Cindy quickly backed away. “I’m sorry, Megan, but you have to get rid of this purported canine.”

“I suppose in his own way he thinks he’s protecting me.”

“In his own way he is, but it’s disgusting and he still has to go.”

“Easy to say. But what can I do?”

“Call the dogcatcher. Send him to the vet for a lethal injection. Ship him to one of those third world nations where they have a meat shortage.”

Megan covered her mouth. “Cindy! You’re terrible!”

“Wimp.” Cindy stepped around the dog, lifted the picture frame, and turned it around. “Oh my gosh.”

“Isn’t it awful?”

“No! It’s wonderful!”

Megan blinked. “It is?”

“Yes!” Cindy held the picture in both hands. “Look at those cute widdle puppy dogs! Don’t you just love it?”

“Cindy, it’s kitsch.”

“Yes, but it’s classic kitsch.” She laid the black-velvet masterwork on Megan’s desk. “Seriously, Arnie is crazy about this kind of stuff. This is just what he’s been needing for the pool room. You don’t suppose …”

Megan waved her hand magnanimously. “It’s yours.”

“Oh, thank you! This is a Christmas gift he won’t be expecting.” She pressed her hand against her lips. “Oh! But I don’t have anything for you!”

“That’s quite all-”

“I’ll be right back.” Cindy scurried out of the office, then reappeared barely thirty seconds later. She plopped her treasure in the center of Megan’s desk. “My mother-in-law gave me this last Christmas. Lovely woman, but…”

“What is it?” Megan asked. It was a small contraption, maybe half the size of a shoebox. It held five metal ball bearings hanging in a row, each suspended by two wires, one on either end, from the wooden framework. “What’s it called?”

“Well …” Cindy hedged. “I don’t really know what it’s called.”

“What does it do?”

“Watch.” Cindy raised the ball bearing closest to her, then released it. The metal ball swung like a pendulum into the other four balls, which then kicked up together, hit the apex of their arc, then swung back into the other ball, which then swung up and back into the four balls, which then…

“Okay,” Megan said. “What next?”

“Whaddya mean, what next? There is no what next. That’s it.”

“That’s it?”


Megan nodded. “Um… thanks.”

“You’ll probably want to keep it in your office.”

“Sure. Next to the lava lamp.”

“Whatever.” She snapped her fingers. “I almost forgot why I came in here. There’s a new client waiting in the lobby-”

“On Christmas Eve?”

“She says it’s an emergency. Of course, since I’m supposed to be handling the domestic cases now, they sent her to me, but I haven’t even finished my Christmas shopping, and if I don’t get out of here soon I never will. I wouldn’t do this to you normally, Megan, but there aren’t many lawyers in the office today, and since … you know …”

Megan did know. What Cindy was saying but not saying was-Since you’re not going anywhere, since you don’t have anyone to see or to spend the holiday with-

“… I wondered if you wouldn’t mind talking to her.”

“What does she need?”

“Emergency restraining order. Ex-husband.”

Megan shrugged. “Cakewalk. Send her in.”

“Thanks. I really appreciate it.” She stopped at the door. “You know, Arnie and I are driving to Tulsa to spend Christmas with his folks. It’s a two-hour drive, but if you’re free by then, we’d love to have you-”

Megan smiled. “Thanks, Cindy. You’re a good friend. But I have plans.”

“You do?”

Granted, it was a lie, but Megan still wished Cindy didn’t look quite so astonished. “I do.” She winked. “Me and Jasper. Now get out of here.”

“Okay. Thanks so much, Megan.” She hesitated. “Merry Christmas.”

Megan nodded. “And to you.”

Megan took advantage of the break to change out of her Santa suit and back into her standard-issue office clothes. About a minute later, the client in question entered Megan’s office-a thin, petite woman. She had a fragile look about her, especially now, when her hands were trembling and her eyes were streaked and red from crying. Still, she was quite attractive. Maybe not in the Cindy Kendall million-dollar-model category, especially at the moment, but still, Megan thought, several G-notes ahead of me.

“I’m Bonnie Cantrell,” she managed. She saw her hands shaking, then lowered them to her side. “I’m sorry. I guess I’m nervous. I’ve been so scared.”

Megan reached out and steadied the woman’s arm. “Just relax, please. Whatever’s happened, I’m sure there’s a solution. My associate told me you’d like a restraining order.”

She nodded. Fresh tears leaked from her eyes. “It’s Carl, my ex-husband.”

Megan nodded sympathetically. “How long have you been divorced?”

“More than two years now. I got custody. He didn’t even get visitation rights. He-” She lowered her head. “He had a drinking problem. Has, I should say.”

“I’m sorry. That must’ve been very difficult for you.” More than once during her days at St. Paul’s, Megan had counseled parents and spouses dealing with alcoholism. She knew it could have a devastating impact on the life of a family.

“It … was.” Bonnie licked her lips, took a deep breath. “He never managed to succeed at anything. I tried to help but nothing ever seemed to work. I thought it would be better, after the divorce. But he’s continued to harass us, to stalk me, my little boy.”

“How old is your son?”

“Tommy’s seven. Too young to understand why…”-another deep breath-“why his mommy doesn’t want him to see his daddy.”

“Have you called the police?”

Bonnie opened her purse and removed a stained handkerchief. “You have to understand-Carl is a cop.”

Uh-oh. Megan fell back in her chair. This was going to be more complicated than she realized.

“He’s not on active duty right now. He was suspended some time ago. But all the local cops know us. They consider Carl one of them. And they consider me someone who betrayed one of them.”

“Still, you should lodge a complaint if he’s threatening you. The law requires the police to-”

“I did call once. But Carl shaped up as soon as he heard the sirens. The cops hassled me, then wrote me a citation because the inspection sticker on my car had expired.”

Megan’s lips pursed.

“I’m just afraid if I call them again, they might do something horrible-like plant some cocaine in my bedroom. And then I’d be the one who goes to jail. And I’d lose custody of Tommy.”

Megan laid her hand on Bonnie’s. “I understand. So you want a restraining order. We’ll go to the courthouse immediately. One of the judges is on duty today, handling emergency cases. We won’t be able to get a permanent restraint without giving your ex notice and a chance to be heard, but we will be able to get a temporary order pending a later hearing. Of course we’ll have to demonstrate that there are exigent circumstances.”

“He came to the house today.” Bonnie’s voice cracked; she appeared to be on the verge of breaking down altogether. “The sun was barely up, but he was already drunk. Crazy drunk. Crazy mean drunk. He punched a friend of mine for no reason. He shoved a neighbor down the porch steps. He broke a window with his bare fist.”

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