Cover image for The step between
The step between
Mickelbury, Penny, 1948-
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Publication Information:
New York : Simon & Schuster, [2000]

Physical Description:
236 pages ; 25 cm
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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

In her third outing, African-American lawyer-turned-detective Carole Ann Gibson is still recovering from the death of her husband, Al Crandall, who was murdered in One Must Wait, the first novel in the series. Carole Ann and her partner, Jake Graham, a former cop, run a highly technical detective agency specializing in surveillance in Washington, D.C. Wealthy businessman Richard Islington hires Carole Ann to investigate the disappearance of his daughter, Annabelle, a young woman who has been estranged from her mother, Islington's ex-wife, and who has now seemingly deserted her father for some unknown reason. Meanwhile, Jake decides to take the case of OnShore Manufacturing, which has hired him to investigate a large corporation looking to take over the company. The two cases appear straightforward, until Jake's wife, Grace, is abducted and hints arise that Jake's two investigations may be connected. Mickelbury's prose is uneven, with some nail-biting episodes followed by dull interludes, and the characters just don't excite interest, except for Ruthie Eva, Annabelle's mother, who has managed to create a successful if somewhat unhappy life for herself. Several murders, a large warehouse fire and a finale in the Maryland woods can't rescue a muddled tale containing little spark or personality. Agent, Charlotte Sheedy. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Carole Ann Gibson, the Washington attorney who turned to sleuthing after her husband's death, makes her third appearance. Hired to locae a wealthy man's missing daughter, Gibson discovers three bodies and a kidnapping. More action, excitement, and suspense from the author of Where to Choose. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One Running the red light was easy, as effortless as jamming her foot down on the accelerator and engaging all eight of the engine's cylinders, a rare and delightful departure from the routine of bumper-to-bumper city traffic. The turbo Saab made the transition as easily as Carole Ann made the split-second decision to risk the bold dash across Georgia Avenue at the intersection where Military Road changes into Missouri Avenue, despite the fact that traffic was dense in both directions. It was the third light she'd run since leaving the dojo in Bethesda, but that's not what made the illegal scurry easy. The ease was brought about by the fact that the morning's second illegal run had proved correct her suspicion that she was being followed. This third violation was designed to lose the bastard, and the lawyer in Carole Ann didn't experience the slightest qualm or pang of guilt at her outlaw behavior. It was a white Range Rover. The driver was white and male and enigmatic behind ultradark, reflective aviator lenses. And that's all she'd been able to discern, from the moment she'd first noticed him, when he made the turn behind her onto Connecticut Avenue twenty minutes ago. He'd been the one to run the light that time, and had incurred the horn-blowing wrath of a half-dozen Monday-morning road warriors, which is how and why she'd noticed him. He'd been with her, at three- or four-vehicle intervals, ever since. Every time she changed lanes to position herself for a look at the front license plate of the truck, its driver slowed almost to a halt and shifted lanes. He knew she knew he was there and seemed intent only on preventing her from identifying him -- not from being aware of his presence. Her interest in his presence, though, was beginning to wane, and to change form. She now was annoyed. She wanted to be rid of him. The traffic behind her was dense enough that if she could get across Georgia Avenue ahead of him, there was no way he could follow or catch up. The third time was not the charm. "Damn, damn, damn!" She smacked the steering wheel and cussed, relatively inaudibly and completely unintelligibly, as she'd learned to do from her partner, the Master Cusser of the Universe. While she didn't mind running a red light -- or two or three -- she did mind receiving a moving violation summons. So intent had she been on determining whether the white Range Rover would attempt to follow her through the light that she hadn't understood for several blocks the intent of the blue flashing lights behind her. "Hellfire and damnation!" The young cop stood outside her car door and leaned slightly into the window, his hands on his hips and his face a road map of displeasure: forehead raised and wrinkled, eyebrows bunched together, lips curved down. "That's how people get killed. You probably didn't see those two vehicles that missed nailing you by inches, did you?" She shook her head but more in dismay than in response to his question, though his question is what she answered. "No, Officer, I didn't see them." She shook