|Motion to Kill|
|Lou Mason Mystery |
|Joel Goldman (2002)|
|Tags:||Mystery, Suspense, Thriller|
Joel Goldman makes a remarkable debut with this legal thriller packed with high-octane action and impeccably rendered detail.
### From Publishers Weekly
Only a few months after Lou Mason joins the Kansas City law firm Sullivan & Christenson, the firm's rainmaker and senior partner, Richard Sullivan, turns up dead. At the same time, Lou learns that the attorney general suspects the firm and one of its top clients of fraudulent business dealings. As the newest partner and the one most removed from the scandal, Lou is asked by his old friend and partner, Scot Daniels, to ward off the feds, but he soon finds information that may incriminate Scot and another of the firm's partners. Meanwhile, Sheriff Kelly Holt, a "slap-on-the-cuffs dream come true" beauty who is curiously inept, suspects Mason of Sullivan's murder until someone tries to kill Mason. To prevent further attacks against his person, Mason hires his friend, PI Wilson Bluestone (Blues), to act as his bodyguard. With a hit man on Mason's tail and Blues and Holt providing backup, the action accelerates and the fight scenes multiply. First-time author Goldman does an admirable job of maintaining the novel's high tension, but his apparent contempt for his characters, and for corporate lawyers in general, will distance readers from his protagonists. Nevertheless, Goldman's secondary characters particularly Blues and a twisted hit man add flavor to this mediocre thriller, and a series of fierce action scenes carry the reader toward an electrifying denouement.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
When two of his partners are killed, corruption, sex and murder fill trial lawyer Lou Mason’s docket as he tracks the killer. Will Lou be the next victim? Find out in Motion to Kill.
Electrifying. ---Publishers Weekly
Lots of suspense and a dandy surprise ending. ---Romantic Times
Legal mystery fans will be delighted. ---Nancy Pickard
MOTION TO KILL
For Hildy, the wife of my lifeCHAPTER ONE
A dead partner is bad for business, even if he dies in his sleep. But when he washes ashore on one side of a lake and his boat is found abandoned on the other side, it’s worse. When the sheriff tells the coroner to “cut him open and see what we’ve got,” it’s time to dust off the résumé. And the ink was barely dry on Lou Mason’s.
The time was seven thirty on Sunday morning, July 12. It was too early for dead bodies, too humid for the smell, and just right for the flies and mosquitoes. And it was rotten for identifying the body of a dead partner. These were the moments to remember.
Mason’s dead partner was Richard Sullivan, senior partner in Sullivan & Christenson, his law firm for the last three months. Sullivan was the firm’s rainmaker. He was a sawed-off, in-your-face, thump-your-chest ballbuster. His clients and partners loved the money he made for them, but none of them ever confessed to liking him. Though in his late fifties, he had one of those perpetually mid forties faces. Except that now he was dead, as gray as a Minneapolis winter and bloated from a night in the water.
Sullivan & Christenson was a Kansas City law firm that employed forty lawyers to merge and acquire clients’ assets so they could protect them from taxation before and after death. When bare-knuckled bargaining didn’t get the deal done, they’d sue the bastards. Or defend the firm’s bastard if he was sued first. Mason’s job was to win regardless of which bastard won the race to the courthouse.
The U.S. attorney, Franklin St. John, had been preparing a special invitation to the courthouse for Sullivan’s biggest client, a banker named Victor O’Malley. The RSVP would be sent to the grand jury that had been investigating O’Malley for two years. Sullivan asked Mason to defend O’Malley the day Mason joined the firm as its twelfth partner. Mason accepted and Sullivan spoon-fed him the details of O’Malley’s complex business deals.
Mason figured out that O’Malley had stolen a lot of money from the bank he owned. He was having a harder time figuring out how to defend him. Fifty million dollars was a lot to blame on a bookkeeping mistake.
Two days earlier, Sullivan took Mason to lunch and, over a couple of grilled chicken Caesar salads, casually inquired what would happen to O’Malley’s defense if certain documents disappeared.
“Which documents?” Mason asked.
Sullivan studied Mason for a moment before answering. “Let’s assume that there are records that show O’Malley and one of his business associates received favorable treatment from his bank.”
Mason didn’t hesitate. “That’s what the whole case is about. There are too many of those documents to lose even if I didn’t mind going to jail with O’Malley. Which I do.”
“Lou, I only care about the documents with my name on them. Do you understand?”
Mason nodded slowly, wiping his hands with a white cloth napkin more than was needed to clean them.
“I’m not going to jail for you either. Show me the documents, and we’ll figure something out.”
Sullivan gave him the pained look of a disappointed parent and changed the subject. Mason knew then that he’d never see the documents. In the same instant, he also knew that his career at Sullivan & Christenson was over. He had failed Sullivan’s test but passed his own. He decided to think it over during the firm’s annual retreat that weekend, but he knew what he would do come Monday morning. Quit.
The retreat was at Buckhorn resort at the Lake of the Ozarks in southern Missouri. It was a long weekend of golf, drinking, and leering for the lawyers and staff.
Mason went for a walk after the Saturday night poker game, stopping at the beach, a kidney-shaped plot filled with sand along a retaining wall at the water’s edge. A slight breeze rolled off the water, just enough to push the air around. A young couple was braided together at one end of the beach. He lay down at a discreet distance on the only lounge chair, turned his back to them, and felt the loneliness of the voyeur.
