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Swimming Upstream Free Chapters

Swimming Upstream

Prologue: Lost in the Woods

Laura Bachman was an excellent skier. She had been skiing since the time she could walk, or so the story goes. In fact, her earliest life memory was her father catching her after she slid down the small embankment near her childhood home on the outskirts of Seattle, Washington. At the time, she was wearing her first tiny pair of skis. She had heard her father tell the story at dinners and parties more times than she could count. To hear him tell it, she was a born natural, ready for competition right from the start. As Laura recalled, she barely managed to stay upright for all of four feet. Now, on a normal day she commanded the skis effortlessly like they were an extension of her body. Today, however, the skis were heavy and awkward.

Laura was usually very cautious and over-prepared when she ventured on one of her cross-country skiing weekends through the hills around Mount Rainier. Preparedness was a characteristic she had always possessed, but one that was honed razor sharp during her days at Stanford Law School. It proved to be one of the reasons she was hired right out of school at the prestigious Seattle firm of Lowenstein, Giraldi & Kraft. She came in prepared and wowed a senior partner in her interview. Know before you go, look before you leap, plan for all possibilities—these were the mantras of Laura’s life.

Normally she would never go skiing without a buddy, that being the unwritten rule for any excursion into even moderately unfamiliar terrain. She preferred backcountry, a form of cross-country skiing done far from the commercial areas of Mount Rainier. There were no trails or lifts, no nearby ranger to rescue you from trouble. You never knew when you might run into an unfriendly animal, step on a snake, sprain an ankle, or encounter any of a hundred other difficulties that Laura had thought out beforehand and fully prepared for.

On this occasion, when her roommate and co-worker at the firm, Amanda Perkins, canceled at the last minute, Laura decided to go it alone. She needed the time away from the rest of the world. Ben had been ragging her about her lack of commitment to their relationship, and the walls were closing in. The mountain was always her cure for any troubles, and she had gone skiing on so many occasions over the years that she knew Mount Rainier National Park better than most of the rangers.

For that reason, it was unusual for Laura to get lost, and yet she had done just that. Perhaps she was distracted by regret about her fight with Ben, replaying the conversation over and over in her mind and trying in vain to make it end without the harsh words she had spoken. She had also been shaken by something she learned the day before, something that severely unbalanced her normally low center of gravity. She tried to forget what she had seen, but it was a three alarm fire whose bells would not stop ringing.

Laura felt a strong sense of urgency to get off the mountain as soon as possible. Perhaps it was the expected cold of night approaching. The temperature could shift drastically. Laura had, of course, checked and double checked the weather reports for the area which called for a cold front to settle in later that night. Despite wearing a thermal jacket made of high-tech NASA material, she felt an unpleasant chill seeping into her body. She was in a hurry. That’s why, when she ran out of snow a mile back, she dumped her skis on the ground and continued on foot through the thick woods. An hour later she was still in the woods with no end in sight. Her growing desperation set her pulse racing and her head pounding. About ready to give up, she spotted a light through the trees ahead. Although dim and a long way off, to Laura it was a blazing beacon of hope. Assuming it was a house, she rededicated her muscles to making it at least that far.

Laura stumbled out of the woods into a clearing that was actually the backyard of someone’s home. With only one hundred yards of ground between her and the light, she could now see it was a spotlight on the back porch. By the time she closed half the distance to the house she felt numb, and her breathing was labored.

Laura stopped, gathering her strength for the last fifty yards. When the back door opened and a man stepped out into the light, she was certain her luck had changed. She staggered forward as the man picked up a wheelbarrow full of firewood near the woodpile in his backyard, unaware of her presence. He turned the wheelbarrow toward the house.

“Help,” she shouted, but it came out sounding much closer to a rasping whisper. Nonetheless, the man heard her cry in the crisp night air and looked up. As Laura staggered toward him his first thought was to wonder what a drunk person was doing in his backyard. She continued moving erratically toward him until she finally stopped in her tracks, stood unnaturally stiff and erect for a fleeting moment, and then pitched forward to the ground like a felled tree.

The man let go of one handle of the wheelbarrow and it tipped over spilling out all the split cedar logs he had loaded. Barely noticing, he dropped the other handle and ran to her side. Pulling off his gloves, he checked her neck carefully in several spots, but found no pulse.

The likelihood of a twenty-nine-year-old woman in her prime and in good health falling over dead was improbable. The fact that she was a near Olympic-level athlete in peak condition made it impossible.

However, there was no doubt that Laura Bachman was dead. More than likely, the twenty-four inches of a Beman hunting arrow sticking out of her back had something to do with it.

