BOOK 3

TWENTY-EIGHT

MITCH PUT A HAND OVER HIS MOUTH. There was an audible gasp from the crowds gathered below, then screams.

I've just chased an innocent woman to her death.

Why hadn't Grace waited? If he'd only had a chance to talk to her. To tell her he believed in her. That he knew Lenny hadn't killed himself. That he knew she was innocent. That he was starting to fall in love with her.

He couldn't bear to look, yet he knew he had to. Behind him, a stream of cops had filed onto the rooftop, all with guns drawn. Mitch walked forward slowly to the spot where the blue flash had disappeared. Squatting down on his haunches, he took a deep, fortifying breath and looked down, bracing himself for the sight of Grace's bloodied, broken corpse.

The sidewalk was empty.

"What the..."

The roof jutted out about two feet beyond the outer walls of the hospital building, like stiff white icing spilling over the edge of a wedding cake. Lying on his belly, Mitch reached under the ledge. His fingers grasped at the air. Nothing. He inched farther forward, like a snake, till his torso dangled perilously over the edge of the building. The crowd gasped again. Suddenly Mitch felt a small, cold hand in his.

Perched on a window ledge no more than eight inches wide, Grace looked up into Mitch's eyes and gave him a sad, defeated smile.

"Detective Connors. We must stop meeting like this."

THE SENSATIONAL FOOTAGE OF GRACE BROOKSTEIN'S capture was aired around the globe. Overnight, Mitch Connors of the NYPD went from bumbling cop to national hero. Speculation was rife as to where America's most wanted fugitive was being held. Would Grace be sent back to Bedford Hills? Or to a different, secret, more secure location? Would there be another trial? The hunt for Grace Brookstein had cost the U.S. taxpayers millions of dollars. Surely some stiffening of Grace's original sentence was called for?

Behind the scenes, an interagency battle raged. Everyone wanted access to Grace. Mitch Connors's view was that possession was nine-tenths of the law.

"We've got her and we're not handing her over to the FBI, or anyone else, till we're done questioning her."

But the FBI's Harry Bain wasn't the only one on Mitch's case. His own superiors in the police department seemed eager to wash their hands of Grace as soon as possible. Detective Lieutenant Dubray agreed.

"She's not our problem anymore."

Mitch dug his heels in. "I have a right to question her for forty-eight hours."

"Don't lecture me about your 'rights,' Connors. And don't be so fucking naive. This case is political dynamite and you know it. Grace Brookstein's a walking embodiment of everything this country's trying to forget. This goes all the way to the top. The president himself has told his advisers that Grace's face on the news is bad for business, bad for jobs, bad for Brand America."

"'Brand America'? Come on, sir."

Mitch fought his corner, but he knew time was running out. Soon Grace would be taken away from him, and his chance to help her would be gone. Whatever other feelings he had, or thought he had, for her, he had to put them aside. All that mattered now was the truth. I have to get her to trust me.

GRACE STUDIED MITCH'S FEATURES INTENTLY. He seems genuine. But then my track record as a judge of character is hardly exemplary.

"So you're saying you want to help me?"

"Yes. I want to help you. I'm the only one who wants to help you, Grace. But I can't if you don't talk to me."

Grace looked at him skeptically.

"I read Buccola's file," said Mitch. "I believe that Lenny was murdered. I believe that you were both set up. But I need your help to prove it."

"If you know Lenny was murdered, why haven't you reopened the investigation into his death?"

"I tried to. I was blocked. My superiors were more interested in capturing you than in finding out the truth about Quorum, or what may have happened on that boat."

"But you're different. That's what you want me to believe, right? That you're a lone warrior for truth."

"Look, I don't blame you for distrusting me. But I don't have time to convince you. In a few hours, the powers that be are gonna take you away from here. We may never get another opportunity to speak to each other. This is our last chance, your last chance. Tell me what you know."

