Authors: David Grace
Tags: #Murder, #grace, #Thriller, #Detective, #movie stars, #saved, #courtroom, #Police, #beverly hills, #lost, #cops, #a death in beverly hills, #lawyer, #action hero, #trial, #Mystery, #district attorney, #found, #david grace, #hollywood, #kidnapped, #Crime
A Death In Beverly Hills
When the pregnant wife and three year old step-daughter of fading movie star, Tom Travis, disappeared, a massive, fruitless, search was launched. Three months later, the body of Travis's wife was discovered in a shallow grave only a few miles from where Tom had been riding his dune buggy on the day she vanished. Of the three year old little girl, Sarah, no trace was found.
Arrested and placed on trial for capital murder, Tom Travis is now only a days away from an almost certain guilty verdict. Desperate to find some way out, his lawyer hires suspended Ex-Deputy D.A., Steve Janson, to review all the files and find some over-looked clue that might keep Travis off death row.
Janson, whose own wife had been murdered almost two years before, accepts the assignment, not to help Travis, but in the faint hope of finding Sarah still alive. Janson's investigation leads him on a twisted path from Travis's mistress to her drug-dealing brother to the writer and producer of his last movie and on across the landscape of Southern California until, eventually, Janson begins to wonder if Travis might really be innocent after all.
A Death In Beverly Hills
By David Grace
Copyright David Alexander writing as David Grace 2009
This novel is a work of fiction. All of the people, places, businesses, and events portrayed in this novel are either based on the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Even though the names of real locations may be used in certain parts of this book, none of the people, places, businesses, or events referred to in any of those locales are intended to represent any relationship with any real events. Any and all occurrences in this book are completely unrelated to the actions of any real persons, places, businesses, or events and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or real businesses or institutions, or to any actual events or locales is entirely coincidental.
A screenplay version of this novel is available from the author
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Flecks of sweat speckled Judge Malcolm Burris' forehead and his lips drew wide in a tortured line. An instant later he toppled over with a soft, mewing sound. Defense attorney Greg Markham rushed behind the bench and found the judge kinked sideways, clutching his stomach. Little moans slipped through Burris' clenched teeth.
"Call 911! Call 911!" Markham shouted,
The courtroom filled with muted shrieks, pounding feet, and layers of voices: "What happened?" - "Is he dying?" - ". . . heart attack?"
A moment later a pair of deputies roughly pushed Markham aside. Slapping dust from his trousers, he paced back to the defense table where his client, movie star Tom Travis, waited patiently.
"Is he dead?" Travis asked, glancing at Burris' up-pointed toes. Travis's tone was little different than one he might have used to ask the waiter if the sea bass was frozen or fresh.
With frost-gray eyes and a trim, salt and pepper mustache, Tom Travis had the kind of face that might have been worn by a Special Forces Colonel who had survived a lifetime of black ops, or a faded private eye who had loved and lost too many times but maybe, just maybe, had the heart for one last romance, both of which were movie heroes Tom Travis had played at one time or another.
Travis had gotten his start in a failed project to revive the TV western. The show died at the end of the first season but that was long enough to get Tom the lead in a new cop series that was canceled halfway through its second year. Seemingly charmed, Travis's publicist managed to cage him a cover on
the week before the last episode aired. He started shooting his first starring movie role two months later and never looked back.
Travis picked up a spiral pad and doodled mindlessly as paramedics pushed through the crush. Soon the image of a jet plane firing rockets at a mangled tank began to take shape. It had good perspective, lots of energy. One or another of Travis's paintings, battle scenes, prize fights, all macho stuff, were usually on display at Ramona's on Rodeo Drive. Word was that when he was short of money he would knock one out in an afternoon.
"Pocket change," he once smirked off-camera to a talking head from
, but for the last ten years the prices had been slipping. Now, with Travis on trial for capital murder, the market had re-bounded to it's old level of $50,000 a painting. But Travis wasn't doing any oils from his cell in the County Jail.
, Markham decided, that was the word to describe Tom Travis. Fashionably thin with a sharp angled nose and chin, a trim mustache, short dark hair, thin fingers, clever hands. Sleek like the spies and assassins, gamblers and gigolos he had imprinted onto miles of celluloid over an almost thirty year career.
Maybe that's the problem, Markham mused for the hundredth time. The jury was so used to seeing Tom Travis with a scowl on his face and blood on his hands that they walked into court already half-convinced that he was the monster who had first cheated on and then strangled his eight month pregnant wife. He had killed on film so many times, what was one more murder on his resume?
