The whistler, p.22
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       The Whistler, p.22
 

           John Grisham

  Cooley spoke softly as they walked. “Four days ago, Myers and his girl, Carlita, were in Key Largo scuba diving.”

  “I met Carlita.”

  “They docked and he said he was going to a bar to meet someone. He walked down the pier and she stayed on the boat. He didn’t come back. After a few hours she began to worry. Around dark, she noticed a couple of strangers looking at his boat from a distance, or so she thought. The harbor was busy, lots of boats and folks partying on the decks, and the two men didn’t stay long. She called me that night, as was our contingency plan. Needless to say, she’s distraught and frantic and has no idea what to do next. Greg rarely went ashore, and when he did she knew exactly when he would return. They bought supplies here and there, but Carlita usually did the shopping. They would venture off to a movie or a restaurant, but always together. Greg was careful and planned his movements.”

  They were on Duval Street, drifting away from the Capitol, just three friends out for a stroll on a hot night.

  Lacy asked, “What about his phones, laptop, files, records?”

  “There’s some stuff on the boat, still being watched by her. Frankly, I don’t know what’s there. He doesn’t know the identity of the mole. He and I talked either face-to-face or on disposable phones, careful not to leave a trail. But he’s a lawyer, right? So there’s the chance that he’s got notes and records. For now, Carlita’s staying put and waiting. Waiting for him to return, waiting for me to tell her what to do. I can’t run the risk of going there.”

  “Could they identify you?” Lacy asked.

  “Wanna take a crack at who they might be? No, I don’t think I could be recognized in person, but who knows? I can’t go get her.”

  “And she can’t move the boat?” Gunther asked.

  “No way. She can’t even start the engines and put it in reverse. And where would she go?”

  Lacy noticed a bench and said, “I’d like to sit down.” She and Gunther took a seat—he held her hand—as Cooley lit another cigarette and watched the traffic. No other pedestrians were close.

  Lacy said, “Greg’s story was that he’d been living on the run for several years, that he’d made a lot of enemies when he got in trouble. Could that part of his past have caught up with him?”

  Cooley blew a cloud of smoke. “I doubt it. We met in prison. I was once a lawyer too until they asked me to leave the profession. So we were just a couple disbarred boys doing time in a federal joint in Texas. From another con I’d heard the story of Vonn Dubose and the Indian casino, so when I got out I came back to Florida and started sniffing around. It’s a long story, but I knew the mole and got that ball rolling. Now it looks pretty foolish. You’ve been hurt. Your buddy is dead. Myers is probably drifting with the currents, a hundred feet down with a brick around his neck.”

  “You think it’s Dubose?” Gunther asked.

  “He gets my vote. Sure Greg had enemies, but that story goes back a long way. And I know some of the people he squealed on. They were not organized crooks. Sure they screwed up, but they’re not the type of people who’d spend years looking for Greg so they could put a bullet in his head and further complicate their lives. Kubiak, the ringleader, is still serving time. Now Greg signs his name on the complaint and threatens the Dubose clan, and, lo and behold, within a matter of days he’s vanished. A procedural question?”

  Lacy shrugged. Whatever.

  “Can the formal complaint Myers filed against Judge McDover go forward if the complaining party disappears?”

  Lacy thought about it for a moment. “I’m not sure. To my knowledge, it’s never happened before.”

  “Are you sure you want it to go forward?” Gunther asked.

  Neither Cooley nor Lacy responded. Cooley slowly finished his cigarette and casually flipped the butt onto the sidewalk, a thoughtless act of littering that she might have said something about. Now, though, it was unimportant.

  “What’s our priority?” she asked.

  Cooley said, “Carlita can’t stay on the boat much longer. She’s low on food and water and the harbormaster is pestering her for docking fees. I’d like to rescue her some way and secure his stuff—phones, files, anything that needs protecting. But, again, it’s just too risky. There’s a good chance someone is watching and waiting.”

  “I can do it,” Gunther said.

  “No way,” Lacy said, surprised. “You’re not getting near this.”

