"Bowen's powers of invention are so florid and his satirical touch so bright, most readers won't care who gets carted off to jail."—Kirkus Reviews
When a frat boy finds himself on trial in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for piracy on the high seas, Lawyer Rep Pennyworth suspects he's being used as an unwitting accomplice in a cheap publicity stunt. Meanwhile Rep's professor wife Melissa gets caught in the middle of a verbal firefight between two colleagues that soon escalates into burglary, theft, jury-tampering, forgery—and murder.
Melissa wants to protect a naïve undergraduate who might be implicated. But when one of the other suspects makes Melissa a cast-iron alibi, her search for the truth leads through a maze of gray lies—including her own.
What with an investigative reporter who's still having flashbacks to 1968, a fellow professor whose acute political correctness masks ruthless academic ambition, an engineer whose father's heart attack may have been either suicide or murder, and a brace of cunning lawyers out for blood, Rep and Melissa must combine their talents to stay off the casualty list....
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Shoot the Lawyer Twice
By Michael Bowen
Poisoned Pen PressCopyright © 2008 Michael Bowen
All right reserved.
Chapter OneOn April 17, 2007 a federal grand jury in Milwaukee, Wisconsin indicted Jimmy Clevenger for piracy on the high seas. Clevenger thought he'd dodged the bullet when the Milwaukee County DA decided not to prosecute, but then this federal thing blindsided him.
Clevenger had always thought it would be kind of cool to be a celebrity—you know, fifteen minutes of fame, a little tube time, that kind of thing—but having Nancy Grace pronounce him guilty on CNN a week before his trial wasn't what he'd had in mind. His transcript at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee hadn't looked any too hot even before the indictment, and a felony conviction figured to mess up his resumé for sure. Plus, from everything he'd heard, prison could be a real bitch.
So, bottom line, in his opinion his situation pretty much sucked. And as for the people who died in the aftermath of his escapade—well, he felt bad about them, but the way he saw things that part wasn't really his fault.
Chapter TwoIndependence Day, 2005
"It's good we're here," Boone Fletcher said. "A July Fourth fireworks display is a traditional American community event."
"So's a lynching." As he spoke, Quintus Ultimusque Kazmaryk pointed at a moonlit figure slicing toward them through Lake Michigan. "She doesn't look drunk. Or he."
"I can't swim that well when I'm sober."
"When was the last time that happened?" Kazmaryk never let facts get in the way of a mot juste. Or even, as in this case, a mot mediocre.
Fletcher focused on the swimmer. He and Kazmaryk stood on a footpath about ten feet wide along the top of a breakwater arching a good half-mile from McKinley Marina toward Milwaukee's downtown shoreline. It was just after midnight, the lakefront fireworks now a memory to the hundred-thousand spectators trying to make their way home. Many of them no doubt glanced ruefully at the lake, envying the swells who'd watched the rockets and starbursts from ringside seats on cabin cruisers or sailboats and now had no crowds of surging humanity nor snaking ribbons of snarled traffic to fight.
"You think she's gonna have a problem?" Kazmaryck had decided that the swimmer was female.
The woman had to have covered more than a quarter-mile already—and this wasn't some suburban swimming pool. This was Lake Michigan, a churning, surging inland sea that in its time had swallowed ocean-going freighters without a burp and was now fouled with waste from abundant party boats as well as the usual flotsam and jetsam.
Kazmaryk dropped flat near the curving top of one of the ladders that rose from the water to the footpath every thirty feet or so along the breakwater. Easing his torso over the slight lip that edged the walkway, he stretched his two-hundred-twenty pounds of unevenly distributed bulk gingerly toward the water.
"What are you doing, you idiot?"
Fletcher asked this question for form's sake. He lay next to and slightly behind the older man, left hand gripping Kazmaryck's trouser belt and right hand prepared to brace himself against the walkway's lip if Kazmaryck suddenly surged forward. Within seconds wavelets washing over the breakwater soaked both of them from scalps to knees.
