home | login | register | DMCA | contacts | help | donate |      

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


my bookshelf | genres | recommend | rating of books | rating of authors | reviews | new | | collections | | | add



CHAPTER 21

When I reach the hotel, Caitlin is waiting for me with a cold can of Dr Pepper and a chicken sandwich. I'm starving. It took two hours to get back to Houston through the rain and traffic, but knowing that Annie might not go to sleep without me close kept me from stopping for food. I shouldn't have worried. She is sound asleep in one of the double beds, while the television plays CNN in muted tones. Caitlin is wearing silk pajamas that somehow look demure and sexy at the same time. I collapse at the table by the window and devour the sandwich, then drink the Dr Pepper in a few gulps. Her instincts are as accurate as always; she says nothing while I eat.

"Thank you," I tell her, tossing the sandwich wrapper into the wastepaper can. "Really."

"I saw a clip of you coming out of the prison. Was it bad?"

"Bad enough. That's the last one I go to."

"Let's change the subject, then. Annie only woke up once, and I rubbed her back till she fell asleep again."

"I really appreciate you staying with her."

"No problem. She's great." Caitlin reaches out and touches my knee. "You really look tired. You want me to go to my room so you can crash? Our flight to Gunnison leaves at eight-thirty."

We're renting a Cherokee in Gunnison for the drive up to Crested Butte. "I don't think I can get to sleep yet."

"Okay." She scoots back in her chair and folds her legs beneath her. "Let's talk business, then. Your assistant called. Your ATF friend called her and confirmed that Payton's car was destroyed by C-4 plastic explosive. They found traces of something called RDX in the shrapnel. He said there should be plenty more embedded in the metal of Payton's car. No problem to prove in court."

Half my fatigue disappears in the shot of adrenaline this produces. "So, Ray Presley planted the blasting caps and dynamite. And someone falsified the lab report."

She nods. "I've been studying your copy of the police report. It's mostly gossip, really. Wild theories. The interesting thing is that there were rumored suspects the detectives never talked to, local guys who had done other race crimes. Almost as if Creel and Temple knew those suspects weren't guilty."

"Presley may well have planted that C-4 himself. He's killed before. But for money usually. If he killed Payton, it wasn't on his own hook."

"You think he killed Payton for Leo Marston?"

"Yes."

"Where did you first get the idea Marston was involved?"

"From the deputy who saved us the other night. Ike Ransom."

"Well I hope you can trust him. Because I've got to tell you, everything my people have found on Marston indicates that he's a liberal, as far as race goes, anyway."

"I know. I think the murder might not have been about race at all."

Her mouth opens slightly. "What else could it have been about?"

"I don't know yet. Have your people learned anything about Dwight Stone?"

"Yes. One of our reporters in Alexandria, Virginia, says Stone was dismissed from the FBI in 1972 for alcohol-related problems."

"Anything else?"

"He was second-generation law enforcement. His father was a state trooper in Colorado. Stone himself served with the marines in Korea and won a handful of medals I don't know the significance of. He went to law school after he got out of the service, and joined the Bureau in 1956. He spent sixteen years in, and received several commendations before being dismissed."

"Althea Payton told me Stone was sympathetic to her, that he really wanted to solve the case. I wonder if the fact that they both served in Korea was the root of that?"

"I guess it could be."

"Something strange happened at the prison tonight, Caitlin."

"What?"

"The director of the FBI showed up."

"John Portman? Why would he show up at the Hanratty execution?"

"To warn me to stay out of the Del Payton case."

"What?"

"Portman and I have a history. When you asked about the Hanratty case on the plane, I left out some details. When Hanratty committed that first murder in Compton, he was seen by a dozen witnesses before he fled the scene, and they ID'd him from photographs under his real name. An LAPD detective remembered that Hanratty had been the star witness in a federal hate-crime trial a while back. His testimony put a half dozen white supremacists in jail and made a star out of the U.S. attorney of Los Angeles."

"Portman," Caitlin says softly.

"Exactly. The LAPD went to Portman, who told them Hanratty was under witness protection and couldn't have committed the crime. Political pressure started building. The next day Hanratty 'escaped' from the program and wound up in Houston with his brothers. The rumor was, Portman tried to cover up the murder to keep his reputation clean. I'm pretty sure now that it's true. Hanratty referred to it tonight in his deathbed statement. Anyway, Portman wanted to neutralize the rumor by throwing the book at Hanratty in the L.A. courts."

"And you stopped him."

"Exactly. The guy hates my guts."

"But what does that have to do with the Del Payton case?"

"I'm not sure. But Portman just killed the career of an FBI agent who gave me a little help on the phone. He's transferring him to Fargo, North Dakota. I don't think there's even a field office there. Just a resident agency. Whatever's in the Del Payton file must be embarrassing as hell to the Bureau. I want you to get your people working on Portman immediately. I want to know everything there is to know about him."

"I'll call our Alexandria guy before we fly out in the morning."

"I'm going to call that FBI agent right now. I owe him an apology."

"It's the middle of the night. And it's later in Washington."

"I doubt he's sleeping."

I pull the phone over from between the beds, dial directory assistance, then use my credit card to call Peter Lutjens at his home in Washington. His phone rings five times before he answers, but his voice is wide awake.

"Peter, this is Penn Cage."

Silence.

"I had no idea this thing would boomerang on you like this. I am so sorry."

"Shit. I don't blame you. I gave you the list, didn't I?"

"Peter, if there's anything I can do-"

"Can you get Portman fired?"

