Joe Dillard - 01 - An Innocent Client

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Authors: Scott Pratt
Tags: Fiction, General, Suspense, Thrillers, Mystery & Detective
until his hands blister, throw until his arm aches, lift weights until his muscles burn, and run until his legs give out. The work paid off in the form of a scholarship to Vanderbilt, but the scholarship paid only half his tuition. I still had to come up with twenty thousand dollars a year.
    When the waiter brought me a piece of chocolate cake, Caroline reached into her purse and produced a candle. She stuck it in the cake and lit it.
    ”Make a wish,” she said.
    ”And don’t tell us what it is,” Lilly said. She says that every year.
    I made a silent wish for an innocent client. And the sooner the better.
    Jack reached under the table and pulled out a small, flat, gift-wrapped box.
    ”This is from all of us,” he said.
    I opened the card. There was a message, in Caroline’s handwriting: ”Follow your heart. Follow your dreams. We’ll all be there, wherever it leads. We love you.” She’s as eager as I am to get me out of the legal profession. She thinks my work keeps me at war with myself—she’s told me more than once that she’s never seen anybody so conflicted. She’s been encouraging me to go to night school and get certified as a high school teacher and a coach.
    Inside the package were box seat tickets to an Atlanta Braves game in July.
    ”I cleared your calendar,” Caroline said. ”We’re all going. Don’t you dare schedule anything for that weekend.”
    ”Not a chance,” I said. It was perfect.
    We finished dessert and drove back home around nine. As I pulled into the driveway, the headlights swept over the front porch about thirty feet to the left of the garage. I saw something move. We lived on ten isolated acres on a bluff overlooking Boone Lake. We’d left Rio in the house when we went to the restaurant. I stopped just outside the garage and got out of the car. I could hear Rio raising hell inside.
    ”I’ll go in and turn on the porch light,” I said to Caroline. ”You guys stay in the car.”
    ”No way,” Jack said as he got out of the backseat.
    I walked around the corner towards the front with Jack right beside me. Someone stood on the porch.
    ”Who’s there?” I said.
    Silence. And then the porch light came on. Standing next to the porch swing in a pair of ratty khaki shorts and a green T-shirt that read, ”Do me, I’m Irish,” was my sister, Sarah.

    April 12
    2:00 p.m.
    By the time Landers returned to his office, the Johnson City dicks had managed to gather more information on the murder victim. John Paul Tester was a widower with one grown kid, a son who was a deputy sheriff and a chaplain at the Cocke County sheriff’s department. Tester had come up to Johnson City to preach at a revival at a little church near Boone’s Creek. He delivered the sermon, collected almost three hundred dollars from the offering plate for his trouble, and left the church around nine. Nobody had seen him since. His bank records showed that he withdrew two hundred dollars in cash from an automatic teller machine at eleven forty-five p.m. The machine was at the Mouse’s Tail. If Tester ran through three hundred dollars there and needed more money around midnight, the Barlowe woman had to have noticed him.
    The bitch lied.
    Landers spent the afternoon drafting an affidavit for a search warrant and running down a judge. All he had to do was tell the judge that the owner of the club where the murder victim was last seen had lied and was refusing to cooperate. The warrant the judge signed authorized the TBI to search the Mouse’s Tail for any evidence relevant to the murder of John Paul Tester. And since it was a strip club, the judge didn’t have any qualms about Landers executing the warrant during business hours.
    Landers planned the raid himself. About an hour before the SWAT guys were supposed to hit the front door, he’d go in to check things out, and then at the appointed time he’d signal the start of the raid. Landers was looking forward to it, especially the part about checking

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