My newest novel, The Shakespeare Killer, is officially out! A sequel to Blood on the Bayou, my latest thriller continues the story of Special Agent DiMeglio as he gets caught up in another game of cat-and-mouse while trying to chase down a serial killer who’s targeting lawyers.
A Client to Die For
On the Gulf of Mexico off Key West, Florida
“Just sign the note,” demanded the man sitting across from him.
Many considered Jacob Schneider among the finest criminal defense lawyers in the United States. He defended the most infamous of those accused of crimes. He had no interest in the innocence or guilt of his clients. That was not his job. His job—and at the core of his beliefs as a lawyer— was to ensure that every client was afforded his or her Constitutional rights and that the burden of proof to convict beyond a reasonable doubt remained with the prosecution. He used any maneuver that thwarted a district attorney or federal prosecutor from convicting his clients, no matter how guilty they may have been. Indeed, the more guilty the accused and the more heinous their crime, the more Schneider loved the challenge of winning. Even though that sometimes meant crossing ethical lines, he saw doing so as no different from the tricks and lies used by inept prosecutors or corrupt judges.
Now he was facing the most challenging defense in his career. He needed to defend himself, something he’d never had to do.
“I said, sign the note. Do you not hear me?”
“I won’t do that,” Schneider responded, filled with the typical lawyer bravado that helped him win cases in court. He assumed the man was intent on completing the task before him—administering vigilante justice—but Schneider was confident he’d talk his way out of it.
He was being held in a chair by two men, and saw no point in putting up a struggle. It wouldn’t help. He was only forty-two years old and in good shape, but there was no place to escape to. He was on a yacht far from land on the Gulf of Mexico for what he had thought was a meeting with a new client. The only defense he had left was his tongue.
When the man first contacted Schneider, he had told him that he stood accused of crimes with overwhelming evidence against him. He never said he was innocent, and Schneider didn’t ask. He never did and didn’t care. As a precondition to the meeting, the man wired $200,000 into Schneider’s escrow account as a retainer.
When the new client greeted Schneider upon his arrival in Key West, he gave the right impression of having plenty of money to pay his attorney. His yacht was over one hundred feet with a crew of five, and had a main stateroom furnished in mahogany and leather with windows that allowed a panoramic view of the Caribbean. The two men sat down on the back deck, the sun shining. As the boat got underway, gently rocking in the calm seas, the salty air made conversation easy. As the sight of land slowly faded away, they talked about the beautiful coastline and the wonderful people of Florida. The crew set up a couple fishing lines in the back of the boat; the client told Schneider that perhaps they could catch their lunch. A butler who looked more like a bodyguard than a domestic servant served them drinks, and the two were getting along fine. Schneider found the man’s accent mysterious and couldn’t quite place it. Regardless, he was the type of client Schneider loved: guilty as hell and rich as shit.
The prospective client said he was facing charges in New York for murder, human trafficking, and pedophilia. Schneider didn’t bother to question how this person was on a boat at sea well beyond the reach of authorities, but the accused appeared wealthy. Money for his defense was no object.
When they were just over four miles out, beyond the sight of land on Florida’s flat landscape, the situation suddenly changed. The butler and a deckhand walked behind Schneider, firmly gripped his shoulders, and pinned him in his chair. Any friendly expression on the face of his client was gone. Schneider was shocked that the man intended to hurt him. He couldn’t admit to himself that he was so foolish not to have investigated him before their meeting. But $200,000 in the bank made due diligence irrelevant to Schneider. Greed won out over caution.
The client turned abductor slid the note to Schneider and explained the situation. “You should sign the note,” the man insisted. “If you don’t, innocent people you love will be harmed or, perhaps, die.”
“Look, I don’t know who you are or what you want, but I will not sign this. I can’t do that. I’m not sorry for anything I’ve done. So the note makes no sense to me.”
Sighing, the man sat back in his chair, his eyes revealing a darkness in his soul. He was small, only five foot six, and heavy set with knuckles calloused from administering too many beatings. Looking at him now, Schneider realized that he looked more like a common thug than a wealthy defendant. Another mistake he had made.
“All those criminals you defended, and you believe you’ve done nothing wrong?”
“Criminals I’ve defended?” asked Schneider. “I don’t understand what you mean. I’m a criminal defense attorney. It’s my job to defend people charged with crimes. That’s what I do for a living.”
“Yes, it is what you do for a living, Mr. Schneider. And I understand you do it well. But you must now atone for letting the guilty go free. That is your sin.”
“I can pay you,” Schneider pleaded.
The man smiled. “This isn’t a movie, Mr. Schneider. Not even money can get you out of this. But very well, have it your way. Don’t sign the note. It’s just too bad that your last memories will be how refusing to cooperate hurt so many others you care about. But that’s a choice you can live with.” He paused. “I’m sorry, I meant die with.”