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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2005 by David Rosenfelt
All rights reserved.
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First eBook Edition: July 2009
Also by David Rosenfelt
Bury the Lead
Open and Shut
Okay… okay… so I didn't do this alone. The point is, I could have… I just chose not to. So, a grudging thank you to those who may have provided some slight, unnecessary, almost imperceptible help.
Robin Rue and Sandy Weinberg, agents for life.
Jamie Raab, Les Pockell, Kristen Weber, Susan Richman, Martha Otis, Beth de Guzman, Bob Castillo, and everyone else at Warner. They have been extraordinary partners.
My team of experts, including George Kentris, Kristen Paxos Mecionis, and Susan Brace. They fill in the gaps of my knowledge in the legal and psychological worlds, which is like saying the Atlantic Ocean fills in the gap between Europe and North America.
Those who read early drafts and/or contributed their thoughts and suggestions, including Ross, Heidi, Rick, Lynn, Mike and Sandi Rosenfelt, Sharon, Mitchell, and Amanda Baron, Emily Kim, Al and Nancy Sarnoff, Stacy Alesi, Norman Trell, June Peralta, Stephanie Allen, Scott Ryder, David Devine, and Carol and John Antonaccio.
Debbie Myers, who brightens and informs my life and my work by just being Debbie Myers.
I continue to be grateful to the many people who have e-mailed me feedback on Open and Shut, First Degree, and Bury the Lead. Please do so again at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.
I STEP OFF THE PLANE, and for the first time in my life, I'm in Los Angeles. I'm not sure why I've never been here before. I certainly haven't had any preconceived notions about the place, other than the fact that the people here are insincere, draft-dodging, drug-taking, money-grubbing, breast-implanting, out-of-touch, pâté-eating, pom-pous, Lakers-loving, let's-do-lunching, elitist scumbags.
But here I am, open-minded as always.
Walking next to me is Willie Miller, whose own mind is so wide-open that anything at all is completely free to go in and out, and often does. I'm not sure how thoughts actually enter his mind, but the point of exit is definitely his mouth. "This place ain't so cool," says Willie.
"Willie, it's only the airport." I look over at him and am surprised to see that he is wearing sunglasses. They seem to have appeared in the last few seconds, as if he has grown them. While he doesn't consider the airport "cool," he apparently fears that it might be sunny.
Willie has become a good friend these last couple of years. He's twenty-eight, ten years my junior, and we met when I successfully defended him on an appeal of a murder charge for which he had been wrongly convicted. Willie spent seven long years on death row, and his story is the reason we're out here. That and the fact that I had nothing better to do.
We take the escalator down to baggage claim, where a tall blond man wearing a black suit and sunglasses just like Willie's holds up a sign that says "Carpenter." Since my name is Andy Carpenter, I pick up on this almost immediately. "That's us," I say to the man, who is obviously our driver.
"How was your flight?" he asks, an opening conversational gambit I suspect he's used before. I say that it was fine, and then we move smoothly into a chat about the weather while we wait for the bags to come down. I learn that it's sunny today, has been sunny this month, last month, and will be sunny next month and the month after that. It's early June, and there is no chance of rain until December. However, I sense that the driver is a little nervous, because for tomorrow they're predicting a forty percent chance of clouds.
I have just one small suitcase, which I wouldn't have bothered to check had not Willie brought two enormous ones. I make the mistake of trying to lift one of Willie's bags off the carousel; it must weigh four hundred pounds. "Did you bring your rock collection?" I ask, but Willie just shrugs and lifts the bag as if it were filled with pillows.
I've lived in apartments smaller than the limousine that transports us to the hotel. The movie studio is obviously trying to impress us, and so far succeeding quite well. It's only been a week since they called me and expressed a desire to turn my defense of Willie into a feature film, and we are out here to negotiate the possible sale of those rights. It's not something I relish, but Willie and the others involved all coaxed me into it. Had I known we would be flown first-class and whisked around in limos with a bar and TV, it might not have taken quite so much coaxing.
