The Advocate Series Boxed Set

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Sabre Brown is a juvenile court attorney whose work is far more settled than her social life.

In THE ADVOCATE, Sabre’s job is to protect her minor client, but she’s obsessed with solving the mysterious disappearance of her brother. When Sabre’s search for her brother and her career collide, can she protect herself and the child from the obscure and treacherous truth?

In THE ADVOCATE’S BETRAYAL, the killer left nothing behind but a kitchen knife, a rosary, and a dead body. Sabre Brown is hired to represent her long-time friend who is accused of the murder, but everything she turns up about her friend is a lie—even her name.

In THE ADVOCATE’S CONVICTION, Sabre’s clients keep disappearing. In her race against the clock, Sabre discovers a conspiracy years in the making, secrets hidden for decades, and the twisted work of a mysterious society have all come together in the ultimate test of the strength of Sabre’s conviction.


The Advocate


If I knew he were dead, maybe then I could let go.” Sabre Brown’s fingers slid up and down the side of her Styrofoam cup as she and her best friend, Bob, walked away from the coffee cart in front of the Juvenile Division of the San Diego Superior Court.

He put his arm around her tiny waist and pulled her closer to him. “I know how much you miss him.”

“Not knowing is the worst part. You’d think after five years, I’d quit expecting him to return.” She sighed and her voice softened. “The last time I talked to him, he called to wish me a happy birthday. He called me the night before because his plane was leaving early in the morning and he didn’t want to wake me. I teased him about growing up, since waking me in the middle of the night would generally bring him great pleasure.”

They stood in silence for a moment. Sabre turned to Bob. “You’re a lot like him, you know . . . the same crazy sense of humor, only you’re less of a prankster. Once he came to my office with silly putty or something hanging out of his nose, like a booger.” Sabre swallowed and cleared her throat. “I don’t know what I’d have done without you the past few years. You make it a little easier, you know.” She glanced at her watch.

“We have a few minutes yet before the vultures start to circle,” Bob said. “By the way, Happy Birthday.”

She attempted a smile. “You remembered.”

“Sure, kid. I couldn’t forget such an important day.”

“I wish I could.”

“I know.” He slipped his arm in hers. “We better get into court.” They walked arm in arm past the metal detector just as a teenage boy placed his belt on the conveyor, grabbing for his baggy pants as they fell to his knees, displaying his Taz boxer shorts and his warthog tattoo. They chuckled as they entered the crowded hallway.

“I need to talk to my ‘methamphetamine gazelle’ over there.” Bob nodded his head toward a woman with stringy, uncombed hair framing a face with skin spread thinly over her bones. Her missing teeth added a slight whistle to her high pitched voice. She paced up and down the short hallway, rubbing her hands together and complaining to anyone who would listen.

Sabre continued through the crowd in her well-pressed suit, J. Garcia tie, and Ariat shoes past one client after another, each with his or her own sad tale. Gang members, druggies of all ages, and men and women charged with all forms of child abuse filled the halls, many of them touched by poverty, others from gated communities. From wherever they hailed, the stories remained the same; only the package differed.

She spotted a client about twenty feet ahead in a clown suit. Her stomach gave a queasy twinge when she saw him. He had the perfect profession for his pedophilia and he flaunted it by wearing his clown costume whenever he came to court, red nose and all. Not today, she thought. Sabre squeezed her petite body through the crowd, ducked between two bikers, avoided eye contact with the clown, and stepped into a courtroom where he couldn’t follow.

By 11:30 a.m., Sabre had completed her morning calendar. As she stepped out into the hallway, she heard Bob call from across the room. “Hey, Sobs. Come here.”

Sobs, his nickname for her, came from Sabre Orin Brown. He had a lot of fun with her initials. When he wasn’t calling her Sobs, he called her his little S.O.B. They had started working at juvenile court about the same time and had had their first trial together. Neither of them knew exactly what they were doing, but together they figured it out.

Their first case had involved a five-year-old, who had what appeared to be five cigarette burns evenly placed around one of her ankles. Sabre represented the mother and Bob the father. The parents, adamant they had not hurt their little girl, could not offer good explanations for the little round, infected areas. The attorneys were unable to reconcile the fact that the burns were so evenly placed on the ankle. Neither the attorneys nor the judge bought the testimony from a medical expert who stated a five-year-old child could hold still for five perfectly placed cigarette burns, but no other explanation had been proffered.

