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Ties That Bind - 2003

Success is fleeting; nobody knows this better than lawyer Amanda Jaffe, She had been the undisputed rising star of Portland's legal community, but in a cruel twist of irony, the same case that put her on the map -- the Cardoni trial, which pitted Amanda against a brilliant sociopath (in the New York Times bestseller Wild Justice ) -- had left her traumatized, doubting her instincts, and shunning the limelight.

This reticence ends when Amanda agrees to handle the case no one else will touch. Jon Dupre, who runs an upscale call-girl service, is accused of murdering a U.S. senator. Dupre claims to possess proof of the existence of a secret society of powerful men who have banded together for a commonly held political agenda. The rite of passage that binds them together -- the initiation into this powerful brotherhood -- is murder.

To Amanda these seem the desperate claims of a man who will lie to save his own skin -- until she is pressured to walk away from the case. Determined to put a knife in the heart of the fear and psychological trauma that has plagued her ever since Cardoni, she refuses to abandon her investigation. It's a decision that will place her and those she loves directly in the path of a deadly juggernaut with ambitions that extend all the way to the presidency of the United States.

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Excerpt from Ties That Bind:

Chapter One

United States Senator Chester Whipple, Republican from South Carolina, a staunch soldier of God, did not drink, a fact he regretted as he paced back and forth across the front room of his Georgetown town house. It was two in the morning; his investigator, Jerry Freemont, was three hours late, and prayer alone was not calming his nerves.

The doorbell rang. Whipple rushed into the foyer, but he did not find his investigator standing on his front stoop when he opened the door. Instead, an elegantly dressed man, wearing an old school tie from Whipple's alma mater, smiled at him. The senator's visitor was of medium build and height. He wore his sandy hair slicked down; wire-rimmed glasses perched on a Roman nose. Whipple, a scholarship boy from a rural public school, disliked most of his privileged Harvard classmates, but they did not threaten him. In truth, Chester Whipple was a difficult man to frighten: he had the physical strength of a man who worked the land and the spiritual fortitude of one who never wavered in his faith.

"Senator, I apologize for the intrusion at this late hour," the man said, handing Whipple his card. It announced that J. Stanton Northwood II was a partner in a prominent D.C. firm. Later that week, Whipple would discover that the firm employed no one by that name. "What do you want?" Whipple asked, genuinely puzzled and anxious for Northwood to leave before Jerry arrived.

Whipple's visitor looked grim. "I'm afraid that I'm the bearer of bad news. May I come in?" Whipple hesitated, then led Northwood into the living room and motioned him into a seat. The lawyer leaned back, crossing his right leg over his left to expose freshly polished wingtips.

"It's Mr. Freemont," Northwood said. "He's not coming."

Whipple was confused. The lawyer looked solemn. "He was a fine investigator, Senator. He found the memo proving that several biotech companies contributed millions to a secret slush fund that Harold Travis is using to defeat the anti-cloning bill. Mr. Freemont also had pictorial and audio evidence that would have made a very persuasive case for criminal charges against Senator Travis and others. Unfortunately for you, he no longer has this evidence -- we do."

Whipple was truly bewildered. He had no idea how Northwood knew about Jerry Freemont's assignment. "It's all very perplexing, isn't it?" Northwood said. "You're expecting your investigator to bring you the key to your presidential nomination, and I show up instead." He dipped his head in mock sympathy. "But surely you didn't think that my principals would just stand by quietly while you put us out of business?"

The lawyer's condescension sparked Whipple's anger. He was a powerful man, feared by many, and he was not going to be patronized.

"Where is Jerry Freemont?" he demanded, rising to his full height so that he towered over the lawyer. Northwood was not fazed.

"I advise you to sit down," Whipple's visitor said. "You're in for a fairly strong shock."

"Listen, you two-bit shyster, you've got ten seconds to tell me where Jerry is before I beat it out of you."

"Let me show you," Northwood said as he pulled a snapshot out of his pocket and set it on the coffee table that separated him from the senator. "He was very brave. I want you to know that. It took several hours to convince him to tell us where he was hiding the evidence." Whipple was stunned. The photograph showed a man, barely recognizable as Jerry Freemont, suspended in air by a length of chain that bound his wrists. It was impossible to tell where the shot had been taken, but the bare beams and peaked roof suggested a barn. Only Freemont's torso and head were visible in the shot, but the cuts and burns on his body could be seen clearly.

