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Tool Marks Don't Lie
By David Lee
XlibrisUSCopyright © 2015 David Lee Nelson
All rights reserved.
ALICE AND I rolled through sunshine glinting off rows of royal palms lining the entrance to the East Flamingo Art Museum in a limo sent by Jake. Alice gave a quick glance to the formal-dress crowd milling toward the sleek black marble entrance as she checked her teeth for lipstick. "Who's Jake's gofer sitting with this time?"
I pulled the invitation from my inside pocket and glanced out the window. "Doesn't say. This is not my kind of crowd Alice. We're only here because Jake's my boss."
The engraved words gleamed on the parchment:
The Chopin Center for the Arts
Requests the Honor of Your Presence
At the Annual Citizen of the Year
Honoring Jacob Alexander
Wednesday, April 15, 1998
Alice studied me as I shoved the invitation back in my pocket. "When are you going to grab the brass ring, Charlie?"
I shook my head and stared at the crowd. Alice has always reveled in ceremony, but she'd made it clear on the flight from Michigan that she didn't like Jake flaunting his wealth, his trophy girlfriends, or Jake. Especially Jake.
"I guess you'll never understand, Alice. A lawyer like Jake needs somebody to tell him what his jury's going to do." I waited for the chauffeur to open the door and leaned down to tighten my shoelace. "I'm his shotgun."
Alice gathered up her dress and turned to the chauffeur as he helped her out of the car. "I lay out two grand on a Dior knockoff, and Jake's shotgun shows up in brown shoes?"
"The black ones pinched my feet. The glitterati won't notice."
"That, I believe." She rolled her eyes and took my proffered arm.
Inside, Alice smiled sweetly at the receptionist. "Mr. and Mrs. Charles Carne."
The receptionist ran a long red fingernail down the list. "You'll be at the Penniman table at Mr. Alexander's request." She unclipped a folded note of yellow foolscap and without looking up, held it between an index and middle finger. "He said to give you this."
"Come to the dais after ceremony. JA," it read. Gingerly refolding the note, I looked at Alice. Jake only sent me handwritten notes if he had a major problem.
The exhibition hall was packed. The award ceremony was a rite of spring that showcased East Flamingo's artists and old money. The program announced that Jake's "genius in employing local entrepreneurs to develop the classic lines of Flamingo Plaza" had earned him the prize.
Sporting a red rose in his bespoke lapel, Jake was working the crowd, reveling in the world of art and high finance. Flashing outsized diamond cuff links, shaking every hand, and kissing every female cheek offered to him, he basked in a roomful of dignitaries who had gathered there just for him. Pure, unadulterated Jake.
Jake caught my eye, nodded, and turned to join Leonard Van Gooden, other center directors, and his live-in assistant, Suzanne Penniman. His arm slid around Suzanne's waist as they oohed and aahed a still life by Jessie Marie Merriweather.
As the crowd drifted toward the tables, Alice hissed behind her hand, "Jake's Barbie doll is giving them an eyeful with that décolletage."
When the cluster of art lovers broke, Suzanne took Jake's arm and ushered him to a seat on the dais and then headed back to guide us to a table of nattering artists near the dais where she'd be seen while keeping tabs on Jake and monitoring the room.
As we moved through the crowd, Alice gripped my elbow and muttered, "Eyes front, mister."
"Look," I whispered, "Suzanne's his promoter, not mine. She arranged the award to get him international recognition. There's press all over the room."
I tilted my head and said, "I'd prefer if we sat with his gun club and army buddies back there."
"Their stories sure are funnier," Alice said.
As we reached our table, Alice turned and sweetly said, "May I call you Suzanne?"
Suzanne held her gaze before answering. "That's fine. Just don't call me Suzy."
I took the chair between them. Alice brushed off my shoulder and whispered as she sat, "I hate to say this to the love of my life, but your contributions to art are right up there with your shoes. I'll handle the artsy-fartsy stuff. Where's Jake's family?"
"None of them came. They've all got issues."
"I'll bet they do," Alice said with a quick glance at Suzanne.
* * *
I don't like scallops, but the snapper was good. I pushed the dessert aside. "I can't believe it — cheesecake at an event like this."
"That's not cheesecake," Alice snapped. "It's key lime pie."
"Shush," I said. "They're starting the program."
Van Gooden strode to the lectern and lavished praise upon the country boy who became one of the heroes of D-Day, a medical malpractice crusader, and a financial genius. Then he paused and gripped the lectern with both hands. "Ladies and gentlemen, it is with utmost pride that I announce Mr. Alexander's gift to you: six ... million ... dollars!"
Silence. Then Suzanne and the crowd came to their feet with thunderous applause. As the tribute subsided, Suzanne turned to head back to the dais but sat down as Van Gooden asked Jessie Marie to present the award. While Jessie Marie glided by in a real Dior, she looked at Suzanne and asked, "Would you mind moving your chair?"
Suzanne gripped her chair and moved forward an inch or two.
After Jessie Marie passed, Alice whispered to me, "Wow, is she who I think she is?"
"Yep. She's the daughter of one of Jake's investors."
