Read Compelling Evidence Online

Authors: Steve Martini

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

Compelling Evidence (5 page)

BOOK: Compelling Evidence
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Coop's words beat like a drum in my brain. It is the [email protected] mation that I dreaded. Ben Potter is dead. I struggle to 11" the finality of it‐my first real attempt to assess the dimensions of this loss. Cooper is standing next to me now, waiting for an

"Eli told me," I say. There's a

clumsy introduction. Walker educates Coop benefits of scanning the police bands. "Ahh," says Coop. "What happenedt' I say. The guy with the pager is eyeing me with renewed He's grabbed the gunihead, and the two of them are w. toward us. "Let's walk and talkt' says Coop. "They'll be comin' with the body in a minute. Got to get the van ready."

We head toward the door. Coop and I are arm to arm, trailing along behind. "Too early to know much. If I had to guess," he says, I dropping an octave and several decibels in volume as he ‐;i": approaching camera crew wearily, "maybe suicide."

I'm silent but shake my head. Coop knows what I'm saying. I don't believe it. ‐,Single blast, twelve‐gauge shotgun in the mouth." No sugar coating from George Cooper. "Janitor found him about an hour ago. Can't be sure of anything 'til forensics is done going' over the place." As we walk outside, Coop's Southern accent is thick on the night air. For the first time since Walker broke this nightmare to me, there is confidence in my voice, for there is one thing of which I am certain. "Potter wouldn't commit suicide."

"Nobody's immune to depression."

Coming from Coop, this is a truism. ‐11 knew him," I say. "Trust me. He wouldn't kill himself. He had too much to live for." "Maybe you didn't know him as well as you think," says Coop. "People like that project an image bigger than life itself. Sometimes they have a hard time living up to their own advance billing." He's picking up‐the pace. The guy with the pager and his cameraman are behind us, matching us stride for stride. Coop's voice softens a bit. "I know, right now you can't accept it. Believe me. It's possible. I've seen it too many times."

We've reached the coroner's wagon at the curb. Coop opens the back, dunips his medical case inside, and clears an area for the gurney. "Any chance they'd let me go up?"

"None," he says. "DA's handling this one himself."

"Nelson?"

Coop nods. "The take‐charge kid himself"

"Why all the attention if it's a suicide?" He ignores me like he hasn't heard the question. When he turns he looks directly at me. Cooper knows more than he's saying. "I was supposed to meet him tonight for dinner."

"Potter?" he says. I nod. "He wanted to talk to me."

"What about?"

"Business," I say. It's a little white lie. I have no desire to dredge up memories of Sharon, not here, not now. I'll tell Coop law, when we're alone. "He was headed back to Washington. I was going to take him to the airport."

"When did you talk with him?"

"Last night," I say. Coop looks over my shoulder at Walker. There is movement in the lobby of the Emerald M‐1? rush of television cameras to the glass doors. Four cops ‐ow' interference exit ahead of the chrome gurney, a ‐irfrej =,11 sheet covering the black body bag. Two of Coop's a brisk pace wheeling the gurney down the walkway, the 10;11 it crews in pursuit. The guy behind us with his camera loses .wr and joins the pack.

There's the precision click of mew @.T" collapsible legs go out from under the gurney and the load ‐:ieasily into the back of the dark coroner's wagon. Walker's distracted. Coop pulls me away several feet toward the front of the

"Can you keep it to yourself?" he says. I nod.

"The emel up there with Nelson, two FBI agents. What's going ont'

K' "Ben was in line for an appointment," I say. Coop's stare is intense, the kind that says, "What else. I fulfill his wish. "Supreme Court," I say. He whistles, low and slow, the tune dying on his lips, news settles on him. I can tell that Coop will perform this himself‐and carefully.

"ralia‐Ben's wife‐is she up there?" I ask. "They're looking for her now.

Tryin' to notify her. ITIM!, no answer at the house when the cops called. They sent a car by but there was nobody there."

"I wonder how she'll take it."

Coop's looking at me. I can't tell if I detect.just the est wrinkle of disapproval, like maybe he's heard ‐it:111NM7 about Talia and me. But then he breaks his stare. My sr,44 overreacting. I'm wearing this thing like some psychic letter. It died with Ben. I wonder how Talia will react‐no with more poise than 1. Grace under pressure is her i

"They'll

probably want to talk to you."

"Who?" I ask. "Me cops. "Whyt' "You talked to Potter last night. You had a meeting @f,477', with him tonight. Potter's calendar," he says.

"Likely as olslf name's in it."

He's right. I can expect a visit from the police. Coop's gaze fixes on the minicam crews, one of which on us as we speak. In the inert atmosphere of a city to steep, the attention of these scavengers of electronic is drawn to anything that moves. Ben's body is in the van, and at the moment my conversation with Cooper is the only visual drama available. As if we are dancing a slow tango, I maneuver my back to the lens. "Was there a note?" I ask. ,‐Hmm?" He stares at me blankly. ,‐Did Ben leave a suicide note?"

