Rehab: Part 4

6.

The next day at work, just before lunch, Sherry handed Carol a single, manila file folder. She, Ed, and Chuck had a luncheon to attend with a District Attorney’s assistant, Carol relegated to manning the fort for the rest of the day. Sherry instantly put a finger to her lips, mouthed the words “after we’re gone.”

As soon as the office-door closed, Carol threw open the folder to several packets of papers, some stapled, others paper-clipped together. The top page had an FBI seal, an “Investigate Act” request number to one side, and a name beneath it; Anthony Phillip DePaul.

Carol’s eyes widened. Sherry had somehow managed to make a request through the FBI on the Investigative Act– the same one used to dredge up attorney-client meetings in public places– and not only had it approved, but received it in less than a day. There were detailed histories on everything about DePaul; medical records, grade transcripts, licenses, registrations, and virtually everything else Carol could imagine.

She instantly suspected Sherry’s old boyfriend, Mike; a Detective at OPD and a rather well-connected sleuth. It was no doubt he’d immediately requested and received everything available to DePaul from the FBI, probably as a personal favor to Sherry. She had no misconceptions that her own record had likely been reviewed. It was now a rather standard, if not corrupt, practice for trial lawyers to obtain opponent records from people they knew on the inside. Most did so with the hope of building a better trial, learning their adversaries tactics and devising strategies to counter them personally.

She thumbed through the first packet of papers, DePaul’s medical records, then set it aside for a moment to focus on a series of business contracts. Oakton’s city seal was emblazoned in gold and tamped into the pages from a notary, identified in the contracts. Next, were a series of contracts signed over from Allen to DePaul construction. Evidently the latter had made at least one right move; in acquiring Allen, he’d also acquired thirty-eight million dollars worth of building deals it had taken on just before it began to fail. No doubt they were guaranteed to him as per the company’s buy-out. Though it was useless, it nourished her hopes for evidence of foul-play, anything that would explain the intensity of her disgust for the man.

She set the second stack atop the first, revealed high-school and college transcripts beneath it. Evidently DePaul had attended, then dropped out of, Oakton State University across town. Oddly enough, he had no previous employment history. The thirty-five year old man had probably gone from being paid under the table to head of his own company. The image of a multimillion dollar construction guru came later, however it had formed.

She cast aside the third stack of papers, flipped through what had been paper-clipped together. It amounted to roughly thirty pages of printed text documents and digital scans of business news articles. She’d seen all of the latter before, the former largely DMV and credit-card records.

That was it; all there was to the file. She sank in her chair, more dejected than ever. A sickly sense of loss and shame coursed through her. She’d invaded this man’s privacy, questioned his integrity, all for selfish reasons, and there was nothing here. She could go through his medical records with a fine tooth comb, but what was the point? What was she even looking for? How could doctor’s visits, or childhood ailments keep her from falling into debilitating fits each time she saw the man?

She sat silent for a long moment, her eyes fixed past the disheveled desk. Her short stare broke with a sigh, her body and mind drained. The fax suddenly rang, startled her as it began to print out several pages.

She shook her head, her nerves frayed, “Kathy’s right. I’m just projecting.”

The fax machine printed ceaselessly. Pages spilled off the table, onto the floor. Carol rolled her eyes, pushed herself up to collect them, then shuffled them into a stack. The fax machine ceased and the room quieted once more. She set the pages aside to re-fill the fax’s paper, completed the menial task only to return with the pages to her desk, engage in another bout of tedium as she re-arranged the skewed pages into order.

Before she could sit, the office phone rang. She began the usual, formal greeting but Sherry cut her off midway through, “Did a fax just come in?”

“Yeah, easily thirty-to-forty pages thick. What the hell’s in it?”

“Check the cover page.”

She sifted for the last page printed, “To Sherry; Hope this helps. Your frie-”

“That’s all I needed,” Sherry said. “It’s for you– Evans’ file. I hoped it would come in earlier, but maybe it’ll help. I gotta go hun, I’m supposed to be in the bathroom. Let me know if you find anything.”

The phone cut out. Carol set it back on its receiver, slowly retook her seat. She began to thumb through familiar pages. She’d seen Evans’ file during his trial, had committed much of it to memory for the sake of a proper prosecution. How could this help? What more could Sherry have hoped to gain from the fax? How were stacks of papers going to help her get over an illness? What she needed was to look in the bastard’s eyes through the bars of a cell, or from behind transparent plexiglass, stare him down until his heart exploded. She wanted his obituary, not his biography.

An inexplicable rage built within her. For a moment she thought she might scream. She closed her eyes to breathe deep, did her best to calm herself. She was rarely ever so quick to anger, and in its wake, shame tingled in her chest. Her shoulders sank with adrenaline that waned.

She shoved both dossiers into her briefcase, resolved to leave any further investigation until after work. Something so heavy, combined with being cooped up in the office wouldn’t be healthy no matter the eventual outcome. It was several hours before she’d settled on the couch at home, flipped on the television for noise, then retrieved the dossiers.

Buddy snoozed on the couch’s far-end, his nose whistling from atop the dopey look of sleep on his muzzle. His feet occasionally bucked here and there, no doubt from a dream of chasing tails and cars. Carol leaned the briefcase against the sofa’s bottom, laid the folders open on either side of her. She drew from the right; Evans’ files. The police reports listed priors and current charges beneath the smug sneer that haunted her. His cold, brown eyes were like black holes against the fiery star-light of his orange, prison jumpsuit. A curdle of bile burst in her stomach at his face.

She read over the information without taking it in; Name; Zachary Evans, DOB; August 30th, 1985. Sex, Male. Occupation; head of Three Star Entertainment. It was all old news to her, even the medical documents; blood type B negative, height; six-three, weight; 230lbs.

