image
Table of Contents
Cover Page
About the Author
Praise for The Final Judgement
Also by Richard North Patterson
The Final Judgement
Copyright Page
Dedication
Part One: Two Women
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Part Two: The Return
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Part Three: Summer 1964
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Part Four: The Witness
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Part Five: Summer 1972
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Part Six: The Hearing
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Part Seven: The Final Judgement
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Acknowledgments
About the Author
RICHARD NORTH PATTERSON, now a full time writer, was a San Francisco trial lawyer and partner in the firm of McCutchen, Doyle, Brown and Emerson. His first short story was published in The Atlantic Monthly and hist first novel. The Lasko Tangent, won an Edgar Allan Poe Award in 1979. He has since written The Outside Man, Escape the Night, Private Screening and Protect and Defend. His last six novels, including Degree of Guilt, Eyes of a Child, Silent Witness, No Safe Place and Dark Lady have been international bestsellers.
Praise for THE FINAL JUDGEMENT
‘Thrilling, gripping and wholly convincing’ – Daily Express
‘Incredibly accomplished, utterly compelling courtroom drama . . . the pace never flags’ – Guardian
‘A first class courtroom thriller’ – Sunday Times
‘Dazzling . . . the pages almost seem to turn themselves . . . the plot culminates in a classic courtroom confrontation’ – San Francisco Chronicle
‘The novel builds to several breathtaking surprises’ – People
‘Compelling . . . Very possibly Patterson’s best’ – USA Today
‘His most entertaining legal thriller to date. THE FINAL JUDGEMENT . . . is also a shrewd murder mystery that continues to baffle right up to the last few pages’ – Entertainment Weekly
‘Excellent . . . Patterson’s writing is always compelling, but THE FINAL JUDGEMENT may be his best work yet . . . the tension never ebbs’ – Booklist
‘THE FINAL JUDGEMENT is a real treat’ – San Francisco Chronicle
‘Guaranteed to intrigue and please’ – Booklist
‘Patterson excels at writing courtroom scenes’ – Publishers’ Weekly
‘The story rings true, the characters are believable and the sum is a legal thriller that is so much more’ – The Plain Dealer
‘This tale of law, love and murder offers up exactly the kind of intelligent, well-written entertainment that seems to have vanished from the bookshelves amid a phethora of serial killer novels’ – USA Today
Praise for EYES OF A CHILD
‘Patterson’s new thriller is a miracle of agonizingly focused suspense’ – Kirkus
‘This was my first Patterson: I can’t wait for another’ – Time Out
‘A chilling success . . . Patterson is one of the best in the business’ – Time magazine
‘Destined for celebrity status alongside Scott Turow and John Grisham . . . He belongs among the elite’ – Los Angeles Times
Praise for DEGREE OF GUILT
‘More gripping than Grisham’ – Today
‘This novel defies any attempt to put it down’ – Daily Telegraph
‘Exceptionally skilful, high tension, full of surprises’ – Times
‘One intense courtroom clash after another. An intelligent and gripping thriller’ – The Washington Post
‘The most compulsively readable courtroom thriller since Presumed Innocence– People
ALSO BY RICHARD NORTH PATTERSON
Dark Lady
No Safe Place
Silent Witness
Eyes of a Child
Degree of Guilt
Private Screening
Escape the Night
The Outside Man
The Lasko Tangent
Protect and Defend

THE FINAL

JUDGEMENT

Richard North Patterson

image

This eBook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author’s and publisher’s rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.
Epub ISBN: 9781407089140
Version 1.0
www.randomhouse.co.uk
  
Published in the United Kingdom in 1997 by
Arrow Book
12 14 16 18 20 19 17 15 13
Copyright © Richard North Patterson, 1996
The right of Richard North Patterson to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser
First published in the United Kingdom in 1996 by Hutchinson
Arrow Books
The Random House Group Limited
20 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London, SW1V 2SA
Random House Australia (Pty) Limited
16 Dalmore Drive, Scoresby, Victoria 3179, Australia
The Random House New Zealand Limited
18 Poland Road, Glenfield
Auckland 10, New Zealand
Random House (Pty) Limited
Endulini, 5a Jubilee Road, Parktown 2193, South Africa
The Random House Group Limited Reg. No. 954009
www.randomhouse.co.uk
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
Papers used by The Random House Group Limited are natural, recyclable products made from wood grown in sustainable forests. The manufacturing processes conform to the environmental regulations of the country of origin
Typeset in Ehrhardt by Deltatype Ltd, Birkenhead, Merseyside
Printed and bound in Great Britain by
Bookmarque Ltd, Croydon, Surrey
009 995630 6
  
For Alison Porter Thomas
PART ONE
Two Women
Chapter 1
Two days after the murder, listening to Brett Allen’s tale of innocence and confusion, the lawyer wavered between disbelief and wonder at its richness, so vivid that she could almost picture it as truth.
The lawyer looked at Brett in silence, taking in the oval face, the delicate cleft chin, the curly ungroomed hair, the small breasts and almost too slim body of a late bloomer who, at first glance, looked younger than twenty-two. But what struck her was the bright greenness of the eyes, a gaze so intuitive and direct that it unnerved her.
As Brett described it, the night had been crisp, windless. Moonlight refracted on the still, obsidian waters of the lake and traced the pines and birches and elms surrounding it. The only sound Brett heard was the rise and fall of James’s breathing.
