About That Night

By: Julie James


First and foremost, I owe tremendous thanks to John and Chris, two assistant U.S. attorneys who were unbelievably generous with their time in answering my many, many questions about federal criminal procedure and life as an AUSA. Since my days as a federal appellate clerk, I’ve had the utmost respect for the talented prosecutors who serve in those positions.

Special thanks as well to Special Agent Ross Rice and Assistant U.S. Attorney Russell Samborn, who opened the doors to their offices and gave me glimpses of day-to-day life at both the Chicago division of the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois. I’m grateful also to Dave Scalzo for sharing his business expertise and to Jen Laudadio for, well, you know what.

To Elyssa Papa and Kati Dancy—thank you so much for your wonderful feedback and insights, and for working with some really tight deadlines. Simply put, you ladies rock.

Thanks as well to my editor, Wendy McCurdy, and my agent, Susan Crawford, for their understanding, helpfulness, and patience during what turned out to be a very eventful year for me. I also want to express my gratitude to the entire team at Berkley—all of whom do such a fantastic job—including my incredible publicist, Erin Galloway, and Christine Masters, copy editor extraordinaire.

Finally, to my husband: I know I always thank you in my books, but—wow—I think I may actually owe you my first-born child after this one. Good thing he’s already yours, or I’d probably be in a lot of trouble with DCFS for that arrangement.


May 2003

University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign


Pressed against the wood-paneled wall of the bar, her chin resting on her hand, Rylann Pierce listened as her friends chatted on around her, quite content for the first time in a month to think about nothing whatsoever.

Along with five of her law school classmates, she sat at a crowded table on the second floor of the Clybourne, one of the few campus bars frequented by highbrow graduate students who demanded that their watered-down, four-dollar drinks be served in actual glasses instead of plastic. Everyone in the group was in the same section as Rylann, which meant they’d all completed their last final exam, Criminal Procedure, late that afternoon. Spirits were high and boisterous—at least boisterous by law-student standards—punctuated only by occasional lows when someone realized a point they’d missed during the obligatory post-exam recap.

Someone nudged her elbow, interrupting her reverie. “Hello? Anyone there?”

The question came from Rylann’s roommate, Rae Mendoza, who was seated at her right.

“I’m here. Just…picturing myself at the pool.” Rylann tried to hold on to the mirage for a few moments longer. “It’s sunny and seventy-five degrees. I’ve got some kind of tropical drink with one of those little umbrellas in it, and I’m reading a book—one I don’t have to highlight or outline in the margins.”

“They make those kinds of books?”

“If memory serves.” Rylann exchanged a conspiratorial smile with Rae. Like many of their classmates, they’d both spent nearly every waking hour of the last four weeks outlining class notes and textbooks, taking practice exams, staring bleary-eyed at Emanuel Law Outlines into the wee hours of the night, and meeting with study groups—all in preparation for four three-hour tests that would help determine the course of their future legal careers. No pressure there.

The rumor was that the second and third years got progressively easier, which would be nice—there was this interesting activity called sleep Rylann had heard of, and she was thinking about trying it out. Perfect timing, too. She had a week off before her summer job started, during which she planned to do nothing more strenuous than roll herself out of bed every day by noon and mosey over to the university’s outdoor pool, which was open to students.

“I hate to burst the bubble on your daydream, but I’m pretty sure they don’t allow alcoholic drinks at IMPE,” Rae said, referring to the university’s Intramural Physical Education building, which housed said pool.

Rylann waved off such pesky details. “I’ll throw a mai tai in my College of Law thermos and tell people that it’s iced tea. If campus security gives me any trouble, I’ll scare them off with my quasi-legal credentials and remind them of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibitions against illegal searches and seizures.”

“Wow. Do you know how big of a law school geek you just sounded like?”

Unfortunately, she did. “Do you think any of us will ever be normal again?”

Rae considered this. “I’m told that somewhere around third year, we lose the urge to cite the Constitution in everyday conversation.”

“That’s promising,” Rylann said.

“But seeing how you’re more of a law geek than most, it might take you longer.”

“Remember that conversation last night when I said I was going to miss you this summer? I take it back.”

Rae laughed and slung her arm around Rylann’s shoulders. “Aw, you know you’re going to be so bored here without me.”