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Proof Positive - 2006

-- Praise for Proof Positive:
“The author deftly manages a large cast of characters and ties the many plot lines together with enough clever twists to satisfy faithful fans and newcomers.”
-- Publishers Weekly

“A fast-moving plot … The increasing popularity of forensic fiction and of CSI, the television series that has become a cottage industry, virtually guarantees this novel a wide and appreciative audience.”
-- Booklist

“Briskly paced, cleverly plotted, long-overdue switch on all those heroic forensic guys.”
-- Kirkus Reviews

“A clever novel by crowd-pleaseer Margolin.”
-- People Magazine

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Excerpt from Proof Positive:

Prologue

Doug Weaver had experienced his fair share of bad days during his legal career, but the day Oregon executed Raymond Hayes ranked right up there. Doug tried to convince himself that watching someone die from a lethal injection wasn’t like seeing someone stabbed to death or crushed by a train, but that only helped him deal with what he would see. It didn’t ease his guilt. Deep down, Doug believed that Raymond Hayes was going to die because he had screwed up.

The fact that Doug liked his client made the guilt more difficult to handle. That type of bonding wasn’t unusual during a death case where the attorney and his client are thrown together for months or years at a time. Sometimes during a visit at the penitentiary when they were talking about NASCAR races or football games Doug would forget why Ray had needed representation. There were moments when he thought, “There but for the grace of God go I.” The slightly overweight attorney with the receding hairline did bear a faint resemblance to his chubby, balding client. Both men were also in their late thirties and they’d grown up in small towns. But that was where the similarities ended. Doug was a lot smarter than the majority of his high school classmates while Ray barely graduated. After high school, Doug had gone to college and Ray had stayed home, working the farm for his ailing, widowed mother before selling out and moving with her to the cottage in Portland where she had been brutally murdered.

The last time Doug had made the fifty mile drive from Portland to the Oregon State Penitentiary it had been to tell Raymond that the justices of the United States Supreme Court had voted against taking up his case.

“Does that mean I’m going to die?” Ray had asked in that lazy drawl that sometimes made you wonder if he was even slower than his below average intelligence test scores suggested.

The question had caught Doug off guard. It took a shifting of gears to accept the notion that a denial of a Writ of Certiorari in Ray’s case was the legal equivalent of shooting his client between the eyes.

“Well,” Doug had stammered, as he tried to think of a tactful way of answering the question.

Ray had just smiled. He’d been seeing Father McCord a lot and Jesus was now a big part of his life.

“Its okay, Doug,” his client had assured him. “I’m not afraid to meet my Lord and Savior.”

Doug wasn’t so sure that there was a place in Heaven for a son who had beaten his seventy-two year old mother to death with a hammer so he could steal her diamond wedding ring and forty-three dollars, but he kept the thought to himself. If Ray was convinced that he was straight with the Lord Doug wasn’t going to play devil’s advocate.

“My life ain’t been so great,” Ray had said. “I hope I’m a better person in Heaven.”

“You will be,” Doug had assured him.

Ray had studied his attorney with a sad, compassionate eye. “You still think I killed mom, don’t you?”

Doug had never told Ray that he didn’t believe his protestations of innocence, but he guessed that somewhere along the way he’d slipped up and revealed his true feelings.

“I really don’t know, one way or the other, Ray,” Doug had hedged.

Ray had just smiled. “It’s okay. I know you think I lied to you. I appreciate how hard you worked for me, even though you thought I done it. But I didn’t kill mom. It’s the way I always said it. So I know I’ll go to Heaven and stand by the side of Jesus.”

Doug had handled capital cases before and after State v. Hayes but none of his other clients had been sentenced to death. In fact, very few Oregon inmates had been executed since the death penalty had been reinstated in 1984. Doug hated the fact that he would be one of the few Oregon attorneys who would be able to say that he’d witnessed the execution of a client.

During the week leading up to the execution Doug felt tired and cranky; his anxiety caused his mind to wander at the office and made it difficult to get any work done and it troubled his sleep. Doug had never questioned Ray’s guilt but his inability to stave off death ate at him. He was constantly second guessing decisions he’d made, especially the decision to convince Ray to plead guilty. It wasn’t as if his strategy was unreasonable. He’d consulted several lawyers who handled death cases and most had agreed with his plan. The older, experienced attorneys had convinced him that winning a death case meant keeping your client alive. The evidence against Ray was incredibly strong and Doug had gambled that Ray’s acceptance of guilt and his spotless record would sway the jury in favor of life in the sentencing phase of the trial. He had been horribly, horribly wrong.

