Read Compelling Evidence Online

Authors: Steve Martini

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

Compelling Evidence (9 page)

BOOK: Compelling Evidence

"You don't know that, Coop. Let the cops handle it."

"They're not doing too well right now. They have virtually no leads. I figure anyone walking on that levee road, twenty miles from town, would be seen by someone. Don't you think?"

I nod to humor him. I with dealing drugs to one of his hookers, who had od,ed. had already appeared and been cross‐examined. But the 74 defense now recalled him, a desperate last‐minute fishing 4 '4 "g, tion. He was ordered to appear and to produce his af),V paperswhen Coop arrived at the courthouse, I could sense that 17T171 the thin veneer of professionalism he was seething The vm‐7‐1 had been delivered that morning, followed closely by a call from Andy Shea, a fire‐breathing counsel for the defen mouthpiece of the month among petty junkies and drug i;l Shea, as was his custom, had bullied and berated ="OYT, =7'

staff over the telephone in an effort to coerce compliance with subpoena he hadn't served on time. In the period of three minutes as I counseled Cooper siiim‐M. courtroom, I observed a bizarre metamorphosis overtake the As I raced against the clock to explore the legal issues by the subpoena, Coop appeared distracted. Then a strange came over him. I was gripped by a gnawing fear that 9M‐, delivered to me the scourge of every trial lawyer‐a witness could not _be controlled. Inside, Cooper took the stand. He seated himself two Merriam Watkins, judge of the superior court. Shea ‐‐[email protected], demanded Cooper's working papers. The coroner i*.T6 ‐P the manila envelope he was carrying and handed a =Z, pile of documents to die lawyer. He apologized for the disorganized state of the papers. solicitous. He did everything but rise from his chair and 7,*7.7. the waist. Shea tookthe stack and, shaking his head with disgust, to the counsel table to place the prize in some usable ‐oott Coop turned his soulful eyes toward Judge Watkins up a little Southern humility, and apologized for failin copies for the court. He offered an explanation to the way of making small talk. Shea was too busy shuffling [email protected],i' take heed of the colloquy at the bench. With no objection from Shea, Coop was free to ‐r‐ioill‐IT' rakish grin grew under his dark mustache and just as disappeared behind a blanket of courtly charm. He told the judge how the subpoena had been served 1Y o'clock that morning and how five minutes later Mr. ‐.1r, telephoned the office. With the mention of his name, the attorney looked up from the table for the first time‐it late. Coop was on a roll. He told about Shea's insistence, and asked if he [email protected]@ "IS' rr the, lawyer. By this time the judge's expression was a quizzical niask. She shrugged her shoulders. "Mr. Shea said, and I quote: "If you don't have your fuckin' ass in court by nine o'clock this morning, you'd better be packing a toothbrush, cuz I'll have your worthless, worm‐eaten dickjailed for contempt.' " Two jurors, women in their sixties, nearly slid out of their chairs, The only thing matching the blush on Watkins's face were Shea's ears, which were a perfect hue of crimson as he sat slack‐jawed at the counsel table while Cooper drove the sword all the way home. "Your Honor, I'm at a loss to explain where Mr. Shea learned his anatomy, but I don't think that's any way for an officer of the court to talk to the public servants of this county‐‐do you?"

Watkins stammered, covered a cough with her hand, and after several seconds finally issued what would have to pass for a judicious comment,

' "I think Mr. Shea is properly rebuked," she said. "If you say so, Your Honor." Coup grinned broadly at Shea. the attorney sat like some miser, hoarding a rearn of paper that may as well have been confetti, for the good it would do his client. At Shea's insistence the court later instructed the jury to disregard Coop's testimony concerning Shea's own out‐of‐court blunder. But as Cooper remarked under his breath as he exited the courtroom, "Only when pigs can fly."

An intern, a young kid in a white smock, has entered the room wjtb us.

He hands Coop a clipboard with several forms. Coop quickly scrawls his signature at the bottom of the appropriate form and delivers the clipboard and papers back to the assistant, who leaves the room. "So what gives with Potter?" I ask. "You know better than that. I can't tell you anything. I told you Vi4i; than I should have that night outside his office. I may come to regret it."

I arn a bit stung by his rebuke, the hint that he may not be able [email protected]'4'57t my discretion. Still I press. understand our situation, Coop.

It's just that I hear things. y @1;; tell me that the DA's investigators have been questioning in sight at Potter, Skarpellos. Forensics has been over Place with white gloves a dozen times."

"I hope they did better than this lot." He taps the slides hand. "Victim looks like he's been plowing the back his fingernails."