her head again and blew out her frustration through pursed lips in a burst of air. "What do running red light tickets cost these days?" she asked as she leaned over to retrieve her registration and insurance card from the glove box and her license from her purse. "Depends, Miss Gibson," the young cop replied so dryly that she wondered if he really was as young as he appeared, especially as he proceeded to ignore her with the nonchalance of a cop with Jake Graham's years of experience as he studied the documentation in his hand. *** "Why didn't you tell him you were being followed?" "I don't know for certain that I was being followed." "You just told me you were being followed!" "Telling you is one thing. Telling the cop who stopped me for running a red light is another thing. And why are you busting my chops about this, Jake?" "Because, dammit, C.A., I'm pissed that you weren't driving a company vehicle. You could have been in direct and immediate and constant contact with Central Operations the entire time." "And that would have served what purpose, Jake? GGI vehicles don't have rear-mounted cameras that would have recorded this guy's presence. A GGI vehicle wouldn't have run undetected through that red light. So being in constant contact with Central would have helped me how, exactly?" She realized that she was sounding slightly whiny, when all she wanted was not to sound as irritated as she felt. Surely there was some middle ground between whiny and irritated. "You're a partner in this corporation. There is a vehicle assigned to you..." He'd stood to deliver this pronouncement and had begun walking back and forth when suddenly he stopped. "By the way, the company will pay the ticket, you know." She abandoned all her efforts to manage her frustration and irritation with him and laughed out loud, a joyful noise that tapered off into a giggle as he feigned his own brand of irritation. Jake Graham was unique among men and she'd rather have him as her friend and partner than as her nemesis any day. She also let pass the opportunity to chide him about being such a stickler for rules and protocol, strangely aware that along with the levity of the moment, there remained a sense of unease. Besides, she knew what his response would be: "I'm a cop. I do rules." And it was the cop in him that picked up on the uneasy feeling in her. "You think this guy was with you when you left the -- what is it you call the martial arts studio, in Bethesda?" he asked. "Or before that...he followed you there?" He thought for a moment. "Or is this just some horny bastard following a beautiful woman?" Not only picked up on but zeroed in on. For that was exactly the source of her uneasiness: Had the man in the white Range Rover been waiting for her outside her karate class, and if so, how had he known she'd be there this morning? Or had he followed her to Bethesda from her home in the Foggy Bottom section of downtown D.C.? She shrugged. "I didn't know until I got up this morning that I felt like working out, and I didn't decide to go until after my second cup of coffee. And it's called a dojo." She shrugged again and unconsciously rubbed the place beneath her left shoulder blade and above her left breast where, six months ago, a bullet had ripped through most of the connective tissue and lodged dangerously near the artery to her heart. She still didn't enjoy full range of motion in her left arm. The diligent practice of the martial arts that she loved would, in time, restore the health and strength of that limb. She hoped that it also would dim the painful memory that she had killed a man. With her bare hands. Because she was a martial arts expert. "I can't picture anybody associated with that undercover insurance thing being smart enough to figure out that you're not really going to let them reconstruct your knee," Jake said musingly, scratching his head. She stared blankly at him. "Jesus, C.A. Get a grip, would you?" he snapped, and his words carried a real hint of a sting. "What we do around here isn't so insignificant that you shouldn't be able to remember your part in it from week to week." "Ouch," she said with a rueful grin. "Retract claws, please, and make no further attack upon partner." He narrowed his eyes and peered at her through the squinty slits. "This thing has unnerved you, hasn't it? Why?" "Yes," she replied. "And I don't know why. But I do know that Mr. White Range Rover was no horny bastard who just happened to choose me to follow on Monday morning after a bad weekend." It was her turn to pace. She stood up and realized that she hadn't finished dressing after her hurried shower -- her legs and feet were bare and, she realized, she hadn't yet applied any makeup or combed her hair. And Jake had asked if she was unnerved? She sat back down and, suddenly aware that her legs were chilly without stockings, drew them up into the seat beneath her. "And no, I don't think that an outraged orthopedic surgeon is stalking me, even though we did cost them a few hundred thousand dollars." She ran her memory over the physical therapists and nurses and surgeons that