Last night I called Jason to ask him if he could help me out with Ruby’s situation. He said it was no problem. He had a buddy still on the force who he’d talk to. I was actually surprised that he agreed so quickly. But when I asked him what he knew about the data on the flash drive, he told me he had no idea what I was talking about. I’m going to throw it all on table today when I meet with Bass. Like I said, I hate being left in the f**king dark.
Before getting up, I roll over and grab my journal from the nightstand. I quickly flip to the entry made on March third, three years ago—that’s today, the anniversary of my death. Quickly skimming over those painful thoughts, I find an entry that was made much later—the day I learned Dahl had been attacked.
When I saw her beautiful face bruised and battered, my gut instinct was that that son of a bitch sitting next to her had hit her. It wasn’t until she left and Caleb sat me down that I realized her injuries were a direct result of my actions. Fuck me—what had I done? How can I ever make this up to her? I don’t know how I’ll do it, but I need her to give me the chance . . . because if she does I’ll spend my whole life making it right. I swear I will.
I knew then the incident must have had something to do with me, and it did. Actually, she was hurt because of me—because for some reason even after I shut up, even after I killed the story, even after I gave everything except that one flash drive to Caleb, it wasn’t enough. I sit there for the longest time with my head in my hands until I’m able to move. Today is the day I get to the bottom of this—Bass needs to come clean.
I’m riding as fast as I can, weaving in and out of stopped cars to get to the courthouse. Entering the building, I empty my pockets and walk through the detectors. I announce myself at the reception desk and within five minutes Agent Bass is guiding me down that same f**king hall. She ushers me into the conference room and a fresh wave of panic overtakes me. Why would I get called in at the end of the trial? Is he going free?
“Ben, have a seat,” she says.
“What’s going on?” I stare at her.
She meets my glance head-on. “We couldn’t call you to testify because we couldn’t charge Hart with anything to do with the cartel. We just haven’t been able to link him to the heads of the operation. All the evidence we have is circumstantial and hearsay. He was tried strictly on aggravated assault and battery charges. The court reconvened yesterday and the verdict is in.”
I look at her in disbelief. “Are you f**king kidding me? A pony charge?”
“Ben, look, we’re not giving up. We just can’t find anything solid to link him to the cartel. All we have is the attack on Dahlia London, which isn’t enough. The District Attorney didn’t want to wait, he pushed the case through.”
My ears start to ring and I feel like I’m beginning to hyperventilate. Bass pulls a chair out and this time I sit. After a few minutes I look up at her. “Did Dahl have to testify?”
“No, there was a witness and that was enough.”
Thank, f**k. I’d have hated for her to have to go through that.
“Ben, we need more information. There has to be a connection. Someone had to have contacted Hart when he was first released. We need to figure out who it was.”
My jaw clenches. “You have all I had. Did you ask Jason about it?”
She forms a scowl. “Jason?”
“Jason Holt, Caleb’s brother. He’s a vice detective.”
“No, I haven’t. Should I?”
I shrug. “I’m not sure, but Caleb mentioned him when I brought up the flash drive. I thought maybe you were working together.”
“His name isn’t familiar. I’ll look into it. Ben, are you sure you didn’t keep a copy of anything?”
I slam my hand on the table and stand up. “Yeah, I’m f**king sure.”
We are face-to-face. Her gaze drifts to the folder on the table. “I just had to ask.”
Fury crashes through me. “Are we done?”
She nods. “Yes, but we need you to stay in this jurisdiction.” Her voice is softer this time.
“Right!” My pulse thuds as I turn and walk out the door and down the same f**king hallway for what I hope is the last time.
Lingering on the threshold of sanity, I swerve to the right. My hands grip the bars and my heart pounds. Horns honk, but I keep going. I skid to a stop at a traffic light, wishing I had just run it. I’m not sure why I feel such an overwhelming urge to see that son of a bitch get what is due to him. I swerve to the right and turn on La Cienega. The courthouse is only five blocks away but even that seems too far. I park as close as I can. I flash my press pass and surprisingly it works. For once, I’m grateful for my f**king job. I feel a tightness in my chest as I race up the stairs to the courtroom. I file in quietly and have a seat. All I see is his back, but I recognize him immediately—the slick dark hair gives him away.
Glancing around the room, I see Jason sitting in the front row. Confusion descends on me. What the hell is he doing here? How is he connected to all of this? I try a million different ways to put the pieces of the puzzle together but they just don’t fit. Thirty minutes pass and Jason sits there, waiting, like me. Time seems to move so slowly. I wait for the ass**le to turn around but he never does. Finally, the judge enters the courtroom. As the jurors file in, the bailiff asks everyone to rise. The jurors all take their seats in the jury box and we follow.
The judge addresses the jury. “Has the jury reached a verdict?”
The foreperson responds, “Yes, we have, your Honor.”
The bailiff hands the verdict form to the judge as he reads aloud, “As to Count 1, the jury finds the Defendant guilty . . .”
