Proof of Intent

Proof of Intent

by Walter Sorrells


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Okay, so your client is a liar. Does that make him a murderer?

In the dark hours of morning, Charley Sloan arrives at the palatial home of Miles Dane, celebrated novelist from the Detroit suburb of Pickeral Point, to find Dane's wife murdered in their bed.

Dane tells Charley he was downstairs working. Heard nothing, saw nothing.

The police arrive. Dane tells his story again. Only, this time there's a mysterious intruder fleeing down the hallway, with Dane in pursuit.

Miles Dane became a famous writer because he had a wild and violent imagination. But now that imagination seems to be getting him in trouble. The more he talks to the police, the crazier his story sounds. Is he making things up because that's just what he does? Or is it because he has something to hide?

Once the cops uncover physical evidence linking Dane to the crime, they're sure they know the answer. Dane is charged with murder.

Charley Sloan has his work cut out for him. How do you protect and represent a client who seems to be his own worst enemy?

Miles Dane's wild thoughts continue to dog him as the evidence rolls in. The police soon suspect that he had planned this crime many years ago. And made the mistake of writing it all down. In exact detail.

Was it a plan of action or just another of Miles Dane's strange fantasies? At first Charley can't help but think that Miles killed his wife. But as he begins conducting his own investigation into the case, Charley comes to believe that Miles his client has been framed. And that the real killer is using Dane's own bizarre imagination against him.

But if that's true, why doesn't Dane speak up?

Charley thinks he knows why. Dane has something to hide. Something from his past. Something shameful.

Charley understands shame. A recovering alcoholic with a string of wrecked marriages behind him, he has his own dark past. Charley has long been separated from his daughter Lisa, a law student and recovering alcoholic, who now joins the hard-pressed legal team. Will the case bring father and daughter together or drive them apart?

The trial begins and still it's unclear where Miles Dane's wild imaginings stop and reality begins. Or whether he is committing the ultimate sacrifice in order to atone for something he did long ago.

Only in the crucible of the final, fevered moments of trial will Charley finally put the pieces together. And reveal the stunning truth.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781413205725
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 11/09/2002
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 6.70(w) x 9.28(h) x 1.11(d)

About the Author

William J. Coughlin, a former defense attorney and judge in Detroit for twenty years, was the author of sixteen novels. He lived in Grosse Point Woods, Michigan, with his wife, Ruth, an author and book critic.

Walter Sorrells is the Edgar Award-winning author of the legal thrillers Cry For Justice, Will To Murder, and Power Of Attorney. He has served on the board of directors of the Mystery Writers of America.

Read an Excerpt


LATER THE ADDRESS would become familiar to everyone in America, a phrase on everyone’s lips. Just like “the Rockingham estate” or “the compound at Waco.” But at the time 221 Riverside Boulevard in Pickeral Point, Michigan, was just a big house I’d never visited before, dark and unfamiliar at that dead hour of the night.

And so at first I didn’t see him. As I’d been instructed on the phone, I had come in the back door. The moon was throwing a white patch on the dark floor.

As my eyes adjusted, a dark blob in the middle of the large empty room slowly resolved itself into the form of Miles Dane. He was sitting on his haunches, head bowed, eyes shut, lips moving silently. Meditating, maybe? He wore a robe of liquid white silk.

He didn’t look at me, didn’t stir, just sat there with his lips moving, something glistening on his face. I figured, okay, maybe the guy was a flake—but since he was a potentially big client, too, I’d wait. Even if it was a couple minutes past four o’clock in the morning.

After a moment or two the moon went behind a cloud. Miles Dane stood abruptly and walked across the straw mat floor, through a doorway and down a long, dark hallway. I followed. He was a short man, with the physical vigor and build of a wrestler.

We walked silently through his large living room, up a flight of deeply carpeted stairs, down a long hallway, into a bedroom with an expensive view of the river.

“There,” he said, pointing.

“What?” I thought he was pointing out the picture window. The dark, mottled water looked like hammered lead.

“No, Charley. There.”

