The phone call awakened Paul Terry from the dream of his father.
Disoriented, he sat up in bed, staring at the wall of the hotel room. In the dream, he was thirteen, the age at which the image had first come to him. His father had just died; reappearing in Paul's sleep, Frank Terry assured his son that he was fine, just living in a different place. Relieved, Paul would awaken, and then feel more abandoned and alone. Even now, at thirty- one, the dream left tears in Terry's eyes.
His cell phone rasped again. Beside him, Jenny stirred. Groping, he found the phone on a nightstand and flipped it open.
"Captain Terry," he said in a sleep- stunned voice.
"Paul. It's Colonel Dawes."
"Morning, sir." Glancing at the drawn curtains, he detected no light. "Is it morning?"
"Six a.m. Where are you?"
"D.C. I'm spending the weekend here."
"Not anymore, I'm afraid." Dawes's southern- tinged voice was soft. "I guess you haven't seen the papers. There's been a shooting on the post. A captain's dead."
Terry tried to process this. "Are they preferring charges?"
"Not yet." The Colonel's voice lowered. "The shooter is Lieutenant Brian McCarran."
Terry was instantly alert. "The general's son?"
"Yes. He's in need of a lawyer, Paul. Hopefully not for long."
At once Terry understood his superior's undertone of caution and regret. "I'll be there in an hour and a half," he promised.
When he turned the phone off, Jenny was awake, blond hair falling across her forehead. "I'm sorry, Jen. There's been a shooting at Fort Bolton— one officer killed another. I have to go."
Jenny switched on the bedside lamp. The disappointment he read in her pretty, intelligent face was mingled with resistance. "Don't they have other attorneys? Why you, Paul?"
"The Colonel didn't explain himself. Just sounded worried."
She shook her head. "I thought you were leaving the ser vice. I mean, isn't a Wall Street firm about to pay you a ton of money?"
Terry paused to assess her mood. Six years after a law school romance had revealed them to be unsuited as life partners, they had become lovers of convenience, who connected only at the end of her sporadic business trips to Washington. For the odd forty- eight hours, they would always rediscover their shared sense of fun, their enjoyment of verbal combat, the luxury of sex without anxiety or inhibition. It was too bad, Terry often thought, that their differences prevented more. Now Terry grasped that their scattered weekends meant more to Jenny Haskell than she let on.
"They are," he told her. "But for another month I can't debate an order." He gave her a lingering kiss, then added gently, "However much I'd like to."
He sensed her regret becoming withdrawal. "I think I'll stay here for a while," she said in a subdued tone. "Order room ser vice, read the paper. Maybe I'll call friends in Bethesda."
Terry felt his own regret, both at leaving and, as with other women, that leaving did not matter more. He kissed her again, this time on the forehead, then reluctantly headed for the shower.
Shortly before seven- thirty, dressed in the uniform of a JAG Corps captain, Paul Terry passed through the main gate at Fort Bolton, headquarters of the Seventh Infantry and, for one more month, Terry's home.
Over twenty miles square, Fort Bolton was sequestered amid a wooded area of northern Virginia, an enclave sufficient to itself: shopping centers, athletic facilities, offices, a hospital, apartments, town houses, and, for senior officers, commodious colonial- style houses dating back to the fort's establishment eighty years before. Turning down its principal thoroughfare, McCarran Drive, Terry was reminded of the three generations that preceded Brian McCarran. That Brian had killed a fellow officer, what ever the circumstances, would reverberate all the way to the Pentagon, where the family's most revered member, Anthony McCarran, served as the chief of staff of the army. Parking at the headquarters of the regional defense counsel, Terry felt edgy.
The aftershock of the dream still muddied his thoughts. But by this time, at least, he resembled the officer Lieutenant Colonel Dawes expected to brief. He had taken a large black coffee for the road, and the mild hangover he had earned through a bibulous dinner with Jen was fading. Fortunately for Terry, his life circumstances had lent him an air of near- perpetual alertness, accenting the swift intelligence reflected in his penetrant blue eyes. Jen sometimes teased him that he looked like an officer whether he meant to or not: tall and fit, he had jet black hair and strong but regular features accented by a ridged nose, which, broken during a high school basketball career based largely on determination, added a hint of ruggedness. That Terry had never fired a shot in anger did not detract from the success he'd had in the courtroom.
