Absolute Power



  fell upon a collection of junk that lay against one wall. Then his gaze drifted over to the unmanned kiosk. There was no one else around. It was quiet. Too quiet. Frank’s danger radar instantly lit up. With an automatic motion he pulled his gun. His ears had pricked up at a sound that came from his right. He moved quickly down the corridor away from the turnstiles. There a darkened corridor awaited him. He peered around and at first saw nothing. Then as his eyes adjusted to the diminished light he saw two things. One was moving, one wasn’t.

  Frank stared as the man slowly rose to his feet. It wasn’t Jack. The guy was in a uniform, a gun in one hand, a box in the other. Frank’s fingers tightened on his own weapon, his eyes locked on the other man’s weapon. Frank stealthily moved forward. He hadn’t done this in a long time. The image of his wife and three daughters veered across his mind until he pushed it back out. He needed to concentrate.

  He was finally close enough. He prayed his accelerated breathing would not betray him. He leveled his pistol at the broad back.

  “Freeze! I’m a police officer.”

  The man did indeed stop all motion.

  “Lay the gun down, butt first. I don’t want to see your finger anywhere near the trigger or I’m gonna put a hole right in the back of your head. Do it. Now!”

  The gun slowly went toward the floor. Frank watched its progression, inch by inch. Then his vision became blurry. Frank’s head pounded, he staggered and then he slumped to the floor.

  At the sound, Collin slowly looked around to see Bill Burton standing there, holding his pistol by the barrel. He looked down at Frank.

  “Let’s go, Tim.”

  Collin shakily got to his feet, looked at the fallen officer and put his gun to Frank’s head. Burton’s massive hand stopped him.

  “He’s a cop. We don’t kill cops. We’re not killing any body else, Tim.” Burton stared down at his colleague. Discomforting thoughts flickered in and out of Burton’s head at the calm and accepting manner in which the younger man had stepped into the role of conscienceless assassin.

  Collin shrugged, put his gun away.

  Burton took the box, looked down at the detective and then over at the other crumpled mass of humanity. He shook his head disdainfully and looked reproachfully at his partner.

  Several minutes after they were gone, Seth Frank let out a loud groan, tried to rise and then floated back into unconsciousness.

  CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

  KATE LAY IN BED BUT WAS AS FAR FROM SLEEP AS SHE COULD possibly be. The ceiling of her bedroom had been replaced with a torrent of images, each one more terrifying than its predecessor. She looked across at the small clock on the nightstand. Three o’clock in the morning. Her window shade was open enough to reveal the pitch-black darkness outside. She could hear the raindrops on the windowpane. Normally comforting, now they simply added to the relentless pounding in her head.

  When the phone rang, at first, she didn’t move. Her limbs seemed too heavy for her to even attempt to budge, as if each had simultaneously lost all circulation. For one terrible moment she thought she had suffered a stroke. Finally, on the fifth ring she managed to lift the receiver.

  “Hello?” Her voice was shaky, one step from oblivion; her nerves completely spent.

  “Kate. I need some help.”

  * * *

  FOUR HOURS LATER THEY SAT IN THE FRONT OF THE LITTLE DELI at Founder’s Park, the site of their initial rendezvous after so many years apart. The weather had worsened into a hard, pelting snow that had made driving nearly impossible and walking only for the irrationally daring.

  Jack looked across at her. The hooded parka was off, but a ski cap, a few days’ worth of beard and a pair of thick glasses obscured his features to such a degree that Kate had to look twice before she recognized him.

  “You’re sure no one followed you?” He looked anxiously at her. A cup of steaming coffee partially clouded her line of vision, but she could see the strain on his face. It was clear he was near the breaking point.

  “I did what you said. The subway, two cabs and a bus. If anyone kept up with me in this weather, they’re not human.”

  Jack put his coffee down. “From what I’ve seen, they might not be.”

  He had not specifically identified the meeting place on the phone. He now assumed that they were listening to everything, to anyone connected to him. He had only mentioned the “usual” place, confident that Kate would understand, and she had. He looked out the window. Every passing face was a threat. He slid a copy of the Post across to her. The front page was revealing. Jack had shaken with anger when he had first read it.

  Seth Frank was in stable condition at George Washington University Hospital with a concussion. The homeless man, as yet unidentified, had not been so fortunate. And smack in the middle of the story was Jack Graham, a one-man crime wave. She looked up at him after reading the story.

