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Authors: Allison Leotta

Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller, #Suspense, #Contemporary, #Romance

Law of Attraction (10 page)

BOOK: Law of Attraction
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As she turned off the light, D’montrae called out, “Mommy? Are you gonna see Daddy tonight?”

“Yeah, baby, I am.”

“Tell him I drew him a picture of us with the panda.”

“That’s so nice, sweetie. You can give it to him tomorrow, okay? Good night, baby dolls. I love you.”

Laprea quickly changed out of her mommy clothes and into her girlfriend clothes: a shimmery pink T-shirt that stretched provocatively over her Miracle Bra, and a pair of tight black pants. She had to really suck in her stomach and pull at the fabric to close the pants’ top button. She would go on a diet tomorrow, she thought. A scary idea slithered through the back of her mind. She paused, then pushed it aside. She’d deal with that tomorrow, too. She put on big silver hoop earrings and high-heeled silver sandals, then spritzed some perfume into the air and walked through the sweet cloud. She was excited. D’marco was taking her to a movie. She quietly jogged down the stairs and opened the front door to head out.

“Laprea?” Rose was sitting in the La-Z-Boy, knitting and watching television. Laprea sighed. She’d hoped to pass unnoticed.

“Yes, Mama?”

“You goin’ to see that boy again?”

“You know I am.”

“Humph.”

Laprea hesitated, her hand on the door. Then she walked over to Rose and sat on the couch. “He’s bein’ so good, Mama! You wouldn’t hardly believe it. He’s sober now, and he’s great with the kids.” She leaned forward, full of enthusiasm. “We taking them to the zoo tomorrow. Will you come?”

“Humph.”

Laprea looked at her mother for another minute. Rose didn’t take her eyes off the television set. Laprea shrugged and walked to the door. “Bye, Mama,” she called. She skipped down the porch steps.

As Laprea got to the sidewalk, a movement in the house made her glance back. Rose had gotten up from the television and was standing at the window, holding back the curtain to watch her only child walk away.

Laprea caught a bus and got to D’marco’s building on Alabama Avenue a few minutes later. She wrinkled her nose as she walked down the hallway on the second floor. She’d been here a lot lately, but she still hadn’t gotten used to the smell. Residue from years of cigarette smoke and frying food permeated the walls. Half of the hallway lights were out, paint peeled from dingy gray walls, and cigarette burns dotted the faded carpet where it wasn’t worn out completely. The building was a
dump, but tonight Laprea didn’t care. D’marco was taking her out!

When she got to apartment 217, Laprea tapped on the door, practically dancing in place. D’marco opened it, looked down at her silently, and turned back inside without a word. He flopped down on the couch and stared at the TV, blaring an R. Kelly video. The living room of the one-bedroom apartment was sparsely decorated with a secondhand couch, a cheap coffee table, and a box of court documents in one corner. A huge flat-screen TV dominated the room. Laprea suspected how he’d gotten it, but she’d never flat-out asked. She didn’t want to know.

“Hi, baby.” She leaned down and gave him a kiss. Immediately, she smelled the alcohol on his breath. She pulled up sharply. “You been drinking?”

He gestured to a bottle of Wild Turkey on the table.

“Oh no, D, you was doing so good. What happened?”

He stared, expressionless, at the TV. “Heard you been seein’ someone else.”

The hairs on the back of her neck stood up. She should leave, now. She looked at the door. It was about fifteen feet away. She started backing toward it. “No, D.”

He took a slug from the bottle. “I hear you was getting real cozy with MPD while I was locked up.”

She shook her head and moved faster. “No. No, I wouldn’t do that.”

D’marco flew from his seat and grabbed her by the shirt. It was how he always started.

•  •  •

Ernie Jones glanced at his watch. “Damn,” he muttered. It was 9:38 p.m. He was probably going to be late. He’d been working the janitorial graveyard shift at the Washington Hospital Center for thirty-six years, and he took pride in being on time to work. It seemed he was slowing up these days, though. Ernie supposed that made some sense; his sixty-first birthday was approaching and no part of him seemed to move as fast as it used to. But he didn’t want an excuse—he wanted to be on time. He stuffed his keys into his pocket and hurried out of his apartment. If he didn’t have to wait long for the bus, he could still make it.

The elevators were broken, so he headed to the stairwell at the end of the hall, shaking his head at the building’s perpetual state of disrepair. As Ernie approached apartment 217, he could hear shouting and
banging from inside. It was the new guy’s apartment, and from the sound of it, he was having trouble with his girlfriend. That was none of Ernie’s business. If he got involved in every bit of domestic drama in this building, he wouldn’t have time to lead his own life. He didn’t slow his stride.

