Whether dueling with new forensics or the local old boys' network, irreverent defense attorney Andy Carpenter always leaves them awed with his biting wit and winning fourth-quarter game plan. But Andy prefers the company of his best friend, Tara, to the people he encounters in the courtroom. Tara, a golden retriever, is clearly smarter than half the lawyers who clog the courts of Passaic County. However, just as it seems Andy has everything figured out, his dad, New Jersey's legendary ex-D.A., drops dead in front of him at a game in Yankee Stadium. The shocks pile on as he discovers his dad left him with two unexpected legacies: a fortune of $22 million that Andy never knew existed . . . and a murder case with enough racial tinder to burn down City Hall. Struggling to serve justice and bring honor to his father, Andy must dig up some explosive political skeletonsand an astonishing family secret that can close his case (and his mouth) for good.
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Open and Shut
By David Rosenfelt
Warner BooksCopyright © 2002 David Rosenfelt
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Lincoln Tunnel is a scary place. Especially now, at the end of the workday. I'm one link in an endless chain of drivers, all moving our cars through an atmosphere of one hundred percent pure carbon monoxide. Tunnel workers patrol walkways along the walls; I assume they are there to make sure no car achieves a speed above three miles an hour. Their lungs must have a life expectancy of an hour and a half. Surrounding us all are thousands of tons of dirt and water, just waiting for a crack to come crashing through.
I usually avoid this tunnel. It is one of three main passageways between New York City and Northern Jersey, where I live. I prefer the George Washington Bridge, where oxygen is plentiful and it doesn't feel like I'm driving through an enormous MRI machine. The fact is, I don't come into New York that often, and when I do it's rarely during the absurdly misnamed "rush" hour. But I needed to go to the NYU law library to do some research for an appellate case I'm handling, and I was stuck in court all day, so here I am.
I have two choices. I can ponder my impending death by suffocation under all this mud and water, knowing my loved ones will forever wonder whether my final resting place was in New York or New Jersey. Or I can think about the case, and what my strategy will be if the Court of Appeals turns us down. I go with the case, but it's a close call.
My client is death row inmate Willie Miller, a twenty-eight-year-old African-American convicted of murdering a young woman named Denise McGregor in the alley behind the Teaneck, New Jersey, bar where he worked. It's a case my father, Nelson Carpenter, prosecuted seven years ago, when he was the State District Attorney. Ironically, it's also my father's fault that I'm on the case now.
I think back almost two years to the day I was at home watching the Giants play the Redskins on television. It was a frigid, windy, December Sunday, the kind of day that passing would be difficult, so each team would try to run the ball down each other's throats. My father had come over to watch the game with me. He was never a big football fan, and my fanaticism about the Giants was clearly learned elsewhere. But he had been joining me to watch the games with increasing regularity since my mother died a year before. I don't think it's that he was liking football any more; I just think he was liking loneliness even less.
It must have been halftime that he brought it up, since if it were during the game I never would have heard him. "Do you remember the Willie Miller case?" he asked.
Of course I did. My father had sought and received the death penalty; this was not something I was likely to forget.
"Sure. What about it?"
He told me that some information had recently come to his attention. He wouldn't tell me how, or even what the specific information was, but he said that he had learned that a juror lied in voir dire, a significant lie that could result in a new trial if revealed to the court.
He was grappling with what to do with the information, since revealing the specifics would amount to breaking a privilege. Yet as an officer of the court he felt uncomfortable with concealing it, since Willie Miller was entitled to have the truth come out.
"How would you feel about representing him on an appeal?"
"Me?" I'm sure my mouth was stuffed with potato chips, so it probably came out "Mnnpphh?"
"Yes. You could have an investigator look into it, find out the facts without me having to tell you, and then go to the appeals court."
The case, as I remembered it, was open-and-shut. Willie Miller, even when seen through my skeptical defense attorney's eyes, was a murderer. I was not about to get involved in an appeal based on a technicality. What if it succeeded? I'd have to go through a trial I was bound to lose.
"It would be important to me."
There it was, the sentence from which there was no defense. In my family, when you asked a favor of someone, it was acceptable to refuse. But once the person said that it was important to them, it crossed a line and became an absolute imperative. We did not use those words frivolously, and they carried an awesome weight.
"Then I'll do it."
"You've got no chance, you know."
I laughed. "Then why the hell is it so important to you that I enter the swamp?" That is how we referred to legal cases that dragged on forever with little or no chance of ultimate victory. "Because the man is on death row."
The Giants kicked off to start the second half, the Redskins drove the length of the field for a touchdown, and I was on a case that might well leave me forever stuck in the Lincoln Tunnel.
But, no! Suddenly, without warning, a burst of speed by the cars ahead lets me gun the accelerator to almost five miles an hour. At this rate, there's a chance I might make it home in time to leave for court tomorrow morning.
Excerpted from Open and Shut by David Rosenfelt Copyright © 2002 by David Rosenfelt . Excerpted by permission.
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