A diabolical story about marriage gone awry—The next thrilling novel in the all-new Colletti series from acclaimed author Solomon Jones
She's a cop-turned defense lawyer. Her husband is a research scientist. She lives in a half-million-dollar home. Yet on this night, Andrea Wilson—a woman who seemingly has everything—awakens to a living nightmare. Her husband Paul is dead, she's covered in his blood, and the police are banging on her door. Andrea doesn't remember what happened, but she knows how it looks. With just a split second to make a choice, Andrea decides to run, and in doing so, risks everything in an attempt to clear her name.
Enter Detective Mike Coletti. He and Andrea shared a relationship once. Now all they share is the chase. As Andrea races to prove her innocence and Coletti struggles to track her down, they each uncover clues about the mystery of Paul's death. Along the way, Andrea uncovers the biggest mystery of all: Is her husband actually still alive?
About the Author
Solomon Jones is an Essence bestselling author. He has written novels including The Dead Man's Wife and The Gravedigger's Ball, and is an award-winning columnist whose journalistic works have been published in Essence and the Philadelphia Daily News. He lives in Philadelphia with his family and is currently at work on his next novel.
Read an Excerpt
The Dead Man's Wife
By Solomon Jones
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2012 Solomon Jones
All rights reserved.
On Friday, December 4, 2009, the Criminal Justice Center was abuzz with activity. Prospective jurors were herded through metal detectors. Defendants were brought in from prisons. Cops waited to testify in cases they barely remembered, and public defenders spoke poorly for the impoverished.
The whole thing moved like a carefully orchestrated dance, with each step perfectly choreographed and the outcome always the same. But upstairs in Courtroom 3B, Andrea Wilson argued passionately for her client, because Andrea danced to her own drumbeat.
Like a veteran actress whose theater was the courtroom, she carefully studied the set. She saw floors that were covered with cheap carpeting and hard wooden spectator benches. The judge was nestled between the flag of Pennsylvania and America's stars and stripes. The defendant was a poor man whose struggles she knew, because drugs had killed people she loved. That's why she was so concerned about her client. He looked like a man who'd already been convicted.
Three days into his trial, Tim Green sat at the defense table in his orange prison jumpsuit, as if he were waiting to go back to his cell. In truth, Tim was right to be pessimistic. He had almost no chance of acquittal. That didn't stop Andrea from fighting, though, and from using her every attribute to do so.
With raven black hair and honey-colored eyes, Andrea was a well-preserved forty-three. Some thought of her as half black. Others said she was half Italian, but everyone was certain that Andrea was all woman.
Her lithe physique was accented by taut calves peering out from a fitted skirt, and as she paced the floor in a plunging silk blouse that fluttered when she moved, she was energy itself, beautiful and powerful at the same time.
"So let's go over this again," Andrea said, a smirk playing on her lips as she questioned the witness. "Is it your contention that Officer Harris was shot by a masked gunman about twenty feet from where you were standing?"
"That's right," said the witness, a Dominican woman who was thirty-five and trying desperately not to look it. "He was as far away from me then as he is right now when he shot him the first time," she added while glaring at the young man at the defense table. "He was much closer when he shot him again."
"So you can identify the defendant as the shooter despite the fact that he was wearing a mask?"
The witness sighed impatiently. "The mask only covered the top half of his face. He'd been in the bar before so he was pretty easy to recognize."
"What were you doing in the bar?" Andrea asked. "Were you drinking?"
"No, I was the barmaid. I was serving drinks and taking orders from the customers."
"Taking orders," Andrea repeated with a glance at the witness's skimpy outfit. "What exactly could they order you to do?"
"Objection!" the prosecutor shouted. "She's harassing the witness."
"Your honor, I'm simply trying to establish the bar's atmosphere and the conditions under which Ms. Reyes worked. That goes to her ability to see what was going on in the bar."
"Rephrase the question," the judge said.
"Ms. Reyes, what exactly were you serving at the bar?"
"Drinks and buffalo wings," the witness said, her eyes flashing angrily. "That's all. There wasn't anything else on the menu."
