Authors: John Lescroart
Successful lawyer Mark Dooher has killed his wife of 20 years in order to marry a beautiful young female colleague. But suspicions of his guilt begin to tear his life apart, as the homicide chief gets closer to the truth.
The second book in the Abe Glitsky series, 1996
To Al Giannini, Don Matheson and – always – to Lisa
I am not a lawyer and never attended law school. Over the years, a lot of great human beings in this most vilified profession have contributed to the tone and verisimilitude of my books. For their help with this book, thanks to Peter J. Diedrich and Jim Costello.
Other valuable technical advice came from Peter S. Dietrich, M.D., M.P.H.; Dr Boyd Stevens – San Francisco's coroner; Dianne Kubancik, R.N.; Bonnie Harmon, R.N.; Dr Mark and Kathryn Detzer; Dr Chris and Michelle Landon; Father Dan Looney. Bill Mitchell, Communications Director of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, was kind enough to show me the Chancery Office and expose me to a great deal of interesting arcana about the Catholic Church.
For their personal support, the usual suspects – Karen Kijewski, William P. Wood, Richard and Sheila Herman – have been there with unfailing goodwill, advice, and generosity of spirit. Max Byrd is a terrific writer who's passed on some terrific advice. Also thanks to my brother Emmett for his faith; to Robert Boulware for post-game head straightening; to Jackie Cantor for everything; and to Andy Jalakas, a true believer. Finally, I'd like to thank my agent, Barney Karpfinger, for helping to make the dream a reality.
We do not see things as they are; We see things as we are.
Mark Dooher couldn't take his eyes off the young woman who had just entered the dining room at Fior d' Italia and was being seated, facing them, at a table ten feet away.
His companion for lunch was, like Dooher, an attorney. His name was Wes Farrell and he generally practiced in a different strata – lower – than Dooher did. The two men had been best friends since they were kids. Farrell glanced up from his calamari, his baleful eyes glinting with humor, trying to be subtle as he took in the goddess across the room. 'Too young,' he said.
'My foot, Wes.'
'All parts of you, not just your foot. Besides which,' Farrell went on, 'you're married.'
'I am married.'
Farrell nodded. 'Keep repeating it. It's good for you. I, on the other hand, am getting divorced.'
'I can never get divorced. Sheila would never divorce me.'
'You could divorce her if you wanted to…'
'Impossible.' Then, amending: 'Not that I'd ever want to, of course, but impossible.'
Dooher went back to his pasta for a moment. 'Because, my son, even in our jaded age, when ninety percent of your income derives from your work as counsel to the Archdiocese of San Francisco, when you are in fact a prominent player in the Roman Catholic community, as I am, a divorce would play some havoc with your business. Across the board. Not just the Church itself, but all the ancillary
Farrell broke off a bite-sized piece of Italian bread and dipped it into the little dish of extra-virgin olive oil that rested between them. 'I doubt it. People get divorced all the time. Your best friend, for example, is getting divorced right now. Have I mentioned that?'
' Lydia 's divorcing you, Wes. You're not divorcing her. It's different. God,' he said, 'look at her.'
Farrell glanced up again. 'She looks good.'
'Good?' Dooher feasted for another moment on the vision. 'That woman is so far beyond "good" that the light from "good" is going to take a year to get to her.'
'At which time, you'll be a year older and forever out of her reach. Pass the butter.'
'Butter will kill you, you know.'
Farrell nodded. 'Either that or something else. This calamari
'Or pronouncing it.'
A handsome young man in a business suit – every male customer in the restaurant wore a business suit – was approaching the woman's table. He pulled a chair out across from her, smiling, saying something. She was looking up at him, her expression cool, reserved. Farrell noted it, and something else.
'Don't look now,' he said, 'but isn't the guy sitting down with her – doesn't he work for you?'
Wes Farrell was on his schlumpy way up toward Columbus and the North Beach walk-up out of which he ran his law business. Dooher lingered in the doorway at Fior d'Italia, then turned and went back inside to the bar, where he ordered a Pellegrino.
