CHAPTER 7

Brian was woken at 7:00 by the ringing of his cell phone. Groaning, he pulled it off the bedside table and opened it. ”Hello?”

You forgot to make your call last night.” The voice on the other end stated.

Blinking, Brian sat up slowly. “Shit. I ended up at the hospital all night helping Stephanie pack to go home today.”

“Her going home is not part of the plan. She has spread names across the goddamned globe. I want the woman out of my hair. Did Shadow and Benton get the money?”

“Benton?”

“Don’t be ignorant.” L. stated as he paced his office. “If you hadn’t called him, Shadow would have.”

Brian groaned. It was too early in the morning for this. “We needed him here.”

“The hell you did.” L stated. “He was supposed to stay in Brazil. I was surprised when he called me three weeks ago asking about Michigan. I wondered how he had heard about it since I had expressly asked that he not be involved.”

“He has more experience when it involves this much money. Not to mention all the side issues.”

“He was not supposed to come in contact with Shadow.” L stated. “You know that I do not want them together.”

“What the hell is so bad about that?” Brian asked. “She’s high strung. She causes massive problems when she’s unmonitored. Do I need to point out the Miami fiasco. She gunned down a goddamned cop in front of the station. I’m guessing you never told her that I had that handled.”

“I shouldn’t have needed to tell her.” L remarked.

“Well, you should have. I bet you’re still cleaning up that goddamned mess. If being around Benton calms her down, let it be.” Brian stated flatly. “She’s 28 years old and still running around like a half cocked 20 year old. We can’t have that, and Victor can’t control her. She beat the shit out of him last week right after Benton arrived. And let me tell you, I haven’t had anymore issues with her since he arrived.”

L sighed. “You know I have plans for her.”

“I know you have plans for her, and you need to start making them with Benton in mind. I know you want him to run the Company one day. Let him run it with her at his side. You know they’d do an excellent job together.” That was all Brian had to say on the matter, and he changed the subject before L had a chance to respond. “The police are going to raid the Shaughnessy agency either today or tomorrow.”

L nodded from where he stood as he viewed a photograph on his desk. He would let the Shadow/Benton thing die for now. He knew they’d both come back to Brazil soon enough. “This is how this is going to work. You’re going to make sure that Victor’s fingerprints are all over Stephanie’s house. I do not want Shadow and Benton arrested and tried for fraud. I want Victor arrested for murder. Do you understand?”

Brian nodded to himself as he stood from the bed. “It will be arranged.” With that he closed his phone and walked into the bathroom to take a shower. It was going to be a long day.

He exited the shower not 20 minutes later, and dressed in a black business suit. Sliding on his silver Rolex, he turned off all the lights and left the hotel room. His first order of business would be to call Victor, and Brian dialed the number as he reached the lobby.

“Victor speaking.”

“Victor, this is Brian. I need you to meet me at Stephanie’s hospital room.”

“What for?” Victor asked as he checked the clock beside the bed.

“To help me get her out of the hospital and home. I think she had half her house brought to her over the last week.”

Victor chuckled. “Yeah. Sure. When do you need me there?”

“About 10:00.” Brian replied.

“I’ll see you there.”

A moment later, Brian hung up the phone. He had already told Stephanie that he’d be at the hospital all morning with her while they did the final release paperwork and looked her over one last time.

At 10:00, Victor walked into the room where Stephanie and Brian had been chatting about what she wanted to do once she got home. Her bags and the majority of her things had already been packed and were waiting just inside the door.

“Victor.” Brian said with a smile. “Could you help me load these things into my car?”

Victor nodded and picked up a couple of the bags, while Brian grabbed a couple boxes of presents and flowers.

“It doesn’t look like that much to me.” Victor commented as they walked out into the hallway.

“It was going to be at least four trips for me.” He replied with a chuckle. His hands were covered in black leather gloves. He didn’t want any of his fingerprints on anything.

Victor nodded, still confused as to why he was even there. He didn’t really know Stephanie. He hadn’t spent any time with the woman. Of course, that had made it easier for him to remove the money from her accounts. Victor didn’t like getting too close to his victims. He didn’t even like getting close to his partners, but it invariably happened. Sex with Shadow had been a mistake. He knew L’s feelings about his employees sleeping with each other. Hell, he had seen the arguments between Benton and L over Shadow. Some of them had gotten to the point where Victor was simply waiting for punches to be thrown. “He’s in love with her, isn’t he?” Victor stated suddenly.

“Who? Benton?” Brian asked.

“Yeah.”

“Yeah, he is.” Brian said with a sigh. So much for keeping things quiet.

Victor shook his head as he placed the bags in Brian’s trunk. “What’s he going to do about L?”

Brian shrugged after he had freed his arms of the boxes. “I don’t know, but he’s hell bent on having her. L is going to have a conniption when he finds out. I almost feel bad for them.”

Victor nodded. “I don’t relish that argument.” He sighed. “Had Shadow said much about it?”

“You know Shadow, she’s remaining silent.” Brian replied as they headed back into the hospital for the second and final trip.

“You can see it in her eyes though.”

“I saw it in his the other night. It was rather scary, and there’s not a damned thing L can do about it short of killing them both.”

“I doubt he’d do that. He loves them both like his own children.”

At 11:00, they wheeled Stephanie down to the lobby. Brian had pulled the car up to the curb while Victor loaded her into the front seat of the car.

“I’ll follow you.” Victor stated.

Forty-five minutes later they were pulling into Stephanie’s long cobblestone driveway and unloading her and the car. Brian made sure that Victor touched most of the boxes, the door handle, the furniture…

When Stephanie asked Victor to stay and help her unpack, Brian smiled and wished them luck with the unpacking and left.

“How’s Shadow doing?” Stephanie asked while they unpacked her suitcases.

“She’s doing quite well.” Victor responded. “She’s very happy with the car.”

“That’s great. You know I asked her to do a run for me?”

“Did you? What did she say?”

“She said that she’d think about it. I’m hoping she says yes.”

Victor nodded. “She might. She loves to fly.”

“Could you mention it to her?”

“Taking the trip?”

“Yes.”

“I suppose.” He semi-agreed.

CHAPTER 8

The morning and early part of the afternoon were relatively uneventful, aside from more arguing with Detective Shaughnessy. Eventually, Shadow had enclosed herself in her office to continue mulling over the case they had been reading yesterday. It still didn’t make any sense to Shadow. There was just no reason for this information to have never gotten to the police. There was no reason that it hadn’t been found when they raided the office. It perplexed Shadow immensely.

Aside from that, she couldn’t find the file on the Company. Shadow was beginning to think that it didn’t exist. In fact, the only names that she could find files for were Brian and Decker. There wasn’t even a file on L, and that really confused Shadow. It seemed to her that if Shaughnessy had so much information on the Company, that she would at least have a file on L.

At 5:00, she heard a knock on her door and opened them remotely. When Benton stepped through the door, she breathed a sigh of relief.

“Afraid it was Shaughnessy again?”

Shadow nodded.

“She’s gone for the evening.” He replied walking over to her desk. “Are you ready for this?”

Shadow nodded and pulled her Luger from the top drawer of her desk. She had cleaned it earlier in the afternoon. “Where do you think she went?”

Benton shrugged. “I don’t know, but I called Brian earlier and asked him when Stephanie was getting out of the hospital. She supposedly was released at noon.”

Shadow nodded. “Well, if I was hurt and just got out of the hospital, I’d want to go home.”

“That’s what I was thinking. So it looks like we’re going to make a trip out to the countryside.”

She laughed. “It’s not in the country.”

“Close enough.”

Fifteen minutes later, they were comfortably enclosed in Benton’s white corvette and headed to the outskirts of Grand Rapids. They passed through the north side of the city and watched as the building became fewer and the trees became thicker. Soon, they were turning into a gated community.

“When does the movie start?” Shadow asked.

He checked his watch. It was almost seven. “In about an hour and a half. We won’t have much time once we get there.”

