Trial of Conscience

By Troubleshooter  1999 All rights reserved.

For Disclaimers, See Part 1


Chapter 17



A cool breeze whipped her dark hair around as she peered out over the river. Blue eyes glinted as she took a sip of coffee from her mug. It is a gorgeous morning. 'Who said that?' the little voice asked. I did. 'Are you okay?' Yeah, I am. I'm in a good mood. 'Wow. Who would have thought?' Yeah.



She and Sydney had made it through their discussions on Tuesday intact, and while Evin still felt very apprehensive about Sydney's continued involvement in the case, it had been a rather freeing experience to get her concerns out in the open.



Wednesday had been relatively peaceful, save for a small argument about Sydney's safety during breakfast. My God, she can be as stubborn as I can, her mind wryly acknowledged. Sydney had refused to allow Evin to supply her with a bodyguard, insisting that if she needed one, then Evin needed one as well. Evin's response had been, "When hell freezes over." Sydney raised both eyebrows in a look that indicated the discussion was over. There's always more than one way to skin a cat, Evin had thought as she wisely chose to change the direction of the conversation.



Evin had briefly toyed with the idea of instructing Andrew to have someone follow Sydney anyway, but quickly discarded the idea as memories of that fiasco surfaced. Whatever I do, Sydney's going to have to be able to live with it. Her prior plan had included two options - bankruptcy and filing a lawsuit. Since Sydney had effectively nixed the bankruptcy option, at least until there was absolutely no other choice, she revised her plan. Two weeks is just way too long to wait. A lawsuit would be filed...in federal court...the same federal court where Sydney wasn't allowed as a law student. Come hell or high water, that lawsuit's gonna be filed. And since this is New Orleans, all three could happen.



Until the lawsuit could be filed, Evin would provide a sufficient distraction to Hynes in the form of one Andrew "P.I." Thomas and his merry little band of investigators. It had given her a sense of satisfaction to call Andrew into the office first thing yesterday morning and tell him that the bankruptcy papers weren't being filed. Issuing the order to go after them, whoever they may be, in any manner Andrew saw fit, had sent chills of excitement down her spine. One of those snarling smiles crossed her face as she sipped more coffee. Andrew's such a devious little bastard. Everybody thinks he's so innocent.



A rush of adrenalin had coursed through her as she looked into his eyes and she could feel the hairs stand up on the back of her neck as she told him, "We're starting over, only this time, no holds barred. I want names, Andrew." Intense blue eyes bore into the investigator's as she continued. "Step on toes, ruffle feathers...hell, skin each and every one of 'em alive for all I care. Hit everyone hard, not just a few people. I don't care how much it costs or what you have to do, got me? I have the crosses to put 'em up on, P.I. You just get me the nails."



Andrew's eyes had lit up when he heard the news. Evin halfway expected him to start jumping up and down and clapping his hands in glee at the words. Then she had expressed her concerns regarding Sydney's safety and that time was of the essence. His expression had sobered and he vowed that every resource would be utilized to find out who was behind this.



It had almost embarrassed her. His little "no rock unturned" speech. He knows I hate that kind of stuff. But she couldn't help smiling a little at the thought of it. He's such a good guy. Someone he cares about bleeds and he bleeds with them. I have no idea what I would have done...would do...without him. 'Getting a little sentimental there, aren't you?' Shut up.



Evin hoped that the pressure Andrew would bring would be enough to make the people behind this forget the name 'Sydney Parker.' And, of course, I can cause enough trouble to take the focus off of her as well.



She chuckled slightly, feeling a surge of adrenaline flow through her veins. It's Thursday morning. Depositions on the Dolese case. I'm actually looking forward to them. It wasn't that Evin expected any earth-shattering facts to be revealed at the depositions. At best, the information gathered would confirm what they already knew.



Still, there was a certain amount of excitement she felt before any deposition or proceeding. It was the hunt. As routine as some of it was, there was always the chance for the unexpected to happen. You never know. Besides, I can't wait to see Sydney in action. The depositions would be a first for Sydney. It'll be a good experience. Nothing tough. No surprises. Much better for her than the first one I ever did.



Her mind called up memories of being ushered into a large boardroom, the subject of the deposition seated at the head of a large conference table, flanked on either side by a cadre of attorneys. She realized, when she had thought about it later, that it was a psychological power play designed at intimidating her. Good thing I was stupid back then. It had backfired on Landau, serving only to call out her friend, the anger, and her friend had served her well. The deposition had taken a total of nineteen hours throughout a one-week period to complete, and that didn't include the times it was suspended while she and the other attorneys trooped to court to get a ruling on one thing or another.