The truth is, none of us need the money we might make from this deal. I inherited twenty-two million dollars from my father, Willie received ten million dollars from a civil suit which we brought after his release, and I split up the million-dollar commission from that suit among everybody else. That "everybody else" consists of my associate, Kevin Randall, my secretary, Edna, and Laurie Collins, who functions in the dual role of private investigator and love of my life.
I would be far more enthusiastic about this trip if Laurie were here, but she decided to fly back to Findlay, Wisconsin, for her fifteenth high school reunion. When I warily mentioned that it would also be a chance for her to see her old boyfriends, she smiled and said, "We've got a lot of catching up to do."
"I'll be spending all my time in LA with nubile young actresses," I countered. "Sex-starved, lawyer-loving, nubile young actresses. The town is full of them." I said this in a pathetic and futile attempt to get her to change her mind and come out here with me. Instead, she said, "You do that." I didn't bother countering with, "I will," since we both know I won't.
So it's just Willie and me that the driver drops off at the Beverly Regent Wilshire Hotel. It's a nice enough place, but based on the nightly rate, the fairly average rooms must have buried treasure in the mattresses. But again, the studio is paying, which is one reason the first thing I do is have a fourteen-dollar can of mixed nuts from the minibar.
Since Willie's release from prison brought him some measure of fame, his life has taken some other dramatic turns. In addition to becoming wealthy, he's gotten married, partnered with me in a dog rescue operation, and become part of the very exclusive New York social scene. He and wife Sondra are out every night with what used to be known as the in crowd, though I am so far "out" that I'm not sure what they're called anymore. He is constantly and unintentionally name-dropping friends in the sports, entertainment, and art worlds, though he comically often has no idea that anyone else has heard of them.
Willie's social reach apparently extends across the country, because he invites me to go "clubbing" tonight with him and a number of his friends. I would rather be clubbed over the head, so I decline and make plans to order room service and watch a baseball game.
First I call Laurie at her hotel in Findlay, but she's out. I hope she's in the process of marveling at how fat and bald all her old boyfriends have gotten. Next I call Kevin Randall, who is watching Tara for me while I'm gone.
Golden retrievers are the greatest living things on this planet, and Tara is the greatest of all golden retrievers, so that makes her fairly special. I hate leaving her, even for a day, but there was no way I was going to put her in a crate in the bottom of a hot airplane.
"Hello?" Kevin answers, his voice raspy.
I put him through about three or four minutes of swearing to me that Tara is doing well, and then I ask him how he's feeling, since his voice maintains that raspy sound. I ask this reluctantly, since Kevin is America's foremost hypochondriac. "I'm okay," he says.
I'd love to leave it at that, but it would ruin his night. "You sure?" I ask.
"Well…," he starts hesitantly, "do you know if humans can catch diseases from dogs?"
"Why? Is Tara sick?"
"I told you she was fine," he says. "We're talking about me now. I seem to have developed a cough." He throws in a couple of hacking noises, just in case I didn't know what he meant by "cough."
"That definitely sounds like kennel cough," I say. "You should curl up and sleep next to a warm oven tonight. And don't have more than a cup of kibble for dinner."
Kevin, who is no dummy, shrewdly figures out that I am going to continue to make fun of him if he pursues this, so he lets me extricate myself from the call. Once I do so, I have dinner and lie down to watch the Dodgers play the Padres. I'm not terribly interested in it, which is why I'm asleep by the third inning.
I wake up at seven and order room service. I get the Assorted Fresh Berries for twenty-one fifty; for that price I would have expected twin Halle Berrys. They also bring an LA Times and Wall Street Journal, which are probably costing twenty bucks apiece.
The same driver and limo show up at nine in the morning to take Willie and me to the studio. We arrive early for our meeting, so we spend some time walking around the place, looking for stars. I don't see any, unless you count Willie.
We are eventually ushered into the office of Greg Burroughs, president of production at the studio. With him are a roomful of his colleagues, each with a title like "executive vice president" or "senior vice president." There seems to be an endless supply of gloriously titled executives; I wouldn't be surprised if there are three or four "emperors of production." The lowest ranked of the group is just a vice president, so it's probably the pathetic wretch's job to fetch the coffee and donuts.
