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MirrorMirrorALegalThriller

This has not been the week that I thought it would be.  First, I thought that my new puppy, Summer Moon, would stop harassing her much older brother, Rhythm, after I followed Caesar Milan’s sage guidelines for introducing a new puppy to an older dog.  Wrong.  Summer has yet to learn that (1) Rhythm is Head Dog and (2) she’s a Golden Retriever Puppy, not a baby Dragon, (3) and Caesar is supposedly RIGHT in all things DOG.  And just to prove her contempt for TRAINING, she swiped a burrito off the kitchen counter tonight and ate half of it before being discovered.  Sigh!

Second, I was unwittingly drawn into a conflict with the company that services my lap pool.  About two weeks ago, it began to bubble like a cauldron.  Getting into the spirit of Halloween, I thought.  But since a pool is not a cauldron, I called the pool service to ask them to come take a look.  That request degenerated into a demand that I (1) tell them what is wrong with the pool and (2) (well, since I didn’t know what was wrong) take pictures of the bubbles.  I told them I would be thrilled to pay them $75 to come diagnose it since (1) they are supposed to know what’s wrong, and (2) I was working on a brief for the California Supreme Court and I didn’t have time to take pictures of bubbles.  Eventually, the pool tech appeared, mumbled something about the auto-flow, and promised to have yet another tech who actually fixes things come to make the repair.  But a week went by, and no fixer pool tech ever appeared.  I thought of calling the office, but after my last conversation with the receptionist, I figured I’d just wait for the saner pool tech to reappear and summon the fixer pool tech.

But when the saner pool tech did reappear, I learned that psycho-receptionist was working to have him fired.  Apparently, that’s why she never sent the fixer pool tech.  She wanted to be able to say that the sane one had dropped the ball.  Which he did not do.  In the end, I had to call the owner of the company and tell him I wouldn’t be using his pool service anymore.  The saner tech had done a good job, but the psycho in the office was not a force I wanted to go on reckoning with.  I didn’t want my pool caught in whatever vendetta she had against the saner pool tech.  The owner promised free repair and pool service for a month, but I didn’t want to deal with any more unprofessional behavior from his front office.  I said, thanks, but no thanks, and hired a new pool service.

I felt a little sorry for the owner. He has just bought the business, and every customer is important to him. But apparently he didn’t realize that he took over a front office that doesn’t share his goals.

The lesson for me is that any business is built one customer at a time. That’s why I’m grateful for every new reader who finds one of my legal thrillers and decides to give it a try.

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I was sitting at the vet’s office this morning, waiting for Summer Moon’s appointment for her second puppy shot.  She’s been home since September 11, and Rhythm and I have been adjusting to being a two-retriever household again.

The vet’s office has glass doors on all the exam rooms; and across the waiting room, I could see a woman bending over a dog, lying on the exam table.  She was obviously waiting for the vet to come in.  But more than that, the angle of her body and the way she held her dog, told me that she was pouring out all the love and comfort she had on a seriously ill pet. My heart ached.  That was me, back in May, holding Melody, my twelve-year-old Golden Retriever, and telling the Universe not to take her.  Please, please, please.  Not my Melody.  Not now. Not yet.  Not ever.  Please.

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Melody

Well, I lost that round.  Obviously.  And, as I sat watching the woman on the other side of the glass and sending her all my love and prayers, I also thanked the Universe for starting me on another journey with a new, beloved pet.

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Summer Moon

But then it hit me.  Hard, and then harder.   Love is still who we are, really.  Fundamentally.  At our core.  We love each other.  We love our pets. We love the small moments that make life wonderful and magical.  A sunny day.  The first hint of autumn.  A vermillion leaf on the sidewalk.  A rainy day and a cup of hot tea with honey.   The smile of a husband or a wife or a child.  We love on in the face of loss.  We love unconditionally.  We are champions at love.

As I sat in the vet’s waiting room, I realized that I was looking at love through the glass door where the woman stood over the table, holding her dog.  There are terrible people in the world who do terrible things.  We’ve seen that yet again this week.  But the black souls among us cannot change the true meaning of US, which is love.

I didn’t see the lady and her dog when we came out of the exam room after Summer’s checkup. But I hope the vet sent her home with good news. I was grateful for the moment when I’d seen her behind the glass and realized that love is truly the driving force inside us.   Love, I told myself as I left with the exuberant new life the Universe has entrusted to me.  Love.  Focus, focus, focus.

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typos

Hi, everyone.  The air has changed in Southern California.  The heat of late summer that drives my breath back into my lungs, has suddenly dissolved into a cool, clear breeze.  It feels as if the world has come back into focus.  I’ve broken out the Pumpkin Spice candles and the Gingerbread tea and wrapped the house in garlands of silk autumn leaves that I bought on sale at Michael’s because the trees in SoCal are not going to provide real ones.  (Sigh!)

