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The Attorney (Paul Madriani Series #5)

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Overview

"Riveting . . . a suspenseful tale, right up to the satisfying climax," wrote Publishers Weekly in praise of The Judge. "Legal thrillers don't get much better than this." Kirkus Reviews hailed Undue Influence as "the courtroom novel of the year." Now Martini delivers Paul Madriani's most challenging case yet: one pitting a drug-addicted mother against her daughter's newly rich grandfather in a contentious custody case that leads to criminal accusations and ultimately murder.

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The Attorney (Paul Madriani Series #5)

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Overview

"Riveting . . . a suspenseful tale, right up to the satisfying climax," wrote Publishers Weekly in praise of The Judge. "Legal thrillers don't get much better than this." Kirkus Reviews hailed Undue Influence as "the courtroom novel of the year." Now Martini delivers Paul Madriani's most challenging case yet: one pitting a drug-addicted mother against her daughter's newly rich grandfather in a contentious custody case that leads to criminal accusations and ultimately murder.

Having moved to San Diego to be closer to the woman in his life, Madriani takes on the case of Jonah Hale, an elderly man in terrible straits. As a result of their only child Jessica's longtime drug addiction, Jonah and his wife have been raising their eight-year-old granddaughter, Amanda. On the heels of Jonah's multimillion-dollar state lottery win, Jessica revives her interest in mothering. When Jonah won't deal—maternal rights for a mega-bucks payoff—Jessica plays dirty: she accuses the old man of having sexually abused her as a child and similarly abusing Amanda now.

Enter Zo Suade—a flamboyant, feminist activist with a penchant for making the objects of custody battles and their mother/plaintiffs "disappear." True to form, a week after Zo takes on Jessica's case, mother and daughter vanish. When Zo's body turns up, Jonah becomes the prime suspect. And Madriani is the man who can prove his innocence.

Filled with action in and out of court, rich in characters with motives obvious and subtle, The Attorney marks the much-anticipated return of Paul Madriani.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Paul Madriani, the star of Steve Martini's biggest legal-thriller successes (The Judge, Undue Influence, Prime Witness), returns to the hot seat in The Attorney, a gripping drama about a druggie mother, her distraught parents, and an innocent child locked in the crossfire. When the shocking allegations fly, the blood begins to spill.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The tireless Paul Madriani, Martini's popular lawyer/sleuth (The Judge; Compelling Evidence), barely has a chance to hang a shingle in San Diego--where he has moved to be closer to his lover, child advocate Susan McKay--before he is sucked into another engrossing court battle. When Madriani takes on elderly Jonah Hale's case, it seems at first he is dealing with a simple kidnapping. Hale's granddaughter, eight-year-old Amanda, under Hale's custody, has been whisked away by Zolanda Suade, who runs Vanishing Victims, an organization that purports to rescue kids from abusive situations. Now Suade is falsely accusing Hale of molestation to justify returning the girl to her mother--Hale's drug-addled, ex-con daughter, Jessica, who's never shown any interest in raising her child. Suade apparently has an ulterior motive: keeping Amanda in hiding until she can extort a hefty ransom from Hale, who recently won $87 million in the state lottery. Before Madriani, with Susan's expert assistance, can get far in his investigations, Suade is found shot to death, and Hale, who had plenty of motive to kill him, is arrested. Madriani is increasingly overmatched by a dogged prosecutor. Worse, those assisting Madriani in Hale's defense keep getting murdered, and Madriani may be next in line. Except for the occasional cliche (bodies lined up "like cordwood," minds "like steel traps"), Martini's prose shows marked improvement. Crisp dialogue and tart observations about legal maneuvering distinguish his courtroom scenes, and the new setting, San Diego, is colorfully rendered. It's a shame that the otherwise cleverly conceived plot falters in the homestretch with a poorly concealed twist that most readers will see coming well ahead of time. Mystery Guild main selection, Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club selections. (Jan.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Lottery winner Jonah Hale's drug-addicted daughter demands a big payoff when he won't relinquish the granddaughter she left in his care, then accuses him of sexual abuse when he refuses to deliver. A famed feminist activist helps spirit away mother and daughter and then gets bumped off. Sounds like another complicated case for Paul Madriani. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780515130041
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 1/28/2001
  • Series: Paul Madriani Series , #5
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 352,015
  • Product dimensions: 4.33 (w) x 6.70 (h) x 1.25 (d)

Meet the Author

Steve Martini
Steve Martini's bestselling novels include Critical Mass, The List, The Judge, Undue Influence, Prime Witness, and Compelling Evidence. He lives on the West Coast.

Biography

Writer-turned-lawyer-turned-writer, Steve Martini has established himself as a bankable literary star in the legal thriller genre. His titles, many starring that embattled esquire Paul Madriani, have taut, two-word titles: The List, The Judge, The Jury, The Attorney. And he gets raves for his taut plots as well. A Detroit Free Press reporter once confessed that when she accidentally left her plane ticket and Martini novel in an airport restroom, she frantically dropped out of line at the gate and ran back to the ladies room -- for the book.

Martini began his writing career as a reporter for the Los Angeles Daily Journal, a legal newspaper, where he covered the California statehouse in the early 1970s. He specifically went to work for a legal publication because he planned to practice law. And, after receiving his law degree from the University of the Pacific in northern California, he set aside his reporter's notebook for private practice.

On the side, he continued to write, and he published his first novel, The Simeon Chamber in 1988, in which an attorney and his client are endangered by their possession of what may be the diaries of Sir Francis Drake and are in a chase that takes them to San Simeon, the castle-style estate in California built by William Randolph Hearst.

In 1992, Martini published his second book, Compelling Evidence, a taut thriller that introduced his popular recurring character, attorney Paul Madriani. In the novel, Madriani defends his former mistress on charges that she murdered her husband, the man who just happened to be the senior partner at Madriani's law firm. A national bestseller, the novel won the author a critical and popular following. Since then, with few exceptions, Madriani has been the centerpiece of Martini's fiction, squaring off against slick politicians, politically ambitious prosecutors, and a compelling cast of flawed clients with agendas all their own.

Although Martini is now a full-time writer, his long tenure in the legal trenches has obviously left its mark. Nowhere do his legal thrillers ring more true than in the courtroom scenes, which have won the praise of the master himself, fellow attorney-turned-bestselling novelist John Grisham. In assessing his colleague's skills, Grisham has said: "Steve Martini is a master of the genre...He writes with the agile, episodic style of a lawyer quick on his feet and one step ahead of his many enemies."

Good To Know

Martini covered the Charles Manson murder case in the 1960s as a reporter for The Los Angeles Daily Journal, a legal newspaper.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Steven Paul Martini
    2. Hometown:
      California
    1. Date of Birth:
      February 28, 1946
    2. Place of Birth:
      San Francisco, California
    1. Education:
      B.A., University of California, Santa Cruz, 1968; J.D., University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law, 1974

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

I can trace it back with precision to one of those fitful weeks in August, when the thermometer hit triple digits for the tenth day in a row. Even the humidity was high; unusual for Capital City. The air conditioner in my car had died and at six-fifteen, traffic on the Interstate was stalled behind an overturned truck-and-trailer rig filled with tomatoes on their way to the Campbell's plant. I would be late picking up Sarah from the sitter's.

Even with this as background, it was an impulsive move. Ten minutes after I got home, I called a realtor I knew and asked the fateful question: How much can I get for the house? Would you come by for an appraisal? The real estate market was heating up, like the weather, so in this respect my timing was good.

Sarah was out of school, in that awkward gap between fifth grade and middle school, and not looking forward to the switch. Her best friends-twin sisters her same age-were in the southern part of the state. I'd met their mother during a legal seminar in which we were both speakers, almost three years ago now.

