"DOES YOUR CLIENT WISH to make a statement?"
Sitting in the interrogation room at the Sussex County Police headquarters with Ed Grayson, an enormous sheriff named Mickey Walker, and a young cop named Tom Stanton, attorney Hester Crimstein replied, "Don't take this the wrong way, but, man, this is fun."
"I'm glad you're amused."
"I am. Really. This arrest is laughable."
"Your client isn't under arrest," Walker said. "We merely want to chat."
"Like something on your social calendar? How nice. Yet you issued search warrants for his home and car, did you not?"
Hester nodded. "Good, super. Here, before we get started." She slid a piece of paper and pen across the table.
"What's this?" Walker asked.
"I would like you to write down your names, ranks, office addresses, home addresses, phone numbers, turn-ons, turnoffs, whatever else may help my subpoena server find and thus serve you when we sue for wrongful arrest."
"I just told you. No one is under arrest."
"And I just told you, handsome: Yet you issued search warrants."
"I would think your client would like to make a statement."
"We have a witness who saw your client execute a man," Walker said.
Ed Grayson opened his mouth, but Hester Crimstein put her hand on his forearm, silencing him.
"You don't say."
"A reliable witness."
"And your reliable witness saw my client execute-such an impressive word, by the way, not kill or murder or shoot, but execute-a man?"
Hester smiled faux sweetly. "Do you mind then if we take it a step at a time, Sheriff?"
"A step at a time."
"Yes. First off, who is the man? The victim of this execution?"
"Doesn't matter who or what he was. And that particular charge was dropped."
"Well, that last part is true. Your compadres screwed up the case. But never mind. Step by step. First step: You say Dan Mercer was executed."
"So, step one: Show us the body."
"Trouble with your hearing, big boy? The body. I would like my medical examiner to examine it."
"Don't be cute, Hester. You know it hasn't been located yet."
"Not located?" Now Hester feigned shock. "Well, maybe you could tell me what evidence you have that Dan Mercer is even dead? Wait, never mind. I'm kind of in a rush. No body, am I right?"
"Okay, fine. Next step. You claim, even though you don't have a body, that Dan Mercer was executed?"
"I assume a weapon of some sort was used? Could we examine that please?"
Hester cupped her ear. "Hello?"
"We haven't located it yet," Walker said.
"No body, no weapon." Hester spread her hands and grinned. "Now do you see what I mean by 'man, this is fun'?"
"We were hoping your client would like to make a statement."
"About what? Solar energy and its role in the twenty-first century? Wait, I'm not done. We did the body and the weapon-what did we forget? Oh, that's right. The witness."
"Your witness saw my client execute Dan Mercer, correct?"
"She saw his face?"
Hester cupped the ear again. "Go ahead, big fella. Say it."
"He was wearing a mask."
"He was wearing a mask."
"As in, a mask that would cover his face?"
"That's what she testified to, yes."
"And yet she identified my client how?"
"By his watch."
Walker cleared his throat. "And his height and build."
"Six foot, one-eighty. Oh, and that ever-rare Timex. Do you know why I'm no longer smiling, Sheriff Walker?"
"I'm sure you'll tell us."
"I'm no longer smiling because this is too easy. Do you know what I get per hour? For that kind of money, I deserve a challenge. This is simply insulting. Your case, as it were, is beyond fish 'n' barrel. I don't want to hear what you don't have anymore. I want to hear what you do."
She waited. So far Walker had only given up what she already knew. That was the only reason Crimstein was still there. She wanted to know what they did have.
"We are hoping your client will make a statement," Walker said again.
"Not if that's all you have."
"Would you like a drum roll?" Hester asked.
"We have physical evidence tying your client to both Dan Mercer and the scene of the crime."
"Oh, goodie. Do tell."
"Understand the tests are all preliminary. We will have details in the next few weeks. But we have a pretty good idea of what the physical evidence will show. That's why we have your client here. To help explain his part in this to us. Get ahead of it."
"Nice of you."
