The Client

Chapter 14


L HE PHOTOS ON THE FRONT PAGE OF WEDNESDAY'S EDItion of the Memphis Press had been lifted from the yearbook at Willow Road Elementary School. They were a year old-Mark was in the fourth grade and Ricky the first. They were next to each other on the bottom third of the page, and under the cute, smiling faces were the names. Mark Sway. Ricky Sway. To the left was a story about Jerome Clifford's suicide and the bizarre aftermath in which the boys we're involved. It was written by Slick Moeller, and he had pieced together a suspicious little story. The FBI was involved; Ricky was in shock; Mark had called 911but hadn't given his name; the police had tried to interrogate Mark but he hadn't talked yet; the family had hired a lawyer, one Reggie Love (female); Mark's fingerprints were all over the inside of the car, including the gun. The story made Mark look like a cold-blooded killer.

Karen brought it to him around six as he sat in an empty semiprivate room directly across the hall from Ricky's. Mark was watching cartoons and trying to nap. Greenway wanted everyone out of the room except Ricky and Dianne. An hour earlier, Ricky had opened his eyes and asked to use the bathroom. He was back in the bed now, mumbling about nightmares and eating ice cream.

"You've hit the big time," Karen said as she handed him the front section and put his orange juice on the table.

"What is it?" he asked, suddenly staring at his face in black and white. "Damn!" "Just a little story. I'd like your autograph when you have time." Very funny. She left the room and he read it slowly. Reggie had told him about the fingerprints and the note. He'd dreamed about the gun, but through a legitimate lapse in memory had forgotten about touching the whiskey bottle.

There was something unfair here. He was just a kid who'd been minding his own business, and now suddenly his picture was on the front page and fingers were pointed at him. How can a newspaper dig up old yearbook photos and run them whenever it chooses? Wasn't he entitled to a little privacy?

He threw the paper to the floor and walked to the •window. It was dawn, drizzling outside, and downtown Memphis was slowly coming to life. Standing in the window of the empty room, looking at the blocks of tall buildings, he felt completely alone. Within an hour, a half million people would be awake, reading about Mark and Ricky Sway while sipping their coffee and eating their toast. The dark buildings would soon be filled with busy people gathering around desks and coffeepots, and they would gossip and speculate wildly about him and what happened with the dead lawyer. Surely the kid was in the car. There are fingerprints everywhere! How did the kid get in the car? How did he get out? They would read Slick Moeller's story as if every word were true, as if Slick had the inside dope.

It was not fair for a kid to read about himself on the front page and not have parents to hide behind. Any kid in this mess needed the protection of a father and the sole affection of a mother. He needed a shield against cops and FBI agents and reporters, and, God forbid, the mob. Here he was, eleven years old, alone, lying, then telling the truth, then lying some more, never certain what to do next. The truth can get you killed-he'd seen that in a movie one time, and always remembered it when he felt the urge to lie to someone in authority. How could he get out of this mess?

He retrieved the paper from the floor and entered the hall. Greenway had stuck a note on Ricky's door forbidding anyone from entering, including nurses. Di-anne was having back pains from sitting in his bed and rocking, and Greenway had ordered another round of pills for her discomfort.

Mark stopped at the nurses' station, and handed the paper to Karen. "Nice story, huh," she said with a smile. The romance was gone. She was still beautiful but now playing hard to get, and he just didn't have the energy.

"I'm going to get a doughnut," he said. "You want one?" "No thanks." He walked to the elevators and pushed the call button. The middle door opened and he stepped in.

At that precise second, Jack Nance turned in the darkness of the waiting room and whispered into his radio.

The elevator was empty. It was just a few minutes past six, a good half an hour before the rush hit. The elevator stopped at floor number eight. The door opened, and one man stepped in. He wore a white lab jacket, jeans, sneakers, and a baseball cap. Mark did not look at his face. He was tired of meeting new people.

The door closed, and suddenly the man grabbed Mark and pinned him in a corner. He clenched his fingers around Mark's throat. The man fell to one knee and pulled something from a pocket. His face was inches from Mark's, and it was a horrible face. He was breathing heavy. "Listen to me, Mark Sway," he growled. Something clicked in his right hand, and suddenly a shiny switchblade entered the picture. A very long switchblade. "I don't know what Jerome Clifford told you," he said urgently. The elevator was moving. "But if you repeat a single word of it to anyone, including your lawyer, I'll kill you. And I'll kill your mother and your little brother. Okay? He's in Room 943. I've seen the trailer where you live. Okay? I've seen your school at Willow Road." His breath was warm and had the smell of creamed coffee, and he aimed it directly at Mark's eyes. "Do you understand me?" he sneered with a nasty smile.

