Free Fiction Monday: Overworked

When Detective Mick Hanrahan finds himself subpoenaed back to Seavy County, Oregon, for a homicide case involving his former job, he dreads every minute of it.

But Mick quickly discovers the case, which he thought a slam-dunk, involves angles he never expected.

In a small county with understaffed legal and law enforcement departments, Mick might hold the key to preventing any further injustice.

“Overworked” by New York Times bestselling author Kristine Kathryn Rusch is free on this website for one week only. The story’s also available as an ebook through various online retailers here.

  

Overworked

Kristine Kathryn Rusch

 

Mick Hanrahan had forgotten how much he hated the Oregon Coast. The reminders had come slowly—getting stuck in the no-passing lane behind some dumb tourist who didn’t know how to drive mountain roads, the overpowering smell of fish after twilight, and the clammy dampness of his hotel room.

Early the morning after he arrived, the rainy season hit with a vengeance. His subpoena stated he had to be at the courthouse by 8:45 a.m., not that he needed a damn subpoena. He hadn’t left law enforcement; he had just left law enforcement in this podunk county, and he’d been happy to slap the sand off his boots as he drove to his new job in Portland.

Sometimes, that Portland job wasn’t any better than his job here had been. Sometimes, Portland was worse, particularly when the city erupted into politically correct and pointless protests over something that had happened far away. He’d been in Portland two years now, and he’d come to recognize the same 100 protestors, folks who really and truly needed a life.

Of course, he didn’t say that to anyone. He never said much of anything. He was suspect because he was a cop—automatically on the wrong side of Proper Portland Opinion, even though he was (most of the time) more liberal than half the people who judged him by his non-existent uniform.

He had worked his way up to detective relatively quickly, and he liked it. He loved digging in files and interviewing witnesses. He loved solving crimes.

He’d found home.

And it wasn’t Whale Rock, Oregon. All he had from here were bad memories and the enemies he’d made during the world’s worst divorce.

Which wasn’t entirely fair. He had friends here. He’d had dinner with five of them the night before, and would see them again before he drove back to the Willamette Valley, where his life could resume.

After this little visit to his unpalatable past ended.

The horizontal rain and fifty-mile-per-hour wind that greeted him in the morning didn’t change his attitude. He drove the six blocks from the hotel to the courthouse, and pulled up to his favorite parking spot in the back, only to realize that some idiot had replaced the parking spot with a gigantic Dumpster. Apparently, someone thought no one used that parking spot (which, if Hanrahan were honest, was partly true: it was one reason he had managed to find it over and over again back when he lived here).

After failing to get his usual spot, Hanrahan drove around the courthouse lot three times before giving up. He went to the Cop Lot next door, saw the signs that said unauthorized vehicles would be towed, and realized that these days, his vehicle was unauthorized.

He had to park an entire block away, which meant that by the time he entered the courthouse’s front door, his rain gear was soaked. He stamped and shook like a wet dog, only to find himself confronting something else brand new: TSA-level security, complete with X-ray machine and one of those beeping metal detectors.

Portland’s courthouse didn’t have anything this nice. Obviously, someone in Seavy County knew how to work federal grants in the county’s favor.

A young cop, in shape, eager, and a little out of his element, beckoned Hanrahan forward. Hanrahan had left his gun and Taser in the car. He’d always believed that fewer weapons in the courthouse was a good thing, especially when some disgruntled criminal decided to jump a bailiff as a prelude to jumping bail, something Hanrahan had seen too many times to count.

Still, Hanrahan had his badge, and the young cop’s eyebrows went up as Hanrahan placed it, along with the contents of his pants pockets, in the security tray.

“Portland,” the kid said. “Wow. You on a joint case?”

Someone should’ve told the kid that the reasons people came to the courthouse were none of his damn business. Hanrahan was feeling wet and grumpy, but not wet enough or grumpy enough to educate someone else.

“Something like that,” Hanrahan said as he walked through the metal detector, and down the hall.

Finally, he hit a part of the courthouse that hadn’t changed. Half the staff in the main floor office hadn’t arrived yet. Through the window where the good citizenry paid their parking tickets and their small-potatoes traffic fines, Hanrahan could see movement, but no one would fling that window open until 9 a.m. sharp.

He took the nearby stairs two at a time until he reached the third floor where the courtrooms were. Then he stopped, heaving a sigh.

At least thirty people had formed a line in the hallway, all of them looking sodden and annoyed. Another dozen sat on benches, bright blue JUROR buttons attached to their shirts.

He had forgotten one of the joys of this courthouse: the jurors had to remain in the hallway until called into their various courtrooms. The early morning witnesses had to remain in the hallway too, because they weren’t allowed in court until they testified.

He hated mingling with the civilians, particularly pissed-off civilians who had been tossed out of their daily routines to sit in judgment on someone else. All of the people in this hallway wanted to be somewhere else; all of them wanted to know when they could leave.

Hanrahan pushed his way through the throng to the side corridor that led to the main entrances into the five tiny courtrooms. The Seavy County Courthouse initially had three large courtrooms, but they got carved up in a remodel when Hanrahan had been in his first year with the sheriff’s department. The remodel installed cameras and surveillance equipment, audio equipment, and safer ways to bring prisoners into the courthouse itself.

Hanrahan scanned the faces of the folks sitting on the benches, looking for someone familiar. He didn’t know the deputy district attorney who was handling this case. Already Hanrahan thought very little of him—one Jesse Riordan, who only bothered to communicate with Hanrahan by email, and who had decided not to prep him for the trial at all.

Hanrahan hated going in cold.

Jesse Riordan’s last e-mail had been blithe: We’ll touch base at the courthouse.

It’s your show, Hanrahan had written back, but it’s been my experience that cases always go better when the witnesses have gone through prep.

And by that, he had meant when the lawyers had gone through prep. Because witnesses—himself included—could pop off with any damn thing that might tank a carefully constructed case.

Although, to be fair, he had no idea how carefully constructed this case had to be. It was typical Seavy County: a mixture of alcohol, vehicles, and not enough road.

He’d been unlucky enough to witness the entire incident. He’d been trying to pull over the driver, one Charles Delany Cowell, known as “Seedy” ostensibly for his first two initials. Seedy Cowell’s vehicle, an ancient dark green Saab, had been weaving all over the road.

The moment Hanrahan turned on his squad’s flashing lights, Seedy sped up. Then Hanrahan turned on the sirens, and Seedy floored that crappy Saab.

Seedy had no hope of outrunning Hanrahan. Hanrahan used the radio and notified the local police in Seavy Village that Seedy was heading their way. Hanrahan had been extremely confident that Seedy wouldn’t turn off the highway onto another road. There were almost no roads off the highway, and all of them were to Seedy’s left, heading east into the valley. West put him in the ocean.

If Seedy had tried to turn, Hanrahan would have gained on him, catching him in no time. Besides, Seedy would have to know the roads to pull off, and most people who sped through Seavy County were idiot tourists who had no idea there were other through roads.

