KICKOFF TIME FOR MURDER
Pro football is new business for Chicago attorney and deal-maker Kate Millholland, but one meeting with the Milwaukee Monarchs convinces her that the team is in deep trouble: bad management, lackluster coaching, and insubordinate players. The move that could save the once-great teama transfer to L.A.is vehemently rejected by owner Beau Rendell.
But soon Beau is out of the gamemurdered, the police say, by his own son and heir.
So who's calling the signals in this high-ticket disaster? While the press and the fans go wild, tough-minded Kate goes hunting and collides with an opposition that plays to kill.
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Edition description:||1 ED|
|Product dimensions:||4.21(w) x 6.82(h) x 0.86(d)|
About the Author
Ms. Hartzmark and her husband live in Arizona with their three children.
Read an Excerpt
In my line of work you get used to other people's distress the same way that doctors grow inured to other people's pain. I know that sounds cold, but that distance is important. It's what makes it possible to wade in and do what needs to be done. Don't get me wrong. I'm not pretending that what I do should be compared with easing suffering or saving lives. I am a deal lawyer, not a doctor. But that doesn't mean I'm not a specialist. Believe me, when the bank has you by the balls, you don't call a urologist. You call me.
That still didn't mean that Beau Rendell wanted me to be there. No one who fancies himself the master of his particular universe wants a woman less than half his age telling him how he's screwed up. Even his son, Jeff, who'd practically begged me to come, now seemed miserable to find that I was actually here. Not that I blamed him. After all, my presence could mean only one thing. The situation with his father had finally deteriorated to the point where they both needed lawyers.
For secrecy's sake we were meeting at Beau Rendell's house in River Hills, an exclusive suburb of Milwaukee. The two sides stared at each other across the glass and chrome travesty that passed for a dining room table, Jeff Rendell and I on one side; his father Beau, the owner of the Milwaukee Monarchs football team, and his longtime lawyer and drinking buddy, Harald Feiss, on the other. Outside it was raining. Cold, fat drops smeared the large plate-glass window that looked out over the sodden backyard. It had been coming down for days, and the ground had long ago exhausted its abilityto absorb the water, which lay in frigid pools that filled the low spots in the grass. I could only imagine what it would be like at the stadium that afternoon when the Monarchs took the field against the Vikings. No doubt things would get ugly.
Even though I usually don't follow football, I knew that ugly was a word that had been getting a lot of use in connection with the Monarchs. So far, this season, like the several before it, had been a disaster. Plagued by losses on the field as well as off, Beau had surprised everyone by firing the team's general manager and replacing him with his son, Jeff. Now, in addition to a string of humiliating defeats, discord reigned in the team's front officea situation that had been reported in embarrassing detail in the press.
But what the media didn't knowand what Beau was desperate that they not find outwas that the Monarchs were also on the verge of bankruptcy. With his seventieth birthday fast approaching and one heart attack already behind him, Beau Rendell had made one last desperate attempt to finally buy the championship that had so long eluded him. Using his shares of the team as collateral, he had borrowed heavily to sign a pair of franchise players. One had broken his back his first time in a Monarchs uniform and the other had ended up in jail for aggravated assault. However, both continued to collect their multimillion dollar salaries.
Through it all, the Milwaukee fans had done what they do bestfilled the stadium and steadfastly supported their team. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for the bank. During the preseason Beau had defaulted on the loan. Under the terms of his agreement he then had ninety days to correct the default. As of today, he had ten days left to come up with the $18 million payment. If he couldn't produce the cash, the bank would make the situation public, call the loan, and force the team into bankruptcy. In a country where toppling the mighty is second only to football as a form of public entertainment, I knew that the same press that had kept Beau Rendell on a pedestal for the last thirty years would be only too happy to report every detail of his fall.
Still, I had to confess that sitting at the head of his own table Beau Rendell did not look like a desperate man facing an impossible situation. Actually, he just looked pissed. He might be on the ropes, but he was still very much a man who expected to get what he wanted. Normally I'm glad to see people like Beau finally get what's coming to them, but not today. Bean's son was married to one of my closest childhood friends, and I knew that whatever forces stood poised to flail her husband's family would end up raining their blows down on Chrissy, too.
I honestly don't think I would have made the trip for anyone else. I was in the middle of a particularly complex transaction, a high-profile deal for difficult clients, and I had no business being out of the office, much less Chicago. As it was, the fear that something would happen while I was awaysomething that would expose my absence and provide ammunition for my criticswas already making my nerves sing like a high-voltage wire.
