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CHAPTER 34

The American Eagle ATR plows into a trough of turbulence, drops like a stone, then catches an updraft from the Rocky Mountains below and settles out again. I and my fellow passengers are thirty miles from Crested Butte, Colorado, and I can't wait for the wheels to hit the runway. When I flew out of Baton Rouge, it was ninety degrees. When I changed planes in Dallas, it was sixty-eight. In Colorado there's two feet of snow on the ground, my plane is three hours behind schedule because of the unexpected storm, and the only thing I know about ATR aircraft is that they fly like hogs with ice on the wings. But that isn't the only reason for my anxiety. In less than an hour I will be face to face with former special agent Dwight Stone, the only man on earth who can give me what I need.

The desire for revenge I felt when I attacked Leo Marston at Tuscany yesterday seems trivial now. I am a different man than I was yesterday. The past I thought I knew is dead. Because last night I faced a truth so terrible I can hardly accept it even now.

After Kelly and I left Tuscany, we drove straight to the motel. I felt an overwhelming desire to hug Annie, the daughter I knew beyond any shadow of doubt to be mine. After spending the evening watching television with her, I put her to bed and sent Kelly out for a bottle of Absolut. For the first time in years I drank with the sole purpose of getting drunk. It didn't take long, and drunkenness brought with it the blessed inability to ponder clearly the events of twenty years before. Who was sleeping with whom. And when. And why, if I "really thought about it," as Livy had told me to do, I would know that I could not possibly be Jenny Doe's father. I passed out in a chair, and if my mother hadn't knocked on my door to check on me, I might not have fathomed the truth until much later. As it was, I awakened in the midst of a nightmare, tortured by images I could not have conceived of the day before.

Livy told me the truth.

I am not Jenny's father.

I know this because the last time Livy and I ever made love-prior to this week-was one week after graduation, and she was just starting her period. She had been a couple of weeks late at the time, and we were both terrified she was pregnant. When her cycle resumed, we celebrated by going to a hotel-which we almost never did-and making love. At that point Livy had two weeks left in Natchez before leaving for the summer program at Radcliffe. I was miserable because earlier in the spring I had promised my father I would go to Shiloh with him after graduation. Of my two remaining weeks with Livy, I was going to give up one to tromp over a Civil War battlefield. I consoled myself with the knowledge that we would both be at Ole Miss in the fall, but when I got back from Shiloh, Livy had already left for Cambridge, and I did not see her again for more than a year.

During that time, I naturally considered the possibility that Livy could be pregnant. But I was fairly certain that, while it was possible for a woman to conceive while having her period, the odds against it were high. I later learned that a woman can have a period while she's pregnant, but by then I'd written off the possibility altogether. Given that Livy's sister had had an abortion, I was certain that Livy would have done the same in the event of pregnancy, and certainly not run off for a year like some "girl in trouble" from Peyton Place. But clearly I had been wrong to assume that. The question was, why?

At Tuscany, Livy had told me in no uncertain terms that I was not Jenny's father. If I wasn't, who was? Livy delivered Jenny nine months after leaving Natchez. The father had to be someone she'd slept with immediately after that last period. Given Livy's shadowy sexual history, that could easily be someone I did not know. But when I jerked awake last night in a clammy sweat of panic, I knew that Jenny's father was not unknown to me. This knowledge came to me even before I consciously apprehended it, announcing itself with a wave of horror that sent me running to the bathroom.

Jenny's father is Leo Marston.

As sickening as this idea was, I could not push it from my mind. Only this conclusion made sense of every incomprehensible action and statement that had followed, right up to the present. Livy's inexplicable promiscuity during high school. Her mother's chronic alcoholism. Not telling me about her pregnancy, then disappearing for a year, cutting herself off from family and friends. Starting life in Virginia as though her life in Mississippi had never existed. Settling in Atlanta. And most telling, her unwillingness to speak to Jenny even twenty years after her birth. What had seemed so cruel hours before suddenly made sense. Jenny was a living reminder of something so terrible that Livy simply could not face it. What had Livy said on the bridge, when I asked if she could ever live in Natchez again?

