Knight 02.5 - If I'm Dead

BOOK: Knight 02.5 - If I'm Dead
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Also by Marcia Clark


Guilt by Association

Guilt by Degrees

If I’m Dead


A Rachel Knight Story


Marcia Clark


First published in Great Britain in 2012 by Mulholland Books

An imprint of Hodder & Stoughton

An Hachette UK company


Copyright © Marcia Clark 2012

Excerpt from Guilt by Association Copyright © Marcia Clark 2011

Excerpt from Guilt by Degrees copyright © Marcia Clark 2012


Author photograph by Claudia Kunin


The right of Marcia Clark to be identified as the Author of the Work

has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright,

Designs and Patents Act 1988.


All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced,

stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any

means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be

otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that

in which it is published and without a similar condition being

imposed on the subsequent purchaser.


All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance

to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.


A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library


ISBN 978 1 444 75803 0


Hodder & Stoughton Ltd

338 Euston Road

London NW1 3BH


If I'm Dead: A Rachel Knight short story

Extract from Guilt by Association

Extract from Guilt by Degrees, coming soon


About the Author

If I'm Dead

Damp, salty ocean air is hell on everything. Especially evide
nce. If we hadn't lucked out and found the car so fast, we'd never have had a shot at getting DNA results out of that little drop of blood on the passenger seat of the SUV. But a young surfer looking for a new break near Point Mugu had spotted the vehicle and decided to call the police; the sight of the abandoned car had given him a “bad feeling.” I found out what he meant when I went out to the scene. And I got that same bad feeling every time I looked at the photograph that'd been taken that night—something I'd done often and was in fact doing right now.

The white SUV glowed in the moonlight, a ghostly beacon on an outcropping above a rocky stretch of beach north of Point Mugu. The “soccer mom” vehicle wouldn't have merited a second look had it been in the
parking lot of any shopping mall in the San Fernando Valley. But there, in the limitless darkness of a remote overlook on the Pacific Coast Highway, it was an ominous misfit. A car like that did not wind up in a place like this. Not overnight. And not in the dead of winter.

I couldn't help being transfixed by the sight of that Ford Explorer, iridescent and isolated, in the endless black maw of ocean and night sky. Chilling, eerie, the photo emanated a sense of menace, a prelude to a violent demise.

At leas
t I hoped it did. I planned to use that photograph—now enlarged to poster size—in my opening statement. I figured it would help me hit the ground running with the jury. Get their minds in the right place. I'm Rachel Knight, and I'm a deputy district attorney assigned to the Special Trials Unit—a small group of prosecutors that handles the most high-profile, complex cases in Los Angeles. Unlike most deputies, we get our cases the day the body is found and work alongside the detectives throughout the investigation. And the detective I've been working with almost exclusively for the past few years, who also happens to be my best friend, is Bailey Keller, one of the few women to gain entrée into the elite Robbery-Homicide Division of the LAPD.

The white SUV had belonged to Melissa Gibbons-Hildegarde, the only daughter born to Bennie and Nancy Gibbons, who combined old family money (hers) and a real estate empire (his) to wind up one of the most wealthy, influential couples in Los Angeles. Which, of course, meant
that Melissa stood to inherit a very sizable fortune upon their demise. They may as well have painted a bull's-eye on her back. The arrow that found that target came in the form of Saul Hildegarde, a charismatic community activist whose passion for welfare reform inspired Melissa to abandon her jet-set lifestyle and devote herself to higher pursuits. Unfortunately, it was only after they'd married that Melissa realized the welfare Saul was most passionate about was his own. But while Saul discovered a taste
for the easy life of tennis, clubs, and parties, Melissa discovered a burning desire to help the impoverished, and so she dedicated herself to the support and founding of charities around the world. Especially those devoted to the welfare of children. And
it wasn't enough for her to just send money. Melissa took the hands-on approach and accompanied her checkbook around the world, helping to build huts in Somalia and set up clinics in Nigeria. She'd even spoken of adopting some of the children she'd helped during her travels. Her friends were uniformly stunned at Melissa's transformation. It seemed as though she'd gone from party girl to Mother Teresa virtually overnight. But Melissa didn't see much of her friends anymore; her charity work kept her plenty busy—likely too busy to ask for a divorce. Right up until the day she'd come home early from a trip to Botswana to find Saul in flagrante with a young coed who'd apparently volunteered to work on a more personal style of welfare reform. Melissa had announce
d her intention to get a divorce that same night.