They were naked. Brett straddled him, as she had when making love. The cool night chilled her nipples, dried the wetness on her skin. As she shivered, James, flaccid and unconscious, slid from inside her.
She felt a spurt of anger. And then the nausea returned, mingling the acrid taste of marijuana with the torpor of too much wine. All at once, the night burst into shards – images without connection, freeze-frames of color amidst a black jumble she could not remember.
That explained how she had acted with the police, she told her lawyer – pot and wine, shock and paranoia. Dope was really James’s thing. As Brett said this, her lawyer saw a sheen of tears, as if the young woman had remembered some fond detail. For days after, as the lawyer grew to believe that Brett Allen was a murderer, the moment haunted her.
Before the dope, Brett told her, her memory was sound.
James had called her parents’ home, where she was staying for the summer. They had talked a little; then, fearing that her mother might listen in, Brett had suggested that they go to the lake, take some cheese and wine. She had a favorite place, and they would be alone.
Whatever James had to say, she sensed, should not be heard by others.
Brett made her excuses. She saw the tight look in her mother’s thin face, the cool gray eyes filling with things she did not say. For a moment, Brett was torn between pity and the desire to confront her, and then she decided that this was pointless. She left the house, its dark mass looming behind her.
She drove to the college for James. In the car, he was quiet, intent. His face was a study in black and white – pale skin, dark ringlets of hair, shadows on his sculpted face. One of his acting teachers, with mingled derision and admiration, had once called him ‘Young Lord Byron.’ The teacher, Brett pointedly recalled, was a woman.
They drove winding roads, wooded and silent, saw occasional headlights cutting the silver darkness, then the steady glow of a lone car behind them, traveling neither slower nor faster. Abruptly, they turned down a dirt road, hacked so narrow between looming pines that it was pitch black. The car lights behind them passed the trailhead, and vanished.
Hitting the brights, Brett slowed to a crawl, following the headlights as they carved a path between the rough-barked trunks of trees.
Then the path ended.
Brett stopped there. Silent, she opened the trunk of her battered black Jeep, took out the gym bag with the wine and cheese, then tucked a rough woolen blanket under her arm. James followed her into the trees.
Suddenly, there was no sky.
They edged through trunks and branches down a gradually sloping hill, feet sliding on the hardened ground, the result of two dry weeks after a rainy spring. A branch lashed at her face; in the darkness, Brett felt diminished, like some primitive amidst the mysteries of nature.
‘Where are we going?’ James murmured behind her. ‘To play Dungeons and Dragons?’
Why was it, Brett wondered, that people whisper in the darkness? She did not answer.
And then they reached the clearing.
A glade of grass, opening to a moonlit lake. She stopped there, looking out.
Behind her, James was quiet again.
‘This is yours?’ he said at last.
Can you leave this? she felt him ask. But she answered only the question he spoke aloud.
‘Yes,’ she said simply. ‘It’s mine. If I still want it.’
She did not mean the lake. It was a mile across and nearly that wide; on the far shore were a few fishing camps and summer houses, unseen in the darkness. But since her birth her family had held the parcel where they stood for Brett. It was a fact as certain as her grandfather’s love.
Brett gazed out at the water, postponing by her stillness the moment when they would begin to talk.
She could sense, rather than see, the platform where she had first learned to dive. Yet she could have swum there as surely as in daylight. Just as she could remember standing on the rocky inlet between the glade and the water, holding aloft the rainbow trout, speckled in the sunlight, so that her grandfather could see it.
Turning to James, Brett put down the gym bag and held out the wool blanket so that he could help her spread it on the glade. Laying it down, she could feel the dampness of the grass.
They settled onto the blanket, Brett sitting cross-legged, James lying on his side, head propped on one hand. Woods surrounded them on three sides; in front of them was the smooth black sheen of water. Far across the lake, Brett heard the faint cry of a heron. They were utterly alone.
‘What is it?’ she asked him.
James brushed the hair back from his forehead. Brett knew this as a temporizing gesture, a sign of hesitancy.
‘I want us to go to California,’ he said at length.
Her voice was level. ‘I know that.’
‘I mean soon.’
It was hard to read his face. But beneath the casual pose, so characteristic of James, Brett felt his anxiety.
‘Why soon?’
He was quiet for a time. But in their year together, Brett had learned the uses of silence. She waited.
‘That dope I sold,’ James said finally. ‘I never paid for it.’
Brett despised James’s business. They had fought about it for two months: James was adamant that this was the way for him – left without money or family to speak of – to pay his way through what he had sardonically labeled the ‘poison ivy league.’ It was, he promised, temporary.
‘Never paid for it . . . ,’ Brett repeated in a flat voice. ‘I didn’t know your friends gave credit.’
‘I need the money. We need the money. To leave here.’ James’s voice rose. ‘Sure as hell your family won’t give you any. Not for that.’
‘Why should they?’
‘No reason to.’ His tone softened. ‘It’s just that I had to do something – start a life.’
He was trying to make her complicit, Brett knew. ‘Without asking me?’ she shot back. ‘You’re supposed to do what you want, and I’m just supposed to react to it?’
James sat up now, facing her. ‘I owe a little over thirty-five hundred.’ He leaned forward in entreaty. ‘I made almost forty-three selling the stuff. Enough to drive to the Coast and still have first and last months’ rent.’
