Saturday, January 21, 2017

Death's Honesty (25)

Jay Mundaign’s disclosure of the pistol and its possession by a shady sheriff’s deputy punched through Blow’s composure with the fierce surprise of a switchblade in a Michelin whitewall. The information tore apart his legal landscape, throwing into question defense strategies he’d been contriving for Chip Morowitz, and forcing him to confront further complications. His most pressing concern was the woman seated next to him on the bed.

Moriarty’s wink took some edge off the shock of Mundaign’s revelation, while simultaneously raising more questions. He stared at her, grasping for comprehension. The face under its tumbleweed curls had an elusive, inscrutable look. He felt his own face go cold. She shrugged with her eyes. He chose to ignore the insolence, assuming she would speak. She didn’t.
Did you know about Teach?” He kept his voice neutral.
I know he’s a jerk. I know he did something to lose his stripes and it wasn’t in the paper so it’s obvious he has something on Oglethorpe or he’d have lost his badge and maybe gone to jail. But I didn’t know Jay was interviewing him and I didn’t know Jay told him about the gun before Friday night. That’s all I can tell you.” She was glaring at Mundaign.
Blow, too, turned his attention to Mundaign, but the “fuck-you-face” told him nothing useful. He turned back to Moriarty. “You told me flat out this other gun fired the bullets that killed those kids. You said the ballistics wouldn’t match my client’s gun. What the hell am I supposed to do now?”
No need to raise your voice, Blow.”
Sorry. I’m just a little upset here.”
Well so am I. All I can say is what I told you yesterday was a pretty safe bet, so far as I knew. I didn’t know about Teach then.”
Pretty safe bet? I wish you’d have qualified it that way yesterday.”
I don’t remember how I put it then, but I wasn’t trying to mislead you. It’s still the most plausible explanation for planting the gun in Jay’s house. Someone could have taken it out earlier in the day or week, shot the kids with it, and put it back during the ruckus Friday night.”
It is plausible, but I have two questions. One, what would be the point of trying to frame this man for murder? They’ve already tortured him and used drugs on him and now you say they’re trying to protect him—safest person in Leicester, you said—how do they gain anything by framing him for murder?”
I don’t know, Blow. Maybe they’re just trying to shame him publicly, turn the community against him. Figure that will make him talk. Who can say what these crazy bastards are thinking?”
Or one crazy bastard. Any idea who this Darryl is?
Haven’t had any luck with that. Maybe Gladstone is Darryl. You know how proud he is of that big undercover gig, his Senator for the FBI thing. His book and the movie made millions. If it’s him I wouldn’t be surprised he’s just having some sadistic fun keeping after Jay.”
He hates me. I know that for sure. Hates me personally.” Mundaign held up a spiral notebook. “We damned near got into a fistfight over this before I even knew what he wanted to see me about. I had it in my briefcase. He demanded to see everything I had in there.” Mundaign waited a beat for his guests to express interest in the notebook, and when they didn’t he slapped it back onto the desk. “It’s a collection of poems. Gary Hardaway. He really lays it on the line. Gladstone called him a ‘goddam nihilist’--his words. I begged to differ. Told him Hardaway’s poems speak no ideology. They’re strictly realistic. Strictly. Most of his stuff is dark as the void we’re all facing whether we admit it or not, but he sprinkles in just enough humor to keep you from curling up on the floor sucking your thumb. I told Gladstone the poems expressed the outlook of an unequivocal entropist. I knew he didn’t know what I meant, which is probly another reason he hates me. Called me a self-righteous piss ant. Said Hardaway was one, too, and that he probly smirks just like me. He picked the book up, sneering at it. Called it trash, and said its presence in his office ‘sullied the room’--his words again. I took hold of it and jerked it away—I think the plastic binding scratched his hand--and started to put it back in my briefcase. He got up, this gorilla, and started coming around the desk, stomping his feet. Shook the floor like an elephant. His face got dark red, nearly purple. I was afraid he might have a stroke. No, cancel that. I wasn’t afraid. I didn’t care what happened to him, and I’m not usually like that. I was ready to punch the fat bastard in his fat face. His balloon nose, actually.
One of his assistants came out of nowhere and took my arm and led me to another room to wait while ‘the Senator takes care something that just came up,’ but I knew it was so they could calm him down. I felt like laughing in his face. When I went back in after fifteen or twenty minutes he was completely different, like he wanted to be my buddy. Gave me a glass of whiskey and a Cuban cigar. ‘Call me Bart,’ he kept saying. Barking, is how it sounded. Spooky.”
Blow nodded, feigning more interest than he felt. His concern for the Morowitz boy kept intruding on his concentration. He worried that the gun Teach took from Mundaign’s house would disappear, leaving his client’s gun as the only logical murder weapon. An apparent ballistic mismatch could be inconclusive--recovered projectiles deformed on impact or passing through a suppressor. He needed the other gun, but he had to be careful. If Teach had gotten rid of it Blow would be stuck. There were potential conflicts of interest in either instance: if the other gun turned up it could clear Morowitz but would implicate Mundaign. Blow knew he was in effect already acting as Mundaign’s legal counsel without the formality. He wanted that technicality on the table before the interview was over.
Representing two clients with different interests in the same murder case could cost him his license, provided it didn’t first drive him into what his father liked to euphemize as a “rest home”.


