Kathleen Antrim

Capital Offense

Dedicated to my grandma, Marie Kostalnick, whose unconditional love for her family lives on in each of us. Families really are forever.

Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.


Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

PROLOGUE March 22, 2001 – San Francisco, California

“What’s deadlier to a country than war?” a low, gravelly voice slurred.

“Who is this?” Jack Rudly cradled the phone against his ear and checked the time: 2:55 A.M. A strewth outside his hotel room window cast a shadow of dancing leaves across the ceiling.

“What’s deadlier to a country than war?”

“I don’t do riddles.” Jack slammed down the receiver. “Damn drunk.” He watched the shadows dissolve into darkness, then spring back to life as gusts of wind bent the tree branches outside the window. He turned on his side, pulled the sheet up over his shoulder and tucked his face in against the pillow.

After a few moments, he lifted his head and looked over at his laptop. He still needed to finish his article on trade with Japan. Sailboats twirled around on his screen saver. Who was he kidding? He’d never fall back to slept. Too many projects to think about and deadlines to meet. Jack rubbed his eyes. He loved being a journalist, and even years of sleep deprivation didn’t deter his passion.

The phone rang again. He snapped up the receiver. “What do you want?”

“Does 202-555-1416 sound familiar?”

Jack sat up and activated the tape recorder he kept plugged into his phone. “Are you calling from the White House?”

“Very good. Mr. Rudly. You know the private White House lines. Don’t bother checking it out. The number’s not mine.”

“Who is this?” The gears of the recorder spun slowly.

“What do murder and the White House have in common?”

“Murder? That’s a bit far-fetched, isn’t it?”

“Only if I were making it up.” The man hiccupped.

“Look, you got my attention by using a White House number,” Jack said, “and that bought you about a minute of my time. Tell me who you are, or I’m hanging up.”

“Your father would understand the mess I’m in.”

The nape of Jack’s neck prickled. “What does this have to do with my father?”

“An honorable man. your father. The last of the honorable politicians. A great senator. He understood the link between murder and the White House. Too bad he had to pay the highest price.” The voice hesitated. “He’s not the only one.”

Jack worked the muscles of his jaw. “What’re you talking about? My father died of a coronary. He wasn’t into games, and neither am I. So cut the crap.”

‘They’re going to kill me now. It’ll be headline news.“ There was a pause. ”Is he the reason you became a journalist?“

“Who’s going to kill you?”

“Scotch is a man’s drink, you know. Your father and I shared a love of scotch, especially Glenlivet.”

“A lot of people drink Glenlivet. That doesn’t prove you knew my father.”

“Not with three twists, they don’t. Boy, did your dad know how to ruin perfectly good scotch with too much lemon.” He laughed, but the sound was brittle and sad. “You’re talking to a dead man. We’ve deceived an entire nation, you know. Your father would never have done that. He’s still a legend on the Hill.”

Jack’s stomach knotted. He slammed the door on his emotions and his father’s memory. “Leave my father out of this. Why’d you call me?”

“You’ve got to stop the murders,” the voice said.

“What murders? You’re not making any sense.”

“Goddamn it. You’re not listening. Men are dead. I’m next.”

“I can’t help you if I don’t know who you are.” Jack heard the frustration in his own voice. “I need facts from a credible source, not lame ramblings from a drunk and disgruntled government employee.”

“This was a mistake.” the man said. “You make a lousy last option. I thought you’d understand. For God’s sake, you’re his son! I know he taught you better than this. He cared, he truly cared. How can you dishonor his memory?”

“Fu-” Jack reigned in his anger. “If this is so damned important, then meet with me.”

“That’s not possible.”

“Why not?”

“I’ll be dead soon.”

“Then meet me now.”

“Haven’t you heard a word I’ve said? It’s not safe. You’d be at risk. Serious risk. Hell, you’re a head in the cross hairs. Meeting with me would pull the trigger.”

“Then call the next guy on your list. Good night.” Jack leaned over to hang up the phone.


Jack hesitated.

“You know the lookout on the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge?”

“I can find it.”

“Thirty minutes.” The man paused. “Be careful. They’re watching you. Try to stay alive. Jack Rudly. You’ve got a job to do. And revealing your father’s murderer is only part of it.”

Jack inhaled. His father murdered? Bullshit. Or was it?

“You want to know how I know? I’m one of them. I helped. I’m a killer. But I’m not helping anymore.”

“Helped who?” Jack managed, but the line was dead.



September, 1989 – Jefferson City, Missouri

Judge Margaret Merrit entered the crowded courtroom at precisely 9:00 A.M. and took her seat at the bench.

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