She’d seen it for the months preceding the trial, then months longer during it. The next pages were boiler-plate doctor’s forms signed by the patient, an E.R. slip from when Evans had broken his arm ten or more years ago on a ski-trip in Colorado, and photocopied x-rays of pins in his arm.

It was all an exercise in review, completely useless for her aims. She wanted to find out where Evans was, go there and face him. She needed to know why DePaul afflicted her as he did, that for certain the two men weren’t the same person. She knew she should drop it, go no further, but her concerns for her own health made her reckless, impulsive.

She set the papers down, rose for the bathroom and lingered before the mirror for a moment. Her eyes were haggard, baggy. Purple, sleepless circles had formed above more wrinkles than usual. She looked tired enough to sleep away a weekend, felt it too. She needed rest, tranquility, but couldn’t seem to find it. A deep well of uneasiness had been broached within her, a pump of concerns and fears installed with an automated trigger that only flood her with stress. The nagging threat of another episode merely kept her awaiting it to come, her mind and body skiddish, prepared to be ravaged.

She exhaled a long, tense breath, turned off the tap to dry her hands. The slow walk back to the living room ended with a sideways crane of her neck as she groaned.

“Damn it, Buddy!”

The hound had spread out in his sleep during her absence, managed to crumple a packet of papers. He’d even dug in a pair of nails for good measure She hurried forward. Her feet echoed, startled Buddy awake. Shredded paper signaled the sundering of the packet.

Shit!

She rushed the couch, threw the last of the papers off to save them. He looked around, confused. She groaned obscenities, caused Buddy to hide his head in a corner of the couch. She swept the last of the papers to the furthest end of the couch while Buddy whimpered in his hovel.

“It’s okay, pup,” she sighed with a pat on the head. He whimpered again as she gently lifted his back paws to retrieve the scraps of paper, set them on the floor with the others and lift the stack all at once.

A torn section of DePaul’s medical records caught her eye. It sat atop Evans’, overlaid almost perfectly. Her vision narrowed as if another episode were about about to overtake her. Instead, her eyes focused. The bottom page read out; Name; Zachary Evans, DOB; August 30th, 1985. Sex, Male. Occupation; head of Three Star Entertainment. Then, replaced by DePaul’s torn scrap; blood type B negative, height; six-three, weight; 230lbs.

There could be no doubt, the two were identical.

What the hell?

She stared at the pages; maybe her mind was playing a trick on her. A double, then a triple take confirmed it. Maybe she’d shuffled the papers, gotten two copies– but no, she knew she hadn’t. One had been given to her by Sherry, the other faxed by Mike.

There was no disputing it now. More questions, millions entwined with a thousand new fears and concerns, but it was undeniable; Anthony DePaul was Zachary Evans.

Her heart ran hurdles. Her mind filled with images of the two, tried fit the pieces of the puzzle together: It couldn’t be Evans, he was still carrying in the rehab facility, part of a six-year program. The length of was non-negotiable. That was the compromise the courts had made against the direct opposition of twenty-year sentences that drained the taxpayer, overcrowded the prisons. Six years was the bare minimum before a rehabilitated criminal was reassessed. If they didn’t seem to be genuinely changed, they remained in rehab for as long as it took. There was no chance for an appeal, and no bargains to be made. That was the way it worked. What it was designed for, and what Evans had been given.

But DePaul was to Evans. The medical records couldn’t lie. They had to be correct or it might kill the man. Carol had no misconceptions about the rest, she’d seen the corrupted system first-hand. Everything else about DePaul could be falsified or forged. What Evans would have likely counted on was the lack of interest in comparing these two, radically unaffiliated men’s medical files. It was a billion to one that anyone would even possess both of them, let alone actively search for a connection between them.

With the revelation, it appeared all of the puzzle’s pieces now lay before her. She need only to fit them together, but there was only one person that could help her finish the puzzle.

Rehab: Part 3

5.

Carol projected herself over the running tap to reach the speaker setting on her cell-phone, “I don’t know, but it wasn’t good. It was like… a drug overdose.”

“You know you can tell me if you’re using, Carrie,” Kathy said carefully.

“Damn it Kathy, I’m not on drugs!” She snapped. She pounded a fist against the sink, caused the phone to jump, flip mid-air beside her. It landed face-down.

Kathy hesitated, “Alright, I’m sorry Carrie. It’s just… there’s not much I can tell you. It sounds like text-book splitting.”

“What?”

Kathy explained as Carol ran cool water over her face, “Splitting’s a term for black and white thinking. Black and white thinking’s characterized by a lack of color to one’s perspective– when one believes all that is there is what they see and think they know. For instance, in black and white thinking one would say there are only two possible answers to any question; right or wrong. However, in colored thinking, there are three or more possible answers, but someone splitting will do their damnedest to whittle the options answers down to two– the black or the white.”

Carol shut off the tap, lifted a towel from the counter to pat her face dry, “Okay, I think I see where you’re going. But how’s it relate?”

“Well if you’re splitting, this guy you ran into will instantly either look like the… other guy, or not. Those are the only possible answers when splitting, but in truth, nobody’s that one-dimensional.”

Carol sighed, braced herself against the counter to stretch, “I don’t think that’s it Kath, I just… don’t. It seems too simple. For that matter, why would the reaction be so violent? I mean, I’m not that judgmental, am I?”

Kathy agreed, “No you’re right, you aren’t. At least not normally, anyhow. But the fact is Carrie, it’s not a conscious thing. It’s a defense mechanism triggered by trauma. You could have begun experiencing it unconsciously when the trial ended– you said yourself you felt like you’d failed those girls, failed yourself. Splitting’s caused by questioning your self worth. I can only imagine the blow you took from that.”

Carol gave a slow shake of her head, and a heavy exhale, “I don’t know. It’s too cut and dry, and I’d have figured you’d seen something like that by now, wouldn’t you?”

