In The Victim's Shadow

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Chapter 34

Katherine sighed, groaned, and pushed away her laptop. She rubbed the back of her neck, trying to ease the tension, pacing to ease the soreness from her back. “I’m so sick of watching these videos,” she complained. “I don’t know why your friend keeps asking me to watch them.”

John watched her pace, wanting so badly to take all the pain from her. “Dan said sometimes different things pop out at you if you watch it repeatedly.”

She stopped pacing and indicated the laptop in frustration. “It’s the same shot in every scene—maintenance people coming in and out of my apartment—with logs to match each time they entered.”

They had been carrying on this same scene every day for the past week. He gestured for her to come to him. She did, hoisting herself on the side of his hospital bed. He began rubbing her neck.

“Isn’t Jack’s hearing today?”

She shook her head. “I forgot to tell you the DA offered him a deal. Three years in lockup and drug rehab. If he’s lucky, he could be out in eighteen months.”

“He’s taking it?”

“Yes. I had hoped to keep him out altogether, but that was being optimistic on my part. Beth’s happy.”

He pulled her against him, resting both his hands on the scarce mound of her belly. “How’s the wee one today?”

“Wee,” she said, laughing. She turned and kissed him. “When’s that doctor coming to let you out of here?”

“He should have been here ages ago.”

Katherine’s cell phone rang. She took it out of her purse and looked at caller ID. “It’s Beth.” She pressed the call button. “Hey, Beth.”

John watched her talking, marveling at how she grew more beautiful as her pregnancy progressed. He had heard some women took on a glow when pregnant. He just had never seen it for himself.

She disconnected the call and frowned.

“What’s wrong?”

“Ariel’s father died. The DA’s upping the charge to murder.”

“Oh no,” John groaned. “I’m sorry.” He held open his arms. She went to him and laid her head on his shoulder.

“I have to go.”

He nodded, picked up her hand and kissed it. “Sure. I understand.”

She hesitated, thinking. “Do you want me to have someone else come and get you, or do you want to wait? I shouldn’t be that long.”

He grinned. “At the rate this doctor is going, you’ll be back in plenty of time.”

She kissed him, grabbed her purse, and headed for the door. She turned. “Love ya.”

“Love ya, too.”

She pulled open the door, turned to blow him another kiss, paled as her eyes found the laptop, still playing the video.

“Katherine, what’s wrong?” John asked.

She stared open-mouthed at the man on the video, moving down the hallway toward her apartment. Her expression looked as though she had seen a ghost.

“Talk to me, Katherine,” John urged.

“Is that him?” she whispered. Her eyes sought John’s, and tears spilled down her cheeks. “Is that my mother’s killer?”

John looked at the video. “It could be anybody.”

All she could see was the top of the man’s head and his back, but she continued to stare, disturbed by the familiarity of the man. In an instant, she was back in that store, and her mother was alive, laughing down at her with her beautiful, tinkling voice. Then she was on the ground. Katherine felt the yank on her hair, just as if it were that day. Her hand flew to her hair, and she grabbed it.

“What’s wrong?” John asked.

She turned back around. As her eyes caught the stilled image on the screen, she whispered, “It’s him.” She locked eyes with John, and she edged toward the door.

Her hand was on the knob when John said, “Hey!” She turned back around. “Be careful,” he said, and they both knew what he meant.

She nodded, tried to smile reassuringly but faltered. “I’m always watching.”

She made her way to the DA’s office, where she impatiently waited for Blair to arrive. When he walked through the door, he was grinning.

She shook her head, wondering if there wasn’t some way of getting another ADA assigned to the case. “Looks as if your client is screwed,” he said, practically doing a happy dance. Perhaps if she managed to videotape him celebrating over a young girl’s uncertain future, she just might stand a chance.

She sighed. “How do you sleep at night, Blair?”

He spread his arms as wide as his grin. “Aw, poor Katherine—what’s the matter, client, in over her head and you don’t know how to get her out?”