Brett knew his dream. He would work part time and look for acting jobs; Brett would break from home and family – the stifling effect she felt of too many years of expectations – and write the books she believed she could. But this image seemed more vivid to James than to her.
‘I have a life, James. A real one. And not all of it is with you.’ She shook her head in impatience. ‘My parents are work, all right – especially my mother. But I have one quarter of school left, and I owe it to them to finish, owe it to myself if I decide to get a master’s degree. And my grandfather – who I love a lot, though I understand it’s hard for you to get that – has a heart condition. What I do about them, I have to live with. Just like I have to live with me. This isn’t about you, okay? Or even me writing the Great American Novel.’ She paused, finishing more quietly: ‘You never had a family, for bad or good or in between. It’s more complex than you think.’
James expelled a breath. Taking her hand, he said softly, ‘You’re my family.’
It was meant to touch her, Brett knew. But she perceived what James could never admit: that beneath his calculation was the loneliness of a seven-year-old whose mother was dead and his father vanished, his future a series of foster homes that took him in for money.
Conflicted, Brett watched his eyes, searching for the person who lived behind them.
Suddenly, James flinched. He was half standing before she heard the sound.
Underbrush rustling, perhaps the cracking of a branch. James went rigid; in that moment, Brett saw how scared he was.
It was that which raised the gooseflesh on her skin.
‘What was that?’ he said in a low voice.
Watching his face, thin and strained, Brett listened.
Nothing.
Slowly, she turned from him, saw pale branches at the edge of the glade, then darkness.
‘Well,’ she said with a trace of humor, ‘they say the timber-wolves are coming back from Canada. There are all sorts of animals in the woods at night. Everything but people.’ When he did not answer, she lowered her voice. ‘How much trouble is this?’
James clasped her shoulders. ‘He’s been calling me,’ he said. ‘My supplier.’
‘And?’
‘He wants his money. I said I didn’t have it yet.’
Brett felt her eyes close. She was part of a deadline, she realized, that James had created for himself. ‘Then give him the money, that’s all.’
She heard him exhale. ‘Too late. He knows I lied to him.’
To Brett, the phrase had an incomplete sound. When she turned to him, he was still looking over her shoulder. ‘They broke into my apartment, Brett. Last night. The place was torn up, and the sheets slashed.’
Brett stared at him. Reflexively, she asked, ‘Did you call the police?’
He gave her a faint, crooked smile. With a strange mix of bitterness and affection, he said, ‘You really are the judge’s granddaughter, you know.’
Her voice rose. ‘It can’t be too late, James. All they want is money. What good does it do to hurt you?’
‘That’s not how it works, Brett. Please believe me.’
She shook her head, turning away. ‘There are too many surprises, too close together. I just can’t deal with this. . . .’
Her voice trailed off. He had grown up protecting himself, she thought; he wasn’t used to closeness.
Alone, Brett walked to the water’s edge.
After a time, she heard his footsteps behind her, then saw his faint reflection in the water next to hers, a slender profile with hands jammed in pockets. He made no move to touch her.
Another part of her, she realized, was listening to the woods behind them.
‘What are you going to do?’ he asked.
She hunched her shoulders. ‘I don’t know.’
‘We have to decide.’
‘You decided without me, James. Now I have to decide what I want. Without you.’
His shadow seemed to slump a little. At length, he said, ‘Then just be with me, all right?’
Brett knew what James meant, perhaps before he did. It was James’s instinct to see lovemaking as a refuge from his insecurity. So that, taking him inside her, Brett never knew whether he was reaching for her or running from himself.
She turned to him. ‘Trying to fuck me into submission?’
The crooked smile again. Beneath it Brett saw a flicker of vulnerability – James exposed to himself. ‘Not really.’
She felt a first twinge of guilt. ‘Good,’ she said. ‘Because I’m hungry. And thirsty.’
Tentatively, James took her hand. They walked back to the blanket.
They knelt there, James unwrapping the cheese and slicing it with a pocket knife, Brett pouring red wine into a paper cup. There was no sound but their own.
With the second cup of wine, Brett felt the alcoholic glow. A pleasant lassitude crept through her limbs.
She sat between James’s legs, back against his chest, in a silent declaration of truce. They shared a cup, James taking it from her hand and placing it back again. Brett was not a drinker; with each sip, the night seemed to close in a little, become a cocoon of warmth. The passing moments were impressions – the rise and fall of crickets chirring, the sheen of water, the rich red taste of wine, the rough-smooth feel of James’s face against hers. She tried to push their troubles away, save her decision for the cool, clear morning that would light the lake with silver, then with gold.
‘What are you thinking?’ he asked.
‘I’m just being,’ she answered, and drained the cup.
James knew not to push her. Silent, he reached around her and filled the empty cup.
‘Some grass?’ he asked. ‘I brought a joint.’
It was wrong, part of her thought. They should not drift toward lovemaking dulled by dope and wine; whatever happened would have little meaning beyond release. But she needed time to find the answer that might well end them.
When James lit the joint, sucking in the first hit with a low quick breath, she took it from between his fingers.
She did not do this much. The first acrid puff was hot and raw in her throat. But with the second, slower and deeper, she settled in James’s arms.
The night changed again. The stars had a diamond clarity, undimmed by clouds or city lights. Brett became lost in them.