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

A SEPARATE PEACE – John Knowles

I’ve never liked coming-of-age novels. Not sure why. Maybe because I was coming of age myself when I tried those that I tried. I was probably pre-high school when the first one I remember, Catcher in the Rye, appeared on my radar. I might have read it. I know I read some of it. I recall not liking the snarky voice nor empathizing with Holden Caulfield.
I might have felt he was so cool I could not identify with him. A few times in later years I considered reading it to see if I might respond differently. Haven’t done it, yet.
Then came The Adventures of Augie March, assigned in my freshman English class at U. of Wis. Hated it, narrator way too smart for me, reminded me painfully of my Midwest smalltown hickness. Haven’t tried it again, although recently I’ve read Bellow’s more mature work and liked it despite its informing me my hickness, alas, will be evident to anyone who cares to look for it as long as I live. But I believe it also helped me reach a sort of peace with it--oy, what a clever aging boyhick am I!
A Separate Peace. I doubt I would have liked it had I tried to read it nearer the time it was published, 1959. For one, its language was too fine, too nuanced for my callow hickness. Nor would I have had the incentive of the publicity blast Catcher caught eight years earlier with its catchy (groan) title and forbidden-fruit flavor aimed at rebellion-itching adolescents. I’d seen references to it over the years, always with praise if not outright awe, and believe I might have bought a copy awhile back--quite awhile back--intending to pursue the promised enlightenment. I did pursue enlightenment during those days, and continue to pursue it (and hope to chase it to the end of my cognizance), but somehow neglected to seek it in John Knowles’s debut and universally acclaimed coming-of-age novel. The “coming-of-age” aspect might have been off-putting had I known of it. I realize now I had no idea at all what A Separate Peace was about.
I read it last week on the trusted recommendation of my literary adviser, the Fictionaut poet Kitty Boots, and I can say with unequivocal enthusiasm her record with me stands intact. So I bought the Kindle version, and right off felt vindicated for my Catcher distaste by this endorsement from the British newspaper The Independent:

A coming-of-age tale set in a New England boarding school, it bears immediate comparison to its better known contemporary The Catcher in the Rye but is an altogether gentler, more quietly brilliant book. . . . Reading this novel will feel like unearthing a forgotten gem.”

So I scrolled down to the first paragraph:

I went back to the Devon School not long ago, and found it looking oddly newer than when I was a student there fifteen years before. It seemed more sedate than I remembered it, more perpendicular and strait-laced, with narrower windows and shinier woodwork, as though a coat of varnish had been put over everything for better preservation. But, of course, fifteen years before there had been a war going on.

