High Crimes – Excerpt

At exactly nine o’clock in the morning, Claire Heller Chapman entered the cavernous old Harvard Law School lecture hall and found a small knot of reporters lying in wait for her. There were four or five of them, one a TV cameraman hefting a bulky videocam.

She’d expected this. Ever since the Lambert verdict was announced, two days ago, she’d been fielding calls from journalists. Most of them she’d managed to avoid. Now they stood at the front of the old classroom, by her lectern, and as she walked right by them they shouted questions at her.

Claire smiled blandly and could make out only fragments.

“-Lambert? Any comment to make?”

“-pleased with the verdict?”

“-Are you at all concerned about letting a rapist go free?”

A murmur of student voices went up. With the lectern giving her the advantage now of two feet of height, she addressed the reporters. “I’m afraid you’re going to have to leave my classroom.”

“A brief comment, Professor,” said the TV reporter, a pretty blonde in a salmon suit with shoulder pads like a linebacker’s.

“Nothing right now, I’m sorry,” she said. “I have a class to teach.”

Her criminal-law students sat in long arcs that radiated outward from the front of the room like the rings around Saturn. At Harvard Law School, the professor was construed as a deity. This morning the deity was being assaulted.

“But, Professor, a quick-”

“You’re trespassing, folks. Out of here, please. Out.”

Muttering, they began turning around, straggling noisily up the creaky floor of the center aisle toward the exit.

She turned to the class and smiled. Claire Heller, as she was known professionally, was in her mid-thirties: small and slender, brown eyes and dimpled cheeks, with a tangle of coppery hair nuzzling a swan neck. She wore a tweedy but not unstylish chocolate-brown jacket over a cream silk shell.

“All right,” Claire said to the class. “Last time someone asked me, ‘Who’s Regina? And who’s Rex?”‘ She took a sip of water. There were a few chuckles. A few guffaws. Law-school humor: you laugh to show you get it, you’re smart-not because it’s funny.

“It’s Latin, folks.” Another sip of water. It’s all in the timing.

A gradual crescendo of giggles. “English law. Regina is the queen. Rex is the king.”

Loud, relieved laughter, from the slower ones who finally got it. The best comedy audience in the world. The back door of the classroom banged shut as the last cameraman left. “All right, Terry v. Ohio. One of the last Warren Court decisions. A real landmark in liberal jurisprudence.” She cast her gaze around the classroom, a Jack Benny poker face. A few students chortled. They knew her politics.

She raised her voice a few decibels. “Terry v. Ohio. That great decision that permitted the police to shake people down for just about any reason whatsoever. Mr. Chief Justice Earl Warren giving one to the cops.” She swiveled her body suddenly. “Ms. Harrington, what if the cops burst into your apartment one evening. Without a search warrant. And they find your stash of crack cocaine. Can you be prosecuted for possession?” A few titters: the humorless, studious Ms. Harrington, a very tall, pale young woman with long ash-blond hair parted in the middle, was not exactly the crack-smoking type.

“No way,” said Ms. Harrington. “If they burst in without a warrant, that evidence can be excluded at trial. Because of the exclusionary rule.”

“And where does that come from?” Claire asked.

“The Fourth Amendment,” Ms. Harrington replied. The purple circles underneath her eyes advertised how little she’d slept her unhappy first year of law school. “It protects us from un- reasonable government searches. So any evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment must be excluded from a criminal trial. It’s called ‘fruit of the poisoned tree.’ ”

“Like your vial of crack,” said Claire.

Ms. Harrington peered gloomily at Claire through raccoon circles of purple and gave a grim half-smile. “Right.”

The students, the smarter ones anyway, were beginning to sense the undertow: the good old liberal wisdom from Claire Heller, old Sixties Liberal, arrested during her student days at Madison, Power to the People, Fuck the Establishment. Time to whipsaw them.

“Okay, now will someone tell me where in the Fourth Amendment it says that evidence illegally obtained must be excluded from trial?” Claire asked.


“Ms. Zelinski? Ms. Cartwright? Ms. Williams? Mr. Papoulis?”

She stepped off the rostrum, took an Oprah-like stroll down one of the creaky-floored aisles. “Nowhere, folks. Nowhere.”

From the back of the room came the reedy baritone of Chadwick Lowell III, sandy-blond hair already receding above round British National Health Plan wire-rim glasses, probably from his year as a Rhodes. “I take it you’re no fan of the exclusionary rule.”

“You got it,” Claire said. “We never had such a thing apply to the States until maybe forty years ago-a hundred and seventy years after the Fourth Amendment was adopted.”

“But the exclusionary rule,” Mr. Lowell persisted disdainfully, “didn’t exactly bother you at the Gary Lambert appeal, did it? You got his conviction overturned by getting the search of his trash excluded, right? So I guess you’re not so opposed to it, are you?”

