The flight up from Atlanta to Manhattan had been pretty painless. Of course, the security lines and hassle of traveling through the Atlanta Airport were hell on earth, but that was a given.
Once Hailey Dean stepped off the Delta 757 and onto the jetport connecting the plane to the terminal, suddenly so much came rushing back. It had been a little over a year, but walking through LaGuardia past Nathan's Hot Dogs, the magazine and newspaper stands, down the escalator and to the taxi stand outdoors, it felt like she'd never left. It felt the same as before.
Before two of her favorite clients were murdered at the hands of a man who was once her courtroom adversary, a man who not only passed as an upstanding and highly successful member of the Georgia State Bar, but before that, as an Atlanta beat cop. For just a moment, Hailey felt Matt Leonard's hands around her neck again.
Hailey shook the sensation off and moved forward a couple of steps in the taxi line. After a few moments, the next cabbie approached and she hopped in the back seat. Although brusque as expected, he hoisted her only bag into the car trunk, slammed it shut and slid into the driver's seat in front of her.
"Where to?" The cabbie didn't turn around, just directed the question towards the rearview mirror.
She'd learned long ago not to speak too many words to New York cab drivers. With what was left of her Southern accent after living in Manhattan, they could hardly understand a word she said.
"Fifty-fourth Street. Manhattan." She clipped it out short and firm. Less words to misunderstand. It all came back to her without even thinking. The cabbie said nothing, just gunned the motor as dirty-gray snow churned up from the tires and out to the sides of the car.
Hailey buckled her seat belt and leaned back against the seat of the cab, looking out as Queens raced by outside her window. The row houses jammed together along short streets visible from the Long Island Expressway, diners, apartment buildings, billboards ... it all blended together ... not particularly beautiful, but strangely familiar and somehow reassuring despite the fact that it wasn't really her home. The Southland was home and always would be. But New York was part of her now, and she didn't realize she'd missed it until she saw it and smelled it and breathed it again. In that very moment, there in the back of the cab, she was glad to be back.
They exited the FDR just before the UN rose into view, turned right, and careened around the corner and lurched to a stop. Hailey gave the driver cash, declined a receipt and pulled her own bag out of the taxi's deep trunk. Hailey always traveled light, so it wasn't tough to yank it out and let it drop to the curb. She turned and looked all the way up to the top of her apartment building to where its roof met the sky. Way up there, thirty-one flights above, was Hailey's cottage in the sky.
Taking the steps up as quickly as she could while pulling the bag behind her, she wondered briefly if the flowers would start up again now that she was back in Manhattan. Ever since two of her patients were brutally strangled, followed by her own false arrest for the murders, the arresting officer, Lieutenant Ethan Kolker, had tried to make amends. As best he could, anyway.
It started small with the old standby, a dozen roses. When she'd promptly had the florist pick them up as a "return," another dozen came, and then, another. When those too were returned, more thought was put into the order. Kolker tried it all, violets, calla lilies, somehow even finding her favorites, stargazers and Cherokee Roses. They too had gone straight back from whence they came, to the florist ... every last petal.
Although they were beautiful, flowers never impressed Hailey. In fact, flowers made her feel guilty, that such beautiful creations were cut and pulled from the fields (or hothouses) where they flourished, for the fleeting whims of a human. Hailey never responded verbally or in written form to the flowers from Kolker, nor did he ever include any written apology or explanation of his thoughts.
Then came the chocolates. A succession of edible treats, also including no communication of regret, sorrow or epiphany, arrived and were returned as well, this time directly to Kolker's precinct in downtown Manhattan ... no note attached.
Kolker could always tell the boxes had been opened, then carefully repacked and returned with no comment whatsoever, always returned in the boxes in which they'd been sent, a new mailing address placed directly over Hailey's own home address.
Sure enough, when Hailey pushed through the heavy glass revolving door into her building's lobby, Ricky the doorman came from around the front desk to give her a big hug.
"Where you been? I missed you! Way to keep in touch ... Not!" He ribbed her a tiny bit. Hailey had seen him graduate from college and doggedly follow his dream to become a sportscaster. She hugged him back tightly but before she could respond, he said "And hey! You've already got a package. Let me get it for you." He bounded back to behind the front desk and into a storage area behind an open side door where the doormen stashed deliveries.
This time it was a box, wrapped, as usual, in plain brown paper. One look at the handwriting and Hailey knew it was from Kolker.
"How'd he know I was coming back?"
"Who's he? The dentist again?' He didn't give up yet?"
Ricky had no problem getting up in her business. He was referring to Adam Springhurst, the dentist who practiced in an office beneath Hailey's down in the Village. They'd had a fleeting relationship around the time of the murders, but it left Hailey with the feeling she was cheating on Will by even considering dating again. Her heart wasn't in it, and she'd disengaged as best she could, sure she came off as cold and uncaring. It was actually just the opposite: She couldn't afford to care. It could hurt too much.
In any event, because Hailey ended up applying Adam's dentist drill, whirring at full force, into the temple of the defense lawyer who'd stalked her and murdered her two friends, things between them had been on hold, for lack of a better term.
"No, not the dentist ... the cop."
"What cop? Not the one that arrested you? He's the only cop that's ever been here ..."
"That's the one. How did he know I was coming back?" She repeated the question.
His eyes got wide to display innocence. "I don't know ... it wasn't me! Ask the morning shift. You know how Julio is ... He'll tell anything for a hundred bucks!"
"Don't you worry, I'll do just that."
"Don't tell him I told you! Hey, you need help with that box? It's kind of big. Want me to carry it up?
