The Rules of Action

The Rules of Action

by Landon J. Napoleon


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It's 1970, and America has a dirty secret.

The author of "ZigZag"-"One of the boldest and most original first novels to appear in a long time" (Carl Hiaasen)-reinvents the legal drama popularized by Michael Connelly, John Grisham, and Scott Turow.

Human beings are being warehoused in substandard nursing homes, neglected, and left to die under suspicious circumstances. But this is America in the 1970s, and no one seems to know about it, much less care.

Rookie lawyer Connor J. Devlin discovers this secret underworld when he meets One-Armed Lucky, a cagey Vietnam vet and bail bondsman with an uncanny knowledge of the law. Lucky refers Devlin's new client, a heartbroken but tenacious woman who's convinced that neglectful nursing home care killed her mother Ann, a greyhound-racing devotee and Lucky's best friend.

But Devlin has a big problem. Taking on a nursing home for wrongful death in the 1970s-one backed by a corporation owned by a hardnosed Texas industrialist-will be almost impossible. Almost.

In this "briskly told and well-drawn" (Kirkus Reviews) legal drama, Landon J. Napoleon offers all the thrills of John Grisham and other masters of the genre, while proving that "legal procedure can provide as much action, suspense, and whodunit excitement as any shootout or car chase."


"Briskly told and well-drawn... this legal thriller does what many courtroom-based novels and television shows do not: It stays true to the actual practice of trial law... A fast-paced tale of justice in action and a remarkably accurate portrait of a trial lawyer's daily grind..."

"Prospective law students are frequently encouraged to read law-student memoirs or legal hornbooks, but for a realistic view of litigation and a great deal more action, they'd do well to add this legal thriller to their reading list."
-Kirkus Reviews

"One of the most compelling and entertaining books I have ever read on the strategy and gamesmanship of the legal process."
-Former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods


"This true story reads like a novel."
-Kirkus Reviews

"An inspiring true story of triumph."
-Publishers Weekly

"Landon J. Napoleon displays a flair for detail in this fast-moving book... an inspiring read."
-The Arizona Republic

"A powerful, inspiring story of one man's will to survive and to thrive in the face of horrific injuries. It is also a keen look into the workings of our police men and women and the close bonds that knit them together. We admire them, and we especially admire Jason Schechterle."
-Janet Napolitano, former Arizona governor (2002-2009) and Arizona attorney general (1998-2002)

"Sad, exciting, life-changing and emotional... an amazing story of one man's triumph over tragedy with the support of an entire community."
-Jack Ballentine, former homicide detective and author of "Murder for Hire"


"One of the boldest and most original first novels to appear in a long time. It's also very funny, in a way that only the raw street-song of truth can be funny."
-Carl Hiaasen

"A remarkable debut... An unaffected, moving, astonishing insight into the heart of a troubled, silent genius."
-Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"... this mixture of comic adventure and paean to the values of volunteerism is a vivid read. An impressive debut novel..."
-Library Journal (starred review)

"Landon J. Napoleon conveys the strength of the human spirit through his wonderful creation, and in the process tells an engaging and enriching story."
-Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers

"... a latter-day 'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.' Like Twain's classic, this novel excels at adolescent monologue."
-Arena Magazine

"... an affecting tale of the triumph of hope over desperate circumstances... a modern day 'Of Mice And Men.'"
-The London Times

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780988651968
Publisher: Avery Press
Publication date: 06/03/2014
Pages: 332
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.74(d)

About the Author

LANDON J. NAPOLEON is the award-winning and critically acclaimed author of fiction and nonfiction books. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Arizona State University, a master's degree from University of Glasgow in Scotland, and has been an author for more than two decades.

His debut novel "ZigZag" received starred reviews, was a Barnes & Noble "Discover Great New Writers" finalist (1999), was translated into multiple foreign editions, and was adapted for a motion picture (Franchise Pictures, 2002) starring John Leguizamo, Oliver Platt, and Wesley Snipes.

His nonfiction biography "Burning Shield: The Jason Schechterle Story" was the March 2014 "Arizona Republic Recommends" selection: "Landon J. Napoleon displays a flair for detail in this fast-moving book."

Interweaving narratives of human triumph, medical marvels, police procedure and high-stakes legal showdowns, this "inspiring true story" (Kirkus Reviews) chronicles the odyssey of a rare human being with an undeniable will to live.

"Burning Shield: The Jason Schechterle Story" is "An inspiring true story of triumph" (Publishers Weekly).

Read an Excerpt

The Rules of ACTION


iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright © 2010 Landon J. Napoleon
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4502-2455-0

Chapter One

Phoenix, 1970

The 25-year-old lawyer Connor J. Devlin drew a breath, rose from his chair, and, for the first time in open court, said, "Objection, your honor." It was, in the young counselor's estimation, one for the books, a truly laudable missive.

