Capitol Threat (Ben Kincaid Series #15)by William Bernhardt
When Oklahoma attorney Ben Kincaid came to Washington, D.C., to defend a senator caught in a red-hot sex scandal turned murder case, he never dreamed he’d end up trading the courtroom for the senate chamber. And after his not-so-distinguished client stepped down, Ben found himself appointed to complete the sullied senator’s term. Now, having barely
When Oklahoma attorney Ben Kincaid came to Washington, D.C., to defend a senator caught in a red-hot sex scandal turned murder case, he never dreamed he’d end up trading the courtroom for the senate chamber. And after his not-so-distinguished client stepped down, Ben found himself appointed to complete the sullied senator’s term. Now, having barely gotten his political sea legs, he must rise to yet another challenge: advising the president’s next Supreme Court nominee during the sometimes thorny confirmation process. Luckily, Judge Thaddeus Roush’s popularity on both sides of the aisle looks to make him a shoo-in. Until he decides to out himself on national television–igniting a Beltway uproar and setting the stage for a bare-knuckle partisan brawl.
Forced to scramble for spin control, Ben hastily calls a press conference for the now controversial candidate. But the photo op becomes a tabloid nightmare when, on live TV, a brutally murdered woman is discovered in the judge’s backyard. For the political forces out to torpedo the nomination of a gay Supreme Court Justice, the shocking turn of events is pure gold.
With the secret backing of the president and a made-to-order new candidate waiting in the wings, the cagey senate majority leader and his most ruthless allies mount a smear campaign that would put Joe McCarthy to shame. But Team Kincaid isn’t about to let the best man for the job get derailed.
While Ben uses his best courtroom strategies to wage a war of words, his crack private eye, Loving, hits the capital streets to fight a much more hands-on battle–with hustlers, hit men, and homicidal hoods–as he digs for dirt in places even Deep Throat would avoid. It’s soon clear that this game is anything but politics as usual.
In Capitol Threat, William Bernhardt serves up a resounding one-two punch of political intrigue and legal suspense peppered with a volley of his trademark plot twists, sly wit, and persistent thrills.
“A white-knuckle page-turner . . . Don’t start this book when you have something important to do.”
“Political infighting and backstabbing, Kincaid faces it all.”
–New York Daily News
“[William Bernhardt is a] master of the legal thriller.”
Read an Excerpt
Capitol ThreatA Novel
By William Bernhardt
Ballantine BooksCopyright © 2007 William Bernhardt
All right reserved.
Prologue Ten Years Earlier
I wish it didn't have to be this way. That's what I kept saying to myself, throughout the entire ordeal, and long after it was over. But there was never any choice, not really. I did what I had to do. I knew someone would probably end up dead. I just assumed it would be me.
As we embarked on this misbegotten adventure, I checked to make sure my weapon was primed and loaded and simultaneously reminded myself that Schopenhauer postulated the existence of an indifferent universe. An Immanent Will shaping our destiny. Not that the cosmos is actively opposed to us, as some of the nihilists might have you believe, but simply disinterested. There is no such thing as luck, because the concept of luck presupposes a sentient being dealing out favors. So in Schopenhauer's view, the ease with which the whole job went down, at least initially, was due not to providence but merely to the chance occurrence of inconceivable and uncontrollable forces.
As it turned out, Schopenhauer was wrong. I had a huge load of luck coming my way. I just forgot to duck before the inevitable reckoning.
I couldn't believe how simple the break-in was. We bought the costumes at a party shop, for heaven's sake, right next to the pointed hats and the noisemakers. I suppose the dubious authenticity didn't matter--we looked, at least at first sight, like two members of the localpolice. Flipped the fake IDs Jack had bought and we were inside. I was stunned at the effortlessness of it all. Granted, we weren't breaking into a bank. I didn't expect security at that level. But I expected something, given the value of the merchandise. The lack of security was why Jerry accepted the gig when Renny came calling. This is the second most profitable criminal enterprise in the world, he told me, but the security is no better than what you'd expect at a comic-book convention. Jack didn't care about the merchandise; he certainly had no appreciation for it. It was a job, one he couldn't do alone, so he dragged me along. Into the fire. We are tested by fire; that's what Nietzsche taught. What does not kill us makes us stronger. So I accepted. So I would be stronger. At least I told myself that was the reason. Maybe I just wanted to make enough money that I didn't have to take every petty job that came my way. Maybe I wanted enough money so that the next time I had to make a decision--like the one that took Catherine away from me--I wouldn't make the wrong one.
Must've been the way I carried myself, or the look in my eye, or perhaps the fact that I was way too underweight to be a police officer. Maybe it was my long blond hair, or excessive makeup, or the party-shop shoes that didn't quite fit. I'll never know for certain, but one of the museum guards began scrutinizing me intently almost immediately after we arrived. I knew he was suspicious. And I knew that the more time passed, the more opportunity he would have to do something about it. So I cold-cocked him in the face. Elbow to the nose, sudden flash of searing pain, blood everywhere. His partner reacted, but not fast enough. Jerry flattened him before he could unsnap his holster. A few more blows to the head and they were both laid out on the cold marble floor, their faces looking as if they'd been scraped with sandpaper. That was the problem with these security guys--they didn't really expect trouble. They didn't have the wariness of true beat cops, the subliminal awareness of possible death lurking behind every door. Maybe we were teaching them a lesson, I thought, just as Locke argued that all life, all experience, was instructional. In the future, they would be more careful.
