Never Look Back

By: Linda Lael Miller

"He's harmless," I said, hoping it was true, and put in a call to Dr. Thomlinson, who came to fetch his patient less than a minute after we hung up.

The doctor echoed this sentiment. I wondered why I wasn't reassured.

' Once Bailey had been dragged out, and Shanda had gone, I got down to business.

Father Michael Dennehy was a hard man to catch, and the window repair crew showed up just as I was leaving my second message with his secretary. While the guys were measuring for the new plate glass and murmuring about women going into business in the middle of a slum, I picked up the phone and called Shanda's public defender.

By some miracle, he was in.

"This is Clare Westbrook," I told him. "I'm—"

Long-suffering sigh on his end. "I know who you are," he said. "Anyway, you've been getting a lot of media time lately. Lucky for you that Harvey Kredd got blasted, wasn't it? You might still be chasing ambulances if he hadn't. And how about that inheritance?" He whistled. "If I were you, I'd be on a beach in France right now."

I closed my eyes and, temporarily, my mouth. Maybe I hadn't liked my late boss very much, but I didn't consider his murder a career break, and I could have done without the attention from the newshounds. I especially did not appreciate their splashing my new financial status all over the media.

"You still there?" Ted Adams asked.

"I'm considering representing one of your clients. Her name is Shanda Rawlings." I pictured the files on his desk; the average public defender's caseload is formidable. "If you wouldn't mind looking her up—"

Adams's response was clipped. "No need of that. The kid's a chronic paperhanger. She's got two convictions behind her—slap on the wrist both times. Third time's the charm."

I bristled. "She says she's changed."

He laughed. "That's what they all say, Counselor. Or have you forgotten?"

"You sound more like a prosecutor than a defense attorney, Mr. Adams," I said stiffly.

" 'Mr. Adams'? Gee, I was 'Ted' at the last legal-eagle banquet. I'm wounded, Clare."

Prick, I thought. "Thanks, Ted," I answered. "You've been no help at all." I hung up. The phone rang again before I could pull back my hand. "Clare Westbrook," I answered, ready to take Adams's head off if he'd called back to get in the last word.

The voice was friendly. "This is Father Mike. I have a note here that you called. How can I help you, Ms. Westbrook?"

Relieved, I explained that I was a lawyer and asked about Shanda.

"She's a good girl," Father Mike said with quiet conviction. "Best student in my computer class."

"You're aware that she's in a lot of trouble?"

"Yes." Father Mike sighed, and I could imagine him running a hand through his hair—if he had any. I can often guess people's ages by their voices, but in this case, I had no clue. "Like many underprivileged children, Shanda has made some poor choices in her life, but she's a very bright young lady, and she takes excellent care of her daughter. She attends quite a few activities at our center."

I had noticed that Maya looked healthy, happy, and well-fed. Her cotton dress, though most likely a hand-me-down, had been clean, every ruffle carefully pressed. "Is Shanda one of your parishioners, Father?"

A chuckle. "No. Shanda is not Catholic. She has issues about organized religion. But she's been participating in our youth program since she was fourteen- She's quite delightful, if a little on the prickly side sometimes- On occasion, she's been—well—physical with some of the other young people."

I knew all about being prickly, not to mention "physical." I'd bloodied a few noses myself, when I was a kid in Tucson, defending my alcoholic mother when she became the topic of interest during recess. "Maybe she just needs a chance," I mused. I might have been talking about Shanda, but I was thinking of my younger self, full of bruised pride.

"She's worth the effort," Father Mike said quietly, "If you take her case, you won't be sorry."

"I'll hold you to that," I replied, with a smile.

"Shanda won't be able to pay you, you know."

"Yes," I answered. "I know. This is pro bono."

"Ah," he said. "Well, if I can do anything to help, give me a call."

"You would be willing to testify on Shanda's behalf, if necessary?"

"Indeed I would," Father Mike said. There was a pause. "I heard about the—er—incident at your office. The shooting, I mean. There are gangs in that area, Ms. Westbrook. Be careful."

I promised to exercise caution, then we exchanged goodbyes, both of us busy people, and hung up.

The window guys were outside, unloading a sizable piece of glass from their van. I watched, wincing a little, as they carried it across the sidewalk and leaned it against the outside wall.

The telephone rang at twelve o'clock straight up. The new window was in, the crew had taken their check and gone, and I was considering painting my name on the pane myself. After lunch, anyway.

"Well?" Shanda demanded, the moment I answered.

"You've got yourself a lawyer," I said.