The engine of the mustang rumbled to life as Jakob pulled out of my parking lot.
I turned toward him in my seat. “Is there something going on between you and Daniel King?”
“What do you mean?” he asked, like he hadn’t seen this question coming from a mile away.
“Is there a rift between you two?”
He shook his head. “Not that I’m aware of. Why?”
I stared at him. Seriously? “Oh, I don’t know. I guess I was just curious because he broke into your place the other night, made cryptic comments about some dude named Mike, and was just a complete asshole to you on the phone.”
The man had ripped Jakob a new one when he’d told him what happened today. Jakob didn’t have him on speaker, but I still heard his angry words, which meant he’d been yelling.
Jakob shrugged. “Don’t read into what happened at my apartment. Nothing Daniel King does makes any goddamn sense to anyone other than Daniel King. Questioning him only makes it worse. And he has a right to be pissed that I broke the chain of command and talked to my dad before him about what happened today.”
There was more going on, I just knew there was, but Nina’s caution from the other night whispered through my mind, and I decided to let the conversation drop. She was right. Despite my curiosity, I didn’t need to get any deeper into Kings’ business than I already was. After I got some vengeance for my apartment, I’d do my best to let it all go.
“There’s one thing I keep coming back to in all of this,” I said.
Jakob eased the car to stop at a red light. “What’s that?”
“Why weren’t you able to figure out who the dealer is by asking someone in town that bought drugs off of them?”
He shook his head. “We’ve asked. No one wants to admit to buying drugs inside Kearny, let alone tell us who they bought them from.”
“You didn’t push the subject?” I asked. “This is kind of important.”
“Nah,” he said, gunning the engine as the light turned green. “We start torturing people to get answers out of them, and the town will turn on us.”
Um…what? I eased away from him in my seat. “I was more referring to bribing someone into answering your questions.”
The fact that he skipped right over that option and went straight to torture was a little concerning. My moral compass might not point due north, but I was beginning to think that Jakob’s wasn’t even functional anymore.
He glanced over and grinned when he caught sight of my expression, just a flash of teeth that was too feral to be a smile. “I was kidding, Krista.”
“Oh.” I relaxed a little.
He turned back toward the road. “There’s no point in torturing people. You can’t trust anything anyone says under that level of duress. Eventually, they’ll tell you whatever you want to hear just to stop the pain.” He spoke with an authority that made me think he might have learned this information firsthand.
I frowned at his profile. “You know, I’m starting to worry about where you fall on the psychopath scale.”
In answer, he tipped his glasses down and shot me the most deranged expression I had ever seen. “Turns you on, doesn’t it?”
Despite myself, I laughed.
I was going straight to hell when I died. Because actually, it did.
Katherine Jenkins was not what I expected. If someone had asked me what the woman who defended an outlaw gang of bikers looked like, I probably would have described the quintessential ice queen: tall, commanding, blonde, and with a gaze that could freeze you in your tracks.
Katherine shot that assumption straight to hell. The door of her luxury SUV swung open as we pulled into a parking space beside her at the police station, revealing a short white woman in her mid-fifties. She was dressed in a fitted gray skirt with an expensive-looking top tucked into it. Her brunette curls were pulled back into a low bun, and what little makeup she wore had been expertly applied. Despite the classy getup, she looked like a mother. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why – maybe she matched some imaginary maternal figure I’d dreamed up as a kid when my own mother turned out to be an asshole – but the second my eyes landed on her, my brain just went to “mom”.
Her smile was welcoming as we climbed out of the mustang. Our gazes met, and I saw something earnest in her brown eyes, a sort of unspoken, “Everything will be okay. I’m here to take care of you, dear.”
“Hi. You must be Krista,” she said, extending a hand. Her voice only reinforced the mom vibe. Warm and melodic, it sounded like she was about two seconds away from asking me if I wanted a second helping of pot roast.
“I am,” I said. We shook. “Thank you for helping me on such short notice.”