Susan McKay and her daughters lived in San Diego. Susan and I had been seeing a lot of each other, between monthly trips to San Diego and meetings at the halfway point in Morro Bay. For some reason that adults will never comprehend, the kids seemed to bond at that very first meeting. In San Diego, the weather was cool and breezy. And it held the promise of family life, something Sarah and I had been missing for nearly four years.

We had spent two weeks visiting in early July, part of that in Ensenada, south of the border. I had become infected with the scent of salt in the air, and the facets of the sun dancing on the surface of the sea at Coronado. In the late afternoon, Susan and I sat on the beach as the girls played in the water. The Pacific appeared as some boundless, undulating crucible of quicksilver.

After fourteen short days, Sarah and I bade farewell and piled into my car. As I looked at my daughter, I could read her mind. Why are we going back to Capital City? What is there for us?

It took her an hour in the car to verbalize these thoughts, and when she did, I was prepared with all the cold, adult logic a father can command.

I have a job there. I have to get back.

But you could get another job down here.

It takes a long time for a lawyer to build a practice. It's not that easy.

You started once before. You could do it again. Besides we have money now. You said so yourself.

On this point she had me. I had made a killing in a civil case eight months earlier, a wrongful death that went to the jury. We'd hit a verdict, Harry Hinds and I, like gold bars on the pay line of a slot machine. We'd plucked the insurance company for eight million dollars. It's what happens when a defendant circles the wagons in a bad case. A widow with two children was now financially secure, and Harry and I had been left with a tidy nest egg in fees, even after taxes. Still, uprooting my practice was risky.

I understand. You're feeling lonely, I told Sarah.

I am lonely, she said.

With that I looked at my daughter sitting in the passenger seat next to me, staring doe-eyed, braces and long brown hair, waiting for an answer that made sense. I didn't have one.

When my wife, Nikki, died, she left a hole in our lives that I have never been able to fill. As we headed back toward Capital City, the nagging question remained: What is here for us?

The corrosive politics and blistering summer heat of Capital City held few attractions and a great many painful memories. There had been the year of Nikki's illness that even now I could not blot out. There were places in the house where, when I turned a corner, I still saw her face. Couples who had been friends no longer had anything in common with a widower approaching middle age. And now my daughter wanted to put it all behind us.

On a Monday morning, the last week in August, I called Harry into my office. At one time, Harry Hinds had been one of the foremost criminal lawyers in town, trying mostly front-page felonies. Fifteen years ago he lost a death case, and his client lost his life in the state's gas chamber. Harry was never the same. By the time I opened a practice in the same building where Harry had his offices, he was defending drunk drivers and commiserating with them on bar stools after hours.

He came on board to lend a hand with the Talia Potter murder trial, and ever since has been a fixture. Harry's speciality is the mountains of paper produced in any trial. With a mind like a steel trap, Harry refers to his document searches as "digging through the bullshit to find the flowers." He is the only man I know who hates losing more than I do.

I didn't have the heart to tell him I was leaving Capital City, so I put it out as just opening a branch office.

He surprised me. His only question was where.

When I told him, his eyes lit up. It seemed Harry was game for the move himself. A new practice in a fresh place, the mellow swells of the Pacific, a few boat drinks along the way, maybe snag another big judgment in a civil case and head for the pastures of semi-retirement. In that instant Harry saw himself sipping piña coladas and surveying the swells on their yachts from the veranda of the Del Coronado. Harry has a fanciful imagination.

We found an associate to keep things together in the Capital City office. Harry and I weren't ready to burn our bridges. We would take turns trekking back to the home office, keeping one foot in both worlds until we could make the jump south for good.

In these months Susan played a pivotal role as surrogate mother for Sarah. I could leave my daughter with her for a week at a time. When I called Susan's house on those weeklong trips it was difficult to get Sarah even to come to the phone. When she did, her voice was filled with laughter and the abruptness that tells you that your call is an interruption. For the first time in five years, since Nikki died, our daughter was a carefree child. Even when Susan's house was burglarized in the late winter, I felt secure in her ability to protect and care for my daughter.

Susan is seven years younger than I, a dark-haired beauty, and divorced. She has the fine features and innocent looks of a child, coupled with the mind of a warrior.

For eight years, Susan has been the director of Children's Protective Services in San Diego, an agency that investigates allegations of child abuse and makes recommendations to the DA regarding prosecutions and to the courts regarding child custody. To call Susan's vocation a job is like calling the Christian Crusades a hobby. She pursues it with the zeal of a true believer. Children are her life. Her training is in early-childhood development where the mantra Save the kids has become a battle cry.

We have been seeing each other for more than two years, though even now in San Diego, we do not live together. I moved south to be with her, but-after some discussion-we decided not to move in together. At least not yet.

When I moved south, some unstated law of independence dictated that we maintain separate households. It seems we spend increasing amounts of time in each other's company; that is, when I am not on the road back to Capital City.

That particular Gordian knot will be cut as soon as Harry and I have secured a sufficient client base in the south, which is why today I am renewing an old acquaintance.

Jonah and Mary Hale sit across the desk from me. He has aged since I saw him last. Mary looks the same, different hairdo, but in the ten years she has not changed much. That was before Ben's death and Talia's murder trial. Oceans of water under that bridge.

Jonah was one of my earliest cases in private practice, soon after I left the DA's office where I'd cut my teeth. The firm had directed him down the hall to the new man in the cubicle at the end.

At the time, Jonah was just a working stiff, a married man in his fifties with a daughter in her late teens. He was getting ready to retire-against his will. He worked for the railroad in Capital City, the locomotive works which was in its death throes. Jonah had a chronic bad back and knees, thanks to years of toil on hard concrete lifting machine parts. So when the railroad was looking to downsize, he was an immediate candidate to go. Even now he walks with a cane, though this one is much more ornate than the plain curved-handled wooden stick I had seen him with back then.

"The legs don't get any better with age," he tells me as he shifts back into his chair to find the point of relative comfort.

"But the smile is as good as ever," I tell him.

"Only because I've found an old friend. I only hope you can help me."

Jonah has the good looks of an aging Hemingway, with all the wrinkles in the right places. Even with his infirmities he has not put on weight. His tanned face is framed by a shock of white hair. His beard is close cropped, his eyes deep-set and gray. He is a rugged-looking man, well dressed, with a dark sweater-vest under a cashmere sport coat, and light-colored slacks. On his wrist is a gold watch the size of an oyster, a Rolex he could never have afforded in the old days.

I introduce him to Harry.

"I've heard a lot about you," says Harry.

Jonah just smiles. He is used to this by now: people coming up, slapping him on the back, cozying to get close.

"It's what happens when your number comes up," he tells Harry. "Everybody assumes that you had something to do with it."

"Well, you did buy the ticket," says Harry.

"Yes. And there have been times when I wish he hadn't," says Mary.

"Having money can be its own curse," Jonah tells us. One senses that he means what he says.

Jonah won the largest lottery payout in state history: $87 million. He had purchased the ticket five years after I'd won his case, securing a disability from the railroad that paid him $26,000 a year plus medical benefits for life.

"I couldn't believe it when I saw your name in the phone book. I told Mary when I saw your name it had to be you, or your kid. How many Paul Madrianis could there be? Especially lawyers."

"One of a kind," says Harry. "Broke the mold."

"So what can we do for you?" I ask.

"It's our daughter," says Jonah. "I don't think you've ever met Jessica."

"I don't think so."

"I went to the police. But they said it wasn't a criminal matter. Can you believe it? She's kidnapped my granddaughter, and the police tell me it isn't criminal. They can't get involved."

"Kidnapped?" I ask.

"I don't know what else to call it. For three weeks now, going on a month, I been runnin' around like a chicken without my head. Going to the police. Following up with the lawyer we hired."

"There's another lawyer?"

"Yeah, but he can't do anything. Supposedly nobody can."

"Calm down. Tell me what happened."

"My granddaughter, Amanda, is eight years old. She's lived with us, Mary and me, almost since the day she was born."

"She's your daughter's child?"

