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With a briefcase in one hand and a half-eaten bagel in the other, Rachel raced up the courthouse steps. She hated to be late. Detested it. Knowing she'd drawn Judge Hatchet-Face Snyder for the morning hearing only made her more determined to be inside and at the defense table by 8:59. She had three minutes to spare, and would have had twice that if she hadn't stopped by the office first.
How could she have known that her boss would be lying in wait with another case file?
Two years of working as a public defender, she reminded herself as she hit the doors at a run. That was how she should have known.
She scanned the elevators, gauged the waiting crowd and opted for the stairs. Cursing her heels, she took them two at a time and swallowed the rest of the bagel. There was no use fantasizing about the coffee she craved to wash it down with.
She screeched to a halt at the courtroom doors and took a precious ten seconds to straighten her blue serge jacket and smooth down her tousled, chin-length black hair. A quick check showed her that her earrings were still in place. She looked at her watch and let out a deep breath.
Right on time, Stanislaski, she told herself as she moved sedately through the doors and into the courtroom. Her client, a twenty-three-year-old hooker with a heart of flint, was being escorted in as Rachel took her place. The solicitation charges would probably have earned her no more than a light fine and time served, but stealing the john's wallet had upped the ante.
As Rachel had explained to her bitter client, not all customers were too embarrassed to squawk when they lost two hundred in cash and a gold card.
Hatchet-Face strode in, black robes flapping around all six-foot-three and two hundred and eighty pounds of him.He had skin the color of a good cappuccino and a face as round and unfriendly as the pumpkins Rachel remembered carving with her siblings every Halloween.
Judge Snyder tolerated no tardiness, no sass and no excuses in his courtroom. Rachel glanced over at the assistant district attorney who would be the opposing counsel. They exchanged looks of sympathy and got to work.
Rachel got the hooker off with ninety days. Her client was hardly brimming with gratitude as the bailiff led her away. She had better luck with an assault case . After all,Your Honor, my client paid for a hot meal in good faith. When the pizza arrived cold, he pointed out the problem by offering some to the delivery boy. Unfortunately, his enthusiasm had him offering it a bit too heartily, and during the ensuing scuffle said pizza was inadvertently dumped on the delivery boy's head .
"Very amusing, Counselor. Fifty dollars, time served."
Rachel wrangled her way through the morning session. A pick-pocket, a drunk-and-disorderly, two more assaults and a petty larceny. They rounded things off at noon with a shoplifter, a two-time loser. It took all of Rachel's skill and determination to convince the judge to agree to a psychiatric evaluation and counseling.
"Not too shabby." The ADA was only a couple of years older than Rachel's twenty-six, but he considered himself an old hand."I figure we broke even."
She smiled and shut her briefcase."No way, Spelding. I edged you out with the shoplifter."
"Maybe." Spelding, who had been trying to wheedle his way into a date for weeks, walked out beside her. "Could be his psych will come back clean."
"Sure. The guy's seventy-two years old and steals disposable razors and greeting cards with flowers on them. Obviously he's perfectly rational."
"You PDs are such bleeding hearts." But he said it lightly, because he greatly admired Rachel's courtroom style. As well as her legs."Tell you what, I'll buy you lunch, and you can try to convince me why society should turn the other cheek."
"Sorry." She shot him a quick smile and opted for the stairs again.
"I've got a client waiting for me."
She shrugged. "That's where I find them. Better luck next time, Spelding."
The precinct house was noisy and smelled strongly of stale coffee. Rachel entered with a little shiver. The weatherman had been a little off that day with his promise of Indian summer. A thick, nasty-looking cloud cover was moving in over Manhattan. Rachel was already regretting the fact that she'd grabbed neither coat nor umbrella on her dash out of her apartment that morning.
With any luck, she figured, she'd be back in her office within the hour, and out of the coming rain. She exchanged a few greetings with some of the cops she knew and picked up her visitor's badge at the desk.
"Nicholas LeBeck,"she told the desk sergeant."Attempted burglary."
"Yeah, yeah " The sergeant flipped through his papers. "Your brother brought him in."
Rachel sighed. Having a brother who was a cop didn't always make life easier. "So I hear. Did he make his phone call?"
"Anyone come looking for him?"
"Great." Rachel shifted her briefcase. "I'd like him brought up."
"You got it. Looks like they've given you another loser, Ray. Take conference room A."
"Thanks." She turned, dodging a swarthy-looking man in handcuffs and the uniformed cop behind him. She managed to snag a cup of coffee, and took it with her into a small room that boasted one barred window, a single long table and four scarred chairs. Taking a seat, she flipped open her briefcase and dug out the paperwork on Nicholas LeBeck.
