Read Compelling Evidence Online

Authors: Steve Martini

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

Compelling Evidence (8 page)

BOOK: Compelling Evidence
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not resilient. Quickly she recovers her balance and is again the jimage, the very soul, of indifference. Jj' "I was just going to take her to the park. I thought you might I‐MIT to come along. We could have lunch out."

F‐ don't think so." The apathy of her voice is overshadowed 10fly by the aloof language of her body huddled over the sink, her M*k to me. "The two of you should have some time alone."

to see the signs. Still, I am sure in the deep recesses of my soul that had I known, it would not have changed the ultimate result. "I'm sorry about Ben Potter. I know you'll miss him a great deal," It's delivered with meaning. But I'm reminded of Clarence Darrow, who admitted that while he never wished for the death of another man, there had been a few obituaries he had read with some pleasure. I think that Ben's passing is such an event for Nikki. "The two of you spent a lot of time together,"

she, says. More time, she means, than I spent with her. Nikki still does not know the reason for my abrupt departure from Potter, Skarpellos.

Whether she doesn't care, or simply hasn't mustered the brass to ask, Tv'e yet to discern. She is packing a considerable burden of pain these days, masked by a cool indifference that I know is only skin deep. With our separation I have finally come to concede, at least in my own mind, that I had relegated my family, Nikki and Sarah, to some secondary place in my life. Nikki could not win in this war with my career, and she has always taken that as her own special failing in life. "The firm was a busy place. It's the nature of law practice."

"I know. But if it means anything, I just think that he appreciated the fact that you never let him down." She locks on my eyes for a fleetitig instant, reading the pupils like tea leaves. "All those long hours, briefs to write, prepping for trials into the early hours of the morning. Whenever be called, you were there. It was a little more than just work," she says. "It mattered what he thought of you. It mattered to you. That was important."

She's tight. I'd come to realize too late that a single psychic

"attaboy" from Ben was worth any endless number of long hours locked in the mental drudgery of the fluorescent cave that was my office at P&S.

For at least forty of his sixty years Potter was a human dynamo, the closest thing to perpetual energy this side of the sun. He worked seven days a week. In addition to his law practice and academic pursuits, he served on a dozen government and private panels. He was the penulfirnate blue‐ribbon commissiober. Work was his life. It was his addiction.

Perhaps it was because of this that Nikki never trusted him, nor for that matter liked him much. He had made particular efforts to be gracious in her company. But for some unstated reason she 'treated these gestures with the skepticism one might reserve for alchemy. I knew almost from the beginning that my marriage ‐.wlk my continued association with Ben were relationships , M‐R to produce friction‐that one would ultimately devour the 01 I suppose I also knew which was likely to fall victim, for 1', contracted the disease of my mentor. I'd become afflicted

"X1 a compulsive and purposeless need for work. That is what iw,7711 our marriage. "Your work was important to you:' she says.

Nikki's T‐le making justifications for me. I leave it alone, let it stand, as a truism. "What about her?" asks Nikki. "Who?"

"Ben's wife‐what's her name‐Tricia?" 1 pause for an instant, as if I have to search the dark of my memory for the name of some fleeting acquaintance. "Talia," I say. "That's right, Talia. How's Talia doingt'

"I haven't seen her. I don't know. I suppose she'll cope."

"Yes, I

suppose," says Nikki. I can't believe we're having this conversation.

"What will happen with the firm now?" Nikki speaks while mops the countertop. "I don't know. I suppose it will go on." A, "The papers are treating the whole thing with a lot of TAT*i ‐It' Ben's death and all,"

she says. "A lot of speculation 7, "Newspapers always speculate. That's their job:' I say. "It could be embarrassing for her."

"What do you mean?"

"Talia. The suicide, all the controversy, you know. It w‐ic pleasant."

4 "I suppose."

"Has she offered to give you any help?"

""What?"

"Talia. Has she offered to help you get back in vjpil firm?"

I am psychical ly coldcocked. But I do not slammer. the farce to its conclusion, almost as a reflex. "What llpir.‐t think I want to go back to the firm? Why would she viwil'"' involved?"

