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DEVIL IN DISGUISE

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Clare Carlson Mystery #4
Oceanview Publishing
May 2021
On Sale: May 4, 2021
Featuring: Clare Carlson; Laurie Bateman
336 pages
ISBN: 160809409X
EAN: 9781608094097
Kindle: B08CKB5GJQ
Hardcover / e-Book
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She was a mega-celebrity—he was a billionaire businessman—now he's dead—she's in jail

Laurie Bateman was living the American dream. Since her arrival as an infant in the U.S. after the fall of Saigon, the pretty Vietnamese girl had gone on to become a supermodel, a successful actress, and, finally, the wife of one of the country's top corporate dealmakers. That dream has now turned into a nightmare when she is arrested for the murder of her wealthy husband.

New York City TV journalist Clare Carlson does an emotional jailhouse interview in which Bateman proclaims her innocence—and becomes a cause celebre for women's rights groups around the country.

At first sympathetic, then increasingly suspicious of Laurie Bateman and her story, Clare delves into a baffling mystery which has roots extending back nearly fifty years to the height of the Vietnam War.

Soon, there are more murders, more victims, and more questions as Clare struggles against dire evil forces to break the biggest story of her life.

Beyond the Headlines is perfect for fans of Robert Crais and Harlan Coben

Excerpt

PROLOGUE

A black-pajama-clad figure crouched alongside the sandbags piled up to protect the building in Saigon—a building filled with U.S. soldiers.

Putting an explosive charge between the sandbags powerful enough to blow up the building and everyone inside.

He was a Vietnamese youth, with dark hair and dark eyes, his face covered with sweat.

He had laid his weapon—a Chinese-made AK-47—down on the ground as he worked on planting the explosives.

When he was spotted at the last minute by a U.S. soldier, he lunged for the rifle.

He managed to get off one shot.

But it was too late.

A bullet hit him in the head and killed him instantly.

Vietnam.

January, 1973.

Just before the war ended and U.S. troops went home for good.

So long ago, and yet it seemed like yesterday.

 

OPENING CREDITS THE RULES ACCORDING TO CLARE

Death is a funny business sometimes.

Especially in big-city newsrooms, where I’ve worked for most of my life.

I remember one of them where we all loved to play a game called Somebody Famous Died. The idea was to fantasize about celebrities dying and try to come up with the ones that would be the biggest stories to put on the air or on the front page.

Like say Kim Kardashian. In bed. While making a sex tape.

With a man who was not Kanye West.

Or Justin Bieber—who had sixty-four tattoos at last count— dying from an infected needle while getting a tattoo of Selena Gomez removed for a new one of Hailey Baldwin.

Or Oprah Winfrey—this was back when she was the biggest thing on TV, both figuratively and literally—choking to death on a ham sandwich. “Just like Mama Cass!” said the guy who came up with that one. I think he won the game in our newsroom that day.

It’s impossible to work in a newsroom and not hear a lot of gallows humor about death.

My favorite story is from a long time ago when New York City newspapers actually had dedicated people who did nothing but write obituaries. Legend has it that one of them was known for yelling in a loud voice to a copyboy whenever anyone newsworthy died: “Boy, get me the clips on so-and-so.” Until one night, he had a heart attack and died at his desk. Someone in the newsroom stood up and yelled: “Boy, get me the clips on . . .” I have no idea if this story is true or not, but I’ve heard a million stories like that in newsrooms.

I had a firsthand encounter with this kind of morbid newsroom humor not long ago when I covered a story where a man was shot to death right in front of me, then I rushed back to the office to get the story on air.

“No video?” my boss at the TV station complained to me. I pointed out that trying to shoot a video in that dangerous situation might have cost me my life. “Well, at least it would have been good video,” he said.

I guess we joke about death because we have to deal with so much of it as journalists—murder, plane crashes, sickness, and all the other things that make up the TV newscasts and newspapers and news websites every day.

Laughing about it helps us put a distance between ourselves and the reality of the deaths or deaths we’re covering.

Most of the time it works, but not always.

Take the O.J. Simpson story, for instance. O.J. is a punchline now. A national laughingstock. Comedians still make jokes about the whole circus the O.J. story became—Kato Kaelin, Johnny Cochran, O.J. on the golf course after his acquittal vowing to catch Nicole’s real killer and all the rest. Funny stuff, right?

Except one day, a long time after the O.J. story was over, I spent some time in Los Angeles. I decided to visit the crime scene—the house in Brentwood where Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman had been murdered.