"Jessica gave her birth, if that's what you mean," he says. "She's not what you would call a good mother. Jessica's had problems with drugs. Been in and out of jail." He pauses to look at Harry and me. "The fact is, she spent two years in the women's correctional facility at Corona."

This is not jail, but state prison. Harry lifts an eyebrow in question and before he can put it to words, Jonah responds.

"For drugs. She was caught transporting a quantity of cocaine across the border for a dealer down in Mexico. God knows where she meets these people. We paid for her attorney. He made some kind of a deal with the federal government so that she could serve her time in a state facility rather than a federal penitentiary, supposedly so she could be closer to Amanda. The fact is, she's never really shown much interest in Mandy. That's what we call her, Mary and I."

He reaches into the inside of his coat and pulls out a small leather container. It looks as if it is designed to hold expensive fountain pens. He opens it, and I see cigars.

"Do you mind?"

Mary shoots him a disapproving look.

Ordinarily my office is a smoke-free zone, but I make an exception. He offers me one, but I decline. Harry accepts.

"My doctor says I shouldn't smoke. My only vice, besides the boat and fishing. Do you ever go out?" he asks. "Sport fishing?"

I shake my head. Jonah is wandering now, trying to avoid a painful subject.

"You should try it sometime. Soothes the soul. I'll take you out on the Amanda." The words stick in his throat for a second. "I named it after my granddaughter. She used to love to go out."

"Enough with the boat," says Mary. "Our daughter wanted money. She always wanted money. That ticket was a curse. Without it she would have left Amanda alone. Left her with us and gone about her life, such as it was. But with all that money . . . It was its own kind of narcotic."

"She came to me for money when she got out. Said she wanted to start a business. I said I wouldn't give her any. I knew the money would go into her arm, or up her nose, for drugs. Or to one of those bums she's habitually shacked up with. My daughter's taste in men leaves a lot to be desired. She is too attractive for her own good."

He pulls his wallet out of an inside coat pocket, and from it he plucks a photograph. He hands it across the desk to me.

"She had her hair cut like Meg Ryan, the movie star. Everybody kept telling her she looked like her."

I look at the photo. Her friends weren't lying. Jessica is blond, cute in a sexy kind of way. Her short hair is cut in a pixie. The most endearing feature is her smile, which, if you stopped there, would mark her as the kid next door. Her jeans look like they had been molded to her body, and a tank top leaves little to the imagination. Slumped over her, hugging her from behind, is a guy in a leather vest and no shirt. I can see a tattoo on one arm and, though the picture is too indistinct, I can imagine needle tracks below the elbow.

"Jessica always seemed to collect the losers," says Jonah. "Tattoos up the ass. Worthless men living on the backs of motorcycles. You know the kind." He looks at me through a smoke veil and takes a puff.

"This is Mandy." Jonah hands me another snapshot. Mandy is in a school uniform. Her hair is tied in a neat ponytail with wisps escaping at the sides.

"Mandy's hair is a little longer now," says Mary. "At least I think it is. Unless they cut it."

"The police told us they do that sometimes. And dress 'em up to look like boys. So a picture in the paper, on a milk carton doesn't do any good," adds Jonah.

Harry looks at the photo of Jessica, an appraising eye. "How old is she?"

"Jessica's twenty-eight. She survives to be thirty, it'll be a miracle. That's why we gotta get Mandy back. Different man with her mother every night. Some of them pretty bad."

"What about the girl's father?" says Harry.

"Your guess is as good as mine," says Jonah. "Nobody ever came forward, and Jessica wasn't talking."

"Who has legal custody?" I ask.

"We had temporary custody when Jess went to prison. Now it's permanent. Not that it does a damn bit of good.

"Jessica only got interested in Mandy after I won the lotto. Her message was clear. When she got out, she wanted money, and the collateral was Mandy. Unless I paid, she would be taking her back as soon as she got out. I offered to buy her a house. Of course I wouldn't put it in her name. I wasn't that foolish. She would have sold it first chance, pocketed the money, and run off. But just the same, I offered to put her up in a good home in the neighborhood where we live. To support her. But she didn't want any part of that. Too many strings attached, she said."

"So you filed a petition for permanent custody?" says Harry.

"Right. We went to court. By that time there were a number of letters from Jessica in Corona. She hadn't been too smart. In the letters she threatened to take the child back unless we paid. This didn't put her in a very good light with the court. Though she had the legal right to take Amanda back, the court saw what was happening. Mandy had become like a piece of property in a pawnshop. Her mother would take money in return for leaving her with us, and when that was gone she'd come back for more."

"I take it Jessica's out of prison?" Harry asks.

"She got out six months ago," says Jonah. "Twenty-third of October. I remember the day exactly, because she came to the house. She was different. She looked different."

"Prison has a way of doing that," I tell him.

"No. It wasn't that. In fact, she was cleaned up. She looked better than I'd seen her in years."

"Prison life must have agreed with her," says Harry.

"I think it gave her some discipline. Focus in her life. Only she directed it in all the wrong ways," says Jonah. "She was well dressed. Nothing fancy, mind you. Pair of slacks and a sweater. Wore these new glasses, wire-rims that made her look almost intellectual. She wanted to see Mandy. What could we do?"

"You let them visit?"

"In the living room of our home," he says. "Mandy's seen so little of her mother I didn't know how she'd react. When Jessica walked into the room, Mandy sort of collapsed, like someone had let all the air out of her." Jonah sighs.

"In the living room that day, I felt like someone was ripping the heart out of my chest. Mandy's stomach hurt for days afterward, just from the stress of her mother's visit, the fact that she was back in her life. Mary and I thought it might be good for them both if they could spend a little time together, get to know each other, ease in.

"But Jessica fell into old habits. She started to manipulate the child. Wanted to take her home. Wherever the hell that was."

"Probably some halfway house," says Harry. "That's where they usually go out of the joint."

"We said no. There was no way we could allow it. Jessica looked me dead in the eye. Told me she was gonna get her child back come hell or high water. That I had no right to take her. This, after she'd abandoned the kid for the better part of eight years. She said she was going to fight me. In court if necessary. Outside the court if she had to."

"Did she?" I ask.

"She went to court. Got an order of visitation. That's when the trouble started."

"What kind of trouble?" says Harry.

"Jessica was allowed to take Mandy on weekends. Two weekends a month. She would pick her up on Friday night and return her Sunday afternoon. It went fine for the first month. Then in early December, they didn't come back until late Sunday night. Close to midnight. Each weekend she'd come back a little later than the weekend before. Like she was testing me."

"Why didn't you go back to court?"

"Because the lawyer I had told me that unless we had something substantial, a serious violation of the terms of visitation, the court wasn't likely to do anything except warn her. He said it would only make matters worse."

Jonah's lawyer had a point.

"Then, finally, three weeks ago, she didn't bring Mandy back at all. We were frantic. I called the number where Jessica was supposed to be living. We were told she'd moved. They didn't know where. We called the police. They told us they couldn't do a thing-not unless we had evidence that some crime had been committed. We told them we had a court order of custody. They told us we'd have to go to court, ask the judge to hold Jessica in contempt for violating the order."

"But she brought her back?" says Harry.

Jonah nods. "Monday morning, ten o'clock Mandy comes through the front door, Jessica right behind her as if nothing had happened. And they weren't alone."

"One of Jessica's boyfriends?" says Harry.

Jonah shakes his head. "A woman."

"What woman?" I ask.

Jonah fishes in his pocket, pulls out a business card, and hands it to me. On the card in bold italic are the words:

Women's Defense Forum

Underneath it in letters larger than the organization's is the name:

Zolanda "Zo" Suade

Director

"Without so much as a how do you do, she's in my face," says Jonah. "This other woman. She tells me she knows all about me. That because I have a lot of money, won the lottery, I think I can do whatever I want, that I can steal my daughter's child.

"I tell her I have a court order.

