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"Amy Wu, please."
"This is Amy."
"You sleeping? I wake you up?"
"No. Just lying down for a minute."
"So Friday afternoon, you're not at work?"
"No. Right. I'm not feeling too well. Who is this anyway?"
"Hal North. You remember me."
"Of course, Mr. North. How are you? How'd you get my home number?"
"You gave it to us last time, remember?"
"Right. That's right. I gave it to you. So how can I help you?"
"Andrew's in trouble again."
"I'm sorry to hear that. What kind of trouble?"
"Big trouble. The police just came and arrested him for murder. You still there?"
"Yeah. Did you say murder? Andrew?"
"Yeah, I know. But right. Two of 'em, actually."
"I'm sorry. Two of what?"
"What did I just say? You paying attention? Murders. His teacher and his girlfriend."
"Where is he now?"
"They took him to jail. I mean, to the Youth Guidance Center. He's still not eighteen, or it would have been the jail."
"Is that where you're calling from, the YGC?"
"No. Me and Linda, we got a benefit tonight, so we're still home for another two hours at least. We could probably be late to the thing and make it three if you..."
"I could be over in, say, a half hour."
"Good. We'll be looking for you."
Wu checked herself in the bathroom mirror. No amount of makeup was going to camouflage the swollen bags under her eyes. Half-Chinese and half-black, Wu had a complexion that was dark enough as it was, and when exhaustion got the better of her, the hollows around her eyes deepened. Now, between the crying jags, the lack of sleep and the hangover, Wu thought she looked positively haggard, at least adecade older than her thirty years. Why guys would hit on her looking like this, she didn't know, but there didn't seem to be a shortage of them, not since she'd started going out almost every night to find whatever the hell she was seeking in the four months since her father died.
Still, prepping herself to visit Hal North, she did her best to make herself presentable. It wouldn't do to look unprofessional. This was a legal matter, and she knew the potential client had made millions from his chain of multiplex movie theaters. At least he had been worth millions a couple of years ago, when Hal North's corporate attorney-a classmate from law school-had recommended Wu for criminal work and she'd represented his stepson Andrew for a minor joyride beef. She'd gotten him off with a fine and some community service. The fees at her hourly rate had come to a little under two thousand dollars, but when the judge came down with his wrist-slap judgment, North wrote her a check for ten grand. She wasn't sure if she should be flattered or insulted that he assumed he should tip his lawyer.
From now on, North had said in his forceful manner, she was his lawyer, that was all there was to it. Andrew, who'd been sullen and distant throughout the entire proceeding, even broke a rare smile and concurred. She'd told them both that though she was flattered that they liked her work, all in all it would be better if the family wouldn't need a criminal lawyer ever again. They both conceded that she probably had a point.
She lay down on the bed for two minutes, timed, with ice wrapped in a dish towel over her eyes. When she got up, she dried her face and started applying eyeshadow again, mascara, lipstick. Her hand was steady enough, which was a nice surprise. This morning, brushing her teeth after she'd gotten home from whatever-his-name's place a little after dawn, she'd dropped the toothbrush twice before she'd given up, called work for the fouth time in four months-very bad-to say she was sick, and crashed.
For a moment she considered calling North back and making another appointment for tomorrow. After all, the Norths had a benefit tonight-it came back to her now, they always had something going on-and they'd be in a rush. And she really did feel horrible. She wouldn't be as sharp as she liked. But hell, that was getting to be the norm, wasn't it? No sleep, no focus.
She hated herself for it, but she couldn't seem to stop feeling that it didn't matter anyway. Of course it mattered, she told herself. As her old boss David Freeman never tired of saying, the law was a sacred and beautiful thing. And Wu hadn't dreamt of a career in it for five years, then studied it for three, and now have worked in it for five only to lose her faith and become cynical about it. That wasn't who she was, not at her core. But it was who she acted like-and felt like- all too often lately.
The truth was-her bad angels kept telling her-that you didn't really have to be as much on your game as she'd always taken as gospel, since law school. She'd proven that clearly enough in the past four months, when she'd essentially sleepwalked through no fewer than ten court appearances. No one-not even her see-all boss Dismas Hardy-had alluded to any problems with her work. She could mail it in, which was lucky, since that's what she had been doing.
