Sandra Brown Ricochet: A Novel

ISBN 13: 9781416523321

Ricochet: A Novel

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9781416523321: Ricochet: A Novel
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The #1 New York Times bestselling author of Seeing Red presents a spine-tingling story of murder and betrayal in high society Savannah, where a homicide detective finds his career—and life—on the line.

When Savannah detective Duncan Hatcher is summoned to an unusual crime scene, he knows discretion is key. Influential Judge Cato Laird's beloved trophy wife, Elise, has fatally shot a burglar. She claims self-defense, but Duncan suspects she's lying, and puts his career in jeopardy by investigating further. Then, in secret, Elise makes an incredible allegation, which he dismisses as the lie of a cunning woman trying to exploit his intense attraction to her. But when Elise goes missing, Duncan finds that trusting the wrong person could mean the difference between life and death for both of them.

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About the Author:

Sandra Brown is the author of sixty-eight New York Times bestsellers, including Mean Streak, Deadline, Low Pressure, and Smoke Screen. Brown began her writing career in 1981 and since then has published over seventy novels, most of which remain in print. Sandra and her husband, Michael Brown, live in Arlington, Texas.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Ricochet
CHAPTER
1

Six Weeks Earlier

THE MURDER TRIAL OF ROBERT SAVICH WAS in its fourth day.

Homicide detective Duncan Hatcher was wondering what the hell was going on.

As soon as court had reconvened after the lunch break, the defendant’s attorney, Stan Adams, had asked the judge for a private meeting. Judge Laird, as perplexed by the request as ADA Mike Nelson, had nonetheless granted it and the three had withdrawn to chambers. The jury had retired to the jury room, leaving only the spectators to question the significance of this unexpected conference.

They’d been out for half an hour. Duncan’s anxiety grew with each passing minute. He’d wanted the trial to proceed without a blip, without any hitch that could result in an easy appeal or, God forbid, an overturned verdict. That’s why this behind-closed-doors powwow was making him so nervous.

His impatience eventually drove him out into the corridor, where he paced, but never out of earshot of the courtroom. From this fourth-floor vantage point, he watched a pair of tugs guide a merchant ship along the channel toward the ocean. Then, unable to stand the suspense, he returned to his seat in the courtroom.

“Duncan, for heaven’s sake, sit still! You’re squirming like a two-year-old.” To pass the time, his partner detective, DeeDee Bowen, was working a crossword puzzle.

“What could they be talking about in there?”

“Plea bargain? Manslaughter, maybe?”

“Get real,” he said. “Savich wouldn’t admit to a parking violation, much less a hit.”

“What’s a seven-letter word for surrender?” DeeDee asked.

“Abdicate.”

She looked at him with annoyance. “How’d you come up with that so fast?”

“I’m a genius.”

She tried the word. “Not this time. ‘Abdicate’ doesn’t fit. Besides, that’s eight letters.”

“Then I don’t know.”

The defendant, Robert Savich, was seated at the defense table looking way too complacent for a man on trial for murder, and much too confident to allay Duncan’s anxiety. As though feeling Duncan’s stare on the back of his neck, Savich turned and smiled at him. His fingers continued to idly drum the arms of his chair as though keeping time to a catchy tune only he could hear. His legs were casually crossed. He was a portrait of composure.

To anyone who didn’t know him, Robert Savich looked like a respectable businessman with a slightly rebellious flair for fashion. For court today he was dressed in a suit of conservative gray, but the slim tailoring of it was distinctly European. His shirt was pale blue, his necktie lavender. His signature ponytail was sleek and glossy. A multicarat diamond glittered from his earlobe.

The classy clothes, his insouciance, were elements of his polished veneer, which gave no indication of the unconscionable criminal behind them.

He’d been arrested and brought before the grand jury on numerous charges that included several murders, one arson, and various lesser felonies, most of which were related to drug trafficking. But over the course of his long and illustrious career, he’d been indicted and tried only twice. The first had been a drug charge. He’d been acquitted because the state failed to prove their case, which, granted, was flimsy.

His second trial was for the murder of one Andre Bonnet. Savich had blown up his house. Along with ATF agents, Duncan had investigated the homicide. Unfortunately, most of the evidence was circumstantial, but had been believed strong enough to win a conviction. However, the DA’s office had assigned a green prosecutor who didn’t have the savvy or experience necessary to convince all the jurors of Savich’s guilt. The trial had resulted in a hung jury.

But it hadn’t ended there. It was discovered that the young ADA had also withheld exculpatory evidence from attorney Stan Adams. The hue and cry he raised made the DA’s office gun-shy to prosecute again in any sort of timely fashion. The case remained on the books and probably would until the polar ice caps melted.

Duncan had taken that defeat hard. Despite the young prosecutor’s bungling, he’d regarded it a personal failure and had dedicated himself to putting an end to Savich’s thriving criminal career.

