Edgar Award Finalist: This Miami crime thriller by a New York Times–bestselling author is “an exhilarating debut [and] a sizzling page-turner” (Publishers Weekly). Gail Connor is a fast-rising attorney in a major South Florida law firm, about to make partner—until her life is derailed by the discovery of her sister’s body in the Everglades. What at first appears to be a suicide soon becomes a homicide investigation with Gail as the prime suspect. To defend herself, Gail must unravel the tangled web of her wild younger sister’s life, which includes connections to drug traffickers, a Native American artifact, Gail’s own estranged husband, and a handsome Cuban-American attorney, Anthony Quintana, to whom Gail is strongly attracted. But who can she trust as she fights for justice for her sister and herself? Written by a former prosecutor, the first book in the New York Times–bestselling Suspicion series delivers “a sun-drenched variation on the work of Scott Turow and Patricia Cornwell” (Library Journal).
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About the Author
Barbara Parker was trained as a lawyer and worked as a prosecutor with the state attorney’s office in Dade County, Florida, before moving into a private practice that specialized in real estate and family law. She earned a master’s degree in creative writing in 1993, and her first legal thriller was Suspicion of Innocence (1994), which was followed by another seven titles featuring her two lawyer protagonists, the sometime-lovers Gail Connor and Anthony Quintana. While writing the Suspicion series, she also produced Criminal Justice, Blood Relations, The Perfect Fake, and The Dark of Day. Suspicion of Innocence was a finalist for the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America, and two of her titles, Suspicion of Deceit and Suspicion of Betrayal, were New York Times bestsellers. Parker died in March 2009, at age sixty-two.
Read an Excerpt
Suspicion of Innocence
By Barbara Parker
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1994 Barbara Parker
All rights reserved.
Shortly past one o'clock in the afternoon, Gail Connor pushed open the heavy brass door of the Hartwell Building and turned west. At midday Miami shimmered —white clouds dancing across the glass skin of skyscrapers, narrow streets bathed in light. Squinting, Gail reached into her jacket pocket for her sunglasses.
At one-thirty she would argue a motion at the courthouse. She was in no mood to be nice to opposing counsel. If their latest skirmish was any indication, he would stumble through his argument and stare at his file as if somebody had stuck a copy of Playboy inside. Gail didn't like to beat up on other attorneys—that kind of attitude could come back at you—but today she felt like nailing him to the wall. This case should have been settled already. Either that or have gone to trial.
A gust of cool air washed over her face and neck. The doors to a shoe shop were wide open, the air conditioner pumping out onto the sidewalk. A clerk in a silky gold shirt and pleated pants stood near an outdoor bargain table of high heels. His skimpy mustache and smooth cheeks put him under twenty. Gail saw his eyes fix on her face, slide down her body, then climb up again, his head swiveling to follow her.
He spoke as she went by. Oye, mamacita. As if she were his type—five-nine, hair permed at collar length, marching down Flagler Street in a navy blue suit.
Tightly gripping the handle of her briefcase, she cut around a pack of Japanese tourists, then between two missionaries: dark-haired women in white dresses and high, pointed caps, offering religious tracts in Spanish. The pushcart vendors were out, and the smell of ripe fruit sweetened the air—peaches, grapes, mangoes, and strange tropical fruit she could not name and had never tasted.
At Miami Avenue, a "Don't Walk" sign flashed on. She checked her watch again. One-ten. Not bad.
Five minutes would get her to the judge's chambers on the twelfth floor, where she would sign in with the bailiff. Like the other thirty-some judges in the civil division, Judge Arlen Coakley would schedule as many as two dozen cases on motion calendar, heard in the order in which the attorneys picked up the files. With any luck at all, her case would be first or second in line. George Sanchez was Latin—second-generation Cuban, to be exact— but as punctual as a Yankee banker. He might not be there when she signed in, but he would be ready when the case was called.
The light changed, and the crowd surged into the intersection.