Hooked. Right at the git-go. The low-key, careful mix of memory and observation easing me into a narrative I still had little idea where it would lead. Two paragraphs down some gentle intimation of dread ahead:

Preserved along with it, like stale air in an unopened room, was the well known fear which had surrounded and filled those days, so much of it that I hadn’t even known it was there. Because, unfamiliar with the absence of fear and what that was like, I had not been able to identify its presence.
Looking back now across fifteen years, I could see with great clarity the fear I had lived in, which must mean that in the interval I had succeeded in a very important undertaking: I must have made my escape from it.
I felt fear’s echo, and along with that I felt the unhinged, uncontrollable joy which had been its accompaniment and opposite face, joy which had broken out sometimes in those days like Northern Lights across black sky.

At this point I was a captive of the Kindle app on my laptop, interrupted only by breaks for eating and using the—as Knowles presumably would have written—facilities. There’s a ‘50s gentility in his language, despite it’s near-decade gain on Catcher with its brat vernacular, somewhat shocking as I recall, in its day.
Knowles used language to conjure atmosphere, its nuances of beauty, dread, joy, and subtler, more civil irreverence than Caulfield’s. As to beauty, this scene took my breath with its quiet drama as well the incidental irony of reading it while getting snowed-in here in Hampton Roads, Virginia:


Not long afterward, early even for New Hampshire, snow came. It came theatrically, late one afternoon; I looked up from my desk and saw that suddenly there were big flakes twirling down into the quadrangle, settling on the carefully pruned shrubbery bordering the crosswalks, the three elms still holding many of their leaves, the still-green lawns. They gathered there thicker by the minute, like noiseless invaders conquering because they took possession so gently.

What am I forgetting? Oh! Of course! Plot, character, theme, that sort of thing! As we know, A Separate Peace was set against a background of World War II. Military thinking was influencing the school to arrange its priorities to prepare teenage boys for soldiering, toughen them up—bodies and spirit. The principle character, Finny, in one aspect is the ideal candidate. He’s far and away the toughest of heart, best leader, and best athlete on campus. Problem is, he’s the worst candidate temperamentally, taking great delight in disrespecting authority and breaking rules. Finny’s roommate and best friend is Gene, an introvert and the school’s best student, academically.

An odd couple. Their mutual devotion was one leap of faith I was never quite able to make. Much speculation has arisen over the years of a homoerotic thing between the two. For the record, there is no sex, described or implied, between or among any of the people in the novel. Noted gay author David Levithan (Boy Meets Boy) in a retrospective to the Kindle edition, quotes a comment by Knowles addressing this question in an interview twenty-eight years later: “Freud said any strong relationship between two men contains a homoerotic element. If so in this case, both characters are totally unaware of it. It would have changed everything, it wouldn’t have been the same story. In that time and place, my characters would have behaved totally differently. . . . If there had been homoeroticism between [Finny] and Gene, I would have put it in the book, I assure you. It simply wasn’t there.”


Levithan’s own reaction concurs with Knowles’s explanation, but he adds, “But when it comes to what the story means to me, so much of what Knowles writes gets to the heart of what it would have been like to be gay at that time— and what it can still be like to be gay now.”
Perhaps A Separate Peace tickled my Midwest smalltown prejudices a tad, keeping me from engaging fully in the special friendship of Finny and Gene. I did find the incident leading to the death of one of them the most realistically rooted in male competitiveness, from my experience.
As to theme, as it relates to the novel’s title, I have a quibble. This, from one of the two protagonists, would seem to sum it up: “I never killed anybody and I never developed an intense level of hatred for the enemy. Because my war ended before I ever put on a uniform; I was on active duty all my time at school; I killed my enemy there.”


The following quote from the book seems to challenge, I believe unintentionally, the previous notion, that one can kill the evil in one’s heart simply by understanding it. To me this quote is nearer the truth: “It seemed clear that wars were not made by generations and their special stupidities, but that wars were made instead by something ignorant in the human heart.”
Ignorant or malignant, take your pick. It can be tiny, almost unnoticeable, but no matter how seemingly insignificant or how eloquently one can rationalize its presence, it can sprout evil when the conditions are ripe, without a moment’s warning. It’s known in criminal law as “irresistible impulse.”
This was the unforgettable, horrifying lesson I took from A Separate Peace.