The elevator stopped, and the man was on his feet by the door with the switchblade hidden by his leg. Although Mark was paralyzed, he was able to hope and pray that someone would get on the damned elevator with him. It was obvious he was not getting off at this point. They waited ten seconds at the sixth floor, and nobody entered. The doors closed, and they were moving again.

The man lunged at him again, this time with the switchblade an inch or two from Mark's nose. He pinned him in the corner with a heavy forearm, and suddenly jabbed the shiny blade at Mark's waist. Quickly and efficiently, he cut a belt loop. Then a second one. He'd already delivered his message, without interruption, and now it was time for a little reinforcement.

"I'll slice your guts out, do you understand me?" he demanded, and then released Mark.

Mark nodded. A lump the size of a golf ball clogged his dry throat, and suddenly his eyes were wet. He nodded yes, yes, yes.

"I'll kill you. Do you believe me?" Mark stared at the knife, and nodded some more. "And if you tell anyone about me, I'll get you. Understand?" Mark kept nodding, only faster now.

The man slid the knife into a pocket and pulled a folded eight by ten color photograph from under the lab jacket. He stuck it in Mark's face. "You seen this before?" he asked, smiling now.

It was a department store portrait taken when Mark was in the second grade, and for years now it had hung in the den above the television. Mark stared at it.

"Recognize it?" the man barked at him.

Mark nodded. There was only one such photograph in the world.

The elevator stopped on the fifth floor, and the man moved quickly, again by the door. At the last second, two nurses stepped in, and Mark finally breathed. He stayed in the corner, holding the railings, praying for a miracle. The switchblade had come closer with each assault, and he simply could not take another one. On the third floor, three more people entered and stood between Mark and the man with the knife. In an instant, Mark's assailant was gone; through the door as it was closing.

"Are you okay?" A nurse was staring at him, frowning and very concerned. The elevator kicked and started down. She touched his forehead and felt a layer of sweat between her fingers. His eyes were wet. "You look pale," she said.

"I'm okay," he mumbled weakly, holding the railings for support.

Another nurse looked down at him in the corner. They studied his face with much concern. "Are you sure?" He nodded, and the elevator door suddenly opened on the second floor. He darted through bodies and was in a narrow corridor dodging gurneys and wheelchairs. His well-worn Nike hightops squeaked on the clean linoleum as he ran to a door with an EXIT sign over it. He pushed through the door, and was in the stairwell. He grabbed the rails and started up, two steps at a time, churning and churning. The pain hit his thighs at the sixth floor, but he ran harder. He passed a doctor on the eighth floor, but never slowed. He ran, climbing the mountain at a record pace until the stairwell stopped on the fifteenth floor. He collapsed on a landing under a fire hose, and sat in the semidarkness until the sun filtered through a tiny painted window above him.

PURSUANT TO HIS AGREEMENT WITH REGGIE, CLINT OPENED the office at exactly eight, and after turning on the lights, made the coffee. It was Wednesday, southern pecan day. He looked through the countless one-pound bags of coffee beans in the refrigerator until he found southern pecan, and measured four perfect scoops into the grinder. She would know in an instant if he'd missed the measurement by half a teaspoon. She would take the first sip like a wine connoisseur, smack her lips like a rabbit, then pass judgment on the coffee. He added the precise quantity of water, flipped the switch, and waited for the first black drops to hit the canister. The aroma was delicious.

Glint enjoyed the coffee almost as much as his boss did, and the meticulous routine of making it was only half-serious. They began each morning with a quiet cup as they planned the day and talked about the mail. They had met in a detox center eleven years earlier when she was forty-one and he was seventeen. They had started law school at the same time, but he flunked out after a nasty round with coke. He'd been perfectly clean for five years, she for six. They had leaned on each other many times.

He sorted the mail and placed it carefully on her clean desk. He poured his first cup of coffee in the kitchen, and read with great interest the front-page story about her newest client. As usual, Slick had his facts. And, as usual, the facts were stretched with a good dose of innuendo thrown in. The boys favored each other, but Ricky's hair was a shade lighter. He smiled with several teeth missing.

Glint placed the front page in the center of Reggie's desk.

UNLESS SHE WAS EXPECTED IN COURT, REGGIE SELDOM MADE it to the office before 9 A. M. She was a slow starter who usually hit her stride around four in the afternoon and preferred to work late.

