The whistler, p.9
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       The Whistler, p.9
 

           John Grisham

  into the condos. Don’t want to break any glass.”

  “Just give it a ride and I’ll spend some time looking for it.”

  The shot went just as planned, a hard slice that rolled out-of-bounds and into some shrubbery bordering the condos. “Perfect,” Hugo said.

  “Gee, thanks.”

  They hopped in the golf cart and sped down the middle of the fairway, then eased right, toward the condos. Justin dropped a ball onto the grass as if it were his tee shot, and he pulled out a small device that appeared to be a laser range finder, one used to measure the distance from his ball to the flag. It was really a video camera, and while Hugo nonchalantly strolled over to the edge of the patio of unit 1614D as if hunting a lost ball, Justin shot close-up footage of the condo. Hugo had on his belt a small digital camera that snapped stills as he poked through some shrubs with his seven iron.

  Just a couple of bad golfers hunting lost balls. Happened every day, whether someone was watching or not.

  Three hours later, after searching for many lost balls, Hugo and Justin called it quits. As they drove away from the pro shop, Hugo silently vowed to never again set foot on a golf course.

  On the way back to Tallahassee, they detoured to the small town of Eckman for a quick chat with a lawyer named Al Bennett. He had a nice office on Main Street and seemed to welcome Hugo to break the monotony of drafting deeds. Justin found a coffee shop to kill the hour.

  Five years earlier, Bennett had entered politics for the first and last time when he challenged the reelection of Claudia McDover. He campaigned hard and spent too much money, and when only 31 percent of the voters favored him he hustled back home to Eckman with a diminished desire to serve the public. On the phone, Hugo had revealed nothing and promised just a few quick questions about a local judge.

  In person, Hugo explained that the BJC was investigating a complaint against Judge McDover, that the investigation was confidential, and that the complaint could well be frivolous. It was a sensitive matter and Hugo needed Bennett’s word that all would be kept quiet.

  “Of course,” Bennett said, eager to be involved and a little excited. As they talked, Hugo wondered how the guy managed to get even 31 percent of the vote. He spoke rapidly, nervously, with a high-pitched voice that was obnoxious to the ears. Hugo could not imagine him on the stump or in front of a jury.

  Hugo was wary of the meeting. Lawyers could usually be trusted to keep secrets that involved their own clients, but were often horrible gossips when it came to everyone else. The more witnesses they interviewed the more leaks there would be, and before long Judge McDover and her confederates would know they were being shadowed. Lacy agreed, but Geismar wanted to put a check in Bennett’s box.

  Hugo asked, “Was it a rough campaign?”

  Bennett replied, “Well, you could say the outcome was rough. Hell, I got clobbered in a landslide. It hurt, but I’m almost over it.”

  “Was it dirty?”

  He thought for a moment and seemed to resist the temptation to trash his former opponent. “It never got too personal. She made much of the fact that I have no experience on the bench. I couldn’t argue with that, so I tried to take the high road and say, well, she didn’t have any experience either until she got elected. But it took too long to explain this, and, as you know, voters have short attention spans. Plus, Mr. Hatch, you gotta keep in mind that Judge McDover has a good reputation.”

  “Did you attack her?”

  “Not really. Couldn’t find much.”

  “Did anyone allege ethical violations on her part?”

  He shook his head. “No.” Then he asked, “What kinds of ethical violations are you investigating?”

  Hugo made the quick decision to avoid anything of substance. If Bennett went through a tough campaign against McDover and heard no rumors of misconduct, Hugo was not about to reveal the allegations. “You heard nothing?” Hugo asked.

  Bennett shrugged as if he had nothing. “Not really. A long time ago she had a bad divorce. She’s still single, lives alone, no kids, no real community involvement. We weren’t looking for dirt and none came to the surface. Sorry.”

  “That’s okay. Thanks for your time.”

  Leaving Eckman, with another check in the box, Hugo was certain he had wasted an entire day in the pursuit of Claudia McDover.

  —

  Lacy found the widow of Son Razko living in a small subdivision near Fort Walton Beach, about an hour from the Tappacola reservation. Since she’d remarried she was not technically a widow. Her name was Louise, and she was at first reluctant to talk. Halfway through the second phone call she agreed to meet at a waffle house and speak briefly. Since she had a job she was not available until after work. Lacy drove three hours and met her at 6:00 p.m. on the same day that Hugo buzzed around Rabbit Run in a golf cart.

  According to the file and the records, Louise Razko had been thirty-one years old when her husband was found murdered, and naked, and in the same bedroom with the wife of Junior Mace. She and Son had two children, now young adults, and both had left Florida. Louise had remarried a few years earlier and moved away from the reservation.

  She was pushing fifty, with gray hair and a squat figure. The years were not being good to her.

  Lacy explained what she was up to, but Louise showed little interest. “I am not going to talk about the murders and all that,” she said initially.

  “Fine. Off-limits. Do you remember Judge McDover?”

  She sipped iced tea through a straw and gave the impression of wanting desperately to be somewhere else. Finally, she shrugged and said, “Only from the trial.”

