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Deadly Dining

 

DEADLY

DINING

 

 

A STAN TURNER MYSTERY

VOLUME 11

 

 

by

 

 

William Manchee

 

 

TOP PUBLICATIONS, LTD.

DALLAS, TEXAS

 

Deadly Dining

A Stan Turner Mystery

Volume 11

 

© COPYRIGHT

William Manchee

2014

 

 

Top Publications, Ltd.

Dallas, Texas

 

Shakespir Edition

 

ISBN 978-1-935722-86-1

Library of Congress Control Number 2013953976

No part of this book may be published or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or information storage and retrieval systems without the express written permission of the publisher.

 

This work is a novel and any similarity to actual persons or events is purely coincidental.

 

1

 

Stan Turner

 

It’s bad enough to be sick, but when the doctors have no idea what’s wrong with you, that is pure torture. Such was the case with Stan Turner’s wife, Rebekah. Her mysterious illness had plagued the Turner family for over a year. During that time she had suffered stroke-like symptoms that left her weak, lethargic and very depressed.

It was a dark, stormy day in early May 1997 and Stan had just brought Rebekah home from the hospital after she’d undergone a parathyroidectomy. It had rained all the way home and thunder could be heard in the distance. Stan drove their new Honda Accord into the garage and then helped Rebekah into the house since the surgery had left her weak and a little shaky. After enduring this ordeal for so long, Stan hoped it was the end of her poor health and their life would get back to normal. After guiding her into an overstuffed chair, he turned on the TV, took his cell phone from his pocket, and called for pizza delivery.

“Well, are you happy to be home?” Stan asked.

“Yes. I can’t believe I had to have surgery.”

“Well, it’s a good thing you did. They said the tumor was the size of a walnut.”

“I know. I wonder what caused it.”

“Maybe it was from chasing the mosquito truck around when you were a child?”

Rebekah smiled. “Yeah. That probably wasn’t too smart in retrospect. But all the kids in the neighborhood did it. It was hot and the cool mist felt good.”

“Yeah, but back then they were spraying with DDT. They don’t even allow that to be sold anymore.”

“What kind of pizza did you order?” Rebekah asked, deliberately changing the subject.

“Don’t worry, I ordered your favorite, pepperoni.”

“Good. What’s on TV?”

1The news and then Ally McBeal.”

Rebekah nodded approvingly and then focused on the TV. The news was just beginning. A flashing headline and dramatic music indicated there was breaking news.

“This is Nikki Lane at Emilio’s Italian Restaurant in Dallas where four patrons apparently have become violently sick from food eaten at the popular north Dallas restaurant. Police and ambulances are on the scene where witnesses say four customers eating a variety of entrees all got sick at about the same time. Three of the four customers have been rushed to Medical City Hospital and the fourth is being loaded into an ambulance as we speak.

“Now if you have a young child watching you will probably want them to leave the room before we show this video taken by a customer at a nearby table. It’s quite graphic.”

The restaurant’s interior appears where a man at a table is holding his throat and coughing uncontrollably. Then the woman across from him turns pale and starts to throw up. The man next to her stands up, grabs his throat and then collapses to the ground. The final woman at the table screams and then begins to convulse. Two waiters come over to try to help but there is little they can do. The woman’s convulsions finally stop and her head falls forward onto the table, her eyes wide-open. There are screams and general panic as people flee the restaurant. Sirens can be heard in the background and then the video ends.

“Well, that image will probably keep many of us awake tonight. We apologize for showing it but it’s our commitment to bring you the latest news no matter how unsettling it might be,” Nikki Lane said. She hesitated, listening to something being said to her in her earpiece. “We just got word that two of the victims were DOA at Medical City Hospital. No word on the other two victims. The police on the scene have advised us that many customers at Emilio Italian Restaurant fled the scene shortly after the four victims got sick. Police are requesting that anyone who ate at the restaurant tonight go to their local emergency room to be checked out. No one knows right now what caused these terrible reactions, so it’s imperative that anyone who ate at the restaurant see a doctor immediately.

“To summarize two people have died tonight while eating at Emilio’s Italian Restaurant and two others have been admitted to Medical City Hospital in Dallas. We’ll keep you updated as new information is learned about this terrible tragedy. This is Nikki Lane for Channel 4 News.”

“Oh, my God!” Rebekah said. “We’ve eaten at that restaurant, haven’t we?”

Stan nodded. “Yes, we have. I did some estate planning for Emilio Bellucci and his wife Eva. I took you to lunch there about a year ago. He’s a really nice guy and everybody loves his restaurant.”

“Oh, right. His wife was much younger and very beautiful.”

“Yes. Eva was an aspiring model who worked as a waitress before she landed her first contract. Emilio was a cook’s apprentice at the same restaurant.”

“How romantic.”

“Yeah. I’m a little surprised that Eva stayed with Emilio after she made it big, but she did and even financed his restaurant.”

“Ah, well. I’m afraid you’ll be handling his bankruptcy soon,” Rebekah noted. “Then we’ll see how strong their love is.”

Stan sighed. “Yeah, you may be right. I can’t believe this happened.”

When the ten o’clock news came on Stan watched to find out the latest on the story. The news anchor went immediately to Nikki Lane who was still on the scene.

“Three people have died tonight, possibly of poisoning, according to reliable sources at Medical City Dallas. A fourth victim is in stable condition and expected to fully recover. The police have refused to comment but we have it from reliable sources at the hospital that Parmesan cheese laced with some kind of pesticide or rodenticide was responsible for the three deaths there earlier tonight. No one knows how or why the cheese was laced with poison, but the waiter who served the cheese and the owner of the restaurant were taken into custody for questioning about the incident.”

Stan and Rebekah watched the video again and then shut off the TV. That night Stan couldn’t sleep. He felt so badly for Emilio and wondered how something like that could have happened. He knew the restaurant business was a perilous one as he’d put several through bankruptcy himself. More than eighty percent ultimately failed, according to the research he had read about it. Emilio had been lucky that his restaurant had always flourished. Stan worried that Rebekah was right. There would be no way he could survive something like this. Stan had tried to call Emilio before he went to bed but hadn’t been able to get through. He tried again in the morning, but there was still was no answer at his home and there was a message on the restaurant’s answering machine that it would be closed until further notice.

When Stan got to work Maria reminded him he had a 9:00 o’clock appointment with Ramadan Bakira, a Pakistani who had some kind of problem with a business partner. Stan cringed at hearing this. Business disputes were bad enough, but when they involved immigrants they were usually a nightmare. As he was getting himself some coffee his partner, Paula Waters, walked in the office kitchen.

“Good morning,” Paula said. “How is Rebekah?”

“Okay, I think. She was a little tired yesterday but she seemed to be feeling better today. Her nurse friend is going to stay with her just to make sure she’s okay.”

“Good. You can’t be too careful.”

“The doctor said she should be back to normal in a few days.”

“Glad to hear it.”

“Did you hear about Emilio Bellucci?”

“No. What happened?” Paula asked.

“Three people died at his restaurant from poisoned Parmesan cheese.”

“What? You’ve got to be kidding?”

“No. I wish I were. There was a video that was pretty grotesque.”

“Oh, my God!”

Maria walked in and smiled. “Mr. Bakira is here to see you.”

“Oh, right. Okay. Talk to you later, Paula,” Stan said leaving with his coffee mug in hand.

After Stan set his coffee down he went out to the reception area, greeted his new client, and brought him back to his office. Mr. Bakira was a slight man with a dark complexion and talked with a strong accent.

“So, what can I do for you, Mr. Bakira?”

“Oh, you can call me Ram. That’s what everyone calls me.”

“Okay, Ram. You said something about a problem with a partnership?”

“Yes. I recently immigrated to Texas and bought into a grocery store in Richardson, Pakimart Grocery.”

“You bought into it?”

“Yes. Saman Keashkear sponsored my immigration to the United States so I bought into his restaurant.”

“I see. So, how much did you invest?”

“Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. It was all the money my family and I had in the world.”

“Where are you from?”

“Lahore, Pakistan,” Ram replied.

“Did you come alone?”

“No. My wife and daughter came as well. Sammy sponsored me for a work visa.”

“Okay, so you two are partners now?”

“Yes. He has fifty-one percent and I have 49%.”

“Oh really?” Stan said glumly.

A minority partner was usually in a bad position since the majority partner could do pretty much whatever he wanted and the minority party was forced to live with it. Stan usually advised his clients against buying a minority interest in any small business unless he really knew his business partner well and trusted him implicitly.

“So, how did you meet Sammy?”

“He was referred to me by a friend back in Pakistan.”

“How well did your friend know him?”

“I don’t know? I’m not sure he actually knew him. He just heard he was the man to talk to if you wanted to immigrate to the U.S.”

Stan sighed. “Okay, so what’s going on that’s got you upset?”

Ram took a deep breath. “Well, business has been bad and I need money to buy inventory and pay the rent, but Sammy won’t give me any.”

“Okay, what happened to the $250,000?”

“ Sammy took it. He said it was the purchase price of the 49% interest I bought. I asked him to let me have some to pay the bills and buy inventory but he refused.”

“Does he work in the business?”

“He did at first but now I seldom see him.”

“Do you have employees?”

“Just my wife and I.”

“So, you’re behind on the rent?”

“Yes. The landlord is threatening to lock us out.”

“Do you have a written partnership agreement?”

“No. He just gave me a bill of sale for my share of the business.”

“You obviously didn’t consult an attorney before you bought into the business.”

“No. In Pakistan we don’t often use attorneys.”

“Well America is different. You should always consult an attorney before you get into any business relationship.”

“Yes, now I know that, but there must be something I can do? If the business goes under I’ll have to return to Pakistan in disgrace. My parents, sister and brothers gave me all their savings. It was my hope to sponsor them all to come to America someday. I can’t tell them I lost all of their money! Please help me, Mr. Turner. My wife just had a new baby and she would die if I told her we had to go back to Pakistan. You’ve got to help me.”

Stan wished he had some magical solution for Ram but he knew the cards were stacked against him. Sammy was a con artist and even if they sued him and got a judgment the odds that they’d ever collect anything from him were slim to none. Nevertheless, Stan wasn’t the type of attorney who could just turn away a person in desperate circumstances.

Stan sighed again. “Well to be honest with you, it’s not likely you’ll ever see your $250,000 again, but there may be a way to keep you in business.”

“Really? How?” Ram asked hopefully.

“Well, there is what is called a Chapter 11. It’s a type of bankruptcy but it’s actually a reorganization.”

“I have heard of Chapter 11, but how will that help me?”

“Well, first of all it gives you at least four month’s protection from creditors during which time you don’t have to pay a dime to anyone.”

“But what could I do in four months?”

“A lot of things—line up new financing, find new suppliers, reject leases, sell inventory and most importantly stockpile cash.”

“Stockpile cash?”

“Yes. For four months or maybe even longer you can save all the cash from your sales and then propose a payout to creditors of as little as ten cents on the dollar. You’ll have to pay your landlord everything he’s owed eventually, but you can do it over five to seven years.”

Ram’s face lit up. “That’s sounds good, but can’t Sammy stop me?”

“He could if he wanted to spend a lot of money on an attorney, but my guess is he doesn’t really care about the grocery store. Selling you a portion of the business was just a way to steal your $250,000.”

“But if I turn the business around and start making money won’t he try to come in and take it over?”

“No, because we’ll structure the Chapter 11 plan in such a way that partners will lose their equity interest unless they make a capital contribution and you’ll end up owning the business free and clear.”

“You can do that?” Ram questioned.

“Yes, if I’m right and Sammy doesn’t contest the bankruptcy or want to put any money in the business. But, if he does contest the bankruptcy then we’ll sue him for fraud and there is a good chance the court will award you his interest in the business as damages.”

“That sounds good, but it also sounds expensive? I don’t have much money.”

“I’ll need a ten thousand dollar retainer and the rest you can pay down the road when the business gets turned around. Can you raise that much?”

“I don’t know. I’ll have to see if there is something I can sell to raise the money. I’ll let you know.”

Stan gave Ram a list of everything he would need for a Chapter 11 filing and wished him good luck in finding the money. In the old days Stan would have taken the case on a contingency but with a partner and an associate now he couldn’t do anything that financially reckless. He felt sorry for Ram and hoped the business could be turned around in a Chapter 11. Realistically most Chapter 11s failed, but Stan had a better track record than most attorneys because he didn’t quit on a client the moment they ran out of money to pay attorney’s fees.

The moment Ram left, Maria advised Stan he had a call from Emilio Bellucci. Stan sat up and picked up the phone. “Emilio. I have been trying to call you.”

“Yes. I got your message but I haven’t had a minute to return the call.”

“I saw the news last night. What a nightmare?”

“Yeah,” Emilio groaned. “You don’t know the half of it.”

“So, how are you holding up?”

“Just tired. I didn’t get any sleep last night.”

“Any idea how the poison got in the Parmesan cheese?”

“No clue, but I know it didn’t get there by accident.”

“Do the police have any suspects?”

“They haven’t told me one way or another. They’ve questioned me, all my employees and the customers who were there last night.”

“Well, I just wanted to remind you to notify your insurance carrier right away. There are bound to be claims and lawsuits over the three deaths.”

“Right. I’ll call my agent right away.”

“And if the police question you again you should have an attorney present.”

“Okay.”

“Do you have a criminal attorney?”

“No. Can you recommend one?”

“Well, my partner is very good. You’ve met Paula haven’t you?”

“Yes, briefly.”

“Well, she used to work in the DA’s office, so she knows her way around the courthouse.”

“Couldn’t you do it?”

“Well, I’m not a criminal law specialist like Paula. You’d be better off with her. But in actuality if you hire her I’ll end up working a lot on your case anyway.”

“Good. Then I’ll call her if the police want to question me further.”

“Also, if you get served with any lawsuits, even though you have insurance, it’s a good idea to hire your own attorney to monitor the case because the attorney the insurance company hires will be looking out for the insurance company and not necessarily act in your best interest.”

Emilio took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “You do bankruptcies too, don’t you?”

Stan laughed. “Yeah.”

“Well, I have a feeling that’s where all this is going to end up.”

Stan wished he had some words of encouragement for Emilio but he couldn’t think of anything exciting right off the bat. “Well, hang in there Emilio. I know things look pretty bleak right now, but when everything is sorted out it might not be so bad. If some lunatic decided to use your restaurant for his murderous acts, your customers will understand that it was not your fault. So, in time, your customers will come back and your business will be as strong as ever. In the meantime there are some things we can do to protect you, if necessary.”

“Okay. Thanks Stan.”

After Stan hung up he went to tell Paula about the situation. She was in her office working diligently on the computer when he walked in. She looked up and smiled.

“You’ve been busy this morning,” she said.

“Yes, another victim of an immigration scam.”

“Oh, God. How much did he lose?”

“Two hundred and fifty grand.”

“Ouch!”

“But, that’s not the case I wanted to talk to you about.”

“Oh. Something juicy I hope?”

Paula and Stan had met in law school and become good friends. They studied together and even helped the FBI with a case against a Mexican drug cartel. After they graduated Paula went to the DA’s office to get criminal law experience and Stan went into private practice because he didn’t like criminal law all that much. But as fate would have it, Stan immediately got a high profile murder case and Paula found herself stuck prosecuting misdemeanor cases. When one successful murder case led to another, Paula got so jealous that she decided to approach Stan about a partnership. Since Paula was a woman who didn’t take ‘no’ for an answer, the law firm of Turner and Waters was born.

“Did you see the news reports about the three people who died yesterday at Emilio’s Italian Restaurant?”

“I heard something about it.”

“Well Emilio is a client and he insists it was no accident. Somebody laced the Parmesan cheese with poison.”

“Oh, my God!”

“So, somebody is going to be charged with the murders. If it turns out to be Emilio or one of his employees, then you’ll probably get the case.”

Paula’s face began to glow and Stan could see the wheels beginning to turn in her head. Paula had just finished up a high profile murder case. She’d successfully defended a woman accused of repeatedly stabbing her husband with an ice pick. The case was doubly difficult because it wasn’t the first time the client had been accused of killing her husband. The jury had deadlocked in the first case and the prosecution had elected not to try the case again. So, Paula pretty much had to prove her client innocent of both crimes to get her off.

“Let me know the minute you hear something,” Paula said gleefully.

“Don’t worry. I told Emilio to call you directly.”

“Good. In the meantime I’ll start doing background work just in case the call comes in.”

Stan nodded and left. When he got back to his office Jodie was waiting for him.

“Hi, Jodie,” Stan said smiling.

Jodie Marshall had been with Stan since he first opened his law practice. Stan fell in love with her the first time she stepped in his office, but she was very young and they both were married, so he managed to keep their relationship professional. Jodie started off as a secretary, got promoted to legal assistant after a few years and then decided to go to law school. When she graduated Stan hired her on as an associate. Jodie was tall, blond and jaw-dropping gorgeous. She was divorced and had no children, so when she took on a case there were no distractions. She was like a bloodhound. Turn her loose and whoever she was after had better watch out. In her very first case she put so much heat on a sweatshop owner that he had her kidnapped, but she survived to ultimately bring him down.

“Hey. I wondered if you would sit in on an initial interview with me. It looks like a pretty complicated case.”

“Sure. What’s it about?”

“It’s a Good Samaritan case that went awry. This guy tried to stop a robbery at a jewelry store and somehow managed to shoot the store owner.”

Stan laughed. “Oh, wonderful. I can’t wait.”

Jodie shrugged. “Don’t laugh. The store owner wants a million dollars in damages.”

Stan rolled his eyes. In most cases if you were suing the average private citizen it didn’t matter if you sued them for ten thousand or ten million. They rarely had non-exempt assets to go after, so a judgment was worthless. If a defendant owned a home then he might have homeowner’s insurance which had general liability coverage of up to $300,000 built in and if you were real lucky he’d have a million dollar umbrella policy.

“So does our client have any assets?”

Jodie sighed. “Nothing tangible, but he says he has a business that he thinks is pretty valuable.”

Stan groaned. “Okay. What about insurance?”

Jodie shook her head. “None.”

“Okay. I guess we have us a lawsuit. When is your client coming in?”

“Right after lunch.”

“Okay, I’ll join you in the conference room when he comes in.”

Jodie left and Stan went over and sorted through his telephone messages. He was glad Jodie had an interesting case to work on. After her last case was over she’d been relegated to bankruptcies and divorces which were tedious and depressing. He was worried if she got bored she might take one of the offers from the big downtown law firms who were constantly trying to lure her away from Turner and Waters. Now she’d have something more worthy of her talents and energies to work on, something that would excite and challenge her, and something that would generate cash flow.

The firm’s overhead had skyrocketed a year earlier when Jodie was hired. They’d been able to manage it when each of them had major cases to work on, but they’d gone several months now without any significant new business. So Stan had been sweating to make each payroll, but with his new Chapter 11 bankruptcy, Jodie’s new lawsuit, and Paula’s new murder case, he wouldn’t have to worry about cash flow for a while. He just prayed everything would fall into place.

 

 

 

2

 

Jodie Marshall

 

Jodie Marshall pulled up the Texas Statutes on her computer. She wanted to review the Good Samaritan law before her new client came in. She’d studied it in law school but couldn’t remember exactly how it worked. When she found it she immediately realized it wouldn’t apply to this situation. It was designed primarily to protect people giving emergency medical assistance at an accident scene or in a public place. She searched for other statutes and found one that protected persons who assisted others in disaster situations but only if directed to by a policeman or other public official. She next searched for articles about the incident in local newspapers and quickly found several. The most comprehensive story came from the Dallas Morning News.

 

EX-ARMY MP THWARTS JEWELRY HEIST

 

Michael Mahoney picked the wrong time to rob the Jewelry Mart in West Plano. Had he known Bob Larson, an ex-Army MP who recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq, would be stopping by the store on Wednesday, May 7th to pick out an engagement ring for his girlfriend he probably would have picked a different day for the heist. When Larson entered the store he was surprised that nobody was behind the counter, so he called out assuming the proprietor had stepped into the back room for something. Being an ex-MP he became suspicious when nobody responded to his call, so he went into the back room only to find it empty. He was about to leave when he heard voices coming from another room farther back in the store. So, he moved closer and, through an opened door, observed Michael Mahoney holding a gun on Herbert Stein, forcing him to open the store’s safe. Larson, seeing that he had the element of surprise, charged Mahoney and managed to wrestle the gun away from him. Unfortunately, the 32 caliber revolver discharged and Stein was hit in the leg. Once Larson had secured his prisoner he called 9-1-1. Stein is expected to fully recover from his injury.

 

Jodie read the article several times. She had a bad feeling about the case. It wouldn’t be an easy one to defend since Larson probably should have just called 9-1-1 rather than intervene when he did. Her intercom buzzed.

“Mr. Larson is here to see you,” Maria said.

“Okay,” Jodie said. “Take him into the conference room and tell Stan he is here.”

“Alright.”

Jodie gathered her things together and walked to the conference room. She introduced herself and took a seat. A moment later Stan joined them.

“So, you’ve been served with a lawsuit,” Jodie said.

Larson sighed. “Yes, can you believe the jerk would sue me after what I did for him?”

“Yes, the article in the Dallas Morning News said he fully recovered.”

“He did. It was just a flesh wound. It was nothing.”

“Can I see what was served on you?” Jodie asked.

Larson handed her a thick stack of papers stapled together. Jodie took it and began to read.

“How long were you in the Army?” Stan asked.

“I served in the Gulf War and then went to Germany.”

“So, you were an MP the entire time?”

“Yes.”

“What kind of training did you get to be an MP?”

“Well, they sent me to a training school for about four months. Then the Gulf War broke out and I went to Kuwait.”

“As an MP what kind of assignments did they give you?”

“We patrolled all the places military personnel would frequent to make sure they were safe and our boys were behaving themselves. We guarded prisoners sometimes.”

“Well, they are suing you for assault and battery and gross negligence,” Jodie advised, putting down the legal papers. “They say your conduct was reckless and caused Mr. Stein grievous injury and extreme mental anguish. They want a million dollars.”

“Yeah. Well they can kiss my ass!” Larson spat. “I probably saved the asshole’s life. The thief probably would have killed him just as soon as he got the safe opened.”

“Do you know what was in the safe?” Stan asked.

Larson shook his head. “No. I interrupted them before he got it opened.”

“The reason I ask,” Stan said, “is that usually there are plenty of jewels in the display cases, but they weren’t touched.”

Larson shrugged. “Maybe he was going to get the contents of the safe first and then get the loose stuff on his way out.”

Stan nodded. “Maybe.”

“Well, this isn’t going to be an easy case to defend,” Jodie said. “I have checked the Good Samaritan Laws and other similar statutes and none of them seem to apply to this situation.”

“So, does that mean I’m screwed?” Larson asked dejectedly.

“No,” Jodie said. “It just means we will have to work hard to defend you. Luckily the plaintiff has the burden of proof and any jury is going to be sympathetic to someone who puts their life on the line to help out a fellow citizen.”

“I should hope so,” Larson said.

“So, you have no liability insurance?” Stan asked. “A homeowner’s policy or renter’s insurance.”

“No. I rent a place but I don’t have any insurance.”

Stan nodded. “If you don’t answer the lawsuit they will get a judgment against you. If they get a judgment they can go after any non-exempt assets.”

“I don’t have anything.”

“What about the business?” Jodie asked.

“Oh. It’s in a corporation. They couldn’t go after that, could they?”

Jodie nodded. “Yes. They could go after your stock.”

“Crap! I can’t let them do that. That’s my livelihood. Plus, I have partners in the business and I don’t want them to get tangled up in this mess.”

“Then you have no choice but to defend the lawsuit and win.”

Larson sighed. “So, what’s that going to cost me?”

“It’s hard to say but it could easily be twenty-five to fifty thousand dollars; more if the plaintiff is aggressive.”

“What does that mean?”

“Well, some plaintiff’s file a lawsuit and then don’t prosecute it diligently. In these cases they are just looking for a quick nuisance settlement. But if the plaintiff really believes in his case and aggressively prosecutes it the attorney’s fees can skyrocket.”

Larson shook his head angrily. “God damn it! I don’t have that kind of money.”

“Well, it will be spread out over a year or two. You can pay us $5,000 down and then we can bill you each month. There will be some months we won’t need to do that much on the case and others where we’ll have to spend a lot of time.”

“Okay. I guess I don’t have any choice.”

“Alright, then I’ll let you and Jodie take it from here. It was a pleasure meeting you. Sorry you have to go through this.”

Stan rose and shook Larson’s hand. When Stan was gone Jodie got Larson to sign a retainer agreement and got a check from him. After he left she started working on an answer to the lawsuit. Usually she just filed a simple general denial answer just to put the court and plaintiff’s attorney on notice that the case would be contested. Later she’d amend the answer to assert any specific defenses that might be appropriate. When she was done she decided to stop by the Plano Jewelry Mart so she’d have a mental image of the location where the robbery went down.

When she drove by the store she saw that it was in a retail strip center tucked in between a bakery and a real estate office. It was a small store and there appeared to be but two employees, a young woman and an older man. She assumed the older man was the plaintiff, Herbert Stein. She decided to buy something at the bakery and see if anyone there knew anything. A teenager smiled at her when she walked in.

“Hi,” she said cheerily. “What can I get for you?”

Jodie looked at all the luscious desserts and smiled. “Wow. They all look so good.”

“Our cream puffs are to die for,” the girl advised.

“Okay. Give me one of those and a cup of coffee.”

“Coming right up.”

The girl began assembling the order while Jodie looked on.

“So, I heard there was a robbery next door a few weeks back,” Jodie said.

The girl looked up, eyes wide.

“Yes, I wasn’t here when it happened but my mom was. She said the place was crawling with police and medics. Poor Herb got shot but luckily it wasn’t serious. He was lucky that the ex-MP showed up when he did.”

“I noticed another girl working today. Was she there when the robbery took place?”

“No. Luci comes on at four after school. She goes to Collin College.”

“What’s your name?” Jodie asked.

“Vicki. Vicki Rogers.”

Vicki gave Jodie her order and Jodie gave her a ten dollar bill.

“Where’s your mother today?”

“Oh, she had to go to the bank before they closed. She’ll be back in half an hour.”

“Well, I’ll see you around,” Jodie said, going out the door.

She walked slowly by the store so she’d have a good mental image of the layout and then she entered the real estate office next door. A receptionist looked up at her and smiled.

“May I help you?”

Jodie gave her card to the woman, whose name tag identified her as Jane Morrow. “Hi. I’m Jodie Marshall and I’m looking into the robbery of your neighbor a few weeks ago.”

“Oh, right,” Jane said looking at the card. “You’re an attorney?”

“Yes. I represent Bob Larson.”

“Oh, the guy who stopped the robbery.”

“Right. Were you working when it happened?”

“Yes. I was but I didn’t know anything was happening until I heard the shot.”

“What did you do when you heard the shot?”

She thought a moment. “Well, I got up and walked outside to look in the store’s window, but I couldn’t see anything. Nobody was in the main retail area.”

“What did you do then?”

“I was about to go back to my desk when I heard sirens. So, I waited and within a minute or so a police car pulled up. They told me to stand clear and then went inside, guns drawn.”

“What did they do once they were in the store?”

“They went into the back room. There was a lot of yelling and screaming and then they brought out a man in handcuffs. One of the officers took the man outside and put him in the back of his squad car. Then an ambulance came and after about ten minutes the medics came out with a man on a stretcher. He was upset, yelling and screaming at them.”

“He didn’t want to go to the hospital?”

“That’s what it looked like, but they made him go anyway.”

“When you first walked out, did you see anyone else around?”

“Only a man pulling out of a parking space. I don’t know if he was a customer of the bakery or the jewelry store.”

“What did he look like?”

“Medium height, dark hair, mid-forties, dressed in a dress suit and tie.”

“What kind of car?”

“A grey Lexus. I don’t know what year or model. I’m not good when it comes to cars.”

“Was anyone here with you at the time?”

“There was an agent here but she was in with a client and never came out to see the fireworks.”

“Do you know Herb Stein?”

“Not really. I’ve bought a few small pieces of jewelry from him but I don’t know much about him.”

“Is he married, kids?”

“I don’t know, sorry.”

“How has traffic in the store been? Is he pretty busy?”

“I wouldn’t say it’s been busy. He doesn’t have a lot of traffic. Occasionally I’ll see a customer in there but I haven’t really paid that much attention.”

“Alright. Well, I appreciate the information. You’ve been very helpful. If I think of anything else, can I call you?”

“Sure. No problem.”

Jodie left and on the way home wondered about Herb Stein’s business. She knew that jewelry stores marked up their merchandise a lot, so they didn’t necessarily have to have a lot of sales to make a profit. But she wondered if selling jewelry was the only thing going on at the Jewelry Mart. Specifically, she wondered what was in Stein’s safe and whether Michael Mahoney knew what was in there when he went into the store to rob it.

 

 

 

 

3

 

Paula Waters

 

The next day Paula called a friend at the DA’s office to find out what was happening on the Bellucci case but was told there were no serious suspects yet. She read all the newspaper accounts of the incident and watched the video at least a dozen times. She was on edge waiting, hoping someone would call her. She loved high profile murder cases and couldn’t wait to sink her teeth into this one. Finally, just before lunch she got the call she’d been hoping for.

“Hi. This is Paula Waters.”

“Paula. This is Emilio Bellucci. Stan said I should call you if the police acted like I’m a suspect.”

“Yes. He told me you might call. What’s the situation?”

“They just arrested one of my waiters, Ricardo Ricci. He was the waiter who served the Parmesan cheese to the customers who died.”

“Really? Have you talked to him? Does he have any idea how the cheese got laced with poison?”

“Yes. I asked him about it and he claims not to know.”

“How long have you known him?”

“Since he was a boy. I know his father. He’s a good boy as far as I know.”

“So, does he want to hire me?”

“Yes, but he doesn’t have any money. I’m going to have to pay your fee.”

“What about his family?”

“They are poor.”

“Hmm? Well, that’s very nice of you, but it could be rather expensive if he is charged with murder.”

“I know, but he’s my employee and my employees are like family. I can’t just let him hang in the wind, as they say.”

“So, you believe he is innocent?”

“Yes. I think so.”

“Okay. Where did they take him?”

“To the police station downtown. They left about ten minutes ago.”

“Alright. I’ll go down and bail him out. I’ll have a bail bondsman call you. You’ll have to guarantee his bond.”

“Of course. Thank you, Paula. Stan has said some good things about you. I hope you can get to the bottom of this. I’m sure Ricardo had nothing to do with it and I’d like to find out who did this and why.”

“Yes. That’s going to be the key to Ricardo’s defense. We have to get to the truth.”

Paula hung up and gathered her things to make a trip to the police station. She hoped she’d get there in time to keep him from being put in the jail’s general population. She didn’t want to be at the police station until midnight trying to get him out on bond. She told Maria to alert her bail bondsman that they’d need his services and to give him the pertinent information for Ricardo Ricci’s bond. When she got to the police station she went up to the intake desk.

“Hi, Molly,” she said.

Molly Rogers was an old friend. They’d met in high school but hadn’t become good friends until Paula started working in the DA’s office and had to spend a lot of time at the police station.

“Hey, girl. Who are you looking for?”

“Ricardo Ricci.”

“Oh, my! You picked up a triple homicide?”

“Yes. It’s my lucky day.”

“I guess so. How did you pull that off?”

“Oh. You know Stan. He attracts murder cases like a mule attracts flies.”

They both laughed.

“Well, you lucked out. Your guy is still being processed. I suppose you want to see him.”

“Yes, indeed. Could you get him for me?”

“Sure, just as soon as they’re done with him.”

“Thanks,” Paula said and went over to a bench and took a seat. While she was waiting she called their bondsman, Roger Rand. Stan had actually hooked up with Roger in his very first criminal case years earlier. Stan was representing a pretty travel agent in a bankruptcy who got arrested at her creditor’s meeting for mail fraud. Since she was broke and didn’t think her court-appointed attorney was doing a good job, she sweet-talked Stan into taking it over, putting up her bond and getting her out of jail. Of course, it wasn’t long before the client disappeared, leaving Stan on the hook for the bond. Paula shook her head in dismay every time she thought of how stupid Stan had been to guarantee the bond. Luckily, it all worked out in the end as Stan tracked down his client and managed to prove her innocent.

“Roger.”

“Hi, Paula.”

“How’s our bond coming?”

“Well, the best I’m going to be able to do is half a million. Your client’s benefactor is a little short on collateral.”

“Well, I hope that will be enough. With three victims, I’m not so sure.”

“I tried to get them to go to a million, but my underwriters don’t think your guy’s restaurant is worth much anymore.”

“Yeah. They may be right. Thanks Roger.”

Paula hung up and then decided to call Stan and brief him on the situation. She knew he’d want to start working on the case the minute they’d been hired. It was important in murder cases to get off to a fast start because witnesses had a tendency to disappear quickly or their memories would fade over time.

“They arrested Ricardo?” Stan asked. “What motive could he possibly have for killing these customers?”

“I don’t know. It’s seems hard to believe he would do something like this. He’s damn near part of the family from what Emilio says.”

“Well, see what our client has to say about it and let me know. In the meantime I’ll talk to Emilio and see if he had any disgruntled employees, aggressive competitors or others who might have been behind this.”

“I will. Talk to you later.”

As Paula hung up Molly waved to her. She got her stuff and came over to the counter.

“Room 2. They’re taking him there now.”

Paula nodded and walked over to visiting room two, went inside and took a seat in the booth where a thick glass partition separated the prisoner from the visitor. There were several slits in the glass to allow sound and air to go through. Two minutes later Ricardo Ricci was ushered in and took a seat.

“Hi, Ricardo. I’m Paula Waters with Turner and Waters. Emilio hired our firm to represent you.”

Ricardo nodded. “Why did they arrest me? I told them I didn’t poison the Parmesan cheese.”

“I don’t know. How long did they talk to you?”

“About an hour. I told them I didn’t know anything.”

“So, they must have some evidence against you otherwise they wouldn’t be charging you with capital murder.”

“They kept asking me who hired me to kill the customers.”

“So, how did you respond?”

“I told them the truth. Nobody hired me to do anything.”

“Did they say why they thought you were hired?”

“They searched my apartment and claim to have found $10,000 in cash in a shoe box under my bed.”

“Claimed? So you don’t know how it got there?”

He laughed. “No. If I had known it was there I would have spent it. I could have really used the money.”

“So, does anyone have a key to your apartment?”

“No.”

“Have you had anyone over lately?”

“Sonia Bennett, my girlfriend, is over all the time and my cousin Rudolph stopped by last weekend.”

“I’ll have to talk to them.”

“Sure. I can give you their numbers.”

Paula wrote down the names and numbers. “How much do you earn at Emilio’s?”

“Eight dollars an hour.”

“And do you have a lot of expenses?”

“I have a lot of credit card debt, almost $40,000 and I’m behind on my apartment rent.”

“Okay, so they think you did it because you were desperate for funds?”

“Probably.”

“How did you get in so much debt?”

“My sister got real sick and I borrowed on my credit cards to pay her medical bills.”

“So, how is your sister now?”

“She’s much better.”

“Good. . . . Okay, don’t talk to anyone from now on, okay?”

“Okay.”

“There will be a bond hearing in a few hours and the judge will want you to enter a plea and then your bond will be set. I’ll be there with you. When the judge asks you your plea, just say you are not guilty.”

Ricardo nodded.

“Hopefully the judge won’t set the bond too high so we can get you out of here today. Have you ever been arrested and charged with a criminal offense?”

“No. A couple traffic tickets is all.”

“And you have lived in Dallas all your life?”

“Yes.”

“Good. Then keep your mouth shut and I’ll see you at the hearing.”

“Thank you, Ms. Waters.”

Paula walked out of the booth just in time to see Roger Rand coming in. She walked over to him.

“So, you have my bond?”

“Yes, Ma’am,” he said and handed her an envelope. “Just get your guy to sign it and it’s good to go.”

“Thank you, Roger.”

“So, how does it look?”

Paula frowned. “It looks like someone set Ricardo up. Ten thousand dollars mysteriously ended up in a shoe box under his bed. The DA is going to claim that someone paid Ricardo to lace the Parmesan cheese. Unfortunately Ricardo was desperate for money, so it’s a credible motive.”

Roger shrugged. “Well, I’m sure you and Stan will figure it out.”

“I hope so,” Paula replied with little confidence in her voice.

“Watch out when you leave. The media is outside in force.”

“Oh, really?” Paula said looking toward the door with a grin. “Thanks for the heads up.”

Roger left and Paula went over to say goodbye to Molly.

“So, what do you think?” Molly asked.

“He’s been set up but whoever is responsible did a good job, so I’m going to have my work cut out for me. Right now it looks like I’m going to have my first press conference. Thanks for getting the word out.”

“Anything for you, girlfriend, but you do owe me lunch.”

“No problem. I’ll call you.”

Paula turned and strolled toward the front door to face the media. The moment she stepped outside reporters and cameramen surrounded her.

“Ms. Waters, do you think your client is innocent?” a reporter asked.

“Yes. Absolutely, he was obviously set up. He didn’t even know the victims and he was like family to Emilio and would never have done anything to hurt him.”

“Who do you think set him up?” the reporter asked.

“That’s a good question. We don’t know right now, but we intend to find out.”

“Is it true ten thousand dollars in cash was found under your client’s bed?” another reporter asked.

“That’s a rumor I have heard, but I haven’t been able to confirm it one way or another.”

“Do you know who will be prosecuting the case?” a third reporter asked.

“No. But we’ll find out this afternoon at the bail hearing. . . . That’s all for now,” Paula said feigning irritation. “Thank you.”

Paula turned and walked briskly away from the media to the garage elevator. When some of the reporters tried to get in the elevator with her she gave them a dirty look and waved them off. Reluctantly they backed off and let the elevator door close. From the police station Paula drove to the West End where she met her husband, Bart, for lunch.

Bart worked for the DA’s office so Paula could often get a heads up on what they were throwing at her. She hoped Bart had something good for her today.

“So, how did the interview go?” Bart asked.

“Well, he claims he doesn’t know how the poison got mixed into the cheese, or how $10,000 in cash ended up in a shoe box under his bed,” Paula replied.

“Really? Do you believe him?”

Paula shrugged. “He seems sincere, but I don’t know him well enough to know if he’s telling the truth or lying through his teeth. He did admit he was broke.”

“So, how is he paying for your services?”

“His boss is paying. Apparently Emilio has known him since he was a child and has complete faith in him. So, for now I’m going to presume he is innocent and focus on finding out who would have had motive to hurt Emilio by destroying his business.”

“Well, I’m afraid the DA has assigned his number one prosecutor on this one.”

“Rutledge?”

“Right.”

Brian Rutledge was a ruthless prosecutor who had a near spotless record when it came to prosecuting murder cases. He was the odds on favorite to take over for the sitting DA when he decided to retire or moved on to higher political office. Some thought he might even challenge the DA in the next election if he thought he had a chance at unseating him.

“Oh, well. With a case like this the DA had no choice but to put his best man on it.”

“There was talk the DA might prosecute it himself, but I think he was afraid of the consequences if he lost.”

Paula laughed. “Got him scared, do I?”

Bart smiled. “Scared, worried, I don’t know, but they’re definitely not going to underestimate you like they have in the past.”

“They better not,” Paula said. “There’s nothing I’d like better than to kick Rutledge’s butt.”

Bart smiled. “I’d like that too. He’s a genuine prick.”

After lunch Paula drove to the Frank Crowley Courts Building where the bond hearing was to be held. The courtroom was packed with reporters waiting to get their first glimpse of Ricardo Ricci, a man who had allegedly laced Parmesan cheese with poison and then delivered it with a smile to four patrons knowing it might kill them. By evening some in the press would be calling him such things as the ‘Waiter from Hell’ and ‘Ricardo the Reaper.’

Paula walked briskly to the defense table. She nodded to Rutledge who was already seated at the prosecution table. The bailiff, seeing her, brought Ricardo over and told him to sit next to her. A few moments later Judge Amos Anderson took the bench.

“All rise,” the bailiff said.

Everyone stood up while the judge took the bench. “Be seated,” Judge Amos said. Everyone sat back down while the judge studied his docket sheet. “Alright, the State of Texas vs. Ricardo Ricci.”

Rutledge stood up. “Brian Rutledge for the State.”

Paula rose. “Paula Waters for the defendant, Ricardo Ricci.”

“Alright, Mr. Rutledge. What do we have here today?”

“Your Honor. Mr. Ricci is charged with three counts of capital murder under Chapter 1 of the Texas Penal Code §19.03 and one count of criminal attempt under Chapter 1 of the Texas Penal Code §15.01. The prosecution believes Mr. Ricci is a flight risk and opposes bond.”

“Alright. Ms. Waters. Is your client prepared to enter a plea?”

“Yes, Your Honor,” Paula replied and motioned for Ricardo to rise.

“Ricardo Ricci. You are charged with three counts of capital murder and one count of attempted murder. How do you plead?”

Ricardo stiffened. “Not guilty, Your Honor.”

“Very well,” the judge said. “Mr. Rutledge, why do you think Mr. Ricci is a flight risk?”

“Well, Your Honor. Mr. Ricci is single, owns no real estate in Texas, has no substantial assets and since this is a death penalty case he would have a strong motive to flee the jurisdiction of this court.”

“Ms. Waters? What do you have to say about that?”

“Your Honor. Mr. Ricci is a native of Dallas. He has family here, he has no priors and just because he is poor is no reason to deny him bond. Besides, he has never traveled outside the U.S. and doesn’t even have a passport. We would request a modest bond.”

“And what would you consider modest, Ms. Waters?”

“Two hundred and fifty thousand? If you set it any higher it would be tantamount to denying him bond.”

“Mr. Rutledge. I don’t see a substantial flight risk here so I am going to set bond. What amount would satisfy the State?”

Rutledge looked over at his assistant and then back at the judge. “No less than two million, Your Honor.”

“Well, I seriously doubt he could put up a two million dollar bond, so I’m going to set it at $500,000. I’m sure that will be difficult enough for him to raise.”

“Thank you, Your Honor,” Paula said.

“I’m going to also restrict him to Dallas County, though, and he’ll have to wear an ankle bracelet to insure compliance with that restriction.”

“That will be fine, Your Honor,” Paula said.

Rutledge didn’t look pleased but he didn’t say anything.

The judge looked over at his computer. “We’ll set a status conference in 30 days at which time I’ll set a trial date. Is there anything else?”

“No, Your Honor,” Rutledge replied.

“That’s it for us, Your Honor,” Paula agreed.

Paula left the court to go file Ricardo’s bond. When it was done she waited around for him to be released. Forty-five minutes later Ricardo walked out of the cell block and into the waiting room with his ankle bracelet already in place. After he collected his belongings they left and went back to Paula’s office. Emilio and Ricardo’s girlfriend were there to greet them. After they’d agreed on a time to meet to get started on Ricardo’s defense, Ricardo and his girlfriend left with Emilio. As they drove off Paula felt like the case had gotten off to a good start. Unfortunately, she had no idea what to do next to prove Ricardo Ricci’s innocence. But that was a problem for another day. Right now all she could think about was a hot bath and one of Bart’s heavenly massages.

 

 

 

4

 

Stan Turner

 

Stan felt a little uneasy leaving for work. Terry Morris, an RN and friend Rebekah had worked with at the county hospital in McKinney, had stayed with her the first day she was home. But today she’d be alone and Stan didn’t think she was a hundred percent yet. He offered to stay home with her but she insisted he go to work and quit treating her like an invalid. When he got to the office Maria advised him that Ram was there and he’d given her ten thousand dollars in cash. Stan was pleasantly surprised with the news. He told her to wait five minutes so he could to get some coffee and then send Ram in. Five minutes later Maria escorted Ram into his office.

“So, you were successful raising the money.”

“Yes, we sold all my wife’s jewelry. It was worth nearly a hundred thousand dollars but the pawnbrokers don’t pay much for fine jewelry.”

“Oh. Jeeze. I’m sorry you had to do that.”

“It’s no matter. I have ninety days to buy it back.”

“ Right. At 971% interest.”

“Something like that,” Ram agreed.

“Well, I doubt you’ll be able to pay it back in 90 days. Chapter 11s take time.”

“Don’t worry. We would rather be in America with no jewelry than in Pakistan with a thousand jewels.”

Stan nodded. “Okay. Do you have the list of all your creditors?”

“Yes, right here,” Ram said and handed Stan a long list.

“And all your contracts and leases?”

“Yes, and I have my bank statements and tax returns just like you asked.”

Stan turned to his computer and started the bankruptcy program. Luckily the computer put all the information in the proper place. In the old days Jodie had to type all the schedules by hand. It was a total nightmare because mistakes were often made, or clients would come up with new information which required everything to be typed over. “Okay, I’m going to ask you a lot of questions. Information that will need to go into your bankruptcy schedules and statement of affairs. Then we’ll have to do a business budget and from that I’ll do some projections of future revenue and expenses.”

Ram sighed. “Alright, whatever you need.”

Stan and Ram spent the next hour inputting his bankruptcy information into the computer. When they were done they discussed what would happen once the case was filed.

“About a week after we file we have to meet with a representative of the U.S. Trustee’s office. They want to be sure you understand all the Chapter 11 rules. They will be monitoring your case so it’s important to do everything correctly.”

“What rules?”

“Well you have to keep accurate books and records and file a financial report each month. To be successful in bankruptcy you have to prove feasibility. That means you have to convince the trustee and the bankruptcy judge that your plan will work and the business can operate profitably in the future.”

“How do you do that?”

“By making a profit each month once you file your case. And the profit has to be enough to pay all of your secured and priority debt and a portion of your unsecured debt.”

“What if it’s not profitable?” Ram asked warily.

“Then your case will be dismissed or converted to Chapter 7. So, you have to make a profit from now on.”

“I hope I can, but I don’t know.”

“Well, the key is keeping your sales stable. You can always cut expenses to create a profit. How have your grocery sales been?”

“They are about $80,000 per month.”

“And has that changed much since you bought into the store?”

“No.”

“Then we just have to come up with a reasonable budget. Does Sammy take any salary out of the business?”

“Yes, three thousand a month.”

“Well, since he’s not working in the business anymore that will have to stop.”

“He’ll be very mad if I don’t send him his check.”

“Too bad. If you don’t work you don’t get paid. How much do you take out?”

“The same, three thousand and my wife gets fifteen hundred.”

“Okay, that seems reasonable since you both work in the business. But the savings from cutting Sammy’s salary will go to profit and be available to fund your plan. You will have to keep all your bills current from now on. The trustee won’t let you run up any new debt. But the old stuff can be paid out over time.”

When it was time to break for lunch Stan and Ram had completed most everything they needed to get his case filed. Before Ram left Stan told him he’d file the case on Friday and not to tell anyone what he was doing until it had been done. Ram agreed, thanked him and left. Stan sat back down and checked his email. His calendar alarm came up reminding him that he had an appointment for lunch with Emilio Bellucci at his restaurant. For a brief moment Stan worried about getting poisoned if he ate at Emilio’s, but then shook the thought off as being paranoid.

The restaurant which was located in Highland Park was almost deserted when Stan walked in but there were a few brave souls eating here and there. Emilio greeted Stan and took him to a large table. A waiter brought over a large meat lover’s pizza and a couple of beers and they got to work.

“So, why would someone want to put you out of business?” Stan asked.

Emilio shrugged. “You know. I’ve been trying to figure that out but I have come up empty.”

“What about competitors?”

“My main competitors are Dominos and Papa John’s, but they are big national chains. I’m not in their league.”

“So, who did you piss off lately?”

Emilio thought a moment. “There has been somebody trying to buy my property.”

Stan leaned forward. “Why?”

“The property values around here are going through the roof and developers are coming in to tear down the old and build new larger, more expensive properties.”

“Strip centers?”

“Strip centers, single family housing and apartments too. The whole area is in the process of being upgraded.”

“Yeah. I have seen quite a few old houses being torn down and new ones being built in their places,” Stan acknowledged.

“Right, and several developers have been by trying to get me to sell this building.”

“Do you remember their names?”

“Midtown Developers and Wilkinson Investments are the most recent.”

“How much did they offer?”

“One was fifty percent over appraised value.”

“Wow! That’s quite a premium.”

“And they weren’t too happy when I said no.”

“Why did you say no?” Stan asked.

“I’ve been located here for over twenty-five years. All my customers know where I am. Plus I like it here.”

“Still, that’s a nice profit.”

“Yeah, particularly since I only paid a hundred grand for it.”

“And how much could you sell it for now?”

“They offered three hundred thousand.”

Stan raised his eyebrows. “So, who did you talk to at Midtown?”

“I have his card. Give me a minute,” Emilio said getting up to go to his office. After a minute he returned and gave Stan two cards.

“Ron Michaels from Midtown,” Stan said reading the first card. He picked up the second card. “Tom Wilkinson from Wilkinson Investments. . . . I guess I’ll have to go have a talk with them.”

“What about your employees? Have you fired anyone lately?”

“Sure. Employees come and go.”

“Any one of them angry about it?”

“Well, I had to fire my salad guy the other day. He’d been with me a long time but I couldn’t excuse what he did.”

“What was that?”

“He dropped a big bowl of fresh salad mix on the floor and the glass bowl shattered. I wasn’t here but apparently he was too lazy to prepare a new salad mix, so he picked the broken glass out of the salad, scooped it up off of the floor, put it into a new bowl, and then took it to the serving table.”

“Oh, my God!”

“Yes. Fortunately, a customer saw it and complained. Can you imagine if someone had been served that salad?”

Stan shook his head in disgust. “So, what was the name of this negligent employee?”

“Raul Marcus. He was very upset when I fired him, but I had no choice.”

“No. You didn’t. I’ll need his address and telephone number.”

Emilio nodded and went back to his office to get it. A moment later he returned and handed Stan a piece of paper with the information on it. “So, what do you think? Will Paula be able to get Ricardo off?”

Stan shrugged. “It’s too early to tell, but she’ll work like hell to make it happen.”

“I hope so. Ricardo’s parents are very distraught over all this.”

Stan nodded. “I bet. It’s good you mentioned them. I’ll need to talk to them too.”

“Why?”

“Well, we can’t ignore the fact that Ricardo had $10,000 in cash under his bed. They might have some insight in to how it got there.”

“Somebody must have planted it there.”

“Right. But how did they get in? . . . I have to make sure Ricardo didn’t put it there. We need to be sure Ricardo doesn’t have any secrets.”

Emilio stroked his chin thoughtfully. “I have thought about that a lot. Could Ricardo be involved with the wrong people? But I haven’t seen anything that would indicate it. His girlfriend is an angel and I’ve never seen him high or drunk. He’s always on time and is very pleasant with the customers.”

Stan nodded. “Well that’s good, but if there is anything damning we need to discover it now so we don’t get ambushed at trial. . . . Anyway. Thanks for lunch.”

“No problem.”

“I hope your business picks up.”

“Me too. Luckily I own my building so I don’t have to pay rent.”

“Good point and a good reason not to sell to the developers.”

“Exactly,” Emilio agreed.

When Stan got back to the office he called his private investigator and ordered a report on Midtown Developers and Wilkinson Properties. He wanted to know who owned and managed these companies to see if there were any criminal types who might use muscle to get people to sell properties they wanted. He thought it was a long shot but a man’s life was at stake so he couldn’t afford to leave any stone unturned.

 

 

 

5

 

Jodie Marshall

 

Jodie sat behind her desk wondering what her next move should be on the Larson case. Finally she decided she should talk to the officers and emergency personnel who arrived on the scene after the robbery. She hoped they might shed some light on the subject. Unfortunately, the only way she could find out who was there, was to get the police report from the Plano Police Department. As she was leaving she told Maria where she was going, didn’t know when she’d be back but that she’d call in for messages. When she got to the Plano Police Station the dispatcher told her to take a seat and someone would be out soon to take care of her. A few moments later an attractive male officer with a name tag identifying him as Ross came out with some papers.

“Ms. Marshall?”

Jodie stood up. “Here.”

Ross came over to her and smiled. “I believe you wanted this.”

“Yes. Thank you.”

“What’s your interest in the Plano Jewelry Mart robbery?” Ross asked.

“Is Ross your first name or last?” Jodie asked.

“Last. You can call me Carl.”

“Okay, Carl. I’m an attorney with Turner and Waters and I represent Mr. Larson.”

“Oh, the MP.”

“Right. I wanted to interview all of the police and emergency personnel who came out to the crime scene.”

“Well, their names are all in there. Do you want to talk to the perp?”

Jodie thought about that. “You mean Michael Mahoney?”

“Uh huh. The reason I ask is he happens to be here in lockup right now. Don’t tell Detective Morgan I told you, but it would save you having to go all the way up to McKinney later or to Huntsville when he is sent down there.”

“Sure. That would be great. Thank you.”

“No problem. I’ll go tell the detective you’d like to see him.”

“Great,” Jodie said.

“Do you have a card I can give Morgan?”

“Oh, sure,” Jodie replied and dug a card out of her purse.

Carl gave her a big smile then went back in the direction he came from. Jodie admired his backside as he walked away. She hadn’t been with a man in quite a while and was surprised to be sexually stirred again. Perhaps she was getting over her last boyfriend who’d been murdered right in front of her eyes. Jodie hadn’t had much luck with men. She married her high school sweetheart and thought she’d live in marital bliss for the rest of her life, but when she unexpectedly got pregnant he decided he wasn’t ready for fatherhood. The pregnancy ended in an abortion. Jodie just couldn’t face raising a child as a single mother without a dime to her name and no expectation of getting any child support. She’d regretted doing it almost immediately and still was plagued with guilt every time she saw an infant or a small child. She used that guilt to motivate herself to go to college and law school, so when she did decide to have a child she could afford it whether there was a man in the picture or not.

Carl stepped out and waved for her to follow him. She did and he led her to a small interrogation room. “Morgan says you can have ten minutes, then he has to get him back to the Sheriff’s office in McKinney.”

“Alright,” Jodie said and stepped inside the room. Mahoney looked at her warily as she sat down. He was a small, deeply tanned man in bad need of a haircut. “Mr. Mahoney. I’m Paula Waters. I represent Bob Larson.”

“You mean the asshole who screwed up my heist?”

Jodie stifled a laugh. “Yes, that’s the one.”

“Why does he need a lawyer? They charging him with something?”

“No. He’s being sued by Herbert Stein.”

Mahoney laughed hard. “That’s perfect. Serves the bastard right.”

Jodie smiled. “I thought you’d be pleased to hear that.”

“So, why should I talk to you? I hope Herb gets a shit load of cash from your client.”

“Well, you don’t have to talk to me right now, but if you don’t then I’d have to subpoena you and eventually the judge would force you to talk. So, I figured we’re both here, so why not get it over with.”

Mahoney shook his head. “Oh, what the hell. What do you want to know?”

“Well, actually I would like you first to tell me exactly what happened when my client entered the scene. I could ask you questions, but it would be better to hear it straight from your mouth.”

Mahoney tilted his head as if he were trying to remember it. “Ah. Well, I had gotten the drop on Herb and he was cooperating just fine. I told him to go back into the vault room and open it.”

“Okay.”

“So, he goes back there and starts to put in the combination, you know, and suddenly this asshole is all over me. I didn’t even hear him coming. I just felt him grab for the gun with one hand and put me in a choke hold with the other.”

“So, is that when the gun went off?”

“Right. He tries to take it away from me and we struggled and it goes off and hits Herb right in the leg.”

“How bad was the wound?”

“Ah, it was nothing–just a flesh wound but Herb went crazy, yelling and screaming. I was so distracted the next thing I know I’m on my ass with a phone cord tied around my wrists.”

Jodie imagined the scene in her mind and had trouble keeping a straight face. “What was in the safe?”

Mahoney gave Jodie a puzzled look. “I don’t know. I just figured the valuable stuff would be in the safe. You know, cash, loose diamonds, drugs, who knows.”

“So, you had no idea what was in the vault when you had Herb open it?”

“No.”

“And he never actually got into the safe, so you don’t know even now what was in it?”

Mahoney nodded. “That’s right.”

“Wasn’t the jewelry in the cases out front worth a lot?”

“Yeah. I suppose. I was going to get that on the way out, if I had the time.”

The door opened and Detective Morgan stuck his head in the room. “Times up. Got to take the prisoner back to his cell.”

Jodie sighed. “Alright. Thank you Mr. Mahoney. You’ve been very helpful.”

“We aim to please,” Mahoney said as Detective Morgan escorted him out of the room.

“Oh, Ms. Marshall. Can I get one of your cards,” Detective Morgan said. “I’ve got to report this interrogation to the Sheriff. He needs to put it in the file.”

Jodie squinted. “Didn’t—” she started to say then she realized Carl Ross had wanted her card for himself. She almost laughed. “Sure,” she said and dug another card out of her purse and handed it to the detective. “Can I get one of yours?”

“Sure,” Detective Morgan said digging one out of his shirt pocket.

Jodie read the name: Detective Vince Morgan. “Thanks, again.”

Detective Morgan nodded and left with the prisoner. On the way out Jodie looked around for Carl but didn’t see him. As she went out the front door he suddenly appeared out of nowhere.

“Hey, I was just getting off my shift. Can I buy you a drink?”

Jodie smiled and contemplated the question. Carl was a pleasant looking man and quite charming, she thought. “Sure, why not. It will be time to go home by the time I get back to the office anyway.”

“Good. They have a bar at Outback down the street. Then I’ll buy you dinner.”

“Dinner too. Wow. It’s my lucky night.”

“I’ve got to change,” Carl said. “I’ll meet you there in ten minutes.”

“Good. I need a few minutes to freshen up.”

“Alright then,” Carl said as he headed back into the police station.

Jodie laughed to herself as she walked to her car. She suddenly felt uplifted–actually happy for a change. She hadn’t realized how down she’d been until that moment. She hoped Carl wouldn’t be a disappointment once she got to know him.

Five minutes later she was pulling into the Outback parking lot. When she got inside she went directly to the ladies’ room. She wanted to make sure she looked her best. It had been eight hours since she’d last looked at herself in the mirror and she could imagine what a mess she was. She cringed when she saw herself up close and immediately got to work making herself presentable for her date. When she was reasonably satisfied with her appearance she walked out to the bar. Carl was just coming in. He’d changed into jeans, t-shirt, boots and a cowboy hat. He saw her and walked over.

“Perfect timing,” he said.

“Yes,” Jodie agreed. “Wow. I didn’t realize you were a cowboy.”

“Are you disappointed?”

She shook her head. “No. I like cowboys. I’m just surprised by the transformation.”

“Well, it’s hard to make a living herding cows these days.”

Jodie laughed. “Yeah, I bet. Are you on the rodeo circuit?”

“No. Just a little polo on the weekends.”

“Oh, I see. That must be fun.”

“It is. You should come watch me, sometime.”

“Watch. I’d prefer to play actually.”

“You ride?”

“Absolutely. I love horseback riding. Unfortunately, I don’t have much time for it anymore.”

“That’s too bad. We’ve got plenty of horses out at my Dad’s ranch. Any time you want to ride, just let me know.”

“I will,” Jodie agreed.

They took a seat at the bar and the waitress took their orders, a beer for Carl and a glass of wine for Jodie.

“So, how did you come to be a cop?” Jodie asked.

Carl shrugged. “Just by accident. I was needing a job so I looked through the Dallas Morning News classifieds and saw that the Plano Police Department was looking for recruits. It seemed like a good opportunity so I applied.”

“I became an attorney kind of the same way. I was just out of high school and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life but I needed a job so I looked in the classifieds just like you did and found an ad for a legal secretary, no experience necessary.”

The waitress delivered their drinks and Carl gave her a ten dollar bill.

“So, did you learn anything from Mahoney?” Carl asked.

“I don’t know. I’m going to have to digest the conversation a bit. He claims he didn’t know what was in the safe, but I’m having a hard time swallowing that.”

“Well, have you looked at the video?”

“Video? What video?”

Carl frowned. “You didn’t know the entire robbery was caught on tape?”

“No. I’ve just been on the case two days. Nobody told me anything about a video tape.”

“Yeah. Stein has surveillance cameras all over the place. You should be able to see exactly what came down.”

“That’s good to know.”

After dinner Carl invited Jodie over to his place to see his apartment. It was a ruse, of course, but Jodie didn’t care. The moment they were in the front door they were in each other’s arms kissing and ripping off each other’s clothes. They didn’t make it to the bedroom and barely made it to the living room sofa before he was inside her and they were both panting desperately. After forty-five minutes they took a break and watched TV for a while. For round two they did make it to the bedroom and after another hour of hard sex fell asleep in each other’s arms.

The next morning when Jodie woke up she was surprised to be in Carl’s bed. She sat up with a start and then regretted it as her head felt like it was going to split down the middle. Carl looked over at her amused.

“What’s wrong? You need some aspirin?”

“Oh, God. How much did we drink last night?”

Carl laughed. “Hell, I don’t remember. Last night is a blur.”

Jodie looked at the bedside clock. “Oh, shit. I’ve got to get to work.”

“Okay,” Carl said. “You go take some aspirin and I’ll round up your clothes.”

“Thanks,” Jodie replied and rushed to the bathroom. After she’d taken some aspirin and put on a little make up she returned to the bedroom. She found her clothes neatly laid out on Carl’s bed that had miraculously been made while she was gone.

“Wow! You’ve already made the bed,” Jodie said in a loud voice.

“I like a little order in my life. I’ve got coffee for you.”

“Great. I’ll be right there,” she replied as she quickly got dressed. When she made it into the kitchen she was happy to see a steaming cup of coffee in a paper cup. She picked it up and took a sip.

“Thank you, Carl. It’s been fun, but I’ve got to run.”

“I know. I had a great time. We should do it again soon.”

“Well, you’ve got my card,” Jodie teased.

Carl blushed. “Yeah, I do, don’t I?”

Even though she hadn’t got a lot of sleep Jodie was feeling better than she had in a long time. She pondered stopping by her apartment but she remembered she had a 9:00 a.m. appointment at the office with Bob Larson to work on his case. When she walked in the door Maria smiled and then frowned.

“Didn’t you wear that outfit yesterday?” Maria asked.

Jodie blushed and put her finger to her lips. “Don’t tell Stan. Paula would notice but I didn’t see her yesterday.”

Maria smiled broadly. “My lips are sealed.”

At nine Maria announced on the intercom that Bob Larson was there. Jodie thanked her and came out to greet him.

“Mr. Larson. Come on back.”

Bob followed her back to her small office and sat in a side chair across from her. “Can Maria get you a cup of coffee?”

“Sure, black.”

Jodie asked Maria to bring Bob some coffee and then gave him a good look. He was tall, lean, and muscular. With his blue eyes and blond hair she could see him as a California surfer. “So, I’ve been doing a preliminary investigation and talked to several witnesses. So far, I haven’t found out anything startling, but I did learn there are videos of the entire incident.”

“Really?” Larson said.

“Yes. Apparently Mr. Stein is a little paranoid. He had cameras everywhere.”

Larson nodded. “Then that should help our case, right?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t seen them yet, but I did talk to Michael Mahoney and he confirms your story. He also said Stein’s wounds weren’t that serious.”

“No. It was just a flesh wound. That’s why this whole lawsuit is ridiculous.”

