Chapter 17

HE DIDN'T WASH his hair for the third straight day. He wanted the oily look. He didn't shave either. For his outfit, he switched from the light cotton hospital gown he'd slept in back to the aqua surgeon's scrubs, which were very wrinkled. Hayani promised to get him new ones. But for today, he needed the wrinkles. He put a white sock on his right foot but there was a nasty rope burn just above his left ankle, and he wanted people to see this. No sock there. Just a matching black rubber shower sandal.

He would be displayed today. The world was waiting.

Sandy arrived at ten with two pairs of cheap pharmacy sunglasses, per his client's instructions. And a black New Orleans Saints cap. "Thanks," Patrick said, as he stood before the mirror in the bathroom and admired the sunglasses and prepared the cap.

Dr. Hayani arrived minutes later, and Patrick introduced one to the other. Patrick was suddenly nervous and light-headed. He sat on the edge of his bed, ran his fingers through his hair, and tried to breathe slowly. "I never thought this day would happen, you know," he mumbled to the floor. "Never." His doctor and his lawyer looked at each other with nothing to say.

Hayani ordered a strong depressant, and Patrick gulped down both pills. "Maybe I'll sleep through it all," he said.

"I'll do all the talking," Sandy said. "Just try and relax."

"He's about to," Hayani said.

A knock on the door, and Sheriff Sweeney entered with enough deputies to quell a riot. Stiff pleasantries were exchanged. Patrick put on his Saints cap and his new shades, large dark ones, and held out his wrists to be handcuffed.

"What are those?" Sandy demanded, pointing to a set of ankle irons a deputy was holding.

"Ankle irons," said Sweeney.

"I don't think so," Sandy said harshly. "The man has burns on one ankle."

"He certainly does," Dr. Hayani said boldly, anxious to enter the fray. "See," he insisted, pointing to Patrick's left ankle.

Sweeney pondered this for a moment, and his hesitation cost him. Sandy charged ahead: "Come on, Sheriff, what are his chances of escape? He's injured, handcuffed, surrounded by all these people. What the hell's he gonna do? Break and run? You guys aren't that slow, are you?"

"I'll call the Judge, if necessary," Dr. Hayani said angrily.

"Well, he came here with ankle irons," the Sheriff said.

"That was the FBI, Raymond," Patrick said. "And they were leg chains, not ankle irons. And they hurt like hell anyway."

The ankle irons were put away, and Patrick was led into the hallway, where men in matching brown uniforms grew silent at the sight of him. They gathered around him and the mob moved slowly toward the elevator. Sandy stayed to his left, gently holding him by the elbow.

The elevator was too small for his entire entourage. The ones who didn't make it scurried down the staircase and met them in the lobby where they reorganized and shuffled past the front reception and through the glass doors, into the warm autumn air, where a regular parade of freshly waxed vehicles awaited them. They put him in a sparkling new black Suburban with Harrison County insignia plastered from bumper to bumper, and away they went, followed by a white Suburban carrying his armed protectors. It, in turn, was followed by three freshly cleaned patrol cars. In front, two more patrol cars, the newest additions to the fleet, led the invasion as it cleared military checkpoints and entered the civilian world.

Through the cheap thick sunglasses, Patrick saw everything outside. Streets he'd driven a million times. The houses looked familiar. They turned onto Highway 90 and there was the Gulf, its calm brown waters seemingly unchanged since he left. There was the beach, a narrow strip of sand between the highway and the water, too far from the hotels and condos on the other side of the highway.

The Coast had prospered during his exile, thanks wholly to the surprising arrival of casino gambling. There had been rumors of its coming when he left town, and now he was riding past large Vegas-style casinos with glitz and neon. The parking lots were filling, at nine-thirty in the morning.

"How many casinos?" he asked the Sheriff, seated to his right.

"Thirteen at last count. With more on the way."

"Hard to believe."

The depressant was quite effective. His breathing became heavy and his body relaxed. He felt like nodding off for a moment, then they turned onto Main Street and he was anxious again. Just a couple of blocks now. A few more minutes, and his past would come roaring back to greet him. By City Hall, to the left, quickly now, for a glimpse of the Vieux Marche, and in the middle of the old street lined with shops and stores, a fine large white building he once owned a piece of as a partner in Bogan, Rapley, Vitrano, Havarac, and Lanigan, Attorneys and Counselors-at-Law.

