exited the Monterey County District Attorney’s office into
the high-ceilinged, red-tiled entry hall of the courthouse,
nearly empty on a Saturday afternoon. Her arms full of case
documents, she let the D.A. office’s heavy glass door slam
shut behind her and strode toward the stairs that would
carry her to the third floor and the Superior Courts, where
prosecutors like her spun tales of true crime to persuade
juries to render just punishment. Which worked most of the
time, but as Alicia knew all too well, not always.
Three in the afternoon and outside the courthouse it was
chilly and overcast, December wind whipping down the streets
carrying with it the unmistakable whiff of manure that
indicated farm work was close at hand. To the east rose the
Gabilan Mountains, the Santa Lucias to the west, two
formidable ranges that stood sentry over California’s
Salinas Valley, trapping heat in summer and cold in winter
and farm smells year round. Sometimes the Valley was a
beautiful place, Alicia knew, especially in spring when the
rich soil gave birth to endless fields of blue-white lupins
and wildly cheerful orange and gold California poppies. But
Salinas itself, the county’s little capital seat, wasn’t
exactly picture postcard. It was too dull, too dusty and
flat, too much a throwback to the 1940s. And as a
street-corner Salvation Army Santa tolled his bell trying in
vain to improve his take, it was too poor to do much about
Inside the courthouse, Alicia mounted the last flight of
stairs and hit the third-floor landing, where a Charlie
Brown Christmas tree strung with multicolored lights held
rather pathetic pride of place. She met the eyes of Lionel
Watkins, a burly black janitor who was as much a courthouse
fixture as she was and had been for so long he was nearing
retirement. He paused in his mopping to shake his head when
he saw her. “You at it again? And on a Saturday?”
“Will you let me in?”
“Honey, don’t I always? Even against my better judgment.”
He leaned his mop handle against a lime-green wall, a
discount color found only in county buildings and V.A.
hospitals, and without further instruction made for Superior
Court Three, Alicia’s good-luck courtroom. “You always
win,” he said without looking back at the woman trailing
him. “I don’t get why you bother to practice.”
“I win because I practice.”
“You win because you’s good.” They arrived at the courtroom
door. On the opposite wall hung a hand-lettered sign: ONLY
FOUR MORE SHOPLIFTING DAYS UNTIL CHRISTMAS. Apparently the
sign had been hung on Tuesday, since numbers eight through
five were crossed out. Lionel selected a key from a massive
ring and poked it at the lock. “At least Judge Perkins is
long gone on his Christmas vacation.” He swung the door
open and gave her a quizzical look. “So when you
gonna run for judge again? Third time’s the charm, they
Annoyance flashed through her, cold and fast. “I have no
idea,” she snapped and pushed past him into the darkened
courtroom. He raised the overhead lights, chasing the
shadows from the jury box, which even empty seemed strangely
watchful. Alicia turned back around and forced her voice to
soften. “Thanks, Lionel. What’ll I do when you get your
He chuckled. “Find some other soft touch,” then he was
gone, the tall oak door clicking softly shut behind him.
Alicia dumped the file for case number 02-F987 on the
prosecution table, then loosed her dark wavy hair from its
plastic butterfly clip and gathered it up again to return it
to its perch atop her head, a neatening ritual she went
through the dozen times a day she stopped one task and began
another. She shed the black jacket she wore over her jeans
and white turtleneck, the jacket getting that telltale shiny
veneer that came from too many dry cleanings. That was a
worry. Clothes were expensive and her budget beyond shot.
She chuckled without humor. She could barely afford to
maintain a decent wardrobe. How was she supposed to pay for
a campaign? Especially now, when nobody would put up a dime
for a woman considered damaged goods?
Oh, she’d had her Golden Girl period, when some of the top
people in her party thought she was the next great Latina
hope. She knew how they spoke of her: well-spoken,
beautiful, star prosecutor, pulled herself up by her
bootstraps, desperate to win political office to do a good
turn for the forgotten many who, like her, came from the
wrong side of the tracks. It was P.C. to the max and a
great story, or at least it had been until she lost.
Twice. Then the bloom was off the rose. And off her.