"She tells me that it's worthless. That the courts are all run by men for men, that she doesn't recognize court orders, and that if I know what's good for me I'll simply turn Mandy back over to her mother.

"By this time I'm about ready to deck this broad." Jonah looks at Harry. "Excuse my language," he says. "But I was ready to kill.

"I told her to leave. She refused. She said they'd leave when they were good and ready. Finally, I told her I was gonna call the cops, and Mary, she starts moving toward the phone. That's when this Zolanda . . ." Jonah makes the name sound like the word should have four letters. "That's when she decides it's time to leave. But not before she tells me I have a choice. I can either give Mandy up willingly, or we can lose her. Either way, she says, Jessica's gonna get her child back."

"Did she leave?"

"Yeah. She and Jessica both. I was shaking like a leaf. If I'd had this in my hand at that moment"-he holds up the cane-"I think I'd a hit her. I woulda crushed her head like a walnut. Luckily I didn't. Amanda was crying. She was standing there listening to all of this. She doesn't like friction, arguments. She can't deal with it. It gives her stomach pains. And here I am shouting with some stranger who's threatening to take her away.

"First thing I do is call my lawyer. I tell ya, this guy's not half the lawyer you are, Paul. Anyway, I tell the lawyer what's going on, and the minute I mention this woman's name, this Zolanda, he asks me where my granddaughter is. I tell him she's standing right beside me. He doesn't say a thing, but I can hear the sigh of relief over the phone, like somebody who just woke up from a bad dream in flop sweat. I asked him who the hell she is, the devil?

"'She may not be the devil,' he says, 'but as far as you're concerned, she's got the keys to hell.' He tells me we've got to get back to court fast, before the weekend. And no matter what happens, he says, I am not to turn Amanda over to my daughter for visitation. Even if the sheriff shows up with a court order, he says. Just stall him until I can get Amanda away from the house.

"By this time we're really gettin' worried. Mary's frantic. You can imagine."

"I can," I tell him.

"Have you ever heard of this woman?" he asks.

I shake my head. "But then I'm new to town."

"Apparently she has a reputation beyond San Diego," he tells me. "There's been national publicity."

"I haven't seen it. But then I don't work in the field. Family law."

"What the lawyer told me turned out to be . . . whaddaya call it?" Jonah searches for the word, can't come up with it.

"Prophetic?" says Harry.

Jonah snaps his fingers, the hand propped on the cane. "That's it. We were doing everything to take precautions. We were taking Mandy to school and picking her up afterward. Driving her everywhere. We told her teachers that she was not to leave the school grounds with anyone but Mary or me.

"What we didn't figure was that it would happen in our own house. Four days ago I have a doctor's appointment. Mary takes me there."

"Where was Amanda?" says Harry.

"We left Amanda home with a sitter, a young woman in her early twenties. She's sat for us many times. I figure, what could happen? We were scheduled to go back to court on Friday. The lawyer told me there was a good chance we could get the visitation order amended to require Jessica to see Amanda only in our home, under our supervision.

"My daughter must have been outside, watching. Ten minutes after we leave she shows up at the front door. She's alone and wants to see Mandy. The sitter told her she had strict instructions.

"My daughter is a practiced con artist. She tells you noon is midnight, smiles that cute little smile, and nine times out of ten you'd believe her. She's calm, reasonable, well dressed. She tells the sitter she's driven all the way across town to tell Amanda something about a surprise present for her grandma. Mary's birthday is eight months off. Still it's a hot secret between mother and daughter.

"Baby-sitter doesn't know what to do. She tells Jessica she's got instructions.

"Jessica gets all reasonable and understanding. You know the rap," says Jonah. " 'Last thing I'd want to do is get you in any trouble. Walked on hot coals to get here, but you want me to do it again? Sure, no problem.'

"So the girl lets her in. Jessica asks for a cup of coffee. The sitter goes to make it in the kitchen. She was gone three minutes." He holds up three fingers. "That's all it took. When she came back to the living room, they were gone. Jessica and Amanda both. She looked through the front window just in time to see the car backing down the driveway, tires screeching. A man was driving. Another man was in the passenger seat. There were two figures in the back."

"Jessica and Amanda," says Harry.

Jonah nods. "We haven't seen them since."

"Did the sitter get a license plate off the car?" I ask.

He shakes his head. "Just a description. Late-model sedan, a two-door, dark in color."

"No description of the driver?"

"She couldn't see well enough. It happened so quickly. But I know this woman's involved. This Zolanda Suade."

"Let me guess," I say. "The sitter didn't see her the day they disappeared?"

"No. But who else could it be? She as much as told us she was gonna take Mandy. And there's more. My lawyer says that's what she does. Suade has an organization that specializes in this."

"What? Kidnapping children?" says Harry.

"Yes. She's done it in other cases. The FBI. The police. Nobody can stop her."

"Why the hell not?" says Harry.

I answer the question before Jonah can: "Because she uses a parent in the abduction."

He points at me with his finger as if to say Just so. "It's why they won't get involved. They say technically it's not kidnapping. Violation of the court order of custody, maybe."

"But that's a civil matter," I say.

"Right. And it gets worse," says Jonah. "They've taken her across the border. Somewhere into Mexico."

"How do you know that?"

"Cuz that's what the lawyer told me. He says she's taken others across. Somewhere down in Baja, but he doesn't know where."

"Why does she do it?" says Harry. "What's in it for her?"

"She's a feminist nut," says Jonah. "Has a problem with men. She has this organization to help wayward women and their children. Self-appointed crusader," says Jonah. "Only this time she's chewed off more than she can swallow. I'll bury the bitch." As he says this, I can see the vein in the side of his head bulge. For a moment I'm afraid he will blow a major vessel in his brain, keel over on my desk.

"But how can I help you?" I ask.

"I want you to find out where my granddaughter is."

"You need an investigator, not a lawyer."

"Fine. Hire one. Hire the best," he tells me. "But I want you to be in charge. I trust you."

"You'd be paying me, and there isn't much I can do. You need information, and an investigator is

the one to get that. You don't hire an electrician to do plumbing."

"You do if there are sizzling wires in the water," says Jonah. "I've already talked to the other lawyer about hiring an investigator. He says I'd be wasting my time. Suade's too careful. She covers her tracks. Calls from pay phones. Never visits the places where she has the mothers and children holed up. She uses middlemen. It's like an underground railroad."

"If that's what she's doing, what can I do?"

"I need somebody to take her organization apart. Get her into court. Sue her if you have to. She's created these shell corporations. This is one of them." He holds up the business card with her name on it. "She has several others. She takes donations from people who believe in her cause. Go after some of them. Dry up her funds. Put pressure on the cops and the courts to force her to talk. I'll pay," he says. "I'll pay whatever you want. Money is no obstacle. All I want is my granddaughter back."

I look at Harry. My principal concern at the moment is whether I would be taking the man's money on false pretenses.

"I can't make a commitment," I tell him. "There really is no legal case. Other than the violation of the court order of custody."

"Then start with that," he says.

"We have no direct evidence that this woman, this Zolanda Suade, was involved."

"You know she was. I know she was."

"That's not evidence," I tell him.

"She came to his house. She made threats," says Harry.

"That might be evidence," I concede. "Still it's Jonah's word against hers."

"I was there," says Mary.

"Yeah. Don't forget Mary," says Harry. Now they're double-teaming me. "We can look into it," Harry adds. "We can at least do that much."

Jonah is desperate, and now he's found an ally. Anyone not knowing Harry might be tempted to say that he is merely greedy. But I know him better. He's a soft touch. He sees Jonah's problem as one with merit. Even if Jonah were financially destitute, Harry would be pitching me to get involved, to tilt at this windmill. The fact that Jonah has money makes it that much easier. "We can look into it," I finally say. There are smiles all around, puffing, and a lot of cigar smoke.

—From The Attorney, Steve Martini. (c) November 1999 , Steve Martini used by permission.

