Chapter 1: Trials and Tribulations
“Mister Albrook,” Elizabeth Summers rose from her seat in a graceful, fluid motion. The tone she gave to the title was just enough to make the jury wonder whether the witness on the stand truly deserved it.
She walked toward the witness stand in a casual manner, polished black heels clicking on the courtroom tile. Hours had been spent making sure the business suit she wore looked both attractive and conservative, and her shoulder-length blonde hair was tied back in a tight, professional-looking bun. In short, Elizabeth knew how important appearance was to making the right impression, and she was consistently beloved by juries for her striking looks and confident demeanor.
“Or.should I call you ‘Spike’?” she read from the folder in her hand, brow slightly furrowed as if she’d never noticed this disturbing little piece of information before.
The man on the stand leaned forward in a seductive stance, smirk already firmly in place. “You can call me whatever you want, luv,” he said in a low purr, his soft British accent sending tingles down the spines of all who heard it.
Juror Number Five bit back a snort of laughter.
Elizabeth merely looked up at him critically, eyeing his bleached white hair and scarred brow and obviously finding him lacking. “You aren’t called ‘Spike’, then?” she inquired pointedly.
“‘m called a lot of things,” he provided unhelpfully.
Jurors Number Five and Two both looked amused now.
Elizabeth decided it was prudent to move on. “You’re a private investigator, isn’t that right, Mister Albrook?” she inquired.
“Somethin’ like that,” he agreed, sitting back comfortably and intentionally watching her legs.
“Your Honor,” Elizabeth protested, “permission to treat this witness as hostile.”
Judge Peterson watched, unimpressed, as Spike licked his lips and followed the curve of Elizabeth’s ass intently with molten blue eyes. “Permission granted. The witness will answer the prosecution’s questions seriously,” Judge Peterson sent a scathing look Spike’s way.
He gave her a disinterested shrug in response.
Elizabeth stepped up closer to the podium when she continued so he had no choice but to direct his gaze towards her face. “And, on the night of the sixteenth, that was why you were parked outside the defendant’s apartment building?” she continued with her line of questioning.
“Yeah,” he nodded, cocky demeanor receding slightly.
“And what exactly had you been hired to do that night?” she pressed.
“Just watch Mister Trick there, and follow him if he left,” he said simply.
“I see.” Elizabeth stepped back away from the podium and took two paces, creating a short, dramatic pause. “So you were watching Mister Trick’s building non-stop from seven o’clock on the evening of the sixteenth until nine o’clock on the morning of the seventeenth, is that your testimony?”
“Right as rain, luv,” he agreed with a lazy, seductive smile in Juror Number Three’s direction. She blushed slightly in response.
“That’s fourteen hours straight?”
“Sounds ’bout right.”
“And never once, that entire night, did you maybe.drowse off?” Elizabeth suggested.
“No.” Fiery blue eyes were narrowed to steely points now that the true drilling began.
“You never left your car once?”
“No,” he insisted vehemently.
“What can I say, luv, ‘ve got a lot of.stamina.” He replied in a breathless whisper.
Elizabeth acted as though she hadn’t even heard the innuendo. “Maybe to get something to drink from the café on the corner? It was open all night.”
“No,” he repeated.
“To use the payphone?”
“Objection.” The defense attorney rose with the overly-offended manner necessary for all objections. “Asked and answered.”
“Objection sustained,” Judge Peterson ruled. “Move on, Ms. Summers.”
Elizabeth nodded, not shaken in the slightest. “Where was the defendant’s car parked that night?” she questioned.
“Out in back,” Spike supplied readily enough. “There’s a lot off the alley.”
“And could you see his car?”
Spike’s eyes narrowed at that, and a muscle in his cheek twitched. “No,” he conceded reluctantly.
“How long do you think it would take the defendant to have gotten from his second floor apartment, down the stairs, and around back to his car where you wouldn’t be able to see him?” she demanded.
“Objection!” The defense attorney was up in arms again. “Mister Albrook never climbed those stairs. He has no way of knowing-“
“He watched the building for fourteen hours straight,” Elizabeth cut in just as vehemently. “He should be able to make a conservative estimate.if he was really there.”
“And now the prosecution’s testifying!” the defense protested.
