Read Compelling Evidence Online

Authors: Steve Martini

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

Compelling Evidence (7 page)

BOOK: Compelling Evidence

tell 'im what you lawyers always say when you sell a property. I'll tell him I was busy 'conveying a little fee @1, She bent at the waist, her back arched, flattening her it.!' the stool, and gazed lustfully at me over her shou r an the tight globes of her buttocks in a pert wiggle for my and then did that schoolgirl giggle she does so well. In her words and‐antics there was a distinct fragrance. F not place it at the time, but in retrospect I can now *6 [email protected]' with clear precision. It was the aroma of my career _tqlq,' smoke. , It was one of Talia's less endearing qualities, i I i penchant to face life and a of its drama with unfaltering .,i She could never fathom that I am of that vast generation re'le the drug of choice is now Maalox. "This is serious," I say. "What are you going to tell ‐ She had straightened up, arching her back, the fingers hand feathering the fringe of lace at the crease of her 1"T., nether‐part was at full attention, under the sheet. "You know, you really are an

"A' type," she said. ‐"Excuse met' "An

"A' type

personality. A lot of undirected hostility, 41, less time urgency‐the whole nine yards." She'd been jargon like kindling from her analyst again. "You weren't complaining five minutes ago. She turned, looked at me, and smiled. "Can I help it ‐lit a good, compulsive fuck?" She didn't laugh, for there Vi‐[email protected]' truth to this, but she did show a lot of flashing =FW7PTS of whiteness against her country‐club tan. In the months that I had known her, she carried me to of erotic excitement that 1, in the early throes of s‐if6r‐U', had never before experienced.

Dealing with Talia was a @,:


ON MY way to the University Club I pass Saint Ann's, the place of Ben's funeral. It's a Greco‐Roman edifice that in any other setting might inspire respect if not awe. Herr, it is merely an architectural redundancy, dwarfed by the copper‐domed state capitol with its white cupola and golden sphere scarcely a block to the south. I set a brisk pace along the mall, which on this noon crawls with busy bureaucrats, scurrying secretaries, and loquacious lobbyists all moving like maggots on the remains of some half‐devoured meal. By evening, the

"IC' Street

Mall will be given over to its other occupants, an assortment of vagrants, winos, and the scattered homeless. They will wander through the city center on an aimless sojourn between the squalid liquor stores of

"T' Street and meals at the rescue mission a dozen blocks to the north..1 burrow into the standing crowd stalled at the signalized intersection on Tenth Street. A panhandler works the captive audience at the light with the fluidity of a maestro, his quarry driven by an uneasy embarrassment to a state of feigned inattention. The light changes, The crowd moves, and the beggar drifts off under the shadowed awning to the littered doorway of the five‐and‐dime to await the OCXT, inevitable cycle of traffic. The University Club is housed in a majestic white Victorian. Built as a residence for a railroad magnate during the last century, the structure has served over the years as a private home for wayward girls, a restaurant, and more recently, a funeral parlor. U was rescued from the wrecker's ball two years ago by the University Club and its board of directors, and now 1 4 , regular meetings of a raft of civic organizations )ITOT4 I Capitol City Bar Association. Attendance at the bar's is practically mandatory, an opportunity to rub shoulders vinf'@ judges and glean referrals from other attorneys. It's a packed house, standing room only in the @.‐i'mPMMT parlor that now serves as the bar. I wedge my way 17r%17 crowd, a half‐dozen drink tickets in hand. ‐N, There's a little elbowing and jockeying for position. I "'?

and retreat from the bar, a drink in each hand, to settle I,' cushioned club chair in the lounge. "Missed ya at the funeral."

It's a gravelly voice. I look up. Skarpellos was Ben's partner, and for all purposes now im‐, inherit Potter's influence, the balance of sway in the firm. 1 :"Tony, how are you?"

"Didn't see you there, the funeral,"

he says. :"How could you miss me in that sea of humanity?" I *[email protected], "Ah."

He nods. "How you holding up?" I ask. Peachy," he says. "Just peachy. My partner blows his out, reporters and cops crawling' all over the office for a and this morning I get a call from this asshole in New He's with the news, one of the networks. They're [email protected]' the deep scoop, you know, the novel approach.‐ The ‐st angle. Sure‐shot nominee to the Supreme Court kills What an asshole." Skarpellos repeats the charge, this mr, added conviction. "First question out of the box: "How feel about it all?' I tell him, "Well, hell, except for the 7' little bits of gray shit all over the ceiling in the office, [email protected] bad at all.' Sonofabitch,"

he says. In the images of this crude narrative, my mind im‐ I milli, thought that with Ben's death the firm of Potter, I 1i lost more than its driving force. It is without question vast measure of style.

