After Mary had delivered Paige to her father, she went to find Judy in the Roundhouse lobby, busy despite the late hour. Groups of department employees stood chatting in street clothes, oblivious to the activity around them. Two cops hurried to the exit, their gun holsters and waist radios flapping, and three others dragged a vastly overweight drunk between them in handcuffs. The toes of his sneakers squeaked across the polished floor, making the cops at the security desk laugh.
The oval lobby, with its dramatic curved shape, was modern when it was built, but now looked obviously dated, reminding Mary of The Jetsons come to life. Wooden acoustic slats ringed the room, the floor was a funky flecked tile, and the walls were covered with oil portraits of police brass, odd in the space-age setting. An American flag and the blue flag of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania flanked the security desk, the fluorescent lighting glinting dully on their synthetic weave. Mary spotted Judy reading the newspaper across the room and hurried over.
'Yo, come with me,' she said, grabbing Judy's arm. 'We have to talk.' She hustled Judy aside so no one could hear and told her what had happened in Paige's apartment with the photo. 'Don't you think it's odd that she lied about being with her boyfriend on the night her mother was killed?'
'You don't know that she lied. You don't know that the kid in the hall was her boyfriend.'
'I think he was. So why would she lie?'
'Maybe she doesn't want you to know her business, whiz.'
This is the night the murder was committed, and Paige was supposed to go to dinner at her parents' house, she told me. She let it slip.' Mary glanced over her shoulder. A circle of women talked near a display case that contained model squad cars. 'What do you think about that?'
'I don't think it means anything. Not much anyway.'
'What if she really did go to her parents' tonight? What if her boyfriend went, too? That doesn't mean much?'
'That didn't happen, Mare. Newlin confessed. He called nine-one-one from the scene. He's even willing to take responsibility for the crime, which he should.'
"He could be protecting her.'
'Set himself up for murder? Who would do that?'
'A loving father,' Mary answered without hesitation, and Judy looked at her like she was nuts.
'My father would never do anything like that, and he loves me.'
'Of course not. Confess to a murder he didn't commit? He's not like that.'
'My father would do it, in a minute.' Mary summoned an image of her father's deep brown eyes and soft, round face. 'He would do anything for me, make any sacrifice. If he could save us from something terrible, any kind of harm, he would.'
'Doesn't right or wrong matter?'
'Wrong is if something bad happens to me or my sister.'
Judy shook her head. 'Well, it's not a given, and I really doubt that's what happened with Newlin. Don't be distracted by his looks.'
'You are, too. You'd have to be. But like you told him, there's a ton of evidence that he did it and there's no evidence that Paige did it.'
'How do you know? We're not looking for any. Nobody is.' The more Mary said it, the more it seemed possible. 'The cops bought his story and they're going with it. We bought
his story and we're going with it. Jack Newlin is about to plead guilty and go to jail for life, right?'
'But what if he's innocent? What if instead of having a client who's telling us he's innocent when he's guilty, we have a client who's telling us he's guilty when he's innocent?'
Jack saw Paige enter the interview area, a reed of a girl wrapped in a chic black leather jacket. Her wet blue eyes took the dirty interview room in with one appalled look and she rushed to the chair in front of him, her expression so anguished it made Jack feel as if she were the one in prison for life. Which now, in a way, she was.
'Dad, I can't let you do this,' Paige said, her voice urgent. Tears spilled from her eyes and her brow was a network of premature worry lines. 'I can't let you. I won't let you.'
'You have to. You have no choice.'
'But it's not right. Your job, your life.' Paige wiped the tears beginning to streak her cheeks. Her hair, slicked back in the ponytail style Jack favored, was damp from the rain outside. 'Dad, they could give you the death-penalty!'
'No, they won't.' Jack tried to keep calm. He had so many questions for her, but above all, he had to convince her to follow his plan. She could ruin her life in one night. 'Listen to me, Paige. If I plead guilty, they won't charge me with the 'death penalty. That's how it works.'
'But Dad, your whole life, in prison? That's terrible.'
'Not at all. They'll send me to Woodville with the other rich guys. It's like a country club. Sammy Cott went there last year. Took ten strokes off his game.' Jack smiled, but couldn't coax one from Paige. 'Come on, honey. I'll be okay.'
'No, you won't.' Paige began to cry. The people… the other prisoners… they'll hurt you.'
'That won't happen, not to me. Lawyers get special status
in prison, didn't you know that? Jailhouse lawyers are very valuable. Nobody hurts them.'
