Read Compelling Evidence Online

Authors: Steve Martini

Tags: #Trials (Murder), #Mystery & Detective, #Legal, #General, #Psychological, #Suspense, #Large type books, #Fiction

Compelling Evidence (3 page)

BOOK: Compelling Evidence
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I nod. He's not looking at me. Then, as he turns slowly in my direction, graceful in his gesmms, I notice anew that Ben Potter is an imposing presence‐a @i.rslni ‐ to Buddha .1 can't begin to describe the pain," he says, The hurt that two of you have caused me.' His voice is not raised in anger. is as if he's reasoning, striving to spread the understanding of thing that has come between us, that has caused his anguish. He doesn't understand this faithlessness, from Talia or me. He begins to move away from the desk, back toward He speaks of his contentment during the first yeaarms of the gratification bred of illusions that youth is a state of that love and fi&lity are not rooted in passion‐This is the is n ]Zs is die le c is Potter I know. The words tripping off his tongue.

11 [email protected] advocate making a case for damages. "I stand here Win; , says,

"stripped of such fantasies."

He is suddenly silent, a for effect. "This thing has taught me that much. Maybe I s be grateful."

He's silent again. Absorbed in thoughti sit clinking the ice in my glass and take a drink. "I want to ask you out question,' he says, ‐and I'd like a ful answer. Tell me. Who made the first move? You or herr I'm nonplussed by the sudden frontal amault. I nearly Wong's couch with scotch. I flood my face with sincerity. "No:' I say. ng this‐what happened between us wasn't planned, R= some conspiracy. We didn't sit down and plot who would the first act. it just happene& We found ourselves together. thing led to another and it happened.' I begin to sound echo, but it's all I can say. "To our‐‐4o my everlasting di it just happened."

He smiles and nods, a gesture of concession‐ '11w diplomw' he says. "A gentleman's response. les I would expect.' He says it like he s already formed an on the subjecl that my response has confirmed some pre held suspicion on the question of who was most at fa tul' disease tw affficts us from law school, the lawyer's pene fix blame, like confession and absolution. "I tell you, Ben, honestly, as truthbulty as I can, it it just happened," I prime my tone with sincerity. For me a valued relationship hangs in the balance. "If I could, you must believe, I would go back and remove the hurt, remove myself from the temptatim"

moment I weigh whether to reveal that it was his own, Ben's own assignment of my services to the legadl Taha7 s real estate ventures ftt provided the opportunity vas, in the final analysis, a matter, of carnal chemistry. But I keep his thought to myself

"I know you would," he says,

"go back and change it if you ould." He smiles. Jt is, at last, a measure of forgiveness. He's weary and showing it. "Enough," he says.

"There isn't tny sense beating it. We won't speak of it again."

He lifts the telephone receiver and orders a drink. it's over as quickly as that. My sigh is almost, palpable, like he perspiration on my forehead. As Ben looks away, I use my ocktail napkin to wipe it. I cannot believe that it is over, that n the brief time in this room with him, with the few words that ave passed between us, I am now back on speaking terms with his man who had been my mentor. Perhaps Ben is in a better nood than I had guessed. He sets the receiver in the cradle and drops one cheek of his iuttocks on the corner of the desk, stretching his arms over his tead he sucks his lungs full of air. "Life's a juggernaut," he says. "No time to think. Lately, it's like I'm caught in a time warp."

He wants to talk, it seems, of happier thoughts. "The nomination?" I ask. "Uh‐huh." He furrows his forehead and smiles. it's clearly deasaiii to be fatigued in pursuit of such a cause. Hewinksatme, alittlesecret. I took the 'red eye' to Washington wo nights ago," he says. "Me final cut." He's talking about the last ound of contenders for the high court.

From their ranks will come he next Supreme Court justice of the United States. He leaves me ianging, waiting for the final word, and instead regales me with lescriptions of the White House, the Lincoln Study,

"intimatepressive," he says. Ffis gaze turns crystalline, distant. He's using s hands to gesture now. I found myself standing next to the sk where Lincoln freed a million slaves." He shakes his head. swear," he says, "you could feel his presence in that place, his t move. In this vignette I find that there is something that truly moves Potter‐the sense of occupying space once held by the Emanlot. To gravitate perceptibly closer to the circle of history, thought that he himself may one day belong, at least in measure, to the ages. These are notions too lofty, dreamred like so much pixie dust, they have never entered my mind. 41 take it it went well?" He makes a face, like

"Read my mind."

For me, knowing Ben as I do, it's not hard. I know in instant, in the twinkle of his eye, that this city is about to one lawyer.