Nikki turns from the sink and gives me a look, a MST dogshit?"

expression. She knows about Talia and me. It' in the smirk that envelops her mouth. I am certain that : has crept across my face. it pains me that she may know only half rrqi; ",A I are no longer an item. IBUT I can't bring myself to say it. i take no chances. I avoid confrontation on the point. I . I biting sarcasm. "Well, we'd better be hitting the road." I have suddenly lost I‐MAD my desire ‐‐ 5 Sarah off her feet and balance her on MY shoulder‐ "Be careful of her." last‐minute

"What?" I

turn to look at Nikki, waiting for some motherly admonition. She has dropped the sponge into the sink and now stands staring directly at me.

"watch yourself. She's not to be trusted!

I mahze that Nikki ‐morning sojourns to the park with MY daughter do My Saturday ‐ the ladder and down the slide I one of many luxuries now gone, 1.4, [email protected] SUPPOI L W or six trips up and rmflutes on the swings, fiv and then It S LV I usher Sarah out Of the playground and close the Cyclone gate to keep the other little inmates from escaping. As I turn, I see her. "Damn it."

Sarah's wandered off the concrete and is up to her ankles in ;pawned by a leaking sprinkler head. mud, an adventure S I [email protected] I Our . r, Her legs and lower torso am a thousand points of mud, courtesy of the hydraulics of two stamping little feet. '@‐I told you once, Madriani, a long time ago, a little sow, light, a little less heat. You'll live longer."

It's a voice from the past, lost in the tangle of a tow t I crane my neck. There, behind the plant, I see a ghos sea 14 a bench; he has a familiar smile, but the face is pale d "'1; Marginally recognizable, Sam Jennings, the man ww hire a dozen years ago to be a prosecutor in this county, s me, a twinkle in his eye. He rises from the bench. "Good to see you again, Paul. Yours?" He nods toward

"Yes. Her condition by now

is hopeless. She has smeared the oiv" on her upper legs with her hands.

"How old?" he asks. "And a half," Sarah chimes in, holding up three fingers. Jennings laughs. He stoops low to look her in the eyes. "I ‐c:@

had little girls just about your age."

Sarah is all round eyes. "What happened to diemt' "They grew up."

I've missed this man greatly since leaving his fold and a [email protected] Potter, Skarpellos. I have on more than one occasion since "@ ouster from the firm considered calling him, but have 16"MTF better of delivering my problems to the doorstep of a sick When he called to ask me to attend Danley's execution in place, I knew how ill he really was. Sun isn't the kind to people to do something he's unwilling to do himself His skin has the pallor of paraffin. Radiation and the vvv of chemistry have taken their toll. I tower over this man [email protected] once my equal in physical stature. He is stooped and like straw following a rainstorm. A condition, I suspect ‐i4ortr*' not so much by the cancer that invades his body as 7 clinical horrors that pass for a cure. It is, by all [email protected]@ a losing battle. an ho look Our eyes follow Sarah, whose attention has been ei,twiw"

" LAL. a gray squirrel making for one of the trees. Her hopeless. I let her go. I will simply have to absorb Wl, tongue‐lashing later. I Sam Jennings is, by nature, an affable man. His ‐rswoinm" has all the appearances of a face well stamped from birth .vr' abiding smile. But there are those who learned too late that spect of his character that belies an acquired predatory sense. in his thirty years as chief prosecutor for this county and in early decades of his tenure, Samuel Jennings, for crimes well ‐rved, sent a half‐dozen men to their final peace in the state's chamber. See any of the old crowd?" I ask. I suppose that's one of the benefits of leaving voluntarily ead of getting your ass kicked in an election. You can stop he office every once in a while. Even so," he says, "Nelson n't exactly roll out the red carpet."

What's the problemt' Who knows. Maybe he thinks my being there is going to ip his management style. Hell, look at me. What's he think, gonna run against him?" Aaybe he thinks you might plant the idea elsewhere," I say. ybe with one of his deputies." Who, met' he says. There's a lot of feigned innocence here. tell that this scenario is not original with me, unless I've ‐ead the twinkle in his eye. He's probably been solicited for ndorsement. I wonder who in the office it is, who will be ered to step out on the ledge with Nelson on election day, to to nudge him off.

