GRACE BROOKSTEIN'S CONVICTION AND LIFE SENTENCE - the cumulative punishment for all five charges was over one hundred years in jail - was the lead item on news reports around the globe. Grace was no longer a woman, an individual with thoughts and hopes and regrets. She was an emblem, a symbol of all that was greedy and corrupt and rotten in America, of the forces of evil that had brought the country to the brink of economic collapse and caused so much suffering and anguish. When Grace was taken from the courtroom to await transfer to the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women, she was jostled and jeered by a bloodthirsty mob. One woman managed to scratch her face, her talonlike acrylic nail slicing into Grace's flesh. Images of Grace Brookstein clutching her bleeding cheek as she was bundled into a police van were beamed across America. The mighty had truly fallen.

After a terrifying night alone in a cell, Grace was allowed to make a phone call at five A.M. On instinct, she reached for her family.

"Gracie?" Honor's voice sounded groggy with sleep. "Is that you?"

Thank God. She's home. Grace could have wept with relief.

"Yes, it's me. Oh, Honor, it's terrible. I don't know what happened. My attorney told me it would all be okay, but - "

"Where are you now?"

"I'm in jail. I'm still in New York, I...I don't know where exactly. It's awful. They're transferring me tomorrow. Somewhere near you. Bedford, I think? That might be better. But, Honor, you have to help me."

There was a long silence. Eventually, Honor said, "I don't see how I can, Gracie. You've been found guilty in a court of law."

"I know, but - "

"And you didn't exactly help yourself during the trial. Your clothes. What were you thinking?"

"Frank Hammond told me to wear them!"

"You see, there you go again. Connie was right."

"What do you mean?" Grace was close to tears. "Connie was right about what?"

"About you. Listen to yourself, Grace: 'Lenny told me. My attorney told me. John told me.' When are you going to start taking responsibility for your own actions? Your own life? You're not Daddy's little princess anymore, Gracie. You can't keep expecting me and Connie to fix everything for you."

Grace bit her lip till it bled. She'd needed her sister's support so desperately but all Honor wanted to do was lecture her. Clearly, Connie felt the same way.

"Please, Honor! I don't know where to turn. Can't you ask Jack? He's a senator, he must have some influence. This is all a terrible mistake. I didn't steal any money. And Lenny would never - "

"I'm sorry, Grace. Jack can't possibly get involved. This sort of scandal could ruin us."

"Ruin you? Honor, they're locking me up! Lenny's dead, accused of a crime you know he didn't commit."

"I don't know that, Grace. For God's sake, wake up! That money didn't just vanish. Of course Lenny took it. He took it, and he left you holding the bag."

The words were like a knife in Grace's heart. It was bad enough that strangers thought Lenny was a thief. But Honor knew him. She knew him. How could she possibly believe it?

Honor spoke her next words with chilling finality. "You made your own bed, Gracie. I'm sorry." The connection was broken.

You're sorry?

So am I.

Good-bye, Honor.

THE RIDE ON THE PRISON VAN to Bedford Hills was long and uncomfortable. The van was freezing and smelly, and the women inside huddled together for warmth. Grace looked at their faces. These women had nothing in common with her. Some were frightened. Some defiant. Some despairing. But all wore the haggard lines of poverty and exhaustion on their faces. They looked at Grace with naked, murderous hatred.

Grace closed her eyes. She was nine years old, in East Hampton with her father. It was Christmas Eve and Cooper Knowles was lifting her up on his shoulders to put the star on the top of the tree.

"You can do it, Grace. Just stretch a little farther!"

She was on the podium, aged fifteen, surrounded by her gymnast friends. The judges were placing a gold medal around her neck. Grace scanned the crowd for her mother's face, but she wasn't there. Her coach told her, "Forget it, Grace. If you want to be a winner, you have to win for yourself, not for others."

It was her wedding night. Lenny was making love to her, softly, tenderly. "I'm going to take care of you, Grace. You'll never have to worry about anything ever again." And Grace replied, "I love you, Lenny. I'm so happy."

"Get out!"

