Jenean McBrearty is a graduate of San Diego State University, who taught Political Science and Sociology. Her fiction, poetry, and photographs have been published in over two-hundred print and on-line journals. Her how-to book, Writing Beyond the Self; How to Write Creative Non-fiction that Gets Published was published by Vine Leaves Press in 2018. She won the Eastern Kentucky English Department Award for Graduate Creative Non-fiction in 2011, and a Silver Pen Award in 2015 for her noir short story: Red’s Not Your Color. She lives in Kentucky and writes full time ⸺when she’s not watching classic movies and eating chocolate.
The Nineteen Gears of the Killing Machine
MAY 7, 2018 Mike took an empty stool at Carrie’s Luncheonette. His back hurt. His feet ached. And he couldn’t un-see what the Harbor Patrol fished out of Dayton bay. “Got a bad one, Captain Reed.” Keith Grover had told him. “Looks like our newest citizen decided to move in with Davy Jones.” Mike had been half asleep early Sunday morning. “Okay, I’ll be down as soon as I get there.” It didn’t make any sense to him either, but twenty minutes later he was staring at the water-logged corpse of the Honorable Ronald Hirschel laying in a black bag on a morgue table. “He’s sixty-eight. Retired three years after Mrs. Hirschel died of cancer and bought the Northern Belle to fish the rest of his life away. All seven days of it,” Keith explained. Mike was scanning the Harbor Patrol’s report. “The M.E.’s says it’s an accidental drowning. Why’d you call me at three-thirty in the morning?” “Because it’s bullshit. The M.E. set the time of death as any time before noon Saturday. Hirschel’s a Jew and wouldn’t have been on his fishing boat on the Sabbath. He died on Friday.” “And you know this, how?” “My brother Kevin’s a Deputy in King County. He worked in Hirschel’s court for twenty years.” Nobody knew the court system like the Grover family. Three deputies, two cops, a social worker and an uncle serving a five-ten stretch for armed robbery. Did the lawyer who got him off easy count? “Which one of you called the other at three in the morning?” “I called him as soon as I learned who the swimmer was.” “Give Keith my number, I want to talk to him.” It’s not unusual for spouses to buy the farm shortly after the other one goes to glory. Mike lost both his parents within a year. But, when a guy buys a boat, he usually intends to have a long peaceful life with the floating wife. “I’ll have pie and coffee, Carrie,” he said. She’d forget the fork and then the cream just to have more flirty time. “What you doin’ up so early anyway?” “The Harbor Patrol fished a new boat owner out of the bay.” She put a hand on her hip, and rolled her eyes. “The first of the summer dummies. Out there alone, right?” “Right,” Keith said as he sat next to Mike. “I’ll have whatever the Sheriff’s having.” She softened. “You got it.” “Did Kevin say if Hirschel knew his way around boats?” Mike said as Carrie sauntered off to the pie case, and they moved to the back booth. “Boats ain’t like driving a car.” “He was a Navy J.A.G. before he was a judge, if that means anything. He did have vertigo. Something with ear tubes. Kevin said he almost tumbled down the stairs to the bench once.” “That could explain a fall over the side. Did he have any enemies?” “Only everyone found guilty in his court. Nobody important. He and the D.A. Clay are … were tight. They knew the drill, according to Kevin.” Carrie brought a carafe of coffee and a huge slab of apple pie and a fork, and a cup to Keith, then got busy near the register. She knew better than to eavesdrop. She’d hear it all from Keith’s wife. “What was their drill?” Mike said. “A well-greased plea machine. Get ‘em in. Get ‘em out. And make them all pay a hefty fine and court costs.” “I’ll bet the county fathers loved him.” Kevin nodded. “I never met a politician who doesn’t love a predictable revenue stream. Not to mention the gratitude of every business and professional sued for malpractice.” The remark evidenced a boat-load of bitterness. “What’s Clay’s conviction rate down there?” “Ninety-eight percent. Judge Hirschel was known as Ol’ Rubberstamp.” “If it wasn’t murder, it sounds like it should have been. Text Kevin and give him my number.” “Already did. He said if he hears anything, he’ll get back to me. Kevin’s got faults like the rest of us, but disloyalty ain’t one of them. You understand, Mike.” It made sense. Whistleblowing was a blood sport. He wondered how long Kevin had until his retirement. Maybe they could write a book: Judicial Misconduct and Local Government Solvency. Keith stirred two Splendas into his cup. “I wonder what Kevin’s ‘one case’ is. There’s gotta be that one doggin’ his conscience. If we could find out which one, we’d have a lead. If it’s murder we’re dealin’ with.” “You got a one case?” Mike asked. “Yep. Luckily, I got mine when I was new to the job. I arrested Marie Stockton.” “The woman wrongly accused of battering the toddler?” Mike winced at the memory of the details. Broken bones and a crushed skull. “She’s the one. God, what the courts did to her! And the press finished her off. If I live thousand years, I’ll never forget the look on her face when they finally let her go. I walked her into the jail and I walked her out. She turned to me and said, ‘I told you I didn’t do it.’ I’d rather she’d cursed me, you know? A man can stand a woman’s anger, but despair?” Mike had heard much the same thing from everyone close to the case, everyone who wasn’t fired by the time he was hired as Sheriff of Dayton County. By that time, Stockton had moved. Some said to Cincinnati. Others said Vegas. “Did you ever find out where she went? What happened to her?” “That was twenty-five years ago and I doubt she wants to be found. People had shame back then too.” How did sunrise coffee and pie turn into a wake for justice and privacy? Mike hauled out his wallet. “It’s on me.” He had a death to investigate and a report to write, and he’d start with a visit to the Northern Belle. *** Reclaimed, renovated and resold, the Northern Belle was seventy-thousand-dollars’ worth of retirement heaven berthed at #42. She was a forty-four-foot Alaskan Tug, with a forward master suite and a guest room aft, and her six-hundred-gallon diesel tank gave her a range of seventeen-hundred miles. Cruising at eight knots, she’d only use three gallons of fuel which means Hirschel could take her as far as Seattle and back without refueling. According to the Harbor Master Nelson Riles, Hirschel signed out at 11:00 a.m. Friday morning, as soon as the fog cleared. “He said he was going to anchor about a half-mile off-shore. What happened after that, I couldn’t say. I went home about five, and never saw him or the tug again until she was towed in.” “Have you been aboard?” “Nope. I didn’t have a need. The HP guys went over her pretty good.” “I’m going aboard. Just to poke around. Maybe they missed something.” “Suit yourself, Sheriff,” Nelson said. The first thing Mike noticed was how pristine the Belle was. He checked the life-jacket rack; all four were hung up and unused. The bait-box was full. No signs of a struggle on the newly varnished deck. He went below. Neither bed had been slept in; the sheets were taut. No glasses in the sink. Nothing in the galley ice-box but a six-pack of Olympia beer. Neither the steering wheel nor the gears had finger prints on them. It was murder alright. And whoever did it had sanitized the boat. Unless Hirschel wore gloves and the perp was never on the boat. Somebody could have grabbed him and pulled him off. And pulled off his gloves? He answered his cell phone. “Mike? This is Keith. Doc Sawyer’s tox screen came back. Hirschel tested positive for Oxy and fentanyl. He was probably dead before he went into the water.” “Okay. I’ll get Nelson’s security tapes, and I’m done here. Have you heard from Kevin?” “Nope, but I got a list of all fifty people who have boats at McEvoy Marina. I’ve got Eddy tracking down all forty-nine. Nobody else’s is dead, yet. And I’ve requested Hirschel’s case docket for the past six months. Doc Sawyer’s is notifying next of kin. Two daughters and two sons. An Aunt lives in Portland. She’s flying into Sea-Tac tonight. You going to the funeral? It’s Thursday at the Bikur Cholim cemetery.” “Yeah. I’m going. I’ll drive down with the hearse.” One by one, the Hirschel children straggled in: Ezekiel, Edith, Elizabeth. Emanuel, who arrived an hour before the service. They were all approaching middle-aged, well-dressed, and paid little attention to the court and law enforcement personnel who’d come to pay their respects. Hirschel’s sister, Miriam, on the other hand was gracious before handing the lot of them over to ushers handing out skull caps. Two hours later, he was back on the road to Dayton Bay, having learned that Mr. Greenbaum, the probate attorney, would be contacting him about selling the Northern Belle. Soon. Greenbaum came Friday. “It’s a nice boat,” Mike told him as they walked towards Nelson’s office. “Are the heirs sure they want to sell her?” “Nobody’s interested in fishing,” Greenbaum said. “They’re more the horse and tennis set.” “I’m interested. How did Hirschel find out she was for sale?” “That I don’t know for sure, but the previous owner was a guy named Bill Cross —he has an on-line business called The Boatman. Some people flip houses, Cross flips boats I guess, from the list of renovations he included with the listing. I can get you the title ASAP if you’ve got fifty grand laying around. The family just wants to unload it.” “Which one of them should I call if I can talk my wife into mortgaging our souls?” “Miriam Weiss. His sister. You met her.” Greenbaum said as he handed Mike a calling card embossed with Miriam’s contact information. “You can let her know if there’s a break in the case, too.” *** SEPTEMBER 3, 2018 By September, the Hirschel case was relegated to the warm-case files, kept in the drawer above the cold-case drawer. Once a week, he entered an update on his review of the King County Court’s case dockets that he reviewed five days at a time. Hirschel’s bench was reserved for criminal cases, and once in a while high-profile civil cases involving the