The crowd was just starting to disperse when Audrey crossed the bridge, climbed the stairs, crossed underneath the first line of yellow police crime scene tape, and strode back to her car. Her eyes narrowed when she saw Kennedy McClellan sitting on the hood waiting for her.
Audrey frowned and wished she could shake herself of this woman. Audrey was increasingly confident that when Kennedy had learned they were both mothers returning to full-time work, she’d immediately taken hold of that and refused to let go, thinking this would be her ticket to ride.
I should never have been nice to begin with, Audrey thought. That was my first mistake.
It bothered Audrey how Kennedy just hung around, dogging her, because somebody else might think she was an informant for the newspaper.
Gregory Pope appeared to have left—she didn’t see his vehicle anywhere nearby—but that wasn’t a guarantee somebody else wasn’t watching. She had to be more careful now she was on a high-profile case.
“What do you have for me?” Kennedy asked as if Audrey regularly disclosed information to her from the District Attorney’s Office. She seemed convinced she would get something too.
That made it worse.
Audrey had had enough. She wanted it to be clear she had nothing to do with this woman if word somehow got back to Pope.
“Don’t act like you expect something from me! I’ve never given you a thing.” Audrey said this louder than she intended, but she didn’t look abashed at her volume and instead stared at Kennedy as if the woman were intruding where she was most unwelcome. Perhaps she was making a big enough scene that Pope would hear of it.
Kennedy appeared not to notice or care.
“Never too late to start.” She made no move to get off the hood of Audrey’s car. “You have an obligation—”
“I have no obligation to you whatsoever!” Audrey snapped.
Kennedy smiled. She clearly enjoyed getting underneath Audrey’s skin. “I was saying an obligation to tell the truth and to the people of this city. You don’t have one to me.” Her smile grew. “Obviously.”
“Get off my car.”
Audrey frowned, thinking of making a threat, but then she just shrugged and got inside. She turned the ignition and even started to roll backward before Kennedy finally got off.
Kennedy had the audacity to look offended, but Audrey didn’t care. As Audrey pulled away, Kennedy pulled out her phone and appeared to be taking pictures. Perhaps she was hoping to catch Audrey glaring at her.
Audrey ignored the woman as she left.
It was now almost 4:30 PM. She was tempted to call it a day and make up time another day, but she had a feeling Pope would be waiting in her office when she returned.
He won’t like it if I go home early on the day he gave me the biggest case of his life.
It was also best to get the coming confrontation out of the way. If Pope was going to terminate her right after giving her this assignment, she wanted it to happen now before she invested time, mental energy, and emotion into solving the problem.
So, instead of heading back home, she once again drove over to the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office and made her way inside.
She’d just walked into her windowless office and had put her briefcase on her desk when there was a knock on the door she’d just shut behind her.
She’d hoped to have a couple of moments to gather her thoughts before meeting with Pope.
“Come,” Audrey said, forcing a confidence into her voice she didn’t feel as she turned, preparing herself for the next confrontation. She was surprised when Chuck came into the office. She occasionally had office visits from her family, but they were rare. The District Attorney’s Office was imposing, and it took some effort to get inside. It wasn’t like her husband Jim’s office, where her sons had learned to slip back to his office without the receptionists knowing.
Chuck was on the verge of losing it.
Audrey shut the door before throwing her arms around him.
“I wasn’t aware Rachel meant so much to you,” she mumbled, wondering if she was wrong about the nature of her son’s relationship with Rachel. She tried to think back but couldn’t remember Chuck mentioning any recent relationships, let alone one with Rachel. He was a junior in college, studying philosophy, intending to go to law school. Audrey and Jim couldn’t be prouder, and both were prodding him in their direction of practice. It seemed like he rarely took time for a social life.
He wasn’t the type to party on Saturday nights. He was far more likely to be found in a library on the weekends or playing computer games with his geeky friends.
“It’s not that, not really. It’s just that it’s so surprising, so shocking. I mean, if it could happen to Rachel, it could happen to anybody. I guess you could say this hits home.”
Audrey stepped back and looked into Chuck’s eyes. “Are you sure that’s it? You don’t look okay. You weren’t dating her, were you? I know you guys knew each other, and you had that thing for her in junior high, right? But you never spent time with her during high school, did you?”
It was natural for her son to be saddened, but she wasn’t expecting him to mourn, not the way somebody would mourn for a child, spouse, or significant other.
Was he mourning?
Audrey studied Chuck. Had she missed something? Would it be difficult for him if she prosecuted this case?
Should she withdraw?
Setting aside all professional concerns, she stepped out of her prosecutor’s shoes and looked at him as his mother. Would it be best if she just walked away? She had not anticipated this case affecting her family, but now she started to wonder.
She set her jaw.
Or would it just teach Chuck it was okay to quit when things got hard?
Or am I just looking for the first excuse I can find?
Her initial instinct was to use it as a reason to withdraw, but she would not back down from this challenge. She could just hear what her colleagues would say behind her back if she did.
No, Chuck would be fine.
He was a resilient kid. He could cope with this. This wouldn’t set him back for long.
She was committed. The only thing that would stop her was if Pope terminated her and, even if he tried, she would fight him. The man thought himself a king. He needed to be taken down a peg or two anyway. If she were going down, she wouldn’t go down easy. But she had no control over that, so she wouldn’t worry about it.
At least that’s what she tried to tell herself.