The female guard grabbed Grace roughly by the arm. Grace hadn't even noticed that the van had stopped. Moments later she was shivering in a desolate courtyard with the other women prisoners. It was late afternoon, already dark, and there was snow on the ground. In front of Grace was a depressing gray stone building. Behind her, and to the left and right, were row after row of barbed-wire fences, jutting violently into the purple night sky. Grace was ashamed to find herself crying.

"Welcome to Bedford Hills, ladies. Enjoy your stay."

IT WAS THREE HOURS BEFORE GRACE reached the cell she was to share with two other women. By that time, she knew she would not survive a week at Bedford Hills, never mind the rest of her life.

I have to get out of here! I have to reach John Merrivale. John will get me out.

The physical examination was the worst part. A brutal, degrading experience, it was designed to strip prisoners of all human dignity. It worked. Grace was forced to strip naked in a room full of people. A prison doctor inserted a speculum into her vagina and took a Pap smear. Next Grace was made to bend over while a latex-gloved finger probed her anus, presumably for hidden drugs. Her pubic hairs were pulled painfully in search of lice. Throughout the procedure prison guards of both sexes laughed and made disgusting, lewd comments. Grace felt as if she'd been raped.

After that, she was herded like an animal into a tepid shower and told to wash with antiseptic soap that burned her skin. Next, still naked, she stood in line to have her long hair cropped boy-short. The haircut took all of fifteen seconds but it was a harrowing procedure, robbing Grace of her femininity, her entire identity as a woman. Grace never saw her own clothes again. They were gone, along with every other vestige of the person she had been on the outside. They even took her wedding ring, wrenching it painfully off her finger. In place of her old clothes, Grace was given three pairs of underwear, a bra that didn't fit and a scratchy orange prison uniform two sizes too big for her.

"In here."

A stocky, female prison guard opened the door of a cell and pushed Grace inside. Two Latina women lay on bunks in the grim, twelve-by-nine-foot box. They muttered something to each other in Spanish as Grace staggered in, but otherwise ignored her.

Screwing up her courage, Grace turned to the guard. "There's been a mistake. I'd like to see the warden, please. I believe I've been transferred to the wrong facility."

"Is that so?"

"Yes. This is a maximum-security prison. I was convicted of fraud, not murder. I don't belong here."

The Latina women's eyes widened. But if the guard was shocked, she didn't show it. "You can see the warden in the morning. Now you sleep." The cell door closed.

Grace lay back on her bunk. She couldn't sleep. Her mind was racing.

In the morning I'll see the warden. I'll be transferred to a better prison. That's the first step. Then I can call John Merrivale and start my appeal.

She should have called John in the first place. She didn't know what stupid, childish impulse had made her turn to Honor instead. It was a hard thing to admit that she couldn't trust her own family, but that was the reality. Grace had to face it.

Lenny looked on John as a brother. John's my family now. He's all I've got.

Clearly, hiring Frank Hammond had been a titanic mistake. But Grace couldn't blame John for that. The point now was to move forward.

Tomorrow. Things will be better tomorrow.

FRANK HAMMOND SAT ALONE IN HIS car in a deserted parking lot. He watched the familiar figure of his client making his way toward him through the shadows. Every few seconds the man glanced over his shoulder nervously, afraid he was being watched.

Big Frank thought, He looks so pathetic. So weak. Like a deer caught in the headlights. No one would suspect a man like that of doing something this audacious. I suppose that's how he got away with it.

The man got into the car and thrust a piece of paper into Frank Hammond's hands.

"What's this?"

"It's a receipt. The wire transfer went through an hour ago."

"To my offshore account?"

"Of course. Just as we agreed."

"Thank you."

Twenty-five million dollars. It was a lot of money. But was it enough? After he'd publicly screwed up Grace Brookstein's defense, Frank Hammond's reputation was in tatters. He might never get hired again. Still, it was too late for regrets.

"I trust you were happy with the job?"

His client smiled. "Very happy. She trusted you completely."

"Then our business is concluded."

Frank Hammond started the engine. His client put a hand on his arm.

"There are no grounds for appeal, are there?"

"None whatsoever. Unless, of course, the FBI happens to find that missing money. But that's not going to happen, is it, John?"