Our new puppy has come home.  Summer Moon.  She’s an English Golden Retriever. She isn’t golden, at all, of course.  She’s as white as the full moon.  Hence her name.  “Moon” because of her color.  “Summer” because she came home in late summer.  She looks like an angel but is full of mischief.  Her big brother, Rhythm, doesn’t quite know what to make of her.  She has two speeds: “on” and “off.”  And when she’s “on,” nothing in the house is safe from her tiny teeth, including Rhythm’s tail.

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I’ve just finished uploading the corrected manuscripts for Mirror, Mirror, so now the paperback version will soon be available on Amazon.  I used three proofreaders this time for the manuscript, and the last one read every one of the 120,710 words aloud plus punctuation marks.  When I was an editor/proofreader, before I went to law school, this is the way we read the final version of manuscripts because we had the best chance of catching errors by reading aloud.  So this time I thought I was safe from complaints about TYPOS.  But alas!

About a week after Mirror, Mirror had been published as an ebook, I got the message from Irate Reader.  “I like your book BUT—” Insert drum roll, thunder and lightning. “BUT it has TYPOS!!”  No hint of what those TYPOS might be.  I felt as if someone had sent one of my children home from school with a message pinned on his/her back, “Your child has CHICKEN POX!  Your HORRIBLE EXCUSE for a Mother!”

My first reaction was to protest.  Three proofreaders, I told her!  Every word and punctuation mark scrutinized, aloud!  But, alas!  Irate Reader was unrelenting.   Her next email cut even deeper. She called me, “UNPROFESSIONAL!” I had a big Breneˊ Brown moment after that.  If you don’t know about Breneˊ Brown, she describes herself as a “shame researcher.”  She is a professor at the University of Houston, who has written on the topic of shame and how it affects our lives.  When Irate Reader’s wrath descended upon me, I had been reading Dr. Brown’s book, I Thought It Was Just Me (But It isn’t).  And I knew that the paralyzing, sick feeling in the pit of my stomach was shame.

Despite my best intentions, I’d humiliated myself in public, by telling a story that I had hoped many people would enjoy.  I wasn’t a woman with three post-graduate degrees, all cum laude.  I was an UNPROFESSIONAL with TYPOS.   Sort of like a careless excuse for a mom who’d sent her kid to school with CHICKENPOX and now the child had to be sent back to the incompetent parent.

I was deeply hurt by having my imperfections hurled in my face.  I thought about taking the book down.  FOREVER.  I’d worked so hard on it every night for six long months.  I’d worked on it on the nights when my heart had been breaking because my Golden Retriever Melody was dying.  I’d worked on it on the nights when I’d been so tired that I couldn’t see the page because I’d been writing for the courts of appeal all day.  But I had kept on going because I had thought my characters were telling me a story that would entertain and touch hearts.  And I’d launched that story into the world after so much time and care, happy and proud, and hoping to find readers with hearts to be touched.  But, now, within a week of its publication, it had been deemed worthless. TYPOS!  UNPROFESSIONAL! All because I’m not, and never will be, PERFECT.

“The quest for perfection is exhausting and unrelenting.”  Breneˊ Brown

Since self-publishing has become an option for writers, a myth has grown up that self-published writers are the only ones who launch books with typos.  That was the gist of Irate Reader’s “UNPROFESSIONAL” (SNIFF) label.   I got a does (dose, get it?) of this prejudice early on when I published my first novel, Dance for A Dead Princess.  At some point, one of the TOP 100 AMAZON REVIEWERS got her 3-star hands on it.   But she didn’t stop at 3 grudging stars.   She went straight to the top, to THE ZON itself and advised that I was illiterate. Why, there were whole sections of the book that hadn’t even been spellchecked!   REALLY!  THE NERVE!

Turns out, Ms. TOP 100 didn’t understand that the Tudor diary of Thomas, Carey, the First Duke of Burnham, is written in my approximation of Tudor English. That means the way Shakespeare wrote and spelled.   THE ZON backed way down after I explained the development of the English language and added, “Bet you wouldn’t have sent a QUALITY CONTROL NOTICE to Random House!”

So, just in case anyone else out there besides Irate Reader and Ms.Top 100 thinks that TYPO’s are the exclusive manifestation of the ignorance of self-published writers and that all the brains belong to the traditionally published ones, let me offer the following examples of TYPOS from novels you will recognize (and by the way, editions of these WITH TYPOS are worth hundreds of dollars)

Theodore Dreiser, An American Tragedy

Characters are referred to as “harmoniously abandoning themselves to the rhythm of the music—like two small chips being tossed about on a rough but friendly sea.”

