Absolute Power

  “Who’s the ACA handling this?”

  “Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney George Gorelick.”

  “I’m assuming you got an indictment?”

  Frank leaned forward. “Grand jury returned a true hill last week.”

  Jack put his coat on. “I’m sure they did.”

  “You can forget about bail, I guess you know that.”

  “Well, from what I’ve heard, I think he might be safer hanging with you guys. Keep an eye on him for me, will you?”

  Jack handed his card to Frank and then walked purposefully down the hallway. At the parting remark, the smile faded from Frank’s lips. He looked at the card and then toward the interrogation room and back at the rapidly disappearing defense counsel.


  KATE HAD SHOWERED AND CHANGED. HER DAMP HAIR WAS swept straight back and hung loosely down to her shoulders. She wore a thick indigo blue V-neck sweater with white T-shirt underneath. The faded blue jeans hung loosely around her narrow hips. Thick wool socks covered her long feet. Jack watched those feet as they moved up and down, propelling their lithe owner about the room. She had recovered somewhat from earlier. But the horror was still lurking in her eyes. She seemed to be battling it with physical activity.

  Jack cradled a glass of soda and sat back in the chair. His shoulders felt like a two-by-four. As if sensing that, Kate stopped pacing and started massaging.

  “He didn’t tell me they had an indictment.” Kate’s voice was angry.

  “You really think cops are above using people to get what they want?” he shot back.

  “I can see you’re getting back into the defense attorney state of mind.”

  She really dug into his shoulders; it felt wonderful to him. Her wet hair dipped into his face as she bore down on the stiffest points. He closed his eyes. On the radio Billy Joel’s “River of Dreams” was playing. What was his dream? Jack asked himself. The target seemed to keep jumping on him, like spots of sunlight you tried to chase down as a kid.

  “How is he?” Kate’s question jarred him back. He swallowed the rest of his drink.

  “Confused. Screwed up. Nervous. All the things I never thought he could be. They found the rifle, by the way. Upper-story room of one of those old townhouses across the street. Whoever fired that bullet, they’re long gone by now. That’s for sure. Hell I don’t even think the cops care.”

  “When’s the arraignment?”

  “Day after tomorrow, ten o’clock.” He arched his neck and gripped her hand. “They’re going for capital murder, Kate.”

  She stopped massaging.

  “That’s bullshit. Homicide in the commission of a burglary is a class one felony, murder in the first degree, tops. Tell the ACA to check the statute.”

  “Hey that’s my line isn’t it?” He tried to make her smile, but didn’t succeed. “The commonwealth’s theory is that he broke into the house and was in the middle of the burglary when she caught him in the act. They’re using the evidence of physical violence—strangulation, beating and two shots to the head—to sever it from the act of burglary. They believe that takes it into the realm of a vile and depraved act. Plus they have the disappearance of Sullivan’s jewelry. Murder in the commission of armed robbery equals capital murder.”

  Kate sat down and rubbed her thighs. She wore no makeup and had always been one of those women who didn’t need to. The strain was telling though, especially in and under her eyes, in the slope of her shoulders.

  “What do you know about Gorelick? He’s going to be trying this sucker.” Jack popped an ice cube in his mouth.

  “He’s an arrogant asshole, pompous, bigoted and a terrific trial lawyer.”

  “Great.” Jack got up from his chair and sat down next to Kate. He took her ankle and rubbed it. She sunk down into the sofa and put her head back. It had always been that way with them, so relaxed, so comfortable in the company of each other, like the last four years had never happened.

  “The evidence Frank told me he had wasn’t even close to getting an indictment. I don’t understand, Jack.”

  Jack slipped off her socks and rubbed her feet with both hands, feeling the fine, tiny bones. “The police got an anonymous tip on the license plate of a car seen near the Sullivan place on what was probably the night of the murder. It was traced to the D.C. impoundment lot on that night.”

  “So. The tip was wrong.”

  “No. Luther used to tell me how easy it was to pick up a car from the impoundment lot. Do a job and then return it.”

  Kate didn’t look at him, she appeared to be studying the ceiling.

  “Nice little chats you two used to have.” Her tone held the familiar reproach.

  “Come on, Kate.”

  “I’m sorry.” Her voice was weary again.

  “The police checked the floor matting. Rug fibers from the Sullivan bedroom were found there. Also present was a very peculiar soil mixture. Turns out that exact same soil mix was used by Sullivan’s gardener in the cornfield next to the house. The soil was a special blend made up for Sullivan; you won’t find that exact composition anywhere else. I had a chat with Gorelick. He’s feeling pretty confident I can tell you that. I haven’t gotten the reports yet. I’ll file my discovery motion tomorrow.”

