Bear Is Broken (Leo Maxwell Series #1)

Bear Is Broken (Leo Maxwell Series #1)

by Lachlan Smith

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This Shamus Award–winning mystery was named a Best Book of the Year by Kirkus Reviews and Deadly Pleasures.
Leo Maxwell grew up under the care of his older brother, Teddy, a successful yet reviled criminal defense attorney, after their father was jailed for their mother’s murder. Now a rookie lawyer, Leo must be there for Teddy after he’s shot in the head and falls into a coma.
Given that Teddy has enemies on both sides of the law in San Francisco, Leo realizes the search for his brother’s shooter falls on him. But as he begins to examine the life of a brother he barely knew, Leo uncovers a list of suspects longer than he imagined. With the gunman still on the loose, Leo needs to find him fast—in this suspenseful novel that won the 2014 Shamus Award for Best First P.I. Novel.
“The final showdown is hair-raising. . . . Sensitive, ingenious and suspenseful. A series is promised and very welcome indeed.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Promises to be the start of a riveting series.” —Richmond Times-Dispatch

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802193698
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date: 02/05/2013
Series: Leo Maxwell Series , #1
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 556,032
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Lachlan Smith was a Richard Scowcroft Fellow in the Stegner Program at Stanford and received an MFA from Cornell. He has written three previous books in the Leo Maxwell Mystery series: Bear Is Broken, which won the 2014 Shamus Award for Best First PI Novel, Lion Plays Rough, and Fox Is Framed. Smith's fiction has also appeared in the Best New American Voices series. In addition to writing novels, he is an attorney practicing in the area of civil rights and employment law. He lives in Alabama.

Read an Excerpt


This is how it happens. I am standing on the sidewalk with my brother, Teddy, while he listens to this morning's phone messages. We are outside Coruna, where Teddy always eats when he's in trial at 400 McAllister, the Civic Center courthouse, which has increasingly been forced to receive the overflow from San Francisco's criminal docket at 850 Bryant, down under the elevated freeway eight and a half blocks south of Market.

Message after message, client after client, he listens long enough to identify the caller, then deletes. It is 1999, and cellular telephones have only recently become universal accessories. Teddy is one of the few private criminal defense lawyers I know who gives out his cell number to clients. I'm not sure why, since he never answers the phone and always deletes the messages before he hears them.

It's the last week of November and warm as summer, the kind of day people think of when they imagine how it must be to live in California. I got my bar results last Friday and took the attorney's oath Monday morning.

I thought Teddy might at least take me to dinner, give me some subtle but unmistakable sign that, in his eyes, I've become someone. In wishful daydreams I imagine him leading me to the empty office beside his own, unused since he and Jeanie split two years ago, and telling me, "This is yours now, kid. Try to remember how ignorant you are and you might make a good lawyer. Now you're just a half-trained monkey in a suit, but with God's help someday you'll be a man." My brother often talks like this, although he hasn't done anything so magnanimous as offer to bring me into his practice. Jeanie's office is still locked, her unwanted stuff still boxed up in there, the desk coated with dust, and I am still my brother's monkey boy, as he calls me, and it does not occur to him to trust me with any task more complicated than filing papers with the court clerk's office. My workspace is a precarious corner of Teddy's desk, with hardly room to balance a legal pad.

I catch the sound of a woman's quavering voice serving up unheard entreaty; then Teddy hitsdelete one last time and slides the phone into his pocket. The car is coming, though neither of us can know to look for it. It must have already turned off Market onto McAllister. Probably it's waiting in the throng of noontime traffic behind the red light at Leavenworth. My brother stabs out his cigarette in the sand bucket and turns to me with a sardonic look, as if to say, You're still here? I open the heavy door of the restaurant, wait for a group to come out, then nod to Teddy, and follow him in.

The hostess smiles at him, and he leans in close to whisper something into her ear, looking past her with a wolfish smile. I don't know what he says, but it causes her to blush, her hand going to the base of her jaw as she turns to lead us to our table, giving Teddy a smile and a hand on the shoulder as she does so. At two hundred fifty pounds, you would think my brother would have lost some of his attractiveness to women; you'd also think he would be slow on the tennis court, but on both counts you would be wrong. My brother reminds me of one of those glamorous movie stars starting to go to seed, a bloated Brando or Welles. A brilliance realized most fully in its decadent form.

He is brilliant — no one doubts that. Through win after win Teddy has become one of the most sought-after criminal defense lawyers in northern California.

He likes Coruna for precisely the reason many other lawyers avoid it: At lunchtime it's packed with city hall types, people who come to see and be seen. A juror or two invariably wanders in, and there's my brother sitting at his table in this upstanding establishment as calmly and seriously as if he hasn't any doubt of winning the case, as if he's already won, his briefcase unopened on the bench beside him. He hasn't explained this to me, but after four months of shadowing him and doing what he calls his monkey work, I'm beginning to understand.

