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Authors: John Ramsey Miller

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BOOK: Too Far Gone
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22

The black warden woman had pissed herself in the cabin, but she did what Leland said to do and even grabbed one of the fat warden's ankles to help Leland move the heavy bastard through the brush over to the boat they'd come to his camp in. The man he'd brought to the camp ought to be dead, but he wasn't. His head was smashed in where Leland had taken the pipe to him, but he was still breathing, taking in water, and making rattle sounds and gurgling to beat the band.

“You give your promise you'll wait here without running off while I load this bastard in y'all's boat?” Leland asked her.

“I won't run off. I promise.”

Leland knelt, grabbed the warden's wrists, and lifted him up over his shoulder like a burlap bag filled with grain. Standing, Leland steadied himself under the dead weight.

“Are you going to…kill me?” the woman asked, her voice breaking, tears running down her cheeks.

“Of course,” Leland told her. He sure wasn't going to let her go and tell people how easy it was to sneak into his camp house. Telling lies to people wasn't something he did if he could help it.

She started blubbering and shaking. “P-please, p-please. Noooo.”

“It's all right. My daddy used to say that dying is just the tail end of living. You do what I tell you and you won't suffer none. I'm good at making it so it don't hurt.”

Leland stepped onto the boat, causing it to rock, and dropped the dead warden's sorry ass onto the floor. When he turned around, he saw the warden woman had run off. Leland hated liars worse than gar. He shook his head, grabbed his pipe out from inside his belt, and trotted off to catch her.

“I don't want to die!” she hollered into the swamp.

“If you don't want people to kill you,” he hollered as he ran after her, “stay outta their personal places!”

23

Other than saying he'd learned a lot from her talk at the Marriott, Kyler Kennedy didn't speak to Alexa during most of the long ride to Casey's house from HQ. She knew the young detective felt slighted because Manseur hadn't shared what was happening inside the investigation, which he almost certainly had to believe should have been his to run. Alexa was actually thankful he wasn't making small talk, because she used the heavy silence to think about the case.

She had requested a Bucar, an official FBI vehicle, from the local FO, and had been assured that one (complete with a GPS mapping system) would be delivered to her at the West residence within the hour. Alexa was also told that the Bureau's office was being readied for a move out, because the hurricane probably wasn't going to change course enough to spare New Orleans some serious damage. The decision had been made that nonessential staff and the families of agents were being evacuated from the city the next morning. The office in Baton Rouge would become their temporary HQ until it was safe to return to their offices at the Lakefront in New Orleans.

Alexa trusted Michael Manseur because Winter Massey vouched for him—not something the ex–U.S. deputy marshal, and Alexa's dearest friend, did often or lightly. If Massey recommended she trust somebody, she would do so without reservation—but she would also verify periodically just to make sure that trust wasn't misplaced. It wasn't that Alexa couldn't trust people—not exactly. Some people were such good liars and manipulators, though, that you either never knew the truth of them, or didn't learn their agendas until it was too late. She was 99.9 percent certain that Michael Manseur was every bit as trustworthy as he appeared to be—as Massey believed him to be—but having the GPS would free her to travel independently, so they could work the case much more effectively and require fewer bodies. She certainly didn't trust anyone else in the New Orleans Police Department.

As an FBI agent in the field, Alexa sometimes had to ignore her instincts and go in whatever directions her superiors pointed her. Cases she'd worked on had turned out badly because she'd had to follow orders instead of her own instincts. But, as importantly, she had been wrong on a few occasions and had paid a price for letting her opinions or impressions color an investigation. Her superiors didn't care that nine times out of ten her initial read on people and situations was right. For instance, in child abductions, she could spend ten minutes with the family and know which, if any, of them were lying and therefore hiding something they were ashamed of, or might even be involved in the crime. She wasn't psychic—didn't believe in the ability to see through the eyes of dead people or talk to spirits—but sometimes she could stand at a crime scene and see how things had happened with the clarity of a film.

It is scientific fact that some people have an instinctive ability to detect lies. People can learn to read others with amazing accuracy, because there are scores of facial expressions, eye motions, and facial muscles that act independently and denote a person's truthfulness in responding to a question with far greater accuracy than either a lie detector or voice-stress analysis. Professors at Duke University who were studying human ability to detect deceit agreed that Alexa Keen was very talented when it came to spotting liars. After she took an advanced course in reading evasion techniques and standard facial tics, she was even better.

Knowing when people are lying is a blessing and a curse. In any event, hunches were not admissible in court, or valid cause for a search warrant.

