The whistler, p.31
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       The Whistler, p.31

           John Grisham


  Seventeen were able to answer the bell on short notice, and since only sixteen were needed for a quorum they quickly got down to business. With the investigation growing by the hour, and with the rare possibility of indicting rich white men for capital murder, the U.S. Attorney had seized control of the case. Her name was Paula Galloway, an Obama appointee and a veteran prosecutor. Her top assistant was Rebecca Webb, who by then knew more about the case than anyone but Allie Pacheco, who was called as the first witness.

  Since they had already indicted Zeke Foreman and Clyde Westbay, the grand jurors already knew the facts surrounding the death of Hugo Hatch. Allie recapped them quickly and answered a few questions from around the table. Ms. Galloway surprised them by calling as her next witness the driver himself.

  From the depths of the Feds’ witness protection world, Zeke Foreman appeared and swore to tell the truth. Neither his plea agreement nor his whereabouts were to be discussed. He told his story, and the grand jurors were captivated by it. Since they had already indicted him, they seemed pleased with their decision and fascinated by his detailed account of the events of August 22. They asked a lot of questions and Zeke handled himself well. He was relaxed, remorseful, and completely believable. Galloway, Webb, Pacheco, and the other FBI agents in the room watched him carefully. He would one day testify in court against the Cousins, and their lawyers would attempt to annihilate him.

  The next witness was Clyde Westbay, who seemed to be at ease in the presence of the same federal grand jury that had indicted him for murder less than a week earlier. Clyde had just survived his first big test, a face-to-face chat with the boss himself while wearing a wire and snagging incriminating statements. For the first hour, Clyde discussed his role in the car crash. For the next two hours he talked about the Dubose organization and his part in it. He knew nothing of the skimming at the casino, but enthralled the grand jurors with his descriptions of laundering money at its blackjack tables.

  One juror, a Mr. Craft from Apalachicola, confessed a fondness for blackjack and said he spent a lot of time at Treasure Key. He was fascinated by the laundering scheme and asked so many detailed questions that Ms. Galloway suggested they move along to more testimony.

  Late in the afternoon, Pacheco played the audio of Clyde’s conversation eight hours earlier with Vonn Dubose.

  When Clyde was finished, after almost five hours of testimony, Ms. Galloway instructed the jurors on the applicable federal laws. The fact that the stolen truck crossed state lines meant the murder weapon was used in interstate commerce. The fact that Zeke was paid $5,000 for his role placed the crime squarely in the murder-for-hire category; thus a capital crime. And the fact that there was an organized criminal gang, and that one or more members of the gang did a crime that benefited the organization, meant all the gang members were subject to prosecution.

  It was almost 8:00 p.m. when the grand jury voted unanimously to indict Vonn Dubose, Hank Skoley, Floyd Maton, Vance Maton, and Ron Skinner for the capital murder of Hugo Hatch, and for the aggravated assault of Lacy Stoltz. Clyde Westbay was added as a defendant, though he would be dropped later. His plea agreement for first-degree murder would supersede the capital one. It was crucial for Dubose and the others to consider Clyde a co-defendant and still part of the team. Much later they would learn of his agreement with the government.


  Lacy was at the stove, stirring the final ingredient, fresh mussels, into her version of cioppino, an Italian fish stew that included scallops, clams, shrimp, and cod. The table was set, the candles lit, the Sancerre on ice. Allie called as soon as he left the federal building ten minutes away. She met him at the door with a proper but affectionate kiss. They were still kissing; but nothing more, at least in the physical sense. They were undoubtedly taking the full measure of one another and wondering what the future might hold. Lacy was neither physically nor emotionally ready for the next step, and there was no pressure from him. He seemed to adore her and was willing to wait.

  She poured wine as he took off his jacket and tie. The eighteen- and twenty-hour days were adding up and he was exhausted. Though grand jury proceedings were deeply secretive, he knew he could trust her. They were, after all, on the same team and understood confidentiality.

  The indictments were in place, sealed for now, but soon to be served as the FBI rounded up the gang. He didn’t know exactly when, but arrests were imminent.

  Paula Galloway and the FBI had adopted the strategy of using two indictments. The first was the most urgent and important, and also the easiest. With the testimony of Zeke Foreman and Clyde Westbay, the case for murder was clear and the proof appeared to be beyond a reasonable doubt. Assuming Dubose and his boys had no idea what was coming, they would be arrested within days and locked away with no chance of bail. At the same time, the FBI would raid their homes and offices, along with those of Claudia McDover, Phyllis Turban, Chief Cappel, Billy Cappel, and the lawyers in Biloxi who had represented Dubose for twenty years. Every business that had been identified so far as being part of the organization would be raided, and many of them closed temporarily. The casino would be swarmed by agents with search warrants. The U.S. Attorney was trying to convince a federal judge to close it indefinitely. The second indictment, for racketeering, would include a wave of arrests that would be coordinated with the raids, with McDover getting top billing, and perhaps the Chief right behind her.

