Prologue | A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT
I WOKE UP to a sharp report, as if a gun had gone off next to my ear. My eyes flew open and I sat straight up in bed.
I yelled “Joe,” but my husband wasn’t lying next to me. He was in an airplane, thirty-five thousand feet above the heart-land, and wouldn’t be home until the morning.
There was another ferocious crack and my bedroom brightened with lightning that snapped and wrapped around the windows. A boomer shook the window frames and sheets of rain lashed the glass. I was so distracted by the vicious storm that it took me a second or two to register the wave of pain that came from my belly and washed right through me.
Oh, man, it hurt really bad.
Yes, it was my own fault for gorging on refried beans for dinner, then chasing down the Mexican leftovers with riga-toni marinara at ten.
I looked at the clock—2:12 a.m.—then jumped at the next seismic thunderclap. Martha whined from under the bed. I called to her. “Martha. Boo, honey, whatchoo doin’? It’s just a storm. It can’t hurt you. Come to Mama.”
She flapped her tail against the carpet, but she didn’t come out. I swung my legs over the bed and flipped the switch on the bedside lamp—and nothing happened. I tried a couple more times, but damn it—the light wouldn’t go on.
The power couldn’t be out. But it was.
I reached for my Maglite, accidentally knocked it with the back of my hand, and it flew off the night table, rolled under the bed, and went I don’t know where.
Lightning branched down and reached across the black sky, as if to emphasize the point that the lights were out as far as the eye could see.
I grabbed the cordless phone and listened to dead air. The phones were out, too, and now I was feeling that weird wave of stomach pain again. Yowee.
I want to be clear. I was feeling a wave, not a contraction.
My age classifies me as an “elderly primigravida,” meaning over forty, pregnant with my first child. I had seen my doctor yesterday morning and I’d checked out fine. The baby had checked out fine, and wasn’t due for another week.
I had booked a bed on the birthing floor at California Women’s Hospital, and although I’m not the organic granola type, I wanted to have the whole natural childbirth experience. The truth was, this baby might be the only one Joe and I would ever have.
Another wave of pain hit me.
To repeat, it was not a contraction.
I staggered out to the living room, found my handbag—an item I hadn’t needed in several weeks—and dug around until I found my iPhone. The battery bar was showing that I had only 10 percent of a full charge. Too damned little.
I leaned against a wall and went online to see what kind of storm was beating up San Francisco.
The squall was even worse than I thought. Twenty thousand families were in the dark. People were stuck in elevators between floors. Signs and other detritus had been flung through windows. Cars had skidded across roads, crashed, and flipped. All emergency vehicles had been deployed. Emergency rooms were flooded with patients and downed power lines were sparking on the streets.
This was shaping up to be one of the worst storms in SF history. Headlines quoted the mayor: STAY IN YOUR HOMES. THE STREETS ARE UNSAFE.
Martha slunk over and collapsed on top of my feet.
“We’re going to be okay,” I cooed.
And then that pain came over me. And it flipped me out.
“Go away,” I yelled at Martha. “Go away.”
“I’m sorry, Boo,” I said to my whimpering dog. “These are false contractions. If they were real, I would know it.”
I grabbed my knees—and that’s when my water broke.
I could not comprehend what was happening—it could not be happening. I wasn’t ready to have the baby. It wasn’t due for another week. But ready or not, this baby was coming.
God help me.
My little one and I were really in for it now.
I WANTED TO abandon my body.
Yes, that sounds insane, but that’s how I felt—and it was all that I felt. I clicked the light switch up and down, picked up the landline.
Still no power and no phones; neither would be restored until the sun threw some light on the situation. I had five minutes of battery left on my iPhone, maybe less.
I speed-dialed my doctor, left a message with her service, then called the hospital. A nice woman named Shelby asked me, “How often are your contractions coming?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t time them. I didn’t even know I was having them.”