Pearl S. Buck, The Good Earth

A wall against which people set up their huts being described as “It stretched out long and grey and very high, and against the base the small mat sheds clung like flees to a dog’s back.” Editions of the book that include the misspelling can go for as much as $9500.

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Some copies of this book are valued at a small fortune for this reason. On page 53, in a list of school supplies that young wizards are expected to bring to Hogwarts: “1 wand” is listed at both the beginning and at the end. That said, the typo did reappear in a few later printings even after it was caught in the second round, so it’s only the true first editions that are worth beaucoup bucks. [This example illustrates just how hard these pesky little TYPOS are to eliminate even after they have been found.]

“The Wicked Bible”

The1631 edition of the King James Bible by Robert Baker and Martin Lucas included an accidental new twist on the 7th Commandment, informing readers that “Thou shalt commit adultery.” This managed to incense both King Charles I and the Archbishop of Canterbury—its publishers were hauled into court and fined £300 (a little over $57,000 in today’s U.S. dollars) for the oversight and they had their printing license revoked. Most of the copies were subsequently burned, and the book picked up the sobriquet “The Wicked Bible” or “The Sinners’ Bible.” Only about 10 copies remain today—one was put up for sale by British auction house Bonhams just last year.

As for me, I went back over the book one more time.  I found some commas that only I would notice were out of place.  There were a couple of repeated words, a few line breaks, and an “it” for an “in.”  One very kind reader wrote to tell me that my dates were wrong at the beginning of one of the chapters.  (Bless her.)

So the corrected version is up.  I’m sure there are more TYPOS out there because perfection is unattainable for me.  But here’s the deal.  If you find any more and email me with the error, its location, and your address, I’ll send you a Starbuck’s gift card for a cup of coffee.  And I’ll send you my greatest thanks for liking my stories and for being my friend.   Even though I’m not perfect.

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In Amanda Palmer’s book, The Art of Asking (a book I highly recommend to all, but especially to anyone who is creative)  Ms. Palmer explains how she came to realize that the creation of art always involves asking and that asking is difficult because the outcome of asking is always uncertain.  The answer may be yes, but the answer may also be no.

 

Ms. Palmer, who has earned success as an alternative rock, punk singer, began her entertainment career as a human statue called the “The Eight Foot Bride.”  After leaving college, Ms. Palmer quickly abandoned her career as a server in an ice cream store when she discovered that she could make more money as a street performer.  She put on a wedding dress, painted her face white, and stood on crates in Harvard Square, holding a bouquet of day-old flowers which she rescued from florists shops.  When passers-by left money in the hat at her feet, she would “come to life,” lean down and offer them a flower from her bouquet.  Some people immediately would accept the statute’s offer, but others would walk away quickly, refusing the “bride’s” silent request to take the flower. A third group would hesitate, undecided whether or not to accept the offering.  In The Art of Asking, Ms. Palmer describes how the other bystanders would chant “Take the Flower, Take the Flower” to the Undecided.

 
I was getting ready to publish my new novel, Mirror, Mirror, when I finished The Art of Asking.  I realized that I was looking forward to putting the book out in the world for readers to experience and enjoy, but I was also reluctant to turn it loose, too.  That feeling seemed odd to me because I had been working feverishly every night after work to write the novel and to polish it for publication.  So why did I suddenly have stage fright?

 
I realized that asking readers to experience a new novel is difficult.  The answer from readers might be yes, or the answer might be no.  Indie authors are bombarded with “courses” to “teach” them how to launch a book, a process that is supposed to persuade many readers to say “yes” all at once to a new novel.  But I slipped Mirror, Mirror quietly into the ranks of ebooks on Amazon without any “guarantee” of any yeses.  I realized when I hit the publish button, that like the “Eight Foot Bride,”  I was holding out my “flower” and hoping many people with say “yes” to it.  That is the art of asking.

 

To hear Amanda Palmer’s TED talk about The Art of Asking,  go here youtube.com/watch

To see the Eight Foot Bride, go here youtube.com/watch

To read Mirror, Mirror, A Legal Thriller go here amazon.com/…book/dp/B0757GSP35/ref=sr_1_5

 

 

 

 

 

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Good News!

Good news!  The ebook version of Mirror, Mirror is now for sale on Amazon, here is the link:  amazon.com/dp/B0757GSP35/ref=sr_1_3
And here is the opening scene:
PROLOGUE

Friday, May 20, 2016,  10349 New Salem Street, Mira Mesa, San Diego

Thunderous pounding on his front door.  Jeff Ryder struggled out of sleep and picked up his cell phone.  Six a.m.  He had to be in court at 8:30 for a client who was accused of possession of methamphetamine for sale.  His fee had been all of one hundred bucks, but it was all the two-bit dope dealer could afford; and Jeff needed the money.   The days of pulling down $800 an hour as a Warrick, Thompson senior associate were over thanks to Professor Marian Pappas of the Southern Innocence Project at the California Western School of Law.  She’d made his graduation from Berkeley in the top five percent of his class worthless.  All those years of work obliterated by a bleeding-heart, liberal academic who didn’t know a thing about being a prosecutor.

