Moment Of Truth - Chapter 1

By Lisa Scottoline

Jack Newlin had no choice but to frame himself for murder. Once he had set his course, his only fear was that he wouldn't get away with it. That he wasn't a good enough liar, even for a lawyer.

The detectives led Jack in handcuffs into a small, windowless room at the Roundhouse, Philadelphia's police administration building. Bolted to the floor at the center of the room was a straight-backed steel chair, which reminded Jack of the electric chair. He looked away.

The walls of the room were a dingy gray and marred by scuff marks as high as wainscoting. A typewriter table topped with a black Smith-Corona stood against the side wall, and in front of the table sat two old wooden chairs. One of the chairs groaned when the heavyset detective, who had introduced himself as Stan Kovich, seated himself and planted his feet wide. "Siddown, Mr. Newlin," Detective Kovich said, gesturing to a wooden chair across from him.

"Thank you." Jack took a seat, noting that the detective had bypassed the steel chair, evidently reserved for murderers who weren't wealthy. Special treatment never suited Jack. A bookkeeper's son, he had worked his way through school to become an estates lawyer who earned seven figures, but even his large partnership draw remained a pittance in comparison to his wife's family money. He had always wished the Buxton money away, but now he was glad of it. Money was a good motive for murder.

"You want a soda? A Coke or somethin'?" Kovich asked. The detective wore a short-sleeved white shirt, light for wintertime, and his bullish neck spread his collar open. His shoulders hunched, powerful but gone to fat, and khaki-colored Sansabelts strained to cover his thighs. A bumpy, working-class nose dominated his face and he had cheekbones so fleshy they pressed against the rims of his glasses, large gold-rimmed aviators. Their bifocal window magnified his eyes, which were earth brown and addressed Jack without apparent judgment.

"No, thanks. Nothing to drink." He made deliberate eye contact with Detective Kovich, who was closer and seemed friendlier than the other detective. Propped against the wall on a thin Italian loafer, he was black and hadn't said anything except to introduce himself. Hovering over six feet tall, rangy and slim, he had a face as narrow as his body, a small, thin mouth, and a nose a shade too long in proportion to high cheekbones. Dark, almost-onyx eyes sat high on his face, like judges atop a dais.

"Let's start by you telling me something about yourself, Mr. Newlin." Kovich smiled, showing teeth stained by coffee. "By the way, just for the record, this interview is being videotaped." He waved vaguely behind the smudgy mirror on the wall, but Jack didn't look, steeling himself to be convincing in his false confession.

"Well, I'm forty-three. I'm a partner at Tribe & Wright, heading the estates and trusts department. I attended the University of Pennsylvania Law School, Yale, and Girard before that."

Kovich nodded. "Nice resume."

"Thank you," Jack said. He was proudest of Girard, a boarding high school established by the trust of Stephen Girard for fatherless boys. Girard was a Philadelphia institution. He never could have made it to Yale or any other university otherwise.

"Where you from?"

"North Philly. Torresdale."

"Your people still up there?"

"No. My father died a long time ago and my mother passed away last year, from lung cancer."

"I know how that goes. I lost my mother two years ago. It's no picnic."

"I'm sorry," Jack said. No picnic. It was such a rich understatement, his mouth felt bitter. His mother, gone. His father, so long ago. Now Honor. He cleared his throat. "Maybe we should move on."

"Sure, sure." Kovich nodded quickly. "So, you're a lawyer at the Tribe law firm. Pretty big outfit, right? I read somethin' about them in the paper, how much they bring in a year. They're printin' money."

"Don't believe everything you read. Reporters have to sell newspapers."

"Tell me about it." Kovich laughed, a harsh guttural noise that burst from his throat. He turned to the other detective, still standing against the wall. "Right, Mick?" he asked.

The detective, who had introduced himself as Reginald Brinkley, not Mick, only nodded in response, and the pursing of his lips told Jack he didn't welcome the attention. Brinkley, also middle-aged, wore a well-tailored brown sportcoat with a maroon silk tie, still tight despite the late hour and affixed to his white shirt with a gold-toned tie bar. His gaze chilled the room and the uptilt to his chin was distinctly resentful. Jack didn't know what he had done to provoke the detective and only hoped it worked against him.

"So, Mr. Newlin," Kovich was saying, "hey, can I call you Jack?"

"Of course."

"You got any other family, Jack? Kids?"

"One."

"Oh yeah?" Kovich's tone brightened. "What flavor?"

"A girl. A daughter."

"How old?"

"Sixteen."

"I got a sixteen-year-old!" Kovich grinned, showing his bad teeth. "It's a trip, ain't it? Teenagers. You got just the one?"

"Yes."