The sound of the French doors opening broke into her thoughts and she turned, watching as Sydney stepped out on the balcony of the loft. "Hey, beautiful."



A warm smile answered. "Time to go yet?"



"No, we've got a few minutes," Evin answered as she glanced at her watch.



"Good. I can finish my coffee."



Long fingers reached out and brushed a few stray strands of reddish-gold hair from Sydney's face. "You doing okay?"



A sigh. "Mmmhmm. Wish I wouldn't get so nervous." She glanced down at the ground and back up at Evin. "Are you sure you want me to ask the questions in the depositions?"



"Positive. You need to quit worrying about it, Syd," Evin chided gently. "You're going to do fine. You know this case like the back of your hand. You've got your checklist, and you know what points you need to touch on. And asking questions?" Evin chuckled. "I know you can do that. You've been getting enough practice on me. How you get me to talk about some of the things you do...that takes skill, Syd."



"No skill, terror," she grinned and patted Evin's arm. "I just have to out-stubborn you."



"Seriously, Syd, if you run into any problems, you ask to go off record and we can step out of the room. You're prepared. The most important thing you can do in the depos is listen and watch. The court reporter's going to get it all down. If something they say doesn't sound right, or triggers more questions in your mind, follow up on it. If you want to make notes, do it after they've finished answering that question. Pausing and writing things down before you ask the next question tends to get people a little nervous. Makes 'em think." Her lips curved into a wicked smile. "And when you let a witness think, all kinds of things can happen."



A thrill chased down Sydney's spine at the tone of Evin's voice. "We're going hunting."



"Oh yeah, baby," she purred.



********************



A woman in her early sixties, flanked by Dorinda Pratt and Scott Harwood, sat across the conference room table from Sydney and Evin. The court reporter sat unobtrusively at the end of the table, her fingers tapping on the keys of her stenography machine, as Sydney continued with her questions.



This was the last of the four depositions they were taking. The current deponent, Odette Thibaut, was in charge of the small accounting department at Hynes. The majority of the woman's deposition had been a review of Hynes' accounting policies and procedures, generally, and as they specifically applied to the transactions involving the Dolese mortgage payments.



Sydney smiled at the older woman. "Almost done, Mrs. Thibaut. Thank you for being so patient with me."



Ms. Thibaut returned the smile. "That's no problem, Ms. Parker. I'm enjoying talking with you."



One muscle in Evin's jaw twitched, the only visible reaction to the woman's statement. I've been in probably three hundred depositions and no one's ever said they enjoyed it. Unbelievable. They're chatting like this is a Sunday social.



Evin's eyes flickered around the table. Pinkie's irritated as hell and Harwood's mooning over Sydney. The plaintiff's attorney had been casting almost shy glances at Sydney throughout the depositions. I think I'll rip his throat out.



"Did you know Ms. Battiste outside of work?"



"A little. She was a good girl and a very good worker. That whole thing...a tragedy. So young." The woman made the sign of the cross as she spoke. "She missed her family, you know. They live up around Lafayette. I used to have her over to my house for dinner. That's all she'd talk about, moving back to be by her family."



Then why didn't she? "Can you give me a minute, Mrs. Thibaut?"



"Sure, sweetheart, take all the time you need."



Sweetheart? Evin clamped down on a snort of laughter and was relieved when it died in her throat. I'm gonna have the transcript of this depo framed.



Sydney reached into her briefcase and pulled out a file. Scanning through the papers, she found what she was looking for. I thought so. She only made six dollars and fifty cents an hour. Why would she stay here if she missed her family so badly? She glanced briefly at Evin, who looked like she was half-asleep.



Two choices, here. I either pursue it now or we try to find out on our own why she didn't go home, but it sure wasn't because of the pay. If I make a big deal out of it and it has to do with this case, it could tip them off. I've already done enough damage tipping them off. One more glance at the tall attorney. Big help you are. Taking a damn nap, Sydney chastised her lover mentally.



"I'm sorry for the interruption, Mrs. Thibaut." Make a choice, Syd. "Why...." Sydney stopped. Cat's been let out of the bag, so what do I have to lose? "Did Ms. Battiste ever tell you why she stayed here if she missed her family so much?"



Mrs. Thibaut thought intently for a moment. "Angela was...I'm not really sure. She didn't ever really say. I got the impression that she had moved down here for something...someone else...and that it didn't work out."



If it didn't work out, why stay? "What gave you that impression?"



"Little things she'd say. Nothing that I can remember exactly." Mrs. Thibaut shrugged lightly. "It was just a feeling I got."