"Coulda fooled me," Andrea mumbled.
The judge shot a disapproving glance in Andrea's direction. "Ms. Wilson, I'm not going to warn you again."
"I apologize, your honor, but if it pleases the court I do have one more question. Ms. Reyes, you testified that there was nothing else for sale in the bar, but are you aware that the bar's been cited five times in the past year for prostitution, and several barmaids were involved?"
"Objection!" the prosecutor shouted. "Ms. Reyes has no arrest record, and neither she nor the bar is on trial here!"
"Well maybe they should be!" Andrea retorted.
"And maybe you should know where to draw the line!" the prosecutor yelled.
"I draw it at the truth!"
"Order!" The judge banged his gavel as the people in the gallery murmured loudly. "I will have order in this court, or I swear I'll lock both of you up for contempt."
Andrea apologized profusely, knowing that her comments would remain in the jurors' minds. Memory was funny that way. It retained whatever it wanted, and disregarded whatever it didn't.
Andrea knew that creating memories could produce doubt. Doubt, after all, was at the core of her job, and she did her job better than most.
When the lunch recess arrived, Andrea pushed her way through the crush of media who were there to cover the trial of yet another accused cop killer. As she uttered "No comment" to the questions they hurled at her, Prosecutor Derrick Bell followed her through the crowd, catching up as the cameras rolled.
"What the hell was that in there?" he asked when he was close enough for her to hear.
"It's called practicing law," Andrea said, rushing toward the elevator and pushing the down button.
"Practicing law is one thing," he said through clenched teeth. "Putting a cop killer back on the streets is another."
"My client pleaded not guilty. Until a jury says different, he's not a cop killer."
As she spoke, the digital cameras recorded every syllable, and cops who were gathered in the hallway grew quiet. They all wanted to see what the assistant D.A. would say to the defense lawyer they all loved to hate.
Andrea saw the cameras and the eyes that were trained on them. Derrick Bell did, too. That's why he got even louder.
"You're an ex-cop, Andrea. I don't see how you can defend this guy. But I'm gonna make sure he pays for what he did!"
Andrea almost responded, but decided against it. Instead she stared him down as they stood eye to eye. His hair was thick and curly, and his brown eyes shone brightly against his olive skin. He reminded Andrea of a detective she'd dated twenty years before. She hated that about him.
"I'm gonna get this," she said, boarding the elevator when it arrived. "Do us both a favor and wait for the next one."
He yelled something as the elevator doors closed, but Andrea couldn't hear him. No matter. She'd hear plenty from him later. She knew she didn't have long to get to her destination.
Exiting the Criminal Justice Center, she walked down Thirteenth Street to Market, her mind racing and her stomach churning as she anticipated her next appointment.
Meetings like this weren't the reason she'd left the police department all those years ago to become a criminal defense lawyer. She'd left to make a difference in other people's lives. Instead, she was making a mess of her own.
Andrea couldn't stop herself, though. As badly as she wanted to turn around and go back, she was too close now. Her heart fluttered as she thought about all that could go wrong. Her mouth watered as she anticipated what would go right.
Like a woman possessed, she walked through the glass doors of the Loews hotel. She waited for one minute before she made her way to the elevators. As she got off on the fifth floor, a light in the hallway reflected against the diamonds in her wedding ring, creating a brilliant flash of blue.
"That's really pretty," said a smiling maid who was walking by with a linen cart.
Andrea smiled self-consciously as the flutter in her heart became a full-blown thump. Perhaps he could hear that thump as she stood outside room 513, because he opened the door before she had a chance to knock.
"Hey, Andrea," Derrick Bell said, with that same aggressive posture he'd portrayed outside the courtroom.
"Hi," she said softly, and looked away with a mix of nerves and anticipation.
They'd been careful to give the impression that they hated each other. The argument outside the courtroom was part of that. In truth, the act wasn't difficult. The tension that made them feel like enemies was the same force that drew them together. This was the third time she'd come to him during the trial.
