Good morning,” I said into my cell phone. “This Leo the Lion?”
“Rosato!”asked Azzic, in disbelief. “What thefuck -”
“I’m at the federal courthouse. Tenth Floor. Be there or be square.” I hung up, flipped the phone shut, and jumped out of the Yellow cab. It was done, set in motion.
I bolted through the doors of the courthouse. The Roundhouse was only blocks away and traffic wouldn’t be an issue. Azzic would fly here. I checked my watch: 9:30. I figured I had ten minutes to pull this off, at the most. I rushed into the lobby.
Deliverymen pushed dollies across the polished floor. Lawyers conspired with their clients before trial. Federal employees moseyed by on their way to work. There were no cops in sight, only a few blue-jacketed court security officers talking among themselves near the elevators. I kept my head down and joined the line at the metal detector. It was longer than I expected. My stomach tensed. I glanced at the time. 9:35.
My gaze fell on the tabloid carried by a young woman in front of me. WANTED FOR DOUBLE MURDER! the headline screamed. I did a double-take. It was my own face plastered on the front page. A life-sized pencil portrait, complete with new hairdo. My insides torqued into a knot. If anybody in the lobby recognized me I’d be dead.
I lowered my head. My heart thumped inside my chest. Stay calm, girl. Nobody would expect a killer in a courthouse, especially dressed like I was, in a classic red blazer over a black knit dress, with chic sunglasses. It was the only businesslike outfit the shopper had sent me, and I didn’t look like a fugitive in it, I looked like a lawyer. I squared my padded shoulders, arranged my face into the mask of a busy professional, and frowned at my watch. 9:37.
The woman put her purse and the tabloid on the conveyor belt to the right. The tabloid flopped open to my picture. I fought the urge to bolt. Did anybody see it? A court security officer stood next to the belt but he was watching the parade of X-ray images on the monitor. If he looked over he’d spot the front page. All it would take was one glance.
“Miss? Step on through, please,” said an older court officer to my left. I hadn’t even noticed him standing there.
“Sure… sorry,” I stammered, tearing my eyes from the tabloid. I walked through the metal detector with the newspaper traveling beside me on the conveyor belt, plaguing me like the false accusation it was. I checked the security officer on the stool, but his gaze remained fixed on his monitor. The woman picked up her paper and other belongings, then went on her way. I exhaled for the first time and nabbed my purse as it came off the conveyor belt.
“Kinda dark for sunglasses, don’cha think?” asked a security officer with a cocky smile.
“Pinkeye,” I said. I hurried past him and lost myself in the crowd waiting restlessly at the elevator bank. I checked my watch as coolly as possible. 9:40. The seconds ticked by almost palpably. The elevator was taking forever. Christ. I should have given myself more time, built in the delays. Police sirens blared outside and everyone ignored them but me.Justgive me five more minutes of freedom. I had to get upstairs and deliver the cross-examination of my life. For my life.
Where was the goddamn elevator? Two lawyers began to complain loudly. One in a three-piece suit seemed to be watching me, trying to catch my eye. Did he recognize me from the newspaper? From somewhere else? I turned away, to the gray marble wall.
Bing!The elevator came and I shoved my way in with the mob as the doors closed. The gleaming Rolex of the man sandwiched next to me read 9:42. It was the three-piece suit, who must have maneuvered for the position beside me. He flashed me a sly smile but I stared at the elevator buttons with apparent fascination. The panel was lit like carny lights, and I sweated bullets each time the elevator stopped on a floor that wasn’t mine.
9:43. We were at the ninth floor, with only one left to go.
The lawyer shifted closer. “Excuse me,” he said, “but don’t I know-”
Bing!Tenth Floor! I jumped out of the elevator, ran past theCOURT IN SESSION sign, and slipped into the courtroom. I paused by the doors, slipped off my sunglasses, and scoped out the scene.
The gallery was fuller than the first day. Bob Wingate was there next to Renee Butler, as I’d hoped. The Honorable Judge Edward J. Thompson presided and Dr. Haupt sat stiffly in the witness stand. Eve Eberlein stood next to a projector that cast equations onto a white screen at the front of the courtroom. I hadn’t figured on the projector. All the better.
The wall clock said 9:44. Time to go. I strode past the bar of the court and slipped my paper under the overhead projector before Eve had time to react. “Your Honor,” I said, “members of the jury, would you please take a look at this exhibit? I think you’ll find it serves the cause of justice.”
