The door clicked open and Debbie waited, watching the table with trained eyes as she picked at chipped paint, waiting as long as possible to make eye contact with who she could tell was the same cop who had run her paperwork this morning before placing her in the holding cell.
She’d refused her call. And no, she didn’t want any fucking goldfish crackers because how the hell would that help her at this point?
Danny was dead. Darlene and Dennis may as well have been dead. And Claude Becker had ruined her fucking life. There was no one to blame but herself. No one to help but herself. What was the point of fighting any of it? She’d read the signs all wrong. She’d taken the risk. And she’d gotten conned. This is how her world worked.
She was over it all. Debbie just wanted some peace and some quiet so she could stew in her own guilt and self-pitying.
“I told you, I don’t want an attorney,” Debbie sighed.
“But you know you have the right to one,” the officer reminded her.
“Yes,” Debbie rolled her eyes. “Not only do I know my constitutional rights, but I have watched television on occasion.”
“So I’m writing down that you’re refusing your right to counsel?” The officer checked.
“Who’d they send?” Debbie scoffed, picking at the plastic cup as she peeled it into a circle of strips.
“I don’t know, lady. She’s a public defender. You got someone else on retainer or something? Any family you can call?”
“There’s no one,” Debbie spoke, her tone ominous and dark.
“Look,” the officer sighed. “I have no legal responsibility to tell you to take on any sort of counsel or even tell you they’re right outside, but this one. She seems different. And it seems like you could use someone on your side.”
Debbie let out a long sigh, but nodded.
“Alright,” she agreed reluctantly. “Send her in. I’ll talk to her.”
The officer nodded. “Wait here.”
“But I have brunch plans at 11!” Debbie complained, picking up her handcuffed wrists from the table as high as she could stretch and shook them, letting out a maniacal laugh.
“Brunch does sound good,” a low voice chuckled. “But they wouldn’t let me bring more than a coffee through security for you.”
Debbie looked up at the new voice, scaling the public defender from bottom to top. Vintage designer shoes. Smart, sharp slacks. Crisp button down. Gorgeous blazer. The outfit alone was nothing like any PD she’d ever seen and she was already grateful for that alone. But it was nothing compared to the woman wearing it.
Shaggy bleach blonde hair tucked into a short ponytail that was straight and pinned back enough, but then messy fringe falling into her eyes. Wide black-rimmed glasses. Barely there makeup because she didn’t need any at all. And the scent of cologne wrapping around Debbie like a vice and a hug simultaneously.
“Louise Miller,” the woman offered, holding out a hand and sliding a coffee cup towards Debbie. “I’ve been assigned to your case. Deborah Ocean, right?”
“I won’t be answering any questions until my lawyer is present,” Debbie smirked, still trying to get a read on this Louise Miller.
“That would be me,” she smirked, without missing a beat. “Best we could do on short notice.”
“You don’t look like a public defender,” Debbie mused, gripping the coffee in her hands to feel the warmth.
“You don’t look like a criminal.”
“What happened to innocent until proven guilty?” The brunette snorted.
“You new to this system?” The attorney asked, rolling her eyes. “And for the sake of transparency, I used to do corporate law.”
“Ah, white collar,” Debbie nodded. “Caviar. House arrest in mansions. Cars as bonuses. What’s not to love?”
“How much time have you got?” The blonde asked with a sudden darkness that could give Debbie’s a run for her money.
“Six years, evidently,” Debbie winked.
“Touché,” the other woman chuckled, nodding her head appreciatively for the humor. “So. Tell me why we’re here. And tell me the truth.”
“I don’t do the truth,” Debbie muttered.
“Oh, lovely. So I can expect you to lie under oath? Because that’ll save us both a whole lot of time.”
“You know what I mean,” the brunette huffed.
“Frankly,” the blonde smirked, snatching the coffee cup back and spinning it with her pinky finger. “I don’t. So why don’t you start with one truth for me? Earn your coffee back.”