University of Washington. Nothing. He’d have to give up chasing clues down that rabbit hole unless he extended the time from six months to —what, six years? County Clerk Jane Cross interrupted him, and handed him a signed warrant. “I know you’re waiting on this…” “Only since January. Thanks.” He was picking up the phone when he heard Keith’s voice. “Wow, that was weird. Can you read my mind?” “Kevin called me not more than two seconds ago,” Keith said. “Patrick Waxer was found dead in a hunting cabin!” Mike grabbed a pen. “Who is Patrick Waxer and why should I care if he’s dead?” “He was Hirschel’s favorite jailer in King County. “Son-of-a-bitch. What does the M.E. say? Murder, suicide or natural causes?” “Lead poisoning by a .38 caliber hand gun. Not sure if it was self-inflicted. But the important thing is that as soon as the D.A. Clay and ADA Carrione got the news, they called Sheriff Mendoza for chit-chat. Kevin says I should tell you to expect a call from one of them.” “What do they want to talk to me for?” He felt his heart pounding, and it wasn’t the caffeine. “Is this about Hirschel?” “Duh….” “Okay. But get your ass back here. I finally got a warrant signed for 6420 Adelaide. We need to get that meth shit out of there before the house blows up.” That’s the way it always was. Just when he was lulled into a false sense of boredom. Wham! “I’m pulling into the drive-way now. You riding with me?” They donned Kevlar vests, and Mike called his other two deputies to meet them at the house. It had taken six months of surveillance to get probable cause and another month to get a judge to sign off on the warrant. “It’s like they don’t trust me,” he’d complained to Annie. What the hell did they hire me for?” His answer was adrenaline pumping through a thirty-year old heart. He sent Sgt. Frank around to the back door, and ordered Sgt. Don to cover the side window. He and Keith went to the front door. “On the count of three,” he whispered. “One. Two. Three!’ He banged on the door and shouted, “Sheriff’s department! Open up. We have a warrant.” Nothing. He jammed his foot into the door and it swung open so easily, he almost fell. He and Keith warily took a few steps inside the empty room. “Get in here, guys!” he yelled and Frank came through the back door followed by Don who was holstering his weapon. “Where the hell is Redding?” Don said. “Damn it,” Frank said and sank his .45 into his holster. “He was here yesterday,” Keith said. “I saw him myself. He couldn’t move a houseful of furniture in less than twelve hours, could he?” “He could if he decided to book a month ago and took out a room at a time,” Mike said. “And who said there was furniture in here?” “Where’d he sleep?” Frank said. “Not on a bed, obviously. We couldn’t watch him 24-7. Besides, maybe he sold the furniture before we started watching him. Let’s get out of here guys,” Mike said as he put up his gun too. “Lock the back door, Frank.” Before he reached the car, Frank came towards him, waving a piece of notebook paper. “I found this on the counter.” Mike took it and read the scrawl next to the smiley face: gone to greener pastures. Four deputies, two cars, and a bunch of crooked politicians in bed with the drug cartels was a recipe for failure. “Good, he’s somebody else’s problem now,” Mike said. “Don, grab yourself some grub and patrol. Frank, you’re with me and Keith at the office.” The drive back was silent, with the eight-hundred-pound gorilla named “Leaker” in the backseat with Frank. Maybe this was why the County Board of Supervisors hired him, to chase shadows and ghosts. Because fighting crime in Dayton County seemed to be a euphemism for ‘look busy.” Mayor Burt Owel had told him he was working too hard. Was he the leak? Maybe it was Dayton County D.A. Chris Jankel. “It wasn’t me who tipped him off,” Frank said las he lingered outside with Mike. Keith had unlocked the door and gone straight to the bathroom. Mike surveyed the sorry state of the Sheriff’s office parking lot. It needed weeding, repaving … pot-hole filling. “Who’s first on your list of suspects?” Frank leaned against the car. “It wasn’t Donnie, if that’s what you’re thinking. Mike shook his head, no. “Don’s too dense to be a stoolie. No, it has to be someone who works at the courthouse, and knew the warrant was going to be signed.” “I wonder what else they’re telling people about,” Frank said. “A leak could get us killed. Redding might have been waiting for us with an army inside.” “I hear you, Frank. Watch what you say to Ellen. Wives can get chatty waiting in line at the grocery store. Confidentiality is crucial.” “Will do. You comin’ in?” “Naw, I’m going home to grab some sleep. I’ll take the graveyard tonight. Give Keith and Don a head’s up.” *** Stationed in the Dairy Queen parking lot, nursing an Oreo blizzard, Mike waited for the King County D.A. to call. That Lawrence Clay’s text specifically said he wanted to keep the communication private spoke volumes. Even if the public suspected a connection between the deaths of the judge and now the jailer, Clay seemed determined to maintain the fiction of a coincidence. The question wasn’t really if they were connected so much as which cast of case characters was responsible. But why would Clay think he knew anything about their rogue’s gallery? “I knew judge Hirschel well, so naturally, I want to follow the investigation. After four months, I figured you might at least have a lead.” “With all due respect, Mr. Clay, I can’t discuss an on-going investigation. Contact Chris Jankel. I have no control over what he tells you.” “I did talk to him. He said the case was almost cold. But you and I know there’s always unofficial facts. Tentative suspects. Or people of interest? Maybe I can help you solve your case in the process of solving ours. Share notes. That sort of thing. Off the record and confidential of course.” When a D.A. sounds chummy, it’s time to man the barricades. If the key to solving Hirschel’s murder really did depend on Clay’s involvement in some case irregularity, he didn’t want to be part of a cover-up. “Give me a for instance, Mr. Clay.” “For instance, did you know Hirschel had a mistress? Angela Anjou. A nice, middle-aged shiksa in Olympia. He met her at a conference when he was in his thirties. She was a twenty-something waitress. He bought a B&B as an investment, and hired her to run it.” “And you think she murdered her golden goose?” “No, not her. But they had a son, Paul. I think you should add him to your list of maybes. He only found out he was Hirschel’s kid when Mrs. Hirschel died.” It sounded like more than BS, but less than irrelevant information. “I’ll check into it, Clay, but how would Bobby figure into the jailer’s death?” “Paul was arrested on a DUI and spent a week in our county jail. “ “Did you prosecute?” “No, I called Hirschel and he got Paul off the hook with a call to the traffic court judge. Professional courtesy. The kid was screwed up over the whole thing and blames Hirschel for breaking his mother’s heart. Maybe.” The tip smelled like red herring. The kid might have been shocked he was a bastard of a sitting judge, but he didn’t grow up in poverty. More than likely, he had a college fund somewhere, and he and mom were probably named in the will. That would account for the icy reception Hizz Honor’s heirs gave the court personnel. He damn sure wouldn’t kill a father he never knew or a jailer. Or a compliant D.A. in the crosshairs. “Thanks for the info, but I don’t have anything I haven’t shared with my bosses,” Mike said. “I can tell you Hirschel was dead before he went into the water. Do you know if he had problems? Health? Addiction?” “I never saw any evidence of that.” It was a typical lawyer’s answer. “Well, if you think of anything, give me a call. Right now, it looks like our perp is a disgruntled criminal … maybe a disgruntled employee. One capable of murder.” “It could be anyone who ever appeared before Hirschel or worked for him.” There was forlorn resignation in Clay’s voice. “Check your memory, Clay. Check your records and Hirschel’s case notes. See if there’s that one case that might jump out at you.” “I’ll get back to you on that,” Clay said. The conversation sent Mike to the internet. He typed in: notorious court cases in King County Washington last five years. Nada. Then: Judge Hirschel’s most notorious cases. Two criminal cases popped up, but they were over twenty years old. Plea bargained cases weren’t listed, of course. “Kevin’s the key,” Mike told Keith when the met up at Carrie’s back booth. “I’m not saying strong arm him, but let him know his options in case he thinks he might be on the perp’s list. A little family leverage wouldn’t hurt none, too.” “He did call me first,” Keith said with a shrug. “That’s a sign, I think.” “When’s the next family get-together? You got a birthday anytime soon?” “Not me, but Peggy turns forty-five in a few weeks …” “I’m not lookin’ to jam him up, Keith. If we get some solid info we may be able to save Clay’s life. Maybe his, too. Tell him that.” *** All small towns are the same. They suffer from shrinking tax bases and shrinking populations. The old are dying and the young are bored. They need home-care nurses but not teachers. Danville. Greenville. Charlesville. Mike had seen them wither and disappear in Kansas. Eventually, the counties started laying off the newest employees and convinced the older ones to stay to postpone the pension payouts. Annie urged him to apply for any job available or return to the mechanics bay at the Wichita Ford dealership. “Nobody’s going to hire a rookie like me,” he’d insisted. “Three years’ experience, and go from Deputy to Sheriff? It ain’t gonna happen.” “You’re a cop, so cop, Mike. You can do it anywhere in any color uniform. Blue, green or khaki.” The Dayton County Board of Supervisors agreed with her. Why? Because they equated inexperience and desperation with a willingness to ignore the drug trade? As the days passed after the failed warrant search, it seemed they were right. “How do you like Dayton Bay?’ he asked Annie two weeks later. “It’s greyer than Kansas and it has more mountains and trees, but Mama said coastal areas won’t go out of business.” “Okay, but