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The Assumption

Dresden to go (cc)Via Popcorn Fiction, a superstar actor has big secrets in his past in this touch of noir from Ralph Pezzullo, co-author of HUNT THE WOLF: A Seal Team Six novel written with Don Mann.

He saw her face in his mind’s eye and there was no mistake. Pale and pleading. Desperate. A ghost with pale red hair floating to the surface of his consciousness.

More like an ache. An awful reminder.

Gil Naylor cranked up the stereo in his vintage Mercedes coupe as it climbed the narrow streets of the Hollywood Hills.

Then he saw her again. This time, smiling. Teasing. Beckoning him further like a siren. “Help me, Gil. Please, help me.”

Entering through the elaborately carved Spanish door, the ruggedly handsome forty-nine-year-old actor crossed directly to the bottle of Asombroso Reserva Del Porto, poured a shot and downed it.

Beyond the patio and pool he watched the sun drop like a mustard-colored fizzy into the blue ink ocean. The tequila slammed down his throat like a fist.

And the image vanished.

Replaced by familiar sounds and faces as the house came to life like it always did when he entered. Jagged sparks of energy ricocheted off the terracotta tiles and yellow stucco walls, into the lavender tiled kitchen, and beyond.

Jenny, his live-in girlfriend, responded, hurrying in from the gym in a black tank top and shorts, abs taunt and glistening, nipples at attention. Tara, his personal assistant stuck her head out of the upstairs office and called from the balcony. Continue reading “The Assumption”

Start Reading Breed by Chase Novak

Next month we publish the hotly anticipated horror novel from Chase Novak, the pseudonymous debut of Scott Spencer’s alter ego hailed by Stephen King as “The best horror novel I’ve read since Peter Straub’s Ghost Story…by turns terrifying and blackly funny…a total blast.”

Copies are already on their way to bookstores–but you can start the wild ride right here. Let the buzz begin!

Part One

 

Ye shall fear every man his mother, and his father

–Leviticus

It’s well known—part fact, part punch line—that people in New York think a great deal about real estate. In the case of Leslie Kramer, she actually was aware of the house Alex Twisden lived in before she had ever met him, or even knew his name. Leslie would often pass by the house on days she chose to walk to Gardenia Press, where, though single and childless herself, she edited children’s books.

The house was a piece of pure old New York, from before taxes, before unions, back when the propertied classes had money for the finest stonework, the finest carpentry, and for a multitude of servants, including people to put straw in the streets so the wagon wheels of passing merchants would not clatter on the cobblestones. It was a four-story townhouse on East Sixty-Ninth Street, an often-photographed Federal-style dwelling made of pale salmon bricks, with windows that turned bursts of light into prismatic fans of color framed by pale green shutters.

It was one of the few residences on this block that had not been broken up into apartments, and the only house in the neighborhood owned by the same family since its construction. It was one of those places that seem immune to change, ever lovely, and ever redolent of privilege and the provenance that justifies the continuation of those privileges. The front of the house bore a polished brass plaque announcing the year of the house’s construction, 1840. The window boxes were almost always in bloom, with snowdrops in the spring, and then with tulips, impatiens, geraniums, and various decorative cabbages, some of them so unusual and obscure that often passersby would stop on the sidewalk and wonder about them. The light post next to the eight-step porch was entwined with twinkling blue lights twelve months a year. Recycling was set out at the curbside inside of cases that once held bottles of Château Beychevelle or Tattinger’s.

Twisdens have been born and have died in these rooms. The first President Roosevelt dined there on several occasions and once famously played the ukulele and sang Cuban folk songs for a dinner party that included the mayor, the ambassador to the Court of King James’s, and a Russian ballerina who, it turned out, was embroiled in an affair with the host, Abraham Twisden. Twisdens who practiced law and medicine lived here, political Twisdens, bohemian Twisdens, drunken and idle Twisdens, one of whom lost the house in a card game on West Fourteenth Street, a debt that was nullified by the sudden death of the lucky winner, who turned out not to be so lucky after all.