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Table of Contents

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First Chapter

Chapter One

I can trace it back with precision to one of those fitful weeks in August, when the thermometer hit triple digits for the tenth day in a row. Even the humidity was high; unusual for Capital City. The air conditioner in my car had died and at six-fifteen, traffic on the Interstate was stalled behind an overturned truck-and-trailer rig filled with tomatoes on their way to the Campbell's plant. I would be late picking up Sarah from the sitter's.

Even with this as background, it was an impulsive move. Ten minutes after I got home, I called a realtor I knew and asked the fateful question: How much can I get for the house? Would you come by for an appraisal? The real estate market was heating up, like the weather, so in this respect my timing was good.

Sarah was out of school, in that awkward gap between fifth grade and middle school, and not looking forward to the switch. Her best friends-twin sisters her same age-were in the southern part of the state. I'd met their mother during a legal seminar in which we were both speakers, almost three years ago now.

Susan McKay and her daughters lived in San Diego. Susan and I had been seeing a lot of each other, between monthly trips to San Diego and meetings at the halfway point in Morro Bay. For some reason that adults will never comprehend, the kids seemed to bond at that very first meeting. In San Diego, the weather was cool and breezy. And it held the promise of family life, something Sarah and I had been missing for nearly four years.

We had spent two weeks visiting in early July, part of that in Ensenada, south of the border. I had become infected with the scent of salt in the air, and the facets of the sun dancing on the surface of the sea at Coronado. In the late afternoon, Susan and I sat on the beach as the girls played in the water. The Pacific appeared as some boundless, undulating crucible of quicksilver.

After fourteen short days, Sarah and I bade farewell and piled into my car. As I looked at my daughter, I could read her mind. Why are we going back to Capital City? What is there for us?
It took her an hour in the car to verbalize these thoughts, and when she did, I was prepared with all the cold, adult logic a father can command.

I have a job there. I have to get back.

But you could get another job down here.

It takes a long time for a lawyer to build a practice. It's not that easy.

You started once before. You could do it again. Besides we have money now. You said so yourself.

On this point she had me. I had made a killing in a civil case eight months earlier, a wrongful death that went to the jury. We'd hit a verdict, Harry Hinds and I, like gold bars on the pay line of a slot machine. We'd plucked the insurance company for eight million dollars. It's what happens when a defendant circles the wagons in a bad case. A widow with two children was now financially secure, and Harry and I had been left with a tidy nest egg in fees, even after taxes.
Still, uprooting my practice was risky.

I understand. You're feeling lonely, I told Sarah.

I am lonely, she said.

With that I looked at my daughter sitting in the passenger seat next to me, staring doe-eyed, braces and long brown hair, waiting for an answer that made sense. I didn't have one.

When my wife, Nikki, died, she left a hole in our lives that I have never been able to fill. As we headed back toward Capital City, the nagging question remained: What is here for us?

The corrosive politics and blistering summer heat of Capital City held few attractions and a great many painful memories. There had been the year of Nikki's illness that even now I could not blot out. There were places in the house where, when I turned a corner, I still saw her face. Couples who had been friends no longer had anything in common with a widower approaching middle age. And now my daughter wanted to put it all behind us.

On a Monday morning, the last week in August, I called Harry into my office. At one time, Harry Hinds had been one of the foremost criminal lawyers in town, trying mostly front-page felonies. Fifteen years ago he lost a death case, and his client lost his life in the state's gas chamber. Harry was never the same. By the time I opened a practice in the same building where Harry had his offices, he was defending drunk drivers and commiserating with them on bar stools after hours.

He came on board to lend a hand with the Talia Potter murder trial, and ever since has been a fixture. Harry's speciality is the mountains of paper produced in any trial. With a mind like a steel trap, Harry refers to his document searches as "digging through the bullshit to find the flowers." He is the only man I know who hates losing more than I do.

I didn't have the heart to tell him I was leaving Capital City, so I put it out as just opening a branch office.

He surprised me. His only question was where.

When I told him, his eyes lit up. It seemed Harry was game for the move himself. A new practice in a fresh place, the mellow swells of the Pacific, a few boat drinks along the way, maybe snag another big judgment in a civil case and head for the pastures of semi-retirement. In that instant Harry saw himself sipping piña coladas and surveying the swells on their yachts from the veranda of the Del Coronado. Harry has a fanciful imagination.

We found an associate to keep things together in the Capital City office. Harry and I weren't ready to burn our bridges. We would take turns trekking back to the home office, keeping one foot in both worlds until we could make the jump south for good.

In these months Susan played a pivotal role as surrogate mother for Sarah. I could leave my daughter with her for a week at a time. When I called Susan's house on those weeklong trips it was difficult to get Sarah even to come to the phone. When she did, her voice was filled with laughter and the abruptness that tells you that your call is an interruption. For the first time in five years, since Nikki died, our daughter was a carefree child. Even when Susan's house was burglarized in the late winter, I felt secure in her ability to protect and care for my daughter.
Susan is seven years younger than I, a dark-haired beauty, and divorced. She has the fine features and innocent looks of a child, coupled with the mind of a warrior.

For eight years, Susan has been the director of Children's Protective Services in San Diego, an agency that investigates allegations of child abuse and makes recommendations to the DA regarding prosecutions and to the courts regarding child custody. To call Susan's vocation a job is like calling the Christian Crusades a hobby. She pursues it with the zeal of a true believer. Children are her life. Her training is in early-childhood development where the mantra Save the kids has become a battle cry.

We have been seeing each other for more than two years, though even now in San Diego, we do not live together. I moved south to be with her, but-after some discussion-we decided not to move in together. At least not yet.

When I moved south, some unstated law of independence dictated that we maintain separate households. It seems we spend increasing amounts of time in each other's company; that is, when I am not on the road back to Capital City.

That particular Gordian knot will be cut as soon as Harry and I have secured a sufficient client base in the south, which is why today I am renewing an old acquaintance.

Jonah and Mary Hale sit across the desk from me. He has aged since I saw him last. Mary looks the same, different hairdo, but in the ten years she has not changed much. That was before Ben's death and Talia's murder trial. Oceans of water under that bridge.

Jonah was one of my earliest cases in private practice, soon after I left the DA's office where I'd cut my teeth. The firm had directed him down the hall to the new man in the cubicle at the end.
At the time, Jonah was just a working stiff, a married man in his fifties with a daughter in her late teens. He was getting ready to retire-against his will. He worked for the railroad in Capital City, the locomotive works which was in its death throes. Jonah had a chronic bad back and knees, thanks to years of toil on hard concrete lifting machine parts. So when the railroad was looking to downsize, he was an immediate candidate to go. Even now he walks with a cane, though this one is much more ornate than the plain curved-handled wooden stick I had seen him with back then.
"The legs don't get any better with age," he tells me as he shifts back into his chair to find the point of relative comfort.

"But the smile is as good as ever," I tell him.

"Only because I've found an old friend. I only hope you can help me."

Jonah has the good looks of an aging Hemingway, with all the wrinkles in the right places. Even with his infirmities he has not put on weight. His tanned face is framed by a shock of white hair. His beard is close cropped, his eyes deep-set and gray. He is a rugged-looking man, well dressed, with a dark sweater-vest under a cashmere sport coat, and light-colored slacks. On his wrist is a gold watch the size of an oyster, a Rolex he could never have afforded in the old days.

I introduce him to Harry.

"I've heard a lot about you," says Harry.

Jonah just smiles. He is used to this by now: people coming up, slapping him on the back, cozying to get close.

"It's what happens when your number comes up," he tells Harry. "Everybody assumes that you had something to do with it."

"Well, you did buy the ticket," says Harry.

"Yes. And there have been times when I wish he hadn't," says Mary.

"Having money can be its own curse," Jonah tells us. One senses that he means what he says.

