1 HE FRONT-PAGE STORY IN THE MEMPHIS PRESS ABOUT Clifford's death was written top to bottom by Slick Moeller, a veteran police reporter who had been covering crime and cops in Memphis for thirty years. His real name was Alfred, but no one knew it. His mother called him Slick, but not even she could remember the nickname's origins. Three •wives and a hundred girlfriends had called him Slick. He did not dress exceptionally well, did not finish high school, did not have money, was blessed with average looks and build, drove a Mustang, could not keep a woman, and so no one knew why he was called Slick.
Crime was his life. He knew the drug dealers and pimps. He drank beer at the topless bars and gossiped with the bouncers. He kept charts on the who's who of motorcycle gangs that supplied the city with drugs and strippers. He could move deftly through the toughest projects of Memphis without a scratch. He knew the rank and file of the street gangs. He had busted no less than a dozen stolen car rings by tipping the police. He knew the ex-cons, especially the ones who returned to crime. He could spot a fencing operation simply by watching the pawnshops. His cluttered downtown apartment was most unremarkable except for an entire wall of emergency scanners and police radios. His Mustang had more junk than a police cruiser, except for a radar gun, and he didn't want one.
Slick Moeller lived and moved in the dark shadows of Memphis. He was often on the crime scene before the cops. He moved freely about the morgues and hospitals and black funeral parlors. He had nurtured thousands of contacts and sources, and they talked to Slick because he could be trusted. If it was off the record, then it was off the record. Background was background. An informant would never be compromised. Tips were guarded zealously. Slick was a man of his word, and even the street gang leaders knew it.
He was also on a first-name basis with virtually every cop in the city, many of whom referred to him with great admiration as the Mole. Mole Moeller did this. Mole Moeller said that. Since Slick had become his real name, the added nickname did not bother him. Nothing bothered Slick much. He drank coffee with cops in a hundred all-night diners around town. He watched them play softball, knew when their wives filed for divorce, knew when they got themselves reprimanded. He was at Central Headquarters at least twenty hours a day, it seemed, and it was not uncommon for cops to stop him and ask what was going on. Who got shot? Where was the holdup? Was the driver drunk? How many were killed? Slick told them as much as he could. He helped them whenever possible. His name was often mentioned in classes at the Memphis Police Academy.
And so it was no surprise to anyone that Slick spent the entire morning fishing around Central. He'd made his calls to New Orleans and knew the basics. He knew Roy Foltrigg and the New Orleans FBI were in town, and that everything had been turned over to them. This intrigued him. It was not just a simple suicide; there were too many blank faces and "no comments." There was a note of some sort, and all questions about it were met with sudden denials. He could read the faces of some of these cops, been doing it for years. He knew about the boys and that the younger one was in bad shape. There were some fingerprints, some cigarette butts.
He left the elevator on the ninth floor and walked away from the nurses' station. He knew the number of Ricky's room, but this was the psychiatric ward and he was not about to go barging in with his questions. He didn't want to scare anyone, especially an eight-year-old kid who was in shock. He stuck two quarters in the soft drink machine and sipped on a diet Coke as if he'd been there all night walking the floors. An orderly in a light blue jacket pushed a cart of cleaning supplies to the elevator. He was a male, about twenty-five, long hair, and certainly bored with his menial job.
Slick stepped to the elevators, and when the door opened he followed the orderly onto it. The name Fred was sewn into the jacket above the pocket. They were alone.
"You work the ninth floor?" Slick asked, bored but with a smile.
"Yeah." Fred did not look at him, "I'm Slick Moeller with the Memphis Press, working on a story about Ricky Sway in Room 943 You know, the shooting and all." He'd learned early in his career that it was best to tell them up front who and what.
Fred was suddenly interested. He stood erect and looked at Slick as if to say "Yeah, I know plenty, but you're not getting it from me." The cart between them was filled with Ajax, Comet, and twenty bottles of generic hospital supplies. A bucket of dirty rags and sponges covered the bottom tray. Fred was a toilet scrubber, but in a flash, he became a man with the inside scoop. "Yeah," he said calmly.
"Have you seen the kid?" Slick asked nonchalantly while watching the numbers light up above the door.
"Yeah, just left there." "I hear it's severe traumatic shock." "Don't know," Fred said smugly as if his secrets were crucial. But he wanted to talk, and this never ceased to amaze Slick. Take an average person, tell him you're a reporter, and nine times out of ten he'll feel obligated to talk. Hell, he'll want to talk. He'll tell you his deepest secrets.
"Poor kid," Slick mumbled to the floor as if Ricky were terminal. He said nothing else for a few seconds, and this was too much for Fred. What kind of a reporter was he? Where were the questions? He, Fred, knew the kid, had just left his room, had talked to his mother. He, Fred, was a player in this game.