"Me, I got a thirteen-year-old, too. Also a girl. Houseful of blow dryers. My wife says when they're not in the bathroom, they're in the chat rooms. Yours like that, on the computer?"

Jack cleared his throat again. "I don't mean to be impolite, but is there a reason for this small talk?" He didn't want to go there and it seemed like something a murderer would say.

"Well, uh, next-of-kin notification is our job. Standard procedure, Jack."

He tensed up. He should have thought of that. The police would be the ones to tell Paige. "My daughter lives on her own. I'd hate for her to hear this kind of news from the police. Can't I tell her myself?"

"Sixteen, she's on her own already?"

"She's legally emancipated, with a promising career."

"Legally emancipated, what's 'at?"

"My wife and I filed papers, I drafted them myself, essentially saying that she's legally an adult. She lives on her own and earns her own money. She's a model, and, in any event, I really would prefer to be the one to tell her about·her mother." He paused. "I could call her after we talk. I mean, I do want to make a full confession, right now."

Kovich's lips parted slightly, and behind him, Brinkley's eyes narrowed.

Jack's mouth went dry at their reaction. Maybe he'd gone too fast. "I mean, I feel awful, just awful. A horrible thing happened tonight. I can't believe what I've done. I want to get it off my chest."

Kovich nodded encouragingly. "You mean you want to make a statement?"

"Yes. A statement, that's right." Jack's voice sounded authentically shaky, even to him.

"Okay. Good. Bear with me." Kovich turned toward the table, his chair creaking, and picked up a form, thick with old-fashioned carbons. He crammed it behind the typewriter roll, fighting a buckle in the paper. The detective wasn't overly dexterous, his hands more suited to wrestling fullbacks than forms. "Jack, I have to inform you of your Miranda rights. You have the right to remain silent, you -"

"I know my rights."

"Still, I gotta tell you. It's the law." Kovich finished a quick recitation of the Miranda warnings as he smoothed out the uncooperative form, rolled it into the machine, and lined up the title, Investigation Interview Record, Homicide Division. "You understand your rights?"

"Yes. I don't need a lawyer. I wish to make a statement."

"You mean you're waiving your right to counsel?" Kovich nodded again.

"Yes, I'm waiving my right to counsel."

"Are you under the influence of drugs or alcohol at this time?"

"No. I mean, I had some Scotch earlier. Before."

Kovich frowned behind his big aviators. "You're not intoxicated at the present time, are you?"

"No. I only had two and that was a while ago. I'm perfectly sober."

Kovich picked up another form, two pages. "Fine. You gotta sign this, for your waiver. Sign the first page and then you have to write on the second, too." He slid the sheets across the table, and Jack signed the top page, wrote "yes" after each question on the second page, and slid both back. "We'll start with your Q & A, question and answer." Kovich turned and started to type numbers in the box on the right, CASE NUMBER. "It's procedure. Bear with me, okay?"

"Sure." Jack watched Kovich typing and had the sense that confessing to murder, even falsely, could be as mundane as opening a checking account. A bureaucratic occasion; they typed out a form in triplicate and processed you into prison for life.

"State your name and address, please."

"My name is Jack Newlin and my address is 382 Galwith's Alley." Saying it relaxed him. It was going so well, then the black detective cleared his throat.

"Forget the Q and A for a minute, Mr. Newlin," Detective Brinkley said, raising a light palm with long, thin fingers. He straightened and buttoned his jacket at the middle, the simple gesture announcing he was taking charge. "Tell us what happened, in your own words."

Jack swallowed. This would be harder to do. He tried to forget about the hidden videocamera and the detective's critical eyes. "I guess I should tell you, my marriage hadn't been going very well lately. For a year, actually. Honor wasn't very happy with me."

"Were you seeing another woman?" Detective Brinkley's question came rapid-fire, rattling Jack.

"Of course not. No. Never."

Kovich, taken suddenly out of the picture, started typing with surprising speed. Capital letters appeared on the black-ruled line. NO. NEVER.

"Was she seeing another man?"

"No, no. Nothing like that. We just had problems, normal problems. Honor drank, for one thing, and it was getting worse." "Was she alcoholic?"

"Yes, alcoholic." For the past year Jack had been telling himself Honor wasn't an alcoholic, just a heavy drinker, as if the difference mattered. "We fought more and more often, then tonight she told me she wanted to divorce me."

"What did you say?"

"I told her no. I was shocked. I didn't want to. I couldn't imagine it. I love - I loved - her."

"Why did she ask you for a divorce?"

"Our problem always came down to the same thing, that she thought I wasn't good enough for her. That she had married down, in me." That much was true. The sore spots in their marriage were as familiar as potholes in a city street and they had been getting harder and harder to steer around.

