In The Victim's Shadow

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Chapter 26

Beth threw down the newspaper on Katherine’s desk. “They’re calling you a crusader.”

Katherine picked up the paper and stared open-mouthed. “Oh, no! What have I done?”

Percy Walker stepped into the room, looking sternly at Katherine. “My office, Winters, now.” He turned and walked briskly away.

“Yikes,” Beth said.

“He didn’t look that angry.”

“Neither did he look happy.”

Beth bit her lower lip.

Katherine said, “I hope your new boss is as nice as I am.”

Beth laughed. “He wouldn’t fire you, would he?”

Katherine took a deep breath and let it out. “I guess we’ll see in a minute.”

As she walked down the hallway, she heard various renditions of the doom song. “Very funny, guys,” she said but smiled good-humoredly.

She rapped on the door and waited for an invitation.

When she opened the door, he was sitting behind his desk reading the article Beth had shown her only moments before.

He gestured for her to sit down without raising his head from the article. Katherine sat while he finished reading. Finally, he sat back in his chair, the old, expensive leather squeaking with his movement. He eyed Katherine without a word. Perspiration rose to the surface of her face. She resisted the temptation to wipe it, but nonchalantly wiped her sweaty palms on her suit skirt. He pursed his lips and shook his head. Using his finger as if he were writing on the paper, he circled a paragraph. “Crusader—lawyer with a heart—Saint Katherine—knight in shining armor—Joan of Arc—or, and here’s my favorite: warm fuzzy bear.” He set the newspaper on his desk and jabbed at it. “What were you thinking?”

She grimaced. “I guess I wasn’t. I just reacted.”

He nodded, stared intently at her. “I saved the best for last.” He picked up his pen and circled the final phrase. He handed it to Katherine. She picked up the paper and read what he circled. Katherine Winters is a breath of fresh air in a stale, uncaring society.

He continued to stare at her, making her squirm in her seat. “You’ve left me in a bit of a pickle, Katherine.”

“I know, Sir. I’m sorry. Am I fired?”

He laughed. “I dare say not. Even if I wanted to fire you, I couldn’t.” He picked up the article and waved it at her. “Do you realize the hanging this firm would take if we fired Saint Katherine?”

A small grin escaped, but she quickly thinned her lips to put it away. “I can only imagine,” she said.

“The problem is—the phone calls. Allison had to call in temps to help her keep up with them.”

“I’m sorry, Sir. I didn’t mean for this to happen.”

“But it did. Now we have to fix it. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you want to look at it, we aren’t the public defender’s office and can’t take every case that walks through our doors.”

“What do you plan to do about it?”

“I don’t. We want you to come up with a plan.”

“Me! I haven’t a clue how to solve this, and who’s ‘we’?”

“The board, of course. You don’t think I run this place myself do you?”

“Well, I supposed not, but it’s not something you talk a lot about.”

He considered this for a moment. “Yes, perhaps we should have more open communication around here—maybe staff meetings.”

Oh great, now he wants staff meetings, and that’s going to be my fault, too.

“So what do you say?”

“About the staff meetings?”

He shook his head. “What do you think about the plan? We, the board and I, were thinking you would be the one to come up with the plan. After all, you did come up with that brilliant plan to help that little girl.”

“Angie?”

“Yes, that one.” He waved her toward the door. “See what you can do. You have a week.”

She was talking about it to John that night while she made a salad. He was grilling chicken on an indoor tabletop grill. “I’m not good at these things,” she protested.

John cocked his head toward her. “Katherine—that was a great plan you put together for Angie. Obviously, the judge thought so, too.”

“But that was different.”

“How so?”

She shrugged, tore some lettuce and thought. “I could take it all back, say it was a mistake.”

“That would only make you and the firm look like fools.”

She chewed on her lip and thought. “Yes, I suppose it would.”

John turned the chicken and then regarded her. “Do you think you can help these kids?”

She sliced a tomato and began cutting it into bite-sized pieces. “I’d like to try.” She sighed, set down the knife, and turned to look at him. “I know I can’t save the world, but when I was in that courtroom yesterday, something reached out to me. I am not trying to knock the public defender’s office, but you should have seen Albert in there. He was late and didn’t even know Ariel had already had her bail hearing.” She shook her head and pleaded with John as if he held all the answers. “I felt so sorry for that poor girl. I just wanted to help her.” She picked up the knife again and started slicing.

