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A Radical Departure


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A Radical Departure was nominated for the mystery genre's two top prizes, the Edgar Allan Poe Award and the Anthony Award. It is available now in the Kindle Store, the iTunes Store, and the Nook Store.

 

Willa Jansson (Where Lawyers Fear to Tread) has graduated from law school and taken the job of her left-wing dreams. She is working for the renowned firm of an old family friend, famous activist Julian Warneke.

Julian once defended Willa after a protest march got her arrested and hauled off to jail. The charge should have disappeared after a quick plea deal. But thanks to Julian's grandstanding, Willa spent two traumatic months behind bars.

When Julian is killed, a Who's Who of radicals flock to San Francisco to pay their respects to the grand old man of progressive politics. With the police half a step behind her, Willa discovers that her militant mother is entangled in conspiracies both old and new, and that her father lied about where he spent the week of Julian's murder. And only one person is offering to help Willa find out the truth: Her despised ex is back in town and on the case as a private eye.

 

Find out why Robert B. Parker described A Radical Departure as, "Funny, cleared-eyed and strong," and the San Jose Mercury News said it has "almost everything a good mystery needs, a complex plot, social commentary, loads of atmosphere and a cast of unusual characters."


 

 

A Radical Departure

 

By Lia Matera

 

 

 

Copyright 1988 Lia Matera

 

Electronic Edition 2011

eISBN 978-1-937697-01-3

 

 

This ebook may not be re-sold, reproduced, copied or distributed for commercial or non-commercial use.

 

First Bantam Books Edition 1988

First Ballantine Books Edition 1991

 

 

 

The characters, law firms, and union locals depicted in this book are imaginary. Any resemblance they bear to actual people or institutions is coincidental.

 

 

 

Author's Note

 

This book differs in some ways from the print version, published by Bantam in 1988 and reprinted by Ballantine in 1991. In those editions, I sometimes used specific dates and events to highlight the passage of time. Two decades later, it seems simpler to express this as years in the interim. I also removed or reworked references that fell behind the times, and I added some fresh observations.

 


 

 

A Radical Departure

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

 

Julian Warneke rubbed the rim of his demitasse cup with a sliver of orange rind. The law partners on either side of him followed his example. We were in a pink-tablecloth, silver-wine-bucket kind of restaurant called René's. I'm sure everyone but me knew the purpose of the orange-rind maneuver.

Julian was a white-haired man with a disparaging mouth, a nose that curved like a small banana, and creamy skin that sagged instead of wrinkled. He always looked crisp and unhurried, and he was ludicrously solicitous toward our two secretaries while working me and the low-ranking law partners like serfs.

Julian had been famous since the sixties, when he brought lawsuit after lawsuit to desegregate public schools from North Carolina to Louisiana. He had the distinction of having been in every southern state's jail at one time or another. Since then he'd shifted gradually from criminal defense of Yippies, draft resisters, and Black Panthers to copyright protection of their memoirs, fitness books, and meditations on Jesus.

I worked for Julian. I did the dull bread-and-butter lawyering—the divorces, the landlord-tenant and drunk-driving defenses. The partners in the firm—a radical investment and business lawyer, a revered labor lawyer with a stereotypically cigar-chomping clientele, and another who spent most of his time entertaining Democratic assemblymen at his Napa Valley vineyard—weren't about to give the new girl their interesting cases. They weren't all that liberal.

Not that I was complaining. The credentialed lefties of Warneke Kerrey Lieberman & Flish would, under ordinary circumstances, have hired someone with a résumé to shame Joe Hill. I was just a (seemingly) cutesy little blonde fresh out of law school. But my parents had been walking Clement Kerrey's picket lines and baking banana breads for Julian's incarcerated clients for decades.

When I told my mother I'd never have gotten the job without "connections," she nearly swooned with indignation.

"Willa, how can you say that? When you did so well in law school. Editor of your law review." My mother had a veiny foot in the kitchen sink. She was rinsing it after a Walk for Hunger. "Not that Julian is accomplishment oriented, when so few young people have the opportunity to develop their—"

"Mother, Julian won't interview anyone who isn't in the top ten percent of a law school class. I've never heard him wonder if the other ninety percent had the opportunity to—"

"Well, but Baby, he needs the very best lawyers. You know he defends the unfortunate who—"

"Aaron Bancroft"—once a famous activist—"is getting a hundred grand to consult on a videocassette about networking. Julian just negotiated the contract."

