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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

The Murder List

A Novel of Suspense

Hank Phillippi Ryan; read by Angela Dawe

Macmillan Audio




We never fight. Not in the past six years, as long as we’ve been married. Not even in the months before that. It isn’t that Jack is always right or I’m always right. Usually our disagreements are about things that don’t matter, so it’s easier and quicker for me to acquiesce. Jack’s a lawyer, so he likes to win. It makes him happy. And that’s good.

But now on a Saturday morning in May, sitting face-to-face across our breakfast table in sweats and ratty slippers, we’re definitely on the verge of a real fight. This time, the fight matters. This time I have to win.

“I forbid it,” Jack says.

I burst out laughing—all I can think to do—because “forbid” is such an odd word.

“Forbid?” I say the word, repeating it, diluting it, undermining it. “What’re you gonna do, honey, lock me in the castle tower? You’re not that much older than I am. Come on, sweetheart. Get real. Have some more coffee. Read your Globe.

He doesn’t look up from the Metro section. “It’s absurd, Rachel,” he says into the paper. “That woman is evil. Plus, I can’t understand why you’d want to fill your brain with that kind of…” He shakes his head as he snaps a page into place, the newsprint crackling with his impatience. “Absurd. An exceedingly unwise decision on Gardiner’s part. And yours, too, Rach.”

I take a sip of dark roast to defuse my annoyance and to clear the looming emotional thunderstorm. I know his problem isn’t my summer internship in the Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office. Jack’s impatience with me is fueled by the headlines he’s reading, news stories that feature his name. Jack hates to lose. Especially in court. And especially to Assistant District Attorney Martha Gardiner. My new boss.

Martha Gardiner. The woman Jack usually refers to as “Satan in pearls.” He never laughs when he says it.

“Honey?” I soften my voice, knowing there are many ways to win. Law school is teaching me that. “It’s only for three months. I’m required to do it. All the 2L students are, or we can’t be 3Ls. And then we can’t graduate. And there goes all that law-school tuition you’ve loaned me. Plus, we’ve planned the whole thing. We’re gonna be partners. You’ll get me on the murder list. And we’re a team. Your very own word. Remember?”

“Team? Certainly doesn’t feel like it. I thought you chose a side.” He lowers the paper, one inch, looks at me with narrowed eyes. “And not that side. Not hers.”

“But—” How do I handle this? He pays the bills, at this point at least. As a student—at thirty-six, the world’s oldest law student—I have zero income. You’re my investment, he told me. I took it as a compliment. “But—”

“There are no ‘buts.’ Gardiner’s a predator. She maligns the law. Twists it. Corrupts it. Her every instinct is to destroy and defeat.” The newspaper barrier goes back up.

I can’t escalate this, so I’ll ignore the fact that prosecutors are supposed to be the champions of law and order. Jack’s oversensitive because Gardiner’s the one prosecutor who can beat him. My dear husband is not the most reliable narrator, though, and he’s probably exaggerating when he spins me stories about her disturbingly unfair and manipulative tactics. But Martha Leggett Gardiner is a touchy subject.

Jack’s frown, hidden by newsprint again, chilled me. I’ve seen that same expression in the courtroom, and it’s never a good sign for the witness he’s about to interrogate. But I’m not his witness. I’m his wife.

“I know you’re upset.” I decide on instant capitulation and a subject pivot. “But even you have to lose a case once in a while. Especially since your client, you know, did it.”

“That shouldn’t matter. Or are your profs holding back that tidbit until your third year?” Jack flaps the newspaper to a new page. Hiding the DORN DID IT headline I know is there. “That jury of morons wanted someone to be punished. And Gardiner had the judge in her pocket.”

“I know. It stinks. I know. It does.” This morning hadn’t been the optimum time to spring the Gardiner situation on him, but it’s the only time. Harvard had emailed the final 2L internship assignments to us late last night, and our jobs start this coming Wednesday. I could hardly hide reality, and, besides, I’m excited. Nervous but excited. Still, life’s a juggle when your husband is cranky.