“Quite right,” Judge Peterson agreed. “Ms. Summers, that last comment was out of line. However, the witness should be qualified to give a rough estimate. Answer the question, Mister Albrook.”
Spike shrugged and scratched at his scarred eyebrow. “Five minutes?” he suggested. “Tops.”
“So, then,” Elizabeth was back on track now, “if, in that entire fourteen hour period, you looked away even once for five minutes, the defendant could have exited the building, gotten to his car, and driven off without your knowledge?”
“Just answer the question, Mister Albrook,” Elizabeth insisted.
“‘S possible,” he conceded with a roll of his eyes, “if I looked away. I din’t.”
“You had a cell phone with you in the car?”
“And you received.three calls from your office during your stakeout?”
“One of which was nearly fifteen minutes long.”
“Kept my eye on the buildin’ the entire time,” Spike insisted stubbornly.
“I see.” A sly smile crossed Elizabeth’s lips, and she intentionally let her bra-strap slip down her shoulder beneath the summer blouse she was wearing, exposing a bit more of her flesh than was entirely proper. A glint of triumph lit up in her eyes when the motion caught Spike’s gaze, and he shifted uncomfortably in his seat, watching the silken fabric slide sensuously against her skin. “You’ve been a private detective for how long?”
“Just over six years,” he replied gruffly, fighting back a groan at the memory of that soft skin in his palm, her warm body beneath him, surrounding him as they.
“So, you must be pretty good at it by now, huh?” She gave him a flirtatious little smile.
He instantly knew something was up. “‘ve known worse.”
“I’ll bet you have,” Elizabeth agreed teasingly. “And your job is to observe, am I right?”
“In part.” Her perfume seemed overwhelming to him at that moment, the fragrant scent of vanilla bringing him back to the first time he’d glimpsed perfection.
“So, I bet you can tell me which door the Executive Assistant District Attorney just left through, can’t you?” she asked with false sweetness.
He snorted. He knew this had been some sort of set-up. “I wasn’t hired to watch your boss,” he insisted.
“No,” she agreed, “but you’re still sticking by your story that you couldn’t possibly have been distracted, even for a few minutes?”
“Not unless you’re admittin’ you having done a li’l striptease act in my car,” he retorted with a lascivious leer.
“Quite, Ms. Summers,” Judge Peterson agreed. “One more comment like that, and I’ll find you in contempt,” she warned Spike with a glare.
“Just pointin’ out the obvious logical flaw in the question,” he insisted defensively. “Oh, and he went through the back.”
Elizabeth seethed inwardly at that but forced herself to maintain all outward cool. “Who hired you to watch the defendant that night?” she snapped.
“‘m bound not to reveal the name of my employer,” he retorted.
“Isn’t it true that Alan Fitch hired you? A known mob associate who once hired Mister Trick to commit murder?” she shot out.
“Objection, Your Honor!” the defense exclaimed.
“I’ll beat you to it,” Judge Peterson gave Elizabeth a harsh glare. “The witness’ client has a right to confidentially,” she said sternly, “and all criminal acts not in evidence are completely irrelevant to this case. The jury will disregard. Now, Ms. Summers, if you don’t have anything else for this witness.?”
“Not at this time, Your Honor,” Elizabeth conceded her momentary defeat and sat back down next to where Robin Wood had just returned.
“The witness can step down, then,” Judge Peterson announced. “And, given the hour, court is adjourned for the day. We will resume at nine o’clock Monday morning.” The gavel resounded throughout the courtroom, and half the staff had already packed their bags.
Elizabeth stuffed several manila file folders into her briefcase a bit more angrily than usual, only to freeze when she felt a hand come to rest in the small of her back.
“Nice try, luv,” Spike purred in her ear, leaning in dangerously close.
“Juries don’t buy clown acts,” she informed him primly, refusing to back down as she turned to face him. The end result was that they were nose to nose, their own bodies’ gravity in danger of pulling them together through that final gap between them and.
“You’re barkin’ up the wrong tree, pet,” he assured her, one hand reaching forward to brush aside one lock of blonde hair that had escaped her bun. “Our friend over there din’t leave ‘is apartment once.”
“We’ll see about that,” Elizabeth said stiffly, fighting the urge to react to his soft touch.