Nelson was appointed to fill the vacancy when Sam refired. Now he has to earn his spurs in the next tion. 4ow's it going with you? The solo practice and all?" make a face. "Enjoying it enough. Now ask me if I'm making money." doney's not everything." He smiles. Phis from a man with a fat county pension." (ou could've stayed there. Didn't have to go chasing the )ow," he says. Imm. Not a very happy place right now. Not from what ar. 11 4aybe a little more political than when I was there."

iow who's minimizing things?" I say. e laughs. "No worse than some firms I could mention." there's an instant of uncomfortable silence as he eyes me, lookfor some sign, a hint of willingness to talk, some revelation the causes for my departure from the firm. He comes up ty. the of life's true tragedies," says Jennings. "Ben Potter. Guy a veritable Mr for success. Would've put this town on the national map, his appointment to the court."

"I suppose."

National life goes on. The papers had it that ow , i ing. The President had made another nomination to the court. 1, administration's playing it coy, refusing io confirm that it ML offered the position to Ben. I try to kill the subject with silence. Jennings has never Ism M.. my move to the firm. Like Plato, he defines ultimate * LIU; as each man's finding his proper niche in life. And from 7 beginning, he never believed that I would fit in with 077Skarpellos. "It's hard to figure," he says.

4 "What's thatt' "Why anybody would want to kill him."

I look at Sam Jennings, this paragon of sober intelligence, stony silence. I know his words are not the product of some that has missed its mark. "What are you talking about?"

"People if I Nelson's shop tell me they're getting vibes, thing strange about the whole thing from the cops. Not the stuff following a suicide."

"Like whatt' "Seems Potter's office and an elevator down the hall have taped off for more than a week now. Forensics has been *iw', there."

"Probably just being careful," I say. "Me feds are

"You think that's it,

a little bureaucratic rivahyt' I make a face, like

"Who knows?"

"I don't think so," he says. Jennings has a shit‐eating grin.': kind that says he has inside information. If

"The service elevator on

Potter's floor." He looks at me &17;sure I'm following his drift. "It's been sealed by the cops of commission for almost a week. The janitors and Mfflvt1wyo""are raising hell, I'm told. I think the cops are reading wo)t tea leaves or the entrails of a goat."

A I make another face. I'm waiting for the punch line. It be the first time Capitol City's finest have wasted dollars shadow‐boxing with illusions. "If Potter killed himself in his office, I can understand tit) his desk, vacuuming his carpet. But why the elevator?" ‐4 I give him my best you‐tell‐me expression. "Conventional wisdom has it," he says, "he didn't."

"Didn't what?"

CHAPTER 7.

TO find George Cooper on this Monday morning I have to rawl like a mole under the dismal seven‐story county jail. Built to house a thousand trusties and inmates, it now overflows with 2,500, the best of whom are furloughed during the day on work‐release programs and pressed like dehydrated fruit back into overcrowded cells at night. The metal monolith is a monument to the bankruptcy of modem government. The building's facade presents the incongruous appearance of cheerful orange metal panels more appropriate to a day‐care center. The roof is enclosed behind Cyclone fencing topped by razor‐sharp rolls of concertina wire, sealing off the sky‐high exercise yard and preventing possible escape.

Given the office's low status on the law enforcement pecking order, it's the best the county coroner can do. Stiffs don't rate high as a voting constituency with the county supes at budget fune. So in a cavern originally designed for parking under the jail, Cooper and his seven companions toil beneath the ground in the blistering heat of summer and through the dank oppression of winter's tule fog. He sits staring at me.

Fluids of unknown human origin streak his neoprene apron, for by nine in the morning he's been hard at it for more than an hour. Genuine concern registers in his eyes, for George Cooper doesn't like to say no to a friend. "I'd like to help you out, Paul. I think you know that. But On this thing Nelson's got the lid on‐‐‐tight as a drum." George Cooper speaks with a slow Southern drawl, the kind that pulls every vowel in the alphabet over his tongue like cold syrup. : "How's your little girl?" he asks. Dealing with Coop can be frustrating. "She's fine."

"I remember Sharon at that age," he says. "She loved the job, you know.

I guess I never thanked you."

I shake my head but say nothing. In the pit of my stomach I feel a knot beginning to grow. With Ben's death I wonder what

"She would have been a

good lawyer," I say. He nods. There's a glaze of water over his eyes. He wipes I made on Sharon's probate. I've struck out with Feinberg. After listening to his spiel at the University Club, I approached him

"I'm

lookin' for other leads," he says, "in Sharon's death.The accident remains an open matter with the police. Sharon's car had been involved in a single‐vehicle accident, careening off

"She would have survived. I

know it", he says. ‐The fire killed her. Whoever was in the car could have saved her."

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