Heartstone - 1978
"I was somewhat reminded of In Cold Blood, but in some ways, I think this is a better book... It's fascinating reading -- the classic 'page-turner' -- and I adHeartmit to being stunned and shocked at the unexpected ending."
-- Dorothy Uhnak, author of The Investigation
From Phillip Margolin, New York Times bestselling author of Gone, But Not Forgotten , comes a shattering novel that begins with two vicious murders -- and ends in a web of corruption, lies, and twisted passions.
Richie Walters, all-American boy. Elaine Murray, cheerleader. They made the perfect couple. And that evening out at Lookout Point -- Richie fumbling at the buttons of her blouse, Elaine thrilled and terrified -- they were about to take the final step.
But the step would never be taken. Richie Walters would die that night -- die in a hot and savage ecstasy of violence. Elaine Murray too would die. But not that night. Or the next. She would live long enough to know just how lucky Richie had been...
Excerpt from Heartstone:
It was two days before Christmas and Louis Weaver's only friend was dying in a dollar-a-night room at the Hotel Cordova. Louis stepped into a doorway to rest. It was hard to breathe the icy air and the whirling snow had made him half blind. He wiped his nose and took a drink of cheap whiskey from the flask that he had jammed into his raincoat pocket before leaving the hotel.
Willie told Louis that he was going to die when they were in Salt Lake City. He made Louis promise that he would take him home to Portsmouth. There was something Willie had to do in Portsmouth so that his immortal soul would be saved. They had stolen aboard a freight train and Louis had spent the hours on a hay pallet in the corner of a boxcar watching his friend decline.
Willie had been talking about heaven and hell a lot lately and Louis could tell that there was something terrible on his mind. Louis could not help but think that Willie's tribulation was all the fault of the preacher in Fort Worth who had given Willie religion, because he never used to be so troubled. Louis wished he could help his friend, but Willie only talked about the thing that was bothering him when he was real drunk or delirious and then it would come out in mumbles and groans and Louis could never get the drift. All he knew was that it had something to do with a girl and had happened long ago.
Louis sighed and returned the bottle to his pocket. He was so tired and cold, but he was almost there. The courthouse was only two blocks away. It would be warm there. Louis wished he was back at the hotel. He had spent his last few bucks on their room, but he sure wasn't getting any use out of it.
A blast of cold wind whipped a sheet of snow across Louis's face and he was immediately sorry for having thought about the room and being gypped out of his money. Soon Willie would be cold like this for eternity and Willie was his only friend.
The radio alarm switched on and Albert Caproni tried to deny its existence with his whole being. Logic demanded that he stay under the nice warm covers, nestled next to his nice warm wife.
"Honey," a voice purred. He felt soft lips kissing his ear lobe. He half wished that they would go away.
"Honey, you have to get up now," the voice said.
"Go away," he mumbled, burrowing deeper under the covers.
"You have to get up," the voice repeated in its sexiest tone and he felt a warm hand snaking through the fly of his flannel pajama bottoms and soft fingers curling around his penis.
"Please, Mary," he begged. "I want to sleep."
Even though he had not opened his eyes, had not seen the snow or felt the wind, he knew that it was going to be a miserable day. One much better spent in a cozy bed.
He felt Mary move her large, curvy body so that her entire weight rested on him. Then he heard her running her dampened tongue across her lips to make them as wet as possible. Finally, he felt her lips as they covered his face with damp, slobbery kisses. Enough was enough. He conceded defeat and opened his eyes.
"I hate you," he groaned, shifting so that he could hold his wife.
"I love you," she said. She moved her weight off him and they cuddled together. He kissed her gently and began to stroke her backside and leg.
"None of that," she said. "And you are going to be late if you don't get dressed right now."
"Not even a fast one?" Albert asked playfully. He felt sexy, the way he always did when he held Mary close. After all these years of marriage, she still aroused him.
"I knew I shouldn't have married a frigid girl."
"Tough," Mary said, giving him a peck on the cheek and rolling out of bed. "You knew what you were getting when you married me. Now scoot or you'll be late and Commissioner Hadley won't give you the salary for those extra attorneys you want."
"Hadley. Shit. To think I'm giving up this warm bed and the best piece of tail this side of the Rockies for that old fart. Next time I run for office you make sure that the public knows about the sacrifices I make."
"They know already."
"Listen, make it two eggs this morning. I'll need the extra energy.
"What about your diet?" she asked as she left the room.
"For one day I can skip my diet."
Caproni stretched and walked sleepy-eyed to the window. The snowstorm outside obliterated any trace of the beautiful landscape that he usually saw upon rising. He yawned and scratched. Despite the ugliness of the day, he was happy. In fact, he could not remember a day in the past few years when he had not been basically happy. True, there had been minor disappointments, but he had a wife he was crazy about, two beautiful kids and, at thirty-five, he was the youngest person ever elected to the office of Portsmouth district attorney, a job he loved almost as much as he loved Mary.
Al was a career district attorney in an office that was traditionally staffed by bright new law school graduates who stayed the two years it took to gain trial experience and make contacts and then moved on to practice corporate law.
Al had enlisted in the army after college. After the army he had entered night law school and had worked days as a Portsmouth policeman. His last year in law school he had been assigned to work as an investigator with the district attorney's office. His contact with the criminal side of legal practice quickly dispelled any thoughts he might have had of practicing corporate law. And if he had ever pictured himself as a criminal defense attorney, one year with the D.A. had changed that.
Shortly before graduation Al had asked Herb Holman, then the district attorney, for a job. The deputy district attorneys he had worked with had given him glowing reports. Albert Caproni was sworn in as a deputy district attorney on the same day that he received a letter from the State Supreme Court informing him that he had passed the bar examination.
