asked him if he was watching Timmy. He shrugged and said he was. Then Timmy came over to ask me something, and the man gave him the Hot Wheels.”

“What did he look like?”

“Kind of tall, brown hair, hazel eyes. He had a mole over his left eye.”

“Jack,” she said.

“Who is Jack?”

“Timmy, go and wash for supper,” Beth said.

“But supper’s not ready,” he protested.

“I’m sorry,” Linda said. “We got home late, and I didn’t take anything out. I’m defrosting chicken now.”

“Don’t worry about dinner,” she said. “We’ll eat out tonight.”

“What about the chicken?” Linda asked, confused.

“It will keep until tomorrow. Go Timmy. Wash up, now.”

Timmy set a scowl to his face and trotted off to the bathroom. He turned in the doorway. “Can I keep the car?”

“Yes. Now go.”

Linda asked again, “Who is the man?”

“Timmy’s father,” Beth said.

“What does he want? Do I need to worry about him?”

“He won’t hurt Timmy if that’s what you’re asking, but I’d just as soon you keep your distance. He and I have some unsettled business. Until it’s settled, I don’t want him around Timmy.”

“Okay,” Linda said. “Let me put the chicken away and I’ll be ready to go.”

Beth nodded. She picked up the mail from the hallway table and began to thumb through it. There was a belated birthday card from her Aunt Maggie, a Sear’s bill, electric bill, cell phone bill, and an unaddressed envelope stuffed in between the stamped envelopes. She surveyed the envelope. There was nothing written on it except her name. She ripped it open and unfolded the page.

My sweet Lizzie:

I couldn’t help but watch him play today. He’s such a beautiful boy. You are doing a wonderful job with him. His babysitter is nice, too. I hope you let him keep the car, so he will have something to remember me by—even though he doesn’t know who I am. I love you, Lizzie,

Jack

She stared at the note. It sounded like a goodbye. She turned it over, hoping for more—some minor clue as to what his next plan was.

“Ready?” Linda asked.

Beth looked at her.

“What’s wrong?”

Beth dropped the note on the table. “Nothing, let’s go.” She smiled at Timmy. “Ready, champ?”

“Ready, Mommy.” He took her hand, and they walked out the door, never giving the note another glance.

***

The next few weeks went by and still not a word from Jack. Beth worried endlessly and with each passing day, Beth’s outlook looked dimmer. On the morning of her hearing, she dressed smartly, serenely, and entered the kitchen to fix breakfast for Timmy. Linda was going to meet her at the courthouse and keep Timmy in the playroom—just in case things did not go well. Then she could say a final goodbye and finalize the guardianship papers Katherine had given her to complete. Katherine had told her it wasn’t necessary, but she wasn’t taking any chances.

Timmy ran into the kitchen clutching the Hot Wheels. Please, God. Don’t let him ask to bring the wretched car to the courthouse.

He climbed on the kitchen barstool, struggling to hold on to the car.

“Here, let Mommy help you.” As she did, she maneuvered the car out of his hand and set it on top of the microwave.

“Mommy,” he said, cocking his head in a puzzled expression.

“What, Sweetie?”

“Why did you take my car away?”

“I didn’t,” she said. “I just put it there for safe keeping.”

“Oh,” he said.

His sad expression touched her heart and made her smile. “You can have it back later.”

She set down a plate of scrambled eggs and toast in front of him, and then poured him a glass of juice, trying not to think it might be the last meal she prepared for him for a while. She rested her elbows on the counter and put her face in her hands, staring at him.

He laughed. “Your face looks funny, Mommy.”

She smiled. That was just the way she wanted him to remember her. “I love you,” she said.

“I love you, too, Mommy.”

The doorbell rang, and she stood. “Are you expecting anyone?”

He laughed again. “It’s probably the car man.”

She stopped mid-stride, looked at her son. “Why would you say that, Timmy?”

He shrugged. “Because he said he would see me soon.”

She continued to the door, but it wasn’t Jack. It was Austin come to give them a ride to the courthouse. He followed her back to the kitchen.

“Hey!” Austin said, as he high-fived Timmy. “There’s my little man.”

The boy’s face lit up. “Hi, Uncle Austin!” He pushed his plate away. Beth grabbed it just before it toppled into the sink. “Are you taking us for a ride in the cool car?”

Austin frowned and sighed. “Sorry, little man. The cool car went bye-bye.”