Taking a last swallow of lukewarm coffee, Terry went to meet Harry Dawes.
Colonel Dawes sat behind a desk so orderly that, Terry often thought, even the piles of papers appeared to be standing in formation. For Terry, this thought was a fond one: a soft- spoken Virginian, the Colonel treated Terry with an avuncular regard enhanced by the military courtesy that governed their relationship. As Terry entered, a brief smile crossed Dawes's ruddy face. "Sit down, Paul. Sorry to get you out of what ever bed you happened to be in."
The remark was delivered with quiet humor; a committed Christian and devoted husband of twenty- five years, Dawes never concealed his belief that Terry's rotating cast of female friends suggested an attenuated adolescence that could only be cured by marriage. "A warm one," Terry responded. "But even in my sleep, I grasped that this case is special."
Without asking if Terry wanted coffee, Dawes poured him a cup and handed a Washington Redskins mug across the desk. "It is that," Dawes concurred soberly. "In the last twenty- four hours, the media's been all over this. You must have been living in a cave."
"When I take time off, sir, I commit myself. Please catch me up."
Pensive, Dawes ran a hand through his dwindling gray- brown hair. "To say the least, the relationships surrounding this shooting are complicated. For one thing, the victim, Captain Joe D'Abruzzo, was married to General McCarran's goddaughter, Kate Gallagher—"
"Hang on, sir," Terry interjected. "The general's son killed his goddaughter's husband?"
"Yes," Dawes answered unhappily. "It seems that her father was General McCarran's classmate at the Point. After he died in Vietnam, the families remained close. So Kate's relationship with Brian McCarran predated her marriage to D'Abruzzo by many years. To top it off, D'Abruzzo was Brian's company commander in Iraq. What ever their relationship, this tragedy leaves two kids— an eight- year- old boy and six- year- old girl— without a father."
Terry found himself squinting; the summer sunlight, brightening, hit his face through Dawes's window. For a painful moment he imagined the children's shock at learning their father was dead. "Tell me about the shooting, sir."
Even in difficult circumstances, Dawes was the most considerate of men; noting Terry's squint, he stood to lower the blinds. "It happened in McCarran's apartment," he began, "between seven and eight on Friday evening. Sometime before eight, Lieutenant McCarran called the MPs and calmly advised them that he'd shot Captain D'Abruzzo. The MPs and paramedics found D'Abruzzo on the floor of the lieutenant's apartment. There were four wounds, including one in the dead man's back. Despite this, when two men from the Criminal Investigation Division questioned him, McCarran claimed self- defense."
Terry put down his mug. "He gave a statement to CID?"
"A fairly comprehensive one, I'm told. It also seems that McCarran's the only witness."
"What do you know about the gun?"
"It was a semiautomatic— a nine- millimeter Luger. What's odd is that it's D'Abruzzo's gun."
"So he brought it to McCarran's apartment?"
Dawes grimaced. "Apparently not. According to both Brian McCarran and D'Abruzzo's wife, Brian took it from D'Abruzzo's home after he threatened her with it. Brian's story is that D'Abruzzo came looking for the gun. The shooting followed."
Terry took a sip of coffee. "Do we know anything more about the relationship between Lieutenant McCarran and the widow D'Abruzzo?"
"Just that they still had one. At the least, it's clear that their families have been intertwined over many years."
As Terry took out a pen, Dawes handed him a legal pad across the desk. "What else do we know about Brian McCarran?" Terry asked.
"Only good things. He was third in his class at West Point, a leader among his classmates, and a first- class soccer player. He graduated in 2003 and turned down a Rhodes scholarship in favor of serving in Iraq. By early 2004, Brian was a platoon leader in Sadr City, one of the most dangerous assignments in the war. He's got a scar on his neck— three months after his arrival an RPG came within inches of removing his head. But he served out his year there without missing any time. By all accounts, he was an outstanding combat officer." Dawes's tone was respectful. "He certainly isn't cruising on his father's reputation. Even in a family of decorated soldiers, Brian has more than held his own."
Terry nodded. "What's he doing now?"