Seedy wasn’t a tourist, but he wasn’t a rocket scientist either—at least when he was drunk. He pegged that ancient Saab at 130 miles per hour until he came to the corner near Hoover Bay. He lost control on the sharp turn and slammed into the stone guardrail, flipping the car over and landing it upside down in the Dee River.

Hanrahan arrived seconds later, irritated that he had to rescue an idiot, worried that the idiot was dead, and bracing for surprises. The thing Hanrahan hated the most about working for the Seavy County Sheriff’s Department was that he worked alone. No partner, no backup within miles. Just him and whatever he encountered at the literal edge of nowhere.

What he encountered that night was pretty simple: a car that landed mostly on the passenger side; a lucky drunk who was crawling out of the broken driver’s window; and two unlucky passengers, one dead at the scene, the other so badly injured that Hanrahan wasn’t sure she’d survive until an ambulance arrived.

Hanrahan had done what he could for the lone survivor, Veronica Newmark. He had carefully held her head in place so she wouldn’t drown, deciding that saving her life was more important than handcuffing Seedy. Seedy, who was slogging through two feet of river water when Hanrahan’s backup arrived. Seedy, who refused to give up his keys at the bar across town. Seedy, who swore to the bartender that no sir, I’m not driving anywhere, sir, my girlfriend has an apartment near here. Maybe his “girlfriend” had had an apartment nearby, but neither of the women in the car lived in Seavy County, although both of them had died there.

Hanrahan had thought this case would resolve easily. He hadn’t given it much thought when he left the sheriff’s department. He expected Seedy to take a plea, and that would be the end of it.

But Seedy had fought the charges, and the court case got rescheduled more times than Hanrahan wanted to consider. Initially, the rescheduling had been on the part of the District Attorney’s office. Veronica Newmark spent almost a year in a vegetative state before finally ceasing to breath on her own late one night. The DA’s office amended the charges to two cases of Aggravated Vehicular Homicide.

Hanrahan sighed. He should have checked in at the DA’s office on the second floor, although he’d been instructed to come to the courtrooms. A sign above each courtroom listed the day’s business just like an arrivals/departure sign at an airport.

Seedy’s trial was scheduled for Courtroom 305.

Hanrahan made his way through a pack of jurors to the courtroom door, looking to see if Jesse Riordan was waiting for him up here. Hanrahan suspect that, even though he had no idea what Riordan looked like, he could find the DDA just by the look of his clothing.

Most of the jurors sitting on the benches were wearing coast normal, which didn’t even rise to the level of business casual. Very few jobs here required business attire. Most jobs required a uniform, provided by the employer. In fact, the worst dressers in Seavy County Court were the folks Hanrahan did recognize, all of whom owned their own small businesses, and none of whom wore anything nicer than a pair of ragged blue jeans.

So Hanrahan scanned for someone in actual business clothing. Standing near the entrance to Courtroom 305, he saw a woman with wedge-cut black hair. She wore a black business suit, a white silk blouse, and enough makeup to enhance her thin lips and dark eyes. She also wore fragile high heels that seemed completely undamaged by the rain.

She was talking softly with two local attorneys, both men, both in their sixties, wearing suits they should have retired twenty years before, their grayish hair wild and in need of a trim. No one acknowledged him.

He peered into a nearby courtroom, saw a plea finishing up, and jumped when someone touched his back. The little woman who had been taking names and handing out JUROR badges stood behind him.

“Do you need to sign in, Mister—?”

“Detective,” he said. “I’m here to…”

She took his arm and moved him away from the klatch of jurors. “They don’t need to hear why you’re here,” she said.

He nodded. She was right, not that he cared. He wanted this experience to end soon.

“I’m here in the Cowell matter,” he said.

“For the prosecution?” she asked, even though she probably didn’t need to.

He nodded. “I was supposed to meet Jesse Riordan, but I don’t see him.”

“Her,” the woman said. “And last I saw her, she was in front of the door for Courtroom 305. Black hair, black suit. You can’t miss her.”

Something in the woman’s tone added Riordan’s not from around here. But that wasn’t possible, since she was a DDA. She had to live here now.

The woman with the wedge-cut hair was still standing in front of the doorway to Courtroom 305. She was speaking urgently to one of the local attorneys, something about meeting in her office to deal with Child Protective Services later in the week.

“DDA Riordan?” Hanrahan asked, not quite using his street voice. Still, he got the attention of everyone with a JUROR badge sitting nearby.

The wedge-cut woman glared at him. “What?” she snapped in a tone that instantly put him at ease. They didn’t teach that tone in law school. Lawyers had to learn it as their confidence grew.

“Mick Hanrahan. I was to show up—”

“Yes, Detective.” She held up an index finger. Her nails had been painted a red that matched her lipstick. She wore no rings, but the tennis bracelet on her wrist was worth at least one month of Hanrahan’s pay.

“Call my office,” she said to the lawyer. “We need to set this up sooner rather than later. That child needs a permanent home, and it’s not my office’s job to get that for her.”

“Such a bleeding heart,” the lawyer said with obvious sarcasm.

Riordan grinned at him, then stepped around him. She was the most put-together person in the hallway. She looked like she belonged in a Portland courtroom arguing for some major corporation, not in Seavy County’s tiny courthouse.

“Come with me,” she said to Hanrahan.

He followed her through another door, one he’d never been in before. He knew it was where lawyers sometimes met with their clients during trial.

The room was small, with an old wooden table that seated six max, and a portrait of the Chief Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court hanging crookedly on the far wall.

“I need to brief you on a few things,” she said. “I’m hoping you won’t have to testify at all, at least today. I’m trying to get another continuance—”

“Another?” he asked.

“It’s better for you if I do,” she said.

“Frankly, Ms. Riordan, it’s not better for me. I don’t want to come back here any more than I have to. I’m not happy to learn that I might not be testifying today—”

“Detective,” she said. “Somehow Mr. Cowell ended up with Sam Ashton, an excellent attorney with Rodriguez Roest, one of the largest firms on the West Coast. Ashton’s young, trying to make his bones with major cases outside of his firm’s home base, which is Los Angeles. There’s money here, and I’m not sure exactly where it comes from.”

Hanrahan frowned. “Why are you telling me this?”

“Because if you do testify today, you’re going to have to be careful. We don’t want your statements on the record. That’s why I haven’t brought you over here until now.”

He let out a small snort. “I’m your primary witness.”

“In this case, yes,” she said.

He waited. There was another shoe. He could almost hear the cartoon whistle as it dropped toward the floor.

“Ashton has initiated several suits, including one against the sheriff’s department, claiming false arrest. They—”

“False arrest? The bastard was drunk. He killed two people.”

“That’s not what they’re claiming,” she said. “They’re claiming that you forced him to drive too fast and it was your recklessness that forced him off that bridge. There is nowhere else to go. He was stuck on Highway 101—”

“He could have pulled over,” Hanrahan stated.

