It felt as if her head was going to spin clean off of her neck, as everyone’s words taunted her. Audrey saying Frank had set her up. Frank claiming that Rocco was a killer, working for the Coronado family. Rocco sharing his theories on serial killers and how he believed he was being framed for the murders. Landon threatening her children and Frank’s job. The longer she re-hashed their words, the more confused she became, not certain who could be trusted. All of a sudden one person came to mind. Officer Downing. Kira dialed the precinct and asked to speak with Officer Downing. When he answered she explained who she was and asked to meet with him privately. When she refused to come to the station to talk, he agreed to meet in the back of the Walgreens parking lot on Kirkwood Avenue, just a few miles from the precinct.
Kira called a cab, and then opened a can of cat food for Freddie, poured some water into a dish and set the food and water on the floor. She then slipped into a pair of blue jeans Rocco had bought her and a black V-neck sweater, carefully tucking the 9mm into the front waistband. As she grabbed the Taser from the kitchen table, she noticed there was writing on the handle. It was in tiny white lettering and it read: Property of the Federal Bureau of Investigations. Kira gasped. Did this mean that the Cher-look-alike was an undercover FBI agent?
When the cab pulled behind Walgreens, Officer Downing was already there waiting, leaning against the driver’s door of his squad car with his arms crossed over his chest. Kira told the Cab driver to wait, got out of the cab and approached Officer Downing.
“Mrs. Sullivan,” Officer Downing greeted her.
“I hate to ask this, but I don’t have any money to pay the cab driver. My purse was, well, stolen and…”
He held his hand up, cutting her sentence short, then reached for his wallet and walked toward the cab. Kira turned to thank him when she heard the whirring sound of the first bullet as it soared across the lot and hit Officer Downing between the eyes. His body flipped backwards and hit the pavement with a thud. Kira screamed and instinctively ducked down. The Cab driver floored the gas and Kira heard two more shots before watching the cab slam headfirst into the side of the brick Walgreens building. Staying low, she scrambled toward Officer Downing’s squad car and climbed in. Her hands were trembling as she reached for the keys, turned on the ignition and sped out of the lot and into traffic. She kept her head low and floored the gas, weaving dangerously around cars, unsure of where to go next. Her mind raced almost as fast as her pulse as she tried to think clearly. Who could she trust? There had to be someone. Anyone. She checked the rearview mirror but didn’t see anyone tailing her. As faces flooded her mind she couldn’t escape the reality that anyone she contacted would be put in danger. Officer Downing was dead because she called him. The cab driver was dead because he happened to be the one who drove her. She couldn’t risk calling anyone else. There had to be a way to end this nightmare, but how? Think, Kira! Think!
Making her way to the highway, Kira headed toward the city. She thought to call Rocco, but Frank’s words rang in her ears. Was it possible that Rocco was really on the Coronado family payroll? Her head was spinning. Digging the temporary cell phone from her pocket, she had to make a decision. Frank? Rocco? The Police? Who could she trust? All of a sudden his face popped into her mind. Leon Bates, Audrey’s ex-husband. He knew about the Coronado case, even though he was never actively involved in Tony Coronado’s defense. He knew about Rocco’s testimony destroying Frank’s case and probably knew about Adrianne’s relationship with Rocco. He also had the Parker, Sullivan & Bates resources that could most likely help Kira, or at the very least, afford to hide her. She didn’t know if Leon had any knowledge of The Candy Shop and Landon’s business relationship with Lucas, but since Landon had never mentioned Leon’s name she had a feeling he either didn’t know or didn’t care. At any rate, she had to believe that Leon would help her. After all, they had been friends before he and Audrey divorced and he, of all people, would understand the feeling of being betrayed.
While she drove, she pulled the 9mm from her waistband and laid it on the passenger seat and then checked her mirrors again. There was still no sign of a tail, which began to feel oddly suspicious. Why had the shooter not followed her? Why had they not taken a shot at her? Kira fought her gag reflex as the image of Officer Downing being shot filled her mind. Had the shooter followed her to the meeting location or had they followed Officer Downing?
Realizing she didn’t know Leon’s number by heart, Kira tossed the cell phone onto the seat next to the gun. She could drive to the offices of Parker, Sullivan & Bates, but she deemed it was probably safer to go to his house and wait for him there.
Kira found Officer Downing’s sunglasses in the glove compartment and put them on. Uncertain of Leon’s involvement, if any, she pulled cautiously onto his street, keeping her eyes peeled for any sign of Landon, Lucas, Ian or even Frank for that matter. Large elm trees lined the street on both sides and the red brick terrace houses, which left room for only a narrow alley between them, sat close to the sidewalk leaving little room for grass. Leon didn’t have the time or the inclination toward yard work which Kira surmised was the reason he choose to move to this particular neighborhood; that, and the fact that it was a quick jaunt down the highway to the office each morning. From what she knew of Leon, he wasn’t a patient man so a long commute in morning traffic would have been something he considered intolerable.
