The whistler, p.7
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       The Whistler, p.7
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           John Grisham

  paperwork.

  The first few sheets summarized Claudia McDover’s travel for the past seven years, complete with dates, destinations, lengths of stay, and so on. The woman liked to travel and did so in style, usually by private jet, though none of the charters were booked in her name. Phyllis Turban, her lawyer, handled the details and generally used one of two flight companies based in Mobile. At least once a month, Claudia drove to Pensacola or Panama City, boarded a small jet, with Phyllis waiting, and took off to either New York or New Orleans for the weekend. There was no evidence of what they did on these trips, but the mole would have some ideas. Every summer Claudia spent two weeks in Singapore and was believed to own a home there. For those longer trips, she traveled on American Airlines and flew first-class. She went to Barbados at least three times a year by private jet. It was not clear whether Phyllis Turban accompanied her on the trips to Singapore and Barbados, but the mole, using prepaid and untraceable cell phones, repeatedly called Turban’s office in Mobile and determined that she was not there when McDover was abroad. And the lawyer always returned to work when the judge did.

  In a memo, the mole wrote, “On the first Wednesday of each month, CM leaves the office a bit earlier than usual and drives to a condo in Rabbit Run. For some time it was impossible to determine where she went, but once a GPS tracking device was attached to the inside of her rear bumper, her exact movements became known. The address of the condo is 1614D Fairway Drive. According to the Brunswick County land records, the condo had changed hands twice and was now owned by a company registered in Belize. It is easy to speculate that she drives to the condo, receives a quantity of cash from the casino, then flies off with some or all of the money. Still speculating, the cash can be converted to gold, silver, diamonds, and collectibles. Certain dealers in New York and New Orleans are known to trade for cash, but for a stiff premium. Diamonds and jewelry are especially easy to smuggle out of the country. Cash can also be shipped by regular overnight parcel delivery to anywhere in the world, especially the Caribbean.”

  Greg said, “I don’t like all this speculating. How much does he really know?”

  Cooley replied, “Are you kidding? Look at the travel summary. Precise movements over a seven-year period. Plus, it sounds like this guy knows something about money laundering.”

  “Guy? As in male?”

  “As in nothing. Neither male nor female as far as you’re concerned.”

  “But he or she is my client.”

  “Knock it off, Greg. We have an understanding.”

  “To know this much, he must have daily contact with the judge. A secretary maybe?”

  “He or she told me once that McDover crushes secretaries, fires them after a year or two. Stop guessing, okay? The mole is living in fear. Have you filed the complaint?”

  “Yes. They are investigating now and will slap it on the old gal in due course. Talk about shit hitting the fan. Can you imagine the horror show when McDover realizes her party is over?”

  “She won’t panic, because she’s too cold and too smart,” Cooley said. “She’ll call in her lawyers and they’ll get to work. She’ll call Dubose and he’ll start his mischief. What about you, Greg? Your name is on the complaint. You’re making the allegations.”

  “My name will be hard to trace. Remember, I’ve never met McDover or Vonn Dubose. They don’t know me from Adam. There are at least eighteen hundred Greg Myerses in this country and all have addresses, phone numbers, families, and jobs. Dubose won’t know where to start looking. Besides, if I see a shadow I can haul ass in my little boat and become a speck in the ocean. He’ll never find me. Why is the mole living in fear? His name will never be revealed.”

  “Gee, Greg, I don’t know. Maybe he or she is unsophisticated in the world of organized criminal violence. Maybe he or she is worried that divulging too much dirt on McDover might lead back to him or her.”

  “Well, it’s too late now,” Greg said. “The complaint has been filed and the wheels are turning.”

  “You gonna use this stuff anytime soon?” Cooley asked, waving some papers.

  “I don’t know. I need some time to think. Let’s say they can prove the judge likes to travel on private jets with her partner. Big deal. McDover’s lawyers will just say there’s no foul as long as Phyllis is footing the bill, and since Phyllis has no cases pending in McDover’s court, where’s the damage?”

