Ben grabbed her arm. “What’s wrong? What happened? Tell me right now! Now, Kala.”

“Do not touch my person, Ben Jefferson! I said I need a drink, and when I have that drink in my hand, and not one second before, I will most definitely tell you exactly what is wrong.” To make her point, Kala walked away in the direction of Snuffy’s, the hangout of all lawyers and paralegals in the area. Many judges were known to frequent Snuffy’s but usually later in the day. Ben had to jog to keep up with her. When he came abreast of her, Kala asked, “Was Ryan Spenser there?”

“He was, all decked out in summer cashmere. It looked like he’d had his teeth cleaned and polished for the occasion. His present, according to all the females there, was the most exquisitely wrapped, if that means anything.”

Kala let loose with a string of profanities that forced Ben to cover his ears. “Well, if you didn’t want to know, then why did you ask me?” he snapped.

“Was the package ticking?” Kala snapped back.

“I didn’t check it. Will you just please tell me what the hell is wrong?”

“Not until Jim Beam and I have a long-awaited reunion. Oh, thank God it is cold in here,” Kala said as she stepped through the door that Ben was holding open for her. She sailed past the bar and headed to her favorite booth, calling over her shoulder, “A double on the rocks and make it snappy!”

Not to be outdone, Ben placed the same order for himself.

The drinks appeared as if by magic. Kala reached for hers and downed it in two long, gulping swallows. Her eyes watered and her throat burned, but she held up her glass for a refill. She stared at Ben with tears running down her cheeks.

“Will you please tell me what’s going on? In all the years I’ve known you, I’ve never seen you drink more than one drink, and you nurse it all night long.”

“Adam Star came into the office late this morning. He’s dying, Ben. He’ll be lucky if he makes it through the week. He came with two male nurses. He confessed to me, Jay, and Linda that he killed his wife and that he let Sophie go to jail for life. The son of a bitch actually made a DVD of his confession. He gave us a copy. We played it after he left. His lawyer is Clayton Hughes. And that’s not all of it, either.” Kala looked at her fresh drink, picked it up, and downed it. This time she squeezed her eyes shut as the liquor blazed a trail down her throat. When she could find her voice, she shouted to the barmaid to bring her a large glass of ginger ale and two cups of coffee.

Ben Jefferson stared across the table at Kala as he tried to make sense out of what she was saying. The only thing he knew for certain was that they were not going to be leaving for a six-month trip tomorrow. All he could say was, “If you drink all of that, you are going to be sick.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“So, what’s the rest, the part that has your panties in a knot?”

“The son of a bitch gave me a copy of his will. He left his entire fortune, or I should say Audrey’s fortune, to Sophie Lee. Hundreds of millions of dollars. To make up to her for what he did. You need to say something, Ben, and you need to say it now.

“Does Ryan Spenser know?”

“I don’t know. How was he acting at the luncheon?”

“Like a pompous ass, the way he always acts. If I had to guess, I’d say no, he doesn’t know. He did get up and say something nice about you. He said you were one of his most worthy opponents and how it hurt him to the depths of his soul that he won a case against you and broke your undefeated record. He said you were one of the finest attorneys in this fair state and he was sorry you were retiring.”

“And he didn’t choke on the words?”


“I hate that bastard’s fucking guts, you know that, right, Ben?” Kala singsonged.

Ben knew Kala was blitzed because she never swore. Well, hardly ever. And when she did swear, it was typically because her twenty-pound cat Shakespeare had peed on the foyer rug.

“Forget all that other stuff. You’re going to get Sophie out of there, and she can get on with her life. It’s wonderful, Kala. Getting her out as soon as possible should be all that you are thinking about right now. Forget the trip, forget Ryan Spenser. Let’s take the will and the DVD, go to Judge Gamble for a writ of habeas corpus, and head to the prison and spring Sophie. My God, Kala, this is the best news I’ve ever heard.”

“It is good news. It’s wonderful news. It’s the best news in the world, but we can’t do a damn thing until that man dies.”

“What? Why?”

“What? Why?”

“Because that’s the way Adam Star wants it. He doesn’t want to be arrested to die in prison. I guess he wants to die in what he thinks is his idea of peace. He made things right is the way I’m thinking he’s thinking.”

“But, Kala, if he killed his wife, he can’t inherit her fortune. The will won’t hold up.”

“Oh, yes, it will hold up. It turns out that Audrey Star had transferred all of her holdings to her husband long before her accident and her death. Right after they were married, to be exact. It’s all legal. The fortune is his to do with as he sees fit. Sophie is going to be so rich, she won’t know what to do.”

“It won’t erase the ten years of her life she spent in prison, though,” Ben said quietly.

“No, it won’t. You understand I can’t go away with you right now. I have to be here to help Sophie. She’s going to need me like never before. I have to make a plan. I don’t want her going through a media blitz. I’m going to hire a private detective to sit outside Adam Star’s hospital room. I think he’s in a hospital room, but I’m not sure. Those male nurses could be caring for him at his home. I know how ghoulish this sounds, and I don’t care. The moment he expires, I want to be on my way to the prison to formally present that writ of habeas corpus and get Sophie released. This is where you come in, Ben. I want you to drive up to the prison, take a copy of the will and the DVD, and explain the situation to the warden and anyone else who has to be told so we can have the paperwork all ready to go and get her out of there within minutes of his receiving the writ of habeas corpus. You have to swear the warden to secrecy. Can you do that for me, sweetie?”

Sweetie. The only time Kala called him sweetie was when she wanted something she herself couldn’t do or didn’t want to do. He nodded agreeably. He’d lived with Sophie Lee’s ghost for the past ten years just the way Kala had. He’d long ago lost count of the times Kala had dragged him with her to the prison to visit Sophie on visitors’ day until Sophie herself put a stop to it by telling Kala she didn’t want her to visit anymore because it was too painful. Even then, Kala had continued to make the trek to the prison, only to be turned away. The letters that she wrote faithfully were invariably returned. In the end, she had to give up. From that point on, all Kala could do was pray for the young girl she’d come to think of as a daughter.

“Okay, I think I’m going to go home now, Ben. You have things to do. Listen, you won’t hurt my feelings if you want to start off the trip by yourself. I can always join you later.”

“Oh, no, it doesn’t work that way. I’m with you all the way on this one. I’ll drive you home, and we can pick up your car later.”

Outside in the sultry air, Kala looked up at Ben, and said, “This is a good thing, isn’t it, Ben?”

“From Sophie’s point of view, it’s a home run. For Star, not so good. And I don’t have an opinion as yet on Ryan Spenser. This is going to play hell with his run for governor next November. He’s gearing up. He was pressing the flesh big time at your luncheon, trying to drum up support off your reputation. And just for the record, I hate his guts, too. Come along, sweetie, let’s get you home.”

Kala reared back. The only time Ben called her sweetie was when it was time to go to the bedroom. Ben laughed out loud at her expression.

An hour later, Kala had changed her clothes, made a pot of coffee and a sandwich, and carried it out to her shaded deck. The fat cat that she adored snuggled up against her bare ankles and purred so loud it sounded like a tune to Kala’s weary ears. Then he climbed onto her lap and continued to purr. She talked to him the way she always did. He listened the way he always did, then went to sleep as Kala wound down. She still felt woozy from the two double shots of Jim Beam, but she was starting to feel better.

Sophie was going to be set free. Sophie was going to be one rich young woman. Thirty-four years of age still meant she had the best years of her life ahead of her. Yes, she’d lost most of her glorious twenties, but maybe this next decade would somehow make up for it.

Something was bothering her, something she couldn’t quite put her finger on. What? In her mind, she played

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