Trial of Conscience

By Troubleshooter  1999 All rights reserved.

For Disclaimers, See Part 1


Chapter 18

A soft knock sounded on the doorframe, causing Professor Rayburn to turn away from his computer monitor to the doorway. "Well, Evin. What a surprise to see you. I've already talked to you twice this week and now I get a personal visit. I'm a very lucky old man." His brown eyes twinkled as he smiled.

"Hello, Richard. How are you?"

"I'm doing fine. How's the leg feeling?"

"Good as new." Hurts like a son of a bitch, though.

He gazed at her fondly. "Come in...have a seat."

"Thanks." Her tall frame settled in a chair opposite Professor Rayburn.

"So, are you just dropping by to tell an old professor hello?"

"Um, there are some things I needed to discuss with you about the Dolese case."

He settled back in his chair and regarded the tall lawyer. "Sydney tells me that it's not going well. Depositions were yesterday, right?"

"Yes. It's...there's been some developments." Blue eyes stared at him intently. "I want the case, Richard...to take it to Federal Court...with the client's permission, of course."

"You've got something." The gleam in her eyes was his answer.

"I received some documents today that confirmed my suspicions."

"What will you file?"

"RICO."

"Can you win?"

"The documents certainly help. Assuming we survive until trial, who knows what the jury will do." She looked at him unflinchingly. "I'll be able to save the Doleses' farm...give the feds enough time to investigate. That's the goal, isn't it? To save the farm...to protect the Doleses. Not to win the case."

Warm brown eyes held pale blue in their gaze. He felt as if he had gone back in time. Nine years ago, he had sat in this very room on the eve of the Landau trial, and looked at a young law student, full of fire and promise, facing a corporate giant. "Do you remember our conversation before Landau?"

The dark head nodded.

"I believe I told you that whether you won or lost wasn't the point...that what you had done was to force people...the lawmakers to look at an issue, to take action. Good legislation was passed that forced all the chemical companies, not just Landau, to clean up the environment. That case saved a lot of people from cancer and God knows what else. The good that came out of it...well, it would have happened whether you won or lost. No difference here that I see. The Doleses will have their farm and some very nasty people will be brought to justice because of what happens...whether you win or lose."

She considered his words thoughtfully. "Do you remember what I said?"

"Yes, I do," he said with a soft chuckle. "I believe you responded with 'That's all well and good, but I'm going to win.'"

"Close enough," she laughed, and then added seriously. "Do I have your blessing on this Richard?"

"You don't need my blessing, Evin. You need to do whatever's best for the client."

"It's...Sydney's worked very hard on this. I feel...bad that she won't be able to participate."

"Hmmm...." He scratched his chin in thought. "Sydney will understand."

There was a comfortable silence between teacher and student before Professor Rayburn spoke again.

"I'm curious. What would you have done if these documents hadn't arrived on your doorstep?"

"Filed the RICO claim anyway," she shrugged then laughed as a twinkle danced in the blue eyes. "This just saves me from disbarment proceedings."

Richard Rayburn shook his head and chuckled in return. "Always have to push the limits, don't you?"

"Something like that." Evin stood, glancing at her watch. "Class is almost out. I'm, um...I've got to go meet Sydney...tell her the news...good and bad."

"Would you like me to tell her?" he offered.

Oh, she'd be real pleased about that. Would you like to watch me die a slow and painful death? "No thanks, Richard. I can handle it." I think.


The BMW was parked on Pine Street, right across from the law school, in the No Parking zone. "Hey, beautiful," the low voice rumbled as she leaned towards Sydney, meeting her halfway, surprised when Sydney prolonged the kiss. Mmmm...nice, her mind purred.

"Hey, you. This is a great surprise."

"I just felt like coming to see you." She turned the key in the ignition and the CD player came on.

Uh oh. She's listening to Darkwave. Loudly. Not a good sign. The music Evin listened to was sometimes the only clue that Sydney had as to what was going on with the tall woman. Evin had CDs of all kinds everywhere, and her choices often depended on her mood. The artist's name of the CD playing popped into Sydney's mind. Dead as Romance. Must not have been a good day.

Sydney leaned over and slid her arms around Evin's neck and pulled her closer as her lips found Evin's. She's had a bad day. Maybe I can make it just a little better. The contact was finally broken and Sydney leaned back into her seat.

"I love the way you kiss."

"Thanks. You're not so bad yourself." Sydney reached for the volume control and turned the sound down. ""How was your day?"

"Um, the day was...good. Went by pretty fast." The tall attorney checked the side mirror and pulled out into the street. "How was your day?"

Good? Then why the Darkwave? "Better than I thought it would be. Things went well with Vicki and my prep for testimony. She seems to think that we have a good shot at winning our Motion to Quash the subpoena. And class this afternoon was incredibly boring. I did manage to read ahead, so I wouldn't have to study so much this weekend. I thought maybe we could go down to the Quarter in the morning. I still want to get a pair of those boots for my costume. Where did you get yours?"

"Um...Gargoyle's, I think."

A warm hand settled on the tall attorney's thigh, feeling the tension in the muscles. "You're gonna look so cute."