“Lindsay, your water breaking means you’ll be in labor for a while yet. You could deliver in three hours or three days, but don’t worry. Let me explain about three-one-one.”
I knew about 311. But still I listened as Shelby explained that 311 was the rule for what to do when your contractions come every three minutes, last for one minute, and that pattern repeats for at least one hour: you go to the hospital.
“Are you kidding me?” I screeched into the phone. “Because, listen! I’m alone and I’ve never done this before.”
“Do not come in until you’re in active labor,” Shelby said. “Stay home, where you’re comfortable.”
I yelled, “Thanks!,” snapped off my phone, and walked my enormous baby bump to the window. I was breathing hard as I looked up Lake Street in the direction of my chosen hospital. There was no traffic, no traffic lights. The street was closed.
A tremendous burst of lightning cracked the sky open and sent Martha skittering under the couch. It was crazy, but I was starting to like the storm, even though it had sucked all the air out of the room.
It was hot. Damned hot. I kicked off my XXL pj’s and another painful wave took my breath away. It was as if a boa constrictor had wrapped itself around my torso and was squeezing me into the shape of a meal.
I was scared, and it wasn’t all about the pain. Babies got strangled by umbilical cords. Women died in childbirth. Elderly primigravidas were more at risk than younger women, and old babes like me weren’t supposed to do childbirth by themselves. What if there were complications?
Claire Washburn is my best friend. She is San Francisco’s chief medical examiner—a forensic pathologist, not an obstetrician, but hell. She’d had three babies. I knew she could talk me through this. At least she could try.
I dialed and Claire answered with a groggy “Dr. Wazjjjbrn.”
“Claire. It’s too soon to go to the hospital, I know, but yow. I think I can feel the baby’s head down there. What should I do?”
“Don’t push!” my best friend shouted at me. “I’m calling nine-one-one right now.”
I shouted back at her, “Call a private ambulance service so I can go to the Women’s Hospital! Claire, do you read me?”
Claire didn’t answer.
My phone was dead.
MY RAGING RIVER of hormones was sending a single, unambiguous message.
Claire had said, “Don’t push,” and that sounded both insane and impossible, but I got her drift. The baby was safe inside me until help arrived.
It must have taken me ten minutes to walk to ease my throbbing, hurting self into bed.
I knew that Claire wouldn’t let me down, that she had probably thrown the weight of her office behind the 911 call. I put my birthing instincts in park and thought with my entire being, I’m in God’s hands now. All I can do is make the best of this and hope that the baby is safe. That’s all I can do.
Martha got up on the bed and curled up next to me. I put my hand on her head and I resisted my contractions. I heard noises, someone calling “Helloooo”—sounds that were far outside my tunnel of pain. I put my hands up against blinding flashlight beams and then, like a force of nature, all the lights went on.
The power was back.
My bedroom was filled with strapping men standing shoulder to shoulder in a line that stretched from the door to the bed and ran along both sides of it. There had to be at least twelve of them, all with stricken, smoke-smudged faces, all in full turnout gear. I remember staring at the reflective tape on their jackets, wondering why a dozen fire-fighters were crowding in on me.
I shouted, “Where’s the fire?”
A large young man came toward me. He was at least six four, with a buzz cut, a still-bleeding gash on his cheek, and a look of deep concern in his eyes.
He said, “I’m Deputy Chief Robert Wilson. I’m called Robbie. Take it easy. Everything is going to be okay.”
Really? Then, I realized that a fire rig had been closer to the apartment than an ambulance and so firefighters had answered the 911 call.
I said, “This is embarrassing. My place is a mess.”
I was thinking about my clothes strewn all over the place, dog hair on the bed, somehow forgetting that I was completely naked with my legs spread apart.
Robbie Wilson said, “How are you doing, Sergeant?”
“I’m having a baby,” I said.
“I know. You take it easy now.”
He fitted an oxygen mask to my face, but I pushed it away.
“I don’t need that.”
