“I think I’m going to head out now, Connie,” Jeremy said.
Looking up, I saw his weary face but read between the lines. It wasn’t because we had been working long days on the case, even though we had. It was because he was anxious to see his wife and specifically his newborn son. Trial openings were tomorrow but after becoming first chair, I realized most of that was on my shoulders, not his.
“Sure, go ahead. I think we’re ready,” I said, trying to be convincing. Jeremy nodded, apparently buying my bluff. He walked out of the seldom used conference room I had taken over for us to work together. My eyes followed him but stopped when they fell on Mike’s office; the light was still on.
Sighing, I turned my attention back to papers on the table, trying not to think about what may be keeping him here so late. I had seen very little of Mike in the last week. We occasionally spotted each other in the hallway; but there wasn’t any time for more than a greeting and smile. I had hoped maybe we could try to grab a casual bite after work like we had in the past, but the pretext of working together allowed for our trips to naturally evolve outside the office. Now it wasn’t so easy. I kept reminding myself it was no big deal. It’s not like we were anything more than co-workers so there was no reason to feel the disappointment that ached inside when I saw an opportunity lost.
Taking another sip of coffee, I went back to the paperwork. Tomorrow was not my first trial opening but the pressure felt as much, if not more than the other times combined. I wanted to put Brooks behind bars; he could easily transfer his obsession to a new girl if he was allowed to roam free. This was a case that should have been open and shut, but as Mike had pointed out to me a few years ago, even the most solid cases can still be lost because juries were made up of people who weren’t necessarily logical in their judgments.
Thus, I was concentrating all of my energy on the trial opening which laid the groundwork of how Max went from stalker to killer. I had to link Max Brooks to the victim’s death beyond a shadow of a doubt. The jury wouldn’t have the evidence found in his room, that was all but equivalent to bloody footprints leading from Melanie’s body to his dorm room, but I still thought that his being there immediately before and after the crime was just as strong.
That is, if you believe the witnesses. I cringed at the thought. Detective Bernard put him at the scene after the murder. Brooks was hanging around in a very conspicuous fashion. Bernard knew Brooks the minute he laid eyes on him later. We solidified this identification, as Jeremy Faraday proved himself quite useful by discovering a nearby ATM camera displaying Brooks in the area after the crime. No, the jury shouldn’t have any issue on that side, but the testimony of Rosalie Floyd was another matter.
She had every reason to be lying. She even admitted to hating the defendant and was glad the girl was dead. What made matters worse is she had never given a good alibi for herself which gave credit to the theory she killed Melanie. But that wasn’t my biggest problem. My biggest problem was her constant focus on Michael Cutter not being around.
Since I took over the trial, I had met with her once more. Upon my arrival she was quite vocal she only had agreed to testify because she thought she would be working with “Michael.” I told her that due to their past relationship, Mike could no longer be on the case. I had hoped it would be the end of the matter, but she didn’t let it.
“Oh,” she said as I pulled out my notes so we could go over her statements. “Michael was too affected around his former lover?”
The way she said lover nearly had me imaging committing a homicide myself. Deciding it was best to ignore her questions, I tried to jump straight into her statement to the police. “Mrs. Floyd, you mentioned to the police that when you came downstairs to your town car, the victim was waiting for you.”
She nodded, obviously not interested in my question. “Ms. Rubirosa?”
“Do you have a thing for Michael? You seem to hate the sight of me.”
“What I hate…” I said while trying not to snarl, “is that you won’t give a definite alibi for where you went after you left Melanie.”
“I don’t know,” she clearly lied, fidgeting in her chair and averting her gaze from mine. “I drove around. I had to think about our future, my husband and I. If he was going to continue to see this girl, then that meant our marriage would have to come to an end.”
I didn’t believe her. But her story could be possibly checked if she had contacted a divorce attorney. I made a mental note to put Faraday on it. “How long were you gone?”
“Three or four hours.”
I shook my head, “You expect us to believe that a busy woman such as yourself drove around the city for hours without stopping anywhere?”
“Michael would believe me,” she said with a pout.
The rest of our meeting went on as such until I could take no more of her. I sent Faraday to see her again. He couldn’t get an alibi out of her either, which didn’t surprise me but was something I couldn’t let go on much longer. I had arranged for her testimony to be at the end of the trial which would take several weeks as the defense kept turning in motions to delay proceedings buying us some time, but not much.
“Trial starts tomorrow, doesn’t it?”
Looking up, I saw Mike standing in the doorway. He was holding his coat and briefcase like he was finally leaving for the day.
“Yes, it is.”
Walking in, he asked, “Nervous?”
Not willing to be truthful, I shook my head. “No.”
He saw right through it. “Liar!”
Pulling out the chair Jeremy had been using earlier, he sat down next to me. I was shocked to feel my heart start to race. “What are you still doing here, Mike?”
“Eh,” he shrugged, “I didn’t realize it was so late. You aren’t around to be my human time clock.”
He was teasing me. He and I were both late nighters and he knew it. “Somebody has to be the human.”
“That’s true,” he laughed. “Where is your employee? Don’t tell me he quit on you?”
“No,” I said, trying not to smile but failing miserably. “He’s been working hard but asked to leave. You know he has his family.”
Mike nodded, “Sure, that new ugly baby of his. He’s pushed those pictures of him on me too many times.”
“Mike!” I said, not willing to let him go on. “He is not ugly.”
“Oh yes, he is!”
Pretending to get back to work, I turned away. “There is no such thing as an ugly baby.”
He leaned in, his breath on my neck. “Clearly you’ve not seen pictures of me then.”
I turned planning to quip back but was rendered speechless, his face was inches from mine. His eyes were so vivid. I couldn’t remember ever being this close to him.
Mike leaned back, breaking my trance. “Well, then I guess I better get out of here and let you work.”
I watched as he stood up, his hands full again with his briefcase and coat. This time my disappointment in watching him leave was more than I could bear, and I tried to make him stay. “Mike…”
“You’re going to do fine, Connie,” he said, then walked out.
The morning of the trial, I sat waiting anxiously for the judge to come in. I tried to put the weird moment between Mike and I the night before behind me, filing it away with the long list of other weird moments between us. My priority was with the trial. Yet I couldn’t shake the uneasiness last night brought. Not working with Mike anymore was supposed to be less stressful, not more.
My cell phone, set on silent, sat on the table. Suddenly it lit up with a text message. Mike’s name flashed. Forgetting where I was, I grabbed the phone to see what he had to say.
Assassination is the extreme form of censorship.
I stood there blankly realizing he sent me one of his ridiculous quotes. Jeremy leaned over, probably believing it to be case related. “What does that mean?” he asked.
The judge walked in and the bailiff began, “All rise…”
Standing up with Jeremy, I leaned over and whispered, “It means everything is going to be fine.” For the first time I felt like I could finally believe it.