It turns out that the overflow crowd is there merely as a show of how important we are to them, and everybody but Greg and a senior VP named Eric Anderson soon melts away. Greg is probably in his late thirties, and my guess is, he has ten years on Eric.
"Eric will be the production executive on this project," Greg informs. "He shares my passion for it." Eric nods earnestly, confirming that passion, as if we had any doubt.
Willie's been uncharacteristically quiet, but he decides to focus in on that which is important. "Who's gonna play me?"
Greg smiles. "Who do you have in mind?"
"Denzel Washington," says Willie without any hesitation. He's obviously given it some thought.
"I can see that." Greg nods, then looks at Eric, whose identical nod indicates that he, too, can see it. "The thing is, Will, we don't start to deal with casting until we have a script and director in place. But it's a really good thought."
Eric directs a question at "Will." "I hope you don't mind my asking, but do you have a mother?"
Willie shakes his head. "Nah. Used to."
"Why?" asks Greg of Eric, barely containing his curiosity.
"Well," Eric says, looking around the room and then back at Willie, "I hope I'm not talking out of turn, and this is just me speaking off the top of my head, but I was thinking it would be really great if you had a mother."
"Interesting," says Greg, as if this is the first time he has heard this idea. My sense is that Eric wouldn't say "good morning" without first clearing it with Greg, even if it's just "off the top" of his head.
"Well, it ain't that interesting to me," says Willie. "My mother took off when I was three and left me in a bus station. I ain't got no family."
Eric nods. "I understand, and again, I'm just thinking out loud off the top of my head, but I'm talking about for the sake of the story. If your mother was there, supporting you the whole time you were in prison, believing in you…"
Willie is starting to get annoyed, which in itself does not qualify as a rare occurrence. "Yeah, she could have baked me fucking cupcakes. And we could have had a party in the prison. Mom and Dad could have invited all my fucking invisible aunts and uncles and cousins."
I intervene, partially because I'm concerned that Willie might throw Greg and Eric out the fifth-story window and they might bounce off the top of their heads. It would also necessitate getting two other passionate executives in here, thereby prolonging this meeting. The other reason I jump in is that they are alluding to an area in which I have a real concern, which is taking dramatic license and changing the characters and events. I've heard about the extraordinary liberties Hollywood can take with "true" stories, and I don't want to wind up being portrayed as the lead lawyer of the transvestite wing of Hamas.
We hash this out for a while, and they assure me that the contract will address my concerns. We agree on a price, and they tell me that a writer will be assigned and will want to go back East to meet and get to know all of us.
I stand up. "So that's it?"
Eric smiles and shakes my hand. "That's it. Let's make a movie."
THE FLIGHT HOME is boring and uneventful, which I view as a major positive when it comes to airplane flights. The movie doesn't appeal to me, so I don't put on the headphones. I then spend the next two hours involuntarily trying to lip-read everything the characters are saying. Unfortunately, the movie is Dr. Dolittle 2, and my mouse-lipreading skills are not that well developed.
Willie, for his part, uses the time to refine his casting choices. On further reflection he now considers Denzel too old and is leaning toward Will Smith or Ben Affleck, though he has some doubts that Ben could effectively play a black guy. I suggest that as soon as he gets home he call Greg and Eric to discuss it.
Moments after we touch the ground, a flight attendant comes over and leans down to speak with me. "Mr. Carpenter?" she asks.
I get a brief flash of worry. Has something happened while we were in the air? "Yes?"
"There will be someone waiting at the gate to meet you. You have an urgent phone call."
"Who is it?" I ask.
"I'm sorry, I really don't know. But I'm sure everything is fine."
I would take more comfort from her assurances if she knew what the call was about. I fluctuate between intense worry and panic the entire time we taxi to the gate, which seems to take about four hours.
