The Red Zoneby Tim Green
The bestselling author of "The Dark Side of the Game" pens a murder mystery set in the cutthroat world of the NFL. A brilliant defense attorney takes the case of a linebacker accused of killing the team's owner. What begins as a high-profile murder case evolves into a frightening conspiracy involving huge amounts of money, corrupt police, and a horrible and bizarre truth.
- Grand Central Publishing
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 6.27(w) x 9.32(h) x 1.19(d)
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The Red Zone
By Tim Green
Warner BooksCopyright © 1998 Tim Green
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMadison McCall checked her watch as she hurried down the long corridor on the main floor of her firm's ornate offices. As usual, Madison wore clothes that were stylish, but that concealed her well-toned body. She didn't want to be regarded as just a body, or even a face, and she never had. Growing up, Madison was the girl who could have been the captain of the cheerleading team or Miss Texas. She never tried. When she was six years old she watched her father deliver a closing argument in a murder trial. Since that day, Madison knew she would be a lawyer. She was never smug about it, but as she grew up, other things just didn't matter as much as they seemed to matter to the rest of the girls her age.
Even now-especially now-it was hard to not notice the gleam in her pretty green eyes which were perfectly spaced above high, shapely cheeks. Her nose was just long enough to set her apart without detracting from her good looks. Her light brown hair was thick and soft, but she rarely let it down. Even with her hair up, Madison almost always drew a second look. At thirty-four, she was the youngest senior partner in her law firm. Her natural attractiveness, however, had nothing to do with her unusually rapid advancement. She had achieved that through her lawyering. Unfortunately, neither her looks nor her brains could help her now. She was late.
"Hi, Dotty, I'm running," she said with a quick wave over her shoulder as she passed in and out of a large wood-paneled chamber that faced a bank of elevators. Dotty, the scowling receptionist, sat like a foreboding gargoyle at her claw-footed desk in the middle of a thick blue oriental rug. She was an old crab, but even she seemed unable to help herself from smiling when Madison bubbled by.
Madison skidded to a stop on the marble floor in front of the wide double doors on her right. Absently, she brushed back a lock of her hair that had escaped its bun and fallen into her face. She took a deep breath, pulled open one of the doors, and stepped inside. She expected to be confronted with the disapproving scowl of Dorian Baxter, the oldest and most powerful man in the firm and one of the most respected attorneys in the state of Texas. She was also prepared for painful silence from the rest of the firm's partners as they looked on with pursed lips while Baxter berated her for being late. Instead, the six other partners on her firm's executive committee were clustered about Dorian's throne at the head of the conference table, standing anxiously like a handful of school-children waiting for the bell to ring.
Instead of frowns, she was met with seven benevolent smiles. Madison would almost have preferred frowns. There was only one other woman in the room, Isabelle Denofrio, and her smile was the weakest of the bunch. Madison quickly reviewed her life over the past month, searching for the one thing that had gone drastically wrong and resulted in the trap that was so obviously about to be sprung.
"Madison, good," Dorian Baxter said in his thick sonorous voice. "We were just talking about you."
"I noticed," Madison said. "That's what I get for being late."
Baxter was a large man with swarthy skin and flowing white hair. He wore a charcoal suit with a conservative tie and a bright white shirt, a modern-day monarch. It was rumored he was close to eighty years old, but he could easily pass for a healthy sixty. His pale green eyes were piercing, and left people with the impression that nothing could be hidden from him. The rest of the partners scattered to their respective chairs, still smiling and nodding affably at Madison. She found her own seat and pulled a pen and a yellow legal pad out of her briefcase, setting them on the table in front of her before she looked back up at Dorian with the same winning innocent smile she used when addressing a jury.
"As you know, Madison," Dorian began, before pausing to clear his throat, "this year the firm has had some of the worst financial difficulties in its one-hundred-and-thirty-seven-year history."
Madison wondered when he would get to the point.
"We're facing the unusual dilemma of having to look for places within the firm that we can cut," he continued.