  “So you watched the trial?” Lacy asked, a throwaway, anything to ramp up the conversation.

  “Of course I watched the trial. All of it.”

  “What did you think of the judge?”

  “Why does it matter now? The trial was many years ago. Are you investigating the judge for something she did back then?”

  “No, not at all. The complaint we are investigating centers on allegations that the judge is involved in a conspiracy to take bribes and such. It all revolves around the casino.”

  “I prefer not to talk about the casino. It is a blight on my people.”

  Great, Louise! If we can’t talk about the casino and we can’t talk about your husband’s murder, then why exactly did I drive all the way over here? Lacy scribbled on a notepad, as if deep in thought. “Have any of your family members ever worked in the casino?”

  “Why do you ask?”

  “Because we need information about the casino and it’s proving rather hard to find. Someone on the inside could be of great assistance.”

  “You can forget that. No one will talk to you. The people who work there are happy to have jobs and to get the checks. The people who cannot work there are envious, maybe even bitter, but also content with their checks. No one is going to upset the casino.”

  “Have you ever heard the name of Vonn Dubose?”

  “No. Who is he?”

  “What if I told you he is probably the man who killed your husband to get him out of the way so he could build a casino? Would you believe that?” Lacy did in fact believe it; the problem was that she had so little proof. She made the rather bold suggestion in an effort to jolt Louise into a conversation.

  Louise took another sip and stared through a window. Lacy was learning a few things about the Tappacola. First, and not surprisingly, they did not trust outsiders. Couldn’t blame them for that. Second, they were in no hurry when discussing matters. They were prone to slow, thoughtful speech, and long gaps in the conversation never seemed to bother them.

  Finally, Louise looked at Lacy and said, “Junior Mace killed my husband. It was proven in court. I was humiliated.”

  As firmly as possible, Lacy said, “What if Junior did not kill your husband? What if he and Eileen Mace were killed by the same criminals who convinced the Tappacola to build the casino, the same people who’ve made a fortune from the deve
lopments around the casino, the same people who are in all likelihood skimming large amounts of cash from the business? And these same people are in business with Judge McDover. Does this shock you, Louise?”

  Her eyes watered and a tear spilled onto her right cheek. “How do you know this?” she asked. After having believed one version for so many years, it would be difficult to suddenly believe something else.

  “Because we’re investigators. That’s what we do.”

  “But the crime was investigated by the police many years ago.”

  “It was a bogus trial that produced a wrongful conviction. The two star witnesses were both jailhouse snitches who were coerced by the cops and prosecutors to lie to the jury.”

  “I said I didn’t want to talk about the murders.”

  “Right. So let’s talk about the casino. I don’t expect you to cooperate until you’ve thought about it carefully. But we need names of people, your people, who know what’s happening. If you give us a name or two no one will ever know. I promise. It’s our job to protect the identity of our witnesses.”

  “I know nothing, Ms. Stoltz. I have never set foot in the casino; never will. My family too. Most of us have moved away. Sure, we take the checks because it’s our land, but the casino has destroyed the soul of our people. I know nothing about it. I despise the place and the people who run it.”

  She was convincing and Lacy knew the conversation was over.

  Another check in the box.

  10

  Michael Geismar paced along one wall of his office, tie loosened, sleeves rolled up, with the harried look of an investigator who’d bumped into too many dead ends. Lacy was holding a photo of one of McDover’s condos and wondering how it could be of any value. Hugo, as usual, was sipping another caffeine-laced energy drink and trying to stay awake. Sadelle was pecking on her laptop, chasing another elusive fact.

  Michael said, “We got nothing. Four condos owned by offshore companies owned by somebody deep in the shadows, somebody we can’t identify. When confronted, Judge McDover, through her legal team no doubt, will simply deny ownership or claim she bought the condos as investments. Such investing might give the impression of impropriety, given her salary, but it’s hardly a breach of judicial ethics. I don’t have to remind you that she will lawyer up with enough legal talent to stall for the next decade. We need a lot more dirt.”

  Hugo said, “I’m not playing any more golf. What a waste of time, in more ways than one.”

  Michael replied, “Okay, bad call on my part. You have any better ideas?”

  Lacy said, “We’re not giving up, Michael. We’ve uncovered enough to believe that Greg Myers is telling the truth, or at least something very close to it. We can’t walk away.”

  “I’m not suggesting that, not now. In three weeks, we have to either serve the complaint on McDover or inform Greg Myers that our initial assessment leads us to believe that his complaint has no merit. I think we all agree that it has merit. So, we serve the complaint, then subpoenas for all of her files and records. At that point, she’ll be hiding behind a wall of lawyers, so every request we make will be contested. Let’s say we eventually get her files. Court files, legal files, files relating to the cases she has heard or is currently handling. We still subpoena her personal financial records unless we have probable cause to believe that she has committed theft, bribery, or embezzlement.”

  “We know the statute,” Hugo said.

  “Of course we do, Hugo, but just humor me, okay? I’m trying to assess where we are, and since I’m the boss I’m allowed to do so. You want to go back to the golf course?”

  “Please, no.”

