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Elements Of Engagement

By Karissa All Rights Reserved ©

Thriller / Romance

Chapter 1

“There are such beings as vampires; some of us

have evidence that they exist. Even had we not the proof of

  our own unhappy experience, the teachings and records

  of the past give proof enough for sane peoples.”

  Bram Stoker


Pacific coast of Mexico, two years earlier:

Air, water, earth and blood. The only sounds were the distant steady rhythm of waves crashing against the rocks below and the pounding of my heart against my chest. I loved this moment alone with the elements, that’s why I chose this time of day for the jump. I breathed in the cool night air with each step up the steep pathway. The stone was worn smooth from years of use and I wondered how many hundreds of barefooted men had made this trek before me? Had they been scared? No women had done it, or so they said. Not in seventy five years. Did that make me the first? It didn’t matter. The memory of each of my victims pushed me forward.

The flash light I’d purchased from La Tienda flickered then faltered. The light went out. Silently cursing the cheap product, I threw it on the ground. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I noticed the sky beginning to lighten. No longer pitch black, it  was now deep dark blue above the palms and tropical trees. The same color as the ocean depths. I stood in the quiet darkness, and closed my eyes. The voice of a single bird announced that it would soon be daylight. I was running out of time. Cautiously, I continued up the winding path to my destination, the cliff’s edge.

Curious about the Quebrada Cliffs, I ate lunch at a restaurant nearby with a good vantage point to scope out the site. Those cliffs were eighty feet at the highest point. There was no public access. It would be too easy for an amateur to kill himself from that height. Gates to the cliffs remained locked and guarded twenty four hours a day to keep crazy people out. Crazy people like me.

So I flirted with a cute local guy, one of the divers. I bought him a drink and he seemed happy to discuss his talent with an American woman. After a couple shots of tequila, he told me about a secret site, still unaffected by modern civilization, where he practiced diving. He didn’t tell me how to get here, but Google Maps did.

In the darkness, I kneeled down feeling, my way to the cliff’s edge. The water below was dark. The familiar rush of adrenaline flooded my bloodstream at that height. Two more steps, my timing was perfect. With every moment the day light grew, increasing my visibility. Many divers had stood here before me, their hearts also pounding in their chests, adrenaline coursing through their veins. I wasn’t scared, and didn’t feel alone here. On the contrary, I felt held by all those before me. It was in this moment that I could let go of my guilt.

I knew the names of the victims by heart. There were three women, only one still living, two men and six children whose lives had been affected by what I’d done. My name was associated with cruelty and injustice for them. So now, I silently asked each of them for forgiveness.

Criminal law is my specialty. Just like diving, it gave me a thrill to think of working with gangsters, killers and the like. Just like diving, standing in the courtroom in front of a jury and a room full of people was a performance. Pleading someone’s case, knowing what was at stake for them, gave me a huge rush. What I hadn’t signed up for was the guilt. That was something I couldn’t have anticipated.

Maxwell Drustan was not guilty… in the eyes of the law. There wasn’t enough evidence to prove he had beaten his wife to death. I made sure there was plenty of reasonable doubt. That was what I had done for him. And what I would have to live with for the rest of my life. Maxwell Drustan was set free. Free to do it all again, if he so chose. I had made that possible for him.

I curled my toes over the edge of the stony cliff and looked down. Dark water splashed more than seventy feet below, waves that promised to wash away my sins. Euphoria, fear and excitement, all mixed together, my personal brand of escapism. The sun had risen above the trees just enough to throw a beam onto the ocean below. It was time.

I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. Arms prepared, I bent my knees in readiness.

“Senorita, no!” Some one was coming.

Propelling myself outward with all my strength, I became airborne, flying toward atonement.   


Chicago suburbs today:

She was beautiful even in death, he thought. The young woman now lay lifeless on the floor of the tiny room. He touched her long, silky black hair and looked at her dark eyes that stared vacantly at the ceiling. Her lacy thong and matching electric blue and pink bra stood out in bright contrast to her light brown skin. Her makeup, meticulously applied dark shadow, liner and long false lashes, was now streaked and smeared from tears, forming a horrific mask around her blank stare. Underneath her, the brand new rug which he’d recently purchased for the tiny room was soiled with the contents of her stomach.

Her name was Katori Ito and she’d asked him to call her Kat. The man kneeled down next to the collateral damage. She was a means to an end, part of a plan. Kat was the personal assistant to a CEO, and good at her job. She’d made herself indispensable in the hopes of a long prosperous career. They returned to Chicago yesterday evening on a flight from the West Coast. But the evening’s events had taken a turn for the worse. It must have seemed to her like a good idea - a casual dinner after the flight, and then returning to his condo for a drink. Twenty four hours later, she was dead.

He wrapped her small body in the rug and carried the bundle up the tight basement stairway to the garage door. Outside, the summer night air was thick with humidity, stifling the slightest emotion.


“Three cheers to Wilhelmina!” Jim Milton, senior partner of the law firm Milton, Wallace and Edwards patted me on the back as whooping and applause erupted in the bar. Twenty or so colleagues raised their glasses to me.

