THE GIRL WHO TASTED BACON'S BLOOD
By Mathew Paust
Oct. 15, 1676
The worst part of the headache is having to tell anyone about it. Especially Pate, who calls him "General." It simply would not do to show any sign of weakness at this point. And yet, damn but the pain is bad. And getting worse. Pate's already noticed something is wrong. If only Byrd were here. Where the goddam hell is Byrd? Oh shit, here comes Pate.
"General Bacon, I cannot help but notice something seems to be bothering you. Pawawing said she heard you making groaning sounds. She imitated them. It sounded terrible." Pate laughs politely. "She said you are sick."
With this innocent inquiry Pate has aroused a rage in Bacon that distracts him from his headache. Foremost among the several torments feeding this rage is Pate's audacity in regarding his Pamunkey slave as if she were civilized, referring to the ignorant squaw by name! Laughing at whatever grunts and groans the creature used to convey what it claimed to have heard from him! Laughing! Conferring credibility on this beast, accepting its perceptions as valid, as worthy of stirring concern in a civilized man's mind to the extent he would pass these concerns to another civilized man—an acknowledged superior man at that!
And there is the contempt he feels toward any sickness, despising such weakness, absolutely refusing to accept it in himself. The headache is insignificant, ephemeral. It will pass, and his men dare not know of it, dare not suspect their commander capable of being dulled in thought or hampered in any way from exercising his full capability to lead them to victory. Frigates and troops are on their way to Virginia at this moment to aid in routing Berkeley and his thieving, Indian-appeasing minions and installing him, Bacon, as a governor loyal to the King. It would not do to lose the momentum he and his army now enjoyed. It simply must not come to pass.
And then there is the infuriating prospect of having to speak to Pate. In the temporary condition of his throat, raw with a savage pain equal to that above his eyes and down the back of his neck, any attempt to talk would most certainly produce nothing more than a squeaky rasp, a hideous sound worse than those grunts and groans the filthy sneaking Pamunkey wench claimed to have heard him make when he did believe he was alone.
Oh, where is Byrd? Byrd I trust, and no one else. He stares at Pate with his general's stare, expecting this alone to communicate that his host's question annoyed him and he has not one word to utter in response.
The thought comes to Bacon as he concentrates his eyes on disciplining Pate that the man's impertinence, unprecedented as it is, constitutes a gesture intolerably close to mutiny. Moreover, he seems unwilling to relent. Continues to meet his commander's eyes with an ambiguous squint, as if judging him or concealing some guile, some inclination to betrayal. A mistake to headquarter here, he decides. When Byrd comes—where in damnation is the man?--we will have Pate arrested and removed from here. That, or we will move the command to a more agreeable stronghold. Damn this headache!
Shaken by Bacon's silent, vacant stare, Pate smiled with what he hoped his guest would see as deference but which he worried might appear forced, revealing the deep concern he now felt for the rebellion leader's well-being. He knew that Bacon's obsession with controlling how others perceived him had become of vital importance in maintaining the army's morale.
Pate left him at the desk where he had found him, in his own study, which Bacon had taken as his command center and where he sat now supposedly preparing a testament for the King. But he'd been gazing out the window at the estate's northern approach when Pate looked in on him. And as Pate left the study he saw his guest returning to whatever had occupied his attention before the interruption.
Three of the rebel army's top commanders were gathered in the manor's library-cum-war room. All looked up with questioning faces when Pate joined them. He shook his head.
“Not a word. Blank stare.” He took a chair at the table. “When's Byrd due back? Maybe he can get through to him.”
“Byrd should have been back already. It's not like him to miss a meeting.”
“I find Byrd a bit shaky.” This from Lawrence.
Drummond picked it up. “Why do you say that, Governor?”
“I think Jamestown worries him. He didn't like it. Thought we went too far.”
“Byrd has his own mind, but he's been with us from the start.”
“That he has.”
“Will he be with us at the end? I say he will but only if we succeed. I see him keeping a certain distance, from me and I feel from our oath as well.”
“Well, Governor, Bacon trusts him. We can hardly dissent.”
“I'm not saying dissent, Drummond. We should keep our own counsel is what I'm saying. Keep an eye on that fellow. And if I'm right, and we find our general out of sorts it would not do to have Squire Byrd see a weakness we can hide.”
“Hide? Pray, how can that be done? The man's right here and Byrd will be soon be nigh. We cannot spirit him away!”
“We can hide him here.”
The three commanders turned their attention to Pate. He continued, “There's room in the attic. We can tell him we've received word Berkeley has a spy nearby. We can send Ingram off with some mounted men, tell the general we're putting the word out he was with them, that they're seeking a more secure location.”
“He'll never agree.”
“He doesn't speak. If nothing else this could get him to break his silence.”
“Well, it's worth a try. We should do this with haste.”
Pate rose. “One other thing, gentlemen, something positive.” He waited to have their full attention. “He has stopped his scratching.”
The three men grinned. Drummond spoke: “Grown accustomed to the lice, has he?” They and Pate laughed.
“More likely it's that elixir Pawawing gave him. If so she is worth every penny I paid for her.”
A child evidently was first to raise the alarm.
"I'm not sure exactly what the kid said. There were several of them, little kids, and they were jabbering, you know, like they do."
"But one of them said something that got your attention?"
"Yes, sir. Like I said, I heard mommy a couple times. It was louder than the others, the way the kids were talking up to then.”
“Okay, so you knew something was wrong at that point?”
“Objection! Leading the witness and calling for a conclusion, your honor.”
“I'll rephrase the question. Sergeant Teach, was there something in the tone of the child's voice that stood out in your opinion from the other voices in the restaurant, something that alarmed you?”
“Not necessarily alarmed, Mr. Gobble, but I'm conditioned by my training and experience as a police officer to notice things that seem out of the ordinary--”
“Gentlemen, please. I'd like to move this along a little faster. Mr. Gobble, why don't you just ask your witness to relate what he observed and how he responded. Mr. Stone, you'll have an opportunity to cross-examine when Mr. Gobble concludes his direct. And please, at this point, try to keep the objections to more material matters than the procedural technicalities.” Both lawyers nodded, mumbling sibilants.
Commonwealth's Attorney Fred Gobble prompted his witness to “tell the jury what you heard and saw and how you responded.” Teach started over, describing how the child's voice alerted him and caused him to begin turning on his stool.”
“Excuse me,” Blow Stone interrupted, “Did you say bar stool?”
“I did not--”
Gobble interrupted his witness, throwing his arms in the air in melodramatic frustration. “Your honor, defense counsel is trying to cross-examine.”
The judge covered his mouth with a hand, although he was unable to conceal the mirth in his eyes. “Mr. Stone,” he said with strained severity, shaking his head in keeping with the prosecutor's theatrics. He turned to the jury: “Members of the jury, you must disregard that last question from defense counsel.” He then nodded at Gobble to continue.
Improper of Blow or not, the prosecutor knew the defense had kicked open a door giving the jury a glimpse of something hurtful to his witness. It had to be addressed. He shot an angry glance at Blow and continued his questioning with that in mind.
“Sergeant Teach, would you describe where you were sitting when the child's voice caused you to turn?”
The sheriff's deputy directed his answer at Gobble, but he kept his deep-set eyes fixed with an unforgiving glare on Blow. “I was seated at the bar, Mr. Gobble, but I was off duty. I was waiting for my fiance to finish her shift. She's day manager for Mr. Diggs.”
“I understand. Were you drinking, Sergeant?”
“Yes, sir. Iced tea. I was armed, and I never drink alcohol in public when I'm armed.”
At the defense table, Blow's client leaned toward his ear, cupping his hand, and whispered, “Bullshit. Cocksucker reeked of bourbon. Damn near got drunk off his breath.” Blow nodded, jotted on a yellow pad.
“Good move, planting that in their heads,” the client told Blow after the trial recessed for the day. Blow, the client and his attractive wife had already climbed into the backseat of the client's limo, its engine purring at the courthouse entrance. Two ex-state troopers had cleared the way through the press mob. One was positioned now near Blow. The other had brought the limo around to the front.
Blow nodded, mumbled thanks and said, “I'll bring it up again in cross. I wanted the jury thinking about it tonight. Clever of Gobble to ask him if he was drinking.”
“Oh, yeah. And you know his squeeze won't let the bartender admit anything. Later, Counselor.” He powered the window up and the limo eased away from the curb.
Blow had gotten the call from the jail less than an hour after the prisoner was booked.
“Who?” He asked his secretary. She told him.
“Did you say Elvin Bacon? You mean Bloody Bacon, the lawyer?” Barbara Bassett nodded. She was holding her hand over the mouthpiece. Blow picked up the receiver on his desk. “This is Stone.” His voice was cautious, professional. After a brief conversation, he hung up. “I'll be damned.” He looked at Bassett.
Grinning, she joked, “He wants you to join Jacobs & Bacon? 'bout time, Joe.”
“The son of a bitch is charged with murder, Barb. Bloody Bacon's been charged with murder, and he wants me to represent him!”
“She started shivering. Really shivering. It was cold and windy. All she had on was this thin little denim jacket. I turned to get her a blanket I kept in the cabin. That's when I heard the wheezing.”
“Yeah. Like asthma, and then this weird cough, like she was choking. I turned back and saw she was in real distress. Face looked strange, man. I mean her eyes had this look of fear, wide open and staring at me and her face went from red to a sort of purple. I knew then she was choking on something, so I grabbed her arm and spun her around and started whacking her on the back.
“When that didn't seem to work I remembered the Heimlich maneuver. Put my arms around her and gripped my hands together under her breasts—great breasts, by the way—and made a double fist and jerked backwards like they show you. She reached back with her hands and clawed at my face and I had to let go of her. Then she turned around and really came at me. Fists and claws, and her face was pure fury. Purple fury. I've never seen anything like it.
“And I'm trying to restrain her then, not having a clue what the hell is happening with her. Not a sound coming from her except the gasping and choking, a-and hissing at that point. Hissing, like air from a tire. And then...that's when she stepped backwards and stumbled or something and went overboard. I heard the splash, but by then blood was streaming down my face and in my eyes. I couldn't see shit, man.”
“Either of you been drinking?”
“No, Stone. I hadn't had a drop all day, and I don't think she drank. We were planning to grab lunch at The Diggs afterward. Maybe that fucking cop would've bought me a Scotch.” A sarcastic chuckle, showing some teeth but no sign of humor in the bandaged face.
“What were you doing out there?” They were in Blow's office. Barbara Bassett had left for the day. Blow had inherited her from his father, and she put in three half-days a week to supplement her Social Security. Elvin “Bloody” Bacon was slouched in the secretary's padded chair behind the desk next to Blow's.
“You're going to have to suspend disbelief for this one, Stone, because this is where you'll be earning your retainer, and maybe the attorney generalship if you get me out of this.”
Blow was rocked back in his chair, ankles crossed and black Rockport shoes planted on his desk. “My disbelief is a big part of my trade, our trade, as you know, Mr. Bacon. And my hearing is enviably acute, at least according to my father. But I'm going to have to ask you to repeat what you just said, especially the part about the attorney generalship.”
“There's been talk in the party of running me for governor. I'm keeping strictly out of it, but if it comes to pass I've no doubt the party would be mine at that point. If I wanted you on the ticket to run for the top lawyer's job, you would be on the ticket...provided you agreed, of course.” A couple of guttural chuckles. Face still blank, although its natural contours—bold chin, dangerous cheekbones—joined cruelly amused black eyes to suggest an attitude of contempt for revealing any emotion unintentionally.
Blow kept his face expressionless as well, and the two stared at each other a moment without speaking. Blow broke the silence.
“Go ahead. What were you doing out there?”
“Looking for my ancestor's coffin.”
“Nathaniel Bacon? The rebel?”
Blow nodded to himself without breaking his concentration on Bacon. “Okay, I remember now. He's supposed to be buried in a lead coffin. His friends dumped him in the river to hide the body so it wouldn't get dismembered by the governor. Was it Berkeley?”
Bacon allowed his lips to part in what resembled a vague smile. “That's him,” he repeated.
“But didn't somebody with an underwater sonar device scan that riverbed awhile back? Didn't find anything?”
“So I hear. Doesn't mean shit. After nearly 450 years, what do you expect?”
“But you were out there looking for the same thing. Without any fancy device. You're right about the challenge to your defense.”
“She claimed to be psychic, said she might be able to feel where the thing might be. I went along with it. She was hot and I was having a helluva time getting into her pants. She'd given me some money, said she was writing a book and this would be one helluva coup. Said she was a direct descendant of an Indian queen—Cockamamie something—and her ancestor and mine had been enemies. She was thinking if we went together on the book, and found the coffin, we'd be in the richest clover field this side of Heaven. Had me sold, baby. Hate to admit it, but the bitch had me hook, line and sinker. Me. Mister Badass superlawyer, Mister Cynic. Bloody Goddam Bacon, for chrissake.
