Chapter 27

1 HE ROOM WAS DARK AS USUAL; THE LIGHTS OFF, THE door shut, the blinds drawn, the only illumination the moving blue shadows of the muted television high on tb. 6 wall. Dianne was mentally drained and physically beat from lying in bed with Ricky for eight hours, patting and hugging and cooing and trying to be strong in this damp, dark little cell.

Reggie had stopped by two hours earlier, and they'd sat on the edge of the foldaway bed and talked for thirty minutes. She explained the hearing, assured her Mark was being fed and in no physical danger, described his room at the detention center because she'd seen one before, told her he was safer there than here, and talked about Judge Roosevelt and the FBI and their witness protection program. At first, and under the circumstances, the idea was attractive-they would simply move to a new city with new names and a new job and a decent place to live. They could run from this mess and start over. They could pick a large city with big schools and the boys would get lost in the crowd. But the more she lay there curled on one side and stared above Ricky's little head at the wall, the less she liked the idea. In fact, it was a horrible idea-living on the run forever, always afraid of an unexpected knock on the door, always in a panic when one of the boys was late getting home, always lying about their past.

This little plan was forever. What if, she began asking herself, one day, say five or ten years from now, long after the trial in New Orleans, some person she's never met lets something slip and it's heard by the wrong ears, and their trails are quickly traced? And when Mark is, say, a senior in high school, somebody waits fbr him after a ballgame and sticks a gun to his head? His name wouldn't be Mark, but he would be dead nonetheless.

She had almost decided to veto the idea of witness protection when Mark called her from the jail. He said he'd just finished a large pizza, was feeling great, nice place and all, was enjoying it more than the hospital, food was better, and he chatted so eagerly she knew he was lying. He said he was already plotting his escape, and would soon be out. They talked about Ricky, and the trailer, and the hearing today and the hearing tomorrow. He said he was trusting Reggie's advice, and Dianne agreed this was best. He apologized for not being there to help with Ricky, and she fought tears when he tried to sound so mature. He apologized again for all this mess.

Their conversation had been brief. She found it difficult to talk to him. She had little motherly advice, and felt like a failure because her eleven-year-old son was in jail and she couldn't get him out. She couldn't go see him. She couldn't go talk to the judge. She couldn't tell him to talk or to remain quiet because she was scared too. She couldn't do a damned thing but stay here in this narrow bed and stare at the walls and pray that she would wake up and the nightmare would be over.

It was 6 P. M., time for the local news. She watched the silent face of the anchorperson and hoped it wouldn't happen. But it didn't take long. After two dead bodies were carried from a landfill, a black-and-white still photo of Mark and the cop she'd slapped that morning was suddenly on the screen. She turned up the volume.

The anchorperson gave the basics about the taking of Mark Sway, careful not to call it an arrest, then went to a reporter standing in front of the Juvenile Court building. He rattled on a few seconds about a hearing he knew nothing about, gushed breathlessly that the child, Mark Sway, had been taken back to the Juvenile Detention Center, and that another hearing would be held tomorrow in Judge Roosevelt's courtroom. Back in the studio, the anchorperson brought 'em up-to-date on young Mark and the tragic suicide of Jerome Clifford. They ran a quick clip of the mourners leaving the chapel that morning in New Orleans, and had a second or two of Roy Foltrigg talking to a reporter under an umbrella. Back quickly to the anchorperson, who began quoting Slick Moeller's stories, and the suspicion mounted. No comments from the Memphis police, the FBI, the U. S. attorney's office, or the Shelby County Juvenile Court. The ice got thinner as she skated into the vast, murky world of unnamed sources, all of whom were short on facts but long on speculation. When she mercifully finished and broke for a commercial, ~ the uninformed could easily believe that young Mark Sway had shot not only Jerome Clifford but Boyd Boyette as well.

