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Gliding down the Beeline Highway at three miles over the limit, Atticus Barclay couldn't help but chuckle. Despite speed cameras and sheriff's patrols, cars were flowing by him like he was a rock in a stream. No matter the odds against them, some people just had to flout the law.
Not Barclay. In his mind the law was a big wall, like the one the Feds had put up along the Mexican border. As a plaintiff's attorney, it was his job to get his clients over it, under it, or around it, so they could collect their due on the other side. Climbing, digging, even flying over—it didn't matter how he got them there as long as he operated within the ethics rules. He settled more comfortably into his sheepskin-covered seat and flicked on the cruise control.
Despite the Mercedes' speed, the ocotillos and saguaros along the roadside seemed to roll leisurely by, a silent movie in sepia tones. A fiery sunset flared at the horizon, flames of red licking the opalescent air. Beneath the purr of the air-conditioning, the big German sedan ran as smoothly and silently as a desert puma.
Barclay held the tan leather steering wheel with a light touch. His fingers were grimy, and there was dirt under his nails. Legal work involved a lot of things, some of them messy. Barclay didn't like to leave important details to paralegals or even other lawyers. Legal research was one thing, but unearthing evidence was another. Sometimes a lawyer had to get his hands dirty. You never knew when you might find something you didn't even know you were looking for. And you didn't always let anyone know where you were looking either.
The air thickened with purple. Twilight softened the gaunt land of splintered peaks, torn valleys, and hot skies. But Barclay knew that beneath the apparent tranquility remained a harsh reality. The desert imbued everything with an insatiable drive to endure—indeed, to prevail. Including his law firm.
Barclay, Harrington & Merchant wasn't big, not by Phoenix standards, but it was a force in Pinnacle Peak. Barclay knew there were those who would undermine all the hard work that had gone into building it into a premier boutique practice.
His eyes flicked to the rearview mirror where the reflection of a dually's hood loomed large. Barclay could see the pickup was pulling a horse trailer, one of those stock models designed to carry a half-dozen horses, head to tail. He wondered if the equine passengers were watching the traffic zoom by, too.
In the morning he would have to make a move in the KB Enterprises case. Schedule more depositions, respond to the latest motion for summary—
He looked again at the rearview mirror. What the—? Before he could check the side view, brakes screeched like a horse's panicked whinny. There was a crunching thump followed by a metallic scraping, and then the Mercedes was skidding and turning and tipping.
Barclay's head smacked against the driver's window as the road cartwheeled in front of him. Images of the people at his firm—they were all family to him—tumbled unbidden through his mind. Forrest Whitford—how had he let such a stiff advance so far in the litigation department? Jerry Dan Kovacs—a crackerjack lawyer, a kid with a great future. Trudy Cummings ticking off clients with her Equal Opportunity Annoyer t-shirt. Sydney Gardner with dark circles under sad eyes. Young Joe McGuinness ... first thing tomorrow he'd tell him—
There was a flash. A rush of hot air followed by fire roiled over him. Within a minute the Mercedes was a car-be-cue, and all Barclay's worries had gone up in flames. Barclay, too.
It had happened a week ago. Driving back from a late night interview with a witness, Atticus Barclay had driven off the Beeline Highway. The big Mercedes had rolled twice then burst into flames.
Atticus was dead. And because of it, Joe McGuinness was waiting to be fired.
He sat at the far end of the small conference room table, its marble top cold under his fingertips. Through the open door he could see into the firm's reception area. An earth-colored Navajo blanket hung from an iron bar, undulating in the draft from the air conditioning. Below it was a low pinewood cabinet, its shelves crowded with Zuni pottery. A blackened branding iron bearing the firm's initials, the gift of a grateful client, leaned against the cabinet. The associates liked to say the firm's partners bore its mark. Branded for life as a Barclay, Harrington & Merchant lawyer, the joke went.
I wish, Joe thought as he looked at it.
In the chair to his right slouched Katie Hewson, a second year lawyer. She sat without speaking, meaty arms folded on the table, her thin brown hair tied back with a spindly ribbon. Every minute or so she would reach down and tug at the skirt stretched over her thick thighs as though in rearranging the material she might somehow rearrange their shape, too.
He and Katie shared a secretary, but Joe didn't know her well. She worked exclusively for Alistair Harrington, the firm's trusts and estates lawyer, while Joe had reported to the late Atticus Barclay.
