The whistler, p.23
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       The Whistler, p.23

           John Grisham
 

  not make the call, because then I would have to answer a lot of questions. I’d rather not have my name attached to a missing person case.”

  “You’re already attached to it because you have his laptop and files.”

  “But they have nothing to do with his disappearance.”

  “You don’t know that. You don’t know what’s in the laptop. There may be a trail there, some reference to a meeting the day he disappeared.”

  “Great,” Gunther said. “We’ll give it to you, everything, and you give it to the police. They’ll take things far more seriously if they’re notified by the FBI.”

  “That might work,” Pacheco said. “Is there a chance Myers simply walked away? Given his past, and his present, that’s not completely far-fetched.”

  Lacy said, “Sure, I’ve thought about it. Maybe something frightened him. Maybe he got tired of the boat, or the woman, or both, and decided to vanish. He was at least thinking about dropping the complaint. When he came here to my apartment, he offered to drop it and walk away. He was sorry about Hugo, blamed himself, and said he wished he’d never started all this. He could have ditched the records, scrubbed his computer, and hit the road.”

  “You don’t believe that,” Gunther said.

  “No, I don’t. I’ve had this conversation with Cooley, and he’ll never be convinced that Myers would run and hide again. Myers needs the money. He’s an ex-con who’s sixty years old and without much of a future. He was banking on a huge windfall from the whistle-blower statute. He knew that law inside and out and was already counting his money. He believed McDover and Dubose have stolen tens of millions and that a lot of the money can be recovered. I don’t know how he paid for the boat but he was very proud of it. He loved island hopping and puttering around the Keys. He was a happy guy about to strike it rich. So, no, I don’t think he walked away.”

  Pacheco said, “Well, the disappearance is now five days old and the investigation has not even started. That makes for an awfully cold trail.”

  “And there’s nothing the FBI can do?” Gunther asked.

  “Not really. The locals have to go in first. If there’s a kidnapping or something like that, they could call us. But I doubt it. Frankly, I’d say the chances of finding Myers alive are pretty slim.”

  “All the more reason to go after Dubose,” Lacy said.

  “I agree, but I’m not making that decision.”

  “How many more dead folks do you need?” Gunther asked.

  “Again, it’s not my decision. Lacy can tell you that I would have jumped in a week ago.” Gunther stormed out of the room and returned to his terrace.

  “Sorry,” Lacy said.

  Pacheco had entered her apartment with thoughts of a pleasant drink with a pretty lady. He left with Myers’s courier bag and backpack and no clear idea of what to do next.

  28

  Lacy awoke early Monday morning with a new plan to get rid of her brother. It would take a trip to death row, a place he would not be welcome. And she would go by herself because the rules at BJC simply could not be bent enough to allow him to tag along. She rehearsed her story as the coffee brewed. She was pleasantly surprised when he appeared freshly showered and fully dressed. Not surprisingly, a deal was collapsing and he informed her he was needed at home. Indeed, he barely had enough time to devour a piece of toast before they hustled out the door and to her car. At the airport she thanked him again and made sure he promised to return. As the Beech lifted off, she smiled and took a deep breath and was thankful she was not on it.

  At the office, she met with Michael and described in detail the trip to Key Largo. She detailed the contents of Myers’s courier bag and backpack, and explained that they, along with his laptop, were in the possession of the FBI.

  “You met with the FBI?” Michael asked, irritated.

  “Pacheco has the hots for me and he stopped by yesterday for a drink. One thing led to another, and, with Gunther’s eager assistance, we got around to discussing Myers. Pacheco agreed to contact the police and report him missing. He thought it best if the FBI had possession of the stuff from the boat.”

  “Please tell me your brother is leaving town.”

  “Already gone, left this morning.”

  “Thank heavens. Please tell me, Lacy, that he can keep his mouth shut.”

  “Don’t worry. No one in Atlanta cares, and, besides, he will always do what’s best for me. Relax.”

  “Relax? This is the biggest case in our history and it’s collapsing on all fronts. I don’t suppose you’ve heard from Killebrew.”

  “No, and I don’t expect to. They have eighteen days left to respond, and I’m sure they’ll play it cool until the last minute. Any excitement on their part would be premature and might tip their hand. They’re too smart to contact us now. The subpoena was served last Friday and I’m sure they’re mulling it over.”

  “All we can do is wait.”

  “I can’t sit around, Michael. I’m going to see Junior Mace on death row. Just want you to know my whereabouts.”

  “Didn’t realize you represented Junior Mace.”

  “Of course I don’t, but I promised to visit him. His D.C. lawyers will meet with him this afternoon. Salzman, the lead counsel, invited me to sit in. Junior doesn’t mind. He likes me.”

  “Don’t get too close.”

  “Salzman is confident that it will be delayed. If the snitch comes through and recants his testimony, Salzman thinks they stop the execution and maybe even get a new trial.”

  “A new trial, after, what, fifteen years?”

  “Something like that.”

  “And where, exactly, do you fit in?”

