Read Parker 02 - The Guilty Online

Authors: Pinter, Jason

Parker 02 - The Guilty

(r)

For Susan

Always, for you

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Linda McFall. To simply thank her for being a good editor

would be overlooking the thousand ways she makes the

writing and publishing process a joy. Linda forced me to

reach inside this manuscript and, kicking and screaming,

pull out a better book.

Adam Wilson, who was always there in a pinch and kept

everything on track.

Joe Veltre, whose insight and savvy make him an uber immortal among agents. Thanks also to Diane Bartoli and

Sara Wolski, who patiently answered all my fine-print

questions (some of which were half-intelligent).

My deepest thanks to Donna Hayes, Dianne Moggy,

Margaret O'Neill Marbury, Craig Swinwood,

Loriana Sacilotto, Stacy Widdrington, Maureen Stead,

Katherine Orr, Marleah Stout, Heather Foy, Ana Luxton,

Jayne Hoogenberk and Valerie Gray, aka Team MIRA.

Whenever I don't think I could be more impressed with

my publisher's dedication and aptitude, they raise the

bar. I only hope I'm able to keep pace.

Cris Jaw, designer extraordinaire. Behind those bullet

holes lies her brilliance.

Michael Wallis, Professor James Starrs,

Frederick W. Nolan and Marcelle Brothers, whose sturdy

shoulders provided support in my research for this novel.

Timothy L. O'Brien, who shared the wonders of

journalism's most hallowed halls.

Mom, Dad and Ali, supportive and nurturing as always,

thank you again for helping me live my dream.

Wilson, who always gives me something to look forward

to when I come home.

Jeff, Jane and Sabrina, my beloved in-laws, who not

only bent over backward to spread the good word in

every way possible, but raised the wonderful girl who

became my wife. Great job!

And to Susan. My first reader, my best friend, my

soul mate. Thank you.

Prologue

They say it's better to have loved and lost than to never have

loved at all.

I disagree.

I've lost before. I lost the affection of my parents before

I was old enough to know that the world looked upon an

estranged child with sad eyes. I lost my first love because

I was too cowardly to protect her. I nearly lost my life due

to circumstances beyond my control. All of those losses

created holes in my life. Holes I've attempted to patch up,

to cover, but they'll always be there, even if they don't

leave a mark on the surface.

Doesn't mean I can't try to forget. Through life. Through

work.

Through Amanda.

If she wasn't here, lying next to me in our bed, her head

inches from mine, I wouldn't be here at all. It's not that I'd

be back in Oregon, paying my dues at the news desk of the

Bend Bulletin,
skiing at Mount Bachelor, thirsting through

thirteen inches of annual rainfall, and paying two hundred

bucks a month in rent.

If she wasn't here, I would either be rotting in the ground

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somewhere or in a jail trying to stay alive while cursing a

simple twist of fate.

Her soft brown hair cascading down her back, eyes so

bright and big I get lost in them.

One year ago I was running for my life. A total stranger

saved me. Without her, everything would have been lost.

And God help me I can't lose her, because I don't have the

strength to patch that kind of hole.

So as I lie here, watching Amanda's chest rise and fall, all

I can do is hope I'm here to witness every last breath of her

life. And hope that, finally, the stories I report won't be my

own.

1

The limousine pulled up to the curb outside the Kitten

Club, and like a cult waiting for its leader, dozens of heads

turned at once. Hundreds of eyes widened. Pulses sped up,

hearts raced.

A black-clad bouncer stepped to the limo and opened the

door. A slender leg stepped onto the curb. Then it stopped, its

owner making sure the cameras had time to swallow up every

inch of perfect skin. Then another leg slipped out. The crowd

moaned, her body glitter giving the girl's normally pale skin

a translucent glow. The crowd gasped as her full form emerged.

Those who weren't too stunned to move pressed against the

velvet ropes, the bouncers going into full push-'em-back mode.

Flashbulbs popped by the dozen. She flashed that millionwatt seductive smile, the one that had seduced and captivated

people all over the world. They shouted at her. Nothing she

hadn't heard before. Yet as she stepped onto the red carpet,

rolled out just for her, listening to the throng of fans chanting

her name, Athena Paradis couldn't help but feel that the world

had given itself to her.

She waved to the dazed crowd, stopped to sign a few autographs and blow air kisses through ruby lips, laughed at the

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Jason Pinter

mismatched chunky schlubs who would be fantasizing about

her that night as they lay alone in the dark.