I was stunned when I got there. Not because of anything spectacular that I observed. Just because it all seemed so . . . well, ordinary. For months and months, we’d seen that house on TV and in the papers. The condo where Nicole lived; the street and neighborhood outside; the front yard where the bloodied bodies of Nicole and Goldman were found.

But, standing there in person now on a sunny Southern California afternoon, I could have been on any block in America.

I suddenly felt for the first time the terror Nicole and Goldman must have felt on that night when a killer came at them out of the darkness. They would have had no reason to be afraid until the end. They probably had only a few seconds to realize the terrible thing that was happening to them before it was all over. They had no idea that their murders would turn them into the most famous victims in tabloid and TV history.

Even all these years later, I still remember looking at that seemingly normal house and yard and street where two people were butchered on a hot summer night in 1994. Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman died a horrible death, and sometimes we forget about that. Me, I don’t make O.J. jokes anymore.

Death remains the biggest mystery for all of us—no one really understands it.

And so we do our best to avoid taking it seriously for much of our lives until one day it comes knocking at our own door.

And then it’s no laughing matter . . .

PART 1 LAURIE CHAPTER 1

“Do you know who Laurie Bateman is?” my friend Janet Wood asked me.

“I do,” I said. “I also know who Lady Gaga is. And Angelina Jolie. And Ivanka Trump. I’m in the media, remember? That’s what we do in the media, we cover famous people. It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s gotta do it.”

“Laurie Bateman hired me.”

“As an attorney?”

“Yes, as an attorney. That’s what I do, Clare.”

We were sitting in my office at Channel 10 News, the TV station in New York City where I work as news director. I should have known something was going on as soon as Janet showed up there. We usually met at Janet’s law office, which is big, with panoramic views of Midtown Manhattan, and a lot nicer than mine.

Janet never comes to see me at Channel 10 unless she has a reason.

I figured I was about to find out that reason.

It was early December and outside it was snowing, the first real storm of the winter. The snow started falling during the night, and by now it was covering the city with a powdery white blanket. Pretty soon the car exhausts and trucks would turn it into brown slush, but for now it was gorgeous. From the window next to my desk, the city had an eerie, almost unreal quality. Like something from a Norman Rockwell painting.

My outfit for the day was perfect for the snowy weather, too. I’d walked in wearing a turtleneck sweater, heavy corduroy slacks, a blue down jacket with a parka hood and white earmuffs, scarf and mittens. The ski bunny look. I felt like I should have a cup of hot chocolate in my hand.

“Why does Laurie Bateman need you as an attorney?” I asked Janet.

She hesitated for what seemed to be an inordinately long amount of time before answering.

“Are we talking off the record here?”

“Whatever you want, Janet.”

“I need your word on that.”

“C’mon, it’s me. Clare Carlson, your best friend in the world.” She nodded.

“Laurie Bateman wants me to represent her in divorce pro ceedings.”

“Wow!”

“I thought you’d like that.”

“Is it too late to take back my ‘best friend in the world/ off-the-record’ promise?” Janet smiled. Sort of.

“How much do you know about Laurie Bateman?” she asked me now.

I knew as much as the rest of the world, I suppose. Laurie Bateman seemed to have the American Dream going for her. Since coming to the U.S. as a baby with her family after the fall of Saigon in 1975, the pretty Vietnamese girl had grown up to become a top model, then a successful actress, and finally, the wife of one of the country’s top corporate deal makers. She had a fancy Manhattan townhouse, a limousine at her beck and call, and her face had graced the covers of magazines like Vogue and People.

Her husband was Charles Hollister, who had become incredibly wealthy back in the ’70s as one of the pioneers of the burgeoning computer age. He was a kind of Steve Jobs of those early days, and he later expanded into all sorts of other industries— from media to pharmaceuticals to oil drilling and a lot more. He was listed as one of the ten wealthiest businessmen in America.

When Hollister married Laurie Bateman a few years ago, there were a lot of jokes about the big difference in age between the two—she was so much younger and so beautiful. Like the jokes people made about Rupert Murdoch with Wendy Deng and then Jerry Hall, his last two wives. People always assume that a younger and pretty woman like that is marrying for the money. But Laurie Bateman and Charles Hollister insisted they were in love, and they had consistently projected the public persona of a happily married couple in the media since their wedding.

Except it now appeared they weren’t so happily married.

“Is she trying to divorce him to get her hands on his money?” I asked.

