“I think Lee took that file home with him. I need it, Ellie. Really need it. I need you to get into his house and look for it.” Roger tossed back the rest of his drink. He got up and poured himself another, then brought the bottle back to his desk. “Did Lee tell you he’d agreed to take the Hamilton case?”
“Yes, I knew. Lee met with the Hamiltons the day he . . . died.” She couldn’t say the word murdered. The thought of Lee and Kate being killed was still foreign and unreal. Speaking the words aloud hurt. She looked up at her boss and decided not to mention Lee’s previous meeting with the Hamiltons a few days before his death.
“Did you mention the case to anyone?” Cold anger congealed in Roger’s gray eyes—and Ellie knew why her boss was so upset. Lee hadn’t gotten Roger’s approval before taking the case. Associates were encouraged to bring in clients, but there was an understanding that sensitive issues would be cleared with the partners first. Lee, clearly unsure of his chances, had opted for forgiveness instead of permission. He’d met the Hamiltons at their home instead of bringing them into the office—in hindsight, another sign he didn’t want Roger’s input on his decision. Now Roger was taking the heat for Lee’s decision. The Hamilton case was controversial. The buttoned-down senior Peyton didn’t approve of controversy. Peyton, Peyton, and Griffin was built on a foundation of solid law practice, not media circuses.
“No,” she said. “You should know I would never be indiscreet.” Even though it had felt wrong, she’d kept her mouth closed when Roger had been cheating on his wife.
He scrubbed a hand down his face. “But someone here knew and leaked the information to the police.”
That explained the detective’s visit.
He waved his glass, his mind still whirling behind his gray eyes. “Now that Lee’s gone, you’re probably the only person I trust around here.” With the senior Peyton still controlling the business, employee loyalties were divided.
“Perhaps the Hamiltons?” she suggested.
“It’s a possibility. They have been outspoken.” He pursed his lips. “We’ll have to go into damage control mode. I’ll draft a statement for the media. Let me know the instant the first reporter calls.”
“All right.” Ellie stood.
“Unfortunately, there’s more.”
“We’re missing money.” Roger tipped the bottle over his glass.
“You have a client meeting at eleven.” Ellie reached across the desk and took the bottle from him. Crossing to the wet bar, she returned the scotch and poured him a cup of coffee from the carafe.
Accepting the coffee, he sighed. “Our accountant called my father. A series of fraudulent checks were cashed over the past few weeks.”
“How much?” Ellie dropped back into the chair.
“I don’t know yet. Not enough to ruin us. Don’t worry.”
But Ellie couldn’t help it.
“You’re with me on this, right, Ellie?” Roger toyed with the cup’s handle.
“Of course.” What else was she going to say? It wasn’t like she could refuse. Damn it. She didn’t want to be put in the middle of the Peyton family feud. Jobs weren’t that plentiful in Scarlet Falls. Between Nan’s pension and Ellie’s salary, the bills were covered. Rehabbing and selling a house every few years had netted them some savings. When she flipped her current home, there should be enough money to put her daughter through college provided Julia stayed in state. Life might not be exciting, but Ellie would take steady and solid over a thrill. The last time she’d been impulsive, she’d ended up pregnant—and alone.
“The accountant is trying to trace the money trail, but I need to find it first.” Roger turned desperate eyes on her. “I need to protect the firm.”
Ellie tried to summon some pity, but Roger made it difficult. He was nice enough, but weak, and he’d demonstrated his lack of loyalty by dumping his sweet wife of thirty years for a high-maintenance trophy edition. It was his lifestyle he wanted to protect, not his employees.
“I need you to help me, Ellie.”
Exactly what she didn’t want to do. But realistically, the old man had already put Ellie solidly on Roger’s team. If Roger was out, so was she.
“I’ll see what I can find out.”
His eyes brightened.
Ellie returned to her desk. Her eyes went to the expense report she’d been preparing, but her mind was stuck on the firm’s problems. Lee had taken the case even though he knew it wouldn’t be a popular decision with the senior lawyer in the firm. If the police wouldn’t prosecute, what made him think he could win? And did either the Hamilton case or the missing money have anything to do with his death?