"No. Thanks, though, I can manage." Hailey glanced at the clock sitting on the counter of the front desk. "Wait, on second thought, let me just dump my bag here. I've got to get across town. I'll pick them both up tonight. You hold it for me? The box and the bag?"
"You got it, sunshine."
Hailey turned and headed back out. She hurried down the steps and up the sidewalk to First Avenue. Looking into oncoming traffic and holding her right arm up high, Hailey quickly hailed a cab. She slid into the back seat with nothing but her purse and her pad of handwritten notes.
"West side, Sixth Avenue and 59th." Hailey rolled the window down to catch the breeze and the driver began inching through traffic across town to the West side. All the television networks were there, HLN and CNN in the Time Warner Center looking down on Central Park and Columbus Circle. Fox there on the corner at Avenue of the Americas, with American flags flying out front, CBS, NBC, ABC ... They all made their homes here.
Hailey was glad she stopped at her apartment, vacant for nearly a year now. But after the murders of Hayden and Melissa, not to mention her own near-strangulation, she needed to leave the city. She wanted to go home and see the red dirt, smell the azaleas' perfume in the air, feel the hot afternoons heavy with humidity, see her mother and father.
The apartment sat there during it all, quietly waiting for her to come back. She paid Ricky to water her plants and crack the windows an inch or two every couple of weeks. Her mail had all been forwarded to a post office box in Atlanta. Not that she ever read it. It was all bills and catalogues and flyers. She paid all her bills online, and as for shopping, she'd rather be beaten with a stick than set foot in a shopping mall, much less spend her free time thumbing through a catalogue.
When she left the courtroom years before, the need for new business clothes to wear in front of juries no longer existed. No more long-sleeved black and navy dresses, black pumps, hose. In fact, she hadn't forced herself into a pair of pantyhose in years and the clients she counseled in her psychologist's practice would suspect something very amiss, even downright wrong, if they saw her in anything but her favorite pair of worn jeans and scuffed brown cowboy boots. Living in Manhattan where everything was cement, she'd already had the boots resoled twice, but there was no way she'd break down and buy another pair. These fit just right.
Sights and sounds of the city glided past as she looked out the backseat window. Throngs of pedestrians at every corner waiting to flood into the crosswalks, vendors cooking God knows what. Hailey called it "street meat"; she never really knew what it was, but it sure smelled good. Makeshift carts selling knock-off purses, watches, pashminas, scarves, and jewelry. The big avenues going north and south, up and down. The island floated by ... First Avenue, Second and Third, Lexington, Park, Fifth, Sixth ... before she knew it, the cabbie hit the brakes in front of GNE, Global News and Entertainment.
With her purse on her shoulder and her notepad clutched to her chest, Hailey wove through the people milling in front of the towering skyscraper that housed GNE. She'd never been in the building before, although she'd jogged by it many times in the past en route to Central Park. She rarely detoured off her regular jogging path up and down the East River. To get to the park from the East side required ducking through hundreds of cars, thousands of pedestrians and way too many exhaust fumes. Whenever she did do it however, she was always struck by the park's beauty. The first time she ran through it forever stuck in her mind.
It was a brilliant Sunday morning and she'd been running over an hour when she unexpectedly came upon the park exit leading to the Plaza Hotel. At a distance, she saw a gold-plated statute, high up on a pedestal, shiny and glittering in the sun. It was one of the largest around. Wondering who deserved such glory, she stopped running and walked up to see it.
It turned out to be a shrine erected to William Tecumseh Sherman, the Union General responsible for literally burning a wide, sweeping swath of a path through the South, including the city of Atlanta, during the Civil War. The destruction of country so beautiful -- carried out not to win the war, but out of pure joy at the South's devastation -- remained a dagger in the hearts of many Southerners to the present day.
"Driver's license, ID" An old, gray GNE security guard repeated the phrase by rote without looking up from behind a long, glossy bleached wood counter.
Fishing through the deep leather purse hanging on her shoulder, Hailey pulled out her old District Attorney's badge, cased in an old worn wallet holder. From behind the shiny gold badge, she pulled her Georgia driver's license and held it over the counter for the guard to inspect. He took it from her hand and began copying the information down on a sign-in sheet. Looking around, Hailey noticed several well-dressed security guards strategically placed throughout the lobby. They all wore blue sports coats with grey pants, with nearly invisible earpieces in their ears.
"Hailey Dean, Hailey Dean. That name rings a bell." He looked up at her and then lowered his glasses to peer at her over their upper rims. "Right. I remember you. I read all about you in the Post, saw you on the TV too. That nut-job lawyer almost did you in, but you got him good. Right in the head. Dentist drill, right? Man I'd like to do it to my lawyer. Made my divorce worse than the old lady did. Almost called the divorce off just to get rid of the lawyer!"
The last thing she wanted to talk about was the night she was nearly murdered. She remembered the feel of Leonard's hair, slicked back as always, when her hand, clutching the buzzing dentist drill, slammed into his temple. She never remembered actually turning the thing on.
Funny how little details like that can bug you for the longest time.
Hailey managed a smile, telling herself the security guard's heart was in the right place.
"Yep. Hailey Dean. Right in the head with a dentist drill. Wonder if the dentist used that drill again. He shoulda framed it. Right?"
Before Hailey had to come up with a response, she heard her named screeched out across the large expanse of the GNE lobby floor.
"Hailey! Hailey Dee-e-an! You made it! You're so much smaller than you look on TV! I thought you were at least five feet ten! I just love it!"
From "Death on the D-List" by Nancy Grace. Copyright ©2010, Toto Holdings LLC. Published by Hyperion. Available wherever books are sold. All rights reserved.
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