As soon as the plane comes to a halt, Willie and I jump out of our seats and are the first people off the plane. Somebody who works for airline security is there to meet us, and he leads us to one of those motorized carts. We all jump on and are whisked away.
"Do you know what's going on?" I ask.
The security guy shrugs slightly. "I'm not sure. I think it's about that football player."
Before I have a chance to ask what the hell he could possibly be talking about, we arrive at an airport security office. I'm ushered inside, telling the officers that it's okay for Willie to come in with me. We're led into a back office, where another security guy stands holding a telephone, which he hands to me.
"Hello?" I say into the phone, dreading what I might hear on the other end.
"It took you long enough." The voice is that of Lieutenant Pete Stanton, my closest and only friend in the Paterson Police Department.
I'm somewhat relieved already; Pete wouldn't have started the conversation that way if he had something terrible to tell me. "What the hell is going on?" I ask.
"Kenny Schilling wants to talk to you. And only you. So you'd better get your ass out here."
If possible, my level of confusion goes up a notch. Kenny Schilling is a running back for the Giants, a third-round pick a few years ago who is just blossoming into a star. I've never met the man, though I know Willie counts him as one of his four or five million social friends. "Kenny Schilling?" I ask. "Why would he want to talk to me?"
"Where the hell have you been?" Pete asks.
Annoyance is overtaking my worry; there is simply nothing concerning Kenny Schilling that could represent a disaster in my own life. "I've been on a plane, Pete. I just flew in from Fantasyland. Now, tell me what the hell is going on."
"It looks like Schilling killed Troy Preston. Right now he's holed up in his house with enough firepower to supply the 3rd Infantry, and every cop in New Jersey outside waiting to blow his head off. Except me. I'm on the phone, 'cause I made the mistake of saying I knew you."
"Why does he want me?" I ask. "How would he even know my name?"
"He didn't. He asked for the hot-shit lawyer that's friends with Willie Miller."
An airport security car is waiting to take us to Upper Saddle River, which is where they tell us Kenny Schilling lives, and they assure us that our bags will be taken care of. "My bag's the one you can lift," I say.
Once in the car, I turn on the radio to learn more about the situation, and discover that it is all anyone is talking about.
Troy Preston, a wide receiver for the Jets, did not show up for scheduled rehab on an injured knee yesterday and did not call in an explanation to the team. This was apparently uncharacteristic, and when he could not be found or contacted, the police were called in. Somehow Kenny Schilling was soon identified as a person who might have knowledge concerning the disappearance, and the police went out to his house to talk to him.
The unconfirmed report is that Schilling brandished a gun, fired a shot (which missed), and turned his house into a fortress. Schilling has refused to talk to the cops, except to ask for me. The media are already referring to me as his attorney, a logical, though totally incorrect, assumption.
This shows signs of being a really long day.
Upper Saddle River is about as pretty a New York suburb as you are going to find in New Jersey. Located off Route 17, it's an affluent, beautifully wooded community dotted with expensive but not pretentious homes. A number of wealthy athletes, especially on those teams that play in New Jersey like the Giants and Jets, have gravitated to it. As we enter its peaceful serenity, it's easy to understand why.
Unfortunately, that serenity disappears as we near Kenny Schilling's house. The street looks like it is hosting a SWAT team convention, and it's hard to believe that there could be a police car anywhere else in New Jersey. Every car seems to have gun-toting officers crouched behind it; it took less firepower to bring down Saddam Hussein. Kenny Schilling is a threat that they are taking very seriously.
Willie and I are brought into a trailer, where State Police Captain Roger Dessens waits for us. He dispenses with the greetings and pleasantries and immediately brings me up-to-date, though his briefing includes little more than I heard in radio reports. Schilling is a suspect in Preston's disappearance and possible murder, and his actions are certainly consistent with guilt. Innocent people don't ordinarily barricade themselves in their homes and fire at police.
"You ready?" Dessens asks, but doesn't wait for a reply. He picks up the phone and dials a number. After a few moments he talks into the phone. "Okay, Kenny, Carpenter is right here with me."
He hands me the phone, and I cleverly say, "Hello?"