“Of course. Any friend of The Kings is a friend of mine.” Her smile widened as she looked from me to Jakob. “I hope you’ve been staying out of trouble, young man.”
If he felt patronized by her words, it didn’t show. He cocked a brow at her, one corner of his lips rising in amusement. “I never get in trouble.”
Katherine made a low harrumphing sound. “Thanks to me, you mean.”
Jakob grinned. I could count on one hand the number of people I’d seen him smile at. He must really like her. Not that I could blame the man. Three minutes in her company, and I already wanted her to invite me over for a family dinner.
Katherine’s eyes met mine. “Remember, you’re not to answer a single question they ask you.”
“I remember,” I said.
She held my gaze. “It is imperative that you let me do all of the talking. The police may try to say something to incite you into responding. Don’t.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I said, clicking my heels together and throwing her a salute.
She looked heavenward. “Great. Another smartass.”
I dropped my hand, grinning even wider than Jakob.
Katherine shook her head at me and turned toward him. “You need to stay out here. Kearny P.D. will know that she’s involved with The Kings because I’m representing her, but they don’t need a visual reminder shoved into their faces or a club member antagonizing them.”
Jakob adopted an innocent expression. “Since when have I ever antagonized cops?”
Katherine gave him a look that made me think she would be a stricter mom than I first thought. “Do you really want me to answer that, young man?”
Jakob shook his head. Good call. Wouldn’t want to press his luck and get grounded.
Katherine turned back to me. “You and the guard were alone in the elevator. Unless there were cameras in there, there’s no way either of you can prove your sides of the story. Without witnesses, anything you say will be hearsay. The bad news is that without the cameras, he can accuse you of assault and file either a civil or criminal lawsuit against you. If it’s civil, he’ll want you to pay for damages. Criminal, and you could be facing jail time.”
I nodded, my amusement evaporating. Please let there be cameras in the elevator. If I had to go to jail for defending myself against a gang member posing as a guard, I would lose what little faith I had left in the justice system.
Katherine laid a hand on my arm and sent me a sympathetic look. “Don’t worry. We can probably avoid a criminal charge. There isn’t much evidence for the police to pass to the district attorney, and without substantial proof that you just attacked him out of the blue, the DA won’t want to pursue it.”
I breathed out a heavy sigh of relief. “Okay.”
She looked me over. “Good outfit choice. Exaggerate your limp when we walk in. We want you to appear as helpless as possible.”
She’d advised me to change before leaving my apartment. I’d stripped my bloody jeans off, and, following her instructions on how to destroy the evidence, Jakob and I soaked them in bleach and dropped them in a random dumpster a few miles away from my apartment complex.
Katherine had placed a lot of emphasis on appearing as wholesome and vulnerable as possible. I wore a bright yellow sundress with a white cardigan over it. This wasn’t my first rodeo with assault charges – I’d taken part in a couple of highly regrettable drunken bar brawls while still in the military – and I knew that looking helpless was a good way to make people question whether or not I was capable of doing what I’d been accused of.
The hem of the dress hit me just above my knees, leaving the worst of my scars visible. Usually, I stuck to jeans and long dresses or skirts. It’s not that I was embarrassed or ashamed of my body; I just didn’t want to deal with the million and one questions I received every time my scars were on display. Most of the people who asked me about them in the past were well-meaning, and I understood the curiosity, but it got old. Now wasn’t a time to hide my scars. I would walk into this police station, exaggerate my limp, and hope to God that everyone who saw them took pity on me.
Was it low? Manipulative? You betcha. I had no regrets if it got me off the hook for criminal assault.
Katherine checked her watch. “If they’ve already filed charges, we’re going to counter file and then petition for them to open an investigation into your apartment. Did you take pictures?”
I nodded and dug my phone out to show her the damage.
She let out a low whistle as she flipped through the images. “You’re staying with Jakob’s parents, right?”
“I am,” I said.