do you like it here?” “You want to move. Okay, what’s happened, Mike?” “I just got thousand-dollar a year performance raise. Why?” “Because they love you. I want a baby. We’re staying.” It sounded fine to her, but he posted his resume with Linkdin after she went to bed. Corruption is a funny thing. It doesn’t start with a dirty guy in a dirty trench coat offering a bribe in an alley. It starts with finding a mark who needs money, not for a new car but to make ends meet so he can afford a kid or two, then braces, a prom dress, and then a college fund. It’s all for family, the guy tells himself. Maybe that’s the way it started for Hirschel. No verbal agreements, just tacit understanding that law enforcement and the court system are businesses like any other. “Kevin and Sarah are driving up for Peggy’s birthday on the twenty-first. We’re having dinner at the Blue Crab. You’re invited.” Keith sounded spur-of-the-moment casual. “That was quick,” Mike said with a nod. Keith followed him into his office and closed the door. “Kevin’s nervous. The courthouse was locked down today. Suspicious package in the mail room. They thought it was a bomb.” “For a thousand more a year, they want me to save lives without blowing the whistle on anyone. It’s impossible, Keith. You know that.” He could see Frank and Don, coffee cups from Carrie’s in hand, through the window. Frank flipped a coin, and Don got the keys to the squad car. He’d lost. “Why don’t you tell me what’s really going on, Keith. A judge and a jailer have been murdered, and now bomb scares? They screwed somebody and they were all in on it. Who’s the shattered soul willing to die to get justice?” “It’s not that easy.” Keith said. “Maybe in places like Kansas it is. But here … You’re young enough to start over, but guys like me and Kevin, Frank and Don, we’re close to retirement. Without our pensions, what have we got to show for thirty-five years of public service?” Mike went to the Keurig Annie gave him for Christmas. Making coffee by the cup was supposed to save the environment. Bullshit. All the little plastic pods would take billions of years to decompose when paper filters dissolved in twenty-four hours. “I don’t know how these small communities are going to fund the pensions, but I do know it’s illegal to do it with drug money and a plea bargain racket.” Keith kept his head down, staring through the tile into an abyss. “He’s my brother. I wish he hadn’t got caught up in this mess, but he has and I can’t help him. He’s a good husband, a good father…” “But a lousy lawman. And there’s not a damn thing anybody can do to help him unless he’s willing to go to the DOJ.” Mike sank into his creaky swivel chair, feeling old as its leather. “Does Clay know he’s coming up here?” “I don’t know. He was so shook up about the bomb scare, the dumb bastard.” “I’m glad you said it and not me.” “Can I get a cup of decaf?” Keith said. “Sure, help yourself.” There was obviously more to the bomb threat, and Keith needed some time to spit it. “It’s one of the nineteen. It’s got to be,” Keith said as he examined the light brown liquid in his mug. Didn’t he know you can’t reuse a pod? Mike took the mug from his hands, and emptied it into the bar sink he’d had installed in the counter, and started over. “What’s the nineteen?” “About ten years ago the State sent a bunch of social workers around to the schools to do a stranger-danger outreach. You know, telling the kids to be careful and how to report sexual abuse … that sort of thing. My two daughters got the lectures. It was mandatory. In King County there’s this Holden Middle School where nineteen men were arrested for in-home molestations … all of them poor white guys around thirty to forty-five …” Mike handed Keith his coffee and three creamers. “Nineteen?” he said and quickly sat down to take notes. “What were the charges?” “Felonies … rape, battery, molestation of minors under sixteen, over thirteen. You name it. The girls reported everything from indecent exposure to sodomy. There was no physical or forensics evidence, but it didn’t matter. None of the cases went to trial.” Mike tried to steady his hand, but every sentence turned to scribble. “They all pleaded out?” “All of them, eventually,” Keith said. “Kevin said they were all kept in solitary until ...” He wiped sweat from his forehead with his sleeve. “Clay told the men the girls passed their polygraphs and were facing twenty-to life. Pete Carrione told them their wives and girlfriends would be indicted as accessories, so they better take the plea.” “Did any of them have real lawyers?” The stare he got from Keith gave him his answer. “And ADA Carrione was their public defender. Damn it! Didn’t the County get suspicious when Carrione was promoted?” Mike paused. “No, why would it. No trial, no paper trail.” Mike let out a sigh. “Well, we have nineteen suspects. It’s more than what I expected.” “Not exactly. One guy committed suicide. Another is in prison for armed robbery. One guy was killed in a drinking and driving accident. One guy shot his daughter and is serving a life sentence.” Keith wiped his eyes. Tears this time. “The girls didn’t know once you fire a gun you can’t stop the bullet. They didn’t know about life-time registration and unemployment …” “Or about what injustice does to the soul. Yeah, I get it. Thanks for not wanting to burden me with this…” “Stop it, Mike! Please. I want it to be your problem. Damn Hirschel! Why did he have to die in our county? It’s like the cancer came here on purpose.” Frank knocked softly, then cracked open the door. “If you want me on graveyard, I’ll have to get some sleep, Mike.” “Yeah, go on. I’ll take swing. Keith you might as well go home.” Frank gave him a sloppy salute, and Keith put his mug in the sink. “You want me to do anything, Mike?” “Keep your mouth shut is all.” Keith had called the debacle a cancer and he called it right. After ten years, there was no way to know if it had metastasized in other counties. Maybe in other states. All he knew is that he had fifteen victims who had families —maybe large ones. Even a conservative estimate of four each meant sixty possible perps. But at least he had a connection between the murders of Hirschel and the jailer, and an accurate list of those marked for death: the entire justice personnel of a King County court. *** SEPTEMBER 21, 2018 Kevin Grover couldn’t be anybody but Keith’s brother. Same height, same wiry frame, and a mound of sandy-red hair and round blue eyes. All the Grovers liked their steaks medium rare and Thousand Island salad dressing. They reminded him of Annie’s family. Genetic signatures manifesting themselves in behavior. Annie and Peggy were already friends and Kevin’s Sarah immediately endeared herself to them. Annie made friends easily, he decided she could withstand another move. Springfield, Missouri had contacted him for an interview, and he sent an acceptance e-mail from the men’s room of the Blue Crab. He’d hit ‘send’ only a second before Keith came looking for him, breathless and stammering. “We’ve got to get to the office, Mike. Frank says somebody took a shot at Lawrence Clay.” “Alright. Take Annie home and drop Peggy and Sarah at your place. I’m taking Kevin with me. Get to the office as soon as you can. And lose the panic face! It ain’t us.” “It must be serious,” Annie said as Mike kissed her good-bye. “Nothing we can’t handle. It’s late anyway.” She was a good law enforcement wife. Calm. Collected. He might as well have been an auto mechanic. “It looks like you got out of town just in time,” he told Kevin as they drove the half mile to the Sheriff’s office. “You won’t be a suspect.” Kevin got out of the car, and managed to get inside before collapsing in the nearest chair next to Frank’s desk. “Damn, he’s jerking like a dying fish,” Frank whispered to Mike when he came out of the bathroom. “Come in my office and tell me what’s going on, Frank.” Frank followed him into the office, and Mike kept an eye on Kevin through open blinds. “The Seattle police chief called looking for you. Said Clay pulled up to a traffic light and somebody took a shot at him. Passenger side. Guess they wanted to send a message ‘cause he’s still alive. He says Clay wants to talk to you ASAP.” “Keep Mr. Grover company. Try to calm him down.” Mike got Clay on the phone and heard the same story with the addition that Clay was scared, he needed to know everything about the Hirschel case pronto, and was Kevin there? “Yeah, Grover’s here. Sends his love. How soon can you drive up?” “I was thinking you could drive down.” “You’ve got more manpower then I do. I’ve got a county to take care of. Warrants to serve and all.” He heard a disgusted sigh. “Okay. I’ll fly in. How close are you to the airport?” “I’ll make sure a deputy is there to meet you.” He radioed Don, went to the door and waved Kevin in. “Before Clay and Carrione get here, tell me about that one case.” Kevin smoked Pall Mall Light 100’s and said a beer would steady his nerves. Mike got him an ashtray and a cold one from the fridge under the counter, and closed the door before secretly turning on his cell phone recorder: “Social Services brought in this fifteen-year old. Heather Poole. I’d picked her and her friends up once for drinking in the Redi-Mart parking lot. She said her step-father, Gerry O’Brien, had been raping her since she was three-years-old, but Gerry didn’t even know her mom until she was seven according to her mom and older sister. So, she changed her story. He started raping her when she was ten. Allegedly, he chased her around the house and she tried to fight him off, but he was too fast and strong. She flunked her polygraph, but Clay told him she passed. O’Brien kept saying it was impossible because he had a fucked-up leg from the Gulf War, and had the VA hospital papers and a Purple Heart to prove it. He said his wounds included PTSD and losing lymph glands and his testosterone count was so low, he had to take injections and that only brought him up to half normal levels. But Waxer wouldn’t let him have any of his meds, or see or talk to his wife. After a week in solitary, Gerry was a mess. Clay had charged him with twenty-one counts of forcible