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Unauthorized Access

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Unauthorized Access

Dion’s Enigmas™ series

Copyright 2017 Dorian Scott Cole

Based on a 2011 screenplay

Published by Dorian Scott Cole

ISBN: 9781370503742

Shakespir Edition License Notes

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your enjoyment only, then please return to your point of purchase or your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements, Disclaimer, Image Credits

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

About Dorian Scott Cole

Other books by Dorian Scott Cole

Connect with Dorian Scott Cole

Acknowledgements

Grateful appreciation to my wife, Sheila, who sacrifices so that I can write, and who is my beta reader and strictest critic. To Rachel Talbot, my beta reader and editor, who makes hundreds of changes. The remaining faults are mine. To the writers groups who critique some things for me. To the Warrenton Police Academy judges, investigators, and police officers, for training.

Disclaimer

This is an original work of fiction. Any similarities to any person, living or dead, or any organization, or any other literary work, are strictly coincidental.

Image Credits

Cover art and composition: Copyright © Dorian Scott Cole, all rights reserved.

Cover Hacker image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Syrian.hacker.jpg

Cover Lady Justice image: This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license, by Deval Kulshrestha.

Image: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law#/media/File:Statua_Iustitiae.jpg

Inside art: The Endless Knot is used as decoration on Christian, Buddhist, and Celtic documents. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:EndlessKnot03d.png

Prologue

The Endless Knot

Everything is the result of everything, but we are responsible for who we become.

- Dorian Scott Cole

At the nexus of the law and the individual are the larger questions of justice, such as individual versus public rights, extenuating circumstances, justice, rehabilitation, public acceptance versus enforceability, and prevention. These stories make a probing but entertaining look at these questions within the context of justice, often mixing humor with relationships in the characters’ attempts to fix the conundrum of interrelated problems.

Chapter 1

A flashing yellow light warned of the quiet city intersection. There was only a brief sound of squealing tires, when a yellow Chevy Aveo T-boned the front of a mid-size sedan in the middle of the intersection, shoving the other car 8 feet to the curb. It was 2 a.m., and everything was quiet except for the collision. Steam rose from the Aveo, wafting up to the yellow light.

The driver’s door kicked open on the Aveo, and a man ran away, revealing another man in the driver’s seat. In the other car, the driver’s head leaned sideways. He was dead, his neck broken instantly by the sideways thrust that was more effective than a hangman’s noose. The yellow flashing light continued blinking, undisturbed.

*******

The next day a Bruin Lawn Police patrol car pulled up in front of a house in a struggling neighborhood. The house and lot were not the best, but were in good repair. Obviously someone cared. A skateboard half pipe, long disused, lay abandoned near the property and sidewalk edge.

Two uniformed officers went to the door and knocked. One officer was young, and didn’t look old enough to be a cop. His uniform hung sloppily on his youthful frame. The other officer, Josh Martin had the physique and bearing of a recent military veteran of six years.

Dave Pruit came to the door in his underwear. Groggily, he said, “Yeah?”

“Dave Pruit?” Josh asked.

“Yeah?”

“You own a yellow 2006 Chevy Aveo?”

“Uh, huh. It’s right out there in the drive.” Dave looked out and saw that the drive was empty.

“Sir, I need to see your drivers’ license.”

Accompanied by Josh, Dave went to his bedroom and pulled on his previous day’s jeans and a shirt.

Dave’s wife awoke and looked at the officer and Dave.“What’s going on?”

“I don’t know. But I haven’t done anything.” Dave dug out his wallet, then handed his license to Josh, who compared it to Dave’s face.

“We need to take you in for questioning about your involvement in a homicide with your vehicle last night.”

Dave looked sick. He gave his wife a look that said, ‘I’m as confused as you are.’

“Am I under arrest?” Dave asked.

“Sir, you aren’t charged with a crime, but you are under suspicion.”

“I’m not talking! And I’m not going anywhere until I find out what’s going on. No one is railroading me back to prison!”

“Sir, since the driver fled the scene of the accident last night, and the other driver died, I’m placing you under arrest. Turn around and put your hands behind your back.” Josh read Dave his rights as he cuffed him.

“What charge?” Dave asked.

“The DA will determine the type of homicide.”

“You can’t arrest me without a charge!”

“Sir, we can. Now turn around.”

Dave’s wife sprang from the bed to intervene. Dave motioned her back.

“I’ll be home soon.”

*****

“Five hundred and fifty million dollars!” The three other lawyers glad-handed each other, jumping in the air, but Dion wasn’t upbeat. He wasn’t even interested. He had won these civil cases over and over again. Their shoes clapped as they hit the marble floor of the court anteroom, then they turned to Dion expectantly. He was purposely arranging the papers in his bag, avoiding them.

Dion surveyed the dark stained wood panels, marble floors, and wall sconce lights. Big money battles were sometimes fought in high skyscrapers, and sometimes in small well-appointed courthouses in smaller areas. It was St. Clair County, Illinois again this time, the judicial hellhole of the US where a huge number of class action suits were filed because of the friendly atmosphere. Not friendly to big companies – jurors in St. Clair County seemed to have a fixation for screwing the man. He had won so many cases they were hardly a challenge, and at 35 years old, he needed a challenge.

Inevitably the press would be waiting just outside the door. He was grateful this courthouse had conference rooms off the spectator gallery that lawyers could use to confer with each other and their clients. He would not have to bask in the press. They would want interviews and statements, when all he wanted was to be away from all this. To hell with publicity. He quickly shook hands with his team.

“Drink later?” Sarah, one of his several co-counsels asked.

“Gotta get back,” he responded quickly, then dodged back through courtroom door. A couple of people were still milling around, but no reporters. He exited the courtroom through the jury door, which he knew from previous experience, simply led to a hallway and other rooms. No guards stood in front of doors, so there were no jury deliberations in process.

He walked to the far end and then peered out into the hall. The elevator doors were near. The reporters and crews were still at the other end. But the elevators might take time to arrive and he would be noticed. He shot for the stairs and quickly was home free. It was a quick drive back to his office in St. Louis.

*****

Dion stood looking out his office window. His office was in a 6 story mixed use building, built in 1925. He had fallen in love with its styling and purchased it, and had remodeling going on constantly. The first floor was all commercial, mostly retail and services. The next three floors were offices. Some had retail use. The upper two floors were residential apartments. He had a lounge on the second floor, called Enigmas Lounge, which, together with connected conference rooms, took up half of the floor. He lived on the sixth floor. The building made a nice income.

Why wasn’t he satisfied with what he had and what he did? He knew what his father would say. His father owned the largest business law firm in town. He could have been a partner there, but boredom and ambition took him to the challenge of class action law, where major reputations could be made. His father would say, “Suck it up; you’re making money.”

Jenessa entered. She was a petite Latin spitfire, a certified genius with an IQ over 160 and a profound ability with several aptitudes and skills. She was his office manager, paralegal, and sometimes confidante. She ran the office, was head of the paralegals for legal research, and coordinated with several co-counsels. The office would fall apart without her. She had jet black hair in a short style that wrapped tightly around her narrow face, emphasizing her full lower lip, and pale green eyes. She was naturally pretty.

Jenessa also took care of many of his personal affairs, not that he ever asked. She was very protective of him. She loved the legal work in the office, and taking care of her husband and household, yet somehow had time to run a citywide murder mystery club on weekends, which she loved creating.

Jenessa looked at him, puzzled, then Dion realized his desk phone had been ringing. “Is everything okay?” she asked.

“Sure.”

“It’s Jerry on the phone. If you don’t want bothered…”

Dion shook his head and hurried to the phone as Jenessa left. Jerry was his best friend, the truest kind of friend: he wanted nothing from Dion except an occasional conversation and a drink. He also supplied Dion with potential building purchases, and they were often joint ventures. They had worked together at Dion’s father’s firm, until Jerry gagged on business law and left. They had remained close friends.

“Hi, Jerry.”

“You know they’re plotting against you in high places and dark alleys. Stop winning already.”

“Five hundred fifty million! You know what really pisses me off? You know who gets most of it? The bank’s customers don’t care about their 24 bucks, so the 4 of us get it. It’s a cost of doing business for the bank – it’s just a game!”