she'd encountered during the month she pretended to be a patient with hip joint pain, while Surgical Associates, Inc. billed her for thousands of dollars' worth of superfluous diagnostic and therapeutic services before finally recommending a surgical procedure she didn't need. While she ostensibly was seeking a second opinion, they'd sent Jake's wife in with a vague pain in her lower back, with the same results. Their insurance company client was so enthused with their preliminary report that GGI now was on permanent retainer. Carole Ann slowly shook her head, lips slightly downturned in distaste. "No. None of that bunch would be wary or suspicious of me because first they'd have to believe they were doing something wrong. I don't know that I've ever encountered a more self-righteous, smug collection of unlikable characters." The look of distaste on her face intensified. "I'd really like not to have to subject my body to them again." "Well, another couple of weeks and we're done with them. At least until the next crooked doc surfaces." "As long as I don't have be the patient next time. I don't like it, as you know, and I'm also not totally comfortable leaving ourselves open to charges of entrapment. I was there under an assumed name, after all." "You were there undercover, C.A. Big difference between undercover work and entrapment. You didn't ask anybody in that office to do or say anything they wouldn't ordinarily do or say. That's the standard for entrapment. And besides, we've got the records and testimony of other patients, including Grace. You're just the expert icing on the cake." Carole Ann nodded. "And I'm glad it worked as well as it did, just as long as you keep in mind I don't want to make it a habit. I don't do this cop stuff so well." He laughed at her. "You do 'this cop stuff' like a pro and you may as well give up whining and complaining about it. But..." and he raised his hand to halt her protest before it could erupt, "no more of it for a while," and he slapped the palms of his hands together in an up and down motion, dismissing all thoughts of greedy doctors and vindictive insurance companies. Then he shifted focus and fixed her in his sights, almost exactly as if he were lining up a shot at target practice. "What do you want to do about this business this morning?" "Nothing we can do, Jake." "I knew you'd say something like that, so I'm going to tell you what we're going to do. I'm going to follow you home tonight and you're going to park your Saab in your garage, where it belongs. And you're going to park your butt at home tonight, where you belong. And in the morning, I'm going to pick you up and drive you to work and you're going to familiarize yourself with the operation of the specially equipped Explorer that belongs to you." "None of which will prevent the guy in the white Range Rover from following me again if he wants to." "That's right," Jake said with a tight grin. "It won't. But because your Explorer does have a tracking device -- not a rear-mounted camera -- it will let me know where you are at all times so I can send somebody to grab him if he does follow you, and I'll have his ass spread-eagle on the pavement, begging for the chance to explain." Carole Ann had no response to that, even though Jake sat quietly for several long moments, waiting. Finally he began rubbing the palms of his hands back and forth as if warming them. "So. You ready to do Monday-morning stuff?" Jacob Graham, a former homicide detective in the Washington, D.C., police department, had been running his own investigative and security consulting business for a little more than two years. For the last year and a half, that business had been called Gibson, Graham International, and Carole Ann Gibson, Esq., had been his full partner. A former criminal defense attorney and partner in one of D.C.'s largest and most prestigious law firms, C.A. was, Jake would tell anybody willing to listen, "the best damn trial lawyer in this town." She slid an eight-inch stack of deep purple file folders -- aubergine, Jake's wife called the color -- from the right side of the desk to a position in front of her, and opened the top one. She was as adept as Jake at shifting gears and changing direction. It was, after all, Monday morning and time to review and assess the status of their work. "I'm recommending that we take a pass on this embassy thing. Too much potential for aggravation with not enough potential for a payoff. Essentially what they want is security guards, and as far as I'm concerned, given their relative proximity to the Israelis, the British, and the Egyptians, security's not that significant a problem for them." Jake frowned. "Then that's something they already ought to have known. Why bother to call us?" Carole Ann shuffled the pages of the file and plucked one from the middle. "They called us right after that bomb scare at the Canadian consulate. First they wanted a security evaluation, then -- " "Yeah, yeah, yeah," Jake interrupted with an impatient flick of his wrist. "I remember now. Sent Marshall over there three times and every time he met with