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Guilt by Association
By Marcia Clark
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But she can’t stop herself from digging deeper into Jake’s death, a decision that exposes a world of power and violence and will have her risking her reputation — and her life — to find the truth.
With her tremendous expertise in the nuances of L.A. courts and crime, and with a vibrant ensemble cast of characters, Marcia Clark combines intimate detail, riotous humor, and visceral action in a debut thriller that marks the launch of a major new figure on the crime-writing scene.
Table of Contents
A Preview of Guilt by Degrees
A Preview of Killer Ambition
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"Guilty? Already? What'd they do, just walk around the table and hit the buzzer?" Jake said, shaking his head incredulously.
I laughed, nodding. "I know, it's crazy. Forty-five-minute verdict after a three-month trial," I said as I shook my head. "I thought the clerk was kidding when she called and told me to come back to court." I paused. "Now that I think about it, this might be my fastest win ever on a first-degree."
"Hell, sistah, that's the fastest win I done heard on anythang," Toni said as she plopped down into the chair facing my desk. She talked ghetto only as a joke.
"Y'all gotta admit," I said, "homegirl brought game this time."
Toni gave me a disdainful look. "Uh-uh, snowflake. You can't pull it off, so don't try." She reached for the mug I kept cleaned and at the ready for her on the windowsill.
I raised an eyebrow. "You've got a choice: take that back and have a drink, or enjoy your little put-down and stay dry."
Toni eyed the bottle of Glenlivet on my desk, her lips firmly pressed together, as she weighed her options. It didn't take long. "It's amazing. For a minute there, I thought Sister Souljah was in the room," she said with no conviction whatsoever. She slammed her mug down on my desk. "Happy?"
I shrugged. "Not your best effort, but they can't all be gold." I broke the small ice tray out of my mini-fridge, dumped the cubes into her cup, and poured the equivalent of two generous shots of Glenlivet.
Toni shot me a "don't push your luck" look and signaled a toast.
I turned to Jake and gestured to the bottle. "Maybe a token?" I asked. He was a nondrinker by nature, but he'd occasionally join in to be sociable.
He nodded and gave me that little-boy smile that could light up a room—the same one that had warmed the hearts of juries across the county. His wire-rim glasses, wavy brown hair, and country-boy, self-effacing style—the dimples didn't hurt, though they were redundant—made a winning combination. Juries instinctively trusted him. He had a look that was almost angelic, making it hard for anyone to believe he'd even graduated from college, much less done all the backbreaking work required to finish law school and survive into his seventh year in the DA's office. I poured him a short dog of Glenlivet with a liberal dousing of water, careful not to give him more than he could handle. I was careful not to give myself more than I could handle either: a heavy-handed, undiluted triple shot.
Toni raised her mug. "To Rachel Knight: she put the 'speed' in 'speedy trial.' "
Jake lifted his cup. "To that," he said with a sly grin. "Until I beat her record."
I rolled my eyes. Jake had just thrown down the gauntlet. "Oh no, here we go," I said.
"Oh yeah," Toni replied. She narrowed her eyes at Jake. "It's on now, little man."
Jake gave her a flinty smile and nodded. They looked each other in the eye as they clinked cups. We all drank, Toni and I in long pulls, Jake in a more modest sip.
Toni turned back to the matter at hand. "Was this the dope-dealer shoot-out at MacArthur Park?" she asked.
I shook my head. Toni, Jake, and I were in Special Trials, the small, elite unit that handled the most complex and high-profile cases. Though Toni was as tough and competitive as anyone in the unit, she didn't live the job the way Jake and I did. It was one of the many ways Toni and I balanced each other.
Before I could answer, Jake said, "No, this was the one where the defendant poisoned his wife, then dumped the body off the cliff in Palos Verdes."
Toni thought for a moment. "Oh yeah. Body washed out to sea, right? And they never found a murder weapon."
Toni shook her head, smiling. "Evidence is for pussies," she said with a laugh. "You really are my hero." She raised her mug for another toast.
"I got lucky," I said with a shrug, raising mine to join her.
Toni made a face. "Oh please. Can you stop with the 'I'm so humble' stuff already? I've seen you pull these beasts together before. Nobody else drags their ass all over this county the way you do." She turned to Jake and added, " 'Cept maybe you." She took another sip, then sat back. "Both of you are ridiculous, and you know it."