A rough sound startled Grant awake, the vision still clear in his mind: Lee’s face exploding in a red mist. Panting, he swept his gaze around the room. A muffled bark made him look over the edge of the mattress. AnnaBelle wagged at him. The mattress shifted as the agile dog jumped up to stand over him in the queen-size bed. “I wish you’d have woken me a couple of minutes earlier.”
She stretched out and rested her head on his chest.
His hand swept through the silky, golden fur. “I suppose you need to go out.”
AnnaBelle wagged harder, jumped down, and danced on the hardwood. Grant swung his legs over the side. Six a.m. He had hours before the cop was supposed to call. Sleep had been elusive, his mind replaying his kill shot in the ambush over and over every time he dozed off. He had to get his act together before the kids got home.
He stepped into a pair of shorts and tugged a sweatshirt over his head, then dug his running shoes from his bag. A run would clear his mind and take the edge off the young dog’s energy. “Let’s go.”
He snapped AnnaBelle’s leash on her collar. Outside, the dog peed on the lawn before they set off down the street. Grant kept the pace slow, unsure of the dog’s fitness, but the retriever had no trouble keeping up. Forty minutes later, they returned to the house. Grant showered, dressed, and called a locksmith.
His phone vibrated and displayed a message from his sister. Be home tomorrow afternoon. The second buzz was Detective McNamara letting him know the kids would be home in two hours. Still nothing from Mac. Grant paced. Five miles wasn’t enough to burn off his tension.
He had two hours, more than enough time to go see his father. No excuses.
“Be good,” he said to the dog, flat out and sound asleep on the wood floor.
Five miles of rural highway took Grant to the nursing home parking lot. Walking through the sliding glass doors, he unzipped his jacket and stopped at the reception desk in the lobby.
A gray-haired woman in bright pink scrubs looked up from a laptop. “Can I help you?”
“I’m here to see Alexander Barrett,” he said.
“The Colonel is in room fifty-two.” Smiling, she wrote a number on a cardboard pass and handed it to him. She pointed over his shoulder. “Make a left at the end of the hallway.”
Grant followed her directions. He passed a small cafeteria where ambulatory residents were eating breakfast. Wheelchairs were tucked under tables, walkers parked next to chairs. The scents of syrup and bacon mingled with disinfectant. Despite the attempt to make the atmosphere cheerful, there was no disguising the nature of the institution. Considering the state of most of the residents, it had broken Grant’s heart when they’d moved Dad here two years ago.
He turned into his father’s room. His dad had deteriorated since spring. His arms had withered, and his skin had taken on a yellowish hue. The Colonel’s eyes were closed and his chest labored with heavy breaths. Oxygen tubes snaked from his nostrils around his ears. An IV line trailed from his wrist to a trio of bags hanging from a stand. In 1991, a convoy bombing during Operation Desert Storm had paralyzed the Colonel from the waist down, but the determined soldier hadn’t allowed his injury to hold him back. He’d done as many normal things as possible, including custom-rigging an ATV so he could take his boys out in the woods. He’d lived in his modified home until dementia robbed him of his remaining strength and dignity, the ultimate insult for a brave man who’d fought as hard as the Colonel.
Grant paused to read the medicine labels: the usual concoction of fluids, antibiotics, and steroids. The Colonel’s white hair was clean and combed, and the bed linens appeared fresh. A biography of General Braxton Bragg lay open on the bed tray. Someone had been reading to him. Grant and Hannah spent a hefty sum of money each month to supplement the Colonel’s benefits and ensure he received excellent medical care. It was all he could do from the other side of the globe, but with Lee handling the day-to-day details, Grant and Hannah shouldered the financial burden.
“Hi, Dad.” He pulled a chair up to the bed and touched his father’s forearm.
The Colonel’s clouded eyes, once a bright and piercing blue, blinked vaguely on Grant. “Who are you?”
“It’s Grant. Your son. I’m home on leave.”
“Grant. General Grant?” Confusion creased his features.
Only the Colonel would remember the historical figure he’d named his firstborn after and not his actual firstborn.
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