[for more Friday's Forgotten Books check the links on Patti Abbott's unforgettable blog]




Monday, January 16, 2017

Death's Honesty (24)

Adults crying in his presence ordinarily disturbed Blow deeply. Too much devastation—theirs from life and his by empathy. He often had to fight to keep from crying with them. Jay Mundaign’s tears had this effect at first, but soon Blow felt an ebbing of the nervous tension that had been building in him, and he had to fight to keep from smiling.

The tears had surprised him, although in retrospect they came in a natural sequence. Blow had turned to Moriarty after Mundaign mentioned the risk to both of them were he to take his own life, or, by implication, were he to die by any means. Moriarty’s face looked strange. Blow saw a tightness there that had seemed to appear once she’d made the introduction. She’d gone silent, seemingly relaxed on the bed, but the muscles in her face hardened, becoming more noticeable as the two men talked. Blow was studying her rigid expression when he saw the change: Her eyes widened. There was a quick intake of breath. The rest of her appeared the same, poised but relaxed, fixed on Mundaign, and when Blow followed her gaze he saw the tears, glistening on the other man’s flushed cheeks.
Mundaign was holding a sheet of paper he’d apparently taken from the file folder on the little desk, suggesting to Blow this had caused the emotional outbreak. He was about to say something when Mundaign looked up, eyes wet and reddened. It was clear in his voice he’d regained control. “This country is fucked up—my apologies, Jamie, but it’s true. Somebody out there is ordering innocent people killed because he or she, or some committee or, for all I know, the whole damned government wants to find some damned laboratory and refuses to believe I haven’t the remotest idea where it is. Jeezuz, I’d tell them if I knew. If only to stop the senseless killing, and the torture and whatever the hell else is being done. I’d tell them if it would stop all this and because I don’t care if they find the damned place. I don’t care one fucking bit. It’s not my fight. All I care about right now is this!”
He’d delivered all but the last word dispassionately, almost morosely. The last word burst out a hiss. He waved the paper as if presenting evidence to a jury, and then tossed it on the floor. It landed near Blow’s feet. “Don’t bother,” Mundaign said as Blow bent to pick it up. “It has nothing to do with why you are here.”
Blow looked up, feeling the toxic anxiety seeping back into his nerves. “So why am I here?”
To defend me. Soon as the ballistics come back from that boy’s gun they’ll turn to me. I’m on deck, so to speak.”
You have a gun?”
There was one in the house. It’s not mine.”
Whose?”
Whoever planted it there.”
Have you touched it?”
I’m not a fool, Mr. Stone.”
How long has it been there?”
Was. It’s gone now. Deputy Teach took it with him Friday night. I found it about a week ago. It was in a small burlap bag, a Whitley’s Peanuts bag, under my couch. I knew it was planted there because I didn’t own a gun. I told Teach about it a couple days before, before the shootings. He told me not to touch it, that he’d have a detective come out. No one did.”
You know Teach?”
He’s a descendant of Blackbeard. The so-called pirate? I’ve been interviewing him. Teach, that is.” Mundaign laughed, modestly, the first sign of mirth Blow had seen in him since they’d met, but it didn’t help his anxiety. He looked at Moriarty. She caught his glance and winked. That helped, some.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Death's Honesty (23)

Exhaustion had overtaken Blow so completely he was muttering without coherence as they left the motel room. He knew Jay Mundaign’s “fuck-you face” was largely to blame, the subtlety of it, its repugnance accessing and tainting his judgment through subliminal portals. It hadn’t seemed to help that Mundaign himself explained the phenomenon.

