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The Ex(11)
Alafair Burke

I had to make a decision: Door A or Door B. Door A is what Don would want: call another firm, bring them up to date, get them to represent Jack. Door B: stay on the case.

Lawyers say it doesn’t matter whether a client’s innocent. It’s not our job to know. We fight zealously no matter what. What a bunch of crap.

I’m not good at everything. Or, to be more honest, I’m pretty bad on some fairly major metrics. I’m selfish. I feel entitled to things always going my way. I despise hearing about other people’s problems, because I don’t like most people, especially people who would be described as normal. They say ignorance is bliss? I think bliss is for the ignorant. But before he met me, Jack was normal and good and blissful, and made the mistake of loving me anyway. And he got burned for it.

I am extremely good at one thing, though. I am good at tearing apart a prosecution. And from what I already knew, Jack needed someone good.

I owed this to him. And maybe I owed it to myself as well.

I PULLED UP A NUMBER on my cell phone and hit Enter.

“Café Lissa.”

The woman at the other end of the line was the Lissa of Café Lissa. We met when I was eighteen years old through the luck of the draw that was Columbia University’s roommate matching system. A quarter century later, Melissa Reyes was still my best friend and quite possibly the only person I had ever met who truly understood me.

“Hey there.”

“Hey, I was hoping to hear from you. You’ve been incommunicado since a very late text last night about bumping into Ryan at Maialino. I’m afraid to ask.”

“It’s the same old thing. It’s . . . whatever.” Anyone else, if they actually knew that story, would start in with a lecture. But like I said, Melissa understands me. “Can you make a point of checking to see if Don’s swinging by the café tonight? He’s not real happy with me right now, and I need to talk to him.”

Don, in addition to being my law partner, was Melissa’s uncle. Her mother’s brother, to be precise. And, like me, Don could be found at Lissa’s multiple times a week.

“Sure, but won’t you see him before I do? What’s going on?”

“I can’t explain now. But it’s important.”

True to form, Melissa didn’t hesitate. “No problem. I’ll get him here.”

Once I hung up, I started typing a new text message to Jack’s daughter, Buckley. Where are you?

I SHOULDN’T HAVE BEEN SURPRISED that Charlotte’s apartment was in a luxury building on Central Park South. Even in college, she made no effort to hide the fact that she benefited from family money. She was one of the kids who could whisk away a friend to Paris for a weekend or show up with enough weed for the entire dorm. Her room, down the hall from Melissa and me, was a single, despite supposed campus policy that all freshmen have roommates. Rumor was, her grandfather was on the board of trustees. When Jack and I first moved in together to a place off campus, she showed up with a four-thousand-dollar espresso maker that took up half the counter space in our galley kitchen because she couldn’t stand my “Mr. Coffee mud drip diner sludge.”

These days, at least she earned some of her money on her own. Charlotte launched an online magazine back when people used to ask, “Who would possibly rely on information from the Internet?” The Room was part gossip, part politics, part news, focusing on life in New York City. The revenue started off slowly, with an occasional paid advertisement from an Eighth Street shoe store or yet another midtown pizza stand claiming to be the “original” NYC pie.

The big splash came a few years after Jack and I broke up when the Room began encouraging people to send in their local celebrity sightings. All tips were compiled on a map. With just one click, any member of the public could find out who was where, wearing what, and with whom—preferably with photos, the less flattering, the better.

A media star was born.

I was with Jack for five years, which meant I was with Charlotte Caperton for five years, because for reasons I never quite understood, she was his best friend. They certainly weren’t cut from the same cloth. Jack only knew her in the first place because his father was the caretaker for the Capertons’ summer place in Long Island. Somehow two little boys from Glen Cove—Jack and his big brother, Owen—and a little girl from the Upper East Side became joined at the hips, playing Marco Polo a few times a year in a luxury pool overlooking Long Island’s north shore. Charlotte and Jack never could remember which of them decided to opt for Columbia first, but where one went, so did the other.

Like a protective mother, Charlotte never did approve of me as an appropriate partner for her best friend. The only good thing I could say about her then was that at least I didn’t need to be jealous. Charlotte was a 100 percent Gold Star Lesbian.

The lobby of her apartment building would be up to any discerning New Yorker’s standards, even Charlotte’s, with overstuffed furniture, gleaming white tables, and fresh flower arrangements the size of beach balls. I was in the process of confirming that the walls were lined with leather when Charlotte’s attentive doorman ended his quick phone call and gestured toward the elevator at the far end of this luxury fortress. “Miss Caperton is expecting you.”

As I stepped out of the elevator on the twenty-fifth floor, I saw her waiting for me at the end of the hall, the apartment door open behind her. For some reason, I’d been expecting an older version of 1990s Charlotte—super-short brown gender-neutral hair, oversize clothes, a self-proclaimed “fat butch.” But she’d grown her hair out into a bob with blond highlights and was probably two jean sizes smaller than she’d been in college. She was wearing makeup and, if I wasn’t mistaken, a Helmut Lang tank top I’d been tempted to purchase on my last Bloomingdale’s trip. At her side was a tan pug looking warily with big black bug eyes at the new arrival.

“It’s about fucking time.”

She hadn’t completely changed. “Nice to see you, too, Charlotte.”

THE GIRL INSIDE THE DOORWAY, though only a few years from being a beautiful woman, was still small enough to have been hidden from view by Charlotte’s imposing frame. Once Charlotte stepped inside the apartment, I was able to get a good look at her. Even without context, I might have immediately known her identity.

Buckley Harris had her father’s thin nose and angular chin, and her mother’s strawberry blond hair and a sprinkling of freckles. She was one of those kids who looked like a photo mash-up of her parents. Her shoulder-length hair fell in loose curls, and her light green eyes were enormous. To me she looked haunted, but maybe I knew too much about her life.

“You must be Buckley,” I said, extending my hand. “I’m Olivia Randall.”

When she didn’t immediately return the gesture, Charlotte nudged her. “Sorry,” Buckley muttered. She did not sound sorry. “I’ve been going crazy wondering where my dad is. When is he coming home?”

I suggested to Charlotte that perhaps she and I should talk alone. Buckley interrupted with a firm no. “I’m the one who called you. I can handle it.”

Charlotte closed her eyes. I’d known her long enough to guess that she was counting silently. Old habits, etcetera. When she opened her eyes, her voice remained calm as she led the way to her living room. “Olivia, Buckley may look like Taylor Swift’s little ginger-haired sister, but she’s an old soul with the IQ of—I don’t know, some person too smart for me to have heard of. And, Buckley, not everyone gets you, okay? Get over it. Now, both of you: sit. Why the fuck is Jack under arrest?”

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