Authors: Antoinette van Heugten
Tags: #Mystery, #Suspense, #Adult, #Thriller
As she reaches for the document Tony asked her to read, she notices a law review article on the corner of the burled desk. “Update of Juvenile Criminal Law in Iowa: Too Young for Life?” She glances at the closed door and stashes the article
into her purse. Just as quickly, she scans the pleading, which turns out to be Max’s indictment. When she reads the style of the case—
The State of Iowa v. Defendant, Maxwell A. Parkman
—that numb, horrified feeling crawls over her again. She searches wildly through the indictment. Relief floods her as she realizes that there is no death-penalty demand.
A black thought slices through her brain.
It isn’t that they won’t ask a jury to kill him.
They just haven’t done it yet.
Sevillas brings her a cup of coffee and goes to his desk. “Ready?”
Danielle nods as she takes a sip of the hot liquid. “Absolutely.”
“Here we go.” He presses a button.
Danielle hears an enormous crash through the speakerphone that has to involve shattered glass, followed by a loud “Goddammit!” The receiver on the other end of the line seems to be turning cartwheels as the invective continues. “Why in the fuck does a guy ever get married? Stinkin’ knickknacks. I shoulda tossed ’em when I threw her ass out!” There is the noise of something sweeping up shards from a wooden floor. “And that fuckin’ pink wallpaper. What kinda FDS crap is that?” Another long moment passes, and then a sound that resembles the popping of the top of a beer can rattles through the line. Danielle raises her eyebrows. Sevillas shrugs.
There is another clatter, and the scratch of whiskers against the receiver. “Doaks,” growls the voice. “And it better be damned good.”
Sevillas smiles at Danielle and leans back in his chair. “What’s up, buddy?”
“Christ, I knew I shoulda unplugged the phone.” A noisy slurp follows. “Whatever it is, Taco Face, I ain’t here.”
“Whoa, Doaks.” Sevillas uses his butter-cream courtroom voice. “Can’t an old friend call to see how life’s treating Plano’s finest?”
Doaks hoots. “You ain’t got time, hotshot. I can’t open the paper without lookin’ at your ugly mug standin’ on the courthouse steps after savin’ some white-collar prince from the pen. Besides, if you’re callin’ me, it means those asswipes who pass for flatfoots at your shop can’t be trusted not to screw somethin’ up.”
“Perceptive, as always,” says Sevillas.
“No way,” he says. “I’m out of it. Don’t they teach you the word in law school?
“Come on, Doaks.”
“Blow me,” he says. “I’m whatcha call an independent agent now. I don’t gotta listen to squat.”
“You don’t even know why I’m calling.”
“Don’t take no genius,” he says. “P.I. junk, that’s what you’re after.”
“What if you’re right?”
Doaks laughs. “I’d tell you to fuck off. Like I done a thousand times before.”
“Come on, you know you miss it.”
“Yeah, every morning I wake up wishin’ I could stay up all night crammed in my car with cold coffee, chasin’ some moron. Forget it.”
“Just this once, pal,” says Sevillas. “I need the best, and you’re it.”
“Yeah, sure.” The unmistakable sound of someone crunching a can crackles through the line. Danielle can almost smell the beer. “Let’s reel in old Doaks one last time so he can do what those overpaid clods down in that fancy-shmancy office of yours ain’t got the gray matter for. What do you think I am, fuckin’ stupid?”
Sevillas sighs. “Did you hear about the Maitland murder?”
Doaks’s voice is cautious. “You mean that whack-job who put about a thousand holes into some psycho kid?” Danielle closes her eyes. It sounds even worse when he says it than when Sevillas laid it out a few moments ago. Hot shame suffuses her face.
Sevillas casts an apologetic glance at Danielle. “Watch it, Doaks, you’re referring to the son of our new client, Ms. Danielle Parkman, attorney-at-law, who also happens to be sitting across from me.”
“Take me off that speakerphone, shit-for-brains.”
Sevillas pretends to do precisely that. He winks at Danielle as he picks up the receiver and then puts it back in its cradle. “That better?”
“Yeah,” he growls. “But I still ain’t takin’ no case.”
“This one’s different.”
“Right,” he scoffs. “How many times we played that forty-five?”
“The boy was killed with a metal comb.”
“Interestin’ choice of weapon,” admits Doaks. “But not enough to get my blood goin’. So, you got any other suspects?”
“Look, John.” The smooth voice is back. “I know you’ve got an axe to grind with Maitland.”
There is a pause. “So?”
“I’m not calling to ask for repayment—”
“Sure as hell sounds like it.”
“I’m just trying to help you out.”