“Then there was Clyde—no parents, obviously unsupportive foster parents and the PD’s office didn’t even bother to show up.” She waved the knife in the air. “Okay, maybe they overlooked it,” she added after the stern look John gave her. “My point is, otherwise good kids are spending time in juvenile facilities, and sometimes even jail because the PD’s office is too busy.”

“This brings you to your plan.”

“Yeah, only I don’t know what that’s going to be yet.”

“How long did he give you?”

“A week.”

He whistled. “Any ideas?”

She carried the salad to the table as John speared the chicken breasts onto two plates and carried them to the table. John retrieved the wine from the refrigerator and set two glasses down on the table. They both took their seats.

“I have no idea what to do.” She took a bite of her chicken and grimaced. “Does this chicken taste odd to you?”

John cut a piece and stabbed it with his fork, He gently placed it into his mouth. He shook his head. “It’s delicious.”

She shook her head. “It tastes different to me. Did you use a different marinade?”

“No. The same as I always use.”

He shrugged and took a bite of her salad, making a sour face as her mouth closed around her fork.

“What’s the matter?”

She shook her head. “Nothing, I guess. I think the salad dressing might be off.”

“I just made it fresh. What’s wrong with you, Katherine?”

“Maybe I’m coming down with something.”

“Do you want to skip the movies?”

“No. I feel fine. I might be sick tomorrow, but I don’t want to miss out on the fun tonight.” She pushed away her plate. “Sorry, John. I just don’t feel like eating.”

She watched him eat, pondering her question again. After a few moments, she asked, “Do you think I was wrong?”

He slowed his chewing, swallowed, and regarded her. He chose his words wisely, fearful of the boomerang question. “I don’t think you were wrong. I think you acted impulsively—which I might add is not like you. It’s as if you thought with your heart—not with your mind.”

She nodded. “I don’t know what came over me. I do think these kids are on the losing end of a partially-functioning system. I know there has to be more we can offer them. I thought I might give Lynette Jenkins a call, pick her brain a bit.”

“Didn’t she take a position at the university?” John asked

“Five years now.”

He took his final bite and began clearing the table. She rose to help him. Rainbow began winding herself around his legs. He looked down at her. “Your cat’s getting fat.”

She bent down and picked her up. “I noticed. I cut back her food, but she still seems to be packing on the pounds.” The cat stretched her body toward the plates John was holding. Katherine pulled her back. “Oh, no, little lady. Scraps are off limits for you.”

The cat meowed in protest and leaped from Katherine’s arms, casting an accusatory glance back over her shoulder before trotting off to find some other way to get into trouble.

John laughed. “I don’t think she’s going to speak to you for a while.”

Katherine laughed, too. “She’ll get over it as soon as her belly starts screeching for food. Come on, let’s finish quickly and get going.”

***

They were sitting in the theater, and they were just starting to roll the previews when Katherine got a sudden urge for popcorn. “I’ll be right back,” she said, rising.

“Where are you going?”

“To get popcorn.”

“You don’t eat popcorn.”

“I feel like having some tonight.”

He gave her a surprised look and shrugged. “Bring me some red licorice, please.”

“Okay.”

She made her way to the top of the theater and pushed open the door, ramming it right into someone.

“Ouch!”

“I’m sorry,” Katherine said.

“Don’t you ever watch where you’re going, or do you always barrel your way around.”

“I said, I’m sorry,” she said, and then cocked her head. It was dark, but she knew that voice. “Chad?”

“Yeah, it’s me,” he said.

“What are you doing here?”

“Trying to watch a movie,” he said. “At least I was until someone hit me with a door.”

She frowned. “Did I hit you that hard? And do you expect me to believe we just happen to be going to the same movie—a chick flick at that?”

“Shh,” someone beside her said.

“What’s going on?” a perky voice said from behind him.

Katherine moved through the doorway so she could get a better look. “April? What are you doing here?”

April blushed. “Chad’s taking me to the movie.”

“After what he did to you?”

“He apologized,” April said, defensively. She brightened. “He said I could pick any movie I wanted—even this one.”

“So, if you’ll excuse us,” he said and pulled open the door.

“Goodbye,” April said.

Katherine stared at them. Was it honestly a coincidence—or was Chad following her?