Skarpellos comes around to the front of my chair his hands in typical southern European fashion. His M.,_f head is etched with deep furrows lost in a perpetual wears an expensive worsted pinstripe suit, artfully W give the illusion of a trim torso. Skarpellos's wardrobe meticulous, proportioned to maximize every inch Of .77 a half feet of stature. Lifts in the heels of his 4767R, 1 wonder where he's left his entourage, for Tony is seldor'n seen alone. Invariably he trails a wake of indentured subordinates, young lawyers on the move, whose sole mission with the firm, it seems, is the palpitation of the Greek's ego. Fate shined on me, for Ben spared me this duty during my time with the firm. Without asking, Skarpellos drops his body into the chair across from mine. Tony played Eliza to Potter's ffiggins through most of his career. The son of immigrants, he's a proud man, and in his eyes at least, he has clawed his way to the top‐on his own. He's a natural glad‐hander, more adept in the political arena than in a courtroom. It was, in fact his abilities and influence with parochial governing boards, planning departments, and the myriad city councils in the area that from the beginning secured his place with the firm. Tony has the Nfidas touch when it comes to real estate. For the right fee he can produce zoning variances like the poor propagate children. We pass a few pleasantries; it's an awkward context for small talk. There are the obvious regrets, the universal human emotion following any suicide ‐‐‐ some expressions of self‐recrimination for what we might have done to prevent it For his part, it soon becomes a litany of reminiscences‐‐nostalgic tales of him and Ben as young men struggling in the jungle of a provincial and crude local judicial system to carve out civilization. He stops in mid‐sentence, looks at me as if some matter of high consequence has just crawled in from the subconscious. "What the hell happened between the two of you, anyway?

One day you're there and the next you're history."

It is as I expected. Ben kept his own counsel in the matter of ray affair with Talia. True to form, he was a man much possessed of appearances, and pride. In the eyes of his closest confidants, my departure from the firm continues to be viewed as the result of some falling‐out over an obscure matter of business. "It was between the two of us," I say. "One of those things that happens sometimes between friends."

"You make it sound like you were pokin' his wife." He laughs, turns, and snaps his fingers for a drink. For an instant I think that he's been talking to an oracle. no waitress is on us before'he can L‐11 [email protected]' my eyes. finally turns to face me again, his expression is a vacant smile.

I I I I special talent for clairvoyance. me buy ya a driw' he says. "Got two already." I hold up a full glass. He orders a double bourbon and returns to the subjec firm and my leaving. I make a mental note to use a line if asked the reasons for my departure from the fire future. As it turns out, Cooper was right. Two days after our c tion at the Emerald Tower I was visited by the cops, a q agent in tow. They asked me about my conversation wi at Wong's. I bit my tongue and lied, a little white omis *" s' them of his disclosure to me, the fact that he was destinec court. I left out our heart‐to‐heart about Talia. They final it. They wanted to know why I left the firm. Any disa hard feelings between Potter and me? I denied it roun capped our conversation with Ben's offer to have me serv trustee of the Sharon Cooper memorial fund. This was so they could check with the law school, a little corro lasted less than ten minutes. They seemed satisfied as

"What the hell was it? You guys

argue over a case or so says Skarpellos. "Something," I say. "You know, you should've come to me."

"Why's thatt' "I had a good amount of influence with Ben. He me. I say nothing but our eyes meet, and this time he mind. "No, it's true. Ben did respect my judgment."

I wonder what the Greek's been smoking. "We'd been together too long not to have developed degree of mutual respect," he says. I remove the smirk from my face, turn serious, but ing. "There was no reason to lose talent like yours. I'll bet I patched it up between the two of you."

"Well," I say. "One thing's for sure."

"What's thatt' "We'll never know now, will wet' "Mat's true," he says.

"Ain't that the truth."

There's a translucent quality in his eyes. I can sense searching for something lyrical, a little poignancy to be bered later, repeated to others, a message from Ben's the world. Verse dies on his lips as the waiter arrives drink. He takes the glass, and by the time he looks back he's forgotten what it was he was searching for, "Been meanin' to call ya," he says. "Somethin' we need to talk aww", I look at him‐‐a question mark. "It's a little delicate," he says. This has never stopped Skarpellos, I think. "You got a client‐the Hawley girl?" i nod, wondering what interest he could have in Susan Hawley. "A good piece of tail, from what I've heard." He gnaws on a little ice. "What's your interest?"

