Absolute Power



  sink. She scooped up a handful and then stopped. In the mirror, her reflection stared back. For the first time she realized how much she had aged. The eyes were gaunt, her cheeks had caved in and her hair looked as if it were graying before her eyes.

  She looked at the mass of green in her hand. She couldn’t do it. Despite her world shattering in front of her, she could not do it. She flushed the pills, turned out the light. She telephoned the senator’s office. Sickness would prevent her from attending. She had just lain down on the bed when the knock came.

  At first it seemed like the distant beating of drums. Would they have a warrant? What did she have that could incriminate her? The note! She tore it out of her pocket and tossed it in the fireplace. As it ignited and a burst of flame sailed up the chimney, she smoothed down her dress, put on her pumps and walked out of the room.

  For the second time a stab of pain seared her chest as her eyes fell upon Bill Burton at the front door. Without a word he walked in, threw off his coat and went straight to the liquor.

  She slammed the door.

  “Great job, Burton. Brilliant. You took care of everything beautifully. Where’s your sidekick? Getting his damned eyes examined?”

  Burton sat down with his drink. “Shut up and listen.”

  Ordinarily such a remark would have sent her off. But his tone stopped her dead. She noted the holstered weapon. She suddenly realized she was surrounded by people carrying guns. They seemed to be everywhere. Shots were now being fired. She had thrown in her lot with some very dangerous people. She sat down and stared at him.

  “Collin never fired his weapon.”

  “But—”

  “But somebody did. I know that.” He swallowed most of his drink. Russell thought about mixing herself one, but decided against it.

  He looked at her. “Walter Sullivan. That sonofabitch. Richmond told him, right?”

  Russell nodded. “You think Sullivan was behind this?”

  “Who the fuck else could it be? He thinks the guy killed his wife. He has the money to hire the best shooters in the world. He was the only other person who knew exactly where it was going down.” He looked at her and shook his head in disgust. “Don’t be stupid, lady, we don’t have time for stupid.”

  Burton stood up and paced.

  Russell’s thoughts went back to the TV. “But the man’s in custody. He’ll tell the police everything. I thought it was them at the door.”

  Burton stopped pacing. “The guy’s going to say nothing to the police. At least for now.”

  “What are you talking about?”

  “I’m talking about a man who will do anything so his little girl can keep on living.”

  “You, you threatened him?”

  “I got my message across real clear.”

  “How do you know?”

  “Eyes don’t lie, lady. He knows the game. Talk and his daughter goes bye-bye.”

  “You, you wouldn’t really—”

  Burton reached down and grabbed the Chief of Staff, effortlessly lifting her off the floor and holding her in midair so she was eye-level.

  “I will kill any fucking person who is in a position to fuck with me, do you understand that?” His tone was chilling. He threw her back into the chair.

  She stared up at him, the blood gone from her face, her eyes filled with terror.

  Burton’s face was crimson with fury. “You were the one who got me into this. I wanted to call the cops right from the get-go. I did my job. Maybe I killed the woman, but there ain’t a jury in the world that would’ve found me guilty. But you sucker-punched me, lady, with all your global disaster talk and bullshit concern for the President, and stupid me, I fell for it. And right now I’m about one step away from pissing away twenty years of my life and I’m not happy about it. If you can’t understand that, tough.”

  They sat without speaking for several minutes. Burton cradled his glass and studied the carpet, thinking intently. Russell kept one eye on him as she tried to stop shaking. She could not bring herself to tell Burton about the note she had received. What good would it do? For all she knew Bill Burton would pull out his gun and shoot her on the spot. The thought of violent death so close to her made her blood turn to ice.

  Russell managed to sit back in her chair. A clock ticked in the background; it seemed to be counting down the last remaining moments of her life.

  “You’re sure he won’t say anything?” She looked at Burton.

  “I’m not sure of anything.”

  “But you said—”

  “I said the guy will do anything to make sure his little girl doesn’t get herself killed. If he takes that threat away, then we’ll be waking up the next few years staring at the bottom of a bunk bed.”

  “But how can he take that threat away?”

  “If I knew the answer to that, I wouldn’t be so worried. But I can guarantee you that Luther Whitney is sitting in his cell block right now thinking of precisely how to do that.”

  “What can we do?”

