Read an Excerpt
During the long and sensational murder trial that had held the whole country spellbound and left the majority of the people outraged at the acquittal, commentators had invoked many adjectives to describe the man who led the team of defense attorneys. He had been called gaudy, flamboyant, a dude, and the courtroom cowboy. Yet these terms had failed miserably in preparing Peter Burford for the effect of seeing Theodore R. Janus in person.
He wore a white western-style Stetson hat, a three-quarter-length shearling jacket, a red-and-black plaid flannel shirt, a yellow neck bandana, and gleaming brown and white cowboy boots. Chocolate brown jeans cinched by a wide black belt cried out to support a holster and a Colt .45 Peacemaker six-shooter. The only indication that Janus was a lawyer was his bulky brown leather briefcase, which looked so shabby it was reasonable to suppose the silver-haired character who carried it into the office had picked up a far less successful attorney's by mistake.
"Back so soon, Mr. Janus," said Burford. Long and sinewy in mechanics' coveralls and with a well-worn gray Cessna Aircraft baseball cap cocked jauntily backward on a head of thinning blond hair, he stood at a combination counter and display case. With shelves cluttered by gauges, meters, oil pumps, and other aeronautical gadgets, it would be to an untrained eye as mysterious as the shelves of fat volumes of criminal and civil codes might appear to the clients of Janus's law firm. There the visitor invariably found wood-paneled walls festooned with expensivelyframed diplomas and certificates and quaint old prints of wigged and robed English barristers that had become familiar in British courtroom dramas of movies and on television in the form of Rumpole of the Bailey.
In Burford's realm, as in numberless small private aviation airports, airfields, and landing strips to which Janus had flown in the thirty-five years since earning his pilot's license, the attorney found the floor-to-ceiling sheets of faux wood paneling decorated with dime-store framed photographs of classic aircraft from double-winged and kitelike planes of the barnstorming era to sleek corporate jets of a world when travel had been measured in miles not time. Except for these, the office and the young man behind the counter might have been familiar to Charles A. Lindbergh.
Burford said, "Your Mooney's all fueled up, sir."
"Thank you. What do I owe you?"
"Fuel and topping off the oil came to fifty-eight dollars."
"And the car rental?"
"Did you happen to check your mileage?"
"The first hundred's included in the day rate, so that'll be thirty-six dollars" the young man said as he entered the mileage on the rental form.
From his wallet Janus drew a gold credit card and slapped it on the counter.
"You had no problem finding the prison, I hope, Mr. Janus."
"Your directions were excellent."
"I live not far from it, so I'm familiar with the route. And we often get people stopping to ask for directions, although most of the folks who come to Watertown to visit the prison don't fly in on their own planes."
"No, I'm sure," Janus said as he stuffed the receipt for the fuel and oil and a copy of the rental form into the bulging lackluster bag.
"I watched 'em build that place, you know." Burford went on. "That land used to be the site of a Nike missile base back in the old days when we worried about the damn Russians sending rockets across Canada en route to New York. I don't know what's a sadder comment on things, the need to build a missile defense against foreigners or us having to build prisons to protect us against our own people. Of course, nowadays they're not prisons. It's the Watertown Correctional Facility. I say we ought to forget about correcting those creeps. They're guilty. Let 'em rot in prison."
Janus smiled tightly. "You're quite the philosopher, sir."
"I hope you didn't take that personal. If I ever got in a mess I'd want the best mouthpiece in the country, which is you."
"You're very generous."
"Like everybody else in the whole country, I watched you on television during the big trial out in Los Angeles. You and your associates did an amazing job getting that guy off, even though I did think he was guilty as sin and walked away only on account of he had plenty of money to afford to hire the likes of you."
Janus's smile stretched thinner.
As Burford's skin flushed from his open collar to slightly receding hairline, he blurted, "Gee, I'm sorry. `Likes of you' was a bad choice of words. At times this old mouth of mine lands before my brain signals the wheels are down."
Janus's smile relaxed. "That's why there are lawyers."
"I understand it was your job to get him off."
"That was the jury's decision. But you are quite right about prisons. Blessed little correction is taking place."
Burford flashed a nervous smile. "Are there any changes in your plan, Mr. Janus?"
"Your flight plan."
"Oh. It's still straight back to Stone County Airport."
As to the other plan, the one that had brought him winging upstate to quaint old Watertown, he had run into a stone wall by the name of Jake Elwell.
Now it was back to square one.
"How's the flying weather?" he asked. "The announcer on the local radio station said some snow is in the offing. I can't be grounded. I've got a very important appointment tonight with a friend who's bringing me a box of rare Cuban cigars."
"Well, you needn't worry about snow delaying you. There's only the usual lake-effect showers expected from a weak front moving in. You'll be home long before it gets here."
"Thanks for your many kindnesses," said Janus, lifting the hefty bag and striding toward the door as if he were John Wayne or James Stewart going out to the street for a shootout. "You've got a fine little airport here and you run it very well."
"Hope to serve you again, sir."
Hurrying to his plane, Janus muttered, "Not bloody likely."
Flying all the way up to Watertown again in hope of finding that Jake Elwell had had a change of heart about talking would be a fool's errand.