Three weeks later, Saul reported her missing. And when her SUV had been found abandoned on a lonely stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway, the contents of her purse strewn across the passenger seat and the glove compartment rifled, it was initially believed that Melissa had been the victim of a robbery-murder, and that her body had been dumped in the ocean.

But that made very little sense to Bailey and me. Why would a robber accost a woman in an SUV out on th
e Pacific Coast Highway? And even if he did, why bother to dump the body? Why not just kill her and take her money? We'd been skeptical, and so when Dorian Struck, our favorite criminalist, finished with the SUV, we made fast tracks to the house where Saul and Melissa lived. Sure enough, we found evidence of a struggle in the garage. And then Dorian went back over the car with a fine-tooth comb. Not only did she find a wad of money zipped into a pocket in Melissa's purse (What robber would've left that money behind? Or the purse, for that matter?) but she also found blood on the passenger side of the car. Though we didn't yet have DNA confirmation, preliminary tests indicated it was likely Melissa's. And then we'd learned that Melissa had a prenup stipulating that in the event of divorce, Saul would only get a share of the money Melissa had earned on her own after the marriage—which was basically zilch. And finally we'd found out that Saul owned a boat that was docked in the marina close to their home but far from the place where Melissa's car had been found. Which meant it would've been easy for Saul to dump her body in the ocean and then leave her car many miles away, north of Point Mugu. So even if a witness happened to see him in the marina that night, it would play like an alibi—putting him far from the scene of Melissa's murder.

In short, we had a pretty decent case: evidence of a violent confrontation, a blood trace to show how the body had been moved, access to the means of body disposal, and motive up
the wazoo. If it hadn't been for the fact that we didn't have a body, it would've been a no-brainer. But that fact was a real headache in this case, given Melissa's globe-trotting lifestyle. And there was one additional wrinkle to the “she's not dead” defense that was problematic: Melissa, having found Saul in bed with another woman, had a reason to disappear and let him take the fall for her murder. Besides, she didn't have to be vindictive enough to send him away for life. She could always show up after a few months and tell everyone she hadn't known what was going on over here; that she'd decided to cool off and spend time working for some new charity no one knew about in… Malaysia. It was a reasonable-doubt case that was tailor-made for a “not guilty” if the defense found the right jury. So Bailey had spent months contacting every friend, relative, and acquaintance who'd ever known Melissa, then scoured every database for hospitals, jails, and charities of all stripes around the world to prove that Melissa wasn't just out feeding the starving children in Angola. But would it be enough to convince the jury? That was the big question.

“Damn it, have you heard a word I said, Knight?” Bailey asked, hands on hips.

“Almost all of 'em,” I lied. “Got any particular one in mind?”

Bailey gave me an exasperated look and pushed the photograph of the SUV facedown on the table next to my desk. “Quit staring at that thing and listen. I've got good news.”

I sat up straighter. “Why didn't you say so?”

“I swear to God, Knight, I'll hurt you.”

I crossed my arms, unimpressed. Bailey might be taller than me—and, okay, maybe she's got a little more lean muscle—but I've got firearms, a great leveler. Even as we spoke, a .38 Special was resting peacefully in its holster in my botto
m desk drawer.

This had never worried Bailey in the past, so I don't know why I thought it would now. And it didn't. Unperturbed, Bailey continued, “We got DNA on the spot of blood on the back of the passenger seat. It's Melissa. So now it's nailed down. They can't claim ‘it could just be anybody, including the robber.' ” She dropped the lab report on my desk.

“Not as good as finding her body, but better than nothing, I guess. How big's the spot?”

Bailey held up her right thumb.

I sighed. “That's it?”

It wa
s good, don't get me wrong. Especially because it was in a car that only Melissa drove, and it was on the passenger side. But a spot that small could be explained away as a random accident: So she cut herself, big deal. It happens. I wanted a piece of evidence that was a slam-dunk. This wasn't it.

Bailey added, “And we haven't had any of those BS ‘sightings' for the last four months.”

That was true. The raft of phone calls we'd initially gotten from people who'd claimed to have seen Melissa in the weeks aft
er her car had been found abandoned had largely dried up. The defense always loved to point to these folks to show the jury that there was reason to believe the victim was still alive. Most of them were either looking for their fifteen minutes or channelin
g their victim “sightings” through tinfoil hats. But in this case all things worried me.

“That doesn't mean they couldn't still come crawling out of the woodwork at trial.” I picked up the lab report. “And, of course, our DNA expert Albert Kwan can't say when the blood on the seat was deposited.”

BOOK: Knight 02.5 - If I'm Dead
13.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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