“No, no. Nothing of the like. He was teased, beaten and bullied by other boys. He just sat there when they hurt him and said that God was his protector and that Jesus would turn the other cheek.”
“Soon after, the parents decided to take him out of school, but because of another incident, a really strange incident. And that’s when children’s services ordered that he see a psychiatrist—me.”
“So how long have you been seeing him?” she asked.
“If you’d asked the parents? He was my patient for a year. Social services paid me for a year. But I’ve seen him ever since—more as a friend than a patient. It all began about three years ago, when his parents pulled him out of school. Thing was, in his own way, he was happy to come see me. Musical instruments, other than the voice, were a sin in his house. But he’s something of a genius with the piano. At my house, he could play.”
“What was the incident that caused social services to step in?” Jenna asked.
“He looked at a boy,” Jamie said.
“Looked at him?” Jenna repeated, puzzled.
Jamie nodded. “The boy was throwing food from his lunch tray at Malachi. Malachi looked at him, and this other boy froze—and then he picked up his tray and beat himself over the head with it so hard that he had a concussion. He was hysterical and told the doctors that Malachi had forced him to do it—with his eyes.”
Jenna leaned back, staring at Jamie, frowning. “Wait—this other kid said that Malachi looked at him, and made him beat himself silly?”
Jenna shook her head. “Why—that’s preposterous. Especially here. It’s like the girls crying Witch! Witch! Witch! and causing the unjust deaths of twenty people and the incarceration of nearly two hundred more. I’d thought we’d learned some lessons…”
Jamie sighed. “He was better off out of school. The thing is, I think that Malachi desperately wanted to be normal. He was malnourished, and he was raised to think that just about everything in the world was evil, an idea browbeaten into him by a fanatical father. He never lost his temper—the other kids couldn’t goad him to act. And that made them mad. He’s the most peace-loving individual I’ve ever met. When the neighbor, Earnest Covington, was killed, one of the boys who he’d been with at school went to the police and told them that Malachi had come running out of the house. They brought Malachi in for questioning, but Mrs. Sedge at the grocery store, said that Malachi had been in the meat section at the time, choosing dinner cuts for his mother—she never left the house—so he was off the hook. But, then, last night…well, Malachi was found drenched in his family’s blood, standing naked in the road.”
Jenna put her hand on her uncle’s. “Uncle Jamie, you have a friendship with this boy…but, if he was found covered in his family’s blood…?”
“Jenna, I need you to find out the truth about that house,” he said with resolution. “Uncle Jamie—”
“We can’t let the system take this boy. We have to somehow make it work for him now—now that he has a chance.”
“His parents are gone now,” Jamie said quietly. He looked toward the ceiling. “God forgive me!” he murmured and crossed himself. He looked at Jenna solemnly. “You know I’m a religious man, right, Jenna?”
Surprised by the sudden question, she arched a brow to him. “Well, you were almost a priest…. I didn’t figure that meant you’d turned away completely but—sorry! No, I know that you still love the church.”
He nodded. “I’m disappointed in the way human beings interpret religion at times, and God knows I loathe the horrible things done daily in the name of God and religion. But you don’t go throwing the baby out with the bathwater, you know?”
“Jamie, you’re losing me again.”
“They were—fanatics,” Jamie said. “I don’t even know exactly what belief they adhered to, but it was with a vengeance. There was hell to pay when that boy didn’t learn his Bible verses or when he couldn’t recite huge tracts of the Bible.”
“He was abused?”
“Not physically—they weren’t beatings, or even severe spankings. Parents often tap the hands of little ones—to stop them touching a stove top, a light socket… No, the abuse was mental and, well, I do suppose physical in a way. No food could be eaten without the father’s blessing….”
Jamie stopped speaking for a minute.
“You can’t imagine the peace in that boy’s eyes at times. He doesn’t do evil things because of the ghosts in a house, and he doesn’t do evil things because his father was a religious zealot who turned everything to sin. I don’t believe he does evil things at all—especially not murder. If ever anyone has been touched by the hand of God, I think it’s that boy. And you have to help me save him. Maybe it’s my mission in life, I don’t really know. But I’m begging you. You have to get into that house, and you have to speak with Malachi.”
