When a bomb detonates outside a Harvard law school building, killing several including a law student who was counseling Jackie Kelvinski, a woman trying to get out of an abusive marriage, Jackie is afraid that the bomb was set off by her unstable husband. Annie Squires, an investigator helping her out, tries to convince her that's unlikely, but Jackie's not listening. And before the Cambridge police get very far in their investigation to determine who could have committed such a crime, a second deadly bomb explodes, this time at a Cambridge courthouse.
The bomb narrowly misses forensic neuropsychologist Dr. Peter Zak, late for a meeting inside. Peter, suddenly closer to the action that he'd like to be, agrees to help the police by profiling the bomber from some anti-government fliers found at the crime scene. But were they really written by the perpetrator? Or is the bomber's motive more personal, perhaps directed at Jackie, or Peter, or another target? Delving deeper into the mind of the criminal, Peter must work quickly before more lives are lost, including possibly his own.
Guilt, G. H. Ephron's thrilling psychological suspense novel, is a fascinating and surprising novel about motive and murder, survivor's guilt and criminal culpability--and trying to stay one step ahead of a killer.
About the Author
G.H. Ephron is a pseudonym for two writers, Hallie Ephron, a journalist, and Donald A. Davidoff, Ph.D., a practicing forensic psychologist. They are the authors of the Peter Zak mysteries, including Amnesia and Addiction. Both live in Massachusetts.
Read an Excerpt
Mary Alice Boudreaux paused in front of Storrow Hall. The place oozed Harvard — monumental, aloof. Across the front, clusters of columns supported archways, and above that was a checkerboard band of pale pink and terracotta brick. Back home, everything this austere and grand had been flattened when Sherman marched through.
She read the edict carved in the stone façade:
AND THOU SHALT TEACH THEM ORDINANCES AND LAWS, AND SHALT SHOW THEM THE WAY WHEREIN THEY MUST WALK, AND THE WORK THAT THEY MUST DO.
Her daddy would have liked that, a quote from the Bible on a classroom building. He'd been convinced she was heading straight into the arms of the devil. Law school was bad enough. Yankee law school was a sacrilege. Hadn't they given her a good home? Sent her to a fine college? What she was supposed to do now was find a man, get hitched, and settle down to making babies. If she needed intellectual stimulation, well heck, that's what the Junior League was for.
Her parents hadn't a clue what to make of her. Just like she still hadn't a clue what to make of most of her fellow law students. She'd imagined a bunch of briefcase-toting stiffs, hanging around in the custom-fitted pinstripes that were their birthright — not these scruffy kids who, in the middle of this hot September day, lounged on the broad front steps in their shorts and sandals, basking in the late morning sun, using their battered backpacks as pillows and footrests.
Behind her, cars were parked in a small lot, and beyond that, traffic whizzed out of a tunnel and up Massachusetts Avenue — Mass Ave, as the locals called it. She smoothed the skirt of her suit and climbed the steps into the coolness of the portico, aware of heads turning to watch. With her blond hair and eyes the color of a summer sky, she'd been told by more than one intense, cerebral guy that she looked like a "sorority queen" — a pejorative phrase in this neck of the woods. Most of the smart, fast-talking women wrote her off, too. Some even had this crazy idea that being from the South, she came from a hoard of sheet-wearing rednecks that hadn't got the sense God promised a nanny goat. There really should be a law against ignorance.
Mary Alice shifted her briefcase to her other hand and pushed through the double doors, past the signs: NO TRESPASSING; NO SOLICITING. They sure knew how to welcome a stranger.
It was cooler inside — only fitting, given that the place looked like the vault of a medieval castle. Her heels clicked on the polished wood floor as she walked past a cavernous lecture hall, full of students in stadium seats, all focused on a gray-haired professor in the pit.
At the end of the hall, a circular space opened up. Light streamed in through two banks of multipaned windows that stretched from waist-high walnut wainscoting to the ceiling. There, on a low, curved leather banquette attached to the wall, sat Jackie Klevinski. She was perched, like a watchful praying mantis, with her long arms and legs folded, her eyes bright. She had on brown pants and a pullover. Long sleeves hid the scars that Mary Alice knew ran up and down the inside of her arms, needle tracks that would be with Jackie for the rest of her life. She sat there, coiled to spring, the strap of her oversized purse over her shoulder. The scarf covering her dark hair partially obscured a bruise on the side of her face, her husband's latest handiwork.