The swimmer seemed to notice them. The intensity of her strokes increased. Panting, sputtering, the young woman drew within ten yards, then five, and finally reached her sodden right arm out to Kazmaryk. He cursed in two languages as his hands slipped off at the first grab, then managed to grip her arm and guide her hand to the ladder. Swinging her legs under her like an expert while she anchored herself on the ladder and Kazmaryk's grip, she found footing on the ladder's lowest rung and climbed awkwardly onto the walkway. Fletcher expected to hear panic in her voice. He heard rage instead.
"He tried to rape me on my own boat!"
"Who's 'he?'" Fletcher took off his windbreaker and wrapped it around the shoulders of the shivering woman. "And who are you?"
The woman blinked at his blasé tone.
"Are you cops?"
"No. I'm a reporter, and Mr. Kazmaryk here makes his living operating a store on the south side and running for public office."
"Collectibles and keys-made-while-you-wait." Kazmaryk winked.
"Now who are you? And who tried to rape you?"
"My name is Carolyn Hoeckstra."
"What?" Kazmaryk yelped.
"Good poker face, Q."
"And the punk who came after me is Jimmy Clevenger."
* * *
When two detectives came to Clevenger's Oakland Avenue apartment at 6:45 that morning, the sleepy stoner who answered the door told them that Clevenger wasn't there. This was true. Clevenger was at that moment and for several hours afterward in the office of Walter Kuchinski, Esq., undergoing a withering interrogation by Kuchinski and one other attorney, who happened to have given birth to him some twenty years before.
He just didn't see what the fuss was. Yes, he and a bud had taken a Jetski out to some chick's boat because they'd been given to understand that there was some major fox action on board—as indeed there was, oh yes. Primo talent, my man. Someone had invited them on board. He couldn't remember who. Just a normal fireworks party, except only liquor and beer. No drugs, not even pot. He had absolutely no idea, man, why the Hoeckstra dudette suddenly dove overboard and swam desperately for shore.
"I mean, I swear, man. 'Sex or swim' is just an expression."
Chapter ThreeThe first Saturday in August, 2007
"Can I have one?" Rep Pennyworth reached for a brownie, just in case the answer were yes.
"No! Those are for the fleet!" Melissa swatted at her husband's grasping hand but missed as he prudently withdrew it. "How much of that manuscript have you read?"
"One page. The action starts with a character tailgating at the Meadowlands before a Giants game. Boilermakers are involved. By the bottom of the page he's headed for a Port-a-Potty."
"He's doomed. Appearing in the first sentence of a Taylor Gates thriller is an express ticket to eternity."
Rep skimmed the next pages of the typescript while Melissa wrapped the brownies in wax paper and then fitted them into an oblong cardboard box, over a layer of Rice Krispie treats.
"You're right. Page four. Some spoilsport has replaced the Lysol tablets at the bottom of the Port-a-Potty with cyanide capsules over an iron grid coated with sulphuric acid. When the poor schlub relieves himself his urine dissolves the capsules, the cyanide interacts with the acid, and hypocyanic gas is released, just like in a California execution back in the 'fifties."
"He tries to get out, of course." Melissa dabbed at a mailing label with a Sharpie. "But someone has locked the door from the outside and blocked the vent. In the moments before he passes out no one hears his strangled cries for help or his futile beating on the plastic walls of his macabre death chamber."
"Kind of thing that happens every day at the Meadowlands."
"But how did you know? You couldn't possibly have read this yet. Amy Lee told me that this story is still being copy-edited. It isn't even in galleys yet."
"A Taylor Gates thriller is as predictable as the Harlem Globetrotters versus the Washington Generals," Melissa said. "It has a two word title. The first word is a noun. The first character on stage is a male who passes away in some gothic fashion before page ten. He doesn't get shot or stabbed or bludgeoned like a normal murder victim. He contrives instead to be guillotined, or transfixed by a harpoon, or defenestrated onto the fixed bayonets of soldiers conveniently presenting arms three stories below."
"Always a male, huh?"