She scooted to the edge of her seat. “Do you not care at all that a fifteen-year-old girl is about to stand trial for murder? Have you even bothered to read the facts of this case?”

“What facts? She shot him, and now he’s dead.” He leaned forward, nearly close enough to whisper in her ear. “Accept the fact, Katherine. You are not, super lawyer, and you can’t save all the youth of the world.”

She pushed herself as far back into her chair as possible and shrugged. “Saving even one is worth the fight. So what’s your deal?”

He shook his head. “No deal.”

She raised her eyebrows. “No deal?”

“Why would I want to deal? It’s a slam-dunk case.”

She grinned. “Don’t be so sure.”

He narrowed his eyes and then smiled assuredly. “You’re just messing with me. You want me to think there are extenuating circumstances, but we both know this is a case of a teenager that got fed up with Daddy’s rules.”

She shrugged and rose. “Okay, have it your way.” She walked to the door and put her hand on the knob.

“Wait a minute,” he called. She turned. “Do you honestly know something?” She shrugged, opened the door, and walked out. Blair threw his pencil against it. From the other side, Katherine grinned. She may not have any magic tricks up her sleeve that would save Ariel, but just that fact that Blair thought she might have was enough to give her satisfaction.

From there she went to the coroner’s office. She greeted Lucy, the morgue attendant, with a cheery hello. “Is she in?”

Lucy nodded. “She’s doing the autopsy on that guy whose kid shot him.”

Katherine grinned. “Perfect timing.”

Lucy buzzed the door. Katherine pushed it open and walked in.

She walked down the hallway and opened the door to the autopsy room. The smell of formaldehyde hit her like a train, sending her running to the sink, to vomit.

Dr. Amanda Weir, the pathologist and Katherine’s long-time friend, turned to stare. “Since when does formaldehyde bother you?”

Katherine turned on the water, rinsed her mouth, then took a paper towel and wiped at it. “Since about two months ago—when I got pregnant.”

Amanda’s mouth fell open. “No way.”

Katherine nodded. “Yes.”

“And the daddy-to-be would be…”

Katherine puckered her lips and stared at her friend with a naughty girl smile. “John Wheaton.”

Amanda gaped. “You and John? Has it been that long since we hung out?”

Katherine nodded, flashed her ring, and then turned to throw up again.

Amanda laughed. “Wait in my office. I’ll take a break.”

Katherine nodded. She couldn’t run from that room fast enough.

While she waited, she thumbed through some of her books. One particular book caught her eye. She took it down and read the title—Infant Morbidity. Amanda came up behind her and took the book from her hands. “You don’t want to be looking at that right now.”

Katherine sighed. “I always took pregnant women for granted. There are a lot of things to think about when expecting, a lot of things to worry about.”

Amanda shook the book at her. “Yeah, things like what color to paint the nursery, or which stroller to buy, or which preschool he or she might attend. Not things like this.” She shook the book and re-shelved it. “Sit down. I want to talk to you about the man in there.”

“Is it serious?”

“I may be about to hand you your defense.”

Katherine raised her eyebrows and leaned forward in her seat. A sudden wave of adrenaline surged through her. “How so?”

“Did your client give you any reason for shooting her father?”

“She isn’t talking much. She only said he killed her dog.”

“No reason?”

Katherine shook her head. “She seems like such a sweet girl. I’ve talked to the neighbors, her teachers, even the pastor of their church. They all tell me the same thing. She’s a good neighbor—she babysits for half the kids on the block. Her teachers adore her, and her pastor says she is an inspiration. Therefore, it makes me wonder why a perfectly normal teenager would suddenly pick up a gun and shoot her father.”

“Have you asked the mother about her behavior, or better yet, have you asked the mother about her husband’s behavior?”

Katherine cocked her head to one side. “What are you driving at?”

“He has a brain tumor on the right side of his brain.”