  Lacy said, “Myers liked to call it a RICO cluster bomb. That’s what nailed him.”

  “And a pretty good description. It will be two inches thick. So as Dubose is just finding his way around his jail cell and wondering how in the hell he got charged with murder, he’ll be handed a little RICO gift.”

  “He’ll need ten lawyers.”

  “True, but he can’t hire them. All of his accounts will be frozen.”

  “Myers, Myers. I wonder where he is. I really liked the guy.”

  “Well, I doubt if you’ll see him again.”

  “Will we ever know what happened to him?”

  “I doubt it. The police in Key Largo have found nothing. It’s a cold trail and if Dubose was behind it, we’ll probably never know, unless one of his hit men can be convinced to come clean.”

  She poured more wine. The grand jury would work tomorrow, Saturday, and Sunday if necessary. The urgency was obvious: a protracted investigation with witnesses being hauled before the grand jury could cause a leak and tip their hand. Those who worked for the organization had the means and the expertise to disappear instantly. Once the Cousins were arrested for murder, their managers, errand boys, drivers, bodyguards, and couriers might feel the need to start running. After eight days of intensive, around-the-clock eavesdropping, the FBI had twenty-nine names on its list of likely gang members.

  “So you shoot first and ask questions later,” Lacy said.

  “Something like that. And keep in mind, we can always amend an indictment. We can always add or dismiss defendants. It’s a massive investigation and it’ll take a long time to sort through it, but we plan to hit hard and get everybody locked up before they can tamper with evidence. I’m starving.”

  “Did you have lunch?”

  “No. I had a greasy burger from a drive-thru.”

  He tossed the salad as she scooped up the cioppino and filled two bowls. “This is a tomato sauce so I’m thinking a red might be better. You have an opinion?”

  “I’d go with red.”

  “Good. Open that Barolo over there.”

  She pulled a buttered baguette from the oven and served the salads. They sat across the table and sipped the wine. He said, “Smells delicious. Thanks for waiting.”

  “I didn’t really want to eat alone.”

  “You cook often?”

  “No. There’s no need. Gotta question for you.”

  “Fire away.”

  “At this point in the investigation, how does the informant figure into it?”

  “Which informant?

  “The mole, the one close to McDover, the one feeding details to Cooley, who passed them on to Myers.”

  Allie chewed on a mouthful of salad and studied her face. “He’s not important right now, but we’ll need him later.”

  “He’s a she, and she called me yesterday, really frightened. Someone broke into her house and went through her things. She sees McDover daily and thinks the judge is suspicious.”

  “Who is she?”

  “I swore not to reveal her identity, at least not now. Maybe later. As I said, she’s frightened and confused and she doesn’t know who to trust.”

  “She’ll eventually be an important witness.”

  “I’m not sure she’ll come forward.”

  “She may have no choice.”

  “But you can’t make her testify.”

  “No, we can’t, but there are ways to convince her. This stew is delicious.” He dipped a piece of bread into the broth and ate it with his fingers.

  “I’m glad you like it. So are you working tomorrow?”

  “Oh yes. The grand jury convenes at nine. I have to be there at eight for what should be another long day. Sunday as well.”

  “You guys always work like this?”

  “No, but then we rarely get cases this big. The adrenaline kicks in. Like this morning when I was in the back of the van with three of our technicians, temperature about 120, and we listened to Westbay as he met with Dubose. That can really get your heart rate up there. It’s a rush, and one of the reasons I love this job.”

  “How much can you tell me?”

  Allie glanced around the kitchen as if spies were at hand. “What do you want to know?”

  “Everything. What did Dubose say?”

  “It’s beautiful.”


  Lacy slept until almost seven Saturday, a late hour for her, and even then wasn’t ready to start the day. However, her dog, Frankie, was going through his usual early morning routine of sniffing and snorting and making sure she couldn’t sleep because he needed to pee. She finally turned him out and went for the coffee beans. While it was brewing, her iPhone buzzed. Allie Pacheco, 7:02.

  “Enjoyed dinner,” he said. “Sleep well?”

  “Great. You?”

  “No, too much going on. Look, we picked up some chatter last night that is troublesome to say the least. I don’t suppose the informant you mentioned last night would be a court reporter.”


  “Because if she’s McDover’s court reporter, then she’s in danger. We’re listening to a lot of phones right now, and I can’t give you the exact language, it was in some goofy semi-code, but it appears as though the boss has given the order.”