After some serious research and investigation and a little luck, Bob found an article about flea bites and how the fleas get under elastic and leave a row of bites which are often in a perfect line. The little girl had been playing in a sandbox and had been wearing anklets with tight elastic at the top. With some help from a couple of medical professionals, he determined fleas had been the most likely cause of the infected area, not cigarette burns. The little girl had scratched them to the point of infection.

They had won their first jurisdictional case in juvenile court, a difficult feat even for a seasoned attorney, as they soon discovered. That began a beautiful friendship and their reign at “Kiddie Court.” There had never been anything romantic between them. He remained her best friend and confidante. They enjoyed each other’s company and completely trusted one another. Inseparable at court, and on the rare occasion when Sabre socialized, she usually did it with Bob and his wife, Marilee.

Sabre walked toward Bob, standing near the appointment desk. “Hi, honey. What’s up?”

“The clerk has a pretty nasty case–an eight-month-old baby with broken ribs, a broken femur, and a subdural hematoma. She’s tried to give the case away, but no one will take it. She said if we take it, she’ll give us one of those easy domestic violence cases,” Bob said.

“But I’m hungry.”

“You’re always hungry.”

“All right, let’s get it over with. I have the cards.”

Sabre removed three playing cards from her briefcase: a king, a queen, and a joker. “We don’t need the joker. Public Defender has the minor.”

Sabre put the joker back, shuffled the king and queen, and laid them face down on the table. Bob reached down, drew a card, and turned over the queen. “Sorry, Sobs, it looks like you got the dad. From what I’ve read, he’s the most likely perpetrator.”

“I’m sure he’s a real peach. What do I care anyway, except it’ll be more time consuming.”

“Well, you can have the minors on the domestic violence case. You’re better with the kids than I am anyway.”

Sabre went to find her new client, the child beater. She always struggled with this type of case. She found it difficult to understand how someone could beat up an innocent little baby. Maybe my client’s not the bad guy, although the information she’d received from Bob indicated otherwise.

She counseled her client and explained his rights and the court process. She looked at the scared, young man, who appeared so innocent, and thought how different he must have been when he used his baby as a punching bag.

After the hearing, Sabre gathered her files and went into Department Four to wait for the other attorneys on the domestic violence case. It had been an easy morning so far with mostly old review cases. Just that new domestic violence case and she could go eat.

Bob came into the courtroom. He and Sabre seated themselves at the table. Another attorney sauntered in, followed by his client, Peggy Smith, an attractive, young, pregnant woman with a bandage on the left side of her forehead. They took a seat on the right side of the table next to Sabre and Bob.

The door opened and the Public Defender entered with Gaylord Murdock, a tall man with sandy blond hair and cutting blue eyes. Murdock stared at Peggy with an intensity that made Sabre shiver. Peggy’s face tightened and she squirmed in her seat, unable to tear herself away from his gaze. After about three seconds, Murdock’s face softened and his lip curled up in a smile. No sign of remorse or shame emanated from him as he glided to his seat with his broad shoulders straight and his head held high.

Sabre watched their interaction and wondered what she failed to see.

“Excuse me, ma’am,” Murdock said, in a strong southern accent as he squeezed between the railing and Sabre’s chair. She studied him for a moment. In spite of his obvious good manners, she perceived a hardness about him.

She thumbed through the file and read he had been born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. She hated when her calendar was so full she didn’t have time to read the reports prior to the hearing. This wasn’t the first time, nor would it be the last, that she had to read and listen at the same time.

“In the matter of Alexis Murdock and Jamie Smith . . .” The court officer called the last case on the morning calendar.

Sabre glanced at each page in the report to determine the most pertinent information. Her client, a ten-year-old girl named Alexis, lived with her father and Jamie, the two-year-old son of her father’s pregnant girlfriend. According to the detention report, a neighbor had heard loud voices, a woman screaming, and what sounded like furniture breaking, so she called the police. When the police arrived they spoke with a very pregnant Peggy Smith, who told them her boyfriend, Gaylord Murdock, had hit her and split her head open.

As Sabre read, she heard the attorneys introduce themselves. When her turn approached, she stood up. “Attorney Sabre Brown appearing on behalf of the minors.” She sat back down and continued reading the police report.

Peggy Smith is a white female, 24 years of age, light brown hair, dark brown eyes, about 5′ 4″ tall, weighing about 135 lbs., and approximately eight-and-one-half-months pregnant. Smith had some redness and swelling on her right eye and an inch-long laceration that was bleeding and appeared to need stitches. Smith stated her boyfriend became angry because dinner wasn’t ready fast enough and he hit her in the face with his fist.