My mother frowned at a knobby and inflamed toe. "Aaron was such a good speaker. It's too bad." She crossed herself. This was a habit she'd acquired of late, when speaking of fallen liberals. (It was too late to save the souls of conservatives, presumably.)

"Julian pays his lawyers a third less than other firms here, did you know that?"

"But maybe that's because—"

"—he can get away with it, which is exactly why any capitalist would—"

"—so much of his work is pro bono. Your father and I only paid what we could afford when we—"

"Hey, I worked two jobs to pay off Julian after you smashed the nose cone of that missile."

"But you shouldn't have. We'd have been happy to go with the Weillars and—"

"Oh, great. Rob a bank for peace."

She slid her foot out of the sink and let it drop to the floor, rubbing her hip. "That reminds me, I should bake them a banana bread before visiting day." Unhunched, she looked slimmer than most women her age, though she was decidedly pear shaped and rearranged by gravity. She pushed flyaway yellow-gray hair off her face.

"Anyway, Julian could certainly afford to pay me a living wage. Our 'working lunches' must cost five hundred bucks a pop."

Which is why I now felt a trifle irritated watching Julian moisten the rim of his demitasse with a curlicue of orange rind.

No casual observer would have guessed any of us were Democrats, much less out-of-the-closet socialists.

On the other hand, I'd just spent a month in Lawton, Oklahoma, and I was glad to be back in civilization, if you can call San Francisco civilized. After a twenty-six-day argument with someone whose politics dated back to the sweatshop era of unfeeling exploitation, it felt good to be comfortably surrounded by compromised lefties again. And if my lunch was inappropriately expensive, well, at least I wasn't paying for it, not directly anyway, and the cannoli was terrific. (Oklahoma's idea of a foreign food is chain restaurant pizza.)

So when Julian began offering me advice about a jury trial I was preparing, I swallowed my sarcasm along with my pastry cream. Julian's trial technique favored political grandstanding over stick-to-the-point argument, which is fine if your client appreciates guerrilla theater and likes prison food.

The waiter came with more coffee, recognized Clement Kerrey as his union's lawyer, and launched into a bitter diatribe about his boss.

Clement dabbed his tidy gray beard with a linen napkin. "Your union has a grievance procedure," he observed coolly. Clement represented unions, not employees.

The waiter grew redder of face, muttered a few unkind words about his union, and hinted darkly that the waiters would strike.

Clement, an emaciated and reserved man with glittery black eyes, was clearly alarmed. God forbid they picket his favorite restaurant.

Julian cut in with a peremptory, "Check, please."

The waiter correctly interpreted this as a dismissal. He stalked off, leaving me holding out my empty coffee cup.

Brian Lieberman leaned forward, glanced over his shoulder, and said confidentially, "That reminds me, we should decide about Mae."

Brian was a quintessentially San Franciscan male. He was as natty as anyone's stereotype of a gay man (and was proud to be mistaken for one). He always looked freshly shaved and massaged, and his dimpled face was as golden as a Napa Valley apricot. He could tell you sad stories about how great a given restaurant had been before it had been—horrors—discovered. He could reveal the real reason the symphony pushed out its conductor. And he always knew where to find the cheapest Beamer on the peninsula.

Clement shook his head sadly. "We'll have to let Mae go."

"What?" I choked on the dregs of my coffee. "Are you talking about Mae Siegel?"

Mae was one of the firm's two secretaries. In theory, I shared her with Felix Flish. Felix, the firm's computer whiz and de facto office manager, was constantly foisting new software on Mae, so she rarely had time to do anything but curse at her terminal. The other secretary, Maria, ended up doing most of my work.

Felix, a very tall man with a thin, horsey face and a big, bridgeless nose, faked an upper-crust British accent. "We cahn't have the hired help behaving sluttishly."

Clement shifted to allow the waiter to offer Julian the check. "Not at all. You know we love Mae. It's a matter of—"

Julian cut in deftly. "We'll shelve this till the partners' meeting, I think." He frowned at the check, calculated an inflated tip, and signed for the lunch.

Felix, slouching sloppily between Julian and Brian, smiled at me. Of the firm's five attorneys, only I was not yet a partner.

Apparently Julian thought I'd come down on the side of sluttishness in the workplace.

I never got a chance to find out what he thought. Julian fished the garnish out of his half-eaten mousse, something he invariably did. The garnish looked like a piece of glazed apple or pear, cut into a rosette. I glanced at Julian as he popped it into his mouth. He made a face as if it were bitter, but he was too polite to spit the thing out.

