I kept trying to slip into present tense when I wrote this. I'm 97% sure I got it all back to past tense, but if I missed something, please tell me.
Feedback is love!
Sophie was very good at reading people.
She wasn't a good actress—she knew it, when she admitted it to herself—because there was no one to read. So she read into people instead. She was a good con artist because there, she could read people's reactions and emotions. With some degree of accuracy, she could even predict their thoughts and finish their sentences.
So it was very obvious to her that something had happened between Nathan and Eliot. The two of them were the last to the meeting—not unheard of for Eliot; he was a busy little retrieval specialist—but extremely unusual for Nathan. Nathan focused instantly on Alec, but Sophie hadn't missed the conflicting emotions in his eyes as they'd obsessively tracked Eliot's entrance. Eliot, for his part, was tense, nervous, a quality Sophie had never seen in him.
"Start it up," Nathan told Alec, tossing him a CD case.
Alec raised an eyebrow at the disc. "CD? Really?"
"Not mine, not the client's; get on with it." Nathan's voice was tight, strained. It wasn't enough for anyone else to notice, but to Sophie it was as though he'd held a blinking sign over his head saying something was bothering him.
She glanced over at Eliot. The man was watching Alec, eyes wary. Sophie's eyes moved to Alec. He hadn't reacted; he just put the CD into his precious machine and started it up.
"That's a police case file," Sophie said when it showed up. She was surprised. What was Nathan doing with that?
"That it is," Nathan agreed. "The convicted is our next client."
"What was she convicted of?" Eliot's voice was steady. No sign he was uneasy, except for the tension that still lined his shoulders.
"Blowing up her school." There was a note of irony in Nathan's voice, but it only exacerbated the unease.
"Cool." Sophie had to smile; she could have predicted that Parker would have that reaction.
Nathan smiled too. Eliot gave one of his all-breath almost-laughs. Parker ignored them, instead asking Nathan, "You don't think she did it?" She was disappointed. Sophie wasn't the only one who noticed.
"At this point, I don't know," Nathan admitted. "What I do know is that the trial was skewed—the prosecution got two pieces of evidence removed that would have provided reasonable doubt. That's what we're concerned with right now."
"What's the evidence she did blow up the school?" If no one else was going to ask, Sophie would.
Nathan nodded reluctantly. "She was in the area, in the room with the bomb until just before it blew; her fingerprints are on what's left of it. She admits to handling the bomb, but according to her, she was trying to deactivate it. She didn't think the cops would get there in time, and she didn't have cell service anyway, so she tried to defuse it on her own.
"The cops have fingerprints, her admission she was in the area, and the smoking gun—" Nathan keyed through several pages to one showing a plastic bag full of blocks of material "—she had more of the explosive from the bomb in her locker."
"I'm going to like this girl," Parker said, grinning.
Nathan continued as though he hadn't heard. "We have two things they didn't admit as evidence. First—" he flipped to another page "—is this. It's the biggest piece of the bomb that was left over after the explosion. Anyone recognize the stamp?"
Eliot was the first to speak. "That could belong to at least three different companies."
"But how many of them would have their logo stamped on a bomb?" Sophie asked before Nathan could. He nodded, hands spread in a 'couldn't-have-said-it-better-myself' gesture.
"The Aquarius Corporation." Everyone looked at Parker. Somehow, they couldn't stay surprised that she knew that for long.
Sophie frowned. "A company that makes bombs is named for the water-bearer?" she asked.
"Ever read The Da Vinci Code?" Eliot asked. "It's the whole end-of-days thing." Sophie nodded. That made a little more sense.
"The point is," Nathan said, "it means the bomb was professionally made."
"And speaking from experience here," Parker cut in, "that means there's no chance in hell that a teenage girl got her hands on it."
"You know, I believe you." Eliot sounded like his old self; whatever had happened, he was much better at dealing with it than Nathan. "Especially the part where you're speaking from experience."
"The second piece of evidence," Nathan said, "is the tapes."
"What?" At least three people asked the question at once, though Sophie wasn't entirely sure if she was asking or just talking along with the others.
"The bomb was set in an off-limits area," Nathan said, pulling up a blueprint of the school. "Every area that's out-of-bounds has security cameras. No one's monitoring them; it just means that they can go back and check what happened if someone does something stupid."
Parker asked, "Are we talking having-sex-and-getting-pregnant stupid, or did they actually set up those cameras in case someone tried to blow up the school?" Her voice was innocent, but her eyes were dancing.
Nathan didn't answer. "But in this case, every tape from the day the bomb went off disappeared."
"So, she took them," Alec suggested. Sophie didn't say anything, just waiting. Nathan was smart; he wouldn't have taken the case if he thought they were being conned again.
She wasn't disappointed. "Let me rephrase. The tapes disappeared after our client was in jail and the tapes were in police lockup."
"So someone with access to police lockup took the tapes," Parker said. She looked delighted. Sophie had to agree with her excitement; this one was going to be a challenge. She loved challenges.
Nathan nodded. "Our first priority is to find out what happened. If we determine that Elise is innocent, then we get her released."
"Whoa—Elise?" Alec's eyes had widened; apparently he liked the name. "Who exactly is this girl?" He leaned over to his computer, pulling up a picture of their next client.
Sophie automatically scanned everyone else before she looked at the picture. Nathan looked exasperated at Alec; Alec looked appraising as he viewed the image. Parker didn't have an opinion of a picture, but she was happy to know what her future new best friend looked like; and Eliot—
Eliot had leaned forward, all his attention focused on the picture, frowning and biting his lip as though he was trying to remember something.
Then Sophie looked at the picture.
The girl was fairly normal—green eyes, light skin, messy short-cut hair. She didn't appear to be wearing makeup, but her skin was reddened in a pattern Sophie recognized as a side effect of (usually recently started) very strong acne medication. Whatever the side effects, the medicine was working; her skin was almost perfectly clear.
Her nails were cut short; they didn't even look filed, just cut straight across in a manner Sophie associated with boys and men. She held the sign steady and looked straight into the camera, no smile but at the same time no grimace. Elise Matthews (so the sign read) had taken her booking surprisingly well.
"If you're done checking out our client," Nathan said in a falsely pleasant tone, taking back the tablet, "we have work to do." His voice abruptly became professional. "We need to get the rest of her file—this is just what Elise palmed off her defense attorney. It's probably incomplete."
Sophie glanced at Eliot just in time to see his tongue dart out and lick away the blood where he'd bitten through his lip.
There was something very odd going on around here. Sophie smiled. She always liked a puzzle.