COTW: Burden of Proof, Chapter 9

Chapter Nine

 

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.

“They?”

“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.

“Yeah?”

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.”

“Why not?”

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.”

“Problems?”

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.”

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.

 

Like what you’ve read so far? Consider donating to my fund in benefit of RAINN and The Rape Foundation. 50% of all proceeds will be divided between the charities and donated directly. 50% of the proceeds will go into a special fund to help with publication costs to get this book printed and more widely circulated, to further help these causes.                                       

BECOME A PATRON – DONATE HERE

 ©2006 BURDEN OF PROOF BY ESTHER MITCHELL

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. ANY UNLAWFUL REPRODUCTION, DUPLICATION OR PRESENTATION OF THIS MATERIAL WITHOUT THE EXPRESS, WRITTEN CONSENT OF THE AUTHOR IS SUBJECT TO PROSECUTION UNDER INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS LAWS.

Burden of Proof Final

COTW: Burden of Proof, Chapter 4

Chapter Four

Sunday, June 20

Maybe her case was a long shot, after all. Chelsea sighed heavily as she pulled into the almost-empty parking lot beside a large Victorian boasting a placard sign reading Hanover Investigations. It’d been a long, tense drive from Pittsburgh to the small town of Pierce, the usual hour-long trip elongated by the perpetual Pennsylvania construction. Now, looking up at the bright blue building before her, the weariness seeped from Chelsea, and a smile inched across her face. It would be good to see Sally again, even if it was on business.

Sliding from behind the wheel of her SUV, she grabbed her briefcase and squashed the fleeting wish business wasn’t what usually brought her home to Pierce. With a sigh, she strode up the brick sidewalk she and Sally helped their mother, Rebecca, lay a decade ago. Climbing the few wooden stairs to the porch, she pulled open the side door leading to Sally’s detective offices, and stepped into chaos.

Martha Kline, Sally’s ever-present and over-protective secretary, was muttering to herself as she rooted through reams of paperwork on her uncharacteristically messy desk. Behind her, file drawers stood open, and the phone on her desk continued to ring, ignored. Typically the calm center of any storm Sally created, Martha now looked frazzled and unhappy. Chelsea bit back a grin.

“Hi, Martha,” she said as she crossed the short length of the receptionist’s lobby. “Sally in?”

“She’s always in,” Martha complained, clearly not happy about that fact. “I know she only lives next door, but she shouldn’t be here. It isn’t right — a woman in her condition, working like this. She should be next door, with her feet propped up and a man to take care of her, not out chasing murderers and thieves!”

It was a common complaint of Martha’s these days that Sally shouldn’t be working while pregnant, but the edge of real worry in the older woman’s voice today wasn’t lost on Chelsea.

“Is she okay?” Worry knotted Chelsea’s brow. “Mom didn’t say anything about any problems, when I talked to her a few days ago.”

“Oh, she’s fine,” Martha said, then sighed, waving one hand dismissively. “We got a new case handed to us by one of Sally’s old bomb squad friends, and she refuses to take a break. Personally, I think it’s the whole baby thing. It’s just not right, you know.” Martha’s silver-haired head shook as she located a file and shoved it back into one drawer with more force than necessary. “In my day, when a fellow got some poor gal in the family way, he did the honorable thing, and married her.”

“Sally doesn’t–”

“Oh, I know, I know,” Martha waved off her protest. “She claims she’s happy, and this is how she wants it, but,” Martha shook her head again, her dark eyes telegraphing her disbelief, “I’ve caught her many times, sitting there staring out the window with a wistful, heartsick look on her face. She misses that boy, whoever he is.”

“Martha!” Sally’s voice called through the open office door. “You find that fax, yet? I need to call Jerianne and let her know where we are on this.”

“Just did, hon,” Martha called back. “You have a visitor.”

“Who?” Sally’s voice sounded wary, and a little wistful.

Taking her cue, Chelsea walked to the door, poking her head in to grin at the brunette woman seated behind the desk. “Hey, Sal!”

“Chelsea!” Sally’s face lit with a wide smile, turning her pretty face into the kind of beautiful that made even women take a second look. Chelsea shook her head, wondering how Jack Carney ever let her sister go. She doubted it was willingly, knowing Sally. “Come on in, sis. God, it’s good to see you.”

“It’s been less than a week,” Chelsea quipped, laughing, as she made her way through the perpetual clutter that was Sally’s office. Her sister had never been the domesticated type. “I thought pregnant women were supposed to go through a nesting phase, Sal, not a pack rat one. What’s all of this stuff?”

“Hazards of the job.” Sally grinned, but the motion looked forced. “New case.”

“So Martha said.” Chelsea looked at her sister in worry. “Are you sure you should be doing this, Sally?”

“Not you, too,” Sally groaned, rolling her eyes. “Mom’s been over here three times already today, pestering me to come back home and rest, and Martha keeps muttering about working too much in my ‘state’.” She sighed. “Look, I appreciate the concern; really. But I’m only three months along. I can’t exactly sit around for the next seven months, waiting for this kid to get born. I need to work.”

Chelsea heard what her sister wasn’t saying. At barely three months pregnant, Sally was right. She was fully capable, physically, of working. Her emotional state was far more worrisome. Sally just wasn’t the same since she came home from Houston a month and a half ago. “Have you decided what you’re going to do, yet?”

“No.” Sally sighed again, resting one hand against her still-flat midsection. “I have the paper’s number tacked up beside the phone, next door, but I’m not sure I can actually use it. I mean, what do I say? ‘Hi, I’m sorry I left you in Houston. Oh, and by the way, you’re going to be a daddy’? Like he’s going to believe that, or even care. I was a one-night stand, Chels. We agreed–”

“But you’re in love with him,” Chelsea argued. “And your baby deserves to know a daddy. We both went through the fatherless thing, sis, and I don’t want my niece or nephew to go through that.”

Sally’s gaze turned steely. “Neither do I, Chels, but I don’t have much of a choice. Better no father than an indifferent one. Jack probably doesn’t even remember Houston.”

