Authors: Allison Leotta
Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller, #Adult, #Suspense
Anna was glad to leave the press behind; she was always afraid she’d trip and fall right in front of the cameras. A block away from the courthouse, she and Jack ducked into the Firehook bakery and ordered a couple of iced coffees. As was their custom, they both tried to pay. As was his custom, the barista smiled at Anna and took Jack’s cash. Completing the ritual, Anna stuck her money in the tip jar. “Thank you,” the barista said in a cheerful Jamaican accent.
As they turned to leave, a beautiful dark-haired woman stood up from a table. Anna recognized the FBI agent from last night, Samantha Randazzo. The agent tossed her dark curls over her shoulder and walked toward Anna and Jack. How did the agent make a simple gray pantsuit look so sexy? And how did she chase suspects in those heels? Maybe FBI agents didn’t have the same kind of foot chases that MPD did.
“Sam.” Jack greeted Samantha with a smile. “How’d you track us down here?”
“If I couldn’t find my prosecutor, I wouldn’t be much of an investigator.”
“Glad we got FBI’s finest on the case,” Jack said. “And I’m glad to see you and MPD playing together nicely.”
“It’s not every day there’s a murder at the Capitol,” Samantha said. “My SAC wasn’t going to let this one go.”
Anna wasn’t as delighted as Jack about the woman’s assistance. But she smiled at the FBI agent. “Glad to have you aboard.”
“Congrats on the ruling,” Sam said. Before Anna could respond, Sam continued, “I told you any judge would let us search the hideaway. If we’d gone in there last night, we would already have the evidence now.”
“No,” Anna said. “Any document might have been suppressed, and just by reading them, we’d have violated the Constitution. Now we can collect our evidence and be sure we’ll be allowed to use it.”
“We’ll be lucky if anything is still there.”
“Enough,” Jack said. “I know we didn’t do this fast enough for you, Sam, but we did it the right way. McGee and his team are headed there right now, so we’ll have the forensics soon enough.”
Samantha nodded and closed her mouth. Jack’s deep voice conveyed authority—agents accepted what he said, even if they disagreed with it. Anna always admired his style when she saw him in action, but she wondered if she’d ever have that kind of gravitas.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office was an eleven-story glass and concrete box occupying a city block. A few people congratulated them as they walked in, but the lobby was mostly empty. It was just after nine
., and many prosecutors were in court. They rode the elevator to the ninth floor and headed to Jack’s office. When they reached his door, his secretary jumped up from her cubicle. Vanetta was a plump black woman with graying dreadlocks and an easy smile. The smell of fresh-baked chocolate-chip cookies always surrounded her. She wore a long flowery skirt, a turquoise blouse, and a many-stranded necklace that clicked cheerfully when she moved. She pulled Jack over to her computer. “You’re on TV!” she said.
Anna, Jack, and Samantha crowded around Vanetta’s desk. A CNN video streamed on the computer screen, showing Anna and Jack walking out of the courthouse minutes earlier. “You two look beautiful!” Vanetta said, squeezing Anna’s arm. Anna wondered if Vanetta suspected their romance. But her smile was genuine and innocent. Anna smiled gratefully in return. The next shot was of Daniel Davenport and his team exiting the courthouse in a pin-striped clump. The reporters shouted questions, but Davenport just nodded without answering. He was like Jack that way. These were not lawyers prone to dramatic showdowns on the courthouse steps.
A voice-over said, “Although Congressman Lionel had no statement, his challenger in the Democratic primary had plenty to say.”
The picture cut to the Wilson Building, an elegant columned structure that housed the City Council. Councilman Dylan Youngblood stood on the marble steps behind a podium with a cluster of microphones arranged before him like a metal bouquet. He was a trim, handsome man with sandy hair just turning gray at the temples. Now that Anna had met his wife, she was curious about him as a
person as well as a political figure. He and Eva must make a gorgeous couple.
As he spoke, Youngblood looked right at the cameras in a way that made Anna feel like he was talking directly to her. He had that TV magic. He said, “What I want to know is, why did Congressman Lionel oppose the search of his office? What is he trying to hide? A young woman is dead—why won’t he cooperate?”