“Yes, he could have, but they have something about a pathological fear of arrest—”

“Which isn’t my issue,” Hanrahan said. “He was driving, Monica Knowles died, and Veronica Newmark was so badly injured that she eventually died too. He has no case—”

“In the case of Knowles, that’s probably true. No local jury is going to give him the benefit of the doubt. But he wants money, and Ashton wants practice. The plan is, as far as I can tell, to get your statement on the record, particularly the bit about you holding Newmark’s head. Her spinal cord was badly damaged that night, and they’re going to argue you did it, and that her death was caused by you, not by their client.”

“Oh, for crissake,” Hanrahan snapped. “What was I supposed to do, let her drown in that muddy water he’d driven her into?”

“And that’s the kind of response they want on record, Detective,” Riordan said.

He made himself take a deep breath. “That still doesn’t absolve Cowell in the death of Knowles.”

“I know,” Riordan said. “After they lay the foundation for your responsibility on the death of Newmark, they plan to meet with the judge, get the charges against Cowell dismissed on Newmark in return for a plea on Knowles.”

“They could have done that earlier,” Hanrahan said.

“They didn’t have your testimony,” she said. “We wouldn’t take anything less than prison time on both deaths.”

Hanrahan let out a large breath. Lawyers. Courtrooms. This case should have been straightforward, and they were making it difficult.

“How do you know all of this?” he asked. Usually prosecutors weren’t privy to defense strategy.

She smiled slightly. “Our boy’s big mistake is that he hired a local secretary. Small towns have their advantages.”

And those advantages included untoward gossip.

“I didn’t want you anywhere near this place,” she said. “That’s why I’ve been so unresponsive in email.”

“Then you shouldn’t have sent a witness subpoena,” he said.

She glared at him. “There is a chance the trial will happen. You know that.”

He shrugged. “You need to tell the judge about this, especially about the plan to waste the court’s time.”

“What makes you think I didn’t, Detective?” she asked in that annoying way lawyers had when they didn’t want to discuss something.

“The fact that I’m standing here, Ms. Riordan.”

She let out a small laugh. “I met with Judge Goodrich. She asked me for proof. I told her that we should bring in Mr. Cowell’s attorney and ask him, and the judge said that she wasn’t going to let me troll for the other side’s strategy in her courtroom. Then I told her that we could bring in the gossip who had told me everything, and the judge asked if the source of the gossip worked for the attorney in question.”

Hanrahan braced his hands on the tabletop. He had a hunch he knew the answer.

“And of course, the source doesn’t,” Riordan said with disgust. “He’s married to the secretary’s cousin, of all things. You know how small towns work. As the judge said somewhat patronizingly, trials are different here, and that’s the bitch of it. Trials are different here. It’s the first place I’ve ever practiced where the judge identifies the attorneys, the court reporter, the witnesses, and the defendant to the entire jury pool, and asks them to search their memories before being called up for voir dire, because everyone knows everyone. I’ve had clients of the defense attorney sitting on a jury because the client didn’t have any pressing business at the time. I’ve had the county dispatch sitting on a jury because she had no personal business with the defendant. I’ve had—”

“I know, Ms. Riordan,” Hanrahan said quietly. “I lived here for ten years.”

The tangle of lives and business had always been a problem in Seavy County. The county was spread out over 2,000 square miles, but much of it was uninhabitable. The bulk of the county’s 40,000 residents were crammed into the 101 corridor that went north-south along the Pacific Coast, in and out of a dozen villages, but only two tiny cities, where everyone shopped and went to school and hired lawyers.

If a judge excluded everyone in a jury pool who knew someone involved in a case, there wouldn’t be enough people from which to choose a jury.

“A big city judge would disallow all of this,” Riordan said bitterly.

That was true, but not relevant.

“Why are you in Seavy County, if you don’t like it?” Hanrahan asked.

The lawyer pose fell from Riordan’s face for just a moment, and he saw her—a woman heading into middle-age who couldn’t believe that her life had come to this.

“My husband’s father is dying by inches, and my husband feels he needs to care for his father here. His father’s never lived anywhere else, so we moved here because my husband puts family first.”

“No other siblings, no mother—”

The lawyer of the withering glances returned. “We’ve already gone through all the options, Detective.”

“And you became a prosecutor rather than join one of the local firms?”

Riordan barked out a laugh. “Have you been to the local firms?”

“And to the DA’s office, plenty of times,” he said.

“Then you know,” she said. “There are two kinds of small town attorneys. Those who excel at everything the law throws at them, and those who excel at nothing.”

He paused for just a second, then asked, “Which are you, Ms. Riordan?”

Her gaze met his. “I’m a big city attorney locked in purgatory because I made the mistake of falling in love with a decent man.”

Someone knocked on the door. An eager-looking young woman peered in through the window and nodded at Riordan.

Riordan cursed. “Looks like I’m up. You get to wait in the hall.”

“With the jurors,” he said.

She shrugged, as if to say, I didn’t design this stupid system. “And half of them are for my case. If I don’t get the continuance, I’m going to stretch out jury selection. You and I will have lunch in my office. Unless you get called back to Portland.”

She gave him a meaningful look and let herself out of the room. He stood there for a long moment, his hatred of this place mixing with his knowledge of all the goodhearted people who did their very best to make sure that this tiny courthouse worked the way it should.

The county was understaffed and underfunded. He’d left in part because the territory he was supposed to cover every night as a sheriff’s deputy was about to triple. It meant he wouldn’t be able to respond in any meaningful amount of time, and unsolved crimes would probably quadruple.

Now, he was going to get blamed for behaving by the book. A big law firm was involved, so that meant there would be some kind of play for money, and a probable lawsuit against the county for mistaken prosecution or whatever the hell that was called because some drunken jackass who had killed two people had enough cash to hire a good lawyer.

And whether she liked it or not, that DDA was in over her head. The attorneys with the big law firm could have been playing her. They could have planted that information with the secretary or made sure her cousin overheard it all, with the hope that word got back to Riordan.

Ashton, the defendant’s lawyer, had nothing to lose. If Riordan hadn’t heard the gossip, nothing would change. But if she had, then she would present a weakened version of her case, and she would defeat herself.

That was how Hanrahan would have played it. But then, he was a small-town boy who had two years experience with the cut-throat attorneys who came out of real cities.

A middle-aged attorney in a bad suit threw open the door, saw Hanrahan, and asked, “Who’re you waiting for?”

“No one,” he said. “I’m just leaving.”

Hanrahan walked out of the open door as a group of jurors were filing into Courtroom 305. Hanrahan peered through the door as he passed it. Jurors were threading their way into the seats behind the counsel tables. No one would need him for at least an hour. And if they did need him immediately, then Riordan would get her wish: he would be momentarily unavailable.

He slipped on his rain gear and headed outside. The horizontal rain had become a horizontal downpour. The wind gusted so hard he had trouble holding his hood in place.

When he reached his car, he grabbed the waterproof bag he used for his case files, his computer, and his tablet. He tucked it all underneath his raincoat, slammed the car door shut, locked it all, and ran back to the courthouse.