It was still standing, but the partnership was crumbling within.

Ahead was the Harrison County Courthouse, only a three-block walk from his old office. It was a plain, brick two-story building with a small green lawn in the front next to Howard Street. The lawn was covered with people milling about. The streets were lined with cars. Pedestrians hurried along the sidewalks, all headed for the courthouse it seemed. Cars ahead pulled over as Patrick and his caravan came through.

The horde in front of the courthouse moved in a frantic wave around both sides, but was stopped by police barricades at the rear where a section was cordoned off. Patrick had seen several notorious murderers rushed to and from court through the back door, and so he knew exactly what was happening. The parade stopped. Doors flew open and a dozen deputies spilled forth. They crowded around the black Suburban. Its door slid open slowly. Patrick eventually appeared, his aqua garb quite the contrast to the dark brown uniforms squeezing around him.

An impressive mob of reporters, photographers, and cameramen gathered breathlessly along the nearest barricade. Others behind them ran to catch up. Patrick was immediately aware of the spotlight, and he lowered his head and crouched among the deputies. They walked him quickly to the rear door, a barrage of idiotic questions flying over his head.

"Patrick, what's it like to be home!?"

"Where's the money, Patrick!?"

"Who burned up in the car, Patrick!?"

Through the door and up the back stairway, a brief journey Patrick had sometimes taken when he was in a hurry to catch a judge for a quick signature. The smell was suddenly familiar. The concrete steps had not been painted in four years. Through a door, through a short hallway with a crowd of courthouse clerks gathered at one end gawking at him. They put him in the jury room, which was next to the courtroom, and he took a seat in a padded chair by a coffeepot.

Sandy hovered over him, anxious to make sure he was okay. Sheriff Sweeney dismissed the deputies, and they moved into the hall to wait for the next transfer.

"Coffee?" Sandy asked.

"Please, black."

"You okay, Patrick?" Sweeney asked.

"Yeah, sure, Raymond, thanks." He sounded meek and scared. His hands and knees shook and he couldn't make them stop. He ignored the coffee, and despite both hands cuffed together adjusted his black sunglasses and pulled the bill of his cap further down. His shoulders sagged.

There was a knock on the door, and a pretty girl named Belinda eased her head through just long enough to say, "Judge Huskey would like to meet with Patrick." The voice was so familiar. Patrick raised his head, looked at the door, and said softly, "Hello, Belinda."

"Hello, Patrick. Welcome back."

He turned away. She was a secretary in the clerk's office, and all the lawyers flirted with her. A sweet girl. A sweet voice. Had it really been four years?

"Where?" the Sheriff asked.

"In here," she said. "In a few minutes."

"Do you want to meet with the Judge, Patrick?" Sandy asked. It was not mandatory. Under normal circumstances, it would be downright unusual.

"Sure." Patrick was desperate to see Karl Huskey.

She left and the door clicked behind her.

"I'll step outside," Sweeney said. "I need a cigarette."

Finally, Patrick was alone with his lawyer. He suddenly perked up. "Couple of things. Any word from Leah Pires?"

"No," Sandy said.

"She'll get in touch soon, so be ready. I've written her a long letter, and I'd like for you to get it to her."


"Second. There's an antibugging device called a DX-130, made by LoKim, a Korean electronics outfit. Costs about six hundred dollars; about the size of a portable Dictaphone. Get one, and bring it with you whenever we meet. We'll disinfect the room and the phones before each little conference. Also, hire a reputable surveillance firm in New Orleans to check your office twice a week. It's very expensive, but I'll pay for it. Any questions?"


Another knock, and Patrick slouched again. Judge Karl Huskey entered the room alone, robeless, in shirt and tie with reading glasses perched halfway down his nose. His gray hair and wrinkled eyes made him appear much older and wiser than forty-eight, which was exactly what he wanted.

Patrick was looking up and already smiling when Huskey offered his hand. "Good to see you, Patrick," he said warmly as they shook hands, the cuffs rattling. Huskey wanted to reach down and hug him, but with judicial restraint he limited the contact to a soft handshake.

"How are you, Karl?" Patrick said, keeping his seat.

"I'm fine. And what about you?"

"I've had better days, but it is good to see you. Even under these circumstances."