“Thanks again.” That was enough praise for one night, or even for a lifetime. For me it was a bittersweet accomplishment.

“Tell us how you knew he wasn’t guilty of killing her?” Christina, my paralegal asked.

That was the loaded question. And one which I couldn’t answer. Due to lawyer/client confidentiality I would have to take the knowledge of his guilt with me to my grave. I looked down into my lap and pretended I didn’t hear her. Images entered my mind of his children’s eyes, swollen and red from defeat, containing incredible sadness that the system had failed them. I wondered if I would ever be able to sleep soundly again.

“Phil Peterson had a rock solid alibi, didn’t he?” Troy Milton, son of the senior partner, patted me on the shoulder.

I nodded in confirmation. “Yes he did.”

“Congratulations Wil.” He raised a glass to me. When I didn’t lift mine, he downed the last of his drink.

Christina seemed to be picking up on my discomfort. “You don’t think he really was a wife killer, do you?”

Speaking loudly over the noise in the bar, I replied with words memorized for the courtroom, “No, none of the evidence added up. If Gail had been beaten by Phil, she would have had hospital records to show it.”

That was true enough, though the autopsy showed a badly healed broken finger and numerous scars, evidence that made me think he’d kept her from getting the treatment she needed. “The records of Phil’s injuries indicated that she was beating him.” Or fighting back, I thought. As if there was a way to console my own horror over the verdict.

  “He had a broken collar bone. He was treated for a burn on his hand once and he had a crushed right foot because she smashed it with her high heel. He was barefoot at the time, so you can imagine…He wore a boot on that foot for almost…” I stopped defending him mid-sentence not wanting anyone to pity him anymore. Thankfully, I didn’t have to defend that awful man ever again.

“How did you find out about his ex wife’s boyfriend? You pulled that trick out of your pocket, like magic. You are really a genius in the courtroom, Wil.” Troy had no idea.

“The boyfriend was an obvious redirect. She flaunted him in Phil’s face to make him jealous. One of her sisters talked about him one day.” I’d overheard her saying that her sister was always drawn to the same kind of abusive man. “When I saw Martin sitting in the courtroom I got the creepiest feeling about him. So I had our detective, Gary Underwood, check him out. It was a fluke really, but it turned out he’d been brought in on several domestic violations down in Louisiana. None of the women he’d been with pressed charges because they were scared to death of him.”

“Wow.” Christina looked at me with thinly concealed dislike. Perhaps she sensed that Peterson was guilty. “And how long was the jury out? Like five minutes?”

“Well, no. More like forty five.”

“Oh, almost an hour!” Troy exclaimed, sarcastically.

I shrugged.

“So how many wins is this for you?” Competitive, Troy kept score.

“Uh, twelve I think.” Though, I couldn’t really call this one a win. The highly sensationalized trial had entertained millions. For me it was another job. And now that it was over, I had to find a way to I live with myself. Affecting those children’s lives would be etched on my soul forever.

“Twelve? No shit? Twelve in a row? You’re not even thirty yet. No wonder CNBC wanted an interview with you.”

I sat back and sipped my wine, and quietly thought I should call my dad. He’d always been there, pushing my brothers and me to be our best. Growing up in Normal Illinois was anything but. When my mother died, I was smothered, pushed, protected, and admonished by my dad and two older brothers. Dad, a police officer, became a fierce advocate for the three of us and I, the youngest, struggled to keep up.

He’d want to hear the news. It was because Dad stood behind me all the way from my diving scholarship to Northwestern University to graduating from the University of Chicago, Law School. Dad was ecstatic when Milton, Wallace and Edwards, one of Chicago’s top firms, hired me right after I passed the bar.

Exhausted, emotionally and physically from the three-month trial, I let my mind continued to wander. Where would I go for my next diving adventure? I’d seen pictures of the cliffs in Kimberly West Australia. It was a beautiful remote site and I couldn’t wait to plan the trip. There was a freedom in falling through the air like that, a freedom that couldn’t be found anywhere else. For that one moment, I felt a rush of fear and hope so immense that it swallowed up every other part of me. And then came the

punishing blow.  I’d hit the water with such force that if the angle of entry was off by a millimeter, or one limb was out of place, the impact could break me. It never did.

The tricky part was getting to the dive sight at a time of day when no one else would be there. Some time between late night and early dawn, as the sun was rising. I imagined my toes hanging over the edge of the cliff, and staring down into that beautiful light blue water below.

My cell rang, shaking me out of my reverie. I took the call outside with the excuse that it was too loud in the bar to hear anything. The truth was I wanted to get away from those people. The June night was warm and it had just started to rain. There was a huge crack of thunder as I answered.

“Hello, this is Wil,” I shouted above the loud downpour.

“Hello, Wilhelmina Green?”

“Yes. Who's calling?”

“Good evening, this is Jonathon Thomas Huen.”

I stepped back against the wall of the building to get out of the rain. “Sorry, what’s that?”