Jonah won the largest lottery payout in state history: $87 million. He had purchased the ticket five years after I'd won his case, securing a disability from the railroad that paid him $26,000 a year plus medical benefits for life.

"I couldn't believe it when I saw your name in the phone book. I told Mary when I saw your name it had to be you, or your kid. How many Paul Madrianis could there be? Especially lawyers."

"One of a kind," says Harry. "Broke the mold."

"So what can we do for you?" I ask.

"It's our daughter," says Jonah. "I don't think you've ever met Jessica."

"I don't think so."

"I went to the police. But they said it wasn't a criminal matter. Can you believe it? She's kidnapped my granddaughter, and the police tell me it isn't criminal. They can't get involved."

"Kidnapped?" I ask.

"I don't know what else to call it. For three weeks now, going on a month, I been runnin' around like a chicken without my head. Going to the police. Following up with the lawyer we hired."

"There's another lawyer?"

"Yeah, but he can't do anything. Supposedly nobody can."

"Calm down. Tell me what happened."

"My granddaughter, Amanda, is eight years old. She's lived with us, Mary and me, almost since the day she was born."

"She's your daughter's child?"

"Jessica gave her birth, if that's what you mean," he says. "She's not what you would call a good mother. Jessica's had problems with drugs. Been in and out of jail." He pauses to look at Harry and me. "The fact is, she spent two years in the women's correctional facility at Corona."
This is not jail, but state prison. Harry lifts an eyebrow in question and before he can put it to words, Jonah responds.

"For drugs. She was caught transporting a quantity of cocaine across the border for a dealer down in Mexico. God knows where she meets these people. We paid for her attorney. He made some kind of a deal with the federal government so that she could serve her time in a state facility rather than a federal penitentiary, supposedly so she could be closer to Amanda. The fact is, she's never really shown much interest in Mandy. That's what we call her, Mary and I."

He reaches into the inside of his coat and pulls out a small leather container. It looks as if it is designed to hold expensive fountain pens. He opens it, and I see cigars.

"Do you mind?"

Mary shoots him a disapproving look.

Ordinarily my office is a smoke-free zone, but I make an exception. He offers me one, but I decline. Harry accepts.

"My doctor says I shouldn't smoke. My only vice, besides the boat and fishing. Do you ever go out?" he asks. "Sport fishing?"

I shake my head. Jonah is wandering now, trying to avoid a painful subject.

"You should try it sometime. Soothes the soul. I'll take you out on the Amanda." The words stick in his throat for a second. "I named it after my granddaughter. She used to love to go out."

"Enough with the boat," says Mary. "Our daughter wanted money. She always wanted money. That ticket was a curse. Without it she would have left Amanda alone. Left her with us and gone about her life, such as it was. But with all that money . . . It was its own kind of narcotic."

"She came to me for money when she got out. Said she wanted to start a business. I said I wouldn't give her any. I knew the money would go into her arm, or up her nose, for drugs. Or to one of those bums she's habitually shacked up with. My daughter's taste in men leaves a lot to be desired. She is too attractive for her own good."

He pulls his wallet out of an inside coat pocket, and from it he plucks a photograph. He hands it across the desk to me.

"She had her hair cut like Meg Ryan, the movie star. Everybody kept telling her she looked like her."

I look at the photo. Her friends weren't lying. Jessica is blond, cute in a sexy kind of way. Her short hair is cut in a pixie. The most endearing feature is her smile, which, if you stopped there, would mark her as the kid next door. Her jeans look like they had been molded to her body, and a tank top leaves little to the imagination. Slumped over her, hugging her from behind, is a guy in a leather vest and no shirt. I can see a tattoo on one arm and, though the picture is too indistinct, I can imagine needle tracks below the elbow.

"Jessica always seemed to collect the losers," says Jonah. "Tattoos up the ass. Worthless men living on the backs of motorcycles. You know the kind." He looks at me through a smoke veil and takes a puff.

"This is Mandy." Jonah hands me another snapshot. Mandy is in a school uniform. Her hair is tied in a neat ponytail with wisps escaping at the sides.

"Mandy's hair is a little longer now," says Mary. "At least I think it is. Unless they cut it."

"The police told us they do that sometimes. And dress 'em up to look like boys. So a picture in the paper, on a milk carton doesn't do any good," adds Jonah.

Harry looks at the photo of Jessica, an appraising eye. "How old is she?"

"Jessica's twenty-eight. She survives to be thirty, it'll be a miracle. That's why we gotta get Mandy back. Different man with her mother every night. Some of them pretty bad."

"What about the girl's father?" says Harry.

"Your guess is as good as mine," says Jonah. "Nobody ever came forward, and Jessica wasn't talking."

"Who has legal custody?" I ask.

"We had temporary custody when Jess went to prison. Now it's permanent. Not that it does a damn bit of good.

"Jessica only got interested in Mandy after I won the lotto. Her message was clear. When she got out, she wanted money, and the collateral was Mandy. Unless I paid, she would be taking her back as soon as she got out. I offered to buy her a house. Of course I wouldn't put it in her name. I wasn't that foolish. She would have sold it first chance, pocketed the money, and run off. But just the same, I offered to put her up in a good home in the neighborhood where we live. To support her. But she didn't want any part of that. Too many strings attached, she said."

"So you filed a petition for permanent custody?" says Harry.

"Right. We went to court. By that time there were a number of letters from Jessica in Corona. She hadn't been too smart. In the letters she threatened to take the child back unless we paid. This didn't put her in a very good light with the court. Though she had the legal right to take Amanda back, the court saw what was happening. Mandy had become like a piece of property in a pawnshop. Her mother would take money in return for leaving her with us, and when that was gone she'd come back for more."

"I take it Jessica's out of prison?" Harry asks.

"She got out six months ago," says Jonah. "Twenty-third of October. I remember the day exactly, because she came to the house. She was different. She looked different."

"Prison has a way of doing that," I tell him.

"No. It wasn't that. In fact, she was cleaned up. She looked better than I'd seen her in years."

"Prison life must have agreed with her," says Harry.

"I think it gave her some discipline. Focus in her life. Only she directed it in all the wrong ways," says Jonah. "She was well dressed. Nothing fancy, mind you. Pair of slacks and a sweater. Wore these new glasses, wire-rims that made her look almost intellectual. She wanted to see Mandy. What could we do?"

"You let them visit?"

"In the living room of our home," he says. "Mandy's seen so little of her mother I didn't know how she'd react. When Jessica walked into the room, Mandy sort of collapsed, like someone had let all the air out of her." Jonah sighs.

"In the living room that day, I felt like someone was ripping the heart out of my chest. Mandy's stomach hurt for days afterward, just from the stress of her mother's visit, the fact that she was back in her life. Mary and I thought it might be good for them both if they could spend a little time together, get to know each other, ease in.

"But Jessica fell into old habits. She started to manipulate the child. Wanted to take her home. Wherever the hell that was."

"Probably some halfway house," says Harry. "That's where they usually go out of the joint."

"We said no. There was no way we could allow it. Jessica looked me dead in the eye. Told me she was gonna get her child back come hell or high water. That I had no right to take her. This, after she'd abandoned the kid for the better part of eight years. She said she was going to fight me. In court if necessary. Outside the court if she had to."

"Did she?" I ask.

"She went to court. Got an order of visitation. That's when the trouble started."

"What kind of trouble?" says Harry.

"Jessica was allowed to take Mandy on weekends. Two weekends a month. She would pick her up on Friday night and return her Sunday afternoon. It went fine for the first month. Then in early December, they didn't come back until late Sunday night. Close to midnight. Each weekend she'd come back a little later than the weekend before. Like she was testing me."

"Why didn't you go back to court?"

"Because the lawyer I had told me that unless we had something substantial, a serious violation of the terms of visitation, the court wasn't likely to do anything except warn her. He said it would only make matters worse."

Jonah's lawyer had a point.