Chapter 1: The Body

By the time the Pierce County medical examiner arrived at Bob Sullivan’s place in the remote foothills west of Mount Rainier, the temperature was a frigid minus three degrees Fahrenheit, a modern record at low altitude in western Washington for the second of December. The ground was frozen, and Laura Bachman’s body was well on the way to reaching that state. The season had been a quiet one for Doc Holiday, as the sheriff liked to call her. Actually, her name was Dr. Leslie Halliday, but she didn’t object. Serving as medical examiner for the sparsely-populated eastern half of the county amounted to a part-time job, and Leslie spent most of her time treating mild cases of frostbite suffered by over-eager hikers or skiers. There was the September recovery of the bodies of four hikers that had rightfully been presumed dead after disappearing on Mount Rainier during a nasty winter storm nine months earlier. However, the senior medical examiner in Tacoma took care of those himself, most likely for the press opportunity they provided. He loved to show his pearly whites. Until now the rural area of the county that included Mount Rainier Park had been happily free of deaths.

Just past the tiny town of Ashford, Leslie turned onto a private road into the woods. At the end of the two-mile road, she saw three park ranger SUVs and the sheriff’s white Caprice parked in the circular drive in front of the house. From the initial reports, it appeared likely the girl had come from park land, thus involving the park police. Although there was friction between the park rangers and the sheriff’s department over jurisdictional turf, dead bodies were usually of no interest to either.

“Where’s the body?” Leslie asked the first person she saw, a twenty-something ranger named Brody who was standing near a jeep.

“Behind the house, Doc, just follow the floodlights,” said Brody. He self-consciously rubbed the sparse beard he was attempting to grow and pointed to a muddy path that circled the left side of the two-story colonial home.

Leslie smiled, remembering what it was like to be twenty years old and searching for an identity. She turned her attention to the impressive expanse of house. Bob Sullivan had paid a fortune to build his place where he did, including a private road and electric service. He lived alone, and the rumors about his identity ran the gamut from his being a famous reclusive writer to being a retired mob hit man, and everything in between. No one knew who he was or why he was there, but no one cared. His money spent as well as anyone else’s, and he kept several local tradesmen from going under during hard times.

Leslie trudged along the path to the backyard, where the rangers had strung a line of spotlights from the rear of the house across the yard and into the woods that began at the far edge of Sullivan’s property. Though it looked like a giant string of white Christmas lights, Leslie knew there would be no holiday cheer tonight. She reached the body and saw Sheriff Marner and his deputy.

“Hey Doc, thanks for coming tonight,” said the sheriff. “Like I said on the phone, you probably could have waited until tomorrow. I mean, what with the temp and all. It’s freaking cold out here.”

“I appreciate the consideration, Bill, but time is the forensic pathologist’s enemy. A lot could change between tonight and tomorrow. Better we do this now.”

“Looks pretty straight forward to me,” said the sheriff. “It’s clear she hiked down from the woods. There is a trail of blood going back as far as we’ve looked so far. She must have walked a long way.”

“Any reports from hunters?” asked Leslie.

“Nothing so far.”

“Do we know why she was out here?”

“Not directly. One of the rangers recognized her. Says she does backcountry skiing in the park several times a year. Probably has an annual pass.”

“Do we know her name?”

“Not yet. I didn’t want to touch the body until you got here.”

“Thanks for the restraint.” Leslie knelt down and padded the jacket on the dead girl until she found a wallet in her pocket. “Laura Bachman, age twenty-eight. Jesus, she shouldn’t be dead.” Leslie handed the wallet to the sheriff.

“Who should?” said the sheriff looking at the ID.

A lean, rugged man in a khaki uniform topped with a wide, flat-brimmed Mountie hat appeared at the edge of the woods. Randy Miller, the deputy-superintendent of rangers, walked down to where they were standing. “The blood trail goes a long way back into the woods,” he said. “Definitely looks like it goes into the park. Too hard to find the beginning in the dark. That girl had incredible stamina to make it this far. She must have been bleeding for miles.”

“Tell me right now if you two boys are going to have a pissing contest over this,” said Leslie. “Because, I don’t want my crime scene contaminated.”

“No, no, the sheriff should handle this,” said the ranger. “Let me know how we can help, Bill.”

The sheriff nodded, looking at the girl’s picture ID. “Laura Bachman, from Seattle. Pretty girl. Someone will have to find and contact next of kin.” He eyed the ranger, who said nothing. “I guess that would be me. What do I tell them, Doc?”

