Shedding every color
Trying to find a pigment of truth
Beneath my skin
— Come Clean, Hilary Duff
Elizabeth rubbed her hands. The handcuffs hadn’t been on very tight–in fact she’d barely felt them at all. But she knew it would take a long time to erase the memory of the cold steel against her skin.
“The State vs. Elizabeth Lansing, the charge is involuntary manslaughter,” the bailiff announced.
Justus put a hand under her elbow and helped her to her feet. The judge looked up from the file, his eyes falling on Elizabeth’s obvious pregnant state. “Okay, let’s make this quick.”
“Your Honor, my client is an upstanding member of the community who has never been in trouble a day in her life. We ask that she be released on her own recognizance.”
The judge frowned and looked to Dara. “I’m sure you have an objection.”
“Actually, Your Honor, we don’t believe that Mrs. Lansing is a threat to the community, to herself or even a flight risk. We find no fault with her being released ROR.”
“Well, seeing as how the woman is accused of hitting the father of her child and leaving him to die in a fire, I’m not inclined to release her at all.”
Elizabeth’s eyes widened and she looked at Justus, panicked. “Justus–”
“Your Honor, my client was not aware that the fire would start and by the time she arrived, Zander Smith’s body had already been removed from the scene. She could not have warned anyone. If you’ve read her statement, surely you can see fit to–”
“I don’t have to see fit to anything. I’m not the trial judge, Mr. Ward and there is no jury here for you to convince. The defendant is to be held without bail pending the grand jury hearing. Next case.”
“Your Honor,” Justus called. “This is an abuse of the justice system–”
“‘Next case,” the judge repeated.
Lucky moved from them and took Elizabeth’s arm. “Come on. I’ll take you to an interrogation room. You won’t even have to see a cell.”
“I’m going to file an appeal,” Justus promised. “The grand jury hearing will be soon, Elizabeth. Don’t worry.”
Elizabeth couldn’t speak, couldn’t blink. The cold, harsh reality of her decision to come clean was setting in. She could spent the rest of her life in jail. She could have her baby in jail. Ric could raise her child and it would be years before she was able to see her.
Lucky felt the violent trembling set in and wrapped an arm around her waist as he led her from the room.
“What the hell is going on?” Justus demanded of Dara as she joined him and Jason at the defense table.
“I don’t know. He’s never held a woman without bail–much less a pregnant woman. Someone got to him.”
Jason narrowed his eyes. “I thought you arrested Ric.”
Dara sighed. “The charges were thrown out about ten minutes before you got here. I didn’t have time to say anything. But you don’t think her own husband–”
“You know Ric, this is his MO. As long as Elizabeth does what he wants, he’s got no problem. But the second she goes against him? He’s a control freak.” Jason shook his head.
“Look, she cannot spend the night in jail,” Justus said firmly. “Can you get a grand jury hearing today?”
“I’m not sure,” Dara sighed. “But maybe we can head this all off. She pleads guilty to a charge of assault in the third degree. That carries a minimum of a year in jail but we can get the sentence suspended and she’ll go on probation for a while.”
“That sounds all well and good but a judge wouldn’t even give her bail–what makes you think you can get the sentence suspended?” Justus demanded.
“Well, someone bought this judge which means he has a price.” Dara shifted, uncomfortable with the conversation. “A price can always be higher.”
Both lawyers looked at Jason, who nodded. “All I need is a name.”
The door to the interrogation room was shoved open and Emily burst in. “You have either got to be the most foolish person I know or the bravest.”
Elizabeth tried to laugh but it soon turned to tears. “I just wanted to do the right thing.”
Emily sat down and reached for her hands. “You have to do what’s right for you and if this is right for you, then I support you. Nikolas is outside but they’d only let one of us in at a time.”
“Um…there’s a distinct and a very real possibility that I might end up in jail.” Elizabeth took a deep breath. “And I think Ric’s helping to put me there.”
Emily shook her head. “No–he’d do anything to protect you–”
“As long as I was doing what he wanted me to do. Justus Ward told me that they think Ric paid the judge to hold me without bail. And if he can do that–he can pay a judge to do anything.”
“Well, I have money, too. Or at least I have a brother with money.” Emily nodded firmly. “And Lucky tells me that Jason hasn’t left your side all day–except after court. I bet he’s out there taking care of this right now.”
“I talked to Justus before you got here–I filed a petition to strip Ric of parental rights to this child. Basically–invalidate the document Zander signed giving his rights to Ric. Justus says that with Ric’s history, I have a good chance of getting it approved.” She took a deep breath. “If I go to jail, I want you and Nikolas to take care of my baby. I want to know that she’s loved and cared for and I trust you two with my life.”
Emily’s eyes filled with tears. “You won’t–” her voice broke. “You won’t have to worry about that. I promise, sweetie. You did the right thing by confessing. Now let us do the right thing by you.”
“Promise me, Emily. If I go to jail–”
“Of course we’ll take care of the baby,” Emily agreed. She kissed Elizabeth’s hands. “You can trust me. And you didn’t even have to ask.”
Jason strode into the living room. “What is it, Carly? I don’t have a lot of time.”
“I want to know where you were today,” Carly said, irritated. “The judge made his decision today and you–as well as Sonny’s own lawyer–were nowhere to be found.”
“Justus was with me,” Jason said simply. “We were at the police station.”
Carly frowned. “Did you get arrested? Why didn’t you call then?”
“I was there with someone else. She was making a statement to the police and she needed a lawyer and a friend. You know, Carly–I have a life separate from you and Sonny. I have a sister and I have other friends,” Jason coldly. He glanced at the clock on the wall. “And I have somewhere else to be–”
Carly caught his arm. “Jason–what happened to Emily? What did she need to talk to the police about? I know how important she is to you.”
