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Also by Gallatin Warfield
STATE V. JUSTICE
Publisher's note: This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
WARNER BOOKS EDITION
Copyright © 1994 by Gallatin Warfield
All rights reserved.
Warner Books, Inc.
Hachette Book Group
237 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10017
Visit our website at www.HachetteBookGroup.com
First eBook Edition: September 2009
I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Larry Kirshbaum, president and CEO of Warner Books, for his tireless efforts in the editing of this book. He was a thoughtful and patient mentor who encouraged me to do my best. Thank you for having faith in me.
I would also like to thank my agent, Artie Pine, and my editor, Joan Sanger, for their steadfast support and assistance throughout. Their labors have been truly appreciated.
In addition, I would like to thank friends and colleagues everywhere for their warm reception of State v. Justice. Your letters and comments were duly noted, and adjustments made, where appropriate. Thank you all.
And finally, I wish to thank my wife, Diana, for being there when I needed her, allowing me the luxury of writing through the long hours of countless days. To her I say, I love you.
It was 5:00 P.M., and State's Attorney Gardner Lawson was still in court. A three-week arson trial was finally winding down, and the defense was about to rest its case after their last alibi witness was finished telling his bogus story to the twelve men and women sitting in judgment. Gardner had meticulously maneuvered the defendant, a three-time convicted arsonist, toward conviction, and the only thing left now was the coup de grace.
Gardner stood up. He was forty-two years old, but his body was lean and toned. His eyes were dark brown, and his black hair was laced with silver threads. Well tailored, confident, self-assured, he looked like a trial lawyer. He always commanded attention when he spoke, and this had won him multiple terms as the elected State's Attorney, as well as a brilliant courtroom record.
"Mr. Karr, you say that you saw the defendant at the Mill House sometime around nine P.M., is that correct?" Gardner walked toward the witness stand as he spoke.
"Yup," the witness said nervously.
"And what were you doing at the time?" Gardner rested his arms on the rail and eyeballed the man behind it defiantly.
"Uh. Just hangin' out. That's all."
Gardner shot a glance at the jury. They had heard this same patter before, from six other witnesses. Six other hard drinkers who spent all their time and money guzzling booze at the Mill House bar.
"Did you happen to consume any alcoholic beverages while you were there?"
"Objection," Public Defender Rollie Amos said halfheartedly. He'd made the same objection before, but it had been overruled every time. Alcohol impairment is a fair avenue of inquiry, but if he kept quiet his client could accuse him of lying down on the job.
"Witness may answer," Judge Simmons said wearily. He knew that the defense attorney had to play the objection game. A lawyer had to protect his client, but he had to protect himself also. If he failed to raise a point, his own client could attack him later for incompetence.
"Uh, might'a had a beer or two," the witness mumbled.
Gardner gave the jury a skeptical look. "One or two beers?"
The witness shrugged. "Sumpthin' like that…"
Gardner walked to the trial table and picked up a piece of paper. Then he flashed it by the defense attorney and handed it to the witness. "How about ten beers, Mr. Karr? Isn't that what you really drank that night?"
The witness squirmed in his seat. Gardner had just confronted him with his bar bill.
"Uh, this ain't right," he finally said.
Gardner took the paper from his hand and held it aloft. "Are you denying you drank ten beers?"
Karr was caught. If he denied it, he'd be a liar, and if he agreed, he'd be a drunk. He decided to hedge. "I jus' said that bill ain't right."
Gardner plunked it on the rail and pointed to the top. "It's got your name right here: Bill Karr. What's wrong with it?"
The witness was outmatched, but he was not going to quit. "They got the number wrong. Wrote it down wrong…"
Gardner pushed in close. "We have the bartender on call, Mr. Karr. Think before you answer again. How many beers did you have that night?"
The witness squirmed again, but didn't answer. His options were gone.
"How many, Mr. Karr?" Gardner repeated.
The witness remained silent, his face down.
Gardner tossed the bar bill on his trial table, glanced at the jury, and sat down. "No further questions, Your Honor."
The courtroom was sparsely sprinkled with spectators. The victims of the arson were there, and a few retired townies. But other than that, the seats were empty.
