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‘Bad Blood’ offers up New York grit, glamour

Former sex crimes prosecutor Linda Fairstein writes about a murderous husband in her latest Alexandra Cooper novel. Read an excerpt.
/ Source: TODAY

Murder, explosions, chase scenes, cold case investigations and a glimpse into the world below the city of New York are just a few of the twists and turns in Linda Fairstein's latest crime novel, “Bad Blood.” Here's an excerpt:

I was alone in the courtroom, sitting at counsel’s table with a single slim folder opened before me. I had studied the photograph inside it hundreds of times in my office, but this morning I stared at it again for a different purpose.

The overhead shot of Amanda Quillian on a steel gurney had been taken at the morgue, shortly before her autopsy was performed eight months ago. Circular bruises were clustered on her throat, and crescent-shaped abrasions ringed the discolored areas of her skin, outlining the exact place where someone had ended her life by crushing her neck with his hands.

“Loneliest seat in town. Prosecutor in a domestic standing up before twelve good men and true — plus a few whacky broads mixed in — with a wee bit of circumstantial evidence, a snitch with a rap sheet longer than a roll of toilet paper, and no idea who actually squeezed the breath out of the late, lovely Mrs. Quillian.”

I looked up at the sound of Mike Chapman’s voice. “I didn’t hear the door open. Is it unlocked already?”

Mike’s smile was readiest at any chance to tease me. He brushed back his dark hair from his broad forehead, even his eyes laughing as he shook his head while reminding me of the uphill struggle that was about to unfold at trial.

“No. Artie Tramm let me in. Said to tell you the judge gave him orders to admit the riffraff at nine fifteen. Get rid of your coffee and say a little prayer to Our Lady of the Perpetually Hopeless Case.”

“It gives me such a warm feeling in my gut when the detective who made the arrest lacks conviction before even one of my witnesses is cross-examined.”

“Conviction? This may be the last time you get to use that word for a while, Coop.”

Mike walked toward the well of the courtroom as I stood and took the last slug of cold coffee. “Three cups should do it,” I said, tossing the cardboard container into the trash can. “Three cups and several hundred butterflies floating around inside me.”

“You still get ’em?”

“Put me out to pasture if I’m ever trying a major case and tell you I ­don’t.”

He looked at the blowup of Amanda Quillian’s face. “She talking to you, Coop? That why you slipped up here at eight thirty?”

I didn’t answer. Mike Chapman and I had worked together on homicides for more than a decade, well familiar with each other’s habits. We were professional partners and close friends. Mike knew that yesterday I had asked Artie, the officer in charge of Part 83 of the Supreme Court of New York County, Criminal Division, for permission to come up early to spend an hour in the courtroom before the day’s proceedings began.

The large shopping cart that had become the favorite conveyance for prosecutorial case files over the last twenty years was parked behind my chair. It was loaded with Redwelds, part of every litigator’s organizational system, and within them an array of colored folders — purple for each civilian witness, blue for NYPD cops and detectives, green for medical and forensic experts, and a few yellow ones for the names my adversary had turned over as part of the defendant’s case. The lower rack held the dozens of physical exhibits I planned to introduce into evidence, all of which had been pre-marked for identification to save time during the trial.

“Hey, Mike,” Artie Tramm called out as he stepped into the back of the room. “You see the game last night? The Yankees were hitting like it was a home-run derby.”

“Ms. Cooper had me hand-holding witnesses till ten ­ o’clock. I only caught the last inning. Good thing they can hit ’cause the pitching staff is having a problem finding the plate this year.”

“You got a crowd growing out there, Alex,” Artie said, pointing in the direction of the door. “I guess that’s why they moved you to this part, so there’s enough staff to control ’em. Lucky you came up when you did. Need anything?”

“I’m set, Artie. Thanks.” I started to arrange my folders and notepads on the table.

“She needs a killer. She needs a stone-cold murderer I can drag in here in handcuffs before she makes her closing argument in three weeks,” Mike said. “Do Coop a favor and keep your eyes open for one.”

Artie laughed. “I think you got a few possibilities in the peanut gallery.”

The long corridors at 100 Centre Street were bookended with oversize courtrooms, and this case had been assigned to one. The Quillian matter had been high-profile since the victim’s body was found in her town house in the East Eighties, half a block away from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the supervising judge had known from the time of the arraignment that the trial would draw spectators. Murder, money, and marital infidelity brought out the curious, who would fill the benches and choose sides to root for like fans at a wrestling match.