Alex was raised in this house along with his sisters, Katherine and Cecile. Their world was this house, with its mahogany globes the size of cantaloupes on the newel posts of every stairway, with wedding-cake plaster on the ceilings, and wainscoting in the parlor, and the library, and antique Persian carpets of red and purple and blue and gold on the wide plank floors, rugs knotted by little hands that had long since turned to dust.

Katherine lives now as a Buddhist nun in Thailand and has renounced the family; she has a brain tumor that has shortened her temper but seems not to be shortening her life. Cecile died at thirteen, of a staph infection following the removal of her appendix, and when their parents died in Corfu, in 1970, the house on Sixty-Ninth Street passed without contest directly to Alex.

In point of fact, it was the house that brought Alex and Leslie together in the first place. One drizzly spring morning, Alex noticed her stopped in front of his house, and he said, “Haven’t I seen you before?”

“Oh, I like to stop here. It’s on my way to work. And it’s such a beautiful house.”

“I’m afraid I’m its prisoner,” Alex said. “I just don’t like anyplace else in the world half so much.”

“I can see why,” Leslie said. The ends of her blunt-cut auburn hair touched the dark red, rain-spotted wool of her coat. She had the plain but lovely face of a pioneer; he could imagine her sitting at the back of a covered wagon, looking longingly east as her family headed west. Her eyes were bright green, and though she was smiling, there seemed something temperamental, easily wounded about her.

Alex, dressed for work in thousands of dollars’ worth of English tailoring and, even in a more overtly social situation, tending toward the reticent, surprised himself by asking, “Would you be interested in seeing the inside?”

From there to courtship to wedding was a mere five months and it did not escape Leslie’s attention that some people (well: many) thought of her as Alex Twisden’s midlife trophy wife. Never mind that she loved him, and never mind that (of this she was certain) he loved her, and never mind that she was almost thirty (well: twenty-eight) and had an excellent (well: good) job at a great (well: up and coming) New York publishing company—the fact that she was seventeen years younger than Alex, and that he was wealthy, and childless and probably (well: definitely) in the hunt for an heir, made Leslie a trophy wife, which, in the parlance of well-off Manhattanites, suggested she was practicing some high-end, socially sanctioned form of prostitution.

But now the shining trophy wife has a very significant ding in her. She has been trying to have a baby for three years, which is why she and Alex are currently sitting in the annex of Herald Church on West Ninetieth Street, a depressing, claustrophobic, smelly, badly lit, terrible, and depressing (yes, it is worth a second mention) basement in which they are attending the biweekly meeting of the Uptown Infertility Support Group. As Leslie looks around at the scuffed linoleum floors, the plasterboard walls, the strip lighting, and the metal folding chairs, she uncrosses and recrosses her legs and tries to read the expression on her husband’s long, narrow, solemn face. But he is as unreadable here as he is when he rides the elevator to the top floor of the Erskine Building, where the venerable firm of Bailey, Twisden, Kaufman, and Chang go about their hushed business, a kind of law that seems to Leslie far closer to accountancy than anything she has ever seen on TV. In TV law, lives hang in the balance, wrongs are redressed, and the system blindly gropes its way toward justice. At BTK&C, all that matters in the orderly transfer of property, and the golden rule seems to be “Don’t ever touch the principal.”

Neither Alex nor Leslie really wants or needs the psychological or moral support of other couples dealing with infertility. They attend because it is Alex’s theory that these meetings, aside from being sobfests and weirdly twelve-steppy in their confessional nature, operate as a kind of clearinghouse for information about fertility treatments and fertility doctors. So far they have not met anyone who has done anything different from what Alex and Leslie have tried, often at the very same clinics, with the very same doctors, and even with the same kindhearted nurses. Tonight’s meeting was particularly useless. Two of the nine couples in the group have already separated—infertility can wreak havoc on a marriage—yet both the husbands from these defunct unions continue not only to show up for meetings but to dominate the discussions. The Featherstones, a chubby, cheerful duo—he a second-grade teacher, she a pastry chef—want to share their fabulous news. Chelsea is, or at least was, pregnant, and even though she miscarried in the third week, both the Featherstones are ebullient, feeling they have their problem, if not defeated, then at least on the run, and they somehow induce the group to share their excitement. As the basement echoes with applause, Leslie pretends to look for something in her purse, and Alex simply sits there with his hands folded in his lap.