"I mean, she's the presenter? I've seen her on TV. She's absolutely stunning."
"She's the darling of the East Flamingo art community. That still life just won a national award. Now shush."
Jessie Marie took the lectern, smiled, and brushed back a tendril while cameras flashed across the crowd.
"It is with distinct pleasure that I present the most prestigious honor our center bestows — the Golden Palette for Citizen of the Year." She pressed the glittering plaque into Jake's hands and continued. "While normally presented to an artist, Mr. Alexander has been chosen for his brilliant design of Flamingo Plaza and his magnificent support of the center."
Jake laid his speech on the lectern as Jessie Marie put her cheek to his and mouthed a kiss. I'd heard Jake sales pitch a jury many times. It was his forte. Then I studied my plate as he turned on all his pizzazz and shamelessly pitched Jake. He thanked all who had supported him as he rose to the "pinnacles of the legal profession, fighting for justice." Thinking of my shoes, I wondered if I'd be asked to stand for recognition, but he didn't go there. He never did.
When Suzanne placed her hand on my arm, I resisted an impulse to pull back. "I'm so proud to see him honored," she whispered. "And by a group he adores."
I held my tongue. Jessie Marie picked up Jake's speech, brought it to him, and lingered for a photographer with her hand on his shoulder. Jake smiled up at her. Suzanne's smile faded as Alice nudged my ankle and tilted her head toward the dais.
Once the charade ended, I climbed on the dais. Jake motioned me to lean down. "You'll have to cover the Esposito depositions in Lawton, Oklahoma, Charlie. It's a birth trauma case. Then hustle right back here. Mike really screwed me over this time."
"My schedule, Jake — there's no room."
"Make some! I want you to make this thing with Mike go away. It has got to be kept absolutely quiet. Understood?"
"Get someone else to deal with Mike. He's your son, not mine."
"Get him off my back." Jake motioned at Suzanne to wait for him by our table. "Do Lawton first. Karla will deliver the file to your hotel. Get up to speed. The deps start at ten tomorrow."
"Can't do it, Jake. I'm all tied up. Get someone else."
"I've told you time and again — you have to walk and chew gum at the same time." Jake waved at well-wishers. "I'm bringing your old law school roommate back to help out. You remember Dave."
Jake's secretary, Karla Morrison, had mentioned his battle with Mike over control of Flamingo Plaza. She hadn't mentioned that his other son Dave was coming back.
"I'll have to stop in Michigan to clear the decks."
"Be in my study Wednesday morning." Jake pulled out a handkerchief, dabbed perspiration, and looked up. "I've done the best I could, Charlie. I always knew my jury could vote either way."
What jury? What vote? He'd never expressed doubt about anything. Not ever.
"I'll handle it." I said and left with a knot in my gut.
I collected Alice and explained the thing about Mike in the limo ride back to our hotel. Then I pulled off the monkey suit and packed for the red-eye to Oklahoma.
"Don't we ever get to enjoy anything?" she snapped.
"I'm glad you decided we should come," I said, hopping on one leg to get into my beat-up traveling jeans. "It was a great ceremony."
"Jake certainly paid enough for it. Did anyone count the silverware after Barbie got up?" Alice shook her head. "I can't believe Jessie Marie would drape herself all over Jake like a feather boa. Who gave him that line about pinnacles and justice? You write that?"
"Suzanne wrote it."
"I'm wondering why none of his partners flew down from Cadillac Pointe," Alice said as she scanned the room for stray items.
I zipped my carry-on. "And I'm wondering how bad this thing with Mike is. Jake never mentioned his son Dave once since he booted him out."
"Honey, stay out of it. Jake may tell you he needs Dave to deal with Mike, but there's no way in hell he'll forgive him."
* * *
I was wiping down the shower back in Michigan when Alice called up the stairs. "It's Bert Lassiter."
"Tell him I can't meet for breakfast. My desk is about to collapse. What's he want?"
"Pick up the phone. He wants to talk to you. Tell the kids breakfast is ready."
I grabbed the extension. "Yeah, Bert, what is it?"
"Aren't you watching TV? Jake's been murdered."
I tried to untangle the telephone cord. With Bert I never knew what to expect. He likes to clown around. But he'd never kid about a thing like that. Or would he? I sank down on the bed. "Cut the bullshit, Bert. I was just with him at the award ceremony."
"Turn on your TV." Click.
I ran down the stairs. The younger kids were watching cartoons and school closings. A major storm had followed me back from the Oklahoma depositions.
"Where're you headed now?" Alice said, looking at my bare feet. "You keep running like this, you're going to fall flat on your ass."
"Get CNN on — Bert just said somebody killed Jake."
"... slain in his penthouse condominium here in East Flamingo. Alexander had just been feted as citizen of the year." Holding up the palette, Jake smiled from the inset. The crawl said, "Jacob Alexander — Prominent Trial Lawyer Murdered — Shot and Stabbed to Death in his East Flamingo Penthouse." I turned up the volume. "The sheriff is investigating. A partially clad young woman was found nearby with a knife in her chest. Her name has been withheld pending notification of next of kin."
