After meeting with Claire, Silas headed back to the law firm in a hurry. Claire had thrown him for a loop with her confession, and now he was frustrated and trying to process what she had confessed to.
With this latest admission, the murder trial was finished before it started, and what was left was a sentencing hearing where the prosecution would most definitely ask for the maximum sentence.
Claire was many things, but a murderer wasn’t one of them. Just when Silas thought he was going to get the truth out of her, something was telling him that Claire was still not being honest with him.
Not only had she changed her story, but her admission was a bit too similar to a few of the suggestions that Silas had given her. And he was sure that after some thought, she had decided to use those ideas in her favor. But he just wasn’t sure why she thought this was the best route to take. Just when he thought she wanted out of prison, she had made sure that would never happen, and he felt it so odd that it had left him feeling confused. Whatever her reason was, he hoped it was worth it.
He went to the law firm and found Zoe making copies in the front office. She had her earbuds in and was bobbing her head slightly. “There you are,” he said.
“Hey.” She hit the button on her earpiece. “What’s up? I was just about to go back upstairs.”
“Good. I need to see you in the office. Hannah should be on her way too.” He turned to the receptionist. “Send her up as soon as she gets here.”
“Yes, sir,” said the girl, who gave Zoe a sideward look.
“What’s going on?” Zoe asked as he breezed past her toward the elevator. “Has something bad happened?”
“Come with me, and I’ll tell you.” He had a million thoughts rushing through his mind at once.
The elevator door opened, and as Silas went inside, Zoe hurried up and grabbed her copies as he held the door. She rushed into the elevator and leaned against the wall.
“What happened?” she asked as the door closed. “Or are you going to make me wait until we get upstairs?”
“Claire confessed,” he said, still feeling like he was stuck in his head. “There won’t be a trial. We have to shift focus to the sentencing hearing.”
“What?” she asked, raking her hand through her hair. “Holy shit. Just like that?”
“Well, we’ve still got a lot of work to do, but yeah, just like that, everything is changing.” That was the nature of the business. Things could always happen at the drop of a hat, especially with clients like Claire Ford.
“So, wait. Do you mean she actually told you what she did? All of it?” Zoe’s expression was clouded with disappointment and disgust. “I don’t understand. How could she do that on purpose? And to her own child no less?”
Silas felt sick over it as well and didn’t know what to think. “I don’t understand either. I thought I was confused before, but this. This is just too far out there. Something isn’t adding up to me. And I feel even worse about it than I did before.”
“It’s just so hard to believe.” Zoe put her hand to her heart. “I don’t understand how anyone can do such a thing.”
“I agree,” he said. “Nothing is easy to believe when it comes to Claire. Nothing she says can be trusted. It’s because she’s already admitted to being a liar.”
“Do you believe her?” asked Zoe. “I mean, do you think she really did this?”
“As much as I hate to say it, considering I wasn’t sure she was telling the truth before, I don’t know. I thought she was lying and holding back before, and strangely, I still have that feeling. It’s like we’re not getting the whole story. I can’t imagine why she would change her plea. But I can’t help but feel responsible for it too. Maybe I pushed her too hard before. And now, I don’t know how to help her. I tried to scare her into telling me what she was hiding, and it has backfired.”
“Well, she has to be telling the truth, right? Why would she lie about something like this?” Zoe looked more confused and hurt than he had ever seen her. “It’s awful. She’s going to prison for the rest of her life.”
“I don’t know. I have to figure this out. I’m still in shock. But I wanted Hannah to come down so I could pick her brain too. I have my theories. I have her statement recorded, and I wanted to go over it together. So, you can listen to that with us if you want. Maybe you’ll have an opinion. I wanted to have it on record, but I need copies. So, let’s get this file copied and make sure it’s transcribed too.” He hated to put her to work while she was still in shock, but they had to get busy.
Zoe nodded. “Sign into your computer, and I’ll work on it now.”
He turned and powered up, unlocking the device for her to use. “Here, knock yourself out.”
As Zoe’s fingers went to work on the computer keyboard, Silas went to make coffee, knowing Hannah would be arriving at any moment.
