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When Men Betray
By Webb Hubbell
Beaufort BooksCopyright © 2014 Webb Hubbell
All rights reserved.
"Okay, Rose, what's so important that it can't wait? Did somebody die?"
I'd made it clear to Rose, my long-suffering assistant, that I wouldn't be available this long weekend—no phone calls, no e-mail, nothing. I turned on my Blackberry out of habit while I was waiting for my daughter, Beth, to finish getting ready for dinner. There were no calls from clients, but sure enough, there were half a dozen messages telling me to call the office immediately.
I'm an antitrust lawyer in Washington, DC, so the biggest emergency I could imagine was that one of my clients was about to be indicted. Normally, I would know about it long beforehand. Then again, the Justice Department loves to indict a high-profile client late on a Friday afternoon. With no one available to set bail or to do the paperwork to get the accused out of jail, the poor guy has to cool his heels in a holding tank or worse, leaving the press the whole weekend to repeat the prosecution's side of the story.
Beth walked out of her bathroom and frowned when she saw me on the phone. She and I had planned this long weekend for months.
It was Parents' Weekend at Davidson College, and I had promised her my undivided attention. As was typical, work was interrupting.
"No one died, Jack," Rose snapped.
"So tell me what's so urgent?"
"I really am sorry, but this woman was insistent. She wouldn't talk to another attorney and wouldn't tell me why she was calling. She kept saying you needed to call her right away. She was crying and sounded desperate. I couldn't just ignore her."
I tried to tone down my impatience. "Who, Rose? Who sounded desperate?"
"Oh, sorry. It was Helen Cole. She said you'd know her. I really am sorry, Jack.... Was I wrong to bother you with this?"
Helen Cole. The very name brought on a flood of memories. Her son, Woody, is one of my best friends.
"It's okay. You did the right thing. I do know her, and I'll take care of it."
"Can I do anything for you here?"
"It's already past six o'clock; you go home and have a good weekend." I clicked off the phone, trying not to worry.
"Okay, Dad. You ready to head out?" Beth asked tentatively. "There's this great running store I want to pop into before it closes. It's on the way."
Apparently our weekend would include shopping. Beth was a junior at Davidson College, one of the "southern Ivies," an excellent liberal-arts school located in the town of Davidson, North Carolina, about twenty miles north of Charlotte. Tomorrow there were all kinds of organized activities on campus, but tonight it was only the two of us. Beth had chosen a favorite restaurant near my hotel in Charlotte.
"Hang on, sweetheart," I said, punching in a phone number long held in my memory. "I'll make this quick."
As my call went through, I didn't miss Beth's heavy sigh. Our father-daughter weekend was off to a poor start, and I had a feeling it was about to get worse.
"Hello?" An unfamiliar voice answered the phone.
"Hi, this is Jack Patterson. I'm calling for Helen Cole."
A muffled voice called out, "Helen? A Jack Patterson. Should I take a message?" It was only a few seconds before I heard a voice I'd known for more than half my life.
"Jack! Thank God you called!"
"What's the matter, Mrs. Cole?"
"Have you seen? I just ... I just can't believe it. I don't believe it. He needs ... oh, Jack, he needs you! We both need you!" She was almost incoherent.
"Hold on, Mrs. Cole. Please slow down. Has something happened to Woody?" For years, Woody's mom had asked me to call her Helen, and even though I thought of her as Helen, I couldn't bring myself to do it. On the other hand, she still used her son's given name, Philip, and refused to call him by his nickname.
"Haven't you seen the news?" she asked, her voice breaking into a sob. "It's all over television. Oh, Lord, it's terrible. But he couldn't have done it. Jack, he—" I could hear voices in the background trying to soothe her as she broke down.
"What on earth is this all about?" I gestured at Beth to turn on the TV in her dorm room, mouthing, "C-N-N."
Mrs. Cole gathered herself and spoke again, her voice shaky. "Jack, you've got to straighten this out. There has to be some mistake. Philip couldn't ..."
I didn't hear the rest of what she said because I was staring at the TV, watching my friend Woody Cole and US Senator Russell Robinson in the rotunda of the Arkansas Capitol. They were arguing heatedly. Suddenly, Woody pulled a pistol out of his coat pocket, thrust it to the side of the senator's head, and the gun exploded.
Beth gasped in disbelief, covering her mouth with both hands. Woody had shot Russell Robinson in cold blood. It was a horrific scene—the camera jerked away to show people screaming and running, and then returned to the senator, who lay on the marble floor with blood flowing freely from his shattered head. Woody stood beside him looking like a lost child, the gun still in his hands.
"Jack, are you still there?"
"Mrs. Cole—I don't know what to say. I just saw it. I don't ... I can't believe that's Woody." I tried to gather my wits, but my head was spinning in disbelief.
Helen's voice quickened, stronger now, "The press is everywhere. I can't leave the house, and Sheriff Barnes won't let me talk to Philip. Jack, you have to come. Philip needs you."
"Oh, Mrs. Cole, I'm so sorry. I can't imagine what I could ... He's going to need a good defense attorney. If I can help financially—"
"Jack Patterson, you listen to me. We need you. We need you here, right now." Her tone brooked no argument.
I took a deep breath. I didn't need to be reminded of what I owed this woman. "Mrs. Cole, you know I'll do whatever I can. I'll catch a flight to Little Rock first thing tomorrow. I'll be there—try not to worry."
I put the Blackberry down slowly and looked at Beth, expecting to see dismay and disappointment in her face. Our well-laid plans had fallen apart in a matter of minutes.
"Oh, my God, Dad! What happened? Was that Woody's mother on the phone? You're going to Little Rock?" Her reaction didn't surprise me.
"I'm sorry, Beth, but you saw it—Woody's in real trouble. I have no clue what happened or what I can do, but Mrs. Cole says they need me. I have to go."
I could see the wheels turning in her head—and when she spoke, she surprised me. In a tone of voice she'd learned from her mother, she said, "Of course you do. I totally understand. Let me just pack some things."
I started to protest, but she cut me off as quickly as Helen Cole had.
"Jesus, Dad, it's fine. We had this weekend set aside, and if we have to spend it in Little Rock, that's what we'll do. I mean, I can't believe this is happening, but ... well, if nothing else, I'll finally get to see where you grew up." She turned to her dresser.
No argument, no debate, end of discussion—much like my Angie. She seldom insisted on anything, but when she did, there was no mistaking her resolve. Truth be told, if I had to go to Little Rock, it felt better to have Beth going with me.
"Thanks, Beth. I'm glad you feel that way. You can stay with me at the Westin in Charlotte tonight, and we'll catch an early plane out tomorrow morning. Then we ... then we'll, uh ..."
My voice faded, and my mind sort of slipped out of gear. The shock of what I'd seen had sunk in. What's more, I was about to return to my boyhood home, a place I hadn't been in almost twenty-five years.
Excerpted from When Men Betray by Webb Hubbell. Copyright © 2014 Webb Hubbell. Excerpted by permission of Beaufort Books.
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