Then I saw her. She lay in the bed as though sleeping. The moon came out from behind the cloud and a pale light washed the floor, revealing both her ruined face and the black blood that suddenly seemed to be everywhere.

EVEN BEFORE SEEING the woman lying dead in her bed, it had been a bad night. I’d been woken at around two o’clock that same morning by a disturbing call from my daughter, Lisa, and then been unable to sleep, lying there in bed torturing myself about the mistakes I’d made in my life. Just as I’d decided the night was a dead loss, that I might as well get dressed and read a book for a while, I’d gotten the puzzling call from Miles Dane.

You probably know Miles Dane. He’s the most famous writer in Pickeral Point, Michigan—which, to be fair, is not saying a whale of a lot. But still. One of his early novels, The Bust, had been made into a movie starring Charles Bronson back in the early seventies, and he’s been on the best-seller list off and on ever since. Though from what I gathered, lately it’s been more off than on.

I had met Miles several times over the years. He hung around the county courthouse occasionally to do research for his novels, and had taken me to lunch once to ask me some technical details about murder prosecutions. We said hello to each other in the grocery store or bookstore every once in a while. But other than that, we were pretty much strangers.

Miles is one of those writers who ended up being famous as much for being famous as for anything to do with his work. The square jaw, the bantam rooster build, the black clothes, the black cowboy boots, the omnipresent shoulder holster. And, of course, the eyes: They were gray and piercing, somehow managing to seem both haunted and threatening at the same time. He did well on the talk shows back in the days when Johnny Carson had still sandwiched the occasional writer in between the starlets and the ballplayers and the funny guys from the zoo. He said inflammatory things about women and minorities to magazine writers. He drove Italian cars into trees. He got into the occasional well-publicized fistfight, and always came out of the police station looking great for the waiting cameras.

I always thought his books were a little pretentious. The hero was generally some kind of compromised semicriminal with a name like Donnie or Dwayne who went around thrashing people and then talking like he’d read too much Kierkegaard. But Miles kept the pages turning, I’ll give him that, throwing Donnie or Dwayne into one scary predicament after another. While the first books were alright, the last few I’d read seemed to verge on self-parody.

But then, what do I know about writing? I’m just a small-town lawyer, scraping by.

HAVE YOU CALLED the police?” I said.

Miles Dane had slid down the wall and was hunkered on the floor, where he began panting like a dog.


When his breathing finally settled down, he shook his head slowly, no.

“It’s your wife?”

He nodded, then put his face in his hands.

“I’ll make the call,” I said.

“Diana,” he said. “Her name is Diana.”

THE CITY FATHERS of Pickeral Point have been uncharacteristically wise when it comes to shepherding the police department. The latest chief they hired, Elvin Bower, is a good man. They pay him well, and he hires good people. Over the years the detectives in the department have been drawn from the ranks of Detroit homicide cop retirees. I’ve had my share of run-ins with them, but I’ve never questioned their professionalism.

The first policeman to show up at Miles Dane’s house was a uniformed kid of at least twelve. I told him not to worry about the body, just to call for his supervisor and the city detective, then to start stringing crime scene tape. He gratefully did as he was told. The new town detective, a woman with the unfortunate name of Chantall Denkerberg, showed up about fifteen minutes later. I’d had no dealings with her, but she’d cracked a very complicated murder-for-hire case in Detroit that had made national headlines a couple of years back and came to the department with a reputation as a hotshot.

“Charley Sloan,” I said, sticking out my hand. “I’m Mr. Dane’s attorney.”

Denkerberg’s eyebrows rose slightly. She was a tall, handsome woman of about fifty, her severe black pageboy punctuated by a white streak over the left ear. Blue coat, blue skirt, white blouse buttoned to the neck and starched hard.

It wasn’t the usual thing for a detective to roll up on a crime scene and have a lawyer there to greet them. I expected her to ask why I was there, but instead she just said, “You touch anything?”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Do you know what happened?”

“Mrs. Dane appears to have been beaten to death in her bedroom.” I chose my words carefully, doing my best to keep my answer as vague as possible. “As you might expect, my client is very distressed and hasn’t articulated what he knows very clearly.”

