PRIVILEGED WITNESS: A Josie Bates Thriller
Stepping back into the world of privilege and power, forced to face her feelings for a man she once loved, Josie is determined to win this case - even if she looses everything she holds dear.
"Living in Los Angeles makes one aware that the rich have a leg up in our legal system. People of privilege have a lot to protect and people they love can be at the end of the list." Rebecca Forster
"Riveting" - USA Today
"Enthralling" - Nancy Taylor Rosenberg
Release date: December 14, 2019
Print pages: 334
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Behind the book
Privileged Witness was inspired by a meeting with a presidential candidate. I usually don't travel in such circles, but fate put us together in a private box at a sporting event where few people were paying attention to the game. The minute we shook hands the hair on the back of my neck stood up. I knew this was not a man to be trusted and yet everyone in that room had a different opinion. I wondered if I was crazy - or was everyone else. The result was Privileged Witness.
PRIVILEGED WITNESS: A Josie Bates Thriller
The half-naked woman had come from the penthouse— she just hadn't bothered to use the elevator. Instead, she stepped off the balcony eleven stories up. Her theatrics kept Detective Babcock from a quiet evening with a good book, a glass of wine and some very fine music. Detective Babcock didn't hold a grudge long, though. One look at the jumper made him regret that he hadn't arrived in time to stop her.
Beautiful even in death, the woman lay on the hot concrete as if it were her bed. One arm was crooked at an angle so that the delicate fingers of her right hand curled toward her head; the other lay straight, the hand open-palmed at her hip. On her right wrist was a diamond and sapphire bracelet. A matching earring had come off at impact and was caught in her dark hair. Her slim legs were curved together. Her feet were small and bare. Her head was turned in profile. Her eyes were closed. The wedding ring she wore made Horace Babcock feel just a little guilty for admiring her. She carried her age well so that it was difficult to tell exactly how—
"Crap. I think I felt a raindrop."
Babcock inclined his head. His eyes flickered toward Kurt Rippy, who was hunkered at the side of a pool of blood that haloed the jumper's head. It was the only sign that something traumatic had occurred here. It would be different when the coroner's people turned the body to take her away. When they cut off the yellow silk and lace teddy at the morgue and laid her face up, naked on a metal table, they would find half her head caved in, her ribs pulverized, her pelvis shattered. Her brain might fall out and that would be a sad sight, indeed. How glad Babcock was to see her this way.
Raising a hand toward the sky, he checked the weather. Even though the day was done it was still hot. He could see the thunderheads that had hovered over the San Bernardino Mountains for the last few days were now rolling toward Long Beach. Pity tonight would be wet when the other three hundred and sixty-four days of the year had been bone dry.
"Are you almost done?" Babcock asked, knowing the rain would wash away the blood and a thousand little pieces of grit and dust and things that Kurt needed to collect as a matter of course.
"Yeah. Not much to get here. I bagged her hands just in case, but she looks clean."
Detective Babcock bridled at the adjective. It was too pedestrian for her. Hardly poetic.
She was pristine.
She was beautiful.
She was privileged.
She was a lady who was either going to or coming from something important. She was going or coming alone because no one had run screaming from the penthouse distraught that she had checked out of this world in such a manner. The traffic on Ocean Boulevard had slowed but not stopped as the paramedics converged on the site, sirens frantically wailing until they determined they were too late to help. With a huge grunt, Kurt stood up and rolled his latex gloves off with a delicate snap.
"That's it for me. I'm going to let them bundle her before we all get wet. I hate when it's this hot and it rains. Reminds me of Chicago. I hate Chicago . . ."
He took a deep breath and stood over the woman for a minute as his train of thought jumped the tracks. His hands were crossed at his crotch, his head was bent, and his eyes were on the victim. He seemed to be praying and his reverence surprised and impressed Detective Babcock. Finally, Kurt drew another huge breath into his equally big body, flipped at the tie that lay on top of his stomach instead of over it and angled his head toward Babcock.
