Miracle in a Dry Season    Dangerous Passage


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No Legal Grounds
by James Scott Bell

Attorney Sam Trask finally has his life on track. The dark years when his family suffered because of his drinking and overriding career ambition are past. Now, thanks to his love of Christ, he’s focused on faith and family. Everything is going great.

Then the phone rings and Sam hears a voice from the past. Nicky Oberlin, an old college dorm mate, seems anxious to reconnect. But something doesn’t feel right. Sam tries to back out gracefully—only to realize doing so sets off a chain of events that threatens to bring his life crashing down around him. To his horror, Sam discovers that Nicky Oberlin is a sociopath, a man who will do anything to get what he wants. A man who shows Sam, in no uncertain terms, that no one Sam loves is safe.

Sam turns to the law he’s served all his life, only to learn the law can’t protect them. As the threat continues to grow, Sam must decide: how far will he go to save his family? And how will he keep his crazed antagonist—and himself—from destroying the very heart of his life and faith?


Hey buddy! Long time! Tracked you down after reading your blurb on the Prominent Alumni page. Prominent! You made it, buddy. I always knew you would, though it was all pretty crazy back there freshman year. Remember that? Wild times, oh yes. How’d we ever make it out of the dorm!
So I found your law firm Web site and then you and here I am! I’m in town! We have a lot of catching up to do. Call me, man. Can’t wait to see you.

Sam Trask vaguely remembered the name at the end of the e-mail. You remember guys named Nicky, even if you don’t think about them for twenty-five years.

Nicky Oberlin. That’s how he’d signed the e-mail, along with a phone number.

The tightness in his chest, the clenching he’d been feeling for the last few weeks, returned. Why should that happen because of one random e-mail? Because it presented a complication, a thing that called for response. He did not need that now, not with the way things were at home.

Sam took a deep breath, leaned back in his chair in his Beverly Hills office, and tried to relax. Didn’t happen. He kept seeing his daughter’s face in his computer monitor, screaming at him.

A quick knock on his door bumped Sam from his thoughts. Lew poked his head in. “A minute?”

Sam motioned him in. Lew Newman was Sam’s age, forty-seven, and wore his sandy hair short, which gave his sharp nose and alert eyes added prominence. When Lew was with the Brooklyn DA’s office he was known as the Hawk, and Sam could see why. He would’ve hated to be a witness about to pecked by the Hawk’s cross-examination. He was glad they were partners and not adversaries.

“We’re going into high gear against the good old U. S. of A. this week,” Lew said.

Sam nodded. “Got it on the radar.” The FulCo case was by far the biggest Newman & Trask had ever handled. Potentially a billion at stake. That thought gave Sam’s chest another quick squeeze.

“Cleared everything else?” Lew said.

“One matter to take care of.”

“What’s that?”


Lew rolled his eyes. “Sam, I’m all for doing a little of this stuff, but not to the exclusion of the bread and butter.”

“I’ll take care of it.”

“Please do.”

“I said I would, okay?”

Lew put his hands up. “Just asking. I get to ask, don’t I?”

“Of course. Sorry.”

“Need you, buddy. I know things haven’t been the best with—”

“I can handle it, Lew.”

His partner nodded. “How’s Heather doing, anyway?”

Sam did not want to talk about his daughter, not now. “We’re working on it.”

“Good. She’ll pull through. She’s a good kid.”

Sam said nothing.

“So on Harper—”

“Lew, please—”

“Let me just say this once, okay? We do have a business to run, and—”

“You want me to get rid of the Harper file ASAP.”

“That would be nice. Can you settle it?”

“Not right away.”

“Why not?”

“I need more discovery, or it’ll be undervalued.”

“Come on, Sam. What about your value to the shop?”

Always with the cost-benefit analysis, Lew was. Maybe that was what really had changed for Sam in the last four years. When he’d converted, a little of the drive for the dollar had gone from his life.

As if sensing he’d stuck a foot over the line, Lew said, “Look, I trust your judgment, of course. But a quick settlement surely is going to be within the ballpark, give or take, and what’s the problem with that?”

“No problem at all. Girl goes blind, we can toss her a few bones and move on.”

“Come on, I don’t mean that. Just think about it for me, will you? Harper off the table. I love you, sweetie.” He made a golfing motion. “How about eighteen next week?”

Golf was always the way Lew made up. “Sure.”

“I love you more,” Lew said, then left.

For a long time Sam swiveled in his chair, as if the motion would gently rock his thoughts into some cohesive order. But it wasn’t happening, because Sarah Harper was not a case he wanted to expedite.

The tightness came back. Come on, he scolded himself. No heart attack. You’re not even fifty years old yet. Guys like you don’t die before fifty. He kept in shape, ran three miles every other day, didn’t have too many extra pounds. But he knew there was no guarantee. One of his old friends from UCLA Law had just gone to the cooling rack playing pickup basketball.

One minute Tom had been a hard charging partner at O’Melveny, and boom, the next he’s an obit in California Lawyer. It could happen to anyone.

Sam rubbed his chest and looked back at the monitor. Nicky Oberlin. He tried to remember the face that went with the name. Didn’t come to him.

Truth was, a lot of that first year at UC Santa Barbara up the coast was lost in a brain fog. He was still a long way off from a sober life then, and most of what he remembered of freshman year was a dorm known for grass and beer and late night parties.

So this blast from the past was hearkening back to days he’d just as soon forget.

Was he the guy who came into his dorm room one night, hammered to the gills, and tried to roll out Sam’s bed—while Sam was still in it? A lot of crazy things happened back then. It was a wonder any of them passed their classes.

Yeah, that might have been Nicky, a little guy with a moustache. But then again . . . brain fog.

And in the fog, like the trill of night bird, a faint vibration of unease. Oberlin had sent this to Sam’s private e-mail address. It wasn’t posted on the firm’s site. It would have taken some doing to find it. Apparently, Oberlin had. Which bothered him no end. It was like . . . an intrusion, and by a guy he really didn’t know.

He closed his eyes for a moment and expressed his favorite prayer of late, for wisdom. Having a seventeen-year-old daughter who seemed determined to throw her life down the toilet necessitated divine intervention on an almost daily basis.

Now, he needed wisdom for his professional life. The Harper family had come to him in their hour of greatest need. He would not drop the ball.

His chest clenched and he took in as much air as he could. This was not what he thought life would be at this point in his career. He thought he’d be at the pinnacle of his profession, able to coast along at a hardworking but smooth pace, with his wife and kids along for the ride.

Instead, he was tighter than hangman’s rope, and wondering if the American dream, as it were, was imploding on him.

He didn’t need any more tasks or obligations, no matter how small. With a touch of his index finger, he deleted Nicky Oberlin’s e-mail.

He hoped Nicky wouldn’t take offense.

Copyright 2007 James Scott Bell. Used with permission of the author and publisher.
All rights reserved. No Legal Grounds is published by Zondervan.