It was one of my few friends in high school who hit on why I always seemed to be having such a hard time, always fighting, getting in trouble, teachers treating me with undisguised contempt. She said my ‘fuck-you face’ pissed people off without them knowing why. She was incredibly sensitive. Said it took her a long time before she felt she could trust me. Even my mother hated me. I could see it in her eyes. I heard her say ‘bad seed’ once to somebody, and I knew she was talking about me.”
Blow hadn’t noticed anything unusually repellent about Mundaign at first. When they entered the room Moriarty introduced them formally, and Mundaign was cordial. He’d been sitting in a straight-backed cheaply upholstered chair next to a small desk. A manilla folder lay open on it within his reach. In a voice pitched somewhat deeper than Blow had anticipated Mundaign had hollered “come in” when Moriarty knocked and identified herself as “Anna Lee.” The door was not locked. Mundaign stood when they entered. He was wearing newish jeans and a blue/gray checked flannel shirt that hung loose on a rather fine-boned frame. His pate was bare save for a few tufts of white protruding above the ears, which themselves protruded noticeably from a clean-shaven, rather plain, narrow face. Only a slight squint of wide-set eyes, obscuring their color, gave Blow an intimation of the negative effect he would soon be experiencing.
Mundaign said a therapist he’d seen suggested the effect was a combination of factors starting with a facial bone structure, which, depending on angle and lighting, suggested either a predator or a victim. Seen in rapid succession, the two sometimes appeared to merge into a third archetype, that of demon that peers into your mind from a lethal vantage and scoffs at what it sees. This last illusion, he said, might last only a flicker of a second, yet it’s enough to inject an ambiguous fear deep into one’s subconscious, which, in the extreme, can manifest as panic dressed in rage.
Aggravation of this inadvertent communication can come from involuntary twitching of facial muscles, especially around the eyes and lips.” That’s how she put it. I asked her to please explain it in English—I could see she was already upset with me, for the very reasons she was telling me—and she stared at me awhile and finally said, in a hard, sarcastic voice, ‘It’s called smirking.’
It’s the same thing Gladstone accused me of when they first started coming after me.”
Smirking?” Blow said.
Smirking. I think that’s why they hate me so much, why they’re incapable of believing I have no idea where the lab they’re so interested in is. They think anybody who smirks all the time knows something they don’t. Drives them crazy.”
You don’t seem to be smirking to me.”
Maybe not consciously.”
You mean--”
There’s something about my face, you can’t put your finger on it, but you want to come over here and slap me. I can see it in you. You’re coiled like a viper.”
No, not slap you. I do feel a little edgy, though. Like I’m questioning a hostile witness in court. And I see what you mean. I shouldn’t feel that way. You’re not being evasive with me at all. And I’ve seen nothing in your face or body language that irritates me.” Blow and Moriarty were sitting on the bed nearest Mundaign, who seemed comfortable in the chair. Blow turned to Moriarty, whose eyes were fixed on Mundaign, her face expressionless.
