I studied the woman, trying to decide if she was crazy or if there was some other reason to explain her apparent nonsensical statement. Perhaps she was just saying this for dramatic effect to get my attention, or maybe she was just so grief-stricken that she didn’t understand what she was saying. Or, more likely, she was just so angry at her husband’s death that she was looking for anything to explain what had happened.
Whatever the reason, she had piqued my interest.
I glanced at my watch and reminded myself that I still had some research to finish for my motion that was due at the end of the day.
Whenever I was presented with an interesting puzzle, it was easy for me to get distracted. This was something I knew about myself, so I took steps to mitigate it.
A few possibilities could explain her wild claim. A conspiracy, a murder for hire plot, or something else along those lines.
I assumed the question I wanted to ask her was evident on my face, but she appeared too distraught to notice my confusion.
“Who murdered your husband if it wasn’t his killer?” I asked slowly, watching for any cues that she might have a mental issue that was not readily apparent.
It’s always the simplest explanation that makes the most sense, I reminded myself.
“It was one of my husband’s business partners, Vivian Fuger.”
I leaned back in my chair and put my hands behind my head, never taking my eyes off her.
“What makes you think this?” I asked, willing to ask her a few more questions before telling her that I wasn’t the solution to her problem.
“They have had trouble running the business for some time now. The man who actually killed him was another business partner.”
I frowned. “Is it your belief that your husband’s partners conspired to kill him?”
“No, not at all. It’s difficult to explain, but Vivian, she kinda has a way with people, you know what I mean?”
“I don’t. It might help if you explain.”
“She is a skilled manipulator and can get people to do things for her, and sometimes they don’t realize what they are doing.”
I thought I now understood. “Are you suggesting your husband was killed because she somehow manipulated the other man into doing it?”
The woman nodded vigorously. “Yes. She is behind this, not him.” She paused for a moment. “Mason. Mason Harwood. That’s the man who killed my husband. The poor fool probably didn’t know what he was walking into when he entered my husband’s office.”
The tears seemed to be drying up now, and I started to wonder if maybe this wasn’t just an act. I had known people who could cry on demand.
Most were former clients.
I didn’t trust a single one of them.
I waited for her to elaborate, but she did not.
What do I have to do, play twenty questions to get her to talk to me?
I hesitated, trying to avoid glancing at my watch while reminding myself that she had been through a terrible ordeal and her behavior was in line with what one might expect. The silence became awkward, so I moved to fill it, going against my instincts to just wait her out.
“How do you believe that this guy, Mason Harwood, was manipulated by the other partner, Vivian Fuger, was it?”
“Yeah, that’s her name. I don’t know. I’m just confident that she had something to do with it. She can get under people’s skin, make them think things that aren’t rational. She then gets them to do her bidding.”
“I’m not sure I see exactly where you’re going with this, at least for how it involves me. Let’s say for the sake of the argument that everything you’re telling me is true, and we assume that Vivian did, in fact, provoke Mason to kill your husband. What do you expect me to do about it?” I gave her a moment for the question to sink in. “You could try to bring a civil action against her, but you need a different type of attorney. I do have a partner who might be able to help you. He typically practices personal injury, but this could be up his alley. I can introduce you.”
“Money? You think I’m here for money?” Her voice choked as she spoke. “I do not need money, Mr. Turner. I want my husband’s true murderer to go to jail. That is what I need. Vivian must be held accountable for her actions.”
It appeared my message was not sinking in. “I understand how you feel, but what would you like me to do? Do you want to hire me as a consultant so I can tell you my thoughts on the criminal trial as it proceeds against Mason Harwood?”
“I was hoping you could tell me my options.”
The wheels in my brain were starting to move. This was a fascinating problem, to be sure. I liked puzzles that held my attention because they were challenging to solve. I glanced at my watch and saw that we had already been talking for ten minutes.
Five more minutes, and then I must put her off, at least until this evening.
“I came here because I saw your billboards,” she continued before I had a chance to speak up. “I know who you are, Mitch Turner. I’ve spoken with a past client. I know you do good work. You’re not just looking to make money. You want to make sure that justice is done. Please help me find justice.”
I arched an eyebrow. I was about to ask who she had talked to, but she went on before I got a chance.
“You think outside the box. That’s what I need.”
I was not used to such flattery from potential clients. I leaned back in my chair. The flattery was affecting me, just as she intended. I put my hands behind my head and let out a long breath, trying to think how I could insert myself into the situation to benefit her.
“I understand, I think, but I still don’t see what I can do to help you come to a resolution on this. I can’t prosecute a case against Vivian. I can’t enter as a third-party on a criminal case. If you’d like, I can give you the name of my private investigator. He could look into this. Perhaps he could turn up some evidence to back up your theory so you could take it to the police. If you have evidence in hand, they will be more likely to listen.”
She slammed her hand down on my desk. “I need you to do this. You have a way of getting to the truth when others don’t. You believe other people’s stories even if they’re crazy. How much is it going to cost me? Money will not be a problem.”
Crazy. That word stuck out to me. Maybe I do know the client. Something tickled the back of my mind.
I thought of a recent case where a witness claimed that a ghost had killed the victim. It had not turned out that way, of course, but I had not dismissed the idea out of hand and had looked into it, eventually tracking down the real murderer.
“I am not gonna mince words,” I said. “You are presenting me with an interesting situation.”
The first glimmer of hope crossed her face since entering my office. She saw an opportunity and was going to do her best to capitalize on it.
“This is why I came to you. Money is no obstacle. Tell me how much you want. I will give it to you right now.”
“Who did you speak to about me?”
“I would rather not say, Mr. Turner. I’m convinced that you are going to find the truth and that nobody else will. Please help me.”
I glanced at my watch, it was a couple of minutes past the time allotment that I had set aside for this discussion, but we were about to wrap up, so I didn’t mind we had gone over.
“I’m not willing to commit to anything quite yet. How about we do this before we go down the rabbit hole? I will spend one hour of my own time to determine if there is any merit to your claim. I will call you back if I find it.
“After that, we will talk options. I must warn you, for something like this, I’m going to require a hefty retainer. It could get costly.”
“I await your call.” She pulled a card out of her purse and put it on my desk. “My name is Penny Moyer. Please don’t wait too long. Vivian will do everything she can to destroy any evidence left behind by this little charade of hers. I assure you that I will make it worth your while.” She studied me. “I’ll pay double your normal rate.”
I tried my best to keep my face straight, but I was not sure I managed to do it as she walked out the door.