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CHAPTER 40

When Stone finishes his slow journey to the witness box, he pauses for a few deep breaths, then turns to Judge Franklin. "May I stand during my testimony, Your Honor?"

"Do you have a physical malady that prevents you from sitting?"

"I was shot two nights ago. In the left buttock."

Predictably, some spectators snicker in spite of Stone's obvious pain.

"You may stand," says Franklin, glaring at the crowd.

I move slowly toward the podium, running through memories of everything Stone told me two nights ago in Colorado. He lied to me then-by omission- leaving Ike Ransom completely out of his story. I need the truth today, the whole truth. Stone must be made aware that Ike the Spike no longer needs his protection. Instead of stopping at the podium, I adopt Livy's tactic and continue right up to the witness box. In a voice barely above a whisper, I say:

"Ike Ransom was shot to death last night."

As Judge Franklin orders me to speak at an audible level, Stone winks, and my heartbeat rushes ahead.

"Mr. Stone, were you ever an agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation?"

"I was a field agent for sixteen years."

"Did your duties ever bring you to Natchez, Mississippi?"

"Yes."

"In what capacity?"

"In May of 1968, I was assigned to investigate the death of Delano Payton. I arrived here the day after he was murdered."

"Who gave you that assignment?"

"J. Edgar Hoover."

"Personally?"

"Yes."

"Did you succeed in that assignment? Did you solve the murder?"

"I did."

Even though Portman said the same thing during his testimony, the crowd buzzes in expectation. It's plain that Dwight Stone does not intend to hold anything back.

"Could you briefly describe how you went about doing that?"

"Objection," says Livy, rising to her feet. "Judge, this man is testifying to information that has been sealed to protect national security. His willingness to break the law or even to commit treason is no reason to allow him to divulge protected information in front of television cameras."

I try not to let my anxiety show on my face, but Livy may have just stopped this trial dead, at least until government officials are brought in to decide what Stone may and may not say.

Judge Franklin looks at me. "Ms. Sutter raises a serious issue, Mr. Cage. You have argument on this point?"

I could argue for an hour, but I would probably lose. "Perhaps we should hear Mr. Stone on this point, Judge. He's an attorney himself."

Franklin gives Stone an inquisitive glance. "Mr. Stone?"

Stone shakes his head like a soldier pondering a heavily defended hill he has just been ordered to take. "Judge, the heart of my testimony goes to the justification of that national security classification. After sixteen years working for J. Edgar Hoover, I can tell you this. No man more readily abused such classifications for his own personal ends than Hoover. He sealed the Del Payton file solely to mask evidence of criminal activity. It had nothing to do with the national interest. If you allow my testimony, you'll know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you've done the right thing." He looks Franklin square in the eye. "Have the courage of your office, Judge."

She regards him thoughtfully. "My dilemma, Mr. Stone, is that once you've spoken, your words cannot be taken back."

Stone sighs. "With all respect, Judge, I'm going to tell my story regardless of your decision. I've been silent too long. I can tell it here on the stand, or outside on the steps."

Franklin tilts her head back, shocked by Stone's frank threat. "I have a third choice. I can have you jailed for contempt."

Stone doesn't even blink. "You can jail me, Judge. But you can't stop me from speaking. That is the one thing you cannot do."

Eunice Franklin studies Stone for a long time. What does she see in him? He is ten years her senior, but from another era altogether. Is he a veteran cop with a conscience? Or an unstable and dangerous has-been, as John Portman would portray him? Livy opens her mouth to argue further, but Franklin stops her with an upraised hand.

"No additional argument, Ms. Sutter. If Mr. Stone has the courage to risk jail, I will risk censure. If he strays into what I feel is dangerous territory, I'll stop him. Continue with your story, Mr. Stone."

"Under protest," Livy says in a cold voice.

"Noted. Mr. Cage?"

I turn to Stone with as much gratitude as I can bring to my eyes. "Mr. Stone, could you describe how you went about solving the Delano Payton murder?"

In clear and concise language, the former agent gives a chronological account of his investigation up to the point that he nailed Ray Presley. His story mirrors exactly the testimony given by my earlier witnesses, from Frank Jones to Lester Hinson, and he confirms that John Portman worked with him every step of the way. Their discovery that Lester Hinson had sold C-4 to Ray Presley, Stone says, prompted a "rather intense" meeting with Presley, during which Presley stated that he'd merely acted as a middleman in the deal, purchasing the plastic explosive for a young Natchez black man, an army veteran. This brings us just past the point at which Stone began lying to me in Colorado.