Shadow nodded as she watched the huge houses along the side of the residential street. Each house had to be at least 4000 square feet, and they all had expansive front lawns. “These are pretty nice.”

“Yours is better.” Benton replied as he slowed down. They were getting close to the house. “She’s here.” He pointed to her car.

Shadow grinned darkly as she pulled her gun from her side holster, checked it and put it back. “How do you want to do it?”

“Depends on whether you’d like to go knock on the front door or break in through the back.”

Shadow hmmm-ed. “I’ll take the direct approach.”

Benton pulled into the driveway behind Stephanie’s car and they both stepped out. “You want to knock or should I?”

“I’ll knock.” Shadow said as they stepped onto the porch.

A moment later the door was answered by a man in a suit. “We’re here to see Stephanie.” Benton informed.

“Come in. She’s resting in the parlor.” The man stated as he lead them through the Foyer and down the hall into a dimly lit parlor.

“Shadow!” Stephanie exclaimed. “Where have you been?”

Shadow grinned. “Mostly working. How have you been?”

“Good aside from the accident. Well, and my missing money. I’m sure you’ve seen the news.”

“We have.” Benton replied. “It’s all over the news. Whoever did this to you is certainly going to pay for it.”

She nodded. “I hope so. So far the police have recovered 27 million of it, but they can’t find the rest.”

Benton nodded. “I’m sure they will.”

“I hope. So, what are you guys doing here?” Stephanie asked.

“Just checking to see how you’re doing.” Shadow replied. “I called the hospital this afternoon and they said that you had been released. It was a little bit of a struggle getting the address, but Brian had it.”

Stephanie nodded. “He helped me get home this afternoon.”

Shadow smiled, but inwardly she was perplexed. Brian was on their side. Brian was bad, just like them, a criminal. Yet he seemed to take every opportunity to help Stephanie. At least, that was how it seemed to her. Suddenly, she had a question for Benton, but couldn’t ask it. She wondered if he was listed as one of the suspects in the case. “So, how are you feeling tonight?”

“Pretty good. They gave me some pain pills and want me to see my regular doctor in about a week or if I’m in extreme pain. So far, I feel fine.”

Benton nodded and nudged Shadow gently. “Time dear.” He whispered into her ear.

Shadow turned her head. “Go deal with the butler.” She whispered back before turning her attention to Stephanie as she pulled out her gun.

Stephanie’s eyes grew wide. “What’s that for?”

“This is to motivate you to answer some questions.” Shadow responded as she sat down in the chair across from her. “I have a lot of things I can’t figure out, and I think you have the answers I’m looking for.” She glanced down at the gun. “Truthful answers, of course.”

Stephanie swallowed hard. “You can’t do this.”

“I can do whatever I want, but that’s not the point. The point is that you tell me why Shaughnessy was never indicted for the murder of Alexis Locke.”

“They never found her killer.” Stephanie stated, eyes fixated on the gun in Shadow’s hand.

“I know that. I’ve read the fucking case. In fact, I read the pre-investigation into Decker’s affair. Seems you had quite the good time with the man.”

“I never had an affair with him!”

Shadow sighed as she pulled out her silencer from her coat pocket and screwed it onto the end of her gun. “This is why I have the gun. I know you had an affair with the man. I’ve seen the pictures and heard the voice recordings.” She paused. “That was your one warning. Next time I shoot you.”

“Okay, I was having an affair with the man, but I didn’t kill his wife.”

“Then who did?”

“I don’t know I wasn’t there. I only heard from Decker that she had been shot.”

Shadow aimed her gun and pulled the trigger. She didn’t even flinch when the bullet impacted Stephanie’s foot. ”I was in the fucking room when she was shot.” She stated after Stephanie had finished screaming and simply gone to whimpering. “You forget that. I almost forgot that. I had walked in during the last half of the argument. NOW. Why was Shaughnessy cleared so easily?”

“I paid her.” Stephanie screamed. “I paid her to destroy all the goddamned files. Decker added money on top of it. She took bribes!”

“Mhhmmm. A history of bribe taking. Beautiful.” Shadow was already working on ways where that could benefit her. “And how did you get around the police?”

“I bribed chief Breck to not see certain things and to misplace certain evidence. They never had a case after that.”

“I see. And why would Shaughnessy need to take bribes?”

“I don’t know. I guess she needed the money.” Stephanie cried.

Shadow nodded. “Good enough for me.” With that she aimed her gun and squeezed the trigger. Two shots flew from the barrel impacting Stephanie in the chest. She slumped forward with no further sounds. A moment later, Benton entered the room. “It’s time to get out of here. The butler is dead.”

Shadow nodded and stood, chuckling to herself. “She paid everyone off.”

Benton nodded. “I heard as I was walking down the hall. It doesn’t really surprise me.” He slipped an arm around her waist as they exited calmly through the front doors. After closing the front door he wiped down the knob with a handkerchief. “Did you touch anything inside?”

“No.” Shadow responded as they stepped inside the white Corvette and headed back into town. “What time is it?”

“About time for the movie to start. We’ll be about 30 minutes late.” He paused. “Did I mention I got the tickets while I was on lunch today?”

Shadow giggled. “You think of everything.”

“I try to. Neither one of us need to end up in jail tonight.”

“So, why would Shaughnessy need to take bribes?” Shadow asked as they stepped inside the car.

“Don’t know. I guess we need to go over her financial records. I’m confused as to the whole mess. We can’t find the file on the Company aside from a few blurbs here and there. It really doesn’t make sense.”

Shadow and Benton drove to the movie theater and entered through the front doors. Shadow ordered popcorn and candy and a giant coke before they entered the theater. They spent the majority of the movie entertained with each other rather than what was showing on the screen. The movie lasted almost four hours and they exited the front doors around midnight. The parking lot was deserted except for the few people that had also gone to see the late evening show.

“God, I’ve missed you.” Benton commented as they walked towards his car. That earned him a long kiss against the side of his corvette before they finally stepped inside.

The next morning, Benton and Shadow arrived at the Shaughnessy offices around five after eight to find detectives Trace and Shaughnessy having a serious conversation in the front office. They both stopped just inside the door, Benton with his arm almost possessively around Shadow.

Have you two seen the news?” Trace asked.

No. Why?” Benton asked.

Stephanie was murdered last night.” Shaughnessy answered.

What?!” Shadow exclaimed. “Murdered? By who?”

The police said they don’t have any suspects yet, but they’re combing through the property.” Trace replied.

Shadow nodded. “Any idea why she was killed?”

I have lots of theories on why she was killed.” Jody said as she stood from her desk. It could have been someone mad at her. It could have been linked to her missing money. It could have been someone come back to take vengeance on the affair she had years ago with Decker.”

Shadow inhaled in order to keep herself calm. This was the part that always made her nervous. She had a lot of questions for Jody, but this was not the time to ask them.

Let us know if you find out anything further.” Benton said as he began to usher Shadow into her office. When Shadow triggered the doors, he led her further inside. “I can always feel when you start to get nervous.”

She turned around and wrapped her arms around Benton. “It always makes me nervous when they first find out.”

“Always scary because you never know what they might find or what you overlooked.” Benton replied as he began to stroke her back.

Shadow nodded. “What did we do with the guns?”

“I took them out to lake Michigan last night after you were asleep. Dumped the bullets and the guns. Separately.” He grinned.

Shadow nodded. “Well, I found out that Shaughnessy took bribes to hide the files for the Locke murder.”

Benton nodded. “You were saying something abut that last night. We just need to find the records for those transactions.”

“A little bit of computer research might be beneficial for that.”

Benton grinned. “Let’s get to it, since we have nothing better to do.”

After hours of research, Shadow and Benton finally found the bank statements for all of detective Shaughnessy’s accounts. By that time, it was noon. “I’m hungry.” Shadow said looking up from the screen at Benton.

“Me too.” He stood just as he heard something in the outside office. “What the hell?”

Shadow remotely opened the door. “Turn the computer off, Now!” Benton hissed as two cops rushed past her office. Shadow hit the power button on the machine just as she saw Benton slammed against the wall. She cursed just as she was tackled by two cops and cuffed face down on the hard wood floor. She groaned tasting blood in her mouth. “What the fuck is this!” She yelled.