The pounding grew louder.   He sighed.  Some drunk couldn’t find his way home.  It had happened before in this flea-bag apartment building in the low-rent district of Mira Mesa Boulevard.

Wearing only his boxers and his t-shirt, he headed through the tiny hall of his one-bedroom walkup toward the front door.  It sounded as if the drunk were about to break it down.   Jeff prepared to give the guy a piece of his mind as soon as he opened it.

But just as he reached for the door handle, the flimsy wooden door cracked and then fell onto the floor just as he stepped back to avoid being hit as it collapsed.  Four policemen in uniform and one in plain clothes, all wearing body armor that said “POLICE” in large yellow letters,  burst into Jeff’s tiny, nearly empty living room, shoving their handguns in his face.  His heart was in his mouth.  He tried to find the words to tell him he was an attorney, and they were in the wrong place.  But his lips wouldn’t move.

“Police! Hands up!” one or all of them bellowed, and he obeyed, as he stared down the muzzles of those five guns.

“Jeffery Matthew Ryder,” the one in plain clothes said, “I am Detective Charles Erwin, and I am arresting you for the murder of Professor Marian Pappas.”

This had to be bad dream, Jeff thought.  I’ll wake up any minute now.  “Murder?” his dry mouth finally allowed him to say.  “But—”

“You have the right to remain silent,” the detective began to recite as Jeff felt the cold steel handcuffs close around his wrists.  “Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.  You have the right—”

“Damn it!  I know my rights.  I’m a lawyer!  I didn’t kill Marian Pappas or anyone else for that matter.”

But the familiar litany continued.  “You have the right to talk to a lawyer and to have him present with you while you are questioned.  If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be appointed to represent you before any questioning if you wish. You can decide at any time to exercise these rights and not answer any questions or make any statements.”

“I didn’t kill Marian Pappas,” Jeff tried to speak more calmly this time, hoping they’d be willing to listen now that the Miranda formalities were out of the way. “She was alive the last time I saw her.”

“Which was when?”

“Uh, a week ago.”  Jeff spoke with as much dignity as he could, standing before five armed officers while handcuffed in his skivvies.

“Right.  When you went to her office and threatened her with a gun.   And that was after last December when you went to her office and threatened her because she testified against you in State Bar Court,” Erwin sneered.

“I didn’t kill her.” “Then why was your car at her house last night at 2 a.m.?  And why is the bullet the surgeon took out of her head in the ER going to match the ammunition in your gun?”

“I wasn’t anywhere near her house last night. And neither was my car or my gun.  Blue Honda Civics are a dime a dozen.”

“Maybe.  But not the ones with this license plate number and this dent in the back quarter-panel.”  Detective Erwin pushed a photograph under his nose, and Jeff saw his car parked at a location he did not recognize.

He stared at it in disbelief.  “That’s my license plate, but I didn’t drive my car there.  And I haven’t the slighted idea where that picture was taken.”

“Of course you do.  That’s 1659 Tangier Drive.  That’s Marian Pappa’s house.”

“I’ve never been to her house.  I don’t even know where Tangier Drive is.”

“Well, your car does.  As this picture proves.  Come on guys, let’s get this jerk downtown.”

“No, wait!”  Jeff stiffened as they tried to move him through the gaping hole where his front door had been.

“We can add resisting arrest to the charges,” Detective Erwin said sarcastically.

But I have an alibi!  Jeff had started to say.   I was with someone last night.  And then he realized that he had an alibi.  But using it would destroy the woman he loved.

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Hello, World!  I’m back.  I didn’t plan to be away so long.  A lot has happened since I last was regularly posting.  First, I finished and published Dark Moon, A Legal Thriller, chapters of which I posted here as I worked on the book.  My heartfelt thanks to everyone who read those early posts and to everyone who has since purchased and enjoyed the finished product. A special thank you to everyone who has written to me about his or her experience with Dark Moon.

