The whistler, p.18
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       The Whistler, p.18
 

           John Grisham

  “I guess she’s got the cash,” Lacy said.

  Michael said, “As cool as she was, I saw fear. And not the fear of a soiled reputation. That’s the least of her worries. You agree, Lacy? Could you read her?”

  “I didn’t get the impression she’s afraid. She’s too cold-blooded for that.”

  Justin said, “Look, we know what she’s going to do. She’ll file a thick response in which she claims she purchased the condos years ago as investments. It’s not against the law to do so with offshore companies. It may look suspicious, but it’s not illegal or even unethical.”

  Lacy said, “Okay, but how can she prove she paid for them?”

  Michael ventured a guess. “She’ll find some records. She has Vonn Dubose somewhere in the dark cooking the books, and now she has Edgar Killebrew blowing smoke. This will not be easy.”

  “We’ve known that from the beginning,” Lacy said.

  “We need more from Myers,” Michael said. “We need the smoking gun.”

  “Yes, we do, and Myers needs to lay as low as possible,” Justin added. “You saw how eager they are to find him.”

  “They’re not going to find Myers,” Lacy said with authority, as if she knew more than her colleagues.

  They had driven two hours for a fifteen-minute meeting, but that was the nature of their work. If there was time, Lacy wanted to at least see her wrecked car and check for forgotten odds and ends in its console and trunk. Michael had tried to persuade her otherwise. Whatever she left behind—old CDs, an umbrella, a few coins—would not be worth the horror of seeing the evidence of Hugo’s fatal injuries.

  But, since they were in the neighborhood and had a few minutes, Michael wanted to say hello to Constable Gritt and introduce him to Lacy. Gritt had been on the scene and had helped with her rescue, and Lacy wanted to at least say thanks. It was almost 6:00 p.m. when they arrived at the police station near the casino. A cop was loitering around the front desk, and when Michael asked for Constable Gritt he was informed that he no longer worked there. There was a new constable and he’d gone home for the day.

  “What happened to Gritt?” Michael asked, immediately suspicious.

  The cop shrugged as if he had no idea. “You can ask the Chief but I doubt if you’ll get an answer.”

  They drove two blocks to the salvage yard, and through a locked chain-link gate looked at a dozen old wrecks. The sad collection did not include Lacy’s Prius or the Dodge Ram that collided with it. They were gone.

  “Oh, boy,” Michael mumbled. “Gritt assured me the vehicles would be secured. I told him there might be an investigation. I thought we were on the same page.”

  “How long was he the constable?” Lacy asked.

  “I think he said four years.”

  “I guess we need to talk to him.”

  “We’re going to be very careful, right, Lacy?”

  22

  The new constable was Billy Cappel, the Chief’s son and a council member. When the Chief announced Billy’s appointment, he explained to the police force that it was only temporary. Billy would serve until a proper search could be completed and the right man hired for the job. Since the new guy would no doubt come from the tribe, a proper search wouldn’t take long. Indeed, both the Chief and Billy knew that the interim position would soon evolve into a more permanent one. Billy earned $50,000 a year as a council member, in addition to his monthly dividends. As constable, his new salary was three times that, plus, thanks to a new rule, he could play head cop and stay on the council. It was a good deal, especially for the Cappel clan.

  Billy’s law enforcement résumé was rather thin, but then he really didn’t need one. He had worked for a short time in casino security, before being elected, and he had volunteered for the rescue squad before it had been upgraded with full-time personnel.

  During the second day of his new job, the police in Foley called with some interest in arresting Berl Munger, the man in the video who helped steal the Dodge Ram. Since the Foley police could not cross the state line to make the arrest, and since the Tappacola police had no jurisdiction off their reservation, the situation was a bit complicated. Billy promised to contact the police in DeFuniak Springs and enlist their help. He did no such thing; rather, he called his father, who passed along the word. Berl Munger soon knew there was an Alabama warrant for his arrest.