He slogged inside, went back through security, and hurried upstairs. By the time he arrived in the hallway, all of the jurors had gone into their respective courtrooms.

A woman wearing a green cardigan sweater and pilled black pants sat near one of the courtroom doors, her hands threaded together, fingers tapping her skin nervously. Another woman sat across from her, looking down. Near the table where the juror registration had been set up, a too-skinny man sat on the floor, twitching and staring at the stairs as if he was wondering if he could make a run for it.

Hanrahan sat as far away from all of them as he could. He took off his coat, shook it, and hung it on the edge of the bench. Then he moved a little sideways so he wouldn’t put any of his materials in a rain puddle of his own making.

He had reviewed the case files the night before. The county had sent him printed copies, even though he had asked for a log-in to review online. He was no longer an officer with the sheriff’s department, so they didn’t want him to have access to current information about anything. Instead, they sent him the files “as a courtesy,” his old boss had said, as if there were anything courteous about it.

Hanrahan was losing two days of his own time testifying for them. He wasn’t getting paid for this, and only an argument with his own superior at the Portland Police Department got him paid time off to come over here.

He let out a small breath, realizing just how annoyed he was.

He made himself focus on the files. He knew what was in them backward and forward. The problem was that they weren’t complete—not for a standard homicide investigation. For a vehicular homicide actually witnessed by a sheriff’s deputy, they were perfect. Textbook. About as good as it got.

So what was the defense’s angle here? Riordan’s reaction was typical for an overworked prosecutor—she thought it was all about cases and events.

But that made no sense, particularly for big city attorneys. They had to see that there was no money to get out of Seavy County. Even the county’s insurance for this sort of thing was miniscule compared to anything they’d see in California.

Riordan hadn’t told Hanrahan how Seedy Cowell had managed to hire an expensive law firm, which meant she had investigated and hadn’t found the answer suspicious.

But she clearly hadn’t asked the question that was bothering Hanrahan. Why was that big-city firm handling the case by itself? Why hadn’t it partnered with a local attorney and made him handle the grunt work?

The tactics Riordan described didn’t need a slick high-priced attorney to carry them out. If the little local attorney failed, it didn’t matter. Seedy was still looking at a plea deal or a conviction. It wasn’t a slam-dunk for the defense, and it really wasn’t something a major attorney would want on his record.

But the firm had sent their own people because they didn’t want some local hack to screw this up.

And that bothered Riordan. This firm was investing a lot of money into a case that had, at best, a million-dollar payout—and that was if they won against the county, six months to a year down the road.

The percentage the lawyers would get wouldn’t even pay for their shoes. And Hanrahan couldn’t see the court authorizing the kinds of fees and expenses that these assholes would ring up, even if the county ended up paying court costs.

The first rule of investigation: follow the money.

And right now, there was none.

But there had to be. He just had to find it.

* * *

The first thing he did was investigate Seedy Cowell. Hanrahan didn’t look at the files he had because they were two years old. Instead, he used the 4G on his tablet and logged into the Portland PD database with his current I.D. He didn’t want to fight for access to the Seavy County’s system, and lose the next few hours to some kind of weird jurisdictional fight.

Two kinds of families bestowed ostentatious names like Charles Delany Cowell upon their kids—families with a lot of money and families without. The wealthy ones needed to acknowledge some distant but “important” relative; the poor ones needed to give the kid a boost of confidence right from the get-go.

Seedy Cowell himself had no money, but at the time of the accident he was driving an ancient Saab, which was not the go-to used car of choice for most impoverished losers. Either someone gave him that car or he had inherited it from a family member.

Hanrahan knew the car was registered in Seedy’s real name, the name that matched his driver’s license and his fingerprints. When Seedy was arrested two Januarys ago, he had just been evicted from his own apartment above one of the stores lining 101, not for non-payment, but for excessive and dangerous partying. Too many noise complaints, too many fights in the hallway.

Seedy had been sleeping at his so-called girlfriend’s place for a week while he searched for a new place to live. He had a job at a local restaurant waiting tables, a job he’d held for nearly a year.

Hanrahan had investigated all of that as a matter of course, searching for patterns, drug usage, any prior DUII, anything that might escalate the charges to something with a little more teeth. He’d found one DUII, and that had pleased him.

It didn’t take much more digging to determine that, indeed, Seedy came from money—Old Philadelphia money. But he hadn’t been disowned. Instead, he had publically disavowed his own family and their “bourgeoisie expectations.”

Hanrahan rolled his eyes at that. Mom and Dad wanted Seedy to amount to something. Seedy didn’t want the pressure of their expectations. It explained the car, at least a little. But it didn’t explain the law firm, especially when Hanrahan cross-checked the case file with his memory.

A major Philadelphia law firm had initially defended Seedy, using one of the local defense attorneys as its mouthpiece. Or, at least, the firm had handled the case until Seedy found out where the support had come from, and severed the relationship with that attorney.

No wonder Riordan hadn’t looked much deeper into Rodriguez Roest. Seedy had already had prestigious—and expensive—representation, if only for a short time. Another expensive firm wouldn’t have seemed suspect to her.

But it did to Hanrahan. If Seedy wasn’t using Mom and Dad’s money, where had he gotten the cash to hire Rodriguez Roest?

Hanrahan couldn’t find that tidbit. So he dug for more on Seedy.

The kid was trying to turn his life around. While out on bail, he had been attending Oregon Coast Community College, and it seemed that he was sincerely trying to clean up his life. There were hints of AA meetings and several volunteer shifts at a local food bank that Hanrahan did not think had occurred on lawyerly advice.

Old Seedy was feeling guilty, as he should be. And Hanrahan wondered what he’d find out if he pulled Seedy aside. Did Seedy even know his lawyers’ plans to get him to take a plea in the middle of this case? If so, why wasn’t Seedy taking that plea now?

Two people walked past Hanrahan. They pulled JUROR badges off their shirts, and dumped them in a little basket on the table. Jury selection was not just under way in one of the trials going on behind him, it was proceeding apace.

Hanrahan shook his head slightly. What he knew of the judges here was this: they hated it when cases came to trial. They saw those cases as failures from the get-go. So the judges were slightly surly as a case went into jury selection. Because the courtrooms were so small, the judges also felt a ticking clock. They needed to get the trials completed so that the courtroom was open for all the pleas, hearings, and other routine business of the court.

Hanrahan had to work a little faster. He could spend all day digging into Seedy and finding nothing. So, for the first time in the history of this case, Hanrahan decided to look at the victims.

After the accident, Hanrahan did get to know the victims somewhat. He had watched Monica Knowles die as the car flipped, and he had held Veronica Newmark, hoping she survived until help came. He even visited her a few times in the hospital, until he realized she would never come out of her coma. Sometimes he felt vaguely guilty about her—not that he blamed himself for her injuries, but that if he had been just a bit slower to get to her side, or maybe a little less diligent, she wouldn’t have ended up in a twilight of existence, dying by millimeters.

He knew better than to say any of that in court. He couldn’t make any claim of guilt even if it was how he felt. Hanrahan knew the blame fell squarely on Seedy. He had made reckless choices, and those reckless choices had ultimately cost two lives.

