The whistler, p.21
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       The Whistler, p.21

           John Grisham
 

  “So you think there’s hope?”

  “I don’t know what to think, Wilton. Again, this is not my field.”

  He smiled and went silent. A rodeo team in matching boots and Stetsons paraded through the lobby, their identical roller bags whining in a dull chorus. When they were finally gone and the racket was over, he asked, “Have you met Lyman Gritt, the ex-constable?”

  “No. I hear he’s been replaced. Why?”

  “He’s a good man.”

  “I’m sure he is. And why bring up his name?”

  “He might know something.”

  “Do you know what he might know, Wilton? Don’t play games with me.”

  “No, I don’t. He got fired by the Chief. They are at odds. His firing came just days after your accident. There are a lot of rumors, Lacy. The tribe is uneasy. A black guy and a white girl were on the reservation at midnight, digging around for something. He ends up dead under suspicious circumstances.”

  “Is his being black suspicious?”

  “Not really. We’re not hung up on skin color. But you have to admit it was unusual. It has been the general belief for a long time that bad people were behind the casino, in bed with our so-called leaders. Now, finally, it might be unraveling. Someone, you and Hugo, dared to show up and start asking questions. He met a tragic end. You came close. The investigation is getting buried by our new constable, who’s not trustworthy. Lots of rumors and speculation, Lacy. And now, from nowhere, Todd Short sneaks into the picture again with a different story. It’s unsettling, to say the least.”

  Wait till the FBI rolls in, she thought. “Promise to keep me posted?”

  “It depends on what I hear.”

  “I’ll call the lawyers in D.C.,” she said. “It’s the least I can do.”

  “Thanks.”

  “And say hello to Junior.”

  “Why don’t you go see him? He doesn’t get many visitors and it looks like he might be nearing the end.”

  “I’ll do that. Does he know about Hugo?”

  “Yes. I told him.”

  “Tell him I’ll try and stop by as soon as I can get away.”

  “He’ll like that, Lacy.”

  —

  Lacy reported the meeting to Michael, then did a quick review of Junior’s file. She called the law firm in D.C., and eventually managed to pull a lawyer named Salzman out of a meeting. His mega firm had a thousand lawyers and an excellent reputation for pro bono work. It had spent countless hours representing Junior since his conviction fifteen years earlier. She told him Todd Short was back from the dead and now facing a more certain demise. Salzman was at first incredulous. Short and Robles had been out of the picture for so long it was almost impossible to believe the news. Lacy confessed her ignorance in this field and asked if it was too late.

  “Oh, it’s late,” Salzman said. “Very late, but in this business we never quit, not until the final moment. I’ll be down as soon as I can get there.”

  —

  It was no real surprise when Special Agent Allie Pacheco stopped by the office for a visit. It was late in the day, and on the phone he said he was just around the corner, needed only a few minutes. Four days had passed since the meeting in Luna’s office. To their surprise, Pacheco had not called or e-mailed Lacy.

  They met in Michael’s office, at one end of his cluttered worktable, and it was immediately obvious that Pacheco’s mood was quite different. His quick smile was missing. He began with “Luna and I spent yesterday in Jacksonville presenting the case to our boss. Our recommendation was to open an investigation, immediately. We agreed with your strategy that the first step should be to try and solve the murder of Hugo Hatch. At the same time, we would begin the rather formidable task of penetrating the syndicate’s maze of offshore companies and tracking the money. We would place Judge McDover, Phyllis Turban, Chief Cappel, and Billy Cappel under surveillance and perhaps even obtain warrants to tap their phones and wire their offices. Our recommendation projected the need for five agents initially, with me in charge of the investigation. This morning the boss said no, said we simply cannot spare the manpower at this time. I pressed a little, but this guy is decisive and sticks to his guns. I asked if I could be allowed to investigate with perhaps one or two agents over the next month or so. Again, he said no. Our official answer is no. I’m sorry. We did our best and pushed as hard as we could, under the circumstances, though ‘pushing’ is perhaps not the right word.”

  Michael seemed unfazed. Lacy wanted to curse. Instead, she asked, “Is there a chance things can change if we learn more?”

  “Who knows?” Pacheco replied, clearly exasperated. “Things can change in the other direction too. Florida is a favorite point of entry, always has been. We’re getting flooded with tips about illegals sneaking into the country, and they’re not coming here to wash dishes and lay concrete. They’re organizing homegrown talent to wage jihad. Finding, monitoring, and stopping them has a far greater priority than the corruption that once got us excited. But let’s keep an open dialogue. I’m in the loop. If something happens, I want to know.”

  If something happens. After he left, Michael and Lacy sat at the worktable for a long time and compared thoughts. Their disappointment was admitted, then set aside. Without much in the way of resources, they would be forced to become resourceful. At this stage, their primary weapon was the subpoena. Using one of Sadelle’s many memos, they decided to prepare a list of the twenty or so cases McDover had decided in favor of the mysterious entities pushing to develop various parts of Brunswick County. Eleven of the lawsuits involved the condemnation proceedings that led to the building of the Tappacola Tollway.

