Read J is for Judgment Online

Authors: Sue Grafton

J is for Judgment

BOOK: J is for Judgment


“Exceptionally entertaining…An offbeat sense of humor and a feisty sense of justice.”

San Francisco Chronicle

“Millhone is an engaging detective-for-hire…P.I. Kinsey Millhone and her creator…are arguably the best of [the] distaff invaders of the hitherto sacrosanct turf of gumshoes.”

The Buffalo News

“Once a fan reads one of Grafton’s alphabetically titled detective novels, he or she will not rest until all the others are found.”

Los Angeles Herald Examiner

“Millhone is a refreshingly strong and resourceful female private eye.”

Library Journal

“Tough but compassionate…There is no one better than Kinsey Millhone.”

Best Sellers

“A woman we feel we know, a tough cookie with a soft center, a gregarious loner.”


“Lord, how I like this Kinsey Millhone…The best detective fiction I have read in years.”

The New York Times Book Review

“Smart, tough, and thorough…Kinsey Millhone is a pleasure.”

The Bloomsbury Review

“Kinsey is one of the most persuasive of the new female operatives…She’s refreshingly free of gender clichés. Grafton, who is a very witty writer, has also given her sleuth a nice sense of humor—and a set of Wonder Woman sheets to prove it.”

Boston Herald

“What grandpa used to call a class act.”

—Stanley Ellin

“Smart, sexual, likable and a very modern operator.”

—Dorothy Salisbury Davis

“Kinsey’s got brains
a sense of humor.”

Kirkus Reviews


The author and publisher have provided this e-book to you for your personal use only. You may not make this e-book publicly available in any way.
Copyright infringement is against the law. If you believe the copy of this e-book you are reading infringes on the author’s copyright, please notify the publisher at:


The author wishes to acknowledge the invaluable assistance of the following people: Steven Humphrey; Jay Schmidt; B. J. Seebol, J.D.; Tom Huston, Seacoast Yachts; Chief Deputy Richard Bryce, Sergeant Patrick Swift, and Senior Deputy Paul Higgason, Ventura County Jail; Lieutenant Bruce McDowell, Custody Division, Ventura County Sheriff’s Department; Steven Stone, Presiding Justice, State of California Court of Appeal; Joyce Spizer, Insurance Investigations, Inc.; Mike Love and Burt Bernstein, J.D., Chubb-Sovereign Life; Lynn McLaren; William Kurta, Tri-County Investigations; Lawrence Boyers, Virginia Farm Bureau Insurance Services; John Mackall, Attorney-at-Law; Jill Weissich, Attorney-at-Law; Joyce McAlister, Associate Attorney, Legal Bureau, Police Department, City of New York; Diana Maurer, Assistant Attorney General, State of Colorado; Janet Hukill, Special Agent, FBI; Larry Adkisson, Senior Investigator, Eighteenth
Judicial District Attorney; Peter Klippel, Doug’s Bougs Etc.; Frank Minschke; Nancy Bein; and Phil Stutz.

With special thanks to Harry and Megan Montgomery, whose boat,
The Captain Murray
, plays such a central role in both the novel and jacket photograph.


Copyright Notice

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25


n the face of it, you wouldn’t think there was any connection between the murder of a dead man and the events that changed my perceptions about my life. In truth, the facts about Wendell Jaffe had nothing to do with my family history, but murder is seldom tidy and no one ever said revelations operate in a straight line. It was my investigation into the dead man’s past that triggered the inquiry into my own, and in the end the two stories became difficult to separate. The hard thing about death is that nothing ever changes. The hard thing about life is that nothing stays the same. It began with a phone call, not to me, but to Mac Voorhies, one of the vice-presidents at California Fidelity Insurance for whom I once worked.

My name is Kinsey Millhone. I’m a licensed California private investigator, working out of Santa Teresa, which is ninety-five miles north of Los Angeles. My association with CF Insurance had been terminated the
previous December, and I hadn’t had much occasion to return to 903 State. For the past seven months I’d been leasing office space from the law firm of Kingman and Ives. Lonnie Kingman’s practice is largely criminal, but he also enjoys the complexities of trials involving accidental injury or wrongful death. He’s been my attorney of record for a number of years, stepping in with legal counsel when the occasion arises. Lonnie is short and beefy, a body-builder and a scrapper. John Ives is the quiet one who prefers the intellectual challenges of appellate work. I’m the only person I know who doesn’t express routine contempt for all the lawyers in the world. Just for the record, I like cops, too: anyone who stands between me and anarchy.

Kingman and Ives occupies the entire upper floor of a small building downtown. Lonnie’s firm consists of himself; his law partner, John Ives; and an attorney named Martin Cheltenham, Lonnie’s best friend, who leases offices from him. The bulk of the day-to-day work is attended to by the two legal secretaries, Ida Ruth and Jill. We also have a receptionist named Alison and a paralegal named Jim Thicket.