He sipped the bottled water and considered his reflection in the bar's mirror. He still looked good. He had his hair – the light brown streaked with blond, camouflaging the hint of gray that was only just beginning to appear around the temples. The skin of his face was as unlined as it had been at thirty.
Now, at forty-six, he knew he looked ten years younger, which was enough – any more youth would be bad for business. His body carried 180 pounds on a six-foot frame. Today he wore a tailored Italian double-breasted suit in a refined shade of green that picked up the flecks in his eyes.
From where he sat at the bar, he could watch her in profile. She had loosened up somewhat, but Wes had been right – there was a tension in the way she sat, in her body language. The man with her was Joe Avery – again, Wes had nailed it – a sixth-year associate at McCabe & Roth, the firm Dooher managed. (McCabe and Roth both had been forced to retire during the downsizing of the past two years. Now, in spite of the name, it was Dooher's firm, beginning to show profit again.)
He drank his Italian water, looked at himself in the mirror over the bar. What was he doing here?
He couldn't allow himself to leave. This was something he thought he'd outgrown long ago – such an overwhelming physical attraction.
Oh sure, when he'd been younger… in college a couple of times… even the first few years of his marriage, the occasional dalliance, stepping out, somebody coming on to him, usually, on a business trip or one of the firm retreats.
But that had stopped after the one crisis, Sheila getting wind of what was going on with one of them. She wasn't going to have it. Infidelity wasn't going to be part of their lives. Dooher had better decide whether he wanted to sleep around or keep the kids.
A hundred times since, he wished he'd have let Sheila go, taking the kids with her.
But in truth, back then, fifteen years ago, he was already unable to risk a divorce, already working with some of the charities, the Archdiocese itself. There was big money there, clean work. And Sheila would have scotched it if things had gotten ugly.
He knew she would have. As she would today.
So he'd simply put his hormones out of his mind, put all of his effort into real life – work, the wife, the kids, the house. He would be satisfied with the ten-fifteen-twenty days of vacation, the new car.
Everyone else seemed to survive in that secure between-the-lines adult existence. It wasn't so bad.
Except Mark Dooher hated it. He never got over hating it. He had
had to play by the same rules as everyone else. He was simply better at everything, smarter, more charismatic.
He deserved more. He deserved better.
be all there was. Do your job, live the routine, get old, die. That couldn't be it. Not for him.
He couldn't get the woman off his mind.
Well, he would just have to do it, that was all. He'd call up his fabled discipline and simply will her out of his consciousness. There was nothing to be done with her anyway. Dooher didn't trust the dynamic of lust, that hormonal rush and then the long regret. No, he wasn't about to get involved with all that.
It was better just to stop thinking about her. Or at least not get confused, keep it in the realm of fantasy. It wasn't as if he knew anything about her, as if there could be real attraction.
In fact, if that turned out to be the case, it would be far more complicated. Then what? Leave Sheila…?
No, it was better not to pursue it at all. He was just in one of his funks, believing that the opportunity that would give his life new meaning was passing him by.
He knew better. In reality, everything disappointed. Nothing turned out as you hoped.
He'd just suck it up and put her out of his mind, do nothing about the fantasy. He didn't even want to take one step, because who knew where that could lead? He'd forget all about her. He wasn't going to do anything.
It was stupid to consider.
Joe Avery looked up from the clutter of paper littering his desk, a legal brief which was already anything but brief. 'Sir?'
Dooher, the friendliest boss on the planet, was in the doorway, one hand extended up to the sill, the other on his belt, coat open, sincere smile. 'A Mardi Gras party. Feast before fast. Unless you've got other plans…'
'You'll enjoy it. Sheila and I do it every year. Just casual, no costumes, masks, taking to the streets afterwards, none of that. And pretty good food if you like Cajun. Anyway, eight o'clock, if you're free.'
Avery was young and gung-ho and hadn't spoken to Dooher more than a hundred times in his six years with the firm, had never spent any time with him socially. His mouth hung open in surprise at the invitation, but he was nodding, already planning to be there, wondering what was happening.
Dooher was going on. 'If you've got other plans, don't worry about it, but you've paid your dues around here – you're up for shareholder this year if I'm not mistaken?'
Avery nodded. 'Next, actually.'