The waitress comes, and Teddy orders what he always orders, the Caesar salad with double anchovies and a glass of cabernet. I get the club sandwich and fries. We were up half the night practicing his closing statement, and my head feels stuffed with cotton. Almost as soon as Teddy begins the argument he will abandon his prepared script, yet he's compulsive about certain things, treating preparation as a superstitious ritual, like the extra anchovies on his salad or our father's cuff links on his wrists.

The shooter must be out of the car now, crossing the street to the restaurant, the driver continuing around the block to the parking lot that adjoins the back patio. We hear nothing, see nothing. We wait for our food. Teddy looks up with a smile. You wouldn't know he got only four hours of sleep. He looks animated, fresh. He has evidently decided to be charming. The shooter must be coming through the door now, walking toward us between the tables in the crowded dining room. "I ought to let you close this one," Teddy says, tilting his head and giving me a pondering look. I know he must be kidding — he hasn't let me so much as question a foundational witness or even be alone in a room with one of his clients — but I feel a rush of warmth. It's only a scrap he has thrown me, but it gives me a fleeting giddiness to finally be recognized by my brother as a fellow lawyer, a member of the California bar, someone who in theory could stand up and give this afternoon's closing argument in his place.

And now the stranger has come up behind me. Aiming over my shoulder, he shoots my brother in the head.


My ear was still ringing, and the fabric of my suit was starting to stiffen. The smell was in my nostrils, and the taste was in my mouth, as if I'd been drinking from a rusty can. I hadn't even seen the guy, and the shot was so close that I didn't really hear it, like a punch to the head, but I hadn't been touched. All I saw was my brother. I didn't realize Teddy had been shot. I didn't know what had happened.

The police were there within minutes. I was sitting on the floor with my brother's head in my lap. Then someone was coaxing me up, pulling me by the arms, while two paramedics wearing latex gloves moved in to take my place.

I sat very still in the chair where the cops propped me, my eyes on the back of the paramedic kneeling beside my brother, working on him.

"He didn't even blink, he just kept walking," I heard. "Did you hear a car squeal its tires back there?" A woman was sobbing, but soon the police got the diners out of there. I gathered that the killer, a man in a Giants cap and sunglasses, wearing a heavy sweatshirt and baggy pants, had walked in, calmly pulled a nine-millimeter handgun, and shot my brother before Teddy or I had a chance to see the weapon. He then put away the gun and, walking slightly faster, proceeded through the restaurant and out the back door to the patio, where he hopped the low fence and jumped into a waiting car.

They kept trying to get me out of there, but I wouldn't budge. I would have fought them rather than be moved from where Teddy was. I'd walked in there with my brother, and it looked like I was going to walk out alone.

Teddy had raised me, more or less, getting me out of bed and off to school each morning from the Potrero Hill apartment where we'd lived with a series of housekeepers after our mother died and our father went to prison, while Teddy worked to establish his practice. He was twelve years older than I was and my only close relative unless you counted our father serving a life sentence across San Francisco Bay at San Quentin. We didn't.

They had Teddy on the stretcher and were lifting him, no easy task. It took four paramedics, one at each corner, plus a fifth to hold the oxygen mask, and a sixth with the IV bag. I tried to stand up but my legs wouldn't hold me. There was a pair of bricks in my chest where my lungs should have been. I wanted to go with him but I couldn't.

Two men in suits, one black and thin, the other husky and redheaded, with badges around their necks and guns at their waists, stood near the pool of blood on the floor pointing out details to each other. They wore thin blue latex gloves. As my lungs opened and I breathed the sweet air of life, the black detective prodded the white one and the white one came over to me, stripping off his gloves and offering me his right hand.

"You're the brother?"

"Where are they taking him?" I didn't know what I wanted from him, but the need was powerful.

"Think you'd be up to riding down to the station and giving one of the technicians there a composite?"

"A what?" I said, though I knew what he meant. "I need to go wherever they're taking Teddy."

"A composite drawing. From your description of the shooter." He flipped open a notebook. "Black, white, brown?"

"I didn't see him. He was behind me."

"You didn't look to see who shot your brother?"

"I was looking at my brother."

He flipped the notebook closed. "So you didn't see anything?"

A thought passed through his eyes, like the sun breaking through clouds.

"Or you didn't want to see anything." Nothing in his face had changed, but his eyes became venomous.

He didn't believe me. He thought I was stonewalling. It was as if he assumed that Teddy or I had a dirty secret, that any defense attorney who got shot probably got what was coming to him. "That was my brother they just carried out of here. You don't think I would tell you what I saw?"

I noticed the black detective shoot the white one a glance.

"All right, all right," the one I was talking to said. "You say you didn't see anything, then I agree, you didn't see anything." He lifted a pair of linebacker's shoulders, then let them fall. "There are plenty of people who did."

"You got a name, Detective?"

He was of that pink complexion that registers the slightest change in blood-vessel dilation as a flush. If he was embarrassed at having treated me so brusquely, his face gave no sign. "Anderson." He handed me his card.

There seemed to be some confusion. Two men in blue jumpsuits with medical examiner patches had wheeled in a gurney. Now they stood looking at the mess and the blood, clearly thinking, Where's the body? There's supposed to be a body here. For some reason they hadn't gotten the information they needed, that, alive or dead, Teddy was in the ambulance.

