Cover image for Grudge match : a Chris Sinclair thriller
Title:
Grudge match : a Chris Sinclair thriller
Author:
Brandon, Jay.
Personal Author:
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Forge [2004]

©2004
Physical Description:
380 pages ; 22 cm
General Note:
"A Tom Doherty Associates book."
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780765308924
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

In the high stakes courtroom battles of his legal career, San Antonio District Attorney Chris Sinclair has prided himself on getting it right--sending society's dregs away for a long time. But when he discovers he wrongly sent a police officer to prison he begins to question his faith in the system.

Eight years ago Chris sent officer Steve Greerdon to jail. Recently, new DNA evidence gave Chris cause to undo the wrongful conviction and help clear Greerdon's name, but when two police officers are murdered and Greerdon is at the scene of the crime with no alibi, Chris is once again suspicious. Greerdon claims a police conspiracy wants to send him back to jail, or is Greerdon playing Chris for a fool?

Chris's girlfriend, child psychiatrist Anne Greenwald, is drawn into the deepening mystery when one of her patients confesses to her facts that could give him the evidence he needs to break the conspiracy. But she can't violate doctor-patient confidentiality, even if it might prevent a tragedy.

Time is running out, and murders are piling up. If the killer can't be stopped, Chris could be next. As Chris and Anne struggle to balance their personal lives with their professional concerns, this intense, powerful novel weaves an ever-tightening web of suspense that will keep readers chasing the truth until the final page.


Author Notes

Jay Brandon is an attorney and author. He was born in Texas in 1953. Brandon received a master's degree in writing from Johns Hopkins University.

Brandon has served with the Court of Criminal Appeals, the Baxter County District Attorney's Office, and the San Antonio Court of Appeals during his legal career. He practices law in San Antonio, Texas.

Brandon's novel, Loose Among the Lambs, was a main selection of the Literary Guild. Another novel, Fade the Heat, was nominated for an Edgar Award for Best Mystery Novel of the Year. Booklist magazine gave his novel, Deadbolt, an Editor's Choice award. An article he wrote about the judicial races in San Antonio won a Gavel Award from the State Bar Association in 1994.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

A San Antonio criminal lawyer, Brandon is among the best in the legal thriller business at catching the real atmosphere of a trial-that combination of tedium and terror that makes the courtroom such a popular literary arena. His latest book about San Antonio district attorney Chris Sinclair (after 2003' s Sliver Moon) has an absolute aura of authenticity, even though the plot contains many typical thriller elements. Because of Sinclair's zeal, police officer Steve Greerdon was sent to prison eight years earlier for taking part in an armed robbery. When new DNA evidence surfaces proving that Greerdon was innocent, Chris swallows his chagrin and gets him out of jail fast. But is Greerdon really the victim of bad justice or an incredibly clever killer? When two police officers who served with him are murdered, he's found on the scene, claiming a high-level police conspiracy to cover up the real criminals. Sinclair's lover, child psychiatrist Anne Greenwald, also gets involved in the case because of privileged information from a client, and Chris's teenage daughter finds herself being attracted to Greerdon's son. None of this is particularly new or earth-shaking, but Brandon makes his story move along smoothly by creating an involving portrait of a criminal justice system staffed (mostly) by people trying to do the right thing. Agent, Jimmy Vines at the Vines Agency. (June 2) FYI: Brandon's novel Fade the Heat (1990) was an Edgar finalist. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Excerpts

Excerpts

CHAPTER one Trials end with a verdict. The victim's family sobs. Jurors look stoic, or hug each other, or at last talk to reporters. The judge nods in agreement. He thanks the jurors for their hard work. Closure is achieved. The lawyers move on to the next case. "The defendant showed no emotion." This is the phrase always used to describe the lunk sitting alone, or still standing to receive the verdict. He lifts his chin, or drops his head. But his eyes don't fill with tears. He has nothing to say. The person on trial has just been stripped not only of his freedom but of his singularity, as he will soon be stripped of his clothes and draped in a jail coverall. One moment he is one of us, his fate uncertain, as are all our fates, his destiny unknown. In the next second he has become part of a subhuman herd: the convicted. The guilty. Now everyone knows. What you did, what you are. The newly convicted defendant grows an instant shell. He knows he is no longer quite present in the courtroom. He is on his way to a new life, the main feature of which is invisibility. He will no longer be among us. Even if the defendant emerges someday, he won't quite rejoin the race. Cut out from the herd, he remains one of the others. "Ex-con." It seemed a horrible, terrifying fate. Then why do they never show emotion , Chris Sinclair wondered. He assumed it was because they knew they were guilty. They had it coming. The jurors had found them out. Suddenly the trial just past was revealed for the academic exercise it had been. "Okay. You got me." Yes. We get you. And no longer have to think about you. Chris seldom did. It was rare for him to revisit a past trial, except as an anecdote. But one defendant had shown emotion. A man of average height but broad shoulders, he had sat with the required stoicism throughout his trial, but at the word "guilty," he had gone berserker. He had slammed his fists down on counsel table, and roared as if he'd been stabbed. His pain sounded physical. The defendant had picked up his chair, raised it over his head, and actually pulled one of its arms free. He had been advancing across the front of the courtroom--toward the judge or the jury, accounts differed afterwards--until he'd been stopped by the bailiffs, one of them rough and contemptuous, the other surprisingly gentle. The arms of the defendant's blue suit had ripped at the seams, as if he'd been revealed. His transformation had begun. The next time he had appeared in the courtroom, for the punishment phase, he'd behaved appropriately. The defendant showed no emotion. He was the one