Chelsea bit her lip. Sally was deliberately selling herself short. Her relationship with Jack Carney was only three months ago. From the way Sally talked about her time with Jack, when she talked about him at all, Chelsea doubted either one would ever forget Houston.

Knowing it was none of her business, Chelsea sighed in surrender. “It’s your call, sis. Just promise me you’ll at least call me before you leave for the hospital.”

A grin flashed across Sally’s face. “Now, why would I go into labor without my coach? You think I want to go through this alone?”

No, she didn’t, which was the problem. Sally was terrified of pregnancy, and even more of being a parent. She needed Jack to reassure her she could do it, but her sister was too damn stubborn for her own good, sometimes. So, covering her worry with a grin, Chelsea said, “You can’t convince me you’re a wimp, Sally Hanover. I’m your sister. I know you too well.”

“Yeah, you do.” Sally’s smile turned wistful. “We still on for Thursday?”

Chelsea grinned. Ever since they were teenagers, they had set a standing “Sister Night” for every Thursday night. Whenever they were in the same town, they never missed. “Wouldn’t miss it!”

Sally gave her a long, penetrating look. Chelsea resisted the urge to wince. She knew her attempt at a cheery mood wouldn’t fool Sally for long. “What’s with you? When you were down last week, you didn’t look so… tense.”

Unbidden, the memory of Justin’s kiss rose in Chelsea’s mind, making her chest tight and heat flush through her. Tense wasn’t the word for it. Under Sally’s speculative gaze, she forced nonchalance and shrugged. “I had a run-in with the ADA over a new case I’m working. I guess the whole thing just has me stressed.”

Sally laid down her pen and gestured for Chelsea to take a seat. Chelsea did, settling back with a weary sigh.

“This case is driving me nuts, Sal, and I only just got it,” she admitted, closing her eyes. “Most of the clear physical evidence points to my client being guilty, but my gut’s telling me exactly the opposite. There’s some questionable evidence, but nothing anyone’s been able to pin down, yet.”

“Trust your instincts. Yours have always been really good.”

“Not always,” she countered, new tension rising in her as she reminded them both of the only time she let her guard down.

“You have got to quit beating yourself up over that, Chels,” Sally said firmly. “Wasn’t enough damage done, without you adding to it?”

Chelsea sighed heavily. “I know. I just… this case keeps bringing so much of that back up in my mind, I guess.”

Sally’s expression grew concerned. “This the murder splashed all over the news, lately?”

“I’m representing Marlene Cavarella. She’s been charged with stabbing her husband, Dominic, sixty-four times, leading to his death.”

Sally whistled. “That’s a lot of overkill. What’s the evidence look like?”

“She was found laying, semi-conscious but unharmed, beside her husband’s body, his blood all over her, and the murder weapon clutched so tightly in her hand that the paramedics had to pry her fingers loose.”

Sally winced. “So far, it doesn’t sound like a great case, for you.”

“I know,” Chelsea said glumly. “But Marlene claims she’s innocent. She even gave me an alibi to check out, and a play-by-play of her whereabouts the entire day.” She frowned. “Sal, she has victim written all over her.”

“So, you’ve got an alibi. Didn’t it check out?”

Chelsea grimaced.

“That’s part of why I came to see you, actually.” She snapped open her briefcase and withdrew the photographs and file it contained. “If you’re not too busy, I need your help tracking down a witness. Her name’s Linda Travis, and she’s been missing for almost over two weeks.”

Sally frowned at the items Chelsea held out. “Chels, this is a matter for the police…”

“They’ve been informed,” Chelsea assured her, then sighed. “But they said they can’t do anything as long as there’s no solid proof she didn’t just leave on her own. They claim there’s no evidence of foul play.”

“And you’re sure she didn’t?”

“Sally, you said to trust my gut. Well, since I got out of the car at the Travis place, all it’s been screaming is kidnapped! Someone wants Marlene to take the fall for Dominic’s murder.”

Sally nodded grimly, taking the file. “I’ll look into it. I have a few contacts in the Pittsburgh area. I’ll see if I can’t get an official investigation rolling.”

“Thanks, Sally,” Chelsea said with a small exhalation of relief. “You have no idea how much this case means to me.”

Sally studied her shrewdly. “Oh, I think I do. But, Chels,” she leaned forward. “Be careful about playing with fire. You’re liable to get burned.”

“Speaking of playing with fire, there’s something else.”

Sally’s concerned frown deepened. “What’s that?”

“Do you still have that friend at the forensic lab, down south?”

“Joyce?” Sally nodded. “Yeah, why?”

“Could you talk to her about getting some evidence tested? I can provide the samples.”

“I can ask.” Sally shrugged. “But rumor has it the pathologist who runs the lab is a real hard-ass about evidence collection. Why don’t you save yourself the trouble, and just use one of the private labs your firm already has on retainer?”

Chelsea shook her head. She already considered — and discarded — that idea.

“This case is already a media circus. I need a lab the media won’t find out we’re doing testing at, too. It lowers the chance of some reporter getting hold of the results and contaminating my case before trial.”

“Okay. I’ll call Joyce and see if she can send me their collection requirements and procedures.”

Chelsea relaxed. Maybe her case wasn’t as hopeless as she feared.

Like what you’ve read so far? Consider donating to my fund in benefit of RAINN and The Rape Foundation. 50% of all proceeds will be divided between the charities and donated directly. 50% of the proceeds will go into a special fund to help with publication costs to get this book printed and more widely circulated, to further help these causes.

BECOME A PATRON – DONATE HERE

©2006 BURDEN OF PROOF BY ESTHER MITCHELL
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
ANY UNLAWFUL REPRODUCTION, DUPLICATION OR PRESENTATION OF THIS MATERIAL WITHOUT THE EXPRESS, WRITTEN CONSENT OF THE AUTHOR IS SUBJECT TO PROSECUTION UNDER INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS LAWS.