  He grabbed his coat and pulled her up roughly. “Come on, it’s time to talk to Richmond.”

  * * *

  JACK SHUFFLED THROUGH HIS NOTES AND THEN LOOKED around the conference table. His transaction team consisted of four associates, three paralegals and two partners. Jack’s coup with Sullivan had spread throughout the firm. Each of them looked at Jack with a mixture of awe, respect and a little fear.

  “Sam, you’ll coordinate the raw materials sales through Kiev. Our guy over there is a real hustler, plays close to the edge; keep an eye on him, but let him run with things.”

  Sam, a ten-year partner, snapped his briefcase shut. “You got it.”

  “Ben, I checked your report on the lobbying efforts. I agree, I think we should push hard on Foreign Relations, can’t hurt to have them on our side.” Jack flipped open another file.

  “We’ve got approximately a month to get this operation up and running. Of chief concern is Ukraine’s tenuous political status. If we’re going to hit the brass ring we have to do it pretty quickly. The last thing we need is Russia annexing our client. Now I’d like to take a few minutes to go over—”

  The door opened and Jack’s secretary leaned in. She looked edgy.

  “I’m terribly sorry to bother you.”

  “It’s okay, Martha, what’s up?”

  “There’s someone on the phone for you.”

  “I told Lucinda to hold my calls except for an emergency. I’ll get back to everybody tomorrow.”

  “I think this might be an emergency.”

  Jack swiveled around in his chair. “Who is it?”

  “She said her name was Kate Whitney.”

  Five minutes later Jack was in his car: a brand-new copper-colored Lexus 300. His thoughts raced. Kate had been near hysterical. All he managed to understand was that Luther had been arrested. For what he didn’t know.

  * * *

  KATE OPENED THE DOOR ON THE FIRST KNOCK AND NEARLY collapsed into his arms. It was several minutes before she started breathing regularly.

  “Kate, what is it? Where’s Luther? What’s he charged with?”

  She looked at him, her cheeks so puffy and raw it looked like she’d been mugged.

  When she finally managed to breathe the word out, Jack sat back stunned.

  “Murder?” He looked around the room, his mind going too fast for him to register. “That’s impossible. Who the hell is he supposed to have murdered?”

  Kate sat up straight and pushed the hair out of her face. She looked directly at him. This time the words were clear, direct and cut into him like chunks of jagged glass.

  “Christine Sullivan.”

  Frozen for a long moment, Jack exploded out of the chair. He looked down at her, tried to speak and found he couldn’t. He staggered over to the window, threw it open and let the cold beat into him. His stomach churned pure acid; it reached up into his throat until he was barely able to push it back. His legs slowly regained their rigidity. He
closed the window and sat back down next to her.

  “What happened, Kate?”

  She dabbed raw eyes with a ragged tissue. Her hair was a mass of tangles. She had not taken off her overcoat. Her shoes lay next to the chair where she had kicked them off. She collected herself as best she could. She wiped a strand of hair from her mouth, and finally looked at him.

  The words rolled out of her mouth in quiet bursts. “The police have him in custody. They, they think he broke into the Sullivans’ home. No one was supposed to be there. . . . But Christine Sullivan was.” She paused and took a deep breath. “They think Luther shot her.” As soon as she uttered those last words her eyes closed, the eyelids seemed to ram down by themselves under a terrible weight. She slowly shook her head, her forehead a stack of wrinkles as the throbbing pain clicked up a notch.

  “That’s crazy, Kate. Luther would never kill anybody.”

  “I don’t know, Jack. I, I don’t know what to think.”

  Jack stood up and took off his coat. He put a hand through his hair as he struggled to think. He looked down at her.

  “How did you find out? How the hell did they catch him?”

  In response, Kate’s body shook. The pain seemed to be so strong as to be visible, hovering above before it plunged repeatedly into her lean frame. She took a moment to wipe her face with another tissue. It took her so long to turn to him, one inch at a time, that she seemed like an ancient grandmother. Her eyes were still closed, her breathing interrupted by gasps, as if the air was being trapped and was having to struggle mightily before escaping.

  Finally her eyes opened. The lips moved but no words came out at first. Then she managed to say them, slowly, distinctly, as though she were forcing herself to absorb every blow that accompanied them as long as possible.