"How much you think a thing like that costs?"
"That thing she's wearing?" Kurt wiggled a finger toward the body and Babcock closed his eyes. Lord, the indignity the dead suffered at the hands of the police.
"I believe that type of lingerie is quite expensive."
"Figures. Guess her old man could afford it. Now me? I think Kim would look real good in something like that, but with what I take home . . ."
A sigh was the only sign of Babcock's irritation as he moved away and left Kurt Rippy to lament the limitations of a cop's salary. Then it began to rain. Just as the last vestiges of blood were being diluted and drained into the cracks of the sizzling sidewalk, Detective Babcock walked across the circular drive, past the exquisitely lit fountain of the jumper's exclusive building, and went inside. There was still so much to do, not the least of which was to talk to one Mr. Jorgensen, the poor soul who had been making his way home just as the lady leapt. Old Mr. Jorgensen, surprised to find a scantily clad dead woman at his feet, made haste to leave the scene as soon as the emergency vehicles arrived. He probably couldn't offer much, but a formal statement was necessary and Babcock would take it.
He rode the elevator, breathing in the scent of new: new construction, new rugs, new fittings and fastenings. Babcock preferred the Villa Riviera a few buildings down. The scrolled facade, the peaked copper roof, the age of it intrigued him in a way new never could. He got out on the third floor and knocked on the second door on the left. He waited. And waited. Eventually, the door opened and Babcock looked down at the wizened man with the walker.
"Mr. Jorgensen? I'm Detective Horace Babcock." He held out his card. The old man snatched it.
"It's about time you got here," he complained and turned his back. The carpet swallowed the thumping of the walker but the acoustics of the spacious apartment were impeccable. Babcock heard the old man's every mumble and word. "I should be in bed by now but I can't sleep. Something like this is damn upsetting at my age. Have you told her husband? Bet you can't even find him to tell him. Goddamn pictures of him everywhere. Can't turn on the television without seeing him but is he ever home? No. Never home. Well, in and out. But not good enough for a woman like her. Nice. Quiet. Real pretty, that woman. So, have you told him yet?"
"Yes, sir. We have located her husband. He'll be here soon."
Deferentially slow, Babcock followed the old man but something in his voice seemed to amuse Mr. Jorgensen. The old man stopped just long enough to flash an impish smile over his shoulder.
"Bet he's got a load in his pants now, huh?" Mr. Jorgensen wiggled his eyebrows, chuckled and walked on, telling Babcock something he already knew. "Yep, it's a big, big mess for a man in his position."
The last time Josie Baylor-Bates had seen Kevin O'Connel he was wearing prison issue that marked him as the criminal she knew him to be. Unfortunately, a jury of his peers hadn't been convinced that he had beaten his wife Susan to within an inch of her life.
Though she swore it was Kevin, an expert defense witness testified that Susan's head injuries had resulted in an odd type of amnesia. Her husband was the last person she saw on the day of the incident, ergo Susan O'Connel transferred guilt to him. When the DA failed to get a conviction Josie suggested another way to make Kevin O'Connel pay for what he'd done: a civil trial where the burden of proof was not as strict and the damages would be monetary.
Susan O'Connel had been partially paralyzed because of the attack. She was in hiding, in fear of her life since her husband hadn't been put in jail. Josie had argued that Susan deserved every last dime Kevin O'Connel had ever—or would ever—make.
Now the civil trial was over and Kevin O'Connel was squirming as solemn-faced jurors filled the box. He shot Josie a nervous, hateful look that she didn't bother to acknowledge. Instead, she watched the foreman hand the decision to the clerk, who read the settlement with all the passion of a potato growing:
"The jury finds Kevin O'Connel guilty of assault with intent to kill and awards Susan O'Connel special damages in the amount of one hundred and fifty thousand dollars and general damages in the amount of one and a half million dollars. We further find that the assault was committed with malice and award Susan O'Connel—"
"That's crap! What the fuc—" Kevin O'Connel shot out of his seat. While his attorney grappled with him the spectators gasped and the judge gave warning.