"What the hell's going on, Coop?" I get more serious, IAV insistent. "If Nelson ever found out we talked outside Potter's oiirmk, night, he'd peel the skin off my dick with a dull knife. Yitik( tell anybody you were coming to see me?"

‐61, "You know me better'than that."

"Thank God for little favors," he says. He walks to a Bunsen burner on a table a few feet thick black goo is bubbling in a clear glass container open flame. Coop lifts the large glass beaker and A%‐A444' substance a bit, replacing it over the burner. I can see that he's troubled. I tell him about my %wiff." with Jennings, the fact that people in the DA's office selves . talking. I hope that this revelation will ease his,. for professional discretion. But whoever cautioned that like sharp tools to be kept from the clutches of 14IM51‐009 was not writing of George Cooper, for he's no child no fool. Coop looks at me with a soulful krin, the kind they're talking7‐‐then it's their sorry collective

"Who did the


I ask. I don't have to wait for a reply. The fact that it is written in his eyes. I just can't believe he killed himself He was my [email protected] and I want to know what happened." #:_ There's a long sigh. "Where are you going with tion?" he asks. "To my grave. You,have my word on it, Coop. Z

1; hear it from me." I take my most sacred,oath and death mask to my expression. I raise my right hand. a word." 0 I can see skepticism in his eyes, the disbelief of toiled in the bureaucracy and who halve heard vqiii before, from cops and reporters, from shattered P M to hear consoling words that their son or 4 on drugs. "We're not finished yet.

Still analyzing a lot L had to take bets, I wouldn't book any of my on suicide."

At this point there's a lot of awkward posturing. Coop wrinkles his nose and begins to peel the surgical gloves from his hands, the first sign that our conversation may be extended. "I want you to understand I can't discuss the particulars."


Concessions are easy when you have nothing to bargain with. "in hypothetical terms?"

"Hypothetical, absolutely."

"Do you know anything

about postmortem blood distribution?"

I shrug. "The human body's got a pretty reliable hydraulic reaction to death. The pump stops, and roughly four quarts of blood settle to the lowest point. In an hour, maybe two, the blood coagulates. Gets trapped in the tissues, the vessels at the lowest point. Gravity takes hold." He says it matter‐of‐factly, like the low of physics it is. "The lividity table," he says. "You remember, it hasn't been that long since you prosecuted a case."

I nod. I see where he's taking me. We're about to play the favorite Swe of the expert witness. In legal parlance it's called "[email protected]‐‐‐an exception to the general rule of evidence that witnesses may not speculate, but can testify only about [email protected] that they have ictually observed, and of which they have firsthand knowledge. law, like most social institutions, has fashioned special rules special people. Doctors and other experts are allowed to apply professional expertise to draw broad conclusions from hypocal situations. A veteran of a thousand trials, Coop is skilled fts diversion from truth‐seeking‐he's a master of the game swearing contest among experts. man who dies seated in a chair‐unless He's strapped to eship on the way to the moon‐ya gotta expect the body to settle in the lower extremities, at very least in the s and posterior of the upper thighs." He makes the last sound like it has a dozen i's in it. "So ..." Coop pauses strike a match to his pipe.

The flame flickers out and he another, strikes it, and cups the bowl with his hands. The Of tobacco, a special aromatic blend, mixes with the smell aldehyde.." He takes several shallow draws on the pipe. "When such a body, seated in a desk chair with what's left of d tilted back against the beadrest, but lividity shows all the fluids have settled evenly along the posterior portion of torso and tegs‐somethin's wrong. The man died layin' and from all appearances stayed flat on his back for some after death."

"Potter was moved after he died?"

Coop nods, dropping the charade of hypotheticals. "It ew,@ 9 abstract from here on."

"Whadda you mean?"

Coop returns to the Bunsen burner and examines the vile Y' fluid that now produces a froth on the surface as it bolls. A e' white foam teaches from this substance to float on the surt He lifts the beaker with a long set of tongs, turns towardt

"Coffee?" he asks. I shake my head, still

looking at the stuff. COOP [email protected] his scenario. "Whoever did it never heard of forensic science. Either they weren't terribly concerned about details."

The expression on my face is a neon question mark. 0 "It wasn't well planned,' says Coop. "I mean, we w this guy's office and find him reclining in a slick leather exm, desk chair with the top of his head gone. There's a tw lk gauge over‐and‐under convincingly on the floor by the a" one round gone. "There were no prints on the gun:' he says.

"Whoever dr,r it there wiped it clean‐not just their own prints but Potter,'@" I can tell ya, a man who's about to do himself sweats t"!

Unless he's the coolest thing since Newman, he's gonna little tracks all over the gun. But not Potter."

