Angel of the Dark by Sidney Sheldon

Matt Daley watched him go, a stupefied look on his face. Danny McGuire knew the look well from all his years on the force dealing with victims of violent crime. Matt was in shock. The trial, always a strain, had finally become too much for him.

Danny pushed Matt’s wheelchair toward the private, police-only exit. “Come on, man. Let’s get you out of here.”

THEY HAD LUNCH AT A TINY Jewish deli in Silverlake, only six miles from the courthouse but a world away from the Azrael soap opera. Danny ordered a brisket sandwich and insisted on some chicken noodle soup for Matt as well as a mug of hot, sweet coffee.

“They’re gonna execute her, aren’t they?”

Danny put down his sandwich. “Probably. Yeah. I’m sorry, Matt.”

“It’s my fault.” Tears began coursing down Matt Daley’s cheeks, splashing into his soup. “If I hadn’t started with this stupid documentary, if I hadn’t gotten you involved, they’d never have found her.”

Danny was shocked. “You can’t possibly mean that. If you hadn’t done what you did, people would have died, Matt. Innocent people. That woman had to be stopped.”

“I could have stopped her. You heard the psychiatrist. If Lisa and I had gotten away like we planned to. If we’d made it to Morocco and disappeared. Frankie couldn’t have kept killing without her…and she’d never have hurt a fly if it hadn’t been for him.”

“Maybe so,” said Danny. “Or maybe not. Remember, you had no idea back then that Lisa was involved in any of the murders. How do you think you’d have reacted if you’d known?”

Matt was unhesitating. “I’d have forgiven her. I’d have understood.”

“She killed your father, Matt. That’s why you got involved with this in the first place. Because Andrew Jakes didn’t deserve to die like that. Remember? Nobody deserves to die like that.”

“No,” Matt said stubbornly. “Mancini killed my father. Lisa was confused. She thought she was protecting her sister. She never wanted any of this to happen.”

There was obviously no point in talking to him. He wasn’t going to change Matt’s mind, and the subject made his friend intensely agitated, which was exactly what Danny had hoped to avoid by taking him out to lunch. He changed the subject.

“How’s Claire?”

“She’s good. Tired of having me living with her, I guess. It’s not easy having a crippled brother around with two kids and a husband to take care of.”

“She’d do anything for you,” said Danny. “Even I could see that. You’re lucky.”

Yeah, thought Matt. Lucky. That’s me.

“She thinks I should see a shrink.”

“What do you think?”

Matt shrugged. “It won’t make any difference. If Lisa…If they…” He choked up, unable to go on, but Danny could guess the rest. If they execute Sofia, he thinks he’ll have nothing to live for. The jury might not know it, but they were deliberating the fate of three lives, not two.

“Maybe you should go back to work, Matt. Make this damn documentary of yours. God knows you have enough material and no one’s closer to this case than you are. People can’t get enough of this story right now. You could make a fortune.”

“I don’t want a fortune,” said Matt truthfully. “Not if it can’t buy Lisa her freedom.”

“You want to tell the truth, though, don’t you?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean you want people to know what really happened. Well, what better way to do that than to make a movie? To get the message out there in a way that millions of people will understand? That’s the one way you can still help her.”

For the first time, something resembling hope seemed to cross Matt Daley’s face. It was true. He did owe it to Lisa to tell the truth. He owed it to all of them. Whether he intended to or not, Danny McGuire had just thrown him a lifeline.

Just then Danny’s cell phone rang. It was Lou Angelastro, an old buddy of his from the LAPD.

“What’s up, Lou? I’m just out at lunch with a friend of mine, taking a break. Can I call you back in ten?”

Matt Daley watched as Danny McGuire’s face passed from surprise…to disbelief…to panic.

“We’ll never make it in time…Silverlake…can you send a car? Yeah, I’ll give it to you.” Reeling off the name and address of the deli where he and Matt were eating, Danny hung up the phone.

“Everything okay?” asked Matt.