She threw back her head and gazed at the huge wall-mounted
medallion of the Great State of California. It baffled her
no end how she’d managed to go from promising to stalled in
the blink of an eye. Now she was a thirty-five year old
shopworn specimen with a dead-end career and no man in
sight, at least none she wanted. That was sure a
prescription for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Enough already! Get over yourself and practice the
damn opening statement. “You’re right,” she muttered.
Before long it would be Monday, nine in the morning, and
she’d have to go to work persuading the jury to convict.
She dug into her pile of papers for the yellow legal pad on
which she’d scrawled her notes. But it wasn’t there.
Damn, she must’ve left it on her desk. She’d have to go
back and get it. She made tracks out of the courtroom and
back down to the D.A.’s office, where she punched in the
numbers on the code-pad door to buzz herself in.
She was partway down the narrow cubicle-lined corridor to
her office when she realized that the main phone line kept
ringing. It would ring, get picked up by voicemail, and
ring again. Over and over. Somebody wanted to reach
She marched back to the receptionist’s desk and picked up
the line. “Monterey County District Attorney.”
“It’s Bucky Sheridan.” One of Carmel P.D.’s veteran beat
cops but not the brightest bulb. “Who’s this?”
“Alicia. What’s up?”
“I gotta talk to Penrose.”
She had to laugh. As if D.A. Kip Penrose were ever in
the office on a Saturday. He was barely there on weekdays.
“Bucky, you’re not going to find Penrose here. Try him on
“I have. All I get is his voicemail.”
“Well, he’s probably got it turned off.” That was
standard procedure, too. “Anyway, what’s so desperate?
What do you need?”
Silence. Then, “We got a situation here, Alicia.”
She frowned. It was at that moment she realized Bucky
didn’t sound like his usual pot-bellied, aw-shucks self.
“What do you mean, a situation?”
“I’m at Daniel Gaines’ house. On Scenic, in Carmel.”
“The Daniel Gaines?” Something niggled
uncomfortably in her gut. “The Daniel Gaines who just
announced he’s running for governor?”
“He’s not running for anything anymore.” By now Bucky was
panting. “He’s dead.”
“A minute back from commercial.”
From his perch at the anchor desk, Milo Pappas nodded at the
warning from the floor manager who stood half-hidden in the
shadows in the cavernous Manhattan studio where the WBS
Evening News was taped every evening at
six-thirty. This being a Saturday, it was the flagship
broadcast’s less illustrious weekend edition. But it was
Evening all the same and hence a new feather appeared in
Milo’s journalistic cap every time he broke from his
Newsline correspondent duties to fill in as anchor.
Milo skimmed the lead-in to the last piece, all he had left
to read save the promo for the Sunday morning interview show
and the good-bye. He was proud of himself. Despite his
initial nervousness he hadn’t bobbled a single word,
managing to project the approachable yet authoritative
demeanor WBS sought in its male anchors. Millions of
Americans from Kennebunkport to San Diego were watching but
Milo was far more aware of the handful of top WBS management
scrutinizing his performance from their weekend homes on
Long Island and in the Hamptons.
Suddenly he heard the director yammer in his earpiece. “We
got an urgent bulletin, Milo, we’re killing the last piece.
You need to ad-lib it. Ninety seconds max. We’re getting
hard copy out to you …” - and indeed just as the stage
manager gave the thirty-second warning, a young female
production assistant ran into the studio bearing wire copy -
“… so go to the goodbye whenever you’re ready and we’ll
close out with a bump shot. You know the Daniel Gaines
Milo’s heart thumped against his rib cage. He certainly did
know it, though truth be told he was far more intimately
acquainted with Daniel Gaines’ wife than with the man
“Fifteen,” the stage manager announced.
Milo grabbed the wire copy and struggled to grasp what he
couldn’t believe he was reading. The Dewey Beats Truman
headline notwithstanding, urgent bulletins seldom got
anything this big completely wrong.
He raised his eyes to the lens, addressing Evening’s
director in the control booth. “You’ve got confirmation?”
“From the police department in Carmel, California, where the
guy lives.” The director paused, then, “You’re sure you can
handle the ad lib, Milo?”
He felt a stab of irritation. “Watch me.”
Then, “Ten,” the stage manager intoned, “five, four, three …
we’re on the wide shot …”
Two seconds before the director shifted to him straight up
on Camera One, Milo raised his gaze to the lens, willed
himself to keep his composure, and began speaking.