The space I moved into used to be a conference room with a makeshift kitchenette. After Lonnie annexed the last available office on the third floor, he had a new kitchen built, along with a room for the copying equipment. My office is large enough to accommodate a desk, my swivel chair, some file cabinets, a mini-refrigerator and coffee maker, plus a big storage closet stacked with packing boxes untouched since the move. I have my own separate phone line in addition to the
two lines I share with the firm. I still have my answering machine, but in a pinch Ida Ruth covers incoming calls for me. For a while I made a pass at finding another office to rent. I had sufficient money to make the move. A sidebar to a case I was working before Christmas resulted in my picking up a twenty-five-thousand-dollar check. I put the money in some CDs—the bank kind, not the music—where it was happily collecting interest. In the meantime I discovered how much I liked my current circumstances. The location was good, and it was nice to have people around me at work. One of the few disadvantages of living alone is not having anyone to tell when you’re going someplace. At least now at work I had people who were aware of my whereabouts, and I could check in with them if I needed any mothering.

For the past hour and a half, on that Monday morning in mid-July, I’d sat and made phone calls on a skip trace I was working. A Nashville private investigator had written me a letter, asking if I’d check local sources for his client’s ex-husband, who was six thousand dollars in arrears on his child support. Rumor had it that the fellow had left Tennessee and headed for California with the intention of settling somewhere in Perdido or Santa Teresa counties. I’d been given the subject’s name, his previous address, his birth date, and his Social Security number with instructions to develop any lead I could. I also had the make and model of the vehicle he was last seen driving, as well as his Tennessee license plate number. I’d already written two letters to Sacramento: one to request driver’s license information
on the subject, another to see if he’d registered his 1983 Ford pickup. Now I was calling the various public utility companies in the area, trying to see if there were any recent hook-ups in the guy’s name. So far I hadn’t hit pay dirt, but it was fun anyway. For fifty bucks an hour, I’ll do just about anything.

When Alison buzzed me on the intercom, I leaned over automatically and depressed the lever. “Yes?”

“You have a visitor,” she said. She’s twenty-four years old, bubbly and energetic. She has blond hair to her waist, buys all her clothes in size 4 “petite,” and dots the “i” in her name with a heart or a daisy, depending on her mood, which is always good. Somehow she sounded as if she were calling on one of those “telephones” kids make with two Dixie cups and a length of string. “A Mr. Voorhies with California Fidelity Insurance.”

Like a comic strip character, I could feel a question mark form above my head. I squinted, leaning closer. “Mac Voorhies is out there?”

“You want me to send him back?”

“I’ll come out,” I said.

I couldn’t believe it. Mac was the man who supervised most of the cases I’d worked for CF. It was his boss, Gordon Titus, who’d fired my sorry ass, and while I’d made my peace with the change in my employment, I could still feel a flush of adrenaline at the thought of the man. Briefly I entertained a little fantasy that Gordon Titus had sent Mac to offer his abject apologies. Fat chance, I thought. I did a hasty survey of the office, hoping it didn’t look like I’d fallen on hard times. The
room wasn’t large, but I had my own window, lots of clean white wall space, and burnt orange carpeting in an expensive wool shag. With three framed watercolors and a leafy four-foot ficus plant, I thought the place looked very tasteful. Well, okay, the ficus was a fake (some sort of laminated fabric tinted with accumulated dust), but you really couldn’t tell unless you got up real close.

I would have checked my reflection (Mac’s arrival was already having that effect), but I don’t carry a compact and I already knew what I’d see—dark hair, hazel eyes, not a smidge of makeup. As usual, I was wearing jeans, my boots, and a turtleneck. I licked my palm and ran a hand across my shaggy head, hoping to smooth down any stick-up parts. The week before, in a fit of exasperation, I’d picked up a pair of nail scissors and whacked all my hair off. The results were just about what you’d expect.

I hung a left in the corridor, passing several offices on my way to the front. Mac was standing by Alison’s desk out in the reception area. Mac’s in his early sixties, tall and scowling, with a flyaway halo of wispy gray hair. His brooding black eyes are set slightly askew in a long bony face. In lieu of his usual cigar, he was smoking a cigarette, ash tumbling down the front of his three-piece suit. Mac has never been one to plague himself with attempts at fitness, and his body, at this point, resembles a drawing from a child’s perspective: long arms and legs, foreshortened trunk with a little head stuck on top.

I said, “Mac?”

He said, “Hello, Kinsey,” in a wonderful wry tone.

I was so happy to see him that I started laughing out loud. Like some great galumphing pup, I loped over to the man and flung myself into his arms. This behavior was greeted by one of Mac’s rare smiles, revealing teeth that were tarnished from all the cigarettes he smoked. “It’s been a long time,” he said.

“I can’t believe you’re here. Come on back to my office and we can visit,” I said. “You want some coffee?”

“No, thanks. I just had some.” Mac turned to stub out his cigarette, realizing belatedly that there weren’t any ashtrays in the area. He looked around with puzzlement, his gaze resting briefly on the potted plant on Alison’s desk. She leaned forward.

“Here, why don’t you let me take that?” She removed the cigarette from his fingers and took the burning butt directly to the open window, where she gave it a toss, peering out afterward to make sure it didn’t land in someone’s open convertible in the parking lot.

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