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The Nora Dockson Trilogy * Help Me Nora * Right the Wrong * Hear My Plea: Nora Dockson Legal Thrillers, #123

The Nora Dockson Trilogy * Help Me Nora * Right the Wrong * Hear My Plea: Nora Dockson Legal Thrillers, #123

Автором Diana Deverell

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The Nora Dockson Trilogy * Help Me Nora * Right the Wrong * Hear My Plea: Nora Dockson Legal Thrillers, #123

Автором Diana Deverell

Длина:
990 pages
13 hours
Издатель:
Издано:
Sep 23, 2017
ISBN:
9781386131540
Формат:
Книге

Описание

Three full-length thrillers in one ebook—get them all for a savings of more than fifty percent! Nora Dockson is an ex-con who pulled herself out of the gutter and became an appeals attorney. Nora works only for convicted felons, rescuing innocents trapped by the flawed process that put them behind bars.

Join Nora for three legal battles that take place in the span of a single landmark year of her life.

Help Me Nora is "a compelling gritty novel. I could not put it down and found the legal background fascinating." (Goodreads review)

Right the Wrong is "an engaging legal thriller . . . in what I hope will be a long-running series." (Stephen Campbell, CrimeFiction.FM)

Readers of Hear My Plea praise the "timely plot, filled with delicious intrigue and backbiting."

A Macavity Award finalist acclaimed for "sharp storytelling" (Publishers Weekly), Diana Deverell has "a gift that grabs the reader so one cares about every character in the story" (reader review).

Buy The Nora Dockson Trilogy for a gripping ride with an unforgettable protagonist.

Издатель:
Издано:
Sep 23, 2017
ISBN:
9781386131540
Формат:
Книге

Об авторе

Diana Deverell has published seven novels, a short fiction collection, and many short stories. Her latest project is a series of legal thrillers set in Spokane and featuring Nora Dockson, a lawyer who specializes in appeal of life imprisonment and death penalty sentences. The first, Help Me Nora, was released in July, 2014. The second, Right the Wrong, was released in March, 2015. The third book will be published in late 2015. For the latest update, visit Diana at www.dianadeverell.com Diana made her debut as a novelist in 1998 with a series of international thrillers featuring State Department counterterrorist analyst Kathryn “Casey” Collins: 12 Drummers Drumming, Night on Fire, and East Past Warsaw. The three novels are also available in a single ebook, The Casey Collins Trilogy. Diana’s short story, "Warm Bodies in a Cold War", originally published in 1996 under a different title, introduced Casey to the readership of the Foreign Service Journal. The prequel No Place for an Honest Woman expanded on Casey’s early career. The story and all four thrillers are now available as individual ebooks. In 2000, Diana’s short fiction starring FBI Special Agent Dawna Shepherd started making regular appearances in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. Her mystery collection, Run & Gun: A Dozen Tales of Girls with Guns includes eleven Dawna Shepherd stories first published by Alfred Hitchcock, plus all-new “Latin Groove”. Both the collection and “In Plain Sight,” her 2013 mystery, are available in e-editions. Dawna’s latest adventure, “Blown,” appeared in the Kobo Special Edition of Pulse Pounders, the Januaury 2015 issue of Fiction River anthology. In 2012, Diana released her comic mystery novel, Murder, Ken Kesey, and Me as an ebook. Other digital editions include "Heart Failure", a short story set on the day Jim Morrison died, written to order for a publisher of textbooks for Danish teens learning English. Diana is a member (and past board member) of the International Association of Crime Writers. She belongs to the American Women’s Club in Denmark and her short fiction has appeared in Good Works: Prose and Poetry by Ex-Pat Women in Denmark.

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The Nora Dockson Trilogy * Help Me Nora * Right the Wrong * Hear My Plea - Diana Deverell

THE NORA DOCKSON TRILOGY * HELP ME NORA * RIGHT THE WRONG * HEAR MY PLEA

Books One, Two, and Three in the Nora Dockson Legal Thriller Series

By DIANA DEVERELL

Published by Sorrel Press

www.SorrelPress.com

Table of Contents

Title Page

BOOK ONE: HELP ME NORA by Diana Deverell

1 - 11

12 - 22

23 - 33

COPYRIGHT

BOOK TWO: RIGHT THE WRONG by Diana Deverell

1 - 13

14 - 26

27 - 39

COPYRIGHT

BOOK THREE: HEAR MY PLEA by Diana Deverell

1 - 12

13 - 26

27 - 38

COPYRIGHT

Reader Praise for the Nora Dockson Legal Thriller Series:

A great character, a great series—I highly recommend it to people. (Stephen Campbell, CrimeFiction.FM)

Deverell has a gift that grabs the reader so one cares about what happens to every character in the story. Once one starts Nora’s clear sighted and brilliant pursuit of justice it’s hard to put the book down! (Amazon reader review)

The series is great; it’s got the theme of the hard scrabble up-from-poverty Nora doing her battle of wits against a scheming, social-climbing assistant attorney general, laced with tons of good detective work. (Amazon reader review)

Help Me Nora is a compelling gritty novel. I could not put it down and found the legal background fascinating. (Goodreads review)

Reviews of Bitch Out of Hell, the new political thriller featuring Bella Hinton

Helluva read! I really enjoyed this. I hope there are more books coming. The characters are intriguing, Bella is intelligent and sassy, and the plot is entertaining. (Amazon reader review)

Diana Deverell’s newest book could be a story on the six o’clock news - the outsourcing of America’s military functions, shady corporate dealings, the suspicious death of a whistleblowing board member, and a special prosecutor’s investigation. (iBooks reader review)

Reviews of the Casey Collins International Thriller Series

12 Drummers Drumming

Chilling Suspense and heated passion—A brilliant debut. (Barbara Parker, Edgar-finalist author of Suspicion of Innocence)

Night on Fire

Deverell’s solid second Casey Collins novel [has] engaging narrative, gripping mystery, and wily plot twists. (Publishers Weekly)

East Past Warsaw

. . . a tale that makes you pray it’s fiction. (S.E. Warwick, mystery reviewer)

China Box

an intricate chess match of espionage, international wheeling-dealing, and love plays out in Washington and Silicon Valley. (Reader review)

# # #

THE NORA DOCKSON TRILOGY * HELP ME NORA * RIGHT THE WRONG * HEAR MY PLEA

By Diana Deverell

BOOK ONE

HELP ME NORA

By DIANA DEVERELL

Published by Sorrel Press

www.sorrelpress.com

A Viable Suspect

The headline screamed, Dark Skin, Death Penalty, and DNA. Nora whistled.

Imagine, busting Latinos is getting trendy. Twenty percent of last year’s admissions to death row had Hispanic origins. And the journalist suggests that a similar anti-Latino bias played a role in Gus’s case.

Channing pointed an unlit cigarette at her. Plus, he hints strongly that the cops and prosecuting attorney were racists.

