Guiltless Chapter 13: The Counselor

‘How did you find me?’

Detective Devino kept his eyes on the road as he maneuvered his 99 Malibu through traffic.

‘Your hair’ he said.

‘What?’

‘Chow gave me your description and asked me to try the library. Obviously I couldn’t see your face but I spotted your hair while you were hugging Goliath.’

I ignored his verbal jab at Henry and pondered the second question which had been bothering me during our five minute ride.

‘How could I be Ryan’s only visitor? Why me?’

‘He called his dad, who kinda disowned him on the spot. That crushed him. He barely spoke or ate after that’ replied Devino.

I felt sick at his explanation, fortunately my breakfast of cheese on toast was too far gone to end up on the Detective’s car floor.

‘Disowned?’ I repeated.

‘Yes. Things really haven’t been going his way apparently. Lost his temp job a couple of months ago. With student loans he couldn’t possibly afford a decent attorney. He’ll be getting a public defender- he requested one at the courthouse this morning. They should be on their way to the station now.’

Another twinge of guilt nibbled at me. Ryan really couldn’t catch a break after our split.

‘So technically you didn’t have to do this’ I observed.

Devino smiled as he eased the car into a cramped parking spot.

‘You’re a sharp girl’ he said.

‘You’re being rather kind. You don’t think he did it’ I said.

Devino bit his lip, as though holding back his words.

‘I can’t comment on that. Come with me.’

He led me into the station and walked me through security clearance and front desk. We walked past the interview rooms, fluorescent lighting bouncing off the cold white walls and rows of  steel chrome doors.

I wondered how I’d react when I saw Ryan. Other than a racing pulse, dry throat and sweaty palms I was okay.

Finally Devino stopped at a door to our left and fished out a set of keys from his pockets.

‘This is it’ he said. ‘Don’t get too close to him. He’s in a bad place right now and there’s no telling what he might do.’

‘I’ll be fine’ I said.

Devino nodded.

‘Water’s on the table, get him to drink some’ he said. He opened the door and waved me in.

My heart drum-rolled in anticipation as I stepped into the room. It was small, barely thirty square feet, and sparsely furnished with a steel table and two chairs. Ryan sat, his head resting on the steel table. He seemed oblivious to my presence as I inched forward.

This was it. No turning back now.

I watched him for a moment, then sat down and tapped the table softly.

He stirred and raised his head. I felt strangely lightheaded as his eyes met mine. Bleary eyes, haunted and sleep deprived. I stared, spellbound, as they widened in recognition. I couldn’t look away if I wanted to.

I waited till Devino closed the door before speaking.

‘Ryan’ I said.

‘Jay’ he replied. His voice was faint and hoarse.

‘How are you?’ I asked, my eyes glued to the gleaming cuffs on his wrists.

He followed my gaze and raised his hands. ‘Terrible. But loads better, with you here.’

‘Prison hasn’t stolen your charm, I see.’

He didn’t laugh, he stared. Eyes darting all over my face. We sat for several minutes in quiet, mutual contemplation.

‘You know, I never expected to see you again like this’ he said.

I never expected to see you again, I thought. Again, a twinge of guilt, and hot cheeks. I had to steer the conversation away from dangerous waters.

‘You look a mess’ I said. ‘You sound awful too. I imagine it must be painful for you to talk. You should drink some water.’

I relaxed as Ryan finally took his eyes off mine. He stared at the bottle skeptically.

‘What if it’s spiked with truth serum, or something?’ he said.

‘I’ll drink some too’ I said, resisting the urge to roll my eyes.

I reached for the bottle and twisted the cap, its seal broke with a satisfying crack. I took a swig then slid him the bottle. He gulped down the water gratefully.

I stared at him, wondering if the allegations were true.

‘I didn’t do it, Jay.’

‘Don’t they always say that?’

‘That’s not funny.’

‘You know what isn’t funny? Shooting at a Detective in a station full of people. What happened to turning yourself in?’

More silence. After our breakup it certainly didn’t take long before Ryan found a prettier girl, I guess some people move on faster than others.

‘I heard you had a fight, at the club’ I said finally. Not the best icebreaker but I had to keep the conversation moving. I watched his movements with a frightening level of focus, searching for a flicker of guilt, avoidant behavior, anything. I was aware of each breath of his, mine too.

Ryan leaned back in his chair and looked away. ‘I don’t remember it’ he said.

‘You don’t?’

He shook his head, looking at the ceiling; the walls; a crease on his shirt. Anywhere but at me. He was uncomfortable talking about it, but his voice remained steady and laced with conviction. He seemed to be telling the truth.

‘I swear I didn’t do it, Jean.’

I nodded, then asked the one question I’d been burning to ask.

‘You called me, why?’

‘You’re smart, and you’ve got a way of feeling things out. I always got that impression when we were together. If anyone could make sense of this, you could.’

My eyes stung as his words hit close to home. He didn’t know about my stint at the Agency, nor my skill set. He certainly didn’t know about my reasons for leaving him. My mistakes, and my desire for a fresh start. How could I become such a person again? But then, how could I not?

If I hadn’t pushed him away he wouldn’t be in this mess, would he?

I reached out, throwing caution to the wind and ignoring Devino’s advice. I took his hand and squeezed it.

‘This is all my fault’ I whispered, more to myself than him.

‘What?’ said Ryan.

I didn’t answer. I heard the faint clack of stiletto heels in the corridor beyond the closed door. They got louder, closer, then stopped. Right outside, it seemed.