The case continued, with each attorney making statements for the record. Sabre had done this so often she had become quite adept at listening and reading at the same time. It appeared to be a typical domestic violence case. She continued reading.

We talked to the ten-year-old girl, Alexis Murdock, who said her father came home from work and he and Peggy started yelling at each other. She said her dad was real angry but he didn’t hit Peggy. She fell and hit her head on the coffee table. Gaylord Murdock gave a similar version of events, but because of Smith’s pregnancy, her lacerations and her earlier statements of physical violence, we took Murdock in for questioning. Officer Jacobs called an ambulance for Smith. By the time the ambulance arrived, Smith had changed her story and said she had fallen and hit her head on the coffee table. We proceeded to take Murdock downtown for questioning and the minors, Alexis and Jamie, to Jordan Receiving Home.

“. . . so even though my client vehemently denies the allegations, he’s willing to attend the programs the social worker is suggesting. In the interim, we’d request the court detain the child, Alexis Murdock, with her father, pending the next hearing,” Mr. Murdock’s attorney finished his request to the court.

Sabre took her cue. She stopped reading and responded with words she had stated so many times they rolled off her tongue void of any conscious thought. “Your Honor, I’d ask, if the court is so inclined, it only be done with my concurrence. I’d like to speak with the children and see what they have to say.”

“Very well,” Judge Cheney said. “The social worker has discretion to return the children to their parents under the following conditions: the criminal charges are dropped; the parents are living separately; any other criminal check comes back unblemished; and minor’s attorney is in agreement with their return.” He hit his gavel on the block. “That ends the morning calendar.”

Before Sabre could stand up, Mr. Murdock appeared at her side waiting to pull her chair out for her. As she rose, he stepped forward and opened the gate for her and the social worker to pass through. Sabre thanked him, though skeptical of his southern gentleman manners, something she rarely saw in southern California.

Bob and Sabre walked out of the courtroom together into the hallway. “The social worker seems to like both of the parents, especially the father. This case should settle at the next hearing with a voluntary agreement,” Bob said.

“Well, I’m anxious to see what the kids have to say. I’m going over there now. We could stop at In-n-Out Burger for a quick bite on the way. Do you have anyone to see at Jordan?” Lunch together was a daily ritual, limited to a few select restaurants due to Bob’s unwillingness to experiment with his taste buds.

“That works for me. In fact, I do have a kid I need to see in Teen Housing. I’ll be right with you,” Bob said, as he walked across the room toward a client who stood talking to one of the bailiffs.

Peggy and her attorney walked outside, followed by Sabre. Just as they stepped out, a woman flung the courthouse door open, nudging Sabre’s arm.

“Mother Fucker,” the woman screamed as she stomped out waving her arms in the air. “Supervised visitation, my ass. I’ll see my kids when I damn well please. Fuck that.” Bob followed her out. He and Sabre watched while the bailiff escorted her to the bus stop.

“One of yours?”

Bob nodded. “Charming, isn’t she?” He removed a pack of cigarettes from his pocket, took one out, and lit it up. “Let’s go eat. I’m buying.”

Just then, Gaylord Murdock walked out of the courthouse. He looked toward his girlfriend, and once again Sabre spotted a glare from him. She watched the muscles tense up in Peggy’s face and then her shoulders slump, as her body tightened into itself.


Chapter 1

When the phone rang at four o’clock in the morning Sabre knew it could only mean trouble, but she was used to trouble. “Who screwed up now?” she mumbled, forgetting for a second Luke lying in bed next to her.

“Umm…,” Luke groaned.

Sabre savored the smell of clean sweat and faint cologne, reliving the touch of his mouth on the nape of her neck and his hard body holding her, making love to her for the first time. It had been a long time coming. She struggled to find the phone on the nightstand, knocking over a glass of wine. “Damn it,” she mumbled. When she put the phone to her ear, she heard her friend Betty breathing heavily and stammering over her words as she tried to speak. Sabre’s heart quivered in her chest.

“He’s d..dead. John’s dead,” Betty cried.

“Betty, where are you?” Sabre’s heart beat faster. She felt a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach.

“At home.Th…there’s so much blood.”

“What happened?”

“I don’t know.”

“Are you hurt?”


