Tracy Cavarella was her mother’s daughter in looks, if not in attitude. Petite and pretty, with softly-styled dark hair and huge blue eyes ringed with dark eyeliner and capped with soft, earth-toned eye-shadow, her mocha-tinted lips turned down in a frown, she stared warily at Chelsea as she entered the room.
“Kim said you wanted to see me.” Her tone was sullen, with an undisguised note of hope at the possibility Kim was mistaken. She paused in the doorway, looking ready to flee at any moment and then, when Chelsea showed no inclination to excuse her, sighed heavily and sank onto the edge of one lounge chair. “It’s about Mom, isn’t it?”
Chelsea nodded, and pity twinged her. This girl was facing not only the loss of her father, but the possibility of losing her mother as well. If anyone had a right to be wary of strangers, it was Tracy Cavarella. As Chelsea understood it, Tracy and her twin brother were sixteen, and Tracy, at least, was hoping for college, and the chance to have a career in surgical medicine. Privately, Chelsea thought Tracy Cavarella didn’t look strong enough to handle such a blood-and-guts career.
“My name is Chelsea, Tracy. I’m representing your mom in court. I’d like to know about your mom and dad, and I’d like you to tell me what you saw the day your dad died.”
Tracy’s mocha lips trembled, and her blue eyes filled with tears, before she turned her face away.
“It… it was horrible!” she murmured, shuddering. “Mom and Dad have been fighting a lot, lately, about stupid stuff. I mean, who cares if he’s seeing another woman, again? He’s been doing that for ages. But Mom went crazy on him that morning, screaming at him that she wasn’t going to take it anymore. Then she just took off. Dad was pretty pissed, and stormed out after her. All day, I kept worrying one of them was going to do something stupid. Then, when I came home…” She sucked in a sharp breath. “There she was, just hacking away at him. It was…” Tracy blanched, and then buried her face in her hands, sobbing.
Chelsea’s blood went cold. “You actually saw her stab him?”
Tracy nodded, sobbing, before she drew in several gulping breaths. “I screamed, and ran over here to call the cops. I was afraid she’d kill me, next, if I stayed there. She just flipped out!”
Chelsea’s stomach roiled queasily. The only eyewitness to the murder actually caught Marlene in the act of murdering her husband. What kind of trouble did she get herself into, this time? Biting back a disheartened groan, she dimly recalled her conversation with Justin Blakely, in the prison parking lot. He’d called her case a lost cause. Had he already known?
Clearing her throat, Chelsea reached out to pat Tracy’s shoulder. “All right. Thank you, Tracy. Do you know where I can find your brother?”
Tracy blinked, her tears abruptly halting. “Tim? Why would you want to talk to him?”
Her reaction struck Chelsea as odd. “I need to know what he saw, and what he knows.”
“He didn’t see anything!” Tracy snapped with a hostile, defensive glare. “I’m the one who saw it all!”
“Tracy,” Chelsea’s expression hardened. “I have to talk to everyone involved. It’s part of my job. Now, do you know where your brother is?”
Tracy looked away, pouting like a four-year-old. “He’s next door, in the greenhouse.”
“Thank you, Tracy,” Chelsea said, rising smoothly from her seat. “And I’m sorry about your father.”
The girl’s only response was an annoyed shrug. How odd.
The sound of the line ringing was a klaxon in her ear as she worried one dark-painted thumbnail.
“Come on. Come on. Pick up the phone,” she commanded in agitation, her gaze marking the progress of the redheaded suit through the back garden. No way was she going out on this one alone.
“Hello?” The sound of a familiar voice cut through her panic, but did nothing to slow the erratic bounce of her heart in her chest.
“They know!” She practically screamed the words, clutching the phone in both hands.
“Some lady who knows about Mom and Dad. She knows what I did!”
“That’s impossible. What did you tell her?”
“J-just what you said to tell anyone who asked. I swear.”
There was a long pause from the other end, and a new terror gripped her. What if they decided she was a liability?
“I don’t want to die,” she sobbed into the phone, pleading for her life.
“Oh, shut up,” the voice on the other end snapped. “You’re not going to die. Not as long as you do exactly as I tell you…”
As she listened to her new instructions, the girl wiped away her tears, leaving black smudges on her cheeks. She would follow the instructions she was given, to the letter. After all, she had school to pay for.
