Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Reckless Disregard by Robert Rotstein - Excerpt and Giveaway

Robert Rotstein's Parker Stern is back in this year's follow up to Corrupt Practices! And while the book doesn't officially hit shelves for another week, I am lucky enough to be able to offer up both an excerpt to tempt you with and a chance for you to win your very own copy!

But first, here's a bit about Reckless Disregard from the publisher:

Reckless Disregard finds former top-notch attorney Parker Stern taking on a dicey case for an elusive video game designer known to the world only by the name of “Poniard.”

In Poniard’s blockbuster online video game, Abduction! a real-life movie mogul is charged with kidnapping and murdering a beautiful actress who disappeared in the 1980s. The mogul—William “the Conqueror” Bishop—has responded with a libel lawsuit. Now it’s up to Stern to defend the game designer in the suit. Except there is one major problem, nobody has ever met his client…not even Stern.

I truly enjoyed Corrupt Practices (you can hit the link above to see my review of that one if you're interested) and can't wait to get to this sequel!

And now for the excerpt:


Before I can search the name Poniard, there’s a knock at my door, though it’s wide open. Brenda Sica, the case assistant I share with three other mediators, stands at the threshold. It’s her job to schedule mediations, organize the case files, collect retainers in advance, do basic Internet research, and word process my official correspondence—more responsibility than a secretary but less than a paralegal. During the six weeks she’s worked at JADS, we’ve merely exchange pleasantries, and yet she’s cowering in my doorway as if she expects me to hurl a paperweight at her. 

“Mr. Stern, I—”

“Call me Parker.” I’ve told her this before.

“Yeah, sorry. P... Parker.” Her voice is tremulous, her shoulders slumped, her eyes downcast. Her anxiety clashes with her brassy appearance. In her mid- to late-twenties, she’s small and voluptuous, with long black hair, creamy skin, dark brown eyes, and a long Greek nose. She’s heavily made up, with ivory foundation, black eyeliner, and eyebrows plucked so thin that they look like tattoos. Maybe they are tattoos. She’s dressed in a form-fitting white sweater and a black pleated skirt too short for an office full of staid lawyers and judges. The four- inch platform heels make her five-four. And then there’s her perfume— drugstore-chain quality, licorice and vanilla and musk, over-applied. 

“I’m wondering if you have any work you need me to do,” she says, shrugging and not bothering to lower her shoulders. 

“You know how slow I’ve been.” 

Instead of leaving, she leans back against the wall and shuts her eyes, like a child after a scolding. Her body seems to accordion into itself. I wait for her to leave, but she just stands there. 

“Is everything OK?” I ask. 

“No, sir, Mr. Stern. I need this job, and since I was hired I’ve only been working part time. They said I’d be working for four people, mostly you, but you’re not busy and Judge Mitchell still keeps using Lucy as his assistant and Ms. Ross has been out on maternity leave, so it’s only Judge Croninger, and she doesn’t have enough work to keep me busy full time, so I think they’re going to lay me off if I don’t have more to do. I’m on probation still.” 

I’m to blame. If I brought in even half the mediations I should, I could keep her busy. I’ve been sitting in my office, waiting for the work to come to me rather than going out into the legal community and aggressively marketing. Yet, here I am, about to conduct research on a potential lawsuit. Nothing in my deal with JADS prevents me from taking on a case as a lawyer, but the company expects me to make mediation my first priority. My laziness and disinterest shouldn’t affect Brenda Sica. 

“Are you working on anything at all?” she asks.

“I have a possible matter as a lawyer, but it’s not a JADS thing.”

“I can help you out.”

“I don’t think it’s fair to you or JADS to—”

“It’s OK with me. At least I’ll look busy.” She puts her hands together, prayer style. A passive form of advocacy but an effective one. I can easily reimburse JADS for a few hours of her salary. I’m not here for the money anyway—I have other sources of income. 

“How are you at Internet research?” I ask, though I don’t expect much because JADS gives the new hires only three hours training on LexisNexis and Westlaw. 

“Whatever you need, Mr. Stern.” 

“Just don’t tell anyone what you’re working on. I’ll make it right with JADS.” 

She nods and crosses her heart like a child swearing an oath. 

I tell her about Bishop’s potential lawsuit against Poniard and describe the research I need. She keeps nodding her head and brushing away the same strand of hair that falls into her face every third nod. 

When I finish, I ask if she has questions. She shakes her head and leaves. I suspect that she hasn’t understood half of what I said. 

I spend the next forty-five minutes reading a biography of Edward Bennett Williams, the famous DC trial lawyer who once owned the Washington Redskins. Williams said, “I will defend anyone as long as the client gives me total control of the case and pays up front.” This Poniard character has offered to pay me up front; taking total control of the case will be the hard part. 

There’s a slight rustling in the doorway, fabric against skin. I start and then look up to see Brenda slouching against the doorjamb, arms folded, papers dangling from one hand. She has a look of repose, almost ennui, as if she’s been watching me for a long time. 