Dooher waved that off. 'Well, we'll see. But come on up. Bring your girlfriend, you got one. Or not. Your call. Just let us know.'
Then Dooher was gone.
A long week later – party day – and it was going to rain.
Dooher had noticed the clouds piling up on themselves out over the ocean as he drove to his home in St Francis Wood.
He considered his neighborhood the best of all worlds. It was both the city and a suburb, but without the blight of either. He had civilized neighbors. An elegant, gracious canopy of old boughs shaded the streets by day, enclosing them with what felt like a protective security by night. Stands of eucalyptus perfumed the air in the fall, magnolias in the summer.
The street was quiet, with large houses, widely spaced. Most cars were in their garages, although – in the few houses with small children – vans squatted in driveways.
The afternoon sun gave a last glorious golden shout through the clouds – and it stopped him for a moment as he turned into the drive in front of his home.
Like the other facades on the block, his old California Spanish hacienda was impressive, with its tiled front courtyard behind a low stucco fence, ancient magnolias on the lawn, wisteria and bougainvillea at the eaves and lintels.
Upstairs in the turret, Sheila's office, a light had been turned on, although it wasn't dark. Imagining her up there, Dooher felt a stab of what he used to call the occasion of sin –
of excitement. One deep breath drove the thought away. After all, he had done nothing wrong.
He pulled up his driveway.
He parked in the garage and closed the automatic door behind him, then walked back down the driveway and into the house through the side entrance, as he usually did.
'Hello!' Cheerfully announcing his arrival.
He knew she was upstairs in the turret, probably talking to one of their offspring, which she did when he wasn't around. He'd seen the light on up there and knew she wouldn't be able to hear him unless he bellowed.
So there was no answer except the silent echoes of his own voice. 'Hello.' More quietly, with an angry edge.
He went over to the refrigerator – stuffed with party supplies – and pulled out a beer. Opening it with the church key, he remembered days when she'd meet him at the door, his drink in her hand, mixed. They'd sit in the living room and she'd join him and they'd have a civilized half hour or so.
In those early years, even after they had the kids, he'd come first for a long time. When had it ended exactly? He couldn't remember, but it was long gone. He took another sip of the beer, staring out the French doors into their backyard.
The wind had freshened in the long shadows. A first large raindrop hit the skylight over his head.
'I thought I heard you come in.'
He turned. 'Oh? I didn't think you had. You didn't answer.'
She used to be very pretty – short, slim-waisted and high-breasted. She used to work at maximizing what she had. She still could look good when she put her mind to it, but at home – just for him – it never happened anymore. It didn't matter to her. Mark knew what she looked like underneath the clothes – slim waists and high breasts were in the past. She was forty-seven years old and in decent shape, but she didn't look the way she did at twenty-five. No one could or should expect her to.
Today she wore green sweats, green espadrilles. Her once-luxuriant black hair was now streaked with gray – she loved the natural look – and cut to a sensible length, held back by a green headband. There had been nothing wrong with her face when he'd met her – widely spaced hazel eyes, an unlined wide forehead, an expressive, beaming smile. There was nothing wrong with her face now, except that he'd seen every expression it could make, and none of them had any power to move him anymore.
She was up next to him and put her cheek against his, kissing the air – friends. 'I was on the phone, Mark. The caterers. They're going to be a half hour late.'
'Again? We ought to quit using them.'
She patted at his arm. 'Oh, stop. They're great people and they make great food. You're just jittery about the party.'
She turned on the tap at the sink and filled a glass. He took a slow sip of his beer, controlling himself. She was having water. 'You're right,' he said. 'It's nerves, I guess. You want to have a drink with me?'
She shook her head. 'You go ahead. I'll sit with you.'
'Are you going to drink tonight at the party?'
Challenging, she looked up at him. 'If I want to, Mark. It's all right if I don't drink, you know.'
'I didn't say it wasn't.'
'Yes, you did.'
He tipped his beer bottle up, emptying it, then placed it carefully on the drain. 'I'm sorry,' he said. 'You're right. I'm uptight. I'll go take a shower.'
