Write to Die - Charles Rosenberg

Chapter 1

SUNDAY

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 the