My book, At Any Cost, is available on Amazon for free until June 13. To introduce people to my writing I’ve excerpted the first ten pages. Enjoy!
The law office of Johnson Sloan Pruitt occupied three floors in an elegant steel and glass temple on G Street. The décor and furnishings were modern to the point of minimalist, letting the astonishing view from the floor to ceiling windows speak for itself. A postcard-perfect view of the White House and the Executive Office Building reminded clients – as if they needed reminding – of the firm’s literal and metaphorical proximity to power. As old as the Constitution itself, with attorneys who had gone on to the Supreme Court, the Attorney General’s office, and various other outposts of power, Johnson Sloan Pruitt was among the most prestigious and best-connected white-shoe law firms in the District of Columbia.
The young, attractive associates who populated the storied hallways were scions of America’s ruling dynasties, endowed with rich family legacies, six-figure educations, and important connections that guaranteed an easy rise to the top of whatever field they ultimately chose. In contrast, Fallon Hughes grew up on a horse ranch in Shelby, Montana and earned her law degree from Pepperdine, which her peers thought was roughly equivalent to a second-rate community college. Unlike the other associates who had been chosen for their bluest of blue blood, Fallon’s family was not old money. Ranchers and oilmen did not impress the posturing-and-maneuvering snobs at Johnson Sloan Pruitt, or the senior partners who ignored her from their massive corner offices.
She blended in like baby powder in oil.
Fallon tried to stay out of office politics altogether. Instead, she attempted to earn the respect of her bosses by working ninety hours a week trying to defend a multi-billionaire hedge fund manager indicted on forty counts of fraud, conspiracy, and obstruction. The Department of Justice claimed Robert Chandler was operating a ponzi scheme, defrauding wealthy widows to fund his lavish lifestyle, which included a fleet of twenty Ferraris, a yacht the size of a football field and a French chateau that featured a bubbling fountain of Cristal champagne that flowed twenty-four hours a day, whether he was at the chateau or not. Chandler had wisely shut the spigot on the champers and sought the services of Johnson Sloan Pruitt, desperately attempting to save himself from a life sentence in federal prison.
It was a juicy assignment. High profile, lots of opportunity to impress the partners. But the hours she was putting in were taking their toll. She was living on coffee and grit right now; it was not a good time to produce her best work.
As she deleted the last two sentences of the motion she was working on, the phone on her desk warbled discreetly. UNKNOWN flashed on the phone screen.
“Fallon Hughes,” she answered distractedly.
“Hello?” A husky, unfamiliar male voice rasped.
“This is Fallon Hughes. Can I help you?”
Dead air hissed for several seconds, then the trembling voice said, “Good, hi. I need to talk to you… to a lawyer.” His breath was labored, as if he were in the middle of some physically demanding activity. “Is this confidential? Like attorney/client confidentiality…?”
“Um… No,” Fallon replied, confused. “Attorney/client privilege only extends to actual clients. Is there something I can help you with?”
“I need to talk to you but I can’t do it on the phone. This phone is tapped and I don’t have much time. They’re trying to kill me, they’re right behind me…. This is a matter of national security.” He sounded like he was forcing himself to speak clearly and calmly, tightening a tourniquet on his emotions so that he might be taken seriously. If he had an ounce of sanity he had to realize that he sounded like a lunatic. That was a big If.
“I’m serious, ma’am,” he added. “They’re gonna kill me.”
Fallon frowned. Even taking the possibility that she was talking to a mentally unstable person into consideration, the urgency in his voice sounded genuine. She picked up a pen. “What is your name?”
“What’s the national security issue?”
“I can’t talk about it on the phone. This is… Can we meet somewhere?”
“Tell me what’s happening, then if I think it’s necessary to meet, we can set up an appointment.”
“Please, they’re trying to kill me. If they know I’m talking to you….shit! I don’t know… I’m really scared, man, these guys are psycho…Please help me!”
“Who is psycho?” Fallon asked, noting the mounting hysteria in his voice.
“The guys chasing me! I have to talk to you.”
“Where are you calling from?”
“I’m on the Beltway right now, heading to D.C. They are right behind me, they’re going to kill me! Richard Mullinax is giving away the map to the keys! You have to help me!”
Fallon did not know what a map to the keys was, but the name Richard Mullinax stopped her short. As Deputy Director of the National Security Agency, his was not a name that most people outside the government knew casually. Fallon’s attention sharpened.
“What does Richard have to do with this? How do you know Richard Mullinax?”
“Please, I can’t…in person… I will tell you everything.”
“Do you want to come to my office?” she asked.
“No. Somewhere public.”
“There’s a coffee shop, the Daily Grind, at the corner of 15th and K Street.”
“Yes, K. As in Kilo.”
“I’ll be there in about fifteen minutes.” The call abruptly disconnected.
Placing her pen on the yellow sticky-note she’d scribbled on, Fallon mentally replayed the conversation. National security? More likely, he was off his medication, she thought, trying to be the clear-eyed cynic. The District of Columbia was ground zero for paranoiacs, after all. St. Elizabeth’s hospital was full of people who thought they held national security secrets or the president was beaming secret messages into their dental fillings.
Still, Fallon had grown up around actors and had a good ability to intuit when someone was being artificial. The terror in Antoine Campbell’s voice sounded absolutely genuine.
Fallon glanced back at the motion on her computer monitor. Even if Antoine Campbell turned out to be a loon, now was a good time for a coffee break. She pulled on her long cashmere overcoat and scooped up her handbag.
Over her protests, Johnson Sloan Pruitt had accommodated her Secret Service detail with an adjoining office, a concession that irritated her coworkers – and frankly, her too. She always felt like she had to apologize for their presence. But it was better than the alternative: letting the agents loiter in her office. If agents were glued to her, there would be no such thing as attorney/client privilege when she was discussing cases, so this was a good compromise. It kept the agents near but not on top of her. The firm had also supplied a computer, which the agent was using when Fallon rapped her knuckles lightly on his door. The agent looked up from the monitor.
Then Fallon abruptly stopped breathing, struck dumb.
Her eyes locked on the man who was sitting where she expected someone else – anyone else – to be sitting. She looked at him with the same uncomprehending stare of a sleepwalking child, transported into another dimension by shock.
That was …. Tom Bishop.
She saw him in pieces, a Pointillist illusion: his eyes, his smile, his cheekbones, his hair. The pieces came together in one astonishing flash, creating an image of a man she had known once and never thought she would see again. The man who had haunted her dreams for four years. She was staring at a ghost.
And he was staring back at her. If he was experiencing any degree of shock, he didn’t show it. His expression remained calm and unsurprised, though a private and tentative smile had begun to tease the corners of his mouth.
“Ma’am,” he said, and rose to his feet.