Kyler Kennedy pulled up out front of the Wests' home. “You want me to come in with you?” he asked, violating his silence. “Mrs. West knows me, feels comfortable with me since I've interviewed her already.”

“Thanks, but this needs to be a girl-to-girl thing,” Alexa said as she climbed from the car, taking her shoulder bag with her.

She closed the door and Kennedy roared off down the street like a teenager who'd just been jilted. Alexa walked to the gate, which was opened by a man built like a professional boxer. He locked his intense eyes on her. “May I help you?” he asked, but his body language said that being accommodating was dead last on his list of things he wanted to do.

Alexa reached into her purse, which caused the man to slip his hand deeper inside his jacket, until she pulled out her badge case. He scrutinized her FBI identification and stepped aside, saying, “Mrs. West is expecting you.” Alexa wondered what the man would have done if she had come out with her Glock instead of her badge. There was no way he could have drawn his gun before Alexa had blown his heart out. Standing so close, he should have kept his right hand free so he could use it to disarm her, were she so inclined to pull a weapon.

Grace, Casey's assistant and best friend from childhood, opened the front door. “Casey's taking a shower. She didn't sleep at all. She thought she looked terrible. Like that's possible.”

Deana trotted up the hall, hugged Grace's leg, and, sticking out her bottom lip, peered up at Alexa.

“Hello, Deana,” Alexa said, smiling.

“She's acting out because of the
thing.
Come on back to the den,” Grace said, leading the way. Deana took off, running ahead of them, but Grace scooped her up and held her to her side as the child squealed and kicked violently to free herself.

“Me-do-ee!” she protested.

“No, Aunt Grace will help you, Deans. She's at the age where she wants to do everything herself, like she's capable. It slows everything to a crawl. Gary spoils her by caving in to her whims. But who am I to say that isn't how I'd do it?” As they passed by the dining room, Alexa saw a man seated at the table with a tape-recording device in front of him. Grace said, “He's monitoring the phone in case there's a ransom demand.” The man looked up from the magazine he was reading and stared at Alexa as she went by. “Casey told me she went to see you at your hotel. We are absolutely thrilled you're on the case. Casey says she can't live without Gary, and if anything has happened to him, I'm afraid of what she'll do to herself.”

Alexa sat on the sleek Italian leather sofa. The coffee table was a long slab of rose-colored hardwood with several lighter wood butterflies to keep the cracks from enlarging. Alexa couldn't remember the maker's Japanese name, but she knew he had worked in a studio in the Pacific Northwest and his work was very collectable and valuable. Alexa was familiar with the Avedon image of Andy Warhol's scarred torso. In the picture Warhol's hand held up his black leather jacket to allow Richard Avedon's view camera to capture the damage to his chest that a psychotic woman inflicted by shooting him several times point-blank for not making her a movie star, or some imagined slight. The Frankenstein-like stitching on the lily-white torso—this one enlarged to four-by-five feet, and framed by black lacquered wood—was a visual jackhammer that dominated the warm, sunlit room like a rogue elephant.

Deana went straight to a box of her toys and started lifting them out one by one and throwing them behind her without seeming to care where they landed.

“Casey tells me you two have known each other for a long time.”

“We've been thick as thieves since second grade,” Grace said. “Casey is the kindest, most generous person who ever lived, and the most thoughtful. I hung out with her—of course, everybody wanted to, but most of the time it was just us two. Mrs. LePointe, Casey's grandmother, started taking me with them all over the world when we were twelve—Casey insisted because she was always bored to death when she was with her family by herself. We got in our share of girlish mischief. We were as close as twins.” Grace smiled. “Casey could do no wrong, of course. When she went to boarding school, she begged to take me along, but my parents wouldn't hear of it. Mrs. LePointe would have paid for it, but my parents wanted me at Blessed Heart because it's a family tradition.” At that, Grace's eyes seemed to lose their focus for a split second and her facial muscles shifted. Alexa read her last statement for an exaggeration maybe the woman almost believed.

“We wanted to go to college together, but I went to LSU and she went to Harvard, like everybody in her family does. Then about six years ago, Casey was getting so much interest in her work, she needed someone to organize her life, so I left my job—I was an executive assistant buyer at Bloomie's—and started working with her full time. Like she needs anyone to organize anything. She's brilliant and totally focused. Always has been. Oddly enough, I'm the disorganized one, but for her I somehow organize the organized.”

“So you're Casey's employee.”