“Hmm. I feel an attack of sympathy coming on. Let’s have a drink in Enigmas Lounge, and grouse about money flooding in.”

Dion laughed. Jerry always made him laugh. “Okay. But not someplace where I’m known. The reporters and money grubbers are following me like horse crap follows a parade. Just a quiet lounge somewhere.”

“There’s a little lounge over on Tamm Avenue I used to go to.”

“I’ll meet you there.”

*****

Dion stepped inside the lounge. It was relatively dark and quiet inside. Tattered was the best description. Seats were worn through, some had tears; tables were scarred, chipped, and paint flecked; the floor tile was worn through. Old maroon curtains with huge pleats, a throwback to the 1970s, hung in front of the windows, giving it a theater-like appearance. Yet clean. The place said, ‘This owner works hard for little reward.’

The only customers were a couple sitting near the front, a young woman and another man. Dion spotted Jerry already seated in a quiet corner booth at the rear, with no one sitting adjacent. Dion joined him.

“Good to see you, Jerry.” His slender build, year-round tan and narrow face, gave Jerry the mistaken appearance of a lean and hungry lawyer. But he had an easy manner. His curly black hair stayed tight to his head, wrapped into a beard that traced his jaw line, and was highlighted by thick, black eyebrows. His dark eyes were piercing. His face didn’t seem to ever frown, but always held a pleasant expression or a smile, and he was always in a good mood. His striking appearance attracted women, but he was dedicated to his wife. His suit jacket and tie were lying next to him on the seat.

Jerry nodded to Dion as the bartender came to take their order, and Dion sat down. The bartender’s face lit up with recognition when he saw Jerry. “Jerry, isn’t it. You look different from your college sweatshirt days.” The man was in his fifties, bulging a little in the middle, receding hairline, and wore everyday clothes with rolled up shirt sleeves, indicating he both managed and served tables.

“Mike, I see you’ve gotten rid of more bad hair,” Jerry retorted jovially.

“Now I remember why I didn’t like you,” Mike replied in jest. “Is your friend here just like you?”

Jerry started to say something, but Dion interrupted, “Pinot Noir please, a good one.” Jerry gave him a discomfited look.

Mike immediately turned businesslike. “House is Missouri wines, small selection.”

Dion was still feeling prickly. “I don’t want to play 20 questions. Just bring me something you have. Pinot Noir, 14 ounce.” Mike quickly left.

“Something crawl up your ass and take a huge bite?” Jerry asked. He was never the one for diplomacy, unless he was using humor.

Yes, Jerry named it exactly. “What I’m doing has stopped making sense. I make good money but I accomplish… nothing of any significance.’‘

“You want life altering experiences, go to a Little League ball game. It’s so important, the parents kill each other.” Jerry laughed. Dion laughed, too. Jerry had a way of putting life in perspective.

“Do you ever get tired of what you’re doing? Ever want a change?”

Jerry slowly nodded affirmative. “I did, I left your father’s firm, and now I’m doing real estate law for big realtors, and I don’t have to take a shower before I leave the office.”

Dion felt totally confused about the things in life that were supposed to be important, things that left him emotionally flat and dissatisfied. “You’ve traveled this road. Analyze me. Dad’s business law was really boring. Class action suits have gotten boring. I have enough money to buy a small island. Is it possible to just max out on life? Should I just buy an island, sit on the beach with my toes dug into the sand, and drink margaritas? Would that make me happy?”

“Who knows what’s going to make anyone happy?” Jerry replied, and shook his head. “You’re fighting the entire damn money-grubbing, ugly world. You’re burning out. Go buy a new sporty car. Have some fun.”

“I bought a sporty car. In six short months it looked like every other used car.”

“Then buy a tractor. They look the same forever.” They both laughed loudly enough to get the bartender’s attention.

Jerry continued, “Okay, then. Different prescription. Get drunk. Get laid. In the morning the woman won’t look half as good, and you’ll wish it never happened and want your good life back.” They both laughed again.

“Regretting it already,” Dion said.

“Anything resonating?” Jerry asked with his usual smile. Dion shook his head.

“I’m running out of ideas. Try this last one. You’re already famous, so become a TV judge for class action suits. Be a maverick for real justice.”

Mike returned with his drink. “Prophecy. Good wine.”

“Sounds fitting. Thanks,” Dion replied. The bartender waited for Dion to taste the wine. Dion did, and approved. “Sorry about being so abrupt a moment ago. It’s been a bad day, but no excuse for it.”

Mike smiled appreciatively. “No problem. I’m used to being the neighborhood piñata.” Dion smiled back at him. He could tell Mike appreciated the apology even if he shrugged it away.

Mike went to another table that was just filling with customers. Dion watched as a woman in a red dress approached the table. Very pretty. She and Mike seemed to know each other. She sat at the table with two male friends, both roughly mid-twenties.

Dion couldn’t help but stare at the woman. Her complexion was light brown that suggested softly beautiful, in an island girl sort of way. An understated, thin, straight nose separated large brown eyes that flashed as she looked here and there under her long eye lashes. Wavy dark brown hair with gold highlights hung to her shoulders, and casually played with the dim light. Full lips, decorated in red lipstick, curled easily into a smile. Her athletic build suggested a very active lifestyle. She radiated poise and confidence. Dion liked everything he saw.

Jerry saw Dion staring, and tapped his elbow. “Marriage will give you a big dose of reality. Go get that woman in red over there if you think you can afford her,” Jerry teased.

Dion shrugged. He hadn’t done a bar pickup since college, and that education told him it probably wasn’t worth the risk, even if she was beautiful. “She’s probably married.”

“No ring. She outclasses both of those guys at her table. Fifty bucks says she’s single.”

Mike dropped off some pretzels at Dion’s and Jerry’s table.

Jerry pointed to the woman. “The woman in red. Is she married?”

“Aida? She’s not seeing anyone, and she’s not gay. But I haven’t seen her leave with a guy yet.” Mike left the table for the bar.

Jerry raised his glass to Aida, and she noticed, and then he raised his glass to Dion. “A challenge worthy of Dion. A woman like her might give you a whole new outlook on life. Go get her.”

Aida glanced at the two men at the table. One had a ring. Safe. The other one, now looking her way, wore no ring. Handsome, oval faced, neatly groomed hair, refined demeanor, very well dressed. His body appeared well maintained with regular exercise. But regrettably, he smelled of big money. Not safe. She wasn’t looking for a relationship, especially with a wealthy guy.

The last two relationships had left her traumatized. Both had been wealthy men. And the man before those two was a cop, and he was abusive… and corrupt.

Aida caught her breath. The man looked on the verge of coming to her table. She wanted to run. Her safe place was no longer safe. She liked that he wasn’t threatening. She noticed his hesitation to overrule her. Wealthy men usually weren’t hesitant, they just reached out and grabbed what they wanted, and said ‘this is the way it’s going to be,’ like they were gods.

Dion hesitantly rose to go over to Aida’s table. As he approached, a man walked into the lounge and went to the table near the front. He didn’t look happy, and he stared at the woman sitting there, making everyone nervous. Dion hesitated as everyone’s attention went to the man. Aida, with her back to Dion, one hand on her chair and one on the table, looked like she was going to rise. Dion held back.

Finally the man said, “Brittany, let’s get out of here. Please. I just want to talk.”

Mike eyed the confrontation nervously, then picked up a bottle, holding it like a weapon half hidden at his side. Dion leaned against the booth to watch. Aida rose and stood watching.

Brittany didn’t make any effort to move. The man turned angry and demanding. “Now! We’re married, remember?

Brittany replied acridly, “You don’t own me. We broke up. Remember?

Dion was getting anxious. Lover’s quarrels could get really dangerous, and this was the age when people just shot everyone. He looked for a gun, but didn’t see any. He looked around for another door, but his eyes fell again on Aida, so he hesitated.

The man saw that being demanding wasn’t getting him anywhere. So changing tact, he became more conciliatory. “We can work this out. Please don’t make me beg.”

Brittany shook her head no. The man reached for her across the table, but she backed away in her chair. For a moment, it was a standoff.

Mike started to move toward the man, but Aida stepped forward and put her hand out to stop Mike, while moving to stand right beside the man.

