The whistler, p.26
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       The Whistler, p.26

           John Grisham
 

  “Witness protection?” Logan asked.

  “That’s right. Starting today.”

  “Okay, okay. I need to talk to my client.”

  Webb, Pacheco, and Hahn stood and walked to the door. Pacheco stopped and said, “I need your cell phone. No calls.”

  This irritated Logan and for a second he hesitated. Then he pulled out his cell phone and handed it over.

  An hour later, Logan opened the door and said they were ready. Webb, Pacheco, and Hahn reentered the room and took their seats. Logan, now with his jacket off and his sleeves rolled up, said, “First, as the defense lawyer, I feel compelled to at least inquire as to what proof the government has against my client.”

  Pacheco said, “We’re not going to waste time arguing about the evidence, but let’s just say that we have DNA proof taken from a blood sample found near the scene. Your client was there.”

  Logan shrugged as if to say, “Not bad.” Instead, he asked, “Okay, so what happens when my client leaves this room, assuming he takes the deal?”

  Webb replied, “As you know, witness protection is handled by the U.S. Marshals. They will take him from here, get him out of town, out of Florida, and relocate him someplace far away. A nice place.”

  “He’s concerned about his mother and younger sister.”

  “They’ll have the option of joining him. It’s not unusual for witness protection to move entire families.”

  Pacheco said, “And I might add that the U.S. Marshals have never lost a witness and they’ve protected over five thousand. They’re usually dealing with large organized crime syndicates that operate on a national scale, not locals like the boys we’re after.”

  Logan nodded along, mulled things over, and finally looked at his client and said, “As your lawyer, I recommend you take this deal.”

  Foreman picked up a pen and said, “Let’s do it.”

  Webb reached for a small video camera mounted on a tripod. She focused it on Foreman while Hahn placed a recorder on the table in front of him. When he and his lawyer had finished signing the agreement, Pacheco placed a photo in front of him. He pointed to the driver of the truck with fake tags and asked, “Who is he?”

  “Clyde Westbay.”

  “All right, now tell us everything you know about Clyde Westbay. We’re on the same team now, Zeke, so I want the whole story. Everything.”

  “Westbay owns a couple of hotels in Fort Walton Beach. I—”

  “Names, Zeke, names of the hotels?”

  “The Blue Chateau and the Surfbreaker. I got a job there two years ago, sort of a part-time gig cleaning the pools, landscaping, crap like that, got paid in cash, off the books. I saw Westbay around occasionally and somebody told me he was the owner. One day he caught me in the parking lot of the Surfbreaker and asked me about my criminal record. He said they didn’t normally hire felons so I’d better behave myself. He was pretty much of an ass at first, but he softened up some. He called me Jailbird, which I didn’t like but I let it slide. He’s not the kinda guy you talk back to. The hotels are nicer than some of the others and they stayed busy. I liked the work because there were always a lot of girls around the pools, nice scenery.”

  “We’re not here to talk about girls,” Pacheco said. “Who else worked at the hotels, and I don’t mean the grunts like you? Who was the manager, the assistant manager, guys like that?”

  Foreman scratched his beard, gave them a few names, tried to think of more. Hahn was pecking away at his keyboard. At the FBI office in Tallahassee, two agents watched Foreman on a monitor and worked their laptops. Within minutes, they knew the Blue Chateau and the Surfbreaker were owned by a company called Starr S, domiciled in Belize. A quick cross-reference revealed the same company owned a strip mall in Brunswick County. A small piece of the Dubose empire puzzle fell into place.

  “What do you know about Westbay?” Pacheco asked.

  “Not much, really. After I’d worked there for a few months I heard rumors that he was involved with some guys who owned a bunch of land and golf courses and even bars and strip clubs, but it was all hush-hush. It was all rumors, nothing concrete. But then, I was just, as you say, a grunt.”

  “Tell us about August 22, that Monday.”