Dianne's stomach ached, and she hit the power button. The room was even darker. She had not taken a single bite of food in ten hours. Ricky twitched and grunted, and this irritated her. She eased from the bed, frustrated with him, frustrated with Greenway for the lack of progress, sick of this hospital with its dungeon-like decor and lighting, horrified at a system that allowed children to be jailed for being children, and, above all, scared of these lurking shadows who'd threatened Mark and burned the trailer and obviously were quite willing to do more. She closed the bathroom door behind her, sat on the edge of the bathtub, and smoked a Virginia Slim. Her hands trembled and her thoughts were a blur. A migraine was forming at the base of her skull, and by midnight she would be paralyzed. Maybe the pills would help.

She flushed the skinny cigarette butt, and sat on the edge of Ricky's bed. She had vowed to get through this ordeal one day at a time, but damned if the days weren't getting worse. She couldn't take much more.

BARRY THE BLADE HAD PICKED THIS DUMPY LITTLE BAR because it was quiet, dark, and he remembered it from his teenage years as a young and aspiring hoodlum on the streets of New Orleans. It was not one he routinely frequented, but it was deep in the Quarter, which meant he could park off Canal and dart through the tourists on Bourbon and Royal, and there was no way the feds could follow him.

He found a tiny table in the back, and sipped a vodka gimlet while waiting for Gronke.

He wanted to be in Memphis himself, but he was out on bond and his movements were restricted. Permission was required before he could leave the state, and he knew better than to ask. Communication with Gronke had been difficult. The paranoia was eating him alive. For eight months now, every curious stare was another cop watching his every move. A stranger behind him on the sidewalk -was another fibbie hiding in the darkness. His phones were tapped. His car and house were bugged. He was afraid to speak half the time because he could almost feel the sensors and hidden mikes.

He finished the gimlet and ordered another one. A double. Gronke arrived twenty minutes late, and crowded his bulky frame into a chair in the corner. The ceiling was seven feet above them.

"Nice place," Gronke said. "How you doin'?" "Okay." Barry snapped his fingers and the waiter •walked over.

"Beer. Grolsch," Gronke said.

"Did they follow you?" Barry asked.

"I don't think so. I've zigzagged through half the Quarter, you know." "What's happening up there?" "Memphis?" "No. Milwaukee, you dumbass," Barry said with a smile. "What's happening with the kid?" "He's in jail, and he ain't talkin'. They took him in this morning, had some kinda hearing at lunch before the youth court, then took him back to jail." The bartender carried a heavy tray of dirty beer mugs through the swinging doors into the dirty, cramped kitchen, and when he cleared the doors, two FBI agents in jeans stopped him. One flashed a badge while the other took the tray.

"What the hell?" the bartender asked, backing to the wall while staring at the badge just inches from the tip of his wide nose.

"FBI. Need a favor," said Special Agent Scherff calmly, all business. The other agent pressed forward. The bartender owned two felony convictions, and had been enjoying his freedom for less than six months. He became eager.

"Sure. Anything." "What's your name?" asked Scherff.

"Uh, Dole. Link Dole." He'd used so many names over the years, it was difficult keeping them straight.

The agents inched forward even more and Link began to fear an attack. "Okay, Link. Can you help us?" Link nodded rapidly. The cook stirred a pot of rice, a cigarette barely hanging from his lips. He glanced their way once but had other things on his mind.

"There are two men out there having a drink in the rear corner, on the right side where the ceiling is low." "Yeah, okay, sure. I'm not involved, am I?" "No, Link. Just listen." Scherff pulled a matching set of salt and pepper shakers from his pocket. "Put these on a tray with a bottle of ketchup. Go to the table, just routine, you know, and switch these with the ones sitting there now. Ask these guys if they want something to eat, or another drink. You understand?" Link was nodding but not understanding. "Uh, what's in these?" "Salt and pepper," Scherff said. "And a little bug that allows us to hear what these guys are saying. They're criminals, okay, Link, and we have them under surveillance." "I really don't want to get involved," Link said, knowing full well that if they threatened even slightly he'd bust his ass to get involved.

"Don't make me angry," Scherff said, waving the shakers.

"Okay, okay." A waiter kicked open the swinging doors and shuffled behind them with stack of dirty dishes. Link took the shakers. "Don't tell anyone," he said, trembling.