  Since they had great latitude in drafting the subpoena, they decided to request McDover’s files for only half of the lawsuits. Requesting her records for all of them would tip their hand and let her know what they suspected. Ask for some of the records now, see what she and her ace legal team were willing to hand over, then go back for more later if necessary. Complying with the subpoena would require hours of time by Killebrew and company, with their expensive meters ticking away.

  Each lawsuit was on file in the clerk’s office in the Brunswick County Courthouse, and Sadelle had long since retrieved copies of the voluminous records. They were now perfectly indexed and cross-referenced, and there was little doubt BJC’s summaries would be far more organized than anything Killebrew sent over. But all judges kept their own office files that did not become part of the public record. It would be fascinating to see how closely McDover complied.

  Lacy worked on the subpoena until dark. It kept her mind off the FBI.

  26

  Gunther was back. He disrupted a lazy Saturday morning with the news that he was flying down and would be there by mid-afternoon. Though Lacy had nothing planned, she made a feeble attempt to sound busy. He would have none of it. He missed his little sister, was worried sick about her, and repeatedly apologized for not having returned sooner. He knew she needed him.

  She stood in a window of the general aviation terminal and watched the private planes take off and land. At 3:00 p.m., his expected arrival time, she observed a small twin taxi near the terminal and shut down. Gunther got out, alone. His checkered flying career had spanned the past two decades and had been interrupted on at least two occasions when the FAA jerked his license. He had trouble with authority and had argued with air traffic controllers, in flight. Such arguments are never won by pilots, and Gunther found himself grounded. Evidently, he had now finagled some way to retrieve his license.

  He carried a small overnight bag, which she took as a good sign, as well as a thick briefcase undoubtedly bristling with the workings of important deals. He hugged her fiercely in the lobby, told her she looked great, and seemed on the verge of tears as he went on about how much he missed her. She did a passable job of conveying the same sentiments.

  As they walked out of the terminal she said, “So you’re back in the air.”

  “Yeah, those
fools at FAA can’t keep a good man on the ground. Got my license back two weeks ago.”

  “Cute plane.”

  “Borrowed it from a buddy.”

  They walked to her car, the compact Ford she was still driving, and he commented on its lack of size.

  “It’s just a loaner,” she said. “I haven’t decided on a new one.”

  Gunther knew everything about cars and immediately began a dissertation on the various models she should consider. He said, “If we have time, we should go car shopping.”

  “That’s an idea,” she replied. His current ride was an expensive Mercedes. Lacy could recall a Maserati, a Hummer, a Porsche, a black Range Rover SUV, and there had once been talk of a Rolls-Royce. Regardless of the bumps in the real estate business, Gunther had always buzzed around Atlanta in style. He was the last person she knew who’d be helpful in selecting a new car on her budget.

  They were on the street, in traffic, and her defensive driving was obvious. He asked, “You okay behind the wheel?”

  “Not really, but I’m getting there.”

  “I’ve never had a bad wreck. Guess it takes time to get back in the saddle.”

  “A long time.”

  “You look great, Lacy,” he said for the third time. “I like your hair. Have you thought about keeping it short?”

  “No, not for a second,” she said with a laugh. A month after leaving the hospital, her scalp was now covered with a thin layer of fine hair that seemed a bit darker than what they’d shaved, but she wasn’t worried. At least it was growing. She had retired the scarves and hats and didn’t care if anyone stared.

  He wanted to know the latest developments in her investigation of the crooked judge and the casino, and Lacy filled in some of the backstory. Gunther could keep a secret and obviously had no one to tell back in Atlanta, but Lacy could not completely ignore the rules of confidentiality. She admitted they had hit a wall when the FBI declined to get involved.

  This gave Gunther a soapbox, one he didn’t yield until they arrived at her apartment. He railed against the federal government, its bloated size and countless agencies and useless bureaucrats and senseless policies. He mentioned his own run-ins with the EPA, EEOC, IRS, even the Department of Justice, though he didn’t give details of any scrape with the law and Lacy didn’t ask. How could the FBI, with a million agents and a billion dollars, decline to pursue such blatant corruption? A man has been killed, yet the “Fibbies” refused to investigate. He was flabbergasted, even angry.

  Inside, he tossed his bag and briefcase in the guest room and Lacy offered tea or water. Gunther asked for a diet soda. He had been in recovery for almost ten years and was well beyond the fragility of early sobriety. His drinking days had been the lore of family legend before turning dark and frightening. At their insistence, he had rehabbed twice and without success. A DUI, a divorce, and a bankruptcy all hit at once, and at the age of thirty-two Gunther gave up booze and drugs and surrendered to a higher power. He had been radically sober for years, to the point of volunteering in a rehab clinic for teenagers. When asked, he spoke freely of his addictions.