Chris remembered. * * * Years passed, and Chris Sinclair went on to other trials and other jobs. By now, Chris had been an attorney for twelve years: seven as an assistant district attorney, three as a defense lawyer, two so far as the district attorney of Bexar County, in San Antonio. Though his job now was administrative, he still thought of himself as a trial lawyer. A week spent in meetings left him peevish and restless. Many days, without knowing why, he drifted downstairs to the trial courts. There his fingers stopped tapping, his shoulders expanded, and he stood taller, with a faint smile of which he remained unaware. His physiological reactions were similar to an athlete's returning to his high school stadium. But Chris was lucky. At thirty-six, he could still compete. So when on a Thursday morning in October, he strolled into the 186th District Court on the third floor of the Justice Center and saw an empty chair at the prosecution table, he reacted without thought, walking quickly up the aisle and through the gate in the wooden railing. "What's happened?" he asked, standing behind the chair. The remaining prosecutor, Bonnie Janaway, barely glanced up. To her credit, she didn't do a double-take at the sight of her boss standing over her. "Kenny's out. Spent half the night throwing up, according to his wife." Bonnie was thin and intense, with tightly compressed lips and sharp brown eyes. She continued going through her file, occasionally making a note. Across the aisle, the defense lawyer leaned back in his chair and put his hands behind his head. He and Chris nodded to each other. "You didn't have a backup?" Chris asked his assistant. Bonnie shook her head. "Don't need one. It's a simple case. Agg robbery. Four eyewitnesses." She snapped her fingers, still not looking up at him. Chris could have told her from experience that one eyewitness is often preferable to more. Multiple tongues tell multiple tales, and Bill Gibs, sitting there at the defense table, was a veteran lawyer who could exploit differences in testimony. The empty chair called Chris's name. "Mind if I sit in?" he said, taking the seat beside Bonnie. She shot him a suspicious glance, then a totally artificial smile that looked as if it hurt her lips. "Really not necessary, Chris. We're halfway done anyway." Chris smiled, well aware of the mixed feelings she must have. Bonnie was a second-chair; the first-chair prosecutor from this court had taken sick. This presented an opportunity to Bonnie to win a first-degree felony conviction on her own. If the district attorney sat in, he would undoubtedly take any credit for a win. Bonnie didn't know Chris well, but she knew how things worked. "It's your case, Bonnie. I won't question anybody unless you want me to. I'll just fetch things for you." He smiled ingratiatingly. She shrugged and went back to her notemaking. Within minutes Judge Ernest Ormond took his place. After a formal exchange of remarks allowed Chris to join the prosecution team, the judge said, "Bring the defendant." A uniformed bailiff opened a side door of the courtroom and brought out a man in handcuffs. The man wore black pants and a white shirt and looked young until he lifted his head. His dark eyes were watchful with long, bad experience. They fixed on Chris Sinclair for a long stare, then he slunk down in his chair and stared at the table as the bailiff removed his handcuffs and his lawyer talked to him. Just before the jurors entered, the young defendant took thick, black-rimmed glasses from his pocket and put them on. The glasses seemed to change his age and expression. Now he appeared thoughtful, a scholar. His magnified eyes looked watery with worry. Chris had a tingle of apprehension. Bonnie Janaway sat studying a report. Her thick black hair, cut short, didn't get in her way. Neither did Chris. But as Bonnie called her next witness, a firearms examiner who had tested bullets found at the scene, Chris read the prosecution's file. The police offense report told him there had been a robbery at a small family-run grocery store on the city's west side. Three men had entered, faces obscured by caps and scarves, pulled out guns, and ordered everyone to the floor. Three members of the Rivera family had been in the store at the time, the owner in the office, his mother running a cash register, and a teenage daughter stocking shelves. One of the robbers had put a gun in the grandmother's face, another had approached the girl. The report blandly sketched what must have been a terrifying few minutes before the robbers had run out. Chris looked over at the defendant and wondered which of the three he had been. The guy looked up at the ceiling as if bored. His lawyer didn't appear much more interested as the firearms examiner gave his opinion that a certain bullet had been fired from a certain gun. Chris found that Kenny, the missing prosecutor, had taken very careful notes of the previous day's testimony. Much of it had been dry, the collection of evidence, but the first witness had been the store owner. His testimony could have been dramatic--a bullet had been fired just past his face into the wall beside him, while an armed thug stood over his daughter--but the quality of the testimony was impossible to tell from the notes. Beside Chris, Bonnie sat looking as tight as if the case were slipping away from her. She nudged Chris's arm and he saw that she had written him a note on her legal pad: "See who else I've got out there." He knew she meant what witnesses waited in the hall. This was a second-chair prosecutor's job, being the stage manager for the first-chair's director. That was the job for which Chris had volunteered. He hurried up the aisle of the courtroom and out. The hallway of the Justice Center had a purified, clinical aspect. its surfaces were varying shades of bland. Humans intruded. At once, Chris spotted the family group across the hall. They huddled together on and around a stone bench. A very young woman held a baby. A young man in a ribbed undershirt paced and glared. Older adults talked in murmurs. On the bench sat an elderly woman who must have been the grandmother mentioned in the police report. She wore a shapeless, thin gray dress, from which her hands emerged like talons, gnarled by work or arthritis. Her skin was very dark brown, her hair long and gray. She looked up at Chris and caught his attention. The plumpness of her cheeks held wrinkles at bay, but they clustered at the corners of her eyes. Her gaze, looking startled, held on him. She looked familiar. Of course she looked familiar. In his decade-plus as a trial lawyer Chris had seen thousands