Not while my parents are alive

The idea that Leo had sexually abused his daughter from childhood on left me feeling hollowed out, like a wasting disease. Everyone in Natchez thought Livy Marston had enjoyed the most privileged and perfect childhood anyone could, free from want, full of love and adoration. But how many times had she told me that Tuscany was a prison, not a palace? How many times did I discount her laments as the whining of a spoiled rich girl? The night we first began to get close, when she confessed the date rape by an older boy at school had that been a fictionalized version of rapes by her father? Were they still going on even then? It was difficult to imagine Livy submitting to Leo's advances at that age. He outweighed her by more than a hundred pounds, but by eighteen Livy was a strong, athletic girl. Yet I know very little about abuse, and so much human strength springs from the mind, not the body. Was Livy's entire childhood a lie? Were her stellar performances in every facet of high school and college life part of some elaborate coping mechanism designed to conceal the awful reality she lived behind the walls of Tuscany?

Only two things argued against this interpretation of the facts. The first was Leo's persecution of my father. If I had gotten Livy pregnant, Leo's attack would be easy to understand: a quest for vicarious revenge. But if Leo had impregnated Livy, the malpractice case made no sense. The second was Livy's decision to carry the child to term. If her pregnancy had resulted from a rape by her father, her decision to keep the baby seemed unfathomable. Even the most dogmatic Catholic might consider abortion in those circumstances, and Livy wasn't dogmatic.

I reflected upon Marston's persecution of my father as I splashed water in my face from the motel lavatory and ate a handful of animal crackers Annie had left on the television. As soon as the sugar hit my bloodstream, I saw straight through to the truth of the malpractice lawsuit.

It was blindingly simple.

Maude Marston must have learned of her daughter's pregnancy. And that pregnancy somehow had to be explained. What more likely candidate for fatherhood could there have been than Penn Cage, Livy's most recent boyfriend? Whether Leo actually told Maude this lie or let her think of it herself did not matter. When the chance to persecute my father came, he jumped at it-his sole goal being to reinforce the initial lie about Livy's pregnancy. The question of whether Maude might-at some level-have known of the incestuous relationship was something I didn't even want to think about. But by trying to destroy my father as an act of "vengeance," Leo more deeply concealed his mortal sin from his wife, and perhaps even from himself. I suppose it's even possible that after twenty years of denial, he has convinced himself that I am Jenny's father, the man who "ruined" Livy's life.

Truth always clarifies, but with clarification comes a whirlwind of emotions no one can predict. My initial reaction was horror mixed with outrage. Suddenly even the murder of Del Payton seemed trivial. Payton burned to death in a few agonizing minutes. If I was right about Jenny Doe's parentage, Livy had died a thousand times before she reached adulthood. She has been burning alive for more than thirty years.

I sat alone in the dark well of the night, pondering what to do with this terrible knowledge. After an hour I made some long-distance calls, irritating more than a few people. When dawn broke, I woke Kelly and spoke to him, and a few hours later we executed a ruse which left him surrounded by our FBI watchers at the Natchez Mall Cinema while Sam Jacobs drove me to the Baton Rouge airport in his Hummer. In Baton Rouge, I paid cash for a ticket to Dallas, where I changed planes for Albuquerque, and there boarded the ATR bound for the tiny airport at Crested Butte.

The pilot has begun his descent, plowing up the long mountain valley from the southeast. The snowy majesty of the Rockies leaves me unaffected. At my core, in the moist and primitive darkness, a malevolent seed is germinating. A desire not to publicly humiliate Leo Marston, not even to destroy his career as a lawyer and judge by sending him to Parchman prison, but to end his very life. To remove him from the world. Not in Del Payton's name, but in Livy's. And in mine. For the life he stole from us.

I will soon be listening to former special agent Dwight Stone explain why he cannot tell a jury what he knows about Leo Marston and John Portman. He will soberly tell me about his daughter, the FBI agent. And he will expect me, as a father, to understand his position.

But I will not understand.

I have a surprise for Dwight Stone.

The snow has stopped when we touch down at Crested Butte, but thankfully the car rental company has fitted the tires of my Ford Explorer with chains. I am unaccustomed to icy roads, but it doesn't take me long to get the hang of it. The problem is that only the main roads have been plowed. The forest service road leading up into the mountains (and Stone's cabin) is plowed only to the summer houses by Nicholson Lake. The jeep track that breaks off from that is impassable, at least for someone of my limited mountain skills, so I have no choice but to abandon the Explorer near a large gravel pit and trek up between the mountains on foot.

It takes less than twenty yards to understand the necessity for snowshoes, a type of footwear I have never worn in my life. In my thinly padded windbreaker and tennis shoes, I am practically begging for frostbite, but Stone's cabin can't be more than three miles away. It's after three o'clock, but I should have plenty of light to make it. I rang Stone's phone from the airport to make sure he was there, and hung up as soon as he answered. I don't want him or anyone tapping his phone to know I'm coming until I arrive.

