On Monday morning, Anna's phone rang while she toasted an English muffin.
"Anna, this is Ross Donovan. Hope I'm not calling too early."
She caught the muffin as it popped from the toaster and immediately dropped it on a plate. "No, not at all. What do you have for me?"
"Agent Hale at the DEA finally returned my call. He agreed to meet with me this morning. Kramer will probably be there too. Do you want to come?"
Anna sucked at her fingers until they stopped burning."What do you think?"
"I think this is the part where I tell them that if they have anything solid, show me a warrant for your arrest. If they don't, then back off, give you a new DEA permit, and let you get on with your life."
"Should you push them like that?"
"Did you tell me the truth when you said you had no knowledge of or involvement with those false narcotics prescriptions?"
"Then it's time to bring it to a head." Donovan's voice took on an edge. "At your first meeting, if they really had something, they'd have brought you in for questioning at their offices. Instead, they came to you and gave you the obligatory nudge, the one they always hope results in a confession. It didn't. Now they're letting you twist in the wind while they check out other leads. It's time that came to a halt."
"Tell me where to meet you."
"Come by my office at nine-thirty this morning. We'll talk some more and drive over there together."
Anna was about to hang up when she thought of another question. "What about the Dallas police?"
"They haven't returned my calls. Let's deal with the DEA first. That'll get you back to your practice."
An hour later, Anna was seated in Ross Donovan's office. She remembered how good the coffee had smelled on her last visit, so she accepted his offer of a cup. Her first sip convinced her that taste and smell weren't always linked. This coffee was so strong she checked the spoon to make sure it hadn't melted after she stirred in the sweetener.
"Coffee a bit strong for you?" Donovan asked.
Anna wiped a tear from the corner of her eye. "I thought I'd had some strong coffee at the hospital, but this tops it. But tastes vary, I guess."
"It's alcoholics' coffee."
She took a cautious sip, but couldn't taste anything but bitter, strong brew.
Donovan smiled. "No," he said. "Not alcoholic coffee. It's like the coffee you find at AA meetings everywhere. Hot, strong, and lots of it. When you're trying to avoid one addiction, you tend to find a replacement. A lot of alcoholics smoke. Some get hooked on sweets. Most guzzle coffee. I decided there was no reason to kick alcohol only to get lung cancer or diabetes, but I was willing to risk an ulcer."
"If you don't mind my asking, how can an alcoholic practice law?"
"Well, as it turns out, not very well. I managed never to drink before I met with clients or had to be in court. But I made up for it by drinking at other times. And, as my ex can attest, I combined that with running around on her. She tried to straighten me out, but finally she'd had enough. She filed for divorce."
"I'm sorry," Anna said.
"Me too. She'd been practicing law under her maiden name, so a lot of people didn't even notice a change. But the divorce was the slap in the face I needed. A few months after it was final, I went into rehab."
"Do you miss drinking?"
Donovan's laugh was far from mirthful. "Would you miss breathing? Sure I miss it. It was what kept me alive. I made sure there was always a bottle of Jim Beam right here." He pointed to the bottom drawer of his desk. "Every day, as soon as my assistant left—that was back when I had an assistant—I unscrewed the top of that bad boy and had a few belts. That held me until I could get to the bar."
"Are you . . . do you think you're okay now?"
"Do you mean is your lawyer going to show up drunk sometime? I hope not. But I take it one day at a time. You learn that in AA, because if you don't learn it, you're back drinking."
Anna looked at her watch and Donovan took the hint."Well, enough about my sordid past," he said. "Let's get ready for our meeting with the Federales."
Anna wasn't sure how to take this man. He seemed almost jovial at times. Was this a coping mechanism? Or had he reached the bottom of life's barrel so completely that nothing caused him any fear or worry? Despite it all, she found herself trusting him. Even if his ex-wife had qualified her referral with the words "liar" and "cheat."