Burden of Proof Final

COTW: Burden of Proof, Chapter 2

Chapter Two

Friday, June 4
 9:30 AM

 

“I’m telling you, I didn’t kill my husband!”

Justin Blakely, Allegheny County Executive Assistant District Attorney, traded skeptical glances with Detective George Talbot, and anger slashed through him. He was less convinced of Marlene Cavarella’s innocence, if that was possible, than he had been when she was booked yesterday afternoon.

“Mrs. Cavarella,” he cut her off as he rose from his seat to pace about the room, “you were found with the murder weapon and the body, covered in your husband’s blood. Do you really expect us to believe you had nothing to do with what happened to him?”

Huge blue eyes filled with tears, and a dark head Justin was certain came straight from a bottle dropped into her hands as she sobbed brokenly. Marlene Cavarella was one hell of an actress, he acknowledged sourly, but all the tears in the world weren’t going to sway him.

“Oh, cut it out!” He slapped his hands down on the metal table. She jumped, her eyes wide in fear. Justin frowned. What the hell? “The waterworks aren’t helping your case, lady.”

“Find Officer Martin Kopinski,” she implored Talbot, turning her broken gaze on the veteran detective. “He’ll tell you. I’d never k-kill my hus…band.”

A low curse of frustration left Justin and he plowed one hand through his hair as she started sobbing again. He was just about to launch into a full-blown tirade when an icy voice broke in.

“Well, I guess some things never change. Still resorting to scare tactics, Counselor?”

Justin’s glare snapped to the doorway. He froze as he locked gazes with the new arrival, those electric-blue eyes like a sucker punch to the chest, knocking the wind from him. Her!

She was slim, but curvy, encased in a conservative powder-gray business suit and spectator pumps that still managed to show off enough of her long, shapely legs he was sure that outfit should be illegal. Coppery hair fell in a riot of curls over her shoulders, and one fine-boned hand clutched a dark leather briefcase so tightly he was surprised it didn’t shake with the strain.

But her eyes were what held Justin spellbound. They were eyes he fantasized about since the Fairman trial, two years ago. He never expected to see them, or her, again. Especially not like this. Lightning blue, and currently glaring back at him as if he was the most vile creature on Earth.

“What the hell are you doing here?” he snapped, scowling to cover his runaway pulse.

Her answering laugh was mocking.

“Why doesn’t it surprise me you’ve already forgotten I’m a defense attorney, Mr. Blakely? Naturally you’d want to forget about Chad Fairman, and the one smudge on your spotless record, wouldn’t you?” She snorted derisively. “Of course, you tried this very same tactic on that poor kid, whose only crime was running away from an abusive parent.”

He stared at her, thunderstruck by the suffusion of passionate rage on her classically beautiful features. He could have argued, turned her words back on her. He could have admitted he’d been unable to forget the Fairman case, unable to forget her, for all the trying he’d done in the past two years. Damn, but she was beautiful when she was furious. Even as the thought crossed his mind, a sharp retort sprang defensively to his lips.

“Well, if it isn’t the crusading Counselor Hanover. What brings you to the lock-up? Finally get arrested for contempt of court?”

 

Chelsea watched the smug little smile tug at Blakely’s lips, and the anger she held under tight control since walking in to find him bullying her client erupted.

“I’m Marlene Cavarella’s attorney.” Her glare raked over both men like striking lightning. “You gentlemen should have waited for me. Mrs. Cavarella isn’t required to answer a single question without legal counsel present, and you,” she fixed her scathing gaze on Justin’s bland expression, “should have known better than to badger my client. Or are you Blakelys all above the law you cherish so damned much?”

Justin snapped upright, contempt flaring in his green eyes at her accusation. He glared at her for a long moment, and then bit out a sharp bark of laughter, startling the bewildered-looking woman seated at the table.

“I was not, as you so eloquently put it, ‘badgering’ your client, Hanover. Detective Talbot and I were merely–”

“Trying to intimidate a confession out of an obviously-distraught woman,” Chelsea snapped, her tone dripping disdain, and watched Talbot shift as if his seat was uncomfortable. Triumph flared in her as she turned back to Justin. “Or am I misreading the detective’s squirming?”

“Now, wait just one damn minute,” Blakely protested, before his expression went as cold as she felt. “Can I speak to you?”

She raised a brow. She had to maintain the upper hand, here, if she had any chance of surviving this ordeal without some kind of break down. Her heart was already beating too fast. “Sounds like that’s what you’re already doing.”

Those intense eyes narrowed. Uh-oh. She already knew from the Fairman trial it was a bad sign when his gaze went intense like that. “Outside, Counselor.”

Chelsea debated the wisdom of following his request. One glance at her client told her Marlene Cavarella couldn’t handle the argument sure to come. Meeting Blakely’s gaze again, she nodded, and turned toward the door. Shock plunged through her as he grasped her arm, and she tried to jerk away. His grip tightened ever so slightly, and she gritted her teeth, knowing she couldn’t react without creating a scene. Once they were outside the door, however, he was a dead man.

 

Even before the door finished closing, Chelsea glared frostily up at him and demanded, “Remove your hand this instant, Counselor.”

God, but she was a beauty, Justin thought as he studied her flashing eyes. Too bad she was more mercurial than a damned thermometer. Irritated with himself for his fascination, Justin couldn’t resist a taunting, “Or what?”

“Or I will remove it, and you, permanently,” she retorted with a sharp yank of her arm.

Justin tightened his grip, but eased up when she winced in pain. “That sounds dangerously like the textbook definition of a terroristic threat, Hanover.”

“And you’re treading perilously close to assault,” she shot back, her gaze going pointedly to his hand on her arm. “Not that I’m surprised.”

A dangerous smile curved on his lips as an idea for putting her off-balance, while satisfying his raging curiosity, came to him. “In that case…”

Before Chelsea had time to realize what he was up to, he dragged her against himself and smothered her angry protest in a kiss damned close to incendiary, he decided as he drank in the sweet taste of her lips. She brought her hands up, and for an instant, he thought she’d save them both, and push him away. Instead, those hands ended up clenched in the lapels of his black suit jacket, as a soft sigh betrayed her.