  Billy couldn’t find the video the Foley police were talking about. He searched the police offices, all its files and computers, and found nothing. He suspected that Lyman Gritt had somehow hidden the video or taken it with him. He called his father again and said they might have a problem. He called Foley and asked for the video, but the police there were already skeptical and asking themselves “what the hell those Indians were doing over there.” They said they would send the video but were in no hurry to do so.

  Berl Munger vanished. Billy and the Chief paid a visit to the home of Lyman Gritt. In a tense meeting, Gritt swore he knew nothing about a video. He had no idea what the cops in Foley were talking about. The Chief offered the usual threats, but Gritt was not easily intimidated. He finally asked them to leave his property. As constable, he had found the Chief meddlesome and dishonest. Now that he was unemployed, he despised the man, along with the rest of his family.

  The video was hidden in Gritt’s attic, along with a copy of the one from Frog Freeman’s store. Gritt considered himself an honest cop who’d been fired by politicians who had been compromised. If the day of reckoning ever arrived, he might need some leverage.

  Honest, and also quite capable. Two days after the accident, as the questions were piling up and the answers were proving elusive, Gritt had driven, alone, to the scene of the accident. He was stumped by three obvious puzzles. The first: Why would a car thief steal a vehicle worth at least $30,000 and drive it three hours to a remote spot on an Indian reservation? The county road where it came to rest was in the middle of their tribal land and, literally, went nowhere. It began on the back side of the casino property, snaked its way deeper into the reservation, and was used by only a handful of Tappacola who lived in the boondocks. With bloated budgets, the tribe kept it paved and well maintained, but the same was now true for almost every pig trail and field road on the land. Judging by his actions on the video, the thief had experience, and veterans like him usually sold their stolen wheels to chop shops within hours. They did not roam around strange places at midnight sipping Jack Daniel’s and driving recklessly. To Gritt’s knowledge, there were no fencing operations in Brunswick County. He found it impossible to believe that the driver, drinking or even drunk, could survive a head-on collision, even with a small Prius, absorb the blow from the air bag, and simply walk away. And where would he go? The reservation was half swamp and uninhabitable. The higher land was covered in thick woods. The only decent land had been taken by the casino. At midnight, an intruder wandering around the depths of the reservation would get hopelessly lost in five minutes. If the guy with the busted nose in Frog’s video was indeed the driver of the stolen truck, then he had an accomplice, one driving another truck with fake Florida plates.

  This was the first puzzle and none of the pieces fit.

  The second one was even more confusing: What were two lawyers whose jobs were to investigate judicial misconduct doing on the reservation at midnight? They were not trespassing—try as they might, Native Americans had so far been unable to wall off outsiders—but the two had absolutely no jurisdiction. The Tribal Court had three members, well paid but thoroughly lacking in legal education. The Florida Board on Judicial Conduct couldn’t touch them.

  The third puzzle was just as obvious: How did the wreck happen? There was apparently no other traffic, just the two vehicles on a dark, flat stretch of road. The weather was clear. There was no posted speed limit, but with the twists and turns any driver would struggle to safely exceed fifty miles per hour. Even under the influence, the missing driver should have been able to stay in his lane.

  Standing at the exact
point of impact, and looking at the asphalt scarred with the stains of engine fluids and littered with debris, Gritt had admitted he was stumped. This was not an open-and-shut case of a deadly collision and a fleeing driver. There was obviously much more to it.

  A dozen emergency vehicles had left a maze of tire marks on the shoulders and even in the ditches and the flat field to the east. If the second truck, the one with the fake Florida tags, scooped up the driver, then where would it go? Perhaps it would stay off the road and avoid being seen by a Tappacola leaving the casino after the late shift. So far, Gritt had spoken to every resident in the area and no one saw anything; most had been asleep. Only Mrs. Beale had heard the sound of the impact.