It shouldn’t seem so odd for Tracy Cavarella to be so reactionary, Chelsea reasoned as she walked toward the glass building to the right of the Cavarella house, just outside the police tape. Tracy was understandably shaken up, and Chelsea did her best to put herself into the girl’s shoes. To come home and find your mother stabbing your father to death would be a traumatic experience for anyone. Chelsea wondered if Tracy was receiving counseling. She’d have to ask Kim Manning.
If there was one thing her interview with Tracy hadn’t prepared her for, it was her meeting with Tracy’s twin. Shock reverberated through Chelsea. She didn’t know what she expected, but it certainly wasn’t this. Where Tracy was petite and delicate, Timothy Cavarella was tall and muscular, and Tracy’s emotional fragility was eerily missing from Timothy’s hardened, unflinching eyes. Though they were the same age, Timothy looked years older than his sister, and it probably had a lot to do with those eyes. They were a dark chocolate color reminiscent of Dominic Cavarella, though they lacked Dominic’s arrogance or cruelty. His hair was dark, like his sister’s, but longer and swept back in a short ponytail. He barely glanced at her, his attention riveted on the gangly tomato plants he was transplanting.
Chelsea bit back a smile. She knew a preoccupied greeting when she heard one. “Timothy, my name is Chelsea Hanover. I’m an attorney–“
“If you’re from the D.A.’s office, you’re wasting your time, Ms. Hanover. I’ll never cut a deal.”
Chelsea started. This wasn’t the response she expected. “Excuse me?”
“You won’t get me to testify against my mom. Your case is a bunch of bullshit, too, by the way.” He regarded her with a measured look before turning back to the plant, muttering, “No one’s gonna miss that no-good bastard, anyway.”
“I’m not with the D.A.,” she told him. “I’m representing your mother.”
He stopped then, turning to give her his complete attention. After studying her face for a long moment, he arched one brow in surprise. “You’re serious.”
“Very. I need to talk to you about your parents. I have to find a way to prove your mother didn’t kill your father.”
His answering laugh was cynical. “The idea’s ludicrous, lady. She didn’t do it, okay? Mom can’t stand the sight of bloody meat for very long, before she gets dizzy. If she was going to kill someone, she sure wouldn’t choose anything bloody.”
Chelsea sucked in a sharp breath, her pulse accelerating with hope. Timothy Cavarella just corroborated his mother’s story that she passed out from the smell. “Do you know where your mother was when your dad was stabbed?”
“Maybe.” He shrugged. “It doesn’t matter if I do, though. You can’t put me on the stand.”
His answering look telegraphed she was either crazy or stupid. “The D.A. would tear me, and Mom’s case, to shreds on the stand. I’ve got a record.” At her stunned look, he laughed sharply. “Yeah, a record. Geezus, lady, don’t you have anyone doing research?”
Chelsea bristled. “I’ve been trying to track people down since I took the case. I haven’t had a chance to check out backgrounds.”
He gave her a searching look, and then shook his head. “You do that, first. But trust me, you’ll have to dig deep. Dad was a goddamned bastard who made a lot of enemies. He deserved everything he got, too, but Mom would never have killed him, no matter how hard he pushed her.”
With that, he turned back to his plants, and Chelsea knew it was a hint for her to leave. But she had one more mystery to clear up. Taking a step closer, she said, “Tracy said she saw it all. She claims your mother killed him.”
Timothy grimaced, not bothering to look up from his task. “My sister has a lot of problems, Ms. Hanover. She’s hardly a reliable witness.”
He turned to pin her with his dark stare. “Tracy is lucky to know who she is, most days. She can hardly be counted on to remember an accurate detail about a crime scene.” He turned back to his plants again, dismissing her presence. “Good-bye, Ms. Hanover.”
It was an agonizing, question-filled drive back to the office, and none of the questions seemed to bring Chelsea any closer to the truth — just more questions. Unfortunately, she wasn’t a researcher, and she wasn’t good at digging up answers. Investigation was always Sally’s strength, and why Chelsea never wanted to defend a capital offence case. Capital cases were always full of difficult questions.
Again, Justin Blakely’s words came back to haunt her. You don’t like to risk losing.