"I don't-" Suddenly an idea hits me. "Maybe I can."

"What?"

"Peter, have you wondered why Portman would punish you so severely for what you did?"

"He hates you, that's why."

"It's the Payton file. Portman flew to Huntsville, Texas, tonight to warn me off the Payton case. And asking about the Payton file is what got you into trouble. Right?"

"Yes."

"I think Portman is concealing some illegality about that case. If he is, and you can find out what it is-"

"Stop right there. Are you suggesting that I go back and try to look at that file myself?"

"Have they barred you from the building?"

"No, but-"

"When do you leave for Fargo?"

"Don't even say that word, goddamn it. And I'm not losing my pension for you. Cowboy time is over."

"Peter, if that file is damaging enough, it might get Portman thrown out of the directorship. It might buy your old job back."

"I've got a wife and kids. And I'm not out to trash the Bureau."

"I'll shut up, then. I really called to apologize anyway."

"That makes me feel so much better."

The phone goes dead in my hand.

Caitlin puts the phone back between the beds for me. "He wouldn't try it?"

"No."

"Let's just forget it all for tonight, then."

She picks up the remote control and flips through the channels, finally settling on a showing of To Catch a Thief. Grace Kelly and Cary Grant zoom across the screen in a vintage sports car.

"Okay with you?"

Staring at Grace Kelly, the coolly luminous Princess Grace, I recall my earlier thought that she and Livy Marston look more than a little alike. The similarities go deeper than looks too, for despite her cool exterior, Grace Kelly had a dark and promiscuous sexual history.

"It's fine," I say absently.

Caitlin turns up the sound, and we watch from our chairs while Annie snores away on the bed. My mind is so full I cannot think clearly, but one image is predominant: Livy Marston in the Baton Rouge airport, seemingly as beautiful and untouched as she looked at seventeen. But when is anything ever what it seems? As beautiful as Livy was, she was not untouched. No girl that radiant survives adolescence without attracting the attention of every male in the three grades above her. And nature being what it is (and the seventies what they were), sex usually follows. I didn't understand this so clearly then, of course. At sixteen, though I was as perpetually and mindlessly horny as the rest of my compatriots, I was also ready to place some lucky (or unlucky) girl on a pedestal of mythic proportions. When, after a showing of Looking for Mr. Goodbar, Livy tearfully confessed to me how she'd lost her virginity-a date rape by a senior with whom I played football-she installed herself on that pedestal with the permanence of a pieta.

Once she occupied this place of reverence in my psyche, it became impossible for me to see her clearly. Her public image was flawless. Queen of the elite private school in a city with five high schools, she was wanted by every male student in the city-not merely lusted after, but actually worshiped- and thus floated above the usual tortured angst of high school life. What I didn't understand then was that, to a girl like that, the most exciting company would be guys who didn't care what she said or thought, and who treated her accordingly.

Everyone knew Livy Marston occasionally went out with boys from the public schools-rough, handsome guys who straddled the line between "hoods" and outright criminals-some of whom were so dumb as to boggle the mind. It was hard to imagine what Livy could find to talk about with these guys. What I didn't understand then-or was too afraid to admit-was that she was not interested in talking to them. (

It was something of a tradition for St. Stephens boys to sleep with girls from the public schools, who we thought to be "looser" than the ones we saw in class every day. Whether this was true or not, I'm still not sure. Some public school girls defended their virtue like Roman vestals, while many St. Stephens girls led active romantic lives, to say the least. In any case, it was understood, according to a time-honored double standard, that boys slept around as a rite of passage into adulthood. When girls did it, they entered that unjustified but unforgiving territory known as sluthood. When Livy Marston did it, she confused everybody. To the point that no one really believed she was doing it. Everyone thought she was putting on a show. Acting wild. Driving her uptight father crazy. Now, of course, I understand it perfectly. In the time-honored tradition of Southern women of a certain class, Livy was taking her pleasures downward.

When she opened to me like a flower in the spring of our senior year, I accepted her attentions like a divine gift. For girls that age, having sex is usually so tied up in the desire to be accepted by peers that true motives are impossible to fathom. But for Livy Marston acceptance was not an issue. When she gave herself, it was because she wanted to, and that knowledge immeasurably dilated the experience. That her skills did not seem virginal I wrote off to her being as gifted sexually as she was in so many other ways. I submerged my self into hers, basked in the glow of being seen with her, of being known to be loved by her. I cared as little for what lay ahead of me as for what lay behind, and so set myself up for the fall of my life.

"Penn? Are you awake?"

I blink and look over at Caitlin. She's watching me from her chair, her face flickering in the television light.

"What are you thinking about?"

"Nothing. Everything."

An enigmatic smile. "Livy Marston?"

"God, no," I lie, thinking that Caitlin was absolutely right when she told me she had lethal instincts.

"I'm going to bed," she says, rising from her chair. "Tomorrow's a big day."

I get up to walk her to her room, amazed by how tired I feel. Witnessing death up close saps you like a day under the sun. It also stokes the sexual fires, urging toward procreation. As we stand outside her door, Caitlin looks up at me, her face tilted perfectly for a kiss, and I realize again how beautiful she is. But I no longer see her as I did last night in the restaurant. I'm looking through the distorting memory of Livy Marston. Caitlin lowers her chin, and the moment passes.

"What do you think Dwight Stone knows?" she asks.

"More than we do. Maybe he knows everything."

She opens the door and slips through without looking back, leaving me alone with my ghosts.


CHAPTER 20 | The Quiet Game | CHAPTER 22