  “Anyone sophisticated enough to operate behind such elaborate shell companies is probably not going to keep her personal financial records in any place where we might find them, right?”

  Lacy and Hugo nodded, pleasantly humoring the boss.

  And then there was silence. Michael kept pacing and scratching his head. Hugo sipped his caffeine and tried to activate his brain. Lacy doodled on her legal pad, thinking. The only sound was the pecking from Sadelle’s keyboard.

  Michael finally said, “Sadelle, you’ve been quiet.”

  “I’m just a paralegal,” she reminded them. Then she coughed, almost gagged, and continued, “I’ve gone back eleven years and tracked thirty-three construction projects in Brunswick County, everything from golf courses, shopping centers, subdivisions, the mini-mall at Sea Stall, even a movie theater with fourteen screens. Nylan Title from the Bahamas is involved in many of them, but there are dozens of other offshore companies that own other offshore companies, and LLCs that are owned by foreign corporations. Personally, I think it’s a clear sign of somebody trying real hard to keep things secret. It smells bad. It’s also unprecedented, really, to see so many offshore companies paying so much attention to a backward place like Brunswick County. I’ve dug some in the records of the other Panhandle counties—Okaloosa, Walton, even Escambia, where Pensacola sits—and while all of them have had far more development than Brunswick, they have far fewer offshore companies involved.”

  “No luck with Nylan Title?” Hugo asked.

  “None. The laws and procedures in the Bahamas are impossible to penetrate. Impossible, unless of course the FBI gets involved.”

  “That will have to wait.” Michael looked at Lacy and asked, “Have you talked to Myers lately?”

  “Oh no. I talk to Myers only when he decides he wants to talk.”

  “Well, it’s time for a conversation. It’s time to inform Mr. Myers that his complaint is in jeopardy. If he can’t come through with more information, and quickly, then we might have to dismiss it.”

  “Are you serious?” Lacy asked.

  “Not really, not yet. But let’s keep the pressure on him. He’s the one with the inside source.”

  —

  It took two days and a dozen calls to three different cell phone numbers to get a response from Myers. When he finally called her back, he seemed excited to hear her voice and said he’d been thinking about another meeting. He had more information to pass along. Lacy asked if he might be able to meet at a more convenient place. St. Augustine was lovely and all, but it was a three-and-a-half-hour drive for them. They had busy schedules; evidently he did not. For obvious reasons, he preferred to stay away from the Panhandle. “Lots of old enemies there,” he sort of bragged. They agreed on Mexico Beach, a small Gulf-side town about two hours southeast of Tallahassee. They met at a local dive near the beach and ordered grilled shrimp for lunch.

  Myers rambled on about his bonefishing exploits near Belize and his scuba-diving adventures in the British Virgins. His tan was even darker and he looked a bit thinner. Not for the first time, Hugo caught himself envying the carefree lifestyle of this guy who lived on a nice boat and apparently had no financial worries. He drank beer from a cold, frosty mug, something else Hugo envied. Lacy was far from envious and found Myers even more irritating. She couldn’t have cared less about his various adventures. She wanted facts, details, proof that his story was valid.

  With a mouthful of shrimp, Myers asked, “So how is the investigation going?”

  “Pretty slow,” Lacy said. “Our boss is pressuring us to find more dirt or we may have to dismiss your complaint. And, the clock is ticking.”

  He stopped chomping, wiped his mouth with the back of his wrist, and removed his sunglasses. “You can’t dismiss the complaint. I swore to it, on my oath. McDover owns the four condos and they were given to her as bribes.”

  Hugo asked, “And how do we prove this when everything is buried offshore? We’ve hit brick walls there. All the records are tucked away in Barbados, Grand Cayman, Belize. Throw a dart at the offshore map and we’ve chased leads there, with no evidence. It’s one thing to swear under oath she owns the companies that owns the condos, but we need proof, Greg.”

  He smiled, took a chug of beer, and said, “I got it. Just wait.”

  Lacy and Hugo looked at each other.
Greg stabbed another shrimp with his fork, drowned it in cocktail sauce, and shoved it in. “You guys gonna eat?”

  They poked around their shrimp baskets with their plastic forks, neither with much of an appetite. Evidently, Myers had not eaten in a while, and was thirsty, but he was also stalling. An odd-looking couple had the table next to them, too close for a serious conversation. They left as the waitress brought Myers his second beer.

  “We’re waiting,” Lacy said.

  “Okay, okay,” he said as he took a sip and again wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “On the first Wednesday of every month, the judge leaves her office in Sterling an hour or so early and drives about twenty minutes to one of her condos in Rabbit Run. She parks her Lexus in the driveway, gets out, and walks to the front door. Two weeks ago she was wearing a navy sleeveless dress and pumps from Jimmy Choo, and she was carrying a small Chanel handbag, the same one she left the office with. She walked to the front door and unlocked it with her key. Proof of ownership, exhibit one. I have photographs. About an hour later, a Mercedes SUV parked next to the Lexus and a guy got out on the front passenger’s side. The driver stayed behind the wheel, never moved. The passenger walked to the front door. I have photographs, and,
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