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The Big Exit

October 11, 2012

Overlook Press

Hardcover, Digital and Audio formats

Available for Order


Barnes & Noble




Excerpt from The Big Exit


911 dispatcher: 911, state your emergency.

Hill: It’s my husband.

911 dispatcher: Yes, go ahead.

Hill: Please get someone here. (Incoherent).

911 dispatcher: Miss, I can’t hear you. Can you please speak into the phone?

Hill: My husband’s dead. Someone’s killed my husband.

911 dispatcher: Okay. Are you certain he’s dead?

Hill: He didn’t have a pulse. There’s blood everywhere. Oh my God.

911 dispatcher: Ma’am, can you please tell me your name?

Hill: Beth Hill.

911 dispatcher: Are you in your home?

Hill: No, I’m outside. Please get someone here quickly. [redacted] Robert S Drive. I’m afraid he’s still here.

911 dispatcher: Who’s still there?

Hill: Whoever did this. My God. I can’t breathe.

911 dispatcher: Ma’am, are you in a safe room? Are you in a room where the door can be locked?

Hill: No, I’m outside near the garage.

911 dispatcher: But the phone you’re on, it’s cordless?

Hill: It’s my cell phone. I’m going inside now.

911 dispatcher: Is there anybody else in the house?

Hill: No.

911 dispatcher: Do you have children?

Hill: No. (Sound of door opening). Okay, I’m in the den. I’m shutting the door.

911 dispatcher: Good. Okay. Someone will be right over. A police officer will be there shortly. And I’ll stay on the phone until he comes. My name is Susan. Can you tell me, where in the house did you find your husband?

Hill: He wasn’t in the house. He was in the garage.

911 dispatcher: And you said there was a lot of blood. Did someone shoot him?

Hill: I don’t know. I don’t think so. There was so much blood it was hard to tell. I didn’t think it was Mark. I kept saying, it’s not him. It couldn’t be. But I saw his watch. He wears a Rolex.

911 dispatcher: And you said you touched him?

Hill: I touched his wrist to feel his pulse.

911 dispatcher: And you couldn’t feel anything?

Hill: I knew it. As soon as I saw him. I knew he was dead.

911 dispatcher: Can you tell me how you found him?

Hill: I came home. I went to pull the car in the garage and there he was. I saw him in my headlights. He was on the floor of the garage.

911 dispatcher: His car was in the garage?

Hill: No, just outside. Well, the one car—the one he was driving—was outside the garage and the other was inside. He has two cars.

911 dispatcher: Was the garage door open?

Hill: Yes.

911 dispatcher: The lights are off, though? The car wasn’t running?

Hill: No, the car wasn’t running.

911 dispatcher: Beth, the police should be there any minute. So hang on, okay?

Hill: (Incoherent).

911 dispatcher: If you want to say anything, you just go right ahead.

Hill: I can’t believe this is happening.

911 dispatcher: Beth, can you tell me whether you saw anything unusual? Was there a car you didn’t know parked down the street?

Hill: No. I didn’t see anything.

911 dispatcher: And do you know when your husband came home? Did he tell you when he was coming home?

Hill: Not exactly. He BlackBerry’d me around four to say that he was leaving the office early today and that he wouldn’t be late. But I don’t know when he left.

911 dispatcher: And how long does it take him to get home?

Hill: Around twenty minutes, depending on the traffic.

911 dispatcher: So you think somewhere around—(Beeping noise). Is someone trying to call?

Hill: (pause) It’s my neighbor.

911 dispatcher: You see the number in caller ID?

Hill: Yes. They must have heard me screaming.

911 dispatcher: Do you want to put me on hold and speak with them?

Hill: No. Wait, I hear something.

911 dispatcher: Is someone in the house? (pause) Beth, do you hear someone in the house?

Hill: It’s outside. I think they’re here.

911 dispatcher: Is there a window in the room you’re in?

Hill: (pause) Yes, there’s a police car outside.

911 dispatcher: Okay, Beth. I’m going to stay on the phone until you let them in. They’re aware of the situation.

Hill: Thank you. Thank you for your help. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry you had to deal with this.

911 dispatcher: It’s all right. It’s quite all right.



A month before Beth Hill made her 911 call, the job posted on Craigslist.

Case assistant. Exoneration Foundation.