Kathy’s wavering certainty was a resounding “No,” but she expounded evasively, “The truth is, I’m getting older, Carrie. I’m not as observant as I once was. Plus, we’re friends. Those personal feelings make proper analysis impossible. It’s part of the reason we’re taught not to become emotionally involved with our clients.”

Carol frowned, swiveled to lean back against the sink and stare at her feet, “I figured you’d say something like that.”

“That’s the problem then,” Kathy admitted.

Carol’s eyes trailed along the floor to Buddy, his body melted into the tile. He gave a sigh as Carol crossed her arms, “As a professional, but also as a friend, what would you suggest?”

There was an audible wince over the phone, as though Kathy reeled at the thought of making a suggestion in this situation. She continued with a firm forward motion, “As a professional, I’d say you need to see a friend of mine, but I’m not sure he’d really be able to help with this problem.”

“It’s probably worth a shot,” Carol admitted graciously. “And as a friend, what would you say?”

Kathy was more forthcoming this time, her tension gone, “As your friend, I’d say you have two options; Let it go, or find out as much as possible about this guy, see if maybe it’s your woman’s intuition acting up. I mean, we have instincts for a reason, and this seems like instinct kicking in. You’ve had extensive, first-hand experience with wackos. Check him out. Maybe he’s another one.”

Carol sighed. She was exhausted, but relieved that the episode had passed. Her body no longer shook, and there was only a faint taste of bile left in her mouth.

“I’ll do that Kathy, see what I can dig up. Maybe then I can let it go. Thanks.”

Carol spent the next twelve hours scouring the internet. She read through dozens of business articles, watched double as many press videos and news reels. Each of them highlighted DePaul or his company’s quick rise to wealth and glory. Evidently, the company was competing for the fastest growing commercial construction business ever. Guinness and their books were already on it, with roughly half the articles she found speculating that DePaul would go down in the record books as one of the greatest businessmen ever. Strangely enough however, the most distant article she found came from a year ago, almost to the day in fact.

The local newspaper brief relayed the company’s particulars, highlighted DePaul’s extraordinary fortune and connections. At its inception, DePaul contracting was given several development contracts for local high-rises. Carol suspected corrupt government officials, but there was no evidence in the articles. Even so, if there was foul play involved in the money, there was no doubt it would extend elsewhere. Such was the nature of these types of people and deals.

It was on a natural instinct that she called Sherry. They needed to meet outside of work, discuss things. Sherry promised to oblige the next afternoon while Carol spent the better part of the night and morning researching both DePaul and her own illness. She found little else on either subject, slowly became frustrated, and calmed herself the only way she could think to; a walk with Buddy around the neighborhood.

The second time around the length of the block, the conversation with Kathy returned to the forefront of her mind. Was she splitting? Was everything so black and white that this random stranger had become the target of her unconscious ire? Was it really likely she’d become the victim of a mental illness that had been left unchecked, manifested physically?

It was possible, but still felt too cut and dry for her. She and Kathy had spent years dealing with her initial trauma and resentment of men after her own, vile experience. Though they’d only briefly touched on her feelings of failure after the trial, she’d taken solace in the fact that she’d done her best; it was the system that had failed, not her. She’d done all she could within her own power and within reason.

She made a mental note to look into the bastard after she spoke to Sherry. Opening old wounds may not be the best thing right now, but maybe it would help. Perhaps it was like a broken bone that hadn’t healed properly, required another breakage to be reset so it might return to its former, pain-free shape. As it was, the proverbial bone still seethed pain from time to time, her current reactions its residual throb otherwise drowned by the adrenaline of her fast-paced life.

When she and Buddy returned home, they found Sherry waiting on the front-porch. Carol apologized, but Sherry gave a dismissive wave; she hadn’t heard Buddy bark, suspected they were on their walk. Free of his leash, Buddy nearly tackled Sherry as he leapt at her, nuzzled her torso and arms, and almost knocked her over with pleas for love and attention. She giggled, kissed the side of his muzzle, and received a good once-over on the face with his tongue. He dropped back to his feet trotted off circle the yard.

Carol led them into the house, and offered Sherry a drink, “Rum?”

“Sure. Gotta’ be five o’clock somewhere.”

The bottle clanged with others, slid from beneath the sink as Carol produced two glasses from a cupboard, followed Sherry out the back door and to the table. They sat, mixed rum with cola, and talked for a long while. Ed and his oddly compulsive behavior were the first ass-ends of jokes. Then, Ed’s long time friend, Chuck, the other senior partner in the firm. He was, in fact, just as odd and obsessively compulsive as Ed. As usual, they joked about locking them alone in a messy room filled with countless, strewn files; Sherry gave it fifteen minutes before the room was clean. Carol, more realistic, said twenty-five.

Eventually, the sun began to set, engaged the solar lighting around the deck’s edges that faded in with time. As the day wound down, so did the bottle of rum, but only at its end did Sherry finally have the courage to ask what had been wrong. Carol wasn’t one to miss work, even when sick. At the very least, she would come in until Ed or Chuck sent her home for fear of catching her illness.

Carol hesitated to search for words until everything spilled from her at once; from the initial resentment of the trial, to the episode in the street and the next in the house. She elaborated on her conversation with Kathy, and her frustration at DePaul’s spotless public record.

Sherry listened with careful interest and intrigue until Carol broke down into sobs. She wept with a high, nasally voice, distraught by the toll things were taking. Sherry fell to her knees, beside Carol’s chair, shushed and comforted her.

Buddy’s near-constant whimpers went silent when Carol wiped her eyes, sniffled, “I’m sorry.”

Sherry’s voice was high, sympathetic, “For what?”

“My blubbering. You know I’m not–”

“Don’t be sorry, Carrie. I’m your friend, that’s what I’m here for. Besides, I wouldn’t’ve asked if I weren’t concerned. You’re allowed to be upset. Hell, I’d probably have put myself in the hospital by now. I just… I don’t know what to do. Is there anything I can do?”

