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ED EAGLE SAT, all six feet seven inches of him, propped up on many pillows in bed, watching Court TV on the fifty-inch flatscreen television of his suite at the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles. He had decided to watch from bed rather than attend the trial of his former wife, Barbara, since he had already spent three days in the courtroom, giving his testimony against her. Now it was time for the summations.
The prosecutor, a woman apparently in her midthirties named Valerie Simmons, whom Eagle found quite attractive, had done a very good job in the trial, he thought, and since he was one of the half dozen best trial lawyers in the western United States, his opinion counted for something. Now all Ms. Simmons had to do was nail the lid on the thing. Eagle would have preferred nailing and screwing the lid on it, but he would settle for nailing—anything to get Barbara into a cell for the next fifty years or so.
Eagle’s girlfriend of the last year, the actress Susannah Wilde, came out of the bathroom, her hair wet, her robe hanging open. She crawled across his body, deliberately stroking his face with her breasts as she went, and snuggled up next to him.
“Don’t wave those things at me,” Eagle said. “I have to watch Barbara go down.”
“Wouldn’t you rather watch me go down?” Susannah asked, tickling his lower belly.
“On another occasion, yes,” he replied. “But right now you’re going to have to contain yourself, as difficult as that may be.”
Susannah sighed and pulled herself upright next to him, plumping her pillows. “Oh, all right,” she said.
Valerie Simmons rose and walked toward the jury. “Ladies and gentlemen,” she said to them, “I want to thank you for your attention to what has been a lengthy trial. Now, I want to summarize the evidence against Barbara Eagle, as succinctly as I can, and I would remind you that everything I am about to say has been testified to by witnesses. You have heard from Ms. Eagle’s former husband, Ed Eagle, how he first met Ms. Eagle when she was serving a prison sentence in New York for armed robbery and as an accessory to the killing of her first husband during that robbery. You have heard how she was released on parole and moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she renewed her acquaintance with Mr. Eagle, and how they came to be married a year or so later.
“You have heard how Mr. Eagle woke up one morning, having been drugged with the sleeping pill Ambien in his wine the night before, and found his wife gone, and how she had taken more than a million dollars of his money from his bank accounts and attempted to take five million more from his brokerage accounts, something he managed to forestall.
“You have heard how Mr. Eagle hired two private investigators to find his wife in Mexico, where she had fled, and how she shot one of the investigators and pushed the other overboard from a ferry in the Sea of Cortez. Both were lucky to survive. You have heard how she hired two men from Santa Fe to murder Mr. Eagle and how one of them nearly succeeded.
“You have heard how she came back to the United States and checked into a resort in San Diego, where she had her appearance altered by having her dark hair dyed blond and with cosmetic surgery. You have heard how she then traveled to Los Angeles and contacted a friend, Mr. James Long, and how they had dinner together that evening at the Hotel Bel-Air. You have heard that Mr. Eagle and a friend were also dining there and how he did not recognize Ms. Eagle, because of her altered appearance.
“You have heard how Ms. Eagle, later that night, drugged her companion, Mr. Long, once again with Ambien, left his home, returned to the Hotel Bel-Air and sought out the suite of Mr. Eagle. You have heard how she entered the suite next door, in error, and shot Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Dattila of New York, believing that they were Mr. Eagle and his friend.
“All of this is in evidence, and the weight of it is enough for you to send Ms. Eagle to prison for the rest of her life. I ask you to do just that. Thank you.” Valerie Simmons sat down.
The judge turned to the defense table. “Mr. Karp?” he said.
Richard Karp rose and faced the jury. “Good morning,” he said. “Ladies and gentlemen, this case is about reasonable doubt. If you believe that there is a reasonable doubt that Barbara Eagle killed Mr. and Mrs. Dattila—and that is all that she is charged with—then you are legally and morally bound to acquit her. Everything you have heard from the prosecution about Ms. Eagle’s past and what she may or may not have done in Mexico is window dressing, nothing more, and none of what you have heard is supported by any material evidence, just the testimony of questionable witnesses.
“While you heard Mr. Eagle testify that he was drugged with Ambien, there is no scientific evidence to support that contention. What happened was that Mr. Eagle had too much to drink the evening before and overslept. The funds that Ms. Eagle took with her to Mexico, in a desperate attempt to remove herself from an abusive marriage, were marital funds, and she was legally entitled to take them. I would remind you that one of the two men allegedly hired to kill Mr. Eagle is dead, and the other could not pick Ms. Eagle out of a lineup.