"Have a reason for that," Jerry asked, "or just didn't like the way he looked at you?"
"He made me," I answered.
"He didn't have time. Suspicious, maybe."
"We were going to have to do it eventually."
"Yes, but you didn't have to do it so quickly and with such gusto. Better hope that basement is where we think it is." He grinned in a way that made me disgusted with myself just for being with him. "You really do hate men, don't you?"
I didn't bother trying to deny it. "I have my reasons," I said quietly.
We made our way down to the basement, where the goods we wanted were stored--the ones that didn't appear on the official inventory. It was a dark, dank, and dingy place, obviously not meant to be viewed by the public. But what was stored there! Beauty and banality, all commingled in one subterranean package.
We went to work. Jerry had a list. We were very selective. I used my X-Acto knife to cut a lovely oil of a wooden ship loaded with men being tossed about by a wicked storm. It looked old, but I wouldn't know; philosophy was my gig, not art history. We were almost finished when I heard Jerry say the single simple sentence that changed everything:
"I'm keeping Isabella."
"You can't do that."
"What--you come this far only to balk at a little kidnapping?"
"We have a list, Jerry. If we go off-plan we risk getting caught."
"We took that risk the second we put on these cop suits."
"They won't pay a ransom. This is supposed to be a snatch and run, pure and simple."
"Then I'll keep her. She can be mine. All mine." He hugged the statuary as if it were an actual naked woman. A wild, dangerously crazy look flickered in his eyes. "I'll be good to her. I'll be so good she'll never want to leave me."
I'll just bet he would. I stopped cutting and drew myself up to my full height, which not incidentally was three inches taller than his. "I won't let you screw this up, Jerry. It's too important. I need this." And I did need it. I felt that in my inner core, for reasons I couldn't even begin to explain. It was like a Kantian imperative.
"So that's it?" he growled. "End of discussion?"
"Pretty much, yeah." I returned to my work. The sooner we were out of there, the better.
Naturally, he wouldn't let it go. "Did you forget that this is my job? That you're working for me?"
"Yeah, and you're working for Renny, and this is not what he told you to do."
"You've always been a pain in the butt, you know that? Too damn smart to have anything to do with the rest of us morons. Except the way I see it, for all your supposed brains, you're here in the same cellar with me, doing the same grunt work, living hand-to-mouth, hoping today isn't the day the feds finally show up at your doorstep. Hell, you couldn't even keep your own kid--"
"Jerry! End this!" I didn't mean to point the knife at him. I mean, how much damage could I really do with an X-Acto? It was just a gesture, an unintended one. But Jerry took it as a threat. He kicked the knife out of my hand, then threw himself on top of me. I might have been taller, but he was a lot heavier. He pinned me down, his hot, sweaty, disgusting body much too close to mine.
A moment later, his fingers wrapped around my neck.
"I don't need you anymore," he whispered. "You've already done everything I needed you to do. You're expendable." He clutched my throat even tighter. His fingernails pierced my flesh, drawing blood. I felt light-headed, unfocused, like my consciousness was slowly slipping away. "News flash, Vickie. You're not the only one who knows how to hate."
I wanted to fight. I tried. But trapped in that position, pinned beneath him, I was helpless. Struggling was useless; there was simply nothing I could do. He crushed my windpipe in his iron grip. As I felt blackness sweeping over me, knowing with sudden and fearful certainty that I would never wake up again, a million thoughts raced through my brain. Bertrand Russell thought that death was a doorway, simply the next part of the journey. But what the hell did that atheist know about it? One thing was certain--higher learning could not help me now. I was going to the one place where philosophy was of no avail.
No one could have been more surprised than I was to find myself awake and alive. Bound and gagged, bleeding from a dozen places, in tremendous pain, but alive. A blessing, or a curse? Coin toss.
Jerry had hogtied me and thrown me in the back of the van with the goodies. Including Isabella, the stupid fool. We'd brought a lot of rope, anticipating that we might run into trouble. I should've known the primary source of trouble would be Jerry. I was tied so tightly the ropes burned my flesh through my clothing whenever I wiggled. Blood mingled with hemp to create a nauseating, frightening smell that permeated the truck. I don't know why he didn't finish me off--probably just didn't want to leave a telltale body at the scene of the crime. He'd get around to murdering me soon enough. He'd make me so much roadkill on the side of the Boston Turnpike.
I was lying on my side, unable to move my hands or legs. With extreme effort, and despite the protest of every muscle in my body, I managed to push myself upright. But how did that help? I couldn't possibly get free. There was no slack in the ropes at all.
Unless . . . I created some.
