“Thank you, that will do.” As much as he didn’t want her to put that strap back up, he needed her to. Right now.
She turned back around, her eyes focused over his shoulder again. He motioned for her to sit as he said, “Thank you, Agent Yellow Bird. I can take it from here.”
“I want Yellow Bird to stay.” Again, no wobble to her voice. James was impressed.
“I can assure you, Ms. Eagle Heart, this is a strictly professional interview. The nature of what we discuss is confidential.”
Her right eyebrow notched up, but otherwise, her expression stayed blank. “Easy to say. Hard to prove. Can he stay or not?”
The challenge was subtle—but it was still a challenge. This was not what James had been expecting. People who came to see him usually had something to hide. They either tried to cut a deal, be invisible or bluster their way out of the situation. In any case, they acted rashly. This woman? She was something else entirely. All Yellow Bird had said when James had asked him to find Margaret Touchette was that he’d need a little time. He hadn’t said anything about knowing her.
James looked to Yellow Bird, who tilted his head in agreement. “Fine. Let’s begin, shall we?” He motioned to the single chair in front of his desk as he turned on the digital recorder. “For the record, state your full name, all aliases and occupation.”
She hesitated, then sat, pulling her bag onto her lap like a shield. She wrapped the strap around her fingers, then unwrapped and rewrapped them. It was the only outward sign of her anxiety. “My name is Maggie Eagle Heart. I used to be Margaret Marie Touchette, but I’m not anymore. I make dance costumes and jewelry and sell them online.”
James wrote it all down. “When did you get married?”
“I’m not married.”
He looked up, keeping the surprise off his face. She was available. That shouldn’t matter, but the news pleased him anyway. Ms. Eagle Heart’s gaze had shifted from behind him to the file on the desk. Still not looking at him, though.
“I see.” He swallowed, not because he was suddenly nervous. James Carlson, special prosecutor, personally appointed by the attorney general, did not get nervous. He could trace his mother’s side of the family back to the Mayflower, for God’s sake. His grandfather had been the eighth billionaire in America, and he didn’t get there by being undone by beautiful strangers. Nerves were not allowed. Not during interviews, not in the courtroom. “How do you know Agent Yellow Bird?”
She didn’t say anything for a long moment. “Once upon a time, a boy named Tommy tried to save a girl named Maggie. But he couldn’t. No one could.”
“Are you seeing anyone now?”
Yellow Bird’s head popped up, and Ms. Eagle Heart’s eyes focused on his face for the first time. James’s wildly inappropriate question hung in the silence. He swallowed again. He shouldn’t have asked it—but he wanted to know.
Her eyes were a warm, intelligent brown, and more than a little wary. Her chin tilted to one side as she weighed his inquiry. Suddenly, he felt as if she had all the power in the room. The back of his neck began to sweat. “I’m not seeing anyone. What’s this about?”
Not married. Not even taken. Why did that matter? “When did you adopt your current alias?” Yes. He needed to get this train back on track. He was the one asking the questions around here. He was in charge.
Her eyes took on a distance, and she stopped looking at him. “Nine years ago.”
Right after her last arrest. He looked her over again—not because she was a lovely woman. That had nothing to do with it. He was merely trying to gauge her willingness to cooperate. “How long was that after your last trial date?”
Her eyes fluttered shut, but her head didn’t drop. “Do I need a lawyer?”
He glanced down at the defeated woman in the mug shot again. The woman before him? Anything but defeated.
“No, although I can recommend one of the best attorneys in the state, if you’d like.” He dug around in the top drawer until he found one of Rosebud Armstrong’s cards and scooted it across the desk. “Agent Yellow Bird can personally vouch for her.”
Of course, James knew Rosebud personally, too. But few people knew that the son former secretary of defense Alex Carlson and his wife, Julia, had been prepping for public office since he was born had had an affair with a Lakota Indian woman throughout law school. That was the sort of information that, if the media bloodhounds got a hold of it, could be twisted around until it destroyed a nascent political career before it got off the ground. James had worked too hard for too long to let something as base as physical desire ruin everything. He just needed to keep reminding himself of that fact every time he looked at Ms. Eagle Heart.
Without raising her eyes, Ms. Eagle Heart closed one hand around the card. James thought she’d put it in her bag, but she held on to it, running the pad of her thumb over the edge. Interesting, James thought. She couldn’t keep her hands still. Her fingertips were long, with clean, short nails that showed no sign of polish. Her hands had a few calluses. Those were not the hands of a pampered, coddled woman—a woman like Pauline Walker, the woman his mother had hand-picked to be James’s own blank slate of a wife. No, Ms. Eagle Heart had the hands of a woman who knew how to use them.
James shifted in his chair. Back on track. Now.
“Ms. Eagle Heart, the reason I’ve called you in for this interview today is because I think you have personal knowledge of a crime that was committed, and I would like to confirm your version of events.”
The color drained from her face. “I don’t know anything about any criminal activity. I’m innocent. I was never convicted.”
“Despite being arrested seventeen times, yes. I noted that. I also noted that you had the same judge for all of your court appearances. One Royce T. Maynard.”
James’s pulse began to race as his train not only got back on track, but picked up a head of steam. Maynard was, hands down, the most crooked judge ever to sit on the bench outside of New York City. Putting criminals like Maynard away would be the biggest feather in James’s cap. And after this case was resolved, James would resign his position with the Department of Justice and launch upon his political career with ironclad credentials as the man who would clean up government. He’d start by running for attorney general, then governor, and then—if things went according to plan—higher positions. Ones that came with nice roomy oval offices.
