Author:Michael Connelly

    I nodded but couldn’t resist a reply.

    “Sandy Patterson and her daughter Katie.”

    Legal looked confused by my response. He didn’t recognize the names. I, of course, would never forget them.

    “The mother and daughter Gallagher killed. They’re my gods of guilt.”

    I closed the door behind me and left the DO NOT DISTURB sign on the knob. Maybe he’d get the sandwich down before the nurses checked on him and discovered our crime.


    Back in the Lincoln I called Lorna Taylor and by way of greeting she said the words that always put the two-edged sword right through me. Words that excited and repelled me at the same time.

    “Mickey, you’ve got a murder case if you want it.”

    The thought of a murder case could put the spark in your blood for many reasons. First and foremost, it was the worst crime on the books and with it came the highest stakes in the profession. To defend a murder suspect you had to be at the very top of your game. To get a murder case you had to have a certain reputation that put you at the top of the game. And in addition to all that, there was the money. A murder defense—whether the case goes to trial or not—is expensive because it is so time-consuming. You get a murder case with a paying customer and you likely make your whole nut for the year.

    The downside is your client. While I have zero doubt that innocent people are charged with murder, for the most part the police and prosecutors get it right and you are left to negotiate or ameliorate the length and terms of punishment. All the while you sit at the table next to a person who has taken a life. It’s never a pleasant experience.

    “What are the details?” I asked.

    I was in the back of the Town Car with a legal pad ready on the fold-down worktable. Earl was heading toward downtown on Third Street, a straight shot in from the Fairfax District.

    “The call came in collect from Men’s Central. I accepted and it was a guy named Andre La Cosse. He said he was arrested for murder last night and he wants to hire you. And get this, when I asked him where the referral came from, he said the woman he is accused of killing had recommended you. He said she told him you were the best.”

    “Who is it?”

    “That’s the crazy thing. Her name, according to him, is Giselle Dallinger. I ran her through our conflict app and her name doesn’t come up. You never represented her, so I am not sure how she got your name and made this recommendation even before she was supposedly killed by this guy.”

    The conflict app was a computer program that digitized all our case files and allowed us to determine in seconds whether a prospective client had ever come up in a previous case as a witness, a victim, or even a client. At twenty-plus years into this career, I could not remember every client’s name, let alone the ancillary characters involved in cases. The conflict app saved us enormous amounts of time. Previously, I would often dig into a case only to find out I had a conflict of interest in representing the new client because of an old client, witness, or victim.

    I looked down at my legal pad. So far I had written down only the names, nothing else.

    “Okay, whose case is it?”

    “LAPD West Bureau Homicide.”

    “Do we know anything else about it? What else did this guy say?”

    “He said he is supposed to have his first appearance tomorrow morning and he wanted you there. He said he was set up and didn’t kill her.”

    “Was she a wife, girlfriend, business associate, or what?”

    “He said she worked for him but that’s all. I know you don’t like your clients talking on jailhouse phones, so I didn’t ask him anything about the case.”

    “That’s good, Lorna.”

    “Where are you, anyway?”

    “I went out to see Legal. I’m heading back downtown now. I’ll see if I can get in to see this guy and feel it out. Can you get a hold of Cisco and have him do some preliminaries?”

    “He’s already on it. I can hear him on the phone with somebody now.”

    Cisco Wojciechowski was my investigator. He was also Lorna’s husband, and they worked out of her condo in West Hollywood. Lorna also happened to be my ex-wife. She was wife number two, coming after the wife who bore me my only child—a child who was now sixteen years old and wanted nothing to do with me. Sometimes I thought I needed a flowchart on a whiteboard to keep track of everybody and their relationships, but at least there were no jealousies between me and Lorna and Cisco, just a solid working relationship.

    “Okay, have him call me. Or I’ll call him after I get out of jail.”

    “Okay, good luck.”

    “One last thing. Is La Cosse a paying customer?”

    “Oh, yeah. He said he didn’t have cash but he had gold and other ‘commodities’ he could trade.”

    “Did you give him a number?”

    “I told him you would need twenty-five just to get started, more later. He didn’t freak out or anything.”

    The number of defendants in the system at any given time who could not only afford a $25,000 retainer but were willing to part with it were few and far between. I knew nothing about this case but it was sounding better to me all the time.

    “Okay, I’ll check back when I know something.”


    Some of the air came out of the balloon before I even laid eyes on my new client. I had filed an engagement letter with the jail office and was waiting for the detention deputies to find La Cosse and move him into an interview room, when Cisco called with the preliminary information he had been able to glean from human and digital sources in the hour or so since we had gotten the case.

    “Okay, a couple things. The LAPD put out a press release on the murder yesterday but so far nothing on the arrest. Giselle Dallinger, thirty-six years old, was found early Monday morning in her apartment on Franklin west of La Brea. She was found by firefighters who were called because the apartment had been set on fire. The body was burned but it is suspected that the fire was set in an attempt to cover up the murder and make it look accidental. Autopsy is still pending but the release says there were indications she had been strangled. The press release labeled her a businesswoman but the Times ran a short on it on their website that quotes law enforcement sources as saying she was a hooker.”

    “Great. Who is my guy then, a john?”

    “Actually, the Times report says the coppers were questioning a business associate. Whether that was La Cosse it doesn’t say but you put two and two together—”

    “And you get pimp.”

    “Sounds like it to me.”

    “Great. Seems like a swell guy.”

    “Look at the bright side, Lorna says he’s a paying client.”

    “I’ll believe it when the cash is in my pocket.”

    I suddenly thought of my daughter, Hayley, and one of the last things she had said to me before she cut off contact. She called the people on my client list the dregs of society, people who are takers and users and even killers. Right now I couldn’t argue with her. My roster included the carjacker who targeted old ladies, an accused date rapist, an embezzler who took money from a student trip fund, and various other societal miscreants. Now I would presumably add an accused murderer to the list—make that an accused murderer in the business of selling sex.

    I was beginning to feel that I deserved them as much as they deserved me. We were all hard-luck cases and losers, the kind of people the gods of guilt never smiled upon.

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