"Then, finally, three weeks ago, she didn't bring Mandy back at all. We were frantic. I called the number where Jessica was supposed to be living. We were told she'd moved. They didn't know where. We called the police. They told us they couldn't do a thing-not unless we had evidence that some crime had been committed. We told them we had a court order of custody. They told us we'd have to go to court, ask the judge to hold Jessica in contempt for violating the order."

"But she brought her back?" says Harry.

Jonah nods. "Monday morning, ten o'clock Mandy comes through the front door, Jessica right behind her as if nothing had happened. And they weren't alone."

"One of Jessica's boyfriends?" says Harry.

Jonah shakes his head. "A woman."

"What woman?" I ask.

Jonah fishes in his pocket, pulls out a business card, and hands it to me. On the card in bold italic are the words:

Women's Defense Forum

Underneath it in letters larger than the organization's is the name:

Zolanda "Zo" Suade
Director

"Without so much as a how do you do, she's in my face," says Jonah. "This other woman. She tells me she knows all about me. That because I have a lot of money, won the lottery, I think I can do whatever I want, that I can steal my daughter's child.

"I tell her I have a court order.

"She tells me that it's worthless. That the courts are all run by men for men, that she doesn't recognize court orders, and that if I know what's good for me I'll simply turn Mandy back over to her mother.

"By this time I'm about ready to deck this broad." Jonah looks at Harry. "Excuse my language," he says. "But I was ready to kill.

"I told her to leave. She refused. She said they'd leave when they were good and ready. Finally, I told her I was gonna call the cops, and Mary, she starts moving toward the phone. That's when this Zolanda . . ." Jonah makes the name sound like the word should have four letters. "That's when she decides it's time to leave. But not before she tells me I have a choice. I can either give Mandy up willingly, or we can lose her. Either way, she says, Jessica's gonna get her child back."

"Did she leave?"

"Yeah. She and Jessica both. I was shaking like a leaf. If I'd had this in my hand at that moment"-he holds up the cane-"I think I'd a hit her. I woulda crushed her head like a walnut. Luckily I didn't. Amanda was crying. She was standing there listening to all of this. She doesn't like friction, arguments. She can't deal with it. It gives her stomach pains. And here I am shouting with some stranger who's threatening to take her away.

"First thing I do is call my lawyer. I tell ya, this guy's not half the lawyer you are, Paul. Anyway, I tell the lawyer what's going on, and the minute I mention this woman's name, this Zolanda, he asks me where my granddaughter is. I tell him she's standing right beside me. He doesn't say a thing, but I can hear the sigh of relief over the phone, like somebody who just woke up from a bad dream in flop sweat. I asked him who the hell she is, the devil?

"'She may not be the devil,' he says, 'but as far as you're concerned, she's got the keys to hell.' He tells me we've got to get back to court fast, before the weekend. And no matter what happens, he says, I am not to turn Amanda over to my daughter for visitation. Even if the sheriff shows up with a court order, he says. Just stall him until I can get Amanda away from the house.

"By this time we're really gettin' worried. Mary's frantic. You can imagine."

"I can," I tell him.

"Have you ever heard of this woman?" he asks.

I shake my head. "But then I'm new to town."

"Apparently she has a reputation beyond San Diego," he tells me. "There's been national publicity."

"I haven't seen it. But then I don't work in the field. Family law."

"What the lawyer told me turned out to be . . . whaddaya call it?" Jonah searches for the word, can't come up with it.

"Prophetic?" says Harry.

Jonah snaps his fingers, the hand propped on the cane. "That's it. We were doing everything to take precautions. We were taking Mandy to school and picking her up afterward. Driving her everywhere. We told her teachers that she was not to leave the school grounds with anyone but Mary or me.

"What we didn't figure was that it would happen in our own house. Four days ago I have a doctor's appointment. Mary takes me there."

"Where was Amanda?" says Harry.

"We left Amanda home with a sitter, a young woman in her early twenties. She's sat for us many times. I figure, what could happen? We were scheduled to go back to court on Friday. The lawyer told me there was a good chance we could get the visitation order amended to require Jessica to see Amanda only in our home, under our supervision.

"My daughter must have been outside, watching. Ten minutes after we leave she shows up at the front door. She's alone and wants to see Mandy. The sitter told her she had strict instructions.

"My daughter is a practiced con artist. She tells you noon is midnight, smiles that cute little smile, and nine times out of ten you'd believe her. She's calm, reasonable, well dressed. She tells the sitter she's driven all the way across town to tell Amanda something about a surprise present for her grandma. Mary's birthday is eight months off. Still it's a hot secret between mother and daughter.

"Baby-sitter doesn't know what to do. She tells Jessica she's got instructions.

"Jessica gets all reasonable and understanding. You know the rap," says Jonah. " 'Last thing I'd want to do is get you in any trouble. Walked on hot coals to get here, but you want me to do it again? Sure, no problem.'

"So the girl lets her in. Jessica asks for a cup of coffee. The sitter goes to make it in the kitchen. She was gone three minutes." He holds up three fingers. "That's all it took. When she came back to the living room, they were gone. Jessica and Amanda both. She looked through the front window just in time to see the car backing down the driveway, tires screeching. A man was driving. Another man was in the passenger seat. There were two figures in the back."

"Jessica and Amanda," says Harry.

Jonah nods. "We haven't seen them since."

"Did the sitter get a license plate off the car?" I ask.

He shakes his head. "Just a description. Late-model sedan, a two-door, dark in color."

"No description of the driver?"

"She couldn't see well enough. It happened so quickly. But I know this woman's involved. This Zolanda Suade."

"Let me guess," I say. "The sitter didn't see her the day they disappeared?"

"No. But who else could it be? She as much as told us she was gonna take Mandy. And there's more. My lawyer says that's what she does. Suade has an organization that specializes in this."

"What? Kidnapping children?" says Harry.

"Yes. She's done it in other cases. The FBI. The police. Nobody can stop her."

"Why the hell not?" says Harry.

I answer the question before Jonah can: "Because she uses a parent in the abduction."

He points at me with his finger as if to say Just so. "It's why they won't get involved. They say technically it's not kidnapping. Violation of the court order of custody, maybe."

"But that's a civil matter," I say.

"Right. And it gets worse," says Jonah. "They've taken her across the border. Somewhere into Mexico."

"How do you know that?"

"Cuz that's what the lawyer told me. He says she's taken others across. Somewhere down in Baja, but he doesn't know where."

"Why does she do it?" says Harry. "What's in it for her?"

"She's a feminist nut," says Jonah. "Has a problem with men. She has this organization to help wayward women and their children. Self-appointed crusader," says Jonah. "Only this time she's chewed off more than she can swallow. I'll bury the bitch." As he says this, I can see the vein in the side of his head bulge. For a moment I'm afraid he will blow a major vessel in his brain, keel over on my desk.

"But how can I help you?" I ask.

"I want you to find out where my granddaughter is."

"You need an investigator, not a lawyer."

"Fine. Hire one. Hire the best," he tells me. "But I want you to be in charge. I trust you."

"You'd be paying me, and there isn't much I can do. You need information, and an investigator is
the one to get that. You don't hire an electrician to do plumbing."

"You do if there are sizzling wires in the water," says Jonah. "I've already talked to the other lawyer about hiring an investigator. He says I'd be wasting my time. Suade's too careful. She covers her tracks. Calls from pay phones. Never visits the places where she has the mothers and children holed up. She uses middlemen. It's like an underground railroad."

"If that's what she's doing, what can I do?"

"I need somebody to take her organization apart. Get her into court. Sue her if you have to. She's created these shell corporations. This is one of them." He holds up the business card with her name on it. "She has several others. She takes donations from people who believe in her cause. Go after some of them. Dry up her funds. Put pressure on the cops and the courts to force her to talk. I'll pay," he says. "I'll pay whatever you want. Money is no obstacle. All I want is my granddaughter back."