somebody different, last time because the guy from the time before had been sent home after his third arrest for drunk driving. You're right. We don't need it. Next one." Carole Ann opened a second file folder, read for a few seconds, and closed it. "This one's a keeper. AU law school security survey, installation, and maintenance. The contract will all but write itself -- it will be almost identical to the Howard University one. And we may owe Warren a finder's fee." Jake snorted and she laughed. Warren Forchette was a New Orleans lawyer and friend to them both. "Come on, Jake. Fair's fair. We got American University because of the work we did at Howard U's law school and the Howard job was a direct referral from Warren." Jake snorted again, then growled, with absolutely no hint of real malice, "Forchette makes enough money on his own without me passing bucks his way. I'm just a poor homicide detective, not a rich lawyer." Carole Ann's hoot of derisive, disbelieving laughter broke through her partner's feigned haughtiness, and his face relaxed into a real smile as he sank back into the sofa and crossed his legs, right knee over left. His black Kenneth Cole loafers, black silk socks, and black wool slacks would have put the lie to his "just a poor homicide detective" claim if his totally relaxed demeanor hadn't. He locked his hands behind his head, elbows sticking out like wings. "When do they want us to get started?" "January first," she replied, closing the folder and setting it aside. "Good," he said with a satisfied nod of his head. "Keep the bean counters happy. Next one." She opened a new file and a frown wrinkled her features. "Surveillance. A chain of appliance discounters wants us to establish electronic monitoring of all their warehouses and loading docks. You know how I feel about surveillance, Jake," she said. "Yeah, C.A., I know how you feel about surveillance. Same way you feel about insurance companies. And I love 'em both for the same reason: big, fat, easy money with little potential for physical danger or lawsuits. Am I right?" She closed the folder, placed it on top of the New Case Files pile, and shook her head. "Is there any problem with that case, C.A.? Are there any legal or contractual blips on the screen?" "Moral blips, Jake. Surveillance is spying." "It is not!" he snapped. "Any more than working undercover is entrapment. We're watching employees on the loading dock of an appliance company where every week, a couple of washing machines or dryers or big-screen TVs or computers or CD players go missing. Somebody is stealing that stuff, C.A. Somebody who works for that company. The owner knows it, and I know it, and you know it. And the only way to find out who's doing the stealing is to watch them. And then catch them." "And, during the course of our watching, perhaps see employees using drugs, having sex, gambling, sleeping on the job?" "That's why you write the kinds of contracts you do, C.A., to guarantee that we're not violating anybody's rights, civil or privacy or otherwise." He smiled a smile at her that was mostly a grimace. "Can we please continue our review of pending cases and contracts so I can get back to work?" She grimaced back at him before taking up a new file. "This missing person thing I like a lot. There still are some questions that need answering before we finalize the agreement, but I'd sure like to pursue it. It's fascinating." "That's the Islington girl, right? Yeah, that is real interesting," he agreed, and rubbed the backs of his fingers up and down the side of his face, as if checking to see whether he needed to shave. "It could also be a big waste of time, C.A. In the first place, she's not a minor and he can't make her come back home if she doesn't want to. And in the second place, that girl's been missing for what, five or six months now? If her daddy wanted her back, why didn't he hire somebody to look for her back then? God knows he can afford it." "That's one of the questions I want answered before we commit, though the man could just have been letting the police do their jobs." Jake snorted. "Rich people never just let the police do their jobs." "You understand how these cases work, Jake. The police would have done all the right things, wouldn't they? By the book? Push all the right buttons, look under all the right rocks?" "Oh, hell, yeah!" he said, rubbing his face again, and she could see him feeling the intensity of such an investigation. "After all, this girl was -- still is, I hope -- the only daughter of the richest man in D.C. Never mind that he's also the biggest asshole in town and everybody hates his guts. Every cop in D.C. and close-in Maryland and Virginia joined in the hunt. So did the Bureau, which treated it as a kidnapping for a while, until it became clear that nobody took her. This case stayed open and active until a month ago." "Poor little rich girl, huh?" C.A. mused as she studied, one after another, the photographs, black-and-whites and color, of the missing girl. "These are all current, aren't they? Which suggests that father and daughter were close. And if