"Congratulations, Ben." I raise my glass. Struggle as he does, Potter can't contain his smile. you." His tone is hushed, almost reverent. "Of course, y keep it to yourself."

"Absolutely. "It wouldn't do to have it splashed all over the wires the President cart make the announcement. 2ey dit,"It ou me me to return hofne‐wanted to make the ar nce n Washington white I was there. I knew what would he says. "I'd never leave the trail of reporters behind. S

investigators looking for dirt in the confirmation hearings, press." He shakes his head vigorously. "Told them I had business to complete before telling the world. A few things. Getting out of there was like pulling teeth."

I wonder whether this business, these "personal things," inv Talia. "The price of farne." I commiserate with him. "The world has a penchant for leaks," he says. "They a1v forty‐eight hours and swore me to a blood oath of silenct, I the 'red eye' back tomorrow night."

As the waiter comes in with his drink, my mind is I thought. It's a measure of Ben's tolerance, his liberal spirit, in this my hour of forgiveness he has seen fit to share the s of his future with me. The waiter leaves. Potter makes small talk. He's not finished. There's so more he wants to discuss, but he's taking his time getting He jokes', about the pending senate confirmation hearings, all the rumors‐stories of a political litinus test for the cou

"It's all crap:' he says. "Don't

you believe any of it. Y back there, the President shakes your hand, they give you thing to drink, and while you're standing on this chair being for your robe, the tailor asks you if life begins with conce We laugh. Like much of Ben's humor, I can never be how large the kernel of truth is in this story. The smile fades from his face. "There is one more he says. "Whaf s that?"

"A favor," he says. "Something you can do for me."

This is Ben at his best, wheeling and dealing, some he wants from me at a time when he knows I cannot say n ‐,It,s the law school, something that I started before all of this came up, before I went back to Washington." There's a lot of gesturing with his hands here, posturing and waving his drink in little circles. "It's nothing much," he says. "A trust fund that requires a new administrator."

I look at him, like

"What does this have to do with me?"

"It's set up in the name of Sharon Cooper," he says. suddenly I understand. Sharon Cooper was twenty‐six when she died, killed in an automobile accident this summer. A second‐year law student, she was working with the‐ firm at the time, after I'd left. I had landed her a part‐time job with P&S when I was still in favor. This was a courtesy to her father. George Cooper is the county's medical examiner. We've been thick, Coop and 1, since,my days with the DA. "The trust fund was something to remember Sharon," he says. "Friends set it up at the law school and asked me if I would administer it, At the time it sounded good. But with all of this ..." Ben shrugs his shoulders and I realize his dilemma. From three thousand miles away and with a full plate of cases on the high court, the last thing he needs are the minutiae of a trust fund. Coop brought Sharon's personal papers to my office the day after her death. He busied himself in the details of arranging her affairs, her funeral, her estate, anything that would serve to avoid the inevitable grieving. When he finally fell into that pit, George Cooper disappeared from the world of normal men for more than a month. But on the day after Sharon died he sat across from me at my desk, entirely composed, a stack of documents carefully sorted and

paper‐clipped‐insurance, taxes, stocks, a considerable portfolio for a young single woman. These were inherited from Sharon's mother, who had died of cancer the year before. Within twenty‐four months Coop had lost both wife and child. In his state of grief, to George Cooper a lawyer was a lawyer, equally adept in administering the property of the dead as in fending off a long term in the joint. So he came to a friend. Unable to say no, I took Coop's papers, opened a file, and undered into the probate courts. Ben looks at me from across the room in a kind of reverie w. "An endowment, a trust, has been established at the law 001

in Sharon's name. A number of people who knew her have contributed," he says. "It's a sizable trust, but we trustee. I thought of you."

This has become an avocation with Ben. A multitude of arships and private grants have been spawned under his @ it hand in the last few ybars, two for deceased partners of several others for departed wheels in the cornmunity. VIM it is any excuse to raise money for the law school, his W charity. This does not diminish Sharon Cooper, in his Aj, mine, but his motivations are clear. He will make positive, even out of the tragic death of this young viowiisw‐ "I'd do it myself," he says.

Ben's talking about being n7, "But Washington's pretty far away. They need someone ‐[email protected] to confer with the dean on expenditures, to administer the in a way she would have approved. You're the natural," he f

"Besides, I think her father would want you to do it." The the linchpin of his pitch. "What can I say?"

"You can say yes."