Timmy looked confused, his little lip falling out in a pout. “No more cool car?”

Austin nodded. “That’s right. There wasn’t enough room in the cool car for all of Whitney’s things.”

Timmy crossed his arms over his chest. “That’s another reason boys are cooler than girls. Girls have too many things.”

He sounded so grown up when he said this that Beth wanted to cry. For the briefest moment, she had a flash of what life would be like without him. She wondered how he would handle it if she went to prison today.

“Mommy, can I show Uncle Austin my cool new car?”

Beth sighed. She had hoped to get out the door without it. She reached on top of the microwave and retrieved the car. Timmy snatched the car and beamed with glee at his uncle.

“Isn’t it cool? The park man gave it to me.”

Austin raised his eyebrows in question toward Beth. She shook her head. “It’s okay. My friend Jack gave it to him.” Austin winced. “Long story,” she said. “Let’s get going. The last thing I want today is to be late.”

Timmy thought the new car was okay. “It sure has a lot of doors,” he said and proceeded to play with everything in the car from seatbelts to ashtrays until his mother finally corralled him and buckled him into his car seat.

“Thanks for doing this,” she said as they pulled out of the driveway.

“You know you can count on me, Sis—it’s needless, though. No judge is going to throw you in jail.”

“Mommy’s going to jail!” Timmy exclaimed. Tears entered his eyes, and his lower lip began to tremble.

Beth shook her head. “Nice going, Austin.”

“Sorry. I haven’t mastered that part of parenting yet.”

She turned and patted his leg. “Mommy’s not going to jail,” she said and hated herself for having to lie to him. The truth was, she didn’t know whether she was going to jail or not, but there was no sense in upsetting him needlessly. “Uncle Austin didn’t mean that.”

“What? I said no judge is going to throw you in jail, and I meant that.”

Timmy’s eyes cleared. Beth sighed and turned back around in her seat.

“Let’s not talk about court stuff, please.”

Austin shrugged and then grinned. “Did you see my Facebook page?”

Beth laughed. “I saw it. Believe it or not, Austin—and I agree Whitney is a cutie—not everyone in the world wants to hear about every little coo she makes. And they positively don’t want to be kept abreast of her diaper habits.”

Her laughter died down as she realized she might not get to see her niece grow up. She might not even be able to see Timmy grow up, or watch the two cousins grow into friends. A tear stung her eye, and she wiped it away before Timmy could see it.

Austin didn’t miss it, though, and he picked up her hand and caressed it, brought it to his lips to kiss. “It’ll be okay. It has to be. I need my big sis with me.” He grinned out of the corner of his mouth. “Betty Lee’s a good mom and all but,” he clicked his tongue and shook his head, “that baby has her wrapped around her finger.”

Beth chortled. “Betty Lee?” She punched his shoulder. “Sorry, little brother, but I’ve seen you with that baby. She’s going to have her daddy dancing on his head, just to please her.”

Austin slowed for pedestrians in a crosswalk and took a second to look at his sister. “Exactly what I’m trying to say—without her Aunt Beth to keep her parents grounded, that little girl’s going to get away with murder.”

Beth flinched, having a brief flash of all those years ago when she had been party to murder. Some people still thought she got off too easy. Five years’ probation in exchange for her testimony was a big deal to her, but to the voting public, it didn’t seem like anything. Beth hadn’t seen why she should have gotten anything, but Katherine had explained that being there, at the scene of the crime, put her in a precarious position in the ADAs eye. If he did nothing, the press might bill it as showing favoritism. Beth didn’t need any more scandal coming down on the Reynolds’s name, so she took the deal. At least she hadn’t had to serve any prison time.

Austin slouched. “Sorry, Sis.”

He pulled into the courthouse parking lot and her heart began to race. She took a deep breath and forced a smile. “This is it.”

“Why are we here, Mommy?” Timmy asked, his eyes going wide with fright, as they did whenever he convinced himself there were monsters under his bed.

Austin and Beth locked eyes. “Mommy has to talk to a man. Linda is going to be here, too. She’s going to take you to a cool room, where you can play.”

“Then can we go home?”

Katherine saved her from answering when she knocked on her window, startling her. Katherine indicated she should roll down the window. When she did, she said, “You brought Timmy?”

“I need him close,” Beth whispered.

“You’re putting him in the playroom, right?”