“What is it?” I ask, sounding more abrupt than I intend. 

She straightens up suddenly, as if I startled her and not the other way around. “No. I finished the research.” 

“So fast?” 

She shrugs apologetically. I gesture for her to come inside. She sits down in the client chair, crosses her legs, and tugs the hem of her skirt down hard. 

“Can we start with Felicity?” she asks.

“However you want to do this, Brenda.”

She takes a heavy breath. “OK. The best thing I found on her is from this website called The Tommy Foundation, named after a California boy who disappeared in 1961. It collects cold cases involving people who have disappeared. Here’s a short summary of the vital statistics.” 

I skim the printout: 

  • Name: Paula Felicity McGrath 
  • Missing since: July 23, 1987 
  • Classification: Endangered missing 
  • Age: 28 years old 
  • Distinguishing characteristics: Caucasian female. Red hair (dyed auburn at the time of disappearance), blue eyes. 
  • Medical condition: McGrath was rumored to be three months pregnant at the time of her disappearance, but this has not been confirmed.

“I don’t remember anything about her being pregnant,” I say. “It’s been a long time, but—” 

“This is the only website that says it. I haven’t done a full Lexis search, but most of the news articles I found don’t mention pregnancy. I...” She puts a hand to her mouth. “Sorry, Mr. Stern... Parker.” 

“For what?”

“Because I interrupted you.”

“It’s OK. It’s called conversation.”

She fumbles with her printouts. “So, OK. On July 23, 1987, Felicity leaves her apartment in the Carthay Circle District of Los Angeles. At approximately 6:00 p.m., she tells her roommate Natalie Owen, a teller at a local bank, that she’s going to meet a friend for dinner at the Farmer’s Market on Third Street. She also says she’s going to a nighttime film shoot afterwards.” 

Brenda has rarely said more than a few words to me. So I never noticed that her speech has a vaguely foreign lilt, a softening of the R’s, a rising inflection at the end of sentences that sounds musical and child- like. And though from her name I assumed she’s Latina, her speech doesn’t sound like it came from a Hispanic country or the barrio. I can’t place it. Or maybe she simply has a slight, endearing speech impediment. 

“Natalie Owen filed a missing person’s report after Felicity failed to return home the next day,” she continues. “A city worker on the Santa Monica beach found a gold or yellow high-heel shoe belonging to McGrath on the sand not far from the pier. Later, a police search turned up a chain and cross that might have been Felicity’s. The CSI people found blood on a concrete pylon, the blood type matching Felicity’s. Of course, everybody knows the cops never found her body.” She wraps her arms around her chest and shudders visibly. 

“Pretty scary stuff,” I say. 

“Every girl’s nightmare. Anyway, her purse was never found. Her brown seventy-eight Honda Civic was later found parked on Abbott Kinney in Venice.” She takes three shallow breaths. “Anyway, the rumors and gossip were that Felicity was a skank, that she slept around with both men and women. Of course, there’s no proof, but... this bartender in Venice told the police that at approximately 11:30 p.m. the evening she went missing, she left his bar with two men in their late thirties or early forties. One tall and one short. Both with dark curly hair. The cops thought she was hooking, that maybe she picked up the wrong johns, and they raped and murdered her and dumped... and dumped her body at sea. Their other theory is that she committed suicide because she was mentally disturbed, manic-depressive.” 

“They call it bipolar disease these days.” 

She looks up at the ceiling. “The cops couldn’t find evidence that Felicity had an acting job that night.” 

“What about suspects?”

“There weren’t any.”

“William Bishop’s relationship with her?”

“None that I can find yet. I checked the Internet Movie Database. McGrath worked on two films released by Bishop’s studio—both bombs—but the company made twenty-three films during that time, so there’s no reason to think that Bishop was involved in her movies. He’s a corporate executive, right? You know he’s in control of a ton of the media in the Western world? Movie studio, TV network, newspapers, Internet and cable companies. I can’t believe I never heard of him before.” 

“William the Conqueror does have scary power.” 

“Why do they call him that?”

“You’ve never heard of—?”

She shakes her head. 

“The original William the Conqueror was a Frenchman who invaded England, overwhelmed his opponents, and became king. They call Bishop “the Conqueror” because he’ll do anything to defeat his opponents. Except, he does it in the corporate world rather than on the battlefield. He’s a media mogul whose companies pry into other people’s business, and yet he somehow manages to keep his private life private even in this Internet era.” 

She shuffles through her stack of papers. “I did find one weird thing that’s not publicized. Did you know he was an actor?” 

“You must have the wrong William Bishop.” 

“He acted in a movie in like, the nineteen seventies—The Boatman.” She hands me a printout, all in text. It’s a stub article—the name of the movie, Bishop’s name, but no information about the rest of the cast or company and crew or movie’s plot. Even the date is vague—197

“Where did you get this?” 

“The Internet Movie Database. Well, not the website IMDb, but—” 

“If the IMDb says Bishop is an actor, the whole world would know about it.” 