By evening, the grand old man of left-wing politics was in the hospital with hemlock poisoning, the restaurant was swearing it didn't garnish its desserts with poisonous roots, the police were knocking at my apartment door with a search warrant, and reporters were chortling with glee to discover I'd been a suspect in the so-called "law school murders."

 

 

Chapter Two

 

 

"Isn't it kind of tacky for you to be at the funeral?"

"Standard operating procedure," Homicide Lieutenant Don Surgelato said. "I'm not questioning anyone, Ms. Jansson, just observing."

I checked the top buttons of my blouse, as that seemed to be what he was observing. "You're questioning me."

Don Surgelato used to be some kind of football star. He'd made a fortune, I gathered, on top of his family money. (His grandfather used to be mayor.) His name never got mentioned without someone burying me in football jargon. He still had that jock look—shiny suit, tight shirt, tie with an outsized knot (is there such a thing as a Double Windsor?). To complete the picture, he had a low face-traversing brow, a bullish head-forward way of standing, and a Big Man smile, which he now displayed for me.

"Not questioning," he said. "Besides, we're old friends."

Old friends. Over a six-month period, Surgelato had repeatedly interrogated me about the murders of my fellow law review editors. That was two years ago. I can't say I missed him.

"Gee, sorry I forgot your birthday, Lieutenant." I stepped aside to let a group of Teamsters with Elvis Presley haircuts into the "chapel."

We were on one of San Francisco's windiest corners, on a street that roared with traffic. We were outside a wood-floored funeral parlor that had recently been a Ukrainian lodge and still smelled faintly of piroshkies. The place lacked elegance, but it was a good union shop, so at least Julian wasn't spinning in his coffin.

"You going down to L.A. next week?"

"Yes." The "law school murders" trial was finally set to begin, and venue had been changed to Los Angeles. Unfortunately, I knew the murderer well—well enough to be the prosecution's main witness.

"This muddies the water." Surgelato squinted into the wind, eyes on a black limo disgorging a man in a dramatically chic suit.

"What do you mean?"

"We never got a confession in that case. And you were a suspect. Now you're a suspect again."

"But this is completely unrelated—"

"Defense counsel will say you're the relationship. And much as I hate to say it, Laura Di Palma's a hell of a lawyer."

"So everyone keeps telling me." It didn't bode well that she'd pled her client not guilty.

"Maybe Julian wasn't— I mean, maybe the restaurant made an honest mistake."

"What do you know about hemlock, Ms. Jansson?"

"Socrates drank some." His karma for inventing the Socratic method, now used to torture law students.

"It's a weed. Looks like a big carrot plant. A cubic inch of the root will kill you. Takes three or four hours. Mouth and tongue swell up. Malaise but no nausea." He inclined his head, watching me. "But you took botany at Stanford. I don't have to tell you this."

"All we did in Botany 101 was count sepals."

"Point is, you gotta go find hemlock. Disturbed ground near wetlands or woods. You don't just pick it up at the supermarket. Doesn't get mixed in with a restaurant's parsley and lemon slices."

I could hear Brian Lieberman in the lobby of the chapel, discussing power bicycling with an attorney from the National Labor Relations Board. The stylish man from the limousine sauntered toward us. I turned my back on him.

"Heard you had a little trouble getting certified," the lieutenant observed.

"The bar association took its time investigating my background, if that's what you mean."

"Ah, yes, convicted of—"

"Resisting arrest." I smiled. "Those were the days."

"Warneke represented you, didn't he? Seems to me from looking at the arrest report, he could have plea bargained you down to—"

''Willa.'' It was the man in the excellent suit. He laid a shiny-nailed hand on my arm. "Long time. Nice cut." He nodded at my hair. It was side-parted but otherwise exactly the same as ever. When I didn't reply, he persisted. "Don't you recognize me?"

If I hadn't, I wouldn't have turned my back on him.

Aaron Bancroft, who'd once led thousands of us in a march on Washington, now handed me his business card. Under his name it read, Elliott Wave Theorist. The next line added, Market Forecast and Analysis, Commodities Valuation. I felt like throwing up.

Aaron's freckled, boy-next-door face had once seemed ironically incongruous with his radical views and wild hair. Now, with his trendy threads and Manhattan glasses, he looked like... well, an Elliott Wave Theorist.

Luckily he spotted some other acquaintances and flitted off to give them his business card.

"Networking at a funeral." I left it at that.

"You want my opinion?" I didn't, but I could see the question wasn't rhetorical. "He's more useful to society this way than throwing Molotov cocktails at banks."

