CAPTAIN LITTLE: And, Mr. Thompkins, while you were waiting in the apartment across the hallway, what were you thinking?
MR. THOMPKINS: I wasn't really thinking much of anything. I was just watching their door, waiting for it to open.
Q: Well, what did you think was going to happen when it opened?
A:I thought that I was going to walk in and start shooting.
(Transcript of Massachusetts State Police Interview of
Calvin Thompkins, January 14, Page 8)
January 15--Northampton, Massachusetts
Attorney Terry Tallach watched with disbelief as Hampshire County Superior Court Officer Gloria Blainey squeezed the handcuffs around his wrists and then took hold of his left elbow. "Let's go," she said.
If this had been Terry's fantasy world, Gloria would have been an adventurous twenty-three-year-old, wearing stiletto heels and stockings, and leading him to her bedroom.
In the painfully real world, however, Gloria was a sixty-something grandmother of four, wearing dark blue Reeboks and thick socks, and leading him to the courthouse lockup because the worst judge in Massachusetts had decided to break Terry's balls.
It was the perfect ending to the perfect case--a thirty-nine-dollar-per-hour court-appointed criminal assignment with an idiot for a client.
Terry was representing James O'Toole, a squeaky-voiced kid with a limp, already a veteran of several guilty pleas to a variety of misdemeanors, who had been charged with the armed and masked robbery of a grocery store. The prosecution's case rested on the testimony of three eyewitnesses who emphatically identified O'Toole--despite the mask--because of his limp and his distinctive voice. And in case anybody cared, there were fingerprints, too. Conviction was inevitable. After which Judge Richard Cottonwood would impose a life-destroying sentence.
O'Toole had told Terry that he had spent the night with his girlfriend, and with the unwavering certainty available only to the profoundly stupid, declared that he was sure to be acquitted on the basis of her testimony. A significant flaw in that plan was that despite looking for this dream witness for weeks, Terry couldn't find her.
So in the days leading up to the trial, Terry engaged in many hours of hard negotiating, during which he cobbled together a plea bargain which would result in O'Toole getting a reasonable sentence.
Of course, O'Toole, being an idiot, refused the deal. Bringing them to the last day of trial with nothing to their case except the testimony of the defendant--a man who walked and talked funny, standing accused of a serious crime committed by a man who, well, walked and talked funny.
But then, that morning, just as Terry was entering the courthouse for the final act of the farce, a young woman identifying herself as the girlfriend's sister came up to him and said that she would testify that O'Toole had been with her sister on the night of the robbery.
So Terry called her as a witness.
Which is when things kind of went south with the Big Dick.
Richard Cottonwood never let a defendant call a witness who was not on the witness list--reason number 324 why the judge was a turd. The official rules of criminal procedure required that before the trial, the defense lawyer and the prosecutor exchange lists of witnesses that they expected to testify. But every once in a while, somebody needed to call a witness who wasn't on the list. Judges hated it, but usually allowed it, if you could show them a good reason. Not Dick Cottonwood, though. The word across the state was that in over thirty years on the bench, Cottonwood had never let a defendant call a witness who wasn't on the list.
Never. What an ass.
But Terry called the girlfriend's sister anyway, even though he knew that Cottonwood wouldn't let her testify. Terry figured that he'd have the opportunity to explain why the witness was important, so that on appeal, O'Toole had at least a chance at getting a new trial.
But instead of letting Terry make a statement as to why he needed to call the witness, Judge Cottonwood just said, "This witness was not on the list. Call another one."
"Your Honor," Terry had responded, "I'd like to come to sidebar to give an offer of proof as to the purpose--"
"That's not necessary," interrupted the judge. "Are you going to call another witness, or is the defense resting?"
"I'm sorry, Your Honor," Terry persisted, "but I need to insist on coming to sidebar in order to make a record--"
"You'll insist on nothing in my courtroom, Mr. Tallach," said the judge. "And I order you to call your next witness."
"But, Your Honor--" Terry said, only to be interrupted again.
"Mr. Tallach," the judge said, "listen carefully to me. You will either call another witness or you will tell me that the defense rests. If you do anything--and I mean anything--else, I will hold you in contempt of court."
Terry laughed. "You're going to throw me in the can for trying to defend my client?" he asked.