Her mission as a lawyer was to protect abused and neglected children, and she did this with great skill and passion. The juvenile courts routinely called her for indigent work representing kids who needed lawyers but didn't know it. She was a zealous advocate for small clients who could not say thanks. She had sued fathers for molesting daughters. She had sued uncles for raping their nieces. She had sued mothers for abusing their babies. She had investigated parents for exposing their children to drugs. She served as legal guardian for more than twenty children. And she worked the Juvenile Court as appointed counsel for kids in trouble with the law. She performed pro bono work for children in need of commitment to mental facilities. The money was adequate, but not important. She had money once, lots of it, and it had brought nothing but misery.

She sipped the southern pecan, pronounced it good, and planned the day with Glint. It was a ritual adhered to whenever possible.

As she picked up the newspaper, the buzzer rang as the door opened. Glint jumped to answer it. He found Mark Sway standing in the reception room, wet from the drizzle and out of breath.

"Good morning, Mark. You're all wet." "I need to see Reggie." His bangs stuck to his forehead and water dripped from his nose. He was in a daze.

"Sure." Glint backed away from him, and returned with a hand towel from the rest room. He wiped Mark's face, and said, "Follow me." Reggie was waiting in the center of her office. Glint closed the door and left them alone.

"What's the matter?" she asked.

"I think we need to talk." She pointed, and he sat in a wingback chair and she sat on the sofa.

"What's going on, Mark?" His eyes were red and tired. He stared at the flowers on the coffee table.

"Ricky snapped out of it early this morning." "That's great. What time?" "A couple of hours ago." "You look tired. Would you like some hot cocoa?" "No. Did you see the paper this morning?" "Yeah, I saw it. Does it scare you?" "Of course it scares me." Glint knocked on the door, then opened it and brought the hot cocoa anyway. Mark thanked him and held it with both hands. He was cold and the warm cup helped. Glint closed the door and was gone.

"When do we meet with the FBI?" he asked.

"In an hour. Why?" He sipped the cocoa and it burned his tongue. "I'm not sure I want to talk to them." "Okay. You don't have to, you know. I've explained all this." "I know. Can I ask you something?" "Of course, Mark. You look scared." "It's been a rough morning." He took another tiny sip, then another. "What would happen to me if I never told anyone what I know?" "You've told me." "Yeah, but you can't tell. And I haven't told you everything, right?" "That's right." "I've told you that I know where the body is, but I haven't told-" "I know, Mark. I don't know where it is. There's a big difference, and I certainly understand it." "Do you want to know?" "Do you want to tell me?" "Not really. Not now." She was relieved but didn't show it. "Okay, then I don't want to know." "So what happens to me if I never tell?" She'd thought about this for hours, and still had no answer. But she'd met Foltrigg, had watched him under pressure, and was convinced he would try all legal means to extract the information from her client. As much as she wanted to, she could not advise him to lie.

A lie would work just fine. One simple lie, and Mark Sway could live the rest of his life without regard to what happened in New Orleans. And why should he worry about Muldanno and Foltrigg and the late Boyd Boyette? He was just a kid, guilty of neither crime nor major sin.

"I think that an effort will be made to force you to talk." "How does it work?" "I'm not sure. It's very rare, but I believe steps can be taken in court to force you to testify about what you know. Clint and I have been researching it." "I know what Clifford told me, but I don't know if it's the truth." "But you think it's the truth, don't you, Mark?" "I think so, I guess. I don't know wha. t to do." He was mumbling softly, at times barely audible, unwilling to look at her. "Can they make me talk?" he asked.

She answered carefully. "It could happen. I mean, a lot of things could happen. But, yes, a judge in a courtroom one day soon could order you to talk." "And if I refused?" "Good question, Mark. It's a gray area. If an adult refuses a court order, he's in contempt of court and runs the risk of being locked up. I don't know what they'd do with a child. I've never heard of it before." "What about a polygraph?" "What do you mean?" "Well, let's say they drag me into court, and the judge tells me to spill my guts, and I tell the story but leave out the most important part. And they think I'm lying. What then? Can they strap me in the chair and start asking questions? I saw it in a movie one time." "You saw a child take a polygraph?" "No. It was some cop who got caught lying. But, I mean, can they do it to me?" "I doubt it. I've never heard of it, and I'd be fighting like crazy to stop it." "But it could happen." "I'm not sure. I doubt it." These were hard questions coming at her like gunfire, and she had to be careful. Clients often heard what they wanted to hear and missed the rest. "But I must warn you, Mark, if you lie in court you could be in big trouble." He thought about this for a second, and said, "If I tell the truth I'm in bigger trouble." "Why?" She waited a long time for a response. Every twenty seconds or so, he would take a sip of the cocoa, but he was not at all interested in answering this question. The silence did not bother him. He stared at the table, but his mind whirled away somewhere else.