There was a stunned silence. Claire slowly turned to face him. Secretly she was impressed. Mr. Lowell did not flinch. “In the classroom,” she said, “we can talk about principle. In the courtroom, you put aside whatever the hell you believe in and fight with every goddamned scrap of ammunition you’ve got.” She turned to her podium. “Now, let’s get back to Terry v. Ohio.”

“Still working on that?”

The waiter was tall and rail-thin, early twenties, insufferable. He looked like a Ralph Lauren model. His blond hair was cropped short; his sideburns were trimmed. His sandpiper legs were clad in black jeans and he wore a black linen T-shirt.

Claire, her husband, Tom, and her six-year-old daughter, Annie, were having dinner that evening at a family-friendly seafood restaurant in an upscale shopping mall in downtown Boston. “Family-friendly” usually meant helium balloons, crayons, and paper placemats. This place was a cut or two above that, and the food was decent.

Claire caught Tom’s eye and smiled. Tom liked to make fun of that old standard waiter’s line. They both did: since when was eating dinner supposed to be work?

“We’re all set,” Tom said pleasantly. Tom Chapman was a youthful mid-forties, trim and handsome in a navy Armani suit. He’d just come from work. His close-cropped hair was graying and receding slightly. His eyes, bracketed by deep-etched crow’s feet, were gray-blue, more gray than blue, and almost twinkled with amusement. Claire nodded agreement. “All done working,” she said with a straight face.

“I’m all done, too,” said Annie, her glossy brown hair in pigtails, wearing her favorite pale-pink cotton jumper.

“Annie-Banannie,” Tom said, “you didn’t even eat half your burger!”

“Was everything all right?” the waiter asked with concern.

“Very good, thanks,” Tom said.

“But I ate the fries!”

“Can I tempt you with dessert?” asked the waiter. “The marquise au chocolat with pistachio sauce is fabulous. To die for. Or there’s a warm molten chocolate cake that’s really sinful.”

“I want chocolate cake!” said Annie.

Tom looked at Claire. She shook her head. “Nothing for me,” she said.

“Are you sure?” the waiter asked conspiratorially, wickedly. “How ’bout three forks?” “No, thanks. Maybe just coffee. And no chocolate cake for her unless she finishes her hamburger.”

“I’m going to finish it!” Annie protested, squirming in her seat.

“Very good,” the waiter said. “Two coffees?”

“One,” Claire said when Tom shook his head.

The waiter hesitated, cocking his head toward Claire. “Excuse me, are you Professor Heller?”

Claire nodded. “That’s me.”

The waiter smiled wide, as if he’d been let in on a state secret. “I’ve seen you on TV,” he said as he turned away.

“You don’t exist unless you’ve been on TV, you know,” Tom said when the waiter had left. He squeezed her hand under the lacquered tabletop. “The burdens of fame.”

“Not exactly.”

“In Boston, anyway. How are your colleagues at the Law School going to deal with this?”

“As long as I meet my teaching obligations, they really don’t care who I defend. I could represent Charles Manson; they’d probably whisper I’m a publicity whore, but they’d leave me alone.” She placed a hand on one of his cheeks, then the other hand on his other, and planted a kiss on his mouth. “Thanks,” she said. “Wonderful celebration.”

“My pleasure.”

Light glinted off Tom’s forehead, his deeply furrowed brow. She admired the planes of his face, his high cheekbones, his square chin. Tom wore his hair short, almost military style, in order to de-emphasize the balding, but as a result he looked like an overgrown school kid, fresh-scrubbed and eager to please. His blue-gray eyes, this evening tending toward blue, were translucent and innocent. He caught her looking at him and smiled. “What?”

“Nothing. Just thinking.”


She shrugged.

“You seem a little subdued. Feeling funny about getting Lambert off?”

“Yeah, I guess so. I mean, it was the right thing to do, I think. A really important case. Evidence that clearly should have been suppressed, the whole issue of ‘knowing and informed consent,’ unlawful search and seizure, inevitable discovery. Important Fourth Amendment stuff.”

“And yet you got a rapist off,” he said gently. He knew how uneasy she was about having taken on the Lambert case. The famous heir to the Lambert fortune, thirty-year-old Gary Lambert, whose picture you couldn’t help seeing in People magazine, usually in the arms of some supermodel, had been charged by the New York Police Department with the rape of a fifteen-year old girl.

When Lambert’s fancy trial lawyers asked Claire to handle the appeal, she didn’t hesitate. She knew why she’d been hired: it wasn’t simply because of her growing reputation as an appellate lawyer but, rather, because she was a professor at Harvard Law School. Her prominence in the legal profession might go a long way toward offsetting Gary Lambert’s fairly squirrelly reputa- tion. Yet she was fascinated by the legal issues involved, the police search of Lambert’s penthouse apartment and his trash, which she knew wouldn’t stand up. She never doubted she’d get his conviction overturned.