  Gunther, as she well knew, spoke freely of anything and everything. To keep the conversation away from more sensitive matters, she told the story of her meeting with Wilton Mace at a downtown hotel. This led to a lengthy narrative about the murders of Son Razko and Eileen Mace, and Junior’s trials and so on. That was not her case. Its record was public. Confidentiality was not important.

  Gunther, like most white people, thought the idea of an innocent man on death row was absurd. Surely Junior was guilty of something or he wouldn’t be there. This led to a long and often heated and frustrating conversation about the criminal justice system. The law was Lacy’s life and she understood its flaws. Gunther lived and breathed real estate and making money and had little interest in anything else. He admitted he seldom read a newspaper, unless he glanced at the business section. He hadn’t heard a word about two recent, extremely high-profile DNA exonerations in Georgia, one involving a man who’d served twenty-nine years for a rape and murder committed by someone else. In Gunther’s opinion, the prisons were full because of rampant crime.

  Speaking of business, he had a few phone calls to make, finally. Lacy was exhausted and needed a break herself. She showed him to a small terrace off the kitchen. A wrought-iron table was the perfect spot for him to set up shop.

  —

  For dinner, they chose a Thai place near the FSU campus. After they settled into their seats, Gunther suddenly reached for a pocket and whipped out a cell phone. “Gotta do this e-mail, Sis,” he said, already tapping away.

  She watched with a frown, and when he finished she said, “Here’s the deal. All phones on the table, on mute, and the first one that vibrates gets the check.”

  “I was going to treat anyway.”

  “I’m sure you will.” From her purse she removed her iPhone and the new BlackBerry issued by BJC. He matched her two with two of his own. “What’s that?” he asked, pointing to the BlackBerry.

  “State issue. Its predecessor was the one stolen from the car.”

  “And no trace?”

  “Nothing. Our tech guys said there’s no way to hack in. I guess we’re safe.” She reached for a front pocket of her slacks and said, “Oh, almost forgot.” She pulled out the prepaid burner Myers had given her.

  “You have three phones?” Gunther asked.

  “This doesn’t really count,” she said, placing the burner in a neat row with the others. “It’s what Myers uses. I think he goes through several each month.”

  “Smart guy. When’s the last time you talked to him?”

  “A few weeks back. The day he gave me this phone.”

  An exotic Asian girl appeared to take their orders. Gunther ordered tea and encouraged Lacy to order a glass of wine. This was a ritual they had gone through a hundred times. She would do nothing to tempt him, but he took pride in being beyond temptation. Besides, he had never been a wine drinker. Too mild, too civilized. Lacy asked for a glass of Chablis. They decided on a plate of crispy spring rolls to start with. When the drinks arrived, and they were comparing their latest conversations with their mother, Ann, one of the phones made a soft noise. Of the impressive collection in the center of the table, it was the least expected.

  Myers was checking in. Lacy sighed, hesitated, then said, “I guess I’d better take this.”

  “Of course. And you can take the check too.”

  She slowly opened the phone, glancing around as she did so, and quietly said, “This better be good.”

  A strange voice replied, “I’m trying to find Lacy Stoltz.”

  She hesitated again, certain that it was not Greg Myers. “I’m Lacy. Who is this?”

  “We’ve never met but we both know Greg. I’m the intermediary, the middleman, the guy who handles the mole. We need to talk.”

  This was so wrong that Lacy’s lungs froze and she felt faint. Her face must have registered horror because Gunther reached over and gently touched her arm. “Where’s Greg?” she asked. Gunther’s eyes narrowed with concern.

  “I don’t know. That’s what we need to talk about. I’m in town, not far from you. How soon can we meet?”

  “I’m having dinner. I—”

  “Two hours then. Let’s say straight-up ten o’clock. Between the Capitol and the Old Capitol Building there is a courtyard. I’ll meet you at the front steps there at ten.”

  “What is the danger level right now, if I might ask?”

  “Right now, between the two of us, I’d say there’s no immediate danger.”

  “Okay, but I’m bringing my brother, and he likes to play with guns. Should he bring one just in case?”

  “No, Lacy, we are on the same side.”

  “Has something happened to Greg?”

  “We’ll talk about it later.”

  “I’ve lost my appetite. I’ll be there in half an hour.”

  —

  The Capitol
Grounds were well lit and a few other pedestrians were milling about. It was, after all, Saturday night and all state workers were enjoying the weekend. The lone figure near the steps of the Old Capitol was dressed in shorts, sneakers, and a baseball cap, and would not have attracted attention anywhere in town. He took one last drag of his cigarette, stepped on the butt, and walked to them. “You must be Lacy,” he said with an outstretched hand.

  “I am. This is my brother, Gunther.”

  “My name’s Cooley,” he said as everyone quickly shook hands. He nodded and said, “Let’s walk.” They strolled without purpose across the courtyard in the direction of the House Office Building. Cooley said, “Don’t know how much you know about me, probably very little.”

  “I’ve never known your name,” she said. “What’s going on?” By then she knew something had happened to Greg; otherwise, Cooley would not be in the picture and they would not be meeting.

 
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