Read The Knowland Retribution Online

Authors: Richard Greener

Tags: #mystery, #fiction, #kit, #frazier, #midnight, #ink, #locator, #bones, #spinoff

The Knowland Retribution (20 page)

BOOK: The Knowland Retribution
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“You want me to write it just that way. You're a lawyer.”

“Write it just that way. And you'll want to identify me quite clearly. You'll want to leave no doubt about who I am. I will help you do that. Your cup is empty. More?”

Isobel declined. “Why am I wearing a blindfold?” she said. She had recovered her composure. She had seen enough of him to go on.

“Do you believe we live in a just society?” He asked it with a studied calm, a kind of forced serenity. Very much like a teacher too much in love with his subject—like one of her professors at Oxford who'd dry up and die without Dante or Francis Bacon. “Do you, Isobel?”

“What is that to the price of eggs? You haven't answered my question—the blindfold.” She pressed the point to see if he thought she had seen something of him underneath her blindfold. He went on with his own question.

“Do you believe what your government tells you?” he asked. “Your church? Your media? Do you believe what your own newspaper prints?”

“I don't have a bloody church.” It surprised her to hear her father's voice jumping from her mouth. “The newspaper sometimes gets it right. Politicians lie, most of them. But what's that got to do with the price of bloody eggs? And why, damnit, can't I see you, straight out?”

“You will hear the names of people who will soon be dead. I'm going to kill them. You will know why they died. When the public reads about them, they'll know too. These people are premeditative mass murderers. They did a cost-benefit analysis and made a decision to kill my family for money. I do not believe that they deserve to live.”

“Let's take that as given. I'm still at a loss. Why is identifying you so important, and seeing you forbidden?”

Leonard said, “I am a lawyer, Ms. Gitlin. So long as you do not actually see me, and I believe you have not, you cannot actually
know
it is me. You
believe
I am Leonard Martin. That's fine with me. But you can't know it, and so long as you swim in that stream of uncertainty—the high waters of doubt, as a law professor once put it—you avoid the label of accessory. New York's press shield law notwithstanding, the FBI would draw and quarter you.” He let that sink in, then continued. “Do you think I'm crazy? I think you know that I'm not. And here's my point. I don't want the story spun in that direction. I know how these things work. Think ahead.”

Instead, Isobel focused on the very immediate present. A self-proclaimed killer was asking her to think about murders he planned to commit and to speculate on how they'd be handled in the press. It all seemed very singular. She'd let herself drift for half a second. He was still talking.

“You know how it works. Let's say a CEO gets killed by someone—someone who is not me. Someone I never heard of. And let's say this CEO had nothing to do with purposely selling hundreds of thousands, millions, of pounds of poisonous meat. Someone—not me—kills a banker in Cleveland, a software entrepreneur in San Jose, a guy who makes widgets somewhere. You pick one. What happens when they start speculating about it? ABC, CBS, NBC—all of them? All of them—CNN, FOX—you know, ‘the most trusted names in journalism.' What happens when they start calling in the experts? You want to improve your ratings? Bring me into it. Stir Leonard Martin, or whoever I am, into the soup. You should know. The media devour people. Look what's happened to you, and you haven't killed anyone, have you?”

Isobel said nothing.

Now his voice roughened, found an accusatory note. “How do the media handle stories like that? However they want. If they call it terrorism, that's it. The country says ‘terrorism, sure, must be.' Why? ‘I heard it on the news.' If they say it was a terrorist, then it was. Who is to say otherwise?” He was no professor now. He mumbled again. This time she thought she heard “weapons of mass destruction.” Anger and misery flooded his voice. She could see his trembling hands on the table and she imagined anguish in his eyes. “I'm no terrorist,” he said. “Killing Hopman, MacNeal, