Even the Wicked Page 2

"Can't see what we'd need it for," he said, "but you could have fun with something like that." He tossed the catalog aside. "Have fun with most of this shit. It's toys is all it is."

"And what's the computer? A bigger toy than the others?"

He shook his head. "It's a tool, Buell. But why do I be wastin' my breath tryin' to get through to you?"

"Why indeed?"

I thought we might get to see a knockout in the next round, but it was clear halfway through that it wasn't going to happen. The kid had shaken off the effects of the knockdown, and my guy was slower, having a hard time getting his punches to go where he wanted them. I knew how he felt.

The phone rang, and Elaine picked it up in the other room. On the TV screen, my guy shook off a punch and waded in.

Elaine came in, a hard-to-read expression on her face. "It's for you," she said. "It's Adrian Whitfield. Do you want to call him back?"

"No, I'll talk to him," I said, rising. "I wonder what he wants."

* * *

Adrian Whitfield was a rising star, a criminal defense attorney who'd been getting an increasing number of high-profile clients in the past couple of years, and a corresponding increase in media attention. In the course of the summer I'd seen him three times on the TV screen. Roger Ailes had him on to discuss the notion that the jury system was outmoded and due for replacement. (His position was a tentative maybe in the civil courts, a flat no in criminal cases.) Then he was on Larry King twice, first to talk about the latest star-spangled homicide case in Los Angeles, and then to argue the merits of the death penalty. (He was unequivocally against it.) Most recently I'd seen him along with Raymond Gruliow on Charlie Rose, all three of them caught up in an earnest discussion of the question of the lawyer as popular celebrity. Hard-Way Ray had put the issue in historical context, telling some wonderful stories about Earl Rodgers and Bill Fallen and Clarence Darrow.

I had done some work for Whitfield on Ray Gruliow's recommendation, running checks on witnesses and potential jurors, and I liked him well enough to hope to do more. It was a little late for him to be calling me on business, but the nature of the business is such that you get calls at all hours. I didn't mind the interruption, especially if it meant work. It had been a slow summer thus far. That wasn't all bad, Elaine and I had been able to get away for some long weekends in the country, but I was beginning to get rusty. The signs were there in the way I read the morning papers, obsessively interested in the local crime news and itching to get mixed up in it.

I took the phone in the kitchen and said, "Matthew Scudder," announcing myself to whoever had placed the call for him.

But he'd made it himself. "Matt," he said. "Adrian Whitfield. I hope I didn't get you at a bad time."

"I was watching two fellows hitting each other," I said. "Without much enthusiasm, on my part or theirs. What can I do for you?"

"That's a good question. Tell me something, would you? How do I sound?"

"How do you sound?"

"My voice isn't shaky, is it?"


"I didn't think it was," he said, "but it ought to be. I got a phone call a little while ago."


"From that idiot with the News, but perhaps I shouldn't call him that. For all I know he's a friend of yours."

I knew a few people at the Daily News. "Who?"

"Marty McGraw."

"Hardly a friend," I said. "I met him once or twice, but neither of us had much of a chance to make an impression on the other. I doubt he'd remember, and the only reason I remember is I've been reading his column twice a week for I don't know how many years."

"Isn't he in there three times a week?"

"Well, I don't usually read the News on Sundays."

"Got your hands full with the Times, I suppose."

"Full of ink, generally."

"Isn't that something? You'd think they could print the damned newspaper so it doesn't come off on your hands."

" 'If they can put a man on the moon…' "

"You said it. Can you believe there's a newsstand in Grand Central sells disposable white Pliofilm gloves to wear while you read the damn thing?" He drew a breath. "Matt, I'm avoiding the point, and my guess is you already know what the point is."

I had a pretty good idea. "I suppose he got another of those letters. From Will."

"From Will, yes. And the subject of that letter?"

"It would have to be one of your clients," I said, "but I wouldn't want to try to guess which one."

"Because they're all such estimable men?"

"I just wouldn't have a clue," I said. "I haven't followed your cases that closely, except for the couple I've worked on. And I don't know how Will's mind works, anyway."

"Oh, it's an interesting mind. I would say it works very well, certainly well enough for the purpose at hand." He paused, and I knew what he was going to say an instant before he said it. "He wasn't writing about one of my clients. He was writing about me."

"What did he say?"

"Oh, lots of things," he said. "I could read it to you."

"You've got the letter?"

"A copy of it. McGraw faxed it to me. He called me first, before he called the cops, and he faxed me a copy of the letter. That was actually damned considerate of him. I shouldn't have called him a jerk."

"You didn't."

"When I first brought his name up, I said-"

"You called him an idiot."

