Thirty-Five and a Half Conspiracies Page 2

My vision grew fuzzy and the jail cell disappeared. I was standing in a kitchen next to a man in a white tank top and basketball shorts. He had a respirator mask in his hand.

“I don’t want to do any more jail time, Titus,” I said in Janie’s voice. “Next time I’m going back for good.”

“Then get the hell out,” he said. “I ain’t gonna quit a six-figure job to save your sorry ass.”

When the vision faded, Janie’s eyeballs were inches from mine.

“He ain’t gonna quit to save your sorry ass,” I said. “He told you to get out.”

Her eyes flew open and her fists tightened on my jumpsuit. “What did you just say?”

“Makin’ friends already, I see,” a man said in a dry tone. With great hesitation, I took my gaze off the threat in front of me to assess the possible threat beyond the bars.

Carter Hale gave me a sardonic grin as he hooked his thumbs on his belt. “I see you’ve met Janie. She’s a gentle spirit.”

I wouldn’t have used that phrase to describe her, but who was I to quibble when she was about to strangle me?

Carter gave her a frown. “Janie, would you be kind enough to take your hands off my client?”

“Your client?” both of us screeched.

Janie dropped her fists from my jumpsuit and scowled at the defense attorney. “You defending this white bread bitch?”

He gave her an apologetic shrug. “Looks like it, and I’d like her to show up for her arraignment on Monday without a bruised face, so I’d appreciate it if you kept your hands off her.”

“She’s gonna snitch to Simmons about what we’ve done.”

“I’m pretty damn sure she has enough of a beef with Chief Deputy Simmons that she has no plans to talk to him any time soon. Which means your secrets are safe.”

Janie grumbled as a guard approached the cell door.

He scanned the room and his gaze landed on me as he opened the door. “Gardner, I need you to step out.”

“Do I get to go home now?”

Janie laughed. “She don’t know shit, does she?”

Carter’s smart-ass grin softened as I walked through the opening. “Sorry, that’s not likely to happen until Monday. This is just a chance for you and I to have a little get-to-know-you chat.”

The guard led us down a hall and into a small room with a table and two chairs. Once we were alone, Carter gestured to one of the chairs. “After you.”

I took a seat and waited as he pulled his legal pad out of his bag and placed it on the table in front of him. He glanced up and shot me an ornery grin. “It looks like you needed that get-out-of-jail-free card after all.”

Before I was arrested, he’d handed Neely Kate and me a business card, telling us he had a feeling we’d need it. It was hard to believe it had only been the day before.

“Where’s Mason?” I asked.

His shoulders shifted in a lazy roll. “Hell if I know.”

I blinked in surprise. “Didn’t he hire you?”

He looked me over and leaned his forearm on the table. “Here’s the thing, I’m not supposed to tell anyone why I took this case … including you. But that hardly seems fair considering you’re trusting me to represent you.” He shifted his weight as his eyes pierced mine. “And I confess, my curiosity is piqued. So how about I answer your question with a question of my own: How do you know Skeeter Malcolm?”

The blood rushed from my face. “How would I know Skeeter Malcolm?”

A lazy grin lifted the corners of his mouth as something flickered in his eyes. I realized that while Carter Hale oozed the persona of laziness, he was anything but.

“I suppose it’s not important who convinced you to take my case,” I said, hoping to distract him. “Just that you took it.”

He nodded and cocked his head, fiddling with the pen in his hand. “I guess we should start with the obvious question. Did you do it?”

“Are you kidding me? Everyone and their dog knows Daniel Crocker killed my momma.”

He stopped playing with his pen, and his mouth puckered. “That’s not in dispute. The question is whether you paid Daniel Crocker money to do it.”

“No.”

“So why does the DA think you did?”

What should I tell him? I’d kept so many secrets for so long, it was hard to know what to keep quiet now. But this man was supposed to help keep me out of prison, which meant he needed to know everything there was to know about my case.

So I told him almost everything.

I started off by telling him about dating Joe—how I’d met him while he was working undercover to bust Crocker. And how Joe had kept the information about his family secret for fear they would destroy us. And how they ultimately did destroy us when Joe’s father, J.R. Simmons, the richest and most powerful man in southern Arkansas, fabricated evidence against me to blackmail Joe. And I also told him about all the dirt J.R. had gathered about my family—my sister Violet’s affair with Henryetta’s mayor, Brody MacIntosh, and the business mistake made by soon-to-be-ex brother-in-law. And I told him about Hilary—Joe’s ex-girlfriend—who’d shown up in Henryetta a couple of months ago, pregnant with Joe’s baby. And about Kate, Joe’s sister, who’d come to town after Christmas following a mysterious two-year disappearance.

After a moment’s hesitation, I told him about my visions too. I didn’t usually volunteer that information willingly, so it was at once frightening and liberating. He gave me a weighing look, but he didn’t question me or call me crazy. He just kept scribbling down notes.

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