  In the dirt beyond a shallow roadside ditch, Gritt had noticed tracks that led away from the scene. Wide tires, wide body, heavy traction, probably a pickup truck. He followed them for fifty yards, and in a thicket of cockleburs found a wad of paper towels, four sheets crushed into a ball and held together by a dried substance that could only be blood. He didn’t touch it, but returned to his patrol car and from the trunk removed a plastic ziplock bag. Using a stick, he gently placed the paper towels in the bag, then continued following the tracks. He lost them in some brush and grass and picked them up again a quarter of a mile from his car. They crossed an empty creek bed, continued on for about a hundred yards, and turned left onto a gravel road he’d never seen before. At that point, the tracks were impossible to follow. The road curved back and forth for half a mile, passed only one home in the distance, and ended at a paved road called Sandy Lane. Gritt had then slowly backtracked to the accident scene and got in his car. From Frog’s video, he had a clear shot of the guy’s face. Now, with some luck, he had a sample of his blood.

  The driver of the truck knew the area better than the constable.

  —

  The meeting took place in an unfurnished condo on Seagrove Beach, one of many built and sold by another faceless entity lost in the maze of the Dubose organization. When Chief Cappel arrived in the parking lot, alone, he was escorted into the building by a man he knew only as Hank. After years of dealing with Dubose, the Chief was still amazed at how little he knew about the man and those around him. He figured Hank must have some clout because he stayed in the room for the meeting, saying nothing but hearing every word.

  Dubose was at the end of a long day. Two hours earlier, he had met Claudia McDover at her condo in Rabbit Run and been briefed on the meeting with BJC. He had read the complaint, asked the usual questions about who the hell Greg Myers was, and tried to calm his somewhat frantic judge. Afterward, he was driven to the condo, where he waited on the Chief.

  Cappel carried a briefcase, and from it he pulled out a laptop and placed it on the snack bar. There were no chairs or seats in the new condo; the place still smelled of fresh paint. Cappel said, “There are two videos. The first is from the police in Foley, Alabama, and we finally got a copy of it this afternoon. We’re almost certain they sent it over last week and Gritt managed to lose it, or hide it, or whatever. It’s not in the file and there is no reference to it. Here it is.” The Chief tapped some keys and Dubose moved closer. They watched the video of the Dodge Ram being stolen from the parking lot in Foley. Dubose said nothing until it was over, then said, “Play it again.” They watched it a second time.

  “What do you know?” Dubose asked.

  “The Honda pickup is owned by a man named Berl Munger, who got a call and has disappeared. What do you know about him?”

  Dubose backed away and paced around the den. “Nothing. It was a contract job. We needed a stolen truck, so we made a call. Munger is not part of the club, just an independent contractor. He knows nothing.”

  “Well, he dealt with someone when he handed over the truck and took the cash. He’s got something to say.”

  “He does, yes. I’m assuming he was told to get lost and stay there.”

  “He was. Who was the other guy, the one who stole the Dodge Ram?”

  “I have no idea, someone working with Munger, I guess. Again, we don’t know these people. We just paid cash for a stolen truck.” Dubose walked back to the counter and stared at the screen. “Let me see the other video.”

  The Chief tapped some keys and Frog’s video appeared. Dubose watched it and began shaking his head in disgust. He watched again and began cursing. “Dumbass, dumbass, dumbass,” he mumbled.

  “So you know these guys, right?”

  “Yes.”

  “And the kid with the busted nose was driving the Dodge Ram when it wrecked, right?”

  “Shit, shit, shit.”

  “I guess that means yes, yes, yes. You know, Vonn, I really don’t like all these secrets. You pull this job on our land and tell me nothing. I don’t want to be your partner, but in many respects we are joined at the hip. If there’s a leak in the dike, I need to know it.”

  Dubose was pacing again, chewing on a nail, trying to stay cool but wanting to erupt. “What do you want to know?” he snapped.

  “Who is the guy with the busted nose? And how can you use people who are so blatantly stupid? They make a late-night stop at a country store, park not in the shadows but directly in front, just begging to get themselves on surveillance, and, presto, we’ve got photos of your men just after the big job.”