“Bullshit,” says Doaks. “You need somebody who knows the joint inside and out.”
“Of course I do.” Sevillas lets the next words slide home. “How’s Madeleine?”
“Watch it, asshole.” The voice is dark, angry.
Danielle raises her eyebrows, but says nothing. She makes a note to ask Sevillas about it later.
“So, you’ll trot over to my office in the morning?” asks Sevillas mildly. “That’s when we get the black box and start putting this defense together. And why don’t you get the skinny from your buddies at Plano P.D. this afternoon?”
“Don’t tell me how to run a stinkin’ investigation,” snarls Doaks. “I’m gonna watch Johnny Miller’s chippin’ lesson. No way this bullshit is gonna ruin my golf game.”
Sevillas laughs. “Payback is murder, Doaks.”
“Eat me,” he grumbles. “You just took a perfectly good day and shot it all to hell.”
The next morning, Danielle smiles at Sevillas’s secretary and takes the coffee and doughnut she offers. As the door closes, she settles into her chair and glances down at the navy pantsuit she put on this morning. She decides that, except for the ankle bracelet hidden beneath the folds of fabric, she feels more clearheaded than she has since this nightmare began. She is impatient to begin. At nine, Sevillas will be here, and they will plan the strategy that will comprise Max’s defense—and her own.
But as the moments go by, black thoughts web her brain. If she is convicted, there will be no one to ensure that Max gets out of Maitland, or to financially fund his appeal. Even if Max is acquitted but she is in jail, who will take care of him? Georgia will do all she can, but Danielle knows she has neither the resources nor the ability to shoulder such a burden—nor would she ask her—and Danielle has no family to call upon. What if Max needs prolonged psychiatric care? She will have no income to fund it. And then there is the worst of scenarios: she is sent to prison, and Max is sentenced to life in prison. She refuses to even entertain the possibility that a jury would give him the death penalty. She shakes her head and wills the snarling hounds in her mind to flee.
Something catches her eye. It is a dark file box on the floor next to Tony’s desk. She is about to make out the words scribbled on top when he walks in.
He looks crisp and professional in a gray pinstripe suit. He strides over to her and squeezes her shoulder. His touch is electric. “Good morning,” he says. “You look like someone who had a good night’s sleep.”
“I did, actually. I was more tired than I thought.”
He sits behind the desk and pours himself a coffee from a silver thermos. “As well you should be.”
“Tony?” She tries to keep the desperation out of her voice. “Did you see Max? Is he all right? Can I see him?”
He nods. “Yes to the first two; no to the latter.”
She is crestfallen. “First, tell me how he is.”
“He seems well, but is understandably anxious about you and Jonas’s death,” he says. “I told him you were fine; that I was going to represent both of you; and that he could speak to you very soon. By the time I left, I think he felt much better.”
“Can I talk to him?”
“I’ve arranged for you to have daily telephone conferences with him. The
agreed that it was in Max’s best interest.”
Relief fills her. “Oh, Tony, I can’t thank you enough. May I call him now?”
“This afternoon. And you’ve got to keep it short.”
“The court ordered that the duty nurse has the discretion to terminate the conversation when she thinks it appropriate.”
Danielle groans. “Nurse Kreng. She won’t give me five minutes.”
Tony shrugs. “We have no choice. Hopefully we’ll be able to convince the
to extend the phone conferences. And I’ll try to get you a face-to-face visit—supervised, of course.”
She takes a deep breath. “It isn’t much, but I’ll take it. Now, tell me all about your visit.”
He tells her about Max’s horrified reaction to the charges against both of them and the upcoming hearing. When questioned, Max was adamant that he had no memory of the event at all. He was in tears and terrified, but calmed down when Tony assured him that he would talk to him every day and that Danielle would be calling him very soon. Tony met with him for an hour, but Max couldn’t stay alert. Tony stayed until he fell asleep. His voice softens. “He’s a fine boy, Danielle. I’ll do everything I can to bring him back to you.”
Tears catch in her throat as she starts to rise to go to him. “Oh, Tony, how can I bear this?”
He points at her chair. “By keeping sharp and helping us build a strong defense.” She sits back down. He smiles that wonderful, warm smile. “And by not coming over here and making it impossible for me to concentrate.”
She smiles back. “Whatever you say, Counselor. Where do we start?”
Sevillas points to the box next to his desk. “Right there. As soon as I—”
The door opens, and a disheveled man wearing a dingy golf shirt and khakis with a large, dried coffee stain on the right thigh strolls in. His white hair stands on end. He looks like he just stepped out of the shower and electrocuted himself. His voice is gravel crushed by a wooden wheel. “Mornin’, all.”