“Actually, he’s trying to divorce her and stop her from getting her hands on any of his money.”

“So the bottom line here is this divorce is about money.”

“Always is.”

“Isn’t there a prenuptial agreement that would settle all this?”

“Yes and no.”

“Spoken like a true lawyer.”

“Yes, there is a prenup. But we don’t think it applies here. That’s because other factors in the marriage took place, which could invalidate the terms of the prenup they agreed to and signed.”

“Okay.”

I waited.

“Such as?” I asked finally.

“For one thing, Charles Hollister has a mistress. A younger woman he’s been seeing.”

“Younger than Laurie Bateman?”

“Much younger. In her twenties.”

“Jeez! Hollister’s such an old man I have trouble imagining him being able to have sex with his wife, much less getting it up for a second woman on the side.”

“Her discovery that he was cheating on her, along with a lot of other reasons, have turned Laurie Bateman’s life into a nightmare—a living hell—behind the walls of the beautiful homes they live in. She’s kept quiet about it so far, protecting the happy couple image they’ve put on for the media. But now she wants to let the world know the truth. That’s where you come in, Clare.” Aha, I thought to myself.

Now we’re getting down to it.

I was about to find out the real reason Janet was here.

“Laurie Bateman wants to go public with all this,” Janet said. “She wants to tell her story in the media. The true story of her marriage to Charles Hollister. We know Hollister is going to use his clout to try and smear her and make her look bad, so that’s why we want to get her version out quickly. What I’m talking about here is an exclusive interview with Laurie Bateman about all of this. Her talking about the divorce, the cheating—everything.

And she wants you to do the interview with her.”

“Why me?”

“What do you mean?”

“Why not Gayle King? Or Savannah Guthrie? Or Barbara Walters or Katie Couric or Diane Sawyer or another big media name? I’m just the news director of a local TV station here.”

“She wants you, Clare. In fact, I think that’s the reason she hired me for her lawyer. She found out you and I were friends— and she’s hoping I can deliver you to her to do this interview on air with her.”

“I still don’t know why she wouldn’t want to go with someone really famous . . .”

“You’re famous, too, Clare. You know that as well as I do. And that’s why she wants you. You’re as famous as any woman on the air right now.”

Janet was right about that.

I was famous.

It could have gone either way—I could have wound up being either famous or infamous because of what I did—but in the end I’d wound up as a media superstar all over again.

Just like I’d been when I won a Pulitzer Prize nearly twenty years ago for telling the story of legendary missing child Lucy Devlin—even though I didn’t tell the whole story then.

“Laurie Bateman’s life with Charles Hollister is a big lie,” Janet said to me. “Now she wants to tell the truth on air about all those lies she’s been hiding behind. Like you did when you finally told the truth on air about you and Lucy Devlin. That’s why she wants you to be the one who interviews her.”

I still wasn’t sure how I felt about all this newfound fame I’d gotten from my Lucy Devlin story, but there was no question that if it got me this Laurie Bateman story . . . well, that would be a huge exclusive for me and the station.

“When can I meet her?” I asked Janet.

 

CHAPTER 2

I went to the Channel 10 morning news meeting after Janet left. I like news meetings. We talk about the big stories of the day, how to cover them, and which reporters to assign. Much of my time as news director is spent dealing with budgets, ratings, and advertising demographics. The news meeting gives me a chance to do a little real journalism. Well, most of the time it did. But not today.

There were several personnel crises I had to deal with this morning. Starting with our anchor team of Brett Wolff and Dani Blaine.

“I’m planning on taking paternity leave,” Brett announced at the beginning of the meeting.

“Okay,” I said.

We’d recently instituted a new policy where fathers could be granted paid leave—the same as mothers.

“Well, I’m not planning on taking maternity leave,” said Dani.

Now this should be interesting, I thought to myself. That’s because Brett and Dani were married to each other now. After a lengthy off-and-on-again office romance, they’d tied the knot a year ago—and were expecting their first baby soon. Dani had been noticeably pregnant on air for a few months. Women TV journalists these days often work almost up until their due date. So I was fine with that. I wasn’t expecting this wrinkle though.

“I plan to keep working after the baby,” Dani said. “I’ll take a few weeks vacation, then be right back at the anchor desk. I don’t need any maternity leave.”

“Let me get this straight,” I said. “You’re going to keep working on air after the baby, while Brett isn’t?”

“Yes.”

“I’m confused.”

