Absolute Power



  Kirksen sat down without taking his eyes off Jack. He spoke slowly and deliberately, as though to a child. “Have you gone insane? We don’t handle criminal defense work. We don’t handle any litigation whatsoever.” Kirksen stood up abruptly, his long forehead now a shiny pink, his diminutive body shaking with rage. “Particularly when this animal has murdered the wife of the firm’s largest client,” he said shrilly.

  “Well, that’s not entirely correct. We didn’t handle criminal defense work but now we do. And I learned in law school that the accused is innocent until proven guilty, Dan. Maybe you forgot that.” Smiling, Jack eyed Kirksen steadily. Four million versus six hundred thou pal. So back off, dickhead.

  Kirksen slowly shook his head and rolled his eyes. “Jack, maybe you don’t fully understand the procedures we have in place at this firm before any new matter is undertaken. I’ll have my secretary provide you with the pertinent provisions. In the meantime, take the necessary steps to have yourself and this firm taken off this matter immediately.”

  With a dismissive air, Kirksen turned to leave. Jack stood up.

  “Listen, Dan, I took the case and I’m going to try it and I don’t care what you or the firm’s policy has to say about it. Close the door on your way out.”

  Kirksen turned around slowly and looked at Jack with intense brown eyes. “Jack, tread cautiously. I am the managing partner of this firm.”

  “I know you are, Dan. So you should be able to manage to close the goddamned door on your way out.”

  Without another word, Kirksen spun on his heel, shutting the door behind him.

  The pounding in Jack’s head finally subsided. He returned to his work. His papers were just about completed. He wanted to get them filed first thing before anyone could try to stop him. He printed out the documents, signed them and called the courier himself. That done he sat back in his chair. It was almost nine o’clock. He would have to get going, he was seeing Luther at ten. Jack’s entire brain was overflowing with questions to ask his client. And then he thought about that night. That chilly night on the Mall. The look in Luther’s eyes. Jack could ask the questions, he just hoped he was ready to handle the answers.

  He threw on his coat, and in another few minutes was in his car on his way to the Middleton County Jail.

  * * *

  UNDER THE CONSTITUTION OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF virginia and its criminal procedure statute, the state must turn over to a defendant any exculpatory evidence. Failure to do so was a terrific way for an ACA to abruptly derail his or her career, not to mention getting a conviction thrown out and letting a defendant walk on appeal.

  Those particular rules were giving Seth Frank a very large headache.

  He sat in his office and thought about the prisoner sitting alone in a cell less than a minute’s walk away. His calm and seemingly innocuous manner didn’t trouble Frank. Some of the worst offenders he had ever arrested looked like they had stepped out of the church choir right after they had split open somobody’s skull for a couple of laughs. Gorelick was putting together a good case, methodically collecting a bagful of little threads that when woven together in front of a jury would make a nice sturdy necktie for Luther Whitney to choke himself on. That also didn’t trouble Frank.

  What did trouble Frank was all the little things that still didn’t add up. The wounds. Two guns. A bullet dug out of the wall. The place sanitized like an operating room. The fact that the guy was in Barbados and then came back. Luther Whitney was a pro. Frank had spent the better part of four days learning everything he could about Luther Albert Whitney. He had pulled off a crackerjack crime that except for one glitch would probably have remained unsolved. Millions from his heist, a cold trail for the cops; he’s out of the country, and the sonofabitch comes back. Professionals did not do those things. Frank would’ve understood him coming back because of his daughter, but Frank had checked with the airlines. Luther Whitney, traveling under an alias, had returned to the United States long before Frank had hatched his plot with Kate.

  And the kicker was this: was he really supposed to believe that Luther Whitney had any reason on earth to check Christine Sullivan’s vagina? And on top of that somebody had tried to kill the guy. This was one of the few times Frank actually had more questions after he had arrested his suspect than he had before taking his guy into custody.

  He felt in his pocket for a cigarette. His gum stage had long since passed. He would try again next year. When he looked back up Bill Burton was standing in front of him.

  * * *

  “YOU UNDERSTAND, SETH, I CAN’T PROVE ANYTHING BUT I’M just letting you know how I think it went down.”

  “And you’re sure the President told Sullivan?”

  Burton nodded, fiddled with an empty cup on Frank’s desk. “I just came from meeting with him. I guess I should’ve told him to keep it mum. I’m sorry, Seth.”

  “Hell, he’s the President, Bill. You gonna tell the President what to do?”

  Burton shrugged. “So what do you think?”