The door opened and I glanced over my shoulder. A stunning woman walked into the room. Late twenties; her blonde hair straight and sharp. She peered down at me through red horn-rimmed glasses, radiating an air of severity and competence. I knew just by looking at her; this woman was smart as hell.

‘You’re the public defender’ I blurted.

Sharp green eyes stared at me from behind her prescriptive lenses.

‘And you are?’ she inquired.

‘Jean. Jean, Wellings. A…friend, of Ryan’s.’

Her shoulders, accentuated by her well cut suit jacket, relaxed at my words.

‘Devino didn’t say anything about a visitor. For a moment I thought Mr. Chow had gotten another lawyer. And a badly dressed one at that’ she said. ‘You’re sitting in my chair, Miss Wellings.’

I stood up and stepped away. I caught her scent as she settled in the chair and laid a notepad on the table . She smelled of cedar, lemon and mandarin.

‘Ryan Chow, I’m your lawyer. Claire Anderson’ she said. ‘I’ve had a look at your file. It doesn’t tell me anything I didn’t already learn from the news. Now, I’ll need to hear your  side of the story.’

This is the woman who’s gonna save Ryan.

I still hadn’t gotten round the revelation Ryan’s parents weren’t by his side, getting him a lawyer. This public defender seemed quite good, There was more to her, I was sure of it.

She looked up at me. ‘But first I’ll have to ask Miss Wellings to leave.’

I blinked.

‘What? Why?’

‘You’re not my client. Hence you aren’t covered by attorney to client privilege. You could be called to testify in court, in theory. I’d like to avoid that.’

‘I haven’t done anything!’ insisted Ryan.

‘I believe him’ I said, still looking at Ryan; ‘I’d prefer to stay?’

Claire sighed in exasperation.

‘Don’t be naïve, it doesn’t work that way’ she said. ‘It isn’t about his guilt, it’s about the jury’s perception of his guilt. Each juror has their own interpretation of  “beyond reasonable doubt”. Don’t muddle my case.’

I saw the logic behind her words, but found I didn’t care.

‘Then we’ll just have to change their perception’ I said. Something lit up within me. A familiar instinct, previously suppressed and kept at arm’s length. It was a blend of feelings; an inquisitive nature; a desire to protect, and a resolve which matched Ryan’s. There was another feeling, too painful to express in words or thought, but something I felt when I’d seen the earnestness in Ryan’s eyes.’

Claire looked unimpressed, and a little jaded. She glanced at Ryan.

‘Mr. Chow, do you understand Miss Wellings could be asked to take the stand and testify, potentially bringing to light incriminating evidence against you and jeopardising your case?’ she asked.

‘I do’ he replied.

Claire let out a breath. ‘Okay, it’s your call’ she said, readjusting her seat.

‘So, you’ve been charged with first degree murder and assaulting a police officer. Let’s focus on the murder. I see Jazmin invited you to the VIP room at the Void on Friday night. Why was that?’

‘To break up with me, apparently.’

‘She invited you to the VIP room to break up with you?’

‘Yeah, I suppose there are worse ways to get dumped.’

‘Did you guys have a fight before?’

‘Not recently. But she’d seemed a bit distracted the past couple of weeks.’

‘How long had you been seeing Jazmin?’ asked Claire, still looking at her pad.

‘Two months, give or take.’

‘How did you meet?’

‘We were interns at Howard & Chace; private equity firm here in Foggy Bottom’ said Ryan.

‘She still worked there at the time of her death’ noted Claire. ‘How about you?’

‘I left in the summer. Apparently I didn’t fit the company culture.’

I stayed silent, an observer on the sidelines. Claire’s voice had mellowed as she lead the conversation. I understood what she was doing. Her questions were safe, but only because I was here.  I would have to leave Claire to do her job, but my feet remained rooted to the spot.

How selfish of me.

‘Do you own a gun?’ asked Claire.

Ryan shook his head.

‘Turner frisked me, you can ask him. I didn’t have a gun on me. I’m not into stuff like that.’

‘The murder didn’t take place inside the club, Ryan. What did Jazmin say to you, at The Void?’

Ryan’s hands balled into fists at the question., but not from anger. His eyes had a sudden wet glimmer to them. I looked away, down, at my feet.

‘“I can’t do this anymore. I’ll love you from a distance” That’s what she said.’

My fingertips went cold and tingly at his words, but I kept my gaze focused on my sneakers. He still had feelings for her after all.

‘How did you feel?’ probed Claire.

There was palpable tension in the air as we waited for his reply. A chill coursed through my veins, and then was gone. Inexplicably.

‘Hurt’

Ryan took a deep breath.

‘I- I really don’t remember  anything else’ he added.

‘Not even the fight?’ asked Claire.

Her voice was laced with skepticism but I was only half listening at this point. Something else had invaded my consciousness to snap me out of my pity party.

Cologne. Lots of it. An overwhelmingly strong blend of anise and vetiver.

I listened for movement beyond the door, but heard nothing. And yet the smell remained.

There was someone outside. I was sure of it.

I turned, reached for the door handle and yanked it open.

A man stood in the corridor outside. Pushing forty, craggy faced, red haired and balding.

His blue eyes widened in surprise for the briefest of moments as I glared at him. But he recovered quickly, sizing me up and assessing the situation in an instant before speaking.

‘And who’ he asked ‘might you be?’

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