Katherine’s mouth gaped. “Nobody said anything about a brain tumor.”

“They might not have known. But, I’m telling you, his behavior would have shown it—if anyone had been paying attention.”

“What kind of behavior?”

“For one, he would have been experiencing some pretty severe headaches. He might have had seizures, paralysis, memory loss…” She paused, “and bad behavior. Your father-of-the-year could have turned into demon-of-the-year.”

Katherine gave it thought. “How long would this have been going on?”

“It’s hard to say. The tumor was good sized, could have been growing for some time. The frontal lobe tumor, such as his was, might have been silent for a while, before finally giving off symptoms. I’d talk to the mother.”

Katherine nodded. “Thanks, Amanda.” She stood. “I’d better run. I’m supposed to be bringing John home from the hospital.”

“Hospital?”

“It’s a long story. Some psycho who seems to have it out for me decided to go after John. He stabbed him a week ago.”

“Oh, Katherine—you be careful.”

“I am.”

She gave Amanda a hug and promised to stay in touch. After reassuring her she’d send her a wedding invitation, she left for the hospital.

John was ready to leave when she got back. She filled him in on Amanda’s findings on the ride home.

“When are you meeting with Ariel’s mother?”

“Tomorrow morning.”

“Do you think you can keep it out of court?”

She shrugged. “I think it depends on what Mrs. Parson has to say. We meet with the judge next week. In light of what the coroner has to say, and if Mrs. Parson confirms my suspicions, I’m hoping the hearing will just be a formality.”

She pulled into the parking garage. Both she and John looked around, nervous agitation making both their hearts beat faster. “This sucks,” Katherine said.

“The constant watching?”

“Yes.”

John nodded.

Peter had ordered extra security around the apartment building, even though Katherine had argued that it was just a waste of money. After storming the apartment Chad had occupied, the police had found it empty, wiped clean of any trace of Chad.

A computer security firm had confirmed that Chad and Spencer Simon had been living in apartment 1073, rent-free for the past six months. They could find no record of a previous address, but had traced Spencer Simon to a job two years ago as a maintenance worker at a Sacramento hospital. Chad Simon had been working on a sand and gravel pit, but they had not seen him since the night of John’s attack.

“I feel like a sitting duck,” Katherine said.

John sighed. “Should we postpone the wedding?”

“No. I will not let him disrupt my life. We go forward with the wedding. I talked to Mary and Daddy, and they both see no reason we can’t pull it off in a month.”

“Tell me again how we managed to get the hotel in one month.”

“They had a cancelation and Mr. Craft slid us in.”

“Don’t they usually have a waiting list?”

Katherine grinned. “Nobody knows who’s on those lists.” John tipped his head, raising his eyebrows. “Aw, come on, John. Don’t look at me like that. I didn’t bump us up the list.” She put her hand on her belly. “Besides, if I don’t have the wedding soon, I won’t fit in the dress.”

“Which you probably already have.”

Her smile faded. “I’m going to wear my mother’s dress. It’s a perfect fit.”

He picked up her hand and kissed it. “That way she’ll be there with us.”

She smiled. “That’s what I was thinking. Daddy took it to the cleaners, and it looks good as new. The seamstress will love remaking it into something that suits me.”

“Won’t that be awkward for your father?”

“I don’t think so.”

She got out of the car, looked around, and came to help John out. He leaned on her as they made their way to the parking elevator. “I should have dropped you in front.”

“I think this is safer.”

She sighed and nodded. Tony opened the door to the lobby for them. The extra security detail stood near the front door. He looked surprised when he saw them. “You should have called to let me know you were coming. I would have picked you up from the hospital.”

“I’m sorry,” Katherine said. “I’m not used to it. I will next time.”

“Mr. Winters said you go nowhere without me.”

Katherine nodded as she pushed the button to the elevator. “Tony, would you mind getting his suitcase and delivering it to the apartment?”

“Not at all,” Tony said and caught the keys she threw to him.

