Authors: James Grippando
For Tiffany—Happy Tenth!
My husband was murdered.”
Jack didn’t think of himself as a drinker, but after…
The following afternoon, Jack was on the fifth floor of…
The answer came back sooner than anticipated. It was anything…
Jack met her in his office, face-to-face. He needed to…
Alejandro Pintado was searching for good news. Literally.
I love this car,” said Theo.
That night, Jack went bowling. He hadn’t bowled in about…
Jack met Lindsey for breakfast at Deli Lane, a popular…
She is totally yanking your chain,” said Theo.
Jack went food shopping with
. This wasn’t just the…
They made it through the checkout line without too much…
The next morning Jack and Sofia Suarez met at the…
The first thing Jack noticed were the stars. Millions of…
We are the front line in the battle for regional…
Hector Torres waited at the end of the pier at…
Jack and Sofia had a late lunch of rice and…
Are those lights really necessary?” said Jack, shielding his eyes.
Four decades of communism had not robbed Havana of its…
Two hours later Jack and Sofia were in a rental…
At nine o’clock the following morning Jack and Sofia were…
Not since his ex-wife had dragged him to the Valentine’s…
On Friday morning, Jack was in court. The prosecutor wasn’t…
” That was the banner headline for the Latin…
As the case drew closer to trial, Jack found himself…
Morning came quickly. Jack was dressed and ready to go…
Jack had five hours to kill at Havana Airport. The…
Are you sure this is the place?” Jack asked the…
It was the day before trial, and Jack was on…
The United States of America calls Alejandro Pintado.”
At the end of the day, Jack said good-bye to…
The morning was all about bodily fluids. Jack had been…
At Jack’s request, Judge Garcia stretched the five-minute recess in…
Theo Knight was on a shopping spree. The search was…
Jack was staring at the final witness for the prosecution.
The reception at Mario’s Market was ice cold.
Jack had an appointment at South Miami Hospital.
Security at the courthouse was extra tight on Monday morning.
Jack met with Theo over the lunch break. He would…
The return of Alejandro Pintado to the witness stand brought…
Trial ended midafternoon on Monday so that the judge could…
The farther Jack’s rental car carried him away from downtown,…
It would forever remain a mystery, Jack figured. He was…
Jack kept one eye on the jury as his client…
Judge Garcia insisted on squeezing in Lindsey’s cross-examination before the…
At seven o’clock that night, Jack drove to Alice Wainwright…
Asly old trial lawyer from north Florida (the only part…
Jack couldn’t remember another good day that had felt so…
Jack met Maritza Rodriguez at her house in Pinecrest.
Whoever coined the phrase “There’s no second bite at the…
The case went to the jury just before noon.
At dusk, Jack caught up with his father at the…
Jack was alone at the counter at Joe Allen’s Diner,…
Jack returned to a packed courtroom. Someone had done a…
Jack slept until nine-thirty the next morning.
Jack went straight from the prison to Theo’s apartment. His…
The Miami-Dade County medical examiner described it as “Foreign matter,…
y husband was murdered.”
Lindsey Hart spoke in the detached voice of a young widow still grieving. It was as if she still couldn’t believe that the words were coming from her mouth, that something so horrible had actually happened. “Shot once in the head.”
“I’m very sorry.” Jack wished he could say more, but he’d been in this situation before, and he knew there really wasn’t anything he could say. It was God’s will? Time heals all wounds? None of that would do her any good, certainly not from his lips. People sometimes turned to strangers for that kind of comfort, but rarely when the stranger was a criminal defense lawyer billing by the hour.
Jack Swyteck was among the best Miami’s criminal trial bar had to offer, having defended death row inmates for four years before switching sides to become a federal prosecutor. He was in his third year of private practice, steadily building a name for himself, despite the fact that he’d yet to land the kind of high-charged, high-profile jury trial that had vaulted plenty of lesser lawyers into stardom. But he was doing just fine for a guy who’d withstood an indictment for murder, a divorce from a fruitcake, and the unexplained appearance of the naked, dead body of his ex-girlfriend in his bathtub.
“Do the police know who did it?” asked Jack.
“They think they do.”
The natural follow-up question caught in Jack’s throat, and before he could even broach the subject, Lindsey said, “I didn’t do it.”
“Are there any witnesses who say you did?”
“Not that I know of. Which is to be expected, since I’m innocent.”
“Was the murder weapon recovered?”
“Yes. It was on the bedroom floor. Oscar was shot with his own sidearm.”
“Where did it happen?”
“In our bedroom. While he was sleeping.”
“Were you home?”
“Then how do you know he was sleeping?”
She hesitated, as if the question had caught her off guard. “The investigators told me he was in bed, no sign of any struggle, so it’s only logical that he was either taken completely by surprise or was asleep.”
Jack took a moment, not so much to collect his thoughts as to gather his impression of Lindsey Hart. She was a few years younger than he was, he guessed, articulate and composed. Her business suit was charcoal gray, a conservative step beyond the traditional black of mourning, though she allowed herself a little color in the silk blouse and scarf. She was pretty—probably even more attractive than what presently met the eye, as Jack suspected that in her grief she’d lost a little too much weight and paid not enough attention to her appearance.
