Dwight Davis had gotten a job offer from the law firm of Tribe amp; Wright, so he remained uncowed by the grandeur of the place. Set at the pinnacle of a skyscraper, the firm occupied six floors, each one tastefully outfitted with light, custom furniture, giving the place a uniformly costly glow. As Tribe's managing partner, William Whittier had the largest office, and Davis was waiting for him in it. According to his secretary, Whittier had 'stepped away,' which was Tribespeak for went to the bathroom.
Davis sat with his flowery cup of coffee and suppressed his smile at the plush surroundings. Success at law firms was no longer measured in the number of windows – with modern architecture, even first-year associates couldn't be deprived of light and air – but in the number of desks. Second and third desks had become as important as second or third homes. Whittier had three desks; he not only ran the firm, he received the highest percentage of all fees it received. In other words, he was a major landowner, if not king.
Whittier 's main desk was a huge, glistening affair of white oak whose raison d'etre was to bear a single stack of correspondence, a shiny brass ship's clock, and a miniature walnut cabinet for a fountain pen collection. The second desk, to which Davis had been shown, was the Palm Beach house of desks, semitropical and relaxed. A large teak circle on a pedestal, it was as bare as the main desk except for a grey-green conferencing phone with footpads like a gecko. The third desk, tucked in the corner like a country home, was a computer workstation that held a slim laptop. For what it cost, Davis could hire an expert
that would put some scumbag in jail for consecutive life terms, but nobody at Tribe thought that way, which was why he'd turned them down.
'You must be Dwight Davis,' Whittier boomed, appearing at the door. Bill Whittier was a lanky six-footer, wearing a grey pinstriped suit and a broad, hale-fellow grin. He was middle-aged, but crossed the room with a sloppy step that reminded Davis of an overgrown frat boy, especially when Whittier clapped the prosecutor on the shoulder. 'Brother Masterson's told me all about you,' he said, and extended a loose handshake.
'You play tennis with a grip like that?' the D.A. said.
'Hah! Very good. Squash, actually. The bar's closer.'
There you go.' Davis smiled. Of course. Squash. He eased back into his seat. Thanks for your time today.'
'No problem. This matter 'is top priority, with me.' Whittier seated himself at the second desk opposite Davis and brushed back his pale blond hair with stubby fingernails, then twisted to the door just in time to see a second lawyer in an Italian suit coming in. 'And here's Art, right on time as usual.' The entering lawyer was thinner and shorter than Whittier, with gaunt cheeks, slick black hair, and dark eyes sharp behind eyeglass frames the size of quarters. Whittier turned back to Davis. 'You won't mind if one of my partners, Art Field, sits in.'
'Of course not, he's welcome.' Davis had expected as much and shook Field's hand before they both sat down. Field would function as Whittier 's counsel, to make sure the frat boy didn't get himself or the firm in trouble. Field would also qualify as a human tape recorder, to back up whatever Whittier said he said, whether he'd said it or not. What else were partners for?
Whittier relaxed, crossing one strong leg over the other. 'So tell me, how's your boss? Keeping the bad guys locked up, I hear. We're very proud of him, here at Tribe.'
Tm proud to work for the man,' Davis said, wondering if Whittier was reminding him of the firm's campaign
contribution. 'But if I tell him we're proud of him, he'll tell us to go straight to hell.'
Whittier laughed, a hearty ha-ha-ha signifying manners, not mirth. 'He is a little cranky, isn't he?'
'I try, Lord knows I try.'
Whittier ha-ha-haed again, then quieted. Terrible news about Honor Newlin, just terrible. And Jack of course. He was one of us, you know.'
'Yes, I do.' Davis nodded, impatient. Of course he knew Newlin worked here; that's why he'd asked Masterson to set up the meeting. Every muscle in him strained to cut the shit, but if he did that, he'd get nothing.
'It's a terrible tragedy, just terrible. We're still in shock, my partners and I, and awfully conflicted. Jack's confessed, I understand. It was reported in several of the morning papers.'
'I can't confirm or deny that.'
'Of course.' Whittier shook his head. 'All over the news. Partner at Tribe amp; Wright, well, just terrible. Terrible for Jack, and for the firm.' He kept shaking his head, though his wavy blond hair remained in order. 'Impossible to understand, you see. Jack was such a wonderful partner. A responsible husband and father. Impossible, really.' He sighed. 'As they say, who know what goes on behind closed doors?'
'Yes,' Davis said, for lack of something better, though Whittier didn't seem to be listening anyway. Davis couldn't shake the impression that Whittier was no Felix Frankfurter in the legal department and had become managing partner because of politics, not brainpower. And he undoubtedly had the right connections, which was all that really mattered in administrative jobs.
'And Honor Newlin was a lovely woman, a lovely woman. One of my wife's favorites.'
'Oh? Did you see them socially?'
'Rarely.' Whittier eyed Davis warily. This concerns Jack, I assume. Not me or my partners.'