The clients were always guilty anyway. It wasn't as though you were trying to get them off, cleanly acquitted. No, what you did was you squeezed a little here, flirted with a DA there, got a tiny bit of a better deal, and everybody was generally happy. That was the business she was in. It was a business, and she'd come to understand how it worked.
Mr. North had said that his son had been charged with murder, and if this were true, it would be her first. But her experience led her to believe that it probably wouldn't turn out to be a righteous murder, charged as such. If it wasn't simply confusion with another person, at worst an accident, it was probably some kind of manslaughter. And of course the Norths would want to get an attorney on board. If Wu went over now, at least she would get a feel for the case, some of the salient details. It would give her the weekend to get her hands on some discovery, if it was available yet.
And if she could keep herself straight and productive for two whole days in a row.
The Norths' home was a beauty near the Embassy Row section of Clay Street in Pacific Heights. Old trees shaded the sidewalks on both sides, and most of the residences hid behind some barrier-a hedge or fence or stucco wall.
At a few minutes past four o'clock, Wu got out of her car to push the button on the green- tinged brass plate built into the faux-adobe post that held the swinging grille gate to the driveway. When she identified herself, she heard a soft click, then a whirr, and the gate swung open.
For all of the security, there was very little actual room between the gate and the house. Wu got inside, then turned left before she came to the garage. The driveway was quite narrow as it passed in front of the house, but widened into a larger circle near the entryway, and this was where she parked, the area deep in shadow. Getting out of her car, she could see blue sky above her through the trees and hear a steady shush of April breeze, but here in this small leafy enclosure, it was still. Briefcase in hand, she drew a breath, closed her eyes for an instant to gather herself, then went around her car, up the steps to the semi-enclosed brick porch, and rang the bell.
Hal North was in his early fifties, a short, wiry man who tended to dress, as he talked, loudly. Today he answered the door in a canary yellow, open-necked shirt that revealed a robust growth of chest hair into which was nestled a thick gold chain; white slacks; penny loafers with no socks. He hadn't aged one week since Wu had seen him last. He wore his thick black hair short and basically uncombed-the tousled look. His face was not-unattractive, slab-sided with a strong nose and piercing green eyes that sized Wu up afresh as he crushed her hand. "Thanks for coming," he said. "You don't look too sick." He backed away a step. "You remember Linda."
"Sure." Wu stepped over the threshhold and extended her hand. "Nice to see you again, Mrs. North."
Linda North was at least three inches taller than Hal and in another age would have been called a bombshell. Blond, buxom, thin and long-legged, she had always struck Wu as one of those freak-of-nature women over whom age and experience seem to pass without leaving a scar, a line, a trace. Though Wu knew that she was somewhere close to either side of forty-she'd delivered Andrew when she was just a year out of high school-in her jeans and tennis shoes and men's T-shirt, with her hair back in a ponytail, she looked about seventeen herself.
"Ellie's got some coffee going." Hal was already moving, shooing the women before him down the short hallway from the foyer into the dining room. "Ellie!" He pushed open the door to the adjoining kitchen. "In here, okay?" He turned around, motioning to the women. "Sit, sit. She'll be right in." He pulled a chair next to his wife and sat in it, threw a last look at the kitchen door where Ellie would presumably soon appear, then came back to Wu. "Really," he said, "we appreciate you coming out."
"We just can't believe this is happening," Linda said. "It's just a total shock. I mean, out of nowhere."
"You didn't expect something like this?"
"Never," Linda said.
"Complete blindside." Hal was shaking his head, his lips tight. "They kept saying Andrew wasn't a suspect."
"They always say that. You know why? So you might not think you need to have a lawyer with him." She paused. "So I'm assuming you let him talk to the police?"
"Of course," Linda said. "We thought it would help to be as cooperative as we could."
The couple exchanged a glance.
"Why don't we start by you telling me what has happened," Wu said, "starting from the beginning, the crime." She turned to Hal. "You said he's accused of killing his teacher and his girlfriend?"
Linda answered for her husband. "Mike Mooney and Laura Wright. They were in the school play and..."