  “Makes sense. I’m not gonna let it lie, I can tell you that. If Sullivan was behind it I’ll take him down too, I don’t care what his justification was. That shot could’ve hit anybody.”

  “Well, knowing the way Sullivan probably operates, you ain’t gonna find much. The shooter’s probably on some island in the Pacific with a different face and a hundred people who’ll swear he’s never even been in the States.”

  Frank finished writing in his log book.

  Burton studied him. “Get anything out of Whitney?”

  “Right! His lawyer has him clammed shut.”

  Burton appeared nonchalant. “Who is he?”

  “Jack Graham. Used to be with the Public Defenders Service in the District. Now he’s a big-shot partner with some big-shot law firm. He’s in with Whitney now.”

  “Any good?”

  Frank twisted a swizzle stick into a triangle. “He knows what he’s doing.”

  Burton stood up to go. “When’s the arraignment?”

  “Ten tomorrow.”

  “You taking Whitney over?”

  “Yeah. You want to come along, Bill?”

  Burton threw his hands over his ears. “I don’t want to know anything about it.”

  “How come?”

  “I don’t want anything leaking back to Sullivan, that’s how come.”

  “You don’t think they’d try anything again?”

  “The only thing I know is that I don’t know the answer to that question and neither do you. If I were you I’d make some special arrangements.”

  Frank looked at him intently.

  “Take care of our boy, Seth. He’s got a date with the death chamber at Greensville.”

  Burton left.

  Frank sat at his desk for some minutes. What Burton said made sense. Maybe they would try again. He picked up the phone, dialed a number and spoke for a bit and then hung up. He had taken all the precautions he could think of for transporting Luther. This time Frank was confident there would be no leak.

  * * *

  JACK LEFT LUTHER SITTING IN THE INTERROGATION ROOM AND walked down the hallway to the coffee machine. In front of him was a big guy, nice suit and a graceful tilt to his body. The man turned around just as Jack passed him. They bumped.

  “Sorry.”

  Jack rubbed his shoulder where the holstered gun had struck him.

  “Forget it.”

  “You’re Jack Graham, aren’t you?”

  “Depends on who wants to know.” Jack sized the guy up; since he was carrying a gun he obviously wasn’t a reporter. He was more like a cop. The way he held his hands, his fingers ready to move instantly. The way the eyes checked out every feature without seeming to.

  “Bill Burton, United States Secret Service.”

  The men shook hands.

  “I’m kind of the President’s earpiece on this investigation.”

  Jack’s eyes focused on Burton’s features. “Right, the news conference. W
ell I guess your boss is pretty happy this morning.”

  “He would be if the rest of the world wasn’t in such a godawful mess. About your guy, hey, my feeling is they’re only guilty if the court says they are.”

  “I hear you. You want to be on my jury?”

  Burton grinned. “Take it easy. Good talking to you.”

  * * *

  JACK PUT THE TWO CUPS OF COFFEE DOWN ON THE TABLE AND looked at Luther. Jack sat down and looked at his empty legal pad.

  “Luther, if you don’t start saying something I’m going to have to just make it up as I go along.”

  Luther sipped the strong coffee, looked out the barred window at the single bare oak tree next to the station. A thick, wet snow was falling. The mercury was plunging and the streets were already a mess.

  “What’s to know, Jack? Cut me a deal, save everybody the hassle of a trial and let’s get this over with.”

  “Maybe you don’t understand, Luther. Here’s their deal. They want to strap you onto a gurney, insert an IV into your arm, pump nasty little poisons into you and pretend you’re a chemistry experiment. Or I think now the commonwealth actually gives the condemned a choice. So you can opt for having your brain fried in the electric chair. That’s their deal.”

  Jack stood up and looked out the window. For a moment the flash of a blissful evening in front of a toasty fire in the huge mansion with the big front yard with little Jacks and Jennifers running around went through his head. He swallowed hard, shook his head clear and looked back at Luther.

  “Do you hear what I’m saying?”

  “I hear.” Luther eyed Jack steadily for the first time.

  “Luther, will you please tell me what happened? Maybe you were in that house, maybe you burgled the safe, but you will never, ever make me believe you had anything to do with that woman’s death. I know you, Luther.”

  Luther smiled. “Do you, Jack? That’s good, maybe you can tell me who I am one of these days.”

  Jack threw his pad in his briefcase and snapped it shut. “I’m going to plead you not guilty. Maybe you’ll come around before we have to try this thing.” He paused and added quietly, “I hope you do.”

  He turned to leave. Luther’s hand fell on Jack’s shoulder. Jack turned back to see Luther’s quivering face.