Justin was shell-shocked. He wondered what it would be like to kiss her for nearly two years, fantasizing over what she’d taste like. None of his fantasies ever came close to the reality in his arms now, her mouth fused to his and her body plastered against him in a passionate response that knocked his experienced socks off. She tasted fresh and new, like a field of wildflowers after a summer storm, and her scent was apples and roses, surprisingly soft and innocent for such a driven woman.

Because he wanted to tear off those all-business clothes of hers and see if she was as soft and hot underneath as she was hard and cool in the courtroom, he took a mental step back, and pulled away from her. The dazed expression on her face made him chuckle, happy to have rattled her.

“So, Counselor, still think you can make those charges stick?”

He knew he was baiting her. He also knew Chelsea wouldn’t disappoint — she had too much passion buttoned up tight inside that prim little suit coat to not rise to the fight. Even as the words left his mouth, he watched ice-cold fury slice away the haze in Chelsea’s eyes. He tried to let her go; he really should. But the warmth of her, and the soft texture of cloth and warm female body conspired against him, and his hands refused to release her. With a gasp of outrage, she took the choice away from him, yanking away. Her palm connected with his face hard enough to burn.

“If you have anything to discuss with me or my client in the future, save it for the courtroom.”

With that, Chelsea spun on her heel and marched back into the interrogation room. As he watched her go, Justin realized he just made the biggest tactical mistake of his entire career.

Staring after Chelsea, Justin wondered what it would be like to actually get to know her. He’d seen her in court — the cool, imperious beauty whose faith in her clients’ innocence was unshakable, and far too often right. Her flashing eyes and sexy lips hinted at a woman hell-bent on mischief lurking somewhere under all that conviction. The passionate way she returned his kiss…

He wondered what other fascinating secrets she hid behind that all-business exterior of hers. One thing was for certain. Keeping up with her was going to be exhausting — just keeping a step ahead of her mercurial moods would require superhuman strength. How could one woman be so perfectly poised, and so supremely irritating at the same time?

She accused him of bullying the prisoner. Him. Had any other attorney leveled the accusation at him, he’d laugh it off, aware his pristine reputation for adhering to the letter of the law was in no danger. But something about Chelsea Hanover made it impossible to find the notion amusing. Her earnestness and complete lack of guile were an oddity in the business of criminal defense.

He witnessed, firsthand, how those same qualities served her in the courtroom. The results were staggering. Chelsea believed in her client’s innocence, and her unwavering faith spoke volumes to a jury. No matter the evidence, in the end Chelsea poked holes in the prosecution’s theories.

Grudgingly, he admitted she was right about Chad Fairman. The poor kid was set up from the beginning, and only Chelsea believed him, until she gave the most brilliant cross-examination Justin ever saw, and brought Chad’s abusive father to a tearful confession, right there on the stand.

That was when the fantasy began, Justin acknowledged, swallowing hard as he clamped down on his libido. From the moment Chelsea turned from the stand with that blazing look of triumph on her face, he was lost. He couldn’t admit just how much he wanted her, and nor could he approach her. They occupied different worlds, which only crossed at points like this one, leaving them no room to be anything more than adversaries.

Not this time, he decided fiercely as he reached for the door handle. He wouldn’t let her slip away on him again. He didn’t see belief in her eyes when she stormed into Interrogation, and he noticed the slight hesitance in her voice when she proclaimed herself Marlene Cavarella’s attorney. She wasn’t convinced of the woman’s innocence, either, and he planned to use her doubt.

As he opened the door, Justin suppressed a grin at the cool ultimatum Chelsea was in the process of issuing to a haggard-looking Talbot.

“–I will not allow my client to speak with you until then, Detective, so you might as well accept it. I want to speak with her now, before she answers another of your questions.”

“Ms. Hanover, please,” Talbot calmly tried to head off the storm. “It’s police procedure. We–”

“The Miranda Warning specifically states she isn’t required to answer a single question without legal consultation,” Chelsea brushed his explanation off, her back ramrod straight. It was obvious she was taking out her anger at him on Talbot.

“She’s right,” Justin broke in as Talbot opened his mouth in protest. “Mrs. Cavarella has both the right to silence and to an attorney. We’ve got lots of time. We can let her confer with her lawyer first.”

Chelsea turned, eyes wide in surprise for an instant, before she recovered. Her surprise bothered him. Did she think he would violate the law just to win? The mere idea she might was insulting. He was very aware of the law, and he wasn’t about to prove her earlier accusation right. The triumph on Chelsea’s face as she gave him a curt nod, then turned her glare back to Talbot, fascinated him. Just what was she trying to prove?

“If you gentlemen will excuse us, my client and I have some talking to do.”

Talbot rose from his seat and left, but not without a wary glance at the prisoner. Justin, taking a step toward Chelsea, leaned to murmur in her ear, “I’ll concede this battle, Counselor, but choose your future battles carefully, because I intend to win the war.”

With that, he turned and followed Talbot out of the room. But not before he caught the flicker of relief on Marlene Cavarella’s haunted face.

*****

Now, just what in God’s name was that all about? Chelsea wondered as she turned to frown at the closed door. Blakely made it sound like he was doing her a favor, rather than following a well-established principle of law. Weary, she decided she most likely didn’t want to know. Turning back to Marlene, she gave the other woman a brief smile.

“I’m sorry you had to be put through that display, Mrs. Cavarella. I’m sure you’re under enough pressure without having to deal with any unnecessary stress. My name is Chelsea Hanover. I was told you requested my services yesterday evening.”

The petite, pretty woman at the table nodded miserably. “Nick always said you were the best. He told me to call you if anything ever… if I needed… if…”

Every ounce of strength seemed to desert the tiny woman, and her calm poise of a moment ago evaporated. Burying her face in her trembling hands, she sobbed uncontrollably; great, heaving sobs that looked enough to tear her apart. Compassion flooded Chelsea, and she moved to sit beside Marlene, placing a comforting hand on the older woman’s shoulder.

