Chapter Twenty-Five

Back in Lawrence, Small, the investigator, worked his list of leads diligently and got nowhere. He loafed around Mulligan's Monday night, drinking against orders, chatting occasionally with the waitresses and law students and succeeding at nothing but arousing suspicion among the youth.

Early Tuesday morning, he made one visit too many. The woman's name was Rebecca, and a few years back, while still a grad student at KU, she had worked at Mulligan's with Claire Clement. They had been friends, according to a source dug up by Small's boss. Small found her in a downtown bank, where she worked as manager. He introduced himself awkwardly, and she was immediately suspicious.

"Didn't you work with Claire Clement a few years back?" he asked, looking at a notepad, standing on one side of her desk because she was standing on the other. He had not been invited in, and she was busy.

"Maybe. Who wants to know?" Rebecca asked, arms crossed, head cocked, phone buzzing somewhere behind her. In marked contrast to Small, she was sharply dressed and missed nothing.

"Do you know where she is now?"

"No. Why are you asking?"

Small repeated the narrative he'd memorized. It was all he had. "Well, see, she's a potential juror in a big trial, and my firm has been hired to conduct a thorough investigation into her background."

"Where's the trial?"

"Can't tell you that. You guys worked together at Mulligan's, right?"

"Yes. That was a long time ago."

"Where was she from?"

"Why is that important?"

"Well, to be honest, it's on my list of questions. We're just checking her out, okay? Do you know where she came from?"


This was an important question because Claire's trail had started and stopped in Lawrence. "Are you sure?"

She cocked her head the other way and glared at this klutz. "I don't know where she came from. When I met her, she was working at Mulligan's. The last time I saw her, she was working at Mulligan's."

"Have you talked to her recently?"

"Not in the last four years."

"Did you know Jeff Kerr?"


"Who were her friends here in Lawrence?"

"I don't know. Look, I'm very busy, and you're wasting your time. I didn't know Claire that well. Nice girl and all, but we were not close. Now, please, I have things to do." She was pointing to the door by the time she finished, and Small reluctantly left her office.

With Small out of the bank, Rebecca closed her office door and dialed the number to an apartment in St. Louis. The recorded voice on the other end belonged to her friend Claire. They chatted at least once a month, though they hadn't seen each other in a year. Claire and Jeff lived an odd life, drifting and never staying long in one place, never anxious to reveal their whereabouts. Only the apartment in St. Louis remained the same. Claire had warned her that people might come poking around with curious questions. She had hinted more than once that she and Jeff were working for the government in some mysterious capacity.

At the sound of the tone, Rebecca left a brief message about Small's visit.

MARLEE CHECKED her voice mail each morning, and the message from Lawrence made her blood run cold. She wiped her face with a moist cloth, and tried to calm herself.

She called Rebecca and managed to sound perfectly normal, though her mouth was dry and her heart was pounding. Yes, the man named Small had specifically asked about Claire Clement. And he had mentioned Jeff Kerr. With Marlee's prompting, Rebecca managed to replay the entire conversation.

Rebecca knew not to ask too many questions. "Are you okay?" was about the extent of her inquiry.

"Oh we're fine," Marlee assured her. "Living on the beach for a while."

Which beach would be nice, but Rebecca let it pass. No one dug too deep with Claire. They said their good-byes with the usual promises to keep in touch.

Neither she nor Nicholas had believed they would ever be tracked to Lawrence. Now that they had, the questions fell like hard rain around her. Who had found them? Which side, Fitch or Rohr? Most likely Fitch, simply because he had more money and more cunning. What had been their mistake? How did the trail ever leave Biloxi? How much did they know?

And how far would they go? She needed to speak to Nicholas, but he was, at the moment, on a boat somewhere in the Gulf trolling for mackerel and bonding with his fellow jurors.

FITCH, OF COURSE, was not fishing. In fact he hadn't taken a day of rest or pleasure in three months. He was at his desk, neatly arranging piles of paperwork, when the call came. "Hello, Marlee," he said into the receiver, to the girl of his dreams.

"Hey, Fitch. You've lost another one."

"Another what?" he asked, biting his tongue to keep from calling her Claire.

"Another juror. Loreen Duke was enthralled by Mr. Robilio, and now she's leading the parade to reward the plaintiff."

"But she hasn't heard our case yet."

"True. You have four smokers now-Weese, Fernandez, Taylor-Tatum, and Easter. Guess how many started smoking after the age of eighteen."

"Don't know."

"None. They all started as kids. Herman and Herrera used to smoke. Guess how old they were when they started."

