The whistler, p.17
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       The Whistler, p.17

           John Grisham
 

  which was shattered.”

  “Did you see his face?”

  “No, the light was too bright.” She covered her face with both hands and gently massaged her forehead with her fingertips. A minute passed, then another. Gently, Myers asked, “Did you see the other guy?”

  She shook her head. “No, it’s gone now. I know there were two of them, two figures moving around. One with the headlamp thing, and I think the other had a regular flashlight. I heard their footsteps as they stepped on the broken glass.”

  “Did they say anything?”

  “Nothing I remember. I was stunned.”

  “Sure you were, Lacy. You had a concussion. That’ll screw up your memory.”

  She smiled, stood, walked to the fridge, and took out some orange juice. Myers said, “What kinds of cell phones?”

  “Older BlackBerry models, issued by BJC.” She poured two glasses and set them on the table. “I have an iPhone but I left it here. Hugo used the state phone for everything. I’m not sure he had another. Our IT guy says it’s impossible to hack into the state phones.”

  “But it can be done. For the right money, they can hire the hackers.”

  “Our guy says not to worry. He’s also tried to track the phones but there’s no signal, which means they’re probably at the bottom of the ocean.”

  “I worry about everything. That’s why I’m still alive.”

  Lacy walked to a tall kitchen window and looked at the clouds. With her back to Myers she posed the question, “So, tell me, Greg, what did they gain by killing Hugo?”

  Myers stood and stretched his legs. He took a sip of orange juice and said, “Intimidation. Somehow they got wind you guys were snooping around, so they reacted. As far as the police are concerned, it looks like an accident. But taking the cell phones also sent the message to you and BJC.”

  “Could I be next?”

  “I doubt it. They had you on the ropes and could have easily finished you off. One dead guy is warning enough. If something happened to you now it would bring the full weight of the federal government.”

  “And what about you?”

  “Oh, I’ll never be safe. Their first objective will be to find Greg Myers, whoever the hell he is, and take him, me, out quietly. But they’ll never find me.”

  “Can they find the mole?”

  “No, I don’t think so.”

  “A lot of uncertainties, Greg.”

  He walked to the window and stood beside her. The rain had started and drops were hitting the glass. “You want to quit?” he asked. “I can withdraw the complaint and get on with life. Same for you. You’ve shed enough blood. Life is too short.”

  “I can’t do that, Greg, not now. If we walk away, the bad guys win again. Hugo died for nothing. BJC would be a joke. No. I’m still in.”

  “And what’s the endgame?”

  “The corruption is exposed. McDover and Dubose and company are indicted and prosecuted. The mole gets his rewards. Hugo’s death is investigated and those responsible are brought to justice. Junior Mace walks after fifteen years on death row. And whoever killed Son Razko and Eileen Mace is put on trial.”

  “Anything else?”

  “No, that should keep me busy for the next month or so.”

  “You can’t do it by yourself, Lacy. You need a lot of help.”

  “Yes, I do, and that’s where the FBI comes in. They have the resources and expertise; we don’t. If you want this case cracked and the bad guys rounded up, then you have to ease up on the FBI.”

  “You’re assuming they will investigate?”

  “Yes, and that might be assuming too much.”

  “When do you approach them?”

  “It’s unlikely the FBI will get involved if we’re not involved first. As you know, the agency has shown an extreme reluctance to stick its nose into Indian matters. So, our plans are to serve your complaint on McDover. She’ll have thirty days to respond. We’ll take it one step at a time.”

  “You must protect my identity at all times, Lacy. If you can’t promise that, then I’m checking out now. And, I’m not working directly with the FBI. You can, and I’ll feed you everything we get from the mole, but I will have no contact with the FBI. Understood?”

  “Understood.”

  “And you be careful, Lacy. These are dangerous people and they’re desperate.”

  “I get it, Greg. They killed Hugo, didn’t they?”

  “They did, and I’m sorry. I wish I’d never called you.”

  “Too late for that.”

  He pulled a thin burner from his pocket and handed it over. “Use this for the next month. I have one too.”

  She held it in the palm of her hand as if it were stolen, then finally nodded and said, “Okay, I guess.”

  “In thirty days, I’ll send you another one. Keep it close at all times. If the wrong people get it, I’m a dead man, and I wouldn’t like your chances either.”

  She watched him drive away, in a rented car with Ohio plates, and gripped his cheap phone while wondering how in the world she had gotten herself into such a mess. During her first nine years at BJC, her most interesting case had been a Duval County circuit court judge who preyed on attractive women going through bad divorces on his docket. He’d also preyed on court reporters, clerks, and secretaries, any female, really, who had a nice figure and was unlucky enough to get near his courtroom. Lacy forced him to resign and he later went to jail.

  But nothing like this.