"No. It isn't. N-not in this lifetime."

John Merrivale allowed himself a small smile. Then he got out of the car and quietly disappeared back into the shadows.

WARDEN JAMES MCINTOSH WAS INTRIGUED. LIKE everybody else in the country, he knew who Grace Brookstein was. She was the woman who'd helped her husband embezzle billions of dollars, then inexplicably shown up for her trial channeling Marie Antoinette, alienating the vengeance-crazed American public even further.

Warden McIntosh was a tired, disillusioned man in his early fifties with balding gray hair and a matching thin mustache. He was intelligent and not without compassion, although Grace Brookstein did little to inspire it. Most of the women who wound up at Bedford Hills had had lives straight out of a Dickens novel. Raped by their fathers, beaten by their husbands, forced into prostitution and drugs while still in their teens, many of them never stood a chance at living normal, civilized lives.

Grace Brookstein was different. Grace Brookstein had had it all, but she'd still wanted more. Warden McIntosh had no time for that sort of naked greed.

James Ian McIntosh joined the prison service because he genuinely believed that he could do good. That he could make a difference. What a joke! After eight years at Bedford Hills, his aims had grown more modest: to make it to retirement with his sanity and his pension intact.

James McIntosh did not want Grace Brookstein at Bedford Hills. He'd argued with his superiors about it.

"C'mon, Bill, give me a break. She's white collar. Plus she's a walking incitement to riot. Half of my prisoners have family members who lost their jobs after Quorum collapsed. And the other half hate her for being rich and white and wearing that goddamn mink coat to trial."

But it was no use. It was because Grace was so hated that she was being sent to Bedford Hills. Nowhere else would she be protected.

Now, less than one full day into her sentence, she was already stirring up trouble, demanding to see him as if this were some sort of hotel and he were the manager. What's the problem, Mrs. Brookstein? Sheets not soft enough for you? Complimentary champagne not quite chilled?

He gestured for Grace to sit down.

"You asked to see me?"

"Yes." Grace exhaled, forcing the stress out of her body. It was nice to be sitting in an office, talking to an educated, civilized man. The warden had family photographs on his desk. It felt like a tiny, much-needed dose of reality. "Thank you for seeing me, Warden McIntosh. There seems to have been a mistake."

The warden raised an eyebrow.

"Does there?"

"Well...yes. You see, this is a maximum-security facility."

"Is it? I hadn't noticed."

Grace swallowed. She felt nervous all of a sudden. Was he laughing with her, or at her?

This is my chance to explain. I mustn't screw it up.

"My crime...the crime that I was convicted of...it wasn't violent," she began. "I mean, I'm innocent, Warden. I didn't actually do what they said I did. But that's not why I'm here."

Warden McIntosh thought, Thank heaven for small mercies. If he had a dollar for every inmate who'd sat in front of him protesting her innocence, he'd have retired to Malibu Beach years ago. Grace was still talking.

"The thing is, even if I had done it, I don't think...what I'm trying to say is, I don't belong here."

"I couldn't agree more."

Grace's heart soared. Thank God! He's a reasonable man. He'll sort this mess out, move me out of this cattle farm.

"Unfortunately my superiors feel differently. You see, they feel that it's the state's responsibility to see to it that you aren't lynched. They're concerned your fellow inmates might want to, oh, I don't know...beat you to death with a crowbar. Or strangle you with bedsheets. Pour acid on your face while you sleep, perhaps? Something of that nature."

Grace went white. She felt her insides liquefy with fear. Warden McIntosh went on.

"For some reason, my bosses believe you're less likely to come to physical harm at Bedford than anywhere else. A misperception, in my opinion. But tell me, Grace, what do you suggest we do about it?"

Grace couldn't speak.

"Perhaps if some harm actually did come to you here, they'd reconsider their decision? D'you think that's possible?"

Warden McIntosh looked Grace in the eye. That's when she knew for sure.

They're going to try to kill me. And he doesn't give a damn. He hates me as much as the rest of them.

"I'm moving you to a different wing. You'll have to let me know whether your new cell is more to your liking. Now, if you'll excuse me..."

The guard led Grace away.