  “I didn’t say I fit in. Let’s just say I don’t want to sit around the office all day. Besides, Junior Mace’s wrongful conviction is part of the grand conspiracy. If it is set aside, new evidence might be discovered. If we assume the trail leads back to Dubose, then things could unravel. It’s important for us to monitor his case.”

  “Just be careful, please.”

  “Death row is a pretty safe place, Michael.”

  “If you say so.”

  —

  Lacy closed her office door and retrieved a thick file filled with Sadelle’s memos. She removed one from the stack and read it again. Titled “The Murders of Son Razko and Eileen Mace,” it read,

  Junior and Eileen Mace lived with their three children in a wood-framed house on Tinley Road, roughly two miles from the Tappacola reservation. (At the time about half of the Tappacola lived on tribal land, with many others scattered close by. About 80 percent lived in Brunswick County, but some lived as far away as Jacksonville.) On the afternoon of January 17, 1995, while their three children were in school, Son Razko paid a visit to the Mace home. Razko and Junior Mace were friends and had led the opposition to the casino. Junior was driving a truck for a company out of Moreville, Florida, and was at work. If Son and Eileen were having an affair, then the purpose of his visit was obvious. If they were not, then it has never been known what prompted the visit. At any rate, they were found naked and dead in the bedroom by the oldest child when he got home from school, at about 4:00 in the afternoon. A pathologist testifying for the State estimated the time of death at somewhere between 2:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m.

  Junior was known to drink, and after making his deliveries he returned to the warehouse in Moreville, got in his truck, and stopped by a bar. He had a couple of beers and threw some darts with a man who has never been identified. At around 6:30 p.m. he was found in the parking lot, near his truck, unconscious and presumably drunk. The weapon used in the two murders was an unregistered Smith and Wesson .38 snub-nosed revolver. It was found under the seat of Junior’s truck, along with a wallet belonging to Son. Mace was taken to the hospital in Moreville. The police, acting on an anonymous tip, went to the hospital and broke the news about his wife and Son. He spent the night in the hospital before being transported to jail. He was charged with both murders and was not all
owed to attend the funeral of his wife. He maintained his innocence but no one listened.

  At his trial, which was moved by Judge Claudia McDover from Brunswick County to Panama City, Mace presented two alibi witnesses who worked for businesses where he had made deliveries that afternoon. The first witness placed him about thirty miles from the scene of the crime between 2:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. The second witness placed him about fifteen miles away. Judging from the trial transcript, neither witness was particularly effective, and the prosecutor made much of the fact that Junior could have possibly made the two deliveries and still had time to stop by his house between 2:00 and 3:00. It was never clear how he could have parked his semi-rig, got into his pickup, drove home, killed two people, then switched trucks again.

  The State relied heavily on the testimony of two jailhouse informants—Todd Short and Digger Robles. Both testified that they had shared a cell with Junior at various times, and that he openly bragged of catching his wife in bed with another man and shooting both of them. In testimony that was remarkably similar, they told the jury that Junior was proud of what he’d done, had no remorse, and couldn’t understand why he was being prosecuted. (According to hearsay and local lore, both snitches disappeared from the area not long after the trial.)

  The presence of Son’s wallet in Junior’s truck was crucial. Under Florida law, a capital case must include murder, obviously, but another crime as well—rape, burglary, kidnapping, and so on. Thus, the fact that Junior stole the wallet elevated the case from first-degree murder to capital murder.

  The presence of the gun in Junior’s truck was fatal to his defense. Ballistics experts from the State crime lab testified that there was no doubt the bullets removed from the bodies were fired by the .38-caliber revolver.

  Against the advice of counsel (Junior’s defense lawyer was a court-appointed rookie handling his first capital case) Junior took the stand in his own defense. He vehemently denied any involvement in the deaths of his wife and friend. He claimed he was being framed in retaliation for his opposition to the casino. He said someone spiked his beer at the bar, that he drank only three of them, then blacked out and did not remember leaving the bar. The bartender testified that he had at least three beers and that he, the bartender, helped Junior to his truck and left him there.

  On the stand, it appears from the trial transcript that Junior handled himself with dignity, though the cross-examination was lengthy.

  With the gun, the wallet, two informants, a defense that relied on two shaky alibi witnesses, and a defendant who was apparently drunk and didn’t remember much, the jury had enough for a conviction. During the sentencing phase, Junior’s lawyer called his brother Wilton and a cousin, both of whom testified that Junior was a devoted husband and father, was not a heavy drinker, did not own a gun, and had not fired one in years.

  The jury returned two death verdicts.

  Throughout the eight-day trial, Judge McDover, who was presiding over her first capital murder trial, favored the prosecution on virtually every issue. Only in agreeing to change venue did she show any concern for the rights of Mace. She gave the State’s witnesses great latitude with their testimony and continually overruled objections by the defense. With the defense witnesses, she sustained almost every objection by the prosecution. Her handling of the trial has been repeatedly attacked on appeal, and some concerns have been noted in various appellate rulings. However, the courts have continually upheld the convictions.

