Leo Maxwell is no ordinary attorney. He spends as much time tracking corrupt politicians and gangland leaders across the Bay Area to piece together the facts of a crime as he does crafting courtroom rhetoric. But Leo has never quite recovered from discovering his mother’s murdered corpse as a child.
In Wolf’s Revenge, the fifth novel in Lachlan Smith’s critically acclaimed series, attorney-detective Leo Maxwell seeks an exit strategy from his family’s deepening entanglement with a ruthless prison-based gang. Caught between the sadistic criminal Bo Wilder and the FBI, Leo charts his own path in defending a young woman who was manipulated into murdering an Aryan Brotherhood member in broad daylight. When the consequences of the case strike heartbreakingly close to home, long-held secrets are revealed, transforming Leo’s perspective on the aftermath of the tragedy that derailed his childhood and fractured his family over two decades ago. Leo comes to realize that there’s no such thing as fair play in the battle against a prison gang that’s already being punished to the full extent of the law. The question then becomes who will get revenge firstthe Maxwells or the gang leader who pursues them?
About the Author
Lachlan Smith was a Stegner Fellow in Fiction at Stanford and received an MFA from Cornell. He has written four 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 , Fox Is Framed , and Panther's Prey . 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
"Didn't she go with you?"
"Did we say she was going with us?" Jeanie asked.
My brother Teddy and I stood up and began looking in every direction. We were in the cheap seats high in the Coliseum, watching the A's trounce the Devil Rays. Only five years old, my niece wouldn't have wandered away by herself. She must have tagged along behind Tamara and Jeanie when they'd gone for food.
My mind went to the guy about my age who'd been sitting two rows behind us. I'd noted him because he had the look of someone who'd recently been in prison. The popping muscles of his upper body, clearly the result of many hours spent pushing weights, weren't typical for a civilian, nor were the tattoos visible on his arms and neck, the faded colors and gothic lettering of prison art.
How easy for him to have noticed the child following her absentminded mother, and, at the same time, the distraction of my brother Teddy and me.
I high-stepped over the seatback. Behind me, Jeanie, my brother's ex-wife, like an aunt to Carly, was on the phone, while Tamara, Carly's mother, scanned the crowd. "I'm calling security," Jeanie said.
"We've lost our little girl," I shouted to the nearest usher as I entered the cavern-like concourse. I paused briefly to give the man a description of Carly, which he dutifully repeated into his walkie-talkie: tall for her age at four-four, light-skinned but visibly African-American, with a narrow face and wide eyes beneath cornrows and beads her mother had painstakingly woven.
One thought simultaneously heartened and chilled me. If the man I'd noticed earlier had taken her, this likely was no random abduction. Far more probable was that Carly had been targeted by a man named Bo Wilder. If Wilder had ordered this, it was to send a message, one to my brother Teddy or to me. Wilder had no reason to hurt Carly.
Not unless one of us had given him one.
Whenever I passed an usher or a security guard I shouted my alarm about a lost girl. I'd run a near-complete circle of the stadium before my phone vibrated. It was Teddy. "We found her," he said. "A guy brought her back."
I slowed to a walk, but only for a moment. Then I began to jog again. My brother, his instincts dulled by the massive brain injury he'd suffered nine years before, was unlikely to have noticed the stranger who'd been sitting behind us, and even more unlikely, now, to think back and suspect him. As for Jeanie, I was unsure how much she knew or guessed.
I arrived at our section and slowed, trying to look casual as I came down the stairs, my hard breathing reminding me how long it'd been since I'd ridden my bike. The man with the prison muscles was there, talking to Jeanie. Carly stood looking down at a little mascot doll he must have bought for her. I came down the steps behind them and grabbed the guy's arm.
He turned, his smile betraying no sign of the pressure I was exerting just above his massive triceps, his arm as thick around as the leg of a sedentary man, his head shaved bald. I pulled out my cell phone and suggested that Carly pose for a picture with the man.