Jackie's face opened into a smile when she saw Mary Alice. For a moment Mary Alice saw what a pretty girl this woman must have been before her marriage to Joe had hardened her over with fear.
"Mrs. Klevinski —" Mary Alice addressed her formally, the way she did her clients and everyone except her closest friends and relatives. She couldn't get used to the way complete strangers were immediately on a first-name basis up here. Her southern upbringing with its politenesses, its formal ways of addressing older people in particular, wasn't something she could shake. She wasn't sure she wanted to shake it. Shoot, she couldn't stop being who she was. "It's good to see you again."
When Mary Alice extended her hand, Jackie flinched. She was skittish that way. But then, Jackie had the domestic equivalent of shell shock. She'd balked at meeting Mary Alice again at the Legal Aid Bureau. If her husband found out she'd been talking to a lawyer and was getting a restraining order, there'd be all hell to pay.
Mary Alice had suggested they meet here. During classes, it was usually deserted and quiet — an echoey kind of quiet. That was good. No one could sneak up on them without being heard. And it was convenient. Jackie had a job working mother's hours at Harvard's undergraduate admissions office, and Mary Alice had to be there anyway. Her ethics class was the next one meeting in the second-floor lecture hall.
Mary Alice put down her briefcase and sat. She placed her hand on Jackie's arm. "This is a good thing you're doing. I know you know that, and I know it's hard."
Jackie blinked back tears. "I know I've got to. It's just that half the time he doesn't know what he's doing."
You could say that again. Roaring drunk, Joe Klevinski probably couldn't tell whether it was a wall or his wife's face that he was bashing. It infuriated Mary Alice the way Jackie made excuses for the jerk.
Mary Alice took her time explaining the abuse-prevention order. Step by step she went over the process, even though she'd gone over it the last time they'd met. Tomorrow they'd file the paperwork, meet with the judge. Now was the time to get cold feet.
"Once you have the order, he'll have to move out of the house," Mary Alice said. "He'll have to leave you alone."
"And what if he won't?"
"You call the police."
Jackie leaned her head back and gazed at the ceiling.
Mary Alice pulled out a sheaf of papers. "These are the forms we need to file."
Still taking her time, she went over each part of the paperwork she'd completed with the help of her supervising attorney. In cold, bloodless language, the affidavit summarized the years of abuse and injuries. "I don't remember all the beatings, but there were a lot of them," Jackie had said. "I used to cower in the corner. He'd punch, kick, pour beer over me, and tell me how worthless I was. Said no one would want me. I believed him."
The final straw had been when their seven-year-old daughter, Sophie, tried to step between them during one of Joe's rages. Jackie insisted that Joe would never hurt Sophie deliberately. But that night he did hurt her. She wasn't going to let that happen again, Jackie said. Not ever.
Jackie twisted her wedding ring and stared at the final form: "Issues Related to Children." Silence pooled around them. This was the hardest part for her, severing Joe from Sophie.
As Mary Alice sat back and waited, giving Jackie as much time as she could to come to terms with what she was about to do, a man in a dark blue parka came out of the classroom. How anyone could wear a heavy coat in this heat was more than Mary Alice could fathom. Maybe the a/c in the lecture hall was on overdrive. The man dropped his backpack on the floor and disappeared into the men's room under the stairs.
Mary Alice checked her watch. Soon classes would end and the hall would be full of students. She went outside and scanned the crowd on the steps. As promised, a fellow legal aid volunteer, Leah Cohen, was there waiting for her. Leah had agreed to witness the signatures. Together they went back inside.
"Joe won't like this," Jackie said in a hoarse whisper. The pen shook in her hand. "Not one bit."
She braced herself, like someone about to dive into cold water, and signed the forms. Leah witnessed the signatures and left. Mary Alice took the heavy embosser out of her briefcase and notarized the document.
"The hearing. You don't think they'll find out about ... my past?" Jackie asked.
Mary Alice was pretty sure Jackie's husband would want to avoid any discussion of heroin addiction. He'd had his own run-ins with the law on that count. Still, as Mary Alice's grandma would have pointed out, that man's driveway didn't go all the way to the house.
"If it comes up at the hearing, then we'll deal with it. You've been clean for four years. You've got a good job."