that's the case, why would she just walk away?" Jake frowned, stood, ambled over to her desk, and stretched out his hand for the photos. He scrutinized them and frowned some more. "I see a pretty girl who doesn't smile enough. How do you get 'close to her father' out of these?" "Elementary, my dear Graham. Parents who are close to their children take pictures of them. My mother did and still does, especially when she thinks I'm not looking." Jake slid the photographs back across the desk toward her and returned to his position on the couch. "Good point." Carole Ann gazed again at the photographs of Annabelle Islington. "She's a beauty, that's for sure. And if she wasn't kidnapped, then she made a conscious decision to disappear, and I'd really like to know why." She returned the photographs to the folder and closed it. "I met Richard Islington once -- " "Then you know why! The man's a bona-fide jerk. Girl was smart, you know. Cum laude graduate from one of those Seven Sisters schools, and she was -- is -- very pretty, as you can tell from the photos. Brains and looks? Who needs millions?" "Well," C.A. drawled, stretching out the word as if it had half a dozen syllables, "you should know." He made a studied point of totally ignoring the comment and busied himself with unrolling and then rerolling the cuffs of his crisply starched white shirt. He still wasn't looking at her when he said, "This case at least will let us get our money's worth out of Petrocelli for a change." Then he looked up and met her gaze and accurately assessed the degree of self-control involved in keeping her face in check. "You ain't funny, C.A.," he said. "But you are, Jake," C.A. replied, throwing her head back and laughing. "You're absolutely hilarious. Now. Are you ready to deal with this last case?" He continued to meet her gaze but something shifted in him. "I don't like the way you said that." "I don't like this case." He uncrossed his legs, leaned forward so that he sat on the edge of the sofa, and folded his hands on his knees. "What's not to like?" Carole Ann opened the bottom folder but didn't look at any of its pages, maintaining eye contact with Jake instead. "It gives me a bad feeling, Jake. Nothing specific. No warning sirens and red flags. Just...a general unease. I read the spreadsheets and the business plan and the capitalization plan and the marketing plan and the distribution plan and the sales figures, actual and projected. And it all feels like it was lifted from a textbook or a seminar. It doesn't feel real, Jake -- " He interrupted her and didn't show any signs of being apologetic about it. "Well, it is real, C.A. I saw the place, saw the operation. A plant and a warehouse on five and a half acres in St. Michael's County. A fleet of trucks and three shifts of workers -- " "Hold it, Jake! Of course you did. I know you did a site visit and inspection. I'm not saying that OnShore Manufacturing itself isn't real. I'm saying...listen to me carefully, Jake, please. The place that is OnShore Manufacturing seems to have been created to fit the documentation -- " He finally exploded. "Goddammit, C.A.! That's the most far-fetched, stupidest thing I think I ever heard! Who in the hell would do such a thing? And why, for Christ's sake? Why would whoever would do such a dumb-fuck thing, do it for us?" Carole Ann stood up, came from behind the desk, and began to pace. She needed to pace to think. "I don't know...." "What do you know, C.A.? For certain?" She gave the question several seconds to hang between them, time during which each of them was able to determine how far they were willing to push the other. "I know that I trust my instincts and my intuition." He nodded. "I trust 'em, too. And I also trust my own and I'm asking that you do the same for me. I met the CEO of OnShore, spent time with him. I know a crook when I smell one, C.A. A con man, a thief, a liar, a killer, any kind of lowlife, and Harry Childress is not any of those things. I know a phony setup when I see one, and OnShore Manufacturing is real." "And I know cooked books when I see them, Jake, and the OnShore documentation is cooked. I can't tell you how many sets of backup and phony books I've studied, all of them good enough to be the real thing." Carole Ann stopped pacing and stood before the wall of east-facing windows that gave her a magnificent view of the winter storm that was brewing, the one that the weather forecasters had been growing more hysterical about every day for almost a week. The sky, even as she watched, was turning from pale blue to gray to, off to the northeast, ominously dark gray, and the clouds were swirling above as furiously as were the leaves below. Were it not for the fact that the glass was triple-hung, glazed, and fronted with a newly developed industrial plastic, the windows would have shivered and rattled and allowed the frigid air to roar in. Winter had just arrived in Washington, courtesy of a fast-moving Arctic air mass. "We need this job, C.A. It's a really important one. It'll put us on the map as experienced in the area of corporate takeovers, and that's