Wu wasn't surprised to hear this. Among the city's private schools, Sutro was a common choice among people with real money. "Okay, they were in the school play..."
"Yes," Linda said. "Andrew and Laura were the leads, and they'd been rehearsing nights at Mr. Mooney's house rather than the school. Then, the night it happened, somebody just came and shot them down. Luckily, Andrew had gone out for a walk to memorize his lines and wasn't there when it happened or he might've been shot, too."
Luckily or too conveniently, Wu thought. But she moved along. "And Andrew got arrested when?"
"They came by about twelve-thirty, one o'clock. School is out for spring break. And they just took him."
"I was at work," Hal said, "or I would have tried to slow them down, at least."
"Then it's probably better you weren't here." Wu was sitting beyond Linda at the table and could see them both at once. "When did the crimes happen?"
"February." Linda said. "Mid-February."
Wu's face showed her confusion.
"What's the problem?" Hal asked her.
"I guess I don't understand how two months have gone by and all that time, with the police coming by, neither of you thought Andrew was a suspect?"
"He said he didn't do it," Linda said, as though that answered the question. "I know he didn't. He couldn't have."
Ellie came through the door and the conversation stopped while she set out the coffee service. As soon as the door to the kitchen closed back behind her, Wu began again. "Mrs. North, you just said that Andrew couldn't have done these killings. Why not? Do you mean he physically couldn't have done them because, for example, he wasn't there? Does he have an alibi? I mean, beyond the walk he took."
"But he did go for that walk," Linda said. "There's no doubt about that. Besides," she added, "Andrew's just not that kind of person."
Wu's experience was that anyone-if sufficiently motivated-could be driven to kill. And Hal, she'd noticed, had stopped talking, was looking down into his coffee cup. "Mr. North," she said, "why'd they decide just now, after two months, and after they'd talked to Andrew several times? Did something new come up? Do you have any ideas?"
He raised his eyes to her, made a face. "Well, the gun," he whispered.
"That's nothing!" Linda's eyes flared and her voice snapped. "That's not even been definitely connected to Andrew."
Hal, muzzled, shut up and shrugged at Wu, who then spoke gently to Linda. "I don't believe I've heard anything yet about a gun."
She was prepared to answer. "This was early on, in the first week or so. The police asked Hal if we owned any guns, and Hal told them he had an old registered weapon..."
"Nine-millimeter Glock semi-auto," Hal said.
Again, Linda snapped. "Whatever. And when Hal went to find it, he couldn't." She turned to her husband. "But you know you're always misplacing things. It didn't mean Andrew took it."
Wu touched Linda's arm. "But the police think he did?"
Linda looked at Hal, who answered for her. "They found a casing in his car."
"So what?" Wu asked "Without the gun, you can't have a ballistics test."
"It was just a random piece of junk under the seat," Linda said. "It might have been there forever. It was nothing."
Wu tried to look sympathetic. "So the police didn't specifically refer to that when they came today?"
"No. They just said he was under arrest. They had enough evidence, they said. Something about a lineup," she added.
"He stood in a lineup? You let him do that? Who was trying to identify him?"
Hal North bristled. "I don't know. Some witness. Someone identifying Andrew, obviously."
"And wrongly," Linda said.
"Although," Wu phrased it gently, "as you say, he was there at Mooney's place. So someone might have seen him. Yes?"
"Yes, but..." Linda slapped at the table.
Hal reached out and put a hand over hers. "Look," he said to Wu, "we're not sure why any of this is happening. We don't think Andrew did this."
Linda slapped the table again. "We know he didn't do this."
"Okay, okay, that's what I meant," Hal said. He turned to Wu. "But they must have built a pretty impressive case against him if they got all the way to arresting him, wouldn't you think?"
Wu more than thought it. They had a case, and-since Andrew was the son of a wealthy and prominent man-it was probably a strong one. A gun in the house, a casing in Andrew's car, a positive lineup identification. What she had here, she was beginning to believe, was a young man who'd made an awful mistake.
"What are you thinking?" Hal asked her abruptly.
"Nothing," Wu said. "It's too soon. I don't know anything yet."