Jake and I exchanged a look. We couldn't argue. From the moment Jake had transferred into Special Trials two years ago, we'd found in each other a kindred workaholic spirit. Being a prosecutor was more than a career for us—it was a mission. Every victim's plight became our own. It was our duty to balance their suffering with some measure of justice. But by an unspoken yet entirely mutual agreement, our passion for the work never led us into personal territory—either physically or verbally. We rarely had lunch outside the building together, and during the long nights after court when we'd bat our cases around, we never even considered going out to dinner; instead we'd raid my desk supply of tiny pretzels, made more palatable by the little packets of mustard Jake snatched from the courthouse snack bar. Not once in all those long nights had we ever discussed our lives outside the office—either before or after becoming prosecutors. I knew that this odd boundary in our relationship went deeper than our shared devotion to the job. It takes one to know one, and I knew that I never asked personal questions because I didn't want to answer them. Jake played it close to the vest in the same way I did: don't ask, don't tell, and if someone does ask—deflect. The silent awareness of that shared sensibility let us relax with each other in a way we seldom could with anyone else.
"Well, she's not entirely wrong, Tone," Jake said with a smirk. "She did get lucky—she had Judge Tynan."
Toni chuckled. "Oh sweet Jesus, you did get lucky. How many times did you slip?"
"Not too bad this time," I admitted. "I only said 'asshole' once."
"Not bad for you," Toni remarked, amused. "When?"
"During rebuttal argument. And I was talking about one of my own witnesses."
My inability to rein in my colorful language once I got going had earned me fines on more than one occasion. You'd think this financial incentive would've made me clean up my act. It hadn't. All it had done was inspire me to keep a slush fund at the ready.
"There is an undeniable symmetry to your contempt citations," Toni observed. "What did Tynan do?"
"Just said, 'I'm warning you, Counsel.' " I sighed, took another sip of my drink, and stretched my legs out under the desk. "I wish I had all my cases in front of him."
"Hah!" Jake snorted. "You'd wear out your welcome by your second trial, and you'd be broke by your third."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence."
Jake shrugged. "Hey, I'm just sayin'…"
I laughed and threw a paper clip at him. He caught it easily in an overhand swipe, then looked out at the clock on the Times Building. "Shit, I've got to run. Later, guys." He put down his cup and left. The sound of his footsteps echoed down the hallway.
I turned to Toni. "Refresher?" I said as I held up the bottle of Glenlivet.
Toni shook her head. "Nah. I've had enough of county ambience for one day. Why don't we get out of here and hit Church and State? We should celebrate the hell out of this one."
Church and State was a fun new restaurant in the old Meatpacking District, part of the ongoing effort to gentrify downtown L.A. Though how a restaurant that catered to a hip, moneyed crowd was going to make it with Skid Row just two blocks away was a looming question. I looked over at the stack of cases piled on the table where I kept my mini-fridge. I wanted to party, and with that gnarly no-body murder behind me, I could probably afford to. But the trial had taken me away from my other cases, and I always got a little—okay, a lot—panicky when I hadn't looked in on a case for more than a few days. If I went out with Toni tonight, I'd just be stressing and wishing I were working. I owed it to her to spare her that drag.
"Sorry, Tone, I—"
"Don't even bother—I know." Toni shook her head as she plunked her mug down on my desk and stood to go. "You can't even take time off for one little victory lap? It's sick, is what it is."
But it wasn't news, as evidenced by the lack of surprise in Toni's voice.
"How about tomorrow night? We'll do Church and State, whatever you want," I promised with more hope than conviction. I wasn't sure whether I'd be able to wade through the pile of cases and finish all the catch-up work by then. But I hated to disappoint Toni, so I privately vowed to push myself hard and make it happen.
Toni looked at me and sighed. "Sure, we'll talk tomorrow." She slung her laptop bag over one shoulder and her purse over the other. "I'm heading out. Try not to stay too late. If even your OCD partner-in-crime took a powder," she said, tilting her head toward Jake's office, "you can spare a night off too."
"I know." I looked toward his office. "What's up with that?" I laughed.