'Correct,' Davis answered, instantly wishing he had said something more casual. Once a D.A., always a D.A., and now Whittier had edged away, sitting farther back in his chair.
'Now, Davis, I'm no trial lawyer, I spent my long professional life in corporate law, as you may know. But I'm not so old I've forgotten what a subpoena is, and I understand that I am under subpoena to talk with you today. Is that the case, sir?'
'You have a subpoena with you, for the record?'
'You'll leave it with Art before you go. I wouldn't want to be in the position of voluntarily doing anything that could harm Jack, if you understand.'
'Understood. May I?' Davis picked up one of the blank legal pads from the table. He knew that yanking out his own pad would put Whittier on guard and the only way he could get what he needed was if nobody acknowledged what was happening. 'Now, remind me, please. You are the managing partner here, and Jack Newlin headed the estates group, correct?'
'Yes, quite right.'
'He reported to you as such?'
'Yes. All department heads report to me.'
Davis made a note, to get Whittier used to it. He did it all the time in court so the jury couldn't tell what mattered and what didn't. 'Now, Honor Newlin's family foundation is represented by the Tribe firm.'
'Yes, the Buxton Foundation.'
Davis nodded. 'What is a foundation, anyway?'
'Damned if I know.' Whittier laughed again. 'Only kidding.'
'I figured,' Davis said, though he hadn't been so sure.
'Well, let's see, a foundation is simply a private charity,
established in this case, by a family. The Buxton Foundation donates the Buxton family money to public charities. By law, the Foundation is required to give away five percent of the total fund each year. Our firm helps it do that, with the tax advice and filings and whatnot required by Uncle Sam. It's a real tangle of paperwork, you can imagine. You work for the government, in effect.'
Davis ignored the slight, even if it was intended. 'And Buxton Foundation matters were handled by Newlin?'
'Yes, Jack brought the Foundation to us when he married Honor, and he supervised its matters for the firm. Essentially, he ran the Foundation, sat with Honor on the board, and doled out its legal work to our partners in various fields, as well as associates and paralegals.'
'How large is the Buxton Foundation?'
'Hah! Real large.'-
Whittier glanced at Field, who nodded imperceptibly. The Buxton is one of the more substantial family foundations. Two hundred million dollars, approximately.'
Davis blinked. Large. 'How much does the Foundation pay Tribe per year, in fees?'
'Does this matter?' Whittier cocked a pale eyebrow, his good cheer gone flat as keg beer.
Three and a half to four million dollars a year.'
Davis made a note, as if he could forget that staggering a sum. The firm cannot have many clients that bill as much, can it?'
'Frankly, the Foundation is our largest client, and that's all I'll say about the Foundation. Understood?'
'Understood.' Davis switched gears. 'As to Jack, did he receive a portion of the fees the Foundation paid the firm? I know that's typical in the larger firms.'
Whittier nodded. 'He did. Jack was the billing partner on most matters, so he received a percentage of his client's fees, as a billings bonus.'
'It was substantial. Thirty-three percent, as I recall. We could supply you with the exact number under document subpoena.'
'I'll look forward to it.' Davis accepted the answer for now. So Newlin would get thirty-three percent, more than a highway robber but less than a personal injury lawyer. If the Buxton billings amounted to three million dollars a year, which they easily did, Jack would take home a mil of that. And it also meant that as between the Foundation or Newlin, the Tribe firm would choose the Foundation, never mind that they'd have to hang their own partner. 'Let's get to the night of Honor's murder.'
'Yes, let's,' Whittier said, plainly relieved, and Davis thought it ironic that Whittier would rather talk about murder than money.
'You saw Jack the night of the murder, didn't you?'
'Yes. Let me think a minute.' Whittier gazed out an immense window to the spectacular view of the city below. Davis was watching him so closely he saw his pupils telescope down in the light. 'Around six o'clock, I think.'
'How long did you two speak for?'
'About fifteen minutes, as I remember.'
'Would you have billed that time?'
'Yes, we bill in six-minute increments,' Whittier answered, without apparent shame. 'My time records would reflect the exact time we spoke.'
'I'd like to see your records for that day, if I can.'
Whittier exchanged looks with Field, then said, 'You're serving the firm with a document subpoena.'
'Yes, it's already included.'
'Fine, then.' Whittier pressed a button on the conference phone and asked his secretary for the records. Davis was sure Whittier could have accessed them from his laptop, but that would have necessitated moving from the second home to the third. While they waited for the records, Whittier remained silent, taking in the view
out his window as if neither Davis nor Field were there. In a minute, the secretary emerged with the records, handed them to Whittier, and vanished. Whittier slipped tortoiseshell reading glasses from his inside jacket pocket and popped them on the bridge of his nose. 'I hate that I have to wear these now,' he grumbled, almost to himself.
