The Long Goodbye

MAY 2007

I knew it was doomed the minute I saw the look on her face.

So young, so innocent.

Deliberately so.

I knew what she’d done, ignoring the rumors, more fact than fiction; she had to have, to show up here, now, hoping to work for me, hoping to have a chance to catch my attention.

Too bad I had no way of letting her know she’d done that three years ago—

—and to what extent.

The stench of gunpowder and blood filled the air and again I was a killer, though this time not without legal justification.

It didn’t matter.

What are you studying, Knox?

I’m in law school.

Oh. Really? How old are you?

Twenty-one.

Oh. Huh. That’s— Did you graduate early or something?

No, just in May.

So … you didn’t go on a mission?

Um, no …

Oh. I see.

The future looked as suddenly bleak as it never had before, me with nothing to offer a woman, any woman, particularly the one I was looking at, the one I wanted more than I’d wanted any woman in my life.

Or anything else, for that matter.

I had a nice time tonight, Knox. Thanks.

Call you?

I think we should just be friends.

Uh, okay. Yeah. Um, sure.

I won’t say I was never tempted to pull out OKH as a bargaining chip to get what I wanted.

Um, you know, in twenty years, I’m gonna inherit this … company. Um, it’s lots of money. I really like you; could you give me a chance?

I could never do it.

Make love. Have children. Make a life.

Marry in the temple, covenant and bind myself for eternity to a woman who would bide her time, waiting for payment for services rendered the day after my fortieth birthday.

I’d rather have married Giselle, which prospect hadn’t thrilled me, either, but I could count on her to watch my back, the loyalty of my best friend in the world. I couldn’t imagine sex with Giselle; I never had been able to, but it didn’t matter. I didn’t even have that option now, since she’d married my other best friend, who could and would give her what I would never have given her.

I couldn’t stop staring at the girl in front of me, the one I’d wanted to surprise in another year and a half, on December 28. I’d had it all planned in my head, down to the last detail of every variable of every conceivable scenario.

Except this one.

“Who the hell are you?”

She jumped out of her skin, horrified. Terrified. A little green around the gills. Would she puke or wouldn’t she? She blinked and clutched her messenger bag to her chest, trying not to look past me at the carnage.

“Um—”

“Justice McKinley,” Eric said in that calm Are you out of your fucking mind? tone I knew all too well. And he was right.

As usual.

“So? Who is she? Why is she here?”

“She’s the girl you told me to interview, remember?”

What to do, what to do.

The only thing I didn’t want to do, but now had no choice. I needed her, that Rita Hayworth body, that red hair.

That curiously brilliant naïveté.

For as long as she’d let me keep her.

“Shit. Now I have to hire her.”

Then she spoke. Well, squeaked. “No! No, that’s all right. I’ll go.” She popped out of her chair, her briefcase still plastered to her chest and turned to escape.

Oh, no. She wasn’t going anywhere.

“Sit. Down.”

She did, but she wouldn’t look at me.

Couldn’t very well blame her for that. I terrified people; it was just part of being a vigilante, a crazy sumbitch murderer allowed to run loose in society.

“Well, Miss McKinley, welcome to the Chouteau County prosecutor’s office. I’m Knox Hilliard, your new boss. May I assume you know how to keep your mouth shut?”

She closed her eyes and all I wanted to do was press away the tear that tracked down her cheek with my fingers. Hold her, let her cry in my chest.

That would never happen now.

“I asked you a question.”

“Yes,” she choked.

“Good. I expect to see your ass planted in that chair over there at eight o’clock tomorrow morning. If I have to come looking for you—and I will—I will be very pissed off. Got that?”

She gulped. “Yes.”

“And heaven help you if you aren’t a decent lawyer.”

I stomped into my office and slammed the door like a teenager throwing a tantrum; I knew it. Eric knew it. I sat on the couch and slumped over, my elbows on my knees and my face in my hands.

Giselle would castrate me, but it wouldn’t matter.

For however long it took Iustitia McKinley, granddaughter of legal genius Juell Pope, to find her courage to stand me down—because she would—I’d be in hell, my elaborately simple plan splattered on the wall, all mixed up with Jones’s blood and brains.

Hi.

YOU’RE hamlet?

Surprise. Could I interest you in dinner and perhaps the ballet? I have tickets to the Nutcracker at the Kennedy Center.

Professor Hilliard—

Knox, please. I came to Washington for a reason, Iustitia.

Uh— What reason?

You.

The stars in her eyes were long gone.

With one precisely aimed bullet. Maybe I should’ve let Jones send me packing on the express train to hell. I had no hope now, and hope was the only thing I’d been running on for the last three years.

This was just the beginning of a long goodbye.

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