“I’ll be right there.” Sabre’s arm felt weak. She dropped the phone to her chest and lay there for a second, her body still and in shock. Luke reached his arm around her waist and pulled her shapely naked body close to him, nibbling on her earlobe. Sabre yanked away, throwing his arm off her and slamming the phone into the cradle. “Not now,” she said curtly, but with no anger in her voice. She stood up and flipped on the light.

“What is it?” Luke asked, scratching his head as he sat up.

“John’s dead.” She snapped, sounding more like a question than a statement, propelling Luke from the bed. “I’m going to help Betty.” She stepped into her jeans, wrestling with her sweatshirt as she pulled it over her head, twisted her shoulder-length, brown hair up on top of her head, and stuck a clip in it.

Luke had his shirt on before she finished speaking, looking around for his pants and shoes. “I’m going with you.” He reached for her arm, squeezing it lightly. “I’m so sorry, Sabre.”

Tears filled her dark brown eyes. John and Betty were her friends, and although Sabre was about thirty years their junior, they had grown very close. They were extended family, more like an aunt and uncle to her. They had been there for her during her turmoil last year, and now John was dead and Betty needed her.

The summer morning air felt cool on Sabre’s tear-filled face as she ran to the car. “Put your keys away. I’m driving,” Luke said. Sabre’s hand shook as she opened the door to Luke’s silver metallic BMW Z4 Roadster.

Luke drove east on I-8 at speeds above eighty. Sabre didn’t complain about the speed as she would have under normal circumstances. She didn’t even notice. She watched as the buildings passed her window, most of them barely visible without their lights on. Only a few cars on the freeway, but too many she thought. Where were they going? How many were going to help a friend whose husband had just died? Why John? It felt like losing her father all over again, and a piece of her brother, Ron, as well. Ron had introduced her to John and Betty just a few months before his disappearance. The couple had been such a great help to her, consoling her and always trying to keep her hopes up. John reminded her so much of her father—the same lighthearted strength that is so hard to find in a man, and a deep, resonant voice that always brought her comfort. She’d never hear that voice call her “Sparky” again. He tagged her with that nickname the first day they met, and he never called her anything else. Sabre remembered that day. The couple was always holding hands, only letting go when Betty went to get John a cup of coffee – before he ever asked – or when John went to check the gas in Betty’s car. They took care of each other.

Luke and Sabre drove for about two minutes without speaking. Luke broke the silence. “What happened? Do you know?”

“No, she didn’t say, just that he was dead…and there was blood.” Sabre shook her head. “What will Betty do without him? She loved him so much. She used to say, ‘I’d like you to find someone just like my John, but there’s no one quite like him.’ That’s why she tried so hard to get us together, you know.”

“I know.” Luke squeezed her hand. “I’m glad she did.”

Within fifteen minutes of the call, they had driven into the motor home park and pulled up in front of space number twelve, a thirty-five foot, twenty-year-old trailer, the only home in the park with lights on. As they stepped out of the car, the lights went on next door. No light illuminated Betty’s porch. Luke took Sabre’s hand as they went up the short, dark walkway. She couldn’t see much, but she could smell the gardenias along the path. Just as they reached the door, the porch light went on and Sabre heard the click of the door unlocking. She felt an ache in her stomach when she saw Betty’s puffy eyes with black liner smeared down her face, her usual perfectly spiked, fire-red hair flat on one side and the rest sticking out in clumps, and the deep lines of confusion on her forehead. What had once been white kittens on the side of her pale blue pajama top were now soaked red with blood. When Sabre hugged her friend’s plump body, it felt listless and tears dampened Betty’s cheeks.

“Where is he?” Luke asked.

“In there.” Betty pointed to the bedroom.

Luke walked to the back of the trailer, his body tall and straight. Sabre could see the muscles strain on the back of his neck as she and Betty followed. Sabre noticed Betty held a rosary. As far as she knew, Betty wasn’t Catholic. She stopped and put her arm around Betty’s shoulder. “Were you praying?” she asked motioning toward the rosary.

Betty slipped it in her pocket and said, “It belonged to J…John. The only thing he had from his childhood.”

They walked into the bedroom, Luke several steps ahead. “Oh…” Sabre covered her mouth to stifle her cry. John lay on his back, the blankets pulled up to his waist. His right arm hung over the edge of the bed, the left side of his chest covered in blood. Sabre suddenly longed for her strong, energetic friend, John. She wanted him to comfort her. This wasn’t him. A lifeless, slaughtered body laid in his bed, no longer the man who gave her fatherly advice or comforted her when she needed to feel like a child.