"Maybe his alien leaders told him to get a friggin' life," Toni said as she moved to the doorway. "And I've already got one, so I am now officially exiting the OCD Zone." She smiled and headed down the hall.
"You too," she called back. In a loud stage whisper, she muttered, "Ya freak."
"I heard that!" I yelled out.
I leaned back to rest my head against the cold leather of the majestic judge's chair. It was a tight fit at my little county-issue prosecutor's desk, but I didn't mind. The chair had mysteriously appeared late one night, abandoned in the hallway a few doors from my office. I'd looked up and down the hall to make sure the coast was clear, then whisked it into my office and pushed my own sorry little chair out to a hallway distant enough that it wouldn't be traced back. As I'd returned to my office, scanning the hallway for witnesses, I wondered whether someone had "liberated" the chair straight out of a judge's chambers. The possibility made my score even more triumphant.
I turned to the stack of case files and pulled the first one off the top, but within fifteen minutes I felt my eyelids drooping. I'd thought I'd had enough energy to plow through at least a few cases, but as usual I'd underestimated how tired I was. And the Glenlivet hadn't helped.
I listened to the last stragglers chatter their way out of the office. As the door snicked closed behind them, silence filled the air. I was tired, but I wasn't ready to go home. This was my favorite part of the day, when I had the whole DA's office to myself. No phones, no friends, no cops to distract me. I exhaled and looked out the window at the view that never got old. The streetlights had blinked on, and the jagged outline of the downtown L.A. office buildings glowed against the encroaching darkness. From my perch on the eighteenth floor of the Criminal Courts Building, I could see all the way from the main cop shop, the Police Administration Building, to the theaters at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and all the streets and sidewalks in between. The irony of being in the middle of those two extremes still made me smile. Just having an office with a window was a coup—let alone one with a spectacular view. But the fact that it had come with my transfer into Special Trials—the unit I'd worked my ass off to get into for seven years—made it a delicious victory.
Not that I'd minded working the routine felonies during my stints in the smaller Van Nuys and Compton branch courts. Seeing the same defendants come back to the fold with a new case every couple of years gave the job a kind of homey, family feeling. Sure, it was a weird, dysfunctional, and largely criminal family, but still. So it wasn't as though I was miserable when I worked the outlying courts. It just wasn't for me. From the moment I'd heard of the Special Trials Unit, based in the hub of the DA's office downtown, I'd known it was where I wanted to be. I'd been warned by the senior prosecutors in the branch courts about the long hours, the marathon-length trials, the public scrutiny, and the endless pressure I'd face in the unit. I didn't tell them that, for me, that was the allure. And being in the unit was even better than I'd imagined. On almost every case, I got to work with great cops and the best lawyers—for both the prosecution and the defense—I'd ever seen. Far from a detraction, the intensity of the job was exhilarating. Too often in life a long-desired goal, once achieved, turns out to be much less than expected—as they say, "Be careful what you wish for." Not this time. Getting into Special Trials was all I'd hoped for and then some, and I savored that fact at least once a day.
I tried to drag my mind back down to the supplemental reports—updates on the investigation—that had been added to the case file during the last month, but the words were blurring on the page. I leaned back in my chair, hoping to catch a second wind, and watched the cars crawl down Main Street. The sky had darkened, and clouds were moving in.
I could tell my second wind wasn't going to arrive anytime soon. I decided to admit defeat and pack it in for the night. I got up, stretched, walked over to the table next to the window where I'd dropped my briefcase, and brought it over to my desk. I threw in five of the files—wishful thinking, I knew—picked up my purse, and grabbed my coat off the hook on the back of the door. I swung into my jacket and slung the strap of my briefcase over my shoulder, then reached into my coat pocket and flipped off the safety on my palm-size .22 Beretta. Then I kicked out the doorstop and headed down the hall toward the bank of elevators as my office door clicked shut behind me.
At this time of day I didn't have long to wait. Within seconds, the bell rang and I stepped into a blissfully empty car. The elevator hurtled down all eighteen floors and came to a shuddering stop on the first floor. It was a head-spinning ride that happened only at quiet times like this. I enjoyed the rush as long as I ignored what it meant about the quality of the machinery and my possible life expectancy.
