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Authors: Marcia Clark

Guilt by Association

BOOK: Guilt by Association
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A NOVEL

MULHOLLAND BOOKS

LITTLE, BROWN AND COMPANY

NEW YORK   BOSTON   LONDON

To my sons

PROLOGUE

He snapped his cell phone shut
and slid it into the pocket of his skintight jeans. The last piece was in place; it wouldn’t be long now. But the waiting
was agonizing. Unbidden, the memory of his only ride on a roller coaster flooded over him, like a thousand tiny needles piercing
his face and body: eight years old, trapped in that rickety little car with no escape, the feeling of breathtaking terror
that mounted as it click-click-clicked its slow, inexorable climb to the top of the sky.

He shook his head to cleanse his mind of the memory, then abruptly grabbed his long brown hair and pulled it tightly into
a ponytail behind his head. He held it there and exhaled again more slowly, trying to quiet his pulse. He couldn’t afford
to lose it now. With the lift of his arms, his worn T-shirt rode up, and he absently admired in the little mirror above the
dresser the reflection of the coiled snake tattooed on his slim, muscled belly.

He started pacing, the motel carpet crunching under his feet, and found that the action helped. Despite his anxiety, he moved
with a loose-hipped grace. Back and forth he walked, considering his plan yet again, looking for flaws. No, he’d set it up
just right. It would work. It
had
to work. He stopped to look around at the dimly lit motel room. “Room” was using the term loosely—it was little more than
a box with a bed. His eyes fell on a switch on the wall. Just to have something to do,
he went over and flipped it on. Nothing happened. He looked up and saw only a filthy ceiling fan. The sour smell of old cigarettes
told him that it hadn’t worked in years. There were stains of undetermined origin on the walls that he thought were probably
older than he was. The observation amused him. Neither the stains, nor the foul smell of decay, nor the hopeless dead-end
feeling of the place fazed him at all. It wasn’t that much worse than a lot of the places he’d lived during his seventeen
years on the planet.

In fact, far from depressing him, the ugly room made him feel triumphant. It represented the world he’d been born into, and
the one he was finally leaving behind… forever. For the first time in a life that had nearly ended at the hands of a high-wired
crackhead while his so-called mother was crashing in the next room, he was going to be in control. He paused to consider the
memory of his early near demise—not a firsthand memory since he’d been only two months old when it happened, but rather a
paragraph in the social worker’s report he’d managed to read upside down during a follow-up visit at one of the many foster
homes where he’d been “raised” for the past sixteen or so years. As it always did, the memory of that report made him wonder
whether his mother was still alive. The thought felt different this time, though. Instead of the usual helpless, distant ache—and
rage—he felt power, the power to choose. Now he could find her… if he wanted to. Find her and show her that the baby she’d
been too stoned to give a shit about had made it. Had scored the big score.

In just a few more minutes, he’d say good-bye to that loser kid who lived on the fringes. He stopped, dropped his hands to
his hips, and stared out the grimy window as he savored the thought of having “fuck you” money. He planned to extend a vigorous
middle finger to the many foster parents for whom he was just a dollar sign, to all the assholes he’d had to put up with for
a meal and a bed. And if he did decide to find his mother, he’d show up with something awesome for her, a present, like a
dress or jewelry. Something to make her sorry for all the years she’d let
him be lost to her. He pictured himself giving her whatever it was in a fancy, store-wrapped box. He tried to picture the
expression on her face, but the image wouldn’t resolve. The only photo he had of her—taken when he was less than a year old—was
so faded, only the outline of her long brown hair was still visible. Still, the thought of being able to play the Mac Daddy
puffed him up, and for a moment he let himself go there, enjoying the fantasy of his mother really loving him.

The knock on the door jolted him back to reality. He swallowed and struggled for a deep breath, then walked toward the door.
He noticed his hands were shaking, and he quickly rubbed them on his thighs to make them stop. He slowly released his breath
and willed his face to relax as he opened the door.

“Hey,” he said, then held the door open and moved aside to let in his visitor. “What took you so long?”

“Lost track of the time, sorry.” The visitor stepped inside quickly.

“You have it all?” the boy asked, wary.

The visitor nodded. The boy smiled and let the door close behind him.

1

“Guilty? Already?
What’d they do, just walk around the table and hit the buzzer?” Jake said, shaking his head incredulously.

I laughed, nodding. “I know, it’s crazy. Forty-five-minute verdict after a three-month trial,” I said as I shook my head.
“I thought the clerk was kidding when she called and told me to come back to court.” I paused. “Now that I think about it,
this might be my fastest win ever on a first-degree.”

“Hell, sistah, that’s the fastest win I done heard on
anythang,
” Toni said as she plopped down into the chair facing my desk. She talked ghetto only as a joke.

“Y’all gotta admit,” I said, “homegirl brought game this time.”

Toni gave me a disdainful look. “Uh-uh, snowflake. You can’t pull it off, so don’t try.” She reached for the mug I kept cleaned
and at the ready for her on the windowsill.