'What do the records show?' Davis asked, because he couldn't not. If something had gone wrong with Newlin's plan, it could have been the timing.
'Well, I was right,' Whittier said, underlining one entry with his finger.' C I: JN re Florrman bill. That means I spoke with Jack Newlin from 6:15 to 6:30, regarding the bill in Florrman.'
'May I see that, please?' Davis accepted the records, without remarking that Whittier would bill a client for discussing the client's bill. He knew it was common in the white-shoe firms. That was how they paid for the second and third homes. Davis skimmed the records. Shit. The timing was a dry hole. 'Did you record this right after the conversation?'
'Yes, I always do.' Whittier paused. 'It does bring back my conversation with Jack, that night.'
'I was just getting to that. Tell me about it.'
'Well, I saw him walking past my door, his office is just down the hall, and it struck me as earlier than he usually left. I had been wanting to talk to him about the Florrman bill all day but I got tied up in meetings, so when I saw Jack I knew I had to grab him. I called to him and he didn't stop, so I went to fetch him in the hall. I told him I had some concerns about the bill in Florrman, that at six months it was an older receivable. It-was time to dun the client in some effective manner. More effective than whatever Jack was doing.'
'What did he say to you?'
'He loathed to dun clients, but he said he'd get it current and that he had to go. He said he had dinner planned with Honor.'
'He said "dinner planned with Honor"?'
'Yes, and he seemed agitated.'
Davis wrote it down verbatim. 'How agitated?'
'Very. He was preoccupied the entire time I was speaking with him. He seemed nervous, and in a hurry. It was evident, and I told him so. I asked him if anything was the matter.'
Davis made a another note. It was so good for premeditation. 'What did he say?'
'He said he was fine. Great. Never better.'
'Would you testify to this conversation and your observations at trial?'
'If I were subpoenaed.'
'Fine. Do you know how he and Honor got along?'
'Well, as far as we could tell. They were an intensely private couple, though, not the type to socialize or serve on boards other than the Foundation. Still Honor was a wonderful woman, a lovely woman. Devoted to her husband and daughter.'
Davis paused. 'She must have left a will.'
'Yes, it will be probated as soon as possible.'
The will was prepared by this firm, right?'
'Yes. I supervised its preparation.'
Davis wasn't surprised. A document that important would have to be blessed by the firm's managing partner, and Newlin was too smart to do it himself. It would look like a conflict of interest for him to prepare a will that named him the lucky winner of the Buxton lottery. 'Who benefits under her will?'
The beneficiary won't be released until we receive a death certificate, and that information is confidential.'
'Again, I'll honor the confidence until probate, when it becomes public record. But I need to know now. Who benefits under the will?'
'Well, well.' Whittier cleared his throat, setting his neck wattle jiggling above a stiff white collar. The answer to your question is rather complicated, but in essence, Honor
left a personal estate worth fifty million dollars. Now, as you know, that's separate from the Foundation's corpus, which would exist in perpetuity, even after her death. Only the fifty million descends under the will, and none of it was earmarked for charity.'
Davis smiled to himself. Only the fifty million. 'So Newlin gets the fifty mil.'
'No.' Whittier shook his head. 'Not at all. The daughter does. Paige inherits the fifty million.'
The prosecutor's mouth went dry. It couldn't be. His theory of motive flew out the window. 'Newlin doesn't benefit under the will?'
'Jack? Not a penny.' Whittier 's lips set firmly. 'He gets nothing.'
That can't be. Do you have the will? I'll keep it confidential and I did subpoena it.'
'I have it right here.' Whittier glanced at Field, pulled a thick packet with a blue backer from a folder in front of him, and passed it across the desk.
'Thank you,' Davis said, snatching the will from the table. Its pages felt smooth under his fingers, which almost itched as he thumbed through the document. How could this be? He speed-read the provisions, all corporate boilerplate, until he got to the relevant provisions, which clearly explained the bequest. It provided that Paige would inherit one-third of her mother's estate at age twenty-one, one-third at age twenty-five, and the final third at age thirty. There was no mention of Jack Newlin at all. Davis looked up, speechless, but Whittier had taken a sudden interest in the cityscape outside the window.
'You may want to talk with one of our other partners, if you have further questions,' he said casually.
'What do you mean?' Davis looked from Whittier to Field and back again. He didn't get what was going on. The will had thrown him off-balance. Were they trying to tell him something? And trying not to, at the same time? It was exactly what you'd expect from a law firm that wants to
shaft one of its own partners and avoid massive liability therefore. 'Who else should I speak with?'
'His name is Marc Videon. But you'll need a subpoena.'
I'll have it sent right over.'
'We'll need it before you speak with him.'
'Consider it done.' Davis felt urgent. Where was this leading? 'Who's Videon?'
'He's one of our more specialized lawyers at Tribe. Sui generis. A department unto himself.'
'What's this Videon do?'
'Divorce,' Whittier answered, and for a minute, Davis couldn't reply.