"Not a pretty sight," Northwood sighed. "But you need to know that my clients are very serious when they say that they will stop at nothing to achieve their ends."

Whipple could not tear his eyes from the photograph. Jerry Freemont was a tough ex-state trooper, a dear friend who had been with the senator since his first run at political office twenty years earlier. Whipple's features suffused with rage, and his muscles bunched for action. Then he froze. Northwood was pointing a gun at his heart.

"Sit," he said. Whipple hesitated for a moment. Northwood dropped two more photographs on the coffee table. The blood drained from the senator's face.

"Your wife is a very handsome woman, and your granddaughter looks charming. She's five, isn't she?"

"What have you . . . ?"

"No, no. They're perfectly fine. If you cooperate, there will be absolutely nothing to worry about."

Whipple's hands curled into fists but he stayed where he was, seething with impotent fury.

"Please don't force me to shoot you, Senator. That wouldn't be good for you or my principals. And it certainly wouldn't save your family. If you think we'll forget about them once you're dead, you're mistaken."

Whipple felt his strength and anger drain out of him. He slumped back onto his chair.

"If you do as we say, you and your family will be safe."

"What do you want?" Whipple asked. He sounded completely defeated.

Northwood stood up. "Twenty years is a long time to be in politics, Senator. Maybe this would be a good time to retire so you can spend more time with your family. And you can do something for mankind as well by making certain that the anti-cloning bill doesn't make it out of your committee. There are some very fine companies trying to develop cures for disease through the use of cloning technology. When you think about how many sick people those companies can help I'm sure you'll see that your previous position on the bill was a mistake."

Northwood pocketed the photographs. "Do we understand each other, Senator?" Whipple stared at the top of the coffee table. After a moment he nodded. "I'm glad," Northwood said, sounding genuinely pleased. "Good evening." Whipple listened to the clack of Northwood's shoes as he crossed the parquet floor of the foyer, undid the latch, and stepped outside. He heard the front door swing shut -- a sound that signaled the end of a lifelong dream.

From TIES THAT BIND. Copyright © 2003 by Phillip Margolin. HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.

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Behind the Book - Ties That Bind

Ties That Bind was not the original title of my ninth novel. A few years ago I was in Seattle on a book tour. I was walking down the street when into my head popped the phrase "The Courthouse Athletic Club." I immediately thought that it would be a terrific title for a novel, I just had no idea what the novel would be about. After thinking for a while, I decided that a novel with the title "The Courthouse Athletic Club" would be about a secret, evil organization that had as its members judges, policemen and lawyers. Now all I needed was a plot.

I had written novels that starred defense attorneys, judges and police detectives, but since my first novel, Heartstone, I had not had a book where a district attorney was the main character. I decided that I would have a district attorney with a dark secret in his past as the main character of The Courthouse Athletic Club.

Once I get an idea for a book, I spend a lot of time thinking about the plot. I never start writing until I have figured out who the bad guy is and how the bad guy is caught. Once I know how I am going to get the evil-doer, I write an extensive outline that goes into minute detail about every aspect of the plot. These outlines have run as long as 68 pages (Wild Justice ). As I started writing the outline for "The Courthouse Athletic Club," I realized that Amanda Jaffe -- the protagonist of Wild Justice -- would fit right in. In the past, I've resisted using a continuing character for fear of getting myself boxed into a series. All of my previous novels were legal thrillers, but my fans know that I try to make each book different. For instance, Gone, But Not Forgotten and Wild Justice are scary serial killer novels, After Dark is a bizarre love story and The Burning Man is a coming-of-age novel. I had brought back Amanda Jaffe in a cameo role in The Associate and I decided that this novel would bring Amanda back as its star.

By now you're probably wondering why this novel is called Ties That Bind and not "The Courthouse Athletic Club." There are a few reasons I made the change. The original members of my criminal cabal have an insider's name for their group "The Vaughn Street Glee Club," because of an incident that happened when, as teenagers, they banded together for the very first time. Obviously, since there were teenagers and had not yet chosen their professions, they wouldn't have named the group "The Courthouse Athletic Club." But in the end, my editor and I decided that Ties That Bind was a simply a catchier title. What do you think? Let me know which of the two titles you like best by contacting me on facebook.

- Phillip Margolin

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