Today's Reading

I took my finger away from the panic button and stood. I'd been sitting all morning. I let my thumbs hang on the top of my Sam Browne gun belt, my uniform shirt a little too tight at the buttons. Two years earlier I'd left the violent crimes team and transferred to court services to fill a bailiff position. The desk job had added an extra ten pounds and damn near drove me stir crazy. For the umpteenth time I silently swore I'd start running again on my next days off.

Deputy DA Nicky Rivers looked down at her yellow-lined notepad as if deciding what to do next, what witness to call, what evidence to present. She didn't need to check anything; she only wanted the pause so everyone had time to refocus on her. Which wasn't difficult. Her custom-made suits were modest enough for an attorney, but when combined with elegant silk blouses and strappy heels, her onstage persona was unparalleled. Those brown eyes, sparkling with vitality, and those luscious lips and that cute little nose perfected her magnetism.

She brought her yellow Black Warrior number-two pencil up to her mouth to tap her front tooth, a nervous tic she worked hard to overcome. This she had told me in a whispered confidence over dinner one night.

In every trial, she played the role of lion tamer, her chair and whip guiding the jury, the audience, and even the judge, toward the conclusion she wanted, a master at manipulation, a crackerjack attorney with no equal. I may have been a little biased.

I would have felt sorry for Borkow having Nicky as an opponent if he hadn't deserved everything coming his way.

"Ms. Peterson," Nicky said, "can you please continue with what you were saying before the interruption? Apparently, the court has decided we no longer need the photos of the crime scene."

Nicky clicked off the audiovisual equipment and didn't look at the judge. But I did. He scowled and shook his head. He wouldn't let it slide, and later, in his office away from the jury, he'd warn her one last time before he sanctioned her on the record.

Pam leaned into the mic. "I'm not sure what the question was...ah, that's right. Ah, no, I have no way of knowing if the decedent's five-year-old daughter was present when the defendant, Louis Borkow"—she pointed at him again—"decapitated her with the thick-bladed, serrated knife we found at the scene."

Gloria Bleeker jumped to her feet. "Objection, Your Honor! Now that's the second time the jury's heard hearsay testimony, which is nothing more than morbid supposition, myth, and rumors. It violates my client's right to a fair trial."

Judge Connors banged his gavel as the din in the audience again started to rise. "Council approach."

The phone on my desk rang. Bleeker and Rivers moved to the judge's bench as he leaned over to whisper to them as if they were two errant children. I didn't have to be up there to know what Connors was telling them. I picked up the phone, hit the button on the phone's console, and said in a whisper, "Deputy Johnson, Superior Courtroom Three."

"Popi!"

Olivia. My daughter.

Only Olivia hadn't called me Popi in years. Every time she called me "Bruno" it grated on my nerves and at the same time made me a little sadder over a childhood lost.

"Popi." She sobbed. "Don't be mad. Please don't be mad at me."

"Sweetie, what's the matter? What's happened?" My tone turned loud and no longer followed courtroom decorum.

"I'm with Derek." She suddenly lowered her voice. "And...and they have guns."

My back went straight and my hand gripped the phone too tight. Derek Sams, every parent's nightmare. "Olivia, honey, I won't be mad; who has a gun? Where are you? Tell me where you are."

The courtroom went quiet and I felt everyone turn to look at me, even the judge and the attorneys.

"Just tell me where you are. I'll come and get you." She was supposed to be in school. I'd just gotten her back two weeks ago after she'd run away. Fourteen years old and she'd been out on the street on her own for three days and two nights before I tracked her down. I should've taken Derek by the neck then and throttled his seventeen-year-old ass.
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