rape, molestation and sodomy. But Gerry said he’d take his chances with the jury because he had so much evidence to prove he couldn’t rape anybody, including VA medical records that showed he couldn’t get it up, even for his wife. Carrione told him that his evidence wasn’t worth squat because in sex crimes, the victim is always believed and her testimony alone is persuasive. Still, Gerry said no deal. He’d lost over forty pounds, and needed his meds bad. Clay got really pissed off, but Gerry held out until Carrione told him the D.A. had his wife in custody. And that his other step-daughter would probably be arrested too unless she corroborated Heather’s story. Gerry accepted a plea, only on condition it was an Alford Plea. Clay said okay, because it would get the state off the hook for a malicious prosecution law suit based on insufficient evidence. Anyway, the terms were, he’d lose his voting and gun rights, registration as a sex offender for ten years, a psych evaluation and treatment if he was found deviant, and $4,500.00 in fees, fines, and incarceration reimbursement. They took it to Ol’ Rubberstamp, but he didn’t want to sign off on an Alford. Corrione and Clay stumbled around trying to find a way to explain how a twenty-one felony count indictment was pared down to one count of inappropriate touching. Hirschel read over Clay’s notes on the case, and finally agreed to the plea bargain even though we all knew the guy was innocent. Hirschel didn’t even make Gerry allocute. Carrione told him to keep quiet because if he maintained his innocence on the record, Hirschel wouldn’t be able to sign off on the Alford. Hirschel sentenced Gerry to five months with time served, and eight weeks later we let him out.” Kevin stopped talking. “I’m going to be sick.” Mike slid the trashcan in front of him, and Kevin tossed up his steak and salad in three big heaves, followed by three deep sobs. “They tortured that poor bastard for five fucking months. Heather didn’t even show up for the sentencing hearing. She’d refused to testify in court the day they indicted Gerry. That’s why they couldn’t have a trial and Carrione never told him. Straight out lied to him.” He looked up at Mike. “How in God’s name could they do that to a guy who’d been to war and never even had a speeding ticket? Tell me, how could they have done that to him?” “They, Kevin? Don’t you mean, we?” Mike went to the sink and filled Keith’s mug with water. “Drink this. Where is Gerry O’Brien now?” “In Florida with his wife and other step-daughter. He left the state as soon as he paid up. Heather’s in Oregon, last I heard. We’ve kept tabs on the O’Briens. They’ve never left Avon Park even for vacation. He’s registered there, but his ten years is up in a few weeks, and he’ll come off the registry.” “Were all the cases as bad as O’Brien’s? Keith said one of the men shot his accuser.” “That would be the Colton case. O’Brien was able to get an outside evaluation, but Colton and the others were evaluated by the State and found to be deviant. They had to go through treatment and that tacked thousands of dollars onto their debt. Colton’s wife left him, and he lost everything. His business. His house. And you can’t get money owed to the government discharged in bankruptcy. The worst thing is, Heather refused to testify, but Colton’s daughter recanted in writing to Clay. I saw the letter. Nobody told Colton.” Frank knocked, and opened the door. “Keith’s here, and Donnie’s on his way to get Clay.” “Give me a minute.” “Roger.” “Kevin, you said the nineteen were all white, middle-aged and poor but what else did they have in common other than fitting the child-molester profile? Because none of this makes any sense.” “If I tell you, I’m a dead man.” Kevin was calm at last. Resigned to reality, Annie would say. “If you don’t tell me, The Nineteen are going to become an urban legend and you’re going to be dead anyway.” “There’s nothing worse in law enforcement than disloyalty … except … Hirschel and Carrione and Clay are part of a group that wants to disarm people they think are dangerous. White supremacists … and anti-Semites. They wanted to figure out a way to legally disarm and track their whereabouts … sex crimes convictions, Mike. See, even if they do their time, serve their probation, and even go into treatment, they can’t legally own guns or leave the state until they fulfill all the terms of their plea agreements —and that means paying their fines and fees, plus interest. They’re all poor, you see. Nobody can ever pay the debt off because the interest accrues. The Courts own them, lock, stock, and barrel forever. That’s the secret. All of the guys had Facebook accounts, and once they were arrested, everything about their lives became accessible … the arrest was the probable cause for search warrants for everything about them. Tax returns. Bank accounts. Even their wives and girlfriends lost their privacy. Gerry’s other step-daughter and her boyfriend too. But then, O’Brien paid up, and as soon as his probation was up, he could leave as long as he checked in with the state where he moved. And that state had to recognize the ten-year registration under full faith and credit, so O’Brien got his rights back.” Kevin’s last words on tape: “O’Brien’s free. He’s the only one who got free and is still alive. Clay’s scared. We’re all scared.” Kevin drank the last of the water. “Sorry about your trashcan.” “That’s okay. Take it to the bathroom and clean it up. There’s Lysol in the cabinet. One more thing, who paid O’Brien’s court fees?” “Irene Schmidt. His mother. By credit card. She’s on Social Security.” Frank was at the door as Kevin left. “Donnie called in from the airport. Clay can’t make it. The FBI was called in on the bomb threat, and he has to stick around. You want to see Keith?” “Naw, tell him to take Kevin home with him. I’ll see them tomorrow.” *** Long after Annie was asleep, Mike stayed awake thinking of O’Brien and feeling his guts twist in knots. Yet, he had to think about it all, from Hirschel’s water-bloated body to Kevin’s apology for the dirty trashcan. Maybe the FBI would get to the bottom of the swamp through investigating the bomb threat. Maybe Kevin would confess to the feds. Maybe Keith would come clean. Maybe somebody, anybody else. What was it his dad always said about maybe? Maybe monkeys would fly out of his ass and sing the Star Spangled Banner. He felt Annie’s hand move up and down his inner thigh. “So, you’re finally home, big boy,” she whispered and rolled over to lay her cheek on his chest. “Yeah, I’m home, but I ain’t feeing so big. I’m feeling like an ant about to be squashed between rolling boulders.” She sat up and turned on the nightstand lamp. “Keith said there was a situation in Seattle. It’s about that damn Hirschel murder, isn’t it?” “Yeah, and the bomb threat today that’s on the news …” He propped himself up on his pillow. “They said it was a false alarm. Some stupid kids wann’abe terrorists.” “Don’t believe everything you hear. Scare tactics get people just as dead as the real thing.” The sounded like fighting words. He changed tactics. “Do you love me lots and lots?’ Annie brushed his hair away from his eyes. “Gobs and gobs.” “Would you love me less if you knew I was a coward?” She paused as though weighing her answer. “Is this a trick question?” “It’s a serious question.” “It depends on what kind of coward. I wouldn’t want you selling out America to our enemies. I’d still love you, Mike, but I’d be pissed off.” “Enough to turn me in?” “Enough to nag you until you turned yourself in.” She pulled the blanket around her shoulders. “It might mean I’d have to go back to being a mechanic.” “Hooray! You’d make more money than you make as a sheriff.” “And they say women aren’t practical. Ha! Do we have any cocoa?” “I offer the man sex then good career advice, and he wants cocoa. What’s wrong with this guy?” Mike grabbed her and held her close. “I love you, Miss Sassy-pants.” Could their marriage survive an O’Brien ordeal? Winter storms in Dayton Bay were wicked and scary, but Annie said they couldn’t compare to Kansas tornados; the rocks keep the water at bay, and the thunder and lightning is all fuss and feathers. But what about storms of people hate? What about war. What about a label that made you a leper among men? He began to rock her slowly in his arms, and felt tears tracking down his cheeks. “Oh, Mike, what’s wrong? What have you done that’s so terrible, Dear?” “It’s not what I’ve done, it’s what I know. In the down stair’s den, I’ve got evidence of this ghastly crime, and it’s like having a rabid dog on a leash. All of sudden, I’ve got custody of the damn thing way up here in Dayton Bay where I thought we’d live an unimportant life. I’m pissed because it’s not fair, but then I think of Gerry O’Brien and I realize I don’t know what unfair means.” “Who’s Gerry O’Brien, Mike?” “He’s an innocent man. Just an innocent man who’s putting the whole justice universe on trial.” *** SEPTEMBER 22, 2018 Mike expected Irene’s Facebook page to be filed with recipes and cute kitty photos. After all, she had to be at least sixty if Gerry was forty-seven. But no, her friends were mostly tough-looking nationalists who lived in places like Poland, Romania, and had names like Olaf Cordescu that posted daily from groups like Justice Wolverines. Whatever happened to sweet grannies who looked like Mrs. Santa and baked pies for orphans? This ol’ broad posted photos of battleships and German flying aces. “You gotta love those Boomers,” Mike said to himself as he scrolled through her site. “Vivid imaginations.” A background check on Irene turned up no police records and no affiliations with white supremacists. He checked with the feds to see if the Justice Wolverines were known terrorist group, but found out they were rated as Known Harmless. “You’re the second guy this week who’s called about Schmidt,” Greene County Sheriff’s Deputy Russel told hm over the phone. “Like I told Mr. Clay, we’ve kept an eye on her since Judge Hirschel’s death but the only time she leaves her house is to go to church, the Food Lion, and the mall. She’s never left the state unless she’s sneaked out by car or alien aircraft. But she’s got two