"Thanks. I can't imagine-"

"Guess I look different, don't I?"

"You certainly do. I'm not sure I would recognize you on the street."

Patrick only smiled.

Like a few others who still professed some level of friendship for Patrick, Huskey felt betrayed, but even more so he felt great relief in knowing that his pal was not dead. He was deeply worried about the capital murder charge. The divorce and the civil suits could be dealt with, but not murder.

Because of their friendship, Huskey would not preside over the trial. He planned to handle the preliminary matters, then step aside long before the important rulings were due. There had already been a story about their history.

"I assume you will enter a plea of not guilty," he said.

"Yes, that's correct."

"Then it will be a routine first appearance. I'll deny bail since it's capital murder."

"I understand, Karl."

"Whole thing won't take ten minutes."

"I've been here before. The chair will be different, that's all."

In twelve years on the bench, Judge Huskey had often been astonished at the amount of sympathy he could muster for average people who'd committed heinous crimes. He saw the human side of their suffering. He saw guilt eat them alive. He'd sent to prison hundreds of people who, if given the chance, would have left his courtroom and never sinned again. He wanted to help, to reach out, to forgive.

But this was Patrick. His Honor was almost moved to tears at the moment. His old friend-bound and dressed in a clown suit, eyes covered, face altered, nervous and twitchy and scared beyond words. He'd like to take him home, feed him some good food, let him rest, and help him pull his life together.

He kneeled next to him, and said, "Patrick, I can't hear this case, for obvious reasons. Right now I'll handle the preliminary stuff to make sure you're protected. I'm still your friend. Don't hesitate to call." He patted him very gently on the knee, hoping he didn't touch a raw spot.

"Thanks, Karl," Patrick said, biting his lip.

Karl wanted eye contact, but it was impossible with the sunglasses. He stood and headed for the door. "Everything's routine today, Counselor," he said to Sandy.

"Are there a lot of people out there?" Patrick asked.

"Yes, Patrick. Friends and enemies alike. They're all out there." He left the room.

THE COAST had a long and rich history of sensational murders and notorious criminals, so crowded courtrooms were not uncommon. No one could remember, though, such a packed house for a simple first appearance.

The press had arrived early and taken the good seats. Since Mississippi was one of the remaining few states with the good sense to ban cameras from the courtroom, the reporters would be forced to sit and watch and listen, then put in their own words what they saw. They would be forced to be real reporters, a task for which most of them were ill-equipped.

Every big trial attracted the regulars-clerks and secretaries from courthouse offices, bored paralegals, retired cops, local lawyers who hung around most of the day, sipping free coffee in the clerks' offices, gossiping, examining real estate deeds, waiting for a judge to sign an order, doing anything to stay away from the office-and Patrick attracted all these and more.

In particular, there were many lawyers present just to get a glimpse of Patrick. The papers had been filled with stories about him for four days now, but no one had seen a current photo. Rumors were rampant about his appearance. The torture story had elevated curiosity even more.

Charles Bogan and Doug Vitrano sat together in the middle of the pack, as close to the front as they could get. The damned reporters beat them to the courthouse. They wanted to be on the front row, near the table where the defendant always sat. They wanted to see him, to make eye contact, to whisper threats and vulgarities if at all possible, to spit as much bile as they could in this civilized setting. But they were five rows back, waiting patiently for a moment they thought would never come.

The third partner, Jimmy Havarac, stood along the back wall and chatted quietly with a deputy. He ignored the stares and glances from people he knew, many of whom were other lawyers who secretly had been delighted when the money vanished and the firm lost its fortune. It would have been, after all, the largest single fee earned by any firm in the history of the state. Jealousy was the natural tendency. He hated them, as he hated virtually everyone else in the courtroom. A bunch of vultures waiting for a carcass.

Havarac, the son of a shrimper, was still stout and crude and not beyond a barroom brawl. Five minutes alone with Patrick in a locked room, and he'd have the money.

The fourth partner, Ethan Rapley, was at home in the attic, as usual, working on a brief in support of some insipid motion. He would read about it tomorrow.

A handful of the lawyers were old buddies who came to cheer Patrick on. Escape was a common, usually unspoken, dream of many small-town lawyers trapped in an overcrowded, boring profession where expectations were too high. At least Patrick had the guts to chase the dream. There was an explanation for the dead body, they were sure of that.