On Joe's left, Jerry Dan Kovacs skimmed through advance sheets, humming a country western song under his breath. He was the other first year associate assigned to litigation. Joe knew Jerry Dan had nothing to worry about. A top graduate of Cornell and NYU Law, he'd had his pick of offers in town.
Slightly plump, especially around the middle, Jerry Dan had brown curly hair and brown eyes surrounded by smile lines and round framed glasses. He didn't look like a lawyer and even less like a cowboy, despite his efforts to the contrary. This morning he wore a navy yoke-backed suit, a bolo tie instead of a strip of silk hanging down his shirtfront. As usual, black Tony Lama boots, their two inch heels still not making him tall, completed his outfit. Their clumping heralded his comings and goings on the firm's wooden floors.
Unlike most litigation lawyers, Jerry Dan didn't want to go anywhere near a courtroom. It was the fight on paper—not in front of the jury—that appealed to him. He lived to find the obscure case on point, the distinguishing fact. He could locate authority for any claim, the admission or suppression of any evidence. Atticus Barclay had described his appellate briefs as Supreme Court quality—United States, not Arizona—at the weekly lunch meeting. Every Thursday amid the clutter of deli sandwiches, the attorneys reviewed the firm's cases and projects and saluted individual accomplishments. Joe always listened to the senior partner's praise, wondering if he would ever merit such singling out.
* * *
"Question of the day—How many attorneys are there in this room?"
The three occupants of the conference room looked toward the doorway. Standing there was a small woman, thin and angular, a sheaf of papers in her hand. Her hair, dyed a strawberry pink that looked as though it came out of a Kool-Aid packet, was pulled up into a lopsided ponytail, and her bangs were trimmed unevenly. Three silver hoops hung from one ear. Her face had a feline quality, more feral than domestic. Penciled-on brows arched like those of an old-time movie star, and her white skin was made paler by makeup. Her eyes and lips rimmed in black, only two pink slashes—one on each cheek—relieved the starkness of her visage. She wore ankle high Doc Martens with black pleated trousers and a matching manstyle jacket, a lettered t-shirt underneath.
"Hi, Trudy," Jerry Dan said. "How's it going?"
Trudy Cummings worked as a paralegal for Stephen Merchant, the firm's real estate lawyer. She met with clients, returned phone calls, prepped her boss for zoning hearings, drafted subdivision documents, and found mislaid plot plans. The firm's highest-paid paralegal, she was rumored to make more than the new lawyers.
Ignoring Jerry Dan's greeting, Trudy snapped her gum and repeated in an impatient tone, "So, how many?"
"Three?" Joe said.
"Nope—only one," she shot back. "Passing the exam ain't enough, guys. You gotta take the oath. And you're looking at the new person in charge of making sure baby lawyers get sworn in and everybody's bar dues get paid." She cracked her gum again and rolled her eyes. "Like I don't have enough to do."
She walked into the room, set the papers down on the table, and uncapped her pen with a flourish.
"Real names gotta go on these forms." She jabbed the fountain tip in Joe's direction. "Yours I know, Mr. Joseph Brendan McGuinness. It's Mr. OK Corral's I need." Her hand hovered above the paper.
"Jerry Dan Kovacs, ma'am," Jerry Dan replied, stretching ma'am an extra syllable or two. When he didn't want to sound fresh off Long Island—which he was—Jerry Dan's Southern drawl was sweet and thick enough to pour over pancakes.
"No, your full name." Trudy glared at him with eyes that glittered like a raven's. "What is it? Gerald? Jeremiah?"
"I told you—Jerry Dan Kovacs." I told you came out Ah tol chew. "I'm what you get when a nice Jewish boy from New York goes South and falls in love with a Mississippi belle. Breakfast at our house is kosher grits." He smiled politely. "My father wanted to name me Jakob Daniel. You can put that down if you like."
With another roll of her eyes and a snort of exasperation, Trudy stomped out of the room, her boots making almost as much noise as Jerry Dan's.
"Did you catch today's slogan?" Jerry Dan asked when he was sure she was out of hearing.
Joe shook his head. "Her jacket was in the way." Trudy's outfit never varied—A dark trouser suit over a t-shirt printed with a politically incorrect message. "I don't know how she gets away with it."
"The firm tried to get her to stop last year. She claimed the messages on her shirts were free speech, guaranteed by the Constitution, and threatened to sue." Katie spoke for the first time, her voice flat and, to Joe's ears, hostile.
"The Only Studs in My Life Are in My Earlobes is protected speech?" Jerry Dan asked, more to himself than the group. Joe could see he was mentally reviewing the legal authorities for such an argument.
