JAMES MARLOR’S HOUSE WAS located in an upscale subdivision outside of Lexington. The house was a
number, with a wide carport on one end. As they pulled up in an unmarked Crown Vic, Cam noticed that the lawn had been mowed recently and the flower beds along the front of the house were being cared for. It was apparently trash-pickup day, because there were green Herby Kerbys up and down the streets. They parked the car in Marlor’s driveway and got out while the driver of the Davidson County cruiser, which had led them to the house, parked out on the street. Cam lifted the lid of Marlor’s trash can and discovered that it was full of what looked like junk mail. He picked up a couple of items and saw that the postmarks were fairly recent.
Marlor’s sister had been unwilling to talk to them about her brother. Cam had been as polite and as persuasive as he could be, without revealing what was precipitating his call. She would say only that the police had done enough damage to the Marlor family and she wanted nothing more to do with any of them. Good-bye. Kenny had obtained the warrants to search Marlor’s premises and vehicles. Steven had gone to Judge Barstow, which, given what had happened to him in front of Bellamy, made sense. Barstow gave them domicile, vehicle, and financial records, but he held back on their requests for an electronic sweep until a conventional look-see had been attempted. Cam had offered to show him a rerun of the execution scene, but Barstow, pushing seventy, declined. He said he did not object to capital punishment, but he told Cam he believed nothing that he saw on a computer.
Marlor’s front door was locked, and no one answered the
bell. But Kenny had seen a couple of teenagers doing some lawn maintenance three doors down, and from them he learned that Marlor’s next-door neighbor had a key. The neighbor turned out to be a retired schoolteacher. She’d been collecting the mail and putting it inside. She gave them the key to the front door once they showed the warrants.
“He’s been gone for some time,” she said. “Going on two months now. He asked me to look after the house, you know, heating and air-conditioning, picking up his mail and getting rid of the junk, paying the kids to do the yard.”
“How are you paying them, ma’ am?” Cam asked. She was in her sixties and seemed unconcerned that she was talking to Sheriff’s Office deputies with Manceford County search warrants. They could hear a television going behind her.
“Believe it or not,” she said, “he left me a checkbook. He said he was going to be gone for some time, that he had to get away from his life here for a while. He said there’d be money coming in direct deposit to the account, and so far, nothing’s bounced.”
“And you’re on the account?” Cam asked.
She nodded. “He signed some of the checks in case anyone balked, but I’m on the card as joint, and, so far, the bank’s putting everything through.”
Kenny asked if he could look through the checkbook, and she produced it. He sat down at her dining room table and began leafing through it.
“He just … left?” Cam asked.
She nodded. “That’s right. It’s a wonder he didn’t harm himself, all that tragedy. I knew her better than him—he was always gone a lot. We went to the bank for me to get a signature on the card, and then he packed up his pickup the next morning and just left.”
“No contact numbers?”
“Nope. He said to write myself a check for two hundred and fifty dollars each month for my troubles. I’m a widow on school-district retirement, so I said yes.”
“What do you do with any personal mail, as in something besides bills?” Kenny asked from the dining room.
She pointed with her chin at the house next door. “There hasn’t been hardly any. I think he shut everything off.”
“Does he have any relatives besides his sister?”
“He mentioned a brother once, but I’ve never seen him. His wife’s relatives are all in California.”
“And no indication of when he plans to come back?”
She shook her head. “I half-expect a realtor to show up any day now with a FOR SALE sign.” She sighed. “It’s a nice house. They were a nice family. And I hear those bastards got away with it.”
Kenny gave Cam a look from the dining room, but he decided not to get into a discussion about just how those bastards got away with it. They thanked her, took the key, and then went next door. For the next hour, they conducted a general walk-through of the house. It wasn’t really a search. They found that his wife and stepdaughter’s clothes were still there, but not many of his. The house was clean and uncluttered, although dusty. The refrigerator was completely empty, but it was clean and running. The dishwasher was empty. Kenny wore rubber gloves, but Cam didn’t bother. It wasn’t a crime scene.
“He didn’t rush out,” Cam said finally. “Picked the place up, got rid of anything that could stink, arranged for someone to set the thermostat, pay the bills, and cull his mail. A totally planned departure.”