The man sneered at Aida. She shook her head. “No one wants any trouble here. Please leave. Cool off. Think this through.”

The man started toward Brittany, but Aida stepped in front of him. He shoved Aida out of the way with his elbow as he lunged aggressively for Brittany. Aida gripped his forearm as he passed, then twisted his hand far enough up his back to cause pain. He stopped moving.

Aida was pleasant but firm. “Sir, what you are doing won’t end well. So go back out the door and I will let you go. Get in your car, leave, cool off, and we’ll forget all about this. Okay?”

The man hesitated, but seeing no alternative, he walked toward the door. He stopped momentarily and looked back and Brittany, then dismissed the idea of doing anything with a contemptuous wave of his hand, then left. Aida watched from the door until the man pulled away.

Mike thanked Aida, then started quietly moving everyone to a back room and shutting off lights. Dion threw some money on the table, then he and Jerry went a couple of steps toward the front door.

Mike stopped them. “I’ll let you out the back. It’s safer.”

Dion looked around, Aida was passing him on her way to the back room. They made eye contact, and she smiled at him. Dion smiled back.

To Mike, Dion said, “Would you give Aida my card, please, and…. Oh, never mind.” Dion would ask her himself. After all, who would call a lawyer?

As Dion and Jerry neared the back room. Aida glanced again in his direction. Dion nodded at her, then went over to her. She wasn’t just beautiful, she was dangerously competent. He was both intrigued by her and attracted.

“Hi, I’m Dion. That was very impressive, what you did in there.”

Aida smiled at him. “Just what I’ve trained to do.”

“That stuff really works? I took a little bit of karate, but I can’t imagine doing that.” He wondered if he was gushing, and thought he should restrain himself. After all, who was this woman. Was he gushing. He felt gushing.

“It worked this time. I wouldn’t have intervened, but he was getting physical.”

Mike pulled the shades on the windows, and the small group settled at a large banquet table. Dion and Aida remained standing.

“Where did you learn to do that?” Dion asked.

“Who are you?” Aida shot back. She was obviously going to find out who she was talking with before going any farther.

“I’m an attorney.”

“Are you looking for someone?” she quickly asked, as if that would be the normal thing for him to be doing.

That struck Dion as an odd question, but he let it pass. “Jerry and I were just relaxing. Big stressful court case for me today. We came here to avoid publicity.” He looked at her questioningly to see if he had given enough information, or if she wanted his entire bio. Apparently he had given enough.

Jerry raised his glass to her, nodded, and pointed to her appreciatively. Aida smiled.

Aida regarded Dion. She could tell him about the dojang and how busy she was. “I have a dojang for kids and women. I have to be careful.”

Dion gave her a look of curiosity. Was this some kind of new age thing for women? “What’s a dojang?”

“Kind of like a gym or a karate dojo, but for Hapkido martial arts. This is my first night off in weeks. This is where I relax.”

“I work all of the time, too. Days, nights, weekends, all night… I’m not sure I ever relax.” Sharing that made him realize he was too busy to ever consider his future or what was really important in life. Maybe this was a sign Aida might be good for him.

“Well, if you find your work rewarding, there’s no problem. Do you?”

Dion hesitated. This was kind of personal, a bit more than getting acquainted, but he felt comfortable talking to her. “I’m getting frustrated. I win a lot, but it helps no one.” Dion looked at her, and she seemed pleased with his comment, but puzzled. He felt like an idiot. Here he was spilling his guts. Why did he even say that?

“I’m Aida Medeia, if you care anything about names.”

Dion laughed and handed her his card.“Sorry. Totally lame introduction. Uh, the bartender, uh, Mike, told me your first name. Aida. You have an interesting name.” He was stumbling all over himself. What was it about her that was tripping him up like a high school kid in his first debate? He had interviewed plenty of beautiful and talented women. Maybe not women who skillfully took down men about to get violent, but….

“My name is Greek. Uh, do you always give prospective dates your business card? I assume you aren’t connecting with me just for business, ‘cause… I’m not looking for a lawyer.”

Dion laughed and shook his head at himself. “If I was in court, I’d be losing. Yes, I would like to get to know you. Sorry about the card – I got it out earlier to give to Mike in case we didn’t get to connect.” Dion looked at her, and she was smiling. “I think you make me a little nervous. Can I get your number?”

“No.”

"Okay, that was a really strong message. I'll just -" He pointed toward the door.

Aida smiled disarmingly. “Join us.” She sat down then patted the chair beside her. Surprised, Dion smiled back. He looked around in time to see Jerry stepping out the back door.

“It gets real here, doesn’t it.” Dion remarked.

The guy across from him replied. “We have all kinds of real, if you want real. I’m Ryan. If you’re a friend of Aida’s….”

Dion wasn’t sure how much real he wanted from these people. Who were they? Maybe he should play it close to his chest. “I, uh, work in a rarefied atmosphere where nothing is real. This is a bit much.”

Ryan continued as if there were no secrets. “Well, Aida here is in hiding.” Aida put her hand over his mouth and gave him a scolding look.

“Are you a cop?” Ryan asked, looking at Dion.

The man next to Ryan, scoffed at that question. “Ever see a cop wearing wing tip shoes?”

Ryan shot back, “Michael, I don’t look at shoes. Well, I might notice combat boots.”

“I’m an attorney,” Dion replied to all.

Ryan stood and leaned toward Dion, and put out his hand to shake. He seemed to have difficulty rising, as if he might be injured. Dion shook his hand. “Did you say, you’re an attorney?”

“Yes.” He wasn’t going to volunteer what type.

“How much do you charge?”

Dion smiled. “What kind of an attorney are you looking for?”

“The prosecutor has a trumped-up hacking charge against me, and I’m not a hacker,” Ryan replied through thinly veiled anger.

Dion didn’t want to see another angry display. He tried to cut him off, but Ryan wasn’t looking. “And Michael’s dad, Dave,” he gestured to Michael, “just got arrested, for something he didn’t do, and-”

Dion tried again to cut him off.

“-and he needs a lawyer bad!”

“I’m sorry, I’m not in criminal law. It’s a very different kind of law.”

“But I’m not a criminal, and neither is Dave!” Ryan shot back.

Dion sighed. He really didn’t want to spend his evening explaining legal representation to people. It was exactly what he didn’t want. He looked at Aida, and she just shrugged.

“Maybe I can refer you.” Before he could think about it, he handed Ryan a card, then wondered if he would regret it.

“Do you spend all day in court?” Ryan asked, “Like my public defender?”

“My calls usually drop off by early evening. But sometimes I work all night.”

Dion turned to Aida, and spoke in a hushed voice. “I was looking for relaxing reality, not problem reality. Want to go somewhere with me?”

Aida shook her head. Dion looked at her for a moment, puzzled, because she gave no explanation, then rose to leave. Mike pointed him toward the back door. Hurriedly, without thinking it over, Aida wrote her number on his card, rose, then before he reached the door, she was beside him. So far he wasn’t pushy or grasping. Nothing about him indicated danger. What would it hurt if they got to know each other?

‘Very puzzling,’ Dion thought, but he went with it. They both stepped through the door, and she handed him his card with her number showing.

When they reached the car, Aida stopped in her tracks. Had he just assumed she wanted to go somewhere with him? He had said relaxing reality.

“Did you forget something?” Dion asked.

“No, no. Maybe forgot something about men. I suppose you’re filthy rich.”

“Would that be a bad thing? I could just give it all to the poor.” That made her smile, and thawed the ice a little.

“Rich people buy people. Let me put this delicately. I’m not for sale. I am who I am, and I do what I do.”

“Sounds like a song,” Dion responded. He reflected on her statement for a moment. Somehow he had never considered buying a woman or controlling her life, but then again, he wasn’t married. “If I wanted to buy a woman, I could have done that already, and believe me, I have my….” He was sounding wealthy. He thought humor might help. “By the way, how much do women go for?”

Aida laughed and got in the car. “You’re kind of… interesting.”

“I’m in civil law. I’m incredibly boring. But I’d like to get to know you. Tell me more.”

“I’m an ex-cop. Detective. I got shot and lost part of a kidney and a chunk of stomach. It helps with weight loss.” She smiled at her joke. “And that’s enough about me.”