Hanrahan decided to scan their obituaries to see if he found anything before moving onto the girlfriend and other associates of Seedy, to see if the money for the lawyer had come from them.

A group of jurors threaded out, all dumping their JUROR buttons in the basket as they headed to the stairs. He waited for a moment to see if anyone else followed, but no one did.

He looked down at his tablet. The obit that came up first in a Google search was Newmark’s.

And that was when he found some answers.

Veronica Newmark had come to Seavy County on vacation with her friend Monica Knowles. They had been driving up Highway 101, planning to head to Seattle, then drive home on Interstate 5, visiting friends in major cities along the way. They stayed an extra day, met Seedy in a bar, and ended up in that Saab on the fatal night. Newmark’s obituary didn’t mention Seedy’s name or why Newmark ended up in the Saab, only that she had died from injuries sustained in the accident.

But—and this was the important part—Veronica Newmark was the daughter of a major Los Angeles real estate developer, a woman with a lot of contacts all over the city, who had built some of the most important buildings in the last five years. Newmark’s father was the CEO of the second-largest grocery chain on the West Coast.

Hanrahan did a Google search for the law firm that represented either company and hit a jackpot. Ashton’s firm, Rodriguez Roest, handled both the real estate firm and the grocery chain. Rodriguez Roest also had an entire division dedicated to liability.

Hanrahan felt cold. Liability, which was what they would go after the county for. This wasn’t just a money case; it was a keep-your-client happy case, and the client wasn’t Seedy. It was the Newmark family, whose grief was fresh enough to demand as much blood as possible.

Another juror dumped a button into the basket before she headed toward the stairs.

“Excuse me,” Hanrahan said to her.

She turned, looking alarmed.

“What courtroom did you come from?” he asked.

“300,” she said. “Why?”

“Just wondering how jury selection was going in 305, but you wouldn’t know that.”

“Thank God,” she said. “I’m going home.”

And then she bounded down the stairs as if she had been let out of prison herself.

He frowned. A gaggle of jurors had gone by earlier, and there had been no stragglers in quite a while.

He glanced at his watch. It was only 10. But it looked like juries had been chosen in both cases.

He hoped both sides in the Cowell case had long opening statements. Otherwise, Hanrahan would be on the stand before lunch.

And he wouldn’t have a chance to tell Riordan what she was really up against.

* * *

At 11:30, Riordan found him.

“We have two hours,” she said. “I’m buying lunch, but we’re eating in my office.”

She waited for him to gather his things. He let her guide him to the second floor where the DA’s office complex sprawled.

She opened the door, and asked the clerk at the window to have take-out delivered from the usual place. Since Hanrahan wasn’t fussy, he didn’t care where the usual place was. It probably would be something he was familiar with and hadn’t missed.

Her office was toward the back, reflecting her relatively new status as a deputy district attorney. She had a small desk which was amazingly organized. Files were stacked neatly. In the normal spot for a big computer, a laptop stood open.

She set down her satchel, beckoned him toward a leather chair on the side of the room, and said, “We’re under way. I’m going to need you this afternoon, unfortunately. I figure we get you on and off the stand—”

“You need some information first,” he said, and then told her what he’d found about Rodriguez Roest.

Riordan sank into the chair behind her desk midway through his recitation. “You’d think I would have found that on my own,” she muttered more to herself than him.

“It was counterintuitive,” he said. “You were concerned about Seedy, not about the victims.”

She closed the laptop and frowned. “They’re playing all sides against each other. Get Seedy to take a plea on what he thinks is a lesser charge while establishing his liability and Seavy County’s. They can go after his family’s money as well as the county, and maybe even the hospital if they do it right. Who’s paying for his defense?”

Hanrahan shrugged. “Not his parents. Most likely Newmark’s parents or maybe they convinced the firm to take the case pro bono.”

“Damn.” Riordan clenched her fist and almost pounded the desk, but stopped herself just before her skin hit the wood.

“That’s why they sent a new lawyer to play this out. He’s one of their young defense attorneys. He has no idea what Liability is up to,” Hanrahan said.

“And we have nothing but supposition for the judge,” she said, “unless we can prove that Newmark’s parents were involved. And that won’t even matter until the liability case gets filed. If it gets filed.”

Hanrahan took a deep breath. “I want you to put me up first, and let me talk.”

She shook her head. “We really need to work this out. Because one wrong word—”

“I know,” he said. “But you have no idea what I’m going to say. You need to hear me out. No one knows what I did that night.”

Her eyes narrowed. “You said you won’t lie for this case.”

“I won’t,” he said. “I don’t have to. You can win without it.”

She gave him a sideways look, as if she didn’t believe him. “I don’t have to accept the plea. I need to tell my boss about this.”

“The judge won’t be happy if you refuse the offer you tried to give Seedy in the beginning,” Hanrahan said.

“Duh,” she said. “That’s why I need to talk to my boss. Because—”

“Go talk to your boss. But make sure we have time to go over my testimony,” Hanrahan said. “You need to be prepared.”

“And so do you,” she snapped, and left the room.

* * *

When the bailiff finally brought Hanrahan into the courtroom a little after two, he was surprisingly nervous. He hadn’t been nervous about testifying in years.

It hadn’t been Riordan’s demeanor that made him nervous either, but her earlier admonition: Hanrahan really did have to watch every single word.

The courtroom felt even tinier than he remembered. It had a 1970s look, even after the recent remodel. The swivel chairs in the jury box had blue cushions, and the wood was a blond maple. Even the witness chair had soft padding.

Judge Goodrich’s bench was astonishingly close to the witness chair. The judge had just been elected when Hanrahan left. She was younger than he remembered, but her eyes had a pinched, tired look. She nodded at him.

He nodded back as he settled in. He took his oath, and watched as Riordan glanced at her notes before walking toward him. She was doing that for effect. She knew exactly what she was going to ask him.

Cowell watched everything with a vaguely terrified air. He was too thin, and his skin was pallid. He had deep circles under his eyes. He looked decades older than the man in the mug shot that Hanrahan had been staring at for the past week. Hanrahan almost felt compassion for him.

Almost.

Cowell’s attorney, Sam Ashton, had a yellow legal pad before him, and kept a pen in his hand. He wore a black suit that looked as natural on him as jeans and a T-shirt did on most men. His eyes were dark and filled with a sharp intelligence. This was not a man to underestimate.

Riordan had her back to Ashton. She was turned slightly, so that she faced the jury, the judge, and Hanrahan.

First Riordan established who Hanrahan was, what he was doing now, and what his job had been two years before. Then she moved on, without asking him why he left the coast. It was a breadcrumb for Ashton. Whether or not Ashton followed it would be another matter.

She and Hanrahan had decided to leave Ashton a number of bread crumbs, hoping he would pick up a few. Hanrahan was beginning to respect Riordan. In their short meeting, she had come up with as many bread crumbs as he had.