  —

  The inevitable moment had arrived, and Lacy was not ready for it. Nor would she ever be; thus she had no choice. Simon, her neighbor, agreed to ride along and talk her through it. Tentatively, she approached the small Ford rental, a loaner provided by her insurance policy and delivered the day before. She opened the door and slowly eased herself behind the wheel. She gripped it hard and felt her pulse hammering through her hands. Simon got in, put on his seat belt, and suggested that she do the same. She inserted the key, started the engine, and sat paralyzed as the air-conditioning slowly came to life.

  “Take a deep breath,” he said. “This is going to be easy.”

  “There is nothing easy about it.” She gently pulled the gear shift into reverse and released the brake. When the car actually moved she felt a wave of dizziness and hit the brake again.

  “Come on, Lacy. Let’s get this over with,” he said, a Brit with one of those stiff upper lips. “You have no choice.”

  “I know, I know.” She released the brake again and inched backward. She turned and left the space free, then stopped and moved the gear shift into drive. No other car was moving in the small lot next to her building, but she feared them anyway.

  Too cheerily, Simon said, “Now, Lacy, one must take pressure off the brake for the vehicle to move forward.”

  “I know, I know,” she repeated, almost mumbling. The car began to ease forward, then turned and stopped at the street, which was lightly traveled on a busy day. “Take a right here,” he said. “I see nothing coming.”

  “My hands are sweaty,” she said.

  “So are mine. It’s hot as hell in here. Now, move along, Lacy. You’re doing fine. All is well.”

  She turned onto the street and pressed the accelerator. It was impossible to ignore the memories of her last drive, but she tried her best. Mumbling helped, and she kept saying, “This is working. This is working.”

  “You’re great, Lacy. A bit more speed if you will.”

  She glanced at the speedometer as it topped twenty, then began to slow for a stop sign. She made the block, then another. Fifteen minutes later, she was back at the apartment, dry-mouthed and drenched with sweat.

  “Shall we do it again?” Simon asked.

  “Give me an hour,” she said. “I need to lie down.”

  “As you wish, dear. Just give me a ring.”

  21

  None of the three had ever visited the town of Sterling, population thirty-five hundred, and after a quick loop around th
e hideous courthouse they were certain they would not want to drop in again. Michael parked his SUV near a war memorial and the three got out. Certain they were being watched, they walked purposefully along the front sidewalk and through the main door. For this somber occasion Michael and Justin wore dark suits, as if they were entering the courthouse for a major trial. Justin was just along for the ride, and to provide some muscle and give the impression that BJC had the manpower and meant business.

  Lacy wore black slacks and flat shoes. She could walk without a limp but her left knee was still swollen. She also wore a beige blouse and a silk Hermès scarf on her head. She had debated whether to walk into the meeting with no hat, no scarf, nothing to hide her shaved scalp and jagged cut with the suture indentions still fresh. On the one hand, she wanted Claudia McDover to see the damage, to be forced to stare at a living, breathing casualty of her corruption. But on the other hand, Lacy’s vanity said cover it up.

  They climbed the stairs to the third floor and found the office of the Honorable Claudia F. McDover, Circuit Court Judge, Twenty-Fourth Judicial District. Inside, a receptionist greeted them without a smile. Michael said, “I’m Mr. Geismar and I believe I spoke with you on the phone. We have an appointment with the judge at 5:00 p.m.”

  “I’ll tell her.”

  Five o’clock came and went. At 5:15, the receptionist opened the door and said, “Judge McDover.” They walked into her office and she greeted them with a smile that was plainly forced. Lacy avoided shaking her hand. In a corner of the large room, two men rose from a conference table and introduced themselves as Judge McDover’s lawyers. Their presence was not a surprise. Michael had called the day before to arrange the meeting; thus, Judge McDover had twenty-four hours to begin lawyering up.

  The older guy was Edgar Killebrew, an infamous white-collar defense lawyer from Pensacola. He was tall and thick and sharply dressed in navy pinstripes, and his thinning gray hair was slicked back and fell beneath his collar. By reputation he was loud and flamboyant, and intimidating because he was always ready for a fight and seldom lost before juries. His associate was Ian Archer, an unsmiling sort who refused to shake hands with anyone and reeked of surliness.

  Awkwardly, they settled around the conference table. Judge McDover sat on one side with a lawyer at each elbow. Michael faced her, with Lacy and Justin at his sides. Small talk was useless. Who cared about the weather?

  Michael began, “A formal complaint was filed against Judge McDover forty-five days ago. We’ve done the assessment, and as you know our initial threshold is not very high. If it appears that the complaint may have merit, then we pass it along to the judge. That’s why we’re here today.”

  “We understand this,” Killebrew said sharply.

