gold, his once-in-a-lifetime payoff, was one day closer to reality. It did not make for easy sleep.
AS LUTHER STARED THROUGH THE GLASS, THE THOUGHT struck him that the two made a very attractive couple. It was an absurd opinion to have under the circumstances, but that didn’t make the conclusion any less valid. The man was tall, handsome, a very distinguished mid-forties. The woman could not have ventured far into her twenties; the hair was full and golden, the face oval and lovely, with a pair of enormous deep blue eyes that now looked up lovingly into the man’s elegant countenance. He touched her smooth cheek; she nestled her lips against his hand.
The man had two tumblers and filled them with the contents of the bottle he had brought with him. He handed the woman one. After a clink of glasses, their eyes firmly set on each other, he finished his drink in one swallow while she only managed a small sip of hers. Glasses put down, they embraced in the middle of the room. His hands slid down her backside and then back up to the bare shoulders. Her arms and shoulders were tanned and well-toned. He grasped her limbs admiringly as he leaned down to kiss her neck.
Luther averted his eyes, embarrassed to be viewing this very personal encounter. A strange emotion to have when he was still clearly in danger of being caught. But he was not so old that he could not appreciate the tenderness, the passion that was slowly unfolding in front of him.
As he raised his eyes up, he had to smile. The couple was now engaged in a slow dance around the room. The man was obviously well-practiced at the endeavor; his partner was less so, but he gently led her through the simple paces until they again ended up beside the bed.
The man paused to fill his glass again and then quickly drained it. The bottle was now empty. As his arms encircled her once more, she leaned into him, pulled at his coat, started to undo his tie. The man’s hands drifted to the zipper of her dress and slowly headed south. The black dress slid down and she slowly stepped out of it, revealing black panties and thigh-high stockings, but no bra.
She had the sort of body that made other women who didn’t instantly jealous. Every curve was where it was supposed to be. Her waist Luther could have encircled with both hands touching. As she turned to the side to slide out of her stockings, Luther observed that the breasts were large, round and full. The legs were lean and defined, probably from hours of daily exercise under the watchful eyes of a personal trainer.
The man quickly undressed down to his boxers and sat on the side of the bed watching the woman as she took her time slipping out of her underwear. Her rear end was round and firm and creamy white against the backdrop of a flawless tan. With her last piece of clothing shed, a smile cut across the man’s face. The white teeth were straight and thick. Despite the alcohol, his eyes seemed clear and focused.
She smiled at his attention and slowly advanced. As she drew within his reach, his long arms gripped her, pulled her to him. She rubbed up and down against his chest.
Again, Luther began to avert his eyes, wishing more than anything else that this spectacle would soon be over and that these people would leave. It would only take him a few minutes to return to his car, and this night would be filed away in his memory as a unique, if potentially disastrous, experience.
That’s when he saw the man grip the woman’s buttocks hard and then slap them, again and again. Luther winced in vicarious pain at the repeated blows; the white skin now glowed red. But either the woman was too drunk to feel the pain or she enjoyed this sort of treatment, because her smile didn’t fade. Luther felt his gut clinch again as the man’s fingers dug into the soft flesh.
The man’s mouth danced across her chest; she ran her finger through his thick hair as she positioned her body inside his legs. She closed her eyes, her mouth gathered into a contented smile; she arched her head back. Then she opened her eyes and attacked his mouth with hers.
His strong fingers moved up from the abused buttocks and started to gently massage her back. Then he dug in hard until she winced and pulled back from him. She half-smiled and he stopped as she touched his fingers with hers. He turned his attention back to her breasts and suckled them. Her eyes closed once again, as her breathing turned perceptibly to a low moan. The man moved his attention again to her neck. His eyes were wide open, looking across at where Luther sat but with no idea of his presence.
Luther stared at the man, at those eyes, and didn’t like what he saw. Pools of darkness surrounded by red, like some sinister planet seen through a telescope. The thought struck him that the naked woman was in the grip of something not so gentle, not so loving as she probably anticipated.
