"My husband was murdered."
Lindsey Hart spoke in the detached voice of a young widow still grieving. It was as if she still couldn't believe that the words were coming from her mouth, that something so horrible had actually happened. "Shot once in the head."
"I'm very sorry." Jack wished he could say more, but he'd been in this situation before, and he knew there really wasn't anything he could say. It was God's will? Time heals all wounds? None of that would do her any good, certainly not from his lips. People sometimes turned to strangers for that kind of comfort, but rarely when the stranger was a criminal defense lawyer billing by the hour.
Jack Swyteck was among the best Miami's criminal trial bar had to offer, having defended death row inmates for four years before switching sides to become a federal prosecutor. He was in his third year of private practice, steadily building a name for himself, despite the fact that he'd yet to land the kind of high-charged, high-profile jury trial that had vaulted plenty of lesser lawyers into stardom. But he was doing just fine for a guy who'd withstood an indictment for murder, a divorce from a fruitcake, and the unexplained appearance of the naked, dead body of his ex-girlfriend in his bathtub.
"Do the police know who did it?" asked Jack.
"They think they do."
The natural follow-up question caught in Jack's throat, and before he could even broach the subject, Lindsey said, "I didn't do it."
"Are there any witnesses who say you did?"
"Not that I know of. Which is to be expected, since I'm innocent."
"Was the murder weapon recovered?"
"Yes. It was on the bedroom floor. Oscar was shot with his own sidearm."
"Where did it happen?"
"In our bedroom. While he was sleeping."
"Were you home?"
"Then how do you know he was sleeping?"
She hesitated, as if the question had caught her off guard. "The investigators told me he was in bed, no sign of any struggle, so it's only logical that he was either taken completely by surprise or was asleep."
Jack took a moment, not so much to collect his thoughts as to gather his impression of Lindsey Hart. She was a few years younger than he was, he guessed, articulate and composed. Her business suit was charcoal gray, a conservative step beyond the traditional black of mourning, though she allowed herself a little color in the silk blouse and scarf. She was pretty--probably even more attractive than what presently met the eye, as Jack suspected that in her grief she'd lost a little too much weight and paid not enough attention to her appearance.
He said, "I know this is painful for you. But has anyone considered the possibility that your husband's wound was self-inflicted?"
"Oscar didn't commit suicide. He had too much to live for."
"Most people who take their own life do. They just lose perspective."
"His gun was found with the safety on. Not very likely that he shot himself in the head and then put on the safety."
"Can't argue with that. Though it also strikes me as curious that someone would shoot your husband and then take the time to put on the safety."
"There are many curious things about my husband's death. That's why I need you."
"Fair enough. Let's get back to what you were doing the day of his death. What time did you leave the house?"
"Five-thirty. Same as every day. I work at the hospital. My shift begins at six."
"I assume you're having trouble convincing people that he was alive when you left."
"The medical examiner put the time of death sometime before five."
"You've seen the autopsy?" asked Jack.
"Yes, just recently."
"How long ago was your husband killed?"
"Ten weeks yesterday."
"Have you spoken to the police?"
"Of course. I wanted to do everything possible to help catch the killer. Until it started to come clear that I was a suspect. That's when I decided I needed a lawyer."
Jack scratched his head and said, "None of this is ringing a bell for me, and I'm usually something of a newshound when it comes to homicides. Was it City of Miami or Miami-Dade homicide you talked to?"
"Neither. It was NCIS agents. Naval Criminal Investigative Services. This all happened at the naval base."
"Yes. My husband was career military. We've lived there for almost six years now. Or at least until his death."
"I didn't realize that families even lived there. I thought it was just soldiers keeping an eye on Castro."
"Oh, no. It's a huge living and working community, thousands of people. We have schools, our own newspaper. We even have a McDonald's."
Jack considered it, then said, "I want to be up front about this: I have absolutely no experience in dealing with military matters."
"This isn't strictly military. I'm a civilian, so I would have to be charged as a civilian, even though my husband was a military officer."
"I understand that. But the crime scene is on a naval base, and you've already talked with the NCIS agents on the investigation. Whoever represents you should know how to work his way through military red tape."
"You'll learn." She pulled a file from her purse and laid it on Jack's desk. "This is the NCIS investigative report. I just got it two days ago. Take a look. I think you'll agree that it doesn't pass the smell test."
Jack let it lie, unopened. "I'm not trying to push away the work, but I know several criminal defense lawyers in town with military backgrounds."
"I don't want someone else. I want to hire the lawyer who will fight harder than anyone to prove my innocence. That person is you."
"Thank you. It's nice to know that my reputation extends all the way down to Cuba."
"It has nothing to with your reputation. It's simply a matter of who you are."
"That sounds like a compliment, but I'm not sure I fully understand what you're trying to say."
"Mr. Swyteck, every minute that the investigators spend focusing on me is a wasted minute. If someone doesn't straighten them out, my husband's killer could go unpunished. That would be a terrible tragedy."
"I couldn't agree more."
"Yes, you could. Believe me. This isn't just another case of the authorities chasing after the wrong suspect. If they don't catch the person who killed my husband, it would be a tragedy--for you."
"Do I know your husband?"
"No. But that doesn't make it any less personal. My husband . . ." She took a breath, her voice quaking as she tried once more. "My husband was the father of your child."
Jack froze, confused. "Say that again."
"I think you know what I'm saying."
Jack mulled over the possibilities, realizing quickly that there was only one explanation. "Your son was adopted?"
She nodded, her expression very serious.
"Are you saying I'm the biological father?"
"The mother was a woman named Jessie Merrill."
Jessie, the last woman he'd dated before falling head over heels for the woman he would marry--and later divorce. Not until his fifth and final year of marriage to Cindy Paige had Jack learned that Jessie was pregnant when they'd split up and that she'd given up their child for adoption.
"I don't know what to say. I don't deny that Jessie had a child and that she said I was the father. I just never followed up on it. Didn't think it was my place to intrude on the adoptive family."
"That was thoughtful of you," she said, her voice still strained by emotion. "But my husband and I realized that someday our son might want to contact his biological parents. We did all the research a few years ago."
"Are you absolutely sure about this?"
"I could show you the paperwork, but I don't think that will be necessary." She dug into her purse again and offered up a snapshot.
"This is Brian," she said.
A moment passed as the photograph seemed to hover before him. Finally, he reached across his desk and took it by the corner, as if his past might burn him if he grasped too much of it. His gaze came to rest on the smiling face of a ten-year-old boy. He'd never seen the child before, but he knew those dark eyes, that Roman nose.
"I'm his father," he said in a distant voice, as if the words were involuntary.
"No," she answered, her tone gentle but firm. "His father's dead.
And if you don't help me find the man who killed him, his mother could go to jail for the rest of her life."
Their eyes met, and Jack searched for words that suited a situation no criminal defense lawyer could possibly be prepared to face. "I guess you're right," he said quietly. "This is personal."
From Hear No Evil by James Grippando. HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.