Realists, Nora corrected with fake seriousness. Only a person of color would kill sweet old Faith Underwood.

Channing glanced at the window as if to confirm it was opened a crack, lit her cigarette, and expelled a cloud of smoke. The reporter buys your suggestion that she was sweet to Timothy Randall and sweet enough to attract a new suitor. Giving Randall motive. He was jealous of the new boyfriend. Got mad and killed her.

DEDICATION

In memory of Elizabeth Ann Henze

April 24, 1960 – April 16, 2014

HELP ME NORA by Diana Deverell

1

Nora Dockson

Nora hadn’t cried over a judge’s decision since she was eighteen years old.

She hadn’t wept in court today when the judge sent Gus back to Washington State Penitentiary with a new date for lethal injection.

But hours later, when she entered Channing Palmer’s Spokane townhouse and her best friend wrapped her in a consoling hug, the sympathy ambushed her.

She couldn’t choke back her tears.

Channing smoothed her hair and muttered, Spineless judge.

Gutless shithead, was what she tried to respond, but the words came out garbled.

From the back of the house came the sleigh bell sound of ice tinkling against crystal and high-spirited laughter. The stereo blared Frosty the Snowman.

Channing’s great room had to be jammed with colleagues from the Legal Resource Center and friends from the public defense offices—all bubbly with holiday booze and idealism. Revering The Law as though it were a sacred totem.

The fucking Law.

She pulled free from Channing’s embrace, hunched her shoulders, and headed up the staircase. She smelled the piney scent from evergreens draping the bannister.

She heard Channing call to her husband Clayton, putting him in charge of answering the door. The light tap of footsteps behind her on the uncarpeted stairs told her Channing was following.

Nora dropped her parka on the master bedroom floor and collapsed on the canopied double bed.

I wasn’t expecting you, Channing said, sinking onto the quilted coverlet. Not after what happened in Hammond County this afternoon.

Don’t worry, Nora murmured. I won’t go down and spoil the holiday mood.

She sat up, grabbed a tissue from the box on the bedside table, blew her nose. She raised both hands to push ginger curls off her forehead.

I’m not looking for someone to cheer me up. This setback means I have to concentrate on Gus. I don’t have time for anything else. I need to let Quinn know.

He’s not here yet.

Channing plucked a pack of cigarillos from where they nestled next to the bedside ashtray.

I talked to him right after you called, Channing said. He wants me to drop everything I’m doing and rewrite the brief you drafted for Gus.

Of course it has to be revised, Nora stuffed down her irritation. She was pissed at Quinn, not her friend. She could write a decent brief.

She fumbled in her purse for her own cigarettes and lighter and lit both their smokes. I know Gus’s case better than you. I’ll do it.

Heavy footsteps on the stairs signaled somebody coming, and seconds later Quinn’s solid form filled the bedroom doorway.

Dark hair fanned out across his shoulders. He stepped into the room, sniff-testing the air—the reformed pack-a-day man getting a secondhand fix.

They told me I’d find you two up here, Quinn said. Nora, I need you digging into the Jared Nelson files full-time.

She was off the bed and on her feet.

I won’t quit Gus.

I’m not pulling you off his case, he said. But I have to keep you as co-counsel for Jared. Channing will fix your brief. She breezes through the constitutional issues faster than anyone else at the Center.

Gus’s case is at a critical point. Nora hardened her voice. I need to move fast and hit hard. I can’t live with myself if I drop him now.

But now is when I need you. Quinn paused and when he resumed, any trace of pleading was gone from his tone. You saying you can abandon Jared and live with yourself?

I made a good start reviewing the evidence in his case. Let me concentrate on Gus for two more weeks. I know I can find a way to beef up my arguments.

Sorry, Quinn shot back. Jared’s deadline is only sixteen days away. You have to find me something I can use.

She tried once more.

Nobody I need to talk to for Jared will be available over the holidays. I can’t do any serious investigating until after New Year’s. At least give me till then to come up with a new angle for Gus. As his lawyer, I owe him that.

Quinn’s eyes narrowed as though reckoning her height.

She straightened her backbone, standing her tallest. Determined to measure up.

Channing was standing, too, her gaze flickering between them.

Quinn sighed in surrender.

Until New Year’s. After that, you’re on Jared only. And whatever you do for Gus better not have blowback. We don’t have enough manpower as it is. I can’t afford to lose any funding.

She widened her eyes.

I’m at war on behalf of the wrongfully condemned. So—I’m not supposed to piss anybody off?

Don’t piss me off, he growled and turned toward the door.

Merry Christmas, she called in the direction of his back.

He grunted acknowledgement and disappeared down the stairs.

She lifted her clenched fist in a victory salute.

Channing pulled it down.

Not your smartest move, she told her. You’ll be working through the holiday. You said you were going to spend Christmas with your grandmother.

If I get right to work, maybe I still can.

Nora reached for her purse and pulled out her cell while explaining.

I’ve been playing phone tag all week with a cop. He mentioned me to a couple of people. Said he’s got the inside dope on one of my clients. He could mean Gus. Maybe I can catch him tonight. Name’s Harper.

A State Trooper? Kent Harper? Channing made the same face she did when she smelled milk gone sour. I know him. A hundred percent cop. Hates us. He’ll screw a defense lawyer any way he can.

I’d meet with the devil if he’d help me get Gus out.

She searched her contact numbers.

Harper’s twisted. Channing sounded worried. He’d enjoy trashing your rep.

Channing’s warning made her squirm but she kept her tone light. Worth the risk. Maybe he has what I need.

Not much chance you’ll stay focused long enough to get it out of him, Channing remarked. Her expression grew knowing. His ass will be a major distraction.

Holding the phone to her ear, Nora shushed her friend and made a date with the trooper. They’d meet in half an hour at a bar around the corner from her apartment.

She grinned at Channing.

I’ve seen Harper only once, from a distance. And only from the front. You’re saying he has a nice ass?

Forget Harper. Channing shook a warning finger at her.

He’s too much like the sorry losers you fell into bed with during your shameless youth.

I only told you those stories to show I saw the error of my ways. I made a vow. I won’t hook up with another good-lookin’ bad boy.

For sure, you don’t want a bad-boy cop.

Nora drove to the close-to-campus apartment she’d begun renting while still in law school. She parked the Buick in her assigned slot and hurried on foot through the freezing twilight to the Cooler Tavern.

By half past six, she was seated in a booth, a pint of draft beer and a bowl of popcorn in front of her.

She was relieved to find not a single pine bough, holly branch, or red-nose-flashing stuffed reindeer in sight. No Christmas scents had invaded the place either. The pervading odor of fresh popcorn reigned unchallenged.

Her stomach was reminding her she hadn’t eaten since breakfast. She’d had no appetite after the prison van rolled away, hauling Gus back to Walla Walla and death row. But now she was on track again, working hard on his behalf.

