“Smile when you’re scared. Laugh when you’re angry. Never tell what you’re really thinking. Cordelia Simms was always a quick study. Her brilliant mind and dysfunctional family prepared her perfectly for a career in the snakepit of an Old-South, old-money law firm, but she took a few detours along the way. Now the shameful secrets in her past put her future – and her child – at risk.” Previously… Cordelia called Richard’s bluff and made an enemy of him. Marj was pleased with Cordelia’s rainmaking and wanted a personal introduction to a powerful client. Cordelia decides to collect a surprise delivery before networking with Marj.
The poor waiter looks frantic. I give Marj a quick smile, and nod at him.
“Ma’am, this person…she won’t leave. She’s, ah, very anxious to speak to you.”
I tell Marj, “Uncle Gerry drinks Old Fashioneds. I’ll be right back.”
She looks temporarily mollified. I follow the waiter. I can hear raised voices from halfway down the hall. Two women are arguing in Spanish, and my name is coming up a lot. I push through the kitchen door.
Zoe Ackerman’s housekeeper is standing at the back door, clutching a shopping bag from a chichi Mountain Brook boutique. The catering manager has her cornered, but she won’t back down.
“Okay, okay!” I apologize to the manager and pull the housekeeper aside.
She shoves the bag into my hands. “Mizackerman is not a nice person,” she tells me. “You are a nice person.”
Inside the bag is a Ziploc with crumpled fabric inside. I spread it out as best I can inside the bag.
It’s a pillowcase with rusty brown stains spattered on one side.
The housekeeper whispers in Spanish, “I found this in the laundry the day the old lady died. Mizackerman doesn’t change the sheets. I do.”
The chatter in the kitchen goes quiet. I peek back, but the caterers are acting normal. I just can’t hear them. I can’t hear anything but my own heart.
She won’t give me a phone number. She won’t even give me her name, until I insist that it’s not evidence without her.
“Silvia.” And she promises to call.
I carry the shopping bag with me, looking for Marj. I get so turned around in the crowd of guests, I back into her.
“Watch it!” She’s balancing two Old Fashioneds, one mostly gone.
My voice is shaky. “Look, I’ve got some real concerns about the Ackerman case. First that letter, and now…”
She sips. “What letter?”
“The letter from Mrs. Norris to Henry.”
She looks puzzled.
I prompt her, “I put the original in your inbox?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Fantastic. My supervising attorney is taking business calls during alcoholic blackouts. “We talked about it yesterday. Tasha uploaded it to the document system.”
She gives me a spot-on Grumpy Cat face.
I shake my head and log in on my phone. “Just a second. I’ll show you.”
The letter’s not there. The last entry in the Ackerman case was three days ago. “That’s crazy,” I mutter. “I emailed it…” I swipe over to my work account.
My email to Tasha isn’t in my Sent box.
My jaw drops.
“Well?” says Marj. She’s staring at me with one eyebrow up. I can almost see rings of psychic energy rippling through my field of vision, like a cheap TV special effect. “What’s in the bag, Cordelia?”
I shrug back. “Extra linens.” I give her my biggest, brightest smile. “I’ll find Uncle Gerry for you. Do you play golf? He loves it. Excuse me.” I weave through the guests. My grin is plastered on so hard, my cheeks ache and the corners of my eyes are starting to dry out.
* * * * *
Lawrence is on the back deck, crunched up under the corner of the roof to stay dry. He gives me an unvarnished stinkeye when I step out.
“Oh, thank God.” I grab his sleeve. “I’ve got to talk to you.”
“Yeah, you need something?” A dry edge grates in his voice.
I pull my chin back. I had intended to make excuses about Richard, but this? You don’t earn a pass for attitude with one pleasant dinner and some Leaning With Intent. I stinkeye right back at him.
“Yeah, Detective.” I shove the shopping bag at him. “I’m pretty sure this is evidence of a murder.”
“What?” That shook his sulky-pants off. “Here?” He reaches for his phone.
“No, an old one. Unsuspected.” I tell him about Mrs. Norris and Zoe Ackerman, about Henry Norris’ lawsuit and the not-technically-perfect signature on the Trust. About Mrs. Norris’ letter asking for help, and how it disappeared without a trace.
Well, not precisely without a trace. I flick down into my phone’s gallery, and compose a quick cover note for the photo I took of Mrs. Norris’ incriminating letter. My resignation, I suppose.
I don’t bother with the BCC function. I want my recipients to know exactly who got what. Marj. The firm’s Executive Committee, minus Richard. Lawrence. A guy he knows in city Homicide. Henry Norris’ attorney of record. And the Jefferson County DA.
Lawrence is shaking his head. “I didn’t go to law school, but I’ve heard of attorney-client privilege.”
“Privilege is when you keep your client’s secrets, not destroy them.”
Lawrence tucks the Ziploc back into the shopping bag and holds it out. “You’re going to get yourself in a lot of trouble.”
He’s not wrong. I take a breath. I feel different inside — bigger, calmer. Quieter. I smile, and it’s easy. It doesn’t hurt my face. “I am Trouble.”
I hit Send.
TO BE CONTINUED…