“Oh, yeah. And she retained me. That helps a little, I guess. Five thou. Certified check.”
Blow made some notes on the yellow pad in his lap, shifted his eyes back to Bacon. “Speaking of retainers--”
“Hundred thou, Stone. My firm will make a direct deposit.”
“Not at all. That's what I would charge.”
“Oh, I get it. You just need me for a beard. You're hiring yourself.”
Bacon leaned back and laughed full out. His eyes had morphed from anthracite to sparkling black ice. His voice allowed a note of respect when at last he spoke. “You're quick, Stone. And you're no beard. You'll earn every cent. That I can promise you.”
Blow revealed no expression. He waited until Bacon was finished. “I'm still curious, Bacon. Why me? There are plenty of proven trial lawyers, damned good ones, who would love to take your case, for half the money.”
“Good question. I could have called the firm, had them send down a team. But I knew this would have to be a jury trial, and I admit I look guilty as hell. Fancy lawyers would only make it worse. So here I am, stuck in hicksville. Kinda place folks would love to see a big shot come crashing down. I asked the deputies—except that asshole who grabbed me on the boat—I asked them who was the best lawyer in town. Your name kept coming up. You're golden here. They love you. I know of your father, by the way. Highly regarded jurist. Anyway, if I have any chance to beat this thing I can't think of anyone better here to represent me.”
Bacon released a heavy sigh. “I know that's not the best compliment, Stone, but I'm a realist. The best of us are, of course, and we're also gamblers. You're young, don't have much experience, but--”
“Sorry to interrupt, but I have another question, and then I've got to get over to the courthouse. A hearing on some hicksville matter.” Blow allowed a dry smile. “My question: I'm curious why you haven't asked about her, if they've found her body yet. Are you that cold?”
One side of Bacon's upper lip twitched. Another chuckle, this one coming out as a burst of air through teeth. He raised his chin and locked eyes with Blow.
“Touché. I suppose I am. If the bitch was right about my ancestor it must be in my DNA.”
Blow nodded, stared.
“So did they find her yet? The body?”
Elvin Bacon studied the woman seated across from him in one of the two comfortably padded upholstered chairs in front of his desk. She'd already bought his curiosity with the five-thousand-dollar certified check she'd mailed to his office after, according to the accompanying letter, none of her “numerous” phone calls in recent weeks had managed to secure an appointment.
“I imagine you think I am just another reporter trying to get an interview,” the letter had said, “that, to be blunt, there is nothing in it for you.”
In fact, this was what Bacon had thought when his secretary reported the phone messages. Not that he feared or hated reporters, as some lawyers did. He welcomed media attention at times. In the early days, when he played for UVA and lobbied subtly for All-American recognition, and later when he started with his father's firm. Even now occasionally when he wanted to affect public opinion in favor of a high-profile client on trial.
What the caller proposed promised to be dicier. She was researching a book on Bacon's ancestor. This, while intriguing the lawyer, raised also the specter of another “revisionist” attack on Nathaniel Bacon's historicity.
The family, Nathaniel Bacon's descendants, did not pretend to be naïve. They knew quite well their militant forebearer could not have been the saint depicted in ideological myth on memorial plaques in local courthouses. They accepted historical evidence he'd been “a tad” ruthless in his treatment of indigenous people in the Virginia Colony. But they chose to look beyond this, as had most academics. Keeping the conventional line they regarded Nathaniel Bacon as a symbol of the incipient popular resistance to British subjugation that broke out precisely a century before such resistance arose again with grander imagination and fanfare, this time enjoying the thunderous success celebrated today with parades, picnics, fireworks and glorious oratory every July fourth.
“Do you have a publisher?”
Bacon allowed his face to relax warmly when he said this, yet he knew his voice carried the skeptical reserve a potential client would expect of a professional. He liked the look of her, her quiet poise, interesting hair, a daring sparkle in her eyes, but he had no intention of giving her the impression her five grand had accomplished any more than get her through his door.
“Priscilla Kochburn,” as she'd introduced herself in her letter, did not turn up anywhere when he Googled her before granting the appointment. This gave him pause. Her deposit established the basic legitimacy he needed to grant her a fifteen-minute interview. But what of her cockamamie proposition? Yeah, what of it. He'd heard nuttier ideas. Signed on for a few. The decision came down to a restless gambling instinct spiced with libidinous whim. What the fuck, he'd muttered before instructing his secretary to make the call.
“Not yet, but once we find the coffin that shouldn't be any problem.” Hers was a lyrical voice. A natural alto, Bacon guessed, but with a control that suggested intelligence ruling emotion. Her manner was quietly gentle, politely so rather than shy. Her smooth complexion and delicate features gave her a youthful mien. Joined by the all-important eyes, their steady, rich mahogany set off with cosmetic cunning, her face virtually challenged him to forgo his professional reserve; to come out and play. Indeed, the familiar tickle of hormonal activity roused oddly by something in the way she said “coffin” won her his uncompromised regard. He most definitely intended to bed her.
“Coffin?” He kept his own voice casual.
“His friends dropped him in the river in a coffin sealed with lead. They knew Governor Berkeley would have the body defiled and dismembered. They couldn't let that happen.”
“And you know this how?”
“One of my ancestors was a slave owned by the man who supervised the burial. She was present when your ancestor died. Her story has been passed down through the generations.”
Bacon stared at Priscilla Kochburn, realizing he'd let his jaw go slack. Before he could think of a response, she continued, “I'm Pamunkey, Mr. Bacon, a direct descendant of Cockacoeske.”
He smiled involuntarily. “Cocka who?”
Her face remained composed. “Cockacoeske. She was the weroansqua, the hereditary chief of my people. Hard to believe, I know, as men make all the decisions today on our reservation. You see, if you and I work together on this publishers would line up at our door. And when we find the coffin--”
“When? You're pretty sure we'll find it after all these years. Sixteen something when he died, wasn't it?”
“Sixteen seventy-six. We'll find it.”
“Didn't some guy with an underwater radar device go looking for it a few years back? He found zip, as I recall.”
“Sonar, Mr. Bacon, but I have something better. I'm psychic.”
“Well, well. Will wonders never cease. Look, Miss, ah, Cocka--”
“Kochburn. Priscilla Kochburn. Just a coincidence with the name.” She smiled. It looked to Bacon as if her smile could be flirtatious, but he knew this might simply have been ego. No matter. Something wrong had just happened. The word psychic had had the effect of a dissonant chord on a merry little tune. His interest in her, primal and professional, was flagging.
“Look, ah, let me sleep on this, okay? I have a pretty full schedule right now. Can I get back to you?”
“Of course. I appreciate your time.” She paused. He paused. She started to rise, then sat back down. “I should mention this, too. My ancestor, the slave, said Bacon wasn't dead when they buried him. According to her story, she administered a potion her people had prepared—he'd persecuted them—and this potion slowed his heart down to where it appeared he was dead.
“They buried your ancestor alive, Mr. Bacon. His spirit is trapped down there, and if we come close enough to that coffin, I will know it.”
“...and I'm thinking aw shit I gotta get this crazy bitch outta the office, you know? She's spooking me. That shit about burying the old rebel alive and she could tell with her special powers where he was by that? Ooooweee, man. That was too much. Figured I'd give her a couple weeks and then mail the check back and be done with her.
“I guess she was reading my mind, you know, because that's right when she sets the fucking hook.”
“That's right. I'm this big dumbass trout she's been teasing with a pissant little fly. With even half a brain working I'da seen that fucking little thing for what it was and smiled and said Sorry, Honey, not hungry, good day, and had her on her way. But, noooo. Bigass trout's gotta go snap, and little miss fisherman goes Gotcha.”
“Look, how about skipping the analogy. I'm not much of a fisherman. Just tell me what happened.”
Bacon grinned coldly. “You don't fish? All this water around here?” Blow rolled his eyes, sighed.
“The bitch said she could see a tattoo on me.”
“Aren't you a little old for a tattoo?”
“It's not a tattoo. It's a birthmark, about the size of a dime. It's in a very private place. Very few people have seen it, and you would need a magnifying glass to tell what it looks like. Unless you're giving me a blow job.”
“Bacon, I don't have a magnifying glass and I'm not giving you a blow job, so I guess you'll have to tell me what it looks like.”
“Hmmm, so that nickname means something else then?”
Blow showed no reaction.
“Well, anyway, the damn thing looks just like a little skull, a little purple skull. And, no, my pants were still on when she described it, perfectly, where it is and what it looks like.
“It blew my mind, forgive the pun.”
Blow allowed a half smile. “You know, that is interesting. Can you think of any possible way she might have found out from somebody who had...seen it?”
“I didn't think so then. She caught me by surprise. So damn sincere. She had a virgin's face, you know? Serious, and innocent. I got no sense of cunning from it, and I'm pretty good at spotting a fox.”
“You're not so sure now?”
“I gave it some thought since, when it was too late. I suppose it's possible she knew somebody who...maybe a nurse or...highly unlikely. I played dumb, said I had no tattoos, told her she was mistaken.”
“But you said that's when she set the hook.”
“Oh yeah. I had a feeling she knew. She knew she was right. Maybe she could see it in me, you know? That I gave it away somehow? I think maybe that's what so-called psychics do, they read body language or pheromones or something, sense things that aren't so obvious to most.
“I waited a week or so and then got back to her. I was curious as hell by then. I wanted to know more about this bitch. She'd gotten under my skin.”
Blow swung his feet off the desk, stood up and stretched. He considered taking Bacon back to the library/conference room, which was used for client interviews when Barbara Bassett was still in the office. It was her day off, but sometimes she stopped by anyway to check the mail or do a little typing. The home office was on its third generation of lawyer Stones. It had been his father's, and before that his magistrate grandfather's. Blow shared the house with his father, now a retired judge. Blow's mother had been dead nearly a decade. His sister, Joan, a Secret Service agent, lived in Maryland heading the detail that guarded a former U.S. President.
Now on his feet he changed his mind about moving the interview to the library, but he was thirsty.
“Can I get you some water?”
“And you call yourself a lawyer?” Bacon's face was impassive, but the eyes gleamed.
Blow let the gibe pass. “Be right back,” he said and went two doors down to the library. He returned with a couple of plastic bottles from the small refrigerator his father kept there. Blow handed one of the chilled bottles to Bacon, who shook his head, grinned, and broke the cap's seal with a snap. He drank long, the thin plastic crinkling in his hand.
“Any ideas?” He asked Blow.
“Did you say anything about this to anyone after your arrest?”
“Nope. I told that skinhead cop with the hardass stare that she was a client. That's all. Told him I couldn't say any more than that. Told him she seemed to be choking on something. He made the typical cop crack about a certain sex act that people can choke on. I told him to give himself a blow job if his lips were long enough. He laughed. That was pretty much it.”
“You don't think the psychic angle would fly?”
“Hell no. Unless we go for an insanity plea.”
“Had you made any inquiries? Could the Commonwealth find a witness who knew you were looking for...lead coffin, you said?”
Bacon nodded, stroking his chin. He stared across the room, seemingly deep in thought, and turned back to Blow. “She might have said something to somebody. There's my notes. I shot my mouth off at the club. Yeah, that sure as hell could come back and bite us. Me.”
“Do you know where she lived?”
“I don't. She was very private. Elusive. Like I said, I couldn't find anything online about her. It's like she materialized out of thin air. Like a ghost. They find the body yet?”
Blow shook his head. “Tide was heading out when she fell in. She could be in the Bay by now.”
“Shit. They don't find her I could be fucked.”
“I mean, the choking story. That's too obvious. No jury's gonna buy that. They all watch the shit on the tube. It's never that obvious. If they find her and there's something lodged in her windpipe, okay, I'm off the hook. I don't know if that's what happened, though. If there's no evidence she choked on something, then what the hell happened? Something made her go crazy, have that fit. It was like an epileptic seizure.”
“Hell, I told you I don't know where she lived. I don't know who she is. I talked to the chief. Bill Wiley. The Pamunkeys, up in King William. Did some work for him once. Never heard of a Priscilla Kochburn. Said a lot of people claim to have Indian blood. He got back to me. No records on the reservation that match her description. Nobody'd heard of her.”
“What do you think? What do we have?”
“We're gonna hafta look for that goddam coffin. We find that, I go home. We don't...”
She did it to him again, this time with only a look. He had taken her to The Grill, his favorite place. Nestled in the English basement of a former tobacco wholesale company, The Grill welcomed Bacon and his guests like no other place in Richmond. He never mentioned this to anyone, but the carefully modulated warmth of the reception he invariably received at the restaurant was a direct consequence of his having put up half the money to open it.
