Atheists never feel completely comfortable in church, and Mary was no exception. She had returned to the city church of her childhood and thirteen years of schooling, coming back even to the same pew. She wasn't sure exactly why she had come to Our Lady of Perpetual Help. She was praying, if anything, to figure out what the hell she was doing there, much less on her knees.
She couldn't puzzle it out. She didn't believe in the perpetual help part and she knew it didn't do any good to put her hands together in prayer, thumbs crossed like a staged Communion picture. But she did these things in this place, her feet having followed routes only they remembered and her hands obeying messages of their own. Mary was a Catholic on autopilot.
The church was completely quiet, as it would be during a weekday afternoon, if there wasn't a funeral. She knew the schedule and rhythms of the church as well as her own. Only a few older people sat in the front pews, and Mary knew they would be standins for the same older people who prayed every day when she was little, who most often now were her parents and their friends, like Tony-from-down-the-block. She squinted at the outline of the silvery heads, but none of them was related to her, which was good considering the gun in her briefcase, by the padded knee rest.
Mary breathed easier. The church was as gloomy as it always was, Our Lady of Perpetual Darkness, because the overhead lights were so dim, the light from their ancient fixtures squandered in the vaulted arches of the ceiling. The darkness emphasized the votive candles that flickered
blood red on either side of the altar and the vivid blues, greens, and golds in the stained-glass windows, depicting the Stations of the Cross. Bright lights over the white marble altar set it glowing, and no stage was ever lit to more dramatic effect. The brightest spot in the church, illuminated by a white spotlight, focused on a singular, martyred image.
He hung from an immense gold crucifix at the front and center of the church; a life-size, lifelike statue of Jesus Christ. His blue eyes were lifted heavenward in fruitless appeal. Painted blood dripped from the crown of thorns on his head. Even now, an adult and a lawyer, she had a hard time looking at it. As a child, she used to obsess about what it must feel like to have a crowd of thorns forced down onto your forehead and nails driven clear through your ankles and wrists. But as she gazed at the statue, her hands folded against the smooth back of the pew in front of her, Mary realized why she had come.
Because the church was the same as it had always been, since as long as she could remember. The cool, slippery wood of the "pew. The hollow echoes of someone's cough. The splotches of dense color. The white-hot image at center stage. Everything outside the church's stone walls had changed – Mary had lost a husband, seen her parents age, changed jobs, ducked bullets, and met an interesting man – but this city church had remained the same.
And that everything stayed the same implied that it would always stay the same. Why? Because it always had been. As a lawyer, Mary recognized that the logic was circular as a Moebius strip and the exemption from change applied only under this roof, but she found herself comforted nonetheless.
As it was, is, and ever shall be, world without end, were the words of the prayer, and she found herself murmuring them quietly, and then, after them, other prayers. The words summoned themselves from a place in her brain she didn't know existed, the useless information lobe, where
she kept the lyrics to 'Good King Wenceslas' and the commercial paper provisions of the Uniform Commercial Code. And though it was sunny and busy and bustling outside the church, inside it was dark and still and familiar. The words were the same as they always had been, as were their rhythms, falling softly on her ears.
In time Mary could feel her heartbeat slow and her muscles relax. She eased back onto the pew, linked her hands in her lap, and let her thoughts run free. She said the words that came to her lips and breathed in the smells and sounds of the world without end, and that world was good and generous enough, even after all this time, to give her peace and room to think. And when she opened her eyes it was growing dark outside the church as well as in and afternoon had faded to dusk. And though it was still strange and new beyond the walls, Mary was no longer afraid.
Tears she couldn't quite explain came to her eyes and as she brushed them away she realized what they were. Exhibits A, B, and C. Mary had been looking for evidence all this time, but it was streaming down her face. A lawyer naturally wanted proof, was trained that way, and now she had finally found it. Evidence that she had been lying to herself for quite some time. And it wasn't a time for lies anymore; it was a time for truth.
So Mary spent one last moment whispering a thank-you to someone she always had believed in, and when she got up to go, with her briefcase and her gun, she knew exactly what to do.
Streetlights and lighted offices illuminated the street corner where Tribe amp; Wright rose from the concrete, and Mary was relieved to see that the crowd had gone, so her waiting had paid off. No police, no press, not even a sawhorse to mark the spot where Whittier had died. She looked up to the broken window and found the bright square of plywood. She gripped her briefcase and strode to the building in the chill night air. She felt refreshed and
determined, with Walsh's words a faint memory. She might have been an amateur detective, but she was a professional lawyer. And this was lawyer's work.
She conceptualized her task as a legal case, about to be tried. The case she had to prove was that Whittier had made Trevor kill Honor Newlin and that he had done so to get the money from the Buxton estate. She needed exhibits to make her case and there had to be a paper trail in Whittier's office, some document, accounting records, or something in the wills. Anticipation quickened her pace. The paper trail had to begin, or end, with Whittier.
