On a flight from New York to Houston, Alex Stockton, a successful young lawyer, meets Reverend Morse. He is in dire need of a lawyer to represent one of his foster home house parents, Jose Gonzales. The Reverend believes that Jose was falsely accused of sexually molesting Chris Jackson, a teenage boy, in Crosstown Park. He convinces Alex that Chris Jackson made the allegation against Jose because his uncle, Voodoo, is seeking revenge against the Reverend for disrupting his illegal drug and prostitution activities. Alex’s instincts take over and her long buried memories of her foster home background surface. Before the plane lands she has taken Jose’s case- pro bono.
She has six weeks to discover what happened in Crosstown Park between Jose and Chris. She teams up with Nic Wright, a handsome former cop-turned-security-company-owner, to save Jose and the poor children at Shepherd’s Cottages. As the case progresses, Alex’s life and perfect trial record is threatened. Not to mention her lifelong dream of becoming a judge. What she really needs is a witness…
Only two things scared Alexandra Stockton: turbulence and falling in love. With only minutes to spare, she boarded the plane from New York’s La Guardia Airport to Houston and took her window seat near the back. As the other passengers settled in, she dashed out several emails on her Blackberry before she hit the off button. She needed the next three hours to think.
An African-American man with grey hair and thick glasses squeezed himself into the middle seat next to her. He leaned down and pulled a book out of his briefcase. It was a Bible. Alex gave him a polite smile and turned to gaze out the window. Just as the plane pushed back she saw a white bird outside and, as quick as it appeared, it was gone. She closed her eyes and tried to forget reports of thunderstorms and rainfall on the waiting area televisions. The plane climbed through the stormy clouds. Alex’s hands tightened on the seat arms and she took a deep breath, fighting the rising panic that always came when she flew. No matter how calm the flight attendants were, Alex felt a terror she could barely contain. The pilot’s voice was soft on the overhead speakers. He told them it would be a bumpy flight. She listened carefully for any signs of strain in his voice. Hearing none, she told herself that there was nothing to fear and plugged in her earphones. Music would soothe her.
Alex’s thoughts turned to the week long seminar she attended in New York. A team of Broadway actors taught lawyers trial techniques. She had learned new ways to bond with juries. The coach had them take off their shoes and dance around like crazy people, which had been easy for Alex and much harder for other members of her class. Some of them would still be three sheets to the wind in the bar she left them in last night. She barely got out of there herself at 1:00 a.m. But as much fun as it was, parts of the seminar were unsettling. It was too close for comfort. She had to reveal parts of herself during the exercises. Feeling vulnerable was scary.
Once they were up over the clouds, the flight crew came by with the drink cart and a snack. The man next to her ordered a ginger ale. Alex noted his distinctive Southern drawl. He sounded like a man comfortable in his own skin.
“I’ll have one too,” she told the flight attendant.
Just as the drinks were delivered, the plane lurched again. The cart rolled a few inches down the aisle with the servers holding it tight.
Alex gave the man next to her a look of abject fear. “White knuckle flyer,” she said through clenched teeth.
“Now. Now,” he said, patting her hand that gripped the armrest between them. “It’s just turbulence. You don’t strike me as someone who scares too easily.”
Alex couldn’t help but smile. It was true. There were few times she would admit to being afraid. “Alex Stockwell. ‘Houston home?”
He nodded. “You?”
“Yes. I’m coming back from a week long trial seminar.”
He gave a wide grin. “You don’t look like a lawyer.”
“I hear that a lot.” With her leggings, boots that made her over six feet tall, and an oversized sweater, he was probably right.
“I’m Reverend C.O. Morse,” he said. “I’m on my way back from a pastor’s conference.”
Alex thought about plugging her earphones back in, but the conversation distracted her from the bumpy ride. Something about the man’s calm demeanor drew Alex to him.
“I haven’t had call to need a lawyer ‘til just a few days ago,” he continued.
“Why do you need a lawyer?” she asked.
While she inhaled the scent of his Old Spice cologne, Alex listened to Reverend Morse’s story. She learned that less than a year ago, he and members of his congregation bought up some abandoned crack houses in Houston’s crime-ridden and impoverished Fifth Ward, renovated them and opened Shepherd’s Cottages, a foster home for neglected, abused and abandoned children. With a common interest in helping neglected and abused children, they forged an instant bond.
In her legal practice and pro bono work, Alex represented children. She was captivated by the Reverend’s insight into problems she grappled with daily at the courthouse.
The Reverend explained how, Jose Gonzales, one of his house parents responsible for caring for the children, was accused of molesting Chris Jackson, a teenage boy at the home.
“Chris’s uncle, Voodoo, who has always been like a son to me, got him to tell those lies on Jose about what happened in Crosstown Park,” he said, then grew quiet. “Voodoo is mad that we took his base of operations and slowed down his drug trade. We are slowly turning the community around and he doesn’t like it.”
He leaned over and pulled a small photo album out of the computer case at his feet.
Alex looked on while the Reverend turned the pages and showed her photos of Shepherd’s Cottages. She noted that it had a tall barbed wire fence around it. Inside were small homes, with what looked like fresh paint. The Reverend stood outside one building named “Administration Building” with a heavy set woman and several other people. They all looked happy. A young Hispanic man in a t-shirt and jeans stood by the Reverend with a big smile on his face and a group of small children around him. They also grinned from ear to ear.
“That’s Jose,” the Reverend said, pointing to the young man.
Something about the photo made Alex think about long since buried memories. The day she arrived at the first group foster home with the social worker came back to her. Everyone was all smiles. It didn’t take long for things to change. Alex took a deep breath and loosened her grip on the armrest. She thought of Tony, one of the security guards. He had been accused of raping Elaine, the bi-polar girl who had a reputation for thinking everyone was after her. Alex had known he did not do it, but no one would have believed her. She had said nothing. Alex felt a dull thump in the base of her stomach.
“Another ginger ale, please,” she asked the attendant. Those thoughts were long since in her past and it was best to keep them there.
“Reverend, how do you know Jose is innocent?”
The Reverend pulled his glasses down on his nose and his deep, dark eyes looked directly into hers. “I just know.”
The rhythm of his voice and his conviction stuck a cord. Alex knew that Tony was innocent then too, but was too young to help him prove it.
“Ok, let me think about this,” Alex said. “For some reason, I have a feeling you are right.”
“Why don’t you come over to services tomorrow and I can introduce you around and you can see for yourself?” he asked.
What am I getting myself into?
“Good idea,” she heard herself say. “I would like to see you preach.” Never mind she had never been to a Black church…
“By the way, Jose’s arraignment is Monday…”
“Don’t worry, Reverend Morse,” Alex gave him a pat on his arm. “You’ve helped me on this flight. I’ll run by and see Jose at the jail tomorrow after church too. And, if I feel the same way you do, we’ll get to the bottom of it.”