Blow's gratitude at the subtle gotcha tone in Fred Gobble's voice mitigated its unpleasant implication.He knew Gobble was having a little fun trying to intimidate a less-experienced adversary, but the prosecutor showed his own inexperience tipping his hand rather than setting Blow up for whatever surprise he had in store--a friendly invitation to stop by the office and have a post-Thanksgiving drink or pick up a routine discovery list his secretary had left on his desk before taking off for the holiday. No such finesse. The message on his cellphone, in Gobble's tediously somber voice only this time with a trace of edge, said simply, “Something came in over the weekend. Stop by the office when you can.”
Blow pretended not to notice the gray cloth-bound ledger book poised in front of Gobble in the center of his richly polished hardwood desk presumably to startle him. Blow guessed he was supposed to know what it was or at least assume it contained something dramatically perilous to his case.
And Gobble had been right. The glimpse Blow had of the ledger as he entered the office did startle him. To the quick. His heart did a back flip and the familiar portent of nausea rose through his abdomen. But having prepared himself for just such shabbiness, he swept his glance past the damned thing without pausing and fixed it brightly on Gobble, smiling his friendly, dignified Atticus Finch smile and greeting the prosecutor with impeccable Atticus Finch dignity.
Gobble played his part straight, initiating obligatory small talk, trying to sound casual, eyes never leaving Blow's. His effort to mask his anticipation of drama fell short, though, unable to defray with the intermittent cough a slight tremor in the upper registers of his voice.
“This damned weather. Must be getting my winter cold,” he grumbled, tugging open a drawer and removing a box of tissues which he set on the desktop. He placed the box carefully so as not to crowd the mysterious ledger's position of prominence. Blow's incipient nausea discouraged a sudden urge to laugh. And then anger, an instant later, superseded all else. Gobble must have seen it, as his coyness flicked away. “This,” he said quietly, tilting his head toward the ledger, “was on my desk this morning.
Blow mimicked Gobble's gesture and stared at the ledger a heartbeat or two. He crinkled his brow slightly, lifted his face and the two stared at each other several more beats. Blow broke the silence. “Am I supposed to know what it is?”
“You mean you don't?”
Blow shrugged, exhaled, rested his back against the chair's wooden slats and gave Gobble a conciliatory smile. “Look, Fred, how about we quit with the gaming here?” Gobble reared back, pulled a small face. Blow continued, “I've never seen that particular book before in my life, to my knowledge. It looks like some kind of record book, like the old ones across the hall here in the clerk's office,” Gobble nodded briskly, “but if it's one of those, I haven't a clue what's in it or why someone would have put it on your desk. Okay? Your turn.”
Gobble narrowed his eyes.”First of all, counselor, this isn't some game.” He'd raised his voice a decibel or two, and waited as if allowing his words to sink in. Blow stared at him without expression. He was feeling impatient. Just get this over with. Tell me what's in the damned book so I can get the hell out of your pretentious office. “...and I'm surprised you would show such disrespect for another officer of the court--”
Blow leaned forward, making no effort to conceal his disgust. “Oh, knock off the pompous bullshit, Fred. You're the one started this little pissing contest. You're implying I know what's in this book, and I've told you I don't. So either accept it and move on with whatever it is you're driving at or call me a liar and I'll get up and walk out of here and you can subpoena me or whatever the hell you want to do. It's your call.”
Blow suspected he was overacting a tad but it felt good to release some of the pressure building under the uncertainty Gobble was deliberately stoking. The jerk no doubt was recording everything being said, too. Shit. Oh, well. He reached for the ledger.
“Go ahead,” Gobble was shaking his head as if in disbelief at such impudence, but he waved a magnanimous hand at the mystery book.
Blow slid it closer and read the label taped to the cover. His worry was confirmed. Typed in all caps on a small yellowed rectangle were the words HISTORICAL ROOM. Under that, in less bold type, Visitors Log, and under that, Library of Virginia. Some barely legible numbers, faded by time, appeared at the bottom of the rectangle.
So this is the ledger everyone wants. The one Clay Ferguson took with him on vacation. The one Raymond Jernigan or Jergan had apparently followed Clay for, at least to his apartment building and maybe further. The one containing the name of the woman Elvin Bacon says framed him for murder. The big question now—almost as big as one whose answer lay inscribed on the book's pages—was how did the ledger come to Fred Gobble?
A chill accompanied the notion that Raymond, who worked for Charles Motley, who worked for Elvin Bacon, obtained the book from Clay and sent it to Gobble because he knew the woman whose name was in the book was dead—either that she drowned, accidentally after falling or jumping from Bacon's boat, or was murdered afterward to keep her quiet. Either way, the larger question was how did Raymond manage to obtain the book? Did he buy it from Clay, or...
The other possibility, the one Blow hoped was the case, was that Clay Ferguson simply decided to get rid of the damned thing, and mailed it to Gobble himself. Blow's concern now was how to proceed with Gobble without revealing anything useful to him. Best way to do this, he knew, was to focus on being Atticus Finch. He cleared his throat.
“Who brought it to you?”
“UPS. Out of Richmond. Know anyone named John Doe?” Blow grinned.
“Looked inside?” Gobble nodded.
“Anything interesting?” Gobble moved his face slowly side to side. “Not to me. Not much help to your client, either.”
“Not Jane Doe?”
Gobble allowed a chuckle. “No, sir. She'd never have gotten past the clerk that way. She's in here seven separate times.” He nodded toward the book.
Blow stared at the book as if trying to see through the cover. His hand was resting on it. He tapped his fingers, then put them together and gave the book a smack. He stood up, smiling with as much Atticus Finch sincerity as he could muster then let his face go slack. He zipped up his coat, pulled his Norwegian knit cap from a pocket and tugged it on.
“Thanks for sharing this, Fred. Have a good day.” He said it crisply as he stepped around the chair, not bothering to extend his hand. The confusion on Gobble's face, like a crestfallen child's, warmed him the rest of the day. It also amused him that Gobble thought he somehow had known what name was in the book. If he had, so what? If the woman had used some name other than Priscilla Kochburn, and Blow had evidence of this he'd have been obligated to share it with the Commonwealth. Doubly so as it would be to Bacon's advantage, as Gobble would see it. Surely Gobble would expect Bacon's investigators to be looking for the woman. So why not just send him an email? Why the charade? Gobble is worried, that's what this was. He thinks we're onto something. He's as afraid of the woman's identity as Bacon is.
Back in his truck, Blow called Rose's cellphone. She didn't answer. He left a message for her to find out if Clay Ferguson was back in Richmond. Then, suddenly hungry, he drove to Marie's Diner.