Ravenous, she emptied the popcorn bowl, savoring the salty flavor. Wiping butter off her fingers with a napkin, she spotted Harper coming through the front entrance. He slipped off his parka, turning to hang it on the coatrack. His plaid shirt was tucked into jeans.

Definitely a nice ass. And good shoulders.

Harper waved to her before heading to the bar. A couple of minutes later, toting his own pint, he slid into the seat across from her.

His blond hair was buzzed shorter than she liked and he’d slapped on too much cologne.

Still, she’d interviewed less appealing sources.

She pulled out her cell and turned it off. Tonight’s work might turn out to be fun. She didn’t want any interruptions.

They small-talked while working their way down the beer.

Harper seemed interested to learn she’d spent a good part of her life in a small Oregon town near Pendleton. He insisted that, with her twang, she must have been a barrel-racer at the town’s famous Roundup.

She admitted to liking horses, but confessed she’d never done any rodeo-ing.

He’d grown up on a Central Washington wheat farm, she discovered.

Not too far from where you were this morning, he said.

Registering her surprised look, he laughed. Judge’s classy phrasing got back to Spokane before you did.

As she’d hoped, Harper wanted to talk about Gus.

You been following the Gustavo Ochoa case? she asked.

Not really. His expression was amiable. Maybe you could fill me in?

You know the crime, right? Somebody battered a sixty-six-year old widow to death in Sweet Home eighteen years ago?

He nodded.

She added, Today, I was trying to get the judge to agree that the murder investigation was bungled. Cops were called after the man living next door found her body stuffed in an upstairs closet.

Harper broke in. This neighbor was an instant suspect, right?

Wrong. He was a respected citizen. The cops actually let him into the house to tidy up before they got an arrest warrant.

Harper grimaced in disbelief. He got to roam through the crime scene unescorted?

Unbelievably, yes. Other neighbors hinted to investigators going door to door that this guy, Timothy Randall, was bonking the victim. Years later, I interviewed several of them. They told me the same story.

And that was? Harper asked.

Timothy Randall’s wife didn’t drink alcohol. He liked to slip next door to the widow lady’s for afternoon cocktails.

And other afternoon delights. Harper snickered knowingly.

He’s dead or I’d put him on the stand and make him admit it.

Harper was paying close attention. Clearly, the case interested him.

She added the kicker.

Timothy Randall helpfully pointed the cops toward a suspect.

Aha! Harper sounded gleeful. Bet you’re going to tell me he named Gustavo Ochoa.

Bingo. Randall remembered Gus shoveled snow for the victim. Cops found her canceled checks. One written to Gus was cashed a month earlier. And they pulled a single fingerprint on her door frame that matched his.

So your client had a police record.

Harper’s tone had gone flat, all jaded cop.

It was for one charge of domestic violence. When he and his girlfriend argued, she’d get mad and call the police. He says he never hit her. She dropped the charges twice. Third time, she swore out a warrant and he was arrested and printed. He paid the forty-buck fine and moved back in with her. But the cops who got the print match made the leap from possible slapping to probable murder.

Harper grunted.

He was in the system for hitting a woman. His print was in the house of a female murder victim. You said this happened in Sweet Home in the nineties?

He registered her nod and continued. A lot of violent crime originated in Sweet Home’s Latino community back then. The local force had to look at him. But one print? One canceled check?

Harper shook his head. Not enough for an arrest warrant.

Pretty flimsy, she agreed.

Especially as they found two other sets of prints at the scene that didn’t match the victim or Gus. The cops never identified who left them. They just picked up Gus. Three months later he was on trial for murder.

Found guilty, obviously. Harper smiled. You being a death penalty appeal lawyer.

His court-appointed lawyers didn’t put up a real defense.

But he’s not dead, Harper noted. So his lawyers must’ve appealed.

They did. Luckily, the attorney appointed to handle the appeal was sharper than they’d been.

She took a deep breath before going into the legalese.

Harper cut her off.

The appeal lawyer focused on a technicality. Won a new trial. Your man was found guilty again.

Harper swallowed beer and leaned back in his chair. But that must’ve taken place more than fifteen years ago. How did this old case end up in your lap?

When I was a student at Spokane University School of Law, I interned two summers at the Center. The coordinator handed me Gus’s file and I got hooked. I buried myself in it. Visited him at the prison. Spent time with his mother and sister. Talked to witnesses. After I graduated and passed the bar exam, I was hired as a permanent Center employee.

Specializing in Gustavo Ochoa, Harper said. Sounds like you’ve grown attached to him.

I’ve known Gus for seven years. He’s gentle and honest. I can’t imagine him killing anyone. The more I learn about his case, the more convinced I am that he didn’t murder that woman.

She paused for another sip of beer.

When I applied for post-conviction relief, she continued, my co-counsel and I blew several big holes in the prosecution case. Hearing was before Judge Bennett. Same judge I had today. He wrote in his opinion that Gus might not be guilty. But he refused to grant him a third trial.

’Course not, Harper said. Judge has to run for re-election every four years. He’s not going to tell twenty-four registered voters who served on the first two juries that they wasted their time. Much better for him if the appellate division takes the heat.

That’s where we’re headed. The State Supremes agreed to hear the appeal. I got a court order transferring the most important exhibits to Olympia, so they’d be available to the justices. And that’s when the county clerk tells me he can’t locate a glass slide. Supposedly, it contained a fiber removed from the victim’s body. When I recovered the exhibit, I could tell it was a hair.

My, my, Harper mused. Misplaced and mislabeled evidence. How careless.

Careless my ass.

Lifting her pint, she drained it and felt the alcohol loosening her up.

Eyeing Harper, she recalled her conversation with Channing. Best not to get too loose with him. Especially when he wasn’t giving her anything helpful.

Before she could use her empty glass as an excuse to end the evening, he was on his feet. He headed for the bar with both their glasses. When he set the refilled pints on the table, she reached for hers.

Thanks.

He grinned. Long story. Thirsty work.

He was right. Her mouth had gone dry from all the talking. Lifting her glass, she swallowed deeply. "Short version is the forensic scientist who prepared the slide testified in both trials that he’d passed it on to the local cops. They claimed they never got it. Three months ago, the forensic guy discovered it in another file in his office."

She emphasized discovered as if the word had quotes around it.

And that made you suspicious.

The hair was blond. Of course it hadn’t come from a brown man. I arranged for an expert to analyze it. Test showed it hadn’t come from the victim, either. Damn, a foreign pubic hair on her body.

Harper’s eyebrows rose. You’re saying the hair wasn’t introduced into evidence at the original trial?

Not by the prosecution and not by the defense. Completely unacceptable. I figured the state appellate lawyer handling the case would agree to re-try the case. She didn’t.

She? Harper’s brow wrinkled. You mean Marianne Freemantle?