This time, he was betting the farm on a conviction. Savich was charged with the murder of Freddy Morris, one of his many employees, a drug dealer whom undercover narcotics officers had caught making and distributing methamphetamine. The evidence against Freddy Morris had been indisputable, his conviction virtually guaranteed, and, since he was a repeat offender, he’d face years of hard time.

The DEA and the police department’s narcs got together and offered Freddy Morris a deal—reduced charges and significantly less prison time in exchange for his boss Savich, who was the kingpin they were really after.

In light of the prison sentence he was facing, Freddy had accepted the offer. But before the carefully planned sting could be executed, Freddy was. He was found lying facedown in a marsh with a bullet hole in the back of his head.

Duncan was confident that Savich wouldn’t escape conviction this time. The prosecutor was less optimistic. “I hope you’re right, Dunk,” Mike Nelson had said the previous evening as he’d coached Duncan on his upcoming appearance on the witness stand. “A lot hinges on your testimony.” Tugging on his lower lip, he’d added thoughtfully, “I’m afraid that Adams is going to hammer us on the probable cause issue.”

“I had probable cause to question Savich,” Duncan insisted. “Freddy’s first reaction to the offer was to say that if he even farted in our direction, Savich would cut out his tongue. So, when I’m looking down at Freddy’s corpse, I see that not only is his brain an oozing mush, his tongue has been cut out. According to the ME, it was cut out while he was still alive. You don’t think that gave me probable cause to go after Savich immediately?”

The blood had been fresh and Freddy’s body still warm when Duncan and DeeDee were called to the grisly scene. DEA officers and SPD narcs were engaged in a battle royal over who had blown Freddy’s cover.

“You were supposed to have three men monitoring his every move,” one of the DEA agents yelled at his police counterpart.

“You had four! Where were they?” the narc yelled back.

“They thought he was safe at home.”

“Yeah? Well, so did we.”

“Jesus!” the federal agent swore in frustration. “How’d he slip past us?”

No matter who had botched the sting, Freddy was no longer any use to them and quarreling about it was a waste of time. Leaving DeeDee to referee the two factions swapping invectives and blame, Duncan had gone after Savich.

“I didn’t plan on arresting him,” Duncan had explained to Mike Nelson. “I only went to his office to question him. Swear to God.”

“You fought with him, Dunk. That may hurt us. Adams isn’t going to let that get past the jury. He’s going to hint at police brutality, if not accuse you outright. False arrest. Hell, I don’t know what all he’ll pull out of the hat.”

He’d ended by tacking on a reminder that nothing was a sure thing and that anything could happen during a trial.

Duncan didn’t understand the ADA’s concern. To him it seemed clear-cut and easily understood. He’d gone directly from the scene of Freddy Morris’s murder to Savich’s office. Duncan had barged in unannounced to find Savich in the company of a woman later identified by mug shots as Lucille Jones, who was on her knees fellating him.

This morning, Duncan’s testimony about that had caused a hush to fall over the courtroom. Restless movements ceased. The bailiff, who had been dozing, sat up, suddenly wakeful. Duncan glanced at the jury box. One of the older women ducked her head in embarrassment. Another, a contemporary of the first, appeared confused as to the meaning of the word. One of the four male jurors looked at Savich with a smirk of admiration. Savich was examining his fingernails as though considering a manicure later in the day.

Duncan had testified that the moment he entered Savich’s office, Savich had reached for a gun. “A pistol was lying on his desk. He lunged toward it. I knew I’d be dead if he got hold of that weapon.”

Adams came to his feet. “Objection, Your Honor. Conclusion.”

“Sustained.”

Mike Nelson amended his question and eventually established with the jurors that Duncan had rushed Savich only to defend himself from possible harm. The ensuing struggle was intense, but finally Duncan was able to restrain Savich.

“And once you had subdued Mr. Savich,” the prosecutor said, “did you confiscate that weapon as evidence, Detective Hatcher?”

Here’s where it got tricky. “No. By the time I had Savich in restraints, the pistol had disappeared and so had the woman.”

Neither had been seen since.

Duncan arrested Savich for assault on a police officer. While he was being held on that charge, Duncan, DeeDee, and other officers had constructed a case against him for the murder of Freddy Morris.

They didn’t have the weapon that Duncan had seen, which they were certain Savich had used to slay Freddy Morris less than an hour earlier. They didn’t have the testimony of the woman. They didn’t even have footprints or tire prints at the scene because the tide had come in and washed them away prior to the discovery of the body.

What they did have was the testimony of several other agents who’d heard Freddy’s fearful claim that Savich would cut out his tongue and then kill him if he made a deal with the authorities, or even talked to them. And, since Lucille Jones’s whereabouts were unknown, Savich couldn’t produce a credible alibi. The DA’s office had won convictions on less, so the case had come to trial.

Nelson expected Duncan would get hammered by Savich’s attorney during cross-examination that afternoon. Over lunch, he had tried to prepare him for it. “He’s going to claim harassment and tell the jury that you’ve harbored a personal grudge against his client for years.”