"What was that young black man's name, Mr. Stone?"

"Ike Ransom."

"Are you aware that a sheriff's deputy by that name was murdered last night?"

"Yes."

"Was he the same man you interviewed in 1968?"

"Yes."

"John Portman stated that the FBI file on Del Payton was sealed because of the involvement of a certain Vietnam veteran. Was Ike Ransom that man?"

"Yes."

"What did you do after Patrolman Ray Presley told you he'd bought the C-4 for Ike Ransom?"

"Portman and I interviewed Ransom at his apartment. Two minutes after we were inside, he confessed to the murder of Delano Payton."

Livy jumps to her feet, but her objection is drowned by the explosive reaction of the crowd. Judge Franklin bangs her gavel, but it takes some time for order to be restored. Even the jury is gaping at Stone.

"Your Honor," says Livy, "I object. This witness's testimony is hearsay."

Franklin nods and looks at me. Under the Mississippi rules of evidence, Livy is right. But all rules are proved by exceptions. As I come to my feet, I troll my memory for the details of exceptions under Mississippi law, which I scanned less than six hours ago in the office of the chancery judge, an old high school friend.

"Your Honor, this qualifies as a hearsay exception under Rule 804 (b)3. Deputy Ransom was on my witness list specifically to testify to this information. His murder last night has made that impossible. Since the declarant is unavailable due to death, Mr. Stone's statement should be admitted."

Franklin looks surprised by my knowledge of Mississippi law.

Livy says, "Your Honor, Mr. Cage's exception is-"

"Sidebar," Franklin cuts in. "Approach the bench."

Livy and I meet before Franklin and lean toward her.

"Judge," says Livy, "this is patent hearsay, and no exception should be made."

"Judge, Ike Ransom's confession was a statement made against interest. A murder confession so obviously subjected him to criminal liability that great weight must be accorded to it."

Franklin taps her pen on a notepad as she considers my argument. "Given the totality of the circumstances, I'm going to allow it."

"His entire statement?" I press.

"Let's see where it leads. I may stop him."

Livy starts to argue, then thinks better of it. She returns to her table as I approach Stone.

"Please continue, Mr. Stone."

He lifts his cane from the rail and leans heavily upon it. "Ike Ransom was a mess. Suicidal probably. He was living in squalor that would be difficult to believe by today's standards. There was drug paraphernalia in plain view. What we called 'heroin works' back then. He was literally dying to tell someone his story."

"What was his story?"

"He had recently separated from the army after a tour in Vietnam. He'd served as a military policemen there, as I recall. He'd tried to find work with the local police department but was turned down. Desperate for money, he'd turned to drug dealing."

"He admitted this to you?"

"Yes. Two weeks before Del Payton was murdered, Ransom was stopped on a rural road by Patrolman Ray Presley. Presley discovered a large quantity of heroin in Ransom's trunk. He offered to overlook this if Ransom agreed to kill a man for him."

"Objection!" Blake Sims cries.

"On what grounds?" asks Judge Franklin.

But Livy has taken hold of Sims's jacket and pulled him back down to his seat.

"There's no objection," she says.

Franklin gives them an admonitory look. "Continue, Mr. Stone."

"Patrolman Presley also promised Ransom that if he carried out this murder, Presley would ensure that he was eventually hired by the police department. Presley had told the truth about Ike Ransom asking him to get the C-4. Ransom was afraid of dynamite, but he'd had experience with C- 4 in Vietnam."

"Did you report Ransom's confession to Director Hoover?"

"I did."

"What was his reaction?"

"I would describe it as glee."

"Glee. Could you elaborate on that?"

"Mr. Hoover was being forced to aggressively pursue a civil rights agenda. This did not reconcile with his personal feelings. He particularly hated Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. My revelation that the murder of Del Payton-a crime which Robert Kennedy considered a civil rights murder- had in fact been carried out by a black man gave the director obvious enjoyment. He remarked that he would dearly enjoy telling Bobby Kennedy that Payton's death had been nothing but another 'shine killing.' Those were his words."

"Did Hoover in fact report this to Bobby Kennedy?"

"Not to my knowledge."

"What did he do?"

"He authorized me to wiretap the home of Ray Presley, and also the pay phones within a two-mile radius of his home."