It turned out Brett was confused, too.

“Wait a minute,” Brett said. “You didn’t tell me about this, Dani. Who’s going to take care of the baby?”

“You can do it. You’ll be home on paternity leave. You just said so.”

“Well, I’m not going on paternity leave if you’re not taking maternity leave.”

“Someone has to do it.”

“Well, somebody has to do the news, too.”

“I’ll do the news, and you can stay home with the baby.”

“Now wait a minute, Dani . . .”

“I want to do the news, Brett. And that’s what I’m going to do. With or without you.”

Brett and Dani had spent much of their time fighting before when they were having an affair while Brett was married to his ex-wife. Now that they were together, I’d figured the open warfare between them would calm down. But I was clearly wrong. They were still fighting, only now they were doing it as man and wife.

“How about we let the baby do the news and you two can stay home together and watch?” I finally said before telling them we’d figure out the logistics for the anchor desk later.

The next problem was Steve Stratton, our sportscaster. I’d sent Stratton a memo a few days earlier telling him he needed to do more coverage of soccer and women’s sports—neither of which he covered very much on our broadcast. Stratton was an old-time sports guy who only followed baseball, football, basketball, and hockey.

“No one cares about soccer or women’s sports results,” he said to me now.

“I do.”

“You’re a woman.”

“Jack Faron does.”

“He’s the executive producer. He’s only bowing to pressure from politically correct activists who hate real sports.”

“Brendan Kaiser cares, too.”

Kaiser was the owner of the station. And he’d been the catalyst for my memo. His daughter had gotten a soccer scholarship to Cornell. And his wife was the new part owner of a pro team in the women’s basketball league.

“It all started with that Title IX crap,” Stratton said now, shaking his head in frustration. “First, we had to start giving scholarships to women for soccer and lacrosse and all that nonsense. Then women started demanding to play sports the men played. Basketball, baseball—hell, there’s even women trying out for football teams now. Sports news today is filled with all this politics and protests and diversity stuff instead of box scores and football stats like it should be.”

“Welcome to the twenty-first century, Steve,” I told him

Then there was Wendy Jeffers, our weather person. Wendy was mad at me because I’d made her stop doing her weather reports outside while standing in the middle of a snowstorm or a downpour or high winds. Instead, I told her to give the weather to our viewers from the studio, like the rest of the Channel 10 news team. “Being outside lends authenticity to my reports,” she said now.

“You really think you need to be holding an umbrella to tell people that it’s raining?”

“It helps for them to actually see the rain.”

“They could just look out their window,” I pointed out.

“C’mon, Clare, every other weather reporter in this town does the weather while standing outside in the weather.”

“If every other weather reporter in town decided to jump off the George Washington Bridge, would you do that?”

Okay, it was a childish response. But weather forecasters who stood outside in pouring rain or snow—to tell the viewers that it was pouring rain or snowing—were one of my pet peeves about TV news. It wasn’t journalism, it was cheap theater. And I wanted to change that. Even if Wendy didn’t.

I finally decided to offer her a compromise. She could report from outside if a snowstorm went over six inches, the winds were over fifty mph or the rain was falling at more than an inch an hour.

“That way we can still watch you getting drenched or covered in snow or blown away in hurricane-force winds,” I said. “But otherwise you do the weather safe and dry and warm from inside the studio.”

“I can live with that,” Wendy said.

Ah, Carlson, you clever devil.

Problem?

I’ve always got a solution.

“Anyone else have a complaint?” I asked everyone in the meet ing room.

“I do,” said Maggie Lang, my assignment editor and top deputy at Channel 10. Maggie was super intense and dedicated to her job. “Go ahead, Maggie. Take your best shot. What’s your problem?” “My problem is we still don’t know what news we’re going to put on the air tonight.”

She was right. So we spent the next forty-five minutes going over all the big stories of the day. A looming taxi driver strike. Questions about voting irregularities in the last City Council election. Lots of crime, including a woman who had miraculously survived after being stabbed more than a dozen times by her ex- boyfriend on the Upper East Side. A protest over a homeless shelter the city wanted to build on the same block as a school. Plenty of news to fill up the Channel 10 news broadcast later.

“What do you think?” I said to Maggie after we’d gone through it all.

“We could still use a big story.”

“We could always use a big story.”

“No, I mean something unique for us—an exclusive.”

“I might have a story like that very soon.”

“What is it?” one of the other editors at the meeting asked. “I can’t tell you yet, but I’m working on it.”