“Linda’s meeting us.”

Katherine moved so Beth could open the door. Timmy’s face lit up when he saw Katherine. He rushed to hug her as soon as Beth freed him from his restraints. “I get to go to Mommy’s work,” he said.

Beth shook her head at his confusion. “I can’t make him understand the difference between the courthouse and the law office.”

He grabbed Katherine’s hand as they walked up the courthouse steps. Linda was already waiting for them when they got to the playroom. “Be a good boy,” Beth warned, “and I’ll see you in a little while.”

Katherine cast a warning glance at her not to promise too much. She had other clients who had promised their children they would return, but they had failed to mention it would be ten years down the road. She knew Beth’s sentence—if any—would be much lighter than that, but even one year could be an eternity to a four-year-old. “We need to go,” she said.

Beth squatted directly in front of Timmy. She scanned his face, looking for any signs of mistrust. She found none. “Mommy will come back real soon,” she said, being careful not to mention a time.

Timmy smiled and nodded with a painful trust. She only hoped she didn’t disappoint him. “I know, Mommy.”

“You stay here and play with Linda.”

“Okay,” he said, and then he was off, exploring all the corners and hidden caverns a curious little boy might find in a room full of toys.

Linda smiled encouragement at her. “He’ll be fine.” Beth nodded and bit back tears.

She walked down the hall, her and Katherine’s heels keeping time with each other. They had walked this hallway a million times together, on their way to a hearing or a trial. She had even rushed down it in a panicked run, to bring Katherine urgent news about a client but never before had the click-clack sound of their heels sounded so ominous.

Katherine stopped in front of courtroom four. “Here we are,” she said, pointing at the door, “Judge Ryan, just as you asked.”

She opened the door. Beth took a deep breath. Her palms sweated so hard they left wet marks on the folder containing the guardianship papers she had filled out, just in case.

They approached the defense table. Beth’s pulse started racing. Wasn’t it just last month she had sat beside Katherine as her paralegal aide? Now it was she as the accused, and she didn’t like the feel of it.

She thought back to all those years ago when she had gotten in trouble with Jack the first time. She swore she would never take this seat again, but—here she was.

She looked over at the prosecution table, saw Blair Bryant sitting in the council’s seat, and froze. She leaned in toward Katherine. “You didn’t tell me Blair Bryant was the A.D.A.”

“There was nothing I could do about it, and you had enough to worry about.”

“When did this happen?”

“Better question,” Katherine said, “is how did it happen?” Blair gave a little wave and a smug smile. Katherine did a slight eye roll and shook her head. “I thought the State had more sense than to hire lousy lawyers like Blair Bryant.”

“No kidding!” Beth exclaimed. “Do they even realize how many criminals will be walking the streets with him trying the case?”

“All rise,” the bailiff said.

“He hates me,” Beth protested. “He’s going to turn my hearing into a circus.”

Katherine arose, and Beth followed only a microsecond behind her. “I’m not going to let him do that.” They faced the bench and watched as Judge Ryan entered from the doorway leading to his chamber.

He walked into the room and waved them all down. “This is an informal hearing today,” he said. He looked pointedly at Blair Bryant. “Let’s all try and remember we’re colleagues,” he said. “Hmm, Mr. Bryant.”

Blair nodded. “Of course, Your Honor.”

Out of habit, he read from the file in front of him, even though he was well acquainted with both the plaintiff and the charge. “Today we’re hearing case 77534, the state versus Elizabeth Marie Reynolds on the charge of drug possession. Ms. Winters, how does your client plead?”

“Not guilty, Your Honor.”

“Very well, Mr. Bryant, please call your first witness.”

“The state calls Officer Brian Valor.”

A police officer dressed in uniform stood and walked to the witness stand. He raised his hand and put the other one on a Bible.

“Do you swear to tell the truth in this hearing today?” a bailiff asked.

“I do,” he said. Then he took a seat and faced the audience.

Blair strode over to the witness stand. “State your name and occupation, please.”

“My name is Brian Valor, and I’m a patrol officer with the San Francisco Police Department.”

“Have you ever seen the defendant before?”

“Yes. On the night of April 17th, I stopped her because she was driving erratically. When I ran the plates, I discovered the vehicle had been reported stolen, but later we found out she couldn’t have stolen it because she had an alibi for the time it was stolen.”

“When did the drug charge come into play?”