“Elizabeth.” Robin Wood was a tall, commanding presence of a man. Strong, handsome African features gave way to a pair of chocolate brown eyes that seemed to see right into souls. However, as the Executive Assistant District Attorney shoved himself pointedly between Spike and Elizabeth, he found himself pitted against no less charismatic a presence. Dark eyes met angry blue for one second before Spike gave way, and Wood succeeded in pushing the other man back out into the aisle. “We need to get back to the office and go over our witness preps,” Wood reminded Elizabeth.
“Right,” she agreed, turning pointedly away from Spike and following Wood out. “I’d say it’s been fun, William, but.” she trailed off pointedly.
“Oh, you know you loved it, Buffy,” he countered, watching after her sashaying hips hungrily.
She froze for one instant at the name but then shook it off and escaped from the crowded courtroom. She and Wood were greeted by the usual chaos outside but managed to make their way over to the two familiar police detectives near the entrance.
“Finn, Gates,” Wood acknowledged as they approached. “We having any problems I should know about?”
Riley Finn, a tall, broad-shouldered cop with sandy blonde hair, shook his head negative. “Just checking up on our collar,” he offered.
Wood nodded and casually turned away from the bustle of the crowded hallway so that no one outside their little group could catch his words. “It looks like Worth’s going to testify on Tuesday.”
Forrest Gates, Riley’s street-smart partner, nodded. “We’ll have him here, death threats or no,” he assured Wood.
Wood gave him a curt nod of approval.
Riley watched with eyes narrowed as Spike finally exited the courtroom. “He just blew our shot at proving opportunity, didn’t he?” he said angrily.
Elizabeth gave him a reassuring smile. “There was definite reasonable doubt there,” she assured him. “You get us our witness, and the case is in the bag.”
Riley nodded grimly. “This is the only charge we’ve managed to stick on Trick in five years.” he began.
“And we won’t let him go,” Wood assured him. “Just make sure Worth’s here bright and early on Tuesday morning.”
Riley gave him one final nod before he and Forrest vanished back into the throng of court workers escaping for the night.
Elizabeth sighed. “There was reasonable doubt, right?” she asked hopefully.
“Oh yeah,” Wood assured her with a kind smile. “Albrook made a royal ass of himself. The jurors might’ve been amused, but they weren’t convinced.”
“It feels like I’m the one who got made an ass of,” Elizabeth countered, gratefully stepping out into the cool October air. When the halls of justice were crowded like that, it could get unbearably hot in just a few minutes.
“Nah,” Wood assured her. “You made all the right calls. It’s not your fault he wasn’t dumb enough to fall for our trap.”
Elizabeth flashed him a grateful smile and lolled her head around on her stiff neck.
“Only a dozen briefs tonight,” Wood teased, “and then we get to relax to the sound of drunken judges arguing.”
Elizabeth laughed at the joke and preceded him into the District Attorney’s offices.
* * *
The event Wood had referred to was, of course, the Annual Bar Gala, held this year at the Museum of Fine Arts. For one night, one of the large central halls was cleared, and soft chamber music, fine tables with fine silverware, and plenty of food and wine were set up for the elite of the elite.
Elizabeth walked in on Wood’s arm with a bright smile and a sleek emerald evening gown that she knew was the envy of every lawyer’s wife in the room. She caught the eye of Rupert Giles, her mentor from Harvard Law, and managed a quick wave before Wood steered her towards a central round table where several of the other young stars of Boston’s criminal attorney’s office were already seated. The defense lawyer Elizabeth had argued with just that afternoon gave her a broad grin and handed off two glasses of champagne to the two district attorneys, and they quickly settled themselves down for pre-dinner small talk.
“So,” Willow Rosenberg, environmental lawyer and Elizabeth’s best friend and roommate from Harvard, began, leaning forward on her elbows, “is this some latest gossip I should know about?” She gestured to where Elizabeth’s hand was curled around Wood’s wrist.
“‘Latest’?” Wood raised a skeptical eyebrow and looked to Elizabeth.
“Robin and I have come together for three years now,” Elizabeth concurred with a sip of her champagne.
“Uh-huh.” Willow looked unconvinced. “‘Cause I’ve heard some suspicious rumors down at the DA’s office about you two.”
“Rumors?” Wood affected a mock-innocent look.
“Us?” Elizabeth played along with his act with a laugh.
