Ten years and eleven months later…
“Last one in has to ride home naked!” Tiffany hurls her silky red dress over her head and runs through the trees headed for the lake.
The wheels on my black Audi R8 have barely stopped moving. I haven’t even killed the engine. An empty wine bottle clatters against an empty tequila bottle rolling around on the floorboards, and I briefly think I should toss them in a nearby trashcan.
Propping my elbow on the steering wheel, I scrub the back of my neck with my fingers. My hair is so short now, it’s the best I can do.
I haven’t had a drink in almost an hour. I’d finished a bottle of scotch in my office, standing in front of my floor to ceiling glass windows looking down on the city, disbelief vibrating in my chest.
All of it.
File after file, telling me my win, my multi-million dollar defense… all of it is based on lies.
“Fuck!” I shout, slamming my palm against the wheel.
The buzzing in my head is gone along with the numbness in my chest, and all the shock and pain and pure, unadulterated outrage rush back like a wall of water before a hurricane.
A hurricane that will send everything I’ve worked for these last ten years crashing down around me.
Pulling the handle on the door, I push it open and step out into the darkness. The ground is covered in moldering leaves, and it smells like faintly mildewed canvas, damp lichens, and dirt.
“Jackson! What are you doing?” Tiffany shrieks between splashes out in the black water of the lake.
Exactly. “What the fuck am I doing here?”
My chest is tight, and each inhale is like claws ripping my lungs from the inside.
It took an hour to drive from my Eighth Avenue high-rise corner office building to this lonely, two-lane highway leading to the lake. Somewhere along the way, I realized I didn’t know what the fuck Tiffany was talking about or why she was even in my car. She followed me down the elevator, into the parking garage, laughing and pouring another shot of tequila on the way.
I’ve got the fucking receptionist with me.
I need to get her back to the city.
Digging in the pocket of my blazer, I pull out my phone and stare at the face. My lock screen is a photo of crystal blue waters, and for a moment, my thoughts blur. I left my home near the ocean with big dreams.
Half of them came true.
I finished undergrad at the top of my class, went to law school on a free-ride, headed straight into a Top Five firm when I graduated, and now I’m one of the highest-paid litigators handling mostly corporate corruption with the occasional car crash thrown in for variety.
My face is in every “Top Thirty under Thirty” feature in the city and online. My phone never stops ringing.
My fucking dad is so fucking proud.
I’ve done it all.
And I’m all alone.
“I’ve got to get out of here.” Dropping my chin, I rub my eyes.
The shush of feet running through the leaves is punctuated with high giggles breaking the silence. My eyes have adjusted to the semi-darkness, and I see Tiffany coming back, completely naked, blonde hair glistening with water, tits bouncing with every step.
“What are you doing back here?” Her voice is thick, and she curves into my chest, holding my neck and trying to kiss me.
She’s slippery and loose. Her kiss is easy to dodge, but not her wet body pressing against my dress shirt.
“I was just thinking the same thing,” My jaw tightens, and I lift my chin away from her face.
“God, you’re so hard,” she giggles. My brow furrows. I’m not the least bit aroused. “Like a wall of granite.”
“Look, Tiff, I’m calling you a Lyft.” I’m back to tapping my phone. “What’s your address?”
“What?” she whisper-shrieks. “Wait a second—”
“Never mind.” I bring up the firm directory, and she’s gone from my chest. It takes me a second to realize she’s dropped to her knees in front of me and her hands are on my belt.
“Stop…” I tap the buttons on the app faster, using my free hand to sweep her away from my fly.
“Stop, stop…” She laughs, her voice high and teasing. “What guy doesn’t want a blow job?”
“Stop!” I’ve managed to book her a ride, but she’s got my pants open and is handling my dick.
“Fuck me,” she moans. I look down, and she looks up. The whites of her eyes are visible, and her mouth is a delighted O. “The rumors are true!”
“Get up.” Shoving my phone in my pocket, I grasp under her arms, pulling her to her feet.
“Oh, Jackson!” She pokes her lips out, face pouty. “Let me ride your big… huge… cock!”
“Where’s your dress?”
Moving fast, I refasten my pants with one hand. I’m still holding her by the upper arm, keeping her with me as I circle, looking for where I saw red silk fly over her head.
“There it is.” I take her to where the dress is laying discarded on the path.
“You’re always alone,” she sulks, stomping beside me as I lead her to the car and hold her against it. I brace her with one leg so she can’t wiggle away, while I fumble with the fabric, searching for the neck hole.
“Are you gay?” Her voice sounds like every drunk college girl I ever turned away.
