Title: Write to Die
Author: Charles Rosenberg
Publication Date: July 26, 2016
Formats: Trade Paper, ISBN: 978- 1503937611, $15.95, Kindle, $3.99
Page Count: 498 (approximately)
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Publicity Contact: Maryglenn McCombs (615) 297-9875 firstname.lastname@example.org
Book description: Hollywood’s latest blockbuster is all set to premiere—until a faded superstar claims the script was stolen from her. To defend the studio, in steps the Harold Firm, one of Los Angeles’s top entertainment litigation firms and as much a part of the glamorous scene as the studios themselves. As a newly minted partner, it’s Rory Calburton’s case, and his career, to win or lose. But the seemingly tame civil trial turns lethal when Rory stumbles upon the strangled body of his client’s general counsel. And the ties that bind in Hollywood constrict even tighter when the founder of the Harold Firm is implicated in the murder. Rory is certain the plagiarism and murder cases are somehow connected, and with the help of new associate Sarah Gold—who’s just finished clerking for the chief justice—he’s determined to get answers. Will finding out who really wrote the script lead them to the mastermind of the real-life murder?
The story began when his phone rang.
He struggled out of a deep Sunday morning sleep, fumbled the phone to his ear, got out “Hello” and heard a deep voice say, “Rory, Joe Stanton. I need to see you.”
“Joe, I just saw you on Friday.”
“Well, so what? I need you again. My office. Five o’clock.”
Rory wanted to say, “It’s Sunday, and I have plans.” But he knew he had no real choice. Joe’s studio, TheSun/TheMoon/TheStars, was his firm’s largest client. Joe was the general counsel—the guy who distributed all of the litigation work on which Rory’s law firm feasted. But even as he stifled his real thoughts and said, “Okay, see you there,” he realized Stanton had already hung up.
Rory had been on the studio lot so frequently in the past few years that they had finally caved and given him a drive-on pass, something unheard of for outside lawyers. He flashed it at the guard gate—the security camera would later document that he drove through at 5:06 p.m.—and made his way, via the fake streets used to film cityscapes, to the oddly named Executive Office Structure. There were a few other cars around, but not many, and Rory amused himself by sliding into the slot reserved for the studio head.
Joe’s office was on the top floor, and Rory took the steps up, the better to add a little more exercise to his day. His bad knee always did better going up than down. It had surprised him that the entry door into the stairwell was unlocked and annoyed him that he was out of breath by the time he got to the top.
The door to Joe’s assistant’s office was wide open, and nobody was at the desk—amazing in itself because when Joe was in the office, an assistant was always there, too, day or night. The door to Joe’s own office was to the right of the assistant’s desk. It was closed.
Rory knocked. When there was no answer, he knocked again, louder, eased the door open and peeked around the edge. Joe was sitting in his leather chair, behind his over-large black granite desk, his body tilted slightly to the left. An ugly black-and-blue bruise spanned his neck from ear to ear, and his swollen tongue protruded from his mouth. Blood clotted in his hair.
What went through Rory’s head was remarkably rational, considering that his heart rate had accelerated to twice normal speed. If I go in there, I’ll get my fingerprints and probably my DNA all over everything. And the guy’s clearly dead, so I can’t help him.
He closed the door, but not all the way, called 911 on his cell, calmly reported the body and its location and waited. While he waited there in the assistant’s office, the door to Joe’s office swung entirely open again on its own. He wanted to turn away, but he had the odd feeling it was somehow disrespectful to the body to do that. So he just stared at it until suddenly a breeze, or something, slammed the door shut again.
The 911 call had apparently alerted studio security as well as the city’s emergency system, because within a few minutes a studio cop showed up, out of breath from running up the steps. Rory pointed to the door and tried to say “Dead,” but all that came out was a croak. He tried again and got the word out.
“Anyone else in there?”
“Don’t think so, but I’m not sure. I opened the door, but then it closed again on its own. The wind, maybe.”
The guard motioned him away, drew his gun, flattened himself to the wall beside the door and, while turning the doorknob with his spare hand, kicked the door wide open. Crouching slightly and holding the gun straight out in front of him, he cleared first the open doorway and then, moving inside, the space to each side of the door. Rory thought it a brave thing. If somebody had been inside with a gun or a knife, the guard could’ve bought the farm.
“The room’s clear,” the man said. Then, as if he had not yet really focused on the corpse in the chair, he added, “Oh my God.”
Rory heard the sirens as the police and paramedics arrived, and he watched LAPD uniforms stream out of the stairway, consult the studio guard and go through the same routine of clearing the room, guns drawn. Within ten minutes, there were six more people, including men and women wearing white coats with LAPD insignia stitched above the pockets. Suddenly, yellow crime scene tape was everywhere.
Rory heard the studio guard on his walkie-talkie telling the front gate, “Don’t let any media in here . . . No, nobody, even if they’ve got a pass . . . They’ll be coming soon, they’ve probably already heard about it on the police scanner. And post somebody on the walk-in gate on the back lot.”
A Detective Johnson, according to his name plate, a big African American guy who was actually taller than Rory’s own six foot five, and maybe heavier, too, emerged from Joe’s office wearing white booties and latex gloves. He peeled the gloves off and took out a small notebook. “You the guy who found him?”
“The other detectives will want to talk to you later. I’ll get the basics from you now.”
It didn’t take long. Rory answered that he didn’t know if Joe had any enemies, in part because he didn’t know the victim very well.
“Any idea why he wanted to meet with you?”
Rory shrugged. “I’m an outside entertainment lawyer representing the studio in a big copyright case. There’s a court hearing going on about it right now. Maybe he wanted to talk about that. But he didn’t say. Just said he wanted to see me today.”
“So, Detective,” Rory said, “is there any way he could have . . . choked himself, somehow? Is that possible?”
“Not unless you can strangle yourself and make the rope disappear afterward.”
“No sign of it?”
He shook his head. “It was good you didn’t go in there. A lot of people would have. How did you have the smarts not to?”
“A long time ago, I was a deputy DA. You learn stuff in that job.”
“And now you’re—what did you say? An entertainment lawyer?” Without waiting for Rory to confirm, he rolled on: “Hey, have you heard this one?”
Here we go, Rory thought. Even in the middle of a gruesome crime scene.
“What’s the difference between a dead lawyer and a dead armadillo in the road, Counselor?”
“I don’t know. What?”
“No skid marks in front of the lawyer.” He guffawed at his own joke.
Rory had been thinking up good responses to lawyer jokes for years. Maybe this wasn’t the time to try one out, but then again, maybe it was.
“That’s funny, Detective, but what about this one? How many clients does it take to screw in a light bulb?”
“Uh, I dunno.”
“Well, no one knows, because clients always call their lawyers to come over and help.”
“It’s a client joke.”
“I gotta think about that one.”
“Yes. Do that. May I go now?”
“You have my card. If any of the other detectives need to talk to me, please tell ’em to give me a call.”
“I expect they will.” He paused. “Say, do lawyers often tell each other client jokes?”
“Nope, but they should.”
Rory left Detective Johnson, walked back to his car in the parking lot and opened the door. Then he turned around and threw up on the asphalt, getting some on his pants. When he felt like it wasn’t going to happen again, he drove home, cleaned up and tried to eat something. But he wasn’t hungry. Then he tried to sleep but found it hard. He finally got up, rummaged in his medicine cabinet and found a bottle of Valium that an old girlfriend had left behind. He took one and fell into a troubled sleep.
Excerpted from WRITE TO DIE with permission of the publisher, Thomas & Mercer. Copyright 2016 (c) Charles Rosenberg. All rights reserved.