“No. I mean, it was posted before the IMDb was a website. It used to be what they call a newsgroup, rec.arts.movies. Obsolete. I looked in Wikipedia and...” 

“How do you know it’s the same guy?” 

“I guess I don’t, Mr. Stern. But why isn’t The Boatman on today’s IMDb? Every movie’s on today’s IMDb. Bollywood movies, Japanese movies, even porn.” 

“The IMDb is wrong a lot,” I say.

“Yeah, but it wouldn’t leave this out.”

I’m not sure I buy her theory, but I certainly underestimated her. 

“Good job,” I say.

I thought that would get a smile from her, or a thank you, but she just stares at me as if my compliment is a cruel joke.

“OK. What about Poniard?” I ask.

She hands me a printout from Wikipedia.

Poniard is a pseudonymous video game developer and political activist. His games include Bomb Rats, the simulated government game Macbeth in the White House, Eggheads and Skinheads, Reality Rogues, and Abduction! His earlier games oppose imperialism, capitalism, fascism, and the cult of celebrity. Some call him a nihilist. His most recent game Abduction! allegedly accuses business magnate William Bishop of orchestrating the 1987 disappearance of actress Paula Felicity McGrath, though there has never been any evidence of Bishop’s involvement. As always, Poniard released the game without fanfare. Speculation is that it first became available on the Internet sometime in June 2013 and took some weeks to catch on with the general game-playing population. 

Later in the article: 

There have been numerous rumors and theories about Poniard’s identity. Theories often suggested include a former Xerox PARC researcher, a teenager in Oslo, Norway, and a mysterious computer programmer named Vladimir Lazerev. There’s one alleged photograph of Lazerev, taken at a 2010 video game conference in London. His whereabouts are unknown. Another theory is that Poniard is actually a collective of game developers rather than a single person. A “poniard” is a long, lightweight thrusting knife with a continuously tapering, acutely pointed blade. 

“So, he’s a mystery man,” I say.

“Yeah, like Banksy.”

“The English graffiti artist.”

“His stuff is incredible. But nobody knows who he is.”

“I saw his film Exit Through the Gift Shop. Good documentary, mediocre art.”

She narrows her eyes and leans forward as if to protest, but sits back. I wish she had protested. But I was trained in law school to believe that you get to the truth by arguing. I often forget that most normal people don’t believe that for a moment. 

“The photo of Lazerev?” 

She slides another sheet of paper over to me. “Sorry, I tried to blow it up, play with the printer but... no wonder they can’t identify the guy.” The blurry, sepia-toned photo must’ve been taken from a balcony or an upper-floor window or a rooftop. A large crowd has gathered in a plaza, perhaps a party, perhaps a protest. There’s an arrow—part of the graphic, not anything that Brenda has drawn in—pointing toward the head of a man wearing a hoodie. Only the left side of his face is visible. 

He looks like a nerdy college student—beak nose, slightly receding chin, John Lennon eyeglasses. The only things that distinguish him are his height and a dark spot on his cheek, maybe a birthmark, maybe just a smudge in the photo. 

She takes a deep breath, then another, wheezy, like an asthmatic. “So. This Poniard dude is real rich. He usually sells his video games for a premium, and people pay it. But he gave this Abduction! game away for free. The game’s gone viral. And you should know that...” She averts her eyes, as if she’s about to confess to a mortal sin. Her cheeks begin to flush. 

“Are you OK?” 

“Yeah, it’s just... Poniard posted Louis Frantz’s cease and desist letter on his blog. He wrote... he wrote that Bishop is ‘too big a pussy to sue.’ Sorry for the language.” Her cheeks and neck splotch red. She uncrosses and recrosses her legs and pulls at her skirt again. What makes a woman dress revealingly and then spend all day trying to cover up? 

“What about the video game?” I ask. 

“I’m sorry, I... I didn’t know that was part of the assignment. I’ll go look it up now.” 

“You any good at video games?” 

She squinches her nose as if smelling something putrid. “No, sir. I hate them. My last boyfriend was a gamer. Obsessed. Maybe if he would’ve spent as much time with me as he did playing Call of Duty...” She catches herself. “Sorry.” 

“I’ll work on the video game angle.”

“Really, I can—”

“No, it’s OK. Again, great job.”

“Thanks, Mr. ... Parker.” When she reaches the door, she turns back and smiles before leaving the office.

I go to the computer and find a wiki devoted specifically to Abduction!, which is described as a “survival horror” game—an adventure game that draws on horror fiction conventions. Survival horror games, I learn, involve a vulnerable player who must survive horrific forces through intelligence and evasion, not violence.

And now for the giveaway: to enter simply fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, June 9. US only and no PO boxes please.

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traveler said...

This book would be memorable and special. A great author and novel. thanks. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

Anita Yancey said...

It sounds like a very orginal and amazing book. I would love a chance to read it. Thanks for this chance to win it.