Absolute Power

  He turned off the TV and went back into the bathroom and ran cold water over his face. His hands shook, his throat had dried up. He could not believe that this had all happened. So quickly. It had not been his fault, but Jack could not help feeling enormously guilty for his partner’s death. Guilty, like Kate had felt. It was a crushing emotion.

  He grabbed the phone and dialed.

  * * *

  SETH FRANK HAD BEEN AT HIS OFFICE FOR AN HOUR ALREADY. A contact from D.C. Homicide had tipped him to the twin slayings at the law firm. Frank had no idea if they were connected to Sullivan. But there was a common denominator. A common denominator that had given him a throbbing headache and it was barely seven in the morning.

  His direct line rang. He picked it up, his eyebrows arched in semidisbelief.

  “Jack, where the hell are you?”

  There was a hard edge in the detective’s tone that Jack had not expected to hear.

  “Good morning to you too.”

  “Jack, do you know what’s happened?”

  “I just saw it on the news. I was there last night, Seth. They were after me; I don’t know exactly how but Sandy must’ve walked into it and they killed him.”

  “Who? Who killed him?”

  “I don’t know! I was at the office, I heard a noise. The next thing I know I’m being chased through the building by someone with a gun and I barely get out of there with my head intact. Do the police have any leads?”

  Frank took a deep breath. The story sounded so fantastic. He believed in Jack, trusted him. But who could be absolutely certain about anyone these days?

  “Seth? Seth?”

  Frank bit on his nail, thinking furiously. Depending on what he did next one of two totally different events would take place. He momentarily thought of Kate Whitney. The trap he had laid for her and her father. He had still not gotten over that. He might be a cop, but he had been a human being long before that. He trusted he still had some decent human qualities left.

  “Jack, the police do have one lead, a real good lead in fact.”

  “Okay, what is it?”

  Frank paused, then said, “It’s you, Jack. You’re the lead. You’re the guy the entire District police force is combing the city for right this very minute.”

  The phone slowly slid down from Jack’s hand. The blood seemed to have ceased flowing through his body.

  “Jack? Jack, goddammit talk to me.” The words of the detective did not register.

  Jack looked out the window. Out there were people who wanted to kill him and people who wanted to arrest him for murder.


  Finally, with an effort, Jack spoke. “I didn’t kill anybody, Seth.”

  The words were spoken as though they were spilling down a drain, about to be washed away.

  Frank heard what he desperately wanted to hear. It wasn’t the words—guilty people almost always lied—it was the tone with which they were spoken. Despair, disbelief, horror all rolled into one.

  “I believe you, Jack,” Frank said quietly.

  “What the hell’s going on, Seth?”

  “From what I’ve been told the cops have you on tape going into the garage at around midnight. Apparently Lord and a ladyfriend of his were there before you.”

  “I never saw them.”

  “Well, I’m not sure that you necessarily would have.” He shook his head and continued. “Seems they were found not completely clothed, especially the woman. I guess they had just finished doing it when they bought it.”

  “Oh God!”

  “And again they have you on the video blowing out of the garage apparently right after they were killed.”

  “But what about the gun? Did they find the gun?”

  “They did. In a trash Dumpster inside the garage.”


  “And your prints were on the gun, Jack. They were the only ones on the gun. After they saw you on the videotape, the D.C. cops accessed your fingerprints from the Virginia State Bar file. A nine-point hit I’m told.”

  Jack slumped down in the chair.

  “I never touched any gun, Seth. Somebody tried to kill me and I ran. I hit the guy, with a paperweight I pulled off my desk. That’s all I know.” He paused. “What do I do now?”

  Frank knew that question was coming. In all honesty he wasn’t sure what to answer. Technically, the man he was speaking to was wanted for murder. As a law enforcement officer, his action should have been absolutely clear, only it wasn’t.

  “Wherever you are I want you to stay put. I’m gonna check this out. But don’t, under any circumstances, go anywhere. Call me back in three hours. Okay?”

  Jack hung up and pondered the matter. The police wanted him for murdering two people. His fingerprints were all over a weapon he had never even touched. He was a fugitive from justice. He smiled wearily, then he stiffened slightly. A fugitive. And he had just hung up from talking to a policeman. Frank hadn’t asked where he was. But they could have traced the call. They could have done that easily. Only Frank wouldn’t do that. But then Jack thought about Kate.

