Davis knew who Marc Videon was the moment he entered the divorce lawyer's office at Tribe amp; Wright. Marc Videon was The Necessary Evil. Corporate law firms didn't want their CEO clients to go to elsewhere to off-load their wives, because there was a chance they wouldn't come back, so the firms were forced to employ a Necessary Evil. Davis had encountered one in every white-shoe Philly firm, and the suspect profile was so blatant it should have been unconstitutional: The Necessary Evil was always an outsider in a bad suit, nominally a partner and compensated on a salaried basis, and invite only to those firm social functions that the messengers went to, democratic events like the Christmas Party. Meeting Videon, Davis saw that he fit the bill, with his too-wide pinstripes that fit too tight on his squat form, a slightly greasy face with small features, and unnaturally dark hair that matched a pointy black goatee.
'Sit down, please,' Videon said, seating himself. His office was as large as other Tribe partners, but in law firms, everything was location, location, location, and Videon's office was nowhere, stuck on the bottom floor of the firm near the duplicating department. Davis could practically feel the heat and hear the harsh cathunka of Xerox machines as big as oil tankers, belching paper like smoke. Nor was Davis surprised to see that Videon had only one desk, an undistinguished box of walnut veneer, with chairs and end tables that reflected only a mid-range furniture allowance.
'Thanks.' Davis introduced himself, then sat down across from Videon's desk, which was cluttered with papers, cases, and scribbled notes. The Pennsylvania guidelines for alimony rested on the keyboard of a thick grey laptop,
and Davis pulled out his legal pad. Next to him sat Art Field, the tape recorder with a law degree. Whittier had excused himself for this meeting, and Davis assumed he'd gone on to gouge the Fortune 500 in six-minute increments. 'I appreciate your agreeing to meet with me on such short notice.'
'What "agreeing"? I'm under subpoena, n'est-ce pas?' Videon's neat head swiveled to Art Field, who was clearly annoyed at being acknowledged.
'Yes,' Field answered. 'There is a document subpoena as well.'
Videon smiled. 'Oh, goody. I like it rough.' He ran a manicured hand through his thinning hair, which was nevertheless black as night. In fact, Davis figured that BLACK AS NIGHT was the name on the box. Videon had to be sixty, if he was a day. 'I knew you'd come to talk to me sooner or later. Let's start with what a shame it is about Honor Newlin.'
'It is a shame,' Davis said, seriously. He wasn't so sure he liked The Necessary Evil, which would make sense. Evil shouldn't have a lot of running buddies.
'Yes, of course, a shame. A terrible shame. A terrible tragedy. Have I said "terrible" enough yet to convince you of my sincerity? Put otherwise, are you buying this shit?' Videon paused as if expecting an answer, but Davis didn't give him one. 'Yes, well, to the facts. Honor Newlin was in to see me on Monday. The day she was murdered. She wanted to divorce Jack.'
'Begin at the beginning.' Davis took out his pen and pad. 'What time did you see her?'
'First thing in the morning, I think. Hold on.' Videon moved the alimony guidelines aside, adjusted the laptop, and hit a few keys. Davis couldn't read the screen because of the angle. 'Honor came in at 9:30. She was late and she'd already had a drink.'
Davis made a note, hiding his surprise. He didn't dare look over at Field. 'How do you know?'
'I knew her. Besides, I offered her one, and she turned me down. She said she'd already had one. Other than that, pure guesswork.'
'What did you offer her?'
'She drank Scotch.' Videon paused, then smiled. 'You disapprove.'
'Have you ever been divorced, Mr Clean?'
'Good for you. Was it nasty at least?'
'Lord, what a waste.' Videon sighed. 'Sorry you disapprove of my methods. I'm a divorce lawyer, son. I keep Kleenexes for the wives and Scotch for the husbands. Sometimes, there's a crossover, for women with more bucks than estrogen.' He waved in the direction of a dark cabinet under a window that over-looked a rooftop parking lot. 'You want a snoot?'
'I don't drink.'
'I knew that,' Videon said, and laughed. 'What do you do for laughs?'
'I do justice.' Davis smiled.
'Hah! I knew we had nothing in common.' Videon shifted forward in his high-backed chair. 'You try to change the world, right?'
'Perhaps,' Davis answered, though he had never thought of it that way.
'Well, I try to keep it the same. The rich retain power and money. The poor try to get it and lose. You even up the odds, and I keep them out of whack, the way my clients want them.' Videon eased back in his chair, his dark eyes scrutinizing Davis. 'You aren't comfortable with my honesty.'
'I'm comfortable with what pertains to the Newlin case,' Davis answered, impatient.
'Oh, but it does. Honor Newlin walked in with all the money and she wanted to walk out with it.' Videon turned
to his laptop and hit a key to scroll down. 'This year I saw Honor Newlin twice, including the day she was killed. I'll give you a copy of what I'm looking at, it's my time records. Besides the day she was murdered, I met with her on January fourth, the first business day after the New Year. She said her New Year's resolution was shedding Jack.'