Marlene Cavarella didn’t look like a murderer, or like she’d ever have been able to hold down and stab her six-foot-four-inch, two hundred-fifty pound husband. She was tiny, like a fragile china doll, and Chelsea doubted she weighed more than a hundred pounds. If the murder happened as the police report laid it out, then Marlene would have to have been acting in an emotional frenzy, which meant she was provoked.

Reaching into her briefcase, Chelsea drew out her digital recorder and a notepad and pen. Turning on the recorder, she gently rubbed the sobbing woman’s shoulder. “Tell me what happened.”

Marlene nodded, making a valiant effort to pull herself together, but her lips continued to tremble as she haltingly began. “My husband and I had a fight yesterday morning.”

Chelsea started, surprised. Was she hearing the beginnings of a murder confession? Please, God, don’t let it be!

“It was such a stupid fight. I don’t even know why we were arguing.” She looked up at Chelsea with weary blue eyes. “All we seem to do, anymore, is argue.”

“What did you argue about?”

A bitter laugh answered her. “Anything and everything. The kids. Work. Some woman he’s been seeing on the sly.” She shrugged helplessly. “Everything was falling apart. Nick was always working, Tim was in trouble constantly, and neither one of them would listen to me. So when Nick made a comment about having to work late last night, I guess I just lost it. I demanded he stop lying to me and just admit he’s been seeing some woman from the studio. He denied it, yelled at me about doubting him. I don’t know what else was said. We just screamed at each other.”

“And then what?” Chelsea prompted, her stomach knotted in dread.

“And then I left.” Marlene shrugged.

Chelsea blinked, hard. “You left?”

The older woman nodded. “I just picked up my coat and purse and walked out the door. I was afraid he might hit me if I stayed, with the mood he was in.”

Chelsea sucked in a sharp breath. “He hit you? Before, I mean?”

A half-shrug answered her.

“Marlene,” Chelsea pressed her fingers against the other woman’s shoulder, “you have to tell me. If he hit you anytime, it’s important I know.”

“Yes.” The word came out faint, barely more than a whispered breath. “He didn’t use to, but over the past year, Nick’s been… different. Tense and easily upset — moody all the time. He never talks anymore, unless we argue.” She sucked in a pained breath, fighting tears. “I was afraid of him, but he made me so angry, too. I had to leave.”

Chelsea nodded. “Where did you go?”

“To a friend’s house.”

“Can you give me a name?”

“Linda. Linda Travis. She owns Travis Catering. She’s my best friend.”

Chelsea allowed herself a small smile. At least she would have an easy time verifying part of Marlene’s story. “What did you do at Linda’s?”

“Talked. I told her about the trouble Nick and I have been having. Then we went shopping. I bought a…” she stopped, color flooding her cheeks, before she continued in a whisper, “I bought a new nightgown. I thought, maybe Nick would like it… you know… maybe we could get our marriage back on track.”

Chelsea smiled, vindicated. A woman who couldn’t hide her embarrassment over buying sexy lingerie would never be able to hide her mortification over committing murder. “That sounds like a good idea to me.”

Marlene gave her a teary smile. “That’s what Linda said, too.”

“What time did you return home?”

Marlene smiled again. “It was just shortly before two in the afternoon. I remember because I was thinking the kids wouldn’t be home for nearly an hour, when I saw Nick’s car in the driveway. I thought, maybe he’d come home to apologize, hoping I’d be there.”

“And then what?”

Marlene swallowed hard, her cobalt eyes going wide in horrified memory. “I walked into the living room, and… and…” Her lips trembled, and her face went ashen as her hands started to shake violently. “There was Nick, laying on the floor, with his chest all bloody, and one of my best kitchen knives sticking out of his chest.”

Chelsea reached out, placing her hands comfortingly over Marlene’s. “I know it’s hard to talk about, but I need to know everything that happened, exactly as it happened.”

Marlene swallowed again, fighting for composure, and steadily losing as her eyes became huge and haunted.

“I… I didn’t know what to do,” she whispered. “I ran to him, screaming his name. He opened his eyes… looked right at me, and said…” she stopped, looking away for a moment. “I don’t remember what he said. I was too busy trying to stop the bleeding. I thought, maybe… I thought if I took the knife out of his chest, he’d be able to breathe easier.”

Chelsea’s breath caught. Could the explanation be so easy? “Go on.”

“When… when I pulled it out, Nick started gagging… turning purple. I panicked. I kept trying to stop the bleeding, pressing on his chest with my hands. But…” her huge blue eyes lifted to Chelsea’s face, imploring. “The blood made me dizzy, the smell, I guess. I don’t remember anything after that, except Tracy screaming.”

“Tracy’s your daughter?” Chelsea already knew the answer; she’d studied everything in the file she’d wrangled out of research before leaving the office last evening. The Cavarellas had two children – twins. Timothy and Tracy both just turned sixteen.

Marlene nodded, a small smile flitting over her lips. “Yes.”

“What time was it, when you woke up? Do you remember at all?”

Marlene nodded timidly. “It was five o’clock. Time to make Nick’s dinner. He always eats at six, on the dot. I remember I looked at the clock, and thought I better start dinner, or he’d be…” Tears welled in her eyes. “He’d be mad.”

Chelsea sighed. It all sounded so innocent, but there was something strange about the whole picture.

“Did you call nine-one-one?”

“I…” Marlene’s gaze faltered. “No. It never occurred to me.”

Her ashen features as she admitted to that one small error convinced Chelsea Marlene was telling the truth. She was innocent. A woman who looked that guilty for not calling an ambulance and went so irrational as to be worried about cooking a dead man dinner would never be capable of carrying out the bloody kind of execution performed on Dominic Cavarella. With a reassuring smile, Chelsea squeezed Marlene’s hands.

“It’s okay. I’m sure the shock made thinking difficult. Don’t worry; I’m going to help you.”