The jeep track is invisible in the snow, but by roughly following the course of the Slate River upstream, I must eventually strike on Stone's cabin, which is situated practically on top of it. Today the Slate, which was only ten or fifteen feet wide on my last trip, is a roaring flood of blue-black water sluicing down the valley like a logging flume. After a seeming eternity of slipping, falling, digging through drifts, and cracking my elbows and butt, I make my way past the entrance of an old mine, along the base of Anthracite Mesa, and up to the edge of a slot canyon, where the Slate is compressed into a raging chute that rockets over an eight-foot vertical drop. I pick my way along the edge of the canyon with care, knowing that a tumble into that water could easily kill me.

At last Stone's cabin comes into sight, nestled among the tall spruce and fir trees between the jeep track and the river. There's a welcome column of smoke rising from its chimney. I have not been this cold for many years. I. stop to catch my breath and marshal my strength, then push on for the last two hundred yards like a climber going for the summit of Everest.

Stone answers his door with a pistol on his hip. The first words out of his mouth are, "You damn fool." Then he jerks me inside, slams the door, and darts to the front window, where he stands peering through the curtains.

A fearsome array of weapons lies on the coffee table before the sofa-a hunting rifle, two shotguns, several automatic pistols-and a huge fire crackles in the fieldstone fireplace. The curtains over the back windows are shut, blocking the view toward the Slate and the trees beyond.

Stone must be close to seventy, but his vitality is intimidating. He's one of those leathery guys who'll still be jogging six miles a day when he's eighty. The last time we met, he seemed charged with repressed anger. Now the whole interior of the cabin crackles with his fury, as though my first visit opened some channel to the past that made it impossible for him to hold in his rage any longer.

"What's out there?" I ask.

He keeps staring through the window, his eyes narrowed like those of a marksman. "You didn't see them when you came in?"

"All I saw was mountains and snow. No cars. No skiers. Nothing."

"They've been out there all day. Four of them."

"Who are they?"

"FBI, I hope."

"And if not?"

He glances at me. "Then they only let you come in here for one reason."

"Which is?"

"To make it easier to kill both of us."

"Shit. Why are we standing here, then?"

"We'd be sitting ducks if we tried to make it out."

"Call the police."

Stone's taciturn face hardly moves when he answers. "There's only the sheriff and a couple of deputies. If those men are here to kill us, they'll kill anyone who tries to interfere as well. And I happen to like the sheriff."

"But they could be legitimate FBI agents. Right?"

"They could. But they don't feel legitimate."

"What about the state police?"

"Take 'em too long to get here in the snow. And my phone's tapped. I have a cell phone, but whoever's out there will have those frequencies covered. If they mean to kill us, they'll move in the second I call for help."

"Isn't it early for snow? It's ninety degrees in Mississippi."

"Anything can happen in October. It rained four days up-country before it turned to snow. That's why the river's up like it is."

I edge up to the other front window and peer out. I see nothing but spruce, firs, and show. "Why don't they move in now?"

"They're waiting for dark."

"So, we just sit here?"

Stone takes one more look out the window, then walks over to the table holding his weapons. "Look, you started all this. Now you've got to live with it: So just sit tight. I've been in spots like this before. It's a game of nerves."

I came to Colorado alone knowing that I would be walking right into the men watching Stone. I did this believing that Stone-a good man with a guilty conscience-would be unwilling to add my death to that conscience by sending me back to Mississippi alone. I was sure that my obvious vulnerability would convince him that the only decent thing to do would be to accompany me back to Natchez to testify. I didn't reckon with the possibility that the men watching him would attempt to kill him outright-and me with him.

He lifts a cordless phone from the coffee table, punches a button on it, listens, then hangs up and slips the phone into his pocket. "You killed Arthur Lee Hanratty's brother, right?"

I nod.

"That makes me feel a little better." He removes a pistol from the small of his back (I hadn't even noticed it), then takes the cordless phone from his pocket and sits on the sofa with both gun and phone in his lap. "Well, What'd you come back for?"

"The truth. You know it, I need it. It's that simple."

An ironic smile flickers over Stone's features. "I suppose since you and I may die together soon, I could make you aware of a few facts. But I'm not going to testify for you. Voluntarily or any other way. And first you'd better show me you're not wearing a wire."