Gardner had been too wrapped up in his work to notice county police Sergeant Joseph Brown enter the courtroom. "Brownie" was a detective in the department and close personal friend of the prosecutor. The black officer had put his life on the line many times for Gardner, and there was no question that Gardner would reciprocate in an instant.
Brownie moved to the front row and sat down. As Gardner worked the witness, Brownie tried to catch his attention.
Gardner finally noticed the officer when he returned to his seat. As their eyes met, an icy hand seized Gardner's heart. Brownie's face looked like a wrought-iron mask. He'd seen that expression before, on Brownie, and on others. The bad news look.
Gardner swallowed and motioned Brownie forward. Something devastating had just happened. "Brownie?"
The officer grimaced. "There was a shooting out at Bowers Corner," he whispered. "Bowers both dead…"
Gardner paled. The Bowers. Addie and Henry, dead. He looked to Brownie for a softening of his eyes, but there was an even darker expression of pain. Gardner's heart began to race. There was more…
"And?" Gardner tensed against the words.
"There was another victim…" Brownie was stalling. "Still alive, but med-evaced to shock-trauma…" There were tears in the officer's eyes.
"Who? Goddamn it!" Gardner shouted.
The courtroom fell silent, as if everyone suddenly knew what Gardner didn't.
Brownie put his arm around Gardner's shoulder. "Take it easy, man. He's gonna be okay…"
Gardner stood up. He was trembling, and his face had drained to a dull shade of gray. "Granville!"
Brownie tried to restrain him, "Gard! He's gonna make it!"
But it was too late. Without asking leave of court, Gardner bolted from the room, blasting through the swinging panels at the base of the gallery and slamming past the outer door with a double blow of his fists.
Assistant State's Attorney Jennifer Munday had just heard the news about Bowers Corner, and she didn't know what to do.
Gardner was more than her boss. They had been lovers for the past year, ever since they had joined forces on a sensational murder case that had rocked the county. Before that, they had been friends and colleagues, developing an attraction that neither had acted upon until it spontaneously erupted into a heated affair. And now they were so deeply embedded in each other's lives that the pain of one instantaneously affected the other.
Jennifer was on the telephone in her office, trying to get information. "Yes, Officer Lowell, I do understand…"
The cops were not giving out many details.
"But the boy—what about the boy?" Jennifer brushed her dark hair behind her left ear and adjusted her glasses. "How is… he?"
Granville came with the Gardner package, but he had never interfered with the relationship. Jennifer had become his surrogate stepmother. She loved the boy. He was so full of spunk. A miniature Gardner, that's what she saw whenever the blond head popped into view.
"Okay, okay. University Hospital, Baltimore. Shock-trauma unit."
Jennifer was jotting notes as she spoke. "No. I don't know where he is right now. He left the courtroom. Never came back here." Her words were slow and deliberate.
"Please. Let me know if you hear something. I'll be at the office number."
Jennifer hung up the phone and lay back in her chair. The sun had just dropped behind the western ridge of the Appalachian mountain range that bordered the outskirts of town, and the orange glow from its aura suddenly lit up the room. Jennifer shaded her eyes and looked out the window. The pointed church tower in the square, illuminated from behind, looked like a black spear against the sky. An ominous symbol.
Just then, Jennifer flashed back to a chill November day at Bowers Corner. The five of them had spent the afternoon around the wood stove in the store, rocking in the old-fashioned chairs that Addie kept for visitors. Gardner was badgering Henry for war stories. Granville was alternating laps between Addie, Jennifer, and his dad. And they were all drinking hot chocolate.
"What was your scariest moment?" Gardner asked.
Henry rocked back and took a sip from his china cup, his eyes closed briefly in thought. "Came face-to-face with a German tank," he said somberly.
Gardner perked up. The others kept rocking. "What happened?"
"It was two days after the invasion. Near St. Lo. We had been moving for fifty hours, nonstop. Most of the men were so dog-tired they were asleep on their feet…"
Gardner was listening intently, stroking Granville's head as the boy curled in his lap, listening also.
"They told us to set up a gun position on a road outside of town. Antitank unit." Henry could see it clearly in his mind as he talked. "It was a foggy morning. We set up the gun and then some of the guys laid down for some rest." His voice picked up a suspenseful tone. "All of a sudden, we could hear it. Clank! Clank! Clank! out of the fog. Clank! Clank! Clank!"
