From the Publisher
Praise for James Sheehan's previous novels:"
Sheehan...writes with bleak clarity...but there's a touch of the poet in his voice."The New York Times, on The Mayor of Lexington Avenue"
This is a debut novel but it reads like it was written by a master of the genre."Nelson DeMille, on The Mayor of Lexington Avenue"
Here's a legal thriller that's so good it instantly leaves Grisham and the gang choking on its dust..."Booklist, on The Mayor of Lexington Avenue"
To Kill A Mockingbird on steroids..."Chicago Tribune, on The Mayor of Lexington Avenue"
An assured, elegant, suspenseful courtroom thriller."
Kirkus Reviews, on The Law of Second Chances"
Fast moving and tightly written...boasts a gripping story and characters who will make the reader care. Al in all, a stylish and engaging novel."
Richard North Patterson, on The Law of Second Chances"
New York Law Journal, on The Law of Second Chances
"This is a debut novel but it reads like it was written by a master of the genre."
on The Mayor of Lexington Avenue - Booklist
"Here's a legal thriller that's so good it instantly leaves Grisham and the gang choking on its dust..."
"To Kill A Mockingbird on steroids..."
Richard North Patterson
"Fast moving and tightly written...boasts a gripping story and characters who will make the reader care. Al in all, a stylish and engaging novel."
New York Law Journal
The New York Times
Praise for James Sheehan's previous novels:
"Sheehan...writes with bleak clarity...but there's a touch of the poet in his voice."
on The Mayor of Lexington Avenue Booklist
"Here's a legal thriller that's so good it instantly leaves Grisham and the gang choking on its dust..."
A tense second round of legal maneuvers and courtroom spectacle from Florida attorney Sheehan (The Mayor of Lexington Avenue, 2005). Sheehan brings back his charitable protagonist Jack Tobin, a lawyer who made his fortune defending insurance companies. Tobin has since committed himself strictly to defending men sentenced to Florida's death row. The conscientious objector to the death penalty now has his hands full: He must help free a black convict, Henry Wilson, convicted of murdering a drug dealer 17 years ago. In the midst of proving Wilson's innocence, Tobin must also face the possibility of losing his beloved wife, Pat, to a life-threatening illness. Along the way, Tobin also takes on the seemingly unwinnable case of small-time lowlife Benny Avrile, thought to have shot oil tycoon Carl Robertson. Sheehan has an assured and elegant narrative voice that elevates this nontraditional legal thriller. While some elements, like Jack's frequent flashbacks to his rose-colored adolescence, feel like holdovers from the first novel, the smart balance between Tobin's unpretentious courtroom presence and his contemplative reflections gives the book a certain dignity. A suspenseful, respectable courtroom thriller. First printing of 75,000. Agent: Larry Kirshbaum/LJK Literary Management
Read an Excerpt The Law of Second Chances
By Sheehan, James St. Martin's Press
Copyright © 2008 Sheehan, James
All right reserved.
Benny Avrile wasn’t a bad guy. He just looked for the easy way out of things—like every major obligation in life. Consequently, he had to steal a little to eat and sell a little to get something for himself. Cocaine, marijuana, liquor—it didn’t matter to Benny. Whatever he could get his hands on. He steered clear of heroin and crack, though. The boy knew his limitations. He wasn’t an addict—at least, that’s what he told himself. He simply needed some help to deal with the stress of living on the street. People didn’t understand the mental strain involved in not working, in not supporting a family, in not being responsible for a household. It was almost too much.
Another Saturday night found Benny at the Crooked Fence, a bar on the Upper East Side. The Crooked Fence had the perfect setup for a man with Benny’s talents. It had a long bar near the front door with tables in the back. The place always rocked on Saturday nights. Benny would position himself at the bar, usually in the middle somewhere, and start talking—to anyone and everyone about anything and everything. He might be homeless, and at twenty-eight he might have abused his body more than the average fifty-year-old, but on a Saturday night, with a little shower, a little gel, and a little Kenneth Cole, in thedark shadows of the bar, Benny looked okay.
“Nice necklace,” he said to the blonde on his left, who appeared to be in her mid-thirties, the optimum age for Benny’s conquests or, as was normally the case, his attempted conquests.
“Thanks,” she replied and then turned her back to him.
It was so perfect and he had it down to such a science. As she turned away, Benny, knowing exactly where her purse was, reached in and slipped her wallet out. Almost without looking—he had to take a little peek to be sure—he found the credit cards and put one of them in his pocket. If he took them all, she might realize too soon that she’d been robbed. With only one gone, she would probably think that she’d left it at home. Benny could do as much damage with one credit card as he could with ten, and it usually bought him more time because the victim might not report the card missing for hours, or even until the next day. He was very proud of himself for developing this system—he was a real thinking man’s thief.