Doug worked on the day of the execution but he didn’t accomplish much. After a light dinner, he put on his best suit, a clean white shirt and his nicest tie. He even shined his shoes. He figured he owed Ray that. Then it was off to the prison, a 45-minute drive down to Salem, the state capitol.

The day had been out of sync with Doug’s mood and the seriousness of the event he was about to witness. Dark clouds should have blocked the sun. There should have been lightening strikes, heavy rain and a sky filled with ravens. Instead, spring was in the air, gaily-colored flowers were in bloom and nary a cloud hung over the interstate. Doug found the weather profoundly depressing and he was grateful when the sun set, casting shadows over the landscape.

At 9:30 p.m., Doug parked in a lot several miles from the prison. The location of the lot had been shrouded in secrecy to keep all but a select group of reporters from finding the witnesses who were to be shuttled to the penitentiary. Ray and his mother were the last of a small family so, thankfully, there were no relatives waiting as victims or invited guests. Doug noticed a group of government officials standing off to one side. Among them was Henry Flynn, the assistant attorney general who had convinced the appellate courts to affirm the sentence of death, and Martin Poe, a career prosecutor in the Multnomah County District Attorney’s office, who had obtained the death sentence at trial. Larry Matsuda, the deputy DA who’d second chaired the case, had moved back east two years ago. Flynn had always seen the case as a debate about issues of constitutional law far removed from the gore through which Doug and the prosecutors had waded in the courtroom, so Doug wasn’t surprised that the AG nodded his way while Poe studiously avoided looking at him.

Marge Cross drove up moments after Doug parked. Marge was a short, chunky brunette with the courtroom demeanor of a pit bull. She had been unmarried and fresh from a clerkship at the Oregon Supreme Court when she second chaired Raymond’s case and had handled all the legal motions brilliantly. Marge had been dead set against the guilty plea, but she’d never criticized Doug after the verdict of death and had second chaired two other cases with him after Hayes. The attorneys had talked about driving to the prison together, but Marge’s two-year-old daughter had come down with the flu and she’d had to stay with her until her husband finished teaching a class at Portland Community College. Doug, divorced and childless, envied Marge the distraction.

“I see Poe has come to gloat,” she said bitterly.

“I don’t think he’s gloating, Marge. He’s not that low.”

Marge shrugged. “You’re entitled to your opinion. But he and Matsuda were snickering all through the trial and I heard they celebrated with some of the other Neanderthals from the office after the sentencing hearing.”

Doug didn’t bother to argue. Marge was very political. She saw every case as a battle against the forces of fascism. Motherhood had not softened her. Doug didn’t really like conflict, which was odd for a trial lawyer. He got along with the DAs as a rule and thought of the prosecutors as men and women doing a tough job to the best of their ability.

“Hooper’s here,” Marge said in a tone even more scathing than the one she’d used when she was referring to Poe. Doug spotted Steve Hooper, the lead detective on Ray’s case, talking to a State Trooper near the van that would take them to the prison. The detective was a linebacker in street clothes with wide, bunched shoulders, a thick neck and the hint of a gut. His head was covered with a thatch of jet-black hair and a shaggy mustache drooped over his upper lip. The only thing small about the detective were his close-set eyes and his pug nose, which looked out of place on such a broad face.

Hooper was an aggressive cop who believed that he was never wrong. Marge called him The Fuehrer and Doug found it hard to disagree. Certainly, Hooper had used Gestapo tactics when he arrested Ray, and Doug was certain that Hooper had lied about certain incriminating statements that Ray was supposed to have made before the detective switched on his tape recorder in the interrogation room. Ray swore he never made the statements but there was no way to prove that Hooper had falsified his report.

“Did you talk to Ray?” Marge asked.

“By phone just before I left the office.”

“How’s he doing?”

“He sounded calm. Spoke about going to a better place, standing by the side of the Lord. I’m glad he found religion. It’s helping him accept …what’s going to happen.”