“You must come here a lot. Everyone seems to know you.” This after Mario, the maitre d', had seated them immediately despite the waiting crowd. There'd been no mention of reservations. Mario had made a point of taking their coats and being especially attentive to Priscilla.
“I tip well.” Bacon said this dismissively, with a touch of irritation.
He had proposed the dinner to ceremonially consummate their new partnership. He did not use the word “consummate.” He knew it would sound suggestive, and it was too soon for that. He made a habit of never signaling his moves until he'd worked a woman a little, gotten a sense of the lay of the land haha. Her acceptance had sent mixed signals. She agreed dinner would be nice, but refused his offer to pick her up.
“I'll meet you there,” she said, giving him a demure smile. He pressed, gently, but she shook her head. She kept the smile but said nothing more. This annoyed him, as it broke his customary rhythm. He waved it off, smiling broadly as he ushered her to the door. He told himself after she'd left she was flaky and not that attractive. Yet he found he was vaguely amused by her air of mystery, and decided the challenge would be good for him.
He arrived a few minutes before the “sevenish” they'd agreed on. The restaurant's lot was nearly full, but he found a spot and immediately sent a text message to the cellphone number Priscilla had given him. The number did not have a local prefix. While he waited for a return message, he studied the area around the entrance to see if she might already have arrived. He had no idea what she would be wearing or what she drove.
A chill wind made itself known, gusting with enough force to ruffle the coif on a woman dashing to the restaurant from a car parked at the curb. The man with her, coattails flapping, hunched his shoulders against the cold. Peering through his windshield Bacon couldn't see if storm clouds might be moving in. If so, they hadn't yet reached the nearly round, overbright moon and its gleaming outrider, Venus, bestowing ambient illumination from their celestial vantage.
By nearly half past seven Bacon was beginning to admit suspicion that Priscilla might be standing him up. Irritation accompanied this notion, which quickly gave way to a twinge of sadness from the progression of logic. He'd been seen through and made a chump. Fully formed the thought made him laugh. It had been awhile since a woman pulled that stunt on Elvin Bacon. The old delay play, as it was known back in the day. A teammate's hurling himself down the science building's stone stairs to express outrage as a victim of the play had become school legend. Overwrought and ill-timed as it was, the all-conference wide receiver's futile gesture marked him a chump henceforth.
Only one woman had ever dared to risk the delay play all the way with Bacon, and the eventual sexual congress her success engendered was epic. The memory alone still made him hard. He was combing his mental archive for her name when Priscilla's message chirped his phone. On her way. Cab running late.
“So you like poetry?” It was the opening he'd been wanting. She'd dressed attractively. Black dress just above the knees. Nice legs. Her blouse was a light violet with a sheen. Silk, he guessed. The neckline plunged just enough to promise, and a dime-size gold-embraced amethyst sparkled gleefully just above the slopes of the valley. Bacon had eased their careful conversation toward suggesting a poetic sensibility with one purpose in mind. He knew it had to seem incidental, as she was demonstrating a quick intelligence he'd not fully anticipated. Poetry was not his thing, and he knew that once he was on the ice he had to skate, and he knew the ice was thin. Bacon never backed down.
“Sadly I'm not an aesthete. Never able to feel what poetry is supposed to make one feel. It's the truth poetry gets at, though, that I appreciate.” They were sipping Champagne their waiter had brought, at which Bacon feigned pleasant surprise.
“Well the deeper truth of poetry is aesthetic, Elvin. When Sylvia Plath talks about her father, she shifts back and forth between calling him daddy, like a little girl, and then raging at him, comparing him with the Nazis. The two sentiments are entangled, but the overall truth is her sense of despair. And that really comes through best in the emotions.”
“I understand that. She had a bad marriage, and that's in there, too. It's almost as if she hated men.” That Priscilla had brought up this very poem seemed too good. It was the one he had intended to use. The coincidence stirred an unease into the excitement he was trying to conceal.
“That's possible, but she had good reason.”
“On one level, of course. But she was a woman, a mother. She was sensual. She was no Emily Dickinson.” That brought forth a true smile, the first he'd gotten from Priscilla.
“Oh, no. She was sexual. There's a school of interpretation that when she says every woman adores a fascist she was not being strictly ironic.”
Bacon almost gasped. “You mean--”
“That she wanted to be dominated in bed.” She was peering intently at him now, her gaze bolder than ever. She was challenging him. His groin responded with flames. He breathed deeply and held it, let it out slowly.
“That's natural.” He tried to sound off-hand, thankful his voice remained steady. He added, “In the animal kingdom.” Suddenly felt he'd lost ground. She had the upper hand. He kept his eyes locked on hers, sipped his Champagne. Time to go. That notion appeared in full ambiguous regalia.
He saw what looked to be amusement in her eyes and in the musculature around her mouth. She was seeing through him at that moment, saw in his minute hesitation whatever momentum he'd thought existed between them had shifted. When she spoke, her voice was softer, yet it carried more assurance than he'd noticed before.
“Kipling addressed instinct, too, you know. The female of the species?” He'd heard it, found it puzzling, dismissed it as a joke. No taste for it tonight.
He nodded. “Deadlier than the male.” Allowed a tolerant smile.
Her smile had congealed, eyes no longer challenging. In charge. He finished his Champagne, hearing in his head the conclusion of Kipling's poem mocking his plans for the night: Man knows it! Knows that woman that God gave him must command but may not govern—shall enthrall but not enslave him. And she knows, because she warns him, and her instincts never fail, that the female of her species is more deadly than the male.
He stood with her under The Grill's awning until her taxi arrived. The wind had gotten worse, occasionally whipping a leafy twig or paper scrap across Canal Street's rough Belgian-block paving. The moon and Jupiter no longer visible.
Blow was exiting the court clerk's office when he saw Fred Gobble in front of the elevator, facing its closed doors. Blow reckoned Gobble sensed his presence, as the county's chief prosecutor turned then and acknowledged him. Blow could not remember ever seeing Gobble smile but he could glower, and he wasn't now.
“Got a moment? C'mon up.” He tilted his head toward the elevator. His voice was higher than one would expect from a man as imposing as Gobble. He carried himself with an air of self-possession. He was taller than Blow and rotund, but he moved with a quick grace that suggested athleticism. Blow nodded and crossed the hall as the elevator door slid open.
Ordinarily Blow would have found odd such cordiality from his elected adversary, from a man not known anyway for casual friendliness. Midway through his second four-year term, Gobble had come to wear the mantle of Commonwealth's Attorney as if born to it. Outside the courtroom he was professionally polite, always, and this included, while not quite coming across as pompous, keeping a certain personal distance. He was even stiff with the voters during campaigns, as if he sensed they expected it of him.
Ordinarily he would have had his secretary contact Blow to arrange an appointment. Ordinarily Blow could have visited the clerk's office and conducted his business without a sense that everyone who knew him was eyeing him differently. The courthouse dynamic had gone off kilter, and he knew the reason.
Elvin Bacon was the biggest name ever charged with murder in Leicester County. Defending him would be the biggest case Blow Stone ever had—bigger than any local lawyer ever had. Bigger than his father had ever had, either as defense counsel or as judge. The mere notion of a lawyer so inexperienced as Blow representing one of the best-known trial lawyers in Virginia was difficult to grasp. For Blow, as well. Familiar as he was with Fred Gobble's customary manner he couldn't rule out a suspicion the prosecutor was patronizing him.
Gobble waited until the door had closed and the elevator was on its way up to the floor where he had his offices before speaking. “Got you a tiger by the tail, Joe.” His voice was friendly. Blow thought he saw the beginnings of a smile on Gobble's face, the way the corners of his mouth twitched as if trying to rise. Had he followed through it would have been more private than an effort at direct communication, Blow understood, a reassurance to Gobble himself that he'd succeeded in offering a gesture appropriate to the spirit of bonhomie. His face was relaxed, and the eyes conveyed no sign of adversity.
Blow chuckled and gave him a proper smile. “Good way to put it, Fred. I guess I do have my hands pretty full.”
Gobble's manner changed once they were inside his small office. It became more confident. He'd led Blow through the entryway to the locked door, which the receptionist behind a window released by pushing a hidden button, and through a bay area divided into cubicles for his assistants. Those in the occupied cubicles appeared deep in concentration at their desks, none so much as glancing up when their boss and Blow walked by. Gobble got to the point after minimal small talk.
“We got us a problem, Joe, and I'm hoping you can help us.” He continued after a pause during which Blow nodded, crinkling his forehead with concern. “We don't know who the victim is.”
“All due respect, Fred, are we certain we even have a victim?”
The springs in Gobble's chair squeaked as he rocked back. “Good point, and we may never find her, but we have enough witnesses. We know someone fell overboard. We know someone scratched your client pretty bad. All the blood's his, by the way, but our witnesses saw him striking her.”
“She was choking. He was trying to save her life.”
“That's probly what I would say too if I thought nobody could prove differently. If we recover the body and there's nothing lodged in her throat, then what?”
“I believe him, Fred.”
“I expect you would. But you know his reputation as a womanizer.”
“You won't be going there, of course. Completely irrelevant. But so what? Are you saying he was attacking her sexually on the deck of his boat in full view of a restaurant full of witnesses? Fred, Elvin Bacon may be a womanizer—I'm not saying he is, but for the sake of what I assume is your argument I'll go along with it—but Elvin Bacon is not stupid. If that is what he was doing don't you think he would have done it in the cabin?”
“I guess we'll have to let the jury decide. Even brilliant people can act pretty stupid sometimes, you know. Especially when sex is involved.”
“We'll have expert testimony. I doubt that theory will fly.”
“Which is why I'm hoping you will help us find out who she is. Maybe she did have a health problem. Epilepsy? Something with seizures? Only way we can find out is if we know who she is.”
“I hear you, Fred, and we would cooperate fully in that regard if we could.”
“You mean Bacon doesn't know who she is?”
“He has a name.”
“The one he gave us doesn't check out. Does he know if she had any relatives, friends, where she lived?”
“Believe it or not, no. He has no clue. She came to him out of the blue. Hired him. Gave him a certified check. No address.”
“You're not shitting me, Joe?”
Blow grinned widely. “Fred, I'm too green to try shitting you. It's not the way I practice, anyway. My dad would kick me out of the house.”
Gobble shot back an answering grin. It vanished before Blow could be sure that's what he saw. “How is the judge these days? I wish he were still on the bench.”
Their return to small talk lasted a little longer than the first, but Gobble soon squeaked his chair back up to the desk. His phone rang almost simultaneously. Blow suspected he did it himself with a hidden button. Conference over. He stood, they shook hands quickly and Blow saw himself out.
She appeared confident at best but mostly resentful on the witness stand. She pronounced her name “Meg-gan”, exaggerating the consonants as if to a dullard as she corrected Fred Gobble's “Meegan.” “Sixteen,” she said in a testy drone when he asked her age. Yes, she'd shot the video with her cellphone, she repeated for Gobble after a theatrical sigh. The judge had chided her for nodding and mumbling “uh huh” as her first response to Gobble's question.
The video was of poor quality. The girl had shot it through glare in the restaurant's window at a distance of about a hundred yards. And the magnification projected on a screen further obscured into pixelated ghosts whatever details could aid the jurors in identifying much of anything.
“We're proffering it to support eyewitness testimony,” Gobble told Judge Pendleton. The jury had been removed from the courtroom for arguments seeking admission of the video.
“How does it help the jury to see shadows dancing around in that glare,” the judge asked. “It looks like they're on fire, and you can't tell who they are.”
“You can see that the shorter one has a red top. The witnesses said the woman was wearing a red jacket.”
“It looks pink to me.”
“That's because it's blown up. It loses definition.”
The judge laughed. “I'll agree with that.”
Blow interjected, “How can we be sure when that video was shot?“
“It has an automatic date stamp.”
“Not the time, Fred. It could have been shot anytime that day.”
“The glare established the time.”
“How do we know that? You don't have a meteorologist on your witness list.”
“I have two witnesses who saw her shooting the video.”
“It doesn't show anybody falling overboard.”
“She dropped the phone. Look, Joe, if it's so inconclusive why are you objecting?”
“I'm not objecting. I just want some verification it depicts what you're saying happened, not something incidental that could be somebody else entirely.”
“Look, if you're suggesting--”
“I'm not suggesting anything. I'm asking.”
“Gentlemen, I'm going to let the video in. I agree there's no way to tell from its poor quality what it actually depicts. As such it has no probative value by itself. I'm letting it in because the girl says she shot it. It's part of her testimony.”