Danielle looks at Sevillas, expecting him to redirect the wanderer to the service elevator. Instead, Sevillas stands and smiles. “Doaks—good to see you. I’d like to introduce Danielle Parkman.”
The man turns to Danielle and offers her a rough, brown hand. His wrinkled frown splits into a grin, as if his face is unaccustomed to it. “Glad to meet ya.”
Shaking his hand is like grabbing a piece of sandpaper. “Good morning, Mr. Doaks.”
“Just Doaks,” he says. “That’ll do fine.” He plops himself on the chair next to hers, takes a look around the room, and gives a low whistle. Danielle follows his gaze. There is no question that power pervades the room with the inaudible but palpable white noise of wealth. Floor-to-ceiling windows provide a panoramic view of downtown Des Moines as the rumble of traffic below filters up. Mirrored windows from adjacent office buildings shoot light throughout the room, which falls on four canvases of modern art that fill it with brilliant color.
“Holy shit, big shot,” he says. “What a dump you got here.”
“Thanks, pal.” Sevillas takes off his suit jacket, tosses his cuff links into a crystal ashtray and rolls up the sleeves of his freshly starched shirt. He gives Doaks’s trousers a wary look and winks at Danielle. “Appearances aren’t everything.”
“Fuck you.” He turns to Danielle and gives her a sideways grin. “Sorry, ma’am. Sometimes the boy gets too big for his long pants, and I gotta take him down a notch or two.” He turns to Sevillas. “Got any coffee in this hovel?”
Sevillas pushes a button on his phone and sits back. More coffee arrives on a platter loaded with Danish and coffee cake, smelling strongly of cinnamon and dripping with white icing. Within minutes, Doaks has waded through his first cup and spilled crumbs down the front of his shirt. He tips back in his chair. “Okay, clock’s runnin’. Let’s get started.”
Sevillas turns to Danielle. “I’ve given Doaks a detailed rundown on where we are and what you and I discussed yesterday, but before we get to the black box, I’d like him to fill us in on what he’s learned from the Plano Police Department. Doaks?”
“It was a rough conversation, if you know what I mean.” He scratches his two-day-old whiskers and shoots a look at Danielle. “I kinda need to know the rules of the road here. You want the straight skinny or do I gotta water it down through big boy over there?”
Danielle looks back. “I want it straight. I’m a lawyer, Mr. Doaks, and I’m tougher than I look. I know that my son and I are in a terrible position and that we very much need your help and that of Mr. Sevillas. So fire away.”
Doaks glances at Sevillas, who nods. His milky, blue eyes fasten upon hers. “I only got one rule.”
“Don’t lie to me,” he says quietly. “If you tell me the truth and don’t bullshit me, we’ll get on just fine.”
Her voice is deadly serious. “I don’t lie, Mr. Doaks. And my son is not a murderer.”
Doaks swills down the last of his coffee and grins at her. “Then this ought to be as easy as greasin’ a goose.”
Danielle nods at the box. “Let’s get to work.”
“Okay. I had a brew over pool with my buddy Barnes last night.”
“Who is Barnes?” asks Danielle.
“My partner when I was on the force,” says Doaks. “He knows I’m a damned good dick and that whatever he’s got, we’ll wind up gettin’ anyway. Bottom line, Barnes knows I’m comin’ from the exact same place he is—as a cop. It’s like bein’ Catholic, ma’am. Once they get you, you’re theirs forever.” He flicks a fleck of pastry from his chin, kicks back and looks at the ceiling as if he is an altar boy reciting the catechism. “I ain’t gonna rehash what you and Sevillas talked about yesterday. I’m just gonna lay out the scoop—the physical evidence. And it ain’t good.”
Danielle tenses. Doaks fixes rheumy eyes upon her. “As
if it ain’t bad enough that we got your boy all bloody in the dead kid’s room and you tryin’ to drag him outta the crime scene—with the murder weapon stuffed in your purse, no less, we got a few other strikes against us that I’d bet dollar to doughnuts are in that big box over there.” He holds up a gnarled index finger. “First, they got tapes.”
Danielle’s mind flashes to the white cameras that stare down from each room in Maitland.
That meant they already knew Max had the comb in his hand before she came into the room or, God forbid, that they have him on tape actually killing Jonas. But if Max didn’t do it, then they must know who did. She tries to keep her voice calm. “What tapes?”
Doaks shrugs. “They got ’em in every room and at the secured exits. Video feeds into the nurses’ station and the main security post.”
“Are you telling us they have the murder on video?” asks Sevillas.