"Yeah, he's in bad shape," Fred said, also to the floor.
"Still in a coma?" "In and out. May take a long time." "Yeah. That's what I heard." The elevator stopped on the fifth floor, but Fred's cart blocked the door and no one entered. The door closed.
"There's not much you can do for a kid like that," Slick explained. "I see it all the time. Kid sees something horrible in a split second, goes into shock, and it takes months to drag him out. All kinds of shrinks and stuff. Really sad. This Sway kid ain't that bad, is he?" "I doubt it. Dr. Greenway thinks he'll snap out in a day or two. It'll take some therapy, but he'll be fine. I see it all the time. Thinking about med school myself." "Have the cops been snooping around?" Fred cut his eyes around as if the elevator were bugged. "Yeah, FBI was here all day. The family has already hired a lawyer." "You don't say." "Yeah, cops are real interested in this case, and they're talking to the kid's brother. Somehow a lawyer's got in the middle of it." The elevator stopped on the second floor, and Fred grabbed the handles on his cart.
"Who's the lawyer?" Slick asked.
The door opened and Fred pushed forward. "Reggie somebody. I haven't seen him yet." "Thanks," Slick said as Fred disappeared and the elevator filled. He rode it to the ninth floor to search for another fish.
BY NOON, THE REVEREND ROY FOLTRIGG AND HIS SIDEkicks, Wally Boxx and Thomas Fink, had become a collective nuisance around the offices of the United States Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee. George Ord had held the office for seven years, and he did not care for Roy Foltrigg. He had not invited him to Memphis. Ord had met Foltrigg before at numerous conferences and seminars where the various U. S. attorneys gather and plot ways to protect the government. Foltrigg usually spoke at these forums, always eager to share his opinions and strategies and great victories with anyone who would listen.
After McThune and Trumann returned from the hospital and broke the frustrating news about Mark and his new lawyer, Foltrigg, along with Boxx and Fink, had once again situated himself in Ord's office to analyze the latest. Ord sat in his heavy leather chair behind his massive desk, and listened as Foltrigg interrogated the agents and occasionally barked orders to Boxx.
"What do you know about this lawyer?" he asked Ord.
"Never heard of her." "Surely someone in your office has dealt with her?" Foltrigg asked. The question was nothing short of a challenge for Ord to find someone with the scoop on Reggie Love. He left his office and consulted with an assistant. The search began.
Trumann and McThune sat very quietly in one corner of Ord's office. They had decided to tell no one of the tape, at least for the moment. Maybe later. Maybe, they hoped, never.
A secretary brought sandwiches, and lunch was eaten amid aimless speculation and chatter. Foltrigg was eager to return to New Orleans, but more eager to hear from Mark Sway. The fact that the kid had somehow obtained the services of an attorney was most troublesome. He was afraid to talk. Foltrigg was convinced Clifford had told him something, and as the day wore on he became more convinced the kid knew about the body. He was never one to hesitate before drawing conclusions. By the time the sandwiches were finished, he had persuaded himself and everyone in the room that Mark Sway knew precisely where Boyette was buried.
David Sharpinski, one of Ord's many assistants, presented himself at the office and explained he'd gone to law school at Memphis State with Reggie Love. He sat next to Foltrigg, in Wally's seat, and answered questions. He was busy and would rather have been working on a case.
"We finished law school together four years ago," Sharpinski said.
"So she's only practiced for four years," Foltrigg surmised quickly. "What kind of work does she do? Criminal law? How much criminal law? Does she know the ropes?" McThune glanced at Trumann. They'd been nailed by a four-year lawyer.
"A little criminal stuff," Sharpinski replied. "We're pretty good friends. I see her around from time to time. Most of her work is with abused children. She's, well, she's had a pretty rough time of it." "What do you mean by that?" "It's a long story, Mr. Foltrigg. She's a very complex person. This is her second life." "You know her well, don't you?" "I do. We were in law school together for three years, off and on." "What do you mean, off and on?" "Well, she had to drop out, let's say, emotional problems. In her first life, she was the wife of a prominent doctor, an ob-gyn. They were rich and successful, all over the society pages, charities, country clubs, you name it. Big house in Germantown. His and her Jaguars. She was on the board of every garden club and social organization in Memphis. She had worked as a schoolteacher to put him through med school, and after fifteen years of marriage he decided to trade her in for a new model. He started chasing women, and became involved with a younger nurse, who eventually became wife number two. Reggie's name back then was Re-gina Cardoni. She took it hard, filed for divorce, and things got nasty. Dr. Cardoni played hardball, and she slowly cracked up. He tormented her. The divorce dragged along. She felt publicly humiliated. Her friends were all doctors' wives, country club types, and they ran for cover. She even attempted suicide. It's all in the divorce papers in the clerk's office, He had a truckload of lawyers, and they pulled strings and had her committed to an institution. Then he cleaned her out." "Children?" "Two, a boy and a girl. They were young teenagers, and of course he got custody. He gave them their freedom and enough money to finance it, and they turned their backs on their mother. He and his lawyers kept her in and out of mental institutions for two years, and by then it was all over. He got the house, kids, the trophy wife, everything." Describing this tragic history of a friend troubled Sharpinski, and he was obviously uncomfortable telling it all to Mr. Foltrigg. But most of it was public record.