As I walked through the darkened lobby toward the back doors, I stretched my eyes for better peripheral vision. I'd been walking to work ever since I'd moved into the nearby Biltmore Hotel a year ago. It seemed stupid to drive the six blocks to the courthouse, and I enjoyed the walk—it gave me a chance to think. Plus it saved me a bundle in gas and car maintenance. The only time I had second thoughts about it was after dark. Downtown L.A. empties out after 5:00 p.m., leaving a population that lives mainly outdoors. It wasn't the homeless who worried me as much as the bottom-feeders who preyed on them.
Being a prosecutor gave me an inside line on the danger in any area, but the truth was, I'd grown up with the knowledge that mortal peril lurked around every corner. So although I didn't have a permit to carry, I never left either home or office without a gun. The lack of a permit occasionally worried me, but as my father used to say, "I'd rather be judged by twelve than carried by six." I'd never applied for a permit because I didn't want to get turned down. There'd been a crackdown on gun permits ever since a certain sheriff's brother-in-law had fired "warning shots" at some neighborhood kids for blasting rap music from their car. And, to be honest, permit or no, I was going to carry anyway. Besides, I was no novice when it came to guns. Being my father's daughter, I'd started learning how to shoot the moment I could manage a shaky two-handed grip. If I had to shoot, I wouldn't miss. I stood at the wall of glass that faced out toward the Times Building and scanned the parking lot and sidewalk, as always, looking for signs of trouble. Seeing nothing, I pushed open the heavy glass door and stepped out into the night.
As I walked toward the stairs that led down to street level, I heard the sound of sirens, distant at first but rapidly getting louder. Suddenly the air was pierced with the whooping screams and bass horn blasts of fire engines. They were close, very close. Police cars, their sirens shrieking, seemed to be approaching from all directions, and the night air jangled with wild energy. I watched intently, waiting to see where they were headed. The flashing lights seemed to stop and coalesce about four blocks south and east of the Biltmore, in the middle of a block I knew was filled with junk stores, iron-grilled pawnshops, and low-rent motels. I'd never seen this much action at a downtown crime scene. My usual "neighbors"—druggies, pimps, hookers, and the homeless—generally didn't get this kind of "Protect and Serve" response. My curiosity piqued, I decided to find out what was going on. At least with all those cops around, I wouldn't have to worry about muggers.
Within minutes, I could see that the hub of the action was on the corner of 4th and South Broadway, just around the corner from Pershing Square—at one of those seedy pay-by-the-hour motels. I brilliantly deduced from the hose snaking in through the front door, and the fact that there was only smoke and no flames, that the firefighters had gotten on top of it already.
Sliding through the scraggly bunch of lookie-loos who'd gathered on the sidewalk, I got as close as the police line allowed and looked for a familiar face to ask what was going on. As another plume of smoke wafted out through the front door of the motel, the seen-better-days coroner's van pulled up. I peered through the haze and saw a head with a short crew cut pop out from the driver's side of the van. It was followed by a short, square body dressed in high-water pants, a blue Windbreaker, and Nike sneakers.
I was in luck. "Scott!" I yelled out. Scott Ferrier was a coroner's investigator. He'd become my buddy when I'd pulled my first homicide case, back in my baby DA days. He waved and trotted over.
"Does your mommy know you're out after dark?" I asked. Scott cut me a look. "This is a lot of firepower for a pimp fight, don't you think?"
Scott nodded. "Yeah, it's weird. If you want to hang around, I'll go see what I've got and fill you in."
"Okay if I wait here?" I gestured to his van.
"Yeah, just don't steal it," he said with a snort, knowing he'd have to pay someone to take the beat-up corpse jalopy off his hands.
Scott turned and wove through the throng of police and firemen and made his way into the motel. I slid into the driver's seat and tried not to think about the "passengers" that'd ridden around in the cargo space behind me.
A few more clouds of smoke drifted out as firefighters began to emerge from the building. One of them was rolling up the hose as he walked. They'd been here only a few minutes; if they were already wrapping up, this couldn't have been much of a fire.
I watched the hunky firefighters at work and was pondering the truth of the old saying—that God made all paramedics and firemen good-looking so you'd see something pretty before you died—when a deep, authoritative voice broke my concentration.