"What I know?" Grace laughed bitterly. "I don't know anything anymore. Everything I thought I knew turned out to be a lie. I thought I was rich, but it turned out I had nothing. I thought the courts would protect the innocent, but they sent me to jail. I thought my friends and family loved me, but they were nothing but a pack of vultures. I thought Lenny died in an accident. I thought he was a faithful husband. I thought...I thought he loved me."

Tears rolled down her cheeks. Without thinking, Mitch walked around the interview table and put his arms around her. She was so tiny, so vulnerable. He was overwhelmed with an urge to protect her, to rescue her.

"I'm sure Lenny loved you," he whispered, stroking her newly shorn, white-blond hair. "People have affairs. They're weak. They make mistakes."

He told her how close he'd come to catching her at Jasmine Delevigne's apartment.

"Was that why you tried to kill yourself? Because of Connie and Lenny?"

"No!" Grace said hotly. "And I didn't try to kill myself. I - " She broke off. She wanted to tell him about the abortion, about the rape, about all of it, but she didn't have the words.

Mitch said, "He broke it off with Connie, you know. Before he died. Your sister was blackmailing Lenny, threatening to tell you about their affair. He'd already paid fifteen million into an offshore account for her, but Connie was squeezing him for more."

"Was she? How do you know?"

"She told me herself. Bragged about it, if you must know. The point is, Lenny was desperate not to hurt you, Grace. Not to lose you. He regretted what happened, I'm sure of it."

Grace closed her eyes and succumbed to the comfort of Mitch's arms around her. It had been so long since she'd had intimate contact with another human being. So long since she'd felt kindness, warmth, affection. That's all this is, she told herself firmly. Affection. A moment's break in the battle. In another life, another world, things might have been different. As it was...

There was a knock on the door.

"Sorry, boss." The officer was hesitant. He liked Mitch and hated being the bearer of bad news. "Dubray says you've got five minutes. We got orders direct from Washington. The prisoner's being transferred out of state."

When he'd gone, Mitch clasped Grace's hand. There was a connection between them. He could see she felt it, too. "Talk to me."

Grace told him everything she knew. When she was done, Mitch said, "You realize who's left, don't you? If Andrew Preston and Jack Warner and your sister Connie are all innocent?"

Grace sighed. "John Merrivale. But it wasn't him."

"You sound very sure."

"I suspected John from the beginning. I know he set me up at my trial, and who knows, maybe he took that money. But he couldn't have killed Lenny."

"Why not?"

"He was in Boston the day Lenny took the boat out. Davey checked out his alibi months ago."

"Yes, so did I." Mitch looked thoughtful. He remembered his lunch with John Merrivale, the way his speech impediment had magically disappeared when he spoke about the day Lenny Brookstein disappeared. "Still. There's something not right about that man."

Grace stared blankly at the door. Mitch thought, She doesn't care anymore. She's given up. When she spoke, there was neither fear nor curiosity in her voice. "Do you know where they're taking me?"

"No. But I'll find out." Once again Mitch found himself gripped with the urge to rescue her. What was it about this woman that brought out his inner knight in shining armor? "I'll do my best to help you, Grace. Get you a decent lawyer, begin an appeal."

"I don't want any of that."

"But you have to..."

She looked him in the eye. "If you want to help me, find out who murdered my husband. I don't think you'll ever be able to clear his name of the Quorum fraud. But I'd like people to know Lenny wasn't a coward. That he didn't kill himself."

"I'll try. But, Grace, even if I succeed, Lenny's dead. You're alive. You have your whole life ahead of you. You must get a new lawyer. You must appeal."

The officer reappeared, along with two more armed officers and a dour-faced man in a suit. CIA? FBI? "Time to go."

Grace stood up. Impulsively, she kissed Mitch on the cheek.

"Forget about me."

Mitch watched the men take her away. After she'd gone, he stood in the empty interview room for a long time.

Forget about you.

If only I could.




Line : 61

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