"Did she ever say who it was that she moved down here for?"



"No, she never talked about anybody in that way, except when she started seeing Danny."



"And 'Danny' would be Danny Naquin?"



"Yes, the boy that died with her. I think that was his last name."



Another 'Unsolved Mystery.' Great. Sydney glanced down at her notes. Nothing left to ask. "Mrs. Thibaut, I don't have any more questions for you. I appreciate you taking the time to speak with me." Sydney nodded towards Dorinda Pratt and Scott Harwood. "Counsel?"



Pratt responded. "We don't have any questions for Mrs. Thibaut."



Sydney started gathering her papers and looked over to Evin. Her almost sleeping lover was now fully alert.



"Corinne, thanks." Evin stood. "We'll want copies of all the depos on disk, as well as one set of hard copies."



"Sure thing, Ms. Moran. Ms. Pratt, do you want a copy?" the court reporter asked.



Pratt glared at Evin. "No. No need to waste money on something that clearly was a waste of time."



Evin smiled sweetly as she extended her hand and grasped Mrs. Thibaut's warmly. "Thank you for your time. I can assure you ours was not wasted and neither was yours."



Sydney paused for a second and glanced at her lover. What is up with that? Evin turned, and looked at her, and with a ghost of a wink, asked, "You ready?"



"Sure."



They walked out the door into the hall of the small office building that housed Hynes' administrative staff.



"You did good, baby."



"Thanks." Sydney offered a small smile. "My stomach finally settled down by the end of the first one. That last one...the last part...."



"Not now, Syd," Evin said quietly. "Let's wait until we get in the car."



"Um, sure."



"Can I take you to lunch before you go back to school?"



"That would be..."



Dorinda Pratt stepped out of the room into the hallway. "Counselor?" Pratt called out. "Do you have a moment?"



Evin and Sydney stopped and turned.



"Yes, Ms. Pratt?" Evin responded.



"My client," she started then paused. "Hypothetically speaking...suppose my client were to authorize me to make a settlement offer."



Sydney's jaw clamped down hard as she bit off a yelp of surprise and glanced at Evin.



What the fuck?!?! Evin's mind screamed. Years of experience and her instincts kicked in, allowing no visible reaction to Pratt's words. A noncommittal smile crossed her face. "Let's hear it."



The woman took a breath. "Four hundred thousand for your clients, transfer of title in the land to Hynes, and all proceedings dropped, including the Motion for Sanctions. Would there be any interest? Hypothetically speaking, of course."



"Of course," Evin said evenly. "If such an offer were made, hypothetically speaking, we would be obligated to take it to our clients."



Pratt regarded Evin intently for a moment then turned to Sydney. "It would be a gift, you understand. Hypothetically speaking.... Everyone would win. No one would lose."



To Sydney, it was an incredibly benign exchange over something that was, at least to her, shocking. If she had tried to guess what would be the strangest thing that could happen in a case that was already too strange for words, this wouldn't have even entered the picture. She hazarded a glance in Evin's direction. Her lover's expression was calm. I wonder if she expected this?



"As I stated," Evin smiled again. "We'd take that offer to our clients for serious consideration, if such an offer were to be made."



Pratt nodded and turned on her heels and went back into the room, squeezing by the court reporter on her way back in.



"Come on, Syd." Evin turned and started walking.



Sydney turned and followed Evin down the hall towards the exit. "Evin, what just hap...?"



"Not now, Syd." Evin's thoughts were traveling at the speed of light. Things just don't happen like this. What the hell is going on? She's trying to see if we'd settle this damn thing. That would be an answer to my prayers. Well, it would be, if I prayed. "Let's just get to the car."

They exited the building and walked the short distance to Evin's BMW in silence. A beep and a flash of the lights, and the alarm deactivated as the car doors unlocked with a click.

Sydney opened her door, tossed her briefcase over the front seat and into the back and slid into the car. I think I'm in shock. This is...it's.... Her mind gave up and she shook her head as she buckled her seatbelt.

"I don't think I've heard the word 'hypothetical' or any of its variations used so much in one conversation before," Sydney chuckled.

"I'm not sure I have, either." Evin slid her sunglasses on.

"It's...what...this makes no sense, Evin."

Evin's door closed and she inserted the keys into the ignition and turned the car on. She sat quietly for a moment before speaking. "Syd, am I dreaming or did Pratt just tell us that she's going to recommended that Hynes make a settlement offer?"

"Uh huh," the law student mumbled as she stared out the windshield at the maze of pipes and tanks that made up the refinery, her mind feeling somewhat numb.

"Is that an 'uh huh' to the dreaming or an 'uh huh' to the offer part?"