Kenny nodded, looking around the living room. “I’m thinking all those memories caved in on him and he just had to get out of here,” he said. “I wonder if he has another home, a cabin in the mountains or something.”
“We’ll have to get with his bank. See if this place is free and clear, and if there’s another mortgage out there.”
“Should we bring in a CSI team?” Kenny asked.
Cam shrugged. “No indication that anything bad happened to the guy,” he said.
“Besides losing his wife and daughter to those slimeballs,” Kenny said.
“Okay, besides, that, yeah. Looks to me like he just wrapped the place up and left. I think we’re going to need that electronic sweep after all, see if he’s on the road somewhere.”
Kenny sat down at the dining room table and began going through the small stack of keeper mail. “Most of this looks like first-class mail,” he said. “But I think it’s just disguised junk mail. And no bank statements.”
“That’s our next stop, I think. Find out which branch from the lady next door, go see how the money’s coming in and going out.”
Kenny looked up at him. “Who else would put K-Dog in an electric chair besides Marlor?”
Cam scratched his head. “What expertise would it take?” he said, ducking Kenny’s question for a moment. “To put a thing like that out on the Internet in such a way that it couldn’t be traced back to you? I mean, I don’t know dick about it, but it seems to me that if you weren’t a computer expert, you’d have to hire somebody to set that up. Otherwise, it would come back all over you. Wouldn’t it?”
“He would have to know a lot,” Kenny said, “
have access to a pretty damned good computer to do it by himself. Not to mention capturing K-Dog, holding him in some remote place, building an electric chair, getting enough power to run it, then filming it with a digital camera,
then formatting that for Web play.”
Cam walked around the dining room, thinking out loud. “Marlor’s an environmental-science guy. Plus, he’s a doctoral candidate in science, which means he’s done everything for his Ph.D. except his dissertation. So he has to be competent in terms of computers and Web research.”
“I keep looking at motive,” Kenny said. “Nobody else really has the motive.”
“I’ll grant you that,” Cam replied. “Except maybe that bloodthirsty Indian woman. So, okay, let’s work it that way—make the assumption it’s him, then focus on the other two legs: opportunity and means. Unless, of course, Tony and Horace bring us word of a living, breathing K-Dog.”
“I’m not holding my breath,” Kenny said.
“If you’re right, neither is K-Dog.”
THE BANK MANAGER TURNED out to be a stunning redhead in her thirties. She did not look like any bank manager Cam had ever seen. Even Kenny, the professional pussy hound, was momentarily speechless.
“How can I help you, Officers?” she asked, slipping behind her desk and treating Kenny in particular to a dazzling display of legs.
They had called in advance, and now Cam produced the search warrant, which she actually read. Kenny had a barely disguised grin on his face as he studied her, and Cam could see that she was fully aware of Kenny.
“Okay,” she said, “I brought up his records.” She tapped a computer keyboard on her desk. “Savings account, checking account, some CDs, and just over a quarter of a million in a retirement account. Twenty and change in savings, and his Duke Energy pension is direct-deposited in his checking account on the fifth of every month.”
“We’re trying to locate Mr. Marlor,” Cam said. “We’ve talked to his sister and the lady who’s taking care of his house. What we get is that he just left for parts unknown. Can the checking account help us out?”
“What period of time?” she asked.
“He’s been gone for about eight weeks. That far back.”
She clicked some more and then studied the screen. “I don’t think so. He’s got the recurring bills on electronic bill payer. There’s no mortgage. I see some checks signed by Mr. Marlor and then endorsed by Mrs. Watkins—a neighbor, whose name is on the joint account—and there’re a few checks made out to other people. We autotransfer all but seven hundred from checking over to savings at the end of each month.”
“Anything signed by him in that time frame?”
She scrolled through images of the checks. “Nope,” she said. “He executed the new signature cards for the account almost … You’re right—it was eight weeks ago.”
“Where do his statements go?” Kenny asked.
She finally looked directly at him, and Cam saw Kenny give her his most winning smile. She blinked once before answering. Kenny had that effect on some women—okay, on most women—although this one was wearing both a wedding and an engagement ring. “The statements are generated but not mailed,” she said, clearing her throat. “Our customers can arrange it that way if they want.”
“Can they be accessed via the Net?” Kenny asked.
“That, too, has to be prearranged, but, yes, our customers can do anything they need to do electronically except for the signature cards.”
