The headquarters of Donovan & Donavan was located in Dallas, but there were also offices in New York, Chicago, Miami and a dozen other cities, covering all branches of public and private law, with partnerships in London and Geneva to handle international cases.
Tristan decided to specialize in criminal law. Originally, he was only interested in learning enough about the system to protect himself. Ironically, when he dove into his studies, he discovered that he liked that aspect of the law and that he was incredibly good at it. His professors presented case studies about murders, rapes, and various other violent crimes, and Tristan’s opinions were always more insightful and elaborate than others’. He knew he was ahead of the class merely because he had committed numerous crimes himself and had been in situations none of the other students had. Still, professors and classmates considered him a genius.
During his time at the university, Tristan no longer needed to kill. Instead, he did it to conduct experiments, to perform rehearsals to perfect his art. He focused on the same types of men he had chosen in the Bahamas, but it was much more difficult to murder someone in the United States, so he would need to be far more creative. Making good use of his acting skills, he combined accents and disguises to lure his victims and avoid detection. He could assume the identity of an Australian tourist, a surfer from California, or a stressed executive from New York, to name a few. He then focused on the challenge of removing the bodies without leaving a shred of evidence at the crime scenes.
It was fascinating to observe James every day and know that soon it would be his turn. But Tristan was in no rush. The brilliance of his revenge fed his soul for the time being. He spent months planning the perfect murder, specifically tailored for dear old Dad. As with all the other victims, Tristan was sure that he could pull it off without a hint of his involvement. But there was one element in this plan that was unique to James’s case: Tristan did not merely want James dead. He wanted him to suffer for all he had done to him and his mother. It was hard to plan a murder involving a reasonable level of torture that did not raise suspicion.
During his final year of school, Tristan took on an internship at the firm’s Florida office. Miami was a violent city and their lawyers defended a spectrum of bloody criminals. Each case taught Tristan something new, but he was interested in defending the clients who had struck out in revenge and engaged in torturing their victims first.
He added a handful of elements to his master plan, but ultimately concluded that the possibilities which presented the lowest risk of getting caught forced the quickest deaths. This would not be good enough for James.
After graduating, Tristan took the bar exam in Texas. Once he had received his license, James gave him a luxurious apartment in Dallas, and Tristan waited for the chance to defend his first client.
Tristan only needed to look at a client to know if his or her hands were stained with blood. It was an invisible radar, something that a killer saw in one of his own. He was never sure whether or not those individuals could spot his dark side, but their chemistry was infallible. In the meetings with the clients, he took advantage of being the senior partner’s son and always spoke his mind.
When James was present, sometimes he threatened to shut Tristan up—after so many years of humiliating him, it was a reflex he could not contain—but the scared, young boy was long gone. Tristan had become a cum laude Yale graduate who, before opening his mouth, had researched every detail of the case in question, and made coherent statements that kept the clients’ eyes glued to him.
On one occasion, after Tristan had given a short speech, the client—an architect accused of having raped his secretary—looked at James and said, “Mr. Donovan, I want your son to defend my case.”
The other two lawyers present exchanged worried glances. James retorted, “Tristan is a very promising young lawyer, but he just graduated about a year ago and still has not had the opportunity to defend a case before a jury. You need someone with more experience.”
“With all due respect, Mr. Donovan, I’ve paid people with twenty years of experience who did nothing for me. Your son knows what he’s saying, and most importantly, he has charisma. I want him on the case.”
And that’s how it all began. Tristan won that case and the doors soon opened wide for him.
Dallas, Texas. Fall of 2000
As he celebrated his thirtieth birthday, Tristan had reached the peak of his success. He had defended almost fifty violent crime cases and lost only two. Co-workers and board members always congratulated him. But the closest James got to paying his son a compliment was, “I’m glad you were the one who survived that fall. Your mother was just pretty. You actually proved you have some resourcefulness.”
Tristan managed to smile despite his father’s acrid words. James hadn’t taken a vacation for years, and the stress from the job was shooting his blood pressure sky high. In a week’s time, he would be spending a few days at their home in Montana—the perfect time to spring a trap. He planned out a crude scheme to finish off the bastard, and didn’t bother reviewing it. The man’s time had come. James had just cornered himself, and the time to strike was at a boiling point. Besides, what could be more epic than murdering James in Montana, where this spiral into darkness had begun?