Kira purposefully passed Leon’s house, pulled down the next street, made a U-turn and then parked the squad car where she could see the back of Leon’s home. She thought it might be safer to knock on the back door instead of approaching the house from the busy street in front. The fewer people that saw her, the better.
Shoving the gun back into her jeans and the cell phone into her pocket, Kira gripped the Taser as she got out of the squad car and crept toward the back of the house. Leon’s yard was small and surrounded by a chain linked fence. Once inside the gate, she raced up the three concrete steps that led to the back door and peered inside through the glass window in the door. The kitchen was empty but there was a newspaper opened atop the table and a clear glass mug sitting next to it. She could see that the mug was almost completely full with what looked like coffee. Maybe he hasn’t left for the office yet? Kira wondered, ascertaining that people don’t usually fill their coffee and then leave. She tapped lightly on the glass and then a little harder.
“Can I help you?”
His voice came from behind her, causing Kira to squeal and stumble off of the top step. She landed at his feet and sent the Taser hurling into the yard. Leon grinned, both dimpled cheeks proof of his amusement by Kira’s reaction. “A little jumpy, are we?” He mused, extending his hands and pulling her to her feet. Retrieving the Taser, he gave Kira a one-raised-eyebrow stare. “I hope you weren’t planning on using this thing on me,” he quipped.
“No,” Kira answered breathlessly.
“Good.” Leon handed the Taser back to her. “Something tells me we should go inside and have a little chat.”
After warming his coffee and getting a cup for Kira, they sat at the kitchen table and Leon listened to the whole story. Kira told him every detail she could remember. Every email she had read. Every conversation with Audrey and Frank and Rocco. Every interaction with Landon and Ian and Lucas. She held nothing back, completely bearing her soul, even to the admission of sharing Rocco’s bed. Leon never interrupted and waited until she had finished before he got up, retrieved a yellow legal pad of paper and his Mont Blanc pen.
“I didn’t know where else to go,” Kira sighed and Leon reached across the table and gave her hand a squeeze. There was compassion in his blue eyes and she noticed for the first time that he was oddly handsome. He had a healthy glow about him, bright blue, rounded eyes, dimpled cheeks and lips that were naturally pinker than those of most men. His auburn hair was thinning and had subtle streaks of gray at the temples, but it gave him a distinguished appearance.
“Something about this whole thing bothers me,” Leon said calmly, tapping the Mont Blanc against the legal pad.
“Frank and Audrey,” he said matter-of-fact with no evident emotion attached.
“I know,” Kira moaned. “I can’t believe it either.”
“That’s just it,” Leon said. “I don’t believe it.”
“I saw the emails.” Kira rolled her eyes. “Trust me, they’re lovers.”
Leon set his pen down and crossed his arms. He cocked his head slightly and stared up at the ceiling as if he were mulling through facts or organizing his thoughts; and then he licked his lips and returned his gaze to Kira. “Audrey caught me in bed with my assistant and it broke her heart. Now, you know Audrey, she’s a hothead and when she gets pissed, watch out, right?” Kira nodded, unsure of where he was going with this story. “She barged into my office one day and punched Cheryl, my assistant, right in the nose.” Leon’s eyes widened and the corners of his mouth curled into a grin as he recalled the event. “I mean she cleaned Cheryl’s clock!” He laughed and Kira couldn’t help but smile. It was just so Audrey. “This thrust the affair out into the open, which I know is why she did it. Everyone at the office knew. Cheryl wanted to press charges for assault, of course, which made Audrey even madder.”
“So, what happened?” Kira asked, as Leon had paused longer than what felt natural.
“The partners wanted to fire me, stating that my unethical, amoral behavior was a stain on the Parker, Sullivan & Bates image.”
“I had no idea all of this went on.” Kira said, shaking her head. It was like a daytime drama. “So, did Cheryl go through with pressing assault charges?”
“Not exactly,” Leon grimaced. “Audrey retained Landon as her defense attorney, which is unethical in and of itself, and then screwed him to get back at me.”
Kira could feel her eyes bulging. “Landon was the man Audrey slept with?” All this time Audrey had shrugged it off, telling Kira it was no one that she knew. “Oh my gosh, Leon, I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be,” he smiled. “The funny thing is her sleeping with Landon saved my career. If the partners were going to boot me for amoral behavior they would have had to boot Landon as well. Parker, Sullivan & Bates would have just become Sullivan. So, we voted to ignore the indiscretions, gave Cheryl a very nice severance package to make her go away quietly and Audrey and I divorced.”
“What about Adrienne? Did she know about Landon sleeping with Audrey?” Kira asked.
Leon shrugged. “I don’t think so. I think she was so wrapped up in Rocco at the time that even if she knew, she wouldn’t have cared.”
“Wow,” Kira uttered and then took a sip of coffee. “I had no idea.”