When she looked over at him he silently mouths the words I love you.

*** Continue reading “Start Reading Breed by Chase Novak”

Start Reading Dare Me

This week, Megan Abbott’s DARE ME,  an O MagazineEntertainment WeeklyNewsday and Wall Street Journal Summer Reading pick, arrives at bookstores across the nation. Start reading the book that led Daniel Woodrell proclaim:  “Abbott has become expert at revealing truths we thought we knew but didn’t, delivered in prose that is by turns elegant and incantatory.”

“Something happened, Addy. I think you better come.”

*

The air is heavy, misted, fine. It’s coming on two a.m. and I’m high up on the ridge, thumb jammed against the silver button: 27-G.

*

“Hurry, please.”

*

The intercom zzzzzz-es and the door thunks, and I’m inside.

As I walk through the lobby, it’s still buzzing, the glass walls vibrating.

Like the tornado drill in elementary school, Beth and me wedged tight, jeaned legs pressed against each other. The sounds of our own breathing. Before we all stopped believing a tornado, or anything, could touch us, ever.

*

“I can’t look. When you get here, please don’t make me look.”

*

In the elevator, all the way up, my legs swaying beneath me, 1-2-3-4, the numbers glow, incandescent.

*

The apartment is dark, one floor lamp coning halogen up in the far corner.

“Take off your shoes,” she says, her voice small, her wishbone arms swinging side to side.

We’re standing in the vestibule, which seeps into a dining area, its lacquer table like a puddle of ink.

Just past it, I see the living room, braced by a leather sectional, its black clamps tightening, as if across my chest.

Her hair damp, her face white. Her head seems to go this way and that way, looking away from me, not wanting to give me her eyes.

I don’t think I want her eyes.

*

“Something happened, Addy. It’s a bad thing.”

*

“What’s over there?” I finally ask, gaze fixed on the sofa, the sense that it’s living, its black leather lifting like a beetle’s sheath.

“What is it?” I say, my voice lifting. “Is there something behind there?”

She won’t look, which is how I know.

*

First, my eyes falling to the floor, I see a glint of hair twining in the weave of the rug.

Then, stepping forward, I see more.

“Addy,” she whispers. “Addy…is it like I thought?” Continue reading “Start Reading Dare Me”

Start Reading The Assassin Trilogy

Tomorrow the e-book omnibus THE ASSASSIN TRILOGY, the Silver Bear novels by Derek Haas that Marilyn Stasio of the New York Times Book Review proclaimed “a devastatingly cool series,” goes on sale for just $2.99.

Get started today with the below excerpt of the first in the series, The Silver Bear. Get ready for Derek’s new novel THE RIGHT HAND coming November 2012, and Derek’s new show, Chicago Fire, this fall on NBC!

The Silver Bear

CHAPTER ONE

 

THE LAST DAY OF THE CRUELEST MONTH, AND APPROPRIATELY IT RAINS. Not the spring rain of new life and rebirth, not for me. Death. In my life, always death. I am young; if you saw me on the street, you might think, “what a nice, clean-cut young man. I’ll bet he works in advertising or perhaps a nice accounting firm. I’ll bet he’s married and is just starting a family. I’ll bet his parents raised him well.” But you would be wrong. I am old in a thousand ways. I have seen things and done things that would make you rush instinctively to your child’s bedroom and hug him tight to your chest, breathing quick in short bursts like a misfiring engine, and repeat over and over, “It’s okay, baby. It’s okay. Everything’s okay.”

I am a bad man. I do not have any friends. I do not speak to women or children for longer than is absolutely necessary. I groom myself to blend, like a chameleon darkening its pigment against the side of an oak tree. My hair is cut short, my eyes are hidden behind dark glasses, my dress would inspire a yawn from anyone who passed me in the street. I do not call attention to myself in any way.

I have lived this way for as long as I can remember, although in truth it has only been ten years. The events of my life prior to that day, I have forgotten in all detail, although I do remember the pain. Joy and pain tend to make imprints on memory that do not dim, flecks of senses rather than images that resurrect themselves involuntarily and without warning. I have had precious little of the former and a lifetime of the latter. A week ago, I read a poll that reported ninety percent of people over the age of sixty would choose to be a teenager again if they could. If those same people could have experienced one day of my teenage years, not a single hand would be counted.