GRACE'S NEW CELL MATES WERE A two-hundred-pound black cocaine dealer named Cora Budds and a slim, pretty brunette in her early thirties. The brunette's name was Karen Willis.

The guard told Grace that Karen had shot and killed her sister's boyfriend. "They both got life. Like you. You'll have plenty of time to get to know each other." He smiled knowingly. Grace wondered if he was making a sexual innuendo, but was too frightened to ask. I mustn't fight shadows. I'm sure it's a myth that all women prisoners are lesbians.

Grace eyed Karen and Cora warily, climbing onto her bunk in silence.

Warden McIntosh sent me here as a punishment. These women may be violent. They might try to hurt me. I have to stay on my guard.

Cora Budds heaved her great bulk off of her own bunk and sat down next to Grace. "Whas yo' name, honey?" She stank of bad breath and sweat. Grace instinctively recoiled.

"Grace. My name is Grace."

For some reason, Cora Budds seemed to find this amusing. "Grace. Amazing Grace!" she cackled. "What you in for, Amazing Grace?"

"Um...fraud," Grace whispered. It still felt strange and embarrassing saying the word. "But it's a mistake. I'm innocent."

Cora laughed even harder. "Fraud, huh? You hear that, Karen? We got us an innocent con artist. We comin' up in the world!" Suddenly the smile died on Cora's lips. "Hey, wait a minute. Wha'd you say yo' name was again?"

"Grace."

"Grace who?"

For a minute Grace hesitated. Grace who? It was a good question. This whole situation was so unreal, it was as if her identity had already slipped away from her. Who am I? I don't know anymore. At last she said, "Brookstein. My name is Grace Brookstein. I - "

Grace didn't even have time to flinch. Cora's fist slammed into her face so hard, she heard her nose crack.

"Bitch!" Cora yelled. She hit Grace again. Blood gushed everywhere. Karen Willis continued reading her book as if nothing had happened.

"You the bitch that stole all that money!"

"No!" Grace spluttered. "I didn't - "

"My brother lost his job because o' you. All them old folks out on the streets while you and your old man were eatin' caviar? You oughta be ashamed of yo'self. I'm gonna make you wish you wuz never born, Grace Brookstein."

Grace clutched at her nose. Whimpering, she said, "Please. I didn't steal any money."

Cora Budds grabbed her by her orange prison shirt and yanked her to her feet. With one hand she slammed Grace's back against the wall, lifting her as easily as she would a rag doll. "Don't you speak! Don't you fucking speak to me, you rich white bitch." With each word, Cora banged Grace's skull against the wall, driving her point home. Warm blood seeped into Grace's newly short hair. She began to lose consciousness.

Karen Willis said in a bored voice, "Cool it, Cora. Denny'll hear you."

"You think I give a fuck?"

Sure enough, a few seconds later the cell door opened. Hannah Denzel, known to the inmates as "Denny" (among other things), was the most senior guard in A Wing. A short, dumpy white woman with beetle brows and an incipient mustache, she reveled in her authority and enjoyed making the prisoners' lives as miserable and degrading as possible. She surveyed the scene in front of her. Grace Brookstein lay slumped on the floor in a pool of blood. Cora Budds stood over her like King Kong with Fay Wray, only without the ape's tenderness. Grace was conscious but barely, mumbling something incoherent.

Denny said, "I want this mess cleaned up."

Cora Budds shrugged. "Tell her. It ain't my blood."

"Fine. She can do it. But make sure she does. I'll be back in an hour."

THAT NIGHT, GRACE LAY AWAKE, RIGID with fear, waiting for Cora Budds to fall asleep.

Earlier, she had mopped up her own blood, sluicing the floor on her hands and knees while Cora watched and Karen read her book. After an hour Denny returned, nodded a curt approval, and left Grace to her fate. Grace cowered on her bunk, waiting for Cora to launch another attack, but nothing happened. In a way, she wished it would. Nothing was worse than the waiting, the gut-twisting terror of anticipation. Finally, twenty minutes before lights-out, the cell door opened and Grace was summoned to the prison doctor. After a perfunctory cleanup she was given six stitches for the gash to her head and an ineffectual Band-Aid to help set her broken nose, then sent right back to Cora.