“We have a witness to the time of death,” said Leslie. “Cause of death looks pretty obvious. I can’t say more until I do an examination.”

The sheriff walked to the house to talk with Bob Sullivan and confirmed the time of death at twelve-thirty a.m.

“Do you think you could keep my name out of the papers?” asked Sullivan.

The sheriff looked up from his notes.

“I would rather avoid any curiosity seekers or that sort of thing. You understand.”

“Sure, Bob, I could do that.” The sheriff knew Sullivan liked his privacy. When a local reporter had come by doing a human interest piece on people living near Mount Rainier, Sullivan had called the sheriff and asked him to intervene.

After regrouping with the medical examiner, Sheriff Marner said, “Looks like a hunting accident,” fishing for agreement. He didn’t want this to turn into a time consuming investigation.

“Those are your words, Bill, not mine. Are we clear?”

“Like a muddy river.” Calling the family on this was not a phone call the sheriff wanted to make.

Chapter 2: The Firm

Amanda Perkins hurried across Union Street and into the high-rise building that housed the law offices of Lowenstein, Giraldi & Kraft on Monday morning just like she had a hundred times before in the two years she worked there. One hand cradled the stack of briefs that had become a nightly reading ritual and had rendered the popular and attractive twenty-eight-year-old lonely and single in the prime of her life. Making it at one of the premier law firms on the west coast was a bitch. Her other hand clutched a Starbuck’s double mocha latte, also known as breakfast. Amanda elbowed the elevator button and took a sip while she waited. She had never missed a Monday morning. Neither had her roommate Laura for that matter, a fact which now had Amanda so distracted that she nearly collided with a man as she got on the elevator. If not for his cat-like reflexes her double mocha latte would have ended up on one of them. Instead, he grabbed her wrist firmly, keeping the cup upright and giving her time to regain her balance. The steely-eyed look he gave her would have struck her as odd had she not been so preoccupied worrying about Laura. Amanda hadn’t seen her since she went skiing.

Any last hope she held that Laura would be all right vanished when Amanda stepped out of the elevator on the thirtieth floor and saw Laura’s empty work station. Laura was always the first one in the office. Everything on the desktop was in its proper place neat as a pin, just as Laura kept it. Amanda checked with the receptionist Camille hoping Laura had left a message, but there was none. One thing you could count on was Laura being organized and thorough to a fault. She would never miss a Monday morning. And, she certainly would have called both home and the office if she was unavoidably detained. Something was terribly wrong.

Amanda logged into her computer and watched the morning office events unfold with clockwork precision. Two legal secretaries manned the copiers, cranking out copies of last minute briefs for the junior lawyers. Then the three senior partners met in the ranking partner’s office to discuss strategy. It was the largest single office Amanda had ever seen, with its own conference table, a fully loaded bar and kitchenette and a wide expanse of floor to ceiling glass that looked out over Seattle and the mountains in the distance. It was larger than her apartment.

Amanda had been intimidated and overwhelmed on the one and only occasion she had been inside that office. Last year Abraham Lowenstein had called her on the carpet like Moses from Mount Sinai after one of the junior lawyers tried to shift the blame onto her for a filing error he made during the critical phase of an environmental lawsuit involving a tanker dumping oil in the Bering strait near the coast of Alaska. Amanda stood on the priceless thousand-year-old Persian carpet that was a gift from a grateful Arab sheikh, and waited for Mr. Lowenstein to finish his call, trying desperately to keep her knees from shaking. Her fear of dripping tears on the carpet was all that kept her from bursting into grief on the spot. As it turned out, Mr. Lowenstein asked her three unrelated questions about her family and sent her back to her desk. Later that day, the junior lawyer in question glared at her as he walked to the elevator escorted by security after having been summarily fired. He had been working for the firm for six years.

On this morning, Amanda sipped her coffee and idly stared through the glass into Lowenstein’s office, unable to focus on her work. The three men inside were having an unusually animated discussion, and although she could not hear anything through the sound proof glass it was obvious that Mr. Lowenstein was upset and that Mr. Giraldi was catching the brunt of his anger. Leo Giraldi, the managing partner who ran the other lawyers in the office and directed most of the active cases, sat quietly listening. The CFO of the firm, Franklin Kraft, was talking although having little success in calming down Lowenstein.

“Oh my God,” said Camille at reception. She was on the phone. “Oh my God,” she repeated, this time pulling Amanda’s attention onto her. Camille looked stricken and pale.

Amanda glanced back to make sure the senior partners were still busy in the office, and then hurried to Camille’s desk.