Alice put her hand to her mouth. "Good God, Suzanne!"
I called the main office in Cadillac Pointe. Arlene the receptionist answered. "The office is closed. Mr. Gorman said you should go to Pewabic."
"Why the mansion?"
"How should I know? Said you should go there — now!"
If Aaron Gorman, the managing partner of Alexander, Gorman, and Delaney, was calling the shots, I'd need Bert. I called Bert back and asked him to pick me up.
As I climbed into Bert's SUV, I said, "A lot of guys didn't like him, but who in hell would kill him?"
"Didn't you hear? They're saying Dave did." His big round face was ashen. Dave, Bert, and I had been law school buddies.
I studied Bert. "Doesn't sound like anything Dave would do."
"His name and fingerprints are on the gun Charlie. They said it's about Jake's money."
"They didn't get along, but he'd never kill him," I said. "Not for money."
"He's in deep shit. Florida reinstated the death penalty."
"I better get down there."
"What in hell can you do? You've never done a death case."
"I'm admitted in Florida. I can tell him to clam up and focus."
"He's a criminal lawyer. He knows that."
"He's appellate, not trial. He shouldn't represent himself."
"Why the hell not? I don't know anybody smarter'n him, except maybe you."
"He's a dreamer. He can't handle the shit they'll pull. Hey! Watch the road."
Flooded streets jammed the morning commute. Jake's mansion was in the inner city. I called, and the detective who answered refused to give me any information.
"Take Riverside," I said. "It's on high ground."
Peering through a foggy windshield with his wipers at top speed, Bert went silent.
"Put on your seat belt and watch the damn lights. What the hell will happen to me with Jake dead?" The driver behind us got on his horn.
"You'll do just fine." Bert honked back. "That must be some kinda real estate project in East Flamingo. That's all some reporters are talking about."
"Somebody must've covered the murders, for Chrissake."
"I told you what I heard. I about fell off my chair when the local news guy said Jake dabbled in criminal cases and died with five hundred million dollars." Another honk.
"Dabbled in criminal cases? Hell, I helped him win a lot of murder and med mal verdicts. He'd flash his Diamond Jim Brady cuff links and bond with the women jurors. A judge once said Jake never met a juror he couldn't convince or a skirt he didn't chase. Five hundred million? Damn reporter made that up."
"Don't give me that kinda shit. You were his go-to guy," Bert said as he swerved around a fender bender. "I didn't remember him running for the senate."
"Got tripped up coming out the gate. Don't you remember the pictures of him with his chippies? They must've said something about the woman. My God, Suzanne!"
"Just that the gun had a nude and Dave's fingerprints on the handle and the name 'David Alexander' etched on the barrel. Nothing about the knife or the woman."
Jake had once showed me a set of three pearl-handled revolvers in a felt-lined case and bragged about their accuracy. He wouldn't let me touch them.
As Bert veered around a pothole, I said, "They say why Dave was in Florida?"
As we joined a line of cars in the drive off Pewabic Boulevard, I noticed Gorman's vanity plate. "I wonder what that bastard wants," I said.CHAPTER 2
BERT FOLLOWED ME into the Victorian mansion. Anna Dahlberg, Jake's housekeeper, wiped her eyes and grabbed my elbow as I entered, then pointed up the stairs. "What's this meeting in Mr. Alexander's library?"
Bert and I flashed our Bar Association ID cards at the police detective. I bounded up the spiral stairs with Bert on my heels into a hallway lined with stuffed animals, guns, and photos of Jake with his hunting buddies. A cabinet of trophies his beagles had won stood by the library where I'd spent long nights working with Jake. We barged in on the executive committee of AGD, their hands in open drawers.
"What the hell are you guys doing in here?" I said.
Aaron Gorman was not experiencing bereavement. Thumb-stroking a manila folder with an orange label, he said, "Securing firm property." He tilted his head toward Bert.
"Bert stays," I said.
Gorman waved his hand, "Okay, David called and asked for you — he needs representation immediately."
"As long as you're monitoring calls, why didn't you find a Florida lawyer for him? I don't do capital cases. You knew I'd have a conflict."
Tucking the folder under his arm, Gorman smiled his crooked smile. "You're admitted in Florida — you've done murder cases. I'm quite sure the court will let you handle it. Report through me — we'll research conflict issues here."
My eyebrows went up. "Why would I report to you, Aaron? I've never done it before. You guys don't do criminal stuff."
"No merit to that," Gorman snapped. "The firm will manage Jacob's matters."
"Shouldn't that be his estate?" I said. "Who's been appointed? There'll be a will."
"We're looking into that."
"What about his clients? I've got tons of hours in Jake's portfolio — we've got a whole slew of cases to prep for trial. I need direct access to his files."
Gorman turned away and shrugged.
"Who'll work my cases?"
"Owen Lennox and your secretary, Paula De Haven." Gorman's target was for sure Jake's portfolio, much juicier than his own. Murder or not, and like always, he was after his cut of the profits.
Excerpted from Tool Marks Don't Lie by David Lee. Copyright © 2015 David Lee Nelson. Excerpted by permission of XlibrisUS.
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