cats and a dog somebody would have to take care of. If she’s a hit granny, I’m the king of Sweden. As for Waxer the jailer, how would she know he was going to a cabin in the pines? No, your perp’s a local.” A tiny voice inside Mike said, “He’s right.” Hirschel and Waxer were both killed far from home, in out-of-the-way places where there were few people around, so whoever the murderer was, he had access to their leisure plans and itineraries and could move about quickly and without suspicion. Disabled Gerry and his elderly mother didn’t commit these crimes, but they might know who did. Policepeople had an information network, and convicted sex offenders did too. The Nineteen were probably the motive for the murder of Hirschel and Waxer, but who cared enough about them to find the means and opportunity to avenge them? Leave it to Annie to cut to give him a new perspective. “If it was me, I’d concentrate on solving the murder in my own yard instead of trying to prevent a hypothetical,” she said as they ate pancakes and bacon. “You and Keith are going to get burned playing with Seattle fire.” She stopped stirring her coffee. “Where would a judge get fentanyl anyway?” her eyes were wide with curiosity. “It’s not like you can buy drugs without knowing who’s selling.” The Adelaide raid failure took on a new significance. He believed he was after a meth lab because a guy named Joe-Sean Monroe got popped with half a pound of crank there, but he tested positive for an opioid and cannabis, not speed, and there was no evidence of manufacture. So, if Monroe wasn’t a speed user, he might be a mule. What if the Adelaide house was just a local drug convenience store, and Redding just a clerk —who worked part time at the airport? “What’re you looking for, Sheriff? Maybe I can save you some time.” Mr. Zimbel smoked a pipe and liked to pose as an old salt with the tourists. “I need to see your log book for May. I’m trying to find out how Judge Hirschel arrived in Dayton Bay. The motel doesn’t have a car license for him on the registration card. Maybe he flew in?” Like the Harbor Master, Zimbel was required to keep records of flight plans and manifests of both commercial and private aircraft. “He didn’t come in while I was here. Sam Redding would have been on duty after five o’clock,” he said as he pulled the log book from under the counter. “I’m gonna have to stop all night flights now that he’s gone.” Mike scanned the March pages first. Keith said Hirschel only bought the boat a week before he died, and he certainly wouldn’t have paid out seventy-grand for merchandise sight unseen. He either made an earlier trip to Dayton Bay or Bill Cross got the boat down to Seattle for him to see. Funny that Jane Cross never mentioned Hirschel bought the Belle from her husband. Perhaps because the deal established a link between Judge Thomas and Judge Hirschel? “Did Redding say where he was going?” Zimbel scratched his chin stubble. “He didn’t leave a forwarding address. Told me he was going to greener pastures. You can’t much greener than Washington, I say. They picked up Sam’s last check the Saturday before they skedaddled.” “They who?” Mike said. He was into the April pages now, and still no entries for evening or night arrivals. “Him and his friend. I guess they were friends. Big guy. He was driving a black SUV. Mazda, I think. Idaho plates. Remined me of the potato farmer on T.V. who’s always chasing the big spud.” It wasn’t much to go on, but Redding’s log entry listed a plane from Star-Lite Charter arriving from Seattle at 8:00 p.m. Wednesday night with a guy named Carl Waters aboard. “Wonder what Redding did with that old red pick-up he got back from impound.” “Beats me. Could’ve sold it again, I guess. You know how these young guys are around here. Always looking for trucks to take into the woods for fishin’ and huntin’. They beat the hell out of them, and buy another.” Zimbel was talking too much. Sam Redding wasn’t the first guy he’d hired for the night shift, nor the first drifter to rent the house on Adelaide. He flipped through the June and July and August, noting that Redding last initialed the log was August 31st. He closed the log book. “Thanks, Mr. Zimbel.” “Find what you were looking for, Sheriff?” Mike glanced to his left. On the wall next to the counter were three stacked rows of small lockers. For a quarter, under the watchful eye of Zimbel and his temporary help, people could stash anything from cash to China White. “Well, at least I know Hirschel didn’t fly in.” He glanced to his right. Three gedunk machines: coke, candy, and self-serve lottery tickets. “Have a good day.” Everybody in Dayton Bay could potentially make money off the drug trade. The hotel on Main Street had a safe to hide cash, the used car lot could buy and sell legal vehicles to haul product, mules could mingle with tourists, and Redding could take drug orders as easily as the Dairy Queen took order for hot dogs and shakes. “What do you know about Sam Redding?” Mike asked Keith as he was looking over the M.E.’s report on Hirschel for the up-teenth time. Keith looked up from the scheduling sheet where he was trying to be heroically fair about sharing the graveyard shift. “Only that he showed up about six months before you were hired. Why? You got a lead on him?” “I’m just wondering how much he knew about Hirschel.” “Not much, if we buy that Hirschel didn’t get to Dayton Bay until early May. Maybe the Belle wasn’t a retirement dream but a business venture like his B & B. How much would a cartel pay a retired judge to mule their product?” Keith said, “Holy shit, a ton of money!” “Just an idea for your ears only. You watch the office, I’ll patrol.” He drove to the Adelaide house, not expecting to find anything new, but to jog his memory. He’d parked his ’09 green Explorer half a block away from the house. He was still learning the country roads, and on his day off would drive around, stopping periodically to make notations on a paper map. He’d noted that this was a great place to surveil the road, the pine branches were low enough to make a car difficult to see, but not low enough to obstruct vision. From this vantage point, he had a clear view of the intersection, and the driveway that curved around to the back of the Adelaide house where there was a gravel parking area between it and the garage, wide enough for two vehicles, and to turn around. Sam had come out of the back door in pajama bottoms and a t-shirt, stretched like he’d just gotten out of bed, and checked his watch. An old red pick-up truck pulled into the driveway, and drove to the back porch. The men went inside, and a few minutes later they emerged, Sam held a cup —most likely coffee, and the other guy carried a small black case abut the size of a kid’s backpack that put in the truck. He handed Sam what looked like a stack of bills, and Sam stuffed the money into his pajama pocket. Mike called Keith, gave him a description of the truck, and said, “I’m tailing him. Get ready to roll. I think I just witnessed a drug deal.” The three of them met up in the D.Q. parking lot, and Keith collared Joe-Sean Monroe with a half-pound of meth and two joints. He brought Redding in for questioning. “Where do you know Monroe from?” Mike said. He offered Redding a cigarette. “I sold him my truck. He paid me yesterday, but I couldn’t find the registration. The sign says no smoking.” “We’re not arresting you for smoking tobacco. You won’t mind if we search our house to help you find that registration, will you?” “Get a warrant and knock yourself out.” “Are you related to Joe-Sean Monroe?” Frank said. “He’s my cousin.” “Do you know why your cousin tested positive for Oxy?” Mike said. “’Cause he swallowed some?” Frank leaned across the table, and glared at Sam. “Smart asses give me a pain in the butt.” “Maybe Monroe can help you out with some Oxy,” Redding said, and Mike left the room to laugh. Frank followed him out. “I hate funny guys. And guys who think they’re funny. What now Mike?” “We cut him loose and get a warrant.” Monroe tested positive for Oxy and weed alright, and D.A. Jankel had charged him with a laundry list of felonies, but he was a minor and was sent to a rehab facility in King County. As for the warrant? Jankel did everything but say no. “Where’s your probable cause, Sheriff? You thought you saw Monroe give Redding money, but you weren’t close enough to see that it was money, right? It’ll take a lot more to get a warrant from Judge Thomas.” “Like what, a confession?” That’s how the warrant chase began. Endless requests, endless hours of half-assed surveillance for the ‘lot more.’ End of story, except for Hirschel’s murder on Friday and the green pastures part on Monday. He called Greenbaum on his cell phone. “I know it’s early,” he explained to his secretary. “I just have a question about Judge Hirschel. Yes, maybe you can answer it. Did the Judge have any physical ailments, or a recent injury that required pain medication?” “No, but his wife did. Cancer.” There’s pain and then there’s heartache. Loneliness. Guilt. Kids that might despise their father for a mistress they allegedly didn’t know about but probably did. Lots of older people needed help to sleep at night, and lots of opioid addictions began with prescriptions they found in a family member’s medicine chest. He went into the NCIC data base and typed in: Carl Waters Seattle Washington. Three hits. A twenty-three-year old arrested for DUI; a deceased twenty-five-year-old wanted for child support; and fifty-two-year-old wanted for drug possession. That Carl Waters could pass for sixty-eight. He left a message with Star-Lite Charter for the pilot of the May flight to call him. The rest of the morning, he’d do what his Dad said was the most important thing a man can do: think. Scenario I: Hirschel is and addict and part of Dayton Bay drug running. He used Bill Waters’ identity, flew in on May second, picked up the drugs, and delivered then to Seattle, got back and died of an overdose, fell over the side tangled up in deck rope. Scenario II: Hirschel isn’t part of Dayton Bay drug running, but was an addict and Redding sold him some laced Oxy. He OD’d, and fell over the side tangled in deck