"I can't believe I let you talk me into wearing that," the tall woman grumbled. "But I'm not wearing that wig."

"Oooh, did Jeffrey get the wigs? How do they look?"

"Like really bad wigs. They're in the trunk...complete with those Styrofoam head things. But I'm not wearing mine. Maybe he can get my money back."

Sydney patted her thigh. "It's part of the costume, grouchy."

"Syd, do you realize how many people would have heart attacks if they saw me in that judge's robe alone." Evin shook her head, slightly disgusted. "The Judge Judies...who the hell came up with that idea anyway?"

"Tom...it's a great costume idea, Evin. It was either that or this nun idea he had, the Sisters of Divine Decadence or something like that."

Another groan. "Sounds like a bad Bette Midler act. Me...in a nun's habit. Nobody would want to stand around me for fear of being struck by lightning."

"Everybody else likes the Judge Judies. You don't even want to know the ideas Wayne, Maria, Jeffrey and Ben came up with. At least I saved you from being a Carmine Miranda look-alike or a Fruit Loop, although that Fruit Loop idea was pretty good. The rainbow colors...that would have been cool. Maybe we can be Fruit Loops for Mardi Gras. All the guys are going to wear the wigs."

"And they'll all have on pumps, too. Don't be surprised if Jeffrey has on fishnets under that robe."

"If you practiced law in England, you'd have to wear a wig."

"I'd have picked another profession," Evin shot back. "I'm not going to be challenged into wearing the wig, Syd."

"Spoilsport," Sydney glanced at her companion. "Did he get the lace for the collars?"

"Yes," Evin groaned. A lace collar. I'm gonna have to wear a fucking lace collar. "Sydney, I'm not sure the world is ready for a herd of Judge Judies to be let loose. Can't we just be judges? No lace, no wigs. Better yet, can't we just go in shorts? I could get some rugby shirts together and we could go as rugby players. Do you have any idea how hot it gets with about five thousand people dancing and drinking all in one area?"

"Why, Evin Moran, I think that was almost a whine," she teased softly. "What's the matter, pumpkin?"

"Pumpkin?" Evin growled. "Who told you that? Tom? I'm gonna kill him."

"No, Andrew did," Sydney laughed, pausing and adding, "Pumpkin."

"Somebody's gonna die over that pumpkin thing yet," she muttered as she passed the turn to take them to Sydney's house.

"That was the turn, Evin."

"I, uh, know. I thought we could go to the office first."

"Why?"

"There have been, uh, some developments with the case."

Sydney reached for the volume control and turned the sound off. "What happened?" Her voice held a note of alarm.

The tall attorney checked the side mirror and pulled out into the street. "Did you, uh, eat lunch yet?"

"Evin, it's almost three o'clock." A warm hand settled on the tall attorney's thigh, feeling the tension in the muscles.

"So, you ate?" Evin asked again.

"Yes, I ate. You're avoiding the question. What's happening with the case? I don't think we got served with anything here. Did you get served with something?"

"Uh, no...no...it's just some procedural stuff that will help." Like I'm about to start a war, and oh, by the way, Syd, it's no longer your case. Sorry. And another thing...you probably won't see me for a while because I'll be living at the office.

A puzzled look crossed the law student's face. "Procedural stuff? I thought...we've talked about it. There wasn't much else we could do." She's so distracted. "Are you sure there's nothing wrong?"

"Yeah, baby...really. Just some stuff we need to talk about."

She wants to talk. It's got to be something bad. "Did you eat?"

"Um...no."

"Why don't we go get you something to eat?"

"I'm not really hungry. We'll grab an early dinner." She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.

"Evin, did you come up with something we can do in the case? Is it something we can do on Monday?"

"Nothing we can use in the state court foreclosure action."

Green eyes narrowed. Remember, Sydney, it's Evin that's talking to you. What is she really saying? "In the state foreclosure action...what other action is there?" A sudden realization. "Or could there be?" A spark of hope ignited as a note of excitement colored her voice. "Counselor, if you tell me that you've found a way for us to at least stand a fighting chance at winning this thing, I swear I'll...I'll...."

That excitement's not gonna last for long when she finds out she won't be able to continue with the case. Evin took another deep breath and made a decision. "Let's go back to the office. There's...it's something I need to show you. Then we have to talk."


The ice cubes swirled around in the glass of iced tea as Evin held it in her hand, staring out the window as the rain beat against the glass. The law student was sitting at the table next to her, reading the documents Andrew had presented Evin with earlier. Angry mutters and grunts issued from Sydney every few seconds.

"Those bastards!" The exclamation was punctuated by the sound of the papers slamming down on the table.

"Pretty much my thoughts, too, Syd," she offered as she continued to stare out the window.

"What are we going to do about this?" the law student asked, her voice a mixture of excitement and anger. "We can win now, can't we?"

The tall woman took a sip of iced tea then regarded her lover for a long minute, seeing the slight flush, the determined set of the jaw and the spark of fire in the green eyes. "This certainly improves our chances."