“Wow! Again, too real.”

Dion started the car, but before he could put it in gear, she said, “Just wait. I thought you wanted to talk.” Dion turned the car off.

He glanced at her. She was smiling at him like she was one up in some game. Was she going to proposition him? She was a real puzzle. Yet she didn’t seem to be after money, and she wouldn’t talk about herself.

“Where would you like to go to talk?” he asked.

“Nowhere. And I don’t want to talk about me. Mike’s lounge is my refuge.”

“Would you like to show me your dojang? It sounds different. Maybe a Japanese kind of environment with tea service.”

Aida laughed aloud at the tea service. “Korean,” she corrected. “And no. I’m sorry. I can’t risk showing it.”

“Risk it?” he asked, completely puzzled by this revelation. Her look said, ‘Shut up.’ Dion decided not to press it. “Sorry. Lawyers have a habit of prying.”

That was the first time she had ever heard the word sorry from a lawyer. Or even most wealthy men. Was he just being nice, hoping to get some? She decided to move the conversation around to him. “What’s the story on you? Wealthy lawyers don’t hang around these parts.”

“I’m kind of hiding tonight, too,” he admitted.

Aida gave him a skeptical look. “So what is a wealthy lawyer so afraid of that he has to hide in some out of the way lounge? Big, bad clients?”

Dion chuckled, but he wasn’t inclined to unload on this woman he didn’t know. He had little he could say, but as he looked at her, she looked at him expectantly. Finally he blurted out, “I probably work too much. Even Mike’s lounge looked more interesting than what I do.”

“I think he would sell it to you,” she said wryly.

“I don’t throw money away. Besides, everyone in there would ask me for a loan and legal representation.”

“You got that right! They tell me stories that make my hair stand on end. Some of them are so close to being in jail, they can see it in their day dreams.”

This was something else that puzzled him. Aida was an ex-cop, but she hung around with people who maybe were outlaw wannabes. “But you go there anyway.”

“I know a couple of them, kind of. And Mike. I can relax there without being….” The conversation was getting difficult again. What could she tell without revealing things that should stay hidden. “Look, I work as a private investigator also. I don’t like everyone to know that.”

“Ah, the secrecy part? Is the PI work more lucrative than a dojang?”

The two jobs together kept her financially solvent. She didn’t know whether it was the lawyer trick or what, but the conversation was suddenly about her again. She didn’t like it. “I get a few jobs,” she said, without revealing anything.

Work as a PI struck Dion as out of character. Yes, she had been a cop. But a woman with Aida’s looks was bound to attract attention. PIs were secretive, nondescript, and faded into the environment. And more often bold and a little intimidating in their questions and manner. Well, she was secretive enough. And could be intimidating. But if someone said, “PI,” this wouldn’t be the picture that came to mind.

He had no real use for a PI, but he asked, trying to make a reason to see her more, “Are you looking for more work?”

“Maybe.”

“Maybe?” he asked with skepticism. She had clammed up. “Why maybe?”

“I’m very picky who I work for. I limit my exposure.”

So she wasn’t after him for work, either. What did she want? He really didn’t feel like sorting this out. This was giving him a headache like he was back in court, and he had his own problems.

Dion sighed a long sigh, making it obvious he was done with this. “I’m going to go home, have a glass of wine, unwind, and maybe watch a movie. I’m, uh, I’m on camera more than anyone should be, and I get the feeling you don’t ever want to be on camera or even seen. So, uh, I like you, at least what I see, but it seems like getting to know you isn’t going to happen. So would you like me to drop you off somewhere?”

“Right here,” she replied without blinking an eye. “I kind of like you, too. Sorry.”

Dion opened the console between seats and pulled out a stack of business cards. He peeled one off and handed it to her. “My office address and number are on there, if you ever change your mind about me getting to know you.”

This was over. She could catch her breath and stop feeling guarded. She started to open the door, then thought about her friends. It was a long shot, but… “Ryan is a disabled veteran and a student. He’s getting a raw deal. If you can help him in any way, please do. And this thing with Michael and Dave needs an investigation.” With that, she opened the car door. Dion didn’t respond. He wasn’t going to make any commitments to people he didn’t know, not even to see them, especially about criminal law.

Seeing no response, Aida got out of the car then went into Mike’s lounge. She stopped at the door and stared at Dion. He stopped at the corner of the parking lot and gazed back at her. The moment lingered, pregnant with both tantalizing promise and regret, and then she went in.

Chapter 2

Aida opened the door to Mike’s lounge and went inside. As she walked toward the table, she grew angrier with every step. At the table, she yanked the chair away from the table, and as everyone watched, she set down in a huff.

She downed the rest of her beer. “Damn, damn, damn!” she said. She jumped up from the table and walked quickly toward the door.

Ryan, limping, but moving quickly, caught up with her as she stepped outside. "Hey, he's just a wealthy lawyer, privileged, in his own world, doesn't have to tolerate anyone. You heard him say it, he lives in a rarefied atmosphere where nothing is real. It -"

Aida cut him off. “It wasn’t him, it was me! Give it a rest, Ryan, I can’t make relationships work with everything hanging over my head.” They reached Aida’s car and she started to open the driver’s door.

Ryan gently blocked her, then put his hand on the latch. “I’ll drive you home. You’re not driving while angry and drinking.” Aida sighed, then allowed him to open the door. Ryan was right. She got in on the passenger’s side.

As Ryan pulled away, she yelled, “Why am I cursed?! Why can’t I even start a date?! Can I ever get my husband off my back?!” She slumped down in her seat, and wiped away tears.

As they approached her apartment, she said, “I want you to come in. Let’s find out some things.”

Ryan looked at her and could see she wasn’t inviting him in for sex. She had something else in mind. He accompanied her.

Aida’s apartment was as sparsely furnished as when she first moved into this semi-furnished apartment. Plain walls with no pictures. Sofa. Kitchen table and chairs. Small TV. Nothing that made an apartment look like a home. She threw her keys into a dish on the kitchen counter, and pulled a laptop computer from the floor, then placed it on the table. She took Dion’s card from her pocket and typed his name into the computer.

After looking at search results for a few minutes, she said, “Bingo. This man never loses a case. He probably knows other lawyers in criminal law who are at the top of their game, too. Ryan, you have to go see him about a referral. I think you just struck gold.”

“Ha!” Ryan replied. “He can give me all of the referrals he wants, but I don’t have the money to pay them. I would need real gold.”

Aida had bumped elbows with a lot of lawyers. They came and asked her questions about her collars, and tried to find ways to poke holes in the case. Any technicality would do. She didn’t exactly like lawyers.

“Never look a gift horse in the mouth. It can’t hurt to try.”

“Why don’t you go see him yourself?”

Aida flew mad. “He’s a damned lawyer, and he’s wealthy. There would be no living with him. He dumped me out of the car as soon as he saw I wasn’t going to spill my guts to him or let him in my pants. It was mutual. I fled.”

As soon as she had said that, she remembered the innocence in his face, the kindness in his eyes, the obvious appreciation he had for her looks and her competence, his demeanor definitely not pushy, just curious about her. No, his eyes were just eyes, just brown like his hair, well, faded brown eyes turning a little green. A tiny bit of graying at his temples. Sophisticated. His lips… just lips, not overly pronounced… looked very kissable. “He’s a pig!” she said angrily.

“I think you might be misjudging him.” Ryan suggested.

“You weren’t in the car. He just as much as asked me to go to his place for a drink, and then sleep with him, and when I refused, he made it obvious I wasn’t welcome.”

“I guess I have no idea what women want,” Ryan said. “Nice looking guy, loaded, talented, likes you, invitation to his apartment.”

Aida grinned, embarrassed. She hit him in the arm with the back of her hand. “I just hate lawyers and rich men.”

Ryan gave her an incredulous look. Aida smacked him again with the back of her hand, and smiled shyly.

“Let’s you and me go see him tomorrow,” Ryan suggested. “You can plead my case to him. He might pay more attention with a cop doing the talking.” Aida shook her heas.

“That’s just the alcohol talking. You’ll change your mind by morning. I’ll call his office and set it up. Pick you up. Bye.”

Aida said, “Ryan, I can’t do this. I….”