He said, “I know this is painful for you. But has anyone considered the possibility that your husband’s wound was self-inflicted?”
“Oscar didn’t commit suicide. He had too much to live for.”
“Most people who take their own life do. They just lose perspective.”
“His gun was found with the safety on. Not very likely that he shot himself in the head and then put on the safety.”
“Can’t argue with that. Though it also strikes me as curious that someone would shoot your husband and then take the time to put on the safety.”
“There are many curious things about my husband’s death. That’s why I need you.”
“Fair enough. Let’s get back to what you were doing the day of his death. What time did you leave the house?”
“Five-thirty. Same as every day. I work at the hospital. My shift begins at six.”
“I assume you’re having trouble convincing people that he was alive when you left.”
“The medical examiner put the time of death sometime before five.”
“You’ve seen the autopsy?” asked Jack.
“Yes, just recently.”
“How long ago was your husband killed?”
“Ten weeks yesterday.”
“Have you spoken to the police?”
“Of course. I wanted to do everything possible to help catch the killer. Until it started to come clear that I was a suspect. That’s when I decided I needed a lawyer.”
Jack scratched his head and said, “None of this is ringing a bell for me, and I’m usually something of a newshound when it comes to homicides. Was it City of Miami or Miami-Dade homicide you talked to?”
“Neither. It was NCIS agents. Naval Criminal Investigative Services. This all happened at the naval base.”
“Yes. My husband was career military. We’ve lived there for almost six years now. Or at least until his death.”
“I didn’t realize that families even lived there. I thought it was just soldiers keeping an eye on Castro.”
“Oh, no. It’s a huge living and working community, thousands of people. We have schools, our own newspaper. We even have a McDonald’s.”
Jack considered it, then said, “I want to be up front about this: I have absolutely no experience in dealing with military matters.”
“This isn’t strictly military. I’m a civilian, so I would have to be charged as a civilian, even though my husband was a military officer.”
“I understand that. But the crime scene is on a naval base, and you’ve already talked with the NCIS agents on the investigation. Whoever represents you should know how to work his way through military red tape.”
“You’ll learn.” She pulled a file from her purse and laid it on Jack’s
desk. “This is the NCIS investigative report. I just got it two days ago. Take a look. I think you’ll agree that it doesn’t pass the smell test.”
Jack let it lie, unopened. “I’m not trying to push away the work, but I know several criminal defense lawyers in town with military backgrounds.”
“I don’t want someone else. I want to hire the lawyer who will fight harder than anyone to prove my innocence. That person is you.”
“Thank you. It’s nice to know that my reputation extends all the way down to Cuba.”
“It has nothing to with your reputation. It’s simply a matter of who you are.”
“That sounds like a compliment, but I’m not sure I fully understand what you’re trying to say.”
“Mr. Swyteck, every minute that the investigators spend focusing on me is a wasted minute. If someone doesn’t straighten them out, my husband’s killer could go unpunished. That would be a terrible tragedy.”
“I couldn’t agree more.”
“Yes, you could. Believe me. This isn’t just another case of the authorities chasing after the wrong suspect. If they don’t catch the person who killed my husband, it would be a tragedy—
“Do I know your husband?”
“No. But that doesn’t make it any less personal. My husband…” She took a breath, her voice quaking as she tried once more. “My husband was the father of your child.”
Jack froze, confused. “Say that again.”
“I think you know what I’m saying.”
Jack mulled over the possibilities, realizing quickly that there was only
explanation. “Your son was adopted?”
She nodded, her expression very serious.
“Are you saying I’m the biological father?”
“The mother was a woman named Jessie Merrill.”
Jessie, the last woman he’d dated before falling head over heels for the woman he would marry—and later divorce. Not until his fifth and final year of marriage to Cindy Paige had Jack learned that Jessie was pregnant when they’d split up and that she’d given up their child for adoption.
“I don’t know what to say. I don’t deny that Jessie had a child and
that she said I was the father. I just never followed up on it. Didn’t think it was my place to intrude on the adoptive family.”
“That was thoughtful of you,” she said, her voice still strained by emotion. “But my husband and I realized that someday our son might want to contact his biological parents. We did all the research a few years ago.”
“Are you absolutely sure about this?”
“I could show you the paperwork, but I don’t think that will be necessary.” She dug into her purse again and offered up a snapshot.
“This is Brian,” she said.
A moment passed as the photograph seemed to hover before him. Finally, he reached across his desk and took it by the corner, as if his past might burn him if he grasped too much of it. His gaze came to rest on the smiling face of a ten-year-old boy. He’d never seen the child before, but he knew those dark eyes, that Roman nose.
“I’m his father,” he said in a distant voice, as if the words were involuntary.
“No,” she answered, her tone gentle but firm. “His father’s dead. And if you don’t help me find the man who killed him, his mother could go to jail for the rest of her life.”
Their eyes met, and Jack searched for words that suited a situation no criminal defense lawyer could possibly be prepared to face. “I guess you’re right,” he said quietly. “This is personal.”