“Technically speaking, you can say I am, but she treats me like her sister. I get a generous salary, but I do work hard and I'm totally dedicated to Casey and her career. Loyalty is something you can't buy. I'd do what I do for nothing, but unfortunately I can't devote my life to anything without financial compensation. I'm not independently wealthy.”

“You keep regular hours?”

“I don't punch a time clock or anything. It's not set up as an hourly arrangement. I liken coming to work every day to what a priest must feel upon entering the Sistine Chapel and looking up. You've seen Casey's art?” Grace's eyes brightened.

“No. Are you a fan of Gary's plays?”

“I guess I'm his biggest fan after Casey. Casey's art is in a class of its own.”

“I thought she was a photographer?”

Grace frowned. “Her photography elevates the medium to art.”

“I haven't had the pleasure.” Alexa looked around hoping she might see a portrait that Casey had done hanging in the large room. Counting the torso, there were seven Avedons on the walls—all were Avedon's portraits that Alexa was familiar with from his books.

“She doesn't have any of her own work hanging here. She doesn't have an ego. My apartment is completely done in her portraits. Another advantage of my position is that she gives me whatever prints I want. The frame shop that does her framing does them for me for practically nothing, because Casey uses only one frame stock—which she designed, and has it manufactured exclusively for her photographs. They keep a ton of it in stock for her work only. Nobody else gets any of it but me unless they buy a portrait. Would you like to see?” Grace's excited eyes were lit up like Christmas bulbs.

Deana had gone to the window and was beating on the glass with a rubber dog toy that emitted a sharp squeak with each blow. This seemed to fascinate her, because she kept doing it. “Eeep, eeep, eeep, eeep.”

“Didn't you just say there wasn't any of her work here?”

“Not on the walls,” Grace said softly. She went to the bookshelf and took out a large book and, after removing it from its cloth slipcover, handed it to Alexa. “She owns the most extensive collection there is of the most important photographers, from Brady to Avedon. She has most of it out on loan or donated to museums, or in a climate-controlled storage facility in Manhattan. This volume of her own work just came out two weeks ago, in a very limited edition of five hundred copies. One thousand dollars per. I don't have one, but I will, because it's being reprinted in a larger and less expensive edition next month. Casey only got three of these for her own use, because it was completely presold. Gary has one, of course. And Casey has two—one locked up for Deana, and this one.”

“The small edition means she won't be signing very many copies.”

“She doesn't ever sign them, because she just doesn't feel comfortable doing so. She doesn't think the book is about her, but her subjects. But I expect she'll pen a note to me in one of the mass-produced ones if I pester her.”

The book, which Grace placed on the coffee table, was roughly ten-by-fourteen, and an inch thick. On it, what appeared to be a photographic print of a young woman had been mounted on the off-white linen binding. An acetate sleeve protected the cloth and the image. The child-woman portrayed in the shot had enormous, almond-shaped eyes that stared into Casey's lens with the sort of mixture of intensity and revulsion of someone who was studying a spider in the process of capturing a luckless butterfly. The title of the volume was
All Together/All Alone: Portraits by Casey West.
Not Casey LePointe West, Alexa noted.

Grace said, “This is a show catalog published by the museum in Zurich that hosted the exhibition. The show is going next to the Corcoran in D.C., and then to the Metropolitan Museum in New York. She spent six months working as an intern for Avedon, but everybody thinks she's far better than he was.”

“I'll make a point to see it at the Corcoran.” Alexa opened the book and turned the pages gently. Grace put her hands together as if praying and studied Alexa intently as she scanned the introduction penned by Casey's husband.
“A better husband and father never drew a breath.”
Alexa had heard a dozen times in investigations.
“They broke the mold.”

The foreword was an affectionate critique, obviously penned by a fan.

Medium format camera somehow captures her subjects' essence—their hopes, dreams, illusions, and fears laid bare for the viewer in equal measure. They say the eyes are mirrors to the soul, and Casey's art seems proof that the soul exists, and that we—despite our differences—are all variations of a single being. To experience Casey West's work is to not just see, but to experience our most basic and complex connections to one another.

How one person among millions is touched by the magic so they are able to show us so much about ourselves in others is a question that has puzzled man since the dawn. Art is most often created out of painful experience. Despite her amazing complexity, Casey is somehow able to see simple truths in those around her, and to capture those truths in such a way as to say, through light and photographic dyes, what Leonardo da Vinci said in oils, William Faulkner said with words, and Michelangelo said in marble. As her husband, I have been blessed and privileged…Casey is following a divine calling, following her inner vision armed only with a camera….

BOOK: Too Far Gone
11.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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