She glanced up from my phone, looking between Jakob and me. “I’d advise you two to stick together over the coming days. If someone was this violent with Krista’s belongings, I don’t want to think of what they’d do if they got their hands on her.”
Despite the sweltering heat of the day, a cold shiver ran through me.
Jakob saw it and wrapped an arm around my shoulder. “I won’t let her out of my sight.”
“You better not,” Katherine said, handing me my phone. “I’ll need Raúl’s contact information. It’s good we have a witness to this. You get attacked in an elevator and then go home to a trashed apartment? That would look bad even to a blind cop. The fact that Brad covered it up works in our favor. It shows conspiracy to commit a crime.”
The more she talked, the more I understood why Liam Larson kept her on his payroll. She was intelligent, competent, and seemingly unshakable. We spoke for several more minutes before saying goodbye to Jakob and walking into the building.
The front door spat us out into a small, rectangular room. There were more doors to our left and right. Neither of them had handles. Dead ahead, a uniformed policewoman manned a front desk on the other side of a plexiglass barrier that was thick enough to be bulletproof. Katherine introduced us. Afterward, the policewoman asked us to fill out some paperwork and then buzzed us in. One of the side doors clicked open. Another cop met us at it and led us down a linoleum-lined hallway, deeper into the building. I looked around as we walked. It had been a while since I’d been inside a police station. The last time was in high school, when I got called in to answer some questions about the possible whereabouts of my parents.
This station was bigger than the one back home. We passed a records department, a waiting room, several interrogation rooms, a lounge, and a large briefing room before being led through a door in the back. It opened into a wide office space crammed full of desks. Half of them were unoccupied. The others were manned by police officers in uniform and detectives in plain clothes. Civilians sat in uncomfortable-looking chairs facing some of the desks. One or two of them wore handcuffs, while others looked to be filing complaints or answering questions.
My gaze wandered to the far corner of the room, where I caught a semi-familiar face through the crowd. I frowned, struggling to place the man, and suddenly it clicked. It was the guy Jakob stared down at Magnolia Hills, the one who passed through the entrance hall while we waited to check-in.
He must have felt me staring because he turned a little in his chair, and his dark eyes met mine across the room. I nearly missed a step. There was an intensity there, and despite the fact that his expression was damn-near unreadable, his eyes told me more than I needed to know. I’d met enough bad men and women in my life to see the signs. Hell, I was a killer myself, but despite how fucked up I was, my eyes still had life in them. His were the eyes of a dead man, a walking husk whose soul had been shredded a long time ago. My reptilian brain recognized it right away. The second I locked eyes with him, it started hissing at me to put more space between us, and not even the fact that we were in a room full of cops with thirty feet between us was enough to shut her up.
I’d always had an expressive face, and he must have read something of my thoughts on it, because he smiled. I jerked my gaze away and concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. That was the kind of smile you gave someone right before you killed them.
Guess I knew who was filing the complaints against me.
I didn’t like this coincidence. Jakob honed in on this guy like he knew him, and now here he was, trying to get Jakob’s “old lady” charged with assaulting a fake guard. I’d thought he could be a doctor at first sight, but Officer Sanders said it was management making the complaint. If he was management, there was no way he didn’t know that guard was fake. Had I just laid eyes on the mastermind behind this whole operation?
The more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that I had. Everything fit. Who else but management could have inserted fake guards into Magnolia? Who else had the power to cover up what was happening there? Who else would be so angry at me for busting up their little drug operation that they looked like they wanted to murder me?
Katherine noticed my distraction. She leaned in as we walked. “You okay?”
“I’m fine,” I said.
There were too many sets of ears around us, and I didn’t feel safe saying anything about my suspicions. We fell quiet again and followed the cop to a desk pressed right up against the back wall.
Officer Sanders rose from the chair behind it. He was a tall white man in his mid-forties, with sandy brown hair and bright blue eyes. He had the kind of build that was well-suited to his profession: trim but muscular. If someone tried to take off on him during an arrest, I had no doubt that he could run them into the ground.