"It's a deal, Link. This is our little secret. Now, is there an empty closet around here?" Scherff asked this while looking around the cramped and cluttered kitchen. The answer was obvious. There had not been an empty square foot in this dump in fifty years.

Link thought a second or two, very eager to help his new friends. "No, but there's a little office right above the bar." "Great, Link. Go exchange these, and we'll set up some equipment in the office." Link held them gingerly as if they might explode, and returned to the bar.

A waiter placed a bottle of Grolsch in front of Gronke and disappeared.

"The little bastard knows something, doesn't he?" the Blade said.

"Of course. Otherwise, this wouldn't be happening. Why would he get himself a lawyer? Why would he clam up like this?" Gronke drained half his Grolsch with one thirsty gulp.

Link approached them with a tray loaded with a dozen salt and pepper shakers and bottles of ketchup and mustard. "You guys eating dinner?" he asked, all business, as he swapped the shakers and bottles on their table.

Barry waved him off. Gronke said, "No." And Link was gone. Fewer than thirty feet away, Scherff and three more agents crowded over a small desk and flipped open heavy briefcases. One of the agents grabbed earphones and stuck them to his head. He smiled.

"This kid scares me, man," Barry said. "He's told his lawyer, so that makes two more who know." "Yeah, but he ain't talkin', Barry. Think about it. We got to him. I showed him the picture. We took care of the trailer. The kid is scared to death." "I don't know. Is there any way to get him?" "Not right now. I mean, hell, the cops have him. He's locked up." "There are ways, you know. I doubt if security is tight at a jail for kids." "Yeah, but the cops are scared too. They're all over the hospital. Got guards sittin' in the hallway. Fib-bies dressed like doctors runnin' all over the place. These people are terrified of us." "But they can make him talk. They can put him in the mouse program, throw a buncha money at his mother. Hell, buy them a fancy new house trailer, maybe a double-wide or something. I'm just nervous as hell, Paul. If this kid was clean we would've never heard about him." "We can't hit the kid, Barry." "Why not?" "Because he's a kid. Because everybody's watching him right now. Because if we do, a million cops'll hound us to our graves. It won't work." "What about his mother or his brother?" Gronke took another shot of beer, and shook his head in frustration. He was a tough thug who could threaten with the best of them, but, unlike his friend, he was not a killer. This random, search for victims scared him. He said nothing.

"What about his lawyer?" Barry asked.

"Why would you kill her?" "Maybe I hate lawyers. Maybe it'll scare the kid so bad h"'ll go into a coma like his brother. I don't know." "And maybe killing innocent people in Memphis is not such a good idea. The kid'll just get another lawyer." "We'll kill the next one too. Think about it, Paul, this could do wonders for the legal profession," Barry said with a loud laugh. Then he leaned forward as if a terribly private thought hit him. His chin was inches from the salt shaker. "Think about it, Paul. If we knock off the kid's lawyer, then no lawyer in his right mind would represent him. Get it?" "You're losin' it, Barry. You're crackin' up." "Yeah, I know. But it's a great thought, ain't it? Smoke her, and the kid won't talk to his own mother. What's her name, Rollie or Ralphie?" "Reggie. Reggie Love." "What the hell kinda name is that for a broad?" "Don't ask me." Barry drained his glass and snapped again for the waiter. "What's she sayin' on the phone?" he asked, in low again, just above the shaker.

"Don't know. We couldn't go in last night." The Blade was suddenly angry. "You what!" The wicked eyes were fierce and glowing.

"Our man is doing it tonight if all goes well." "What kinda place has she got?" "Small office in a tall building downtown. It should be easy." Scherff pressed the earphone closer to his head. Two of his pals did likewise. The only sound in the room was a slight clicking noise from the recorder.

"Are these guys any good?" "Nance is pretty smooth and cool under pressure. His partner, Cal Sisson, is a loose cannon. Afraid of his shadow." "I want the phones fixed tonight." "It'll be done." Barry lit an unfiltered Camel and blew smoke at the ceiling. "Are they protecting the lawyer?" He asked this as his eyes narrowed. Gronke looked away.

