Home > The Ex

The Ex
Alafair Burke

Chapter 1

WHITE NOISE IS magic, right up there with tinfoil and Bluetooth and Nespresso pods. White noise makes the sounds of the city disappear. The horns, garbage trucks, and sirens all vanish with the touch of an app on my iPhone. When white noise fills my room, I can be anywhere, which means I’m nowhere, which is the only way I can sleep.

And then the phone rings.

RELYING ON MUSCLE MEMORY, I managed to answer without opening my eyes because I knew the room would be filled with light I was not ready to face. “Olivia Randall.”

“Hey.”

I knew from the voice that it was Einer, our assistant-slash-investigator. A deeper voice behind me murmured something about what time it was, and I felt a heavy forearm drape across my hip. I rolled forward to face my nightstand, away from the voice in my bed. “Hey,” I said in response.

“Don thinks you’re taking the morning off because of Mindy,” Einer said. “He says you’re resting on your laurels, but I think he’s jealous of all the attention.”

I forced myself to open my eyes. The clock in front of me told me that it was 11:17 AM, nearly halfway through a normal person’s workday.

Next to the clock was a half-empty bottle of grappa. Grappa? The odd shape of the bottle triggered a memory: a client—referred by a law school friend who, unlike me, made partner at Preston & Cartwright—handing me a bottle, inexplicably shaped like the Eiffel Tower, to thank me for getting a glove compartment full of parking tickets dismissed in one fell swoop. I told him that a tip wasn’t necessary, but he missed the hint that it was insulting. Into the kitchen cabinet went the bottle. And then another memory: the forearm across my hip reaching into the cabinet last night: “Grappa! I love grappa.”

I forced myself to focus on Einer’s words. Morning off because of Mindy. Right: Mindy, the twenty-four-year-old former child starlet I saved from prison yesterday by suppressing the cocaine that had been found in her impounded Porsche while she was collecting a ten-thousand-dollar club-promotion fee in the Meatpacking District.

My fee was more.

“Tell Don I have no laurels to rest on,” I said, leaning back against the padded headboard of my bed. Don’s my law partner. He’s also my mentor, plus an honorary dad or an uncle or something. Most important, right now he was probably wondering where I was. I could still hear the white noise, even though the app was closed now, as I wracked my brain for a credible story I hadn’t used recently. “A client from a couple of years ago called early this morning. His son got picked up on a DUI coming home from a house party in Brooklyn. He thought he had slept it off but was still drunk from the night before.” The voice next to me muttered, “He’s not the only one.”

“It took a little longer than I thought to keep him from getting booked.”

“Good, I think Don will be happy to know you’re not in the neighborhood. He won’t admit it, but that old softie worries about you like crazy.”

I didn’t get the connection between the two sentences, but here’s the thing about being a liar: you develop an instinct for when you’ve missed a step and need to fake it. “No cause for worry,” I said. “You weren’t calling to check on me, were you?”

“No, there’s some kid who keeps calling. Won’t leave a name. He or she or whatever is threatening to come to the office if you don’t call back. And when it comes to kids, that’s a serious threat by my standards.”

“Nice to know we’ve got an iron spine at the front desk, Einer. Just give me the number. And tell Don not to worry. Just a stupid DUI.”

I opened my nightstand and pulled out a pen and one of the many notebooks I always keep nearby.

I had half the number entered in my phone when I felt the hand at the end of the forearm across my hip beginning to explore. Really?

I threw back the blankets, rolled out of bed, and started gathering items of clothing from the floor. “It’s late. Your wife’s flight lands in an hour.”

THE PHONE RANG ONLY ONCE.

“Hello?” The voice was eager. Clear, but low. I could tell why Einer had been uncertain about gender. Probably female. Not a little kid, not a woman.

“This is Olivia Randall. You called my office?”

“Yeah. I’m worried about my dad. He’s not answering his phone or his texts.”

Great. Had we reached the point where kids call lawyers the second their helicopter parents go incommunicado? I was tempted to hang up, but if I did, with my luck, her father would turn out to be someone important.

“I’m sure your father probably just stepped out for a little while, okay?”

“No, you don’t understand. The police were here. He left with them. He said everything was fine, but then the police returned, like, immediately.” My mind wandered back to Einer’s comment about Don being relieved to hear I wasn’t near the office. “They had the super with them, and they knocked on the door and told me I needed to leave the apartment.”

“Did they say why?” I asked, beginning to strip the sheets with my free hand.

“No, but I asked them if I was under arrest. They said no, and then they started being nice to me, calling me sweetie and stuff—asking if they could contact a family member for me to stay with or something. So at that point, I stopped asking questions and told them I had debate team practice and was supposed to spend the night with my aunt.”

“So you’re calling from your aunt’s house?” This conversation was starting to make my head hurt. Everything was making my head hurt.

“No, I don’t even have an aunt. But I figured I could do more on my own than if they put me in a foster home or something.”

“So you’re in foster care?” I tossed the top sheet onto the floor of my closet.

The girl on the other end of the line made a growling sound. “Oh my God. The police were here talking to my father. Now he’s gone. And there are cops at our apartment who basically kicked me out. I’m pretty sure they have my dad for some reason. In which case, I don’t have anywhere to go, in which case they might throw my ass in foster care. So I made up an aunt and called you instead.”

If I had to guess, the girl’s father had probably been arrested, and she spotted my name in the euphoric tweets from my latest celebrity client, Mindy Monaghan. I started into my usual blow-off speech, about how I wasn’t taking new clients, etcetera. She responded by demanding that I get down to the First Precinct to help her father.

“How do you know he’s at the First Precinct?”

“I don’t, not for sure. But the police cars parked outside our building have a one painted on the side of them.”

Bingo. That would be the precinct number. “I can e-mail you a list of referrals—”

“No, you have to help him. It’s the least you can do after the way you treated him.”

“You’re saying I know your father?” Too many clients think that just because you represent them for one thing, you’re their lawyer for life.

“My name is Buckley Harris. My father’s Jack Harris.”

JACK HARRIS. THE NAME HIT me in the gut so hard that I tasted last night’s grappa at the back of my throat.

Her voice pushed away the competing thoughts—images from the past—working their way into my consciousness. “I heard them talking about gunshots or something. So I assumed it was about my mom. And then I saw the news online, so now I’m totally paranoid, thinking it has something to do with that.”

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