“You have the right to remain silent and refuse to answer questions. Do you understand?” The cop stated.

“Fuck you.” Shadow responded.

“You are being arrested for the theft and murder involving Stephanie Hook. Now. Anything you do say may be used against you in a court of law. Do you understand?”

“Get this over with.” Shadow responded.

“Do you understand?”

“I understand.”

You have the right to consult an attorney before speaking to the police and to have an attorney present during questioning now or in the future. Do you understand?” When he saw Shadow nod, he continued. “If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you before any questioning if you wish. If you decide to answer questions now without an attorney present you will still have the right to stop answering at any time until you talk to an attorney. Knowing and understanding your rights as I have explained them to you, are you willing to answer my questions without an attorney present?”

No.” Shadow responded as she turned her head to see Benton being lead out of her office. It was then that she felt the two officers pick her up off the floor. She was lead to a waiting police car and shoved into the back next to Benton. Scowling, she looked to Benton.

Shhh.” He responded.

They sat through the trip to the police station in silence to spite the barrage of questions the cops tried to ask them. Once inside the station, they were put into a mostly empty room containing four chairs and a wooden table.

This is fucked up.” Shadow grumbled.

I know, baby.” Benton responded. “Just keep quiet until we can call our lawyer. We don’t know what they have on us, and we don’t want to talk ourselves into a real mess.”

She nodded and sighed and paced the room until Benton grabbed her by the arm and sat her in the chair. Leaning down to her ear, he whispered. “You can’t pace like that. I don’t care how you’ve acted in the past, but this isn’t a drug charge. This is murder. Sit still and focus on something.”

I’m hungry.”

Benton sighed. “I know.” He said softly and leaned down, kissing her on the forehead.

What are they doing?” Chief Breck asked.

Nothing. She was pacing. He seems to be keeping control over her for some reason.” Officer Locke said.

Chief Breck nodded. That didn’t surprise him. It looked like guilt to the rest of the station though. However, he couldn’t add his own theories to any of that. He simply had to nod and go with the flow at this point. “They’ve stewed enough. I’m going in the room.” He said after a moment and headed to the interrogation room. He would have much preferred to talk to them in his office, but it just wasn’t possible this time. The Fed’s wanted all the conversations recorded.

Shadow looked up when the Chief walked into the small room. “What is this Chief?”

This is an interrogation.” He responded. “The first thing that you should know is that all the conversations in this room will be recorded. You have the right to call a lawyer before we do any questioning.”

I’d like to call my lawyer.” Benton responded. He was thankful that they hadn’t been searched yet. He wanted to ask Shadow if she had been wearing gloves last night. He had put on gloves before killing the butler. Powder residue was a bitch to wash off. Instead, he took the phone offered to him and called his lawyer.

You can sit in here, or we can put you in a holding cell.” Chief Breck stated once he had the phone back.

Holding cell.” Benton responded.

Benton’s lawyer walked into the jail area of the Grand Rapid’s police station and was escorted to the cell where Benton and Shadow were being held. He had already briefly spoken to the lawyer handling Detective’s Trace and Shaughnessy. From what he understood, Victor had his own lawyer. "It seems we have an issue.” He stated. “You’ve both been accused of murdering Stephanie Hook along with Detectives Shaughnessy and Trace. Victor has also been arrested.”

“Fuck.” Shadow stated.

“It’s a laundry list of charges, but the murder is the most serious.” He stated. “I’ve already called the judge. I’m trying to get him to set a bail tonight rather than later in the week. However, there may simply be no bail. You’re both high flight risks.”

Shadow looked at Benton. “I can’t spend a night in here.” Her eyes were wide as she glanced around the cell.

“We may have to.” Benton responded. “Has the judge called you back yet?”

“Not yet. I’m expecting a call as soon as he reviews the charges.”

Benton nodded, running a hand through his hair. “How long can they hold us here?”

“They have to formally charge you within 72 hours.”

Benton frowned and walked up to the bars. “I want out of here well before then.” He stated calmly and quietly.

One second.” The lawyer said pulling his phone from the inside of his jacket. “How much?” He questioned after a moment. “You’ve got to be kidding me. That’s ludicrous.” He rolled his eyes and then hung up the phone. “Four million.”

“Oh great. I’ll just write a fucking check.” Benton replied drolly.

The lawyer then dialed another number and waited a moment. “I need a bond. Four million. Twenty percent.” He pulled out his credit card and gave the woman the account number. “Can you deliver that to the station? Yes. Thank you.” He hung up. “You owe me 800,000 dollars when we get out of here.”

Benton nodded. “That was for both of us?”

“Yes.” He stated as he answered another call and briefly spoke with another man before turning his attention back to the two in the cell. "They’ve scheduled the initial hearing for Friday." The lawyer Said. "If they decide to take it to court, you’re looking at six months of preparation minimum.”

They walked out of the police station about forty five minutes later and got into the lawyer’s black sedan. Shadow and Benton sat in the large back seat.

"What do they know about the murder?" Benton asked.

"I’ve had my own investigators out to the house.” The lawyer responded. “They honestly haven’t found much. You two apparently got caught in the crossfire because of the news coverage on the theft, and since you both have records for fraud.”

Benton sighed. “I did my time for that.”

“It doesn’t matter. Shadow’s only been accused and never convicted, but they keep looking. You know how the rumors get.”

Benton nodded. “So what are we supposed to do for the next three days?”

“Hang out.” The lawyer responded. “You can’t leave the state.

CHAPTER 9

Three months later

The court room was quiet as the bailiff entered the courtroom and stepped front of the Bench. There must have been at least 200 potential jurors sitting in the benches. It had taken two weeks to select the 12 jurors in the case of ‘Michigan vs. Conn, Docks, Kail, Shaughnessy, and Trace’. It had been a lengthy process since Stephanie Hook had spent so much time on the news. Finding unbiased jurors had proven to be nearly impossible, but finally, the bailiff held the list in front of him.

The numbers of the thirteen jury members will now be announced.” The bailiff stated and then read the 12 numbers. “You have been selected for jury duty in the case State of Michigan vs. Shadow Conn, Benton Docks, Jason Trace, Jody Shaughnessy, and Victor Kail. Tonight you will be given the briefing paperwork for the case and familiarized with your hotel. You are not to talk to media, watch the news or read the papers. In two days, the trial will begin and you will be called upon to make a decision on the guilt or innocence of the parties involved. You must make a judgment only on the facts presented during the case.”

TWO DAYS LATER

“Prosecution. Make your opening statement.” Judge Baxter stated after the preliminaries were completed and everyone sat down. Shadow, Benton, Victor, Jody, and Jason sat in a line with their lawyer along the rectangular table. Benton had convinced Victor to fire his personal lawyer over a month ago stating that the man was charging twice what Benton’s lawyer was charging, and he was representing four suspects instead of one.

“I am here today to prove to you beyond a doubt that these four individuals conspired against Mrs. Stephanie Hook to steal her money and then kill her. It was an organized attempt to remove the funds from Mrs. Hook’s accounts, sabotage her car and then kill her when she failed to die in the wreck. During the next few weeks I will show you evidence to this fact.” The rest of the man’s speech was short and sweet as he gave a brief summary of the events that lead up to Stephanie’s death.

A moment later, the defense lawyer stood from the table and walked before the jury with is hands clasped behind his back. “My counterpart makes some very good points, and I stand here before you to point out some already well known facts. Stephanie Hook was killed in her Home on March 17, 2005. She was shot to death between the hours of seven and nine. I aim to prove that my clients were no where near Mrs. Hook’s house between the hours of seven and nine.” He continued on for a few more minutes and then walked back over to the table and sat down.

“Call your first witness, Mr. Quinn.” Judge Baxter ordered.

“I’d like to call Shadow Conn to the stand.” He replied, standing and walking up to the witness box as Shadow took the oath and sat down.