They stayed like that, passing the joint back and forth as they finished the bottle of wine. James seemed less a person than a presence; what Brett felt now was a deep immersion in this place – the sky, the water, the rattle of breezes in unseen trees. It was all she wanted.
And then James’s hands, tender and tentative, brushed against her breasts.
She wore no bra. Through her T-shirt, she felt her nipples rise beneath his hands, her nerve ends suddenly alive, a pulse of warmth where James had not yet touched. A silent murmur filled her throat.
In this way, at least, he knew her. This way, they worked.
The tips of his fingers touched her nipples now, gently moving. And then she felt the wine and the dope and the shiver of skin exploding in a savage impulse.
She turned to him, balanced on her knees, and raised the T-shirt over her head.
Slowly, as if in a ritual, he untied her sneakers, pushed her to the blanket with one hand cradling her back, then unzipped her jeans and slid them down and off.
That he did not undress said the rest. She lay on her back, watching the stars, as he reached beneath the elastic of her underpants.
Brett opened her legs for him.
James bent his face to her. For an instant, Brett felt it as a silent offering, a plea for closeness. Then all she felt was his face against her thighs, his seeking tongue.
When her hips began to move, she could not help this, nor did she want to. The sounds from her lips were more cry than murmur, becoming quicker, a guide for him. Blood rushed to where his tongue caressed her, swift with the hotness of dope and wanting. Her movements lost all rhythm.
A cry in darkness.
Brett’s eyes shut tight as the spasms ran through her body. Only as a tingle reached her fingers did she hear the woman’s cries, slower and softer, recognize them as hers.
And then she was still.
She could not seem to move. Beneath the torpor, sex and dope and wine seemed to loop in circuits through her brain.
Awkwardly, Brett got to her knees. She could feel the heat receding from her thighs.
James seemed unreal now, in pieces: eyes wanting her, a hand pulling her close. She felt smoke and alcohol in the pit of her stomach. The night began to spin.
‘Jesus,’ she murmured.
He did not seem to hear; suddenly his movements had the clumsy concentration of drunkenness. As he pulled down his pants, Brett had the jaded, antic vision of a monster she had seen in an old movie, tottering over Tokyo as he swayed from side to side.
She swallowed, fighting sickness and self-disgust. When he held his penis to her face, she shook her head.
Just don’t lie down, she told herself.
‘Lie back,’ she murmured.
He did that. Clumsily, she turned from him, crawling naked toward the gym bag.
‘Where are you going?’ he asked dully.
Mute, she fumbled through the bag and then pulled out a foil square. Crawling back, she held it out to him.
‘You’re on the pill,’ he said.
Brett stared at him. ‘I’ll put it on for you.’
Watching her face, he said nothing more.
Fragments now: sheathing him in latex, its oily slickness between her fingers. Clambering on her knees to mount him. The blunt feeling of him as he entered her. A fever on her skin, too clammy for passion.
As James moaned, urging himself to climax, she thought of two dogs mating.
She rode him out of stubbornness, fighting sickness. He did not come. Desperate, Brett wrenched him upward with her hands beneath his spine. He flinched beneath her; dimly, she realized that her nails had scraped his skin.
His eyes opened wider. ‘I love you . . .,’ he murmured.
Brett stopped moving. Tenderness overtaking her, she touched his face.
James was asleep.
As she shivered in the sudden cool of night, he slipped from inside her. She stared at him, sick and stupid again, fighting the impulse to lift him by the hair. And then, abruptly, anger became sadness.
There was still goodness in him, she knew, much that had not been ruined. He was tender with her, always. When she grew angry with him, he did not lash back; he watched her, puzzled, trying to comprehend. As if listening for music he could not yet hear.
Gently, she laid his head down, turned it to one side. He slept with a child’s innocence.
Lost in dope and darkness, Brett had forgotten the lake was there. And then it struck her: the cool water might clear her head.
Rising, she turned to the water.
It seemed opaque, a glassy rock. Brett clambered naked from the glade across the rocky shore, crying out as the sharp stones cut her bare feet.
A splash, shocking coolness as she hit the water.
Swimming felt hard and slow. Suddenly, she was swathed in blackness, swallowed by the lake. In panic, she flailed to keep from drowning, felt herself go under. . . .
And then, shivering and panting, Brett was lying facedown on the rough wooden planks of the diving platform. She felt surprise, then fright that she could not remember how she got there.
Slowly, like a woman half drowned, Brett turned on her back. Her mouth had the brackish taste of algae and still water. Her heart throbbed in her chest.
Gradually, her breathing eased. She had no thought of swimming back.
Time kept slipping. Brett saw an image from childhood: her mother, calm and sure then, teaching her to dive, her grandfather watching with that air of pleased reserve. Brett stared up at the moon, so seemingly close that she could almost touch the craters on its face.
And then the sense was upon her, primal and instinctive, that they were not alone.
Brett trained her eyes on the water. Distances were lost to her. When she turned to the glade where James lay sleeping, it seemed to move away. The faint moonlight on the grass was like the glow of phosphorus.
A sudden shadow rose from the grass.
Brett sat up. ‘James . . .’
Startled, the shadow turned. Her voice echoed on the water.
James . . .’
Abruptly, the shadow vanished among the shadows of her imaginings. . . .
No.
Brett stood without thinking and dove into the water.
The shock of coolness felt real now. She was less afraid to swim than to stop and look at the glade. She rose from the water’s edge, trembling with cold.
