Homebred: Chapter 1, Section 3
Pulling her office key from her purse, Anna unlocked the door and stepped inside the reception room. The blast of cool air was a welcome relief from the stifling August heat.
“What’s the matter, Honey Babe?”
She turned to find her associate, Justin Aldridge, standing in the doorway of his office. Anna pushed a soft auburn curl behind her ear and rubbed her aching forehead. She liked Justin, but she didn’t appreciate him calling her pet names. She looked around. “Why can’t you just call me by my name, Justin, and what are you doing here on a Saturday evening?
“I was going to play golf with an old college buddy, but it’s too hot. We have that new case and there is a lot to do. The D. A. wants us to be ready to go to court by next Friday. What are you doing here?” Justin brushed at a full head of blond hair.
Opening the door to her office, Anna went to her desk and sat down. “I got a strange call this afternoon.”
“What do you mean, strange?” Justin sat down in front of her and took a sip of the coffee he held in his hand.
“It was some little girl wanting her father to pick her up.”
“What’s so strange about that? Kids get wrong numbers all the time.”
“I know. But how many times have you heard of a dead girl calling to talk to her father.”
“Dead! What do you mean, dead.” Justin gave a sputtering sound as coffee spewed from his mouth. His fair complexion turned red then an odd shade of blue, almost the color of his eyes.
Anna rushed around her desk and slapped him on the back. “Justin, are you all right? Hold your arms over your head. My grandmother saved my grandfather from choking and all she did was beat him on the back while he held his arms up.”
The coughing and sputtering stopped as Anna applied another firm smack between Justin’s shoulders. A couple of sharp breaths escaped his lips and the blue tinge eased from his face. “I’d suggest a course in CPR for both you and your grandmother.”
“Don’t have time. I’m too busy taking care of the rest of the world. You know I even went as far as to call the number that child gave me. That’s how I knew the man’s child had been kidnapped, and the police think she could be dead. I was just trying to be helpful. Seems no one appreciates my thoughtfulness today.”
Justin turned away from Anna and didn’t say anything for a few minutes then faced her. “I appreciate you more than you’ll ever know, Anna. Someday I hope you’ll let me show you.” He gave her a half hearted smile. “Now, Honey Babe, you don’t work for the department of Missing Children. You’re the new prosecuting attorney. Your job is to prosecute the kidnappers not find the child. I’ll bet you a dime to a dollar the girl that called you is already home.”
Anna felt the muscles in her face relax. Justin always made her feel better. He was right. The child was probably home eating cookies and drinking milk right now.
“You still didn’t say why you’re here?”
“That’s why I’m here. I agreed to meet with the father and see if there’s anything I can do to help him.”
“That not such a smart idea. What about your job?”
“This won’t interfere with it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, Mr. Morris will be here any minute.”
“This is a big case we have coming up, Anna. You know all eyes will be on you to see how you handle it. You’re the first woman to hold the position of prosecuting attorney in Ranklin , North Carolina.”
“I’ll be ready, Justin. You just make sure you have all the facts for me. We’ll talk after I’m through With Mr. Morris. And you don’t have to tell me that there’s lots of the town’s people who think the only reason I got the job was because my grandfather was the mayor. I’ll prove them wrong, Justin. I’m going to be the best prosecuting attorney Ranklin, North Carolina has ever had.”
“It’s not all being a woman and the ex-mayor’s granddaughter. Some don’t like it because you’re not local.” Justin stood. “Some don’t like northerners.”
“And you, Justin, how do you feel about me having the job?”
“You were in the top ten at Harvard. You’re more than qualified.”
“There’s a big difference in qualifications and feeling, Justin.”
“If you hadn’t a got the job , Ms McAllister, where would I be? That should tell you something.”
Anna stared at him as mixed emotions boiled inside. She knew Justin would love to have her be ‘his girl’ as he called it, but she’d never met anyone that made her feel the way you’re supposed to when you’re in love.
Anna watched Justin pick a piece of lent from his suit coat. Justin was a bright young lawyer, right here from Rankin. He would have been great for the job, although some people though he was from the wrong side of the tracks. Sometimes, she got the feeling that he’d like to show her where a woman’s place was. That could be because he’d been born and raised in the south. Southern men still seemed to think they owned their women folk. She guessed she’d gotten her independent spirit form being raised in the north.
Justin shifted a stack of books as though he were looking for something. “This appointment you have . . . with the father of that little girl, you’re going to get yourself involved with something that’s not any of your business.” Justin went to the coffeepot. “How about a cup of coffee? I made it when I came in.” He had a cup half-filled before she could answer.
“Coffee. Yes, that would be nice. Hope it’s hot and strong. No cream.” She saw Justin’s eyebrows pull together, causing little lines to run up and down his high forehead.
“Anna, I’ve never known you to take your coffee straight. You’re really worried.”