  Lacy stared at McDover and wondered if it was all true. The years of payoffs in return for favorable decisions; the outright stealing from the Tappacola; the murder of Hugo Hatch; the private jets and unlimited cash and homes around the world; the wrongful conviction of Junior Mace. No, actually, at that moment it did not seem possible that this attractive woman, an elected judge from a small town, could be involved in such ugly and far-reaching crimes. And what did McDover see when she looked at Lacy? The scarf hiding the wounds? A lucky girl who could have died? A nuisance to be dealt with later? A threat? Whatever the judge was thinking, she revealed nothing. Her face was all business, as unpleasant as it was.

  The beauty of Lacy’s strategy was that at that moment McDover had no idea what the mole had already told them. No idea they had an inkling of the cash, jets, homes, all the goodies. She was about to realize that her four condos had raised suspicions, but that was all.

  “Could we see the complaint?” Killebrew asked.

  Michael slid across the original and three copies. McDover, Killebrew, and Archer grabbed them and began reading. But they were careful not to react. If the judge was shocked, she hid her surprise well. Nothing. No anger. No disbelief. Nothing but a cool, dispassionate reading of accusations. Her lawyers read the complaint and managed to convey a smug indifference. Archer made a few notes on a legal pad. The minutes ticked by. The tension was thick, palpable.

  Finally, McDover said, without a trace of emotion, “This is absurd.”

  “Who is Greg Myers?” Killebrew said coolly.

  “We’re not going to reveal his identity at this time,” Michael replied.

  “Well, we’ll find out, won’t we? I mean, this is defamatory as hell and we’ll sue him immediately for a ton of cash. He can’t hide.”

  Michael shrugged and said, “Sue who you gotta sue. That’s none of our business.”

  Archer asked, with an obnoxious nasal tone that indicated he was far more intelligent than anyone else in the room, “During the assessment, what did you learn that indicated these allegations have merit?”

  “We’re not required to divulge that at this time. As I’m sure you know, from a careful review of the statutes, Judge McDover has thirty days to respond in writing. During that period, we will continue to investigate. Once we receive your response, we will respond to it.”

  “I got a response for you right now,” Killebrew growled. “This is defamatory, libelous, and a complete crock of shit. It’s all lies. The Board on Judicial Conduct should be investigated for taking this rubbish seriously and defiling the name of one of the highest-rated judges in the State of Florida.”

  “You gonna sue us too?” Lacy asked coolly and knocked him off stride. Killebrew glared at her but did not take the bait.

  “I’m concerned about confidentiality,” Judge McDover said. “I’m not worried about these allegations, because they are groundless and we’ll prove that in short order. But I have a reputation to protect. This is the first complaint filed against me after seventeen years on the bench.”

  “Which proves nothing,” Lacy said, itching for a little skirmish.

  “Correct, Ms. Stoltz, but I want assurances that this matter will be kept quiet.”

  Michael replied, “We are quite aware of the need for secrecy, that we are dealing with reputations, and for this we closely follow the statute that makes our investigations confidential.”

  “But you’ll be talking to potential witnesses,” Killebrew said. “And word gets around. I know how these investigations go. They can become witch hunts where the gossip flies and people get hurt.”

  “People have already been hurt,” Lacy said as she glared, unblinking, at Judge McDover, who returned the stare as if she could not have cared less.

  For a moment there was no air to breathe. Michael finally moved on with “We handle these investigations every day, Mr. Killebrew. I assure you we know how to keep things quiet. Oftentimes, though, the chatter seems to come from the other side.”

  “Nice try, sir, but there will be no chatter from us,” Killebrew said. “We’ll file a motion to dismiss as soon as practical and get this crap thrown out.”

  Michael replied, “I’ve been with the BJC for almost thirty years and I have yet to see a case in which the Board dismissed the complaint before the responses were filed. But go ahead and try.”

  “That’s great, Mr. Geismar, and in your years of vast experience how often do you serve complaints in which the identity of the complaining party is not revealed?”

  “His name is Greg Myers. Right there on the front page.”

  “Thank you. But who is Mr. Greg Myers, and where does he live? There is no address, no contact information, nothing.”

  “It would be inappropriate for you to contact Mr. Myers.”

  “I didn’t say I wanted to contact him. We just want to know who he is and why he is accusing my client of something that amounts to bribery. That’s all.”

  “To be discussed later,” Michael said.

  “Anything else?” McDover asked. The judge was in charge and ready to adjourn.

  “No, not from us,” Michael replied. “We will await your response in thirty days, if not sooner.”

  Without a handshake and with hardly
a nod, they stood and left the room. Nothing was said as they walked to the car and drove away. As the town faded behind them, Michael finally said, “Okay, let’s hear it.”

  Justin spoke first. “The fact that she hired the most expensive lawyer around here before she knew what was coming raises suspicions. Would she hire him if she wasn’t guilty of something? And how can she afford him on a judge’s salary? Narco-traffickers and other big-time crooks have the cash for a guy like Killebrew, but not a circuit court judge.”

 
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