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"Any questions?" chief prosecutor Janet McNeil asked the insolent young man slouched across from her. His cuffed hands shifted behind him at the scarred table in the private conference room.
"You said you were going to offer us a plea."
Jan shook her head at Gordon Michaels, a well-known Flagstaff defense attorney, and returned her attention to the defendant, Jacob Hall. He'd been arraigned the week before, with a trial date set for the middle of December—the maximum amount of time allowed by the law that ensured Hall the right to a speedy trial.
"No plea. I changed my mind." Staring down the defendant, she answered his attorney. I've got you, buddy, for at least ninety days. That gives me time to find sufficient proof in the new evidence to lock you away forever.
The green snake etched into Hall's arm flicked its black tongue in the direction of his neck. The ink elsewhere on his body was so thick that she couldn't make out specific designs. "Come on, Jan. What's the maximum he can get on one count of identity theft?"
"By itself, four years."
"So give us a plea for three. Save the state the cost of a trial."
She didn't take her eyes off the twenty-three-year-old white supremacist. She'd been trying to convict him since he turned eighteen. How many lives had been lost in those five years? And all because, even though the cops did their job and made the arrests, she couldn't get enough on Hall to make anything stick.
"I'm adding charges for credit card and financial institution fraud, as well," she told them.
Jacob Hall didn't blink, didn't flinch—and didn't look away. The man was completely without conscience. And in possession of more physical agility, strength and intelligence than this world could withstand.
"Both federal offenses," she continued, "and with priors, they could carry up to thirty years."
Hall gave her a condescending smile. He showed no fear. Jan didn't think it was an act. The man was completely confident she'd never get a conviction.
For a second, he had her. Tendrils of fear crawled from her belly into her chest.
"You didn't make this jail call just as a courtesy to inform us of further charges, Ms. McNeil. That's not like you—you're a busy woman," Michaels said, his voice coming from her right. "And since there's no plea, I'm assuming you've got a deal to offer us."
Pulling her gaze away from the defendant, Jan focused on Michaels. She'd known him since law school and had argued against him several times. The colorless man was basically a good guy—a top-rate defense attorney, sure, but he won his cases without playing dirty.
"Yes, I do," she said, determined not to let weakness win. She turned back to Hall. "I want a list of names, places, dates. I want descriptions—in vivid detail. Give me Bobby Donahue and the people who help him run the Ivory Nation, and I'll give you consideration on a sentencing recommendation."
"You been reading too many fairy tales, Jan."
"I don't read fairy tales, Mr. Hall." She glanced back at Michaels. "Take it or leave it."
The two men exchanged a silent look. "My client doesn't have any idea what you're talking about," Michaels said.
"That's your final decision?"
Jan stood, lifted the padded strap of her maroon briefcase to her shoulder. And then the guard was there, motioning for Hall to stand. "See you in court on Monday," she said. The young man turned and sauntered out, but not before Jan noticed two things.
The black letters stamped on the back of his black-and-white clothing—Sheriff's Inmate. Unsentenced.
And the middle finger extended at her from the cuffed hands resting against his backside. * * * Using a clean mason jar topped with a coffee filter,the perpetrator will pour the chilled hydrogen peroxide,muriatic acid and iodine tincture into the jar...
Slumped in front of the keyboard, Simon typed, stopped, stared out the front window of his dining room office, and yawned. A nice September Friday. Blue skies. Balmy weather. The neighborhood was quiet. He liked quiet.
Iodine sales are regulated by the federal government.
The school bus had dropped off the elementary school kids twenty-six minutes before. Because once upon a time he'd been trained to observe and to protect, he'd watched them all disperse to their respective homes and waiting parents. In another two or three minutes the high-schoolers would be descending on the block.
He got in another line or two before their bus arrived. And watched them climb down, one by one, sometimes collecting in groups, as they sauntered down the street, some going into houses, others disappearing down side roads. Alan Bonaby was the only one Simon knew by name because the boy used to deliver his papers before quitting the route. Alan walked alone, pushing his glasses up his nose every couple of steps. His house was the last one before the road dead-ended into acres of pine trees.