"Overruled." The gray-haired judge slowly turned, frowned, shook his head, and sighed. He looked like a wrinkled dog sniffing the air, and even when he wasn't annoyed, which he was now, his face was always crumpled into a grimace. The judge took in the young lawyer-tall with longish hair and thick sideburns, impeccably dressed in a plaid jacket and dark pants, and ill-prepared to an astonishing level-and sighed again. In a more seasoned lawyer, the honed swagger would be a solid asset. But in this young rogue, it only accentuated his lack of ability.

The bailiff looked up and stopped rustling papers at his desk. The clerk and court reporter both sat motionless in the uneasy silence. The only sound Devlin could hear was his own heartbeat and the fluorescent buzz above his head. The judge finally said, "Counselor, will you be getting up to speed anytime soon, or will each statement from your mouth continue to be ill-timed, inappropriate, and ineffective?"

Other than the uniformed deputy the gallery was empty, but Devlin heard a chuckle from the prosecutor's table. Perhaps the parade-route planning to herald this new career had been a bit premature.

"Yes sir, your honor."

"Yes sir, you will continue to be ill-timed, inappropriate, and ineffective?"

"No sir. I mean no, your honor."

"I should hope not. And if you must object again, turn the volume down a notch or two. I'm certain I look frail and aged to you, but my hearing is quite good."

Another snicker.

As Devlin slid back into his chair even his client, whom Devlin had met twenty minutes ago as they entered the courtroom together, was shaking his head and whispering, "The hell kind of jive-ass lawyer you anyway? Damn torture watching your honky ass."

"Yeah," Devlin whispered, "For you and me both, pal." Just a week removed from passing the bar and becoming an official lawyer, each time his apartment phone rang the sound brought forth a brilliant specter of possibility. Real cases and clients, and problems that needed solutions. As a kid, Devlin didn't have a singular career vision, but he certainly never wanted to be a lawyer. Growing up in Buffalo, New York, a hard 1950s town, the oppressive weather had a looming presence that paralleled the Korean War and the clamp-down of the Eisenhower years. The overall bleakness was a common bond: The townspeople braved, collectively, the gloomy pallor and Arctic fury alongside the fear of imminent Communist invasion. Spawned by subzero reality, Buffalo's barstool-and-bowling culture forged a gallows humor embodied in its official town slogan, philosophy, and all-around response to anything: What the fuck. By age 10, every kid in Buffalo had heard, learned, and begun using, at least with friends, every varied nuance of those three words. Watching this current debacle unfold triggered the old standard.

What the fuck, Devlin.

Like most law school graduates, he had imagined various scenarios for his first case. Perhaps the inaugural foray would be a stunning settlement bringing justice and riches to an impoverished victim. Or maybe a front-page trial with all the Perry Mason theatrics, wherein a hard-nosed Devlin cracked a key witness during a deft cross.

In each imagined scene, an ivory-tower grandeur and gentlemanly protocol infused the proceedings. There would be eloquent and nuanced discussions of courtroom strategy over hand-wrapped cigars and single-malt swirled in crystal snifters. This all transpired against a backdrop of leather-bound law books, the light playing off the luster of cherry and other fine woods oiled to luxurious perfection. And, ultimately, triumph on the courtroom stage. However, the reality of how this disaster began three hours ago was 180 degrees from those pristine visions.

When Devlin answered the phone, anticipating great possibilities, what he got instead was a high-profile, high-dollar and highly inebriated lawyer. Devlin checked his watch: 10 a.m. Tuesday seemed an odd time to be blasted, even to an Irish-Catholic kid who found the barstool at 14 and spent his youth prowling Buffalo's blue-collar nooks and crannies. Devlin, while working part-time as a bouncer as he studied for the bar exam, had met this shit-faced lawyer at work, and they had struck up an ongoing banter. Now the grizzled veteran was saying he needed the kid to take a case, and Devlin was buoyed and even honored. He pledged to the seasoned pro, in his most solemn and respectful voice, that he would not let him down, and that diligence would be the watchword.

"Good for you, kid, good for you," the veteran said laughing, "because you're due in court for jury selection in an hour."

"An hour?"

"Yes (burp) you am. You step in, you handle it. I'll owe you one, kid. You make your mark in the legal game when it's fourth-and-twenty. Not when the bases are empty."

The lawyer could be excused, in his condition, for mixing his metaphors. Then he laughed and added, "I'd say this qualifies, kid. Hey, you could start a new firm: Diligence and Watchword. People will come out of the fucking woodwork on that one."

"I've never tried a case-" "Passed the bar, right?"

"Yes but-"

"Then the state of Arizona says you're a goddam lawyer, right?"