  —

  Throughout the two-and-a-half-hour drive to the prison, Lacy’s thoughts were on Hugo. Less than two months earlier, they had made this trip together, both sleep deprived and slugging coffee to stay awake. They had discussed their distrust of Greg Myers and their reluctance to indulge his theory of a grand conspiracy. They had admitted the sense of danger they felt.

  They had been so naive.

  She entered Bradford County and followed the signs to Starke, then to the prison. It took half an hour to make her way to Q Wing. It was noon Monday, and no other attorneys were there. She waited in a small conference room for fifteen minutes until Junior appeared in chains. His guards unshackled him and he took his seat on the other side of the plastic wall. He took his receiver, smiled, said, “Thanks for coming.”

  “Hello, Junior. It’s good to see you again.”

  “You look good, Lacy, in spite of what happened. I trust your injuries are healing.”

  “Well, my hair is growing and that’s all that matters.”

  He chuckled at this. He was more animated, more eager to talk. Lacy assumed he was awaiting the arrival of his D.C. lawyers with great anticipation. For the first time in many years, there was hope.

  “I’m sorry about your friend Hugo,” he said. “I liked him.”

  “Thanks.” She really didn’t want to talk about Hugo, but with plenty of time to kill they could chat about anything. She said his family was coping and trying to get by, but the days were long and difficult. He wanted to know about the accident, how and when it happened and what had been learned since then. He doubted it was really an accident and she assured him it was not. He was curious as to why no one “from the outside” had stepped in to investigate Hugo’s death. Careful with her words, she explained that, hopefully, things were moving in that direction. They talked about Wilton, Todd Short, the D.C. lawyers, and a little of life on death row.

  After a long pause, one of many, he said, “I had a visitor yesterday, one that was not at all expected.”

  “Who was it?”

  “A man named Lyman Gritt. Heard of him?”

  “Yes, we’ve actually met, though I don’t remember. I’m told he was with the rescue team that worked the accident and got me to the hospital. I stopped by his office to say hello and thanks, but he seems to have been replaced. The timing looks suspicious.”

  Junior smiled and leaned closer. “It’s all suspicious, Lacy. Wheels are turning and you’d best be careful.”

  She shrugged. Keep talking.

  He said, “Gritt’s a good man. He was in favor of the casino, so we were on opposite sides long ago. But we have a history. My father and his uncle were raised together in a shack just off the reservation. They were like brothers. I can’t say the families are close now, because we fought over the casino. But Gritt has a conscience and he knows about the corruption. He never liked the Chief; now he really despises him and his family. The Chief’s son is now the constable, so any investigation into your accident will go nowhere. It’s all being covered up, as I’m sure you suspect. But Gritt knows the truth, and he thinks he has the evidence to prove it. That’s why he wants to talk to you.”

  “To me?”

  “That’s right. He thinks he can trust you. He doesn’t trust the local boys in Brunswick County, not that they would get involved. As you’ve probably learned, our tribe is wary of outsiders, especially those with badges. But Gritt has some evidence.”

  “What kind of evidence?”

  “He didn’t say, or wouldn’t say. These walls have been known to hear too much, so we were cautious. You need to understand, Lacy, that Gritt is being threatened. He has a wife and three kids, and the Chief and his pals can be effectively intimidating. The entire tribe lives under a cloud of fear and people just don’t talk. Plus, with the casino life is better these days, so why rock the boat?”

  Lacy had serious doubts about the prison authorities eavesdropping on conversations between attorneys and their death row clients, but then she realized that the meeting with Gritt took place in another part of Q Wing. Gritt was not a lawyer.

  “What makes him think he can trust me? We’ve never met.”

  “Because you’re not a cop and you’re the first person to set foot on the reservation and ask questions. You and Mr. Hatch.”

  “Okay. How am I supposed to meet with Gritt?”

  “Wilton will facilitate it.”

  “So who makes the next move?”

  “Gritt and I agreed that I’ll contact Wilton an
d he’ll arrange things. That is, if you’re willing to talk to him.”

  “Of course I’m willing to talk.”

  “Then I’ll get word to Wilton. Needless to say, Lacy, this has to be handled as delicately as possible. Everyone is scared. They’re watching Gritt, and probably Wilton too.”

  “Do they, whoever they might be, know that Todd Short is back in town?”

  “I don’t think so. My lawyers met with Short this morning, somewhere far away from the reservation. If he follows through with his promise to recant his testimony, it won’t be long before everyone knows it. At that point, he’ll be a marked man.”

  “They can’t keep killing people, Junior.”

  “They killed your buddy Mr. Hatch. And Son and Eileen. And they probably took care of Digger Robles, the other snitch, may he rest in peace.”

  And not to mention Greg Myers.

  He continued, “And they’re perfectly willing to let the State of Florida kill me. They’ll stop at nothing, Lacy. Don’t ever forget that.”

  “How can I?”

 
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