  “Jack.” He swallowed with difficulty, his tongue seemed as big as a fist. “If I could tell you I would. But that wouldn’t do you or Kate or anybody else any good. I’m sorry.”

  “Kate? What are you talking about?”

  “I’ll see you, Jack.” Luther turned and stared back out the window.

  Jack looked at his friend, shook his head, and knocked for the guard.

  * * *

  THE SNOW HAD CHANGED FROM FAT, SLOPPY FLAKES TO PELLETS of ice that clattered against the broad windows like handfuls of slung gravel. Kirksen paid no attention to the weather but looked directly at Lord. The managing partner’s bow tie was slightly askew. He noticed it in the reflection from the window and angrily straightened it. His long forehead was red with anger and indignation. The little fuck was going to get his. No one talked to him like that.

  Sandy Lord studied the dark clusters making up the cityscape. A cigar smoldered in his right hand. His jacket was off and his immense belly touched the window. The twin streaks of his red suspenders jumped out from the background of his highly starched monogrammed white shirt. He peered intently out as a figure dashed across the street frantically chasing down a cab.

  “He is undermining the relationship this firm, you, have with Walter Sullivan. I could only imagine what Walter must have thought when he read the paper this morning. His own firm, his own attorney actually representing this, this person. My God!”

  Lord digested only a fraction of the little man’s speech. He hadn’t heard from Sullivan for several days now. Calls to his office and home had gone unanswered. No one seemed to know where he was. That was not like his old friend, who kept himself in constant contact with an elite inner circle of which Sandy Lord was a longtime member.

  “My suggestion, Sandy, is that we take immediate action against Graham. We can’t let this lie. It would set a terrible precedent. I don’t care if he has Baldwin as a client. Hell, Baldwin is an acquaintance of Walter’s. He must be livid as well about this whole deplorable situation. We can convene a meeting of the management committee tonight. I don’t think it will take long to arrive at a conclusion. Then—”

  Lord finally held up one hand and cut off Kirksen’s ramblings.

  “I’ll take care of it.”

  “But, Sandy, as managing partner I believe that—”

  Lord turned to look at him. The red eyes on either side of the large and bulbous nose cut right into the slender frame.

  “I said I’ll handle it.”

  Lord turned to look back out the window. Kirksen’s hurt pride was of absolutely no consequence to him. What concerned Lord was the fact that someone had tried to kill the man accused of murdering Christine Sullivan. And no one could reach Walter Sullivan.

  * * *

  JACK PARKED HIS CAR, LOOKED ACROSS THE STREET AND closed his eyes. That didn’t help since the vanity plates seemed to be imprinted on his brain. He jumped out of his car and dodged traffic as he made his way across the slippery street.

  He inserted the key in the lock, took a quick breath, and turned the doorknob.

  Jennifer sat in the small chair by the TV. Her short black skirt was matched by black heels and patterned black stockings. A white blouse was open at the collar where an emerald necklace fired dazzling color into the little room. A full-length sable was draped carefully on the sheet covering his ragged couch. She was clicking her nails against the TV set when he walked in. She looked at him without speaking. The thick ruby lips were set in a firm, vertical line.

  “Hi, Jenn.”

  “You’ve certainly been a very busy boy the last twenty-four hours, Jack.” She didn’t smile, her nails continued to click.

  “Gotta keep hustling, you know that.”

  He took off his coat, undid his tie and went into the kitchen for a beer. He reemerged, and sat across from her on the couch.

  “Hey, got a new piece of business today.”

  She reached in her handbag and tossed across the Post.

  “I know.”

  He looked down at the headlines.

  “Your firm won’t let you do it.”

  “Too bad, I already did it.”

  “You know what I mean. What in God’s name has gotten into you?”

  “Jenn, I know the guy, okay? I know him, he’s a friend of mine. I don’t believe he killed the woman, and I’m going to defend him. Lawyers do that every day in every place where there are lawyers, and in this country that’s basically everywhere.”

  She leaned forward. “It’s Walter Sullivan, Jack. Think about what you’re doing.”

  “I know it’s Walter Sullivan, Jenn. What? Luther Whitney doesn’t deserve a good defense because somebody says he killed Walter Sullivan’s wife? Excuse me but exactly where is that written?”

  “Walter Sullivan is your client.”

  “Luther Whitney is my friend and I’ve known him a lot longer than I’ve known Walter Sullivan.”

  “Jack, the man you’re defending is a common criminal. He’s been in and out of jails all his life.”

  “Actually he hasn’t been in prison for over twenty years.”

  “He’s a convicted felon.”