Arriving late and pushed into a corner was Lance. He had loitered around back with the reporters, taking the measure of the security. It was quite impressive, at least for now. But could the cops keep it up every day during a long trial? That was the question.

Many acquaintances were present, people Patrick had known only in passing but who now suddenly claimed to have been his dearest friends. Some in fact had never met Patrick, but that didn't stop their idle chatter about Patrick this and Patrick that. Likewise, Trudy suddenly had new friends who had stopped by to scowl at the man who had broken her heart and abandoned precious little Ashley Nicole.

They read paperbacks and scanned newspapers and tried to look bored, as if they didn't really want to be there. There was movement among the deputy clerks and bailiffs near the bench, and the courtroom instantly grew quiet. The newspapers were lowered in unison.

The door next to the jury box opened and brown uniforms poured into the courtroom. Sheriff Sweeney entered, holding Patrick by the elbow, then two more deputies, then Sandy brought up the rear.

There he was! Necks strained and stretched and heads bobbed and weaved. The courtroom artists went to work.

Patrick walked slowly across the courtroom to the defense table, his head down, though from behind the sunglasses he was searching the spectators. He caught a glimpse of Havarac on the rear wall, his scowling face speaking volumes. And just before he sat he saw Father Phillip, his priest, looking much older but just as amiable.

He sat low, his shoulders sagging, chin down, no pride here. He did not look around because he could feel the stares from every direction. Sandy put his arm on his shoulder and whispered something meaningless.

The door opened again, and T.L. Parrish, the District Attorney, entered, alone, and walked to his table next to Patrick's. Parrish was a bookish sort with a small ego, contained ego. No higher office was calling him. His trial work was methodical, absent of any trace of flamboyance, and lethal. Parrish currently carried the second-highest conviction rate in the state. He sat next to the Sheriff, who had moved from Patrick's table to where he belonged. Behind him were agents Joshua Cutter, Brent Myers, and two other FBI types Parrish couldn't even name.

The stage was set for a spectacular trial, yet it was at least six months away. A bailiff called them to order, made them stand while Judge Huskey entered and assumed his perch on the bench. "Please sit," were his first words, and everyone obeyed.

"The matter of State versus Patrick S. Lanigan, case number 96-1140. Is the defendant present?"

"Yes, Your Honor," Sandy said, half-standing.

"Would you please rise, Mr. Lanigan?" Huskey asked. Patrick, still handcuffed, slowly pushed his chair back and got to his feet. He was semi-bent at the waist, with his chin and shoulders down. And it was no act. The depressant had deadened most parts of his body, including his brain.

He stiffened a bit.

"Mr. Lanigan, I'm holding a copy of an indictment returned against you by the grand jury of Harrison County, in which it is alleged you murdered one John Doe, a human being, and for this you have been charged with capital murder. Have you read this indictment?"

"Yes sir," he announced, chin up, voice as strong as he could make it.

"Have you discussed it with your attorney?"

"Yes sir."

"How do you wish to plead?"

"Not guilty."

"Your plea of not guilty is accepted. You may sit down."

Huskey shuffled some papers, then continued: "The Court, on its own motion, hereby imposes a gag order on the defendant, the attorneys, the police and investigating authorities, any and all witnesses, and all court personnel, effective now and lasting until the trial is over. I have copies of this order for everyone to read. Any violation of it will result in contempt of court, and I will deal harshly with any violators. Not one word to any reporter or journalist without my approval. Any questions from the attorneys?"

His tone left little doubt that the Judge not only meant what he said, but relished the thought of going after violators. The lawyers said nothing.

"Good. I have prepared a schedule for discovery, motions, pretrial, and trial. It's available in the clerk's office. Anything else?"

Parrish stood and said, "Just one small matter, Your Honor. We would like to get the defendant in our detention facility as soon as possible. As you know, he's now at the base in a hospital, and, well, we-"

"I just talked to his doctor, Mr. Parrish. He's undergoing medical treatment. I assure you that as soon as he is released by his doctor, then we'll transfer him to the Harrison County Jail."

"Thank you, Judge."

"If nothing else, then we stand adjourned."

He was rushed from the courtroom, down the back stairs, into the black Suburban as the cameras clicked and rolled. Patrick nodded then napped as he was returned to the hospital.