"I do," Jackie said, sounding surprised and pleased. When she smiled, the worry lines vanished from her forehead.
Mary Alice stood. "I'll call you. I'll file these, and then I'll call." She put the papers and the notary stamp back into her briefcase and snapped it shut.
Jackie stood, tucked a strand of dark hair into her scarf, and adjusted her bag on her shoulder. "Miss Boudreaux?"
Mary Alice looked up at her — Jackie was a good head taller. "What is it, darlin'?" She felt her face grow warm. Where had that slipped out from?
Jackie put her hands on Mary Alice's shoulders and held her there, the way Mary Alice's grandma would when she was about to give her a dressing-down. Jackie's face clouded over. "You feeling all right?" she asked.
Uh-oh. Mary Alice knew what was coming. Jackie was into auras and holistic medicine. She wore a crystal on a chain around her neck, two pale purple stones fused together. A healing crystal, she called it. What the heck. Mary Alice's great-uncle had peddled dowsing pendulums and divining rods.
"I'm fine," Mary Alice said.
"But you're —"
"Really, I'm feeling great." Mary Alice glanced at her watch. "I'd better be going. And they'll be expecting you back at work."
"But ..." Jackie hesitated, then backed away, nearly bumping into the man in the parka, who'd come out of the bathroom and was waiting by the classroom door. "Thanks for everything."
Students began to exit the classroom.
"Let me know if you need help finding somewhere to stay," Mary Alice said, raising her voice to be heard over the growing chatter in the hall. "See you tomorrow."
Jackie left. Mary Alice picked up her briefcase. You can only do what you can do — her grandma used to say that, too, and it was the truth.
A second classroom emptied into the corridor. She was about to leave when she noticed the man's backpack still sitting behind the classroom door. She could see him walking down the corridor and heading out. He must have forgotten it.
"Hey!" she shouted. Some nearby students turned around. Mary Alice picked up the backpack and started to run. "Excuse me. ... Pardon me. ... Someone left this," she said as she tried to get around students and faculty chatting in the corridor.
"Hey!" she called, outside now under the portico.
The man was in the parking lot, standing there shading his eyes and gazing back at the building.
"You in the blue coat." She held up the backpack. She thought she saw surprise in the man's eyes, but he was too far away to be sure. "You forgot something," she shouted.
Instead of coming toward her, he zipped his jacket, pulled up the hood, and did an about-face. He trotted over to a parked motorbike, jumped on, pushed down on the pedal, and took off, riding over the sidewalk and out onto Mass Ave.
Well don't trip over your feet leavin', Mary Alice thought as she stood there feeling like a chump.
From the pedestrian island in the middle of the street, Jackie was looking back, a questioning look in her eyes. Mary Alice waved her away.
Odd. She was sure he'd seen her. He must have known she was calling him. She looked down at the backpack. It was heavier than she'd have expected, even if it were packed with law books.
That's when she noticed the faint chemical smell. Heard a click. She barely registered the flash that lit up around her like a supernova.
Even from the street, Peter Zak could see that Il Panino, the storefront café on a nondescript patch of Mass Ave about a half-mile from Harvard Square, was packed with its usual lunchtime throng. He admired the way Annie Squires maneuvered into a parking spot out front just barely bigger than her Jeep, perfect on the first try. It was one of many things he admired about her.
Grabbing a weekday lunch together was a rare treat. He took Annie's hand and they started across the street. A guy on a motorbike wearing a hooded blue parka honked and swerved around them. The horn sounded like a quiz show's wrong-answer buzzer.
"Jerk," Annie said.
Il Panino didn't exactly qualify as "fast food," but it was worth the fifteen-minute wait for their homemade mozzarella on crusty bread with summer tomatoes, fresh basil, roasted red peppers, and spicy prosciutto drizzled with a fruity olive oil.
Peter held the door for Annie.
"Well, will you look who's here," boomed a brawny, barrel-chested uniformed cop who was sitting at a table in the corner with a group of Cambridge's finest. "What do you know!" his buddy said. By their expressions of delight, Peter knew they weren't talking to him. A third one sprang up, gave a courtly bow, and pulled over a chair. One chair.
"Be a sport," Annie said, giving Peter a half-apologetic look. He let himself be dragged over. "Hey, you guys. You know Peter Zak?"