The woman finally grew impatient and pushed her lover down on the bed. Her legs straddled the man, giving Luther a view from behind that should have been reserved for her gynecologist and husband. She hoisted herself up, but then with a sudden burst of energy he roughly pushed her aside and went on top of her, grabbing her legs and lifting them up until they were perpendicular with the bed.
Luther stiffened in his chair at the man’s next movement. He grabbed her by the neck and jerked her up, pulling her head between his legs. The suddenness of the act made her gasp, her mouth a bare inch from him there. Then he laughed and threw her back down. Dazed for a moment, she finally managed a weak smile and sat up on her elbows as he towered over her. He grabbed his erection with one hand, spreading her wide with the other. As she lay placidly back to accept him, he stared wildly at her.
But instead of plunging between her legs, he grabbed her breasts and squeezed, apparently a little too hard, because, finally, Luther heard a yelp of pain and the woman abruptly slapped the man. He let go and then slapped her back, viciously, and Luther saw a patch of blood emerge at the corner of her mouth and spill onto the thick, lipstick-coated lips.
“You fucking bastard.” She rolled off the bed and sat on the floor rubbing her mouth, tasting her blood, her drunken brain momentarily lucid. The first words Luther had clearly heard spoken the entire night hit his brain like a sledgehammer. He stood up, inched toward the glass.
The man grinned. Luther froze when he saw it. It was more like the snarl of a wild animal close to a kill than a human being.
“Fucking bastard,” she said again, a little more quietly, the words slurred. As she stood up he grabbed her arm, twisted it, and she fell hard to the floor. The man sat on the bed and looked down triumphantly.
His breathing accelerating, Luther stood before the glass, his hands clenching and unclenching as he continued to watch and hoped that the other people would come back. He eyed the remote on the chair and then his eyes shot back to the bedroom.
The woman had raised herself half off the floor, the wind slowly coming back to her. The romantic feelings she had been experiencing had vanished. Luther could see that in her body movements, wary and deliberate. Her companion apparently failed to notice the change in her movements and the flash of anger in the blue eyes, or else he would not have stood up and put out a hand for her to take, which she did.
The man’s smile abruptly vanished as her knee caught him squarely between the legs, doubling him over and ending any arousal he had been experiencing. As he crumpled to the floor, no sound came from his lips, except for his labored breathing while she grabbed her panties and started to put them on.
He caught her ankle, threw her to the floor, her underwear halfway up her legs.
“You little cunt.” The words came out in short gasps as he tried to get his breath back, all the time holding on to that ankle, drawing her closer to him.
She kicked at him, again and again. Her feet thudded against his rib cage, but still he hung on. “You fucking little whore,” he said.
At the menace he heard in those words, Luther stepped toward the glass, one of his hands flying to its smooth surface as if to reach through it, to grab the man, make him let go.
The man painfully dragged himself up and his look made Luther’s flesh turn cold.
The man’s hands gripped the woman’s t
Her brain, clouded by the alcohol, snapped back to high gear. Her eyes, now completely filled with fear, darted to the left and right as the pressure on her neck increased and her breath started to weaken. Her fingers clawed at his arms, scratching deeply.
Luther saw the blood rise to the man’s skin where she attacked him but his grip did not loosen.
She kicked and jerked her body, but he was almost twice her weight; her attacker didn’t budge.
Luther again looked at the remote. He could open the door. He could stop this. But his legs would not move. He stared helplessly through the glass, sweat poured from his forehead, every pore in his body seemed to be erupting; his breath came in short bursts as his chest heaved. He placed both hands against the glass.
Luther’s breath stopped as the woman fixed on the nightstand for an instant. Then, with a frantic motion, she grabbed the letter opener, and with one blinding stroke she slashed the man’s arm.
He grunted in pain, let go and grabbed his bloody arm. For one terrible instant he looked down at his wound, almost in disbelief that he had been damaged like that. Pierced by this woman.