"So then why aren't you excited?" This is definitely not the reaction I expected from her. I don't know as much about the law as she does, but I think this stuff is gold.

"I've had my time for excitement." And more than enough time to bounce around thinking about you and this damn case and...damn it. Where is your fucking focus? It is not Sydney. It is this case. Get that through your thick skull! She is not, she will not, she cannot continue on this case! "It's time to get to work." The words came out sharper than she intended, more an admonishment to herself than to Sydney.

The law student stood and moved around the room, looking at the three white boards that were now present. It is...Evin is...frustrating sometimes. Sydney knew there was something bothering her lover when there shouldn't be anything bothering her at all. The documents were manna from heaven and though not absolute proof that Willie Dolese had sent the checks in, they certainly went a long way towards supporting his story.

Sydney stared at the new white board. What am I missing? What is she seeing that I'm not? What's bothering her about this? "You're going to file a lawsuit against all of them, aren't you?"

"Yes."

"How is that going to stop the foreclosure action?"

"Injunction."

It was all Sydney could do not to scream. Between her excitement and her lover's reticence, she felt like she was about to explode. She turned and looked at the tall attorney, who was staring out the window again. Her head cocked to one side as her hands went to her hips. "Evin?"

"Hmmm?" came the absent reply.

"If you don't start talking to me about what's going on, we're gonna start fighting, counselor."

Startled blue eyes looked at her.

Sydney gentled her voice, "Now that I've got your attention...you said we needed to talk about this, so let's talk...not fight." She walked over to the table and stood behind Evin, her hands gently grasping the taller woman's shoulders. God, she's so tense. "I know this is good for the case...this information, but I...I don't understand what the basis would be for the lawsuit we're going to file and why you've got some of those names on the board. I mean, I know that what some of them have done is illegal, but what areas of the law...I'm not sure about all this. Remember, I'm a law student."

A large hand covered one of the smaller ones. So warm...feels so good. She felt Sydney's lips brush the back of her head. "I love you, Syd." She felt an answering squeeze of the hands on her shoulders.

"I love you, too, terror." The hand, still on one of her own, squeezed back.

"Remember that after we're finished talking, okay?"

"Evin, it's not something that I can ever forget." Where is this coming from? Her fingers started a slow rubbing of the shoulders under them. "Nothing you tell me...you do...will stop what I feel for you."

The warm hands on her shoulders felt so good as some of the tension started to drain away. We'll see. Her eyes closed involuntarily. "Just remember...please."

Patience, Sydney. You're going to find out soon enough what's going on. "I will...I promise."

"Those papers...it's not perfect, but enough that we can make a case...and win it, with a little luck." She tugged on a hand on her shoulder. "Come sit, please. I...I've been thinking about the possible courses of action."

Sydney took a seat across from Evin. "What courses of action are there?"

"Let's start at the beginning, Syd, okay?"

A fair head nodded.

"The case was originally brought in state court because that's where you bring these types of action. It's supposed to be a summary proceeding...fast and efficient. No real trial. All they had to do was say the guy didn't pay and it was up to Willie to prove that he did. They know he can't, so why worry. And for a little insurance, make sure your friendly neighborhood judge you're in bed with gets the case. Too bad for them Keller's such a lousy fuck."

The law student observed the tall attorney as the low, rich voice reached her ears. She is excited about this. There was a spark now in the blue eyes and Evin became more animated as she talked.

"What they didn't count on was running into you...somebody who really gave a damn about Willie Dolese and his family." An involuntary smile crossed her face. I didn't count on running into you, either. "You derailed 'em temporarily and they started to get worried. The 'summary procedure' ain't so 'summary' anymore, but they've still got time, providing you don't have any evidence you're not supposed to have."

Unable to sit still any longer, Evin stood and started to pace as she talked. "A quick phone call, a break-in at the Clinic to check things out, and some harassment of Willie and his family and they're feeling better about things. Nothing to stop them now. You can't win and they know it. Life is grand. What's a couple of little crimes? There's a lot of money at stake, and nobody's really getting hurt. Some poor slob's going to lose his land, but that's nothing to them." Blue eyes focused on Sydney. "They've got bigger worms to fry," she said with a rakish grin.

She's...it's...primordial, Sydney thought as the energy the tall woman was now exuding seemed to wrap around her and seep into places she didn't know existed. Her gut tightened in response and she leaned forward in anticipation, her elbows resting on the table as she smiled at Evin.

"Then Andrew finds out about Keller's relatives and Willie Dolese gets another reprieve. We send them interrogatories and requests for production of documents and subpoenas. Those interrogatories...some of the questions were pretty specific. I think they thought we knew more than we did." She chuckled. "Lucky guess on our part."

More like an educated guess on your part, the law student thought.

"They're starting to get really nervous now. Could they have missed something on the break-in? Not likely. Their guy did a pretty thorough job. And it's a Law Clinic. You had no resources to conduct an investigation, so where would you come up with any evidence? But they think there's something going on, they just can't figure out what it is. Time to start tying up the loose ends, just in case we've stumbled on to anything. There's a bookkeeper out there who knew about the checks. Boom! Dead. No more witness. Life is grand again."