Riordan led Hanrahan through his evening, starting with the radio call about a driver weaving all over the road to the car chase. She lingered on response times.

“We were lucky,” Hanrahan said. “I was nearby when the call came in. I was able to find the car in question within five minutes.”

Another bread crumb. They both knew that Ashton wanted the county’s response times on the record, and they were leaving that thread dangling, so that he would pick it up and think he had a case.

“What happened when you turned on your flashing lights?” Riordan asked.

“The car I was pursuing sped up,” Hanrahan said.

“Is that unusual?” she asked.

“Not with drunks,” Hanrahan said.

“Objection,” Ashton said without getting up. “It assumes—”

“Oh, for God’s sake,” said Judge Goodrich. “If you want statistics, Counselor, I’m sure that the sheriff’s department can provide them for you. Hell, I can. Every day, we deal with a speeding drunk in my courtroom who thinks he can somehow outrun law enforcement on Highway 101. Objection overruled.”

Ashton looked shocked.

Welcome to the coast, Hanrahan thought, and struggled not to look smug. Trials really were different here—and that was why most firms partnered up with a local attorney. To prevent reprimands just like that, coming from the judge.

Somehow, Riordan’s expression had not changed, even though Hanrahan felt her amusement. Or maybe he was channeling his on her. A few members of the jury who, until this moment, had looked deadly serious, were smiling at the judge.

“When the car sped up,” Riordan asked Hanrahan, “what did you do?”

“I radioed for backup,” he said.

“To the sheriff’s department?”

“No,” he said. “I contacted all local law enforcement. Frankly, I thought the car would make it to Seavy Village and the police there would slow him down.”

“But you gave chase,” she said, as if he had done something wrong.

They had practiced this. She thought it crucial. He didn’t. He trusted the locals on the jury.

Still, he gave the answer he and Riordan had settled on, in a voice that had no sarcasm or anger or even surprise.

“It was my job, ma’am,” he said.

“You were required to chase the car?” she asked.

“Yes, ma’am,” he said. “As long as the car was speeding, it was a danger to the entire community. The car needed to pull over.”

“Is that the other reason you called for backup?” she asked.

“Yes, ma’am,” he said. “Just six months before, a Lincoln County police officer was shot and nearly killed in a routine traffic stop not fifty miles from here. After that, we were all instructed to use extreme caution, particularly when dealing with an unusual traffic situation.”

“You just stated that a drunk speeding up is not unusual,” Riordan said. “Then why call for extra backup?”

“A citizen who speeds up when law enforcement asks him to pull over is unusual, ma’am,” Hanrahan said. “At that moment, I did not know if the driver was drunk or had contraband in his car or had some other reason to flee.”

“I see.” Riordan paused on that for a long moment. Then she walked him through the accident itself. She had pictures of that corner Seedy had missed, which she had blown up for the jury. There was a few moments’ tussle with Ashton over the photographs, but that tussle was clearly for the record, not because Ashton believed the judge would disallow them.

By then, Hanrahan had been on the stand for almost an hour. He glanced at Seedy. Seedy met his gaze, then flushed, and looked down at his hands. He probably didn’t want to relive those few hours any more than Hanrahan did.

What an awful night.

Riordan finally came back to Hanrahan. “When the car hit the guardrail, what did you do?” she asked.

“I contacted dispatch as I was pulling over and asked for an ambulance. Then I said I needed backup immediately.”

“Did she tell you how far out backup was?” Riordan asked.

“She told me that backup would be there shortly,” Hanrahan said.

“And you took that to mean?”

“Within five minutes,” he said. “Otherwise she would have told me it would be there as soon as possible.”

“Are these technical terms within the sheriff’s department?” Riordan asked.

“I don’t know if they are now,” Hanrahan said. “But that was how it worked two years ago.”

Riordan nodded. She asked a few more establishing questions, and then got to the moment she and Hanrahan had spent the most time on. She got him to the car, upside down in a foot of water.

“The Dee is a tidal river, is it not?” she asked Hanrahan.

“Judge,” Ashton said. “We will stipulate to that.”

He clearly didn’t want the jury to think about what “tidal river” meant.

“I would like the definition on the record, Your Honor,” Riordan said.

The judge glanced at the jury. At least two jurors looked confused, although Hanrahan couldn’t tell if they were confused by the interchange or the phrase “tidal river.”

“A tidal river,” Judge Goodrich said to the jury, “is one that is affected by the tides. The Dee is a tidal river. Now,” she said to Riordan, “continue.”

“Thank you, Your Honor,” Riordan said. She looked at Hanrahan. “Did you know roughly where the tide was at that point?”

“I always checked the tide tables at the start of my shift, because that makes a difference in my routes,” Hanrahan said. “So, yes, I knew where the tide was at that point. It was coming in.”

“What did you do?” she asked.

“I surveyed the situation,” he said. “I was alone, and I had three choices. I could go after Mr. Cowell, who was running away. I could pull the women from the car, or I could help them survive until backup arrived.”

“You chose to help them survive, did you not?” Riordan asked.

“Yes,” he said. “I wasn’t sure what I’d find inside the car. The car had landed on the passenger side, and was slightly tilted. I could only look in the driver’s window. When I shone my flashlight into the interior, it was clear to me that Monica Knowles had died on impact, but Veronica Newmark was still alive.”

“Was she conscious?” Another important question.

“No,” he said, “and at that moment, her head was leaning against the back of the seat, with her nose elevated.”

“What did you do?” Riordan asked.

“I shut off the ignition, then opened the driver’s side rear door and climbed inside the car. As I did, I realized I did not dare move Ms. Newmark. The EMTs had to do that.”

“But you are an EMT, aren’t you?” Riordan asked.

“Objection,” Ashton said. “Not in evidence.”

“We’re putting it into evidence now, Judge,” Riordan said.

“Go ahead,” the judge said to Hanrahan. She was clearly getting annoyed at Ashton.

“I’m not an EMT,” Hanrahan said. “I do have the same training that EMTs go through. Seavy County made EMT training a requirement for all sheriff’s deputies as our budget got slashed, when it became clear that we might be the only ones on an accident scene for around an hour as we waited for assistance.”

Riordan let that comment hang. She had been pleased to learn that fact over lunch. Even though she had worked in the county for nearly a year, no one had told her about the EMT training before.

Ashton sputtered.

“So, in a nutshell,” Riordan said after her pause, “the difference between you and other EMTs is?”

“I don’t have the equipment they do. I didn’t have anything more than a first aid kit in my squad that night, not that it would have helped.”

“And your opinion is based on…?” Riordan asked.

“The thing EMT training gives us is the ability to size up a situation in a few seconds and do the correct thing for the correct moment.”

“What was the correct thing?” Riordan asked.

“The correct thing was to have an ambulance get Ms. Newmark out of there immediately.”

“Objection—”

“Don’t even try, Counselor,” Judge Goodrich said before nodding at Hanrahan to continue.

