And she says I haven’t changed for the better—would the old, immature asshole I was when I was younger be this insightful? Would I have ever cared to be?
But, for Delphine, I’ll do my best.
“Why?” I ask in an even tone. “You went into criminal law to make the community a better place. You’ve wanted to be DA for as long as I’ve known you. It’s months away from happening, and now it’s not enough? Why now, Phi?”
“It… it started as a one-off,” she answers, her brows pushing together. “A sex trafficker was let off yet again. His third time walking away. How could I let him keeping doing it? He was going to return to the same rings, he was going to take advantage of more women and children. Ihadto get rid of him.
“So,” she says, inhaling a deep breath, “I watched him for weeks. I learned everything about him… and then I took care of him. He was found dead from an alleged drug deal gone wrong. No further investigation pending. One less monster on the streets.”
I scrub a hand over my face. I’d noticed months ago she seemed to be disappearing in the night. I’d stop by her place and discover it vacant. Salt and Pepa would be waiting obediently for her. Pepa by the door and Salt perched nearby, staring at the entryway.
Naturally, I wanted to follow her. Assign my men to figure out where she was going. I refrained because I had given her my word I’d no longer surveil her. As she makes her confession, a hundred different scenarios pass through my mind, of Delphine in risky situations, struggling to take out these criminals on her own.
There was one instance weeks ago where I’d noticed what looked like a cut on her lip. She’d dismissed my question as though it was nothing. I breathe through a hot flame of anger and hold onto my composure.
If Little had her pinned to the ground tonight, how many other close calls has she had?
“How many times?”
“Little was the seventh.”
“And these other six men you eliminated… you took care of the situation properly? You didn’t leave any loose ends?”
Just how deep in shit are you? How much do I have to bail you out?
“If you’re asking if I covered my tracks, I did, perfectly. The authorities don’t suspect a thing.”
“Is this how you plan to carry out your law career? You really think it’s sustainable?”
She stares at the dried blood on her arm. “I tried very hard to go back to before. Therapy sessions. My campaign. An active social life. More casework. None of it helped. I could feel myself pretending. Trying to be who I’m expected to be. It used to come so naturally to me—never slipping ever.”
“Phi, you don’t have to pretend for anybody. Fuck what anybody else expects.”
“The worst were the campaign events with hopeful voters coming up to me,” she says, her expression curled with concern. “Asking me what I was going to do to address crime. How could I lie to them? So many walk away every day.”
“You can’t win every case. You can’t prosecute them all. Your father didn’t. Nobody can.”
“I let the man who attacked me get away. I can’t just stand by while it keeps happening. Over and over again…” she trails off. She gets up off the sofa and starts for the hallway, her movements slow and disconnected.
It all makes sense as I watch her go.
Delphine is seeing her attacker in every criminal she fails to prosecute. Since he got away that night, she’s trying to correct what happened by not letting others escape scot-free. The problem is, it’ll never be enough. It’s an endless pursuit.
“Phi,” I say, grabbing her by the arm. I’ve followed her into her bedroom, forcing her dazed attention back onto me. “There’s nothing you could’ve done that night. It was aplannedassault against you. If he didn’t get you in that alley, he probably would’ve followed you up to your apartment. Guys like Mirra and Azeria were hired for that purpose. They sabotaged my security on you just to be able to carry it out. You don’t need to try and make up for it.”
Her eyes flutter closed and she draws in a shuddery breath. “It feels… good. When I eliminate them and make them suffer for everything they’ve done to other people. What’s wrong with me?”
There could never be anything wrong with you.
“Nothing’s wrong with you,” I say, taking a chance. I fill my hands up with her cheeks and force her gaze to mine. I need her to understand. “You’re taking out trash that should be taken out. But you’re not doing it anymore, Phi. It’s too dangerous. Too many things can go wrong.”
She opens her mouth to protest, but I silence her with my thumb running the curve of her bottom lip.
“Anybody you want handled, you come to me. You use me. You use my men and my resources. You don’t go at it alone. Remember our agreement from before?” I ask. “It still applies. I’ve given you the space and freedom you’ve asked for. But if I have to, I’ll have my guys keep an eye on you again. If it means stopping you from doing what you’re doing.”
“It’s too dangerous,” I repeat. “Too many variables that can go wrong, including you ruining your life and career. It’s not—”