It's a repeat of my visit to Ray Presley's trailer. I strip off my khakis and shirt, and Stone motions for me to remove my shorts and socks as well.

"Come over here," he says.

"I'm not submitting to a rectal exam," I tell him, walking toward the couch.

He chuckles, then stands and runs his fingers through my hair, following the line of my skull. He sticks a finger in each of my ears. "Sorry, but the transmitters are damnably small these days."

"Now that we've got that over with," I say, pulling on my pants, "let's hear what really happened in Natchez in 1968."

"How far have you gotten on your own?"

"I've got Presley nailed down for the actual murder. My witnesses are Frank Jones, his ex-wife, and Betty Lou Beckham. An ATF bomb expert will confirm C-4 as the explosive, proving Presley planted evidence at the scene. And one of the Fort Polk thieves will put stolen military C- 4 in Presley's hands."

Stone smiles. "So, you got my fax."

"Thanks."

"How do you link Presley to Marston?"

"You."

He raises his eyebrows. "I hope you've got something else."

"Well I did have an FBI agent trying to copy your original report for me. But he was arrested yesterday."

Stone gives a somber nod. "I heard."

Of course. His daughter told him.

"So," he says. "Marston orders Presley to do the hit. That's how you see it?"

"Well there's Portman, of course. But I don't know what his role was. Are there more people involved?"

"Conspiracies are always complicated. But in this case, Presley and Marston make a nice package, so why complicate it? Of course, you don't even have Marston yet."

"But you did."

"Yes."

"Tell me how."

He picks up the cordless phone again, presses a button, listens, then hangs up and begins speaking to me in a low, clear voice, his right hand thumbing the gun in his lap.

"First of all, Portman wasn't my partner. Hoover foisted him on me, fresh out of Yale Law and the Academy. His father was a Wall Street lawyer with Washington connections. He thought the Bureau would be a good political incubator for his son. Like military service without the risk. So pal Edgar throws the kid into a high-profile assignment, safely under the wing of veteran agent Dwight Stone."

Stone stops speaking for a few moments and simply listens. I hear only the crackle of the fire and, perhaps, the rush of the swollen Slate behind the cabin.

"Portman didn't give a shit about the Payton case," he says finally. "All he cared about was kissing ass and getting promoted to the Puzzle Palace."

"But you cared. Althea Payton told me you did."

He nods thoughtfully. "Cage, in all the mountains of shit, sometimes one case gets to you. You know? For me, it was that one. Payton was a good guy who basically minded his own business and tried to better his lot in life. And he got killed for it. When I found out he'd served in Korea, it got personal. I'd known some black noncoms over there, and they were okay. Payton survived Chosin Reservoir only to get blown to shit by some gutless rednecks in his home town." Stone slaps the cordless phone against his thigh with a percussive pop. "Man, I wanted to nail those sons of bitches.

"My first steps were the same ones you've been taking. Frank Jones, his wife, then Betty Lou Jackson. Beckham now, I guess. Betty Lou knew something, but she wouldn't talk. Then Portman and me got shot at out on Highway 61. Hoover got irritated after that incident. Scumbags shooting at the FBI and getting away with it didn't fit his PR plan. He authorized a lot more money and muscle. I cracked Betty Lou, and that put Presley at the scene. Portman and I braced Presley at home, and he told us to stick it. That bastard didn't rattle easy, I'll give him that. Even when we got the Fork Polk thieves to admit selling him the C-4, Presley told us to go to hell.

"We put on the full-court press. On my request, Hoover authorized illegal wiretaps on Presley's home, plus all the nearby pay phones. We bribed local Klansmen, but they couldn't find out a thing about Payton's death. Whoever killed Payton had acted without Klan authority. We put intermittent surveillance on Presley, tight enough to annoy him but loose enough for him to shake. After a week he called Leo Marston from a pay phone near his house."

"What did he say?"

"Nothing incriminating. Said he wanted to talk, somewhere private. Marston was the D.A. then, of course. Nothing illegal about wanting to talk to the district attorney. I thought Presley might be trying to cut a deal with the state authorities to avoid any sort of federal prosecution. The Klan had a lot of influence in Parchman in those days, and they could have assured him an easy stretch. They also had influence over pardons."

"But making a deal wasn't Presley's style."

"No," Stone agrees. "Anyway, the second Hoover heard Leo Marston's name in connection with the case, the whole case changed. The director assumed personal control."

"Why?"