“True, but in reading his original petition his main damage allegation is that he suffered severe and debilitating mental anguish. A jury would certainly come to the conclusion that witnessing you assault Mr. Mahoney and subsequent fight over a gun could cause him extreme mental anguish. Since he was actually shot, even though it wasn’t a serious wound, it does legitimize his claim. You can bet he’ll have a slew of experts explaining how he’ll be traumatized now for the rest of his life.”

“But he was being robbed for godsakes! That’s what was causing him extreme mental anguish.”

“You’re right and we’ll certainly argue that Michael Mahoney was the cause of his mental anguish, but you never know how a jury will see it. We need to come up with an additional defense, something clear and convincing.”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know yet. That’s what I’ll be looking for during the discovery stage of the lawsuit.”

“I have a contract here for you to sign and you can pay your retainer to Maria when you leave. We’ll draw on the retainer as the case progresses and when the retainer runs out will send you a request for a fee advance.”

Larson nodded. “I can’t believe I’m having to go through this crap. I wish the bullet would have creased his forehead instead of his leg.”

Jodie took a deep breath. “It’s important that you not lose your temper during deposition or at trial. We are going to paint you as a hero who risked his life to save Mr. Stein from suffering a huge financial loss. And we’re going to paint Mr. Stein as a greedy ingrate who will do anything to make a buck, no matter how reprehensible it might be. But if you lose your temper and get on the wrong side of the jury our defense won’t work.”

Larson sighed. “Okay. I’ll try to keep cool.”

“It’s okay to express your feelings of betrayal, but don’t threaten him and don’t say you wish you had killed him.”

“Got it,” Larson said.

“Now tell me exactly what happened on May 7, 1997 from the moment you left your house or apartment.”

“Apartment. Well, I’ve been going out with a woman, Sally Marrs, for about a year now. She’s a brown-eyed brunette and a real looker. We fell in love almost immediately and I would have asked her to marry me sooner, but I just started my security business and I wasn’t sure if it was going to make it or not. Lately business has been good, so I made a decision to ask her to marry me and I decided to go find her an engagement ring that afternoon.”

“Right.”

“So, after I had breakfast at Chubby’s just down the road from the Jewelry Mart, I decided to stop in and see what they had.”

“So, you hadn’t ever been in the Jewelry Mart before?”

“No. I’ve driven past it, but never gone in.”

“Alright. Go on.”

“Well, when I stepped inside I got an ominous feeling. Being trained as an MP I could sense that something was wrong. A proprietor would never leave a showroom without a salesman present at all times. If a customer came in he could go behind the counter and help himself.”

“Aren’t the display cabinets locked?”

“Yes, usually, but in this case I saw one wide-open. Hell, I could have stolen an engagement ring and Stein wouldn’t have known the difference, particularly if he were dead.”

“Well, it’s a good thing you didn’t do that, since there were video cameras running.”

“Shit. That never crossed my mind. I just knew something was coming down so I went into the backroom to see what it was. But, the backroom was empty too, so I was about to call 9-1-1 when I heard voices. I looked in the direction of the voices and saw there was another door, which I suspected led into a vault room, so I went over to it and looked inside.

“Michael Mahoney was standing with his back to me pointing a gun at Stein’s back while he opened the vault. I knew if I could distract him, so he’d point the gun away from Stein, I could wrestle it away. I’m trained to disarm people. I know how to do it, so seeing a box cutter on the counter next to me, I picked it up carefully and tossed it to the other side of the room. When it hit the ground Mahoney turned away from Stein and that’s when I made my move. We struggled a moment for the gun and had Stein stood still he wouldn’t have been hit, but he panicked and tried to get by us about the same time as the gun went off.

“When I finally got the gun loose, I put it in Mahoney’s face and told him to lie on the ground. Then I disconnected the phone cable and used it to tie his hands behind his back. When I had him secured I called 9-1-1. The police showed up first and then the ambulance. They took Stein away in the ambulance, arrested Mahoney, and interviewed me. When they saw I’d been an MP they thanked me and said to keep in touch because they might need me to testify before a grand jury if Mahoney didn’t admit to the heist.”

“So, you had military credentials with you?”

“Yes, I’m still in the reserves. I have to serve six weeks each summer.”

“Well, that’s good. That puts you in the class of an off duty officer. That might provide some statutory protection for you. I did some research on that, but hadn’t realized you were still in the army.”

“I should think so.”

“So, did you ever get your ring?”

“Yes, I went to Collin Creek Mall as soon as the police let me go and found one there that afternoon.”

“So, did Sally say yes?”

Larson smiled. “Yes, she did. We’re getting married in September.”

“Congratulations!”

“Thank you.”

After Larson had left, Jodie went to see Stan to update him on the case. He was on the phone so Jodie decided to wait outside the door until he was finished. It wasn’t her intent to eavesdrop but she couldn’t help but hear his side of the conversation.

“Yes, I can’t wait to do it either. I’m aching to be inside you.”

Jodie’s eyes widened now focusing on the conversation intently.

“Yes. I like the school girl outfit. You look so sexy in that. . . . Right. . . . I know. . . .” He laughed. “Don’t worry, nobody will miss me. I’ll tell them I’m having lunch with a client. . . . Don’t talk like that, you’re getting me hard. . . . I won’t be late. . . . Bye.”

Jodie waited a minute before going in. She couldn’t believe what she had just heard—Stan Turner cheating on Rebekah? She wasn’t just shocked. She was stunned. She walked in and smiled as if she’d heard nothing.

“Hey. I just wanted to update you on my case.”

Stan was looking out the window and didn’t respond immediately.

“Stan?”

Stan blinked and then turned to Jodie. “Oh. Hi, Jodie.”

“What’s up?”

“Ah. I just met with Larson and I wanted to update you on the case.”

“Right,” Stan said with a big smile. “How’s it going?”

“Very well. Larson is very credible and comes off as a nice guy. I think the jury will like him.”

“Well, that’s the key. Make the jury like him.”

Jodie brought him up to date on the other things she had done on the case.

“Well, I’m glad you have it under control. This new Chapter 11 for Ram Bakira is going to take a lot of time. Not to mention Paula is going to need our help with her new murder cases.”

“Well, I should have plenty of time to help her.”

“Good.”

 

After updating Stan, Jodie went to her apartment to take a shower and put on a clean outfit. As the steaming hot water massaged her shoulders she thought of Carl and wished he were there to wash her back. She hoped his promise of another date would materialize soon, as now she was longing for his touch and to feel him inside her.

 

 

6

 

Paula Waters

 

After Ricardo, Sonia and Emilio left, Paula went back to her office and called Bart.

“I heard you got the bond you wanted?” Bart said.

“Yeah. Was Rutledge pissed?” Paula asked.

“Uh huh. Pretty much.”

“Well, good. Hopefully, I’ll continue to ruin his life.”

“That a girl.”

“So, what are you up to?”

“I’m working on a jury charge.”

“Will you be home on time?”

“Should I be?”

“Yes. I was fantasizing about a shower and a massage. Then we could dress up for a night on the town. It may be our last opportunity to spend quality time together before I get bogged down in this case.”

“I will be home on time then,” Bart promised. “See you at five-thirty.”

“Good, don’t be late or you’ll miss the shower.”

“I wouldn’t think of it,” Bart said with a smile in his voice.

Paula hung up and got up to find Stan. She wanted to know if he had learned anything from Emilio that might be helpful. Stan was on the phone when she walked into his office, so she sat down across from him and waited. When he finally hung up he smiled.

“So, I see you got Ricardo out on bond,” Stan noted.

“Yes. Everything went well, but now the hard part begins. So, I was hoping you had some good news for me.”

“I do. It seems that two Highland Park developers have been very anxious to acquire Emilio’s restaurant location. Apparently he’s in a hot area for high end development. They’ve offered a substantial premium to sell, but he refuses.”

“Why? Couldn’t he relocate?”

“He could, but he won’t. It’s partially sentimental, I’m sure, but it looks to me like he’s just being stubborn. You know how people can be.”

“So, you think one of these developers hired Ricardo to kill off a few customers to ruin the business?”

“More likely, they laced the Parmesan cheese knowing Ricardo would serve it and then planted the money in his apartment.”

“Thank you. That definitely gives me an avenue to explore. Do you have the names of the developers?”

“Yes, and I have already ordered a company profile to give you a head start. You should have it in a few days.”

“Good. Anything else?”

“Yeah. One other thing. Emilio fired an employee a few weeks ago for laziness and gross negligence. The employee, Raul Marcus, didn’t take the firing very well. It’s possible he might have laced the cheese as retaliation for the firing.”

“Boy that’s hard to believe, but who knows in this day and age. There are a lot of crazy people out there.”

“I can check out Mr. Marcus, if you like.”

“Sure, that would be great.”

“I’ll let you know when the reports come in on Wilkinson Investments and Midtown Properties,” Stan said.

“Great,” Paula said and stood up. “I’m really tired. I think I’m going to go home early and take a shower.”

“Yes, you should. You’ve been working awfully hard and you’ve got a tough few months ahead of you. Say hi, to Bart.”

Paula gave Stan a wry smile. He knew her like a book, she thought, and for a moment wished things had been different between them. She had loved Stan once, but it wasn’t meant to be and she’d finally got over him and married Bart. But she still had lingering fantasies that just wouldn’t go away no matter how hard she tried to dispel them.

When she got home she immediately got in the shower and was soon joined by her loving husband. Bart was a gorgeous hunk who came with magical fingers that quickly eased the built up tensions in Paula’s neck and shoulders. Then he eased the tensions that had been building all day beneath her panties. She loved shower sex followed by a massage with body lotion applied by strong sensual hands.

An hour later they were getting dressed for dinner and a night of dancing. Despite all this marital bliss, Paula couldn’t help but wonder why Bart put up with her. She’d played hard to get when they first met and slept around at the DA’s office. Then there was her obsession with Stan that she couldn’t shake. Bart knew about all this but he hung in there until Paula was ready to settle down. She didn’t deserve him, she knew it. She’d been unfaithful on more than one occasion since they were married too, but Bart looked the other way and then when it came out publically, he forgave her. No. She didn’t deserve him and she feared one day she’d go too far and lose him. But tonight, their relationship was safe and they would enjoy the evening like everything was perfect.

The next day she was up early to go to work. On her agenda was a meeting with her client to find out exactly what he knew. They had talked briefly at the jail, but she needed to know everything about him and understand his relationship with the people around him. If there was any chance he was guilty, she needed to know it. She wasn’t one of those lawyers who didn’t want to know if their client was guilty. She wanted to know because, if he was guilty, then her strategy wouldn’t be to get him off, but to get him the lightest sentence possible. In this case with three people dead that would be life in prison rather than the death penalty.

Ricardo and Sonia came in at ten and Paula met with both of them for a moment and then explained she had to talk to them separately since Sonia and Ricardo were not married and there was no spousal immunity between them. Before she began with Ricardo, she had Maria escort Sonia to the library to wait.

“Sorry about that,” Paula said. “But if Sonia overhears what we talk about we could blow attorney-client privilege.”

“Sonia understands.”

“Good. Well, let’s get started. Tell me about yourself. I’m afraid I don’t know much about you.”

“Well, I was born here in Dallas. I have two sisters and a brother and my parents own an alteration shop. My father is a tailor and my mother a seamstress.”

“I see. So, where did you go to high school?”

“Adamson.”

“Did you graduate?”

“No. I had to quit school when my sister got sick and help out with medical bills.”

“So, your parents didn’t have any medical insurance?”

“No. They couldn’t afford it.”

“What is wrong with your sister?”

“She has leukemia. It’s in remission now.”

“That’s good. So, when did you go to work for Emilio?”

“After I quit school following my junior year.”

“What do you do at Emilio’s?”

“At first I was a bus boy but now I am a waiter.”

“Do you like your job?”

“Yes. Emilio has been good to me.”

“You haven’t had any problems with other employees?”

“No. Nothing serious. There is a little competition between waiters for overtime, but that’s about it.”

“So, Emilio gives you overtime occasionally?”

“He gives it to the waiters he thinks deserve it.”

“Have you got a lot of overtime?”

“Yes.”

“Because of your sister?”

“Uh huh.”

“So, does that make some of the other waiters mad?”

“Yes. I’m not very popular with some of them.”

“Hmm. Do you think any of the other waiters could have put something in the Parmesan cheese knowing you’d be serving it?”

“It’s possible.”

“Do you think that is what happened?”

“No. I doubt it. I don’t think any of them are murderers.”

“Who are the other waiters?”

“Randy Winters, John Stapleton, and Howard Thornton.”

“How well do you know them?”

“Not well. They are older than me.”

“So, that would even make them more resentful.”

Ricardo shrugged. “I suppose.”

“If one of them was involved in this, who would be the most likely one?”

“John. He’s been there the longest and complains the most when I get the overtime.”

“I see. So, tell me about the night of the incident. It was a Friday night, I believe.”

“Yes. A good tip night. We are always busy.”

“So, when did you get to work?”

“At 3:00 p.m. I work from three to midnight with thirty minutes for dinner and two fifteen minute breaks.”

“Okay, did anything unusual happen when you came on your shift?”

“No, except John was late.”

“He was? Did he say why?”

“He claimed his battery died and he had to get a jump.”

“Okay, so how late was he?”

“Twenty minutes.”

“I see. Anything else happen unusual?”

“No. Not that I remember.”

“What do you do when you first come on?”

“We set the tables and get ready for the dinner crowd.”

“Are you assigned specific tables in the restaurant?”

“Yes. The manager gives us our table assignments when we come in.”

“Do you usually get the same table assignments on Friday night.”

“Uh huh, unless someone is absent.”

“But nobody was absent, right?”

“Correct.”

“So, who directs the customers to a specific table?”

“Julie or Tiffany, our hostesses.”

“So, they would know where to send someone if they wanted you to be the waiter?”

“Right.”

“How well do you know Julie and Tiffany?”

“Tiffany I know pretty well. She’s been there the longest. I don’t know Julie too well.”

“Are they nice girls?”

“Uh huh. Very nice.”

“So, did you know any of the victims?”

“Not by name, but they had been in before.”

“Do you know if they asked for you to be their waiter?”

“I doubt they did. Most of our customers don’t ask for a specific waiter.”

“So, tell me what happened as best you recall,” Paula asked.

Ricardo took a deep breath and thought for a moment. “Well, they came over and sat down. It was two couples who knew each other pretty well. They were talking about a play they were going to see later that evening. I brought them bread and took their drink orders. They got a bottle of wine and I opened it for them and poured each a glass. Then I took their orders. The blond, Donna, I think was her name.”

“Right. Donna Rice.”

“She ordered lasagna and her husband, Bill, ordered spaghetti with meatballs. The dark-haired lady, Sandy I think was her name.”

“Yes, Sandy Richmond.”

“She ordered Seafood Alfredo and her husband, John, ordered mushroom ravioli.”

“Okay, so what happened next?”

“I served them some more bread and then when their orders were ready, Tom, one of the cooks helped me bring them out. After that it is customary to offer them Parmesan cheese so I made the rounds and they all asked for it.”

“How did you dispense the cheese?”

“The cheese is in a bowl on the table. I picked it up and applied it with a spoon.”

“Who fills the bowls?” Paula asked.

“A new bowl is put out when the table is set.”

“But, who fills them?”

“The cooks sometimes, but if they are busy the waiters do it.”

“Who filled the bowl that was on the table?”

“I don’t know. I just picked it off of a tray in the kitchen and took it out to the table.”

“So, anyone could have switched the bowls or added the poison while you weren’t looking?”

“Yes, when I was on break or cleaning the bathrooms.”

“Was anyone there when you took it off the tray in the kitchen?”

“Tom was close by. I don’t know if he noticed me take it.”

“So, did anything else happen before everyone began reacting to the poison?”

Ricardo shook his head. “No, I don’t think so.”

“Okay Ricardo. Let me talk to Sonia for a minute and then you can go. If you think of anything else, let me know right away, okay?”

“Right.”

Ricardo left and a minute later Sonia walked in and sat down. Sonia was petite with long black hair and a cute smile. Paula wondered if she was even eighteen yet.

“So, how long have you and Ricardo been going together?”

“About a year. We met at the Richardson Medical Center where his sister was being treated. I’m a blood tech there.”

“I see. So, I understand Ricardo’s been having financial problems due to his sister’s medical expenses.”

“Yes, it’s been very expensive for him.”

“How has he been holding up?”

“He’s a little depressed at times, but he knows there is nothing he can do about it.”

“What about bankruptcy? Has he discussed that possibility?”

“No. He is proud and wants to pay his debts.”

Paula nodded. “Right. That’s admirable. Is anyone harassing him about a debt he might owe them?”

“There is one creditor who calls all the time. Ricardo argues with him a lot.”

“Has he threatened him?”

“He’s threatened to have him arrested and to cause him trouble on his job.”

“Who is this guy?”

“He works for a payday loan company.”

“How much money is involved?”

“Eight hundred dollars I think.”

“Anybody else?”

“No. Ricardo’s phone was disconnected so now he only gets letters but he just throws them in a box and says he’ll deal with them when he has some money.”

“Does he have a plan for getting money to pay everybody?”

“No. Not really. We buy a lot of lottery tickets.”

Paula laughed. “So, were you at the restaurant the night of the incident?”

“No, I was at the hospital.”

“At the hospital?”

“Yes, on the weekends I work the three to eleven shift so Ricardo and I have the same schedule.”

“So, nobody was at the apartment?”

“No.”

“Do you have any idea how the shoe box full of money got under Ricardo’s bed?”

“No. I was surprised when I heard about it.”

“Were you home when they searched his apartment?”

“Yes. They showed me the warrant and just started tearing the place apart.”

“Did you see them find the money?”

“No. They made me stay in the living room.”

“How secure is your apartment? Do you have a deadbolt or security system?”

“No. It’s just a simple lock with chain inside if you are at home.”

“Alright Sonia. Thanks for talking with me. If you think of anything that might help prove Ricardo innocent, let me know, okay?”

“Sure.”

Sonia and Ricardo left and Paula added Tom, Julie, Tiffany, and John Stapleton to her list of people to interview. Then she thought about the victims. She needed information on them in case one of them was a target of the killer. A smart murderer might kill several people so it would be difficult to determine a motive for the crime. She went to her computer and did a search for Bill Rice in Dallas, Texas. A website for the Rice Insurance Agency popped up and Paula quickly learned that Bill Rice had been a full service insurance agent for a variety of companies. Review of other hits indicated he was an alumni of Texas A&M University and a Dallas County Grand Juror. Paula thought about that a moment. A grand juror could be the target of someone who had been indicted and wanted a little revenge. It was a stretch but something she had to consider. When she searched under Donna Rice on Google she discovered she had been a member of the Junior League, an officer in the Highland Park High School PTO, and an officer in Friends of the Dallas County Library. Finally she ran a criminal check on both of them and found out that neither had a record.

Not finding anything particularly interesting about the Rice family she turned to Sandy and John Richmond. She didn’t find out anything on Sandy Richmond, no search hits and when she did a criminal background check it too came up clean. But when she did a search on John Richmond she hit pay dirt. Mr. Richmond had been an oil and gas operator and there were several SEC complaints against him and over a dozen pending lawsuits. A criminal background check also showed he had been convicted of statutory rape and was on the sexual predator list. Paula felt a ray of hope for the first time in her investigation. John Richmond definitely could have been the prime target and the reason three innocent diners died at Emilio’s restaurant.

Paula got up and walked to Stan’s office to advise him what she had found out, but Stan wasn’t in so she asked Maria where he was.

“I don’t know. He ran off an hour ago and didn’t say when he’d be back.”

“Really? That’s odd. Did he have a meeting on his calendar?”

“No. Nothing.”

“Huh.”

“He’s been doing that a lot lately,” Maria said.

“What do you mean?”

“Disappearing without letting me know where he is going and taking two hour lunches.”

“Two hour lunches? He usually eats at his desk and if he goes out it’s not for more than 30 minutes.”

As they were talking Jodie walked in. “What are you two conspiring about?” she asked.

“Stan’s strange behavior,” Paula replied.

Jodie paled. “What do you mean?”

Marie repeated what she’d told Paula.

“Ah, well I overheard a conversation that might explain it.”

“What conversation?” Paula asked.

“I was coming to see Stan in his office and I overheard him arranging a liaison with a woman.”

“What!” Paula gasped. “You’re talking about my partner, Stan Turner?”

“Yes. I’m afraid so.”

“That’s impossible,” Paula said. “He’d never have an affair.”

“That’s what it sounded like to me. He said he couldn’t wait to get inside her. That could only mean one thing.”

Paula’s mouth opened and then closed without a word coming out.

“Who do you think it is?” Paula finally asked.

“I don’t know. He flirts with the travel agent downstairs,” Jodie said.

“He flirts with a lot of women,” Paula said. “That’s just his nature. He likes to hang out with pretty women but that’s all he does.”

“Well, I bet it’s his new bankruptcy client,” Maria said. “She is all over him.”

“Is that the one whose husband deserted her after she had twins?” Jodie asked.

“Yes, I think she’s looking for someone to support her now that she’s alone and with two new babies and no money.”

“Stan would never have an affair with a client,” Paula said. “It’s got to be someone else. I just can’t believe he’d cheat on Rebekah. I tried for years to get him to do that with me but he’s always stubbornly resisted.”

Jodie smiled. “After my divorce I used to come to work in short skirts and tight blouses hoping he’d make a move on me. But he never did. I caught him taking in the view more than once, but he never touched me. It was so infuriating.”

“Infuriating?” Paula said. “When we first became partners I offered to buy a little love nest across the street where we could go to let off steam, but he wouldn’t go for it. He said it would not only destroy his marriage but also our partnership.”

Maria shook her head. “You two are terrible. Poor Rebekah. Did she know what you two were up to?”

“She figured it out,” Paula said. “She even invited me to lunch once with a gun in her purse. When I saw it I had to do some fast talking to convince her I wasn’t a threat.”

“I’d have shot you had it been me,” Maria interjected.

“Yeah. I’m sure she would have had I not said the right things.”

“So, what are we going to do?” Marie asked.

Paula shrugged. “Find out who it is first, I guess. Then we’ll decide.”

“We should stay out of it,” Jodie said. “It’s none of our business.”

“Maybe not, but I promised Rebekah I’d watch her back,” Paula said.

“You can’t tell her,” Jodie said. “Stan would never forgive you.”

“I know,” Paula agreed. “It would be the end of our partnership. At the very least we’ll have to wait until this murder case is over. We wouldn’t want to do anything that would jeopardize our client.”

They all agreed there was nothing they could do at that moment, but the next time Stan left for an unscheduled meeting somebody would follow him. They had to know the identity of this mystery girlfriend so they could assess the threat she might pose to Stan and the firm.

 

 

7

 

Stan Turner

 

On May 15, 1997, Stan filed his Chapter 11 case in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Texas. The next day Ram opened his debtor-in-possession account and began operations. Prior to filing his case he had called a board of director’s meeting in accordance with the companies’ bylaws but the majority stockholder, Saman Keashkear, didn’t show up for the meeting so he missed his opportunity to stop the bankruptcy filing. Of course, Ram knew he wouldn’t show up because he had left for Pakistan a week earlier. Fortunately, the bylaws didn’t require him to do anything but give ten days’ notice of the meeting to the address of each director as shown on the books and records of the corporation. Sammy also missed an opportunity to oppose the motion to terminate his salary. Of course, since he was no longer providing services to the company, Stan knew the trustee and the bankruptcy judge would support the move.

Pakimart did quite well with its reduced overhead and a four month hiatus in paying its delinquent accounts. During the first few weeks Ram was able to stash away almost ten thousand dollars and his first full month’s operating report for June 1997 showed a small profit. Small business owners often sabotaged their own businesses by drawing high salaries that the business couldn’t possibly support. Once they realized this and started taking a realistic salary a failing business often could be turned around. Stan was optimistic that Ram was on the right track and if Sammy could be squeezed out he would be able to operate the business successfully. If so, he and his family could stay in America. Unfortunately, when Sammy came back from Pakistan he was not happy to learn the business was in Chapter 11 and he could no longer call the shots. One afternoon Stan got an urgent call from Ram.

“Sammy came in the store today demanding his salary,” Ram advised.

“So, what did you tell him?”

“Just what you said. That he is no longer an employee of the company and isn’t entitled to a salary.”

“What was his response?”

“He said I had three days to come up with the money he was owed or he was going to shut down the business and kick me out. . . . Can he do that?”

“No. There is an automatic stay that prohibits him from taking any action to collect a debt. If he bothers you again we can sue him for civil contempt. Do you have a number for him?”

“No. He didn’t give me a number.”

“Well, we have his address. I’ll send him a cease and desist letter. It’s the 4th of July weekend, so nothing could be done until next week anyway.”

“What’s that?”

“A letter that puts him on notice of the automatic stay and warns him if he violates it that we will sue him for contempt.”

“He says he doesn’t care about our bankruptcy.”

“He’ll care when the U.S. Marshall shows up, handcuffs him, and hauls him into court for violating a court order.”

“I hope so.”

“Maybe when he gets the letter he’ll go to an attorney and find out how things are done here in America.”

“What should I do if he comes in again and hassles me?”

“Call 9-1-1 and ask them to send the police. Have the police call me if they have any questions about the bankruptcy and your right to operate the business.”

Stan hung up and prepared a cease and desist letter addressed to Sammy. He hoped it would do the trick but knew there was a strong likelihood Sammy would ignore it. He still was obligated to put him on notice that he was in violation of the automatic stay and give him an opportunity to voluntarily comply with it, before he filed a complaint against him. As he was working Maria brought in a large envelope that had been delivered by courier. It was from the firm’s private investigators.

“Oh, these are our reports on Midtown Properties and Wilkinson Investments,” Stan noted. He opened the envelope, pulled out the reports and started reading the Midtown Properties’ report. Midtown Properties was an assumed name for the Walter S. Monday Realty Trust. It was run by Thomas Bishop, its trustee, and had numerous investment properties in Dallas including single family homes, apartments and strip centers. The beneficiaries of the trust were Tom Bishop, Pauline Bishop, Roger Monday and Pamela Smith-Watson. There were individual reports on the trustee and each beneficiary. In the operating section of the report it stated that the trust bought, sold, and managed residential and commercial real estate.

Not seeing anything startling in the Midtown Properties report he started reading the Wilkinson Investments’ report. It was a limited liability company and Thomas S. Wilkinson was the member-manager listed on the Articles of Organization. The other members included Benjamin Jamison and Christopher Hunt. The report indicated that Wilkinson Investments built office buildings and then held them for investment. There were currently thirteen buildings in their portfolio and two under construction both in the midtown area. It was in the individual report for Christopher Hunt that he found something interesting. Christopher Hunt had served two years at Huntsville for assaulting a police officer and Benjamin Jamison had done time for money laundering. Stan studied the picture of Hunt provided in the report. Hunt was a small, intense-looking man with light brown hair. To Stan his face had ambition and ego written all over it. Stan took the report into Paula’s office. She looked up expectantly when he walked in.

“Guess what?” Stan asked.

“What?” Paula asked.

“Wilkinson Investments is partially owned by a couple of ex-cons.”

“Really?”

“Yes. Christopher Hunt seems to be the muscle. He was convicted of assaulting a police officer. And Benjamin Jamison did time for money laundering.”

“Well, that’s very interesting. They would certainly have motive for destroying the value of Emilio’s restaurant, since they wanted him to sell to them.”

“Yes. They probably figured the murders would not only force him to sell, but also force him to sell cheap.”

“So, how do we prove that?” Paula asked.

“Well, we could check into some of their previous acquisitions and see if they pulled any similar tricks.”

“Good idea.”

“It’s a long shot, so let Jodie and I look into it. I’m sure you’ve got more pressing things to do.”

Paula nodded. “Right. I have to interview the kitchen and wait staff. I’m hoping one of them saw someone in the kitchen who shouldn’t have been there. We have to figure out how the poison got into the Parmesan cheese.”

“Uh huh,” Stan replied thoughtfully. “The autopsy reports should have an analysis of the poison. Perhaps they will be able to figure out where it came from. It was probably rat poison or a dozen other products you can buy at any hardware store or nursery.”

“Yeah. That’s another project on my list. I have to review all the autopsy reports with my medical expert and inspect all the evidence the prosecution has gathered from the crime scene and the execution of their search warrants.”

“Well, if you need any help let me know.”

“Thanks. I’m sure I will.”

Stan left and went back to his office to return phone calls. While he was working Jodie walked in and updated him on her progress on the Jewelry Mart case.

“So, what’s your next step?”

“I guess I’ll work on our first round of discovery. I need to get those videos so I can see what I’m up against.”

“You should do a background check on Herbert Stein too. He might have some skeletons in his closet that could help us. He is obviously not a model citizen or he wouldn’t have brought this lawsuit.”

“Good idea. I’d sure like to know what was in his safe.”

Stan thought about that a moment. “You can ask that question in your interrogatories and if he is evasive you can follow up when you take his deposition.”

“He might object on grounds of relevance, and even if I was able to force him to respond, he could easily lie about it and I’d have no way to impeach him,” Jodie replied.

“Yeah. I suppose you’re right. Except, we could argue that since Stein is claiming extreme mental distress over the gunshot wound, that had he lost what was in the safe he might have suffered more mental distress than what our client allegedly caused. In other words, Larson, by keeping Mahoney out of the safe, reduced the net amount of mental anguish Stein would have suffered. I’m sure the jury would go for it if the judge would allow it.”

“Yeah. It’s kind of convoluted, but it makes sense and would make the contents of the safe relevant to the amount of damages to award for mental distress.”

“Exactly. You can also take a look at his insurance. If he had anything really valuable he’d have to list it specifically on the application and give its value. So, if it was something he could have insured you’d find it on the policy.”

“Okay. I’ll be sure and look for that.”

“Oh,” Stan said. “Paula needs you to check out someone for her–Thomas Wilkinson. He has a company called Wilkinson Investments. They were one of the companies that were very anxious to buy Emilio’s restaurant. I have a basic report on them, but I’d like you to go in and snoop around. Maybe you could pretend to have a client interested in buying one of their buildings. Wilkinson himself doesn’t have a criminal record but his partners do. This could provide us with someone else to point to as the killer. Wilkinson wanted Emilio’s land so they orchestrated the murders to ruin his business and make him sell.”

“Sure, sounds like fun.”

“Don’t do anything that could get you hurt. All we want you to do is get inside, look around and be observant. The moment you feel the least bit nervous terminate the surveillance.”

Stan was concerned about Jodie because in her last undercover assignment she had gotten in too deep and ended up being kidnapped. Stan didn’t want a repeat of that nightmare since Jodie had narrowly escaped death. Jodie promised him she’d be careful and then left.

The next afternoon Stan was thinking about how he could find out more about Wilkinson’s two partners, Christopher Hunt and Benjamin Jamison. The criminal background reports he had were bare bones. He needed more in depth information and he knew exactly who could get it for him, Detective Bingo Besch of the Dallas Police Department. Stan had worked with Besch on several cases in the past and they were good friends. He dialed his number.

“Detective Besch.”

“Bingo. This is Stan. How are you?”

“Stan the man. I’m fine. What are you up to? . . . Wait, aren’t you defending Ricardo the Reaper?”

Stan laughed. “Well, indirectly. Actually, it’s Paula’s case.”

“A triple homicide. My God, you’ve hit the lawyer lotto.”

“Alright. Give it a rest. I need your help.”

“What can I do for you?”

“I need some info on a couple of ex-cons. I have the basic criminal background check but I need a little more in-depth information.”

“Who are these guys?”

“Real estate types but one served time for assaulting a police officer and the other one for money laundering. On the surface it looks to me like it’s some mobsters trying to go legit, but I need to know for sure.”

“So, who is your client?”

“ Well, I’ll be honest. It’s an alternate theory we’re working on as to who killed the three patrons of Emilio’s restaurant. Wilkinson Investments wants Emilio’s property very badly. In fact they offered him 50% more than its appraised value but he wouldn’t sell. We figure they may have wanted to devalue his business so he had no choice but to sell to them.”

“Okay, but I’ll have to do it on my own time. I’m sure the prosecutor wouldn’t be too thrilled if he knew I was helping you.”

“Well, we’re only seeking the truth, right?”

“Right. That’s what I’ll tell him if I get caught.”

“You’re a good man, Besch.”

“What are these two goons’ names?”

“Christopher Hunt and Benjamin Jamison. I’ll email you our report to save you some time.”

“Alright. I’ll look into it and let you know.”

Stan hung up feeling good. He knew Bingo would want to get to the truth as much as he did and he was a very competent and resourceful detective. The intercom buzzed and Maria announced that Ram was on the line. Stan picked up the phone.

“What’s up, Ram?”

“Sammy is here! I saw him coming so I locked the door, but now he’s banging on it and threatening to break it down. He’s got some men with him. What should I do?”

“I told you. Call 9-1-1. I’ll be right over.”

 

 

8

 

Jodie Marshall

 

Jodie didn’t mind helping Paula on her murder cases since civil actions moved much slower than criminal ones. She’d have plenty of time to work on the Larson case later but Paula would be hard pressed to get everything she needed done before the case came to trial. Stan had asked her to look into Wilkinson Properties but she was unsure how to go about it. According to the report she’d been given, it held the office buildings that it built for investment rather than sale. That meant she couldn’t pose as a potential buyer which would have been the easiest and safest approach. As she was contemplating the situation the idea came to her to ask them to build her an office building. They would most likely refuse, but at least she would have a chance to ask some questions and look around. So, the next day she stopped by the Wilkinson Properties’ offices in Lincoln Park. A receptionist greeted her when she walked in.

“Hello. Can I help you?”

“Hi. Yes. I wanted to talk to someone about a construction project.”

The receptionist gave her a puzzled look. “Which project?”

Jodie frowned. “Oh, the one you just finished on Montfort. I was hoping to hire you to build one just like it up in Plano.”

“Well, Mr. Wilkinson isn’t here right now.”

“Is there anyone else I might talk to?”

The receptionist thought about that a moment. “Mike Sutherland is our construction manager. He’s pretty busy but I could see if he had a moment to see you.”

“Oh, thank you. I would really appreciate it.”

“Have a seat.”

Jodie took a seat on a white leather sofa. The office was very modern and richly decorated. A few moments later a tall, trim man in his mid-thirties stepped out. He was wearing jeans and a light blue denim shirt. He smiled at her.

“Hi. I’m Mike. Can I help you?”

“I hope so,” Jodie said with her brightest smile. “I fell in love with that new office building over on Montfort and I was hoping you could build me one just like it in Plano.”

Mike gave her a sympathetic look. “Sorry. We don’t build for third parties.”

“Oh, shoot. I really like your work.”

“Thank you,” Mike said looking at his watch. “I was just going to lunch. If you’d like to come along maybe I can steer you in the right direction.”

“Would you? That would be awesome.”

Mike told the receptionist he was going to lunch and then escorted Jodie out to his blue Ford F-250. They got in and drove off.

“Are you building it for occupancy or investment?” Mike asked.

“Both. We’ll probably occupy about half of it and lease out the rest. That way our tenant can pay for the cost of the building.”

Mike smiled. “Yes, that will work if you can keep it leased up.”

“Oh. I have a tenant all lined up. That’s why I’m anxious to get it built as soon as possible.”

“Have you seen the interior of the Montfort property?”

“No. I’d like to, though.”

“Well, I was heading over that way anyway to meet one of the subs, so I could show you now if you have time.”

“Oh. Great.”

Ten minutes later they drove into the parking lot of the Montfort Property. They got out and Jodie followed Mike inside to a spacious atrium with a huge water fountain.

“Oh, this is so beautiful. I love the sound of running water. It really makes you think you’re in the outdoors.”

“Yes, with the skylights it’s very light and airy too.”

“So, how long have you worked for Wilkinson Properties?” Jodie asked.

“About five years now.”

“Is it a good company? I don’t know much about it.”

“They’ve treated me okay.”

“So, what will something like this cost me, you think? I only have a two and half million dollar budget.”

Mike raised his eyebrows. “That might be enough, if you put out bids.”

“Put out bids?”

“Right. I could help you find an architect to draft plans and specifications. Then you’d send them out to construction companies and let them bid on the project. If you just randomly go in to construction offices they’ll take you for a ride.’

“Oh, wow. I’m glad I ran into you.”

As they were talking a man in a gray uniform with an Allied Security insignia walked up.

“Excuse me a moment,” Mike said to Jodie. “Hey, George.”

“Hi. . . . We’re ready to test the fire alarm system. I just need you to turn the power on.”

Mike nodded. “Okay, give me a moment. . . Jodie, stay here a minute. I’ll be right back.”

“Sure,” Jodie said smiling at George as Mike rushed off.

“So, you Mike’s girlfriend?” George asked.

Jodie laughed. “No. Just getting the grand tour.”

“You going to lease some space?”

“No. I want one built.”

George frowned. “That’ll never happen.”

Jodie realized that George thought she meant Wilkinson would build it for her, but she didn’t correct him to see where the conversation would lead.

“Why not?”

George shook his head. “Tom Wilkinson builds for a select clientele, if you know what I mean.”

“A select clientele?” Jodie repeated. “What do you mean?”

“He doesn’t build for just anybody off the street. If you’re not in his inner circle of customers they won’t give you the time of day. Plus, you don’t want to do business with these people.”

“Why not? You do business with them.”

“I’m just a sub. I deal only with Mike. He’s okay, but you want to stay away from Tom.”

“Well. Thanks for the heads up. Mike actually told me Wilkinson Properties couldn’t do the project, but he offered to help me find someone else to do it.”

“Oh, good.”

As they were talking Mike returned.

“Okay. The power is on,” Mike advised.

“Jodie here says you’re helping her find a construction company?” George said.

Mike sighed. “I’m going to steer her in the right direction, but keep your mouth shut about it, okay? You know how paranoid Tom can be.”

George nodded. “ Right, my lips are sealed.”

“Thanks.”

“Okay, we’ll be out of here in about an hour,” George said.

“Fine. I’ll stop by after Jodie and I have lunch to check the results.”

“See you then,” George said and walked off.

Mike and Jodie continued their tour of the building and then went back to Mike’s truck and drove off. They stopped at Dickey’s Barbeque and, while they ate, Jodie pressed Mike for more information about Tom Wilkinson. “George said Wilkinson Properties only builds for a select clientele. Does that mean what I think it means?”

Mike looked around nervously. “George should have kept his mouth shut.”

“Oh. Right. I was just curious.”

“The less you know about Tom Wilkinson the better.”

“Why do you work for him, then?”

“He pays me double what I could get anywhere else.”

“Oh. That’s a good reason.”

“So, what about you? What business are you in?”

“I’m a lawyer with a small firm and our tax advisor said we should consider buying a building rather than leasing. So, I was given the task of researching our options and reporting back to the partners.”

“Lucky you. What kind of law do you practice?”

“A little bit of everything. I’m defending a personal injury case right now. My client stopped a robbery at a jewelry store and restrained the robber until the police got there. Unfortunately when he was disarming the robber the gun went off and grazed the owner. Now he is suing my client for negligence and assault.”

“Oh. I read about that in the newspaper. Wasn’t he ex-military police?”

“Uh huh. That’s the one.”

“That sounds interesting. Do you like your job?”

“Yes. I do. It’s challenging at times but never boring.”

“Well, I can give you the names of a couple of architects and then we can go see them together. They’ll give you a better deal if they know I’m your friend.”

Jodie nodded, pleased to hear that Mike was now her friend. “Oh. That’s nice of you, but that’s so much trouble. I’m sure you’ve got better things to do with your spare time.”

Mike shrugged. “I’m not so sure about that.”

Jodie blushed and looked away. She liked it when men flirted with her even if she had no intention of hooking up with them. It gave her power over them and she felt like she had Mike right where she wanted him. She’d have to be careful, though. Mike’s boss, Tom Wilkinson, wouldn’t be the least bit charmed by her. His type hated women except when they needed a blow job or someone to knock around. And if he found out what she was up to, he’d likely order someone to put a bullet in her head.

In light of that realization she wondered if she should continue her relationship with Mike. She thought she may have already learned as much from him as she could, but she finally decided it would be good to keep up the charade for a while longer. Besides, she kind of liked Mike, so a little time with him wouldn’t be entirely wasted.

When she got back to her office there was a message from Carl. Her love life was suddenly heating up and she didn’t know if that was good or an unnecessary distraction. After considering the situation for a moment she dialed Carl’s number.

“Hey. Thanks for calling me back.”

“No problem. What’s going on?”

“Oh. Nothing. Just thought maybe you’d like to have dinner tonight. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you since last night.”

“Yeah. That was fun but I have to get some sleep tonight. You know. It doesn’t look good if I fall asleep at my desk.”

Carl laughed. “I promise I’ll get you to bed early.”

“Alright. Where do you want to meet?”

“You like seafood?”

“Sure,” Jodie replied.

“There’s a Red Lobster on Greenville and LBJ. That’s pretty close to your office, I think.”

“Yes. It is. How about 6:00 p.m.? I’ve got to get some work done this afternoon. I’ve been out all morning.”

“Did you have to go to court?”

“No. I was helping out Paula on her murder case. She had me doing some undercover work.”

“Nothing dangerous, I hope.”

“No. It’s just some background information we needed.”

“Alright. See you at six.”

Jodie hung up and went into Paula’s office to tell her what she had found out. She told her about her cover story to Mike that the firm was looking to construct a building. Paula complimented her on her ingenuity.

“So, Stan’s theory may be right. Wilkinson Properties is some kind of money laundering operation for the mob or maybe one of the drug cartels. I’m not sure who exactly, but I got the impression it’s the type of organization that might use violence to get what it wants.”

“Well, that’s good and bad. It’s something I’d love to argue to the jury, but doing so could be dangerous.”

“Right. Apparently Tom Wilkinson isn’t someone you want to mess around with.”

Paula nodded. “Yes. So he might not appreciate us slandering him.”

“No. So, we’ll have to gather enough evidence pointing to Wilkinson as the one behind the murders to convince the police to investigate him.”

“That’s what I was thinking, but I don’t know if that’s feasible.”

“Well, Mike likes me, so I’ll be seeing more of him. Maybe we’ll get lucky.”

“I hope so.”

Jodie went back to her office and returned telephone calls until it was time to leave to meet Carl. She was tired but still looking forward to spending the evening with him. She decided Carl would be good for her as she was under a lot of stress. She needed a way to let off steam and couldn’t think of any better way to do it than frolicking under the sheets with a handsome hunk.

Carl was waiting when Jodie arrived at Red Lobster. He got up eagerly when she walked in and went over to her. They kissed briefly and then went to the hostess on duty and told her they were ready to be seated. She looked at her seating chart and then gestured to one of the waitresses to come over. The waitress came and they followed her to a table and sat down.

“So, what have you been doing today?” Jodie asked.

Carl shrugged. “I’m in charge of the evidence room, so I spent the day cataloguing evidence and retrieving files for detectives.”

“Really? Do you like doing that?”

“Not really. It’s a temporary assignment while Sergeant Morris is on vacation. Last week I was working in records. That’s why I brought you your police report.”

“Oh. Right.”

“That reminds me. When I was putting away the police report, after I made you a copy the other day, I noticed there were several others.”

“What do you mean?”

“Apparently Herb Stein has been robbed before.”

The waitress returned and took their orders. They decided to split an Admiral’s Feast. As the waitress was leaving Jodie’s phone rang. She picked it up. She saw it was Mike so she answered it.

“Hey. I got us an appointment with Walter Sledge for Monday. He’s a good architect and said he had time for a new job.”

“Great,” Jodie said feigning enthusiasm. “You work fast.”

“Well, it gave me an opportunity to see you again.”

Jodie smiled and looked guiltily at Carl. “Right.”

“Ten o’clock. I’ll pick you up from your office.”

“You know where I work?”

“Oh, yeah. I looked you up in the yellow pages.”

She laughed. “Okay. See you on Monday.”

She disconnected the line and smiled at Carl. “I’m meeting with an architect on Monday. We’re thinking about constructing an office building. You know it’s such a waste of money to pay rent and have nothing to show for it.”

Carl nodded warily as the waitress showed up with their bread and salads.

“That’s a big job, isn’t it?”

“Yeah and I’m a little out of my depth so a friend is helping me out.”

“Good. A lot of people get ripped off by contractors.”

“Tell me about it. My boss, Stan Turner, has handled several nasty construction lawsuits over the years.”

After dinner they went to Jodie’s apartment but this time they managed to end their love-making early enough to get a good night’s sleep. When Jodie woke up she smelled the aroma of coffee and bacon. She got up, put on a bathrobe and went to the kitchen. Carl, who was sipping a cup of coffee, smiled at her as she came in.

“You hungry. I can make you an omelet.”

Jodie nodded. “You sure know how to spoil a girl.”

Carl shrugged and went to work. Soon Jodie was digging into a delicious looking three egg omelet. “Umm. This is good,” she reported.

“Glad you like it. You want some toast?”

“No. This is all I could possibly eat. I usually don’t eat that much for breakfast.”

“Oh, you should. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”

“So I’ve heard,” Jodie said looking happily at Carl. She could get used to this guy, she thought. She’d never known a man to be so considerate and useful around the house. She thought back to her first husband who had turned out to be lazy and useless as a husband.

“Did you get a good night’s sleep?” Carl asked.

Jodie nodded. “Yes. I feel much better.”

“Good. I slept good too. I like sleeping next to you. You’re warm and you smell so good.”

Jodie smiled wryly. “Good, because I like waking up to the smell of coffee and bacon in the morning. You’re not going to stop doing that once we’re together are you?”

Carl shook his head. “No. I promise. I’ll always fix you a great breakfast. Are we together now?”

“I suppose so,” Jodie said, “but you’ll have to move in here. I like my apartment better than yours.”

Carl shrugged. “As long as I’m with you, I don’t care if we live in a box on the beach.”

Jodie laughed. She couldn’t believe things were moving so fast with Carl, but it felt right and she didn’t want someone like him to get away. After breakfast they celebrated their new relationship back under the covers and they were both late to work.

 

 

 

 

9

 

Paula Waters

 

Paula decided to first interview the cooks and waiters at Emilio’s restaurant and then talk to the families of the victims. So, she stopped in the office for only a minute and then took Central Expressway to Highland Park. It had rained hard during the night and today it was hot and muggy. Of all the witnesses she was particularly interested in John Templeton. She wasn’t sure resentment over Ricardo’s special treatment on account of his ailing sister was sufficient motive for murder, but it may not have been his intention to kill the customers—only make them sick. Templeton looked to be in his late twenties, from a Mediterranean country probably with his olive skin, dark hair and rugged face. They met in Emilio’s office, Paula sitting behind his desk and the witnesses directly in front of her.

“I’m Paula Waters, Ricardo’s attorney,” she said.

Templeton nodded.

“I just have a few questions for you about the night of the recent murders.”

“Okay,” he said guardedly.

“You were late for work that day. What happened?”

Templeton frowned. “What does that have to do with anything?”

“I don’t know that it does, but I need you to answer the question.”

“You can’t tell Emilio about this?” Templeton said.

“I won’t if it doesn’t impact Ricardo’s case.”

Templeton sighed. “I have a second job and sometimes I’m late getting off.”

“So, you work two jobs?”

“Yes.”

“Where is your second job?”

“Papa Benito’s Pizza.”

“Okay. Where is it located?”

“About ten minutes from here.”

“So, it’s a competitor and you think Emilio would be upset if he knew you were working for the competition?”

Templeton nodded.

“Okay, well I’m not sure that’s significant to this case, so I won’t mention it to Emilio for now. So, when you got to work what did you do?”

“I swept the floor around my area, set the tables, filled the water jugs, and then cleaned the men’s restroom.”

“Did you observe or participate in the filling of the bowls of cheese?”

“I didn’t handle the cheese but I saw Ricardo filling a tray of bowls.”

Paula’s heart sank. Ricardo had told her he hadn’t prepared the cheese before picking one up to take to use. She wondered if Templeton was lying to cover his own culpability.

“I thought the cooks handled that.”

He shrugged. “Usually they do, but it’s an easy job so we help out with it sometimes.”

“And you’re sure you saw Ricardo filling one of them?”

“Yes.”

“How long did you observe him?”

“Just for a minute while I was in the kitchen checking on an order.”

“Did you tell the police this?”

“Yes.”

“Great,” Paula said irritably. . . . “Did you see Ricardo put anything else in the bowl besides cheese?”

“No.”

“Did you see anyone else filling the bowls?”

“No.”

“Did you see anyone in the kitchen that night who you didn’t know—someone who shouldn’t have been there?”

“No. Not that I recall.”

“Okay. That’s all for now. Send in Tom next, would you?”

Templeton got up to leave. “Sure.”

Tom was tall, muscular, and good looking. He smiled warmly at Paula.

“Hi, Tom. I’m Paula Waters. I guess you know why I’m here.”

“Yes. You represent Ricardo.”

“Right. You helped Ricardo serve the people who were poisoned, right?”

“Yes.”

“Did you fill the cheese bowls that night?”

“Yes, but I only put cheese in them. I didn’t put any poison in them. I promise. I wouldn’t even know where to get it.”

“I believe you, but somebody put in the poison. Who could have done that?”

“I don’t know. Anybody back in the kitchen could have done it or someone could have even done it at the table.”

“Was there anybody back in the kitchen that day that you didn’t know?”

“No. Not that I remember.”

“Did you see Ricardo filling any of the cheese dispensers?”

“Yes. I saw him hovering over a tray of cheese bowls.”

“So, what was he doing?”

“It looked like he was filling them. We may have run out.”

“Could he have slipped poison into the bowls?”

“No. I don’t think so. All I saw was him scooping out the cheese from the big can it comes in.”

“Alright. So, did you know any of the victims?”

“They were regular customers. I didn’t know them very well, but I’ve seen Emilio talking to Mrs. Richmond before. She came in for lunch with another woman a few days earlier.”

“Did you overhear their conversation?”

“No.”

“Do you have any idea who put the poison in the cheese?”

“No. I’m sorry. I wish I did.”

“Okay,” Paula said. “I guess that’s it for now.”

Tom left and Paula went looking for Emilio to tell him she was leaving. She found him in his office sorting through some bills.

“Well, I’ve finished interviewing everybody.”

“Did you learn anything?”

“Yes, a couple of your employees saw Ricardo filling bowls of cheese.”

“Oh no,” Emilio said. “Do you think he could be guilty?”

“No. Not necessarily. Nobody saw him put any poison in them, but I don’t like the idea that he lied to me.”

“Maybe he just forgot.”

“I seriously doubt that. I’m going to have to talk to him and get an explanation.”

“Well, let me know what you find out.”

“I will,” Paula said and then changed the subject. “How’s business?”

Emilio frowned. “Pathetic. It nosedived after the murders and hasn’t come back at all.”

“Are you going to be able to survive?”

“Oh, yeah. I put some money away, but I may have to lay off a couple of employees.”

“Hmm. That’s too bad.”

“Yes, particularly since I need them all.”

“Have you heard any more from the developers who wanted your property?”

“Yes, they have been hounding me. One of them came by yesterday.”

“Who?”

“Chris Hunt. He works for Wilkinson Properties.”

“Right. He’s served time in Huntsville for assaulting a police officer.”

“He did?”

“Yeah. I guess he is Tom Wilkinson’s muscle.”

“Are they criminals?”

“They claim to be legitimate but they may have ties to some criminal enterprise, we don’t know which one. Did he threaten you?”

“No. He just said his offer was still open but time was running out.”

“What did he mean by that?”

“I don’t know. I assumed they meant they’d withdraw the offer.”

Paula raised her eyebrows. “Maybe. I hope that’s all he meant.”

“Should I be worried?” Emilio asked.

“I don’t know, but you should definitely be careful.”

From the restaurant Paula went to Richmond Oil and Gas where one of the victims had worked. Their offices were in a four story glass-faced building behind a strip shopping center at the intersection of Preston Road and Forest Lane. She took the elevator to the third floor and walked into their plush offices. A receptionist looked up but didn’t smile. Paula assumed they were still in mourning for the loss of John Richmond.

“Can I help you?” the receptionist asked.

“Yes. I’m Paula Waters and I wanted to speak to someone about John Richmond.”

“He’s dead.”

“I know. I wanted to talk to someone who knew him and was familiar with the company.”

“That would be his son, Ralph.”

“Can I speak with him?”

“I don’t know if he has time. Let me check with him.”

Paula smiled and waited while the receptionist stepped away from her desk and walked down the hall. A few moments later she returned.

“He’s in the middle of something right now, but he said if you could wait about ten minutes he could see you.”

“Sure. I’ll wait,” Paula said. She turned and walked over to a leather sofa and sat. While she was waiting she thought about the questions she should ask. The report on John Richmond was that he was a shady oil and gas promoter. His son would obviously be hesitant to talk about his father in that light, so she wondered how to get the information out of him that she needed. The receptionist’s intercom buzzed and she picked up her phone. She turned and smiled at Paula.

“He’ll see you now.”

“Thanks,” Paula said rising.

“Down the hall, second door on the left,” the receptionist advised.

Paula walked by the receptionist and down the hall. When she got to the second door she peered inside. A short, thin man dressed in casual business attire looked up from his cluttered desk and smiled. He stood up.

“Come in. Have a seat. Sorry about the wait but I was just finishing up a report and wanted to finish it before I got side-tracked.”

“No problem,” Paula said. “I’m sorry I showed up without an appointment, but I was in the neighborhood and took a chance that you could see me.”

“Well, here we are. What can I do for you?”

“I’m looking into your father’s murder.”

“Oh, right. You represent the suspect, Ricardo Ricci. I’ve seen you on TV.”

“Yes. I’m sorry for your loss and I hate to bother you when you are grieving, but I’m sure you understand the importance of investigating these things as soon as possible after they happen.”

“Sure. How can I help you?”

“Well, I don’t know if my client is guilty or not, but he says he isn’t, so I have to assume he’s telling me the truth.”

Ralph nodded.

“So, I wondered if your father had any enemies who might have wanted him dead.”

Ralph just looked at Paula expressionless. Finally, he sighed. “Well, Dad had a lot of enemies. I’m sure some of them were pleased to learn he’d been murdered, but I can’t see any of them actually doing it—particularly in the manner it was done. I mean why would you kill three innocent people if you only hated one of them?”

“It would have to be someone without a conscience. Someone’s whose sole concern was doing it and getting away with it.”

“Right,” Ralph agreed.

“So, was there anyone your father knew like that?”

“There was one investor, Walter Satterwhite. He invested his retirement on a dry hole. His wife divorced him over it and he was quite livid. He filed complaints with the DA and the Texas Railroad Commission, but the well was legitimate and Dad had done all the right paperwork, so they refused to prosecute.”

“Did he confront your father?”

“Yes, he came by here a few times and each time the encounters ended in a shouting match between he and my father. We had to call the police once to get rid of him.”

“Did he ever come by your father’s house?”

“Not that I know of.”

“In any of those shouting matches did he threaten to kill your father?”

“Yes, he did.”

“What did he say?”

“When we called the police on him the last time he told my father that he was coming for him and the police wouldn’t be able to protect him.”

“Wow. What did your father do about that?”

“He hired security for his home and the office for a few weeks but then cut it off. He figured Satterwhite had cooled down and wasn’t a threat anymore.”

“Did you agree?”

Ralph shrugged. “Yeah. Satterwhite had been a pretty nice guy up until his wife divorced him. But once she was gone he turned into an angry rattlesnake.”

Paula smiled. She liked alternative theories that would confuse the jury and create reasonable doubt. Now she had another compelling story that would give the jury pause. She thanked Ralph and headed back to the office. When she got there Ricardo was waiting for her.

“Hi, Ricardo. What are you doing here?”

“Emilio said I should come see you immediately.”

“Yes. Some of the other employees say they saw you filling a tray of cheese bowls.”

Ricardo shrugged. “Really? I didn’t remember that, but it is possible, I guess. I do that sometimes.”

Paula’s eyes narrowed. “Hmm. What else have you forgotten? You know, if I get ambushed at trial with something like this it could result in you going to prison or even being executed. When you lie or forget something important you lose credibility with the jury. Do you understand?”

“Yes. I’m so sorry. I just didn’t remember it.”

Paula sighed. “What do you know about Papa Benito’s Pizza?”

“Huh?”

“It’s a competitor isn’t it?”

“Uh huh. Yeah, the owner, Ben Benito, used to work for Emilio many years back, so I’ve been told.”

“Is there animosity between Christian and Emilio?”

Ricardo laughed. “Yeah. Emilio bitches about him all the time. I think when he left to open up his own restaurant he copied Emilio’s menu, just changing the name on it before he had it printed. Emilio was livid.”

“I bet.”

“Now, when he advertises his specials it hurts our business, so Emilio often curses him.”

“And, I’m sure Ben Benito doesn’t like Emilio much either.”

“Probably not.”

“Okay. If you think of anything else you’ve neglected to tell me, let me know, okay?”

“Right. I’m sorry, Paula. I really am.”

After Ricardo had gone Paula thought about her day’s accomplishments and was pleased. She now had two, maybe three alternative scenarios to throw at the jury. But her mood was quickly dampened when assistant DA, Brian Rutledge, called to tell her their experts had identified the source of the poison put in the Parmesan cheese. According to their experts the poison came from a box of Vacor Rat Poison found in Ricardo’s garage!”

 

 

 

10

 

Stan Turner

 

Stan walked briskly to his car and got in. As he was driving north on Central Expressway he wondered what he would do if Sammy was still outside banging on the door. Somehow he doubted that would be the case. Either the police would be there or Sammy and his friends would be inside confronting Ram. As he approached the grocery store he saw a police car parked in front. He parked behind it and ran inside. Ram and his wife were talking to a police officer.

“Hi,” Stan said to the officer. “I’m Stan Turner, Ram’s attorney.”

“Hello, Mr. Turner.”

“Are you alright, Ram?” Stan asked.

“Yes. Officer Barnes got here just in time. Sammy left when he heard the siren.”

“That’s good,” Stan replied. “Sorry we had to bother you, officer. There is an automatic stay prohibiting Sammy from trying to collect his debt or taking any action to impede the operation of the business, but he apparently doesn’t respect our judicial system.”

“Right. Well, if he comes back, just call 9-1-1 again.”

“He probably won’t, but just as a precaution I’m going to file a contempt motion tomorrow. Maybe the judge can convince him to obey the court’s orders.”

“Alright. I’m going to leave then,” the officer said finishing up something he was writing in a notebook.

“Thanks again, officer,” Ram said.

After the officer had left, Stan shook his head. “Where’s your wife?”

“I told her to go in the back room and lock the door.”

Stan laughed. “Well, you better go tell her the coast is clear.”

Ram nodded and walked to the back of the store. A few moments later she came out holding a baby.

“This is my wife Melakea and our son Fershad,” Ram said.

Stan looked at the baby and then smiled at Melakea. “You have a beautiful baby.”

“Thank you,” she said beaming. “He has been a real blessing.”

“So, what are we going to do about Sammy?” Ram asked worriedly.

Stan sighed. “Well, I’ll file the motion first thing in the morning, but it will be a week or two before it is heard. In the meantime you may have to hire some security to protect the store.”

“I can’t afford that,” Ram complained.

“I know, but it will be just a few days. I can recommend someone.”

“You should do it,” Melakea said. “I don’t want Sammy hurting you or the baby.”

“Alright. If that’s what you recommend.”

Stan called Bassettt Security and arranged for someone to be at the store during its regular business hours for the next week. Then he went back to his office and prepared the contempt motion. He told Maria to file it and arrange for service on Sammy. When he was done he went to have lunch with Bingo Besch who had called to say he had information on the employees at Wilkinson Properties. They met at Sonny Bryan’s Barbeque in Richardson, went through the line and found an empty table.

“So, I checked into the two names you gave me.”

“Thank you. Did you learn anything new?”

“Well, you were right. Both these guys used to be connected to a Chicago crime family. It supposedly broke up about three years ago when the Justice Department successfully convicted its boss and most of its Chicago leadership. Benjamin Jamison and Christopher Hunt handled the families’ money laundering which was located in New York, so they escaped prosecution. They moved to Dallas two years ago and apparently found new clients to keep their money laundering business afloat.”

“I hope it’s not a Mexican drug cartel?” Stan said.

Besch laughed. “No. I don’t think so. The mob and the cartels don’t usually get along.”

“Well, I have Jodie snooping around Wilkinson Properties to see if she can find out anything, but I suppose I should pull her off that assignment. It’s probably too dangerous.”

Besch nodded. “Much too dangerous.”

“What about the box of rat poison and the shoe box?”

“What about them?”

“Did the police dust them for prints?”

“I’m sure they did.”

“So, whose prints were found on them?”

“I can’t say. You’ll have to get that from the prosecutor.”

Stan nodded. “If there are unidentified prints on either of them you should check for a match with Jamison and Hunt.”

“I’ll pass on your recommendation to my boss.”

Stan sighed. “And he’ll talk to Rutledge about it and it won’t happen.”

“I’m sorry.”

“So, how can we prove these goons killed the three diners at Emilio’s?” Stan asked.

Besch pulled out two photographs from his coat pocket. “You could start by showing these pictures around to everyone who was at the restaurant that night. If we could place either one of these guys at the restaurant I think I could convince my lieutenant to assign me or somebody else to investigate your theory.”

Stan took the photos and nodded. He picked up the one of Jamison and studied it. Jamison had a thin face and eyes that were set deeply into his skull so that they were always in shadow. Stan thought there was a look of insanity in his smile.

“No problem. I’ll run over there this afternoon and take care of it.”

After lunch Stan drove down to the Highland Park Cafeteria where he had tracked Raul Marcus. Stan chuckled as he remembered Emilio telling him about Raul dropping the salad bowl and then scooping the salad up off the ground and putting it into another bowl. He didn’t think Marcus had sufficient motive to kill anyone over his termination from Emilio’s, but he couldn’t ignore the possibility. Marcus led Stan out to a patio area where he said they’d have more privacy.

“I understand you were terminated from Emilio’s.”

“Yeah and it’s been a bitch getting a new job without being able to get a decent reference.”

“Well, do you blame Emilio? What you did was pretty stupid.”

Marcus shrugged. “I guess, but I was just trying to save Emilio some time and money. Produce is expensive not to mention the labor cost of doing another day’s setup.”

“No. You were hoping that nobody had seen your carelessness and you could avoid getting your ass chewed.”

He smiled. “Well, there’s that too.”

Stan shook his head. “So, where were you the night of the murders?”

“I was working here. You can verify it with my supervisor.”

Stan nodded. “I figured as much. Do you have any idea who might have been angry enough at Emilio or Ricardo to do this?”

“Not really. It doesn’t make much sense unless somebody was angry at all of them.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you don’t usually murder someone by mistake.”

“So, you think the killer wanted to kill all of the victims.”

“Maybe.”

Stan nodded. “Well, that certainly is something to think about. I appreciate your cooperation.”

Stan thought about what Marcus had said on his way to Emilio’s but for the life of him couldn’t see why someone would want all of them dead. To make that connection he’d need a lot more information about the victims. Fortunately, there was one survivor, Sandy Richmond, so that would be a good place to start.

When he got to the restaurant he showed Emilio the pictures of the three men. Emilio confirmed that one of the men had been by the restaurant to deliver the sales offer to him, but he didn’t remember seeing him on the night of the murder.