“I would remind you that it is not a crime in the United States to shoot someone in Mexico in self-defense or to push someone off a boat in an attempt to defend herself from a rape, and you have heard that both of her attackers survived. I would remind you that, although Ms. Eagle and Mr. Long dined at the Bel-Air the evening before the murder, you have also heard, from Mr. Long, that she spent the entire night in his bed in his home and did not return to the Bel-Air to shoot Mr. Dattila, who, you have heard, was the son of the Mafia kingpin Carmine Dattila, who also met a violent death. It is far more likely that Thomas Dattila was killed by his own associates or competitors than by Ms. Eagle.
“I would remind you that Mr. James Long underwent no testing for the drug Ambien, and he has testified that Ms. Eagle spent the night with him—indeed, that they made love in the middle of the night. I would remind you that it is not a crime for a woman to have her appearance enhanced by her hairstylist and her cosmetic surgeon.” He smiled knowingly.
“In fact, stripped to its relevant essentials, the prosecution’s case is nothing more than a lot of hot air, backed only by the testimony of an angry ex-husband and the two private detectives he hired to bully and harass her and to come into this court and lie about her. There is no physical evidence, no murder weapon and no motive for the murders of two people Ms. Eagle had never even met.
“I put it to you that the doubt of guilt in this case is not only reasonable but overwhelming, and I ask you, after a careful examination of the evidence—or, rather, nonevidence—to acquit Barbara Eagle and set her free, so that she may still have a chance to find some happiness in what has, so far, been a life full of abuse and harassment by her ex-husband and others. Find her not guilty.” Karp sat down.
“What did you think?” Susannah asked.
“Well, they both said pretty much what I would have said, if I had been prosecuting or defending,” Eagle said. “I think the jury will convict her.”
“Well, then,” Susannah said, “while the jury is deliberating, may I distract you?”
“You may,” Eagle said, rolling over and taking her in his arms.
SHE HAD BEEN distracting him for ten minutes or so, when Eagle was redistracted by a sudden intensity in the voice of the Court channel’s anchor.
“We’re just getting word,” the anchor said, “that something has happened outside the courtroom where the trial of Barbara Eagle has just ended. Let’s go to our reporter on the scene for the details.”
A beautiful young woman in a red suit and with perfect hair came on-screen. “Well,” she said, breathlessly, “it seems that Barbara Eagle has disappeared from the conference room where she and her lawyer were awaiting a verdict. Apparently, while Mr. Karp had excused himself to go to the men’s room, Ms. Eagle somehow got out of the conference room, in spite of a guard on the door, and maybe even out of the building. A search is being conducted for her now.”
“Ed,” Susannah said, “you’ve gone all limp.”
BARBARA EAGLE SAT at the table in a conference room near the courtroom where she had just been tried, awaiting the jury’s verdict. She had had lunch in this room every day during her trial, so she knew that it was on the first floor and overlooked the rear parking lot of the courthouse, reserved for judges. She knew, also, that the windows would open only ten or twelve inches, and only from the top.
She had been keeping her lawyer’s water glass full for two hours, and she was waiting for results. Finally, he excused himself and went into the adjoining toilet. Barbara moved quickly. She climbed onto the windowsill, stuffed her shoes, handbag and jacket through the top opening of the window, then grabbed the bottom of the opening on the extreme left and swung her right, stockinged foot up until she could hook a toe over the edge of the window. From this point, it was all muscle, and she had had nearly a year in jail to work out. She lifted herself until she could get a knee over the edge, then continued until all that was left of her inside the room was her head, one leg and her ass. She turned to the left, and got her head out the window. From there she wriggled her ass through the window—the dieting had helped—then all she had to do was bring her leg outside after her.
She dangled from the window and took a quick look around the parking lot: a man got out of a car and went into the building through a rear door, but he wasn’t looking up, and the parking lot was screened from the street by a high hedge. Once he was inside she dropped to the ground, a distance of some seven or eight feet, landed on the soft earth of a flower bed, behind some azalea bushes, and toppled over. She got up, brushed herself off, put on her shoes, grabbed her handbag and walked quickly across the parking lot to the row of ficus trees that had begun to grow together.
She pressed between them, then stopped halfway through to get a look at the street. The Toyota was parked where it was supposed to be, and Jimmy Long was at the wheel. There were no police cars or cops in sight, so she stepped out of the hedge, crossed the sidewalk, opened the rear door of the car and got in. “Hey, Jimmy,” she said.
“Hey, sweetie, we okay?”
“Yep. Let’s roll.” Barbara lay low on the backseat, and the car started to move.
“The nearest place you can get a taxi.”
“There’s a hotel a few blocks down.”
