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The Pardon and Beyond Suspicion
By James Grippando
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright ©2006 James Grippando
All right reserved.
It was 5:00 A.M. and Governor Harold Swyteck had finally fallen asleep on the daybed. Rest was always elusive on execution nights, which would have been news to anyone who'd heard the governor on numerous occasions emphasizing the need to evict "those holdover tenants" on Florida's overcrowded death row. A former cop and state legislator, Harry Swyteck had campaigned for governor on a law-and-order platform that prescribed more prisons, longer sentences, and more executions as a swift and certain cure for a runaway crime rate. After sweeping into office by a comfortable margin, he'd delivered immediately on his campaign promise, signing his first death warrant on inauguration day in January 1991. In the ensuing twenty-one months, more death warrants had received the governor's John Hancock than in the previous two administrations combined.
At twenty minutes past five, a shrill ring interrupted the governor's slumber. Instinctively, Harry reached out to swat the alarm clock, but it wasn't there. The ringing continued.
The phone," his wife grumbled from across the room, snug in their bed.
The governor shook himself to full consciousness, realized he was in the daybed, and then started at the blinkingred light on the security phone beside his empty half of the four-poster bed.
He stubbed his toe against the bed as he made his way toward the receiver. "Dammit! What is it?"
"Governor," came the reply, "this is security."
"I know who you are, Mel. What's the emergency?"
The guard shifted uncomfortably at his post, the way anyone would who'd just woken his boss before sunrise. "Sir, there's someone here who wants to see you. It's about the execution."
The governor gritted his teeth, trying hard not to misdirect the anger of a stubbed toe and a sleepless night toward the man who guarded his safety. "Mel-please. You can't be waking me up every time a last-minute plea lands on my doorstep. We have channels for these things. That's why I have counsel. Call them. Now, good -- "
"Sir," he gently interrupted, "I -- I understand your reaction, sir. But this one, I think, is different. Says he has information that will convince you Fernandez is innocent."
"Who is it this time?" Harry asked with a roll of his eyes. "His mother? Some friend of the family?"
"No, sir, he ... well, he says he's your son."
The governor was suddenly wide awake. "Send him in," he said, then hung up the phone. He checked the clock. Almost five-thirty. just ninety minutes left. One bell of a time for your first visit to the mansion, son.
Jack Swyteck stood stiffly on the covered front porch, not sure how to read the sullen expression on his father's face.
"Well, well," the governor said, standing in the open doorway in his monogrammed burgundy bathrobe. Jack was the governor's twenty-six-year-old son, his only offspring. Jack's mother had died a few hours after his birth. Try as he might, Harold had never quite forgiven his son for that.
"I'm here on business," Jack said quickly. "All I need is ten minutes."
The governor stared coolly across the threshold at Jack, who with the same dark, penetrating eyes was plainly his father's son. Tonight he wore faded blue jeans, a brown leather aviator's jacket, and matching boots. His rugged, broad-shouldered appearance could have made him an instant heartthrob as a country singer, though with his perfect diction and Yale law degree he was anything but country. His father had looked much the same in his twenties, and at fifty-three he was still lean and barrel-chested. He'd graduated from the University of Florida, class of '65 -- a savvy sabre-fencer who'd turned street cop, then politician. The governor was a man who could take your best shot, bounce right back, and hand you your head if you let your guard down. His son was always on guard.
"Come in," Harry said.
Jack entered the foyer, shut the door behind him, and followed his father down the main hall. The rooms were smaller than Jack had expected-elegant but simple, with high coffered ceilings and floors of oak and inlaid mahogany. Period antiques, silk Persian rugs, and crystal chandeliers were the principal furnishings. The art was original and reflected Florida's history.
"Sit down," said the governor as they stepped into the library at the end of the hall.
The dark-paneled library reminded Jack of the house in which he'd grown up. He sat in a leather armchair before the stone fireplace, his crossed legs fully extended and his boots propped up irreverently on the head of a big Alaskan brown bear that his father had years ago stopped in its tracks and turned into a rug. The governor looked away, containing his impulse to tell his son to sit up straight. He stepped behind the big oak bar and filled his old-fashioned glass with ice cubes. Jack did a double take. He thought his father had given up hard liquor-then again, this was the first time he'd seen him as Governor Swyteck. "Do you have to drink? Like I said, this is business."
The governor shot him a glance, then reached for the Chivas and filled his glass to the brim. "And this" -- he raised his glass -- "is none of your business. Cheers." He took a long sip.
Jack just watched, telling himself to focus on the reason he was there.
"So," the governor said, smacking his lips. "I can't really remember the last time we even spoke, let alone saw each other. How long has it been this time?"
Jack shrugged. "Two, two and a half years."
"Since your law-school graduation, wasn't it?"
"No" -- Jack's expression betrayed the faintest of smiles -- "since I told you I was...
Excerpted from The Pardon and Beyond Suspicion by James Grippando Copyright ©2006 by James Grippando. Excerpted by permission.
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