Absolute Power



  “I just made some fresh tea, would you like some?”

  Kate hesitated. Time was short. Then she looked around the narrow confines of the home. In the corner sat a battered upright piano, thick dust on the wood. Kate looked at the woman’s weakened eyes; the pleasures of a musical pastime had also been taken from her. Husband passed on, her only daughter dead. How many visitors could she possibly have?

  “Thank you, I would.”

  Both women settled into the old but comfortable furniture. Kate sipped the strong tea and she began to thaw out. She brushed the hair out of her face and looked across at the elderly woman to find a pair of sad eyes upon her.

  “I’m sorry about your daddy, Kate. I really am. I know you two had your differences. But Luther was as good a man as I’ve come across in my life.”

  Kate felt herself growing warmer. “Thank you. We both have had a lot to deal with in that regard.”

  Edwina’s eyes drifted over to a small table next to the window. Kate followed the gaze. On the table numerous photographs displayed a small shrine to Wanda Broome; capturing her in happy times. She strongly resembled her mother.

  A shrine. With a jolt Kate recalled her father’s own collection of her personal triumphs.

  “Yes indeed.” Edwina was looking at her again.

  Kate put down her tea. “Mrs. Broome, I hate to jump right into this, but the fact is I don’t have much time.”

  The old woman leaned forward expectantly. “This is about Luther’s death, and my daughter’s too, isn’t it?”

  Kate looked surprised. “Why do you think that?”

  Edwina leaned forward even more, her voice dropped to a whisper. “Because I know Luther didn’t kill Mrs. Sullivan. I know it as if I’d seen it with my own eyes.”

  Kate looked puzzled. “Do you have any idea who—”

  Edwina was already shaking her head sadly. “No. No, I don’t.”

  “Well how do you know my father didn’t do it?”

  Now there was definite hesitation. Edwina leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes. When she finally reopened them, Kate had not moved a muscle.

  “You’re Luther’s daughter and I believe you should know the truth.” She paused, took a sip of her tea, pressed her lips dry with a napkin and then settled back into her chair. A black Persian drifted across and promptly went to sleep in her lap. “I knew about your father. His past, so to speak. He and Wanda got to know each other. She got into trouble years back and Luther helped her, helped her get back on her feet and get settled into a respectable life. I will always be grateful to him for that. He was always there when Wanda or I needed anything. The fact is, Kate, your father would never have been in the house that night if it weren’t for Wanda.”

  Edwina spoke for some minutes. When she had finished Kate sat back in her chair and realized she was holding her breath. She let out a loud gasp that seemed to echo around the room.

  Edwina didn’t say anything but continued to watch the young woman with her large sad eyes. Finally she stirred. A thickly wrinkled hand patted Kate’s knee.

  “Luther loved you, child. More than anything.”

  “I realize that . . .”

  Edwina slowly shook her head. “He never blamed you for the way you felt. In fact he said you were entirely right to feel that way.”

  “He said that?”

  “He was so proud of you, your being a lawyer and all. He used to say to me, ‘My daughter is a lawyer and a damned fine one. Justice is what matters for her and she’s right, dead right.’ ”

  Kate’s head began to swirl. She was feeling emotions she was ill-equipped right now to deal with. She rubbed the back of her neck and took a moment to look outside. A black sedan pulled down the street and then disappeared. She quickly looked back at Edwina.

  “Mrs. Broome, I appreciate your telling me these things. But I really came here for a specific reason. I need your help.”

  “I’ll do whatever I can.”

  “My father sent you a package.”

  “Yes. And I sent it on to Mr. Graham, like Luther said to.”

  “Yes I know. Jack got the package. But someone . . . someone took it away from him. Now we’re wondering if my father sent you something else, something else that might help us?”

  Edwina’s eyes no longer looked sad. They had collected into twin masses of stark intensity. She looked over Kate’s shoulder.

  “Behind you, Kate, in the piano seat. The hymnal on the left.”

  Kate opened the piano seat and lifted out the hymnal. Inside the pages was a small packet. She looked down at it.

  “Luther was the most prepared man I have ever met in my life. Said if anything went wrong with my sending the package that I was to send this to Mr. Graham. I was getting ready to do that when I heard about him on the TV. Am I right in thinking Mr. Graham didn’t do any of the things they say he did?”

  Kate nodded. “I wish everybody thought like you did.”

  Kate started to open the package.