Simon pushed his wire rims up his nose and got back to work. Law-enforcement manuals did not write themselves—which overall, was probably a good thing, since if they did, his publisher, Sam's publisher, would not pay him to write them.
Red phosphorus is regulated.To get around this, perpetrators obtain road flares in bulk and scrape off the phosphorus...
Reaching up to push against the knot of muscles at the back of his neck, Simon was briefly distracted by the hair tickling the top of his hand. It was starting to turn up at the edges. He opened the top right-hand drawer of his desk and grabbed a pair of scissors. Careful to catch the falling strands, he lopped off a quarter inch all the way around. Curls were out.
Indicators of a meth lab.
Simon hit the bullets-and-numbering key. Chose a hand-pointing bullet. Chemical odors. Bullet Two... A car had just turned up the street—a blue Infiniti, driven by his next-door neighbor.... Chemical containers in the trash. Bullet Three... She was pulling into her drive.... Multiple visitors who don't stay long. And on into her garage. In about forty seconds she'd be heading out to the box at the curb for her mail.... Bullet Four. Homes with blackened windows.
And there she was, beautiful as always, her shapely butt looking quite fine in the narrow, calf-length black-and-red skirt she was wearing; that long dark hair swinging just above her hips as she bent to peer into her box.
Simon jumped up. "You know," he called out, seconds later, strolling across his front yard, "it'd be safer for you to drive up to this box just like the mailman does and get your mail from inside the car."
Janet McNeil smiled at him. "You see robbers waiting in the wings to take me down and confiscate my bills, Simon?"
He saw all kinds of stuff she knew nothing about. "Just passing on an observation," he said, sliding his hands beneath the loose tails of his button-down shirt and into the pockets of his jeans. They were baggy, too, exactly as he liked them. "If you're not into safety, think of it as time management," he said. "You could save a good two, three minutes if you picked up as you drove past."
"And another five without my conversation with you," she said, still grinning at him, "but then, what would I have to shake my head about over dinner?"
"I saw your name in the paper again this morning." He'd dropped the toast he'd been eating, ready to stand up and protect her, before he remembered she was none of his business. That he was no longer sworn to uphold and protect.
"Yeah, another day, another criminal," she said, sifting through the envelopes in her hand.
"Is Hall really a white supremacist like they claim?"
He rocked back and forth on his heels, watching her look at the coupons in a general delivery flyer.
"You going to try to prove it?"
She looked up then, her fine features completely composed. "What do you think?"
What he thought was that she should be married and at home having babies. Sexist or not, the concept suited him far better than the idea of a nice woman like Janet McNeil spending her days with the dregs of society spitting at her.
"I hear they're not a friendly bunch," he said, keeping most of what he had to say on the subject to himself. Simon might understand how vital it was to obliterate violence and hate, but he didn't have to think about it. Or like it.
"You know, Simon," she said, tilting her head, "you should consider writing suspense instead of economics textbooks. It might suit you better."
Yeah, well, no one said she didn't have a discerning eye. He'd finished typing in the handwritten revisions on an economics textbook once. He'd done it for someone else and still maintained the fiction that this was what he wrote. It was easier that way. "Hey, you trying to say I don't look the economics type?"
"No." She held her mail to her chest. "I'm saying your curiosity and imagination are wasted on numbers and percentages."
But being considered an author of economics textbooks made a great cover. "Someday, I'll have to show you my etchings." He managed to keep a completely straight face while he delivered the tacky line.
"Are you ever serious?"
"Not often. You?"
"All day, every day."
He was glad to hear that. One moment of levity in her line of work could lead to the missed clue that returned to stab her in the back—literally.
"Then, you should pay particular attention to your five minutes with me every afternoon," he said. "People need a bit of humor to keep them healthy and strong."
"I figured eating a good breakfast did that."
He smiled. And would have liked to hang around.
"Have a good evening, Counselor," he said, backing up before he got too close.
Or did something stupid, like ask her if she wanted to go get a burger with him.
Simon didn't like to share his burger experiences. Or his life.
He didn't have enough to spare. And he intended to keep it that way.