It was inevitable that the homicide investigation would become intertwined with the upcoming primary election; Anna was just surprised by how quickly it had happened. She supposed Youngblood didn’t have time to waste. He was trailing Lionel in the polls, but only by a few points. And the Democratic primary, in mid-September, was only six weeks away. In D.C., where 75 percent of the population was registered Democratic, the primary
It was a sign of the changing demographics of the city that a white man even had a shot at taking down Emmett Lionel. Lionel had ruled D.C. for thirty-one years with hardly a real challenge. Perhaps he had been resting on his laurels for the past few years, taking his position and his electorate for granted. But the city was changing. Lionel was sixty-four years old and a technophobe, proud of the fact that he had no idea how to tweet. Youngblood was thirty-eight, sponsored technology initiatives, and carried a BlackBerry everywhere he went. He was famous for replying to every constituent e-mail himself. There was a feeling that D.C. needed to step into the twenty-first century.
Youngblood spoke into the cameras. “My opponent has the constitutional right to remain silent. All criminals have that right.” Anna was surprised at Youngblood’s choice of words. It was all
not all criminals, that the Constitution protected. Youngblood was going to milk this for all it was worth. “But that’s not the kind of leadership our city deserves. If he wants to hide behind the Fifth Amendment, that’s his prerogative. But that doesn’t mean the people of D.C. have to elect a man who won’t cooperate with the investigation of a murder in his office. This is serious. It’s not about some SUV the taxpayer paid too much for. A woman is dead! The investigation is being run by Jack Bailey, one of the best prosecutors in the city. I’ve known Jack for many years, and I’m confident he’ll get
justice in this case. Bailey ought to be U.S. Attorney. And my opponent ought to cooperate with him.”
Anna cringed at the statement. It wasn’t the substance of what he said. Youngblood was right: Jack would be an excellent U.S. Attorney. In a city full of lawyers from somewhere else, Jack had been born in D.C. and raised in one of its toughest neighborhoods. He was not only a great lawyer but one who deeply understood the District, its people, and their needs.
But Youngblood shouldn’t have endorsed Jack like that. She wondered if the Councilman understood the problem he’d just created. Now the case was personal for Jack. If he ended up indicting Lionel, some people would say that he’d done it to help Youngblood and snag the U.S. Attorney position for himself. Was it a conflict of interest for Jack to try the case now? She glanced at him.
“I hate politics,” he said.
Vanetta’s phone rang. She answered it, then turned to Jack with a sad smile. “Donna McBride is here.”
Donna McBride was
an attractive woman in her late forties, with dark blond hair and a shell-shocked expression. She sat in a guest chair in front of Jack’s desk; Anna and Sam sat beside her.
Jack’s office was one of the nicest in the building, a large corner space overlooking the beautiful redbrick Building Museum across the street. Next to his credenza stood an American flag, a sign of high station in government decor. Jack himself looked calm and authoritative behind his desk. But it was Anna whom the mother kept glancing at. Anna glanced down at her suit to see if there was still some peanut butter there; she didn’t see any.
Donna’s eyes were rimmed with red, and her cheeks were almost as pale as her daughter’s had been, pressed against the marble terrace last night. Caroline’s mother explained that she had gone to the Medical Examiner’s office this morning and identified her daughter’s body. Anna couldn’t imagine a more painful experience. But Donna brushed away their attempts at condolences. She didn’t want platitudes. She wanted answers.
“I need to know how she ended up there,” Donna said. Her words sounded thin, like she was having difficulty pushing them out of her tight throat. “What happened?”
“Your daughter was pushed from a balcony at the U.S. Capitol at around eight
. last night,” Jack said. “She died from injuries sustained from the fall.”
“I can read that in the newspaper. Who did it? Why was she there?”
Jack was silent for a moment. Anna knew their information was going to devastate this woman. But it was better for her to hear it here than through the inevitable news story.
“There’s no good way to tell you this,” Jack said. He explained how Caroline had been found—skirt hiked up, torn panties around her knee. “It appears that your daughter was working as an escort for the past few years. She may have gone to the Capitol last night in that capacity.”
The mother cried out as if a part of her had just been amputated. Tears rolled down her face. Jack handed her a box of tissues, then sat quietly and let her digest the news.