"Did you learn anything from those wiretaps?"

"A few days later Presley called Leo Marston, the local district attorney, and asked for a private meeting."

"Objection!" cries Sims, to Livy's obvious displeasure.

It looks to me like Sims may be objecting on the order of his client. Leo's face has grown steadily redder during Stone's testimony.

"Grounds?" asks Judge Franklin.

When Sims hesitates, Franklin says, "I want no more frivolous interruptions of this testimony. You can object from now till doomsday, but Mr. Stone is going to tell his story. Is that clear?"

Sims sighs and takes his chair, while Leo sets his jaw and glares at Franklin.

Stone relates the story of wiretapping Tuscany, and of Hoover taking personal control of the investigation because of its political sensitivity. "The meeting between Presley and Marston took place in the gazebo outside the Marston mansion. It became clear in the first ten minutes of that conversation that Ray Presley had arranged the death of Delano Payton at the specific request of the district attorney, Leo Marston."

Judge Franklin is so engrossed by Stone's testimony that it takes her several seconds to realize that the spectators are out of order. She furiously bangs her gavel.

"I'll clear this court!" she vows, pointing her gavel at the balcony for emphasis.

I would have expected Livy to leap to her feet at Stone's last statement, but she seems as engrossed in the story as Judge Franklin.

"How did that become clear, Mr. Stone?" I ask.

"Marston knew every detail of the murder, right down to Ike Ransom's request for the C-4."

"Did their conversation shed any light on the possible motive for this crime?"

"Yes." Stone lucidly lays out the pending land deal between Marston and Zebulon Hickson, the carpet magnate from Georgia. He explains Leo's secret ownership of the land, Hickson's concern with black labor problems, and his insistence that an "example" be made of a black union worker before committing to purchase Marston's property.

"Yes. Mr. Stone, I'm sure everyone in this courtroom is wondering why, since you solved the murder, no one was arrested for it. Can you explain that?"

"After Director Hoover had all the evidence and reports in his possession- including the audiotapes-he set up a meeting with Leo Marston at the Jackson field office of the FBI. After this meeting took place, I was instructed to stand down my Natchez detail and report to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, for other duties. I was told that no arrest would be made because that was in the best interests of the Bureau and the country."

"What did you make of that?"

Stone shakes his head. "I'd seen it before. Hoover liked having leverage over people. Particularly people in government. Leo Marston came from a powerful political family. His father had tremendous influence in both Mississippi and Washington. Over the next year, I learned that Hoover used the leverage of the Payton murder to force Leo's father to influence the 1968 presidential election by trying to swing Mississippi's electoral votes away from George Wallace to Richard Nixon, who was a protege of Hoover's. It was also clear in 1968 that Leo himself was destined for higher office. Director Hoover and Leo Marston developed a mutually beneficial relationship that flourished from Payton's death in 1968 until Hoover's death in 1972."

Judge Franklin is shaking her head in amazement.

I can't believe that Livy or Sims did not object to Stone's last statements, but they probably assumed-rightly, I suspect-that Judge Franklin meant to hear him out no matter what.

"So," I summarize, trying to bring it all into perspective for the jury, "J. Edgar Hoover was willing to bury conclusive evidence of a civil rights murder in order to strengthen his own political influence. How did you react to this?"

"Not well."

"Please be specific."

"I began drinking. It affected my work. I cheated on my wife. She divorced me, took my daughter from me. I was eventually dismissed from the Bureau."

A fragment of Ike's confession in the pecan-shelling plant comes to me from the ether. "Did you ever make any attempt to right what you considered the terrible wrong that had been done in the Payton case?"

Surprise flashes in Stone's eyes. "Yes."

"How?"

"I had retained a copy of the incriminating tape. About a year after the murder, when I knew no official action would ever be taken against the killers, I called Ike Ransom. He'd been hired as a police officer by then, just as Presley had promised."

"What did you tell him?"

"Nothing. I played him my copy of the tape. Then I hung up."

"What did you think Ransom would do after hearing that tape?"

"I don't know. I suppose I hoped that he might take direct action."

"You hoped he would kill Presley and Marston?"

Stone's face remains impassive. "The thought entered my mind."

"Mr. Stone, when you described these events to me two days ago, you didn't mention Ike Ransom. Why?"

He looks at the rail, his eyes filled with something like grief. "I felt some sympathy for Ike Ransom, despite what he'd done."

