Thursday, March 23, 2017

Death by Default: Chapter 6 - Speechless

Photo courtesy of jgolby, shutterstock.com
Detective Rosetti led me to his car – a black sedan with coffee stains on the armrest and a bullet-proof vest lying on the backseat – and had me wait inside while he made a phone call under the awning of the nail salon. I watched him from the rear-view mirror through the drizzling rain thudding on the back window. It was cold, but I could feel beads of sweat collecting across my brow. Why had he gone out of his way to find me?

Ruth was going to ask questions. What was the dead lawyer thing about? Why was a detective looking for me? Why didn’t she ask for a transcript two years ago when she had the chance?

Despite the coffee stains, Rosetti’s car was pretty nice. Nicer than mine anyway. Lots of cup holders and a GPS system on the console. I recalled my Con Law class years ago, when my professor had joked about how one day, we’d all be driving BMWs and Mercedes. I drove a ‘99 LeSabre with a tricky driver’s side window and no air conditioning. It was all I could afford after I quit the PD’s office, sold my Civic, and paid off the note. Michelle was in the same boat. Alex was the only lawyer I knew who drove a nice car and that was because he had family money.

I watched Rosetti slide his phone back into his pocket and took a deep breath to try and relax before the questions started. I sensed a pattern in my life. On Friday I’d dreaded questions from my classmates and professors. Now I dreaded questions from Ruth and the police. That’s what happens when you lie to everyone, I told myself. You run from questions.

Rosetti yanked the door handle and suddenly he was sitting next to me, writing down notes in a small pad of paper. I wondered who he’d just called. Why he made me wait for him. It was the oldest trick in the book – making someone wait to get them worked up – and I wondered why he’d used it on me. He smelled like Aqua Velva which reminded me of my uncle, who wore it religiously, lived alone, and had a gambling problem. Rosetti was married, though, if the gold ring on his finger told the whole story. And he seemed more in control than my uncle. I could tell by his careful block lettering.

“You’re a hard woman to find, Ms. Noir,” he said without looking up from his notes.

Back when I was at the PD’s office, I used to tell my clients never to talk to the cops. No one ever got arrested for something they didn’t say, I’d tell them. All things being equal, it was always better to keep your mouth shut.

I shrugged.

“Why’d you tell your professor you still work at the PD’s office?

“I didn’t—” I stopped myself. This was why most of my clients got arrested. It was always easier to keep quiet in theory, but not in practice.

Rosetti folded the notepad, tucked it back into his pocket, and turned to me. Reading my mind, he said, “Look, I’m not here to bother you, it’s just that we have to treat every death like a homicide until we’re sure it’s something else. Now I understand you had a run-in with Winnie Detter last Friday and I want to ask you a couple questions about it.”

My heart fluttered in my chest as I weighed my options. If I kept my mouth shut, he’d grow more suspicious. If I talked, he’d know I was a liar. Which was worse?

“It wasn’t a run-in,” I said, then cleared my throat when I heard how reedy my voice sounded.

“A witness says she saw Winnie leave the bathroom looking upset right before you came out.”

“If she looked upset, it wasn’t because of me.” I could tell I was saying too much.

“Then why was she upset?” He took out his notepad again.

I sighed and tried to recall the details of our encounter. “I don’t know, she was acting weird. I only talked to her for a few seconds.” 

“What did she say?” 

An image of Emily and Winnie in our Trusts & Estates class flashed through my mind. The day they sang I’m My Own Grandma. It was all so stupid, the way we had laughed while digging our own graves. 

“She mentioned Emily Mara,” I said. “They were friends back in law school and she had just died. Killed herself.” 

“The asbestos lawyer. I heard about that. What did Winnie say about her?” 

“That Emily used to say being a lawyer sucks. Winnie was supposed to give a speech that night and I thought it was strange that she’d agreed to do it under the circumstances.”

He eyed his notepad. “The speech. Did you happen to see it?”

“No, she didn’t end up giving it—”

“I mean her notes. Did you see them?”

A tingle ran up my spine when he mentioned her notes. I’m not sure why. When he said it, I saw Winnie’s face in my mind, the determined look she had that night in the bathroom. She had mentioned her speech, hadn’t she? I couldn’t remember if she’d said anything specific about it, though. I saw an image of Emily, too, alone and scared on that bridge before she jumped. What exactly had been on their minds before they ended it all?

"Look, detective, I don’t have anything useful for you. I didn’t know Winnie that well and I only saw her for a minute. She mentioned Emily and maybe that’s what upset her. But she and I did not have a ‘run-in’, as you put it. And I was talking to someone when she fell, if you need an alibi.”

He flipped a few pages and cocked his head to the side. “Who were you talking to?”

“A new student. Her name was Sarah. Sarah Lemming.”

He nodded and put away the notepad again. “All right, we’ll check it out. In the meantime, give me a call if you think of anything.” He fished a card from his pocket and handed it to me.

I opened the door and started to get out when he stopped me with one last question.

"Why’d you lie?” he asked.

I shook my head. I always knew one day I’d have to answer that question, but I’d never come up with a good answer. The truth was so much harder to come up with than a lie. Isn’t that how the saying went?

“I don’t know,” I said. “I guess I didn’t want to disappoint anyone.”

He didn’t say anything.

“What happened to Winnie’s speech?”

He started the car and tapped a few buttons on his GPS. “That’s what I’m trying to find out.”

“How do you know she wrote it down?”

He pursed his lips, turned to me, and paused, weighing whether he should say anything. “We found the last page.”

“What did it say?”

He didn’t look at his notes for the answer. He had memorized it because he knew it meant something.

“It was a quote,” he said. “'Fraud is the daughter of greed'.”

“You don’t think she jumped.”

He sighed wearily and flipped on the wipers. “I don’t think she wanted to.”

“What do you think she wanted?”

“I don’t know. I’m guessing whatever it was, she died before she could tell anyone.”


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Coming up in Chapter 7: Alex reveals a secret Winnie had been keeping...

1 comment:

  1. The car thing is funny. One of my few outside-the-classroom law school memories is my professor's unpretentious Buick. He was a biglaw partner and presumably could have bought anything. He was also a litigator. Somewhere I either heard or read that you never want jurors to see you driving a flashy car lest they stick it to your client. At least in a civil context.

    Presumably not a problem for many lawyers these days.

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