"Aren't you coming in?" Derrick asked with a knowing grin.
She looked him in the eye and smirked. "What would Karen think?"
"I'll make you a deal. Leave my wife out of this, and I'll leave your husband out."
Andrea stood there for a moment, knowing that this was wrong. It almost felt like someone was watching her, and that made it even more exciting.
"Come here," Derrick said, and pulled her inside.
That's when Andrea gave in. She wanted him in spite of all she had to lose. She craved him because her life was too safe. She needed him because she felt trapped in her marriage, but even as she clung to Derrick and savored the moment, Andrea felt no peace.
She knew she was trying to get back something she'd lost twenty years before, when another man with the same rough manner had fulfilled her need for danger. As Derrick's hands touched her, Andrea found herself wishing that this was twenty years ago, and that Derrick was Mike Coletti.
* * *
It was one in the afternoon, and Coletti had spent most of the day just like he'd spent the past twenty years — alone. Of course, twenty years ago, things were different. Back then, he had his job to fulfill him, and for a time, he had a woman to do the same.
Now he was fifty-eight years old, and on most days his work as a homicide detective still drove him, but after the demise of the killer known as the Gravedigger, Coletti was out of crimes to investigate, and he was taking a step back from the job.
He'd barely lived through the betrayal of fellow cop Mary Smithson, whose love for him turned out to be hate, and when he tried to deal with the pain of her lies, another murder interrupted him. Another woman told lies to him. Another case unfolded. Another killer was caught.
Despite all that had happened over the past few months, Coletti tried to carry on business as usual, but everyone knew he was still hurting, because they'd watched his relationship with Mary crash and burn.
Commissioner Kevin Lynch ordered him to take a couple days off to clear his head, but on this, the first day of his involuntary vacation, Coletti only wanted to sleep, and he couldn't even do that, because at four o'clock the phone on his nightstand rang.
Coletti got out of bed, picked up a pair of striped boxers from the floor, and slipped them on. Then he yawned and walked to the kitchen, where he took a beer from his refrigerator. He took his time getting back to the bedroom. On the tenth ring, he answered the phone.
"What is it, Mann?" he asked, sounding annoyed.
"How did you know it was me?"
"Nobody else calls me at home," he said while snatching a lighter and a rumpled pack of Marlboros from the nightstand. Shaking a cigarette loose, he lit it and inhaled deeply.
"Those smokes are gonna kill you," Charlie Mann said.
Coletti exhaled into the receiver. "I smoke one a day. That oughta hold off the cancer for at least twenty years. But that's not why you called, is it?"
"No, it's not," Mann said. "I called to invite you to dinner with Sandy and me."
"Three's a crowd. Besides, you don't eat Italian and I don't eat soul food."
"That slop you make on hot plates ain't food. It's an insult to Italians everywhere."
"Don't knock it till you try it," Coletti said, puffing his cigarette once again.
Mann chuckled, but when the laughter faded there was a moment of awkward silence. "I never got a chance to thank you for saving my life when we got the Gravedigger. If it weren't for you, I probably would've died in that cemetery."
"You saved my life once, too. Now we're even."
"Yeah, but ..." Mann paused, struggling to find a way to say what he was thinking.
"What is it?"
"Look," Mann said with a sigh. "I know you're still going through a rough time, and I don't want to get in your business."
"Then don't," Coletti snapped.
"Okay. How 'bout I just tell you mine?"
Coletti didn't respond. He didn't hang up, either, so Mann said his piece.
"Sandy and I lived through a lot in that graveyard, but I learned some things about her and I know what I want now. Hopefully, she wants the same thing. I guess I'll know soon enough."
There was a pause as Coletti digested what Mann was trying to tell him.
"I hope it works out for you, Charlie."
"Yeah, me too," Mann said. "So you wanna go to dinner with us or what? Have a couple drinks, eat a good steak, have a few laughs. It'll be fun. And since I know how cheap you are, it's on me."
Coletti took another drag of his cigarette. "No, thanks. Tonight should be about the two of you."