Brinkley nodded. "What started the fight tonight?"

"Tonight, we were supposed to have a dinner together, just the two of us. But I was late." Guilt choked Jack's voice and it wasn't fraudulent. If he had gotten home on time, none of this would have happened, and that was the least of his mistakes. "She was angry at me for that, furious, and already drunk when I got home. She started screaming at me as soon as I came in the door."

"Screaming what?"

"That I was late, that I didn't care about anybody but myself, that she hated me. That I'd let her down. I ruined her life." He summoned the words from the myths in their marriage and remembered the details of the crime scene he'd staged. He'd found his wife dead when he came home, but as soon as he realized who had killed her and why, he understood that he'd have to make it look as if he did it. He'd suppressed his horror and arranged every detail to point to him as the killer, including downing two full tumblers of Glenfiddich in case the police tested his blood. "I poured myself a drink, then another. I was getting so sick of it. I tried for years to make her happy. No matter what I did I couldn't please her. What happened next was awful. Maybe it was the Scotch. I don't often drink. I became enraged."

"Enraged?" Brinkley cocked his head, his hair cut short and thinning, so that his dark scalp peeked through. "Fancy word, enraged."

"Enraged, yes." Jack willed himself to go with it. "I mean, it set me off, made me angry. Her screaming at me, her insults. Something snapped inside. I lost control." He recalled the other details of the faked crime scene; he had hurled a crystal tumbler to the parquet floor, as if he had been in a murderous rage. "I threw my glass at her but she just laughed. I couldn't stand it, her laughing at me like that. She said she hated me. That she'd see a divorce lawyer first thing in the morning." Jack wracked his brain for more details but came up empty, so he raised his voice. "All I could think was, I can't take this anymore. I hate her threats. I hate her. I hate her and want her to shut up. So I picked up the knife."

"What knife?"

"A butcher knife, Henkels."

Kovich stopped typing, puzzled. "What's Henkels?"

"A fancy knife," Brinkley supplied, but Kovich only frowned.v

"How do you spell it?"

Jack spelled the word as Kovich tapped it out, but Brinkley wasn't waiting. "Mr. Newlin, where was the knife?" he asked.

"On the dining room table."

"Why was a butcher knife in the dining room?"

"It was with the appetizer, a cold filet mignon. She must have used it to slice the filet. She loved filet, it was her favorite. She'd set it out for an appetizer. The knife was right there and I took it from the table."

"Then what did you do?"

"This is hard to say. I mean, I feel so·horrible." Jack's face fell, the sadness deep within, and he suddenly felt every jowl and furrow of his age. He didn't try to hide his grief. It would look like remorse. "I·I·grabbed the knife and killed her."

"You stabbed your wife to death."

"Yes, I stabbed my wife to death," he repeated, amazed he could form the words. In truth, he had picked up the bloody knife, unaccountably left behind, and wrapped his own fingers around it, obliterating any telltale fingerprints with his own.

"How many times?"

"What?"

"How many times did you stab her?"v

Jack shuddered. He hadn't thought of that. "I don't know. Maybe it was the Scotch, I was in kind of a frenzy. Like a trance. I just kept stabbing." At the typewriter, Kovich tapped out, JUST KEPT STABBING.

"And you got blood on your suit and hands."

"Yes." He looked down at the residuum of Honor's blood, spattered on a silk tie of cornflower blue and dry as paper between his fingertips. He had put the blood there himself, kneeling at her side, and the act had sent him to the bathroom, his gorge rising in revulsion.

"Did she scream?"

"She shouted, I think. I don't remember if it was loud," he added, in case they interviewed the neighbors.

"Did she fight you?"

He tasted bile on his teeth. He imagined Honor fighting for her life, her final moments stricken with terror. Realizing she would die, seeing who would kill her. "She fought hard, but not well. She was drunk. She couldn't believe it was happening. That I would really do that to her."

"Then what did you do?"

"I went to the phone. I called nine-one-one. I told them I killed my wife." Jack caught himself. "Wait, I forgot. I went to the bathroom and tried to wash up, but not all the blood came off. I realized there was no way I could hide what I'd done. I had no plan, I hadn't thought it out. I didn't even have a way to get her body out of the house. I realized I was going to get caught. There was no way out. I vomited into the toilet."

Brinkley's eyes narrowed. "Why did you try to wash up?"

"I was trying to wash the blood off. So I wouldn't get caught."

"In your own bathroom?"

"Well, yes." Jack paused, momentarily confused, but Brinkley's glare spurred him on. "It's not like I was thinking clearly, as I said."

Brinkley leaned back against the wall again. "Let's switch gears, Mr. Newlin. What time was it when you came home?"