A minute or two later, he tapped the blond, who was talking to another woman, on the shoulder. She looked over her shoulder at him.
“Can I buy you ladies a drink?” Benny asked, giving her his fabled Li’l Abner–I’m–a–hick expression.
“Listen, stupid,” she began, turning more toward him to make her point. By the word “stupid” Benny had the wallet back in her purse. “You don’t take a hint, do you? Get lost! Do you understand that? Get lost!”
“Okay, okay. Geez, I’m sorry.” Benny was already off his stool and headed for the door. “I didn’t mean to offend you,” he yelled back over the din of the crowd and the music as he retreated. Then he was out the door and walking down Second Avenue. “I just needed your credit card,” he said to nobody in particular as he patted his back pocket.
Half a block down the street he felt something hard shoved into his lower back.
“Don’t turn around. Just keep walking.” It was a woman’s voice, and she was behind him just to his left. Benny assumed the hard thing was a gun, and he had no intentions of trying anything. If there was going to be any negotiation, she would have to start. He could counter from there.
“I’d been working her for two days before you showed up,” the voice behind him said.
Benny breathed an imperceptible sigh of relief. It wasn’t the cops, and he wasn’t going to jail. Another thief, he could deal with. It didn’t happen often, but sometimes he crossed paths with another member of the profession and they got in each other’s way. Benny was the guy who always deferred. It was easier that way.
This was probably the woman who had been talking to the blond. He’d never run into a woman before during this kind of gig. They can get money a lot easier than that, Benny thought. At least, it seemed easier to him.
“I didn’t know,” he replied to the voice. “I only got a credit card and you can have it, with my apologies.”
“Where is it?”
“My back pocket, right side.”
“Turn left at the corner,” she told him, still jabbing the gun into his back. They turned left onto Seventy-seventh Street. It was much darker off the avenue. They walked halfway down the block before she told him to stop.
“I’m going to remove this gun from your back and I don’t want you to move.”
“I won’t,” Benny replied emphatically.
“Then I’m going to slip that credit card out of those tight pants of yours, so don’t get excited.”
“I’ll try not to,” he said, relaxing just a little. She’d noticed his tight pants. Maybe once we get past the credit card issue . . .
“Good.” She abruptly interrupted his thoughts, reached in, and deftly removed the credit card from his trousers.
Not bad, Benny thought, but I’m a much better pickpocket. With me, you don’t feel a thing. He was starting to feel more comfortable.
“Turn around,” she ordered.
Benny turned around. He could instantly tell she knew what she was doing. Her right hand, her gun hand, was in her pocket and she stood far enough away from him so that she had ample time to react to any aggressive move on his part. One other thing he noticed: she was a very good-looking thief—tall and dark with thick black hair that rested comfortably on her shoulders and brown eyes that at that moment were glaring at him in a menacing way.
“We’re not even,” she told him. “You still owe me. You fucked up my mark.”
“Like I said, I didn’t mean to. What can I do?” Benny was now sure she wasn’t going to shoot him. Besides, she was sharp. Maybe there was something in it for him.
“I’d studied her, gotten everything I needed to know—and then you showed up.”
Benny was starting to realize that he had fucked up a big score. He didn’t know what to say, but he knew that he wanted to be a part of the next one. “Maybe I can make it up to you.”
“You? What could I possibly do with a loser like you?”
“People like you always got another score set up. Maybe I can help. You can always use a second hand. Besides, I wouldn’t want much, just a little to keep me going.”
“What do you mean, people like me?” she snapped.
“You’re smart. You set things up. You think about things. Me—I do the same stupid shit every Saturday night.”
She started to smile. “You did all right,” she said. “I almost missed you lifting the wallet, and I’m in the business.”
Benny nearly blushed at the compliment. “Can I buy you a drink?” he asked her, even though he was down to subway fare for his ride back to the South Bronx.
“No,” she replied firmly, but then something changed. The tone of her voice became somewhat softer, her expression more congenial. It was a subtle change, but Benny noticed. “On second thought, I’ll buy you a drink,” she said. “I’ve got the credit card, remember? And by the way, it works a lot better when a woman uses another woman’s credit card.”
Benny just smiled. “A minor inconvenience. I say it’s my wife’s and that usually works.”
“Walk on my right side,” she told him.
They grabbed a cab on First Avenue and went to Kettle of Fish, a place in the West Village, where they had drinks for a couple of hours. Benny would have been all over any other woman by that point, but he kept his distance with this one. He played that movie scene over and over in his mind—the one where the woman shoots the guy in the balls. I ain’t making that mistake, Benny told himself.