“You don’t mind if I walk around and show these pictures to your employees do you?”

“No. Go ahead. I’m usually in the office or at home at that time of night, so I may not have seen them even if they were here.”

Stan took the photos first to the kitchen staff and then to the waiters but no one remembered seeing any of them on the night of the murders. Stan was just about to leave when Julie Marks walked in. She was a hostess and had been on duty on the night of the murders.

“Sure. I saw this guy,” she said pointing to Christopher Hunt’s photo.

“Was he a customer?”

“Yes. He came in with a woman and he was seated about two tables away from where the customers died.”

“Hmm,” Stan said thoughtfully. “Maybe he wanted to see the results of his handiwork–confirm that the job had been done.”

Julie shrugged. “Maybe. He and his date left right after it happened. Of course, a lot of people did.”

“Right. It could just be a coincidence.”

Stan went back to Emilio’s office, called Besch and told him what he had found out. Besch told him he’d pass on the information to his superiors and see if they were impressed enough to launch an investigation. Stan thanked him but knew it was unlikely to be enough. Unfortunately, he didn’t know what else he could do to get them to act.

When Stan got back to the office he went to Paula’s office to tell her what he had found out. He told her what Besch had reported to him about Christopher Hunt and that Julie had seen him at the restaurant on the night of the murders.

“That’s very interesting. It sure makes you wonder if Tom Wilkinson wasn’t behind the murders.”

“Yes, it does,” Stan agreed. “It will play well to the jury.”

“Well, I’ve come up with another suspect too.”

“Really?”

Paula told Stan about her visit to Richmond Investments and her meeting with Richmond’s son.

“Apparently a Walter Satterwhite bought into a dry hole and lost his retirement fund. He was extremely upset and filed several complaints to various authorities but none of them thought Richmond had done anything wrong. But that just made Satterwhite more angry and he confronted Richmond at his office and actually threatened to kill him.”

“I don’t know if it is a good idea to pitch more than one alternative theory to the jury,” Stan said. “They may think we are just speculating and don’t seriously believe either theory.”

“Right. We’ll probably go with the theory that makes more sense.”

“Or the one that the available evidence supports.”

Paula nodded. “Right. We’ll just have to play it by ear.”

“Oh, Besch says we should pull Jodie off her undercover assignment.”

“Yes. I was thinking the same thing now that we know the mob is involved. She’s not in right now. I’ll tell her first thing in the morning.”

On his way back to his office Stan asked Maria if she’d been able to file the motion for contempt and set it for hearing. He was surprised when she said it had been filed and set for hearing the next morning.

“Wow! How did you pull that off?” Stan asked.

“When I told Margie, the court clerk, about Sammy’s visit to the store she was shocked, I think. So, when I asked her for a hearing date she asked if you could do it in the morning since there had been a cancellation.”

“Well, the only problem is we have to get Sammy served with the motion.”

Maria smiled. “Already done. The process server went right out there after I delivered the notice to him and caught him as he was leaving to go home.”

“Great. Was Ram happy when you told him?”

“He was glad that we got a quick hearing, but I think he is a little nervous about testifying.”

“Well, all he has to do is tell the judge what happened, so I think he can handle it.”

“That’s what I told him.”

“Thank you, Maria. Excellent job as usual,” Stan said and went back to his office.

The next morning he met Ram in the lobby of the Earle Cabell Federal Building. He took him to the cafeteria and they drank a cup of coffee while they prepared for the hearing. Ten minutes before the hearing they went up to the courtroom and took a seat in the gallery. They watched the door for Sammy but he hadn’t arrived by the time the judge entered the courtroom. After the court had handled several uncontested matters Ram’s case was called and the judge asked for appearances.

Stan stood up. “Stan Turner for the debtor-in-possession,” Stan said.

The middle-aged Hispanic judge looked down at her docket sheet then glanced around the courtroom. “So, where is Saman Keashkear?”

Stan looked around the courtroom. “I don’t see him, Your Honor.”

“Bailiff, see if Mr. Keashkear is in the hallway.”

The bailiff nodded, went out into the hallway and called Sammy’s name. There was no response so he came back in and reported that Mr. Keashkear had not responded.

“Very well, Mr. Turner. Let’s see, you have filed a motion for contempt. How is Mr. Keashkear in contempt?”

Stan explained to the judge what had happened, so the judge told Stan to put his client on the stand to make a record. When he was done the judge made an entry on her docket sheet.

“Very well. What kind of relief are you looking for, Mr. Turner?”

“I’d like the court to find Mr. Keashkear in contempt and fine him a reasonable amount to deter him from violating the automatic stay in the future and I’d like my attorney’s fees which through court today amount to five hours at $250 per hour.”

“Very well, I find Saman Keashkear in contempt of this court for violating the automatic stay, fine him $3,000 and award the movant $1,250.00 attorney’s fees, plus costs of court.”

“Thank you, Your Honor,” Stan said. “May we be excused?”

“I’ll need an order from you reflective of the court’s ruling within 10 days.”

“Yes, Your Honor.”

“You’re excused,” the judge said and looked down at her docket sheet. “Henderson – Motion to Lift Stay.”

Stan turned and left the courtroom with Ram at his heels. When they were out in the hall Stan noticed that Ram had a troubled look on his face.

“What’s wrong?” Stan asked.

“Sammy is going to be very upset when he finds out he has to pay $4,250.00.”

Stan shrugged. “Well, maybe if it costs him a few bucks he’ll have more respect for the court.”

Ram nodded but looked skeptical. Stan wondered if there was anything else he could do to protect Ram and his family, but he didn’t know what it would be. He just prayed Sammy wouldn’t be so foolish as to violate the court’s order a second time.

 

 

11

 

Jodie Marshall

 

The offices of Walker & Belcher Architects were in the Plaza of the Americas Building in downtown Dallas. Jodie watched a half dozen ice skaters practicing in the rink below as the glass elevator ascended. When she stepped out of the elevator she found herself in the firm’s waiting room. Mike Sutherland was already there talking to one of the receptionists. He smiled when he saw Jodie and motioned her over.

“Jodie. This is Susie. If you need coffee or anything just ask her and she’ll get it for you.”

“I’m fine, thanks,” Jodie replied.

“You can bring me a coffee–black?” Mike said.

“Sure,” Susie said. “Go on back. Joe’s in his office.”

Mike smiled and escorted Jodie back to a spacious corner office with a huge glass table cluttered with plans, drawings and assorted drafting equipment. Jodie noticed photographs of several impressive buildings on the walls. She assumed Joe had designed them. Joe walked over and greeted them.

“Jodie. This is Joe Belcher.”

“Hi,” Jodie said and shook Joe’s hand. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“Likewise. Have a seat.”

Jodie sat on a white leather sofa and Mike sat down beside her. Joe went behind his desk and sat in his executive chair. Susie brought Mike his coffee and he set it on the end table next to him.

“So, Jodie’s law firm wants to build their own building—maybe something like the Montfort property we just finished.”

“Yes. I love that building,” Jodie said. “Something like that would be perfect for us.”

“Mike said you have a two and a half million budget.”

“Right. That’s as much as our banker said he’d be willing to loan us. We’re just in the planning stages right now. I was assigned the task of getting the numbers together to see if the project is feasible.”

“Well, we can help you with that. Mike said you had property in Plano.”

“Yes. We’ve found a lot there we liked. We haven’t bought it yet, but it’s in a perfect location. It’s about the same size as the Montfort lot.”

“Okay, we’d be happy to work up a preliminary design and budget for you. Then if you decide to go forward we can develop the plans and specs necessary for the bidding package.”

“What would it cost for that?” Jodie asked.

“Our fee for the design and budget is usually $25,000 but since you’re a friend of Mike’s we’ll do it for $10,000.”

“Wow,” Jodie said looking over at Mike. “It pays to know the right people.”

“Yes, it does,” Belcher said. “Stick with Mike. You’re in good hands.”

“Alright. It will probably be sixty to ninety days before we’re ready to get started.”

“No problem. We’ll squeeze you in when you’re ready. Just let Mike know when the time comes. You can figure it will take us thirty days once you retain us and we get a check.”

They stood up and shook hands. “It was a pleasure meeting you,” Jodie said as she started to walk out of his office. As she was leaving she noticed a replica of a construction project entitled Highland Corners. It appeared to be a condominium, movie theater complex and small shopping center. She stopped to look at it.

“Is this a new project?” Jodie asked.

“Yes.It’s one of Wilkinson’s projects. It’s still in the planning stages,” Joe replied. “They haven’t acquired all the property yet.”

“Huh. . . . What happens if you can’t acquire it?” Jodie asked.

Joe and Mike looked at each other knowingly. “Oh, that won’t be a problem,” Mike said. “The holdouts will come around eventually. They always do.”

After the meeting with Belcher, Mike took Jodie to lunch. She felt guilty flirting with Mike now that she’d made a commitment to Carl, but didn’t figure she had a choice under the circumstances. She just hoped Mike wouldn’t get obsessed with her and start demanding a lot of her time. She didn’t have time for that nor did she want to cheat on Carl. But, just as she feared, the next day a dozen roses were delivered to her at the office.

“Damn it,” she moaned as she read the note.

Paula walked in and raised her eyebrows. “What’s up?” she asked.

“Oh, my undercover work is getting complicated. Mike sent me flowers.”

“Oh, no. What are you going to do?”

“End it now. I think I found what you needed.”

“Oh, really?”

“Yes. There was a model of a proposed development called Highland Corners in Joe Belcher’s office.”

“Right.”

“So, Emilio’s restaurant sits right in the middle of it.”

“Huh. So, they had a good motive to want Emilio’s restaurant to fail. They figured if things got bad he’d sell.”

“Yes. When I asked Mike and Joe if they thought Tom Wilkinson would have any problem getting the holdouts to sell, they laughed.”

“Good work, Jodie,” Paula said. “You’re right. You should end it with Mike now before things get out of hand.”

Jodie nodded. “Right. Now all I have to do is think of a way to do it.”

Paula smiled sympathetically and then left. After thinking about it for a few minutes she decided to use Carl as an excuse. She picked up the phone and dialed Mike’s number.

“Mike. Thanks for the flowers.”

“Oh, you got them. Good,” Mike said.

“Listen. I’m sorry if I gave you the wrong idea, but I’m in a relationship. In fact, he’s moving into my apartment this weekend.”

“Then tell him you’ve changed your mind.”

“Well, I haven’t changed my mind. I want him to move in.”

“Who is he?”

Jodie sighed. This wasn’t going like she had hoped. She didn’t think it was any of Mike’s business who she was living with, but perhaps if he knew it was a cop he’d back off. “He’s a Plano cop.”

“A cop? You’ve got to be kidding. You can do better than that, Jodie. Come on.”

Jodie didn’t know what to say. “So, anyway. I hope we can still be friends.”

“Yeah, right!” Mike said bitterly.

“I’m sorry, Mike. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“No, you were just going to use me until you got what you wanted.”

“That’s not true. You offered to help. You didn’t say your offer was conditioned on a relationship.”

“Well, you’d have to be pretty stupid not to figure that out.”

“Well, I guess I’m stupid then, because I just thought you were a nice guy.”

“A nice guy. Boy, you did read me wrong.” He laughed. “You’ve messed with the wrong guy. You have no idea what you’re in for now,” Mike said and hung up.

Jodie stared at the receiver a moment, swallowed hard, and then hung up. Well, that went well, she thought. Although she tried to shake it off she was out of sorts over the conversation all morning. Finally she went to see Stan about it.

“I’m afraid I may be in trouble,” she said worriedly.

“What happened?” Stan asked.

“I broke it off with Mike since Paula said she had all the information she needed and he got all upset. He said I had messed with the wrong guy and was making a big mistake.”

“Hmm. That doesn’t sound good. Do you think he is dangerous?”

“I didn’t think so, but his tone changed dramatically when I told him I wasn’t interested in dating him. It was like he was a different guy. He became belligerent and even cursed at me.”

“Well, perhaps I should call our security people and have them assign someone to you for a while.”

“No. Actually, I’m dating a Plano cop now. I should be safe with him.”

“Oh, really? Who is it?”

“Carl Ross. He’s a rookie but he knows how to handle a gun.”

“Well, he can’t be with you during the day.”

“That’s true,” Jodie mused. “Okay, hire someone for me during the day but I should be alright at night with Carl with me.”

“Sounds good. I’ll set it up to start at 8:00 a.m. tomorrow.”

“Thanks, Stan. Sorry to be a bother.”

Stan shrugged. “I’m billing it to our client. Don’t worry about it.”

Jodie went back to her office feeling better. Looking at her watch she realized it was time for her to leave for Plano to meet with the two firemen who had responded to the robbery at the Jewelry Mart. She told Maria where she was going and headed for the parking garage. As she approached her car a man stepped out in front of her. She screamed and darted around the man. He gave her a menacing look but didn’t follow her. Breathing hard she fumbled to unlock her door. When she was finally inside and the door was locked she tried to relax but a hand suddenly slapped her side window hard causing her to nearly jump out of her skin. She started the car quickly, backed out of the parking space and peeled rubber without looking back. She didn’t relax until she was several blocks away and couldn’t see anyone following her.

She wondered who the man was who had confronted her. Was their near collision intentional or just a simple mishap? Had she overreacted? Who had slapped her side window? Was it the same man she’d nearly collided with? Her heart was still beating fast and she could feel that her face was flushed. When she got to the fire station for her interview she used their phone and called Carl. When she told him what had happened he told her to come to the station when she was done. After she had composed herself she met the two witnesses in the recreation room.

“Hi. I’m Jodie Marshall. Thanks for agreeing to talk with me.”

“No problem,” a tall fireman with a mustache said.

“So, you’re Paul Bennett?”

“Yes.”

Jodie looked over at the other man who was short with a receding hairline. “And you must be Burt Hawkins?”

“Yes,” Burt said.

“Okay. Well you two apparently responded to a 9-1-1 call to the Jewelry Mart a few weeks back.”

“Yes, we did,” Paul said.

“So, Paul. Why don’t you tell me what you remember.”

“Okay. Well, there was one police cruiser on the scene when we arrived. Two police officers were in the store and had the situation pretty much under control. I saw one man, Michael Mahoney, on the ground with his wrists tied behind his back. Herbert Stein was sitting in a chair holding a rag over the bullet wound in his leg. We immediately started working on Stein. We took his vitals and called them in. They said to make sure the bleeding had stopped and then get him to Plano Medical Center as quickly as possible.”

“How serious was the wound?”

“It was a flesh wound. He wasn’t in any mortal danger.”

“Did you look around the vault room where you found him?”

“Yes.”

“What did you see?”

“Well, it appeared there had been a scuffle. Chairs were overturned and papers were scattered all over the floor.”

“Did you get a look at the vault?”

“Uh huh. It was open.”

“It was open?” Jodie questioned.

“Yes and it looked like the contents had been removed.”

“Oh, really? Did you see the contents anywhere?”

“No. I figured the thief cleaned it out and the police had taken it as evidence.”

“No. I don’t think so,” Jodie replied. “Mahoney said he was taken down before Stein got the vault open.”

“So, Stein must have opened it after Larson took Mahoney down,” Paul said.

“Apparently,” Jodie agreed.

Jodie didn’t know what to make of this new information. She wondered why Stein would have opened the vault after the robbery was effectively over. Was he afraid the police might want to look inside, so he opened it while they were busy and moved the contents somewhere the police wouldn’t be looking? She figured he could have run the contents out to his car and stuck it in the trunk.

Jodie questioned Burt Hawkins but he didn’t have anything new to add, so she left the fire station and went to the police station to see Carl. He came out to meet her when she pulled up. She told him in more detail about her run-in with the man or men in the parking garage.

“So, have you ever seen this guy before?”

Jodie shook her head. “No. Never. I don’t think he works in our office building.”

“Did the guy you almost collided with come over and slap your window or was it someone else?”

“I’m not sure. I didn’t get a good look at him. When it happened, all I could think about was getting the hell out of there.”

“Well. That was the smart thing to do. Could your friend Mike be responsible?”

“I don’t know. He was pretty angry when I told him I was with you.”

“What made him think you’d be interested in him?”

“Well, I had to flirt with him a bit to get the information I needed.”

Carl shook his head. “I don’t like this undercover work. It’s too dangerous.”

“I know. I shouldn’t have to do it anymore.”

Jodie hung around the police station until Carl got off his shift. Then she followed him to her apartment. When they approached her front door they noticed it was ajar. Carl immediately drew his weapon and motioned for Jodie to stay back. Jodie did as she was told and Carl nudged the door open with his foot. He went inside room by room but found no one inside.

“Clear,” he finally yelled.

Jodie walked through the front door and gasped when she saw the place had been ransacked. “Oh, my God!”

Carl walked in from the kitchen and shrugged. “Boy you really pissed somebody off. Check and see if they took anything.”

“I wonder what they were looking for,” Jodie asked.

“Do you keep any of your work files here?” Carl asked.

“No. I might bring a file home to work on but I never leave them here.”

“Well, is anything missing?”

Jodie went room by room and surveyed her belongings. “If it was a thief I’m sure he is extremely disappointed. I don’t have anything worth stealing.”

“This may just be a message. They know where you live and can get to you whenever they want.”

Jodie sighed. “Shit! What have I done?”

“Well, if they wanted to hurt you they could have done it in the parking garage. I think they are just trying to rattle you. You’ll be safe if I’m with you and if you have your bodyguard close by at all times during the day. Promise me you won’t go anywhere without him.”

“I promise,” Jodie said earnestly.

Jodie and Carl spent the next hour cleaning up the apartment and making sure it was secure, then they went out to dinner. Jodie was pretty sure Mike was responsible for what had happened to her that day but wasn’t sure what it meant. Was Mike just pissed off because she rejected him or had he figured out she was after information about Tom Wilkinson? She hoped it was rejection. He’d get over that soon enough, but if he knew what she was really up to then she was in serious trouble.

 

 

12

 

Paula Waters

 

When she pressed him on the subject he denied buying the rat poison and claimed to have no idea how it got there. Paula knew that if Ricardo had been set up, this was just part of the killer’s plan to incriminate him. Still, she was feeling rather glum when she brought the news to Stan.

“Ricardo would have to be an idiot to leave the rat poison in his garage if he was the killer,” Stan said. “This actually makes it look more like a setup.”

Paula thought about that a moment. “That’s true, but he’s young and rather laid back so the jury might conclude he is stupid.”

Stan sighed. “Well, we need to figure out how the killer got into his apartment and into the garage. You should also check hardware stores in the area for recent sales of Vacor Rat Killer.”

“That sounds like a job for Bart,” Paula said. “He loves hardware stores.”

Stan smiled. “There you go.”

“While he is doing that I’ll canvas the neighborhood. Maybe one of his neighbors saw something.”

“We can get our PI to do that,” Stan said.

“No. I’d rather talk to them myself. It’s a small apartment building. There’s only going to be a half dozen or so occupants who might have seen something.”

“Well, if I can help out in any way let me know.”

Paula nodded. “Don’t worry. I will.”

Paula went back to her office and took the Yellow Pages off of her bookshelf. She set it on her desk and started making a list of hardware stores within a three mile radius of Emilio’s restaurant. When she was done she folded up the list and put it in her purse to give to Bart. Then she called the manager of the Lawndale Apartments to find out the best way to approach the tenants there.

“Hi. This is Paula Waters. I’m an attorney–”

“Right. You’re Ricardo’s attorney.”

“Yes. What’s your name?”

“Virginia Storm.”

“You’re the manager?”

“Right. So, how’s Ricardo’s defense coming? He’s such a good boy. He couldn’t have killed all those people.”

“I know, but unfortunately there is a lot of evidence pointing to him as the perpetrator.”

“Hmm. So, how can I help you?”

“We’re trying to figure out how someone could have gotten into Ricardo’s apartment while he was at work and planted the evidence that the police found. I was hoping one of the tenants might have seen someone or something.”

“Most of the tenants work during the day so they probably wouldn’t have been home.”

“Were you there?”

“Yes. I’m always here. It’s my job,” Virginia said.

“So, did you see any strangers lurking about that day?”

“Not lurking, but there were people in and out. I didn’t know some of them.”

“I have some photos I’d like to show you and the others. If we could put either of these men in or around Ricardo’s apartment any time before the murders, that would be huge.”

“Well, the best time to come by would be Saturday morning between nine and noon. Most of the people you want to talk to will be home then.”

“Will you be there?”

“Yes. Saturday is one of my busiest days.”

“Okay. I’ll see you on Saturday then.”

Paula hung up and then started going through phone messages. She stopped when she saw one of the messages was from Walter Satterwhite, the investor who had put his entire retirement fund into an oil well being developed by Richmond Oil and Gas. She wondered if he was just a complete idiot or had John Richmond been one of those super salesmen who nobody could resist. She dialed the number. Satterwhite picked up immediately.

“Mr. Satterwhite, this is Paula Waters. Thanks for returning my call.”

“No problem. What can I do for you?”

“Well, I understand you had a fraud claim against John Richmond and Richmond Oil & Gas.”

“I did but the bastard went and got himself murdered.”

“Yes, he did. I represent Ricardo Rizzi who is charged with his murder.”

“I know. I saw you on TV. Tell your client they should pin a medal on him.”

Paula laughed. “Well, he claims he didn’t do it.”

“Well, whoever did it should get a medal.”

“What I was calling about was the fraud claim. I need to know why you think you were defrauded and if you knew of any other investors who felt the same way.”

“You think I killed Richmond?”

“I don’t know but I have to look at anyone who had any animosity toward him and I heard you threatened his life.”

Satterwhite sighed. “Yeah, maybe I did, but it was just an expression of my frustration. I’m not a killer.”

“Well, I’d still like to talk to you so I can take you off the suspect list and maybe pick up a few names to add. I’m sure a lot of people were upset when that well went dry.”

“Oh, yeah. I was just one of the smaller investors.”

“Can we meet?”

“Sure. Monday afternoon after 2:00 p.m. would work.”

“Okay. Do you want me to come to you or would you prefer to meet here at my office?”

“I’ll come to your office. My place is a little crowded and we should keep our discussions confidential.”

Paula agreed and the meeting was scheduled. On Saturday morning, while they were eating breakfast, Paula handed Bart the list of hardware stores she had made. He looked at her and frowned. “What’s this?”

“Would you mind dropping by these hardware stores and seeing if any of them sell Vacor Rat Killer?”

Bart laughed. “Why me?”

“Because you love hardware stores and I hate them.”

“Can’t you guys afford a PI?”

“We could but I didn’t think you would mind. I’ve got to spend the morning canvassing Ricardo’s neighborhood. If we can prove that Tom Wilkinson or one of his goons was in the neighborhood it would go a long way at getting an acquittal.”

Bart narrowed his eyes. “Hmm.”

Paula gave him a seductive look. “I’ll be very appreciative tonight after you get through watching all your football games.”

Bart smiled. “You will, huh?”

Paula nodded.

“Alright, but I don’t want to hear any complaints if I come home with a few new tools for my workshop. You know how difficult it is for me to resist the impulse to buy something I’ve been wanting, if it’s on sale.”

Paula sighed. “I won’t say a word. I promise.”

“So, that’s all I have to do is see if they sell it?”

“Well, if they do sell it you could ask them if their computer could pull up a list of recent purchases.”

Bart sighed deeply. “You don’t want much, do you?”

Paula leaned in and kissed Bart. “Thank you, honey.”

After breakfast Bart headed for the first hardware store on his list and Paula went to the Lawndale Apartments to meet with Virginia Storm. When she got there she found Virginia behind her desk talking on the phone. When she hung up she smiled up at Paula.

“Paula Waters, I presume.”

“Yes,” Paula said. “Thank you for agreeing to see me.”

“It’s no problem. I want to help Ricardo.”

Paula dug the photos of Benjamin Jamison, Christopher Hunt and Tom Wilkinson out of her purse and showed them one by one to Virginia. She looked at them carefully and then shook her head. “No. I don’t recognize any of them.”

Paula sighed. “Okay. I’d still like to talk to your tenants if you don’t mind.”

“Knock yourself out. I warned them you might be coming by.”

“Good. I appreciate that. . . . Oh, and Ricardo said I could take a look at his apartment. He had to work today or he would have stayed to let me in.”

“Sure. Come on. I’ll let you in right now.”

Paula followed Virginia out her door and upstairs to Ricardo’s apartment. She noticed there was only one way in and out so anyone coming or going would have to walk through the common area.

“You don’t have surveillance cameras, do you?” Paula asked.

Virginia laughed. “In this dump. Are you kidding?”

Paula shrugged. “Well, you never know.”

When they got to Ricardo’s apartment Virginia unlocked the door and let Paula in. “Just lock the door when you leave,” she said.

Paula thanked her and started looking around. It was a small apartment with a kitchen and dining area to the left and the main living area straight ahead. A hallway led from the living room to two bedrooms with a bath in the middle. Paula took a quick glance in the kitchen and saw that it was clean and neat. As she walked through the living room she observed the usual TV, sofa, love seat and chair along with an expensive looking stereo. There were several family photos and religious ornaments on a coffee table. As she was heading into the bedroom the front door opened. Startled, Paula whirled around to see a young woman entering.

“Sonia?” Paula asked.

“Hi,” Sonia replied. “Didn’t mean to startle you. Ricardo said you would probably be here. He wanted me to show you around.”

“Oh. Good. I needed to talk to you anyway.”

“Would you like a cup of tea?” Sonia asked.

Paula nodded. “Yes. That would be very nice.”

Sonia went into the kitchen and put a pot of water on while Paula made herself comfortable at the kitchen table. After setting out cups and saucers Sonia sat down across from Paula.

“So, what did you want to talk to me about?” Sonia asked.

“Well, you are in and out of this apartment quite often, aren’t you?”

“Sure. I don’t live here but I visit a lot and occasionally stay overnight,” she confessed.

“Right. So there are pieces of evidence that were found here in this apartment that are critical to Ricardo’s case.”

“You mean the money?”

“The money and the rat poison.”

“Rat poison?”

“Yes. The DA’s experts have determined that the poison in the Parmesan cheese came from a box of Vacor Rat Poison that they found in Ricardo’s garage. Do you know anything about either of those items?”

“I have seen the rat poison. It’s been there as long as I can remember. I’ve never seen Ricardo use it, though.”

“Did he ever mention it?”

“No.”

“And the shoe box–had you ever seen it before?”

“No, but I wouldn’t have any reason to look under Ricardo’s bed. It could have been there, but I didn’t see it.”

“Were you here in the apartment on the night of the murders?”

“I was earlier in the day but not at night. I had to work.”

“Oh, that’s right. You work at the hospital.”

“Right.”

“Was there anyone else in the apartment that day?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Did you see any strangers when you were coming or going from the apartment?”

“No. I can’t recall any.”

“What about the week or so prior to the murders?”

“We had some friends over on Saturday for a barbeque. Let me see. On Friday Emilio brought Ricardo home since his car wouldn’t start, but I don’t think he came in. Oh, there was a meter reader who came through that day.”

“A meter reader?”

“Yes. TU Electric, I think.”

“Did he have a uniform?”

“No, just jeans and a blue work shirt. He had a clipboard and went to each of the meters and read them.”

“How did you know it was TU Electric?”

“He had a hard hat with the TU insignia.”

Paula thought about that for a moment while Sonia poured hot water in their cups, put out a box of Lipton Tea bags and a bowl of sugar. Paula took a tea bag and put it in the cup and then started digging in her purse while she waited for the water to darken. She pulled out the photographs of Benjamin Jamison, Christopher Hunt and Tom Wilkinson.

“Did the meter reader look like any of these guys?”

Sonia studied them for a moment and then pointed to the one of Christopher Hunt. “I’m not a hundred percent positive, but he kind of looked like this guy.”

Paula leaned forward excitedly. “Really? You think this guy might have been the meter reader?”

Sonia shrugged tentatively. “Well, I don’t usually pay a lot of attention to meter readers so, like I said, I’m not a hundred percent sure.”

Paula gave Sonia a disappointed look. Unless Sonia could positively identify Christopher Hunt as being the meter reader her testimony would be worthless. She made a mental note to check with TU Electric to see if they had a meter reader in the building during the week before the murders. If they didn’t then she would have good cause for further investigation.

After their cup of tea Paula left and talked with all the neighbors but nobody remembered seeing any of the three men around the apartment building at the time of the murders. Paula was feeling rather depressed and dejected when she got back to her own apartment and Bart’s report did nothing to cheer her up.

“Sorry babe, but nobody sells Vacor Rat Poison anymore. Apparently the government banned it from the marketplace years ago.”

“Well, that doesn’t surprise me. I ran into Sonia, Ricardo’s girlfriend, and she says that the box of rat poison has been in Ricardo’s garage for a long time.”

“Damn,” Bart replied. “That kind of blows a hole in your theory that somebody set Ricardo up.”

“Tell me about it.”

 

 

13

 

Stan Turner

 

When Stan got to the office Maria advised him that Jodie and Paula were in the conference room and that he should go in there immediately. Stan got a cup of coffee and then joined them. Neither of them looked to be in a good mood.

“So, what’s up?” Stan asked.

Paula shook her head. “It seems someone is trying to scare Jodie. They assaulted her in our parking garage and then ransacked her apartment.”

“Did you call the police?”

“Luckily Carl was with me last night.”

“Good.”

“Jodie is pretty sure Mike is behind it,” Paula said. “He was really pissed off when Jodie broke it off with him.”

“So I heard.”

“Well, I never really dated him. We just had lunch a few times and he was going to help me with the building project.”

“I know you mentioned it yesterday, but not in detail. When you say he didn’t take the break-up well, what do you mean?”

“He said I could do better than a Plano cop and that I should break it off with him. He accused me of using him and said I would regret my decision. Then a few hours later I’m assaulted in the parking garage. The asshole scared the shit out of me.”

“Who was it? Did you recognize him?”

“No. It happened so fast.”

“Did they take anything from your apartment?”

“No. I think they were just sending a message.”

“I wonder if Mike is just a pissed off lover or he suddenly realized you were investigating him.”

“I wasn’t his lover,” Jodie protested.

“Right. Would-be lover.”

“He may have connected the dots. I didn’t try to hide my identity. If he figured out we were the law firm representing Ricardo Rizzi he could have realized what I was up to.”

“Well, your security is supposed to start today. Has anyone showed up yet?”

“Yes. Brandon was available so I asked for him. He’s in my office.”

Brandon Wilkes, an ex-Marine MP, had been Jodie’s bodyguard in a previous case against a sweatshop owner who, as it turned out, was connected to a Mexican drug cartel. It had been a rough assignment but Brandon had held up pretty well and Jodie had grown fond of him.

“Well, you’ll be in good hands then. Brandon by day and Carl by night.”

Jodie nodded.

“By the way it turns out Chris Hunt and his girlfriend were at Emilio’s on the night of the murder,” Stan said. “One of the hostesses remembers seeing them. She said they left right after the incident.”

“Really? That’s great,” Paula replied. “Unfortunately, nobody saw him or the others at or near Ricardo’s apartment.”

“Well, they are professionals so I’m sure they came at night and were careful not to be seen,” Stan replied.

“There is a problem with the poison too.”

“What’s that?” Stan asked.

“It’s not sold anymore and although Ricardo claims never to have seen it in his garage, Sonia says it’s been in there for a long time.”

“So, you think Ricardo is lying?” Jodie asked.

Paula shrugged. “I don’t know what to think.”

“So, what’s your next move?” Stan asked.

“I don’t know.”

“We should go interview Sandy Richmond,” Stan suggested. “She should be recovered enough by now to see us. I know she’s in mourning, but I’m sure she wants to find out who killed her husband and poisoned her.”

“Unless she believes it was Ricardo in which case she won’t be cooperative,” Paula replied.

“Well, let’s find out.”

Paula looked at Jodie. “Are you going to be okay?”

Jodie nodded. “Yeah. Don’t worry about me. I was a little scared yesterday but with Brandon or Carl with me, I’ll be fine.”

“Good, then. I’ll go see if I can line up an appointment with Sandy Richmond.”

After the meeting broke up Stan went to his office and started going through his mail. Not seeing anything exciting he started looking through his phone messages. He stopped when he saw there was a message from Detective Besch. He picked up the phone and dialed his number.

“You are just the man I wanted to talk to,” Stan said.

“Oh, yeah? What’s on your mind?”

“You were right about Jodie’s assignment being too dangerous.”

He told him about Mike Sutherland’s threats against Jodie, the subsequent assault and the ransacking of her apartment.

“Does she want to file a complaint?”

“No. We can’t prove he was behind it. I just wanted you to know what was going on.”

“Okay,” Besch said, seeming disappointed.

“So, what did you call me about?” Stan asked.

“I told my boss about your fingerprint idea, but he said no.”

“Hmm. Well, thanks for trying.”

“So, I went to a friend at the lab and asked him to do it off the radar. He owed me a favor.”

“Thank you. I really appreciate that.”

“It’s not going to happen quickly but when the right opportunity presents itself my guy will get it done.”

“Sure. No hurry.”

“And of course if there is a match I won’t be able to point it out to my bosses, so you’ll have to subpoena the prints and have your own expert compare them.”

“Not a problem. You’re a true friend.”

“All for the pursuit of justice, right?”

“Right,” Stan agreed.

While Stan was talking to Besch, Paula had walked in and took a seat across from him. When he hung up she smiled. “Well, Sandy Richmond has agreed to talk to us this afternoon. She seemed very cooperative.”

“Good. Where are we meeting her?”

“One o’clock at her home.”

“She lives in University Park, right?”

“Yes.”

“I know a good restaurant down there. We can get some lunch and then go visit her.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Paula said getting up to leave.

“Oh, Besch’s boss wouldn’t approve the fingerprint comparison between our guys and the unidentified prints on the shoe box and the rat poison, but he’s going to get it done under the radar.”

Paula raised her eyebrows. “Well, it pays to have good friends on the force.”

“Yeah. It does, but we’re going to owe Besch big time.”

“It will be worth it, though, if it turns out we have a match.”

“Right. But I wouldn’t get your hopes up. It’s not likely they’d be so careless as to leave their prints on a critical piece of evidence.”

“Oh, I don’t know. Criminals, even professionals, make mistakes particularly if they get overconfident.”

After lunch Stan and Paula drove up in front of Sandy Richmond’s large, single story home. They parked on the curb and walked up the long driveway to the front door. Stan rang the bell and they waited. An attractive blond in her mid-thirties opened the door and smiled at them.

“Hi. Come on in,” Sandy said.

She was wearing a blue, scoop neck, knit tank top and black pants. Stan and Paula walked in and glanced around the spacious living room to their right.

“Have a seat. Can I get you some coffee or tea?” Sandy asked.

Paula nodded. “Tea would be great.”

Sandy looked at Stan. “Yeah. Tea with a couple sugars, if you don’t mind.”

Paula and Stan sat at opposite ends of a white fabric sofa. The room was decorated in a French decor with a lot of white and light blue accessories. Sandy brought in an elegant tea service and set it on the table in front of Stan and Paula.

“I’ve got cookies if you’d like.”

“No, thank you. We just had lunch,” Paula said.

Stan gave Paula a look. Sandy smiled and went back to the kitchen to get the cookies. Paula shook her head. When Sandy returned Stan began questioning her.

“I’m sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you.”

“I know it must be a difficult time for you just getting out of the hospital and having to deal with a funeral.”

“Yes. Very difficult.”

“So, I apologize for having to bother you, but we only have a limited time to prepare Ricardo Rizzi’s defense.”

“Yes. I understand. It’s not a problem. I can’t imagine Ricardo was responsible for what happened.”

Paula raised her eyebrows. “So, you think he is innocent?”

“Oh, yes. I know Ricardo. He doesn’t have a malicious bone in his body. He was obviously set up.”

Paula looked at Stan. “Well, maybe you can help us prove it then.”

“Anything I can do, absolutely. I want the asshole who killed my husband and my friends brought to justice.”

“Well, we have a theory on that,” Paula said. “Did you know that Wilkinson Properties was trying to buy Emilio’s property.”

“Yes. He mentioned that to me.”

“So, you were friends with Emilio?” Paula asked.

“Well, indirectly. His wife, Eva, is a good friend and we go out together sometimes.”

“Anyway, we found out that Tom Wilkinson and some of his associates have mob connections and have run money laundering for various underworld organizations in the past. Apparently Emilio’s property sits right in the middle of a proposed project that they want to build but Emilio won’t sell.”

“He mentioned that to us. So, you think they were behind the murders?”

“Yes. This is the type of tactic that the mob would use to get what they wanted and we have a witness who saw one of Wilkinson’s men at the restaurant on the night of the murders.”

“Really? Can I see the photo? Maybe I saw him too.”

Paula dug through her purse and pulled out the pictures of the three men. Sandy immediately picked out Hunt’s photo. “He was there with a woman. They sat a few tables away. I noticed them because the man kept looking over at us. It was so obvious I thought he might be flirting with me.”

“Huh. Interesting,” Paula said. “How did you meet Eva Bellucci?”

“She was a customer and my husband introduced us when I came by the restaurant many years ago. We hit it off and became friends.”

“What about Bill and Donna Rice?”

“Oh, Bill’s my husband’s insurance agent and a friend. We all go out to dinner occasionally.”

“Why weren’t Emilio and Eva dining with you the evening of the murders?” Stan asked.

“Oh, that was an accidental gathering. John and I decided to have dinner at Emilio’s, just by ourselves, but we ran into Bill and Donna so we all ate together.”

“Boy, that was bad luck for Bill and Donna.”

Sandy nodded but didn’t say anything.

“So, you and John could have been the target of the killer?” Paula suggested.

“Ah. I don’t know,” Sandy replied. “John does have some enemies.”

“Like Walter Satterwhite?”

“Yes. He’s an annoying cry baby, but I can’t see him trying to kill us. He wasn’t defrauded. John gave him a prospectus which disclosed all the risks. Everybody he has complained to has told him John didn’t do anything wrong.”

“So, any other enemies that come to mind?” Paula asked.

Sandy shook her head. “No. None that stick out.”

“In our investigation it came out that your husband was convicted of statutory rape and is on the sexual predator list. Did you know that?”

Sandy paled. “Yeah. John made a mistake when he was in high school. He was eighteen and his girlfriend was 16. They got caught in bed together and the girl’s parents pressed charges. John should have fought the case but a slick prosecutor convinced him to plead guilty and take a probated sentence. But the jerk didn’t tell John about the sexual predator list. You just can’t imagine what grief that has caused us over the years. John was lucky to get an insurance license.”

“I can imagine,” Stan said shaking his head.

They questioned Sandy for a while longer and then went back to the office where Stan found Ram sitting nervously in the reception area. He stood up when he saw Stan.

“What’s wrong, Ram?” Stan asked.

“I’ve been getting threatening telephone calls at home and work. My wife’s a nervous wreck. I’m sure it’s Sammy or his henchmen.”

“Right. But how do we prove it?”

“I don’t know, but I’m afraid to answer the phone.”

“What are the callers saying?”

“They say we are pigs for filing bankruptcy and hiding behind the court. They say we are going to pay for our treachery.”

“Well if it is Sammy he’s mad about the contempt judgment.”

“Can’t you do anything?”

“Not unless we can prove he is behind it.”

“How can we do that?”

“Call the telephone company and file a complaint. They will investigate and try to figure out who is calling. You can also file a police report. That would probably be a good idea anyway just to document what is happening. Aside from that I don’t know what to tell you. Do you still have your security?”

“No. I couldn’t afford it.”

Stan sighed. “Well it’s just a few weeks until confirmation of your plan and then Sammy will have no further interest in the business.”

“I don’t think he will care what a piece of paper says. He says I’m going to pay and I’m afraid he’ll follow through on his threats.”

Stan didn’t know what to say or do. He’d got the contempt order and tried to get Ram to hire security, but he didn’t know what else he could do.

“My advice is to get your security back in place until Sammy cools down. Eventually he’ll realize he’s lost and leave you alone.”

“No. You don’t understand. He’ll never give up.”

“Then buy a gun and have it handy if he ever confronts you. If you are in fear of your life you can use it against him and it will be self-defense, but don’t use it just because you’re scared. You have to be in eminent peril. If he has a weapon or he breaks into your store or home then you are justified in using it.”

“Right. I may do that.”

Stan hated to have to give someone such advice, but sometimes that’s all that could be done. He just prayed he wouldn’t get a call in the night advising him that Ram was dead or that he had killed Sammy.

 

 

14

 

Jodie Marshall

 

Jodie had trouble concentrating after the events of the previous day. She couldn’t help but wonder if Mike was finished with her or had he just begun making her life miserable. Having Brandon around was a comfort but also an annoyance. She wasn’t used to somebody following her around. It made her nervous, self-conscious and was a constant reminder that someone was out there with an unknown agenda. After a while she managed to refocus and consider what next to do in the Larson case. She’d talked to just about everyone except the plaintiff, Herbert Stein. She decided it was time to schedule his deposition, so she picked up the phone to call his attorney, Robert Goldberg.

“Deposition? You don’t want to try to settle the case first before everybody wastes a lot of time and money,” Goldberg said.

“Well, your client could drop the case and then there wouldn’t be any more time and expense wasted.”

“Your client shot Herb for godsakes. You want him to just forget that?”

“Yes. That was an accident and from what I have elicited from witnesses your client ran into the line of fire. Had he just sat tight instead of trying to flee, he wouldn’t have been injured.”

“Yeah. That’s easy for you to say. You weren’t standing next to a couple of maniacs fighting over a gun.”

“Maniac? My client was trying to stop a robbery. You’d think your client would be a tiny bit grateful.”

“Grateful. He’d have been grateful if your client would have minded his own business.”

Jodie sighed. “Okay. So, he wouldn’t have minded losing the contents of his vault.”

“You ever heard of insurance, Jodie? That’s why you buy it so you don’t have to put your life at risk by resisting an armed robber.”

“Whatever. I need to take your client’s deposition. When would be a good time?”

“I don’t know. I’ll have to confer with Herb and get back with you.”

“Fine. But I’m not going to wait too long. Get me a date in the next 30 days, and I’m going to need the items listed in our request for production delivered to me ten days before the deposition.”

“Well. I’ll look into it.”

“This is your lawsuit. If it’s too much trouble to prosecute it why don’t you just dismiss it?”

“It’s not going away, darling, so don’t get your panties in a wad. I’ll get you your production and a depo date in due time.”

Jodie said goodbye and hung up. She couldn’t believe Goldberg’s attitude. She could tell working with him was going to be a nightmare and she’d end up having to file motions to compel to get any discovery out of him. But that just made her more determined to win and to make Stein and Goldberg pay for their arrogance.

Jodie thought about Goldberg’s comment about insurance. She wondered if Stein had filed a claim. That could be why he emptied his vault immediately after Mahoney was arrested but before the detectives had a chance to inventory it. She wondered how she could find out if he had filed a claim. She decided to ask Stan about it since he had friends in the insurance business. She got up and went to his office. He looked up at her expectantly when she walked in.

“Got a minute?” Jodie asked.

“Sure. What’s up?”

“Immediately after our client stopped the robbery at the Jewelry Mart and before the police got there, Herbert Stein opened the vault and removed everything in it.”

“Right. I remember,” Stan said.

“Well, I’ve been trying to figure out why he did that and I had an idea.”

“What’s that?”

“What if he filed an insurance claim? What if he claimed Michael Mahoney stole whatever was in the vault?”

“But Mahoney was arrested and nothing was found on him.”

“I know, but how would the insurance company know that?”

“They would assign an adjuster and he’d investigate the claim. He’d look at the police report and maybe even talk to witnesses.”

“Hmm,” Jodie said. “I’ll have to add insurance claims to my production list.”

“If you like, I know a guy who can look into it. I doubt Stein would have filed a claim, though since the robbery was thwarted.”

“Well. If you don’t mind, I’m not going to feel comfortable about the facts until I figure out why he emptied his vault. There had to be a reason.”

Stan picked up the phone and called Larry Johnson at Sentry Insurance Investigators. “Hey, Stan. How are you?”

“Fine.”

“It’s been a while. How’s law practice?”

“Can’t complain. . . .You still handle everybody’s life insurance investigations?”

“Not all, but a lot of them.”

“How about property and casualty claims?”

“Sure. We handle just about everything in the DFW area.”

“Good. Have you done any investigations on the Jewelry Mart in Plano? The owner’s name is Herbert Stein. They recently had an armed robbery.”

“Let me see if I can pull up the name,” Larry said. There was a moment of silence. “Nothing recent. There have been several claims in the past, though.”

“Hmm. Tell me about the old claims?”

“Well, I’m afraid I can’t do that, but I’m sure you can subpoena those records.”

“Right. Can you at least tell me what insurance companies were involved?”

“Ah, well. You didn’t hear this from me, but a lot of people use Travelers and Old Republic.”

“Really? I didn’t know that. Thanks, Larry. I owe you.”

“My wife and I need to update our wills. We haven’t looked at them since you did them for us years ago.”

“Well, come see me. The update’s on the house.”

“Thanks. I’ll make an appointment.”

Stan hung up and looked at Jodie. “No luck. He apparently hasn’t filed a claim lately.”

“What was that about Travelers and Old Republic?”

“Oh, when you take Stein’s deposition ask him if he has any insurance with Travelers or Old Republic. Then ask him if he’s filed any claims on those policies in the last five years.”

“His attorney will claim it’s irrelevant,” Jodie said, “and instruct him not to answer.”

“Maybe, unless he’s not paying attention. Wear something sexy. It might distract him.”

Jodie laughed. “Yeah. Right. But I might be able to trick him into making it relevant. If I ask him if he has ever filed a fraudulent insurance claim and he denies it, then I would have the right to see the old claims to impeach his testimony.”

“That’s good, Jodie,” Stan said. “That might actually work.”

“Okay. Thanks for your help, Stan,” Jodie said. “I’m getting hungry. I think I’ll find Brandon and go to lunch. He’s probably pretty bored sitting out in the waiting room.”

“I bet he is. Enjoy your lunch.”

Jodie went back to her office to drop off her legal pad and then went to the waiting room and told Brandon she wanted to go to lunch. He jumped up eagerly.

“Where you want to go?”

“You like Japanese. I haven’t been to Benihana’s lately.”

“Sure. Let’s go.”

They walked out of the office to the elevator banks and pushed the down button.

“So, have you had any good assignments lately?” Jodie asked.

“No. Everything I have done lately has been pretty boring. Standing in bank lobbies, sitting at information desks or doing skip traces.”

The bell rang, the elevator door opened and they got in.

“Well, I guess Stan filled you in on what’s going on with me.”

“Yes. He said you pissed off some bad people.”

Jodie nodded. “I was trying to get information on Wilkinson Properties. Apparently they are a money laundering operation for somebody, we don’t know exactly who it is.”

The elevator door opened on the bottom floor and they got out and started walking toward the parking garage. When they got to where Jodie had thought she’d parked her BMW another car was in the spot.

“I don’t understand this,” Jodie said. “I’m sure I parked right here this morning.”

Brandon looked around nervously. “Well, maybe you’re mistaken. Let’s look around a bit. Maybe you parked it somewhere else.”

Jodie shrugged and started walking along the row of cars. When they had circled the entire first floor of the parking garage Jodie shook her head.

“I can’t believe this. Somebody stole my car!”

“Okay. We better call the police,” Brandon advised.

Brandon got out his cell phone and made the call. After he reported the theft he hung up. “They are sending a squad car by right now,” he reported.

“You should call building security too. They may have video footage.”

“Right,” Brandon said and put a call into his office. After a brief conversation he hung up. “My office is contacting them.”

A few moments later a squad car drove by slowly. Brandon waved to get the officer’s attention. Two officers got out to take the report and a few minutes later building security joined them.

“I parked my car right here this morning and now it’s gone,” Jodie complained.

“What kind of car was it?” the officer asked.

“A 1997 BMW 328i,” Jodie replied.

“Color?”

“Maroon?”

“License?”

“J-O-D-I-E. It’s a personalized plate, cost me an extra fifty bucks.”

“If you want to come upstairs we’ve got security footage that you can review. I’m sure whoever stole the vehicle will be on it.”

“Let me call this in first,” the officer said as he walked over to his squad car. A few minutes later he returned and they all started walking toward the building’s entrance. As they were walking the officer’s radio chirped. He picked it up and pushed receive.

“Maroon 1997 BMW 328i, license plate J-O-D-I-E reported stolen,” the dispatcher said.

“If it’s on the road we’ll find it,” the officer said.

“You mean if it’s not already in a chop shop,” Brandon interjected.

The officer shrugged. “True, but it may not have been professionals. It could be some kids just taking a joyride.”

“I doubt kids would come into a high security parking garage to steal a car for a joyride,” Jodie said.

“So, do you have any idea who might have stolen it?” the officer asked.

“I have my suspicions as to who’s behind it. I doubt I could prove it, though.”

“Who would that be?”

Jodie told the officer about Mike and his threats.

“I can have a detective talk to him.”

“No, not without some solid proof linking him to it,” Jodie replied.

When they got to the building management office the security officer led them to a small room with all the building’s security monitors. Someone had already brought up the appropriate tapes and flagged the event.

“Okay. Here’s the footage. Let’s take a look,” he said as he pushed the play button.

An image immediately appeared of the parking garage and Jodie’s car. A man in jeans, long sleeve denim shirt and sunglasses rushed up with a thin metal strip of metal. Unfortunately he kept his back to the camera so his face wasn’t visible. After just a few seconds he had the car door opened and jumped inside. Seconds later the car moved slowly out of the parking space and rolled out of view.

“Well, that was a big help,” Jodie moaned.

The security officer shrugged. “Sorry, Jodie. We can keep cars out of the parking garage but not people on foot.”

Jodie nodded. “It’s not your fault.”

“Alright. I’ve got what I need,” the officer said. “A detective will contact you in a few days to update you on the investigation.”

Jodie and Brandon decided to skip Benihana’s and went to the building café for a sandwich. When she got back to her office she called her insurance agent and reported the theft. When she got home Carl met her at the door.

“I couldn’t believe it when I heard the report of your car stolen. I wouldn’t have made the connection if the license plate hadn’t made it obvious that it was you.”

“That bastard had my car stolen! Can you believe it?”

Carl sighed heavily. “You’re probably right, but we could never prove it.”

“I know, but when is this going to stop? What does he think all this will accomplish?”

“He’s just trying to scare you and distract you from your investigation.”

“Well, he doesn’t know me very well. The more someone harasses me the more determined I become to find the truth.”

Carl put his arm around Jodie. “I’m sorry, honey. I know how much you loved that car.”

Jodie shook her head and they embraced.

“Come in the kitchen. You’ll feel better after you’ve eaten.”

“Yeah. I’m starving. All I had for lunch was a lousy sandwich and I didn’t even feel like eating it.”

“I know.”

While they were eating Jodie updated Carl on the day’s events. Carl was a great listener and Jodie appreciated that. She told him about her phone call with Robert Goldberg.

“What an asshole,” Carl commented.

“Really. . . . Can you check on your computer and find out when Stein was robbed in the past?”

“Sure. The police reports are public records.”

“Good. I’m anxious to see what’s in them.”

“What are you hoping to find out?”

“Maybe some insight as to what was in the vault that Stein didn’t want the police to find.”

“I doubt you’ll find that in the report.”

“Maybe not, but you never know. It can’t hurt to look.”

“No. You’re right about that. . . . Once we get the reports I can talk to the detectives that worked the cases too. They might have some insight into Mr. Stein’s operation.”

“Good. That would be great.”

After dinner Jodie settled down with Carl on the sofa and they watched TV. But she couldn’t concentrate on the current episode of The Practice as her mind kept wandering to Mike and the real time drama going on in her own life. She wondered what he had in store for her next and how long it would be before someone got hurt.

 

 

15

 

Paula Waters

 

Paula was anxious to talk to Walter Satterwhite to find out if he or one of the other investors in Richmond Oil and Gas could have been pissed off enough to want Richmond dead, but before that meeting she had to attend a status conference with Ricardo at which time the judge would likely set a trial date. She couldn’t believe that thirty days had already passed. She knew that this judge liked to move his docket along quickly so the case would probably be set within ninety days. The thought of that scared Paula as there was so much yet to do and she knew how fast those days would fly by. When she got to the courthouse Ricardo was waiting for her nervously.

“You don’t need to be nervous today,” she assured him. “The only purpose of this hearing is to make sure you haven’t skipped out on your bail and to set a trial date.”

“How is it looking? Do you think I’ve got a chance?” Ricardo asked.

Paula shrugged. She wished she could assure him everything would be okay, but that wouldn’t be honest. “Well, they’ve got some very damaging evidence—the box of rat poison and the money in the shoe box.”

“I know, but I didn’t even know the rat poison was there. It belonged to the prior tenant.”

Paula nodded. “Well, whoever the killer is he’s very clever. He used poison in your garage to kill his victims and then provided you with a motive by leaving the shoe box full of cash.”

“So, can’t you do something?”

Paula sighed. “I’m trying. We’re all working day and night to find the real killer. I guess Sonia told you about the meter reader.”

“Right. He’s got to be the one who did it. The garage isn’t locked. He could have easily gone in and taken some of the rat poison.”

“But how could he have gotten into your apartment?”

Ricardo shrugged. “The locks on these doors aren’t that great. He could have picked it or maybe he found the spare key I keep under the mat.”

Paula frowned. “You leave a key under the mat? That’s pretty stupid.”

“Well, I don’t have anything a burglar would want. All our furniture came from the Salvation Army Store.”

“So, that’s a possibility but unless Sonia can testify that the man posing as a TU Electric meter reader was Chris Jamison, then we have nothing.”

“She’ll do it. She’ll swear that he is the guy.”

“Yeah, but she’s already told me she’s not sure. The jury is going to be suspicious anyway because she’s your girlfriend.”

“We could break up,” Ricardo replied desperately.

“No. That would never work and I couldn’t let Sonia lie to the jury.”

“Shit! I’m screwed.”

“No, you’re not. There’s still plenty of time. Just try to relax and let me do my job.”

“Yeah. Well, it’s not your ass on the line.”

As they were talking Brian Rutledge approached them. “Can I speak with you a moment, counselor?”

Paula nodded. “Ricardo, go ahead on in and take a seat in the gallery. I’ll be right in.”

Ricardo nodded and reluctantly went inside.

“So, what can I do for you?” Paula asked.

“I just wanted to tell you that I’ve talked to my boss and he’s agreed that if your guy admits to the murders and identifies who hired him that we’ll withdraw our request for the death penalty.”

Paula shook her head. “The problem is my client doesn’t know who is responsible for the murders. As we’ve told you over and over he was just a pawn in these crimes.”

“We both know it was Tom Wilkinson and his crew who hired your client,” Rutledge said. “All we need is your client to testify that they hired him to do the deed.”

“So, you think Wilkinson ordered the murders?”

“We know that’s what happened but we’re just a little short on evidence. We need your client to confess.”

“Even if you offered Ricardo a free ride he couldn’t take it because he wasn’t involved in the murders.”

“Yes. So, you say,” Rutledge replied irritably. “We were just hoping to save the taxpayers some money. But if your guy insists on a jury finding him guilty of murder, we can certainly accommodate him. He’ll love it on death row.”

“Why don’t you save the taxpayers some money by finding the evidence you need to convict Wilkinson, Hunt and Jamison and leave my client alone? He’s not the one who is a threat to the general public. Who knows what other crimes Wilkinson is planning as we speak.”

“The police are working on that, but without your client’s cooperation it’s a rather tedious process and we’d really like to try all these cases together.”

“Well, that’s fine. It’s not going to make any difference to me since none of the defendants will be testifying anyway.”

Rutledge shook his head. “Alright, I tried to cut your guy some slack. Tell your client to get his affairs in order then, because he’s going to be on death row by year’s end.”

Rutledge turned and went inside. Paula gritted her teeth and followed him in as the judge was taking the bench.

“All rise,” the bailiff said.

Paula rushed up and took her place next to Ricardo.

“Alright. The State of Texas v Ricardo Rizzi. Can I have appearances?”

“Paula Waters for the Defendant, Ricardo Rizzi.”

“Brian Rutledge for the State of Texas.”

“Okay. Where are we at on this case?” the judge asked as he studied his docket sheet.

“At our last hearing you indicated you would give us a trial date today,” Rutledge reminded him.

“Right. Let me see. How about September 7th?”

“This year?” Paula asked.

The judge smiled. “Yes, Ms. Waters. This year, 1997.”

“We could use a little more time, Your Honor. This is a complex case with three murders. We have a lot of investigation still to do.”

“The State will be ready, Your Honor,” Rutledge advised, “unless we decide to try all the co-conspirators together and then we’ll need more time.”

“When will you know?” the judge asked.

“In the next few weeks.”

“Well, if you decide to try everyone together, you’ll have to move for a consolidation of the cases and we can deal with setting a new trial date at that time.”

“That will be fine, Your Honor,” Rutledge said.

Paula sighed. “Yes, Your Honor.”

“Very well. See you in September or sooner if we consolidate. You’re excused,” the judge said looking down at his calendar to see who was up next.

Paula said goodbye to Ricardo and told him she’d call him the next day to report on her meeting with Satterwhite. When Paula got back to the office Maria motioned for her to come over to her.

“What’s up?”

“Stan just left to run an errand. He didn’t say where he was going but by the look on his face he was going out for one of his rendezvous.”

“Oh, God. How long ago did he leave?”

“Just two minutes ago. You might still catch him if you hurry.”

“Okay. Wish me luck,” Paula said and went back out the door.

When she got to the parking garage, she saw Stan’s Mazda RX7 exit the garage and then go east. She ran to her BMW intent on following him. As she exited the parking garage she saw his car turn left. Following him at a safe distance she got to Forest Lane where he turned left again. He put on his blinker and Paula realized he was getting on Central Expressway. She slowed down so when she turned he wouldn’t notice her following. He traveled north on Central for several exits and then got off the freeway. Paula noticed he was coming up on the Twilight Motel. She cringed at the sight of the notorious motel where rooms were rented by the hour.

Stan drove behind the motel and parked. Paula parked at the end of the drive and watched Stan get out of his car and go up to a room. He knocked on the door and it opened immediately. Paula gasped when she saw a long-haired blond woman wearing a slinky cocktail dress greet him. The sheer black dress left little to the imagination. She couldn’t see the woman’s face clearly as she was wearing sunglasses and lots of makeup. The woman wrapped her arms around Stan’s neck and they kissed long and hard. Then she pulled him into the room and closed the door.

Paula just stared at the door for about fifteen minutes. She couldn’t believe Stan would be out with a prostitute. It just boggled her mind. Then she thought of Rebekah’s problems since the children had grown up and left. She’d been struck hard by the empty nest syndrome. Stan had told her Rebekah had lost all interest in sex. And then there was the mysterious illness that took the doctors over a year to diagnose. Paula figured Stan was getting pretty desperate to be out with a hooker. Finally she started the car and drove back to the office. When she got there she went straight to Jodie’s office.

“He’s at the Twilight Motel with a hooker getting his pipes cleaned,” Paula said.

“Oh, my God!” Jodie said. “Are you sure?”

Paula shrugged. “Well, I couldn’t see the woman’s face very well but judging from the outfit she was wearing and the way she was all over Stan, I think it is a safe bet she was a hooker.”

“What are we going to do?”

Paula shrugged. “Nothing, I guess. It’s probably better he’s taking care of his sexual needs from a professional rather than getting entangled in an affair with a woman looking for a long-term relationship.”

“What if he is arrested?”

“That’s not likely. He’s too smart for that. He’s represented guys who were caught by female cops dressed up as hookers, so I’m sure he knows all the tricks the cops use to nail johns.”

“Really?”

“Yes. In fact, I’ve heard him give clients advice on how to be sure a prostitute wasn’t a cop.”

“Do tell,” Jodie said wide-eyed.

“Well, he told them never to pay for the first trick.”

Jodie frowned. “How do the prostitutes feel about that?”

“I don’t know. But that’s what he tells clients. Never pay a woman for the first sexual encounter. A cop can’t have sex with a suspect, so get the first trick free and you’ll never have a problem.”

“I wonder if he followed his own advice.”

“I don’t know. I just can’t get the image out of my head of that prostitute dragging him into that sleazy motel room.”

“It is rather unsettling,” Jodie agreed.

Paula went back to her office and answered phone messages until Maria advised her Walter Satterwhite had arrived. Satterwhite was tall, rather frail looking but did have a full head of snow-white hair. Paula motioned for him to take a seat.

“Thank you for coming in,” Paula said. “This shouldn’t take long.”

“It’s okay. I just want to clear my name. I promise I would never kill anyone.”

Paula nodded. “I’m sure you wouldn’t, but I have to ask some questions to eliminate you as a suspect.”

“Sure.”

“I assume you have read about the murders.”

“Yes, it’s been all over the newspapers and I’ve been watching the reports on TV.”

“So, you know someone laced the Parmesan cheese with rat poison.”

“Right. That was pretty ghastly,” Satterwhite said with a shudder.

“What have you been doing since your retirement?”

“Oh, puttering around in the garden when we’re not traveling. We have a motor home.”

“Were you in town the week of May 5, 1997?”

“Well, we got back from Padre Island on the 5th. We have a timeshare there.”

“Have you ever dined at Emilio’s Italian Restaurant in Highland Park?”

“Yes. We have been there before.”

“How about the week starting May 5, 1997?”

“No. It’s been six months or better since we have been there.”

“Do you know Emilio Bellucci?”

“No. Never met him?”

“Do you know Ricardo Rizzi?”

“Your client? No. I’ve seen his picture in the papers.”

“Did you have anything to do with these murders?”

Satterwhite swallowed hard. “No. Absolutely not.”

“Okay, tell me about the other investors who lost money at Richmond Oil & Gas.”

“Well, there was one investor, Clyde Morrow, who lost twice what I did.”

“Do you know him?”

“We have talked a few times about teaming up to file a lawsuit.”

“But you haven’t done it?”

“No. We can’t find an attorney who will take it on a contingent fee basis.”

“So, did Clyde threaten to get revenge or anything?”

“Yes, when I told him no attorneys would take the case, he said not to worry about it. He had other ways to deal with the likes of John Richmond.”

“Did he elaborate about that?”

“No. And I didn’t press the point because I didn’t want to get dragged into a conspiracy to harm him.”

“Is there anybody else besides Morrow?”

“Not that I am aware of.”

Paula thanked Satterwhite, got the contact information on Clyde Morrow, and then escorted him to the reception area. After he’d gone she went back to her office and started to construct a murder board on an easel she’d bought. As she was working Jodie walked in.

“What’s that?”

“Oh. This case is so complicated I decided to build a murder board like the detectives working the case do.”

Jodie nodded. “Good idea.”

“Oh, Rutledge just informed me they believe Tom Wilkinson ordered the murders at Emilio’s restaurant. They offered a deal to Ricardo to rat them out.”

“Really?”

“I told him he couldn’t help them since he wasn’t involved. If they get the evidence they need to convict them they may want to try everybody together in the interest of judicial economy.”

“Oh, my God! That will be a nightmare.”

“Not necessarily. In fact, it would make our job easier since the State would make sure all the witnesses showed up. None of the defendants will testify so I don’t see how it could hurt Ricardo’s case.”

“It will make the trial a bitch, though.”

“True, but there’s nothing we can do about that.”

“I guess not,” Jodie agreed.