Ryan stepped through the door and closed it. “Yes, you can,” he shouted through the closed door.

Aida went to bed, but she couldn’t sleep. She tossed and turned, at one moment hating lawyers and wealthy men and how they tried to manipulate and control her. Tossing again, and then thinking Ryan might be right. She might have misjudged. She hadn’t been forthcoming with Dion, and he seemed sympathetic… not to mention attractive. But how could she be forthcoming. She couldn’t risk letting her ex, Brandon, know where she was.

And what else could a lawyer do for a change in his life. And why would she even care? The more she tried to sleep, the more her thoughts kept her awake. And she kept asking herself, ‘Why she should care?’

Chapter 3

The next day Dion’s feeling about the need for change was still strong. He buried himself in work and tried to hide from it. A thousand people seemed to want to consult with him, and he talked to them endlessly on the phone or on video. He had lunch in the office with Jenessa, and discussed it with her.

“Why don’t you come to some of my murder mysteries? They’re interesting; they’re fun; and they’re people.”

“Yeah, the gossip press would find a way to ruin it for you. I’m talking about finding work that’s, I don’t know, rewarding, if that’s not too schmaltzy. Yeah, and about being able to stop working and relax, too.”

“Buy a boat and sail around the world. See the world and all of its unique people.”

“Ugh. Sailing. I don’t even like the Mississippi riverboats.”

“You’re probably having a midlife crisis. Buy a sports car; have an affair; do stupid things. That’s what men do.”

Dion threw his napkin at her. “You sound like Jerry. Genius you may be, but you’re not much help.” They laughed. He knew Jenessa would throw a hundred ideas at him by 5 PM.

Aida entered the small lunch room, and Dion did a double take. Ryan appeared beside her.

“How did you get in here?” Jenessa asked.

“I called earlier,” Ryan explained. “You said to drop by this afternoon.“Ryan looked at his watch. “It’s afternoon.”

Dion rose, but Jenessa grabbed him by the belt and pulled him back into his seat. “She’s an ex-cop,” Dion advised. “Aida, Ryan, this is my office manager and spirit guide, Jenessa.” He waved to her with flourish.

Smiling, Jenessa beat him with her napkin. “Spirit guide?! You have no spirit, you’re all work!”

“This is a surprise. Did you change your mind?” Dion asked Aida.

“Ryan talked me into coming with him. And I was kind of thinking about your dilemma. Probably shouldn’t have, but you know, I’m a cop and I can’t let things go. The dojang doesn’t pick up until evening….” Aida checked herself, and felt embarrassed. “And I’m rambling. It’s Ryan that needs your help. So….”

“You have a prescription for my dilemma? I want to hear it.” Add one more piece to the puzzle of Aida. This was unusual, but she did have a valid reason for being here… not to mention his invitation.

“It’s kind of self-serving. Have you ever owned a building?”

He wondered where she could possibly be going with this. Slumlord? Mike’s building? “No, please, not Mike’s lounge?” He feigned being shot in the chest and dying.

Jenessa grabbed him by the arm, as if to say, “Show some restraint!”

Aida smiled uncomfortably and started to back out of the room. “This was a bad idea. Just forget I came.”

“Please stay!” Dion quickly responded. Jenessa shook her head at him. “You came this far. Let’s hear it. If it’s a laugh, I could use one. Or maybe it’s a good idea.”

Aida continued, uncertainly. “Buildings are full of interesting people. If you bought one, you could probably get it cheap as an investment, put your offices in it, rent out apartments and business space, and make a good chunk of change in return.”

“He already owns this building,” Jenessa explained. “He has me and a building manager take care of it. So I don’t think this is idea is going anywhere.”

“Jenessa thinks I should buy a sports car, have an affair, and do stupid things.” He turned to Jenessa with a big smile, who smacked him in the chest. “So what is in this for you? You said it was self-serving.”

"It's ridiculous. I'm way out in left field. I can't -"

“Yes you can!” Dion interrupted. He wanted to hear anything this beautiful woman had to say.

“Look, this is really, really stupid. I can’t even say it.”

“Moving to Mars might be a bit of a stretch.” Dion interjected with a smile. “Maybe not as much as doing the stupid things Jenessa wants me to do. So watcha got?”

Aida laughed. Dion made her feel easy about talking. “Since you own this building, my six month lease is up soon on my apartment and dojang. So, if everything worked out just right, which I’m sure there is no way this is even possible, I could have a secure apartment, and move my dojang to your building and teach women’s self defense right where I live.”

Aida looked away, embarrassed. Dion considered the plan while Jenessa sat there in shock.

"I- I shouldn't have said that... about the dojang... or -"

Dion thought he would put her at ease by showing his generosity to Jenessa. “Actually, Jenessa, wouldn’t you like a bigger headquarters for your murder mystery club? You could share space with Aida.”

Jenessa stared at him with her mouth open, like he had just grown a second head. Speechless.

Dion laughed. “I’ve never seen Jenessa speechless. You are – I don’t know what you are. Bold?”

“Dangerous,” Jenessa whispered to him. “Be careful.”

Aida shifted uncomfortably at Jenessa’s frosty words. “I should get back. I’m sorry for interrupting with my crazy ideas. I just thought…” As she turned to leave, she stopped at the door and blurted, “I wasn’t obsessing about this! And I don’t go around doing things like this. There’s no way I’m dangerous. I’m a cop! I couldn’t sleep last night and I….” Her voice faded out as she went through the door, shoving Ryan aside.

Ryan shook his head. “She was supposed to….”

Dion rose and quickly walked toward the door. Ryan stood aside from his post next to the door to let him leave, as Dion called after her, “Aida. Thank you! Those are the most real ideas so far.”

Aida stopped, smiled at him, then shook her head at herself and quickly turned to leave.

“Please come back and let’s discuss more of your ideas.” Aida gave him a weak, embarrassed smile, and hurried toward the elevator. Dion watched her for a moment.

“About Ryan?” Dion shouted after her.

When he turned back, Jenessa was looking at him quizzically. “Wow! Major crush! Anything you want to tell me… or confess?”

“Nope. I just met her last night. She’s very secretive, and I don’t know what she’s hiding from. Maybe you could go a little easier on her, huh?” he hurried the next, “And I kind of like her.”

“It’s about time, you old bachelor. So, give me her name and I’ll check her out before you fall head over heels into a nightmare.” She slid a napkin and pen over to him.

“Be careful,” Ryan said. “If you dig into police records, the wrong people will notice.”

Jenessa frowned and immediately asked, “Why is that?”

“It isn’t for me to say. Aida only tells what doesn’t put her in danger.”

“Public records, then,” Jenessa said. She shook her head, skepticism written all over her attitude.

Dion wrote her name, then said, “Ex-cop. She got shot, so that should make the trace easier.”

Dion turned to Ryan, who was standing at the door, looking undecided about staying or going. “Shall we have our meeting?” Dion asked.

Ryan took a step out the door and explained, “Aida was supposed to be with me. She’s a cop and she knows what kind of person I am, and stuff about laws. I need Aida here to help me, dangit’!” he said as he left. “I’ll be back!” he yelled as he headed toward the elevator.

*******

Aida had stopped around the corner from the elevators, with her back to anyone coming. Ryan caught up with her moments later, and gave her a questioning look, his hands lifted as in ‘what gives?’ Aida turned her face away from him. She was too embarrassed to move. It was like the day the detectives punked her after she chastised one about not brushing his cat’s teeth.

She kept hearing meows and noises, and after a few minutes of this she started checking her desk, but could find nothing. It went on for an hour, and she ended up checking every drawer in the office. No one else could hear it but her, so they claimed.

Finally she found an MP3 player behind a filing cabinet. With it was a toothbrush and a note from a veterinarian stating it wasn’t necessary to brush cats’ teeth. She burned. She confessed she had never owned a cat, but brushing their teeth seemed like the responsible thing to do. The other detectives sat around saying ‘meow’ all day, and asking her to brush their teeth.

Ryan stood there waiting. She asked in anger, “Why did you let me go on like that? I really embarrassed myself. It’s your fault.”

Ryan laughed. “It was like watching the Titanic sink. What was I going to do?”