Grace pulled the blankets tightly around her. It had been a long time since she'd prayed, but she closed her eyes tight and opened her heart to the heavens.

Help me, God! Please help me. I'm surrounded by enemies. It's not just Cora. They all hate me, the other prisoners, the guards, Warden McIntosh, those people outside the courthouse. Even my own family has deserted me. I don't ask for myself, Lord. I don't care what happens to me anymore. But if I die, who will clear Lenny's name? Who will uncover the truth?

Grace tried to make sense of it all. But every time she found a piece of the puzzle, the other pieces drifted away from her.

Frank Hammond's voice. "Someone framed Lenny." But who, and why?

Why did Lenny make me a partner in Quorum and cut John out?

Where are the Quorum billions now?

The pain Cora's fist had inflicted was nothing compared with the pain of Grace's inner anguish. Being here, in this awful place, felt like a bad dream. But it wasn't. It was reality.

Maybe it was my life before that was the dream? Me and Lenny, our happiness, our friends, our life. Was it all a mirage? Was it all built on lies?

That was the greatest irony of all. Here Grace was branded a fraud and a liar. But it wasn't Grace who had lied. It was everyone else: her sisters, her friends, all the people who had eaten at her and Lenny's table, who had slapped them on the back during the good times, holding out their hands, vying with one another to pay homage to the king. Their affection, their loyalty, that was the lie. Where were those people now?

Gone, all of them. Scattered on the wind. Vanished into thin air, like the missing Quorum billions.

All except for John Merrivale.

Dear John.

GRACE WOKE UP SCREAMING. KAREN WILLIS clamped a hand over her mouth.

"Shhhh. You'll wake Cora."

Grace was shaking. Her bedsheets were drenched with sweat. She'd been having a nightmare. It started off as a beautiful dream. She was walking down the aisle on Nantucket, on Michael Gray's arm. Lenny was waiting at the altar with his back to her. John Merrivale was there, smiling, nervous. There were white roses everywhere. The choir was singing "Panus Angelicus." As Grace got closer to the altar, she became aware of a strange smell. Something chemical like...formaldehyde. Lenny turned around. Suddenly his face began to collapse, melting like a doll's head in an oven. His torso started to swell till it burst through his shirt, the skin ghostly white and goose-bumped. Then, limb by limb, the hideous corpse fell to pieces. Grace opened her mouth to scream but it was full of water. Great waves of seawater had flooded the church, sweeping away the wedding guests, destroying everything in their path, flowing into Grace's lungs, choking her. She was drowning! She couldn't breathe!

"You'll wake Cora."

It took a couple seconds for Grace to register that Karen was real.

"She gets mad when her sleep is disturbed. You wouldn't like Cora when she's mad."

After what had happened earlier, Karen's statement was so ridiculous Grace laughed. Then the laugh turned into a cry. Soon Grace was sobbing in Karen's arms, all the loss and terror and pain of the last six months flooding out of her body like pus from a lanced boil.

Finally Grace asked, "Why didn't you do something this afternoon?"

"Do something? About what?"

"About the attack! When Cora tried to kill me."

"Honey, that was nothing. If Cora'd tried to kill you, you'd be dead."

"But you didn't even move. You just sat there and let her assault me."

Karen sighed. "Let me ask you something, Grace. Do you want to survive in here?"

Grace thought about it. She wasn't sure. In the end she nodded. She had to survive. For Lenny.

"In that case, you better get one thing straight. Ain't no one gonna rescue you. Not me, not the guards, not your appeal lawyer, not your mama. No one. You are alone here, Grace. You gotta learn to rely on yourself."

Grace remembered her phone call to Honor.

When are you going to start taking responsibility? You're not Daddy's little princess anymore. You can't expect me and Connie to fix everything.

Then she remembered Lenny.

I'll take care of you, Grace. You'll never have to worry about anything again.

"The advice is free," said Karen, creeping back to her own bunk. "But when you remember where you hid all that money, maybe you can send me a little token of your appreciation."

Grace was about to protest her innocence again, but changed her mind. What was the point? If her own family didn't believe her, why on earth would anybody else?