“Camille, what is it?” she asked, her stomach already knotted with anxiety.

“It’s Laura. There’s been an accident.”

There was a long pause while Camille sent the call through to Mr. Lowenstein’s office that gave Amanda ample time to dredge up and frantically reject what the next words must be. Then they came, huge heavy words moving like a freight train.

“Laura is dead,” said Camille.

The Starbuck’s cup slipped from Amanda’s hand and bounced on the marble floor, sending coffee splattering in all directions. None of the other lawyers even looked up at the drama unfolding at reception. It wasn’t uncommon for younger lawyers or secretaries to be fired unceremoniously, and when it happened the rest tried to ignore it, as if remaining distant and unsympathetic would somehow protect them from the same fate.

Camille had passed the call quickly to Mr. Lowenstein’s office. This wasn’t news to be ignored. The Seattle police were on their way. The call had come from a firm-friendly contact in the police department. Camille watched through the glass, noticing no surprise on Mr. Lowenstein’s face, only more anger directed at Giraldi. She got up to help Amanda, who was wiping the floor with a tissue but only managing to smear the coffee around.

“Leave it,” said Camille. “You come over here and sit down.” She walked Amanda to the carved wooden bench across from her desk. Rumor held that the antique bench had been an original gallery seat in the Old Supreme Court Chamber used prior to the Civil War. Nothing but the best for Lowenstein, Giraldi & Kraft. “There, there,” said Camille, trying to soothe Amanda. “I know you two were close. You should probably take the day off. I’m sure Mr. Giraldi will understand.”

“No,” said Amanda. “I want to know what happened. I’m staying.”

“I’ll take care of the spill. You go freshen your makeup.”

“Okay, but please find out what you can, will you?”

“Don’t worry, girl, my ear is always to the ground, you know that.”

“Thanks,” said Amanda, heading to the bathroom. While she was fixing her face the meeting of the senior partners ended, and when Giraldi came out he walked straight to reception.

“This stays quiet,” he said to Camille. “Does anyone else know?”

“Amanda Perkins, her roommate.”

“Jesus,” said Giraldi. “Where is she?”

“In the ladies’ room.”

Amanda had just reworked her eyeliner when Leo Giraldi barged into the ladies’ room unannounced. He locked the outer door.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“Not especially.”

“Do you know what happened?” he asked.

“I know that Laura is dead, if that’s what you mean. Isn’t that enough?” Right now, Amanda didn’t care that Giraldi was her boss.

“When was the last time you spoke to her?”

“Friday.”

“What time?”

Despite Giraldi’s expertise at disarming demeanor, Amanda felt like she was under cross examination. She instinctively gave the standard and safe no answer. “I don’t recall.”

“Do you recall what she said the last time you spoke to her?” Giraldi was getting impatient.

“Nothing much, really. She was having second thoughts about Ben. He’s her boyfriend … was.”

“Anything else?”

“No, why?”

“The police are coming and they will probably want to interview you. I was hoping to help you avoid any more pain than necessary.”

Amanda looked Giraldi in the eye. The man sounded sincere enough. But she knew how tough it was to tell with such a skilled lawyer. She had learned that the hard way after dating one for almost six months before finding out he was married.

“I’ll be all right,” she said. “I just want to know what happened.”

“Apparently, it was an accident. A horrible hunting accident up on the mountain.”

That made no sense to Amanda. “Laura was always so careful. She always mapped out the hunting areas to avoid them.”

“Then someone must have been hunting where they shouldn’t have been.”

“Do the police know who did it?”

“I will find out when they arrive. Look, Amanda, if you want to go home for the day, I would certainly understand.” He put his hand on her shoulder.

“No, I’m staying,” she said, shrugging off his hand.

“Suit yourself.” Giraldi was done with his cross examination. Amanda half expected him to say he had no further questions, but he simply unlocked the bathroom door and left. Amanda looked in the mirror and thought about her last conversation with her roommate. Laura said she needed space from Ben. Lately she was feeling pressured to move the relationship forward. That made sense. Laura was as independent-minded as they come. She also said she had some thinking to do career wise. It was the first time Laura had been anything but gung-ho about her position at the firm. She lived for the environmental issues that were the meat and potatoes of the firm’s cases. Laura had been sorely disappointed when Amanda opted out of their weekend cross-country getaway at the last minute. Maybe if she had gone along Laura would still be alive. Amanda sighed deeply. Oh, God. This was going to be one hell of a Monday.