He’d been looking for weeks, but this was the first listing that really

jumped out at him, truly suited him, and that he thought he had a shot


“Candidates must have strong analytic skills, attention to detail,

commitment to social justice,” the ad read. “Interest in criminal

justice issues, collegial and collaborative work style are a must,

candidates should be skilled in writing and presenting information

clearly and succinctly and dealing with emotionally charged situations


Check, check, and check.

So there he was ten days later sitting on a worn black leather sofa,

wearing a navy pinstripe suit that he’d picked up at a thrift shop. It

hung off him a little loosely. He’d walked from his apartment. He was

downtown, in SoMa—South of Market—on Third Street, in a small,

cheerless reception area that didn’t look so different from the waiting

areas of the state and city agencies he’d been obliged to visit in recent


The Exoneration Foundation.

He’d known about the place before he saw the ad. Some called it

the “court of last resort,” but the foundation preferred a different, less

dramatic description. It was a nonprofit, pro-bono legal clinic that

represented prisoners whose wrongful convictions might be over-

turned through biological evidence, the kind that was overlooked,

misinterpreted, or botched in one way or another.

The founder was an attorney named Marty Lowenstein, a preeminent

DNA expert. To prison inmates he was simply known as the DNA

Dude. That’s what they called him. “Get the DNA Dude on it,” was

their mantra for every guy who claimed he was actually innocent. “Dial

that mofo up. He’ll get your actual ass off.” Fucking idiots. No one

believed it.

Marty Lowenstein was a do-gooder. An actual one. The poor,

the forgotten, the innocent schmuck on death row, the royally

screwed were his meat. The irony was that he owed his reputation to

representing a handful of rich pricks in high-profile cases that got big

spreads in Vanity Fair. Those people you didn’t always exonerate. You

got them off. You created reasonable doubt. But you didn’t get to walk

a guy out of prison after twenty-two years for a crime the evidence

clearly showed he didn’t commit and maybe even someone else had

copped to in the meantime. That was exoneration. Lowenstein got off

on it.

Richie Forman looked around. His suit fit right in. There was

something a decade or two passé about the décor, a little off, a little

tired. The furniture had obviously once served in another office,

probably a corporate law firm.

Smack at ten, the receptionist, a young black woman with straightened

hair, said the case director was coming out, she’d see him now. That

got his heart going. You’re going to crush this, he thought. This one’s


A moment later, a heavyset Hispanic woman with a pleasant face came

out and greeted him. Her name was Lourdes Hinojosa, and after she

shook his hand, she walked him back to her office. She looked fairly

young, early forties, but she had a pair of reading glasses on a chain

around her neck that made her look older, especially when she put them

on to scan his résumé.

He sat there anxiously watching her. As she read, she nodded a couple

of times but made no comment. The silence made him nervous. He

crossed, then uncrossed his legs. Finally, she took off her glasses and

looked at him with a renewed intensity.


“Rick,” he said. “You can call me Rick.”

“Okay, sorry. Rick. I see you were in marketing at a dot-com.”


“I suppose you’re looking for a more noble calling. You understand,

though, that the case assistant position is an entry-level position.”

She obviously had seen his type before—or at least the type she

thought he was.

“Yes, I know. But—”

“We get a lot of people applying for this who are right out of college,

including schools back East,” she said, referencing his résumé. “You’ll

be doing a lot of grunt work. When was the last time you did grunt


He almost said “yesterday,” but he held his tongue. He was prepared

for this, the not-so-subtle age discrimination. He looked good for thirty-

seven—but not that good.

“You might want to look again, Ms. Hinojosa. I was in marketing—but

a long time ago.”

She put her glasses back on and looked at the sheet.

“Oh,” she said, reading the dates more carefully. “Wow. Seven years.”

She looked at him again. “What have you been doing since then?”

“Time,” he said.

Her eyes opened wide.

“Out in gold country,” he added. “Mule Creek.”

“You’ve been in prison?”


He noticed her eyes zeroing in on the long scar on the right upper side

of his forehead. He could have hidden the blemish better, but he kept

his dark hair slicked back and parted to the other side—the left. The

style was a little short to be a true pompadour, but it was longer on top

and had some wave to it. She’d noticed the scar when he was in the

outer office but probably thought it was some sort of athletic injury.

Now it seemed to take on new meaning for her.

“If you don’t mind my asking, what did you do?”

“Technically speaking, in the eyes of the court, I was responsible

for the death of a twenty-four-year-old woman. Felony vehicular

manslaughter with gross negligence.”


“But there were extenuating circumstances.”

He reached in his bag and pulled out a small sheaf of papers that he’d

stapled together. They were mostly news clips, but he also had a couple

reference letters thrown in at the end, both of them from the owners of

restaurants where he’d worked recently.