 

CHAPTER 3

“Laurie Bateman’s life with Charles Hollister is a big lie,” Janet had said to me in my office. “Now she wants to tell the truth about all those lies she’s been hiding behind. Just like you did.”

Yep, I sure had told the truth about myself. The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. It took me long enough to do it though. Almost twenty years.

But I’d finally gone on the air and revealed the whole story, including all the secrets I’d been hiding about the biggest news story of my career.

The disappearance of eleven-year-old Lucy Devlin on her way to school in New York City a long time ago.

I won a Pulitzer Prize as a young newspaper reporter covering the Lucy Devlin story. But there was a lot I didn’t reveal then: how I’d been sleeping with Lucy’s adoptive father at the time of her disappearance; how she’d really been taken by a self-styled vigilante trying to protect Lucy from her abusive adoptive mother; and, most important of all, how I was Lucy’s biological mother who had given her up for adoption at birth.

Fifteen years after Lucy Devlin’s legendary disappearance, I’d finally tracked her down—alive, all grown-up and with a daughter of her own—and eventually decided to go on air with the real story about me and Lucy Devlin.

Even though I knew by doing so, I could destroy my credibility as a journalist and possibly even end my career.

But sometimes you have to go with your gut instincts about what’s right and not worry about the consequences.

In this instance, my instincts turned out to be dead-on accurate.

Oh, it probably wouldn’t have been that way ten or fifteen years ago. Maybe even five years ago. A journalist who screwed up— who played loose with the facts—never could recover from that. Janet Cooke, Jayson Blair, Stephen Glass—the past is filled with media scandals that ruined careers.

But it’s different now in this instant gratification age of social media where things go viral quickly and public opinion is formed instantly about a controversial topic.

In my case, I was forgiven for my judgment lapses and hailed for my courage in coming forward and talking about my secret search to find my daughter no matter what I had to do and no matter what rules I had to break.

Everyone wanted a piece of me after that.

I was interviewed on the Today Show. I went on 60 Minutes. I got big play on all the cable news channels. There were articles about me and my long, emotional search for my daughter in the New York Times, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, and other papers. I got an offer to write a book about it all, a potential movie deal was in the works, and I even received a handful of marriage proposals from men who said they would help me ease my pain over everything that I had endured with Lucy.

So I didn’t ruin my career at all by coming clean with everything I did. Instead, I became a media superstar all over again.                                                                 

Even bigger than I had been the first time for winning a Pulitzer for a story that wasn’t totally true. Go figure.

I have a picture of my daughter on my desk that I look at a lot during my workday. Her name is Linda Nesbitt now, but I still call her Lucy. She’ll always be Lucy to me. She lives in Virginia with her nine-year-old daughter, Audrey, and her husband, Gregory Nesbitt. There’s a picture of my granddaughter, Audrey, on my desk, too.

I see them as often as I can. We’ve been talking about spending Christmas together, if I can get away from work to go down there. It would be our first Christmas together as a family. It’s nice to have their pictures here with me in my office all the time now. It’s nice to be a part of a family.

Of course, we’re not your normal everyday family. Not after everything it took to get us to this point. It makes me think of the old gag line: “Hey, they’re just as normal as the next family. As long as the next family is the Manson family!”

Well, we’re not the Manson family. Far from it. More like the Addams family. Strange, different, and a bit odd—but still lovable.

I thought about all that now—and also about Laurie Bateman.

Laurie Bateman was a celebrity superstar. A lot bigger than me. And she’d be an even bigger celebrity superstar once she went public with all the dirty laundry about her marriage to Charles Hollister and told her story of whatever she’d gone through while being married to one of the world’s richest men.

No question about it, this interview would put Laurie Bateman in the public spotlight even more than ever before. She would ride this interview to even bigger fame and fortune. And me, well, I’d go along on that ride with her.

It’s a funny thing about fame though. Sure, it was Andy Warhol who made the classic “everybody will be famous for fifteen minutes” statement. But I always preferred a quote from Marilyn Monroe: “Fame doesn’t fulfill you. It warms you a bit, but that warmth is temporary.” And then there was Alanis Morissette who once said: “Fame is hollow. It amplifies what is there. If there is any self-doubt, or hatred, or lack of ability to connect with people, fame will magnify it.”

Nope, fame isn’t always as great a thing as it’s made out to be.

I’d found that out the hard way.

Maybe Laurie Bateman had, too.

 



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Clare Carlson Mystery



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