As we waited to begin, there was no small talk and the atmosphere in the room was almost unbearably strained. I found myself wishing for a cup of coffee, not just for the caffeine, but to have something to occupy my hands. Unfortunately, Beau wasn't the domestic type and the last of the Mrs. Rendells had been handed her divorce papers nearly a decade ago. I briefly considered getting up and making some myselfat least it would have gotten me out of the room for a whilebut Beau was definitely of the generation that equated domesticity with weakness. So I kept my seat.
When the doorbell rang, Jeff got up to answer it, leaving Harald Feiss and me to glare at each other. Feiss was a contemporary of Beau's, thrice divorced, who still fancied himself something of a swinger. I found I disliked him less for his hair plugs than for the preening air of self-importance that hung about him like the scent of stale gin.
Beau ignored us both. He was busy meticulously diagramming plays on the yellow pad in front of him. While the trend in the NFL was to give increasing autonomy to the head coach, this concept was nowhere in evidence in Milwaukee. Beau Rendell was a football man, an owner from the old school, and when it came to the Monarchs, he was the one who called the shots ... at least for ten more days.
Katharine Anne Prescott MillhollandI was named for an heiress, an eccentric spinster, a lumber magnate, and an opium baron. In my family they never let you forget who you areor where you come from. The fact is that in the ever-dwindling universe that is Chicago society, my family still sits at the top. My mother, Astrid E. Millholland, is arguably one of the most socially prominent women in the country. Indeed, when someone once asked her what the E in her name stood for, she replied, "Establishment." Her middle name is really Eunice, but you get the picture.
Chrissy Rendell, on the other hand, was hardly to the fund-raiser born, which is one of the reasons ours has always been such an unlikely friendship. Her father was an orthodontist, a man who, my mother never tired of pointing out, made his living putting his hands in other people's mouths. Chrissy's mother was a socially ambitious woman, as anxious to find a way into the suffocating confines of North Shore society as I was to find a way out. She was relentless in her efforts to push the two of us together, though I'm sure that Chrissy had little interest in befriending a sharp-tongued and sullen thing like me, even if I was a Millholland. Even then she was already everything I would never belighthearted, beautiful, and every bit as at ease in the world as she was in her own skin. But we did have one thing in commonour mothersoverbearing women who imposed their rigid expectations for us with the same zealous discipline with which they conducted their own lives.
I have no doubt that by high school Chrissy's mother had come to regret her efforts to bring us together. I know that my mother spared no breath in putting the blame for our transgressions squarely on Chrissy's shouldersnot that either of us cared. We were much too busy running wild. By graduation Chrissy had a collection of little black dresses roughly the size of postage stamps and a well-developed preference for commodities traders over high school boys. I, on the other hand, shook up the North Shore by dating Stephen Azorini, whose father was suspected (correctly) of having ties to organized crime.
Of course, we've both straightened out since then, a fact that neither of us seems able to quite get over. Chrissy is not just married, but a mother now, her party-girl days behind her. I have a corner office and a reputation as a corporate gunslinger to uphold. But it is less the idea of how far we've come that is disconcerting, but rather, as the years have passed, how much higher the stakes have grown.
I got married the summer after law school, but I was a widow before my first anniversary. My husband, Russell, was diagnosed with brain cancer three weeks after our honeymoon. Chrissy's daughter, born last year and named Katharine in my honor, is deafundeniably grown-up problems for two girls who were once in too big a hurry to grow up.
There are few businesses as public and as personal as an NFL franchise. Most people have no idea who runs Ford or General Motors, but a surprising number can tick off the names of the men who own the nation's football teams. When Chrissy married Jeff Rendell, she knew that she was not only marrying the Monarchs' heir apparent, but stepping into the public eye, as well. In Milwaukee the Rendells have always been treated as a kind of minor royalty. And if she occasionally missed the urban electricity of Chicago or felt suffocated by people's rigid expectations for her in her new hometown, she had nonetheless always been careful about holding up her end of the bargain.
No one knows where their life will lead them, but surely the Monarchs' current problems were more than Chrissy or anyone else had signed on for. Through a combination of hubris and circumstance, risk and miscalculation, Beau Rendell had brought his family to the cusp of disaster. While I'm sure that Chrissy was prepared to remain at her husband's side come what may, I was equally determined to steer them from the precipiceif I could only figure out a way.