“Objection,” Katherine said. “He wasn’t the arresting officer on the drug charge. His statement is hearsay.”

“She’s right, counselor.”

“No problem, Your Honor. I can bring that officer in, too—I just wanted to save the court some time.”

“Don’t worry about the court’s time, Mr. Bryant. I’ll be the court’s timekeeper.”

The audience snickered, and Blair blushed. Beth raised her hand to cover her mouth so the judge wouldn’t see her amusement.

“How was the defendant’s behavior when you pulled her over?”

“She was scared out of her wits,” he said.

“Objection,” Katherine said. “Officer Valor doesn’t know she was ‘scared out of her wits’ because he can’t read her mind.”

The judge did not need to tell Officer Valor to rephrase his answer. He volunteered on his own. “What I meant to say is, she appeared to be scared. She appeared jumpy and on edge.”

“In your experience, Officer Valor, do innocent people appear this way?”

“Maybe a little, but usually they’re pissed off at me.”

“Did she resist arrest?”

“No, she did not.”

“Did she, in your opinion, act like someone who got busted doing something wrong?”

He leaned closer to the microphone. He looked at the judge to make sure he heard him. “She acted guilty to me.”

Blair smiled. “No further questions.”

Katherine stood and approached. “Officer Valor, do you make a lot of traffic stops?”

He chuckled. “Yes, ma’am, I do. This is San Francisco, after all.”

“Are you usually pretty accurate on your stops—I mean judging people’s reactions?”

“Yes. I’m usually fairly accurate.”

“How’s your memory?”

“Terrific.”

“Wonderful. Do you remember the exact words my client said when your dispatcher informed you that the car she was driving had been reported stolen?”

His face fell. “She said, ‘I’m going to get you for this, Jack Cole’.”

“And then what did she do?”

“She put her arms out like this.” He held his wrist together, as if someone were going to slap handcuffs on him.

“So, she was cooperating with you.”

“Well, yes, I guess you could say that.”

“So, you’re willing to admit my client was simply cooperating with you rather than admitting guilt to you.”

“I guess so.”

“Ms. Reynolds is a paralegal. Did you know that?”

“No. Well, yes I know now. I didn’t know at the time, though.”

“So, given Ms. Reynolds’s occupation, it would be safe to assume she knew you wouldn’t be able to straighten out the mess, and was merely cooperating with you when she allowed you to take her down to the police station?”

“Is that a question?” Blair interjected.

“It is,” Katherine said.

“Rephrase, please, Ms. Winters.”

Katherine smiled. “No problem. Officer Valor—would it be a logical assumption that, due to Ms. Reynolds’s occupation, she knew you wouldn’t be able to straighten out the mess, and was merely cooperating with you in taking her down to the police station?”

“I hadn’t thought about that,” he said and lowered his head. “I guess that would make sense.”

“Objection!” Blair shot from his chair. “He doesn’t know what was in her head.”

The judge chuckled. “A little late there, hmm, Mr. Bryant.”

Katherine smiled at Blair. “Would you like me to withdraw the question?”

He looked at the judge, saw he was going to lose. “Forget it,” he said as he flopped into his chair and put his head down.

Katherine continued, “Is it possible her behavior might have been more anger toward Jack Cole, than an admittance of guilt?”

“She did seem pretty angry,” he said.

“Objection,” Blair said.

The judge looked at him. “I’m not going to allow you to object continually to your own witness’s statement. If you didn’t think he was qualified to answer these questions, perhaps you shouldn’t have called him as a witness.”

Blair threw his pencil down, and Katherine was sure she heard him say something about being screwed. The judge heard him also and gave him a warning glance.

“I have no further questions for Officer Valor,” she said.

“Your next witness, Mr. Bryant,” the judge said.

“I call Mr. Randall Huston.”

A man rose from the back and took his place on the witness stand after swearing to tell the truth.

“Your name, please,” Blair said.

“Randall Huston,” he said.

“Are you familiar with the defendant?”

“I’m her probation officer.”

“Why is she on probation?”

Katherine was on her feet in an instant. “Objection. He wasn’t even part of the arrest, and that case has nothing to do with this one. My client never even went to trial on that charge.”

“I’m trying to show character, Your Honor.”

Katherine gaped at him. Beth touched her arm and asked her to take a seat. “Objection withdrawn,” she said.

Blair looked surprised but turned to his witness. “Do you need me to repeat the question?”