"Julian got him acquitted of that charge."

The lieutenant assumed an expression of mock ingenuousness. "Then he must have been innocent."

Felix Flish ran up the mortuary steps, stopping short when he saw us. He extended his hand to Surgelato. "Sergeant."

Surgelato's eyes were lost in the shadow of a jutting brow-bone, so I couldn't read his expression. "Glad you remember me from our talk the other night, Mr. Flish. But didn't I mention I'm a lieutenant?"

The wind whipped Felix's hair into something resembling a Kirlian aura. "Guess sergeant's my default for police."

Judging from the Surgelato's face, he was dying to reveal his default for lawyers.

Felix noticed me but failed to greet me, which was like him. He glanced into the chapel and added a sigh to his oddly nostalgic smile. At the first notes of organ music, I followed him inside.

Julian's casket was surrounded by birds of paradise in stark Japanese arrangements. Before it, a group of women knelt sobbing. One of them was Bess Warneke, Julian's first wife. Another was Mae Siegel, the secretary Julian would have fired without compunction. The third was my mother.

Waddling down the aisle toward them was Silvio Bernstein, our congressman.

I couldn't believe my eyes.

I pushed through the crowd, intercepted Silvio, and pulled him into a dark corner behind the organ. A man in a neatly pressed work shirt was playing "The Preacher and the Slave," while a few people sang, "There'll be pie in the sky when we die (that's a lie!)."

I had to put my lips to Silvio's fleshy ear to be heard. "What are you doing here?"

Silvio, a portly, perennially flushed man with a few wisps of comb-over, intoned, "Julian Warneke was a deeply committed, highly responsible—"

"Yes. But you're supposed to be junketing—"

"No." Silvio shook his head. "Didn't your father tell you? We postponed it until September."

"But he…" I glanced anxiously at my mother. She and Bess were in a crying frenzy, knee deep in damp Kleenex. "He packed up and went with—said he was going with you. Mother thinks…"

Silvio's eyes widened. "I'll be." Then he frowned. "This isn't like Willy at all."

We looked at each other for a while, as if that would help us understand why my father had lied about going off to Nicaragua for two weeks.


 

 

Chapter Three

 

 

My parents met at a Ban the Bomb meeting and conceived me shortly thereafter. This was probably the last thing they ever did that was unpreceded by moral debate. Getting married, they concluded, would be too bourgeois. And so my father was deprived of the hardship exemption that would have kept him from being drafted. Being much enamored of the passive-resistance philosophy of Mohandas Gandhi, he allowed himself to be trundled overseas, but he refused to bear arms once he got there. He spent two years in a military stockade.

My mother, meanwhile, shocked her very respectable family by running off to Mexico to have her love child. She had a vague notion, I think, that this would make me bilingual.

By the time my father was dishonorably discharged, his parents, a Minnesota farm couple, had died and left him a vintage Bel Air. I have a picture of myself sitting on the hood like a scraggly ornament. In the background are the badlands of Utah. My parents were On the Road.

When they, like others of their generation, got too old for the inconveniences of transiency, they settled in San Francisco, in what would later be called the Haight-Ashbury district. They enrolled me in a school that was actually the upstairs flat of a candle artist who smelled of incense and spoke in Zen koans. (A sign over the front door read, "I do not see myself as outside. Why enter?" That was my feeling, most days.)

My parents worked with mentally disabled adults, which, I suppose, helped them cope with the endless political meetings they attended.

To my delight, our neighborhood become a counterculture Mecca. I loved the drugs and free love. The "flower children" thing was an embarrassment for us political activists, but every street has its bad element, I guess.

My mother's parents visited us only once. They couldn't quite get over my mother running off with a nobody to raise a drug addict hippie. But as least they opposed the war. In gratitude for that small favor, my parents got married to please the grouchy pair. I missed most of the ceremony. It was half was in English, half in Spanish. Ten people read what sounded like political tracts written by high school students who fell off turnip trucks. ("Oh, Baby," Mother chided me afterward, at a reception at the Tassajara Bakery. "You're so young to be so harsh. Can't you dial it back?" Which allowed me to quote my candle-artist teacher: "Fallen flowers never go back to the old branches.")

My grandparents returned the favor by leaving my mother a lot of money, most of which she donated to local soup kitchens. My parents were soon broke again, but as my father observed, they could count on a hot meal at Saint Anthony's.

When liberalism reached (what I then thought was) its nadir, my parents rebelled by joining the Peace Corps. Name a country that had a violent insurrection that year, and my parents had to flee it at the last minute. I might as well have been the daughter of mercenaries. Every time I read about a bloodbath, I knew where the folks were.

