When wealthy Palm Beach dowager Althea Tillett dies under suspicious circumstances, it sparks a battle between those in line for an inheritance—including Gail Connor’s old law school classmate and former lover Patrick Norris. He thinks someone has tampered with his aunt’s will—preventing him from receiving millions he hoped to use for an urban renewal project.
Although discouraged by her own law firm and her lover, Cuban-American attorney Anthony Quintana, from getting involved, Gail agrees to look into Althea’s rapacious relatives. But she soon finds herself in the middle of a family feud that is about much more than money. It’s about secrets, lies, forgery . . . and murder.
Written by a former prosecutor, this “provocative, breathless” national bestseller “will surprise you” (Cleveland Plain Dealer).
Suspicion of Guiltis the 2nd book in the Suspicion series, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
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Suspicion of Guilt
By Barbara Parker
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1995 Barbara Parker
All rights reserved.
Late on a Monday afternoon, Gail Connor sat in Larry Black's office waiting for him to finish a phone call. She should have packed up her briefcase and gone home to her daughter an hour ago, but she needed a favor.
One of the firm's biggest clients, a bank, was going to sue a major brokerage house. Two years ago Gail had won a federal trial for the bank, and wanted them to give her this new case. The decision wasn't up to Larry, but he would know what her chances were. He could put in a good word.
Gail had brought along another file, a case set for trial next week at the Dade County Courthouse. She and the other side had worked out a tentative settlement. Larry's approval wasn't necessary—Gail had full authority to settle—but it gave her a reason to talk to him. A way of getting to what she really wanted. The banking case would be massive, requiring her to fly out of state for meetings, organize a staff of junior associates, hire extra paralegals, supervise the drafting of dozens of lengthy documents. It would be the sort of ball-busting exercise required of those who deserved a partnership. Win a case like this, get your battle ribbons, no question.
She smiled to herself, aware of her own nervousness and of how ridiculous it was to be nervous at all with Larry. As if she needed a pat on the back before asking for a simple favor. With thumb and forefinger she curled up the frayed corner of the file.
Gail was a serious woman of thirty-three, slender, and as tall as most of her male colleagues, with dark blond hair that brushed the collar of her tailored suits. She'd had no trouble getting hired straight out of law school, due in part to top grades but more to connections. Her family went back four generations, rare in this town. There had been a street named after them, before it was buried under 1-95.
The little gold clock on Larry's credenza gave one soft ding. Six-thirty. The person on the other end of the conversation, she gathered, was the CEO for a shipping company that the firm was after. Apparently Larry had him on the hook and halfway in the boat. He chuckled, rocking back in his chair. Just shy of forty, balding at the crown, and dressed like a British banker, Larry Black created an aura of absolute trust. Unlike other attorneys she could name, it wasn't an act. His grandfather had founded the firm; Larry's position was solid as bedrock.
Leaving the file on a small table by the divan, Gail got up to wander around. Larry raised a hand to tell her he would be finished soon, don't go away. She nodded. At the windows she leaned on the sill, feeling the heat through the tinted glass.
Most big Miami law firms were like the clouds that formed over South Florida this time of year, late summer. They appeared out of nowhere, coalescing into heavy gray masses, swirling into thunderstorms, then breaking up in a rain of spite and bad PR, scattering partners and associates into other offices. Hartwell Black and Robineau, founded in 1922, had for the most part avoided such turbulence. Associates came and went; most partners stayed, happy with their stratospheric salaries. At the firm's main office on Flagler Street there were sixty-seven attorneys, seventeen of them partners. Gail had decided: After eight years with Hartwell Black she was either going to get a partnership or not. If not, she would quit. No point hanging on, getting overripe, people wondering what the problem was.
She heard the click when Larry hung up the telephone. He was putting on his glasses, coming out from behind his desk. "Sorry to take so long. What have you brought me?" He glanced at the file. "Beltran Plastics. Yes. What's up?"
He knew the facts, so Gail got to the point. "The other side is offering to settle. Bottom line, $175,000, everybody takes care of their own costs. I think it's reasonable, given what we have to work with. Did you read Oscar Beltran's deposition? I told Miriam to give you a copy." Gail pulled hers out of the file,
Larry made a cursory nod toward the papers stacked on his desk. "It's here, but I haven't had a chance to review it."
"The man sounds evasive. He mumbles and speaks in monosyllables. I've worked with him, but he isn't going to impress the jury. They want what they see in movies."
Larry flipped through the onionskin pages of the deposition. "Are we ready for trial?"
"What are we asking for in the complaint?" "Four hundred thousand." His thin face went into a grimace. "Ouch." Gail said, "They've got a counterclaim for two-fifty. Beltran could wind up eating it." "What about fees?"
"We bill our own. We've collected about fifteen thousand so far, with maybe another two outstanding. We're ahead on the cost deposit. I don't think it's worth the risk of a trial."
"So you believe it's a decent offer."
"I'd grab it before they change their mind."