You know her?

Seen her in court.

Makes two of us.

She stopped herself from saying more. Harper didn’t need to hear how much she hated the woman. So I went back to Judge Bennett. Who said—

Harper interrupted. ‘One pubic hair is not enough.’ And I agree. It isn’t. You haven’t shown it came from a viable suspect.

She opened her mouth to protest.

Harper held up both hands, palms out, to stop her.

You clearly believe the neighbor killed the old woman. You tie that hair and those fingerprints to him, you’ll get a new trial and you’ll get your client off.

Great idea. She puffed air between her lips to add a derisive sound.

Except for him being dead and buried.

So exhume him, he retorted. Get his DNA. Take his prints.

Damn, Harper was twisted.

She hadn’t considered digging up the dead to free Gus.

I’m glad I called you, she told Harper. Your suggestion isn’t what I expected to hear. But it’s a good one. I’ll think it over.

Not what I expected to say, either, since that remark by the judge today is the most I’ve heard about Gustavo Ochoa’s case.

Harper leaned back and pushed his empty mug to one side.

The only client of yours I’m familiar with is Jared Nelson, he said.

He’d named Quinn’s life imprisonment appeal client.

She struggled to wrench her mind away from Gus.

You thought I wanted your views on Jared?

The most cold-blooded criminal I’ve ever encountered, Harper said.

Her brain refused to absorb the switch.

I’m not Jared’s lead attorney. She shifted in her seat and added, I’m not that familiar with his case.

Undeterred, Harper continued. His wife testified that he attacked and raped her. Yet he calmly repeats that he wasn’t home. How can Jared Nelson expect anyone to believe his own wife didn’t recognize him?

He looked at her expectantly.

As if she’d reveal Quinn’s strategy for the case. Or more accurately, his lack of one. She made a show of checking her watch. Seven-thirty. Sorry, I have to cut this conversation short.

Standing, she added, Thanks again for the advice and the beer. And Merry Christmas.

Merry Christmas.

Harper stood, too.

She bumped into him twice as they struggled into their coats. Beer made her clumsy. Might also make her talk too much.

Playing it safe, she declined Harper’s offer to drive her home.

They parted at the exit and he grinned at her.

You have a Happy New Year, Little Buckaroo.

She couldn’t help giggling.

You, too, Farm Boy.

Buoyed by the beer, the new idea for Gus, and the plain silliness of imagining riding in the Pendleton Roundup, she walked briskly home alone along frozen sidewalks. Collecting her briefcase from the Buick, she climbed the exterior staircase to the covered walkway fronting her apartment.

Her front door opened directly into a single box-shaped room, flanked along the right-hand wall by a tiny kitchen, walk-in closet, and bathroom. Small, but hers.

She’d raced off to Hammond County this morning, leaving the sleeper sofa unfolded. The homemade quilt with the not-quite-right sunbonnet-girl pattern welcomed her back.

She’d repainted the walls three times since moving in. They shone glossy white, a pristine backdrop for her prison art, drawings sent by grateful clients who had no other gifts to give her.

Gus’s colored-pencil sketch of a family picnic held pride of place. On it, bright sun shone in an azure sky. Small figures spread across a grassy meadow, clustering under willows, wading in the stream. He’d filled the paper with tiny, intricate details. At the center, he’d placed himself, his family, and her.

She was flanked by his sturdy white-haired mother Luisa and his graying older half-sister Yvonne. His lawyer—his carrot-topped Nora—burned like a flame in that hopeful future landscape.

Her first case, Gus had been part of her life for seven years. He was more than a client—he mattered. And he was innocent. She was certain of that.

She’d do everything in her power to set him free.

Emptying her pockets as she undressed for bed, she remembered to turn her cell back on and found she’d missed one call.

She recognized the number. It belonged to the phone used by inmates at Oregon’s correctional facility for women.

The automated message in her voice mail intoned the name of her caller in two different voices: Winifred. Yates.

Uneasy, she drummed her fingers on the bedside table. She’d made her pre-Christmas visit to Winnie last weekend. What had come up in the past seven days that was too urgent to crawl past the censors in email or a letter?

2

Marianne Freemantle

Marianne Freemantle frowned at her email. It was Saturday morning and she was at home in her upstairs den. Call me, read the message from Zane Carter, who worked for Oregon’s attorney general.

All their previous communication had been via email. What had he chosen not to put in writing? She pulled out her cell and tapped in the number he’d provided.

When Zane answered, she heard the clink of a spoon against china along with his muffled and high-pitched, Hello.

The man’s girlish voice did not go with his macho first name. And why was a busy attorney eating cereal at ten-thirty in the morning?

She identified herself and asked, Am I interrupting your breakfast?

All finished. He swallowed whatever was clogging his mouth. Thanks for getting back to me so quick.

What’s up?

Carter’s response was stiff. We won’t name your person of interest during this phone conversation, okay?

Had he developed second thoughts about the task he’d agreed to do for her?

I made a legitimate request, she reminded him. An inquiry concerning a resident of my state who’d been incarcerated in yours.

Might have told me how she’s earning her living these days. I did a records check. Confirmed your person spent twenty-five months at the former Oregon correctional institution for women near Salem. I dug a little deeper and learned she shared her cell with only one inmate while incarcerated. Winifred Yates, a thirty-five year old white woman serving three consecutive sentences totaling nineteen-plus years for felonies committed in 1997.

The time inside implied serious crime. Yates had hurt somebody. She might be willing to hurt her former cellmate.

She scribbled notes while she did the math.

So Wicked Winnie was twenty-one when they put my person in her cell. She remember her fondly?

Carter’s laugh was sour. Too fondly for your purposes. According to Winifred, your person is a candidate for sainthood. Not only did she turn her life around after release and become a lawyer. She helps the downtrodden, including her old cellmate. Who’s very attractive, by the way. Beautiful black hair and lots of charm. She was real cute, flirting with me.

With him? She’d expected Carter to send an investigator.

You saw the woman in person?

Didn’t want to involve anyone else at this stage. I had an appointment with another inmate at the same facility. Found time to fit in Winifred. My schedule’s a little lighter these days. Appeal process has gotten leisurely.

By these days, Carter meant since Oregon’s governor banned executions in the state. She believed the ban to be a huge mistake and feared her own governor would soon copy Oregon’s.

Glad you can get something positive from that, she said.

Not entirely negative, at least, Carter said. Anyway, Winifred and your person must’ve been quite the jailhouse couple.

Intrigued, she jotted lesbian? on her pad. You mean they were playing house?

No suggestion by Winifred that they were more than friends. But both of them being in their twenties. Winifred being such a looker. Your person making herself so helpful to everyone. The combination had to be attention getting.

Marianne drew a line through lesbian? and moved on. What do you mean, my person is helping the cellmate?

Your person is trying to get Winifred out of jail.