“And how am I going to interfere when he’s now in the hands of the police?”
Jamie looked past her and lowered his voice. “Well, with a wee bit of help from the Lord, I think I can convince his defense attorney that he needs your assistance.”
She turned to see what had drawn Jamie’s attention. It was a man, tall and broad shouldered. The coat he had worn into the bar was excellently cut, and he moved like someone accustomed to custom-tailored clothing. His face was strongly molded with a classic masculine line. His hair was neatly cut and combed, just slightly awry from the breeze. She thought that she recognized him, but she didn’t know why she should have.
“Who is he?” she whispered.
“Samuel Anthony Hall, attorney-at-law.”
She almost laughed aloud. She knew why she recognized him—she’d recently seen his name and picture all over the internet. The world had wanted his last client to fry for the heinous murder of his pregnant fiancée. The prosecution had DNA evidence that the two had engaged in intercourse the day of the murder, but Hall had proved that one of his client’s enemies had killed the woman—a revenge killing. She couldn’t remember the details, but the client had loose mob ties and the case had received major press attention.
“Actually, you’ve met him before, you know,” Jamie said.
“I have?” Jenna looked at her uncle.
“You knew his parents, Betty and Connor. They were friends of mine, and they were friends of your folks, as well. You’ve been in his home. Maybe only once or twice—you were here when you were a young teenager and he was home from law school. He was supposed to be watching over you and a few of your friends. Silly, giggling girls. He thought you all were torture.”
“Wow. Can’t wait to meet him again, though I think I do remember his folks. They were very nice people.”
She studied Sam. He had the bearing of a man in charge—and a fighter. Or a bulldog.
“Samuel Hall,” she mused, turning back to her uncle, slightly amused. “That’s not the kind of attorney the state acquires when you haven’t the resources to hire your own. And I’m assuming all the money Malachi might have will be in probate. And unless you’ve changed your ways—working for the state most of the time for almost nothing—you can’t afford him. And even if our entire family was to put in our life savings, we still couldn’t afford him. He was said to have made several hundred thousand—just off his last case.”
“Yes, he can command a high fee,” Jamie murmured.
“Too high,” Jenna told him softly.
“He’s going to do it pro bono,” Jamie said.
She stared at him with surprise.
He grinned. “All right, so he doesn’t know it yet.” He leaned forward. “And, dear niece, if you don’t mind, please give him one of your best smiles and your sweetest Irish charm.”
Sam Hall turned to see that Jamie O’Neill was hailing him from one of the booths. O’Neill wasn’t alone. He was with a stunning young redheaded woman who had craned her neck to look at him. She was studying him intently, her forehead furrowed with a frown.
He thought at first that she was vaguely familiar, and then he remembered her.
She had changed.
He couldn’t quite recall her name, but he remembered her being a guest at his house once, and that she—and half a dozen other giggling girls—had turned his house upside down right when he’d been studying. But his mother had loved to host the neighborhood girls, not having had a daughter of her own.
Before, she had been an adolescent. Now, she had a lean, perfectly sculpted face and large, beautiful eyes. Her hair was the red of a sunset, deep and shimmering and—with its swaying, long cut—sensual. She appeared grave as she looked at him and, again, something stirred in his memory; maybe he’d seen her somewhere—or a likeness of her—since she’d become an adult. She was O’Neill’s niece, of course. And her parents, Irish-turned-Bostonian, had been friends with his folks.
“Sam, please! Come and join us,” Jamie called.
He’d ordered a scotch and soda. Drink in hand, he walked to the booth. He liked the old-timer. O’Neill was a rare man. He possessed complete integrity at all costs. An immigrant, he’d put himself through eight years of school to achieve his degree in psychiatry. He lived modestly in an old wooden house, and he still probably took on more patients through the pittance granted him by the state than any other person imaginable. Sam had heard a rumor that Jamie had gone through a seminary but then opted to live a life outside the Catholic church.
But when he really looked at the grave look on Jamie’s face, he felt a strange tension shoot through his muscles.
Jamie wasn’t calling him over just to say hello. He wanted something from him.