"I'm sure the fact her dad owns CelGen wasn't ignored by the partners either," Katie added. Definite hostility, Joe concluded. CelGen, a genetic research company, was one of the firm's biggest clients.
The intercom on the small ledge in the corner buzzed.
"Ms. Hewson, you may come in now," the disembodied voice crackled.
A look of panic flashed across the woman's broad face.
I know just how you feel, Joe thought.
Lurching to her feet, Katie gave one last tug to the binding skirt, its snugness hobbling her walk across the room. Joe heard the door to the main conference room open. Over Katie's shoulder he saw a scowling Kemp Parrish stride across the reception area, hands clenched in fists at his side.
"Dammit!" Kemp muttered with every step.
Joe felt a stab of pain in his gut. "Kemp? They let Kemp go?" he whispered.
Jerry Dan looked at him with his eyebrows raised but didn't say anything. Kemp was the Harvard Law grad slated to be Merchant's right hand man. The ache in Joe's stomach got worse. What would he tell his mother? How would he pay off his student loans? He already knew none of the other firms in town would give him a job. His career as a lawyer was going to be over before it even got started.
A few minutes later, a door slammed.
"It's not fair. You can't do this!" A blotchy-faced Katie Hewson came into view, tears tracking down her porcine cheeks.
"I'll make you sor—" She saw Joe and Jerry Dan staring at her and fled, her pantyhose making swishing noises as her thighs rubbed together.
"Mr. Kovacs, please," came the static-filled command from the intercom.
* * *
"Hey, why the serious face?" asked Riley Halliday as he settled down in the chair vacated minutes before by Jerry Dan.
Joe shook his head. Leave it to his best friend to be cheerful in the face of a third of the firm being laid off. But then his place was assured. The only one of the three new associates to fail the bar exam, Riley had already been told he could stay on until he re-took and passed the test.
"I'm not a paralegal and I'm not a lawyer, so I guess that makes me a parapalegal," Riley had quipped when he told Joe the news earlier that morning. "But I know I wouldn't be anything if I weren't a member of a protected species."
"What species is that?" Joe had asked.
"People who can't be fired because they've got a relative who's a big client of the firm. They can me and Aunt Cordelia ships all her legal work over to Woolcott & Jones within the hour." Aunt Cordelia, as Joe and everyone else at the firm knew, was Cordelia Barrett, owner of one of Pinnacle Peak's largest ranches and one of the firm's original clients.
"More than a few other folks wouldn't be too happy either, American Express for starters. If I don't have a job, my dear aunt cuts me off like that." Even though Riley had grinned as he spoke, his voice had an edge Joe hadn't heard before.
Joe considered what he knew of Riley's relationship with his aunt. She had raised him since his parents were killed in a car crash when he was a baby, supporting him through college and law school—rather nicely, if a BMW and a patio home in La Hacienda, Pinnacle Peak's five-star resort development, were any indication. Joe mentally shook his head. He didn't really believe Riley's lifestyle was at risk. Sympathetic commiseration, he concluded as he brought his mind back to his friend's question.
"It's Kemp," Joe said, hoarseness edging his voice. "They let him go. Katie, too."
"You know, I've always wondered what kind of name that was. Kemp? Who names their kid Kemp?"
"Riley, what I mean is if they were let go then ..." Joe's voice trailed off as Riley held up his hand.
"Katie was in trouble even while Atticus was on this side of the Pearly Gates. And Kemp isn't going anywhere."
"Then why was he so pissed?"
"His mom told him if he got laid off he could stay at their house in Aspen while he looked for another job." Riley grinned. "Poor guy. Snow's supposed to be awesome this year."
Joe smiled back as much as his nervousness would allow and studied the face across from him, so different from his own. Riley's hazel eyes flecked with green looked out at the world from under a thatch of straight medium blond-brown hair, split by a shock of white that ran back from his widow's peak. A thick lower lip gave him a sensuous mouth, and his teeth were bleached and even. His soap opera star looks were marred by the recent addition of a few pounds that blurred his sharp jawline and puffed his cheeks.
Joe's dark brown hair was wavy enough to always look messy and was already receding, making his forehead even more tall. Dark-blue eyes were a counterpoint to the small, almost soft mouth with creases like commas at its corners. His face was saved from vanilla handsomeness by a crooked nose, broken in a fall from a horse but not set properly. There was a small cleft in his chin. Riley had one, too. Maybe that was why people often mistook them for brothers, Joe thought. He hoped instead it was the way they were when they were together.