Doug licked his lips. He still found it hard to talk about the execution.

“Listen up, people,” shouted Thad Spencer, the community relations representative of the Department of Corrections. “We’ll be heading out in a minute. Just a reminder. There will be medical people standing by in the viewing room in case any of you need help and there’s no talking permitted after you enter the viewing room. Any questions?”

Spencer fielded a few from the reporters but the attorneys were quiet and somber. After the last question, Spencer herded the witnesses onto a van. They took back streets all the way to the penitentiary. Along the route, they passed police cars at several locations. They were there to deal with the protestors who were chanting outside the prison. Doug noticed that the police officers stopped talking and stared into the van as they drove by.

The van drove by cyclone fencing and razor wire on the way into the penitentiary.

“I saw some old newsreels of East Berlin in the 1960s,” Marge said. “There’s an uncanny resemblance. Makes you wonder if we’re still in America.”

Doug didn’t respond. He wasn’t feeling well and he was thankful that there would be medics in the viewing room. He didn’t think he’d throw up or pass out, but he couldn’t be sure.

Inside the prison, Doug went through a metal detector and had his hand stamped. Then everyone waited in a comfortable office where coffee and fruit had been provided. Doug didn’t touch either. Henry Flynn, the assistant AG, walked over and offered that it must be really tough for him to have to see the execution. He was so genuinely sympathetic that Marge loosened up. Soon she and Doug were talking to Martin Poe, who turned out to be as nervous as everyone else. It soon became clear that no one but Steve Hooper was feeling particularly good about what was going to happen. The detective sat by himself looking relaxed and happy as he took bites from a plate loaded with fruit that he was balancing on his lap. Adding to the general unease was the chanting of the demonstrators on State Street that was loud enough to be heard inside the office.

At 11:30, Thad Spencer led the witnesses to the death chamber at the rear of the prison. Each time they were moved to a new location, Doug’s tension level skyrocketed. As they walked down the silent corridors he felt lightheaded and worried about fainting. Talking would have helped but everyone was so uptight that Doug was afraid that a single word would sound like the crash of a thousand accidentally dropped dinner plates. He couldn’t think of anything to say, anyway.

By the time the witnesses were led into the death chamber it was a little after midnight. The viewing area was claustrophobically small, about eight by twelve. The witnesses stood on a raised platform. In front of them was a window veiled by a curtain. The silence was broken only by the sound that the reporters made when their pencils scratched across their note pads.

At 12:20, the curtain lifted. Ray was strapped to a gurney. Intravenous tubes had been inserted in his veins. They were attached to glass tubes that protruded from the wall. The tubes would supply the lethal chemicals that would end Raymond Hayes’s life. Behind the wall – unseen – was the executioner.

From his spot on the platform Doug could look down on his client. Ray seemed a little nervous but calmer than Doug had expected. The superintendent of the penitentiary was standing next to the gurney. He laid a comforting hand on Ray’s shoulder. Ray turned his head, scanned the room and fixed on Doug. A microphone in the death chamber must have been activated because Doug could hear Ray clearly when he spoke.

“Superintendent Keene told me you ain’t allowed to talk, so I understand if you don’t answer,” his client said. “Thanks for coming, Doug. You being here comforts me. You too, Marge.”

Doug heard Marge’s sharp intake of breath.

“Well, these are my last words, so I want to make them good.”

He fixed on Martin Poe.

“I am innocent Mr. Poe, but don’t worry. I know you think I killed my mom and that you were only doing your job. I forgive you and God will forgive you, so find peace in your heart.”

Ray choked up for a second and had to stop. As hard as he was fighting, he could not stop a tear from trickling down his cheek.

“Mom knows I didn’t do her no harm and she’ll be able to tell me so right soon. God bless all of you.”

Ray nodded to the superintendent. He nodded back and left the room. Ray closed his eyes and breathed deeply a few times; then all activity stopped. His right eye was completely closed, but, bizarrely, his left lid was slightly open allowing the institutional light to gleam on his dark pupil. Doug could see that no one was in there anymore. He sighed and fought back tears. Poor Ray, he thought. He’d been put down like a dog.

No one said anything during the walk back to the van. Doug guessed that no one could think of anything to say that wouldn’t sound forced, trite or false. As soon as they were in the lot, Marge took Doug’s hand and gave it a squeeze.