The glade was dark and silent. She walked toward the blanket, grass matting beneath her feet.
James was not the shadow. He lay as she had left him, except that he was gazing at the moon.
A sound came from his throat.
Like snoring, Brett thought as she approached. Yet not snoring. In the moonlight, she saw that his mouth was open, heard ragged breaths.
The sound again. A gurgling, Brett thought suddenly. Like the sound of a man whose lungs had filled with water.
James, she thought with horror, was drowning in his own vomit.
With quick, instinctive movements, Brett knelt beside him. As moonlight caught his face, she started CPR.
She felt wetness on his lips, heard her own breath rattle in his throat. Her eyes shut tight. Like a delayed image on the retina, Brett saw his face in the instant before she had placed her mouth to his.
As Brett recoiled, a warm spray rose from his lips, flecking her face and throat and breasts.
His body shivered beneath her in a twitching spasm. His face was speckled, eyes staring at nothing. The last soft spray of blood rose from his severed windpipe.
A knife stuck from his ribs.
Brett made no sound. She stood, trembling, straining to comprehend. Saw the blood on her fingers.
Only then did she realize that she had pulled the knife from his chest.
As her shriek carried across the water, Brett the reasoning human ceased to exist.
All was a nightmare collage: Her hand clutching the knife. His wallet where it had fallen as he undressed. The dark slash through his throat.
She whirled, staring wildly at the woods. The wind, moaning now, was the sound of James dying.
Blindly, Brett ran toward the darkness.
It enveloped her. Branches beat her face and body as she flailed at the darkness with both hands, hacking the leaves from her face. Now the darkness seemed to enter her mind. The flailing became a dream, no moment distinct from the other, the glade behind her no more real than the moon she could not see. Time had no end. And then, in sudden moonlight, the outline of a Jeep appeared.
Brett slowed to a walk. Emerging naked from the trees, she was uncertain of what to believe. Tentative, she rested her hand on the Jeep.
It was real. The keys were still inside.
Brett opened the door, throwing what she had carried on the passenger seat, and turned the ignition.
It worked. Brett locked herself in. She did not know how long she sat there, naked, listening to the low hum of the motor.
She switched on the headlights. When she spun the Jeep around, their beams cut a path between the trunks of trees. Just as before.
Shifting gears, Brett began to drive.
Brett awoke in darkness.
She tasted blood in her mouth, then vomit. Her lip felt swollen.
She was slumped, naked, across the steering wheel. The stench of sickness filled the Jeep. Her stomach felt hollow.
Brett felt a pounding in her head. Stiff-necked, she leaned back in the seat and looked around her.
A wooded roadside. She did not know where she was, how she had gotten there, how long she had been unconscious. She was not sure why she was crying.
A light came toward her.
Brett winced, turning her head. The light filled her windshield.
Behind the flashlight was the shape of a man.
The light circled the hood of her car, moving toward the driver’s side. Brett curled sideways, face pressed against the door, arms folded across her chest, eyes and mouth clamped tight.
There was a tap on the window.
No, she thought. Don’t hurt me.
Fingers digging into her skin, Brett forced her eyes open. The tap of the flashlight stopped. A beam of light crossed her body, captured her hips, a shadow of pubic hair.
As Brett gazed at her own nakedness, a tremor ran through her.
‘Open up,’ a voice demanded.
A young man’s voice, Brett thought. She swallowed. ‘Open up,’ he said again. ‘Police.’
Police. By instinct, she reached for the window crank, one arm covering her breasts, and lowered the glass between her and the voice.
He was young, with short dark hair and a pale face. Though he wore the jacket of the local police, she did not know him.
He looked startled, embarrassed. ‘What happened?’
Brett shook her head. Words did not seem to come.
‘Sick . . .’
He thrust the flashlight into the car, jabbing the beam here and there. In a taut voice, he asked, ‘Is someone hurt?’
Sudden images. Straddling James in the night. His staring eyes. A knife in her hand.
‘Miss?’
A nightmare. She must be stoned, the terrible pictures a dream. James was home in bed.
Her voice was weak. ‘Please, take me home. . . .’
His flashlight lit the passenger seat.
A heap of clothes, a wallet. A bloody knife.
‘I’m taking you in, miss.’
A convulsive sob ripped from Brett’s throat. ‘Why . . .?’
A moment’s pause. ‘For driving while intoxicated.’
The beam moved back to her. Brett saw blood on her hands, speckles of blood on her torso.
She curled, elbows on knees, and vomited.
He gave her his jacket.
Their drive to the station was lost to her. The shotgun in his car, the crackle of a radio, nothing else. When she found herself sitting hunched against the wall of a cinder-block cell, it was like awakening from a blackout. The policeman stood over her.
Looking away from him, she pulled his jacket to midthigh, saw specks of vomit on her legs.
In his hand was James’s wallet, opened to his driver’s license. Staring from the picture on the laminated card, James looked stiff and frightened.
With terrible vividness, Brett saw the gash in his throat.
The cop’s voice was strangely gentle. ‘I think there’s someone hurt out there, needing our help. If we can’t find him . . .’
Brett’s eyes filled with tears. ‘Look by the lake,’ she said dully. ‘Maybe he’s there.’
‘Heron Lake?’
Swallowing, Brett nodded.
The cop hurried away. Brett heard footsteps on tile, his voice on the telephone. She waited, drained, until the cop returned.
‘I’ll drive you to the hospital,’ he said.
