The Trial Page 1

Chapter 1

It was that crazy period between Thanksgiving and Christmas when work overflowed, time raced, and there wasn’t enough light between dawn and dusk to get everything done.

Still, our gang of four, what we call the Women’s Murder Club, always had a spouse-free holiday get-together dinner of drinks and bar food.

Yuki Castellano had picked the place.

It was called Uncle Maxie’s Top Hat and was a bar and grill that had been a fixture in the Financial District for 150 years. It was decked out with art deco prints and mirrors on the walls, and a large, neon-lit clock behind the bar dominated the room. Maxie’s catered to men in smart suits and women in tight skirts and spike heels who wore good jewelry.

I liked the place and felt at home there in a Mickey Spillane kind of way. Case in point: I was wearing straight-legged pants, a blue gabardine blazer, a Glock in my shoulder holster, and flat lace-up shoes. I stood in the bar area, slowly turning my head as I looked around for my BFFs.

“Lindsay. Yo.”

Cindy Thomas waved her hand from the table tucked under the spiral staircase. I waved back, moved toward the nook inside the cranny. Claire Washburn was wearing a trench coat over her scrubs, with a button on the lapel that read SUPPORT OUR TROOPS. She peeled off her coat and gave me a hug and a half.

Cindy was also in her work clothes: cords and a bulky sweater, with a peacoat slung over the back of her chair. If I’d ducked under the table, I’m sure I would have seen steel-toed boots. Cindy was a crime reporter of note, and she was wearing her on-the-job hound dog clothes.

She blew me a couple of kisses, and Yuki stood up to give me her seat and a jasmine-scented smack on the cheek. She had clearly come from court, where she worked as a pro bono defense attorney for the poor and hopeless. Still, she was dressed impeccably, in pinstripes and pearls.

I took the chair across from Claire. She sat between Cindy and Yuki with her back to the room, and we all scooched up to the smallish glass-and-chrome table.

If it hasn’t been said, we four are a mutual heart, soul, and work society in which we share our cases and views of the legal system, as well as our personal lives. Right now the girls were worried about me.

Three of us were married—me, Claire, and Yuki—and Cindy had a standing offer of a ring and vows to be exchanged in Grace Cathedral. Until very recently you couldn’t have found four more happily hooked-up women. Then the bottom fell out of my marriage to Joe Molinari, the father of my child and a man I shared everything with, including my secrets.

We had had it so good, we kissed and made up before our fights were over. It was the typical: “You are right.” “No, you are!”

Then Joe went missing during possibly the worst weeks of my life.

I’m a homicide cop, and I know when someone is telling me the truth and when things do not add up.

Joe missing in action had not added up. Because of that I had worried almost to panic. Where was he? Why hadn’t he checked in? Why were my calls bouncing off his full mailbox? Was he still alive?

As the crisscrossed threads of espionage, destruction, and mass murder were untangled, Joe finally made his curtain call with stories of his past and present lives that I’d never heard before. I found plenty of reason not to trust him anymore.

Even he would agree. I think anyone would.

It’s not news that once trust is broken, it’s damned hard to superglue it back together. And for me it might take more time and belief in Joe’s confession than I actually had.

I still loved him. We’d shared a meal when he came to see our baby, Julie. We didn’t make any moves toward getting divorced that night, but we didn’t make love, either. Our relationship was now like the Cold War in the eighties between Russia and the USA, a strained but practical peace called détente.

Now, as I sat with my friends, I tried to put Joe out of my mind, secure in the knowledge that my nanny was looking after Julie and that the home front was safe. I ordered a favorite holiday drink, a hot buttered rum, and a rare steak sandwich with Uncle Maxie’s hot chili sauce.

My girlfriends were deep in criminal cross talk about Claire’s holiday overload of corpses, Cindy’s new cold case she’d exhumed from the San Francisco Chronicle’s dead letter files, and Yuki’s hoped-for favorable verdict for her client, an underage drug dealer. I was almost caught up when Yuki said, “Linds, I gotta ask. Any Christmas plans with Joe?”

And that’s when I was saved by the bell. My phone rang.