“Doesn’t matter,” grunted the guard. “I got orders. Once the court’s in session, no more vehicles go in or out.”
Danny McGuire stepped out of the car. Bringing his face to within centimeters of the guard’s, so close that he could smell the man’s garlicky breath, he said, “Either you remove this barrier and let us through right now, or I will personally see to it that you are not only fired from this job but that you never find work anywhere in this city again. If you think I’m bullshitting you, go ahead and make us turn around. But you have precisely three seconds to make that call.
The guard registered the steely glint in Danny McGuire’s eye and made his decision.
“MR. FOREMAN. HAVE YOU REACHED YOUR verdict?”
The heavyset black man in his midfifties nodded gravely.
“We have, Your Honor.”
“And is that verdict unanimous?”
OUTSIDE, THE CROWD GAZED UP AT the giant plasma screens in rapt silence. One showed the foreman standing, with the seated members of the jury behind him. All looked somber, as befitted the terrible crimes they’d been called upon to judge.
The other showed the two defendants. Standing only a few feet apart in the prisoners’ box, they looked as detached from each other as two people could possibly be. It was impossible to imagine that they had known each other since childhood, still less that they had worked together as a deadly team for a dozen years and been married for decades.
“Have you reached your verdict?”
“We have, Your Honor.”
DANNY MCGUIRE PANTED AS HE RAN down the corridor, pushing Matt Daley’s heavy wheelchair in front of him. The double doors of room 306 loomed in front of them like heaven’s gates.
“I’m sorry, sir,” the LAPD guard began. “Court is in session. Judge Muñoz…” He trailed off when he saw Danny’s Interpol ID.
“You can go in, sir.” The guard opened the doors respectfully. “But I can’t allow your friend here.”
Ignoring him, Danny pushed Matt’s chair into the court. The room was so silent, and the disturbance so unexpected, that for a moment hundreds of heads swiveled in their direction. But only one gaze caught Matt Daley’s eye. For the first time since the trial began, she was looking at him. Directly at him.
He mouthed to her: “Lisa.”
Judge Muñoz was speaking. “On the charge murder in the first degree, relating to Andrew Jakes, how do you find the first defendant, Frances Mancini?”
The word reverberated round the room like a gunshot.
“And the second defendant, Sofia Basta?”
The foreman’s next breath seemed to take an hour.
The gasps from inside the courtroom were heard around the world. Outside on Burton Way, the crowds let out a scream so loud it was faintly audible even through the thick walls of the courthouse. Once the cameramen realized what had happened, they zoomed in on Sofia’s face. But whatever reaction she may have had in the split second after the foreman spoke had been erased from her face now, replaced by her usual serene blankness. Matt Daley closed his eyes, falling back into his chair as if he’d been punched in the gut. Even Judge Muñoz, the famous Judge Dread himself, required a moment’s pause to regain his composure.
The foreman went on. “In the case of Andrew Jakes, however, we find the second defendant, Sofia Basta, guilty of voluntary manslaughter, due to diminished responsibility.”
Judge Muñoz cleared his throat. “In the case of Sir Piers Henley…”
Again, the verdict came back, like knife wounds to the judge’s heart.
It was the same for the other two victims. Only on the charge of the attempted homicide of David Ishag were both defendants condemned.
The sense of disbelief was palpable. Even the usually unflappable Mancini looked shocked, his olive complexion visibly draining of blood. Sir Piers Henley’s brother was shaking his head, tapping at his hearing aid in wonder. Miles Baring’s old girlfriends both burst loudly into tears, and more than one voice from the gallery shouted, “No!”
For his part, Danny McGuire couldn’t share the outrage. Truth be told, he felt only a deep sense of peace.
Sofia Basta would remain safely behind bars. No one else would have to die at Azrael’s hands, sacrificed to Frankie Mancini’s twisted lust for vengeance. But the lovely Angela Jakes, as she had once been, would be spared the executioner’s needle.