The only other Americans in such places at such times were Catholic missionaries, and my mother was soon converted. This meant, among other things, a second, Catholic wedding (less politics, more Latin), and a sudden proliferation of icons among the NO MORE VIETNAMS posters in the living room. My mother also confided that she'd stopped using birth control, but as she was in the middle of menopause, the action was symbolic. ("And I'm still pro-choice, of course.")

My father, a short slender man with a receding hairline, great cheekbones, and dimples (which I inherited), is still handsome, for a man his age. But in my own prejudiced opinion, he is too committed to my mother and their bleeding-heart causes to have the time or the inclination to begin philandering so late in life.

So when he told us his boyhood chum, now Congressman Silvio Bernstein, was taking him along on a fact-finding junket to Nicaragua, we believed him. My mother said, rather wistfully, that she supposed she could stand her own cooking for two weeks. But aside from a few tears and a severe warning not to let Silvio co-opt him (she had yet to forgive the congressman for supporting a death penalty bill), Mother showed no anxiety when he left.

And though he'd made his usual fuss about not letting us go with him to the airport, he certainly hadn't acted nervous or guilty.

So where the hell was he?


 

 

Chapter Four

 

 

After the funeral we caravanned to Brian Lieberman's vineyard. BMWs followed ancient psychedelic vans and Teamster tractors. I rode with Felix Flish, pulling up the rear in his black Saab. He made no effort to converse. Instead, he put on a Rolling Stones tape and kept time by cracking his big toe. It took me fifteen minutes to figure out the sound came from his French-bread-sized shoe, and another fifteen to talk myself out of stomping on his foot.

When the tape ended, I jumped into the breach, hoping to stave off side two. "Why do you guys want to fire Mae?"

"Don't put that turd in my pocket. I don't want to fire her.''

"Well, why does Clement—?"

"Mae's sleeping with Jim Zissner."

Jim Zissner was running for Teamsters Local 16's highest office, secretary-treasurer. Local 16, Clement's biggest client, was known for the acrimony of its elections. This year's was particularly savage, with Zissner's Teamsters for a Democratic Union accusing the current secretary-treasurer, Semi Sawyer, of everything but vampirism. Clement had little regard for the TDU. I'd once heard him sneer, "If they want democracy, they should try negotiating individual contracts."

"And you know what a paranoid Sawyer is," Felix continued. "He's saying Zissner has a spy in our office."

Though our office ostensibly represented all members of Local 16, the local's will was finally and immutably expressed by its secretary-treasurer. Semi Sawyer alone decided which grievances our firm filed and which we ignored. Many of his other executive decisions—to strike, to tacitly approve anti-scab "incidents," and to honor other unions' picket lines, for example—also generated legal complications. That's why Sawyer authorized payment of a yearly retainer to our firm. In return, he expected his consultations with us to remain confidential, even—perhaps especially—from his fellow Teamsters.

"Mae wouldn't pass on information."

"Try telling Semi—it's like talking to Krakatoa. And Clement's throwing around phrases like 'appearance of impropriety' and 'conflict of interest.'"

"Clement should be defending Mae."

Felix grinned wryly.

"Felix, it's feudal. Clement has no right to tell the secretaries who they can and can't sleep with. If Semi can't prove—"

"You gonna explain the rules of evidence to Semi? Or tell Mr. Labor Law who he's entitled to fire?"

Felix flipped over the Stones tape and snapped it back into the tape deck, killing further conversation with "Stupid Girl." Between the classic rock and the toe cracking, I felt like I was rolling to Brian's vineyard in a barrel.

The vineyard was a cultivated little hillside with a boxy structure at the foot and a huge Victorian farmhouse at the top. The house, which Brian called Timely Manor, had a covered veranda along three sides. On it were several mauve-clothed tables. Young men in matadorlike catering uniforms threaded through the crowd with trays of sushi, spring rolls, and fruit skewers.

Uphill from me, potbellied Teamsters emitted clouds of cigar smoke and passed around a bottle of Jack Daniels, which they poured into emptied wine glasses. As I came closer, I could hear them discussing the indictment of Teamsters International's latest president. It was generally agreed that Wall Street was the safest place in the world for a grifter, while any good union man could end up in prison for jaywalking. Abruptly, the conversation stopped. Teamster dissident Jim Zissner had joined them.

Into this tinderbox waltzed a young matador, saying, "Brandy plums in white chocolate?"