"Sympathy for a murderer?"

"Ransom was a combat veteran. I was one myself. Del Payton too. Ransom had a bad time in Vietnam, I could tell that right off. When Presley caught him with that heroin, his choices narrowed down to nothing. Parchman prison or commit murder. That may not mitigate his act, but when I interviewed the man, he was paralyzed by remorse. He was the only one of the three who ever showed any, and to this day, I'm surprised he lived through those weeks." Stone rubs his free hand over the one holding the head of the cane, then expels a lungful of air. "Presley and Marston were arrogant about what they'd done. And why not? The system rewarded Marston for it."

I ask Stone to briefly explain the Presley angle of the Marston-Hoover deal (Marston's betrayal of Presley to the FBI), my goal being to show the jury that even last night's attempt by Presley to kill Marston had its roots in the Payton murder. When Stone finishes, Judge Franklin looks overwhelmed by the implications of the case.

"One last question, Mr. Stone. Why, knowing all that you did, did you wait so long to come forward with the truth?"

He looks past me, but I doubt he sees anything of the courtroom. "Cowardice," he says. "Plain and simple. Hoover used John Portman to threaten my family if I caused a scandal. After my ex-wife died, I thought about coming forward. But by then my daughter had graduated law school and against my advice joined the FBI. She was subject to the will of the Justice Department, of which John Portman was a major part. The murder had happened so long ago. I just tried to put it behind me."

"Did you succeed?"

"No. It's haunted me my whole life."

"Thank you, Mr. Stone. I tender the witness, subject to redirect."

Judge Franklin lays both hands on her desk and sighs. "I'm going to take a recess here. I'd like to think for a bit, and I'm sure Mr. Stone would like to rest his legs."

Livy stands abruptly. "I'd prefer to cross-examine now, Your Honor."

Franklin frowns and looks at me. "Mr. Cage?"

I should probably opt for the recess, to give Stone time to decompress. But something pushes me in the opposite direction. Something in me is driven to witness Livy's performance. How far is she willing to go to protect her father? How far, now that Stone's testimony has destroyed any remaining illusions she might have had about Leo's innocence?

"No objection, Your Honor."

"Proceed, Ms. Sutter."

Livy squeezes Leo's shoulder in a gesture that looks genuine. Then she approaches Stone at an oblique angle, walking slowly with a burgundy Mont-blanc pen in her hand, not looking at him but at the jury. Every man and woman in the box watches her with fascination.

"Mr. Stone, what year were you dismissed from the FBI?"

"1972."

"Were you summarily dismissed, or were efforts made to help you stop drinking?".

"I wasn't fired for drinking."

"Your record states that you were. But I'm interested. Why do you think you were fired?"

"For drawing my service weapon on Leo Marston in the lobby of the Watergate office complex."

Livy doesn't bat an eye. "There's no mention of such an incident in your record. Were there any witnesses to it?"

"My partner, Henry Bookbinder."

"Will he corroborate your story?"

"He would if he were alive."

"Any other witnesses?"

"Not that I know by name. Only Marston himself."

Leo actually smirks from his table. He loves seeing Livy perform this way. This is what he fantasized about before she ran off to Virginia and then Atlanta.

"Let's return to your dismissal," she says. "I admired the candor of your earlier testimony. Being honest about things like losing your wife and child must be very hard. I know, because I'm going through a divorce myself."

Livy wins instant points with the jury for this personal revelation, one with stratospheric value in the Natchez gossip market. Stone stands with a resigned frown on his face, like a soldier being court-martialed, one who knows something bad is coming and that he has no choice but to endure it.

"I wonder," Livy says with false spontaneity, "were you completely honest about your dismissal?"

Stone just waits.

"Do you know a woman named Catherine Neumaier?"

His face sags.

"Would you like some water?"

Stone's jaw clenches. He is clearly offended by Livy's feigned concern. "I did know Catherine Neumaier. She's dead now. Dead twenty-five years."

"Did Miss Neumaier have a profession?"

"She was a dancer."

"A dancer. She had no other profession?"

"Not to my knowledge."

"FBI records indicate that Miss Neumaier was a prostitute."

"I don't know anything about that."

"How did you meet Miss Neumaier?"

"I was working an organized crime task force. I was assigned to try to compromise her as an informant."

"Because she had ties to organized crime?"

"She danced in a club owned by Sam Giancana."