Ross was seated alongside Anna in straight chairs across the table from Kramer and Hale. He recognized the room; he'd been in dozens like it, usually in a jail or police station, with his client sitting across the scarred metal table in shackles and a guard standing right outside the door. The agents had probably chosen to meet in an interview room simply to scare Anna. Judging from what he'd seen so far of his client and her Irish temper, they weren't going to get far with that maneuver.
This was Ross's first time to meet the two DEA agents, and they weren't what he'd imagined. Hale was a week past needing a haircut. His suit looked like he'd slept in it. Kramer, on the other hand, looked like a million dollars. For an instant Ross wondered why she was working in law enforcement, instead of acting or modeling. Then he saw her eyes and revised his estimate.
Agent Hale leaned back and laced his hands behind his head. His coat dropped open, showing an automatic holstered on his hip, something else Ross figured was meant to intimidate his client.
"Counselor, let's cut to the chase," Hale said. "We don't have to share the results of our investigation with you until we file charges against your client."
Ross sat a bit straighter and planted both hands on the table. He fixed Hale with a gaze he hoped was laser-like. "Agent, speaking of cutting to the chase, why don't you admit that you confronted my client and accused her of a crime you knew full well she didn't commit, hoping she might give you some bit of information that would help you in an investigation where you were totally lost?"
Hale came halfway out of his chair. "Now wait—"
"Hang on, there," Kramer put a restraining arm on her partner's shoulder. Her voice had steel behind the softness. "Maybe it's time to put our cards on the table." She looked at Anna."We recognize that the signatures on the prescriptions bearing your DEA number were forged. So far, we've found no evidence of involvement on your part. You're not totally in the clear yet, but we're willing to cut you some slack if you'll help us. If we issue you a new DEA permit so you can go back to work at the medical center, we'd expect you to keep your eyes and ears open. If you discover something that might help us find the person behind this, can we depend on you to pass it on to us immediately?"
Ross held up a warning hand to Anna. "Don't answer." He turned back to Hale. "You'll call her chairman and tell him you haven't turned up anything to incriminate my client? And you'll communicate that to the Dallas Police Department?"
The expression on Hale's face suggested he'd just dined on a lemon. After a moment, Hale nodded.
Ross suspected that the interview was being taped, and nods don't go into a transcript. "Say it, Agent. Say it for the tape."
Hale swore under his breath. "Yes, we'll do that. I'll make the calls today. It'll probably take us a week to get you a new DEA permit. But I can't promise the DPD will back off. I've talked with Dowling and Green a couple of times. They really believe that the doctor here is mixed up in this some way."
"Thank you for the information," Ross said. "Just make the call."
Hale wasn't through, though. "And Doctor, you'll keep us informed of anything you learn that would help our investigation?"
Ross figured it was time to say "yes" and end the interview. He nodded at Anna, who gave her head a quick up-anddown.
This time it was Hale's turn. "Dr. McIntyre? Get it on the record, please."
"Fine, I'll pass on anything I find out," she said.
There were no handshakes to end the meeting, just the scrape of chairs and the rustle of papers gathered into briefcases and folders. Ross worked to maintain a poker face. This wasn't a total victory, but it was at least a small one. It was nice to be back in practice again, and especially nice to be doing it sober—and for such a lovely client.
Outside, on the sidewalk, Anna turned and offered her hand. "Thank you for your help."
"Just doing my job," Donovan said. "Now, how about some lunch?"
"I'm . . . uh—"
Donovan patted the air. "Easy there. I'm just offering to buy you a sandwich. Besides that, we can talk. The fact that the DEA's let up a bit doesn't mean you're out of the woods. And I get the impression there's more to this than what you've told me so far." He ticked offthe points on his fingers. "Never lie to your lawyer. Never withhold information from your lawyer. Always trust your lawyer. And—" He pointed his finger at her."Always accept an invitation to eat with your lawyer, so long as he agrees to pay and not charge it back to you."
The Irish have a saying: "He could charm the birds out of the trees." That fit Ross—at least a sober Ross. Anna relented."All right. Just a quick sandwich. I have some things I need to do today."