Authors: Steve Martini
Tags: #Fiction, #General
“No.” He shakes his head. “I liked her. Why would I want to kill her?”
“We could try a stipulation,” says Harry. “Admit that they had sexual relations. Specify the number of times this occurred. Try to sanitize it. Make it sound like an accountant’s audit report and hope we can glaze over the eyes of the jury. Try to keep the tape out of evidence.”
“I haven’t seen the tape, but I can’t imagine it’s all that bad,” says Ruiz.
“Fancy yourself a porn star, do you?” Harry quips.
“No, no. It’s nothing like that. I guarantee you, there’s nothing kinky on the tape unless somebody dubbed it in.”
“You’re thinking the federal government again?” Harry asks. “Do they have a federal office that does that kind of thing?”
“Come on, gimme a break,” says Ruiz. “We had a fling. A romp in the hay. I didn’t love her. She didn’t love me. Two adults, we enjoyed the moment. She went her way, I went mine. That’s all there was to it.”
“The problem is, she’s dead,” I say, “and somebody killed her.”
“But I didn’t do it.”
“Yeah, well, put that aside for the moment,” says Harry. “The more immediate problem is that videotape no doubt captures only a brief period in time when, as you say, the two of you were enjoying the moment. When passion was at its height, shall we say. That’s what the jury is going to see, and what they’re going to remember, not the rational attitude of two sober and mature adults after all the hedonism was over.” Harry pauses. “That leaves a lot of room for imagination. And therein lies a lot of room for mischief on the part of the wily prosecutor. Ordinarily I’d say they might not get the tape in, being as it’s so prejudicial. But in this case,” Harry reasons, “I might make an exception, because it may be the best evidence. In fact it may be the only evidence to substantiate their theory that you had an affair with the victim.”
“Ordinarily I’d say you’d be right,” Ruiz says, “but in this case . . .”
“What?” Harry sits up straight. “You’re not gonna tell us you had an audience!”
“Not in so many words. But somebody did see us.”
“Chapman’s executive assistant. Gal by the name of Karen. I suspect that’s how the cops got the tape. I don’t know, but I suspect she probably gave it to them after the murder. She might have thought I had something to do with it.”
“Can’t imagine that,” says Harry. “Your gun being used, your holding over in the house with her, doing security.”
“You don’t think it’s looking too good,” says Ruiz.
“Let’s just put it this way: I don’t think anybody would have to threaten me to get me to drop out of the case.”
“You think Kendal took a hike because he didn’t believe he could win?”
Harry gives him a look that concedes the point.
Ruiz takes a deep breath and sighs.
“Let’s change gears for a moment. What is your marital status?” I ask.
“Are you married?” In the eyes of many jurors, cheating on his wife would compound the problem.
“Divorced,” he says.
“Almost six years.”
“Two. A boy and girl. My son is twelve, my daughter is seven. I don’t want them involved in this.”
“Children sitting in the courtroom can be a big plus,” says Harry. “They don’t have to be there every day.”
“You heard me: the answer is no. Besides, their mother is not gonna let you or anybody else put them through that.”
“What about your wife?”
“Ex-wife. Tracy is remarried. She was young when we got hitched. Military life did us in. I was always gone. Not that she wasn’t faithful, but you know how it is: she got lonely. I was away from home for months at a time. After a while it seemed like we didn’t even know each other anymore. She’s not gonna come sit in a courtroom, I can tell you that. And she’s not gonna let the kids do it. It’ll be hard enough what they see on television. If I know Tracy, she’ll be pulling the plug on the set and canceling the newspaper subscription to keep them from seeing it.”
“Well, at least you didn’t have any ties at the time keeping you away from Chapman,” says Harry. “That’s something.” Harry makes the best of little favors.
“I have to admit, Madelyn wasn’t what you would call discreet,” says Ruiz. “I mean, she didn’t tell the world or wear a sandwich board with pictures. But she didn’t lock her office door, either. I guess her attitude was she owned the place, so if people didn’t like it they could quit.
“The secretary walked in on us.” Ruiz is talking about Chapman’s executive assistant. “What can I say? We both moved pretty quickly to cover up, but the secretary has to have seen what was happening. She walked in, looked, turned, and walked out. She seemed to look right through me like I was part of the furniture. Maybe she was just stunned. I don’t know.”