The elevator opened, and they stepped inside. The door closed, and Katherine shivered. “What’s wrong?” John asked.

“I was just thinking about the first time I met Chad. It was in this elevator, and he was complaining about how slow it was.”

“I’ve never thought of it as slow.” John said.

She shrugged. “It could be faster.”

The doors opened, and a cold sense of dread washed over her. She started to step out, but the security guard pushed her back inside. “I go first.”

She nodded and, when he gave the all clear, stepped out and looked around. The security guard opened the front door. “Wait here while I inspect.”

She shook her head and followed him inside. That was carrying things too far.

She was barely inside when Rainbow greeted her with a loud protest. She bent down and picked her up. “I think you’re taking off some of that weight you put on,” she said.

“What did the vet say?”

“He couldn’t find anything wrong with her. He said everything checked out. He blamed it on me—said I was feeding her too much.”

“Were you?”

“No—same as I always do.”

He hobbled over to the couch and sat down. “Are you hungry?” she asked.

“Starving.”

“How about some chicken breast and vegetables?”

“Sounds great.”

She went into the kitchen, and John could hear her rummaging around. “Do you want wine?” she called from the kitchen.

“I can’t,” he called back, “the medication.”

“Oh yeah,” she shouted. “How about some coffee?”

“Make it decaf and have some with me.”

A few minutes later, she was back. He had settled himself against the cushions and had turned on the news. He gestured toward the door. “The security guard said he’d be right outside the door.” She nodded and walked over to the coffee table, intent on setting the tray down, when the bell buzzed. She jumped, causing the contents of the tray to slosh over the sides. Her face wore a strained expression. John said, “It’s probably Tony with my suitcase.” She nodded and crossed to the door, peered through, and saw Tony standing on the other side. He waved to show her all was well. She opened the door.

“Thanks, Tony,” she said, taking the luggage from him. She exchanged nods with the security detail. “Can I get you a chair?” she asked. He hesitated for a moment and then nodded.

“Sure smells good in here,” Tony hinted, following her inside.

She laughed. “Do you want a cup to go?”

“Wouldn’t mind,” he said. “GI Gorilla is watching the lobby.”

She went into the kitchen and got two disposable insulated cups from the pantry. She poured coffee, put the fixings she knew Tony liked into it and handed him the cup.

“Thanks! Do you mind if I ask a question?” She shook her head. “Your father said to pay close attention to comings and goings, but I’m not sure what I’m looking for.”

Katherine poured out the story as briefly as she could, leaving out intimate details. “Whatever you do, don’t let Chad or Spencer Simon into the building.”

“Aren’t they tenants?”

“Squatters,” John piped in, yelling from his spot on the sofa. “Squatters the entire time they lived here.”

Tony’s eyes grew wide. “No kidding. What about that greasy kid that used to hang around with them?”

Katherine had forgotten about Greasy Charlie. “Not him, either.”

Tony turned to leave. “I’ll watch extra close,” he said. He saluted to show his sincerity. Katherine laughed.

He picked up the chair and handed Katherine his cup to hold. He carried it to the door. Katherine followed with the two steaming cups of coffee in her hands. She let him out, handed both men their coffees and bolted the door. She snuggled down beside John, sipped coffee, watched the news, and laid out all the plans for their wedding.

When they had worked for an hour, John’s eyes started drooping. She gathered up all the items and set them aside. “Time for bed,” she said.

John protested like a child. “I’m sick of bed.”

“You need your rest.”

“I’ve been resting.”

“You need your strength for the wedding.”

“But—”

He stopped, knowing he didn’t stand a chance against her stubbornness. “You’ll lie down with me?” he asked.

She grinned, turned out the lights and followed him to the bedroom. “Just try and stop me.”

They lay there for a while, talking about their future, their baby, talking some more about the wedding—choosing for the moment to push aside their fear that they might walk out the door and find Chad waiting for them.

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