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Authors: Paul Levine

Lassiter 08 - Lassiter

BOOK: Lassiter 08 - Lassiter
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Lassiter
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2011 by Nittany Valley Productions, Inc.

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Bantam Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

B
ANTAM
B
OOKS
and the rooster colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Levine, Paul (Paul J.)
Lassiter: a novel / Paul Levine.
p. cm.
eISBN: 978-0-440-42313-3
1. Lassiter, Jake (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Stripteasers—Crimes against—Fiction. 3. Sex-oriented businesses—Fiction. 4. Murder—Investigation—Fiction. 5. Miami (Fla.)—Fiction. I. Title.
PS3562.E8995L37   2011
813′.54—dc22          2010054128

www.bantamdell.com

Jacket design: Carlos Beltran
Jacket image (beach): © Jason Todd/Getty Images

v3.1

“In the halls of justice, the only justice is in the halls.”

—L
ENNY
B
RUCE

Contents

Prologue

Prologue

Women’s Jail Annex, Miami …

I presented my Florida Bar card at the security window and eased onto a metal bench that would likely throw my back out if the wait lasted more than a few minutes.

It did.

I stood, stretched, and studied the frescoes covering the cracks in the plaster walls. Island scenes of towering palms along a placid sea. Laughing mothers and hopscotching children in splashy Caribbean colors. The paintings made the place even more dreary, the inmates’ lives even more hopeless.

Finally, a female guard brought my client from her cell. With her face scrubbed of makeup and her dark hair in a ponytail, Amy Larkin looked more like a college cheerleader than a woman charged with First Degree Murder.

“I didn’t kill him, Jake,” she blurted out. “Honest, I didn’t.”

“Hold that thought.”

I settled into a straight-backed chair, and we faced each other across a table with cigarette scars from the days lawyers smoked in the visitors’ room, just to cover the smells.

“Where were you last night?” I asked.

“Nowhere near Ziegler’s.”

An alibi? Attending Mass with a hundred witnesses would do just fine
.

“I was with a man,” Amy said.

Not as good as church, but better than the scene of the crime
.

“Who’s the lucky guy?”

“Can’t tell you.”

“Why the hell not?”

“It’s too dangerous.”

I gave her my big, dumb guy look. It’s not much of a stretch. “What’s that mean?”

“If he testified, his life would be in danger.”

“What about
your
life?”

She fingered the opening of her jailhouse smock, flimsy as crepe paper. “He wants to help, but I won’t let him.”

“That’s my decision, not yours. Give me his name.”

“I can’t.”

My lower back was throbbing again. Too many blind-side hits had knocked a lumbar vertebra off-kilter.

“I’m thinking your alibi is bullshit.”

“You just have to trust me, Jake.”

“The hell I do.”

I get my hands dirty for my clients. I fight prosecutors in court and occasionally in the alley behind the Reasonable Doubt tavern. I stand up to judges who threaten me with contempt and to Bar Association bigwigs who would love to pull my ticket. But I won’t tote my briefcase across the street for a client who deceives me.

“Lie to your priest or your lover. But if you lie to me, I can’t help you.”

“I’m not! I wasn’t at Ziegler’s. I didn’t shoot anyone.”

I looked for the averted gaze, the tightened lips, the nervous twitch. Nothing.

“I’m innocent, Jake. Dammit, isn’t that enough?”

“Innocence is irrelevant! All that matters is evidence. So give me your alibi, or the jury will give you life.”

She took a moment to think it over before saying, “I’m sorry, Jake. You’ll have to win without an alibi.”

I pushed my chair away from the table and got to my feet. “Enjoy your stay, Amy. It’s gonna be a long one.”

1
     A Brew and Burger Guy

Eight days earlier …

When the hot brunette in the tight black skirt waltzed into the courtroom, I was cross-examining a stubborn cop who wouldn’t agree to “good morning.”

“Isn’t it true my client passed the field sobriety test?” I asked him.

“No, sir. He couldn’t walk a straight line.”

“Just how wide is that line, Officer?”

The cop shrugged, bunching the muscles of his neck. “Never measured it.”

“Why not?”

He smirked at me. “It’s imaginary.”

“Really?” Pretending to be surprised. “And how long’s that imaginary line of yours? Six feet? A mile? What?”

“I guess you could say it’s infinite.”

The brunette shimmied into a front-row seat, tugged the hem of her skirt, then fixed me with a look as friendly as an indictment.

“So, my client stepped off an imaginary line, which has an infinite length and an indefinite width. An invisible line. Is that your testimony?”

“Not at all. I can see it.”

“You can see imaginary lines.” I paused. “So you’re delusional?”

The cop’s eyes flicked toward the prosecutor.
Help
. But he didn’t get any.

“Officer …?” I prompted him.

“I’m trained and experienced. I’ve arrested hundreds of drunk drivers in the last—”

“I’m sure you have,” I interrupted. “Now, what other imaginary objects do you see?”

“None I can think of.”

“No unicorns?”

“No, sir,” he said, through gritted teeth.

“Leprechauns, then?”

“No.”

“Not even a chupacabra crawling out of the Everglades?”

“Objection!” Harold Flagler III, the young pup of a prosecutor, belatedly hopped to his feet.

“Grounds?” Judge Wallace Philbrick asked.

“Mr. Lassiter is badgering the witness.”

“It’s my
job
to badger the witness,” I fired back.

“Judge Philbrick,” Flagler whined.

“I get
paid
to badger the witness.”

“Your Honor, please admonish—”

“C’mon, Flagler. Didn’t they teach you trial tactics at Yale?”

“Mr. Lassiter!” Judge Philbrick wagged a bony finger at me. “Address your remarks to the court, not opposing counsel.”

“I apologize, Your Honor.” Sounding so sincere I nearly believed myself.

I swung around, as if pondering my next question. In truth, I wanted a good look at the woman in the gallery. Slender with military school posture, an angular jawline, and a somber expression. Tucked into her pencil skirt was a silk blouse, red as blood, with those big, puffy sleeves, as if she might be hiding an Ace of Hearts, or maybe a derringer. Chin tilted up, she stared me down.

I gave her a quick, crinkly grin and looked for any hint of interest. No inviting eyes or playful smile.
Nada
. Maybe if I wowed her in closing argument, she’d lighten up and slip me her phone number.

Occasionally, I get a groupie or two. Women attracted to a big lug with a
craggy profile, a broken nose, and hair the color of sawgrass after a drought. Two hundred thirty-five pounds of ex-linebacker crammed into an off-the-rack, wrinkled brown suit. A brew-and-burger guy in a Chardonnay-and-paté world. I wrapped up my cross-exam, while sneaking peeks at our visitor. She pulled something out of her purse. I walked toward the rail and saw it was a photo, but I couldn’t make out any details.

Flagler stood, fondled his Phi Beta Kappa key, and announced the great State of Florida rested its case.

My turn. No way would I let the presumably innocent Pepito Dominguez testify. He was a twenty-year-old smart-ass with a diamond earring and a barbed-wire tattoo circling his neck. With no witnesses, I rested, too.

The bailiff tucked the jurors into their windowless room where they could surf for porn on their PDAs, and the judge turned to me. “Mr. Lassiter, Ah assume you got some legal mumbo jumbo for the record.” His Honor came from a family of gentleman farmers in Homestead by way of Kentucky, and his voice rippled with bourbon and branch water.

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