Markham turned at a clatter behind him. White-faced and hesitant, the jury was being herded from the room. A couple of them glanced uneasily at Travis who, oblivious, continued sketching shattering armor and roiling flames, as if death and destruction were the most normal things in the world. Sensing the weight of the jurors' eyes, Travis turned toward them and smiled. Embarrassed, they quickly looked away. Travis gave Markham a happy smile as if to say, "
Staring at the contempt painting the jurors' faces, the thought,
They're going to send him to death row,
trickled like acid through Markham's brain.
Steve Janson stared at the refrigerator in the corner of his tiny apartment. It held five cold, long-necked beers, one fewer than yesterday. Behind him the muted TV flickered in a wash of color. For another moment he considered downing today's allotted beer in four long gulps. Clenching his fingers he turned back to the couch.
Colonial Indemnity's lawyer needed his review of the plaintiff's deposition by noon tomorrow. Steve grabbed his red pen. Images swirled on the TV, grabbing Janson's attention. Head down, Greg Markham appeared and shoved his way through a forest of microphones. Cynthia Allard's face edged into view, babbling mutely into the camera. "
Trial of the Decade
Movie Star Murder
," Janson knew all the sound-bites by heart.
Frowning, he hit the remote. When she had worked for the D.A.'s office Allard had been a competent prosecutor and a decent enough person, easy on the eyes too, as the Old Man used to say. Now she was just another Talking Head.
And what am I
? Janson asked himself sourly. A disbarred, no suspended, attorney reviewing whiplash cases for a bunch of insurance lawyers. Frowning, Steve glanced at the refrigerator then jerked around at the trill of his phone. He sucked in a hasty breath. It was probably Gustovson wanting an update on the deposition.
"Steve, it's Greg Markham. You got a minute?"
Speak of the devil
. . . .
"How's it going, Greg?"
"You going to be home for a while?"
"I'd like to talk to you about my case. How about it?"
Janson glanced at his watch, a quarter to four. He had about half an hour's work left on the file.
"I'll be there." The phone went dead. At this time of day the drive from Santa Monica was a bitch and Steve wasn't surprised that it was almost a quarter to five when Markham arrived.
"Thanks for seeing me on such short notice," Greg said, extending his hand.
"Anything for the guy who kept me out of prison."
"They couldn't convict you. You know that."
"Ted Hamilton tried, but he was only going through the motions. The most he really thought he could get was your disbarment."
"Thanks to you, that didn't happen either."
"I could have gotten you off Scott-free if you'd been willing to fight it all the way through to the end."
"I needed it to be over. I couldn't let drag out for another year. You did what I asked you to. I told you to settle with the State Bar for something short of disbarment and you did. It's done." Steve grabbed a couple of beers and handed one to his guest. "So, how is Ted Hamilton? Are you kicking his ass?"
"What do you think?"
"He's a jerk and you're not. Enough said."
Markham frowned and shook his head.
"Unless something happens, we're cooked."
"When's the last time Ted Hamilton beat you?"
"The jury hates Tom Travis. Hates him!" Markham took a long pull on his beer. "He cheated on his pregnant wife
lied to his mistress. A mistress, I might add, that the jury loves as much as they hate Tom."
"Okay, your guy's a prick, but--"
"He's not just a prick. He's a lying, deceitful, cheating, arrogant, spoiled jerk of a prick, and they're going to stick it to him and smile when they do it. Nothing I've said or done is going to make the slightest bit of difference to that jury. They're like the fat couple in the buffet line, just rubbing their hands and waiting for their chance."
"Look, Greg, you know the facts of life as well as I do. I used to be a Deputy D.A. I did criminal trials for six years and you've been doing them for fifteen. You've got the evidence you've got. You do the best you can with it and then its out of your hands."
"That's a great philosophy when your client is guilty, but the D.A. has very little real evidence that Travis actually did it. No fibers, no blood, no witnesses, no DNA, no prints. All they've got is that the electrical cord around her neck could have come from a lamp he used to own or from any of a hundred thousand other lamps. That and the fact that he's a cheating bastard and that his wife is dead and his step daughter is missing. It's guilt by the process of elimination. It wasn't a robbery. It probably wasn't a rape gone wrong, so what's left? Obviously, the lying, cheating, bastard husband did it! Shit, that's a good enough reason to send a guy to death row, isn't it?" Markham angrily paced the tiny room, his bottle already empty.
"Why are you telling me this?"
"I need your help."
"What good can a disgraced, semi-disbarred, lawyer do you? Do you want me to sit at the defense table and put the evil eye on Ted Hamilton? Do you think that maybe my being there will piss off Old Man Burris so much that he'll make a reversible error?" A bitter laugh escaped Steve's lips.
"I want you to find me something that will get me a hung jury."
"How am I supposed to do that?"