Granville stirred, and Gardner calmed him with another stroke of his hair.
"Then, we could see him. Big Tiger tank, 'bout a hundred yards away, rumbling out of the fog. Clank! Clank! Clank!"
Addie and Jennifer were now absorbed in the tale, their eyes bright with expectancy.
"Tried to wake two of the gunners, but they were too far gone. Couldn't even kick 'em awake." Henry was rolling, caught up in his own story. "Then he opened up with his fifty caliber. Rat-ta-ta-ta! Tracer bullets flyin' past us like lightnin' bugs. One hit Charley Jones in the head, and he went down—"
Henry stopped suddenly, leaving his audience in suspense.
"Well?" Gardner said anxiously. "What happened?"
The old man took another sip of cocoa. "Got a shell in the breach, and pulled the cord. Boom! Like ta knocked out our eardrums. Then another boom! Even bigger. Got 'im in the turret and blew it clear off. Smoke. Fire. And a popppp! poppp! poppp! as his ammo went off. That woke the boys up good. There wasn't any sleeping after that."
Gardner praised Henry for his bravery, and Granville shook his hand. And they drank another round of chocolate and thanked the fates for saving Henry's life.
Jennifer's mind wandered back as she realized that the bullets that had missed that day in France had finally found their mark. Henry was gone. And Addie too…
She picked up the phone and dialed long distance. "Shock-trauma, please."
"Calling to inquire about a med-evac patient, Granville Lawson."
"The county boy?"
"Uh-huh." Jennifer suddenly pictured Granville on a gurney, plugged with tubes and wires.
"He just arrived. Can't tell yet. All I know is that he's alive but unconscious."
Jennifer's lip trembled and she began to cry. "Can you… Can I…" She couldn't go on with the call, so she hung up. Granville and Gardner were linked by a secret lifeline. If the boy went under, the father would follow.
At 9:30 P.M. the commercial section of the town was deserted. The shop owners and workers lived in the residential zone that stretched from the base of the mountains to the foot of Court Avenue. Beyond that, the square containing the post office, the courthouse, Saint Michael's Church, and four low Gothic-style office buildings made up the heart of the town. After sunset, when the workaday chores had ended, the heart stopped beating.
The Bowers killing had hit Brownie hard. He, like many others, had been captivated by the old couple, and had done his share of time in a rocker by the stove. Who on God's earth would ever want to kill them? And Granville—comatose in the hospital, injured in the same insane outburst. What the hell had happened out there?
Brownie shuttled his crime lab van through the silent streets at the center of town, en route to the Strip on the southern outskirts. It was a string of country-western bars, liquor stores, and pool parlors where muscled farm boys and townie toughs came to strut, and drink, and tangle violently as they acted out their daily frustrations.
Brownie tried to analyze the case as he drove. He'd been to the scene earlier and received a briefing from the other investigators. There were no witnesses. When Miss Fahrnam entered the store, the Bowers were dead, and Granville was unconscious on the floor. She and the children went into hysterics. The 911 call was almost unintelligible. Screams, and wails, and on and on about the blood. It took the cops a long time to get anything out of anyone, and what they got was worthless. No one saw anything. And all they heard was a loud bang. No car. No running footsteps. No hard evidence. No obvious suspects.
Brownie had taken it upon himself to tell Gardner. He wanted to ease the shock, to let him down slowly. But it hadn't worked out that way. The prosecutor had lost it, and now, in retrospect, Brownie scolded himself for not anticipating his reaction. After the courtroom scene, he had followed Gardner to the state police barracks, and to an empty helicopter pad where the western Maryland chopper had been parked only moments before. It hadn't taken long to get it airborne, heading eastward toward the hospital. The state cops respected Gardner as much as the county boys, and when he asked a favor, they could never bring themselves to turn him down.
So now it was going to be up to Brownie to track the killer. The county detectives were still working the scene, and the state police crime lab had sent reinforcements, but from what Brownie had observed in his brief visit to Bowers, it was not promising. There was only one clue out there that gave him some hope. Behind the store, Brownie had found some smeared footprints in the dirt. Too messed up for any kind of ID, but clear enough to peg as recent. And one of the prints was unusual. The heel had been dragged across the ground before the foot came to rest. It had grabbed Brownie's attention immediately. There was at least one person in town who walked with a boot-dragging gait: a nasty punk with a record for violence named Roscoe Miller.