“Damn,” she muttered, swiping with one hand at the tears stinging her eyes. What the hell was wrong with her, anyway? She hardly ever cried, and never over a case. But, for some reason, the idea of Justin reading her so accurately brought her to tears. Maybe because no one ever pierced her defenses so easily, before.
“This is stupid,” she chastised herself as she pulled into the parking garage of her office building. There was no way she let a Blakely get to her, again. “You’re just upset about the case.”
Timothy Cavarella’s words came back to her in a rush, along with all her unanswered questions. What had he been trying to tell her? She sensed he was hiding something important. What did he know about the murder? Who was he protecting? And why was everyone so certain Marlene couldn’t have killed Dominic except the eyewitness? Only Tracy claimed her mother to be mentally or emotionally disturbed enough to kill. But Timothy said Tracy was the unstable one. Just what the hell was going on in the Cavarella family?
Those questions stayed with Chelsea clear to her office. There, tossing her blazer over the back of one visitor’s chair, she grabbed the phone and punched the button for Tom Greene, the head of legal research.
“Tom, I need some help,” she said as she sank wearily into her seat.
“Sure thing, kid. What’s up?”
“I need anything you can get your hands on about Cavarella Enterprises, the Cavarella family, and a Linda Travis.”
There was a low whistle from the other end. “That’s a tall order, Chelsea. Our files on Cavarella Enterprises are quite extensive, and I’m sure there’s more we don’t have. Can you narrow the playing field a little?”
“Anyone who had a reason to want Dominic Cavarella dead ought to do it,” Chelsea said with weary humor. “Think you can do it?”
“I’m not a miracle worker,” he warned.
That slapped Chelsea’s brain into function. She was an idiot. She knew exactly who to ask.
“No.” She jerked upright in her seat as excitement bubbled through her. “But I know someone who is. Do what you can, okay, Tom?”
“You got it.” With that, the connection clicked off, and Chelsea punched the number for the one person she knew could help her.
The phone rang twice before it was picked up. “Hanover Investigations. How may I help you?”
“Hey, Sal. Where’s Martha?”
Sally laughed. “I sent her to nag Hal for some information I need. She’s probably enjoying every minute of it.” There was little love lost between Martha Kline and Detective Harold Pulowski, and Sally tended to use that relationship shamelessly.
“Someday, that’s going to bite you in the butt, girl,” Chelsea said wryly. “How’s the mommy-to-be?”
“Sick of not seeing my feet,” Sally said and sighed. “Do you know how hard it is to chase down suspects when you have to stop to pee every ten steps?”
Chelsea suppressed a chuckle. She’d been wondering when her highly athletic older sister was going to start complaining about her pregnancy. Sally was given to the dramatic when her independence was threatened. Then, noticing the line had gone silent, worry stabbed her. “Sally?”
“Chelsea, why are you calling me?”
“Can’t I call my sister, if I want to?”
There was an exasperated sigh from the other end of the phone. “Of course you can. But my sister only calls for a reason, and never in the middle of the workday. I know you too well, Chels. What’s wrong?”
“Okay, okay.” Chelsea sighed. “I need your help again, Sal. In the professional capacity.”
There was a sharp intake of breath from Sally’s end. “What’s happened?”
“Sally Anne Hanover, wipe that horrified look off your face this instant,” Chelsea chastised, humor edging her voice. Sally had a tendency of being overly suspicious. It made her a damned good detective, but left her prone to thinking the worst. In Chelsea’s opinion, Sally’s suspicious nature drove her sister away from Jack Carney. Chelsea’s smile fled.
“I’m not in any trouble, Sal. At least, not yet,” she amended wryly, even as a shudder lunged through her. “It’s about the Cavarella case. I need you to help me with some background checks.”
Sally made a confused sound. “That’s all? Chels, that’s what legal researchers are for. I swear someone was just bragging that Marshall, Bateman and Powell had the best in the business.”
“Tom’s looking into it, too,” Chelsea assured her, “but it’s a complicated case, and I thought you might be able to get your hands on the information faster. Besides, you have an infallible nose for when things aren’t right. Tom doesn’t.”
She heard Sally’s chuckle. “One of these days, I’m going to screw up big time, and you’re going to have to eat those words, sis.”