"Not that I know of," he says. There was no note. Of this I can be sure.

A suicide note is not something the cops withhold from their medical examiner. "I assume there'll be an autopsy." 'lob yes." He says it with the seriousness of a village pastor asked if the damned go to hell. He looks at his watch. "It's gonna be a long night."

He moves around die front of the van. One of his assistants is in the driver's seat. The other's playing tailgunner, keeping the cameras away from the back of the vehicle. "Coop." He looks at me. "Thanks."

He waves a hand in the air, like it's nothing, just a little information to a friend. "Eli. I'll take you back now."

A camera light flashes on. The wrinkled back of my suit coat is memorialized. It will fill at least a few seconds of Eye on Fivethat grafting of entertainment and journalism that passes for news on the tube. As Walker heads for the car, I stand alone on the sidewalk gazing after the coroner's wagon, its amber lights receding into the night. In my mind I begin to conjure what possible motive could exist for a man the likes of Ben Potter to take his own life, his career on the ascent.

I am left with a single disquieting thought, that despite what Cooper says, this was not a suicide.

CHAPTER 4.

WE been dogging Harry Hinds for a

block, and I finally catch im at the light across from the courthouse.

Harry turns to see me. A grim expression. "I'm sorry," he says, I "about Potter." Harry's looking at the large puffed ovals under my eyes. I've spent a sleepless night thinking about Ben. The papers are filled with it this morning. The vending machines on the street are blaring large pictures of Potter in a happier timebanner headlines and little news.

The presses were locked up when it happened. This was the best they could do. "You look like shit," he says. This is Harry Hinds, undiluted, straightforward. I give him a shrug. "What drags you out at this early hour?" he says. "A pretrial with 'the Coconut,' " I tell him. Harry, it seems, is praying for a few dark courtrooms this day, banking on a shortage of judges to avoid a drunk‐driving trial, a case in which he has no plausible defense. To Harry it is just another challenge. The light changes. We cross the street and sidle up the steps 17 the modem bronze statue centered in the reflecting pool. L, fountain has long since ceased to work, the funding for its repairs no doubt siphoned by the county's board of supes for some *14;4o, social program. Some art aficionado has hung a [email protected]@ C;idboard sip, written in Magic Marker, from the twisted SPEED KRIS bell‐shaped briefcase‐weighted down with reference books and fraved pages filled with familiar case citations‐bouncing off his hasty departure from Potter, Skarpellos. But my return to the SWI, I I them. While for three years I denied it roundly to those who were sufficiently intimate to make the suggestion, I had in fact grown bored with the stuff of which corporate businesslaw is made, even the white‐collar-crime variety to which the firm

turned my Wents. Though my solo practice may have limited horizons, given A A .. *11 t. ‐19 1: 1I'll_ as always, is to ferret out those with the ability to pay, and to get it, as they say, "up front."

The Capitol County courthouse isn't old, but in recent years nected by neoprene‐covered ropes, all designed to funnel the public through a maze of metal detectors and conveyor‐fed security MMICIPAL COURT‐TRAFFIC

DIVISION. The queue undulates like deep hibernation. In all, the place has the charm of a bus depot 17 rush hour. ing. He is pursued by his casually clad client, a young black N., of billowing dark water around the soft features of her Large round eyes sparkle with an azure incandescence. She wears a silk dress that clings to the contours of a body that shame a cover girl. Tasteful gold earrings and a matching provide a touch of elegance. And always the saucy pursed an enigmatic smile, as if she is privy to the ultimate on the human condition‐a level of self‐reliance who has attained the mere age of twenty‐six years. Even in her language, here in the confidence of her rf in her choice of words and diction, the carefully of sophistication is preserved‐‐the mock accent, not queen's English, but close. It's an affectation to attract an crust clientele. "And what can we expect today?" she asks. You we're on some social outing, as if I'm part of the set about to introduce her to Lady Di.

[email protected] Susan Hawley is a call girl‐not a mere hooker, a irm‐ 7.1" the kind of woman who looks like death on a soda "erw 41 needle tracks on her arms and puncture wounds between J,.4' She is better read than 1, at least when it comes to the local part of her stock‐in‐trade, the ability to talk intelligently knowingly as prominent names are dropped during I parties. Susan Hawley, I suspect, is a woman much in in the rarefied zone of political nightlife in this city. X4 ultimate ornanient to be hung from the arm of i nt mporta ... figures or captains of industry during quiet d OX'IT o=l‐ MUN # commercial dealings, hundred‐dollar bills appear in 6T0076 quantity in her purse the morning after, like fishes and 17f the basket after the Sermon on the Mount. She's waiting for an answer to her question. A "I go in and talk to the judge. Find out what the DA offer. Whether they're willing to deal."