  “Phyllis Turban runs a small shop in Mobile and her specialty is drawing up thick wills. I’ll bet she nets a hundred and fifty a year max. The jets they’re using cost $3,000 an hour and they’re averaging eighty hours a year. Do the math. That’s a quarter of a million bucks just in air charter fees, and that’s just what we know about. As a circuit court judge McDover’s salary this year is $146,000. Together they couldn’t afford the jet fuel.”

  “Phyllis Turban is not under investigation. Maybe she should be, I really don’t care. If we’re going to make any money off this case we have to nail a sitting judge.”

  “Got it.”

  “How often do you meet with the mole?” Myers asked.

  “Not very often. He or she is quite timid these days, and scared to death.”

  “Then why is he or she doing this?”

  “Hatred of McDover. And money. I convinced our mole that this could lead to riches. I just hope I don’t get anyone killed.”

  —

  Lacy lived in a two-bedroom apartment in a converted warehouse near the Florida State campus and a five-minute drive from her office. The architect who’d converted the building had done a fabulous job, and the twenty units had sold out quickly. Thanks to a loaded life insurance policy her father had maintained, and her mother’s generosity, Lacy had been able to make a sizable down payment on her place. She suspected it would be the only nice gift from her parents. Her father had been dead for five years, and her mother, Ann Stoltz, seemed to grow stingier as she grew older. She was pushing seventy and not aging as well as Lacy would have liked. Ann no longer drove more than five miles from her home, so their visits had become less frequent.

  Lacy’s only companion was Frankie, her French bulldog. Since leaving for college at the age of eighteen, she had never lived with a man. Indeed, she had never been seriously tempted. A decade earlier, her one true love had begun hinting at cohabitation, but, as she soon learned, he was already plotting to run away with a married woman. Which he did, in scandalous fashion. The truth was that, at the age of thirty-six, Lacy was content to live alone, to sleep in the center of the bed, to clean up only after herself, to make and spend her own money, to come and go as she pleased, to pursue her career without worrying about his, to plan her evenings with input from no one else, to cook or not to cook, and to have sole possession of the remote control. About a third of her girlfriends were young divorcées, all scarred and wounded and wanting no part of another man, not for the moment anyway. Another third were stuck in bad marriages with little hope of getting out. And the rest of her girlfriends were content with their relationships and either pursuing careers or having children.

  She didn’t like the math. Nor did she like society’s way of presuming she was unhappy because she had not found the right guy. Why should her life be determined by when and whom she married? She hated the assumption that she was lonely. If she’d never lived with a man, how could she miss one? And she was really tired of nosy inquiries from her family, especially her mother and her mother’s sister, Aunt Trudy, neither of whom was capable of getting through a long conversation without asking if she was seeing anyone “serious.”

  “Who says I’m looking for anyone serious?” was her standard reply. She hated to admit it, but for the most part she preferred to avoid her mother and Trudy because of those conversations. Because she was happy and single and not prowling for Mr. Right, they viewed her as a misfit, someone to be pitied because she was drifting through life all alone. Her mother was a perpetually grieving widow and Trudy had a dreadful husband, yet they somehow considere
d their lives better.

  Oh well. Part of being single was dealing with the misconceptions of others.

  She fixed another cup of green tea, caffeine free, and thought about watching an old movie. But it was almost ten, and a weeknight, and she needed sleep. Sadelle had e-mailed two of her latest memos, and Lacy decided to glance at one before she changed into her pajamas. For many years now she had known that Sadelle’s memos were more effective than sleeping pills.

  The thinner memo was titled “Tappacola: Facts, Figures, Gossip.” And it read,

  Population: Not sure of the exact number of Tappacola Native Americans (by the way, the term “Native American” is a politically correct creation of clueless white people who feel better using it, when in reality the Native Americans refer to themselves as Indians and snicker at those of us who don’t, but I digress). According to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the 2010 population was 441, up from 402 in 2000. But the bonanza reaped by the casino has put new pressure on the population because, for the first time in history, so many more people seem desperate to become Tappacola. This is because of a distribution of wealth scheme commonly called “dividends.” According to statements made by Junior Mace, every Tappacola eighteen or older gets a check for $5,000 a month. There is no way to verify this because, as in all matters, the tribe reports to no one. Once a woman marries, her monthly dividend is mysteriously cut in half.

