Absolute Power

  the trigger. The pepper gas hit Gavin flush in the eyes and nose, marking his face with a red dye. By the time the cops exited their vehicle, Bob Gavin was on the pavement clutching at his face, trying unsuccessfully to tear his eyes out.

  * * *


  He slid flat against a building sucking in air. His lungs ached, the cold tore at his face. The deserted nature of the area he was in had turned into a huge tactical disadvantage. He could keep moving, but he was like a black ant on a sheet of white paper. The sirens were coming so heavy now he couldn’t ascertain from what direction.

  Actually they were coming from all directions. And they were getting closer. He ran hard to the next corner, stopped and peered around. The view was not encouraging. His eyes fastened on a police blockade being set up at the end of the street. Their strategy was readily apparent. They knew his general coordinates. They would simply cordon off a wide radius and systematically close that radius in. They had the manpower and the time.

  The one thing he did have was a good knowledge of the area he was in. Many of his PD clients had come from here. Their dreams set not on college, law school, good job, loving family and the suburban split-level but on how much cash they could generate from selling bags of crack, how they could survive one day at a time. Survival. It was a strong, human drive. Jack hoped his was strong enough.

  As he flew down the alley, he had no idea what he would encounter, although he supposed the fierce weather had kept some of the local felons indoors. He almost laughed. Not one of his former partners at Patton, Shaw would have come near this place, even with an armored battalion surrounding them. He might as well be running across the surface of Pluto.

  He cleared the chain-link fence with one jump and landed slightly off-balance. As he put out his hand against the rugged brick wall to steady himself he heard two sounds. His own heavy breathing and the sound of running feet. Several pair. He’d been spotted. They were homing in on him. Next the K-9’s would be brought in and you didn’t run away from the four-legged cops. He exploded out of the alley and made his way over to Indiana Avenue.

  Jack veered down another street as the squeal of tires flew toward him. Even as he raced in the new direction, a new flank of pursuers rushed to greet him. It was only a matter of time now. He felt in his pocket for the packet. What could he do with it? He didn’t trust anybody. Technically, an inventory of an arrestee’s possessions taken from him would be made, with appropriate signatures and chain-of-custody safeguards, all of which meant nothing to Jack. Whoever could kill in the middle of hundreds of law officers and disappear without a trace could certainly manage to secure a prisoner’s personal possessions from the D.C. Police Department. And what he had in his pocket was the only chance he had. D.C. didn’t have the death penalty but life without parole wasn’t any better and in a lot of ways seemed a helluva lot worse.

  He raced in between two buildings, stumbled on some ice and plunged over a stack of garbage cans and hit the pavement hard. He picked himself up and half-rolled into the street, rubbing at his elbow. He could feel the burn, and there was a looseness in his knee that was a new sensation. As he stopped rolling, he managed to sit up, then froze.

  A car’s headlights were coming right for him. The police bubble light blasted into his eyes as the wheels came within two inches of his head. He slumped back on the asphalt. He was too winded to even move.

  The car door sprang open. Jack looked up, puzzled. It was the passenger door. Then the driver’s door flew open. Big hands slid under his armpits.

  “Goddammit, Jack, get your ass up.”

  Jack looked up at Seth Frank.


  BILL BURTON LEANED HIS HEAD INTO THE SECRET SERVICE command post. Tim Collin sat at one of the desks going over a report.

  “Come on, Tim.”

  Collin looked up, puzzled.

  Burton said quietly, “They’ve got him cornered down near the courthouse. I want to be there. Just in case.”

  * * *

  SETH FRANK’S SEDAN FLEW DOWN THE STREET, THE BLUE bubble light commanding immediate respect from a traffic population unaccustomed to conveying any whatsoever to fellow motorists.

  “Where’s Kate?” Jack lay in the back seat, a blanket over him.

  “Right now she’s probably being read her rights. Then she’s gonna get booked on a slew of accessory charges for helping you.”

  Jack sprung up. “We’ve gotta go back, Seth. I’ll turn myself in. They’ll let her go.”

  “Yeah, right.”

  “I’m not kidding, Seth.” Jack was halfway over the front seat.

  “I’m not either, Jack. You go back and turn yourself in, that’ll do nothing to help Kate and it’ll snuff out what little shot you’ve got to get your life back to reality.”

  “But Kate—”

  “I’ll take care of Kate. I’ve already called a buddy at D.C. He’ll be waiting for her. He’s a good guy.”

  Jack slumped back down. “Shit.”

  Frank opened his window, reached out and flicked the bubble light off and tossed it on the seat beside him.

  “What the hell happened?”