“You did all you could, Doug. No one could have done more. If you ever start thinking that you failed Ray, remember that he didn’t think so. And also remember that no matter what he said just now he did kill his mother in a horrible way. I think it’s wonderful that he found God but he was a guilty man no matter what type of man he was when he died.”

Doug nodded, afraid to speak. Marge squeezed his shoulder. “See you in town,” she said. Then she walked to her car.

Doug paused for a minute. The air was warm and the night sky was clear and covered with stars. It would be nice to think that Ray was one of them but he didn’t have much hope. The sound of several engines starting up snapped him out of his reverie. He got in his car and was shocked to discover that it was only a little after one-thirty. He thought for sure that he’d missed an entire night. Doug took a few deep breaths, jammed a Rolling Stones CD in the CD player, cranked up the volume until it was so loud that he could not think and headed home. As he drove out of the lot he noticed Steve Hooper standing beside his car, speaking into a cell phone.

When the phone rang, the clock on the fireplace mantle read 1:36. Bernard Cashman had been expecting the call and he picked up on the first ring.

“He’s dead,” Steve Hooper said.

“Thank you for telling me.”

“We couldn’t have done it without you, Bernie.”

Cashman’s chest swelled with pride. “It was a team effort, Steve. I just played a small part.”

“Hey, you don’t have to be modest with me. You’re the best lab guy I’ve ever worked with. It was the print on the hammer that nailed Hayes, no pun intended.”

“Are you calling from the prison?”

“I’m at my car. We just got out.”

“You must be exhausted. Go home and get a good night’s rest.”

“I’ll sleep like a baby knowing that scumbag is six feet under. Nice work, and I’m not just saying that.”

“I appreciate it. Thanks again for the call.”

Cashman hung up the phone and enjoyed the moment. Then he stood. He was in his late thirties; a tall man with a lean face and a dignified bearing who kept himself trim and fit with workouts in the gym and long runs. His ash blond hair was expertly cut and his manicured beard and mustache gave him the look of an eighteenth century count. When he moved, it was with the grace of a duelist. His melodic baritone would find a home in the finest choir and was hypnotic in a courtroom.

Cashman went into the kitchen and uncorked a bottle of La Grande Dame 1979 that he’d kept chilled in a bucket of ice. The champagne was outrageously expensive but only the best was suitable for an occasion like this. Bernard Cashman’s testimony had put three men on death row, but Raymond Hayes was the first to be executed.

Earlier, the forensic expert had prepared blinis on which he now spread crème fresh and fine Beluga caviar. There was a ban on the Caspian Sea delicacy because the Russian Mafia was over fishing the sturgeon that produced it, but Cashman had connections that were willing to bend the law when gourmet cuisine was involved.

The forensic expert filled a slender glass with the sparkling, golden champagne and sipped. He sighed then bit into the blini. A delicate globule of roe burst on his tongue and the explosion of flavor was exquisite. Cashman closed his eyes and smiled with satisfaction. What a perfect moment!

Open on the kitchen table was a scrapbook in which Cashman kept a record of his courtroom triumphs. The section devoted to Raymond Hayes was filled with articles detailing the guilty plea and sentencing. Tomorrow, he would cut out the article about Hayes’s execution and paste it in.

Cashman finished his glass of champagne and ate the rest of the caviar. He wished there were others here to celebrate with him but he knew most people would find his celebration inappropriate, peculiar or both. He respected that view although he did not believe that it was wrong to rejoice when justice was done.

CHAPTER ONE

Judge Ivan Robard presided over one of the most elegant courtrooms in the Multnomah County courthouse, and felt that this was just. Marble columns supported the high ceilings and oil paintings of the stern-faced judges who had preceded him frowned down on the supplicants who stood beneath his carved wood dais. It was from this raised pulpit that Judge Robard nodded majestically, like a sultan of the Ottoman Empire, toward the prosecution table, indicating to Hannah Graves that she had his permission to give her closing argument.

Amanda Jaffe got along with most of the assistant district attorneys in Multnomah County, but she really disliked Hannah Graves. The DA was as thin as an anorexic, but Amanda suspected that meanness, not dieting or exercise, kept the weight away. What self-respecting calorie would want to bond with someone as nasty as Hannah Graves?

