A Deadly Business
by Lis Wiehl
There are a million ways to die. As a prosecutor in Seattle’s King County Violent Crimes unit, Mia Quinn had become familiar with far too many. But before the first week of November was over, she would learn there were even more ways than she’d thought. “Good afternoon, Your Honor,” Mia said as Judge Rivas took the bench. Her phone hummed in her pocket, signaling a call or text, but she ignored it. Judge Rivas was a stickler for courtroom decorum. He inclined his buzz-cut head toward Mia, who stood at attention behind the prosecution table. “Good afternoon, Counselor.” He turned toward the empty defense table. “Is Mr. Dockins here?” The courtroom clerk, Trevor Gosden, answered, “Yes. He’s in with Mr. Young.” Despite the formal titles used in court, Mia thought that Trevor’s use of Mister most certainly did not belong with the name Young. Rolf Dockins was the defense attorney, a gentleman from the top of his silver hair down to his highly polished wing tips. And Bernard Young was the glowering twenty-two-year-old defendant he represented, aka the monster who had raped and strangled two runaway girls. Today Young was to be sentenced. There were only a few observers in the courtroom, most of them relatives of the girls. Mia had asked for life in prison, and felt confident Young would get it. Her case was airtight. Dockins had done what he could, but she was sure down to her bones that it wouldn’t be enough. Young would never be able to hurt anyone again. A side door opened and Rolf walked in, followed by Young in an orange jumpsuit. A sheriff’s deputy brought up the rear. Mia watched them walk toward the defense table, not thinking about anything except how her phone was buzzing again. Maybe she could manage to sneak a peek as she sat down. Then Young’s upper lip curled back and his eyes narrowed. His face was full of rage. And faster than Mia could react, faster than she could even process what was happening, he broke into a run. Straight for her. Then he lunged. Young had already fisted her hair in one hand before Mia drew breath to scream. The other hand pressed against her throat. They tumbled backward. She was still screaming when his weight punched all the air out of her.
“Get off her!” Trevor yelled, swearing. “Get off her!” And then he threw himself on top of Young, wrestling with him. Mia’s thoughts ping-ponged from the pain in her scalp to the pressure on her throat to the sheer crushing weight of the two men. She squirmed and kicked and pushed, trying to get away, but she was pinned in place. “Just try it on me, man,” Trevor panted. “I’ll beat the crap out of you.” Now the deputy was grabbing at Young, yelling, adding his orders to the tumult. Even Rolf, who was seventy if he was a day, knelt next to them and began to yank and grab, trying to subdue his client. Mia found a brief moment to hope that the deputy didn’t draw his gun. All of them were so close together. “Watch out!” yelled Catherine, the court reporter. “He’s got a razor blade.” A razor blade? More frantically, Mia arched her back, twisting and kicking. She didn’t care if she kicked someone else or if Young tore all the hair out of her head. She had to get loose before he slashed her throat For a moment the weight left her neck, but even before she could feel a surge of relief it was back. And then Mia felt a small sharp edge press against her neck. .
Everything was moving in slow motion. Mia had all the time in the world to think, even if she had no time to save herself. Time to imagine how the delicate white skin of her throat would part in a red line that would widen into a bloody smile. Time to think about her children. Brooke was only four, Gabe fourteen. Both of them needed their mother. Needed Mia more than ever, since the car accident seven months earlier that had taken Scott from them. “I got his wrist,” Trevor yelled as an elbow pressed into Mia’s rib cage. “Cuff him from the other side!” And suddenly the weight came off Mia as the group of men wrestled a swearing Young back, yanking him to his feet. She sucked in air. With a trembling hand she risked touching her throat, afraid of what she might find. But no hot blood pulsed from her neck. Her shaking fingers found just smooth skin. Two more deputies ran into the courtroom with their guns drawn. Everyone was talking at once. Mia pushed herself to a sitting position and turned to Catherine, who had crept closer. “Did he cut me?” “No,” Catherine said. Her eyes were wide and she had her hands to her own throat. “No, thank God. Should I call an ambulance?”
“I’m sorry!” Young called out, though he didn’t look it. Trevor pushed his shoulder. “It’s a little late for that.” Rolf helped Mia to her feet and guided her to a chair. “I’m so sorry,” he said. “Just before we came in, he asked me if I thought you had any remorse. I said you were just doing your job. I’m sorry if that had anything to do with it.” “It’s the truth,” she said, massaging her neck. “And thanks for helping get him off me.” He smoothed down the front of his now rumpled suit. “As soon as Bernard ran past me and I heard you scream, I decided I no longer cared about attorney-client privilege.” Mia was surprised to find that she could still smile. One of the deputies who had responded knelt in front of her. He had a shaved head and golden brown eyes. “I have first-aid training.” As he spoke, he pulled on bright purple vinyl gloves. “Where are you injured?” “I thought he cut me, but I guess he didn’t.” Lifting her chin, Mia touched the spot where she had felt something sharp. “Like right here.” He bent closer. “From the shape of it, I’d say it’s a fingernail mark. But it didn’t break the skin. Did you get hurt anyplace else?” “Some bruises, but that’s all.” Now that it was all over, Mia was starting to shake in earnest. “Everyone piled on him so fast, I don’t think he had a chance to hurt me.” “He had a razor blade,” Trevor said grimly, “but I knocked it out of his hand.” Rolf said, “Thank God for that. He’d have cut your throat for sure, Mia.” “Okay, I’m going to touch your neck.” The deputy gently cradled the back of Mia’s head in one hand while he stroked and pressed her throat with the other. “I think you’re right. Just bruises. Nothing broken. Your hyoid bone feels intact. You might want to go to the hospital to get checked out. It’s up to you. We could call an ambulance.”