“We have an urgent bulletin tonight out of Carmel,
California. Police there have confirmed that Daniel Gaines,
who just last month announced his bid for governor of
California, today was found dead in his home, the victim of
an apparent homicide.”
Milo surprised himself with how calm he sounded, as if to
him this were no more than just a shocking news event, as if
he didn’t have years of personal history with the people
“Gaines was a newcomer to politics,” he went on, “but he
gained a national reputation as chief executive of
Headwaters Resources, a timber company that’s won praise for
preserving the so-called old-growth forest. Political
insiders say Gaines also profited from his tie with the
California-based Hudson family. Two and a half years ago …”
– Milo would never forget the date, it was seared in his
memory – “… he married Joan Hudson, the only child of late
California governor and U.S. Senator Web Hudson.”
Milo added silently, allowing himself one beat to look down
from the lens and take a single sustaining breath, the
only woman who ever kissed me off and never looked back.
Joan Hudson Gaines veered toward the stairs that would carry
her to the second floor, away from the cops who had invaded
her home, her slight body pitched forward as if that would
get her there faster. Once inside the master bathroom she
slammed shut the door and flipped on the light switch. Then
she saw her face in the mirror. Mottled skin, too shiny
eyes, blond Medusa hair. Off. She collapsed onto the
mausoleum-cold porcelain of the jacuzzi tub, rubbing her
temples, trying to make her head not spin.
She must control herself. It was a mistake to let the cops
see her so upset. She did the right thing to escape
upstairs, away from their prying eyes. She should have done
What a horrific day! If her father were here, he’d fix it.
He’d make those cops stop tromping through her house as if
they owned it. But he was dead, too, he couldn’t help. And
her mother had chosen this exact weekend to go to Santa
Why were the cops so slow to collect their evidence? A
petrifying notion shot through her, the same thought that
wouldn’t leave her alone. What if they considered her a
suspect? All those questions they asked! Why had she been
in Santa Cruz last night? Why had she gone without her
husband, only a few days before Christmas? Had she called
him? Why not?
She raised her chin defiantly, though her pouty lower lip
trembled. She’d told them only what she wanted to and not a
word more. Why in the world should she? She was a Hudson.
Joan’s bravado fled as quickly as it had risen. She rocked
back and forth, cold, so cold, her body a foreign thing that
trembled uncontrollably. There was so much blood! How
could one man have so much blood? It seemed big as a lake
on the library’s hardwood floor, Daniel lying in the middle
of it like a marooned ship. She wished she’d never seen it
in the clear light of day because now that she had, she
would never forget it. That was how she would remember
Daniel, her husband. Her husband Daniel. Dead.
Snippets of memory careened unbidden into her frazzled
brain. Meeting him at the Café d’Orsay in New York, stunned
into silence by the tall, blond Adonis across the proverbial
crowded room. Falling into a canopied bed at the Hotel
Pierre the first time they made love, a bed over which he
had strewn the petals of a dozen red roses. Their June
wedding on the lawn of her parents’ Pebble Beach estate,
five hundred people bearing witness, the Pacific surf a
crashing counterpoint to their vows. Back then he had made
her feel like his entire world revolved around her. Before
it all changed, before the cosmos tipped on its side and he
started expecting her to revolve around him.
That was over. Now he was dead. Gone. Daniel was dead.
A widow. Daniel made me a widow.
Joan shuddered. That made her feel ancient. Ancient and
used up. But she was young, only thirty, and had all of
life ahead of her. That was one thing Daniel couldn’t take
Her back stiffened. In fact, Daniel couldn’t take anything
away from her anymore. That whole mess with Headwaters and
her father’s living trust? That would clear up now.
There was another good thing, too. The campaign was over.
She wouldn’t have to play the adoring political wife for the
next eight years. And it would have been eight years,
because Daniel would’ve won this election and then he
would’ve won the next.
And you know why?
she asked her dead husband silently. Because of Daddy.
Maybe now with Daniel gone, she’d get credit for all
she’d accomplished. People would seek her out, ask
for her advice. Maybe at long last she’d be a
dinner party’s star attraction.
She certainly deserved to be, far more than Daniel had.
He only basked in the Hudson family light. She cast