There was a smirk on the prosecutor’s face when she strolled to the jury box for her closing argument in State of Oregon v. Bobby Lee Hartfield. Bobby Lee didn’t see it because he was staring at the top of the counsel table, embarrassed to be back in court and more embarrassed by the circumstances that had brought him there. Amanda had laid those circumstances out for Graves at a pre-trial conference during which she had offered to plead her lumbering, slow witted client to the misdemeanor crime of Trespass. Graves had laughed at the suggestion and demanded a plea to Burglary, a felony that would send Bobby Lee to the penitentiary. When Amanda explained patiently why the facts of the case would not support the charge, Graves had flashed a patronizing smile and told Amanda that she could try selling her story to a jury.

During the trial, one thing had surprised Amanda and made her rethink her negative view of the prosecutor. Amanda had been forced to put Bobby Lee on the stand so he could tell his story. Normally a DA cannot introduce evidence of a defendant’s prior convictions, but when a defendant testifies a prosecutor can introduce the judgment rolls on the theory that they are evidence that a juror can use to determine the witness’s credibility.

The year after he graduated from high school, Amanda’s twenty-five year old client had been fired from a hardware store for coming to work drunk. A week after he was canned, an intoxicated Bobby Lee had used a key he had forgotten to return to break into the store at night. Bobby hadn’t taken much but he had left the key with his fingerprints in the back door lock. Bobby had pled guilty to a Burglary charge and had successfully served a sentence of probation. Given that the charge against Bobby was Burglary, Amanda had fully expected the vindictive DA to tell the jury about the hardware store burglary, but Hannah had shocked Amanda by not introducing the record of Bobby Lee’s prior conviction to impeach him during cross-examination.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” Graves said, “I want to thank you for your patience. I’m guessing that it took a lot to sit through the defendant’s self-serving sob story. And what a pathetic attempt he made to weasel out of the predicament he created for himself.

“The evidence is so clear that I won’t waste much more of your time. The defendant is charged with Burglary. The judge will instruct you that a defendant commits that crime when he enters a house with the intention to commit a crime therein. Now there is no question that the defendant entered his father-in-law’s home, although that’s an understatement. He didn’t just enter. He dove head first through the screen on Claude Smith’s bedroom window.

“And did he intend to commit a crime when he broke in? What do you think he would have done to his wife after wrestling her father to the ground and chasing her into the living room, if she didn’t shoot him? Thank God, Cora Hartfield picked up her father’s gun during his struggle with her drunk and enraged husband. If she had been unarmed the charge against Bobby Lee Hartfield would probably be Assault in the First Degree or,” and here she paused to stare venomously at Amanda’s client, “Murder.”

Although she had promised to be short, Hannah Graves ranted on for twenty more minutes, her voice rising as she became more and more self-righteous. Amanda let her rave, noting that the eyes of the jurors, which had been riveted on the prosecutor when she started, were glazing over as she went on and on and on.

Finally, Graves concluded and Judge Robard told Amanda that she could present the defendant’s argument. Amanda stood and her long black hair fell across her broad, muscular shoulders. Years of competitive swimming had given Amanda an imposing figure that was too full to grace the covers of today’s fashion magazines but still attracted male attention when she entered a room. She stopped a few steps from rail of the jury box and looked at the jurors with her clear blue eyes. When Amanda smiled, two of the jurors smiled back, but most kept a poker face, unwilling to show how they were going to vote.

“The prosecutor told you some of what happened on the night in June when Bobby Lee Hartfield almost lost his life, but she conveniently forgot the most important piece of evidence that was introduced in this case; the fact that Bobby Lee Hartfield is madly and passionately in love with his wife, Cora Hartfield.

“On the warm summer evening of June fifth, after a meal at her parent’s house, Cora refused to let Bobby Lee drive her home and told him that she was staying at her parent’s house until he sobered up. Now, Cora was right to refuse to drive home with Bobby. He has a drinking problem and he shouldn’t have been behind the wheel of a car that night, but Bobby wouldn’t admit that she was right and he stormed out of his in-law’s house and drove home. Sitting in the dark, he continued to drink and grew more and more despondent. He called Cora several times to beg her to come home, but she was so mad that she told her father, who answered the phone, that she didn’t want to talk to Bobby.