"You know he's innocent," Linda said. "We know that."
"Of course," Wu said. "Other than that, though."
By Sunday afternoon, when she met with Hal North again, Wu knew that they had a substantial problem. She also thought she had a solution.
This time it was just she and Hal in the large, bright, and high-ceilinged living room. Hal sat in the middle of a loveseat while Wu perched on a couch.
Linda had gone to visit Andrew and would be gone for at least two hours.
Wu had been lucky to get a couple of folders of discovery on Andrew's case from the DA's office before close of business on Friday. She had spent all day Saturday going over what the police had assembled. It looked very, very bad.
"What's so bad?" North asked.
Wu sat all the way forward on the couch, hunched over in tension. Her folders rested unopened on the coffee table in front of her. "Where do you want to start? It could be almost anywhere. They've got a good case."
"It looks like he did it?"
"Do you know anything beyond what we talked about on Friday?"
North shrugged. "I figured the gun was a problem, but I didn't know how they'd tied that to him. They didn't find it, did they?"
"No. Still no weapon, but there's plenty in here"-she tapped the folders-"to prove to me that he had the gun with him that night. You want me to go over it piece by piece?"
North waved impatiently. "I don't need it. If you're convinced, it'll be good enough for a jury." He slammed a palm against the side of his seat. "I knew he took it, goddamn it. I knew he was lying to me." Smoldering, North sat forward with his shoulders hunched, his elbows resting on his knees, head down. Finally, he looked up at Wu. "What about the lineup?"
"The man upstairs saw him leave just after the shots. Positive ID."
North slumped again, shook his head from side to side wearily, came back up to face her. "So he did it." Not a question.
"Well, maybe he wasn't taking that walk to rehearse his lines, let's say that."
"Jesus. This is going to kill Linda."
"She really believes him?"
"We're talking faith here, not reason. I thought that alibi story was like the ultimate in lame myself, but once Andrew came up with it, he had to stick to it. I just wish he would have invented something else, almost anything else." North shook himself all over, then straightened his back and threw Wu a determined, pugnacious look. "Okay, Counselor, what do we do now?"
Wu was ready for the question, and suddenly glad that Linda wasn't here. Hal would play much more into her plan that she'd reluctantly come to believe was the boy's best hope-albeit a defeatist and cynical one because it was based on the absolute fact of Andrew's guilt.
As a good lawyer with a difficult case before her-hell, as a good person-she knew she should have been consumed with getting Andrew off. That was in many ways the definition of what her job was all about. Give her client the best defense the law allowed. And myriad defenses-insanity, psychiatric, diminished capacity, some form of self-defense or manslaughter-were always available, a veritable smorgasbord of reasons that homicide could be if not forgiven entirely, then mitigated. But all of those defenses and strategies involved huge expense for her client's family, a year or more of her life's commitment, and tremendous risk to her client should she fail, or even not completely succeed.
On the other hand, assuming that Andrew was guilty in actual fact (and every other client she'd ever defended had been), Wu knew that she could get him a deal that would give him a life after he turned twenty-five years old, eight years from now. And this when the best result she could reasonably expect under the other various defense scenarios was ten years-and probably many, many more.
And so, though it was a terrible choice, she had convinced herself that, all things considered, it was the best possible strategy in these circumstances. "I think our primary goal," she said, "ought to be to keep Andrew in the juvenile system, not let them try him as an adult."
"Why would they do that? He's not eighteen. It's eighteen, right?"
"Right. At eighteen, it's automatic, he's an adult. But that doesn't mean the DA can't charge younger people. It's a discretionary call."
"Depending on what?"
"The criminal history of the person charged, the seriousness of the crime, some other intangibles." She took a breath, held it a moment, let it out. "I have to tell you, I've already talked to the chief assistant DA-his name's Allan Boscacci-and as of this moment, they're planning to file Andrew as an adult."
"Why? That makes no sense. This is his first real offense. He's a little hard to talk to sometimes, okay, but it's not like he's some kind of hardened criminal or anything."
"Yeah, but two killings, point-blank. Pretty serious. They're even talking special circumstances. Multiple murders, in fact, again, it's automatic."
"Special circumstances? You're not talking the death penalty?"