When the man looked back up, Luther could almost feel the murderous snarl before it escaped from the man’s lips.
And then the man hit her, harder than Luther had seen any man hit a woman. The hard fist connected with the soft flesh and blood flew from her nose and mouth.
Whether it was all the booze she had consumed or what, Luther didn’t know, but the blow that ordinarily would have crippled a person merely incensed her. With convulsive strength she managed to stagger up. As she turned toward the mirror, Luther watched the horror in her face as she suddenly viewed the abrupt destruction of her beauty. Eyes widening in disbelief, she touched the swollen nose; one finger dropped down and probed the loosened teeth. She had become a smeared portrait, her major attribute had vanished.
She turned around to face the man, and Luther saw the muscles in her back tense so hard they looked like small pieces of wood. With lightning quickness, she again slammed her foot into the man’s groin. Instantly the man was weak again, his limbs useless as nausea overcame him. He collapsed to the floor, rolled over onto his back, moaning. His knees curled upward, his hand protectively at his crotch.
With blood streaming down her face, with eyes that had gone from stark horror to homicidal in an instant, the woman dropped to her knees beside him and raised the letter opener high above her head.
Luther grabbed the remote, took a step toward the door, his finger almost on the button.
The man, seeing his life about to end as the letter opener plunged toward his chest, screamed with every bit of strength he had left. The call did not go unheeded.
His body frozen in place, Luther’s eyes darted to the bedroom door as it flew open.
Two men, hair cropped short, crisp business suits not concealing impressive physiques, burst into the room, guns drawn. Before Luther could take another step they had assessed the situation and made their decision.
Both guns fired almost simultaneously.
* * *
KATE WHITNEY SAT IN HER OFFICE GOING OVER THE FILE ONE more time.
The guy had four priors, and had been arrested but ultimately not charged on six other occasions because witnesses had been too frightened to talk or had ended up in trash Dumpsters. He was a walking time bomb ready to explode on another victim, all of whom had been women.
The current charge was murder during the commission of robbery and rape, which met the criteria for capital murder under Virginia’s laws. And this time she decided to go for the home run: death. She had never asked for it before, but if anybody deserved it, this guy did, and the commonwealth was not squeamish about authorizing it. Why allow him life when he had cruelly and savagely ended the one given to a nineteen-year-old college student who made the mistake of going to a shopping mall in broad daylight to pick up some nylons and a new pair of shoes?
Kate rubbed her eyes and, using a rubber band from the pile on her desk, pulled her hair back into a rough ponytail. She looked around her small, plain office; the case files were piled high around the room and for the millionth time she wondered if it would ever stop. Of course it wouldn’t. If anything it would get worse, and she could only do what she could do to stem the flow of blood. She would start with the execution of Roger Simmons, Jr., twenty-two years old, and as hardened a criminal as she had ever confronted, and she had already faced an army of them in her as yet short career. She remembered the look he had given her that day in court. It was a countenance totally without remorse or caring or any other positive emotion. It was also a face without hope, an observation substantiated by his background history, which read like a horror story of a childhood. But that was not her problem. It seemed like the only one that wasn’t.
She shook her head and checked her watch: well after midnight. She went to pour some more coffee; her focus was starting to wander. The last staff attorney had left five hours ago. The cleaning crew had been gone for three. She moved down the hallway in her stocking feet to the kitchen. If Charlie Manson were out and doing his thing now, he’d be one of her milder cases; an amateur compared to the monsters roaming loose today.
Cup of coffee in hand, she walked back into her office and paused for a moment to look at her reflection in the window. With her job looks were really unimportant; hell, she hadn’t been on a date in over a year. But she couldn’t pull her eyes away. She was tall and slender, perhaps too skinny in certain areas, but her routine of running four miles every day had not changed while her caloric intake had steadily dwindled. Mostly she subsisted on bad coffee and crackers, although she limited herself to two cigarettes a day and was hoping with luck to quit altogether.