Brownie had begun the investigation in the usual way. He made a list of the local thugs who might be involved. Bad guys who did this sort of thing as a career, and whose whereabouts this afternoon had to be checked out. He had seven names on his list, and the alibis of three had already been verified. One was in jail in a neighboring county. One had left town weeks ago. And one was in the hospital recovering from an overdose. The next name on Brownie's list was Roscoe Miller.
Brownie pulled his lab van into the parking lot of Carlos' Cantina, a honky-tonk joint at the top end of the Strip. The cinder block building was bordered in red and green neon, and the sign was dotted with yellow light bulbs.
Brownie adjusted a uniform button that had popped loose at his midriff. He was stocky, but not fat. And the cut of his dark blue outfit showed the outline of well-defined muscle. He liked to eat, but it hadn't softened him. "Time for some cowboys and Indians," Brownie said to himself as he entered the door.
The gang at Carlos' was milling around in the smoke that filled the void between the bar, jukebox, and pool table, and they glared at the intruder as he marched in. Brownie returned the cold stares and walked to the bar. He was not prone to be intimidated.
"Evenin', Carlos," he said to the tan face behind the counter.
"Sergeant." The owner nodded politely.
"Lookin' for Roscoe Miller," Brownie said, turning to peer into the cigarette haze. "Seen him tonight?"
"Roscoe?" The owner's cars seemed to perk. He was a man who always needed to know why.
"That's the one," Brownie said casually. "Need to talk to him."
"Hasn't been in," Carlos replied. "Hey, Willy, seen Roscoe today?"
A smoky face turned toward Brownie with a "what's he done now?" expression. "Nope," the man grunted.
Miller was well known by the local police. His rap sheet included strong-arm robbery, car theft, and disorderly conduct. When there was trouble, he was usually nearby. But he always got a hotshot lawyer and skipped around the fringes of conviction, usually ending up with probation.
"Roscoe in hot water again…" Carlos said with resignation.
"No," Brownie replied. "Just want to talk to him. That's all."
Carlos shot the officer a skeptical look. "What's goin' on, Brownie?" He could see emotion seething behind the solid facade.
"Had a shooting at Bowers Corner," Brownie said gravely. "Two dead, and a little boy hurt bad. Lawson's son."
Carlos's face paled in the dim light. "Heard about that," he said. "You think Roscoe's involved?"
Brownie leaned across the bar. "Not that I know." Roscoe was not an official suspect; at least, not yet. "I just want to talk to him. Just talk."
Carlos nodded silently, and Brownie left the bar. In about twenty minutes everyone in town would know that Brownie was looking for Roscoe. Including the man himself.
* * *
The man walked into the bathroom and flipped on the light. Its harsh glare hurt his eyes. He twisted the faucet and a thick stream of water poured out. Then he washed his hands.
Over, and over, in the frothy flow he soaped his knuckles and fingers, scouring, kneading, rubbing until the skin was almost raw. He was obliterating the marks, destroying the proof.
He glanced at his face in the mirror and smiled. He was back to normal, under control. Now.
Earlier, he'd almost lost it. He pictured Henry and Addie struggling, and the sudden, startled eyes of the little boy. But he'd brought it off according to plan. The getaway was clean, out the back door, down the old trail into the ravine. It was a piece of cake, and no one had a clue. Just as he'd planned.
The man cut off the water and pulled a towel off the rack.
The bathroom was quiet, the only sound now the afterdrip of the faucet.
But… His thoughts became troubled. Someone could talk. Give information to incriminate him… He flashed back to a stark gray jail cell. He'd been there before. More than once. And he didn't like it at all.
He left the bathroom and pulled out his wallet. In the lining was a business card with the name of a man who had saved his ass on more than one occasion. A lean, mean, legal machine: the toughest lawyer on earth.
Gardner's face was pressed against the glass of the intensive care unit. On the other side, Granville lay still and quiet in a large metal bed, his head swathed in a bandage. The monitor was flashing numbers as his heart rate fluctuated, but there was no respirator. He was breathing on his own.
