The Client

Chapter 17


W ALLY BOXX STOPPED THE VAN IN HEAVY TRAFFIC ON Camp Street, and ignored the horns and fingers as his boss and Fink and the FBI agents made a quick exit onto the sidewalk in front of the Federal Building. Fol-trigg walked importantly up the steps with his entourage behind. In the lobby, a couple of bored reporters recognized him and began asking questions, but he was all business and had nothing but smiles and no comments.

He entered the offices of the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Louisiana, and the secretaries sprang to life. His assigned space in the building was a vast suite of small offices connected by hallways, and large open areas where the clerical staff performed, and smaller rooms where cubicles allowed some privacy for law clerks and paralegals. In all, forty-seven assistant U. S. attorneys labored here under the commands of Reverend Roy. Another thirty-eight underlings plowed through the drudgery and paperwork and boring research and tedious attention to mindless details, all in an effort to protect the legal interests of Roy's client, the United States of America.

The largest office of course belonged to Foltrigg, and it was richly decorated with heavy wood and deep leather. Whereas most lawyers allow themselves only one ego wall with pictures and plaques and awards and certificates for Rotary Club memberships, Roy had covered no less than three of his with framed photographs and yellow fill-in-the-blank attendance diplomas from a hundred judicial conferences. He threw his jacket on the burgundy leather sofa, and headed directly for the main library, where a meeting awaited him.

He had called six times during the five-hour trip from Memphis. There had been three faxes. Six assistants were waiting around a thirty-foot oak conference table covered with open law books and countless legal pads. All jackets were off and all sleeves rolled up.

He said hello to the group and took a chair at the center of the table. They each had a copy of a summarization of the FBI's findings in Memphis. The note, the fingerprints, the gun, everything. There was nothing new Foltrigg or Fink could tell them except that Gronke was in Memphis, and this was irrelevant to this group.

"What do you have, Bobby?" Foltrigg asked dramatically, as if the future of the American legal system rested upon Bobby and whatever he had uncovered in his research. Bobby was the dean of the assistants, a thirty-two-year veteran who hated courtrooms but loved libraries. In times of crisis when answers were needed for complex questions, they all turned to Bobby.

He rubbed his thick gray hair and adjusted his when he would be through with the likes of Roy Fol-trigg. He'd seen a dozen of them come and go, most never heard from again. "Well, I think we've narrowed it down," he said, and most of them smiled. He began every report with the same line. To Bobby, legal research was a game of clearing away the piles of debris heaped upon even the simplest of issues, and narrowing the focus to that which is quickly grasped by judges and juries. Everything got narrowed down when Bobby handled the research.

"There are two avenues, neither very attractive but one or both might work. First, I suggest the Juvenile Court approach in Memphis. Under the Tennessee Youth Code, a petition can be filed with the Juvenile Court alleging certain misconduct by the child. There are various categories of-wrongdoing, and the petition must classify the child as either a delinquent or a child in need of supervision. A hearing is held, the Juvenile Court judge hears the proof and makes a determination as to what happens to the child. The same can be done for abused or neglected children. Same procedure, same court." "Who can file the petition?" Foltrigg asked.

"Well, the statute is very broad, and I think it's a terrible flaw in the law. But it plainly sayS that a petition can be filed by, and I quote, 'any interested party. ' End of quote." "Can that be us?" "Maybe. It depends on what we allege in our petition. And here's the sticky part-we must allege the kid has done, or is doing, something wrong, violating the law in some way. And the only violation even remotely touching this kid's behavior is, of course, obstruction of justice. So we must allege things we're not sure of, such as the kid's knowledge of where the body is. This could be tricky, since we're not certain." "The kid knows where the body is," Foltrigg said flatly. Fink studied some notes and pretended not to hear, but the other six repeated the words to themselves. Did Foltrigg know things he hadn't yet told them? There was a pause as this apparent statement of fact settled in around the table.

"Have you told us everything?" Bobby asked, glancing at his cohorts.

"Yes," Foltrigg replied. "But I'm telling you the kid knows. It's my gut feeling." Typical Foltrigg. Creating facts with his guts, and expecting those under him to follow on faith.

