The Third Victim by Phillip Margolin is the first book in a new series of legal thrillers from the “master of heart-pounding suspense” (available March 6, 2018).
Read this exclusive early excerpt of The Third Victim, then make sure you're signed in and comment below for a chance to win a copy of this captivating legal thriller!
A woman stumbles onto a dark road in rural Oregon―tortured, battered, and bound. She tells a horrific story about being kidnapped, then tortured, until she finally managed to escape. She was the lucky one―two other women, with similar burns and bruises, were found dead.
The surviving victim identifies the house where she was held captive and the owner, Alex Mason―a prominent local attorney―is arrested. Although he loudly insists upon his innocence, his wife’s statements about his sexual sadism and the physical evidence found at the scene, his summer home, is damning.
Regina Barrister is a legendary criminal defense attorney, known as “The Sorceress” for her courtroom victories. But she’s got a secret, one that threatens her skill, her reputation, and, most of all, her clients. And she’s agreed to take on the seemingly impossible task of defending Alex Mason.
Robin Lockwood, a young lawyer and former MMA fighter, has just left a clerkship at the Oregon Supreme Court to work for Regina Barrister. The Alex Mason trial is her first big one, a likely death penalty case, and she’s second chair to Regina. Increasingly, she’s worried her boss’s behavior and the details in the case against their client don’t quite add up.
Caleb White slowed his pickup as soon as he spotted the DEER CROSSING sign at the side of the two-lane country road. Caleb had lived his whole life in Whisper Lake and he always slowed down when he saw it. The city dwellers, who only came out a few weeks a year, usually ignored the sign and sped on, but there were no lights on this heavily forested stretch, and when Caleb was eight years old, a three-hundred-pound buck had bounded out of the forest and totaled the family car.
A burst of static from the radio momentarily distracted Caleb just as something staggered out of the forest and into the road. He jammed on his brakes and the pickup fishtailed. If he hadn’t slowed down, he might not have been able to stop in time. As it was, the truck ended up sideways and Caleb found himself slumped over the steering wheel, his heart in overdrive. He closed his eyes for a second to calm down. Then he peered out of the passenger window. It was pitch-black and he couldn’t see a thing.
Caleb backed the truck onto the shoulder. As he turned, the headlights panned over a body sprawled on the road. He put on his warning lights and jumped out of the cab. A woman was laying on her stomach, her legs bare and the tail of her blouse barely covering her panties.
“Miss, are you okay?” Caleb asked as he walked toward her.
The woman stirred, then weakly pushed herself up onto her hands and knees. She lifted her head and stared at Caleb through strands of long, unwashed, uncombed brown hair.
“Help me,” she begged.
“It’s okay,” Caleb said as he drew closer and got his first clear view. There was duct tape around the woman’s wrists and ankles, her face was caked with blood, and her legs were scratched and bruised. The blouse was torn in several places and it hung open. Caleb took off his jacket. He was almost to her when the stench of urine, feces, and body odor stopped him in his tracks.
“Please,” she pleaded. Caleb moved.
“I’ll get you to a hospital,” he assured the woman as he draped the coat across her shoulders. Then he grabbed her under her arms and helped her stand. As she rose, the blouse parted, revealing burn marks and cuts on the woman’s ribs and breasts.
Caleb pulled his eyes away and eased the woman onto the passenger seat. As soon as he shut her door, she slumped against it. Caleb headed for town and speed-dialed his cousin.
“Yeah?” Harry said.
“It’s Caleb. I’m on the way to the hospital with a girl.”
“It’s not like that. You should meet me at the hospital. This girl … She came out of the forest and she’s hurt. I think someone did something to her. Something real bad.”
Whisper Lake, population 2,074, was the county seat of Hammond County, population 17,039. The population was artificially inflated during the summer, when the rich city folk who owned the cabins that ringed the lake and the tourists who stayed at the Whisper Lake Resort came to town. But as soon as school started, the population plummeted and the only tourists who remained were the avid fly fishermen who sloshed through the Bear Run River and the hunters who stalked the woods during deer season.
The cops in Hammond County didn’t have much to do most of the year. If it wasn’t for the universal staples of lawlessness—speeding, domestic violence, and bar fights—the deputies in the Hammond County Sheriff’s Office would be sitting around all day playing video games or talking sports. That is why Caleb White’s call induced an adrenaline rush in his cousin.
Harry White, a former high school quarterback and marine, was thirty-one years old. He had curly black hair, a straight nose, blue eyes, and a dark complexion. When Harry arrived at the hospital, the EMTs were lifting the young woman onto a gurney. He went over to Caleb.
Caleb was upset, and it took a few minutes for Harry to understand what had occurred on the country road.
“You stay in the waiting room,” Harry told his cousin. “Stan’s on the way and he’ll take your statement. Okay?”
“You all right?”
Harry laid a hand on Caleb’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze.
“You done a good deed tonight,” he said before following the gurney into the hospital. The EMTs rolled the woman into an examining room. Harry started to follow, but Dr. Nicholas Hayes, a hunting buddy, told Harry to wait outside while he examined the girl.
Harry paced the hall for twenty minutes before Hayes came out. The doctor looked grim.
“How is she, Nick?” Harry asked.
“She’s been beaten, tortured, and starved, so not good.”
“Will she recover? Is there any permanent damage?”
“With time, she’ll heal physically. It’s her mental state I’m worried about.”
“Did she tell you her name?”
“It’s Meredith Fenner.”
“Did she say who did this to her?”
“I didn’t ask. I figured that was your department.”
“Can I talk to her?”
“Yes, but make it short. As soon as you’re done, I’m going to give her a sedative so she can get some rest.”
Harry opened the door. Meredith’s eyes fixed on him. She looked terrified. Her black eyes, broken nose, and split lip were evidence of a savage beating, and it took an effort for Harry to keep from showing emotion.
Harry held up his shield. “Miss Fenner, my name is Harry White and I’m a detective with the Hammond County Sheriff’s Office. Do you feel up to answering a few questions? I’ll make this short, but I want to start tracking down the person who did this to you.”
“I … I don’t want to talk about it. Please.”
Harry walked over to the bed. “I can understand that. But we need to find the person who assaulted you.”
Meredith turned her face away. “I can’t.”
“Can you at least tell me if it was a man or a woman? Was there one person or more than one?”
“A … a man. One man.”
“Can you describe him?”
“Not now, please. I … I don’t want to think about what … what he did to me.”
Harry wanted to push a little more, but he held himself in check. He tried to imagine what Meredith had gone through, and he decided that the best gift he could give her was peace and quiet.
Copyright © 2018 Phillip Margolin.
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Phillip Margolin has written over twenty novels, most of them New York Times bestsellers, including Gone But Not Forgotten, Lost Lake, and Violent Crimes. In addition to being a novelist, he was a long time criminal defense attorney with decades of trial experience, including a large number of capital cases. Margolin lives in Portland, Oregon.