Audrey couldn’t stay away even though common sense told her she probably should. She’d known of Gregory Pope for the better part of two decades. She couldn’t say she liked the man, but she felt empathy for him. He’d also offered her the job over other qualified candidates. There weren’t many employers who looked at a mother’s employment history with breaks like hers and put them on the front lines.
She was more than grateful for the opportunity and couldn’t just turn her back in his time of need.
Stephen Walzer had told her which park—the Miller Bird Refuge and Nature Park—but little else before he dashed toward the prison because he was late for a meeting.
She quickly located the police cars upon her arrival at the park and soon identified a large crowd formed outside a line of yellow crime scene tape put up by the police.
Audrey parked off Bonneview Drive and took a deep breath before she got out, stood straight, and went to face the world.
She had no idea what to expect as she approached.
She couldn’t say whether it was because people recognized her or if it was her naturally confident walk and professional appearance that made them move out of the way, but she easily made her way through the crowd and up to the line of yellow tape tied across two metal handrails at the top of a set of stairs. She paused at the tape, wondering if she should push her way through.
“What’s this about?” Kennedy McClellan said as she sidled up to Audrey. She was a reporter from a local newspaper. “You know who this is?”
“No comment,” Audrey said as she pushed up the police tape, hesitated for only a moment, and stepped over to the other side before descending the stairs.
It technically wasn’t her job to come here today, but she went on because her instincts told her Gregory Pope would be somewhere on the other side, even though it would be best for him to keep away.
“What’s this about?” Kennedy called after her.
Audrey ignored the woman. She sometimes got the feeling Kennedy tried to play on their shared experience of mothers returning to the workforce to dig information out of the District Attorney’s Office. Audrey hadn’t yet given her anything and didn’t intend to start now.
She was about to show her identification to an officer who was waiting on a wooden pedestrian bridge, but he waved her through after writing down her name and having her sign the log.
Audrey felt a flush of pride that the man knew who she was and didn’t even hesitate, but she immediately quashed it because of the desperate circumstances she was walking into.
The next person she saw was Gregory Pope. He stood alone at the end of the bridge, looking up at a flight of concrete stairs embedded into the hill.
She stopped and studied the man. He was red in the face, clenching his fists, and fuming. He hadn’t yet noticed her, and an officer walking by stepped fast to get out of his presence.
Nobody headed toward him.
For a moment, she was back in her interview with Gregory Pope. The man had apparently come from a heated meeting before walking in to meet her. She’d already had other interviews with the HR department and other attorneys in the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office, but he would make the final decision. He sat down across from her after she’d been kept waiting for nearly ten minutes. He’d been red in the face back then, too. His thick jaw thrust out as he frowned. He opened the folder in front of them, reviewed her resume, and then stared at her like he was trying to discover every law she’d ever broken.
She wanted to run and hide but refused to be cowed by this mountain of a man who’d made himself a legend within the city.
Nobody of consequence had bothered to challenge him the last time he’d run for election. He didn’t even run on a party platform, never had, but the word ‘independent’ didn’t apply to him either.
He was a force unto himself.
“And why should I hire you?” Gregory Pope had asked with a sneer as if only considering it because he had a quota to fill.
Audrey took one look at the man, inhaled deeply, and then said, “Because you’re a pain, and I’m still applying.”
Gregory stared for a long moment before he snorted and then let out a full-bellied laugh. She couldn’t tell if he was laughing at her, the snarky statement, or her determination.
“You get the job. We’ll see how long you last.”
He didn’t ask another question or say another word as he left.
Audrey sat in stunned silence, surprised she’d just achieved a professional dream.
Gregory Pope turned to look at her as the wind rustled the leaves overhead, bringing her back to the present. She took a deep breath and walked up to the seasoned District Attorney. She wouldn’t be pulling out any snark today and might not for a long time whenever she was around the man.
“Pope, I’m so sorry.” It came naturally for her to put a hand on his arm in a comforting way, but how does one comfort a man who is as prickly as a cactus? She expected him to yank his arm back, but he didn’t.
He gave a solemn nod.
“Audrey.” He looked at her before staring through her. “I have no words.”
“Have you been…” Audrey couldn’t find the right words to ask if he’d been up the hill to see the body of his dead daughter.
“I can’t bring myself to go, but I can’t walk away either. I don’t know how long I’ve been standing here.” One single tear rolled down his cheek and dropped onto his shirt. This might not have been much expression for another man, but it was an avalanche for him. “My baby is up there. She needs me.” He shook his head, another tear coming. “I can’t fail her now.”
“You want me to go for you?” “No. I’ll go. But I’d appreciate it if you come, too.”