She felt guilty about the abuse her body was taking with the endless hours and stress of moving from one horrific case to another, but what was she supposed to do? Quit because she didn’t look like the women on the cover of Cosmopolitan? She consoled herself with the fact that their job twenty-four hours a day was to make themselves look good. Hers was to ensure that people who broke the law, who hurt others, were punished. Under any criteria she reasoned she was doing far more productive things with her life.
She swiped at her own mane; it needed to be cut, but where was the time to do that? The face was still relatively unmarked by the burden she found increasingly difficult to carry. Her twenty-nine-year-old face, after four years of nineteen-hour days and countless trials, had held its own. She sighed as she realized that probably would not last. In college she had been the gracious recipient of turned heads, the cause of raised heartbeats and cold sweats. But as she got ready to enter her thirties, she realized that what she had taken for granted for so many years, that what she had, in fact, derided on so many occasions, would not be with her that much longer. And like so many things you took for granted or dismissed as unimportant, being able to quiet a room by your mere entrance was one she knew she was going to miss.
That her looks had remained strong over the last few years was remarkable considering she had done relatively little to preserve them. Good genes, that must be it; she was fortunate. But then she thought of her father and decided that she wasn’t very lucky at all in the genes department. A man who stole from others and then pretended to live a normal life. A man who deceived everyone, including his wife and daughter. A man you could not depend on to be there.
She sat at her desk, took a quick sip of the hot coffee, poured in more sugar and looked at Mr. Simmons while she stirred the black depths of her nighttime stimulus.
She picked up the phone, called home to check messages. There were five, two from other lawyers, one from the policeman she would put on the stand against Mr. Simmons and one from a staff investigator who liked to call her at odd hours with mostly useless information. She should change her telephone number. The last message was a hang-up. But she could hear very low breathing on the end, she could almost make out a word or two. Something in the sound was fami
liar, but she couldn’t place it. People with nothing better to do.
The coffee flowed through her veins, the file came back into focus. She glanced up at her little bookshelf. On top was an old photo of her deceased mother and ten-year-old Kate. Cut out from the picture was Luther Whitney. A big gap next to mother and daughter. A big nothing.
* * *
“JESUS FUCKING CHRIST!” THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED States sat up, one hand covering his limp and damaged privates, the other holding the letter opener that a moment before was to have been the instrument of his death. It had more than just his blood on it now. “Jesus Fucking Christ, Bill, you fucking killed her!” The target of his barrage stooped to help him up while his companion checked the woman’s condition: a perfunctory examination, considering two heavy-caliber bullets had blown through her brain.
“I’m sorry, sir, there wasn’t time. I’m sorry, sir.”
Bill Burton had been a Secret Service agent for twelve years, and a Maryland state trooper for eight years before that, and one of his rounds had just blown apart a beautiful young woman’s head. Despite all his intense training, he was shaking like a preschooler just awakened from a nightmare.
He had killed before in the line of duty: a routine traffic stop gone wrong. But the deceased had been a four-time loser with a serious vendetta against uniformed officers and wielding a Glock semiautomatic pistol in a sincere attempt to lift Burton’s head from his shoulders.
He looked down at the small, naked body and thought he would be sick. His partner, Tim Collin, looked across at him, grabbed his arm. Burton swallowed hard and nodded his head. He would make it.
They carefully helped up Alan J. Richmond, President of the United States, a political hero and leader to young, middle-aged and old alike, but now simply naked and drunk. The President looked up at them, the initial horror finally passing as the alcohol worked its effects. “She’s dead?” The words were a little slurred; the eyes seemed to roll back in the head like loose marbles.
“Yes, sir.” Collin answered crisply. You didn’t let a question from the President go unanswered, drunk or not.
Burton hung back now. He glanced at the woman again and then looked back at the President. That was their job, his job. Protect the goddamned President. Whatever it took, that life must not end, not like that. Not stuck like a pig by some drunken bitch.
The President’s mouth curled up into what looked like a smile, although neither Collin nor Burton would remember it that way later. The President started to rise.