"Mark, last night you indicated you were ready to talk to the FBI and tell them your story. Now it's obvious you've changed your mind. Why? What's happened?" Without a word, he gently placed the cup on the table and covered his eyes with his fists. His chin dropped to his chest, and he started crying.

THE DOOR OPENED INTO THE RECEPTION AREA AND A FEDeral Express lady ran in with a box three inches thick. All smiles and perfect efficiency, she handed it to Glint and showed him where to sign. She thanked him, wished him a nice day, and vanished.

The package was expected. It was from Print Research, an amazing little outfit in D. C. that did nothing but scan two hundred daily newspapers nationwide and catalogue the stories. The news was clipped, copied, computerized, and readily available within twenty-four hours for those willing to pay. Reggie didn't want to pay, but she needed quick background on Boyette et al. Glint had placed the order yesterday, as soon as Mark left and Reggie had herself a new client. The search was limited to the New Orleans and Washington papers.

He removed the contents, a neat stack of eight and a half by eleven Xerox copies of newspaper stories, headlines, and photos, all arranged in perfect chronological order, all copied with the columns straight and the photos clean.

Boyette was an old Democrat from New Orleans, and he'd served several terms as an undistinguished rank and file member of the U. S. House, when one day Senator Dauvin, an antebellum relic from the Civil War, suddenly died in office at the age of ninety-one. Boyette pulled strings and twisted arms, and in keeping with the great tradition of Louisiana politics rounded up some cash and found a home for it. He was appointed by the governor to fill the unexpired portion of Dauvin's term. The theory was simple: If a man had enough sense to accumulate a bunch of cash, then he would certainly make a worthy U. S. senator.

Boyette became a member of the world's most exclusive club, and with time proved himself quite capable. Over the years he narrowly missed a few indictments, and evidently learned his lessons. He survived two close reelections, and finally reached a point attained by most southern senators where he was simply left alone. When this happened, Boyette slowly mellowed, and changed from a hell-raising segregationist to a rather liberal and open-minded statesman. He lost favor with three straight governors in Louisiana, and in doing so became an outcast with the petroleum and chemical companies that had ruined the ecology of the state.

So Boyd Boyette became a radical environmentalist; something unheard of among southern politicians. He railed against the oil and gas industry, and it vowed to defeat him. He held hearings in small bayou towns devastated by the oil boom and bust, and made enemies in the tall buildings in New Orleans. Senator Boyette embraced the crumbling ecology of his beloved state, and studied it with a passion.

Six years ago, someone in New Orleans had floated out a proposal to build a toxic waste dump in Lafourche Parish, about eighty miles southwest of New Orleans. It was quickly killed for the first time by local authorities. As is true with most ideas created by rich corporate minds, it didn't go away, but rather came back a year later with a different name, a different set of consultants, new promises of local jobs, and a new mouthpiece doing the presenting. It was voted down by the locals for the second time, but the vote was much closer. A year passed, some money changed hands, cosmetic changes were made to the plans, and it was suddenly back on the agenda. The folks who lived around the site were hysterical. Rumors were rampant, especially a persistent one that the New Orleans mob was behind the dump and would not stop until it was a reality. Of course, millions were at stake.

The New Orleans papers did a credible job of linking the mob to the toxic waste site. A dozen corporations were involved, and names and addresses led to several known and undisputed crime figures.

The stage was set, the deal was done, the dump was to be approved, then Senator Boyd Boyette came crashing in with an army of federal regulators. He threatened investigations by a dozen agencies. He held weekly press conferences. He made speeches all over southern Louisiana. The advocates of the waste site ran for cover. The corporations issued terse statements of no comment. Boyette had them on the ropes, and he was enjoying himself immensely.

On the night of his disappearance, the senator had attended an angry meeting of local citizens at a packed high school gymnasium in Houma. He left late, and alone, as was his custom, for the hour drive to his home near New Orleans. Years earlier, Boyette had grown weary of the constant small talk and incessant ass kissing of aides, and he preferred to drive by himself whenever possible. He was studying Russian, his fourth language, and he cherished the solitude of his Cadillac and the language tapes.