Of course, she said. No doubt she was wrongly convicted. No one doing time ever committed the crime.

Winifred did, Carter retorted. She confessed to the Springfield home invasion. Copped to one count of first degree robbery, one of second, and one of second degree kidnapping.

Marianne let her surprise color her voice. And that plea bargain put her inside for two decades?

Carter grunted. She may not have gotten the best advice. Each count means a separate mandatory sentence. The end result is she’s doing twice as much time as women convicted of manslaughter.

He was making an editorial comment.

She countered. Society is better off keeping violent criminals in jail. And I understand that the Oregon law is like Washington’s mandatory minimum sentences. The inmate gets no time off for good behavior and has no possibility of parole.

Right, Carter confirmed. Basic philosophy is lock’em up and throw away the key.

So what can my person do to get the cellmate released earlier? she asked.

Remember, Winnie has three separate sentences, served consecutively. She’s completed the first and second and part of the third.

Marianne understood.

My person petitioned the court to amend the sentencing. Allow the cellmate to serve her third sentence simultaneously with the second.

You got it, Carter said. If granted, she’ll be released.

Marianne sniffed. Makes no sense to let her out early. The whole point of mandatory sentencing is to deter convicted felons from resuming criminal activity.

I’m glad you feel that way, Carter said. Because Winifred didn’t volunteer negative information concerning your person. And I was reluctant to fish for any. Given their friendship, I could hardly suggest she might benefit by cooperating with me.

Of course not. The only thing you can offer is to support her petition. Hardly logical when what you want in return concerns the lawyer preparing the petition.

Soon as I realized that, Carter said, I terminated the interview. So far, Winifred’s petition has been denied in two lower courts. Your person has pushed it up to the next level each time. Very determined lady. When I agreed to make inquiries for you, I didn’t realize you were digging for dirt on a death penalty appeal lawyer. Could be a land mine buried in that excavation. I don’t want any shrapnel hitting me.

The squeaky-voiced coward was refusing to help her expose an unfit attorney. She hid her annoyance.

I’ll keep your assistance completely confidential. I appreciate your effort.

Sounding mollified, he said, You’re welcome.

She lowered her voice making her next words intimate.

And you’ll send me the complete police report on her crime?

He didn’t reply, his silence accusing her of asking him to break Oregon law.

After ten seconds, she added, I need that information so I can compare it to her application for admission to the bar. If she was truthful, she’ll never know I checked. Surely, you see the logic.

Grudgingly, he agreed. But give me your home address. I don’t want a package from me accidentally logged in to your office mail system.

She recited her address, thanked him again, and ended the call.

Hard work, extracting what she needed. Especially from a man with no balls.

And lousy judgment.

She doubted the women’s prison in Oregon got many visits from lawyers on the attorney general’s staff. Carter’s appearance would raise questions.

His prissy attempts to hide his involvement were late and inadequate. She bet that minutes after he left, Winifred Yates had called Dockson.

Was that a problem?

She glanced at the trio of framed photos on the corner of her oak desk.

Grandad on his horse.

A PR shot of her British-born husband Nigel taken for one of the corporate boards he served on.

And her favorite photo of her father, a dashing twenty-nine-year-old in a Navy uniform.

After law school, her dad had spent four years in the office of the Judge Advocate General. Smart, street-savvy, and intense—intimidation was among his favorite tactics. In this case, she’d copy him.

She imagined Nora Dockson, worried that her prison record could go public. A nervous Dockson might reveal damning details.

Plus, she’d learned that Dockson consorted with felons off the job as well as on. All in all, Carter had done a good job despite being a wimp.

Still, she hoped Kent Harper was made of stronger stuff.

She carried her phone downstairs and got comfortable on the floral-patterned couch in the living room. Their house was in one of Olympia’s upscale neighborhoods and the floor-to-ceiling windows allowed a glimpse of Budd Bay in the distance. The miniature water view was invigorating. As if she was inhaling salt air from the Puget Sound inlet.

She’d been battling Nora Dockson on the Gustavo Ochoa case for seven years.

Three weeks ago, Dockson had filed an appearance for the appellant in another of her cases. Quinn Isaacs remained the lead attorney representing Jared Nelson, so Dockson’s addition to the team probably meant she was in charge of fact checking.

The woman didn’t stick to the trial transcript, searching for possible legal argument. She roved the field. It was impossible to predict what would attract Dockson’s attention.

Marianne had realized she needed inside information. State Trooper Sergeant Kent Harper had agreed to assist.

She placed the call and sat up straighter, alert to hear his report.

When Harper answered, his hello sounded wide awake, firm and deep.

Nicely matching his appearance.

Had a chance yet to chat with Nora Dockson?

Indeed I have, he replied. We had a couple of beers together last night.

Last night?

She’d been too tired to move off the couch, but Dockson had gone out on the town. Was the woman popping amphetamines?

She focused on the more critical issue. Did she reveal any strategic details?

Harper laughed. Nope. Soon as I mentioned Jared Nelson, she ran off. But I think I planted a useful seed.

She hadn’t imagined the sergeant would show initiative. Hoping he’d done no damage, she asked, How so?

Last night, Dockson was all fired up over yesterday’s hearing, where she lost to you. I always enjoy listening to someone who’s passionate on a subject. I encouraged her to talk. And I realized how important it is to her that Gustavo Ochoa is innocent. Her willingness to work hard for him comes from her conviction that he didn’t commit the crime.

Harper paused and she heard his tongue click against the back of his teeth.

She’ll find Jared Nelson is a less sympathetic character, he continued. And she’ll remember I called him a cold-blooded criminal.

Could be, she said. Though Dockson isn’t inclined to accept negative evaluations of Center clients by law enforcement. Did you learn anything else that might help me anticipate what she’ll do?

Harper let out a reflective rumble.

She described herself as interviewing witnesses in Ochoa’s case. I suppose she’ll do the same with Jared Nelson. Boils down to his wife, the victim.

Very likely.

She kept her tone neutral. No point in revealing to Harper she had foreseen that likelihood. Good work. I appreciate your going to so much trouble for me.

No trouble at all, Harper assured her. Like I said, I enjoyed hearing the Little Buckaroo’s story.

Little Buckaroo?

Dockson grew up in cattle country. She claims she was never a rodeo rider, but she sure sounds like one. I thought she should have a name to match.

Harper had gotten friendly enough to give Dockson a nickname? She kept her displeasure out of her voice.

So what else do you remember from what she told you?

Well, Harper said, the cops investigating that Sweet Home murder apparently suffered from tunnel vision. I’m surprised the prosecution could make a case against Ochoa based on what they provided.

Dockson can be persuasive. But don’t jump to any conclusions until you hear my side. I’ve yet to lose a decision to her.

She has no warm feelings toward you.

She mentioned me? Marianne asked.

Said when she showed you the pubic hair, you didn’t agree to a new trial. Apparently, she thought you should have.

