The First Law (Dismas Hardy Series #9)by John Lescroart
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They date back to the wilder days of San Francisco's vigilante past, a private police force that keeps watch for paying clients. Unfortunately, Sam Silverman-an elderly pawnshop owner and a friend of Lt. Abe Glitsky's father-could no longer afford Patrol Special protection, and he may have paid with his life. Dismas Hardy, putting together a high-stakes lawsuit against the security firm, suddenly finds himself defending a local bar owner accused in Silverman's death. He's convinced of John Holiday's innocence-until he goes on the lam. Now, blocked at every turn, Hardy and Glitsky may be forced to protect not only themselves, but their nearest and dearest, as they step cautiously into a world where the only law is survival...
Ever since its vigilante days, the San Francisco Police Department hasn't been able to guarantee every single downtown business the level of security they'd all like. So the slack's been taken up by private-security firms like WGP, Inc., a corporation Dismas Hardy and David Freeman have named in a $30 million suit for systematic criminal harassment of undesirables and former clients balking at skyrocketing rates-even without knowing that the firm's businessman/philanthropist head Wade Panos, who also walks one of his own beats, is secretly helping the Russian National Treasury launder money and dump diamonds on the world market. When Sam Silverman, the pawnbroker friend of Lt. Abe Glitsky's father, is killed in a botched robbery, Glitsky, the former Homicide chief banished to Payroll by a bullet wound, and Hardy, attorney for prime suspect John Holiday, take a lively interest in the case, especially when three follow-up murders seem to put Holiday even more firmly in the frame. Before Glitsky can press his connections in the D.A.'s office or Hardy put out the word about his client's alibi for two of the crimes, however, the case is sewn up by WGP's employees, who supply crucial evidence that Holiday and Dis insist can't be authentic. Now that Lescroart has unlimbered his big guns-and it takes forever for him to get them ready to fire-the stage is set for a no-holds-barred confrontation between Dis and Co. (minus Freeman, lying in a coma after a savage beating) and Panos and his far-reaching tentacles. The resulting body count should put aserious dent in traffic jams on the Golden Gate Bridge.
The sturdy but simple conflict between Establishment villains and a heroic band of merry men is stretched to the breaking point by male-bonding badinage and felonies obbligato.
"One of the best thrillers writers."Larry King, USA Today
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THE FIRST LAW
By JOHN LESCROART
DUTTONCopyright © 2003 The Lescroart Corporation
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTen o'clock, a Wednesday morning in the beginning of July.
John Holiday extended one arm over the back of the couch at his lawyer's Sutter Street office. Today he was comfortably dressed in stonewashed blue jeans, hiking boots, and a white, high-collared shirt so heavily starched that it had creaked when he lowered himself into his slouch. His other hand had come to rest on an oversize silver-and-turquoise belt buckle. His long legs stretched out all the way to the floor, his ankles crossed. Nothing about his posture much suggested his possession of a backbone.
Women had liked him since he'd outgrown his acne. His deep-set eyes seemed the window to a poet's soul, with the stained glass of that window the odd whitish blue of glacier water. Now, close up, those eyes revealed subtle traces of dissolution and loss. There was complexity here, even mystery. With an easy style and pale features-his jaw had the clean definition of a blade-he'd been making female hearts go pitter-patter for so long now that he took it for granted. He didn't much understand it. To him, the prettiness of his face had finally put him off enough that he'd grown a mustache. Full, drooping, and yellow as corn silk, it was two or three shades lighter than the hair on his head and had only made him more handsome. Whenhis face was at rest, Holiday still didn't look thirty, but when he laughed, the lines added a decade, got him up to where he belonged. He still enjoyed a good laugh, though he smiled less than he used to.
He was smiling now, though, at his lawyer, Dismas Hardy, over by the sink throwing water on his face for the third time in ten minutes.
"As though that's gonna help." Holiday's voice carried traces of his father's Tennessee accent and the edges of it caressed like a soft Southern breeze.
"It would help if I could dry off."
"Didn't the first two times."
Hardy had used up the last of the paper towels and now stood facing his cupboards in his business suit, his face dripping over the sink. Holiday shrugged himself up from the couch, dug in the wastebasket by the desk, and came up with a handful of used paper, which he handed over. "Never let it be said I can't be helpful."
"It would never cross my mind." Hardy dried his face. "So where were we?"
"You're due in court in forty-five minutes and you're so hung-over you don't remember where we were? If you'd behaved this way when you were my lawyer, I'd have fired you."
Hardy fell into one of his chairs. "I couldn't have behaved this way when I was your lawyer because I didn't know you well enough yet to go out drinking with you. Thank God."
"You're just out of practice. It's like riding a horse. You've got to get right back on when it tosses you."
"I did that last night. Twice."
"Don't look at me. If memory serves, nobody held a gun to your head. Why don't you call and tell them you're sick? Get a what-do-you-call-it ..."
"Continuance." Hardy shook his head. "Can't. This is a big case."
"All the more reason if you can't think. But you said it was just dope and some hooker."
"But with elements," Hardy said.
