Tuesday December 8, Morning
PANTING, CHAD DASHED up the stairs to the third floor, taking two at a time, late for his morning scrum with Amanda. She’d make him pay for every minute he kept her waiting. A force to be reckoned with.
He threw his coat and briefcase on his desk, grabbed a tablet and pen and sprinted into Jasmine’s area. “Catch your breath, she’s not in.”
“Delayed. She called; she’s on her way. Grab a coffee quick and get settled in her office so she thinks you showed up on time.”
“You’re a saint, Jaz.”
“Never, ever, call me Jaz, Cooper.”
“Hey, that’s a great sweater.”
Jasmine pursed her lips and an ebony eyebrow shot up. “Really? You think that’ll work on me?”
“No, honestly—it’s beautiful.” The rich blues reminded him of the Caribbean waters in one of those technicolor tropical paradise calendars.
He scurried back to his desk for a couple of files, filled up a coffee cup on the way to Amanda’s office and then sat down at her conference table. He jotted down notes on what he’d accomplished on the list of cases since Monday’s meeting and then checked his iPhone for an update on Wyoming. No luck.
Still no Amanda. For the first time, he was alone in her office. He’d never noticed much about her realm, always focused on the work. The contemporary lines of the sofa and conference table clashed with the heavy, traditional wooden desk. A bit unsettling, not unlike his boss.
A row of picture frames on her credenza caught his eye. In one at the Garfield Park Conservatory, Amanda stood arm-in-arm with an older version of herself. It had to be Amanda’s mother—he’d heard about Elizabeth Sloane. Longtime staff members talked about Mrs. Sloane’s geniality and her addictive double fudge brownies. With such a warm and pleasant parent, how did Amanda grow up with a crust hard enough to pulverize diamonds?
In another picture in front of Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park, Amanda hugged a teenage boy. The pair looked close in the snapshot, like family. Did she have a child? Chad had heard she never married, but no one mentioned offspring. He couldn’t imagine her mothering a gerbil, much less a son. But in the photo, Amanda appeared so blissful Chad barely recognized her—as if she had peeled off the “business bitch” persona and let her humanity shine through.
Amanda posed with a woman and two men in a couple of pictures. One snapshot looked pretty old. No way. He pulled off his glasses and brought the frame up to his face for a closer look. The gaudy decor—was that The Frog and Fox? They dragged Amanda into the cheesiest burger joint in the city? He scrutinized the faces of these three people who must matter to his boss.
A scenic lake filled the background in the other photo, probably somewhere in Wisconsin’s Northwoods. The same foursome looked at ease with each other. The Amanda laughing in the picture couldn’t be the same woman who kicked his butt on a daily basis. Maybe someday he’d meet the Dr. Jekyll behind the Ms. Hyde.
Chad didn’t expect to see pictures of her father and his second family, but how about the “boy toy?” No picture of her hotshot-attorney-senator-wannabe? How odd.
As he turned toward the conference table, a bag sitting next to the cabinet caught his eye. Yarn, the color of Jasmine’s sweater, peeked over the edge. It couldn’t be, could it? Behind closed doors the fierce fashionista knits? He chuckled at the image of Amanda in a robe and flannel pajamas, curled up on the couch, knitting—heck, maybe she even owned one of those fleece blankets with sleeves.
A wrinkled newspaper with a red circle grabbed his attention. Amanda? Engaged? The guy had to possess balls of steel. Maybe Matthew Baird would survive in D.C.
“Sorry I’m late.” She swooshed in, throwing her camelhair coat across the sofa and setting her briefcase and purse on her desk. “Let’s start with the Entwistle case.”
Jasmine stood in the doorway. “Sorry to barge in, but your dad’s on the line again and he says it’s a matter of life and death.”
“Tell him he’s right; one more phone call and I’ll kill him.” She dropped into a chair at the end of the conference table and ran her hand through her long, blonde hair.
Jasmine grimaced like she sucked on a sourball. “In other words, I should tell him you’re off site at a location where your cell phone doesn’t work?”
Amanda leaned back in her seat, raised her chestnut brown eyes to the ceiling and sighed. “Why, oh why couldn’t I be an orphan?”
Chad rose to give her privacy. She waved him down. “Don’t go anywhere. I’m already behind for the day. This’ll only take a second.”