Davis made a note. 'Back up a minute. She called you, for the first appointment?'
'Tell me about it.'
'The first time, she told me she wanted a divorce.'
'Did she say why?'
'She felt her marriage was moribund. Things hadn't turned out the way she hoped. She had Vennui, la malaise, and other French things. She was a victim of empty mansion syndrome and expected Jack to fill the void, to ascend the ranks to managing partnerdom. But he wasn't, even with the Buxton dough. Why?' Videon glanced at Field, seeking neither permission nor approval. They used to say Jack was too much of a nice guy. That he didn't have the killer instinct. Hah! Perceptive, non?'
Field cleared his throat. That's quite enough, Marc.'
'I heard that Jack confessed to the police,' Videon said to Davis. 'Did he?'
'I can't comment.'
'Of course. What a perfect answer. How do they make people like you? So upright. You're the good guy. I always wanted to meet a good guy, but I'm a divorce lawyer. Did I mention that?' Videon smiled at a joke only he knew. 'As I was saying, Honor wanted the divorce, and she asked me, in our first meeting, to review her prenuptial agreement.' *
'She had a prenup?'
'Do I look stupid?'
'You drafted it?'
'I'm more than just a pretty face.'
'What did it provide?'
'What else? That if they divorce, Jack gets rien. Nothing. Squat.'
Davis made a note. 'Isn't that a conflict? I mean, you worked with Jack, so why would she come to you for a prenup?'
'Jack asked me to draft the damn thing, and it was completely against him. Go figure. The Foundation has since become one of our most valued clients, heh hen.'
'What's funny about that?' Davis asked, cranky, and Field looked miffed as well.
'Well, the Foundation is a private charity, as opposed to a public charity, like the Red Cross. That means there's virtually no oversight of the billings at all. It's even better than a corporate client because they watch the bills. The Buxton Foundation was a license to rape and plunder.'
Field gasped. 'Marc! Show some judgment!'
Videon scoffed. 'As if it weren't common knowledge.'
'It isn't,' Field said. 'Please excuse my partner -'
'- he knows not what he does/ Videon supplied, but Field was visibly agitated.
'That's quite enough, Marc. Please. Mr Davis, leave this subject or I end the interview.'
'Fine.' Davis nodded, though it confirmed his suspicions about the Foundation's value to Jack. 'You were saying, about the prenup.'
Videon sighed theatrically. 'Anyway, the prenup was sound and I told Honor so. She asked me to prepare the divorce papers and came in to review them with me the day she was murdered.'
'Did she get them that day?'
'Actually, no. There were two typos, both inconsequential, but she wouldn't wait for them to be corrected. I said we'd redo the papers and FedEx them to the house, but I got called into a meeting. I did have her sign the signature page for convenience.' Videon searched his desk, rifling through yellow slips that littered his desk like autumn
leaves. He produced a piece of white paper and handed it across the desk. 'Here.'
Davis skimmed the page. A standard verification, and at the bottom Honor's signature. Honor Buxton Newlin. Her handwriting was feminine, and Davis stared at it for a minute with sympathy. It was as if she had signed her own death warrant. He pondered its significance. 'If Honor had lived to divorce Jack, would he have stayed at the firm?'
Videon fingered his stiff goatee. 'Probably not.'
'Even though he was head of the estates department?'
'Big fucking deal.'
'Would he have been fired?'
'No, but he would have left on his own, public emasculation being an excellent incentive.'
'Honor told me she didn't want to deal with Jack on a day-to-day basis, on matters for the Foundation. The management and billings of the array of Buxton matters would have shifted to somebody else in the firm, probably Big Bill Whittier, because we'd be damned if we'd lose it. Jack would have been shit out of luck.'
Davis remembered his meeting with Whittier. He turned to Field. 'If Honor divorced Newlin and he lost the Buxton billings, his draw would be lowered by about a million dollars a year? Ballpark?'
'Yes,' Field answered.
Videon burst into laughter. 'Rags to riches and back again,' he said, but Davis was too intent to make light of it.
'Did Newlin have any other sources of income that you know of?'
'Not that I know of,' Field answered, and Videon looked incredulous. *
'Are you kidding?'
Davis considered it. 'So the only way Newlin could keep his job and his income from the Buxton billings was if Honor stayed married to him. Or if she died before she could divorce him.'
'I didn't say that,' Field said quickly, and Videon waved his hand.
Tm a witness. He didn't say that. If he said that, he'd get his ass sued.'
Davis tuned Videon out, putting his case together. It no longer mattered that Newlin didn't benefit under the will. A million dollars a year and preservation of career were more than enough for motive. Of course Newlin had planned to kill her, to keep the goodies. But Davis's premeditation theory worked only if Newlin had known the divorce was coming. He turned to Videon, who had finally stopped laughing. 'How often had they discussed divorce?'
'They hadn't discussed divorce at all.'
'What? Of course they had/ Davis said, and Videon smiled.
'How do you know?'
'I assumed it.'