I raised an eyebrow. “You’ve got a choice: take that back and have a drink, or enjoy your little put-down and stay dry.”

Toni eyed the bottle of Glenlivet on my desk, her lips firmly pressed together, as she weighed her options. It didn’t take
long. “It’s amazing. For a minute there, I thought Sister Souljah was in the room,” she said with no conviction whatsoever.
She slammed her mug down on my desk. “Happy?”

I shrugged. “Not your best effort, but they can’t all be gold.” I broke the small ice tray out of my mini-fridge, dumped the
cubes into her cup, and poured the equivalent of two generous shots of Glenlivet.

Toni shot me a “don’t push your luck” look and signaled a toast.

I turned to Jake and gestured to the bottle. “Maybe a token?” I asked. He was a nondrinker by nature, but he’d occasionally
join in to be sociable.

He nodded and gave me that little-boy smile that could light up a room—the same one that had warmed the hearts of juries across
the county. His wire-rim glasses, wavy brown hair, and country-boy, self-effacing style—the dimples didn’t hurt, though they
were redundant—made a winning combination. Juries instinctively trusted him. He had a look that was almost angelic, making
it hard for anyone to believe he’d even graduated from college, much less done all the backbreaking work required to finish
law school and survive into his seventh year in the DA’s office. I poured him a short dog of Glenlivet with a liberal dousing
of water, careful not to give him more than he could handle. I was careful not to give myself more than I could handle either:
a heavy-handed, undiluted triple shot.

Toni raised her mug. “To Rachel Knight: she put the ‘speed’ in ‘speedy trial.’ ”

Jake lifted his cup. “To that,” he said with a sly grin. “Until I beat her record.”

I rolled my eyes. Jake had just thrown down the gauntlet. “Oh no, here we go,” I said.

“Oh yeah,” Toni replied. She narrowed her eyes at Jake. “It’s on now, little man.”

Jake gave her a flinty smile and nodded. They looked each other in the eye as they clinked cups. We all drank, Toni and I
in long pulls, Jake in a more modest sip.

Toni turned back to the matter at hand. “Was this the dope-dealer shoot-out at MacArthur Park?” she asked.

I shook my head. Toni, Jake, and I were in Special Trials, the small, elite unit that handled the most complex and high-profile
cases. Though Toni was as tough and competitive as anyone in the unit, she didn’t live the job the way Jake and I did. It
was one of the many ways Toni and I balanced each other.

Before I could answer, Jake said, “No, this was the one where the defendant poisoned his wife, then dumped the body off the
cliff in Palos Verdes.”

Toni thought for a moment. “Oh yeah. Body washed out to sea, right? And they never found a murder weapon.”

I nodded.

Toni shook her head, smiling. “Evidence is for pussies,” she said with a laugh. “You really are my hero.” She raised her mug
for another toast.

“I got lucky,” I said with a shrug, raising mine to join her.

Toni made a face. “Oh please. Can you stop with the ‘I’m so humble’ stuff already? I’ve seen you pull these beasts together
before. Nobody else drags their ass all over this county the way you do.” She turned to Jake and added, “ ’Cept maybe you.”
She took another sip, then sat back. “Both of you are ridiculous, and you know it.”

Jake and I exchanged a look. We couldn’t argue. From the moment Jake had transferred into Special Trials two years ago, we’d
found in each other a kindred workaholic spirit. Being a prosecutor was more than a career for us—it was a mission. Every
victim’s plight became our own. It was our duty to balance their suffering with some measure of justice. But by an unspoken
yet entirely mutual agreement, our passion for the work never led us into personal territory—either physically or verbally.
We rarely had lunch outside the building together, and during the long nights after court when we’d bat our cases around,
we never even considered going out
to dinner; instead we’d raid my desk supply of tiny pretzels, made more palatable by the little packets of mustard Jake snatched
from the courthouse snack bar. Not once in all those long nights had we ever discussed our lives outside the office—either
before or after becoming prosecutors. I knew that this odd boundary in our relationship went deeper than our shared devotion
to the job. It takes one to know one, and I knew that I never asked personal questions because I didn’t want to answer them.
Jake played it close to the vest in the same way I did: don’t ask, don’t tell, and if someone does ask—deflect. The silent
awareness of that shared sensibility let us relax with each other in a way we seldom could with anyone else.

“Well, she’s not entirely wrong, Tone,” Jake said with a smirk. “She did get lucky—she had Judge Tynan.”

Toni chuckled. “Oh sweet Jesus, you did get lucky. How many times did you slip?”

“Not too bad this time,” I admitted. “I only said ‘asshole’ once.”

“Not bad for you,” Toni remarked, amused. “When?”

“During rebuttal argument. And I was talking about one of my own witnesses.”

My inability to rein in my colorful language once I got going had earned me fines on more than one occasion. You’d think this
financial incentive would’ve made me clean up my act. It hadn’t. All it had done was inspire me to keep a slush fund at the
ready.

BOOK: Guilt by Association
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