She checked her watch as she hurried along. Eight o'clock. Late enough. She hoped everybody would be gone and she couldn't wait any longer. She would search all night if that's what it took. She wouldn't stop until she made her case, piece by piece. Paper by paper. As she approached the building, she reached into her handbag and popped on her sunglasses in case anybody recognized her. She had already pulled her hair back into a low ponytail to complete a sketchy disguise, which was all she needed. The rest she would accomplish with sheer attitude.
Mary drew herself up to her full five feet two inches, reminded herself she had attended an Ivy League law institution, and pushed open the glistening door to the lobby like a self-important lawyer, which was redundant. The lobby was opulent and the young security guard decorated with gold epaulets, but Mary hurried past him to the elevator with her newfound professionalism.
'Miss? Miss,' he called after her. 'You have to show building ID after hours.'
'Oh, no. Sorry.' Mary hustled halfway toward the desk, then stopped in fraudulent agitation. 'I don't work here, my sister does.'
'I knew you weren't a lawyer.'
Mary forced a hasty smile. So much for professionalism. 'Listen, you gotta help me! Call nine-one-one!' She hurried back toward the last elevator bank, which serviced the
twenty-third to the thirtieth floors. Tribe amp; Wright was on twenty-five to thirty. 'Hurry!'
'What?' The guard looked alarmed. 'Why?'
'My sister's on the twenty-third floor, in labor! She's having her baby! She just called me on the cell phone!' Mary slammed the button for the elevator and the doors slid open. 'Call nine-one-one! See you on twenty-three! Don't forget! Twenty-three!' She leapt into the elevator and hit the button to close its doors. 'Hurry!'
'Okay! Tell her don't push!' called the guard, and she heard him pick up the phone as the doors slid closed.
Mary hit the button for thirty, the top floor of Tribe's six floors. If Tribe were like the other big firms, Whittier's office would be on the top floor. Nearer my God, to thee. The elevator whisked her skyward, and she leaned against the cab wall with relief. The security guard would go to twenty-three; she would go to thirty. Sufficiently far apart to give her time to search Whittier's office and run. As relieved as she was that her plan was working, she felt a prick of conscience that she had lied, and so effectively, right after church. What turned a good Catholic into a good liar?
TRIBE amp; WRIGHT, read the gilt Roman letters on the paneled wall. Mary knew she had the right floor as soon as the elevator doors opened. The smell of fresh paint and the newness of the rug tipped her off; the aftermath of Trevor's shooting. The firm would have wanted to put that incident behind it quickly and overnight repairs would be in order.
She hurried off the elevator. The reception area was elegant, and the overhead lights in the common areas had been left on. Under glass on the reception desk was a map of the floor layout, and she crossed to it quickly. She didn't have much time before the security guard and paramedics came looking for her and her allegedly pregnant sister.
In the meantime, she'd grab any documents that looked relevant and get the hell out of there.
Mary checked the floor map, running a finger down the row of partners' offices, past Jack's name to Whittier's. It was right down the hall. She paused, listening. It was silent and looked empty; no sound on the Power Floor. Of course, nobody at this level would be working this late; those lawyers worked on the Loser Floor. She hustled down the hall straight ahead and passed one huge office and the next until she reached the one in the corner. Whittier's.
She flicked on the lights. The office was well-appointed, with a huge mahogany desk and end tables, brass lamps rubbed to a soft finish, family photographs in heavy sterling silver frames. Though she didn't have time to assess decor, there was something visually incongruous about the tasteful mahogany desk in front of the rough-hewn plywood expanse over the broken window.
It stopped Mary in her tracks, wordlessly posing an excellent question. Was Whittier the kind of a man who jumped out a window when the shit hit the fan? It didn't fit the picture. If he had known Mary, or the law, was closing in, why didn't he take off to Brazil? Get lost in Europe or the Caymans? He had the money. Mary blinked, pondering it. She recalled what the D.A. had said about Jack at his arraignment. A wealthy partner in a major law firm, the defendant possesses financial resources far beyond the average person and poses a significant risk of flight. He can use his resources to flee not only the jurisdiction but the country. The argument had the force of common sense. It was the reason she had lost the bail petition. So why didn't it apply here, as well?
Mary stared at the clash of mahogany and plywood in the still office. Had Whittier really jumped from the window? She recalled what Walsh had told her: Whittier had sent his secretary down to the cafeteria, and when she came back, he had jumped. A lawyer down the hall had heard the crash of the chair against the window. A suicide would be
a logical conclusion. But now Mary had seen the layout of the hall. Somebody could have come into Whittier's office from one side of the hall, knocked him out and pushed him out the window, then kept walking down the other side and never have been detected. Was that possible? Was Whittier pushed out the window? But who would have killed him, and why?
'Turn around, very slowly,' came a commanding voice from the door.