  Dividends vary greatly from tribe to tribe, from state to state. Years ago a tribe in Minnesota gained notoriety because its casino, which was grossing almost a billion a year, was owned by only 85 members. The annual dividend to each member topped $1 million. This is believed to still be the record.

  There are 562 recognized tribes in the U.S., but only about 200 operate casinos. There are approximately 150 additional tribes seeking recognition, but the Feds have grown suspicious. New tribes face an uphill battle getting recognized. Many critics claim their sudden pride in their heritage is driven solely by the desire to get into the casino business. Most Indians do not share in these riches and many still live in poverty.

  At any rate, like most tribes, the Tappacola have been inundated with folks claiming to be relatives. The dream of dividends has prompted this. The tribe has a committee that investigates and determines bloodlines. Anything less than being one-eighth Tappacola disqualifies the applicant. This has led to a lot of friction.

  It appears as though friction is not unusual with the tribe. According to a story seven years ago in the Pensacola News Journal, the tribe holds an election every four years to elect a new Chief and council. There are ten council seats. Evidently the Chief has considerable power over all tribal matters, especially the casino. It must be an important position because the salary, at that time, was $350,000 a year. Also, the Chief is given wide latitude in employment matters and usually loads up the administration with family members, all of whom earn nice salaries. Therefore, the elections are hotly contested, bitter, and full of accusations of ballot stuffing and intimidation (must’ve learned this from us non-natives). It’s sort of a winner-take-all scenario.

  The current Chief is Elias Cappel (by the way, very few modern-day Indians use the colorful names from the old days; at some point in history most of them adopted Western names). Chief Cappel was elected in 2005 and reelected handily four years later. His son, Billy, sits on the council.

  The tribe has used its money wisely, having built state-of-the-art schools, a free medical facility that appears to be more like a clinic than a hospital, recreational facilities, day care centers, roads, and most things good government provides. If a high school graduate wants to go to college, there is a fund to cover tuition to an in-state school, along with room and board. The tribe is also pouring more money into alcohol and drug prevention and treatment.

  As a sovereign nation, the Tappacola make and enforce their own laws, with no real regard for outside interference. The tribe has a constable who operates much like a county sheriff, and a full force of cops, all apparently well trained and equipped. It has a beefed-up drug enforcement unit. (Tight-lipped as they are, the Chief and a few council members apparently don’t mind divulging facts that tend to favor them, strong law enforcement being one of their favorite topics.) They have a tribal court consisting of three judges to deal with disputes and wrongdoing. The judges are appointed by the Chief and approved by the council. There is, of course, a jail, and a correctional facility for long-term offenders.

  The Tappacola do an effective job of keeping their disputes and controversies contained. For years the Pensacola News Journal, and to a lesser extent the Tallahassee Democrat, have been snooping around looking for dirt, really just trying to find out how much money the tribe was making and which faction had the upper hand. Both newspapers have learned little. Evidently, the Tappacola are a closemouthed bunch of folks.

  —

  Though somewhat interesting, the memo worked its magic and Lacy began yawning. She changed into pajamas and went through her nightly rituals in the bathroom, with the door open, once again thankful that she was alone with no one to bother her. Just before 11:00 p.m., she was almost asleep when the phone rang. It was Hugo, sounding as tired as ever.

  “This can’t be good,” she said.

  “No. Look, we need some help tonight. Verna’s dead on her feet. I’m not much better. Pippin is at full throttle and the whole house is wired. We gotta get some sleep. Verna doesn’t want my mother over here and I don’t want hers. How about a big favor?”

  “Sure. I’m on the way.”

  It was the third time since the newborn’s arrival that Lacy had been called in for midnight duty. She had kept the four kids on several occasions so Hugo and Verna could enjoy a quiet dinner, but only twice had she slept over. She dressed quickly in jeans and a T-shirt and left Frankie at the door, obviously confused. She hurried through the empty streets to the Meadows and arrived at the Hatch home twenty minutes after the phone call. Verna met her at the door, with Pippin, who was quiet for the moment. “It’s got to be a stomachache,” she whispered. “She’s been to the doctor three times this week. Kid just can’t seem to sleep.”