It seemed her client was nineteen and unemployed and rented a room on the Lower East Side. She let out a little sigh at his list of priors. Nothing cataclysmic, she mused, but certainly enough to show a bent for trouble. The attempted burglary had taken him up a step, and it left her little hope of having him treated as a minor. There had been several thousand dollars' worth of electronic goodies in his sack when Detective Alexi Stanislaski collared him.
She'd be hearing from Alex, no doubt, Rachel thought. There was nothing her brother liked better than to rub her nose in it.
When the door of the conference room opened, she continued to sip her coffee as she took stock of the man being led in by a bored-looking policeman.
Five-ten, she estimated. A hundred and forty. Needed some weight. Dark blond hair, shaggy and nearly shoulder-length. His lips were quirked in what looked like a permanent smirk. It might have been an attractive mouth otherwise. A tiny peridot stud that nearly matched his eyes gleamed in his earlobe. The eyes, too, would have been attractive if not for the bitter anger she read there.
"Thank you, Officer." At her slight nod, the cop uncuffed her client and left them alone."Mr. LeBeck, I'm Rachel Stanislaski, your lawyer."
"Yeah?" He dropped into a chair, then tipped it back. "Last PD I had was short and skinny and had a bald spot. Looks like I got lucky this time."
"On the contrary.You were apprehended crawling out of a broken window of a storeroom of a locked store, with an estimated six thousand dollars' worth of merchandise in your possession."
"The markup on that crap is incredible." It wasn't easy to keep the sneer in place after a miserable night in jail, but Nick had his pride.
"Hey, you got a cigarette on you?"
"No. Mr. LeBeck, I'd like to get your hearing set as soon as possible so that we can arrange for bail. Unless, of course, you prefer to spend your nights in jail."
He shrugged his thin shoulders and tried to look unconcerned. "I'd just as soon not, sweetcakes. I'll leave that to you."
"Fine. And it's Stanislaski," she said mildly. "Ms. Stanislaski. I'm afraid I was only given your file this morning on my way to court, and had time for no more than a brief conversation with the DA assigned to your case. Because of your previous record, and the type of crime involved here, the state had decided to try you as an adult. The arrest was clean, so you won't get a break there."
"Hey, I don't expect breaks."
"People rarely get them." She folded her hands over his file."Let's cut to the chase, Mr. LeBeck.You were caught, and unless you want to weave some fairy tale about seeing the broken window and going in to make a citizen's arrest "
He had to grin. "Not bad."
"It stinks.You're guilty, and since the arresting officer didn't make any mistakes, and you have an unfortunate list of priors, you're going to pay. How much you pay is going to depend on you."
He continued to rock in his chair, but a fresh line of sweat was sneaking down his spine. A cell. This time they were going to lock him in a cellnot just for a few hours, but for months, maybe years.
"I hear the jails are overcrowdedcosts the tax-payers a lot of money. I figure the DA would spring for a deal."
"It was mentioned." Not just bitterness, Rachel realized. Not just anger. She saw fear in his eyes now, as well. He was young and afraid, and she didn't know how much she would be able to help him.
"About fifteen thousand in merchandise was taken out of the store, over and above what was in your possession.You weren't alone in that store, LeBeck.You know it, I know it, the cops know it. And so does the DA.You give them some names, a lead on where that merchandise might be sitting right now, and I can cut you a deal."
His chair banged against the floor."The hell with that. I never said anybody was with me. Nobody can prove it, just like nobody can prove I took more than what I had in my hands when the cop took me."
Rachel leaned forward.It was a subtle move,but one that had Nick's eyes locking on hers. "I'm your lawyer, LeBeck, and the one thing you're not going to do is lie to me.You do, and I'll leave you twisting in the wind, just like your buddies did last night." Her voice was flat, passionless,but he heard the anger simmering beneath.He had to fight to keep from squirming in his chair."You don't want to cut a deal," she continued, "that's your choice. So you'll serve three to five instead of the six months in and two years probation I can get you. Either way, I'll do my job. But don't sit there and insult me by saying you pulled this alone.You're penny-ante, LeBeck." It pleased her to see the anger back in his face.The fear had begun to soften her."Con games and sticky fingers. This is the big leagues. What you tell me stays with me unless you want it different. But you play it straight with me, or I walk."
"You can't walk.You were assigned."
"And I can get reassigned. Then you'll go through this with somebody else." She began to pile papers back in her briefcase."That would be your loss. Because I'm good. I'm real good."
"If you're so good, how come you're working for the PD's office?"