"Don't know."

"Fourteen and seventeen. That's half of your jury, Fitch, and all started smoking as minors."

"What am I supposed to do about it?"

"Keep lying, I guess. Look, Fitch, what are the chances of us getting together for a little chat, private you know, without all your goons ducking behind bushes?"

"The chances are excellent."

"Another lie. Let's do it this way. Let's meet and talk, and if my people see your people anywhere near us, then it will be our last conversation."

"Your people?"

"Anybody can hire goons, Fitch. You should know this."

"It's a deal."

"You know Casella's, the little seafood joint with outdoor tables at the end of the Biloxi pier."

"I can find it."

"That's where I am now. So when you walk down the pier, I'll be watching. And if I see any character who looks the least bit suspicious, deal's off."


"Right now. I'm waiting."

JOSE SLOWED for a second in the parking lot near the small-craft harbor, and Fitch practically jumped from the Suburban. It drove away, and Fitch, very much alone and unwired, strolled down the wooden pier with the heavy wooden planks shifting gently in the tide. Marlee sat at a wooden table with an umbrella above it, with her back to the Gulf, her face to the pier. Lunch was an hour away and the place was deserted.

"Hello, Marlee," Fitch said as he approached, stopped, then sat across from her. She wore jeans and a denim shirt, a fishing cap, and sunglasses. "A pleasure, Fitch," she said.

"Are you always so surly?" he asked, settling his squatty frame into a narrow chair, trying his best to smile and be chummy.

"Are you wired, Fitch?"

"No. Of course not."

Slowly, she removed from her bulky purse a thin black device resembling a small Dictaphone. She pushed a button and placed it on the table, aimed at Fitch's ample gut. "Pardon me, Fitch, just checking to see if you had time to stick a bug here or there."

"I said I wasn't wired, okay," Fitch said, very relieved. Konrad had suggested a small body mike with a tech van parked nearby, but Fitch, in a hurry, had said no.

She glanced at the tiny digital monitor on the end of the sensor-scan, then placed it back in her purse. Fitch smiled, but only for a second.

"I got a call from Lawrence this morning," she said, and Fitch swallowed hard. "Evidently you've got some real meatheads up there banging on doors and kicking over trash cans."

"I don't know what you're talking about," Fitch said, somewhat unsteadily and without sufficient conviction.

It was Fitch! His eyes betrayed him; they fluttered and dropped and darted away quickly before returning to see her, then dropped again, all in an instant but with plenty of proof that she'd caught him. His breath was short for a second, and his shoulders jerked ever so slightly. He'd been nailed.

"Right. One more phone call from old friends and you'll never hear my voice again."

He rallied adequately though. "What's in Lawrence?" he demanded as if his integrity had been questioned.

"Give it up, Fitch. And call off the dogs."

He exhaled heavily while shrugging in utter bewilderment. "Fine. Whatever. I just wish I knew what you were talking about."

"You do. One more phone call and it's over, okay?"

"Okay. Whatever you say."

Though Fitch couldn't see her eyes, he could feel them beaming at him from behind the thick glasses. She said nothing for a minute. A waiter busied himself at a nearby table, but made no effort to serve them.

Finally, Fitch leaned forward and said, "When do we stop playing games?"


"Wonderful. What do you want?"


"I figured. How much?"

"I'll name a price later. I take it you're ready to deal."

"I'm always ready to deal. But I gotta know what I get in return."

"It's very simple, Fitch. It depends on what you want. As far as you're concerned this jury can do one of four things. It can deliver a verdict for the plaintiff. It can split and hang and go home, and you'll be back down here in a year or so doing this again. Rohr isn't going away. It can come back nine to three for you, and you get a huge victory. And it can come back twelve to zero, and your clients can relax for several years."

"I know all this."

"Of course you do. If we rule out a plaintiff's verdict, then we have three choices."

"What can you deliver?"

"Anything I want. Including a plaintiff's verdict."

"So the other side is willing to pay."

"We're talking. Let's just leave it at that."

"Is this an auction? Your verdict to the highest bidder?"

"It's whatever I want it to be."

"I'd feel better if you'd stay away from Rohr."

"I'm not too concerned with your feelings."

Another waiter appeared and noticed them. He reluctantly asked if they'd like something to drink. Fitch wanted iced tea. Marlee asked for a Diet Coke in a can.

"Tell me how the deal works," he said when the waiter left.