By noon the next day, it was determined the senator was missing. The splashy headlines from New Orleans told the story. Bold headlines in the Washington Post suspected foul play. Days went by and the news was scarce. No body was found. A hundred old photos of the senator were dug up and used by the newspapers. The story was becoming old when, suddenly, the name of Barry Muldanno was linked to the disappearance and this set off a frenzy of Mafia dirt and trash. A rather frightening mug shot of a young Muldanno ran on page one in New Orleans. The paper rehashed its earlier stories about the waste site and the mob. The Blade •was a known hit man with a criminal record. And on and on.

Roy Foltrigg made a grand entrance into the story when he stepped in front of the cameras to announce the indictment of Barry Muldanno for the murder of Senator Boyd Boyette. He, too, got the front page in both New Orleans and Washington, and Glint remembered a similar photo in the Memphis paper. Big news, but no body. This, however, did not throttle Mr. Foltrigg. He ranted against organized crime. He predicted certain victory. He preached his carefully prepared remarks with the flair of a veteran stage actor, shouting at all the right moments, pointing his finger, waving the indictment. He had no comment about the absence of a corpse, but hinted that he knew something he couldn't tell and said he had no doubt the remains of the late senator would be found.

There were pictures and stories when Barry Muldanno was arrested, or rather, turned himself in to the FBI. He spent three days in jail before bail was arranged, and there were photos of him leaving just as he had arrived. He wore a dark suit and smiled at the cameras. He was innocent, he proclaimed. It was a vendetta.

There were photos of bulldozers, taken from a distance, as the FBI trenched its way through the soggy soil of New Orleans, searching for the body. More of Foltrigg performing for the press. More investigative reports of New Orleans's rich history of organized crime. The story seemed to lose steam as the search continued.

The governor, a Democrat, appointed a crony to serve the remaining year and a half of Boyette's term. The New Orleans paper ran an analysis of the many politicians waiting eagerly to run for the Senate. Foltrigg was one of two Republicans rumored to be interested.

HE SAT NEXT TO HER ON THE SOFA, AND WIPED HIS EYES.

He hated himself for crying, but it could not be helped. Her arm was around his shoulder, and she patted him gently.

"You don't have to say a word," she repeated quietly.

"I really don't want to. Maybe later, if I have to, but not now. Okay?" "Okay, Mark." There was a knock at the door. "Come in," Reggie said just loud enough to be heard. Clint appeared holding a stack of papers and looking at his watch.

"Sorry to interrupt. But it's almost ten, and Mr. Foltrigg will be here in a minute." He placed the papers on the coffee table in front of her. "You wanted to see these before the meeting." "Tell Mr. Foltrigg we have nothing to discuss," Reggie said.

Clint frowned at her and looked at Mark. He sat close to her as if he needed protecting. "You're not going to see him?" "No. Tell him the meeting's been canceled because we have nothing to say," she said, and nodded at Mark.

Glint glanced at his watch again and backed awkwardly to the door. "Sure," he said with a smile as if he suddenly enjoyed the idea of telling Foltrigg to take a hike. He closed the door behind him.

"Are you okay?" she asked.

"Not really." She leaned forward and began flipping through the copies of the clippings. Mark sat in a daze, tired and drained, still frightened after talking things over with his lawyer. She scanned the pages, reading the headlines and captions and pulling the photographs closer to her. About a third of the way through, she suddenly stopped and leaned back on the sofa. She handed Mark a close-up of Barry Muldanno as he smiled at the camera. It was from the New Orleans paper. "Is this the man?" Mark looked without touching it. "No. Who is it?" "It's Barry Muldanno." "That's not the man who grabbed me. I guess he's got a lot of friends." She placed the copy in the stack on the coffee table, and patted him on the leg.

"What're you gonna do?" he asked.

"Make a few calls. I'll talk to the administrator of the hospital and arrange security around Ricky's room." "You can't tell him about this guy, Reggie. They'll kill us. We can't tell anybody." "I won't. I'll explain to the hospital that there have been some threats. It's routine in criminal cases.

They'll place a few guards on the ninth floor around the room." "I don't want to tell Mom either. She's stressed out with Ricky, and she's taking pills to sleep and pills to do this and that, and I just don't think she can handle this right now." "You're right." He was a tough little kid, raised on the streets and wise beyond his years. She admired his courage.

"Do you think Mom and Ricky are safe?" "Of course. These men are professionals, Mark. They won't do anything stupid. They'll lay low and listen. They may be bluffing." She did not sound sincere.

"No, they're not bluffing. I saw the knife, Reggie. They're here in Memphis for one reason, and that's to scare the hell out of me. And it's working. I ain't talk-ing."

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