“Fine friend you are. Now I’m a laughing stock for a law office.”

“Actually, he said he likes you.”

Aida’s spirits rose a hundredfold. Maybe she hadn’t blown it. Not yet, but she knew the way her past relationships went, she would eventually blow it. As a detective, she could easily see the stresses that tore apart relationships and led to crimes. But she couldn’t fix them in her own life. “Let’s go talk to him about your case.”

*******

Dion went back to his office and wondered whether to get back to work. He started reading, an instant message Jenessa had sent him. It contained a newspaper article on Aida. COP, SHOT ON THE JOB IN CINCINNATI. Last address, Columbus, Ohio. No address in St. Louis.

“She left the Cincinnati police department. She has a marriage record to Brandon Fordano, but no divorce record. No warrants. This looks very odd, but not illegal. You have to think real hard about getting involved with a married woman.”

Dion sent an instant message back, “She’s a bit of an enigma, and I would really like to solve this puzzle.”

Jenessa sent him an emoji of a happy face with hearts for eyes. “Could damage your image.” It was followed by an emoji with a tear drop. A Law practice required an untarnished image. He might be playing with fire. But what could it hurt to explore?

*****

Ten minutes later Aida had pulled her frazzled nerves together and boosted her confidence. She and Ryan went back to the lunch room. Jenessa was very friendly. She ushered the two of them into Dion’s office. “Ryan and Aida are here to see you. Should I send them in now?”

“Yeah, it’s just for a referral. I don’t know anyone offhand. But he’s a veteran. Would you mind looking up good criminal lawyers who do pro bono work for me?” Jenessa nodded and handed a folder to him, and said, “I checked with our building manager. There are possibilities if you really want to let Aida roost here.”

Dion smiled at her appreciatively, but he wasn’t at all sure he should be offering rooms to Aida. Not that he could stop her if she went directly to the building manager. But Jenessa apparently thought the possibility was real. Did she just want to see him married, or was she as psychic as she often appeared to be? “You’re a class act, Jenessa. Thanks. Would you like to look at the rooms with me later?”

“My husband is an architect. He agonizes over an inch here or there. I know nothing about buildings and rental space, and it sounds like a nightmare to me.”

Dion nodded, but he had another thing on his mind. “Personal question. Is Aida just using me?”

Jenessa laughed. Dion immediately knew he was somehow missing the picture. Jenessa informed him, “She obsessed over you, and then got embarrassed over it. Men have been known to think with the wrong head.” They laughed. They could always tease each other and not be taken seriously. Then she became more serious. “She lit up when she came in and saw you. I don’t know what’s going on, but I think she likes you. Whatever is standing in the way, give it time.”

A moment later Jenessa returned, and showed Ryan and Aida in.

Ryan entered the room, limping slightly, and stood before Dion at military style parade rest. Aida entered behind him and looked like a fish out of water.

“Have a seat,” Dion offered. Ryan sat down. Aida took another chair farther away. Dion wasn’t really sure what direction to go with this. He probably shouldn’t even touch this case. But an injured veteran, a guy who put his life on the line for Dion’s safety – he couldn’t just turn him away out of hand.

“Thanks for seeing me, Sir.”

“You need a referral, because I don’t do criminal law.” Dion said noncommittally. “Do you know what I actually do?”

“You win cases.” Ryan shrugged. “Aida looked you up, and says you never lose.”

Dion laughed. “Yes, I win cases, and I guess that’s really the most relevant thing. I’m a lot like a prosecutor. I’m an attack dog. A big company does bad things, hides it, and I nip at their heels until I have all of the evidence they’re hiding. Then I take them into the courtroom and destroy their case and make the jury believe mine.” Dion raised his eyebrows asking if they understood. He wasn’t really comfortable with the attack dog image, but it was what came to mind. He was more like a ferret. He ferreted out the facts.

“I need the prosecutor’s case destroyed!” Ryan said.

“I’ll try to find someone to refer you to, but tell me, what is the case?”

“The local prosecutor has a trumped up case against me, saying that I helped rob a bank by giving the people who did it the location of some information they could use in hacking the bank’s security system. Some nonsense I don’t understand about aiding and abetting.”

“Did you do that?” It was best to ask point blank, and see a telling reaction, then go from there. If the client was guilty, just go before the judge, plead guilty, and get it over with.

“I told the hackers where they might be able to find some hacking information, in a public place. I had no idea what they were going to do with it.”

Dion could see the DA wasn’t blowing hot air. This wasn’t exactly trumped up. “I can see the connection the District Attorney saw, but the prosecutor has to prove that you knowingly aided and abetted the crime. Are you guilty of intentionally helping them commit a crime?”

“No. I would never do that.”

“Did you benefit in any way by giving them this information?” If he benefitted, then the prosecutor had a better case than if he was just being charitable.

“They paid me $50 for it.”

Dion tried to understand how $50 fit into Ryan’s landscape. For Dion, $50 wouldn’t even cover a meal in a restaurant. “All of 50 bucks?”

“Look, it’s kind of a sick thing, and I understand it. Hackers are mostly harmless. It’s a badge of honor kind of thing to leave a mark somewhere. It’s like giving an officer the finger behind his back, but with other people watching.”

Dion understood. But why drag Ryan into it. “So you’re saying this was immature, harmless fun. Then why didn’t you make them find the information themselves?”

“Because this information is very hard to find if you don’t know where to look.”

“So you’re a hacker?” He was sounding like one. Why else would he know where this type of information could be found. And that wasn’t good.

“No! Technically, I guess I could be called that. But I don’t do anything bad.”

Dion looked at Aida. As a cop, and a friend of Ryan, she would probably know.

“Ryan wouldn’t do anything wrong,” Aida said. “I have seen him a number of times pay for other’s drinks at Mike’s lounge, and he doesn’t know it, but I’ve seen him pay for other people’s books at SLU.”

Ryan looked at her in astonishment. Aida smiled. “I was a cop, remember. I see little things.”

“Yeah, but I didn’t pay for the books. I just gave mine to someone who needed them.”

Dion looked at the case from a prosecutor’s point of view, just as he would against a company. “The prosecutor will prove that you are a hacker, and therefore a bad guy who does illegal things. This will demonstrate guilt by association with these people, and show that you aided and abetted by giving them the information. On its own, their case is almost a slam dunk, and if they have a strong theory….”

“So it’s hopeless? I’m going to jail for nothing?” Ryan looked at the floor, his face distorted in pain. “I go to Afghanistan, get my ass shot off, and the government thanks me by throwing me in jail for a crime I don’t even know I’m doing! What a country.”

“Ryan didn’t benefit in any significant way from the robbery,” Aida said. “Lunch money isn’t in the same league of motivation. None of the proceeds of the robbery went to Ryan.”

Dion nodded. Aida had a good point. “And you don’t have the money for an attorney?”

“Of course not,” he said morosely. “I’m a college student. I make computer apps for people, for $50. And they’re good ones, too,” he said proudly “but it doesn’t even cover my food budget.”

Dion rose and looked out the window for a minute. On one hand, this guy was deserving of representation, if he could believe him, and he seemed believable. He certainly didn’t deserve jail. He felt like doing something for Ryan.

On the other hand, he was not a criminal lawyer, and he could lose this, and damage his reputation, and more importantly a good guy would go to jail. Why was he even considering this? It was criminal law. He had no experience.

But without good representation, Ryan would probably be rushed to jail anyway. Unless someone intervened for him who could do the job.

Well, in reality, he wouldn’t let it go badly. He could get legal advice from a criminal law firm. He could even pay them to represent Ryan if things weren’t going well. Consider it charity. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. He could do this… for Ryan. It would be a change for himself, for sure. A vacation from litigating civil cases. That was appealing.

“If I take your case, we have to do two things. We have to poke so many holes in the prosecution’s story that it sinks like the Titanic, then give the jury a more believable story that they would have no trouble substituting for the prosecutor’s. But it has to be honest. Lawyers and jurors can smell a lie like a piece of stinky cheese. Can we do it?”

“Yes, sir!”

“We’ll work something out for payment… sliding scale, pro bono. Lawyers do this sometimes. We’re not as evil as people think.”

Dion pushed the intercom key for Jenessa.