They exchanged glances and by wordless assent went to sit at one of the tables. Maybe they thought the body might be coming back, and they should wait for it. Not yet, I wanted to tell them, he's not dead yet. The table had been abandoned just after the food arrived, giving the former occupants time to take only a bite or two. Two orders of burgers and fries. One of the ME's men eyed the plate before him. After a moment I watched his hand dart down and seize a fry while the man's head swiveled lazily toward the window. The head seemed to have no inkling of what the hand was doing, even as the hand popped the french fry into its mouth. An instant later it struck again. This time, on its way to the mouth the hand managed to swipe the french fry in a pool of ketchup.

My stomach lurched. The room was wavering, sweat filming on my forehead.

The detective had to repeat his question: "Your brother seem worried about anything recently? Like he knew someone had it in for him?"

"No," I said.

"Any conversations that sounded strange to you? Unexplained meetings?"

"No," I said, and realized this was wrong only after I said it. There had been something, but instinctively I held it back. Anderson wouldn't have given a damn for my reasons.

"You spend much time with your brother?"

"Every day for the last four months, since August, after I took the bar exam. I've been shadowing him."

"Thinking of following in your brother's footsteps?"

"Hoping to."

He made a noise in his throat and stepped back, studying me with his head tilted, disapproving of what he saw, and wanting me to know it. Most cops, along with a substantial crosssection of American society, do not differentiate between the criminal and the lawyer who defends him, and I could see that Anderson was of this stripe.

"So tell me, Counselor," he said, and through my grief I felt the same confused rush of professional pride I'd felt in those seconds just before Teddy was shot, when he made that joke about me giving the closing argument. "When we catch the scumbags who did this, what should we do with them?"

I just looked up at him from where I sat in my chair, covered in my brother's blood.

"Suppress the evidence? Maybe these bullet casings? Maybe the gun if we manage to find it? Maybe suppress the confession if we grab one of these guys and he talks before we finish reading him his Miranda rights? Maybe after that we should just let these animals plead to disturbing the peace?"

He was watching me closely.

"No, I didn't think so," he went on. "Just remember this the next time you're in court trying to embarrass some honest cop, make him look as bad as the shitbag you're trying to defend. Remember what it feels like to be a victim, pal."

I sat looking at him in astonishment. He watched me for a moment more, then gave a dismissive shake of his head. Turning away, he suddenly turned back. "Let me see that card again."

I was still holding the card, and I handed it to him. He scrawled on the back. "This is my home number and my cell. The city has killed off the very idea of overtime, but I want you to call me when you decide you want to remember something. And I mean right away. It doesn't matter if it's nighttime or daytime or if the goddamn state is sliding off into the Pacific Ocean. Your brother defended the scum of the earth, and he ruined a lot of good cops, and I will personally piss on his grave as soon as they get him in the ground, which isn't fast enough for me, I shit you not. And just to shove it up his ass I'm going to find the people who did this, and I'm going to give the DA a case so tight even your brother couldn't get that tiny little dick of his inside it, and I'm going to make sure the people who did this go to prison. I don't care that your brother probably did something to deserve what he got, that he had it coming from eight different directions. Whatever shit he was into, you can be damn sure I'll be in it. This is my city, and no one's going to light up a restaurant a block and a half from city hall and get away with it."

He finished writing on the back of the card, then flicked it at me. It hit my chest and slid down into my lap, where my hand caught and clutched at it. "I'll need a list of your brother's clients. You can fax it to me at the number on the card." He turned away, and all of a sudden his face was blank, placid. His partner, still standing over the crime scene, met my eyes with a rueful smile and gave me a long, slow shake of the head, as if to say, There he goes again.

"Officer, drive this man to San Francisco General Hospital," Anderson said to one of the uniformed officers milling over near the bar.

The medical examiner's men were just finishing the hamburgers.


Teddy would have taken heart from that little scene. I have never known a person to thrive on confrontation as he did. What makes that so especially remarkable is that I have no memory of my brother losing his temper or raising his voice in anger, not even when I was provoking him, giving him every reason to shout at me. I'm talking about those dark years when Teddy was establishing his legal reputation, and I was fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, living behind a wall of punk-rock music and cannabis and focusing my considerable store of anger, confusion, and resentment onto him.

The detective's feelings were no surprise. Teddy was the lawyer responsible for the now infamous acquittal of Ricky Santorez, who four years ago killed two San Francisco police officers as they served a search warrant on his Mission District home. The DA charged Santorez with murder, but Teddy argued that the cops had failed to follow departmental procedure and that Santorez did not know they were police officers when he picked up his illegal assault rifle and fired a fusillade at the men breaking down his door. One of the more notorious acquittals in the city since the Twinkie defense, the case sparked outrage. For several weeks after the verdict, the press and the city power structure made out my brother to be public enemy number one.

I followed the uniformed cop out into the early afternoon sunlight. In the car he didn't try to make conversation, either out of respect for me or knowledge of who my brother was.


Excerpted from "Bear Is Broken"
by .
Copyright © 2013 Lachlan Smith.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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