taped boxes out to the reception area. At some point later that day, someone would come and take them to a storage unit Kala had rented a month ago. All except for the single box that sat on top of her desk. That box was going with her. She was personally going to carry it down to the underground garage and personally put it on the passenger seat of her car, then drive it to her home, where she would put it in a closet in her bedroom. Sophie Lee deserved a closet rather than a storage unit, where her records would never again see the light of day.

Jay Brighton stood in the doorway. “That about does it, Kala. Told you we’d have this locked down in time for you to make your retirement luncheon.”

Kala looked up at her former partner and grimaced. “I decided I’m not going. Call Ben and tell him I have a bellyache.”

Ben was Judge Benjamin Jefferson, Kala’s significant other of twenty-five years. Ben had retired two weeks earlier, and Kala had thrown a surprise luncheon, inviting all of his peers. For no other reason except retaliation, Ben had decided to do the same for her. His theory was, if he’d had to suffer through the shitty food, the boring speeches, and the overblown testimonials, then so should she.

Newly retired judge Ben Jefferson loved Kala Aulani heart and soul. Everyone said they were a match made in heaven. Sometimes, Kala believed it, and other times, she didn’t.

Stepping into the office, Jay replied, “Oh, no, I’m not calling him! You’re on your own, Kala. Hey, you aren’t my boss anymore, so don’t you dare look at me with those puppy dog eyes. No! You sold Linda and me the firm, and I absolutely do not have to take orders anymore. Not showing up at your very own retirement luncheon would be a pretty crappy thing to do,” Jay said vehemently.

Kala grinned as she stared up at her old partner. Six-foot-seven, probably the tallest lawyer ever to grace a courtroom. An imposing giant of a man, with his flaming red hair, which he hated, and his freckles, which, if anything, he hated even more. Juries loved him and his folksy manner. They likened him to themselves, just plain old ordinary people. They were wrong, of course, because there was nothing in the least ordinary about Jay Brighton, Attorney at Law. Jay had graduated at the top of his law class, had a photographic memory that did double time acting as a steel trap. He was almost as good a lawyer as she was, Kala thought. She’d trained him well, and he’d listened to every pearl of wisdom that came out of her mouth, soaking it all up like a sponge. Yes, one of the best things she’d ever done in her career was to hire him the minute he applied for the job. She’d never been sorry, either, and she knew he’d never regretted joining her rinky-dink law firm back in the day.

“Listen, Jay, I just want to go home and be alone. Surely you can understand that. You didn’t give me a going- away present, now that I think about it. How tacky is that? So, calling Ben and canceling my luncheon will serve nicely as my going-away gift. C’mon, Jay, one last favor. I have so much to do; we leave tomorrow, and I’m not even packed. Do you have any idea how many suitcases I have to fill to go away for six whole months? Well, do you?” Kala bellowed at the top of her lungs.

Linda Carpenter, a string bean of a young woman with corkscrew curls that poked up from her head, took Jay’s former position in the doorway, and bellowed in return, “I’ll do it!”

Kala looked Jay in the eye, and admonished, “You do not deserve that young woman, and I’m sorry I paid for your wedding.”

“Stuff it, Kala!” Jay blustered. Long years of familiarity allowed him to talk this way to his old boss. “Why do you find it so hard to accept a few well-meaning accolades? Don’t give me any crap here. The reason you don’t want to go to that luncheon is some asshole told you that Ryan Spenser is going to show up. With a gift. You’re a bigger person than he is. Why can’t you go and stare the bastard down?”

“Because I can’t. This is the end of it, Jay. I’m not going. Period.”

“Okay,” Jay said agreeably.

Kala eyed him suspiciously, waiting for the other shoe to drop. When it didn’t, Kala gathered up her laptop, her purse, her suit jacket, and dumped them on top of the Sophie Lee box. “Where’s the dolly?”

“In the reception room. I’ll get it.”

“And I don’t want or need a parade following me down to the garage,” Kala shouted to Jay’s retreating back.

