The whistler, p.25
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       The Whistler, p.25

           John Grisham
 

  patient slowly walked to the desk, was greeted by a harried nurse, and disappeared around a corner. The languid pace continued for half an hour as more women arrived to replace those who were leaving. Lacy peered over her magazine and watched Gritt. After an hour, he glanced at his watch as if growing frustrated. Finally, the name of Amy Gritt was called, and she walked to the desk. As soon as she was out of sight, Lacy stood and stared at Lyman. When he made eye contact, she nodded slightly and left the waiting room. She walked to the end of the hallway and waited only a few seconds before Gritt closed the door behind him and walked to her.

  She offered a hand and quietly said, “I’m Lacy Stoltz.”

  He shook it gently, smiled, and instinctively glanced over his shoulder. “I’m Lyman Gritt, and you look much better than the last time I saw you.”

  “I’m doing fine. Thanks for that night.”

  “It’s my job. It was a bad scene. Sorry about your friend.”

  “Thank you.”

  He walked to a window and leaned against it, facing the hallway and the foot traffic. Patients were coming and going to several offices, but no one noticed them.

  “We don’t have much time,” he said. “I’m not involved in any of the shenanigans on our land. I’m a cop, an honest one, and I have a family to protect. My name can never be used in any investigation. I will not testify in any court. I will not point the fingers at any of my people or the crooks they’re involved with. Understood?”

  “Understood, but you know that I can’t control everything that might happen. You have my word and that’s all I can control.”

  He reached into a front pocket of his jeans and pulled out a flash drive. “There are two videos here. The first is the property of the police in Foley, Alabama. They got lucky when someone, and I don’t know who, caught the theft of the truck on video. The second video was taken about fifteen minutes after the crash, at a country store just north of the town of Sterling. I think it clearly shows the guy who was driving the truck when it crashed into your car. I’ve included a memo with all the details I’m aware of.”

  Lacy took the flash drive.

  Gritt reached into another pocket and removed a plastic bag. “This is what I believe to be a small piece of a paper towel covered with blood. I found this about a quarter of a mile from the scene two days after the accident. My theory is that the blood belongs to the passenger in the second video. If I were you I’d get DNA testing immediately, and pray for a hit. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a name, one you can then match to the guy in the video.”

  Lacy took the plastic bag. “And you have copies?”

  “I do, and I have the rest of the paper towel, though no one could ever find it.”

  “I don’t know what to say.”

  “Say nothing. Just do your job and nail these bastards, and keep my name out of it.”

  “I promise.”

  “Thank you, Ms. Stoltz. This meeting never happened.” He began walking away, and she said, “Thanks, and I hope your wife is okay.”

  “She’s fine. Just a routine checkup. She’s afraid of doctors, so I tag along.”

  —

  Neither Michael nor Lacy had thought to stick a laptop in a briefcase; otherwise, they would have wheeled into an empty parking lot of a fast-food joint, bought coffees, found a table in the corner, and rolled the footage. Instead, they raced home, speculating nonstop as to what the videos might reveal.

  “Why didn’t you ask him?” Michael demanded, with some irritation.

  “Because he was in a hurry,” she shot back. “He handed it over, said what he wanted to say, and that was it.”

  “I would’ve asked.”

  “You don’t know what you would have done. Stop bitching. Who’s the head of the state Department of Law Enforcement?”

  “Gus Lambert. He’s new and I don’t know him.”

  “Well, who do you know?”

  “An old friend.” Michael called the old friend twice and couldn’t get him. Lacy called a girlfriend in the Attorney General’s Office, and got the name of a supervisor with the Regional Crime Lab in Tallahassee. The supervisor was busy and uncooperative and promised to call back tomorrow.

  When they were both off the phone, Michael said, “The crime lab won’t do it unless DLE is involved.”

  Lacy said, “I’ll call Gus Lambert. I’m sure I can charm his pants off.”

  Commissioner Lambert’s secretary was beyond charm, said the boss was in a meeting and was a very busy man. Michael’s old friend called back and asked what was going on. Michael explained, as they blitzed down the passing lane of Interstate 10, that it was an urgent matter dealing with the suspicious death of a state employee. Abbott, the friend, said he recalled the story of the death of Hugo Hatch. Michael said, “We have reason to believe it was more complicated than a bad car wreck. We have a source from within the tribe and we now have possession of a blood sample that could be important. How do we get access to the crime lab?”

  As they talked, Lacy searched the web with her phone. Having never dealt with DNA testing, she knew almost nothing about it. According to an article on a science site, forensic technicians are now able to test a suspect’s DNA in two hours, quick enough for the police to ram it through their crime databases and determine if the man in custody has committed the crime in question, as well as others. As recently as five years earlier, the testing took between twenty-four and seventy-two hours, enough time for the suspect to post bail and walk out of jail.

  Michael was saying, “No, there’s no open investigation, not by the locals and not by DLE. It happened on tribal land and the Tappacola are in charge. That’s part of the problem. I’m talking about a favor here, Abbott. And a quick one.”