"Baby...right now...I really don't know." Her head shook slowly. "It surprised you, too?"

"Yeah. That was...surprising." To say the least. Evin rested her forearms on the steering wheel and watched a tanker truck back up for a quiet moment. "You know, Syd...I love you...very much. More than I've ever loved anybody or anything in my life."

Sydney blinked in astonishment at the comment, offered nonchalantly, and turned her head to look at Evin. "I...I love you, too, Evin."

"Would you do me a favor?"

Her hand rubbed Evin's thigh as she looked at the thoughtful profile. "Sure, baby. Anything."

"Next semester, when you're in clinic...if anybody walks in saying they have a problem and it remotely involves anything resembling foreclosure, run...don't walk...please...run in the opposite direction, as fast as those beautiful legs will carry you."

Laughter bubbled up and her hand squeezed the thigh it was resting on. "I promise." She watched as the thoughtful profile turned. A warm smile was offered as blue eyes gazed at her.

"Thank you." Evin sighed.

Her hand settled on the gearshift and moved it into reverse. "In answer to your question...has any of this made sense, Syd? Let's get back to the city. Something about this country air is obviously making people go nuts. Maybe it's the damn chemicals from all these refineries. I don't wanna stay in it any longer than we have to."

Sydney shifted slightly in her seat. "What exactly was all that 'hypothetically speaking' stuff, anyway? If they want to settle, why not just say it."

"Pratt probably doesn't have any authority from Hynes to settle, but she wanted to see if we would be amenable to it. If we were, then she'd go to her clients and recommend settling." Evin maneuvered out of the parking lot and turned onto the highway.

Her nose wrinkled as Sydney reviewed the conversation in her mind. "If we settle this thing...." She glanced at her lover's profile. "I mean, I know we can't win it as it stands now, but...if we settle this thing, then...." Her voice trailed off.

"Syd," Evin took a breath. "There's a lot of 'ifs.' Big 'ifs.' We don't know that they're going to give us an offer. If they do, I'm writing it up and sending it into one of the law journals as one of the stupidest things ever done in the history of practicing law. They can win and we can't stop them."

Evin could feel the irritation start to build as she thought about the case. Maybe this case is some kind of retribution by the law gods for what I've done. You reap what you sow.

Green eyes stared out the window and watched the landscape rush by. If we settle this, then we'll never find out who's behind it. And that really sucks. Angela Battiste, Danny Naquin...murdered...Evin hurt. God knows what else these people have done. The Doleses lose their land, and I don't care how much money they get. I know how hard Emma and Willie worked...are working on that farm. It's their home. They're being forced out of their home. Where's the justice in any of that? "Why do you think Angela Battiste didn't move back home? It wasn't the money she was making. I checked her file. She made six fifty an hour."

"Who the fuck knows?" the tall attorney snapped, and immediately regretted it. "I...didn't mean it that way, Syd. I...it...." You are such an asshole, Moran. Sydney hasn't done anything.

"Is this case making you as crazy as it's making me?" Sydney turned and regarded Evin. It's so hard to tell what's going on with her, sometimes.

Let's see...is it making me crazy? Well, I was crazy before, so I guess the real question is if it's making me crazier. "It's driving me fucking nuts."

"Good...I mean, not good that it's driving you crazy, but...I...Have I told you how much it means to me that you're doing all this?"

Blue eyes blinked behind sunglasses. "Um...uh...well...no."

Her hand covered Evin's on the gearshift and she squeezed lightly. "When I first got this case and talked to the Doleses, I remember thinking, 'Oh good. I can clear up this obvious mistake. The lawsuit will go away. The Doleses will be happy, Hynes will be happy, and I'll be happy. This shouldn't be too hard.'" Sydney sighed. "It went downhill from there. You know, up until this case, clinic had been relatively simple. It's not that it was easy. But it was stuff that I felt like I could handle. I was learning new things, and I knew I was going to make mistakes, but the kind of cases I had, mistakes...it's not that it doesn't matter if I made mistakes, because I hate to make mistakes, but they were forgivable mistakes." She paused then clarified, "I mean, not really forgivable, but the consequences of them.... I leave out a fact on an affidavit, not a big problem. I can supplement it. It's a default divorce, after all. So it takes a few days longer to get the divorce. No harm, no foul. No one's really hurt. Well, nothing except for my pride. But there are no irreversible consequences. This case...so much of it is already irreversible. Whether we win or lose, I can't undo a lot of it."

Evin listened silently, unsure of what, if anything, she should say.

"And then, that Monday morning, Professor Rayburn told me that he'd found someone to help me. I almost cried I was so relieved."