Jack’s old plaid Saturday shirt is buttoned wrong, his hair like windblown straw. He’s bitter over every courtroom loss, so we’ve ridden out a few iterations of this before. The second newspaper headline reads JURY TO JACK KIRKLAND: DROP DEAD. I’d almost hidden the paper from him, a gesture in affectionate futility.

“But it was a murder-list case,” I say. Maybe I can provide some comfort, or some logic. “Marcus Dorn was lucky to have the state appoint you as his attorney. You can’t help it if your key witness decided to vanish. Plan the appeal, honey, you’ll win. You’re the best defense lawyer in Boston. Or anywhere.”

“Appeals take years.” Jack stands, tosses the paper to the floor, paces to the window. Our tiny garden’s perennials are flourishing in this spring’s incessant rain, but I figure he’s not thinking about peonies or pink thyme. He’s replaying that verdict. He truly cares about justice, defending his clients, even the ones he knows are guilty. It’s one of the reasons I married him. And he almost always wins. Another reason.

“Martha Gardiner’s doing this to screw with me,” Jack says, turning back to me. “Like she tries to every damn day in court. She’s using you, Rachel. Are you too naïve to see that? This is about me. Can you possibly have some misguided notion that this is about you?”

I take a deep breath. “I’ll only be working with her for the summer. And then I’ll be back with you. Against her. She can’t win against both of us.”

No answer.

Okay, then. In the silent tension, I’ll tell him my plan. The truth. “Honey? I’m doing this for us. It’s the perfect strategy. I’ll work with her. I’ll learn her methods and techniques. It’s like opposition research, scoping out the competition from the inside. The more I understand her prosecution, the more I can structure our defense. See? It’s brilliant.”

No answer. It’s risky, I know that. Such is life.

I sip my coffee, pretend to read the Times on my iPad, and let him sulk. Secretly, I feel fine that Marcus Simmons Dorn is behind bars forever. He’d been charged with the gruesome murder of a perfectly lovely couple after breaking into their high-priced—and supposedly high-security—suburban condominium called The Westmoreland. He stole their jewelry and a manila envelope of cash, then slit their throats. Turned out, Dorn himself was the security guard. So much for security.

And Jack, swearing me to marital secrecy, had shown me the graphic crime-scene photos, Manson-esque scrawls in the victims’ own blood, which he’d managed to keep away from the jury. Jack had been proud he’d convinced the judge to suppress them. I love how he values the rule of law. Even when he knows his successful defense might result in a murderer walking free.

In the Dorn case, though, suppressing those photos was Jack’s only victory. The jury voted guilty. But Jack doesn’t lose often. I’m relying on that.

Especially since I’ll eventually become my husband’s law partner. I won’t be on the state’s special murder list, like Jack is, since I’ll be a novice for a while, and not experienced enough for the state to appoint me to represent accused murderers who can’t pay for their defense. But he’s promised me we’ll be Kirkland and North. Once I pass the bar exam.

I close my eyes briefly, almost swooning with the need for that to come true. Jack and I will be protecting our clients’ rights. Together. As for Jack’s one-sided philosophy, I truly love him for it, but hey, it’s law school. I’m training to understand two sides. Defense and prosecution. The devil you know.

“So you’re insisting on this travesty? Signing on with the devil woman?” Jack, as if reading my mind, comes back to the table, retrieves the paper, places it beside his coffee mug. Lays his left hand flat on top of it. His wedding-ring hand. “Even if it might end our marriage?”

My eyes well with tears at his tone. At his suggestion. At that possibility. At that disaster.

“What?” I hear my voice tremble as I try to read his face.

“Kidding, sweetheart,” Jack says. He kisses me on the top of my head. “Only kidding.”

Copyright © 2019 by Hank Phillippi Ryan