  Cops never told the whole truth. The detective had suckered Kate. Then he had felt sorry about it, or at least he had said he had.

  A siren blared outside and Jack’s heart stopped for an instant. He raced to the window and looked out but the patrol car kept on going until the flashing lights disappeared.

  But they might be coming. They might be coming for him right now. He grabbed his coat and put it on. Then he looked down at the bed.

  The box.

  He had never even told Frank about the damned thing. The most important thing in his life last night, now it had taken a back seat to something else.

  * * *

  “AREN’T YOU BUSY ENOUGH OUT THERE IN THE BOONIES?” Craig Miller was a D.C. homicide detective of long standing. Big, with thick, wavy black hair and a face that betrayed his love of fine whiskey. Frank had known him for years. Their relationship was one of friendship and the shared belief that murder must always be punished.

  “Never too busy to come over to see if you ever got any good at this detective stuff,” Frank replied, a wry grin on his face.

  Miller smiled. They were in Jack’s office. The crime unit was just finishing up.

  Frank looked around the spacious interior. Jack was a long way from this kind of life now, he thought to himself.

  Miller looked at him, a thought registering. “This Graham fellow, he was involved in the Sullivan case out your way, wasn’t he?”

  Frank nodded. “The suspect’s defense counsel.”

  “That’s right! Man, that’s a pretty big swing. Defense counsel to future defendant.” Miller smiled.

  “Who found the bodies?”

  “Housekeeper. She gets in around four in the morning.”

  “So any motive work its way through that big head of yours?”

  Miller eyed his friend. “Come on. It’s eight o’clock in the morning. You drove all the way in here from the middle of nowhere to pick my brain. What’s up?”

  Frank shrugged. “I don’t know. I got to know the guy during the case. Surprised the shit out of me to see his face on the morning news. I don’t know, it just stuck in my gut.”

  Miller eyed him closely for another few seconds and then decided not to pursue it.

  “The motive, it seems, is pretty clear. Walter Sullivan was the deceased’s biggest client. This fellow Graham, without talking to anybody at the firm, jumps in and represents the dude accused of murdering the guy’s wife. That, obviously, didn’t sit too well with Lord. Apparently, the two had a meeting at Lord’s place. Maybe they tried to work things out, maybe they just made things worse.”

  “How’d you get all the inside scoop?”

  “Managing partner of the place.” Miller flipped open his notebook. “Daniel J. Kirksen. He was real helpful on all the background shit.”

  “So how does that lead to Graham coming in here to pop two people?”

didn’t say it was premeditated. The video time tables show pretty clearly that the deceased was here several hours before Graham showed up.”


  “So the two don’t know the other’s here, or maybe Graham sees Lord’s office light on when he’s driving by. It overlooks the street, it’d be easy enough to see someone in the office.”

  “Yeah, except if the man and woman were getting it on, I’m not sure they’d be showcasing it to the rest of the city. The blinds were probably down.”

  “Right, but come on, Lord wasn’t in the best of shape so I doubt if they were doing it the whole time. In fact the office light was on when they were found and the blinds were partially open. Anyway, accidental or not, the two run into each other here. The argument is rekindled. The feelings accelerate, maybe threats are made. And bam. Heat of the moment. It could be it was Lord’s gun. They struggle. Graham gets the piece away from the old guy. Shot’s fired. Woman sees it all, she has to eat a round too. All over in a few seconds.”

  Frank shook his head. “Excuse me for saying so, Craig, but that sounds awfully farfetched.”

  “Oh yeah? Well we got the guy blowing out of here white as a sheet. The camera got a clear shot of him. I’ve seen it, there was no blood left in the guy’s face, Seth, I’m telling you.”

  “How come Security didn’t come and check things out then?”

  Miller laughed. “Security? Shit. Half the time those guys aren’t even looking at the monitors. They got a tape backup you’re lucky if they even review on any consistent basis. Let me tell you it is not hard to get into one of these office buildings after hours.”

  “So maybe somebody did.”

  Miller shook his head, grinning. “Don’t think so, Seth. That’s your problem. You look for a complicated answer when the simple one’s staring you in the face.”

  “So where did this gun mysteriously appear from?”

  “A lot of people keep guns stashed in their office.”

  “A lot? Like how many is a lot, Craig?”

  “You’d be surprised, Seth.”

