A cold-blooded murder. A beautiful suspect. An honest judge forced to do the unthinkable.
New York Times bestselling author Phillip Margolin is a master of legal suspense. In this explosive novel, a simple case of self-defense becomes a nightmare in which justice itself is held hostage.
Judge Richard Quinn is young, idealistic, and honest to a fault. That's why he's handed the most sensational homicide case in Oregon history. Locked in a race for the U.S. Senate, Ellen Crease gunned down the intruder who murdered her wealthy husband. In a single, brutal instant she became a widow, a victim, and a hero.
Yet disturbing questions remain. What secrets did the man who started his fortune running mortuaries keep that might have cost him his life? What about the son frozen out of his will? Or his wife's political enemies? And what about Ellen Crease herself?
Soon it becomes clear that a deadly plot of murder, blackmail, passion, and double cross is unfolding around Judge Richard Quinn. And unless he breaks the rules, justice will not only be blind, it will be the final victim.
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March 02, 1999
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Excerpt from The Undertaker's Widow by Phillip Margolin
Leroy Dennis began making dire predictions about the driving conditions as soon as the police dispatcher said that the scene of the shooting was a mansion on Crestview Drive. A week of torrential rains had devastated Oregon. Rivers were flooding, towns were being evacuated, power failures were the norm and mud slides were closing roads and highways around the state. The worst slides in Portland were in the hills that loomed above city center. Crestview Drive was at the top of Portland's highest hill.
Lou Anthony took the most direct route to the crime scene. A mountain of oozing earth almost stopped the homicide detectives halfway up Southwest Chandler Road. A series of flares had been spread along the pavement to warn off motorists. The unearthly rain, the devouring darkness on the edges of the headlights and the curling smoke from the flares made Anthony wonder if he had detoured into a corner of Hades.
"What have we got, Leroy?" Anthony asked as he maneuvered around the slide.
"A James Allen called in the 911," the slender black detective answered. "He works for the owner, Lamar Hoyt. Allen says that there are two dead. A man broke in and shot Hoyt. Then the wife shot the perp."
"Hoyt! That's Ellen Crease's husband."
"Isn't Crease the state senator who used to be a cop?"
Anthony nodded. "She was good, too, and a crack shot."
Dennis shook his head. "This guy sure picked the wrong house to burgle."
There were few streetlights on Crestview Drive and the road was pitch-black in spots, but Anthony and Dennis had no trouble finding the crime scene. This part of the West Hills had been carved into large estates and there were only a few homes on the narrow country lane. A high brick wall marked the boundary of the Hoyt estate. Just above the wall, the branches of a massive oak tree flailed helplessly against the elements like the tiring arms of a fading boxer. Anthony stopped in front of a wrought-iron gate. A yellow and black metal sign affixed to the seven-foot, spear-tipped bars warned that the estate was protected by an electronic security system. A black metal box with a slit for a plastic card stood even with the driver's window. Beside it was a speakerphone. Anthony was about to try it when Dennis noticed that the gate was slightly ajar. He dashed into the storm and pushed it open.
When Dennis was back in the car, Anthony drove slowly up a winding drive toward the three-story Tudor mansion that loomed over the landscape. Most of the house was dark, but there were lights on in a downstairs room. The driveway ended at a turnaround. As soon as Anthony brought the car to a stop the ornately carved front door swung open and a frightened man in a robe and pajamas dashed into the rain. He was just under six feet tall and slender. The rain matted his uncombed, graying hair and spotted the lenses of his wire-rimmed glasses.
"They're upstairs in the master bedroom," he said, pointing toward the second floor. "She won't leave him. I've called for an ambulance."
The man led the detectives into a cavernous entry hall, where an immense Persian carpet covered a good portion of the hardwood floor. Before them was a wide staircase with a polished oak banister.
Anthony brushed the rain from his thinning red hair. He was a large man with a square jaw, a broken nose and pale blue eyes. The detective's shoulders were too wide and his clothes never fit properly. Under his raincoat he wore a brown tweed sports jacket that was frayed at the elbows and wrinkled tan slacks. Anthony had started buttoning the jacket to conceal an emerging beer gut. The blue knit tie his son had bought him for his fortieth birthday was at half-mast.
"Just who are you, sir?" Anthony asked.
"James Allen, Mr. Hoyt's houseman."
"Okay. What happened here, Mr. Allen?"
"I live over the garage. It's across from the master bedroom. There was a shot. At first, I thought it was thunder. Then there were more shots. I ran next door and saw a man on the floor near the bed. There was a lot of blood. And Ms. Crease . . . she was sitting on the bed holding Mr. Hoyt. I . . . I think he's dead, but I can't say for sure. She wouldn't let me near him. She's got a gun."
"Take us upstairs, will you, Mr. Allen?" Anthony said.
The detectives followed the houseman up the winding stairs with barely a glance at the oil paintings and tapestries that hung over the staircase. Dennis had his gun out but felt a little foolish. It sounded as if the danger was over. Allen led them to a room at the end of a dimly lit, carpeted hall. The door to the room was open.
"Please tell Senator Crease that we're with the police," Anthony instructed Allen. The detective knew Crease well enough to call her Ellen, but he had no idea what frame of mind she was in. He wasn't taking any chances if she had a gun.
"Ms. Crease, this is James. James Allen. I have two police officers with me. They want to come into the bedroom."
Allen started in, but Anthony put a restraining hand on his arm.
"I think it will be better if you wait downstairs for the ambulance and the other officers."
Allen hesitated, then said, "Very well," and backed down the corridor.
"I'm Lou Anthony, Senator. You know me. I'm a detective with the Portland Police. My partner and I are coming into the room."
Anthony took a deep breath and stepped through the doorway. The bedroom lights were off, but the light from the hall bathed the large room in a pale yellow glow. A man sprawled on the floor roughly halfway between the door and the west wall. The dead man's legs were bent at the knee as if he had crumpled to the floor. His feet were almost touching a French Provincial armoire that stood against the south wall across from a king-size bed. The doors of the armoire were partly open and Anthony could see a television. The man's head was near the foot of the bed, surrounded by a halo of blood. Near one of his hands lay a .45-caliber handgun.
Anthony pulled his attention away from the dead man and stared at the tableau directly in front of him. Seated on the side of the bed farthest from the door, as if posing for one of Caravaggio's dark oils, was Ellen Crease. She was facing away from Anthony and the back of her plain white nightgown was spattered with blood. Lamar Hoyt's naked body lay sideways across the bed. Crease's back shielded part of his upper body from Anthony, but he could make out two entry wounds and rivulets of blood running through the thick gray hair that covered Hoyt's bearlike torso. Hoyt's large head rested in his wife's lap and Crease was rocking slightly, making little mewing sounds. Anthony noticed that her right hand was resting on her husband's massive chest and that her left hand held a .38 Special.
"Senator," Anthony said gently, "I'm going to walk around the bed."
Crease continued to rock and sob. The detective edged past the armoire, then stepped over the dead man's faded jeans and took in his navy-blue windbreaker. The dead man's hair was wet from the rain and saturated with blood. His clothing was waterlogged.
Anthony looked away and focused on Crease. She was holding the gun, but lightly, and she was staring at her husband. What was left of Hoyt's face was covered with blood that was soaking through the white nightgown. As Anthony arrived at her side, Crease looked up. Her face was tearstained and torn by grief.