“I’m already on it,” she said. “Franklin and Bundy is sending over a representative for a consult on Monday. I have Sherry checking case law. And the building manager says Room 114.”

Dion turned to Ryan. “I swear that woman is psychic. She knows what I’m going to do before I even do it. If an asteroid was going to suddenly strike Earth in two minutes, she would hand me a preparedness manual with today’s date.”

Ryan sank further into his chair, relief on his face like an LED billboard. "I don't want to push my really good luck, sir, but would you maybe have a look at -"

“Dave Pruit’s case? Let’s see how yours goes.”

Aida and Ryan exchanged smiles. “Told you,” she said.

“Told you,” Ryan replied.

Ryan shook Dion’s hand, then gave Aida a hug and said, “Thanks, Aida.” As he left, he casually saluted Dion.

The enigma, Aida, remained behind to pleasantly disrupt his routine. He smiled at her. “What’s up?”

“I knew you would move quickly if you found the right idea. You’re representing Ryan!” Aida was ecstatic.

“Um, are you reading my mind, too?” This woman seemed to know an awful lot about his business. Suspiciously a lot. She was unnerving him. He had better unravel it now.

She flared at the ‘reading my mind’ comment. “Goes to motivation! I was a cop. I read people.”

“Aida, if I’m going to be associated with you, I need to know more about you.”

Aida looked worried. Nervous. “You can’t put my name out there. Not publicly. Not in police records searches.”

“What are you afraid of?”

Aida sat silently. After a moment she rose to leave. This was not a good sign. Guilty people clammed up and walked away. What was with her?

He shouted after her, “I need to know! For all I know, you’re with the press, writing some big Exposé on Dion Vine? Or you’re working for some pharmaceutical company to undermine me?”

Aida angrily turned back toward him. “Arrogant, aren’t you! It’s always the same with rich people, always protecting something they have, and never a thought to anything else. Maybe I just like you! Can’t it just be that simple?” She stomped out the door and slammed it. Dion quickly went after her.

Dion tried to explain as she followed her storming down the hall. “You have to understand my position. I have to be very careful.” Aida continued walking. Dion continued, “Look, I’m sorry I insulted you. You told me you were a cop in Cincinnati,” he said offhandedly, trying not to sound concerned.

“Tell me you didn’t check my records!” She sounded near panic.

How could he tone this down? “Of course. There is nowhere more secretive than an attorney’s office.”

Aida became silent, turned pale, then after a moment she turned and ran toward the elevator.

“I have to go! Now!”

Dion went after her at a trot.

“Wait! What is the problem? It was in the newspaper.”

Aida slowed, but didn’t stop.

“There are no outstanding warrants.”

“Oh, God. No! No! You didn’t check police records!” Aida broke into a run again.

“Where are you going?”

“Alaska or Canada. Tell them that! I can’t tell you.”

Dion continued running after her. Aida was distraught. “I can help you with whatever the problem is.”

Aida spat angrily, “You checked me out! If I my name is out there, they’ll find me!” she said in terror.

Dion ran in front of her, careful not to even give the appearance of frightening this skittish doe. “No, no, absolute secrecy.” Dion crossed his heart. “We didn’t check police records. Ryan told us not to.”

She slowed, smiled at the notion of Ryan, then stopped. “You don’t know what I’ve been through. I don’t want to run anymore.” Aida half collapsed against the wall next to the elevator, the stress and exhaustion of time on the run, showing clearly, but the heart of a cop not letting her fall apart. Dion leaned on the wall next to her, supportive but not crossing personal boundaries.

Aida took a deep breath and let it out slowly, trying to relax. “I’m an ex-detective, Fugitives and Narcotics divisions, Cincinnati, Ohio. If you do a search on records, or start checking old jobs, my husband, Brandon, will know immediately. He’s clever, he may already know.”

This piqued Dion’s interest. “So, you’re hiding from your Brandon? Why?”

She straightened up. “I know, but I don’t have proof, that one of his bad cop friends shot me because I was beginning to suspect things, and I was asking too many questions. Maybe it was a warning. But anyway, I survived. While I was recuperating from being shot, I uncovered evidence that would put Brandon in jail for years. I confronted him, which was a stupid thing to do, but I loved him. He tried to kill me! but I escaped. I’ve been hiding from him for over two years.”

Dion was dumbfounded. He had never come across a situation like this. He had suspected she was hiding from a bad relationship, maybe an abusive husband. But this was beyond anything he could imagine. “Can’t the police do something?” The elevator dinged. Rather than just stand there, they stepped onto the elevator. Dion pushed Floor 1.

She continued, “The police don’t protect people! He’s a cop. He knows other dirty cops. So I can’t give them the evidence. All he has to do is get rid of me, or get the evidence, and his problem is solved. See how dangerous this is?” Dion was nearly flattened by the reality of this revelation.

“But I do know how to hide – well, unless you blew my location when you checked!” Dion nodded, then felt chagrined by what he might have done to her through innocent actions.

“Again, we didn’t contact the police department, just public records. Jenessa said people can’t find out about that. I’m really sorry.”

Aida shrugged. They stepped off the elevator and Dion led them down a hall. She smoldered in anger and regret, but followed, apparently lacking a decision to go elsewhere. After a few steps, she said, “I think I’m still safe. I need to talk to Jenessa and understand what kind of search she did.” Dion nodded and gave her a grim but apologetic smile. “I’m sorry I have to be so secretive.”

Dion mulled the situation over. She posed a potential risk, but his instincts told him she was a good person in a bad situation, and he had caused her new problems, innocently, but it was still on his hands. He would have to rectify this. Somehow he would have to find justice for Aida.

Dion stopped in front of Room 114. “Then it’s settled,” Dion said decisively. He opened the door. “Would this work as your dojang?”

Chapter 4

Dion looked across the street at the St. Louis County Courthouse from under the decorative trees. The courthouse was several stories of cold brick and stone. Coming down the sidewalk in front of the courthouse was Ryan, dwarfed by the structure, human and vulnerable, and made more so by his limp. Dion sighed at both.

Dion crossed to meet Ryan. Every one of his cases in the past had been about money. Mountainous piles of money. This one was different. The future of a man’s life was at stake. Every bit of it was stupid. A stupid case, dreamed up by a district attorney trying to send a stupid message, against a man who had done a slightly stupid thing.

Ryan looked up at the imposing building. “Looking back, I did a dumb thing, didn’t I?”

“We all do things that in retrospect we wish we hadn’t. If that made us bad people, the entire world would be in jail.”

In front of the courthouse, two news crews waited on Dion. “Look at all of those cameras!” Ryan said to Dion, as they approached on the sidewalk. “This is worse than being shot at.”

Dion smiled at him. “Keep your eyes on the courthouse door; don’t stop; don’t look at the cameras or crews. Don’t talk. You’ll be fine.”

After they pushed through the crowd, Ryan asked, “What if we lose?”

Dion thought to himself, I won’t allow that. I never lose cases, and I especially won’t lose this one. But he couldn’t say that to Ryan. “We have a strong case. Use your combat training and don’t think about it, just go into battle confidently, but warily. And don’t show any emotional reaction to the jury. They will misinterpret it.”

The cameras would be there when he left the courtroom. He was a high profile lawyer who automatically pulled in the press just by his presence. Especially now that he was trying his hand at criminal law.

They wanted to know who would do that. With his money and success, why put himself into this arena? He wondered the same thing. Criminal defense was higher tension than money cases. And he was feeling nervous as he stepped toward the courthouse entrance. But his stride and his face showed confidence and determination. He would win.

*****

To Dion’s relief, the trial had gone smoothly. But today would tell. It was time for closing arguments and the jury’s turn. People slowly entered the courtroom. As cases go, it wasn’t really a very important case, but Ryan was a veteran accused of computer hacking, and represented by a high profile attorney, so suddenly it was big enough to fill the courtroom spectator gallery.

Dion walked into the courtroom confidently, not glib or showy. He pushed open the main entrance door, carrying a satchel and pushing Ryan ahead of him out of video camera range. Still, cameras flashed outside the door. Dion seemed not to notice them. He nodded to a couple of people as he entered.