In fact, he hadn't done a hooker case for nearly a decade. In his days as an assistant DA, the occasional prostitution case would cross his desk. Hardy mostly found these morally questionable, politically suspect, and in any case a waste of taxpayer money. Prostitutes, he thought, while rarely saintlike, were mostly victims themselves, so as a prosecutor, he would often try to use the girls' arrests as some kind of leverage to go after their dope connections or pimps, the true predators. Occasionally, it worked. Since he'd been in private practice, because there was little money in defending working girls, he never saw these cases anymore. As a matter of course, the court appointed the public defender's office or private counsel if that office had a conflict.
In this way, Aretha LaBonte's case had been assigned to Gina Roake, a mid-forties career defense attorney. But Gina's caseload had suddenly grown so large it was compromising her ability to handle it effectively. If she wanted to do well by the rest, she had to dump some clients, including Aretha. By chance she mentioned the case to her boyfriend, Hardy's landlord, David Freeman, who'd had a good listen and smelled money. With his ear always to the ground, Freeman had run across some similar cases.
Aretha's arrest had been months ago now. Her case was interesting and from Freeman's perspective potentially lucrative because her arresting officer wasn't a regular San Francisco policeman. Instead, he had been working for a company called WGP, Inc., which provided security services to businesses under a jurisdictional anomaly in San Francisco. In its vigilante heyday a century ago, the city found that its police department couldn't adequately protect the people who did business within its limits. Those folks asked the PD for more patrols, but there was neither budget nor personnel to accommodate them. So the city came up with a unique solution-it created and sold patrol "beats" to individuals who became private security guards for those beats. These beat holders, or Patrol Specials, then and now, were appointed by the police commissioner, trained and licensed by the city. The beat holders could, and did, hire assistants to help them patrol, and in time most Patrol Specials came to control their own autonomous armed force in the middle of the city. On his beat, a Patrol Special tended to be a law unto himself, subject only to the haphazard and indifferent supervision of the San Francisco Police Department. They and their assistants wore uniforms and badges almost exactly like those of the city police; they carried weapons and, like any other citizen, could make arrests.
Aretha LaBonte's arrest had occurred within the twelve-square-block area just south of Union Square known as Beat Thirty-two, or simply Thirty-two. It was one of six beats in the city owned by WGP, the corporate identity of a philanthropic businessman named Wade Panos. He had a total of perhaps ninety assistants on his payroll, and this, along with the amount of physical territory he patrolled, made him a powerful presence in the city.
Aretha's case was not the first misconduct that Freeman had run across in Panos's beats. In fact, Freeman's preliminary and cursory legwork, his "sniff test," revealed widespread allegations of assistant patrol specials' use of excessive force, planting of incriminating evidence, general bullying. If Hardy could get Aretha off on this one assistant patrol special's misconduct, and several of the other "sniff test" cases could be developed and drafted into legal causes of action, he and Freeman could put together a zillion dollar lawsuit against Panos. They could also include the regular police department as a named defendant for allowing these abuses to continue.
But at the moment, Hardy didn't exactly feel primed for the good fight. He brought his hand up and squeezed his temples, then exhaled slowly and completely. "It's not just a hooker case. It's going to get bigger, and delay doesn't help us. There's potentially huge money down the line, but first I've got to rip this witness a new one. If he goes down, we move forward. That's the plan."
"Which gang aft agley, especially if your brain's mush."
"It'll firm up. Pain concentrates the mind wonderfully. And I really want this guy."
"The prosecution's chief witness. The arresting cop. Nick Sephia."
Suddenly Holiday sat upright. "Nick the Prick?" "Sounds right."
"What'd he do wrong this time?"
"Planted dope on my girl."
"Let me guess. She wasn't putting out for him or paying for protection, so he set her up."
"You've heard the song before?"
"It's an oldie but goodie, Diz. Everybody knows it."
A shrug. "The neighborhood. Everybody."
Suddenly Hardy was all business. He knew that Holiday owned a bar, the Ark, smack in the middle of Thirty-two. Knew it, hell, he'd closed the place the night before. But somehow he'd never considered Holiday as any kind of real source for potential complainants in the Panos matter. Now, suddenly, he did. "You got names, John? People who might talk to me? I've talked to a lot of folks in the neighborhood in the last couple of months. People might be unhappy, but nobody's saying anything too specific."
A little snort. "Pussies. They're scared."
"Scared of Wade Panos?"
Holiday pulled at the side of his mustache, and nodded slowly. "Yeah, sure, who else?"
"That's what I'm asking you." Hardy hesitated. "Look, John, this is what Freeman and I have been looking for. We need witnesses who'll say that things like this Sephia bust I'm doing today are part of a pattern that the city's known about and been tolerating for years. If you know some names, I'd love to hear them."
Holiday nodded thoughtfully. "I could get some, maybe a lot," he said. "They're out there, I'll tell you that." His eyes narrowed. "You know Nick's his nephew, don't you? Wade's."
"Panos's? So his own uncle fired him?"
"Moved him out of harm's way is more like it. Now he's working for the Diamond Center."
"And you're keeping tabs on him?"
"We've been known to sit at a table together. Poker."
"Which as your lawyer I must remind you is illegal. You beat him?"