“Kind of…No…Not really.” Pulling out two twenties, Danny dropped them on the table, hurriedly scrambling to his feet. “The jury came back already. They’ve reached a verdict.”

IN COURTROOM 306, PANDEMONIUM REIGNED. AS people scrambled for the best seats, camera crews battled one another for access to the reserved media gallery, using their heavy cameras as weapons. A number of key news teams had already left the immediate vicinity of the courthouse. No one expected a verdict so soon. But when word was released that the jury was ready to return and that Judge Federico Muñoz was expected to call the court back in session within minutes, they all raced back to Beverly Hills, leaning on their horns like impatient rally drivers. Pretty soon Burton Way was as clogged up as the 405 during rush hour. Even the sidewalks were packed, with passersby and devoted Azrael watchers huddling around the two giant outdoor screens where they could watch the verdict delivered live.

For a case of such international scope, it was amazing how proprietary the Angelinos had become about the defendants, claiming Sofia Basta and the chillingly handsome Frankie Mancini as their own. Suddenly everybody cared about Andrew Jakes, the rich, elderly art dealer the pair had slain back in the early days of their killing spree. The Azrael murders had started in L.A. As far as Angelinos were concerned, it was only fitting that the drama should end there. Not since the O.J. trial had the world’s attention been so closely focused on the city’s criminal justice system. It was important to the people of Los Angeles that this time the guilty parties receive their just deserts. Although they stopped short of openly baying for blood, the mood among the crowd was grimly expectant, knowing as they did that Judge Dread enjoyed nothing more than handing down death sentences. Today, for once, the city was right behind him.

Matt Daley gripped the handhold on the police car’s passenger door. Above him, the siren was wailing, its lights flashing brilliant blue and white as they hurtled toward the courthouse. Matt was struggling to breathe.

“Not much longer,” said Danny as the traffic grudgingly parted to let them pass. “I think we’ll make it.”

JUDGE MUÑOZ WALKED REGALLY INTO THE court. All the assembled lawyers, defendants and spectators stood up. Arriving at the judge’s chair, Muñoz paused for dramatic effect, a king surveying his kingdom. There were the attorneys:

William Boyce, who’d almost bored them all to death with his lifeless performance for the prosecution over the first two weeks, but whose cross-examinations had gripped the world and changed the course of the trial.

Alvin Dubray, for Mancini, the bumbling old “fool” who’d said the least but probably achieved the most for his client by keeping him silent and allowing Sofia Basta enough rope to hang herself.

Ellen Watts, pretty, clever, but in the end too inexperienced to rein in her own client. Watts had had the hardest hand to play, trying to paint an evil killer as a victim, an intelligent schemer as confused and insane, a sexually rapacious sadomasochist as a little-girl-lost. And she’d almost done it too, if only Sofia Basta’s temper hadn’t gotten the better of her.

To the judge’s left stood the accused. Mancini looked his usual amused, evil and deranged self. Sofia Basta was equally inscrutable. Staring straight ahead, her arms at her side, the expression on her face could only be described as blank. Not nervous, not hopeful, not angry, not impatient, not despairing. Not anything. She was a blank slate, ready to have the next chapter of her appalling life written for her. This time, with a little help from the jury, Judge Federico Muñoz would be writing that chapter.

It would be her last.

To Muñoz’s right, at the very front of the courtroom, three seats remained conspicuously empty. David Ishag, Matt Daley and Danny McGuire were all missing.

Damn, thought Muñoz. Had he known, he’d have waited…fabricated some excuse to allow the three key players in the drama to be present at its denouement. But it was too late now. Finally, the judge sat down. Everyone in courtroom 306 gratefully followed suit, sinking into their seats but still craning their necks to keep Basta and Mancini in view.

One by one the jury filed in.

AT THE BARRIER THAT HAD BEEN set up in front of the courthouse, their driver was arguing with a guard.

“What do you mean ‘no more vehicles’? This is Assistant Director Danny McGuire of Interpol. He has all-access clearance.”

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Categories: Sidney Sheldon