“No. Ms. Reynolds is on probation for conspiring to commit murder while engaging with intent to sell illegal substances, but she didn’t do it,” he added. “She was offered probation in exchange for testifying against the real killer.”

“Just answer the question I asked you, please,” Blair said.

Randall Huston heaved a sigh. “Ms. Reynolds is on probation because she trusted someone who betrayed her. She didn’t conspire to commit murder. She tried to save someone’s life.”

Blair narrowed his eyes at him. “And the drug charges?”

“She was never charged with that.”

“But she had them in her possession, right?”

Katherine was about to object when Blair’s witness, said. “You can’t hold that against her. That’s hearsay.”

Blair blushed again, and Katherine smiled. Beth nodded, and Katherine sensed she knew what she was doing. Suddenly, she felt more comforted by the witness.

Blair knew it was time to switch tactics. “How well do you know the defendant?”

“I know her well enough. I’ve been her probation officer for five years.”

“You’re obviously familiar with her legal problems.”

“I should hope so.”

The audience chuckled.

Katherine stared openly at Blair, wondering where he was going with his line of questioning. His witness seemed to be on their side.

“Has Ms. Reynolds kept all her appointments?”

“Unless something came up, and then she rescheduled.”

“What are the terms of her probation?”

He shrugged. “Standard terms. She has to hold down a job, report in regularly, and get permission to leave the state.”

“And has she abided by those terms?”

It was clear the witness was growing tired of the questions. “Are you trying to make a point here?” he asked.

“One last question.” Randall nodded. “Is she allowed to consort with other parolees?”

Beth stiffened beside Katherine. Katherine’s head whipped around, staring straight at Beth. There was no hiding the message between them. They were in trouble. Beth leaned in and whispered, “How could he know?”

“He’s just talking about the night of the arrest.”

Beth breathed a sigh of relief.

Blair walked over to the prosecution’s table, barely hiding a smirk. He took something from a folder and presented it to the judge. “I’d like to enter this photograph into evidence.”

“Objection,” Katherine protested, “I haven’t even seen this before.” She walked quickly to the bench and held out her hand. The judge placed the photo in it. She gazed down at the picture and turned toward Beth, who sat rigidly in her seat, fright in her eyes, her jaw set in the way it usually did when she didn’t want to account for something she’d said or done. Katherine handed the photo back to the judge and returned to her seat.

Beth leaned over. “What is it?”

“Do you know the man in this picture?” Blair asked. He handed the photo to Randall.

Randall heaved a heavy sigh, looked at Beth with empathy. “I believe that’s Jack Cole.”

“What are these two doing in this photo?”

“It appears they are kissing.”

Beth gasped. Everyone’s eyes turned toward her. “No,” she whispered, as tears slipped down her face. “I can explain!” she cried out.

Katherine reached out and touched her hand. “We’ll get our turn,” she said.

“Is this a violation of Ms. Reynolds’s probation?”

Randall looked at Beth and frowned. I’m sorry, his eyes said. He sighed. “Yes, I’m afraid it is.”

Blair smiled. “Thank you. No further questions.”

Katherine rose and stood in front of Randall. “Has Ms. Reynolds held down a job since starting her probation?”

“Yes, but then you know that.”

She smiled. “Yes will be fine.”

He nodded. “Yes.”

“Has she kept all her appointments?”

“Asked and answered,” Blair objected.

“Withdrawn,” Katherine said. She knew the question had been answered, she just wanted to remind the jury of Beth’s loyalty to her probation.

“Do you have any idea where this picture came from?”

“I assume the A.D.A. took it, somehow.”

“So, maybe he was stalking her.”

Blair leaped to his feet. “Objection.” He turned to the judge. “Your Honor, I’ve never “stalked” anyone in my life. I’m offended by the accusation.”

Judge Ryan waved him down. “Calm down, Mr. Bryant.” He turned his face toward Katherine, who gave him an innocent smile. He frowned at her. “Sustained,” he said.

“I’ll rephrase the question. Is it typically the practice of the D.A.’s office to work together with the probation officer if there’s a problem?”

“We pride ourselves on our collaboration with the district attorney.”

“Then why didn’t you know about this photo?”

“You’ll have to ask Mr. Bryant that.”

“Has Ms. Reynolds ever given you a reason to have someone tail her?”