  “They are stupid, okay? Who’s seen this video, the second one?”

  “Me, you, Billy, Frog, Sheriff Pickett, and Gritt.”

  “So we can contain it, right?”

  “Maybe. Gritt worries me. He lied about the first video, said he knew nothing about it, but the cops in Foley told Billy they sent it over a week ago. Gritt’s up to something, and now that he’s out of a job he’s really pissed. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s got copies of both videos hidden somewhere. I tried to talk to him but it didn’t go well.”

  “What the hell is he doing?”

  “I had to fire him, remember? You were in on that decision. We had to get rid of him so we control the investigation. The BJC is sniffing around and they’re suspicious as hell. Who knows? They might go to the Feds and convince them to take a closer look. Gritt was never much of a team player. He had to go.”

  “All right, all right,” Dubose said as he looked through a sliding door and gazed into the darkness. “Here’s what we do. You arrange a meeting with Gritt and convince him he’s playing with fire. He’s wandering off the reservation, so rein him in.”

  “I really don’t like that metaphor.”

  Dubose turned around and walked to the Chief as if he might throw a punch. His eyes were glowing, his temper about to explode. “And I don’t give a damn what you like. We’re not going under because Gritt got his feelings hurt over losing a job. Explain to him who you’re dealing with. He’s got a wife and three kids and his life is pretty good, even without his cute little constable’s uniform. There’s too much at stake for him to find religion at this point. He shuts his mouth, turns over whatever he’s hiding, and gets in line. Or else. Got it?”

  “I’m not going to hurt a brother.”

  “You won’t have to. You don’t understand intimidation, Chief. I wrote the book. It’s all I’ve ever known. It’s what I enjoy. And Gritt needs to understand this. If I go under, then so do you and so do a lot of other people. But it’s not going to happen. Your job is to convince Gritt to shut up and get in line. Do that, and everything will be just fine.”

  The Chief reached over and closed his laptop. “What about Sheriff Pickett?” he asked.

  “He has no jurisdiction over the accident. You do. It’s one less wreck for him to worry about. Besides, I can take care of the sheriff. Get Gritt in line. Make sure Munger is gone. Stall the boys over in Foley. And we’ll weather this little storm just fine.”

  “And the guy with the busted nose?”

  “He’ll be a thousand miles away by noon tomorrow. Let me deal with him.”

  23

  Lacy was back in the office full-time, and while her presence raised spirits somew
hat, Hugo’s absence was still a gaping hole. She and Geismar kept most of the details to themselves, but there was now an accepted belief that his death was more than a tragic accident. For a tiny agency, the mysterious death of one of its own was unsettling. No one at BJC had ever considered their jobs dangerous.

  Though her movements were slow and her head was still covered with a growing collection of scarves, albeit fashionable ones, Lacy was a delight to be around and an inspiration to her colleagues. She was regaining her strength and working longer hours.

  Two days after serving the complaint on Claudia McDover, Lacy was at her desk when she received a call from Edgar Killebrew. Pompous even on the phone, he began with a pleasant “You know, Ms. Stoltz, the more I study this complaint the more I find it appalling. It’s groundless and I’m stunned that Conduct would even remotely consider pursuing it.”

  “You’ve already said that,” Lacy replied calmly. “Any objections to my recording this conversation?”

  “I don’t give a damn what you do.”

  Lacy pressed the record button on her phone and asked, “Now, what can I do for you?”

  “You can dismiss this damned complaint, that’s what you can do. And you can tell Mr. Greg Myers that I’ll keep his ass tied up in court for the next ten years fighting libel suits.”

  “I’ll pass that along, and I’m sure Mr. Myers understands that there is nothing libelous or defamatory in his complaint because it has not been made public.”

  “We’ll see about that. I’ve decided not to file a motion to dismiss, simply because it will only draw attention to this matter. The Board has five members, five political hacks who sucked up to the Governor, and I don’t trust any of them when it comes to keeping secrets, just like I don’t trust anybody in your office.
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