“Bring her in, please,” I said.
The door opened and Barabas led Dorie Davis inside. She didn’t look like a bombshell. She didn’t look like a streetwalker either. She looked perfectly ordinary. A woman in her early thirties, with a rounded face, blue eyes, and a shoulder-length blond bob. Not too athletic, not too curvy. Soft. The kind of woman who probably lived in the suburbs, made school lunches for her kids, and indulged in a glass of wine in the afternoon.
Barabas cleared his throat.
“Go ahead,” I told him.
He turned to Dorie. “Before we start, you need to know your rights. Everyone here is either an alpha, an acting alpha, or a member of the legal department. According to state law, no alpha can be compelled to testify against a member of their pack. The State of Georgia has no jurisdiction in this room. Nothing disclosed here can be used against you in a court of law.”
But it could be used against her in ours.
“Tell me what happened last night,” I said.
Dorie sighed, her face defeated. “I met Mulradin at the Fox Den.”
“Was he a regular client?” Robert asked.
“Yes, for the last ten months. He paid well. We had sex. He was getting ready for round two when someone busted through the door. There were six of them and they had shotguns. I was in my wolf form with a collar on and chained to the wall. One of them fired into the wall and showed the rest of the bullets to me. They were silver. The big one with dark hair told me that they would take turns shooting me. He said that I wouldn’t die right away. He said they would keep shooting me until I did what they wanted me to do.”
“Did you try to escape?” I asked.
“They were pointing shotguns at me.”
I took that as a no. “Describe the ‘big one’ to me.”
“In his thirties, over six feet tall. Very good shape. Muscular. Dark hair. Blue eyes.”
Hugh. “What happened then?”
“He told me that I had to kill Mulradin. If I tore him up, they would let me go.”
“So I did.” Her voice was flat. “He screamed a lot. It was horrible. Then they took off my collar and I ran.”
So simple. No big mystery. Hugh had held her at gunpoint so he could manufacture this whole incident.
“Where did you go?” I asked.
“To my cousin’s house. She owed me some money, and I knew she’d hide me.”
“You didn’t notify your clan or your alpha?” the beta of Clan Nimble asked.
Dorie sighed again. “Why not, why not? Because I didn’t want to be arrested. I didn’t want to go to jail. I just wanted it all to go away. I wanted my life back.”
“I’m sure Mulradin did, too,” I said. “Did anybody see you leave the crime scene?”
I looked at Jim. “We have no witnesses and Hugh moved the body from the original scene.” A good defense attorney could do wonders arguing that any evidence found on the body was contaminated.
“You’re thinking surrender?” Jim’s eyebrows rose an eighth of an inch.
I was thinking I wanted to avoid killing Dorie and sending her head out on a pike.
“They filmed it,” Dorie said.
I turned to her. “What?”
“They filmed it,” she said. “While I killed him.”
Hugh had made a snuff film. Why was I not surprised?
“This alters things,” Thomas Lonesco said.
I nodded to Juan, one of Jim’s people standing by the door. “Put her under guard, please. Make sure she’s watched.”
He took her by the arm.
“What will happen to me?” Dorie asked.
“Come on.” Juan pulled her.
She came to life suddenly, flailing in his arms. “I don’t want to die! I don’t want to die! Don’t kill me!”
He picked her up and carried her out of the room.
I waited until her sobs receded and stared down the Pack Council. My memory replayed Curran’s advice for dealing with the Council in my head. I never go into the Council room without a plan. You have to give them a range of possibilities, but if they discuss them too much, they’ll never make a decision. Steer them toward the right choice and don’t let them derail the train.
Steer them toward the right choice. Sure. Easy as pie. “As you know, the People intend to start a war. They are likely moving toward the Keep now. We have several courses of action opened to us. We can surrender Dorie to the People. Opinions?”
“No,” Jim said.
“We’d lose too much influence,” Martha said. “Pass.”
“No,” Andrea said.
“No,” Thomas Lonesco said.
That gave me a majority. Surrendering to the People was off the table. “Option two, we can execute Dorie and show proof of it to the People.”
The pause was longer this time. They were thinking it over.
“No,” Robert said.
“No,” Martha agreed. “We don’t kill our own without a trial.”
A trial would take time. We all knew it.
Nobody else volunteered anything, so I kept going.
“Option three, we keep Dorie and tell the People to screw themselves.”
“The casualties would be staggering,” Thomas Lonesco said.
“If they want a fight, we can give them a fight,” Desandra said. “But we’re at reduced strength and it will be bloody.”
“This isn’t an option for me,” Jim said.
“So, we don’t want to execute Dorie or turn her over to the People, and we don’t want to go to war,” I said. “That leaves us with only one option. We can surrender her to state law enforcement.”
The silence dropped on the table like a heavy brick.
Desandra frowned. “So like what, here’s Dorie, here’s her confession, take her off our hands?”