"He told you that in the morning? Before you met me?" That son of a bitch!

"Yeah, but when I found out it was the famous Evin Moran, I was a little bit too star-struck and forgot about the crying.

Evin laughed. "I'm nothing to be star-struck about. You made me feel old, calling me Ms. Moran. God, I thought you weren't ever going to stop doing that."

"My daddy taught me to respect my elders," she teased. Sydney could see a dark brow rise above the sunglasses.

"Sydney...." Came the rumbled warning.

It just elicited a laugh from the law student. "You used to scare me, you know."

"No more? I must be losing my touch. Gotta work on that."

Sydney smiled at her lover's profile then turned her gaze to the passing scenery as the miles and minutes flew by.

Evin finally broke the comfortable silence. "Why don't you put a call into the office? See if you can find Andrew and tell him what Ms. Thibaut said about Angela Battiste. He needs to do some more checking up on her and why she stayed at Hynes."

Sydney reached for the phone. "You think there's something to that?"

"I don't know, Syd. Those grandmother types...their intuition...I...we can't afford to ignore anything."

"Got it, boss," she replied as she started to dial the phone.

Boss. Uh huh. If there ever was anything I'm not the boss of, it's you. "Remember that statement the next time we disagree."

"Did I tell you that I was a horrible employee and never listened to my supervisor?"

"No, Syd, but somehow, I'm not surprised." Evin couldn't help but smile.

***********************

The morning had been quiet and Evin shifted in her chair as she worked through a stack of correspondence that needed to be answered. Thank God it's Friday. Sort of. There was still a small amount of irritation that lingered just beneath the surface...irritation that she wouldn't be standing at a press conference condemning Hynes to the depths of hell. Keeping company with the irritation was her friend, the anger, just waiting to be unleashed at the unknown enemy.

A loud thump at the door made her look up from the file she was reading. Another thud and then the door flew open so quickly it impacted the wall.

A dark brow rose. "Forget how to use a door knob?"

Andrew, breathless, stared at her for a second. "No, I think it's just warped from you slamming it so much."

She shot him a look. "Very funny."

"Just the truth." He clenched a sheaf of papers in his hand. "You're never gonna believe this. I love Fridays," he pronounced gleefully. "And it's just the morning."

He handed her one of the sheets of paper and then went to the table and began looking through a stack of the reports.

Evin examined the page. New Orleans Police Department? She read silently for a minute and then stared at the mug shot that was attached. A pretty boy. "Who the hell is Elwyn 'Gator' Laborde?"

The investigator found the report he was searching for and turned, standing there with a grin on his face. "The step-nephew of Carlton DeLisle."

"Good for him. And he's got a record. So does most of my family."

"Yeah, but your family's fingerprints weren't found on the door to the law clinic student offices the morning after the break-in."

She looked up, surprise clearly evident on her face.

His grin broadened. "It took them forever to go through all the prints they found on that door. And since nothing was really taken, it was on the back burner. I kind of urged them to move it to the front. They also found a partial match from one on the bottom of one of Sydney's file trays. A warrant for his arrest is being issued as we speak."

She could feel the rush of adrenalin in her veins as he spoke.

He tossed the report onto her desk. "Look at the copy of the transmittal letter for the incorporation documents on this one."

Lifting the report, she noted the name on the cover. DFG Holdings, Inc. Opening it, she found the transmittal letter and scanned it. Her brows furrowed as she scanned it again. "Seems like a normal transmittal letter to me." The letter contained the requisite information and instructions to the Louisiana Secretary of State's Office, directing them to file the attached Articles of Incorporation and other documents for DFG Holdings, Inc.

"It is. Look at the signature block. See those initials after Carlton DeLisle's?"

"Yeah, m-a-l."

"Melinda Ann Laborde. Gator's sweet mama."

Impatient, she held her hand out for the rest of the papers. "What else?" It was quickly followed by a groan and a grimace. "My God, these smell. What is this shit on here?"

The investigator looked at the crumpled and stained papers in the attorney's hands. "Um...we got 'em out of the garbage, so there's no telling."



Don't even think about it, Moran. Just read 'em. "People talk about attorneys doing disgusting things. I've never crawled around in garbage looking for evidence."



"No, that's what you pay me the big bucks for," Andrew grinned.



"Do you do this often?"



"Um, no, actually. This is the first time we've ever resorted to this particular tactic."



"I know I told you to do whatever it takes, but...." The stench from the papers rose to her nostrils. 'Having a little ethical dilemma, are we?' No, it just stinks.