"Apparently I am," the judge replied. "The court finds you in contempt, and instructs the court officers to take you into custody immediately. Court is in recess."
And now Gloria and her partner, Big Tony Z, were escorting Terry down the back stairs to the holding cell in the courthouse basement. They stopped at the entrance, Gloria undid the cuffs, Terry walked inside, and the heavy door clanged shut behind him.
The bare, concrete floor was painted gray. An ancient sink with a rust stain beneath the single cold-water spigot was the only thing hanging on the puke-yellow cinder-block walls. The place smelled like stale sweat and urine. Terry stared through the bars at Big Tony. Incarceration wasn't all it was cracked up to be.
"I already called Zack," Big Tony told him. "He'll be here in a few minutes."
Zack Wilson was Terry's closest friend, and the best lawyer he knew. They'd met in high school, and were now law partners. Although there were times, like these, when Terry wondered if Zack doubted the wisdom of that arrangement.
It wasn't that Terry was a bad lawyer. Far from it. He worked hard for his clients--even the worst of the deadbeats.
It was just that his style was different from Zack's. Terry was kind of dark, and bulky, and in your face. If you needed a brawler on your side of a criminal trial, Terry Tallach was your guy.
Zack, on the other hand, was more like a golden boy--lean, athletic-looking, fair-skinned, blond. He walked into a room, and you'd swear that somebody had actually turned up the lights. It was weird. He didn't dress very well, and he wasn't even that good-looking, but somehow, people were drawn to him. Especially women. And children.
And Zack was smart, too. But in a way that people appreciated, not in a way that pissed them off. The combination made him a terrific attorney. Whether he was terrific enough to get Terry out of this jackpot was an open question, though. A very important open question. Being locked in a shithole sucked.
After what seemed like hours, but was probably more like forty-five minutes, Tony took a phone call; thirty seconds later the elevator bell rang, and then Zack's voice was greeting Gloria and Tony. Another minute passed, it sounded like Zack said, "Let me tell him," and then Zack came around the corner.
As usual, he somehow managed to carry himself like he owned the place, even if the place happened to be a dungeon prison cell. He was wearing his default expression--a warm, genuine smile that managed not only to be all-inclusive but to radiate a message which everyone around him read loud and clear: Things were already pretty darn good, and they were just about to get better. Gloria was shuffling along behind him, probably to ask him to marry one of her daughters.
Before Zack even reached the cell, he began to speak. "The good news is that we just got assigned the biggest and most important criminal case Northampton has ever seen."
If he was waiting for a response, he was going to wait for a while. That wasn't the good news Terry was looking for.
"The better news is that Gloria tells me it's meat loaf night."
Aw, fuck. Zack couldn't get him out. He was screwed.
And then Gloria moved past Zack and started putting her key into the lock. Zack continued. "But the best news of all is that you won't be around here for dinner."
January 30--Washington, D.C.
"Excuse me, Mr. President. You're needed in the Oval Office . . ."
Matt Ferguson tried to hide his relief as his body man, Carlos Oliveira, interrupted his meal. Matt stood, and suddenly the entire table full of dignitaries jumped to its feet. "Please stay seated, everyone," Matt said. "You'll have to excuse me for a moment." He tried to look disappointed. "Some business has come up that needs my attention. I shouldn't be long."
And with that, he and Carlos made their temporary escape.
Forty-five minutes earlier, the band started playing "Hail to the Chief," and a ballroom full of people decked out in monkey suits and evening gowns started to applaud. Matt continuously marveled at what a big deal people could make out of dinner, if they really put their minds to it. And when he stole a look at the long line of V.I.P.s he had to greet before he took his seat, he was reminded for about the fiftieth time that day how much he missed Sammy, and how glad he would be when she returned from helping their daughter move into her new place.
He was also glad that he had grabbed a few slices of pizza before dinner, because over the past months Matt had learned that the first forty-five minutes of every official state dinner consisted of stale toasts, small talk, and a smaller salad. He'd barely taken two bites of his appetizer when Carlos arrived.
As they walked down the long corridor toward the West Wing, a portrait of Thomas Jefferson came into view. They turned a corner and passed a painting of Abraham Lincoln. Six months ago, the idea that one of these days somebody might stick a picture of Matt in a White House corridor would have been crazy.