of faces. Victims and their families, defendants and theirs, cops, witnesses, jurors. By this time, everyone looked familiar to him. But the old lady seemed to recognize him, too. Her mouth opened expectantly, waiting for him to come up and give her an order. "Olga Rivera?" Chris said, and she nodded. He consulted his witness list and asked for two other names. The girl holding the baby turned out to be the teenager who'd been working in the store at the time of the robbery. He checked off the names and said they'd be called soon. Then he looked around the hall for any other waiting witnesses. Just before he pulled open the heavy glass door to return to the courtroom, Chris looked back and saw the old lady still watching him. He forgot, until he saw a face like hers, how frightening the judicial system could be, even to someone not being prosecuted. That's why the victims had brought their whole family, as if they themselves were on trial. Chris gave the woman a reassuring smile that didn't help. She still watched him fearfully. Her face stayed with him as Chris sat through the rest of the morning's evidence. He read the summary of yesterday's testimony from Kenny's notes. After the robbery, the case had languished unsolved for more than a month until a snitch had come forward. Recently released from prison, he had been asked to participate in the crime but had refused, then after it happened had reported to his parole officer that he knew who had been involved. A detective had shown photos to the victims, then arranged a live lineup, during which two witnesses had picked out this defendant. "Jessica Rivera." Bonnie announced her next witness in a clear, loud voice. A moment later the teenager who'd been holding the baby in the hallway appeared in the courtroom. Chris smiled at her encouragingly, but the girl looked wary, as if this whole stage set had been built to catch her at something. Bonnie Janaway took no pains to calm her down. She liked having a frightened witness, especially when she asked the young woman if she saw in the courtroom the man who had held a gun near her face during the robbery. Ms. Rivera looked long at the defendant, then said, "Him. The one in the white shirt." "May the record reflect that the witness has identified the defendant?" Bonnie asked, and Judge Ormond agreed that it would be so. But everyone in the courtroom including the jurors had seen how long the young woman had hesitated. When the defense lawyer's turn came, he jumped right into that hesitation. Smiling graciously, Bill Gibs said, "Ms. Rivera, you seemed kind of slow to identify my client, may I say. Do you have some doubt?" "No." "Well, it's obvious who the defendant is here, isn't it? The jurors are in the jury box, the judge is wearing a black robe, and here at these tables except for Mr. Dominguez there's a nicely dressed young lady, a blond man in a suit, and me, who's probably twenty years older than the man you described. So it's not like it was a tough call, was it?" "No," the witness said slowly, obviously not clear how she should respond. "So you said it was the defendant. Let me ask you this, what was memorable about the robber who appeared in your store that day?" Ms. Rivera paused again, and said, "The gun he was holding. I thought he was going to hit me with it." Gibs nodded. The defense lawyer liked her answer. Chris waited tensely, watching the witness, wondering if Bonnie realized how badly her case was being hurt. The prosecutor sat making notes, apparently oblivious to the exchange. "Did you know this young man before the day of the robbery?" Bill Gibs continued. "No. I don't think so." Ms. Rivera shifted nervously in her seat. "You're not sure? Maybe he had been a customer in the store?" "Maybe," the witness agreed. Bill Gibs was an agreeable, friendly man. His voice made people want to go along with him. He also had the good sense to quit once he'd gotten what he wanted. When the witness was passed back to Bonnie, the prosecutor said, "Ms. Rivera, what did you do when the robber pointed the gun at your face?" "I looked him in the eyes. I said, 'Please don't. I have a baby.'" Bonnie nodded. "Thank you, ma'aam. No more questions." Pretty good recovery. Chris decided this prosecution was in good hands after all. Still, Bonnie surprised him thirty minutes later when she stood and said, "The State rests, your honor." He thought she'd had more proof to bring forward. Judge Ormond dismissed the jurors for lunch, and Chris leaned over to his assistant. "Why didn't you call the old lady as a witness? The girl's grandmother. She was in the store during the robbery, too, wasn't she?" He thought she would have made a very sympathetic witness, cowering in the witness stand as she must have done that day in the grocery store. But Bonnie said offhandedly, "She couldn't identify anyone. Besides, she doesn't speak English." For no good reason, that answer, along with his vague recollection of the woman in the hall earlier that morning, bothered Chris. He went out to speak to the woman and found her gone. Most of the family remained in the hallway, but the centerpiece of the portrait, the grandmother of the family, had fled. To Chris's eyes there seemed to be a blank spot on the bench where she had sat. Chris took a drive at lunch. From the police report he had written down the address of the Rivera family grocery store. It was on Zarzamora, a long street only a couple of miles from the courthouse, and a world away. Across the Commerce Street bridge, on the west side of San Antonio, the cityscape changed from generic to specific. There were few brand name stores. Smaller businesses crowded the street instead, many of them looking on the verge of failure even if they had been in business for years. Small houses in poor repair took up some of the spaces between auto shops and secondhand stores. Pale faces grew rare, too, except around certain landmarks such as Karam's Mexican restaurant. Rivera's, the grocery store, sat farther out that street. As Chris neared it the car began to steer itself. Chris knew when to slow down, and looked expectantly toward the left side of the street. Sure enough, that was where the store appeared. Chris felt again a tingle of recognition. The store occupied a corner. Unlike chain grocery stores, it didn't have large display windows. The two windows in the wooden front were covered by hand-lettered signs advertising lettuce and avocados. Chris didn't get out of his car. He sat there across the street looking at the storefront as it placed itself in his memory. He had been a young prosecutor, more eager than Bonnie Janaway, so eager