“Your Honor, if I may, if the Commonwealth plays this to the jury on a screen, I would insist they see the actual video, the way it looks on the cellphone that shot it, so they can gauge how far away the subjects were and how hard it would have been for the witnesses to know just what it was they were seeing.”
Gobble wheeled on Blow. “How do you propose doing that?”
“Give them the girl's cellphone. Let them pass it around.”
“That could take all day. And the girl's privacy has to be considered. She may have other videos or photos on that phone.”
“Can't the video be sent to another phone? We can use mine if it comes down to that.”
The prosecutor shook his head, glowered. He turned to the judge for resolution.
“Tell you what, gentlemen, I'm not going to have one of those smart phones or whatever they're called being passed around in the jury box. There's too much staring at those damned things as it is. Now, if, as Mr. Stone suggests, it comes down to that, I'll bus the jury out to that restaurant so they can see for themselves instead of having to stare at some little bitty image on a cellphone. Okay?” He smiled, waved the attorneys back to their tables and ordered the bailiff to return the jurors to the courtroom.
Back in their box the jurors watched the blurred images on a screen that descended from a ceiling fixture at the side of the courtroom facing them. They peered intently at the screen at first. After a few seconds a couple of them gave up, glanced at each other, brows crinkled, and shook their heads. Another, a balding, gray-haired man, seemed to doze off.
Gobble continued questioning Megan when the video concluded.
“When did you begin the video. I mean, recording it?”
“When Clarence...um, when I heard my brother say like there's people dancing on a boat.”
“That's what he said. He was like there's people dancing on that boat, and he was pointing out the window.”
“And what were you doing when you heard him say that, Meegan?”
“I'm sorry. Megan. What were you doing then?”
“Checking my email,” she mumbled.
Judge Pendleton intervened. “Please speak up, Megan, so everyone can hear you.”
The teen whipped around and stared briefly at the judge, then turned back to Gobble. “I was checking my email!”
“Uh huh, and did you look out the window after you heard your brother—Clarence is it?--say he saw someone dancing on a boat?”
“Yeah. They were.”
“They were dancing?”
“Looked like it. Then I saw one of them, the taller one, start hitting the one in the red coat. Then I knew they were fighting, and that's--”
“Objection! She had no way of knowing if they were fighting.”
“Sustained. Megan, just tell us what you saw, not what you think they were doing.”
Megan sighed heavily. “What-ev-ver. Okay, when I saw the taller one hitting the one in the red coat, that's when I started making the video.”
“And when did you stop the video?”
“I dropped it. It fell on the floor. When I picked it up and looked back out there there was only one left on the boat. The taller one.”
“Did you see the one in the red coat?”
“Nope. Just the taller one.”
“Thank you, Meegan. No further questions, your Honor.”
As Megan started to speak, the judge held up a hand to silence her. To Blow he said, “Your witness, Mr. Stone.”
Blow rose and stood behind his table. “Hello, Megan. I just have a couple of questions. Did you hear anything on the boat when you were making the video?”
“Are you kidding? No way, man!”
Blow smiled. “I wasn't kidding, Megan. Am I to understand then that you heard nothing on the boat? Nothing at all?”
She laughed, shaking her brown curls. “It was outside, man. They were way too far away. I could hardly even get them in the window.”
“I'm sorry? Window?”
She shook her head again. “On my Blackberry. So I could see what I was shooting? I could hardly find them in it.”
Blow smiled at the jury and sat down, murmuring, “Nothing further.”
Bacon scrawled something on his yellow pad and passed it to Blow: She was choking. Was I hitting her on back? You didn't ask.
Blow drew a crude skull and crossbones on the pad and slid it back: Hostile, was the word under the sign. He whispered, “We have better witnesses for that.”
The nausea arrived without the usual warning. No pressure or burn in the stomach or bowels, no trembling or sudden sweat. It started higher up, which made him think at first it might be a heart attack. A slight dizzy sensation, rubbery slackness in the neck and arms and a subtle aching around the shoulders that appeared to be migrating downward through the chest and abdomen toward the regions where true gastric revolution ultimately came about.
Rejecting the heart attack notion as a panic-inducing exaggeration—his health was good after all, sound genes, smart diet, etc.--Blow concentrated his will on deflecting the more plausible scenario. He was going over in his mind what he had eaten most recently, looking for a likely suspect, when, in a surprise instant, he understood the cause. It was what he was ingesting at that very moment: the words of the man who would be his client. Elvin Bacon's arrogant, sonorous voice plying Blow with language aimed at winning his sympathy and enlisting him as an ally in a fight that should have been scaring Bacon shitless. Instead, whatever the true state of Bacon's mind at the time, the prospect of joining forces with the marquee attorney was rendering Blow physically ill.
“I can't do this, Bacon.”
“Come again, Counselor?”
“I can't represent you. I'm not up to it.”
Bacon leaned toward Blow, squinting as if somehow he trusted his eyes over his ears to confirm what he'd just heard. Blow took this as an attempt to intimidate. He held steady, kept his feet on the desk and locked eyes with the source of his nausea.
The client blinked first, by way of a smirk and an abrupt lurch of torso to signal contemptuous mirth. He leaned against the wooden back of his chair without taking his hard black eyes from Blow. His voice was arch with sarcasm when he spoke. “Don't tell me you think I'm guilty, that I'm lying? You are an attorney, no?”
“Mind telling me what hair has crawled up your ass?”
“Bacon, there's nothing left for us to discuss. I represented you in the bond hearing. You owe me a thousand for that. Keep the rest. Find another lawyer. I'll file a motion on Monday removing myself as your counsel.”
“Oh you will? On what grounds, that you think I'm a heartless asshole?”
“No. Everybody knows that. I'll just say irreconcilable differences. And that will be the truth.”
Bacon puffed out his cheeks. He reached inside his jacket. “Mind if I smoke?”
“Yes. Nobody smokes in this house. And we're through here.” He swung his feet off the desk and stood up. Bacon stayed seated while Blow walked to the door and pulled it open.
“Look, Stone, for chrissake, you're acting like girl. What the hell is wrong? You're right, I am an asshole, and everybody knows it. It's my brand. I'm pretty good at it. But I'm in trouble here, and I meant it when I said you're the only lawyer I can think of who might have a chance to get me some justice. I didn't kill the woman. I don't know who the hell she was. I only knew her a little over a week. There was something wrong with her. I'm a womanizing asshole, Stone, we both know that. Everybody knows that. But I did not kill that woman!”
“Sorry. I can't represent you.”
“Why, goddammit? I'm not lying to you!”
“I'm not saying you are. You make me sick, that's all. That's the reason. I don't know why exactly, but the sound of your voice makes me want to throw up. I'm serious, Bacon. You make me physically ill.”
“Well God damn! If that isn't the God damnedest reason. Jesus, man, pull yourself together! I'm paying you a hundred grand. I'll keep my mouth shut, write everything on notes or email or whatever the hell you like. This is fucking ridiculous!”
“I'm asking you to leave now. I'll mail you a copy of the order. I advise you to hire an attorney as soon as possible. As of now, you have no counsel.”
“Shit! Fuck you, Stone!”
Those were the last words Blow heard as he closed the outside door behind Bacon. Then he ran to the toilet next to his office, reaching it barely in time to vomit in the bowl.
Blow was shivering in a fevered half sleep on the old couch in the library when he heard his father's voice. The couch was threadbare and its stuffing had lost its resilience, but Blow found blessed relief in the familiarity of its contours and squeaks and smells and the feel of its aging fabric and faded companion corduroy pillow. For as long as he could remember it had been the “sick couch” for ailing family members. A deep Rubbermaid bowl maintained permanent residence discreetly out of view within reach under the sagging springs. Arm hanging over the edge, Blow lay on his side wrapped in another of the couch's accessories, his late grandmother's hand-sewn patchwork quilt.
“Damned potato salad, I think. Or maybe the flu. Jeezuz, Dad, I feel like...really rotten.”
His father, returning home from a gym workout, had begun prowling the house in search of Blow after his greeting went unanswered. It was their custom to announce arrivals and departures. Their voices carried well throughout the old house, as normally most inside doors were left open and about the only sound-absorbing materials were the upholstered furniture and a few throw rugs on the oak-plank floors. The Judge had seen Blow's pickup parked on its pad outside his office. He was likely either asleep or had gone somewhere with another ride. He'd left no note in the usual place, on the kitchen counter next to the stove. The library was third on the list of likely places behind the office and, next down the hallway, Blow's bedroom.
“I don't think it's the salad, Son. I had some before I left for the gym, and I feel okay. You check your temperature?”
“No, but I know I have a fever. I can't get warm. I threw up, and I haven't done that since I don't know when. It came on without any warning. I was with a client, and...I did something really stupid.” He told his father what happened, bringing an eruption of laughter from the elder Stone. He'd carried one of the chairs over from the conference table and was sitting next to the couch.
“Good for you. Taught the cocky bastard a lesson.” He laughed some more, stopping when he saw Blow wasn't joining in. “Boy you really are sick, aren't you. That's the funniest thing I've heard in a long while. Wish I'd been a fly on the wall.”
“It really pissed him off, Dad. I started wondering if he might hit me. Gave me the stinkeye, and I started thinking, shit, Bloody Bacon's gonna kick my ass.”
More laughter. “You know how he got that nickname, don't you?”
“Playing football, wasn't it? Big star at UVA?”
“Second string All-American, and you're right, he got that name playing football. But it wasn't from his being brutal on the field. It was the other way around. He bled easily. His first year on varsity the Times-Dispatch ran a photo of him with blood streaming down his face. He'd thrown a touchdown pass that won the game, and the headline read Bacon bleeds for Cavs' win. He was Bloody Bacon from that day on.
“But I agree, he still might've kicked your ass. Took guts to do what you did.”
“I just had to get him the hell outta here before I threw up. I did, too, soon as he left.”
“So you thinking you might have overreacted a tad?”
Blow sighed, reached under the couch and touched the Rubbermaid bowl. “Yeah, I guess. I mean, if I wasn't so sick. I could've handled it better.”
“No doubt.” The Judge, smiling, patted his son on the shoulder. “But you were sick.”
“I told him it was him making me sick. I didn't say why.”
“What might you have said?”
“Oh, told him his selfishness was unacceptable. He kept calling the woman a bitch, didn't care if they found her body or not, said our best defense was to find the lead coffin. I guess that's supposed to prove he's telling the truth.”
“You believe he's lying?”
“No way of knowing, is there? I suppose he's right, the coffin would prove his story. But it could hang him too.”
“He killed her to claim it himself?”
Blow nodded. “Kinda stupid, though, with all the witnesses.”
“Gobble could certainly make the argument. Never know what a jury'll buy.”
“That would be a real stretch. I mean, giving Bacon his due, he's a lawyer, not Indiana Jones.”
“Good point, Joe, but then you never know what any man is capable of when tempted. Elvin Bacon may be a brilliant trial lawyer, but ego has brought down more than one titan. The Greeks taught us that.”
“I don't think so. Not this time. There is something wrong with Bacon, though. I mean, besides his bluster. Something about the woman. I get the feeling he doesn't want to know who she was. He's afraid of her for some reason.”
“Afraid?” The Judge stroked his chin, eyes wide with curiosity.
“He didn't try very hard to check her out. Said he knew her only about a week, but still.”
“Her check was good, wasn't it?”
“Oh, yeah. Certified check. But she wasn't really a client. It was more like a partnership, to find the coffin and help her with the book on their ancestors.”
“Think maybe he's afraid of what she was putting in that book?”
“He didn't seem to care. From the way he talks he seemed more interested in getting in her pants.”
“No luck there, huh?”
“So he says. Says she was cold, maybe a lesbian.”
“Oh boy. That comes up in a trial he's a dead goose. You know if he had a contract with her, for the book?”
“Didn't say...well, I didn't ask. Good question.”
“You going to ask him?”
“I fired him.”
“What do you mean? I can't unfire him.”
“Why not? Tell him you changed your mind. Tell him the truth. Happens a lot.”
“The truth?” Both men laughed.
“Lawyer-client spats. You've taught him some respect. Set some ground rules. He'll come back.”
“I'd have to eat some crow, Dad. I hate that.”
“Make him eat some too.”
“How about this: tell him you'll represent him on one condition, that he agrees to find out who this woman was. To hell with finding the coffin. That's a pipe dream. The woman. That's what this case is about.”
“And tell him he'd better find her before Gobble does. That should get his ass in gear.
“I'm going to make you some ginger tea. You just rest. You have all weekend. Call Bacon's office Monday morning. Have Barbara set it up. Crow doesn't have to taste all that bad, either. I speak from experience.”
“Whatever you do, don't apologize. Apologies are a form of groveling. They make me cringe. I hate 'em.”