Bobby continued. "A Juvenile Court summons is served on the child's mother, and a hearing is held within seven days. The child must have a lawyer, and I understand one has already been obtained. The child has a right to be at the hearing and may testify if he so chooses." Bobby wrote something on his legal pad. "Frankly, this is the quickest way to get the kid to talk." "What if he refuses to talk on the witness stand?" "Very good question," Bobby said like a professor pandering a first-year law student. "It is completely discretionary with the judge. If we put on a good case and convince the judge the kid knows something, he has the authority to order the kid to talk. If the kid refuses, he may be in contempt of court." "Let's say he's in contempt. What happens then?" "Difficult to say at this point. He's only eleven years old, but the judge could, as a last resort, incarcer -  j J r O himself of contempt." "In other words, until he talks." It was so easy to spoon-feed Foltrigg. "That is correct. Mind you, this would be the most drastic course the judge could take. We have yet to find any precedent for the incarceration of an eleven-year-old child for contempt of court. We haven't checked all fifty states, but we've covered most of them." "It won't go that far," Foltrigg predicted calmly. "If we file a petition as an interested party, serve the kid's mother with papers, drag his little butt into court with his lawyer in tow, then I think he'll be so scared he'll tell what he knows. What about you, Thomas?" "Yeah, I think it'll work. And what if it doesn't? What's the downside?" "There's little risk," Bobby explained. "All Juvenile Court proceedings are closed. We can even ask that the petition be kept under lock and key. If it's dismissed initially for lack of standing or whatever, no one will know it. If we proceed to the hearing and A, the kid talks but doesn't know anything, or B, the judge refuses to make him talk, then we haven't lost anything. And C, if the kid talks out of fear or under threat of contempt, then we've gotten what we wanted. Assuming the kid knows about Boyette." "He knows," Foltrigg said.

"The plan would not be so attractive if the proceedings were made public. We would look weak and desperate if we lost. It could, in my opinion, seriously undermine our chances at trial here in New Orleans if we try this and fail, and if it's in some way publicized." The door opened and Wally Boxx, fresh from having successfully parked the van, catered and seemed irritated that they had proceeded without him. He sat next to Foltrigg.

"But you're certain it can be done in private?" Fink asked.

"That's what the law says. I don't know how they apply it in Memphis, but the confidentiality is explicit in the code sections. There are even penalties for disclosure." "We'll need local counsel, someone in Ord's office," Foltrigg said to Fink as if the decision had already been made. Then he turned to the group. "I like the sound of this. Right now the kid and his lawyer are probably thinking it's all over. This will be a wake-up call. They'll know we're serious. They'll know they're headed for court. We'll make it plain to his lawyer that we'll not rest until we have the truth from the kid. I like this. Little downside risk. It'll take place three hundred miles from here, away from these morons with cameras we have around here. If we try it and fail, no big deal. No one will know. I like the idea of no cameras and no reporters." He paused as if deep in thought, the field marshal surveying the plains, deciding where to send his tanks.

To everyone except Boxx and Foltrigg, the humor in this was delicious. The idea of the reverend plotting strategies that did not include cameras was unheard of. He, of course, did not realize it. He bit his lip and nodded his head. Yes, yes, this was the best course. This would work.

Bobby cleared his throat. "There is one other possible approach, and I don't like it but it's -worth mentioning. A real long shot. If you assume the kid knows-" "He knows." "Ihank you. Assuming tnis, ana assuming ne nas confided in his lawyer, there is the possibility of a federal indictment against her for obstruction of justice. I don't have to tell you the difficulty in piercing the attorney-client privilege; it's virtually impossible. The indictment would, of course, be used to sort of scare her into cutting some deal. I don't know. As 1 said, a real long shot." Foltrigg chewed on this for a second, but his mind was still churning over the first plan and it simply couldn't digest the second.

"A conviction might be difficult," Fink said.

"Yep," Bobby agreed. "But a conviction would not be the goal. She would be indicted here, a long way from home, and I think it would be quite intimidating. Lots of bad press. Couldn't keep this one quiet, you know. She'd be forced to hire a lawyer. We could string it out for months, you know, the works. You might even consider obtaining the indictment, keeping it sealed, breaking the news to her, and offering some deal in return for its dismissal. Just a thought." "I like it," Foltrigg said to no one's surprise. It had the stench of the government's jackboot, and these strategies always appealed to him. "And we can always dismiss the indictment anytime we want." Ah yes! The Roy Foltrigg special. Get the indictment, hold the press conference, beat the defendant to the ground with all sorts of threats, cut the deal, then quietly dismiss the indictment a year later. He'd done it a hundred times in seven years. He'd also eaten a few of his specials when the defendant and/or his lawyer refused to deal and insisted on a trial. When this happened Foltrigg was always too busy with more important prosecutions, and the file was thrown at one of the younger assistants, who invariably got his ass kicked. Invariably, Foltrigg placed the blame squarely on the assistant. He'd even fired one for losing the trial brought about by a Roy Foltrigg special.

"That's Plan B, okay, on hold for right now," he said, very much in control. "Plan A is to file a petition in Juvenile Court first thing tomorrow morning. How long will it take to prepare it?" "An hour," answered Tank Mozingo, a burly assistant with the ponderous name of Thurston Alomar Mozingo, thus known simply as Tank. "The petition is set out in the code. We simply add the allegations and fill in the blanks." "Get it done." He turned to Fink. "Thomas, you'll handle this. Get on the phone to Ord and ask him to help us. Fly to Memphis tonight. I want the petition filed first thing in the morning, after you talk to the judge. Tell him how urgent this is." Papers shuffled around the table as the research group began cleaning its mess. Their work was over. Fink took notes as Boxx darted for a legal pad. Foltrigg spewed forth instructions like King Solomon dictating to his scribes. "Ask the judge for an expedited hearing. Explain how much pressure is behind this. Ask for complete confidentiality, including the closing of the petition and all other pleadings. Stress this, you understand. I'll be sitting by the phone in case I'm needed." Bobby was buttoning his cuffs. "Look, Roy, there's something else we need to mention." "What is it?" "We're playing hardball with this kid. Let's not forget the danger he's in. Muldanno is desperate. There are reporters everywhere. A leak here and a leak there, and the mob could silence tne Kid beiore ne tauts. There's a lot at stake." Roy flashed a confident smile. "I know that, Bobby. In fact, Muldanno's already sent his boys to Memphis. The FBI up there is tracking them, and they're also watching the boy. Personally, I don't think Muldanno's stupid enough to try something, but we're not taking chances." Roy stood and smiled around the room. "Good work, men. I appreciate it." They mumbled their thank-yous and left the library.