“No,” Chuck shook his head. “Nothing like that. It’s just, how could something like this happen? She’s so young. She had her whole life ahead of her, so many opportunities, so many dreams. Now that’s all been taken away so quickly. It’s all just gone. This morning, she was full of hope, and tonight she’s lying in the morgue.”
Audrey stared at Chuck, trying to determine if there was something more, but he didn’t appear to be hiding anything. She also suspected her son was in denial. Perhaps he cared more for Rachel than he’d let on. Maybe he’d nursed a long-standing crush he hadn’t acted on.
What do I know?
Audrey’s boss didn’t have high confidence in her and had accused her of letting the perp get away.
Maybe my instincts are completely off. Maybe I’m handling everything wrong.
“Yeah, that’s it.” Chuck gave his mom a hug. “I just wanted to come down to check on you, make sure you were doing okay. I’m sorry about hanging up on you before. It was just too much.” He paused. “I know this has gotta be hitting the DA’s office hard.”
“It is…” She was about to tell Chuck she was prosecuting the case until she remembered she hadn’t yet told Jim, so she clapped her mouth shut and just embraced Chuck until he was ready to leave.
“I’m sorry,” she said at length, “I know this is rough, but I have some things I need to do.”
Chuck nodded. “Of course, I’ll see you—”
There was a knock on the door.
Audrey could tell from its ferocity that Gregory Pope was on the other side. The expected moment had finally come. She looked at Chuck and wished she could hide him somewhere because she didn’t want him to witness Pope taking his anger and frustration out on her, but there was nothing else she could do. Pope was likely to start in on her the moment the door was halfway open before he even knew somebody else was inside.
“Just a sec. I gotta get that.”
“I should go anyway. I have an exam I need to study for.”
Audrey nodded as she yanked open the door and found herself facing Pope. He was red in the face, and it was clear he’d been fuming about their last encounter. Perhaps he thought he’d taken enough time to calm down, but he looked ready to bite off her head.
“Spencer! What was—”
Pope stopped when he saw Chuck, his eyes boring into her son similar to how he’d done with Parker.
What is it with this man? He suspects everybody. I gotta do something about this and quick.
“I wasn’t aware you had company,” Pope said gruffly.
“Chuck knew your daughter,” Audrey said, intending to get this out in the open immediately, so Pope didn’t accuse her of hiding something. “I don’t think they knew each other well, but—”
“I’m so sorry,” Chuck said, looking Pope in the eye and giving him a nod. “I hope you guys get the guy who did this. He deserves the chair. If there’s anything I can do, let me know. A group from our graduating class is holding a candlelight vigil at the front of the high school tonight. If you could make it, that would be great. You don’t have to say anything. Just showing up would mean everything to the crowd. Hopefully it will help you and your family too.”
Pope nodded. “I appreciate it.” His tone was still rough, but it might have softened a touch. “Thanks for coming down to let me know. I’ll see if I can be there.”
Chuck nodded and then was gone. Pope shut the door quietly behind him.
“Am I off the case?” Audrey demanded, jumping to the meat of the matter. She was about to go on but bit her tongue. Pope would fire her on the spot if she said everything she was thinking.
“What?” Pope shook his head. “No.”
Audrey cocked her head in disbelief. She was confident Pope had come in to do just that, but the man was having second thoughts for some reason.
Was it because of the vigil?
Had Pope finally recognized there were others affected by Rachel’s death? Or was it the display of sympathy from the community that made him back down?
“You were angry when I opened the door,” Audrey said, refusing to let him off the hook. “You’re furious with me. You came to tell me I’m off the case if not out of a job. Don’t deny it.”
“Perhaps I was hasty,” Pope said through clenched teeth, his temper briefly flaring. “My instincts told me to have you handle this case.” He paused again and stared at her. The silence became uncomfortable, but he then let out a massive sigh like a deflated balloon and looked away. “Because I knew you’d stand up to me, and I needed somebody who would do that.” He took in a deep breath and exhaled roughly. For a moment, it seemed like he would burst into tears, but he kept them back. “I want to make sure we get the guy. The right guy. If it takes extra time, so be it.”
He said the right words, but Audrey wasn’t sure he meant them.
“You’re sure?” Audrey asked, letting the anger she’d been holding back rise up. Pope needed to feel some teeth. He needed to know there were consequences for his behavior today, albeit minor. She also wanted to make sure he was committed. She chose her words carefully. “I know you’ve just been through something horrible. I can’t even imagine what you’re going through. It’s something no parent should ever have to experience.” She stopped and held his eye. “And that is precisely why I pushed back on you.”
Pope nodded. “I know.”
“So, I have free rein on this case just like you said?”
“Yes.” Pope stared at her, hard lines etched into his face. “You’re confident about Parker? He didn’t do it?”
Audrey put her hands on her hips and gave him a look she’d always used on her boys when they were younger. “I’m not confident about anything, and that’s my point. We know so little that we can’t jump the gun, form a conclusion, and already be charging a boy before we’ve even reviewed the evidence.”
Pope stared at her. She returned it. She was relieved when he broke off eye contact first.
“You have a point. I won’t deny it.”
Pope was out the door before she could say anything more. The man was holding back. It seemed his logical side was at odds with his emotions. The lawyer was struggling to regain control somewhere deep down inside. That Gregory Pope had popped up for some air but then disappeared again.