"Let's just say I'm paying off a debt." She snapped her briefcase closed. "So what's it going to be?"
Indecision flickered over his face for just a moment, making him look young and vulnerable, before he shook his head."I'm not going to turn in my friends. No deal."
She let out a short, impatient breath. "You were wearing a Cobra jacket when you were collared."
They'd taken that when they booked himjust as they'd taken his wallet, his belt, and the handful of change in his pocket. "So what?"
"They're going to go looking for your friends, those same friends who are standing back and letting you take the heat all alone. The DA can push this to burglary and hang a twenty-thousand-dollar theft over your head."
"No names," he said again. "No deal."
"Your loyalty's admirable, and misplaced. I'll do what I can to have the charges reduced and have bail set. I don't think it'll be less than fifty thousand. Can you scrape ten percent together?"
Not a chance in hell, he thought, but he shrugged. "I can call in some debts."
"All right, then, I'll get back to you." She rose, then slipped a card out of her pocket. "If you need me before the hearing, or if you change your mind about the deal, give me a call."
She rapped on the door, then swung through when it opened. An arm curled around her waist.She braced instinctively,then let out a little hiss of breath when she looked up and saw her brother grinning at her.
"Rachel, long time no see."
"Yeah, it must be a day and a half."
"Grumpy." His grin widened as he pulled her out of the corridor and into the squad room. "Good sign." His gaze skimmed over her shoulder and locked briefly on LeBeck. "So, they tied you up with that one. Tough break, sweetheart."
She gave him a sisterly elbow in the ribs. "Stop gloating and get me a decent cup of coffee." Resting a hip against the corner of his desk, she rapped her fingertips against her briefcase. Nearby a short, round man was holding a bandanna to his temple and moaning slightly as he gave a statement to another cop. Someone was talking in loud and rapid Spanish. A woman with a bruise on her cheek was weeping and rocking a fat toddler.
The squad room smelled of all of itthe despair, the anger, the boredom. Rachel had always thought that if your senses were very keen you could just barely scent the justice beneath it all. It was very much the same in her offices, a few blocks away.
For a moment, Rachel pictured her sister, Natasha, having breakfast with her family in her pretty kitchen in the big, lovely house in West Virginia. Or opening her colorful toy shop for the day. The image made her smile a bit, just as it did to imagine her brother Mikhail carving something passionate or fanciful out of wood in his sun-washed new studio, perhaps having a hasty cup of coffee with his gorgeous wife before she hurried off to her midtown office.
And here she was, waiting for a cup of what would certainly be very bad coffee in a downtown precinct house filled with the sight and smells and sounds of misery.
Alex handed her the coffee, then eased down on the desk beside her.
"Thanks." She sipped, winced, and watched a couple of hookers strut out of the holding cells. A tall, bleary-eyed man with a night's worth of stubble shifted around them and followed a uniform through the door that led down to the cells. Rachel gave a little sigh.
"What's wrong with us, Alexi?"
He grinned again and slipped an arm around her. "What? Just because we like slogging through the dregs for a living, for little pay and less gratitude? Nothing. Not a thing."
She chuckled and fueled her system with the motor oil disguised as coffee. "At least you just got a promotion. Detective Stanislaski."
"Can't help it if I'm good.You, on the other hand, are spinning your wheels putting criminals back on the streets I'm risking life and limb to keep clean."
She snorted, scowling at him over the brim of the paper cup. "Most of the people I represent aren't doing anything more than trying to survive."
"Sureby stealing, cheating, and assaulting."
Her temper began to heat. "I went to court this morning to represent an old man who'd copped some disposable razors. A real desperate case, that one. I guess they should have locked him up and thrown away the key."
"So it's okay to steal as long as what you take isn't particularly valuable?"
"He needed help, not a jail sentence."
"Like that creep you got off last month who terrorized two old shopkeepers,wrecked their store and stole the pitiful six hundred in the till?"
She'd hated that one, truly hated it. But the law was clear, and had been made for a reason. "Look, you guys blew that one. The arresting officer didn't read him his rights in his native language or arrange for a translator. My client barely understood a dozen words of English." She shook her head before Alex could jump into one of his more passionate arguments."I don't have time to debate the law with you. I need to ask you about Nicholas LeBeck."
"What about him? You got the report."
"You were the arresting officer."
"Yeahso? I was on my way home, and I happened to see the broken window and the light inside. When I went to investigate, I saw the perpetrator coming through the window carrying a sackful of electronics. I read him his rights and brought him in."
"What about the others?"
Alex shrugged and finished off the last couple of swallows of Rachel's coffee. "Nobody around but LeBeck."