A cold shiver ran down Sydney's spine at the loud 'boom,' her mind flashing to Evin lying in a bed in the ICU, a machine breathing for her and more tubes and machines hooked up to the tall woman than she ever wanted to see again in her life.

"You have your little confrontation with Harwood and now somebody's nervous for a different reason. This isn't just a minor little thing anymore like taking potshots at people or screwing with machinery on a little farm. It's murder. Premeditated murder...that's the death penalty. Somebody's worried about going to sleep, permanently. Suddenly, we're getting ridiculous, hypothetical settlement offers at double the price of the land. Then Andrew finds out this information, which brings us to what we're going to do about it." She stopped pacing. I'm sorry, Syd. "I want to file an action in federal court." There was dead silence in the room as Evin looked expectantly at Sydney. I'm so, so sorry.

The redhead's nose crinkled a bit as she thought. Federal court? Why federal court? What kind of lawsuit would she file in federal court? I can't....don't go there, Syd. If she thinks this is best, hear her out. She's the lawyer, you're the student. She'll have a good reason. Hear her out. This isn't about you, it's about what's best for Willie and Emma. "Why federal court?"

A breath that she hadn't even realized she was holding was released. At least she's going to give me a chance to explain. "It's our best chance to win, Syd."

Sydney shifted in her chair, sitting straighter and folding her hands together. "Why? What kind of action would you file?"

"RICO," the low voice answered.

"Why RICO? I...guess the better question would be to ask exactly what it is...I kind of understand it, but it's not something we've really studied. I thought RICO was a criminal statute."

"It's both...the statute has civil and criminal aspects. I don't care about the criminal...it's a giant bat to beat someone over the head with, Syd. It gives the court immediate injunctive power as well as providing for treble damages, attorneys' fees, costs...you name it. All in all, a very scary piece of legislation."

"Why don't we just turn over what we have to the police? Then they could take care of it. Somebody murdered people, Evin. They deserve to be brought to justice."

"We will...eventually. I want to control how it's done. Timing's gonna be real important in this thing. The police won't save the Doleses' farm. Assume that we turn this over to the police...we've only got two or three weeks, max, until we're standing in court grabbing our ankles. No way, Syd, no way the police are going to move that fast. Our standard for the burden of proof is by a preponderance of the evidence...it's more likely than not that these people did what they did. We can win that with what we have. The D.A. is faced with a harder standard...beyond a reasonable doubt. There's plenty of opportunity for doubt with what we have. They'll take their time, investigate and when they think they have a case that meets that standard, they'll move. But only then. It won't be in time. Same thing will happen if we turn it over to the feds."

"Why couldn't we just take the documents and introduce them as evidence in the foreclosure case?" the law student questioned.

"We could try that. But that presents lots of problems, the least of which is trying to convince the judge to let them in as evidence. There is no specific mention of the Doleses in the documents. Assuming we can accomplish that little task, they are circumstantial at best. Then there's the problem with authentication...are they really real. We'll have that problem no matter what avenue we choose, but it just compounds the problem in the foreclosure action. And the biggest problem is asking a judge, who probably knows the defendants, to believe that these fine, upstanding citizens resorted to fraud and murder, to name a few of their crimes, to get a piece of land back. There's no guarantee that he will."

Sydney interjected "But if the evidence proves it...."

"Too much risk, Syd. What if the judge doesn't allow the documents in as evidence? Then we've tipped our hand and they'll be prepared. Same thing if we filed a state RICO action. You're still going to be up in front of judges from their neck of the woods. I'd rather not put my fate in a home-grown judge's hands. The federal judges...they're all appointed for life. Supposedly no political influence. It's less risky."

The law student sat silently, considering all the information she had been given, feeling slightly overwhelmed. This wasn't what I expected. Her eyes moved from the white board to Evin and back. She almost laughed out loud. Who would have thought...this little case...it's unbelievable.

Sydney finally spoke. "We need to do what's best for the client." Plenty of time to wallow in your disappointment later. Green eyes moved to rest on the tall woman standing before her. "If you think that's filing in federal court, then let's do it."

The words filled Evin with a sense of relief. She hadn't known quite what to expect from Sydney. It wasn't that Sydney could stop her from doing what she wanted to do, but she had discovered during the drive to get Sydney from school that she didn't want to turn this into a contest of wills with the redhead. I'm not so sure I would win that one.

The small woman stood and moved in front of Evin. "You want to tell me what's bothering you about all of this? I know you're excited...I can see it in your eyes, but...."

"I'm sorry...about.... If I thought there was any other way to win it without going to federal court, I'd do it, Syd."

"I know you would." Small hands moved up and rested on Evin's chest as she felt long arms settle around her. "I...I am disappointed. I...these people...they took a lot away from a lot of people...tried to take Willie and Emma's farm...killed those two kids. They almost took you away from me. I want to beat them, Evin...so badly, I can almost taste it."