a credential we need in order to compete with the big boys." She nodded. "I know that, Jake," she said quietly. "And we have the first shot at it, and I want it, but we've got to move on it and move quickly." A key component of their partnership was that both of them had to agree to accept or reject a case. A key component of their friendship was a degree of mutual respect so intense as to almost guarantee that neither one would refuse the other in any but the most extraordinary of circumstances. "Industrial espionage and sabotage and corporate takeovers will be the bread and butter for outfits like ours in the new century, C.A.," Jake said, rising from the sofa and walking to stand next to her at the window. "Companies spying on each other, stealing ingredients and product secrets, sabotaging assembly lines. And companies eating each other to make bigger and badder and greedier companies. That's the way of the world. OnShore Manufacturing knows this. They're a relatively small outfit. And the only thing they want is the opportunity to be safely 'absorbed' by a bigger fish, instead of being gobbled. And they want us to investigate the big fish that's looking to eat them -- Seaboard Shipping and Containers, it's called. That's all, C.A. It's simple. They want us to confirm for them that Big Fish Seaboard is capable of taking the big bite. So, maybe they did gussy up the books a little to make themselves look more appealing. What's the harm in that?" "None, I suppose," she said slowly, "as long as we're not working for Big Fish." He smiled slightly and looked out, with her, at the weather. "Looks like the prognosticators were right about Ole Man Winter. But I sure hope they're wrong about the snow. I don't mind the cold, but I'm not ready for snow the first week in December. Hell, this is D.C., after all, not Denver." At that moment a mixture of snow and freezing rain bombarded the window with a fury for several seconds before abating. "Looks like you'd better get ready," Carole Ann said. "And me too, for that matter. I need to finish getting dressed and comb my hair and add a little color to my cheeks. I wouldn't want the subterraneans to think ill of me, you know." He looked at his watch and nodded. Then he looked at her. "I think they might like it if you showed up looking like one of them for a change. You know. Dressed down, as they say." Carole Ann snorted, then gave him a pat on the shoulder signaling a release of the tension between them. "I'd show up looking like one of them every day if it would prevent me from thinking that they are some of the strangest people I've ever met!" "Careful, Counselor. That could be construed to be a statement of bias against that segment of the population which just happens to prefer computers to people," he said in a very lawyer-like tone. "So, sue me," she said, in a very un-lawyer-like tone. "I've said it before and I'll say it again: they're very weird people, those computer types." "They're not all weird, C.A. Patty's not that weird." "All things are relative, Jake," she said, thinking as they walked toward the office door that Patty Baker, aka Patty Bake, the section chief, really wasn't as weird as some of her charges, though she, too, was a bit of an oddball. "Some people think lawyers are weird. Can you imagine?" Jake laughed as she lowered her eyelids and shot him an evil eye from the remaining slits. "So. Are you OK with the OnShore case, C.A.?" "I'm fine with it, Jake," she said and opened the door for him and closed it behind him when he left. Still barefoot and bare-legged, she crossed the office to the narrow closet adjacent to her desk. First, she quickly removed from its hanger and slipped her arms into the charcoal gray sweater that completed the knit ensemble she wore; and then, still standing, first on one foot and then on the other, she carefully, though quickly and with practiced perfection, donned opaque black stockings, which provided immediate warmth. She straightened and faced the mirror mounted on the inside of the closet door. Running her fingers through her hair usually constituted combing it, but today she actually whipped out and employed comb and brush. Quickly and with a practiced hand, she applied eyeliner and shadow and mascara and blush. She would apply fresh lipstick after she ate the yogurt in her gym bag. She stepped, finally, into the black suede flats that she loved. One of the many aspects of the practice of law that she didn't miss was the de rigueur uniform of power suit and high heels. She studied herself in the mirror. "You do look a tad severe for a meeting with the subterraneans," she muttered to herself. Herself frowned a hint of rebuff, so she reached inside the closet toward a hanger and grabbed a brightly colored, hand-painted silk scarf, which she draped across her shoulders. "A bit better," she told herself with a wry grin, as she realized that the black and gray knit suit was the equivalent of jeans and T-shirt given her former work attire. Then she realized that she saw reflected in the mirror the face of the corporate lawyer she had been for so