  “She’s the informant, Allie. Myers called her the Whistler.”

  “Well, they’re onto her. Do you know where she is?”


  “Can you contact her?”

  “I’ll try.”

  “Do that and call me back.”

  Lacy let the dog in and poured a cup of coffee. She picked up the burner and called JoHelen’s number. After the fifth ring, a timid voice said, “Is this Lacy?”

  “It is. Where are you?”

  A long pause, then, “What if someone is listening?”

  “No one is listening. No one knows about these phones. Where are you?”

  “Panama City Beach, a cheap hotel, paid in cash. I’m looking at the ocean.”

  “I just spoke with the FBI. One of their wiretaps caught a conversation early this morning. They think you’re in danger.”

  “I’ve been telling you that for two days.”

  “Stay in your room. I’ll call the FBI.”

  “No! Don’t do that, Lacy. Cooley told me to never trust the FBI. Don’t call them.”

  Lacy bit a nail and looked down at Frankie, who now wanted breakfast. “You have to trust them, JoHelen. Your life is in danger.”

  The phone went dead. Lacy called twice but with no answer. She quickly fed the dog, threw on some jeans, and left her apartment. Behind the wheel of her shiny new Mazda hatchback, which she’d bought four days earlier and was still trying to relax in, she called Allie and told him what was going on. He said that at the moment he was busy with the grand jury, but to keep him posted. JoHelen finally answered the fifth call. She sounded terrified and refused to give Lacy the name of the hotel. Lacy knew that Panama City Beach was a busy strip of Highway 98, with dozens of small hotels packed together on the ocean side and fast-food joints and T-shirt shops across the road.

  “Why’d you hang up a while ago?” Lacy asked.

  “I don’t know. I’m scared and I’m afraid someone is listening.”

  “The phones are safe. Keep the door locked and if you see anything suspicious, call the front desk or the police. I’m on the way.”

  “You’re what?”

  “I’m coming to get you, JoHelen. Just hang on. I’ll be there in an hour or so.”


  Delgado had a room on the third floor next door at the West Bay Inn. She was at the Neptune. Both were low-end motels half-filled with tourists from up north looking for bargains after the summer season. Her door opened onto a narrow, concrete walkway on the second level. The stairs were nearby. Beach towels and swimsuits hung to dry over the railings. But she had not been swimming. That would make it too easy for him.

  From a hundred feet away, he watched her door and window. She had pulled her curtains tight, which had saved her life. With his sniper rifle, all he needed was a sliver, but so far he had not had such an opening. So he waited patiently, and as the hours passed Saturday morning he thought of simply walking over and ringing her bell. “Sorry, ma’am, wrong room,” then he would kick the door open and it would be over in seconds. The obvious problem there was the chance of a short scream or shriek or other panicked noise that might attract attention; just too risky. If she left the room he would follow and wait for an opportunity, though he wasn’t optimistic. The motels and cafés along the strip were far from deserted. There were just too many people around and he didn’t like the layout.

  He waited and wondered why she was hiding. Why hide if you’re not afraid, or guilty? What had happened to spook her enough to run away and pay cash for small rooms in cheap hotels? Her home was less than an hour away and was much nicer than these dumps. Perhaps the neighbors had seen him there as the pest control guy on Thursday. Perhaps that pesky man across the street told her how clumsy the plumber acted Friday morning. She knew she was guilty and now she was paranoid.

  Delgado wondered if she was meeting a man, one she should not be meeting, but there was no sign of any hanky-panky. She was alone in there, just killing time, waiting for what? Sex was probably the last thing on her mind. A walk on the beach would be a sensible thing to do. Or a swim in the ocean. Do what everyone else is doing and create some opportunities. But the door never opened, nor was she moving around, as far as he could tell.


  Pacheco said, “I don’t like this, Lacy. You don’t know what you’re doing.”


  “Let the local cops handle it. Get the name of the hotel and call the cops.”

  “She won’t give me the name of the hotel and she won’t talk to the police. She’s terrified and she’s not rational, Allie. She’s hardly talking to me.”

  “I can get two agents from our office in Panama City in a moment’s notice.”

  “No, she’s afraid of the FBI.”

  “That seems rather stupid, under the circumstances. How will you find her if you don’t know where she is?”

  “I’m hoping she’ll tell me when I get there.”

  “Okay, okay. I have to get back to the grand jury. Call me in an hour.”

  “Will do.”

  She thought of calling Geismar for an update but didn’t want to disturb his Saturday. She was actually under orders to discuss any trips she might get the urge to take these days, but he was being overly protective. I
t was her day off and she didn’t feel like checking in. And where was the danger anyway? If she found JoHelen she would drive her away and find a safe place.