  “Well, the day before, Westbay cornered me and said he had a job for me, one that might be dangerous and require a great deal of secrecy, said it paid five thousand bucks in cash, and asked if I was interested. I said sure, why not? I mean, I really felt like I was in no position to say no. I guess I wanted to impress the guy, plus Westbay is the kinda guy who’d fire me if he got pissed off. It’s not easy finding work with a rap sheet, you know? So, Monday afternoon, I was at the Blue Chateau, and I waited and waited until about dark when he and I got into his truck and came here to Pensacola. We stopped at a bar east of town and he told me to wait in the truck. He was inside for half an hour, and when he came out he handed me the keys to a truck, the Dodge Ram, which was also parked outside the bar. I noticed it had Alabama tags but I had no idea it was stolen. I got in the truck and followed him to the casino. We parked behind it. He got in my truck and explained what we were going to do, said we were going to cause a wreck. We drove deeper into the reservation, along a zigzagging road, and he said that was where it would happen. I was to smash into a little Toyota, get out, and he would be there to drive me away. I gotta tell you, I really wanted out at that point, but there was nowhere to go. We went back to the casino and he got his truck. We drove back into the reservation, to the same stretch of the road, and we waited in some woods for a long time. He was pacing around my truck, pretty nervous, talking on the phone. Finally he said let’s go. He gave me a black motorcycle helmet and some padded gloves and knee pads, the kind dirt bikers use. We saw some lights in the distance, coming our way, and he said that’s the car. Build up as much speed as possible, then cross the center line. The truck was twice as heavy and he assured me I would be fine. It was pretty scary stuff, to be honest. I don’t think the car was going very fast. I hit about fifty, then at the last second crossed the center line. The air bag knocked the hell out of me, sort of stunned me for a second or two, and by the time I got out of the truck Westbay was right there. I removed the helmet, gloves, and knee pads and gave them to him. He noticed my nose was bleeding and he checked the air bag in the truck for blood. Found nothing. My nose wasn’t broken and it didn’t bleed much at first, then it started gushing. We walked around the car. The girl, the driver, was trying to move and talk but she was in bad shape. The black guy was stuck in the windshield and really tore up. A lot of blood.”

  His voice cracked just a little and he swallowed hard.

  Pacheco asked, “There was a broken bottle of whiskey in the truck. Were you drinking?”

  “No, not a drop. That was just part of the act, I guess.”

  “Did Westbay have a flashlight?”

  “No, he had put on a small headlamp. He told me to get in the truck, his truck, and I guess I did. He spent a minute or two at the car. I was sort of dazed and I’m not sure I remember all that much. It was happening fast and I was pretty scared, to be honest. You ever walk away from a head-on collision?”

  “Not that I recall. When Westbay returned to his truck did he have anything with him?”

  “Like what?”

  “Like two cell phones and an iPad.”

  He shook his head. “No, I don’t remember seeing anything like that. He was in a hurry. He looked at me and said something about the blood. He had a roll of paper towels in the truck and tore off several. I wiped my nose.”

  Pacheco looked at Logan and said, “We have a sample of the paper towels, with blood.”

  Logan said, “He’s talking, isn’t he?”

  “Did you have any other injuries?” Pacheco asked.

  “I banged my knee and it was hurting like hell, but that’s all.”

  “And so you drove away?”

  “I guess. Westbay cut through a field, which was tricky because his lights were off. I
had no idea where we were going. I think I was still rattled after seeing that black guy covered in blood. I remember thinking that this was worth a helluva lot more than five thousand bucks. Anyway, we came out a gravel road and he turned on his lights. When we got to a paved road, he picked up speed and we left the reservation. At one point, I asked him, ‘Who were those people?’ and he said, ‘What people?’ So I didn’t say anything else. He said we needed some ice to put on my nose, so he stopped at a store that was open late. I guess that’s where you got that photo.”

  “And after you left the store?”

  “We drove back to the Blue Chateau in Fort Walton. He put me up in a room for the night, brought me a clean T-shirt, and told me to keep ice on my face. He said that if anybody asked, I was to say that I’d been in a fight. That’s what I told my mother.”