'Yes, they do,' Paige blurted through her tears. 'I saw it on TV. On HBO… there's this show. You should see what they do… to them. There's a lawyer in there and they…'
That's only on TV.' Jack had to cut her off. She could get hysterical and she had to keep her wits about her. 'I'll do fine, honey. I may even like it. I'll finally represent some honest clients, huh?' He smiled again, but Paige was crying too hard to see, her head bent and her lovely face covered by slim hands. Jack felt his heart wrench as he noticed her hands shaking. He loved her so much, this beautiful child. He had just been getting to know her when this happened. 'It's all right. Don't cry, sweetie.'
'It's not… all right.'
'It will be. I'll make it all right, you'll see. You can visit me every week, whenever you want to. The world doesn't end because I go to prison. We'll see more of each other than before. Who knows, our relationship may even improve.' Jack laughed then he saw her shoulders finally relax. Her face came up from her hands, bleary-eyed but smiling, and his heart eased. He felt struck at the power of love, even at the most unexpected times. Especially at the most unexpected times.
'Dad, that's not funny.'
Think of the upside. No more suits and ties, which I hate. And they make all my food for me. You know what a lousy cook I am. Remember when I made the tofu turkey for you? And that hummus you love? It came out like spackle.'
That's not funny either.' Paige giggled, and Jack beamed.
'It's not meant to be funny. Dad jokes are never funny, everybody knows that.'
'You aren't that kind of dad.' Paige sniffled.
'I am, too!' Jack said, in mock offense. I'm no slacker when it comes to bad jokes. Remember the avocado?'
'No. Tell it to me.'
'Okay, what did the avocado say to the celery before they got married?' Jack's heart caught in his throat as his daughter replied:
'Avocado never-ending love for you.'
'Right,' he said, his voice thick. 'That's a pretty bad joke, isn't it?'
'It's a terrible joke.' She wiped her eyes.
'You would say, "it sucks."'
'It sucks bad.' Paige laughed, and the sound touched Jack so deeply that he kept talking, hoping the congestion in his throat would work itself out.
Think of this that way, honey. I'm more responsible than anyone for what happened. It was brewing from the day your mom and I married. You don't know all the reasons for it and you don't have to pay for it. I do.'
'No, you didn't do it.' Paige kneaded her forehead, still creased with worry. 'My head is killing me. I should tell the police what happened. I should be the one confessing.'
'Don't do that! Don't even say that! I won't allow it,' he said sternly, and Paige looked up, startled.
'I could tell them, you know. You couldn't stop me.'
'I'd say you were lying to protect me. They would believe me and not you.'
'Why?' Paige's eyes bored into his, and Jack knew he needed to be convincing now. He could see she was actually considering it. He should have anticipated that. She always had a soft heart.
'There are lots of reasons. Because I told them a story that implicates me, for one. Because they'll have direct evidence against me, for another.'
'It's not for you to know.'
'Whatever, it doesn't matter. I could tell them the truth.'
'No, please. Who would you rather send to prison, a pretty young girl or a lawyer? It's a no-brainer.'
'I don't know.' Paige was shaking her head. Her skin was mottled from stress. 'God, my brain's going to… explode.'
'Paige, for once in your life, let me do something for you.'
'You did things for me. You worked, you had a job.'
That's not something I did for you, and what I made was a drop in the bucket compared to your mother and you know it.'
'You were there, Dad.'
True, I was present. I was in attendance.'
'I didn't mean it that way -'
'But I did. / did.' Jack leaned over the counter. 'I was there, but that's it. I let your mother run the show. I was just a guy in the background. I was there, at the birthday parties. I was like an actor playing a role – Father. But I really wasn't a father to you, not the way a father should be.'
'What's a father?' Paige blinked, her eyes glistening. 'A hero?'
'No, not a hero. Just a man,' Jack answered, his words suddenly clarifying his thinking. 'I will do this for you. I already have. But there is one thing you have to do, in return. You have to tell me the truth about what happened to your mother.'
Paige looked down and sighed deeply. 'What happened? It's hard to say. I mean, it's like I don't know.'
'What do you mean, you don't know?' Jack heard anger creep into his tone. 'You were there, weren't you?'
'Was Trevor there?'
'No, he stayed home, like you said.'
'Is that the truth?'
'Dad.' Paige glared at him, plainly insulted. 'Yes, I told you.'
'Good.' Jack eased forward on his cold seat, watching Paige's hand shake again as she smoothed back her hair. 'I know this is hard for you. I know that whatever happened with you and Mom, it's not easy to talk about.'
'It's worse than that.' She hung her head and her voice sounded so agonized Jack wondered for a moment why he was forcing the issue. He wanted to get the details of his own story straight, in case they questioned him again, but more important, he wanted to make Paige account for it, at least in this small way. He, and she, owed Honor at least that. He pushed his resentment away when Paige started to cry again.
'I'm sorry, I'm so sorry,' she said, between sobs. 'It's so hard to know… where to start, even.'