Before he could even turn on the machine, he heard a soft knock at the door.
Hannah stuck her head in. “Knock, knock.” She gave him a worried look as if she had already suspected the worst.
“Come on in,” he said. “Thanks for coming down.”
She came into the room and walked over to take a seat in front of his desk. She looked at Zoe. “This must be serious. You’ve called in all of the troops.”
“She’s copying Claire’s confession,” he said, knowing the disappointment was clear in his expression.
Hannah’s eyes widened. “Her what?” She cocked her head as if she wasn’t sure she had heard him right. “Did you say her confession?”
“Yeah, she’s confessed to driving off the bridge on purpose in an emotional breakdown due to Owen upsetting her. She said she couldn’t take it anymore. It just happened in a moment of emotion.” He threw his hands up in the air, not sure what else to do with himself. “It’s crazy.”
“You don’t seem to be taking it well.” Hannah narrowed her eyes. “You’re still not convinced.”
He shook his head to agree with her. “I’m not. It’s the language she used. It was just as if she was repeating things that I had asked her when I was trying to make her tell me what she was hiding.”
“So wait, you didn’t believe her before, and now that you get a confession, you still don’t believe her?” She let out a sigh. “Oh, Silas. Seriously? She didn’t kill that child on purpose. I’d bet money on it.”
“Is there any part of you that believes she was so distraught over Owen and his secrets that she would do something like this? Do you believe that she thought this was a better option than what Owen was putting her through? You are the one who knows him better than anyone.”
“It would seem there had to be some other way,” said Zoe.
“Unless whatever dark secret she was hiding about Owen was something even worse.” But he couldn’t fathom that. He was looking to Hannah to tell him he wasn’t way off base.
“I don’t know,” said Hannah. “I know he’s as bad as they get, and while I have my theories on that, I need to hear what she said. You know, thinking back, it’s just like when she made that deal with him and admitted to lying. I knew for sure it was a lie. I had seen the medical report with my own eyes. It’s like one minute. I think she’s brave. The next, she’s an idiot for making that deal with him. It’s hard to keep up with her.”
“She’s got my head spinning,” said Silas.
“I’ve got the confession right here,” said Zoe, who hit the play button on the computer.
Hannah listened to Claire go through the entire confession for Silas on the recording.
When it got to the part where Claire admitted to taking her baby from the seat and that, when she went over the bridge, she was holding her in her lap, Hannah shook her head.
“That’s crazy,” she said. “But it explains why the reenactment didn’t work.”
“Yeah,” he said. “But that’s what is eating at me. That’s something I told her about. I think she’s just using what I told her and making it make sense because I told her it wasn’t going to fly any other way. But why change her plea?”
Silas kept a careful watch on Hannah’s expressions the whole time. Claire continued to explain and could tell that she was having as hard a time with it as he had.
When it was done, she shook her head again. “Someone got to her,” she said. “That has to be the reason she’d just change her story like this. Just like she did before. It doesn’t make any sense. She wanted it over with?”
Zoe mumbled, “Oh, it’s over, honey.”
“That’s what I thought,” said Silas. “I even asked her if someone got to her, but she said no. She said she just wanted it over with. That’s when something she said struck me.”
“What’s that?” Hannah asked, giving him a look of concern.
“She said she didn’t want to go through the trial and have everyone digging into her personal life. I had told her that would happen at our previous meeting. And how things tend to come out in the trial. I told her that both sides would have the opportunity to dig into her life and find facts. I wanted to try and make her think I’d find out if she was hiding something, thinking she would go ahead and tell me. Instead, I think I pushed her into this confession. She wanted to avoid that at all costs.”
“Even at the cost of her freedom?” asked Zoe. “That’s crazy. She’s not mental, is she?”
“Maybe she was afraid of what we would find?” said Hannah. “If what she’s told me is any proof, whatever it could be might be highly embarrassing and detrimental. Maybe she was afraid it would come out and that it would put her family in danger. She may have felt pushed into a corner.”