"He's the executive officer of Charlie Company, his outfit in Iraq. Once again, his fitness reports are excellent."
"Not as stellar, clearly. He didn't go to the Point, and his early record lacks McCarran's glitter. But he comes across as capable— he's been serving as a battalion operations officer, in line for promotion to major. There's nothing on the surface that suggests any real problems."
"Including domestic violence? That's starting to show up among Iraq War vets, and it certainly fits with the story about the gun."
"All I can tell you," Dawes responded cautiously, "is that there were no reported incidents. At least before he died."
Terry scribbled a note: "Check out DV." Looking up, he said, "What's happened since McCarran reported the shooting?"
Dawes gazed at the desk, organizing his thoughts. "The MPs taped the call, of course. The paramedics were there in minutes, at which point D'Abruzzo was pronounced dead. The CID man secured the apartment, called in the crime lab team, and requested that the county medical examiner come out. Then CID started questioning McCarran."
"What do we know about that?"
"Other than what I've told you, very little. Nor do we know anything more about what Kate D'Abruzzo told them."
"So where does this stand?"
Dawes's forehead creased with worry, no doubt reflecting the level of scrutiny each step in the case would receive. "As you can imagine, it's being handled by the book. On the recommendation of the staff judge advocate, General Heston has ordered a formal inquiry, to be carried out by CID and the office of the chief trial counsel, Colonel Hecht. In turn, Hecht has designated Major Mike Flynn to monitor the investigation and, if necessary, prosecute the case as trial counsel."
"No surprise," Terry remarked. "By reputation, Flynn's the best. Where are they keeping McCarran?"
"Not in the brig. On the recommendation of General Heston's chief of staff, Brian is living at the bachelor officers' quarters. On Monday he'll continue his normal duties." Dawes grimaced. "Outsiders may feel he's getting special treatment. But this is an officer with an unblemished record who claims self- defense. Your job will be to help him."
"I gather that, sir. But this assignment raises a number of questions."
Dawes's eyebrows shot up, a sign of irritation that betrayed the pressure he felt. "Such as?"
Unfazed, Terry responded, "Why me? For openers, the McCarrans can have anyone they want, including the top defense lawyers in America—"
"Few of whom understand the military, and none as well as we do. The McCarran family knows that. And if this one comes to a court-martial, the court would have no doubt about the integrity of military defense counsel. That is not an assumption granted to civilian lawyers."
Fair or not, Terry knew that this was true. With the smallest of smiles, he responded, "It's true that our integrity is unique, sir. But not unique to me."
Dawes was unamused. "There are other considerations— beginning with my own. Lieutenant McCarran has requested a lawyer. As regional defense counsel, it falls to me to detail one. Given that he's from a notable military tradition, and that his father is odds- on to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs, everything we do must be beyond reproach."
The same skeptical smile played on Terry's lips. "At least for the next month. As you'll recall, sir, there's a law firm in New York expecting me to show up."
Caught, Dawes allowed himself a rueful smile. "To my regret. But Anthony McCarran seems to prefer you, nonetheless."
Terry laughed in astonishment. "Me? I've never met the man. How does he even know I exist?"
Dawes steepled his fingers. "The general has been very decorous— as chief of staff, he has to be. But there was nothing to keep him from visiting his neighbor in the Pentagon, the judge advocate general.
General McCarran made it clear that he didn't wish to exercise undue influence. He merely expressed the hope that his son would have the help of an able lawyer. Meaning, General Jasper assumed, the best defense counsel at Fort Bolton."
"In all modesty, sir—"
"Naturally," Dawes continued, "General Jasper responded that all our lawyers are highly qualified. It was then that General McCarran said that he had heard that a certain Captain Terry was particularly able.
"The judge advocate general did not inquire as to where he had gotten this information. He merely assured the general that his son would be well represented, and then made his own inquiry of me." Dawes's voice became softer. "What I told him, Paul, is that you were the best young lawyer I've ever seen. And that if Brian McCarran were my own son, I'd want you to defend him."
Though touched, Terry smiled yet again. "You're a devious man, sir."
"There's no wind so ill," his mentor answered blandly, "that it can't serve someone's purpose. In this case, mine. I assured General Jasper that, as a short- timer, you wouldn't mind breaking a little china if it served young McCarran's interests. And if it came to a trial, God forbid, I hoped you might be willing to extend your tour in the army. I generously promised not to stand in your way."
