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Fatal Justice (Chapter 13)

Sam parallel parked on Ninth Street and stared at the front door to Nick's house.

"How do you want to do this?" Jeannie asked.

"He's still asleep," Sam said, glancing up at the dark window on the second floor. "I'll wake him up and have him come down. I want you to witness the conversation."

"Right." McBride twisted her fingers in her lap.

"I know this'll be uncomfortable for you, Detective, but I need you there to record and witness the conversation. Everything about this has to be by the book. He's a potential witness."

"I understand."

Sam concentrated on breathing her way through the pain that circulated in her gut.

"Are you all right, Lieutenant?"

"Yeah." In a cold sweat brought on by the pain, she reached for the door handle. "Let's get this over with."

Jeannie followed Sam up the stairs and waited while she used her key in the door.

Inside, Sam flipped on a light.

Jeannie released a low whistle. "Wow, nice place."

"Uh-huh. Have a seat. I'll be right back." With a deep breath to calm her nerves and her stomach, Sam started up the stairs. Turning on a light in the hallway, she went to the bedroom doorway and stood there for a long moment watching him sleep and wishing with all her heart that she could spare him from what she was about to do to him.

Moving to the bedside, she leaned down to kiss his cheek. "Nick." She shook his shoulder. "Nick."

"Mmm, hey, babe. Back already?"

"I need to talk to you."

"K." He gave her hand a tug to bring her into bed with him.

Sam resisted. "Nick."

His eyes fluttered open.

"I  to talk to you."

"What's wrong?"

"Can you come downstairs?"

Running his fingers through his hair, he looked up at her. "Why not right here?"

She swallowed hard. "I need it on the record."

"What the hell, Sam?" he asked, sitting up.

"Please."

"Fine." He tossed back the covers and reached for his sweats. "Am I allowed to take a leak first?"

"Yes, but hurry. Detective McBride is downstairs waiting for us."

He shot her a furious scowl but thankfully didn't ask any more questions as he headed into the bathroom and closed the door.

Sam went downstairs to find Jeannie wandering around. "He'll be right down."

"This place is huge!"

"The guy who lived here before bought the place next door and knocked out walls."

"Are you living here, too?"

"No. I'm still at my dad's three doors down."

"Why?"

"Because – "

"Because she's not ready," Nick said, now wearing a T-shirt with his sweats, as he came down the stairs to join them. He slipped an arm around Sam and kissed the top of her head.

She shook him off.

Startled and possibly hurt, Nick stared at her.

"This is Detective Jeannie McBride."

Nick extended his hand. "Yes, I remember from the party."

"Nice to see you again, Senator."

"Please, call me Nick." He turned to Sam. "Are you going to tell me what's going on?"

"Sit," Sam said, gesturing toward the sofa.

"I'd rather stand. Thanks."

Hands on her hips, Sam said, "Detective McBride, please record this conversation."

Nick stared at her. "Sam – "

Sam nodded to Jeannie, who set the pocket-sized recorder on the coffee table. "I'm sorry to have to inform you that Julian Sinclair was found murdered early this morning in Lincoln Park."

Nick took a step back, shook his head and whispered, "No." He shook his head again and then dropped into a chair when his legs seemed to give out beneath him.

"I'm very sorry," Jeannie said.

"But he was just here." Nick looked up at Sam, his eyes shiny with tears. "How?"

"He was shot," Sam said, deciding quick and dirty was the best strategy. "His hands and feet were bound."

Nick buried his face in his hands and wept, all the while continuing to shake his head.

Jeannie shot a nervous glance at Sam and tipped her head, silently imploring Sam to go to him.

Desperate to maintain her professional edge but aching for him, she moved over to perch on the arm of the chair. She put her arm around his shoulders.

He turned into her embrace and shook with sobs. "How could this have happened? First John, and now this. Oh God, Graham and Laine. This'll kill them."

"I know it's a terrible shock for you, but I need to ask you a few things."

Wiping his face, he nodded. "Whatever I can do."

"What time did Julian leave here last night?"

"It was just after eleven," he said, quickly adding, "I was watching the clock, because I wanted them to leave so I could go find you."