Willow pouted, her shoulder-length red hair falling forward and she sat back with an audible huff. “Isn’t there some law about keeping this stuff from your roommate?” she teased Elizabeth.
“Penal Code 403 Section D,” Elizabeth joked back. She turned at the tap on her shoulder and smiled to see that Giles was behind her.
“One dance for the old, decrepit man?” he joked lightly, his eyes shinning with merriment.
Elizabeth laughed and took his hand, but not before turning back for one last comment to Willow. “Call me tonight after the party, and we can girl-talk like old times,” she teased.
Willow instantly gave Wood a predatory look, and he laughed and held his hands up in defeat.
“Shall we?” Elizabeth said to Giles in a mock-formal voice, slipping into a loose dance with her surrogate father.
“You look well,” Giles commented, affection slipping through his normal stuffy accent. His thin wire-rim glasses were perched dangerously low on his nose as always, but the lines of his smile held them in place.
“And, given that I’m seconding the Trick case, that’s saying something,” Elizabeth agreed. “I haven’t had a full night’s sleep all month.”
“A lot of work, I’m sure,” Giles agreed, “but congratulations on your promotion.”
Elizabeth blushed. “I owe it all that overbearing slave-driver I interned with,” she teased.
Giles laughed. “It’s always the same. You children call me an ogre until you get out in field and discover that I’ve been lenient on you.”
“Ah, for the days when I only had to work half-days on weekends,” Elizabeth agreed.
“Cordelia said the same thing to me when she called last week,” Giles confirmed.
“Cordy?” Elizabeth inquired. “How’s she doing over in LA, anyway?”
“She informed me that I should tell you and Willow that she had dinner with Brad Pitt and his agent back in June, and that you should both be horribly jealous.”
Elizabeth let out a little gasp of protest. “Bitch,” she concluded.
Giles laughed at that before turning matters to a somewhat more delicate topic. “I heard you encountered William in the Trick case,” he pressed lightly.
Elizabeth stiffened for an instant before nodding. “Yeah,” she agreed.
“How is he?” Giles asked, genuinely interested in his former student.
Elizabeth sighed. “Fine, I guess. I don’t know. We don’t exactly.” Another sigh. “You know.”
Giles nodded soberly. “The last I saw him was in the hospital after that bar fight.”
“Well, his eye’s not gushing blood anymore,” Elizabeth tried to make light of the situation. “He got himself a nasty scar, though.”
Giles let out a wistful sigh. “I do hope he is well,” he agreed. “It always seemed a great shame to me that you kids.”
Elizabeth smiled softly as well. “Yeah,” she agreed, thinking back on her Harvard Law days.
* * *
“Our goal is to be ready for trial in two weeks,” Giles informed the handful of students he’d chosen as assistants. “This is a very tight schedule, and I will expect you all to do whatever I, or any of the other members of the firm, tell you to. Now.Rosenberg and Chase? You two will be responsible for searching through Roy Auto’s expense reports and double-checking everything against their tax returns.”
He dropped a huge stack of papers in front of Willow and Cordelia, and the two women grimaced at the work ahead of them.
“Albrook and Summers? You two will look up precedents on Motion Five that Mister Carleton was so kind to impose upon us yesterday. We have to be ready to argue before Judge Simmonds on Tuesday.”
He plopped copies of the motion in front of Buffy and the shy, young man that sat at the back of the room, away from everyone else.
“The rest of you will work with the office staff in generating the exhibits we’ll need for our preliminary case presentation on the 15th. Any questions?” Of course, there were none. Yet. “Then, get to work.”
The room vacated more efficiently than any fire alarm at Giles’ order, leaving only the four law students with special assignments behind.
Cordelia turned to Buffy and grimaced. “Guess we won’t be seeing each other for the next week,” she said apologetically.
“Yeah, and we thought it’d be great that we all got in at the same firm,” Willow agreed. She gave Buffy a guilty little smile, sorry that her friend was the odd man out.
Buffy put on a big smile for show, but she did feel left out. “That’s the business,” she decided. “All work and no play.”
“And it’ll be all work since you’re paired up with the nerd,” Cordelia mumbled under her breath so that the man in back being discussed couldn’t hear.