This puzzled Madison more than worried her. Of course she didn't make as much money for the firm as some. Isabelle, who specialized in medical malpractice, could sometimes clear several million in a good year. As good as Madison was, the fact remained that criminals didn't typically have the resources to pay very big legal bills. Still, she had billed consistently for the past ten years and was careful to represent at least four paying customers for every indigent pro bono case she took on. She was easily worth her quarter-million-dollar salary. If anything, she had been expecting a raise.
"In that respect, one area in this firm stands out." Baxter held Madison's gaze with the cold certainty of an inflexible manager.
"I know it's difficult, still, for you to talk about Marty Cahn," Baxter said, clearing his throat politely, "and I respect that. However, this firm has to move forward, and it has been over a year since his unfortunate death."
Madison was sure the entire room could hear her heart beating. Marty Cahn had been her best friend, a tax lawyer with whom she'd gone through law school. His death had been sudden and violent, the result of his involvement in one of her murder trials. In fact, it was the trial of the man who was now Madison's husband. Any mention of Marty's name and death was loaded with emotion.
"However," Baxter's voice boomed after a substantial pause, breaking Madison's trance, "life goes on, and this firm goes on. It will after each of us has gone. And so, we would like you to seriously consider taking on one aspect of Marty's responsibilities that has suffered since his unfortunate demise.
"I'm referring to Marty's sports agency practice."
Madison's eyes focused sharply. She looked around the room to see that every other partner was staring at her.
"The fact is, Madison," Baxter said, "Marty was bringing in substantial revenue from the work he did for NFL players alone. He brought in almost twice as much money in that area as he did in his tax work, no small accomplishment, and all while expending a tenth of the hours. Unfortunately, without Marty, this source of revenue has dried up. Marty seemed to have a knack for winning over these players. The associate who worked for him obviously lacks those skills.
"We want you to take over the sports agency. And continue with your trial work, of course."
"No," Madison said without hesitation, looking bravely at Dorian Baxter. "I'm a trial lawyer. I'm one of the best in my field, and that is exactly what I want to do. It's all I want to do. I'm sorry."
Baxter pursed his lips and nodded grimly.
"I'm sorry, too," Baxter said coldly. He was not a man used to people saying no. "You see, we thought that with your marriage to Cody Grey and your affiliation with the NFL, and with the celebrity status that you've acquired in the last year since your husband's trial, well, we thought you could save some people's jobs."
"I really have no affiliation with the NFL, Dorian," Madison said as pleasantly as she could, "nor do I want to have. I don't think I'd be the person for that job. Is that all?"
"No," Baxter said, pushing a folder toward her across the smooth rich grain of the mahogany conference table. "Since you are refusing the direct request of this committee, you will be the one to tell Chris Pelo that he no longer works here."
Madison started to protest, but Baxter cut her off by raising his hand and his voice at the same time. "Let me tell you, young lady, that you're not the only talented trial lawyer I've seen. This isn't about what you want to do and don't want to do. This is about this firm and its well-being. You have the opportunity to help this firm in an hour of crisis!
"That you choose to take the path of self-service is a disappointment," Baxter said, his voice becoming appropriately sad, "but as the managing partner, I will not take it upon myself to terminate a member of this firm when his position could have been preserved with some good old-fashioned teamwork."
"Fine," Madison fumed, snatching the file from the table and rising to her feet. "But if you think that you can coerce me into taking on a specialty practice I have neither the background for nor interest in by making me do what is rightly your job, you're wrong. Oh, I'll tell Chris-and I'll tell him I'm sorry that he works for such a cold-blooded bunch as we obviously are, measuring our attorneys in terms of dollars and cents instead of their competence and integrity. One bad year, and we're already looking for who we can cut. Maybe he'll be better off elsewhere. Maybe we all would be."
Madison stormed out of the conference room and hurried back to her office, where she shut the door so she could stew in private. She didn't want to say anything else she would regret. It wasn't that Madison didn't think she was right. But, in a way, so was Baxter. Her firm did go beyond individual lawyers. The firm was an entity that had been there long before her, and would be there long after.