“Not you,” Chelsea teased back, even as sadness slipped through her. Sally made only one mistake in her life, in Chelsea’s opinion. She walked away from the only man she ever loved. “You’re invincible, sis.”
“Yeah, right. Hang on.” Chelsea smiled as she listened to the rustling sounds and muttering from the other end of the phone. Sally was forever losing her pens. It was funny to Chelsea, how a first–rate investigator like Sally could lose something as simple as a pen. After another minute of rustling sounds, Sally’s breathless voice returned. “Okay, I’m ready.”
Chelsea couldn’t hold back a chuckle. “Find a pen?”
She could picture Sally’s blush, even as she heard her sister laugh. “Yeah, finally. I swear, pregnancy’s made me more scatterbrained. If it wasn’t for Martha…”
Chelsea grinned. Martha Kline’s organizational skills were the only thing that stood between Sally’s office and total chaos. “What are you going to do when she wants to retire?”
“Find a quiet corner and go completely postal!” That comment brought back, with stabbing swiftness, Chelsea’s unsettling case.
“Don’t joke about that, Sal. Please.”
There was a long moment of silence, before Sally asked, “What do you want me to find out, Chels?”
“Anything you can about the Cavarella family. Something tells me there’re a lot of skeletons in this closet, but the damned door’s stuck. I can’t get anyone to talk.”
“Okay. I’ll see what I can find.”
Chelsea’s phone chirped then. “Thanks, Sal. I’ve got to go.”
“Okay. Take care. Come down and see me again, soon.” Sally’s cheerful voice signed off.
“Will do.” Chelsea punched the cut-off button, and then hit the blinking button on the console. “Chelsea Hanover.”
“Hey, kid,” Tom Greene’s excited voice boomed over the line. “I found something interesting. Are you sitting down?”
“Yeah. What do you have?”
“Seems young Timothy has quite a record. The D.A.’s office sent it over early this morning, claiming it was crucial to the case, whatever the hell that means. Apparently, my intern didn’t know what it meant, either, since it ended up in the bottom of a filing stack. I just got off the phone with the A.D.A., Blakely, and he seems convinced it’s worth you having a look at.”
Chelsea sighed. Was Blakely trying to make her life even more difficult than it already was? She wouldn’t put it past him. “I know about the record, Tom. Timothy confessed as much to me earlier.”
“He tell you what for?”
“No, just that he had one and it wouldn’t do any good to put him on the stand.” She rubbed her forehead as her head start to pound. It wasn’t even noon, yet. “Is it important?”
Tom uttered a short laugh of disbelief. “I’d say so. Seems our boy’s gotten himself arrested at least once for everything from possession to assault with the intent to cause bodily harm.”
Chelsea straightened abruptly, her headache pushed aside. “What?“
Now, her earlier conversation with Timothy Cavarella began to make a sickening kind of sense. Good god, was this going to turn out to be another case like the Menendez brothers in California?
“Yep,” Tom was saying as she turned her attention back to the conversation. “He apparently got into a fight about six months ago, and attempted to beat some drunken sod to death with a pool cue. Worked the guy — one Eric Leland — over real good before they were finally able to pull Cavarella off him.”
A quick temper, a tendency toward uncontrolled violence, and a deep grudge…
My father was a bastard who deserved everything he got.
Suddenly queasy, Chelsea realized why Timothy’s statement bothered her ever since he uttered it. It had the ring of an unrepentant confession.
“Oh my god,” she managed, the fine edge of panic pressing against her pulse.
“Chelsea?” Tom’s concerned voice reached through the panic, freeing her. “You all right?”
She swallowed hard, unprepared to voice her suspicions, yet. “Yeah, Tom. Thanks for letting me know. And see if you can find any skeletons in Tracy Cavarella’s closet, as well. Last thing I need is a spotless eyewitness who claims my client killed her own husband. Keep me posted on what else you find on the Cavarellas.”
“You got it.” He paused a moment, and Chelsea wondered if he’d hung up, until he quietly said, “Hang in there, kid. We’ll nail this one down sooner or later.”
Chelsea made a non-committal sound and hung up. Then, staring blankly at the phone, she knew that, no matter how soon they wrapped this up, she’d never be ready for the answer. She had a dreadful premonition the answer was far worse than anyone suspected.
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©2006 BURDEN OF PROOF BY ESTHER MITCHELL
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