New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author Diane Capri Returns to Tampa in this gripping suspense novel featuring Judge Willa Carson
Charismatic Federal Judge Willa Carson is devoted to two things: her job and her loving husband George. But when a controversial war hero is nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court, Willa's normally easy-going husband throws himself into the fight, determined to thwart the nomination. His relentless campaign strains their marriage and Willa's faith in him, until the General is killed. And George is arrested for murder…
Willa is determined to save the man who's been her anchor for seventeen years. But does that man still exist? As Willa delves into her husband's web of secrets, scandals, and political scheming, she's forced to uncover George's game. Is he the calculating killer the world believes or a deceived victim of twisted justice?
Love and politics are at their dirtiest in this tightly-plotted, character-driven novel. A complex thriller, with a shocking ending, this is the book Judge Willa fans have been waiting for!
Realistic twists and turns keep readers engaged and guessing until the finale!
"Full of thrills and tension - but smart and human too."—Lee Child, #1 World Wide Bestselling Author of Jack Reacher Thrillers
Thursday 6:05 p.m.
January 27, 2000
BEN, WHO HAD BEEN sort of a friend of mine until he'd arrested my husband, was at his desk when his secretary ushered me into his messy office. You'd think the Tampa Chief of Police would have better quarters. His office was in the exceedingly ugly blue building on Madison and Franklin, right in the heart of downtown Tampa, where the Tampa Police Department had moved a couple of years ago. Local reporters called it the Cop Shop. Ben stood up as I entered and came around the desk to greet me. I tried not to physically recoil and sat down before he got the chance to touch me, making it awkward for both of us. He nodded and leaned up against his desk.
"What can I do for you, Willa?" He asked me gently, sounding like the friend I once believed he was.
"I'll come right to the point, Chief." His eyebrows went up a little at my tone. He crossed his arms over his chest. His pure physical bulk was foreboding, and the power he now held over George's life was more intimidating. I began to feel sorry, just a little, for some of Tampa's more sensitive criminals, if that's not an oxymoron.
I drew in my breath and phrased my outrageous opening request as a demand. "I want to see your file on the Andrews murder investigation."
Ben stood up a little straighter and walked back around to his chair, putting as much official distance between us as the cramped quarters would allow. "I'd like to help you. You know George is one of my favorite people. But I can't break the rules, even for George. Or for you."
"I'm not asking you to break the rules, Ben. I'm only asking you to bend them. We'll get the file eventually."
Once George was indicted, Drake would be required to turn over anything exculpatory.
I said, "The evidence against George was on the six o'clock news. So where's the harm?"
This last part came out a little more sarcastically than I'd intended. It still pissed me off that Ben Hathaway had come to our home to get George instead of allowing him to come downtown for questioning. It was one of the many things I'd never forgive him for, when this was all over.
But I couldn't let that influence me now.
"That may be," he said. "But whether or not to release the file is not my call. That one will be made by Drake, when and if it comes to that." He gave me the official line. "This office doesn't open its investigative files to the families of accused murderers. And the Florida Supreme Court will back me up on that."
I returned his steely look. Ben Hathaway and I had played the power game before. Usually, he only asserted the power he had. He played strictly and professionally by the rules, which wasn't hard to do because the rules and the resources were stacked in his favor.
For every task there's the easy way and the hard way. The easy way is, well, easier, but the hard way works just as well.
"You could give me the file if you wanted to, Ben. It's within your discretion," I reminded him. "We'll get it eventually. All we need is a head start. There's no harm in your handing it over to me now."
He gazed at me with an expression I interpreted as consideration, which encouraged me to continue.
"Ben, how much of your department's resources are directed at finding General Andrews's killer? Not yesterday, or two days ago, but right now?"
"As much as we need to devote to it." He sounded a little defensive.
"In other words, nothing. Am I right? You think you have a suspect in custody, arraigned and turned over to Drake's office." I tried, unsuccessfully, to control my belligerence. "You have other crimes to solve and you don't have that much manpower."
I looked him straight in the eye now, showing him that we both knew the score.
"You're not even looking for the real killer, are you?"
Ben looked down at his big paws clasped on the government-issue imitation walnut desk. His ears grew more than a little crimson at their tips.
When he raised his head, he answered me slowly, as if addressing someone with poor hearing or less than full mental acuity. Or, maybe, as if he was being watched through the glass walls that surrounded us and his voice was being broadcast directly to his supervisors.
"We don't need to look for the general's killer. We found him. We arrested him." Quietly, he finished, "If you want to see the file, ask Drake."
I stood to leave. "Chief, you and I both know that George Carson did not kill General Andrews. If Drake wants to take George to trial for this, he certainly can. But if he does, he'll lose."
Next, I delivered the truth he tried to ignore. "And Drake will take you down with him. You'll be the laughing stock not only of Tampa, but the entire country."