The drive up to Seattle was long and boring, but necessary. Bill Marner was an honest and diligent lawman, but after his wife had died he had dropped into an apathy that didn’t include much interest in his job. His sense of ethics and duty forced him to make the trip to complete his report on Laura Bachman’s death, but he had already decided the outcome he wanted. It was an unfortunate, but accidental, death with no loose ends. Then he could get back to the misery that only went away when he drank enough.

The sheriff was meeting a detective from the Seattle police department at the firm where Laura had worked. It was a high-roller outfit that specialized in the lucrative environmental lawsuits that were becoming more common as the EPA tightened the nut on its pollution regulations. Bill figured that was a good thing if it protected natural resources, although there was something about lawyers making piles of money from other people’s tragedies that he never liked.

Sheriff Marner pulled into the parking garage on Sixth Avenue and parked next to the unmarked SPD car in the visitor section. A pair of detectives stood next to the car, the older of the two smoking a cigarette.

“I’m Fox,” said the older detective. “This is my partner Stevens.” The younger detective nodded.

“Bill Marner,” said the sheriff. “I thought smoking was banned everywhere in the city.” He was referring to the twenty-five-foot rule that banned smoking near any buildings and had effectively banned smoking inside the city proper.

“So arrest me,” said Fox, dropping his butt to the ground and stepping on it.

“We got your report,” said Stevens. “Very unusual. I looked it up. There’s never been a death by arrow—at least not in the city.”

“I reckon not,” said the sheriff, putting on his best country twang. His attempt at humor was lost on Stevens. In the city. Bill hated the attitude the city cops had about people in the rural areas of the state. They expected everyone to either chew tobacco and play banjos or be dope-smoking hippies.

“What exactly are we looking for?” asked Fox.

“Maybe nothing,” said Bill. “Just trying to do my due diligence on the case. We don’t yet have a shooter, so anything that looks like a motive, I suppose.” He sounded uninspired. Once they were inside the lobby, Bill read the huge lettering on the wall. “Lowenstein, Giraldi & Kraft,” he said out loud. “You ever been up there?”

“Can’t say I have,” said Fox. “There’s not much murder in environmental law, unless you count ducks and frogs.” The three men stepped into an elevator. Stevens pushed 30.

“I hear the firm has a nearly perfect record on winning lawsuits over the past five years,” said Stevens.

“Hot shot lawyers,” said Fox. “This ought to be a pain in the ass. Why don’t you take the lead, Sheriff?”

“Sure thing.” The sheriff was relieved to hear that. He wanted to get this over with as quickly as possible.

“I suppose a law office is the one place we don’t have to say you have a right to an attorney,” said Stevens, thinking he had made a joke.

“Bullshit,” said Fox. “This is where we do everything exactly by the book or we get our asses handed to us later. You just keep your mouth shut. Take notes, or something.”

The doors opened and the three men stepped out onto the polished marble floor. An attractive African-American woman sat behind a back-lit reception desk across the room. She stood up and quickly approached. “We’ve been expecting you,” she said, keeping her voice quiet.

“Sheriff Marner,” said Bill, extending a hand.

The receptionist ignored the gesture, touched her headset and spoke. “Sir. The police are here … Okay. This way.” She flashed a perfunctory smile before she turned and walked down the hall to the right of her desk.

The three men followed. At the end of the hall she knocked twice at a door on the left and opened it, stepping back and gesturing for the men to enter. It was the rear entrance to Lowenstein’s office that avoided the more public areas of the firm. When the interior glass that looked out into the firm was opaqued as it was now, the office was completely private.

All three of the senior partners were in the room. Abe Lowenstein was the only one who stood up. “Sheriff Marner. And Detectives Fox and Stevens. Abe Lowenstein. This is our managing partner Leo Giraldi, and our CFO Franklin Kraft.” No hands were offered and neither of the other two lawyers so much as nodded. Lowenstein said nothing further, gesturing to the rich leather chairs.

The sheriff appreciated the lawyer’s muzzled style, hoping to make the visit quick and painless. “This won’t take long. I think we can stand.” Detective Stevens, who was already halfway to sitting, stood back up.

“Anything you need, let me know,” said Lowenstein. “I would only ask if we can keep it low profile in the outer offices. Laura was well liked here and her death came as quite a shock to everyone who knew her.”

Detective Fox was not in the mood to be so accommodating. He didn’t like lawyers much. In his experience, more often than not lawyers got in the way of justice. He could see that Lowenstein wanted to take control of their investigation, and that pissed him off. “We’re going to need to interview some of your staff as well as look at Laura’s work station, if that doesn’t inconvenience you,” he said, making his displeasure obvious.