"Hoover was a creature of politics. He demanded total control over every case that involved anyone who could do him good or harm down the road."

"What happened next?"

"We did a black bag job on Marston's mansion. Bugged it top to bottom. Phones, the house, the garden, gazebo, the works. It was a beautiful job."

"You and Portman?"

"Hell, no. Henry Bookbinder and me. The technology was primitive, but Henry was an artist with it, God rest his soul."

"What did you pick up?"

Stone smiles with satisfaction. "The mother lode. One day Presley drove up to the mansion and knocked on the door. Then he and the judge went out to the gazebo and had a long chat. They said enough in thirty minutes to put Marston in the gas chamber."

I hear a faint ringing in my ears. "Jesus. What did they say?"

Stone shakes his head. "You haven't got anywhere on a motive for Marston?"

"That's been my problem all along. I know Leo secretly owned some property that an out-of-town company was thinking of buying. There was some kind of race angle to that. Labor problems. Beyond that, I don't have anything."

"You were right on target, and you didn't know it. It was a carpet company from Georgia. Zebulon Hickson, the owner, was about a mile to the right of Attila the Hun. He thought slavery was the finest and most misunderstood institution this country ever had. When he opened new factories, he went into communities where what he called 'the nigger problem' didn't exist. Of course, by 1968 towns like that were hard to find. Especially along the Mississippi River, which was where he wanted to be.

"Leo Marston stood to make a lot of money off that land. But the labor situation wasn't as stable as Hickson wanted it. Blacks were using the unions to push into white jobs. Hickson had the idea that if an example was made, it would calm the blacks down. Apparently he'd done this somewhere in Georgia, and it had worked."

Marston's plan seems so obvious now. All it takes is a few facts.

"I honestly doubt Marston ever thought it would work," muses Stone. "He was too smart for that. But he didn't care whether it worked. He just wanted to sell Hickson his land."

"So, he went to Ray Presley," I fill in. "He said, 'We need to make an example of somebody.' "

"You got it. Marston didn't care who died. It was just business."

"Why didn't he use the local Klan? Put a word into the right ear and let the Klan take care of Payton? Why use a cop?"

"Marston was the D.A. He knew the Klan was riddled with federal informants. He wanted zero risk of the murder being traced back to him. He also despised the White Citizens' Council. He called them illiterate Baptist sons of bitches several times on the phone."

"But he trusted Presley."

"Yes. And he was right to. It's ironic as hell, really."

"Why?"

"You'll see in a minute. So, Presley chose Del Payton as the victim. Why, I don't know. He was in charge of voter-registration drives for the local NAACP, but he was a quiet guy. Had a nice house and a pretty wife. Saved his money. He had a nicer house than Presley did, really. That by itself could have been the reason. Anyway, Zeb Hickson was all set to announce his plans for a Natchez carpet factory-"

"But you had Marston by the short hairs."

"Yep."

"But you didn't make any arrests."

Stone sighs deeply. "Right."

"Why not?"

"As soon as Hoover heard the tape of Marston and Presley, he ordered me to forward every case note, transcript, surveillance report, witness interview, photograph, and audiotape to Washington. After he reviewed all that, he scheduled a visit to the Jackson field office. Good PR for the troops, he said. But the real reason for that trip was to meet Leo Marston."

The ringing in my head is an alarm bell now. "About what?"

"Politics. Clyde Tolson, Hoover's assistant, made the call. I still had the wiretap running, and I heard it. Marston thought he was going up to Jackson for a pat on the back for his performance as D.A. When he got there, Edgar read him the riot act, then laid the classic Hoover pitch on him."

"Which was?"

"Work for me, or endure the punishment you so richly deserve for your sins."

"Work for him how?"

A cynical smile thins Stone's lips. "This is where it gets interesting. And dirty. Del Payton died in May 1968, five weeks after Martin Luther King. What else was going on then?"

"The Vietnam War?"

He waves his hand dismissively. "The presidential primaries. Bobby Kennedy had jumped into the race as soon as Eugene McCarthy proved LBJ was vulnerable. After Kennedy came in, Johnson announced he wouldn't run for reelection. Del Payton was killed on the day Bobby won the Nebraska primary, and he'd won Indiana the week before. Kennedy was shaping up as the likely Democratic candidate in November."

"I'm not following you. What's the connection?"