The prosecutor, Sharon Walker, talked with her assistant about the proceedings. The assistant looking frustrated, handed Sharon a paper, and sat down in a controlled huff. Dion knew it was a brief for dismissal that he had recently sent. It would shake up the prosecution’s team. Best to keep them off balance and devoting time to addressing other issues instead of the real ones.

Sharon continued to stand as she leafed through papers in her satchel. She looked up momentarily and acknowledged Dion with a curt nod, smiled, and adamantly shook her head at the paper. The assistant pointedly ignored Dion.

An artist sat down with her sketch pad and began to draw. Dion escorted Ryan Gillman to his seat. Ryan looked worried. Dion surveyed the courtroom as if he didn’t have a care in the world, then sat down next to Ryan.

A uniformed officer took his position near the front entrance. Another officer took his place at the rear of the courtroom. The court recorder entered from the front door and sat down at her table. The bailiff opened the front door and escorted the jury to their box.

Ryan smiled weakly. The artist rapidly sketched a picture of Dion and Ryan.

This might be his first criminal case, but it was not his first case proving guilt or innocence. Pharmaceutical companies groaned when they learned he was on a class action suit. He made the case through careful research, and then his courtroom performance was well orchestrated for his audience, the jury. He could have used his talents to make good money as an actor, but cases were not theater, they were real.

Judge Mike Higgins appeared at the door. The bailiff called out, “All rise. The Superior Court of Saint Louis County, State of Missouri, is now in session, the Honorable Mike Higgins, presiding.” Judge Higgins entered and took his seat.

“Please be seated,” the Judge said summarily. This told Dion that Judge Higgins was not big on formality. This was old territory for him.

Judge Higgins looked to Sharon and Dion, and satisfied, said, “In the matter of the State Versus Ryan Gillman, are the prosecution and defense ready to proceed with closing arguments? “

Sharon and Dion rose.

“The State is ready, Your Honor.”

“The Defense is ready, Your Honor.”

Both sat down.

“Ms. Prosecutor, you may proceed with your closing argument.”

Sharon rose and stood before the Jury. She enumerated the many details of the case and patiently explained why they were incriminating. Near the end she became more animated, and glanced more frequently from Ryan to the Jury, pacing, and finally she went to stand a little past Ryan so that he was the object of the Jury’s gaze as she added compound interest with her interpretation of his crimes against the State.

“Any reasonable person would know that the only reason for wanting a bank’s security password would be to commit a crime. No matter how much Ryan Gillman may have wanted to close his eyes, and see no evil, he was complicit – he aided and abetted the people who robbed the bank.” She let that sink in for a moment, judging the Jury’s reaction. They were not completely convinced. Too much sympathy for Ryan.

Prosecutors must share the jury’s sympathy, be human, but let the law take precedence. “Sadly,” she let the word hang in the air, “Ryan Gillman is guilty of complicity in burglary. And no matter how much sympathy we feel, you must convict and leave mercy to sentencing.” With a grim but sympathetic look on her face, Sharon shook her head in sorrow, walked away from the Jury then sat down. After a moment, she gave the jury a stoic look, then nodded to the judge.

Dion noted the nod. Apparently the judge didn’t even require, ‘The State rests its case, Your Honor.’ He would follow suit. Her argument was well played. Only an idiot would not know the information Ryan gave the robbers could be used for the wrong purpose. She used sympathy well, and painted herself not as a bad person, but someone with a terrible task to do. Not an easy act to follow.

“Mr. Vine, proceed,” the Judge ordered.

Dion rose and stood before the jury. Giving them a big smile, he then extended his hand toward Ryan, presenting him to the Jury as if praising him. “Twenty-four year old Ryan Gillman, is a veteran injured in combat, and unable to do certain types of work. The military gave him the advanced training for war, but that’s all. He is trying to find a better career by going to school at Saint Louis University in Computer Science,” he said, painting a picture of Ryan’s high and meritorious character, represented by his conduct, and then let it sink in before continuing. He began to pace.

As Dion paced, he noticed a man dressed in casual clothing, seated in a far corner of the gallery, shielding his mouth and talking into a microphone.

The man said quietly, “Defense paints a picture of Ryan’s exemplary character.”

Dion glanced at the Judge, who was also noticing the man. Judge Higgins called out, “You, with the microphone. Are you recording?”

“Yes, Your Honor, I am.”

Judge Higgins looked angry. “You did not clear this in advance with me, and you are interrupting a trial.”

“I apologize Your Honor. Recording is allowed by law,” the man said boldly.

“With my approval. What are you doing in my courtroom?!”

With pride, the man said, “I’m Professor Emeritus at Stone School of Law. I’m doing a field study of Dion Vine’s courtroom strategy. My clients think this is worth having.”

Judge Higgins looked at him for a moment, then at Dion with aggravation. Dion shrugged and showed empty hands to the judge, indicating not my doing, no objection.

“I’ll allow it. Only one recording is allowed. If I hear you talking, I will throw you in jail for contempt. Next time if you want to make commentary, type it into a laptop.”

The man looked unruffled, but responded politely, “Yes, Your Honor.”

“Mr. Vine, jury, the court apologizes for the interruption. You are welcome to start over.”

Now Dion would demonstrate for them the precariousness of this hero’s position. “The GI bill, wonderful as it is, pays tuition, but not support. Ryan found himself in the position of being unable to find a job in this economy to support himself in college. Everyone has to find work to support themselves. You, me, veteran and college student Ryan.” Again he paused, letting that need sink in.

The Professor in the back spoke softly into his jacket, “He just confirmed motivation for the prosecution. Odd.”

Dion’s pacing brought him to Ryan. He sat on the table next to him as if he was a close friend. Now he would make them see that Ryan was doing another great thing. “Ryan seized the day. He took initiative. He attacked the problem. He freelanced to anyone needing computer services.” He beamed proudly at Ryan.

Out of the corner of his eye, Dion could see contempt in the professor’s eyes, as he spoke into his jacket. “Irrelevant. This guy is all over the place!” Dion ignored him.

At the same moment, Sharon wrote a note on her legal pad and circled it for her assistant to see, “Reputation, new work context. Shrewd.”

Dion rose and went to stand in front of a group of young people, some of Ryan’s fellow students, framing them in the background for the Jury to see. He would establish a new context for the crime, one not so damning. “Ryan admits that some of his activities bordered on the unethical. It’s a college environment and some legal boundaries are not well recognized among computer science students – they hack into places they shouldn’t, and they download music and movies that they didn’t buy – they are widely guilty!” He laughed and then looked to the young people behind him. “Among his peers, and impartial judgment is a legal recommendation in considering activities, Ryan was part of the culture. Do we throw them all in jail?” He made a sweeping gesture of the courtroom gallery. The gallery laughed.

***

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Legal mystery, suspense, smart fiction Dion demands justice and a rewarding career making a difference in people's lives, but... be careful what you demand. Nothing is ever as it seems with his clients and they drive him crazy. His girlfriend and clients try to be good, but it's hard work keeping them all out of jail. Justice narrowly prevails at this nexus of the individual and larger questions about justice. A chance encounter in a lounge gets Dion involved with a "come here, get away" new girl friend. She's an ex-police detective who seems to have a warehouse full of problems. She is running because of a death threat from her corrupt husband, who could attack her at any time. She involves Dion in interrelated cases in which an injured veteran is accused of hacking, and his friend is accused of vehicular homicide. "Of course" both are innocent, even though they hide multiple secrets protecting others, that Dion must unravel. A complex legal mystery with subplots, this is "smart fiction," in which very few liberties are taken with the realistic experience of law. The reader is challenged to figure out the mystery - nothing is completely hidden. In the courtroom it emphasizes real legal practice. In the field, it's down to earth. It's a solid and entertaining probe of justice, with a little humor mixed in. This story takes its inspiration from "Boston Legal" with its unique defenses and humor, with a splash of "Ally McBeal" with its romance, and "Perry Mason" with its attention to investigation and law, and "Conviction" with its emphasis on thoroughness and justice. It is similar in complexity to the British TV series, "Broadchurch." If you like authors like James Grippando and Lincoln Child, you might like this story.

  • ISBN: 9781370503742
  • Author: Dorian Scott Cole
  • Published: 2017-01-25 22:35:09
  • Words: 67522
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