The past does not interest me, though it is always there, just below the surface, like dangerous blurs and shapes an ocean swimmer senses in the deep. I am fond of the present. I am in command in the present. I am master of my own destiny in the present. If I choose, I can touch someone, or let someone touch me, but only in the present. Free will is a gift of the present; the only time I can choose to outwit God. The future, your fate, though, belongs to God. If you try to outsmart God in planning your fate, you are in for disappointment. He owns the future, and He loves O. Henry endings. Continue reading “Start Reading The Assassin Trilogy”

An Excerpt from The 500

This week The 500 by Matthew Quirk hits bookstore! Can’t wait to get started on the debut Joe Finder has called “An absolutely phenomenal, kickass thriller”? Check out an excerpt of the novel below. Comment for a chance to win your copy today!

Miroslav and Aleksandar filled the front seats of the Range Rover across the street. They wore their customary diplomatic uniforms — dark Brionis tailored close — but the two Serbs looked angrier than usual. Aleksandar lifted his right hand high enough to flash me a glint of his Sig Sauer. A master of subtlety, that Alex. I wasn’t particularly worried about the two bruisers sitting up front, however. The worst thing they could do was kill me, and right now that looked like one of my better options.

The rear window rolled down and there was Rado, glaring. He preferred to make his threats with a dinner napkin. He lifted one up and dabbed gently at the corners of his mouth. They called him the King of Hearts because, well, he ate people’s hearts. The way I heard it was that he’d read an article in the Economist about some nineteen-year-old Liberian warlord with a taste for human flesh. Rado decided that sort of flagrant evil would give his criminal brand the edge it needed in a crowded global marketplace, so he picked up the habit.

I wasn’t even all that worried about him tucking into my heart. That’s usually fatal and, like I said, would greatly simplify my dilemma. The problem was that he knew about Annie. And my getting another loved one killed because of my mistakes was one of the things that made Rado’s fork look like the easy out.

I nodded to Rado and started up the street. It was a beautiful May morning in the nation’s capital, with a sky like blue porcelain. The blood that had soaked through my shirt was drying, stiff and scratchy. My left foot dragged on the asphalt. My knee had swollen to the size of a rugby ball. I tried to concentrate on the knee to keep my mind off the injury to my chest, because if I thought about that — not the pain so much as the sheer creepiness of it — I was sure I would pass out.

As I approached, the office looked as classy as ever: a three-story Federal mansion set back in the woods of Kalorama, among the embassies and chanceries. It was home to the Davies Group, Washington, D.C.’s most respected strategic consulting and government affairs firm, where I guess technically I may have still been employed. I fished my keys from my pocket and waved them in front of a gray pad beside the door lock. No go.

But Davies was expecting me. I looked up at the closed-circuit camera. The lock buzzed.

Inside the foyer, I greeted the head of security and noted the baby Glock he’d pulled from its holster and was holding tight near his thigh. Then I turned to Marcus, my boss, and nodded by way of hello. He stood on the other side of the metal detector, waved me through, then frisked me neck to ankle. He was checking for weapons, and for wires. Marcus had made a nice long career with those hands, killing.

“Strip,” Marcus said. I obliged, shirt and pants. Even Marcus winced when he saw the skin of my chest, puckering around the staples. He took a quick look inside my drawers, then seemed satisfied I wasn’t bugged. I suited back up.

“Envelope,” he said, and gestured to the manila one I was carrying.

“Not until we have a deal,” I said. The envelope was the only thing keeping me alive, so I was a little reluctant to let it go. “This will go wide if I disappear.”

Marcus nodded. That kind of insurance was standard industry practice. He’d taught me so himself. He led me upstairs to Davies’s office and stood guard by the door as I stepped inside.

There, standing by the windows, looking out over downtown D.C., was the one thing I was worried about, the option that seemed much worse than getting carved up by Rado: it was Davies, who turned to me with a grandfather’s smile. Continue reading “An Excerpt from The 500”

Start Reading Alpha by Greg Rucka

Prologue

Mario Vesques was sure he was going to make it, right up until he saw the knife in the dog’s hand.