“You heard the testimony of Claude Smith, Bobby’s father-in-law, about those phone calls. Did Bobby tell Mr. Smith that he wanted to beat his wife or murder her? No, he did not. He told Mr. Smith, often while sobbing, that he loved Cora and missed her. Mr. Smith told Bobby that Cora loved him too and that he should sober up and drive over in the morning when he was certain that the couple could patch things up.

“You also heard the testimony of Bobby’s old girlfriend Ronnie Bosco, who told you how Bobby called her at a little before two in the morning for advice on how to get his wife to come home. She said that he sounded highly intoxicated and cried through most of the conversation.

“Shortly after he hung up on Ms. Bosco, Bobby drove back to the Smiths. At the hospital, shortly before the doctors operated on him, a blood test showed that Bobby had an alcohol level of .27, way beyond .08, the level at which an Oregon citizen is deemed to be under the influence. In this highly intoxicated condition, Bobby pounded on the front door of the Smith home. Mr. Smith called to him through the screen over the open, bedroom window and asked him not to wake the neighbors. Did Bobby threaten to kill Mr. Smith? He did not. He apologized for causing trouble and told Mr. Smith how lonely he was and how much he loved his daughter.

“Mr. Smith urged Bobby to go home and sleep off his drunk, but Bobby said he loved Cora so much he could not stand to be separated from her. Then he said he was coming in and he dived through the screen and tumbled into the Smith’s bedroom.

“Mrs. Smith and Cora huddled in the doorway. Mr. Smith stood in front of them. He was holding a pistol and he testified that his hand was shaking so badly that he was afraid it would go off. Bobby looked up at Mr. Smith, shocked to see the pistol. ‘Are you going to shoot me, Dad?’ he asked and Mr. Smith said no. But he also told Bobby to leave. Bobby stood on shaking legs and said he would not leave without his wife. Then he spotted Cora and lunged toward her. Mr. Smith dropped the gun and got in Bobby’s way. As they wrestled on the bedroom floor, Cora grabbed the pistol and ran into the living room.

“Do you remember what happened next? It’s the key to this case. Bobby threw off his father-in-law and staggered after Cora. He walked into the living room. Cora, terrified, was braced against the couch, the pistol stretched out toward the doorway. As soon as Bobby stepped into the room, she fired.

“Now, you heard Cora Hartfield’s tear drenched testimony. What were Bobby Lee’s last words, spoken just before he crumpled to the floor, thinking that he was going to die? Cora testified that Bobby Lee sank to his knees, looked into her eyes and said, ‘Honey, I love you.’”

Amanda paused. Two of the jurors pulled out handkerchiefs and dabbed at their eyes.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, the prosecutor is correct. The judge is going to instruct you that you can only convict Bobby Lee Hartfield of Burglary if you find that he entered the Smith home with the intent to commit a crime therein. We do not dispute that the State has proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Bobby Lee entered the Smith home without their consent, but I have searched the law books and statutes of this state, I have looked high and low, and nowhere have I found any Oregon law that makes Love a crime.”

The jury was back in twenty-five minutes. Hannah Graves smirked at Amanda and that smug look stayed plastered on her face for a few moments after the jury foreperson pronounced Bobby Lee Hartfield unanimously “Not Guilty.”

As soon as the judge dismissed the jury, Cora and her parents rushed up to tell Amanda what a great job she’d done. Amanda told them to hold on for a minute so she could catch the DA before she left the courtroom.

“Hannah,” Amanda said.

“What?” Graves asked angrily as she gathered up her law books and paperwork.

“I wanted to thank you for trying a clean case.”

Graves looked confused. “What are you talking about?”

“Bobby’s prior conviction for Burglary. I wanted to thank you for not using it and letting the jury decide the case on the facts.”

A horrified expression twisted Hannah’s features. She shuffled through a stack of papers that she was holding. When she found her certified copy of the judgment roll of Hartfield’s burglary conviction she stared at it for a second. Then she muttered, “Shit, shit, shit,” and stormed out of the courtroom.

Amanda was suppressing a belly laugh, which she deemed unseemly, when the bailiff cleared his throat. Ken Morris was a young, African-American man who was working his way through law school at night.

“I love it every time someone puts a boot up Graves’s tight ass,” he said.