“The point in my telling you this story is that I’ve always had a feeling that Audrey screwed Landon on purpose, to save my career.” His eyes sparkled as he spoke of Audrey. “If revenge was what she wanted she could have slept with half the men in this city. I mean, my God, look at her.” Leon shook his head. “She’s a lot of things, but she doesn’t try to hurt people and she’ll do just about anything to help the ones she loves; even when they don’t deserve to be helped.”
Kira studied his face. “I always thought you two hated each other.”
“No,” he shook his head. “She hates me but I’ve never hated her.” Leon got up, retrieved the coffee pot and filled both of their cups. “Now, back to the issue at hand. I don’t believe Audrey and Frank are having an affair.”
“I read the emails myself, straight from Audrey’s computer,” Kira objected.
“Follow me.” Leon got up, walked into the hallway and opened what looked like a regular hall closet door. He brushed some coats aside and stepped into the closet. “Are you coming?”
“Into the closet with you? No.” Kira shook her head which made Leon chuckle.
“I guess this does look odd,” he said as he stepped back into the hallway. “There’s an old dumbwaiter shaft that I’ve had reconstructed and reinforced so that it now works like an elevator.” He took her hand and led her into the closet. “This is one of the things that I love about old houses, all the nooks and crannies and mysteries that lie within the walls.” He pressed a button and a narrow door slid open. Gesturing Kira inside, he pressed another button to close the door and then she felt the floor began to lower. “It runs slower than a normal elevator system,” Leon explained. When the movement finally stopped and the door opened, Kira couldn’t believe her eyes. They stepped out into what looked like an underground office. There were five-foot tall filing cabinets lining the walls, a copier/scanner/fax unit, five computer stations, a big screen television, and a shelving unit that held food supplies, water bottles, blankets, a floor heater, several guns, boxes of ammunition and a police scanner. Kira was amazed.
“What is this place?” She asked.
“My office. Well, when I’m not at the office.”
“It looks like a bomb shelter,” she remarked.
“That’s what it was originally,” he said excitedly. “This house dates way, way back and has seen some remarkable periods in history. If these walls could talk,” he sighed.
Leon sat down at one of the computers and began typing. His fingers danced wildly across the keys and Kira peered over his shoulder, awestruck by how quickly he maneuvered in and out of screens. “What are you doing?” She asked.
“I’m running an investigation report on Lucas Coronado, ascertaining any link to a man named Ian within his organization. I’m also doing the same on the name Ben or Benjamin, who you said was the bartender in the Lair area, right?”
“And I want to see if I can pull up the names of anyone else linked to the Coronado case or family as a whole.” Leon spoke without looking up or slowing down. Sliding his chair over to the next computer station, he punched in a code and brought up Audrey’s email account. “Now, let’s isolate all of the emails sent to Frank and received from Frank, and do a back-locator-check on the IP addresses from which those emails were derived.”
Kira stared at him. “And here I thought you were just a stuffy attorney,” she quipped.
“I take offense to that. Not all lawyers are stuffy.” He looked up and smiled. “Nah, that’s not true, most of them are stuffy. I just happen to be an enigma.”
Sliding to the next computer station, Leon hacked into FBI personnel logs and began searching for the Cher-look-alike, using search parameters based on Kira’s description of her. “If she’s an undercover agent we’ll find out who she is and why she’s there.”
A red flashing light in the upper corner of the room caught Kira’s attention and she pointed it out to Leon, who was engulfed in running more and more investigative reports. Upon seeing the light, he rushed to a computer station adjacent to the big screen television and punched in a numeric code. The back of his house appeared on the screen. “Surveillance cameras,” he said to Kira. “I’ve got them surrounding the house so I can see if anyone tries anything funny.”
He jumped from camera angle to camera angle and then stopped, zooming the lens so that they could see that a police car had pulled up next to the squad car Kira had driven. Dashing across the room to the police scanner, he turned it on and twisted the knob until the static was gone and they could hear what was being said.
“Squad car nineteen located at the corner of Pennsylvania and Highland Avenue. Send backup to search the area.”
“Search request confirmed. Back-up on their way.”
Leon glanced over at Kira. “I don’t suppose you were wearing gloves when you drove Officer Downing’s car?”
“He was shot and killed, his car stolen and your prints are on the steering wheel, not to mention it won’t be difficult to pull up satellite feed that shows you driving away from the scene.”
Kira’s eyes widened. “I had to drive away. Someone was shooting!”
Leon shook his head. “Then why didn’t they shoot at you? Why didn’t they follow you and keep shooting? Why didn’t you drive straight to the police station, a mere three blocks away?” Leon patted her shoulder as he made his way back to the surveillance feed. “I believe you, but you can see how bad the media is going to make this look. A good rule of thumb when leaving the scene of a crime is to think about what it will look like to a jury and then weight it in your favor.” Leon grinned. “That’s defense attorney rule number one.”
Kira sank into a chair.