“So it was the secretary who must have told the cops about the tape?” I say.
“I don’t know,” says Ruiz. “My guess is word would have gotten around pretty fast. I didn’t know the camera was there. If it was being monitored we had a live audience. If not, somebody would probably have seen it sooner or later. Like I say, it was only the two times. The first time she came on strong and I backed away. Nothing really happened. Not that anyone is going to believe me. Then the tape. Then her personal security detail was canceled, my assignment changed, and the problem went away. Or at least I thought it did.”
“Why did she cancel security?” I ask.
“Beats the hell out of me. Maybe she was frustrated.”
“As far as you know, did she have affairs with anyone else?”
“She had guys over, if that’s what you mean. I mean, she wasn’t trying to hide the fact. Whether they were friends, business acquaintances, whatever. Don’t know their names. But several times they spent the night bouncing off the walls down the hall. I heard ‘em. So did the guy on the detail with me.”
“Problem is, that cuts both ways,” says Harry. “If he knew she was having affairs with other men, it could have fueled jealousy. It feeds right into their theory.”
Harry is right. But it also provides other suspects, other men who might have had a reason to kill her if they saw something they wanted bad enough slipping away.
“A couple of times she had us escort her to parties. You know, business things. On the way home she’d want to stop at this club downtown. We’d sit at one table, she’d sit at another. Guys would come up and talk to her. If she wasn’t interested she’d nod toward us and tell the guy that the bulge under our armpits wasn’t swollen lymph nodes and the fucker would vanish like vapor. When she got the one she wanted we’d all head home, my partner or I driving while she and her new friend did warm-ups in the backseat.”
“Sounds like the security detail didn’t cramp her sense of privacy,” I say.
Ruiz laughs. “The fact she had an audience probably added a whole new dimension as far as Madelyn was concerned.”
“And, of course, you didn’t mind?” I ask. “I mean, you didn’t feel in any way jilted?”
“What? That I wasn’t being used like a mechanical bull anymore? No. I grant you she was a good-looking woman, but as far as emotions were concerned, anything with Madelyn had all the depth of a kiddie pool. She could have gotten the same thing from a mannequin.”
We change the subject. “What do you know about the Information for Security program?” I ask.
“You know I signed a piece of paper when I went to work at Isotenics. It was given to me by my supervisor at Karr, Rufus. It said I wouldn’t discuss any what they call ‘proprietary information’ that I might have overheard when I was on duty. So I don’t know if I’m supposed to tell you.”
“They fired your ass and you’re facing a murder charge,” Harry points out. “I wouldn’t worry about it.”
“Yeah. You’re right.”
“So what did you hear?” says Harry.
“About IFS? That’s all they talked about. Information for Security. From what I gather, it was huge. Biggest project they had. Every time something broke in the press, some committee in Congress started cryin’ over privacy rights and people at Isotenics would all start filling sandbags and barricading the doors. They were busy stiffing two congressional investigating committees. I mean, you could hear them talking about it on the phones.”
“So you knew they were writing the software?”
He nods. “Sure. You hear things. Little bits here and there. You’re driving a car and they’re in the back on the cell phone, you can’t help but hear.”
“Do you know what the software is, how it works?”
He shakes his head. “Seen the stuff in the newspaper, that’s all. I’d read the stories ‘cuz I knew there was a connection. But other than that, when it comes to computers, I’m a man from Mars.”
“Did you ever meet any of the people involved in the program from the government side?” I ask.
“It’s possible. They had us pick up people at the airport from time to time. A few times we went out to the base at Miramar and picked up some uniforms coming in on military flights. Drove them out to Software City for meetings. But all you got was a name. They never told us what they were working on. There was one guy, though. I do remember him and his name did pop up on the program you’re talking about.”
“Who was that?”
“Retired general. Name of Gerald Satz. I’d seen his name in the papers. According to the articles, he was in charge of this IFS thing. From what I read he was hired as a civilian consultant. Thought it was sort of a strange selection myself. You know who the guy is?”