'Mr Clean, you should know that "when we assume, we make an ass out of you and me." Camus said that. Or Sartre. Or my fourth-grade teacher.'
Davis still wasn't laughing. 'How could they not have discussed divorce?'
'They hadn't. I got the impression she had been thinking about it for a long time, then – boom – decided to do it. That would be Honor, impulsively destructive. She told me she was worried that Jack was thinking about it and she wanted to beat him to the punch. He had no idea she was planning to make the first move. She said she couldn't wait to see the look on his face when she told him.'
'Do you think she could have mentioned it to him on the phone, maybe that day?'
'She could have, but she wouldn't have. That's not Honor.'
Davis couldn't let it go. The state of Newlin's knowledge was the linchpin of his prosecution. Otherwise, the jury would buy Newlin's rage-at-the-divorce defense. 'It doesn't
stand to reason. People always talk about divorce for a long time before they file.'
'Another assumption, monfrere.' Videon shook his head. 'Some do, but many don't. It's more husband behavior than wife, but it happens with some wives, too. They avoid the issue until they have to, then do it. The perfect clean break. In fact, where there's family money involved, I always advise a preemptive strike to maintain the advantage. Eliminate the fight over the prenup, like Pearl Harbor before the divorce war.'
Davis thought about it. 'Wait a minute. You work here, at Tribe, on the twentieth-fifth floor. Newlin works on the thirtieth. How is it that Honor comes to see you without him finding out?'
'He may have found out, for all I know. I asked her if she wanted to meet me somewhere else, both times. You can see, it ain't Versailles.' Videon gestured to his office mock-grandly. 'I was trying to respect her privacy and not tip off Jack. But Honor insisted we meet here.'
Davis brightened. 'So if Honor comes in to see you, the firm's divorce lawyer, everybody who sees her knows she's coming in to divorce Newlin. Secretaries, messengers, other lawyers, they'll all see her coming here. It would be a gossip item, wouldn't it?'
'Very dishy stuff. Not as cool as the sex-in-the-shower story I spread last week, but that's not pertinent here.'
Davis ignored it. What a loon. 'So it's possible, even likely, that Newlin could have found out that Honor had been in to see you that morning?'
'Correct, as you say.'
Davis felt a relieved grin spread across his face. He could prove through Videon that Newlin knew he was about to be disposed of, and it would also support Whittier's testimony that Newlin appeared agitated when he was leaving to go home. Newlin must have guessed Honor would be breaking up with him at dinner and decided to kill her then. That was premeditation, for sure. The law
was premeditation could happen in a matter of minutes; it didn't require weeks to plan. And Newlin couldn't hire somebody to do it because he didn't have time. Honor's murder was simply damage control. Davis almost jumped up in excitement as the puzzle fell into place. 'I assume you would you testify for us in court?'
Videon looked at Field. 'What's my line, boss man?'
'If you are subpoenaed, you must appear and give testimony.'
Videon looked at Davis. 'What he said.'
But the prosecutor had one last question. 'Why would the wife want to come here, to see you, for a divorce? Why risk it herself and why make it public? Why, even, embarrass her husband?'
'Again, you assume others see the world as you see it, but that, is a critical mistake. You cannot imagine why Honor Newlin would humiliate her spouse because you wouldn't. And undoubtedly didn't. You had an amicable divorce, you said.' The angles of Videon's face hardened. 'You did not know Honor Newlin. She was a beautiful woman, a gorgeous woman, but not a kind woman. Not a nice woman, at all.'
'Don't speak ill, Marc,' Field interrupted, but Videon waved him off.
'You must understand. Honor Newlin was one of the meanest women on the planet. It was subtle, it was socially acceptable, but it was true just the same. She just didn't connect with people. Maybe men, but not even them for long. She had no enduring emotion except indifference. Honor Newlin was a sociopath in silk.'
'Marc, Jesus!' Field cried, but Davis bristled.
'That's a little harsh, isn't it?' he asked. 'She was a philanthropist. She did good works through the Foundation.'
Videon scoffed. 'Are you completely naive, or just rehearsing for the jury? Honor Newlin didn't care about charity. The Foundation existed for generations before her and it
will exist for generations after. She had no interest in where the money went. Jack made all those decisions. He actually cared about the causes. Honor couldn't care less.'
Davis resisted it. 'Did you know her that well?'
'Well enough. Women tell their divorce lawyers everything. We're the gynecologists of the profession.' Videon leaned over his messy desk. 'I tell you. Honor Newlin would have enjoyed humiliating Jack in front of his partners, the secretaries, the clients, the whole fucking firm. She had decided to cut his balls off with a dull knife, merely to alleviate her own boredom, and she would want everybody to see it. All the better, so they all knew that she wielded the knife. Except, surprise, Jack upped the ante. He's more of a man than I knew.'
'Marc!' Field jumped to his feet. 'I think that's enough, quite enough. Mr Davis, you have the information you need, do you not?'
Davis nodded quickly. 'From Mr Videon, yes. But I do have one last stop before I leave.'