Read The Trials of Nikki Hill Online

Authors: Christopher Darden,Dick Lochte

The Trials of Nikki Hill

WARNER BOOKS EDITION

Copyright © 1999 by Darden Family, Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.

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A Time Warner Company

First eBook Edition: January 2001

ISBN: 978-0-446-55635-4

The Warner Books name and logo are trademarks of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

Contents

Copyright

Acknowledgments

PROLOGUE

ONE

TWO

THREE

FOUR

FIVE

SIX

SEVEN

EIGHT

NINE

TEN

ELEVEN

TWELVE

THIRTEEN

FOURTEEN

FIFTEEN

SIXTEEN

SEVENTEEN

EIGHTEEN

NINETEEN

TWENTY

TWENTY-ONE

TWENTY-TWO

TWENTY-THREE

TWENTY-FOUR

TWENTY-FIVE

TWENTY-SIX

TWENTY-SEVEN

TWENTY-EIGHT

TWENTY-NINE

THIRTY

THIRTY-ONE

THIRTY-TWO

THIRTY-THREE

THIRTY-FOUR

THIRTY-FIVE

THIRTY-SIX

THIRTY-SEVEN

THIRTY-EIGHT

THIRTY-NINE

FORTY

FORTY-ONE

FORTY-TWO

FORTY-THREE

FORTY-FOUR

FORTY-FIVE

FORTY-SIX

FORTY-SEVEN

FORTY-EIGHT

FORTY-NINE

FIFTY

FIFTY-ONE

FIFTY-TWO

FIFTY-THREE

FIFTY-FOUR

FIFTY-FIVE

FIFTY-SIX

FIFTY-SEVEN

FIFTY-EIGHT

FIFTY-NINE

SIXTY

SIXTY-ONE

SIXTY-TWO

SIXTY-THREE

SIXTY-FOUR

SIXTY-FIVE

SIXTY-SIX

SIXTY-SEVEN

SIXTY-EIGHT

SIXTY-NINE

SEVENTY

SEVENTY-ONE

SEVENTY-TWO

SEVENTY-THREE

SEVENTY-FOUR

SEVENTY-FIVE

SEVENTY-SIX

SEVENTY-SEVEN

SEVENTY-EIGHT

SEVENTY-NINE

EIGHTY

EIGHTY-ONE

EIGHTY-TWO

EIGHTY-THREE

EIGHTY-FOUR

EIGHTY-FIVE

EIGHTY-SIX

EIGHTY-SEVEN

EIGHTY-EIGHT

EIGHTY-NINE

NINETY

EPILOGUE

PRAISE FOR THE TRIALS OF NIKKI HILL

“Darden makes good use of his own extraordinary experiences...You realize by the end that Darden has delivered one heck of a closing.”

—People

“A smooth murder tale loaded with insider information...You could hardly ask for more from a legal thriller.”

—Arizona Daily Star

“A genuinely suspenseful crime novel with a charismatic heroine and a cast of well-drawn supporting characters? The verdict: highly recommended for fans of Grisham, Turow, and Court TV.”

—Booklist

“A book that looks deep within the Los Angeles criminal justice system...The plot has all the twists and turns, false hopes, and strong leads that make a successful mystery. And Nikki Hill is also surprisingly believable as a strong, likable character.”

—Midwest Book Review

“First rate...a solid thriller.”

—Greensburg Sunday Tribune Review
(PA)

“Like its heroine, the thriller is tough, funny, and quirky.”

—Mystery Scene

“Darden draws on his insider knowledge of the L.A. justice system and presents an entertaining tale, fast-moving dialogue, and an exciting new heroine.”

—Next Step

A
LSO BY
C
HRISTOPHER
D
ARDEN

In Contempt

A
LSO BY
D
ICK
L
OCHTE

Sleeping Dog

Laughing Dog

Blue Bayou

The Neon Smile

To my wife, Marcia, and the baby Dardens—

Jenee, Tiffany, and Christopher, Jr.

C.D.

To Jane and Bryson, the home team.

D.L.

Acknowledgments

I
would like to thank:

San Diego County Deputy District Attorney Michael Runyon and Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Patricia Ector, two old friends who were kind enough to read the early drafts of this text and offer their comments.

Special thanks to a lawyer with a conscience, my former boss, Head Deputy District Attorney Roger Gunson, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. We tried.

Dean Leigh Taylor and the faculty and student body at Southwestern University School of Law, for putting up with all the distractions.

Deputy District Attorneys Michelle Gilmore, Karen Nobomoto, Charlene Underwood, and Shante Penland, for your inspiration.

My good friend and mentor, Norman Brokaw, chairman of the board at the William Morris Agency, and my literary agent, Mel Berger. Thanks guys. We did it our way, with class and dignity.

My publicist at the Brokaw Company, Claudia de Llano. I can’t help but laugh whenever I reflect on the way you took on the “big heads” at the Republican National Convention.

My friends and editors at Warner Books, especially Susan Sandler, who worked long and hard on Nikki’s behalf. Thanks for everything. Larry Kirshbaum, you’ve made a dream come true.

A very special thanks to Dick Lochte, my new best friend. A great writer. Nikki Hill lives and breathes on paper. You have my endless gratitude. You, sir, are the bomb. Okay?

Finally, my heartfelt gratitude to the thousands of people who stopped me on the street to say “thanks,” gave me the thumbs up on the crowded Santa Monica freeway, or who wrote me during difficult times. You helped make my life easier. God bless each and every one of you.