 

Then in August of last year, I published my second legal thriller, The Death of Distant Stars.  Whereas Dark Moon is the story of a criminal trial, The Death of Distant Stars is about a civil trial, a wrongful death suit that Kathryn Andrews brought against the pharmaceutical company that made the drug that killed her husband, Tom.  Again, my thanks to everyone who has enjoyed Distant Stars, and my deepest thanks to everyone who has taken the time to write to me.  It is the best thing in the world to wake up to an email from a reader who has enjoyed one of my books.
My characters have a way of refusing to go away at the end of a novel.   Sarah Knight, one of the central figures in Dark Moon, came back in Distant Stars to defend Hugh Mahoney, who was accused of obstruction of justice.   Hugh, who sees the world differently after his experiences with Kathryn and Sarah in Stars, is returning in my latest legal thriller, Mirror, Mirror.   Although he plays a smaller role in this book, the way that Sarah did in Distant Stars, his brash, hard-charging personality is once again on display.  Hugh, like most of my characters, is not black or white but many layers of gray. Carrie Moon, ex-wife of the formidable Howard Morgan, of Ride Your Heart Til It Breaks, also has a minor role in Mirror, Mirror.  For all the readers who thought she was a silly wimp to stick with Stan Benedict, you’ll discover what Carrie is really made of.
The hero of Mirror, Mirror is Jeff Ryder, who at thirty-three, is on top of the legal world as the story opens. He is on the verge of making partner at Warrick, Thompson, and Hayes, the law firm you all first met in Ride Your Heart.  But Jeff is knocked off his perch on the day that he wins one of the biggest cases of his career, and his downward descent is rapid and terrifying until he finds himself in jail, accused of four murders, and with an alibi that he cannot use because it will destroy the woman Jeff loves.  More next time.

 

 

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Dark Moon - FINAL - 1600x2400

Preorder for release on March 9 at http://www.amazon.com/Dark-Legal-Thriller-Deborah-Hawkins-ebook/dp/B01BTR8Q44/

CHAPTER ONE

First Weekend of August 2013, Friday Night, La Jolla

She was sitting at the bar, staring at the full moon over the glass-smooth, night-black Pacific. Her back was toward him, but Jim Mitchell could see her reflection in the mirror behind the bar. Her dark hair was very short like a child’s pixie cut, and she was all eyes. They were the saddest brown eyes he had ever seen as they gazed through the window at the blank ocean.

Judging by her long, elegant legs and graceful posture, he guessed she was a model or a dancer. But no, he told himself. Models and dancers don’t hang out at La Jolla’s exclusive Trend Bar in conservative black couture suits and impossibly expensive white silk blouses. She was obviously a business woman. A retired model, he decided, who now ran her own modeling agency. He was glad he’d worn his business casual tan chinos and thrown his navy sport coat over his white oxford shirt. She didn’t look as if sloppy appealed to her.

She was lost in thought, and she didn’t turn when he slid onto the seat beside her. He wondered what such a beautiful woman was doing alone on a bar stool at nine p.m. on a Friday night, and he wondered how many of the losers several stools away had tried to gain the place he now occupied. And he wondered how long she would let him hold it.

“Mind if I sit down?”

“Help yourself.” Her eyes riveted on his, still sad but now guarded. He noticed a long scar snaking across her left cheek. He guessed it must have ended her career in front of the camera. She watched him glance down at her left hand.

“If I were married, I wouldn’t be here.”

“Me, either.” The bartender shifted from one foot to the other, waiting for his order. “Martini, two olives. And may I get something for you? Your glass is just about empty.”

“Another one of my usual.”

Satisfied, the bartender scurried away to earn his tip.

“If he knows your usual, you must come here often.”

“Not an original pickup line. Besides, you had me at ‘mind if I sit down.’ My office is just down the street. I like to come by on Friday night to wind down.”

“But happy hour is long over.”

“I don’t do happy hour. Too crowded.”

“Me, either.”

“Is your office just down the street, too?”

“No. I work out of my home in Pacific Beach.”

“Then why aren’t you in a bar in Pacific Beach?”

“Too loud. Too noisy. And I’m too old.”

He saw the first glint of amusement in her dark eyes. “You don’t look too old.”

“I’m forty-two. That’s too old for twenty-something coeds.”

She laughed, a deep honest laugh that he liked. “I know plenty of men your age who wouldn’t agree with that.”

“They have their preferences. I have mine. If I feel like a drink on Friday night, I drive up here. What about you? You could be down in PB with the party crowd.”

Her eyes became serious, but her tone remained light. “Too old, too.”

The bartender appeared with their drinks, and he noticed her “usual” was red wine.

“To Friday night! I’m Jim Mitchell, by the way.” He held up his glass.

“Sarah Knight.” And she lightly touched his glass with hers.

Afterward he said, “I’m not believing the ‘too old’ stuff about you.”

“Thanks, but it’s true. I’m four years ahead of you.”

“You look ten years behind me.”

She smiled. “I’ve finally reached the point where that’s an advantage.When I first started out as an attorney, no one took me seriously.”

“You’re an attorney?”