"No, you can't get that no matter what if you're under eighteen at the time of the offense."
North quickly cast his eyes around the room. "Okay, so what happens when he's an adult? Different, I mean."
Wu knew she had to deliver it straight and fast. If she was going to get North to agree with her strategy, she had to make it look as bad as she could for Andrew as quickly as possible. "A couple of major issues. First, most importantly, if he's an adult, life without parole is in play. If he's a juvenile, it's not. The worst he can get as a juvenile is up to age twenty-five in a juvie facility."
But North, not too surprisingly, was struck by the worst-case scenario. "Jesus Christ! Life without parole. You've got to be shitting me."
"No, sir. If he's convicted."
"Okay, then, he doesn't get convicted. Last time you got him off clean. It's not even on his record."
"Last time, sir, with all respect, he borrowed a car for half an hour. That's a long way from murder."
"Yeah, but I'm paying you to get him off. You can't do that, I'll find me somebody else who can."
Wu expected this-denial, anger, threats. She held her ground. "You might find somebody who'll say they can." She fixed him with a firm gaze. "They'd be blowing smoke up your ass."
"You're saying you can't do it?"
"No, sir, I'm not saying that. If that's your decision, I'll sure try. I might succeed, like I did before. Get him a reduced sentence, maybe even an acquittal. But nobody-and I mean nobody- can predict how a trial's going to come out. Anybody who says different is a liar. And the risks in this case, given just the evidence we've seen so far, are enormous." She reined herself in, took a deep breath. "What I can do, maybe, is avoid the adult disposition. If Andrew goes as a juvenile, the worst case is he's in custody at the youth farm-which is way better than state prison, believe me-until he turns twenty-five. Then he's free, with his whole life still in front of him."
"Okay, so how do you do that? Avoid the adult disposition?"
"Well, that's both our problem and our solution. To have any chance of convincing the DA at all, we'd have to tell him Andrew would admit the crime."
North snorted. "That I'd like to see. That's not happening."
Wu shrugged and waited, content to let the concept work on him. North did his quick scan of the room again, sat back in his loveseat, frowned. Finally, he met her eyes, shook his head. "No fucking way," he said.
"I'll never get Linda to go for that. She'll never believe he did it."
"All right. But what do you believe?"
"I don't know what I believe. The kid and I never bonded really well, you know what I mean. I don't know him. He's all right, I guess. I love his mother, I'd kill for her, but the kid's a mystery. But whether he could kill somebody..." He shrugged, helpless. "I don't know. I guess I think it's possible. I'd bet he's lying about the walk he took. I know he took my gun, and he's lying about that, too. And why'd he take it if he wasn't going to use it?"
"That's a good question." Wu kept her responses low-key, not wanting to push. North, she was sure, would come to his conclusions on his own. As she had. At least that Andrew's situation looked bad enough to make the risks of an adult trial not worth taking. Still, in a matter-of-fact tone, she said, "They don't usually arrest innocent people, sir. No matter what you see in the movies." Then she added, "I'm not saying Andrew is guilty, but last time, if you remember, he started out saying he never took the car. Never drove in it at all. Didn't know what the cops were talking about. He swore to it."
"Just like now." North was slumped back in his chair, his palm up against the side of his head. "This is going to kill Linda," he said again.
"Well, if he really isn't guilty..." Wu let the words hang.
North shook his head. "Even if he isn't, how's a jury going to like the eyewitness and the gun and the motive? Jealousy, right?"
Wu had read the testimony of one of Andrew's friends, alluding to the jealousy motive-he evidently thought the teacher and his girlfriend were at least on the verge of starting-if not engaged in-an affair. But it was the first time North had mentioned anything about it, and the independent, unsolicited confirmation was a bit chilling.
Still, Wu restrained herself from trying to convince. She believed that forceful men like Hal North stuck far more tenaciously with decisions that they reached on their own. So she changed tack. "Here's the thing, Mr. North. He's up at the YGC now, they haven't filed against him as an adult yet, so practically speaking he's being treated as a juvenile. They have to hold what's called a detention hearing right away-I've already checked and it's tomorrow-to decide if they're going let Andrew go back home under your supervision."