Luke put his arm around Sabre. He reached down and touched John’s arm. “He’s cold,” he said.

“Have you called the police?” Sabre asked.


“Why not?”

Betty started to sob, “I didn’t kn..know what to do. So, I called you.”

Sabre walked over to where Betty stood in the doorway, her voice low and undemanding. “Betty, what happened?”

“I…I don’t know.”

Sabre reached out and took Betty’s hand. “Tell me, what did you do when you left us at Viejas?”

“I came straight home and went to bed.”

“You just crawled into bed next to John?”

“I thought he was sleeping, so I kept very quiet.” She gulped. “I didn’t even turn on the light in the bedroom. I just put my pajamas on and slipped into bed beside him.” Sabre nodded encouragement. “I went right to sleep because he wasn’t snoring.” Betty stopped to catch her breath and shook her head from side to side. “He always snores. Why didn’t I know there was something wrong?” She sobbed. “I was so thankful he wasn’t snoring, I didn’t even check on him.”

Sabre squeezed her hand a little tighter. “Betty, when did you know there was something wrong?”

“When I got up to go to the bathroom, I felt my wet, sticky pajamas. I turned on the light and saw it was bl…blood. Then I saw John.” Betty’s chest throbbed as she continued to sob. “He just lay there all covered with blood.”

“Betty, we need to call the police.”

“W…would you?” Betty took a step forward, then back, then stood there rocking, confused.

“Of course.”

Sabre called 9-1-1, and within minutes three squad cars arrived, plus two detectives in an unmarked car and an ambulance followed by a coroner. The dawn broke as neighbors exited their mobile homes to catch a glimpse of the show, many of them watching from their porches, others edging closer and forming a crowd near Betty’s and John’s trailer. They stretched their necks to see. Some asked questions of the officers, others relayed what they saw and what they speculated, but all buzzed with curiosity as the police put up the yellow and black ribbon partitioning off the area.

One man wandered onto the green rock lawn. “Please step back,” a short, young man in uniform said curtly. “Please stay behind the police line.”

A police officer entered the motor home, glanced around, and started spouting orders like he was reading from a bad script. “I need everyone to step outside. This is a crime scene. Please don’t touch anything.”

“Sabre, what are you doing here?” Detective Gregory Nelson asked, as he walked up to the mobile home while pulling on his tie.

“These are friends of mine. Betty called me.”

“I’ll want to talk to you, but first I need to go inside. Please wait out here.”

Betty stumbled to a folding chair outside near the door and sat down. With one elbow on the arm of the chair, she lay her head in her hand and wept. Sabre approached her and put a hand on her shoulder, but she didn’t know what to say. Betty continued to cry. Sabre looked back and saw Luke standing with his hands in his pockets by the pink geranium bush, watching her from a distance.

When Detective Nelson came out, he asked Betty for her name and the name of the victim, about what she had seen, and when. He wiggled the knot on his tie. “Sabre, would you mind getting Betty some clothes? We’ll need the pajamas.”

“Greg, is she a suspect?”

“Not at this point, but we need the pajamas. They have blood on them, and they may be evidence.” He turned to an officer standing at the door. “Please escort Ms. Brown inside. She needs to get a change of clothes for the victim’s wife.”

As Sabre entered the trailer she focused on two policemen walking around the living room with kits and brushes, dusting for fingerprints. She saw an officer pick up a knife from the sink, put it into a bag, and zip the bag closed. She watched as they opened drawers and cupboards, invading her friends’ home. She walked past the kitchen table containing the ceramic rooster, two placemats, and a deck of cards. She scanned the room for answers but saw only a worn, dark green sofa with two pillows, an end table next to it with a stack of loose newspapers and a pair of reading glasses, and Betty’s sketch book. A small desk across from the sofa housed a laptop computer. Only one picture adorned the wall, a drawing Betty had done of an old cabin in the woods, and except for the shelf with a small collection of salt and pepper shakers, the room contained very few mementos, an observation Sabre hadn’t made until now.

When they approached the bedroom, Sabre could see an officer taking photos. It hit her that something was missing. She looked around and saw only a few picture frames with photos, and none of them photos of Betty or John. She wondered how she had missed that before, and if it mattered.

