Read an Excerpt
"So," she said, raising herself onto one elbow, just high enough off the bed to reveal a single nipple, still visibly hard. "What do you do for a living, when you're not busy knocking people down?"
She was Amanda. At least that was as much of a name as he'd gotten out of her over the hour and twenty minutes since he'd literally knocked her to the ground by being overly aggressive with a sticking revolving door at the Forty-second Street Public Library. Not that all of their time together since that moment had been devoted to small talk, or any other kind of talk, for that matter. Certainly not the last twenty minutes, anyway.
"I'm a lawyer," said Jaywalker. "Sort of."
"I'm not practicing these days," he explained.
"What happened?" she asked. "You get burned out?"
"No," he said, "more like thrown out. I'm serving a three-year suspension."
"Oh, various things. Cutting corners. Breaking silly rules. Taking risks. Pissing off stupid judges. The usual stuff."
"They suspend you for those things?"
"It seems so." He left it at that. He didn't feel any particular need to tell her about the juiciest charge of all, that he'd managed to get caught by a security camera in one of the stairwells of the courthouse, accepting—or at least not exactly fending off—an impromptu expression of heartfelt thanks from an accused prostitute for whom he'd just won a hard-fought acquittal.
"What did you say your name was?" she asked.
"I didn't. But it's Jaywalker."
It wasn't just a case of tit for tat, his withholding part of his name because she had. The single name was all he had, actually. Harrison J. Walker had years ago elided into Harrison Jaywalker, and not too long after that, the Harrison part had disappeared altogether. So for years now, he'd been known to just about everyone simply as Jaywalker.
"You're that guy!" exclaimed Amanda, suddenly and self-consciously covering up her wayward nipple with a pillow. "I knew you looked familiar. I saw you on Page Six. You were dating that…that billionaire heiress murderer!"
Jaywalker winced painfully. Three years ago, had someone asked him to describe his own personal vision of what hell might be like, he might well have replied, "Showing up on the Entertainment Channel," or "Landing on Page Six of the New York Post." And thanks to a brief, torrid and not-so-discreet romance with a client named Samara Tannenbaum, he'd managed to accomplish not one but both of those distinctions, and in the short space of a single week.
"Yup," he acknowledged meekly now, "that would be me."
Amanda laughed out loud and threw her head back, her stylishly short blond hair framing her face, in what could easily have been a fashion model's pose. In the process, both of her breasts came completely free of the sheets, causing a decided swelling in Jaywalker's appreciation of her.
"So tell me, mister famous lawyer man," she said. "How much do you charge for a drunk-driving case?"
"I don't," said Jaywalker. "I'm suspended, remember?"
"Right, but for how much longer?"
Jaywalker shrugged. "I don't know, seven months, maybe eight." The fact was, he hadn't exactly been counting the days. If anything, he'd lately been giving some serious consideration to "re-upping" for another three years. Although even as he'd been enjoying his estrangement from the legal profession, his checking account balance was rapidly approaching zero, making such a choice problematic.
"And if you weren't suspended?"
He shrugged again. "I don't know. I used to get twenty-five hundred, thirty-five hundred, something like that." And in spite of everything, he found himself already contemplating the variables, just as he used to do. First of all, it would depend on whether they were talking about a plea or a trial. After that, where the case was. A D.W.I. in Manhattan, the Bronx or Brooklyn was no big deal. If there'd been a blood-alcohol test and Amanda's reading hadn't been too high, there was a good chance he could get her a plea to driving while impaired, maybe even a reckless. A couple of appearances, and the case would be done. Queens and Staten Island tended to be a bit tougher. And as you worked your way out into the neighboring counties—West-chester, Nassau and Suffolk, where there was a lower volume of cases—the D.A.s got noticeably more hard-assed and could afford to insist upon a plea to the full charge. Not that it mattered all that much, though. What they were talking about here was a fine, a license suspension, or at very worst a revocation, a court-ordered one-day safe-driving course and a substantial increase in her insurance premiums. In other words, a slap on the wrist and a smack on the wallet.