Blow had no intention of apologizing, his pilgrimage to Bacon's palatial Richmond office being concession enough. His explanation he'd decided to deliver with more honesty than he normally included in apprising people he didn't like of his distaste for them.
“Wouldn't dream of it. Just an explanation. I was truly sick. I was afraid if I couldn't keep from vomiting--which I did within seconds after you left—I was afraid I would vomit on you. In fact part of me was looking forward to it. In the service of decency I had to get you out of there.”
Bacon nodded slightly, intense black eyes fixed on Blow. He froze a second or two with his chin tilted up and to the side, either appraising or trying to stare down the other lawyer, or both.
Blow was beyond caring. This meeting could go either way. The notion amused him that here was another staring match between them with an entirely different dynamic despite Blow having the advantage in both. The first because he was violently ill, and now that he didn't give a shit.
“You're a tough little bastard.” The voice was low and even until it got to bastard, where it spit out the word like a curse. Bacon, still holding the stare, left his lips open after speaking. The expression struck Blow as somewhere between a sneer and grudging respect. He felt a corner of his mouth twitch as he nodded once in acknowledgment. Within a heartbeat Bacon nodded back. He did his private laugh then, displaying a single torso spasm and a grunt.
“So where were we, Counselor, before you had your attack of revulsion?” His eyes widened. “I take it we are back in business?”
Blow ignored the second question. “You suggested we hang your defense on finding your ancestor's coffin. I think that's a bad strategy.”
“That's what got you so pissed off?”
“I think you're an arrogant, self-absorbed ass. Felt that way all along. But we covered that, didn't we? Your brand, you said?”
Bacon grinned in a way that signaled appreciation and even, Blow sensed, a hint of embarrassment. “So I did. You're absolutely right. But you seemed to accept that, Stone, or did it start a slow burn, like it does with passive-aggressives?”
Blow's turn to grin. He shrugged. “You're pretty observant. Yup, it was working on me. And you're right, the coffin is what pushed the limit. You'd written the woman off completely.”
“I told you I hit a brick wall with her. The name was phony, unless she was living off the grid. She was staying in a hotel. She was, anyway, until our investigator found it. By then she'd checked out. The address she gave when she checked in was a rooming house in Mechanicsville. She'd checked out of there, too. No address either way. Paid a month's rent with cash. Her phone number was for one of those cheap throwaway jobbies you get at a convenience store.
“She left no trail, Stone. Zippidy doo dah. She might as well have been a ghost.”
“Paid cash for the check. Told 'em it was drug money. Straight faced, then laughed. It was under the reportable limit so they laughed with her, and that was that.”
“Weren't you suspicious?”
“Hell yes, but I was playing pursuit then, hoping to get in her pants. Wasn't getting anywhere with that either. I didn't give the coffin thing much credence, but I figured we'd go out on the boat and she'd do her thing or nothing would happen and I'd have one more chance to fuck the bitch...oops, sorry, and then buh-bye. On your broom and on your way.”
Blow was studying Bacon as he talked, looking for indications of deceit. His tone and inflections, body language, and the weary confidence of his words revealed nothing false. He might be a damned good actor, Blow knew, as most good trial lawyers were, but he sensed otherwise, that Bacon was candid.
The only dissonance—and it was slight--came through in the bravado. A tightening in the throat maybe, pushing the timbre up a tad higher, a flicker of hesitation with a quickened recovery, blink of eyelids. Was he revealing a glimpse of frailty? Afraid of something? Blow pushed some more.
“We've got to try harder, Bacon. If you're going to throw your money at this it would be better spent on whatever it takes to find out who she was. The jury will want to know that. Need to know it.”
He threw up his hands, his face revealing helplessness.
“You know Gobble will be doing the same thing. He'll have state and federal help.”
“I don't care if you want to go after the coffin too. It's your money. But the odds of your finding anything are laughable. There's no proof even that's where he was buried. I did a little Googling over the weekend. There were other accounts. He might have been buried on Thomas Pate's plantation, where he died. He might have been cremated. You might as well try finding Hoffa.”
“Shit. Dammit to hell.”
Oct. 20, 1676
At least the damnable itching stopped. An impulse to laugh flickers and dies in the whorl of a scalded brain as his screaming nerves reassert their predominance. The pain, brash and relentless, follows his consciousness everywhere. There is no escape. No sleep. Or none that harbors withdrawal. Pain of a sort he'd never dreamed possible holds him over a cauldron of madness, dipping him in and out with a whimsical, intimate cruelty.
Screams he hears, beseeching the universe from his fever with no warning, he knows are not issuing from his blistered larynx. As of last night he has been mute, unable even to whisper a request for water. Yet the timbre of these shrieks bears a saddening familiarity, one that quickens a newfound dread his hitherto undaunted concept of self just might be ill-equipped to retain a fundamental dignity. Irretrievable, if yielded, once past this incidental test of character.
A ripple of panic emanates from the recognition. Things are distinctly different. He has no God to look to. There is none such, he knows. And far removed he is from the sanctioning reach of his father, whose interventions in his behalf he enjoyed again and again, most recently saving his skin from criminal prosecution with the quick arrangement of passage to the Colony. There is no proximity now to his devoted Elizabeth, who defied her father in marrying him and accompanying him to Virginia and bearing his children. No proximity now, in fact, to anyone whose professed loyalty to him he trusts.
The house where he lies in sickness on a narrow, windowless attic cot is that of an erstwhile ally in the war with William Berkeley. It is a fluid war, a fickle war of dynamic self-interests. Alliances coalesce and disperse and reform at the beck of timing and balance and personality. Friend turns foe and foe becomes friend with the shift of a breeze. He alone has never wavered. This he knows, and this those here had best know beyond question. The righteousness of his purpose and the strength and confidence he displays at all times is what keeps the fight alive against the incompetence and disloyalty of the corrupt, Indian-appeasing Berkeley. Being sick like this, he fears, enfeebled and unseen, endangers the very future of Virginia.
The Indian in the house, despite being a slave, disturbs him unusually in his vulnerability. Accustomed to ignoring the persons of slaves, relying only on their obedience and efficiency, he does not like having this woman nearby. She is plain of feature yet slippery of movement and seems to him ghostlike in her sudden appearances and disappearances in the room where he lay. He does not want her near him. At some point he began associating her with the screams that frighten him. They were the screams, it finally came to him, of the Indian being tortured, the first time he had heard such horrible vocalizations of agony in his life.
And he was partly to blame. He knows this now. He did not deem it blameworthy then. He had simply refused to accept as gifts the seven captive Indians his temporary Indian allies had offered him after defeating “enemies” at a nearby Indian fortress. “Kill them,” he'd said after the allies asked what they should do with the captives. And so they did, slowly and with a cruel artistry that provided what he ordinarily would have found to be a horrifying acoustic accompaniment. One in particular soared hysterically above the others in shrill total renunciation of its humanity. This seemingly unending crescendo of ultimate despair provoked the hairs on Bacon's head and neck to respond with primitive alarm. But he shrugged away the phenomenon.
These were not civilized people, he reminded himself. They were savages. So far as he is concerned Indians are Indians. No difference to him whether some are temporary allies or trade partners. All are feral and a threat or obstacle to the colonists. This is the essential philosophy that divides Bacon and the majority of Virginians from Gov. Berkeley and his elite coterie.
Now, however, hearing the hellish screams arise within him and associating them with his own anguish and incipient fear of what lies ahead, he begins to look uneasily at the foundations of his essential ethic. Is he indeed the man he'd believed himself to be? Is he the nobleman fit to lead Virginia into a new day?
The power of the little Cessna's single engine never failed to thrill Blow on the runway when his father throttled open a sudden crescendo of roaring, bone-jarring vibration to ready the airplane for its launch from gravity's stubborn grip.
“Yeeeha!” Blow hollered as the plane moved forward gathering speed along the stretch of asphalt, swiftly converting a row of navigation markers at its grassy edge into a yellow blur until in an instant the blur gave way to an expanding vista of earthbound features that diminished steadily in size until he found himself peering down at a living patchwork quilt of striped and patterned hues inevitably summoning to his imagination an atavistic faith in magic.
“Nice today,” the Judge said, turning to his passenger once he'd taken the Cessna above the low-lying cloud layer and leveled off. He'd throttled back to cruising speed, and the sound of the combustion driving the engine's pistons now reached into the cockpit as a steady drone. It was still loud enough that Blow and his father had to raise their voices to be heard.
Blow pointed through the windshield at the carpet of fluffy white cumulus gleaming in unobstructed sunlight. He was smiling. “Looks like we're in Heaven.”
“We are. I feel like this every time I go up. All my problems seem somehow more manageable down there when I'm up here.”
He'd suggested he and Blow “get some air time” when he saw how gloomy his son seemed after returning from his meeting with Bacon. Blow had never had any real interest in becoming a pilot himself although he loved flying with his father. He readily accepted.
At the start they flew in silence, lost in their thoughts as they bumped over the occasional thermals and vanished into wispy upper edges of clouds that snuffed all visibility from the cockpit for a moment or two before releasing them back to the afternoon sunlight. Blow was first to break their airborne reverie, surprising his father by addressing the elephant they'd taken along for the ride.
The Judge glanced at Blow to show he heard him, but turned back to the instrument panel without comment.
Blow continued, “He was assaulting her on the boat. I'm sure of it.”
His father shot him another glance and nodded, but still declined to speak.
“Okay, I know it doesn't matter...I mean it's not for me to decide. It's up to the jury, and the most dangerous client a lawyer can defend is one who really is innocent blah blah blah. I accept all that. I'd sure as hell hate for a jury to find my client guilty because I screwed up, if he's really innocent. But dammit, Dad...”
He shook his head. Slumped in his seat. Turned away and stared out the window in his door at the airplane's shadow as it skimmed over the gleaming clouds. The shadow plane held a position ahead of them as if in a race. Intermittent openings in the heavenly view gave him glimpses of the earth they'd temporarily escaped—a glistening body of water, a cluster of tiny buildings, ribbon of highway with microscopic motor vehicles seemingly stationary while the Cessna sailed on by. His earthly troubles were supposed to be down there too, shrunk to manageable size. They seemed as big as ever, though, at least the Bacon case did. He wondered if maybe this was why the urge to learn to fly hadn't visited him with the same attraction it had for the Judge. He turned back to his father.
“Sorry, Dad. Didn't mean to bum you out with my worries.”
The Judge kept his eyes straight ahead, but he laughed. “I know you didn't. And you're not bumming me out. You were, though. You were so gloomy when you got back from Richmond. That's why I thought it might be good to get up here in the sky. Sometimes it's easier to talk when you have a different view of things, you know.”
Blow's turn to laugh. So, he told himself, the old man still had a step on him. Like the shadow plane pacing them below.
“You know,” his father continued, “I believed very few of my criminal clients were innocent, completely innocent, of what they were accused of. And the same with most of the defendants I had in my court. It's often a matter of degree, though, of guilt. You know, a guy gives someone the stinkeye in a bar, or the other guy thinks the first guy gave him the stinkeye, and pretty soon it's a fight and sometimes one of them get seriously hurt or finds himself dead on the floor.
“Both likely would say they were defending themselves or their honor or their woman's honor or what have you. And maybe each of them thought that's what he was doing. Usually, though, one of them escalates the misunderstanding or test of wills or whatever the hell it was that started the whole thing, escalates it to a point of no return, you know? They've both been drinking. Judgment's impaired if it's operating at all. You see what I'm saying? They're usually both at fault at some point and eventually the thing takes on a life of its own and they're both trapped by it. Guilt and innocence embraced in a deadly dance.
“If one ends up paying with his life, the other pays—and probly should pay—with whatever consequences the law prescribes. It often comes down, though, to degree of culpability. And that's where we come in. The justice system.”
Blow nodded slowly in agreement. “So Bacon might truly believe he's innocent even if...” He hesitated.
The Judge finished the thought for him, “Even if something he did or said somewhere along the line had a bearing on what happened on that boat. Yup. Your instincts are solid, Son. You definitely need to find out who this woman was, and find some people who knew her.”
As they talked, Blow noticed the plane was remaining longer in the cloud edges. He didn't worry, as he saw that his father was keeping his eyes on the instrument panel and making adjustments to various levers and knobs. When they broke through the cloud cover and he again had an unobstructed view of the land beneath them he knew their ride was nearing its end. Light refracted through the clouds from the dusking sun brought a richer glow signaling the day as well was winding down.
When at last Blow saw the airfield come into view he recognized it by the rows of markers along the runway. Now they shone with steady yellow lights, which grew the more welcoming as the airplane drew near.
Blow found himself in a staring contest with Fu Manchu, the peach-colored Siamese fighting fish in the globe atop Lt. Callahan's desk. Doing a Sally Rand impression with its feathery fins, Fu, as Callahan called the fish, would make a pass or two through the roots of the leafy plant comprising the globe's ceiling and then pause, fixing Blow with its bubble eyes, mouth gulping open and shut in a patient rhythm.