  “Listen, I have a small plane at the airport. I can be in Key Largo in two hours. They, if they are really there, have no idea who I am. Carlita will know I’m coming so she’ll be ready. She’ll tell us exactly where the boat is located. I’ll be in and out before anybody knows what’s happening. If they wake up and somehow manage to follow us to the airport, there’s no way they can scramble a plane fast enough to chase us. I’ll drop her off somewhere along the way and she can catch a bus to wherever she wants to go.”

  “What if someone tries to confront you?” Cooley asked.

  “You heard my sister, sir. I like guns and I’ll have one in my pocket. I don’t frighten too easily anyway.”

  “I don’t know, Gunther,” Lacy said. Cooley was quickly warming up to the idea. Lacy was not.

  “We’re going to do it, okay, Sis? It’s low risk, high reward. I’m doing it to help the team and to protect you.”

  27

  Geismar nixed the plan late Saturday night. He was furious that Gunther had once again managed to stick his nose into the McDover affair, and he scolded Lacy over her breach of professional discretion. She pushed back as much as possible by explaining that Cooley had called during their dinner and there was no way to hide it from her brother, who, as they well knew by now, had big ears and was quite pushy. She reminded her boss that he himself had told Gunther far too much over coffee in the hospital while she was still in a coma. This was not their typical investigation, and it required different rules.

  The much larger issue was Myers’s disappearance and all the sticky issues it created. Lacy insisted that they meet early Sunday morning at BJC. Geismar eventually relented, but insisted that Gunther not be present. So her brother waited in the car, barking nonstop on the phone at a banker he’d pulled out of bed.

  Geismar had slept off his anger and was willing to listen. Lacy relayed the latest news from Cooley. He had spoken to Carlita early that morning and there had been no change. Certainly no sign of Myers. She was bustling around the boat as if all was well, cleaning the deck, washing windows, trying to make things appear normal, and really doing nothing but watching the movements of everyone in sight. She was heartbroken, terrified, stranded, and ready to go home, to Tampa, but had almost no money and no plan. She had gone through Myers’s papers but was not sure what was relevant. There was a box of “his legal stuff” under the bed, but he kept most of “his papers” somewhere in Myrtle Beach. There were also two phones and a laptop. Cooley promised that help was on the way, but said so only to keep her calm.

  Lacy argued that they had an obligation to rescue her, if it could be done without too much risk. Obviously, her situation was a direct result of their investigation. At the moment, there was no one else in a position to help her. She had possession of records, phones, and a laptop that could be damaging. Gunther was admittedly a loose cannon, but he was willing to fly down and back at his own expense. Otherwise, the drive was at least ten hours one way. Time was crucial.

  More than once, Lacy said, “Michael, I’m not taking no for an answer.”

  “Why can’t she call the police and report him missing?” he argued. “Let them handle it. She can leave the boat with whatever she wants to take and go home. If a crime has been committed down there, then the police need to know about it.”

  “Cooley mentioned that and it frightened her. Not sure why, but then we don’t know everything about Myers and his boat. Maybe she doesn’t want the cops poking around. Maybe she’s undocumented.”

  “Tell her to destroy the files, anything that looks s
uspicious, keep the phone she’s using, and toss the other one, along with the laptop, overboard.”

  “That sounds nice and efficient sitting here in your office, Michael, but we don’t know what she knows. And you could be asking her to destroy evidence. Anyway, she’s not going to do that. She’s terrified and she doesn’t know what to do. We need to help.”

  “If she leaves, what happens to the boat?”

  “Who cares? The cops will eventually be called, I guess. At some point they’ll decide there is a missing person involved and they’ll do whatever they need to do. We have enough problems of our own.”

  “You’re not going, Lacy. I’m not running the risk of you getting hurt again.”

  “Okay, then Gunther can handle it by himself. He can fetch Carlita and get her off the boat.”

  “Do you really trust him?”

  “Yes. In certain situations he can be quite reliable.”