  “Maybe I would!” Frank shot back.

  Miller looked puzzled. “Why do you have such a bug up your ass about this?”

  Frank didn’t look at his friend. He stared over at the desk.

  “I don’t know. Like I said, I got to know the guy. He didn’t seem like the type. So his prints were on the weapon?”

  “Two perfect hits. Right thumb and index. Never seen clearer ones.”

  Something in his friend’s words jolted Frank. He was looking at the desk. The highly polished surface had been defaced. The small water ring was clearly visible.

  “So where’s the glass?”

  “What’s that?”

  Frank pointed to the mark. “The glass that left that mark. Have you got it?”

  Miller shrugged and then chuckled. “I haven’t checked the dishwasher in the kitchen, if that’s what you’re asking. Be my guest.”

  Miller turned to sign off on a report. Frank took the opportunity to check out the desk more closely. In the middle of the desk was a slight dust ring. Something had been there. Square in shape, about three inches across. The paperweight. Frank smiled.

  A few minutes later Seth Frank walked down the hallway. The gun had perfect prints on it. Too perfect more like it. Frank had also seen the weapon and the police report on it. A .44 caliber, serial numbers obliterated, untraceable. Just like the weapon found next to Walter Sullivan.

  Frank had to allow himself a smile. He had been right in what he had done, or more accurately, what he had not done.

  Jack Graham had been telling the truth. He hadn’t killed anybody.

  * * *

  “YOU KNOW, BURTON, I’M BECOMING A LITTLE TIRED OF having to devote so much time and attention to this matter. I do have a country to run in case you’ve forgotten.” Richmond sat in a chair in the Oval Office in front of a blazing fire. His eyes were closed; his fingers formed a tight pyramid.

  Before Burton could respond, the President continued. “Instead of having the object back safely in our possession, you have managed only to contribute two more entries to the city’s homicide fiasco, and Whitney’s defense attorney is out there somewhere with possibly the evidence to bury us all. I’m absolutely thrilled with the result.”

  “Graham’s not going to the police, not unless he’s real fond of prison food and wants a big, hairy man as his date for life.” Burton stared down at the motionless President. The shit he, Burton, had gone through to save all their asses while this prize stayed safely behind the lines. And now he was criticizing. Like the veteran Secret Service agent had really enjoyed seeing two more innocent people die.

  “I do congratulate you on that part. It showed quick thinking. However, I don’t believe we can rely on that as a long-term solution. If the police do take Graham into custody he’ll certainly produce the letter opener, if he has it.”

  “But I bought us some time.”

  The President stood up, grabbed Burton’s thick shoulders. “And in that time I know you will locate Jack Graham and persuade him that taking any action detrimental to our interests would not be in his best interests.”

  “Do you want me to tell him that before or after I put a bullet in his brain?”

  The President smiled grimly. “I’ll leave that to your professional judgment.” He turned to his desk.

  Burton stared at the President’s back. For one instant Burton visualized pumping a round from his weapon into the base of the President’s neck. Just end the bullshit right here and now. If anyone ever deserved it this guy did.

  “Any idea where he might be, Burton?”

  Burton shook his head. “No, but I’ve got a pretty reliable source.” Burton didn’t mention Jack’s phone call to Seth Frank that morning. Sooner or later Jack would reveal his location to the detective. And then Burton would make his move.

  Burton took a deep breath. If you loved a pressure-filled challenge it didn’t get much better than this. It was the ninth inning, the home team was up by one, there were two outs, one runner on, and a full count on the bruiser at the plate. Could Burton close it out or would they all watch as the white orb disappeared into the stands?

  As Burton walked out the door, more than a small part of him hoped it was the latter.

  * * *

  SETH FRANK WAS WAITING AT HIS DESK, STARING AT THE clock. As the second hand swept past the twelve the phone rang.

  Jack sat in the phone booth. He thanked God it was as cold as it was outside. The heavy, hooded parka he had bought that morning fit right in with the bundled-up mass of humanity. And still he had the overwhelming impression that everyone seemed to be looking at him.

  Frank picked up on the background noise. “Where the hell are you? I told you not to leave wherever you were staying.”

  Jack didn’t respond right away.


  “Look, Seth, I’m not real good at being a sitting duck. And I’m not in a position where I can afford to completely rely on anyone. Understood?”

  Frank started to make a protest, but then leaned back in his