“Bennie?” Eve sputtered. “Is that you?”
“Look at the screen. It’s Exhibit A.”
Eve whirled around and faced the projection screen. It was the news clipping, blown up larger than life at the front of the courtroom:
YORK MAN FOUND SLAIN
I heard her suck wind before she turned and said, “What are you doing here? I’m in the middle of a trial!”
From the dais, a puzzled Judge Thompson said, “Miss? Miss? Aren’t you out of order?”
“On the contrary, Your Honor,” I said. “This is my only chance to be heard, and it has to be in court to make the police listen.”
“Police? What police?”
I looked around. The courtroom was still. The wall clock ticked onto 9:45. No cops. The jury stared at me, everyone stared at me. My face flushed red. Goddamn elevators. “Uh, they’re on their way, Your Honor.”
Suddenly Azzic exploded through the courtroom doors with a squad of uniforms behind him and charged up the aisle.
“You killed this man, didn’t you, Eve?” I called out. “You and Renee Butler murdered him, just like you murdered Mark!”
“That’s outrageous!” Eve’s pretty features were etched with a controlled fury as she eyed the police. “You killed Mark, not me!”
Azzic stopped at mid-aisle and held back his men with a beefy hand. The gallery wheeled back and forth at the commotion.
“You and Renee,” I said. “You killed Eileen’s husband together. Don’t deny it. Renee confessed. She even gave me her key.” I reached into my blazer pocket and flashed the edge of my locker key. It was too big, but it would do.
Eve’s face slackened with momentary surprise and her gaze found Renee in the gallery.
“No, no!” Renee shouted, jumping to her feet. “That’s not true! That’s not my key!” Her hands flew to the neckline of her dress and she fumbled with the deep folds of cloth.
A group of court security officers banged through the courtroom doors. Most of the gallery was on its feet and headed for the exits, flooding the aisles. “What is going on here?” Judge Thompson demanded, but nobody was listening, least of all me.
“She’s lying, Eve,” I said, playing one off against the other. “She told the cops everything. That’s why they’re here, to arrest you. You stabbed Eileen’s husband to death and you hid the murder weapon in a safety deposit box. Renee wears her key on a necklace, you keep yours on that charm bracelet. I remembered your line from the opinion letter, ‘keys to a treasure chest.’ I confronted Renee and she told me the whole story.”
“No, no, no!” Renee cried. She began to panic and clawed frantically at her dress for the key. Azzic stood hard as bone, watching the scene in grim silence.
“Order! Come to order!” Judge Thompson shouted, slamming his gavel.Crak! Crak! Crak!
“This is ridiculous!” Eve spat out. “I’ll sue you for defamation, for slander!” A sneer crept across her lipsticked mouth. She was too smart to incriminate herself, and I hadn’t expected her to. I knew which one of them had a heart. I turned to Renee.
“Tell her the truth, Renee! Eileen’s husband was your idea, but Mark was all Eve’s. The cops have a statement from Jessie Morgan, from the law clinic.”
“Jessie?” Renee froze on the spot, her eyes wide and brimming with tears. Her hands ceased her frantic motion and her fingers halted at her neck, encircling her own throat. I felt a pang of sympathy but went straight for the jugular. She had killed Mark and she had betrayed me.
“You planted the scissors on me when you went to my apartment, Renee. You called in your chit with Eileen and got her to frame me for the CEO’s murder. You had Eileen kill Bill because he wouldn’t go along with it. Say it now. Tell the truth. This is your chance. You don’t have to keep the secret anymore.”
“No, no, no!” Renee cried out, her face contorted with anguish. She shook her head and began to sob. “It was… Eve’s idea. I didn’t want to kill Mark. He didn’t… do anything. She said she’d tell… about Eileen, what we did. She wanted the firm for herself. The new firm, the money.”
I would have cheered the confession, but a wave of exhaustion washed over me, leaving me trembling. My eyes welled up with tears of relief. It was over.
Suddenly Eve bolted past an astounded jury to the judge’s entrance by the dais. Azzic signaled to the uniformed cops, who chased up the aisle after her. Security guards clambered over the emptying pews to where Renee had slumped, weeping. Judge Thompson banged the gavel in vain.Crak! Crak! Crak!
Azzic fought his way up the aisle and stared at me, his eyes flickering with the tiniest twinge of regret, quickly masked.
I wiped my eyes, self-conscious. “Nice policework, Azzic.”
When I looked up he was gone.