Sam glanced at Jeannie, who hung on their every word. "Did he say or do anything to indicate he was worried about something or had been threatened by anyone?"

"No, nothing like that. He was anxious about the confirmation hearings, but he didn't mention anything else."

"Would he have? If he was anxious or worried, would he have said something?"

"I think so. Especially after you left and it was just the four of us. He and Graham are the best of friends, and he knew he could trust me, too."

"How did he get back to the hotel?"

"Since he had taken a cab over here, Graham and Laine dropped him off."

She glanced at Jeannie. "I need to talk to them."

"I'll go with you," Nick said, standing up.

"You don't have to," Sam said. "We can take care of it."

His eyes narrowed. "Don't ask me to sit here while you're in Leesburg crushing them – again. Don't ask that of me, Sam."

They stared each other down in a fierce battle of wills.

"I could have Tyrone pick me up here," Jeannie interjected. "We can go to Sinclair's hotel, interview the doorman, get the security tapes and go through his room."

When Sam realized it wasn't necessary to win this stand off, she glanced at Jeannie. "Do it." She turned back to Nick. "Why don't you go get dressed?"

With a long, hard look at her, he turned and went back upstairs.

The stony silence in the car worked on Sam's nerves. She had no idea what she should say or if she should reach out to him. Something told her he wouldn't welcome anything from her just then. What she didn't know was why. Was he blaming her for this latest wave of devastating news? She'd just been doing her job.

She glanced over and found him staring out the window, lost in his own thoughts, far, far away from her. The distance frightened her.

"Nick."

He didn't answer, didn't blink, didn't seem to even know or care she was there.

Reaching over, she curled her hand around his. "Talk to me."

"Nothing to say."

"I'm sorry this has happened to your friend. And to you."

"Thank you."

"Are you mad at me?"

His eyes finally shifted from the window to focus on her. "Why didn't you tell me when we were upstairs? When we were alone?"

"Because I couldn't."

"Right."

"I did it that way to protect you! So your statement and your reaction would be witnessed and on the record. You were one of the last people to see him alive. I was trying to ensure that you'd be cleared of any suspicion."

Sagging into his seat, he said, "I didn't think of it that way."

"I hated having to tell you that, and I hate that we're once again on our way to deliver devastating news to two people who don't deserve it."

"No," he said softly. "They really don't."

"Neither do you."

"I don't have a lot of close friends," he said, once again looking straight ahead. "There're not a lot of people I feel completely comfortable with. Julian was one of them."

Her heart aching for him, she tightened her grip on his hand. "You have me now," she said. "I'm right here with you."

He replied with a small nod.

As Sam drove, she kept one eye on him. The combination of the two murders had plunged him into such deep despair that she had no idea how to reach him.

At the O'Connors' country home in Leesburg, Laine greeted them with a warm smile and hugs.

"Nick! Sam! How nice to see you again so soon." She ushered them into the foyer. "What brings you out this way?"

Nick fell into Laine's embrace and broke down.

Alarmed, Laine held him close. "Sweetheart, what is it?"

Sam had never seen Nick quite this undone, even after John died, and was unnerved by it. She was also struck by the odd sensation of once again being on the outside looking in. That he'd waited to get here, to his adopted mother, before he gave into the full depths of his devastation hurt Sam.

"You're frightening me, Nick," Laine said, reaching up to brush the tears from his face. "Will one of you please tell me what's wrong?"

"It's Julian," Nick said softly.

Laine gasped and took a step back from him. With her hand over her heart, she stared at him. "No."

"Is Senator O'Connor at home?" Sam asked.

"He's in his study."

"I'll get him," Nick said, wiping his face as he left the room.

"How?" Laine asked with the steely, patrician strength Sam had grown to admire in the weeks she had known her.

Sam told her what she knew.

"This'll demolish Graham," Laine whispered.

"I said the same thing about Nick."

Their eyes met and held, two women united in their worries about the men they loved.

A ravaged howl came from a room off the living room.

Laine rushed off in the direction of the study.

Sam followed her. They found the two men sitting on the sofa, Nick's arm around Graham's shoulders.