"It's very simple. We agree on the verdict you want, just look at the menu and place your order. Then we agree on the price. You get your money ready. We wait until the very end, until the lawyers finish their closing arguments and the jury retires to deliberate. At that point, I furnish you with wiring instructions and the money is immediately sent to a bank in, say, Switzerland. Once I get confirmation the money has been received, then the jury returns with your verdict."

Fitch had spent hours predicting a scenario remarkably similar to this, but to hear it come from Marlee's lips with such a cool precision made his heart pound and his head spin. This could be the easiest one yet!

"Won't work," he said smugly, like a man who'd negotiated many such verdict deals.

"Oh really. Rohr thinks it will."

Damn, she was quick! She knew just exactly where to stick the knife.

"But there's no guarantee," he protested.

She adjusted her sunglasses and leaned forward on her elbows. "So you doubt me, Fitch?"

"That's not the issue. You're asking me to wire what I'm sure will be a large sum of money on the hope and prayer that your friend will control the deliberations. Juries are so unpredictable."

"Fitch, my friend is controlling the deliberations even as we speak. He'll have his votes long before the lawyers stop talking."

Fitch would pay. He'd made the decision a week earlier to pay whatever she wanted, and he knew that when the money left The Fund there were no guarantees. He didn't care. He trusted his Marlee. She and her friend Easter or whatever the hell his name was had patiently stalked Big Tobacco to reach this point, and they would happily hand over a verdict for the right price. They had lived for this moment.

Oh, the questions he wanted to ask. He'd love to start with the two of them and ask whose idea this was, such an ingenious, devious plan to study litigation, then follow it across the country, then plant oneself on the jury so a deal could be cut for a verdict. It was nothing short of brilliant. He could grill her for hours, maybe days, about the specifics, but he knew there would be no answers.

He also knew she'd deliver. She had worked too hard and had come too far with their plot to fail.

"I'm not totally helpless in this matter, you know," he said, still holding his ground.

"Of course not, Fitch. I'm sure you've laid enough traps to snag at least four jurors. Shall I name them?"

The drinks arrived and Fitch gulped his tea. No, he did not want her to name them. He would not play a guessing game with someone who had the hard facts. Talking with Marlee was like talking to the leader of the jury, and though Fitch cherished the moment it made the conversation quite onesided. How was he to know if she was bluffing or telling the truth? It simply wasn't fair.

"I sense you doubt whether I'm in control," she said.

"I doubt everything."

"What if I get a juror bumped?"

"You've already bumped Stella Hulic," Fitch said, and drew the first and only very small smile from her.

"I can do it again. What if, say, I decided to send home Lonnie Shaver? Would you be impressed?"

Fitch almost choked on his tea. He wiped his mouth with the back of a hand, said, "I'm sure Lonnie would be happy. He's probably the most bored of the twelve."

"Shall I bump him?"

"No. He's harmless. Plus, since we'll be working together, I think we should keep Lonnie."

"He and Nicholas talk a lot, you know?"

"Is Nicholas talking to everyone?"

"Yes, at various levels. Give him time."

"You seem confident."

"I'm not confident in the ability of your lawyers. But I am confident in Nicholas, and that's all that matters."

They sat quietly and waited for two waiters to set the table next to them. Lunch began at eleven-thirty, and the cafe was coming to life.

When the waiters finished and left, Fitch said, "I can't cut a deal if I don't know the terms."

Without the slightest hesitation, she said, "And I'm not cutting a deal as long as you're digging through my past."

"Got something to hide?"

"No. But I have friends, and I don't like getting phone calls from them. Stop it now, and this meeting will lead to the next. One more phone call, and I'll never speak to you again."

"Don't say that."

"I mean it, Fitch. Call off the dogs."

"They're not my dogs, I swear."

"Call them off anyway, or I'll spend more time with Rohr. He might want to cut a deal, and a verdict for him means you're out of work and your clients lose billions. You can't afford it, Fitch."

She was certainly right about that. Whatever she planned to ask for would be a tiny sum compared to the ultimate cost of a plaintiff's verdict.

"We'd better move fast," he said. "This trial won't last much longer."

"How long?" she asked.

"Three or four days for the defense."

"Fitch, I'm hungry. Why don't you leave and retrace your steps? I'll call you in a couple of days."

"What a coincidence. I'm hungry too."

"No thanks. I'll eat alone. Plus, I want you away from here."

He rose, said, "Sure, Marlee. Whatever you want. Good day."

She watched him saunter back down the pier to the parking lot next to the beach. He stopped there and called someone from a cellphone.

AFTER REPEATED ATTEMPTS to reach Hoppy by phone, Jimmy Hull Moke dropped in unannounced on Dupree Realty Tuesday afternoon and was told by a sleepy-eyed receptionist that Mr. Dupree was somewhere in the back. She left to fetch him, and returned fifteen minutes later with the apology that she had been wrong, that Mr. Dupree was not in his office and had in fact left for an important meeting.

"I see his car out there," Jimmy Hull said, agitated, pointing to the small parking lot just outside the door. Sure enough, there was Hoppy's old station wagon.

"He rode with someone else," she said, obviously lying.

"Where'd he go?" Jimmy Hull asked as if he might go after him.

"Somewhere near Pass Christian. That's all I know."

"Why won't he return my phone calls?"

"I have no idea. Mr. Dupree is a very busy man."

Jimmy Hull shoved both hands deep in the pockets of his jeans and glared down at the woman. "You tell him I stopped by, that I'm very irritated, and that he'd better call me. You got that?"

"Yes sir."

He left the office, got in his Ford pickup, and drove away. She watched to be safe, then raced to the back to free Hoppy from the broom closet.

THE SIXTY-FOOTER with Captain Theo at the helm traveled fifty miles into the Gulf, where under a cloudless sky and amid gentle sea breezes, half the jury fished for mackerel, snapper, and redfish. Angel Weese had never been on a boat, couldn't swim, and got sick two hundred yards from shore, but with the help of a seasoned deckhand and a bottle of Drama-mine she recovered and actually caught the first fish of any size. Rikki looked splendidly cute with shorts, Reeboks, tanned legs. The Colonel and the Captain were inevitably kindred spirits, and it wasn't long before Nap was on the bridge talking naval strategy and exchanging war stories.

Two deckhands prepared a fine lunch of boiled shrimp, fried oyster sandwiches, crab claws, and chowder. The first round of beer was served with lunch. Only Rikki abstained and drank water.

The beer continued throughout the afternoon as the fishing alternated between frenzy and boredom, and as the sun grew warmer on the deck. The boat was large enough to find privacy. Nicholas and Jerry made certain that Lonnie Shaver kept a cold beer in hand. They were determined to chat him up for the first time.

Lonnie had an uncle who'd worked on a shrimp boat for many years, before it sank in a storm and the entire crew was never found. When he was a kid, he'd fished these waters with his uncle, and, frankly, he'd had his share of fishing. Despised it, really, and hadn't been in years. Still, the boat trip sounded a bit more tolerable than the bus ride to New Orleans.

It took four beers to knock the edge off and loosen the tongue. They lounged in a small upper-deck cabin, open on all sides. On the main deck below them Rikki and Angel were watching the deckhands clean their catch.

"I wonder how many experts the defense will call," Nicholas said, changing the subject from fishing with near total exasperation. Jerry was lying on a plastic cot, his socks and shoes off, his eyes closed, cold beer in hand.

"They don't have to call any as far as I'm concerned," Lonnie said, gazing at the sea.

"You've had enough, huh?" Nicholas said.

"Pretty damned ridiculous. Man smokes for thirty-five years, then wants millions for his estate after he kills himself."

"See what I told you," Jerry said without opening his eyes.

"What?" Lonnie asked.

"Jerry and I had you pegged as a defense juror," Nicholas explained. "It was difficult though, because you've had so little to say."

"And what are you?" Lonnie asked.

"Me, I'm still open-minded. Jerry's leaning toward the defense, right, Jerry?"

"I have not discussed the case with anyone. I have had no unauthorized contact. I have not taken any bribes. I am a juror Judge Harkin can be proud of."

"He's leaning toward the defense," Nicholas said to Lonnie. "Because he's addicted to nicotine, can't kick the habit, but he's convinced himself he can throw them away whenever he wants. He can't, because he's a wimp. But he wants to be a real man like Colonel Herrera."

"Who doesn't?" Lonnie said.

"Jerry thinks that because he can quit, if he really wanted to, then anyone should be able to quit, which he can't do himself, and therefore Jacob Wood should've stopped long before he got cancer."

"That's about right," Jerry said. "But I object to the part about the wimp."

"Makes good sense to me," Lonnie said. "How can you be open-minded?"

"Gee, I don't know. Maybe it's because 1 haven't heard all the testimony yet. Yeah, that's it. The law says that we must refrain from reaching verdicts until all the evidence is in. Forgive me."

"You're forgiven," Jerry said. "Now it's your turn to fetch another round." Nicholas drained his can and walked down the narrow stairway to the cooler on the main deck.

"Don't worry about him," Jerry said. "He'll be with us when it counts."