many years: the bland, blank visage, devoid of emotion, that most often was described as "pleasant." And she knew that her disagreement with Jake over the OnShore Manufacturing case was the reason for the face. Out of habit and practice she had, unwittingly, assumed it so as not to telegraph to Jake her real, true response to GGI's involvement with whomever or whatever OnShore was. She wished she could have been more definitive, more substantive in her reservations and objections. She knew Jake Graham well enough to know that had she presented solid evidence to support her position, he'd have backed away from his. But she hadn't because she couldn't. Not without a considerable amount of time and work, and she didn't know whether it would be worth the time it would take to uncook -- to defrost, as she liked to say -- OnShore's books. Though she was certain that, given the time, she could prove her point. But that would be going behind Jake's back. It would be meddling in his turf: OnShore was his case, as was the Diamond Associates insurance fraud case and the AU law school security survey; just as the missing Islington girl and the electronics warehouse surveillance were her cases. They consulted with each other, constantly and routinely, but they did not meddle in each other's affairs. She faced the mirror again. The lawyer still gazed back at her. She tried to adjust her face, to rid it of its careful nonexpression. She failed and closed the closet door and concentrated on adjusting her attitude instead. She hadn't gotten very far when a knock on the door interrupted her effort and the door swung open to admit Grace Graham with an armload of picture frames. Carole Ann hurried toward her, accepting half the burden and a half-hug and a warm kiss. "What are you and Jake fighting about now? All he did was growl when I passed him in the hall." Carole Ann laughed and felt herself relax. She knew that Grace had no expectation of an answer, that her question merely underscored how well she knew her husband, and how delighted she was that he'd found a partner -- another partner -- that he could trust well enough to display his true feelings. How delighted she was to be the wife of a man who ran his own business...a man whose business no longer was the business of murder. "Is it as cold as it looks out there?" Grace shivered. "I just heard on the radio that the temperature is dropping five degrees every hour. I'm going to get these pictures hung as fast as I can and get out of here! I wanted you to see them first, though." And she spread out the collection of turn-of-the-century photographs that would create a gallery effect in the long front hallway of the GGI building. Grace took care of GGI, the physical entity. She didn't meddle. She wasn't a nuisance. She didn't offend with an air of misplaced proprietary behavior, as did the spouses of some business owners. Grace merely was a warm and loving presence. She visited once a week, though nobody could say for certain on which day, and she brought fruit and flowers and left them in places all over the building, for everyone to enjoy; she sent cards for births and deaths and weddings; she spoke to each employee she encountered, calling him or her by name. She placed a television and a stereo system and a well-stocked bookshelf in the employee lounge, and every month or so, she replaced the books and magazines. There circulated a friendly rumor that GGI really meant "Grace Graham Is." "These are beautiful, Grace." Carole Ann felt herself transported as she studied the black-and-white and occasional sepia images of a Washington that now existed only in memory. "I'm going to hang this one in Jake's office," she said, proffering a gilt-framed portrait of a stern-faced man in what was obviously a policeman's uniform. "The first Black policeman in D.C.," she said, her voice full of emotion and pride. "Jake will love it," Carole Ann said, and knew that he would. In the deepest places of his being, Jake Graham always would be a cop. "And this one is for you." Carole Ann's eyes widened in surprise, then filled in gratitude, as Grace offered her an oblong frame, approximately twenty inches in length and half that wide. Matted within were three photographs. "The Howard University women's track team, tennis team, and swim club," Grace said, almost reverently. "From the 1920s," she added, as Carole Ann studied the serious young faces of women who now, if not dead, would be nearing a century old. Who would, for her, forever be young and strong and fit. "I...I'm...Grace, I don't know what to say!" Grace smiled and hugged her. "I'm glad you like it. Now, I'll get out of your hair -- I know you have a meeting -- and I'll go hang these." "I think for once the rumor mill got it right," Carole Ann stage-whispered to Grace as she held open the door for her. "GGI really does mean 'Grace Graham Is.' What would we do without you?" "I hope you don't ever have to find out," the older woman responded with a sly grin, then bustled down the hallway leaving behind a gentle whiff of Chanel No. 5 and enough warmth to alter the climate.