He had no idea where the blade came from; what he did have was just enough time to realize he was in trouble, and then the cartoon animal was lunging at him in a way that Vesques recognized, had seen before, but yet couldn’t immediately place. Only as he got his left forearm up for a cross-block, felt the tip of the knife nicking skin as it split his sleeve, did it click.

Modern Army, as taught at Fort Benning, Georgia, courtesy of the United States Army; and through the adrenaline rush he saw the irony that he and whoever was wearing the Pooch suit shared the same pedigree. The absurdity of it all—Vesques in his maintenance coveralls and this man in his dog suit, right paw missing to reveal a Caucasian hand and the blade it held—that they had shared, at some point, the same masters, perhaps the same history, perhaps even the same instructors. That they might’ve, somewhere, sometime, stood together as brothers in arms.

But the blade was stabbing at him again and again, and Vesques was backpedaling now, stumbling once more through the door he’d just exited, the compressor room off the Flashman West maintenance tunnel, the one running east-west the length of the park. Dimmer light within, after-hours power management, and Vesques knew the room was a death trap, that there was no way out of it other than the one the dog now blocked. Continue reading “Start Reading Alpha by Greg Rucka”

Start Reading Guilt By Degrees

Prologue

He stood still, listening as the car pulled out of the driveway. When the sound of the engine faded into the distance, Zack looked at his watch: 9:36 a.m. Perfect. Three solid hours of “me” time. He eagerly trotted down the thinly carpeted stairs to the basement, the heavy bass thud of his work boots echoing through the empty house. Clutched in his hand was the magazine photograph of the canopy he intended to build. He figured it would’ve cost a small fortune at one of those fancy designer stores, but the copy he’d make would be just as good, if not better—and for less than a tenth of the price. A smile curled Zack’s lips as he enjoyed the mental image of Lilah’s naked body framed by gauzy curtains hanging from the canopy, wafting seductively around the bed. He inhaled, imagining her perfume as he savored the fantasy.

Zack jumped down the last step and moved to the corkboard hanging above his workbench. He tacked up the magazine photo, pulled out the armless secretary chair with the bouncy backrest, and sat down heavily. The squeak of the overburdened springs jangled in the stillness of the dank air. The room was little more than a cement-floored cell, but it was Zack’s paradise, filled to bursting with the highest quality carpentry tools he could afford, acquired slowly and lovingly over the years. Since he was a kid, he’d found that making things with his hands had the power to both calm and inspire him. His brother, Simon, said it was his form of Zen. Zack shook his head. Simon would’ve made a great hippie if he hadn’t been born about twenty years too late.

Hanging on the walls were framed photographs of Zack’s completed projects: the seven-tiered bookcase, the cedar trunk with inset shelving, the wine cabinet. Each one had come out better than the last. His gaze lingered on the photograph of the wine cabinet as he remembered how he’d labored to carve the grape leaves on its doors. It had to be worth at least five hundred dollars.

Zack turned to the bench. He pulled a steno notepad off the shelf above it and snagged a pencil from the beer stein where he kept his drafting tools. The stein had been a Christmas gift from his rookie partner, who hadn’t yet learned that, unlike the other cops in their division, he wasn’t much of a drinker.

He rolled his chair back, put his feet up on the desk, and began to sketch. Minutes later, he’d finished the broad outline. He held the drawing at arm’s length to get a better perspective when a sound—a soft rustling somewhere behind him—made Zack stop, pad still poised in midair. He dropped his feet to the floor and carefully began to scan the room.

He sensed rather than saw the sudden motion in his periphery. Before he could react, the weight of an anvil crashed into the side of his head. Blood-filled stars exploded behind his eyes as he flew off the chair and landed on his back on the hard cement.

Zack opened his eyes, dimly aware of a voice—his own?—crying out in pain. Someone was poised above him. Again he sensed movement, something cutting through the air. In a hideous moment of clarity, Zack saw what it was. An ax.