ON THE FOURTH FLOOR OF THE RADISSON HOTEL IN DOWNtown Memphis, two blocks from the Sterick Building and five blocks from St. Peter's, Paul Gronke played a monotonous game of gin rummy with Mack Bono, a Muldanno grunt from New Orleans. A heavily marked score sheet was on the floor under the table, abandoned. They had been playing for a dollar a game, but now no one cared. Gronke's shoes were on the bed. His shirt was unbuttoned. Heavy cigarette smoke clung to the ceiling. They were drinking bottled water-because it was not yet five, but almost, and when the magic hour hit they'd call room service. Gronke checked his watch. He looked through the window at the buildings across Union Avenue. He played a card. Gronke was a childhood friend of Muldanno's, a most trusted partner in many of his dealings. He owned a few bars and a tourist tee-shirt shop in the Quarter. He'd broken his share of legs and had helped the Blade do the same. He did not know where Boyd Boyette was buried, and he wasn't about to ask, but if he pressed hard his friend would probably tell him. They were very close.

Gronke was in Memphis because the Blade had called him. And he was bored as hell sitting in this hotel room playing cards with his shoes off, drinking water and eating sandwiches, smoking Camels and waiting for the next move by an eleven-year-old kid.

Across the double beds, an open door led to the next room. It, too, had two beds and a cloud of smoke whirling around the ceiling vents. Jack Nance stood in the window watching the rush-hour traffic leave downtown. A radio and a cellular phone stood ready on a nearby table. Any minute Cal Sisson would call from the hospital with the latest. about Mark Sway. A thick briefcase was open on one bed, and Nance in his boredom had spent most of the afternoon playing with his bugging devices.

He had a plan to drop a bug in Room 943. He had seen the lawyer's office, absent of special locks on the door, absent of cameras overhead, absent of any security devices. Typical lawyer. Wiring it would be easy. Cal Sisson had visited the doctor's office and found pretty much the same. A receptionist at a front desk. Sofas and chairs for the patients to wait for their shrink. A couple of drab offices down a hall. No special security. The client, this clown who liked to be called the Blade, had approved the wiring of the telephones in both the doctor's and lawyer's office. He also wanted files copied. Easy work. He also wanted a bug planted in Ricky's room. Easy work too, but the difficult part was receiving the transmission once the bug was in place. Nance was working on this.

As far as Nance was concerned, it was simply a surveillance job, nothing more or less. The client was paying top aouar in casn. n ne wanted a cimu it was easy. If he wanted to eavesdrop, no problem as long as he was paying.

But Nance had read the newspapers. And he had heard the whispers in the room next door. There was more here than simple surveillance. Broken legs and arms were not being discussed over gin rummy. These guys were deadly, and Gronke had already mentioned calling New Orleans for more help.

Cal Sisson was ready to bolt. He was fresh off probation, and another conviction would send him back for decades. A conviction for conspiracy to commit murder would send him away for life. Nance had convinced him to hold tight for one more day.

The cellular phone rang. It was Sisson. The lawyer just arrived at the hospital. Mark Sway's in Room 943 with his mother and lawyer.

Nance placed the phone on the table and walked into the other room.

"Who was it?" Gronke asked with a Camel in his mouth.

"Cal. Kid's still at the hospital, now with his mother and his lawyer." "Where's the doctor?" "He left an hour ago." Nance walked to the dresser and poured a glass of water.

"Any sign of the feds?" Gronke grunted.

"Yeah. Same two are hanging around the hospital. Doing the same thing we are, I guess. The hospital's keeping two security guards by the door, and another one close by." "You think the kid told them about meeting me this morning?" Gronke asked for the hundredth time that day.

"He told someone. Why else would they suddenly surround his room with security guards?" "Yeah, but the security guards are not fibbies, are they? If he'd told the fibbies, then they'd be sitting in the hall, don't you think?" "Yeah." This conversation had been repeated throughout the day. Who did the kid tell? Why were there suddenly guards by the door? And on and on. Gronke couldn't get enough of it.

Despite his arrogance and street-punk posture, he seemed to be a man of patience. Nance figured it went with the territory. Killers had to be cold-blooded and patient.

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