He handed the packet to her. “In the interest of full disclosure, I thought

you should have this.”

She leafed through the clips, starting with the San Francisco Chronicle

piece that would forever label the post-bachelor party accident

the “Bachelor Disaster,” then moved on to the San Jose Mercury

News’s similarly provocative headline, TRADING PLACES, with the

subhead, “Bachelor Party Boy Says He Wasn’t Behind Wheel, Friend

Switched Seats After Accident.” There were pieces from the local

papers, too, covering the trial and subsequent civil lawsuit.

“I vaguely remember this,” she murmured, her eyes betraying

conflicting emotions: she seemed partly empathetic, partly perturbed.

“As you might imagine,” he said, “I feel uniquely qualified for the

position. How many recent college graduates do you know who can say

they have a corporate background and the kind of personal experience I

have with this foundation’s potential clients?”

She didn’t seem to know quite how to respond. Perhaps she expected

him to smile after he made his declaration, inject it with a little humor,

but he didn’t. He said it with a straight face, deadly serious.

For good measure, he added: “I also have a keen understanding of what

it’s like to be in a place where you don’t think you should be.”

She looked at his scar again. Then, touching the side of her forehead in

the same spot, she asked:

“Did you get that in prison?”

“Yes.” He pointed to a smaller scar just under his left eyebrow. “This

one, too. But on the basketball court.”

Before he was sent away, he’d been in decent shape. He ran twice a

week and played some pickup games at the Jewish Community Center

in Palo Alto. In the joint, though, he’d gotten ripped. He was putting

up close to three hundred on the bench, which, for a guy his size—

five-eleven, one seventy-five—was serious. And since getting out, he’d

mostly kept up his workout regimen. The fact that he could wear the

Boss suit, a size fifty, was a testament to that. Before he went up, he

was two sizes smaller.

“I had six bad months behind bars, Ms. Hinojosa,” he said. “The rest

wasn’t cake. But it was manageable. I helped some guys. I wrote some

of the letters you probably received at one time or another. I have, as

your ad says, an understanding of criminal justice issues.”

She nodded.

“And you also understand that the starting salary for the job is twenty-

seven thousand dollars?”

“That’s better than I thought.”

“How much were you making before you went to prison?”

“In a good year, counting stock and bonus, multiply by ten.”

Now he did smile. And she did, too.

“Long gone,” he said. “Whatever wasn’t taken up in legal fees went to

the accident victims’ families.”

Seeing her confusion, he quickly added: “A second woman was

injured. Her roommate.”

“Not your fault, though. You were innocent?”

“I didn’t say that. There were extenuating circumstances.”

With that, she looked at his résumé again.

“Well, Mr. Forman,” she said. “You certainly meet the qualifications.

But ultimately, I have to run this past a few other people. We have two

case coordinators, one of whom isn’t here today, and a second case

assistant who you’d share an office with.”

“I’ll tell you what,” he said. “I’ll volunteer for a couple of weeks. You

keep interviewing all the recent college grads you want. You’re not

going to find anybody more grateful to do grunt work. In that folder,

I’ve included my parole officer’s info, as well as the manager at a

restaurant in Sacramento where I worked. I encourage you to talk to


She considered his request.

“We wouldn’t be able to pay you.”

“That’s okay. I work nights. I have an income.”

“What do you do?”

“I sing. Mostly at parties. Corporate gatherings. Sometimes at the wax

museum at Fisherman’s Wharf. Did a Bar Mitzvah last week.”

“What do you sing?”


“What else?”

“Just Sinatra.”

She raised an eyebrow, not quite believing him.

“I’m a Sinatra impersonator.”

She laughed, and then looked down at his résumé again, stalling.

“Ms. Hinojosa,” he went on, “you know damn well how hard it is for a

guy like me to get a corporate job, even a low-paying one. Eventually,

I want to start my own company. But today I’m just looking to get back

in the game somewhere. If I have to start from the bottom, I at least

want to do it at a place like this, where I’m personally invested in the


She stared at him for a moment before her mouth gradually broke into a


“I suppose you’d be willing to start Monday.”

“Or now,” he said.

“Monday’s okay.”

He stood up and shook her hand. The interview was over. He’d crushed


“Monday it is then,” he said.





capped syringe filled with clear fluid lying on the counter next to the

sink. Blood doesn’t bother her, not even puddles of it. The inside of

a human body isn’t a problem either. But needles are. Having some-

one poke her with a syringe makes her queasy. And it’s worse if she’s

having her blood drawn. The sight of the dark burgundy liquid rising

slowly in the nurse’s syringe makes her want to retch.