“That’s good.” Her luggage was sitting on the rear seat and floor, and Barbara rummaged in a bag and came out with an auburn wig and a green jacket. She tucked her hair, which was already pinned up, under the wig, sat up and checked herself out in the rearview mirror, then she got into the green jacket and stuffed her beige one into the bag. “Okay, brief me.”
“The car belonged to my housekeeper’s sister, who has a last name different from hers. I bought it and registered it in your new name, Eleanor Wright. I went to see the photographer you sent me to in Venice, and he was able to change the hair color on the last photos he took of you and make you the same package of documents he did for you before—passport, driver’s license, credit cards, Social Security—all with my address on them. Ms. Wright used to rent my garage apartment, but she left a couple of months ago, if anybody asks. Everything is in a paper bag on the front passenger seat.
“The car registration and insurance card are in the center armrest, along with a nontraceable cell phone, prepaid for a hundred hours of use, no GPS chip, blocked for caller ID. I went to the pawnshop in San Diego where you shopped last year and got the gun and silencer you wanted and a box of ammunition. There’s ten thousand dollars in mixed bills in the bag, too.”
“You’re a dear, do you know that?”
“Sweetheart, this is the most fun I’ve ever had; I’ve loved every minute of it. I took the letter you sent me and used it to transfer the money into your Eleanor Wright account, so you’ve got a little over two hundred and fifty grand in there. You can write me a check for the ten grand, plus eighteen grand for the car, plus the twenty-five grand I paid the documents guy.” He handed her a checkbook, and she wrote the check and handed it to him.
“Oh, there’s another bag on the seat, too, with the auburn hair dye and the book on spas you wanted. Everything you stored in my garage is in the backseat, but it will probably need pressing.”
“Jimmy, you’re a dream. Now you’ve got to get home before the cops show up. They’re missing me at the courthouse by now.”
“Here’s the hotel,” he said. “I’ll get out and hop a cab. You just drive away.” He stopped the car.
She got out, gave him a hug and a kiss and got back into the car.
Jimmy leaned through the window. “The car has twenty-two thousand miles on it, it’s just been serviced and the gas tank is full. Good luck, kiddo.”
“I’ll be in touch when I can,” Barbara said. She put the car in gear and drove away, careful to obey all traffic laws. At the first opportunity, she pulled into a fast-food restaurant and ordered lunch from the drive-thru.
When she had eaten, she went through her new ID and put everything into the wallet in her handbag, then restowed her luggage in the trunk. Finally, she took the book on spas and began to read. It took her twenty minutes to find just the right place, called El Rancho, secluded on a mountaintop overlooking Palm Springs. She used her new cell phone to call.
“Good morning. El Rancho,” a woman’s voice said.
“Good morning. My name is Eleanor Wright, and I’ve just had a sudden urge to get away from it all. Do you have any accommodation available?”
“Let’s see, we have a small suite at twelve hundred dollars per day and a double room at nine hundred. The suite has the better view, and the price includes all meals and drinks. No liquor is served. We offer a full range of spa activities, a beauty salon, tennis and golf half an hour’s drive away.”
“I’ll take the suite, please. Would you schedule me for a two-hour massage at five P.M. and make an appointment with the hairdresser and a colorist for tomorrow morning?”
“Of course. May I have a credit card number to hold your reservation?”
Barbara gave it to her and got driving directions from the interstate. On the way she stopped at a liquor store and bought a bottle of good bourbon whiskey.
AS SOON AS she had checked into her suite, Barbara unpacked, then went into the bathroom and used the auburn hair dye, cleaning up after herself carefully. She left her hair wet and combed it back. Tomorrow, she would have a better job done by a professional. She had her massage, then dinner in her room, along with a couple of large scotches, then settled down to watch the TV coverage of her escape. Finally, she fell asleep.
SHE WOKE THE following morning to learn from the TV that she had been acquitted of second-degree murder. “Holy shit!” she said aloud. She hadn’t figured on that.
ED EAGLE NEARLY choked on his eggs. “Susannah!” he yelled.
She stuck her head around the bathroom door. “Yes?”
“Barbara was acquitted!”
“I’m not kidding; she got off!”
“What does this mean, Ed?”
“It means that all they’ve got on her now is escaping from the courthouse. She can’t be charged with the two murders again.”
“Anything on where she is?”
“Nothing; she’s very, very good at disappearing.”
“Do we have anything to worry about?”
“Well, given that she’s already tried to kill us once, I’d say yes.”
“Are we okay here in the hotel?”
“You will recall that here is where she tried to kill us last time. We should get out of here. Are you done in L.A.?”
“I need another day to see my agent. We can go to my apartment; Barbara wouldn’t know where that is.” Susannah had a pied-à-terre in Century City.