Sabre continued to observe the officers as she gathered up Betty’s things. She looked around, processing every detail of each officer’s task. She watched as they bagged evidence—the pink rug with the blood stain, the book of matches from a Las Vegas casino, and the Viagra bottle by the side of the bed. It didn’t seem real. Never in her twenty-nine years of life, including her six years of practicing law, had Sabre seen anything so gruesome. She had dealt with many crime scenes in court, but she’d never seen an actual murdered body or the officers at work gathering the information on a crime. This was a corpse, not her friend whom she had known for five plus years and to whom she had grown very close. Emotions confused her—sadness for her friend John, concern for Betty, and fascination at the process she observed.

When she brought the clothes out to Betty, Detective Nelson approached her. “Sabre, will you and your friend….Lucas, is it?”

“Yes sir, Lucas, Luke Rahm,” Luke said.

“Will you two please meet me down at the station? I’d like to speak to each of you. I’ll take Betty with me.”

Up until this point, Sabre had been there as Betty’s friend, but Betty was a suspect, regardless of what Nelson said. Sabre realized she should be treating her like a client and advising her accordingly. She took a deep breath and cleared her head. She needed to think like an attorney. She didn’t have the luxury of being just a friend.

Sabre touched Betty gently on the shoulder. “Betty, you ride with Detective Nelson to the police station. I’ll be right behind you. Here are your clothes. And listen carefully to what I’m about to say. You do not talk to him,” she said, pointing at Nelson, “or to anyone else until I get there. Don’t say a word. Understand?”

“Do I have to go?”

“I’m afraid so. If you don’t, it’ll only be worse.”

“Sabre, I’m scared. I don’t want to go,” she pleaded. Sabre felt physical pain for her friend. Betty had been there for her so many times. She had held her when she cried for her missing brother. She had become family to her, an aunt she could confide in when she couldn’t talk to her mother. Simple yet worldly, Betty didn’t talk much about her past, but Sabre knew she had experienced some pretty rough times.

Sabre put one hand on each of Betty’s shoulders, looked her directly in the eye, and said, “I’m sorry, but they’ll take you one way or the other. Just go with Nelson, and please don’t say anything. Just tell them you’re waiting for me. Understand?”

“Okay,” Betty said, her chin buried in her chest as she walked to the car.

Sabre turned to Detective Nelson, “Greg, don’t question her without me. I’m her friend, but I’m also her attorney,” Sabre said sternly.

“We’re not arresting her,” he said.

“I know, but I’m shaken up about all this and about losing John, and I haven’t been thinking clearly either. Just give me a little time to get my act together here, too. A crime appears to have been committed. Betty and John are my friends and I don’t want anything to go wrong.”

“Your call. I’ll see you there in a few.”

Luke and Sabre maintained silence on the way to the station. With his left hand on the wheel, Luke reached with his right and put it on Sabre’s knee. She took a deep breath and sighed. She looked at Luke, his face solemn. She hadn’t really thought about the effect this had on him, but John and Betty were his friends, too. She squeezed his hand.

Sabre’s mind drifted back two months to when she first met Luke at a barbecue at Betty’s. Betty claimed she hadn’t been trying to set them up, but Sabre knew differently. When she arrived at their house, Betty sent Luke out to her car to help her bring in the ice. Sabre was smitten the moment she looked into his dark, bedroom eyes. He apparently felt the same because, after a few hours together that afternoon, he asked for her phone number. He called the next day, and within a few weeks they were exclusive.

A feeling of warmth came over her as she remembered that afternoon. John leaned over the barbeque to flip a burger. Betty brought him a beer. They both looked at Sabre and Luke, chuckled a little, and when Betty walked away, John tapped her lightly on the butt. Betty lunged forward a little.

“Oof,” she said.

Sabre and Luke had driven on surface streets about five miles from the police station when Luke asked, “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, just trying to process everything.” She shifted in her seat. “Not such a great way to end the evening, our first time making love and all.”

“I know, baby, but I’m glad I was there with you.” He pulled her hand up to his lips and kissed it, holding it there for several seconds.

“Me, too.” She sighed. “I just feel so bad about John, and I’m so worried about Betty.”

“You don’t think she had anything to do with this, do you?”

Sabre responded with indignation that he would even ask. “Of course not. She wouldn’t hurt anyone, certainly not John. You know how much she loved him.” She looked at Luke, eyebrow raised. “Why, do you?”

“No…no, I don’t think so, either,” Luke said as he looked out the window, his voice trailing off.

“Besides, he must’ve been killed while Betty was with us. We’re her witnesses. We can vouch for her.”