“Let’s start this off simply, Mrs. Conn.” He began. “Where were you on March 17th 2005 between the hours of seven and nine?”

“I was getting ready to go see Star Wars.” She responded.

“And did you go?”

“Yes.”

“What time did the move start?”

“Eight fifteen.”

“What time did it end?”

“Midnight.”

“Did you watch the entire movie?”

“Yes.”

“And who did you see this movie with?”

“Benton Docks.” Shadow replied glancing towards the table briefly.

Mr. Quinn nodded. “And how did you meet Stephanie Hook?”

“I met her on the side of the interstate near the airport in November. It was raining, and she picked us up.”

“Who is ‘us’?”

“Victor and myself.” Shadow replied.

“And where was your car?”

“Broken down on the side of the road.”

“And how did things progress?”

“They progressed fine.” Shadow responded vaguely.

“Objection.” Benton’s lawyer said calmly as he looked up from a pile of paperwork. “He needs to ask her a direct question that she can answer.”

“Sustained. Mr. Quinn, please clarify.”

“What did you do after Mrs. Hook picked you up?”

“She drove us to a hotel and offered to get us a room.”

“And why did she do that? Why didn’t she take you home?”

“I don’t have a ‘home’ in Michigan. I was here on a business trip.”

“What type of business trip?”

Shadow shook her head. “That has no relevance here.”

“I’m trying to prove a point.” Mr. Quinn stated.

“Then you need to make it quickly.” Judge Baxter replied.

“Why were you in Michigan?”

“Business trip.” Shadow repeated.

The lawyer inhaled. “What is your state of residence, Mrs. Conn?”

“Florida.”

“And who were you meeting here in Michigan?”

“Financiers for a new business venture.”

“Did you meet with them?”

“No. The meeting was cancelled due to the bad weather.”

“And what happened after Stephanie bought you the hotel room?”

“Speculation.” Benton’s lawyer interjected. “She never said that she took Mrs. Hook up on the offer.”

“I’ll backtrack.” Quinn stated. “Did Stephanie rent you a room?”

“Yes.” Shadow replied.

“And what happened after she rented you the room?”

“I went to bed.”

“I saw a brand new Corvette out in the lot the other day, Mrs. Conn. Who bought you that car?”

“Stephanie.” Shadow replied.

“And why did she buy you that car?”

“I have no idea.”

“You must have some idea.”

“I have no idea.” Shadow repeated resisting the urge to sigh. This was boring her, and she wanted a drink.

“How long did you stay at the hotel and let her pay for it?”

“Two nights.” Shadow replied.

“And where did you go after that?”

“I moved to another hotel.”

“Why didn’t you go back to Florida?”

“I have a job here.” Shadow stated before taking a drink of water from the glass that had been placed in front of her.

“But you just said that you were initially here on a business trip. Where did finding a job enter the picture?”

“I had the investors meet me here because I was planning on moving into the area if they offered to invest. However, that money was to be used for the business not my living expenses.” Shadow explained slightly irritated.

“And where do you work?”

“The Shaughnessy Agency.”

“So you work with Detectives Shaughnessy and Trace?”

“Yes.”

“Did you know them before you went to work there?”

“No.” Shadow replied. She was keeping her answers short and to the point in order not to give away too much information.

Mr. Quinn frowned for a moment. “During this time were you ware of how much money Stephanie had?”

“No.”

“Even though she bought you a car?” Mr. Quinn stated as he walked back over to the table and picked up a slip of paper. “It says here that she paid for this car entirely.”

“She may have. I don’t know the details of the transaction as I was out on the sales floor looking at the other models.”

“But wouldn’t that make you curious? It would certainly make me curious. Not everyone can go purchase a car on a whim, much less purchase a car for someone else.”

“I can my own money, Mr. Quinn.” Shadow replied. “I don’t need hers. As you stated. I had a job lined up.”

“But that wouldn’t have stopped you from taking it.” He walked back over to the table and picked up another file. “This is your police record. I had it printed off last week. In this file it states that you have been arrested numerous times for extortion and fraud.”

“All of those charges were dropped.” Shadow replied, eyeing the lawyer. She knew what he was getting at, but was having none of it.

“But it doesn’t look like the ten arrests between 2000 and 2004 deterred you, Mrs. Conn. How am I to believe that you never wanted her money?”

“I never wanted her money.” Shadow stated.

“No further questions.” Mr. Quinn stated, frustrated at her answers.

“Mr. Brown, you may cross examine.” Judge Baxter stated.

Mr. Brown stood from his seat next to Benton and walked over to the witness stand. “You stated earlier that you went to see a movie with Mr. Docks the night of the murder?”

“Yes.”

“How long did it take you to get ready that evening?”

“About two hours.”

“And when did you get off work?”

“Five.”

“So you work a nine to five job as well?”

“I do.”

“So we can safely assume that you got off work, went home and got ready to go to the movies?”

“Yes.”

“How long does it take you to get home?” Benton’s lawyer asked.

“About ten minutes.”

“So, if we think about the timeframe, you got off work at five in the afternoon, arrived home at a quarter after and started getting ready for the show. That places the time at seven fifteen.”

Shadow nodded.

“Now, how long does it take to drive to the theater?”

“About thirty minutes.”

“So, it is now seven thirty and you said that the show started at 8:15?”

“Yes.”

“Was there a long ticket line that night?”

“Yes.”

“So how long did you wait in line?” Mr. Brown asked.

“About 30 minutes.”

“So you walked into the theater about the time the show started and were inside until it ended at midnight?”

“Yes.”

“So, at the time of the murder we can safely assume that you were at the movies.”

“Yes.” Shadow replied resisting the urge to smirk.

“No further questions. She can sit down.” Mr. Brown stated and turned to observe the jury for a moment before taking his seat.

“Call your next witness, Mr. Quinn.”

“Benton Docks.” He replied and watched as the man took the stand in the same manner Shadow had.

“When did you first meet Stephanie Hook?” Quinn asked.

“At a bar early in March.” Benton replied.

“Which bar?”

“The 76th street bar here in Michigan.”

“And do you go there often?”

“I frequent it at least once when I’m in town.”

“And what is your state of residence?”

“Florida.” Benton responded.

“And what were you doing here in Michigan?”

“I had.” Benton paused briefly as he caught himself about to say something off topic. Mentally correcting himself, he continued. “I had previously interviewed for a job here.”

“And where do you work?”

“The Shaughnessy Agency.”

“So you work with every sitting at the Defense table?”

“Yes.”

“And what did you do at the Shaughnessy agency?”

“I reviewed old case files and made recommendations.”

Thinking that he had backed Benton into a corner, Quinn asked the next obvious question. “And what file were you reviewing?”

“I don’t believe that I’m at liberty to say. All of our files at the Shaughnessy are confidential.”

“I’m trying to make a point.”

“Unless you’ve subpoenaed the file, I cannot say.” Benton stated.

“Do you have the file?” Judge Baxter interjected.

“I do not.” Mr. Quinn replied.

“Then move on.”

“What did you do after meeting Stephanie at the bar?”

“I bought her a drink and left.” Benton replied.

“And when did you see her again?”

“When I came up here to work and on the news, obviously.” His latter comment had gotten a snicker from most of the crowd in the courtroom including a few reporters.

Mr. Quinn walked over to the table again and picked up another file. “Now, in your file, it shows here that you spent several years incarcerated.”

“I did.” Benton replied as he glanced at Shadow. He wasn’t sure how much she had known about his previous arrest and incarceration. The look in her eyes told him that she hadn’t known much of anything, and inwardly, he sighed. This was not something he would have wanted to bring to her attention through a court trial.

“And what were the charges?”

“Extortion and Assault.” He replied.

“Meaning?”

“Meaning that when the man didn’t give me the money willingly, I beat the shit out of him and took it anyway.” Benton replied in harsh tones. “But, that was in the past and a foolish youthful mistake that I have already done the time for.”

“Of course.” Mr. Quinn replied. “You are not on trial for that. However, it shows a past predisposition to violence and theft. Did you have any idea how much Stephanie was worth when you entered Michigan or during your stay here?”