“When's the last time you fed this guy, Carl?”
“Every morning. Why?” The sheriff's chief investigator sounded uncommonly serious for this stage of their routine banter.
“He's staring at me. Looks hungry.”
“They say he has shark blood in him. Maybe he thinks you look edible. Hey, I don't want to waste your time, Joe. I'll get right to the point. We're having one helluva time identifying the victim.”
“I know. We are, too. I've talked to Gobble.”
Callahan nodded. “He's pretty upset.”
“I got that impression. I hope he doesn't think I'm keeping anything from him.”
“Not you, but he thinks your client is. I agree with him. In fact, I recommended he consider charging Elvin Bacon with obstruction.”
“Obstruction of justice. And I'm telling you this as a favor, a precaution so you don't get any of his mud on your skirts.”
“Now wait a minute!” Blow started out of his chair. Callahan motioned him back. “Now look,” Blow continued, “We're both skating on thin ice here. But I trust you and I think you trust me. Carl, dammit, I've been badgering him on this. I've made it clear finding out who she was is his best defense. It's all he's got, really. He says he agrees, but that he's tried everything he could think of. Says she left no tracks. He even had his firm's investigator working on it. Nothing, he says. Couldn't find squat.
“I can't prove he's lying or withholding anything. And it doesn't make sense that he would. I'm his lawyer, odd as that may seem. Hell, I don't like the sonofabitch. He's an arrogant asshole—that was off the record--and I feel weird representing one of the top criminal lawyers in Virginia. But here we are. He's my client. If I find out he's lying to me I'll drop him like a sack of moldy potatoes. I don't know what else to tell you.”
Callahan had compressed his lips and lowered his chin during Blow's explanation, peering at him through hard eyes as if watching a suspect unravel during interrogation. His stone-cold, almost weary expression emphasized the intimidating effect that came naturally from his shaved bullet head and hawk face. It broke an instant after Blow finished speaking. Callahan erupted in laughter, slapping his hand on the desk so hard it jolted Fu Manchu from its fixation on Blow and sent the startled fish zipping back and forth through the maze of roots atop its global domicile.
Blow knew Callahan well enough to believe the laughter was genuine, even when it stopped abruptly and the wily cop's face returned to its normal mien. Blow held his face expressionless throughout.
“I gotta hand it to you, Joe. You're either honest as the day is long or you're one helluva clever actor—and I know that last part is true, but right now I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt. I believe you. But here's the thing: why were we unable to find any fingerprints on that boat? From anybody, Bacon, the woman or anybody else? Nuthin. Clean as the proverbial whistle.”
Blow knew his face was giving away his surprise, but he didn't try to conceal it. With a time and place for candor, this was one of them. And the only word he could make come out of his mouth wasn't in any dictionary he knew of: “Huh?”
“That was precisely my reaction when Calvin told me.”
“When did you guys go over it?”
“Next day. Coast Guard had to tow the damned thing to Milford Haven. Our guys got there first thing in the morning. Calvin called me soon as he realized they weren't finding any prints.”
“Not even from the Coasties?”
Callahan shook his head. “Somebody got on board that boat during the night. Only one could've done that, or had any reason to do that—wipe the place down like that—was your man.”
“Good question. Bacon did good to hire you, Stone. I don't think so. I got down there soon as Calvin called me. Checked it out pretty good. Valuable stuff on board. Radio, radar, even a case of Scotch. If a junkie did it he must've been blind.”
“Jeezuz. How about...shit. I was about to suggest asking my client to check it out with us. You, me, anybody you want with you. See if he notices anything of serious value missing. Right now I wouldn't trust him to be straight with me, Carl. I'll ask him, of course, but I can tell you right now he'll deny he or anybody in his employ, with his knowledge, went on that boat, for any reason.“
“He'd lie to you?”
“I couldn't prove it if he did, and he knows it.”
“Would he take a poly?”
“Not much chance, Carl. I'd bet even odds he could pass one, but I'd advise against it.”
“Opens the door, huh?”
“You said it.”
“Like you said, Joe. Shit.”
“Obstruction? Did you say obstruction?”
“That's what the warrant says. I can fax it to you, but you should be getting it from Gobble any second.”
“Obstruction!” Blow heard Bacon's low sardonic laugh, then some muffled voices, none laughing. Then Bacon again, “That pencil-dick cocksucker lost his mind? What the fuck's crawled up his slimy ass now?”
Bacon continued to play abused innocence of any knowledge someone in his employ or on his behalf might have stolen aboard his boat while it was secured by the Coast Guard the day of his arrest and wiped it clean of fingerprints. This, despite Blow's warning the new charge could seriously damage the credibility of his defense, that he'd been trying to keep the woman from choking when she fell overboard.
Blow finally agreed to file a motion to dismiss the obstruction charge, which he did, and requested a pretrial hearing as soon as possible. Commonwealth's Attorney Fred Gobble concurred with the request for an early hearing, which Judge Pendleton then set for two days hence.
The hearing was sparsely attended. Blow recognized only Mary Lloyd among the handful of people in the courtroom seats. Lloyd reported for the local newspaper. A half dozen professionally dressed individuals, clustered at one side, he presumed were from Bacon's law firm. When he'd entered the courtroom he saw Bacon talking with one of them, a young attractive woman with long flaming red hair.
The hearing was brief. Four witnesses. The first, Investigator Calvin West with the sheriff's office, described what confronted him and his evidence technician when they arrived at the boat the morning after the alleged murder. Both told Judge Pendleton they'd found no fingerprints, nor was there evidence of forced entry to the boat's cabin.
Next came Charles Motley, president of Motley Research Ltd., contracted by Bacon's law firm to “assist in preparing for litigation.”
“In other words you're private investigators,” the judge said, making it a statement instead of a question.
“That's correct, your honor.”
Motley declined to answer any specific questions about investigations his agency might have conducted for the client firm, citing confidentiality privilege in such matters. He did, however, answer Gobble's direct question as to whether he or any of his operatives had boarded Bacon's boat on the night in question.
“Not to my knowledge. No, sir.”
“Not to your knowledge? Are you saying one or more of your operatives could have boarded Mr. Bacon's boat without your knowledge?”
“Anything is possible, Mr. Gobble. But if that happened it would have been a violation of the agency's strict policy prohibiting lone wolf operations.”
“Yes, sir. That's what we call freelance work. At Motley Research it would constitute a conflict of interest. Grounds for immediate termination.”
“Termination, Mr. Motley?” This was the judge's question. He was smirking.
Motley evidently caught the implication. He smiled back. “From employment, your honor. Nothing more.”
Gobble had one more question. “How many operatives do you employ, Mr. Motley?”
“As of this moment, sir, sixty-seven field operatives. We have seventeen employees on our office staff.”
“As of this moment?” The judge again. “Any recent terminations?”
Motley's response was solemn: “No, sir, Judge.”
Gobble's last witness was the Coast Guard duty officer on the night the boat presumably was boarded. She had neither seen nor heard anything suspicious despite having routinely, she claimed, stepped out of her office and “conducted a visual surveillance” of the station's grounds and harbor.
Gobble returned to his table and sat, staring at the legal pad in front of him. Blow knew the prosecutor had not made his case, and he knew Gobble knew this as well. Both attorneys also knew the point of the charge was to plant a seed of doubt in the case with a jury, should the case reach that point. Blow knew the damage was done even if Pendleton dismissed the obstruction charge due to lack of evidence. In the public's eye the notion that a suspected murderer might have stymied efforts to identify the victim could taint the defendant's legal presumption of innocence.
Blow called no witnesses. He argued for dismissal based on Gobble's failure to provide any evidence to support the charge. Gobble, whose motion seeking a later hearing date Judge Pendleton earlier had denied, pleaded that the charge be allowed to stand until the trial.
“We need time to investigate this further,” he said. Pendleton agreed.
“I'll withhold a ruling until trial, but first I have a couple of questions for Mr. Bacon.”
Bacon rose, winked at his lawyer and strode with dignity toward the bench. He paused in front of the judge and bowed slightly. The two exchanged polite greetings, and Bacon proceeded to the witness chair. Sworn by the bailiff to tell the truth, he then sat and looked up at the judge.
Pendleton took Bacon through the identification ritual for the court stenographer's benefit before he asked his first question pertaining to the obstruction charge.
“Mr. Bacon, do you have a key to your boat?”
“I do not, Judge. I surrendered my keys at the jail when I was booked.”
“They were not returned to you?”
“All but the boat key. One of the investigators, a Lt. Callahan, I believe, said he needed it in order to secure the boat. I had no problem with that, as I knew I would not be going out on the water anytime soon.” Bacon's voice was somber and his face deadpan, but the judge smiled and a smattering of titters chirped among the spectators.
“Do you know of anyone else who might have a key...” Pendleton glanced at the stenographer and added, “to your boat?”
“There's a spare somewhere, your honor, but at the moment I cannot say where it might be. Possibly in a drawer at home or in my desk at the office.”
“No one else?”
“Not that know of, sir.”
“Okay, I'm going to ask you now, for the record, did you authorize anyone, other than the investigator to whom you gave your key, any other person, to access your boat from the time of your arrest?”
“No, sir, I did not.”
“Well then, Mr. Bacon, if you will, please tell me how do you suppose someone other than the sheriff's investigators might have gotten into the cabin of your boat, without using force, on the night after you were arrested, and why they would have wiped it clean so that no fingerprints whatever could be found on that vessel the following morning?”
Bacon looked out at the courtroom, fixing his eyes first on Blow and then lifting them to the cluster of spectators that included the red-haired woman. He turned back to the judge. “No, sir, I cannot. I have no idea who might have done that or why. But please let me say this:
“As you are aware, Judge, I have a high-profile, successful law practice and have represented clients from all walks of society in a wide variety of criminal and civil cases. Needless to say I have represented clients against some powerful and dangerous adversaries. It is entirely possible, you honor, entirely possible that one or more of those adversaries have taken it upon themselves to do me harm, sir--” Gasps and a sudden outburst of voices interrupted Bacon. Judge Pendleton gaveled the courtroom to silence. Bacon continued.
“Call it revenge, your honor, call it dirty pool, call it whatever you like. It's not impossible, nor is it implausible. I have made enemies, sir. I have been wracking my brain since this...this unfortunate occurrence. Wracking my brain to try to comprehend how this might have come about, who might have wanted to do me this harm...” Bacon's voice had grown subdued, and finally became inaudible as he placed his hand over the microphone. His gaze shifted from the judge to the panel separating him from the witness stand. A loud sigh issued from two speakers just below the ceiling on either side of the courtroom.
Pendleton gaveled the courtroom to silence again, admonishing the spectators to restrain themselves. He turned back to Bacon, studied him for a moment, then spoke into his microphone.
“Mr. Bacon, if I understand you correctly, you are suggesting that the victim, the woman whose death you are accused of causing, this woman we know of only as Priscilla Kochburn, that she was part of this plot to discredit you? Do I have it right, sir? Is this what you are saying?”
Bacon looked back up at Pendleton, fixed him with a somber, unblinking face and slowly nodded. “Yes, your honor, that is the only thing I can think of at this time. Yes, she must have been. In fact, sir, I'm willing to go a step further and suggest that the woman is not dead. That she did not drown, that she simply fell overboard after pretending to be choking and that she then simply swam away. And that is why whoever is behind this evil plot to destroy me has prevented us from learning her true identity.”
The courtroom erupted again. This time Pendleton rapped his gavel only once, barking into his microphone as he did so, “This hearing is adjourned!”
Blow stood behind the defense table stuffing papers into a brown expandable folder, trying not to appear surprised by his client's testimony. He braced himself as Bacon approached from the witness stand. Blow felt relieved to see Judge Pendleton scurry back to his chambers. No need for the judge to witness whatever likely awkward exchange would take place when Bacon reached the table.
Fred Gobble leveled a hard look at Blow as he lumbered past on his way from the bar area, leaving an assistant to gather the materials on the prosecution table.
From the progression of murmuring behind him Blow surmised the spectators were moving toward the exit. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Mary Lloyd standing near the aisle, evidently waiting for him, or maybe his client. Or both. She had a good scoop, which would get prime play on the Messenger's website and undoubtedly be picked up immediately by the wires. He would have to be unusually careful what he said.
Blow looked up as he sensed Bacon nearing the table. It was hard to imagine him as a defendant, moving purposefully as if he were the judge, looking resplendent in a masterfully tailored pinstriped charcoal suit, crisp peach shirt and sky blue silk tie. His composed face, black eyes sparkling, suggested a confident, private amusement. He passed the table without breaking stride, and offered Blow merely a quick glance and a wink.