You won’t see it,” Mundaign said, a trace of amusement in his voice, “which makes it the more lethal. A friend told me it’s like having a bad day without really knowing why, but taking it out on me because I’m there. This can happen with anybody, I know, but I’m easier to blame as a scapegoat because of this vague sense I deserve it, that by some invisible, implicit attitude I’m provoking you.”
Blow nodded, more as a way of signaling he was listening than that he understood what was said. Mundaign, perceiving that he’d fallen short with his explanation, continued: “You’re wondering why, now that you know how this primal thing works, it’s still working on you, aren’t you?” Blow’s nodding became more pronounced. “Just like my therapist. She diagnosed me all the while she wanted to slap my face. It’s intrinsic. Like a terrible body odor. Worse than that. Worse than odor. A thousand times worse. I’ve had precious few friends in my life, Mr. Stone, and believe me they truly were precious. It took them a long time to get past my ‘fuck-you face’ and see me the way I am.”
Do you keep in touch with any of them?”
No, sir. None of them would know the name I’m using now.”
And yet your enemies do.”
Yeah. Ironic, isn’t it.”
Blow stood and stretched, took a deep breath, held it, and let it out quietly. “Mr. Mundaign,” he started. Mundaign interrupted. “Call me Jay, please, or Jasper, if you like, but please leave my last name out of it. I think my...Jamie here let her sense of mischief get involved in picking that name. Blow turned to Moriarty and was surprised to see her glaring at Mundaign, whose face had reddened when Blow returned to him. She broke the awkward pause, though her voice was tense. “I like the sound of it.” Blow concurred. “Sounds very French, Jay. Has a distinguished air to it.”
A Frenchman with a ‘fuck-you face’,” Mundaign broke in. “One or the other’s bad enough, but together? No wonder they tried to drown me.”
Waterboarding?”
Oh, yeah. Juice to the nuts, isolation for an entire year—no toilet facilities, either—and drugs. Oh, the drugs. I think all in all the drugs were the worst. I’ve not gotten a full night’s sleep since then. You see how my eyelids droop? Makes me look even more like an asshole? The drugs did that, I’m pretty sure. And what did all that get them? I don’t know, but apparently not what they wanted or they’d be leaving me alone.”
Well, in effect they are leaving you alone. From what Ms. Moriarty tells me. It’s the others they’re taking it out on.”
Mundaign nodded slowly, staring at the floor. His voice came out just above a whisper. “The killings. You think that doesn’t affect me?”
Blow shook his head. “I’m sorry. Of course it does. It’s just another tactic to get what they want from you.”
I don’t have what they want, and I think Darryl knows that by now, or Gladstone or whoever is calling the shots here. But they refuse to accept it. I think whoever’s behind this has gone insane. Their hatred for me has pushed them over the edge. They don’t care about anything anymore except what they’re after. They want me alive because they think I’ll eventually talk. I’ve considered suicide, but there’s no guarantee if I took my own life they wouldn’t start in on somebody else they think I might have told. Like you, Jamie, or even you, Mr. Stone.
You probly shouldn’t even be here now.”