Semi Sawyer, looking uncomfortably large in his cheap suit, stepped back as if he'd been offered used condoms.

Zissner, a lanky man with a sundial of a nose, smiled wolfishly. "'Fraid to try something new, Semi?"

"If it looks like sugarcoated dog shit, I am." Semi's supporters hooted with laughter.

"Calling it dog shit doesn't make it less delicious." Zissner took one off the tray and popped it into his mouth.

"Whatever it is, it ain't my style.'' Sawyer turned around and noticed me behind him. I'd represented Local 16 on a number of minor matters, but he didn't acknowledge my presence. The fact that a new hire could get his local off the hook and save it money didn't count for much. I'd put up with a lot of Childrens Crusade jokes, dumb blonde jokes, and jokes about what I was short enough to do standing up. I suppose I should have minded but I didn't.

I walked uphill toward the house and noticed Felix talking to Aaron Bancroft. A matador suddenly blocked my path, thrusting a tray of wineglasses in my face. I took one, slipped past him, and almost collided with Aaron, who'd stepped hastily away from Felix. Bancroft blinked at me, looking equal parts perplexed and irritated. Without speaking, he continued downhill, toward the parked cars.

"What was that about?"

Felix watched Aaron flee. He looked pleased, the corners of his mouth curling with dreamy satisfaction. "Nothing, really." He took my arm, and we moved toward the house. "Wonder how our precious Brian affords this place."

The house gleamed with waxed hardwoods and filtered light from latticed windows. Mustachioed men stood behind a polished oak bar pouring Little Red Songbook (Brian's label) wine. Flowery signs urged us to visit the wine cellar and pointed us toward the stairs. Felix was about to precede me down when Matthilde Warneke, Julian's latest wife, came dashing up them. She saw Felix but she didn't see me, trailing behind him. She gasped, "Oh, Feeelix," and hurled herself into his arms.

Felix said something like, "My condolences," but the real message was in his brief but sensual embrace.

Matthilde stepped back, saw me, and quickly looked down, her thick lashes like visors over her eyes. She slowly shrugged the folds of her black cape-dress back into place. Matthilde and I had gone to law school together. We hadn't liked each other then, and we didn't like each other now.

She was model-thin with long black hair, hollow cheeks, huge brown eyes and a voice I'd heard described as smokey. She began fingering a tiny upside-down gold cross pinned over her heart. In our second year of law school, Matthilde had embraced witchcraft because it represented an ancient tradition of worshiping female deities. (I'd just as soon blame things on a male one, myself.)

"How are you, Willa?" The cross apparently provided the necessary comfort. Her tone was calm. "And how is— What was his name? From school?"

"That's history."

"Oh. He didn't really seem like your type."

For a second, I thought she'd developed a gift for comedic understatement. But she was mostly just sneaking glances at Felix. I excused myself and went down the stairs.

Brian Lieberman stood at the foot, greeting new arrivals. He wore a tuxedo as casually as most men wear baseball jerseys. He touched his cheek to mine and, with a wave of the arm, indicated the people assembled in his cathedrallike cellar. "Quite a tribute to Julian, isn't it? All these different kinds of people. Working men and women, politicians, pacifists, lawyers from all around the state." He spoke with the satisfaction of a man saying, "Great party." Then he turned his back on me to say the same thing to someone else.

I looked around the vast, spotless cavern. Bottles were stacked along a brick wall as far as possible from stained glass daylight windows. Golden rays of light hit a long polished table with measures and instruments on one end. I noticed my mother trying to steer Bess Warneke to a bench there.

I joined them, kissing Mother's teary cheek and extending my hand to Bess. She was a plump woman with extraordinarily blue eyes. Her makeup was understated, her gray hair was smoothed to a sleek helmet, and her black knit suit was complemented by matching burgundy pumps, handbag, and scarf. (Looking at her, Felix had once corrupted the old union slogan, "Don't mourn, organize," into "Don't mourn, accessorize.") As far as anyone knew, the only thing wrong with Bess's marriage to Julian was that Bess was—and looked—Julian's age.

I was expressing my condolences when I noticed Mother gaping at someone on the stair. I glanced over my shoulder then reeled forward, accidentally stomping Mother's sore toes. It elicited a pained squeal. And that made the newcomer turn toward us.

For a moment Edward Hershey looked as surprised as I was. Then a smile spread over his face. I'd have liked to wipe it off with the heel of my shoe.