It was a class I'd taken in American history--under protest. Required reading included a series of short biographies. One of them was about Erich Weiss, better known as Harry Houdini. An American icon. Scholars still didn't know how he managed to accomplish many of his escapes. But they knew the secret to one of them: they knew how he managed to escape from all those straitjackets. Seemed he was able to dislocate his shoulder. Hurt like hell, but the suddenly limp and lowered limb created enough slack to allow him to wriggle out of the jacket.
Hell, I was a philosophy major, not a damned magician. No way I could do anything like that. Right?
Then I thought of Jerry, his hot fetid breath in my face, his hand clutched around my throat, using me and then disposing of me, like so many men before him. So many.
Catherine . . .
I clenched my eyes tightly closed. I could taste blood on my lips. I didn't know where it had come from. Didn't matter--there was likely a lot more forthcoming. I concentrated on my left shoulder--it was the more flexible. I remembered the diagrams of the ball-and-socket joint we had studied in Zoology 101. And then I strained, twisted, feeling as if I were pulling my muscles against themselves, forcing the shoulder bone out of its natural home . . .
It hurt--dear God in heaven it hurt so much--as lightning flashes of pain raced down my entire body. I'd never felt anything like that before. Before I started, I thought I couldn't possibly hurt more than I already did, but I was wrong, so pathetically wrong. I was sure I would lose consciousness again, for the second time in an hour . . .
It took three attempts and I don't know how long--too long--till I heard the snapping noise, followed by a momentary sensation of release, followed by a wave of agony so intense I threw up all over the floor of the truck. I hoped I didn't damage any of the goods, but at the moment, that wasn't my primary concern. I fell forward, my head hitting the floor, vomit followed by drool and blood, overwhelmed by the mind-numbing aching in my left shoulder. I babbled and spit and breathed in short, quick gulps, as if spastic respiration might somehow fix my shattered body. The pain was so intense-- if I had been cut open with a knife, it couldn't possibly hurt any more . . .
Know thyself, Socrates said. Well, I knew myself well enough now.
If I could do that, I could do anything.
Excerpted from Capitol Threat by William Bernhardt Copyright © 2007 by William Bernhardt. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
William Bernhardt is the author of many novels, including Primary Justice, Murder One, Criminal Intent, Death Row, Hate Crime, Dark Eye, and Capitol Murder. He has twice won the Oklahoma Book Award for Best Fiction, and in 2000 he was presented the H. Louise Cobb Distinguished Author Award “in recognition of an outstanding body of work in which we understand ourselves and American society at large.” A former trial attorney, Bernhardt has received several awards for his public service. He lives in Tulsa, and readers can e-mail him at WB@williambernhardt.com or visit his website at www.williambernhardt.com.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews
Great book...I didn't want to put it down.
This book is so politically biased it is funny. The Republicans are evil and the Democrats are everything good. Send Ben back to Oklahoma and let him be a great attorney. I suspect Capitol Conspiracy will make the Democratic National Committee proud! There are a lot of good mystery writers out there-I would suggest you make the switch!
The premise of a gay Supreme Court justice being appointed intrigued me well enough, and I did finish this novel by William Bernahrdt as I was perversely drawn into his unfolding drama, but it became so absurd that I couldn't look myself in the mirror after finishing it! A Republican nominee is discarded by his own party right after his nomination, and everything but the kitchen sink is thrown in his way to confirmation. There are so many unlikely twists and turns as to defeat any plausibilty to the story. A subplot of sorts involving a private investigator and a transvestite is simply ludicrous. The PI survives more near death experiences than Wily E. Coyote. One wonders why the author didn't try to write something a little more believable given the interesting premise. Maybe it's just that a gay Supreme Court Justice is still so unthinkable that a comic look at the idea was all that he could muster.
When the Senator from Oklahoma dies while in office the governor of that state appoints renowned defense attorney Ben Kincaid to replace him. He is doing his best to navigate the treacherous waters of Congress because he has never been interested in politics. --- There is a vacancy on the Supreme Court and the outgoing Republican president nominates Thaddeus Roush to fill the position. Everyone is surprised when Thad takes the opportunity to tell the world he is gay. The Republicans want him defeated and the Democrats want him to become the next judge of the Supreme Court. At a press conference at his home, a woman is found murdered and Thad¿s lover is standing over the body. Although it looks like he will lose, the Democrats especially Ben, act as his advocate at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing and during the time leading up to it. The Republicans run a very dirty campaign and it is only Ben¿s eloquent speech that gets him the committee¿s approval. When certain events in Thad¿s past are made public, Ben realizes that there is a conspiracy to keep him off the bench so Ben mounts a defense for a very good man. --- Politics can get down and dirty and William Bernhardt shows just how ugly it can get in CAPITAL THREAT. The sad part is many readers will have no trouble believing the conspiracy, the murder, and the truly vicious smear campaigns as an everyday occurrence on Capitol Hill and elsewhere. The hero is his usual heroic self as he fights to help a good person defeat enemies he never knew he had. Mr. Bernhardt has proven time and time again that he is a great storyteller. --- Harriet Klausner