“You bet your ass, I have,” Duncan said. “The son of a bitch is a killer. It’s my sworn duty to catch killers.”

Nelson sighed. “Just don’t let it sound personal, all right?”

“I’ll try.”

“Even though it is.”

“I said I’ll try, Mike. But, yeah, it’s become personal.”

“Adams is going to claim that Savich has a permit to carry a handgun, so the weapon itself isn’t incriminating. And then he’s going to claim that there never was a weapon. He may even question if there was really a woman giving him a blow job. He’ll deny, deny, deny, and build up a mountain of doubt in the jurors’ minds. He may even make a motion to dismiss your entire testimony since there’s no corroboration.”

Duncan knew what he was up against. He’d come up against Stan Adams before. But he was anxious to get on with it.

He was staring at the door leading to the judge’s chambers, willing it to open, when it actually did.

“All rise,” the bailiff intoned.

Duncan shot to his feet. He searched the expressions of the three men as they reentered the courtroom and resumed their places. He leaned toward DeeDee. “What think you?”

“I don’t know, but I don’t like it.”

His partner had an uncanny and reliable talent for reading people and situations, and she had just validated the foreboding he was feeling.

Another bad sign—Mike Nelson kept his head averted and didn’t look in their direction.

Stan Adams sat down beside his client and patted the sleeve of Savich’s expensive suit.

Duncan’s gut tightened with apprehension.

The judge stepped onto the bench and signaled the bailiff to ask the jury to return. He took his seat behind the podium and carefully arranged his robe. He scooted the tray holding a drinking glass and a carafe of water one-half inch to his right and adjusted the microphone, which needed no adjustment.

Once the jury had filed in and everyone was situated, he said, “Ladies and gentlemen, I apologize for the delay, but a matter of importance had to be addressed immediately.”

Cato Laird was a popular judge, with the public and with the media, which he courted like a suitor. Nearing fifty, he had the physique of a thirty-year-old and the facial features of a movie star. In fact, a few years earlier he had played a cameo role of a judge in a movie filmed in Savannah.

Comfortable in front of cameras, he could be counted on to provide a sound bite whenever a news story revolved around crime, criminals, or jurisprudence. He was speaking in that well-known, often-heard silver-tongued tone now. “Mr. Adams has brought to my attention that during voir dire, juror number ten failed to disclose that her son is enrolled in the next class of candidate officers for the Savannah–Chatham Metropolitan Police Department.”

Duncan glanced at the jury box and noticed the empty chair in the second row.

“Oh, jeez,” DeeDee said under her breath.

“The juror has admitted as much to me,” Judge Laird said. “She didn’t intentionally try to deceive the court, she simply failed to recognize how that omission could affect the outcome of this trial.”

“What?”

DeeDee nudged Duncan, warning him to keep his voice down.

The judge looked in their direction, but continued.

“When seating a jury, attorneys for each side have an opportunity to eliminate any individuals who they feel have the potential of swaying the verdict. Mr. Adams is of the opinion that a juror whose family member will soon become a police officer may have a fundamental prejudice against any defendant in a criminal trial, but especially one accused of this particularly egregious slaying.”

He paused, then said, “I agree with counsel on this point and am therefore compelled to declare a mistrial.” He banged his gavel. “Jurors, you are dismissed. Mr. Adams, your client is free to go. Court is adjourned.”

Duncan came out of his chair. “You have got to be kidding!”

The judge’s gaze sought him out and, in a tone that could have cut a diamond, he said, “I assure you I am not kidding, Detective Hatcher.”

Duncan stepped into the aisle and walked up it as far as the railing. He pointed at Savich. “Your Honor, you cannot let him walk out of here.”

Mike Nelson was at his elbow, speaking under his breath. “Dunk, calm down.”

“You can retry the case, Mr. Nelson,” the judge said as he stood and prepared to leave. “But I advise you to have more solid evidence before you do.” He glanced at Duncan, adding, “Or more credible testimony.”

Duncan saw red. “You think I’m lying?”

“Duncan.”

DeeDee had come up behind him and taken hold of his arm, trying to pull him back down the aisle toward the exit, but he yanked his arm free.

“The pistol was real. It was practically smoking. The woman was real. She jumped to her feet when I came in and—”

The judge banged his gavel, silencing him. “You can testify at the next trial. If there is one.”

Suddenly Savich was in front of him, filling his field of vision, smiling. “You blew it again, Hatcher.”

Mike Nelson grabbed Duncan’s arm to keep him from vaulting over the railing. “I’m gonna nail you, you son of a bitch. Etch it into your skin. Tattoo it on your ass. I’m gonna nail you.”

His voice rife with menace, Savich said, “I’ll be seeing you. Soon.” Then he blew Duncan an air kiss.

Adams hastily ushered his client past Duncan, who looked toward the judge. “How can you let him go?”

“Not I, Detective Hatcher,...

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