rope. Scenario III: Hirschel is an addict and brought his wife’s prescription with him, OD’d accidentally or on purpose, and fell over the side tangled in deck rope. Scenario IV: Hirschel is not an addict and was killed accidentally or on purpose. By Redding, one of The Nineteen for revenge, or by someone who wanted his money. If he had any. The possibilities hadn’t changed in four months. He could put the case away in a shoe-box on the shelf because he’d never solve it unless he tackled the bigger case first. Like it or not, Seattle’s crap had floated up stream. He went into his contact list and stared at the Missouri phone number of Irene Schmidt. She and Gerry were the only way he could get the names of the Nineteen without going through Kevin or Clay, and they wouldn’t trust him unless he had something to trade for their cooperation. Was he ready to go back to being a mechanic? SEPTEMBER 17,2019 “Annie, we have to talk,” he said. She was standing at the sink washing fresh carrots for coleslaw salad. She wore a t-shirt, her gray cotton pants, and an apron she inherited from her Mama —the picture of bygone femininity. “I giving up being a cop.” “Okay, Dear,” she said. “Should I start packing?” She got a knife from the second drawer of the undercounter drawers, a bowl from the second shelf of the cupboard, and quartered a cabbage. “Aren’t you even going to ask why?” “I know why. And if I’m wrong, you’ll let me know.” He sat at the kitchen table. “What’s your why?” She hunted around for the grater. Found it in the dishwasher she hadn’t emptied. “You can’t solve the Hirschel case and you’ve decided you’re a crappy Sheriff. So, we’re moving. Close?” “Close enough to depress me. I wanted my reason to sound noble, but now I sound like a weenie.” She put the bowl, the cabbage chunks and the grater in front of him. “I can’t solve the Hirschel case without blowing the whistle on the other people involved,” he said flatly. “There’ll be a scandal and I’ll be in the middle of it. It’ll ruin our lives. No law enforcement agency will hire me, even to clean toilets. I’ll be an unemployable … unless … unless Irene Schmidt and Gerry O’Brien have mercy on me and why would they?” Annie poured them some iced tea, and joined him at the table. “On the other hand, you’ll be famous, write a book and be on C-Span book TV. Maybe get a watch-dog job with the DOJ. Or Judicial Watch. Teach criminal justice classes.” “Can I make love to you? You’re the only person I know who can make a tragedy sound like a good thing.” She began scraping carrot chucks across the grater. “After hearing Kevin’s confession, I’d say you don’t know what tragedy is, Mike. Maybe you’ll get your turn when some young honey accuses you of rape. Maybe when you make a traffic stop on a moonlit night and she gets pissed off.” There was that ‘maybe’ again. It was coiled up like a snake under his chair, waiting for him to decide what he was going to do. “I’ve got a job interview next Thursday. Green County, Missouri. Can you go with me? Irene Schmidt lives there.” *** SEPTEMBER 27, 2018 Irene lived in a working-class neighborhood on Mt. Vernon Street, Springfield, Missouri. All neighbors should be as conscientious as she was. Her trashcans were inside the chain-link fence and cordoned off from her neatly trimmed yard by a white wooden fence. Two Dachshunds sounded the alarm when he stopped in front of the house and approached the porch. Irene called them in around the back door, then greeted him from behind the front screen door. “You Mike Reed?” “Yes, Ma’am.” He took off his hat and handed her his badge. A wrinkly hand took it inside, and the door opened as she handed it back. “C’mon in.” Once inside, he smelled chocolate-chip cookies and fresh coffee. “Gerry got in last night. He’s off the registry, you know. He can travel to see his mama any time he wants now.” On the end table next to the sofa was a picture of a younger version of Irene with a plump balding man with a goat-tee. “Is this you and Mr. Schmidt?” he asked as he picked up the photograph. “That’s our weddin’ picture. Whenever I get to feelin’ blue, I look at it and remember my Merle’s waitin’ for me on the other side.” “That’s what my mama said when my daddy passed.” “Here’s Gerry now.” Mike looked up and saw a man, who looked almost as old as Irene and supported by a silver-topped carved wooden cane, hobbling over to the love seat. Mike stood and offered his hand. “Mr. O’Brien, I’m glad to meet you. Glad you could make it here on such short notice. I’m sort of killing two birds, as they say.” “Mom said you’d applied to the sheriff’s department. Sit on down,” Gerry said as he eased himself down. “I’ll come right to the point. I don’t know if you’ve heard any news out of Washington, but Judge Hirschel and jailer Waxer are dead. Murdered.” Gerry and his Mother exchanged glances. “And you think I did it?” Gerry said. “Good Lord, no.” He took out his cell phone. “The brother of Deputy Grover works for me in Dayton County, and he was visitin’ when Waxer got it. He confessed, Mr. O’Brien.” Mike started the recording and let it play. Irene came to Gerry’s side, and they sat on the love seat and listened without a word. Irene’s put her arm around her son’s shoulder, the both of them staring at the cell phone like they were watching a movie. “Kevin doesn’t know I recorded him. Neither does Clay or Carrione, or Kevin’s brother. I want to turn it over to the DOJ in D.C. but … I wanted to ask you what you thought about that before I did it. There’ll be a scandal. You’ll have to testify. You all will. It’s been ten years for you. Longer or shorter for some of the others. I … I don’t know it you want to revisit the ordeal. Plain and simple. You’re the only jury that has a right to hear the case and pass judgment on these bastards. I’ve got a box of throw-away phones out in the car, and each one has a recording of Kevin’s confession.” Irene was crying. Gerry was trying to comfort her as best he could with his own tears pouring over his cheeks. “Is there any way you can put me in touch with the others? I can’t get their names without alerting King County, and I don’t want to do that. The bigger the net, the more fish we’ll catch. If that’s what you want to do. Judge Hirschel has a large estate. It’s going through probate but can’t be settled until his boat is sold and that ain’t gonna happen as long as the Sheriff’s department has it in impound as a crime scene.” Mike handed Gerry a business card. “I’ve talked to a lawyer at the Washington Chapter of the Innocence Roundtable people. They’ll take your case, Mr. O’Brien.” Gerry took the card and let Irene read it. “Do you think there’ a chance they’ll take the other cases, too? Some of the guys owe so much money, they’ll never be able to pay up,” he said. “I guarantee it. Maybe between all of you, I can contact them all eventually. Can you give me a few names?” “I can,” Irene said. She went to a small desk behind the sofa, and brought him an address book. “The names are marked with red stars. The ones that are marked out …I’ve paid their debt …” “You paid? For how many?” Mike said as flipped the pages he saw bright red asterisks next to faded names. “Four. Only four. I pay with a credit card and then they make payments. Me and Gerry make payments too, so we can help the next one.” He thumbed through Irene’s address book to the “Rs”. No Sam Redding. “Is this a complete list, Mrs. Schmidt?” “No. I couldn’t track them all down.” “I don’t see the name Redding. Is that name familiar to you? “I don’t know anyone by that name.” “What about you, Gerry?” “I never met anyone by that name, either.” They were lawyer-like answers. “If you remember, call me …” Ten years was a long time to comply with the terms of injustice. For poor people, anything costing more than a hundred dollars was devastating. Indebtedness to the government wad a financial death sentence. He and Gerry shook hands. Was it enough for him to hear one of the perpetrators acknowledge guilt and regret? “Is there anything I can do to help you or the other fourteen?” he asked. “Maybe we could all meet up …” He had told himself he had no expectations, not even of gratitude, but it wasn’t true. “I’ll be heading home is a few days, so think about it. Plans can always change. Personally, I hope you sue the hell out of every one of the bastards.” They walked to Mike’s rental in silence. He hoped Gerry would give him an indication of what he was thinking, but heard Annie’s vice of reason inside his head: Give it up; people need time. “People do what they think they have to do,” Gerry said. It sounded like he was talking to himself, justifying the information he doled out. “There’s a guy, Bob Hamilton. Lives at 1013 Larkspur in the Green Pastures subdivision. He knows Sam Redding.” It was his one and only shot at solving the Hirschel case, but he couldn’t tell anyone about it or he’d never cop again. He’d spend the rest of his life in a mechanic’s bay changing oil and rotating tires, thanks to the Grover brothers dumping their garbage in his front yard. “Thanks, Gerry. I hope I’m wrong about him.” Address book in hand, he went back to the Extended Stay Hotel where Annie was waiting. “How’d it go?” she asked. “I’ll be extending our stay a few more days. I’ve got an appointment with the FBI. Any news from Seattle?” “No more murders, yet. If that’s what you mean. What about the O’Briens?” “It’s a lot to process. I’ve got to remember they’re going to need time. You remind me, okay?” “I can reheat the KFC. And I bought some Coke and a beer. Mr. Greenbaum’s called you twice. He wants to know when the Northern Belle can be put on the market. I told him it was still in impound but he wants to talk to you. Peggy called. She and Keith got a rescue dog from the pound. They named it Fritz.” “I’ll call Greenbaum. I love you.” The first call, however, was to Hamilton, but before he could get an outside line, there was a knock at the door. “Are you Mike Reed?” A middle-aged guy in a gray suit was holding a photo and comparing it to the guy in front of him. “Who wants to know?” The guy held up a badge and I.D. case. “Agent Marion Sullivan. FBI. May I come in, Sheriff?” “Okay.” It was odd. Annie came out of the kitchenette, and immediately turned around and went back in. “Is this official business. I’ve got an appointment with your office day after tomorrow.” “You met with Gerry O’Brien today. I thought there might be a connection between your meeting with him and your meeting with the bureau.” Mike got a beer from the refrigerator under the TV, and sat at the round table in front of the window. “What kind of connection? Is O’Brien under surveillance?” Sullivan sat at the table. “We got a call from Lawrence Clay about possible suspects in the courthouse bomb threat case. O’Brien’s on the list.” “Interesting coincidence, isn’t it? Why would Clay suspect him?” “Can I get one of those beers?’ “Only if you stop playing games.” Sullivan helped himself and came back to the table. “I interviewed Clay and Carrione and right away I knew they had a reason to be scared shitless. O’Brien was the first and only guy to pay off his court fees, and didn’t have a lawyer. When Schmidt paid off Gunther Siles’ fees, Clay was dumbfounded. Then she paid off Xavier Ramirez’s account. Where would a poor old hillbilly like her get that kind of money?” “I asked myself the same question,” Mike said. “But the answer is always the same in cases like that. Laundered money. I can understand why the families went through an intermediary like Schmidt, though. They don’t want people like you showing up on their doorstep. Can you blame them? They’ve paid their debt to society, but people like Clay get pissed off. He won’t let them be free.” “That’s not fair, Reed. Clay’s got a right to be scared after a judge and a jailer get killed.” Mike shrugged. “You’re on their doorstep, aren’t you?” “True. But I haven’t contacted any of these people and I don’t intend to intrude any more than I have to. That’s why I’m asking you why you went there and not them.” Maybe Sullivan thought Gerry and his mother would lie if he asked. Or maybe he didn’t want them to know Clay had provided the feds with “probable cause” to surveil them —an him. “I’m looking for a POI named Sam Redding in connection with the Hirschel case. Kevin Grover told me I might find him in Springfield through Schmidt, so I figured while I’m here for a job interview, I’d kill two birds. I didn’t know Gerry was going to be there. That’s all I know.” “Do they know where Redding is?” “They’ve never met him.” Sullivan put his business card on the table. “If you learn anything, give me a call. Thanks for the beer.” He started for the door, then stopped. “One more thing, we’re on the same side despite what you hear on the news. Whatever axe this bomber thinks he has to grind, he’s gotta be stopped before he kills somebody.” Somebody? “I’ll keep you in the loop, Agent Sullivan. But stop following me. I don’t like it and you’re going to blow my investigation.” Even if his phone wasn’t being tapped, Irene Schmidt’s phone was, and her house was under surveillance. He needed to warn Gerry but a feeling of dread and entrapment engulfed him. He hadn’t done anything illegal, yet he felt hunted. He had to consider every action how his every word would appear to the all-seeing presence of the government. He’d have to think and speak in code, encrypt his opinions, camouflage his intentions. “Same side, my ass.” He put Schmidt’s address book in his pocket, and drove back to Mt. Vernon Ave. “Sorry to come uninvited, but I need to return the address book to Gerry,” he said to Irene at the door, and motioned Gerry out to the porch. “The FBI visited me, and you and yours are being watched. Clay named all fourteen of you as suspects in the bombing threat. Be careful.” Gerry scanned the yard, and took off his baseball cap, holding it to his face as he spoke. “You could be next and they’re not going to be pleased at you warning their pigeons.” “I’m already next. If they ask, tell them the truth. I returned your address book.” He handed the little red book to him. “I don’t like fellow law people spying on me without telling me beforehand, and I don’t like questions about my private conversations. I’m not going to make trouble for you, Gerry. I’m going home tomorrow and if you want to talk to me, use a disposable phone. That recording I gave you? Make copies. In fact, you ought to post it on U-tube.” Mike saw a smile creep over Gerry’s face. “The FBI will ask how I got the confession.” “Two words: Fifth Amendment. Dummy up and call the Innocence Roundtable. Let Kevin explain. I have to go.” *** “Gerry says you hail from Washington, Sheriff. You’re asking after Sam Redding, is that right?” Bob Hamilton was one of those tall, slim, sleek lookin’ fellas who wore his hair slicked back with styling gel. He didn’t look like he’d have any problem buying his freedom from the government. “I just want to ask him who tipped him off about the search warrant I tried to serve him. It took me months to get it, and he disappeared on me. Said he was coming here.” “Sure, come ‘round the back.” Bob led him along the side of the house to a backyard patio. Waiting there was a man in a wheelchair, sitting at a card table. On it was a checker-board, an ashtray, and three tall glasses of what looked like iced-tea. “Meet Sam Redding,” Bob said. “Sam, this here’s Sheriff Reed all the way from Dayton Bay.” Mike sat on a striped canvas backed swing, letting Bob have one of the metal folding chairs. “He’s the guy who recorded Kevin Grover’s sob story.” Whoever Dayton Bay’s airport clerk was, he wasn’t Sam Redding. “Were you a victim of identity theft?” Mike asked. “I was lucky, in a way, Sheriff. I had an accident at a lumber yard where I was working. Got a boatload of cash in a settlement and bought this place. I paid off Bob’s costs and had Uncle Sam hire Bob-o-Link here, to take care of me. Of course, he still had to register and couldn’t live near kids … that burned my ass good, believe me. But, I found Green Pastures. And we operate a railroad, you might say. Some of our travelers need passports now and then. I rent my name out.” “One of your travelers may have killed a judge. Another may have threatened to blow up a court house. Now the FBI is running around violating every provision of the Constitution to find him ... or them.” Mike saw Sam’s resemblance to Washington Sam as soon as the man began talking. Related for sure. “Letting someone pose as you, is downright stupid. That wheelchair isn’t going to protect you from prison. If your boy won’t talk to me, perhaps he’ll talk to the FBI. They’ll be here next, I guarantee it.” Redding’s eye twitched and he looked nervously at Bob. “Who gave Hirschel a hot Oxy?” Mike demanded. Bob went inside and dragged the Adelaide house renter out by the collar. “I didn’t kill nobody!” the man said, and Bob shoved him into the folding chair. “What’s your real name?” Mike said. “Ramon Salcedo. People call me Cecil.” “What are you to this piece of cow dung?” Mike said to Redding. “He’s my brother-in-law,” Sam admitted. “Illegal connection’s more like it. Spill it, Cecil.” “I met this guy in Seattle who needs a guy to meet the mules at the airport, to make sure they dropped the shit. I didn’t know the Bill guy was a judge. He got off the plane and right away he starts talking about how he left his script at home. So, he says, he’s going to buy a few pills from the load he was carrying. I called my boss, and he says, okay. I take his money, he takes two pills, and I never saw him again. I swear. I didn’t know the oxy was laced with Apache.” “But your boss knew. Who would that be?” “Unh-unh … that I ain’t saying’. I ain’t gonna wind up dead.” Suddenly Cecil turned pale. “I ain’t getting no witness protection. I’ll get deported and wind up in a ditch with no hands and no head.” Mike recognized terror when he saw it. “Okay, who tipped you off about the warrant? That you’re going to tell me if I have to beat it out of you.” “Signora Cross. She said I should pack my stuff and get out of the house.” “And the furniture?” “What furniture? I sleep on the floor when a mule’s coming through. Other times, I sleep at the airport.” “Tell me about the Belle …” “I sail her down to Seattle for Senor Waters to see.” Cecil was calmer now. Bob Hamilton had moved from his side to the third metal chair, and didn’t seem so menacing. He had the same guarded body language as Gerry, eyes staring at the ground, arms folded casually across his chest, bulging with tension. “Cecil, who else saw the Belle in Seattle when you showed her to Waters?” Mike said. “La Signora Waters.” “Describe her to me.” “I don’t remember …” “Young, old, black, white?” “Middle-aged. White. Long silver hair. Thin. She wore red-rimmed sun glasses. White shorts. A T-shirt. Voted Seattle’s Best B & B.” That explained why the family wanted to rid themselves of the Belle so quickly. Maybe there was something to Clay’s tip after all. He looked at Bob. “You own a black SUV?” “Hirschel brought a load up from Seattle by plane. I was supposed to come to transfer the stuff to the car, and this idiot gave him a hot pill. He called me all hysterical and I rushed over to the airport, and Hirschel’s keeled over. Deader than shit. Zimbel called Riles, told him we were towing the boat out to open sea, and to say Hirschel signed the boat out at eleven. We staged the accident …” “So, no one actually boarded the Belle?” “She was just a prop. Something to tie Hirschel’s body to.” “Do you know how Hirschel got in with the cartel? I mean, he wasn’t always dirty, was he? That you knew of before … before he got into the plea bargain business?” Bob finally made eye contact and shifted in the chair, slowly, like it was painful to move. “Naw, I don’t have a clue. I never had no run-ins with the law before. I worked for a printer and we did some flyers for the Sheriff’s Department once in a while is all. I was never a rowdy kinda guy after I graduated high school. I never heard the name Hirschel until … well, you know.” Criminals don’t tell you so minute details unless they want you to buy a bullshit story to cover up the real story. What were the odds that Hirschel just happened to bring up a load under an assumed name that one of the Nineteen just happened to be picking up? Astronomical. No, once people know a person in power is for sale, they can buy him. Hirschel wasn’t killed accidentally because joined the same drug cartel as Bob Hamilton. Bob Hamilton joined the drug cartel on purpose so he’d have a way to kill Hirschel. Bob’s name wasn’t in Irene’s address book because she didn’t pay off his court fees. Redding did. “You’re gonna run into the law again if you keep runnin drugs, you know that, right? Especially when you’ve got idiots like Cecil battin’ for your team,” Mike warned. “He didn’t tell you about the note he left for me, I’ll bet. It said he was going to greener pastures.” Cecil started to speak, but Sam socked him in the shoulder. “Shut-up, you.” “Even if you took Cecil to rehab —yeah, I know an addict when I see one —he’d still be stupid, Bob,” Mike continued. “I told Gerry, and I’ll tell you. The FBI is checking out everybody who has a grudge against the court, and the Nineteen are in their investigation crosshairs. Clay still hates you and scared you’ll bring him down. Get one of Sam’s passports and take a vacation.” “You’re not going to turn us in?” Cecil said. Sam socked him again. “Hirschel reaped what he sowed,” Mike said. “Drugs are dangerous.” That was undisputed truth. As for Waxer the jailer, it wasn’t his case to solve. He called Greenbaum on his way back to the hotel. “I’m sending deputy Grover a text to release the Northern Bell from impound. You can put her on the market whenever you want. As soon as you pay the impound fees. Roughly twenty-three hundred-dollars. And give the family my best.” ***