Mary spoke, and Blow turned in time to see his client grasp both of her shoulders, dip his head and whisper something in her ear. She was smiling when he released her and continued down the aisle. The redhead was waiting by the door, and they left the courtroom together.
“So what the hell's going on, Blow?” Mary had come through the gate to the defense table.
“Tell you what, Mary, you tell me what my client said to you that you're still smiling about and I'll tell you what the hell's going on.”
“He said he had to ditch that redhead and then he'd be back to take me to lunch.”
“You gonna wait for him?”
“Don't know. I suppose, unless I get a better offer.”
“Aha. Would, ah, Luigi's be a better offer?”
“That's not fair. You know me too well.”
“So let's go, before that smooth-talking hunk comes back for me.”
“Oh, so you'd dump me for that strutting peacock?”
“Lemme think...ummm...nah, not even Bloody Bacon can compete with Luigi's.”
“Well...c'mon, let's go.” She reached for his arm. Blow stuffed the last of his papers into the folder, tied the strings, pivoted, delivered a light slap on one of her grinning cheeks, murmured “Mama mia,” and they were off.
They were working on their salads when Mary reminded Blow of their agreement.
“I told you what Bacon whispered. Now you tell me what just happened in there.”
Blow looked around quickly for any potential eavesdroppers. It was an hour or so after the usual lunch rush, and they'd taken a corner table away from the remaining diners. It hadn't been cleared when they arrived, but Blow told the waitress they would wait. She knew them both, and understood immediately they wanted a little privacy. Satisfied they he wouldn't be overheard, Blow still leaned forward and spoke softly.
“I don't know what's going on either.”
Mary wrinkled her brow.
“Pendleton made one of the fundamental mistakes any rookie lawyer learns right off...this is all off the record, for now.” She nodded and finished his sentence, “Never ask a question you don't already know the answer to. I could see he was pissed. A real facepalm once he realized what he'd done.”
“I couldn't believe it. Like a soft pitch in the World Series. Soon as Bacon started his answer I knew he'd knock it out of the park.”
“What do you suppose he was thinking? I mean, what did he expect?”
“I don't know, Mary. Genuinely curious, I guess, as we all were. Are.”
“You don't believe him?
“You're his lawyer.”
“And you're not. I want to know how his off-the-cuff theory—if in fact it was off-the-cuff--how this theory he's just put on the record will fly in the court of public opinion. In which you, dear one, are about to file another scoop and kick Mel Watterman's butt so bad he'll be making obscene phone calls to me again. He watched her face, marveling at the sparkling liveliness in her warm brown eyes. It was the eyes, he recognized, that performed her magic, won people's trust, made them feel embraced by a friendliness that relaxed their natural inhibitions when talking to a news reporter. He could see also she was giving considerable thought to her answer.
“It's quite a gamble. The body could turn up tomorrow. Then what?”
“You're right, Mary. But he's a lawyer remember. Sometimes it's all about planting that seed of doubt. It been, what...four days now? Even if the body does turn up it's unlikely there will be much left of it, you know, to make an identification.”
“Geez, Blow, maybe I shouldn't have ordered the meatballs. You're right, though. Odds are there won't be much if anything is ever found. The Coasties combed the river all that afternoon and night and the next day. And Ogie's boat was out there too, pretty sure. I know he's been itching to show the new one off since they got it in the drug case.
“I guess my real question is do you believe his story? That she was choking, and all that?”
“It's his story, Mary. If I'm going to defend him I have to buy it.”
“Do you, though. Really?”
The waitress arrived with their food. Blow put off answering Mary's question while she sprinkled parmesan on her spaghetti. He'd forgotten it by the time she handed the glass shaker to him. They ate in silence awhile. When it was time, she spoke first.
“Anything I can quote you for?”
“Don't you have enough, just from the hearing itself?”
“I suppose. Can I say you were surprised by his story?”
“Hell no!” They both laughed.
“Oh, that's right. A lawyer's never surprised when his client pulls the rug out from under the other side's case. Which means you had to have been in on it.”
“Doesn't mean that at all. Of course I was surprised. Damned near fell out of my chair. And if you report that you'll never get another spaghetti lunch at Luigi's from me again.”
“No comment then?”
“That'd be best. Or maybe this. Yeah, how about this: It appears the Commonwealth may have gone too far in accusing my client of obstructing justice. It's not always wise to shoot from the hip, especially when your pistol's not loaded.
Smiling, she reached into the canvas bag hanging on her chair and produced a tiny digital recorder. She fussed with some invisible controls until a minuscule red light blinked on, then thrust the thing over the table in front of his face. “Say it again, Sam...I mean, Blow.”
“Hmmmm. Let's see. Okay, It appears...”
Blow traced his penchant for visiting Rose McGillicutty in the afternoons to his days at Leicester High School. She had been his math teacher until she was forced out of town by allegations she'd been too intimate with some of her male students, Blow among them. The county failed to prove these allegations in court, but they in fact were true.
Some years later Rose slipped quietly back into Leicester. Under a pseudonym she purchased a neat little brownstone and opened an impeccably discreet boutique brothel. She announced its opening with a mailing of subtle invitations on rose-scented stationery to a select group of Leicester males. Blow was among them. Coincidentally his marriage was breaking up, his acting career going sour, and he was grieving his mother's sudden death. He returned to the family home, where, encouraged by his jurist father, he took up the study of law.
And he took immense healing comfort from the welcoming arms of Rose McGillicutty.
This afternoon was no different, except that instead of Rose welcoming him at the door—one always called ahead—it was her part-time editorial assistant, Kimmy.
“Hi, Blow, come in.” Kimmy was a skinny, bookish young lady who helped Rose with research and other tasks related to her vocation as a successful romance/mystery novelist. Despite her plain appearance, Kimmy's voice was musical, and when she smiled, which was rare, her face became instantly beautiful. She smiled at Blow. ”Rosie isn't feeling well this afternoon, but it's not contagious. She's in her room, and she told me to send you right on in. But, um, if it was something else you, um, were wanting I'm free all afternoon.”
Kimmy also had a small clientele in the comfort enterprise. She headed toward the little room she used as an office, tossing a dazzling smile over her shoulder before she disappeared. Blow went back to Rose's suite and tapped on the door. He spoke softly: “Rose?”
“Blow, darlin'. Come on in.” Her voice sounded weak. She was in bed, sitting up under the comforter with her back propped against a couple of pillows. Stacks of typewritten sheets were arranged around her. Blow found the room uncomfortably warm, so he stood in the open doorway.
“You don't sound good, Rose. I shouldn't have bothered you. This can wait.” He started to back out of the room.
“Don't you dare leave, young man.” Frail as she seemed, her teacher's iron hadn't deserted her. It held Blow where he was, with no thought of resisting her wishes. She patted the mattress. “Come over here. It's nothing. I just get kind of down around now. It's the time of year, I think. I've always been more of a summer person. And this.” She waved a handful of the typed sheets at him. “I always hate this part. The revising. Just hate it.”
He moved to the bed and leaned over to kiss her. She reached out and pulled him down, held him close. “You always cheer me up, Blow, darlin'. I feel better already.”
Ordinarily he would have laughed at the irony of her words. It had always been he who was cheered by his visits to the neat brownstone, where Rose's loving nature never failed to do the trick. He had not seen her like this, and it worried him, but he kept those concerns to himself. He could see clearly his presence was buoying her spirits.
He had told Kimmy when he called that he wanted to talk to Rose about a case, and now she brought it up.
“It's that lawyer, right? Bacon something?”
“That's the one. I can use a little of your research magic, Rose.”
“My magic? Ha. We should have Kimmy in here. She's the one with the magic. A regular whiz on the Internet. Her middle name must be Google.”
“Sure, Rose. But I want to bounce some ideas off you first. My client raised an interesting question in a hearing this morning. He said maybe the woman he's charged with killing isn't dead, that maybe she was part of some kind of scheme to discredit him, ruin his career.”
“What, she fell overboard and swam away?”
“That's pretty much it. They haven't found a body, so it kind of leaves the door open for all sorts of nutty ideas.”
“You don't believe him?”
“I think he's ad-libbing. That was the first I heard anything remotely like it.”
“The paper said he claimed she was choking on something. His pants were on, I trust.” Her face was deadpan.
“Well, to tell the truth, no one asked that question. You should be working for the sheriff.”
“Wouldn't that be something. Sorry, Blow, I was kidding, but why the sudden switch to this far out story?” She tugged on his arm. He took the cue and lay down beside her, turned and kissed her cheek.
“He was trying to explain why there were no fingerprints on his boat. None, not even his. Not even seagull prints.”
“Hmmmm. Somebody wiped it down.”
“Looks that way.”
“So...you think he doesn't want her identified. Is that it?”
“You're quick, Rose. I'm going to recommend you to Obie. He can use another good detective.”
“Careful, darlin'. I wouldn't want this to be the end of a beautiful friendship.”
“Aw, Rose. At least we'd always have...ever been to Paris?”
“Stop trying to change the subject, but no. You gonna take me?”
“Why not? You could do a book tour. The French would love you.”
“An American Simenon, non? I'll think about it. So how can I, or Kimmy, help you with this most interesting case of yours?”
“Well, here's what I'm thinking. Unless the body turns up—and it's probly too late for that, and even if it does there might be no way to identify it if we don't already have a name—but if it doesn't, the only way I know of to find out who she is is to backtrack her.”
“Explain, please. This sounds like something I can use in a novel.”
“It's the kind of thing I've probly read in novels, but it always seemed a tad unrealistic. Now it could be our only chance. We know she was doing a book on Bacon's ancestor, the Bacon who led the rebellion in 1676—Bacon's Rebellion, they called it. So she must have been doing research. I'll bet if we checked the historical libraries, you know, places where really old records are kept—private collections, maybe—someone is sure to remember her. She might have had to show some identification, something with her real name on it.”
“Which would mean she started using the pseudonym only when she approached Bacon, your client?”
“It's worth a try, don't you think?”
“Sure it is, Blow. You want me to buzz Kimmy? Bring her in on it?”
“No need to right this minute. She told me she had the afternoon off. Whenever it's convenient. There's really no rush.”
He rolled toward her and kissed her again on the cheek. Then on the lips. She responded, but after a long moment, pulled gently away.
“I failed to mention one other thing, but, um, this is not the best time of the month for what both of us have in mind right now. I'm sure you understand, sweetheart.”
“Oh, Rose. Of course. I should have guessed. The single life is taking its toll, I'm afraid.”
He left her smiling sadly sweet at him as he backed out of her room and softly closed the door. On his way down the unlighted hall toward the front of the house he became aware of another presence an instant before he saw her. Kimmy was standing in her open doorway. She was wearing a long white silken nightgown. A subdued light in the room behind her penetrated the gown just enough to create a silhouette of the feminine form beneath the sheer material. He saw its tie was undone. She was watching him. She wasn't smiling, but her gaze was so intense he felt his heart climb into his throat.
The beginning of a smile, a different, subtler expression, appeared on her face when he started toward her. She waited until he was near, then turned, and he followed her into the room.
Fred Gobble studied for several seconds a sheet of paper his assistant had handed him. Gobble and the assistant quietly exchanged a few words. Gobble looked up at the bailiff and then dipped his head and spoke into the microphone on the table in front of him. "The Commonwealth calls Jesse Rust."
Muted voices exchanged quick words in the capacity crowd as the bailiff, an older sheriff's deputy who served the court as doorkeeper, floor manager and messenger, spoke into a microphone that carried his baritone voice to the witness rooms and hallway just outside the courtroom: "Jesse Rust, Jesse Rust. Please come to the courtroom." Heads turned to watch the doorway.
After a pause with no other response the bailiff repeated his call. This time, as if he'd pushed a lever, the padded door swung open admitting a burst of oblivious hallway voices and a chubby man wearing faded jeans, a green plaid flannel shirt and a baseball cap. The man took a couple of steps up the aisle as the door swing shut behind him, then stopped. He kept his eyes on the bench at the far end of the room, awaiting further instructions.
The bailiff was still in charge. "Jesse Rust?"
The man nodded. "Yes, sir." His voice was muffled. It looked to Blow as if one side of Rust's face was swollen. When Rust drew closer at the bailiff's instructions, Blow realized the swelling was from a massive wad of tobacco in the man's cheek.
The bailiff recognized it too when Rust approached the bench. Instead of directing him to the court clerk to be sworn in, the bailiff whispered in Rust's ear, then led him around to the rear of the bench and produced a waste basket. Rust's face had regained its symmetry when he reappeared to take the oath. The ball cap no longer sat atop his head covering the wiry bush of brown hair that gave him a look of perpetual surprise. He seemed amused on the witness stand to be the center of attention. The seven men and five women in the jury box stared at him with curious faces.