His expression didn't fade as I snapped a series of shots. His hand remained on Carly's shoulder, but his eyes never left my face.
He'd already explained to the others what had happened. Now he told me. "I walked up right behind the ladies and the girl," he said. "When I come out of the washroom, I saw her standing there, looking like she was gonna start crying any minute. I figured her mom was in the head, but she was too little to be waiting by herself. When I was coming back from getting a hot dog she hadn't moved. I bought her the doll to cheer her up, then right away I escorted her back here."
Teddy shook hands with the man. "Thank you," he said with relief.
"Don't mention it," the guy told him. "Call me Jack." But even as he addressed Teddy, his eyes returned to me, communicating a wordless message none the less brutal for being indecipherable. I shot Jeanie a look. She frowned, her warning instinct aroused, but she seemed not to know what to do. None of us did. Carly was fine. Nothing, it seemed, had happened.
So "Jack" reclaimed his seat behind us, and we all sat down and resumed watching the game. After two innings, Tamara was still restlessly stroking her daughter's hair. Like his wife, Teddy was silent beside me, often reaching up to touch the child's arm or shoulder as if reassuring himself she was still there.
Don't blame yourselves, I wanted to tell them. It wasn't your fault. I knew, however, that any reassurance I could offer would be hollow. It's an objective truth that no parent can watch his or her child every minute. Kids need freedom, at least within certain boundaries, and most parents' attention occasionally lapses. The thing is, 99 percent of the time nothing terrible happens to the kid.
Teddy and Tamara weren't "most parents," however. They'd met when both were residents in the same brain injury rehabilitation clinic. There, they'd been tasked with relearning how to live on their own, how to dress and feed themselves. Teddy had been shot in the head, and, though he'd already made a recovery beyond all reasonable medical expectations, his chances of ever being able to live on his own still had seemed slim. Tamara's brain had been ravaged by a virus, leaving her without the ability to form new short-term memories. At a time when they were each scoured shells of their former selves, they'd fallen in love.
Defying their doctors' prognoses, the couple had achieved a remarkable, shared self-sufficiency. Teddy, whom we'd once feared would remain bed-bound and speechless, had even regained his law license, though he would never again try a case in San Francisco's criminal courtrooms. Tamara now made a modest living as a children's book illustrator and graphic designer. They owned a small cottage in Berkeley, purchased with settlement funds from a case I'd filed for Tamara in 2003. Though they'd learned to care for themselves, that didn't mean they were qualified to raise a child. But who was?
They'd proved excellent, if occasionally forgetful, parents, rising to their newfound responsibility. Still, there were lapses that gave us pause. Even now, if I was honest with myself, a nagging doubt remained in the back of my mind. When Carly became older, a teenager, maybe it wouldn't matter that her dad couldn't navigate the Bay Area's freeway system, or that her mom had little ability to recall events she hadn't written down. Yet the simple fact was that their impairments weren't going to improve much more, if at all. I kept expecting the old Teddy to step out of the new Teddy's shell, but that person was gone forever.
Among the four of us, I was the only one who suspected that this incident almost certainly wasn't their fault. The stranger — "Jack" — had cut Carly away from her mother and Jeanie with the skill of a wolf working the herd. That's all we were to these people, in the end: sheep good for shearing while the season lasted. When the time came, we'd be led to the slaughter without a second thought.
After the sixth inning I rose with the excuse of getting another beer. Normally my brother would've joined me, but now he had no interest in leaving Carly's side. She was bent over watching a movie on Jeanie's phone while the rest of us stared down at the field, pretending to follow the game that in the space of an hour had lost much of its meaning.
When I reached the top of the steps I glanced back and saw that the man who'd called himself Jack also had risen. I waited at the top of the stairs, but he passed me without a glance. He was about five-nine, wearing a Giants windbreaker and a pair of cargo pants, and on his feet, Vans. I fell in step behind him, drawing from him a quick disparaging over-the-shoulder look. We walked together until we came to an area where there were no people around, a part of the stadium in which all the concession stands were closed and shuttered, adjoining one of the deserted sections of stands.