“I did not.” Benton replied. “It never even crossed my mind. I was here to work a job and make a new type of life.”

“And I’m assuming that you were at the show with Shadow at the time of the murder, as she had previously stated.”

“I was.” Benton replied.

“And what is your relationship to Shadow?”

“She’s my coworker.” He replied.

“Is she just your coworker?”

“Yes.”

“What if I said that I had witnesses at the hotel you two were staying at that saw you both embraced in the lobby numerous times?” Mr. Quinn asked.

“I would say you’re full of shit.” Benton replied directly.

“Objection.” Benton’s lawyer finally stated. “This is irrelevant.”

“This is very relevant.” Mr. Quinn interjected. “I am tying to prove that Shadow and Benton’s alibis are based on each other and thusly they could have been anywhere that night.”

“Copies of the ticket stubs are in your case file.” Benton’s lawyer stated as he opened his own file and produced the original ticket stubs, holding them up for the court to see.

“No further questions.” Mr. Quinn stated.

“Mr. Smith, you can cross examine.”

“I have no further questions.” Benton’s lawyer replied.

“Let’s take a brief twenty minute recess.” Judge Baxter stated.

“Thank God.” Shadow stated once they were out of the court room and on the way to their lawyers office. Shadow was bored to tears during the questioning. The only thing that had gotten her was his admission to being in jail.

“Do you guys want anything from the cafeteria?” Detective trace asked.

“Shadow?” Benton questioned. When she shook her head, he continued. “It could be a long day.”

“Just a sandwich or something and a coke.”

After everyone had placed their orders, Detective Trace headed for the cafeteria followed by Jody. Mr. Smith continued leading them into his courthouse office and walked behind his desk. When he turned around, he saw Shadow and Benton in a tight embrace, whispering to themselves. When it looked like they were about to kiss, he cleared his throat and spoke. “Don’t let this early round of questioning put you off guard.”

Shadow tore her gaze from Benton’s and stepped back.

“Mr. Quinn knows exactly what he’s doing. He’s trying to ease your minds before he pulls out the evidence that they used to arrest you. If he really had no case, we wouldn’t be here.”

“He’s already pulled out our records and proven our alibis.” Benton replied.

“He’s established a predisposition for crime involving violence and money.” Mr. Smith stated. “Now he’s going to bring in the evidence that was found in the house. What we know is that Stephanie was shot with a .45 caliber pistol, and her butler was shot with a .45 caliber pistol. Forensics determined that it was two separate guns. The grooves on the slugs were different indicating that the two bullets traveled down two separate barrels. You and Shadow are both are known to have and use .45 caliber pistols.” The lawyer paused briefly. “They also found a whole host of Victor’s and Jody’s fingerprints all over the house.”

“Jesus.” Benton exclaimed on a breath.

“Now since you all work together, they’ll try and link everyone as accomplishes.”

Shadow sighed just as Jody and Trace walked into the room with the food. Shadow walked over to one of the bags and pulled out both hers and Benton’s food before sitting down on the couch.

“So, what did we miss?” Jody asked.

“Apparently the prosecution has a plan to trip us up and make us all look like accomplices in this thing.” Benton stated as he took a seat next to Shadow and contemplated his sandwich. “Though, Victor hasn’t said how his fingerprints got all over the fucking house.”

“I was there dropping off her clothes right along with Brian.” Victor responded. He had been standing just inside the doorway for the entire conversation. “She invited us inside.”

Shadow groaned. “They didn’t find Brian’s fingerprints. They only found yours and Jody’s.

“Enough from the peanut gallery. You got what you wanted from me the other night.” Victor responded.

Benton cast Victor a violent look as he possessively slid his arm around Shadow in an effort not to hit the man.

When court reconvened, Victor was called to the stand.

“Victor Kail.” Mr. Quinn stated. “The evidence against you is quite surprising. Out of all those sitting at the defense table, you are the only one we found physical evidence for.” He began. “Could you please explain why your fingerprints were found all over the house?”

“I had helped her home from the hospital.” Victor replied.

“Yes, but your prints were found inside the house.”

“She invited me in for a drink. I accepted.”

“And about what time was this?”

Six o’clock or so.”

As the trial wore on, Shadow began to get antsy. She had been sitting in the same position for well over an hour while Victor was questioned thoroughly. It appeared that he didn’t have an alibi for that night or was unwilling to say. Shadow couldn’t decide. She tuned back into the trial when Detective Shaughnessy was called to the stand.

“Detective Shaughnessy, could you please tell the court where you were on March 17, 2005?” Mr. Quinn asked for what seemed like the 100th time.

“I was at home in my apartment watching movies with Detective Trace.” She replied.

“I see. And did you call anyone that night?”

Jody thought for a moment before responding. “I don’t believe so.”

Mr. Quinn nodded. “So you don’t recall calling anyone?”

“No.”

“You didn’t order a pizza, check an account balance, nothing?”

“No. I was watching movies all night.”

“I see. Could you tell me what you know about Stephanie Hook? How you first heard about her?”

“The first time I saw Stephanie Hook I was doing surveillance on an investigation. She was having an affair with my client’s husband.”

Mr. Quinn nodded. “Would that be the infamous and unsolved Locke murder?”

“Yes. The killer was never found.” Jody responded.

“But you just stated for the court that Stephanie Hook was having an affair with a married man.”

“Yes. She was.”

“To your knowledge, was Stephanie ever questioned for that murder?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Did the police ever ask you for those files?” Mr. Quinn asked.

“No.” Jody stated.

“Why not? It seems to me that the police would have been very interested in your investigation.”

“Well, they weren’t.”

“Did the police know about your files?”

“They must have. They questioned Officer Locke thoroughly when his daughter was killed.” It was then that Jody could have shot herself. She had just offered too much information. Inwardly, she groaned. She had made a critical mistake. She looked over at Mr. Smith and expected him to stand and call for an objection. When he didn’t move, Jody began to panic.

“So, what you’re telling me is that Officer Locke opened that investigation?”

“Yes.” Jody muttered.

Mr. Quinn walked over to the prosecution table and picked up a file. “I’d like to submit casefile 15, in the case of Michigan vs. Conn, Docks, Kail, Trace, and Shaughnessy.” He walked back over to the witness stand after speaking. “What if I told you that I had a copy of that investigation, and it clearly shows that you knew exactly what was going on in that household. Yet, as I recall, half of this information never made it to trial.”

Jody groaned. “Where did you get that?”

“We subpoenaed it during break.” Mr. Quinn replied. “I also have your account statements from the two months following the murder. You’re account grew by quite a hefty sum during those two months...”

Shadow looked at Benton. “How?” She whispered into his ear?

“I’ll tell you later.” Benton responded quietly, placing an arm around her shoulders to quiet her. Benton hadn’t wanted that information to get out while he had been on the witness stand, but he had no problems faxing that file to the Prosecution during the final moments of break after he had learned that there had been a warrant placed for it.

Shadow sat and grumped in her seat for the remaining two hours of questioning. She had tuned out about halfway through Jody’s questioning and didn’t hear any of Detective Trace’s questioning. She wanted to go home.

Around six o’clock, court was finally dismissed for the day, and Shadow breathed a sigh of relief. Her butt hurt from sitting so long. Even Benton’s coat couldn’t keep out the ache.

Shadow crawled into Mr. Smith’s limousine behind Benton and stopped when she was comfortably sitting in his lap. This drew strange looks from both Jody and Jason Trace. “How long have you two known each other?” detective Trace asked.

“Years.” Benton replied as he slid his arms around the small female in his lap. “Tired?” He whispered into her ear.

Shadow nodded with her head against his shoulder.

She looks like she’s about to fall asleep there.” Jason commented.

“I don’t think she’s ever had to sit through a trial.” Benton replied. “They’re dreadfully boring even if it’s your ass on the line.”

“Our asses are definitely on the line.” Jody interjected.