Suddenly, as a result of the case, Claire was on the cusp of minor celebrity. She was now a regular on Court TV and on Geraldo Rivera’s legal talk-show. The New York Times had begun to quote her in articles on other trials and legal controversies. She certainly wasn’t recognized walking down the street, but she was on the national media’s radar screen.

“Look,” Tom said, “you always say that the more despicable the person, the more he needs counsel. Right?”

“Yeah,” she said without conviction. “In theory.”

“Well, I think you did a great job, and I’m really proud of you.”

“Maybe you can give my interviews to the Globe,” she said. “I’m all done now,” Annie said, holding up a crust of bun. “Now I want dessert.” She slipped out of her chair and crawled into Tom’s lap. He smiled, lifted his stepdaughter up in the air, and gave her a loud smacking kiss on the cheek. “I love you, pumpkin. My Annie-Banannie. It’s coming soon, baby.”

“I forgot to tell you,” Claire said, “that Boston magazine wants to name us one of its Fifty Power Couples, or something like that.”

“Mommy, can I get ice cream with it?” asked Annie.

“Let me guess,” Tom said. “They just called because you got Gary Lambert off.” “Yes, sweetie, you can,” said Claire. “Actually, they called a few days ago.” “Gee, I don’t know about that, honey,” Tom said. “We’re not that kind of people.”

She shrugged, smiled with embarrassment. “Says who? Anyway, it’d be good for your business, wouldn’t it? Probably attract a lot of investors to Chapman & Company.” “I think it’s a little tacky, honey, that’s all. ‘Power Couples’. . .” He shook his head. “You didn’t say yes already, did you?”

“I didn’t say anything yet.”

“I just wish you wouldn’t.” “Daddy,” said Annie, one small arm curled around his neck, “when is the man bringing the cake?”

“Soon, babe.”

“Do they have to bake it?”

“Sure seems like it,” Tom said. “It’s certainly taking long enough.”

“Did I tell you the cops think they might have recovered one of the stolen paintings?” Claire said. They’d had a break-in a few days earlier, in which two of their paintings had been stolen-a Corot sketch of a nude woman that was a recent birthday gift to her from Tom, and a William Bailey still life in oil that Tom loved and she hated.

“Seriously? And I was all set to file the insurance claims. Which one’d they find?”

“Don’t know. Of course, it wouldn’t tear me apart if the Bailey’s lost forever.”

“I know,” Tom said. “Too cold and precise and controlled, right? Well, I loved it. Anyway, honey, it’s only stuff, you know? Objects, things. And no one got hurt; that’s the important thing.”

The waiter arrived with a tray. On it were the chocolate cake, a coffee cup, and two flutes of champagne. “Compliments of the house,” the waiter said. “With our congratulations.”

As they left the restaurant, Annie darted ahead into the mall’s food court, shouting, “I wanna go play in the space ship!” The giant plastic space ship was located in Annie’s favorite kiddie store nearby, in front of which stood giant resin statues of cartoon characters.

The food court was lined with upscale fast-food places and furnished with small round tables, wooden benches, and ficus trees in brass planters. The floor was tiled in highly polished marble. The big open space was three levels high and ringed with balconies that rose all the way up to a glass skylight illuminated by floodlights. At the far end of the atrium was an artificial waterfall that cascaded down a jagged granite wall.

“Slow down, Annie-Banannie,” Tom called out, and Annie circled back, grabbed her father’s hand, and tugged at it, at the same moment that two men in suits approached them.

One of them said, “Mr. Kubik, come with us, please. Let’s make this simple.”

Tom turned to the one on the left, puzzled. “Excuse me?”

“Ronald Kubik, federal agents. We have a warrant for your arrest.”

Tom smiled, furrowed his brow. “You’ve got the wrong guy, buddy,” he said, taking Claire’s hand and striding quickly past them.

“Mr. Kubik, come along quietly and no one will get hurt.”

Puzzled, Claire laughed at the absurdity of this. “Sorry, boys.” “You’re making some kind of a mistake,” Tom said, raising his voice, no longer amused. The man on the right abruptly grabbed Tom’s arm, and Claire said, “Get your hands off my husband.”

Suddenly Tom swung his briefcase to the right, slamming the man in the stomach, knocking him backward and to the floor, and then, in a flash, he’d sprung forward and was running away, into the food court, at astonishing speed.

Claire shouted after him, “Tom, where’re you going?”

Annie screamed, “Daddy!”

A voice yelled: “Freeze.”

Claire stared in shock as the two men chased after Tom, and then from all around the atrium men began to move abruptly. Why was he running, if this was indeed a case of mistaken identity? On her left, a couple of short-haired men in their late twenties, who’d been sitting having coffee in front of the chocolate-chip-cookie place, jumped to their feet.