“I am looking for a criminal defense lawyer and I want you to represent me, Ms. Green. I’ve been watching the news tonight, and you have all of the qualifications I'm looking for. Could I have my secretary get in touch with you and set up a meeting to discuss this?”

“Yes, please have her call me at the office in the morning.” I had to shout above the noise of the rain beating on the pavement. “This is my cell phone, my personal number.  How did you…?”

“Thank you Ms. Green, she will be in touch.” He hung up.

I stared at my phone in disbelief. What the hell was that all about? And now I was soaking wet.

Back inside, Troy sauntered up and put his arm around me, “Raining out?”

“Leave it to you to detect the obvious, Troy.” I patted the water off my phone.

“Let me get you another drink.”

“No thanks, I’m going home.”

“What happened?”

“Nothing. Some jerk couldn't wait till the morning to call for an appointment.” I replied, "I don’t know how he got my unlisted number, Mr. Man-with-Three-Names called to tell me his secretary will call in the morning. Idiot.” I ran my fingers through my wet hair and peeled my shirt away from my body in the hope that it would air dry. My black bra showed through the white shirt, and my nipples stood up, hard from the cool water.

“Hey, that’s great. Just get done winning one case and potentials are calling you already?” He was staring at my breasts.

I was surprised he didn’t drool on himself. Troy was not the king of tact. “It’s been all over the news tonight Troy,” I turned my back on him.

  “Did you get his name?”

“After two glasses of wine? I couldn’t hear him over the rain anyway. It was Jonathon Taylor Thomas or something like that.” I tried unsuccessfully to dry my shirt with a napkin and decided to use it on my face instead.

  “Wouldn’t that be great if it was someone really famous this time?” He sounded like a kid expecting Santa Claus. “What if it was some big CEO like James Stanton Mason or Jonathon Thomas Huen? That would get your name in lights, Wil.”

  “Wait, what did you say?”

“James Stanton Mason?”

“No the other one. Jonathon Thomas Huen. I think that’s it! He’s local right?”   Troy’s eyes got bigger, if that was possible. “He’s one of the wealthiest CEOs in Chicago Wil. Why would he need a criminal defense lawyer?”

  “Troy, I have no idea, but I’m going to go do my homework before his secretary calls in the morning.”

  “Oh, come on, you look great in your wet blouse! Besides, you're always all business. Celebrate your win with me for once!”

  “No thanks.” I picked up my purse and dropped my phone inside. “Besides, two glasses of wine is celebrating for me. See you bright and early!”


I returned to my apartment, a deluxe one bedroom loft, stepped into the foyer with vaulted ceilings, and dropped my purse on a stack of boxes near the door. Finally able to afford a secure apartment in a decent part of the city, I'd moved in just before the trial

started four months ago and hadn’t had time to unpack anything inessential. I didn’t want to look at the mess I called home tonight. Leaving the lights off, I went to the bedroom where I peeled off the wet shirt and kicked off my shoes. I threw on a tank top and loose pair of shorts before opening the bedroom window and breathing in the wet smell of the rain.

After washing my face, I pulled out my laptop and curled up in bed. Google had no problem finding Jonathon Thomas Huen, co-founder and CEO of Prevail Pharmaceutical Software. I scrolled through the first dozen images that came up and my heart beat faster. Mr. Huen was a very handsome man. One photo, taken during a charity tennis tournament, showed off his tall, muscular physique as he exploded into the air for an overhead shot. In the next picture he was smiling at the camera, all perfect white teeth, curly black hair and intense blue eyes.

As I stared at the screen, my thighs grew warm and my vulva throbbed. This man was way beyond good looking, he was fucking hot. Eyes closed, I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Been way too long since you had a man, Wil,” I said to myself, then clicked to Wikipedia.

J.T. Huen graduated from the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 1999 with a degree in Bio chemistry. In 2002 he received his Masters, followed up one year later by a MBA in Operations and Technology Management. It was during this time that he came up with the idea of combining a cutting-edge software platform with a state-of-the-art pharmaceutical distribution system. Working with his partners Jack Barnes and Darren

Ward, he launched Prevail Pharmaceutical Software, PPS eight months after graduating.

The company grew quickly, going public in 2007 with a wildly successful IPO. In 2008 Prevail moved its corporate headquarters, as well as the sales and marketing divisions, to Chicago.

Going back through the search results, I tried to figure out why he’d be calling me. The Chicago Tribune had a small article from two days ago about a 27 year old woman named Katori Ito who had worked for Prevail. She was found in a dumpster near Hyde Park behind the University of Chicago, her body rolled up in a designer rug. The police weren't releasing any further details and the cause of death was unknown at this time.

Could the police really think that J. T. Huen, CEO of a very successful company, killed an employee and threw her body in a dumpster? That would be an interesting case to defend, I thought. He hadn’t been arrested yet, that I knew. If he was guilty, at least he didn’t have any children. If he was a psycho, I would have to work harder for lucky number thirteen. I decided I’d take the case.        

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