As Anna reached for the cup, she still didn’t answer. After a few sips, she set it down.
Justin came around to her side of the desk. He lifted her face, looking directly into her green eyes. “Tell me, Anna, how you really feel about me.”
Anna reached for her cup, but all she felt was the hot liquid as the cup tilted over. She jumped back. “Darn. Look what I’ve done? Everything on my desk is soaked.” Frantically, she grabbed the papers.
Justin pulled her toward the water fountain in the corner. “Never mind the mess. Let’s get some cold water on your hand before it blisters.”
When the redness began to ebb, he took out his handkerchief and patted her hand dry. “Now, back to my question.”
Anna allowed Justin to guide her to a chair. As she watched him mop up the desk, she wondered why she’d never noticed his good looks. Not only good looking but also well groomed. Not like some of those sloppy, ill-mannered male lawyers she so often encountered in the courtroom. Justin was an associate she could be proud of. Why was it she couldn’t feel anything but brotherly affection toward him? Maybe, she hadn’t given him a fair chance. She felt a warm glow deep inside. “Justin, what am I going to do with you? You fuss over me like an old mother hen.”
Justin took both of her hands in his. “I could think of a few . . .”
There was a knock at the outer door. Anna pulled her hands free. “We won’t have time to talk now. Mr. Morris is here. We’ll talk later.”
“Can I stay? If you’re going to get yourself into trouble, I’d like to be in on the ground floor.”
“I don’t see any harm. Maybe you can be of some help. And to start with, you can get the door.” She went to the mirror and dabbed at her eyes then turned to greet Mr. Morris. She wasn’t prepared for the man who extended his hand to her. When he smiled, a slight dimple in his left cheek softened his, otherwise, rugged face. A face that was marred with lines of worry over his missing child. “Justin, get Mr. Morris a cup of coffee.” She motioned toward a chair. “Tell me how your little girl disappeared.”
“Last year she and I were spending the summer with my aunt. Katie loved to get the mail. She’d sat on the steps all afternoon waiting, and when it came, she raced down the drive toward the mailbox. I can still see those little blue sneakers hitting the pavement. My aunt called and I went inside. When Katie didn’t come back, I went to look for her. I searched high and low then called the police. My aunt told them she’d seen an old white van parked down the street all week and two seedy looking characters had been trimming the bushes along the sidewalk. No one in the neighborhood had hired any help, and the city didn’t know anything about the men. There’s been no news from the police in quite a while. Until last week . . .” Steve whisked a white handkerchief from his pocket and blew his nose.
Anna leaned back in her chair and gave him a few moments before she asked, “And what happened last week, Mr. Morris?”
“The police think they’ve found the van, but they believe Katie’s dead. I don’t, and I won’t give up. I’m sure she’s alive.” He blew his nose again.
“Where did they find it? Was it still here in town?”
Steve tucked the handkerchief back into his pocket. “It was here all right. Squashed up like a pancake and loaded on one of those haul-a-way trucks. A policeman just happened to notice the license plate number when he walked by. Luckily, I was here. I’d come home to see about putting my aunt in a nursing home. Then you called saying my little girl wanted me to come and get her. I’ve never lost hope, and your call reassured me that she’s still alive.”
“The D.A. hasn’t brought criminal charges against anyone yet, and until they do . . .”
Steve stood and began to pace the room. “Monday morning, the police are going to take that van apart piece by piece. If there’s anything in it that indicates my Katie was ever there, I plan on bringing criminal charges against the owner!” Anna held up her hand. “Just a minute, you can’t do that. You need more evidence. Owning a van doesn’t make you a murderer. The van could’ve been stolen.” She saw a shadow cross his face, saw hope die in those chocolate brown eyes.
“Why did I think you’d help me? I can see you’re just like all the others in this town. I’ve wasted enough time with the whole lot of you!” Steve grabbed his coat. Before he opened the door, he turned to Anna and Justin. “You haven’t heard the last of me. This whole town is going to pay if something has happened to my Katie!” He slammed the door and was gone.
As a rumble of thunder echoed outside, Anna felt her chin quiver. Trouble, this was all she needed. “Justin, will you make sure Monday morning is free? I’m going to be at the police garage when they take that van a part.”
Justin slid a protective arm around Anna’s shoulders. “Why don’t you let me go?” Anna shoved his arm away. “No, Justin. I’m doing it! You can come along if you want. Suit yourself.”
“Have it your way, Miss McAllister. I’ll check with your secretary and make sure she clears our calendar.”
As Justin closed the door, Anna found herself remembering the hurt she’d seen in those chocolate brown eyes of Steve Morris. Pain that only a parent could feel…the kind her father and mother had felt when her little sister was killed by a drunk driver. Yes,she’d do all she could to help Steve find his daughter.
Tune in next Tuesday for the next episode of Homebred!