“How is that fair if I don’t know anything about you?”
“A truth for a truth then?” She suggested, leaning back in her seat, folding her legs up on the table.
“I can work with that,” Debbie admitted with a small sigh of relief.
“I hate the name Louise but it sounds more professional. Just call me Lou,” Lou huffed. “You go.”
“I hate the name Deborah but you used it first. Just call me Debbie,” the brunette smiled.
Lou slid the coffee back to Debbie and Debbie caught it with a grin.
“I’d rather help one innocent person in my entire career than make white collar money,” Lou muttered.
“I fell for the wrong person,” Debbie offered, matching Lou’s pitiful tone.
“I’m usually the wrong person myself.”
“That last one was a lie,” Debbie whispered. “I don’t think I ever fell for him. I just trusted the wrong asshole.”
“I’m sorry you trusted the wrong asshole.”
“Is that your truth or do you just feel sorry for me?” Debbie asked, but her tone was curious and not accusatory.
“Both,” Lou smiled.
“I don’t think you’re usually the wrong person,” Debbie offered in return. “I just think you haven’t found the right one.”
“That your truth, Ocean? Or you just feel sorry for me?”
“Both,” Debbie winked. They shared an easy laugh that made the brunette’s heart flutter.
“Tell me about the case,” Lou spoke softly, not expecting Debbie to budge quite yet, but to her surprise, Debbie nodded, leaning forward.
“Do you know Daniel Ocean?” Debbie sighed.
“He’s your brother?”
“He was.” Debbie flinched.
“Fuck, I’m sorry, I—“ Lou’s hand reached out to touch Debbie’s and debbie took it before she could recoil. The blonde stared down at their hands, electricity pulsing between them. “I probably shouldn’t be…”
“Probably not,” Debbie mumbled, pulling away reluctantly, both watching Lou’s unmoving hand still in the middle of the table looking as regretful as she was. “Anyway, Danny’s the one who got me into this mess in the first place. I went through a big breakup with someone I used to work with and I was looking for a new partner. Danny introduced me to Claude.”
“Can I ask who the man was you were working with before Claude?”
“I mean you could,” Debbie sighed. “But I won’t tell you her name. She’s not on trial here.”
Lou’s lips pursed and Debbie debated asking whether she was surprised at the gender swap Debbie had so casually thrown her like a curveball or the fact that she wouldn’t rat out other criminals.
“I respect that,” Lou answered finally. “So you stopped working with her. And you picked up on working with him?”
Lou cleared her throat awkwardly, looking down at her notepad. “And were you romantically involved with him?”
Debbie let out a deep breath before looking up, Lou’s bright eyes meeting hers.
“Not consensually,” Debbie whispered.
Neither of them missed the loud snap of Lou’s pen in the otherwise quiet room as it broke off in her hand, the hand that still remained on the table now curled into a tight fist.
“Can you—I hate to ask, but any details you can give me might help you…”
“Yeah,” Debbie gulped. “Of course.”
“So Danny introduced you two?”
“With the intention you’d work together or—“
“I think he assumed if we worked together, other elements of our lives would become intertwined,” the brunette sighed. “It’s a rotten habit of mine.”
“Mixing business with pleasure, you mean?”
Debbie nodded, playing with the sleeve of the coffee cup, afraid to meet Lou’s eyes. She felt vulnerable. Like Lou could see right through her. Like she already knew everything without having to pull it from Debbie a strand at a time.
“Hey,” Lou whispered, physically stopping herself from trying to offer Debbie a hand again. “We can stop at any time.”
“Easier to just muck through it,” Debbie admitted. “Just keep stopping me if you have questions.”
Lou nodded, replacing her pen as Debbie started speaking again.
“There wasn’t going to be a criminal element,” Debbie started. “I’m sure you need that for intent,” Debbie smirked and Lou cracked a small smile. “But I’m sure you also know that things are never that simple. He wanted a trophy on his arm. Someone to talk up expensive pieces and make sure they were the ones on the forefront to be sold first. Get the big money first.”