"I don't think so." "Where does she live? What kinda place?" "She's got a cute little apartment behind her mother's house," "She live alone?" "I think so." "She'd be easy, wouldn't she? Break in, take her out, steal a few things. Just another house burglary gone sour. What do you think?" Gronke shook his head and studied a young blonde at the bar.

"What do you think?" Barry repeated.

"Yeah, it'd be easy." "Then let's do it. Are you listening to me, Paul?" Paul was listening, but avoiding the evil eyes. "I'm not in the mood to kill anyone," he said, still staring at the blonde.

"That's fine. I'll get Pirini to do it."

SEVERAL YEARS EARLIER, A DETAINEE, AS THEY RE CALLED IN the Juvenile Detention Center, a twelve-year-old, died in the room next to Mark's from an epileptic seizure. A ton of bad press and a nasty lawsuit followed, and though Doreen had not been on duty when it happened, she had nonetheless been shaken by it. An investigation followed. Two people were terminated. And a new set of regulations came down.

Doreen's shift ended at five, and the last thing she did was check on Mark. She'd stopped by on the hour throughout the afternoon, and watched with growing concern as his condition worsened. He was withdrawing before her very eyes, saying less with each visit, just lying there in bed staring at the ceiling. At five, she brought a county paramedic with her. Mark was given a quick physical, and pronounced alive and well. Vital signs were strong. When she left, she rubbed his temples like a sweet little grandmother and promised to return bright and early tomorrow, Friday. And she sent more pizza.

Mark told her he thought he could make it until then. He'd try to survive the night. Evidently she left instructions, because the next floor supervisor, a shor^ plump little woman named Telda, immediately knocked on his door and introduced herself. For the next four hours, Telda knocked repeatedly and entered the room, staring wildly at his eyes as if he were crazy and something was about to snap.

Mark watched television, no cable, until the news started at ten, then brushed his teeth and turned off the lights. The bed was quite comfortable, and he thought of his mother trying to sleep on that rickety cot the nurses had rolled into Ricky's room.

The pizza was from Domino's, not some leathery slab of cheese someone threw in a microwave, but a real pizza Doreen had probably paid for. The bed was warm, the pizza was real, and the door was locked. He felt safe, not only from the other inmates and the gangs and violence certain to be close by, but especially from the man with the switchblade who knew his name and had the picture. The man who'd burned the trailer. He'd thought about this guy every moment of every hour since he dashed from the elevator early yesterday morning. He'd thought about him on Momma Love's porch last night, and sitting in the courtroom that afternoon listening to Hardy and McThune. He'd worried about him hanging around the hospital where Dianne was unaware.

SITTING IN A PARKED CAR ON THIRD STREET IN DOWNTOWN Memphis at midnight was not Cal Sisson's idea of safe fun, but the doors were locked and there was a gun under the seat. His felony convictions forbade him from owning or possessing a firearm, but this was Jack Nance's car. It was parked behind a delivery van near Madison, a couple of blocks from the Sterick Building. There was nothing suspicious about the car. Traffic was light Two uniformed cops on foot strolled along the sidewalk and stopped fewer than five feet from Cal. They stared at him. He glanced in the mirror, and saw another pair. Four cops! One of them sat on the trunk, and the car shook. Had the parking meter run out on him? No, he'd paid for an hour and been here less than ten minutes. Nance said it was a thirty-minute job.

Two more cops joined the two on the sidewalk, and Cal started sweating. The gun worried him, but a good lawyer could convince his probation officer that the gun was not his. He was merely driving for Nance.

An unmarked police car parked behind him, and two cops in plain clothes joined the others. Eight cops!

One in jeans and a sweatshirt bent at the waist and stuck his badge to Cal's window. There was a radio on the seat next to his leg, and thirty seconds ago he should have punched the blue button and warned Nance. But now it was too late. The cops had materialized from nowhere.