Harper paused. When he resumed his tone was more intimate.

I’m guessing you’re no cowgirl, working in Olympia. You always lived on that side of the state?

No cowgirl.

She didn’t tell him she’d been born in the middle of Central Washington, an agricultural region housing enormous data storage facilities for Seattle’s high-tech companies. What nickname would Harper make from that—Geek Girl?

She heard the purr of a familiar engine. Going to the window, she peered toward the three-car garage and saw her husband’s Jaguar.

I have to run. But I owe you dinner next time I’m in Spokane.

I look forward to collecting.

She ended the call. Dinner was the only thing Harper would collect from her. If she stayed friendly, she might hear something useful about his Little Buckaroo.

Marianne slipped the phone into her pocket and went to the kitchen. She intercepted Nigel as he entered from the garage.

Every lock of his crisp silver mane was in place. No wrinkle marred his casual outfit—dark blue linen trousers and light blue long-sleeved linen shirt with French cuffs.

She eyed his apparel. I thought you had a tennis date this morning.

Postponed, Nigel said. I drove up to Seattle to breakfast with a new board member. Exhausted as you were last night, I didn’t want to bother you with such a trivial change of plans.

Good decision.

After the long drive home to Olympia, all she’d wanted was a glass of wine. Several glasses. She’d rebuffed Nigel’s efforts to start a conversation.

Sorry I was such unpleasant company.

He shrugged to dismiss any need for apology. Feeling better?

Exercise helped.

Earlier, she’d pushed hard through her core strengthening program, upping the weight on the leg press, increasing the reps for the suitcase lift. Topped off with twenty minutes alternating sprints and fast walking on the treadmill.

Toning her forty-five year old muscles and sculpting her shape, she enhanced the physique she’d inherited from her stocky mother along with the mud-brown hair.

I’m sick of this case, she said to Nigel. And since that bitch took over the appeals, I’m beginning to doubt it will ever end.

Careful not to spell out that by end she meant Gustavo Ochoa would die. Last year, she’d been promoted to lead attorney in the state’s litigation unit handling appeals of all sentences involving death or life imprisonment.

England had hung its last murderer forty-nine years ago. Nigel did not share her firm support for capital punishment.

When you say bitch, you mean the female lawyer named for a dog breed? he asked.

Her chuckle had an acid undertone. She doesn’t spell it the same way.

He laughed. The dachshund is known for persistence. When hunting, she tracks the badger to its den and barks loudly to summon her master to finish it off.

It’s apt. Nora Dockson never stops barking. Prosecution, police work, legal representation, forensics, informant testimony—she’s yapped at them all.

Nigel raised an eyebrow. Apparently with some justification since her motions continue to be heard.

And dismissed. Gustavo Ochoa is guilty of murder. Evidence was mishandled but not in a manner unduly prejudicial to the defendant.

Marianne, Marianne.

Nigel repeated her name in a sorrowful voice.

I don’t need details. What concerns me is that you are using your brilliant mind to defend questionable behavior.

Stung, she began, I’m not—

Don’t you see? he interrupted. When you tarnish yourself in this manner, you become vulnerable. Why allow that?

You make no effort to understand the American legal system.

I will certainly never understand your tawdry love affair with the death penalty.

He took her hands.

You are an incredibly talented lawyer. You can easily find more suitable work. Why demean yourself?

She inhaled but before she could speak he released her hands and put a finger to her lips. She smelled lavender, the scent of his favorite soap.

He kissed her cheek. Don’t say anything. We’ll talk later, when you’re calmer. I have to change and go to the club. He hurried from the room.

Controlling her anger, she extracted an orange juice carton from the Sub-Zero. She filled a crystal glass and carried it upstairs to her den, firmly shutting the door.

What her husband refused to understand was that she couldn’t admit the prosecution had made any errors. Doing so would weaken the state’s case, perhaps fatally. If she lost to a guilty appellant, she failed the citizens of Washington.

She set her glass on the desk. The heavy wooden piece had belonged to her grandfather when he was county sheriff. Her father had inherited it and passed it on to her. She’d also claimed her father’s glass-front bookcases and his leatherbound law books.

Nigel found her office décor quaint.

His insult didn’t bother her. She was pleased to be the third generation in her family to work on the side of law and order in Washington.

She’d brought nothing to her home that had belonged to her mother. Lorraine Silverstone Lawrence had given birth to her but had been as distant as a legal guardian, instructing her to say Lorraine instead of mama.

When Harold Lawrence dropped dead from a heart attack at age sixty-eight, Lorraine-the-society-matron had morphed into Rain-the-do-gooder and left Washington abruptly in pursuit of lost causes. It had felt as if her mother was atoning for the imagined sins of her husband and father.

Dad and Grandad.

The two people whose good opinion had mattered most to her.

Nigel ranked lower.

Lorraine wasn’t on the list.

3

Nora Dockson

Saturday morning, Nora was finishing her second cup of coffee and weighing her next move in Gus’s appeal.

Should she file a motion to exhume the body of Timothy Randall?

Her cell croaked like a bullfrog, interrupting the mental debate.

She grabbed it and heard a repeat of Friday’s automated message from Oregon’s correctional facility for women.

After the beep, she accepted the call and greeted her former cellmate. What’s up?

Got a little Christmas surprise for you. Winnie’s contralto was deeper than usual, freighted with concern. Lawyer name of Zane Carter came to see me yesterday. His card says he works for Oregon’s attorney general. First thing he asked was if I remembered you.

Since my name is on your approved visitor list, it’d be pretty strange if you didn’t.

Knowing the conversation was being recorded, she kept her tone neutral, but the coffee turned bitter in her mouth. She was being investigated. The only person with enough clout to merit assistance from the Oregon AG was the Law Beast: Marianne Freemantle.

What’d you tell him? she asked.

Everything, of course.

Winnie’s laugh was harsh. She was performing for the tape. Your basic bad girl turns good story.

So you thought he was looking for a character reference from you?

What else? Winnie’s voice rang with fake innocence. Anyone in his line of work must be pleased when a former inmate turns model citizen.

She paused. When she resumed, she’d switched her tone to exaggerated puzzlement.

Funny thing, though. He didn’t look pleased. More startled. Maybe a little pissed? He cut me off with a thank you and left.

Interesting. Thanks for letting me know. We can talk more when I see you next month.

Gotcha, Winnie said. Take care.

Nora said a quick goodbye and hung up. She carried her empty cup to the kitchen alcove and rinsed it in the sink. The tap water felt icy on her fingers—same temperature as the lump forming in her gut.

Why was Freemantle sniffing around her past? And why had she sent a government attorney to question Winnie? Freemantle had to know she’d hear of it.

Was she trying to frighten her?

Freemantle represented the State of Washington in both the Gustavo Ochoa and Jared Nelson appeals. She was warning her away from one of those cases.