Melissa sealed the box and taped a mailing label to it:
Any Midshipman c/o Command Chaplain Bancroft Hall United States Naval Academy Annapolis, MD 21402
"The she-victim appears at the beginning of chapter two. Although she'll stumble into mortal peril several times, she'll be saved on each occasion by Kai Diamond, the omni-competent albeit psychologically troubled protagonist."
"Then what makes her a victim?"
"She will be violated or severely traumatized either by a non-white or by an Arab who is described as 'swarthy.' Or, in one interesting variation, by a panther. The latter is what we English professors call a metaphor."
"For interracial rape?"
"Yes. In the penultimate chapter the violator will pass away in grisly fashion at Diamond's hands."
"Even the panther?"
"You won't find any links to Taylor Gates on the PETA website."
"So Gates writes to a rather rigid formula."
"Gates writes with a cookie-cutter instead of a word-processor. He's a franchise. Picking up a Taylor Gates story is like ordering a Big Mac. You know exactly what you're going to get. The point isn't taste but predictability."
"That's what you English professors call an extended simile, isn't it?"
"Verging on Homeric. Why did Ms. Lee favor you with an advance peek at the latest entry in the Gates oeuvre?"
"She hinted at some legal business. No specifics, but even a small chance at Gates' contract and licensing work is worth some effort."
"I'm just glad you're getting paid for reading that stuff."
"I certainly wouldn't read it otherwise. Besides, you read pot-boilers on the job yourself. That's how you know so much about them."
"Sure. But I read them searching for profound links between sub-textual elements of American popular culture and socio-political constructs of race, class, and gender, so that I can write learned articles studded with arcane footnotes for abstruse academic journals."
"Well, I'm hoping that Lee and Gates will tell me what I'm searching for when they come to Milwaukee next month for the General Convocation of the Brontë Society of North America."
"Oops." Alarm flashed across Melissa's face, briefly distorting her expression. "The BSNA is meeting here?"
"So I gather. They'll be colliding with the sex-or-swim trial, but they scheduled it three years ago so their hotel rooms are safe. Why does that bother you?"
"Because the BSNA Convocation isn't just a fan convention, it's a Very Serious Scholarly Event. And if the Program Committee finds itself short of properly credentialed Brontë scholars two weeks before the meeting they're going to ask the head of the English Department at a nearby university—"
"—namely UWM, to have some junior faculty member who can't say no whip up a little fifty-minute paper on short notice."
"You, for example."
"If I were any more junior I'd be running the Xerox machine."
"We copyright lawyers call those 'photocopiers,' by the way. If the event is so serious, what's a mid-list author of pot-boilers doing on a panel there? Gates has never even done historical fiction, has he?"
"Nope. He's been focusing on religious themes since The Da Vinci Code hit it big, but without showing any great concern for historical credibility. Few program chairs, however, can resist the temptation to add a little star power if they get the chance. After all, the Brontës wrote page-turners themselves."
"Well, thanks for the Cliff Notes. I feel ready for my final exam with Taylor Gates."
"All in a day's work, darling."
"The treats for the Naval Academy are Frank's idea, I take it?"
"Yes. My cherished older brother tells me that some of the mids' families can't get stuff like this to them for one reason or another. The chaplain uses these kinds of donations to even things up a bit."
"You've spent your morning well."
"Better than Taylor Gates spent his, in all probability," Melissa said. "But that's a pretty low bar."
Chapter FourThe second Thursday in August, 2007
When talking to assistant deans Melissa made it a point to stay in motion. She was doing so now and it was working. Assistant Dean René Cyntrip Mignon had been speaking for two minutes as he puffed along beside her through the basement maze at UWM's Curtin Hall, and so far her head hadn't exploded.
"I know there must be an explanation," Mignon panted, "but one of your summer mini-course students, Anne-Marie Cecil, claims that you used the term 'lesbian rule' in class in a, ah, disparaging sense."
"I see. Well. That is unfortunate on so many levels. She found the term offensive, and is sure that members of the university's gay/lesbian/bisexual/ transgender community did as well. You see the difficulty."