"Where were you arrested?" he asked her. "And did you take a test?" He couldn't help himself.
"Oh, no," said Amanda, shaking her head from side to side, with the inevitable ripple effect it caused to the, uh, rest of her. "It's not me."
"Oh?" said Jaywalker. "So who are we talking about?"
Jaywalker sat up, reflexively reaching around for his pants. His level of appreciation had suddenly shrunk dramatically. Funny how that happened.
"Don't worry," said Amanda. "It's not like he's about to walk in on us or anything."
"How do you know?"
"Because he's in jail, on five million dollars' bail. That's how."
Jaywalker relaxed ever so slightly. "Five million dollars," he echoed. "It must have been a very bad D.W.I."
"It was," said Amanda. "Nine people died."
Which, of course, immediately changed everything.
A drunk-driving case is only a drunk-driving case. Until someone dies. When that happens, it blossoms into a vehicular homicide. When nine someones die, it can become a full-blown murder case, especially when the victims are incinerated after the van in which they're riding gets forced off the road, flips three times and explodes.
Jaywalker knew the case. Who didn't? It had led off the evening news, even made the front page of his beloved New York Times, about three weeks ago. The driver of a passenger van had been literally run off the road and down a steep embankment by an oncoming Audi sports car speeding in the wrong lane. It had happened just north of Congers, New York, right before Route 303 ended and joined up with Route 9W A witness in a pickup truck had seen the whole thing. He'd thought briefly about giving chase to the Audi as it sped off, before deciding instead to stop to see what he could do for the victims.
The answer was nothing.
Within minutes, the van had burned so badly that the newspaper photographs of it revealed only a portion of the lettering painted onto its side. All that remained visible was —MAZ—ESHI—, a fact that quickly gave birth to a rumor that the occupants had been Muslim terrorists who'd accidentally blown themselves up before reaching their intended target. That rumor was soon replaced by another one, that the van had been overcrowded because it had been carrying migrant Mexican farmworkers, who were no doubt illegal aliens.
The right-wing radio talk-show hosts lost no time in picking up the story. To them and their call-in listeners, it didn't seem to matter too much whether the dead were terrorists or illegals; whichever turned out to be the case, the consensus was that they'd pretty much deserved their fate. "Good for that Audi guy!" said one caller. "Maybe that'll teach them criminal alien bombers a lesson!" Before the hour was up, one host was referring to the driver of the car as the "Audi Avenger."
It was only after emergency responders had succeeded in putting out the fire and extricating the bodies that the grim truth was discovered. Eight of the nine dead, the van's driver being the sole exception, were young children whose ages would eventually be determined to range from six to eleven. All had been students at the Ramaz Yeshiva, a Jewish school located fifteen miles from the site of the impact. They'd been heading to a groundbreaking ceremony for a new synagogue over in Haverstraw.
Just like that, the Audi Avenger became the Audi Assassin.
If the driver of the pickup truck had been unable to help the occupants of the van, at least he'd accomplished something that day. Turning to watch the fleeing Audi, he'd managed to not only note the model but read its license plate, and although he'd forget the complete registration before being interviewed by state troopers, he'd distinctly remembered that it ended with the numbers 724. That happened to be his wife's birth date, July 24.
The following day, even as computers were busy searching data files for all Audis and Audi look-alikes in the tristate area with registrations ending in 724— there were only six, it would turn out—a man by the name of Carter Drake III, accompanied by his business attorney, turned himself in to the New York State Police in Nyack. Drake was forty-four and had no prior arrests. That said, he'd allowed his driver's license to lapse over parking tickets he'd accumulated several years ago, along with the insurance on the Audi.
Congers is a one-stoplight village in Rockland County, a half an hour north of the George Washington Bridge, on the Jersey side. The county seat is New City, which means that all felonies end up there for trial. But New City has another distinction. It happens to be home to one of the largest concentrations of Orthodox-Jewish populations in the western hemisphere.
Like his wife, Amanda, Carter Drake happened to be blond, good-looking and decidedly not Jewish, let alone orthodox.