A blond, bird-faced woman in a state trooper’s uniform was waiting by the emergency entrance.
The cop holding one arm, the trooper the other, Brett was led through the bleak corridors. She passed beneath the fluorescent lights as if sleepwalking.
At the end of a corridor was an empty room.
The trooper took Brett inside. Brett stood there, staring at the room – an examining table, two chairs, a metal cabinet and sink and mirror.
She felt the young cop pause in the doorway. ‘Is this all right?’ he asked.
The trooper nodded. ‘For waiting, yes. Until they find something.’
The cop hesitated, glancing at Brett, and left.
The trooper closed the door behind them, stood facing Brett. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said, ‘but I need to take that jacket off.’
Brett clasped it tighter. ‘Why?’
‘Procedures.’ Without waiting for an answer, she unzipped the jacket and slid it from Brett’s shoulders.
Brett shivered again.
‘Can I clean up?’ she asked.
‘No. Not yet.’
Brett stared at her. Taking the handcuffs from her belt, the trooper turned one chair to face the cabinet and in the crisp manner of a schoolteacher said, ‘Sit here, please. I have to cuff you.’
Suddenly, Brett was angry. ‘Tell me why, damn it.’
The trooper shot her a level glance. ‘So that you don’t touch yourself.’
For that instant, Brett wanted to call her parents, her grandfather. Then the mirror caught her reflection.
Her face was flecked with blood.
Brett walked forward, as if drawn to her image. Dried blood speckled her lips, her throat, her breasts.
Brett sat in the chair.
As she held out her hands, there was blood on her fingertips.
Pulling Brett’s arms behind her, the trooper cuffed her to the metal chair.
A plump nurse came. Silent, she took out a needle and punctured Brett’s arm. With an odd detachment, Brett watched the plastic tube fill with her own blood. She hardly felt the needle.
The nurse left her with the trooper.
‘How long will I be here?’ Brett asked.
No answer.
Time passed. Perhaps minutes, perhaps hours.
There was a knock on the door.
Brett turned. The trooper opened the door slightly, speaking through the crack to shield Brett’s nakedness.
‘What is it?’ she asked.
A male voice, new to Brett. ‘They found him. At Heron Lake.’
‘Is he all right?’ Brett asked.
Whispers now. Closing the door, the trooper handed her some papers.
‘This is a search warrant,’ she said. ‘For you.’
‘For what?’
A long, slow look. ‘He’s dead.’
Brett began shaking.
Everything changed.
Brett stood there, mute, a magnet for strangers. Another female trooper entered, with a Polaroid, took pictures of Brett’s face, her throat and torso, her fingertips.
A knife in her hand . . .
A nurse in a scrub suit snipped a piece of Brett’s hair and then, kneeling, clipped from her pubic hair.
The images came quicker now. A shadow, turning . . .
The nurse scraped flecks of blood from Brett’s skin onto a piece of plastic.
A soft spray rising from his throat . . .
She turned to the trooper. ‘I need to see someone.’
A quick careful look. ‘Who?’
‘The policeman who brought me here.’
The trooper shook her head. ‘First we have to finish this. Then we’ll find him.’
At the trooper’s signal, a mustached doctor approached from the side. Gently, he led Brett to the examining table, explained that he would take a swab from her vagina.
Brett lay staring at the fluorescent lights. As she opened her legs, Brett remembered the feel of James’s tongue.
‘It’s all right.’ The doctor’s voice was soothing, comfort for a patient. ‘We’re almost done.’
Brett stood, unsteady. The trooper held out a jumpsuit. ‘You can dress now.’
Brett did not try to clean herself.
When she was dressed, the nurse took one hand, then the other, slipping a scalpel beneath each fingernail.
James wincing as she scraped his back . . .
She had left him there. For minutes, perhaps hours, she had not told them.
‘Please,’ she pressed, ‘I need to talk now.’
They took her fingerprints and then drove her to the jail.
The sky was purpling with the first thin streak of dawn. Now she recognized the police station.
They led her to a cramped room with two metal desks. The young cop sat at one desk; somehow he had gotten back his jacket. A stranger sat at another, a tape recorder in front of him.
He was stocky and red-faced, with pale-blue eyes and an air of calm authority. He understood she wished to talk. Hoped she wouldn’t mind the tape . . .
‘You have the right to remain silent . . .’
Brett waited until he finished, and then she began to tell them all she could.
When it was over, she searched their eyes, saw nothing. They led her to the cell again, and she was alone.
Voices came from the next room. ‘Do you know who her grandfather is?’ someone asked.
Only after a time did she see the man standing in front of her cell.
He was tall and almost gangly, his black hair flecked with gray. His work shirt and khakis were wrinkled, and he had not yet shaved. Twin creases elongated his face and made the large brown eyes knowing and a little sad. He seemed kind, somehow familiar.
‘Oh, Brett.’ His voice was soft with melancholy. ‘What in God’s name have you done?’
It was, Brett’s lawyer reflected, precisely the question she wished that she could ask. But she was a defense lawyer and could not.
‘Who was he?’ Brett asked her. ‘The man at the jail.’
The lawyer hesitated, caught in the scene as Brett was describing it, still wondering how much could be believed. But the tall man’s face was very real to her.
‘It was the prosecutor,’ she told Brett. ‘Jackson Watts. Through college, we were friends.’
‘And now?’