This isn’t about that, though. Nothing’s coming out, it’s going in. All

she has to do is pull the cap off the syringe, pinch a little skin next

her belly button, and jab the layer of fat between her fingers with the

short needle. She’s done it two nights in a row (the first night she’d had

some help from a friend), but it isn’t getting any easier. For the first

time in her life, she wishes she weren’t as thin as she is. At forty, she’s

not the stick she once was, but when she pinches the skin be- tween

her fingers, what she gets doesn’t feel substantial enough—there isn’t

enough meat there—and she’s worried that if she doesn’t make the jab

just right, she might come in at the wrong angle and that in- stead of

getting buried in her skin, the needle will end up poking out the other


She looks in the mirror and takes a deep breath. It’s just after nine and

she’s already in her pajamas, a pink flannel set that’s entirely— and

absurdly—covered with lipstick-colored kisses. Her nieces gave her the

pajamas for her last birthday, and with her fine dark hair pulled back in

a ponytail, she notes how girlish she looks. Her olive skin and brown

eyes have always lent her a Mediterranean appearance, and there’s

something mildly and comfortably exotic about her.

She’s never been someone who’s had to put a lot of work into how

she looks, and while she’s never considered herself beautiful, she does

think she’s naturally pretty and likes how her face is able show a range

of expressions. So many women are pretty—but pretty in a dull way.

And she knows that men find it exciting that on the one hand she comes

off as restrained and sophisticated (or even downright aloof), she is also

capable of exhibiting a more playful and combative side that tends to

be enhanced with a drink or two.

Yes, the years of failing to respect the sun have begun to take their

toll. The moons under her eyes are present and accounted for, the

crow’s-feet impossible to miss. But for a fleeting instant, she believes

her eternally optimistic, touch-me-and-I-breed sister is right. Sure,

on paper she’s forty, but all the exercise and good eating have to

count for something. Maybe it’s true. Maybe she really does have the

reproductive system of a thirty-five-year-old.

Three months ago she was laid off from her job at Clark, Kirshner, and

Dupuy. That’s what she’s been telling people anyway, even though

it’s not entirely accurate. Technically, you haven’t been laid off when

you’re still on the company’s healthcare plan and your name’s still on

the company stationery. But her fellow partners at the firm strongly

encouraged her to take some time off.

“We’re not forcing you out, Carolyn,” Steve Clark insisted.

“Last I checked, Steve, ‘unpaid leave of absence’ was wussy for bye-

bye. I didn’t know you spoke that language.”

He said he knew she was upset, but it was for her own good. She

needed to get her shit together. Never mind that she’d become

completely unreliable, coming and going as she pleased. But you just

couldn’t have criminal defense attorneys pulling DUIs.

“It doesn’t work, Carolyn,” he said. “You’re better than this.”

“I didn’t get a DUI.”

“You should have.”

He was right about that.

Now, three months later, here she is, still at home. The time off had

only hardened her resolve to become a mom. She’d met three times

with a fertility doctor, done countless hours of research about IVF on

the Internet, and filed the requisite paperwork at the donor bank.

Fuck them, she thinks. Fuck them all.

She reaches down and picks up the syringe from the counter, which

she’s carefully sterilized with rubbing alcohol, not once, but twice,

and pulls the cap off, exposing the short needle. She holds the syringe

upright and flicks it with her right index finger until a few tiny air

bubbles float to the top. Then she pushes up a little on the plunger until

a drop of the Ganirelix concoction appears at the tip of the needle.

Ten, she says to herself. Ten eggs are all she’s asking for. Fifteen

would be better, of course. But ten she can live with. Ten will give her

a decent shot at getting three to five quality embryos, maybe even a

couple more if she’s lucky. That’s the new math she’s mastering. Math

for the reproductively challenged.

With her left hand, she pinches the skin on her stomach and takes

another deep breath.

“Don’t be a pussy, DP,” she says out loud, calling herself by her

nickname. “This is nothing.”

This is just a subcutaneous injection. Back in the day, this was the

practice round, the confidence builder. You first injected yourself with

drugs that tricked your ovaries into producing several eggs instead

of one. Then, after the extraction (which required more drugs), you

pumped yourself up with progesterone to make your womb cozy

and “sticky” and primed to host an embryo or two—or three. The only

problem was the progesterone was mixed with sesame oil and you had

to inject it intramuscularly with a 1.5-inch needle. Just right for a horse.

