Jake stood outside the Federal courtroom in a black suit that predated his tenure with the FBI. Lila Stonebridge, VP in charge of fraud investigations for industry giant Washburn and Batson Insurance, flipped through a file from her seat on a nearby bench. A discarded newspaper next to Lila caught Jake’s eye as he shifted impatiently from foot to foot.
SENATOR FOUND DEAD!
Jake’s cop mentality kicked in. Foul play? However, professional responsibility quickly returned his attention to his assignment. Although thoroughly familiar with the halls of justice, he would have preferred to be most anywhere else. But he was on the clock, and thirteen-year-old Sabrina wanted to attend an expensive summer dance program.
Lila made a note before closing and stuffing the file into her Ferragamo briefcase. Rising, she gave him a flick of her head, which he recognized as her intention to take a break. Jake nodded, his eyes following the perfectly tailored Armani suit and Louboutin pumps walk away.
With a smirky smile on his face, he thought, Great ass for a corporate cougar.
Lila kept herself in shape. A savvy and somewhat ruthless career woman, she had climbed the corporate ladder at warp speed with a focus on claiming the CEO chair. Her prospects appeared favorable. As usual with their cases, she insisted Jake stay until the jury came in, despite the lack of a valid reason other than liking to have him around. The two were not involved romantically. Lila had no room for the encumbrance of a relationship in her master plan, but it did not prevent her from indulging in carnal pleasures when the desire struck. Likewise, Jake, a divorced father, eschewed the formation of any ties and had no problem accommodating the executive. He believed their first encounter had been his audition for the position of number-one-investigator.
Lila was barely out of sight when Jake’s cell vibrated. Glancing down, he read a text from his assistant.
Potential, high-profile case $$$$$. Madison called. Wants you to see client TODAY—on Gray MacGregor’s dime.
He was about to respond when a door to the courtroom opened, and an assistant prosecutor came out.
“The jury’s ready. Thought you would like to know.” “What about the judge?” Jake asked.
“They have to find him. So, it’ll be a few minutes.” Jake hastily typed in:
Almost done here. Set it for—
He turned his wrist over and glanced at his watch.
Following the text to Liz Glover, Jake sent one to Lila, alerting her of the forthcoming event and then waited outside the tall, double doors for Lila to return.
When she arrived, he held the door for her as she asked, “So, what do you think it will be?”
“I’ve already told you. The guy is as guilty as I’m an Oklahoma cowboy.”
“But did the jury get that?”
He gave an affirmative nod.
“Are you ever wrong?”
“That’s what I like about you, Shepherd—your stupendous humility.”
As the pair slid onto the bench at the rear of the courtroom, the defendant, accompanied by his team of lawyers, entered and proceeded toward the defense table. Not far behind, a man and woman, both wearing black suits, entered. As they passed, Jake tipped his head, and the male gave him a thumbs-up sign.
Lila raised an eyebrow. “Miss the Bureau?”
Jake stifled a snicker. “I’ll take the Fifth on that one.”
“You could have stayed.”
“And lose all the private bounty you guys toss my way? Why would I want to miss that?”
“Because money doesn’t mean a damn thing to you, Shepherd, and you know it.”
“Yeah. Well it does to my thirteen-year-old daughter. She’s a high-maintenance kid.”
Before Lila could respond, the gavel sounded, and everyone in the room stood.
After the judge took the bench and instructed the assembly to be seated, he said, “Deputy, would you please invite the jurors into the courtroom?”
While the panel filed into the jury box, Jake studied each face. Lila followed suit. As the men and women took their seats, Lila turned to Jake, seeking his opinion without speaking.
He nodded, maintaining a stoic expression, and raised a thumb out of sight of all others present. He noticed Lila’s fingers were crossed. Since when does a world-class, hard-boiled pragmatist engage in superstition?
Judge Reicher spoke. “Let the record reflect that all members of the jury and alternates have joined us. Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.”
After hearing the simultaneous response, he asked for the sealed verdict forms, which the deputy took and passed to the bench. The judge opened the envelopes, reviewed the documents for proper form, and then handed them back to the deputy for delivery to the foreperson.
As the judge recited each count of the indictment, asking for a verdict, the foreperson responded. Jake watched Lila’s face, amused that she seemed to be holding her breath as though in doubt about his prediction.
When the final verdict, “Guilty of arson in the first degree,” was read, the judge ordered the defendant into custody, thanked and dismissed the jurors, and adjourned the proceedings. Lila turned to Jake, all grins.
“Told you,” he said.
“You are so damned pompous, Shepherd.”
“Probably, but if I don’t know it, I won’t say it.”
“Whatever. On behalf of Washburn and Batson, I personally thank you for saving us two-mil.”
“You mean on behalf of Lila Stonebridge’s campaign for top dog, don’t you?”
She grinned. “Your blatant honesty will get you in trouble one day.”
“Wouldn’t be the first time. But I’ve gotta run. New billable hours calling. Give me a ring whenever you need me”—he hesitated, raising an eyebrow with a twinkle in his seductive hazel eyes—“for a new case.”
As he turned his back to leave, she called out, “Consider buying a new suit with the fat check we’ll be sending your way.”
Jake glanced over his shoulder. “Damn, you’re hard to please. I bought a new tie for this gig.”
As he exited the courtroom, he rubbed shoulders with Special Agent Deke Weston, a former colleague at the FBI. The Fed grabbed Jake’s hand and shook, simultaneously patting his shoulder.
“Good work, Shepherd. How about a drink next week?”
“You’re on. Give me a call.”
Walking out of the building, Jake pondered the potential case. What politician has been caught in the wrong bed this time, and what’s MacGregor’s connection?