“It’s for the baby,” he said. He turned to the gang of firemen and shouted, “I need boiling water. I need towels. A lot of them.”
Did I have any clean towels? I didn’t even know. I pushed the mask away again and grunted at Robbie, “Have you ever delivered a baby?”
He paused for a long moment. “A couple of times,” he lied.
I liked him. I trusted him. But I didn’t believe him.
He said, “You can push now, Sergeant. Go ahead and try.”
I did it. I pushed and grunted and I lost track of the time. Had an hour passed?
It felt as though the baby were grabbing my rib cage from the inside and holding on with both fists. The pain was agonizing and it seemed that I would never get Baby Molinari out of my body and into the world. Just when I thought I had spent my last breath, my baby slid out of my body into Robbie’s baseball-glove-size hands.
I heard a little cry. It was a sweet sound that had the special effect of putting the pain behind me, hugging me around the heart.
“Oh, wow. She’s perfect,” said Big Robbie.
I peered into the light and said, “Give her to me.”
I wiggled my fingers in the air as someone cut the cord and cleaned up her little face. And then my baby was in my arms.
“Hello, sweet girl.”
She opened her eyes to little slits and she looked right at me. Tears fell out of my eyes as I smiled into my daughter’s face. A bond was formed that could never be broken; it was a moment I would never, ever forget.
My little girl was perfect and as beautiful as a sunrise over the ocean, as awesome as a double rainbow over swans in flight.
It’s too bad the word miracle has been overused, because I swear it’s the only word that fit the feeling of holding my daughter in my arms. My heart swelled to the size of the world. I only wished Joe had been here.
I counted my baby’s fingers and toes, talking nonsense to her the whole time.
“I’m your mommy. You know that, baby girl? Look what we’ve done.”
But was she really okay? Was her little heart beating at the right pace? Were her lungs filling with enough air?
The big dude said, “You should both have a thorough checkup. Ready to go to the hospital, Sergeant?”
“We’re going in the fire rig?”
“I’ll make room in the front seat.”
“Oh, good,” I said. “And please, amp up the sirens.”
Book One | THREE WEEKS LATER
YUKI CASTELLANO PARKED her car on Brannan Street, a block or so away from the Hall of Justice. She was lucky to have gotten this parking spot, and she took it as a good sign. Today she was glad for any good sign.
She got out of her car, then reached into the backseat for her briefcase and jacket. Then she set off toward the gray granite building on Bryant Street, where she worked as an assistant district attorney and where, in about an hour, she would prosecute a piece-of-crap wife and child killer named Keith Herman.
Keith Herman was a disbarred attorney who had made his living by defending the most heinous of slime-bucket clients and had often won his cases by letting prosecution witnesses know that if they testified, they would be killed.
Accordingly, witnesses sometimes fled California rather than appear against Herman’s clients.
He’d been charged with witness tampering, but never convicted. That’s how scary he was. He was also a registered sex offender, so that made two juicy bits of information Yuki couldn’t tell the jury because the law said that she couldn’t prejudice the jury by citing his prior misdeeds.
So Yuki had been building the case against Herman based on evidence that he’d killed his wife, dismembered her body, and somehow made his young daughter disappear, arguably a harder charge to prove because the girl’s body had not been found.
Yuki had been doing nothing but work on the Herman case for the last five months and now, as the first day of the trial arrived, she was stoked and nervous at the same time. Her case was solid, but she’d been surprised by verdicts that had gone against her in cases as airtight as this one.
As she turned the corner onto Bryant, Yuki located the cause of her worry. It was Keith Herman’s defense attorney, John Kinsela, who, right after Keith Herman, was probably the sleaziest lawyer in the country. He had defended legendary high-profile killers and had rarely lost a case.
And he usually destroyed the reputations of opposing counsel with innuendo and rumors, which he leaked as truth to the press.