Amanda grinned. “She is a bit much.”

“You’re the master of understatement, Jaffe. By the way, I almost puked during your close. ‘Nowhere have I found Love to be a crime.’ Give me a break.”

“I thought it was pretty dramatic,” Amanda answered, fighting hard to keep a straight face.

“Whatever. Anyway, the judge wants to see you before you leave.”

“Why?” Amanda asked nervously, flashing back to the time last year when the judge had summoned her to his chambers and talked her into taking on the case of the accused murderer and pimp, Jon Dupre.

Ken shrugged. “I have no idea.”

“Okay. Let me finish up with my client and I’ll come right in.”

Judge Ivan Robard was a vegetarian, fitness fanatic who ran marathons, kayaked down class five rapids and climbed mountains in his spare time, burning so much energy that his five-foot-six frame was without an ounce of fat. The judge had the courtroom demeanor of Genghis Khan and could snap the head off any lawyer in the county at one hundred paces.

“Thank you for coming,” he told Amanda, implying falsely that she’d had a choice. Disobeying the summons of a circuit court judge – especially one as ego centered as Ivan Robard – was unthinkable for anyone who had any chance of appearing before the judge in the future.

“Have a seat, Amanda,” he said, pointing at one of the wine-red, leather-upholstered chairs in front of his desk. “You tried an excellent case.”

Now Amanda was really nervous. The Honorable Ivan Robard was not known for handing out compliments and he always called her Miss Jaffe.

“Thank you, Judge.”

When Robard smiled, his narrow, shaven skull looked like a death head.

“Come, come. We’re in chambers. Call me Ivan.”

“Uh-oh,” said Amanda’s inner voice.

“You wanted to see me?” Amanda said out loud.

“I wanted to ask you for a small favor. I have a court-appointed case that I was hoping you’d take on.”

“The last time you asked me to take a case I almost died.”

“Yes, most regrettable,” Robard said. Amanda tried, but failed, to find any trace of real sympathy. “But this case is very simple and should present no danger whatsoever.”

“I’d like to help, but I’m very busy right now. I’m not on the court-appointment list, anyway.”

Amanda had taken court-appointments when she was starting out, but she was so successful that her retained cases left her no time for community service.

“That will be no problem,” Robard told her. “I’ll call the clerk and tell him to make an exception in this case.”

“That’s okay, judge…”

“Ivan.”

“Yes, uh, Ivan. I really don’t have time to take on another case, no matter how simple.”

“I’m certain that you can make time,” he answered, drilling through her eyes and into her brain with a death stare.

It was becoming obvious that the judge was not going to take no for an answer.

“What kind of case is it,” Amanda asked to stall for time so she could think up a really great excuse for passing on the judge’s request.

“There’s a homeless man named Jacob Cohen in the county jail. Mr. Cohen was recently released from prison where he spent time for a sex offense. As you know, convicted sex offenders have to register when they leave prison. Mr. Cohen was arrested for failing to register. A conviction will send him back to prison.

“I’m certain there’s a defense. He’s mentally ill, so it may be insanity. He lives in an abandoned car in a vacant lot. Maybe there was some problem with the mail. I’d like you to look into his case and see if you can help him stay out of jail.”

Amanda was totally confused. This was a case that anyone could handle.

“Is Mr. Cohen a relative?” Amanda asked.

“No,” Robard answered tersely.

“I don’t get it. If he’s homeless he’ll qualify for the public defender. Why do you need me?”

For a second, Robard’s cast iron façade crumpled and he looked desperate but no explanation was forthcoming.

“I would greatly appreciate it if you honored my request as a personal favor,” he said.

Amanda knew that she should turn down the judge, but she couldn’t. Without realizing it, Robard had helped Amanda conquer personal demons that were devouring her when he pressured her to take the Dupre case. She owed him one for that, even if his help had been unintentional. Amanda didn’t like thinking that she was in Robard’s debt, and taking this case would wipe the slate clean. On the other hand, Amanda didn’t want to appear to be an easy lay.

“Let me go back to my office and check on a few things,” she said. “I’ll get back to you.”

A self-satisfied smile creased the judge’s lips. He knew he’d won.

“I’ll look forward to hearing from you later today,” he said. “Thank you.”

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