Mia knew she most definitely did not want to spend the next two hours getting poked and prodded, surrounded by the stress of a busy emergency room. All she wanted to do was go back to her office, pick up her things, and go home to her kids. “I don’t think I want to do that.” She looked up at the judge, who had come down off the bench too late to join the fray. It was strange to realize the whole thing had lasted only a few seconds. “You sure you don’t want to go to the hospital, Mia?” he asked. “I’m sure.” Everyone was looking at her, including the man who had just tried to kill her. It was one thing to be the center of attention when you were asking the court to take away a man’s life, either literally or figuratively. It was another when the tables were turned. When you were the one at risk. Judge Rivas turned to Rolf. “Obviously, sentencing will have to be delayed. And your client will probably face more charges.” “Obviously.” Rolf straightened his tie. “And his family may need to hire a new lawyer. It’s one thing to make sure my client gets a fair trial. It’s another to have to stop him from killing the prosecutor.” Mia leaned against the elevator wall. Her legs didn’t feel strong enough to hold her up. As soon as the doors opened, she would go straight to her office, grab her coat and purse, and get out of here. Right now, she couldn’t bear to talk about what had just happened. Couldn’t bear to have everyone gather around, concerned and solicitous. Mia wasn’t a victim. She had file folders of real victims on her desk. Some with photos of people who hadn’t even had time to be surprised before they were dead. And some with photos of victims who had far too much time between the realization that something bad was happening and the end of it. As Mia walked in, Frank D’Amato was just coming out of his office. He was both Mia’s boss and the King County prosecutor. At least he was as of today. The election was only eight days away.
“Mia, I’m glad I caught you. I’ve got a case I need you to take.” “Can it wait, Frank? There’s something I need to—” “I’m afraid it can’t, Mia.” He had already turned to go back to his office. By the expression on the face of their secretary, Mia knew word had traveled faster than the elevator. Judy pulled down her mouthpiece. “Frank, Mia was just—” “It’s all right, Judy.” Mia knew there would be lots of questions, lots of discussion, a thorough postmortem designed to prevent some future prosecutor from being slashed to death on a courtroom floor. Just not, if she could help it, today. She would put what had happened out of her mind, listen to Frank, and then she would leave. She would wait until she was safely at home behind her closed bedroom door before she would allow herself to break down. Until then, her memory of what had just occurred would go into a box. Mia was getting pretty good at putting things in boxes. She followed Frank in. He was already behind his desk, staring at his computer screen, his black eyebrows pulled together in a frown. Mia could remember when Frank was the kind of guy who wore Dockers, but now he favored Italian wool suits. His dark hair was artfully touched with silver at the temples. With his athletic body and cleft chin, he looked like an actor hired to play the part of a district attorney—or even president. And Frank was nothing if not ambitious. “Come look at this,” he said, motioning her around his desk. Then he clicked on a file, and a poor-quality video from a security cam began to play. It was black and white, shot from about ten feet above a wide pedestrian bridge. “Where is this?” Mia asked as a parade of people passed the camera: Moms herding toddlers. Old ladies clutching purses. Young women swinging shopping bags. Adolescent boys sauntering in baggy cargo shorts despite the weather. “The walkway connects a parking garage to a mall,” Frank said. Her phone buzzed again, and Mia realized she had forgotten to check it earlier. It was probably someone wanting to know more about what had happened in the courtroom. “What exactly am I looking for?” Ignoring her phone, she mentally put on her prosecutor hat. There would be time to talk about what had happened—and what had almost happened—later. “You’ll know it when you see it,” he said grimly. Two teenage boys entered the frame, wheeling an empty shopping cart. A third trailed behind them. One of the boys wore a white hoodie. The second wore a football jersey with the number 12 on the back, as well as a name she thought started with a B. The third boy, dressed in a dark hoodie, walked in front of the cart and began waving his arms. Mia watched the dark spot of his mouth opening and closing. If she had to guess, she would have said he was yelling. The whole thing was a guess. The picture was so blurry and pixilated, she couldn’t really say that all three were boys. Or even kids. The only real clue to their identities was the football jersey. She glanced at Frank, but he was focused on the screen. She just hoped the video wasn’t all the evidence they had.
Now the two boys lifted the front of the cart and balanced it precariously on the metal lip of the railing. The front half jutted out into space. Mia caught her breath as it wobbled back and forth. How far above the ground was the walkway? Two stories? More? And what was below? Because she was sure now, sickeningly sure, that the cart was going to plummet. But what was underneath? A child? A bicyclist? A car whose driver would crash? But the two boys kept both their hands on it, even as the nose dipped and the handle rose. At one point the boy in the dark hoodie grabbed the side of the cart next to the boy in the football jersey, their bodies blurring as they moved. Mia watched in helpless horror as the cart tipped forward and then suddenly disappeared. All three boys stood for a moment, empty-handed. Each of their smudgy faces held the round, dark O of an open mouth. And then they ran. The boy in the dark hoodie ran to the left. The boy in the white hoodie and the boy wearing the football jersey ran to the right. “So what happened when the cart hit the ground?” Mia asked. Instead of answering, Frank raised his hand to tell her to wait. The screen went black, then images from a second video appeared. This camera was mounted along the side of a narrow road. For the moment there were no cars, just a half dozen people walking in all directions. On the far side of the road were a sidewalk and two sets of glass doors—the entrance to a store. Two people—one taller than the other—were moving toward the double doors and away from the camera. If anything, this video was even more blurry than the first, the figures nearly outside the camera’s range. Although she knew what was going to happen, Mia still gasped when the cart suddenly crashed from above into the frame.