Suddenly, the door to apartment 217 flew open and Laprea Johnson came flying out. Ernie stopped himself short as the woman ran out in front of him. She might be pretty if she wasn’t so messed up, Ernie thought. Now, her braids were disheveled, her pink shirt was torn at one shoulder, and a gash from her forehead to her cheek had swollen her left eye shut. She didn’t seem to notice Ernie.

“Liar!” she shouted at the man emerging from the apartment. “You promised me! You supposed to be in anger management!”

D’marco Davis emerged from the apartment. The enormous man was enraged. His hands were shaking with anger, and his nostrils flared. “You ain’t supposed to be such a cheating bitch!” he roared. He held a bottle of Wild Turkey in one of his huge hands.

Laprea pointed to her face. “What am I gonna tell the twins? And my mother?” She was hysterical. D’marco took a step toward her, and she started beating on his chest with her tiny fists. He pulled back his hand, the one without the liquor in it, and backhanded her casually, like someone shooing a fly. His knuckles connected with her cheekbone with a sharp cracking sound. She collapsed to the floor.

“Hey, hey!” Ernie stepped between them. “They’s no need for that.”

“Get the fuck out the way,” D’marco said, never taking his eyes off of Laprea. “This ain’t none a your concern.”

“Come on, now.” Ernie put his hand on the man’s elbow and tried to steer him back into the apartment. “It ain’t worth all that, son.”

D’marco furiously yanked his elbow away—and punched Ernie in the face. The older man staggered back, holding his cheek in shock and pain.

On the floor, Laprea caught her breath and started sobbing. Her other eye was swelling now, too. She stared up at D’marco, who glared down at her contemptuously. With effort, she pulled herself up to her feet. She tried to say something, but was so racked with sobs she could barely speak. Finally, she forced out the words between convulsions.

“That’s it, D’marco. We done. I am calling the police and you going to jail this time. I don’t care how much backup time you got. And you ain’t never gonna see the kids again.” She turned and fled down the
hall to the stairwell. “Never!”

D’marco set his bottle down on the floor and walked after her, glaring at Ernie. Ernie stepped back, holding up his hands to show he wouldn’t get in the way anymore.

“Wait up, Pree!” D’marco called in a low, rumbling voice. “Come on, shorty! I didn’t mean it.” He jogged down the stairs. His calls echoed through the stairwell for a minute, then faded out.

Ernie pulled out his cell phone and dialed 911.

•  •  •

The next day, D’montrae ran through the house singing, “We’re going to the zoo-oo! We’re going to the zoo-oo!” He held aloft his drawing of the panda, letting it flap in the breeze he was creating. Dameka sat at the kitchen table with a box of Crayolas, drawing in her coloring book. Rose opened the oven and basted the pot roast she was making for Sunday dinner. Her eyes went to the clock for what seemed like the hundredth time that day. It was 2:00 p.m. Rose hadn’t heard from Laprea since last night. The knot in her stomach twisted tighter.

Dameka looked up from her coloring book. “When are Mommy and Daddy coming to take us to the zoo, Gramma?”

Rose closed the oven and tried to smile reassuringly. “Later, baby. In a little bit.”

She wiped her hands on the dish towel and looked out the window, considering what to do. She had already called Laprea’s friends and checked with Sherry. No one had heard from her. Rose had even tried D’marco’s phone, but he wasn’t answering.

She knew something was wrong.

While the twins played in the kitchen, Rose picked up the cordless again. She walked out onto the front porch and closed the door so the children couldn’t hear her. She dialed 311, the police nonemergency line, and cleared her throat as the operator answered. “I’d like to make a missing person’s report,” Rose said quietly. “It’s my daughter.”

•  •  •

Later that afternoon, Andre Hicks trotted through the parking lot with his friends, a rowdy bunch of nine-year-old boys. One of them tried to shove him into a parked car, and Andre laughed, punching the kid in the arm. Bored by the scant amusements in their apartment complex, the boys were taking a shortcut to the Circle B to get sodas and
whatever action they could stir up.