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Death's Honesty (22)

What broke through the fugue of questions and implications grappling in Blow’s head was a distinct rise in tone and volume of Moriarty’s voice in concert with the name “Blackbeard.” The interruption arrived with enough force to shoo asunder the tentative connections he’d been making and to brace him for allowing his mind to drift while she was talking. He hoped she hadn’t been talking long without his attention or he’d be in the shit, unless he could recover with enough grace to deflect any suspicion she might be nurturing that she was talking to herself. The only word he had to key on was “Blackbeard,” and he was busted before anything came to mind.

You haven’t been listening, have you.” Her voice a monotone, allowed for no escape.
I was until I heard ‘Blackbeard’ and then I lost the connection.”
The connection? I was talking. You stopped listening. If you thought ‘Blackbeard’ broke some connection you could’ve said something. But you just stopped listening?”
It wasn’t a conscious thing, Jamie. It happened. I have a lot on my mind here.”
And I don’t? We’re in this together, you know. I don’t just gabble on about nothing.”
Okay, sorry. You’re right. I guess the name ‘Blackbeard’ just switched what you were saying onto a side rail for me. After what you said about the client’s government connection and all it seemed that was the main line we should be following. Not this treasure business.”
You’re absolutely right. The government connection is what we need to focus on. Problem is, the Blackbeard thing is what Jay Mundaign is focusing on. He’s obsessed. And if we are going to be able to get to the bottom of what’s happening here we’ve got to deal with the Blackbeard thing. Capiche?”
I don’t know much about Blackbeard. I know he was fearsome, burned gun fuses in his beard, and had his head strung up on a pole at some pier in Hampton, where I believe there’s a restaurant now, and there’s a rumor he buried some treasure here in Leicester, but other than that--” He finished with a shrug.
Moriarty laughed. “So you were just pretending not to listen. That’s exactly what I was telling you. And that’s about all I know of the pirate dude, too.”
So what’s our plan? Will he answer our questions at all? Do we have to sneak them in with questions about Blackbeard?”
You’re the lawyer, Boo Boo. Might have to use your cross-examination skills on him.”
Just how well do you know this guy?”
He was my first client. Had to get him out of DC and set up somewhere with a new I.D. I was with the U.S. Marshals then. AG wouldn’t touch him. Had to do myself first. Faked a plane crash in the Gulf. Rented a small Cessna, flight-planned it for Haiti, put it on auto-pilot and jumped with a rubber raft over the Gulf Stream. The rest is classified, by me.”
You’re a pilot?”
I said it’s classified.”
Well, yeah, but I’d like to know if anyone actually died in that presumed crash.”
Just me, Boo Boo. Relax.”
If I’m you’re lawyer--”
Some things you don’t need to know. But if perchance we reach that bridge, we can talk about it then, Okay?”
Can you tell me what your name was before you died, allegedly?”
Let’s drop this line of questions right now. You wanted to know how well I know Jay. Let’s just say I know him as well as I knew my own father. That work for you?”
Guess it’ll have to. But something I do need to know, something you haven’t made clear yet, is how Gladstone’s people managed to find this ‘Jay’ after you gave him a new I.D.?”
Somebody recognized him. He has a very distinctive face. He went back to DC to check something at the Library of Congress, some Blackbeard thing, naturally, and an old FDA colleague made him.”
Wow. So Blackbeard got him busted. So you got him out again?”
Nope, not that time. They’d done all they could to him. That’s when they followed him here and set up their Plan B, or Plan C, or however many plans they had before this one.”
This would seem to be Plan Ultimate, Jamie.”
I can’t disagree with you on that. This is definitely crunch time.”
Blow turned onto the motel grounds and, as Moriarty directed, continued around the L-shaped two-story building until they reached the rear parking area.
There’s his car,” she said, indicating a white, dinged up, older model SUV. The vanity tag read BLKBRD.
Not very subtle,” Blow muttered as he pulled into a nearby empty slot. “Can you answer me this: if he doesn’t care who knows who he is, why the precaution of meeting us here?”
She laughed. “For us, my dear Watson. And for the bugs.”
You figure they’ve bugged his house?”
I know they have.”
And you’re leaving them in place.”
I’ve taken a few out, but they keep putting new ones in. We finally decided to hell with it. We’ll just go someplace to talk where it’s not bugged. Oh, every now and then we blast one of them with a marine air horn. Bust an eardrum or two. Just for laughs.”
I should’ve thought of that when you bugged our house.”
Oh you gave me plenty of laughs. You can be very entertaining when you try, Blow. And even when you don’t.”
Couldn’t they have followed him here?”
Sure, but I doubt they bothered. He takes a hooker here sometimes. Or at least someone who looks like one.”
Plump, gracefully plump, Orphan Annie hair?”
Ha. Good recovery. Sometimes, yup. Unless I feel like red. I like red hair, you know.”
So what would they make of me? We going for a threesome?”
Now that’s an idea! We’d hafta make a lot of noise--you up for that, Big Guy? Otherwise you’d hafta be my pimp, my redhead lawyer pimp, and then leave before me and drive ‘back’ to Rose’s. Oops, you didn’t know I knew about her, did you?”
Nothing you know about me or anyone else could surprise me, Jamie. Not one damned thing.”
Well, let’s go in then. Make some noise, have some fun.”

Monday, January 9, 2017

Death's Honesty (21)

Blow did not recognize the plump woman under the mountain of dirty-blonde curls standing by his truck when he exited Patmos Evangelical, leaving Joan Bismark and several parishioners, and Sgt. Connie Rodriguez, to prepare for a hastily called brunch/prayer service. He approached cautiously and was almost near enough to see the color of her eyes when she opened her mouth and said, quietly, “Give a girl a ride, Boo Boo?”