'At the beginning.' Jack remembered her telephone call to him that afternoon. He had been at his desk drafting a letter and was so pleased that Paige had called him at work. Then she had said she was coming home to dinner and told him why, and that she was going to tell Honor that night. Paige had said she needed help to tell her mother. She couldn't know how much.
'Oh, no. Dad.' Paige looked down at her hands lying limp in her lap, then she blinked through her tears. 'I think… I'm getting a migraine. A bad one. Dad.'
'Oh, no.' Jack felt stricken. Paige had been plagued with migraines ever since she was young. Paralyzing headaches that hit anytime Paige was stressed and sent her to her bedroom, where she'd draw the curtains and sleep for hours. 'Did you see the aura?' he asked, anxious. He meant the double vision or glittery lights that warned her.
'I… think so. Wait. Hold on.' Paige held up her hand and turned it slowly, gazing at it with eyes strangely out of focus. Jack had seen her do it so many times. If she saw an aura, it meant the migraine was on the way and she had only minutes to hurry to bed. She could take Duadrin at the onset of the migraine, which could head off the symptoms if she took it in time.
'Do you have your meds?'
'No,' Paige said, and it came out like a soft wail. 'When the lawyer told me you were here… I just got dressed and left. I didn't think. I didn't even bring my purse.' Her hand
dropped to her lap. 'Uh-oh. It's… coming. Waiting for it is the worst.'
'Oh God, no meds?' The pain couldn't be prevented, like a freight train racing at his daughter. Jack had seen how fast it could hit; in five to ten minutes Paige would be reduced to incoherence and agony. He couldn't do that to her. 'Honey, go home and lie down right away. The lawyers are right upstairs. Go to them.'
'No, no, I want to talk to you.' Her hand rose to her forehead and she touched it gingerly. 'I want to tell you what happened… with Mom.'
'You should go.' Jack was burning to hear what had happened, but he couldn't torture his own child, twist the vise around her head himself. 'Please, we'll talk another time. Go home. God knows, I'm not going anywhere.'
'No, no… I feel able… to talk.' Paige rubbed her forehead. 'It was just me and Mom… I came home to dinner… I don't know… where to start.'
'You went over to dinner/ Jack supplied, to help her. 'I was supposed to meet you there but I was late. I am so sorry.'
'It's not your fault.' Tears returned to her eyes but she brushed them away with the back of her hand. 'I was early. It wasn't going to go well, I knew. So… I went home and she was there. I was… going to wait for you, to tell her, but… she started in. That I was… gaining weight.' Paige's tears halted and her voice turned bitter. 'I was looking fat. I was… retaining water. Oh, my God, my head.' Paige kneaded her brow. 'Shit.'
'You should go. Please go.'
'No.' Paige waved him off, her hand shaking. 'She started in… on how I couldn't gain weight. How I had to… control myself. How I had to watch what I ate… now that my big chance… was coming up.'
Jack winced. As Paige had grown older. Honor and nagged Paige more about her weight. He had argued that it would drive Paige to anorexia or worse, but neither heeded him. It was always as if he were speaking offstage in a drama played out between mother and daughter. 'So you and your mom started fighting, right from the beginning.'
'Yes. It got me so… upset. It was like… I knew why I was gaining… and she didn't know. And then… I felt like who was she to tell me, I'm emancipated and I am not a child, and now… I was… having a child.'
Jack felt queasy at the words. Paige had told him on the phone, but hearing it said out loud made it undeniable. His child was having a child. Their child was having a child. It was bad news for any parents, but worse for Jack and Honor, given their history. He could only imagine how Honor would have taken the news.
'Oh, no. This is going to be a bad one.' Paige's forehead buckled in pain and her hand covered it futilely. 'Listen… I was thinking… now she can't tell me anything… because I'm going to be a mother. Not just her. Me. All of a sudden… I was happy about it. Really happy… and I wanted to tell her. So it just… came out.'
Jack visualized the scene. Paige happy about delivering news that was Honor's worst nightmare.
'I said, "I'm pregnant, Mom… that's why I'm so hungry. So I have to eat and… there's nothing anybody can do about it. Because I'm going to… have a baby."'Paige stopped suddenly. That's the beginning of the migraine. It's… coming. I'll tell it… fast. I looked at her expression… and I couldn't believe it. Her eyes… they were so big… and angry. She looked like… a witch.'
Jack couldn't even guess at the look.
Then… she hit me.' Fresh tears came to Paige's eyes and her face flushed with emotion. 'She hit me… right on the face. Like a really hard slap… she called me things but she never… hit me before. Ever. She hit me so hard… I fell off the chair. She knocked me right off the chair… onto the floor. I couldn't believe… it.'