"No reason they shouldn't do that."
Except for the fact that he's killed two people, she thought. But she only let out a breath and said, "In any case, as long as he's considered a juvenile, administratively they've got to have this detention hearing. That might give you some time, not much admittedly, to walk through some of these other issues with Linda, and even with Andrew."
He shook his head. "No, she'll talk to him, but maybe I can make her see what's happening."
Wu drew another breath and came out with it. She was going to need her client's approval before she took her next gamble, and this was the moment. "In light of everything we've been talking about here, Mr. North, I'd very much like to try to keep him in the juvenile system and avoid an adult trial if there's any way at all to do it, but that means he admits guilt right now. Immediately. Not maybe. I tell the DA he will admit and clear the case, in return they let him stay in juvenile court."
He sat stone still for a long beat, then nodded once.
Ambiguous enough, but Wu took it as an acceptance. "Do you think you can get your wife to go along with that? I want you to understand clearly that if Andrew admits, there won't be a trial, either in juvie or adult court. He'll just be sentenced. But the worst sentence he could get is the youth farm until he turns twenty-five."
"Eight years," he said. His shoulders slumped around him. "Eight years. Jesus Christ."
"That's the maximum. The actual sentence may be less. With the crowding at the youth work farms and time off for good behavior, he might not be as old when he gets out as when he'd finish college."
North may have been starting to see it, but the pill wasn't getting any less bitter. He rubbed his hand against the slab of his cheek. "Still, we're talking years."
Wu nodded soberly. "Yes, sir. But compared to the rest of his life. Even if I could plead him to a lesser charge as an adult-say second degree murder or manslaughter-he'll do at least double that time." She came forward. "And it would be in an adult prison, which is like it appears in the movies. But if we can get him declared a juvenile, which is not certain..."
"It seems to me we've got to do that. At least try for it."
"I can do it, but I'll have to move quickly." She consciously repeated herself. "You might want to talk to Linda first."
He gave it another few seconds of thought, then nodded again, spoke as if to himself. "Andrew's stubborn, but he'll come around when he sees the alternative. If he goes adult and gets convicted, Linda couldn't handle it. She really couldn't." Tortured, he looked across at her. "So what do we do?"
"I'm afraid that's got to be your decision."
He blew out heavily in frustration. "And when is this filing decision, adult or juvie?"
"Soon. It might have already happened, except that Andrew got arrested on a Friday afternoon and Boscacci is off on the weekend. But by sometime tomorrow morning, probably."
"Tomorrow morning?" His eyes seemed to be looking into hers for some reprieve, but the situation as they both sat there seemed to keep getting worse. "And once a decision comes down, then what? I mean, is it appealable or something?"
"You mean, once he's declared an adult? No. Then he's an adult."
"God damn." He shook his head, side to side, side to side. "This isn't possible." At last, he seemed to gather himself. "So if they decide he's an adult tomorrow, we're screwed?"
"Well, we go to trial, yes."
"But you might be able to talk to this guy Boscacci before then?"
"I'd call him at home today if you want me to."
"And that gives us a better deal?"
She phrased it carefully. "Less of a potential downside, let's say that."
"And that's definite. I mean, we go juvie, he's out at twenty-five?"
"That's the best deal we can get, don't you think?"
"As a sure thing? Yes, sir, all else being equal, I do. But I don't want to hurry you in any way. This is a huge decision and right now Andrew stands presumed innocent. If he admits, that changes."
North shook his head, dismissing that concern. His stepson, with whom communication was so difficult, who'd screwed up so many times before, had done it again. He was a constant burden and strain, and now he was putting his mother through more and more heartache. But North couldn't yet admit out loud what he might believe, and so he simply said, "He might be innocent, okay, but tell me there's a jury in the world that's going to see it." A sigh. "At least he'll have a life afterwards, when he gets out."
Wu watched the second hand on the mantel clock move through ninety degrees, then spoke in a gentle tone. "So do you want me to see what I can do?"
A last, long, agonizing moment. Then: "Yeah, I think you've got to."
Sitting back on the couch, she let herself sink into the deep cushions. "Okay," she said. "Okay."