 

Like what you’ve read so far? Consider donating to my fund in benefit of RAINN and The Rape Foundation. 50% of all proceeds will be divided between the charities and donated directly. 50% of the proceeds will go into a special fund to help with publication costs to get this book printed and more widely circulated, to further help these causes.

BECOME A PATRON – DONATE HERE

©2006 Burden of Proof by Esther Mitchell
All Rights Reserved
Any unlawful reproduction, duplication or presentation of this material without the express, written consent of the author is subject to prosecution under Intellectual Property Rights laws.

Burden of Proof Final

COTW: Burden of Proof, Chapter 1

Chapter One

 

Offices of Marshall, Bateman & Powell
Pittsburgh
June 3
5:30 PM

With a weary sigh, Chelsea Hanover pressed slim fingers to her throbbing head and willed her raging migraine to disappear. She didn’t have time for this. Philip Myers went to trial for armed robbery and assault in less than three days, and she’d yet to find a single loophole in the prosecution’s case.

Pushing her fingers through her long, copper-colored curls, she scowled at the files spread open on her desk.

“Damn it, Jerry!”

She told him this case was a bad idea. Never mind the partners forbade him to take it. Being Jerry, he naturally ignored her advice and the instructions of two of the firm’s senior partners, and — no surprise — the case blew up in his face.

Chelsea’s stomach heaved, and she could hear her sister’s chastising voice, reminding her stress could kill her. Sally was convinced her younger sister’s problems would be solved if Chelsea just slowed down. The thought made her ill.

Or maybe she was ill because she’d consumed nothing except half a cup of coffee and a stale doughnut since six this morning. The mere thought of food brought a protesting heave from her knotted stomach.

Just what she needed to end up a hellish Thursday. A bodily mutiny.

What she needed, Chelsea conceded, as her vision blurred from exhaustion, was some kind of evidence that put Myers elsewhere at the time of the robbery. Lacking that, she reached for her trusty bottle of aspirin. She grimaced as she washed several down with a gulp of cold coffee.

A rap at the frosted-glass office door rescued her from the sea of paperwork on her desk.

“Come in.”

The door opened, and Gene Marshall poked his balding head through the opening. “Got a minute, Chelsea?”

A warm smile tugged at her lips. Gene wasn’t just her boss. He was her mentor and adoptive uncle, and one of the very few men she trusted.

“Sure, Gene. I’m just going over the Myers case one last time.”

His frown reminded her none of the senior partners were happy with Jerry Merrick’s decision to take on the case in the first place. If it failed, it would make the entire firm look bad.

From what she saw, it would fail. Miserably.

“Give it back to Merrick,” Gene growled, shutting the door behind himself. “You’re working too hard on an airtight loss. The partners have had a meeting, and we’ve decided to let Jerry sink or swim on his own. If he pulls it off, great. If not, it gives him his third strike and gets him tossed out on his ear. We should have done it a long time ago.”

Chelsea’s brow furrowed. “Why are you telling me this, Gene?”

He shrugged. “I know you, kiddo. You’ll feel guilty if it fails. Which it probably will.”

A wry smile tugged at her lips. “Is that what you came in here for? A pep talk?”

He paused, his expression uncomfortable. “Actually, no. A big case just landed in the firm’s lap, and the partners agree. We want you to handle it.”

The knot in her stomach tightened. Was Gene actually trying to sell her on a case with flattery? He knew that crap was lost on her. The one and only time he’d tried and succeeded before now ended up being a very messy kidnapping case she almost lost, even though her client was actually innocent. “What kind of case?”

“A big one.” Gene skimmed a file across the mess on her desk. “Murder One.”

Chelsea’s blood froze in her veins. First degree murder? Dear God, he wasn’t suggesting that she, a junior partner, handle another capital case, was he?

“You’re kidding.”

He sighed. “Unfortunately, no. I know you said you didn’t want any more capital cases after the Brantley kidnapping, but this case is just too important, and you have the best track record of all the junior partners.”

Resignation flooded her. The partners handpicked her for this case, so she didn’t have much of a choice. She might as well hear him out. “What’s the story?”

“I’m not entirely sure. The woman’s name is Marlene Cavarella. They arrested her this afternoon, and details are still sketchy. According to Eleanor, she was incoherent when she called.”

“Incoherent?” Chelsea thumbed the edge of the file and shot a curious glanced at Gene. “How?”

“From crying, not intoxication. Eleanor said she was pretty close to hysterical, on the phone. Lucky us, to be the family law firm.”

“That seems odd for someone facing a Murder One charge.” Chelsea’s brow furrowed as something he said sank in. “Cavarella? As in Dominic Cavarella, of Cavarella Enterprises?”

“Yeah.” Gene settled his five-foot-ten-inch frame into one of the plush leather chairs opposite her. “Small world, huh? We handle all their corporate legalities.”

Chelsea nodded absently. She handled three of the well-known advertising agency’s legal disputes over the past two years, herself. She even met “The Big Man,” as Gene called him, once. Dominic Cavarella struck her not as awe-inspiring, but downright intimidating. He made her skin crawl. She frowned. She had way too much experience with powerful men to ever trust one.

“So who is Marlene?”

Gene laughed in disbelief. “You really need to get out more, kiddo! Marlene’s the Big Man’s wife.”

Chelsea’s head snapped up, even as she opened the file he’d tossed her. “Cavarella’s wife? Who’s the victim?”

Even as she asked, the answer stared up at her from the open file in her hands. Chelsea’s breath rushed out on a quiet curse. “She offed her husband?”

“Sam Spade, I presume,” Gene intoned wryly, but nodded. “Yeah, the victim was Cavarella himself. According to the police, there were sixty-four separate stab wounds to his chest and upper abdomen. The detective I spoke with said he figures Cavarella was dead long before she stopped hacking at him.”

Chelsea winced at his indelicate choice of words. Gene wasn’t one to sugarcoat. “So why me?”

Gene’s expression was sympathetic as he rose to his feet. “She asked specifically for you. I figure she heard her husband talk about your handling of the past couple of corporate cases. It’s not likely she’d distinguish between cases.”