That's the difference between us. I can taste it. The tall attorney flexed her arms, drawing the smaller body closer, her cheek resting against a fair head. "There's...it's...." How do I tell her what it's going to be like for a while? "This is...it's not all bad, Syd. Having a break from this case...it'll be good for you. Give you a chance to get some normalcy back in your life. Spend some time with your friends, studying...that kind of thing."

The small woman drew back and looked up at her lover, puzzled. "A break? Where did you get that idea? I can still help...do research, whatever needs to be done. Just because I can't appear in court doesn't mean I'm going to stop working on this case."

Uh oh. Evin felt her stomach knot. "I...I don't think you understand...it's...what it's going to be like once we start this. It's not possible...." The small body went tense in her arms.

"Not possible? Why isn't it possible?"

This is gonna go downhill fast. "No...I mean, yes, but not like...."

The law student stepped back, breaking the embrace angrily. "We've been...."

"Whoa...slow down, Syd. Let me explain." Long fingers ran through dark hair as she looked around the room. "What I'm about to do...file this lawsuit...it's...it's...." Suicide if you lose? "Once it starts, Syd...it's...." Exhilarating, brutal?

The whispers of war reached deep inside her soul, the hot breath they were borne on breathing life into places nothing else ever touched. Instincts she had been struggling to suppress broke free. Walking over to her desk, she picked up the thick file, removed a stack of paper, then walked to the table where Sydney stood and dropped it with a resounding thud.

"See this...this is a draft of the suit and it's already two hundred and eighteen pages, and I'm not finished with it yet." Her words were sharp and forceful. "Each and every word on each and every page will be fought over. These people will be fighting for their lives. Do you know what happens when people fight for their lives, Sydney? Do you?" Her eyes glittered malevolently as she waited for an answer from the law student.

To Sydney, it was the crystallization of everything she had heard about the tall attorney, but had never seen...the cobra, but unfettered by the restraints of courtroom decorum. The blue eyes glittered like cool diamonds, the gaze laser-sharp and displaying not a hint of warmth, as the smallest hint of white teeth that Sydney swore could be fangs edged out slightly from under a full red lip.

The dark wash of energy coming from the tall attorney rolled over her in a wave that was frighteningly thrilling, so unlike anything she had felt before. Seductive, part of her mind supplied. Terrifying, the other part of her mind countered. Her body responded, her heart skipping a beat as a mixture of fear and excitement coursed through her veins.

"I...I...." Her mind reeled...the words hurled at her an accusation...the tall form before her an apparition of her lover. Instinctually, she fought against the undertow.

"They'll do anything, Sydney...anything. Are you prepared to do whatever it takes to win?"

The low voice echoing in her ears felt like velvet against her fingertips. The redhead struggled desperately to regain her balance. "Y...yes."

"No, you're not. You have no idea what 'anything' means."

It's true. What she's saying is true. She found herself asking a question she wasn't sure she wanted to know the answer to. "What does 'anything' mean?"

This is it. All the choices I've made in the past. The ones I'll have to make in this case. The ones she wouldn't make. I...I.... 'The ones you don't want her to see you make...to see you carry out. That's what you're scared of...her hating you for it.' The anger boiled over.

"What do you want, Sydney? Examples? I will do whatever is necessary to win. They will try to slit my throat...whatever they can come up with, whether it has to do with this case or not, professionally, personally...anything. They've got contacts in places...it's not just going to be a battle in the courtroom, fought nicely by the rules. These people don't know any rules. Christ, they've had people murdered. Do you really think if a judge tells 'em to play nice, they're going to?"

Sydney turned and walked to the window, struggling to escape the crushing weight of emotions. Breathe, Sydney, breathe. Absently, she watched drops of rain hit the window and slide down the pane as a dull ache made its presence known at her temples.

The tall attorney watched Sydney turn and walk away. Somebody ought to draw and quarter you, Moran. Improve the world with a few strokes of the sword. All you do is inflict damage on everything around you.

This case...I'm so out of my league here. Sighing deeply, green eyes caught Evin's reflection in the window. She said, "Just remember." Why would she be worried that I wouldn't love her after we talk? Her behavior's been so off the wall today. In a quiet voice, she spoke to the reflection. "You remember that time...the first time you asked me what I needed?"

The reflection nodded mutely.

She turned and studied the tall attorney solemnly. I don't know if she's in a frame of mind to handle this, but.... "I need one of those 'no evasions, no double-talk' talks again."

"Huh?" Incongruous.

"All this...Evin, it's got me kind of rattled. I need to talk to you about it...without the lawyer stuff getting in the way." She watched as blue eyes blinked slowly back at her. "Please."

The law student walked over to Evin and placed her arms around her waist, her fair head settling on Evin's chest.

Long arms automatically wrapped up the small form, pulling her closer. "I...." She felt the cobra slither away to a dark corner, retreating from the warmth of Sydney's body as her lips brushed the top of Sydney's head. "Let's get out of here...go somewhere." Her office suddenly became the last place she wanted to be.


Andrew stepped off the elevator. "Hey. Man, this is gonna be good," he addressed Rachel and Jeffrey, waving some papers in his hand. "Looks like we're gonna be kicking some serious ass in Hynes. Wait until she sees this."