“Yes,” I said. “Technically the murder was committed in Atlanta, which makes it the business of Atlanta’s finest. If they take her into custody, the People can deal with them. Our hands would be clean. We’d remove their pretext for the war.”
“We’d be abdicating control over the situation,” Thomas Lonesco said.
“Yes,” I confirmed.
Martha turned to Barabas. “If we do this, what are her chances in court?”
Barabas grimaced. “Under Georgia law, and U.S. common law in general, duress or coercion is not a defense to homicide. The idea is that a person should not place their life above the lives of others.”
“Could it be self-defense?” the beta of Clan Nimble asked.
“No,” Barabas said. “Self-defense, by definition, is only applicable against the aggressor. Mulradin wasn’t an aggressor, he was a victim. To impose any kind of criminal liability, one has to prove both actus reus, the guilty act, and the mens rea, the guilty mind. Dorie committed the act, and if she denied it, there is videotaped evidence. That gives us the actus reus. Even if everyone believes her defense, that she had to choose between her life and Mulradin’s, the fact is, she made that choice, which means she meant to kill him. We now have both ingredients for a speedy conviction.”
“So the death penalty?” the Jackal alpha asked.
“Not necessarily. The big question is what will the DA want to do with this. If this is malicious homicide, and they would be fools not to charge her with that, we have to fight the death penalty. We can try to negotiate it down to voluntary homicide, which is a pointless battle unless we have something to trade. It’s possible they hate d’Ambray and will want her testimony if they manage to apprehend him and charge him. It’s also possible that they don’t want to take d’Ambray on and they would rather bury Dorie six feet under. Can we use it to our advantage? It depends on who’s in charge of the prosecution. An election is coming up. Do they want to plead it out quietly or do they want to make it an election issue? If we do go to trial, can we poke holes in their evidence? We don’t even know what the evidence is at this point, but the video will be difficult to circumvent. Dorie herself will be difficult. She is an unlikable defendant: she is a prostitute who engaged in bestiality with a married man.”
“I’d think the married man would be more unlikable,” Andrea growled.
“And you would be right, but he isn’t on trial. We can put him on trial, but it’s always a gamble. Who is the judge? Who are the jurors? Will attacking the victim predispose them to hate our client? Dorie is a shapeshifter,” Barabas continued. “The general public views her as being prone to violence.”
“Can you just give us a straight answer?” Jim growled.
Barabas pointed at Jim. “See? Prone to violence. And no, I can’t. You gave me a client who committed a murder under duress and who will likely have to confess to it to satisfy the People and asked me a question about her chances. I’m answering.”
My head was beginning to hurt. “Could you give us the idiot version, then?”
Barabas held up his hand. “Possible outcomes in order of most likely first.” He bent one finger. “One, conviction for malicious homicide, life in prison without possibility of parole or death penalty before a judge or jury. Two!” He bent his second finger. “Conviction for the lesser offense of voluntary manslaughter in front of a judge or jury. Three, a plea deal for a negotiated sentence or possibly immunity depending on how much they want to get at Hugh d’Ambray. That’s subject to many different factors. Four, acquittal before a judge or a jury based on reasonable doubt. Not bloody likely. Five, jury nullification. That would constitute a Hail Mary pass on our part. Jury nullification is much more rare than people think, and we would have to prove to the jury that Dorie was a victim of some great injustice. Six, we somehow blow holes in the prosecution’s case and get the whole thing dismissed. The likelihood of this last one is difficult to gauge because we don’t even know what evidence the prosecution has. Let me remind all of you that they may not have been notified of Mulradin’s murder.”
Silence claimed the table.
“If we go to the State with this,” Martha said, “they’ll use everything they have to smear all of us. There is a price to be paid here.”
“True,” the male beta of Clan Nimble said.
“We’ll face restrictions again,” the female alpha of Clan Jackal said.
“The alternative is worse,” I said.
“Depends on how you look at it,” Martha said. “No good choices, it’s true.”
I was losing them. My train was rapidly sliding off the rails.
Robert glanced at me and said very carefully. “What is the penalty for Dorie’s actions under Pack law?”
“Death,” Barabas said. “It was a malicious murder. A life for a life applies.”
He was helping me. I grabbed onto the straw. It was a weak straw, but people drowning in quicksand couldn’t be choosers.
“As alphas we have an obligation to our Pack members.” I made a mental note to thank Barabas again for making me learn the Pack laws backward and forward. “We must ensure the overall safety of the Pack and its individual members. Our first priority is the preservation of life.”
“We know, dear,” Martha said. “We’ve read the laws.”
“Barabas, what sentence would Dorie get if we gave her to the People?”
“Death,” he said.
“What if we try her?”
“What will she get if we turn her over to the State?”
“I don’t know,” Barabas said. “I can tell you that we will fight our hardest to keep the death penalty off the table.”
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