Chelsea sighed as she closed the file. “Exactly what do you expect me to do? The woman was literally caught red-handed, if these reports are to be believed.”

“The question is, are they?” He shrugged. “Check it out. Talk to her, at least. She claims she’s innocent, and the firm trusts your judgment enough to give you free rein either way you go. If you feel the case isn’t worth the risk after you’ve talked with her, we’ll simply farm it out to the Public Defender.”

She sighed, pressing her fingers to her forehead again. “All right, Gene. I’ll head over there first thing in the morning. Where’s she being held?”

“Allegheny County Jail, at least until the arraignment.”

She nodded as she rose to her feet. “Got it. Do we have any idea who the District Attorney’s picked for the case, yet?”

Gene’s grimace stopped her halfway up, and ice trickled through her. Prosecutors never bothered Gene; he didn’t look at them with the same distaste many defense attorneys did.

“Gene? What is it?”

“More like ‘who’,” he muttered as he met her eyes. “Rumor has it Martin’s giving the case to the Executioner.”

The blood drained from her head so fast it made her dizzy, and she sank back into her chair as an image flashed before her eyes of dark blond hair, clean-cut good looks, and green eyes so intense they could pierce her to the soul from a yard away. She could barely draw a breath as she croaked out a single word. “Blakely.”

Gene nodded glumly. “From what I hear, that man’s been looking for a rematch ever since you trumped him at the Fairman trial, two years ago.”

She managed a wan smile. “I didn’t trump him — the evidence did. Chad was innocent. Even the Executive Assistant District Attorney can’t be right all the time.”

Gene snorted a laugh. “So far, you’re the only one who’s managed to prove that theory. His record for convictions was spotless, until you came along. Damn him, and his absolute devotion to the law.” A rueful smile flickered across his face, then. “Unfortunately, it works all too well for him.”

Chelsea’s heart stuck in her throat as she recalled the first and only time she faced Justin Blakely in court. It was the first time she was terrified since Rob tore away her innocence, and her sense of safety, in college. The idea of being in the same courtroom with another Blakely, and one fed with a silver spoon so like Rob’s, made her physically ill. She kept seeing the judge who turned her personal horror into living Hell. When she saw Justin, the first day, the sensation slammed into her, and rocked her clear off her game. No one knew how close to losing that case she came. No one knew how much his soul-piercing gaze rattled her. God, how would she ever face him again?

“You okay, kiddo?” Gene’s worried voice broke through her thoughts, banishing Justin’s face from her mind. She nodded. She could do this. She wasn’t a thunderstruck rookie, anymore. Her record was even more impressive than Blakely’s. After all, she hadn’t lost a case, yet.

Gene, halfway to the door, turned to give her another concerned glance. “You look like hell, Chelsea. You’re only twenty-four, for God’s sake. You need to slow down. Do yourself a favor, and get some rest before you tackle this one. The D.A.’s office is having a psychologist sent over from Western Psychiatric tomorrow afternoon, to see if Marlene’s even fit to stand trial. Save yourself the aggravation. Wait until Monday.”

Anger hardened Chelsea’s resolve. Psychiatrists, she could do without. They were all alike, trying to convince people the worst terrors were all in their heads. Trying to tell frightened, traumatized women they were crazy to feel afraid.

“No. If she’s as upset as you say, Mrs. Cavarella will be too fragile to withstand psychological analysis. I want to get her side of the story before the state’s headshrinkers get to her.”

Gene sighed in resignation. “All right, then. Good luck.”

As Chelsea turned to shove the Myers case into a file box and gather up her tape recorder and legal pads, she swallowed back a grimace. Between the little information in the file, and the roiling sensation in her gut, Chelsea feared she needed a good bit more than just luck. She needed a miracle.

Like what you’ve read so far? Consider donating to my fund in benefit of RAINN and The Rape Foundation. 50% of all proceeds will be divided between the charities and donated directly. 50% of the proceeds will go into a special fund to help with publication costs to get this book printed and more widely circulated, to further help these causes.

BECOME A PATRON – DONATE HERE

©Burden of Proof by Esther Mitchell
All Rights Reserved
Any unlawful reproduction, duplication or presentation of this material without the express, written consent of the author is subject to prosecution under Intellectual Property Rights laws.

Burden of Proof Final

“In Morning’s Light” — Excerpt from BURDEN OF PROOF

Burden of Proof Final

HE WANTED JUSTICE,

BUT AT WHAT COST?

Assistant District Attorney Justin Blakely believes only in the letter of the law. When asked to prosecute a dangerous woman accused of killing her husband with sixty-four stab wounds to the chest, he sees only a butcher who should be locked away for her depraved act. But when he comes up against the woman’s driven, feisty attorney, he knows Chelsea Hanover has the power to change his mind. And, as he realizes her aim is truth rather than law, he can do nothing but respect her integrity. Knowing she’s stumbling into trouble, he’ll do anything to save her from herself, even if the casualty of his crusade is the law in which he believes

“In Morning’s Light” — Excerpt from BURDEN OF PROOF —

Justin blinked awake to the feel of warm fingers on his face. Opening burning eyes, he looked up to see Chelsea sitting on the edge of her hospital bed, fully clothed, with her right arm in a sling. The fingers of her good hand traced his stubbly cheek again, as a soft smile touched her face.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you look disreputable, before.” The soft lilt of teasing in her husky voice twisted his heart in the best way. She frowned, then. “I think I remember talking to you, last night. Have you been here all night?”

He sat up straighter, stifling a yawn as he glanced at his watch. Six-thirty. “Yeah, you did. And yes, I have.”

Her frown deepened, confusion and fear written in its lines. “You’ve been here every night when I go to sleep, and every morning when I wake up. Why?”

He tensed in surprise. He hadn’t expected to be cross-examined about his motives.

“Because I l–” He stopped, sucking in the words he was about to say. She wasn’t ready to hear how he felt. Not yet.