Early on, James hadn’t understood why his parents insisted he had to be president. He could do a lot of good in the world as a lawyer, as contradictory as that sounded. Lawyers fought for truth, justice and the American way—at least, that’s how it had seemed back when he’d been a kid, eavesdropping on his parents’ cocktail parties. Lawyers bragged about the big victories they won, whereas elected officials were always complaining about the red tape they had to battle and the reelection campaigns they had to run. Lawyers were the winners. Elected officials were tomorrow’s punching bags.
As an adult, James had realized that lawyers could lose just as easily as they won, and that politicians did have the power to change the world—if they didn’t let themselves get corrupted by special interests and lobbyists. James could guide this country the way he prosecuted his cases—efficiently, cleanly and with justice for the American people first and foremost in his mind. But to do that, he needed to have an unimpeachable background. No scandals, no skeletons, no questionable relationships with questionable women.
Women like Maggie Eagle Heart.
First things first. James had to prove Maynard’s guilt in a court of law. To do that, he needed the testimony of unreliable witnesses like Maggie Eagle Heart. Except that the woman sitting on the other side of his desk wasn’t exactly unreliable. In fact, with her alert eyes, set shoulders and unflinching confidence, she looked exactly like the kind of woman James would like to get to know better.
Ms. Eagle Heart swallowed. “Who?” She said it in a way that was supposed to make it sound as if she’d never heard Maynard’s name before, but, for the first time, her voice wobbled.
“I’m curious as to why a woman who was mixed up with the wrong crowd would walk away scot-free seventeen times. Once or twice, sure. But seventeen?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” The wobble was stronger this time.
He had her dead to rights. “I think you do, Ms. Eagle Heart. I think you know why you’re here today, and I think you know what I want.” He shouldn’t have said that last bit, because her gaze zeroed in on him through thick lashes, the challenge writ large on her face. James knew in that instant she understood what he wanted—both in and out of the courtroom.
She didn’t offer up another weak protest, though. She kept right on looking at him with that combination of knowledge and distance. She was challenging him again. She wasn’t going to make this easy.
Yellow Bird shifted against the far wall, breaking the tension of the moment.
“The Department of Justice believes that Royce T. Maynard regularly abused the power of his office. He solicited and received bribes, took payments to sway judgments in courtrooms other than his own and …” James didn’t want to say this out loud, but as Ms. Eagle Heart wasn’t exactly jumping in, he forged ahead. “And pressured defendants to exchange services in return for judgments in their favor.”
She got a little paler. “Are you accusing me of a crime?”
“Not directly. We believe that Maynard demanded certain services in return for letting you off the hook.” He tossed the deposition of one of Maynard’s former bailiffs across the desk—the one that outlined how Maynard regularly recessed court so he could meet with female defendants in his chambers without their counsel.
She didn’t move, not even her hands. James wasn’t sure if she was breathing. He felt like the world’s biggest jerk. He couldn’t say what this woman had been doing for most of the last decade, but it seemed clear that she’d made a different sort of life for herself than the one the woman in the mug shot had chosen. However, his moment of regret was short-lived. He hadn’t gotten to be the youngest special prosecutor in the history of the DOJ by worrying about witnesses’ feelings.
“This is from a former public defender,” he added, handing over another deposition that detailed how the man who gave lawyers a bad name encouraged his clients accused of prostitution—including one Margaret Touchette—to go into chambers alone, where he believed they performed sex acts for Maynard in return for a not-guilty judgment. “I believe you’ll recognize the name.”
Her hand shaking, Ms. Eagle Heart picked up the deposition and read the name. Slowly, she set the file back down on the desk and took a deep breath. Her hair hung over the side of her face with the scar. With that identifying mark hidden, James couldn’t see anything about her that said drug addict or prostitute. Maggie Eagle Heart was a composed, beautiful woman who didn’t spook easily. He admired her resolve, but he’d be lying if he didn’t admit there was something else that drew him to her. Too bad he couldn’t spend a little time exploring what that something else was, but there was no way in hell he would jeopardize his entire career just because he was taken with her.
“Why am I here?” The wobble was gone from her voice. Instead, she was just flat-out pissed. Her eyes flashed with defiance. “You have the official testimony of two people. You don’t need me or the testimony you think I have.”
“That’s where you’re wrong. What I have is the secondhand testimony of two people who were never present when the alleged crimes occurred. Because that’s what they were, Ms. Eagle Heart. Crimes. It is illegal for officers of the court to demand favors from defendants, especially sexual favors. I’m working to eliminate criminals from our justice system so that people like Margaret Touchette can get a fair trial and the real help they need. And to do that, I need the testimony of a firsthand witness. I need you to describe how Maynard approached you and what he demanded from you in return for those seventeen not-guilty verdicts.”
James smiled at her, making sure all his teeth were showing. His feral smile, Agnes called it. It straddled the line between polite and menacing and was quite effective in the courtroom. “Ms. Eagle Heart, at this point, you’re not being charged with a crime. But that could change.”
She met his gaze with one of steely determination. “So, if I understand you correctly, you’ve approached me and are demanding a favor in return for a not-guilty verdict. How delightfully hypocritical of you. I’ve learned to expect nothing less from the law.”