I've seen massive head shots before. From Coop's [email protected] can conjure up the image‐what remained of the counten‐ "' had known as Ben Potter. I A

"Iben we find traces of blood‐B‐negative, same type ter's‐in a freight elevator down the hall. Not a lot but er'@, Whoever moved him used that elevator."

"Who owns the piecet' "Potter. Used it for hunting. Gun's an Italian make, [email protected] with lots of tooling‐and expensive."

"Where did he keep it, the'gun?"

"Wife says it was usually in a locked case in Potter's so., their house."

He takes a coffee mug from the shelf, the pipe clinched in his teeth, and pours himself a little of the thick brew ‐ n,[email protected] flows like Arabian crude. He replaces the beaker over, the burner and takes the pipe from his mouth‐brier in one hand and what passes for coffee in the other. "So they're operating on the theory it was a homicidet' Coop makes a face of indifference, tilts his head back, and expels three perfectly formed smoke rings toward the ceiling. He smiles. The Southern warmth breaches the professional veneer, if only for an instant. "That's where the smart money is." He pauses for an instant and takes a sip from the mug. I wait to see if he has to chew the stuff. "There is another school‐anodier theory," he says. I look at him, waiting for this latest. "That Potter died in some compromising situation, either by his own hand‐maybe an accident, somebody else pulled the trigger? Maybe a little passion, another woman involved‐who knows? So you got a prominent lawyer, partner in a powerful law firm. There are reputations to protect. There might be a lot of people who would move quickly to cover that kind of embarrassment.,' "What do you think?" I ask. "I'd be lookin' for a killer." He says it like the second theory is just a big red herring.


"Whoever it was went to a lot of trouble to put him in the law office‐took some real chances. Would have been a lot easier, and in the end more plausible, if they'd taken him out into a field somewhere, dressed him in hunting togs and left him there alone on the ground." He winks. "Victim of a hunting accident. Still wouldn't of worked, you understand. I'd have sniffed it out." He smiles. "But it's gotta be a better cover if all you're worried about is a little embarrassment. No, whoever put him in that office was tryin' to cover their own tracks.

And"‐he pauses for an instant‐‐‐@'maybe start the cops thinkin' about somebody else, a little misdirection."

"Have the cops narrowed it to any suspectst' "They haven't talked to you yet?" he says. Suddenly there's a broad grin on his face. Then he chastises, "You know better dm to ask that. If they had, I couldn't tell ya." He chuckles to himself as he turns and pulls a clean pair of surgical gloves from the drawer behind him. Coop arches an eyebrow and winks. The pipe again clinched fightly in his teeth, the mug on the shelf behind him, he snaps the IT'S just before nine‐thirty on Tuesday morning. I've returned from court to find a stack of telephone messages in the center of my desk, a pile of grief A client wants a continuance; Nikki has called and wants to know if I will be by to see Sarah this weekend; the DA won't deal on a plea in a small drug case.

Tucked in the stack of slips is a note that Tony Skarpellos has called.

He wants a meeting‐his office, two this afternoon. Curiosity gets the better of me. This afternoon there's an alien air about the offices of Potter, Skarpellos, more formal, subdued. I attribute it to a proper demonstration of mourning for the founding partner. Before I left the firm, the offices of P&S were always a familiar place. I would breeze past the receptionist stationed like a concierge at the ornate mahogany counter outside the elevator, past Ben's office and the inner reception area held by his secretary, to my digs down the hall. The firm occupies three floors of the Emerald Tower, the most Prestigious commercial address in Capitol County. Caught up in M scandals for more than three years during its construclift‐7 r the building is a mammoth curved monolith, its translucent ,‐veen‐tinted windows rising toward the clouds on a site beside broad meandering river at the west end of the Capitol Mall. become the architectural and political counterbalance to the ca itol building situated at the opposite end of the mall. I'd Tower has become the bastion of the legislature's '1hird house," an army of lobbyists who regularly ply the seeking favor with legislative committees and govenmumnent cies. Potter, Skarpellos is the first law firm of any consea to venture into the building. I have, on more than one weighed the relevance of this location and its significance future direction of the firm. As I approach the receptionist‐her name is Barbara‐‐‐I It's a grin of familiarity. Today it's met by cool efficiency Her greeting is stiff, her smile plastic. The seeds of ins have begun to germinate among the staff. Corporate tran in modem America, from the multinational down to the shoe store, now resemble a changing of the guard after ,in a banana republic. The firm's employees have begun to on their own personal fates. The king is dead, but the uncertainty that clouds the fortunes of those affected has settled.

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