“Don’t sound so surprised. Lots of women are these days.”

“No, no. I didn’t mean that. I took you for a former model, now head of her own agency.”

Sarah threw back her head and laughed. “Now that’s a first. Thank you, I think. Ever heard of Craig, Lewis, and Weller?”

“Sure. They’re big time rivals of my old man’s stomping grounds, Cravath, Swain, and Moore.”

“Well, I went with Craig, Lewis out of law school– ”

“Which was Harvard, I bet.”

“Wrong, Yale. And I became a partner in their white-collar crime section eleven years ago.”

“A woman who looks like a model and who does white-collar crime. This has got to be a movie. I would never have guessed.”

She smiled. “I think looking like a kid gave me an advantage in front of juries, particularly with the female jurors.”

“So what brought you to San Diego?”

“I got tired of New York winters.”

“I can relate to that.”

“If your dad was a Cravath partner, you obviously grew up in New York.”

“Well, not in the city. We had the regulation big house in the Connecticut burbs.”

“And you are Jim, Junior, and your father wanted you to follow in his footsteps.”

“Now, I think you’re psychic. James Chapman Mitchell, III. He sent me to Andover because it was his prep school, and he sent me to Brown because it was his college, but I rebelled and went Georgetown because it wasn’t Harvard, his law school.”

“And did you go to work for Cravath?”

“For one miserable year. And then I joined the FBI.”

“It’s difficult to see that as an act of rebellion.”

“As far as my father was concerned, it was.”

“Why’d you pick the FBI?”

“I wanted to put the bad guys away. I thought it would give some meaning to my life.”

“And did it?”

“Too much meaning as it turns out. I got very caught up in my work. Finding a lead in a cold case was like an addiction. But my partner, who was single, had no trouble leaving work at six o’clock to hang out with my wife, who was tired of sleeping alone.Five years ago, Gail handed me the divorce papers and put Josh’s ring on her finger instead of mine.”

“Sounds tough.” Her eyes were unreadable again.

“The toughest part is being away from my son, Cody. He’s thirteen, and I only get a few weeks with him every summer. He’s just gone back to Baltimore where his mother lives. What about you? Ex-husbands? Children?”

“No time. Remember I made partner at a Wall Street firm at thirty-five. I couldn’t date my clients, and I don’t like office romances. That left the dry cleaning delivery boy and the kid who brought Chinese takeout when I got home before midnight. And I don’t do younger men.”

“Darn. And I was just getting ready to proposition you.”

“An ex-FBI agent propositioning a criminal defense attorney? In what universe?”

“This one. I’m a private investigator now. I had to leave the Bureau after Gail married Josh. I saw and heard too much, and I couldn’t take it. I’m still in love with Gail, in case you haven’t noticed.”

“I noticed.”

“I moved out here to get a fresh start. I literally closed my eyes and stuck a pin in the map. And San Diego it was. Here’s my card. I’m really good. You never know when you might need an outstanding gumshoe.”

She took the card in her long, graceful elegantly manicured fingers and studied it for a moment. She seemed to be thinking something over. Finally she said, “Actually, I do need someone.”

“I can’t believe my luck.”

“You might not think that when I tell you about the case.”

“Try me.”

“Do you know who Alexa Reed is?”

“Sure. The daughter-in-law of United States Supreme Court Justice Coleman Reed. She was arrested on June 3 for the murder of her husband, Michael, who was a partner at Warrick, Thompson, and Hayes, and a psychologist, Ronald Brigman. She and Michael were locked in a bitter custody battle for their two children. Brigman seems to have been on Michael’s side. The papers say Alexa was losing custody even though she had given up her career at Warrick, Thompson to be a stay-at-home mom. She snapped and killed Brigman and her ex.”

“I was appointed to represent Alexa today.”

“Wow! That’s going to be a tough one.”

“You have no idea. There’s a lot more, but I can’t talk about it here in public.”

“Of course not.”

“Are you in?”

“Definitely. Hey, I know a great little restaurant where we can talk. Tomorrow night at seven.”

“Ok. And where would that would be?”

“My place. Here’s the address.”

* * *

First Weekend of August 2013 – Saturday Night, Pacific Beach

Her second thoughts about Jim Mitchell began the moment she walked out of Trend, and they continued as she rang the bell at his Pacific Beach bungalow the following night. The house stood out from its beige stucco neighbors in a fresh coat of olive green paint with bright red begonias smiling from the flowerbeds. Not only did he seem strong and wise, seasoned in the ways of the world and his own man, he also appeared to have an artistic streak. She liked him; but, at the same time, she questioned her decision to hire him. This was a new experience for her. She had advanced in the competitive world of Craig, Lewis because she was smart and because she had excellent judgment. She rarely had any reason to think twice once she’d made a decision.