Not justice perhaps. But closure.
Danny McGuire was free at last.
FOUR YEARS LATER…
I’M SORRY, SIR. WITHOUT A PASS there is no way I can admit you.”
Perhaps surprisingly, the guard at Altacito State Hospital did look sorry. It was a tough, lonely job guarding the inmates of California’s only women’s psychiatric prison, and not many of ASH’s underpaid staff were known for their compassion. In his midsixties, the guard looked even older, his leathery skin as cracked and parched as a dry riverbed thanks to long years spent in the punishing desert sun. But there was a kindness in his eyes when he looked at the skinny, hopeful blond man, leaning on a cane at the hospital gates as he tried to plead his case.
It wasn’t the first time the guard had seen the man. Or the second. Or even the third. Every month, come visiting day, the man would show up, politely asking to be allowed to see Altacito State Hospital’s most celebrated inmate. But every month the lady declined to receive visitors.
Controversially spared the death penalty at her trial, the Angel of Death, as she was still known in the tabloid press, enjoyed a relatively easy life at ASH, albeit a life conducted behind bars and under a heavy shroud of secrecy. She had her own room, with a window and views out across the manicured gardens of the facility to the Mojave Desert beyond. Her days were structured but not arduous, with hours divided between work, exercise, recreation and psychiatric treatments, which could be anything from hypnosis to group therapy sessions.
Unfortunately, Matt Daley knew none of this. He worried constantly about Lisa—to him, she would always be Lisa—being singled out for brutality and victimization by other inmates because of her notoriety. Matt had written scores of e-mails to ASH’s chief psychiatrist, begging for news on her condition. Was she eating? Was she depressed? Could they at least confirm that she had been given the letters Matt wrote her religiously every Sunday, updating her on his life and the worldwide success of his acclaimed but controversial documentary, Azrael: Secrets and Lies…letters to which Matt had yet to receive a single reply. Did she even know that he was trying to reach her? That one friend at least had not abandoned her in her most desperate hour?
The e-mail replies were always the same. Polite. Brief. Straightforward: Matt Daley was not family. He was not entitled to any patient information unless the patient had specifically authorized its release. Sofia Basta had not.
“I know if she saw me, she’d change her mind.” Matt told the guard for the hundredth time. “If you’d let me through to the visitors’ lounge, just for a few seconds…I’ve come a long way.”
“I appreciate that, sir. I do. But I’m afraid you need to go back home.”
SOFIA READ THE LETTER AGAIN, RUNNING her hands lovingly across the paper, thinking of Matt’s hands touching it, the way they had once touched her. It began like all the others.
Reading the name was her favorite part. The name felt good. It felt right. Whenever she read Matt Daley’s letters, whenever she thought of him at all, she was Lisa. And Lisa was the best part of herself. She’d thought about changing her name legally after the trial. Lisa. Lisa Daley. It had a wonderful ring to it. But as the days and weeks passed, and the reality of her sentence sank in—they could dress it up all they liked, call her prison a “hospital” and her punishment “treatment,” but it was still life without parole—she changed her mind. What use was a new name to her now, in here? There were no second chances, no fresh starts. This was the end.
But not for Matt. For Matt, there was a chance. A future. Who was she to destroy it by giving him hope? By making him think, even for a moment, that there could be any going back…? For Matt Daley to live, Lisa had to die. It was as simple as that.
It was so hard to hold on to the truth. To separate what was real from what was fantasy. She’d lived with lies for so long. But she had tried not to lie to Matt. When she’d told him she loved him, she meant it. Had she met him earlier, much earlier, before Frankie and the book, before Sofia Basta, before she lost the thread of who she was, things might have been so different. As it was, she would spend the rest of her days caged like an animal, surrounded by electrified fences and desert wilderness. Matt’s letters meant everything to her. But she owed it to him not to reply…To let him go.