  “Again, so what? How does that tie in to my father?”

  “They got a search warrant for Luther’s house and car. They found the same mixture on the floor mat in the car. And another sample on the living room rug.”

  Kate slowly opened her eyes. “He was in the house cleaning the damn carpets. He could’ve picked up the fibers then.”

  “And then he took a run through the cornfield? Come on.”

  “It could’ve been tracked in the house by somebody else and he stepped in it.”

  “That’s what I would’ve argued except for one thing.”

  She sat up. “Which is?”

  “Along with the fiber and dirt, they found a petroleum-based solvent. The police pulled traces of it out of the carpet during their investigation. They think the perp tried to clean some blood away, his blood. I’m sure they’ve got a handful of witnesses ready to swear that there was no such thing used on that carpet prior to or at the time the carpets were cleaned. Therefore Luther could’ve picked up traces of the carpet cleaner only if he had been in the house after that. Soil, fibers and carpet cleaner. There’s your tie.”

  Kate slumped back down.

  “On top of that they traced the hotel where Luther was staying in town. They found a fake passport and through that tracked Luther to Barbados. Two days after the murder he flew to Texas, then Miami and then on to the island. Looks like a fleeing suspect doesn’t it? They’ve got a sworn statement from a cab driver down there who drove Luther to Sullivan’s place on the island. Luther made a reference to having been in Sullivan’s place in Virginia. On top of that they’ve got witnesses who will testify that Luther and Wanda Broome were seen together several times prior to the murder. One woman, a close friend of Wanda’s, will testify that Wanda told her she needed money, badly. And that Christine Sullivan had told her about the safe. Which shows Wanda Broome had lied to the police.”

  “I can see why Gorelick was so free with the info. But it’s still all circumstantial.”

  “No, Kate, it’s a perfect example of a case with no home-run direct evidence linking Luther to the crime, but enough indirect stuff to where the jury will be thinking ‘come on who are you kidding you did it you sonofabitch.’

  “I’ll deflect everywhere I can, but they’ve got some pretty heavy stones to hit us with. And if Gorelick can get in your Dad’s priors, we might be finished.”

  “They’re too old. Their prejudicial value far outweighs their probative. He’ll never get them in.” Kate’s words sounded more sure than she felt. After all, how could you be sure of anything?

  The phone rang. She hesitated to answer it. “Does anyone know you’re here?”

  Jack shook his head.

he picked up the phone. “Hello?”

  The voice on the other end was crisp, professional. “Ms. Whitney, Robert Gavin with the Washington Post. I wonder if I could ask you some questions about your father? I’d prefer to see you in person if that could be arranged.”

  “What do you want?”

  “Come on, Ms. Whitney, your father is front-page news. You’re a state prosecutor. There’s a helluva story there if you ask me.”

  Kate hung up. Jack looked at her.


  “A reporter.”

  “Christ, they move fast.”

  She sat down again with a weariness that startled him. He went to her, took her hand.

  Suddenly, she turned his face toward hers. She looked frightened. “Jack, you can’t handle this case.”

  “The hell I can’t. I’m an active member of the Virginia Bar. I’ve handled a half-dozen murder trials. I’m eminently qualified.”

  “I don’t mean that. I know you’re qualified. But Patton, Shaw doesn’t do criminal defense work.”

  “So? You have to start somewhere.”

  “Jack, be serious. Sullivan is a huge client of theirs. You’ve worked for him. I read about it in Legal Times.”

  “There’s no conflict there. There’s nothing I’ve learned in my attorney-client relationship with Sullivan that could be used on this case. Besides, Sullivan’s not on trial here. It’s us against the state.”

  “Jack, they’re not going to let you do this case.”

  “Fine, then I’ll quit. Hang up my own shingle.”

  “You can’t do that. You’ve got everything going for you right now. You can’t mess that up. Not for this.”

  “Then for what? I know your old man didn’t beat up a woman and then calmly blow her head off. He probably went to that house to burgle it, but he didn’t kill anybody, that I know. But you want to know something else? I’m pretty damn sure he knows who killed her and that’s what’s got him scared to death. He saw something in that house, Kate. He saw someone.”

  Kate slowly let out her breath as the words sunk in.

  Jack sighed and looked down at his feet.

  He got up and put on his coat. He playfully pulled at her waistband. “When’s the last time you actually had a meal?”

  “I can’t remember.”

  “I recall when you filled out those jeans in a way that was a little more aesthetically pleasing to the male eye.”

  She did smile that time. “Thanks a lot.”