"Miss, are you with the coroner's office?"
I'd been sitting sidesaddle in the van, facing the motel. I turned to my left and saw that the owner of the voice was somewhere around six feet tall, on the lean side but tastefully muscled under his blue uniform, his dark-blond hair just long enough to comb. His eyes were a gold-flecked hazel, and he had wide, pronounced cheekbones, a strong nose, and a generous mouth. The bars on his uniform told me he was brass, not rank and file. His nameplate confirmed it: LIEUTENANT GRADEN HALES. His skeptical look annoyed me, but his presence made an already weird scene even more so. What the hell was a lieutenant doing here? I mustered up my best "I belong here" voice and replied, "I'm a DA, but I'm waiting for Scott."
I expected that my status as a prosecutor would end the discussion. Wrong.
"I'm afraid you're going to have to leave," he said with a steely firmness. "Only crime scene personnel are allowed right now."
High brass chasing me off a low-life bust? Something was really off here, and now I wasn't just curious—I had to find out what was going on. "Well, I have to wait for Scott. He's my ride." It was a lie, but I figured that would push Lieutenant Officious out to greener pastures. Wrong again.
"I'll arrange for one of the patrol units to take you home. Where do you live?"
Now I was pissed off. Since when does a DA get tossed out of a crime scene? Special case or no, this was bullshit.
I stepped down from the van. I was just about to open my mouth and get myself in trouble when the coroner's assistants came out single file, rolling two gurneys carrying body bags. Suddenly Scott came running out of the motel and yelled to one of the assistants, "Get his glasses! Give me the glasses!"
The team rolling the first gurney came to an abrupt halt. They had been moving at a rapid pace, and when the assistant at the head of the line came to a sudden stop, the gurney kept moving and banged into his hip, causing him to yelp and curse. The other assistant, who'd been at the side of the gurney, quickly reached out and tugged down the zipper of the body bag.
Illuminated by the harsh streetlight, the face glowed a ghastly bluish white as the assistant lifted the wire-rim glasses from behind the ears and handed them to Scott. I'd been around more than my share of dead bodies, but the searing shock of what met my eyes made me reel and stumble backward into the side of the van. Then a firm hand gripped my arm, steadied me, and led me away from the scene. I looked up and saw that the hand belonged to Lieutenant Hales. I dimly realized that he was saying something, but I couldn't make the sounds turn into words. I shook my head slowly, as if trying to wake up from a nightmare. This couldn't be real, I thought, feeling as though I were watching a movie in slow motion with the sound turned too low. The coroner's assistants loaded the gurney into the cargo area, and I stopped, transfixed, still unable to believe what I'd seen. The lieutenant pulled me by the elbow with one hand and pushed me on the back with the other, leaving me no choice. I moved in stiff, jerky steps, like a windup toy whose key was on its last few turns. He steered me toward his unmarked car, and I numbly let him stuff me into the passenger seat and buckle the seat belt.
I must've told him where I lived, but I don't actually remember saying anything. I just remember staring blankly as the streets rolled by, telling myself it couldn't be, that I had to be wrong.
Jake Pahlmeyer, my office soul mate—dead. In a rat hole like this. I closed my eyes and told myself I'd been wrong. Irrationally, I refused to ask the lieutenant. If no one confirmed it, it wouldn't be true.
Lieutenant Hales pulled up to the Biltmore, guided me out of the car, and walked me to the front entrance. Through the fog of denial and disbelief, the shocked features of Angel, the doorman, floated before me.
"Rachel, what's wrong?" he asked as he opened the door and took the elbow Hales wasn't holding.
"She's had a tough night," Hales said tersely.
"I'll take it from here," Angel said proprietarily, with an accusatory glance at the lieutenant.
I didn't have the energy or the sentience to explain that it was nothing the lieutenant had done. I remained mute as Angel led me inside and steered me toward the elevator.
He managed to get me to my room, and I meant to thank him, though I'm not sure the words made it out of my mouth. All I know is that the moment the door closed behind him, I pulled out the bottle of Russian Standard Platinum vodka someone had given me a while ago and poured myself a triple shot.