She remembers her friend Susan, years ago, showing her the discolored

marks on her butt and thighs. They looked like serious insect bites. Her

friend said that sometimes the oil would ooze out of the hole after her

husband pulled the needle out. Often she’d cry afterwards.

Carolyn almost cried listening to her. She could never imagine having

to do IVF, no way. But now here she is.

What the fuck happened? Circumstances changed, that’s what the fuck

happened. And so, fortunately, did the science. Now you can get all

the progesterone you need through a suppository and not some big-

ass needle. The hard part has been eliminated. Now if they could just

eliminate the easy part, she thinks.

“You can do this,” she says aloud, reciting the mantra that has gotten

her through the last three nights. “You can fucking do this.”

But just as she’s about to make the jab, her cell phone, sitting on the

counter on the opposite side of the sink, rings. In the caller ID window,

there is a number she doesn’t recognize. Her first impulse is to ignore

it, but then she thinks better of it, welcoming the intrusion.

She holds the syringe upright and puts the phone to her ear. “Hello,”

she says.



“This is Beth. Beth Hill. From the club. I’m sorry to bother you so


She knows who it is, but it doesn’t make sense that Beth Hill— the

one she knows, the one who hates her—would be calling. Years ago,

as an assistant DA, she’d prosecuted Hill’s fiancé, Richie Forman,

in a vehicular manslaughter case. She wonders how she got her cell


“Oh, yes. How are you?”

“Not so good. Which is why I’m calling. My husband’s been


She says it so matter-of-factly, Carolyn doesn’t know if she’s heard her


“Excuse me?”

“Someone killed my husband.”

“My God,” Carolyn says. “Are you sure?”

“Yes. It’s just horrible. I don’t know what to do. The police are here

and I think they suspect I had something to do with it. They want to

take me to the station house. I need to speak with someone.”

By someone, she doesn’t mean just anyone.

“You need an attorney?”

“Yes. I didn’t know who else to call. One of the detectives here gave

me your cell-phone number. I know you have your own firm now, that

you defend people. I read about you and that doctor a few years back.”

For a second Carolyn can’t accept what’s happening. This has to be a

practical joke. Someone’s punking me, she thinks. But instead of calling

out her caller, her first reflex is to brush her off.

“I’m sorry but I’m—”

Not with my firm anymore. That’s what she wants to say. But at the last

second some synapse trips and she realizes she’s about to do something

incredibly stupid. And just like that, checked-out Carolyn checks back


“When did this happen, Beth?”

“About two hours ago. I found him in the garage. There was blood

everywhere. It was just horrible. I can’t believe it. It doesn’t seem real.

Now I just can’t think straight. I don’t know what to do. Please, I need

to talk to someone.”

She can hear hysteria building in Beth’s voice. She wants to bring her

back to the place she was before.

“Okay, Beth. Has anybody read you your rights?”

“No, I don’t think so. I just don’t know what to do. Whether I should

go or not.”

“Don’t do anything. Don’t answer any questions. I’m coming right

now. Just let the police know I’m coming. They won’t let me through

otherwise. Can you do that?”

She tells her where she lives, then starts to give her more detailed

instructions on how to get there. But Carolyn cuts her off, saying she

knows the street.

“I’m sorry to call so late,” Beth says again, her voice quavering. “It’s

okay.” A beat, then: “Beth?”


“Who was the detective who gave you my cell number?”

“The older guy. Madden. He knew Mark from the accident. He thinks I

had something to do with this. And that Richie is involved.”

“Did he say that?”

“No. I can just tell from his questions. And see it in his eyes. Oh God, I

can’t believe this is happening.”

“Beth, do me a favor.”


“Take a deep breath. Try to remain calm. Count to five for me.”

She hit the speakerphone button and laid the phone down on the sink.

“I’m okay,” she hears Beth’s voice kick in over the speaker.

Readying herself, Carolyn pinches the skin on her stomach.

“Just count. Slowly.”

“One . . . two . . . three . . .”

On five, she makes a quick jab with the needle, stabbing her skin.

When the needle’s set, she exhales hard as she pushes the plunger down

gradually, slowly injecting herself.

After a few seconds of silence, Beth gets concerned. “Carolyn? You

still there?”

“Yeah,” she says. Her hand trembles slightly as she removes the needle

and caps it for disposal. “I’m on my way.”