“The thing I could do was protect her. The tide was coming in fast, and I knew the car would shift as the water lifted it. I braced my arms, wrists, and hands, and held her head in the position I found it in. I decided I would keep her stable as long as I could, hoping that the ambulance would arrive quickly.”

“What was your greatest fear?” Riordan asked.

“My greatest fear at that moment was that she would drown as the tide came up,” he said. “I was particularly worried that her head would fall to one side and she would be face-first and unconscious in water.”

“So you weren’t protecting her head against movement, were you?” Riordan asked.

“Of course I was,” Hanrahan said. “That’s EMT 101. I had no idea what damage had been done to her body. I needed to keep her as stable as possible.”

“How long did you hold her?”

“It seemed like forever, but they tell me it was about four minutes.”

“And did she move in that time?” Riordan asked.

“No,” he said.

“Did you move her?” Riordan asked.

“No,” he said.

“Did the water move her?”

“No,” he said.

“What did you do when the EMTs arrived?” Riordan asked.

“I helped them with Ms. Newmark.”

“And what happened to Mr. Cowell?”

“Officers from Seavy Village showed up while we were trying to save Ms. Newmark, and they arrested Mr. Cowell. I don’t know the timeline. You’d have to ask them. I was busy. But I do know that Mr. Cowell hadn’t made it out of the river yet.”

Riordan nodded to him, clearly sensing that a smile was not appropriate. She asked a few other questions before turning Hanrahan over to Ashton.

Hanrahan’s stomach actually clenched.

Ashton stood, adjusted his suit coat, and as he stepped forward, said, “Officer Hanrahan—”

“It’s detective, actually,” Hanrahan said. Ashton had known about Hanrahan’s job in Portland. Like anything a lawyer said in court, Ashton had called Hanrahan by his old title to make a point.

“Oh, yes, Detective. Sorry. You’re with the big city police department now.” Sarcasm. So there would be no gloves.

Hanrahan threaded his fingers together. He felt calmer now that this had started.

“Why did you leave Seavy County?” Ashton asked, as if leaving were a horrible thing.

Hanrahan paused for just a second. The phrasing of the question caught him. Why had he left? He had loved it here once.

Then he made himself focus.

“I left for a variety of reasons, some personal, which I can discuss if you like,” Hanrahan said, making himself sound easy-going. “On the work level, I got discouraged by the continual budget cuts. Knowing that I would have to patrol alone over a territory double the size I had already been policing deeply upset me. It already took a long time to get backup. I foresaw that time doubling, and more lives being lost.”

“Yes, time,” Ashton said, thinking Hanrahan had just played into his hand. “Are you certain about the response times you mentioned?”

“As certain as I can be without the logs in front of me,” Hanrahan said. “I reviewed everything before getting on the stand.”

“Four minutes,” Ashton said. “That’s a very long time to have your hands in one position. Are you certain you didn’t move them?”

“Yes,” Hanrahan said.

Irritation flashed across Ashton’s face. “How can you be certain of that, Officer—I mean, Detective. After all, we make involuntary movements all the time—”

“It was part of my EMT training,” Hanrahan said, “and a part I used often. There are tricks to keeping yourself steady.”

“Even when a car is shifting?”

“It hadn’t started to shift yet,” Hanrahan said.

“Not even when you climbed in?”

“Not even then,” Hanrahan said.

Ashton was getting frustrated. He expected an easier cross. “So you left this county because you thought there weren’t going to be enough officers on the road, thereby ensuring that there wouldn’t be enough officers on the road. Had you thought that through?”

Now the questions were getting tougher. But Hanrahan did not smile. Ashton really should have hired a local attorney to help him.

“The department was going to have to lay off at least one deputy with the cuts. My decision to leave not only saved the jobs of the other deputies but gave the county more money.” Hanrahan nodded slightly at the jury, a few of whom were smiling. “At the time, I was the highest paid deputy in the department.”

Ashton’s eyes narrowed. Hanrahan wanted to say, Did you learn Rule Number One of cross examination? Never ask a question you don’t already know the answer to.

“Are you sure you just didn’t want to be put in the position where you’d kill another person ever again?”

Hanrahan felt a thread of anger. He was being accused of killing Newmark in open court.

“Again?” he asked, working to keep his voice level. “I’ve never killed anyone, Counselor.”

“So, you don’t understand that you ultimately caused Newmark’s death?” Ashton asked.

“The accident caused the injuries that led to her death,” Hanrahan said in that same tone.

“But you moved her head around,” Ashton said.

“No, sir, I kept it stable. Veronica Newmark’s injuries were a direct result of your client’s decision to get behind the wheel of his car while drunk.”

“But not her death,” Ashton said. “Her death was caused—”

“That’s enough, Counselor,” the judge said. “I know what you’re trying to do, although I’m not sure why you’re trying to do it. The jury will decide your client’s responsibility in both deaths. Am I clear?”

“Your honor, it matters—”

“No, Mr. Ashton, it doesn’t.” The judge pivoted her chair toward the jury. “I want you to disregard the last few statements Mr. Ashton has made. He was out of line. Detective Hanrahan acted sensibly in his handling of Miss Newmark. And the autopsy results, which Ms. Riordan will put into evidence—”

At that, the judge looked at Riordan. Riordan looked startled, but nodded.

“—clearly state that Ms. Newmark’s death was a direct result of injuries sustained in the car accident. Your determination this afternoon will be the cause of that accident, not what happened after the car went off the road. Is that clear?”

The jurors nodded. They looked startled as well.

“Good.” The judge turned back to the attorneys.

“Sidebar, Your Honor?” Ashton asked.

The judge’s lips thinned, but she nodded. Both attorneys walked up to the bench. Ashton was clearly angry.

Hanrahan leaned back. He would be able to hear everything.

“Your Honor,” Ashton said softly, “we have to establish cause of death in cases like this. It’s rudimentary—”

“Are you saying I don’t know the law, Counselor?” Judge Goodrich asked just as quietly. There were no microphones in this courtroom.

“I’m saying a few things today have been irregular, yes, Your Honor,” Ashton said.

“Maybe for big city courtrooms,” Judge Goodrich said. “Here, we try to get through the day as fairly as possible.”

“But you’ve been unfair to my client,” Ashton said.

“Tell me how I have been unfair, Mr. Ashton,” the judge said. “Your client is facing homicide charges in the case of Monica Knowles and Veronica Newmark. If you had wanted to try Ms. Newmark’s case separately, the time to do so has long passed. If you want to appeal this case, go ahead, but at the moment, it looks like the error in the conduct of this case is yours.”

Ashton flushed.

“Let me give you one piece of advice,” Judge Goodrich said. “Next time you step into a courtroom in a community you’re not familiar with, young man, hire a native guide. Step back.”

Ashton looked like he’d been slapped. The entire courtroom was silent.

“I do believe you’re in the middle of cross-examination, Counselor,” the judge said with something like amusement.

Ashton nodded. The jury watched avidly. They clearly wanted to know what had happened a moment ago, but they couldn’t.

Ashton cleared his throat. “Detective Hanrahan, when you forced Mr. Cowell to speed—”

“Don’t go there, Mr. Ashton,” the judge said.