"We found blood in the trailer. We also found blood specks in Mr. Grayson's Acura MDX. While a full DNA test will take some time, the preliminary results show that the blood matches. That is, the blood found where our witness says Mr. Mercer was shot is the same as the blood found in your client's vehicle. We also typed it. O negative, the same as Mr. Mercer's. We also have carpet fibers. Without going into too much detail, the same carpet fibers were found in the trailer rented out by Mr. Mercer and in your client's Acura MDX. We also have the same fibers on the bottom of your client's sneaker. Lastly, we ran a gun residue test. There were powder marks found on your client's hands. He fired a gun."
Hester sat there and stared. Walker stared back.
"I'm waiting until you're finished. Because that can't be all you have."
Walker said nothing.
Hester turned to Ed Grayson. "Come on. We're leaving."
"No response at all?" Walker asked.
"To what? My client is a decorated retired federal marshal. Mr. Grayson is a family man, a pillar of the community, a man with no criminal record at all-yet you waste our time with this nonsense. At best-at the very, very best if all the tests come back the way you hope and I don't destroy all your so-called physical evidence with my experts and my cross and my accusations about tainting and incompetence-if that all goes perfectly for you, which I highly doubt, you might, might, be able to show a casual link between my client and Dan Mercer. Period, the end. And that's laughable. No body, no weapon, no witness who can positively identify my client. You don't even have proof there was a crime-let alone that my client was involved."
Walker sat back, the chair creaking with the onslaught. "So you can explain the fibers and blood?"
"I don't need to, do I?"
"I just thought you might want to help us out. Clear your client once and for all."
"Tell you what I'll do." Hester scribbled down a phone number and passed it to him.
"A phone number."
"I see that. For?"
"The Gun-O-Rama shooting range."
Walker just looked at her. The color in his face ebbed away.
"Give them a call," Hester said. "My client was there just this afternoon, an hour before you picked him up. Doing a little target practice." Hester did a little finger wave. "Bye-bye, gun residue test."
Walker's jaw dropped. He looked at Stanton, tried to regain his composure. "Convenient."
"Hardly. Mr. Grayson is a decorated retired federal marshal, remember? He shoots frequently. Are we done here?"
" ' Don't eat yellow snow.' That's our statement. Come on, Ed."
Hester and Ed Grayson stood.
"We will keep looking, Ms. Crimstein. You should both know that. We have a timeline. We will trace Mr. Grayson's steps. We will find the body and the weapon. I understand why he did what he did. But we don't get to play executioner. So I will make that case. Make no mistake."
"May I speak frankly, Sheriff Walker?"
Hester looked at the camera above his head. "Turn the camera off."
Walker looked back, nodded; the red light on the camera went off.
Hester put her fists on the table and leaned down. She didn't have to lean far. Even sitting Walker was nearly her height. "You could have the body and the weapon and, hell, a live feed of my client shooting this child rapist at Giants Stadium in front of eighty thousand witnesses-and I could still get him off in ten minutes."
She turned. Ed Grayson had already opened the door.
"Have a nice day," Hester said.
AT TEN PM, Charlie texted Wendy.
POP WANTS TO KNOW WHERE THE NEAREST TITTY BAR IS.
She smiled. His way of letting her know that he was fine. Charlie was pretty good about staying in touch.
She responded: I DON'T KNOW. AND NOBODY CALLS THEM THAT. THEY'RE GENTLEMEN'S LOUNGES NOW.
Charlie: POPS SAID HE HATES THAT POLITICALLY CORRECT SH*T.
She smiled as the home phone rang. It was Sheriff Walker returning her call.
"I found something on my car," she said.
"A GPS. I think Ed Grayson put it there."
"I'm around the corner," he said. "I know it's late, but do you mind if I take a look now?"
"No, that's fine."
"Give me five."
She met him outside by her car. Walker bent down as Wendy reminded him of Ed Grayson's visit, this time adding the seemingly unimportant detail of him checking her back tire. He looked at the GPS and nodded. It took him a moment or two to get himself back upright.
"I'll send some people out here to take pictures and remove it."
"I heard you arrested Ed Grayson."
"Who told you that?"