Lowenstein ignored the attitude and said, “My secretary will take you to her desk. As for interviews, you can use this office if you like. Whom do you want to interview?”

It was obvious to Fox that as accommodating as Lowenstein pretended to be, he wasn’t going to offer any more information than necessary. That pissed him off even more. “We will need a list of your employees. For now, why don’t we start with Laura’s direct boss.”

“That would be me,” said Giraldi.

“And we need some place private,” said Fox.

The sheriff didn’t like where this was headed. He had hoped to be in and out in under a half hour. He licked his lips, wishing he had taken a shot of Johnny Walker before he came in.

“Of course. The office is yours,” said Lowenstein getting up to leave. “My secretary is right outside this door. She will provide whatever you need.” He and Kraft walked out.

Fox looked around, suspicious about cameras or recording devices.

Giraldi said, “Don’t worry, I can assure you this office is not bugged.”

“So you say,” said Fox.

Jonesing for a drink raised the sheriff’s necessity to do something, so he chimed in. “We have only a few questions,” he said, looking at Detective Fox.

“Certainly,” said Giraldi, happy to talk to the sheriff.

“Was Laura Bachman having any trouble with anyone in the office?”

“Not to my knowledge.”

“Was she working on anything that might have put her in danger?”

“Like what?”

“A case. An angry client or someone you were suing.”

“No. In fact, Laura was not the lead attorney on any case. As a third year, she prepared briefs only. There would be no reason for anyone to target her.”

“Okay, then. We should see what she was working on.”

Detective Fox frowned in disapproval. “I have a couple questions.”

The sheriff rubbed his face. “Go ahead.”

“Was Laura having trouble with her personal life? Boyfriends, that sort of thing.”

Giraldi looked at a file he was holding. “She had a boyfriend named Ben Chandler. Other than that, I know little of her personal life.”

“Had you met him?”

“I’m afraid not. We require the names of spouses or serious partners to be on file in order to avoid conflict of interest.”

“What about her roommate?”

Again Giraldi looked at the file. “That would be Amanda Perkins, also a third year. You’ll have to talk to her.”

“You don’t seem to know much about your staff.”

“This isn’t a social club, it’s a law firm. Laura was one of two dozen lawyers I run on cases, and I didn’t know her that well. She did a decent job on the tasks assigned, and I had no reason to be involved in her personal life. If there is nothing else, I do have cases to tend to.” He got up and headed to the door. “The secretary will show you to Laura’s desk,” he said, and walked out of the room.

“That went well,” said Fox.

“I think we are beating a dead horse,” said the sheriff. He could taste the whiskey at this point.

“Maybe, but I don’t like that man. He’s hiding something.”

“He’s a lawyer. Enough said. Let’s go check her desk and wrap this up.”

The secretary took them to Laura’s desk. There was nothing of interest. The station barely looked occupied.

“Where is her planner?” asked Fox, knowing anyone that neat would have one.

“On her computer.” The secretary typed a password into the desktop computer and a calendar program opened. There was a list of documents from the prior week, and a note on a brief to be done Monday. Fox clicked on several of the links, but none were available.

“What are these documents and why can’t I find them?”

“Depositions and submissions from a case,” said the secretary. “All confidential information has been removed from her computer to protect our clients.”

“That’s not helping,” said Fox.

“It’s routine security protocol, I can assure you. A court order might give you access, but I doubt it. Certainly you would need probable cause.”

The sheriff was relieved. They had no grounds for a warrant.

“What was she working on?” asked Fox, determined to annoy.

“In general terms, I can tell you it was a suit involving illegal dumping. Pretty routine for the firm.”

“I think we are done here,” said the sheriff.

“If you say so,” said Fox. “What about the roommate?”

“Yeah, yeah, the roommate.” The sheriff looked at his notes. “Amanda Perkins.” The secretary brought Amanda into Lowenstein’s office. She was understandably distressed but also looked around the room nervously. Interviewing her in Lowenstein’s office was like having him standing watch over her shoulder.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” said Fox, attempting to establish a line with her. After questioning her for ten minutes produced nothing concrete, the three men left the way they had come in.

“What do you think, Sheriff?” asked Detective Stevens, as they rode the elevator down.

“Like I said, pretty routine. An unfortunate hunting accident.”

“If you say so,” said Fox.