Back off or I will hurt you.

Nora conjured up an image of Freemantle gloating over her victory the day before.

The mental snapshot of her perfect hairdo and self-satisfied smile was enraging. Fury melted the lump in her stomach and she found herself breathing hard, like a rodeo bull preparing to charge a fallen rider.

She lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply to calm herself.

The Law Beast had tried to scare the wrong person. Nora Dockson did not back down. She shot back. Bullseye.

She’d make that motion to exhume Timothy Randall’s body. She’d file Monday. She’d teach Freemantle not to fuck with her.

For the rest of Saturday, she worked to complete the legal document and the supporting paperwork. She paused only to consider her best strategy.

She couldn’t stroll into the office on Monday morning and put it in front of cautious Quinn. He’d object.

She couldn’t risk trying to convince him. She might let slip that Freemantle was investigating her. This wasn’t the right moment for him to learn of her felony conviction. She had to avoid Quinn.

Luckily, her best friend had canceled plans to spend the holiday with family on the East coast. So Channing would be in the office on Monday. Much wiser to get her to handle Quinn.

At nine o’clock on Sunday morning, Nora rang the townhouse bell.

Channing opened the door, wearing a Santa hat atop her blond chignon, dressed in a green sweatshirt and red plaid pajama pants. Shivering in the cold morning air, Channing pulled her inside and shut the door.

Nora held up the flash drive with her motion saved on it and explained why she’d come.

"Could you help me out here?

Channing shrugged a maybe and led her into the room off the foyer she used as a study.

Ribbon and gift wrap littered the desk. Overflowing shopping bags were massed on the floor. The Messiah played softly in the background and the air smelled of cinnamon from the scented candle burning on the windowsill.

I’ve been trying to create the right atmosphere to play Santa, Channing explained. Clayton took the kid to a children’s church service so I can wrap his presents in peace. Pushing a stuffed Triceratops to one side of her desk, she opened her laptop, turned it on, and plugged in the flash drive.

Her eyes narrowed as she scanned the request for an exhumation order. She shook her head, jingling the bell on her hat.

Quinn won’t let you file this.

He has to. Randall should’ve been printed and his DNA-tested before Gus was arrested. We have to arrange that ASAP.

But disinterring a long-buried man. Channing grimaced. You’re pushing the limits of the law. The sensationalist aspect will generate negative publicity. Quinn hates that. If you’re able to show that the hair and the print came from Randall, the prosecution can argue that he was a frequent visitor. Of course, he’d leave traces of himself in the house.

The pubic hair was recovered from the victim’s body, found in her upstairs bedroom. The palm print was on the underside of the toilet seat in the adjacent bathroom. What frequent male visiting takes place only on a lady’s second floor?

Better hope the judge’s mind is as filthy as yours.

Channing gathered scraps of red-and-green wrap in her fist. The paper crackled as she crumpled it.

Nora forced herself to hold completely still. Her next statement was technically accurate. She knew it wouldn’t be true much longer—but Channing didn’t.

The press has shown little interest in the case. The publicity risk is manageable.

Maybe.

Channing frowned at the screen.

I can tell you wrote this in a hurry. It’s not your smoothest work. Quinn gave you more time. Why the big rush to file?

I realized Quinn was right. Nora shifted her weight from one foot to the other. I have to finish my work for Gus and turn my full attention to Jared. Deadline is coming right up.

You knew that yesterday, Channing pointed out. You did a one-eighty overnight. And I know who you talked to. Is Harper behind this sudden U-turn?

As a matter of fact, he is, she said, hiding her twitching hands behind her back.

Not mentioning Winnie’s call was a tiny lie of omission, yet still a lie.

Right off the bat, Harper told me Jared is a stone killer. My bullshit detector clanged so loud I figured he’d hear it. He was trying to steer me away from doing more investigating.

Could be. Channing pulled off the Santa hat and rubbed her forehead. The bell tinkled again as she spoke. Is the Beast handling Jared’s appeal for the state?

Right. Winning is the only thing that matters to her. She has no interest in discovering someone else committed the crime. I think she’s behind Harper’s charade.

But which charade? Channing gave her a probing look. The one you described? Or the one you didn’t? Because Harper also gave you the idea of exhuming Randall, didn’t he?

Right again. But that was no charade. He threw it out as part of the conversation. Didn’t have the same staged feel as what he said about Jared.

Harper’s logic is warped. You can’t guess his agenda.

Channing pushed out of her chair.

You have to assume he wants to cause trouble for you.

Granted, Nora conceded, the Jared remark was aimed at me. But Freemantle can’t be promoting the exhumation idea. Scroll down and get a looksee at the letter I drafted to her.

‘Get a looksee’?

Channing continued to mock her friend’s Western twang as she recited the letter’s single sentence:

Since you have said many times that it is your duty to seek justice, I am sure you will have no objection to the attached motion.

Of course she’ll object, Nora said. Might keep her so busy, she loses track of what I’m doing for Jared. I don’t see how it can hurt. I think filing this motion is absolutely in Gus’s best interest.

Good point, Channing agreed. And that’s the argument you want me to make when I run it by Quinn tomorrow?

A good exhumation result will add weight to our case. You can see how important it is.

And you want me to do this for you because you’re leaving right this minute to visit your grandmother and won’t be in the office tomorrow.

Channing’s tone was skeptical.

If I drive to Pendleton today, I’ll have Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with Grandma. December twenty-sixth, I’ll go to Walla Walla and speak with Jared. The following day, I have an appointment with his ex-wife in Idaho. After what Harper said, I wish I’d interviewed her earlier. The attempt to divert me is a red flag. I may find a flaw in her eyewitness testimony.

Visit your old granny. Serve your clients. You tell a pretty tale. Since it’s Christmas, I’ll pretend you gave me the whole story and help you out.

Channing fended off a hug. I sure hope you know what you’re doing.

Don’t I always? Nora replied.

Oh God. Channing sighed. Get out of here before I change my mind.

Driving south from Spokane across the sun-drenched Palouse hills, Nora felt guilty as hell. She didn’t want to deceive her friend, but she’d had no choice.

Channing knew the details of her felony conviction. Her best friend was the only person in Spokane who did, but she didn’t know Marianne Freemantle had sent someone to interview Winnie.

If Channing had known, she wouldn’t have agreed to ride herd on the motion. Her best friend would never intentionally blind-side Quinn.

So she’d kept her mouth shut. No matter the consequences, that motion had to be filed tomorrow. She could not let Freemantle’s threat go unanswered.

She spotted the shiny silver ribbon of the Snake River in the distance. Ten yards before the crossing, she pulled onto the shoulder and turned off the ignition. Slipping on her parka, she climbed out into the cold and lit a cigarette.

The concrete bridge spanning the Snake was topped by a metal superstructure curving upward and down again like roller coaster tracks. A graphic picture of the plunging ride her emotions had taken since she’d learned of Marianne Freemantle’s interest in her past.