The Dade County Courthouse occupied its own city block, wide steps leading to a slate terrace all around, Greek columns front and back. Gray blocks of granite rose twenty-three stories, ending at a stepped pyramid bristling with antennas. Turkey vultures roosted on top, a local joke: the spirits of deceased attorneys. They sat, shoulders hunched, then flapped away to catch the updrafts. Approximating tourist season, they arrived in November from somewhere in Ohio, then vanished before summer.
Gail pushed through the revolving door into the tiled lobby that echoed with voices. She laid her briefcase on the conveyor belt to be X-rayed, then stood in line to walk through the metal detector—routine in Miami courts.
The crowd was thinner on the twelfth floor, with only a handful of attorneys outside Judge Coakley's chambers at the end of the corridor. She knew some of them by sight. Her watch said one-sixteen. She would not be first, but close enough.
"Gail Connor." The husky female voice came from the open waiting area across from the elevators. Gail looked around and saw Charlene Marks, a gray-haired woman in a red and white polka-dot dress.
"Would you believe, I was going to call you this afternoon." Charlene dumped her file on a wooden chair.
A young blonde was sitting in the next chair, winding a Kleenex through her fingers. She wore a white leather dress with puffy feathers at the neck, and fringed white boots. A divorce client, Gail was certain. Charlene specialized, particularly in the rich or wacky.
This client could fit both categories. She looked up, her forehead creasing. "Wait. What if they call us? Where are you going?"
"Right out there in the hall, okay?" Charlene patted her shoulder. "Two minutes."
Gail glanced toward Judge Coakley's door as Charlene lit a cigarette. Discreetly, because smoking was prohibited.
"I've got a case you can have, if you're interested."
"I'm always interested," Gail said. "But give me a second. I need to check in with Eddie."
The bailiff sat just inside the door. He glanced up from a folded newspaper when she leaned against his desk. "Which case are you, Ms. Connor?"
"Darden v. Pedrosa Development," Gail said. She pointed at the computer printout in front of him. "It's there, at the bottom of page one."
Eddie clicked his ball point. "Sanchez is outside?"
"No, not yet, but—"
"Can't write you down till you've got a team."
"Come on, Eddie. He'll be here."
"Sorry. New rule." Eddie made a small check by Gail's name, then looked up. "Go ahead and take the file if you want to." There were two stacks of them on his desk.
Gail opened her mouth to argue, but another lawyer was already giving Eddie his own case number. She left the Darden file—heavy with pleadings, orders, and motions —where it was.
The clock on the secretary's desk said one-nineteen. Gail begged a couple of aspirin from her and took a paper cup of water from the cooler.
"What's the matter with you?" Charlene Marks asked when Gail returned.
"Eddie won't give me a number until the other attorney gets here."
"Who's the other attorney?"
"Don't know him." Charlene exhaled blue smoke out to one side. "Maybe he's operating on Cuban time."
"He's doing this on purpose, I know it." Gail watched as pairs lined up outside the door.
"So if he doesn't show, you win by default."
"No, I won't. He'll probably put another motion on the calendar to set aside the order on this motion, because he was mugged on the way to the courthouse."
Charlene laughed out loud, then lowered her voice and pointed with her cigarette. "That girl back there. My client."
"The urban cowgirl?"
"Be nice. Does the name Marcanetti ring a bell?"
After a second Gail said, "No kidding."
The Miami Dolphins had just cut Dennis Marcanetti after his third drunk driving conviction. This time he had launched his Corvette into Biscayne Bay, making a perfect arc over a fishing boat carrying the Canadian consul. Marcanetti was said to be at Jackson Memorial with both legs in traction. Gail hoped Charlene had Marcanetti's signature on the divorce settlement before he took the ride.
Charlene said, "Missy's got a problem with some business partners."
Gail glanced over Charlene's shoulder. The soon-to-be-ex-Mrs. Marcanetti was nervously swinging her foot, the fringe on her boot dancing up and down. "I'll bet Missy's her real name."
"Good guess," Charlene said. "Anyway, she and Dennis and another couple invested in this boutique on South Beach." Charlene took a last drag off her cigarette and bent to stub it out in a stick-dry potted palm. She was grinning. "Postindustrial chic, is how she described it."