As Terry framed a droll reply, the seriousness in Dawes's face stopped him. "You know I'd like you to stay, Paul. But if this goes to trial, it could be the high- profile case of a lifetime, with all the human challenges and opportunities that involves. No matter what awaits you in your Wall Street firm, you'll likely be a better lawyer, maybe even a better man. That's part of what I'm trying to do."
Absorbing this, Terry nodded. "Thank you, sir. Unfortunately, the firm has already assigned me an investment banker to defend, with more to follow. What ever Brian McCarran's problems, I don't think the firm will wait. But I'll go to see him, of course."
Briefly, Dawes frowned. "There's someone else you should meet first. Brian McCarran's sister."
Terry gave Dawes a puzzled look. "No doubt she's concerned," he answered. "But I should meet my client first."
"Meg McCarran's more than a concerned sister. She's a lawyer, and she came here from California to help her brother. She's also quite insistent on 'helping' you."
Terry felt himself bristle: he did not want to deal with an anxious relative standing between him and his client— or serving as a conduit to her father, the general. "Is there anything I can do about this?"
"Meet her and see." Smiling faintly, Dawes glanced at his watch. "It's eight- forty. I told her to be in our reception area at nine o'clock. If she's as businesslike as she sounds, she's already here."
As Dawes had predicted, Meg McCarran was waiting outside his office.
She stood, briskly shaking hands with Terry as the Colonel introduced them. Her looks surprised him. Encountering her at random, Terry might have seen an Irish beauty, a fantasy from his Catholic youth: glossy auburn hair, large blue eyes, softly glowing skin, a button nose, and a wide, generous mouth, which, parting for a perfunctory smile, exposed perfect white teeth. But her suit was the pin- striped carapace of the courtroom, and the skin beneath her eyes was bruised with sleeplessness. The effect was somewhere between trial lawyer and the vigilant older sister of a juvenile facing trouble, and her swift appraisal of Terry combined a palpable wariness with an air of command worthy of her father.
Standing to one side, Dawes offered them the use of an empty office. "Mind talking outside?" Terry asked her. "I could use some fresh air, and there's a park across the street where we can sit."
Meg gave a fractional shrug. Opening the door, Dawes reminded Terry of an anxious parent watching two recalcitrant teens embark on a blind date. Instinctively, Terry wished that the occasion were as trivial as a high school dance, and would be over with as quickly.
They settled on a bench beneath a cluster of oak trees, set back some distance from McCarran Drive. Terry reminded himself that less than two days ago, this woman's brother had called her to report killing a man she must have known well. "I understand how worried you must be," he ventured.
"Clear- eyed," she amended. "I know the army. Because of our father, they'll bend over backward not to show Brian any favoritism. So whoever we engage to help him, I need to be here."
Briefly, Terry weighed his response. "No matter whose son Brian is, there's an orderly process. CID will investigate; Major Flynn will make recommendations; ultimately General Heston will determine whether to refer charges for trial. What Brian needs right now is an advocate."
Meg faced him. "What Brian needs," she said with quiet urgency, "is for the army to comprehend what it's done to him. I'm absolutely certain that Brian acted in self- defense. But the man who shot Joe D'Abruzzo is different from the man they sent to Iraq." Her voice slowed, admitting a first note of entreaty. "Sadly, Captain Terry, Brian's not very trusting anymore. He's not likely to trust you or any lawyer but me. That's another reason I'm here. Of all the people in Brian's life, I'm the one who knows him best."
Terry contemplated the grass at their feet, dappled with light and shade. "How long do you plan to stay?"
"Until Brian's out of trouble. Whether that's days or weeks or months."
"What about your job?"
"I'm a domestic violence prosecutor in the San Francisco DA's office." She bit her lip. "I love my work, Captain Terry. But the DA can't have a prosecutor from his office acting as a defense counsel. If Brian's charged with Joe's death, I'll have to resign."
Even under the circumstances, the depth of her resolve struck him. "We're not there yet," he reminded her. "Even if we were, I'm not sure Brian will need that kind of sacrifice."