“Okay, so has there been any electronic action on any of his accounts?”
She tore her eyes away from Kenny and went back to the computer. Kenny gave Cam a sly wink, which made him feel even more superfluous. “No,” she said. “The last electronic transaction was five years ago, when he ordered up fifty thousand for a wire transfer.”
Kenny stopped flirting. “Wired to whom?”
“A bank up in Surry County.”
“Could someone there tell us who cashed it?” Cam asked.
“Good luck with that. It’s a privately held bank—on the edge of the mountain country. People up there really value their privacy, if you know what I mean.”
She gave them the bank’s name and address, and Cam thanked her for her help. He and Kenny went out to the car, where Cam dialed the number for Tony Martinelli’s cell phone. Tony reported that K-Dog hadn’t been seen at his regular hangouts for a week to ten days. They were on their way to an old girlfriend’s trailer. “Don’t get any on you,” Cam said, and switched off.
“Marlor’s gone, and K-Dog’s not to be found,” Kenny mused. “So two and two make …”
“We’ve got a ways to go before we jump to any conclusions,” Cam said, even though he, too, had already jumped to that very conclusion. “K-Dog may hole up once word gets out on Punk Street that the cops are really asking around. He’s going to think that we’re coming back about the minimart. Plus, I want to know what that fifty K was for. I’m thinking a cabin or mountain property.”
Cam’s cell phone rang. It was the bank manager.
“I just saw something you might want to know,” she said.
“Mr. Marlor withdrew thirty-five thousand dollars in cash a few days before he set up the new signature cards. I would have noticed it earlier, except that you were asking about electronic transactions. This was done in person, at the counter.”
“Thirty-five thousand cash—that’s fairly unusual.”
“He had it to withdraw, so it wasn’t as if we could say no.”
“Thanks very much,” Cam said. He hung up and told Kenny.
“Walking-around money?” Kenny said.
“More like off-the-grid money,” Cam said.
AT 8:30 THAT NIGHT, Cam sat watching the electrocution scene again on his desktop in the office. The other detectives had all gone for the day. There’d been nonstop meetings with the sheriff and the public relations staff late that afternoon, the district attorney’s office, and with the MCAT detectives. They’d put the superstar of the month on ice in order to work this execution thing, so the team was spending a lot more time in the office than usual.
The bottom line was that K-Dog was not to be found. Tony and Horace had looked under all the usual rocks, and a consistent story emerged that no one had seen his sorry ass for about ten days. He’d been living with two women in a trailer outside of Triboro, and they were emphatically glad to be rid of him. His replacement, a Texan with one glaring eye, was firmly in residence and threatening to “slap an entire can of whup-ass on that punk” if he ever came back. The nature of K-Dog’s transgressions against the females had not been determined, although Tony allowed, having seen the two aforementioned women, they were probably deserved.
Billy and Pardee had had better luck. They’d tracked down Flash in about two hours. He was holed up at a crack whore’s squat one block back of Lee Street in south Triboro, sustaining his various addictions. Said crack whore did not know any ghost named K-Dog, so it appeared the dynamic duo had finally split up. Kenny got the Sheriff’s Office’s PR division to obtain a tape of the talk show starring K-Dog, and then they ran it and the execution scene side by side to make sure they were looking at the same guy. Everyone agreed that it certainly looked like the same guy. Horace was happily philosophical about it, saying, “Brag about getting away with
murder in North Carolina, someone’s going to rise up and take care of business.” Cam landed pretty hard on him for the comment. “You can think it,” he’d said, “but you can’t say it out loud.”
The problem was what to do about it. The Web site showing the execution scene had made the local TV evening news and would surely go national pretty soon. The putative candidate for executioner, James Marlor, was not to be found. The voice had clearly said, “That’s one,” which meant that Flash was possibly in some danger. Everyone at all the meetings had had the same unvoiced philosophical problem: So what. The sheriff had finally come up with a reason to care. “Someone’s eventually going to start throwing shit at the Manceford County Sheriff’s Office,” he’d said. “They’ll point out that we screwed up the arrest and these shitheads got away with it, so now one of
has decided to take justice into his own hands. So keep your secret vigilante decoder rings in your lockers and go find out who’s doing this shit.” There’d been much rolling of eyes behind the sheriff’s back, but Cam thought he had a valid point. The only thing saving them from a media rumble right now was the fact that no one knew for sure if the execution was real or staged.