"The kind of place where they charge a hundred dollars for a bra made out of metal kitchen strainers?"
"Oh, so you shop there. Dennis gave Missy his share of the boutique as part of the settlement, but the other two are trying to take over. I'm not up on commercial litigation, or I'd take the case myself."
"How's the business going?" asked Gail. "Profitable?"
Charlene rocked her hand back and forth. "They serve wine. And the clientele is darling. The guys like the leather pants with the buns cut out."
Gail dragged her eyes away from Missy, who was thumbing idly through a copy of The Florida Bar Journal, probably trying to find the pictures. "I don't know. It sounds like something a smaller firm should handle."
She glanced around when the elevator bell dinged. A clerk pushing a basket of files got out, a female lawyer Gail had gone to law school with, and a tall Hispanic attorney about forty in an eight-hundred-dollar suit, carrying a shiny briefcase made of some kind of endangered reptile. He looked around as if to get his bearings. Still no George Sanchez, damn him.
She said to Charlene, "We try to stick to bigger corporate accounts, unless the client can stand the fees."
"Jesus. Don't you ever take a case for fun?" Charlene pretended to shudder. "Poor you, in that big firm. I've got my own office and my own hours and if I want to screw off for an afternoon or two I can damn well do it."
Then she looked past Gail's shoulder, her finely penciled eyebrows lifting. Gail turned. It was the man with the briefcase.
Charlene reached for his hand. "¿Cómo andas, mi amor?"
"Bien, bien. ¿Y tú?" He bent to brush his lips across Charlene's cheek when she turned it up to him.
"What brings you to these parts?" she said. "This ain't criminal court."
He did a slow smile, lines bracketing a curvy mouth. Lots of white teeth. "I am here under duress, but your presence makes it a pleasure."
Gail wanted to roll her eyes.
Charlene laughed and pulled him closer. "¡Cabrón!"
He glanced at Gail, acknowledging she existed. A subtle aroma of something expensive clung to his skin. She gave him a perfunctory smile.
"Gail, this is Tony Quintana," Charlene said. "He defended a couple of my naughtier clients last year."
The dark brown eyes moved quickly over her face, taking inventory. No matter how good the manners, Gail was certain the sexuality could never be bleached out of a Latin male. She couldn't complain. They were exquisite creatures to look at.
Gail stuck out her hand before he could go for her cheek. "How do you do."
Charlene said, "My friend Gail Connor, of Hartwell Black and Robineau."
His look was still polite, but something else slipped into place. He released her hand. "Ah, Ms. Connor. I think I'm looking for you."
Gail could have kicked herself for being so slow. That Quintana. "I assume George Sanchez can't make it."
"Unfortunately, no. A conflict came up, and he asked me to take care of this matter for him." Quintana's Spanish accent was barely there. He smiled, the charm back in place. "George hoped we might work something out."
"Oh? How optimistic of him."
"Surely this isn't a case worth fighting over. Certainly not worth the time a firm such as yours will have in it."
Gail would have bet money that Anthony Luis Quintana, Esq., had ordered George not to come, that he had been hiding out in the men's room to make sure the Darden case would be dead last on the motion calendar. "I can tell you, Mr. Quintana, attorney's fees are not an issue."
"No?" He gave a slight shrug. "But in your motion, you ask that my client pay your fees."
"Correct. Due to your delays in—"
"Your firm's. Your client's."
He innocently raised his brows. "But I am here. On time."
Gail smiled back at him. "Just go check in with the bailiff, why don't you?"
When he had gone, she muttered to Charlene, "God. He ought to be flogged."
Charlene's mouth twisted into a grin. She said, "Gotta go. It's time to water Missy. Call me."
They took their places in the back of the narrow room, Quintana by the door, his briefcase on the floor by his feet, Gail standing by the windows. Judge Coakley's big desk occupied the far end. Perpendicular to it was a long conference table, six chairs on either side. They were all taken, opposing attorneys facing each other. The judge rocked back and forth in his brown leather chair, the springs squeaking softly. Gail doubted he would oil them even if handed a can of WD-40. In chambers, he wore a short-sleeved shirt and tie, leaving his robe on a wooden hanger behind the door. Bushy eyebrows jutted over pale gray eyes. His hair, once auburn, had dimmed to rusty white.
"Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen," he said. "I'm covering a hearing at three for Judge Potter, so let's not waste any time."
Thank God, thought Gail. She leaned her briefcase against the wall and crossed her arms, looking toward the window, seeing nothing but blue sky at this height. The glass was cloudy with grime. A black shadow flapped slowly past, then swooped upward. She idly studied the photos, many turning yellow, that hung around the room. One picture showed the judge with Governor LeRoy Collins outside the state capitol in Tallahassee. Behind him half a dozen other men, among them Gail's grandfather, John B. Strickland, lined up across the steps. All men, all white, all in suits with thin lapels and skinny ties.
Rotating her shoulders, Gail dug her fingers into the muscles of her neck, barely listening to the drone of voices. Her skull felt like it was going to crack off right at eyebrow level. She knew the cause: She had lain awake until nearly three a.m. reliving her mother's birthday party Saturday night. It could have been scripted by Tennessee Williams and badly overacted by the cast of a small-town dinner theater. Her mother pretending she wasn't really fifty-seven. Her sister, Renee, as the drunken little bitch, falling out of her tank top. And Gail's husband, Dave, playing the brooding son-in-law, making an ass of himself. Gail couldn't decide where she fit in, except as a reluctant audience, a witness to this tedious melodrama.
She noticed that across the judge's chambers Anthony Quintana was frowning into the pages of the thick court file on Darden v. Pedrosa. What was he doing, some last-minute cramming? She doubted he knew what he was getting into, a shoving match between two sets of clients—builder and home buyers—who were approximately tied for the jerk-of-the-year award.
Gail represented the buyers. When Nancy and Bill Darden had seen an ad in the Miami Herald for a subdivision called Cotswold Estates they had no idea that the builder would be Cuban. Nancy asked, "Isn't that some kind of fraud?" They had signed the contract because the houses were "so cute," and because the subdivision was within five minutes of the new medical office where Bill worked, in the far reaches of West Kendall, where the Everglades still sent its feral creatures scurrying across clipped and watered lawns.
The concrete pad was poured, the drywall up, a hole for the swimming pool dug. But the roof didn't suit the Dardens. "It's so spindly," Nancy whined. "I took some photos. Here, you can see for yourself. My God, if we have another hurricane, it will just blow right off." The molding around the doors wasn't the heavy oak they had seen in the model, but white pine. The supervisor at Pedrosa insisted oak would cost them more. Bill said put it in, then made a stink on the next construction payment. So the builder installed cheaper kitchen fixtures. When Nancy saw the aluminum sink, she told the plumber she wanted stainless steel. He nodded, but spoke no English and installed porcelain at three hundred and fifty dollars. The schedule stretched out, and out, irate demands coming from both sides.
Bill Darden told Gail, "They're trying to take us, I know they are. Damn Cubans." And this while Gail's secretary, Miriam Ruiz, was handing them copies of the documents.
"I don't care so much about the money," Bill said. "Although of course three hundred thousand dollars is a fair amount to lose." He took Nancy's hand. The slender, tanned hand with the gold and diamond tennis bracelet encircling the wrist. "Nan doesn't want the house anymore. If they're going to be like that, God knows what it would be like to live there."
Gail had sued for breach of contract, rescission, and delay. The other side had promptly countersued. Motions had flown back and forth. For the past two months Gail had tried to get the company's relevant financial records and take the depositions of its owners. All she had been given was excuses.
Gail wondered what lunacy made Ferrer & Quintana hang on so tightly. Latin machismo? Fat fees?
Whatever they got, it would be more than Gail expected to bring in. Nancy was the daughter of U.S. Senator Douglas Hartwell, whose granddaddy had founded the firm. Not exactly kosher to waive payment of fees, but the other partners chalked it up to good community relations. Gail, doggedly working her way up to partner, had to smile and enter the hours on her time sheet in red.
Excerpted from Suspicion of Innocence by Barbara Parker. Copyright © 1994 Barbara Parker. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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