"Right, but I've never actually tried a case-"

"First time for everything."

"But I don't know the rules of evidence as they apply to trial-"

"First time for everything."

Devlin paused, a sick feeling in his stomach, and then added, "Sir, with all due respect, I don't even know who your client is or what the case is about. I've never even been to the courthouse."

"First time for everything." Then the lawyer added this reassurance: "Kid, like you said, it's fourth-and-twenty. You're coming off the bench because (burp) one client's like their needs are what you represent for the good of the (extended pause) responsibility. Cheers, kid. I salute you." And then the superstar lawyer was shouting directions to the downtown bar.

"Sir, please, I really don't think ... Sir? Hello?"

All Devlin could hear were muffled shouts and the gritty opening refrains of "American Woman" by The Guess Who. Then raucous laughter and unmistakable bar-room shouts. Either the lawyer had passed out cold and slid down the wall, or he had re-joined the revelry without hanging up the pay phone receiver. Devlin took a deep sigh and grabbed a legal pad.

It was a five-minute blast from his apartment to the tavern. In any other city he might have walked it, but the triple-digit September heat killed that idea. Besides, with his new ride he wouldn't be walking anywhere. After graduation, he'd traded in his Corvette for a vehicle more befitting a barrister: a brand-new 1970 black Lincoln Mark III with its block-solid V8 power plant. There was also the unmistakable and Rolls-Royce-inspired grill, headlight covers, and the standard fake spare-tire bulge on the rear deck. Inside, the car was loaded with power everything, trim panels in rosewood laminate, and an eight-track tape player. Heading south on Central Avenue, Devlin passed a billboard with a twenty-foot-tall Elvis Presley: The King's first tour since 1958 was kicking off in Phoenix tonight, and Devlin had tickets. The King's return, at least, softened the blow of The Beatles unraveling a few months back.

Once his eyes adjusted to the dingy ambience, Devlin scoured the red vinyl booths and then the few faces staring from stools. He looked again, and then a third time. And the lawyer was not there. Devlin was off the hook. He'd just stay away from the apartment until after jury selection began, and the lawyer would have no way of calling him. Devlin would say he frantically searched every bar within a three-mile radius. That should do it. Relieved, he headed for the restroom.

Before he pushed open the men's room door, Devlin heard muffled grunting and shouts like two bears fighting in slow motion. He stepped in, walked toward the stall, and, fearing someone was being mugged and beaten, pulled open the door. What Devlin saw instead was the high-profile attorney standing with his bare and very hairy ass furiously pumping. Devlin couldn't see the woman, but it was easy to deduce that she, too, was standing, bent over and clinging to what had become her porcelain ballast amid the thundering frenzy. Devlin swallowed back an acid sickness in his throat and turned to start out.



"Devlin, that you?"

Devlin said, "Yes sir," as the lofty law school vision began dissolving at a frightening pace.

"Good work, kid," the drunk lawyer said, his hips never breaking rhythm. "Brief you the case a minute."

"Can we not have the talking, please?" the woman said between thrusts, a reasonable request but one unlikely to restore whatever scintilla of dignity might have been present before Devlin arrived. Devlin stepped out and waited in the dark hallway that had a Buffalo vibe he knew well: that clawing beer-and-smoke stench masking the vague desperation of dreams unfulfilled, The Fifth Dimension thumping out "Let The Sunshine In." Devlin could still hear them rutting as he reviewed the succession: (a) summoned to a toilet stall; (b) witnessed a hairy ass pumping with machine precision; and (c) forever scarred with displeasing visuals lodged in his mind.

From that inauspicious beginning, Devlin's first case plummeted to its nadir. About all the drunk could tell him was that the client, a colored guy, was charged with carrying a concealed weapon. The veteran lawyer dug a very thin file folder from his briefcase, handed it to Devlin and, literally, gave the client's new lawyer directions to the courthouse.

"Let's see, what else?" the lawyer said, swirling his glass and studying it as though the amber liquid were some oracle of knowledge. He was visibly swaying and looked as though the next thing from his mouth would be vomit. But instead, all he said was, "Fuck it. Go win the case, kid."

Although being in a real courtroom to try an actual case was heart-pumping excitement at first, now Devlin just wanted it to end, because he fully realized how clueless he was. The judge had pretty much nailed it. Ill-timed. Inappropriate. Ineffective. Devlin's only saving grace was his fierce intent to help the client, but that resolve faded when even the client jumped ship. After nineteen years of formal education, Devlin didn't know what the hell he was doing. Finally, mercifully, the proceedings ended. The sum total of his effort: a pony-tailed Girl Scout trying to seal off Dick Butkus on an end-around might have fared better. Objection, your honor! Devlin could only shake his head as he gathered the papers he had spread for appearance's sake.