Chapter 3: The Wake

The Bachman family had sacrificed a lot for their daughter Laura. First had come her passion for skiing. Lessons from Olympic level skiers, top of the line equipment and trips to the world’s best slopes didn’t come cheaply. The disappointment when a freak accident had rendered Laura’s knee beyond repair, at least for competition level skiing, had devastated everyone in the family. None had taken it harder than her father, Steven Bachman, who had lived vicariously through every one of Laura’s many skiing victories. The pictures, ribbons and trophies decorated the showroom of his flagship Bachman BMW dealership in Seattle. Steven had sulked through Laura’s last two years of college, never mentioning skiing to her again. Laura had reinvented herself by throwing herself full bore into Stanford Law, graduating third in a class of outstanding young lawyers. When she was hired at the top environmental law firm in Seattle, Steven Bachman had finally recaptured the bragging rights that seemed appropriate when it came to his first-born child.

Now he was a cornered animal, wounded by the overwhelming loss of his daughter and spring-loaded to explode at anyone who happened to cross his path. He sat by himself drinking whiskey at an alarming pace, but feeling nothing.

The wake had been his wife’s idea. She claimed it would be a celebration of Laura’s life and had insisted that he be there despite his protests. He had managed to convince her not to have an open casket viewing, but this was bad enough. The whole thing made him sick. There was nothing about such a tragic waste of life to be celebrated. Steven watched from the corner of the room through alcohol-blurred eyes, the glower on his face keeping all but the foolish or the blind far away.

There stood his wife Kate, always the good host. She was greeting two new arrivals from the law firm where Laura worked.

“We worked with Laura,” said a young man with dark-rimmed glasses. “I’m Mitchell Tang and this is Camille, Camille.”

“Thank you so much for coming,” said Kate. “I know Laura would appreciate it.”

“I’m so sorry,” said Mitchell. “So sorry,” he repeated, something he had a habit of doing when he was nervous. As the firm’s top IT geek he was not comfortable in social settings. His chronic hypochondria and mild germaphobia made being at a wake especially unnerving.

“Laura was a very nice person,” said Camille. “We will all miss her.”

“Yes, we will.” Kate Bachman choked at the thought of never seeing Laura again. She turned to look at her husband who sat in the corner downing another shot of whiskey. Besides the loss of her daughter, she knew that Steven would never recover. She had lost him as well. He had been broken since they had gotten the call that night from the county sheriff. The fuse had sizzled and popped and the light had gone dark. Kate hoped the wake would help him recover, but so far it was a dismal failure.

“Such a tragic accident,” said Camille, trying to be supportive.

Steven Bachman sat upright and locked his gaze on the black woman standing with his wife. “What did you say?”

Kate shook her head faintly, trying to keep Camille from answering. It didn’t work.

“I said it was such a tragic accident, Mr. Bachman. I’m so sorry for you and your family.”

“That’s what they all say,” said Steven.

“Who?” asked Camille.

“The police, the lawyers, the politicians. Everyone. A tragic accident. It sounds so—so—so goddamn patronizing,” he said loudly. All the eyes in the room were now on him. He stood up and threw his shot glass against the stone fireplace. “It’s a bunch of crap and I don’t buy it for a second.”

When Steven Bachman wobbled and almost lost his balance, the man next to him tried to steady him.

“Take your goddamn hands off me,” Bachman said, pushing the man angrily and storming off to another part of the house.

“I’m so sorry,” said Camille.

“Don’t be,” said Kate. Despite the crack in the social veneer of the event, Kate Bachman felt hope. It was the first sign of life she had seen in her husband in over a week.

There was little else said after that, and the social proprieties took over again. Family and friends paid their respects, offered condolences to Kate and talked vacantly about Laura’s virtues. Later, when Abraham Lowenstein felt it appropriate, he approached Kate, taking her hand between his.

“I want you to know that you have my deepest sympathy and my full support,” he said. “I can’t imagine how hard this is for you. Your daughter was a bright and promising attorney. If there is anything I can do.”

“I appreciate that,” said Kate. Then she said something she never thought she would. In fact, she and Steven had argued bitterly about it all week until she had finally made him promise to let the matter drop. Now she thought it might be the only way to get her husband back from the darkness that had swallowed him. “There is one thing you could do.”

“Anything. You name it,” said Lowenstein.

“My husband and I are convinced that Laura’s death may not have been an accident. Perhaps you could look into that for us.” That was a lie. Only Steven, struggling to make sense of Laura’s death, clung to the idea that there had been foul play.

“Yes, yes, of course. I will do so. Might I ask, what makes you think it wasn’t an accident?”

“Call it a mother’s intuition, that’s all.” For Kate, the only intuition involved was the desperate hope that such a quest might bring her husband back from the dead.

