photo Jonnie Jacobs
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[cover]The blue Toyota turned off Highway 89 along the western shore of Lake Tahoe and into Ponderosa Pines Park. The driver, a round-shouldered woman in her late fifties, clenched the steering wheel tightly with both hands. She drove slowly down the narrow entrance road to the small, wooded parking lot, then turned and just as slowly retraced her path to the highway.

She hadn't been to the area in several years and she'd worried the spot where she'd set the meeting might no longer be functional. She was relieved to find that despite minor changes in the layout of restrooms and picnic tables, the camping area was basically unchanged. The parking lot was exactly where it had been, and easily accessible by the route she'd described.

The meeting wasn't for another hour yet. Time enough to tweak her story if she wanted to. She'd intentionally left the photo at home, but now she wondered if it might not have been better to start there. It wasn't that she was tempted to alter the facts, such as they were. It was really more a question of just how much to divulge.

No matter what, she didn't want to make things worse.

For any of them.

She eased the car across the highway and into a pullout near the lake. She could wait out the hour there surrounded by the beauty of the Sierra. Not that the majestic mountains and glistening lake would quiet the churning inside her. She took a deep breath, then another, fighting the nervousness. But she'd been nervous for weeks now. The fingernails bitten to the quick were proof of that.

She'd taken precautions. She could only hope they were enough. For today, she was simply Betty. No ID, a borrowed car. Even if the lawyer didn't want to help, or couldn't, it stretched the imagination to think she'd make an effort to track Betty down.

Still, there was a lot at stake. And a lot she didn't understand. She worried that once she started asking questions, there'd be no turning back. She'd lose everything.

She thought again of the photo. The way her heart had raced and her skin had gone clammy when she'd stumbled across it several weeks ago.

Why hadn't she simply left well enough alone?

It wasn't too late, she reminded herself. She could head home and forget she'd ever made the appointment.

Except, it really was too late. You couldn't forget what you knew.

Across the highway in the forest behind the park's central lot, a burly man in a heavy denim jacket was also waiting. Turning back never crossed his mind. This was a job like any other. Only it paid better.

The man pulled the hat low over his forehead and slipped the binoculars back into his pack. He took out his gun and checked the clip, then slipped it into his waistband. He hoped they'd be out in the open where he could pick up the conversation easily. But he was prepared in case they weren't.

The air was cool, especially in the shade where he'd positioned himself behind a cluster of pines. He'd been there an hour already and his muscles were getting stiff. He rolled his shoulders, stretched his legs, flexed his fingers. It felt good to move. He needed to be quick and limber when the time came.

He checked his watch. A hour to go.

* * * *

Seated in her cousin's kitchen overlooking the lake, Kali sipped her coffee and offered silent thanks for the phone call had prompted her trip to Tahoe on such a glorious day.

The May sky was clear, the water smooth as glass. Although the surrounding mountains were still marbled with snow, here at lake level only sparse patches remained. Aspen shimmered with newly minted green, flowers lifted their heads hopefully toward the sun, and the Truckee River swelled with spring melt. Perhaps best of all, the area was blessedly uncongested. With the hordes of winter skiers long gone (although a handful of diehards continued to hit the one open lift at Squaw Valley) and the bustle of summer vacationers holding off until school was out in June, the timing couldn't have been better.

If only she knew what the meeting was about. But the woman who'd called had been amazingly tight-lipped.

"What time is this appointment of yours?" Helen asked, refilling Kali's coffee cup. She was older than Kali by five years, with dark hair and fair skin. She'd been a beauty when they were younger and was still a striking woman.

"I'm meeting her at four. Ponderosa Pines Park."

"Who is it? Or can't you say?"

"I don't know," Kali said truthfully. The woman had given only her first name, Betty.

Helen frowned. "How can you represent someone if you don't know who she is?"

"It's complicated." And highly unusual. "She wouldn't even saw what it was about."

"Seems strange she'd call someone from out of the area," Helen said.

"I think she did that intentionally. She seemed nervous about contacting an attorney. Nervous that she might be found out, I mean."

"What do you mean, 'found out?' Like an ugly divorce?"

"Maybe." Although Kali's sense was that it was something different. The woman had questioned Kali intensely about confidentiality and attorney-client privilege, then insisted on sending a retainer before their meeting so privilege would attach. She'd sent five thousand dollars, twice the amount Kali had asked for, and she'd sent it in the form of a non-traceable money order.

Helen checked her watch. "Well, you'll know soon enough."


© Jonnie Jacobs. Web site by interbridge.