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Robert Gregory Browne

Trial Junkies

— 1 -

They found her body in Dearborn Park.

She had been left to die in a vacant lot on Clark Street, lying in a pool of her own blood, multiple stab wounds to her chest and abdomen, her face slashed, her throat slit ear to ear.

Hutch hadn't seen or spoken to Jenny in nearly ten years, but she had never been far from his mind. And the thought that some mad man had mutilated the woman he had once loved-still loved, if you wanted the God's honest truth-sent him rushing to his trailer to relieve himself of the Spanish omelet the craft service had served for breakfast.

Hutch hadn't received any phone calls about this. No old college pals breaking the bad news in a distant, halting voice. Chances were pretty good that most of them would hear about it exactly the way he had-a simple, unassuming headline on the opening page of the Chicago Post website:

LOCAL ATTORNEY STABBED TO DEATH

Hutch was a Chicago native and surfed the Post daily, but this was the kind of story he would usually pass over on his way to the sports page. He was living and working in Hollywood these days and had decided long ago that it was best to ignore such things. He had a pretty good life here and was still selfish enough to want to tune out any outside interference. No point in upsetting the balance he had struggled so hard to regain these last few months.

But then he saw Jenny's photograph and the world tilted sideways. She looked older, but just as beautiful as ever, those clear, intelligent eyes staring up at him as if to say-

Where were you, Ethan?

Why didn't you return my calls?

He was in the make-up chair when he saw it, Christine applying a nasty-looking bruise to the side of his face. He didn't bother to excuse himself. Didn't bother to say anything. Just looked into those eyes, tossed his iPad to the counter, then jumped up and bolted across the sound stage toward his trailer.

By the time he staggered out of the bathroom, wiping a sleeve across his mouth, his assistant Sonya was waiting for him, frowning in disapproval.

'Rough night?'

Hutch had a bit of a reputation, but her assumption was wrong. He had spent the night at home, hammering out pages of a novel that he knew in his gut would never be published. But writing it allowed him to step out of his skin for a while and stretch his creative muscles in a new and different way. A kind of self-administered therapy designed to keep his mind occupied.

That was the theory, at least. Truth was, he had no real writing talent, but just enough of an ego left to think he could pull it off. Whatever the case, he hadn't spent the night drinking, as his performance in the bathroom might suggest.

He hadn't had a drink in six months.

'I'm done for the day,' he told her.

Sonya looked bewildered. 'Done? We haven't even started.'

'Make an excuse for me. I'll be at home.'

'You're kidding, right? You're in the middle of a shoot, Hutch. You can't just walk out.'

'Tell them I'm sick. Tell them I have food poisoning.'

'Do you seriously think Tony's gonna buy-'

Hutch held up his hands, cutting her off. 'Look, I know the studio's paying you good money to make sure I'm on my best behavior. And when the shit hits the fan I'll be sure to tell them how hard you tried. But I'm out of here. Tony can shoot around me today.'

He had half a mind to walk for good. He'd only taken this gig because both his agent and manager had insisted on it. An actor needs to act, they said. Stay in the public eye. And this could go a long way toward erasing all the negative publicity he'd gotten after the meltdown.

But he knew that the chances of making it to series were pretty much nil. The network was shooting eleven pilots this season and had only two slots to fill. He was up against Selleck, a teen zombie drama, and a reboot of an old, but very popular cop show set in Miami.

His money was on Selleck and the zombies.

Sonya said nothing for a moment, looking at him with her patented scowl. Then her expression shifted as if she suddenly realized that there was something more at work here than a simple alcohol-fueled puke fest.

She softened. 'What happened, Hutch? What's wrong?'

'My past just reared up and bit me in the ass, is all.'

'Meaning what?'

He slumped to the sofa. 'I just found out an old girlfriend of mine was murdered.'

'What?'

He looked up at her. 'So, if you don't mind, I'd like to go home and grieve for a few hours before I start subjecting myself to Tony's torture.'

Sonya studied him blankly, then stepped toward him, putting a hand on his shoulder. 'You're serious, aren't you? You're telling me the truth.'

He ignored her. He didn't want her sympathy. All he could think about was Jenny and those eyes looking up at him, and how badly he had ended things.

And now it was too late to make good.

He got to his feet. 'Have Eddie pick me up at the main gate, will you?'

A moment later he was out the door.

— 2 -

Hutch had never been good at funerals.

The last one he had attended had been his parents' memorial service, two years after he left Chicago. They had died in a plane crash-a story that gained huge traction in the media-and his appearance there had created such

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