"She's not in," Rachel looked up from her computer screen.

"What?" Slightly stunned, he looked at Rachel then to Jeffrey, who nodded in confirmation.

"Yeah...she went to get Sydney, they came back and were in their for about an hour and then they walked out. She said they wouldn't be back."

"Where...where did they go?"

Rachel shrugged. "I don't know. I guess home, or the boathouse or Sydney's."

"Oh." He looked at them for a few seconds more. "Um, okay then. Well, uh, if I don't see you, y'all have a good weekend." He turned and went back to the elevator.

She left? I can't believe she left. He had already called Carole and told her he would probably be working late tonight and definitely over the weekend. The investigator found it unsettling. There were big cases, and then there were big cases. This case was one of the big cases. Monetary value meant nothing. It was the type of lawsuit that would be filed and the flurry of activity that would come after.

Playing procedural cat and mouse. Working twenty-hour days. Each of the parties filing pleading after pleading, motion after motion, seeing which one could bury the other first under the mountain of paperwork that would be generated. And in a case like this, each defendant would eventually have his own attorney. That's gonna be at least ten against one. Man, what a bunch of paper that's gonna generate. Add to that all the hearings, conferences, depositions, trial preparation and ultimately the trial. If you're lucky to reach trial.

One false step...one little mistake...and it was all over. To survive. To reach trial. That was the goal. Winning came next. And his friend...his boss, that's what she was made for, reveled in, lived for...the big case. He'd seen her walk out of a trial, winning, millions of dollars richer. He knew it really meant nothing to her. It had been just a case. But this...you win and you're a god. You lose and you die. She had always won before. But there was never a Sydney before.

He had often wondered how she did it...maintained the level of energy and single-minded purpose needed to tackle a case like this. It exhausted him but invigorated the tall woman even more. Evin's focus, he knew, once she was hot on the trail of her prey, was unshakable. It was what made her so good. Nothing, absolutely nothing, but that particular case existed for her. She sacrificed all else.

Is she going to be able to focus with Sydney around? Is she going to be able to make that sacrifice she needs to make to win? Is Sydney going to understand? A knot formed in his stomach as the elevator door opened and he stepped in.


Evin pulled the BMW to a stop in front of a little corner grocery. "I'll be right back."

She was out of the car before Sydney had a chance to ask any questions. The redhead watched the tall form of her lover disappear through the door. What is she doing? A little sigh escaped as she settled back in the seat to wait.

She's all over the place. Sydney felt as if she had been watching a chameleon. Evin's mood had swung in ten different directions since she had picked Sydney up from school. Her body shivered involuntarily as she thought of the cold, hard eyes and the voice that had been so accusatory just a few minutes ago. It was hard for her to believe that same person was the one, who, just a mere half hour before that, had wistfully elicited a promise from Sydney to remember that she loved her. Where's the insecurity coming from?

So much information. As her lover had spoken about the case, it had been easy for Sydney to imagine the wheels spinning in that beautiful head. I know there are so many layers to the case and what she wants to do, but I don't understand it all. It's so frustrating. She knew that some of the frustration came from her lack of experience. That will come with time, Syd. Be patient.

The other part of her frustration was a combination of things. Evin thought of things on a different level, things Sydney herself didn't even think of. Like that judge thing...appointed versus elected. Maybe that's just lack of experience, too. But the mood swings. That's something else. She had expected the woman to be like a dog with a nice meaty bone about the information that Andrew had unearthed. But instead, she had been almost hesitant in her excitement. Something's not right, and I'm going to find out what it is.

The driver's door opened and Evin climbed in, handing Sydney a bag.

"That was fast," Sydney said as she looked in the bag. A loaf of bread? "Um, Evin?"

"Yeah?" the low voice answered as she maneuvered the car back onto the street.

"Are you hungry? There's just bread here. I...I...don't think we've got anything at the boathouse to make sandwiches."

"It's for the ducks."

"Ducks?"

"Yeah."

"Ducks?" Sydney repeated, a note of confusion in her voice.

"To feed the ducks. At the park."

"Ah...I see." I have no clue what she's talking about. "It's raining."

The tall attorney shrugged. "Doesn't bother the ducks."

"No...I suppose it doesn't." This day is getting stranger and stranger. We're going to the park to feed ducks. Quit thinking about it, Sydney.

They drove the rest of the way to the park in silence. Evin parked the BMW in one of the empty parking bays by a beautiful structure next to the lagoon's edge.

"Oh, Evin...it's beautiful." The scene was breathtaking. About fifty yards in front of Sydney stood a beautiful Grecian style open-air pavilion with majestic Ionic columns. Four lion sculptures guarded the structure that looked like it belonged in ancient Greece. Statuesque oaks with moss-draped branches dotted the landscape to either side. The rain had slowed down to a fine mist, creating an almost translucent lens through which her mind's eye looked.

"You've never been to City Park before?"

"Not this part...just the golf course."