  Edwina’s voice was sharp. “Don’t do that, Kate. Your father said that only Mr. Jack Graham was to see what was inside of there. Only him. I think it best if we took him at his word.”

  Kate hesitated, fighting her natural curiosity, and then closed the package.

  “Did he tell you anything else? Whether he knew who had killed Christine Sullivan?”

  “He did know.”

  Kate looked at her sharply. “But he didn’t say who?”

  Edwina shook her head vigorously. “He did say one thing though.”

  “What was that?”

  “He said if he told me who had done it, I wouldn’t have believed him.”

  Kate sat back, thought for several anxious moments.

  “What could he have meant by that?”

  “Well, it surprised me, I can tell you that.”

  “Why? Why did that surprise you?”

  “Because Luther was the most honest man I’d ever met. I would have believed anything he would have told me. Accepted it as the gospel.”

  “So whatever he saw, whoever he saw, must have been someone so unlikely as to be unbelievable. Even to you.”

  “Exactly. That’s exactly what I thought too.”

  Kate rose to go. “Thank you, Mrs. Broome.”

  “Please call me Edwina. Funny name, but it’s the only one I have.”

  Kate smiled. “After this is all over, Edwina, I . . . I’d like to come back and visit if you don’t mind. Talk about things some more.”

  “I’d like nothing better. Being old has its good and bad. Being old and lonely is all bad.”

  Kate put on her coat and went to the door. She put the package safely in her purse.

  “That should narrow your search shouldn’t it, Kate?”

  Kate turned around. “What?”

  “Someone that unbelievable. Can’t be too many of them around I wouldn’t think.”

  * * *

  THE HOSPITAL SECURITY GUARD WAS TALL, BEEFY AND uncomfortable as hell.

  “I don’t exactly know what happened. I was gone maybe two, three minutes tops.”

  “You shouldn’t have been away from your post at all, Monroe.” The diminutive supervisor was in Monroe’s face and the big man was sweating hard.

  “Like I said, the lady asked for some help with a bag, so I helped her.”

  “What lady?”

  “I told you, just some lady. Young, good-lookin’, dressed real professional.” The supervisor turned away, disgusted. He had no way of knowing the lady was Kate Whitney and that she and Seth Frank were already five blocks away in Kate’s car.

  * * *

  “DOES IT HURT?” KATE LOOKED AT HIM, WITH NOT MUCH sympathy in either her features or her voice.

  Frank gingerly touched the bandages around his head. “You kidding? My six-year-old hits me harder.” He looked around the interior of the car. “You got some smokes? Since when the hell are hospitals nonsmoking?”

  She rummaged in her purs
e and flipped him an open pack.

  He lit up and eyed her over the cloud of smoke. “By the way, nice job on the rent-a-cop. You should be in the movies.”

  “Great! I’m in the market for a career change.”

  “How’s our boy?”

  “Safe. For now. Let’s keep him that way.”

  She turned the corner and looked hard at him.

  “You know, it wasn’t exactly my plan to let your old man buy it right in front of me.”

  “That’s what Jack said.”

  “But you don’t believe him?”

  “What does it matter what I believe?”

  “It does. It matters to me, Kate.”

  She stopped for a red light. “Okay. Let’s put it this way. I’m coming around to the idea that you didn’t want it to happen. Is that good enough?”

  “No, but it’ll do for now.”

  * * *

  JACK TURNED THE CORNER AND TRIED TO RELAX. THE LATEST storm front had finally wearied of the Capital City, but although there no longer was any pelting icy rain, the thermometer had remained consistently in the twenties and the wind had returned with a vengeance. He blew on stiff fingers and rubbed sleep-deprived eyes. Against a drift of black sky, a sliver of moon hung, soft and luminous. Jack checked his surroundings. The building across the street was dark and empty. The structure he was standing in front of had closed its doors a long time ago. A few passersby braved the inclement conditions, but for large chunks of time Jack stood alone. Finally he took shelter inside the doorway of the building and waited.

  Three blocks away a rusting cab pulled to the curb, the back door opened and a pair of low heels touched the cement sidewalk. The cab immediately pulled off and a moment later the street was silent again. Kate tugged her coat around her and hurried off. As she passed the next block, another car, lights out, turned the corner and drifted along in her wake. Her thoughts focused on the steps that lay ahead of her, Kate did not look back.