"Go no further, Mr. O'Connel!"
Josie heard the scuffle, heard Kevin O'Connel curse his attorney and, finally, heard him fall silent as the judge threatened contempt and imprisonment. It was a scene that didn't seem to interest Josie. She pushed her fountain pen through her fingers, and then did it again, concentrating on that so the court wouldn't see an unseemly grin of satisfaction. Josie was pleased that she had come close to ruining Kevin O'Connel. He deserved worse. He got it a second later. Another five hundred thousand in punitive damages was awarded.
Finally, Josie smiled at the jury as they were dismissed with the court's thanks. It was over. Susan O'Connel was a rich woman on paper and Josie would do everything she could to collect for her client. Wages would be garnisheed, the retirement account cleaned out and the house they had shared sold. Josie would make sure Kevin O'Connel surrendered his car, his boat—she'd take his toothbrush if she could. Every time Kevin got a little ahead. Josie would be there with her hand out on behalf of her client.
It had been a very good day and it was just past noon.
Picking up her briefcase, Josie reached for the little swinging gate, but Kevin O'Connel put his hand on it first. He looked Josie in the eye, then pushed it back with a cool loathing that was meant to intimidate. It didn't. Josie walked past him, down the center aisle and toward the door. His hatred trailed after her and stuck like sweat.
From her height to her confidence to her power, Kevin O'Connel despised everything about Josie Baylor-Bates. He hated that she won. He hated that she stood taller than he did. Kevin O'Connel hated her intelligence. He hated that she dismissed him when she put her fancy little phone to her ear. He knew who she was calling and that pissed him off royally—enough that he just couldn't stand watching it happen.
When Josie walked into the hall Kevin O'Connel was right behind her. It appeared he was trying to maneuver around her but stumbled instead and knocked her off balance. Her phone clattered to the floor, her arm went out and she steadied herself against the wall. Before she could pick it up, the phone was snatched away.
"Sorry. Guess I better look where I'm going," O'Connel teased, seemingly pleased that he had hit her hard and disappointed that he hadn't hurt her.
Josie reached for what was hers but he held it back like an evil little boy who had pinched a hair ribbon. Slowly he put the phone to his ear.
"Good news, Suzy. You got it all, babe. Everything and then some. Enjoy it while you can." Kevin O'Connel must have liked what he was hearing. There was a glint in his eye that turned to a self-satisfied sparkle before fading to mock disappointment. "She hung up."
"Are you stupid or just a glutton for punishment?" Josie asked, not bothering to try to wrestle the phone away from him.
"That's funny, you calling me stupid. I got to her first, didn't I?" Kevin twirled the little phone. It disappeared into his big hand and he looked at that fist as if he admired it. He looked at Josie as if he didn't hold her in the same esteem.
"If the shoe fits," Josie answered dryly and then gave warning. "Push me again and I'll have you arrested for assault. Hand over the phone or I'll have you arrested for robbery. Say one more word to your wife and you won't believe the charges I'll file. If you really are smart, you'll quit while you're ahead."
"And you better think twice before you let me see your bitch face again," he hissed. Josie could feel the warmth of his breath before she retreated a step, but he was still on her. "I don't go down that easy. Tell Suzy she's got one more chance. She can come home and everything will be fine. If she doesn't, she won't get a penny and I'll take you both out. I swear I will."
"The only way Susan will ever even look at you again is over my dead body, Mr. O'Connel."
Josie had had enough. She put out her hand for her phone. Taken aback by her self-assuredness, Kevin O'Connel almost gave it to her. Then he thought again, held his fist high and, with a laugh, dropped it at her feet.
"Oops." The mischievousness melted from his eyes.