"Haven't been here in a while." I'm not sure why I'm here now. "I...came here a lot...as a kid. It's...see that tree." Evin pointed out a particularly large oak whose heavy branches hung low. "It's over two hundred years old. I used to climb around in that tree like a monkey." She laughed softly. "Scared my mother half to death."

Sydney turned, taking in the tall woman's profile. It wasn't hard for her to imagine a miniature version of the tall woman fearlessly climbing the branches. "I bet you drove your mother crazy."

"Yeah, I...was a little restless...had a lot of energy." She turned her head and smiled at Sydney. "She told me I kept her in shape. I...I...miss her sometimes. She had a beautiful laugh...musical. It was...," Evin cleared her throat. "You, um, ready to go feed the ducks?"

A small hand settled on Evin's leg and squeezed. "I'm sorry...about your mother."

The dark head nodded an acknowledgment as the rain started again.

"Come on, baby, I haven't fed ducks in....I can't remember when."

"You want an umbrella?"

"Nah," Sydney grinned. "Let's make a mad dash for it." The small revelation of Evin's past had somehow eased her apprehension of what was to come.

Two car doors opened and they sprinted for the pavilion, Evin carrying the loaf of bread.

"What's this place called?" the law student asked as they stood at the edge, looking out over the lagoon.

"The Peristyle...built in 1907. You can rent it out for parties, stuff like that. It's beautiful at night, with all the lights."

Evin took a seat at the top of the steps that led down to the lagoon, leaning back against a column. With a wave, she motioned Sydney to join her.

"Where are the ducks?"

"You gotta call 'em. They all nest on that little island over there." Hands cupped in front of her mouth and she took a deep breath and blew.

"Wow," Sydney laughed at the excellent imitation of a duck that had sounded. " That sounded like a duck."

"Good thing. It's supposed to be a duck call."

"Where in the world did you learn how to do that?" Sydney asked as she looked in some amazement at her companion.

"Hunting...with my dad and uncles."

She curled her fingers around a cotton-covered arm. "Do you miss your dad?" she asked the profile. The jaw muscles shifted and set.

Do I miss him? "I...I...miss the man I thought he was," Evin answered cryptically. A long arm extended and pointed. "Here they come."

"There must be fifty of them. Oh, Evin! Look at the babies." Sydney exclaimed, delighted at the parade of ducks swimming towards them. "Do we have enough bread for all of them?"

"Yeah...look at how fat they are." Some of the ducks had reached shore and were waddling their way towards them. Evin chuckled. "We're not their sole supply of food."

A large hand reached into the bag sitting between them, pulling out several slices of bread and handed a couple to Sydney. Long fingers tore the bread in pieces and casually tossed them into the growing flock of ducks below them.

Sydney joined in the bread tossing as the ducks darted to and fro, chasing the pieces of bread. "What's the matter with that one...the one with the red thing on his beak? Is he sick?"

Blue eyes spotted the duck in question. It was a male, smaller than most of the other ducks, with bedraggled feathers and several bald spots sporting wounds in various stages of healing. He scrambled futilely back and forth, trying to snatch a piece of bread.

"They pick on him."

"Oh...that's so mean...it's not right." Sydney hopped down off the steps and into the rain, carrying a piece of bread with her. Shooing some of the ducks away with a wave of her hand, she tossed a piece of bread directly at the object of her sympathy. The bread landed on his beak and he looked at her, startled, while another duck scooted in and grabbed the morsel. She tried again, and this time, the duck was more prepared, barely grabbing the piece of bread before another duck snatched it. A smile crossed her face as she continued to feed the small duck.

The corners of her mouth curled up slightly as Evin watched the law student stand in the rain and feed the bedraggled duck. It's like I've known her forever, but it hasn't even been that long. She thought back to the day she had first met the law student. I was ambushed twice that day. First by Richard. Then by Sydney.

Nothing...absolutely nothing had ever blind-sided her before like the law student had. She had been innocently minding her own business. Well, maybe not innocent. Not looking for anything. Hell, not looking? Actively avoiding is more like it. She didn't need anything...anyone. Hadn't her own mother told her so? Isn't that what she believed herself? Yes...but no more.

She had given up thinking about how Sydney had slipped past her formidable defenses. It was wholly illogical and, frankly, quite unbelievable to her that it had happened. Things like this aren't supposed to happen to me. They don't really exist in this world. Yet the quiet joy she felt in her heart was undeniable proof that things like this, the love she felt, did, indeed, exist.

Blue eyes watched as the small form turned and walked back up the steps, flashing her a smile. She has such a kind heart. "You feel better?"

"Yeah," she replied as she resumed her seat next to Evin. "Why do they do that to him? It's not like the other ones are starving. Look at how fat that one is." She pointed out a huge white duck.

"That one's big enough to feed a family of twelve at Christmas."

A soft slap to Evin's arm and an admonishment. "Oh...Evin...that's...that's...."

"Cruel?" the tall woman finished for her.

"No, that's not what I meant." Sydney looked at the tall attorney thoughtfully. "I know we eat animals. It's...it's just not so easy to think about having fun feeding them and then cooking them in the next instant."

"It's survival of the fittest, Syd." An impassive mask settled on Evin's features. "That's why they pick on him. Because they can."