"Hoover, Cage. Compared to the presidential race, Hoover didn't give a damn what happened to some black factory worker in Mississippi. Why? Because the FBI director has always served at the pleasure of the President. Hoover had been director since 1924, and he meant to stay director until he died. Two of his least favorite people in the world were Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. King's assassination had thrilled him, literally. But Bobby's presidential. campaign was giving him ulcers. Can you guess what Hoover's mission in life was in 1968?"

"Not to kill Robert Kennedy?"

"No, no. Forget that crap. He wanted to put Richard Nixon in office. And he was willing to do whatever was required to accomplish that. Hoover and Nixon went way back, to the 1960 election when Nixon lost to JFK. Bobby Kennedy, on the other hand, had treated Hoover like shit when he was attorney general. So, in May 1968 Nixon is making sober speeches about law and order to middle America, while Bobby Kennedy runs from ghetto to college campus preaching about racial equality, poverty in Mississippi, the evils of the Vietnam War, and reaching out to the Soviet Union."

"I still don't see the relevance to Del Payton."

Stone looks exasperated by my slowness. "The relevance is to Leo Marston. And more important, to his father. Leo's father was a major Mississippi power broker, a former state attorney general, just like Leo turned out to be. He was close friends with Big Jim Eastland, a well-known segregationist, head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and J. Edgar Hoover's number one cheerleader on Capitol Hill."

At last the picture is coming clear.

"The sixty-eight presidential election was the second closest in history, Cage, after Nixon and JFK in 1960. In sixty-eight Nixon won by less than one percent of the vote. That's how close it was in November. Back in May, when Del Payton was murdered, anything was possible. Mississippi was a Democratic state, but it voted strangely in presidential elections. In 1960 her electors didn't vote for JFK or Nixon, but some guy named Byrd. In sixty-four they voted for Goldwater. In 1968 they were leaning toward-"

"Wallace," I finish. "George Wallace."

Stone nods. "The racist firecracker from Alabama. Wallace was running as an Independent. Leo and his father were Democrats, but they thought Bobby Kennedy was a communist. Wallace was too racist for them, and more important, they didn't think he could win. So, they cast their lot with Nixon. Old man Marston was doing all he could to sway the movers and shakers in Mississippi to forget Wallace and vote Republican."

"Jesus."

"You see it now? Into this mess rides Special Agent Dwight Stone, telling J. Edgar Hoover that the son of one of Nixon's biggest supporters is responsible for a race murder in Mississippi. Did that make the director happy? No, sir. Do you think Hoover wanted to tell his buddy Senator Eastland that the son of an old crony was going to jail for killing a nigger who got out of line? No, sir. And the thought of what Bobby Kennedy would do with that information was enough to give Hoover a heart attack. So what do you think Hoover said to Leo at that meeting in Jackson?"

"I have no idea."

"Sonny boy, you fucked up. You had the right idea, but you got caught. It's just a good thing you got caught by my people, or life would be getting very uncomfortable right now. In fact, it still could. Then Hoover talked to Leo's papa. It's a lot like The Godfather. Nothing formal, but everything understood. Fealty. Absolute loyalty." Stone modulates his voice into a scratchy Marlon Brando impersonation: " 'Someday, I may ask you to perform a difficult service, but until that day, accept this favor as a gift.' From that day forward, Hoover owned the Marston family. All their influence, everything."

"Hoover buried your evidence?"

"All of it. Leo went back to his job and his future. The Payton investigation was allowed to die. Only Ray Presley paid a price."

"Presley?"

"He'd shot at us on the highway, remember? Hoover wouldn't let that pass. It was part of the price he demanded from Marston. Presley had to go down for something. Didn't matter what."

"Marston gave him up?"

"Didn't even hesitate. Presley had a dozen sidelines for making money.

His police job was just a fulcrum for the rest of it. He fenced stuff, collected protection money-"

"And sold dope."

"Right. Amphetamines mostly, for truckers. Interstate transportation of federally regulated narcotics. Marston gave us everything we needed to nail him, and we fed it to the state police. They busted him on possession with intent to distribute. I showed up at the arrest, just so Presley would know it was payback."

"Did he find out it was Marston who gave him up?"

"Not as far as I know. That's the irony. Marston was right to trust Presley, but Presley was a fool to trust Marston. Presley's like a dog that way."

"A pit bull maybe."

Stone goes through his little phone ritual again.

"You waiting for a call?"

"No." He picks up his pistol, stands, and walks back to the front window.

"They still out there?"

"Still there."

"So, the national security seal was completely bogus?"

