Chapter 37: Scumbag
“Mr. Barrington,” the woman pleaded, “my daughter is not a criminal. She’s an addict. She would have never been mixed up with those … those horrible people if it weren’t for the drugs.”
Her breasts were magnificent. They made it difficult to pay attention to anything else, least of all her sob story. “I understand. Unfortunately, there was a loaded weapon and just over twenty-eight grams of heroin in her car—”
“My car,” the husband sniffed, a balding chinless hedge fund type in a turtleneck and cardigan.
Blane barely acknowledged him. “Which elevates the charge to armed trafficking. This carries a minimum mandatory of fifteen years.”
The woman began to cry.
He spoke to her breasts. “And since Caitlin was already on probation—”
“For drugs!” She blew her nose. “She’s a heroin addict.”
He pretended to study his calendar. “Well I’m going to ask the judge for a continuance. There’s a chance that I can work out a plea agreement with the new prosecutor assigned to her case. We went to law school together.”
“Oh, if you could just get her into a long-term rehabilitation center.”
He stood. Don’t count on it. “There’s always a possibility. I’m doing everything I can.”
The husband’s handshake was weak. Like a cold fish. Hers was soft, sensual. Maybe she would come alone next time. Wouldn’t be the first concerned mother he’d “counseled” on the couch.
As soon as the door closed, he buzzed his receptionist. “Laela, get Amos up here.”
Five minutes later a lanky, sandy-haired man in a polyester suit strode into his office, reeking of cigarette smoke. Blane fumbled in his drawer for the air freshener. The man sat on the corner of his desk. Thin lips pulled into a smile, revealing yellow, coffee-stained teeth. “Mornin’ Boss. How may I help you?”
It was easy to dismiss Amos Faircloth as an ignorant bumpkin. Blane made this mistake when he first joined the firm, and his litigation suffered for it. But after what should have been a unanimous verdict ended in a hung jury, a senior partner insisted that he use Amos as his investigator going forward and the victories began to stack up.
Deceptively intelligent with a bare-knuckles, by-any-means-necessary approach, Amos Faircloth had a knack for unearthing buried details. The type of details that cast reasonable doubt in the minds of jurors and sent prosecutors scrambling for last-second plea agreements. He was also a retired homicide detective, a veteran of thirty years with connections throughout the force.
Blane pulled up the department of corrections website on his computer, typed in the name and spun the screen so he could read it.
“Mason Foster?” Amos reached for his notepad and pen. “Is he a witness or a suspect?”
“Neither,” said Blane. “He’s a scumbag.”
“I can see that.”
“I need you to dig up any dirt you can find.”
Amos frowned at the screen. “Armed robbery, ag assault, seems to me there’s enough dirt right here to build a mountain.”
Blane waved him off. “That stuff is old. I’m looking for something new. Something that’ll bury his ass so deep, he’ll never climb out again.”
The investigator twirled his pen between nicotine-stained fingers. “This business or personal?”
“Does it matter?”
“I reckon it doesn’t.”
Blane leaned back in his chair and locked his fingers behind his head. “It’s personal.”
Amos smiled. “I’m on it, Boss.”
Chapter 38: OMG
The sound of banging hammers echoed throughout the neighborhood. She could hear them over her car stereo as she pulled into the driveway.
The trashcan had been moved from the curb to the garage. She smiled. Until recently, Evan had to be harassed into doing his chores. And even then it was hit or miss, depending on his level of immersion in the stupid video game she would regret buying for the rest of her life. But over the last few weeks, there had been a noticeable change in her son.
At the end of the cul de sac, Maddy’s bicycle laid in a tangled pink heap next to Mason’s truck. She checked her hair in the rearview and was reaching for her lipstick when she caught herself. What am I doing? She applied a fresh coat anyway.
The hammers fell silent as she slammed her car door and hurried down the sidewalk. She noticed Fran peering through her curtains in the direction of Mason’s house. She waved but the curtains quickly fluttered back into place.
A Wet Paint sign hung from the mailbox and a pile of rotten wood was stacked on the curb. Evan rounded the corner with a hammer stuck in his belt and a load of boards in his arms.
She stole a kiss while his hands were full. “Look who it is, my little construction worker.”
“Stop, Mom.” He dropped the wood and led her up the driveway. “Me and Mason have been working on projects. I built the porch!”
She looked around, impressed with the progress. The sidewalk was edged, the hedges were trimmed, the grime on the siding had been bleached away. Mason was on his hands and knees painting the bottom porch step. She was halfway across the grass when Maddy called her.