  Frank looked in his rearview mirror. “I’m not sure. The best I can figure is that Kate picked up a tail somewhere. I was cruising the area. We were going to meet at the Convention Center after she made the drop with you. Heard over my police radio that you had been spotted. I followed the chase over the airwaves, tried to guess where you might go. Got lucky. When I saw you blow out of the alley, I couldn’t believe it. Damn near ran you down. How’s the body by the way?”

  “Never better. I ought to do this crap once or twice a year just to keep me limber. Get ready for the Fleeing Felon Olympics.”

  Frank chuckled. “You’re still alive and kicking, my friend. Count your blessings. So did you get any nice presents?”

  Jack swore under his breath. He had been so busy running from the police that he had never even looked. He took out the packet.

  “Got a light?”

  Frank flicked on the dome light.

  Jack flipped through the photographs.

  Frank checked the mirror. “So what do we got?”

  “Photos. Of the letter opener, knife, whatever the hell you want to call it.”

  “Huh. Not surprising I guess. Can you make out anything?”

  Jack looked closely in the poor light. “Not really. You guys must have some gadget that’ll do some good.”

  Frank sighed. “I gotta be straight with you, Jack, unless there’s something else we don’t have much of a shot. Even if we can somehow pull something that looks like a print off there who’s to say where it came from? And you can’t do DNA testing on blood from a friggin’ photograph, at least not that I’m aware of.”

  “I know that. I didn’t spend four years as a defense counsel picking my ass.”

  Seth slowed the car down. They were on Pennsylvania Avenue and the traffic had grown heavier. “So what’s your idea then?”

  Jack rubbed back his hair, dug his fingers into his leg until the pain in his knee subsided and then lay down on the seat. “Whoever’s behind all this wanted the letter opener back really bad. Enough to kill you, me, anybody else that got in the way. We’re talking paranoia at its peak.”

  “Which fits in with our theory of some big shot with a lot to lose if this comes out. So? They got it back. Where does that leave us, Jack?”

  “Luther didn’t make these photos just in case something happened to the original article.”

  “What are you talking about?”

  “He came back into the country, Seth, remember? We could never figure that one out.”

  Frank stopped at a red light. He turned around in his seat.

  “Right. He came back. You think you know why?”

  Jack carefully sat up in the back seat, keeping his head below the window line. “I think so. Remember I told you that Luth
er wasn’t the kind of guy to let something like this lie. If he could he’d do something about it.”

  “But he did leave the country. At first.”

  “I know. Maybe that was his initial plan. Maybe that was his plan all along if the job had gone according to plan. But the fact is he came back. Something made him change his mind and he came back. And he had these photographs.” Jack spread them fanlike.

  The light turned green and Frank started up again.

  “I’m not getting this, Jack. If he wanted to nail the guy why not just send the stuff in to the police?”

  “I think that was his plan, eventually. But he told Edwina Broome that if he told her who he had seen she wouldn’t have believed him. If even she, a close friend, wouldn’t have believed his story, considering he’d have to admit to burglary to convince someone, he probably thought that his credibility was zip.”

  “Okay, so he has a credibility problem. Where do the photos come in?”

  “Let’s say you’re doing a straight exchange. Cash for a certain item. What’s the hardest part?”

  Frank’s reply was immediate. “The payoff. How to get your money without getting killed or caught. You can send instructions later on for the pickup of the item. It’s getting the money that’s tough. That’s why the number of kidnappings have plummeted.”

  “So how would you do it?”

  Frank thought for a moment. “Since we’re talking about the payoff coming from people who ain’t gonna bring in the police I’d go for speed. Take minimal personal risk, and give yourself time to run.”

  “How would you do that?”

  “EFT. Electronic fund transfer. A wire. I was involved in a bank embezzlement case when I was in New York. Guy did it all through the wire transfer department at his own bank. You wouldn’t believe the dollars that fly through those places on a daily basis. And you also wouldn’t believe how much stuff gets lost in the shuffle. A smart perp could take a little chunk here and there and by the time they caught it, he’d be long gone. You send your wire instructions. The money is sent out. Only takes a few minutes. Helluva lot better than rummaging through a Dumpster in a park where somebody can take a nice little bead on your head with a cannon.”

  “But the sender can presumably trace the wire.”

  “Sure. You have to identify the bank it’s going to. ABA routing number, you have to have an account at the bank. All that shit.”

  “So, assuming the sender is sophisticated enough, they trace the wire. Then what?”

  “Then they can follow the flow of money. They might be able to dig some info on the account. Although no one would be stupid enough to use their own name or Social Security number. Besides, a real smart guy like Whitney would probably have preset instructions in place. Once the funds hit the first bank, bam they get sent out to another place, and then another and another. At some point, the trail probably disappears. It’s instant money after all. Immediately available funds.”