“Too bad you ­ couldn’t hear the openings yesterday. They were both good,” Artie said to Mike, twisting the ends of his handlebar mustache with his right hand as he walked to the judge’s bench. His left thumb was hooked on the waist of his blue serge pants, which drooped below his paunch. “Both real good.”

Because Mike would testify as a witness, he was not allowed to be in the courtroom for any other parts of the trial. “Scale of one to ten, how would you rate them?”

“Mike, please ­don’t —”

“Go about your business, Ms. Cooper. Ignore us. ­ Don’t tell me you ­ didn’t read your own reviews in this morning’s papers?” Mike grinned at me, running his fingers through his shock of black hair.

Artie was taking the judge’s water pitcher to be filled. “Trust me. She was a lot better than that columnist said in the Daily News. I mean, it’s not exactly like ­ they’re criticizing Alex. It’s the facts that ­ don’t seem so strong. I’d give Alex a nine, but I’d give her case a three,” Artie said to Mike. Then he seemed to remember that I was also there. “I hope ­ you’re saving some surprises for us.”

“And Howell?”

“Ten. A perfect ten. He’s so smooth. I tell you, Mike, I ever get the urge to kill somebody? Lem Howell’s my mouthpiece.” The door swung closed behind Artie Tramm.

“I ­ didn’t mean to stir the pot, Coop.”

“Artie’s right.”

“About our case?”

“About Lem Howell. Did Laura give you the list of calls to make this morning?”

“She ­ wasn’t in yet when I got to your office.” Mike was dressed in his trademark navy blazer and charcoal gray slacks. His pale blue shirt was unbuttoned at the collar and his rep tie unknotted and casually crisscrossed under the jacket. Both of us — Mike, taller than six feet, and me, five ten without my heels — seemed swallowed up by the large, empty courtroom.

“It’s on her desk.” I liked the flow of a trial to be seamless. Witnesses were lined up days ahead of time, placed on standby, and asked to juggle busy professional schedules to appear as needed. Most jurors became annoyed when unnecessary delays extended the length of their service. There would be things none of us could control — the juror whose subway train gets stuck or whose baby­ sitter ­ doesn’t show or who claims his cat swallowed a hair ball and has to go to the vet—but Mike and my paralegal, Maxine, would monitor the lineup I had organized to keep my presentation tight.

“Anything else I —”

“See you at one.”

“­ Don’t get short with me, kid. I’m with you on this. You just got to be realistic about our chances. I’m sorry if I broke your concentration.”

“That’s not all ­ you’re trying to break.”

I put Amanda Quillian’s photograph back in the folder and replaced it on the cart.

“So you got up here early to avoid running the gauntlet into the courtroom, you brought all the exhibits with you — and I guess ­ you’ve made your peace with Amanda.”

It was something I did at the beginning of every murder trial, just my own quiet way of getting ready to go into battle. Within the hour, every aspect of this woman’s personal life would be exposed to the jury — and to the public. The most intimate details of her daily affairs would be offered up for dissection — by me as well as by the defense — most of them things she had talked about, if at all, only with people she trusted and loved.

As soon as the doors were unlocked, the first two rows behind me, on both sides of the aisle, would be crammed with reporters from each of the city’s newspapers, and the television and radio stations, as well as stringers for the national media. The bench after that one was reserved for the victim’s family — her elderly mother, two sisters, and several of her closest friends. The rest of the audience would be a mix of locals who braved the intense heat of the June day, some who were courthouse regulars who liked the show — no matter what the crime — and others because cameras ­ aren’t allowed in New York State trials, meaning no gavel-to-gavel coverage of the case on Court TV. And, of course, also attending would be the young Legal Aid lawyers and my colleagues from the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, slipping in between their own calendar calls to study Lem Howell’s style or lend me moral support.

I knew my case cold. I knew its weaknesses and more of its strong points than the twelve jurors and four alternates would ever hear. Some of the state’s evidence had been suppressed by the judge in pretrial hearings as inadmissible or potentially prejudicial, and Howell would do his best to limit me even further with every application I made. I had already prepared for the testimony that would be elicited today. I­ didn’t need this time to do any work.

Excerpted from “Bad Blood,” by Linda Fairstein. Copyright © 2007 Linda Fairstein. Excerpted by permission of Scribner, an imprint of . All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.