A little after twelve, she finished her drink, paid the bill, and stood up to leave. They’d been having a nice conversation about nothing in particular. He still didn’t know her name. Now she was looking at him intently.
“If you want to make a score that will last you a while, be here Tuesday night at nine. And don’t be dressed like a pimp,” she said, gesturing at his Saturday-night outfit. Then she was gone.
Carl Robertson was a creature of habit. He found comfort in ritual, and success in doing things right over and over again. Carl had started his career as an economist in an oil exploration business and ended up as the CEO. In “retirement,” Carl continued his habit of doing things right over and over again, and as a consequence his financial status had increased to the point that he was one of the quietly growing number of multibillionaires in the world.
But Carl wasn’t happy. He and his wife of forty years barely spoke. His three children saw him as a bank and nothing more. Carl knew he bore most of the responsibility for that and for many other things in his life. But the past was the past, and now in his early seventies he was just looking for peace and a little happiness.
He met Angie at a bar five years ago in New York. Carl and his wife lived in Washington, DC, but he spent most of his recreational time in New York City. Angie was young and beautiful with long legs, supple, round breasts, and silky long blond hair that shimmered. She didn’t even talk to him that first night. He was almost forty years older than she was. He remembered the look she gave him when the bartender told her that he wanted to buy her a drink—like he was some kind of a wack job. But he had his people find out where she lived, and he sent her flowers the next day. By the time he came back to the same club the next week, she had found out who he was, and this time she accepted his drink offer. From there it was a matter of negotiation. He offered to set her up in her own luxury apartment and give her a monthly stipend. All she’d have to do was be “available” two nights a week and occasionally on weekends if her schedule permitted it. The rest of her time would be her own.
Angie didn’t jump at the deal right away. He knew she wouldn’t. But while she was making up her mind, he took her to the best places in New York and one time flew her to London for the weekend. Angie was from Omaha, Nebraska, and worked as a waitress while waiting to be “discovered” as an actress. Four weeks after meeting Carl, while her landlord was standing outside her door screaming at the top of his lungs because she was once again late with her rent, she picked up the phone, called the number Carl had given her, and, as Carl had instructed her, told the person on the other end of the line that she had changed her mind. She had never regretted it in the five years since.
Every Tuesday and Thursday night, Carl would fly in from Washington on his private jet and drive himself to “Angie’s place” in a car he left at the airport for just that purpose.
Carl was good to her—never asked her any questions about her personal life and gave her ten thousand dollars in cash every month in addition to her all-expenses-paid luxury apartment on East End Avenue. It was spacious, and it had a doorman who opened the door when she went in or out and greeted her as if she was someone special. Carl even paid for her to decorate it. It wasn’t just about money either. Carl was obviously a lot older than Angie, but he was a vigorous, healthy, handsome man who, at six feet four, still stood out in a crowd. Six months after their arrangement began, Angie told her girlfriend Carol, “I hope he never dies. I can’t go back to living like I did before.”
It was love, of a sort.
Benny arrived at Kettle of Fish on Tuesday night at 8:30 sharp. He didn’t want to be late for his first big score. He had on a pair of black jeans, a black T-shirt, and his boots. He’d been doing a second-story job one night when he saw the boots. Normally, he was strictly after money and jewelry—in and out in no time, traveling light. But the boots he couldn’t resist. They were leather and black and shiny and they looked very rich. After he tried them on and they fit, he had to have them.
What’s-her-name arrived exactly at nine dressed in black jeans, black silk shirt, black leather jacket, black silk gloves, and stilettos.
You don’t want me looking like a pimp! Benny said to himself. You ain’t exactly incognito in that outfit. And how the hell you gonna run from anybody with those fuck-me pumps on? Hell, most people would have a hard time walking in those shoes.
But he kept his thoughts to himself. He still wanted—needed—a piece of the action.
“You guys back again?” the bartender said to them after they’d ordered drinks. The Kettle was a rundown little place and not one of the more frequented establishments in the Village. Showing up twice in the same week almost made you a regular and certainly caused Rick the bartender—whose living depended on the tips he could squeeze out of the paltry clientele—to take notice. Benny’s companion did not appreciate the attention, however.
“Let’s walk,” she said after they had finished their first drink.
As they walked, she talked. “The mark is going to be on East End Avenue and Seventy-eighth Street. He’ll arrive at ten o’clock sharp in a black Mercedes. I’ll show you where he parks the car. When he gets out, we’ll be there hiding in the shadows. I’ll do the talking and hold the gun on him. He’ll have ten thousand dollars in his inside suit pocket. You get the money while I keep him covered. You hand me the cash, then we take off in different directions. I’ll meet you on the corner of Ninety-fifth and Lexington exactly one half hour later. Don’t be late.”