  Michael listened, said, “Thanks,” and ended the call. “He says he’ll try and see the commissioner.”

  —

  It was almost 5:00 p.m. when Michael and Lacy arrived at the DLE’s Regional Crime Lab on the outskirts of Tallahassee. Abbott was waiting at the front door, along with Dr. Joe Vasquez, the head of the lab. Quick introductions were made, and they followed him to a small conference room. Lacy placed the plastic ziplock bag on the table in front of Dr. Vasquez, who looked at it but didn’t touch it.

  He asked, “What do we know about this?”

  Lacy replied, “Not much. We got it less than two hours ago from our confidential source. He thinks it’s a piece of a paper towel with blood on it.”

  “Who’s handled it?”

  “We have no idea, but our source considers himself a law enforcement professional. I’d bet it’s been handled very little.”

  “How long will it take?” Michael asked.

  Vasquez smiled proudly and said, “Give us two hours.”

  “That’s incredible.”

  “Indeed it is. The technology is changing rapidly, and we think that within two years detectives at the crime scene will be able to check blood and semen with a handheld device. It’s called DNA testing on a chip.”

  Lacy asked, “And how long to run the results through the state’s database?”

  Vasquez looked at Abbott, who shrugged and said, “Half an hour.”

  —

  They stopped for Chinese takeout at a favorite spot near the Capitol. BJC was deserted, as they were hoping, when they arrived just after six. Ignoring their dinner, they went straight to Michael’s desktop and plugged in the flash drive. They watched the two videos, printed Gritt’s two-page memo, read it carefully, discussed it line by line, and watched the videos again and again. Lacy was almost numb with the realization that she was looking at the murder weapon, the truck, and perhaps even the murderer, the punk with the bloody nose.

  There were two men in each video; all four were different. Could this be the first glimpse of others in the Dubose crime family? They had photos of Vonn entering the condo at Rabbit Run, but no one else. The driver in the second video, the one from Frog’s store, was particularly fascinating. He was older than th
e other three, perhaps forty-five, and was better dressed, wearing a golf shirt and pressed khakis. He had planned things well enough to attach a set of perfectly faked Florida tags to his truck. He wasn’t Vonn, but could he be a ranking member? Was he in charge of the operation? Could he have been at the scene, with a light, poking around Lacy’s smashed Prius, looking for the cell phones while Hugo was bleeding and dying? Clever as he was, he had made the boneheaded mistake of parking directly in front of Frog’s store and getting himself captured on video. Allie had said more than once that even the smartest criminals do stupid things.

  They finally ate cold chicken chow mein, but neither was hungry. Michael’s cell phone rattled at 7:50, and Abbott announced cheerfully, “Got your boy.”

  The blood belonged to one Zeke Foreman, a twenty-three-year-old parolee with two drug-related convictions under his belt. His DNA had been in the state’s database for five years, since his first arrest. Abbott had three photos, two of the mug-shot variety and one from the prison archives. He was sending them over by e-mail.

  Michael told Abbott he owed him one, and a big one at that, and said thanks.

  Lacy was standing by the printer when the three photos rolled off. Michael stopped the second video with a clear shot of both faces. The passenger, even with a bloody nose, looked very similar to Zeke Foreman.

  —

  Allie Pacheco was more than happy to hustle over to Lacy’s for a late-night drink, though her tone was clearly not romantic. She said it was urgent but offered nothing else. They watched the videos and studied the photos. They read Gritt’s memo and talked about the case until midnight, finishing off a bottle of wine in the process.

  31

  Zeke Foreman had been living with his mother near the small town of Milton, Florida, not far from Pensacola. The FBI watched his house for two days but saw no sign of him or his 1998 Nissan. His parole officer said he was due for their monthly checkup on October 4, and he had never missed a meeting. To do so could lead to a revocation and a return to prison. Foreman worked odd jobs and had managed to stay out of trouble for the past thirteen months.

  Sure enough, on the fourth Foreman walked into the Probation Office in downtown Pensacola and said hello to his parole officer. When asked where he’d been, he offered a well-rehearsed story of driving a truck for a friend down to Miami. Sit tight, the parole officer said, there are a couple of guys who’d like to say hello. He opened the door, and Agents Allie Pacheco and Doug Hahn walked in and introduced themselves. The parole officer left the room.

  “What’s this all about?” asked Foreman, already flinching at the sudden appearance of the FBI.

  Neither agent sat down. Pacheco said, “Back on August 22, a Monday, you were on the Tappacola Indian reservation around midnight. What were you doing there?”

  Foreman tried his best to appear surprised, though he looked like he was about to faint. He shrugged, gave a dumb look, and said, “Not sure what you’re talking about.”

  “You know exactly what we’re talking about. You were driving a stolen truck and it was involved in an accident. You fled the scene. Recall any of this?”

  “You got the wrong guy.”

  “Is that the best you can do?” Pacheco nodded to Hahn, who whipped out a set of handcuffs. Pacheco said, “Stand up. You’re under arrest for capital murder.”