He didn’t realize that he’d fallen asleep until a voice interrupted the recurring dream of his last trial before he joined Sullivan & Christenson. Tommy Douchant, his client and best friend, looked up at him from his wheelchair, eyes wild, tears beading on his cheeks, as the jury announced its verdict against them. Mason begged the jury to come back, to listen to him, as they filed out of the courtroom, their faces dissolving as a voice sliced through his dream.
“Excuse me … are you Lou Mason?”
Tommy rolled back into Mason’s subconscious as he opened his eyes. The voice belonged to a woman standing over him, backlit by the glare of the morning sun. The glistening effect was a mixture of a Madonna halo and a Star Trek transporter. He thought about asking her to beam him up while he rubbed any leftover drool from his chin stubble.
The best he could do was a slightly sleep-slurred, “Yeah, I’m Mason.”
Snappy repartee after spending the night on a bed of vinyl was sometimes the beginning and end of his charm.
“I’m Sheriff Kelly Holt. We need to talk.”
“It’s okay, Officer, I paid for the room.”
Drumroll, please, he silently requested, satisfied that he was really hitting his stride.
“I’m sure you did, Mr. Mason. I’m more interested in whether you know Richard Sullivan.”
Fully awake now, he stood so that he could see her clearly. Khaki uniform, Caribbean blue eyes, Pope County sheriff’s badge, natural, no-sweat beauty, pistol on her hip. A shade shorter than his six feet, with honey-colored hair that draped the shoulders of a tanned, athletic body. She was a slap-on-the-cuffs dream come true, but her question flattened the fantasy.
“He’s my law partner. Is there a problem?”
“I’d appreciate it if you would come with me. I’ll meet you in the lobby in fifteen minutes. You may want to change first.”
Mason looked down at his beer-stained T-shirt and gym shorts with a hole where the pocket used to be. He realized he was losing on banter and style points.
Doctors, lawyers, and cops all use the same technique when they give bad news. They tell you a little at a time. Knowledge is power—give it away all at once and the power is gone. Having done the same thing, Mason knew better than to press.
He was ten minutes late but smelled better and looked better in tan chinos, a green polo shirt, and deck shoes. The rest of him fit the clean clothes. Dark, closely trimmed hair and steel gray eyes that his aunt Claire always claimed darkened like thunderheads whenever he was angry. An anonymous flying elbow thrown during a muddy rugby scrum had left him with a speed bump on his nose just below eye level. He was clean shaven at seven a.m. but could expect a five-o’clock shadow an hour early. Good orthodontics bred a sincere smile that juries had found persuasive through ten years of practice in his first firm. It had yet to be tested in his new one.
Mason had had some luck and notable failures—his ex-wife, Kate, being foremost—with women. He knew it wasn’t politically correct to immediately appraise Kelly as a social prospect, but it filled the time while he waited for her to tell him what was going on.
She showed no more interest in him than in any other out-of-towner she’d awakened on the beach, and she wasn’t talking. So Mason took the first shot as they pulled away from the resort in her pickup truck.
“Listen, we can play twenty questions or you can just tell me what this is all about.”
She shifted gears as she kept her eyes on the curving road that snaked away from the lake. A two-way radio crackled with background static. He rested his head against the butt of a shotgun mounted on the rear window.
Kelly chose questions over answers. “When did you last see Mr. Sullivan?”
Mason rolled the window down and let the truck fill with the muggy morning air. The smell of summer flowers and long grass was a welcome change from midtown traffic.
Mason had sat across from Sullivan at last night’s poker game, his first with his future former partners. For a ten-dollar buy-in, he spent the evening with a good cigar, a cold beer, and an open window into their psyches. Mason believed that poker made you win with your strengths and fold with your weaknesses. Luck always plays a part, but even the luckiest lousy card player will eventually lose it all if he gives the cards enough time. Sullivan was a good card player, but it sounded like he’d hit a losing streak that would spread to the other partners, who depended on the business he brought in.
“Last night around eleven. We’d been playing poker.”
“Who else played?”
“Snow White and the seven dwarfs. All the regulars.”
“You were better company before you woke up. Or is this just a phase of your arrested adolescence?”
“Tell me what happened to Sullivan. After that and eight hours of sleep on something besides vinyl, I’ll charm your socks off.”
She answered without a sideways glance or a hint of humor.
“One of the locals found a body this morning. It’s been in the water overnight. The ID belongs to your partner. I want you to tell me if the body belongs to the ID.”CHAPTER TWO
Her voice was pure matter-of-fact, as if she had told him to check the tires and the oil. He caught a quick dip in her shoulders, as if she was dropping her burden of bad news in his lap. Still, she said it with a practiced weariness that convinced Mason she was used to violent death. He wasn’t. He was accustomed to family deaths, natural causes, and ritualized grieving. Floating bodies were not part of Mason’s life-cycle résumé.
Barring a freakish case of mistaken identity, Mason knew that Sullivan was dead. The odds of his ID being mismatched with a stranger were slim. Mason didn’t know him well enough to grieve honestly. Partners are harder to get to know than spouses or friends. Agendas overlap only on narrow ground.
His emotions were a mixed bag that didn’t include grief. He was more relieved than sorry. Sullivan’s suggestion that Mason destroy evidence in the O’Malley case would be buried with him. Mason could stay at the firm if he chose. Yet he couldn’t muster any enthusiasm for reversing his decision to leave. There was no glory in defending Victor O’Malley. His aunt Claire’s warning that he wasn’t cut out to fight over other people’s money, especially when the money was dirty, echoed in his mind.
His recurring dream of Tommy Douchant’s trial reminded him of unfinished business that he would have to complete on his own. Sullivan’s death may have shown him the way out instead of the way back in.