"Sure, Karen. I'll do that."

GRACE TOOK HER CELL MATE'S ADVICE. For the next two weeks she kept her head down, her wits about her, and her thoughts and fears to herself. No one's going to help me. I'm on my own. I have to figure out how life here works.

Grace learned that Bedford Hills was admired across the country as a model for its progressive outreach programs aimed at helping incarcerated mothers. Of the 850 inmates, more than 70 percent were mothers in their thirties. Grace was astonished to learn that Cora Budds was one of them.

"Cora's a mom?"

"Why d'you look so shocked?" said Karen. "Cora's got three kids. Her youngest, Anna-May, was born right here. Baby came two weeks early. Sister Bernadette delivered her on the floor of the prenatal center."

Grace had read an article once about babies being born in prison. Or had she heard something on NPR? Either way, she remembered feeling appalled for the children of these selfish, criminal mothers. But that was in another life, another time. In this life, Grace did not find the children's center at Bedford Hills remotely appalling. On the contrary, staffed by inmates and local Roman Catholic nuns, it was the one bright spot of hope in the otherwise unremittingly grim regime of the prison. Grace would have dearly loved to get a job there, but there was no chance.

Karen told her, "New blood always gets the worst jobs."

Grace was put to work in the fields.

The work itself was backbreaking, chopping wood to build the new chicken coops, clearing swaths of weed-covered ground to make way for the bird runs. But it was the hours that really killed Grace. The Bedford Hills "day" bore no relation to light and darkness, or to the rhythms of the outside world. After lights-out at 10:30 P.M., prisoners got only four hours of unbroken sleep before low lighting came on again at 2:30 A.M. This was so the fieldworkers could eat breakfast and be outside in the bitter cold, working, by four. "Lunch" was served in the communal mess hall, at nine thirty. Dinner was at two, eight and a half long, boring hours before lights-out. Grace felt like she was permanently jet-lagged, exhausted but unable to sleep.

"You'll get used to it," said Karen. Grace wasn't so sure. The worst part of all was the loneliness. Often, Grace would go entire days without speaking to a single soul other than Karen. Other prisoners had friendships. Grace watched the women she worked with lean on one another for support. During breaks, they would talk about their kids or their husbands or their appeals. But nobody spoke to Grace.

"You're an outsider," Karen told her. "You're not one of us. Plus, you know, they figure you and your old man stole from people like us. So there's a lot of anger. It'll pass."

"But you're not angry," Grace observed.

Karen shrugged. "I used up all my anger a ways back. Besides, who knows? Maybe you really are innocent? No offense, but you don't come across as no criminal mastermind to me."

Grace's eyes welled with tears of gratitude. She believes me. Someone believes me.

She clung to Karen's words like a life raft.

"BROOKSTEIN. YOU GOT A VISITOR."

"Me?" Grace was coming in from the chicken runs. It was two days after Christmas and a heavy snow had fallen overnight. Grace's hands were red raw with cold and her breath plumed in front of her like steam from a boiling kettle.

"I don't see no other Brookstein. Visiting hours almost over, so you better get your ass inside now or you'll miss her."

Her? Grace wondered who it could be. Honor. Or Connie, perhaps. They've realized they were too tough on me. They're going to help me file an appeal.

The guard led her into the visitors' room. There, sitting at a small wooden table, was Caroline Merrivale. In an oversize fox-fur coat, her fingers glittering with diamonds like Cruella de Vil, she looked uncomfortable and laughably out of place in the dismal box of a room, a visitor from another world. Grace sat down opposite her.

"Caroline. This is a surprise."

During the trial, when she had stayed with the Merrivales, Grace had sensed a growing hostility in Caroline. John, darling John, had been staunch in his support from first to last. But Caroline, whom Grace had once thought of as such a dear friend, almost a surrogate mother, had been aloof, even cruel at times, as if she were enjoying Grace's suffering. She had not bothered to hide her irritation about the unwelcome press attention Grace's presence in the house attracted. "It's intolerable, like living in a cage at the zoo. When is all this going to end?" The deference she had once shown Grace as Lenny's wife had been replaced by a haughty coolness. Grace tried not to resent it. After all, if it weren't for Caroline and John, she'd have been out on the streets. She wouldn't have had the great Frank Hammond to defend her. She wouldn't have had a thing. But Caroline's bitterness still stung. She was the last person Grace expected to see at Bedford Hills.

