Editors’ Choice Story
I’ve never much cared for lawyers; I had to deal with enough of them on the Job. I only hired one once, fourteen years ago, when Brianna initiated divorce proceedings.
When Hampton Conrad phoned to request a meeting with me, I could guess what he wanted to discuss, though I couldn’t imagine the particulars, and agreed to meet with him at my apartment after work one evening. He arrived on time, immaculately tailored and barbered and, once seated, said, “Thank you for seeing me, Mr. Rutledge.”
“Strictly from curiosity, counselor.”
“No games.” His tone crisp, indisputable. “I’m sure you know from news reports I’m defending Brianna Welling.”
“Yeah, she killed her second husband, Caleb Gillis.”
“Allegedly killed him.”
“As a former homicide detective, you know how circumstances can misrepresent the appearance of a crime.”
“The key word is former, counselor. If it weren’t for Brianna, I’d still be one.”
His brow arched challengingly. “You blame your situation on her?”
“What do you know about my ‘situation’?”
“Only that since your discharge, you’ve held a number of different jobs.”
Information obtained from Brianna, I thought, who likely learned it from mutual friends. Yeah, counselor, I blame her. And they’ve been cruddy jobs with cruddier remuneration. If I hadn’t dived into a near-bottomless bottle of whiskey after she blindsided me, I wouldn’t have been in a hangover haze during a shootout with a murder suspect that left my partner permanently disabled and me permanently dismissed from the Job. I managed to avoid prosecution. I didn’t manage to obtain a private investigator’s license; the state rejected my application because of that incident.
Blindsiding was Brianna’s way, her M.O. She’d meet and connect passionately with someone for several years, but their romance wouldn’t last; her perfectionist streak ultimately asserted he wasn’t quite good enough, couldn’t measure up to her expectations and requirements. Without giving any signals, not trying to effect any compromises, always acting the committed lover, she’d withdraw from him emotionally over a period of months, then suddenly break the news that it was over, that she was moving on, leaving him dazed, hurt, empty. I’d had a sense of this side of her from her accounts, during our courtship, of breakups with the four boyfriends who preceded me, and I probably should have regarded it as a red flag. But I was in love and fancied myself as the exception, the one.
It didn’t work out that way. I was neither her first husband nor her last. Caleb Gillis was the coworker who’d come between us and, despite my realization that she was more to blame than he, I wanted to feed him his lungs.
“What d’you want from me, counselor?”
“We’re hoping you might be willing to provide Mrs. Welling an alibi.”
“Why? I haven’t seen her since we split and don’t want anything to do with her.”
“For the sake of justice. Testify you were with her at the time of Gillis’s death. Say you ran into her somewhere and had coffee and chatted.”
“You want me to perjure myself for her?”
“She’s willing to compensate you generously for your testimony.”
If you only knew the wonderful irony in that offer, shyster. I could use the money–as I’m sure you already know–but I’d lose the satisfaction of seeing her really pay. Because even if you get her acquitted, in the absence of a different and plausible suspect, she’ll never be free of doubt in the public’s mind. And that works for me.
“You’re saying she’s guilty?” I asked.
“I know she isn’t.”
“I’d rather not say.”
“Want me to consider the offer? Then like you said, no games.”
Conrad suddenly looked uncomfortable. “She was with me all night.”
I glanced at his wedding ring. “Your wife know?”
So Welling is the latest cuckold. What a pathetic sap you are, shyster. As for my helping Brianna, not a chance. She owes me. She and Caleb Gillis, the interloper, whom I spotted in a bar a few months back. That started an old hatred festering. I used to be a cop, remember? I know how murders are committed, how to commit them, and how to avoid the mistakes amateurs make. I know how to plant incriminating evidence.
How’d it feel when they arrested you, Brianna? When they cuffed you, took you to the station, shoved you into a cell? When they later indicted you?
Being blindsided. Ain’t it a bitch?
A Derringer Award-winner, Barry Ergang’s fiction, poetry and non-fiction has appeared in numerous publications, print and electronic. Some of his work is available at Smashwords and Amazon. His website is http://www.writetrack.
Copyright © 2015 Barry Ergang. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited.