Chapter Thirty-Four

The courtroom didn't change on Saturday. The same clerks wore the same clothes and busied themselves with the same paperwork. Judge Harkin's robe was just as black. The lawyers' faces all blurred, same as Monday through Friday. The deputies were just as bored, maybe more so. Minutes after the jury was seated and Harkin finished his questions, the monotony settled in, same as Monday through Friday.

After Gunther's tedious performance on Friday, Cable and crew thought it best to start the day with a bit of action. Cable called forward and got qualified as an expert a Dr. Olney, a researcher no less, who'd done some amazing things with laboratory mice. He had a video of his cute little subjects, all of them alive and seemingly filled with energy, certainly not diseased and dying. They were in several groups, boxed in glass cages, and it was Olney's task to apply various quantities of cigarette smoke each day to each cage. This he did over a period of years.

Massive doses of cigarette smoke. The prolonged exposure failed to produce a single case of lung cancer. He'd tried everything short of suffocation to force death upon his little creatures, but it just wouldn't work. He had the stats and details. And he had lots of opinions about how cigarettes do not cause lung cancer, either in mice or in humans.

Hoppy was listening, from what was now his usual seat in the courtroom. He had promised to stop by, to wink at her, to give moral support, to once again let her know how awfully sorry he was. It was the least he could do. And after all it was Saturday, a busy day for realtors, but Dupree Realty seldom got cranked up until late in the morning. Since the disaster of Stillwater Bay, Hoppy had lost his drive. The thought of several years in prison sapped his will to hustle.

Taunton was back, on the front row now behind Cable, still wearing an immaculate dark suit, taking important notes and glancing at Lonnie, who did not need the reminder.

Derrick sat near the rear, watching it all and scheming. Rikki's husband Rhea sat on the rear seat with both kids. They tried to wave at their mother when the jury was seated. Mr. Nelson Card sat next to Mrs. Herman Grimes. Loreen's two teenaged daughters were present.

The families were there to be supportive, and to satisfy their curiosities. They'd heard enough to form their own opinions about the issues, the lawyers, the parties, the experts, and the Judge. They wanted to listen, so that perhaps they could later share an insight into what ought to be done.

BEVERLY MONK slipped out of her coma mid-morning, the remnants of gin and crack and what else she couldn't remember still lingering hard and blinding her as she covered her face and realized she was lying on a wooden floor. She wrapped herself in a dirty blanket, stepped over a snoring male she didn't recognize, and found her sunglasses on a wooden crate she used as a dresser. With the glasses on, she could see. The open loft was a mess-bodies sprawled on beds and floors, empty liquor bottles perched on every stick of cheap furniture. Who were these people? She shuffled toward a small loft window, stepping over a roommate here and a stranger there. What had she done last night?

The window was frosted; an early light snow was falling on the streets, where the flakes melted as they landed. She pulled the blanket around her emaciated body and sat on a beanbag near the window, watching the snow and wondering how much of the thousand bucks was left.

She inhaled the chilly air close to a windowpane, and her eyes began to clear. The throbbing in her temples ached but the dizziness was fading. Before she'd met Claire years ago, she'd chummed with a KU student named Phoebe, a flaky girl with a substance problem who'd spent time in recovery but was always on the brink of succumbing. Phoebe had worked briefly at Mulligan's with Claire and Beverly, then left the place under a cloud. Phoebe was from Wichita. She had once told Beverly that she knew something about Claire's past, something she'd learned from a boy who'd dated Claire. It wasn't Jeff Kerr, but some other guy, and if her head wasn't pounding she maybe could remember more of the details.

It was a long time ago.

Someone grunted under a mattress. Then there was silence again. Beverly had spent a weekend with Phoebe and her large, Catholic family in Wichita. Her father was a physician there. Should be easy to find. If that nice thug Mr. Swanson would fork over a thousand bucks for a few harmless answers, how much would he pay for some real background on Claire Clement?

She'd find Phoebe. Last she heard, she was in L.A. playing the same game Beverly was playing in New York. She'd shake down Swanson for all she could, then maybe find another place to live, a larger flat with nicer friends who'd keep the riffraff out.

Where was Swanson's card?

FITCH SKIPPED the morning's testimony to engage in a rare briefing, an event he despised. His guest was important, though. The man's name was James Local, head of the private investigation company to which Fitch was paying a fortune. Hidden in Bethesda, Local's firm hired lots of former government intelligence agents, and in the normal course of things an excursion into the heartland to locate a lone American female with no criminal record would be a nuisance. Their specialty was monitoring illegal arms shipments, tracking terrorists, and the like.

But Fitch had plenty of money, and the work involved only the slightest risk of flying bullets. The work had also been quite fruitless, and this was the reason Local was in Biloxi.

Swanson and Fitch listened as Local, without the slightest trace of apology, detailed their efforts of the past four days. Claire Clement had not existed before she appeared in Lawrence in the summer of 1988. Her first apartment was a two-bedroom condo she rented by the month and paid for with cash. The utilities were in her name-water, electric, gas. If she'd used the courts of Kansas for a legal name change, there was no record of it. Such files are kept locked, but they had managed to access them nonetheless. She didn't register to vote, didn't purchase car tags, didn't purchase real estate, but she did possess a Social Security number, which she'd used for employment purposes at two places-Mulligan's and a clothing boutique just off campus. A Social Security card is relatively easy to get, and it makes life much easier for a person on the run. They had managed to obtain a copy of her application for it, which revealed nothing useful. She had not applied for a passport.

It was Local's opinion that she had legally changed her name in another state, just pick one of the other forty-nine, then moved to Lawrence with a fresh identity.

They had her phone records for the three years she lived in Lawrence. There were no long distance calls billed to her. He repeated this twice so it would sink in. No long distance calls in three years. At the time, the phone company did not keep records of incoming long distance calls, so the printouts revealed nothing but the local activity. They were checking numbers. She used her phone sparingly.

"How does a person live with no long distance calls? What about family, old friends?" Fitch asked incredulously.

"There are ways," Local said. "Lots of ways, really. Maybe she borrowed a friend's phone. Maybe she went to a motel once a week, some budget place where they let you charge calls to your room, then pay for them with the bill when you check out. There's no way to trace that."

"Unbelievable," Fitch mumbled.

"I gotta tell you, Mr. Fitch, this girl is good. If she made a mistake, we haven't found it yet." The respect was obvious in Local's voice. "A person like this plans every move from the viewpoint that someone will come looking later."

"Sounds like Marlee," Fitch said, as if he were admiring a daughter.

She had two credit cards in Lawrence-a Visa and a Shell gas card. Her credit history revealed nothing remarkable or helpful. Evidently, most of her expenditures were in cash. No telephone cards either. She wouldn't dare make that mistake.

Jeff Kerr was a different story. His trail to law school at KU had been easy to follow, most of the work having been done by Fitch's initial operatives. Only after he met Claire did he pick up her habits of secrecy.

They left Lawrence in the summer of 1991, after his second year of law school, and Local's men had yet to find anyone who knew exactly when they left or where they were going. Claire had paid cash for the June rent that year, then vanished. They had spot-checked a dozen cities for signs of a Claire Clement after May of 1991, but so far had found nothing helpful. For obvious reasons, it was not possible to check every city.

"My guess is that she ditched Claire as soon as she left town, and became someone else," Local said.

Fitch had figured this out long ago. "This is Saturday. The jury gets the case on Monday. Let's forget what happened after Lawrence, and concentrate on finding out who she really is."

"We're working on that now."

"Work harder."

Fitch glanced at his watch and explained that he had to go. Marlee would be expecting him in a matter of moments. Local left for a private plane and a quick trip back to Kansas City.

MARLEE HAD BEEN in her little office since six. She slept little after Nicholas called her around three. They talked four times before he left for the courtroom.

The Hoppy scam had Fitch stamped all over it - why else would Mr. Cristano threaten to crush Hoppy if he didn't pressure Millie to vote right? Marlee had scribbled pages of notes and flow charts, and she'd made dozens of calls on her cellphone. Information was trickling in. The only George Cristano with a listed phone number in the metropolitan D.C. area lived in Alexandria. Marlee had called him around 4 A.M., and explained she was so-and-so with Delta Airlines, a plane had gone down near Tampa, a Mrs. Cristano was on board, and was this the George Cristano who worked with the Justice Department. No, he worked at Health and Human Services, thank God. She apologized, hung up, and snickered at the thought of the poor man racing to CNN to see the story.

Dozens of similar calls had led her to believe that there were no FBI agents working out of Atlanta named Napier and Nitchman. Nor were there any in Biloxi, New Orleans, Mobile, or any nearby city. At eight, she made contact with an investigator in Atlanta who was now pursuing leads on Napier and Nitchman. Marlee and Nicholas were almost positive the two were stooges, but this had to be confirmed. She called reporters, cops, FBI hotlines, government information services.

When Fitch arrived promptly at ten, the table was clear and the phone was hidden in a small closet. They barely said hello. Fitch was wondering who she was before she was Claire, and she was still analyzing the next move to uncover his Hoppy scam.

"You'd better wrap it up, Fitch. The jury is numb."

"We'll be through by five this afternoon. That soon enough?"

"Let's hope so. You're not making it easier on Nicholas."

"I've told Cable to hurry. That's all I can do."

"We got problems with Rikki Coleman. Nicholas has spent time with her, and she'll be a hard sell. She's well respected on the jury, by the men and women alike, and Nicholas says she's slowly becoming a major player. He's surprised by this, actually."

"She wants a big verdict?"

"It looks that way, though they haven't discussed specifics. Nicholas detects a real bitterness toward the industry for duping kids into addiction. She doesn't appear to have much sympathy for the Wood family, she's more inclined to punish Big Tobacco for hooking the younger generation. Anyway, you said we might have a surprise for her."

Without comment or formality, Fitch lifted a single sheet of paper from his briefcase and slid it across the table. Marlee scanned it quickly. "Abortion, huh?" she said, still reading, unsurprised.


"You're sure this is her?"

"Positive. She was in college."

"This should do it."

"Does he have the guts to show it to her?"

Marlee released the paper and glared at Fitch. "Would you, for ten million bucks?"

"Of course. And why not? She sees this, she votes right, this is forgotten, and her dirty little secret is safe. She leans the other way, then threats are made. It's an easy sell."

"Precisely." She folded the piece of paper and removed it from the table. "Don't worry about Nick's courage, okay? We've been planning this for a long time."

"How long?"

"That's not important. You have nothing on Herman Grimes?"

"Not a thing. Nicholas will have to deal with him during deliberations."

"Gee thanks."

"He's damned sure getting paid for it, don't you think? For ten million, you'd think he should be able to sway a few votes."

"He's got the votes, Fitch. They're in his pocket right now. He wants it unanimous. Herman might be a problem."

"Then bump the sonofabitch. Seems to be a game you enjoy."

"We're thinking about it."

Fitch shook his head in amazement. "Do you realize how utterly corrupt this is?"

"Yes, I think so."

"I love it."

"Go love it somewhere else, Fitch. That's all for now. I have work to do." "Yes dear," Fitch said, bouncing to his feet and closing his briefcase.

EARLY SATURDAY AFTERNOON, Marlee located ah FBI agent in Jackson, Mississippi, who happened to be at the office catching up with paperwork when the phone rang. She gave an alias, said she was employed by a real estate company in Biloxi, and suspected two men of posing as FBI agents when in fact they were not. The two men had been harassing her boss, making threats, flashing badges, etc. She thought they had something to do with the casinos, and for good measure she threw in the name of Jimmy Hull Moke. He gave her the home number of a young FBI agent in Biloxi named Madden.

Madden was in bed with flu, but willing to talk nonetheless, especially when Marlee informed him she might have confidential information about Jimmy Hull Moke. Madden had never heard of either Napier or Nitchman, and hadn't heard of Cristano either. He was unaware of any special crime-fighting unit from Atlanta now operating on the Coast, and the more she talked, the more excited he became. He wanted to investigate a bit, and she promised to call him back in an hour.

He sounded much stronger when she phoned later. There was no FBI agent named Nitchman. There was a Lance Napier in the San Francisco office, but he would have no business on the Coast. Cristano was likewise a bogus identity. Madden had talked to the agent in charge of the investigation into Jimmy Hull Moke, and confirmed that Nitchman, Napier, and Cristano, whoever they might be, were certainly not FBI agents. He'd love to talk to these boys, and Marlee said she'd try to arrange a meeting.

THE DEFENSE rested at three Saturday afternoon. Judge Harkin announced proudly, "Ladies and gentlemen, you've just heard the last witness." There would be some last-minute motions and arguments for him and the lawyers to tend to, but the jurors were free to go. For their Saturday night entertainment, one bus would travel to a junior college football game, and the other would go to a local movie theater. Afterward, personal visits would be allowed until midnight. For tomorrow, each juror would be allowed to leave the motel from 9 A.M. until 1 for worship services, unsupervised as long as they promised not to say a word to anybody about the trial. For Sunday night, personal visits from seven until ten. First thing Monday they would hear closing arguments, and receive the case before lunch.