  “You gotta be kidding.”

  “Oh sure, this is just a comedy routine. Stand up and put your hands behind your back.” They handcuffed him, searched him, took his cell phone, and led him out of the office and through a side exit of the building. They put him in the rear seat of their car and drove four blocks to the offices of the FBI. No one said a word during the drive.

  Inside their building, they walked him to an elevator that stopped on the sixth floor. They went through a maze of hallways and entered a small conference room. A young lawyer was waiting, and with a smile she said, “Mr. Foreman, I’m Rebecca Webb, Assistant U.S. Attorney. Please have a seat.”

  Agent Hahn removed the handcuffs and said, “You might be here for a while.” He gently pressed Foreman into a chair, and everyone sat down.

  “What’s going on?” Foreman asked. Though he was only twenty-three, he did not project the airs of a frightened kid. He’d had time to collect himself and was a tough guy again. He’d been around, had long hair, hard features, and a full collection of cheap prison tattoos.

  Pacheco read him his Miranda rights and handed over a form with the same words in writing. Foreman read it slowly, then signed at the bottom acknowledging his understanding of what was happening. He had been through this before.

  Pacheco said, “You’re facing federal capital murder charges, the death penalty, lethal injection, and all that jazz.”

  “So who’d I kill?”

  “Guy named Hugo Hatch, the passenger in the other car, but we’re not going to argue about that. We know you were on the reservation that night, driving a stolen truck, a big Dodge Ram, and we know you deliberately crossed the center line and struck a Toyota Prius. You hung around awhile, you and the driver of your getaway truck, and the two of you removed two cell phones and an iPad from the Prius. We know that for a fact so it’s not debatable.”

  Foreman kept his composure and revealed nothing.

  Pacheco continued, “Fifteen minutes after you fled the scene, you and your pal stopped at a country store and bought ice, beer, and rubbing alcohol. This ring a bell?”

  “No.”

  “Didn’t think so.” From a file, Pacheco removed a photo from Frog’s video and slid it over to Foreman. “I guess that’s not you, with the busted nose.”

  Foreman looked at it and shook his head. “I guess I need a lawyer.”

  “We’ll get you one, in a minute. First, though, let me explain that this is not what you might call one of our typical interrogations. We’re not here to grill you about your involvement, because we know what happened. Deny all you want to, we don’t care. We’ve got the proof and we’ll be happy to see you at trial. I’ll let Ms. Webb enlighten you as to why we’re really here.”

  Foreman refused to look at her. She stared at him and said, “We have a deal for you, Zeke. And a sweet one it is. We know you didn’t steal the truck yourself, and for some reason drive to the back side of the reservation, and cause a wreck, and flee the scene, and leave a man dying, all for the sheer adventure of it. We know you were working for some other people, some serious and sophisticated criminals. They probably paid you with a nice wad of cash, then told you to leave town for a spell. Maybe you’ve done other dirty work for them. Whatever. We’re only concerned with the murder, and the men who planned it. We’re after bigger crooks, here, Zeke, and you’re just a bit player. A murderer, yes, but a small fish as far as we’re concerned.”

  “What kind of deal?” he asked, looking at her.

  “The deal of, literally, a lifetime. You talk and you walk. You tell us everything you know, you name names, give us phone numbers, histories, everything, and we’ll eventually dismiss the charges. We’ll place you in witness protection, set you up in a nice apartment far away, some place like California, give you a new name, new papers, new job, new life. Your past will be forgotten and you’ll be as free as a bird. Otherwise, you’re headed for death row, where you’ll rot away for ten, maybe fifteen years until your appeals run out and you get the needle.”

  His shoulders finally sagged as his chin dropped.

  Webb continued, “And the deal is good for now, and now only. If you say no and leave this room, you’ll never take another breath as a free man.”

  “I think I need a lawyer.”

  “Okay, for your last conviction you were represented by a court-appointed lawyer named Parker Logan. Remember him?”

  “Yes.”

  “Were you pleased with his services?”

  “I guess so.”

  “He’s waiting downstairs. You want to talk to him?”

  “Uh, sure.”

  Hahn left the room an
d returned minutes later with Parker Logan, a veteran of the indigent grind in Pensacola. Quick introductions were made around the table, and Logan shook hands with his former client. He sat next to Foreman and said, “Okay, what’s up?”

  Webb pulled some papers out of a file and said, “The magistrate has appointed you to represent Mr. Foreman. Here’s the paperwork, along with the indictment.” Logan took the papers and began reading. He flipped a page and said, “You guys seem to be in a hurry.”

  Webb replied, “We’ll get to that in a minute.”

  Logan kept reading, and when he finished he signed his name on one form and gave it to Foreman. “Sign here.” Foreman signed his name.

  Webb produced more paperwork and handed it to Logan. She said, “Here’s the agreement. The indictment will be sealed and held in abeyance until such time as Mr. Foreman is no longer needed by the prosecution.”

 
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