Josie looked down, then up again. Kevin O'Connel was waiting for her to get it. The man could wait until hell froze over because Josie Bates wouldn't spend one second at his feet.
"Think about what you said," Kevin O'Connel warned. "That dead body thing—"
Surprised to find that they weren't the only two people in the universe, O'Connel stepped away and Josie looked at the lady who was retrieving the phone. There was a good two grand on the woman's back, another couple hundred on her feet. Not the type you'd figure for a good deed, not exactly the kind of woman who usually prowled the San Pedro courthouse. When she righted herself Josie had the impression that she smiled.
"I think this belongs to you."
She held Josie's phone out on her palm like a peace offering. Josie took it with a barely audible "Thanks" as she kept an eye on Kevin O'Connel. With a cock of a finger he shot Josie an imaginary bullet filled with hatred, arrogance and warning. Then he dismissed her with a grunt, turned on his heel and sauntered away, leaving Josie and the lady to watch.
"He doesn't seem very pleasant," the woman noted.
"He isn't," Josie answered and walked on. She got Susan on the phone again, calming her as she opened the door and absentmindedly held it for the man directly behind her. Josie paused on the sidewalk and made her second call. Eleven rings and Hannah answered. Home from school on a half day, homework done, she was readying her last painting for her exhibit at Hermosa Beach's Gallery C. The girl had come a long way since Josie had taken her in. A casualty of adult folly, Hannah was now legally under Josie's guardianship and she was anxious that Josie would not only be home, but be home in time for the exhibit. Josie assured Hannah that only the end of the world could keep her away, then said goodbye. Dropping the phone in her purse Josie was giving a cursory thought to where she might grab a bite to eat, when she felt a hand on her arm.
"Yep." She looked first at the obscenely large emerald ring that adorned that hand, then at the rich lady who had followed her from the courthouse.
"I wonder if I could take a few minutes of your time." She offered a smile and followed up with an invitation. "Perhaps lunch? It's already past noon."
Josie inclined her head, peeved at the interruption, perplexed by the invitation and dismayed by the woman issuing it. Josie had sworn off this kind of client long ago: the kind with more money than good sense, the kind usually found in Beverly Hills or Hollywood, the kind who had a different take on justice than the rank and file. This one looked to be bad news. Like a high-priced car she was sleek, high maintenance and tuned to a powerful, itchy idle. If Josie let her, she would press the gas and Josie would have no choice but to go along for the ride. The trick was to get out of the way before the flag dropped.
"I have an office in Hermosa Beach."
Josie reached for a card. When the woman put out her hand again Josie moved to avoid the contact and tried to shake off the sudden chill that crackled up the back of her neck. Something was amiss, but the sense of it was vague and Josie didn't want to waste her time getting a handle on it. Still, the woman persisted.
"I'd like to talk to you today. It's very important. There's a place not too far from here where we could talk privately." Her voice was deep, almost sultry.
"I'm sorry, I don't work that way. Call my office. If you've got something I can help you with I'll let you know; if I can't, I'll refer you."
Josie started to leave but the woman's fingers dug in hard on her arm. It took less than a second for Josie to note the change in the lady's demeanor, to see the flash of anger behind her dark eyes. It took even less time for Josie to break the hold and make herself clear.
"You better find someone else to help you."
"No. I need to talk to you," she whispered, refusing to be dismissed. "It's about Matthew. Matthew McCreary."
The woman smiled sweetly, triumphantly as Josie's outrage turned to surprise. The lady's abracadabra had conjured up a past that left Josie Baylor-Bates mesmerized, almost hypnotized. She came close again. This time both hands reached out and took Josie by the shoulders as if relieved a long search was over.
"I'm Grace McCreary. Matthew's sister."
Josie shook her head hard. She stumbled as she tried to free herself and that made the woman in blue hold tighter still. That was enough to bring Josie around. She pulled back, narrowed her eyes and said:
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