A clearly agitated voice comes through the phone. "Carpenter?"
"How do I know it's you?"
It's a reasonable question. "Hold on," I say, and signal to Willie to come over. I hand him the phone. "He isn't sure it's me."
Willie talks into the phone. "Hey, Schill… what's happenin'?" He says this as if they just met at a bar and the biggest decision confronting them is whether to have Coors or a Bud.
I can't hear "Schill's" view of what might be "happenin'," but after a few moments Willie is talking again. "Yeah, it's Andy. I'm right here with him. He's cool. He'll get you out of this bullshit in no time."
Looking out over the army of cops assembled to deal with "this bullshit," I've got a feeling Willie's assessment might be a tad on the wildly optimistic side. Willie hands the phone back to me, and Schilling tells me that he wants me to come into his house. "I need to talk to you."
I have absolutely no inclination to physically enter this confrontation by going into his house. "We're talking now," I say.
He is insistent. "I need to talk to you in here."
"I understand you have some guns," I say.
"I got one gun" is how he corrects me. "But don't worry, man, I ain't gonna shoot you."
"I'll get back to you," I say, then hang up and tell Captain Dessens about Schilling's request.
"Good," he says, standing up. "Let's get this thing moving."
"What thing?" I ask. "You think I'm going in there? Why would I possibly go in there?"
Dessens seems unperturbed. "You want a live client or a dead one?"
"He's not my client. Just now was the first time I've ever spoken to him. He didn't even know it was me."
"On the other hand, he's got a lot of money to pay your bills, Counselor." He says "Counselor" with the same respect he might have said "Fuehrer."
Dessens is really pissing me off; I don't need this aggravation. "On the other hand, you're an asshole," I say.
"So you're not going?" Dessens asks. The smirk on his face seems to say that he knows I'm a coward and I'm just looking for an excuse to stay out of danger. He's both arrogant and correct.
Willie comes over to me and talks softly. "Schill's good people, Andy. They got the wrong guy."
I'm instantly sorry I didn't leave Willie at the airport. Now if I don't go in, I'm not just letting down a stranger accused of murder, I'm letting down a friend. "Okay," I say to Dessens, "but while I'm out there, everybody has their guns on safety."
Dessens shakes his head. "Can't do it, but I'll have them pointed down."
I nod. "And I get a bulletproof vest."
Dessens agrees to the vest, and they have one on me in seconds. He and I work out a signal for me to come out of the house with Schilling without some trigger-happy, Jets-fan officer taking a shot at us.
Willie offers to come in with me, but Dessens refuses. Within five minutes I'm walking across the street toward a quite beautiful ranch-style home, complete with manicured lawn and circular driveway. I can see a swimming pool behind the house to the right side, but since I didn't bring my bathing suit, I probably won't be able to take advantage of it. Besides, I don't think this bulletproof vest would make a good flotation device.
As I walk, I notice that the street has gotten totally, eerily silent. I'm sure that every eye is on me, waiting to storm the house if Schilling blows my unprotected head off. "The tension was so thick you could cut it with a knife" suddenly doesn't seem like a cliché anymore.
Four hours ago my biggest problem was how to ask the first-class flight attendant for a vodkaless Bloody Mary without using the embarrassing term "Virgin Mary," and now I've got half a million sharpshooters just waiting for me to trigger a firefight. I'm sure there are also television cameras trained on me, and I can only hope I don't piss in my pants on national television.
As I step onto the porch, I see that the door is partially open. I take a step inside, but I don't see anything. Schilling's voice tells me to "Come in and close the door behind you," which is what I do.
The first thing I'm struck by is how sparsely furnished the place is and how absent the touches of home. There are a number of large unopened cardboard boxes, and my sense is that Schilling must have only recently moved in. This makes sense, since I saw on ESPN a few weeks ago that the Giants just signed him to a fourteen-million, three-year deal, a reward for his taking over the starting running back job late last season.
- On Sale
- May 1, 2006
- Page Count
- 336 pages
- Grand Central Publishing