Her eyes scanned the papers. So this is what it's come down to. You're reading documents taken out of garbage cans. How much lower can you go, Moran? Next thing you know, you'll be standing on the emergency room ramp, handing out cards to accident victims. "I think this is mustard." She flipped to the next page.



Evin finished reading the final page. "Who's garbage did you get this out of?" When he started to speak, she held up a hand. "Wait...forget it. I don't want to know. As long as it wasn't Pratt's or Harwood's or their firm's garbage, I don't care."



"It wasn't," Andrew assured her.

"We need everything on this guy and Carlton DeLisle, his whole family, other business associates outside of Hynes. Everything." She looked at the mug shot again. Gator. Hope his hide makes good boots.

The investigator finally took a seat. "Got people working on it already."

"Good...good." Her mind was racing. They are all gonna die.

"Um, Evin...." He glanced down and back up. "You think this'll take their minds off Sydney?"

"This and a few other things I have planned." One corner of her mouth curved up slightly. "We need another white board up here."

Andrew practically bounced out of the chair and headed for the door. "Got it. Be back in a minute."

"Andrew?"

He stopped and turned.

"You got me names, P.I." Blue eyes met his and held them for a long moment. "Thank you."

A slight smile touched his lips as he nodded and then turned and left.

She sat silently for a minute staring at the papers as she allowed a wave of relief to wash through her. Sydney will be out of this soon. Then the adrenaline started flowing freely.



War, her mind cried. It's time to start the war! The feelings the battle cry evoked were glorious, and she reveled in it. The prey would soon turn on its unsuspecting predator. She could feel it in her bones...the savageness of it as she would reach in and rip out Hynes' heart. It was raw...pure...sensual, and the energy it sparked thrummed through her body. I shall enjoy watching them die.



Her fingers literally itched to retrieve the file with the thick lawsuit in it, the one that was tucked away in her desk drawer...the one that would start the war. She had started preparing the document the first day, and had been working on it ever since, refining it as information was gathered. A mental exercise, she had told herself, in building my own little nuclear bomb, just in case. Some tweaks and additions, clarification and expansion of a few points and her little bomb would be ready for detonation. God help those at ground zero.



Her body sprang out of the chair, long, powerful strides propelling her towards the huge white boards already in her office. Her eyes rapidly scanned them, seeking out bits of information. A barely audible growl started, deep within her, as she pieced the bits of information together in her mind. A hoarse, hissed "Yes" escaped her lips as if it had been wrung from her at the height of pleasure by her lover.



Her mind was in that place it went to when her instincts took over. Crisp, clean lines of thought, traveling faster than the speed of light, analyzed tactical and strategic options, discarding some immediately and tucking others away in her mental filing cabinet for further consideration. There were no other thoughts but of the prey and the method she would use to insure its ultimate demise.



She paced about the room, viewing the white board from all angles, her eyes as sharp as a hawk's. The bold printed characters stared back. A soft knock on the door then it opened, revealing Andrew towing another one of the big white boards. She didn't speak as he entered, her eyes never leaving the white board as she continued her pacing.



The investigator wheeled the white board up next to the other and stood silently watching. The dark, animal energy she exuded washed over him. He resisted the urge to ask any questions. Years of experience had taught him that you didn't interrupt her when she was like this. When she was ready, and only when she was ready, would she stop and talk. More often than not, the conversation would be one-sided, the only requirement was that he listen and nod on occasion while her thoughts were expressed verbally, generally in the form of rapid-fire questions she would answer herself.



Ferae naturae, he thought as he watched her move. Of a wild nature. He had learned the term in Property class when he was in law school. It was used to designate animals that were not usually tame. What an appropriate term for her.



Long fingers reached for the red marker as she stopped in front of the blank white board. In a bold, neat print, names were listed, one under another. When she finished, she stepped back and read the names aloud as her top lip curled upward slightly, revealing the barest hint of canines. "Dorinda Pratt, Scott Harwood, Harold Keller, Steve Stevens, Linda Stevens, John Farrington, Carlton DeLisle, Warren Gardener, Elwyn Laborde, DFG Holdings, Inc., John Doe #1, Jane Doe #1, ABC Company and XYZ Corporation."



Andrew found himself held in an intensely fierce blue gaze.



"They are all gonna die, Andrew. All of 'em."



He stared at the names on the board. He could feel the electricity in the air and it wormed its way under his skin, his heartbeat quickening in response.



"I want everything on them. Now. Pull everybody off of everything else. I want two people watching the offices and filming who goes in and out. License plates, close ups, all of it. Everybody, and I mean everybody, gets followed. Twenty-four, seven. Set it in motion, P.I.."