"The Mafia boss of Chicago?"

"Yes."

"Did Miss Neumaier become your informant?"

"Yes."

"Was she an alcoholic?"

"No."

"FBI records indicate that she was. Also that she took drugs."

Stone sighs. "She had a severe health problem. Lupus. She took pills to help her stay awake for work. Pills to help her sleep."

"Did you have a sexual relationship with Miss Neumaier?"

His eyes don't waver. "Yes."

"Wasn't it this relationship that caused the breakup of your marriage?"

"Yes."

"Were you reprimanded for unprofessional conduct because of this sexual relationship with Miss Neumaier?"

"Officially. And only after the fact. Unofficially, Hoover encouraged it from the start."

"You were encouraged by the director of the FBI to have an affair with a Mob prostitute? I find that difficult to believe."

Stone's eyes are burning now, all patience gone from his face. "Lady, the total tonnage of what you don't know about federal law enforcement would sink a damned oil tanker."

Livy is already smiling in triumph when Judge Franklin reprimands Stone for his language.

"Did you feel," she goes on, prodding a different nerve, "that John Portman had anything to do with your dismissal from the FBI?"

"I know he did."

"How do you know?"

"Portman had known since the Payton case that I didn't go along with what Hoover had done."

"Allegedly done."

"Keep telling yourself that."

"I'm warning you, Mr. Stone," Franklin cuts in.

"How did Mr. Portman influence your dismissal?" Livy asks.

"He reported all my conversations and movements to Hoover after the director took over the Payton case."

"Why would he do that?"

"Because he sensed that I wasn't going to toe the line. He sensed my sympathy for Del Payton and Ike Ransom. Hoover's standard procedure would have been to tell Portman to keep a close eye on me and report back. This was Portman's first major case. He would have kissed Hoover's- He'd have done whatever Hoover told him to without question."

"What else did Portman do?"

"Two days before I was fired, evidence pertaining to the Payton case was stolen from my apartment. Portman took that."

"I thought you told us that Director Hoover requested that all the Payton evidence be forwarded to Washington."

"I kept copies of certain things."

"Against direct orders?"

"Yes."

"Why do you think it was Portman who allegedly stole this material?"

"He left me a calling card."

"A business card?"

"No. A map."

Livy looks less certain here. "What kind of map?"

"My evidence was hidden behind a wall panel. After the theft the panel was purposefully left out of place. When I looked inside the wall, I found a map of Natchez, Mississippi. There'd been no map there before. That was Portman's calling card. That was the only place we'd ever served together. I suppose he thought it displayed a certain wit."

"How do you feel about Mr. Portman personally?"

"Since he sent four men to kill me last night, I don't feel too well disposed toward him."

"The jury will disregard that statement," Judge Franklin cuts in. "Confine yourself to the question, Mr. Stone."

"All right. I think John Portman is a rich, spineless bureaucrat who didn't get spanked enough when he was a kid."

Franklin turns red, but Livy is ecstatic. Stone is giving her exactly what she wants. Before Franklin can reprimand him, she turns to face the jury box.

"Mr. Stone, did you enter into a conspiracy with the author Penn Cage to ruin the careers of John Portman and Leo Marston?"

He blinks in surprise. "What? Absolutely not."

"But you see the symmetry of the suggestion?"

"I do not."

She turns back to him with a knowing smile. "Come, now. You're a smart man. I'm suggesting that you and Mr. Cage made a deal of sorts. Mr. Cage hated Leo Marston, you hated John Portman. Alone, neither of you could do much to destroy those men. But together-"

"Objection," I say at last.

Livy smiles. "I withdraw the question, Your Honor. And I have no further questions for this witness."

I can't understand why she's releasing Stone so soon until she says, "If this is Mr. Cage's final witness, I would very much like to call Mr. Cage at this time as a rebuttal witness."

Her suggestion stuns me. All I can think to say is, "Ms. Sutter is out of order, Judge."

"Just a moment," says Franklin. "You are excused, Mr. Stone. But don't leave the courthouse."

Stone makes no move to leave the witness box. He looks down at Livy with contempt and says, "You're not worth a hangnail on Catherine Neumaier's little finger. Your father is a murderer, and you know it. But you stand there-"

"Mr. Stone!" snaps Franklin. "Leave the stand, or I'll be forced to hold you in contempt."