Hop in.” He made a show of looking her up and down. “You’ve been eating well since I saw you last.”
She turned slowly, keeping her eyes on him. “So I guess these jeans really do make me look fat.”
Just the more voluptuous, Jamie. That wig, though--good thing it’s not windy today.”
Yes, it could pull me up like a kite, couldn’t it. Hope you’re not gonna make me ride in the bed.”
Nah, not this one, anyway.” He grinned foolishly at her reproving sidelong glance, noting with appreciation the dumpy disguise’s failure to detract from her subtle feline grace as she pulled the door open and climbed in.
In the cab he admired her stoic poise when the tumbleweed hair immediately proved troublesome. After some nestling and hand pats as she tried to get comfortable against the raised seat back, she turned to Blow, with a smile instead of the grimace he expected. She kept a hand behind her head and puffed hair out along both cheeks.
So you think I can start a new style with this? Don’t I look like one of those old presidents—Hayes or Buchanan? Or...oh, I know, Chester Arthur! Chester A. Arthur, don’tcha think?”
I’m not sure which one, but you’re a tad prettier than either of them, as I recall.”
She punched his shoulder, a little harder than he felt appropriate. Her voice had lost its playfulness when she said, “I suppose you’d like to know where we’re going?”
To your hideout, I suppose.”
If we were, you would be sitting where I am, with a hood over your head, and I’d be driving. We’re going to see the client.”
Blow nodded. They were at the church lot entrance. “Okay. Right or left?”
We’re meeting him at Hillside Motor Inn. He’s the guy lives by the island. Where those kids were looking for the treasure. It’s part of his property.”
Blow turned his head. “I saw him last night. I guess it was him. Little house right by the pier?”
That’s the one. Talk to him?”
I said hello. He wanted no part of me. Went back in the house without a word.”
She smiled. “That’s him. We can’t meet him there, though, No telling who has their eye on that place.”
They turned onto the road, drove in silence awhile. “You know,” Blow spoke first, “I was afraid that might have been you last night under the tarp. Until I saw the hair.”
Aww, I didn’t think you cared about me.” Her voice was soft, no sarcasm.
I wasn’t sure until then. How’d you get away?”
I didn’t.”
Blow let up on the accelerator, started looking for a place to pull off the road.
Keep driving. You’re safe from me. For now, at least (quick grin). One of them was mine, the one who saved your life last night. Undercover. It was his idea to use me for bait to get the preacher out there. When that didn’t work they went back without me and got him.
They say why they wanted him?
Nothing. They didn’t trust me yet. My op didn’t know either. He was low man on the team.
So you’re working with Gladstone’s people?”
They were recruiting me. They take orders from a guy they call Darryl. Didn’t meet him. No idea who it is. They work in cells. Never more than three operators. That’s pretty much all I know.”
Your cover’s blown now, I guess.”
Yes, Blow. Duh. My man’s, too. They’ll be sending out a new team for us. You’re probly on that list.”
So--”
So after tonight we’ll be disappearing, my op and me. We’ll be nearby, though. I already have a new team watching you and your dad.”
Spy versus spy.”
Something like that. Want to know what’s really strange? The guy this is all about, the one we’re going to see? They’re actually protecting him. He just might be the safest person in Leicester County.”
Hmmm, well if I’m supposed to be his lawyer wouldn’t that protection extend to me? So--”
They didn’t know that yet. Still don’t, matter of fact. You just bumbled into random victimhood, Boo Boo.”
I--”
They liked me. Said I was cool.” Her laugh was cold.
Go on.”
So they wanted me to set up a kill. They wanted to do it right away. Get people talking. Four killings the same day. I--”
Picked me. Thanks a lot.”
I knew your layout. Clyde had no idea what you looked like. I convinced him I did. My op came out of the house. I said, ‘Here he is.’ I rolled down the window and yelled, ‘Mr. Stone!’ When he got to the window I handed him the twenty-two and leaned back...futt futt. Those new suppressors are great. One in the eye, one in the temple. DPX projectiles. Open up inside. Only blood I got on me was pulling him over onto my seat when I got out. My op was gone when I turned around. Had just enough time to get in the house, wipe the blood off, and turn the oven on before you and the cops got there. And you know the rest.”
Okay, but why Leicester? Why all the killings? What’s it all about?”
To try to get your client to talk. He knows something they want. The same old story, but with a twist.”
Really. And you say they’re protecting him?”
Moriarty explained that the man they’re going to meet, Jasper Monsieur “Jay” Mundaign, a former employee of the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Inspector General, claims not to know what “they” think he knows. They tortured him, gave him psychotropic drugs, the whole shebang. Nothing has worked. Whoever’s running the operation doesn’t believe Mundaign doesn’t know what they want, but they do believe he has a highly developed social consciousness. They expect that when he realizes innocent people are being killed, methodically—everyone in Leicester County if necessary—unless he tells them what they want, he’ll finally break.
I can tell you this, Blow, Jay Mundaign won’t break because he can’t break. I truly believe he does not know what it is they think he knows.”
And you know this how?”
I’ve always been good at reading people. And you, you’ve cross-examined plenty of witnesses and represented plenty of clients, and you probly have pretty good intuition for sensing truth and veracity—isn’t that what you lawyers call it? I’ll put it this way: once you’ve met him and talked with him, you can decide for yourself.”