I turned toward the door. "Everyone is watching this, Ben. Everyone."
"What do you want me to do, Willa? My hands are tied. Drake wanted a quick arrest. He got one. George is on the wrong side of Drake's ambition." He held his hands out, palms up, to demonstrate his point. "They've done battle before and it's Drake's turn to hold the winning cards. It's out of my hands."
Now that he'd been softened up, he was ready to hear my real proposal. "I want you to let me look at the file. I'll make you an offer, just once, right now."
I waited until he nodded, almost involuntarily. "Here it is: You let me look at the file, help me unofficially and I'll tell you first when I've figured out who killed Andrews."
His eyes widened but he didn't laugh. He considered my proposal seriously because he knew me, and he knew how determined I can be.
Still, I sensed he was about to refuse again. "I intend to prove that George did not kill Andrews. When I succeed, Ben, you know how foolish you'll look? No one will trust you to run your department. You know what a small town Tampa is. You might have to move."
Watched him thinking it through.
Eventually, he would realize he had nothing to lose and everything to gain by helping me. I was promising not to embarrass him, not to let the situation get out of control if George wasn't Andrews's killer. He wanted to believe me.
To give him a little credit, Ben Hathaway does like George. He likes me, too, for that matter. He wanted the killer to be someone else, but he had no reason to believe he'd arrested the wrong man.
Unlike me, Ben was not his own boss. Someone higher up called the shots and that someone wanted a quick solution to this incredibly thorny issue. Bringing down a powerful member of the opposite political party was, for Drake, a bonus that would give him the career boost he'd been seeking for years.
Ben looked past me through the glass partition on the top of his wall, and shook his head, negative. "I can't do it, Willa. I'm sorry. If President Benson himself asked me, I'd have to say no. I want to help you. But you can't just march in here, let God and everybody see you, and demand special treatment. I've got no discretion in this. The answer is no."
He did look sorry. He looked like a sorry S.O.B.
I tortured him with my best venomous stare. No impact.
"Ben, you disappoint me. I thought you had some integrity. I'd never have believed you'd be part of a plan to ruin my husband just for politics," I told him sorrowfully. Before I walked out, I said, "If you change your mind and develop some backbone, you know where to find me."
The doorknob turned in my hand and the door was forced open, making me lose my footing. I'd been facing Ben, turned away from the door. When I glanced back, I looked right into a hard brown glare from Michael Drake, State Attorney.
Drake was tall and wrinkled. His face resembled a Sharpei but his temperament was strictly Rotweiller. Drake had gotten where he was by tenacity and deference to those who could put him in office and keep him there. He was a party puppet, and everyone around here knew it. Michael Drake was motivated by one thing, and one thing only: shameless self-promotion.
"Hello, Judge Carson," he said to me, without an ounce of warmth.
The man was repulsive. Standing toe to toe, his eyes revealed the naked ambition that propelled him, a consuming fire that would burn everyone in his path.
"Michael," I said, refusing to give him the respect of his title or turn away from his searing gaze.
He stared me down a few moments longer with no effect before he gave up and turned to Hathaway.
"Why are you in closed session with the wife of an accused killer, Ben?"
Although there might have been legitimate reasons for me to be here, Drake made it sound like I was illegally or unethically in cahoots with Ben Hathaway.
The accusation stung, more so because I had, in fact, come here to ask Ben to do me a favor. I could feel the uncontrollable flush of embarrassment as it crept up my neck and into my cheeks.
But Ben's eyes narrowed and his nostrils flared. A different flush warmed his face, an angry one. Ben had refused my request for the file, not because he wanted to, but because he'd done Drake's bidding. Now, he was being falsely and openly accused of treachery. Drake's fire would burn Hathaway, and me, too, if that's what it took to move Drake ahead.
Drake had intentionally left the door open and Ben's outer office was stuffed with eavesdroppers. The exchange would be common gossip before the next hour had passed. Ben was seething; he clutched his fists by his side.
I cursed myself for coming here. Although I'd never thought I'd run into Drake at this hour, in retrospect, it had been a foolish risk.
Ben said nothing in answer to Drake's question, but the tension in the room jumped up several notches. No biting retort sprung to my lips.
I gathered all of my judicial dignity and left the junkyard dogs to fight among themselves. All eyes in Ben's outer office were on me as I exited the room. Walking down the hallway, waiting for the elevator, I heard Ben's office door slam closed and the two men shouting at each other, until the elevator doors closed behind me.
But I'd learned something.
Hathaway and Drake didn't agree on George's arrest. Otherwise, Drake wouldn't have accused Ben in front of me and other witnesses. Now, I knew that Ben had been leaning toward my point of view even before I arrived in his office. He could be persuaded to help us. It was a valuable piece of information. But was it enough?