Stone chuckles dryly. "Completely. Think about the Payton case. The Bureau had been tasked with destroying violent opposition to civil rights in the South. Instead, Hoover purposefully protected a race murderer for his own political ends. Normally, he would have added the Payton evidence to his personal files. The infamous blackmail files. But Payton's file was too big for that. We had agents in Natchez generating reams of useless crap. The national security seal was an impenetrable shield."

"Do you think the audiotape of Marston and Presley is still with the main file?"

"I doubt it. That was the critical evidence. It was probably taken to Hoover's home when he died, with the other blackmail material. Shelves of books have been written about what might have happened to that stuff. You'll never find that tape."

"So, Marston's motive was just-"

"Money," Stone finishes. "Greed. Bastards like him only care about one thing: grabbing everything within their reach. They think every dollar they get takes them one step closer to immortality, and every person they step on puts them one step above everyone else. I don't think other people really exist for people like Marston. They're just a means to an end."

Including his daughter, I think with a shiver. "When you had the bugs in his mansion," I say hesitantly, "did you ever pick up anything unsavory?"

"Murder is pretty unsavory."

"I'm talking about sexual stuff."

"We heard him banging his wife's best friend one day."

"I'm talking about abuse. Child abuse."

He turns away from the window and looks at me. "No. I had a daughter myself. If I'd heard anything like that, I would have gone in there and thrashed him within an inch of his life." The corner of Stone's mouth twitches. "The mikes were only in for a couple of weeks, though. And I can't remember if Henry covered the little girl's room."

I force myself to push Livy from my mind. "I need you to tell this story to a jury."

"It'll never happen, son."

"I think it will. I know about your daughter."

In the midst of turning back to the window, he whips his whole head toward me, his eyes burning with anger.

I hold up both hands. "I'm just telling you I know she's what's been keeping you from helping me."

"Then you know it's pointless to ask me to testify."

"Is it? I talked to her today, and she thinks different."

Stone takes a step toward me. "You talked to my daughter today?"

"Yes. Caitlin Masters found her for me."

"You idiot. If you've put her life in danger-"

"She's all right! She's fine. And she agrees with me. Portman started playing carrot and stick with her days ago. I didn't even have to tell her you could bring him down. She knew."

"You had no right to put her in jeopardy, Cage."

"I want justice. That's all."

"You want revenge."

"You're right. But I used to want it for myself. Now I want it for someone else. Marston has done things he should die for, Stone. Take my word for that."

The old agent fingers the pistol in his hand. "My daughter told me two days ago that I should testify. She thinks getting this thing off my chest would save my damned soul or something." His face hardens. "She's got no right to sacrifice her career for my guilty conscience. She doesn't know how things really work."

"She knows."

"It's not her choice, damn it!" His eyes flick around the interior of the cabin. "God, I wish I had a bottle." He paces over to the fireplace and pokes the logs, sending a storm of sparks up the chimney. "You don't want me as a witness, Cage."

"Why not?"

"I'm damaged goods."

"Because of your drinking?"

"Drinking isn't one problem. It's a whole constellation."

"Why were you fired five years after the Payton murder? It wasn't for drinking."

He stirs the fire some more. "No. Though I was drinking like a fish at the time. When Hoover cut the deal with Marston, I couldn't believe it. I don't know why. I'd seen him do it enough times before. But usually it was cases that were dirty all the way around. This murder had a real victim. An innocent victim. And the Korea angle really weighed on me. I started drinking to forget about it. Things were turning to shit in the Bureau. Hoover was using us to harass antiwar protesters, all kinds of unconstitutional stuff. Then we got Nixon. Parts of the Bureau started to function like the goddamn KGB. It made me sick. The booze made it tolerable. For a while, anyway. It also made me impossible to live with. I drove my wife and baby away. I screwed up a dozen different ways. Then I topped them all. You'll get a kick out of this, because it involves your friend Marston."

"What?"

"In 1972 I was in Washington, doing some shit work Nixon had requested from Hoover. Something too boring for Liddy and his plumbers. I was walking through the lobby of the Watergate office complex, and there, bigger than life, stood Leo Marston. He was in town lobbying John Stennis for something or other. I was soused when I saw him, and I snapped. The Payton thing had been eating at me for four years. When Marston saw me, that smug bastard tried to make out like we were buddies from way back, in on the big joke. The dead nigger. I straightened him out quick. And everybody in the Watergate lobby heard me. Marston lost it. He took a swing at me, and I pulled my gun."

I almost laugh, remembering the way I snapped and went after Marston yesterday.