that on big cases he always visited the scene of the crime personally. That thoroughness had brought him to this store eight years ago. It seemed to have grown even smaller, but Chris remembered it. This was where another armed encounter had occurred, which had turned into Chris's first big trial. He pictured the interior of the store and its checkout counter, with a bloodstain on it. And behind the counter the old lady, the same one he'd seen in the Justice Center this morning. She didn't speak English, Bonnie had said. But Chris knew better. She had spoken English well enough, eight years ago when she had testified for him. He drove slowly back to the Justice Center, through a bright October day when the air held a certain crystalline quality that presaged cool winds, but the sun had lost little of its potency. Chris looked more closely at everything he passed. Passersby felt his stare and turned sharply or hunched their shoulders. In the Justice Center he climbed four flights of stairs and went to his office without speaking to anyone. The office occupied a corner of the top floor of the building, giving him views south and westward. Chris ignored the views. He went to the lone wooden filing cabinet that held cases in which he'd had a personal interest over the years. It took only a minute to find the file he wanted. He opened it on his desk. The topmost layer of papers was letters, the most recent three unopened. Chris had stopped opening the man's letters, imagining they contained only rants or threats. The top envelope was thin. Its return address included a number and a prison unit, a stamped phrase on the envelope identifying it further as mail from an inmate. Chris tore it open and unfolded the two thin sheets of lined paper inside. There was no greeting. The letter began, "I have a sixteen-year-old son. I haven't seen him since he was twelve years old." Chris felt a chill. He kept reading. * * * Bonnie Janaway remained on her own for the rest of her trial that day. Chris spent the day making a few phone calls, looking up information on his computer, and walking distractedly through the halls. People asked him questions, he even answered some, but couldn't have repeated afterward what he had said. Anne Greenwald heard his preoccupation when she called about four in the afternoon. After thirty seconds of conversation she said, "What's up?" In a tone that meant she wanted a real answer. "Nothing. I don't know. Thinking about some old cases." "At least yours end," Anne said. She was a psychiatrist, mainly dealing with children, so many of her cases represented lifetime commitments. Her patients would outlive her, if all went well. Many of them would carry their childhoods with them forever, though. Anne stood in her office, which boasted one small window. If she went to stand right next to it she could look down five stories to a parking lot. But staying back here by the corner of the desk meant the window showed her a square of daylight, blue clear sky untouched by humankind, like an abstraction of day. Framed by the white walls of her office, the square of outside looked like a hole punched in her schedule. Anne stood staring, holding the phone loosely by her ear. She felt distracted too, but unlike Chris had no specific reason on which to blame her mood. Just one of those October things. Change of season, winds stirring, something life-altering just over the horizon. "My next appointment canceled," she said into the phone. After Chris's short answer she laughed. "Yeah, but it was a group session. The whole group canceled. How can that be? They all got better all at once, or sicker? Maybe they're meeting somewhere without me. Would that be a good thing? You think I cured them all at once?" "Or they all realized how sick of you they were, all at the same time," Chris suggested. "Certainly a possibility. Maybe they're somewhere forming a gang. I've given them back their self-esteem and they're going to use it to terrorize other people. Dr. Greenwald's Crime Incubator. Can you be Professor Moriarty without realizing it?" "I don't think anything can happen that you haven't thought about," Chris said. He made it sound like a compliment. Anne laughed again. "So what are you going to do?" "I don't know," he said. "I need to think. How are you going to use your free hour?" "I've got about fifty reports I need to write. And a paper for a seminar that was due last week. I'll find something." The top of Anne's desk looked pristine, like a well-ordered mind. But she knew that its drawers, like the subconscious, were bursting with illdigested files. That square of blue was having a strange effect on her. The window was closed, but Anne felt a breeze. She took a clip from her hair, letting the soft brown hair fall down her neck, its ends just brushing the juncture between neck and shoulders. "I'll see you later," Chris said. "Yeah," she muttered toward the phone as she set it down. "If you're lucky." She unbuttoned her white clinical coat, sat at her desk, admiring its neatness, and with a sigh reached toward the bottom drawer. * * * Chris left the building before five o'clock, not an unprecedented event, but a rare one. Often when he left he had no one to tell good-bye except the cleaning crew. On this October Thursday afternoon he told no one, not even himself, as his round of pacing just took him out the doors, a not-quite-planned exit from the Justice Center. He didn't feel the air. His thoughts remained so solidly on the file he'd studied and the memories he'd revisited that he was a little surprised to find himself in his car headed north on the expressway, apparently homeward bound. He didn't remember which floor of the parking garage he'd been parked on. Anne would have known what he'd meant when he said he couldn't think inside the Justice Center. His body had known, too. He would go home, change, and run. At least walk, maybe shoot some baskets. He would get out of the box, move freely, let his thoughts roam. But his mood detracted from the attention he paid to normal matters. Chris couldn't have said whether anyone had seen him leave the Justice Center, whether anyone had been watching him. He had acted strangely ever since noon. Someone could have noticed. Cars hummed around and behind him on the expressway. Some followed him off at his exit. It was a busy street. Chris drove past the Quarry Market shopping center, busy with teenagers and others at four thirty in the afternoon. Traffic required some attention. The Quarry, which had started life as a huge hole in the ground out of which rocks had been dug for decades to make concrete, had turned