“I didn’t know,” Donna said at last.
“I was so proud of her. When she got in to Georgetown! And then the scholarship.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“Who did this to her?”
“We’re working on it. Any information you have will help. Did she have any friends who worked in the Capitol?”
“She didn’t mention anyone.”
“What about a boyfriend?”
“She dated a few boys at Georgetown. No one seriously. I don’t think she’s seeing anyone now.” The woman’s voice hitched. “
The mother kept answering Jack’s questions in a soft, matter-of-fact voice. Anna admired the strength it took to talk to them the morning after her daughter’s death. She didn’t have to do it—the prosecutors would have waited until she was ready. But the woman wanted to help. It made Anna think of her own mother, who found the courage to leave her abusive husband only after her daughters
were threatened. Anna, who’d lost her mother, felt an affinity to this woman, who’d just lost her daughter.
Donna told them that she taught second grade. Her husband—Caroline’s father—had been a plumber who died of prostate cancer three years ago. The family had struggled to make ends meet after that. Anna wondered if financial worries had something to do with Caroline’s decision to become an escort.
The mother gave them Caroline’s cell phone number, social security number, date of birth, address. Sam jotted it all down in a notebook. Donna also signed a form giving the prosecutors permission to enter Caroline’s apartment, search it, and take her computer.
“Did Caroline have a roommate?” Anna asked. If anyone would know the daily routine and dark secrets of a college student’s life, it would be her roommate.
“Yes.” The mother looked like she’d tasted something bad. “Nicole Palowski. That girl was a bad influence.”
“She ran with a fast crowd. Out all night partying. A couple times when I visited, I thought she was on drugs.”
“Did Caroline ever get into that?”
The mother shook her head. “She was a good girl. Always sunny and happy. She loved people.”
Donna shut her eyes like she was trying to block out the nightmare or wake from it. She tightened her hold on the tissue in her hand. Anna could see Donna holding her breath, trying to stop herself from crying. She felt her own tears welling up. She forced them back. It wasn’t her place.
When Donna opened her eyes, she glanced at Anna again. “I’m sorry,” she said. “You just . . . you look so much like my daughter.”
Anna nodded. She’d noticed it, too. She and Caroline were both blond and long-limbed and around the same age.
Although Jack was clearly the one in charge, Donna spoke to Anna. “Please,” she said. “Find out who did this to my daughter.”
Anna’s eyes locked on the other woman’s, and a moment of understanding and shared need passed between them.
“We will,” Anna said. She hoped it was a promise she could keep.
s luxurious as the Congressman’s hideaway was, McGee thought, it was a stingy crime scene. He was accustomed to blood and bullet holes, screaming witnesses, a history of beefs between suspect and victim. The Congressman’s private office was quiet and neat. No bloodstains on the Persian carpets, nothing in disarray on the fancy antique desk. The white marble fireplace shone as if it had been polished this morning.
Mobile Crime Lab techs were processing the office, looking for any trace clue. One MCL technician used a small handheld vacuum to suck up hairs and fibers, while another dusted surfaces with black powder, looking for fingerprints. She found a few prints on the desk and used clear tape to lift them. All usable prints would be compared to known prints in the police database as well as those of Lionel and his staffers. It was by the book, but McGee thought it was all useless. Lionel and his staff could have been in here hundreds of times for perfectly legitimate reasons. Their fingerprints, hair, or DNA would prove nothing.
McGee focused on the room as a whole, though nothing appeared amiss; there was no sign of a struggle. Still, he took pictures of the office from every angle. Even if he didn’t notice anything now, he could refer back to the pictures later.
When he was done inside, McGee went through the open doorway to the balcony. The view was awesome. The techs hadn’t processed the balcony for fingerprints yet—the marble railings were still clean and white, with no black powder residue. McGee started taking pictures of the area. On his second click, something on the floor glinted off his flash.
He went to the corner and lowered his 290-pound body, his knees creaking in protest. He pulled a pair of purple latex gloves out of his suit pocket and snapped them on. He picked up the small object and held it to the light, then whistled through the gap in his teeth. He had to tell Anna about this.