“I just talked to Satterwhite. I don’t think he had anything to do with the murders but he gave me another name, Clyde Morrow. I still want to look for other suspects. Just because Rutledge likes Wilkinson as the mastermind that doesn’t mean it’s true.”

Paula wrote the name Clyde Morrow on her murder board under the pictures of Walter Satterwhite, Ben Benito and Tom Wilkinson. “Don’t get me wrong, Wilkinson still looks like our best bet but I haven’t interviewed Ben Benito yet either. He’s next on my agenda.”

“Yeah. Benito had a good motive and there was a long history of animosity between them,” Jodie said.

“He knew the restaurant too, since he used to work there, so he would have known how to get in and out of the kitchen without being seen.”

“I heard his business is booming now, so he has really benefitted from the murders.”

“I guess we’ll move him to our number two suspect then,” Paula said rearranging the photos. She looked over at Jodie. “Is there something you wanted to tell me?”

“Yes, I have been looking into previous Wilkinson Investment acquisitions and I have found eleven of them.”

“Oh, thank you. Did you learn anything?”

“Not yet. I have to go talk to the sellers and see if they were intimidated by Wilkinson to sell.”

“Oh, that sounds dangerous. Maybe—”

“Oh, don’t worry. I’ll have Brandon with me. Plus, there is no reason these people would contact Wilkinson. If he strong-armed them into selling, Wilkinson would be the last person they’d want to talk to.”

Paula nodded. “Well, be careful. The last thing we need is for Mike Sutherland to get wind that you’re snooping around again.”

After Jodie left, Paula worried about the logistics of a consolidated trial. Each defendant could insist on having their own attorney and that would make examining and cross examining witnesses extremely tedious. She wondered how Emilio would feel if the cost of Ricardo’s representation doubled on account of the trial taking much longer. They couldn’t afford to work if they weren’t getting paid and she knew neither Stan or the judge would allow her to withdraw from the case if Emilio decided to quit paying her bills. She prayed that wouldn’t become a problem.

 

 

16

 

Stan Turner

 

Stan was nervous as he sat with Ram and Melakea in the courtroom of the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Texas, Dallas Division, to prove-up their Chapter 11 plan. Nobody had objected and he had a right to cram down the plan anyway, but he always feared someone would show up at the last minute to object and complicate matters. After several more anxious moments the bailiff told everyone to rise. A door opened to their left and the judge took the bench.

“You may be seated,” the judge said.

The clerk called the docket and everyone gave their time estimates for each matter and Stan was assigned the third slot on the docket. He had estimated ten minutes given that there were no filed objections. The first two matters were default motions to lift the automatic stay and they were finished well under the ten minutes allotted.

“In re: Pakimart Grocery,” the judge said.

Stan stood up and motioned for Ram to follow him up to the podium. “Your Honor, this is a confirmation hearing on the debtor’s Chapter 11 plan of reorganization. Mr. Bakira is a general partner in Pakimart Grocery. He filed his plan on June 7, 1997 and a confirmation packet including a disclosure document and ballot was sent to each creditor on the debtor’s matrix filed with this court. There have been no objections filed against the plan and a two-thirds majority in number and of total unsecured claims have approved the plan.”

“Very well,” the judge said. “You may call your first witness.”

“The debtor-in-possession calls Ramadan Bakira.”

Ram took the witness stand and Stan began to question him.

“Now, Mr. Bakira. What is your position with Pakimart Grocery?”

“I’m the managing partner.”

“And how long have you been operating the business as managing partner?”

“About eight months.”

“And how did you acquire your interest in the partnership?”

“I purchased it for $250,000.”

“Where did you get the $250,000 to invest in the business?”

“It was my families’ life savings.”

“Your family back in Pakistan?”

“Yes. My mother, father, two brothers and a sister.”

“Now since you purchased the business has your partner participated in the management at all?”

“No. All he has done is take money each month from the cash register and threaten me and my family if I objected.”

“Now in your plan you propose that all partnership interests be forfeited?”

“That’s correct.”

“And the plan provides that in exchange for a $25,000 capital contribution to the company you and your wife will become the sole owners of the debtor-in-possession?”

“Correct.”

“And you have that money and are prepared to make that contribution?”

“Yes, we do.”

“Very well—”

“I object!” a voice said from the gallery. A large Pakistani man with bulging cheeks had stood up. Ram’s mouth dropped open when he saw Sammy had shown up. “That’s my store and you can’t just take away my share.”

“Sit down!” the judge said irritably. “When Mr. Turner is done I’ll give anyone who wants to speak a chance to address the court.”

“I started that company five years ago!” Sammy continued.

“Sit down, sir!” the judge repeated.

“Alright. Alright,” Sammy said and reluctantly sat down.

Stan’s stomach twisted into a knot at Sammy’s outburst. He feared his strategy was about to go down the toilet. He took a deep breath. “So, Mr. Bakira, are you asking this court to confirm your plan of reorganization?”

“Yes, I am.”

“And do you believe that you will be able to pay the $1,750 a month payments required under the plan to pay priority creditors what they are due as well as the ten percent dividend to unsecured creditors.”

“Yes, we’re setting aside that amount each month now and I’m sure we will be able to continue it for the six years of the plan.”

“Thank you, Mr. Bakira.”

“Pass the witness,” Stan said.

“Very well. Does the U.S. Trustee want to cross examine the witness?”

The attorney for the trustee stood up. “No, Your Honor. We favor the plan.”

“Alright. The gentleman who stood up earlier. Would you like to address the court?”

Sammy stood up. “Yes, I would. This plan is an outrage. I started this grocery store and now Ram is trying to steal it from me.”

“What is your name, Sir,” the judge asked.

“Saman Keashkear.”

“Are you the same Saman Keashkear who this court found in contempt a few weeks ago?”

Sammy shrugged. “I got something from the court about that.”

“Did you bother to read it?”

Sammy shook his head. “No, I glanced at it.”

“I see. Are you prepared to pay the fine imposed by this court at this time?”

“How much is it?”

The judge looked down at her file. “Let’s see. $3,000.00 for contempt, $750 attorney’s fees and $120.00 costs of court.”

“I didn’t bring that kind of money with me,” Sammy protested.

“Then Bailiff, take Mr. Keashkear into custody until such time as he purges himself of his contempt!”

A big grin came over the bailiff’s face as he walked briskly over to Sammy. He turned him around rudely and cuffed him. The gallery stirred at the spectacle and Ram looked as white as a sheet. After Sammy was gone the judge continued.

“Since there have been no objections to the plan proposed by the debtor-in-possession and the court believes it will be in the best interest of the creditors, the plan is approved. The next case is the Baldwin matter.”

“Thank you, Your Honor,” Stan said. “May we be excused?”

“Yes, you may,” the judge said with a hint of a smile on her face.

When they got out into the hallway Ram turned to Stan as Melakea walked up. “I wish the judge hadn’t done that. Sammy is going to kill me.”

Stan sighed. “Well, hopefully a day or two in jail will send him a message that he can’t just do what he pleases here in America.”

“You don’t understand. He doesn’t care about the law or the courts. He has been humiliated and he’s going to take it out on me and my family.”

“What can I say, Ram? There is a court order protecting you. If you don’t think Sammy will respect the law then you need to hire effective security. I’ve done all I can legally to protect you.”

Ram took a long breath. “I know. I’m just scared. Thank you for what you have done. I can’t believe Melakea and I own our own store now.”

“Yes, and as long as you can keep it profitable you won’t have to worry about being deported back to Pakistan.”

“Thank you, Mr. Turner,” Melakea said. “I feel so much better now.”

“Good. I’m glad I was able to help.”

Stan left the courtroom with mixed emotions. His master plan had worked but he couldn’t feel good about it with Sammy out there with revenge on his mind. As he was getting into his car to return to the office he remembered Jodie had given him a name and address of a man who had sold his home to Wilkinson Properties so they could build an office building in Oak Cliff. According to the deed records Paul Robinson’s property was the final piece acquired by them for its 10.5 acre office park development. The address was on Lemon Avenue so he took a detour on the way back to the office to see if he could track down Mr. Robinson.

His office was at the end of a strip shopping center so he parked in front and went inside. After he confirmed the suite number on the building directory Stan took the elevator to the sixth floor. Suite 613 was at the end of the hall and there was a sign that indicated it was the offices of Paul G. Robinson, Certified Public Accountant. Stan pushed the door open and stepped inside. There was no receptionist so he rang a bell to announce his arrival. A thin, gray-haired man appeared.

“Can I help you?”

“Paul Robinson?”

“Yes.”

“Hi. I’m Stan Turner,” Stan said handing Robinson a card.

Robinson studied it a minute and then looked up. “What can I do for you?”

“I was doing some research in the deed records and I noticed you sold some property to Wilkinson Properties a year or two ago.”

Robinson stiffened. “What’s this about?”

“Oh, nothing to be concerned about. Wilkinson Properties is pressuring a client of mine to sell his restaurant and I wanted to get some insight into how best to negotiate with them.”

“Forget it,” Robinson snickered. “They don’t negotiate, they just steal.”

“What do you mean?” Stan asked.

“You can’t negotiate with them. Whatever they offered you is what they will pay and if you resist they will hurt you. Believe me, I know.”

“Why? What happened to you?”

“They came to me wanting to buy our home but I refused to sell. It was our homestead. It was paid for and we had planned to live there the rest of our lives, but they had a different idea. They increased their offer to the point it was ridiculous, but it wasn’t about money. Our children had grown up in our home and we had fond memories. There was no reason to sell. We didn’t need the money, but they wouldn’t leave us alone.”

“So, what made you sell?”

“Someone broke into our house and stole all my wife’s jewelry, our TVs, stereos, computers—everything we had of any value. We had insurance so losing that stuff wasn’t so bad, but it was the loss and destruction of all our photographs and souvenirs that upset us the most. That made it personal.”

“What do you mean?” Stan asked.

“They took all of our photographs of our children growing up, our vacations and family gatherings and burned them in the fireplace.”

“What? You’re kidding?”

“No. I’m afraid not. We knew we’d never feel safe in the house again, so we accepted the offer.”

“Do you think Wilkinson Properties was behind the burglary?”

“Yes, but we didn’t dare accuse them of it. If they would resort to burglary and theft to get our property what would stop them from hurting us?”

“Right,” Stan said. He wondered if he should tell him about their suspicions that Tom Wilkinson was behind three murders, but then thought better of it. He didn’t want to be sued for slander if it turned out he couldn’t prove it.”

“So, would you be willing to testify as to what you just told me?”

Robinson paled. “What? No. No way.”

Stan laughed. “I didn’t figure you would, but I had to ask.”

“No. Please keep us out of this, okay?”

“Okay,” he said. He thanked Robinson and left. When he got back to the office he told Paula what he had learned.

“So, how do we prove Wilkinson is behind the murders?” Paula asked.

“Well, we’ve got one of his henchmen, Chris Hunt, at the restaurant when the murders took place. We have Sonia’s belief that Jamison was posing as a TU Electric meter reader to gain access to Ricardo’s apartment so they could plant the shoe box full of money and get some of the rat poison to use for the murders.”

Paula nodded. “We need something concrete. Something that is irrefutable.”

“Well, Besch is going to compare the unidentified fingerprints on the rat poison and the shoe box to Tom Wilkinson and his gang. Hopefully one of them got careless and left a print.”

“That’s not likely,” Paula said.

“I know, but we might get lucky.”

“Boy, if we did, I think the jury would have a hard time convicting Ricardo.”

“I think you’re right,” Stan agreed.

“I wish I could question Wilkinson and find out where he was on the night of the murders.”

“Well, I’m sure he has an alibi. He wouldn’t get near the crime scene. He’s obviously not stupid.”

“No, I don’t suppose he is.”

“So, how did your bankruptcy hearing go?” Paula asked.

“Fine. I got the case confirmed despite Sammy’s objections.”

“Sammy had the nerve to show up for the hearing?”

“Yes, and it was a big mistake because of the contempt judgment out on him.”

“What happened?” Paula asked excitedly.

“The judge asked him if he could pay the outstanding judgment and when he said he couldn’t, she had the bailiff haul him off to jail.”

Paula’s eyes widened. “Oh, my God! I bet he was pissed.”

“He was and now Ram is terrified that he’ll take his anger out on Ram and his family when he gets out.”

“That would be another violation, though.”

“True. So, hopefully he won’t do it, but Ram doesn’t think that will matter. In order to save face with the Pakistani community, he has to punish Ram.”

“So, what are you going to do?”

Stan shrugged. “What can I do? I told Ram he needed to have security 24/7.”

Stan sensed that Paula had something she wanted to ask him but when she didn’t say anything he went back to his office. His phone messages had piled up so he started going through them. When he came to one from Detective Besch, he picked up the phone and dialed the number. There was no answer so when the automated answering machine came on he left his number. Stan was disappointed because the only thing he figured Besch could be calling about would be the fingerprint comparisons. He prayed he had good news.

 

 

 

17

 

Jodie Marshall

 

Jodie woke up to the smell of hot coffee. She took in a long breath, happy to know that Carl was in the kitchen making breakfast. He was spoiling her and she loved it. She got up and wandered into the kitchen. He smiled broadly when he saw her.

“I knew the smell of coffee would get you up,” he said.

“Yes, it does smell good. Did I smell bacon too?”

“Yes, you did,” Carl said handing her a plate of scrambled eggs and bacon. “There’s toast coming too.”

“Good. I’m famished.”

“I’ve made plenty so eat as much as you want.”

“You trying to fatten me up?”

“No. You can eat a big breakfast without fear of getting fat, it’s lunch and dinner that you have to watch out for.”

“Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper or something like that,” Jodie said.

Carl raised his eyebrows. “That’s pretty good.”

“I read that on the wall at Poor Richard’s Restaurant.”

“Right. . . .So, what’s on tap today?”

Jodie sighed. “Well, I need you to drop me off at Enterprise Rent a Car. After that I need to do some more research on Wilkinson Properties.”

“I thought you were done with them?”

“I’m just going to be talking to people who have done business with them in the past. I don’t think it will be dangerous.”

“You’re going to have Brandon with you, right?”

“Yes. Don’t worry.”

Carl’s cell phone rang. He pulled it out of his pocket and looked at the display. “It’s Cindy our dispatcher. Give me a minute,” Carl said as he walked a few steps away to take the call. After a moment he hung up and shook his head. “They found your car.”

“They did?” Jodie asked.

“Yes. Unfortunately, it’s been totaled. Someone torched it.”

“Oh, my God,” Jodie moaned. “I can’t believe this.”

“Well, look on the bright side. Your insurance company will have to buy you a new car.”

“No, I’ll be lucky if they give me enough to pay off the loan on it,” Jodie said bitterly.

“So, you’ll have to buy a new car. Your credit is good.”

“Sure, but I’ll have to come up with a down payment and my new car payment, I’m sure, will be a lot more than what I’m paying now.”

Carl sighed. “I’m sorry, honey. I wish there was something I could do.”

“It’s not your fault. I’ll get Turner & Waters to pay the difference since I was on the job when it was stolen.”

Carl laughed. “Are you serious?”

“No. I can’t prove Sutherland or Wilkinson had anything to do with it.”

Carl thought about that a moment. “Maybe, maybe not. You should go to the crime scene and see if there were any witnesses or evidence left behind.”

Jodie thought about that a moment. “That’s a good idea. Someone may have seen something.”

“Exactly,” Carl said. “You might get lucky.”

Having settled that issue they ate breakfast and got ready for work. After Carl dropped her off at the office, Brandon took her to her first appointment with a dentist named Carl Brooks. It was his day off so she met him at his home.

“So, why are you interested in the sale of my property to Wilkinson?” Brooks asked.

“I’ll be happy to answer that question,” Jodie said. “But first I need to make sure there isn’t any conflict.”

“Conflict?”

“You’re not related to anyone at Wilkinson Properties are you?”

“No.”

“So, you don’t have any allegiance to them?”

“No. Not at all.”

“Good. What I’m going to tell you is of a very sensitive nature and I wouldn’t want anyone at Wilkinson Properties to know about this conversation.”

Brooks laughed. “Well, I’m not going to tell them.”

“Good. So, were you happy with the sale of the property to them?”

Brooks shrugged. “Yeah. I got paid the sales price. What’s not to like?”

“Did you want to sell?”

Brooks hesitated. “Not exactly. We had to sell it.”

“Why?”

Brooks took a deep breath. “I needed the money.”

“Can you elaborate?”

“I could but it’s personal.”

Jodie nodded knowing whatever he was about to say would probably be embarrassing. “Listen. Whatever you tell me I’ll keep confidential.”

“How can I be sure of that?”

“Do you have a dollar?”

Brooks frowned. “Sure. I have a dollar.”

“Give it to me and then I’ll be your attorney. Whatever you tell me will be protected by the attorney-client relationship.”

“What am I hiring you to do?”

“To reevaluate the sale of your property.”

Brooks took out a dollar and gave it to her. He thought a moment and then began. “There was an incident. A young girl accused me of sedating her and then touching her improperly. It wasn’t true, but the accusation would have been enough to ruin me.”

“So, what did you do?”

“My attorney negotiated a confidential settlement with her. Unfortunately, I had to pay the $250,000 settlement out of my pocket, since I couldn’t report the incident to my insurance company without it becoming public knowledge.”

“So, you sold your property to raise the $250,000?”

“Exactly. I was really fortunate that Wilkinson came along and bought it so quickly. The girl’s attorney only gave us thirty days to fund the settlement.”

“So, how did you get connected with Tom Wilkinson?”

“The girl’s attorney referred us to him.”

Jodie couldn’t believe her ears. She was sure Brooks had been defrauded.

“How much did you have to discount the property to get a quick sale?”

“Oh, gosh. I’m sure I could have got another hundred grand for it, had I had more time.”

“Would you have sold the property had this incident not occurred?”

“No. I’d been at that location for twelve years. I lost a lot of customers when I moved.”

Jodie stood up. “Okay, I appreciate the information. You’ve been very helpful.”

“Wait a minute. What about my consultation?”

Jodie sighed. “Well, there is a possibility that Tom Wilkinson hired a woman to become your patient and then falsely accuse you of sexual misconduct. I’ll need to do more investigating to know that for sure.”

“That bastard! I’ll kill him.”

“I’m not a hundred percent sure that’s what happened, but it wouldn’t surprise me. Just stay cool for right now until we know for sure.”

“If it is true, what can I do about it?”

“You can help put Tom Wilkinson behind bars for one thing.”

“Can’t I sue him?”

“Yes, but suing someone like Wilkinson would be dangerous and probably a waste of time. Dangerous because he might send someone to put a bullet in your head and a waste of time because he’s a professional money launderer, so his assets will be tucked away somewhere out of your reach.”

“Jesus. I can’t believe this.”

“I know. It’s not right. I’m afraid putting him behind bars is the best you can hope for.”

Brooks shrugged. “Well, that’s better than letting him get away with it, I guess.”

“I’ll need a copy of the settlement agreement,” Jodie said. “I want to check out this girl and her attorney.”

“Sure. I’ve got an extra copy upstairs. I’ll go get it for you.”

Brooks left to get the settlement agreement. Several minutes later he returned with a copy of it in an envelope. He handed it to Jodie and she thanked him. When she got back to the office she found Paula and told her the situation with her car.

“A total loss, huh?”

“Yeah, I’m afraid so.”

“That’s too bad, Jodie. I’m so sorry.”

“Ah well. At least I wasn’t in it.”

“Yes. Too bad Mike wasn’t, huh?” Paula interjected.

Jodie laughed. “Yeah. That would have been poetic justice.”

“So, what did you find out from Carl Brooks?”

Jodie told Paula what she had learned. “Well, that’s two cases we’ve identified where Tom Wilkinson has tricked or coerced people into selling their properties. I think this definitely strengthens our theory that Wilkinson was behind the murders.”

“I felt so sorry for this guy,” Jodie said. “Can you imagine the mental anguish he went through being falsely accused of sexual misconduct? Oh, my God. Wilkinson is a demon straight out of hell.”

After lunch Jodie had Brandon take her out to the place her car had been torched. It was in the country near Lake Lavon. The car had been pushed off the highway and had rolled under a big oak tree before it was doused in gasoline and set on fire. Jodie began walking the perimeter of the burnt area as Brandon looked on. She stopped when she saw a trail of burnt grass stretching ten yards toward the highway.

“It looks like the perp poured gasoline on the car and then poured a line of it away so he could set it on fire from a distance.”

Brandon nodded. “That’s what it looks like.”

“I wonder what he used to light it?” Jodie asked.

“A match,” Brandon replied.

“Or a cigarette.”

Brandon’s eyes widened. “Right. So if we found a cigarette butt we’d have DNA evidence.”

“Exactly.”

“I’ll search down here and you follow the trail of crushed grass up to the highway. He could have dropped the cigarette butt anywhere along the way.”

They searched without finding anything for twenty minutes. Jodie was about to give up when she heard Brandon yell.

“Eureka!”

She looked up and saw Brandon all the way up on the highway. “Did you find it?” she yelled.

“I think so. He must have thrown it away when he got back into his car.”

Jodie rushed up to the highway and peered down at the single cigarette butt. “Let me call Carl and have him send out a sheriff’s deputy. We don’t want to mess up the chain of custody.”

“What if one of the Sheriff’s deputies or the wrecker driver tossed this cigarette butt?” Brandon asked.

“Well, anything’s possible, but I would assume they would have rules against smoking at a crime scene.”

“You’d think.”

An hour later the deputy showed up to pick up the evidence. He didn’t seem too thrilled about being dragged all the way to Lake Lavon to pick up a cigarette butt, but Jodie didn’t care. She felt good about their discovery and thought it would turn out to be important. She didn’t think a sheriff’s deputy or even the wrecker driver would have been smoking on the job. She prayed the cigarette butt belonged to the asshole who had stolen her car.

When Jodie got home that night she thanked Carl for all his help in handling the Collin County Sheriff’s office. She knew they wouldn’t have sent a deputy out there had Carl not asked them to do it as a matter of professional courtesy. And if she had called Assistant DA Brian Rutledge, he would have laughed at her.

“Oh, I have more news for you,” Carl said while he stirred a pot of boiling pasta.

“What?”

“I had some free time so I researched prior police reports regarding the Jewelry Mart.”

“Oh, what did you find out?” Jody asked.

“There were three other robberies in the last five years.”

“Seriously? Isn’t that a lot?”

“Yeah. It seems like it to me, but I don’t have any way of comparing it to other jewelry stores.”

“So, anything interesting in the reports?”

“Well, in each of the cases the robbers were satisfied with what was out on display. They didn’t attempt to get in the safe.”

“Robbers, plural?”

“Yes, in each case there were two robbers—one who watched the employees and the door and the other one who collected the loot.”

“How much was taken?” Jodie asked.

“$132,000 in the first heist, $145,000 in the second, and $160,000 in the third.”

“Did anybody get hurt?”

“No. The robbers just took the jewels and left.”

“Did they ever apprehend any of the thieves?”

“No. The cases are still unsolved,” Carl replied. “I bet Stein got reimbursed by his insurance company for his losses, though.”

“That’s a safe bet,” Jodie agreed. “If they hadn’t paid him he would have sued them. Insurance companies have to prosecute claims in good faith or they can be liable for additional damages for unfair claims settlement practices.”

“So, how do you think this is relevant to your case?” Carl asked.

“Well, the value of jewelry isn’t easy to determine. I would bet he inflated the value of what he lost and actually profited from the robberies. That would explain his displeasure with Larson for interrupting the heist.”

Carl laughed. “Oh, right. He thought he was about to turn his entire inventory at a nice profit until Larson showed up.”

“That’s right.”

“So, now he wants the lost profit from your client.”

“Exactly.”

Carl turned off the burner, grabbed a colander, took the pot to the sink and dumped the pasta in it. While it was draining he went over to Jodie and put his arms around her. “I missed you,” he said. “I was worried about you. I know you had Brandon with you but with Mike the Maniac loose anything could have happened.”

“I know. I missed you too. I kept looking over my shoulder expecting to see someone lurking about ready to attack us.”

“That was the point of all these dirty tricks, I guess,” Carl said. “But, I promise you one day he’ll pay for what he has put you through.”

They kissed for a long moment and then Carl broke away. “I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry.”

Jodie nodded and smiled warmly. “Me too. And when we’re done I’ll provide dessert.”

Carl’s eyes widened. “Okay, let’s hurry then.”

 

 

 

18

 

Paula Waters

 

Paula didn’t believe in her gut that Ben Benito was the killer but she had no choice but to scrutinize him closely because of the strong motive he had to put a competitor out of business and the bad blood between them following their breakup. Unfortunately when Paula called him to set up an interview he refused to talk to her. Her options at that point were to take his deposition, at which time he would be forced to testify or take the fifth amendment. If he took the fifth that would be perfect because there would be a presumption in the minds of the jurors that he was involved somehow in the murders. ADA Rutledge realized this too and objected when Paula called him to schedule a deposition.

“I have already interviewed him and he’s got an alibi.”

“So, why won’t he talk to me then?” Paula asked.

“I don’t know. I guess he feels helping you is helping Emilio.”

“Emilio is not on trial for murder.”

“I know.”

“I have a right to take his deposition.”

“Let me talk to him. I’ll explain that to him. Maybe he’ll feel better if we interview him together. He’s just scared.”

“Well, unless he’s involved in the murders he has nothing to fear.”

“Let me talk to him and I’ll get back with you.”

Paula agreed and hung up. She didn’t have a problem with a joint interview because it would be a lot cheaper than a formal deposition and she doubted Ben would admit to anything anyway. As she was thinking about this Maria advised her that Detective Besch was on the line.

“I’ve got good news for you, counselor,” Besch said.

“I could use some good news,” Paula replied.

“One of the unidentified fingerprints on the shoe box found under Ricardo’s bed belongs to Tom Wilkinson.”

Paula’s mouth dropped open. “What? Are you serious?”

“Yes. It’s definitely a match. Tom Wilkinson at some point in time handled that shoe box.”

“It’s hard to believe that he would be so stupid as to plant something at Ricardo’s apartment that had his fingerprints on it.”

“That’s for sure, but somehow it got there.”

“Wow. That’s great, detective. So, have you told Rutledge yet?”

“I’ve informed my supervisor, so I’m sure he’ll pass the news on to Rutledge.”

“You’ve made my day, detective. Thanks so much.”

“No problem. I’ve also suggested he might want to get a search warrant for his home and office to see if there is any other evidence to tie him to the murders.”

“You should include his associates Ben Jamison and Chris Hunt. Ben Jamison was at the restaurant on the night of the murders and Chris Hunt was seen around Ricardo’s apartment.”

“I didn’t know that.”

Paula gave him more details about Jamison and Hunt’s involvement and told him how he could corroborate the information. She thanked him, hung up and then went into Stan’s office to give him the good news.

“That’s beautiful,” Stan said. “It’s going to be hard for the jury to convict Ricardo when there is so much evidence pointing to Wilkinson and his organization setting him up.”

“I bet Chris Hunt put the poison in the bowl of cheese at his table and then switched them,” Paula said.

“That wouldn’t have been hard to do.”

“Too bad we don’t know the identity of the woman who was with Hunt. She would have seen him make the switch.”

“Maybe Jodie will have some ideas on how to find that out.”

Paula nodded. “Yeah, but I hate to get her involved any further.”

“That’s true.”

“Well, I have to get ready to interview Clyde Morrow.”

“Who’s he?” Stan asked.

“Another person who lost a bundle investing in one of Richmond’s dry holes.”

“Oh, right. Well, good luck with that.”

Paula left Stan’s office, grabbed her purse from her office and then left to go to the interview. Clyde Morrow had agreed to meet her for lunch at Red Lobster. When she got there she looked around to see if he had arrived yet. He had told her he was tall, thin and would be wearing a Panama Fedora. She spotted him immediately and went over to him.

“Mr. Morrow?”

He turned, smiled and tipped his hat. “Ms. Waters.”

“Yes. Thanks for meeting me.”

“Oh, it’s a pleasure. I have been one of your admirers over the years.”

“Really? That’s good to hear.”

“Yes. I was amazed how you proved the Ice Pick Widow wasn’t a murderer after all. That was brilliant.”

Paula chuckled. “Well, my partner helped a lot on that one.”

“Modest too. I like that.”

“So, is our table ready?”

“Let’s check,” Clyde said.

They went up to the hostess and told her they were ready to be seated. She looked at her chart, grabbed two menus and then escorted them to a table.

“Would you like a drink or some wine?” the waitress asked.

“A glass of white wine,” Paula replied.

“Give me a beer,” Clyde said.

The hostess nodded and left.

“So, you said you want to talk to me about the late John Richmond.”

“Yes. I understand you invested in his dry hole.”

Clyde shook his head. “Sadly, you are correct.”

“How much did you lose?”

“A hundred thousand dollars. Unfortunately, the Princess Prospect wasn’t the only well that turned out to be a bust. I’ve lost over a half million dollars on Richmond wells.”

“Have any of their wells been successful?”

“Yes, the first well they dug was a gusher. I had a small piece of it, so I thought I’d better get into the next round of wells they were digging.”

“But they were all dry holes?”

“Yes. Five in a row, can you believe my luck?”

“Wow. It’s amazing that Richmond Oil & Gas is still around.”

Clyde shook his head. “No, it’s not amazing at all. You figure they got a ten percent commission for finding the investors and then another twenty percent for drilling the well, hell, they made a nice profit even on a dry hole.”

“Oh, I see. So it didn’t really matter all that much to them if the well turned out to be a dry hole.”

“That’s right. They made out like a bandit no matter what.”

“Except if they drilled too many dry holes they wouldn’t be able to get new investors.”

“Right. So, lucky for them their seventh well was successful. Unfortunately, neither I or the other investors in wells two through six, were in it.”

“You must have been very upset?”

“Livid is more like it. I think they knew the wells I invested in were poor prospects but they needed the commissions and operating revenue to survive, so they went ahead with them.”

“Do you have any evidence to prove that?”

“No. They are slick operators and don’t put anything in writing except the contract and disclosure statements. But nobody pays attention to disclosure statements. If they did they would never be able to sell out a well.”

“So, apparently Walter Satterwhite tried to get you to join his lawsuit.”

Clyde smiled and nodded. “I knew there was no way in hell he’d be able to get an attorney to take the case on a contingent fee basis and I sure as hell wasn’t going to commit to pumping money into a bunch of attorney’s pockets.”

“So, did you kill him?”

Clyde sighed deeply. “Oh, is that what this is about? You think I killed John Richmond and the rest of the dinner party was collateral damage?”

Paula shrugged. “Well, it’s a possibility I have an obligation to explore.”

“Well, I may be a bit ruthless at times when it comes to business, but I’m not a murderer. I respect my adversaries and value my freedom.”

“Then what did you mean when you said you had other ways to get even with Richmond?”

“Oh, that was just talk.”

“Satterwhite didn’t think it was just talk. He was sure you had something up your sleeve.”

“Well. I knew he was having an affair. It was pure luck that I found out. I had a layover in Atlanta and saw him with another woman in one of the bars. So, when I got back to Dallas I hired a private detective to follow him. Clyde laughed. “The PI got some great pictures, so I mailed them to his wife.”

“You didn’t?” Paula said shaking her head.

“Yes, I did.

“But nothing happened? No divorce?”

Clyde shrugged. “Yeah, well. Some wives are forgiving, I guess. But I’m sure it caused him a lot of grief.”

“I’m sure it did,” Paula agreed. “Who was the woman?”

Satterwhite frowned. “I’d rather not say. There’s no reason to involve her now since John is dead.”

The waitress came with their drinks and asked them what they wanted to eat. Paula ordered a shrimp platter and Clyde ordered steak and lobster.

“I was in the process of gathering evidence against him to turn over to the IRS but now it’s a moot point.”

“What kind of evidence did you have?”

“Under the investment contract I had a right to audit the records of the well. It’s expensive to do it but I figured being the crook that Richmond was my accountants would find something and they did.”

“What did they find?” Paula asked.

“That half the expenses they claimed on the well were bogus. That means they were committing tax fraud.”

“Wow. So are you still going to turn them over to the IRS?”

“I will if they don’t pay me back some of my investment losses.”

“Well, be careful. If you threaten criminal prosecution if they don’t pay you, that could be considered extortion.”

“What? You’ve got to be kidding.”

“No. Your best bet is to apply for the IRS reward for turning in tax evaders. That could be pretty substantial.”

“Well, thanks for the advice. I’ll consider that.”

Paula was a little disappointed with her meeting with Clyde Morrow even though she had never considered him a viable suspect. When she got back to the office Maria told her Stan wanted to talk to her. She went into his office.

“Besch called. They’ve arrested Tom Wilkinson and Chris Hunt. Wilkinson because they found his prints on the shoe box and Hunt because he was at Emilio’s on the night of the murders.”

“Wow that’s great,” Paula said. “I’m sure they will lawyer-up. The question is whether the DA will want to try them with Ricardo.”

“How do you feel about that?” Stan asked.

“I think it’s okay. We’ll still have the same burden to prove that Ricardo knew nothing about the poison or the money under his bed.”

“Right. I still can’t believe Wilkinson left a fingerprint on the box.”

Paula nodded. “Me either but it won’t be the first time that a criminal did something stupid. Anyway, the fact that Wilkinson’s fingerprint was on it, but Ricardo’s wasn’t, helps prove our theory that it was planted.”

“That’s true,” Stan agreed.

When Paula got back to her office she called Bart to see if she could get some inside info on what was happening. When he came on the line his mood was grim.

“You’re not going to like this,” Bart said.

“Oh really? What’s going on?”

“They’re going to charge Tom Wilkinson and Chris Hunt with the murders.”

“So I heard. So, what’s wrong with that?” Paula asked.

“They’re not going to let Ricardo off the hook. They think Wilkinson hired Ricardo to put the rat poison in the cheese and that’s why his prints are on the shoe box full of money.”

“They might believe that but the jury won’t buy it. They didn’t need Ricardo to poison the cheese. Hunt could have easily done it himself.”

“I know. I’m just passing on the facts as they see it.”

“It makes no sense to involve Ricardo. He wasn’t a professional and it would be foolish to bring him in on the deal.”

“I agree. He would be a weak link and I’m sure Wilkinson is smarter than that, but Rutledge believes he has to follow the evidence. The only way he’ll let Ricardo off the hook is if he rolls over on Wilkinson and his gang.”

“That would require him to lie since he had nothing to do with the murders,” Paula replied. “And, I can’t advise him to do that even if it might be in his best interest.”

“You wouldn’t know whether it was a lie or not.”

“In my heart I would know. Unless Ricardo suddenly confesses to me that he was a willing participant in the crimes, I couldn’t advise him to accept Rutledge’s offer.”

“And what if he is convicted? Could you live with yourself for not letting him take the easy way out?”

“Well, they haven’t made that offer yet. So far, all I have heard is they’d take the death penalty off the table if he confessed and implicated the others. Anyway, I’ll sleep just fine because I’m going to get him off by proving him innocent.”

“Okay. Just brain-storming with you.”

“I know and what you’re saying makes sense logically but not ethically. Plus Ricardo’s life would be ruined if everyone knew he was the murderer who was now walking the streets because he sold out his accomplices.”

“We could probably get him into witness protection. He’d get a fresh start. They’d have to let him take Sonia with him too, if they got married before the trial.”

“I’ll discuss it with him. I have an obligation to do that, but I hope he doesn’t take the deal.”

Paula hung up and went back into Stan’s office and told him what Bart had said. Stan agreed with Paula that it was a bad idea and that they should just proceed to trial. But they agreed the decision was ultimately up to Ricardo.

“Since this deal came from Bart is it official or are they just feeling us out?”

“It’s not official until Rutledge lays it out to me, but I’m sure if I tell Bart we like the offer Rutledge would call in a heartbeat.”

“What I’m thinking,” Stan said, “is that they don’t think they have enough evidence to convict Wilkinson and Hunt without Ricardo’s testimony.”

“You’re probably right.”

“So that’s why they are reaching out to us.”

“Of course, they’d like us to hand them two high profile convictions on a silver platter.”

Paula went back to her office to see if she could get in contact with Ricardo. There was a large envelope that had been delivered by courier. She saw that it was from the District Attorney’s office. She opened it and read the heading on the pleading: Motion to Consolidate. She took a deep breath and took it into Stan’s office. He looked up when she came in.

“Well, it’s official. The DA wants to try all the defendants at the same time.”

“So, are you going to oppose it?”

Paula shook her head. “No. It’s usually just better to get these things over with. I’ve thought about the downside and can’t see anything other than the complexity of the trial. Honestly though, I think it will end up being to our advantage. If the other defendants weren’t there in court the jury would wonder about them. I kind of like having their smug faces there for the jury to look at.”

“I agree. I think our client stacks up very well against the likes of Wilkinson, Hunt and Jamison.”

“Well, I better find our client and give him the news.”

Stan nodded and Paula went back to her office to call her client. It was time for her to find out if Ricardo was holding back anything. She had to know the truth in order to give him good advice. She just hoped he’d understand that and would come clean.

 

 

19

 

Stan Turner

 

It was the fifth day in a row over 100 degrees in Dallas. Stan parked his car in the short term parking garage at Love Field and got out. Hot, humid air washed over him causing him to shed his coat and tie and put them in the back seat of his car before he locked it. As he was walking to the automated ticket machine on the skyway leading to the departure gates, he felt like there were eyes on him. He stopped, looked back, and for a moment thought he saw Paula but the woman quickly disappeared behind a column. A guilty feeling came over him. He wondered if Paula had followed him to the airport. After thinking about it a moment he dismissed the idea as being his own paranoia.

He bought a round trip ticket to Houston on flight 732 leaving in ten minutes from Gate 7. He was cutting it kind of close so he rushed to the security area, unloaded his pockets into a plastic container, and waited impatiently to be processed. He had debated whether to bring a briefcase. He wouldn’t need one, but he thought it might look suspicious if he came empty handed. He flung the empty briefcase onto the conveyor belt and then wondered what the inspector would think when he saw that the briefcase was empty. The man gave him a suspicious look when he walked by but didn’t say anything. Finally he made it through security and rushed to the gate. He noticed a blond woman sitting alone nervously. Their eyes met and she smiled sending a rush of excitement through his groin. They looked away not wanting anyone to suspect what they were up to. Seconds later the ticket agent called the flight and people stood up and began moving slowly to the appropriate lines as shown on their boarding passes. The blond woman was in the first row 1 to 33. Stan’s heart was beating hard as he got into line. He’d never done anything like this before in his life. He’d heard about people doing it, seen it in the movies, but had never thought anyone really did it. Now he was going to find out if it was possible.

The blond woman disappeared into the plane. Stan felt the effects of adrenalin flooding into his bloodstream—a tingling sensation came over him and he began to shake. Could he do this or would he chicken out? No, he couldn’t quit now, he’d made a commitment. He had to be courageous, there was a lot at stake here. His line finally started to move down the gangway and soon he was boarding the plane. He saw the blond woman sitting on an aisle seat. He took the aisle seat across from her as they had previously agreed. She stifled a smile and looked out the portal to her left. Stan felt himself getting aroused and tried to relax so he wouldn’t be embarrassed when he got up. When the plane was full the flight attendant picked up the microphone and told everyone to fasten their seatbelts and get ready for takeoff.

Soon the big Southwest jet was taxiing out to the runway. Stan closed his eyes and took a deep breath trying desperately to relax. The pilot brought the plane onto the runway behind two other jets ready to take off. They stood motionless for a minute until the first plane began to accelerate, then waited another minute until the runway ahead of them was clear. Stan felt the plane lunge forward and gain speed rapidly until it rose right over downtown Dallas. The pilot’s voice came through the intercom. He welcomed everyone aboard, said the skies were clear ahead and advised that the flight would take fifty-five minutes. Stan looked at his watch, his heart pounding. He got up and approached the flight attendant who was loading canned drinks into a cart.

“Ma’am,” Stan said.

The flight attendant smiled. “Yes, sir. How can I help you?”

“My girlfriend and I wanted to join the mile-high club.”

“What?”

“The mile-high club.”

The attendant laughed. “I’m sorry. That’s against regulations. We can’t allow that.”

“Nobody would know,” Stan pressed. “We just need five minutes alone in the restroom.”

The flight attendant shook her head. “No. Please take your seat.”

Stan pulled a hundred dollar bill out of his pocket and showed it to her. “Five or ten minutes. That’s all, we’ll be very quiet. Nobody will know it ever happened.”

She looked at the money and shook her head again. Stan stuck his hand in his pocket and pulled out another hundred dollar bill. The attendant sighed deeply, looked around and then took the money. “Alright, five minutes. Go in separately after I go by your row with the cart. If you get caught, you’re on your own.”

Stan smiled, went back to his seat and nodded to the blond woman. She stifled a laugh and looked away. Stan felt exhilarated. He couldn’t wait to get inside the beautiful woman with the blond hair. He’d always thought the mile-high club was stupid but now he knew why people did it. He felt more alive at that moment than he had in years. The flight attendant started moving down the aisle. Stan took a deep breath. The anticipation was killing him. He looked across the aisle. The woman shook her head like he was crazy. He wondered if what they were about to do was nuts, but it was too late to back out now.

The flight attendant came up next to him and winked. “Can I get you something?”

“No, thanks. I think I’ll use the restroom.”

When she had passed him, Stan got up and walked toward the front of the plane. He wasn’t wearing underwear which felt weird and uncomfortable. They had both agreed underwear would make a difficult encounter even worse. Suddenly another woman stood up in front of him and rushed inside. Stan sighed in frustration. He looked back at the blond woman who was rolling her eyes. He shrugged. After a few minutes the lady came out and Stan immediately went and took her place. He closed the door but didn’t lock it. The room was so small he didn’t know how they were going to have sex in such a confined space. He waited, feeling his heart pounding in his chest, seconds seeming like minutes. Finally, the door opened and the blond woman slipped inside and locked the door. They kissed passionately, their bodies exploding in anticipation. She pulled up her dress while he pulled down his pants. She wrapped her legs around him and pulled him inside her. They fell backward onto the toilet seat with a loud thud. He grabbed her bottom and they soon fell into a rhythm of pure joy and exhilaration. She moaned a little too loud. “Quiet,” Stan reminded her. They’d had sexual encounters before but never like this one. They tried to make it last, an incredibly intense sensation that permeated every inch of their bodies, until they exploded together like two comets colliding in space. A quick spectacular flash of carnal bliss that they’d dream about for years to come. They held each other tightly trying to savor the moment. There was a knock on the door that made them jump.

“Time’s up.”

Stan’s blond lover stood up reluctantly. Stan looked into her eyes and knew that she’d enjoyed the encounter as much as he had. She lowered her dress, looked in the mirror, fixed her hair, and exited the restroom without a word. Stan took a deep breath, pulled up his pants, counted to thirty and then headed back to his seat. The flight attendant gave him a relieved look as he went by. When she walked by his seat a few minutes later she whispered into his ear, “Welcome to the Mile-High Club.”

When Stan got back to Dallas he was so relaxed and in such a great mood he had no desire to go back to the office. It was late in the afternoon anyway, so he decided to go straight home. He’d told Maria he might not make it back to the office, so he wasn’t worried about being missed. On the way home he took the Dallas North Tollway to LBJ and then headed north on Central Expressway. When he passed the Beltline exit he heard sirens and saw heavy smoke rising from a building just off the freeway. He got off at the next exit and circled back on the access road. He prayed that he was wrong, but he thought the smoke was coming from the vicinity of Ram’s grocery store. When he was a block away he saw the police and fire trucks in front of the store. He parked his car as close as he could and ran the rest of the way to the store. The fire was out by then and the firemen were mopping up. Stan tapped a fireman on the shoulder.

“Was anyone hurt?” Stan asked.

The fireman turned and replied, “Nothing serious. Smoke inhalation mainly. They’ve been taken to Richardson Medical Center.”

“What about the store?”

“It’s a total loss—someone tossed a few Molotov cocktails through the windows. The gasoline spread the fire quickly.”

“Oh, my God!” Stan moaned. “I know who did this.”

The fireman stared at Stan a moment. “Then you should go tell the Fire Investigator,” he said pointing to a man talking to a police officer.

Stan nodded and walked over to where the men were talking. They looked over at him as he approached.

“Hi,” Stan said. “I’m Stan Turner. I’m Mr. Bakira’s attorney. I know who did this.”

Stan told the officer and the fire investigator about the animosity between Ram and Sammy and Sammy’s threats to get even.

“Do you know where we can find this Sammy fellow?” the officer asked.

“If you call the U.S. Marshall’s office they should have it. They had him in custody for a few days until his family came up with the money to pay off the contempt judgment.”

“Alright. We’ll do that and get a detective out there to question him.”

“I’m sure he’ll deny it and will have an alibi. Back in Pakistan he’s part of a crime family that exploits people who want to immigrate to America. They took my client for a quarter million dollars.”

The officer shook his head. “Well, this case may be out of our league then. It may be a case for the FBI.”

Stan shrugged. “Maybe so. I just want to get him shut down so my client can live in peace. He’s got a wife and a new baby. They’ve been through a lot.”

They took Stan’s card and promised to keep him updated. Stan took one last look at the smoldering ruin and then returned to his car and drove over to Richardson Medical Center to make sure Ram and his family were okay. Melakea, her baby and other family members were in the waiting room. Stan went over to them.

“Is Ram okay?” Stan asked.

“He will be, I think,” Melakea replied tentatively. “He’s getting some oxygen therapy right now. They’re worried that he might have suffered cyanide poisoning from the fire.”

“Oh, my God!” Stan exclaimed.

“He’s going to be on a ventilator and an I-V drip for a few days. The doctors seem to think he’ll recover okay.”

“Good. I just saw your store. I can’t believe Sammy would do something like this.”

“He’s promised to ruin us and send us back to Pakistan and now he’s done it,” Melakea spat.

Stan shook his head. “No. You have fire insurance. You can rebuild the store.”

“Really?” Melakea replied skeptically.

“Yes, we had to buy it as a requirement of the U.S. Trustee to get their approval of our plan. The complete loss should be covered along with business interruption insurance to provide you some income and allow you to make your plan payments while you are rebuilding.”

Melakea raised her eyebrows. “Are you sure? I thought for sure we’d lost everything.”

“No. That’s why we bought the coverage.”

“Oh, Stan. I’m so glad we found you. You’ve been our salvation.”

Stan shrugged. “Well, I just did what any good attorney would do.”

“No, I have talked to a lot of people from my country and most are disappointed with the attorneys they’ve run across in America. Most are only interested in how much money they can get as fees. I feared you were the same when you wanted a ten thousand dollar retainer.”

“Well, there are good attorneys and bad attorneys, you just have to make sure you hire a good one.”

“And we’ve done that, I know now.”

Stan didn’t know what to say. He wasn’t feeling so good about what he’d accomplished so far. “Right. Unfortunately, it seems like every time we take a step forward we get pushed back two steps.”

“But at least we’re fighting back and making Sammy lose face back home in Pakistan.”

“Is that really happening?”

“Yes, when he went to jail for contempt many back home were laughing at him. That’s probably why he felt he had to do something to save face.”

Stan sighed. “Well, I’m glad nobody got seriously hurt. Tell Ram to call me next week and I’ll help him file a claim with his insurance carrier.”

Melakea nodded and embraced Stan. “Thank you.”

Stan returned the embrace and then left. By the time he got home it was nearly 7:00 p.m. Rebekah looked at him anxiously when he walked in.

“What happened? It’s been hours since your flight came in. Did you go back to the office?”

“No. Somebody threw a few Molotov Cocktails into Ram’s store. I noticed the smoke on the way home and stopped to check it out. The store was a total loss, so I told the police and the fire investigator about Ram’s history with Sammy and then I had to go by Richardson Medical Center to make sure Ram and Melakea were okay.”

“Oh, my God! How terrible. Are they okay?”

“Melakea is okay but Ram suffered smoke inhalation. He’s going to need to stay in the hospital for a day or two. So, now they’re broke and have no income.”

Rebekah shook her head. “I’m so sorry. I know how hard you worked on his case.”

“Well, they do have insurance,” Stan said tentatively.

“That’s good, huh?”

“Yeah, but I’m afraid getting the insurance company to pay may be another story.” Stan hadn’t brought this up to Melakea but he knew with arson involved the insurance company would be reluctant to pay the claim until they caught the arsonist.

“Oh, no. How come?”

“You know insurance companies, they like to hang onto their money as long as the law will allow. In the case of arson they might claim Ram started the fire himself since he was in financial trouble.”

“What are you going to do?”

Stan didn’t respond. There was nothing he could do except file the claim and then hold his breath. If the insurance company delayed in paying the claim he’d threaten them with a lawsuit. But from experience he knew litigation could take years to resolve and with Ram and his wife penniless, how long would it be until they were forced to return to Pakistan?

 

 

20

 

Jodie Marshall

 

As soon as Jodie got to work she called Detective Besch to advise him of the cigarette butt they had found near where her car had been torched. She advised him that the Collin County Sheriff’s office had the evidence and it might be a good idea to compare any fingerprints or DNA evidence obtained from the cigarette butt to Tom Wilkinson and his underlings.

“I’ll make sure that gets done,” Detective Besch assured her. “But I doubt they’ll be able to lift a fingerprint off the butt of the cigarette. It will be a partial at best and DNA evidence takes weeks even if I can convince my bosses to authorize the expense.”

“Well, whatever you can do will be appreciated.”

Jodie hung up, a little disappointed with Besch’s response to the new evidence, and began going through her telephone messages. She noticed she had a call from Special Agent Lot of the FBI. She had worked with Agent Lot on a case in the past and helped him bring down the Burillo Drug Cartel. She wondered why he’d be calling. She dialed the number and asked for Agent Lot.

“Jodie, how are you?” Agent Lot said.

“Fine. Busy helping Paula with her triple murder.”

“Yes. I’ve been reading about it in the newspapers. In fact that’s why I’m calling.”

“Oh, really?”

“Yes, we’ve been monitoring Tom Wilkinson’s money laundering operation for some time. We’re making progress but it is slow.”

“How can I help?”

“Well, I think we can help each other.”

“Really? How’s that?”

“Well, while we were monitoring a court authorized telephone tap of Mike Sutherland’s telephone line we overheard a conversation between Sutherland and Benjamin Jamison. The purpose of the conversation was to arrange for the theft of your car. Apparently you really pissed off Mike Sutherland for some reason.”

Jodie laughed. “Yeah. He got all bent out of shape when I told him my boyfriend Carl was moving into my apartment. He wanted me to break up with Carl and date him exclusively.”

“Well, in the conversation he told Jamison to steal the car, take it to a secluded place and burn it.”

“God. I can’t believe this. The guy is a regular Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. When you meet him he is as likeable and as laid back as a guy could get but if you piss him off he turns into a monster. Carl calls him Mike the Maniac.”

“Well, you’re not the first person to say that. Anyway, what we would like you to do is file criminal charges against him with the Collin County Sheriff’s office. We’ll provide the Collin County DA with a copy of the tape so they shouldn’t have any trouble getting an indictment. Then we’ll try to turn Sutherland against Wilkinson and his associates in both the money laundering operation and the restaurant murders Paula is working on.”

“That sounds good to me. The only thing I’m worried about is if Sutherland implicates Ricardo Rizzi. I couldn’t do anything that would hurt a client.”

“Well, talk to Paula about it. We would really like to nail Wilkinson and his crew for the murders since we haven’t had much luck with his money laundering operation.”

“I’ve run across a couple other of Wilkinson’s victims who would love to see you put him away.”

Jodie told him about the other people who Wilkinson had forced to sell property he wanted against their will.

“That sounds good. I’ll get someone out to interview them. A few counts of conspiracy and fraud couldn’t hurt. The more we have against them the better.”

Jodie hung up and immediately went into Paula’s office. When Paula heard what the FBI wanted to do she told Jodie to go get Stan so they could all discuss it. Jodie nodded and went and got him and then they all moved to the conference room to consider the implications of the offer.

“So, the FBI wants Jodie to press charges and be their star witness against Mike Sutherland for auto theft, so they can offer him a free pass if he testifies against Tom Wilkinson, Chris Hunt and Benjamin Jamison in the money laundering and/or murder cases?” Stan summarized.

“Yes,” Paula said. “But it’s dangerous because we don’t know if Sutherland will implicate our client.”

“If our client is telling the truth,” Jodie said, “Sutherland couldn’t implicate him unless he lies. Of course, being the maniac that he has proven to be he might just do that for spite.”

“Even if he doesn’t implicate Ricardo, it doesn’t mean Ricardo is off the hook,” Stan said. “We still have to convince the jury that he is innocent and since neither Wilkinson, Jamison or Hunt will be testifying they’re not going to give us any help.”

“And we don’t even know if Mike Sutherland knows anything about the murders,” Jodie interjected. “Didn’t you say, Jodie, that he was just a construction manager?”

“Yes, but if he doesn’t know anything, that’s okay, they can still nail him for the auto theft,” Jodie replied. “That will, at least, get him off the street for a while.”

“Yes, but if you prosecute him, whether he cuts a deal or not, he may come after you or hire someone to hurt you.”

Jodie shrugged. “I think if he testifies he’ll have to go into witness protection and the U.S. Marshall’s office will keep an eye on him.”

“I don’t know,” Paula said. “It sounds pretty risky to me. I would die if anything happened to you.”

“If he testifies against Wilkinson, Jamison and Hunt, Jodie will be the last thing on his mind,” Stan said. “I don’t think the risk will be too great if he knows anything about the murders. If he doesn’t then we better be damn sure he gets convicted of the auto theft.”

“Ultimately the decision has to be Ricardo’s,” Paula reminded them. “If he doesn’t agree to the deal we can’t even consider it.”

“Fair enough. Why don’t we table this discussion until we have a chance to discuss it with him.”

“We better get him in this afternoon,” Jodie said. “Agent Lot wants a decision by tomorrow.”

“Okay, I’ll get Maria to get him in here as soon as possible.”

The meeting broke up and Jodie went back to her office. She decided she should discuss the situation with Carl but when she called him he was working a case, so she left a message. While she was waiting for Ricardo to come in, she decided to try to figure out the identity of the woman who’d accompanied Chris Hunt to Emilio’s restaurant on the night of the murders. She would be an important witness if Chris Hunt was the one who poisoned the Parmesan cheese and then switched bowls. She thought about the security system installer who had warned her to stay clear of Tom Wilkinson. Perhaps he would know the identity of Chris Hunt’s girlfriend. She looked in the yellow pages and found the number for Allied Security. She knew his name was George so she hoped there was only one George working there.

“Allied Security,” a female voice said.

“Hi. Is George in?”

“Yeah. Hang on.”

A few moments elapsed and George picked up the phone. “Hello.”

“George. This is Jodie Marshall. I don’t know if you’ll remember me, but I met you when Mike Sutherland was giving me a tour of the Montfort Building you were working on.”

“I remember you.”

“I wanted to thank you for warning me to stay clear of Wilkinson Properties. It’s turned out to be good advice.”

“Well, I’m glad you took it. They are not people you want to mess with.”

“How well do you know Mike?”

“We’re not close friends. I’ve done a few jobs for him is all.”

“How do you know so much about Wilkinson Properties?”

“I don’t know that much. Just what Mike has told me and what I have heard from other subs.”

“I don’t know if you know it, but our law firm is defending Ricardo Rizzi in the triple homicide at Emilio’s Italian Restaurant a couple months back.”

“Oh, is that your firm?”

“Yes, and we could use your help. . . . Behind the scenes, of course. Nobody would know you helped us.”

“I don’t know too much about them. What do you need to know?”

“Do you know Chris Hunt?”

“Sure. I’ve met him several times.”

“He took a woman to dinner at Emilio’s on the night of the murders. Do you know who that woman would be?”

“That would be his girlfriend, Evelyn Sanders. She used to be a Cowboy Cheerleader. Hunt brags about her all the time.”

“Do they live together?”

“Yes. She stays at his apartment but you can find her at her job. Hunt set her up in a President’s Health Club franchise—the one on Forrest Lane and Preston Road.”

“Oh, great. That’s all I need for now. Thank you so much.”

“Hey, I heard Mike threatening to do some nasty things to you. What did you do to piss him off?”

“I guess he assumed because I was letting him help me on the construction project that I’d be his girlfriend. But I already had a boyfriend and when I wouldn’t break up with him he got very angry.”

“Yeah. Mike has a bad temper. He’s the nicest guy in the world until you cross him.”

“Yes, I found that out.”

“Well, I was just worried he might have hurt you, but I guess you’re okay.”

“Yes, the boyfriend I mentioned is a Plano cop, so I’m well protected.”

“Good. You seemed like a nice girl and I didn’t want anything to happen to you.”

“ I appreciate that. Thanks.”

As Jodie hung up the intercom buzzed. “Carl is on line 2.”

“Hey, what’s up?” Carl asked.

She told him about the deal proposed by the FBI.

“I don’t think you should do it. Even if Mike is convicted he might have one of his friends come after you. It’s not worth the risk.”

“Maybe, but I can’t let him get away with what he did. What’s the point of laws if you don’t enforce them?”

“I know, but your safety is more important. If he wasn’t such a lunatic I wouldn’t be so worried about it.”

“If he strikes a deal with the feds it could mean putting away two or three more thugs. Isn’t that worth the risk?”

“Not for me, but I’ll support whatever decision you decide to make and I’ll do my best to keep you safe.”

“Thank you. I know you will. I just wanted to brainstorm the situation with you before I made a decision.”

“I’m glad you did.”

Jodie hung up. She looked at her watch and saw it was almost noon. She asked Maria when Ricardo was coming in and she said he would be in about 1:00 p.m. That didn’t give her much time so she went downstairs to the café and got a sandwich. On the way back up she got the mail and ran into the security guard who had helped her when her car was stolen. He wanted to know if she’d gotten her car back. She told him what had happened. He shook his head in disbelief and told her how sorry he was. When she got back up to the office Ricardo was in the waiting room. She greeted him and showed him into the conference room. A few moments later Stan and Paula joined them.

“I’ve received an informal offer from the DA,” Paula began. “If you will confess to being a participant in the three murders and that Tom Wilkinson, Chris Hunt, and/or Ben Jamison put you up to it, they’ll take the death penalty off the table and you’d only get life in prison.”

Ricardo frowned. “But I didn’t do it.”

“I know, but I’m obligated to pass on offers to you. There’s also a possibility I could negotiate a better deal.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, if you testified that Wilkinson, Hunt, or Jamison gave you the $10,000 in cash to poison the victims I might convince them to grant you immunity entirely. They really want to nail these guys so you do have some bargaining power.”

“But I’d have to lie?”

“I know. . . . We also have been contacted by the FBI.”

“The FBI?”

“Yes. You probably don’t know this but Jodie has been doing some undercover work for us.”

“Really?”

“Yes, Wilkinson Properties has been trying to acquire Emilio’s real estate where the restaurant currently operates.”

“Right. I’ve heard about that. But Emilio doesn’t want to sell.”

“Exactly. So Jodie has been trying to get information on Wilkinson Properties to see if possibly they were responsible for the three murders.”

“Why would they commit the murders?” Ricardo asked.

“To destroy Emilio’s business so he has to sell to them to avoid bankruptcy.”

“Oh. I see.”

“Anyway, in the process she has pissed off a man named Mike Sutherland. He’s the construction manager for Wilkinson Properties. So, to make a long story short, Sutherland has been harassing Jodie and last week he had someone steal her car and torch it.”

“Oh, my God,” Ricardo gasped. “I’m so sorry, Jodie.”

“It’s not your fault,” Jodie assured him.

“Unbeknownst to us the FBI has had a wiretap in place on Sutherland’s phone and they overheard him arrange for the theft of Jodie’s car.”

“Oh. Wow. That’s awesome.”

“It is and now the FBI wants to use the car theft as leverage in your murder cases.”

Ricardo frowned. “How would that work?”

“Well, if he helps them nail Wilkinson, Hunt and Jamison for the three murders at Emilio’s restaurant, then they’d let him completely off the hook for the auto theft and any participation he might have had in the murders.”

“So they wouldn’t need my testimony then, right?”

“That’s a possibility. They don’t like to offer more than one free pass in a case.”

“Does he know anything?”

“We don’t know. We don’t want to agree to it if it could hurt you in any way.”

“How could it hurt me?”

“Well, if you were hired by Wilkinson or one of his associates to lace the cheese with rat poison on the night of the murders, then Sutherland could end up testifying against you and damaging our defense.”

“But they didn’t hire me to do that,” Ricardo protested.

“That’s what you say and I believe you, but if you were involved in the murders I’d have to recommend against Jodie cooperating with the FBI.”

“No. I’m innocent. Let Jodie help them. I’m not going to lie to help them convict them. It wouldn’t be right.”

“Okay,” Paula said with a broad smile.

“One more thing,” Stan interjected. “This Sutherland character is a real piece of work. He comes off as very amicable and laid back but he has a temper and if he’s pissed off he becomes irrational. With a guy like this there is a possibility that he might lie and say you were involved in the murders just to hurt you or because he’s pissed off at Jodie and you’re one of her clients.”

Ricardo frowned. “Do you think he would really do that?”

Stan shrugged. “It’s quite possible. That’s why I brought it up.”

“Well, I’ll leave it up to you. Whatever you recommend.”

“No, you need to make the decision,” Stan replied. “It’s your life that is at stake so you have to make the call.”

Ricardo swallowed hard. “So what happens if I say yes, do it, and then he tries to implicate me in the murder?”

“Then we’ll have to discredit him and convince the jury he is a liar,” Paula replied.

“Do you think you can do that?”

Paula shrugged. “Yes. I think so, but there are no guarantees.”

Ricardo nodded. “Go ahead. Help the FBI. I’ll take my chances.”

“One last thing. The DA wants to try all of you at the same time and unless you have some objection to that I’m going to agree to it.”

“What difference does it make?” Ricardo asked.

“It will make the trial longer and more complicated, but overall I think it will be to your advantage. With everyone before the court the jury will have a clearer picture of what happened and will be able to observe all the defendants for the duration of the trial.”

Ricardo shrugged. “That’s fine then.”

After the meeting Jodie went back to her office and called Agent Lot. She told him she was prepared to help in any way she could. While she had Agent Lot on the phone she asked him about Chris Hunt.

“I assume you know that Chris Hunt was at Emilio’s on the night of the murders with his girlfriend.”

“Right. Detective Besch told us that.”

“Have you questioned him about the murders yet?”

“We tried but he wasn’t cooperative. He asked for an attorney and his attorney advised him not to say a word.”

“Hmm. What about his girlfriend who was with him?”

“We haven’t been able to identify her yet.”

“Her name is Evelyn Sanders. She’ll probably lawyer-up too, so why don’t you let me talk to her first. Maybe I can become her best friend and get her to open up.”

“I’ll have to run that up the chain of command, but since I don’t know where to find her and you do, I couldn’t keep you away if I wanted to.”

“Thanks,” Jodie said. She knew that the higher ups at the FBI would probably not want her to talk to a potential witness before they did, but Agent Lot was right, she had a perfect right to do so as co-counsel for Ricardo Rizzi. She picked up the phone and called President’s Health Spa to see what hours Evelyn Sanders worked. The secretary who answered the phone said she’d be in for her “Pushin’ 30” aerobics class at 3:30 p.m. In the best southern drawl she could muster she asked, “Does she have any room in her class? I’d really like to be in a class with a Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader.”