"So how'd she become a lawyer?" "It wasn't easy. The court order prohibited visitation with the children. She lived with her mother, who, I think, probably saved her life. I'm not sure, but I've heard that her mother mortgaged her home to finance some pretty heavy therapy. It took years, but she slowly pieced her life back together. She pulled out of it. The kids grew up and left Memphis. The boy went to prison for selling drugs. The daughter lives in California." "What kind of law student was she?" "At times, very astute. She was determined to prove to herself she could succeed as a lawyer. But she continued to battle depression. She struggled with booze and pills, and finally dropped out halfway through. Then she came back, clean and dry, and finished with a vengeance." As usual, Fink and Boxx scribbled furiously on legal pads, trying importantly to take down every word as if Foltrigg would later quiz them on their notes. Ord listened but was more concerned with the pile of past due work on his desk. With each minute, he resented Foltrigg and this intrusion more and more. He was just as busy and important as Foltrigg.
"What kind of lawyer is she?" Roy asked.
Mean as hell, thought McThune. Shrewd as the devil, thought Trumann. Quite talented with electronics., "She works hard, doesn't make much money, but then, I don't think money is important to Reggie." "Where in the world did she get a name like Reggie?" Foltrigg asked, thoroughly baffled by it. Perhaps it comes from Regina, Ord thought to himself.
Sharpinski started to speak, then thought for a second. "It would take hours to tell what I know about her, and I really don't want to. It's not important, is it?" "Maybe," Boxx snapped.
Sharpinski glared at him, then looked at Foltrigg. "When she started law school, she tried to erase most of her past, especially the painful years. She took back her maiden name of Love. I guess she got Reggie from Regina, but I've never asked. But she did it legally, court orders and all, and there's no trace of the old Regina Cardoni, at least not on paper. She didn't talk about her past in law school, but she was the topic of a lot of conversation. Not that she gives a damn." "Is she still sober?" Foltrigg wanted the dirt, and this irritated Sharpinski. To McThune and Trumann she appeared remarkably sober.
"You'll have to ask her, Mr. Foltrigg." "How often do you see her?" "Once a month, maybe twice. We talk on the phone occasionally." "How old is she?" Foltrigg asked the question with a great deal of suspicion, as if perhaps Sharpinski and Reggie had a little thing going on the side.
"You'll have to ask her that too. Early fifties, I'd guess." "Why don't you call her now, ask her what's going on, just friendly small talk, you know. See if she mentions Mark Sway." Sharpinski gave Foltrigg a look that would sour butter. Then he looked at Ord, his boss, as if to say "Can you believe this nut?" Ord rolled his eyes and began refilling a stapler.
"Because she's not stupid, Mr. Foltrigg. In fact, she's quite smart, and if I call she'll immediately know the reason why." "Perhaps you're right." "I am." "I would like you to go with us at three to her office, if you can work it in." Sharpinski looked at Ord for guidance. Ord was deeply involved with the stapler. "I can't do it. I'm very busy. Anything else?" "No. You can go now," Ord suddenly said. "Thanks, David." Sharpinski left the office.
"I really need him to go with me," Foltrigg said to Ord.
"He said he was busy, Roy. My boys work," he said, looking at Boxx and Fink. A secretary knocked and entered. She brought a two-page fax to Foltrigg, who read it with Boxx. "It's from my office," he explained to Ord as if he and he alone had such technology at his fingertips. They read on, and Foltrigg finally finished. "Ever hear of Willis Upchurch?" "Yes. He's a big shot defense lawyer from Chicago, lot of mob 'work. What's he done?" "It says he just finished a press conference before a lot of cameras in New Orleans, and that he's been hired by Muldanno, that the case will be postponed, his client will be found not guilty, etc., etc." "That sounds like Willis Upchurch. I can't believe you haven't heard of him." "He's never been to New Orleans," Foltrigg said with authority, as if he remembered every lawyer who dared to step on his turf.
"Your case just became a nightmare." "Wonderful. Just wonderful."