“I agree. That prosecution lawyer was on the ball during the second half today.” He chuckled at Victor.

“Oh shut up. I didn’t kill her.”

“I’m sure you didn’t.” Benton replied.

“Did you?”

“That is for the jury to decide.” Benton replied. “And anyway, I was at the show with this sleepyhead.” He nudged Shadow gently with his shoulder and chuckled when she made a tired whine. “When’s your next run, baby?”

Shadow made another sleepy sound before opening her eyes and answering. “This weekend. I gotta go to Columbia.”

He nodded.

“You cannot leave the state.” Mr. Smith stated.

“I can and I will.” Shadow stated as she lifted her head, looking at her lawyer.

“If you get caught you will be jailed.”

“For half a million, I’ll risk it.” She poked at Benton. “You coming with me?”

He laughed. “Of course.”

“You two are insane.” Jody responded.

“Begging for trouble is what they’re doing.” Mr. Smith replied. “And I haven’t heard a damned thing in this car.”

“That would be why I pay you so well.” Benton commented with a chuckle as they pulled into Mr. Smith’s huge estate.

“You two are not sleeping in the same room!” Mr. Smith called after Shadow and Benton as they entered the house.

Three minutes later Benton and Shadow landed in a wrestling pile on the King sized bed in one of the guest rooms. “It’s Friday right?”

“It is.” He confirmed, pinning her on the mattress.

“We should go tonight. The trial starts again Monday morning right?”

“Tuesday. The judge is taking a three day weekend.” He said as he retackled her writhing form to the bed and looked down at her. “Are you sure you want to go tonight?”

“Yes.” She replied with a grin. “You know how they are when I’m not on time.”

“We won’t be back in time for the trial if we go.”

“Do we care?”

“Not really.” Benton said with a mischievous grin. He had always wanted to take one of her trips with her.

Shadow pushed up against Benton and twisted, freeing herself from his grip. “Let’s go then.”

“I thought you were tired.”

“I can sleep when we get there.” She grinned.

Twenty minutes later, they were driving away from the mansion and towards the Grand Rapid’s airport. It took them all night to fly to Columbia. Shadow had to fly low to avoid the radar on both sides. It caused both her and Benton unusual nervousness. “Do you have to scud run the goddamned trees?” He asked, hint of uneasiness in his voice.

“How many years are we looking at if we get caught?” Shadow was wide awake at this point as her underbelly was no more than ten feet off the tops of the trees.

“No comment. You’re lucky I love you, or I’d be strangling you right now.” Benton replied in all seriousness.

Shadow made a disinterested sound as they crossed the boarder into Columbia. “I hate flying over fucking water.” She climbed to 2000 feet and turned for L’s mansion and grass strip. She had radioed ahead on their private frequency to let them know that she was on her way. “Thirty minutes.”

Suddenly, they heard shots. “Anti-aircraft!” Benton yelled whipping his head around to look at the ground.

Shadow was already maneuvering out of the way and lining up her wing guns. “Border patrol.” Shadow commented. “Of the drug dealing kind. “L must have started another fucking war.

“How many holes can they punch through this thing before it doesn’t fly?”

“A lot.” Shadow responded lining up her sights and pressing the button that would release a hail of bullets. It was then that she heard another barrage of gunfire from the ground. She jerked the plane into knife edge and pushed the throttle full forward only to come out of it a few minutes later. They couldn’t hit her wings if they couldn’t see them.

Benton tried to remain calm as his body was slung into all sorts of unusual positions that he knew Advil wouldn’t fix. A moment later, Shadow was headed back around for another pass. “Shadow. Fuel gages!”

“They hit the tanks.” Shadow replied, firing. This time she didn’t miss. Turning back on course, she checked over her instrument panel. We’re going to crash short of the runway.” Her eyes were now wide and fixated as she executed the shut down procedures for the engines.

She was at 3000 feet and by her estimates, they’d land in L’s front yard. Shadow pressed the radio button. “We’re coming in cold about 20 miles out. Three thousand feet and descending. Get the hoses. We’re landing in the front.” She could smell smoke. They were on fire.

Benton glanced out the back window and then the side windows. “Open the doors?”

“NO! We’ll never make it with the drag!” Shadow yelled.

“We’re gonna die of smoke inhalation.”

“The fire will kill us first!” She yelled as she watched the altimeter briefly. “The number one engine is burning and they took out my hydraulics.”

“How the fuck are we going to land like that!”

“Fasten your seat belt!” Shadow ordered, not answering his question. She wasn’t panicking, she was in complete control to spite her yelling, but she needed Benton to listen and do as she ordered.

“Fastened.”

“500 feet.” She paused. “400 feet.” She could see L’s property. She could see his fire crews standing and waiting in the truck. She flipped the handle for a manual release of the landing gear hoping to hell they had enough speed to lock them. She saw the two green lights for the main gear, but no nose wheel light. “Fuck.” She muttered. Landing with no nose wheel meant that they weren’t going to have props when it was all said and done. She jerked the handle again and resisted the urge to jerk the plane. They were going too slow for any harsh maneuvering. “100 feet.”

Benton braced himself just as he heard Shadow radio about the nose wheel. It was down. Seconds later, they were both jerked forward as the plane impacted the ground hard on all three wheels and came to a sudden stop. The waiting crew was on the plane in a matter of seconds and jerking both Shadow and Benton from the interior as they hosed it down.

Once they had let go of Shadow, she collapsed to the ground in pain. Benton inhaled as the doctors checked him over quickly. Once they were done, he ran over to Shadow. He had known that they were in danger, but he had the utmost faith in Shadow and her ability to fly to spite his panicked words. He had to stop himself from wrapping his arms around her.

Instead, he just looked her over with a critical eye. She had a cut on her forehead and her hand was bleeding. He hadn’t been looking at her the moment they had impacted. He had no idea what she had come into contact with, but the doctors were right there cleaning and bandaging both wounds. “Shadow.” When he didn’t get a response. “Shadow. What did you hit?”

Shadow took a deep breath. She could feel the sterilizing agents they were using on her skin and she resisted the urge to scream. Instead, she jerked her hand free. “STOP IT! Damnit, it’s broke.” She groaned.

Benton took the injured hand in his and looked it over. It was still bleeding, but he didn’t see any bones protruding from the skin. “Christ.” He muttered. His ankle was sprained. He could feel that with each step. The landing had jolted his feet into the rudder peddles.

Once her head was bandaged, she stood with the help of Benton and then shook him off her. “I need a drink.” She stated as she flexed the broken and still unbandaged hand. Her head was now throbbing and she was exhausted, not to mention her goddamned hand. “Let them take care of the goddamned plane.”

Benton walked slightly behind her and into the mansion watching Shadow practically collapse into the plush leather chair as the doctors started to swarm again over her hand. He walked over to the bar and poured them both a drink. “You want to tell me what you connected with now.”

Shadow looked at him. “My hand was on the throttle.” She grimaced as the doctors attempted to set her hand. “My head was shattering Plexiglas. They actually got one of those fucking bullets through the front glass.” She laid her head on the arm of the chair and inhaled sharply when she felt a needle prick her skin. “Fuck.”

“Percocet.” One of the doctors stated.

“I gotta do shit later!” Shadow yelled as she felt the haze from the drug begin.

“You’re airplane is going to be in the shop for 24 hours. Relax.” Benton inhaled as he sat down on the couch. “You are a trip.”

“Still want to be here?” She asked slowly blinking. The pain was fading.

“I’m glad I came along.” Benton said standing as he saw her beginning to drift off. He picked her up and began to walk upstairs. “I think it’s bedtime.”

He carried her into her room and laid her sleeping form on the bed before exiting the bedroom to check on the status of the plane. When he got outside, he saw the men with a large tug. It looked like they were going to pull it around back to the hanger for repairs. “How bad is it?” He asked.

“She was shot up pretty good.” One of the men replied. “She’s lost both gas tanks and the number one engine. We need to replace the glass in the front and the hydrolic lines. Not to mention the bullet holes.” He chuckled. “She’s lucky to be alive, and so are you.”