  “And he paid you?”

  “Yep, the next day, he gave me the money and told me to keep my mouth shut. Said that if anyone ever found out, then I would be charged with leaving the scene of an accident and probably something worse. Gotta tell you, I was scared shitless, so I kept my mouth shut. Scared of the cops, but also scared of Westbay. A few weeks went by and I figured I was in the clear. Then Westbay grabbed me one day at the hotel and he told me to get in my car and leave Florida immediately. He gave me a thousand bucks and said stay away until he called.”

  “Has he called?”

  “Once, but I didn’t answer. I thought about never coming back, but I was worried about my mother and I didn’t want to miss a meeting with my parole officer. I sort of snuck back into town today and I was planning to see my mother tonight.”

  With the general narrative in place, Pacheco returned to the beginning of the story and hammered out more details. He dissected every movement and pushed the witness to remember every name. After four hours, Foreman was exhausted and eager to leave town again. When Pacheco finally relented, two U.S. marshals entered the room and left with Zeke Foreman. They drove him to a hotel in Gulfport, Mississippi, where he spent the first night of his new life.

  —

  Clyde Westbay lived with his second wife in a nice home behind gates not far from the beach in Brunswick County. He was forty-seven years old and had no criminal record. He held a Florida driver’s license and a current U.S. passport and had never registered to vote, at least not in Florida. According to state employment records, he was the manager of the Surfbreaker Hotel in Fort Walton Beach. He carried two cell phones and used two landlines, one at his office and one at home. Three hours after Zeke left Florida, FBI agents were listening to all four phones.

  32

  The morning mail included three thick packages from the law offices of Edgar Killebrew. Lacy reluctantly opened them and found his cover letter. He explained, in typical terse and arrogant language, that the “enclosed” was Judge McDover’s response to Lacy’s “frivolous” subpoenas. Attached to the letter was his formal demand that all allegations against his client be dropped and the investigation terminated. In the alternative, he demanded “an immediate and confidential hearing before the full Board on Judicial Conduct.”

  Lacy had requested all of his client’s records, both official and personal, for ten specific lawsuits. As she began plowing through the stack, it became apparent nothing new was being offered. Killebrew and his associates had simply copied the court filings and lumped them together in a haphazard manner. There was an occasional memo dictated by the judge and not filed, and even a few handwritten notes, but nothing that revealed her thoughts, intentions, or observations; nothing that would implicate her in favoring one side or the other. But in all ten cases she had ruled for the faceless offshore entities and against the local property owners and litigants.

  Not surprisingly, the paperwork was far less organized than the material Sadelle had indexed long ago. Nonetheless, Lacy had no choice but to review every document and record. When she finished, she reported to Geismar.

  —

  On October 5, the first Wednesday of the month, Judge McDover left her office an hour earlier than usual and drove to the same condo at Rabbit Run, her second visit there since the filing of the complaint that accused her of receiving the unit in a bribery scheme. She parked her Lexus in the same spot, leaving room for another vehicle, and entered the condo. She gave no indication of being the least bit jumpy or nervous, never once looked over her shoulder or up and down the street.

  Inside, she checked the patio door and all windows. She went to her vault and spent a few moments admiring her “assets,” goodies she’d been collecting for so long that she now believed she deserved them. Cash and diamonds in small, portable, fireproof safes. Locked steel cabinets filled with jewelry, rare coins, vintage silver goblets and cups and flatware, limited signed first editions of famous novels, ancient crystal, and small paintings from contemporary artists. All of it had been acquired by casino cash, skillfully laundered through the systematic purchasing from dozens of dealers who never suspected that she and Phyllis Turban were violating those pesky reporting laws. The genius of their scheme was patience. Buy fine and rare goods in small quantities and, with time, watch their collection grow. Find the right dealers, avoid those who asked questions or seemed hesitant, and, when possible, move the goods out of the country.