  Jack saw her turn the corner. He looked in all directions before moving, a habit he had quickly cultivated and hoped he would be able to discard very soon. He moved quickly to meet her. The street was quiet. Neither Kate nor Jack saw the sedan’s nose as it crept past the corner building’s front. Inside the driver zeroed in on the couple with a night-vision device the mail-order catalogue had trumpeted as being the very latest in Soviet technology. And although the former communists had no clue as to how to run a democratic, capitalist society, they did, for the most part, build sound military hardware.

  “Jesus, you’re freezing, how long have you been waiting?” Kate had touched Jack’s hand and the icy feel had coursed through her entire body.

  “Longer than I needed to. The motel room was shrinking on me. I just had to get out. I’m going to make a lousy prisoner. Well?”

  Kate opened her purse. She had called Jack from a pay phone. She couldn’t tell him what she had, only that she had something. Jack had agreed with Edwina Broome that if risks had to be taken, he would take more than anyone. Kate had already done enough.

  Jack grasped the packet. It wasn’t that difficult to discern what was contained inside. Photographs.

  Thank God, Luther, you didn’t disappoint.

  “Are you okay?” Jack scrutinized her.

  “I’m getting there.”

  “Where’s Seth?”

  “He’s around. He’ll drive me home.”

  They stared at each other. Jack knew that the best thing was to have Kate leave, maybe leave the country for a while, until this blew over or he was convicted of murder. If the latter, then her intention of starting over somewhere else was probably the best plan anyway.

  But he didn’t want her to leave.

  “Thank you.” The words seemed wholly inadequate, like she had just dropped off lunch for him, or picked up his dry cleaning.

  “Jack, what are you going to do now?”

  “I haven’t thought it all through yet. But it’s coming. I’m not going down without a fight.”

  “Yeah, but you don’t even know who it is you’re fighting. That’s hardly fair.”

  “Who said it was supposed to be fair?”

  He smiled at her as the wind kicked old newspapers down the street.

  “You better get going. It’s not that safe around here.”

  “I’ve got my pepper mace.”

  “Good girl.”

  She turned to leave, then clutched him by the arm.

  “Jack, please be careful.”

  “I’m always careful. I’m a lawyer. CYA is SOP for us.”

  “Jack, I’m not kidding.”

  He shrugged. “I know. I promise I will be as careful as I can.” As Jack said this he stepped toward Kate and took off his hood.

  The night goggles fixated on Jack’s exposed features and then they were lowered. Shaky hands picked up the car’s cellular phone.

  The two clung in an easy embrace. While Jack desperately wanted to kiss her, under the circumstances he settled for a soft brush of his lips against her neck. When they stepped back from each other, tears had begun to form in Kate’s eyes. Jack turned and walked quickly away.

  As Kate walked back down the street she didn’t notice the car until it swerved across the street and almost ended up on the curb. She staggered back as the driver’s side door flew open. In the background, the air had exploded with sirens, all coming toward her. Toward Jack. She instinctively looked behind her. There was no sign of him. When she turned back, she was staring into a pair of smug eyes, framed under bushy eyebrows.

  “I thought our paths might cross again, Ms. Whitney.”

  Kate stared at the man, but recognition was not forthcoming.

  He looked disappointed. “Bob Gavin. From the Post?”

  She looked at his car. She had seen it before. On the street passing Edwina Broome’s house.

  “You’ve been following me.”

  “Yes, I have. Figured you’d eventually lead me to Graham.”

  “The police?” Her head jerked around as a squad car, siren blaring, tore down the street toward them. “You called them.”

  Gavin nodded, smiling. He was obviously pleased with himself.

  “Now before the cops get here I think we can work a little deal. You give me an exclusive. The down and dirty on Jack Graham, and my story changes just enough so that instead of an accessory, you’re just an innocent bystander in this whole mess.”

  Kate glared at the man, the rage within her, having been built up from a month of personal horrors, was near its exploding point. And Bob Gavin was standing directly over the epicenter.

  Gavin looked around at the patrol car nearing them. In the background, two more squad cars were heading in their direction.

  “Come on, Kate,” he said urgently, “you don’t have much time. You stay out of jail and I get my long-overdue Pulitzer and my fifteen minutes of fame. What’s it gonna be?”

  She gnashed her teeth, her response startlingly calm, as though she had practiced its delivery for months. “Pain, Mr. Gavin. Fifteen minutes of pain.” As he stared at her, she pulled the palm-size canister, pointed it directly at his face and squeezed