into one of the busiest shopping areas in town after Alamo Cement relocated. The shopping center had opened since Chris had moved into the neighborhood a few years earlier. Population and traffic had grown. Generally Chris kept different hours from most of humanity and didn't notice how crowded his neighborhood had grown. Today, coming home at roughly the same time as most people, he decided he needed to move. Besides, he had a child now: Clarissa, seventeen, who had lived with him for the better part of a year. She should be in a house, with a yard and a dog. Clarissa would have laughed if she could have seen the watercolor scene her father's mind was painting for her. Her laughter would be lighthearted but caustic and remind Chris of her late mother. Clarissa was fine in a condominium. So was Chris. He'd been a suburban kid who had grown into a downtown kind of guy, which made a condo the perfect living space. But some days he felt it was time to grow up. Buy a house. Commit. He felt something as he parked under a rippled tin roof in his assigned slot. A certain weight to the air as if it carried something like a stare. He turned his head and saw many windows, but no one standing behind any of them. Then he began thinking again about his long-ago first big-time prosecution, and forgot the feeling of being watched as he went up the stairs to his front door. Inside, he flicked on lights. The condo sat dark during the day. It blinked in the light. The condo's walls used to be white. Recently Clarissa, with his and Anne's help, had painted them a bold lavender that Chris had hated at first but that had begun to grow on him. "Looks less like a clinical experiment now," Clarissa had said with satisfaction when the job was finished. The air in here didn't feel as dead as usual, as if October had crept inside even before Chris arrived. Not noticing, Chris draped his suit coat over one of the chrome barstools at the counter that defined the opening between the kitchen and dining area. He left his briefcase there, too, pulling off his tie as he walked to his bedroom, the one on the right. He left his tie and black shoes in the closet and went into the bathroom, failing to hear the sound of light footfalls. Chris emerged from the bathroom back into the walk-in closet. He took off his suit pants and hung them up. Barefoot, unbuttoning his shirt, he walked back out into the living room. The glass patio door caught his attention. He crossed to it and found the heavy door unlocked. Clarissa must have gone out there in the morning, and as usual forgotten to lock the sliding door when she'd come back in. The balcony held a fascination for her. Maybe she did need a backyard. Chris stepped outside, feeling a prickling along his shoulders. The patio looked down into another patio and beyond that to a parking lot. Someone could have clambered up here with difficulty, but he saw no sign that anyone had. A breeze stirred the crinkled hairs on his legs. Stepping back inside, he felt more than heard movement. Chris stopped just inside the door, standing perfectly still. Air moved on his skin, even though the air conditioner wasn't blowing. Chris wasn't normally paranoid, but life had been event-filled in the last year. He could name people who actively hated him. Some of those people were not the type merely to brood about their supposed injustices. This summer for a brief period he'd actually carried a gun for the first time in his life. But he'd given that up. For a moment he regretted that decision. Then he shook his head, closed the patio door, and walked toward Clarissa's bedroom, his feeling of alarm passing. Reason said no one lurked here. Who would even expect him home at this time of day? Something in the condo had probably moved when he'd opened the patio door and let the outside air slither inside. He glanced into Clarissa's bedroom. It looked neat as a room in a model home, the bed made tightly. Opening the closet door, he saw her shoes lined up neatly. Just since this school year had begun, her senior year, Clarissa's room had begun to look like that of a cadet in military school. He had no idea what was up with that. But it did make it easy to see no intruder had pawed through her clothes or dresser. Chris glanced into her bathroom, but began to feel silly, so that he didn't check behind the shower curtain or even the bathroom door. He walked back across the living room, humming, talking to himself in a disconnected murmur. His own sounds covered up the soft sound of feet crossing the living room seconds after his. The light in the bedroom came only from the walk-in closet, white angling into the gray of the room. Chris went into the light again, dropped his white shirt into the laundry hamper, and came back out into the bedroom in his underwear, the room grown even dimmer after his trip into the lighted closet. Thinking about things coming back, he bent over his own dresser and opened a drawer, looking for running shorts. The sounds from the living room were even softer, too soft to carry to Chris, the slither of fabric on skin as the intruder moved. Bare feet crossed his carpeted bedroom floor behind Chris's back as he found shorts and bent to pull them on. Arms encircled him from behind. At first the contact was so slight he thought he imagined it, then the arms drew tight across his chest, pulling him back. Chris gasped, trying to keep his balance. He felt flesh and then hair against his bare back. He turned, trying to see, and the soft brown hair moved across his shoulder. He recognized something then, her hair or her smell or the low chuckle that she couldn't hold in any longer. She turned with him, staying behind him, so they twirled for a moment in a strange dance. Anne began to feel embarrassed, she didn't want him to turn and see her. It had seemed like a great joking adventure, slipping in here before Chris got home, lying in wait. But joking adventures aren't for grown-ups. Even as she laughed and held him tight, she had lost her adventuress's resolve. Chris moved in her grasp, feeling her bare skin against his. She had dropped her skirt and blouse in the living room just before making her last daring rush across the bedroom floor to attack him. He turned in her grasp. Even after he had realized it was Anne he would see, he was astonished to find her nearly naked. She smiled like a predator, brazenness her only defense against embarrassment. "The mayor and chief of police are here with me," Chris said. "They're coming up the stairs now." "Then this will be fun," Anne said. She stepped close, running her hands down his sides and up to his chest. More