‘I don’t know.’ The lawyer paused, then finished. ‘The last time I saw him was before you were born.’
For a moment, Brett looked at her curiously. But she said nothing.
‘Tell me,’ the lawyer inquired. ‘Did the police ask anything else?’
Brett hesitated. ‘I think they asked if James had other girlfriends.’
The lawyer tilted her head. ‘To which you answered . . .?’
‘No.’ Brett’s voice was angry now. ‘No.’
Chapter 2
Two days earlier, the Honorable Caroline Clark Masters had stretched her tan legs in front of her, wriggled some sand from between her toes, and gazed out at the white-capped blue of Nantucket Sound.
It was summer, and afternoon. Sun glistened on the water; a northeast wind tousled the loose black ringlets of her hair. The ocean was dotted with boats, sailing across the northeast winds to Edgartown. Along the beach, stretching to a faraway point, waves broke onto the tawny sand until they seemed to meet a white mist in the distance, sitting lightly on the water. Caroline’s mind flooded with memories.
Perhaps it was the boy. A college kid, really – a distant figure now, growing smaller as he walked the surf.
He had looked, she thought, a little as she remembered David. Not the hair so much. Something about the eyes. Perhaps that was why Caroline, disposed to solitude, had spoken to him.
‘Hello.’
He stopped on the sand, looking from Caroline to the sprawling house on the bluff behind her. Feeling a little guilty, perhaps, to be walking her private beach.
‘Hi.’ He shifted from foot to foot, dressed only in cutoffs, lean and brown and not bad looking. With a certain awe, he asked, ‘Is this place yours?’
Caroline smiled, shook her head. ‘Just renting. For a week.’
He took that in, nodding. Yes, Caroline had thought, a certain pensiveness in the eyes, the same gray blue. But not the same quickness.
‘I’ve been wondering about this place,’ he said. ‘They say the beach has changed totally, from erosion and storms.’ He nodded to the rocks and railroad ties behind her, rising from the beach to the bluff. ‘A few years ago they nearly lost this house, someone told me.’
Caroline smiled again. ‘Thirty years ago,’ she said, ‘you and I would be standing on the lawn. The owner and his family played croquet there.’
‘You knew them?’
Caroline nodded. ‘Yes. I knew them.’
As he looked at her more closely, Caroline sensed him calculating her age. Then he turned, pointing to a spit of sand some distance away. ‘I saw rocks out there, some pilings. Know what that was?’
‘A boathouse. But it belonged to the place next door.’
‘Know what they used it for?’
‘Storage, sometimes.’ There was something else, Caroline saw, the way he tilted his head. ‘One year, a caretaker lived there.’
‘Hurricane got it, I guess.’
Caroline made her tone dismissive. ‘I suppose. It was here the last time I was.’
The boy was silent, as if reflecting on the transience of things. ‘I hope you haven’t minded my asking these questions.’
‘Not at all.’
He tilted his head again. ‘Do I know you from somewhere?’
Caroline realized, suddenly, that she was not quite ready to have him leave. Smiling, she decided to flatter him a little. ‘I think I’d remember you.’
‘I don’t mean it’s like we’ve met.’ Vaguely flustered, he seemed to peer at her. ‘Didn’t you used to be in the movies or something?’
This tacit reference to her age – which Caroline thought she more than deserved – made her laugh aloud at herself. The grin that came with it had a sardonic quality which was relieved by a dimple on one side of her mouth, a light in her green-flecked brown eyes. ‘Not that I remember.’
The boy stepped closer. ‘No, really.’
Caroline looked up at him, amusement still playing on her mouth. ‘No,’ she said firmly. ‘Really.’
Now she watched him, growing smaller, until he vanished.
Forty-five, she thought, scraping the wounds of young womanhood. She did not quite understand this: the events that had defined her had made Caroline Masters a distinctly unsentimental woman. Yet she had come here. Sometimes it seemed to her that the central events in her life had not happened in New Hampshire, the home of her girlhood, but in this place, Martha’s Vineyard, near the water.
She gazed out at the sound. She did not even know whether David was still alive – a man in his forties who thought of her little or, perhaps, with bitterness. She was past all hope of knowing.
Perhaps it was the nomination that had jarred the past from dormancy.
‘Is there anything we should know,’ the President’s counsel had asked her, ‘which might embarrass the White House?’
‘No,’ Caroline had answered. ‘Nothing.’
She had spent twenty years of her life, with rising intensity and ambition, waiting to be asked this question. Perhaps it was inevitable, with the nomination so near her grasp, that she would think about the things that had made her as she was.
The President was down to two choices, Caroline and a fine Hispanic lawyer. At five o’clock, the phone would ring, and Caroline Clark Masters would – or would not – be appointed to the United States Court of Appeals.
A step, though the thought made her superstitious, from the United States Supreme Court.
A giant step, yet perhaps not much farther than the distance she had already come. Caroline had arrived in California at twenty-three, with no friends or family she spoke of. Had put herself through law school, then spent fifteen hard years at the public defender’s office, representing murderers and petty drug dealers with more success than the odds allowed; teaching and lecturing and writing articles on criminal justice to spread her reputation; widening her contacts through women’s groups and a little politics; yet careful, always, to keep a core of privacy.
And then Caroline was appointed to a minor judgeship, the San Francisco Municipal Court. This much she had planned. But what followed – the Carelli case – was an accident.