Ashton took a deep breath. “When you and Mr. Cowell sped—”

“Mr. Ashton, find another line of questioning,” the judge said.

Ashton gave Hanrahan an angry glance as if it were Hanrahan’s fault that Ashton was screwing up cross.

“Nothing further at the moment, Your Honor,” Ashton said, “although I reserve the right to cross this witness later if need be.”

“Fine,” the judge said. “Redirect, Ms. Riordan?”

“Not at this time, Your Honor,” Riordan said from her spot behind the table.

“You’re excused,” the judge said to Hanrahan. “But you will remain in case Mr. Ashton thinks of a question that you can actually answer.”

Hanrahan did not smile, and he thought that a victory. “Thank you, Your Honor,” he said, and stepped out of the witness stand.

He made his way out of the courtroom, feeling everyone staring at him as he went. A laugh was bubbling inside of him. It had been a long time since he’d seen an attorney melt down like that, and Hanrahan partially knew the cause.

Ashton had had a mission from his firm, which was why he had taken the case. With his cross, he had just failed at that mission.

Just like he had failed at his job as a defense attorney. He should have put his client’s interests before his firm’s interests.

He hadn’t, and it might have cost him his high-powered career.

But, by the time Hanrahan sat down on the cold bench outside the courtroom, that bubble of a laugh had disappeared.

That feeling he’d had after Ashton’s first question, that queasy sense of something unseen, had returned.

Why did you leave Seavy County?

The answers all seemed easy and obvious, the same thing he’d been saying for years, the answer he had given in court.

But the follow-up question had stung: Are you sure you just didn’t want to be put in the position where you’d kill another person ever again?

The accusation had made him angry, and it wasn’t like Hanrahan to get angry in court. He knew that a trial was an adversarial process, and he knew he would get grilled because of it.

But there was a tiny bit of insight inside that question.

The question had had the wrong thrust. Hanrahan never felt like he had killed anyone that night. He knew he had no responsibility in that accident.

But he had witnessed the accident alone, he had handled the crucial parts of that case alone, and he had known he was probably watching a woman die as he cupped her jaw carefully between his large hands.

He had hoped, of course, that she would survive. But a part of him had seen something the rest of him hadn’t. He had known her survival would be a long shot, and that knowledge became more certain as the weeks passed and she never came out of her coma.

He always blamed his leaving on the changes in the budget. His entire career in Seavy County had become about making do. From the beginning when newcomers to the department had to take mandatory lower salaries than the previous newcomers to that last year when service got cut in half, he had watched the effectiveness of the sheriff’s department diminish as well.

And the accident had brought it all home for him. Because that night hadn’t been the end of his career. It had been a vision of his future in Seavy County, braced inside a car, hands stationary as rocks, a woman growing paler with each passing moment, her breathing shallow, her eyes closed.

He had known Veronica Newmark wouldn’t be the last person he would have to deal with on a Seavy County road. But she had been the image of things to come.

And he hadn’t been able to face that.

He had been right on the scene. He had handled everything by the book. If he’d had a partner, they could have caught Seedy, as well as dealt with the injured.

If there had been a patrol car nearby—truly nearby, not a village away—then maybe they could have headed off Seedy before he missed that corner.

But half the roads were cliff sides in this county, and another quarter ran along the ocean. There was only one highway and it was mostly two-lane. Accidents happened all the time, usually in the remote parts, and usually late at night.

Hanrahan hadn’t wanted to stumble on a dying family and be unable to help them. He’d rather face off a mugger on Portland’s streets, settle an unruly mob of demonstrators, and investigate one of Portland’s thirty or so annual homicides. He didn’t want to watch anyone die because of some politician decided that cutting law enforcement was better than raising—or maintaining—taxes.

He just didn’t.

He leaned his head back and closed his eyes.

He hadn’t hated Seavy County or the coast. He had just hated the choices his job had forced him into.

“Detective?” Riordan stood over him. He hadn’t heard her emerge from the courtroom.

A few other people entered the hallway.

“You done?” he asked.

She nodded. “The jury’s deliberating. May I buy you a beer?”

She seemed almost jubilant.

“Ashton didn’t ask for a plea,” Hanrahan said.

“You took the wind out of him, and the judge wouldn’t let him take a break because she knew that he wanted to call his law firm. The judge gave me a look after the jury left that told me she knew I had been right about his motives all along.” Then Riordan grinned. “Actually, you were the one who had been right, and I never told the judge about that. But she understood Ashton was being fishy, and she kept a tight rein on him.”

“You think the jury will convict Cowell?”

“Oh, yeah,” Riordan said. “The question is of what. If Ashton had actually presented a case, Cowell might have ended up with something like Failure to Perform the Duties of a Driver.”

“You asked for that?” Hanrahan was surprised. Failure to Perform was a felony with five years attached if someone died, but still, that seemed pretty minor, all things considered.

“We asked for Failure to Perform as well as Aggravated Vehicular Homicide, Criminally Negligent Homicide, and straight out Criminal Homicide. The jury has a cornucopia of charges to choose from. I think they’ll find something,” she said.

“You want him off the street,” Hanrahan said.

“I want a conviction. Two people died,” she said.

He nodded.

“So,” she said. “A beer?”

They had a while to wait, just based on the charges. Things that were familiar to law enforcement and attorneys were strange new territory to jurors. If the jurors wanted to convict Cowell, they had to agree on a charge. It would take time.

“Yeah,” Hanrahan said, “a beer would be good.”

He stood and gathered his things. Riordan watched. As he slipped on his coat, she said, “You know, Detective, you’re mighty good at your job.”

“Which job?” he asked, thinking she had never seen him work in Portland.

“The detecting part,” she said. “I owe you. If you hadn’t done that research, I might have gone light on some of the details.”

She had almost let another attorney get into her head. Hanrahan had prevented it.

He wanted to say it was nothing. But it hadn’t been nothing, and they both knew it.

She had missed the connection within Rodriguez Roest because she was overworked. Judge Goodrich had sped the case along because she was overworked. And Hanrahan had done some research because, for a brief moment on a rainy morning, he hadn’t been overworked.

Sometimes the pressure of the sheer volume of stuff worked in their favor. Sometimes it cost lives.

Hanrahan followed Riordan to her office so she could get her coat.

They both had done the best they could with the time and information they had been given.

And, much as he hated it, that was all anyone could ever ask.

 

Copyright © 2018 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
First published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, December 2016
Published by WMG Publishing
Cover and Layout copyright © 2018 by WMG Publishing
Cover design by Allyson Longueira/WMG Publishing
Cover art copyright © albund/Depositphotos

This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

4 responses to “Free Fiction Monday: Overworked”

  1. Catrin Lewis says:

    I really like this story. And as always, I especially like how you capture the realities of life on the Oregon coast. Natural beauty does have its price, doesn’t it?

  2. Robin Brande says:

    Superb!

  3. Ms Rusch, speaking as a long-ago patrol officer, you got this story exactly right.

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