“True.” Luke cleared his throat. “At least you can. I wasn’t with her the whole time. I was playing blackjack for a couple of hours while you two were off doing whatever it was you were doing. You were together, right?”

“Not the whole time. We went to play bingo, but then Betty decided she wanted to play the slots, so I stayed and she went to play the machines.” Sabre shifted in her seat and took a deep breath. “But she was there. I know she was there. I saw her about ten-thirty on the slots, and she told me she’d be leaving shortly.”

Silence filled the car the rest of the way to the police station.


Chapter 1

Attorney Sabre Orin Brown hurried through the crowd at San Diego Juvenile Court toward the clerk’s office. She thought about the newspaper article that reported child abuse was down. Where were they getting their statistics? The halls were so crowded she had to squeeze through. The construction in the lobby didn’t help, either. The powers that be had decided it would be a good time to move the information desk from the middle of the room up against the wall. It wouldn’t provide any more space and it didn’t really look any better, but it might make it a little easier for the clerks to go from the work room to the desk. She was on calendar for detentions this morning and she was running late. It was the first morning she could remember that she hadn’t arrived at court an hour early.

“You okay, Sobs?” Bob, Sabre’s best friend, asked. Sobs had become her juvenile court nickname. S.O.B. were Sabre Orin Brown’s initials and her colleagues were quick to tease her about the nickame. At first it was only Bob that called her Sobs, but the name had caught on and some of the other attorneys used it as well. Bob had nicknames for a lot of his co-workers, most not as lovingly applied as hers. “I can’t believe I beat you to court.”

“I just had a little trouble getting rolling this morning, but I’m fine now.” Sabre gave a half smile. “How many detentions are on calendar?”

“We have three. And there’s just you and me on detentions. There’s an out-of-control teenager, a drug baby, and . . .” Bob stood there in his gray suit and Marshall- bought Florsheims, shuffling through the blue petitions. A quirky smile came over his face.

“What is it?”

“Heh, heh,” Bob made a strange sound with his throat. “I’m not sure, but it looks like one of those ritual cases.”

“Another one? There was one last week and I’m pretty sure Wagner had one last month. Why are they filing this stuff? Most of it is just ludicrous. I wonder how many more there are that we don’t know about.”

“It’s about time we got something interesting. I’m bored with broken arms, tox babies, and creepy guys who molest little children.” Bob picked up the social worker’s report and started to read through it.

Sabre shook her head. She knew Bob cared as much about the children as she did. She watched his expression turn from grin to grimace as he read through the report. Although he was in his early thirties, his full head of hair had already started to gray. She figured hers would too if she continued in this line of work. “So what is it?”

Bob leaned in closer to her and in a deep, creepy voice said, “Goat blood and chicken feet.”

“No.” Sabre said in disbelief, grabbing the report out of his hand. “Give me that.”

Bob laughed as he picked up another copy from the box on the desk.

“Ewww. It does say goat blood and chicken feet were found in the home.”

“You take the kids.” Bob said “I want the mom on this one. I can win this. It’ll be another win for the king.” He threw his fist in the air.

“You’re sick, but you are the king of juvenile court. You have more jurisdictional wins than anyone.” Sabre separated the other petitions, glancing at the potential appointments. “Do you want the tox baby or the teenager?”

Bob tilted his head down and looked over his glasses. “You can have the teenager. I hate working with teenagers. For that matter, you can have the tox baby, too, if you want.”

“No, that’s fine. I’ll take mom. If they all go to trial, you’ll have too much prep to do. Not that there’s that much to do on the drug baby cases, but still . . .”

“Fine. You have the kids on Johnson and Lecy and I have the baby on Hernandez. There’s no appointments for the fathers, right?”

“Nobody in the picture on any of these cases right now.” Sabre picked up her files, her petitions, and the reports. “Let’s go find our clients.”

They walked out of the closet the county called an attorney’s lounge. It was originally a storage room, but space was so tight now they needed every nook and cranny to use as a courtroom. A lounge for the attorneys was the least concern to the county. Bob watched a large breasted woman with a low-cut blouse walk across the hallway.

Sabre flicked his arm. “Hey, you’re a married man.”

“I’m married, not dead.” He grinned at her. “Nice tie, by the way,” Bob said as he sauntered away.

Sabre received her first Jerry Garcia tie as a present from her brother, Ron, when she entered law school. He teased her about holding her own in a male-dominated profession, but if she was going to do it, she should have the Grateful Dead by her side. Sabre wasn’t sure if he ever meant her to wear the tie, but as a tribute to her brother it became the first of a large collection.