Carol wiped her eyes again, looked Sherry over. The question’s sincerity was poised on her limp brows, Carol obliged to answer. She exhaled a thick breath, “ I don’t know.”

“Come on, you’ve gotta’ have something worked out Carrie. I know you well enough to know that. You’ve got something planned, right?”

She thought about it for a moment; did she have a plan? Could she really breach an innocent man’s privacy? Was she really prepared to take this to that level, re-open that old wound? Could it really help her sickness? She wasn’t sure of anything, save that she had to learn more about DePaul.

She finally spoke again, her eyes and face still wet. Determination inflected in the edges of her voice, “I was thinking about looking into Evans.” She wiped her face with a trembling hand, “Maybe check into the rehab facility.” Sherry nodded her onward. She sighed, “According to the Sheriff’s department, the success rate of their programs are outstanding with little-to-no repeat offenders. Maybe it’ll help to make sure he’s there– still serving his time.”

Sherry nodded, rose to retake her seat. Carol leaned forward, rubbed her temples, drained the last of her glass, then relaxed back into the chair. She stared up at the stars, barely visible through Oakton’s smog and light-pollution.

Her gaze fall back to the solar lights that lined the deck, and Sherry finally broke the silence. “I’ll help you, Carrie. Whatever you need.”

“No, it’s alright. I can’t ask you–”

“You didn’t. I decided on my own. I’m helping you with this. The last thing I need right now’s for something to happen to you. I mean, how the hell would I deal with Ed and Chuck on my own?”

Carol managed a small laugh. Buddy gave a solitary bark that echoed through the night. Even so, the momentary happiness was soon swallowed by that ill-foreboding in Carol’s gut.

Rehab: Part 2

3.

A year passed with little incident. Sherry’s graduation and promotion to Junior partner added her full-time into the fold, while Carol’s once, unshakable faith in the system continued to degrade at its usual rate. By now it seemed nearly non-existent, and whenever the subject of that fateful trial was broached, Ed became passive, quiet, still unable to look her in the eye without the aide of copious amounts of alcohol. His guilt became static in their relationship, something he tried to compensate for with large bonuses, pay raises, and her choice of clientele.

Her usual, Wednesday routine to see Kathy remained unchanged, and today the street near her home-office was especially busy. In the early afternoon of the spring’s mild-warmth saw the annual shift from heavy, winter gear to T-shirts, light jackets, even a pair of shorts or two. As a result, most of the block of pancaked, bi-level homes had signs of activity in or around them. Even Oakton’s Street Department had awakened from its winter slumber, began to fill the potholes along the road. The grizzled men in their work clothes and bright, fluorescent green vests clustered along the avenue only a few dozen yards from Kathy’s door

Carol flashed her card at the cabby’s electronic eye as usual, stepped out from the car. A jogger collided with her, toppled her to the ground as the cab pulled away. He recovered, apologized profusely. She did the same, gathered her things without a look.

He scooped up papers, straightened them atop folders, “Sorry. Sorry. Forgive me please, I wasn’t paying attention.”

Carol managed a chuckle, “It’s alright. I wasn’t either.”

He handed his pile over to her, he huffed a flustered breath, “You’re alright, right? You’re not hurt.”

She took the pages, thanked him with a look, “No, I’m fine.”

He smiled wide with perfect, white teeth, as he stepped to one side, “Sorry again.”

The perfect teeth forced a flash of memory from the distant trial, super imposed the perfect, white-teeth of that snake that had slithered away over the man’s. Her stomach lurched. The man apologized, oblivious, and excused himself to jog away. She muttered an garbled pleasantry. Turn autonomously to track him from Kathy’s property to the next. He continued without a look back, but the image blasted a shiver of ice through Carol’s spine. The man’s face disappeared into the overlaid image of the sick, sadistic smile from the courtroom.

Carol swallowed hard, dizzied and sweating. She swayed in a turn for the door, planted each step to it with a deliberate gait to keep upright. Her hand slapped the doorbell as her stomach upturned and her legs wobbled. Kathy opened the door with a casual smile that soured at her pale green pallor. She urged Carol in, guided her away from the door. The foyer and office morphed into one another through vertigo-laden vision. The world gyrated, swirled around her. Her heart raced, panicked, chest tightened, incapable of drawing breathing. A vise had ensnared it, forced it nearer her back.

She was only vaguely aware of Kathy ushering her to the couch. A cool breeze blew from an open window, coursed over cold-sweat that lined Carol’s body, caused a shudder that worsened the vertigo. A distant wind-chime clanged through the air, muffled by a haze of black infected by colors that swirled around it.

Time ceased to have meaning, only seeming to start again once the wind returned to her lungs over the indistinct sound of Kathy’s voice. A warm hand pressed at her forehead and cheeks, while the vertigo began to recede. She managed enough to ask for water, was obliged without question. Her mind focused enough to relay that she had laid down on the couch, was staring up at Kathy’s textured ceiling.

What the hell just happened?

She mentally retraced her steps, found the source of the spell at the man’s face. Dark eyes, not unattractive, but somehow irredeemably repulsive.

Kathy appeared with water, “Sip it, or you’ll make yourself more sick.”

Carol muttered a weak “thank you,” as she sat up to sip from the glass. The ill feelings swirled within her, their cause unknown.

It was a few moments of deep, slow breath’s later that Kathy finally sensed she could speak, “You’re not high are you?”

Carol’s brow furrowed, “What? No. Why would you even–”

“If you are it’s okay, but I have to–”

“I’m not high, Kathy. I don’t…” Carol took a breath. “I don’t know what the hell happened.”

“It’s okay, Carrie, I believe you. But you know if you ever feel you need that you can–” She cut herself off from the glare on Carol’s face. “Oh alright. What’s wrong then?”