  Michael was clearly troubled. Another casualty. Perhaps Myers left something crucial behind. BJC had no experience in matters such as these. Where were the real cops? He took a sip of coffee from a paper cup and said, “You know, Lacy, if Dubose is behind this, then they know that the complaint against McDover was signed by a guy who has been neutralized. Game over, Lacy. We cannot proceed without the complaining party.”

  “Let’s worry about that tomorrow, please. Right now we need to get Carlita and whatever Myers might have left behind.”

  “It’s over, Lacy.”

  “No, it’s not, and I’m not taking no for an answer.”

  “So I’ve heard.”

  “Here’s an idea, Michael. You and Gunther buzz down to Key Largo together and get her. The weather is perfect. He says the airplane holds four passengers. An easy trip.”

  “I don’t like small airplanes.”

  “You don’t like big ones either. Man up, Michael. You’ll be back before you know it. We’re not breaking any laws here. Just a quick flight down there, get her, drop her off somewhere, and you’re back home.”

  “And I’m stuck with Gunther for four hours in a small airplane?”

  “I know, I know, but you know it’s important.”

  “Why bother, Lacy? This file is about to be closed.”

  “Not if the FBI gets involved. When they find out a key witness has vanished, they might change their minds.”

  “Sounds pretty desperate.”

  “That’s because we are desperate.”

  Michael took a deep breath and shook his head in frustration. “I can’t go. We’re having a small party for my mother-in-law this afternoon. It’s her ninetieth birthday.”

  “Then I’m going. I swear we’ll be safe. Look, it’s just a nice little flight on a beautiful Sunday. It’s my day off. If I want to go flying, who can stop me?”

  “I’ll authorize you to go on one condition: You cannot get near the boat. If someone is watching, then that someone might recognize you. No one knows Gunther, but that’s not the case for you. Make sure you get possession of Myers’s papers, phones, and laptop. She knows you and she’ll trust you more than your brother. Who wouldn’t? Anyway, drop her off along the way, give her some money for a cab or a bus, and make sure she understands that she talks to no one.”

  Lacy was already headed for the door. “Got it, Michael.”

  —

  An hour later, they lifted off from the Tallahassee airport in the Beech Baron. Gunther, seizing the moment and thrilled with the adventure, sat in the left seat and flew the airplane. Lacy, with headphones, sat beside him and was captivated by the chatter between the controllers and the traffic. They headed almost due south and were soon over the Gulf. At nine thousand feet they leveled off and hit their maximum speed of 230 miles per hour. The din of the piston engines eased somewhat, though the cabin was far noisier than Lacy had ever experienced.

  After two hours, they began to descend, and Lacy took in the view of the ocean and the islands. They touched down at 11:40. Gunther had called ahead for a courtesy car at general aviation. He drove and Lacy navigated from a tourist map. Cooley was still somewhere around Tallahassee and talking to Carlita. As they approached the Key Largo Harbor Marina, Cooley gave Gunther her number to facilitate the pickup. The harbor was busy with sailors heading out to sea and fishing boats arriving with their morning catches. A dive boat had just docked and a dozen divers were unloading their gear. Lacy stayed in the car and watched everything as Gunther strolled along the dock, just killing time and admiring boats. Carlita stepped off the Conspirator and managed to smile as if all was well. She had three bags: a backpack, a nylon sack stuffed with what appeared to be clothing, and Myers’s olive courier bag. Gunther grabbed two of them and they casually walked back to the parking lot. In the car, Lacy scanned the entire marina and saw no one who appeared to be watching them. Carlita was thrilled to see her, a familiar face.

  Gunther, always quick with an opinion, believed that after five days with no contact whatsoever, the people responsible for Myers’s disappearance were long gone. If they had wanted to chat with Carlita or rummage through the boat, they would have made a move before now. An hour after leaving the airport, they returned to general aviation, quickly loaded the Baron, and took off at 1:15. Lacy called Geismar but he did not answer. Must be partying with his mother-in-law. She sent a text saying the mission was accomplished.