Benton nodded. “She’s quite the pilot.”

“That why L likes her. However, unless she has a free week she won’t be making her run tonight.”

Benton groaned. “Does L know?”

“We called him after she radioed her distress. He’s on his way back. He should be here by noon or one.”

Benton nodded and walked back inside. He wanted to check on Shadow since she had hit her head. Walking back to her room, he sat down on the edge of the bed and brushed the hair out of her eyes. “Shadow?”

She opened her eyes slowly. “Fuckers.” She muttered. “I wasn’t in that much pain.”

Benton chuckled. “No but you need to sleep.”

Shadow inhaled slowly as she started to drift off again. She placed her injured hand in Benton’s lap. “Lay here?”

Benton laid down next to her and waited until she was comfortable against him before turning off the bedside light and closing his eyes. The room was still bright despite the thick curtains hanging in the window. However, he had no problems falling asleep.

He was woken sometime later by the sound of the door opening. L Bay’s was standing in the doorway when he opened his eyes. “Shit” Benton muttered under his breath. Shadow was completely curled around him and half on top of him with her head resting in the middle of his chest.

L frowned as he observed the bedroom scene before him. “The mechanics will have her plane ready by tomorrow morning.” He stated taking a step into the darkened room. “We can postpone this until after the trial. However, I will have one of my pilots’ fly you back to Michigan.”

Benton nodded as he sat up slightly in the bed, his back against the headboard. Shadow shifted against him sliding down into his lap, arms now around his body. He sighed. This was not the scene he wanted L to see. He had planned on talking to the man in his office without Shadow present and certainly not with her wrapped around him.

“You and I will talk later.” L stated as he turned and walked out of the room, closing the door behind him.

“Fucking hell.” Benton muttered under his breath as he slid back down the bed and went back to sleep. It was a fitful sleep from that point on, and he finally decided to get out of bed around four. Shadow was sleeping comfortably, and he figured that she would wake in a couple more hours as soon as the drugs wore off.

He walked directly into L’s office still dressed in the clothing that he had put on the day before. “You wanted to talk to me.”

“I’ve been following the job.” L stated. “And I am less than pleased.”

Benton nodded. “There were a few things that were unavoidable.”

“Like the fact that you were to be in Brazil.” L asked.

“I finished that job.”

“Then you were to come back here. I have gangsters all over the goddamned countryside, as you saw when you flew in. I could have used you to quell this mess before it got out of hand.”

“Shadow…”

“Shadow can handle herself, and I had expressly sent Victor with her. He is a financial genius.” L’s fist impacted the desk. “Instead, you interfere!” He stood. “And now my best pilot is on trial for murder!”

“Victor wasn’t helping her at all.” Benton stated. “She had acquired the money and had no idea what to do with it. She pushed in all into one account!” He yelled. “Had I been there from the beginning this shit would not have happened!” His gaze bore right through L as he clenched on fist. “She’s a fucking pilot, and a small time scam artist. She had no idea what to do with forty million dollars!”

L inhaled in order to calm himself at Benton’s outburst. “Victor could have handled the money.”

“He wasn’t there when she acquired it.” Benton responded trying not to grit his teeth. “I learned about it a day later and about hit the roof when I realized what she had done. It took me half a day to put the records together and get Victor on the same page so that he could salvage what was left.”

“Which has turned out to be 12 million.” L responded. “Twelve of forty!” He yelled. “Victor called me earlier with the outcome and to update me on the trial. It looks like he’ll be spending the rest of his life in prison!” L was livid as he paced his office.

“That was his own fault.” Benton replied.

“What I would like to know is who pulled the trigger, Benton.” L stated coolly. “You or Shadow. Because I know what happens when you get backed into a corner. People die! Then I have to cover it up. I’ve already made the phone calls both to my hit men and to the judge. The prosecution and defense attorneys were going to meet over the weekend and hammer out a plea bargain for Jody and Jason. I have Victor on the next plane to Indonesia.” L checked his watch. “In fact, my Lear jet should be picking him up right now. The Shaughnessy Agency is currently packing up and moving to Florida pending a name change to Corbin Private Investigators and Bounty hunters. I have my men creating them new identification. In 72 hours, Jody Shaughnessy and Jason Trace will no longer exist. Instead, we have Jace and Jadon Corbin. I’m planting evidence in Dacon’s offices as well. He will later be arrested for the murder of Stephanie Hook. Now, that leaves you and Shadow.” L paused, turning to look at Benton. “You both had alibis. At least you were thinking when it came to something.” He hissed. “I will not have my Company brought down because my most valued hustler decided he wanted to interfere. And don’t think I haven’t heard all about your interludes with Shadow.”

“What interludes?” Benton questioned. “I am purely interested in a business relationship with the woman.”

“Don’t lie to me. I’ve been doing this longer than you’ve been alive. I told you to forget about her. I have plans for her that do not involve her getting involved with you.”

“I could teach her a lot, L.” Benton stated. “And you know it. Victor wasn’t interested in teaching her anything. He was more interested in taking advantage of her body, which he’s done!” Benton yelled the last. It made him furious that L was so single minded. Could the man not see that he was good for her? Benton wanted to put his fist through the mob boss in that instant.

“He what?”

“You heard me.” Benton replied. “He had sex with her and then later beat the shit out of her.”

L’s face began to turn red in his anger. “He hit her!” L roared.

“Didn’t your investigators tell you about the busted lip she sported for two weeks? Or the bruised ribs that caused her to be unable to sleep for a week? You’re financial genius beat the shit out of her! While I have never laid a hand on her! Yet, you are so certain that I’m the bad influence!”

“I’ll kill him.” L stated. “With my bare hands.” He paused, trying to collect his thoughts. Benton had tried to distract him with news about Victor. It was a clever ploy. He had to give the man credit.

“That is why I’ve stayed so close to her.” Benton stated, irritated.

It was then that L looked past Benton and into the hall and saw a bleary eyed Shadow standing just outside the door. “Shadow? Come in, dear.” He greeted, calming is tone considerably. He was unsure of how much she had heard.

She blinked and walked into the office stopping just in front and to the side of Benton. “What’s going on?” She inhaled and rubbed her eyes. The drugs had really taken a toll on her wakefulness. She had heard yelling, but it hadn’t registered.

“Benton told me that Victor hit you. Is that true?” L forced his tone to calm as he looked at her bandaged head and hand.

Shadow nodded. “He did.” She sleepily replied as she edged over to Benton and laid her head on the side of his upper arm.

L inhaled. “Did Benton help you with that?” When Shadow nodded again, L was resisting the urge to put his fist through the wall. “Get out of my sight, both of you.”

Benton wrapped an arm around Shadow’s waist and ushered her out of the office, closing the door behind them. “He’s pissed because he’s going to lose Victor.” Benton explained.

“I didn’t do anything.” Shadow stated.

“Honey, he knows you didn’t do anything. He just didn’t know all the details.” When Shadow stopped and looked at him, he placed a hand gently under her chin, kissing her softly, not caring who saw at this point. “We’ll get what we want.” He grinned darkly. “Trust me.” He had laid the groundwork for L to give him Shadow as a prodigy.

Shadow wrapped her arms around him, wanting him to hold her.

Benton picked her up and carried her into the parlor, setting her in his lap.

L was livid as he paced his office. He was pondering ways to clear Shadow and Benton, kill Victor, and get Brian back to Brazil. Many many phone calls later, L left his office satisfied that things were being handled.

Walking into the parlor, he caught Benton and Shadow in a long kiss. Frowning, he cleared his throat to get their attention. “I am not happy with many things.” He began. “However, I have talked with Brian and with you, Benton. Now I would like Shadow’s input.”

Shadow looked up. “On what?”

“On the trial, on Victor, and on this.” He motioned towards them both.

“Victor should get blamed for the murder and the fraud.” She paused and looked at Benton and sighed. “It’s been years, L…” She bit her lower lip and looked at L. Shadow was so tired. She just wanted to fall asleep in Benton’s lap.