I tune out the rest. Guilty was all I needed to hear. I stand to leave just as he turns. He looks the same—a spray of black bangs over dark round eyes, a slight mustache covering his lip, and a stance like he could never be defeated. I notice the eye contact between him and Jason and know there is something going on. I tense even further at the thought. With my eyes locked on Josh’s, I stay where I am. Fury overtakes his humbled face when he recognizes me. In that instant, he flies into a rage—his eyes turn wild.
He points to me. “You, you did this to me! You took my family from me, you took everything from me!”
Looking around I see an old man and a young, rail-thin woman with long dark hair quietly begging him to be silent. But their pleas go unheard as two armed court officers grab him and drag him out of the room.
But his last words ring in my ears even after he’s left the room, and a shiver rides down my spine.
“You’ll get yours! An eye for eye. Don’t forget it,” he spat at me.
Horror had paralyzed me as I watched him being escorted kicking and screaming out of the courtroom, thankful he was being put away. Jason must have passed by me without my noticing. I flee the courtroom and spot him in the hall.
“Jason, hold up!” I yell, but he keeps moving and disappears into a door marked PRIVATE.
“Fuck, what is going on?”
As I exit the building I call Caleb. I get his f**king voice mail again. “Call me. I want to know where you found Josh Hart!”
Leave the Lights On
The sky has begun to cloud over as I maneuver through the stop and go traffic on Melrose. Cars are parked haphazardly lining the street and I squeeze into a space between an SUV and an Escort. I already decided going back to work was not happening. One turn of the key and the roar of my engine ceases; I stand here with the heavy metal between my legs. I don’t want to go back to that shithole of a room right now. Fuck, I have nowhere else to go. I hop off and just start walking. I stop in at Four & Twenty Blackbirds, but Ruby isn’t working today. I head to Beck’s but he’s not behind the bar. The bartender’s face flashes recognition as I walk up to her.
“Hey. Is Beck around?”
“No, he took a few days off. He told me that if you stopped by to tell you he’d be in touch.”
“That’s mysterious. What’s going on?”
She shrugs. “No idea. Just passing on the message. You drinking?”
“No, not this early. I was just looking for Beck. I’ll see you around.”
I go outside to get some air and clear my head. While I’m walking aimlessly down the crowded street, my cell rings. I pull it from my pocket. Fuck, it’s not Caleb. It’s Bass. “Yeah,” I answer, anything but thrilled that she’s calling me so soon after I left her office.
“I looked into Jason Holt. He’s not involved in the case but when I crossed his name with Josh Hart’s I found that Hart was one of his informants years ago. Did you know that?”
My head spins. Has Jason been involved the whole time? “No, I didn’t. But thanks for letting me know.”
I leave another message for Caleb. Fuck, I need someone to talk to. I want to call my sister but she took Trent to Hawaii a few days ago. Having no place else to go, I end up outside of S’belle’s place.
I smile when I see her car parked out front—maybe my luck is finally changing. At the metal gate that leads into the courtyard, I debate ringing the bell but I don’t have to hesitate for long. She emerges with that dick of a boss following her. She’s carrying a basket of flowers and he holds the gate open for her. They look pretty cozy. I guess there was more going on between them—just not what I thought it was.
Turning on my heels I head back to Beck’s. The walk feels so much longer than I remember it being on my way here. When I finally open the door, I’m ready for a drink.
“Haven’t seen you a while,” the bartender jokes. “Decided to come back for an early one after all?”
“Something like that. I’ll have a scotch. No ice.”
She looks thoughtful for a moment. “Sure, Ben, no problem.”
I see something different in her eyes and wonder if it’s pity.
She leans forward setting two glasses in front of me. “These are on me. Shhh, don’t tell the boss.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it.” I slam mine back as soon as the bottle clears the glass. I set it down. “Thank you.”
She refills the glass and we do this move two more times.
She eyes me. “Rough day, I take it.”
“Something like that,” I say again. I’m not in the mood for chitchat and she catches on right away because she sets the bottle next me and leaves me alone.
After an hour passes, I’m ready to talk. The joint is dead, so I call her over. She winds around the bar and has a seat next to me and I spill it all. With whisky-numbed lips, I just can’t seem to shut up. I tell her about the courtroom and the danger to Dahl and how relieved I am the guy got put away. How there’s a girl I want nothing more than to be with but that I blew it. She listens, but never says anything. When a few customers enter the bar, she gets back to work. I sit there with my hands on my head just thinking about how the f**k I got to this place. It’s the same question I’ve asked a thousand times.
My phone rings and again I think it must be Caleb. I slide it out of my front pocket. The screen flashes Kimberly. Fuck me! A name I wasn’t expecting . . . my girlfriend from New York City, or maybe I should say my ex-girlfriend.
“Hey, Alex. Or should I say Ben?”
“Fuck, that’s harsh. I called you a few times. You never called me back.”
Her voice lowers but takes on a serious tone. “Yes, you did. Drunk every time.”
“You sound drunk yourself right now.”
“Well, I just might be. I wasn’t ready to talk to you then.”
“And you are now?”
“As a matter of fact I am.” Her words sound even more slurred than mine.