“Anything he wants to get off his chest before I start conducting my examination of the scene?”

“If what you’re implying, Detective, is did he do it?—the answer is no.”

“Then sit tight. I’d like you and Mr. Dane to stay in the living room. Please instruct him to stay there until I come in.”

“Don’t you need to see the body?” I said.

Denkerberg smiled blandly. “Amateurs always stampede straight for the body. I, however, proceed methodically.”

She took a 35mm camera out of a shoulder bag and began walking unhurriedly across the lawn, pausing to take pictures of every door and window, peering closely at the ground.


I WENT BACK inside and sat on the couch. The room was beautifully decorated, with a spare, Japanese flavor. A large, richly colored book of woodblock prints lay in front of me on the coffee table, open to a picture of a Japanese courtesan playing a shamisen, one bare breast and a wisp of pubic hair visible beneath her loose kimono. Behind her a man peeped around the corner of the room, a comical leer on his face—and from the coquettish expression on the courtesan’s face, it seemed likely she was not unaware of the voyeur’s presence. I considered picking up the book for a closer look at the odd picture, but then decided it would be best not to touch anything. Miles sat across from me, still wearing his spotless white silk dressing gown.

“So,” I said, “have you collected yourself enough to tell me what happened?”

He stared across the room for a while, his face empty.

“I work at night,” he said finally. “I was in my office at the other end of the house. I was getting a little tired, and the juices weren’t flowing, so I decided to go to bed. I brushed my teeth, put on my robe and pajamas, then I opened the door to check on her . . .” His hands moved feebly in his lap.

“There’s no blood on your robe. You didn’t touch her?”

He frowned, half-quizzical, half-irritated. “You saw her, for godsake!” he said. “What would have been the point?”

Logically speaking, he was right: She had been beaten so badly there probably had been precious little question she was dead. But still, it seemed odd to me. The natural human reaction when you see an injured loved one is to approach them, to see if there is anything you can do to help, no matter how remote the chance of success.

“Okay,” I said. “And you didn’t hear anything while you were working?”

“I play music when I’m working. Play it pretty loud, actually. Helps me get where I need to be so I can wring out the primal juices.” He said it like it was a line he’d rehearsed for a bad play.

“So you didn’t hear anything.”

“Nothing but Beethoven. The Tempest. Piano Sonata number 17.”

“Mind my asking why you called me before you called the police?”

He studied me with his haunted gray eyes. “Are you joking?”

“No, I’m not, Miles.”

“Well, the answer to your question is, because they’re going to crucify me.”

“Why would they do that?”

“I’m a student of crime, Charley: the husband is always the first suspect. Right? Plus, hell, you know who I am, what my reputation is. That new guy? That jerk-off fair-haired boy whom the good people of our county voted into the prosecutor’s office last year? He’s gonna take one look at me and figure this is the best chance he’ll ever get of being on Court TV.”

“Not if there’s no evidence against you.” I didn’t mention that the new prosecuting attorney was a friend of mine, a man who could be trusted not to pursue anybody who didn’t look like he deserved it.

He fixed his eyes on me like he was trying to stare me down. “You just watch.”

We sat for a while in silence.

“They’re going to ask about your relationship. Were there any problems there that I should know about?”

His eyes suddenly filled with tears. “I loved my wife more than anything else on this planet. We had a thing so strong you wouldn’t believe.”

“There were no affairs? No conspicuous arguments? No late-night calls to the police?”

He eyed me for a while. “How many times have you been married, Charley?”


“Good marriages?”

“The worst imaginable.”

His eyes softened, and he smiled at me with a look of pity in his eyes. “Then I guess you’d have no idea what it’s like,” he said. “Devoting your whole life to one person, loving completely and being loved completely in return?”

I didn’t know quite what to say to that. So I just sat there and waited for Detective Denkerberg to come talk to my client. Miles was right: I’m forty-seven years old, and I’d never known the thing he was talking about. Forty-seven years old, and I was only just now feeling my way toward a life where such a thing seemed like a realistic possibility.

Suddenly he came over to me and put his arm around my shoulder—as though I were the one who’d just suffered an unimaginable tragedy.

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