He watched in mute horror as the blade came whistling down. At the last second, he squeezed his eyes shut—hoping to make the nightmare go away. But the ax plunged deep and hard, the blade slicing cruelly through his neck, right down to the vertebrae. As the blade yanked out, his body arched up, then collapsed back to the ground, and blood spurted from his severed carotid. The ax rose again, then hurtled downward, blood flying off its edge and onto the walls. Again and again, the blade rose and fell in a steady, inexorable rhythm, severing arms and legs, splitting the abdomen, unleashing coiled intestines and a foul odor. When at last the bloody ax dropped to the floor, a fine red spray spattered the walls and the shiny trophy photographs of Zack’s creations.

1

Two Years Later
He moved with purpose. That alone might have drawn attention to the man in the soiled wool overcoat, but the postlunch crowd was a briskly flowing river of bodies.

The homeless man picked up his pace, his eyes focused with a burning intensity on the woman ahead of him. Suddenly he thrust out his hand and gripped her forearm. Stunned, the woman turned to look at her attacker. Shock gave way to outrage, then fear, as she twisted violently in an effort to wrest her arm away. They struggled for a few seconds in their awkward pas de deux, but just as the woman raised a hand to shove him back, the man abruptly released his grip. The woman immediately fled into the crowd. The man doubled over and began to sink to the ground, his face contorted in a grimace of pain. But even as his body sagged, his eyes bored into the crowd, searching for her, as though by sheer dint of will they could pull her back.

Finally, though, unable to resist the undertow, he sank down onto the filthy sidewalk, turned on his side, and began to rock back and forth like a child. The river of pedestrians flowed on, pausing only long enough to wind around him and then merge again. After half an hour, the rocking stopped. A passerby in a janitor’s uniform leaned down to look at the man for a brief moment, then continued on his way. A young girl pointed her cell phone at him and took a picture, then moved on as well.

It would be another hour before anyone noticed the spreading crimson stain under the homeless man’s body. Another hour after that before anyone thought to call the police.

Continue reading “Start Reading Guilt By Degrees”

Start Reading Fifteen Digits by Nick Santora

Prologue

The problem with all you lawyers,” Mauro lectured Spade, “is you think the support staff ’s nothing but replaceable parts—just warm bodies in blue blazers running your files up and down the floors whenever you snap your fingers. You guys treat us like we’re invisible.”

Rich Mauro sat back in the booth and took a pull on his beer. Spade studied him for a moment, then smiled a disconcerting grin— a Cheshire Cat That Ate the Canary kind of thing.

“And that’s why you’re where you are and I’m where I am,” Spade pointed out smugly. “Where you see problems, I see opportunities.”

Jason Spade leaned across the table, over the half-finished Harp’s and the untouched onion rings. In the crowded bar, between the blare of the Smithereens on the jukebox and the howl of drunk Irish electricians toasting some dead union brother, there was no need to whisper, but Jason Spade’s was the kind of idea that demanded secretive tones. Even if whispers weren’t required by the environment, they were called for by the very nature of what he was about to propose.

“The benefit of being invisible,” Jason whispered, looking straight into Mauro’s eyes, “is that people don’t see you when you’re robbing them blind…now, how ’bout you and I get rich, Rich?”

And with that simple question, a chain of events began that changed, destroyed, and ended lives. People would be maimed, tortured, and killed. Millions of dollars would be stolen, then stolen away from the thieves themselves.

It was a question that would eventually make Rich Mauro, Jason Spade, Vicellous “Vice” Green, Dylan Rodriguez, and Eddie Pisorchek suffer beyond measure. Some of them would die because of it.

After it all went down, to the ill informed, it appeared that it happened because of money. But to those who were involved in it, to the guys who were so deep in the mess that it covered their mouths and pushed up into their nostrils, they understood that it all happened for love—love that was pure and real or love that had never been there to begin with, but love nonetheless.

And all of it—every cry of agony, every drop of blood—it all began with that conversation between Rich Mauro and Jason Spade, a conversation that lasted less than fifteen minutes, on a summer night, over a couple of beers in a graffiti-stricken booth in the back of McMahon’s Pub.