“No,” I answer flatly.
“When’s the last time you got laid?”
Her blonde hair catches in the fabric, and I untwist it, pulling the material down her sticky body as best as I can.
“I get laid,” I growl, considering it has been a while.
I’ve been so focused on my work, this case… Now the last thing on my mind is fucking some drunk girl. First, her consent is dubious. Second, she’s our receptionist and could yell sexual harassment or worse.
“I’m not dipping my pen in the company ink.”
“I’ll quit my job!” she cries, still holding onto me. “Just kiss me once.”
“Where is that fucking Lyft?” I reach into my jacket again. “He’s here!”
Sure enough, high beams cut through the woods, curving around the black trees. I start up the lane in the direction of the road.
“My shoes!” she shrieks, trying to run back the way she came. “They’re Louboutins!”
My grip tightens on her arm, until I’m practically carrying her to the waiting car. “I’ll ship them to you at the office.”
“You’re not coming back to work? What are you going to do?”
Hesitating a moment, I realize it’s a good question. I know what I want to do—what’s nudging at my brain. What I’ve wanted to do for so long…
I’m tired and my thoughts are twisted and cloudy, but I know what I want more than anything. “I have a meeting to attend.”
The Lyft pulls away, taking Tiffany back home. I head straight to my car, pulling out my phone as I walk. My disbelief is gone, my head is clear, and I have to face this.
“Jackson.” Brice Wagner’s low voice is laced with condescension as he ushers me into his enormous wood-paneled study. “What brings you all the way out here at this hour?”
It took me two hours to drive to my elder partner’s ocean front estate north of the city. From the smell of his breath, he’s been working on his own scotch, luxuriating in the close of our case, no doubt.
Thinking how much we could have lost…
How much I saved.
How much he covered up.
“I was doing some housekeeping before I shut down tonight.”
“You young bucks.” He slaps my back, barking out a laugh as he rounds his desk. “After today’s win, at your age, I’d be out on the town, a bottle in each hand and a blonde on each arm.”
“No doubt,” I say, placing a hand on the stiff leather wingback across the massive mahogany desk from my partner. “I had something like that in mind.”
It’s true. I’d been finishing up, pulling all the files together ahead of what I hoped would be a long weekend.
Until I opened the office intranet we shared on the case.
Until I discovered the hidden folder labeled “Disposed documents.”
The folder password protected with a dead child’s name.
“Well?” He pours a crystal tumbler of amber liquid and holds it out to me. “What stopped you?”
I take the crystal and tilt it side to side, studying the trail of the liquid as it moves. The room smells of antique furniture and oiled leather. It’s moneyed and ancient, and knowing what I know now, it’s all the rotten stench of corruption.
A strange calm filters through my chest as I say my next words. “I had in mind a long weekend, possibly a week off. We put in a lot of hours on this one.”
“You’re right.” He rocks back in his desk chair and props a foot on the corner. I watch as he pulls out a fat cigar and clips the end. He doesn’t offer me one, not that I’d take it.
Eventually, the pungent scent of cigar smoke drifts across to me as I continue. “But the settlement agreement and release need to go out. I had to be sure Lori could find what she needed to get it done…”
I’ve reached the end of my patience, so I say what I came here to say. I speak the heart of the prosecution’s case. “Johnny Mauck had been driving for thirty hours straight when he lost control of his rig and skidded across that median.”
Brice lowers his foot and turns slowly to face me. Anger fires red in his watery eyes, but it’s nothing compared to the fucking inferno in my chest.
“Stop right there.” His voice is a calm warning.
“Big Traxx paid for the amphetamines that kept him driving. You were at the scene. You knew it all along.” Every breath is hot. “I found the documents, the logs, the prescription… everything that should have been provided during litigation.”
“You found nothing.” He speaks the words slowly, ominously, dark eyes like stone.
My eyes are flint. “I found it all.”
We’re silent, sizing each other up. The brass clock on the mantle above the fireplace is the only noise, ticking louder than the beating of a drum. If I had any lingering doubts, any question of what I had to do on the long drive out here, his response put the final nail in that coffin.
Finally, he leans forward. His leather chair creaks under his weight. “So you’ve made your decision?”
The fist in my chest still hasn’t unclenched. Perhaps it never will. Either way, the answer is yes. “I’m not doing this anymore.”
He has the nerve to look smug. “Where will you go?”
“Back to the beginning.”
If I’ve lost everything, I might as well. I’ll walk away. All the way to the only place I’ve ever known happiness.
I’ll pick up the pieces and start over.