Caroline looked around, like a nervous flier searching for the nearest emergency exit. "I can't stay long."

"That's okay. It was good of you to come at all. Did John get my letter?"

Grace had written to John a week ago asking him about next steps: What should she do about an appeal, should she hire a new attorney, how long did he think it would be before they agreed to review her case, etc.? He had yet to reply.

"He did, yes."

Silence.

"He's been very busy, Grace. The FBI is still looking for the missing money. John's been helping them as best he can."

Grace nodded meekly. "Of course. I understand." She waited for Caroline to say something else, to ask her how she'd been holding up, perhaps, or if she needed anything. But she didn't. Desperate to prolong the encounter, her first with the outside world in weeks, Grace started babbling. "It's not too bad in here. I mean, of course it's bad, but you try to get used to it. The worst thing is how tiring the days are. It makes it hard to focus on anything. I keep thinking about Lenny. About how any of this could have happened. I mean, someone framed us, that much is obvious. But after that it all gets so tangled. Hopefully, once John starts my appeal, there'll be some light at the end of the tunnel. But at the moment it's so dark. I feel lost."

"Grace, there won't be any appeal."

Grace blinked, like a mole in the sunlight. "I'm sorry?"

Caroline's voice grew harsh. "I said there won't be any appeal. At least, not with our help, or our money. Look, John stuck with you for as long as he could. But he's had to face the truth now. We all have."

"The truth? What do you mean? What truth?" Grace was shaking.

"You can stop with the Little Girl Lost act," Caroline spat. "It won't wash with me. Lenny ripped off his investors and his partners. He betrayed poor John. You both did."

"That's not true! Caroline, you must believe me. I know Lenny changed the partnership structure, and it's true I don't know why. But I know he would never have done anything to hurt John intentionally."

"Oh, come on, Grace! How stupid do you think people are? Why don't you come clean and tell the FBI where the money is?"

This was a nightmare. A sick joke.

"I don't know where the money is. John knows that. John believes me!"

"No," Caroline said brutally. "He doesn't. Not anymore. He wants nothing more to do with you. I came here today to ask you to stop contacting him. After everything you and Lenny have done to him, to all of us, you owe us that much at least."

She stood up to leave. Grace fought down the urge to throw herself into her arms and plead for mercy. Inside, her throat was hoarse from screaming: Don't leave me! Please! Don't take John away from me. He's my only hope! Outwardly she kept her mouth clamped shut, afraid that if she opened it the screams would never stop.

"Here." Caroline pressed a small, tissue-wrapped package into Grace's hand while the guard's back was turned. "John wanted me to give you this, weak, sentimental fool that he is. I told him you're hardly likely to get much wear out of it rotting your life away in here!" She laughed cruelly. "But given that it's hideous and of no earthly use to me, I suppose you may as well take it." She turned on her heel and was gone.

Numbly, Grace followed the guard back to her cell. She'd slipped the package inside her sleeve and kept it hidden till she was safely back on her bunk. Her hands trembled as she opened it, carefully unfolding the tissue paper. John Merrivale had been Grace's last true friend. My only friend. Whatever this package contained, he had wanted her to have it.

It was a brooch. A butterfly brooch, in rainbow-colored glass. Grace's eyes welled up with tears. Lenny had bought it for her last Christmas from a secondhand store in Key West. When the police froze Quorum's assets, they'd seized all of Lenny's personal effects, including Grace's jewelry. The brooch must have slipped through the net, perhaps because it was valueless. But it could not have been worth more to Grace if it had been made of solid diamonds.

It was a last piece of Lenny. A last symbol of happiness, of hope, of everything that she had lost forever. It was her passport to freedom.

Eternal freedom.

Gently, lovingly, Grace released the brooch's pin from its clasp and started slashing her wrists.




Line : 202

Most Popular

readonlinefreebook.com Copyright 2016 - 2021