From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Chapter One: Black for Mourning
Already, the telephone in the study was ringing. They had just come in the front door from a glorious month at the family cottage at Murray Bay, Quebec: the clear frigid water with its walleye and bass and muskie, the autumn trees, the brisk air, the children. Ten years they'd been married, Charlie and Eleanor Taft, but instead of a second honeymoon they'd chosen to take the children along, and it had so been the right thing.
Charlie carried a couple of bags, though the staff was unloading most of them. Now he dropped them in the doorway and raced to catch the call.
"Charlie," Eleanor said. "You're still on your holiday! How important -- " But he was gone.
"Taft," he said. It was one of his assistant prosecutors. As the man spoke, Charlie watched through the front window.
"Samuel!" Eleanor called.
Sam paused on the running board of the Pierce-Arrow as he reached up toward the canoe tied to the rooftop, his cuffs extending out from his coat sleeves. Charlie had always noticed how dark those white cuffs made Samuel's skin look, as dark, almost, as a Negro's. He was the darkest Asian Charlie had ever seen. He'd come to work for the family when they lived in Manila, in 1904, when Charlie's father was governor there, under Roosevelt, when Charlie was six and Samuel was seven and orphaned.
"Can you come move these, please?" Eleanor said. "Charlie's blocked the way."
"I see," Charlie said into the phone. "Give me half an hour."
When he came out, Eleanor said, "What is it, dear? You look pale."
"George Remus," he said. "You remember him?"
"I met his wife, once. Lovely lady. Imogene. She hosted a luncheon at the Sinton -- "
"He's just shot her to death. In Eden Park."
"Oh my God. Charlie."
"On the way to the divorce court."
Eleanor sat down on the sheet-covered Queen Anne sofa.
"They're taking him back up there, now," Charlie said. "To the park. I'm sorry, but I should go -- "
"Of course you should, dear," she said. Sweet, pretty Ellie.
"I'm sorry. All this -- " He waved around at the mess of the closed-up house.
"Never mind it," she said. "We'll get it taken care of. You go. Oh, that poor woman."
"Yes -- "
"Charlie, this will be very big, won't it?" She understood these things implicitly. She simply knew, and how she did he did not quite understand, for he told her little.
"Yes, dear, it will. If he chooses to fight it."
They were both silent a moment, contemplating this. Charles P. Taft II, third child, second son, of former governor, ambassador, judge, and U.S. president, now Supreme Court chief justice, William Howard Taft, had a straight road to the very top, wherever that was -- the Senate, the federal judiciary, even perhaps the presidency. His major competition was his own brother, Robert, editor-in-chief now of the Enquirer. But Charlie held his own, and his election, at only twenty-nine, to prosecuting attorney last year in this, their home city, proved it. Still, it was one step at a time, and now the next step was this. This, coming off the last step, which had been a stumble, a locked-up case of another bootlegger-murderer, "Fat" Wrassman, who had gunned a man down in a speakeasy. He'd been defended by a one-time assistant prosecutor named Carl Elston. Though the police pressed for aggravated homicide, Charlie wanted a conviction for first degree. He'd have won it, too, if the main witness to the shooting hadn't disappeared the day before he was to testify. In the end, Elston tied them up in knots, and Wrassman had walked.
So now it was to be Remus, the bootlegger lawyer. And who, Charlie knew, had become something of a publicity hound these past few years. This would be national news. Except for the finale of Lindbergh's cross-country publicity tour, this might be the biggest news. He'd have to call the chief justice and let him know before it hit the papers.
"It will," he said again to his wife.
"Then it's an opportunity," she said. "Isn't that what your father would say?"
"That's just right," he said. "A chance to shine."
"There's the thing," she said. "My Charlie." She stood up and placed her hand on the back of his neck and kissed him lightly on the lips.
"The end of the honeymoon," he said, and she smiled at him.
He had lost the Wrassman case, but the public gave him that. He was young and new and, though that didn't excuse anything, they'd give him one, anyway. But this, this was too big, and he had already played the grace card. This one had to be a win, however it turned. Maybe Remus would confess and look for some plea. Life instead of death. The public would buy that. Remus was a kind of hero to a lot of these people. As long as he went away, Charlie didn't care. But if Remus fought, it could be ugly. Charlie had no doubt that Remus would fight. And he had no illusions that he could let this one slip away. The election wasn't for another three years, but they'd never forget.
When he came downstairs after changing, Ellie said, "Your black suit."
It had become his custom since the election to wear black when visiting the dead. So Charlie didn't need to tell her that, in addition to going to the crime scene while the police questioned Remus there, he was also going to pay a visit to the morgue.
Eden Park Drive came south into the park from the crown of Mount Adams, then halfway down its descent curved nearly 180 degrees back to the north, to its intersection with Fulton at the reservoir, before leaving the park to the west. Here, just after the curve, the detectives watched as Remus planted his feet, formed his hand into a gun, and mimicked the recoiling of the weapon. Charlie spotted Frank Dodge hovering away from the group, beyond the gazebo, toward the edge of the reservoir, out of Remus's view. Dodge was the Justice Department agent who had hounded Remus clear to the federal penitentiary for whiskey violations. It was in the aftermath of this that Imogene Remus had come to him to plead for her husband's early release. Ultimately, she left Remus and became one of Dodge's star informants.
Later that afternoon, as Charlie fought his way through the crowd that had formed outside the doors on the south side of the courthouse that led most directly to the county morgue in the basement, he saw Dodge again, standing at the double doors, watching out over the crowd.
"Amazing, this," Charlie said.
"Everybody likes a freak show."
"Are you going in?"
Dodge nodded, but only moved to take a Lucky Strike pack from his pocket. He fingered the last one free and crumpled the packet and threw it on the ground. Charlie struck his lighter and held it out. Dodge leaned forward.
"They called me, you know. First," Dodge said.
He'd been lying on his bed, smoking a cigarette, when a cop he knew phoned. "The crazy bastard's done it. He just plugged her in Eden Park!"
"Remus. His wife. They took her to Bethesda."
At the hospital, he found her friend Laura sitting on a bench in the hallway, hands pressed between her knees. She just shook her head when she saw him. He tried to get back to Imogene, but they wouldn't let ...
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