Yuki had never gone up against Kinsela before, but Kinsela had shredded her boss, Leonard “Red Dog” Parisi, in a murder trial about two years ago. Parisi still hadn’t gotten over it. He was pulling for Yuki, giving her his full support, but it wasn’t lost on Yuki that he wasn’t trying the case himself.
Red Dog had a bad heart.
Yuki was young, fit, and up for the challenge of her life.
Yuki walked quickly toward the Hall, head bent as she mentally rehearsed her opener. She was startled out of her thoughts by someone calling her name. She looked up, saw the good-looking young guy with the blond cowlick and the start of a mustache.
Nicky Gaines was her associate and second chair in this trial. He was carrying a paper bag.
“Damn, you look good, Yuki.”
Gaines was five years younger than she was, and Yuki didn’t care whether he really did have a crush on her or if he was just flattering her. She was in love. And not with Nicky Gaines.
“You have coffee in there?” Yuki asked.
“Hot, with cream, one sugar. And then I’ve got the double espresso for you.”
“Let’s go straight to the courtroom,” Yuki said.
“How are you feeling about this?” Gaines said, walking up the steps along with her.
“Like if I don’t get a double-barreled conviction, I may kill Keith Herman myself.”
WHEN JENNIFER HERMAN’S dismembered body turned up in eight separate garbage bags, and when seven-year-old Lily Herman hadn’t been found despite the exhaustive police search conducted over a six-month period, Keith Herman was tried in the press and found guilty of murdering them both.
The intense media attention had whipped up a lot of hatred toward Keith Herman. It made it nearly impossible to find a jury who hadn’t watched the network specials, hadn’t seen the rewards offered for information about the missing child, and hadn’t formed an opinion as to the guilt of the accused.
And so jury selection had taken almost three weeks.
Now the press filled half the gallery in courtroom 202, Superior Court of California, County of San Francisco. The other half of the room was filled with citizens who had lined up early enough that morning to have scored one of the precious seats.
At 8:23 a.m. Yuki was at the prosecution table in the blond-wood-paneled courtroom. Her laptop was open and as she went through a long e-mail from Red Dog, she hoped all her witnesses would show up to testify—that they hadn’t been silenced or intimidated (or worse) by the opposition.
Across the aisle, at the defense table, sat two ordinary-looking men who were actually two of the scariest people Yuki had ever met. Keith Herman was paunchy, bald, and had black eyes that looked like bullet holes in his unlined, babyish face. Not all psychopaths look homicidal, but Keith Herman did. Herman had never shown any remorse, not while identifying the sections of meat that had once been his wife, not while discussing his missing daughter.
Herman’s attorney, John Kinsela, was tall with thinning gray hair and a bloodless complexion that made him look as though he climbed out of a coffin at night. Unlike his client, Kinsela was smooth. He expressed sadness and regret. He listened thoughtfully and spoke well and persuasively on camera. He passed as a reasonable facsimile of a person. A little digging into his past had turned up five divorces and the ownership of a Glock semiautomatic, which he carried at all times.
Yuki had been with these ghouls through countless hours of depositions and felt that she knew them too well.
She had dressed this morning in a bright red suit because she had a slight build, could look younger than her years, and because of the fact that red made her look and feel more powerful.
You couldn’t hang back in red. You couldn’t hesitate. You really had to live up to red.
She also wore a gold star on a chain around her neck, a graduation-from-law-school gift from her mother, who had been murdered several years earlier.
Wearing the star kept Keiko Castellano present in Yuki’s mind and might even help her to win.
She had to win.
This was a tremendous opportunity to get justice for the victims, to become a hero to female victims everywhere. It was also an opportunity to be humiliated by a savage attorney and his perverted, murdering client.
It was her job to make sure that Keith Herman didn’t get out of jail—ever.
The buzz in the gallery intensified, then cut off suddenly as the door leading from the judge’s chambers opened behind the bench and Judge Arthur R. Nussbaum entered the courtroom.
Copyright © 2013 by James Patterson