She was surprised to see Crystal braiding her daughter’s hair beneath the river birch. The shock hijacked her face, stretching her eyes wide and dropping her jaw, before her brain could process the full implications of what she was seeing.
“Crystal?” She glanced back at Mason once more before walking over. “What are you doing here?”
“She’s braiding my hair, Mom.”
“I see that.” She kissed Maddy on the eye and looked at her coworker. “I’ve been wondering how the date went all day … but apparently it hasn’t ended yet.”
Crystal sucked air between her front teeth. “Oh God, is Dr. Diaz mad at me?”
Brooke realized she was wearing one of Mason’s shirts. “More like concerned. I’ve been texting you. You should’ve at least called in.”
“I know, I know.” She bit her lip as she braided. “I overslept and when I woke up, my phone was dead. Of course Mr. Technology over there doesn’t own a charger. And his own cell has been dead since Thanksgiving, or so he says. Have you ever been in that house? OMG, monasteries have more amenities.”
Her text speak sounded juvenile and pretentious out loud.
“OMG,” said her seven-year-old parrot. “Monsters are scary.”
She looked toward the porch. Tattooed muscles rippled beneath Mason’s t-shirt. There were paint streaks on his butt. Evan sat cross-legged beside him, brow furrowed behind his glasses.
“I’m confused,” she said. “Do you like Mr. Technology? It kinda sounds like you don’t but … you’re here … and it’s the next day … and I’m pretty sure that’s his shirt.”
Maddy squirmed in her lap to investigate the article of clothing in question.
Crystal was staring at Mason, a faraway look in her eyes. “Oh, I think he’s wonderful.”
In the space of a blink, the image of them making love on his sleeping bag flashed in her mind. She flinched.
“Hailey McGuire thinks he’s extraordinary,” said Maddy.
Crystal resumed braiding. “Who’s Hailey McGuire?”
“The Channel 7 News lady. She’s my friend.”
Brooke caught Mason’s eye. He handed Evan his paintbrush and climbed to his feet, motioning her over with a covert nod.
“Excuse me a second.”
She could feel Crystal’s eyes on her back as she walked over to the porch. When she neared him she spoke low, from the side of her mouth. “Boy, you sure work fast.”
“Well there’s still plenty to do,” he said, oblivious. “And with Fran watching through her window like Dot watching shoplifters at the Magic Mart, it’s been pretty stressful. But the sidewalk is edged, the hedges are trimmed, the slime mold is gone, and this porch is a whole lot sturdier … thanks to my main man, Commando.”
He stuck his hand out, Evan slapped it five.
Her smile felt phony. Tight. “Can I speak to you inside?”
He followed her up the half-painted steps.
“Uh oh,” Evan mumbled.
She was relieved to see a couch, coffee table, and stocked bookshelf in the living room instead of his rumpled sleeping bag. Before she could stop herself, she whirled on him. “I cannot believe you.”
He raised his hands. “What did I do?”
Good question. What did he do? Didn’t matter. “I set you up on a date. In an elegant restaurant. And you … you … turn it into a disgusting Tinder hook up!”
He burst out laughing.
She kicked him in the knee.
She glared through the blinds at Crystal. “You could’ve at least had the decency to take her home before the kids got out of school. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to explain adult sleepovers to a second-grader? I swear, if you don’t stop laughing I’m going to kick you again. And this time, it won’t be in the knee.”
“Are you jealous?”
She rolled her eyes. “Please.”
“Brooke, we didn’t do anything.”
“Now you’re insulting my intelligence.”
“Seriously, she was sloshed when I got to the restaurant and kept drinking until she passed out. I couldn’t just leave her there, and I don’t know where she lives, so I drove her here.”
“And she just happened to wake up in your clothes.”
He shrugged. “I gave her my bed and slept on the couch. Her snoring still kept me up until dawn. She’s worse than any cellmate I ever had. When I woke up this afternoon she was wearing my shirt and eating my soup. I would’ve taken her home but it was after two and I promised you I’d be here when Evan and Maddy got home from school.”
“Mmm, very convenient,” she said, hating the suspicious pout in her own voice.
He shook his head. “I’m telling you the truth.”
“The whole truth?” She looked hard into his eyes. “Sure you’re not leaving out any important little details?”
He faltered. A hint of doubt swam beneath the surface of his smile.
She crossed her arms.
The moment swelled. The refrigerator hummed. The house creaked. Maddy giggled in the yard. Finally, he spoke. “I went out with her because you asked me to. I took extra care with her because she’s your friend. But I do not find her attractive and even if I did I still wouldn’t touch her.”
“Why? Because she drinks too much and says OMG?”
“No,” he said, “because she’s not you.”