The next question was whether they should pick up Flash and hold him in protective custody. Klein had agreed to go talk to Judge Bellamy in chambers. He’d called back while the team was going over their search plan for Marlor and tearing up a pizza. Bellamy, as expected, had said no. They were to pick him up, get him sober enough to show him the video, make sure he understood what he was looking at, and then turn him loose. If he then came back in on his own volition and asked for protection, then and only then they could place him in protective custody. But he had to ask, and do so a second time in front of her. They’d sent a deputy out to pick him up, but it was dark by the time they got there and he was no longer at the squat, nor was the lady of the manor. This was duly reported back to Klein, who said he’d tell the judge in the morning.
Cam clicked the little
on the top right of his screen and
the execution scene disappeared. He smiled; making sites disappear was at the top end of his computer abilities. He sat back in his chair and rubbed his eyes. His fingers smelled of pizza sauce. We’re going through the motions here, he thought. There isn’t anyone in this office who gives a shit that K-Dog rode the third rail. James Marlor had lost one wife to a drunk driver and now another one, plus his stepdaughter, to blind bad luck and the depredations of two walking, talking sewer rats. Marlor’s professional career was complete, if not over, his immediate family had been erased, and he was of an age where he might well have decided that he didn’t care what happened as long as he took these two pustules off the streets forever. Cam could even see himself pulling the switch on a mutt like K-Dog. The only good news was that, once the story went truly national, the Bureau would be into it, and then maybe the Manceford County cops could sit back and let the
from the Justice Department sort it all out.
His phone rang. He looked at his watch. Almost nine o’clock. He wasn’t on duty. Did he really want to answer this? Had he learned nothing in twenty-some years about answering office telephones after normal working hours? He picked it up, and it was the desk sergeant, reporting they had Flash in the drunk tank.
“Great. How bad is he?”
“Fustier than most,” the sergeant said. “Looks like the back side of a crack high, irrigated by some demon rum.”
“Is he coherent?”
“You’re kidding, right?”
“Okay, look. I need him mostly sober and reasonably presentable by around ten tomorrow morning. I’ll need him breathalyzed before he comes upstairs, so we can prove later on he wasn’t totally drunk when we interviewed him.”
“It’ll be close,” the sergeant said. “Jumpsuit okay? Because the clothes he came in had a lapful of breakfast. If you want him clean, we’ll need a fire hose.”
“Yeah. We’re not going into court or anything. Just us country boys.”
He hung up, then called Kenny’s office and left a message on his voice mail, reporting they had Flash. Now if only they could find K-Dog and Marlor, they’d be home free. Time to see-cure.
He was halfway home when his cell phone chirped. He chided himself for leaving it on, then realized it was his personal cell, not his police phone. It was Annie.
“Where are you?” she asked.
“Halfway home,” he said. “What’s the matter?”
“Can you come over?”
Her voice seemed different. “Sure, but what’s the matter? You okay?”
“There’s nothing wrong,” she said. He thought he could hear ice tinkling in a glass. Horny, then.
“Look, I’ve had a long day,” he said. “Not all of it successful. I need a drink, a hot shower, and something to eat.”
“I can provide all of those things,” she said, and hung up.
When he got to her house and knocked on the front door, she opened it immediately. She was wearing one of her better Slinky-toy outfits. “Lucky I wasn’t the UPS man,” he said.
“How ’bout we reverse the order?” she said with that certain smile, and when he couldn’t think of anything clever to say, she pulled him through the door and kicked it shut with her foot. The rest of her was already busy.
Later, as they relaxed in the hot tub with a scotch for him and some vodka for her, she told him she’d seen the Web site. He frowned at her. Here we go again, he thought, talking shop after hours.
“I know, I know,” she protested before he could say anything. “But everybody was talking about it. It was even on the news. I think I was the only one in the courthouse who hadn’t seen it.”
“Go through some Kleenex?” he asked.
“That’s not funny,” she said. “Surely you don’t approve?”
He shrugged. “I wouldn’t want to watch it over dinner, not unless I muted that sound of frying bacon.”