“Former Cheerleader,” the secretary corrected dryly.

“Right. I knew that. Can you imagine being a cheerleader? Wow! That would be so awesome.”

“She’d love to have you in her class,” the secretary assured her. “Come in fifteen minutes early to fill out the paperwork. It’s $120.00 for the full thirteen weeks and they meet every Thursday at 3:30.”

“Super. I’ll be there.”

Jodie knew that Evelyn could be a key witness. She’d had a ringside seat for the murders and would have seen Chris or anyone else who might have put the rat poison in the cheese or switched bowls. She also might have overhead conversations between Tom, Chris and Ben. She had to get close to Evelyn without making her suspicious. Then if she could get her to talk about the murders conversationally she might learn something important. She also knew if Evelyn figured out who she was and told her boyfriend about her being in her class, she’d be in mortal danger. With that in mind she decided to enroll Brandon in the class too. She smiled as she went to find him to tell him about his next undercover assignment.

 

 

21

 

Paula Waters

 

When Paula got home late that night Bart was on the sofa drinking a beer and watching TV. When she saw him she went over and collapsed next to him. He put his arm around her and pulled her up close to him.

“Rough day?” he asked.

Paula sighed. “A busy day. A lot’s happening.”

“Good or bad?”

“I don’t know. Too soon to tell. . . . I ran Rutledge’s offer by my client and he wouldn’t go for it. He can’t testify to something that is not true.”

“I figured that,” Bart said.

“Did you know the FBI is involved in the case now?”

Bart frowned. “No. I hadn’t heard that.”

“Yeah. They had a wiretap on Mike Sutherland and caught him hiring someone to steal Jodie’s car.”

“What? Are you kidding me?”

“No. They want her to file a complaint so they can use the car theft charge as leverage to get Sutherland to testify against Wilkinson and Hunt.”

“Is she going to do it?”

“Sure. She needs to get Sutherland off the street so she can sleep at night. That guy is a lunatic.”

“And your client is okay with it?”

“Yes, we told him Wilkinson and Hunt might implicate him in the murders but he’s standing by his claim of innocence.”

“He may be telling the truth. . . . You didn’t hear this from me but I heard they found trace elements of rat poison in a plastic grocery bag in Hunt’s trunk.”

Paula twisted around and looked at Bart. “Are you serious?”

“Yes. That’s what I heard. You’ll have to confirm it with Besch or Rutledge.”

“Oh my God. That’s huge.”

“I know. I thought you’d be happy to hear it.”

“So, I wonder when I will officially hear about it.”

“Probably not for a while. You know Rutledge will sit on it as long as possible, but now that you know it exists you should be able to get it sooner.”

“Won’t they know you told me if I ask for it?”

“Not if you just asked for the results of any and all their search warrants. They’ll have to give you everything then.”

“When did they do the search?”

“Yesterday.”

“Did they find anything else?”

“I don’t know. I just happened to overhear someone talking about the Vacor Rat Poison. It got my attention since I’d spent several hours searching for rat poison a few weeks back.”

Paula laughed. “Well, your hard work paid off.”

“Am I going to be rewarded for my efforts?” Bart asked with a grin.

Paula smiled wryly. “I may have to do that.” Bart leaned over and they kissed for a long moment. “But first I need nourishment. What’s for dinner?”

“I was going to order pizza.”

Paula frowned. “If you want to be rewarded tonight I’m going to need something better than pizza.”

“Oh, alright. How about a steak at Lawry’s?”

Paula’s eyes lit up. “Yeah, that will do.”

“I guess you heard they’ve filed a motion to consolidate all the cases.”

“No. I didn’t hear that.”

“So, your trial is going to be like a three ring circus.” Bart laughed. “I’m glad it’s you and not me.”

Paula gave him a playful jab with her elbow. “Thanks a lot.”

They debated getting dressed up but finally decided they were too hungry and didn’t have the energy for it, so they went as they were. Since it was a week night Lowry’s wasn’t busy and they were seated immediately. The waitress asked them what they’d like to drink. Bart ordered a beer and Paula asked for a glass of wine.

“So, how’s Stan’s wife doing?”

“Physically, she’s okay, I think.”

“Good.”

“She’s still depressed though and just sits around the house all day according to Stan. I’m worried their marriage is in trouble.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Stan’s been acting rather strange lately.”

“Strange? How?”

“Well, he disappears for hours at a time and is very secretive about where he’s been.”

“What do you think he’s doing?”

“Well, I followed him one time to a sleazy motel where he met a prostitute.”

Bart laughed. “Are you serious?”

“Yes. I’m afraid so. Then the other day he took a flight to Houston with the same hooker. They boarded separately, I guess so nobody would think they were together, but I’m sure it’s the same blond woman I saw him with at the Twilight Motel.”

“Oh, well. If he’s not getting anything at home, can you blame him?”

Paula shook her head. “It’s so not like Stan. I’m worried there’s more to it than that.”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know. Maybe with all the stress he’s been under he’s about to have a mental breakdown.”

“He could be on drugs,” Bart suggested. “That would explain his absences and erratic behavior.”

“He doesn’t act like he’s on drugs. At the office he’s just as sharp as ever and I’ve never smelled booze on his breath.”

“Have you asked him about it?”

“No. If he’s cheating on Rebekah that’s his business, I guess. Then again, I did promise to watch Rebekah’s back.”

“Well, if it’s not affecting his work then I wouldn’t worry about it.”

“Yeah. Well, I’m not like you. When something isn’t right, I worry.”

The waitress brought them their drinks and then asked what they’d like to order. Paula ordered a filet and Bart got a rib eye. A few minutes later she brought them bread and salads. They ate in an uncomfortable silence for a few minutes then Bart stopped eating.

“So, what are you going to do?” he asked.

Paula shrugged. “Maybe Jodie and I should have lunch with Rebekah to see how she’s doing. I’ll ask her if everything is okay with Stan.”

“Are you going to tell her Stan is cheating on her?”

“No, but she may already know. If she does and still wants to save her marriage maybe we could help.”

“I think you should stay out of it.”

“You’re probably right, but I may not be able to do that if Stan continues to cheat on her. If there’s a divorce it will affect the partnership. He’ll have to buy out her community interest and that will be a problem since he just put four kids through college and is broke.”

“How do you know that?” Bart asked sharply.

“I know Stan. He spends every penny he earns. He’s told me his savings account has twenty dollars in it.”

“Well, it may be too late. Rebekah will probably file for divorce the moment she finds out he’s cheating on her.”

Paula knew the thought of that scared Bart. If Stan were divorced she’d have trouble leaving him alone. She had always loved Stan and she was sure he had feelings for her as well, but he’d always been married and couldn’t bring himself to betray Rebekah.

“That’s true,” Paula replied. “But that’s just another reason I need to find out what is going on. If I can get him to stop now, maybe Rebekah will never find out.”

Bart nodded but didn’t say anything.

After dinner they went home and before Paula could make good on her promise to reward Bart for his hard work on her case, the telephone rang. Paula answered it.

“Paula. This is Jodie.”

“Oh. What’s wrong?”

“Detective Besch called. Mike Sutherland wouldn’t go for the deal. He claims he knows nothing about the murders or the theft of my car.”

“What about the wiretap?”

“He’s not talking on advice of counsel. Apparently his lawyer isn’t impressed by it. He says he can get it thrown out.”

“On what grounds?”

“I don’t know.”

“I’m so sorry, Jodie. Has he made bail yet?”

“Uh huh. He’s already on the street. Luckily I have Carl with me.”

“Well, I doubt he’d try anything while his case is pending. That would be stupid.”

Jodie sighed deeply. “I hope you’re right.”

Jodie’s news put a damper on Paula’s mood so she told Bart she’d have to give him a rain check on his promised reward. That night Paula took a long, hot bath hoping that would relax her. But she still had trouble sleeping and when she did finally fall into a shallow slumber she had a terrible nightmare about finding Jodie’s body in their office parking garage in a pool of blood. She awoke with a start. Her clock radio said it was 4:27 a.m. She got up and went into the kitchen to get a glass of water. Her case seemed to be spinning out of control. She wondered why Sutherland hadn’t taken the deal. Was he afraid of Tom Wilkinson and the consequences of testifying against him or was he being truthful when he claimed to know nothing about the murders? She took a deep breath trying to relax but it didn’t help. Her shoulders were hard as bricks and she had a throbbing headache.

The next morning she told Stan they needed to have a strategy session. They did this periodically to coordinate their activities and make sure everyone knew what the others were doing. Maria had brought donuts so they all got a cup of coffee and a donut and convened in the conference room.

“I couldn’t sleep after you called me last night,” Paula complained.

Jodie shook her head. “Me either. I thought for sure Sutherland would take the deal.”

“I’m not surprised,” Stan said. “From what Jodie tells me he’s a smart guy and isn’t about to get at odds with Wilkinson. He knew that to rat on them would be a death sentence. Better to spend six months in jail for a simple car heist.”

“So, where does that leave the FBI and the DA on the prosecution of Wilkinson, Hunt and Jamison?” Paula asked.

“Agent Lot said they were still going to prosecute them, they have the fingerprint, the plastic bag in Hunt’s car containing particles of rat poison, and a lot of circumstantial evidence. They’ll go with that if they have to but to insure a successful prosecution they’d like a live witness,” Jodie replied.

“Well, I doubt Wilkinson, Hunt or Jamison will turn on each other. They have been working together a long time,” Stan said.

“So, do I continue to assume that they are responsible for the murders,” Paula asked, “or should we suggest one of our other scenarios?”

“No. It’s still our most viable theory,” Stan replied. “I’d stick to it for now.”

“Okay. Have we talked to all the witnesses? Who else might know something?” Paula asked.

“I’m enrolling, well Brad and I are enrolling in Evelyn Sanders aerobics class,” Jodie advised. “ She’s Chris Hunt’s girlfriend and was with him at Emilio’s restaurant on the night of the murders.”

“That’s a bit dangerous, isn’t it?” Stan asked.

“That’s why Brad is enrolling with me. I just want to become friends in hopes that she’ll confide in me. When the time is right I’ll bring up the murders.”

“That could take some time,” Paula said.

“I know, but if I move too fast she’ll get suspicious.”

“Well, I doubt the FBI will get anything out of her,” Stan said.

“No, I think my plan is our best shot,” Jodie said. “If it turns out she knows something I’ll alert Agent Lot and Detective Besch and then maybe they can cut a deal with her.”

“Okay,” Paula said. “But be careful.”

“I will and I’ll have 24/7 protection.”

“Good. . . . Now going back to the question of other witnesses. There is one witness we haven’t talked to yet,” Stan advised.

“Who is that?” Paula asked.

“Emilio’s wife.”

“Why should we talk to her?”

“Because she was friends with all the victims and might know why they were targeted for murder.”

“But we know why,” Paula protested. “Wilkinson wanted to buy Emilio’s property and he wouldn’t sell.”

“Yes, that’s our main theory but we should continue to investigate other scenarios. Trying to kill four people to ruin a business is a bit of an overkill. I still want to pursue the theory that one or more of the victims was targeted.”

“Huh. Okay,” Paula said. “Do you want to talk to her, or should I?”

“I’ll talk to her since she’s an old client,” Stan said.

“Is there anybody else?” Paula asked.

Paula looked at Jodie and then at Stan. Stan shrugged. “That’s all I can think of for now.”

“Alright. I’ll start working on my trial outline and witness list. Then I’ve got to set a time with Rutledge to review the evidence he intends to use at trial.”

“What about letting Ricardo testify at trial?” Jodie asked.

It was rare that an attorney would allow his or her client to testify at trial because a good prosecutor could make even an innocent man look guilty, but sometimes it was necessary if there was any hope of getting a verdict of not guilty.

“It’s a risk but it’s something we will have to seriously consider,” Paula replied. “Ricardo is adamant about his innocence so that passion might sway some of the jurors.”

After the meeting broke up Paula went to her office to start working on her trial outline. The trial outline would be her guide through the trial. It included her opening and closing statements, the names and order of witnesses, the evidence that would be presented and how she would get each piece into evidence. Once the order of witnesses was set a very thorough list of questions would have to be prepared for each witness. She would also have to prepare questions for the cross examination of the prosecution’s witnesses. Of course, all of these witness questions were just a starting place. Once she started asking questions the answers she received would trigger more questions.

When she had the basic outline completed she felt better. Now she knew exactly what she’d do at trial. All she had to do now was subpoena the witnesses, ask them the right questions and get all her evidence admitted. Then it would be up to the jury to decide who and what to believe. She just prayed when all was said and done Ricardo would be found innocent.

 

 

22

 

Stan Turner

 

The following week Ram and Derek Donner came in to work on the fire loss claim. Derek Donner had been Stan’s longtime friend and had handled all his insurance matters over the years. Likewise, Stan had done legal work for Derek and they had both referred each other clients. They met in Stan’s office.

“I went by the store after you called me,” Derek said. “It must have been a big fire. There’s hardly anything left but the foundation.”

“The fire investigator said five or six Molotov Cocktails were tossed into the store,” Stan replied.

“Sammy’s done that before back in Pakistan,” Ram said.

“So, has the fire investigator talked to Sammy?” Derek asked.

“I don’t know. He said he’d have a detective question him. He’s supposed to call me when he has any new information. I’ll have Maria see if she can get him on the line,” Stan said. He pushed the intercom button and asked her to get the fire investigator on the line. She said she’d try.

“So, what do I have to do to file a claim?” Ram asked.

“I’ve got the claim form filled out,” Derek replied sliding the form over to him. “Just look it over and, if it is correct, sign it and I’ll turn it in. In a few days they will assign a claim’s representative to process it. They’ll probably want to meet you at the property and take your statement.”

“Have them come here to my office for the interview,” Stan instructed.

“Sure,” Derek said. “That shouldn’t be a problem.”

“And don’t talk to anyone about the fire,” Stan said. “They sometimes interview employees, friends and family members so the less they know the better.”

“Okay,” Ram said. “What about my wife?”

“She shouldn’t talk to anyone either,” Stan warned. “You don’t want to give the insurance company any reason to deny the claim.”

The intercom squawked and Maria came on the line. “The fire investigator is on the line.”

Stan put the phone on speaker. “Yes, this is Stan Turner.”

“Hi, Mr. Turner.”

“We were just wondering how the investigation of the fire at Pakimart Grocery was coming along.”

“Well, Detective Arnold Swan was assigned the case and the last I heard Mr. Keashkear wouldn’t talk to him.”

“So what’s he going to do about it?”

“He’s canvassing the neighborhood to see if anyone saw the men who threw the Molotov Cocktails into the building, but so far he has come up empty. In the meantime our lab boys are working on the Molotov Cocktails. They were made of beer bottles, gasoline and shredded t-shirts. They’ve found a few partial prints on some of the pieces of broken bottles but that’s about it.”

“Alright,” Stan said. “Thanks for the update.”

Stan looked at Ram and Derek and sighed. “To be realistic, it’s not likely that they will be able to prove Sammy was behind it.”

“So, how will that affect my claim?” Ram asked.

Derek took a deep breath before he answered. “It will delay the payment of the claim, I’m afraid. Insurance fraud is rampant these days and there will have to be an insurance investigation. That could take weeks.”

“But without the store I have no income. How will I feed my family and pay my rent?”

“I’ll put heat on them to pay the claim quickly. The law doesn’t allow them to drag their feet. Didn’t you tell me at the confirmation hearing that you had some money saved up?” Stan asked.

“I did but I just spent it on inventory. I’m on a cash-only basis with most of my vendors because of the bankruptcy.”

“Right. What about relatives? Can any of them help?”

“We have some friends who will make sure we don’t starve or have to sleep in the park, but that’s about it. None of them are wealthy.”

Stan felt badly at Ram’s predicament but knew getting the insurance company to act quickly would be difficult. “I’m sorry, Ram. I’ll push them and if they drag their feet too long I’ll file a lawsuit against them if I have to, but you know lawsuits move like ice flows.”

“Damn it! Just when I thought we were going to make it Sammy screws everything up again. I should just go find him and put a bullet in his head.”

“Don’t even think like that. If you did that you’d spend the rest of your life in prison and your family would be sent back to Pakistan immediately.”

“I know. This is all so frustrating. I don’t know what to do.”

“Just be patient. It will all work out in time.”

After Ram left, Derek took Stan to lunch at Emilio’s. Emilio needed a new insurance agent since Bill Rice had been murdered, so Stan suggested Derek. While Stan and Eva talked, Emilio talked to Derek about insurance. Stan and Eva met in Emilio’s small but nicely appointed office. Eva was an attractive, full-figured woman in her late forties. She had dark brown hair, hazel eyes and a vivacious personality.

“I wanted to talk to you since you apparently knew all of the murder victims.”

“Yes. I did. I still can’t believe they are all dead. They were such good friends.”

“Bill Rice was your insurance agent, wasn’t he?” Stan asked.

“Yes, we’ve known Bill and Donna for at least ten years. Bill was your typical salesman, very friendly and social. He was a clown, always telling crazy jokes. Donna was the junior league type–always working for one charity or another. I couldn’t keep up with everything she was doing.”

“So, were you at the restaurant on the night of the murders?”

“No. Had I known John and Sandy were going to be there I would have joined them for dinner, but I wasn’t informed.”

“Does that surprise you?”

“A little. Emilio should have told me they were there. I’m a little surprised too that John didn’t give me a heads up.”

“Well, it’s a good thing you weren’t there. You might have been poisoned too.”

“I know. It’s very unsettling to think that people died eating our food.”

“So, can you think of any reason why someone would want your friends dead?”

“I know John had a lot of people angry with him. In the oil business you’re bound to have a dry hole once in a while. People should understand that.”

“But he had five dry holes in a row, didn’t he?”

“Yes, but then he had two great wells. It’s just the nature of the business. Investing in oil and gas is like gambling. You just better hope you’re lucky.”

“So, did John talk to you a lot about his angry investors?”

“It came up in our conversations from time to time. Sandy complained about it a lot. She wanted him to shut down the company and get into something else.”

“How did he feel about that?”

“He liked the oil business and wasn’t about to change professions.”

“So, was their marriage in trouble? Either of them cheating on the other?”

“John suspected Sandy was cheating on him but couldn’t prove it. He almost hired a private investigator.”

“He told you this?”

“Yes, John was very open. He talked to everybody about his problems. You know the type.”

Stan nodded. “Yes. I have a few friends like that.”

“So, did you go to John’s funeral?”

“Yes. Emilio and I went. It was a very lovely ceremony.”

“Did you know most of the people there?”

“A lot of them, but there was family from out of town that I didn’t know.”

“Anybody there you didn’t expect to see?”

“No, not that I can think of.”

“Did Bill Rice sell insurance to John and his company?”

“I’m sure he did. In fact, I remember them arguing over a liability policy one time.”

“How long ago?”

“Oh, maybe six months or so. I think John was mad because one of the insurance companies canceled his coverage because they had too many claims. Bill tried to replace the coverage but couldn’t find a company willing to write him a policy.”

“That doesn’t surprise me. I understand there were several lawsuits and investigations in progress.”

“Yes, I think you’re right.”

“Well, you’ve been very helpful, Eva. I’ll let you go.”

“It was nice seeing you again, Stan. Say hello to Rebekah for me.”

“I will,” Stan replied as he left to find Derek.

On the way back to the office Stan asked Derek some insurance questions since he was an expert on the subject.

“So, have you heard of an agent named Bill Rice, Rice Insurance Agency?”

“Yes, I knew Bill. We both belonged to the American Underwriters Association.”

“I thought you would. Apparently John Richmond’s liability carrier canceled his coverage a while back.”

“I don’t doubt it. With all the claims against him the insurance company probably got nervous.”

“The insurance company wasn’t liable for fraud claims, was it?”

“No, but any type of claim costs them money because they have to investigate it and even provide a legal defense until it is clear that there is no coverage.”

“I wonder how much insurance Sandy collected from her husband’s death?”

Derek gave Stan a hard look. “Why do you ask? You think she had something to do with his death?”

“No. Of course not. She nearly died herself. I was just curious. Being a high-roller I’m sure he had a boatload of insurance.”

“I could probably find out.”

“No. It’s not important and I should respect her privacy.”

When Stan got back to the office he went into Paula’s office to report on his interview with Eva Bellucci. Paula was hard at work on her trial outline. She looked up and smiled.

“Learn anything exciting?” she asked hopefully.

He shook his head. “Not really. The Belluccis and the victims were all close friends. Eva seemed to be a little surprised that they were eating at the restaurant and hadn’t told her they were coming.”

“Oh, I don’t think they planned to have dinner together. They just happened to be dining there on the same evening.”

“Hmm. So, how’s the trial outline coming?”

“Good. I’m feeling better now that I have it all mapped out. I want you to look at it and see what you think.”

“Sure,” Stan replied. “Print me out a copy and I’ll study it.”

“I put Ricardo on the witness list. I think he’s got to testify.”

Stan nodded. “I think you’re right—at least as things stand right now.”

“I got the new trial setting. The judge moved the trial to December 1st.”

“Good. That will give us a little extra time to prepare.”

“Right. So, how is Rebekah? Is she any better?”

Stan smiled. “Yes, she’s much better. I think she’s finally starting to get out of her depression.”

“That’s good. I’m glad to hear it,” Paula said.

Paula smiled broadly but wondered how Rebekah would be feeling if she knew her husband was cheating on her.

 

 

23

 

Jodie Marshall

 

It was several weeks later and Robert Goldberg had finally agreed to let Jodie take Herb Stein’s deposition. Jodie had arrived early at Goldberg’s Oak Lawn offices and was setting out her notes, legal pad and mentally preparing herself to get started. The court reporter was setting up her machine at the head of the long oak table. At the appointed hour Goldberg and Stein walked in the conference room.

“Jodie,” Goldberg said like he was her long lost friend. “It’s great to finally meet you.”

“Yes. It’s nice to put a face with a voice,” Jodie replied forcing a smile. She gestured toward her client. “This is Bob Larson.”

“Nice to meet you,” Larson said as they shook hands.

Goldberg turned to his rotund client. “This is Herb Stein. I guess you two have met.”

Larson nodded to Stein who didn’t smile or offer to shake hands.

“Alright. Let’s get this over with,” Goldberg said as everyone took their places.

The court reporter asked for agreements and Jodie and Goldberg stated that they had none and that the deposition would be taken in accordance with the rules. This meant objections would be reserved for the judge to determine at the time of trial. The court reporter swore Stein in and the deposition began.

“Mr. Stein. Please state your full name for the record.”

“Herbert Lewis Stein.”

“How old a man are you?”

“Fifty-seven.”

“Are you married?”

“Yes.”

Jodie went through a long list of personal questions designed to uncover his family history, education, training, and current occupation. Then she began asking him about his business.

“So, how is it that you became the owner of the Plano Jewelry Mart?”

“I had been working at Dallas Gold & Jewelry for ten years and I decided it was time to start working for myself instead of making my boss rich. So, I started looking around for jewelry stores that were up for sale. About six months into my search I saw an ad for the Plano Jewelry Mart. The owner had died and his estate was selling the store “as is.” The owner had been sick for several years before his death so he had really let the store go. The inventory was low and he’d done little maintenance on the place in years, so I made a small offer citing the low inventory and poor condition of the store. Much to my surprise the estate accepted the offer and I was in business.”

“When did you purchase the store?”

“That was in June 1991.”

“So, you’ve owned the store for about six years?”

“That’s correct.”

“What do you sell in your store?”

“Fine jewelry, watches, and accessories.”

“Do you deal in gold and silver?”

“We buy and sell gold and silver jewelry but not coins or bars.”

“What about loose diamonds?”

“We trade in loose diamonds on occasion.”

“Describe to us your security system at the Jewelry Mart.”

“It’s a state of the art burglar alarm system. All the doors and windows have alarm sensors and we have motion detectors within the store. If any alarm is tripped our security company calls the police.”

“Have you had a lot of problems with burglaries and robberies?”

Stein shrugged. “We’ve had our share.”

“Do you carry insurance to cover theft?”

“Of course.”

“Who is your insurance carrier?”

Stein looked at Goldberg. “How is this relevant?”

“Go ahead and answer. The judge will strike anything irrelevant at trial.”

Stein turned back to Jodie. “Travelers.”

“Have you had other carriers in the past?”

“Yeah. Old Republic and State Farm.”

“Why have you switched carriers?” Jodie asked.

“Why does it matter?”

“If you don’t mind, I’m asking the questions.”

“Objection form,” Goldberg said.

Jodie smiled at Stein. “You still need to answer the question.”

Stein shook his head. “Sometimes we shop around to see if we can get a better deal.”

“Isn’t it true you’ve been canceled several times?”

“Yes. As soon as you file a claim some companies will cancel you. That’s happened a time or two.”

“Or three? Hasn’t your liability insurance coverage been canceled three times in six years?”

Stein shrugged. “If you say so.”

“Well, I’m asking a question. Was your insurance canceled three times in six years?”

“That sounds about right.”

“And what was the reason for the cancellations?”

“Like I said as soon as you file a claim some insurance companies will automatically cancel or terminate the policy at the end of its term.”

“How much were you compensated for your first loss?”

“A hundred grand or so?”

“Could it actually be about $132,000?”

Stein shrugged. “Well, if you say so.”

“Was that the retail value or wholesale?”

“Wholesale or our cost actually.”

“And was the second loss $145,000, eighteen months later?”

“That sounds about right.”

“And then a third loss of $160,000?”

“Okay.”

“Did you provide each insurance carrier with proof of your costs or did they rely on your affidavit as to values?”

“A lot of our stuff is acquired through trade-ins or purchases from probate or bankruptcy estates so we can’t always calculate a cost on each item.”

“So the insurance company takes your word for the value of an item when it is stolen and you have to file a claim?”

“Usually. Sometimes they reject portions of the claim if we can’t prove the value of a specific item.”

“Do they ever question whether an inventory item even existed?”

Stein shrugged. “No. How could they unless they inventoried the store just before the robbery?”

“So, they pretty much have to take your word for it.”

“Of course.”

“So, they took your word that you lost inventory valued at $450,000 and wrote you checks totaling that amount.”

“Yes, for all three claims.”

“Did they reject any portion of your claims?”

“Yes, they knocked about twenty percent off, actually.”

“So, it’s a negotiated amount. You file a claim and then they offer to pay so much for the loss and you go back and forth until you reach a compromise, right?”

“Something like that.”

“So, knowing that it’s a negotiation, is it your standard practice to inflate your claim so when you come to an actual amount it is close to what is fair?”

Stein looked at Goldberg. Goldberg shrugged. “Actually I don’t negotiate the claim. I have an expert who handles it.”

“Who is that expert?”

“Walt Snider.”

“How did Mr. Snider become an expert on negotiating insurance claims?”

“By being a claims adjuster for five different companies for a combined total of twenty years.”

“I see. So he knows the claims process inside and out?”

“Yes. You could say that.”

At this point Jodie took Stein through the robbery minute by minute and his story was substantially the same as other witnesses had related it. Then she asked him about the vault.

“Now, you’ve testified that Michael Mahoney’s main objective was to get into your vault, right?”

“Yes.”

“But he never got in the vault due to the intervention of the defendant Bob Larson, did he?”

Stein looked over at Larson without smiling. “No, he did not.”

“What was in the vault?”

Stein didn’t respond.

“Objection,” Goldberg said.

Jodie frowned at Goldberg and then said, “You may answer.”

“What difference does it make?”

“I don’t have to argue that now. The judge will decide relevance later. Just answer the question.”

“Loose diamonds, cash, a .38 revolver, my passport and other important papers.”

“Is that it?”

“That’s all I can remember right now.”

“Were there any drugs in the vault?”

Goldberg let out a sigh and shook his head.

“No,” Stein replied sternly.

“Have you ever been arrested?”

Stein looked at his lawyer. Goldberg nodded. “Yes. I was arrested for DUI once.”

“Were you convicted?”

“Yes, I served thirty days in county jail.”

“Any other arrests or convictions?”

“No.”

“Did your store make a profit in 1996?”

Stein glared at Jodie. “No.”

“How much did you lose?”

“About $40,000.”

“So, how many unprofitable years have you had in the six years you’ve been in business?”

“Six.”

Jodie raised her eyebrows. “So, you’ve never shown a profit the entire time you’ve been in business?”

“Well when you get cleaned out by thieves every other year it’s hard to be profitable.”

“So, you’re saying the robberies have hurt your business?”

“Yes, because every time I’m robbed I’m out of business for three or four months until I settle the insurance claim. And when I’m out of business I lose customers. It’s been a real struggle just to survive.”

“Alright,” Jodie said. “In your notice of deposition was attached a subpoena ducus tecum requiring you to bring documents and tangible items to this deposition. Did you bring anything responsive to that subpoena?”

Goldberg slid over a pile of documents to Jodie. Jodie looked through the documents briefly and then asked. “Is this everything you have?”

Stein nodded.

“What about the video tapes?”

Stein looked at Goldberg. Goldberg sighed, reached into his briefcase and pulled out a video tape. Jodie extended her hand and Goldberg gave it to her.

“Alright. Pass the witness.”

“We’ll reserve our questions for trial,” Goldberg said as he started gathering his things together to leave.

Jodie put the documents and video into her briefcase and stood up. Larson stood up shaking his head.

“You got something you want to say to me?” Stein spat.

“Yeah, you’re an ungrateful son of a bitch!” Larson replied bitterly. “I risked my life to help you, you bastard!”

Jodie put her arm on Bob’s shoulder. “Settle down. Yelling at each other won’t help.”

Goldberg smiled. “Alright. That’s enough.”

Jodie took Larson’s arm and escorted him out of the room. When they got out of Goldberg’s offices he said, “It’s a good thing there was a table between us or I’d of beat the shit out of him.”

“You can’t do that at trial, Bob. That kind of outburst could seriously prejudice your case. You never know how a jury will react to something like that. If Stein says something like he did just now, just ignore it. He’s baiting you.”

Larson sighed. “Okay. It just makes me so mad that I’m having to go through this crap.”

“I know, but I think we should be able to turn the jury against him at trial. Just keep your cool.”

When Jodie got back to the office she eagerly watched the video tape but didn’t see anything on it that contradicted the witnesses she’d interviewed. She was going to watch it again but realized it was time for their third aerobics class with Evelyn Sanders. At their first two sessions Jodie tried to get to know Evelyn and thought she’d made progress. Today she wanted to get them in a social setting away from the club where she could bring up the murders. After their class Jodie went up to Evelyn.

“That was a great workout. I really feel good.”

Evelyn smiled. “That means you’re starting to get into shape.”

“You think? I hope so. . . . Hey. Brandon and I are going to get some Italian for dinner. You want to come along?”

Evelyn thought a moment then shrugged. “Well, ordinarily I’d be eating with Chris but he’s tied up tonight. So yeah, why not?”

“Good. We’ll meet you outside after we take a shower.”

“Sounds good,” Evelyn said with an appreciative smile.

After they’d showered Brandon and Jodie went outside to wait for Evelyn. Five minutes later she walked out and joined them. They got in Brandon’s car and took off on their way to Emilio’s Italian Restaurant. As they drove into the parking lot Evelyn’s face paled.

“We’re going here?” Evelyn asked.

“Yeah. They’ve got really good food,” Jodie said.

“Didn’t you hear about the murders?”

“What murders?” Jodie asked feigning ignorance.

“Four people were poisoned here two or three months ago. Three of them died.”

“Oh, yeah. I heard about that. This is the place?”

“Yes. I was here with my boyfriend. I saw the whole thing. It was horrible.”

“What happened?” Jodie asked.

“We had just been served our orders when the waiter seated the four victims. After they’d been served drinks and rolls he brought them appetizers. Then he went around and asked them if they wanted Parmesan cheese. They all said yes and soon everyone was eating. The first hint that something was wrong was when one of the ladies took a bite of her appetizer. I’ll never forget the look on her face. Then a minute or two later they all started getting sick. It was horrible.”

“What did you and Chris do when people began getting sick?”

“Chris had just left to go to the bathroom so he missed the whole thing. When he got back to the table he said we should leave.”

“So you didn’t tell any of this to the police?”

“No. Chris has a record, so he avoids cops at all costs.”

“So, did you see the waiter put poison in the cheese?”

“No. I didn’t see anything suspicious like that.”

“Did you see them put the bowl of cheese on the table?”

Evelyn thought a moment. “No it was there when we sat down, I think.”

“Did you leave your table for any reason before the incident?”

“Well, I always go to the ladies’ room when we first get to a restaurant to freshen up and make sure my hair isn’t a mess or my makeup smudged. You know.”

“Sure, I do the same thing. So, it could have happened while you were away in the restroom.”

“Sure, but then Chris would have seen it and he didn’t mention anything to me.”

“Right,” Jodie said looking at Brandon. He raised his eyebrows. “So, should we go somewhere else to eat?” Jodie asked.

“Yes, if you don’t mind. I know it won’t happen again but I just wouldn’t be comfortable here.”

“That’s fine. We’ll go somewhere else.”

Jodie wanted to ask more questions but felt if she did Evelyn would get suspicious. When they got back to the office she was feeling pretty good about what she’d learned and went in to Paula’s office to tell her about it.

“I wonder what Hunt did while she was in the rest room?” Paula said.

“I think he put the poison in his bowl and then made a quick switch. It’s not likely anyone would have seen him.”

“Well, you better call Agent Lot and tell him. I’m sure they are going to want to talk to her.”

Jodie left to go call Agent Lot. She knew that if Evelyn refused to cooperate she or Brandon could be called as a witness as to Evelyn’s admissions. Normally that kind of testimony would be hearsay but there were exceptions that might apply in this situation. She was glad she’d brought Brandon along so he could be the one to testify if need be. If she had to testify she might be excluded from being a co-counsel at trial which she didn’t want to happen. Agent Lot wasn’t in when she called, but he called her back an hour later.

“I’ve been talking to Evelyn Sanders,” Jodie advised him.

“Good. Did she have anything interesting to say?”

“Yes. She claims not to know anything about the murders but she did say she left Chris Hunt alone at the table before the victims were seated. So he had the opportunity to lace the bowl with rat poison.”

“Good. I’ll go pay her a visit. Where can I find her?”

“President’s Gym on Forest and Preston. Don’t tell her I’ve talked to you.”

“No. I won’t.”

“Brandon can testify if you need him to at trial to relate her story.”

“Excellent. We may have to use him if she lawyers up.”

Jodie wanted to ask Agent Lot how their investigation was coming along but she knew he couldn’t talk about it. “If I find anything else out, I’ll let you know.”

“Thanks,” Agent Lot said and hung up.

Jodie sat back in her chair and tried to relax. It had been a long day but all in all she felt like she’d accomplished a lot. She started gathering her things together to go home when Maria’s voice came over the intercom.

“Carl on line two.”

Jodie smiled and picked up the telephone. “Carl?”

“Jodie. Didn’t you have lunch today with an Evelyn Sanders? The ex-Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader?”

“Yeah,” Jodie replied tentatively.

“I just heard it on my radio. She’s been found murdered.”

“Murdered?”

“Yes. I’m afraid so. She’s dead.”

 

 

 

24

 

Stan Turner

 

Stan was in his office at the computer working on a contract when Jodie rushed in. He didn’t notice her until she spoke.

“Stan,” Jodie said urgently.

Stan looked up. “Oh, hi, Jodie. What’s wrong?”

“Brandon and I met with Evelyn Sanders at lunch today.”

“Oh, did you learn anything?”

“Yes, we took her to Emilio’s and she got very upset. She told us everything that happened. Although she didn’t see him do it, Chris Hunt definitely had the opportunity to lace the cheese with rat poison.”

“Good. That’s just what we needed.”

“Unfortunately, Hunt must have found out Evelyn met with us because Carl just called and said they found her body in her back yard at about 3:30 p.m. today. She was hit over the head with a blunt object as she was getting into her car. Her roommate found the body when she came home from work. She was DOA at Presbyterian Hospital.”

“Oh, jeeze. I’m so sorry. I know you two had become friends. . . . Wow. I can’t believe Hunt would kill his own girlfriend.”

“I feel like it’s all my fault. He probably followed us to the restaurant and knew immediately what we were up to.”

“It’s not your fault. Let me call Detective Besch and see if he knows anything.”

Stan dialed a number and waited. After the second ring Besch picked up.

“Besch here.”

“Detective. This is Stan Turner.”

“Oh, hi Stan. What’s going on?”

“Have you heard about the murder of Evelyn Sanders?”

“Yeah. I heard something about it. I wasn’t assigned the case.”

“Well, she was Chris Hunt’s girlfriend and apparently he found out today that Jodie was talking to her about the murders at Emilio’s. We think he followed her there and figured out she was cooperating with us.”

“Wow. So, you think Chris Hunt killed her?”

“It’s just a theory, but I can’t imagine anyone else wanting her dead.”

“Okay. I’ll alert the detectives assigned to the case and let you know what develops.”

“Thanks. Talk to you later.”

Stan hung up and shook his head. “He’s going to check into it and get back to us. When you go home tonight be sure Brandon doesn’t leave you until Carl gets there. I don’t want you alone one minute until this trial is over.”

“No chance. I’m really scared.”

“I’m going to get Paula some security too. They may come after her as well.”

The intercom buzzed and Maria announced that Agent Lot was on the line.

“Agent Lot. Did you hear what happened?”

“Yes. I was on my way over to question her when it happened. It was a pretty grisly scene. Someone cracked her skull open and she bled out in a few minutes, I’m sure.”

“Do you think Chris Hunt did it?”

“I don’t know. We’ve got an APB out on him. Hopefully we’ll get him in custody pretty soon and can find out.”

“I don’t know how he thinks he’s going to get away with killing her.”

“Well, he knows we have the burden on proof and I’m sure he was careful not to leave any evidence.”

“I suppose.”

“You guys need to beef up your security. It seems Wilkinson will do anything to escape prosecution.”

“Brandon is staying close to Jodie and I’m going to arrange security on Paula starting tomorrow morning. I’ll alert Bart and make sure he’s going to be home tonight.”

“You may want some security yourself,” Agent Lot noted.

“Nah. I doubt anybody would come after me. I’m not lead counsel on the case. I’m going to start carrying my .38, though.”

“Do you know how to use it?”

“Oh, yeah. I got lessons from Detective Besch.”

“Good. Just don’t shoot yourself in the foot.”

Stan laughed. “That would probably be my luck.”

Stan hung up the phone and told Jodie to go find Brandon so he could arrange for security for Paula. When she had left he called Rebekah at home.

“Hey, babe. How are you feeling?”

“Fine. When are you coming home?”

“Soon. But I may be a little late. One of our witnesses was murdered this afternoon.”

“Oh, my God! Who was it?”

Stan told her the story.

“Anyway, be sure all the doors and windows are locked and if you see anybody loitering around the house, call 9-1-1.”

“Do you think they’d come here?”

“I don’t know. But it’s better to be safe than sorry.”

“Okay. I’ll lock everything up and keep an eye out.”

“See you soon.”

Stan hung up and suddenly wished they had a dog. They’d always had one when the kids were growing up but when their last dog, Midnight, died they hadn’t replaced her. Part of the reason was that Rebekah wasn’t a dog lover. She didn’t like the hair they left around or the messes they made on the carpeting. Stan and the kids had loved dogs so she put up with them, but now that the kids were grown Stan hadn’t insisted they have one.

The intercom buzzed and Maria advised Stan that Detective Besch was back on the line.

“Detective.”

“Hey, Stan. They took Chris Hunt into custody a few minutes ago.”

“Really? That’s good news.”

“He denies knowing anything about the murder.”

“Well, that’s expected. Does he have an alibi?”

“No. He says he was on his way home from the office when she was killed.”

“Are you going to charge him?”

“That’s up in the air right now. We’re hoping to find some evidence to tie him to the murder in the next 24 hours, but if we don’t find it, we’ll have to cut him loose.”

“Is there anything we can do to help?”

“Yes, we need Jodie and Brandon to come down to the station tomorrow and tell us everything that Evelyn told them yesterday.”

“Sure. Not a problem. I’ll send them over there first thing—say 10:00 a.m.”

“That will work. Thanks, Stan.”

Stan hung up and a few moments’ later Brandon and Jodie came into his office.

“I’ve arranged for someone to be with Paula from now on until the trial. His name is Joel Christy. He’s an ex-Army sniper. She’ll be safe with him.”

Stan nodded. “Okay. . . . Oh, Detective Besch needs you two to go over to his office tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. to give them a statement on your interview of Evelyn Sanders.”

“Okay,” Jodie said. “I still can’t believe Evelyn is dead. This has been such a horrible day.”

“Yes, it has,” Stan agreed. “It’s nearly five. I doubt if any of us are going to feel like doing any more work tonight. We should all just go home and get some rest.”

“Alright. I’ll see you tomorrow,” Jodie said and left with Brandon.

After Jodie and Brandon had left Stan started looking through his phone messages. When he came across a message from Mack Taylor, the insurance adjuster handling Ram’s insurance claim he dialed the number.

“Mack Taylor.”

“Ah. This is Stan Turner returning your call.”

“Oh. Thanks for getting back to me. I just wanted to give you a heads up.”

“A heads up about what?” Stan asked, not liking Taylor’s tone.

“We’ve just sent out a letter to Ram advising him that the company is denying the claim.”

“Denying it on what grounds?”

“There is a terrorism clause in the policy. If the loss is caused by an intentional act of terrorism it is not a covered event.”

“What? You’ve got to be kidding me!”

“There’s also the issue as to whether Mr. Bakira set the fire.”

“That’s ridiculous. He had just completed a Chapter 11, his financial troubles were over.”

“Not necessarily. Statistically speaking there still was a strong likelihood the store would fail.”

“I don’t buy that.”

“The good news is the company is refunding your premiums.”

“Oh, thanks a lot.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Well, tell the judge that after I sue your ass,” Stan said and slammed down the phone.

Stan went into the file room and found Ram’s file. He dug inside and pulled out a copy of the policy. Sure enough there was a terrorism exception.

 

…excluding acts of terror, war, including undeclared or civil war” and “warlike action by a military force, including action in hindering or defending against an actual or expected attack, by any government, sovereign, or other authority using military personnel or other agents…

 

Stan read and reread the clause and finally decided it didn’t apply and the insurance company was just using it to stall payment of the claim. The attack on Ram’s store was by an individual and not a political organization. It wasn’t a terrorist act but the act of a common criminal. The fact that he used a Molotov Cocktail was the only thing that made it resemble a terrorist act, but it clearly wasn’t. He decided he had no choice but to file suit immediately.

When he got home Rebekah was curled up on the sofa watching the evening news. He went over and sat down next to her. She cuddled up to him.

“I didn’t make supper. I didn’t feel like it after you called.”

“That’s okay. We can go out or order something to be delivered.”

“We should stay home if there are lunatics out there who might kill us.”

Stan laughed. “I don’t think we’re in danger. Killing the lawyers trying a murder case is pretty rare. It wouldn’t accomplish anything anyway. The defendant would just find a new lawyer.”

“I hope you’re right.”

“But just in case I’m going to keep my .38 loaded and handy. Now that we don’t have children around I don’t have to worry about any of them finding it and shooting someone.”

“Oh, don’t tell me that,” Rebekah moaned. “You sure you know how to use that thing?”

“Yeah. Besch taught me.”

Rebekah rolled her eyes. “Well, I hope we don’t have to find out.”

Stan laughed. “Me too.”

The next day Stan started work on Ram’s lawsuit against Meridian Global Insurance Company. The suit was for breach of contract, violation of the prompt payment of claims act, violation of the Deceptive Trade Practices Act and Fraud. The breach of contract action was simply the failure of MGIC to pay the claim. Stan asserted that the loss was a covered peril and the claim should have been promptly paid. This remedy only allowed Ram to recover what the policy should have paid plus attorney’s fees. Under the Prompt Payment of Claims Act, Stan asserted that the excuse that was given for non-payment was frivolous and designed only to hamper and delay Ram from collecting his claim. If successful under this act Ram would be entitled to the additional damages of 18% interest from the date the claim should have been paid. Under the DTPA and Fraud claims Stan asserted that when MGIC issued the insurance policy to Ram it never intended to honor it and therefore had acted fraudulently in selling him the policy. If he could prove this he could ask for punitive damages of at least two times actual damages.

Stan filed the action in the District Court in Dallas County and asked for the $500,000 face value of the policy, plus punitive damages of $1,000,000 and attorney’s fees. After the suit was served on MGIC it had until the first Monday after 21 days to answer. When the answer came in 17 days later it was a simple general denial from one of the largest law firms in Dallas. Stan knew this was a typical response to a lawsuit but it still annoyed him that the insurance company was so cavalier about the claim, so he immediately began crafting some discovery that would get the company’s attention.

He started with requesting over one hundred admissions of fact that he knew the company would have trouble denying. Then he sent a set of Request for Production that would require them to produce thousands of documents many of which would be highly confidential and sensitive. He knew they would object to almost everything he requested, so he had his motion to compel ready to file the moment they answered the discovery or missed the 30 day response deadline. He hoped this would be enough to get their attention and start a dialogue toward settlement, but he wasn’t going to hold his breath.

 

 

 

25

 

Paula Waters

 

Ten days after the filing of the motion to consolidate the criminal cases against Ricardo, Wilkinson, Hunt, and Jamison, Rutledge set it for hearing. Since each defendant had their own lawyer there were now five lead attorneys working the case. At the hearing none of the defense counsel objected to the consolidation but they all agreed they needed more time to get ready for trial, so Judge Anderson reluctantly reset the trial date to December 1, 1997.

After the hearing Tom Wilkinson’s attorney, George Black, introduced himself to Paula and informed her that he would be presenting a united defense for the other three defendants. He told her that the two other individual attorneys would be there only to give advice to their clients. He confessed that Wilkinson Properties was paying each of the other three defendant’s legal fees and accordingly wanted to present a united front.

In the following months there was considerable discovery conducted by the state and the defendants but little new evidence was uncovered. It was now the eve of trial and Paula was working diligently on final preparations for it. There were subpoenas to get out, witnesses to prep for trial, and endless reviews of witness’ questions to make sure all the evidence needed to insure Ricardo’s acquittal came out at trial. Then there was the question of what Paula should wear and whether she should talk to the media before and during the trial. All of these things were important and Paula knew she was running out of time.

Two weeks earlier Chris Hunt had been indicted for the murder of his girlfriend, Evelyn Sanders. The tire iron from his trunk, which the medical examiner had determined was the murder weapon, had been found in a dumpster a few blocks from her home the day after her murder. Even though having his fingerprints on his own tire iron was not remarkable in itself, that coupled with Jodie and Brad’s expected testimony that Evelyn had been with them on the day of the murder and had provided them information incriminating Hunt, was enough to convince the grand jury to indict him.

With heightened security around Jodie and Paula after Evelyn’s murder there hadn’t been any more attempts to frighten or intimidate them and Stan hadn’t needed to use his .38 revolver that he carried around with him religiously wherever he went. In fact, everything seemed to be going exceedingly well until Maria walked into Paula’s office at 4:00 p.m. on the Friday before the trial was set to begin.

“Well, I have reminded everybody of the trial except Emilio and Sandy Richmond,” Maria advised her. “I can’t get a hold of either of them.”

“Well, I’m sure the prosecution has subpoenaed them both, so I wouldn’t worry about it,” Paula said.

“Is there anything else you need from me before I go home at five?” Maria asked.

“No. I think the trial notebook is ready to go and I have all my evidence organized properly. If anyone calls me next week just explain to them that I’m at trial and won’t be able to return their phone calls for a while. If there is an emergency give it to Stan. He’s going to be holding down the fort while Jodie and I try the case.”

“Alright,” Maria replied.

“Oh, how do you think I should dress during the trial—conservative and professional or stylish and colorful?”

“Stylish and colorful. It will give them something pleasant to look at and they’ll pay closer attention to you.”

“Hmm. Good point.”

After Maria left Stan stopped in to see how she was holding up.

“So, are you ready?”

Paula sighed. “I guess.”

“Good. You can relax this weekend and get a lot of rest so you’ll be sharp on Monday.”

“How long do you think it will take to pick the jury?” Paula asked.

“I don’t know. Ordinarily I’d say two days tops, but with three of you questioning the jury it might take a good part of the week.”

“The media seems to have already convicted everyone,” Paula observed.

“Well, if you look strictly at the evidence I can understand where they are coming from. Hopefully you’ll be able to find some jurors who haven’t been reading the newspaper or listening to the legal pundits on TV.”

Paula nodded. “Oh, Maria says she can’t find Emilio. She’s called him several times and left messages but he hasn’t returned her call to confirm his appearance at trial.”

“Hmm. Let’s call the restaurant and see if anyone has seen him.”

Stan picked up the telephone book, found the number and dialed it. After a few rings a young woman answered, “Emilio’s.”

“Hi. This is Stan Turner, is Emilio in?”

“No. He hasn’t been in today.”

“Do you know when he’ll be back?”

“No. Actually he was supposed to be in this afternoon to pass out paychecks but he didn’t show. The employees are upset.”

“Really. Did you call his wife?”

“Yes. She’s on her way over to take care of it.”

“Did she know where Emilio was?”

“No. She was surprised he wasn’t there.”

“Okay. Have Eva call me when she gets there, would you?”

“Sure.”

Stan hung up and looked at Paula. “Nobody knows where he is. Did he pay Ricardo’s bill this month?”

“Yeah and he gave us a $10,000.00 advance for the trial.”

“I can’t imagine where he is. This is such an important matter he wouldn’t just blow it off. I wonder if he’s been kidnapped.”

“Kidnapped! Oh, my God! Do you think that is possible? I just can’t imagine why someone would do that.”

“No. He’s not a critical witness for either side.”

“Sandy Richmond is though.”

“What? Is she missing too?”

“Apparently.”

“Did you try to call her?”

“No. Maria has been trying.”

Stan picked up the phone again. “What’s her number?”

Paula looked in the file and gave him her work number. Stan dialed the number and waited nervously. “Richmond Oil & Gas.”

“Hi. This is Stan Turner. Is Sandy Richmond in?”

“No. Haven’t seen her today.”

“Was she expected to work today?”

“She usually comes in but she’s the owner so if she takes a day off nobody says anything.”

“What about her son, Ralph? Is he there?”

“Sure, I’ll put you through.”

A moment later Ralph picked up. “Ralph Richmond.”

“Mr. Richmond, this is Stan Turner. You don’t happen to know where your mother is, do you?”

“No. I talked to her yesterday morning. She said she was going out of town for the weekend.”

“Did she say where?”

“What’s this about?” Ralph asked sounding worried.

“Well, we’ve had one witness murdered, Emilio Bellucci is missing and we can’t find your mother.”

“She said she was going gambling, so that means she is either in Shreveport or up in Oklahoma at the Choctaw Casino.”

“Would you try to get a hold of her and make sure she’s okay and remind her to be at trial next week?”

“Sure.”

“Call me if you hear from her.”

Stan hung up the phone and shook his head. “How critical is Sandy Richmond to your defense?”

“She’s not. Actually if she isn’t there that will hurt the prosecution. She’s the only one who was at the table who is still alive. She will testify that nobody touched the cheese while she was at the table. That hurts our claim that Hunt could have done it.”

“Right. But she didn’t see Ricardo put anything in the cheese. Isn’t that fact important?”

“Yes, it is but it still will hurt the prosecution more than the defense.”

“So, do you think somebody is trying to delay the trial? If too many witnesses disappear I’m sure Rutledge will ask for a postponement.”

“Judge Anderson doesn’t like postponements,” Paula noted. “He prides himself in completing his cases within the 180 days allowed by the Penal Code. So, he’ll probably make us go to trial anyway even if everyone agreed to waive the 180 day limitation.”

“We should let Detective Besch know about our missing witnesses in case there has been foul play.”

Paula nodded trying to think of the consequences if these two witnesses didn’t testify. Stan picked up the phone and dialed Besch’s number. He picked up immediately.

“Detective. Stan Turner here.”

“Stan the man. What’s up?”

“Hey, we have a couple of witnesses who have suddenly disappeared. One went gambling apparently and nobody knows where the other one is off to. Ordinarily I wouldn’t bother the police about this but since we’ve already had a witness murdered, I figured I better give you a heads up.”

“Yes. You did the right thing. Who are these witnesses?”

“Sandy Richmond and Emilio Bellucci.”

“Emilio’s missing?”

“Yeah. Nobody has seen him today and he missed making payroll. His wife has no idea where he is either.”

“Okay. I’ll look into it. Maybe Rutledge’s office knows where they are. They are both under subpoena.”

“Let us know, would you? We have enough to worry about with the trial starting on Monday without this to deal with.”

“You got it.”

Stan hung up, looked at Paula and shook his head. The intercom buzzed and Maria advised them that Eva Bellucci was on the line. Stan picked it up.

“Eva. You don’t happen to know where your husband is, do you?”

“No. I haven’t seen him since yesterday morning. He said he was going fishing for a couple of days. I figured he would have paid his employees before he left, but he obviously didn’t.”

“Is he a fisherman?”

“Not really. He said a friend was going to take him striper fishing up at Lake Texoma, but it was probably a lie.”

“Why do you say that?”

“I haven’t told you this before because it wasn’t really any of your business, but now I guess it might be important that you know about it.”

“Told us what?”

Eva sighed. “Well, our marriage has been a little shaky these past few years. When I retired from modeling in 1994 and started spending more time at home we often found ourselves at each other’s throats. We weren’t used to living together for long periods of time, you know?”

“Uh huh.”

“So, when we fight he often leaves like this. On Thursday we got into it pretty bad. I was complaining about how much this trial is costing. I told him he should have let the court appoint an attorney for Ricardo and not depleted our savings.”

“I’m sorry about that. I know this has been a horrible burden on you.”

“I’m not blaming you. I just don’t understand why he thinks he’s responsible for Ricardo being indicted for murder.”

“Well, it’s his business and if Wilkinson ordered the murders to pressure him into selling then I could understand why he feels guilty that Ricardo got dragged into it.”

“I know. That makes sense. Anyway, I don’t know for sure, but I suspect he’s out with another woman.”

“Seriously?”

“I’m afraid so. When he returns after these little temper tantrums I can smell another woman on him. You’d think he’d take a shower and put on fresh clothes before he came home, but he doesn’t.”

“And you’re okay with that?”

“We’re European, Stan. It’s not such a big thing to have extra-marital affairs. I’ve done it too a time or two.”

“I see. Any idea who the woman might be?”

“No and I don’t want to know.”

“Well, we just want to be sure he’s okay and make sure he’ll be at the trial next week.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about it. He’s probably nervous about the trial so he figured a weekend with his girlfriend would take his mind off of it.”

Stan laughed tentatively. “Alright. If you hear from him, let me know.”

“I will. Thanks for your concern,” Eva said.

Stan hung up the phone and shook his head.

“So, he’s cheating on his wife?” Paula asked.

“Apparently.”

“Huh. She never mentioned that before.”

“I know. It’s news to me.”

“So, we panicked for nothing?” Paula asked.

“Apparently.”

“Alright then. I’m going home to take a hot bath and then I’m getting drunk.”

Stan laughed. “Sounds like a plan.”

On the way home Paula worried about all her carefully crafted trial strategy going up in flames because of key witnesses not showing up. Until today she hadn’t even considered that a possibility. Now the stress of the last few hours had twisted her stomach into knots. She could feel her shoulders tightening and pain inching up her neck. She knew that meant she’d have a full blown headache by the time she got home. She moaned in agony. It was days like this that she wondered what had ever possessed her to become an attorney.

 

 

 

26

 

Stan Turner

 

After Paula had left, Stan’s head was spinning from the implications of Emilio Bellucci and Sandy Richmond’s sudden disappearance. It could just be a coincidence, but Stan knew such coincidences were rare. As he was thinking Detective Besch called.

“I’ve checked with all the airlines and neither Emilio or Sandy were on any flights out of DFW or Love Field in the last 24 hours,” Besch said.

“Well, that’s good news. Eva says her husband told her he was going striper fishing at Lake Texoma.”

“Really?”

“Yes, but she also admitted he’s cheated on her from time to time and going on a fishing trip means he is going somewhere with his girlfriend.”

“Do you know who the girlfriend is?”

“She doesn’t know and doesn’t really care.”

“Huh. That’s some kind of marriage they have.”

“Yeah. It’s a real shock to me since I’ve been their attorney for years and had always thought they were fully devoted to each other.”

“I guess that makes you naive.”

“I like to think of it as assuming people are honest and good until they prove otherwise.”

“Like I said. You’re naive.”

“So, what does Rutledge want you to do about your missing witnesses?”

“He says to leave it alone for now. If they don’t show up on Monday to be sworn-in then the serious search begins.”

“Alright. Have a good weekend.”

“You too,” Besch said and hung up.

Stan thought about Rutledge’s strategy to wait and make absolutely sure there was a problem before taking action. It made sense, but it was a risky strategy for two reasons. First, if the two witnesses weren’t hanging around for the trial there had to be a reason and that reason had to be significant enough to make them ignore a subpoena and risk a contempt citation. Second, by doing nothing for two or three days they were compromising the chances of ever finding them if they were on the run. In this day and age a person could get almost anywhere in the world if he had two full days to get there. Stan decided to call Ricardo and see if he knew anything. He picked up the phone and dialed the number.

“Hello.”

“Ricardo. This is Stan.”

“Is everything okay?” Ricardo said cautiously.

“I don’t know. That’s why I’m calling. . . . Have you seen Emilio lately?”

“No. Not since yesterday.”

“Hmm. Nobody seems to know where he is and we’re worried something might have happened to him. Sandy Richmond is missing too.”

“Oh, no! What’s going to happen if they’re not at trial?”

“Well, nothing that will hurt your case. We don’t need them as witnesses since the State has the burden of proof. The prosecutor may ask for a continuance though since Sandy would be a critical witness for them.”

“Good. I wonder where they are.”

“Well, Eva Bellucci thinks her husband may be out with this girlfriend and Sandy said she was going out of state to do some gambling, so they may just be letting off some steam before trial.”

“I hope that’s all it is.”

“Other than on the night of the murders have you seen Sandy Richmond around the restaurant in the last few weeks?”

“Yes. She’s been by a couple of times to talk to Emilio. They usually go back to his office.”

“I wonder what that could be about?” Stan said.

“I don’t know. They’re really good friends. I’ve seen Eva talking to John too. I think John and Eva went to high school together.”

“Is that right?”

“I think so. Hillcrest High School if I’m not mistaken.”

Stan thanked Ricardo and hung up. He knew his friend Derek Donner had graduated from Hillcrest High School so he gave him a call.

“Derek. This is Stan Turner.”

“Hey Stan. What’s going on?”

“A couple things. Do you have your old Hillcrest High School yearbooks?”

“Sure. Between my wife and mine we have six years—1977-1982.”

Stan knew from doing their estate planning that Eva was fifteen years younger than he was and he had graduated from high school in 1965, so he figured she would have graduated in 1980 or 1981.

“Would you look in your books and see if by chance John Richmond and Eva Bellucci are in there?”

“Okay. Give me a minute.”

As Stan waited he wondered if Eva Bellucci was the woman involved in John Richmond’s conviction for statutory rape. If he was and they were still friends that would be an important piece of information to know. Derek came back on the line.

“Yes. They were both there in 1979. I guess John graduated in 1979 and Eva in 1982.”

“So, if he was eighteen when he graduated and Eva was fifteen she could have been his girlfriend.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Oh, sorry. John was convicted of statutory rape. The girl’s father caught them in bed and he filed criminal charges.”

“Oh, I remember that case,” Derek said. “It was big news on campus. I remember because I was dating an underage girl at the time and that definitely put a damper on our sexual experimentations.”

Stan laughed. “I bet.”

“So, how can you find out if she was the woman?” Derek asked.

“I don’t know. I’ve got a friend who is a detective. I’m sure he’ll look it up for me, that is, if I want him to know about it.”

“Why wouldn’t you?”

“Because if it’s true I might have a conflict of interest.”

Stan explained his concerns.

“Oh, the ethical dilemmas of an attorney,” Derek teased. “I don’t know how you cope with it.”

“Me either. It can get pretty sticky.”

“Well, good luck.”

“Oh, one other thing,” Stan said.

“What?”

“You represent several different insurance companies, right?”

“Yes, eleven life insurance companies and six casualty underwriters,” Derek said proudly.

“Could you check and see if there is a life insurance policy on John Richmond?”

Derek thought a moment. “Well, that would be an ethical issue for me.”

“I don’t need to know any specifics, just if a policy existed and how much the beneficiary was paid or will be paid. If you would just tell me one way or the other, I could then subpoena the detailed information so you wouldn’t get in trouble.”

“So, you’re telling me your entitled to the information, but you don’t want to have to subpoena records from eleven companies?”

“Exactly. The court wouldn’t let me do that.”

“Okay,” Derek said. “It might take me thirty minutes or so to do it.”

“That’s no problem. No hurry. Just do it the next time that it is convenient for you.”

“Okay. I’ve got to go to the office in the morning for a few hours. I’ll take care of it then.”

“Great, thanks.”

Stan looked at his watch and saw it was nearly 5:30 p.m. It was time to leave. On Friday nights Stan and Rebekah usually went to dinner and then to a movie. If he didn’t get home by 6:00 they wouldn’t have time to eat before the movie started and Rebekah wouldn’t be happy. Surprisingly traffic on Central Expressway was moving right along so he made it home at 6:05. When he walked in the door Rebekah was dressed and ready to go, so he quickly changed and then drove them to Red Lobster. While they were dining he told her about the missing witnesses.

“So, what if John Richmond had a big insurance policy? How is that relevant to the case?”

“Well, if Sandy Richmond was the beneficiary of a large insurance policy then she had a motive to kill her husband.”

“Yes, but I thought she was poisoned too?”

“She was, but she survived. Maybe she was careful just to take a little poison. Enough to get sick but not to die. That would be pretty clever.”

“So, you think Sandy Richmond is the killer?”

“Yes. I think it is a distinct possibility. The fact that she has disappeared is more evidence of my suspicions.”

“But what about the shoe box full of cash with Wilkinson’s fingerprints?” Rebekah asked.

Stan shrugged. “That is troubling. I can’t understand how that happened. Wilkinson wouldn’t plant a shoe box under Ricardo’s bed with his fingerprints on it. It almost looks like someone was trying to frame him.”

“Who? Sandy Richmond?”

“Maybe.”

“But how would she get a shoe box with Wilkinson’s fingerprints on it?”

“If they had access to his home they could rummage around and probably find a shoe box that he had handled.”

“Sandy Richmond wouldn’t have access to his house.”

“No. She wouldn’t,” Stan admitted. “But she could steal his trash and then rummage through it. I’ve done that before.”

“Yes, I remember. It stunk and you left it in the garage for a week.”

Stan laughed. “Sorry, but I did find a key piece of evidence.”

“So, what does Paula say about all this?”

Stan sighed. “Well, actually she knows nothing about it. The last thing I want to do is confuse her right now. She’s all ready to present her defense that Wilkinson and his cohorts were behind the murders and Ricardo was set up to take the fall. I wouldn’t want to say anything to the contrary unless I had ironclad proof.”

“So, how can you get that proof?”

“Tomorrow I should know if she had insurance, how much, and if she has collected the proceeds yet. If she doesn’t show up on Monday and we find out the insurance company paid her, then we may want to present that evidence to the jury.”