Joe let his mind drift back to when he and Riley had met during the first week of law school. After Riley guided him through a computer research project and they discovered a mutual interest in team roping, the pair roped and studied together the rest of the school year. Riley was better at both, even though he barely went through the motions when it came to academics.
When the other first year students started to look for summer law clerk jobs, Riley suggested instead the two work as cowboys at the Barrett Ranch. Joe had hoped to find a legal position—with his grades near the top of the class, Riley didn't needed a job reference. Joe smiled at the memory of his friend's persuasiveness.
"C'mon, we'll be inside the rest of our lives. We gotta do this while we can," Riley argued. So Joe spent three months on the range instead of in an office building. Somewhat to his surprise, when it came time to accept a permanent offer, Riley followed him to BH&M.
Excerpted from Heir Apparent by Twist Phelan Copyright © 2007 by Twist Phelan, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted December 9, 2008
Heir Apparent Twist Phelan Poisoned Pen, May 2007, $14.95 ISBN: 1590584333 In Arizona, Atticus Barclay of Barclay, Harrington & Merchant was driving on the Beeline Highway when his car explodes into flames leaving him roasted inside the ¿car-be-cue¿. A week later at the law firm¿s office in Pinnacle Peak, new associate attorney Joe McGuiness expects to be downsized as a result of the murder of one of the senior partners. --- Joe drives out to a ranch owned by wealthy client Mrs. Barrett to give her some important legal papers. Due to car trouble he misses her by ten minutes, but meets her personal assistant Mia Ortiz and gets her to go out on a date with him just as he is breaking off with his girlfriend Amber Sulvane. When he takes Mia back to the ranch after their first date, they are stunned by the murder scene that they find someone killed Mrs. Cordelia Barrett and her somewhat estranged son Busch Car racing driver Sonny. The police believe Mia killed them so she is arrested for the crimes as the motive involves the recently changed will that cuts off the obvious HEIR APPARENT. Joe believes otherwise that a murder suicide occurred and sets out to prove it even as his law firm superiors warn him to back off. --- HEIR APPARENT is apparently somewhat of a rewriting of the first Joe McGuiness tale, but how much this reviewer does not know as this is my first read. The story line as with the other McGuiness thrillers contains two fine whodunits that eventually merge, but it is the eccentric secondary cast that makes the tale fun to read. The law firm, the rodeo, the former girl friend are all delightful unconventional protagonists who bring out the best and worst in the hero. Though the legal aspects are downplayed except for the office setting, fans of the series or anyone who appreciates a fun Arizonian investigative tale will want to join Joe as he tries to prove Mia is innocent. --- Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 25, 2002
A great fireside mystery. Once you get into the book you won't want to put it down. Twist does an excellent job in keeping the story moving with a lot of interesting twists and turns. It could be one of many characters that turns up to be the bad guy / gal in the end.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 11, 2002
Both rodeo fans and mystery lovers who don't know a lariet from a latigo will like this riveting debut, set in an Arizona desert town. With his youthful zeal and perseverance, Joe McGuinness makes a captivating hero and sleuth, one readers will be eager to see again.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 6, 2002
Posted August 20, 2002
Posted August 20, 2002
Cowboys, Indians, lawyers, guns, and money: Twist Phelan¿s debut novel, Heir Apparent, has them all and more as she deftly transfers the legal thriller to cowboy country. Joe McGuinness, a fledgling lawyer who thinks trust-and-estate work will bore him silly, learns differently when he encounters deceptive coworkers, cattle rustlers, and, somewhere along the trail, a murderer who may be taking shots at him. Heir Apparent lassos the reader with intriguing characters, throws in a dash of cowboy courtroom lore, and adds southwestern flavor as it gallops to a climax¿definitely a great ride.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 20, 2002
Twist Phelan lives up to her first name in HEIR APPARENT. There are twists aplenty in her novel, a mystery that is equal parts legal thriller, western, and romance. Protagonist Joe McGuinness wears many hats - lawyer, cowboy, sleuth - but it's the white, 10-gallon headwear that fits him best.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 20, 2002
HEIR APPARENT is a complex, satisfying mystery involving land feuds, missing cattle, and multiple murders. In her team-roping young attorney, Joe McGuinness, author Twist Phelan has created the perfect hero to tie all the pieces together.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 14, 2002
EXCELLENT writing, fascinating characters, and a satisfyingly convoluted plot. Phelan makes the Southwest and the sport of team roping come alive.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.