Absolute Power



  “Everything, and nothing. Sometimes he just babbled. He talked about Christine’s death. And then about the man, the man you arrested for the murder. How he hated him, how he had destroyed his life. It was truly awful to hear.”

  “What did you tell him?”

  “Well, I kept asking him where he was. I wanted to find him, get him some help. But he wouldn’t tell me. I’m not sure he heard a word I said, really, he was that distraught.”

  “So you think he sounded suicidal, sir?”

  “I’m no psychiatrist, Lieutenant, but if I had to make a layman’s guess about his mental state, yes, I would definitely say Walter Sullivan sounded suicidal that night. It’s one of the few times during my presidency that I felt truly hopeless. Frankly, after the conversation I had with him, I was not surprised to learn that he was dead.” Richmond glanced at Burton’s impassive face, then looked at the detective. “That’s also why I questioned you as to whether you had determined if there was any truth to the rumor that Walter had anything to do with this person being gunned down. After Walter’s telephone call I have to admit that the thought certainly crossed my mind.”

  Frank looked over at Burton. “I suppose you don’t have a recording of the conversation? I know that some of the communications here are recorded.”

  The President answered. “Sullivan called my private line, Lieutenant. It’s a secure communication link and no recordings of conversations on that line are allowed.”

  “I see. Did he directly indicate to you that he was involved in the death of Luther Whitney?”

  “Not directly, no. He obviously wasn’t thinking clearly. But reading between the lines, the rage that I knew he was feeling—well, and I hate to make this statement of a man who’s dead, I think it was pretty clear that he had had the man killed. I have no proof of that of course, but it was my strong impression.”

  Frank shook his head. “Pretty uncomfortable conversation to have.”

  “Yes, yes it was very uncomfortable. Now, Lieutenant, I’m afraid that official duty calls.”

  Frank didn’t budge. “Why do you think he called you, sir? And at that time of night?”

  The President sat back down, threw another quick glance at Burton. “Walter was one of my closest personal friends. He kept odd hours, but then so do I. It would not be unusual for him to call at that hour. I hadn’t heard very much from him for the last few months. As you know, he had been under a considerable personal strain. Walter was the sort to suffer in silence. Now Seth, if you will excuse me.”

  “It just strikes me as odd that out of all the people he could have called, he called you. I mean the chances were pretty good that you wouldn’t even be here. Presidents’ travel schedules are pretty hectic. It makes me wonder what he was thinking.”

  The President leaned back, placed his fingers together, and studied the ceiling. Cop wants to play games to show me how smart he is. He looked back at Frank and smiled. “If I were a mind reader I wouldn’t have to rely so heavily on the pollsters.”

  Frank smiled. “I don’t think you have to be telepathic to know you’re going to be occupying that chair for another four years, sir.”

  “I appreciate that, Lieutenant. All I can tell you is that Walter called me. If he was planning on killing himself who would he call? His family has been estranged from him since his marriage to Christine. He had many business acquaintances, but few people he would call true friends. Walter and I have known each other for years, and I considered him a surrogate father. I had taken a very active interest in the investigation of his wife’s death, as you know. All of that together could explain why he wanted to talk to me, particularly if he was contemplating taking his life. That’s really all I know. I’m sorry I can’t be of more help.”

  The door opened. Frank did not see that it was in response to a tiny button on the underside of the President’s desk.

  The President looked at his secretary. “I’ll be right there, Lois. Lieutenant, if there’s anything I can do for you, you let Bill know. Please.”

  Frank closed his notebook. “Thank you, sir.”

  Richmond stared at the doorway after Frank had departed.

  “What was the name of Whitney’s attorney, Burton?”

  Burton thought for a moment. “Graham. Jack Graham.”

  “The name sounds familiar.”

  “Works at Patton, Shaw. He’s a partner there.”

  The President’s eyes froze on the agent’s face.

  “What’s the matter?”

  “I’m not sure.” Richmond unlocked a drawer in his desk and took out a notebook he had compiled on this little extracurricular matter. “Don’t lose sight of the fact, Burton, that one very important piece of incriminating evidence, for which we happened to have paid five million dollars, has never turned up.”

  The President flipped through the pages of his notebook. There were numerous individuals involved, to various degrees, in their little drama. If Whitney had given his attorney the letter opener along with an account of what had happened, the whole world would’ve known by now. Richmond thought back to the awards ceremony for Ransome Baldwin at the White House. Graham was clearly no shrinking violet. Clearly he didn’t have it. But then who, if anyone, would Whitney have given it to?

  As his mind spun out neat blocks of analysis and possible scenarios, one name suddenly stood out at the President from within the lines of precise writing. One person who had never really been accounted for.