"You got it, boss," he said as he grinned at her. It was...thrilling, he thought. It was part of what he loved about her, part of the reason he would do anything for her. One look, one word said in a certain way, and she caused the baser instincts in you to stir, demanding release. War. He turned to go.



"And Andrew?" the low voice called after him. "No mistakes. We can't afford 'em...I'm too young to die."



Blue eyes scanned the white board one more time before she turned and walked to the window at the corner of the office. Leaning against the wall, she stared at the approaching thunderheads, looming ever larger on the horizon. Taking a deep breath, she willed her body to relax and her thoughts to slow.



Filing the lawsuit in federal court meant that Sydney would no longer be co-counsel on the case. Law students weren't allowed to practice law in federal court. Her mind breathed a sigh of relief. Thank God she won't be involved.



The little voice asked, 'Don't you think the war's already started and Sydney's been in the middle of it?' Their war has, but not mine. This...this will be total annihilation. The fallout could last for years after it's over. I file the lawsuit and get it over with and she's out. She can't really protest. It's the only way to win. 'Did you forget your promise?' No. 'Talk with her first. Tell her what you're going to do before you do it.' A memory of the pain flashed through her mind.



A soft sigh escaped her lips. Then on the other hand, I hate doing this to Sydney. She's worked so hard on this...been through so much. 'And you love to be with her, to work with her.' Yeah, I do.



The five "w" questions...who, what, when, where and why...the ones that she despised so much when they were directed at her, the same ones that the law student displayed an inordinate fondness for...had somehow become a little less despicable when Sydney asked them. At least as far as the case goes. Sydney had, much to Evin's surprise, rarely questioned her on a personal level. It's like she knows...things about me that I don't even know. Like how to get me to talk about things. A wistful tug at her heart caused her to sigh again. I wonder...the case in state court...can we win it as it stands now? Possibly.



'Do you really think that? Be honest.' The anger started to bubble. What the hell is wrong with me? No rationalizing anything. Now is not the time to start playing mind games. I've never let my feelings sway my decision before. What the hell am I thinking about?



In state court, the case is a guaranteed loser. Hell, the bookies in the Quarter wouldn't even take action on this, and they'd book almost anything. You would have lost it already if Keller hadn't been so stupid. Ironic, isn't it? He kept the case to assure Hynes' victory, but instead, he's given me the time I needed to find a target. Stupid prick.



With a grunt, she pushed off against the wall and went to her desk, taking a seat. With deliberate purpose, she slowly pulled the desk drawer open. Amid a rustle of papers, a thick file was placed on the desk. A long finger pushed the intercom button.



"Rachel Wells."



"No calls."



"You got it."



Long fingers wrapped around the micro-cassette recorder. With a push of a slide button, she was ready to start.



"Our file number 307 dash 9 dash 99. Document number...c-m-p-t-1. Global search and replace John Doe number one with capital j-o-h-n space capital w-i-l-l-i-a-m space capital f-a-r-r-i-n-g-t-o-n. Global search and replace John Doe number 2 with capital s-t-e-v-e-n space capital s-t-e-r-l-i-n-g space capital s-t-e-v-e-n-s. Global search and replace...."



*******************



Jeffrey opened the door to Evin's office and walked in. I'm feeling brave today. He stood in front of her desk and held a folder out as he asked, "Do you need glasses?"



Evin looked at Jeffrey indignantly as he handed her a revision of the petition she'd been working on for the Dolese case. "No, I do not need glasses."



"Is your watch broken?"



"No."



"Well," Jeffrey continued, unfazed at the glare he was receiving. "It's after two and you've been in here for six hours straight."



"Jeffrey, how many other times have you seen me do that?"



"I can't count that high."



"So your point would be?"



"Sydney's not gonna be happy when she finds out you didn't have lunch."



"Jeffrey, if you don't mind," she said sarcastically, waving one hand at him as it held her micro-cassette recorder. "I have work to do. And Sydney's not going to be angry with me about not eating lunch."



"Uh huh." He turned on his heels and walked out.



She stared at his retreating form as he walked out. They were all so much more manageable before Sydney.



She spent a few minutes reviewing the pages he had handed her. Satisfied, she placed them on the side and went back to the stack that still sat in front of her. Guess I could at least stand up and move around for a minute. Damn leg is aching. Must be getting ready to rain. She stood and glanced out the window. Dark thunderheads were visible in the distance. Yep. Don't even need the Weather Channel any more.



Moving out from behind her desk, she stretched and then rolled her upper body around. Her mind flew from one thing to the other as she thought about the case. 'Are you ready for this?' the little voice rudely interrupted. Of course I'm ready for it. What kind of stupid question is that? This is what we've been waiting for.