Laine went to her husband.

"I just can't believe this," Graham said through his tears. He reached for his wife's hand. "He was fine. We just saw him."

Sam stepped into a room made cozy by the heat coming from the fireplace. "I'm sorry for your loss," she said.

Laine gestured her over to join them.

Sam took the seat next to Nick.

Graham turned his grief-stricken eyes on Sam. "Will you find out who did this? I need to know who could've done this."

Grateful for the opening, she said, "I know this is a terrible shock, but you were among the last people to see him alive. Can you tell me about taking him back to the hotel?"

Graham wiped his face with the back of his hand. "He was staying at the Willard, so we said we'd drop him off."

"What time was that?"

He glanced at his wife. "About eleven fifteen or so?"

She nodded.

"Did you watch him enter the hotel?"

Laine thought about that. "I can't say that I did."

"I didn't, either," Graham said.

"Were there any other people around?"

Laine paused for a moment. "I believe one of the hotel staff was working the door."

"Yes," Graham said. "I saw someone in a uniform."

"How about other cars?" Nick asked.

"We were the only ones in front of the hotel," Graham said. "I remember commenting to Laine that the middle of the night was the only time Washington isn't gridlocked."

"During your visit with him," Sam said, now addressing the three of them, "did he talk about anything or anyone he was having a problem with? A friend, girlfriend, acquaintance?"

They exchanged glances.

"What?" Sam asked.

"Julian was gay," Nick said.

Processing the information, Sam sagged into the leather chair. "Did people know?"

"Those closest to him, but he was discreet," Nick said. "The media hadn't zeroed in on his orientation yet."

"But he knew they would," Laine said. "He suspected it would come up during the confirmation hearings."

"Was he concerned about that?"

"Not particularly," Graham replied in a soft voice. The devastation wrought by the double-whammy of losing his son and now his close friend seemed to have diminished him. "His mother died several years ago without ever knowing he was gay. Her death liberated him in many ways. He didn't care quite as much if people found out."

"Was he in a relationship?"

"Not anymore," Laine said, looking to Nick when she added, "How long ago did he and Duncan break up?"

"More than a year."

Graham nodded in agreement.

"Were they together a long time?" Sam asked.

"Had to be twenty years," Graham said.

"Was Duncan out of the closet?"

"Only to the people closest to him. Duncan wanted to retire and move to Florida," Nick said. "Julian wasn't ready to stop working, which is what broke them up. Julian loved teaching at Harvard, and when Nelson was elected, he knew the Supreme Court nomination was likely." His voice faltered. "I just can't believe he's gone."

"Is it possible," Sam ventured, "that Duncan was worried about unwanted attention during the nomination hearings?"

"Worried enough to tie Julian up and shoot him in the back of the head?" Nick asked.

Laine gasped. "Oh God. God."

"I'm sorry," Nick said. "I didn't mean to just blurt that out."

"Duncan loved Julian," Graham said. "I've never really understood how two guys, you know…But seeing them together…"

Laine dabbed at tears. "They were a lovely couple. We adored them both."

"I'll need to talk to Duncan," Sam said. "Do you know where I can find him?"

"He lives in South Beach." Laine rose and crossed the room to the smaller of the two desks. Returning, she handed Sam a piece of paper. "Here's his address."

Sam tucked the address into her back pocket and checked her watch. Almost nine o'clock. "I need to get back to the city," she said to Nick. "Do you want to stay here?"

He glanced at Graham.

"You need to be at the Capitol for the start of the new session," Graham said.

"Are you sure?" Nick asked. "I don't mind staying."

"Go to work, Senator. Get John's bill passed."

Nick clutched the older man's hand and leaned into his embrace.

"We'll get through this," Graham said gruffly. "Somehow, we'll get through it."

Nick nodded and stood to hug Laine.

Sam followed suit.

"You'll be gentle when you tell Duncan?" Laine said.

"I promise."

Laine reached up to caress Sam's face. "I don't envy you your job, but I have full confidence that you'll find the person who did this to Julian."

Taken aback by the loving gesture, Sam said, "I'll do my best."

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