Nick Santora was a lawyer before his first screenplay won Best Screenplay of the Competition at the 2001 New York International Independent Film Festival. A co-creator, executive producer, and writer for the hit A&E show Breakout Kings and former writer and co-executive producer of Prison Break, Nick Santora lives in Los Angeles, California.

FIFTEEN DIGITS is available in bookstores everywhere.

If I’m Dead: An Excerpt

Excited for next month’s publication of the anticipated return of Rachel Knight GUILT BY DEGREES? Get ready with Marcia Clark’s new Rachel Knight short story IF I’M DEAD, an excerpt of which follows.

Damp, salty ocean air is hell on everything. Especially evidence. If we hadn’t lucked out and found the car so fast, we’d never have had a shot at getting DNA results out of that little drop of blood on the passenger seat of the SUV. But a young surfer looking for a new break near Point Mugu had spotted the vehicle and decided to call the police; the sight of the abandoned car had given him a “bad feeling.” I found out what he meant when I went out to the scene. And I got that same bad feeling every time I looked at the photograph that’d been taken that night—something I’d done often and was in fact doing right now.
The white SUV glowed in the moonlight, a ghostly beacon on an outcropping above a rocky stretch of beach north of Point Mugu. The “soccer mom” vehicle wouldn’t have merited a second look had it been in the parking lot of any shopping mall in the San Fernando Valley. But there, in the limitless darkness of a remote overlook on the Pacific Coast Highway, it was an ominous misfit. A car like that did not wind up in a place like this. Not overnight. And not in the dead of winter.

I couldn’t help being transfixed by the sight of that Ford Explorer, iridescent and isolated, in the endless black maw of ocean and night sky. Chilling, eerie, the photo emanated a sense of menace, a prelude to a violent demise.

At least I hoped it did. I planned to use that photograph—now enlarged to poster size—in my opening statement. I figured it would help me hit the ground running with the jury. Get their minds in the right place. I’m Rachel Knight, and I’m a deputy district attorney assigned to the Special Trials Unit—a small group of prosecutors that handles the most high-profile, complex cases in Los Angeles. Unlike most deputies, we get our cases the day the body is found and work alongside the detectives throughout the investigation. And the detective I’ve been working with almost exclusively for the past few years, who also happens to be my best friend, is Bailey Keller, one of the few women to gain entrée into the elite Robbery-Homicide Division of the LAPD.

The white SUV had belonged to Melissa Gibbons-Hildegarde, the only daughter born to Bennie and Nancy Gibbons, who combined old family money (hers) and a real estate empire (his) to wind up one of the most wealthy, influential couples in Los Angeles. Which, of course, meant that Melissa stood to inherit a very sizable fortune upon their demise. They may as well have painted a bull’s-eye on her back. The arrow that found that target came in the form of Saul Hildegarde, a charismatic community activist whose passion for welfare reform inspired Melissa to abandon her jet-set lifestyle and devote herself to higher pursuits. Unfortunately, it was only after they’d married that Melissa realized the welfare Saul was most passionate about was his own. But while Saul discovered a taste for the easy life of tennis, clubs, and parties, Melissa discovered a burning desire to help the impoverished, and so she dedicated herself to the support and founding of charities around the world. Especially those devoted to the welfare of children. And it wasn’t enough for her to just send money. Melissa took the hands-on approach and accompanied her checkbook around the world, helping to build huts in Somalia and set up clinics in Nigeria. She’d even spoken of adopting some of the children she’d helped during her travels. Her friends were uniformly stunned at Melissa’s transformation. It seemed as though she’d gone from party girl to Mother Teresa virtually overnight. But Melissa didn’t see much of her friends anymore; her charity work kept her plenty busy—likely too busy to ask for a divorce. Right up until the day she’d come home early from a trip to Botswana to find Saul in flagrante with a young coed who’d apparently volunteered to work on a more personal style of welfare reform. Melissa had announced her intention to get a divorce that same night.

Three weeks later, Saul reported her missing. And when her SUV had been found abandoned on a lonely stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway, the contents of her purse strewn across the passenger seat and the glove compartment rifled, it was initially believed that Melissa had been the victim of a robbery-murder, and that her body had been dumped in the ocean.

Download the full story from your eTailer of choice. Amazon.com | BN.com |iTunes | Sony