"You're right at that. Well, I don't suppose he's either one, or if he is he's a considerate specimen of the breed. You asked what Will said. 'An Open Letter to Adrian Whitfield.' Let's see. 'You have devoted your life to keeping guilty men out of prison.' Well, he's wrong about that. They're all innocent until proven guilty, and whenever guilt was proved to the satisfaction of a jury, they went to prison. And stayed there, unless I could get a reversal on appeal. In another sense, of course, he's quite correct. Most of the men and women I've represented did what they were accused of doing, and I guess that's enough to make them guilty in the eyes of Will."

"What's his beef with you, exactly? Doesn't he think the accused are entitled to a defense?"

"Well, I don't want to read you the whole thing," he said, "and his position's hard to state with precision, but you could say he takes exception to the fact that I'm good at what I do."

"That's all?"

"If's funny," he said. "He doesn't even mention Richie Vollmer, and that's what got him started."

"That's right, you were Vollmer's attorney."

"I was indeed, and I got my share of hate mail when he managed to dodge the wheels of Justice, but there's nothing in here about my role in getting him off. Let's what he says. He says I put the police on trial, which is hardly unique on my part. Our mutual friend Gruliow does that all the time. It's often the best strategy with a minority defendant. He also says I put the victim on trial. I think he's talking about Naomi Tarloff.'


"It might surprise you to know I've had some second thoughts about that case. But that's neither here nor there. I defended the Ellsworth boy the best I knew how, and even so I didn't get him off. The jury convicted the little son of a bitch. He's upstate serving fifteen-to-twenty-five, but that's nothing to the sentence our friend Will has imposed. He says he's going to kill me."

I said, "I assume McGraw went straight to the cops."

"With the briefest pause to ring me up and then fax me the thing. As a matter of fact he made a Xerox copy and faxed that. He didn't want to screw up any physical evidence by running the original through his fax machine. Then he called the cops, and then I heard from them. I had two detectives over here for an hour, and I can call them idiots without regard to the possibility that they're friends of yours. Did I have any enemies? Were there clients who were bitter about my efforts on their behalf? For Christ's sake, the only embittered clients I've got are the ones behind bars, where nobody has to worry about them, least of all myself."

"They have to ask."

"I suppose so," he said, "but isn't it fairly obvious that this isn't a guy with a personal motive? He's already killed four people, and he nailed the first one because Marty McGraw told him to. I don't know what earned me a place on his shit list, but it's not because he thought I charged him too much for keeping him out of jail."

"Did they offer you protection?"

"They talked about posting a guard in my outer office. I can't see what good that's going to do."

"It couldn't hurt."

"No, but it couldn't help all that much either. I need to know what to do, Matt. I've got no experience in this area. Nobody ever tried to kill me. The closest I've come to this was five or six years ago when a man named Paul Masland offered to punch me in the nose."

"A disaffected client?"

"Uh-uh. A stockbroker with a snootful. He accused me of fucking his wife. Jesus, I was one of the few men in western Connecticut who hadn't had a shot at her."

"What happened?"

"He swung and missed, and a couple of guys grabbed his arms, and I said the hell with it and went home. The next time I ran into him we both acted like nothing had ever happened. Or maybe he wasn't acting, because he'd been pretty drunk that night. It's possible he didn't remember a thing. You think I should have told the two detectives about Paul?"

"If you think there's a chance he could have written that letter."

"It'd be a neat trick," he said, "because the poor bastard's been dead for a year and a half. A stroke or a heart attack, I forget which, but he went in a minute, whichever it was. Son of a bitch never knew what hit him. Not like our friend Will. He's a fucking rattlesnake, isn't he? Warning you first, letting you know what's coming. Matt, tell me what I should do."

"What you should do? You should leave the country."

"You're not serious, are you? Even if you are it's out of the question."

That didn't surprise me. I said, "Where are you? At your office?"

"No, I got out of there once I got rid of the cops. I'm at my apartment. You've never been here, have you? We always met downtown. I live at… Jesus, I was wondering if I should say it over the phone. But if he's got the phone tapped he'd have to know where it's installed, wouldn't you say?"

Early on, he'd asked if his voice was shaky. It hadn't been and it still wasn't, but his anxiety was apparent in the way his conversation was becoming increasingly disjointed.

He told me the address and I copied it down. "Don't go anywhere," I said. "Call your doorman and tell him you're expecting a visitor named Matthew Scudder, and not to let me up until after I've shown him photo ID. And tell him I'm the only visitor you're expecting, and not to let anybody else up. And tell him that includes the police."

"All right."

"Let your machine screen your phone calls. Don't pick up unless you recognize the caller. I'll be right over."

* * *

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