One-thirty in the morning, but the flashes and strobe lights

made it seem like broad daylight. It was just late enough for

the party to be in full swing, just late enough to make sure

she'd be the last memory in a night her fans would never

forget.

Despite her seeming nonchalance, Athena spent many

nights in breathless anticipation of these delicious moments

when all eyes would be on her. Hearing digital cameras

beeping, fingers tapping on cell phones as flabbergasted fans

sent grainy images to their friends. Young men trying to give

her the same lame sultry looks she'd seen and laughed at a

million times. Yet she would always smile just enough to

make them think they had a chance.

This was Athena's world, her oyster, and it was
delicious.

Everyone else watched from outside the snow globe, hoping

that one special night they too might be touched by her magic.

In three days, Athena Paradis would release her very first

album,
The Goddess Athena.
Her promotional tour was in full

swing, and tonight at the Kitten Club was a prime stop. She

was scheduled to guest DJ, spin and sing tracks that had never

been heard outside the recording studio (created with the gentle

touch of some very talented--and patient--sound producers,

vocal coaches and technicians). Athena's autobiography,
HOW

YOU CAN BE LIKE ME,
was ghostwritten by a pleasant sixtyyear-old Jew named Herman Goldstein. It spent eight weeks

on the
New York Gazette
bestseller list. Her signings all required extra security. Herman wasn't allowed to attend.

Three bouncers the size of minivans controlled the crowd.

The mayor's office had sent several off-duty cops just in case.

Athena's manager and publicist had called Mayor Perez's

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office nonstop requesting massive police protection for their

twenty-two-year-old gold mine, but the second-termer refused. Not that he didn't want to help. The mayor was well

known for his reliance on sizzle over steak, providing a good

show to distract people from their everyday woes. He'd

written three self-help books and was constantly photographed alongside celebrities, including Athena Paradis. But

the police union was busy negotiating a new contract, and

they were squeezing him hard. Adding additional unnecessary force tonight would only cost overtime the city couldn't

afford.

Every nightclub Athena graced with her presence would

fatten her bank account by fifty thousand dollars. The

hotter--or more desperate--the club, the more they paid.

Most promoters, like the Kitten Club's Shawn Kensbrook,

tripped over themselves to pay Athena ungodly sums of

money for a simple appearance. She would show up, pose for

the camera, down a few kamikaze shots, dance on the bar, and

within a week the patronage tripled. Best advertising in the

world, and a hell of a lot more entertaining than an ad in a

movie theater or those worthless postcards.

Tonight, though, wasn't about appearance fees. If she

seduced the crowd, it would be worth its weight in platinum

for her album.

Athena sauntered past the throng of gawking men and

starry-eyed women, slipping into the pulsating darkness. Her

entourage was immediately met by Shawn Kensbrook, club

promoter extraordinaire and co-owner of the Kitten Club.

Just three years ago, what was now the Kitten Club had been

an abandoned warehouse in Manhattan's meatpacking

district. It was destined to be torn down by developers or

vermin, whichever got there first. Kensbrook was able to

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mount an army of backers to buy what was widely considered a sinkhole. Through his A-list Rolodex, Kensbrook

turned a pile of rubble into Gotham's hottest nightspot since

the heyday of Limelight. Its clout had grown to the point

where
New York Magazine
had referred to it as "The Oprah

Winfrey of music promotion." If you had to jump on one

couch to get maximum exposure, the Kitten Club was the

place to jump.

Shawn was decked out in a wool Versace suit that ran

$2,200 and burned off a thousand calories a night. Shawn

had purposefully bought it a size too small, the fabric stretching over his taut frame. Athena knew the only thing he

worked harder at than promoting his club was promoting his

body. Unlike most in the entertainment field, Kensbrook accomplished it solely through weightlifting, protein bars and

the best personal trainers money could buy. Bastard didn't

even drink.

Shawn pecked Athena on the cheek and ushered her

through the crowd to the DJ booth in the back. She shook

hands with a guy Shawn introduced as DJ Stix, a lightskinned black man wearing sunglasses rimmed with

diamonds. No doubt they were real. Kensbrook would want

his employees to dazzle in every way, no matter the price.

Athena's manager, a twitchy man named Eddie, would be

standing by in case she got the crazy urge to sing without

proper electronic vocal support. Athena had an army of producers who made sure she sounded perfect in the studio.

Live, anything could happen.

After the current song ended, Stix turned down the music

and Kensbrook picked up the house microphone.