That was many years ago. In between there had been a rapid rise through the office, which had resulted in his appointment as Chief Criminal Deputy when Harvey Babcock, one of Al's closest friends, was elected D.A. It had been a time for celebration. Then, as soon as the excitement of a new administration had begun, it had ended. A car driven by a drunk driver had hurtled the lane divider on the Interstate and had killed Harvey Babcock.
Albert Caproni had been the unanimous choice to fill the vacant post. In November of this year Albert C. Caproni had run against State Representative Sylvia Marshall and had won election by a landslide.
Albert glanced at the clock as he took off his pajamas. It was a little after 5:30. Al always worked long hours. Even as a kid he had held down a part-time job after school to help out the family. He did not mind the hours. He had been working like this so long that it had become routine. When he was a trial attorney, it was those extra hours of added preparation that had made up for his lack of brilliance. He always took extra satisfaction in whipping one of the boys from the prestige firms or law schools on an obscure point of law that he had dug up after hours of diligent research.
Albert dropped his pajamas on the bed and started for the bathroom. He stopped in front of the mirror and looked at his body. He was neither pleased nor displeased by what he saw. True, his short body was not as compact as it had been when he first joined the office and his hair was thinning out. On the other hand, he was still hard underneath the extra fat.
"Let's just say that I am keeping my perimeters in check," he thought.
Still, he regretted getting out of shape. When he was younger, he always seemed to have energy for handball or basketball. He'd even done a little boxing in the service. It was harder now. He did pushups and situps when he had the time. And there was an occasional game of golf. Oh, well. He had made his choice. He knew the demands of the job and he accepted them willingly. He would die someday, anyway. Getting into heaven was not going to depend on the size of his waistline.
"Give me an extra slice of bacon, will you, hon," he yelled before turning on the shower.
Fanny Maser had been the receptionist at the Portsmouth district attorney's office since 1958. She had come in with the Republicans, stayed through the Democrats and remained at her post when the office became nonpartisan in 1970.
Fanny's husband had been a policeman for sixteen years when he was killed trying to stop a service station holdup. The two months it had taken to pull her world back together had been the only lengthy period that she had ever taken away from her job.
Fanny was the ideal receptionist. She looked, even in her younger days, like everybody's idea of what a mother should look like. She was a small, gray-haired woman with a perpetual smile. Her voice was soft and soothing and she had an ability to put people at ease. This trait was essential in an office whose customers were irate citizens, tired, off-duty policemen who were waiting for court after spending a night shift in a high-crime area, nervous witnesses and, occasionally, rapists, robbers and murderers.
The criminal element was one of the most exciting facets of Fanny's job. She would often tell her bridge group about the "headliners" she had greeted. There had been the slow morning she had spent passing the time with Carl Billingsgate, the hammer killer, while he waited to be interviewed by the Chief Criminal Deputy. Carl had confessed that very morning.
And what about Marie Louise Renoud? What a nice lady she had appeared to be. Who would have guessed that she and her lesbian lover had shot her husband and left him for dead on Switchback Mountain, only to have him crawl back, as Fanny would tell it, from the "Portals of Hell" to testify at Marie Louise's trial. Marie and Fanny had had the nicest chat.
With all the exciting things she had seen, and all of the interesting people she had met, it was no wonder that Louis Weaver made no particular impression on Fanny Maser when he pushed through the glass doors that opened into the reception area.
It was ten-thirty and the reception area was empty. An hour earlier it had been filled with young district attorneys and their witnesses, but court had started and they had all left. Louis spent the first few seconds sopping up the warmth from the courthouse heating system. He stood in the doorway shivering and casting nervous glances at his new surroundings. He was a mouse of a man. His worn raincoat, tattered suit coat and stained white shirt were all that he had between him and the sharp, winter wind. His baggy pants were tied to his waist by a knotted rope and they appeared to float around hips too narrow to hold them up.
Fanny knew that greeting Louis Weaver would be distasteful. She disapproved of drink and Mr. Weaver was obviously intoxicated. He also smelled. Nonetheless, she smiled and inquired, in her most pleasant tone,
"May I help you?"
Louis took off the cheap gray fedora he had been wearing. His fingers worried the frayed hatbrim as he shuffled unsteadily toward the bar that separated Fanny from the three rows of permanently installed plastic chairs that filled the reception room.
"Is this the district attorney's office?" Louis managed. Fanny could see that the poor man was upset and frightened and her initial dislike was replaced by a feeling of concern.
"Yes, it is.
"I got to see the D.A."
"There are fifty district attorneys in our office. Is there someone in particular that you would like to talk to?"
"Ain't . . . isn't Mr. Caproni the D.A.? Willie said to say Mr. Caproni."
"Mr. Caproni is the elected district attorney for Portsmouth County, but he doesn't handle cases himself. Perhaps I can direct you to someone if you will tell me what your problem is."
Louis ran the back of his hand across his grayish stubble. This was getting more complicated than he had expected. Bureaucracies, even those populated by Fanny Masers, frightened him. He wished that he could take a drink, but that was out of the question.
"It's my friend Willie. He's dying, so I promised him I'd do him this favor. He said to see Mr. Caproni and no one else. He said it was important and that Mr. Caproni would want to see him."
There was something about Louis Weaver: the tone of his voice and his obvious desire to be somewhere else. Fanny made a decision.
"I can't guarantee that Mr. Caproni will see you. He is a busy man. But, if you will tell me the subject matter of your visit, I will see if he has time to talk with you."
Louis's mouth was dry and his heart was pumping. Willie had said only Mr. Caproni, but, if he didn't tell now, she would make him go.
"I'm to say Willie Heartstone is dying and he wants to tell who killed Elaine Murray."