Kitty Takes a Holiday (Kitty Norville #3) - Page 68

“Of course. I'm sorry, Ms. Norville.”

My smile felt wooden.

“If you don't mind, I'd like to get moving on this,” Ben said, handing Espinoza a written report.

Ben explained the report, a formal, legalistic retelling of everything we'd found in Shiprock. Somehow, between then and now, between his abrupt shape-shifting and our night in the desert and the drive back, he'd compiled our adventures into a narrative that sounded dry, believable, and even logical. He said that according to the local police Miriam had had a reputation for violence, that her younger sister Louise believed that Miriam killed her older sister Joan, that we'd been threatened by her grandfather Lawrence—in short, that the family's history and Miriam's character suggested that she was prone to murderous violence and it was entirely reasonable to assume that her motives here—against me and the others who'd witnessed the encounter—were violent. That Cormac had had no choice but to stop her.

Espinoza seemed to consider all this. He studied the report, tapping a finger on his chin, and nodded seriously-Then he said, “And what of the fact that she had only her bare hands as a weapon? Was a naked woman dressed in a wolf skin really that threatening?”

That was where Ben's scenario fell apart. We had no way to prove that she wasn't just a woman in a wolf skin.

Ben said, “You have four signed statements from witnesses who swear she would have killed someone. Two more statements from Shiprock. All of them saying that she was more than a woman in a wolf costume.”

“Four people at night whose perceptions were muddled by fear and the dark, rendering their testimony somewhat unreliable.”

They were testing each other, I realized. Practicing the arguments they'd have to use against each other in court. This was a practice run, to see if each really had a chance of beating the other.

Espinoza tapped the pages. “You've got hearsay. You've got nothing.”

“I have enough to raise a reasonable doubt in front of a jury. You'll never land a murder one conviction.”

“None of this is verified. I'll have it all disallowed. As I said—you've got nothing, and I will land the conviction. Your client's use of excessive force removes any protection under the

law he might have had.”

Ben turned away and crossed his arms. He was through arguing. I waited for a growl, a snarl, a hint that the wolf was breaking through. His shoulders hunched a little, like hackles. That was it.

“Mr. O'Farrell, for what it's worth, I believe you,” Espinoza said, his tone turning sympathetic. I couldn't help but feel it was false sympathy—he was getting ready to bargain, softening Ben up. “1 believe this. The skinwalker story, all of it. I grew up in this area, I've seen things that make no sense in the light of day. But you know how it goes in court. No judge is going to let you stand there and say she was a skinwalker, and that's the only way you can justify why Mr. Bennett did what he did.”

Ben turned back to him. “If you believe, then this doesn't have to go to court. A judge never has to see it. Drop the charges. You know the truth, you know he was justified. Drop the charges.”

Espinoza was already shaking his head, and my gut sank. “Sheriff Marks is standing by his testimony. If 1 won't prosecute, he'll find someone else to do the job.”

Ben said, “Marks threatened my client. He's a biased witness.”

“That's for the judge to decide,” Espinoza said, giving no doubt how he thought the judge would decide. “If both sides' witnesses are discredited, it'll come down to the coroner's report.” The coroner's report that said Cormac shot a woman in the back, then killed her when she was already dying.

“So 1 guess that's it,” Ben said curtly.

“No.” Espinoza produced a paper of his own and handed it across the table. Ben read it while the prosecutor explained. “I can offer a plea agreement. It's very generous, and I think based on the circumstances it's the best any of us will get out of the situation.”

Espinoza didn't seem to be in a hurry. He sat back and gave Ben plenty of time to read the document. Ben must have read it half a dozen times. I could hear the electric hum of the clock on the wall.

“Any questions?” Espinoza said.

Ben lay the paper aside. “You're right. It's generous. I'll have to talk it over with my client.”

“Of course. Mr. O'Farrell, Ms. Norville.” He gathered up his things and took his

leave.

I waited another minute. Ben still hadn't moved. “Ben? You okay?”

He tapped the tabletop, then pressed a fist into it. Seemed to grind his knuckles into the wood. “I'm trying to figure out what I did wrong. I keep trying to figure it out.”

My guess was he hadn't done anything wrong. Sometimes you did everything right and you still lost.

We went to the jail to visit Cormac.

The three of us sat in a small, windowless room, on hard, plastic seats, around a hard, plastic table, saturated with fluorescent lights and the smells of old coffee and tired bodies. Ben had his briefcase open, papers spread in front of us, everything we'd found in New Mexico, everything Espinoza had laid out for us. Cormac read through them all.

“Espinoza will lower the charge to manslaughter in exchange for a guilty plea. Two to six years max. Otherwise, the charge stays first-degree murder and we go to trial. Mandatory life sentence if convicted.” Ben explained it all, then finished, spreading his hands flat on the table, like he was offering himself as part of the evidence.

The silence stretched on forever. No one would look at anyone. We stared at the pages, but they all said the same thing.

Then Cormac said, “We'll take the plea bargain.”

Immediately Ben countered. “No, we have to fight it. A jury will see it our way. You didn't do anything wrong. You saved everyone there. We're not going to let them hang you out to dry.”

Cormac took a deep breath and shook his head. “Espinoza's right. We all know how this is going to look in court. Everyone may be willing to sit here and talk about skinwalkers and the rest of it, but it won't hold up in court. The law hasn't caught up with it yet.”

“Then we'll make them catch up. We'll set the precedents—”

Still, he shook his head. “My past's caught up with me. We knew it would sooner or later. This way, they put me away for a couple years, I get out and keep my nose clean, I'll get over it. If this guy pins murder one on me, I'll be in for decades. I've taken too many risks. I've gambled too much to think I can win this time. Time to cut our losses.”