“Well, we better get going or we’re going to miss the movie.”

“What are we seeing?” Stan asked.

“LA Confidential,” Rebekah replied.

Stan nodded his approval. “I’ve heard that’s good.”

“We shall see,” Rebekah said getting up.

That night Stan had trouble sleeping. He kept running different scenarios through his head of how and why the three diners had been murdered. Nothing made sense to him until Derek called him late Saturday morning.

“Well, John Richmond definitely had an insurance policy.”

“Really? How much?” Stan asked.

“How about five million dollars.”

“Whoa! Five million?”

“Yes, and she’s already collected it. She got a check on Wednesday afternoon.”

“No wonder she left town.”

“So, you think she did it?”

“I guess we’ll know on Monday. If she doesn’t show up it’s probably a safe bet she’s the murderer. Since she was at the table she could have put the rat poison in the bowl of cheese, maybe while the others were in the restroom or looking the other way.”

“Well, I hope that helps,” Derek said.

“Oh. It does, believe me. Now I just have to figure out what to do with the information.”

“Good luck with that.”

 

 

27

 

Paula Waters

 

On Monday morning when all the witnesses were supposed to appear to be sworn-in, Emilio Bellucci and Sandy Richmond were no-shows. Paula was only mildly upset about the development as neither of the witnesses were critical to her defense but Rutledge was very upset and he made his concerns known to the judge before voir dire started.

“Your Honor. Two of the State’s critical witnesses have disappeared over the last few days and did not show up to be sworn-in this morning. We may need to ask for a continuance so these witnesses can be located.”

Judge Anderson frowned. “Well, counselor. Haven’t you been keeping track of your witnesses?”

“Yes, we have, Your Honor. On Wednesday of last week both witnesses were contacted and reminded of their subpoena requiring them to appear this morning. Both of them said they would be here. On Friday we got word from defense counsel that these two witnesses were missing, so we immediately tried to locate them, but nobody seems to know where they are.”

The judge shrugged. “Well, I told you this was a solid trial date and there would be no continuances.”

“Judge. Sandy Richmond knows more about what happened in this case than any single witness. She was at the table when the murders took place. She, herself, ingested some of the poison. We need her testimony.”

“Then you should have done a better job keeping tabs on her.”

“Your Honor!” Rutledge pleaded.

“Your Honor,” Paula interjected. “Although Emilio Bellucci and Sandy Richmond have relevant knowledge of the facts in this case, neither is critical to the state’s case. There are numerous employees of Emilio’s Italian Restaurant who can testify as to what was going on before and after the murders and Sandy Richmond in deposition didn’t shed much light on who killed the victims in this case. If need be Mr. Rutledge can use deposition testimony, so we would oppose a continuance.”

“Mr. Black. What’s your position?” the judge asked.

“I would tend to agree with Ms. Waters,” Black said.

“So would I. Your motion to continue is denied,” the judge ruled. “In the meantime I suggest you get the fine detectives of the Dallas Police Department to find these witnesses. How hard could that be?”

“It could be that they are evading service, Your Honor.”

“Then perhaps we have the wrong party on trial here. Do you want to dismiss the charges?”

“No. Your Honor,” Rutledge replied quickly.

“Then we’ll begin voir dire at 1:00 p.m. The bailiff will give you your jury questionnaires to study until that time.”

The bailiff brought over a set of jury questionnaires to Paula and Rutledge. When they both had them in hand the bailiff started calling his morning docket. Paula looked at Jodie and smiled. “Let’s take these back to the office and work on them. It will be difficult to get any privacy around here with the press lurking about.”

Jodie nodded and they packed up their things and left the courtroom. The second they stepped in the hall they were mobbed by reporters.

“Why do you think these two witnesses didn’t show up today?” a reporter asked.

Paula shrugged. “I have no idea.”

“Do you think they’ve been abducted?”

Paula smiled. “Yes, probably by aliens.”

Jodie laughed. “Oh, I can’t wait to see that headline in the tabloids.”

“How do you feel about your case? Do you think you will get a not guilty verdict?”

“Yes, absolutely. Ricardo had nothing to do with these murders.”

They got to the elevator and it mercifully opened immediately. They pushed their way in with a dozen reporters.

“Is it true that Sandy Richmond and Emilio Bellucci were having an affair?”

Paula looked at the reporter. “Is that true? Do you have evidence of that?”

“It’s a rumor circulating,” the reporter replied.

“I know nothing about that,” Paula replied, “and I seriously doubt it is true.”

The elevator door opened on the first floor and Paula and Jodie popped out of the crowd and moved hastily toward the exit.

“Do you think they ran off together?” the reporter pressed.

Paula didn’t answer as they were now outside the courthouse and walking quickly toward the parking garage.

“Do you think there is any truth to all that?” Jodie asked.

“I doubt it. I’m sure we’d have heard about an affair by now if it were true. We’ll ask Stan about it when we get to the office. He’s been trying to track Emilio down all weekend.”

When they got back to the office they went straight to Stan’s office. He looked surprised to see them.

“That was a quick trial.”

Paula smiled. “Yes, Rutledge dismissed the case since two of his key witnesses didn’t show up,” Paula teased.

“Yeah. Right.”

“He actually asked Rutledge if that’s what he wanted to do.”

“Really?” Stan said with a snicker.

“No. Actually the judge had a morning docket, so he gave us ‘til one to study the jury questionnaires.”

“Oh, good.”

“However, on the way back here a reporter asked if Emilio and Sandy Richmond were having an affair. Have you heard anything about that?”

Stan sighed deeply. “Well, actually it might be true.”

“What!” Paula exclaimed. “And I had to hear about it from a reporter.”

“I have learned a lot since you left on Friday, but I decided it would be better if you weren’t distracted by it.”

Paula opened her mouth but nothing came out. She just glared at Stan.

“Listen. There’s a strong possibility that Sandy Richmond is the murderer. She got a check from her insurance company for $5,000,000 on Wednesday. Eva Bellucci confirms that her husband was having an affair. Nobody knows who he was having the affair with, but it’s possible it was with Sandy Richmond which would explain why both are missing.”

“Oh, my God!” Paula exclaimed.

“Where did they go?” Jodie asked.

Stan shrugged. “I don’t know. Detective Besch is looking for them. He says they didn’t take a flight out of Love Field or DFW.”

As they were talking Maria’s voice came through on the intercom. “Detective Besch on line 3.”

“Speak of the devil,” Stan said putting them on speaker phone so Paula and Jodie could listen in. “Detective.”

“Stan. We haven’t found our witnesses yet but we did find Sandy Richmond’s car abandoned in a Wal-Mart parking lot.”

“How long had it been there?”

“The store manager said he noticed it there Thursday night and when it hadn’t moved by Saturday morning he called his wrecker service to come pick it up. I just heard about it this morning.”

“Any sign of foul play?” Stan asked.

“No. The car was locked and there was no personal property left inside or in the trunk. It looks like she was either abducted right after she parked or she met someone there and they went off in another car.”

“Any idea where she is now?”

“No. We checked all the airports, bus stations, rental car agencies and even Amtrak but there’s no record of either one of them leaving the city. If they are together they probably took Emilio’s car so we have an APB out on it.”

“Is there any evidence that they are together?”

“No. Just a hunch. There is a rumor circulating that they were having an affair, but we don’t have any actual confirmation of that.”

“We’ve heard that too and Eva confirms that both she and her husband were having extramarital affairs. Apparently they’ve had an open marriage for some time.”

“Really? She didn’t mention that to me.”

“Well, she only admitted it to me the other day when I pressed her on the subject.”

“Well, if you hear from them, call me.”

“I will. Thanks Detective.”

Stan hung up and looked at Paula and Jodie.

“What are we going to do?” Paula asked.

“Nothing,” Stan replied. “We don’t know what the significance of all this is. That’s why I wasn’t going to worry you with it. You just need to stick with our current game plan.”

“But what if Sandy Richmond did it?”

“It doesn’t matter whether the jury thinks Wilkinson and Hunt did it or Sandy Richmond. Our game plan remains the same—prove Ricardo wasn’t involved and was set up. I assure you Rutledge won’t bring any of this up because it will just confuse the jury and give us more reasonable doubt.”

“Why don’t we bring it up?”

“Because if Emilio is involved we’d immediately have a conflict of interest and the judge would have to declare a mistrial.”

Paula’s face paled. “Oh, my God. What a nightmare this case is turning out to be.”

Stan nodded thoughtfully. “Don’t worry about any of that now. If you stick to our game plan we’ll be fine and the jury will still find Emilio innocent.”

Paula nodded. “Come on, Jodie. We’ve got a lot of work to do analyzing the jury questionnaires,” she said turning to leave. “If you want to help, we’ll be in the library.”

Stan frowned. “I doubt I’ll be any help. With this kind of case picking a jury is pretty much a crap shoot. I think I’ll keep doing what I’m doing.”

Stan and Paula differed dramatically on how to pick a jury. Stan didn’t think the make-up of a jury mattered that much as long as the jurors who were picked were good honest people. Paula, on the other hand, thought picking a jury was a science and it was extremely important to consider every prospective juror very carefully. Paula nodded and they left. On the way to the library they stopped and got coffee. When they got to the library they spread out the jury questionnaires on the conference table and started working.

“So, what kind of jurors do we want?” Paula asked.

Jodie thought a moment. “Blue collar workers. They will sympathize with Ricardo, don’t you think?”

“Probably. Women too,” Paula suggested. “They’ll be less tolerant of anyone involved in organized crime whereas some men admire mobsters.”

“Lower income people and persons who have gone through bankruptcy. They’ll sympathize with Ricardo’s financial situation,” Jodie argued.

“So we don’t want professionals or high income males. We want medium to lower income male or female.”

“Okay. Let’s take a look then,” Jodie said picking up the first questionnaire. “Glenda Mathis, homemaker, age 33, husband is a Doctor, has a B.A. in education.”

“Hmm. I’d put her in the maybe pile.”

“Okay, John Rockingham, mason, union member, three children, wife is a hair dresser.”

Paula thought a moment. “Nah. He probably makes good money and union members have historically been friendly to the mob.”

“Then that’s a negative,” Jodie said making a new pile.

For the next two hours they went through all the questionnaires until Stan walked in with a sack full of sandwiches from the café downstairs.

“Oh, great. I’m famished,” Jodie said depositing the last questionnaire in the appropriate pile.

They all sat back taking a break to eat. Maria brought in drinks and she joined them.

“Well, no more news on our missing witnesses,” Stan advised.

“How can we not bring up the fact that Sandy Richmond had five million reasons to kill her husband?”

“Because, if we address that issue it brings up the question of whether Emilio was a co-conspirator and then we’d have a conflict of interest.”

“Maybe we should just address that issue and make the court declare a mistrial. That would get our client a postponement.”

“Must I remind you that the person who was funding Ricardo’s defense is gone. I doubt he’ll be sending us any more checks for Ricardo’s defense.”

Paula frowned. “Hmm. Good point.”

“If the trial is not going well we can bring up Sandy Richmond’s disappearance and the five million dollars at the last moment. We won’t mention Emilio and hopefully his possible involvement won’t come up.”

“Right. Rutledge won’t want to touch that with a ten foot pole. I just hope this doesn’t all backfire on us.”

“Me too,” Stan agreed.

When Paula and Jodie got back to court the jury selection began and by the end of the day they’d only picked five jurors. That night as Paula reviewed her trial notebook and thought about the new developments over the past few days she wondered if Stan wasn’t right in this case. It was impossible to know how anybody would react to the facts of the case. It wasn’t the type of case that demographics really mattered. The next day she shifted her focus to find the jurors who seemed most circumspect and open minded. At 4:11 p.m. on Tuesday the last juror was seated and the court recessed for the day.

 

 

28

 

Jodie Marshall

 

Jodie lingered in the shower enjoying the hot water running over her tight shoulders. She was nervous. This was her first time as second chair in an actual trial. She was surprised that Stan had given her the assignment as he was much more experienced than she was and this was, after all, a triple homicide. Deep down she was glad for the opportunity, however, because she would soon have her own trial where she’d be first chair when Bob Larson’s civil case came to trial in a few months. She knew this experience would be invaluable.

She tried on several outfits before deciding on a white, short-sleeve peplum skirt suit with matching red purse and shoes. She knew Paula was wearing a floral printed blazer, navy skirt and gold shoes, so they’d both be quite distracting as Maria had suggested. She wasn’t very hungry but she knew she’d better eat something because there was no guarantee they’d have time for lunch. Carl had an English muffin and coffee waiting for her when she came out of the bedroom.

“Wow! You look dressed to kill,” Carl said.

Jodie smiled appreciatively. “Thank you. That was the plan.”

Jodie sat at the table and bit into her English muffin.

“So, what’s going to happen today?” Carl asked.

“Rutledge will give his opening statement and then begin presenting his case.”

“So, what will you be doing?”

“Listening carefully and jotting down issues and questions that Paula can ask on cross examination.”

“Sounds pretty intense.”

“I’m sure it will be. I’ve never actually done it before.”

“Really?”

“I’ve handled many cases but they’ve all settled so I never actually got any trial experience. Fortunately Paula was a prosecutor before they formed Turner & Waters so she’s had a lot of trial experience.”

“Well, good luck. I’ll be listening for reports on the TV.”

“Thanks.”

There was a honk from the parking lot. Carl looked out the window. “Brandon’s here.”

“Okay,” she said getting up and taking one last sip of coffee. “I better go.”

“Finish your breakfast. Brandon will wait.”

“No, I don’t want to be late,” she said as she got up and gave Carl a quick kiss. “See you later.”

She rushed outside and got into Brandon’s car. They took Central Expressway to LBJ Freeway and then the Dallas North Tollway to Stemmons. Thirty minutes later they were pulling into the parking garage for the Frank Crowley Courts Building. There were many news vans in the parking lot and reporters hanging around the entrance to the building. As they approached the entrance, several reporters tried to cut them off.

“Ms. Marshall. Have you found Emilio Bellucci yet?”

Jodie shook her head. “Ask the prosecutor. He’s his witness.”

“But isn’t he one of your clients?”

“He’s not currently a client,” Jodie replied as they made it inside.

When they got to the courtroom, Brandon found a seat in the gallery and Jodie went up to the defense table where Paula was already setting up. An extra defense table had been set up for Black and his team on the left facing the judge, so Paula and Jodie were in the middle. Rutledge and another ADA were at the prosecution table which was cluttered by files and notebooks. Behind them were several file storage boxes and evidence bags. The two men gave Jodie a hard look as she set her purse and briefcase on the table. She smiled at them and they turned away.

“So, the fun begins, huh?” Jodie said.

Paula rolled her eyes. “I guess so. Ready or not.”

“No news on Sandy or Emilio?”

“No. Still missing,” Paula replied.

“Who do you think Rutledge will call as his first witness?”

“Well, since Sandy isn’t available he’ll probably go with the person who took the video.”

“Oh, that’s right. I forgot about the video. How do we respond to that?”

“Well we can’t deny what happened. I just wish they didn’t have a video of it.”

George Black and his entourage, which included Wilkinson, Hunt, and Jamison, came up the center aisle and walked over to the second defense table. He nodded to Jodie and Paula and then began setting up. Black, Wilkinson and Jamison sat at the table and the others sat in chairs directly behind him.

There was a commotion at the door as Ricardo and Sonia arrived. Sonia took a seat in the gallery and Ricardo came up to the center defense table. He was wearing a suit and tie as instructed. Jodie smiled at him.

“Hi, Ricardo,” Paula said.

Ricardo nodded.

“Just have a seat in between Jodie and me. If you have a question during the trial just write it down on a legal pad and give it to Jodie. She’ll answer it. Don’t talk during the trial and don’t react facially to anything that happens. Just be attentive and make eye contact with the jury.”

“What do you think my chances are now that you’ve picked a jury?” Ricardo asked.

Paula shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine, but I’m feeling optimistic.”

“Me too,” Jodie interjected. “I think you have a good shot at beating this thing.”

Ricardo took a deep breath. “I’m so scared.”

Jodie put a hand on Ricardo’s shoulder and squeezed it gently. “Just hang in there.”

There were voices coming from the corridor and the bailiff stood up. “All rise!”

Everyone got to their feet as Judge Amos Anderson took the bench. “Be seated,” he said as he began organizing his desk. “Alright, this is cause #97-42378, State of Texas vs. Ricardo Rizzi, Tom Wilkinson, Christopher Hunt and Benjamin Jamison. The clerk will read the indictment.”

The clerk rose and began reading, “In the name and by the authority of the State of Texas: The Grand Jury of Dallas County, Texas at the March Term, 1997 A.D. of the 333rd District Court, in said court at said Term, does present that one Ricardo Rizzi, while employed at Emilio’s Italian Restaurant in Dallas, Texas, did intentionally cause a poison to be mixed in the Parmesan Cheese which he served to Sandy Richmond, John Richmond, William Rice, and Donna Rice on May 7, 1997 at approximately 7:10 p.m., for remuneration of $10,000, causing the death of John Richmond, William Rice, and Donna Rice and serious injury to Sandy Richmond.” The clerk read similar indictments for each of the other defendants.

“Thank you,” the judge said. “Mr. Rutledge you may give your opening statement.”

Brian Rutledge, wearing a blue suit and a red tie, rose and went to the lectern. He placed a legal pad in front of him, ran his fingers through his hair and then smiled at the jury. “Your Honor, ladies and gentlemen of the jury we are here today because on May 7, 1997 two couples decided to go out to dinner at Emilio’s Italian Restaurant in Dallas. We will show that Sandy Richmond and her husband, John Richmond arrived at the restaurant at about 6:55 p.m. and before they were seated they bumped into some friends, Bill Rice and his wife, Donna. They hadn’t planned to have dinner together but since they happened to have arrived at the same time they asked the hostess, Julie Marks, to seat them together. The evidence will show that several minutes before they were seated, Julie Marks had seated defendant Christopher Hunt and his girlfriend, Evelyn Sanders at a table adjacent to them.

“Now the evidence will further show that Christopher Hunt works for a company called Wilkinson Properties owned by Defendants Tom Wilkinson, Christopher Hunt, Benjamin Jamison and several other principals. We will show that Wilkinson Properties had acquired ownership of the entire city block, upon which Emilio’s Italian Restaurant was located, with the exception of the lot where the restaurant was situated. We will introduce evidence to show that Wilkinson Properties, through Tom Wilkinson, Christopher Hunt, and Benjamin Jamison, had made numerous attempts to acquire Mr. Bellucci’s property. His lot was the last acquisition necessary to begin a long-planned development in which they had already invested millions of dollars. The acquisition of this last lot on the block was absolutely essential and time was of the essence as they were paying interest on all their interim financing.

“ But the evidence will show that Emilio Bellucci, the legal owner of this lot, repeatedly refused to sell it even though Wilkinson Properties was offering 150% of its assessed value. The facts will show that Emilio Bellucci simply did not want to sell but that Wilkinson, Hunt and Jamison wouldn’t take no for an answer. So, they concocted a plan to force Emilio Bellucci and his wife, Eva, to sell the restaurant. The plan was simple—cause something to happen at the restaurant that was so heinous that people would stop coming there and the business would be forced to go bankrupt. Once this happened they knew Emilio Bellucci would be forced to sell to them or if he went bankrupt they could buy the property from the bankruptcy estate at pennies on the dollar.

“We will also present evidence that will show that defendants Tom Wilkinson, Christopher Hunt and Benjamin Jamison conspired with the defendant, Ricardo Rizzi, to murder two patrons while they were dining at the restaurant. The evidence will show that Mr. Rizzi was in desperate financial straits and was paid $10,000 in cash to lace the cheese with rat poison and then serve it to the victims. The murder took place at a table near the front of the restaurant where more people would be likely to see it. And it would be accomplished by the defendant lacing a bowl of Parmesan cheese with rat poison and then serving it to the guests at the table. By a dark twist of fate instead of just two diners being at the table there were four.

“We will play for you a video of the murder so you will understand the heinous nature of this crime. You will see Ricardo Rizzi serving the Parmesan cheese and how quickly the victims reacted to the poison. You will see John Richmond, Bill Rice, and Donna Rice die before your eyes and Sandy Richmond get violently sick due to the acts of the defendant Ricardo Rizzi and the other defendants.

“Now counsel for the defendant Ricardo Rizzi will try to convince you that he was set up by the other defendants to take the fall for this crime. And counsel with the other three defendants will try to convince you that Ricardo Rizzi acted alone. But we will submit overwhelming evidence to show that all these defendants acted in concert. Therefore they are all responsible for these deaths.

“Finally, the court will instruct you that the State must prove their case beyond all reasonable doubt, which admittedly is a high standard, but we are confident that we can meet that burden and when the last witness is seated you will agree we have proved beyond all reasonable doubt that these four defendants, Ricardo Rizzi, Tom Wilkinson, Christopher Hunt, and Benjamin Jamison are all guilty of capital murder and sentence them to death by lethal injection. Thank you.”

“Thank you, Mr. Rutledge,” the judge said. “Ms. Waters. Would you like to make an opening statement?”

Paula had an option to make an opening statement now or after the State had completed the presentation of its case and closed. Stan and Paula differed on this strategy. Stan preferred to wait because he felt the jury would forget everything he said in his opening statement if there wasn’t evidence introduced immediately to support it. There was also a danger that the evidence presented during the State’s case might differ from what was expected and if he had already given his opening statement he wouldn’t be able to adjust his case to take into consideration the new evidence. Paula, however, believed that jurors made up their minds very early on in a trial so it was imperative that she at least outline what evidence she was prepared to introduce so that the jury would keep an open mind until it was her time to present evidence.

“Yes, Your Honor, I would.”

“Very well, you may proceed.”

Paula stood, made eye contact with the jurors, and then smiled. “Your Honor, ladies and gentlemen of the jury. You all were introduced to Ricardo Rizzi at the beginning of the trial when we were picking the jury. During the course of this trial you will learn from Mr. Rizzi’s girlfriend that he is a simple man with a good heart. We don’t deny that he was having financial problems but what the prosecution failed to mention was that these financial difficulties were not caused by Mr. Rizzi living above his means, but the result of his financial assistance to his sister who had leukemia but found herself without health insurance. He had no obligation to help her but he ran up $40,000 on his credit cards because she needed his help and he loved her. Now he could have filed bankruptcy but he didn’t because as several witnesses will tell you, he is a proud and honorable man.

“It is true that Tom Wilkinson and his cohorts wanted Emilio’s property. That is an uncontested fact, but the idea that Ricardo had anything to do with the scheme to get Emilio Bellucci to sell is absurd. The prosecution will introduce a shoe box containing $10,000.00 in cash they say was found underneath Ricardo’s bed.They will produce evidence to show that the fingerprints of Tom Wilkinson were on the shoe box. But we will produce evidence to show that Ricardo’s fingerprints were not on the shoe box or any of the money contained in it. We will also show that not one dollar of the money was spent because Ricardo didn’t even know the money was under his bed. It’s our contention that someone planted the shoe box under his bed in order to frame him for these murders. The prosecution will also introduce a box of Vacor Rat Poison that they found in Emilio’s garage and apparently was the same type of poison used in the murders. Again the evidence will show that the box of rat poison does not have Ricardo’s fingerprints on it but a plastic bag with Vacor Rat Poison residue inside it was found in Christopher Hunt’s car.

“What we will show you during the course of this trial is that the State cannot meet their burden of proving our client intentionally murdered Bill and Donna Rice and John Richmond and attempted to kill Sandy Rice, beyond any reasonable doubt. We will show you that there is considerable doubt as to whether Ricardo Rizzi had anything to do with these heinous acts. When you have heard all the evidence we believe that you will come to the same conclusion that we have, that Mr. Rizzi has been set up to take the fall for these crimes.

“The judge has instructed you that the opening statements that Mr. Rutledge made and what I’m giving right now are not evidence. Nor is anything you have seen or heard so far in this trial competent evidence that you should consider. What that means is, right now, Ricardo Rizzi is presumed to be innocent. And only if Mr. Rutledge presents competent evidence later on in this trial that proves, in your minds, that he is guilty beyond any reasonable doubt, can you find him guilty.

“So, please listen carefully to all the testimony of the witnesses and consider all the exhibits that are accepted by the court into evidence during the course of the trial. To do that you must wait until the trial is over to decide if Ricardo Rizzi is guilty or innocent. I know for the next day or two Mr. Rutledge will present a lot of seemingly damning evidence that you may think proves Ricardo is guilty, but wait until I present my evidence as I believe you will change your mind once you consider all the testimony and analyze all the evidence presented.

“On behalf of myself and Mr. Rizzi, I want to thank you in advance for your jury service as we are aware that you are all sacrificing your precious time to serve as jurors in this case and we certainly appreciate it. Thank you.”

“Thank you, Ms. Waters,” the judge said. “Mr. Black, will you be making an opening statement at this time?”

“No, Your Honor. We’ll reserve our opening statement for presentation at the commencement of our case in chief.”

“Very well, Mr. Rutledge, call your first witness.

“The State calls Frank Jordan,” Rutledge said.

The bailiff went out in the hall and returned with a short, thin Caucasian man in his mid-forties with a receding hairline. He walked to the witness stand and sat down.

“State your name, please?”

“Frank Jordan.”

“Mr. Jordan. What do you do for a living?”

“I’m a photographer.”

“And what kind of photography do you do?”

“I photograph weddings, birthdays, bar mitzvahs, graduations, you name it.”

“On the night of May 7, 1997 were you on a job at Emilio’s Italian Restaurant in Dallas?”

“Yes, I was there photographing the 50th Anniversary of Jonathan and Anne Clark.”

“And while you were filming this anniversary dinner was your attention diverted at any time?”

“Yes. At the table in front of us and to the right I saw a man coughing and choking.”

“So, did you do anything in reaction to this?”

“Yes. The man seemed to be in so much distress I just naturally pointed my camera toward him. Just seconds later the lady next to him began to choke and then vomited. Then the other two got sick.”

“So, did you continue to photograph what was happening?”

“Yes, I filmed everything . . . the woman collapsing to the floor, the man next to her slumping over at the table, and the general chaos that ensued.”

“Did you develop that film?”

“Yes.”

“And was it in your exclusive custody up until you turned it over to this office?”

“Yes.”

“Your Honor, I would like to play the video for the court and jury.”

The judge nodded. “Are there any objections?”

Paula shook her head. “No, Your Honor.”

“No, Your Honor,” Black said.

Rutledge nodded to his second chair who had the video cued up in a projector. “Dim the lights, please.”

The bailiff dimmed the lights and the assistant started the video. The video started off with the anniversary couple raising their glasses in a toast. Then off to the right John Richmond stood up coughing incessantly. The camera moved away from the couple and focused on the table. Donna Rice began to choke and vomit. She was holding her throat as patrons looked on in horror. Bill Rice leaned over to help her then his face paled and he slumped over on the table.

The film lasted eight minutes and the jury and everyone in the courtroom watched intently the ingestion of the poison by the four victims and then their violent reactions. Paula watched the faces of the jurors as they viewed the film and could see their outrage and sadness. She saw them look at Ricardo and knew they were already beginning to focus their emotions on him. She wondered if there was a chance in hell she could convince them he was innocent.

 

 

29

 

Stan Turner

 

Stan wished he could be at the trial but somebody had to manage the law office while Jodie and Paula were tied up at the courthouse. The firm had many clients and their problems didn’t stop just because the firm was wrapped up in a major murder trial. Stan also had to get to the bottom of the disappearance of Sandy Richmond and Emilio Bellucci. Over the weekend Detective Besch and the FBI had been unable to find either one of them and they hadn’t shown up for trial.

The more he thought about it the more he was convinced they had fled together. When they had interviewed Sandy she seemed adamant that Ricardo was innocent. In retrospect it was as if she knew the identity of the killer. He knew now that she had a motive to kill her husband and if it weren’t for the incriminating evidence pointing to and linking Rizzi, Wilkinson, Hunt and Jamison she’d be a prime suspect. He wondered how Emilio figured into the equation.

Since he was stuck at the office he called Bassettt Security and talked to the owner Bill Bassettt. “Hey, do you guys do criminal record’s research?” Stan asked.

“Sure, what do you need?”

“This goes back a few years but sometime in 1979 there was an arrest and conviction of a student at Hillcrest High School for statutory rape. The defendant was eighteen and the girl sixteen, I think. The guy was John Richmond but I need to confirm the name of the girl.”

“Sure, I may have to send someone down to the courthouse to get the records out of archives. I’m not sure they have inputted information that old into the criminal databases.”

“Whatever. Just let me know as soon as you find out.”

Stan hung up the phone and thought about who might know more about Eva Bellucci. He knew she had been a model and was known in the trade as Eva Bologna. He would have asked Eva herself, but at the time he didn’t think it was any of his business. Now, however things had changed. Later that afternoon Bill Bassettt called back.

“Okay, the girl was Eva Bologna.”

“Really. That’s what I was afraid of.”

“She was a famous model, wasn’t she?”

“Yes. She retired four or five years ago, I think.”

“Well, if there is anything else I can do, let me know.”

“I will. Thanks,” Stan said and hung up the phone.

Stan knew now that Sandy Richmond and Emilio Bellucci were together and he thought he knew why. He dug into Emilio’s estate planning file to confirm his theory. Eva and Emilio were married before she made it big as a model. Everything they had acquired during their marriage was technically community property but Eva had control of it and kept it out of Emilio’s reach. Stan remembered Emilio complaining about his lack of control over their money on more than one occasion. Eva had also financed the startup cost of the restaurant and guaranteed all the debt. So, although Emilio ran the restaurant he was always under Eva’s thumb and Stan knew this bothered him. He called Eva to confirm his suspicions.

“Eva. This is Stan.”

“Oh. Have you heard from Emilio?”

“No. But I’m thinking he may have run off with Sandy Richmond.”

Eva didn’t respond.

“You said you haven’t always been faithful to your husband. My guess is you’ve had a long-standing affair with John Richmond. Am I right?”

Eva sighed. “I guess it wouldn’t do any good to deny it. You’ve already figured it out.”

“Yes. I have. So, my guess is Sandy Richmond found out about it, told Emilio and they figured a way to punish both of you and end up rich.”

“You think Sandy and Emilio murdered John?”

“Yes, Bill and Donna Rice weren’t supposed to be at the table. I think they were collateral damage.”

“That couldn’t be. Emilio wouldn’t kill anybody.”

“I wouldn’t have thought so either, but if he found out about your affair that could have angered him enough to do it.”

“It’s that manipulating bitch, Sandy Richmond. She’s capable of anything. John has told me all about her.”

“Really?”

“Yes. Once she gets an idea there is no stopping her. I’m sure she bullied Emilio into murdering poor John. I can’t believe this.”

“Well, it’s just a theory right now, so don’t talk to anybody about it. I can’t prove right this minute that Sandy and Emilio are together, and there still is the question of the poison in Hunt’s car and the $10,000 cash under Ricardo’s bed.”

“Okay. I’ll keep my mouth shut but I think you may be right.”

“Thanks.”

Stan hung up wondering what he should do now. Emilio Bellucci was a client and he didn’t want to incriminate him in the three murders, but if that would get Ricardo off then he’d have no choice but to do it. His only hope would be if Paula could get Ricardo off without needing to incriminate Emilio. Then he wouldn’t have to bring any of it up.

The rub would be if Wilkinson, Hunt and Jamison were convicted. Would he have an obligation to disclose the evidence to the court to exonerate them? That wasn’t his job. But could he live with himself knowing such an injustice had occurred? That was the question, a question he hoped he’d never have to address.

As he was thinking Maria advised him that Ram was on the telephone. He cringed at the news. He picked up the telephone.

“Ram. What can I do for you?”

“Any word on our claim? Our bills are piling up and we are very cramped in our friend’s home.”

“The lawsuit is progressing slowly as I feared it would. The attorneys for MGIC are fighting at every turn.”

“I don’t know how long we can hold out. My friend’s house is only 1800 sq. ft. and has but three bedrooms and two baths. He has four children who are having to sleep together in one room and they are very unhappy.”

“I’m so sorry, Ram. I wish there was something I could do. It’s just that litigation is a slow process even if you work at it diligently.”

Stan didn’t mention the fact that he hadn’t been paid a dime on the litigation. The $10,000 for the bankruptcy had long since been depleted. He knew Ram couldn’t pay him so he had taken the insurance case on a contingency, something the firm rarely did. If they weren’t able to get the insurance company to pay, the firm could easily lose a hundred thousand dollars in fees.

“I’ve got a job making minimum wage but it gives us barely enough to buy food, clothing and gasoline for our car. We are so broke I didn’t even have money to buy Melakea a birthday gift this year.”

“Listen, I’ll try to put some heat on them to settle the case. I can’t promise anything but I’ll try.”

“Please do something. I don’t know how much longer we can hold out.”

“Alright. I will,” Stan said and hung up.

Stan pulled out Ram’s file and started thinking about things he might do to move the case along. He knew insurance companies hated bad publicity so he contemplated trying to get one of the local TV stations to do a story on Ram’s case. He also knew they hated regulatory complaints so a letter to the Texas Department of Insurance would be an option. He decided to call Derek and brainstorm with him.

“Derek. Have you heard anything from your claims adjuster on Ram’s case?”

“Nothing new. They’re still claiming it was an act of terrorism.”

“They can’t really believe that will fly, can they?”

“The problem you have is the claims adjuster assigned to the case is an idiot. He doesn’t have a lot of experience so he thinks he’s doing the company a big favor by denying the claim.”

“So, what can I do to get him to be more reasonable?”

“You somehow have to get past him to his supervisor.”

“How do I do that? I’m obligated to deal with the attorney they’ve hired to defend the lawsuit and it’s to his advantage to keep the litigation going, so he can collect more attorney’s fees.”

“You might try making a settlement offer and address it to the claims supervisor. That way the attorney will have to pass it on and bypass the assigned claims adjuster. If the supervisor sees it he may realize that the company is taking a big risk by continuing to litigate.”

“That’s a good idea. I think I’ll give it a try. If I wait for the litigation to run its course I’m afraid Ram may end up having to return to Pakistan.”

“Let me know when you forward the letter to the attorney and I’ll notify the supervisor that it is coming so their attorneys can’t keep it from him.”

“Good idea. I’ll let you know.”

Stan started the letter immediately and after an hour had it completed. It read as follows:

 

David Johnson

Claims Manager

North American Division

Meridian Global Insurance Company

 

RE: Ramadan Bakira v. Meridian Global Insurance Co., Cause No. 97-42868, 14^th^ District Court, Dallas County, Texas

 

Dear Mr. Johnson,

 

This letter is sent to you for settlement purposes only. I am sending it directly to you in case you haven’t been kept abreast of the particulars of this claim. I would respectfully ask you to rethink your denial of the claim on the grounds that the loss was the result of terrorism or the policyholder’s arson. I have talked to the State Department, the FBI and the Pakistani Consulate and they all assure me the arson of Mr. Bakira’s store was not an act of terrorism. Mr. Bakira was not politically involved and no terrorist organization would have any reason to set fire to his store. As to your innuendo that Mr. Bakira set the fire, you have not provided me one shred of evidence of that fact in your responses to my requests for production, so I assume you have none.

As you can imagine my client is in dire straits due to the failure of MGIC to honor the terms of the insurance policy which he purchased from your company. Having suffered the total loss of the building in which he conducted business he has lost not only the property but the income that sustained him and his family.

Because MGIC has failed to timely pay his claim he and his family have been forced to stay with friends in cramped housing and live on the earnings from his temporary job that pays only minimum wage. This situation is causing him and his wife extreme mental anguish and embarrassment each day that this matter remains unresolved. Further he is losing daily business profits and will suffer a permanent loss to the value of the business as customers are forced to buy elsewhere.

I have been talking to an investigative reporter for one of the local networks and she has expressed a desire to do a story on Mr. Bakira’s situation and MGIC’s bizarre defense to paying the claim. I will have my client hold off on that interview until you have had time to consider this settlement offer. But if we can’t reach an accommodation shortly I feel certain he will grant the interview and go forward with the story.

Because we are still in the early stages of this litigation and attorney’s fees and costs are relatively low, this is a good time to put this matter to bed. Accordingly, my client would be willing to accept in full settlement of all his claims the sum of $250,000 to rebuild the store, $150,000 for lost inventory, fixtures and equipment, $60,000 for lost profits, and $10,000 attorney’s fees accrued to date.

I think you will agree this is a very generous offer since my client will be waiving his claim for punitive damages of $1,000,000 which will be quite easy to get if your frivolous “act of terror” or “arson” defenses do not hold up.

This offer is being hand delivered on this date and will be open for ten days only.

 

Sincerely,

Stan Turner

 

Stan printed out the letter and faxed Derek a copy. He just hoped and prayed the claims supervisor would take a serious look at it and reconsider their position. If not, he’d have to start looking for a hungry news reporter looking for a story.

 

 

30

 

Paula Waters

 

There was no cross examination of Frank Jordan. Neither Paula or George Black wanted to prolong the attention of the jury on the video of the murders. The judge thanked him and asked Rutledge for his next witness. Rutledge called Detective Stuart Miller, the detective assigned to handle the case. He explained the crime scene as he saw it when he arrived shortly after the 9-1-1 call, the condition of the victims, and the procedure they followed in securing and then processing the evidence. Then he asked the detective about their subsequent investigation of the murders.

“Detective. Did you interrogate anyone at the crime scene?”

“Yes. We talked extensively to Ricardo Rizzi, the waiter who served the victims, the other waiters, hostesses, kitchen staff, Mr. Emilio Bellucci, the owner of the restaurant and the parking attendants.”

“What was Mr. Rizzi’s reaction to the victims at his table being poisoned?”

“He claimed complete shock at what had happened and denied poisoning the food.”

“Did he seem sincere?”

“More or less.”

“Did Mr. Rizzi ever become a suspect in these murders?”

“Yes, the next morning I got a call from one of the technicians at the forensics lab advising me that they had completed their tests on all the food served to the victims at the restaurant and determined that the Parmesan cheese had been laced with a poison containing cyanide.

“Hearing that, I remembered that one of the members of the kitchen staff indicated he had seen Mr. Rizzi filling cheese bowls before taking one to the table. Based on the fact that he had filled the cheese bowl and then served it to the victims, I asked my supervisor to get a warrant to search Mr. Rizzi’s apartment.

“Several hours later the warrant was issued and we went to his apartment to conduct the search.”

“What happened then?”

“He wasn’t at his apartment but his girlfriend Sonia Bennett was. She let us in and the first thing of significance we found was a shoe box under Mr. Rizzi’s bed containing $10,000 in large bills.”

“Was the money neatly stacked?”

“Yes, it was neatly stacked and wrapped in one thousand dollar piles like it had come directly from the bank.”

“And what did you do with the shoe box and its contents?”

“We took it and processed it as potential evidence.”

“And you have that shoe box with you today?”

“I do,” he said and handed the box to Rutledge.

“Your Honor, I request that State’s Exhibit #2 be entered into evidence.”

“Ms. Waters?”

Paula had studied all the evidence weeks earlier so she replied, “No objection.”

“Mr. Black?”

“No objection, Your Honor.”

“Then State’s Exhibit #2 is admitted.”

“Did you find anything else of interest in the apartment?”

“Not in the apartment, but in the garage assigned to Mr. Rizzi.”

“What did you find?”

“An opened box of Vacor Rat Poison.”

“And what was the condition of the box of rat poison?”

“It was in poor condition. The lid had been partially ripped off, the box was stained and it was faded. It had obviously been there for years.”

“And did you do anything with the Vacor Rat Poison?”

“Yes. We took possession of it and processed it as evidence.”

Rutledge offered the box of rat poison as evidence and the judge admitted it without objection as State’s Exhibit #3.

“Now, in the course of the investigation of these murders did you come across any more Vacor Rat Poison?”

“Yes. We did. An informant advised us that the defendant Christopher Hunt had been at the scene of the crime but fled before the police had arrived, so we questioned him about the murders. In the course of that discussion we were not satisfied with his explanation of why he fled the scene, so we sought and obtained a search warrant for his home and car. In the process of searching his 1996 Lincoln Continental we discovered a plastic sandwich bag containing particles of a gray colored crystalline substance similar to the Vacor Rat Poison under the front seat of his car. It was later determined that the substance was, in fact, rat poison exactly like what was found in Mr. Rizzi’s garage.”

Rutledge continued to question Detective Miller for another hour and then passed the witness.

“Ms. Waters. Your witness,” the judge said.

Paula stood. “Detective Miller, did you find Ricardo Rizzi’s fingerprints on the shoe box which is marked as Exhibit #2?”

“No. We did not.”

“Did you find Ricardo Rizzi’s fingerprints on any of the money or the bindings for the money that was in the shoe box?”

“No. We did not.”

“So, you don’t know for a fact that Ricardo Rizzi ever saw the money, do you?”

“Not for a fact, but—”

“Thank you. Did you find Mr. Rizzi’s fingerprints on the box of Vacor Rat Poison?”

“No.”

“Did you find any evidence that Mr. Rizzi took any of the rat poison out of the box?”

“No.”

“You didn’t find Mr. Rizzi’s fingerprints on the plastic bag in Mr. Hunt’s car, did you?”

“No. There were no fingerprints on it.”

“Did you have an occasion to go into the garage where you found the rat poison?”

“Yes. I searched through it.”

“Is the garage locked?”

“There was a lock but it didn’t work.”

“So, anybody could have gone into Ricardo’s garage and taken some of the poison?”

“It’s possible.”

“How long have you been a detective?”

“Fifteen years give or take,” Detective Miller replied.

“So, in those fifteen years you’ve probably seen just about every kind of murder weapon imaginable, right?”

Detective Miller nodded. “Yes. That’s true—guns, knives, heavy pots, tire irons, baseball bats, stiletto shoes, plastic bags—you name it and I’ve seen it used to kill somebody.”

“In your experience, what is the first thing a murderer does with the murder weapon after he has killed his victim?”

Detective Miller shrugged. “Gets rid of it, I guess.”

“Right. But Ricardo Rizzi didn’t get rid of the rat poison, did he?”

Detective Miller shook his head. “No, he didn’t.”

“He left it right where it had been in his garage out in the open, right?”

“Yes.”

“Doesn’t that lead you to believe that he didn’t know that it had been used as a murder weapon?”

“Objection! Calls for speculation,” Rutledge exclaimed.

“Sustained,” the judge ruled.

Paula went on with her cross examination and when she was done George Black took the witness on cross.

“Detective. You testified that you found a plastic bag under the seat of Mr. Hunt’s car containing rat poison.”

“Yes. I did.”

“Isn’t that a little too convenient?”

Detective Miller didn’t respond.

“Objection! Calls for speculation.”

“Objection sustained,” the judge ruled.

“Well, weren’t you surprised to find the plastic bag with rat poison in Mr. Hunt’s car several days after the murder?”

Detective Miller shrugged. “I guess I was a little.”

“In your opinion wasn’t that a pretty stupid thing to do—leave remnants of the murder weapon in your car where it is sure to be found?”

“Criminals often do stupid things. It happens all the time.”

“Isn’t it possible, if not likely, that someone planted the plastic bag in Mr. Hunt’s car?”

“Objection! Calls for speculation.”

“Overruled. You may answer the question.”

“Anything is possible.”

“And in that vein it would be pretty stupid to pay somebody in cash and then leave your fingerprints on the box that contains the money?”

“Like I said. Criminals do stupid things all the time.”

“Perhaps, but doesn’t this rise to a level beyond common stupidity? Isn’t it more likely someone deliberately found a box with Mr. Wilkinson’s prints on it and used it to hold the money?”

“Objection. Calls for speculation.”

“Objection sustained,” the judge ruled.

Black asked a few more questions then passed the witness. Rutledge took the witness on redirect and they all went another round with this witness. Rutledge next called the medical examiner, Dr. Roger Watson, who described the condition of each of the bodies and explained how the poison had interfered with the enzymes controlling the oxidation process, preventing the red blood cells from absorbing oxygen. He testified that death came quickly and victims experienced excruciating pain prior to their deaths.

The next witness was Sandy Richmond’s treating physician, Dr. Leo Rule. He testified that Ms. Richmond had ingested a smaller dose of the rat poison and was still alive when she got to the hospital twenty minutes later. He told the jury he administered amyl nitrate and then pumped her stomach. She was then given oxygen and later received an intravenous injection of sodium nitrate followed by an injection of sodium thiosulphate. He testified he thought she had fully recovered from the trauma.

Then Rutledge called Brandon Wilkes. He had wanted to call Jodie which would have meant she couldn’t have participated in the trial as second chair, but Paula argued her testimony wasn’t essential since Brandon had been there and could provide the same testimony. Brandon walked up to the witness stand and took a seat.

“Mr. Wilkes. How are you employed?”

“I work for Bassett Security as an investigator and bodyguard.”

“And did you have an occasion to meet a woman named Evelyn Sanders?”

“Yes.”

“And what were the circumstances of your acquaintance with Ms. Sanders.”

“I was working undercover with Jodie Marshall trying to gain her trust and confidence so we could obtain information from her.”

“And how did you go about doing that?”

“We participated in her aerobics class and became friends.”

“And did you have an occasion to take her to Emilio’s Italian Restaurant?”

“Yes, we did.”

“And what happened when you got to the restaurant?”

“She became very excited and upset. When we asked her what was the matter she told us that she had witnessed the recent murders there.”

“Objection, hearsay,” Black said.

“Your Honor. This was an excited utterance and clearly reliable. Also, the witness is dead so this is the only way to get in this testimony.”

“Objection overruled.”

“Did she explain what she saw?”

“Yes. She said she had accompanied Christopher Hunt to the restaurant and that they were sitting at an adjacent table when the murders took place.”

“Did she say she saw who poisoned the Parmesan cheese?”

“No. She didn’t see that happen, only when it was served by Mr. Rizzi. She watched the victims die.”

“Did she say she was at the table the entire time they were at the restaurant?”

“No. She said she was away from the table for a few minutes when they first got there. She went to the bathroom. And there was a period of time Hunt was gone from the table too.”

“Objection!” Black exclaimed. “Non-responsive.”

“Objection sustained. Just answer the question, Mr. Wilkes.”

“Did she say what happened after the murders?” Rutledge asked.

“She said that Mr. Hunt insisted they leave immediately before the police came.”

“Objection,” Black said. “Hearsay within hearsay.”

“Overruled,” the judge said.

“Now Mr. Wilkes. You testified you were working for Turner & Waters on this case, right?”

“Yes.”

“So, you’re anxious to please your client, right?”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“Did you and Ms. Marshall discuss your testimony today?”

“Well, yeah.”

“Did she tell you how to testify?”

Brandon frowned. “No. We just discussed our recollection of the encounter with Evelyn Sanders.”

“Why did you do that? Were you having trouble remembering everything that happened?”

“No. I remember it perfectly.”

“But you wanted to get your stories straight?” Black pressed.

“No. We remembered it exactly the same.”

Brandon’s questioning went on for some time but nothing new came out. Next Rutledge called Walter Sledge. He testified he was the owner of Walter Sledge Architects and was working on a development for Wilkinson Properties.

“What was the name of the development?” Rutledge asked.

“Highland Corners.”

“And how is it coming along?”

“They’re still in the acquisition stage.”

“You mean they still haven’t acquired ownership of all the property needed for the development?”

“Yes. That’s correct.”

“What property do they still need to acquire?”

“One more lot.”

“And would that lot be owned by Emilio Bellucci?”

“Mr. Bellucci and his wife I believe own it.”

“Have there been negotiations between the Bellucci’s and Wilkinson Properties to acquire the property?”

“Yes, Tom Wilkinson has been trying to get the Bellucci’s to sell it for over six months.”

“Why won’t they sell?”

“I don’t know.”

“Has this inability to get this last lot caused any problems for Wilkinson Properties?”

“Yes. They have to pay interest on the loans they obtained to acquire the other properties and prices for materials and labor always seem to go up over time.”

“What kind of losses are we talking about?”

“Interest alone is over $12,000 a month and there’s no telling how much more the project will cost due to the delay. The delay also postpones the start of income from the property.”

“Have you given Tom Wilkinson an estimate of the additional cost he will be looking at due to the delay in acquiring this property?”

“Yes. I believe the delay has already cost in excess of $250,000.”

“Thank you. Pass the witness.”

“Ms. Waters. Your witness,” the judge said.

Paula didn’t know what to do with this witness. She had no dispute with what he said so there wasn’t much point in cross examining him. “No questions, Your Honor.”

“Mr. Black, your witness.”

George Black rose and went to the lectern. “Mr. Sledge. Didn’t Wilkinson Properties have a contingency plan for the eventuality that it couldn’t acquire this last piece of property?”

“Yes. They agreed they would modify the project such that it wrapped around the Bellucci lot.”

“And would that have hurt the project that much?”

“Well. It would look a bit tacky, but with shrubs and trees we felt we could mitigate the incompatibility.”

“Would the property have been worth any less without the Bellucci lot?”

“Not significantly. That particular lot would have been devoted to green belt so its loss wouldn’t have affected expected revenue.”

“Thank you, Mr. Sledge. Pass the witness.”

The judge looked at the clock on the wall. “It’s getting late, let’s recess now and reconvene tomorrow morning at 9:00 a.m.”

The judge got up and left the courtroom. The room suddenly came to life as people began talking as they left the courtroom. Paula looked at Ricardo and smiled.

“Well, that didn’t go too badly,” Paula said.

“Really? I couldn’t tell,” Ricardo replied.

“It could have been a lot worse. Their case has weaknesses and I think the jury will recognize it.”

“I hope so,” Ricardo said.

When Paula and Jodie got back to the office they were surprised Stan wasn’t there. Marie advised them that he mysteriously disappeared at 4:30.

“He didn’t go off to meet his hooker, did he?”

Maria shrugged. “I don’t know. He didn’t say.”

“What’s he been doing all day?”

“Working on Ram’s lawsuit, I think. They’re in desperate straits. They may have to go back to Pakistan if they don’t collect some money pretty quickly.”

“Hmm,” Paula said irritably.

Paula and Jodie went to the conference room to talk about the case and discuss tactics for the coming day. Paula couldn’t believe Stan wasn’t there to help them.

“If he’s off with his hooker when I need him, he may be looking for a new partner.”

Jodie sighed. “He’s probably working on an angle to get the insurance company to settle Ram’s claim. I don’t think he’d desert us in the middle of a trial if it weren’t something pretty important.”

Paula shook her head. “Yeah, something pretty important like a blond with big tits!”

 

 

31

 

Jodie Marshall

 

When Brandon picked Jodie up on Thursday he looked distracted and had dark bags under his eyes as if he hadn’t slept. They drove out of the apartment complex and on to Jupiter Road. Jodie wondered what was going on.

“You look like hell,” she said.

Brandon shrugged. “I didn’t sleep so good last night.”

“Why?”

“Black is an asshole. He really pissed me off.”

“Well, that’s his job—to rattle witnesses and force them to make mistakes.”

“Did he succeed?”

“No. You told them exactly what Evelyn said to us. That’s all you can do.”

“Really. You don’t think I hurt your case at all?”

“No. We want the jury to think Hunt was the killer and your testimony was perfect. The jury knows now that Hunt had, not only motive, but opportunity as well.”

“I know but he tried to make it look like I was making up the story to make you happy.”

“I know, but you stood up to him. Don’t worry about it.”

“I felt like smacking the asshole on the side of the head.”

Jodie laughed. “Well, I’m glad you restrained yourself.”

“Yeah, well it wasn’t easy.”

When they got to the courthouse the usual crowd of reporters were waiting for them. When they saw them coming they came to life and cameras started flashing. Brandon led Jodie right through the middle of them without slowing down.

“Ms. Marshall. How do you think the trial is going so far?” a reporter asked.

“It’s going great. The State hasn’t come close to proving their case against Ricardo.”

“Is your client going to testify?” a second reporter asked.

Jodie shrugged. “Maybe. We don’t know for sure yet.”

“Do you think Christopher Hunt killed Evelyn Sanders?” the first reporter asked.

“I don’t know. You tell me.”

Brandon opened the door and Jodie walked through it leaving the reporters outside. They walked quickly to the elevators and luckily one opened just as they stepped up. Once the riders exited they got in and quickly pushed the button to their floor. Before the door closed a man stepped in. When he turned around Jodie turned white.

“Jodie. How are you?” Mike Sutherland said.

Brandon put his hand on his gun and stepped between them. “What do you think you’re doing?” he said. “You can’t talk to her.”

“It is a free country. Don’t I have a right to confront my accuser?”

“They have you on tape arranging for the theft, you asshole!”

Sutherland put up both hands and smiled. “Relax. I’m just coming to watch my favorite attorney work her magic.”

Jodie didn’t say anything, just glared at Sutherland’s eerie smile. The elevator stopped and the door opened. Sutherland backed off and let Brandon and Jodie leave the elevator. Brandon kept a wary eye on him until Jodie was in the courtroom.

“Stay the hell away from Jodie,” Brandon warned.

Sutherland shook his head. “It’s not me you have to worry about. I tried to warn her, but she didn’t listen. Then I tried to scare her away, but she still didn’t get the message. You can’t protect her from them? If they decide to kill her, you might as well start digging her grave.”

Brandon started to move toward Sutherland but he turned and quickly walked away. Brandon started to go after him but then stopped. His job was to stay close to Jodie he told himself. He turned and went back to the courtroom and went inside. He noticed Sutherland slither in a few moments later and take a seat in the gallery.

A few moments later Judge Anderson took the bench and told Rutledge to continue. He called Detective Roger Barnes of the Dallas Police Department.

“Detective. Did you have occasion to work a case involving a woman named Evelyn Sanders?”

“Objection,” Black said. “This line of questioning is irrelevant and highly prejudicial.”

“Your Honor,” Rutledge said. “Ms. Sanders was a witness in this case and if the court will allow me to continue it will become quite clear that this testimony is very relevant.”

“Objection overruled,” the judge said. “You may answer the question.”

“Yes. She was the victim of a homicide that I was assigned.”

“When were you first given that assignment?”

“On August 11, 1997 at about 3:30 p.m. I got the call to respond to the discovery of a dead body. The decedent was Evelyn Sanders. She was found dead behind her home. She apparently was going to her car when someone came from behind and hit her over the head with a tire iron.”

“Did you determine where the tire iron came from?”

“Yes. From the trunk of Christopher Hunt’s car.”

The courtroom erupted in conversation. The judge banged his gavel. “Silence.”

The courtroom stilled and Rutledge continued.

“Was the timing of her murder of any significance?”

“Yes. She had just met with Brandon Wilkes and defense counsel Jodie Marshall about the murders at Emilio’s Italian Restaurant.”

“That was the same meeting that Mr. Wilkes just testified to, is that correct?”

“Yes. That’s correct.”

“Thank you. Pass the witness,” Rutledge said.

“Ms. Waters. Your witness,” the judge said.

“No questions, Your Honor.”

“Very well. Mr. Black. Your witness.”

Black got up slowly and went to the lectern. “Detective. Other than the murder weapon being a tire iron taken out of Mr. Hunt’s trunk, you have no evidence that Mr. Hunt had anything to do with this murder.”

“Well his prints were on the tire iron.”

“And well they should be since it came out of his trunk.”

“Objection,” Rutledge said. “Argumentative.”

“Sustained,” the judge said. “Just ask questions, Mr. Black. You can argue your case during closing.”

“Yes, Your Honor. . . . Were there any fingerprints on the murder weapon other than Mr. Hunt’s?”

“Yes, but we have been unable to identify them.”

“Them? So, there were more than one?”

“Yes. There were three different prints on the tire iron.”

“So, the murderer could have been any one of those three or none of them if the killer wore gloves.”

“Yes. I suppose that is correct.”

“Thank you. Pass the witness.”

There were no more questions so the witness was excused and Rutledge called Sonia Bennett. Jodie watched Sonia walk quickly to the witness stand and take a seat. She wore a white sleeveless sheath dress that hugged her slim body. Her dark curly hair fell over her right shoulder as she sat rigidly, glaring at Rutledge.

“Ms. Bennett. What is your relationship to the defendant, Ricardo Rizzi?”

“He’s my boyfriend.”

“And how long have you two been together?”

“We don’t live together. I stay over sometimes.”

“Stay over?”

“Stay overnight at his apartment.”

“Okay. And how long have you been in this relationship?”

“Over a year.”

“So, you were in this relationship when the murders at Emilio’s restaurant occurred?”

“Yes,” Sonia replied.

“Were you there at the restaurant on the night of the murders?”

“No. I was at work.”

“Where do you work?”

“I’m a nurses’ aide at Parkland Hospital on the weekends.”

“So, how often do you stay overnight at Mr. Rizzi’s?”

“Mostly on the weekends, Friday and Saturday—sometimes Sunday. His apartment isn’t too far from the hospital.”

“Were you there when several Dallas police officers executed a search warrant?”

“Yes.”

Rutledge went over, picked up the box of rat poison, and held it up. “Was this box of Vacor Rat Poison found during that search?”

“Yes.”

“Had you seen that box of rat poison before?”

“Sure. It was there on the workbench the first time I went into the garage. As far as I know, it’s always been there.”

“Do you know for a fact when it was purchased?”

“No. It’s just always been there.”

“Have you ever seen Ricardo use it?”

“No. I doubt he’s ever used it.”

“But you don’t know if he has or not?”

She nodded. “That’s true. There hasn’t been a rat problem since I’ve known Ricardo.”

Rutledge put down the rat poison and picked up the shoe box.

“This shoe box full of money was found under Ricardo’s bed, was it not?”

“So I’m told. I’d never seen it before.”

“But you saw the detectives remove it from the apartment?”

“Yes. That’s true.”

“How was Mr. Rizzi’s financial situation?”

“Not good.”

“How do you mean? Did he have enough money to pay all his bills?”

“No. He had to quit paying his credit card bills. There was only enough money to pay rent, utilities, gas and food.”

“So, how much did he owe in credit card bills?”

Sonia shrugged. “I don’t know. I never added them all up.”

“More than five thousand dollars?”

“Yes.”

“More than ten thousand dollars?”

“He ran them up on his sister’s medical bills.”

“Objection!” Rutledge said. “Non-responsive.”

“Sustained,” the judge ruled.

“Ms. Bennett. Just answer the questions I give you.”

“Okay. Sorry.”

“Were his unpaid bills more than ten thousand dollars?”

“Yes. They were about twenty-five thousand.”

“So, he must have been worried and upset about these bills.”

“Sure. He wanted to pay them.”

“Did he get a lot of collection letters and phone calls?”

She nodded. “Uh huh.”

“Did they threaten him?”

“Sure. All the time.”

“Did he worry about his financial problems?”

“Sure.”

“Did he lose sleep over it?”

“Sometimes.”

“So, he was desperate for money to pay his bills?”

“Not really desperate. It’s not like they could get blood out of a turnip.”

“Did he ever tell you what his plans were to pay these debts?”

“No. I don’t think he had a plan. He just couldn’t pay them.”

“Thank you, pass the witness.”

“Ms. Waters?” the judge said.

Paula stood and went to the lectern. “Ms. Bennett. You said Ricardo ran up his credit card balances by paying medical bills for his sister, right?”

“Yes. That’s right.”

“What’s wrong with his sister?”

“She has leukemia.”

There were whispers in the gallery. A woman in the jury put her hand to her mouth. Jodie wondered what she was thinking. She hoped it was sympathy.

“Now did Ricardo have any legal obligation to pay his sister’s bills?”

“No, but had he not paid them she wouldn’t have got the treatment that put her into remission.”

“So, now that she’s in remission why hasn’t he just filed bankruptcy?”

“That’s what I told him to do, but he says he promised to pay them and some day he would.”

“So, do you think he will?”

“Yes. Some day when he’s making more money. I told him I’d help him too.”

“Do you think Ricardo is an honorable man despite the debts he owes?”

“Yes. Of course. I wouldn’t be with him if he weren’t a good person.”

“In your opinion is Ricardo capable of cold-blooded murder?”

“Objection!” Rutledge said. “Her opinion is irrelevant.”

“Your Honor. If anybody knows Ricardo Rizzi it’s his girlfriend who has spent a lot of time with him. Surely her opinion on this issue is relevant.”

“Overruled. You may answer.”

“No. He could not commit murder. He’s a kind and generous person with a good heart.”

“Thank you. Pass the witness.”

“Mr. Black. Your witness.”

George Black stood up and started talking before he even reached the lectern. Jodie watched him warily.

“Ms. Bennett. Did your boyfriend like his job?”

“Yes. He loved working for Emilio. Emilio and his father were best friends. Emilio was like family to him and vice versa.”

“So he wouldn’t do something that would hurt Emilio’s business, let alone destroy it.”

“No. Never,” Sonia agreed.

“So, who paid you to put the shoe box under his bed?”

The gallery erupted in conversation. The judge banged his gavel.

“Objection!” Paula exclaimed. “Assumes facts not in evidence.”

The judge nodded. “Sustained. Mr. Black, you know better than that.”

“Sorry, Your Honor.”

“Ms. Bennett. Isn’t it true that you put the shoe box under Ricardo’s bed?”

“No. Absolutely not.”

“Did you see Ricardo put it there?’

“Objection! Your Honor. Asked and answered,” Paula spat. “The witness has already testified that she had never seen the shoe box prior to police discovering it.”

“Sustained. Pay attention, Mr. Black.”

“Yes, Your Honor. . . . Ms. Bennett. Do you know a man named John Templeton?”

“Yes. He’s a waiter at Emilio’s.”

“What kind of a relationship do you have with him?”

“None right now.”

“In the past was he your boyfriend?”

Jodie looked at Paula. This was the first she’d heard of this relationship and she was sure Paula knew nothing about it.

“We went out a few times. I wouldn’t call him my boyfriend.”

“Didn’t you see him several times after you and Ricardo hooked up?”

“Maybe.”

“Yes or no?”

“Yes,” Sonia admitted.

“Did Ricardo know about these dates?”

Sonia swallowed hard. “No. I didn’t tell him.”

“Have you ever been pregnant?” Black asked.

Jodie’s mouth dropped open. She looked at Paula again who shifted nervously in her seat. Jodie didn’t know where this was going but she didn’t like it.

“Yes. Once.”

“Did you have the baby?”

“No. I had an abortion.”

“Who was the father?”

Jodie held her breath. “John Templeton.”

The crowd erupted in conversation again and the judge banged the gavel.

“Did you tell Ricardo about this?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because I was afraid of his reaction.”

“You were afraid he’d break up with you?”

“Yes.”

“Does John Templeton also work at Papa Benito’s Pizza?”

Sonia squirmed in her chair. “Part time, yes.”

“Didn’t Ben Benito, the owner of Papa Benito’s, used to be partners with Emilio Bellucci?”

“Yes.”

“And aren’t they competitors now?”

“Yes. I suppose so.”

“And they hate each other?”

Sonia shrugged. “I don’t know about that. I’ve heard it’s true.”

“Objection! Speculation,” Rutledge said.

“Sustained.”

“So, isn’t it true that John Templeton gave you the box of cash and told you to hide it under Ricardo’s bed?”

“No. That’s not true.”

“Didn’t he threaten to tell Ricardo about your cheating on him and your abortion if you didn’t do what he asked?”

“No!” Sonia replied vehemently. “That didn’t happen.”