At 8 P.M. Tristan’s office was dark and he stood by the window, replaying the plan in his mind. He would go on a trip to develop an alibi and then travel back to Montana in disguise to kill James. Knowing their house so well, Tristan could easily get to his father’s room when everyone was asleep. He had the code for the alarm and knew exactly where the bodyguard and the other servants’ rooms were located. They would not hear a thing from the first floor.
He would inject James with a sedative while he slept, tie and gag him, and then wake him up for the big game. When he was finished, Tristan would untie James and set fire to the bastard’s room. He would quietly slip out of the house by climbing out the window, get to the rental car concealed in the forest and drive away. By the time the servants realized what was going on, the fire should have completely engulfed James’s room. With the massive wooden door locked from the inside, no one would be able to get to his body until it had been fully consumed by the flames.
Tristan wanted it to appear as if James had fallen asleep holding a cigar. Due to his current health problems, some might even suspect he’d had a heart attack. No bullets or broken bones would be found in the charred body, but neither would have been necessary. Tristan wanted to put his hands around James’s neck and look into his eyes as he gasped for air. And regarding the torture, Tristan did not need to break anything. Eighteen years earlier, his father had taken him to Montana and forced him to kill and skin animals. He had beaten him every time he had cried. Now, James was about to discover that Tristan had not only learned how to kill, but also how to use a hunting knife.
Tristan slammed the phone against the wall after receiving the news. James had suffered a fatal stroke in Montana – only three days before Tristan could put his plan into action.
Now Tristan would inherit his father’s millions and no longer had to compete with his cousins for the leadership of the firm. But Tristan felt as if he had been robbed of what he wanted most – his chance to hurt James.
After the funeral, Tristan marched right into James’s study and went straight for the dead man’s brandy. For several minutes, he paced restlessly across the room, hearing nothing but his own heartbeat. Suddenly, he stopped and looked at James’s pictures on the fireplace mantel.
As he studied the man he had spent his life hating, he thought, It’s not fair...
When he had first learned about the stroke, Tristan had desperately hoped James would recover half-paralyzed. He would have delighted in feeding and cleaning his father like a baby. If he could not kill the bastard, his consolation would be to watch him grow old, crippled and in a lot of pain, begging for a death that would take decades to arrive.
But James’s life had been too good. And so had his death. Even his smiling face in the picture seemed to be mocking Tristan for his ineptitude.
In a fit of fury, Tristan flung his brandy glass across the mantel, throwing everything off it in a loud crash. He sobbed then. It was the first time he had cried since he was a child and he only stopped when he heard a knock at the door.
James’s elder brother poked his head into the study and ignored the devastation around the room. “Son, I know how awful you must be feeling, but there are some people downstairs who want to see you.”
Tristan wiped away his tears and composed himself. He leaned against a chair and pulled himself together, both for his uncle, and for the concentration required for the act ahead.
Finally, he raised his head. “I’ll be right there.”
The living room was crowded with James’s friends, a few distant relatives Tristan had not seen in years, and dozens of employees from the firm. Although his mind was miles away, Tristan played the mourning son dutifully. He joined his uncle, shaking hands and thanking guests for their sympathy.
Tristan’s attention was suddenly riveted when one of the firm’s partners walked in, accompanied by a judge he’d met years ago. As he laid his eyes on the man, drink in hand, acting like the king of the universe, hatred writhed in the pit of his stomach. He was the abusive bastard Tristan had caught in bed with a teenage boy in Montana. Right there, Tristan discovered his new calling. If he had failed to kill his father, perhaps killing men who were cruel and abusive like his father would bring him some peace.
His years of planning James’s murder had taught Tristan that killing the rich and powerful required the art of a master. He would have to juggle dozens of dangerous factors: bodyguards, alarms, security cameras, and the logistics of coming and going without leaving traces. It would be like a military operation.
Tristan smiled, allowing the sudden adrenaline rush to consume him. He was the finest criminal lawyer and a remarkable actor. He needed a respectable audience, so why not add the pleasure of play to the game? There would be no hiding bodies. No being anonymous. Tristan Donovan had the world in his hands and it would be fun to measure strengths with those who had taught him most of his tricks—the FBI.
Tristan walked past the line of guests entering the estate and sat at a quiet spot under the setting sun. He had just created a new world for himself, and as the Bible said, after so much work, a god needed to rest. He would rest for a while. But the next time he stopped a heart from beating, the entire world would know.