  She adored her collection, but for the first time in eleven years she felt the beginnings of a panic. All of this stuff should have been shipped or smuggled to a safer place. Now she had been accused. Someone knew about her condos and the mysterious companies that owned them. Vonn Dubose may have ice water in his veins, but Claudia McDover did not. Her insatiable appetite for cash was finally fading. She had enough. She and Phyllis could travel the world in style and laugh about the Indians. Most important, she could cut all ties to Dubose.

  He arrived and fixed a double vodka. She sipped green tea as they sat at a breakfast table and watched the golf course. The two satchels were on the sofa; one filled with loot, the other empty.

  “Talk to me about Killebrew,” he said after the usual chitchat.

  “He’s loaded them down with paperwork, at five hundred bucks an hour, I might add. And he’s demanded that everything be dropped, of course. He’s blowing smoke about a prompt hearing but thinks he can delay it for at least six months. Where will we be in six months, Vonn?”

  “Right here, counting our money. Nothing is changing, Claudia. Are you worried?”

  “Of course I’m worried. These people aren’t stupid. I can show them the canceled checks when I bought the condos, ten thousand down for each when the market value was a lot more. I can show them the promissory note for the balance, most of which I still owe to some shady bank down in the Caribbean.”

  “You’ve made payments over the years. Your arrangement with the bank is none of their business.”

  “Very small payments, Vonn, very small. And the payments got rerouted back to me through another offshore bank.”

  “They can never trace that, Claudia. How many times have we discussed this?”

  “I don’t know, Vonn. What if I just resign?”

  “Resign?”

  “Think about it, Vonn. I can blame it on health issues, feed the press some bogus crap, and leave office. Killebrew would raise hell and claim that BJC would no longer have jurisdiction. There’s a good chance the complaint would go away.”

  “The complaint is dead anyway.”

  She took a deep breath, then a sip of tea. “Myers?”

  “Myers has disappeared.”

  She shoved the cup and saucer away and said, “I can’t take this anymore, Vonn. This is your world, not mine.”

  “He’s on the run, okay? We don’t have him yet, but we’re closing in.”

  Nothing was said for a long time as she counted the dead bodies and he thought about the extra cash he could pocket with her in retirement. “Who is the guy?” she asked.

  “A disbarred lawyer from Pensacola named Ramsey Mix. Served some time in a federal joint, got out, found some mone
y he buried when the Feds came in, changed his name to Greg Myers, and lived on a boat with his little Mexican sweetheart.”

  “How’d you find him?”

  “That’s not important. What is important is that BJC cannot go forward without him. It’s over, Claudia. It was a nice little scare, but it’s over. You can relax now.”

  “I wouldn’t be so sure about that. I’ve studied BJC’s rules inside and out, and there’s no hard-and-fast procedure that dismisses the charges when the complaining party loses interest.”

  She was a lawyer. He was not, and he wouldn’t argue with her. “Are you sure they’ll go away if you retire?”

  “Again, I can’t predict what they’ll do. Their procedures are not always clear-cut. But, if I’m not on the bench, why should they care?”

  “Perhaps they won’t.”

  She did not know about the two videos and Vonn’s frantic efforts to contain the damage they might have created. She did not know about Lyman Gritt and his suspicious activities. There was a lot she didn’t know because, in his world, knowledge could be dangerous. Trusted confidants can be convinced to talk. Secrets get exposed. She had enough to worry about anyway.

  There was another long gap in the conversation. Neither seemed eager to talk, though both minds were spinning. He rattled his ice cubes and finally said, “So the question remains, Judge, how did Myers find out about the condos? Any possible paper trail would take him nowhere. There are too many firewalls, too many foreign companies governed by laws that cannot be penetrated. Someone told Myers, which means, of course, that there was a leak. Look at the people around me, and look at the people around you. My guys are professionals who run an organization that’s airtight, and we’ve been in business for a long time with no leaks. What about you, Judge?”

 
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