But Jim presented a number of challenges beginning with his dark hair, decisively dimpled chin, and firm, square-jawed good looks. He was six feet, two hundred pounds of well-honed muscle that any woman would have found attractive, and she never dated or slept with anyone she worked with. It was a rule set in stone. And even though Jim’s background meant he knew his way around the tough world of criminal defense, he had the kindest brown eyes she had ever seen. Their empathy tempted her to open up about herself in a way she would never have considered with anyone else. But never looking back was another implacable rule. Finally, his honesty about his responsibility for the loss of his marriage and his love for his former wife surprisingly tugged at her heart, an organ that was nearly impossible to touch after years spent turning herself into one of the toughest lawyers on Wall Street. So Sarah considered telling Jim Mitchell the deal was off as soon as they had settled down to dinner on his charming patio in the remnants of the soft summer evening scented with ocean breeze and night-blooming jasmine.

But she hesitated. He was not the average private detective. Even his dress that night was not average California casual. No slouchy knit shirts and faded jeans. Instead, he wore an I-mean-business blue oxford cloth shirt, sleeves rolled back to the elbows, and impeccable tan linen slacks. Everything about him broadcast confidence and professionalism. If she searched the entire West Coast for an investigator to work on behalf of Alexa Reed, she couldn’t do better than Jim. And loyalty to her client was, according to the cannons of legal ethics, her top priority.

“Where did you learn to cook like this?” She had just tasted the lamb chops in a delicate mustard cream sauce with tiny peas and braised leeks.

“You were expecting steaks from the butane grill.” His eyes teased her.

“Most definitely. You do not look like a sous chef.”

He grinned. “Thank you, I think. My mother came from old money. Her father was an investment banker and a Cravath client. She insisted on having a professional chef. I liked hanging out in the kitchens and learning about cooking. Drove my old man nuts because he was afraid I’d go to culinary school.”

“You’d have been very successful.”

“Doubtless. But in the end, I wanted to catch the bad guys more.” He smiled. “My cooking skills came in handy when I was living on a government salary and couldn’t afford five-star restaurants.”

“And now you can?”

“In theory. My father died three years ago and left me, his only child, his fortune along with my mother’s money. In trust, of course. But the monthly payments have made me financially independent. It’s unlikely I’ll ever need to touch the capital.”

“So why keep working? And on the side of the bad guys?”

“I keep working because I love doing investigations. Every one is a new story, with a new plot, and new characters. And the clients aren’t ‘bad guys.’ They’re innocent people I’m keeping out of prison. I’m still on the side of justice. Tell me about Alexa Reed.”

Sarah sighed and traced patterns on the base of her wine glass with one finger.“In the interests of full disclosure, I should let you know I didn’t want this case.”

“How’d you get it, then?”

“When I left Craig, Lewis and set up shop out here alone, I brought a few clients with me who are based in Los Angeles. One was accused of masterminding a Ponzi scheme, two others were indicted for insider trading, and the fourth was on the hook for racketeering.”

“Isn’t defending clients under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act a speciality of yours?”

She felt herself stiffen and hoped he didn’t notice. “I’ve done a few RICO cases, that’s true.”

“But you won one of the most influential and toughest cases of all time, the Joey Menendez case.”

Sarah’s mouth went dry at the name, and she gulped a sip of wine to make her tongue work. “How’d you know about Menendez?”

“It’s famous throughout law enforcement. You persuaded a jury to acquit the head of the Menendez drug cartel of six counts of murder for hire and twenty counts of extortion. No one ever thought that would happen, including the U.S. Attorney who opposed you. What’s wrong? You look upset.”

“No. Of course not.” But she gripped the base of the wine glass to keep her hands from shaking. He was violating one of her iconoclastic rules: don’t look back. She needed to change the subject quickly. “Anyway, I didn’t want to defend Alexa Reed.”

“So then how’d you become counsel of record?”

“In a word: blackmail. Last month I settled all but one of the four cases I started with. I’ve picked up one or two new ones as I’ve gone along, but they are all out of L.A. I haven’t developed any business in San Diego. So I put my name on the list of attorneys willing to accept trial court appointments for indigent defendants. Yesterday morning, Hal Remington, who heads the appointments panel, called and insisted I come to his office at ten a.m.”

“He couldn’t offer you the case on the phone?”

“Apparently not.” Her hands had stopped shaking, and she paused to fortify herself with a sip of wine.

“So what happened?”

“I found his office in the basement of the old Justice Building on the third try. They’ve hidden it pretty well. Remington turned out to be a scruffy version of Icabod Crane, slouched behind a desk so covered in paper, I doubt he’s ever filed anything in his entire career. He told me he was appointing me on Alexa Reed’s case, and I said no.”