He zeroed in on his notepad and started scribbling, feigning fascination with his caseload.
The phone on the conference table rang and Amanda snatched it up. “Now what?”
“…Sister…missing…no sign of the passport…” Chad picked up bits and pieces of her dad’s voice in spite of himself. He couldn’t stop glancing at Amanda, searching for softness in her eyes or grace in her smile. He’d spotted it in the pictures and witnessed it with clients, but, at the moment, she hid it well.
“Thanks for the update, but you’re on your own. I’m overextended already with the number of cases on my docket. Good luck—and stop calling me.” She hung up. “My life’s turning into a bad soap opera.”
Amanda rested her hands in her lap and rocked in the conference chair, staring at Chad. He met her gaze and waited.
“My sis—Rebecca and her husband disappeared in Mexico two days ago.”
Amanda crossed her arms. “My forty-year-old half-sister, a woman I barely know. Now I’m supposed to jump on a plane and help find her.”
“Wow. When are you going? How can I assist?”
“I’m not getting in the middle of that mess. My father can clean up after himself.”
“What’s he found so far?”
“Nothing. He’s landlocked in Florida until he hunts down his passport.”
“Who’s searching for them?”
Amanda shrugged. “The police, I guess.”
Chad laid his tablet and pen on the maple table. “My younger brother died in a car accident when he was sixteen. His first night with a driver’s license. A semi crossed the meridian and collided head-on into Zane’s Vega, killing him instantly. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, I still hear his voice. I’d give anything to have my brother back. Maybe you should give your sister a fighting chance.”
“Don’t try to Dr. Phil me—I’ve watched this woman worm her way into my dad’s life, taking over my place in the family. Good riddance, I don’t want her back.”
Chad repositioned himself. “I know it’s not my place, but I’ve been here for a few months and I’ve heard a handful of comments from you about your dad. I don’t think your sister wormed her way in. I think you walked away and left the opening.”
“Don’t make me slap you.”
“Look, I know you’re my boss and all of that, but I’ve been through a few tough times and, when it all falls apart, the ones who matter are your family. Besides, I see it every time you interact with a client: behind all of that bluster beats the heart of a woman who cares.”
“Back off, Oprah.”
FREEDOM. CHAD EMERGED from Amanda’s office, stretching his shoulders. The morning meeting went long, but for once they didn’t have a deposition over the lunch hour. He relished the idea of a peaceful interlude before a full slate of client meetings. Before another afternoon with “Amanda the Hun.”
Her phone exchange with her father—what a volatile relationship. Chad cringed, imagining them in the same room together. In the courtroom and over depositions, Chad witnessed the ease in which Amanda deftly removed a man’s testicles and handed them to him on a platter. Her father must be a eunuch ten times over.
“Cooper, I left you a load of files for the Dorschel case,” Jasmine said. “It’s good you’re reasonably tall—it’ll help you reach the top of the pile.”
“Thanks for looking out for me, Jaz—I mean Jasmine.”
He headed down the senior partners’ hall. It oozed wealth: wood paneling, plush carpeting, intricate chandeliers overhead. Chad then turned off into a hall for the stiffs who hadn’t made partner. Plaster walls, tiled floors and fluorescent lighting. He felt more at home in this neck of the woods.
Chad dropped the morning’s paperwork on his dull, gray desk, next to the stack of files courtesy of Jaz. Other than a couple of photos of the kids, his area looked as sparse as that of a temporary employee. It might have been less evident if his younger officemate hadn’t decked out his area with leather accessories, high-tech lighting and some impressive art. Liam Evans’ eagerness to claw his way to the top made Chad feel a bit grimy after spending time with him. Ironically, the guy reminded Chad of a younger version of some of the ex-husbands he encountered in court.
His phone vibrated with a call from Vince Morgan. “What’s the situation? Are they in Wyoming?”
“Yep, two hours away from the last spot.”
“Any idea why so close?”
“I think they nabbed a place in the backwoods somewhere. It’s going to take some work to hunt down their location, but I’ve seen them. They’re in the area. I got a good feeling about this time.”
“Keep me posted.”
Want to read more? Chapters 4-6 are located on EatSleepWrite’s Web site.