Stone looks away from Livy like a man looking away from a dead enemy, then limps off the stand with his soldier's bearing. As he passes me, he stops, shakes my hand, and leans close.

"I told you you didn't want me as a witness."

I squeeze his hand and whisper, "Bullshit. I wanted the truth, and you gave it to me. The question is, was the jury ready for it?"

As Stone passes the spectators' benches, his cane rapping on the hardwood floor, his daughter rises, takes his elbow, and helps him toward the doors.

"Ms. Sutter," says Judge Franklin. "This is an unusual request. Whose testimony are you calling Mr. Cage to rebut?"

"Mr. Stone's, Your Honor."

Franklin considers this for a few moments. "Mr. Cage, do you plan to call additional witnesses?"

I had planned to recall Portman, but now that Livy has undercut everything Stone said by making him look bent on revenge, I'm not sure what to do. And now she wants to question me? I suppose she is finally answering the question of how far she is willing to go.

"I have no more witnesses, Your Honor."

"Does the defense rest, then?"

A strange sense of sadness flows through me, not for myself but for Althea Payton, sitting out there in the benches. She nods at me as though to say, At least we tried. "Subject to calling rebuttal witnesses, the defense rests."

"Very well. Please take the stand, Mr. Cage."

Without looking at Livy, I mount the steps to the witness box and seat myself. Everyone in the room is watching me. My parents. The Paytons. Austin Mackey, who looks like he's in shock from the revelations he's heard in the past half hour. High in the back of the court, more faces watch from the balcony, and among them the larger gleaming eyes of the CNN and WLBT cameras.

One pair of eyes is not watching me. Livy Marston's, and it's a damn good thing. If she had the nerve to look me in the eye while playing out this obscene charade, I might decide to stand up and announce her sins to the world. But I won't do that. And she knows it. It's not in me to do something like that. But maybe it is in her.

"Mr. Cage," she says, facing the jury. "Did you and I have a romantic relationship when we attended the St. Stephens Preparatory School?"

"Yes."

"Was it a serious relationship?"

"Define serious."

"An extended relationship of a sexual nature."

She has guts, I'll give her that. "Yes."

"When did that relationship finally end?"

Two minutes ago. "Our freshman year of college."

"Did it end that year because my father, Leo Marston, handled a malpractice suit against your father, Thomas Cage?"

"Yes."

"In the course of that lawsuit, did your father suffer a near-fatal heart attack?"

"Yes."

"Did you blame my father for that?"

"Yes."

"Did that lawsuit effectively end any chance of you and I getting married?"

"Yes."

At last she turns to me, but her eyes look opaque, as though she has closed them against all my feeling for her, steeling herself against mercy. "Did you blame my father for that as well?"

Does she want me to tell the truth? Does she want me to say, No, I blame you? The whole goddamn thing happened because you got yourself pregnant by a stupid redneck murderer and couldn't deal with it?

"For a long time, I did."

"And did you conspire with former Special Agent Dwight Stone to destroy my father and John Portman?"

"I did not."

She holds my eyes a moment longer, as though waiting for me to counterattack with everything I know about her.

I say nothing. What would it accomplish, besides convincing Livy that I'm willing to sink as low to destroy her father as she is to protect him? Would it convince the jury that Marston and Portman are guilty? If Stone's testimony didn't do that, the Marston family's dirty laundry certainly won't.

"No further questions," Livy says, turning away at last.

Judge Franklin looks at me as though I have fulfilled the assertion she made on the day we met in her office. I have a fool for a client. "Mr. Cage," she says, "I find myself in the curious position of asking if you would like to cross-examine yourself."

I almost laugh out loud. Here it is, my chance to say anything I want. And curiously enough, I have no inclination to say anything. Without Ike Ransom or Ray Presley to confirm Stone's story, I can add nothing that will sway the twelve people in the jury box.

"No questions, Your Honor."

"You're excused, Mr. Cage."

Excused. My parents are watching me with agony in their faces. Althea Payton nods, her lips tight. Caitlin's black veil of hair frames her porcelain face among all the others. She's looking at me with something like pity in her eyes. She thinks I'm unable to turn Livy's sword against her, not trapped in a situation where my conscience is forcing me to endure humiliation without fighting back. As I walk back to the defense table, I turn toward the jury. I do not give them my lawyer's look-full of confidence, certain of victory-but a simple human look, an unstated question.