She shook her head, “I don’t know.”

“Symptoms?” Kathy asked, formally.

“Vertigo, shortness of breath, sour stomach– but it all came on so fast, I thought I was going to faint.”

“You nearly did. What d’you think caused it?”

She sighed with a shake of her head, “Like I said, it happened so fast.”

“Could be a hypoglycemic episode. How’s your diet been lately?”

“It’s not that– you know how I careful I am with my health,” She sipped a few times from the water glass, “Antacids?”

“I’ll get ’em.” She rushed off once more, returned with a pair of chalky tablets. She handed them over, re-took her seat, “Retrace your steps. Walk me through the few minutes before it started.”

Carol drank from the glass, swallowed and sighed, “I was at the office, took a cab over like usual, and was fine until some guy bumped into me on the street.”

“Think he dosed you with something, somehow?” She asked, concerned.

“No, nothing like that. I was fine until…”

She trailed off: Could it really be true? No. It couldn’t. It was her imagination playing tricks on her. After all, the one year anniversary of the trial was this week, and it had been heavy in her mind.

Kathy interrupted her thoughts, “Until?”

“Well, it was… odd,” she said over thoughtful stare. “He was nice enough. Polite, but… something about his eyes. They were… familiar. And his smile– full of perfect teeth.”

Kathy joked, “Sounds like a looker to me. Maybe it was love at first sight.”

“No. He repulsed me– to my core. He reminded me of– well, of that sonuvabitch that got away last year.”

Kathy’s humor disintegrated, “Oh.”

“Yeah.”

She hesitated a moment, then sighed, “Honestly Carrie, this sounds like you’re ascribing your… distaste for that particular man onto others with his features.” Carol eyed her skeptically. Kathy explained, “It’s not uncommon. A lot of ex-wives could tell you that– “’I’ll never date a man with brown hair again, or never marry another green-eyed man.” Men do it too, “I’ll never let another blonde into my bed again.” Anyway, trust me when I say it’s more common than you think.”

Carol wasn’t satisfied, but gave a slow, defeated sigh, “I don’t know, maybe. I mean, you’re probably right, but it just didn’t feel that way. It… felt like I was looking into those same cold eyes, getting that sadistic smile bared at me again, just like that day in court… when they gave him Rehab.”

Kathy was sympathetic, but there was a rigidity to her tone that said her opinion was fixed, “But it was his eyes and smile that did it, right? Not the rest of him?”

She shook her head, “No.”

“Did he resemble the… other man in any other way?”

Another shake of her head, and a sigh, “No, not that I could tell.”

Kathy grimaced, “Then it’s probably like I said, and you’re putting too much thought into it. Just relax, and sip that water.”

Carol gave an absent nod, took another drink. Her stomach had finally begun to settle, but an eerie foreboding frothed beneath the fine layer of antacids. She pinched at the corners of her eyes, forced back the memories of that sadist’s smile in the mockery of a court-room.

4.

At Kathy’s insistence, Carol called the office to take the rest of the day off. Sherry was less than enthusiastic, now stiffed with new paperwork for a defense they were working on. After being told of Carol’s episode– and promised a free night out– Sherry relented. Carol conveniently left out the episode’s trigger, but Sherry was satisfied all the same.

Carol hailed a cab back to her house, unlocked the door and entered the house to her slobbery Pit-bull Terrier, Buddy. He gave a few, deep barks, bounced excitedly and pawed at her legs. His tail wagged behind his torso that circled her path down the hall to the kitchen and two, French doors.

“Come on, Budd.”

He lagged behind her as the door opened. Then, a rush of spring air poked his muzzled and his ears perked up. He rocketed outside ahead of her. She followed him down the trio of steps to the patio-deck, sank into a patio chair to stare off while he made his rounds through the yard.

She tried to push the day’s events out of her mind, kicked up her feet to let the breeze flutter at her at cheeks and tousle her stray hairs. What the breeze didn’t cool, the afternoon sun kept warm. It was a welcome release from the harsh, gray cold that dominated Oakton’s winter months. Her eyelids parted to cotton-white clouds that she vaguely recalled as cumulus.

Buddy’s nails clacked in a trot along the wooden deck, startled her. He plopped onto his haunches beside her while his tongue dangled out the side of his mouth.

She leaned over, kissed the top of his head, “Good boy, Buddy.”

He gave her a lick, stood to lead him inside, and carry on with her normal, after-work routine. She filled Buddy’s bowls, washed her face, and changed to her street clothes to plop comfortably onto the couch, flip on the TV. The digital channels passed casually, stopped on Info-Corp’s News Network with the hope that Carol might see a favorable media fare to their case.

Like many others, this client was high-profile and a perpetrator of drunk-driving. The wealthy-retiree managed to hit a parked car before he careened into an intersection and oncoming traffic. His excessive speed twisted the van he hit into his sports car, left them as little more than useless hunks of steel and plastic. OFD had to cut both drivers from their vehicles; the man walked away with a few broken bones, but the woman was now in rehabilitative therapy with a broken back.

While the doctors said she would recover to walk again, it just so happened that she was sister-in-law to the mayor. It was ultimately impossible to avoid jail-time, especially given the forthcoming Mayoral election. On word of the crash, the Mayor’s campaign immediately shifted to a crackdown on drunk drivers to gain public support– never-mind the half-dozen murders each day, or the countless pick-pockets and other thefts.

The TV flashed commercials to a sigh from Carol. Buddy lumbered atop the couch, put his head on his paws to stare out at the flashing pictures on the screen.

“What are we gonna do with this world, Budd?” Carol said aloud. He whimpered, rolled sideways to expose his belly. She gave it a scratched, muttered, “I guess that’s a solution.”

Info-Corp’s jingle played as the news returned. The overtly charismatic man began his spiel at a moderate speed, never pausing for longer than it took to breathe. “Turning to local business news; today Allen contractors was bought out by DePaul contracting LLC. The emerging construction company seems to be an overnight success story for its owner Anthony DePaul.”