whisper of fabric. The bedroom was dim but not dark, and not even dim in a normal way. That slash of white light cut through the room from the closet, a stripe of illumination in the darkness. Anne stepped through it, her skin turning very white. She pulled Chris with her, he also flickering white as in an old film. They stood by the foot of the bed, each with a knee up on it. Anne drew his head down for a first kiss. It did feel like a first kiss, tentative and slow, then growing more passionate. Her fingertips tickled his abdomen. His hands fell to the tops of her thighs. They found themselves on the unmade bed without a push or a fall. Anne was behind him again, moving. Her leg went over his. She kept moving, encircling him, like a very intimate evasion, not letting him get a good grip. He was the object, she the explorer. Chris knew this mood, and let her have her way, until she sat behind him with her legs wrapped around him, as if she'd captured him. He reached back and very slowly pulled her up and over. Their mouths met again. She lay full length against him as he fell forward and sideways. Time passed. Now there could have been other intruders in the condo; indeed, the mayor and police chief could have sat in the other room, tapping their fingers impatiently. No one in the bedroom would have noticed. Anne murmured, "I knew you'd come here. And Clarissa has volleyball practice after school today." This might have been an especially erotic endearment, from Chris's reaction. His last inhibition dropped. It was true that for the last six months he'd been as much a parent as a lover. His times with Anne seemed quick and secretive. But in every long-term relationship there are highs and lows, and must be an occasional renaissance of desire. Anne seemed to have felt such a rebirth lately. She'd become restless and sly, flirtatious at times in crowds. This didn't remind Chris of when they'd first begun dating. It was better. She pushed now, reaching, feet elongating. He held her waist tightly. The room seemed brighter, a few minutes later. Darkness no longer hid them. They lay huddled together, enwrapped, the sheets pushed down over the foot of the bed. Anne sighed, not ready to talk. Chris's thoughts had been pushed away, except the ones of her. "You know what we should do?" he said after a while, and Anne chuckled as if he'd made a great, dirty joke. Before he could elaborate, they heard the front door crashing back against the wall, a rush of air and movement, and a full, hearty teenage voice call, "Coach canceled practice and Suzie gave me a ride home! Anybody here?" Anne didn't leap up. She lay on the naked bed, put her hands over her face, and laughed like a teenager. * * * Jack Fine walked the narrow halls inside the district attorney's offices. He had laid down a lot of scuff marks on institutional floors over the last thirty years. Jails, police headquarters, medical examiner's offices, now the DA's office. Jack no longer even saw his surroundings, though if you put him into an unfamiliar scene his eye would catch out-of-place details in a heartbeat. Twenty years as a police detective had more than trained him; investigation instincts had twined along his spine and through his nerves. He had the best eyes in the business. People might have thought his life's work had shaped his cynical attitude, too, but people react in different ways. Jack had been completely content with a cop's life until in the course of his work he'd noticed some numbers that didn't add up in other police officers' collection and distribution of a charity fund. Jack being Jack, he had pulled on that thread and couldn't stop even when he began to see where it led. A few veteran cops had lost their jobs, including Jack. After what a lot of people inside the department saw as his betrayal, the cop shop had no longer been the clubhouse it used to be for him. He'd gotten out. An offer from a brand-new, overly eager district attorney to be his chief investigator had given Jack Fine the perfect escape at a time when he badly needed it, though he would never have let Chris Sinclair know such a thing. Jack's job inside this office included usually being the oldest guy in the room, the most hard-bitten, the one who had seen it all. As now. Jack stepped into one of the small offices to see a lanky young man in a white shirt slumped behind a metal desk. An even younger guy in a pink shirt sat across the desk, looking heavier and more lively. "What's the problem, Bert?" Jack asked the inert one. "I don't think there's a problem. Just this defendant in my court who says he wants to talk to The Man. I thought I should tell somebody." "How does he know you're not the man?" The other young prosecutor laughed. "See, I told you. You the man, Bert." At twenty-eight, the thin young man behind the desk was indeed a veteran prosecutor, even though to Jack he still looked like a high school student. Bert must have encountered an unusual defendant, one old enough to remember The Brady Bunch on its first run. One who wouldn't consider a kid prosecutor--even a first-chair kid prosecutor--"the man." "Where is he?" Jack asked. "In the holding cell next to the 290th." As Jack began to withdraw, Bert came alive enough to crane his neck. "Undoubtedly bullshit," he called. "I just thought I should tell somebody." Jack trudged down through the building. He could feel its unpopulated quality, on a Friday afternoon. No more jurors, no witnesses waiting, all trials finished, the week's business essentially done, and the skeleton staff remaining on duty resentful at having to be there. The hallway door into the 290th District Court was locked. Jack walked around through the back corridor and into the courtroom next to the judge's unoccupied bench. The large, friendly bailiff gave Jack a nodding smile. "Hear you've got a dangerous criminal mastermind here I should talk to," Jack said. "Really? Let me look at him again. I haven't seen a mastermind before. Closest thing we've had is that guy that spray-painted the security cameras blind. Then dropped the can of spray paint with his prints on it in the trash can on his way out." Ray laughed, jangled the keys on his belt, and went to a side door. Beyond it sat a confined space holding an elevator that went down to the mini-jail two floors down. Inside this space next to the courtroom there were also two very small cells, for holding inmates just before they were brought into the courtroom to testify or be put on trial. After a minute Ray the bailiff brought out from this space a guy with a stubbled head, quick eyes, and a prominent lip that curled when he saw Jack. "You