The Verdict: Chapter 1

My watch vibrated, indicating that I’d just received a text message. I’d been expecting a text from somebody else, so I was surprised it was a message from Barbara Sampson, my ex-girlfriend.

“Mitch, you have a second?”

I was so overcome with the satisfaction of successfully wrapping up my most recent case, the trial of Candy Carlisle, that it didn’t immediately occur to me to wonder what Barbara wanted.

I responded back. “Sure.”

Has she finally dumped that slimeball Thomas Guyton? I wondered.

A group of nearby reporters was heading toward me. I turned away because I wasn’t in the mood to speak with them.

“Can you come?” Barbara included an address I didn’t recognize in her message.

I frowned as I studied the address, wondering where it was.

“I’ll be right there.”

“Hurry.”

My pulse started pounding when I thought about her stalker.

I increased my pace.

It took me a moment to remember the man’s name.

I’d learned it from Detective Stephanie Gray but had never done anything with it because my law partner Veronica had handled the restraining order.

Clyde Montague.

Was Montague at it again?

Barbara was still on speed dial in my car, so I tried calling as soon as I got inside, but she didn’t answer.

I sped through the busy streets of Chicago, headed toward the address she’d given me, pushing the maneuverability of my Porsche as I spun around a turn and floored the gas while keeping a lookout for cops. I gave it a couple of minutes and then tried calling again.

She still didn’t pick up.

“Why’d she reach out, Mitch?” I asked as I parked at the address she’d given me.

It was an apartment building, but it was not her apartment building.

A fresh wave of concern rushed over me.

Perhaps if she’d texted me at a different moment, I might have immediately recognized the urgency of her message. The one consolation I had was that it hadn’t taken me long to figure out she might be in trouble.

I’d thought she’d sent me the address of a restaurant or someplace like that.

I hadn’t expected an apartment building. I considered calling her again but figured she might not pick up.

“I’m here,” I texted. “Where are you?”

Her response was immediate.

“I’m on the eighth floor. Room 813. I have to buzz you in at the door downstairs.”

I soon stood at the front door, buzzing room 813.

I expected Barbara to say something, but she didn’t. She just released the locking mechanism, allowing me to enter the building.

I usually preferred to take the stairs whenever I could, so I didn’t even think about it when I came to a stairwell and rushed up. It wasn’t until I was on the sixth floor landing that I realized taking the elevator might have been faster. I was sprinting up the stairs, so perhaps it wouldn’t have made much of a difference. I wasn’t yet winded, and the adrenaline pumping through my veins could only help. I just had two more levels to go, so I didn’t bother to find an elevator.

I didn’t know what I’d be facing when I got there, but my instincts told me I’d need every faculty at my disposal to deal with whatever was waiting for me on the eighth floor. I was also glad for the physical exertion because my mind was working better than it had all day.

Barbara’s refusal to say anything at the door spoke volumes. Even though I didn’t know what I’d find, I instinctively knew I was walking into a situation for which I was ill-prepared.

What could it be? I wondered, trying to avoid speculation even as my mind took me to impossibly horrible places.

I finally arrived on the eighth-floor landing but stopped before walking out in the hallway.

Something told me that this could change my relationship with Barbara forever. I inhaled deeply, holding it for the count of ten before exhaling.

Everything’s fine. She just wants to get back together. That’s it.

I couldn’t believe the lie.

Something was wrong.

The little I already knew about the situation screamed something terrible had happened. Every footstep down the hallway increased my trepidation. I stopped at door 813 and knocked.

Nobody answered.

I knocked again, checking the number with the text message on my phone to make sure I had the right place.

It’s 813, just like she said.

Barbara opened the door as I reached for the doorbell, letting the chain catch so I could only see her face.

“Mitch.”

Her voice was so quiet it was barely audible. I wouldn’t have known she’d even spoken if I hadn’t seen her lips move.

“Barbara, what’s going on?”

“Something’s happened.” She glanced to either side as if afraid somebody might be eavesdropping on our conversation. I could appreciate her desire for confidentiality.

“Open the door. I’ll come in.”

Barbara shook her head. “You can’t. You can’t get involved… in this.”

My eyes narrowed. “Involved in what?”

Barbara closed her eyes, and she shook her head again. “I didn’t know who else to call.”

“What’s going on, Barbara?”

“It’s Thomas Guyton. He’s dead.”

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