When Denver lawyer Adam Larsen agrees to observe a trial at the request of a young--and very attractive--female lawyer whose case is going badly, he has no idea he embarking upon another one of "those" cases, as his paralegal, former Bronco Maurice White, refers to them. Cases that involve murder.
Chief Judge Milton Gumauer refuses to admit key evidence presented by the young lawyer, despite her having laid a proper foundation for admission of the materials. And the judge is inexplicably irked by Larsen’s presence in the courtroom. After a verbal confrontation, His Honor orders Larsen to leave the courthouse. As Larsen reaches the exit, a gunshot rings out. Judge Gumauer, alone in his chambers, has been killed—but not before leaving a cryptic message, imploring Larsen to solve a murder.
With no information about the victim, the cause of death or even the time or place of the crime, Larsen has no clue where he would even start--and no particular desire to try. But when the judge's clerk is murdered in her home, Larsen's curiosity begins to simmer. And when he learns that the battered briefcase he noticed in the judge's chambers has vanished, Larsen's interest begins to boil.
He quickly finds himself drawn into a dangerous world of bribery and corruption, where there is no one he dares to trust. Even his old nemesis, Sergeant Joe Stone, has suddenly been placed on administrative leave. Undaunted, Larsen turns to his trusted staff--and, of course, his favorite private investigator, Jana Deacon--to search for the answers. But even when he thinks he has figured it all out, there are still surprises lurking in the shadows.
His Honor sat like a statue at his desk, his back rigid and his face molded into a ferocious scowl. Without the black robe, he would have been nondescript, not someone you would particularly notice in public. He was average height, but twenty pounds overweight; not handsome or athletic, with gray hair that was well on its way to disappearing. I remembered him as having been reasonably pleasant during the criminal trial, knowledgeable enough in the law, but something of a plodder. I had no idea what had changed, but it was clear that, at least for that day, he was not going to be the man I remembered.
"You wanted to see me," I said.
He didn't gesture for us to sit. "That's right. Witnesses in this case have been sequestered, Mr. Larsen. Who is this with you?"
"This is Ann Stivornik, Your Honor. She's an associate at my firm."
"Yeah?" he demanded. "When were you licensed?"
I could tell that she was intimidated by his tone, but she held her ground. "I passed the February bar exam, and was sworn in two months ago."
"What are you doing here, Mr. Larsen?"
Ann and I had done nothing wrong, and I resented being called to task for doing something perfectly appropriate. It felt like being sent to the principal's office in middle school--except that, in those cases, I'd fully deserved whatever punishment I was receiving.
"We just came to watch the trial. Ann needs practical experience, and I thought she should see how things work in the real world." Something uncontrollable possessed me to add, "Like the workings of the hearsay rule."
His face turned red, as he pressed his palms down against the arms of his chair. For a moment, I thought he was going to leap to his feet. "What about it?"
Clearly, I had overstepped my bounds. I smiled and said disarmingly, "Just the way the different judges interpret it."
He wasn't backing down. "Are you criticizing the way I ruled on the evidence?"
"Of course not. I would never dream of doing that. Nor of discussing a case that is pending before the Court."
"Nor would I. The defendants seemed relieved when you came in. Do you know them?"
I hesitated. This was getting close to the edge. They hadn't hired me as their lawyer, but they surely considered the prior evening's discussion to be confidential--which meant our conversation was protected by the attorney-client privilege.
Which meant that I couldn't talk to the judge about it.
"I've met them," I conceded.
"And are you representing them?"
"No. They have a lawyer."
"Who's doing a piss-poor job," the Judge said. He stared at me, as though daring me to respond. I didn't answer. I wasn't going to get suckered into that sort of There was no reason for me to defend Ann's friend, and nothing good could come out of my trying. Again, he said, "What are you here for, Mr. Larsen?"
"I've told you, we're here to observe."
"Nothing in particular."
"Don't play word games with me, Counsel. I want to know why you're here."
There was something surrealistic about this entire conversation. "You seem to have something specific in mind. What are you trying to find out?"
He pounded his hand on his desk. "What the hell are you doing here?"
"I've told you everything I can, Your Honor."
"You haven't told me a damned thing!"
I couldn't think of anything useful to do, so I just shrugged and stood there, staring at him. He glared back at me.
After a while, I deliberately let my gaze wander around the room. Behind the judge, mounted side-by-side on the wall, were his law school diploma and admission certificate from the Colorado Supreme Court. Next to the desk was a black leather briefcase, with one corner heavily scuffed. Evidently His Honor didn't take care of his judicial accessories. I decided it would be ill-advised to comment upon it.