ain't the man," he said. "Hell I'm not. Compared to you I'm the damn' Secretary-General of the UN." "I am only going to talk to Mr. Sinclair, the district attorney himself," the idiot in the orange jumpsuit said, enunciating distinctly in order to be insulting. "I have something to tell him that's a lot bigger than this bullshit they got me charged with. He'll want to deal, trust me. They'll have feds in here, too. Hard Copy , before it's over." This defendant looked to be in his thirties, probably toward the tail end, though with drug users it was hard to tell. He seemed as at ease in the courtroom as he would have been in a crack house, sitting on a corner of one of the counsel tables. His feet remained shackled but Ray the bailiff had freed his hands. He folded his bony arms as Jack stood close to him, hands in pockets, looking unenticed. It required no effort on Jack's part to appear less than intrigued. "If every jerk-off with a line of crap got to deal directly with the DA, he'd spend his whole day on nobodies like you." Jack realized he didn't even know this guy's name, and didn't mind keeping it that way. "So you don't get to talk to the man unless you convince me you've got something real." No man cometh unto the Father but by me . The quote had not played a role in Jack's upbringing, but he knew it. Among his other functions was that of gatekeeper. That's why the young assistant DA had come to him about this. And Jack prided himself on being a more reliable bullshit-detector than his boss. He looked this defendant in the eye, not ready to be entertained. The guy shook his head. "I'm not bringing it to you." "Why not?" "Because you're one of them." "One of who?" "Cops," the defendant said with a sneer. Jack sighed. The conversation had just ended, as far as he was concerned. The defendant sensed him about to turn away. He grew angrier. "You've all spent years covering it up." His eyes flicked past Jack to the uniformed bailiff, taking in all uniforms. "Covering up what?" Jack said, bored. Some of these guys at least made entertaining stories out of what they had to say, spun elaborate fantasies or conspiracies reaching all the way to the top. This guy's tale was the most recycled in the system: Cops framed me . "You know it's true," the defendant said. He read Jack's reaction on his face, and their conversation became condensed. "They've been doing it for years. Cops getting away with murder. And when somebody gets close they frame him for something else. Like Mr. Sinclair's old friend Steve Greerdon. Tell him. It's true. I've got the goods." Jack turned away, jerked his head back toward the defendant, and the bailiff nodded at the signal to put him away again. "It's true!" the defendant called, his voice going shaky as he realized he'd blown his chance. "Tell the district attorney! You don't think he'd care that he put an innocent cop in prison?" Jack walked out, shaking his head. * * * He found Chris Sinclair in his office, and Jack was glad to see that Chris was no longer in the cheerful mood in which Jack had found him earlier in the day. This morning Chris had been chipper and jovial, laughing at nothing or at his own stupid jokes, half of which didn't make any sense. Jack had been forced to leave, looking for people more beset by troubles and therefore easier to take. Now, though, Chris paced his office looking deeply thoughtful. His face wasn't out-and-out gloomy, but it was nevertheless an improvement from this morning. "Trouble?" Jack asked hopefully. Chris didn't answer, showing how preoccupied he was. Jack strolled around the office, waiting. He glanced at the open file folder on his boss's desktop, turned a couple of pages, then started reading more closely, noticing for the first time the name on the folder's tab. "Now isn't this a coincidence?" he said. Chris stopped pacing. He'd heard that. "What is?" he said slowly. "You looking at the file on Steve Greerdon. I've just come from talking to a guy who knows the whole scoop on that story, and about the other people various cops have framed over the years." "'Other'? So he says Greerdon was framed?" "Sure. This guy's a repeat offender looking at life. He's got to say something." Jack saw Chris going more alert but didn't think anything of it. Chris did that regularly. "But he happened to choose this case." "Yeah. So why were you lookin' at it again after all these years?" "Something brought it to mind, so I found it. I read the letters Greerdon's sent me in the past year. They're different. They've changed from what they used to be. He doesn't claim to know anything, just asks questions." "Such as?" "Here's a good one," Chris said. He walked toward Jack, closer to the desk, with the flimsy sheet of paper he held in his hand. "'Why was John Steger buried with full police honors, even though he left explicit instructions that he shouldn't be?'" Chris looked at his investigator, waiting for the answer. Instead Jack asked a question. "How'd you know John left a note?" Chris held up the letter. "How did Steve Greerdon know? Is there a cover-up, Jack?" "No. They let me know what happened specifically so there wouldn't be a cover-up. Official notice was given where it needed to be. Everyone just chose not to go public with it. And not to tell his family." "John Steger killed himself?" Jack nodded. "Technically against the law, I know, but what're you gonna do to him? So we just tried not to embarrass his family. The only thing we could do for them." Chris concurred. "But what did his note say? Anything about a reason?" Jack shook his head. "Only what you just heard. He said not to give him a cop's funeral. He didn't deserve it." "But you people in your wisdom decided to give him one anyway." Jack said quietly, "That's for the family too, Chris. John was a police officer. If you don't do the whole shmeer people'd ask why. Besides, John was wrong. He did deserve it. When you kill yourself you're not in your right mind. Should we honor every request a crazy person makes? He deserved the funeral for his whole career. The way his life ended, well, that could happen to anybody." "But who knows what else you might've been covering up inadvertently, Jack? Look how far the story gets. Greerdon's in prison, but he knows about it." Jack looked thoughtful but not yet worried. "Steve Greerdon was a cop. Even though he's in prison, I'm sure he's still got friends, no matter what. So what're you gonna do now, Chris, open up an old closed case because the defendant sends you a couple of letters and a lying snitch mentions his name? Word of this better not get out, you'll be deluged by letters from