Sabre walked across the floor where the information desk used to be, catching her three-inch heel in a rough spot on the floor and almost turning her ankle. Another wardrobe staple, the heels stretched her to a full 5’7”. She reported the spot on the floor to the desk and they quickly placed a caution sign on it to avoid further incident.

Sabre stopped in the restroom. The stalls were full and she turned toward the mirror while she waited, taking a rare moment to just breathe. She looked slim, well-dressed, not unattractive. It seemed she needed to reassure herself these days. She smoothed the jacket on her suit, took her sunglasses off, and ran a brush through her shoulder-length, brown hair. She pushed her sunglasses back on her head, using them as a barrette to hold her hair off her face.

Moments later, Sabre was back in the crowd. The room was filled with people, some trying to get their lives in order, others just fighting the system. She saw a couple leaning against the wall entwined in each others arms. The woman was dressed like a hooker and was obviously high. The man wasn’t in much better shape. His hair looked like it hadn’t been combed in weeks and he was in serious need of a haircut and shave. Sabre smiled to herself. There seems to be someone for everyone if they look in the right places. For a brief moment she wondered if she’d find someone again. Her thirtieth birthday was fast approaching and she was still happily single . . . most of the time. She didn’t want to be married, and as much as she loved them, she didn’t plan on having children. She was satisfied with her work and passionate about the people she worked to help. But occasionally she wanted a relationship. Then she’d think of the last time she was involved and change her mind.

Sabre walked through the lobby until she found her client, Maria Hernandez, on the drug baby case. She was young. It was her first baby and her drug activity seemed to be fairly new. Maria agreed to enroll in all the programs and Maria’s mother was willing to help out with the baby. The social worker recommended detention with the grandmother as soon as the baby was released from the hospital and was willing to let Maria stay there as long as she was active in her court-ordered programs. Sabre saw Bob talking with grandma and knew he’d be okay with the recommendations if he was comfortable that grandma could protect the baby. When everyone worked toward what was best for the child, the cases were easy. Sabre believed this was one of those cases.

The two of them left the courtroom just in time to witness an arrest at the metal detector. A twenty-nine-year old woman emptied her pockets into the tray and walked through the machine. The sheriff picked up the contents of the tray, opened a vial containing cocaine, and placed the handcuffs on Karen Lecy.

“Uh oh,” Bob chuckled and shook his head. “Stupid woman.”

“What is it?” Sabre followed Bob toward the arresting officer.

“That’s the mom on the detention. The one with the out-of-control teenager.”

“Gee, that might explain some of the kid’s problems.”

“Excuse me, Jerry,” Bob said to the sheriff. “That’s my client. Can I talk to her?”

“I’ll put her in an interview room after we book her.”

Bob turned to Karen Lecy. “Don’t say anything until we talk.”

Sabre stared at the woman being taken away. “She’s the mom?” Sabre asked, not really expecting an answer. “She looks like a teenager herself. She’s so young.”

The crowd in the room had stopped buzzing as they stood around and watched the arrest. Some were probably feeling bad for her; others appeared glad to have the attention off themselves, even for a moment, but everyone was gawking as the woman was taken back to the holding tank.

“You ready on the Johnson detention?” Sabre asked.

“Yeah, mom’s denying everything. She swears she doesn’t know anything about any rituals, satanic or otherwise.”

“And how does she explain the goat blood and chicken feet?”

“She can’t explain the goat blood, but she has a very plausible explanation for the chicken feet.”

“I can’t wait to hear this.”

“It’s simple really. They eat them,” Bob said with a straight face.

“Ewww . . . what’s to eat on a chicken foot? There’s no meat on them—just dirty, scaly-looking skin that’s been walking around in chicken feces.”

“Really, Sabre.” His voice serious. “I think she may be telling the truth. She’s having a tough time making ends meet and she can get chicken feet free. She said her mother used to make them when they were kids.”

“And you’re buying this?” Sabre looked at Bob, her face quenched in disbelief.

“Leanne Johnson is either a really good liar or she’s just trying to feed her kids. The part that got to me was that even though she’s devastated about losing her children, she knows they’ll have food.” Bob shrugged. “I don’t know. See what the kids say.”

“I will. I’ll go to Polinsky this afternoon and see them. I have to see the Lecy girl, too. Now that her mother has been arrested, we have another issue to deal with on that case.”