Seeds of Trust

By: Cynthia Reese

CHAPTER   ONE

                CRAIG ANDREWS WAS MOVING IN for   the kill.

  He’d trapped Becca Reynolds as   neatly as any hound would trap a rabbit.

  She swallowed hard, her mouth   dry. To reach for the tumbler of water in front of her would be a sign of   weakness, wouldn’t it?

  Yes. Better to have a mouth that   felt as if a sandblaster had let loose in it than to have her actions prove   it.

  “Miss Reynolds…”

  Andrews pivoted on his Testoni   dress shoes and held up a single sheet of paper. The corners of his mouth   lifted, but the expression bore about as much resemblance to a smile as a   shark’s chompers did.

  “You based your conclusions on   weather patterns and the very scientific NASA photographs.”

  “Yes. Yes, I did. It is   my—”

  But before Becca could explain   how she knew the hailstorm had been nothing but cocktail ice and a few   migrant workers beating plants down in the field, he held up one perfectly   manicured hand.

  Really. The fop spent more on   his appearance than she and her father spent on their monthly office   lease.

  And now she was stuck on the   stand, testifying in the first federal criminal-fraud case she’d   investigated. The case was a slam dunk, or so she’d assured the feds and the   insurance company who’d hired their firm.

  It certainly didn’t feel like   that now.

  “You even went so far as to say   there were no tomatoes planted—”

  She gritted her teeth. “No. I   said there weren’t as many tomatoes planted as Mr. Palmer said. His   insurance claim forms indicated he had several hundred acres—”

  “Yes, yes.” He waved away her   answer. “How much do you know of the weather in this part of the   state?”

  “I’m a private investigator, Mr.   Andrews. I’m not a meteorologist.”

  “Ah, but you based your findings   on meteorological evidence. So is it going to rain today, Miss   Reynolds?”

  With the prosecution’s objection   offered and sustained, and the laughter in the courtroom finished, Andrews   came back. “Were you aware, Miss Reynolds, that this part of the county had   heavy spring rains?”

  Her stomach clenched. “No.   My…recollection of the rainfall levels indicated that they were a little   above average but not inordinately heavy.”

  “But if your recollection—” Andrews’s   emphasis of the word dripped with sarcasm “—was faulty, would that impact   your analysis?”

  Becca swallowed hard again and   this time succumbed to the call of the water on the witness stand. No way   had she goofed those rainfall levels. She’d looked at them, standard   procedure. She glanced at her father, the senior partner of Reynolds   Agricultural Investigations. It was only after he glowered at her in a way   that screamed “Don’t screw this up!” that she answered Andrews’s   question.

  “Possibly. It                     depends.”

  “You based your entire opinion   on the analysis of photos. You said that you would be able to see evidence   of tomato crops from satellite photos taken the week before, right? Isn’t   that correct?”

  “Uh, yes. The red—”

  “Would show up.” Andrews spun   again on his Testonis, this time to face the jury. “But if the fruit was   unripened? If the tomatoes were still green on the vine…”

  Becca wanted nothing more than   to run from the courtroom and make it to the nearest bathroom stall. She   didn’t have the luxury of that option, so she stuck it out. “If the rains   were heavy enough to delay planting, the ripening could be delayed, as well.   But it would have to be extremely heavy rains—”

  “Something like these?” Andrews   turned back and dropped the printout into Becca’s hands.

  It was worse than she thought.   She’d never seen this report—it totally contradicted her own research. If   these figures were accurate, the farmers in the area would have needed an   Evinrude on the back of their tractors to navigate these rains.

  After he’d dragged the offensive   numbers out of Becca and retrieved the printout, he said, “Your Honor, I   would like to admit into evidence rain reports from the county extension   agent in the early spring of that year.”

  Becca sat, numb, twisting her   hands in her lap, her fingernails digging into her palms. Andrews smiled   again.

  “Did anyone from Reynolds   Agricultural Investigations—um, how did you put it—go on-site?”

  She closed her eyes.

                When would I have had time? Would that   have been between visiting my dad in ICU and keeping the firm open while he   was out?

  But she bit back the words,   which she knew would open a whole other can of worms with Ag-Sure, their   client. Opening her eyes, she forced out, “No. Because the satellite images   showed clear evidence—”

  “Of unripe tomatoes. Oh, yes.   Right. Perfectly understandable. I mean, you just get paid to rip apart   farmers’ lives. We wouldn’t want you to get dirt under your pretty little   fingernails. You should leave that to the farmers who are trying to scrape   out a living.”

  Even before the prosecution   could get out its objection, Andrews withdrew the question. “I’m done with   this witness,” he said.

                * * *

                “NOT GUILTY.”

  Becca’s blood pressure spiked as   she heard the bite in her father’s voice.

  “The jury’s back   already?”

  “Yeah, while you dashed out for a bite to   eat.”

  Her fingers tightened on the   fast-food bag she had in her hand, supper for the both of them. “Dad, I   wasn’t gone—”

  But her protest that she had   truly been gone for only ten minutes got interrupted by another of his   impatient growls. “The federal prosecutor isn’t happy, and neither are the   insurance-company suits. This verdict torpedoes their earlier turndown. They   aren’t happy in the slightest, Becca. They’re talking about using another   firm.”

  “Because of one—”

  “One verdict? No. It’s not the   verdict that they’re mad about. It’s you.”

  “Me?”

  “Me?” he mimicked her. “Yes,   you. You blew that case. You should have been on that farm, interviewing the   workers, interviewing the neighbors. You sure should have had the right   rainfall figures. That lawyer sliced you up like a deli ham.”

  Becca gritted her teeth in an   effort to hold her tongue. Not for the first time she asked herself why she   wanted this job, why pleasing her dad was so important to her.

                Uh, maybe because after the subject of a   story you wrote sued you for libel, no other newspaper or magazine would   hire you?

  It hadn’t been libel. Becca had   written the truth in that article, and the target of her investigation just   couldn’t stomach it. She’d survived a humiliating lawsuit only to lose the   fledging magazine she’d started up. In the countersuit she’d filed, the   jury’s decision to award her damages had come too late, and still, Becca had   yet to see any money.

  She tried to calm down by   reminding herself who she was: An award-winning investigative reporter. Her   dad had been the one, after his heart attack, to ask her to join his firm.   It had seemed like a good idea at the time.

  “Dad…you were sick, remember?   You were in ICU with your heart attack. I couldn’t be in two                     places—”

  “What I needed you to be doing   was looking after the business. But I guess that’s too much to expect from   you.”

  “That’s not fair! I worked hard,   gave you my best effort—”

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