Danielle holds her breath. Doaks takes another slug of coffee. “Them fuck-ups? Nah, it’s one big blank—the whole thing.”
Her heart pumps again. “Malfunctioned?”
“Disabled, more like.” He gives her a look that she finds more than casually probing.
She doesn’t care. Max is safe. And a blank is better than the jury seeing Max standing there with a bloody comb in his hand. At least he is no worse off than a few minutes ago. She pushes aside how quickly she had leapt to the possibility that the tape would show her son killing Jonas. And after all is said and done, this might well be the tragic truth. Maybe she’s the crazy one, denying Max’s guilt when the overwhelming evidence points directly at him.
Doaks sticks another stubby finger in the air. “But the tapes
they do have are doozies, Barnes says. Max gunnin’ for the decedent; him flippin’ out at night; you denyin’ stuff the docs are sayin’. You name it, they got it.” He turns to Danielle. “We’ll need to look at all of ’em together.”
She nods. “Listen, I need to tell you both something. I think I saw someone outside of Jonas’s window while I was in the room.”
Sevillas leans forward, his eyes eager. “Who was it?”
“I couldn’t make out his face. It was just a flash of color, a blur.” She shakes her head. “I’m sorry. All I could focus on in that horrible room were Jonas and Max.”
Tony’s brown eyes seem perplexed. “Why didn’t you tell us this before?”
She flushes, but her voice is iron. “Because I wasn’t sure.”
“And now you are?”
“Sure enough to mention it.”
Doaks and Sevillas exchange a look. Doaks heads for the coffee pot. “Well, that and a dime won’t buy me this cup of coffee.”
Danielle bristles. “It shows that someone else could have been in that room and then ran out when he heard me coming.”
He walks back, sloshing coffee from cup to saucer. “Like who—the headless horseman?”
“Like the person who killed Jonas and was about to frame or kill Max.” She gives him a sharp glance. “And who probably would have killed me if I’d walked in five minutes earlier.”
Doaks lifts his cup and grins. “
She can’t help but smile back.
The phone buzzes. Sevillas punches a button and listens. “Put him on.” There is a short pause. “This is counsel for Ms. Parkman. Just a moment.”
Danielle’s heart leaps as Sevillas motions for her to take
the receiver, but to share it with him so he can listen. Hands shaking, she grasps the black receiver. “Max? Max, is it you, honey?”
“Mom!” The voice she loves as no other is so strong, so real, that she can almost reach out and touch it. If it weren’t for the piteous, terrified tenor of his one word, Danielle has never been so thrilled to hear it. “Where are you? When will I see you?”
“Shh, sweetheart, don’t worry.” She forces calm into her voice. “It’s going to be all right. I’m here in our lawyer’s office, and we’re working very hard to get you out of there.”
“But I can’t—” His voice cracks, an ice floe against the merciless hull of an arctic tanker. “I’m
Her need to hold him close, to reach him with her eyes, is overwhelming. “I know, Max. Please believe me when I say it’s going to be all right.”
“But why do they think I killed Jonas?” His fear is palpable. “You know I didn’t! I don’t know how I woke up in all that blood!”
“Honey, listen to me.” She takes a deep breath. “Do you remember anything at all about that day? You’ve got to calm down so we can figure this out.”
A sob stabs through the receiver. She gives him time to collect himself. “All I remember is being out all morning. And before lunch, I think somebody put those goddamned things on my arms and legs. I passed out again. Then you came or the cop grabbed me and there was blood all over me…”
“You didn’t see or hear anything at all before that? Do you remember how you wound up in Jonas’s room?”
“No!” he cries. “I can’t remember anything! They dope me up half the time, and then everything is all fucked up in my head. I get pissed off…crazy. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. You’ve got to come get me, Mom.”
“I can’t, sweetheart. They’ve got a restraining order against me.”
“But when will I see you? Can’t I even call you?”
“Not right now.”
“Then I want my goddamned iPhone—and my computer.”
“Honey,” she says. “If they made me take them away when you were admitted, there’s no way they’ll let you have them now.”
“Just do it.” His words are clipped. “I’ll find a way to call you—and do a few other things they’ll never figure out.”
“Forget it, Mom.”
She sighs. Like some people with Asperger’s, Max is a computer savant. He could probably launch nuclear warheads with that iPhone. “I’ll ask Tony to bring it the next time he sees you, but it won’t do any good.”
“Sevillas? He’s a cool guy.”
Tony smiles and takes the receiver. “Hey, hotshot. Forget about the computer
the iPhone. We’re on thin ice with the judge as it is, and I’m not risking my behind so you can surf the Web.”