He shook his head. “This is the first time in all the years she’s been on probation she’s had any problems.”

“Looking at the picture, would you think there might be a logical explanation for the kiss?”

“Objection.”

Judge Ryan sighed. “I’d like to hear his answer.”

Blair threw down his pencil and slouched in his seat again.

Judge Ryan looked at Randall. He nodded. Randall said, “There could be any number of reasons they were kissing,” he answered.

“Could it have been a goodbye kiss?”

“Goodbye?”

“I’ll clarify. Could this photo have been a departing kiss, such as parting ways?”

Randall looked more closely at the photo. Suddenly, he could see that she had been crying. “I imagine it could have been. She looks upset.”

“Are you aware that Ms. Reynolds and Jack Cole share a son?”

He nodded. “Yes. She shared that with me. I’ve met him.” He grinned. “He’s a terrific kid.”

“Would the terms of her probation prevent Jack Cole from visiting his son?”

“Objection!” Blair shouted. “There wasn’t an arrangement made for that.”

“How do you know what arrangement was made?” Randall asked.

“Objection,” Blair said again.

Judge Ryan sighed. “Again, Mr. Bryant, this is your witness.”

Blair flopped down in his chair and ran his hand through his hair.

Beth grinned.

“Would you like me to repeat the question?”

“No. I remember it. Ms. Reynolds’s probation would not prevent Mr. Cole from visiting his son.”

“Do you have any good friends or relatives?”

“I do.”

“Have you ever kissed them goodbye after a visit?”

Randall grinned. “I kiss them all goodbye.”

The audience tittered.

She had one more question and knew she was taking a chance with it. “One more question. Would you, as Ms. Reynolds’s probation officer, have taken any action if someone had presented this photo to you?”

“I would have called Ms. Reynolds and asked her to explain it.”

“So, you wouldn’t have contacted the district attorney to issue an arrest warrant?”

“Absolutely, not. This picture doesn’t prove a thing to me.”

“Thank you.” Katherine turned and walked back to the table, catching Beth’s eye and smiling.

“Do you have any more witnesses, Mr. Bryant?”

“No, Your Honor.”

“Ms. Winters.”

“I call Elizabeth Reynolds to the stand.”

Beth arose and Katherine nodded encouragement. They had talked about her taking the stand. Katherine had argued against it, reminding Beth they had no control over what questions he might ask. In the end, Beth had insisted. Katherine admired her bravery.

Beth turned around and found her father and her mother. They smiled in support. Austin pumped his fist and mouthed, “Go and get ’em, Sis.”

Beth walked shakily to the stand, raised her hand, and swore to tell the truth. After Beth had sat down, Katherine handed her a tissue, which she clutched in her hand.

“Ms. Reynolds. Can you please tell us how long you have known Jack Cole?”

“About eight years.”

“What is your current relationship with him?”

“He’s my son’s father.”

“Do you love him?”

The question surprised Beth. She stared at Katherine, wondering what she had planned. “I’m sorry?” she said.

“Do you love him? It’s a simple question.”

Beth hesitated for a moment and sighed. “Since I swore to tell the truth, I’ll have to answer—yes.”

“How much?”

Beth looked at her father and apologized with her eyes. “I’m in love with him.”

“Are you a couple?”

“Do you mean are we together romantically?”

“Yes, that’s exactly, what I mean.”

Suddenly, she understood where she was going. She was going to explain away the picture. “I would like that to be the case, but I told him we couldn’t be together as long as he had legal issues hanging over his head.”

She walked over and picked up the photo. “The kiss in this photo—was it a passionate lover’s kiss?”

Beth shook her head and dabbed at her eye with a tissue. “That was right after I told him we couldn’t be together. We were saying goodbye.”

“Did you invite Mr. Cole to your house?”

“No. It was my birthday, and he stopped by to give me a gift.” She hesitated, remembering back. “He also wanted to see if he could visit our son.”

“And did you give him permission?”

Beth shook her head, and then remembered the stenographer. “No. I made it clear he needed to clear up the charges against him.”

“Where did you get the drugs that were found in your purse?”

“I don’t know.” She lowered her head. “I believe Jack put them there.”

“You believe, but you’re not sure?”

“That’s right.”

“And the stolen car?”

She sighed. “I thought it was Jack’s. I rode there with him.” She snapped up her head, realizing she had just admitted to being with a felon. Quickly she added, “He wanted to talk about visitation with Timmy. That’s the first time I had seen him since he went to prison.”