As soon as there was no one around he grabbed my arm and slammed me against the concrete wall. He pushed his face close to mine, and I felt his hand crush my balls. "You want to squeeze my arm now, motherfucker?" I was in too much pain to reply, my guts churning. Such men, having burned my office a year ago, had already proved they'd use any means at their disposal to intimidate and control me.
He let go, and I sagged against the wall, coughing and gasping. "My niece is off-limits," I managed to say. "You have a problem, take it up with me."
"Somebody's under the impression you're not getting the message."
"Then maybe someone had better spell it out."
"Okay, how about that deal you made for that kid last week? He snitches on some year-old murder, gets two years? What the hell?"
I'd broken a sweat. "It wasn't connected with Wilder's business."
"How would you even know that?"
"Because if it had been Bo whom the kid agreed to testify against, I'd be dead, instead of playing this bullshit game with you." I pushed myself off the wall and, as well as I was able to, stood facing my assailant. But I had no illusions about my chances against him in a fight, fair or otherwise.
He studied me for a moment, then gave a laugh. "Fucking lawyers."
"That's right. I'm a lawyer. And these people your boss sends me are my clients, and I'm going to do right by them. Someday he might appreciate that, when a person he actually cares about gets jacked. You, for instance."
"Don't worry, he doesn't give a shit about me."
"Be that as it may, if Bo's got so little trust, maybe he ought to just fire me and find some other lawyer."
"He's got other lawyers. You think you're special? I heard he fired one once. It wasn't pretty. They found him a week later in his office, hanging from a light fixture. His suicide note mentioned a problem with booze."
Might suicide have taken the life of this nameless, and, I hoped, imaginary lawyer? I doubted it. "Threats don't impress me," I said. "I couldn't make any of Bo's people talk about his business if I wanted to. Believe me, none of us has any interest in telling stories to the DA. My clients want to live. I want to live. That goes for my family, too. So if you or Bo messes with my niece again ..."
"You'll do what?" He was entertained, seeming interested in how far I'd go. "You're in a position to make threats?"
"Never mind. I'll tell him myself."
This seemed to get his attention. "You stay the fuck away from that prison. He don't need you on his visitor list. Your value is that you maintain a legitimate law practice, with no obvious connections to the other side of the business. Staying legit is the only way you're any good to Bo."
"I'd say my client list makes it pretty obvious whom I work for."
"Who you gonna represent, the Boy Scouts? Bo and I did five years together. Otherwise, I'd just have come to the office, made myself at home."
"Don't bullshit me. Bo sent you to grab Carly, just to prove he could. You know what? Now there's a police report on file. There's video evidence putting you two rows behind us. Those people in the stands are going to remember your face. What was Bo thinking, pulling a stunt like that?"
A flicker of alarm in his eyes tipped me off. "Bo wasn't thinking," I said, pressing what I saw as an advantage. "This was you. All you. Acting alone, getting smart. Thinking how a thug thinks. Only, the way I understand Bo's business these days, thugs are the last kind of people he needs. He's trying to go legit, because he's in prison for life. Meanwhile, you clowns out here are running around doing whatever comes into your head, making it up as you go along."
He stared at me with continued hostility, but didn't interrupt.
"Someone really ought to explain to him how a stunt like this can blow back on you in ways you can't predict. Imagine if the cops had been a little quicker on the draw, or if we'd freaked out when you brought her back with that doll you bought her. It's messes like this that can bring down an organization." I was aware of saying too much, the way I always did when I felt I was in danger.
He waited as if to make sure I was finished. "Listen, Bo sent me to deliver a message, I delivered it. And you heard me, right? The message is, no snitches unless you clear it first. This guy last week, Bo would have said okay — if you'd checked with him. But you know how he is. He gets word one of his guys has cut a deal, and the first thing he imagines is there must be some secret angle, that his lawyer's trying to fuck him."