Carol looked up just in time to see a photographic expose of a man’s life. She watched on, entranced, the images chronicled the life of a familiar face– the one she had seen earlier in the street. His dark eyes and pearly-white smile burned into her retinas with the familiar rush of a curdled stomach. This time though, the sounds muffled seemed to highlight the televisions words.

“Anthony DePaul, thirty-eight, inherited a modest fortune from a dying relative,” The anchor said. Old, color photos of a young boy gave way to a young man, then finally, the adult man she’d met, “With a generous dose of foresight, DePaul put the money to good use in creating a construction company with a vision to change Oakton’s scenery.”

Carol’s head began to spin. The expose shuffled through images of office-buildings and construction equipment, “In just under two months DePaul Contracting saw profits in excess of three million dollars. DePaul publicly attributes this success to quote, “dumb luck and knowing the right people.” In the last nine months, the small construction company has grown by triple that, leading to the acquisition of Allen contractors after it had fallen on hard times. Mr. Depaul had this to say:”

Carol couldn’t move, or think, or even look away. She was gripped by pain, terror. Acid rose into her throat, the ivory-white teeth moved in a mockery of her pain while the dark eyes softly scanned the crowd of a press-conference.

“It is my esteemed pleasure,” DePaul said cheerfully. Carol’s insides rolled. “To make this company a part of the DePaul family. As promised, all employees will be held to their original contracts. As you know Allen is an old company, and a well respected name, and speaking as a laborer, I’d hate to see that name lost.” There was a pause, a break in the reel where it jumped to another question. “My intent is purely to help our weakened economy. It’s on all of us, as business owners and citizens, to ensure we keep jobs available and money coming in. In acquiring Allen, I hope to see that–”

Carol heard nothing more. She slumped forward, felt vomit rise. Buddy whimpered. Carol stumbled around the couch, sprinted with a hand over her mouth to the bathroom. The cold porcelain chilled her hands and face as she heaved in a stupor. The fire in her throat and pores reveled in a cold draft from the open door.

She wanted to crawl into the tub, ball up and die. The pain in her stomach and throat forced her eyes shut and clenched against tears that squeezed out. Panic gripped her. Her mind ran hurdles along a gauntlet of hypochondria; she was being drugged, poisoned, slowly gassed or…

Something was wrong. She knew it, felt it, but couldn’t place it. The expose replayed in her mind, triggered a final, dry heave. She gave a loud sob, her tears streams along her pale cheeks. Buddy appeared, barked in alarm. The expose refused to stop. It played a dozen times at high speeds, followed by her episode in the street. Violent shakes seized her arms and legs. Her head snapped from side to side, neck twisted and writhed with attempts to throw the images from her mind.

Without volition, her fists balled. Her knuckles whitened. The images began to superimpose atop one another. With a mounting speed, the man’s face followed childhood to manhood, ended with a grip of unassailable fear as a final, translucent overlay of a second-man’s face appeared. The features were distinctive, similar; a protruding brow, boyish cheeks, dark hair, and full white teeth. Worst of all, were the cold, dark eyes whose orbits perfectly matched those of the other man.

The second man was Zachary Evans, the killer she’d failed to prosecute, the same one given Rehab in place of life-long prison cell or a deserved death sentence. There were obvious differences– chin, nose, hairline, each one thinner. Somehow though, Carol knew; they were the same man.

She crumpled to the floor, exhausted, stared up at her ceiling. Buddy’s hot breaths against the floor were the only sounds audible. Even so, she didn’t notice it. Her mind was too focused, too preoccupied with piecing together the puzzle before her. Her stomach and throat burned from acid, limbs ached from residual tremors that vibrated her body.

Why was this happening? What did these two men have in common? Was it really Evans or was Kathy right; had she displaced hatred for one man onto another? No. No, it couldn’t be that simple. She couldn’t put it all together yet, pieces of the puzzle were still hidden, but it couldn’t be another man. She knew it wasn’t. So what was happening? Were Evans and DePaul really the same person? How?

She didn’t know the answers to her question, but she knew she had to find them. These two episodes had been radically different. The first was bad enough, but the second was like a textbook cocaine overdose. If the last two episodes’ progressions were any inclination of what she could continue to expect, the next one could very well kill her.

Rehab: Part 1

1.

“Are the papers in order?” Carol Switzer asked through her Bluetooth headset. She shuffled papers on her desk into a manila folder, slipped them into her Italian-leather briefcase. “Good. I have an appointment. After that is lunch with the prosecutor. I’ll see you there.”

There was a short pause as she stuck a blazer-clad arm through the briefcase’s strap, pulled her overcoat off the office chair. She laid the jacket on her arm, whirled ’round for the door across the cramped office.

“No we’re just going over some depositions. The other work can’t begin until we get those files.” She slipped from the office into the large, open lobby. Her shadow sliced through the rays of sunlight that splayed over the marble entryway and reception desk.

She threw a casual hand at the receptionist there as she passed, continued her conversation, “Yes. Third street… Uh-huh. See you then.”

She tapped a finger against her ear, pulled open the door. Her heels clacked her path from the building, down short steps to the sidewalk. She tossed an arm up at an approaching yellow cab, slipped into its backseat, set her briefcase beside her.

“100 West, please,” Carol instructed. The cabby nodded, silent, and idled forward into traffic.

Single, thirty-three, and sharp-minded, Carol was a junior partner in what was once the second-most renowned law-firm in Oakton. She spoke quickly, was always organized, and would keep her weekly, noon appointment with characteristic punctuality as she had for nearly a decade.

Long ago Carol needed Kathy more than she was willing to admit, and while her trauma had passed, the two had grown close. The relationship was a mixed blessing; a crutch in the worst of times that Carol felt compromised her independence. While Kathy agreed, neither of them were willing to part with the other.