Madison remembered when she was first offered a job with Caldburn, Baxter and Thrush. It was the biggest moment of her life. It was her dream come true. Her father was a respected trial attorney in Dallas, and she could have easily joined his practice. But Madison had wanted to make her own way, and she knew that in Austin there were opportunities, if she was smart enough and good enough to secure them. When she'd first come to the firm out of law school, Timothy Pembrook, a lawyer whose skills even her father revered, had taken her under his wing, and by his death at the age of seventy-four, he had trained her to be one of the best.
Neither Pembrook, nor her father, had served two masters. They were trial lawyers and nothing else. Therein lay the conflict. The man who had given her career life by making her his protege fresh out of law school was also the man whose focus was unwavering. Now she was faced with the choice of lending a hand to someone in need or maintaining the single-minded focus that had made her the best.
"Why am I even thinking about this?" she said out loud in a bewildered voice. "Nancy," she said into her intercom. "Get me Chris Pelo, please. Tell him I need to see him right away."
"Yes, Ms. McCall," her secretary said.
Madison opened the file on the desk in front of her. On top was a termination letter. She glanced through the terms: three months' pay, one year of medical coverage for his entire family, prorated bonuses for this year. They were also letting him take the sports client list and the nontax files with him. It was all very fair, not something to be ashamed of. It was just business.
When Pelo walked through the door, it was clear to her why the sports agency was foundering. She wondered for the hundredth time why Marty had ever attempted to cultivate this man as an NFL agent. Pelo was forty-three. He wore an ill-fitting gray suit and a red tie that was too short, with a knot that was too big. Madison suspected that he grew his bushy mustache to draw attention away from his badly pocked skin. His hair seemed bereft of any style whatsoever, nothing more than a thatch. The only physical attribute he seemed to possess was a pair of deep-set eyes, bottomless black pools that focused with obvious intelligence. Madison knew that this guy was the last person ninety-nine point ninety-nine percent of all NFL players would even consider talking to about representing them. Agents in the NFL were a slick lot. Even Marty, with his angular frame and thick glasses, had cut an impressive figure because of his height alone. And Marty always knew how to put it on when he had to. He looked smart, and he was. Everyone around him sensed it. He knew how to dress and he knew how to order wine. Chris Pelo was the kind of guy who would have to prove he was smart, and NFL players didn't like to wait around for people to prove themselves.
"Sit down, Chris," Madison said after standing to shake his hand.
"I'm sorry I have to be the one to tell you this," she said, preferring to get straight to the point, "but the executive committee has decided to terminate the sports agency, and, along with that, your position ... I'm sorry."
Only the turmoil in Pelo's eyes hinted at the agony he must be feeling. Outwardly, he was fine. Madison was impressed.
She handed him the file. It was business, she told herself that again.
"Is there anything I can do?" Pelo said. "I mean, would they reconsider, in any way, do you think? Could I work in another area? The tax department? Maybe even estate planning?"
Madison shook her head sadly. "I don't think so," she said. "They're planning on cutting back everywhere they can, Chris. I have to tell you that they wanted me to run this agency with you, but it wouldn't work. It was a desperation thing with the executive committee. It would only have prolonged the inevitable for a few more months. I'm not an agent. That's why they had me be the one to tell you, to punish me for not trying to become one. You know as well as anyone that it's not a thing you can do if your heart's not in it."
They both stared at the floor for a few moments before Pelo remembered himself and rose politely.
"Thank you, Madison," he said, extending his hand.
"Huh?" she said, caught off guard.
"No," he explained, holding up the letter, "not for this. I mean just thanks for treating me the way you did. I know the only reason I was in this firm was because of Marty. He was eccentric, let's face it. I'm a Mexican, middle-aged ex-cop trying to be a big-time sports agent."
Pelo let out a good-natured chuckle in honor of his old boss.
"But you were probably the only other person in this firm who treated me like I belonged here. You never acted uncomfortable when I passed you in the hall or met you in Marty's office. You acted as if I was just another lawyer. I appreciate that. Goodbye."
Madison almost stopped him as he passed quickly through her doorway. But then he was gone, and after a heavy sigh and a moment of thought, she lifted a thick trial file marked fears from her drawer and began to read through it.
Excerpted from The Red Zone by Tim Green Copyright © 1998 by Tim Green. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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