Claire shouted, “Tom!” But he was already most of the way across the court, still running.

One of the men, wearing a navy blazer and tie, had just left the line in front of the pizza place and began gesturing to the others. He was older and appeared to be their leader. “Hold it!” he shouted. “Hold fire!”

On her right, another short-haired man, who’d been loitering near Yogurt ‘n Salad, whipped around and joined the pursuit. A pair of tourists with cameras around their necks who’d been inspecting the Williams-Sonoma window display suddenly turned and began running toward the far side of the atrium.

“Tom!” Claire screamed. What the hell was happening?

From every direction now men rose from tables, emerged from nearby shops. Tourists and casual loiterers were suddenly moving quickly, smoothly, converging on Tom from every direction.

A loud, metallically amplified voice came over a bullhorn: “Freeze! Federal agents!”

The place was in an uproar. People were crowding at the glass balconies on the upper levels staring down at the scene in disbelief.

Claire stood still, frozen in terror, her mind racing. What was going on? Who were all these men chasing Tom? And why wag he running?

“Mommy!” Annie whimpered. “Where’s Daddy going?”

“Cover the emergency exits!” yelled the man in the blue blazer into the commotion.

Claire held her Annie tight, stroking her face. “It’s okay, baby,” she said. It was all she could think to say. What was happening? From all over, people streamed into the middle of the food court. A young boy clung to his father’s leg, crying.

At the far end of the atrium she could see Tom, running even faster, knocking over chairs and benches as he went, suddenly swerve toward the white-tiled wall next to the Japanese take-out kiosk and grab a fire-alarm pull-box. A deafeningly loud bell began to clang. Screams now came from all directions. People were running everywhere, shouting to one another.

“Mommy!” Annie cried in terror. “What’s going on?”

Hugging Annie even more tightly, Claire shouted, “Tom!,” but her voice couldn’t be heard above the incredible din, the clanging fire alarm, the screams from all around. She watched Tom sprint toward the bank of escalators that led up to the movie theater on the floor above.

One of the pursuers, a tall, lanky black man, managed to reach Tom and lunged for him. Claire let out an involuntary scream. Then, suddenly, Tom whirled around and slammed the flat of his hand against the black man’s neck, grabbed the man’s underarm with the other hand, and forced the guy to the floor. The man bellowed in pain and lay flat on the floor, eyes closed, legs twitching, apparently paralyzed.

Claire watched in speechless astonishment, a dull, almost vacant state of horror and disbelief. None of this made sense. All she could think was, Tom doesn’t know how to do any of these things.

As Tom streaked past a stand marked PASTA PRIMO, another man lunged from behind the counter, and Tom tackled him to the ground, then sprang to his feet, weaving away from him. But the man managed to rise and kept coming at Tom, now pointing a gun. Tom grabbed a heavy-looking metal briefcase out of the hands of a horrified onlooker and flung it at his pursuer, knocking the gun out of his hands and sending it clattering to the floor.

Then he wheeled around and bounded toward the fake waterfall coursing down its granite wall at the end of the atrium, just as two other men emerged from an emergency door next to the Italian restaurant just a few feet away.

Tom scrambled up the rocks and boulders in front of the waterfall and in one great leap-Claire could barely believe what she was seeing-he began scaling the jagged stone wall, grabbing on to jutting edges of stone, using them as finger- and toeholds, pulling himself up with his hands, face-climbing up the wall like a skilled rock climber.

“Freeze!” one of the men shouted at him, pulling out a gun and aiming. He fired a shot, which pockmarked the granite very close to Tom’s head.

She screamed, “Tom!” To the others, she yelled: “Stop it! What the hell are you doing?” She could barely believe what Tom, her husband of three years, the man she loved and knew so intimately, was doing. It was as if another man had taken his place, a man she didn’t know, who could do things her Tom would never have dreamed of.

For an instant Tom actually stopped, and Claire wondered whether he really did intend to halt where he was, almost ten feet off the ground, clinging to the artificial rock face.

Another shot hit the glass wall of the balcony just above him, shattering it, and then Tom continued up the rock face with an awesome agility, and Claire stared in rapt amazement as he reached over to the brass guardrail around the balcony, grabbed hold, and deftly swung himself up into the gawking, frenzied crowd of people who’d been waiting to get into the movie theaters or were streaming out of them, and then at once he was gone.

Goddamn it!” the leader shouted as he reached the escalators. He swept an index finger around at his men. “You two, to the parking garage! You, up this way, into the theater. Move it!” He whirled around and called to another of his men, “Damn it, we lost the fucker!” Then he pointed directly at Claire and Annie, jerking his thumb to one side. “I want them,” he shouted. “Now!”