"Sure. Hi, Doc," said the barrel-chested cop. His thatch of sandy-colored hair and shirt taut across his belly seemed vaguely familiar; probably involved in one of the forensic cases on which Peter had consulted.
The rest of the officers ignored Peter, giving Annie their full attention.
An unpleasant sensation flickered in the pit of his stomach. Jealousy. He tried to squash it back. What the hell, Annie was one of the guys. After all, she'd grown up in nearby Somerville in a family of cops. On top of that, she was an investigator. She had to deal with police officers on a regular basis. Getting along with them was her job, and she was good at it. They even overlooked the fact that, as an investigator for a criminal defense attorney, she'd gone over to the dark side.
None of them noticed when Peter excused himself and headed for the sandwich line. The menu was on a board overhead. He caught his reflection in the mirror beneath it and tried to erase the sour look on his face. He tugged at his jacket. No, it wasn't his imagination that the shoulders seemed a little snug and the trousers a little loose. He'd been rowing regularly all summer. On the downside, a few new gray hairs had sprouted at the temples and he needed a haircut.
The harried woman in a white apron behind the counter was taking an order from the man in front of him. Annie hadn't taken the offered chair. She was leaning over to talk to her buddies, her hands on the table. Packed nicely into formfitting jeans, she certainly had a handsome derriere, and her short top had ridden up exposing a few inches of tender back. It was a place Peter liked to kiss, right there in the indentation over her spine. And the nape of her neck, under all that long, curly, reddish-brown hair, and ... oh, hell, actually most anywhere.
"The guys" were listening to Annie, their faces rapt with attention. One of them put his hand on her shoulder. Now the officer got up and planted himself in front of her. The two of them faced off, he about an inch taller. An instant later, Annie had him turned around, his arm twisted and locked in place behind. The table erupted in whistles and applause.
"You change ya mind about eating?" asked the woman behind the counter.
Peter turned back. She had an eyebrow arched, and seemed unimpressed by his "doctor's clothes"— the navy blue blazer and gray slacks he wore as a uniform whether he was managing the Neuropsychiatric Unit at the Pearce Psychiatric Institute or testifying in court as an expert witness.
Peter ordered a couple of sandwiches, and took their drinks to a table near the window. Annie joined him.
"They were asking about my self-defense class," Annie said. She opened the bottle of water, brushed back a strand of hair, and took a drink. "I was showing them —" The fire truck that screamed past toward Harvard Square distracted her. "Actually, they were giving me a hard time, so what could I do? I had to demonstrate."
Annie strained forward as another siren approached. This time it was a ladder truck, followed by the fire chief's red SUV. Their radios buzzing, all the cops rapidly packed up leftovers and headed out.
"I wonder what happened," Annie said.
The woman at the counter called their number and Peter got up. When he returned, Annie was out on the sidewalk watching a pair of ambulances whoop-whooping up Mass Ave, weaving around traffic. She tilted after them, as if drawn by a force field.
Excerpted from "Guilt"
Copyright © 2005 G. H. Ephron.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The bomb exploded near a Harvard law school building killing several people including student Mary Alice Boudreaux. The law student had been assisting battered Jackie Kelvinski with ending her marriage and getting an injunction against her abusive husband Joe. Jackie has no doubt that Joe killed these people to get at her counselor and to warn her others will die if she persists though her hired private investigator Anne Squires says that most likely will not come to pass............ A second bomb explodes at a Cambridge courthouse killing more people. Neuropsychiatrist Peter Zak would have been part of the body count except that he was late for an appointment at the courthouse. He wonders if he was the target................ Deliberate evidence left behind by the bomber connects the two deadly incidents insisting more will follow. Detective Sergeant Joseph MacRae leads the investigation in which he obtains Peter¿s reluctant and somewhat frightened help with profiling the culprit, but denies any assistance to Anne who worries her client will return to her husband so that no one else dies................. Zak¿s latest mystery is an interesting police procedural because those ¿fortunate¿ to survive believe they were the target even though no evidence exists to sustain their claim. The story line contains a terrific investigative tale starting several strong characters especially Peter, who is frightened and wants to hide, but does the right thing anyway. Team Ephron provides a wonderful tale in which even those still living are victims consumed with GUILT that not only did they survive, but they were probable cause........... Harriet Klausner