I nod. Gerald Satz, aka “Poster Boy for Perjury,” according to liberals in Congress; a stand-up warrior and top-notch soldier, according to his fans.
“I knew the name,” says Ruiz, “‘cuz I remembered hearing about him when I was in the Army and reading about it in the paper. According to what I heard, he had a long history working with spooks, intel agencies, black-bag shit. Satz had contacts buried in the bowels of governments on every continent. A man knows where the bodies are buried because he put half of them there. And he knows how to dig them up whenever it serves his purposes, or maybe the purposes of his prince. Satz is what some people might call a true believer.
“Some years back—I was a kid, so I don’t know the details—Congress got caught screwing with Satz’s constitutional rights,” Ruiz continues. “A committee took his testimony under oath. When they couldn’t get him on perjury, they tried to use his own testimony to indict him. The courts said they couldn’t do it.”
“It’s called use immunity,” I tell him. “You looked this up and read about it?”
He nods. “When one of our people was assigned to go pick him up at the airport. The man was coming to a meeting at Isotenics. I got curious and checked his history online. Sounds like maybe he beat the charges on technical grounds.”
“Suppose you could call that technical,” says Harry. “But from where I’m usually sitting, I’d call it a good result.” My partner has a problem with a political system that gives members of Congress a monopoly on lying.
“Still, it ruined his career. Forced him out of the military and still he’s hanging around. That’s what I call survival. Man sounds like a tough nut to crack. But what I found interesting is the fact that Satz and Chapman went back a long way.”
Harry raises an eyebrow and looks up from his notepad.
“Back twenty years ago, Madelyn came out of nowhere. Graduated from a small school in the Midwest with a degree in computer engineering and software design. She took a job working as a GS-3 for the government in Washington and three years later she was a technical adviser on the White House staff.” Ruiz looks at me and winks.
“Where I come from, they call that upward mobility,” says Harry.
“Where I come from that kind of upward mobility usually requires connections,” I say.
“Bingo,” says Ruiz. “General Gerald Satz. From the little bit I heard and saw, he was the key.”
“Did you ever meet him? Satz, I mean.”
“Heard about him a lot. He was what you might call a legend. Had a reputation for loyalty, not that that’s a vice. But in his case it bordered on fanatical. People convicted of crimes, if they were doing something everybody knew was illegal, but to Satz and others it was necessary, he’d stand up for them. Do it publicly. All the rest of the brass would be ducking for cover. Satz would be right there. It made him popular among the enlisted men, the NCOs. I was impressed when I first heard Madelyn mention his name.”
“How old is this guy?” says Harry.
“Satz? I don’t know. Probably early sixties. Don’t get the wrong idea: I don’t think there was anything physical going on between them. From what I know, it was more in the nature of what you would call paternal guidance. She worked for him. Did whatever he asked, long hours, never complained. In return he introduced her around. Madelyn did the rest.
“If you knew her, which of course you didn’t, you’d come to understand that with Madelyn, all it took was an opening, a crack in the door, and she was in. She had a natural talent for self-promotion. If you had a vital project, lives depending on it, and you were looking for somebody to put in a forty-hour workday to get it done before men died, Madelyn was your cookie. She could be efficient to the point of obsession.”
“Sounds like you knew her pretty well,” says Harry.
“Nobody knew Madelyn. Not really. Not if you mean the heaving, heaping boiler-stoked-with-white-hot-coals, engine-of-ambition Madelyn. And that’s what she was ninety-eight percent of the time.”
“And the other two percent?” I ask.
He looks at me but doesn’t respond.
“Where did you get all this information, the history on her and Satz?” I ask.
“Part of it came from Madelyn. Partly, bits and pieces, what I heard.”
“The rest,” he explains, “requires a bit of faith. I don’t have any solid information. You sort of have to piece things together. Toward the end Madelyn was scared. Not all the time, mind you, but at times. Something was happening. I don’t know the details. But I do know that she and Satz had some kind of a falling-out. A serious disagreement. I don’t know what it was about, but it’s not a long leap to assume that it had something to do with this IFS thing, Information for Security. She was angry, she was pissed, but most of all she was scared. Madelyn was used to getting her way. But something had gone wrong.”