L sighed and closed his eyes for a moment. “You both know that I have plans involving your careers with the Company. Benton is to take my place at a future date. You will eventually manage my shipments. I was hoping that you both would remain business partners. However, I can no longer deny what I see with my own eyes. Know that I do not approve.” L paused as he watched Shadow’s gaze fall and her head become buried against Benton’s chest.

Shadow’s chest heaved as she buried her face against Benton’s chest. She knew what was coming. L was going to tell her that they couldn’t see each other anymore under any circumstances. So far it had just been an unstated rule. One that her and Benton never followed, and she could feel the pain welling up in her chest as she anticipated L’s next words.

When he saw her chest heave, L paused. It had been years. He remembered the time when Benton had killed his wife and how upset Shadow had become. The only person in the entire mansion who was able to calm her had been Benton. That had floored L at the time. Benton had shot his own wife and not shed a tear until he saw Shadow hysterical. Later conversations with Benton had told him that the man was not upset for himself. He had felt more guilty taking Shadow’s only friend away from her.

L sighed. He wanted to tell them it was fine. He had seen the look in Benton’s eyes change when Shadow had entered the room. It was both spectacular and unnerving. It made L wonder if Benton could perform his job with the distraction. ”I can’t allow this.” He paused and watched Benton’s expression. It had gone from calm and relaxed to stoic and unreadable. “You cannot have a relationship outside of the Company. So, get over it quickly. I need you to reattempt this run over the weekend.” With that, L left the room.

Shadow had maintained her composure up until L had left the room. She could feel tears welling up in her eyes. The lump in her throat had grown to the size of a golf ball as she buried her head further into Benton’s chest.

Benton inhaled and gritted his teeth for a split second as he sought to gather control of himself. He could feel Shadow shaking in his arms. He slid a hand under her chin and raised her head so that he could look into her eyes. What he saw about caused him to lose his composure. “Shadow.” He said softly. “It’ll be fine.” He swallowed, quelling the lump in his throat.

Shadow instantly burst into tears unable to speak. They had been careless. They had been careless, and now it was done. She stood out of his lap suddenly and ran upstairs to her room slamming the door and collapsing on the bed…

Victor had gotten the call from L at 4:30 in the afternoon. He had decided to go swimming in Mr. Smith’s pool while he contemplated the upcoming case. It didn’t look good for him. He didn’t kill Stephanie Hook, but someone sure went to a lot of trouble to make it look like he did.

The problem was, he couldn’t figure out who would have wanted to blame him for her murder. It could have been anyone from Brian to Benton. Of course, the way Shadow had talked, it wouldn’t have surprised him if she had been the one. Victor sighed. The phone call from L was brief. He was to go to the Grand Rapids airport and board one of L’s personal Lears. He would then be flown down to Brazil.

Victor didn’t like that idea. He was more than willing to sit through the trial. He hadn’t killed Stephanie Hook, and he was convinced that the jury would find him not guilty. However, he wasn’t about to disobey L.

He arrived at the airport about 5:30 and boarded the Lear jet ordering a jack and coke for the fight. They would arrive in Brazil around midnight or 1:00. He figured he could talk to L when he arrived. He had a lot of questions and a lot of comments for the man. Victor hadn’t liked the outcome of the scam. It had gotten too messy.

Eventually, Victor dozed off in the chair only to be woken by two of L’s men. “What the hell!” He exclaimed as he saw both of them aiming pistols at him. It was a pressurized cabin, one puncture through the thin skin could cause the whole jet to explode.

Seconds later, shots rang out in the cabin and Victor slumped forward in his seat. Off in the distance thunder could be heard. Moment’s later, his body was being shoved out the cabin door and left to freefall 23,000 feet.

Tuesday morning, Shadow, Benton, Jody and Jason were sitting in the court room. Shadow was glancing around the room. It didn’t seem to be as packed today as it had Friday. She could see empty benches behind her and wondered if L had paid the reporters to stay away. It was the Judge’s voice that pulled Shadow from her thoughts and turned her gaze towards the Bench. She found herself not caring what the Judge decreed or how the trial progressed. In fact, she felt dead already. What did it matter is she was stuck in a cage the rest of her life?

“In light of recent developments.” Judge Baxter began as he glanced over at the empty Jury Box. “The attorneys have decided upon a plea bargain.” He turned his gaze towards the Defense. “Victor Kail has apparently fled the state. Benton and Shadow’s alibis have proven to be air tight. Jody and Jason are hereby sentenced to five years in jail and 200 hours of community service. The jail term is hereby suspended in favor of three years probation for the involvement in the murder and extortion of Stephanie Hook. You can take this deal, or we can proceed with the trial.”

There was a brief pause as Mr. Smith spoke quietly with both Jody and Jason. “They accept.”

“Then is it hereby decreed that Jody Shaughnessy and Jason Trace are to serve 200 hours of community service here in the Grand Rapids area and are to report to a parole office for the next three years. Shadow and Benton are hereby released, but I offer my own words of wisdom. If I see either of you in my court room again, the judgment will not be nearly so lenient. Keep yourselves clean and find honest work.” He banged the gavel on the desk. “Court dismissed.”

With that Judge Baxter left the room. Shadow stood slowly and glanced at everyone. She had been somber all day. There hadn’t been anything anyone could say to her that seemed to make a difference.

“That’s it.” Benton stated. “We’re free to get the hell out of here.” He looked to Shadow and saw her turn her gaze to the floor. He reached for her then and pulled her into a tight hug. Benton knew that she had been crying all morning. “It’s going to be okay.” He whispered into her ear.

“I hate him.” Shadow stated quietly with her head resting on his shoulder.

Benton noticed that the majority of the court room had cleared out during the last few moments, and he lifted her head to place a gently kiss to her lips. “We just have to be more careful.” He murmured against her lips. “Let’s go get a drink before we head back to Florida. You’ll feel better.”

Shadow sighed and nodded. She was upset, and she had a feeling that she was going to be upset for quite a long time.

Two hours later, Shadow and Benton were tailing each other back to Florida and chatting on their cell phones. “We have to try and redo that run this weekend?” Benton asked. He had finally calmed Shadow down after four drinks and some well spoken words. He wasn’t going to give her up that easily, and he knew that she felt the same.

“Yeah. L still wants that done.” Shadow replied with a sigh. “I guess we’ll leave Florida Thursday for Columbia.”

“Are we taking cargo from Columbia?” Benton asked.

“Yeah. We’re dropping it off at one of the warehouses is Brazil for distribution.” She replied.

“Shit.” Benton said suddenly. “We never did get that file.”

“That’s okay. I think L confiscated it along with everything else in the offices.” Shadow replied with a grin. “We have all the time in the world to find it.”

“We’re going to do this run over the weekend and then I’m taking you to Fiji for a month.” Benton replied.

“We can’t go to Fiji.” She stated with a hint of irritation. “L would pitch a goddamned fit.”

“Who says we have to tell him. He owes us a goddamned vacation after this shit.”

“He never makes good on that. Supposedly, we’re supposed to get a month each year to relax.”

“And I plan on taking it with you. And that’s final.” Benton stated and then chuckled. “So, we are going to Fiji, and I don’t want to hear any complaints.”

Shadow giggled. “I’ll need a new swimsuit, then.” She wasn’t going to refute his trip. She wanted to go, and she knew that L would protest. However, she wanted Benton.

“The hell you do. We’re swimming in the buff.” Benton replied with a laugh.

Somewhere near the Grand Rapids airport, a tow truck began towing a 2005 dodge stratus from the side of the road as Officer Locke watched from his police cruiser. It had been sitting at the side of the road for more than two weeks, multiple red stickers stuck to the driver’s side window. Punching a few keys on his mobile crime computer, he ran the plate. The car was registered to a Tasha Quade. “Hmmm.” Officer Locke sounded, as he tried to pull up more information. The file only listed her birthdate and social security number. “Interesting.”

A moment later, he was heading back to the police station, the car enroute to the GRPD impound yard.

THE END

9:47pm July 24, 2005

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