I shrug a little gratitude toward Ben for the thought, 1074, fidence that accompanies this offer. "Yes." I sense that a slight wrinkle of embarrassment 1T.T. across my face. "Why not," I say, like a giddy adolescent given a prize he never expected. 'rjood!"

He smiles broadly. "We should talk again Me,' leave town, to tie up some of the loose ends on this 11", 7.1 you have plans for tomorrow night?"

"Nothing I can't rearrange."

"Then we'll meet for a late dinner at The Broiler; What say, nine o'clock? We can talk and maybe you can give sst4, out to the airport when we're finished."

"Good," I say. Ben lifts himself off the edge of the desk. Our meeting is "i I rise, and we meet in the center of the room. His 4A brightens like a lantern. He reaches out with his arn swinging gate and slaps a huge hand around the nape neck, a little male bonding, like a father cuffing his son for‐:" errant but minor mischief. And as we head for the door, in hand, my concerns turn to matters mom economic‐to Hinds and my open bar tab. 0 get to my office I use an elevator from before the time of Moses, a contraption with a flexing metal gate that slams, emitlg.‐the fury of a sonic boom. It's like hell's portal closing on its [email protected] Clients who've done time always take the stairs. This lift empties its cargo into a small lobby on the second the first being occupied by a bank with roots in the Gold Mo. The building itself dates to the last century, but has been [email protected] maintained. It has touches of elegance in the moldings and umiq,% The pressed‐tin tiles set into the ceiling, original with ,.g office, are again in demand, used to authenticate the metalt,T#=Trz,. high‐toned restaurants of Fashion Square. I share a two‐room suite down a common ball with Dee, my Mnpi and receptionist, a hire I made on the recommendation a friend to whom I no longer speak. I have learned in my time with Dee to become master of I things electronic: answering machines, copiers, the fax, Mr. most of all the small personal computer which I from her desk to my office when I found her using its [email protected] screen like some mystic high‐tech looking glass, to comb liair and apply makeup. I spend my evenings, before the usual 71# k W i 0, I j [email protected] ‐ @=A ng some blameless way to fire Dee.

secretary is not unattractive, in her early twenties, assertive, and eager. But on an intellectual plane she is heavily (s, hairstyles and panty hose. She excels at clerical foreplay. All 1%& typing paper is stacked'in neat piles. The plastic cylinders Zaf various sizes of paper clips are perpetually fondled like Buddhist prayer wheels, and the desk is endlessly '4osio7 any object that might be out of place. I have learned by experience that anything beyond sealing an envelope or a stamp severely taxes her secretarial skills. She sports ,fingernails longer than claws on a saber‐tooth tiger; from them dangles a minuscule gold chain stretching from the tiny star embedded in the half‐moon, above the ‐1wmrw0W ... as attractive as a bone through the nose. She wears 17M declaration of independence‐it reads: "You really don't me to type."

Y As I enter the office she greets me enthusiastically. morning, boss"‐diis latter to ensure that we both know in charge. The tasks we each perform during the day have to muddy these distinctions. In the inner reaches of r, MY issue a psychic growl like some snarling hound. I respond with a flat, indifferent

"Hello." In recent become increasingly

abrupt in my manner toward her, [email protected] cryptic message that she might look elsewhere for qo,4104,[email protected] But each day when I arrive for work she's there, door like some warm puppy, to greet me. The thought i pull the trigger myself on this coup de grace is not so it waits. "Do me a favor," I say. ure. 4, "Call Susan Hawley and remind her we have avoiliowrim' tomorrow."

I reach into my briefcase and pull out the M, "Then find the points and authorities that I did the AAW put them in the file. When you're done,"

I say, " t PU briefcase." I drop the file onto the center of her desk ponderous plane belly‐flopping on the deck of an ‐[email protected] Before it can bounce she has it in her hands and is Fe place it in one of ‐die file drawers behind her chair. "Done," she says. "Sure," I say as I watch the thing disappear into the of Calcutta. I make a mental note to retrieve it when for lunch. As I enter my office I'm surprised at this hour to comfortably reclining in my swivel chair with his feet my desk, reading a newspaper. Harry is bow ties and silk gauze socks and wing tips, a bulbous nose and iivr# sixty, his career behind him and no signs of retirement ‐1) . log zon, he has a give‐a‐damn attitude that one in my find refreshing. It is perhaps that sine 'e my fall from grace, i;74i I look at Harry I see myself in twenty years. 'just?" I ask. He looks at me over the top of the paper. "Clients needed a [email protected]@ privacy to talk; figured you wouldn't mind." He starts to M: UP. ,‐Stay there," I say.

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