“I hate your apartment,” he said. “And your ex-husband knows where it is, doesn’t he?”
“Maybe. I’m not sure, but I haven’t heard from him for a while.”
“That’s because you’ve spent most of your time in Santa Fe.”
“We could move to another hotel.”
Eagle sighed. “All right, let’s go to your apartment.” He pointed at her tray. “Have some breakfast, then pack and we’ll get out of here.” He began packing, himself, and he retrieved the small .45 pistol and holster he traveled with and ran the holster onto his belt. He wasn’t taking any chances.
BARBARA WAITED UNTIL after nine o’clock, then phoned her lawyer in Los Angeles.
“Good morning. Karp and Edelman.”
“Richard Karp, please; it’s Barbara Eagle.”
Karp came on the line. “Barbara? Where the hell are you?”
“Richard, you don’t really want to know that, do you? Let’s just say I’m out of the country.”
“Have you heard the news?”
“Yes, and I have to say I’m surprised.”
“Why are you surprised? I told you I’d get you off.”
“And I believed you, Richard, right up until the moment when I climbed out that window.”
“Well, now we’ve got an escaping-from-custody charge to deal with. I’m going to need a ten-thousand-dollar retainer.”
“Richard, after all I’ve already paid you? How difficult can this be? I’m innocent in the eyes of the law.”
Karp was quiet for a moment. “Give me a number where I can reach you.”
It was Barbara’s turn to think. Jimmy had said there was no GPS chip in her new phone. “All right.” She gave him the number.
“I’ll try to get back to you inside an hour,” Karp said, then hung up.
AFTER A LONG look around the Bel-Air parking lot, Eagle got into the rented Mercedes, and Susannah got into the passenger seat. “Keep your eyes open,” he said.
“Yeah, for a blonde.”
“I very much doubt that she’s still a blonde.”
“Okay, what should I look for?”
“A woman with a gun.”
He drove to Century City, sticking to the surface streets and being very watchful, then parked in the lot under her building. Susannah found a cart, and they wheeled their luggage into the elevator and upstairs.
The place was spotless and not as cramped as Eagle had remembered it, when it was still full of unpacked boxes.
“God, I have sixteen messages,” Susannah said, picking up the phone and pressing the Message button.
Eagle took their luggage into the bedroom, which was nearly as cramped as he remembered it. When he came back she was still listening to messages, and she looked angry.
Susannah hung up the phone. “One call from my agent, who canceled our appointment, and fifteen messages from my ex-husband.”
“What’s his problem?”
“His problem is, he’s still angry about the settlement he had to pay.”
“Call your lawyer and let him deal with it.”
“Every time I so much as speak to him it costs me five hundred dollars,” she said.
“You’re not going to get any sympathy from me over your legal fees,” Eagle replied.
“You lawyers are all alike.”
“No, some of us charge a thousand dollars for a phone call. Does your ex have any sort of legitimate beef?”
“Certainly not. He’s just nuts, that’s all.”
“Then instruct your lawyer to get a temporary restraining order. That will stop him from calling you. Does he have your Santa Fe number?”
“He doesn’t even know I bought the Santa Fe house—at least, as far as I know. My publicist kept it out of the press, and my number is unlisted.”
"How many people in L.A. know you bought the house?”
“Three or four, I guess. I told them all not to tell anybody.”
"How often does that work in L.A.?”
She picked up the phone and called her lawyer.
RICHARD KARP PHONED Judge Henry Allman, who had presided over the Barbara Eagle case, catching him before he went into court.
“Judge, I’ve heard from my client.”
“And you’ll be surrendering her when?”
“I’m sorry; I don’t know where she is. She says she’s out of the country.”
“Then why are you calling me?”
“Judge, the woman is absolutely panicked; that’s why she did what she did. I don’t think for a minute it was planned, she just went nuts and bolted.”
“Well, get her into my court, and she can explain herself.”
“Now she’s afraid for her life; she’s convinced that Ed Eagle will have her killed.”
“That’s not my problem, until she’s in my court. I can send the police to get her, if you like.”
“Judge, it’s my hope that you’ll drop the escape charge.”
“Well, you can hope.”
"The woman has spent a year in the L.A. County Jail, and she’s officially innocent. No one was hurt in her escape, and the incarceration has to count for something; she’s already served more time than she’s likely to get on the escape charge. I think, given the jury’s verdict, that she should be allowed to go and live her life without fear of arrest. She was in a very fragile state, mentally, and she needs to be able to recover without fear of being incarcerated again.”
“Have you talked to the D.A. about this?”