C
HRISTOPHER
D
ARDEN

P
ROLOGUE

T
he way Jamal Deschamps saw it, life was a good news–bad news proposition. For example, the good news was bumping into a fine young sister at the 4-Speed Club on a slow Sunday night, having some drinks, talking some trash, and then spending some quality bump time in her bed until her roommate showed. The bad news was that he wound up all alone out on Dalton Street at around 2:30 A.M., which is when a black ’63 Chevy filled with Crazy Eights gangstas rounded the corner.

Jamal did a swift backpedal into the nearest alley and tried to make himself small behind an overripe industrial-size faded blue Dumpster. His mind was filled with grisly images based on what he knew about the Crazies, the worst involving an acquaintance who’d had his hands, tongue, and private parts hacked off with a machete for daring to get too close to one of their women. He wished he knew a bit more about the history of the woman he’d just been with.

He strained his ears. And heard nothing.
They didn’t see me. I’m too fast for ’em.

Then he heard the Chevy brake at the entrance to the alley.

Okay, so they stopped. They’ll check out the alley and I’m gonna be like Casper. They’ll see nothing but empty space and be on their way.

He heard the Chevy door open. The pat of rubber soles hitting concrete. Then, oh, shit, the harsh metallic click of an automatic that damn well had to mean it was dying time!

Jamal squeezed in tighter against the brick building, trying to become a part of it. The gangsta came closer.
Pat, pat pat, pat.
He must’ve been right at the Dumpster. Another two steps and he’d be staring down and pointing his gun and...

Then Jamal heard the good news: a police siren a few blocks away, coming closer.

“Yo, Fupdup,” someone yelled from the Chevy. “Get yo’ ass back in here, bro.”

Listen to the brother,
Jamal begged silently.
Get your homicidal ass back in the car.

“It’s right here, sucka. Jus’ be a minnit...”

The driver of the Chevy revved the engine. “We bookin’,” someone called out.

“Bunch o’ pusswipes,” Fupdup growled angrily as his thick rubber soles pat-patted away.

A car door slammed shut and the Chevy roared off. Jamal rested his head against the brick wall and let out the breath he’d been holding for what seemed like hours.
Thank you, Jesus.

His eyes wandered up past the buildings to the clear night sky. Stars were blinking way up there, without a care in the world. He knew just how they felt.

The police siren was coming closer, down Dalton. Jamal turned his head toward the street and saw, for the first time, something draped over the edge of the Dumpster. He linked, his mind initially refusing to accept the image before him. But it was real. A human hand. A woman’s hand. Not small, exactly, but delicate. White. It was the whitest damned hand Jamal had ever seen.

His immediate reaction was to move away from it, to put as much distance as he could between him and that got-to-be-dead-as-Dracula hand.

Then he saw the ring on her finger, its diamond twinkling like the stars overhead.

The ring posed a dilemma for Jamal. His brain was screaming at him to do a three-minute mile away from the dead woman in the Dumpster. But that ring sure as hell wasn’t gonna be much use to her anymore.

Screwing up his face in disgust, he approached the lifeless hand and gingerly poked it with a finger. The hand felt cold, stiff.
Over the line. No fucking way do I touch that thing with my bare hands.
Near his feet was a Fatburger wrapper. He scooped it up and, using it like a glove, grabbed the corpse’s wrist. With his other hand he gently tugged on the ring.

He hovered next to the bin, the garbage smelling so ripe a rat would turn its nose up at it. He didn’t want to look at the dead woman, but he couldn’t help himself. She was buck naked. Was a time she might have been Penthouse material, but not now.

His eyes traveled up the pale trunk, past the bruised chest to the face. Somebody had done a dance on baby’s face, busted it up big time. But there was something familiar. He blinked. He knew that death created its own disguise. His daddy had looked like some other dude entirely, lying in his coffin. But this corpse...
Jesus!
he thought.
It’s Maddie Gray.

In a mild state of panic, he yanked harder at the ring, cutting his palm on the corpse’s jagged thumbnail. The ring wouldn’t move past the dead woman’s knuckle.

The police siren was wailing now, really close. Too close. Almost on top of him. Shit!

He gave the ring a final jerk and there was a popping noise as the pale white finger broke, dangling like an icicle ready to fall off a roof. But the ring slid free. Jamal jammed both it and the burger wrapper into his pocket and started running down the alley.

A bright light caught him full in the eyes, blinding him.

“Hold it right there, boy,” a voice shouted.

Jamal couldn’t see a thing but the bright light. He didn’t need to. There would be two big beefy white boys in blue drawing down on him, licking their lips at the thought of him making a move. He held it right there.

Good news–bad news,
he told himself.
My life ain’t nothing but good news–bad news.

O
NE

N
ikki Hill awoke to colored lights dancing on her bedroom ceiling.

She raised her head high enough to glimpse a youthful Marlo Thomas on the silent TV, wearing a Peter Pan collar and a worried expression.
Just what I need,
she thought as she flopped back against the pillow,
a white-bread night-light.

She was suddenly puzzled.
If the TV sound is off, what am I doing awake?

As if in answer, the phone rang.

With a groan she shifted on the bed, sending
Witkin on Criminal Law, Volume 5
and several Manila folders and their contents tumbling to the carpet. Her “Liar For Hire” T-shirt, a joke gift that she perversely embraced, was sticking clammily to her body. At least she hadn’t fallen asleep in her good clothes again.

The phone rang once more.

As she reached for it on the bedside table, she saw the time glowing on her radio alarm: 3:47 A.M. She cleared her throat. “This better be an emergency,” she warned her caller.

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