"You sure? Because —"
"I'm positive," Coletti said. "I'll talk to you later."
Before Mann could respond, Coletti slid the phone into the cradle, puffed his cigarette once more, and crushed out the flame in a filthy glass ashtray. He gulped down the rest of his beer. Then he went back to the refrigerator for more.
Sitting down in his ratty armchair, Coletti drank his beer, turned on the TV, and began channel surfing. He stopped at NBC 10, where the new redhead on the four o'clock newscast was just pretty enough to hold his interest.
Standing outside the Criminal Justice Center, wearing a practiced grave expression, she spoke with one eye on the camera and another on the building.
"This is Crystal Murray reporting live from the Criminal Justice Center, where there were major courtroom fireworks today in the barroom murder trial of Timothy Green."
As she spoke, a woman came out of the building, and Mike Coletti froze. A flood of memories came rushing back to him; memories that were at once comforting and sad.
The reporter and the cameraman caught up with her, and when they did, the questions began. "Ms. Wilson, do you believe your client was best served by what happened in the courtroom today?" the reporter asked.
"I believe my client is best served by a robust defense," Andrea said, moving quickly so the reporter had to run to keep up.
"Even if he was found with Officer Harris's money in his hands and the evidence says he's guilty?"
Andrea stopped and looked at the reporter. "Eyewitnesses say a masked gunman shot Officer Harris in a bar. There's no physical evidence establishing my client as that gunman. That's why juries determine guilt, not the media."
Andrea walked away, leaving the reporter shouting questions at her back. As Coletti watched, he remembered a time long ago when Andrea was a young vice cop and he was a rising star in Homicide. Back then, he was willing to do anything to have her, but now Andrea belonged to someone else, and there was nothing he could do to change that.
* * *
Dr. Paul Wilson had been busy all day. As the top researcher at Beech Pharmaceuticals, he worked long hours heading a research and development team.
In an industry where the cost of developing a new drug was close to a billion dollars, and where years of lab work, research, studies, and red tape always preceded the first human trials, Dr. Wilson was a star.
But fame didn't matter to Dr. Wilson. What mattered was the work. In the four years since the pharmaceutical industry had lured him away from academia, where he'd earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience, his research on memory and cognitive function had produced promising, albeit unofficial, results.
For six months, Paul had been conducting independent human trials with subjects across a wide spectrum. But unsanctioned trials were dangerous, and Paul knew it. Still, he took the risk, because his work, like everything else in his life, was all or nothing.
His willingness to gamble earned Paul Wilson, the bookish Iowa farm boy, nearly a quarter million dollars a year, far more than his academic counterparts. But his gambles weren't always embraced by those closest to him. His life was littered with examples of that.
Coming to the University of Pennsylvania from a place where scholarly pursuits were ridiculed, leaving academia for the corporate world despite his colleagues' condemnation, marrying a woman of mixed heritage while ignoring his family's disapproval. Each of these gambles cut off a group of people he cared about, leaving him with no one other than his wife. That was the crux of his problem. Andrea was all he had, and the more he told her that, the more she seemed to despise him.
Paul Wilson's research was at the center of one of the world's richest industries. Yet Paul was unhappy, because he knew he was about to lose the one thing that mattered more than all of it. He felt that he was losing his wife.
Paul could afford many things, but he couldn't afford to be alone, so he augmented his income to give Andrea what she wanted. Unfortunately, what she wanted was not him.
Tonight he'd tell her that things had to change. At least that's what he told himself as he walked in the front door of their townhouse on a tiny street off Thirteenth and Spruce. Trying not to think of what she might say in response, he went to the kitchen and took a plate of brie from the refrigerator, also a bottle of wine. Then he sat in the living room with a specially made DVD of his wife's favorite old film — Gaslight. He turned the disc over in his hand, watching as the light reflected on its shiny metallic surface, and marveling at the digital images it contained. Tonight they would watch it together.
Excerpted from The Dead Man's Wife by Solomon Jones. Copyright © 2012 Solomon Jones. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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