  “Fair enough. I’m betting Luther did something just like that.”

  Frank carefully scratched around the edges of his bandage. His hat was pulled down tight and the whole thing was greatly uncomfortable. “But what I can’t figure is why do it at all. He didn’t need the money after the Sullivan hit. He could’ve just stayed disappeared. Let the whole thing blow over. After a while they figure he’s permanently retired. You don’t bother me, I don’t bother you.”

  “You’re right. He could’ve done that. Retired. Given it up. But he came back, and more than that, he came back and apparently blackmailed whoever he saw kill Christine Sullivan. And if he presumably didn’t do it for money, then why?”

  The detective thought for a moment. “To make ’em sweat. To let them know he was out there. With the evidence to destroy them.”

  “But evidence he wasn’t sure was enough.”

  “Because the perp was so respectable.”

  “Right, so what would you do given those facts?”

  Frank pulled to the curb and put the car in park. He turned around. “I’d try to get something else on them. That’s what I’d do.”

  “How? If you’re blackmailing someone?”

  Frank finally threw up his hands. “I give.”

  “You said the wire transfer could be traced by the sender.”


  “So, what about the other way? Receiver back up the line?”

  “Goddamned stupid.” Frank momentarily forgot his concussion and slapped his forehead. “Whitney put a tracer on the wire, going the other way. The person sending out the money thinks all along that they’re playing cat and mouse with Whitney. They’re the cat, he’s the mouse. He’s hiding, getting ready to run.”

  “Only Luther didn’t mention the fact that he was into role reversal. That he was the cat and they were the mouse.”

  “And that tracer would eventually lead right to the bad guys, probably no matter how many shields you put up, if they thought to put up any at all. Every wire in this country has to go through the Federal Reserve. You get the wire reference number from the Fed or the sending bank’s wire room, you got something to hang your hat on. Even if Whitney didn’t trace it back, the fact that he received the money, a certain amount, is damaging enough. If he could give that info to the cops with the name of the sender and they check it out . . .”

  Jack finished the detective’s thought. “And suddenly the unbelievable becomes very believable. Wire transfers do not lie. Money was sent. If it was a lot of money like I’m sure it was here, then that cannot be explained away. That is pretty damn close to bull’s-eye evidence. He set them up with their own payoff.”

  “I just thought of something else, Jack. If Whitney was building a case against these people, then he was eventually planning to go to the police. He was going to just walk in the door and deposit himself and his evidence.”

  Jack nodded. “That’s why he needed me. Only they were quick enough to use Kate as a way to ensure his silence. Later they used a bullet to accomplish that.”

  “So he was going to turn himself in.”


  Frank rubbed his jaw. “You know what I’m thinking?”

  Jack answered immediately. “He saw it coming.” The two men looked at each other.

  Frank spoke first, the words came out low, almost hushed. “He knew Kate was a setup. And he went anyway. And I thought I was so fucking clever.”

  “Probably figured it was the only way he’d ever get to see her again.”

  “Shit. I know the guy stole for a living, but I gotta tell you, my respect for him grows by the second.”

  “I know what you mean.”

  Frank put the car back in gear and pulled off.

  “Okay, again, where does all this conjecture leave us?”

  Jack shook his head, lay back down. “I’m not sure.”

  “I mean so long as we don’t have a clue as to who it is, I’m not sure what we can do.”

  Jack exploded back up. “But we do have clues.” He sat back as though all his energy had suddenly evaporated after that one thrust. “I just can’t make any sense out of them.”

  The men drove on in silence for a few minutes.

  “Jack, I know this sounds funny coming from a policeman, but I think you might want to start considering getting the hell out of here. You got some bucks saved? Maybe you should retire early.”

  “And what, leave Kate swinging in the wind? If we don’t nail these guys what is she looking at? Ten to fifteen as an accessory? I don’t think so, Seth, not in a million years. They can fry my ass before I let that happen.”

  “You’re right. Sorry I brought it up.”

  As Seth glanced in his mirror the car next to them tried to do a U-turn directly in front of them. Frank hit the brakes and his car spun sideways, crashing into the curb with a bone-crunching impact. The Kansas license plates on the vehicle that had nearly crashed into them quickly disappeared.

  “Stupid tourists. Fucking bastards!” Fra
nk gripped the steering wheel hard, his breath coming in gasps. The shoulder restraint had done its job, but it had dug deeply into his skin. His battered head pounded.

  “Fucking bastard.” Frank yelled again to no one in particular.