"Just before eight. I was supposed to be there at seven but I got held up."

"What held you up?"

"I stopped to talk with my partner. The firm's managing partner, William Whittier." Jack had been on his way out when Whittier had stopped him to discuss the Florrman bill. It had taken time to get free, then it was pouring outside and Jack couldn't get a cab. Ironic that the most mundane events, on the wrong night, had ended Honor's life and changed his forever. "I suppose I should have called to say I was late, but I didn't think it would matter. The maid is off on Monday, and we usually eat a late dinner."

"How did you get home?"

"I took a cab."

"What kind?"

"I don't remember."

"Yellow? Gypsy?"

"No clue. I was distracted. The traffic was a mess."

Hunched over the desk, Kovich nodded in agreement. "That accident on Vine," he said, but Brinkley stood up and stretched, almost as if he were bored.

"Not every day we get somebody like you in here, Mr. Newlin. We get dope dealers, gangbangers, rapists. Even had a serial killer last year. But we don't often see the likes of you."

"What do you mean, detective? I'm like anybody else."

"You? No way. You're what we used to call the man who has everything." Brinkley rubbed his chest. "That's what doesn't make sense, Mr. Newlin. About what you're telling me."

Jack's heart stopped in his chest. Had he blown it? He forced out a single word: "What?"

"You hated your wife enough to kill her, but you didn't want to give her a divorce. That's psycho time, but you're no psycho, obviously. Explain it to me." Brinkley crossed his slim arms, and fear shot through Jack like an electrical current.

"You're right," he said, choosing his words carefully. "It doesn't make sense, if you look at it that way. Logically, I mean."

"Logically? That's how I look at it, Mr. Newlin. That's the only way to look at it." Brinkley smiled without mirth. "People sit in that chair all the time and they lie to me. None of them look like you or dress like you, that's for damn sure, but you can lie too. You can lie better. You got the words for it. Only thing I got to tell me if you're lying is common sense, and what you're tellin' me don't make sense. It's not, as you say, logical."

"No it isn't." Jack caught sight of Honor's blood on his hands, and it was so awful, so impossible to contemplate, that it released the emotions he'd been suppressing all night. Grief. Fear. Horror. Tears brimmed in his eyes, but he blinked them away. He remembered his purpose. "I wasn't thinking logically, I was reacting emotionally. To her screaming, to her insults. To the Scotch. I just did it. I thought I could get away with it, so I tried to clean up, but I couldn't go through with it. I called nine-one-one, I told them the truth. I did it. It was awful, it is awful."

Brinkley's dark eyes remained dubious, and Jack realized his mistake. The rich didn't behave this way. They didn't confess or blubber. They expected to get away with murder. Jack, who had never thought like a rich man and evidently never would, knew instantly what to do to convince him: "Detective, this interview is over," he said abruptly, sitting up straighter. "I want to call my attorney."

The reaction was immediate. Brinkley's dark eyes glittered, his mouth formed a grim line, and he fell into his customary silence. Jack couldn't read the detective completely, but sensed that he had acted in character, in a way that comported with Brinkley's world view, and that would ultimately put his doubts to rest.

In contrast, Kovich deflated at the typewriter, his heavy shoulders slumping, his big fingers stilled. "But, Jack, we can settle this thing right here and now. Make it real easy."

"I think not," Jack said, turning haughty. He knew how to give orders from hearing them given. "I insist on my attorney. I should have called him in the first place."

"But all you gotta do is sign this statement. Once you do that, we're all done here. It'll be easiest on you and your daughter this way." Kovich's eyes burned an earnest brown. "I'm a father, too, Jack, and I know how it is. You gotta think about your kid now."

"No, I've said much too much already. I want my lawyer and we'll take care of notifying Paige. I will not have you at my daughter's home this late at night. It's harassment. I'll handle the notification through my attorney."

Detective Brinkley buttoned his jacket with nimble fingers. "Better get yourself a good mouthpiece, Mr. Newlin," he said, his face a professional mask. He pivoted on a smooth sole, walked out of the interview room, and closed the door behind him.

Once Brinkley had gone, Kovich yanked the sheet from the typewriter roll with a resigned sigh. "Now you did it. You got him mad, askin' for a lawyer. After judges, there's nothin' Mick hates more than lawyers."

"But I am a lawyer."

"Like I said." Kovich laughed his guttural laugh and turned to Jack as warmly as he had at the beginning. "You sure you don't wanna talk to me? I'm the nice one. I like lawyers. It's realtors I hate."

"No thanks," Jack answered, and managed a snotty smile.

©2000 by Lisa Scottoline. All rights reserved.

Purchase Moment Of Truth

eBook

Audio