"I'll give you everything I've got --- police reports, interviews, forensic reports, lab tests, crime scene photos, autopsy reports, Grand Jury testimony, everything. You were a cop for nine years before you became a prosecutor. You know how to run an investigation. The line cops will still talk to you on the QT. They like what happened to Alan Lee Fry. Find me something the detectives missed."
"Like what? Like a witness they didn't interview, a piece of evidence they never examined, a tip they never followed up on. You know they took one look at Tom Travis and wrote '
The son of a bitch did it
' on page one of their Murder Book. They never looked at anybody else. Anything that pointed another way went to the bottom of the pile as a waste of their time."
Steve eyed his empty bottle and carefully placed it on the edge of the coffee table.
"Why didn't you have somebody do this already?"
"I did but he wasn't you."
"Ben McGarrey out of the Foster Agency."
"McGarrey was on the Homicide Squad for ten years before he went private. If he didn't find anything there was probably nothing to find."
"He just went through the motions, documenting his hours. He's not you."
"Meaning you're a single-minded, determined son-of-a-bitch who won't let go of something you really want no matter what it costs you." Markham glared at Steve, then, embarrassed, turned away.
"Thanks. I'm glad to know that's the kind of person you think I am." Janson's tone was as dead as ashes. He headed to the fridge for another beer.
"Look, I'm sorry. I didn't mean that the way it sounded."
"No, you did. -- It's fine. Think what you want. It doesn't matter because I couldn't help you even if I wanted to."
"It would only take--"
"It would take me, what, a week just to read the files and another week, maybe two to actually do anything? You can't be more than four or five days from going to the jury."
"You didn't hear?"
"Your former father-in-law, the Honorable Malcolm Burris, collapsed on the bench this afternoon."
"No, he'll recover. Hot appendix. It burst before they could get him to the hospital. He wasn't in the best of health before so he'll be out for a couple of weeks, three at the outside. The trial's in recess until he gets back."
Janson gazed blindly out the window. Markham hadn't a clue what bladed memories were crawling through Steve's head. "Two thousand dollars a day plus expenses," Markham said in a hopeful tone.
Janson gave a weary laugh. "So, all those rumors about Tom Travis being broke are crap?"
"I put a hundred fifty thousand in my trust account for costs the day I took the case. I need your help, Steve."
"And I owe you for getting me only a two year suspension of my license to practice law instead of being flat-out disbarred, right?"
"I didn't say that."
"You didn't have to. You do remember what got me kicked out of the legal community?"
"Let's not go there."
"Let's not go there? You come into my house and ask me to help you get your wife-beating, cheating, lying, scumbag, prick client off the hook and you don't want to 'go there'? My wife was murdered, Greg, murdered! Her god damn head was cut off and . . . ." Janson froze and turned away. "And I . . . ." the words caught in his throat. Steve sucked in a harsh breath and tried again. "And now you want me to help Tom Travis get away with murdering
wife? And you tell me, 'Let's not go there?'"
"He didn't do it!
prick of a client is innocent, just like your wife was innocent--"
Janson moved quickly for a big man. In an instant he had lifted Markham clear of the floor. "Don't you ever mention Lynn and that God Damn cheating Tom Travis in the same breath!" Steve shouted. He held Markham suspended for a full two seconds before finally dropping him to the couch and storming away.
For a moment Markham sat there, frozen, then adjusted his lapels, tucked in his disarrayed shirt, and headed for the door.
"How do you know he's innocent?" Steve called from across the room.
"The cops had more than a year and an unlimited budget and the only evidence they found was that she was strangled with a cord that might have come from one of his living room lamps, that and the fact that Travis is an lying, adulterous, cheating, bastard, so he must be guilty. He's not that smart. If he had done it, he'd have left a lot more evidence behind, trust me."
"So now he's innocent by reason of stupidity?"
"He's innocent because the law says he's innocent unless he's proven guilty. That's supposed to mean something to us."
"To us? Lawyers? Yeah, well, they kicked me out of the club."
"You let them kick you out of the club because you wanted it all to go away!" For a long second Markham stared into Steve's blazing eyes, then turned away. "Fine, whatever." The hinges on the front door squeaked.
"I'll do it," Steve called.
Markham slowly turned around.
"I owe you. I'll do it."
"Don't do it because you owe me. Do it because--"
"Now you don't want my help unless it's for the right reason? Do you think Tom Travis will care why I took the case if I manage to find something that gets him a hung jury? I said I'd do it. Isn't that good enough for you?"
"Yeah," Markham said after a long pause. "I guess it is. Thanks."
"This squares us, Greg. I do this and we're done."
"Yeah, I know," Markham said and quietly shut the door behind him.