He looked me over, wincing when his gaze fell to my leg, but at least he managed to greet me without any pity in his voice. “Officer Sanders,” he said, offering his hand.
I limped forward and placed mine in his. The handshake was firm and professional.
He let me go and turned to Katherine, and his face shifted into a sort of resigned, weary expression. “Let’s get this over with,” he said, leading us from the room.
I glanced at the guy from Magnolia as we left. He was still staring at me. I didn’t spook easily, but this guy made my fucking guts roil.
I stared straight ahead from that point forward, following Officer Sanders and Katherine back through the rabbit warren that was the police station. The three of us crowded around a small table in an interrogation room, and from that moment on, Katherine dominated the interview. It turned out there weren’t cameras in the elevators. The entire case would be hearsay after all. That revelation terrified me for a few minutes – what would happen to Gran if I was convicted? – but my fear soon evaporated. For every accusation lobbed against me, Katherine had a rebuttal. Every quote Sanders read aloud, Katherine refuted with the kind of steadfast doggedness that would wear down even the most fanatical cop. She never raised her voice. She was never rude. She simply sat there, speaking in a calm, logical tone that somehow made the entire case against me look absolutely ludicrous. I almost felt bad for Sanders toward the end. He hadn’t done anything to deserve being made to look like a fool; he was just trying to do his job. It was simply bad luck that my case landed on his desk.
I sat there throughout it all and kept my happy mouth shut. Whatever Liam Larson was paying Katherine, it wasn’t enough.
Once she finished destroying the criminal case against me – it turned out the guard did want to press criminal charges – she slid my phone across the desk and showed Sanders the wreckage of my apartment. He perked up as he thumbed through the photos.
“Can we get copies of these?” he asked.
“I’ll email them to you,” Katherine said.
His gaze rose to mine. “How long were you gone?”
“Five hours,” Katherine answered in my stead.
This was how the entire interview had gone. Sanders, bless him, kept addressing all of his questions to me, either because that was protocol or he hoped I might break rank and actually open my mouth. I wasn’t stupid. Katherine told me to keep it shut, so I kept it shut.
“Isn’t it interesting,” she said, “that on the same day my client went to Magnolia Hills with the intent to expose what she believes is prescription fraud with one of the doctors there, that doctor never comes back from her lunch break, my client is attacked in an elevator by a guard she’s never seen before, and then afterward she arrives home to find her apartment vandalized?”
“Interesting isn’t the word I’d use,” Sanders said. “We’ll look into it.” He handed my phone back to me. “Where are you staying now?”
“With the family of a close friend,” Katherine answered.
He held my gaze. “I’d advise you not to leave the local area.”
Katherine rested her elbows on the table and leaned forward. “And why is that? She hasn’t done anything to warrant that order.”
Sanders’ composure slipped a little as he turned to face her, his brow furrowing in frustration. “It’s not an order. It’s advice. We’ll probably need her to come back in and answer more questions after we open an investigation into her apartment.”
“I think my client has been beyond helpful already,” Katherine said, her tone as calm and placating as it had been throughout the entire interview. “She was gracious enough to come down here of her own volition to address these patently false accusations against her. Any other questions you have, you can direct toward me. She’s been through enough already.”
Officer Sanders sighed, a long-suffering look on his face. “Fine.”
“If that’s all?” Katherine asked, rising from her seat.
Sanders leaned back in his chair and nodded. “That’s all.”
She smiled at him with the same warmth she’d shown me earlier. “We’ll see ourselves out. It’s been a pleasure, as always, Officer Sanders.”
He snorted and waved a hand in dismissal. “Sure it has.”
I rose from my chair and followed her into the hallway. “I really want to high-five you right now,” I whispered.
A small, victorious smile spread over her face. “Wait until we get outside.”
Copyright © 2020 by Navessa Allen
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.