“Well, it’s definitely something. But it doesn’t matter now. She’s changing her plea regardless.” Silas still felt responsible. “I asked her if she was absolutely sure and tried to explain what it would mean for her. She didn’t care. All she cared about was getting it over with without a trial. She claims she can’t put her mother through that, but I think it’s something else. I think it may have just killed her hope. If she thinks she’s going to lose anyway, letting the truth out isn’t going to be worth it. I didn’t even think about that.”
“I don’t think I’d care what people found out about me if it meant keeping me out of prison,” said Zoe.
Silas shrugged. “It’s hard to tell where her head is. All I know is I have to figure out what to do. If I don’t, she’s getting life without parole. She’ll die behind bars. No doubt about it.”
“This is insane,” said Hannah. “Isn’t there anything you can do at this point?”
“I think so,” he said. “It’s a long shot, but I think I might be able to help. They weren’t willing to deal before, and with Hannah not budging, I was against a wall, but if I can bargain with the DA, maybe he’ll take her confessing to a lesser charge just to be finished with it. I could probably get her a second degree with a twenty-year sentence. It’s not the best outcome, but I think it would be tempting for DA Spencer. I can’t see him having a good reason to turn it down.”
“This was going to be a high-profile trial,” said Hannah. “Spencer is probably going to want to stick with his charges just for the clout.”
“It’s possible. But the jokes on him if that’s what he wants. She’s confessing, so his trial dreams are done anyway. Besides, he has to know that charge is going to be tough to win to begin with. I know he’s confident in the evidence and how her story isn’t going to work out, but I also have to think he knows the charges are going to be a harder burden to prove. You get one juror with reasonable doubt, and he loses. I don’t think he wants that, either. I think he’ll want to guarantee that she gets time. And it’s not like I am going to tell him that she’s changing her plea without a deal.”
“I hope he has a rare moment and does the right thing.” Hannah didn’t seem too convinced that he would.
“I’ll have to make it sound like the right move. She’ll plead guilty to the lesser charge and serve a long sentence. It’s still going to end her life for the most part. She’ll never have other children. She’ll serve her time, and her life, her youth, and her career will be over. It might just make a difference to him.”
“I don’t know,” said Hannah, shaking her head. “I don’t have a lot of faith when it comes to Jay Spencer.”
“Well, I have to do something. I feel like I’ve let her down. And let’s face it. She’s pleading guilty either way. So, I can do one last thing to help her, or just let her curl up and be kicked into the system without a fighting chance.”
“What does Bell say?” asked Zoe.
“I haven’t mentioned it to Bell yet. I want to get my head around this before I go in to talk to him about it. So, this stays here between us until I say otherwise.”
“Got it,” said Zoe as she and Hannah both nodded in agreement.
“You’ve certainly got your work cut out for you.” Hannah gave him a regretful look.
But he wasn’t letting her go just yet. “You’re not getting off that easy. We all have a lot of work to do. I know the trial is a bust, but I still need you until the case is finished.” He wasn’t ready to stop working with her.
“I’m here. I’ll help any way I can.” Hannah gave him a look of reassurance.
“Good. And I need you too, Zoe. I want to keep digging. Just as we were. That can’t stop.”
Zoe looked confused. “You mean to carry on as if we’re going to trial?”
“I mean to go ahead with the research on Lonnie Smith and anyone else connected with Claire. I still think that there’s a connection there. If we find out what it is, we might just uncover whatever it is she’s so afraid of.”
“You think she’s scared?” asked Zoe.
“Scared enough to go to prison for the rest of her life over something she didn’t do? Yeah.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” said Zoe. “Besides, I’m having too much fun with Henry and those old movies to stop now. Even Miley is invested in them.”
“They remind her of her aunt,” said Hannah. “She meant a lot to her.”
Silas knew that Hannah and Miley had that in common. But he needed her head to be focused on Claire. “We have to look at every aspect of her life. We don’t have as much time as we did before, but the courts are running slow right now, so it could still take a couple of months before we get our hearing. And I still have to convince the DA to bargain with me.”
“Anything you need,” said Hannah. “I’m up for it.”
“Good,” he said. “I’m going to need all the help I can get.”