I will keep Hawley outside the courtroom as long as away from the prying eyes and off‐color jokes of the I are lined up waiting to have their cases heard by the in pretrial. It is a kind of Turkish bazaar where defense attorneys convene before the local pasha, in this 7 judge of the superior,court, to haggle over the price and ‐11, justice‐to settle their cases short of a trial, if it is

"I may be in there awhile. I

think it'll be better if you vi. here in the corridor. I'll call you if we need to talk Her look suddenly turns hard, businesslike. "I'm not going down on this thing. You do them to dismiss it." Her words are clipped and cool, tw;4w"@ : Her voice carries the resolve of a bank president. It's an absurd request. Still, she's serious. I laugh, not mocking her, but in amusement. Hawley has been netted by an undercover officer posing as a wealthy out‐of‐town business mogul; he used a wire to tape‐record their negotiations. The case contains not even the remotest hint of entrapment in the sparse dialogue captured on the vice detail's tape. In an ‐unmistakable voice, she quotes a $1,000 fee for an array of professional services unheralded in the Kama Sutra. She was arrested two minutes later. "Susan. I've told you before, I'm an attorney not a magician. There are no guarantees or quick fixes in this business."

"Talk to the judge," she says. "He will understand. I'm not entering a plea." She turns away from me as if it is her final word on the subject.

"Listen to me." I muster authority in my tone, a little exercise in client control. "I think we can get the felony charges dropped, if not today, then later before trial. But they're not going to let you walk.

You may as well get that out of your mind right now."

It's the first rule of law practice, never oversell a client. Rising expectations have a habit of feeding upon themselves. She snaps her head back toward me. "No way. I mean it. I'm not taking the fall on this thing. Talk to the judge." She bites these last words off. For the first time the polite veneer and polish are gone. This is how it would be, I sense, if a client were to demand a refund from this lady of business.

She composes herself. "Tell hinf'‐she clears her throat and looks me straight in the eye‐ "tell him that you want it dismissed, that I want it dismissed. Do you understand? It's very simple." Her eyes are filled with fire. These aren't words of idle expectation. Still, I have no legal basis for such a demand. I assure her that no deal can be cut without her final approval. We haggle for seveml minutes and finally she accepts this. lbough she warns me that she will go to,trial on anything less than an outright dismissal. We will see. I rise and begin to move toward the courtroom.. A scruffy character with a three‐day growth of beard, wearing frayed blue jeans and a tanktop, shuffles down the corridor behind his lawyer. The man's attorney pauses to check the calendar iinned on the bulletin board outside the courtroom. His client rtudies Hawley with @ a sleepy, lustful gaze as he scratches the lead of a blue dragon emblazoned by tattoo on his upper arm. If it were physically sible, @? pos I would attest to the fact at *9 waves of rancorous odor rising from his body. His fin er [email protected] from his arm to reach the latest itch through a hole in 1W of his jeans. As for Hawley, she is oblivious to the man's wandering All wonder if she is merely desensitized to years of male leering 2 it is simply that the favors of Susan Hawley are without [email protected] beyond the price of this scurvy soul.

Armando Acosta, judge of the superior court, studies the on his desk.

The premature bald circle on the back of his shines through threads of fine straight black hair like the MM' of some medieval mbnk. He looks up, peering over 117116;@ spectacles. For the first time since taking this case, I'm convinced that I'll have to go to trial to defend Susan I M. confronted not only by the intransigence of my client but V. presence of Jimmy Lama in the judge's chambers. He has Al Gibbs, the young deputy DA assigned to the case. It Lama is a thirty‐year veteran of the police force, I rank as a sergeant doesn't indicate this. He represents Al thing objectionable in the overbearing, badge‐heavy COP. been successfully defended three times, though only I I knows how, on charges of excessive force and brutali . 46 time his collar earned forty‐three stitches performing through a plate‐glass display window. According to r‐Moi fifty‐six‐year‐old wino dove through the glass, unaided, effort to escape. Acosta looks up, impatience written in his eyes. "Please men, don't all speak at once." The insistent tone in [email protected] is scrupulously refined by years of practiced judicial ‐i I (41tl" I talk before Gibbs can open his mouth. "It's a ‐,' overcharging, Your Honor. The DA's trying to bootstrap 1* into a felony on some thin theory of pimping and 0 Under the law, a prostitute offering her services on the it chargeable with a misdemeanor, but her pimp can be,@[email protected] state prison on felony charges. They are trying to nail a half‐baked assumption that she not only sold herself, but for another woman. Gibbs sits fidgeting in his chair, waiting politely for Toli as if he's at high tea. I know him; he has a good mi fire in the belly. Acosta's impatience grows and finally he stares openly ‐Md you come here for a purpose, counsel, or are we assembled for Your entertainment?"

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