She rode down Oakton’s packed main-streets at a crawl. The cluttered roads sandwiched between high-rises and skyscrapers of downtown were sprinkled with low-roofed, single story buildings here and there. Her mind flitted over her past as the cab gathered speed and the buildings turned to a blur of neutral hues.

Despite a heavy lock on its mental imagery, her past had been especially relevant lately. Unfortunately, their case as Prosecutors on behalf of the State was much worse than Carol’s own victim testimony had been. The several young women kidnapped and raped, had been murdered. Unlike Carol, the victims had never escaped their captor, faced him in court to point the finger at him. She would have never considered her experience lucky until now.

Her stomach churned at the thought. Spurred emotions aside, her past had caused unwanted inquiry from her boss when he asked whether or not she would like to recuse herself from the case. Like the others in the office, he knew her history. In a way, his concern was comforting, but it was too important to her to continue the case. She had faced her own accuser, helped to put him behind bars without chance of parole. The dead girls couldn’t do that, but Carol could. In a way, she was the only one left to do it for them.

Moreover, she refused to show such a weakness so early in her career. These cases were the reason she became a lawyer. She wasn’t going to allow any of these sick bastards to roam free: a determination that had driven her through through law school, then from intern to junior partner. She wasn’t about to let her goal hold her back, no matter how gruesome the facts were.

The cab turned from the main streets into the suburbs. Old town houses jam-packed like cookie-cutter formed dough on a pan lined the streets with barely enough space between them to park a vehicle. Carol’s eyes scanned the area, came to a rest on a distant point as her mind raced onward.

Though cases like these were usually left to the state, a recent change in Ohio’s law made it possible for private firms like Carol’s to act as proxies. Provided a firm applied for review and certification, and passed, the State would relegate case in exchange for tax breaks. Despite mild outrage over the controversial process, it allowed struggling firms to pull themselves up little by little. It was a two-fold gain; the State was able to process cases faster where there was too much crime, and the firms were able to stay in business where too many lawyers had flooded the market place.

Despite their past reputation, Carol’s firm was one of those struggling minorities. There was simply too much competition to go around, a fact that never ceased to be humorous to some. There were too many legal vampires for them to feed equally. Even Carol saw the humor in it at times, but was otherwise too hungry. While her appetite for justice kept her sated when the office was forced to work patent law, review corporate contracts, or something equally innocuous, eventually it longed for her to return to her purpose. The Investigative Act, as it had come to be known, allowed her to continue fulfilling that purpose; legal attack dog for the weak and victimized.

The cab slowed to a crawl as Carol directed the driver toward Kathy’s two-story home and office, sandwiched between the other homes with their identical, two-story vertical climbs. Each one had exactly enough front and side yard to drag a trash can through, the “back-yard” was little more than a plot of cement and gravel.

She flashed a coded credit-card at the cabby’s electronic eye-reader on his dashboard, then stepped out into the afternoon. The cab rolled away with a bellow of the engine, headed for the faded brick and cracked paint of the front porch. The few, budding flowers that flanked the doorway still showed the darkened wetness from the chilly dew the night before.

Her hand rose for the bell, stabbed a finger at it. A moment later the door opened on Kathy’s late-fifties gray hair and bright eyes.

“Hey. Come on in,” she beckoned with a sweep of a hand.

Carol stepped up, in, moved from the small foyer and into the office. It spanned one-half of house’s length, a warm, corduroy couch against the back wall in the outcrop of a large, floor to ceiling bay-window. Carol took her seat on the far-right, popped off her heels to massage an achy foot. Kathy maneuvered her rolling chair over, took a quiet seat in front of Carol.

The formality of these sessions had relaxed over the extreme length of time Carol had attended them. By all rights, Kathy should have retired at least five years ago, but she had never felt comfortable with the idea.

Kathy sipped from a coffee mug, “Tired?”

“Very. Last brief told us there was little evidence aside from the last girl’s testimony. For a fair jury that would be enough. Or it used to be anyhow. Now when a teenage girl points fingers at someone with that much money, there’s no guarantees.”

Kathy expertly skirted the NDA, “Company man, huh?”

“In a manner of speaking,” Carol replied as she tensed a pair of fingers at the corners of her eyes. “There’s no doubt they’re paying off the local media ’til its over to keep things quiet.”

Kathy frowned, “That sounds rather corrupt.”

Carol’s hand fell to her side. She heaved a sigh, “The whole system’s this way. Short of stopping the trial to investigate the defense firm, there’s nothing we can do. The other side’ll always play dirty when they know their defendant’s guilty. And it’s not like there’s much we can do anyway. We’re swamped as it is. I’ve learned to pick my battles.”

“Is that how you feel? That this is a battle?”

Carol sat upright, waggled an accusatory finger, “Uh-uh, don’t you do that to me. I know when you’ve got your game face on.”

Kathy chuckled, “Occupational hazard. I’m curious though, do you really think he’s guilty, or is it your own experience condemning him?”

Carol swallowed hard, steeled her nerves against the bile in her gut. “I’ll admit it doesn’t help, but my experience tells me he is guilty, especially considering the girl’s testimony.”

“What is it that makes you so sure?”

“Aside from the teenage girl that’s testified he raped her? Well there’s the seven other families who’ve presented internet chat-logs, photographic evidence, and witness testimony that their daughters all had contact with the guy before they were found murdered.” Kathy nodded to herself. “It’s the type, Kathy. I know them. The guy’s got money and power, thinks it makes him immune– can do anything he wants. Usually, no matter what the anything is, his money’ll let him get away with it. I’ve seen a lot like him. They’re all the same, their vices just change.”

There was a certain, stoicism to Kathy’s voice, “I guess I can’t really argue with that logic.”