“But I’m guessing it didn’t stay legal?”
“Fraud is the big player here, yeah, but the issue here is my willingness to commit it.”
“You think we have a case for duress?” Lou asked quietly.
“Does being held at gunpoint and told you’ll do whatever he asks you to do or he’ll shoot you in the head count as duress?”
They both watched the second pen, waiting for Lou’s heavy hand.
“Pretty fucking solid prima facie case I’ll say,” she grumbled. “Debbie, he held you at gunpoint?”
“Multiple times,” the brunette murmured. “A knife as well. Some cigar burns.” She rolled up the sleeve of her dress so Lou could see the marks.
“This just got a whole lot more complicated,” The blonde breathed. “I mean domestic violence it’s—“
“I wouldn’t call it that,” Debbie scoffed. “There was nothing domestic about it.”
“But you were living together?”
“Against my will.”
“When things were under a legal veil with the art, there was nothing between us but the occasional flirt or kiss. I thought I was stringing him along. He had different plans. When he proposed the whole scheme and I learned that I’d be defrauding people for thousands, I told him no. And he said if I loved him I would do it. And when I told him I didn’t love him, he—he—“
Lou was frozen. The pen had stopped and she was staring blankly at the paper between them.
“He forced himself on you,” she breathed.
“Told me I couldn’t do any better than him. That he would give me everything I’d ever wanted. I just had to pose as the buyer again and again. My name wouldn’t be anywhere. And he kept threatening me and raping me and I couldn’t—“ Debbie’s voice broke, but she didn’t cry. She looked to angry and distraught to even shed a tear. “There was no where to go. No one to turn to. He threatened my life. And Danny’s. I couldn’t tell a soul. And so people assumed it was mutual. Criminal or otherwise…”
“How did you end up here?” Lou asked nervously.
“I fought back,” Debbie whispered. “He asked me to pose as the seller, not the buyer. I said no. I did. But he…well, you get it. But I thought this is perfect. This will get the police involved and I can explain and get help and instead—“
“They brought the feds in,” Lou sighed, ruffling her bangs in distress. “Because now it’s a federal case. Too many state lines crossed. Too much money involved.”
“It was too late for me. My name was on everything. He told then he was the one I’d defrauded. Not that anyone bothered to ask anything you’re asking. They probably thought it was too easy. Case closed. Why bother asking if the floozy in the cocktail dress raking in millions is okay. Not that I even have a fucking dime to my name…”
“You shouldn’t be here,” Lou hissed. “None of this is right. You shouldn’t even have me as an attorney. This is high level shit. You need someone good. Someone with a reputation. This could be plastered on page six. Jesus, Becker could be rotting on death row. It’s no art fraud. It’s abuse and duress and false imprisonment and—Fuck, there could be eighty charges against him. Criminal and civil.”
Debbie smiled at this and Lou frowned in confusion.
“Well shit, Lou Miller,” Debbie chuckled. “That’s quite a fire you have under your ass. You must be a firecracker in court.”
“Oh you have no fucking idea,” she smirked. But her face went dark again. “But as your attorney, I’d advise you get a different one. One who’s more skilled in this area. Get a loan. Get a credit line. Do what you have to. Even if you served time, which I’m not even sure you would, you should be walking out with damages a plenty to pay any lawyer back and then some. And Becker—Fuck, he should be shaking in his boots right now.”
“That’s solid advice,” Debbie nodded, taking a sip of the now cold coffee. “But don’t be upset. I’m going to ignore it.”
“There’s no reason I would advise you to plead guilty, Debbie. Even if they prove the elements of fraud, you have so many defenses lined up. Duress is only the beginning and—“
“I’m ignoring it because I don’t want anyone else to take on my case,” Debbie whispered. “I want you, Lou.”