They loped up the curb, into a scraggly wooded lot behind their apartment building. This shortcut had the advantage of passing a mountain of garbage heaped several yards back from the parking lot, in the middle of the reedy trees and brush. The garbage pile contained old chairs, broken appliances, worn-out toys, and hundreds of garbage bags. People threw stuff back here if it was too big for the trash chutes or when the chutes got too full to handle more garbage. A few times a year, someone would complain loudly enough, and the city would send the sanitation department to clear the debris. In the meantime, it was a treasure chest for the neighborhood boys. A few months ago, one of Andre’s friends had found a stash of
Playboy
s in the garbage heap. That boy had been a hero for weeks afterward as they’d all pored over the pictures.

They’d almost passed the trash heap when Andre saw something pink glittering from a hole in a black garbage bag at the bottom of the pile. He slowed his stride, falling behind his friends as visions of
Playboy
s danced in his head. Andre stooped down to investigate. Was it some inexplicable contraption from Victoria’s Secret? A toy? He grabbed the ragged edges of the hole and tore the garbage bag open. The pink thing was a lady’s shirt. A small brown hand rested, motionless, on the shimmery cloth. There was still a lady inside the shirt. Andre started to scream.

10

A
s soon as Anna got to work Monday morning, she sensed that something was wrong. Everyone seemed to be staring at her as she walked in, as she waited for the elevator, as she headed down the hall to her office. Oh God, she thought, they know about Nick. Well, she’d known she would have to face the issue at some point. She supposed today was as good a day as ever.

As she walked into her office, Anna found Carla Martinez standing there, rummaging through a box labeled
CLOSED
FILES
.

“Hi, Carla.” Anna greeted the chief of the Domestic Violence and Sex Crimes Section with surprise. Carla had never been in Anna’s office before. None of Anna’s cases were significant enough to merit a visit from the chief. Oh no, Anna thought, even Carla knows about Nick. Still, as Carla straightened up, Anna had to admire her boss’s peach suit, peep-toe pumps, and perfectly coiffed brunette bob. The woman always looked like she stepped off the pages of an Ann Taylor catalog. Anna’s plain black pantsuit—which had felt so sharp and professional a minute ago—felt boring in comparison.

“Oh, Anna, I’m so sorry,” Carla said. The chief walked over to give her a hug. Anna accepted her boss’s embrace with confusion and dread. Carla had never hugged her before; she didn’t seem the hugging type. When she pulled back, Carla saw the puzzlement on her employee’s face. “Oh dear,” she murmured. “You haven’t heard. Anna, I’m so sorry to have to tell you this. Laprea Johnson was killed over the weekend.”

•  •  •

Anna sat at the big conference table in shock. People were talking, but she wasn’t processing the words. This is my fault, she thought. The phrase kept running through her head.
This is my fault.
If I’d done a better job on the case, Laprea would be alive.
That poor woman. And her poor children. What would their lives be like now? Their mother
not only gone, but killed by their own father. Their tragedy was nearly incomprehensible.

Anna was in the formal conference room adjacent to the office of the U.S. Attorney. It was the nicest conference room in the office, decked out in top-shelf government decor. The table was made of polished stone and wood; the floor was covered in a plush blue carpet; an American flag stood next to the U.S. Attorney’s seal on the back wall. Framed photos of postcard views of D.C. hung around the room.

Several of the photographs showed tourist sights Nick and Anna had visited recently. Anna wondered if Nick had heard. She tried to imagine how he would feel when he got the news, but she couldn’t do the mental somersaults. The defense perspective was just too alien to her. For a while—when Laprea was safe and alive—Anna had been able to forget that she and Nick held such different viewpoints. But there was no getting around it now.

Would Nick feel any worse for winning the case than she did for losing it? He had just been doing his job, she understood that, but as a result of Nick’s efforts, a vicious thug had been set free to kill. Anna had tried to put D’marco
in
jail, and she wasn’t sure how she would live with herself. If she couldn’t forgive herself, she thought, would she ever be able to forgive Nick? She wasn’t sure.

The most senior members of the office sat around the long conference table. Joseph McFadden, the U.S. Attorney, sat at the head. Anna had spoken to him only once before, when she’d interviewed for the job. A political appointee heading an office of 350 career prosecutors, he didn’t normally chat with misdemeanor AUSAs. He was flanked by the chiefs of his two most important Superior Court sections: Carla sat to one side of McFadden, and Jack Bailey, the Homicide chief, sat on the other. Anna didn’t recognize the other lawyers. She slumped in her chair next to Carla and miserably studied Jack, who was looking at some papers. This was the worst way she could imagine to finally meet the renowned lawyer.

BOOK: Law of Attraction
8.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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