"Henry Bookbinder had been outside parking the car," Stone recalls. "He ran in and backed me down. Nobody died, but Marston screamed blue murder to Hoover. One of Hoover's last acts before he died in seventy-two was firing me. I guess that's a distinction of sorts."

"Where was Portman then?"

Stone goes still, the poker hovering above the crackling logs. "Climbing the Bureau ladder. I didn't tell you everything before. When Hoover took over the Payton case, I started making copies of my case notes. I also copied the audiotape that incriminated Marston."

The hair on my forearms is standing up. "Do you still have that copy?"

He shakes his head. "Portman saw what I was doing. He started spying on me, reporting to Hoover as the case progressed. I can just imagine his reports. May be ideologically unsound, blah, blah, blah. Anyway, everything was stolen out of my apartment two days before I was fired. That was Portman, I guarantee it. On Hoover's orders."

My heart sinks.

"You don't want me as a witness. They'd make me look pathetic on cross. Too many sins of my own."

"What's Portman so afraid of now? From the story you told, his involvement was peripheral."

"The Bureau's been under siege for ten years, in the public-relations sense. Its big Achilles' heel is racism. The FBI has been sued by black agents, Hispanics, women, all claiming systematic discrimination. And these groups have won. Portman was appointed to correct these problems, to polish the image, and he was appointed by a Democratic president. If it was to come out that his 'heroic civil rights work' in Mississippi consisted of helping to cover up a race murder, he'd be out on his ass in an hour. The President would have no choice."

"So, let's make it known. Do the Bureau and the country a favor."

Stone sets the poker in its rack and sits on the hearth, his face weary. "I wish I could. Every trial decision Portman ever made as a federal judge would come into question, every decision as a U.S. attorney. He'd never work in the public sector again. And once the media got its nose into his past, God knows what they'd find. A guy like Portman doesn't cross the line once or twice. It's a management style with him."

"Why didn't the media discover anything during his confirmation hearings?"

"The Bureau is a closed culture. It outlives presidential administrations, judges, even Supreme Court justices. If the leadership of that culture wants to keep Portman's secrets so he can be appointed FBI director, that's the way it'll be."

Stone takes out his phone and checks the line again. "I'd like to help you, Cage. But they've held my daughter over me for a long time. Since she was a kid."

"What?"

"Oh, yeah. After he fired me, Hoover sent me a message. Portman delivered it. If I tried to air any dirty Bureau laundry, my kid wouldn't live to watch me on Meet the Press."

"That's pretty hard to believe."

He laughs bitterly. "This was 1972. Worse things were happening every day, and the government was right in the middle of it."

I pull the curtains away from the front window and squint through the gathering dusk. Beyond what must be the jeep track, the snow-covered wall of Anthracite Mesa climbs toward the sky, with spruce and fir trees marching up it in dark ranks. What I do not see is human beings.

"What did you mean about Presley and Marston making a nice package? You said, 'Why complicate it?' "

Stone stands and walks toward me, telephone in hand. "I didn't mean anything. Forget it."

"You're holding something back, aren't you?"

He has the phone to his ear now, and his face has gone white. He throws down the phone and rushes me, holding out his pistol. "Take it!"

"What?"

"The phone's dead! Take the gun!"

I take the gun, which looks like a Colt.45, and Stone snatches the hunting rifle up from the table. A Winchester 300, with a scope.

"Open the back door for me!" he orders. "There's a sniper out there."

As I run to the back door, I decide that not bringing Daniel Kelly with me was about the stupidest idea I've ever had.

Stone kneels six feet back from the door, shoulders the Winchester, and puts his right eye to the scope, as though preparing to shoot right through the door.

"Open it," he says. "Slowly. Then get clear, fast."

I slowly turn the handle, then stretch as far away as I can from the door and pull it halfway open.

Stone quickly adjusts his aim, then fires. The report of the rifle inside the cabin is like a detonation.

"He's down!" shouts Stone. "Follow me!"

"Where to?"

Before he can answer, the front window of the cabin explodes inward and a bullet ricochets off the hearth. Stone whirls, draws a small automatic from his belt, and empties half a clip through the broken window.

"Move!" he yells, grabbing my arm and jerking me toward the door.

" Where? " I ask, my throat dry as sand.

"Somewhere they can't follow!"

"Where's that?"

"The river."

"The river? In what?"

"You'll see. Move your ass!"


CHAPTER 33 | The Quiet Game | CHAPTER 35