"Mercer's ex-wife, Jenna Wheeler."
"She's wrong. We brought him in for questioning. He was never arrested."
"Are you still holding him?"
"No, he was free to go."
Walker cleared his throat. "Now we continue our investigation."
"Wow, that sounds official."
"You're a reporter."
"Not anymore, but okay, let's make this conversation off the record."
"Off the record, we don't have a case. We don't have a body. We don't have a weapon. We have one witness-that would be you-and she never saw the shooter's face, so she really can't positively ID him."
"If Dan Mercer was a prominent citizen instead of a suspected pedophile-"
"And if I lost a hundred pounds and became white and good-looking, someone might mistake me for Hugh Jackman. But the truth is, until the body or weapon is found, we have nothing."
"Sounds like you're giving up."
"I'm not. But the brass has absolutely no interest in pursuing this. As both my boss and opposing counsel reminded me today, the best-case scenario is that we charge a retired fed whose son was sexually abused by the victim."
"And that would be bad for any political career."
"That's the cynical viewpoint," Walker said.
"What other viewpoint is there?"
"The real-world one. We have a limited amount of resources. One of my colleagues, an old-timer named Frank Tremont, is still looking for that missing girl, Haley McWaid, but after this much time, well, it is all about resources, right? So who wants to divert resources away from that case, for example, to-one-find justice for an undeserving scumbag and-two-a case we can't possibly win because no jury will convict?"
"Again I repeat: Sounds like you're giving up."
"Not quite. I plan to retrace his steps, figure out where Mercer had been living."
"Not the trailer?"
"No. I spoke to his lawyer and ex-wife. Mercer moved around a lot-I guess it was tough for him to settle. Anyway he had just rented out the trailer that morning. There's nothing there, not even a change of clothes."
Wendy made a face. "So what do you expect to learn when you find his place?"
"Damn if I know."
"I'll try to track down that GPS on your car, but I can't imagine that'll get us anywhere. Even if we get extra lucky and prove it belongs to Grayson, well, that shows he kept tabs on you? We'd still have a long way to go."
"You need to find the body," she said.
"Right, that's priority one. I need to retrace Grayson's driving route-and I think I might be able to get a rough idea. We know that two hours after leaving that trailer, Grayson stopped at a shooting range."
"That was my reaction. But actually it was pretty ingenious. Witnesses saw him firing a gun at targets, thereby making our gun residue test null and void. We checked the weapon he brought with him to the range, but no surprise-the slugs didn't match the ones we found at the trailer park."
"Wow. Grayson knew to go to a range to screw up your test?"
"He's an ex-federal marshal. He knows what he's doing. Think about it. He wore a mask, got rid of the body, got rid of the weapon, destroyed our gun residue test-and he hired Hester Crimstein. Do you see what I'm up against?"
"We know Grayson dumped the body somewhere on the route, but there are a lot of hours unaccounted for, and that area has plenty of empty acreage."
"And you won't get the manpower to cover it?"
"Like I said, this isn't a girl gone missing. This is the corpse of a pedophile. And if Grayson planned it well enough-which, so far, seems to be the case-he might have dug a hole before he even killed Mercer. We might never find the body."
Wendy looked off, shook her head.
"I was his patsy. Grayson tried to get me on his side. When he couldn't, he just followed me-and I led him right to Mercer."
"Not your fault."
"Doesn't matter if it is or it isn't. I don't like being used like that."
Walker said nothing.
"It's a crap ending," Wendy said.
"Some would say it's pretty tidy."
"The pedophile escapes our legal system but not justice. It's almost biblical when you think about it."
Wendy shook her head. "It feels wrong."
She kept it to herself. But the answer was, all of it. Like maybe Mercer's ex had a point. Like maybe something about this whole thing stank right from the get-go. Like maybe from the get-go she should have trusted her woman's intuition or her gut or whatever the hell you want to call it.
Suddenly it felt as though she'd helped kill an innocent man.
"Just find him," Wendy said. "Whatever he was, you owe him that."
"I'll try. But understand, this case will never be a priority."