“Like that’s going to happen,” Jay snorted, his eyes burning. Damn, he never thought saying good-bye was going to be so hard. He eyed his wife, who had returned to the reception area and seemed to be having the same problem he was having. The filters probably needed to be changed in the AC unit. Dust particles could really play hell with your tear ducts.

Linda grabbed her husband’s arm and dragged him down the hall into the kitchen just as the door to the reception room opened. They didn’t bother to look over their shoulders to see if it was a client or the mailman.

“What?” Jay blurted.

“I can’t stop crying, that’s what!” Linda said, burying her face in the crook of her husband’s neck. “What are we going to do without her? She’s the rock. She’s the glue that made this law firm work. I don’t think either one of us is ready to step into her shoes. What if Kala’s clients don’t want us?”

“Then it’s their loss, Linda. We have our own clients. This is a thriving law firm. We have five junior partners. We have five paralegals, an office manager, and a secretary who is not only as old as God but knows how to sweet-talk people who walk in the door. We can make it work. We really can.”

Linda sniffled. “Well, don’t expect me to give you wake-up calls if I have to leave the house before you, and don’t expect me to remind you to take your umbrella, pick up your cleaning, and get a haircut. That was Kala’s job.”

“Yeah, okay, I won’t expect you to do that. I’ll flounder around on my own,” Jay said, his voice choked with emotion.

Their eyeballs popped when they heard their names being screamed at the top of Kala’s lungs. They almost killed one another racing to her office. Both of them pulled up short when they saw a man with two canes lower himself to the chair opposite Kala’s desk. Underneath her summer tan, Kala’s face looked white. She was shaking so badly, Jay and Linda thought she was having a seizure. “What’s wrong?” they both shouted in unison.

To say the man with the two canes looked like death warmed over would have been too kind a statement. He was cadaver thin, his eyes sunken, his skin sallow. It was doubtful he weighed a hundred pounds. In the thirty-odd years Jay had worked for and known Mikala Aulani, he didn’t think he’d ever seen her as agitated as she was at that very moment. He didn’t know what to do, so he waited, his eyes not on the man but on Kala.

“Linda, Jay, this is… this is Adam Star. He… he came here to… he came here to…”

The voice was raspy, the words almost unintelligible, but the trio understood them nonetheless.

“What Ms. Aulani is trying to say is, I came here to tell you that ten years ago, I killed my wife, Audrey. Sophie Lee is innocent. As you can see, I’m dying, and I want to make things right.” One skeletal hand reached inside his jacket to withdraw a DVD. His hand shook violently when he tried to slide it across the desk toward Kala. “My lawyer has a copy of this. It shows me confessing to the murder, along with all the details. My lawyer will be turning it over to the court when I… am no longer here.”

Three jaws dropped as three sets of eyes stared with unblinking intensity at the man.

Jay spoke first. “I guess my question would be, how much longer will it be before you are no longer here?” Jay didn’t give a damn if he sounded heartless and cruel. What this man had done to Sophie Lee earned him a fat zero in consideration in Jay’s opinion.

“You son of a bitch! You let that young girl go to prison for life! What kind of a monster are you?” Kala shrieked. “I knew it was you! I always knew! Now, when you’re dying, you want to make it right! I hope you burn in hell!” Kala shrieked again.

Adam Star turned his head on its scrawny neck to Jay, and said, “I’m already on borrowed time, but I assume you want me to be more specific.”

“Yeah, that would help,” Jay drawled.

“Well, I’m already on borrowed time, as I just said, so I think it’s safe to say I doubt I’ll be here this time next week.” He turned his head again to look at Kala, and replied to her question, “The kind of man who didn’t have the stomach to be tied down to a paralyzed woman twenty-four/seven. I was never cut out to be the dutiful sort. The doctors said Audrey could live into her nineties with proper care. I didn’t have the guts for that. Audrey demanded my constant presence, even during the night hours. I was tied to her. I couldn’t breathe; she was smothering me. And yes, Ms. Aulani, I’m sure I will burn in hell.” Star leaned back, the constant flow of words exhausting him.

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