"I certainly do. Ms. Cecil didn't do her homework."
"That's not exactly my meaning. You see—"
"As I'm sure you know, Dean, the first recorded use of the word 'lesbian' in English with reference to sexual orientation occurred in the late nineteenth century."
"To be frank, I don't think I did know that."
"I was being polite."
"My point, however, is—"
"The term 'lesbian rule,' by contrast, goes back to the Middle Ages. It refers to a measuring stick made of lead so that it could be bent around curved surfaces. By extension, it was used in theological disputation to mean a principle flexible enough to be bent opportunistically to support whatever position suited the speaker."
"I suppose so, but—"
"Which Ms. Cecil would have known if she had read the annotated correspondence of Thomas More, as my syllabus prescribed. Having failed to do so, she managed to find offense in a term that couldn't reasonably offend anyone except the Protestant theologians whom More accused of applying a lesbian rule to scriptural interpretation."
"To be sure," Mignon gasped, "but one can't expect the typical undergraduate to know that."
"I understand my responsibilities at this university to include teaching undergraduates things they don't know."
As they pelted up a broad set of stairs, the shade on Mignon's ballooning cheeks blossomed from vermillion to purple. Melissa decided that purple was one of her favorite colors.
"Without, however, transgressing the norms of our institutional mission, which include avoiding offensive statements. And if a statement offends someone, Professor Pennyworth, it is 'offensive,' no?"
The smirk Mignon offered seemed deliberately calculated to offend.
"'Niggardly,'" Melissa said.
The smirk evaporated, for Mignon vaguely recalled a kerfuffle over 'niggardly' a few years back, with everyone from Ruth Dudley Edwards to the Washington Post making fun of the confused activists who had exploded in shrill indignation over the word.
"I can't teach a course on Polemics as Literature without Thomas More," Melissa said then, "whereas I can very easily teach it without Ms. Cecil. I'm not going to dumb down More's muscular prose simply because it offends students who are too lazy to do the required reading. If she doesn't want to be offended she can either drop the course or do her homework."
"They are so young." Mignon's expression approached Dickensian pathos. "To the extent unintended and even unreasonable offense was taken, I would suggest a dignified apology."
"Ms. Cecil doesn't need to apologize; she just needs to read the assigned material."
"I, uh, meant that you might apologize to Ms. Cecil."
Thinking that she must have misheard him, Melissa stopped and stared at Mignon in unfeigned astonishment. Three seconds of scrutiny convinced her that she had understood him correctly.
"I'm afraid that is out of the question."
"I am the Assistant Dean of the Office of Inclusiveness Concerns."
Which means your mouth is writing checks your job description can't cash.
"As any apology would be insincere, I couldn't offer one without applying a lesbian rule. Have a pleasant day."
Melissa hustled up the next flight of stairs, confident that Mignon wouldn't follow her even if he could—which, at the moment, looked like a shaky proposition. She approached the printer/copier room that informally demarcated the History sector of Curtin Hall's Humanities and Social Studies Department from its English counterpart. Two plastic bins, one bright blue and the other bright green, sat on the floor outside the room. Although she couldn't read them yet, she knew that a hand-lettered sign on the blue bin read WHITE PAPER while the sign on the green one read COLORED PAPER.
Squatting in front of the green bin and hard at work with a felt tip pen was Tereska Bleifert, a soon-to-be sophomore who earned part of her tuition as a student aide in Humanities. Melissa had pulled to within five feet before Bleifert finally heard her footsteps and looked up, startled and flustered. Melissa glanced down. Bleifert had drawn an X through COLORED PAPER and inserted PAPER OF COLOR.
"Busted." Bleifert rose and sheepishly avoided Melissa's gaze.
"Convent school girls don't snitch," Melissa said, tapping her own chest.
"So you're not upset about my little, ah, gesture?"
"The only thing I'm upset about is that I didn't think of it first."
Excerpted from Shoot the Lawyer Twice by Michael Bowen Copyright © 2008 by Michael Bowen. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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