  “We need to keep moving.” He looked at her, drained his coffee and then got up.

  The cab dropped them off at Jack’s motel on the outskirts of Alexandria’s Old Town. His eyes looking left and right and then behind, they made their way to his room. After locking and bolting the door, he took off the ski cap and glasses.

  “God, Jack, I’m so sorry you’re involved in any of this.” She shook; he could actually see her trembling from across the room. It took a moment for him to wrap his arms around her until he felt her body calm, relax. He looked at her.

  “I got myself involved. Now I just need to get myself uninvolved.” He attempted a smile, but it didn’t dent the fear she was feeling for him; the awful dread that he might soon join her father.

  “I left a dozen messages for you on your machine.”

  “I never thought to check, Kate.” He took the next half hour to tell her the events of the last few days. Her eyes reflected the growing horror with each new revelation.

  “My God!”

  They were silent for a moment.

  “Jack, do you have any idea who’s behind all this?”

  Jack shook his head, a small groan escaped his lips. “I’ve got a bunch of loose threads sliding around in my head but none of them have added up to spit so far. I’m hoping that status will change. Soon.”

  The finality with which the last word was spoken hit her like a sudden slap. His eyes told her. The message was clear. Despite the disguises, the elaborate travel safeguards, despite whatever innate ability he could bring to the battlefield, they would find him. Either the cops or whoever wanted to kill him. It was only a matter of time.

  “But at least if they got what they wanted back?” Her voice drifted off. She looked at him, almost pleadingly.

  He lay back on the bed, stretched exhausted limbs that didn’t seem to belong to him any longer.

  “That’s not something I can really hang my hat on forever, Kate, is it?” He sat up and looked across the room. At the cheap picture of Jesus hanging on the wall. He would take a dose of divine intervention right now. A small miracle would do.

  “But you didn’t kill anyone, Jack. You told me Frank’s already figured that out. The D.C. cops will too.”

  “Will they? Frank knows me, Kate. He knows me and I could still hear the doubt in his voice at first. He picked up on the glass, but there’s no evidence that anyone tampered with it or the gun. On the other hand there’s clear, take-it-to-the-bank proof, pointing to me killing two people. Three if you count last night. My lawyer would recommend my negotiating a plea and hoping for twenty to life with the possibility of parole. I’d recommend it myself. If I go to trial I’ve got no shot. Just a bunch of speculation trying to tie Luther and Walter Sullivan and all the rest into some landscape of conspiracy of, you have to admit, mind-boggling proportions. The judge’ll laugh my ass right out of court. The jury will never hear it. Really, there’s nothing to hear.”

  He stood up and leaned against the wall, hands shoved in his pockets. He didn’t look at her. Both his short- and long-term prospects had doomsday written all ove
r them.

  “I’ll die an old man in prison, Kate. That is, if I make it to old age—which is a big question mark in itself.”

  She sat down on the bed, her hands in her lap. A gasp caught midway in her throat as the sheer hopelessness sank in, like a boulder dropped in deep, dark waters.

  * * *

  SETH FRANK OPENED HIS EYES. AT FIRST NOTHING CAME INTO focus. What his brain registered resembled a large white canvas on which a few hundred gallons of black, white and gray paint had been poured to form a cloggy, mind-altering quagmire. After a few anxious moments, he was able to discern the outline of the hospital room in all its stark white, chrome and sharp angles. As he tried to sit up, a hand planted itself firmly against his shoulder.

  “Uh-uh, Lieutenant. Not so fast.”

  Frank looked up into the face of Laura Simon. The smile did not entirely hide the worry lines around the eyes. Her sigh of relief was clearly audible.

  “Your wife just left to check on the kids. She’s been here all night. I told her as soon as she left you’d wake up.”

  “Where am I?”

  “GW Hospital. I guess if you were gonna have your head pounded in, at least you picked a place close to a hospital.” Simon continued to lean over the bed so Frank wouldn’t have to turn his head. He stared up at her.

  “Seth, do you remember what happened?”

  Frank thought back to last night. Or was it last night?

  “What day is it?”

  “Thursday.”

  “So it happened last night?”

  “Around eleven or so. At least they found you about then. And the other guy.”

  “Other guy?” Frank jerked his head around. Pain shot through his neck.

  “Take it easy, Seth.” Laura took a moment to prop a pillow next to Frank’s head.

  “There was another guy. Homeless. They haven’t identified him yet. Same kind of blow to the back of the head. Probably died instantly. You were lucky.”