“Be nice,” Willow hissed, whapping Cordelia on the arm. “Well, we’ve got to grab some files from the office so.”
“Until we’re all work-free,” Buffy waved, watching her friends go with a sigh. She then turned to her partner in this hellish exercise.
She’d never really paid much attention to the quietest member of their class. He always sat in the back row, he never talked to anyone, and the only time he ever spoke was to answer some obscure question that no one else in the class had the slightest clue about. As a result, he’d gotten a reputation for being one of those socially dysfunctional geniuses. It certainly didn’t help that he wore all tweed all the time, had the geekiest pair of glasses imaginable, and let his brown hair poof up in the most ridiculous way.
Nevertheless, this was their job, and Buffy was going to damn well do it right. “Hi,” she said, offering him her hand, “I don’t think we’ve talked before. I’m Buffy Summers.”
The hand that took hers was large and strong and warm. “William Albrook,” he agreed in a softly accented British voice.
Their eyes met then, and Buffy felt her breath catch in her throat as something just.clicked. Never, ever had she seen such an amazing shade of blue in all her life. She was suddenly aware of the strikingly handsome features that lay behind the glasses and bad hair, and the powerful, lean build beneath all that tweed. Her face flushed slightly as she felt herself drowning in the twin pools of blue, and she nervously managed to stammer out.
“U-Uh, so shall we get off?” She winced at the slip. “I mean, get going?”
* * *
The song came to an end, and Giles left Elizabeth to return to her friends with a parting comment that she should call more often.
Elizabeth returned to her table to find Wood had take to dancing with Faith Vlore, the world’s nastiest opponent to have in all the Massachusetts court system. Apparently, Faith was offering Wood a conciliatory dance after the way she’d smote him back when they had tried to prosecute Missus Anders for killing her husband.
“My date’s run off, huh?” she commented lightly, turning back to where Willow was sipping her champagne contentedly.
“Jealous?” Willow pried.
Elizabeth shrugged. “Robin’s a really nice guy,” she said simply.
“And.?” Willow pressed.
A sigh. “A little sparkage, maybe,” she agreed. “And it has been pointed out to me that dating a minority would put me in good standing should I ever run for office.”
“Do I sense a touch of Hank Summers?” Willow teased.
“Dear old dad,” Elizabeth agreed with a roll of her eyes. “I’m almost hesitant to date Robin just because dad would be such a conservative prick about it.”
Willow smiled knowingly. “Or you’re using that as a convenient excuse because you’re not really interested in being more than just friends.”
Elizabeth laughed. “See? This is why you were top of our class.”
Willow grinned as well. “Well, it doesn’t take a genius to notice that you haven’t really taken to any guy since.” She trailed off abruptly at her faux pas. “Sorry,” she apologized with a wince.
“You can say his name,” Elizabeth insisted. “It’s not like I’ll freak out-“
At that moment, their conversation was cut short when the cell phone Wood had left at the table rang. Elizabeth quickly searched the crowd for him but came up empty and, shrugging, answered in his stead. “Hello?”
Elizabeth recognized the agitated voice of Amanda, the office secretary. “He’ll be back in a minute,” she replied.
“You don’t understand,” Amanda insisted. “This is urgent. I need to.” She paused when she belatedly recognized the voice on the other end. “Elizabeth, is that you?”
“Yeah, it’s me,” Elizabeth agreed, concerned now. “What’s happened?”
Amanda took in a gasping breath. “It’s terrible, Elizabeth,” she said. “Mister Worth? Th-They got to him.”
Elizabeth’s face turned pale. “G-Got to him?” she repeated in disbelief. “You mean he’s dead?”
Amanda nodded before realizing that Elizabeth couldn’t see her. “Shot dead,” she agreed.
Elizabeth rested her head in her hand with a groan. “What happened?” she asked wearily.
“The police caught the killer,” Amanda assured her quickly. “He’s being held at the station.”
“Well, at least that’s something,” Elizabeth said, fighting back the pain in her heart that their attempts to protect their witness had failed and forcing herself to do something about it. “Robin and I will be right there. What’s the killer’s name?”
And Elizabeth belatedly heard the sound of a champagne glass shattering as it fell to the floor, the horror of what she’d just heard making the rest of the world seem to shrink back in space and time. “N-No.” she uttered shakily before the phone fell from her hand.