"All right." He took off his glasses. "You know the situation better than I do. Just make sure the client approves."
Clients were often the last to admit they had a lousy case, particularly if they had paid a law firm thousands of dollars in fees. On the eve of trial, adrenaline pumping, they would die for principle.
"I've already explained it to him," she said. "He understands."
"Good." Larry swung around to check the clock. "Uh-oh. I forgot to call Dee-Dee. We're supposed to go out to dinner tonight."
He stopped, waiting for her to go on. She took a breath. 'Trans-State Bank. I understand they're not happy with their bond broker." His creased brow said he hadn't heard of this. "They lost close to eight million on some muni bonds in Illinois, a real dog of a deal. They say fraud was involved. If it's going to wind up in litigation, I'd like to take it on."
"Oh, that." He folded his glasses, came back across his Oriental rug. "Yes, someone mentioned Trans-State in the last management meeting. And you want to do this case?"
"Why not? I've worked for them before. They know me. But they're Paul's client. Would it be better if you talked to him?"
Paul Robineau represented banks, but he didn't do litigation. He and Gail rarely spoke, except on business. He was the firm's managing partner and grandnephew of a founding member. She couldn't imagine dropping by his vast office upstairs and casually asking for a multimillion-dollar case.
Larry was mulling it over, his eyes fixed somewhere past the windows. "You want me to talk to Paul for you?"
"Would you mind?" She noticed her hands had gone weak.
"Mmmn. We're going to have federal banks, out-of-state counsel, claims and counterclaims all over the place. I assumed Paul would give it to one of the senior attorneys. Jack, for instance. What about a spot as co-counsel?"
Jack Warner ran the litigation department. Not hard to work with, but he would take all the credit.
"No. Give me the staff. With Beltran settled, I've got the time." After a moment, she said, "I need this case, Larry." When his forehead creased again, she said, "Forget talking to Paul. You don't have to. Knowing Paul, he'd probably think I was going behind his back."
He looked at her reproachfully. "Gail. Are we friends or not?"
"I don't like to ask for favors, so I won't. Just—" She managed a smile. "Well, maybe this once. I could work the hell out of a case like this, Larry. You know I could."
He nodded. "You'd do a fine job. You've had some ... personal crises, but they're behind you now."
"All right. I'll ask Paul about it. Lead counsel on Trans-State."
She wanted to hug him, but didn't. "Larry, you're a peach. But don't tell him it was my idea. Oh, that sounds gutless, doesn't it? Tell him whatever you want to."
"I'll say I thought of it."
She went to gather up the Beltran file. "Better call Dee-Dee. It's getting late."
"Yes. I will." He was looking at her closely. "Are you all right?"
"If you need anything—" He touched her arm.
"Larry. I'm fine. Really." She waited for him to nod. "If Paul says no, I'll take your suggestion and talk to Jack Warner, okay?"
She laughed. "Yes. Enough already."
No one was in the corridor outside her office, and the room itself was dim. It faced north, and the sun had dropped behind the adjacent building. Gail stood just inside the doorway for a while, replaying her conversation with Larry Black.
"Stupid," she finally muttered, and flipped on the light. Miriam had left a few messages on her desk. There was a note: Have taken the Acosta Realty motions home with me, will work on them. Hasta mahana! And then a loopy letter M and a happy face, which made Gail smile.
She shuffled through the messages. A client wanting his deposition reset. A witness returning her call.
Nearly eight years at this law firm. She might have been a partner already, except for ... personal crises. Larry's polite term, which didn't quite catch the reality of death and divorce falling like double hammer blows.
Her sister Renee had not just died. She was slashed and left to bleed to death, and Gail had been accused of murder. One hell of an inconvenience for Hartwell Black. They took away her major cases for the duration. Not a judgment about her work, of course. Only a PR move, to keep the clients from getting nervous until she was exonerated.
It might not have been so bad if Dave hadn't walked out two weeks before that. She woke up one bright Saturday morning and he said it was over. He couldn't explain why, except that half his life was gone and he couldn't breathe. And anyway, they weren't suited to each other, never had been. But she would be all right, he was sure of it. She was the strong one. And Karen would be better off, not hearing her parents yelling at each other. And so Gail's marriage had bled to death too, and it was somehow her fault. Now Karen was in therapy and Dave was giving tennis lessons to tanned, fortyish wives of corporate executives on vacation in St. Thomas or St. Croix or wherever.
Personal crises. Larry Black didn't know how close she had come to losing it. Nobody knew. It was funny now. That time she had looked through the windshield of her car and realized she was in Key Largo, for God's sake. Or couldn't remember her daughter's name. Or sat on the floor of her closet for over an hour, unable to decide what to wear.
A waste of time thinking about it now. Gail flipped through the next few messages. Dry cleaning ready. Hearing on Thursday canceled. At the last piece of pink paper she stopped. Miriam had decorated its border with little red hearts, arrows shot through them. Anthony Q. Call when you can.
