“Oh no.” Christine breathed in deeply, suppressing her tears. She went to the driver’s side of the car, opened the door and climbed inside, starting the ignition to turn on the air-conditioning to MAX. The temperature on the dashboard read ninety-six degrees.
Lauren got in the car. “It’s going to be okay. We’ll figure this out.”
“Right.” Christine grabbed a half bottle of water from the console and took a sip, but it was hot. “I’m sorry I said we’d go see him tomorrow. We didn’t plan on that. I figured if we go in the morning, we’ll be fine. Is that okay?”
“Sure.” Lauren paused. “You know what’s bugging me? I didn’t understand why he told us about his sister.”
“Because I asked him, I asked about his childhood.”
“No you didn’t, not really. You asked him about himself, and he told you a sad story from his childhood. He just offered it.”
“I guess he felt comfortable with us.” Christine finally began to cool down, feeling like herself again. “To leave it out would be an omission, wouldn’t it?”
“Not necessarily. I just want you to be objective about him.” Lauren met her eye, her lips in a grave line. “Do you believe him, that he’s innocent?”
Christine sighed, ragged. “I don’t trust anything I’m feeling right now. I’m not objective.”
“I get that.”
“But you know what, I think he might be innocent. I recognize that he could be guilty, but I just didn’t feel like I was in the presence of someone who could kill someone, much less be a serial killer.” Christine searched her best friend’s troubled expression. “Did you think he’s innocent?”
“He could be, yes. But what do we know about serial killers?” Lauren exhaled, deflating.
“Yeah.” Christine’s heart was still racing. “I’m a mess.”
“Let’s get out of here.” Lauren patted her arm again. “Are you okay to drive?”
“Yes, I got it.” Christine pulled out of the space and steered toward the exit road.
“You want to go to the hotel, check in? Grab some dinner?”
“Not just yet,” Christine answered, getting her bearings as she turned left onto Route 29.
Christine sipped water and pressed END to hang up the call. She felt somewhat better after a salad and French fries at a drive-thru MacDonald’s, and they were making phone calls from the idling car, parked on the street near the courthouse in West Chester, which was a quaintly charming town with funky boutiques, restaurants with sidewalk seating, and a tiny business district that had a confusing number of one-way streets. It had the feel of a college town since it contained West Chester University, reminding her of where she had grown up, since Middletown had Wesleyan. It had taken them an hour to drive here, and on the way, they’d called local criminal lawyers that Lauren had found online. Unfortunately, it was five thirty on a Saturday night, and none of the lawyers was in.
Christine sighed, worried. She’d just called the sixth lawyer and got another no answer, leaving messages on voicemail. “I’m striking out here. Do we have more names?”
“Just a few. Look.” Lauren clicked to get another website, then showed her the phone screen, munching away. Napkins, used ketchup packets, and a crumpled white bag joined the other food debris on the floor of the backseat.
“On it.” Christine pressed in the number of Melinda Norate, Esq., who according to her website, had been practicing for twenty-two years, representing felons in distinctly rural Chester County, which as far as Christine could see, could include horse thieves. A bronze historical plaque on a pole by the car read, Chester County—One of Pennsylvania’s three original counties, formed in 1682 by William Penn.
“I can’t believe we’re doing this.”
“Getting him a lawyer? You heard him. He said he’d tell us anything if we helped him. Tomorrow, I will find a way to ask him if he’s Donor 3319.” Christine straightened up, and the phone stopped ringing, but it didn’t go to voicemail.
“This is Melina Norate,” a woman answered, sounding harried.
“Yes, hello!” Christine said, hopeful. She put the call on speaker so Lauren could hear. “I’m calling for Zachary Jeffcoat, who needs a criminal lawyer. He’s—”
“The serial killer who killed Gail Robinbrecht.”
“Allegedly,” Christine answered, surprised. “Would you represent him?”
“But you practice criminal law, don’t you?”
“Yes, but I’m too busy. That’s why I’m here on a Saturday night.” Norate paused. “You’re never going to be able to get Jeffcoat local representation.”
“Are you from here?”
“Okay, West Chester is the proverbial small town. Everybody here knows everybody else. Gail Robinbrecht had a lot of friends, she worked at the local hospital. Haven’t you seen the white ribbons people are wearing?”
“No. I just got into town.”
“Any lawyer who defends her murderer will never get new business, ever. He’ll be a pariah.”
Christine hesitated. “But what if Zachary Jeffcoat isn’t guilty? Doesn’t he deserve a defense?”
“In theory, but law is a business…” Norate didn’t finish her sentence.
“Can you recommend anybody who would take him?”
“You know who I would try? Francis Xavier Griffith. He goes by Griff. He’s semi-retired, but he’s the best.”
Christine took heart. “Is he local?”
“So why would he do it, when others wouldn’t?”
Norate chuckled. “Give him a call. You’ll see. Don’t be put off by his demeanor.”
“Okay.” Christine started scrolling through her phone for Griff’s website. “Thanks.”
Christine hung up, found the website, which was barebones and had no photo, but she pressed CALL, and the phone rang a few times.
“Griff,” a man answered in a grumpy voice.
“Yes, hello.” Christine introduced herself, then said, “I’m calling on behalf of Zachary Jeffcoat, who needs a lawyer. He’s charged with the murder of Gail—”