As the civil and criminal justice system wound down for the day, Devlin stepped from the Maricopa County Superior court complex into the searing September heat. He wondered whether the drunk lawyer was conscious, and how he'd take the loss. From where he was standing, Devlin looked across the street to glowing red neon: AAA Bail Bonds. He smiled. First in the phone book and ready to serve. Like all young upstarts, Devlin knew that every criminal case logged into the system required a preliminary hearing, and preliminary hearings required lawyers. Get in with the right bail bondsman-bingo, a steady stream of bread-and-butter billings. There were other ways to get referrals, but the bulk came by way of the bail bondsmen, the gatekeepers as the accused's first point of contact. Devlin studied the neon sign as his plan began to formulate: He wouldn't trample through the front door of AAA Bail Bonds with the herd of frothing lawyers. Instead, he'd ask around and see who was running the show at AAA Bail Bonds. Then he'd find a way to make his entrance memorable.

"Hey kid."

Devlin turned to see the prosecution lawyer who'd just decimated the greenhorn's first attempt at practicing law. Without breaking stride, and with an underling in tow, the victor smiled and said, "Preparation is not a punch line; it's a way of life." Then he laughed and, as if on cue, the young associate laughed, too.

Devlin could only shake his head. For now, he had his bar number and case #1 in the books. He might be 0-1, but he was also on the map as an official lawyer, a free-wheeling raconteur, an East Coast transplant in Barry Goldwater Land. Perfect, he thought. He laughed to himself and felt a surge of energy.

They'd see the Irish kid in court again.

Gambling, the 76-year-old widow Ann Pearson liked to tell her friends at the dog track, was God's way of giving old women a good time. Ten years ago, in 1965, when cancer cut down Ann's husband Charlie, she stumbled upon dog racing as an unlikely escape for her bottomless grief. Of course, her foundation had always been, and would continue to be, her daughter Kay and her Catholic faith. For Ann, these meant a twin ritual.

Every morning at six, the phone rang and Ann answered with, "Good morning, dear." On the other end was her only child, a university librarian who adored her parents. After her father's death, Kay began this daily tradition as a way to keep tabs on her mother's well-being. Gradually, these chats became comforting to mother and daughter alike.

Then, after hanging up, Ann dressed for church and ventured onto Phoenix's six-lane boulevards in her white Plymouth Valiant. Destination: the chapel across the street from the university library where Kay worked. Ann had two bumper stickers that the desert sun had nearly rendered illegible: "Today is a gift-That's why we call it the Present." And: "I might be slow, but I'm ahead of you."

Ann Pearson didn't march lockstep with everything the church professed, but she loved the comfort, peace, and meditative quality of that hour each morning. She sat in the front pew and was first in line for Communion. After, she'd linger and talk to friends. While her church routine helped after Charlie's death, she still needed something to fill the long, empty days.

Gambling with her Social Security check, it turned out, was not only tolerated by the management at Desert Gardens Senior Living, but openly encouraged, endorsed, and even facilitated with daily noon-departure bus trips. Like loitering hordes of teenagers, the aged needed places to congregate where they weren't in the way of productive, wage-earning adults. One such location was the Royal Palms Kennel Club, a cavernous and sagging facility near downtown Phoenix. For Ann Pearson, the gambling trips began simply as something on the daily calendar, a diversion to occupy wide blocks of time.

On this day, March 19, 1975, another balmy afternoon in Phoenix, Ann Pearson was three races into the matinee schedule when-although she had promised herself she would spread the action in hopes of playing all week and through the weekend-she couldn't resist going in heavy.

CC's Colorado Can-Do.

Three minutes to post.

He was a young pup and a 40-to-1 long shot that no one appeared to be on to except Ann Pearson-courtesy of a tip from the dog's owner. There were only a few others lucky enough to be in this hallowed of innermost circles within the dog-racing fraternity. This dog was, Ann thought, as sure as these things get.

She had been working the program around this race for days. So when she stepped to the window, she pushed across a good chunk of what used to be her Social Security check to box-and-wheel CC's Colorado Can-Do every way she could. Just thinking about the trifecta payout-she was guessing $2,000-plus-made her heart race. On a good weekend run she could double or triple her meager government dole. When the picks ran cold, she still showed up for the comforting routine, laughter among friends, the bus ride back and forth, and staying up on the various dramas in the lives of the track waitresses, janitors, and ticket-takers. If there was one venue in greater Phoenix that promised human drama, in all its comedic and tragic forms, it was the Royal Palms Kennel Club. The place was daily Shakespeare, performed for $2 a bet: Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; we have a photo finish.


Excerpted from The Rules of ACTION by LANDON J. NAPOLEON Copyright © 2010 by Landon J. Napoleon. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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