Seth laughed but Jessie barely recognized the sound.
“He reached for the gun and I jerked back. I meant to just pull away from him, not pull the trigger.” Tears flowed down his face now. “I didn’t mean it. I got so scared I ran. I went back home. Your dad was there with my mom. They didn’t even hear me come in.”
Jessie could barely swallow. “What happened to the gun?” she whispered.
“I felt so sick I didn’t know what to do. That night I put the gun in a plastic bag and slept with it under the end of the bed. The next day I threw it in a Dumpster behind school.” He faced Jessie, his face pale, his eyes pleading. “I loved my dad. I didn’t mean to do it. And I don’t want your dad to go to jail, but I’m scared they’ll send me instead.”
His voice broke, making him sound more like a little boy than a kid who’d done something so horrible. Once the story was out, he sat down on the couch and buried his head against the armrest. His body shook, rocking back and forth, back and forth.
Jessie felt helpless. Scared. Sick to her stomach. But she hugged her friend tight and said the words she’d want to hear if she’d done something awful. “You’re still my best friend.”
She thought long and hard about what to do with the news. She loved her father, but thanks to Hunter and Molly, Jessie believed he’d be okay. He had to be.
“Here’s what I think,” she finally said to Seth. “We have to trust Hunter to get Dad off.”
“But Hunter said—”
“It doesn’t matter.” Jessie cut him off. “Molly said she trusts him. And I can’t believe I’m saying this, but if Molly trusts Hunter, I think we should, too.” She drew a deep breath and nodded, sure of her decision. “Yep. That’s what I think we should do.”
She shut her eyes and prayed she was right.
A FEW DAYS LATER while drinking his morning coffee in the kitchen with the commander, Hunter’s cell phone rang. His office had received notice that the hearing to dismiss charges against the general had finally been scheduled for the beginning of the following week. He told the commander, who had accidentally died her hair Lucille Ball orange, and within ten minutes—fifteen if he counted Jessie, who had to finish straightening her hair—both the general and Sonya’s family had gathered in the kitchen. He hadn’t expected such a large audience, but he supposed detailing his plan to all involved made the most sense.
Frank sat at the head of the table. Sonya stood by his side, her hand firmly on his shoulder, her support and caring obvious. Robin, who’d come home for the weekend, sat beside Molly, while Jessie and Seth lingered near the entry.
Hunter glanced around at the faces that had become familiar to him in such a short time and his sense of panic grew. These people were counting on him. And though all of his past clients and their families had counted on him, these people were special. They were Molly’s family. Never before had two words meant so much. She’d spent a lifetime searching for the love and acceptance she’d found here. And Hunter held their future in his hands. He broke into a genuine sweat.
“In a nutshell, this hearing is our last chance to get the charges dropped before going to trial.” He tried to keep his voice even and unemotional, as he would with any client and any case.
“Without any tangible evidence that will exonerate the general, my best hope is to point to the lack of evidence to convict him. I’ll present our view of the night of the murder, where the general was and why the court, based on his character, should believe him. I’ll offer alternative suspects and point out that the police failed to investigate anyone except the general and in doing so didn’t meet their burden of proof.” He shoved his hands into his front pockets. “Any questions?”
Everyone spoke at once. A cacophony of sounds surrounded him and he couldn’t focus on any single one until finally, a lone voice won out.
“But you think you’ll get Frank off, right? If not at the hearing then at trial?” Seth spoke from across the room. He leaned against the doorway, looking exactly like the scared fifteen-year-old he was.
Hunter heard the desperation in the kid’s voice and he understood. In the general, Seth saw the last male adult figure in his life, and he didn’t want to lose him in addition to his father. Not on top of finding out his dad hadn’t been the hero he’d thought, but someone very human. Hunter had never really had a male role model of his own, but he had known fear. And he could imagine the fear and pain Seth was experiencing now.
He swallowed hard, wishing he could give the kid the answers he sought. But years of experience had taught him to level with families.
“I’ll do my best, but I have to be honest with you, this is a very tough case. We don’t have any scale-tipping factors on our side except for Frank’s character and—forgive me for saying this, Paul’s lack thereof—and I plan to play those angles for all they’re worth.” He spread his hands out in front of him. “I wish I could give you more than that, but I have to be realistic.”
“We’re just glad to have you on Frank’s side,” Edna said from her seat at the table.
He wondered if they’d feel that way should he actually lose the case.
SINCE HUNTER and the general were locked together in strategy sessions prepping for the hearing, Molly decided to head over to the senior center for her friend Liza’s art class.
Today was her still-life painting class. Molly slipped through the door and grabbed a seat in the back, content to watch and listen to her friend, who had a degree in art history, discussing her passion.
After a thorough explanation of the concept, Liza asked everyone to begin by sketching first.
Irwin Yaeger, who Molly noticed had been fidgeting in his seat throughout the lecture, stood, paintbrush in hand. “I have a question.”
Liza finished pulling her hair back off her face before dealing with the unreformable elderly gentleman. “What is it, Irwin?”
“I thought we were doing nudes today.”
Molly bit the inside of her cheek and tried not to laugh.
Liza couldn’t hold back her grin. “Nudes aren’t on the class schedule. You know that.”
“We all pay for this class, so shouldn’t we get to choose our art form?”
Lucinda stood. “Sit down and stop being a pain in the butt, Irwin. The rest of us want to work on our fruit.”