Sheila was sitting at her dressing table in the makeup room behind the bedroom, wearing only her slip, her legs crossed, putting the finishing touches on her face. Outside, night pressed a gloomy and oppressive hand to the window. The lights in the room flickered as wind and driving rain rattled the panes. In the bedroom, Dooher had dropped a cufflink onto his dresser three times. More rattling.
Sheila stopped with her blush brush and glanced over. 'Are you all right, Mark? Do you feel okay?'
He got the cufflink in, turned it so it would hold, looked up. 'I'm fine. It's nothing, maybe the weather.'
Sheila went back to the mirror. 'It'll be all right,' she said. 'Don't worry. Everyone will fit inside. It might even make it more fun.'
Dooher made a face. 'Fun,' he said, as though the concept were foreign to him.
She turned again, more slowly. 'Can you tell me what it is?' An expression of concern. 'Wes not being invited?'
Because of Wes Farrell's pending divorce from his wife, Lydia, Sheila had suggested with the force of edict that they not take sides. So they had invited neither. It was the first party they'd ever thrown that didn't include either of their mutual best friends.
Mark Dooher could not tell his wife that he'd had enough of the man he'd been pretending to be for so long. Something had to change, was going to change. 'I don't think that's it. I've been known to have fun without Wes Farrell
'Not as much, usually.' Teasing him.
'Well, thanks for that,' he said. Then, as she began to apologize, the doorbell rang. Dooher looked at his watch. 'That'll be the band.'
He turned on his heel and left the room. His wife looked after him, her face wistful, saddened. She sighed.
The guests had been arriving through the teeth of the storm, and Dooher and Sheila were greeting the early arrivals in the spacious foyer. They'd hired a staff of five to handle the food and drinks and there was of course the band, cooking away early on the first of what would probably be twenty or thirty takes of
When the Saints Come Marching In.
Dooher's palms were sweating. He didn't know for sure if the woman in the restaurant had, in fact, been Avery's girlfriend. She might be anything to him – sister, cousin, financial adviser, architect. But he did know Avery was coming, bringing a guest.
He hadn't planned what he'd do after he met her. It all synthesized down to the simple need to see her again. If she wasn't with Avery tonight, he'd just…
But she was.
Dooher was moving forward, Sheila at his side, putting his hand out, shaking Avery's as the woman shrugged out of her raincoat, passed it to one of the staff, shook the wet from a French braid. She wore a maroon faux-velvet dress with spaghetti straps. There was a tiny mole on the swell of one breast. Her body was already subtly catching the rhythm of the music. Avery was introducing her, first to Sheila, then…
'… and this is Mr Dooher, er, Mark, our host. Mark, Christina Carrera.'
He took her hand and then – without consciously intending to – briefly raised it to his lips. A scent of almond. Their eyes met and held, long enough to force her to look down.
No one noticed. Other guests were arriving. He realized he was still holding her hand, and let it go, including Avery now in his welcome. 'Thank you – both – so much for braving this New Orleans monsoon.' He lapsed into a drawl. 'Sheila and I had ordered a couple dozen degrees of humidity for… for
sake, but this is takin' it a bit farther than I'd hoped, wouldn't you say?'
He had struck the right tone. They laughed, at home, embraced by the host. Sheila had her arm on his, appreciating the return of his good humor. He nodded again at Avery. 'Go on inside, get yourselves some drinks, warm up. Have fun.'
Now that she was here, he could be gracious. After his earlier apprehension, an almost narcotic calm settled over him. There would be time to meet her, get to know her. If not tonight, then…
She was in his house now. He had her name – Christina Carrera. She would not get away.
They had remodeled their kitchen five years before, and now it was a vast open space with an island cooking area. A deep well, inset into the marble, provided ice and a continual supply of champagne bottles. Across the back of the room – away from the sinks – a twelve-foot table was laden with fresh-shucked oysters, smoked salmon, three kinds of caviar, crawfish, crab cakes, shrimps as big as lobster tails.
The band – cornets, trumpets, trombones, banjos and bass – was playing New Orleans jazz, getting into it. People were dancing throughout the downstairs, but here in the kitchen, the swinging doors kept out enough music to allow conversation.