"If that's the case, I don't see how he ever gets a decent night's sleep."
He shook his head. "I already said, we were cellies for five long years. I had his back inside, now I've got it outside. And he's got mine. I'm the one who's got to keep the troops in line." He paused. "The last thing Bo needs is for him and me to get sideways." He stared hard at me. "But if you tell him what I did ..."
"Why shouldn't I?" I wanted an apology, as well as future assurances.
"If you tell Bo about this ..." he said, stepping close. His face was an inch from mine. I stood my ground, not daring to move or inhale. At last he released a cigarette-stale breath.
"I think you got the message now."CHAPTER 2
When I returned, the others were standing, ready to leave. Carly's face now was tear-streaked. Tamara was trying to comfort her, but she kept pushing her mother's hands away. Then as I came down the steps she broke from her mother and wrapped her arms around my legs.
We rode the Bay Area Rapid Transit train from the stadium back to the stop nearest Teddy and Tamara's place in Berkeley, where Jeanie and I had left our cars. I now lived in the city — San Francisco, that is. Rents were cheaper in Oakland, where I'd been based during my first stint in private practice, but I'd been born and raised in Potrero Hill, a formerly working-class neighborhood above the old Navy Yard. After leaving the Public Defender's Office last year, I'd decided to open my new office near the intersection of Seventh and Mission, not far from the Hall of Justice courthouse.
Still, I spent a great deal of time in Berkeley with Teddy and Tamara. I was there for dinner at least once per week, often even spending weekends with them, helping ferry Carly to her various activities — T-ball, ballet practice, preschool birthday parties. Soon, life was to become even busier, with Carly set to enter pre-K.
We said goodbye to Jeanie, who was heading back to Walnut Creek. Even an hour after my encounter with Bo's foot soldier, my hands were still shaking as I strapped Carly into the back of my aging Saab. I'd picked it up used and recently added the car seat. Lately I'd been leaving the thing permanently installed. I figured being an uncle was the closest I was ever likely to come to fatherhood. Each time I got in my car for the lonely drive across the bridge after a visit like this, I felt as if an elastic band still connected me to the place I'd come to think of as a second home. Now, as we approached their house on Gilman Street, I felt a familiar tightening between my shoulder blades.
"Want to come in?" my brother asked, as he always did.
"Yes, come in," Tamara said. But only after a pause.
On a normal day I'd have taken my cue from her tone and departed. Today had been anything but normal, however. The three of us needed to talk.
Carly was overtired, resisting her bath. Teddy, who'd begun to help her, was forced to turn her over to her mother, the only one who could reason with her at such moments. After reviewing the available options in the kitchen, I shuffled through a pile of delivery menus and settled on Chinese.
There'd been a time when I might have said what I needed to say to Teddy in the privacy of the kitchen, leaving it up to him how much to share with Tamara. But, in my mind, Teddy was a main part of the reason we were in this situation. And so I waited until after we'd eaten, enjoying Carly holding forth as usual, the goofy center of attention.
She wanted me to read her a bedtime story, so I did, then yielded my place to her mother, who spent a quiet fifteen minutes lying down with her. Then, when she came out, the three of us sat in the kitchen, Tam working on a glass of wine, Teddy and I nursing after-dinner beers.
They each seemed to anticipate that I had something to say, Tamara looking at me with open defiance, as if expecting me to blame her for losing Carly this afternoon — an event she'd no doubt memorialized in the notebook she carried everywhere with her for this purpose — and readying her response. Teddy looked sheepish and ashamed, unable to meet either his wife's eyes or mine.
I showed them the picture on my phone, the dude calling himself Jack standing with his hand on Carly's shoulder, Carly holding the mascot doll he'd bought. Even now, in bed, she still had the doll clutched against her chest. Jack's eyes were fixed on the camera with their secret message just for me.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Wolf's Revenge"
Copyright © 2017 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.