A hundred years ago they would have hidden away their daughters when Jack McWhorter rode into town. Now, when he shows up in his private jet they practically offer their daughters up to him, debutantes and brewery princesses, all hoping to snag Milwaukee's most eligible bachelor. Even though I am inherently suspicious of blatantly handsome men, I must confess that when he walked into the room, I had to suppress the fleeting impulse to if not exactly hurl myself at his feet, then at least to bat my eyelashes.
Stray raindrops glistened among the strands of his jet-black hair, which he wore slicked back, no doubt something he'd picked up in L.A. along with his tan. His shirt was custom made and in a carefully chosen shade of blue that matched his eyes, which were hooded, hard, and glittered with self-assurance.
Like so much of the money in Milwaukee, Jack McWhorter's came from beer. His family owned a food service and concession company that supplied the stadiums and arenas in a half a dozen cities with not just popcorn and hot dogs, but the small river of brew the fans washed them down with. Jack was in charge of the company's West Coast operations and as such divided his time between Milwaukee and Los Angeles. However, it was his California connections that brought him to Beau Rendell's dining room today.
Jack had come on behalf of the Greater Los Angeles Stadium Commission, a quasi-government agency whose mission was to bring professional football back to the City of Angels. He was an interesting choice of emissary. Not only had his family's company long held the concession contract at Monarchs Stadium, but he was a contemporary of Jeff's. As I sat there about to watch him make his pitch, I couldn't help but wonder whether his masters in Los Angeles assumed that with Beau beaten and near ruin, the reins of the Monarchs organization had already been passed to Jeff. If so, I figured they still had a thing or two to learn about Beau Rendell.
McWhorter began by telling us what we already knew. With the ignominious departure of both the Rams and the Raiders, Los Angeles had become a National Football League city without an NFL teama situation that the municipal movers and shakers were prepared to pay handsomely to correct.
"Believe me, no one wants to see the Monarchs leave Milwaukee," Jack confided. "This is a great town, a football town. I should know. I grew up here. But things change. There are the realities to consider. It used to be that all that you needed for a successful franchise was fan support. Market size. Then it was television revenues. Now it's stadium economics. Before free agency all you had to do was fill the seats, but nowadays less than thirty percent of a team's revenue comes from ticket sales. Today you need revenue from parking, concessions, season ticket licenses, and skyboxes just to make ends meet."
One look at Beau Russell was all it took to see that Jack was already pedaling uphill. The Monarchs' owner did not look like he was enjoying being lectured to by a man whose knowledge of football was limited to how many hot dogs he could expect to sell at the game. Harald Feiss wasn't listening at alla fact I found particularly annoying. As Beau Rendell's closest business adviser he, more than anyone else, knew that the Monarchs were in no position to close the door on any viable offer. But of course, if Harald Feiss knew anything at all about business, the Monarchs wouldn't be in this mess in the first place.
Perhaps sensing that he was losing his audience, McWhorter produced copies of a term sheet outlining the specifics of what L.A. was prepared to offer to bring the NFL back to Southern California. There was a copy for each of us, individually numbered in the top right-hand corner. It was a familiar lawyer's trick, useful for keeping track of sensitive documents and making sure that stray copies didn't find their way into the wrong hands. The front page was also stamped "confidential" in big red letters. Given the subject matter, they could just as easily have been labeled "dynamite."
It took me only about ten seconds of adding up the numbers to realize that what I was holding wasn't just a proposal but the team's salvation. Los Angeles wasn't offering a deal, they were offering a bribea football palace, a new stadium whose every square foot was designed to make Beau Rendell money. To sweeten the deal they were even offering a one-time $100 million "moving fee" to help the team defray the costs of the transition, which Beau would be free to spend any way that he saw fit. All he had to do was sign the agreement with L.A. and his troubles would be over.
From beside me I could sense the relief move through Jeff's body and hoped that he wasn't wearing it on his face as well. Any way you looked at it, this was going to be a complicated transaction. Even though the terms L.A. was offering seemed extremely favorable, there was still much that needed to be negotiated and the longer we were able to keep the Monarchs' financial situation under wraps the better. Desperation is never an advantageous position from which to strike a bargain.
Beau, no stranger to playing his cards close to his chest, maintained a cypher-like demeanor. He let Jack finish and then dismissed him with the neutral promise that he would confer with Jeff and Harald Feiss before coming to any decision. It wasn't until the door had closed behind McWhorter that the owner of the Milwaukee Monarchs let us know what he really thought of L.A.'s offer. Beau Rendell fixed his eyes upon his son directly across the table, picked up the copy of the term sheet, held it up, and tore it into little pieces.
"Just so that you and I understand each other," he proclaimed coldly. "I'll die before I move this team."
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