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Captain Caleb Markham faced the Assistant District Attorney across her desk, his expression thunderous. The trip from the courthouse had given him plenty of time to work his mood into a foul, unreasonable fury, and he was fully prepared to make her the object of his present wrath. The D.A., unfortunately, didn't look the slightest bit intimidated by his anger.
"I don't give a damn what kind of evidence he supplied!" Caleb snarled, leaning farther over her desk as he all but spit the words at her. "We know who was responsible. John Smythe gave the orders, Helen!"
"The taped conversations you supplied me with were inadmissible! Your detective barely escaped being charged with entrapment," she reminded him. "You should be grateful things didn't get any worse." When he would have gone on, she held up her hand. "All the evidence Detective King supplied was obtained without the sanction of due process, Captain. It could very well have been as doctored as the defendant claimed. Smythe's records show things in a dramatically different light than the ones you gave our office."
"You can be sure there are falsified records involved here," Markham agreed. "But the reports Peter gave you aren't the ones you should question."
"My job is to prosecute when I feel I can get a conviction, Captain," she snapped, and rose to meet him. "If you had given me enough to work with, I could have prosecuted."
"You let a killer go, Counselor," Markham interrupted. He saw the next objection being readied, and he raised and spread his hands in a gesture of mock surrender. "Okay, have it your way. But, you can take my word on one very important point. Thisthing isn't over yet. I just hope we don't have to collect more bodies."
He ignored her as he stomped out the door.
Helen watched him leave, her own temper seething as she reacted, unwillingly, to his last words. She hadn't been any happier about the results of today's hearing than he was, but she'd done the job she was assigned to do. She didn't have to like it, did she? Another whisper of memory made her grit her teeth. Smythe was so damn arrogant, and so certain the D.A. would make the deal he wanted. Of course, why shouldn't the bastard be confident--he'd gotten exactly what he wanted, hadn't he? He'd come into the courtroom well prepared, and he'd walked away exonerated on all charges.
Helen walked to the window and gazed out into the late morning sunshine. Spring was only a week away, there was virtually no trace of winter left. Snow had gradually dwindled from mud-splattered mounds to slush, and finally to sporadic puddles in parking lots. There was a freshness to the air, like the world was waking from a long sleep, and the sun was starting to feel like it contained some warmth again.
"Maybe it's time to consider a new job?" Helen murmured to her small, cluttered office.
"It's good to see you again, sir."
Douglas Wheeler heard the rich, resonant voice as if from a great distance, and he fought his way through the haze of medication that filled his system. He resented the muddling of his mind, but the alternative--constant and excruciating pain--was not the most pleasant of conditions. It seemed to take forever for his focus to settle on the tall, fair-haired man seated next to the hospital bed.
"John." Wheeler reached out a hand. A weak smile flickered across his face when the other man clasped the trembling fingers he held out.
"The hearing was this morning. Everything's been taken care of, and I'll be heading back to the office from here," Douglas's visitor said.
"She wasn't there. I'll contact her myself later."
"She was upset, John," Douglas said, his weakened voice filled with regret and apology. He shook his head. The gesture cost him more strength than he could have imagined several months earlier. "Give her time."
"Has she been to see you?"
"Yes," he answered in a shaky whisper. "My daughter is completely convinced that you are responsible for the attempt on my life." He sighed heavily, too heartbroken and weary to continue. He had his own suspicions about the attempted murder, but he'd never voiced them to anyone. If he ever got out of the hospital, he'd look into it.
"Karen's been through a great deal, too," John soothed. "I'm sure once we have the chance to discuss everything, she'll change her mind. She's really a remarkable young woman."
"Very much like her mother," Wheeler agreed with a nod. He could feel the sluggishness returning and knew there would be no further conversation this afternoon. He felt so incredibly old. If only his daughter would see reason. Then, perhaps, he could die in peace, knowing she and Wheeler Research and Technology were safe in the capable hands of his trustee.
As soon as the old man was asleep, John dropped the limp hand he held and stood. He walked to the window and looked out over the sun-drenched hospital yard. Wheeler should have died nearly a month ago, yet he hung onto life with tenacity. John hated these visits. He all but owned Wheeler Research and Technology now. Only Karen remained as a thorn in his side. But there were ways around the obstacle she presented.
He smiled to himself as he considered an option he hadn't had until recently. Yes, he thought, keeping Karen in place would be appallingly easy now. He went to the phone and placed a call to her apartment, only to discover she wasn't at home. He dropped the receiver back into place and left the room without a backward glance at the sleeping patient.
Peter King sat at his desk, his eyes focused on the computer screen in front of him. He'd spent most of the morning getting caught up on delinquent paperwork. He was definitely due for a break. He closed his eyes and leaned back to stretch some tension from his shoulders. He almost came out of his chair when he felt the light smack to the back of his head.
He twisted around to get a look at the perpetrator of the surprise thump. Karen Wheeler's face was smiling, but the look in her eyes was in direct contrast to that expression.
"I need to see your Captain," she said, already moving in the direction of Markham's office before Peter could follow her.
When he did enter the captain's office moments later, Markham glanced up at him, then glared. Peter merely shrugged.
"As I said..." Markham started to say, returning his attention to the woman.
"He's probably back at my father's desk by now!" Karen snarled, her agitation making her pace the closed quarters of the office. "I thought this was over. I thought when I gave you the company records it would..."
"Wait a minute," Peter interrupted. "Are you telling me Smythe walked?" This was directed at Markham. "That's why you had me doing paperwork all morning, isn't it. To keep me away from the courthouse."
"That's enough!" Caleb shouted. He rose, crossed to the door and slammed it shut with a bang that brought immediate silence to his office. "Now, if everyone's willing to discuss this with some amount of calm."
"Why didn't you tell me, Captain?"
Suspicion rose in Markham at that question until he met Peter's eyes and realized it was a serious inquiry. It shouldn't have been, Caleb thought. Given the lack of detached professionalism Peter had been showing with anything related to John Smythe, everything he did and said was becoming cause for suspicion of his motives. Caleb said as much as he settled back into the worn, comfortable chair at his desk. Peter scowled in response.
"Isn't there any way to protect Karen from him?"
"Legally, Smythe's a free man. We have nothing on him except records we can't prove are genuine," Caleb answered honestly. "Unless something happens to change that, we can't touch him."
"Officially," Peter stated.
"In any way!" Markham snapped. "I mean it, Peter. You stay away from him. If he knows you're within shouting distance, the next thing we'll be explaining to the commissioner is the lawsuit Smythe will file for police harassment."
"You know he's going to try something," Peter returned, leaning on the captain's desk and meeting his gaze squarely. "We can't just stand around and wait for it to happen, Caleb."
"What are you suggesting we do? I can't offer protection to someone unless there's some evidence of danger to them. We've been through this once already."
"That doesn't change what Karen's up against now."
"We do nothing until Smythe does something that we can prove is a crime."
There was no answer.
"I'm going back to work," Karen muttered as she pushed past Peter and headed out of the office.
Caleb watched as Peter followed her.