I look at Harry. My principal concern at the moment is whether I would be taking the man's money on false pretenses.

"I can't make a commitment," I tell him. "There really is no legal case. Other than the violation of the court order of custody."

"Then start with that," he says.

"We have no direct evidence that this woman, this Zolanda Suade, was involved."

"You know she was. I know she was."

"That's not evidence," I tell him.

"She came to his house. She made threats," says Harry.

"That might be evidence," I concede. "Still it's Jonah's word against hers."

"I was there," says Mary.

"Yeah. Don't forget Mary," says Harry. Now they're double-teaming me. "We can look into it," Harry adds. "We can at least do that much."

Jonah is desperate, and now he's found an ally. Anyone not knowing Harry might be tempted to say that he is merely greedy. But I know him better. He's a soft touch. He sees Jonah's problem as one with merit. Even if Jonah were financially destitute, Harry would be pitching me to get involved, to tilt at this windmill. The fact that Jonah has money makes it that much easier. "We can look into it," I finally say. There are smiles all around, puffing, and a lot of cigar smoke.

From The Attorney, Steve Martini. (c) Novemeber 1999 , Steve Martini used by permission.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 23 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 23 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 4, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Interesting Series Entry

    In this, the fifth book of Martini's Paul Madriani series, Paul has moved to San Diego to be near his new love, Susan McKay. Susan is the head of the county's Child Protective Services agency, and they met at a conference about children's rights. Now they are pitted together in a case that will strain their relationship.

    One of Paul's old clients, Jonah Hale, comes to him for help. Since the first time Paul helped him, Jonah has won a lottery and is now newly rich. He and his wife continue to live modestly, however, their main focus raising their granddaughter, Amanda. Amanda's mother has had trouble with drugs for years and the petty crime that surrounds that has landed her in prison so the grandparents have custody.

    Now Jessica, the mother, is out of prison and demanding money or she will take her daughter away from the loving grandparents. Jonah comes to Paul when Amanda is kidnapped. They are sure Jessica has taken her away, aided by a fiery feminist who makes it her life work to help mothers in custody battles. Her name is Zo Suade, and she is notorious for using any tactics imaginable to win.

    Jonah hires Paul to find Amanda and bring her home. The stakes are raised when Zo is found murdered, Jonah the top suspect. The battle shifts to the courtroom where Jonah is charged with first degree murder. Can Paul free Jonah? Will the conflict between Jonah's case and Susan's career affect their relationship?

    Readers of the Paul Madriani series will welcome this new one. Those, like this reviewer, who come to the series cold will find that prior knowledge of the characters is not necessary. This is a satisfying, courtroom and behind the scenes look at the legal profession. This book is recommended for mystery lovers.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 27, 2000

    Better than a Movie!

    Mr. Martini certainly has a way of putting the reader into the scene. With phrases such as: 'Cops seem to have a sixth sense, a traction beam that carries them to the scene of violent death, like iron filings drawn to a magnet.'; his descriptions rival a movie scene. The Attorney has a surprise around every corner. Just when the reader thinks he knows what's about to happen, a totally new element is introduced. Great writing!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2000

    Disappointing

    Details for everyday mundane tasks aren't exciting reading. In this book I became bored of the incessant details the author provides of everyday activities. For example if the main character is driving the author descibes every turn made in the car and its irrelevant to the story. After reading through details like this I put the book down because it seemed a waste of time.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 15, 2000

    'The Attorney' Falls Flat

    This is my first reading of Martini's work. Hope his earlier stuff was much better. Not in the same league as Michael Connelly. I was greatly disappointed with the ending. My impression was he had written 400 pages and he was having a difficult time in figuring out how to neatly tie things up. Medical detail at trial (DNA) required too many pages and was boring.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2013

    Excellent book once you make it all the way until the end.

    Excellent book once you make it all the way until the end.

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  • Posted May 24, 2010

    An ok book

    An attorney takes a case involving a rich man and his grand-daughter who has been taken by his daughter. His daughter is a druggie and he is worried. The attorney's girlfriend works for child protective services. It is suspenseful but too much court stuff for me.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 26, 2009

    the attorney

    Do you want to read a thriller with some really great twist and turns? Then I suggest that you read The Attorney by Steve Martini.


    Having moved to San Diego to be closer to the woman in his life, Madriani takes on the case of Jonah Hale, an elderly man in dire straits. As a result of their only child Jessica's longtime drug addiction, Jonah and his wife have been raising their eight-year-old granddaughter, Amanda. On the heels of Jonah's multimillion-dollar state lottery win, Jessica revives her interest in mothering. Now with all this crazy twist and turns this crazy lady name Suade makes Paul's life a nightmare to search and find clues to find Amanda. But when Suade gets shot Jonah is soon to be blamed for her death. But maybe we'll never know if he really did or if Paul was able to get Amanda back. You may never know unless you read this compelling book.


    Paul Madriani isn't like your average PI he tries everything in his power to get to the truth and getting justice. Steve Martini portrays Paul as a kind man with a heart that wants to help weak. I think that Paul is pretty much a cookie cut character of a hero that wants to save the weak. Steve Martini uses some great suspense that kept me thinking throughout the whole book it was really good. I enjoyed great factor of the whole thing was able to fit together.

    Things that I liked about the book were the great suspense thrills and chills it gave me. The book was in first person and was really easy to follow. The book didn't disappoint me at all. The whole thing was good. I recommend that you read and I give it two thumbs up.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 18, 2005

    Outstanding and I'm not done reading.

    I don't read books except the bible. This is my second novel. I can't remember what my first novel was. I didn't think I would complete reading this book. I started reading a week ago and I am on chapter 22 now. The suspense is killing me. I can't wait to the end. I am hooked on Steve Martini. For now on I will only buy these novels. He need to make the movie.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 28, 2004

    A Great Law Book

    This book was my 1st Steve Martini book and it was great. I kind of bogged down in the court room details but am glad I stuck with it to the end. Very interesting ending and well worth reading.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 19, 2002

    what a great book

    this is the first law book i ever read, i finished this book in 2 days and on the second day i went out and bought more (one of which is "the judge" by steve martini which is also awesome!) this book got me into this kind of genre, i went back and read it the other day, and realized it wasn't as good as when i first read it, but it did a lot for a first time reader. i totally recomend it this is a great book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 28, 2002

    Another Good Martini Novel!

    I enjoyed this book as with all of his...but my favorite Martini novel is The Judge...go out and get it before you get any others and you will be hooked on Steve Martini!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2002

    Okay, but not great.

    I've read all of Martini's books and he seems to have taken a turn for the worse in his recent writing. This book was okay, but not nearly as entertaining as his previous books. However, some of the characters are really funny and interesting.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2001

    Another Hit

    He had me convinced that the killer was one person and it turned out to be another. Very clever writing. The ending was a shocker!!! Like his other books..very detail...its like you can visualize the scene. Court room drama is very real. Can't wait for the next book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2001

    Dont Stop Reading This Book!!

    Just when you think you know where the book is going it takes another turn....I found that he did an excellant job with this book. The ending really surprised me....but he did an excellent paul harvey at least he told you the end.....

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 18, 2001

    Fabulous

    'The Attorney', brings likeable characters back . It was a great story line with lots of believable action. For the most part, though it was lots and lots of fun.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 3, 2001

    I guessed who did it!!!!

    I thoroughly enjoyed this one by Mr. Martini. Subtle and smooth, his writing keeps a good pace, with fast action. Book flys by with hours of diversion....if you haven't read anything by this man,,,,you are really missing a good author!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 5, 2000

    Martini's Best Yet!

    This is a real page turner. Can't put it down. It is the best Martini's yet.'Shaken not Stirred' After reading critical mass I thought that Martini had reached the top, but this one is better than the others by far. Great twists and turns and the end will take your breath away.

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    Posted September 2, 2013

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 1, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 23 Customer Reviews

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