  Lacy and Carlita sat in the rear of the cabin, close together. Once airborne, Carlita began crying. Lacy held her hand and assured her she was now safe. Carlita wanted to know if Lacy had heard anything about Myers. No, there had been no word. Nothing at all. What would happen to the boat? Lacy said she wasn’t sure. The plan was to notify the authorities that Greg Myers was missing and let them go about their business. She quizzed Carlita about the boat: How long had she been living on it? Where did Myers buy it, or lease it? Did he own it outright or was a bank involved? Did anyone else ever visit them on the boat?

  She knew very little. She had been living on it for about a year, but knew nothing of where it came from. Myers, she said, did not talk about his business. Occasionally, he would go ashore to meet someone but always returned within an hour. He was extremely careful, and fearful. He did not make mistakes. When he disappeared he was just going to the marina for a drink, nothing more. He was not supposed to be meeting anyone. He simply vanished.

  When they leveled off and Key Largo was far behind, Carlita stopped the tears and grew quiet. Lacy asked if they could keep the courier bag and the backpack. Carlita said sure, she wanted no part of his paperwork. She said Myers had been careful about what he left on the boat because it could be searched, either by the bad guys or by the authorities. Using the postal service, never the overnight delivery services, he’d sent a lot of paperwork to his brother in Myrtle Beach. She was not sure what he’d left behind on the boat but was pretty sure it was not important.

  An hour later, they landed in Sarasota. Gunther had called ahead for a cab, and Lacy handed Carlita enough money to get to her place in Tampa. Lacy thanked her and hugged her and said good-bye, knowing she would never see her again.

  Back in the air, with Gunther occupied with flying, Lacy opened the courier bag. She pulled out Myers’s thin laptop and turned it on, but was stopped at the pass code. She found a prepaid cell phone and some files. One contained the boat’s registration, to a company in the Bahamas, along with warranties, operating procedures, and a thick stack of fine print about insurance. Another file was filled with old cases involving corrupt judges. Lacy found not a single word about McDover, the Tappacola, Cooley, the mole, or herself. The backpack was just as clean; nothing but old research and newspaper clippings about Ramsey Mix, a.k.a. Greg Myers. Evidently, he kept the current materials somewhere onshore, at least the written ones. She suspected his laptop was loaded with evidence that could have been devastating in the wrong hands.

  When they landed in Tallahassee, Lacy was hoping Gunther might simply stay on the plane and continue back to Atlanta. Apparently, that neve
r crossed his mind. As they drove to her apartment, it became clear that Gunther now considered himself an active member of the BJC investigative team. He planned to stay a few more days, to keep an eye on his sister.

  Lacy called Geismar again with a full update. They agreed to meet early Monday morning. Late in the afternoon, as Gunther paced around her terrace calling one partner or lawyer or accountant or banker after another, Lacy was returning e-mails when she got a surprise from Allie Pacheco. His text was simply “Got time for a drink?”

  She responded, “Unofficial, after hours, no business?”

  He replied, “Of course.”

  But business was exactly what she had in mind. She invited him to her apartment, warned him that her brother was there and that things would not be that private.

  Pacheco arrived in shorts and a polo at 7:30. Lacy poured him a beer and introduced him to Gunther, who wanted to grill him. The unofficial status of the little rendezvous lasted for about five minutes, until Gunther blurted, “We gotta talk about Myers.”

  Pacheco put down his glass, looked at Lacy, and asked, “Okay, what’s up with Myers?”

  “He’s been missing for five days,” she said. “That’s his laptop on the counter. We got it off his boat this morning in Key Largo.”

  “It’s a long story,” Gunther said.

  Pacheco stared at both of them. He raised both hands, showed them his palms, said, “This is way off-limits, okay? Tell me all you can tell me, then I’ll decide what to do with it.”

  Gunther was remarkably quiet as Lacy told the story.

  —

  Sipping his second beer, Pacheco finally said, “The boat needs to be secured, and to do that the police need to be notified. There’s no federal issue here, not yet anyway, so we can’t do it.”

  “But you can notify the police, right?” Lacy asked. “I’d rather
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