On the far side of the Snake, the midday sun burnished the sandy hills to golden brown, their jagged outline mirrored in the reflective sheen of the river.

She wished her grandmother were with her to enjoy the glorious view. Opal Dockson loved nature. The garden behind her rural three-room house had been a symphony of color. Every summer when she was a girl, she and Grandma had hauled countless buckets of water to keep the flowers blooming.

Two years ago, her grandmother had admitted she was too infirm to live on her own. She’d sold her property and combined the proceeds with cash from a payout on a life insurance policy to make a deposit on a room in a residential care facility in nearby Pendleton.

Social Security and Medicare didn’t cover the monthly rent. Grandma had reluctantly agreed to let her pay the difference. And so long as she kept her student apartment and continued driving the aging Buick, she could manage that on her salary from the Center.

An hour later, her route swung past the flyspeck village of Edwards where Grandma had lived. It abutted the border of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

Edwards had been her home from age five, when her divorced mother fell in love with a long-haul trucker. Patty-Jean Dockson had dumped her daughter with her ex-mother-in-law, climbed into her lover’s Kenworth, and disappeared for ten years.

Idyllic years for a growing girl, basking in her grandmother’s unconditional love and riding her changing string of convalescing horses.

The memory made her vow to spend no more time obsessing over Freemantle. This afternoon, tomorrow and Christmas Day belonged to Grandma. Making her grandmother queen for the holiday would be her only goal.

When she opened the door to Room 210 at Roundup Assisted Living Community, she inhaled the aroma of flour browned in beef fat and saw Grandma expertly flip a slab of chicken-fried steak. No mean feat for a woman sitting in a wheelchair, eye level with the two-burner cooktop.

She dropped her bag beside the bathroom door and leaned down to kiss her grandmother’s papery cheek. She caught the familiar scent of baby powder.

I thought we were eating in the dining room tonight with your pals. Why are you cooking?

Changed the main course to liver and onions. Not your favorite dish, I recall.

Grandma twisted her head to grin at her. Plastic tubing snaked from her nostrils to the floor and across it to the oxygen tank in the corner of the room. The smile faded to a frown.

You look like you been rode hard and put up wet, she added in the raspy voice of a lifelong smoker.

I’m a little short of sleep. I plan to catch up on it while living your lazy lifestyle.

Nora carefully maneuvered the wheelchair away from the cooktop and parked her grandmother at a small table. It shared the space adjacent to the so-called tea kitchen with one dining chair, a couch as long as her granddaughter was tall, and a flat screen television.

Beyond, a hospital bed and table littered with pill bottles filled the sleeping nook. Not spacious, but room enough for one eighty-four-year-old woman who spent more time gallivanting from friend to friend in the facility than she did in front of her TV.

Nora turned down the heat under the steaks and moved the golden hash browns to join them. She poured vegetable oil into the skillet, turned up the heat, and cracked two eggs into the hot oil. As both fried to perfection, she plated the potatoes and meat. She slid an egg atop each steak and set a plate before her grandmother.

The perfect brunch. Pure genius on your part.

Grandma waved her fork. Somebody has to take care of you, since you won’t.

You’re doing the same great job you always have.

Worked good on you, Grandma rasped. Not quite the same effect on your dad.

His fault. You always said he was born contrary.

Opal Dockson had left school after ninth grade to marry her sweetheart. She was pregnant when he was killed in a car crash. She’d worked at the only grocery store in Edwards for the next fifty-four years, caring first for her son Ben and later for his daughter.

Nora added, If my dad was smart as you say, you think he’d have done better.

Smart at school, Grandma said around a mouthful of potato. First kid in his class to learn to read. But he was making foolish choices before he was six years old.

Her mouth full, she nodded. Family legend had it that when her father saw his first Walk traffic signal for pedestrians change to Don’t Walk, he ran into the crossing to exploit the loophole he’d discovered. Spent the rest of his life bucking the rules.

Grandma continued, Only got worse when he discovered booze.

Love of his life, Nora agreed.

Her father had been on one bender after another while she was growing up. When he collapsed and was hospitalized for kidney failure at age sixty, his doctor warned him that his wrecked body could no longer metabolize alcohol. Drinking would kill him. Two years ago, his final binge had done that.

He was never happier than when he was sitting in a tavern, she said, getting a buzz on. There was nothing you could do.

Grandma lifted a shoulder, let it drop. I’m a mother. We blame ourselves when our kids screw up.

You’re not talking about my mother.

Grandma’s guffaw turned into a coughing spell.

When she recovered, she said, Patty-Jean hasn’t got a motherly bone in her body. You be sure to ask me about her before you leave. I want to get started celebrating Christmas. We have an eggnog party to go to. Got a piano player we can sing along with.

Before I do any singing, Nora retorted, I need a cigarette.

Outside, she stood at the edge of the parking lot, smoking and thinking of her mother. She’d been fifteen when Patty-Jean returned to Pendleton. Her mother had insisted she live with her. Patty-Jean needed the monthly check her newly sober ex-husband sent from Phoenix as child support.

Her mother’s string of boyfriends seemed to think screwing the daughter was included in the package.

When she reported the first crude pass, Patty-Jean insisted it was a lie.

In her last months of high school, Patty-Jean caught Virgil, her current boyfriend, with his hand under her daughter’s T-shirt. Ignoring him, she called Nora a whore and punched her in the stomach.

That June, Patty-Jean found a new guy and told Virgil to leave. Surly, he refused. She called the cops to get him out of the apartment. To keep him away, she sought a restraining order, weaving lurid stories of his abuse of her daughter into the application.

She’d begged Patty-Jean to delete the accounts. She hadn’t wanted her classmates snickering over the nasty stories at graduation. Her mother had called her a selfish pig and slapped her face, giving her a black eye to wear with her cap and gown.

First chance she’d gotten, she’d run away.

She stubbed out the first cigarette and lit another. She hadn’t seen Patty-Jean again until long after her release from prison.

But, every month her grandmother had driven to the other side of the state to visit her. Grandma had been there to collect her the day she got out. She’d given her a place to live. Convinced her to start community college. Urged her to transfer to the state university. Insisted she go to law school.

Nora quickly finished her smoke.

If her grandmother lived forever, she still wouldn’t be able to repay the debt she owed her.

Grandma wanted to celebrate? Then celebrate they would.

Nora didn’t think of her mother again until Tuesday evening. She and her grandmother had finished their turkey dinner in the community dining room and were back in the apartment.

Grandma brought up Patty-Jean. You heard anything from her?

Not a word since she married that old coot.

Old coot? Grandma tried to look offended. I hear Mr. Thomas is my age.

She snorted. Makes him twenty years older than Patty-Jean Dockson Thomas. She can’t have married him for love.

Grandma chuckled. "Well, it sure

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