“Have you, since your probation began, been in the presence of felons?”

“Only professionally.”

“What is your profession?”

“I’m a paralegal. I work for you.”

“When does your probation end?”

“Two months from tomorrow.”

“Thank you, Ms. Reynolds.”

Katherine sat down. Blair rose and approached Beth. “That seemed like a pretty steamy goodbye kiss. Are you sure it wasn’t a post-coital one?”

“Objection,” Katherine said.

The judge chuckled. “Mr. Bryant. I think the witness established the reason for the kiss. Can we move away from that?”

Blair shrugged.

“You claim Mr. Cole put those drugs in your bag.”

“If that’s a question,” Beth said, “then the answer is no. I said I believe he might have put them there. I’m not sure.”

Blair blushed and cleared his throat. “Yet you have no one to back that up.”

She sighed. “Is that another question, Mr. Bryant?”

Everyone snickered, and Katherine grinned, thinking, you should have gone to law school, Beth, as your father wanted.

“Yes, that’s a question.”

“No. There is no one to back me up.”

“Yes, there is.”

Everyone turned to find the source of the voice. Standing just inside the door, looking ragged with exhaustion, was Jack Cole.

Beth let out a cry as she and Jack locked eyes. The tenderness emanating between them was apparent, the love electric. Katherine couldn’t help smiling at this highly unlikely pair of lovers. He began to walk forward, approaching the judge’s bench. “I put the drugs in Beth’s purse. I stole the car that she was driving. It’s my fault. She didn’t know a thing about them.” He turned toward Beth. Tears clouded his vision. “I’m sorry, Lizzie.”

She smiled and bit her lower lip. “I knew you’d come,” she said, choking on her emotions, using every ounce of will to keep from running to him.

He took four steps toward Beth and stopped. “I couldn’t let them take you away from Timmy. I’m truly sorry.”

She nodded rapidly, clutching her handkerchief tightly in her hand.

“Well, isn’t this touchy-feely?”

“I’ve heard enough from you, Mr. Bryant,” Judge Ryan said. “Bailiff, please take Mr. Cole into custody.”

“I’d like to set a bail hearing for my client,” Katherine said.

Jack looked at Katherine, confused. Beth grinned and climbed out of the witness box.

“He’s your client, too?” Judge Ryan asked.

Katherine looked at Cole, checking to see if he would reject her offer of help. He shrugged. “He is, Your Honor.”

“Objection,” Blair said.

“To what?” Judge Ryan asked. “Mr. Cole can hire whomever he pleases.”

“I object to setting a bail hearing.”

“The charges against Mr. Cole haven’t even been filed yet,” Judge Ryan said.

“Then how come she can set a bail hearing?”

Judge Ryan looked Blair squarely in the eye, firmly setting his jaw. He said, “This is my courtroom, Mr. Bryant, and I will decide what is fair.” Then he looked at Katherine. “Is there a particular reason you want to rush this?”

“No, Your Honor. I’m just trying to save some time. I know a little boy who deserves to know his father. The sooner that can happen, the better.”

He nodded. “See the clerk on your way out. I can probably hear the case tomorrow afternoon.” He scribbled something on a notepad and handed it to the bailiff, who stamped it and handed it back. “Give this to the clerk.”

Katherine accepted the note. “Thank you, Sir.”

“What about her?” Blair said, indicating Beth.

Judge Ryan looked at Beth. “Charges against Ms. Reynolds are dismissed.” He stood and exited the courtroom.

Beth approached Jack, wanting so desperately to throw her arms around his neck and kiss him, but knowing what would happen if she did. She smiled. He cocked a crooked grin. “Now can I see my son?”

She laughed. “I’ll see what I can do.”

“Come on,” the bailiff said. Then he led Jack through a door in the rear of the courtroom.

“Thank you, Katherine,” Beth said as they headed toward the clerk’s office.

“No problem,” Katherine said, never breaking stride. “You know I’d do anything for you.”

***

Beth sensed Katherine hesitating. There were three other attorneys in line at the clerk’s office, so Beth placed her hand on Katherine’s arm, gesturing her to hold back. “If you’re not okay with this, say so now. I won’t be angry if you don’t want to represent him.”

Katherine sighed. “It’s not that. I don’t mind representing him.” She hesitated, and then said, “I’m afraid for you.”