The movie had already started when she got back.

“You’re missing the good stuff,” John said, taking a handful of popcorn.

“Chad’s here,” Katherine said.

“What!” he exclaimed.

“Yeah, that’s how I felt. Guess who he’s with?”

“Shh,” the people behind them said.

Katherine turned around. “Sorry,” she said.

“Who?” John asked, ignoring the irritated couple.

“April,” Katherine whispered in his ear.

“You’re kidding,” he said. “Do you want to go?”

“I want you to go,” the man behind them said.

Katherine turned around again. “I’m sorry. We’ll be quiet.”

She turned back around. John put his arm around her, pulling her tightly against him, settling in to watch the movie.

From his seat five rows back, Chad could see their shadowed outlines. He saw John pull her against him and stiffened.

“What’s the matter?” April asked.

She followed his gaze. “Are you still sore from the door thing?”

“No,” he said.

“Do you have a thing for Katherine?” she asked, dreading the answer.

He laughed. “Far from it.”

“Then why don’t you just ignore her.”

“Because she’s an ice queen and I don’t like it. She thinks she can have anything she wants with no regard for other people’s feelings.”

April looked puzzled. She hadn’t seen anything like that in Katherine. In fact, she had been very nice to her. “Do you want to leave?”

“No, I don’t want to leave,” Chad snapped. “We came to watch the damned movie, now let’s watch it.”

He settled back in his seat. He was seething with anger but didn’t object when April settled back against him. Eventually, his anger abated, and he put an arm around her shoulder, but he couldn’t watch the movie—all he could concentrate on was Katherine, and how much more she had than he had.

Later, after he dropped off April, he went into the study and logged on to the computer. He pulled out the notes the little creep had given him and searched until he found the username and password for her email. He didn’t care about the silly emails she sent, he only wanted access to her calendar. That was how he found out about the movies. He wanted to know what was coming up on the weekend. Most of the stuff was boring. There was some ballet class listed on Saturday, lunch with her father, a fundraiser for the library on Saturday night.

Seeing the word library conjured a memory of him as a boy, when he still tried to please his father. He would ride his bicycle to the library, check out the hardest books he could find, and study them until he knew them by heart—but it hadn’t mattered, his father never noticed. He would just look at that picture and weep.

Once, he even said, “I wonder if her mother took her to the library.”

He hadn’t even cared that Chad taught himself to read three grades above his expected reading level.

He wrote down the details of the library function and walked to the living room. It was dark except Greasy Charlie’s laptop glowing with pictures of tangled limbs all decorated in stockings and heels, but nothing more. Charlie was there most of the time now. In fact, Chad wondered if he ever went to class anymore.

He passed him, went to the kitchen and grabbed two beers. He handed one to Charlie and pulled a chair next to him. “I have a favor to ask of you, buddy.”

Charlie did not look over at him. “Sure, man. What is it?”

He pushed the piece of paper in front of him. “I need to know about this.”

Charlie took his eyes away long enough to scan the information. “Looks like some ole’ dull party to me.”

“I need to know where and when.”

“Not till my twenty bucks is up. I paid for an hour, and I’m using it.”

“How much longer?”

“About forty minutes.”

Chad took out his wallet and gave Charlie a twenty dollar bill. Charlie sighed and turned off the website he was ogling. A message asking if he was sure he wanted to leave popped up. Chad could see him hesitate before clicking yes. “I was getting into that,” he complained.

Chad had always been good at computers, had always had the proper training in school, could do minor hack jobs—such as getting himself an apartment in this building and his father on the payroll—but he didn’t have a knack for the really big stuff—like hacking public protected computers.

To Chad’s amazement, Charlie had the information from the library’s computer within three minutes. “It’s a black-tie affair to raise funds for the library, invitation only.”

“Damn!” Chad uttered.

“You want an invitation?”

“You can do that?”

He rolled his eyes and stroked the keys. A few seconds later, Chad and Charlie were staring at the email account for Cynthia Thomas, head librarian and coordinator of the event. Chad watched as Charlie sent instructions to mail Chad an invitation. “Done.”

Chad grinned. “I’m glad I got to know you.”

He walked to the closet in the hall and took out a towel. He walked back to Charlie. “If you’re going to stay here, you need to shower.” Then he walked to his room, whistling.

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