Gobble began the examination. "State your name for the record, please."
"Jesse James Rust, your honor."
"Thank you, Mr. Rust. But you don't have to call me "your honor." That courtesy is reserved for the judge, who is the man seated to your right." Rust nodded as Gobble spoke, then turned and looked up at a smiling Judge Pendleton.
"Oh, I'm right sorry, sir, your honor," Rust said to Pendleton, who murmured something to the flustered witness. Several jurors looked to be suppressing laughter.
Gobble continued with some introductory questions, establishing that Rust was a resident of Leicester County and that he made his living on the water. He opened the door to Rust's testimony with this question: "Mr. Rust, I call your attention the morning of December 17. Please tell the jury what you were doing on that morning."
"We was in the Bay dredgin' crabs."
"Me and my crew. One's my brother Johnny and then there's Melvin Pruitt from Mathews."
"I see. Wasn't that a little late in the year to be crabbing?"
"Not in the Bay. That's where the sooks go when it gets cold. They head out of the rivers to deeper water and get down in the mud where it's warmer."
"Did you say sooks, Mr. Rust?"
"Yeah, sooks. A sook is the female crab. Jimmy's the boy."
"I see. Did anything unusual happen out in the Bay that morning?"
"Why yes, sir. It surely did. When we brought up the starboard dredge she was in there, in the net."
"What was in the net, Mr. Rust?"
"That woman been missing--"
Blow jumped to his feet. "Objection! That's an opinion."
Gobble's eyes returned to his notes. He didn't argue.
Judge Pendleton sustained the objection, and cautioned Rust to testify only to what he had seen. "Do not jump to any conclusions."
"I'm sorry, your honor. I just thought--"
"Just what you saw for yourself. Not what you think or what anyone might have told you."
"Yes, your honor. Well, there was a body in the net. Wasn't much left of it. Crabs'd been feedin' on it a right good while. Mostly just bones left by then."
"And what did you do next?"
"Why, I got right on the radio and called the Marine Police."
"They're with the Virginia Marine Resources Commission?"
Yes, sir. I told the boys not to touch nothin'. Just leave her—sorry--leave the remains in the net until they got there."
"The Marine Police?"
"And did they respond, the Marine Police?"
"Yes, sir, they did. They come and took it away, the remains. And we were done for the day then. We throwed everything else back in and come on home.
"And I didn't eat no lunch or dinner that day."
Blow's cross-examination of Jesse Rust was brief, but it produced testimony he believed could prove important. He asked if Rust had seen any clothing attached to the remains. Just scraps, the skipper said. Were any of the rags on the upper body? Yes. What color? Brownish, very dirty. Did he see any red rags on the body? No. Blow thanked him and sat down. Gobble had no redirect, and Judge Pendleton excused Rust from the trial.
The next witness Gobble called was Dr. Margaret Firestone, better known privately among lawyers and judges statewide as "Maggie Firestorm." As Virginia's chief medical examiner, she conducted or supervised suspicious deaths in which murder was presumed. She could be ferocious on the witness stand in trials. Her mastery of forensic pathology was beyond question, and any lawyer who dared fence with her invariably felt the burning thrust of her rapier wit skewer their egos, often to explosive bursts of spectator mirth as it left the victim stuttering and more than willing to mutter "No further questions" while retreating to his or her seat. These courtly eviscerations rarely happened more than once in any trial or ever again to the same lawyer.
Blow knew well of Firestorm's reputation but had never seen her until now. It came to him halfway during her march down the aisle to be sworn in that he was gaping. He snapped his mouth shut and turned back to the table, pretending to a sudden distraction by something in a document. He glanced up quickly as she passed between his and the prosecution tables.
She was compact, a tad hefty, fortyish, and appeared as colorful as her personality. She wore low heels that clopped along under loose, flapping, dark blue slacks. Her long-sleeved top was a pale lime green, and over this an orange/black plaid bolero. Her raven helmet hair partially hid small golden hoops that dangled from her earlobes playing with the recessed courtroom lighting. She glanced at Blow for an instant surprising him with large, dark eyes that seemed warm for someone so notorious. He'd expected a pirate's glint.
To his horror, Blow stumbled badly when Firestorm, prompted by Gobble, began reciting her credentials. This was obligatory for anyone who would testify as an expert, to assure the jury of his or her qualifications in a particular field. A witness so qualified was allowed to offer opinions in the field, something prohibited to a non-expert witness.
“...master's in biology, University of Michigan...medical school, Cornell University...internship, Medical College of Virginia...” She addressed the jurors with precision in an uninflected alto voice that had a slight nasal resonance. Blow found himself so fascinated he forgot what he was supposed to do until he became aware the judge was staring not at Firestorm but at him, an irritated look from Gobble, and finally a pause and quick sidelong glance from Firestorm herself. The eyes no longer seemed warm. Even then he felt caught in a passive inertia, and it took his client's hissing beside him to break the trance. After two or three insistent sibilants directed at him from the neighboring chair, Blow made out the word “stipulate,” the last time with “goddammit” as an addendum.
In his reverie Blow had forgotten the custom that unless the expert witness is new to the court, a hired gun for example, paid to testify for one side or the other—usually the defense—the opposing counsel agrees to accept the expert with a bare minimum of the sort of background in education and professional experience Firestorm was presently revealing. Failure to observe this courtesy can result in a tedious, seemingly endless recounting of various schools attended, degrees earned, internships and positions held, all with dates starting and ending and promotions and duties therein and awards received, and on and on until one of the sides, able to suffer the monotony not one syllable further, silently screams ENOUGH, ALREADY!! and accepts the witness as an expert.
Hoping to mask his embarrassment by appearing unruffled, Blow raised a finger and calmly announced, “The defense stipulates to Dr. Firestone's eminent credentials, your honor. We are confident her expertise is exemplary and we anticipate her testimony will be of inestimable value to this trial.”
He saw relief appear on Pendleton's face as the judge spoke his part of the litany, certifying Firestorm as an expert. Gobble's shoulders rose with the intake of a deep fresh breath, and Firestorm shot him a wink as she rested back in the witness chair.
More hissing from Bacon: “Jeezuz, you don't have to kiss her ass.” Blow ignored him.
Testifying for the prosecution, Firestorm's confident delivery left no room for uncertainty in her conclusion the remains revealed nothing useful toward identifying a particular individual. The closest she would come to linking the remains to the case was to affirm they'd belonged to a Caucasian female of medium height with no skeletal deformities or indications of recent injury, and that death had occurred around the time of the alleged incident.
Blow had tried, in an unsuccessful pretrial motion, to keep the testimony from the jury, claiming if the remains could not be identified they were irrelevant. Bringing them into the trial, he said, would be grossly prejudicial. Gobble conceded the evidence was circumstantial but contended the jury should decide what weight it should be given.
“A woman we maintain is pushed off the defendant's boat is not seen alive since,” Gobble told the judge in a hearing on Blow's motion. “Then, remains are found in the Bay of a woman who died in the same time frame the woman was pushed off the boat. We have an expert who will testify how the tides and the currents could have pulled the woman into the York River and from there into the Bay to the general area where the remains were found. Even if the remains cannot be identified, the circumstances are compelling.”
Blow countered that the defense would have its own witness to show how someone could have fallen from a boat in the Bay itself or even the ocean and ended up where it did.
“Gentlemen, I'm going to let the jury decide which of these theories is the more likely,” Pendleton told them as he scribbled something out of sight before him on the bench. “Neither one proves anything, but if this is the only body we have then we're going to weigh the evidence along with everything else. Motion denied.”
With Firestorm on the witness stand Gobble tried to win from her a concession that the corpse might have been wearing a red top, as witnesses in the restaurant had claimed. The only pieces of clothing attached to the skeleton's rib cage, she said, had been white: “A blend of synthetic and cotton fibers.”
“Were there any traces of a color other than white? Stripes, perhaps, or some other design?”
“Could embroidery or a decal have been on the shirt, perhaps on a part that wasn't attached to the rib cage?”
Firestorm leaned forward, her brow furrowed with intensity as if she were scrutinizing something preposterous. “Mr. Gobble, perhaps the poor woman's name and Social Security Number were stitched in large red letters across the front of the shirt, a part of the shirt that unfortunately was no longer attached to the remains when they were recovered. I am a scientist, not a psychic, and the word perhaps has no place in a scientist's vocabulary when that scientist is discussing his or her work. Unless, of course, the scientist is considering a change in professions to something like, oh, say, law.”
She held the furrowed brow a beat or two after speaking, while her mouth evolved into a smirk. Meanwhile the most noticeable red coloring in the courtroom was breaking out on Gobble's face. He nodded, as if agreeing with her chastisement of him, then surrendered her to Blow.
“I have no questions for Dr. Firestorm.” A sudden sensation of free-falling from a dangerous height alerted Blow to his mistake. He thanked his thespian reflexes for keeping his breathing measured and the blood from rushing upward to turn his face into a rival of Gobble's. He took some reasoned comfort in assuming his voice was low enough that the slip likely had been swallowed by ambient noises—gasps, giggles and whisperings—still responding to his adversary's more dramatic humiliation. And his eyes, focused throughout on Firestone's still smirking face, detected no visible reaction to his own faux pas.
As he lowered himself gratefully to his seat he heard his client once again, this time not bothering to whisper. “Jesus Fucking Christ,” Bacon said.
When Blow got home from his visit to Rose and Kimmy he found his father in the kitchen making dinner. He smelled the simmering sauce the instant he opened the door.
“Spaghetti!” he announced by way of greeting, hiding the irony of his lunch with Mary. When he had a yen for spaghetti he could eat it three times a day. He especially loved his father's spaghetti and “secret” meat sauce. He loved it almost as much as he'd loved his mother's spaghetti and meatballs. His mother had never considered her meatball recipe a secret, but she'd never written it down. It was complex, and it went with her to the grave.
Judge Stone had tried to duplicate his wife's meatballs two or three times but finally gave up and settled for his simpler concoction. His secret, Blow knew, was in the seasonings and the quality of the meat, invariably ground sirloin. He continued to experiment with different commercial marinaras, so there was always a slightly different cast to each batch.
Blow saw a fagot of dried pasta poking over the edge of the brown Rubbermaid bowl. The pot for boiling it was on the stove but emitted no steam. The Judge was chopping vegetables for the salad.
“Hi, Son. Figured you'd be hungry after this morning. I'll put the water on soon as Lila gets here. She's stopping by Crumm's. Bringing fresh bread. Should be any minute now.”
“Yumm.” Blow licked his lips. He took a glass from the cupboard and perched on a stool across from his father at the island. He filled the glass from the bottle of Malbec his father used for the sauce and would serve with dinner.
“Good quote you gave the Messenger.”
Blow sipped his wine. “Thanks. Caught us all off guard. I haven't been online. How'd they play it?”
“Main story. Big picture of Bacon. Smirking, of course.”
“He's a serious asshole, Dad. Quick on his feet, though.”
“You don't believe him?”
They laughed. The Judge poured some wine into a glass sitting beside the cutting board. He held it up. “To us. May our skeptical hearts never falter.” They drank.
“Skeptical hearts. That's poetic.”
“I've been known to rise to the occasion.”
“So Pendleton says. I know you don't like him, but I think he's a pretty good judge.”
“Oh, he's okay. Seems to have settled into the job. Screwed up this morning though. I cringed when I read the story. Mary write it?”
“Oh, yeah. Only reporter there. Watterman must be kicking himself up and down Warwick Boulevard, speaking of assholes.”
The Judge nodded, smiling. “Surprised Richmond didn't have anybody there.”
“Quick hearing, no notice. You can bet someone from the T-D will be here in the morning. TV crew or two, too, maybe.”
“You've got a tiger by the tail, Son.”
“You're doing fine.” He chopped some carrots. “I suppose Bacon will want those investigators to try and find out who set him up. At least go through the motions. That should be fun.”
“He has no choice now he's put that card on the table. But he doesn't want anyone to know who that woman was. I'm convinced of it. He's kind of boxed himself in.”
“Any idea why?”
“Why he doesn't want her identified?”
“Yes. That seems awfully strange under the circumstances.”
“Sure as hell does.”
“Well, you know Callahan will be hot on that trail now.”
“Oh, yeah. I'd love to be a fly on the wall when his investigators and Bacon's people start running into each other.”
“Ha ha, indeed. And you know the media folks will be digging in, too. Bacon just might find himself out of the frying pan into the fire.”
“You're good, Dad. A poet and a punster.”
“Never underestimate us hippies. I think I just heard Lila's car pull in.”
[for complete manuscript, contact author at firstname.lastname@example.org]