“Why me? The judge just dismissed by case.”

“I don’t want to see you get hurt. I care about you too much. And I don’t want to see you pining away for Jack if he goes to prison. You’re too young for that.”

“It’s going to be fine. You’ll get Jack a fair sentence.”

“And if I don’t?”

Beth narrowed her eyes at Katherine. “You’re afraid I’ll hold it against you if Jack goes to prison, aren’t you?”

Katherine sighed again. “The thought entered my mind.”

Beth shook her head. “We’ve been friends a long time. I know you will do your best, and that’s all I ask. If it goes against us, then we’ll deal with it.”

“You guys need help?” The clerk shouted from her window. “I wanna go to lunch.”

Beth looked at Katherine. “Well, are we going to do this?”

Katherine looked at the clerk, then back at Beth. She smiled. “Okay, let’s do it.”

***

Timmy flew into Beth’s arms as they entered the playroom. “Mommy!” he cried.

Beth picked him up and swung him, shouting with glee. “Timmy!”

All of Beth’s family was there, grinning with delight. Chandler Reynolds beamed as he embraced his daughter. He held out his hand to Katherine. “Thank you,” he said. “You did an excellent job in there.”

Coming from Chandler Reynolds the appreciation meant a good deal to Katherine, considering the man was not one to give praise easily. “Thank you, Mr. Reynolds.”

“Now you can put this whole mess behind you and move on,” Chandler said.

Beth and Katherine exchanged glances. Chandler tilted his head. “No, Elizabeth. You are not going to get caught up with this young man again.”

Beth set Timmy down and stood up tall in front of her father. “We need to talk.” She took her parents aside, leading them each by an arm, so they were out of earshot of Timmy. When they were a safe distance, she said, “I know you don’t like Jack—and I get that, I do. Now that I’m a mother, I can see why you had so many reservations about Jack—but that doesn’t change the fact that I love him, or that he’s Timmy’s father.”

“But—”

“But nothing, dear. It’s her life,” Velma said, cutting him off. She turned to Beth, cupped her face with both hands. “I hope you know what you’re doing,” she said. “I know it isn’t always easy loving the wrong person, but you have a good heart and a strong mind. You just make sure you help him and don’t let him drag you down again.”

Tears stung Beth’s eyes. She shook her head. “I won’t, Mother. It’s different this time. I have Timmy now.”

“I know,” she said. “And you have our support.” She turned and narrowed her eyes at her husband. “Doesn’t she dear?”

Chandler rolled his eyes. “I guess I could give him a chance. I have one demand, though.”

“Anything,” Beth said.

“As soon as he gets out of prison he gets a good job and starts doing right by you.”

“Done,” she said and hugged both parents.

They rejoined the group. “Do you think I could see him?” Beth asked.

“I’ll see what I can do,” Katherine said.

She left and returned moments later. “You have five minutes,” she told Beth. “And the guard’s doing me a favor, so mind the time.”

“I will,” Beth said.

***

When she first saw him, he was sitting on a bench on the far side of the cell. He rushed to the bars when he caught sight of her. Their hands touched and tears began to slip down Beth’s cheeks.

“I didn’t think you’d come,” he said.

“It wasn’t easy,” she said. “Katherine set it up. I have five minutes, so let’s not waste time. I just wanted to thank you.”

“You don’t need to thank me. I love you, and I would never have let you go to jail for me.”

“Timmy is going to be very proud of his father.”

His eyes widened. “You mean it? You’re going to tell Timmy about me?”

“I should have told him a long time ago. It was wrong of me to prevent him from knowing his father.”

He shook his head. “No. You did the right thing.”

He shifted his gaze to the guard. The man was growing antsy. Jack knew their time was running short. He leaned close to Beth. “I’m going to beat this, and then I’m going to make a life for the three of us. I promise you that.”

The guard started to walk toward them. Jack grabbed Beth by the back of the head and drew her head toward the bar. Just as the guard was shouting, “Hey, hey, hey!” Jack kissed her. The guard put an arm between them, pushing them apart.

Beth smiled, even as the guard cast an angry glance at her. “I’m going,” she said. As she turned and began to walk away, a sudden desire seized her. She turned back quickly, grabbed Jack by the shirt collar, and kissed him fiercely. “That’s from Lizzie,” she said, breathless, smiling. Then she turned and ran toward the door.

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