Carol’s shoulder slumped, “Money is power, especially in this game.” Her eyes fixed on a distant point with contemplation, “These wealthy, powerful killers? They never change.”

2.

It was roughly 1:15 when Carol sat in a wrap-around booth at the Fine Divine steakhouse across from uptown Oakton’s courthouse. Her boss settled beside her, the State Prosecutor on across from him on the booth’s far-side. The latter looked like a caricature of Pee-Wee Herman with a darker face, and sunken, purple eyes beneath his thick-rimmed glasses. He even wore the brown tweed and bow-tie all too familiar to the aforementioned star to complete the look.

The lunch was supposedly a formality, but Edward Mordin, her boss and the lead partner in the firm had shown up in his street clothes with a less than sunny disposition. Since the statehouse had begun reviews into its proxies, the firms contracted were subject to frequent intrusions such as this. Most of the time, it was a luncheon conference or a day-long conference with a State Prosecutor. Neither was the most pleasant experience, but Ed appeared even more aggravated than usual.

Lunch went smoothly, joined mid-way through by Carol’s intern, Sheryl Hunter. Twenty-eight and still in law school, she met them with the latest transcripts between the defendant and his attorney. Fortunately for them, in recent years the largely useless ring of government surveillance across the country had allowed for transcribed recordings from any and all criminal suspects in state and county prisons. The hope was that anyone guilty might slip up in front of their lawyers, bring a hasty resolution to the trial.

In truth, it had made things much more difficult for those that invoked it. The existing stigma against lawyers as society’s pariahs only worsened when Congress passed the necessary Constitutional amendments. Now, they were not only pariahs but also the number one source of intrusions on citizen privacy; ground-zero for the downfall of liberty. In practice, it was much more complicated, and only possible because of the existing surveillance infrastructure. Moreover, only public or government-offices and buildings were applicable. In fact, the surveillance network had long been entrenched and utilized by the FBI, NSA, DHS and countless other government acronyms. The difference was these entities were secretive, clandestine, and harder to track. Law firms were required to file extensive paperwork, register every action they took with the State and Federal governments. It made them easier to spot, painted targets on their backs as the Grim Reapers of privacy.

The defense had done well in keeping this case quiet though. For the most part Carol was thankful for that. A lynch mob forming in the public would make it harder for all involved, from the defense to the jury, Carol included.

Sherry slid into place between Carol and the Pee-Wee wannabe, shuffled through her briefcase, handed out manila file-folders. In his usual manner Ed had filled more than a third of the table with his files, the manila folders obsessively laid-out before him. The five foot long table was considerably smaller now that Ed’s obsessive-compulsiveness had reared its ugly head. Even Art Warren, the look-alike, scrunched back uncomfortably, as if fearful of disturbing the precisely arranged folders.

For a long while they discussed the trial, ethics and etiquette, while Ed downed glass after glass of fruity, feminine drinks with an out-thrust pinky-finger. The other three stuck to soda and water, ate small meals before Art finally announced his departure. He excused himself with friendly goodbye, and left to a grunt from Ed. Carol and Sherry relaxed, called over a waiter to order more drinks.

Ed seemed especially disgruntled, unusual for him after so many drinks, but all the more apparent when he suddenly switched to scotch.

It arrived in time for Carol to mask her sincere concerns with amusement, “What bug’s up your ass, Ed?”

A corner of Ed’s mouth lifted with a grunt, “Bastard.” He threw back a gulp of scotch. Carol exchanged a confused look with Sherry. Ed smacked his chops, belched, “DA’s called for a quick end to the trial. Says the jury’s gonna end up deadlocked if we don’t move fast. Too many of ’em think there’s not enough evidence. Sonsabitches think eight witness testimonies putting the creep with the girls aren’t enough anymore.” He took another slug of whiskey, “It’s those damn cop shows! Everyone want’s DNA now. Seven dead girls isn’t good enough? Bullshit!”

The level of scorn in Ed’s voice was unusual. His glassy eyes met Carols, her face blank, lost for words. Sherry spoke her sentiments aloud, “Wait, what’re you saying, Ed?”

His hand tightened around his rock-glass, “They want rehab now. DA’s callin’ for it, defense is callin’ for it– ‘N then that little pee-wee Herman fuck wants to lectures me on ethics? I been in business thirty years and this’ first time I’ve seen a jury so hung it could choke a horse. Seems like everyone’s on that bastard’s payroll.”

Rehab? That’s it?” Sherry asked, confounded. “For multiple counts of abduction, rape, and murder?”

Carol’s heart sank. Failure coursed through her as she stared into her drink. Ed’s voice intoned over her distant stare, “DA’s really fucked the poodle this time. We’re gonna get it for this one.”

For all of his candor, Ed had always held a passion for justice. Like Carol though, he’d begun to see the system was just as corrupt as the people he’d used it to put away. His real reason for drinking so heavily was obvious now; he needed the courage to tell Carol about rehab. He couldn’t face her otherwise; look in her eyes, tell her they’d failed, and the bastard was going to walk. Eight teenage girls, eight lives wasted, and eight families who’d get no justice. He couldn’t bare to a tell a former victim that– someone who could’ve been one of them– that he’d failed her.

When the sentencing came down, Carol sat in the court room, stone-faced. She stared at the man as he stood to be read his verdict. His black Armani was pressed just above his wrist and ankle shackles, the mockery of a line of justice visible between those barriers of fine black and tarnished steel. A smug satisfaction huddled over his brow as she burned his features into her mind. When the judge spoke, she heard nothing; only saw the slow creep of perfect, white-teeth that appeared over a dampened echo, as if her ears were submerged in water. The killer turned in slow-motion, his dark eyes met hers for a half-second above that sickly grin and those perfect, white-teeth.

He followed through in his turn to exit the courtroom. Carol watched, muttered to herself, “I’ll get you yet, you son of a bitch.”