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"That's my final offer." State prosecutor Connie Sanchez slapped shut the cover of her case file. "One year and a five thousand dollar fine."
"Come on, Connie," I protested. I knew better than to use my opponent's full name, Conchetta, which she hated. At the moment I needed her cooperation.
"My client may be a screwed-up teenager, but you haven't proven any malicious intent. A thousand dollar fine and no jail time."
"Sorry, Nicole. No can do." Connie shrugged. "Your client chose the wrong gravestone to deface. The family members want his ass fried or they'll go straight to the media. I can see the headlines." She held up her hands, fingers splayed. "White kid gets away with spray-painting a black girl's grave."
"Chalk, not paint." I gritted my teeth. Although we'd been friendly during my years as a state prosecutor, the friendship hadn't survived my conversion to the "dark side," as she loved to say. If she only knew Switching to defense wasn't all that difficult with conscience's fangs snapping at your heels.
"Trust me." Connie dropped her hands. "It will be paint by the time the reporters get through with the story."
True enough, I reflected as I collected my briefcase and purse. If a story had enough sympathy play, the dry facts could easily get lost in the hue and cry. I glanced at my watch.
Damn. Without a deal, I wouldn't be out of here until late. That meant I couldn't stop by the house before my evening appointment, and this was the day the caretaker had to leave early. The all too familiar sensation of tension filled my chest like a balloon, pressing against my lungs until I could hardly breathe.
Stop it, I told myself, fighting to take a normal breath. Now's not the time to hyperventilate. It wasn't as if Mom had started wandering off and getting lost like the doctor warned about. She'd be fine by herself for a few hours. Still, a burning sensation flared in my lower chest. I thumbed a tablet from the antacid roll I kept in my jacket pocket.
The door of the small conference room opened and Bailiff Doug Scott poked his head in. "Ms. Sterling, Ms. Sanchez. The judge is ready to resume the proceedings."
"Oh, thank you, Doug." Despite the dark circles under her eyes, Connie's eyes flashed with sudden fire. She practically tripped over herself to follow the bailiff out.
Not that I blamed her. The buff deputy was easy on the eyes and a spark to any woman's libido. His being single didn't hurt the fantasy factor either. There was always a moment of reverential silence whenever he strolled by a group of female lawyers in the courthouse hallways.
As I allowed the bailiff and enamored prosecutor to get ahead, I pulled out my cell phone and called my law firm partner Kate Rochelle.
"Kate? It's Nicole. I need a favor."
"Of course," she responded in a cultured tone instilled by her Palm Beach upbringing. "The hearing not going well?"
"The state's presented its case, but the prosecutor won't offer any deal that doesn't include jail time."
"Tough break. Your client may have to testify after all."
"Looks that way. I have that funeral service tonight at seven. I might not be able to swing home, could you"
"Stop in and check on your mother? Not a problem."
Relief swept through me. Sometimes I wondered at what quirk of fortune had blessed me with friends like my partners. "Thanks, Kate."
"Go kick some butt."