prison." "It's more than that," Chris said. "Something that happened yesterday." "What?" Chris didn't answer. He suddenly strode across his office and opened the door. In the outer office he found his tall, thoughtful first assistant, Paul Benavides, just emerging from his own office even though it was late on a Friday afternoon. The clerical staff had left. "What's wrong?" Paul said as soon as he caught sight of Chris. "Nothing, I hope. But I want--Where would old evidence be stored?" "From a closed case? I'm not sure it would be kept at all. What are you looking for?" "Blood," Chris said. * * * The day had grown too late to get more work done. Chris had other responsibilities. Half an hour later he picked up Clarissa from her private school. Instead of her school uniform she wore her volleyball outfit, blue shorts and a white T-shirt, with the sleeves fashionably rolled up and tied in place on her shoulders so that the shirt looked sleeveless. Clarissa immediately filled the car with noise and the smell of healthy girl sweat. Chris even thought she smelled sweet this way, and wondered fleetingly if she'd find a boy who thought so too. She said hi but barely glanced at him. She held a volleyball between her legs and kept popping it with the heel of her hand, not hard but accompanied by sound effects: "Pow! Whap!" Her blond ponytail twirled. Clarissa didn't smile, but stared at an imaginary spot on the ball. They had gone several blocks before Clarissa noticed Chris wasn't talking either. She looked at him and sighed loudly, which drew his attention. When he looked over at her, she said, "What is it? What are you obsessing about?" "Nothing. Nothing." "Yes you are, Dad. You're supposed to be interrogating me about my day. And look at you." Even given the short amount of time she'd known him, Clarissa could spot his phases. She'd seen this one before. He'd dropped into trial mode, which gave him great concentration but also tunnel vision. "It's nothing," he repeated, deliberately making his voice cheerful, and looking around, seeing the remains of the day. A trace of orange in the western sky, cars filling the streets, kids walking home with backpacks slung over their shoulders. "Hey!" Chris said, like a kid with a bright idea, as if he'd just thought of this. "How about if we do something a little different tonight?" Clarissa watched him, not fooled for a moment. She laughed. * * * An hour later they drove down Zarzamora Street. Anne had joined them. In fact, Anne drove her green Volvo, Chris beside her, Clarissa in back, leaning forward to peer out, like a tourist entering a foreign city. Anne, on the other hand, drove easily, at home on the west side, where she'd made many home and school visits. "Don't you think it'll be closed by now?" she said. Chris, staring out at the streets, shook his head. "They'll be doing a brisk trade in beer, and starting to cook barbacoa out back, for the weekend." They arrived at the Rivera grocery store and Chris's prediction proved true. Its heavy wooden doors stood open, flimsy screen doors leaving the store open to the street. A man with a twelve-pack emerged, taking a cigarette from behind his ear and sticking it in his mouth. While Anne slowed, looking for a parking space, Chris said, "Wait for me," and jumped out. Anne turned to Clarissa. "What is it this time?" Clarissa shrugged. They waited indulgently, watching Chris entering the old grocery store, their expressions like parents watching a child go off to school. * * * Inside, Chris found himself lucky. The grandmother stood on duty behind the cash register. Of course, why not? Her teenage granddaughter would be getting ready to go out, her son busy in the office adding up the week's receipts. She had nowhere to go. As in most cultures, in this one it was older women who kept things going. She had her back to him. Chris approached. He had changed out of his suit, into khakis and a sport shirt with the sleeves rolled up. But he still looked on-duty, compared to the store's other customers. " Señora ," he said. "Why did you tell my assistant you don't speak English? I remember you speaking very well." That was an exaggeration. Chris didn't really remember her testimony for him, except the impact it had made on the jury. The old lady turned quickly and stared at him. After a long pause, during which she clearly debated how to answer, she said, "What do you want?" "An answer to my question." She rubbed her lips over each other, but they still looked dry. "I didn't want to testify again," she finally said. "It goes badly for me." "How did it go badly?" he asked with genuine curiosity. A short line of people had formed at the counter, but they waited respectfully for him to finish questioning the cashier. "You told the truth, didn't you?" "Of course! I said it just the way you told me." " I told you?" Chris thought she had him mistaken for someone else. " Sí ," the woman said, her voice growing more urgent, as if he had contradicted her. "You said I had to say I was sure. You said I had to sound positive about the man I saw in here." Chris shook his head slowly. "I said you had to be sure. If I was going to prosecute a police officer--I was asking you were you sure he was the one." That was the way he'd phrased it, wasn't it, when he'd prepared this witness for trial eight years earlier? He hadn't been too eager, he hadn't put words in her mouth. But he hadn't been the only one to question her, either. Not by a long shot. Half a dozen cops had talked to her before Chris had ever seen her. The old lady watched him nervously. Seeing his reaction, she thought she'd made a mistake. But that wasn't what Chris was thinking. He was thinking that he had. * * * A minute later Anne and Clarissa followed him into the store. Clarissa looked around curiously, noting the three aisles, the sparsely stocked shelves, brands that seemed exotic to her. A couple of customers looked back at her with the same expressions. Tall, authentically blond teenage girls didn't appear here every week. Anne found Chris staring. She took his arm and gently led him away from the counter. "What is it?" she asked, having no idea why he was here. "There was a conspiracy," he said hollowly. "I was part of it. Anne--" His eyes had grown haunted. He was no longer fully present. But his emotions were certainly engaged. His face, pale when she'd entered, suddenly went red. "My God, I think I've put an innocent man in prison." The following week, tests on old blood confirmed his fear. Copyright (c) 2004 by Jay Brandon Excerpted from Grudge Match by Jay Brandon All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.