“Isn’t it true that you filled a plastic bag full of Vacor Rat Poison from the box that you knew was in Ricardo’s garage and then delivered it to John Templeton so he could help Ben Benito use it to frame Christopher Hunt?”

“Objection!” Paula exclaimed. “Counsel is badgering the witness and testifying rather than asking questions.”

“Overruled. His questions are leading but this is an adverse witness so that’s allowed.”

“Pass the witness,” Black said and returned to his seat with a smug look on his face.

Jodie looked at Ricardo who looked like he’d just been hit by a jolt of lightning. Jodie leaned in close and whispered. “You knew nothing about the abortion?”

Ricardo shook his head. “Sorry,” Jodie said, seeing Ricardo’s pain in his expression.

Both Paula and Rutledge took Sonia on redirect and made her deny again and again that she did not hide the shoe box under Ricardo’s bed or collect any rat poison from the box in the garage. Jodie watched the jury to see their reaction to Sonia’s assurances that she wasn’t involved but it was hard to tell if they were buying it or not.

The judge looked at the clock which indicated it was 4:47. “It’s getting late. Let’s recess until tomorrow morning at 9:00 a.m.”

The judge got up and left the courtroom. As the gallery was emptying out Jodie looked at Paula. “Do you think Black is onto something?”

Paula frowned. “No. I think he’s just stirring up dust. If he gets the jury looking at Benito as the murderer, that takes his clients off the hook. He’s just hoping to create reasonable doubt, but I don’t think it will work.”

“Maybe we should take another look at Benito.”

“Well, let’s see where Black goes with it. He’s going to have to come up with a lot more evidence to convince anybody there is any truth to it.”

“I got a warning from Mike Sutherland earlier today,” Jodie said.

“What? He talked to you?”

“Yes. In the elevator. He said he was just trying to warn me and that Wilkinson was the one we should be worried about.”

“Well, we’ve got all the security we can afford.”

“What about the jury? Do you think he’d try to buy off one of the jurors?”

“I wouldn’t put it past him, but I don’t know what we could do to prevent it. We couldn’t go to the judge unless we had proof.”

“Right,” Jodie said wondering if Mike actually knew that Wilkinson was planning something or was this just more harassment for her rejection of his affections. After thinking about it a while she decided she couldn’t ignore the threat. Unfortunately, she had no clue what to do about it.

 

 

32

 

Stan Turner

 

Stan knew he couldn’t evade Paula and Jodie another night. Maria had told him how upset they were that he hadn’t hung around the night before to help them prepare for the next day’s trial. The truth was he didn’t want to face them. He was afraid he would have to tell them what he had learned about Sandy Richmond and Emilio Bellucci and he didn’t want to do that until he could prove what he suspected was true. Until that time it was just conjecture and would just confuse things. Fortunately, Black’s attack on Sonia and the suggestion that Ben Benito was the killer was the only thing on Paula and Jodie’s minds. They told him what had happened during Sonia’s cross examination.

“Do you think he has any more evidence to support that theory?” Stan asked.

“He must. It would be stupid to bring that up if it’s a bunch of speculation.”

“What evidence could he possibly have?” Stan asked.

“Well, do we know if Ben Benito has an alibi?” Jodie asked.

“No. He wouldn’t talk to me,” Paula said. “I tried to interview him but he refused to talk to me.”

“That must mean he doesn’t have an alibi. If he had one he would have just told you and put the issue to bed,” Stan reasoned.

“So, Black is going to call him as a witness and if he takes the 5th the jury will think he is guilty,” Paula said. “But if he talks then everyone will find out he doesn’t have an alibi.”

“That’s brilliant,” Stan said. “You’ve got to hand it to George Black. He’s pretty clever.”

“So, what are we going to do to subvert his strategy?” Paula asked.

“Well, we have to convince the jury that Sonia wouldn’t participate in a murder, even if it meant losing her boyfriend,” Jodie argued. “She just has to be adamant about that. She’s a moral human being and couldn’t help kill someone.”

“Yes, but what if Black argues that Sonia didn’t know the significance of putting money under Ricardo’s bed—that she didn’t realize she was setting him up for a murder?” Paula asked.

“The rat poison would have tipped her off,” Stan replied.

“True,” Paula agreed. “So, convincing the jury that Sonia couldn’t be blackmailed into participating in the murder is paramount.”

Jodie nodded. “Boy this is going to be very confusing for the jury.”

“It will be,” Stan agreed. “It could end in a mistrial.”

“Oh, I hope not,” Paula said. “I don’t want to try this case twice.”

They talked for another half hour and then Stan told them he had to get home because Marcia and her boyfriend were coming home from college for the weekend and they all were going out to dinner. They protested but he told them they were doing fine and to keep up the good work. The truth was he didn’t want the issue of Emilio and Sandy Richmond’s whereabouts to come up. When he got home he took Rebekah out to dinner alone just in case Paula or Jodie called the house.

The next morning Stan decided to go to court and watch the trial so he could get a feel for how it was going. He didn’t want to distract Paula or Jodie, however, so he took a seat in the gallery and watched and listened. Rutledge’s next witness was Carl Brooks.

“Objection, Your Honor,” Black said. “This witness has nothing relevant to say in this trial and is being brought to slander my client. To allow him to testify would be highly prejudicial.”

“All of you come forward,” the judge said.

Paula, Rutledge and Black all walked up to the bench for a sidebar. Stan knew what they were arguing about. Brooks was one of Tom Wilkinson’s victims in another venture. What happened to him wasn’t relevant unless Rutledge could show it was his typical practice in handling recalcitrant property owners. The sidebar continued for some time and while it was going Stan looked around the courtroom to see if he recognized anyone. The crowd was mostly from the media but he saw Ricardo’s family, some courthouse personnel on their breaks checking in on the action, and several women, presumably the spouses of the other defendants. When the sidebar broke up the judge called a ten minute recess, so Stan got up and left the courtroom so Paula and Jodie wouldn’t spot him. Outside he saw a line of witnesses who were waiting to testify. Amongst the group was an attractive woman in a red, short sleeve, skirt suit with covered buttons, matching purse and open toed shoes. She wore long seashell earrings and had a rock on her hand the size of Mt. McKinley. Stan figured it must be Tom Wilkinson’s wife, but he couldn’t imagine she’d be a witness for the prosecution.

When the recess was over Stan started to go back inside when he was tapped on the shoulder by his old friend, Detective Bingo Besch. He turned around and smiled.

“Oh. Hi, Detective.”

“Why aren’t you up at the defense table?” Besch asked.

“Oh, it’s rather crowded up there and I’m not sure how long I’m staying. I’m supposed to be manning the office but I wanted to see how things were going.”

“I just got here myself so I couldn’t tell you. Rutledge and his crew seem satisfied with what they’ve done so far.”

“What about Black? I heard he tossed in a few grenades.”

“Yeah. Throwing Ben Benito into the mix will make things interesting but it won’t stick. He’s used up all his evidence and it’s not enough.”

“That’s what I was thinking. . . . Have you found Emilio or Sandy Richmond yet?”

“No, but we did learn they did fly out of Miami together.”

“Where did they go?”

“To Mexico City but the trail ends there. They haven’t flown out of Mexico City, rented a car or taken the bus. They either had friends there or maybe bought a car with cash.”

“So, what does Rutledge think about it? Isn’t he concerned he’s got the wrong defendants on trial for murder?”

“Apparently not. He thinks he’s got a strong enough case against Wilkinson, Hunt and Jamison to win and doesn’t really care if they are innocent or not. They are criminals in his book and should be put away.”

“Hmm. So much for the pursuit of justice.”

“God works in mysterious ways,” Besch noted.

“True. Putting those thugs away for the rest of their lives would be a good thing and make the world a safer place, still—”

“I know,” Besch said. “It offends your sense of justice.”

“A little bit.”

“Anyway. I didn’t tell you this, but if you don’t screw up the DA’s case against Wilkinson and his gang they’re willing to let Ricardo slip through the cracks.”

“Seriously?”

“You didn’t hear it from me,” Besch repeated.

“Right. So, if we have any exculpatory evidence favoring Wilkinson and the others, we should sit on it.”

Besch nodded. “Yes, and Rutledge will sit on the remaining evidence he has that links Ricardo to the conspiracy.”

“What evidence? He’s already introduced the shoe box and the rat poison.”

Besch shrugged. “I don’t know what it is, but he claims to have a smoking gun that will nail your client to the wall.”

“This is bullshit!” Stan exclaimed. “I need to know what he’s got. Hell, I should already know what he’s got. If he’s been holding back the judge isn’t going to like it.”

“Calm down. He says he just discovered it. But if you don’t want to play ball, just say so and we’ll let the chips fall where they may. Oh, and this is between counsel. Don’t take it to your client or anyone else.”

Stan felt his face heating up. He was angry but he knew Besch was just the messenger and his anger shouldn’t be vented on him. He took a deep breath. “I’ll have to discuss it with Paula. It’s her case.”

“Okay. But we need a yea or nay by day’s end.”

Besch left and Stan went back into the courtroom. Brooks was on the stand so he assumed Rutledge had won the argument on whether his testimony was relevant. He had already testified about his selling his property to Wilkinson Properties for $250,000 in order to settle with the girl who had accused him of sexual assault while she was asleep in his dental chair.

“So, it is your testimony that you did not inappropriately touch Laura Easley, but that accusation alone would have ruined you, so you settled?”

“Yes. That’s correct.”

“Well, Dr. Brooks. I believe you. Pass the witness.”

Neither Paula or Black desired to cross examine the witness, so he was allowed to step down.

Rutledge called Laura Easley to the stand. “Ms. Easley. What is your occupation.”

“I’m an actor.”

“What kind of acting do you do?”

“Movies mainly. Sometimes I do music videos.”

“What was your last movie?”

“Deconstructing Mary.”

“That’s an X rated movie.”

“Triple X.”

“I see. So, you’re a porn star.”

“Some people would say so.”

“In the summer of 1995 were you hired to become a patient of Dr. Carl Brooks?”

Laura sighed. “Yes.”

“And who hired you?”

She pointed to Jamison who was seated next to George Black at the counsel table. “Chris Jamison.”

“May the record reflect that the witness has pointed out the defendant, Christopher Jamison.”

“The record will so reflect,” the judge ruled.

“So, what were you hired to do?”

“I was supposed to have my teeth checked and cleaned.”

“Is that it?”

“No. I was supposed to pretend to be very nervous and scared of dentists. Actually I didn’t have to do much acting on that score. I hate going to the dentist. The idea was that I needed to be gassed so work could be done on my teeth while I was asleep.”

“So, how did it go?”

“No problem. Dr. Brooks was very sympathetic and said he could put me under while he took x-rays and did any work that was necessary.”

“So, did he put you to sleep?”

“Yes, he gave me gas and while I was asleep he took x-rays and filled one cavity that he had found.”

“So, what happened when you woke up?”

“Oh, then I began my performance. I unbuttoned my blouse and when the dental assistant came in I complained that my blouse was open and my bra undone when I woke up. I asked her if that was part of the procedure. She said it wasn’t.”

“So, you accused Dr. Brooks of fondling you while you were under anesthesia?”

She nodded. “Yeah.”

“So, what happened next?”

“I don’t know. They paid me my thousand bucks and I never heard from them again.”

“Thank you Ms. Easley. Pass the witness.”

Paula didn’t have any questions on cross examination but Black did. “Ms. Easley. Have you made any agreements with the prosecution in exchange for this testimony today?”

“Uh, yeah. They said they wouldn’t prosecute me for extortion if I got up here and told the truth.”

“So, you’re getting a free ride for your testimony today?”

“Yeah, you think I’d be sitting up here blabbing if I didn’t have a deal?”

“Does your deal include witness protection?”

“Uh huh. At my age my porn days are about over, so a fresh start didn’t seem like such a bad deal.”

“No further questions, Your Honor.”

Laura Easley left the witness stand and was whisked away by a U.S. Marshal. Stan chuckled to himself. He had to admire Wilkinson’s creativity if nothing else. The next witness was Paul Robinson who testified how he refused to sell his home to Wilkinson Properties and shortly thereafter thieves broke in and took everything of value. Then they gathered together all the family pictures, videos, albums and burned them in the fire place. He testified that Chris Jamison had made it clear to him that if they didn’t sell even worse things would happen.

Then Rutledge called Don Short, the real estate agent who had been hired to acquire Emilio Bellucci’s property. Stan figured he was a substitute for Eva Bellucci who was too dangerous a witness for the prosecution to call. He realized Eva Bellucci was the person that Rutledge didn’t want Paula to call as a witness for the defense. Unfortunately, Black was sure to call her and he was certain to inquire as to Emilio’s whereabouts. Rutledge knew her testimony would open a can of worms and really compromise his case against Wilkinson, Hunt and Jamison.

At 5:02 p.m. on Friday Rutledge’s last witness left the stand and he rested. Due to the late hour the judge recessed the case until 9:00 a.m. on Monday. Stan left the courtroom immediately and went back to the office. On the way there he decided he had no choice now but to lay out all the facts to Paula and Jodie. He told Maria to have them come to the conference room when they arrived. Ten minutes later Jodie walked in with Paula close behind. They both looked exhausted.

“So, how’s the trial going?”

“Okay,” Paula replied. “Rutledge rested so we’ll be presenting our case bright and early on Monday.”

“Yes. Well, that’s why I wanted to meet with you. We have a huge problem.”

“What problem?” Paul asked warily.

“Well, Besch just informed me that Emilio and Sandy left the country together. They flew to Mexico City from Miami and disappeared. I’m not sure how they got to Miami, but I assume they drove.”

“They went together?” Jodie asked seeming confused.

“Yes, so that confirms that neither Ricardo, Wilkinson, Hunt or Jamison had anything to do with the murders.”

“What are you talking about?” Paula exclaimed.

Stan sighed. “Okay. I’m 99% sure Emilio and Sandy are our killers. This is what happened. Emilio married Eva, a beautiful model who was much younger than himself. After Eva made it big as a model their marriage became strained. Eva was on the road a lot and Emilio was very jealous. To keep Emilio busy Eva financed his restaurant in Dallas.

“Unknown to Emilio, John Richmond had been Eva’s high school sweetheart. While they were dating Eva’s mother had caught them having sex one afternoon when they both were supposed to be in school. Eva’s father pressed charges and John, who was eighteen at the time, was convicted of statutory rape of Eva who was but 16. As a result Richmond’s name was put on the sexual predatory list. Eva loved John but her parents wouldn’t allow them to be married, so they kept their continued relationship a secret.

“Emilio had suspected for years that there was someone else but Eva was very discreet so he could never figure out who it was. But as Eva aged a few years and found it more difficult to get modeling assignments she was forced to retire from modeling and spend more time at home. She didn’t like this because it made it more difficult to carry on her affair with John Richmond. Because she still loved John and wanted to be with him as much as possible, she befriended his wife Sandy and the two couples were soon dining and going out to social events together.

“But Sandy soon figured out what was going on and took Emilio aside and told him his wife and her husband had been having an affair for over fifteen years. Emilio was shocked and outraged and wanted to buy a gun and shoot both of them, but Sandy came up with another plan. Eva had made a lot of money modeling but had hid it from her husband. Although John wasn’t all that successful as an oil and gas operator, he had a giant ego and carried a five million dollar insurance policy. So, a better strategy, they decided, would be for them to figure out a way to kill John so Eva could collect 5 million dollars in insurance proceeds and then Emilio could file for divorce and force his wife to give him half of her estate.

“They probably agreed to split whatever they collected. Emilio came up with the poisoning idea and to make it look good, Eva would eat a tiny bit of the poison just to make her sick, while she knew her husband, being the voracious eater he was, would dig in and ingest a lethal dose of the poison.

“Donna Rice and Sandy Richmond were longtime friends, so sometimes all three of the couples went out together. Bill and Donna Rice were not supposed to be having dinner with them the night of the murders, but coincidentally showed up at the same time and asked if they could join them. There wasn’t anything Sandy could do about it. She just hoped they didn’t like Parmesan cheese.”

“Oh, my God,” Jodie said.

“So, what’s the problem? If we can prove this, Ricardo is home free.”

“Well, the problem is Emilio is our client and we have a conflict of interest.”

“Oh, shit,” Paula exclaimed. “So, now what do we do? Withdraw?”

“It gets even more complicated.”

“Oh, Jesus. What else?” Paula asked.

“Rutledge, I think, knows since Emilio and Sandy have disappeared that we can probably blow him out of the water, so Besch communicated an offer to me.”

“What kind of offer?”

“We hold back our evidence so he can convict Wilkinson, Hunt and Jamison and he lets Ricardo slip through the cracks.”

“Oh, my God!” Jodie exclaimed. “That’s got to be illegal.”

“Yeah. I’d say that’s a fair assessment,” Stan replied.

Paula shook her head. “It could be a set up. The Dallas DA would love to arrest us for conspiracy to obstruct justice.”

“Except he’s a participant and I doubt Besch would be involved in something like that.”

“Not voluntarily, but they may be coercing him to do it.”

“True, but we can’t be a party to it anyway,” Stan said. “It’s not right, plus there is no guarantee the jury will let Ricardo off no matter how easy Rutledge is on him.”

“Plus, we don’t need Rutledge to be nice to him,” Jodie said. “We can win anyway.”

“Yeah. About that. Besch claims they have a smoking gun that will nail Ricardo.”

“He’s bluffing,” Paula said. “He has to make us think that, otherwise he knows we’d never go for it.”

“Okay then,” Stan said. “Let’s blow this case wide open and prove what really happened.”

“What about our conflict of interest?” Paula asked.

Stan shrugged. “If Emilio is wanted for murder in Texas I doubt we’ll have to worry about him coming back to file an ethics complaint.”

Paula nodded. “Okay. How are we going to prove all of this?”

Stan told them.

 

 

33

 

Paula Waters

 

When Rutledge rested, Paula regretted that she’d already given her opening statement. The defense she was now going to put on didn’t resemble what she had told the jury was coming. She prayed they wouldn’t remember what she’d said almost a week earlier, but doubted that would be the case. She saw one juror taking copious notes all week, so she knew at least one juror would be confused. She decided she’d just have to explain, bit by bit during her direct examination of the witnesses, what had changed.

Stan had called Detective Besch over the weekend and informed him there wasn’t a deal. She didn’t tell Bart about it because Besch had said it was a confidential offer and she didn’t want anyone to even know she had considered it. She knew Rutledge would be pissed that she was going to blow his case apart and would show her no mercy when she started putting on her case. She just prayed Stan was right and the witnesses she called would provide the evidence she needed.

Paula’s bodyguard got to her apartment early and drove her to the courthouse. It was a bright sunny day with the temperatures in the sixties, so she wore a blue, fit-and-flare duster jacket-dress with gold shoes and a long gold chain necklace. Mild weather in December wasn’t unusual for Dallas and she took it as a good omen for the presentation of her case in chief.

The media was camped out in front of the Crowley Criminal Courts Building, so she had no choice but to answer a few questions as she walked through their midst.

“Ms. Waters. What did you think of the prosecution’s case?” a reporter asked.

“It was pretty much what I expected.”

“Has your defense changed any since the start of the trial?” another reporter asked.

She was delighted with the question as it would give her a chance to warn the jury that things have changed. They weren’t supposed to read the paper, watch TV news reports or listen to news about the trial on the radio, but that didn’t mean they wouldn’t hear about what she said to the media.

“Actually, it has changed a lot,” she said. “There have been new developments and new evidence discovered that will make it even more clear that Ricardo Rizzi is innocent.”

“What new developments?” the reporter asked.

“You’ll have to wait for the trial to resume to find out,” she said with a grin.

When she made it to the courtroom Rutledge wasn’t smiling. He glared at her as she walked up to the defense table. Jodie assumed he wasn’t happy that they hadn’t accepted his deal. Jodie was already there, engrossed in conversation with Ricardo. Paula assumed she was explaining their new strategy so he wouldn’t be taken by surprise. She looked around for Stan but he was nowhere to be found. She assumed he was out rounding up the witnesses that she was supposed to call to prove her case. The first one on the list was Eva Bellucci.

Paula set her briefcase on the table and looked at Jodie. “Is Eva Bellucci here yet?”

“Yes. I saw her in the hall.”

“Good. That will kill an hour at least. Hopefully that will give Stan time enough to get the other witnesses we need.”

“He’s been having subpoenas served all weekend. I saw him yesterday at the office and he said everyone had been served.”

The judge walked through the back door and the bailiff exclaimed. “All rise!”

The judge took the bench and told everyone they could be seated.

“Ms. Waters. You may call your first witness.”

“We call Eva Bellucci, Your Honor.”

The judge nodded to the bailiff who went out in the hall and brought Eva Bellucci into the courtroom. She wore a beige, side-buttoned, jacket dress, white shoes and a lot of silver jewelry. Even though she had retired she still looked like a model and heads turned as she walked by. Since she hadn’t been on the witness list the clerk swore her in.

“Mrs. Bellucci. Are you a part owner of Emilio’s Italian Restaurant?”

“Yes. My husband runs it but it’s community property.”

“Now you’re aware of the murders that took place at your restaurant earlier this year, aren’t you?”

“Painfully aware, I’m afraid.”

“Were you at the restaurant that night?”

“No. I was at home.”

“Was your husband at home?”

“No. He was out. I presume at the restaurant but I have no personal knowledge of that.”

“Does your husband usually work on Friday nights?”

“No. Not usually.”

“Why did he go in?”

“I don’t know. He said he had a project he was working on, but he didn’t elaborate.”

“How long have you and your husband been married?”

“Sixteen years.”

“During that time has he been faithful to you?”

“No. We have an open marriage. We’ve both had affairs.”

“Have you had a long-standing affair with one of the victims who died at your restaurant?”

“Yes. John Richmond and I have been seeing each other on and off for the full duration of our marriage. In fact, I fell in love with him before I married Emilio.”

The gallery stirred and the bailiff stood and glared at those who were talking. The courtroom became quiet.

“Why didn’t you marry John rather than Emilio?”

“Our families forbade it. John and I had sex when I was a minor and my father found out about it and had him prosecuted for statutory rape. I loved John and he didn’t blame me for my father’s actions, but we could never get married after all of that scandal.”

“So, where is your husband right now?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t seen him for about ten days now.”

“When he left where did he say he was going?”

“He said he was going fishing.”

“Is he a fisherman?”

“No. I took it to mean he was going out with another woman.”

“I see. Do you know who he went out with?”

“No, but Sandy Richmond is missing too, I understand.”

“But you don’t know if he is with Sandy Richmond, do you?”

“No.”

“Now you had a career as a model, is that correct?”

“Yes. I modeled for about twelve years before I had to retire.”

“And you did pretty well, I assume?”

“Yes, quite well.”

“So, who controls your money?”

“It’s in a trust and my brother is the trustee.”

“So, your husband doesn’t have any control over it?”

“No. I control all of our assets, even the restaurant since I financed it for him.”

“Why haven’t you given him any control over it?”

“He’s no good with money. All he knows is how to spend it.”

A man in the gallery laughed. The bailiff gave him a dirty look.

“So, he hasn’t made any money?” Paula asked.

“No. We’re lucky if the restaurant breaks even.”

“Now you knew all of the victims, is that correct?”

“Yes. They were all friends and I was devastated when I heard they died at my restaurant.”

“Do you have any knowledge as to who was responsible for the murders?”

Eva shook her head. “No. I don’t.”

“Do you think the fact that you and John Richmond were having an affair might be a motive for the murders?”

“Objection. Calls for speculation,” Rutledge said.

“I’m asking her opinion,” Paula said.

“I’ll allow it.”

A tear slid down Eva’s cheek. “It’s possible, but I pray to God that isn’t true.”

“Pass the witness,” Paula said.

Black and Rutledge took Eva on cross but neither got any additional evidence from her. Paula next called Detective Bingo Besch. Besch testified that Emilio Bellucci and Sandy Richmond had left the country together, flown to Mexico City and then disappeared. Next Paula called Don Baldwin of the Rice Insurance Agency.

“Mr. Baldwin. Did John Richmond have an insurance policy on his life?”

“Yes he did.”

“And who was the beneficiary?”

“His wife.”

“And when he died did she collect the insurance proceeds?”

“Ah. Yes she did. Normally the company would have waited until the murder had been solved to pay the claim, but since she was a victim, too, they decided to go ahead and pay the claim immediately.”

“How was the claim paid?”

“By cashier’s check.”

“And the check was cashed?”

“Yes, it was.”

“And how much was it?”

“Five million dollars.”

The gallery erupted in excited chatter. Rutledge slouched back in his chair, shaking his head. The judge didn’t try to silence the gallery. Jodie looked at Paula and smiled. Paula stifled a laugh and continued.

“Thank you, Mr. Baldwin.”

There was no cross examination so Paula called her next witness, Bob Willis.

“Mr. Willis. How are you employed, sir?”

“I’m a part-time parking lot attendant for Emilio’s Italian Restaurant.”

“Were you working on the night of May 7, 1997?”

“Yes.”

“Did you have occasion to see your boss, Emilio Bellucci, that night?”

“Yes. He was there at 5:00 p.m. when I came on duty.”

“During the evening did he come out to the parking lot at all?”

“Ah, yes. He came out to relieve me about 6:30 p.m. There usually are two of us but Gus called in sick.”

“You mean he parked cars?”

“Yeah. I know it sounds crazy, but he insisted I take a fifteen minute break.”

“Did you take a break?”

“Yes. I left for about ten minutes to go to the bathroom and get a coke.”

“When you came back did you see anything unusual?”

“Yes, I noticed that one of the keys were missing from the key box, so I asked him if he’d seen them. So, he dug into his pockets and produced the keys.”

“Why was that unusual?”

“Because I had parked that car and he didn’t have any reason to be in it.”

“Did you ask him why he was in that particular car?”

“No. He was the boss, so I figured he knew what he was doing.”

“Do you know whose car it was?”

“Yes, I was curious so I looked on his ticket.”

“Whose car was it?”

“The ticket said Chris Hunt.”

The spectators stirred again and the bailiff stood up and glared at them. On cross Rutledge got Willis to admit he hadn’t seen Emilio actually get into Hunt’s car, but when Black took over he walked Willis through his testimony again and asked him what was on everybody’s mind.

“Is it possible that Mr. Bellucci left something in Chris Hunt’s car? Like a plastic bag with rat poison in it?”

“Objection, calls for speculation,” Rutledge said.

“Objection sustained,” the judge ruled.

After Bob Willis left the stand, Paula called Sonia Bennett. “Ms. Bennett. You testified earlier that Emilio and Ricardo were like family?”

“Yes. That’s true.”

“Did Ricardo ever have Emilio over to his apartment?”

“Oh, yes. We had a family barbeque there several weeks before the murders. The apartment complex has a swimming pool and picnic area that’s great for parties. Emilio, Eva, Ricardo’s father and mother and his sister were all there.”

“So, would it have been possible for Emilio to go into Ricardo’s garage during that barbeque?”

“Sure. I saw him go in several times to get more charcoal.”

“What about the apartment itself?”

“It was open and people were going in and out all evening.”

“So, would it have been possible for Emilio to take something in the apartment, say a shoe box, and put it under Ricardo’s bed?”

“There would have been many opportunities for him to do that.”

“Pass the witness,” Paula said.

On cross Rutledge got Sonia to admit that she hadn’t seen Emilio bring anything into the apartment or take anything out of the garage except charcoal, but the damage had been done. Paula noticed many of the jurors were smiling at Ricardo and the other defendants. Black was beside himself and suggested Paula call Tom Wilkinson’s wife, Barbara. She took his advice.

Paula went to the evidence table and picked up the shoe box with the $10,000 in it. She held it up. “Mrs. Wilkinson. Do you recognize this shoe box?”

“Yes. It was the box that contained a pair of shoes I bought for my husband for his birthday.”

“And when did you last see this shoe box?”

“When I threw it out in a bag of trash in the alley behind our home.”

“So, would it have been possible for someone to take this box out of your trash or take the entire trash bag?”

“Sure. It’s right out in the open for anyone to grab.”

“Thank you. Pass the witness.”

“Mr. Rutledge, your witness,” the judge said.

“No questions Your Honor.”

The judge looked at his watch. “Then let’s break for lunch,” he said and left the bench.

Rutledge went back to the defense table, mumbled something to his co-counsel and then stormed off. Paula looked at Jodie and smiled.

Paula looked toward Ricardo who looked a bit stunned. “Well, that went well.”

Jodie laughed. “You think?”

Ricardo smiled. “So, what does this mean?”

“It means everyone knows now that you aren’t the murderer.”

Bart suddenly appeared behind them. “Congratulations! That was quite impressive.”

Paula turned and smiled. “Thank you.”

“You totally humiliated Rutledge. He looked like he wanted to chop off your head.”

“Well. I’d like to take the credit but Stan has masterminded today’s performance.”

“How long has he known that Emilio and Sandy Richmond were the killers?”

“Since the trial began, I think.”

Bart shook his head. “Well, I wouldn’t be surprised if Rutledge throws in the towel. It would be kind of ridiculous to continue the trial after what we learned today. The jury has been totally turned. I could see it on their faces. . . . Where is Stan anyway?”

Paula laughed. “Who knows.”

“Well, how about some lunch, ladies. I’m treating.”

“That sounds good to me,” Jodie said.

“Me too,” Paula agreed.

Just as they were about to leave Stan walked into the courtroom. He gave them a wide smile and walked up.

“So, according to the press you turned the tide,” Stan announced.

“You talked to the press?” Paula asked.

“Yes. They were anxious to tell me how you blew Rutledge’s case right out the window.”

“Join us for lunch, Stan?” Bart asked. “I’m treating.”

“Absolutely.”

They all piled into Bart’s BMW and drove up to the West End to Spaghetti Warehouse. After they’d been seated and ordered, Ricardo asked the question that was on everybody’s mind. “Where do you think Sandy and Emilio went?”

“They probably caught one of those public buses south where everyone pays a few pesos and climbs aboard. You know the ones you see in movies with the chickens clucking and the dogs poking their noses out the window.”

Everyone laughed.

“I’d bet they are heading to one of the South American or Caribbean countries that don’t have an extradition treaty with the U.S.”

“What do you think is going to become of Tom Wilkinson and his crew?” Jodie asked.

“Well, the feds got a lot of other things against them thanks to you, Jodie,” Stan replied. “I suspect once they are cleared of these charges they will be indicted for extortion and racketeering.”

“And they have Chris Hunt for murdering Evelyn Sanders,” Paula added

Stan sighed. “Oh, I’m afraid not.”

“Why not?” Paula asked.

“Because when I told Besch that Sandy and Emilio were together, he went to Emilio’s house and collected a sample of his fingerprints to compare with those on the tire iron that had been used to kill Evelyn Sanders.”

“Oh, my God! Emilio killed her?” Paula asked.

“I’m afraid so.”

“He must have seen Brandon and I pull up in front of the restaurant with Evelyn. When we didn’t come in, he put two and two together and figured he had a problem.”

“Right. He probably followed you and then waited for an opportunity to kill Evelyn.”

“But how was Evelyn a threat?”

“I’m not sure,” Stan said. “But she was the State’s prime witness. She was there before the victims sat down and were served. She saw them poisoned and die. I suspect she saw Emilio do something or he thought she had.”

“Huh. I feel so bad that Evelyn was murdered?” Jodie said. “And it was all my fault for dragging her over to Emilio’s.”

“Nonsense,” Stan said. “If it was anybody’s fault it was Sandy and Emilio’s. They’re the greedy bastards who got three innocent people killed so that they could get their vengeance and get rich in the process.”

“So, you don’t think John Richmond deserved to die?” Bart said.

Stan shook his head. “No. He didn’t deserve to die, but he wasn’t innocent either. He and Eva lived a lie for twenty some odd years. They should have just got married and told their families to butt out of their affairs.”

“Yeah. You don’t know Italian families,” Ricardo said. “That would be like telling a hive of bees to stop flapping their wings. It ain’t going to happen.”

Everyone laughed.

 

 

34

 

Jodie Marshall

 

After lunch Rutledge announced that the State was going to dismiss its murder charges against Ricardo Rizzi, Tom Wilkinson, Chris Hunt, and Benjamin Jamison. The judge agreed that was probably a good idea and dismissed the jury with his thanks for their service. There was pandemonium in the courtroom after the judge left the bench. The press crowded around Paula, Jodie and Ricardo to congratulate them and to find out how they’d managed to turn the case against the State so dramatically. Jodie watched in awe as Paula, basking in the glory of victory, took her time answering each and every question with alacrity. She was pleased, too, when Paula threw several compliments her way and even suggested she couldn’t have been victorious without her.

When Jodie got back to the office she was confronted with a mountain of telephone messages. Reluctantly, she called back the important ones and then pulled out the Larson file, her next big concern. As she reviewed the file she felt like she was in pretty good shape. She was sure, at least, that she had enough evidence to make Stein look like a greedy bastard. She didn’t think any jury would come down too hard against Larson, who was a hero in her book. Still, she wanted to find something to get Herb Stein and his asshole lawyer to back down. She decided to go talk to Stan about it. He looked up when she entered his office.

“Well. You feeling pretty good today?” he asked.

“Yes. Relieved. I didn’t realize how stressed out I was until the case was dismissed.”

“Yes, plus you had Sutherland to worry about.”

“Right.”

“Well. You should be off their shit list since you cleared them of the murder charges.”

“Uh huh. But I doubt I’ll get a thank you note.”

Stan laughed. “Probably not.”

“Hey. Speaking of stress. I don’t know what to do next on the Larson case. I think I can show the jury he’s a greedy, ungrateful bastard who should be paying Bob Larson a reward rather than harassing him with this frivolous lawsuit. But there must be something more I can do.”

“Yes. I think the key word is frivolous.”

“What do you mean?”

“File a counterclaim against him for filing a frivolous lawsuit. Ask for damages for mental anguish, out of pocket expenses, attorney’s fees and throw in some punitive damages—say $250,000. If you do prove that he is an ungrateful bastard the jury might just decide to make him pay for it.”

Jodie smiled. “Excellent idea. I’ll get right on it.”

Jodie went back to her office and worked all afternoon on the counterclaim. The next day she filed it and served a copy on Robert Goldberg. A couple days later she got a phone call from him.

“Jodie. Congratulations on the Rizzi case. Excellent job.”

“Thanks,” Jodie said coldly.

“Ah. I got your countersuit. Maybe it’s time to have a settlement conference or set up a mediation.”

“Sure. Is your client ready to shell out some cash for wasting my client’s time?”

“Come on. We’ve got good solid case law supporting this lawsuit.”

“Maybe, but you don’t have good facts. You know what they say, pigs get fat but hogs get slaughtered.”

“Jodie. Come on. Be reasonable. I bet I could get my client to drop the suit for say $10,000.”

“How about your client paying my client $10,000, plus my attorney’s fees which are at about $15,000 and climbing?”

Goldberg sighed. “You’re a tough negotiator, but I’ll talk to my client.”

“Thanks,” Jodie said and hung up.

Jodie felt a surge of relief come over her. She got up and rushed into Stan’s office to tell him about the conversation with Goldberg.

“Our strategy worked. I offered to settle for his client paying $10,000 plus my attorney’s fees. He’s taking it to his client.”

“That’s good. At least his attorney has a brain. Unfortunately, I doubt he’ll be able to convince Stein to pay a nickel.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. If you want to nail him you’ll probably have to go to trial.”

“I have never tried a case before.”

“What about Ricardo’s case?”

“Well. Paula tried it. I just watched.”

“You did more than just watch. You developed a lot of the evidence and helped us with strategy. I’m sure you will do fine. This case will be a good one to sink your teeth into because your client is the victim here and the jury will know it.”

“Will you be second chair?”

“Sure, if you want me to, but it’s your case. You can’t rely on me. I’ll just be there for tactical advice.”

“Right. That’s fine. Thanks.”

Jodie felt better knowing she wouldn’t be alone at trial. When she got home and walked into the apartment she smelled a wonderful aroma. She drew in a long breath and headed for the kitchen. Carl was cutting some boiled potatoes. He looked up and smiled.

“What smells so good?” she asked.

“Pot roast.”

“Oh, did you make homemade rolls too? I love them.”

“Yes, of course, and boiled potatoes and carrots.”

“Hmm. I’m starved.

“So, how was your day?”

She smiled. Carl always wanted to know the details of her day and he actually listened to every one of them. She told him about her conversation with Stein’s attorney.

“I can’t believe he took the case,” Carl said. “You should add him into the counterclaim.”

Jodie laughed. “You’re probably right, but there is some case law supporting his claim, so I have to give him the benefit of the doubt.”

“Can I come to your trial?” Carl asked.

“Hmm. I don’t know. I may screw it up and then I’d be embarrassed.”

“I doubt that would happen.”

She shrugged. “Could you even get off?”

“Sure. I’ll call in sick if I have to.”

She laughed. “Well, okay if you want to kill a couple of days.”

“It’s going to take two days?”

“Uh huh. The trial doesn’t really get started until Monday afternoon and we’ll be lucky to get a jury picked that afternoon. Then it’s just a matter of how many witnesses are called. I’ve got a half dozen or so and Stein probably has the same number.”

“Hmm. Maybe I’ll just come at the end, so I can watch Stein’s face when the jury renders a take nothing verdict.”

“That would probably be more interesting. Picking the jury is kind of tedious.”

Several days later Goldberg called Jodie back and said his client had rejected her offer but suggested they should mediate the case to force both their clients to be more reasonable. Jodie said no and told him her client wanted his day in court.

Several weeks later Jodie called the court coordinator to announce that she was ready for trial. After reviewing her records, the court coordinator told her the Larson case was number two. That meant there was a strong possibility that the case would be called to trial the following week. After she hung up she went into Stan’s office to tell him the news.

“Number 2, huh?”

“Yeah.”

“Who are the attorneys on the case that is number one?”

“I don’t know.”

“Call back and find out and get their phone numbers. Then call them and ask them if they are trying to settle the case or are they definitely going to trial.”

“Okay,” Jodie said and went back to her office. Several minutes later she had one of the attorney’s on the line.

“Hi. This is Jodie Marshall. I see that you’re number one of Judge Cavanaugh’s trial docket next week.”

“Yes. So, I heard.”

“Our case is number two, so I was just wondering if you think you might settle.”

“Yes. I expect to. The insurance company can’t afford not to settle. There’s way too much risk involved, but keep that to yourself.”

“I will. Thanks. I’m going to start getting ready.”

“Good luck.”

Jodie hung up and went back to Stan’s office. Adrenaline was already starting to flood into her system as she realized her first trial was at hand. “We’re going to trial. Shit!”

Stan laughed. “Relax. You’re ready, aren’t you?”

“Yeah. I’ve got my trial outline and witness questions all done.”

“Good. Tell Maria to call all the witnesses and make sure they’ll be there.”

“Right. I’ll do that right now,” she said and ran to the reception area to talk to Maria.

“Well, I’m going to trial,” she announced to Maria and Paula who were talking.

“Really? That’s awesome,” Paula said enthusiastically.

“I’m scared to death,” Jodie said.

“Scared to death? You just second chaired a triple murder case.”

“True. But you did all the talking. There wasn’t any pressure on me.”

“Well, everyone has to have their first trial. Don’t feel bad. I was scared to death too when I tried my first case. Everybody is.”

Jodie took a deep breath. “Okay. I’m alright. Ah. Maria. You need to call all the witnesses. I’ll get you a list.”

“No problem,” Maria said with a smile. “I feel sorry for Herb Stein. He doesn’t know he’s about to get hit with a freight train.”

“Yeah. Right,” Jodie said. “You’re just trying to make me feel good.”

Jodie went back to her office, retrieved the witness list and took it back to Maria. Then she went back to her office and got out the file. She gave it a cursory inspection and then started to feel better. She had all weekend to go over everything and make sure she was ready. She could do this. At least she hoped so.

On Monday when she got to the courthouse there were no reporters or cameramen like there’d been for the murder trial. In fact there were only a handful of people in the courtroom. It seemed like a letdown after the Ricardo Rizzi case. She spotted Bob Larson and went over to him.

“Hey. There you are,” she said.

“Oh, Jodie,” he said looking a little nervous.

“Well, you ready for this?”

“Yeah. I just want to get it over with.”

“Me too. It’s a bogus case and I’m sorry you’re having to go through it.”

A tall man with a shaved head and black mustache walked into the courtroom. He was in an expensive suit and wore a diamond studded Rolex. Jodie looked at him a moment and he smiled.

“You must be Jodie,” the man said.

“And you must be Robert Goldberg?”

“Right.”

They shook hands and then Jodie introduced him to Bob Larson.

“Well, I guess the case before us settled,” Goldberg said.

“That’s right. It looks like we’re going to trial,” Jodie replied.

“You sure you don’t want to settle this now before it’s too late?” Goldberg asked.

Jodie looked at Larson. “What do you think?”

Larson shook his head. “No. I don’t think so.”

Goldberg shrugged. “Okay. I guess I’ll go sign in.”

He went over to the bailiff and noted on the docket list that he was there. Jodie went over and signed the sheet as well.

“Since you’re number one you can set up at the counsel tables,” the bailiff said.

Jodie nodded and went over to the defense table. She motioned for Larson to take a seat next to her. A moment later the door opened and Stan walked in. Jodie smiled, relieved to see that Stan was there.

“Jodie, Bob. How’s it going?” Stan asked.

“Fine. Did you see any of our witnesses?” Jodie asked.

“No. I told them to come at 1:00 p.m. You’ve got to pick a jury and then Goldberg will put on his case. We probably won’t need any of our witnesses until late afternoon and maybe not until tomorrow. There’s no use having them sitting around twiddling their thumbs.”

“Right,” Jodie agreed. “I’m just worried they won’t show up.”

“They’ll be here. Maria has talked to all of them,” Stan assured her.

The door to the courtroom opened and a solemn Herb Stein walked in. He ignored Stan and Jodie and went straight over to Goldberg who was seated at the plaintiff’s counsel table. They began whispering to each other. A few moments later the court reporter came in and started setting up. Paula went up to her and had her mark her exhibits. A few minutes later Goldberg did the same thing. Jodie looked up at the clock.

“It’s 9:15. Where’s the judge?” Jodie asked.

“She’s probably handling some emergency in her chambers or she got caught in traffic.”

“I just want to get this over with.”

“Once you get started it won’t be so nerve wracking.”

Jodie took a deep breath. Suddenly the back door opened and Judge Martha Jasper walked in.

The court reporter stood up. “All rise!”

The judge nodded and took a seat. “You may be seated,” she said and began reading her docket. “Okay. Herbert Stein vs. Bob Larson. May I have announcements?”

“Plaintiff is ready, Your Honor,” Stein said.

“Defendant is ready, Your Honor,” Jodie agreed.

“Alright. How long do you estimate this trial will take?”

“Two days,” Stein said.

“Two or three days,” Jodie added.

The judge called the rest of the docket and told the attorneys on the next case to call the court coordinator Tuesday afternoon to find out if they should come in on Wednesday or Thursday. She told everyone else their cases would be carried to the next jury week. The court cleared out leaving only a few unidentified persons.

“You need to invoke the rule,” Stan said.

Jodie gave Stan a blank stare. “Oh, right. . . . Your Honor, the defendant invokes the rule.”

The rule was that any persons who were going to testify couldn’t stay in the courtroom until it was time for their testimony. The reason for the law was to make sure witness testimony wasn’t influenced by what went on in the courtroom during the trial.

“Alright. If there is anyone in the courtroom who is going to testify in this matter come forward to be sworn in.”

Stan motioned for Bob Larson to go forward. Stein and two others went up to the bench to be sworn in.

“Raise your right hand. . . . Do each of you swear to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth?” the judge asked.

There was a chorus of “I do’s.”

“Now, unless you are a party to this lawsuit, all witnesses will remain in the hall until called to testify.”

Stein and Larson went back to their seats and the other two witnesses left the courtroom.

“Bailiff. Please give counsel their juror questionnaires.”

“Yes, Your Honor,” the bailiff said, getting up to deliver the two packets to Goldberg and Jodie.

“Alright. You have thirty minutes to study the questionnaires and then we’ll start picking a jury.”

“Thank you, Your Honor,” Jodie said.

Goldberg didn’t say anything as he had already pulled out the questionnaires and was examining them. The judge got up and left the bench. There were twenty-four questionnaires for the jury panel that would soon be brought into the courtroom. They provided basic information about each juror including name, employment, family information, and prior jury service.

“Paula taught you how to do this, right?” Stan asked.

Jodie nodded. “Right. I’ll go through these and pull out anybody that looks like a potential problem.”

“Okay. I’m going to check in with the office while you do that. I’ll be back in a minute to discuss the ones you’re worried about.”

“Okay, great,” Jodie said.

Stan got up and left the courtroom. There was a telephone for attorneys in the hallway that ran between the judge’s private offices and the courtroom, so Stan walked to the access door and entered his code. The door opened and he walked to the telephone. He dialed the office and Maria answered.

“Well, we’re underway,” Stan reported.

“Good. How’s Jodie doing?”

“She’s fine. She looking over her prospective jurors right now. Any problems with our witnesses?”

“No, they all say they will be there at one.”

“Good. Any messages?”

“Yes, Ram called. He’s having to find a new place to live. The friends he was staying with booted him out.”

“Oh crap! That’s all I need right now. Was he upset?”

“Yes. He’s got enough money for a motel for a few nights, but then he doesn’t know what he is going to do.”

“Well, with the kids grown up we have three empty bedrooms upstairs. I wonder if Rebekah would mind a few house guests for a while.”

“You’re joking, right?” Maria said.

Stan laughed tentatively. “You don’t think it’s a good idea?”

“No. Absolutely not.”

Stan hung up and called Detective Besch.

“So, did you talk to your friend at the Collin County DA’s office?”

“Yes, I did and he said he’d send somebody to observe the trial, but he couldn’t promise anything.”

“That’s okay. I just thought they should be aware of what’s going on.”

“Yes. They said they appreciated the heads up.”

“Thanks, Detective.”

Stan hung up and went back to the courtroom. Jodie was hard at work and had a small pile in front of Stan’s seat. Stan sat down and looked at the questionnaires in the stack.

“Those are the ones I’m worried about,” Jodie advised.

Stan nodded and began reading them. “A clerk for an insurance company,” Stan read.

“Yeah. I wasn’t sure about that.”

“Actually, I think you want him based on your defense theory. He won’t like what Stein’s been up to.”

“Okay.”

Stan picked up the next one. “A banker. . . . What’s wrong with a banker?”

“I don’t know. Wouldn’t a banker be someone who does everything by the book? He might not like what Larson did.”

Stan shook his head. “I wouldn’t worry about that but you can question him if you want to.”

Stan and Jodie went through the stack and had just finished when the judge returned to the bench. After the jury had been brought in Goldberg gave a brief description of the case and then began questioning jurors to make sure they could be fair and impartial in their deliberations. When he was done Jodie did the same thing but most of the questions had been covered, so her questions didn’t take long. When they were done each side made their three strikes and the jury was selected before noon.

“Alright. We’ll recess until 1:00 p.m. at which time Mr. Goldberg can make his opening statement.”

“Very well, Your Honor,” Goldberg said.

The judge left the bench and Stan smiled at Jodie. “See, that wasn’t so bad.”

“No. That was easy. It’s the rest of the trial I’m worried about.”

“What happens after the opening statement?” Larson asked.

They’ll start questioning their witnesses,” Jodie said.

“How about some lunch?” Stan suggested.

Larson nodded. “Sure. I’m buying. Is there anything close by?”

“Since we don’t have much time there’s a barbeque shack across the street that’s pretty good.”

“That sounds good to me,” Larson said.

“You two go ahead. I want to go over my witness questions again.”

“You sure?” Stan asked.

“Yeah, go ahead.”

Larson and Stan left and Jodie started going through her trial notebook one more time. She had no appetite and wasn’t in the mood for social banter. She had to make sure her presentation was flawless. There was simply too much at stake to be making mistakes.

 

 

35

 

Stan Turner

 

Before long Stan and Larson were back. Jodie closed up the trial notebook, stood up and stretched. Stan handed her some potato chips.

“I don’t want your stomach growling during cross examination.”

Jodie laughed and took the potato chips. She opened them and started eating.

“Well. You ready?” Stan asked.

“Yes, I am,” Jodie replied confidently.

The door to the courtroom opened and Judge Jasper walked in. Everyone rose as she took her seat.

“Be seated,” she said.

“Alright. Bailiff, please bring in the jury.”

The bailiff opened a side door and the twelve jurors who had just been selected walked in and took their seats in the jury box. There were eight women and four men. Four were Black, two Latino, and six Caucasian. Seven were blue collar workers, three professionals and two homemakers.

The judge addressed the jury giving them her standard instructions on their duties, the burden of proof, and jury conduct during the trial. When she was done she nodded to Goldberg.

“You may give your opening statement.”

Goldberg smiled brightly as he got up and walked to the lectern. “Your Honor, ladies and gentlemen of the jury. On behalf of myself and Mr. Stein, we want to thank you for your jury service. We know that you all have busy lives and jury service is a burden you could do without.”

Many of the jurors nodded their agreement.

“We discussed the facts of this case a little during voir dire, but now I want to tell you in more detail what this case is all about and why my client, Herbert Stein, believes he has been wronged by the defendant despite his apparent good intentions.

“As I mentioned earlier, Mr. Stein owns a jewelry store in Plano, Texas called the Jewelry Mart. He bought it several years ago and it is his only livelihood. As you might imagine there is an element of danger in operating any retail establishment. Thieves and robbers often hold up convenience stores and other businesses every day, but a jewelry store is a favorite target because jewelry and precious gems are small, extremely valuable, and easy to fence. In fact, Mr. Stein in the short time that he has been in business has been robbed several times. Fortunately, until this last robbery he has survived each holdup without injury.

“Now we will show that his survival has been the result of his careful attention to safety protocols communicated to him by the police and his various insurance carriers. Specifically, we will show that established protocol calls for the full cooperation with the armed robber who is holding up your store. This is to minimize the risk of bodily harm. Money can be replaced but people cannot.

“So, on May 7, 1997 when an armed robber came into the Jewelry Mart, Herbert Stein did what he had been instructed to do by the police and his insurance carriers–that is he offered his complete cooperation and gave the perp no reason to do him harm. Unfortunately, Bob Larson came along while the robbery was in progress and took it upon himself to intervene. Now he will testify that he is an ex-Army MP and fully qualified to handle this type of situation, but the evidence will show that his interference actually caused Herbert Stein to be shot in the leg and suffer unimaginable pain and mental anguish.

“Now Ms. Marshall will argue that as the result of her client’s intervention the robber was arrested, tried and convicted for his crime and that the Jewelry Mart suffered no financial loss as the result of her client’s actions. The problem with this is that Mr. Stein had insurance. He had insurance so he wouldn’t have to risk his life if a robber decided to target his store. The prudent thing for Mr. Larson to do would have been to simply call 9-1-1 and let professionals handle the situation, but he for some reason felt compelled to intervene and nearly got Mr. Stein killed.

“I know that everyone likes a hero, but Bob Larson is not a hero. He’s a careless meddler who had no right or authority to go into the back room of the Jewelry Mart and try to stop a robbery in progress. As the result of his negligent and reckless conduct Herbert Stein has suffered past and future medical expenses, extreme mental anguish, and incurred cost and attorney fees in bringing this action. At the end of the case the Court will give you special issues or questions to answer which will allow you to decide what damages to award Mr. Stein for the injury he has suffered.

“We are confident that after you have heard the testimony and reviewed the evidence in this case that you will find, by a preponderance of the evidence, that Bob Larson was grossly negligent and reckless in his behavior on May 7, 1997 and grant judgment in Herb Stein’s favor and against Bob Larson in an amount that will fully compensate him for his loss. Thank you.”

“Ms. Marshall. Would you like to give an opening statement at this time?” the judge asked.

Jodie had wrestled with this question for some time but finally decided she could damage Stein’s case significantly in cross examination so she didn’t need to give her opening statement right off the bat.

“No, Your Honor. I’ll wait until I present my case in chief.”

“Very well. Mr. Goldberg, you may call your first witness.”

“I call Herbert Stein.”

Herb got up and walked to the witness stand. Goldberg went to the lectern and spread out his notes.

“Mr. Stein. What kind of business are you in?”

“I own a jewelry store in Plano called the Jewelry Mart.”

“Please describe your business for the jury.”

“We sell fine jewelry, watches, and loose diamonds. We also do watch repair.”

“Were you open on the evening of May 7, 1997?”

“Yes. I was working the store alone that night. I usually have someone with me, but my employee had called in sick.”

“Did anything unusual happen on May 7, 1997?”

“Yes. We were robbed.”

“Tell us what you remember about the robbery,” Goldberg said.

“A short, middle-aged man with long blond hair came in and looked around. When I came up to see if he needed any help he pulled a gun on me and stuck it in my face.”

“Did he say anything?” Goldberg asked.

“He said if I wanted to live to do exactly what he instructed.”

“So, what happened next?”

“I raised my hands and told him I’d do whatever he asked. He said to take him to the safe. So, I did.”

“Did you open the safe for him?”

“I started to, but before I got it open I heard a scuffle behind me. I turned around and saw the defendant, Don Larson, wrestling with the robber for his gun.”

“What happened next?”

“I knew that the struggle would likely end badly, so I decided to make a run for it while the robber was distracted. But as I was fleeing past the two men the gun went off and a bullet hit me in the leg.”

“Were you in pain after you were shot?”

“Yes. Excruciating pain. It’s the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life. I was light headed and almost fainted.”

“Did you go to the hospital?”

“Yes. I spent two days at Plano Hospital. They took out the bullet and patched me up.”

Stein next introduced the video surveillance of the attempted robbery from several different camera positions. The jury watched Michael Mahoney enter the store. He was wearing a ski mask so you could only see his eyes and his mouth. He looked around the showroom and then another camera showed him going into the back room. A third camera showed the struggle over the gun and Stein trying to get past Mahoney and Larson when he was shot. When the video ended Goldberg continued his direct examination.

“Have you had any problems since you left the hospital?”

“Yes. I can’t sleep at night. Every time I finally get to sleep I have horrible, violent nightmares that wake me up.”

“Could these be caused by the robbery rather than being shot?”

“No. The nightmares always involve a shooting. I see myself being shot or feel the sting of the bullet.”

“Has this caused you any problems on the job?”

“Yes, I’m afraid to be there alone—particularly at night. I can’t concentrate anymore. I get distracted easily by simple noises like the air conditioning unit coming on or a door slamming.”

“Have you been to a doctor about this?”

“Yes. I told my regular doctor about it and he referred me to a psychologist, Dr. Harry Wine.”

“Have you gone to see him?”

“Yes. I see him every Thursday afternoon.”

“Has he prescribed you any medication?”

“Yes. He gave me something to help me sleep.”

“What is it costing you to go to Dr. Wine?”

“Three hundred dollars a week.”

“How long do you think you’ll have to be under treatment to fully recover?”

“Dr. Wine said it could take six months or a year.”

“So, for past and future treatments we’re looking at about $31,200?”

“Correct.”

“And how much did the hospital charge you?”

“Eleven thousand three hundred twenty-two.”

“What about prescriptions?”

“That’s a hundred a month.”

“So, you’re asking the jury to award you $43,522.00 in medical related damages.”

“That’s right.”

Stein showed the witness documentation to prove up the past and future medical expenses and asked him to authenticate them. Then he asked the court to admit the records into evidence. There were no objections so the exhibits were admitted.

“And of course you want the defendant to reimburse you for your attorney’s fees, right?”

“That’s correct.”

“Thank you. Pass the witness.”

“Ms. Marshall. Your witness,” the judge said.

Jodie stood up and walked to the lectern and set a legal pad in front of her.

“Mr. Stein. This isn’t the first time you have been robbed, is it?”

“No. It’s the fourth time actually.”

“How much was taken in the first robbery?”

“$132,000.”

“How about the second?”

“Ah $145,000 I think?”

“And the third?”

“$160,000.”

“How much was taken in this last robbery?”

“Well, ah, actually nothing.”

“Like zero?”

“Yes, nothing was taken.”

“And would you agree that was because the defendant, Bob Larson, risked his life to come in and stop a robbery in progress?”

“Yes, but I didn’t ask him to.”

“No. You didn’t, but still nothing was taken and the robber is now serving time in Huntsville prison, right?”

“Yes, that’s true.”

“What was your inventory on the day of the robbery?”

“I don’t know right off hand.”

“Was it more than $100,000?”

Stein nodded. “Probably?”

“More than $150,000?”

“A little more perhaps.”

“So, Mr. Larson saved you $150,000 yet you want him to pay you $43,522 plus damages for mental anguish and attorney’s fees.”

“You bet I do. I was shot.”

“I’m glad you brought that up. Isn’t it true had you just stayed still and not tried to flee the scene, you wouldn’t have been shot?”

“Well, do you expect me to just stand there while two men are fighting over a gun?”

“Objection, non-responsive,” Jodie said.

“Sustained,” the judge said. “Just answer the question asked.”

“What was the question?” Stein asked.

“Had you not moved when the struggle for the gun began, you wouldn’t have been shot?”

“I guess not.”

“So, your getting shot was partially your own fault.”

“Objection!” Goldberg exclaimed. “Calls for a legal conclusion.”

“Withdraw the question. . . . Mr. Stein, in addition to the inventory you mentioned, were there items in your safe that would have been taken had Mr. Larson not intervened?”

“Yes. I suppose.”

“What was in the safe?”

Larson looked at Goldberg. “Objection, irrelevant.”

“It’s not irrelevant. It goes to damages. Mr. Stein says he’s been damaged but I say he benefitted from Mr. Larson’s actions. The question is how much.”

“Overruled.”

“Some cash.”

“How much cash?”

“Ten thousand or so.”

“What else was in the safe?”

“Important papers.”

“What else?”

“Loose diamonds, but they were included in the inventory number I gave you.”

“Why did you remove the contents of the safe and take it to your car after Mr. Larson tied up the robber but before the police came.”

“I don’t know. I don’t remember why I did that. Maybe I was afraid the shop wouldn’t be secure while it was a crime scene.”

“Or was it because there was something in the safe that you didn’t want the police to see?”

“No. That wasn’t it.”

“Then why take out precious items from a safe where nobody could steal them and put them in a vehicle parked in the street that any car thief could have taken in thirty seconds?”

Larson squirmed in his chair.

“Could it be that there were drugs in the safe?”

“Objection,” Goldberg said. “Argumentative and prejudicial.”

“No. Absolutely not,” Stein answered anyway.

“It’s a fair question,” the judge said. “Overruled.”

“So, you don’t want us to know what was in the safe? I got it.”

“Objection! Argumentative.”

“Sustained.”

“I’ll rephrase. I think I know why you didn’t want the contents of the safe to be seen by the police.”

Stein just glared at Jodie. She smiled and pulled a document from her evidence stack. “I’m going to show you what has been marked Defendant’s Exhibit #1 and ask you to identify it.”

Jodie handed Stein the document and he looked it over. “I think this is the claim form for the first robbery.”

“Very good. So, this is the document that you turned into Travelers Insurance Company after you were robbed the first time?”

“Yes. That’s correct.”

“And you collected this claim, is that correct?”

“Yes.”

Jodie picked up a second and third document and Stein admitted that these were the claim forms for the second and third robberies.

“Now,” Jodie said. “I want you to compare the itemized inventory of stolen items and tell me why they are almost identical except for the quantity of each which accounts for the higher claims each year.”

Stein studied the three inventories. “Well, we sell a lot of the same inventory each year and just replace it, so they would look alike.”

“After you got the check for $132,000 for your claim on the first robbery did you replace all the lost inventory?”

Stein frowned, then looked at Goldberg.

“Did you replace your lost inventory or did you spend the money on something else?”

Stein studied the inventories and then shrugged. “We replaced some of it.”

“But some of the money was spent on other things, right?”

“I suppose.”

“Because a lot of that inventory was unsaleable so it would have been stupid to buy back stuff that didn’t sell.”

“I don’t know about that,” Stein said.

“In fact, the robbery was pretty convenient, wasn’t it? You got to cash out of all your unsaleable inventory at the expense of your insurance company.”

“Objection. Counsel is testifying.”

“Overruled. The witness will answer the question.”

“No. That’s not true. I had no control over when my store got robbed.”

“Really?” Jodie asked. “Because I noticed each robbery occurred about the same time, just before summer.”

“So what. That’s just a coincidence.”

“Your summers are your slowest periods, aren’t they?”

“Yes, but I had no control over when I was robbed.”

“Yes, so you say. . . . How could you control when you would be robbed?”

“Right. I couldn’t.”

“Unless you knew the robber, Michael Mahoney. Did you know him?”

“No. Of course not.”

Jodie picked up a large book she had placed on the table and handed it to Stein. “Can you identify this?”

Stein’s mouth dropped open as he took the book. “It’s a high school yearbook.”

“Un huh.”

“For Hillcrest High School, right?”

Stein nodded. “Right.”

“Did you attend Hillcrest High School?”

Stein took a deep breath. “Yeah.”

“Let’s look on page 42. Is that your photograph?”

Stein nodded. “Uh huh.”

“Now look at page 24. Do you see a picture for Michael Mahoney? He looks quite a bit younger but is that not the same Michael Mahoney that robbed your store and is serving time in Huntsville as we speak?”

Stein looked at Goldberg who looked like he’d been shot with a stun gun. “Yes, but that doesn’t prove anything. Just because he went to the same high school. So what?”

“Did you know him when you were at high school?”

“No. Not really. I may have seen him around.”

“Look on page 57. Isn’t that a picture of you two on the tennis team?”

“Oh. Right. Yeah, I remember now. We were on the tennis team together.”

“So, you were friends then?” Jodie pressed.

“I guess. That’s been so long ago.”

“Now, your attorney showed us the surveillance videos of the last robbery.”

“Yes.”

“And you testified that the previous robbery was taped as well?”

“Yes, but the police took those tapes. I don’t have them.”

“Yes, they did and I’ve arranged with the Plano Police Department to bring them here today so the jury can see them.”

“Objection!” Goldberg said. “These tapes have not been introduced into evidence. If Ms. Marshall wants to introduce them she should wait until she puts on her case. Besides, the tapes are irrelevant and they were not produced during discovery.”

“Your Honor, I had these tapes brought here today as impeachment evidence. Mr. Stein testified that he didn’t know Michael Mahoney and that he had no way of controlling when he was robbed, but I think this video may prove those statements false.”

“Objection sustained,” the judge ruled. “But you may want to withdraw your objection so the Plano police officer who is here to authenticate the tapes doesn’t have to sit around here for another day. I’m going to allow the viewing of the tapes eventually anyway.”

Goldberg shrugged. “Very well, Your Honor. I withdraw my objection as a matter of courtesy to the witness.”

“Thank you, Mr. Goldberg. . . . Ms. Marshall, you may call your witness.”

Jodie put the Plano police officer on the stand to authenticate the tapes and then they were played for the jury. The two video tapes were quite similar and when they were finished Jodie froze the second video showing a clear shot of the robber facing the camera.

“Now Mr. Stein, if you look carefully at the robber in the third robbery and the robber in the latest robbery, even though they are wearing masks, don’t they look identical?”

Stein shook his head. “No. Not necessarily.”

“They are the same height and build, right?”