Christina was standing at the well, alone, pouring champagne into two flutes that she'd set on the marble. Dooher had seen her leave Avery with some other young people from the firm, take his glass and go through the swinging doors into the kitchen.
He came up behind her. 'While you're pouring, would you mind?' He put his glass next to the two others on the counter.
She turned and smiled. 'No, of course not.' Her gaze stayed on him a second. 'This is a super party. Thank you.' She tipped his glass, poured in a small amount of champagne, let the bubbles subside, poured again.
'A woman who knows how to pour champagne,' Dooher said. 'I thought it was a lost art.'
She was concentrating on the task. 'Not in my family.'
'Is your family from around here?'
'No. They're from down south. Ojai, actually.'
'Really? I love Ojai. I've often thought I'd like to settle there when I retire.'
'Well, that'll be a long time from now.'
'Not as long as you think…' She handed him his glass, and he touched hers. 'When I think of the pink moment.'
She laughed. 'You
The town was nestled in a valley behind Ventura, and many times the setting sun would break through the fog that hovered near the ocean and seem to paint the red rock walls of the valley a deep pink. The locals set great store by it.
Dooher nodded. 'I tell you, I love the place.'
'I do, too.'
'And yet, you're here.'
'And yet…' Her eyes glistened, enjoying the moment, sipping champagne. 'School. USF' She hesitated a moment. 'Law school, actually.'
Dooher backed up, his hand to his heart. 'Not that.'
'I'm afraid so.' She made a face. 'They tell me it's an acquired taste, though I'm done in June and I can't say I've been completely won over.' She smiled over her glass. 'Oops. I'm saying too much. Champagne talk. I should never admit that to a managing partner.'
Dooher leaned in closer to her, dropping to a whisper. 'I'll let you in on a secret – there are moments in the profession that are not pure bliss.'
'You shock me!'
'And yet…' he said.
A moment, nearly awkward with the connection. 'Well, Joe's champagne's getting warm just sitting there… that, I take it, is Joe's glass?'
'The dutiful woman…' she said, softening it with a half-smile, but there was no mistaking it – some tension with Avery. But she picked up his glass.
'Are you clerking somewhere this summer? Have you applied with us?'
Most law students spent their summers clerking with established firms for a variety of reasons – experience, good pay, the inside track at a job offer.
Christina shook her head. 'Joe would kill me.'
'Joe would kill you? Why?'
She shrugged. 'Well, you know… he's on the hiring committee… he thinks it would smack of nepotism.'
'From the Latin "nepos", meaning nephew. Are you Joe's niece, by any chance? Perhaps he's
nephew. Are you two related to the third degree of consanguinity?' He raised his eyebrows, humorous, but holding her there. 'Love those lawyer words,' he said.
She was enjoying him. 'No. No, nothing like that. He just thinks it wouldn't work.'
'Well, I may have to have a word with Mr Avery…'
'No! I mean, please, it would just…'
He stepped closer again. 'Christina… may I call you Christina?'
'Look, are you going to be a good lawyer?'
'Yes. I mean, I think I am. I'm law review.' Only the best students made law review.
Dooher pounced. 'You're law review and…' He put his glass down, started over more slowly. 'Christina, listen, you're not doing yourself a favor, nor would you be doing our firm a favor, by
applying if you think there might be a good fit. A woman who is on law review and…' He was about to make some comment about her beauty but stopped himself – you couldn't be too careful on the sexual harassment score these days. 'Well, you'll do meaningful work and you'll bring in clients, which is quite a bit more than half the ballgame, although that's a dirty secret I should never divulge to an idealistic young student.'
'Not so young, Mr Dooher
'Mark. You're Christina, I'm Mark, okay?'
She nodded. 'But I'm really not so young. I'm twenty-seven. I didn't start law school until two years after college.'
'… so you've already got practical work experience? Look, Christina, after what I'm hearing, if you
come down and apply at McCabe & Roth, I will come out to USF and try to recruit you myself, clear?' He grinned.
Her champagne was half-gone. 'I should really watch what I say when I'm drinking. Now Joe is really going to be upset.'
'I bet he won't be upset.' He touched her arm. 'Don't you be upset either. This is a party. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to push it if it's-'