But Jack could. Though Honor wasn't a violent woman, this news would move her to it. This news would unhinge her, undo all of them. He wanted to tell Paige the truth right then, had the impulse to explain, but fought it. This wasn't the place or the time. She had only a few minutes before the migraine hit full force. She'd become incapable even of speech.
'I got up from the floor… my face was hurting, and I started to cry. Then she grabbed me and… threw me down again… and started kicking me. Kicking me… Dad… over and over. Like in my stomach.' Paige's sobbing started again, and Jack's gut twisted. 'She had on her mules… with the pointy toes, and she was, like… aiming for my stomach, Dad. Really hard… with the toe. For the… baby. Like she was trying to… kick it out of me.'
No. Jack just kept shaking his head. No. He didn't know if he had even said it aloud.
'She started yelling… "You kill it or I'll kill it!"… "You kill it or I'll kill it!" Dad… my head. I can't… I really can't -' Paige covered her face and doubled over, falling forward on the counter and collapsing into tears. 'I don't know what… happened next. I just don't, Dad… I swear.' Paige was crying full bore, but trying to talk. 'I started to hurt… all over, from my belly… and my chest… I started to hurt, so much… I rolled away from her. I said… I wasn't getting an abortion. But she kept… coming at me… kicking.'
No. He didn't want to hear any more. He didn't want to put Paige through any more.
'I was so scared… and hurt so much… I couldn't even see. I mean, I didn't think she'd kill me, I only know I got so angry, for me, for my baby, it was like… I was angry for so long, my whole life. Then, I think… I got up… and grabbed the knife. I remember… I grabbed the knife.' Paige looked up, tears streaming down a face contorted with pain. 'I can't… think.'
Jack blinked away his own tears. It was his fault. He hadn't been there. Not only tonight, but for all of her childhood. He hadn't known how bad it had been, but
that was no excuse. He should have known; it was his job to know. He had deserted his own daughter and when he had finally realized it, he was too late. Guilt engulfed him, drowning him like a wave.
'I went kind of… crazy. I was yelling and crying… it was like everything came back at me… I mean… I knew I was mad at her… but I guess I just got out of control… and I stabbed her and when I was done, she was… she was' – Paige's expression was a frieze of agony – 'she was lying there… on the floor. I dropped the… knife. It was all… bloody. I didn't mean… I just left her there… and ran out. I just ran… I'm sorry, Dad. I'm so sorry.' Paige's words dissolved into tears, and her shoulders collapsed as easily as a dollhouse.
Jack couldn't help but raise his hands, even handcuffed, to the plastic barrier between them, touching it with his fingertips. It was cold, hard, and lifeless, so unlike the warm, silky hair of his little girl. How often had he touched Paige's head? Not often enough. Now he had to save her. 'Paige,' he said, 'what did you tell the lawyers?'
'I said… I wasn't there.' Paige was sobbing hard. That… I didn't go over.'
'Okay, so you were never there tonight. You never went over. Stick with that story, understand?'
'It's… a lie. God, my head. The… lights.'
'I know it's a lie. I don't care.' Jack lowered his hands and leaned forward urgently. 'Never, Paige. Never breathe a word. If you do, you and your baby are lost.'
'My baby?' Paige looked at him through her tears. Her eyes were red and swollen. Her skin was a mass of hives. 'What about my baby?'
Think about the baby, Paige. We didn't even get to talk about the baby. What are you planning to do?'
'I don't know, for sure.' Paige's weeping stilled. 'Get married. Trevor wants to.'
Jack cringed inwardly. 'What about college? You told me you'd set aside modeling for college.'
'I'll go later, after the baby.'
Jack bit his tongue. 'Okay, let's assume for the moment that's the right decision. If you come forward and tell the police what happened, who will raise the baby? Trevor? Of course not. You have to think of your baby, not me. Please don't interfere with me. If the police question you, say you weren't at the house. Say you were surprised by what I did. Don't go to my arraignment or any other court proceeding. Let me do what I have to do.'
'Put your hand on your tummy, right now. Do it, Paige.' Jack's tone was so commanding he sounded strange even to himself. Something was happening to him. He felt like he was coming into his own. Maybe even redeeming himself, 'Put your hand on your tummy.'
Paige did as she was told, crying as she rested her slender, pale hand against the slick black leather of her jacket. She was listening to him, Jack could see.
That's your baby, in there. Inside you. That baby is your first obligation now, not me. You're a mother now. You are the mother. Be a mother.'
'Okay, Dad,' Paige said in a whisper, and Jack knew from her eyes that she had yet to think of herself that way. She would do what he said. She owed a responsibility to someone other than herself, as he did. In one horrific, rainy night, she had become a parent.
And so, finally, had Jack.