  * * *

  JACK CRADLED THE CARRY-OUT IN ONE ARM, HIS BRIEFCASE IN the other, and managed to wiggle the key out of his pocket. Before he could put it in the lock, though, the door opened.

  Jack looked surprised. “I didn’t expect you home yet.”

  “You didn’t have to stop. I could’ve made something.”

  Jack went inside, dropped his briefcase on the coffee table and headed to the kitchen. Kate stared after him.

  “Hey, you work all day too. Why should you have to cook?”

  “Women do it every day, Jack. Just look around.”

  He emerged from the kitchen. “No argument there. You want sweet and sour or moo goo gai pan? I got extra spring rolls too.”

  “Whichever you don’t want. I’m not that hungry really.”

  He withdrew and came back with two fully stocked plates.

  “You know if you don’t eat more you’re going to blow away. I half feel like stuffing rocks in your pockets as it is now.”

  He sat cross-legged next to her on the floor. She picked at her plate while he devoured his.

  “So how was work? You know you probably could have stood to take a few more days off. You’re always pushing yourself too hard.”

  “Look who’s talking.” She picked up a spring roll and then put it back down.

  He put down his fork and looked over at her.

  “So I’m listening.”

  She pulled herself up onto the couch and sat there playing with her necklace. Still dressed in her work clothes, she looked exhausted, like a flower collapsed in the wind.

  “I think a lot about what I did to Luther.”

  “Kate—”

  “Jack, let me finish.” Her voice snapped at him like a whip. In an instant her features relaxed. She continued more calmly. “I’ve come to decide that I’m never going to get over it, so I might as well accept that fact. Maybe what I did wasn’t wrong for a lot of reasons. But it was definitely wrong for at least one reason. He was my father. As lame as that might sound, it should’ve been a good enough reason.” She twisted her necklace some more until it congealed into a series of tiny clumps. “I think being a lawyer, at least the kind of lawyer I am, has made me become someone I don’t really like a lot. That’s not a real good revelation to arrive at when you’re hitting thirty.”

  Jack reached out his hand to stop hers from shaking. She didn’t move it. He could feel the blood pumping through the veins.

  “With all that said, I think I’m due for a radical change. In
my life, my career, everything.”

  “What are you talking about?” He got up and sat down be side her. His pulse had accelerated as he anticipated the line she was taking.

  “I’m not going to be a prosecutor anymore, Jack. In fact I’m not going to be a lawyer anymore. I submitted my resignation this morning. I have to admit, they were pretty shocked. Told me to think about it. I told them I already had. As much as I’m going to.”

  The incredulity was stiff in his voice. “You quit your job? Jesus, Kate, you’ve put a helluva lot into your career. You can’t just throw that away.”

  She suddenly rose and stood by the window, looking out.

  “That’s just it, Jack. I’m not throwing anything away. My memories of what I’ve done for the last four years add up to about a lifetime of horror films. That’s not exactly what I had in mind sitting in Con Law as a first-year debating grand principles of justice.”

  “Don’t sell yourself short. The streets are a heckuva lot safer because of what you’ve done.”

  She turned to look at him. “I’m not even stemming the flow anymore. I got washed out to sea a long time ago.”

  “But what are you going to do? You’re a lawyer.”

  “No. You’re wrong. I’ve only been a lawyer a tiny fraction of my life. My life before that time I liked a whole lot better.” She stopped and stared at him, her arms folded across her chest. “You made that very clear to me, Jack. I became a lawyer to pay back my father. Three years of school and four years of no life outside a courtroom is a pretty big price.” A deep sigh emerged from her throat, her body teetered for a moment before she regained her composure. “Besides, I guess I really paid him back now.”

  “Kate, it wasn’t your fault, none of it.” His mouth stopped moving as she turned away from him.

  Her next words rocked him.

  “I’m going to move away, Jack. I’m not exactly sure where yet. I’ve got a little money saved. The Southwest sounds nice. Or maybe Colorado. I want as different from here as I can get. Maybe that’s a start.”

  “Moving.” Jack said the word more to himself than to her. “Moving.” He repeated the word as if both trying to make it go away and trying to dissect and interpret it in a manner that was not as painful as it felt at the moment.

  She looked down at her hands. “There’s nothing keeping me here, Jack.”

  He looked at her and he more felt than heard the angry response rush past his lips.

  “Goddamn you! How dare you say that?”

  She finally looked at him. He could almost see the crack in her voice as she spoke. “I think you better leave.”

  * * *

  JACK SAT AT HIS DESK UNWILLING TO FACE THE MOUNDS OF work, the small mountain of pink messages, wondering if his life could possibly get any worse. That’s when Dan Kirksen walked in. Jack inwardly groaned.