Annie had room service bring them tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner. “The way I figure it, gourmet food will only give s indigestion. Lawrence Clay has been calling here every twenty minutes since you left at ten. Now there’s a guy who’d benefit from social anxiety drugs. What a gruff son-of-a-bitch.” It may have been a peasant meal but the staff had put the cart in front of the sliding windows that looked out over an English garden courtyard. The tableware reminded him of the kind they used on trains. Heavy silver. Funny how the little things made people feel catered to. “Did Clay say what he wanted? This doesn’t taste like American cheese … you think they used Gouda?” Annie went to her lap-top on the dresser, and gathered up sticky notes from the rim. “They all say the same thing. It’s important.” She answered the room phone. “Yes, hold on. … Mike, it’s Clay, will you talk to him, please?” “Oh, alright.” Mike left the pleasantness of the view, and flopped on the bed. “Yeah?” Clay: I’ve been trying to reach you for hours. Somebody took a shot art Carrione from a hundred-yards away. You know what means? Sniper training. Sullivan tells me you’re in Springfield and talked to Gerry O’Brien. Is that true?” Mike: Sullivan told me you suspected him. I interviewed him, and I can tell you without a doubt he had nothing to do with Hirschel’s murder.” Clay: I don’t give a damn about Hirschel’s murder! Carrione was almost killed! And O’Brien knows who did it.” Mike: When did it happen? Clay: This morning as he was coming to work. Somebody was on the overpass. I tell you, O’Brien was in the army. He knows snipers. Mike: Does O’Brien have a motive?” Clay: Don’t fuck with me Reed. Mike: I’m out of my jurisdiction Clay, wha’dya want me to do?” Clay: Give Sullivan probable cause to arrest him. Something he did or said —anything to let the FBI take him into custody. And if you can’t do that, just back off and let Sullivan do his job and keep your mouth shut. Somebody has to make him tell what he knows about the shit that’s happening up here. He knows plenty, too. Bastard thinks he can intimidate the law. Mike: O’Brien doesn’t know squat. He get’s a disability check from uncle Sam and helps his aging mother. He can barely walk … Clay: Just stay out of Sullivan’s way…. Mike: And if I don’t? Clay: You’ll find yourself behind bars for obstructing justice. The feds don’t play games. Mike heard the line go dead. He hung up the receiver and rolled over. Clay’s words were like implosion explosives detonating inside his head. The threat was not directed at him alone. It meant agony for Annie like it meant hell for the families of the Nineteen. He’d do anything to protect her from that. Clay had little sympathy from him after Kevin’s confession, but now the victims of injustice had become more than a tragedy. Heir cause had become a vendetta. Annie sat on the side of the bed, leaned over and caressed his cheek. “You’re a good wife, Annie,” he said. “You’ve never come right out and said I’m a lousy cop.” “Because you’re not. You’re a great cop … you’d be great at anything you try.” Her optimism was contagious. It’s one of the reasons he married her. “Oh, yeah, I’m a lousy cop. No good at politics, and that seems to be job one.” She took his hand. “You’ll solve the Hirschel case, Mike. You need to give yourself a little time is all …” “It’s solved.” Her eyes brightened. “You know who killed the judge?” He brought her hand to his lips. “Yep. Who, how, and why. But I can’t tell anyone. No, I won’t tell anyone. I can live with that, can you?” “I don’t understand, Mike.” “Clay just demanded that I let the federal boys to fuck over O’Brien the way he did or he’s going to have me arrested for obstruction.” Her face drained white. “What?” “O’Brien caved in once, why not a second time? All they have to do is pull him into the system again, and he’ll go down for all of it. Hirschel, Waxer, the bomb threat, the two warning shots to Clay and Carrione … they’ll make an example out of him and intimidate the rest of the Nineteen to leave them alone and disappear. At least that was the plan until I screwed it up.” Annie called the front desk. “Hi, this is room 212. I’m going to put our lunch cart outside the door. You can come get it.” She maneuvered the cart to the hallway and closed the door. “Well, at least we know Clay doesn’t know about Kevin’s confession. It’s somewhat of an insurance policy, yeah?” Mike noticed she often got busy when she thought about problems. It was like moving around was the key to her solutions. Had she already figured out the end game? “Gerry doesn’t want to re-live his nightmare,” he explained. “None of them do. From what I gather, the less contact they have with one another, the safer they are. Plausible deniability. Hamilton runs drugs. Irene pays off the fees with the money he provides. Gerry probably does know snipers who’ll take shots at these guys. Eventually, they’ll all wind up dead. Carrione. Clay. Kevin. Whoever else is on their list.” He went to the refrigerator, pulled out a complimentary-sized bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label and a Coke Zero, and got two glasses. “You’re ginning, Mike reed. I haven’t seen you smile like that in months.” “I’ve made a decision, my lady love.” He handed her a mostly-coke drink, and kept the mostly-bourbon drink for himself. “Does that decision mean we’re leaving the drizzle of Dayton Bay?” “It means we’re going to choose a town, and move there so I can go back to being a grease monkey. In five years, I’ll have my own garage. Salut!” “I’ll gladly drink to that,” Annie said. “What about Sullivan and O’Brien?” Mike already had his cell-phone out and was thumbing numbers. “Mr. Hamilton, this is Sheriff Mike Reed. I know you know all about plea deals, but do you know the story of Sammy Gravano? He was a bodyguard for a gangster named John Gotti. He killed nineteen people and never spent a day in prison for it. You know why? Because he dropped a dime on Gotti and the Feds wanted his testimony more than they wanted justice for a bunch of thugs. Think about how badly they might want to hush up information that would bankrupt a city, and call into question every case adjudicated by the Washington state court system over the course of fifteen years. Give O’Brien a head’s up about use immunity. My best guesstimate, you’ve got about a forty-eight-hour window of opportunity.” Clay was like an unfaithful husband. If he’d cheat on his wife, why not his mistress? The Nineteen weren’t the only people he’d fucked over. He’d turned he entire criminal justice system into one big killing machine. Killing lives, and rights, and dreams, and the souls of every poor bastard unlucky enough to cross paths with his shadow. There were no better insulated or powerful people in America than those in law enforcement. All the money in the world couldn’t compensate the Nineteen. Like Marie Stockton, they’d never be made whole. Until justice was done, the debt would never be paid. What is justice? Blood. Annie put down her cell phone, and was busy again. She had opened their suitcases on the luggage stools, and was packing up their belongings. “We can get a flight out this evening. She glanced over at him. “I assume we’re going home so you can tidy up things in Dayton Bay.” She closed the suitcases and went to the window. “I like this town. What say we chose this one to raise our chillin’ in?” *** DECEMBER 1, 2019 “I wish you’d stay on, Mike,” Keith said as they shared a last cup of morning coffee at Carrie’s. “If all the good people leave, what’s left except the crappy people?” “You’re good people. And it’s your town,” Mike reminded him. “With Kevin and Sarah up here now, it’s up to you guys to make it or break it.” “Are you really turning in your badge and hangin’ up your guns?” “Well, you got the badge part right. It’s Missouri after all.” Keith laughed. “I got’cha. It’s just that, whatever strings you pulled, it seems like you saved Kevin’s life. So far, anyway. It’s too bad about Clay and Carrione.” Eventually, Mike knew, Keith would get around to the murders of two of Seattle’s most powerful legal eagles. “Yeah, too bad.” Keith wanted information. Maybe to sell, or bargain for a raise. Maybe just out of curiosity. Maybe out of unspoken dread that Kevin might still be on the waiting list for a sniper’s bullet. Maybe monkeys ... he heard his father say. He’d learned not to trust in maybes. Hamilton still wasn’t on law enforcement’s radar and Gerry O’Brien still hadn’t contacted the Innocence Roundtable. They might still be in the vigilante business. When it came to criminal justice, he knew when to keep his mouth shut.