“Because I promised you I’d stay,” he answered instead, his voice husky with sleep and emotion. “The doctor says you have nightmares when I’m not here. I promised you I’d be here for you, and so…”

He managed an awkward shrug. He couldn’t tell her how important helping her was to him.

She shook her head slowly, as if having trouble thinking. With the amount of blunt force trauma she took to the head, he wasn’t surprised. Fresh anger shot through him, and he squeezed her good hand gently.

“You still haven’t told me what happened.” Her worried gaze searched his.

“Don’t you remember?”

“I… I think so. I just don’t know what’s real, and what’s a nightmare.” She pressed slim fingers to her forehead, eyes squeezed shut in effort. “I remember coming to your office. Talking. We were trying to reach a deal on Marlene’s case.”

He nodded, silently encouraging her to continue. The doctor told him to let her recall things at her own pace. Telling her what happened would force her to face the attack before her psyche was ready, and could be even more damaging.

“We had to go see the D.A. I remember that. And seeing–“

She cut off sharply, sucking in a shaky breath.

He straightened, alerted by her response. “Chelsea? What do you remember?”

She shook her head. “Running. I had to get away. I,” she stopped, thought. “I went home. I needed to hide.”

“From what? From who?”

“From… from everything! From him!”

Look for BURDEN OF PROOF, coming soon from Esther Mitchell and FyrRose Productions!

“Contrary Evidence” – Excerpt from BURDEN OF PROOF

Burden of Proof FinalAssistant District Attorney Justin Blakely believes only in the letter of the law. When asked to prosecute a dangerous woman accused of killing her husband with 64 stab wounds to the chest, he sees only a butcher who should be locked away for her depraved act. But when he comes up against the woman’s driven, feisty attorney, he knows Chelsea Hanover has the power to change his mind. And, as he realizes her aim is truth rather than law, he can do nothing but respect her integrity. Knowing she’s stumbling into trouble, he’ll do anything to save her from herself, even if the casualty of his crusade is the law in which he believes.

 

“Contrary Evidence” — Excerpt from BURDEN OF PROOF —

“Tell me you have something.” Justin leaned against the door frame leading into the Forensic Technician Penny James’ lab. He knew better than to cross the threshold without permission. The sixty-two-year-old grandmother of four had scolded him like one of her grandkids a number of times when he was a rookie prosecutor about cross-contamination and improper attire for the lab.

Now, she glanced up at him over the rims of her glasses, her brown eyes twinkling in welcome. “Depends on what you consider ‘something,’ young man.”

“At the moment, I’ll take whatever you’ve got.” Normally, he enjoyed matching wits with Penny. She had a brilliant mind, and a sharp sense of humor. He knew she and his Uncle Mic went way back, but he never dared ask how far, or how close.

Today, however, with Chelsea’s assertions of her client’s innocence ringing in his ears, he was just too weary, and too worried, to muster up the fortitude for one of Penny’s brain teasers.

“You’re sure in a mood, today.” She tsk-ed beneath her breath and turned toward her desk, flipping through the files neatly stashed in the drawer there. “Case got you on edge?”

He opened his mouth to agree, but the words wouldn’t come out, as Chelsea’s thunderous green eyes seared through his mind, again. No, he was pretty sure the source of his mood wore a skirt and blazer that looked more second-hand than high-end. His breath caught at the memory of her slim form — the woman really needed to eat more — severely controlled red hair, and flashing green eyes… and he didn’t want to let his mind wander that way. No matter what he wanted, for years now, Chelsea Hanover wasn’t going to ever give in. She might look like sex up and walking, but she made it pointedly clear she considered him somewhere beneath pond scum on the evolutionary chain.

Everything I Needed to Know About Life, I Learned From My Characters

“Everything I Needed To Know, I Learned From My Characters”

 Yeah, I know.  It might seem like a sort of overused title.  But there’s a great deal of truth in it, for me, and it’s a philosophy that’s carried me through the ups and downs of life, and writing.

 Over the years (decades, really) of writing, I’ve come to one inescapable conclusion.  I’ve learned something from each and every character I’ve ever encountered in my writing career.  Some have been lessons in what not to do (being evil is a sure-fire way to end up dead and despised, for example.  The Widow Society from Project Prometheus taught me that).

 However, most have been positive lessons in how to live my life.  Like how honor, integrity, and loyalty are worth more than anything else in the world ( the Commandos, from Underground, taught me that).  That judging a person based solely on their outward appearance is a sure way to bypass something truly wonderful and life-altering in this world (Matt Raleigh’s lesson, from IN HER NAME). 

 I learned that guilt and anger are two of the most poisonous emotions that exist, and they can do irreparable damage to the things I hold most dear (thanks to Trevor Watkins and Jaye Michaels in SHADOW WALKER).   That no matter how far down I go, no matter how dark and terrible things seem, there’s always hope for me (Tamia Kuan, from Underground, and Peter Talladay, from HOPE OF HEAVEN, both taught me that).

 I even learned, during one of the darkest periods of my life, that the only way you stay a victim is by letting the person who harmed you maintain their power (this was a hard-learned lesson, for both myself and Chelsea Hanover in BURDEN OF PROOF).

 And I learned that fear is the most numbing, and destructive, power in the world.  It can tie you down, hold you prisoner, and beat the hell out of you.  It can keep you from what you want, and turn you against those you love and who love you.  These lessons came from Telyn Gwndal (DAUGHTER OF ASHES), Hope MacKenzie (HOPE OF HEAVEN), and Matt Raleigh (IN HER NAME).

 So, yes, I’ve learned a great deal from my characters.  I’ve learned how to stand on my own two feet, and not allow myself to be held or beaten down by life’s failures, or the fears and failures of others.  Through their triumphs, I learned that love has the capacity to wash away any stain on the soul, and that an open heart and open mind are the most amazing and spiritually uplifting possessions a person can own.

 My characters inspired great changes in my life, opening my eyes and allowing me to see what was in front of my face all along.  I only hope they can do the same for you.