She stuck her finger in Benny’s face to emphasize the importance of timeliness, and as she stepped closer to him she appeared to catch her heel in a crack in the sidewalk and fell hard to the pavement.
“What the hell—are you okay?” Benny asked as he started to bend down to her.
“Does it look like I’m okay?” she yelled. “I twisted my ankle.”
I’m not the one wearing those stilts, Benny wanted to shout, but he held it in. “Let me see,” he said instead and bent down to look.
She put her arm out to stop him. “I don’t need you to examine me. I know when I’ve twisted my own ankle. I can move it, so it’s not broken.”
“Okay, okay. I’m just trying to help.”
“Then hail a cab. We gotta get moving.”
He hailed a cab while she slowly got up and hobbled over to get in. She kept rubbing at her ankle during the ride, and when they got out at Seventy-eighth and York, Benny noticed that she wasn’t putting any weight on it.
“I don’t know if I can do this tonight,” she said, grimacing as she leaned against a wall. “Maybe we’ll have to put it off until next month.”
“No, no, no!” Benny told her, unaware of how desperate he sounded. “I can do this alone! You just stay off in the shadows.”
“No way. I’m not letting you fuck this one up on me. I need that money.”
“I won’t fuck it up, I swear.”
“I’m supposed to trust you? I don’t even know you, for Christ’s sake.”
“I ain’t gonna cheat you. I need the score too. I won’t take off without you, I promise.” Benny was giving it his all, even though he had no intention of sharing one thin dime with her.
“All right, all right,” she finally relented. “I’ll let you do it. But if you fuck me, I’ll search the ends of the earth to find you, and then you don’t want to even think about what I’ll do to you.” Benny couldn’t believe such venom was coming from this beautiful creature.
She reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out a revolver and handed it to him. “Here, take this,” she said.
Benny took the gun and held it in his hand, pretending to look it over while he tried to feel comfortable with it. He hated guns, hated being around them at all.
“Do you even know how to fire it?” she asked.
“Sure, I do,” he blustered. “You just aim and pull the trigger.” He started to point the gun at an imaginary target.
“Be careful with that. It’s got a hair trigger and there’s no safety on it,” she told him. “Don’t even think about using it. He’ll give you the money. Ten thousand to him is like pennies to you and me. Just point the gun at him and tell him to hand the cash over.”
Benny lowered the gun. “Okay, okay. I got it. So what’s the split?” he asked.
“The money. I figure it should be fifty-fifty since I’m doing everything now.”
“You’d be doing nothing if it wasn’t for me, shithead. It’s a seventy-thirty split, that’s it. Take it or leave it.”
Benny was a bit surprised she hadn’t brought the subject up herself. Anyway, he had his answer. She was going to fuck him, so it was okay for him to fuck her first. He felt a lot better now.
“I’ll take it,” he replied.
She then pulled what appeared to be a makeup case out of her jacket pocket. She found a stoop nearby, hobbled up the steps with the aid of the banister, and sat down.
“C’mere,” she said. “I’ve got something to give you a little confidence.” Benny walked up the steps and saw she was laying out a few lines of coke on the mirror of her makeup case. She offered it to him and he gratefully accepted. The lines of coke disappeared up his nose in an instant.
“One more,” she said and repeated the ritual. Benny had smoked a ton of dope before he’d left for Kettle of Fish for the same reason—to work up some courage. Now he was flying so high he barely knew what planet he was on.
“I’ll be up the block waiting,” she said “We’ll get a cab. And remember what I said—don’t even think about fucking me over.”
Benny gave her his best Li’l Abner, innocently shaking his head back and forth. His own mother would have believed him.
Carl arrived promptly at ten and parked in his parking spot, the one he had paid the city a fortune for. The one that had its own sign: “No Parking Anytime. Violators will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.” Carl knew that for the right amount of money you could get anything, including your own parking space.
As he emerged from the car, he was surprised to see a wide-eyed young man in front of him holding a gun. No need to panic. He’d been in this situation before. It was surely about money and, therefore, negotiable.
“What can I do for you, young man?” he asked, looking down at Benny, who stood five feet eight inches tall with his boots on.
Carl never got an answer. Instead, he heard a sharp crack and felt a stinging pain in his head, a pain so severe it caused him to lean forward over the open car door so far that his head crashed into the outside of the door’s window. Then he slid to the ground beside the door. While he was lying there in shock, he felt the man’s hands reach into his inside jacket pocket and pull out his cash—the money he had brought for Angie. Carl wanted to stop him but couldn’t move. Then everything went black.
Copyright © 2008 by James Sheehan. All rights reserved.
Excerpted from The Law of Second Chances by Sheehan, James Copyright © 2008 by Sheehan, James. Excerpted by permission.
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