Meg shook her head. "He's my brother. I won't let anything happen to him."
Something in her fierce insistence suggested the conscientious child she might have been, charged with protecting a younger brother. "Are there just the two of you?" he asked.
"And my father," she said. "My mother's dead."
The flatness of her tone deflected further questions, let alone any rote expression of sympathy. After ten minutes of acquaintance, it was hard for Terry to imagine Meg McCarran seeking sympathy from anyone. She had a quality of independence as striking as her beauty, suggesting both intelligence and a considerable force of will. But Terry also intuited a trait he understood all too well— the instinct for self-protection. Facing him on the bench, Meg said in a neutral manner, "I know my father made inquiries. But I don't know anything about you, or much about the JAG Corps."
"It's pretty straightforward. Every major installation has JAG offices, including a legal adviser to the commanding officer, judges, prosecutors, and defense lawyers. The Trial Defense Ser vice, my unit, has its own chain of command. The purpose is to ensure that our superiors don't punish us for winning—"
"That's reassuring," Meg interjected tartly. "How, specifically, was Brian assigned to you?"
Terry was determined to maintain his equilibrium. "In any case occurring at Bolton, Colonel Dawes details a defense counsel. As you suggested, your father also made inquiries. I'm the result."
Meg regarded him closely. "No offense, Captain Terry, but you're obviously young. Don't you think Brian might do better with an experienced civilian lawyer?"
Briefly, Terry had the thought that if he were to be relieved of this case, and this woman, his departure from the army would be far simpler. "It's not my call," he answered. "I can tell you the pros and cons. A JAG lawyer knows the military justice system and the psychology of the potential jurors. Most people don't trust defense lawyers; military people trust them less. If you asked the average army officer, odds are he'd say that many civilian lawyers are ethically challenged or just in it for the money.
"A defense lawyer in uniform avoids that bias. On the other hand, a civilian lawyer is less inclined to be deferential, and the talent pool is larger." Terry paused. "Military or civilian, what a court- martial comes down to is how good the lawyer is. Hopefully, you won't need one. Right now the idea is to persuade the army not to prosecute."
A light breeze stirred Meg's hair. She pushed her bangs back from her forehead, her intense blue- eyed gaze still focused on Terry. "Why did you choose the JAG Corps?" she asked.
Terry decided to be direct. "First, my family had no money, so a ROTC scholarship to college helped get me where I am. Second, I don't like taking orders.
"That may sound strange coming from a JAG officer. But a number of my law school friends wound up as gofers in big corporate firms, shuffling papers miles from the courtroom. To have the career I wanted, I needed to try cases— hard ones, and a lot of them."
"Over a hundred twenty in the last six years, the first ninety as a prosecutor. I didn't always get the sentence I wanted, but I never lost a case."
" 'Never'?" Meg repeated skeptically.
In the face of Meg's challenge, Terry stopped resisting the sin of pride. "Means never. When the Trial Defense Service got sick of losing to me, they asked me to switch sides."
A first sardonic smile appeared at the corner of her mouth. "At which point you started losing, too."
This stopped her for a moment. "What about homicides?"
"I've defended five. Three acquittals; one conviction on a reduced charge; another on second- degree murder. In that case, the victim was a six- year- old boy, my client's prints were on the knife, and he confessed to CID and the victim's mother. Clarence Darrow couldn't have saved him." Terry's speech became matter- of- fact. "I'm getting out next month, so I hope to wrap this up by then. But I chose defense work on principle— too many prosecutors lack a sense of justice. Temperamentally and professionally, I'm more than capable of helping your brother."
She gave him a considering look. "Why do you think you've been so successful?"
"Simple. I hate losing." Terry paused, then decided to finish. "Since the age of thirteen, no one has given me anything. I got here by sheer hard work, the only asset I had. Lose a case, and I'm haunted by what I might have done better.
"There may be smarter lawyers. But no one hates losing more than I do, or works harder for their clients. I've defended thirty cases; I've lost four. I still can't shake them."
Meg sat back, her eyes meeting his in silence. "I think I understand," she said at length. "At least for now, I'd like you to represent my brother."
For some reasons he could identify, and others that eluded him, Terry felt both satisfaction and a deep ambivalence. "Then let's go see him," he answered simply.