“It wasn’t Emily,” Jason replied. He stepped back. “Elizabeth accidentally killed Zander Smith and instead of letting Ric cover it up, she wanted to confess. But at the time, no one was willing to let her. So when Emily asked me to sign a statement saying that Capelli had done it, I asked Elizabeth what she wanted.”
“And what? Now you’re trying to keep her bony little ass out of jail?” Carly demanded shrilly. “Elizabeth be damned–I needed you today. The judge gave us joint custody but Sonny still won’t let me see the kids–”
“Then have him arrested for violating a court order!” Jason exploded. “I can’t fix everything for you, Carly! Sometimes I have to do what’s right for me. I have to live my own life, damn it.”
“Oh–I’m so sorry that I’m keeping you from your precious Elizabeth,” Carly said scathingly. “God forbid, right? My God, what is it with you when it comes to that girl? How many times does she have to stomp on your heart before you get the picture?”
“It’s not about that–and you’re in no position to talk about people who hurt me,” Jason retorted. “How many times have you wrecked my life? How many times do you have to stomp on me before I get the picture about you?”
Carly paled. “That’s–that’s not fair. You love me, Jase. You take care of me. That’s always what you’ve done.”
“And it’s so inconceivable that maybe part of me still loves Elizabeth, still wants her to be happy? She’s pregnant, Carly. And she might go to jail for protecting herself from Zander. You know how it feels to be locked in a small room while pregnant. Do you really think it’s fair to wish that on someone else?”
“Oh, please, Ric will buy some stupid judge and by the time the baby’s born, you won’t even register in her mind. Don’t you get it, Jason? She knows how to play you–knows exactly what to say and how to say it to get you to come riding to her rescue–”
“She didn’t come to me. Not once has she come to me to fix a problem for her. She’s not you, Carly. I went to her. And you know something else? Ric bought a judge, all right–to keep her in jail. She’s not doing his bidding so he wants to find another way to control her. He had a judge deny her bail and if I don’t figure out a way to head him off, he’s going to have her in jail before I can do anything to stop it.”
“She married him–she knew exactly what he’d done and she married him again. Maybe she deserves to pay for that mistake.”
Jason scrubbed his hands down his face. “God damn it, Carly, how can you be so incapable of consideration for someone else? You married AJ! You set out to steal your mother’s husband and you nearly had me indicted for kidnapping! You turned Sonny into the Feds! And all Elizabeth did was believe that someone she loved had changed–I hardly think you have any room to talk. So why don’t you shut up and stay the hell out of my business?”
Nikolas glanced into the interrogation room before looking at back at Lucky. “If I ever get my hands on Ric Lansing,” he muttered.
“You’ll have to get in line. I knew he was no good for her. Why didn’t we try harder to talk her out of it?” Lucky demanded. He shook his head.
“Trying to talk her out of something is like talking to a brick wall.”
Audrey Hardy rushed into the squad room and took Lucky’s hand. “Where is she? Why didn’t she call me sooner?”
Nikolas sighed. “I’m sure she didn’t want to worry you, Mrs. Hardy. It’s all going to be okay.”
“But why are they holding her without bail?” Audrey demanded. “She’s pregnant–”
“We think Ric may have bought a judge,” Lucky admitted. “So…Jason’s out there fixing it.”
“Jason?” Audrey repeated. “What does he have to do with this?”
Nikolas cleared his throat. “We wanted to cover this up for her–take care of it. So Emily asked Jason if he’d sign a statement saying that before Capelli died, he admitted to the murder. Jason was willing to do it–but not before he went and asked Elizabeth if it was what she wanted.”
“And Elizabeth chose to come clean.” Audrey sighed and rubbed her forehead. “I don’t know if I should hug her or throttle her. Okay, does she have a lawyer?”
“She does,” Justus said from behind them. “Hello, Mrs. Hardy.”
“Oh…Justus…well I feel a lot better about this now.” Audrey touched Justus’s hand. “My granddaughter is all the family that I have left that gives a damn about me. You promise to take care of her?”
“I promise,” Justus remarked. “I just got back from Dara’s office. She’s bogged down in work because the mayor got wind of this situation and Ric’s involvement in covering it up and fired him. She’s now the DA.”
“That’s a good thing, though right? He loses credibility. No judge will listen to him,” Nikolas said.
“That’s what Dara’s counting on,” Justus replied. “She’s pulling every string and calling in every favor to get a grand jury hearing tomorrow but it looks as though the earliest we can get it is next week.”
“Next week?” Lucky repeated, horrified. “She can’t spend a week in jail!”
“Which is why as soon as we hear from Jason, we’re going to work on the deal. We need to know the judge will sign off on it before we make it.”
“What deal?” Audrey questioned. “I won’t let her spend another minute in jail if I can help it.”
“We want to have her plead to assault in the third degree and even though it carries a minimum of a year in jail, Dara wants to suspend the sentence and put her on probation but I refuse to make the deal until I know she won’t spend another day in jail,” Justus informed the older woman.
“And Jason’s going to make sure a judge signs it,” Audrey stated. “I’m not even sure I care about the method anymore as long as my granddaughter comes home.”
“Did you file that petition in family court?” Lucky asked.
“I did but family court’s so backed up we might not hear back for almost a month,” Justus replied. “Her petition would carry more weight if she was suing him for divorce.”
“Oh, she will be when I get through with her,” Audrey declared. “Lucky, tell Emily that I need to see my granddaughter. Now.”