Jim leaned over and poured more Australian shiraz into her class as he asked,“And then?”

“And then he said if I didn’t take the case, I’d never work in this town. He’d personally guarantee it. I didn’t know whether to believe him or laugh in his face.”

“I hope you believed him.”

“What do you mean?”

“People have their own way here. Money and influence talk.”

“But surely they follow the state bar’s ethical rules just like everyone else?”

“Some do. Some don’t. Have you ever heard of Patrick Frega?”

She shook her head.

“He was a San Diego attorney. Back in 1992, he was caught by us feds bribing two very willing superior court judges. They all three got disbarred and sentenced to federal prison. What did you tell Remington after he threatened to blackball you?”

“I told him I couldn’t take the Reed case because I’m not death-qualified in California. Alexa is facing the death penalty because it was a double murder.”

“And then what?”

“Remington said my death qualification in New York was enough, and I’d better take the case. Then he leaned over his desk and said, ‘For a woman who graduated number three in her class at Yale, you’re kind of dense. You’re getting this case because you aren’t qualified, and you’ll lose it because that’s exactly what Coleman Reed wants. He wants the woman who killed his son to die by lethal injection as quickly as possible. You and twelve citizens of this city are going to oblige him. You were hand picked because you look qualified, but you aren’t.”

“He actually said that?”

“I wish I’d been wearing a wire. I asked him what made him think I’d lose; after all, I did graduate number three, and I’m a quick study.”

“And?”

“And he said, ‘Yeah, you were editor of the law review at Yale. Big f’ing deal. That means nothing in this town. I’m It when it comes to handing out defense work. You want to survive professionally? Better not win Alexa Reed’s case.’

“When I reminded him that was unethical, he laughed and said, ‘Then go tell the state bar. You’ll never prove a word out of my mouth. There’s only me and you in this room, and I’ve been appointing lawyers for twenty years. Everyone knows me, but you’re some New York hot shot who doesn’t belong here. It’s my word against yours, and mine will win. Why don’t you go back where you belong?”

“Wow. So you took the case?”

“He made me angry. I could see if I didn’t take it, she’d never get an attorney who’d give her a fair defense.”

“Who represented her at the preliminary hearing?”

“Trevor Martin. I picked up her file from his office yesterday, but I didn’t get a chance to talk to him. I read his withdrawal motion. He claims his mother has inoperable brain cancer, but I think he just doesn’t want anything to do with Alexa Reed.”

Jim reached over to refill her glass one more time, but she put her hand over it. “No, thanks. I’m driving.”

“You can stay here. I have a guest room.”

She looked through the open french doors into his living room, full of an eclectic mix of old and new furniture, antiques, and Ikea pieces. Maple and mahogany and a few painted chairs and chests here and there. Cozy and comfortable. The kind of room you’d be tempted to put your feet up in and snuggle into a soft throw on the sofa. Jim was probably like that, too. Safe and comforting. She reminded herself she didn’t get close to men like Jim. She had one-night stands with married men, and men she’d never see again. But men who were capable of relationships were dangerous to the self-contained, tightly controlled world she had created.

Her dark eyes locked onto his mellow, softer ones. “No, thanks. And let’s get one rule very clear: I never sleep with anyone I work with.”

“I wasn’t inviting you into my room. There really are two.” He grinned, and the tension broke. “Now, tell me what we’re up against.”

“June 2 was a Sunday night. Meggie, who’s six and Sam, who’s five, were with their father at his house on Mount Soledad in La Jolla. Alexa was alone in her rented place in Pacific Beach. Ronald Brigman, who lived about ten minutes away from Michael, had a surveillance camera recording traffic at his front door. The video footage shows Alexa arriving alone at nine p.m. but doesn’t show her leaving. Brigman was killed around eleven, and Michael was shot about twenty minutes later. Around eleven- fifteen, Meggie’s cell phone called Alexa’s. Alexa’s phone pinged off a cell tower that shows she was close to Ronald Brigman’s when Meggie called. Within ten minutes of the call from Meggie’s phone, Alexa’s cell was dialing 911 from Michael’s house. She told 911 she’d arrived to check on the children and had found him dead. The Glock .9 millimeter used in both murders was registered to her and was found next to Michael’s body. There were two DNA profiles on the gun: hers and Michael’s. Ballistics show five bullets in Brigman, and four in Michael, all from that Glock. That’s all I know so far. I’m meeting with Martin at ten on Monday morning.”

“Do you want me there?”

“No. I don’t expect him to be a witness in her case, and he’ll open up to me better if we’re alone. But I’m going to the jail to see Alexa on Tuesday afternoon. I’ll need you then. Two o’clock”

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