  “It’s not too late to work on it.”

  She looked around the four corners of her apartment. It held no appeal whatsoever.

  “What did you have in mind?”

  “Ribs, slaw and something stronger than Coke. Game?”

  She didn’t hesitate. “Let me get my coat.”

  Downstairs, Jack held open the door of the Lexus. He saw her studying every detail of the luxury car.

  “I took your advice. Thought I’d start spending some of my hard-earned money.” He had just climbed inside the car when the man appeared at the passenger door.

  He wore a slouch hat and had a gray-trimmed beard and skinny mustache. His brown overcoat was buttoned up to his neck. He held a minicassette recorder in one hand, a press badge in the other.

  “Bob Gavin, Ms. Whitney. I guess we got cut off before.”

  He looked across at Jack. His brow furrowed. “You’re Jack Graham. Luther Whitney’s attorney. I saw you at the station.”

  “Congratulations, Mr. Gavin, you’ve obviously got twenty-twenty vision and a very winning smile. Be seeing you.”

  Gavin clung to the car. “Wait a minute, c’mon just a minute. The public is entitled to hear about this case.”

  Jack started to say something, but Kate stopped him.

  “They will, Mr. Gavin. That’s what trials are for. I’m sure you’ll have a front-row seat. Good-bye.”

  The Lexus pulled away. Gavin thought about making a run for his car but then decided not to. At forty-six, he and his soft and abused body were clearly in heart attack country. It was early in the game yet. He’d get to them sooner or later. He pulled up his collar against the wind and stalked off.

  * * *

  IT WAS NEARING MIDNIGHT WHEN THE LEXUS PULLED UP IN front of Kate’s apartment building.

  “Are you really sure you want to do this, Jack?”

  “Hell I never really liked the murals, Kate.”


  “Get some sleep. We’re both going to need it.”

  She put her hand on the door and then hesitated. She turned back and looked at him, nervously flicked her hair behind her ear. This time there was no pain in her eyes. It was something else, Jack couldn’t quite put his finger on. Maybe relief?

  “Jack, the things you said the other night.”

  He swallowed hard and gripped the steering wheel with both hands. He had been wondering when this was going to surface. “Kate, I’ve been thinking about that—”

  She put a hand to his mouth. A small breath floated from her lips. “You were right, Jack . . . about a lot of things.”

  He watched her walk slowly inside and then he drove off.

  When he got home his answering machine had run out of tape. The blinking message indicator was so full the light was reduced to one continuous crimson beacon. He decided to do the most sensible thing he could think of so he pretended they weren’t there. Jack unplugged the phone, turned out the lights and tried to go to sleep.

  It wasn’t easy.

  He had acted so confident in front of Kate. But who was he kidding? Taking on this case, by himself, without talking with anyone at Patton, Shaw was akin to professional suicide. But what good would talking have done? He knew what the answer would have been. Given the choice, his fellow partners would have slit their collective flabby wrists rather than taken on Luther Whitney as a client.

  But he was a lawyer and Luther needed one. Major issues like this were never that simple, but that was why he fought so hard to keep things as black and white as possible. Good. Bad. Right. Wrong. It was not easy going for a lawyer perpetually trained to search for the gray in everything. An advocate of any position, just depended on who your client was, who was filling the meter on any given day.

  Well he had made his decision. An old friend was fighting for his life and he’d asked Jack to help him. It didn’t matter to Jack that his client seemed to be growing unusually recalcitrant all of a sudden. Criminal defendants were seldom the most cooperative in the world. Well, Luther had asked for his help and he was sure as hell going to get it now. There was no gray in this issue anymore. There was no going back now.


  DAN KIRKSEN OPENED THE WASHINGTON POST AND started to take a sip of his orange juice. It never reached his mouth. Gavin had managed to file a story on the Sullivan case consisting chiefly of the information that Jack Graham, newly ordained partner at Patton, Shaw & Lord, was the defendant’s counsel. Kirksen immediately called Jack’s home. There was no answer. He dressed, called for his car and at half past eight walked through the lobby of his firm. He passed Jack’s old office where boxes and personal items were still clustered. Jack’s new quarters were just down the hall from Lord’s. A twenty-by-twenty beauty with a small wet bar, antique furnishings and a panoramic view of the city. Nicer than his, Kirksen recalled with a grimace.

  The chair was swiveled around away from the doorway. Kirksen didn’t bother to knock. He marched in and tossed the paper down on the desk.

  Jack turned slowly around. He glanced at the paper.

  “Well at least they got the firm’s name spelled correctly. Great publicity. This could lead to some big ones.”