Realization dawned in Sydney's mind. "Like Hynes can pick on Willie and Emma."

"Yeah...but no more." The tall attorney tossed a few more pieces of bread into the throng of ducks.

"Evin...please tell me what you think is going to happen with the case. I need to know. You're...it's all a bit unsettling. I can tell something's bothering you and it worries me."

Where do you start, Moran? No evasion, no double-talk, remember. And try not to scare the hell out of her. "These kinds of cases, Syd...they're brutal. Your first shot has to be the kill shot. You gotta have enough to put 'em down. What we have...it's enough for a kill shot, but not an immediate kill. The power of the injunctive relief is usually your strongest card. Most of these civil RICO claims, they're used in business disputes. You get an injunction against the company and freeze their assets...their bank accounts. It's hard to conduct business without being able to access your bank accounts. Makes the defendants come to the table fast. That, and the threat of treble damages and litigation costs."

Evin tossed the last of her bread out and looked at the small woman, who was regarding her intently, having forgotten about the clamoring ducks at their feet.

"The injunction...the only thing it will do is stop the case from proceeding in state court. There's nothing to really make them come to the table. I can't ask for Hynes' assets to be frozen...there's no real relevance to this so a judge wouldn't allow it. And this isn't really about the land anyway at this point. It's about everything they've done to get the land." Evin sighed and looked into Sydney's eyes. "I'm going to walk into court and accuse these people of committing murder, fraud, and whatever else I can come up with," she said soberly. "I doubt they'll take it well."

"You can win it." It wasn't a question, it was a statement.

"With a lot of things going my way, and no mistakes...yeah, I think I can. But that's no guarantee." Her fingers tangled with Sydney's. "I'll be scrambling every day, just to stay a half a step ahead of them. It's twenty hours a day, Syd...seven days a week, for who knows how long. Could be three months, could be six. That's not going to leave a whole lot of time for us."

"I've been thinking about that...I mean, the time thing, Even before this came up, we didn't have a whole lot of time. I want to quit Law Review."

"No...Syd, you can't."

"And why not? I'm not shooting for some high profile job when I graduate. I want to do things like I've been doing. I want to help people, not represent some corporation like Hynes. The only thing that Law Review does for me is look good on my resume." She smiled up at the tall attorney. "Besides, I've already got the t-shirt."

The tall attorney protested. "You worked hard for that. You can't just...."

"Yeah, I can. There are some things more important than that." A fair brow rose. "And who are you to say anything? You turned it down, flat. Why did you do that?"

She shrugged. "Just not my thing. I like practical more than theoretical. Spending my time writing about what people did...I'd rather be doing something than talking about it."

"Me, too." She braced herself, knowing that her next statement wouldn't be received well. "It will also give me more time to help with the case."

Evin was up on her feet in a second. "No way, Syd. No fucking way."

Deep breath, Sydney. You knew this would be her reaction. Stay calm. She stood and turned, watching the tall attorney start to pace back and forth in the pavilion. "Why not?" she asked reasonably.

"They're going to do whatever they can to get out of this. And it won't just be limited to what they can and cannot do in the courtroom. Anyone associated with the case...will be a target. I will not have you in the middle of that."

Another deep breath, Sydney. "And that would make it different from what we've been going though with this case, how, exactly?"

"It's just different," the tall attorney snapped.

"Objection! Vague and non-responsive." She lowered her voice, imitating a judge. "Objection sustained, Ms. Parker. I instruct the witness to answer the question."

Evin stopped pacing and stared at Sydney.

"Well, you heard the judge. How is this different?"

The tall woman started to laugh. "Sometimes, Sydney Parker, I think you're crazier than I am."

The law student grinned. "And sometimes, Evin Moran, I can't believe how crazy I am about you."

"I don't want you hurt."

Sydney walked over and leaned into the tall frame. "I don't want you hurt, either. I need to do this, Evin...for myself. I need to finish what I started...see it through to the end, even if I can't appear in court as co-counsel."

Evin's heart was pounding as her arms went around the smaller woman. "It's gonna be really nasty, Syd. I'll do things...you're not gonna like it. It's not what you would...could do."

So that's where the insecurity is coming from, she thought. "Baby...." Choose your words carefully here, Syd. "Rule number one...whatever it takes." For both this case and you, her mind added silently. She looked up into uncertain blue eyes and held them for a long moment before bringing her lips into contact with Evin's. The kiss was hesitant at first, as if Evin's fear was doing it's best to take over. But Sydney persisted and felt the body next to hers start to relax as their lips made more insistent contact. The rain started again, heavier this time, and splashed down her back. She ignored the rain and Evin's fears and her own as she continued to kiss her lover, trying to convey everything she felt for Evin in this silent communication.

As the kiss broke and Sydney laid her head against Evin's chest, the tall attorney sighed. Against all good judgment, all good sense and every instinct she had, Evin found herself speaking the words she swore she wouldn't say. "You can help with the case."

A mumbled "Thank you" against her chest was the response as she hugged the law student even closer.


Part 17               Part 19 to be continued

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