Their faces are hard to read. Stone's testimony resonated with the black jurors, but even they cannot help but connect the simple dots Livy held up before them. I blamed Leo Marston for making my father ill and ruining my prospects with his daughter. Stone hated Portman for his dismissal from the FBI. Once the two of us were brought together, a conspiracy was almost inevitable. Factually, this theory has at least one major hole. But emotionally it makes sense. It plays. And some of the jury members are bound to buy into it.

As I reach the table, the door at the rear of the courtroom opens, and a young woman walks in. It's Jenny Doe. She looks toward the judge's bench, then pans her eyes until they settle on me. She waves at me.

I nod to her and take my seat just as Judge Franklin says: "Ms. Sutter? Does the plaintiff rest?"

Any lingering illusion that Blake Sims is leading Leo Marston's legal team crumbles into dust.

Livy nods. "The plaintiff rests, Your Honor."

As Franklin turns to me, someone pulls at my elbow. "Mr. Cage?"

It's Jenny, crouching at the bar behind my table.

"Mr. Cage?" says Judge Franklin. "Does the defense rest?"

Jenny grabs my arm above the elbow and jabs her thumb into a nerve. I jerk my elbow away.

"Mr. Cage?" says Franklin. "Is that young lady bothering you?"

"May I have a moment, Your Honor?"

"If you must."

I twist in my chair until I'm face to face with Jenny. "What the hell are you doing?"

Her eyes are glittering with excitement. "I have something for you," she whispers. "I think I have what you need to win your case."

"What are you talking about?"

"I tried to get in here this morning to watch the trial, but it was too crowded. And it's a good thing for you. Because I went back to my apartment and watched it on TV. I didn't realize what I had until I heard that Mr. Stone talking about J. Edgar Hoover. I ran-"

"Mr. Cage," Judge Franklin presses. "I'm ready to give this case to the jury."

I hold up my hand. "Jenny, for God's sake, get to the point."

"It's the tapes."

I blink in bewilderment. "Tapes?"

She reaches into the pocket of her jeans and pulls out a black Maxell cassette tape. "This," she says. "It's one of the tapes I stole from Clayton Lacour's office. Remember? The mobbed-up lawyer who handled my adoption? When I stole all the files relating to Marston, I stole his phone tapes too. Lacour's conversations with Marston. Twelve tapes. And on this one he's talking about your case. About Del Payton. He never actually says the name, so I never realized what I had. But when that poor Beckham woman started saying the name Ray Presley, something zinged in my mind. I couldn't place it until Mr. Stone started talking about J. Edgar Hoover. I had to fast-forward through eight different tapes before I found it. I sprinted the three blocks over here."

"Jenny, what is it? What do they say?"

She shakes her head, her eyes brimming with secret joy. "Just get the judge to play it. You won't believe it."

I close my eyes, thinking furiously.

"Mr. Cage, I've had enough," says Judge Franklin. "Does the defense rest?"

I take the tape from Jenny, get to my feet, and lay my hands on the table. "No, Your Honor. I request a conference in chambers. Critical new evidence has just come to my attention. I believe it will be conclusive evidence, and-"

"Objection!" Livy cries, shaking her head. She has already seen the tape in my hand. She probably thinks it's Dwight Stone's recording of her father and Ray Presley talking in the gazebo of Tuscany. "No such evidence was disclosed to us!"

"Your Honor, I didn't know about it myself until a moment ago. The young lady behind me just brought it to my attention."

Livy looks at Jenny with dread in her face.

"Who is that person?" Franklin asks.

Livy closes her eyes.

"Her name is Jenny Doe, Judge. Who she is, is less important than what she has."

"What does she have?"

"A tape of Leo Marston discussing the Payton murder with a New Orleans attorney named Clayton Lacour."

Judge Franklin looks to Livy for an objection, but Livy is still standing with her eyes closed, as though she can no longer stand the schizophrenic nature of what she is being called upon to do today. Prodded by Leo, Blake Sims gets to his feet.

"Judge, I object to the introduction of this surprise evidence on the grounds of -"

Eunice Franklin stops him with an upraised hand. "I'll hear argument in my chambers." She stands in her black robe and looks down at me. "Mr. Cage, this had better not be desperation grandstanding."

"The tape will speak for itself," I assure her, praying that Jenny knows evidence when she hears it.

"Counsel in my chambers," says Franklin. She points at Jenny. "You too, young lady."


CHAPTER 39 | The Quiet Game | CHAPTER 41