He slowly rolled down his window. The cop leaned forward and their faces were inches apart. "Evening, Cal. I'm Lieutenant Byrd, Memphis PD." The fact that he called him Cal made him shudder. He tried to remain calm. "What can I do for you, Officer?" "Where's Jack?" Cal's heart stopped and sweat popped through his skin. "Jack who?" Jack who. Byrd glanced over his shoulder and smiled at his partner. The uniformed cops had surrounded the car. "Jack Nance. Your good friend. Where is he?" "1 haven't seen him." "Well, what a coincidence. I haven't seen him either. At least not for the past fifteen minutes. In fact, the last time I saw Jack was at the corner of Union and Second, less than a half an hour ago, and he was getting out of this car here. And you drove away, and, surprise, here you are." Cal was breathing, but it was difficult. "I don't know what you're talking about." Byrd unlocked the door and opened it. "Get out, Cal," he demanded, and Cal complied. Byrd slammed the door and shoved him against it. Four of the cops surrounded him. The other three were looking in the direction of the Sterick Building. Byrd was in his face.

"Listen to me, Cal. Accomplice to breaking and entering carries seven years. You have three prior convictions, so you'll be charged as a habitual offender, and guess how much time you're looking at." His teeth were chattering and his body was shaking. He shook his head no, as if he didn't understand and wanted Byrd to tell him.

"Thirty years, no parole." He closed his eyes and slumped. His breathing was heavy.

"Now," Byrd continued, very cool, very cruel. "We're not worried about Jack Nance. When he finishes with Ms. Love's phones, we've got some boys waiting for him outside the building. He'll be arrested, booked, and in due course sent away. But we don't figure he'll talk much. You follow?" Cal nodded quickly.

"But, Cal, we figure you might want to cut a deal. Help us a little, know what I mean?" He was still nodding, only faster.

"We figure you'll tell us what we need to know, and in return, we'll let you walk." [ Cal stared at him desperately. His mouth was open, his chest pounding away.

Byrd pointed to the sidewalk on the other side of Madison. "You see that sidewalk, Cal?" Cal took a long, hopeful look at the empty sidewalk. "Yeah," he said eagerly.

"Well, it's all yours. Tell me what I want to hear, and you -walk. Okay? I'm offering you thirty years of freedom, Cal. Don't be stupid." "Okay." "When does Gronke return from New Orleans?" "In the morning, around ten." "Where's he staying?" "Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza." "Room number?" "It's 782." "Where are Bono and Pirini?" "I don't know." "Please, Cal, we're not idiots. Where are they?"-"They're in 783 and 784." "Who else from New Orleans is here?" "That's it. That's all I know." "Can we expect more people from New Orleans?" "I swear I don't know." "Do they have any plans to hit the boy, his family, or his lawyer?" "It's been discussed, but no definite plans. I wouldn't be a part of it, you know." "I know, Cal. Any plans to bug more phones?" "No. I don't think so. Just the lawyer." "What about the lawyer's house?" "No, not to my knowledge." "No other bugs or wires or phone taps?" "Not to my knowledge." "No plans to kill anybody?" "No." "If you're lying, I'll come get you, Cal, and it's thirty years." "I swear it." Suddenly, Byrd slapped him on left side of his face, then grabbed his collar and squeezed it together. Cal's mouth was open and his eyes showed absolute terror. "Who burned the trailer?" Byrd snarled at him as he pushed him harder against the car.

"Bono and Pirini," he said without the slightest hesitation.

"Were you in on it, Cal?" "No. I swear." "Any more fires planned?" "Not to my knowledge." "Then what the hell are they doing here, Cal?" "They're just waiting, listening, you know, just in case they're needed for something else. Depends on what the kid does." Byrd squeezed tighter. He showed him his teeth and twisted the collar. "One lie, Cal, and I'm all over your ass, okay?" "I'm not lying, I swear," Cal said in a shrill voice.

Byrd turned him loose and nodded at the sidewalk. "Go, and sin no more." The wall of cops opened, and Cal walked through them and into the street. He hit the sidewalk at full stride, and was last seen jogging into the darkness.