TRIAL BY FIRE

TRIAL BY FIRE by J.A. Jance

Book: TRIAL BY FIRE by J.A. Jance Read Free Book Online
Authors: J.A. Jance
permanently confined to a state-run facility for the criminally insane. Ali felt a momentary flash of sympathy for the woman.
    Her room now probably isn’t nearly up to Ritz standards, Ali thought.
    “The hotel is located at Twenty-fourth and Camelback,” Leland continued. “The concierge tells me that’s quite close to the hospital.”
    “Somehow I don’t think my per diem is going to cover a suite at the Ritz,” Ali said with a laugh.
    “You’ll simply have to pay the difference,” Leland returned, brooking no argument. “Being in the suite will give you a decent place to sleep and some room to work as well. You need both, you know.”
    “All right,” Ali conceded. “A suite it is.”
    Once lunch was over, they went outside, where Leland transferred two pieces of luggage—a suitcase and a makeup case—from his Mazda 4x4 into Ali’s Cayenne.
    “This one is primarily clothing,” he explained. “The other one is toiletries. I didn’t want anything to spill and wreck your clothes.”
    “You do think of everything,” she said.
    He nodded seriously. “I try, madam,” he said. “I certainly do try.”
    Ali arrived in Phoenix a little past one. Thinking it was probably too early to check in at the Ritz, she drove straight to the hospital rather than stopping at the hotel first. When she opened the car door in the parking garage, the oppressive early-summer heat was like a physical assault. Sedona was a good twenty degrees cooler than this, and she wasn’t acclimated.
    She hurried into the hospital. In the elevator lobby, she caught sight of the milling group of reporters that seemed to have taken over one end of the hospital lobby. They were easy to spot, but she didn’t make any effort to engage them right then. Instead, following Sheriff Maxwell’s directions, she made her way to the hospital administration section on the third floor.
    “Mr. Whitman is very busy this afternoon,” a receptionist told her. “May I say what this is about?”
    Ali handed over one of the cards the sheriff had printed up with her Yavapai County information. “It’s about the victim from last night’s fire in Camp Verde,” she said. “I believe Mr. Whitman is expecting me.”
    Indeed he was. Moments later, the receptionist stood up and motioned for Ali to follow. She was led into a spacious office that would have done most any Hollywood mogul proud. An immense window on the far side of the room framed Camelback Mountain.
    Jake Whitman, complete with a power suit and tie that rivaled Agent Donnelley’s, rose from his desk and stepped forward with his hand outstretched in greeting. He seemed genuinely happy to see her.
    “Thank you for coming,” he said. “Sheriff Maxwell told mehe was sending someone, but I didn’t expect it would be someone quite so … well … attractive.” He paused, giving her an appraising look and frowning slightly.
    Ali understood the unspoken implication. Since Whitman found her attractive, he assumed she was a wimp and/or stupid. As a five-foot-ten natural blond with curves in all the right places, Ali Reynolds had endured a lifetime’s worth of blond jokes.
    Fortunately, Whitman let it go at that and led Ali to a chair. Once she was seated, he sat down next to her. The gesture was a clear indication that the man wanted her help, and that the two of them were on the same side.
    “I have a pack of ravening wolves camped out in the lobby downstairs,” he said. “I hope you’re up to handling them.”
    “I’m tougher than I look,” she assured him. “And since I used to be a member in good standing of that same pack, I should be able to manage.”
    “You used to be a reporter?” Whitman asked.
    Ali nodded. “In L.A.”
    “Isn’t doing this job a lot like changing sides?”
    Here was someone else who had arrived at the conclusion that cops and members of the media had to be at loggerheads.
    “We’re all here to serve the public,” she reminded him. “If the reporters

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