Trial lawyer Jimmy “Royal” Payne was his own worst enemy—until now. Haunted by personal tragedy, wanted by the cops, Payne needs to skip town. What he doesn’t need is Tino Perez, a gutsy twelve-year-old Mexican boy in search of his missing—and undocumented—mother. But Payne’s ex-wife, an L.A.P.D. detective he still loves, makes him a deal: help the boy or go to jail. Soon Payne is following Tino into the dark side of the American dream. From bloody Mexicali to the bullet-ridden San Joaquin Valley, Payne will be swept into the dark current of illegal immigration, human trafficking, and sexual slavery—navigating the twisted border between justice and revenge.
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Paul Levine is a former trial lawyer and an award-winning author of legal thrillers, including Solomon vs. Lord (nominated for the Macavity Award and the James Thurber Prize), The Deep Blue Alibi (nominated for an Edgar Award), and Kill All the Lawyers (a finalist for the International Thriller Writers Award). He won the John D. MacDonald Award for his critically acclaimed Jake Lassiter novels, which are now available as ebooks. He’s also written more than twenty episodes for the CBS military drama JAG. Paul Levine lives in Los Angeles, where he is working on his next Jake Lassiter thriller.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Judge Rollins drew a handgun from beneath his black robes, pointed the snub-nosed barrel at Jimmy Payne’s chest and said, “Who you pimping for, you low-life shyster?”
Payne gaped at the revolver.
This cannot be happening.
The judge gestured toward the stacks of hundred-dollar bills on his desk. “C’mon, Payne. You’re not smart enough to dream this up on your own.”
They faced each other in the judge’s chambers, a tranquil refuge of leatherbound books and walnut wainscoting. Payne felt his knees wobble. “I swear, Judge. I just represent the defendant. Ramon Carollo.”
“Not like you to defend human traffickers. I remember the hell you raised when those wetbacks got barbecued in a trailer truck.”
“I like to call them ‘undocumented aliens.’?”
“Why? They from Mars?”
The judge vaulted out of his high-backed chair. Quick for a big man. Silver hair swept straight back, like feathers on a snow goose. Shoulders as wide as a bookcase.
“Take off your clothes, Payne.”
“You heard me.”
“I swear I’m not wearing a wire. You can pat me down.”
Payne wasn’t sure he could. His joints seemed rusted shut.
With jerky motions, Payne kicked off his shoes, unhooked his belt, and dropped his trousers.
“You bring me nine stacks of hundred-dollar bills, fifty to a stack.” Judge Rollins motioned toward the open briefcase on his desk and did the math in his head. “Forty-five thousand dollars.”
“That’s the offer,” Payne agreed.
“Odd amount. Like it was supposed to be fifty thousand, but some half-assed bag man skimmed five off the top.”
“No, sir.” Payne lowered his tie and slipped out of his shirt. “Forty-five is all I’ve got to spend.”
“No sale, shitbird.”
“I thought it was worth a shot, Your Honor. But let’s just forget the whole thing. I’ll put my pants on and—”
“Drop those undershorts, too.” The judge waved the gun like a king with a scepter.
Payne pulled down his red-and-white boxers with the Los Angeles Clippers logo. He preferred them to the Lakers purple-and-gold shorts, not for the colors, but because he favored underdogs.
“Now turn around and spread your cheeks.”
“No way, Judge.”
At thirty-seven, Payne was in good shape. Flat stomach, decent chest, a sinewy runner’s body. He spun around and bent over. “Like I said, Your Honor, no wire.”
Judge Rollins gazed off. “I don’t know whether to shoot you or arrest you.”
Jimmy straightened and turned around. “Just let me go, Judge. There’s a lot of good I can do out there.”
“Out where? You’re Jimmy Payne. Royal Payne. You cut corners. You represent undesirables. You piss people off.”
“Honestly, Judge. I’m gonna change my life.”
“People don’t change, Payne. They just get old and die. Sometimes, they don’t even get old.”
Payne stepped sideways toward a set of shelves decorated with framed vanity photos. Judge Rollins with Mayor Villaraigosa, Senator Boxer, some local bigwigs, and a pretty young woman in a pink sash, the Rose Bowl queen, maybe. Alongside the photos, the scales of justice. Bronze. Heavy. Tilted heavily to one side. One more step and Payne could grab the scales by the blindfolded lady and take a swing at the judge.
“Freeze, sleazebag.” Rollins pulled back the hammer of the .38. As the click echoed in his brain, Payne thought of his son, Adam. Ten years old. Loved baseball. Cheeseburgers. Surfing. A boy needs his father.
Just how the hell did I get into this?
From the Hardcover edition.
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