“A mother’s intuition is certainly good enough for me,” said Lowenstein. “We will look into it.”

“Thank you,” said Kate.

The next week proved that Kate Bachman was right. After hearing that she had come around to his opinion on the matter, her husband threw himself into finding another answer for his daughter’s death than ill-timed fate. Steven Bachman hadn’t built a successful string of car dealerships without being a skilled salesman himself. He had plenty of the bulldog gene necessary to refuse to accept no as an answer. Starting with the sheriff’s department, he bent Bill Marner’s ear so often that the sheriff dreaded seeing his number come up on his caller ID.

“It’s Steven Bachman calling,” said his deputy. “Do you want to take it?”

“Let it go to voice mail,” said the sheriff, feeling relieved and guilty at the same time. Bill Marner knew the pain and unresolved resentment that comes with the unexpected death of someone close. He had lost his wife to cancer three years back. She had only been in her forties, much too young to die. Although he had yet to find anyone to blame, he was still looking.

Bill knew that is what Steven Bachman was looking for, but there wasn’t much he could do. Although an unusual event, this wasn’t the first time a hunter had accidentally shot someone in the forest surrounding Mount Rainier. Tracing the arrow that had killed Laura proved impossible. While shafts were sold in batches to help ensure a uniformity to their flight pattern, there were no identifying records kept at point of sale. That left DNA, of which there was none on the arrow, or matching the arrow to the batch it came from, iffy at best and requiring first that you have the other arrows. A wide search of the area where Laura was shot turned up no similar arrows lost during hunting. With no one coming forward, there wasn’t much else to do. Either the hunter didn’t know what he did, or he knew and wasn’t going to admit it. The sheriff had questioned everyone who knew Laura and found no one with a motive for killing her. Like it or not, in the end the death had been ruled an accident by the coroner’s office.

Steven Bachman didn’t stop with the sheriff. As a successful, high-profile businessman, he had helped a number of politicians along the way, including the current mayor of Seattle and several congressmen. He called in every marker he could. Pressure points. Some people think selling is a PR job, a smile and handshake sort of activity. Steven knew the truth. What closes a deal is finding the right pressure point and applying the right amount of pressure.

Despite the fact that there were phone calls made on Bachman’s behalf, and the sheriff and medical examiner were getting to know far too many important people, there was no change in the outcome.

The problem was, Steven Bachman wasn’t the only one who knew how to apply pressure. Once Abraham Lowenstein learned that the Bachmans were pushing to open a murder investigation, he called a special meeting of the firm’s senior partners at his home. The sprawling house cascaded down the hillside in five levels providing spectacular views of the city below. They sat in the huge living room just inside the panoramic glass window. In the distance stood the snow-capped Mount Rainier, a constant reminder of the trouble Lowenstein wanted to avoid. Despite his promise to Kate Bachman, the only pressure he would be applying would be to stonewall any further investigation.

After mentioning his conversation with Mrs. Bachman, Lowenstein made his position clear to the others. “I want there to be no murder investigation. In fact, I want no investigation at all, of any kind that involves our firm. You well know we can’t afford that right now. However, I did promise we would talk to people on behalf of the Bachmans. Leo, you take point on this one.”

Leo Giraldi smiled and nodded. “As you wish. How much of a show of support do you want me to provide?”

“Find out who the Bachmans are talking to, then make a couple phone calls on their behalf, is all. Strictly local. Then just make sure the state attorney general slams a lid on anything else. Hard.”

As a firm that championed the environment in a green state like Washington, Lowenstein, Giraldi & Kraft had plenty of capital with the political machine running the state. As the saying goes, shit rolls downhill. After handing a number of pollution-related criminal cases on a platter to the attorney general that gave him plenty of positive press, Lowenstein was confident they could keep the investigation closed, especially with no concrete evidence of any overt wrongdoing. Of course, none of the partners had run into anyone quite like Raja Williams.

What Readers are Saying

“Brilliant”

“An exciting thriller who-dunnit about environmental crime and corruption in the lawfirm!”

“Another fast paced novel right from the start that draws you in keeping you captivated til the very end. The characters are easy to connect with, filled with passion and they will leave you cheering them on even if they are buried deep in the snow.”

“This might be my favorite Raja Williams book yet. It grabbed me at the start and I couldn’t put it down. I cried and laughed and hung on every word.”

“Another winner. I am so addicted to this character and his exploits. I can hardly wait for the next adventure in New York.”

“Danger and trouble lead to more danger and trouble and I must put my Kindle down and go to sleep but I cannot. We are all soon in trouble. What to do? What to do?”

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