  Frank gingerly touched his throbbing temples. He didn’t feel so lucky.

  “Anybody else?”

  “What?”

  “Did they find anybody else?”

  “Oh. No, but you’re not going to believe this. You know the lawyer who watched the tape with us?”

  Frank tensed. “Yeah, Jack Graham.”

  “Right. The guy kills two people at his law firm and then he’s spotted running away from the Metro about the time you and the other guy get whacked. The guy’s a walking nightmare. And he looked like a Mr. All-American.”

  “Have they found him yet? Jack? They’re sure he got away?”

  Laura looked at him strangely. “He got out of the Metro station if that’s what you mean. But it’s only a matter of time.” She looked out the window, reached for her purse. “The D.C. cops want to talk with you as soon as you’re able.”

  “I’m not sure how much help I can be. I don’t remember all that much, Laura.”

  “Temporary amnesia. You’ll probably get it back.”

  She put on her jacket. “I have to go. Somebody’s got to keep Middleton County safe for the rich and famous while you’re counting sheep in here.” She smiled. “Don’t make a habit out of this, Seth. We were really worried we might have to hire a new detective.”

  “Where would you find someone as nice as me?”

  Laura laughed. “Your wife will be back in a few hours. You need to get some rest anyway.” She turned to go to the door.

  “By the way, Seth, what were you doing at the Farragut West Metro at that time of night?”

  Frank didn’t answer right away. He didn’t have amnesia. He recalled the night’s events clearly.

  “Seth?”

  “I’m not sure, Laura.” He closed his eyes and then re-opened them. “I just don’t remember.”

  “Don’t worry, it’ll come back to you. In the meantime, they’ll catch Graham. That’ll probably clear everything up.”

  After Laura left, Frank did not rest. Jack was out there. And he had probably initially thought the detective had set him up, although if Jack had seen the paper he would know that the detective had walked blindly into the ambush that had been laid for the lawyer.

  But they had the letter opener now. That’s what was in that box. He was certain of it. And without that what chance did they have of nailing these people?

  Frank again tried to struggle up. There was an IV in his arm. The pressure on his brain caused him to immediately lie back down. He had to get out of here. And he had to get in touch with Jack. Right now he had no idea how he would accomplish either.

  * * *

  “YOU SAID YOU NEEDED MY HELP? WHAT CAN I DO?” KATE looked directly at Jack. There were no reservations on her features.

  Jack sat on the bed next to her. He looked troubled. “I’ve got some real serious doubts about getting you anywhere near this. In fact I’m wondering if calling you was the right thing to do.”

  “Jack, I’ve been surrounded by rapists, armed robbers and murderers for the last four years.”

  “I know that. But at least you knew who they were. This could be anybody. People are getting killed left and right, Kate. This is about as serious as it gets.”

  “I’m not leaving unless you let me help you.”

  Jack hesitated, his eyes turned away from hers.

  “Jack, if you don’t, then I’m going to turn you in. Better you take your chances with the cops.”

  He looked at her. “You’d do that, wouldn’t you?”

  “Damn straight I would. I’m breaking all the rules by being here with you now. If you let me in on it, then I forget all about seeing you today. If you don’t . . .”

  There was a look in her eyes that, despite all the horrific possibilities he was contemplating, made him somehow feel fortunate to be here at this exact moment.

  “Okay. You need to be my contact with Seth. Outside of you he’s the only one I can trust.”

  “But you lost the package. How can he help?” Kate could not hide her dislike of the homicide detective.

  Jack stood up and paced. Finally he stopped and looked down at her. “You know how your dad was a freak for control? Always have a backup plan?”

  Kate said dryly, “I remember.”

  “Well I’m counting on that quality.”

  “What are you talking about?”

  “That Luther had a backup plan on this one.”

  She stared at him, open-mouthed.

  * * *

  “MRS. BROOME?”

  The door opened another notch as Edwina Broome peered out.

  “Yes?”

  “My name is Kate Whitney. Luther Whitney was my father.”

  Kate relaxed as the old woman greeted her with a smile.

  “I knew I’d seen you before. Luther was always showing pictures of you. You’re even prettier than your photos.”

  “Thank you.”

  Edwina jerked the door open. “What am I thinking about. You must be freezing. Please come in.”

  Edwina led her into the small living room where a trio of felines were cloistered on various pieces of furniture.