  “I set him up.”

  * * *

  LUTHER, DRESSED IN AN ORANGE JAIL SUIT, SAT IN THE SAME cinder block interrogation room that Wanda Broome had occupied. Seth Frank sat across from him watching him closely. Luther stared directly ahead. He wasn’t zoned out. The guy was thinking about something.

  Two other men came in. One carried a recorder that he placed in the middle of the table. He turned it on.

  “You smoke?” Frank extended a cigarette. Luther accepted it and both men exhaled tiny clouds.

  For the record, Frank repeated, verbatim, Luther’s Mi randa warning. There would be no procedural miscues on this one.

  “So you understand your rights?”

  Luther vaguely waved his cigarette in the air.

  The guy was not what Frank had been expecting. His record was certainly a felonious one. Three priors, but the last twenty years were clean. That didn’t mean much. But no assaults, no violent acts. That also didn’t mean much, but there was something about the guy.

  “I need a yes or no to that question.”

  “Yes.”

  “Okay. You understand that you’ve been arrested in connection with the murder of Christine Sullivan?”

  “Yes.”

  “And you’re sure you want to waive your right to have counsel present on your behalf? We can get a lawyer for you, or you can call your own.”

  “I’m sure.”

  “And you understand you do not have to make any statement to the police? That any statement you make now can be used in evidence against you?”

  “I understand.”

  Years of experience had taught Frank that confessions early on in the game could spell disaster for the prosecution. Even a confession given voluntarily could be shredded by the defense with the result often being that all evidence obtained through that confession was thrown out as tainted. The perp could have led you right to the goddamned body and the next day he walks free with his attorney smiling at you and hoping to God his client never shows up in his neighborhood. But Frank had his case. Whatever Whitney added to it was just gravy.

  He focused intently on the prisoner. “Then I’d like to ask you some questions. Okay?”

  “Fine.”

  Frank stated the month, day and year and time of day for the record and then asked Luther to state his full name. That was as far as they got. The door opened. A uniform leaned in.

  “We got his lawyer outside.”

  Frank looked at Luther, turned off the recorder.

  “What lawyer?”

  Before Luther could answer, Jack burst past the officer and entered the room.

  “Jack Graham, I’m the accused’s attorney. Get that recorder out of here. I want to talk to my client alone, right now, gentlemen.”

  Luther stared at him. “Jack—” he began sharply.

  “Shut up, Luther.” Jack looked at the men. “Right now!”

  The men began to clear the room. Frank and Jack did an eye-to-eye and then the door was closed. Jack put his briefcase down on the table but didn’t sit.

  “You want to tell me what the hell’s going on?”

  “Jack, you gotta keep out of this. I mean it.”

  “You came to me. You made me promise I’d be there for you. Well goddammit here I am.”

  “Great, you did your part, now you can go.”

  “Okay, I go, then what the hell do you do?”

  “That doesn’t concern you.”

  Jack leaned into his face. “What are you going to do?”

  Luther’s voice rose for the first time. “I’m pleading guilty! I did it.”

  “You killed her?”

  Luther looked away.

  “Did you kill Christine Sullivan?” Luther didn’t answer. Jack grabbed him by the shoulder.

  “Did you kill her?”

  “Yes.”

  Jack scrutinized the face. Then grabbed his briefcase.

  “I’m your lawyer whether you want me anymore or not. And until I figure out why you’re lying to me don’t even think about talking to the cops. If you do I’ll have you declared insane.”

  “Jack, I appreciate what you’re doing, but—”

  “Look, Luther, Kate told me what happened, what she did and why she did it. But let me tell it to you straight. If you go down for this, your little girl is never going to recover. You hear me?”

  Luther never finished what he was about to say. Suddenly the tiny room seemed about the size of a test tube. He never heard Jack leave. He sat there and stared straight ahead. For one of the few times in his life, he had no idea what he should do.

  * * *

  JACK APPROACHED THE MEN STANDING IN THE HALLWAY.

  “Who’s in charge?”

  Frank looked at him. “Lieutenant Seth Frank.”

  “Fine, Lieutenant. Just for the record, my client doesn’t waive his Miranda rights and you’re not to attempt to talk to him outside of my presence. Understood?”

  Frank folded his arms across his chest. “Okay.”