"Got a client in a little pickle‐a little trouble," he says. If Tony's client knows Hawley, it's more likely that his pickle got him in that trouble. "Maybe this Hawley broad can help," he says. "In what way?"

"Can't talk here," he says. "Maybe my office in a few days. I'm in a good position to deal. Make it worth your while."

This is Tony's idea of lawyering, a quick deal, no ethics asked. "What's it about?"

He waves me off with the back of the hand holding his drink. "Harold Stone," he says. He nods back over my shoulder. "Do you know Justice Stone?"

I shake my head. "A prince," he says. "Absolute prince. I'll introduce ya." Oh joy, I think. Skarpellos hoists himself out of the chair. "Tony Skar‐pell‐‐[email protected]" The name emanates from a grating bellows of a voice.

Like molten phlegm from Vesuvius, it erupts behind me. Skarpellos is motioning me to my feet. I rise and turn, "Harold, it's good to see you again." This is the stuff the Greek fives for, prattle on a first‐name basis with the judicial brass. Stone is an immense man of awkward proportions, a face 40minated by sagging, fleshy jowls. Threadlike veins seem to ftpt at the surface of loose flesh that wallows like waves on his [email protected] as he speaks. expression suddenly turns moribund. It's an easy transition. [email protected] "My sympathies, Tony. You have the condolences of our entire For a moment Skarpellos looks down at Stone's hand :koi wonder if he's about to kiss his ring finger. Then I realize ; the Greek's just buying time, the hard, again at a loss for vic', this time with a more influential audience. "He was a great man, Harold."

Skarpellos sucks a little *ij and completes the thought. "It will be many years, if ever, this town sees his likes again." He delivers the lines as it have just peeled the words from some mystical idiot b Their voices drop deeper, to the diaphragm, as private ‐ ‐7f' is exchanged. I begin to feel like the proverbial potte standing here. Finally Skarpellos looks over at me. "Harold, I'd like you to meet someone. Paul Madriani. used to be with the firm."

A limp hand comes out to meet mine and I get the by Stone. He's keyed on that all‐important phrase‐"I 7',' be." There's a quick, pained smile, and he returns his iwit, attention to Skarpellos. "Paul, I think we should talk again, when I have more

"Excuse me?"

"Not now, later at my office." Skarpellos has turned [email protected]@ an unwitting stand‐in, an understudy for the usual cadre s) eunuchs that the Greek has somehow managed to i4i*@ little show for jurist. Stone waits for me to be dismissed. "Call my office for an appointment, next week. more time to discuss the thing then, the thing with your Standing here with nowhere to go, I have but a i)w_ on my mind‐‐‐@"What an asshole."

"I'll have to check my calendar. It's pretty full next

"Well, make

time." It's the imperial Greek command. before I can say anything, putting distance between in tow. "I'll see what I can do." My words are delivered A‐M, nape of his neck as he walks away. 1 move away, abandoning a full drink on the'table M4tr the price of salvaging a little pride, of saying

"I Vf'. anyway." For the first time I realize that perhaps 1A from Potter, Skarpellos was preordained, for even ha my affair with Talia, pride would surely never have to weather Ben's death and the compulsory primping of Tony Skarpellos, the price of all success in the firm passing. It is, after all, a considerable consolation. VE

picked the Golden Delicious from the tree behind the house, a, whole bag, and brought them with me, a kind of peace offering for my regular visitation at Nikki's. Sarah, my three‐year‐old, is standing on a chair at the countertop by the sink, turning the crank on the little apple peeler. She is an endless litany of "whys?"‐‐"Why is the apple roundt'

"Why is it yellowt' "Why does it have seeds?"

I tell her the ultimate imponderable‐‐‐‐@"Because God made it that way."

She says, "Why?" I catch Nikki looking at me from the sink. It's in moments like this, though increasingly when I'm alone in the big house, that the pain is greatest. The realization settles in that Sarah, this oblivious, energized innocence will never have a childhood like my own, two loving parents together with her. My daughter is rapidly becoming the product of a broken home. "I have to go to the store for a few minutes. I may not be here when you two get back." There's an edge to Nikki's voice. Watching Sarah and me, she's caught herself teetering on the Precipice of happiness in my presence. But my wife is nothing @.,#

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