  “Where are the bottles?” Lacy asked, gingerly taking the baby from her mother.

  “On the coffee table. The house is a wreck. I’m so sorry.” Her lip quivered and her eyes watered.

  “Come on, Verna, it’s me. Go to bed and get some sleep. Things will be better in the morning.”

  Verna pecked her on the cheek and said, “Thank you.” She disappeared into the hallway. Lacy heard a door close quietly. She squeezed Pippin and began walking back and forth across the cluttered den, humming gently and patting her on the rear. Everything was quiet but the lull didn’t last. When she erupted again, Lacy stuck a bottle in her mouth and settled into a rocking chair, cooing at her nonstop until she finally drifted away. Half an hour later, with the baby in a deep sleep, Lacy placed her in a portable rocking crib and turned on the switch for a quiet lullaby. Pippin frowned and fidgeted a bit, and for a moment seemed ready for another round of noise, but then relaxed and continued her nap.

  After some time, Lacy left the baby and tiptoed into the kitchen, where she turned on the overhead light and was startled at the chaos. The sink was filled with dirty dishes. The counters were covered with pots and pans and food that needed to be put away. The table was strewn with empty snack boxes, backpacks, and even unfolded laundry. The kitchen needed a good scrubbing, but a proper job would be too noisy. She decided to wait until daybreak when the family was stirring. She turned off the kitchen light and, in one of those delightful moments that she could share with no one, smiled and thanked her good fortune at being single and so wonderfully unburdened.

  She made a nest on the sofa near the baby and eventually fell asleep. Pippin awoke hungry and angry at 3:15, but a bottle thrust firmly into her mouth did the trick. Lacy changed her diaper, cooed and cajoled her into another nap, and slept until almost 6:00.

  8

  Wilton Mace
lived in a redbrick split-level on a gravel road two miles from the casino. On the phone he’d been reluctant to talk and said he would have to check with his brother. He called Hugo back the following day and agreed to a meeting. He was waiting in a lawn chair under a tree by the carport, swatting flies and drinking iced tea. The day was cloudy and not as hot. He offered Lacy and Hugo sweet tea to drink and they declined. He pointed to two other folding chairs and they sat down. A toddler in a diaper was playing in a plastic wading pool in the backyard, under the watchful eye of its grandmother.

  Wilton was three years younger than Junior and could almost pass for his identical twin. Dark skin, even darker eyes, long gray hair, almost to his shoulders. He spoke with a deep voice and, like Junior, seemed to weigh every syllable.

  “Is that your grandson?” Lacy asked, trying to break the ice because Wilton showed no interest in doing so.

  “Granddaughter, the first one. That’s my wife, Nell.”

  “We met with Junior last week at Starke,” Hugo said.

  “Thank you for going to see him. I make the trip twice a month and I know it’s not the best way to spend the day. Junior has been forgotten by his people, and that’s tough on a man, especially one as proud as Junior.”

  “He said that most Tappacola believe he killed his wife and Son Razko,” Lacy said.

  He nodded for a long time, then said, “That’s true. It’s a good story, easy to repeat, easy to believe. He caught ’em in bed and shot ’em.”

  “Can we assume you’ve talked to him since we were there?” Hugo asked.

  “I called him yesterday. He gets twenty minutes a day on the phone. He told me what you’re up to.”

  “He said you tried to get a job at the casino but it didn’t happen. Can you explain that?” Lacy asked.

  “It’s simple. The tribe is split down the middle with both sides entrenched. Goes back to the vote on gambling. The winners built the casino and their Chief runs everything, including the hiring and firing. Me, I was on the wrong side so I couldn’t get a job. It takes two thousand people to run the casino and most of them are from the outside. The Tappacola who want to work must have their politics right to get a job there.”

  “So feelings are still pretty raw?” Hugo asked.

  Wilton grunted and smiled. “We may as well be two tribes, and blood enemies at that. There’s been no effort at reconciliation. No one wants it, really.”

 
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