Not exactly the best fit for New City.
"So," said Amanda, "will you represent my husband? I'm pretty sure we can afford your fee."
Jaywalker was pretty sure that was an understatement. "You're forgetting my suspension," he reminded her.
"No, I'm not," Amanda assured him. "You told me yourself you like to cut corners, break silly rules, take risks. What's a little suspension between friends? Besides which, doesn't it take months and months for a case to go to trial? By that time, you'll be relawyerized."
"Reinstated," Jaywalker corrected her.
"Whatever. And Carter's no dummy. He can always get sick or something, if the case needs to be slowed down. If you know what I mean."
Jaywalker nodded. Of course he knew what she meant. It was the kind of delaying tactic he himself had resorted to more than once. A bit devious, to be sure. But devious-ness had its place in Jaywalker's bag of tricks. So it certainly wasn't Amanda's suggestion that was bothering Jaywalker at the moment. Still, something was. And he decided it was the nagging feeling that he was being set up.
Because the thing was, long before their revolving-door encounter, Jaywalker had noticed that he was being followed. Not by a car; his ancient beat-up Mercury, the one he'd bought himself for six hundred dollars several years back as a reward for winning a brief but serious bout with the bottle, was rusting away in a parking lot over on Twelfth Avenue. No, on foot. Someone had been tailing him, lingering back in the shadows, walking when he walked, stopping when he stopped, crossing the street when he crossed.
Had it not been for his days as a DEA agent, it's likely Jaywalker never would have picked it up. But so many of his colleagues had been doing something wrong back then, whether that meant something as minor as a little bit of creative writing on the hours entered on their Daily Activity Logs, all the way up to outright stealing or selling the very narcotics they were paid to keep off the streets. Whatever it was, they were constantly checking for a tail, as they used to call it. Over time, Jaywalker had found himself gradually adopting their paranoia as his own, almost unconsciously looking over his shoulder as he walked and glancing in the rearview mirror as he drove. Even after he'd left the job, the habit had proved a hard one to kick, and now, years later, it still stayed with him to a certain extent.
So yesterday afternoon, when he thought he'd spotted someone eyeing him through sunglasses from outside the plate-glass window of the Korean grocery where he was buying pretzels, cheese and other essentials, he'd decided to conduct a little experiment. He'd proceeded to walk two full avenues out of his way, all the way from West End to Amsterdam, before abruptly stopping in the middle of the intersection, slapping his head in an exaggerated fashion as though he'd forgotten something and suddenly doubling back toward Broadway.
And he'd been right.
Somewhat to his surprise, it had turned out to be a woman, a thirtysomething blonde almost as tall as he was. Though it was an overcast day, she was wearing sunglasses. And as soon as he looked her way, she averted her glance, turned away and crossed the street, disappearing into the midafternoon crowd.
He'd looked for her again this morning and had actually been disappointed when he'd failed to spot her. But soon enough, there she was again. More careful this time, wearing a large hat pulled down over her forehead, hanging back a little farther, even following him from across the street at one point. But Jaywalker had tricks of his own. In order to get a better look at her, he'd stopped in front of a stationery store and pretended to study the items on display. In fact, he was able to angle himself so that in the reflection of the glass he could see her slow down and then stop on the opposite sidewalk, pretending to be looking into a shop herself. But it was unlikely: the shop she was staring into bore the name, PAYCHECKS CASHED, and she definitely didn't look like the type who needed her paycheck cashed.
He could have lost her right then, had he wanted to. But by that time he was curious. For starters, unlike his old DEA cronies, Jaywalker knew he wasn't doing anything wrong. He'd faithfully abided by the terms of his suspension. He'd given up his law office, which had never been more than a desk, a phone, an answering machine and a computer in a tenth-floor suite. He'd stayed away from 100 Centre Street, Foley Square and all the other courthouses of the city. He'd stopped giving out business cards, refrained from offering legal advice to the few friends and family members he had, and quickly corrected anyone who addressed him or referred to him as a lawyer, attorney, counselor-at-law, or anything else that suggested he was still practicing.