Kathryn's Beach Excerpt
Barely catching my peripheral vision, Maggie enters at the back of the room. She stops at the coffee machine, notices me, and raises a cup in my direction as if she half expected to see me.
Relieved to see her, I walk toward her and whisper excitedly, "Coffee?"
With cups in hand, we slip down the back stairs to our old spot on the patio at a table away from everyone where we can talk privately.
After the leafless dreariness of a Midwest winter, it's good to see lush green plants again. The sun is soft in the winter sky. A slight breeze moves the branches of the palm trees. It almost seems like the palms are waving a shy, "Welcome home, Katey." Just like the old days, I feel content as I sip the industrial-strength coffee.
Maggie looks good. It's entirely my fault that we haven't kept in touch with each other. It is comfortable to sit in our spot, together again, after my self-imposed exile. Maggie looks good, really good. Her shoulder length dark hair is in a new and very flattering style that suits her quite well.
Putting down my cup, I study her again, watching for the Maggie I knew. There! I see something familiar in her eyes. Her green eyes can go from ornery to intelligent with the tilt of her head.
It is reassuring to see my old friend again. Taking another sip of coffee, I think about our shared history. Quietly, I reminisce fondly about this place and these people, my friends. The memories are calming. Relaxed tentative music begins to meander in my mind, soothing the five years of forced silence.
"It wasn't your fault, Kate." Maggie jumps right into the conversation.
Startled, I look up from my coffee, trying to read her face for an indication of her intent. Five years doesn't mean anything to her. Damn! She's good!
Maggie doesn't mention my abrupt departure or sudden reappearance. She looks at me intensely as she speaks, pausing only slightly to catch a breath between sentences – leaving no chance for a response from me.
"It was a clean investigation." Maggie continues confidently, "I reread the case file.
"Maybe so–" my voice trails off. The entire case springs to the forefront of my memory with the bitter taste of day old coffee.
"It was all there, Kate. No one could have done better," she says in a soft reassuring voice that echoes within me.
She's taken aim and shot right to the heart of things. I can't sidestep her volley. I am obligated to the conversation now. There is no getting out of it. I set my cup down and wrap my fingers around it for the warmth it provides.
"But it didn't save her," I counter.
"It was Judge Jones' ruling that was in error, not anything you did or didn't do." Her tone dares me to disagree.
"He didn't see any of it. He let that sick bastard go!" My voice betrays me with its mixed tone of anger and hurt. I feel the flood of emotions rushing over me and I'm not ready to deal with the memories.
Maggie pushes straight on. "The night before the murder trial, they found Judge Jones dead."
"Dead?" I whisper, stunned. I lean forward at the shock of it, resting my arms against the edge of the table to brace myself. I had wished him dead when he sent her home to her abuser, essentially ruling a death sentence for the little girl in my case. I didn't mean it, not literally, anyway.
"He shot himself in chambers." She continues with the matter-of-fact tone of someone who has seen too much violence for her age.
"Keith said it looked like he was reading the Grand Jury indictment on the murder charges against the perp in your case. Maybe he saw the horrible thing he did. Maybe he knew it would come out in the murder trial."
It's all very complicated. I don't believe for one minute he admitted his culpability – even to himself. He might have feared that I would testify, and he should have if he didn't. I am an excellent expert witness. The words of my testimony would have pointed at him with benign contempt and delivered him swiftly at Lady Justice's feet.
The only flaw in that scheme is no one knew where I was and even if they did, the subpoena wouldn't reach that distance. They could ask, but not compel me to return. If he was afraid of me, he killed himself for nothing. My coffee tastes bitter.
Maggie stops playing with the last of the undissolved sugar at the bottom of her cup, "And Kate, Judge Jones wrote a letter to you." She sets her cup down and looks at me, seeming to search for a clue to the letter's content.
There are no clues for her to discover. I can't imagine why he would write to me. Maybe later I will be amused, wondering if Maggie thought there had been some sort of scandalous relationship between the judge and me. But for now I am just as surprised about the letter as she must have been when it arrived.
Looking directly into my eyes, she continues a little softer, "Keith brought the letter by the office hoping I knew where you were."
I make no response. She isn't going to guilt information out of me. If she wants to know about the last five years, she will have to ask outright.
But she doesn't ask. "We didn't open it; Keith said the suicide note was all the police needed."
I cock my head to the side, studying her, listening.
Maggie looks at her cup again as if trying to coax more coffee to appear. "I have it at home; we thought you should be the first to read it."
First? I catch her meaning and make a mental note she expects the letter to be shared with her. "Why would he write to me? It doesn't make sense."
Maggie looks straight into my eyes; I can't escape her gaze. I notice she is saying something about dinner at her apartment.
"Oh, thanks, but I can't tonight," I lie. Actually, dinner sounds good, but I am not up to more of her direct ways, at least not today.
"Then come and pick up the letter." Maggie can still read when I have reached my limit. "We'll have dinner some other time." She reaches for our cups, saying something about time to call it a day, then smiles.
The conversation is over for the time being. I am relieved. Knowing Maggie, I am sure this is only a temporary reprieve. When Maggie has something to say, she will wait for her moment, then say it perfectly timed to sting. There is never a permanent escape from her.
Maybe it had been a mistake to come to the office. No. No, it is good to see Maggie and the others. I have missed Maggie. Seeing her again is a significant part of why I came home. I was right; I had to come here first. No other way would have felt correct.