'Is Sydney ready for this?' She'll be disappointed that she can't stay on the case, but she wants to win...wants to do what's best for the Doleses, and if that means filing in federal court, then she'll want to do it. 'I'm not talking about the case. I mean personally.' What the hell is that supposed to mean? This isn't personal. The little voice rebuked, 'You need to talk to her. She has no idea what she's in for when you have a case like this.'



Oh. Blue eyes blinked several times. Oh, shit! You are an idiot, Moran. You didn't even think about how this is going to affect your personal life...your relationship. She found herself moving towards her desk and she grabbed for her keys and then headed out the door. I need to go talk to her.



********************



Rachel and Jeffrey both looked up as the door opened.



"Going to law school," the low voice said.



Jeffrey glanced at Rachel. "Isn't it a little late for that?"



Rachel laughed out loud.



The tall attorney stopped by his desk and looked at him blankly. "Huh?"



He rolled his eyes as he looked up at his boss. "You take the 'wit' out of my witty comments."



"Jeffrey, what are you talking about?"



"Law school...you're already a lawyer...never mind. It loses something if I have to explain it to you."



Rachel snickered.



The tall attorney glanced sideways at Rachel. "Okay...um, I have my cell with me if you need me. I'll be back in a little while."



Rachel and Jeffrey watched as the door to the stairs closed behind her.



"I worry about her sometimes, Jeffrey," she said to her peer.



"Kind of scary, isn't it, Rach? She's so good at the complicated things, but girl...the simple stuff...." He turned back to his computer monitor and started typing. "I got to see her once in court, before you started working here. She had that big trial about that kid...what was his name...Randolph...Rudolph Randolph." He turned and gave Rachel an indignant look. "Can you believe his mother named him that? If I was that kid, when I grew up, I believe I'd have to slap her."



"I don't doubt you would," she laughed. "What happened in court?"



"The kid got hurt in a playground accident. He was paralyzed...still had some movement in his arms, but not much else...kind of jerky, not smooth at all. Anyway, I had to bring her some papers to sign for something else and went over to CDC a little before lunch, figuring that I could catch her during the break, but the kid had just been sworn in as a witness. You ever been inside one of those courtrooms on the fourth floor?"



"Yeah, a couple of times."



"Well, then you know how big they are. Here was this little kid...I think he was nine at the time...sitting in this wheelchair in front of the witness stand in this huge courtroom. He looked absolutely terrified. Anyway, Evin went over and knelt on one knee by him and started to ask him questions. It had to be one of the most amazing things in my life that I'd ever seen. You know how she is around here...and well, she was just so...so...maternal."



"What?" Rachel asked, surprised.



"That's exactly what I was thinking as I watched her. I thought some motherly type of ghost was inhabiting her body."



It was as if he were back in that courtroom as he described the events to Rachel.



The tall attorney smiled warmly at the little boy, who was now eye level. 'This is all pretty scary, isn't it?'



Rudy nodded his head.



"Rudy, see that lady right there? She's taking notes on what you say, so I need you to answer out loud for me, okay? Can you do that for me?"



"Uh huh."



"Are you scared?"



"Yes, ma'am."



"It's going to be okay. Nobody's going to hurt you. These are all nice people. Let's pretend that it's just you and me talking. Do you want to do that?"



The little boy offered her a shy smile. "Yes, ma'am."



"I'm going to ask you some questions about what happened when you got hurt, okay?"



"Okay."



Leading him through a series of questions, she skillfully painted a story using the boy's own words. After he described the accident, she led him through another series of questions, having him describe what it was like before the accident and what impact the paralysis had on his life.



"She knelt on that one knee by his side the whole time...I think over an hour. When she finally finished, everyone had tears in their eyes...the jurors, the judge, everyone in that courtroom, even Evin. The defense counsel didn't ask any questions. It was probably smart on their part. There was just no way for them not to look like assholes. When they finally broke for lunch, I met her outside in the hall. It was like that warm, compassionate side of her never existed. In the space of two minutes...it was so weird. I didn't recover from that for the rest of the day. I never told her how amazing it was."



Rachel shook her head. "I don't know what to think of her at times. I...sometimes, when she talks about these cases, I get chills at how cold...clinical she can be about them. Do you think she's really like that?"



"I don't...and I do. I see her, like when she's with Sydney and I get the feeling that there's a real person hidden under there and then I see her do something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. One thing I do know is that if I'm ever in trouble, my first phone call is to her."



"Mine would be, too."


Chapter 18

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