Gardner was in agony. He'd visited countless scenes like this before. Occasions where he and the victim's family kept vigil while a broken body lingered in the breach. He'd comforted, and reassured, and counseled, but he was insulated against the big hurt. His profession saw to that. There was a separation between emotion and intellect. And Gardner always held himself on the side where logic, not feelings, ruled.
The doctors were coldly sympathetic. Medical versions of Gardner's prosecutorial self. The lead physician was named Jenks, and he was the first to speak with Gardner, outside the unit's white enamel door.
Gardner nodded. He was struggling with his new role on the victim side of the aisle. Words were scarce.
"Your son is stable. He has a concussion, a hairline fracture to the temporal region of the skull, but he's still unconscious…"
Gardner didn't react. He knew the gobblydegook by heart. "Let me see him," he said shakily.
"In a few moments. We're still running some tests…" Dr. Jenks was blocking the door.
"Goddamn it, let me see my boy!" Gardner said, his voice threatening. Fuck protocol. He needed to be in there.
"Take it easy, Mr. Lawson," the doctor said firmly. "When the tests are done, you can go in…"
Gardner took a step forward. "Get out of my way…"
Jenks could see that there would be violence if he didn't give in.
"All right! but quietly…"
"Yeah," Gardner said gruffly, pushing past the doctor into the room.
The mark on Granville's forehead caught Gardner by surprise. He had been briefed by the state cops on the flight down. The Bowers had both been shot execution-style. There was a contact pattern on the back of each skull, with extensive exit-wound damage. But Granville had not been shot. They assured him over and over. He had just been banged in the head.
Gardner shoved past the attending medics to the top end of the bed. Granville looked peaceful, his pale skin smooth. But in the center of his forehead there was a purple mark. Gardner fixated on it at once, its ugly circular pattern very familiar. He'd seen it in a lot of homicide cases. The bruising had blurred the edges, but there was no question as to what it was: the imprint of the barrel of a gun.
Gardner stroked Granville's cheek, whispered "Dad's here," and replayed happier moments in his mind when they were together.
But the boy remained still. And Gardner stayed by his side, and held his hand, and talked softly, and promised that he'd find the man who committed this vicious act against his son.
And then they asked him to wait outside the room. "He can revive anytime…" the doctors said. "Just stand by out there. You can see fine…" So Gardner waited by the glass, looking at his boy, praying for his eyes to move. A tiny flick of his lashes that would let his father know that the vigil was over.
"Gardner!" A female voice suddenly snapped Gardner's attention away from the glass. He looked down the corridor to a figure approaching at a run. It was Carole, his ex-wife. Granville's mom.
Her dark curly hair was tousled, her eyes were red, and her makeup had smeared. "How is he?" she asked breathlessly. With no access to a police chopper, she'd raced by car down from the county.
"He's gonna be all right," Gardner said, pointing into the intensive care unit.
Carole brushed by, and pressed her face against the window. "He… he looks… dead…" she sobbed.
Gardner put his arm around his ex-wife's shoulder. "He's asleep. That's all. Doctors say he can wake up anytime now…" He kept the arm in place, reassuring her with a firm squeeze.
"What happened to his forehead?" Carole quavered.
Gardner swallowed. "He was hit with a gun."
"God," Carole moaned. "Who…" She wanted to ask who did it, but the sentence wouldn't come out.
"Don't know yet," Gardner said. "Police are investigating…"
"But they'll get him," Carole said.
"Yeah," Gardner whispered. "They'll get him. And then they'll hand him over to me."
It was 10:45 P.M. and Brownie was still on the move. Farther up the Strip he'd found two more rowdies on his checklist, and satisfied himself that they weren't involved in the Bowers shooting. Each had a credible alibi. But Roscoe Miller had not yet been located. He was an NFA man on the police blotter: No Fixed Address. A rolling stone who never stayed long in one place. Finding him was usually a matter of luck.
Brownie backed the lab van out of the Triple Seven bar's parking area and headed back toward town. As he passed Carlos's place, he did a double take. There, on the apron, was a familiar red truck. Brownie pulled in next to it, jumped out, and shone his flashlight into the cab. It was empty.
- On Sale
- Oct 31, 2009
- Page Count
- 336 pages
- Grand Central Publishing