The charge was murder. The defendant, Mary Carelli, was a well-known network journalist; the victim was a celebrated novelist. They were alone in a hotel room when, if Carelli could be believed, she had killed him to prevent a rape.
Caroline conducted the preliminary hearing. The medical examiner believed that Carelli’s claim of attempted rape did not square with the crime scene or the condition of the body. It was more than enough for a Municipal Court judge to find probable cause for a murder trial in the Superior Court, which – in any other case – would have been Caroline’s only job. But then Carelli’s lawyer decided to use the preliminary hearing to challenge probable cause, and demanded that the hearing be televised.
For two weeks, Caroline ran the most watched hearing in memory with skill, wit, and, most observers agreed, impeccable fairness. By the end of the hearing Caroline was as much a celebrity as Mary Carelli herself.
Caroline wasted no time. She appeared on television, gave interviews – long on charm and short on biography – to carefully selected journalists. Offers poured in: the one she took, a partnership in a large San Francisco firm, offered her corporate contacts and wider credentials. When the presidency changed hands and the Democrats began dispensing federal judgeships, the people who interested themselves in these things saw the virtue of putting forward a qualified woman who was so widely experienced and so uniquely celebrated. Just as Caroline hoped they would.
The meetings began. First with feminist and other groups whose sympathies Caroline shared. Then with a committee of lawyers who screened candidates for the senior senator from California. Then with the senator herself – a meeting that, after some initial nervousness on Caroline’s part, had gone extremely well. The nomination was the President’s to make, and the senator was vying with senators of several other states who put forward their preferred candidates. But the senator’s letter to the White House had been unusually strong, and the President was in her debt. Caroline permitted herself to hope.
And then, silence.
Months passed. She was convinced that her nomination was slipping away. A law-and-order group wrote the senator, with a copy to the President, opposing her candidacy; a right-to-life organization labeled her ‘anti-child’ and ‘anti-family.’ Caroline busied herself in the law, long bike trips, a little hiking.
It really was time, she told herself, to get a dog or something.
And then the senator phoned. ‘You’re still on the list,’ she told Caroline. ‘Walter Farris will be calling you – the White House counsel. So be prepared. And call me when it’s through.’
Farris himself called two days later, a man with a slow, rheumy voice – white-haired and overweight, Caroline knew from his pictures. There were two candidates left, he told her. He had a few questions.
They went over her background. Family history, education, skimming the surface. Simply a lead-in to his final question: Do you have anything to hide?
‘I think that’s where they are,’ the senator told her later. ‘The other candidate is a leader in Tucson’s Latino community, who is also very qualified, and the senator who recommended him is quite senior on the Senate Finance Committee. If one of you has some problem, it will save the President from having to choose. . . .’
No, Caroline had answered them both, there was nothing.
She checked her watch. Three forty-five. In a little more than an hour, Farris would call.
She gazed up at the house. No, she decided, she was not quite ready to go inside.
Jutting from the beach was a narrow wooden dock, stretching out into the ocean until it was deep enough for docking. Caroline walked barefoot across the wooden planks to where she had tied her rented sailboat, pulled a bottled beer from an ice chest in the hull, and sat with her legs dangling over the bow.
She sipped the beer – tart on her tongue, cool in her hand – and idly watched the beads of condensation skitter down the sides of the bottle. The beer was left over from yesterday, when she had packed the ice chest with bread and cheese, beer and mineral water, and set sail in the catboat for Tarpaulin Cove in the Elizabeths, as she once had when she was fourteen. Though Caroline had not sailed the sound for years, she did not need a nautical chart: she remembered each bell and buoy precisely.
The morning of her sail had been clear; the day – water and sky – was vivid shades of blue. Caroline had grinned into the wind. She was a nature sensualist, she knew – sun and sea exhilarated her, rain depressed her. In this, she was like her mother had been.
She sailed for the lighthouse where Tarpaulin Cove lay. Docking the boat, Caroline swam to the beach, where she fell asleep in the sun. Only the lapping of the tide at her feet had awakened her.
As she sailed back, a light skein of fog scudded along the water, and the wind shifted in the Middle Ground. Caroline had fought it a little through the choppy waters, edgy. There had been no real danger. But the pull of memory was strong. . . .
Caroline turned to the house again.
It sat near the bluff, a sprawling clapboard dwelling with views on all sides, an amalgam of Cape architecture and gables, surrounded by roses and a white picket fence. The earliest section had been built in the late 1600s, then hauled by oxen two centuries later from the middle of Edgartown to Eel Pond. Her father had added the rest of the house and, somewhat later, the roses. ‘They grow well near the water,’ he had said to the child Caroline. ‘Like you.’
And yet, when she had rented the house from its owners, they had associated the name Masters only with Caroline herself. They did not know her family; Caroline had said simply that she was ‘familiar with the house.’
And every room in it, she did not say, has memories for me.
When she climbed the steps to the bluff, entering the house, the grandfather clock read four-twenty.
Forty minutes.
She walked through the alcove past the bedroom where Betty and Larry had stayed that last summer; through the beamed dining room, where their family had dined by candlelight, her father at the head of the table; and then into the sunny bedroom she could only think of as her mother’s. Entering the master bath, she imagined a makeup mirror that was no longer there, saw once more her last, enduring image of her mother in life – striking and petite, peering intently at her reflection as she applied mascara with her left hand and imagined the evening ahead. . . .