A shrug. "I don't play to lose."
The Wednesday night game had been going on for years now in the back room of Sam Silverman's pawnshop on O'Farrell, a block from Union Square. There were maybe twenty regulars. You reserved your chair by noon Tuesday and Silverman held it to six players on any one night. Nobody pretended that it was casual entertainment among friends. Table stakes makes easy enemies, especially when the buy-in is a thousand dollars. Twenty white chips at ten bucks each, fifteen reds at twenty, and ten blues at fifty made four or five small piles that could go away in a hurry. Sometimes in one hand.
With his neat bourbon in a heavy bar glass, John Holiday sat in the first chair, to Silverman's left, and two chairs beyond him Nick Sephia now smoldered. He'd come in late an hour ago and had taken a seat between his regular companions, Wade's little brother, Roy Panos, and another Diamond Center employee named Julio Rez. The other two players at the table tonight were Fred Waring, a mid-forties black stockbroker, and Mel Fischer, who used to own four Nosh Shop locations around downtown, but was now retired.
At thirty or so, Sephia was the youngest player there. He was also, by far, the biggest-six-three, maybe 220, all of it muscle. While Silverman took the young Greek's money and counted out his chips, Sephia carefully hung the coat of his exquisitely tailored light green suit over the back of his chair. The blood was up in his face, the color in his cheeks raw beef, the scowl a fixture. He'd shaved that morning but his jawline was already blue with shadow. After he sat, he snugged his gold silk tie up under his Adam's apple, rage flowing off him in an aura.
The usual banter dried up. After a few hands during which no one said a word, Roy Panos pushed a cigar over in front of the late arrival. Holiday sipped his bourbon. Eventually Silverman, maybe hoping to ease the tension, called a bathroom break for himself, and Sephia lit up, blowing the smoke out through his nose. Waring and Fischer stood to stretch and pour themselves drinks. Holiday, quietly enjoying Sephia's pain, had a good idea of what was bothering him. Maybe the whiskey was affecting his judgment-it often did-but he couldn't resist. "Bad day, Nick?"
Sephia took a minute deciding whether he was going to talk about it. Finally, he shook his head in disgust. "Fucking lawyers. I spent half the day in court."
"Why? What'd you do?"
"What'd I do?" He blew smoke angrily. "I didn't do dick."
Roy Panos helped him with the explanation. "They suppressed his evidence on some hooker he brought in for dope a couple of months ago. Said he planted it on her."
"So?" Holiday was all sweet reason. "If you didn't, what's the problem?"
Sephia's dark eyes went to slits, his temper ready to flare at any indication that Holiday was having fun at his expense, but he saw no sign of it. "Guy made me look like a fucking liar, is the problem. Like I'm supposed to remember exactly what I did with this one whore? She's got junk in her purse; another one's got it in her handbag. Who gives a shit where it was? Or how it got there? It's there, she's guilty, end of story. Am I right?"
"Fuckin' A." Julio Rez, a medium-built Latino, spoke without any accent. All wires and nerves, he'd probably been a good base stealer in his youth. He'd lost the lower half of his left ear somewhere, but it didn't bother him enough to try to cover it with his hair, which was cropped short. "She goes down."
"But not today. Today they let her go." Panos spoke to Holiday. "They suppress the dope, there's no case."
"Were you down at court, too?"
Panos shook his head. "No, but Wade was. My brother? He is pissed off."
"Not at me, I hope," Sephia said.
Panos patted him on the arm. "No, no. The lawyers. Bastards."
"Why would your brother be mad at Nick?" Holiday sipped again at his tumbler of bourbon.
"He was working for him at the time, that's why. It makes Wade look bad. I mean, Nick's doing patrol for Christ sake. He busts a hooker, she ought to stay busted at least. Now maybe they start looking at the rest of the shop."
"Judge reamed my ass," Sephia said. "This prick lawyer-he had the judge talking perjury, being snotty on the record. 'I find the arresting officer's testimony not credible as to the circumstances surrounding the arrest.' Yeah, well, Mr. Hardy, you can bite me."
Holiday feigned surprise. "Hardy's my lawyer's name. Dismas Hardy?"
Now Sephia's glare was full on. "The fuck I know? But whatever it is, I see him again, he's going to wish I didn't."
"So he must have convinced them you did plant her?"
Rez shot a quick glance at Sephia. But Sephia held Holiday's eyes for a long beat, as though he was figuring something out. "She wasn't paying," he finally said, his voice filled with a calm menace. "Wade wanted her out of the beat. Most of the time that's intensive care. I figured I was doing the bitch a favor."
Dismas Hardy's wife, Frannie, cocked her head in surprise. They'd just sat down at a small Spanish place on Clement, not far from their house on Thirty-fourth Avenue. "You're not having wine?" she asked,
"Nothing to drink at all?"
"Just water. Water's good."
"You feel all right?"
"Fine. Sometimes I don't feel like drinking, that's all."
"Oh, that's right. I remember there was that time right after Vincent was born." Their son, Vincent, was now thirteen.
Excerpted from THE FIRST LAW by JOHN LESCROART Copyright © 2003 by The Lescroart Corporation
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.