Without prejudice

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Aviva Futorian, a lawyer in Chicago who is renowned for her work on behalf of Death Row and long-term prisoners. Her knowledge of both the mechanisms and the harshness of the State of Illinois’s justice system was invaluable to me. She understood from the beginning that my priorities were fiction rather than fact, and she has no responsibility for any errors of fact in my entirely imagined story. I want to thank Elizabeth G Lent for introducing me to her.

I’d like to thank my editors at Random House, Kate Elton and Vanessa Neuling, for their tireless efforts to make this a better book and their unwillingness to let me off the hook. My agent Gillon Aitken and his colleague Clare Alexander were consistently supportive and had useful criticisms, and I want to thank Jon and Ann Conibear for their friendship and generosity.

My brother Dan Rosenheim, who was a reporter in Chicago, read my early drafts with an encouraging but incisive eye; he was never reluctant to let his youngest brother know when he’d gone wrong. James Rosenheim as always proved a thoughtful, careful reader.

My wife Clare cajoled and encouraged me throughout the writing of this novel, and supplied the title; I thank her. I also want to thank my daughters Laura and Sabrina, who put up with their father when he was immersed – perhaps not without complaint, but then they were nine years old when I started.

I

1

‘BOBBY, YOU THERE?’

The week before the phone had twice rung in the middle of the night. Each time a husky drunken voice had asked, ‘Wilma around?’ So now he’d let the answering machine answer.

Yet this voice was familiar. Why? No one had called him Bobby for over thirty years. He scanned a mental list of possibles. Nothing clicked.

‘Bobby, pick up. It’s me.’ The voice was slightly muffled by background noise, as if a party were going on.

What time was it? Outside the street was silent. The windows were open to catch any breeze in the sweet mug air, and from Sheridan Road he thought he heard the hushed slide of passing cars, or was it the lake breaking against the shore? He could not detect the faintest hint of morning light. Lifting his head he saw why: the luminescent clock on the walnut dresser across the room read 12:47.

Who was it? As he reached for the phone and Anna stirred next to him, he felt an unsuppressible anxiety stick in his chest like a stone. ‘Hello,’ he said, trying to sound calm.

‘Is that you, Bobby?’

‘Who is this?’

‘Can’t you tell?’ It sounded like the voice of a black man, but Robert wasn’t sure; he had been away too long to make the distinction automatically. Whoever it was, the man sounded subdued, almost dismayed that Robert didn’t recognise him.

‘No, I can’t.’

‘You used to be able to,’ the man said, and this time the hurt was undisguised.

‘Who are you?’ Robert asked impatiently.

‘Duval.’

Robert took a deep breath. ‘How did you know where I was?’

‘Lily. She gave me your number.’

Silence hung between them in the sponge-like air. At last Robert said, ‘Do you want me to call you back?’

‘Why do you want to do that?’

‘I thought maybe you weren’t allowed to make calls.’ He looked again at the luminescent numbers across the room. ‘At least not this late.’

‘I guess you don’t know then.’

Know what?

The voice sounded more relaxed now. ‘I’m out, Bobby.’

Robert didn’t say a word.

‘You still there?’

‘I’m here, Duval.’ He paused momentarily. ‘Congratulations.’

Duval said, ‘I know it’s late, but I wanted you to know.’

‘Wait a minute.’ Robert sat up in the bed. ‘Don’t