  “Dan, I really don’t—”

  “You weren’t at the partners meeting this morning.”

  “Well, no one told me we were having one.”

  “A memo was sent around, but then your office hours have been somewhat erratic of late.” He looked disapprovingly at the shambles of Jack’s desk. His own was unfailingly in pristine condition; more a testament to how little actual legal work he did than anything else.

  “I’m here now.”

  “I understand you and Sandy met at his house.”

  Jack eyed him keenly. “I guess nothing’s private anymore.”

  Kirksen flushed angrily. “Partnership matters should be discussed by the full partnership. What we don’t need are factions developing that will decimate this firm any more than it already has been.”

  Jack almost laughed out loud. Dan Kirksen, the undisputed king of the faction-builders.

  “I think we’ve seen the worst.”

  “Do you, Jack? Do you really?” Kirksen sneered. “I didn’t know you had so much experience with this sort of thing.”

  “Well, if it bothers you so much, Dan, why don’t you leave?”

  The sneer quickly evaporated from the little man’s face. “I’ve been with this firm for almost twenty years.”

  “Sounds like it’s about time for a change then. Might do you good.”

  Kirksen sat down, removed a smudge from his glasses. “Piece of friendly advice, Jack. Don’t throw your lot in with Sandy. If you do that, you’ll be making a big mistake. He’s through.”

  “Thanks for the advice.”

  “I’m serious, Jack, don’t endanger your own position in some futile, however well-intentioned attempt to salvage him.”

  “Endanger my position? You mean the Baldwins’ position, don’t you?”

  “They’re your client . . . for now.”

  “Are you contemplating a change at the helm? If you are, good luck. You’d last about a minute.”

  Kirksen stood up. “Nothing is forever, Jack. Sandy Lord can tell you that as well as anybody. What goes around comes around. You can burn bridges in this town, you just have to make sure there’s no one left alive on those bridges.”

  Jack came around the desk, towering over Kirksen. “Were you like this as a little boy, Dan, or did you just turn into a fungus during your adulthood?”

  Kirksen smiled and started to leave. “Like I said, you never know, Jack. Client relationships are always so tenuous. Take yours, for example. It’s primarily based on your future nuptials with Jennifer Ryce Baldwin. Now, if Ms. Baldwin happened to find out, for instance, that you had not been going home at night, but, instead, had been sharing quarters with a certain young woman, she might be less inclined to refer legal business to you, much less become your wife.”

  It only took an instant. Kirksen’s back was flat against the wall and Jack was so close in his face the man’s glasses were fogged.

  “Don’t do anything foolish, Jack. Regardless of your status here, the partnership would not look kindly on a junior partner assaulting a senior one. We still have standards here at Patton, Shaw.”

  “Don’t ever fuck with my life like that, Kirksen. Don’t ever.” Jack effortlessly threw him against the door and turned back to his desk.

  Kirksen smoothed down his shirt and smiled to himself. So easily manipulated. The big, tall good-looking ones. As strong as mules and no smarter. About as sophisticated as a brick.

  “You know, Jack, you should realize what you’ve gotten yourself into. For some reason you seem to implicitly trust Sandy Lord. Did he tell you the truth about Barry Alvis? Did he happen to do that, Jack?”

  Jack turned slowly back around and stared dully at the man.

  “Did he use the permanent-associate, no-rainmaking-capabilities line? Or did he tell you Alvis had screwed up a big project?”

  Jack continued to look at him.

  Kirksen smiled triumphantly.

  “One phone call, Jack. Daughter calls complaining that Mr. Alvis had inconvenienced her and her father. And Barry Alvis disappears. It’s just the way the game works, Jack. Maybe you don’t want to play that game. If you don’t there’s no one stopping you from leaving.”

  Kirksen had been crafting this strategy for a while now. With Sullivan gone, he could promise Baldwin that his work would be the firm’s top priority, and Kirksen still had the core of one of the best army of attorneys in the city. And four million dollars of legal business coupled with his own existing business would make him the largest rainmaker at the place. And the name Kirksen would finally go on the door, in substitution for another that would be unceremoniously dropped.

  The managing partner smiled at Jack. “You may not like me, Jack, but I’m telling you the truth. You’re a big boy, it’s up to you to deal with it.”

  Kirksen closed the door behind him.

  Jack stood for a second longer and then collapsed back into his chair. He lunged forward, scattered his desk clear with quick, violent thrusts of his arms, and then slowly laid his head down on its surface.

  CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

  SETH FRANK LOOKED AT THE OLD MAN. S
HORT, WITH A SOFT felt cap covering his head, dressed in corduroy pants, a thick sweater and