But that was before the phone rang on that summer night and changed his and Sammy's lives forever."Colonel Ferguson? This is White House Chief of Staff Vernon Browning. President Graham has asked me to call you to see if you would be willing to meet with him on an urgent matter concerning additional service for the country."
Talk about understatements.
"What's going on?" Matt said now, as he and Carlos walked together.
"I don't know, sir. Mr. Browning just said that I should ask you to come back to the office. He said something about a development in East Africa that you should know about."
Over the past two weeks, rebel forces had been amassing in the western provinces of Kenya, not far from its capital city, Nairobi. A civil war looked imminent. Months of drought and the resulting famine had already put a great deal of pressure on the recently elected government of President Mwanga. Not to mention the new strain of malaria that had been sweeping through the population like wildfire.
And if that wasn't enough, there were reports that Mwanga might use chemical weapons if a rebellion did break out.
They were still a minute or two away from the office. Matt looked over at the young man walking beside him. "You know, I haven't had a chance to talk to your father for quite a while. How's he doing?"
Carlos's father, Jose, had been Matt's staff sergeant in Vietnam, and had saved his life more times than either could remember.
"Poppy's fine, sir. He's still running the shop with Mom." Carlos smiled. "She says even though he complains about that kind of work making him soft, that just means that he likes it there."
"I'm glad to hear it. Give him my best, the next time you speak to him. And if he's ever in Washington, you know he's got a standing invitation to visit the White House, right?"
"Yes, sir. I've told him."
"Good," Matt said, and meant it, as they reached the area outside the Oval Office.
As always, CNN was playing on a television set mounted on the wall. Another former heavyweight boxing champ was going bankrupt, and Mitchell Stanton, a federal judge in Michigan, committed suicide yesterday. Matt was going to have to check into that.
Chief of Staff Vernon Browning was waiting for him in the Oval Office. Impeccably dressed, as usual, in a gray suit, starched white shirt, and dark tie, Browning said, "Good evening, Mr. President. I'm sorry I had to interrupt your dinner . . ."
The thin, fifty-something political powerhouse worked very hard at his job, which included about a hundred thousand different functions, among them to organize the White House staff, to help prioritize the avalanche of information flowing into the Oval Office, and to advise the President. Browning was remarkably good at his work. Matt felt extremely fortunate that he'd been willing to stay on after President Graham's death.
"I owe you one, Vernon," Matt replied. "You know how I hate those things." He and the Chief of Staff sat down across from each other in the center of the room. "What's up?"
Browning opened a folder that he had been holding, glanced down at some notes, and then looked back up at Matt. "Mr. President, we have good intelligence that several thousand Tanzanian troops have been mobilized and are now gathering at the Kenyan border. And we suspect that more troops will be joining them soon. They appear to be trying to do this covertly, but it won't be a secret for long."
"So Kenya doesn't know about this yet?" Matt asked.
"That's right, sir. President Mwanga is meeting with several other African heads of state at the U.N. over the next few days. As soon as he hears about this, he'll fly back home, the Kenyan Ambassador to the U.N. will request an emergency meeting of the Security Council, and they'll appeal to us to send them anything you can imagine--peacekeepers, advisors, troops, weapons. You name it, they'll want it."
Matt nodded. "If I were in their shoes, I'd probably be looking around for a hand, too. Mwanga's on the verge of fighting a two-front war using an army that's about half the size of the Rhode Island National Guard." He paused. The guy running Kenya before Mwanga had been connected to a Russian thug who was infamous for supplying just about anything to anyone--including weapons to radical third-world countries that were barely safe in the hands of the most stable governments. "We never learned whether Mwanga ever got hold of any of those chemical weapons we were worrying about last year, did we?"
"No, sir," Browning replied.
"Okay," Matt said, standing up and walking behind his desk. The Chief of Staff rose, too. "I'll need a briefing here in an hour. I want Defense, State, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the National Security Advisor, and Homeland Security there. Half of them are probably at the dinner."
Excerpted from Premeditated Murder by Ed Gaffney. Copyright © 2005 by Ed Gaffney. Excerpted by permission of Dell, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.