I looked at the television. Was the story being aired yet? I decided I didn't want to know. And I couldn't bring myself to call Toni. Talking about it would make it real. Right now, all I wanted was oblivion. I tossed down my drink, then poured myself another and didn't stop pouring until I passed out cold.
It had seemed like a good idea at the time. Less so now, the morning after. I had a jittery, buzzy kind of hangover that told me this was going to be a really special day. I groaned as I got out of bed and crept into the shower. Somewhat revived, I called room service and ordered my usual pot of coffee and 2 percent milk, but this time I decided to treat myself to some real food—scrambled eggs and a bagel—instead of my usual egg whites and stewed tomatoes. Screw the diet; I needed some comfort food.
I ate as I stared at the blank television screen, daring myself to turn it on. Finally curiosity won out over denial, and I reached for the remote, dreading what I was about to see. But when I scrolled through the channels, I saw nothing. I tried again. Still nothing. I frowned—that was odd, very odd. I clicked off the television and enjoyed the quiet that settled over the room. In my current condition, the less noise, the better.
Not seeing the story mentioned on the news even fleetingly had left me feeling weirdly isolated, the whole experience of last night surreal. Now eager to talk to Toni, I quickly downed enough coffee to be semifunctioning and went out onto the balcony to check the weather. I pulled my fluffy robe around me and shivered at the cold bite in the air. The darkened skies told me that the clouds that'd rolled in last night were going to show us why. I threw on gray wool gabardine slacks, a black turtleneck sweater, and black low-heeled boots. I decided to pack my .357 Smith & Wesson revolver instead of the more compact Beretta. After what I'd seen last night, I was willing to trade a lighter load for more firepower. I picked up my briefcase and the black cashmere muffler that had been a Valentine's Day present—for some reason it was the only souvenir I'd kept from my last ill-fated relationship—wound it around my neck, and walked out to the elevator. I punched the down button and tried not to wince at the sound of the bell when the doors slid open.
The brisk six-block walk to the courthouse marginally helped to calm some of my jittery buzz, but as I approached the metal detectors, I noticed that I was holding the .357 in my pocket in a death grip. I flashed my badge, and the deputy waved me through. Seeing an open elevator, I ran for it and quickly jumped inside, then endured what felt like a million stops on the way to the eighteenth floor. I punched in the security code on the main office door and realized that I was going to be right next to Jake's office. I wondered whether they'd put up crime scene tape to seal off his space and reflexively looked down the hall to see if it was there. Not yet. But the glimpse of his closed door undid me, and my eyes filled with tears. I blinked them back, then took deep breaths as I turned and walked up the hall, away from my office.
"Knock, knock," I whispered hoarsely, unable to bear the sound of my knuckles on the frame of Toni's open door.
Toni, who'd been working on her computer, turned to look at me. "My oh my, but you look like shit. So was it a very bad night or a very good one?"
- "You must read this book: it is wildly and complexly plotted, ebulliently witty and filled with riotous humor; it details the inner workings of the L.A. legal system with unprecedented accuracy and verve - and to top it off, it is a damn, damn, good thriller."—James Ellroy
- "Marcia Clark's debut novel showcases her experience and knowledge of the legal system. The pace, plot and dialogue are as sharp as they come in the genre. Her character of Rachel Knight bleeds real blood, sweat and tears on the page. Guilt by Association is a four-bagger for Clark and her many new fans will eagerly await her next step up to the plate."—David Baldacci
- "Clark...makes a triumphant fiction debut that catapults her to the same level as Linda Fairstein, her fellow assistant DA turned legal thriller novelist....Readers will want to see a lot more of Knight, who combines strength of character and compassion with all-too-human foibles."—Publishers Weekly
- "A remarkably accomplished debut novel.... Clark offers a real page-turner here, with smart, fast-moving prose; a skillfully constructed plot; and a protagonist well worth knowing...A top-notch legal thriller that will leave readers wanting more.—Michele Leber, Booklist
- "There's a new voice in L.A. crime fiction...the plot races along, and Clark adds just enough smart lawyer talk to keep us edified. It's sure to satisfy Law & Order fans."—Wendy Witherspoon, Los Angeles Magazine
- On Sale
- Mar 1, 2012
- Page Count
- 384 pages
- Mulholland Books