He tucked his hands into his jacket pockets and stood there watching me. My mother was saying something, but I didn't quite catch it. I was looking at the last man on earth I wanted to see.

Hershey was tall, maybe six-one, big through the chest, small in the hips, very long legged. He wore a corduroy sport jacket over a polo shirt. His blue jeans weren't faded. With Frye boots, the ensemble was casual but not too scruffy for a funeral. The same was true of his messed-curl haircut.

He looked older—fifteen years will do that. He'd always had a rough face, jaw too square, eyes squinty, nose crooked, five o'clock shadow. But the bastard didn't need good looks, he had pheromones.

Two women I didn't know, one a snooty-looking redhead and the other an all-business brunette, fluttered toward him.

And my mother, in a voice that could have shattered glass, finally succeeded in getting my attention. "Baby. It's that boy from Boston who gave you the her—"

"Mother!"

She clapped her hands to her mouth. Then, noticing Bess Warneke's shocked expression, she giggled.

I'm sure it was clear to Bess what Edward Hershey had given me.

A moment later, I felt his hand on my shoulder.

"Look at you, all grown up," he said. "In a manner of speaking."

Still with the short jokes. I jerked free. "What are you doing here?"

"Julian kept me out of jail, remember?" He extended a hand to Bess. "Mrs. Warneke, what can I say? He kept me out of hell, that's how I feel about him."

A stirring tribute, considering Julian had counseled the usual theatrical jury trial and Hershey had instead insisted on plea bargaining.

I didn't hear what Bess said. I was looking at Edward goddam Hershey and not so discreetly pushing Mother away. She made some disgruntled noises, but finally took the hint, joining a nearby folksinger and her defrocked priest husband. I heard them thank her for the banana bread.

Edward was saying, "Santa Cruz. Been there for two years now. Here's my number, just in case you ever need… you know." He handed Bess a business card. Apparently networking at funerals was the done thing.

Bess looked put off—until he deployed his pheromone grin, the bastard. Then she smiled back. "Well, I don't think so. I don't suppose I'd need…" Abruptly, she turned away, leaving us alone.

Hershey caught my arm before I could take off. "Come on, Willa. Can't we let bygones—?"

"Not a fricking chance."

Being face to face (well, more like face to collar) with Hershey was like getting sucked into a time warp. Young Willa in love. It ended with an explosion that made my recent break-up seem kumbaya.

"Aw," he tried again. "Haven't you ever been tempted to skip the spiel? When you were sure it wasn't—"

"Sure, my ass."

I noticed Clement Kerrey standing behind Edward, frowning at me. His lips were so pinched they disappeared behind his mustache. He turned back to the state senator with whom he'd been chatting.

I knocked Edward's hand off my arm and left the cellar, bumping into Bess at the top of the stairs.

She was studying Edward's card.


 

 

Chapter Five

 

 

When I got back from Los Angeles eight days later, my mother was in a twitter.

"Oh, Baby. You'll never guess."

I pushed past her into the flat, which smelled of take-out pizza. "That's a safe bet."

"It's his will."

I glanced at a large icon, beside a poster NICARAGUA FOR THE NICARAGUANS. It showed a stylized and very swarthy Jesus.

"No, no. It's Julian's will."

"Oh, that kind of will. What did it say?" I assumed it funded prison projects and Teamsters widows funds. But he had children and grandkids, and maybe he'd had his moments of traditional thinking. "Any surprises?"

"It left me the house.''

"What house? Why would Julian leave you guys—?"

"Just me." My mother blushed and turned away. "I can't imagine."

Had it not been for the blush, I couldn't have imagined either. I looked at my saggy, unkempt mother and wondered if anyone but my father could possibly find her sexy.

"Julian left you a house? An actual house? Where?''

She kept her back to me, stooping to gather up a stack of paperbacks. "His house."

"As in, the house his wife lives in? The one his kids probably expect to sell and divide the proceeds of? That house? Are you joking?" But Mother never joked.

She dumped her armload of books into a box at the foot of the bookcase. (Daddy insists on shelving them himself, as Mother organizes them by height of spine.)

"You never liked Julian." Her tone had a disturbing why-can't-you-get-along-with-your-stepfather quality. "You never let him be a real friend to you."

"That's not fair." I wasn't a tears-in-public kind of person, but I'd known Julian as long as I could remember. His letter of recommendation helped me get into law school. And contrary to what Lieutenant Surgelato implied, I hadn't held it against Julian when his theatrics goaded Judge Rondi into giving me two months for making an obscene suggestion (figurative, of course) to a military cop. "Julian was... older. Not to mention, my boss."