“Well, that little shit killed a woman, her daughter, and a
store clerk, probably for a couple hundred bucks, tops. For reasons understood only by you lawyers, he ended up getting away with it. And he was proud of himself. From the perspective of the blindfolded, bare-breasted lady with the scales in one hand and a sword in the other? Seeing that fuck ride the electric pony to meet the baby Jesus didn’t exactly ruin my day.”
“Someone not only murdered him—horribly—but filmed it, for God’s sake. And put it out on the Internet for the whole world to watch. That’s grotesque.”
“So was his crime.”
“Glad we reversed the order, Your Honor,” he said, reaching for a towel. “Yes, I’m upset that my guy screwed up and you had to let them go. I’m depressed about all the bad publicity and political heat that we’ve been eating, and that there’s more headed our way. But I’m not displeased with the fact that Simmonds got the jolt. If in fact he did—we still don’t know that. I think I’d better go.”
He started to get out, but she raised a leg, hung it over his right shoulder, and pulled. As signals went, it was reasonably effective. Annie did an hour of tantric yoga every day, and she could and did surprise him in the most amazing ways. Even if she is kind of bossy, he thought. After round two, she went to fix them a steak while he went to find some more scotch and catch his breath. Over dinner, he told her in general terms what they were planning to do about finding Marlor and Simmonds. He pointed out that, for the moment, these were just his plans, and that the sheriff might have other plans.
“Lots of fingers going to get into this pie,” he said. “Great steak, by the way.”
“You never could cook, not even on the grill.”
“That’s right, now that you mention it. I married you for your cooking, didn’t I?”
She laughed, and for a moment he envisioned the peaches and cream complexion, ash-blond hair, blue eyes, and endless legs of the woman he’d courted and married so many years ago. She saw the look.
“Every once in awhile, I get this terrible feeling we pissed away a good thing way back then,” she said. She drew her terry-cloth robe around her shoulders as if to ward off a chill.
“I don’t know, Annie,” he said. “I think you would have had to make your run, one way or the other, and I would have just held you back. Look where we are now—this is pretty good.”
She was still beautiful, with one of those faces that defied a lifetime of unfriendly gravity. She gave him a severe look. “Just
“We need more practice,” he said with a comic leer.
She laughed again. “As if,” she said, getting up to clear the plates.
“Was that a little wobble I just detected?” he asked.
“Shut up. I’ll call Steven in the morning, get him in chambers, let him explain the current thinking. This time, I’ll authorize PC for Butts, on the proviso there’s no attempt to force a confession or anything else related to the original crime.”
Cam nodded, more to himself than to anything she’d said. “Myself, I kept hoping we’d find K-Dog,” he said. “Otherwise we’re in for a long couple of weeks. We can’t hold Flash forever, and then … ‘That’s one’?”
“I may have to keep my eye on Mr. Steven Klein,” she said from the kitchen.
“You mentioned ‘political heat.’ You’re not exactly the Lone Ranger when it comes to getting heat over this mess.” She closed the dishwasher door and came back into the room. She could see he didn’t understand, so she laid it out. “I’ve been the subject of some pretty hostile BS these past few months,” she said. “Letting those little pricks off like that, et cetera, et cetera. You ever wonder why it was the
who spotted the Miranda error in the arrest record, instead of, say, the DA?”
He had to think about that one.
“I mean, you cops work for the DA, not the court,” she said. “I think it’s entirely possible young Mr. Klein did see
the problem and then decided to let it come to the hearing anyway. That way, I would be the one tossing the confession, not him, whose people had messed the thing up in the first place.”
“Why would he do that?” he asked.
“Because he knew I’d catch it. Because he knows I read everything in the package, sometimes twice. And he knew I’d toss it because it would never survive trial, much less appeal.”
“And his objective?”
“My term is for five years. I’m up for reappointment the end of this year. Enough political heat, I don’t get reappointed. That’s how vacancies on the bench occur.”
“Why, Steven, you clever little devil,” Cam said. “Who’d a thunk it? But, shit, I thought you judges had to die or go senile or something.”
“Senility is not necessarily a disqualification,” she said primly. “But death is, and so is pissing off the governor. Bet you don’t hear any talk about liberal, pink-ass, Communist ADAs, do you?”
“‘Pink-ass,’” he mused, as if considering the notion. She grinned despite herself, and even blushed a little. Well, well, Cam thought. I’ve done one thing right today. He reached for her hand, and there it was.