“More or less but not identical.”

“What about the tattoo?”

Stein squinted. “What tattoo?”

“Look carefully on his wrist. There is a tattoo of a coiled snake. The same tattoo that’s on the wrist of Michael Mahoney.”

Stein looked away and sighed. “Okay. Maybe it was the same guy, but I didn’t tell him to rob my store.”

“No, it’s all just a coincidence that a buddy from your high school tennis team robs your store twice, or was it four times?”

“I don’t know who robbed my store the first three times. They weren’t caught.”

“No, because you didn’t call 9-1-1 until you were sure they’d gotten away, isn’t that right?”

“Objection. Counsel is testifying.”

“Sustained.”

“And had it not been for Bob Larson you’d have gotten away with it again, right? And that’s why we’re here today, isn’t it? You were pissed off that Bob Larson screwed up your insurance claim and sent your friend, Michael Mahoney, to prison.”

“Objection!” Goldberg exclaimed. “Counsel is still testifying.”

“Withdrawn,” Jodie said. “Why is it that each year you get your insurance with a different carrier?”

“I don’t know. To get the best rate, I guess.”

“Are you sure that’s it or was it because you were afraid to file multiple claims with the same carrier? That would certainly raise a red flag.”

“No. That has nothing to do with it.”

Jodie looked at her notes and then at Stan. “Pass the witness.”

Goldberg questioned Stein for thirty minutes trying to rehabilitate his case with limited success. Then he called Stein’s doctor who testified as to his medical treatment and mental anguish suffered on account of being shot in the leg. Jodie challenged whether his mental anguish wasn’t over getting shot in the leg but rather from not being able to collect on an insurance claim with summer coming and cash flow being so bad.

 

 

36

 

Jodie Marshall

 

Goldberg’s final witness was Detective Vince Morgan of the Plano Police Department. He first asked him about his family, education, employment and training as a police officer. Then he got to the night of the robbery.

“Detective Morgan. Were you assigned the robbery that took place at the Jewelry Mart in Plano, Texas on May 7, 1997?”

“Yes, I was.”

“Would you tell us what you observed when you arrived on the scene?”

“Sure. I arrived about eleven minutes after the 9-1-1 call. There were already two patrol officers on the scene. The robber was already in the back seat of one of the patrol cars having been secured by the defendant, Bob Larson. Mr. Stein had been shot in the leg and was in the process of being transported to the local hospital.”

“Now there were surveillance tapes of the crime, is that correct?”

“Yes. The following day I viewed three different videos of the crime taken by cameras located in the store.”

“So, you saw the defendant’s intervention, including his struggle with the perp, is that correct?”

“Yes. That was on the third tape taken from the vault room.”

“Did you question Mr. Larson about his intervention?”

“Yes. He told us he came into the store to buy an engagement ring and immediately suspected something was wrong.”

“Okay. So if a citizen comes upon a crime in progress what would be the proper thing to do?”

“Call 9-1-1.”

“Call 9-1-1 immediately, right?”

“Yes.”

“But Mr. Larson didn’t do that, did he?”

“No. He said he wanted to be sure there was something wrong before he bothered the police.”

“Is that what a citizen who comes on a suspected crime scene should do—run right in and check it out?”

Detective Morgan laughed. “No. That might get you killed.”

“But Bob Larson decided to run right in, a foolish move, right?”

“Well, he wasn’t an average citizen. He was an ex-Army MP.”

“Okay. Does an ex-Army MP have any jurisdiction in Texas?”

“No.”

“So, he shouldn’t have gone into the back room to investigate what was going on, right?”

“Objection!” Jodie said. “Leading the witness.”

“Sustained,” the judge ruled.

Goldberg gave Jodie an annoyed scowl. “Let me rephrase. From your conversations with Mr. Larson and viewing of the videos, upon seeing the display area unoccupied, did the defendant venture into the back room?”

“Yes.”

“Should he have done that?”

“No.”

“And did you observe his interaction with the robber?”

“Yes.”

“And what happened?”

“He came up from behind and disarmed him.”

“Should he have done that?

“No. It was a dangerous move. When he saw what was going on he should have turned around, left the crime scene and called 9-1-1.”

“So, he didn’t act the way you would expect a reasonable person to act under the same or similar circumstances.”

“No. He did not.”

“Thank you. Pass the witness,” Goldberg said.

“Alright,” Judge Jasper said. “Ms. Marshall, your witness.”

Jodie stood up. “Detective, did you talk to the paramedics who were treating Mr. Stein?”

“Yes.”

“What was their evaluation of the injury?”

“Objection, hearsay,” Goldberg said.

“Objection sustained.”

Jodie thought a moment. “Did you write a report about your observations on that first day that you visited the crime scene?”

“Yes.”

“In your report how did you characterize Mr. Stein’s wound?”

“It was a minor flesh wound.”

“Have you ever had a flesh wound?”

“Yes. I was accidentally shot once. The wound was very similar to Mr. Stein’s wound.”

“So, does that mean the bullet didn’t penetrate into Mr. Stein’s leg and lodge there?”

“Yes. It passed through the surface of the skin and then lodged in the linoleum floor.”

“Did you retrieve the bullet?”

“Yes.”

“Now, you testified that Mr. Larson, even though he was an ex-Army MP, didn’t have jurisdiction and probably shouldn’t have tried to intervene in this situation.”

“Correct.”

“But the fact is he managed to apprehend the perp, secure him until the police came with just a minor injury to Mr. Stein.”

“Yes, he did.”

“And are you aware this was the fourth robbery in five years at this location?”

“Yes. I saw that.”

“So, weren’t you a little bit impressed with what he did?”

“Objection! Calls for an opinion.”

“Overruled,” the judge said. “He can state his opinion.”

Detective Morgan smiled. “Yeah, actually it was pretty impressive.”

Several members of the jury laughed. Goldberg shook his head and Stein just glared at the detective in disbelief. Jodie pressed on.

“Now, you testified you’ve been a detective for seven years in Plano, right?”

“Yes. That’s right.”

“And in your training as a police officer and detective isn’t it part of your training to notice if things around you aren’t right and take immediate action, if they are not?”

“More or less, right.”

“So, let’s say you decided to quit the Plano Police Department and work for the Dallas Police Department, but decided to take a two week vacation between jobs.”

“Objection! Your Honor. This line of questioning is irrelevant.”

“No it’s not,” Jodie protested. “You’ve brought in Detective Morgan as an expert witness so I can ask him hypothetical questions.”

“Objection overruled.”

“Okay,” Morgan replied with a hint of a smile.

“Now. Let’s say while you were on vacation you went shopping for a watch in a jewelry store on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City, New Jersey. And when you stepped into the store you saw it was deserted, looked around and came to the conclusion that it was being robbed. Would you call 9-1-1 or would you pull your gun and investigate?”

Detective Morgan thought about it a moment, scratched his head, and then sighed. “I’d probably go in, I guess.”

“Even though you weren’t technically a cop and had no jurisdiction?”

“Yeah. I wouldn’t have worried about that.”

“Because someone’s life was in danger, right?”

He nodded. “Right.”

Jodie looked at Morgan and then the jury. A man on the jury panel winked at her. She stifled a laugh.

“Now, talking to the witnesses and viewing the tapes did it appear that Mr. Larson had a gun?”

“No. He did not.”

“So, he didn’t bring anything onto the scene that was dangerous?”

“Just his martial arts skill,” Detective Morgan noted.

Everyone on the jury laughed.

“No further questions, Your Honor.”

An annoyed Goldberg took Detective Morgan on redirect and got him to state again that Larson’s actions were inappropriate but he was less than enthusiastic and the jury saw it.

Larson leaned over to Jodie and whispered. “You’re good.”

Jodie smiled. “Thank you, but we haven’t won yet.”

Stan leaned over to Larson and whispered. “Yeah, you have.”

Jodie stifled a laugh.

The courtroom became quiet as Goldberg reviewed his notes and shuffled some papers. The judge watched him patiently.

“Call your next witness,” the judge said.

Goldberg looked up. “No further witnesses, but I’d like to testify as to my attorney’s fees.”

For the next thirty minutes Goldberg recited what work he had done on the case, his hourly rate, his expenses and then stated that everything he had done was reasonable and necessary for the prosecution of the case.

“Ms. Marshall. Your witness.”

“No questions, Your Honor.”

There was an unwritten rule that attorneys didn’t cross examine each other on attorney’s fees unless they were way out of line. This was particularly true when both sides were trying to get the jury to award them fees, as was the case in this trial. The judge looked at the clock.

“Alright. We’ll recess until 9:00 a.m. tomorrow at which time, Ms. Marshall, you can give your opening statement.”

“Thank you, Your Honor,” Jodie said.

The judge excused the jury for the evening and admonished them not to talk about or discuss the case with anyone. Then she left the bench. Stan patted Jodie on the shoulder.

“Nice job. See you in the morning.”

“You’re not going to the office?” Jodie asked worriedly.

“No. You’ve got everything under control. Just keep up the good work.”

Stan nodded to Larson. “See you in the morning,” he said and left the courtroom.

Larson walked Jodie to her car and told her he felt the case was going very well. She thanked him and then drove back to the office. When she got there Maria and Paula met her at the door as they were anxious to hear how the trial was going.

“Why don’t we go to Fridays?” Paula suggested. “It’s happy hour. We can have a few drinks and you can tell us all about it.”

“Sure,” Jodie said. “But I don’t want to get drunk. I’ve got to put on my case tomorrow.”

“Don’t worry. Two drinks. That’s all. Then you can go home and relax. Maybe Carl will give you a massage.”

Jodie nodded. “Yeah. I’m sure if I ask him he’ll do that. He does give great massages.”

“Where’s Stan? He should come with us.”

“I don’t know. He said he had something to do.”

Paula rolled her eyes. “He’s probably shacking up with his blond prostitute.”

“Why do men do that?” Maria asked. “Rebekah is so nice.”

“They’ve been married a long time,” Paula said. “The excitement is gone so they go looking elsewhere to find it.”

“You think Stan and Rebekah are both cheating like Eva and Emilio?” Maria asked.

“No. Rebekah would never cheat,” Paula said. “She’s a one man woman, but Stan’s always struggled with temptation. Up until recently he’s managed to remain faithful. I don’t know what happened to make him stray now after all these years.”

Paula drove them to Fridays and they each had two drinks. Then when Paula heard that Bart was working late, they decided to have dinner. It was nearly eight when Jodie finally got home. Carl, who had expected her at six, was glad to see her. When she suggested a massage to ease her stressed-out body, he said he’d be happy to do it, but it would cost her. She said she’d gladly pay the price.

The next day Jodie felt very relaxed and confident. She was anxious to get on with the trial, but Carl insisted she take the time to eat a plate of waffles and strawberries before leaving. When she was done he reminded her he was coming to watch her.

“You have the day off?”

“I do. So, I’ll take you to the courthouse and you can concentrate on the trial instead of worrying about driving.”

“That’s great. Thank you.”

When they got to the courthouse Carl left Jodie off at the curb near the front entrance on Commerce Street and then went to park. When Jodie got out of the elevator on the 4th floor of the Dallas County Courthouse, Stan was in the hall talking to a well-dressed man who Jodie assumed was another attorney. When Stan saw her he said one last thing to the man and then came over to her.

“So, you ready to kick some ass?” Stan asked.

Jodie nodded. “I hope so.”

They walked into the courtroom and saw that Larson was already there sitting at the defense table. Goldberg and Stein were standing in front of the lectern talking and the court reporter was just setting up.

The bailiff stood. “All rise!”

The back door opened and Judge Jasper walked in holding a cup of coffee. Everyone stood up. She smiled and said, “Be seated.” After she’d rearranged her desk she looked up at Jodie. “Ms. Marshall. Are you ready?”

“Yes, Your Honor.”

“Bailiff, bring in the jury.”

The bailiff opened the door to the jury room and the jury filed out and took their places. Jodie looked around the courtroom and noticed it was nearly half full. She wondered why interest in the trial had grown. When the jury had been seated the judge nodded to Jodie.

“Your Honor, ladies and gentlemen of the jury. I waited until now to give my opening statement to be sure Mr. Goldberg didn’t have any surprises up his sleeve.”

Several people laughed.

“But as I suspected he didn’t. He hasn’t provided the evidence necessary to meet his burden of proof. You remember the judge telling you that the plaintiff had the burden of proof as to his case and that the measure of proof necessary for him to win was “the preponderance of the evidence.” This is simply the greater amount of evidence or more than fifty percent. And since this is a jury trial it’s your job as jurors to determine how much weight to give each piece of evidence.

“Now you can’t actually do your job until all the evidence has been presented and the judge gives you a list of questions to answer. These will be called special issues and it will be your job to answer them based on your evaluation of the evidence presented.

“In addition to defending against the plaintiff’s claim for gross negligence the court may ask you to decide the fact issues involved in our motion for sanctions for bringing a frivolous lawsuit. The test we will be relying upon in this motion is whether the petition has no basis in fact or is not warranted by existing law or good faith argument.

“As you no doubt gleaned from my cross examination of Mr. Stein, we believe we can prove that he filed this lawsuit against Mr. Larson because he was angry with Mr. Larson for upsetting his insurance scam and/or sending his high school friend and co-conspirator to prison. We believe we can prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that Mr. Stein conspired with Michael Mahoney to rob his own store so he could collect on his casualty insurance policy with Republic American Insurance Co.

“But even if you don’t believe we have proved his case is frivolous we will surely convince you that Mr. Stein was not seriously damaged by Mr. Larson’s intervention since he thwarted the robbery and prevented the loss of at least $150,000. In fact, any loss he did suffer was more than offset by the benefit he received by Mr. Larson’s termination of the robbery and apprehension of the thief.

“On behalf of myself and Bob Larson I want to thank all of you for your jury service. I have noticed that each of you have been very attentive and I am confident that when the trial is concluded that you will award nothing to Mr. Stein and perhaps even find that this entire case was at best frivolous and possibly even a fraudulent attempt to extort money from Mr. Larson. Thank you.

“Thank you, Ms. Marshall,” the judge said. “Let’s take a ten minute break and then you can call your first witness.”

The judge left the bench and Jodie looked at Larson. He was a likeable guy, she thought, and she wanted to make the jury like him too. If he came off as a reckless showboat, which wasn’t a stretch, they’d be in trouble. She had worked hard on her direct examination questions and prayed the jury would see him as she did, a man concerned for others who was willing to risk his life for someone he didn’t even know, not for fame or profit, but just because it was the right thing to do.

 

 

37

 

Stan Turner

 

Stan watched the jurors as they walked in. He wondered what they were thinking. He was pleased with the way Jodie was handling herself before the court and jury. He had been a little afraid Goldberg might roll over her, but she had stood her ground well against the seasoned trial attorney. The judge had responded well too, which wasn’t often the case with female attorneys. He didn’t know why, but female judges often were harder on female attorneys than they were on males.

Jodie stood up. “The defense calls Bob Larson.”

Larson stood up from the defense table and walked to the witness box. The jurors watched him intently and Stan noticed one of the women jurors had a smile on her face. Bob was a tall handsome fellow, Stan knew, and he was sure seeing him take down Michael Mahoney and cuffing him like he was a calf at a rodeo must have thrilled her. In fact, he noticed Jodie exhibit a twinge of excitement watching the video too. Jodie turned and looked out in the gallery and made eye contact with Carl. He smiled at her and she smiled back. Jodie took a breath and then looked down at her notes.

“Mr. Larson. Have you ever served in the military?”

“Yes. I was in the Army from June 1990-May 1995.”

“What did you do in the Army?”

“I was an MP.”

“And what kind of training did you receive to become an MP?”

“I took the basic ten weeks MP training course and then another three weeks in military intelligence.”

“And did this training include weapons training?”

“Yes, in addition to what we had learned in basic training we learned advanced close armed combat, arrest and detention, the basics of the UCMJ and basic criminology.”

“And did this training include how to handle armed intruders in urban buildings?”

“Yes.”

“And where were you sent after training?” Jodie asked.

“I was sent to Kuwait and assigned to guard prisoners who had surrendered or were captured during the Gulf War. Then I was sent to Ft. Sam Houston in Texas where I was assigned to base security.”

“What did base security entail?”

“Manning entry and exit points on the base. Providing patrols to make sure no unauthorized activities were going on, manning and operating the base brig, criminal investigations, and whatever else came up.”

“Why did you leave the Army?”

“My second tour of duty was up and I wanted to get on with my life.”

“What do you do now?”

“I run a small security company in Dallas.”

“So, tell us what happened on the night of May 7, 1997.”

“Well, I wanted to propose to my girlfriend, Sally Marrs, so I needed an engagement ring. I had driven past the Jewelry Mart many times so I decided to stop in and see what they had to offer. When I walked in the store there was nobody there which I thought was a bit strange. I called out. ‘Hello. . . . Is anybody here?’ But nobody answered. I was about to leave when I heard angry voices in the back. The tone of the voices made me think something was wrong, so I went into the back room.”

“Okay. Then what happened?”

“There wasn’t anybody in the back room either which made me even more suspicious as there was valuable merchandise laying around for the taking. I heard the voices again and my attention was drawn to another room even farther back in the building. The door was partially opened so I peered in and saw Michael Mahoney holding a gun to Mr. Stein’s back and commanding him to open the vault. Since Mahoney hadn’t heard me I knew I would have the element of surprise and could disarm him before he knew what had happened. I didn’t wait since the opportunity could be lost at any second.”

“So you decided to disarm him?”

“Yes. I crept up behind him. Grabbed the gun with my left hand and then got him in a choke hold with my right. We fought and spun around a few times, and had Mr. Stein just stood still he wouldn’t have gotten hurt, but he tried to run by us and in the process tripped us. When we fell the gun discharged and his leg was grazed.”

“So, what happened next?”

“After the discharge I was able to wrestle the gun away and hold it on Mr. Mahoney until he stopped resisting. Then I secured his wrists with a phone cable and put him in a chair to wait for the police.”

“How bad was Mr. Stein’s injury?”

“I could see it was just a flesh wound but to hear him you’d have thought he was dying.”

“He was in pain?”

“Yes, but more angry than anything else, I think.”

“So, as a result of your action Michael Mahoney got nothing from the store and was taken into custody by the Plano Police Department?”

“That’s correct.”

“Thank you, Mr. Larson. Pass the witness.”

Goldberg got up and went to the lectern. “Mr. Larson. Even though you used to be an Army MP you had no legal authority to intervene in the robbery of Mr. Stein’s store, did you?”

“I’m not a police officer. I didn’t have a duty to intervene but when people are in trouble I just instinctively try to help.”

“Did Mr. Stein ask you to help?”

“No. I couldn’t ask him. If I had tried to communicate with him I would have lost my tactical advantage.”

“You could have called 9-1-1 though.”

“Sure. But the robbery would have been over by the time they would have arrived and Mr. Stein might have been killed had anything gone wrong in opening the vault.”

“Yes, but your intervention did cause something to go wrong. You shot Mr. Stein.”

“Mahoney shot him. I didn’t have possession of the weapon when it discharged.”

“But it did discharge and because of your action Mr. Stein could have been killed.”

“He could have been killed at any time during the robbery.”

“Can you understand the anguish that he felt when you and Mahoney started struggling for the gun? He feared for his life.”

“I feared for my life too, but I didn’t cry about it like a baby.”

A juror stifled a laugh.

“So you don’t have any remorse for what you did?”

“Remorse. No. Unappreciated for risking my life, yes.”

Goldberg laughed, shaking his head. “Pass the witness.”

“No further questions,” Jodie said.

“Very well,” the judge said. “Call your next witness.”

“Larry Johnson,” Jodie said.

“Bailiff. Bring Mr. Johnson in.”

The bailiff went out in the hall and brought back a blond-headed man in a gray suit and blue and yellow paisley tie. He looked to be in his mid-thirties. He walked to the witness stand and sat down. Jodie questioned him about his family, education, and occupation. He testified he was an insurance investigator and had worked for Sentry Investigations for ten years.

“Now did Turner & Waters hire you to investigate several insurance claims previously made by the plaintiff, Herb Stein?”

“Yes. We reviewed the claims that he submitted for the precious three robberies at the Plano Jewelry Mart in 1994, 1995 and 1996.”

“In reviewing those claims did you find any irregularities?”

“Yes, they appear to be almost identical.”

“But they all have different claim amounts, don’t they?”

“Yes. That’s true but, except for the amounts, they are almost verbatim as if someone copied the previous one.”

“How is that unusual?”

“It’s unusual because had they bought new inventory after the first loss they would have bought the latest models and styles, not the same items they had the year before.”

“Is that all you consider to be irregular?”

“No. If you calculate the numbers they have been increased by approximately ten percent each year. They’ve rounded them off but it is still clear that is what they have done.”

“Is it significant that they changed carriers each year?”

“Yes. They did that because had the same carrier seen claims for three years straight they would have canceled the policy after the third one for sure and probably after the second one. They would have also scrutinized the claims much more carefully. But by only making one claim to each new carrier they avoided those risks.”

“Have you reviewed the security tapes for all of the robberies?”

“All but the first robbery. There wasn’t a video tape of that one, but we did compare the next three.”

“And did you find anything interesting about these robberies?”

“Although no fingerprints were found at the scene of the crimes the videos appear to show the same man robbing the store. You can tell because the perp’s build, the shape of his head and the coiled-snake tattoo on his right hand is the same.”

“So, since we know the last robber was Michael Mahoney, are you saying he robbed the store the last two times as well?”

“It would appear so.”

“Thank you, Mr. Johnson.”

“Mr. Goldberg, your witness,” the judge said.

“Mr. Johnson. You can’t prove a hundred percent that the robber in the second and third robberies is the same as the fourth, can you?”

“Well, it looks like the same perp, but I don’t have DNA evidence to prove it, if that’s what you mean.”

“That’s exactly what I mean. . . And, although you think the last three claims were copies of the first, multiplied for the effects of inflation, that’s just your opinion, right?”

“Yes. That’s my opinion.”

“So, you could be wrong, right?”

“Yes. I am not always right, but in this case I’m pretty sure about it.”

“Yet it’s still just conjecture.”

“I suppose.”

“No further questions, Your Honor.”

“Any redirect?” the judge asked.

“No, Your Honor,” Jodie replied. “We call Wilma McWhorter next.”

“Mr. Johnson. You may step down. Bailiff, bring in Ms. McWhorter.”

The bailiff brought in a heavy set, dark-haired woman, wearing a flowered dress with sandals. She took the witness stand and smiled broadly.

“Ms. McWhorter. Thank you for coming down today.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Do you see someone at the plaintiff’s table that you know?”

She nodded and pointed. “Yes. Mr. Stein.”

“Let the record reflect that Ms. McWhorter has identified the plaintiff Herbert Stein.”

“So noted,” the judge said.

“How do you know him?” Jodie asked.

“He’s a neighbor. He lives across the street and one house down from me on Teakwood Lane in Plano.”

Jodie picked up a photograph of Michael Mahoney that had previously been introduced. “I’m showing you Defense Exhibit #23, which is a mug shot of the man who was recently arrested and convicted of aggravated robbery of the Plano Jewelry Mart. Can you identify this man?”

“No. But I have seen him before.”

“Where have you seen him?”

“With Mr. Stein. They were talking in his driveway.”

“And where were you when you saw them?”

“I was across the street looking out my front window.”

“Were they doing anything other than talking?” Jodie asked.

“Yes. They appeared to be loading a truck to go hunting. I saw rifles and camping gear.”

“Have you ever seen them together before?”

“I couldn’t say when, but I seem to remember seeing them together a second time.”

“Thank you, Ms. McWhorter. Pass the witness.”

“Mr. Goldberg, your witness.”

“Ms. McWhorter,” Goldberg said. “How old a woman are you?”

“Sixty-seven.”

“How is your eyesight?”

“Okay. I just got my driver’s license renewed.”

“What time of day was it when you think you saw Mr. Mahoney?”

“Early. A little after 6:00 a.m.”

“Was it dark?”

“The sun was just about to come up.”

“So, it was still dark.”

“It was twilight, actually. I could see pretty well.”

“Are you absolutely sure you saw Michael Mahoney with Mr. Stein?”

“Like I said. I saw the man in the photograph that day. I didn’t know what his name was.”

“Thank you. . . . Pass the witness,” Goldberg said.

“Any redirect, Ms. Marshall?” the judge asked.

“No, Your Honor.”

“Then call your next witness.”

“I have no further witnesses except Stan Turner to prove up attorney’s fees.”

“Very well. Mr. Turner. Please take the stand,” the judge said.

Stan stood up and took the witness stand. He testified the firm had been hired by Bob Larson to defend the lawsuit, that he had signed a fee agreement and had agreed to pay the firm’s charges. He further testified that the firm had spent 111 hours on the case and that the firm’s hourly rate was $250.00 per attorney hour spent, which amounted to $27,500.00. He also stated that the firm spent $6,732.21 in costs.

“Mr. Turner, do you believe the time that was spent on this case was reasonable and necessary?” Jodie asked.

“Yes. I do.”

“Thank you. Pass the witness.”

Goldberg stood. “No questions, Your Honor.”

“Ms. Marshall? Anything further?”

“No. The defendant rests.”

“Mr. Goldberg?”

“Nothing further. The plaintiff closes.”

“Ms. Marshall?” the judge said.

“That’s it, Your Honor. The defense closes.”

The judge shook her head. “Very well, do each of you have your proposed special issues?”

“Yes, Your Honor,” Goldberg said.

“We do, Your Honor,” Jodie added.

“Alright. Give them to the bailiff and we’ll take a recess for one hour to allow me to prepare the charge and special issues to be submitted to the jury. Then, when we return, you can give closing arguments.”

The judge stood up and left the bench. Jodie let out a sigh of relief. “Thank God that’s over,” she said.

Stan smiled. “Yes, it’s always nice to finish a case.”

“What happens now?” Larson asked.

“The judge prepares her charge and special issues for the jury to decide. We give closing arguments and then wait for a verdict.”

Larson nodded. “Well, I feel pretty good. Don’t you?”

Jodie shrugged. “I don’t know. You never know what’s going through the mind of a juror.”

“Jodie’s right,” Stan said. “We threw out a lot of evidence but nothing was conclusive. It just depends on how the jury sees it. It could go either way.”

“Well, I thought you did very well,” Larson said.

“Thank you,” Jodie replied. “I don’t know what I would have done different.”

Jodie took her proposed special issues and requested definitions to the bailiff and then they found Carl and they all went downstairs to the cafeteria to get a cold drink and a snack. Jodie asked Stan if she should take the hour to rehearse her closing arguments, but Stan said no. He told her the break would do her more good than fretting for an hour over a closing argument that she had down cold anyway.

“Okay. I just hope I haven’t missed anything.”

Stan shrugged. “Well, you always miss something. We’re only human. I remember one time I tried a divorce case and forgot to call my expert witness to testify.”

Jodie laughed. “Are you serious?”

Stan nodded. “Yes. I’m afraid so. The witness was really pissed off and my client thought I was an idiot.”

“Well, I know I called all my witnesses,” Jodie chuckled. Then she frowned. “Didn’t I?”

They all laughed.

 

 

38

 

Jodie Marshall

 

After the break Judge Jasper called in counsel to finalize the charge, definitions, and special issues. When they were done both sides objected to any legal definitions and special issues that they felt were improperly included or excluded by the court. Then the judge took the bench and the trial resumed. The judge read the charge to the jury, advising them of what was expected of them once they started deliberations. She then had the clerk give them a copy of the special issues that they would be expected to answer.

“Alright, Ms. Marshall. You may give your closing argument,” the judge said.

Jodie stood up. The defense always gave their closing argument first since the plaintiff had the burden of proof and therefore had the right to have the last word. “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury. So, now that we’ve done our job as attorneys––presented the evidence—it’s up to you now to decide what the evidence means. The judge has given your special issues. These special issues are questions that you must now answer. It’s an important job and it won’t be easy but I’m confident you will come to the correct decision.

“As you deliberate please consider the motives of the parties involved. Bob Larson came into the Plano Jewelry Mart in a good mood. He had only one thing on his mind, find an engagement ring for the love of his life. But he was also a trained law enforcement professional and when confronted with a scene that wasn’t right he acted instinctively to protect life and property. He didn’t take the time to think about his own welfare, or whether he had a duty to act, he just did what he was trained to do. But he didn’t do it recklessly as Mr. Goldberg would have you think. He moved with precision into harm’s way, disarmed the intruder and secured him for the police. Now, it’s true Mr. Stein suffered a flesh wound, but he was at least partially responsible for that himself. Therefore I would urge you to find that Bob Larson was not negligent and certainly not reckless in the way he intervened to stop the robbery.

“Now when you look at motives, take a hard look at the plaintiff. We have presented credible evidence that Mr. Stein knew the robber, Michael Mahoney, from high school and that they had remained friends. We have also pointed out in the videos of three different robberies of Mr. Stein’s store that the perpetrator appears to be the same man, namely Michael Mahoney. The obvious conclusion is that the plaintiff, Herb Stein, conspired with the robber, Michael Mahoney, to commit insurance fraud and that he had actually not suffered any theft loss at all in any of these robberies. So, the motive for this lawsuit was simply to extort money from Mr. Larson.

“So, when you go through your special issues I urge you to find that the plaintiff’s suit is groundless and brought in bad faith. And I want to remind you that this is not a criminal trial so the measure of proof is not beyond all reasonable doubt but simply the preponderance of the evidence. So if it is more likely than not that Mr. Stein filed this suit in bad faith, you should answer the special issue ‘we do.” And if you answer that question as we do then you should award Mr. Larson his attorney’s fees of $27,500.00 plus costs of $6,732.21 and award Mr. Stein zero.

“Again. Thank you for your jury service and for the patience you’ve shown during the trial,” Jodie concluded.

A couple of the jurors smiled and nodded. Jodie turned and walked back to her seat. Goldberg stood up and shook his head.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury. I’ve got to hand it to Ms. Marshall. She tells quite an imaginative story. Unfortunately it lacks any real proof and is mostly speculation and conjecture.

“The fact that Mr. Stein and Michael Mahoney went to the same high school and played on the tennis team together, hardly makes them co-conspirators. The only proof she offers of this conspiracy is a neighbor who thinks she saw Mahoney at Stein’s house once and photos of three masked men who look a lot alike. This is flimsy evidence and I ask you to reject it.

“What this case is about is an ex-MP who forgets he’s a private citizen and decides to act like a cop to the peril of the plaintiff, Herbert Stein. You heard the Plano police detective who stated unequivocally that Bob Larson acted recklessly and had no business trying to stop a robbery in process. One of the special issues you will have to answer is whether Larson acted recklessly when he tried to disarm Mr. Mahoney, resulting in the plaintiff being shot. I think the clear answer is he did act recklessly and should be held accountable for Mr. Stein’s damages.

“I know everybody loves a daring hero, but Mr. Larson is no hero. His rash actions could have cost Mr. Larson his life and although Mr. Stein appreciates the fact that the robber was thwarted that doesn’t justify the risk that Mr. Larson took at the expense of the plaintiff. When you find that the actions of Mr. Larson were reckless, the next question will be what measure of damages will compensate Mr. Stein for his damages. When you consider that question remember that Mr. Stein feared for his life. He wasn’t sure if he would survive Mr. Larson’s reckless intervention. So, give him his medical expenses, a good sum for mental anguish—two or three times his medicals, and award him his attorney’s fees. Of course, no amount of money would be enough to erase what he was forced to endure, but a respectable recovery will do as much as our system can hope to do to bring about justice.

“Thank you, again, for your time and attention here these past few days.”

“Thank you, Mr. Goldberg,” the judge said turning to the jury. “Now the case is in your hands. Go back to the jury room, select a foreman, and then answer the special issues that have been given you. If you have any questions during your deliberations you may pass those questions to me via the bailiff. Do not ask the bailiff, the attorneys or anyone else any questions. All questions must be directed to me and I will do my best to answer them. You may take the evidence into the jury room and if you want to watch any of the videos again just tell the bailiff and he will play them for you. When you have all agreed on the answers to the special issues, notify the bailiff. When you answer the special issues don’t speculate on the effect of the answers, just answer each question to the best of your ability. Thank you.”

The bailiff escorted the jury into the jury room and then the judge recessed the trial pending jury deliberations. She told everyone to be on standby and ready to return within one hour of being summoned by the bailiff. Jodie turned to Bob Larson and sighed.

“Now we wait.”

Larson nodded. “What do you think?”

“I think it went pretty well. There weren’t any surprises. That’s a plus.”

Carl came up and put his arm around Jodie. “Wow. You are good. Remind me to hire you if I get sued.”

Jodie smiled and kissed Carl on the cheek. “You’re prejudiced.”

“No. He’s right,” Carl agreed. “You’re the best.”

Stan went over and shook Goldberg’s hand. Jodie realized she should have done that too. She walked over and extended her hand. Goldberg shook it but didn’t look pleased. As they were leaving the courtroom Jodie looked at Stan.

“What did you say to him?” Jodie asked. “He didn’t look too happy when I shook his hand.”

“Oh, I told him his client wasn’t a very good liar.”

Jodie laughed. “Thanks a lot. Piss him off just as I come to shake his hand.”

“Sorry. I didn’t know you were coming.”

“So, should we wait downstairs or go back to the office?”

“I’m going back to the office. It’s going to take the jury at least a few hours to make a decision. They may not even reach one today.”

“Hmm. I hope they do. I’d hate to wait another day for a verdict.”

“I may be wrong. Stay if you like.”

Jodie looked at Carl. “What do you think?”

“Why don’t we go take a walk around the West End and stop in at Enchiladas for a drink and some nachos?”

“That will work. I have to come back here at 5:00 p.m. anyway even if they don’t come to a verdict.”

Stan left them and they walked across Kennedy Square to the West End. Even though it was wintertime it was a balmy sixty-two degrees and the sky was clear. After they’d made a leisurely sweep of the West End they stopped in at Enchiladas. It was busy with tourists and locals enjoying an afternoon drink. Carl ordered a beer and Jodie got a Margarita. They shared an order of supreme nachos. At 4:10 p.m. Jodie got a call advising her the jury was in and she was to be at the courtroom by 5:00 if possible. She called Stan and told him the news. He said he’d meet her in the courtroom at five.

When they got to the courthouse they saw a small crowd of news reporters crowded around the entrance to the courthouse. Thinking the news reporters were there on another case they went down into the parking garage and entered in the basement.

When they walked into the courtroom Goldberg and Stein were at the plaintiff’s table talking and laughing. Jodie wondered if they knew something she didn’t but then dismissed the idea. A minute later a nervous Bob Larson walked in the door and came over to them.

“So, they’ve made a decision, huh?” Larson asked.

“Apparently so.”

“Is a quick decision good or bad?” he asked.

Jodie shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine.”

The back door opened and the court reporter came out and began setting up her equipment. A moment later Judge Jasper peeked in the courtroom and looked around. Remarkably the courtroom gallery had filled with not one vacant seat remaining.

The bailiff stood up. “All rise.”

The judge walked briskly to the bench as everyone stood up. “Be seated.”

Stan hustled in from the back of the courtroom and took a seat next to Larson. The judge asked the bailiff to bring in the jury. When they were seated the judge cleared her throat and looked over at the jury.

“Will the elected foreman please stand and state your name.”

A young lady looking to be in her twenties stood up and said, “Margaret Mann.”

“Ms. Mann. Has the jury completed its deliberation?”

“Yes, Your Honor.”

“And have they answered all the special issues?”

“Yes, Your Honor.”

“Would you please read the special issues and the jury’s findings.”

“Yes, Your Honor,” the foreman said and began reading. . . . “Special Issue #1. Do you find from a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant, Bob Larson, caused a firearm to be discharged resulting in a bullet striking the plaintiff, Herb Stein, and injuring him?

“Answer: We do.”

There was a commotion in the gallery. Jodie looked around wondering whose side the spectators were on and why this sudden interest.

“If you answer Special Issue #1 ‘We do’ go on to Special Issue #2.

“Special Issue #2: Do you find from a preponderance of the evidence that the Defendant, Bob Larson, acted in reckless disregard of others in causing a firearm to be discharged resulting in a bullet striking the Plaintiff, Herb Stein?

“Answer: We do.”

More commotion from the gallery. Jodie’s heart sank. The judge banged her gavel. “I’ll have order, if you please.”

The foreman continued. “If you answer Special Issue #2 ‘We do’ answer Special Issue #3.

“Special Issue #3: What amount of damages from a preponderance of the evidence do you believe would adequately compensate the plaintiff for the injuries he sustained as a result of the plaintiff’s reckless conduct? Answer in dollars and cents.

“Answer: $1.00.

Several people laughed. The judge glared at the offenders. Larson looked at Jodie and smiled broadly. “I can give him a dollar. No problem,” he whispered.

“If your answer to Special Issue #3 was at least $1.00 answer Special Issue #4.

“Special Issue #4: What amount of attorney’s fees expended on behalf of the plaintiff, Herb Stein, do you find from a preponderance of the evidence to have been reasonable and necessary in the prosecution of plaintiff’s claims? Answer in dollars and cents.

“Answer: None

The gallery erupted in excited chatter. Stan slapped Larson on the back. “What did I tell you?” he whispered.

“Special Issue #5: Do you find from a preponderance of the evidence that plaintiff brought this lawsuit against the Plaintiff in bad faith or that it was frivolous or groundless in law or fact?”

“Answer: We do.

“If you have answered Special Issue #5 ‘We do’ then answer Special Issue #6.

“Special Issue #6: What amount of attorney’s fees do you find from a preponderance of the evidence to have been reasonable and necessary in the defense of this lawsuit? Answer in dollars and cents.

“Answer: $27,500.00.

“If you have answered Special Issue #6 ‘We do’ then answer Special Issue #7.

“Special Issue #7: What amount of costs do you find from a preponderance of the evidence to have been reasonable and necessary in the defense of this lawsuit? Answer in dollars and cents.

“Answer: $6,732.21,” the foreman concluded.

“Thank you madam foreman. Is that the unanimous verdict of this jury?” the judge asked.

“It is, Your Honor.”

“Very well, I want to thank all of you for your service. You are now free but not obligated to talk about this case freely with anyone you like. You will receive your juror compensation in a few weeks by mail. Thank you again. The jury is dismissed.”

Stein glared at his attorney and Goldberg just shrugged. “Sorry, Herb. You win some, you lose some.”

The judge stood up, and at that moment the back door to the courtroom opened. Two men in suits came in followed by a Dallas police officer. Jodie stared at them as they marched by her to the plaintiff’s table. The lead man pulled a badge out of his pocket and held it up. The judge and everyone in the courtroom just watched in shock.

“Herbert Stein?”

“Yes,” Herb said meekly.

“You are under arrest for insurance fraud,” he said as he turned him around and slapped cuffs on him. “You have the right to remain silent, anything you say can be used against you in a court of law, you have the right to an attorney, if you cannot afford an attorney one will be provided for you. Do you understand these rights?”

“He’s got an attorney!” Goldberg spat. “I’m right here. Don’t say a single word, Herb. Not a goddamn thing!”

The police officer took Herb Stein out of the courtroom. Cameras flashed when he emerged into the hallway. One of the detectives came up to Stan. “Thanks for the heads up, counselor.”

“No problem,” Stan replied.

Jodie just stared at Stan a moment in disbelief. “You orchestrated this?”

Stan shrugged. “Well, it was the least I could do.”

Jodie laughed and a big smile came over Larson’s face. “You guys are unreal. I’m glad you were on my side.”

“It was nothing. I just suggested to Detective Besch that he go down to Huntsville and offer Michael Mahoney a deal. If he testifies against Herb Stein they’d cut his sentence to time served. Apparently after ninety days at Huntsville, he jumped at the idea.”

“I bet,” Jodie said.

When Jodie emerged from the courtroom a crowd of reporters were waiting for her. Carl started to clear a path for her but she told him it was okay and stopped to answer their questions.

“Do you feel good about victory today, Ms. Marshall?” a reporter asked.

Jodie smiled. “Yes. I feel great.”

“Did you know they were going to arrest Herbert Stein for insurance fraud?” another reporter asked.

“No. Apparently my boss did but he didn’t tell me about it.”

“So, is it true this was your first trial?”

“Yes. It was actually. Can you believe it?”

“Congratulations,” a third reporter said. “You did a great job.”

“Thanks,” Jodie said appreciatively and then turned to follow Carl to the elevator. Once they were in the elevator Carl took her hand and squeezed it hard.

“I’m so proud of you. You were awesome,” he said gazing into her eyes.

Jodie smiled, pulled him in close to her and gave him a kiss. “I’m just glad it’s over.”

 

 

39

 

Stan Turner

 

The following week Stan was feeling good about the firm’s two big victories, but now was facing the question of how he would keep Paula and Jodie busy for the immediate future. He knew there would be new cases coming in eventually, but he still had to pay each of them until that happened. They each had a little family law work that they needed to catch up on but that wouldn’t last long. It wouldn’t have been so bad had Emilio not disappeared. There was over $20,000 still owed on Ricardo’s bill that Stan had counted on, but now wouldn’t be paid. And his only other major client, Ram Bakira, owed him nearly $30,000 but he obviously couldn’t pay it.

Stan took a deep breath and tried to relax. He’d had financial problems all his life no matter how much money he’d made. Still he had faith, he knew in his heart that if he’d just be patient everything would work out. As he was trying to put his finances out of his mind Maria came on the intercom and told him there was someone there who wanted to talk to him. He looked at his calendar but didn’t see any appointments. He wondered who it could be, so he got up and walked to the reception area. A tall man in an expensive suit stood in front of Maria’s desk. Stan went up to him.

“Hi. I’m Stan Turner. What can I do for you?”

“Mr. Turner. I’m sorry to barge in on you but I got your letter and wanted to come personally to respond to it.”

“My letter?”

“Yes. I’m sorry. I’m David Johnson from Meridian Global Insurance.”

“Oh. Yeah. Come on back.”

Stan led Johnson back to his office and told him to have a seat. He sat down and shook his head.

“I am so sorry about how your client has been treated. I did an investigation after I got your letter and was appalled that the underwriter assigned to the case hadn’t paid it. I understand your client was the victim here of vandals or upset business partners, but certainly not terrorists.”

“Yes. I tried to reason with the adjuster, but he just wouldn’t listen, so I had to file the lawsuit.”

“Yes. I’m sorry about that and as an act of good faith I want to write your client a check for the full value of the policy right now so your client doesn’t suffer any more damage.”

“Well, thank you, but I’ll have to talk to my client and see if he’ll settle for that.”

“No. No. I’m going to tender you the check without condition. You can still prosecute your lawsuit, if you want to. I just want to mitigate your client’s damages by tendering the policy limits right now without prejudice to your lawsuit. I just want your client’s damages to stop.”

“Wow. That’s very considerate of you.”

Johnson took a check out of his pocket and handed it to Stan. He looked at it and saw it was for $250,000.00. “Thank you. My client will be greatly relieved.”

“Well, I’m sorry he had to go through all of this.”

When Johnson left Stan felt like a giant load had been lifted off his shoulders. Getting his cut from the $250,000 and being paid what was owed on the bankruptcy would keep the firm afloat for at least ninety days. That would give them time to get some new business in to bump up cash flow. He sighed deeply. God had come through for him again. He knew He would but now he didn’t have to worry about it. He decided to call Ram and give him the good news.

“He just wrote you a check for $250,000?” Ram asked in shock.

“Yes. I wrote a letter to the adjuster’s supervisor and explained how weak their case was. I guess he realized they had a lot of exposure.”

“So, when do I get the money?”

“Come in tomorrow and endorse the check and after it clears we’ll settle up.”

“Why don’t you just give me the check?”

“It’s made out to both of us. You can just sign it and I’ll subtract my share and what you owe me and write you a check for the difference.”

“How much are you going to take?”

“ Well, under the contract I get 25% of the insurance check plus you owe me about $15,000 on the Chapter 11. So, I’ll take out $62,500 on the lawsuit and $15,000 for the bankruptcy. So that will be $77,500 for the firm and $172,500 for you.”

“No. That’s too much.”

“What do you mean it’s too much?”

“They just came in and handed you a check. $77,500 is too much for you to take.”

“ No. We took the case on a contingency basis. You agreed whatever we recovered before trial would be 25% to the firm and 75% to you.”

“That’s not right.”

“That’s what you agreed to. I wanted to take the case on a fee basis but you didn’t have any money to pay me. I could have just refused to help you.”

“But the money came so easy.”

“Easy? I worked hard to get them to be reasonable.”

“I’ll have to think about it,” Ram finally said.

“Think about it? What’s there to think about?” Stan said angrily. “I have the money. We just need to split it up. There may be more later when we settle the lawsuit.”

“I need to talk to my wife and my family.”

Stan didn’t know what to say. Instead of Ram being grateful for what he had accomplished he was being greedy. He was beside himself.

“Okay. But if you think I’m going to cut my fee, forget about it. It isn’t happening.”

“I’ll call you tomorrow,” Ram said and hung up.

Stan was so angry he could spit. He rushed into Paula’s office and told her what had happened.

“The insurance agent just walked in and wrote you a check for $250,000?”

“Yeah. My letter must have really scared them. You’d think Ram would have a little appreciation for what I have accomplished.”

“I told you that you shouldn’t take cases on a contingency,” Paula reminded him.

“I know, but I hate to abandon a client when he’s down. It’s just not right.”

“I know. But they never appreciate what you do for them. This is a business and if clients can’t afford to pay you, or won’t pay you, then you just tell them you are sorry, but you can’t take their case.”

“I know, but I can’t do that,” Stan said.

“Well, you’ll surely go to heaven, but you’ll never get rich.”

“I don’t want to get rich. I just want to be paid what was agreed. We need the money.”

“I know. I don’t know what we’re going to do for our next payroll,” Paula worried.

“I guess I can take out a loan if need be,” Stan replied.

“You don’t have any collateral, remember?”

Stan sighed. “Right. . . . I’ve borrowed all I can on my 401K too.”

“Well, we’ll have to pay Jodie, but you and I will have to skip a paycheck, I guess.”

“No. I’ll take out a loan on my Corvette. It should be enough to pay you and Jodie.”

“You’re not doing that. I can skip one paycheck. We have Bart’s check.”

“No,” Stan said. “Ram’s just going to have to honor our contract. He needs the money too, so hopefully when he sees I’m not going to discount the bill, he’ll do what is right.”

“I hope so.”

That night Stan couldn’t sleep. All he could think about was the check in his drawer for $250,000. It was so frustrating to have the money he needed right at his fingertips but be unable to cash it. The next day he waited impatiently for Ram to call him. As the day progressed he regretted the day Ram had come into his office. He couldn’t believe how he had turned on him the moment they had money to split up. He knew Ram’s true colors now and had lost all respect for him. Finally at 2:30 p.m. he got the call.

“I’ve talked to my wife and family in Pakistan and they all agree ten percent should be sufficient.”

Stan was beside himself. He was so angry he was afraid to open his mouth for fear of what might come out. Finally, he took a deep breath and said, “No. A deal is a deal. I told you there would be no negotiation.”

“$77,500 is too much. I’ll file a complaint with the bar association.”

The words felt like a knife being stabbed in his stomach. Threatening to go to the bar association was a low blow. Stan wasn’t worried about winning the case if it were submitted to the bar association, but it would take months to resolve and be humiliating. He silently counted to ten.

“Listen. The bar association will back me up, I promise you. We have fee contracts that you voluntarily entered into. If you take it to the bar you will accomplish nothing but delay either one of us from getting what is due to us. Plus, since you are breaching the fee agreement I will have no choice but to withdraw from the lawsuit. That means you’ll have to hire a new lawyer to handle the lawsuit from now on and I’m sure they won’t do it on a contingency, not when they see you don’t honor contracts. So, you’ll have to pay the attorney a retainer, probably at least $10,000, just to get him to substitute in as counsel and when you finally settle, you’ll still have to pay me my cut.”

“Why would I have to do that if you withdraw?”

“Because that’s the price you pay for breaching the contract.”

“This is extortion,” Ram complained.

“Extortion my ass! This is what you agreed to,” Stan reminded him. “I wouldn’t have touched your case had you not agreed to it.”

“Alright. When can I get the money?”

“If you come in right now and endorse the check then I’ll deposit it and just as quick as it clears I’ll cut you a check for your share. It’s a local check so it should clear within 48 hours.”

“Okay. I’ll be over in a little while.”

Stan hung up but didn’t feel much relief. He couldn’t relax until Ram had come in and endorsed the check. Then he’d feel better. But he’d only be completely relieved when the check had cleared and the money disbursed.

A few hours later Ram showed up and endorsed the check without further comment. Stan could tell he was not happy and not once did he thank Stan for all he had done for him. Stan just shook his head in disbelief when he left. When he got to the bank he told his bank officer to let him know when the funds were good, and she agreed she’d call him.

It was late the following day that he got the call from the bank that the check had cleared. Relief finally washed over him like a cool ocean wave. He had Maria cut the checks and then called Ram to advise him he could pick up his. Thirty minutes later his wife Melakea showed up.

“I wanted to apologize for my husband. It was his family in Pakistan who demanded you cut your fee. We don’t use attorneys in Pakistan and they couldn’t understand why you should get so much of the money. I tried to explain to them, but they wouldn’t listen. They hate all attorneys.”

“Thank you for telling me that. I really couldn’t understand Ram’s attitude.”

“He was too embarrassed to come over for the check so he sent me.”

Stan gave her the check which was made out to their company and both of them. “You’ll have to both endorse it and then deposit it in your company account. It technically belongs to the company and you’ll have to pay yourself draws if you need some of the money personally. Talk to your accountant about it since he’ll have to reconcile your accounts.”

“Okay. Thanks for your help.”

After Melakea left Stan went in to tell Paula the good news.

“So, Ram’s wife just picked up her check and signed off on the disbursement.”

“Good. So we can make payroll now?”

“Yeah. We’re good for a couple of months.”

Paula shook her head. “You’d think with the kind of month we had money wouldn’t be so tight.”

Stan shrugged. “No matter how much money you make, it’s never enough. I was born without any money in the bank and I’ll die the same way. I used to think someday I’d be rich but I know better now.”

Maria’s voice came over the intercom. “There’s a woman on the phone for you Stan. She wouldn’t give a name.”

“Okay,” Stan said and went back to his office. A minute later he was packed up and out the door.

 

 

Paula got up and went into Jodie’s office. “Stan just left to go meet his prostitute.”

“How do you know?” Jodie asked.

“He was talking to me when a phone call came in from a woman who wouldn’t identify herself. It’s got to be that blond prostitute. He just up and left without a word.”

Maria walked into the room and raised her eyebrows. “Well, I’d sure like to be a fly on the wall when Stan meets his lover.”

“It’s none of our business,” Jodie said. “Leave him alone.”

“I can’t do that. He’s got to stop this nonsense.”

“What are you going to do? Go to the motel, knock on the door and tell him to stop?”

“He’s not at the motel this time,” Maria said. “He’s at the Sheraton just up the street.”

“How do you know?”

“I may have listened in on the conversation,” Maria confessed. “Room #977.”

Paula’s eyes widened. “I think it’s time for an intervention?”

“Are you serious?” Jodie protested. “We can’t do that?”

“Why not? When I was having an affair with my security guard Stan came knocking at my door. It’s about time I got even.”

“Let’s go,” Maria said. “This isn’t fair to Rebekah.”

“Are you in, Jodie?” Paula asked.

Jodie sighed. “I guess for the sake of solidarity, but I think it’s a bad idea.”

“Okay. Come on. Let’s go.”

They rushed down to the parking garage and got into Paula’s car. The Sheraton was just down the street so five minutes later they were parking in front of the hotel. They went inside and took the elevator to the ninth floor.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Jodie said as they neared room 977.

“Yes,” Paula insisted. “We’ve got to put a stop to this before it’s too late.”

There was a sign on the door. Do Not Disturb! Jodie let out a deep sigh. Maria pushed past her and knocked hard on the door.

“Stan! Are you in there?” she yelled but there was no answer.

Paula tried knocking even harder but there was still no answer. “Come on, Stan,” Paula said. “We know you are in there.”

The door lock clicked. Paula took a step back as the door slowly opened. Stan frowned at them. “Did you follow me here?”

“Yes,” Paula said. “We can’t let you destroy your marriage. It’s not right. Rebekah deserves better.”

The blond woman stifled a laugh. Stan stepped away so they could all see her clearly. She was wearing a black angel lace and satin slip with nothing underneath. She smiled at them as she took off her wig.

“Rebekah?” Paula gasped.

Epilogue

 

On the morning of January 2, 1998 Stan had a headache from too much partying on New Year’s Eve. He and Rebekah had decided to make a big night of it as a part of their attempt to rekindle the spark in their marriage. In the past they would have celebrated New Years in front of the TV, but they both agreed that was boring and they could do better. So this year they booked a room at the Intercontinental Hotel and brought in the New Year with five hundred screaming revelers, most of whom were half their age. But it had been fun and Stan didn’t regret a minute of it.

He thought back to all the ridiculous liaisons they’d conjured up over the past six months. They’d made love in sleazy motels, hotel suites, in Stan’s office, on the roofs of buildings, in swimming pools, restrooms, saunas, in the back seat of Rebekah’s car, and, of course, on a Southwest Jet flying to Houston. Stan laughed at the thought of it, but had to admit it had been the best thing that had happened to him in years. Not only had Rebekah broke out of her depression, but he had started thinking about her in the middle of the day and wishing he were home.

As he was thinking his Motorola cell phone rang. A light started blinking next to the phone indicating a tape recorder, that Detective Besh had attached to the phone, was running. Stan picked it up and flipped it open.

“Hello.”

“Hi, Stan.”

“Emilio?”

A moment later Paula, Jodie, and Maria scrambled into the room anxious to hear what Emilio had to say. Because it was being recorded it was on speaker phone.

“Hi, Stan. How are you?”

“Where the hell are you?” Stan asked.

“You know I can’t tell you that.”

Stan sighed. “Okay, let me guess. . . . Argentina?”

“I have no comment. I just wanted to congratulate you on your victory in court.”

Stan looked over at Paula and Jodie. “It wasn’t my victory. Paula and Jodie tried the case. I was back at the office trying to find out where in the hell you had run off to.”

“Yes. I’m sorry about that, but I had no choice but to leave.”

“Is Sandy with you?”

“Actually, she is. She says to say hi.”

“Tell her hi back.”

“I will. . . . Listen, if I owe you anything more on Ricardo’s defense, I want to pay it. Just tell me how much it is.”

“I’ll send you a bill,” Stan said. “Give me an address where to send it.”

“Funny man. . . . I’ve got your account number at Gateway Bank. I’ll wire you the money.”

“Yeah, you’re a rich man now with the proceeds from John Richmond’s insurance?”

There was a moment of silence. Stan smiled at Paula and Jodie. “Well he got what he deserved. He’s been Eva’s lover during our entire marriage.”

“Oh, well that makes it okay, then,” Stan said sarcastically.

Emilio sighed. “Listen, I knew Wilkinson wouldn’t leave me alone until they had my property. I’m Italian. I know how the mob works, so I decided to give them a piece of their own medicine.”

“What about Ricardo?”

“I knew you’d get Ricardo off. That’s why I hired you and paid your ridiculous fee. I could have let Ricardo make do with the public defender. I would have been better off and Wilkinson and his goons probably would have been convicted. I doubt they’d have figured out the truth.”

“So, you set up Wilkinson, Hunt, and Jamison and tried to make it look like they were trying to pin it on Ricardo?”

“That was the plan.”

“So, how did you get Wilkinson’s fingerprints on the shoe box?”

“That was easy. I got a shoe box out of Wilkinson’s trash and planted it under Ricardo’s bed.”

“When did you plant it?”

“I disconnected some wires in Ricardo’s engine while he was at work, so it wouldn’t start when it was time for him to go home. Then when it didn’t start, I offered to take him home. While he was arranging for a tow truck to pick up his car, I got some rat poison out of his garage and put the shoe box under his bed. He never had a clue what I had done.”

“Okay. How did you get Hunt to show up with his date to Emilio’s?”

“I called him and told him I was thinking about accepting Wilkinson Properties’ offer and that he should come to dinner and then we’d talk. I told him to bring his wife or a date and that dinner was on me.”

“Hmm. So, while he was dining you went to his car and planted the plastic bag with rat poison remains in it,” Stan said.

“That’s right,” Emilio admitted.

“Okay. But why did you have to kill Evelyn Sanders?”

“Well, my plan was working perfectly until—”

“Until Evelyn Sanders screwed everything up?”

Emilio took a deep breath. “Yes. I couldn’t believe it when I saw her with Jodie and her bodyguard. I figured she must have seen me lace the cheese or plant the plastic sandwich bag in Hunt’s car.”

“I’m not sure she really saw anything like that,” Stan said.

“Well, I couldn’t take any chances. I didn’t know what she’d seen or if she had connected the dots, but I couldn’t take a chance.”

“How did you get the tire iron out of Hunt’s car?”

“That was easy. I had told the parking lot attendant to take a break and while he was gone I got Hunt’s key off the board. He must have had a spare with him or his girlfriend had one, because in the melee after the murders they didn’t bother to find Jesse and get their key back. When I discovered later that we still had it, I threw it in a drawer and forgot about it. Then when I realized I had to kill Evelyn, I used that key to get his tire iron out of his trunk.”

“Wow. That was incredibly good luck.”

“Everything that happens is fate, Stan. You can’t fight it. You just have to roll with it.”

“Right. So, you got your revenge but three innocent people died in the process.”

“Bill and Donna shouldn’t have been there. I couldn’t have anticipated that.”

“And you think that matters?” Stan asked. “Why didn’t you put the brakes on your plot when they entered the picture?”

“I couldn’t. It was too late by then. Plus I’d made a commitment to Sandy.”

“So, whose idea was it anyway? Yours or Sandy’s?”

“I don’t remember who thought of it first. When Sandy told me that her husband was sleeping with my wife, things just kind of evolved after that. We both wanted to get even and come out okay financially.”

“Well, you accomplished that. Are you proud of yourself?”

“No. I’m not proud about it, but it’s water under the bridge now.”

“Right. . . .So, are you going to stay together?”

“I don’t know. Sandy’s a great gal but we haven’t made any commitments yet. We may eventually go our separate ways. Who knows?”

“Any regrets?” Stan asked hopefully.

“Sure. We’d rather be living in America, but it’s not so bad here, particularly when you’re rich.”

Stan shook his head in disgust. “I bet. . . . Have you learned Spanish yet?”

“Come on, Stan. I’m not going to give you any clues as to where we finally ended up.”

“The police lost track of you in Mexico City. I must admit you did a good job covering your tracks.”

“We had to. The stakes were pretty high.”

“Well, as your attorney, I’ll give you one last piece of advice.”

“What’s that?”

“Don’t ever come back. Nobody around here wants to see your sorry ass again and a lot of people would like to see you get the needle.”

Emilio didn’t respond.

“You know, I always liked and respected you, Emilio. I never imagined that you would be capable of cold-blooded murder. But I guess that just shows that I’m a poor judge of character.”

“Don’t feel bad. My wife has been cheating on me during our entire marriage and I didn’t even know it.”

“Yeah. That one blew my mind too.”

“Goodbye, Stan.”

“See you soon,” Stan replied.

Emilio laughed. “I doubt that.”

Stan hung up and then looked at Paula and Jodie who were shaking their heads. He picked up his cell phone and called Detective Besch. “Were you able to trace that, Detective?”

“Yes,” Besch replied. “It was made from a public telephone at the airport in Mexico City. Security is searching for him now.”

“Good. I hope you catch the bastard!” Stan exclaimed.

Besch laughed. “Aren’t you worried he’ll sue you when we extradite him back to Texas?”

“Nah. I had forgotten that in my legal services contract I’d put in a waiver clause. It says that he waives any conflict of interest that might arise between he and Ricardo. And the State Bar won’t come after me because I have a duty to report my client’s ongoing or planned criminal activity.”

“Hang on,” Besch said. “I’ve got a call from the Mexican authorities.”

“Okay,” Stan said and waited with baited breath.

A moment later Detective Besch came back on the line. “They got both of them. They were about to board a flight to Bolivia.”

Stan gave Paula and Jodie a thumbs up. They both clapped.

“Excellent. Nice work.”

“It’s going to take a while to extradite them, but they’ll be back here soon enough. Thanks for your help, Stan.”

“So, when the Mexican authorities are ready to ship them back, are you going to get them?”

“You’re damn right I am. That’s a pleasure I think I have definitely earned.”

“That’s right. You have. Do me a favor, though.”

“What’s that?”

“When you read to him the confession he just gave me and he screams bloody murder, remind him that everything that happens in life is just fate and he should roll with it.”

Besch laughed. “I’ll be sure and do that. Thanks again, Stan.”

“It was my pleasure,” Stan said as Paula and Jodie closed in for a congratulatory hug.

 

THE STAN TURNER MYSTERIES

by William Manchee

 

Undaunted (1997)

Disillusioned (2010)

Brash Endeavor (1998)

Second Chair (2000)

Cash Call (2002)

Deadly Distractions (2004)

Black Monday (2005)

Cactus Island (2006)

Act Normal (2007)

Deadly Defiance (2011)

Deadly Dining (2014)

 

“…appealing characters and lively dialogue, especially in the courtroom . . . “ (Publisher’s Weekly)

 

“…plenty of action and adventure . . . “ (Library Journal)

 

“…each plot line, in and of itself, can be riveting . . . “ (Foreword Magazine)

 

“…a courtroom climax that would make the venerable Perry Mason stand and applaud . . . “

[_(_]Crescent Blue)

 

“…richly textured with wonderful atmosphere, the novel shows Manchee as a smooth, polished master of the mystery form . . . “ (The Book Reader)

 

“…Manchee’s stories are suspenseful and most involve lawyers. And he’s as proficient as Grisham . . .” (Dallas Observer)

 

“…fabulous-a real page turner-I didn’t want it to end!” (Allison Robson, CBS Affiliate, KLBK TV, Ch 13)

 

 

355


Deadly Dining

A triple homicide is caught on tape by a professional photographer yet the person or persons responsible and the motive for this grisly crime are a mystery. This is the kind of high-profile murder case that attorney Paula Waters loves but as she tries to unravel the twisted facts a critical witness is murdered and two others disappear. When the trial finally begins and she thinks she has everything figured out, Stan informs her that she has it all wrong! Paula isn’t happy with Stan’s revelations, particularly since he has been of little help to her during the trial. In the past, he has been right there with her from the beginning to the end, but this time, he has been busy helping their new associate Jodie Marshall with her civil defense of an ex-Army MP who thwarted a thief in a jewelry store heist but managed to shoot the store owner in the process. Stan has his own troublesome bankruptcy case too. A Pakistani immigrant has been defrauded of his life savings of $250,000 by a thug preying on fellow countrymen wanting to immigrate to the U.S. Stan puts his client into a chapter 11 reorganization but the thug has little respect for U.S. laws or its judicial system causing Stan’s plan to go awry. Stan’s unexplained absences from the office further exacerbate his shaky relations with Paula, particularly when she discovers he’s apparently having liaisons with a hooker!

  • ISBN: 9781935722861
  • Author: Top Publications, Ltd.
  • Published: 2016-10-06 16:20:41
  • Words: 104053
Deadly Dining Deadly Dining