A few noble tears (Mother's specialty) trickled down her cheeks.

"Besides, you're avoiding the issue. Why would Julian leave you his house?"

"I couldn't say." Her tone was noncommittal. And believe me, noncommittal is not a place she visits often. "I've known him a long time."

"So have his children. Were you lovers?"

I was relieved to see her look appalled. "Baby!"

"What then? Did he owe you money?"

"You're always so suspicious. Remember how you accused those nice Osbournes of being after our money? And at dinner, too."

"Well, have you heard another word about the Fund for Starving Debutantes, or whatever the hell—"

"Now, you see. That's exactly what I mean. It was an educational program, for children of the upper—"

"You're changing the subject."

"—to help them develop a social conscience." Her cheeks glowed with indignation.

"Julian has three sons. And a bunch of bratty grandchildren he complains about. Complained about. An ex-wife he lived with for twenty-some years and another wife still under warranty. Why would he leave his house to a casual friend?''

"Maybe he wanted to be sure it would be used for the good of—"

"The masses? I don't know how to break this to you, Mother, but Julian was as effete as—"

"I can't think how you turned out so—"

"—any Republican."

"Now that really is enough, Willa!" She stalked out of the room, pausing at the door to glance at me reprovingly.

 

 

 

 

To read the rest, please visit the iTunes store, the Kindle store, or the Nook store.

 

 

 

Books by Lia Matera

 

 

Willa Jansson Novels

 

Where Lawyers Fear To Tread

A Radical Departure

Hidden Agenda

Prior Convictions

Last Chants

Star Witness

Havana Twist

 

Laura Di Palma Novels

 

The Smart Money

The Good Fight

A Hard Bargain

Face Value

Designer Crimes

 

Short Story Anthologies

 

Counsel for the Defense and Other Stories

Irreconcilable Differences

 

 

 

 

Praise For Lia Matera's Willa Jansson Series

 

"Willa Jansson is one of the most articulate and surely the wittiest of women sleuths at large in the genre." The New York Times Book Review

"Readers will be shaken by Matera's rapier-sharp dissection of personal relationships and radical ideologies. Matera again demonstrates that she is one of today's best mystery writers." Publishers Weekly

"Intelligent and entertaining... Absorbing... With sharp descriptions and crisp dialogue... admirably delivers the complex situations and memorable characters of a 'real novel' while still managing to let the detective story have its day in court." The Wall Street Journal

"[A] distinctive voice, sharp wit, discussion of social and moral issues, insight into personal ideals and compromises and characters that grab your emotions." Washington Post

"Willa Jansson is an unusually deep and complex character for crime fiction--tough-minded, sexual, vulnerable, lonely, morally alive… This is gutsy, grown-up crime-writing from one of the best practitioners around." Newsday

"Matera's wit, grace with language, irreverence toward the legal system, and wry dissection of being a child of the Sixties make this a standout." Kirkus Reviews

"Willa's cases and escapades always top the fun-to-read list... The beauty of Matera's writing is that the story, fun as it is, doesn't shortcut a shrewd social commentary." Houston Chronicle

"Matera seems to really understand the moral and social issues that were on the deck in the late '60s and early '70s, and she's not interested in blowing them off.  She's smart enough to realize that many of these issues are still with us… Good stuff." Austin Chronicle

"Blessed with pungent prose, an affecting, funny, realistic heroine/detective and pressing moral and emotional issues." San Francisco Chronicle

"Matera's language is witty and sharp; her images by turn humorous and poignant.  The moral dilemmas with which her characters wrestle are real and wrenching." The Recorder

"Her voice is clear and light, and she knows when to jettison the gags and get on with the story.  As long as Willa is still the star of the show, the series will stand out in the often homogenous mystery landscape." San Francisco Chronicle

"Matera has produced a first-rate mystery, exhibiting her usual hallmarks of excellent plotting, solid characterizations, and brisk pacing." Booklist

"The real pleasure is Willa, who alternates between humor and annoyance at her predicament—and whose love-hate relationship with men strikes a chord with many female fans." Entertainment Weekly

"Almost everything a good mystery needs…a complex plot, social commentary, loads of atmosphere and a cast of unusual characters… The reader wants to hang out with Jansson and see more of her clear-eyed view of the world." San Jose Mercury News

"Few writers possess Lia Matera's wry humor, especially when it comes to putting down lawyers." San Jose Mercury News

"I'm in love with Willa!" John Leonard, National Public Radio's "Fresh Air"