Dropping the other messages on her desk, she reached for the telephone and dialed. The answering machine picked up. "Esta es la oficina de Ferrer y Quintana. This is the office of Ferrer and Quintana. Al sonido electronico, deje su mensaje—"
"Drat." She switched lines and punched his home number. After four rings his voice told her in English, then Spanish to leave a message. She laughed aloud. "Anthony, where are you? Is this all I get, a phone call? Would you like to know how long it's been since we've seen each other? Two weeks. Call me after I'm in bed tonight, querido, and we'll make heavy breathing noises." She made a kiss into the phone, then hung up.
In a neat row on her desk were the files Miriam had set out for her to take home. Gail crammed them into her briefcase, then threw her time sheet in as well. She had been too busy to record her activities today, how many hours and tenths of hours spent on this pleading or that telephone call. She would have to reconstruct the day and invent what she could not remember.
As soon as Gail pulled into the garage, the jalousie door to the kitchen swung open. Phyllis must have heard the engine, and now waited on the second step with her arms folded just under her wide bosom. Phyllis Farrington, close to seventy, came in every afternoon, weekends if needed. Arthritis in her knees kept her from doing much housework. That didn't matter; Phyllis had a way of making Karen toe the line. Gail had told her she didn't have to wear a uniform, but Phyllis said it made her feel more professional. She wore pink today; her apron had a design of wild roses.
Gail hit the button on her dash to send the automatic door down, then got out of her car, maneuvering past a stack of cardboard boxes and assorted junk taking up half the space in the double garage. "Phyllis, I'm sorry it took me so long to get home. I had to stop for gas or I'd have stalled out halfway here."
She came down a step. "Don't go in yet. I got to tell you about Karen. The school called this afternoon, said they couldn't get you. She had herself a fight on the bus with a boy named Javier, laid him out cold."
"Oh, my God. Why?"
"He was teasing her, she said. She punched him in the stomach and he fell down and hit his head on a seat." "Is he okay?"
"The boy's all right. He woke up before they called Fire-Rescue, or else your baby would be in big trouble. They want you to go by there in the morning and talk to the principal."
Biscayne Academy was one of the best private schools in Dade County. It cost $12,000 a year in tuition, fees, books, field trips, and assorted amenities. There were no metal detectors at the door or drugs in the lockers. The students were individually tutored. They raised money for the children of Bosnia and sang songs about the Earth. And Karen had just beaten the crap out of another fourth grader.
Gail could feel the tension creeping up from her shoulders. "I should call Dr. Feldman tomorrow."
Phyllis snorted. "Dr. Feldman. Baby come out of her appointment last week, don't say two words. We get home, she say she's the child of a divorce, and that's why she can't clean up her room. I want to shake him by his skinny neck,"
A corner of Gail's briefcase nudged a can of tennis balls, and it hit the floor. The lid came off and three yellow balls rolled in different directions.
"When you going to get this stuff out of here?" Phyllis said.
"Dave said he'd take care of it by the end of the month."
He had sailed out of Miami in July in a forty-foot sloop, leaving in the garage what wouldn't fit in the sailboat—boxes of winter clothes, a small boat trailer, tools, golf clubs, a machine to string tennis racquets, odds and ends of furniture.
"He's got a free storage shed is what he's got. You ought to give him one week to get hisself up here and find a warehouse, or you'll call Goodwill."
Gail picked up two of the balls and tossed them into a box. "I can't do that. It would be like getting rid of Dave completely, and Karen needs to feel his presence in some way. She already blames me that he left."
"Dr. Feldman tell you that?"
"Phyllis—" Gail pressed the heel of her hand into her forehead. "I can't talk about this right now."
"You better think about it, though."
Phyllis opened the door and they went up the steps into the kitchen, Gail following Phyllis's heavy white shoes. She dropped her briefcase and purse on the kitchen counter. A piece of paper was lying there.
"Roof man came by."
Gail picked up the estimate. "Twenty-five hundred dollars? For three leaks?"
"He can fix it, but he won't give you no guarantee. Says you need a new roof."
"Oh, great. Did he tell you how much?"
Phyllis pursed her lips. "About twenty thousand. That's with the same red barrel tile. Less for asphalt shingles."
"Asphalt shingles? The neighbors would kill me."
"Man's a thief." Phyllis checked her watch and untied her apron. "I got to go. The association's having a meeting tonight." Phyllis belonged to a homeowners' association in Coconut Grove. Not the chic part of the Grove, with its boutiques and sidewalk cafes, but the older black Grove, settled around the turn of the century when Phyllis Farrington's grandfather came over from the Bahamas to help build Miami.
She stashed her neatly folded apron in her big purse. "We got a crack house we want to get bulldozed. We'll go on down to City Hall with picket signs if we have to, get on the news. We won't have that trash around, no thank you."
"Go get 'em, Phyllis." Gail poured some ice water from the refrigerator and opened the cabinet for aspirin. "Where is our little angel?"
Excerpted from Suspicion of Guilt by Barbara Parker. Copyright © 1995 Barbara Parker. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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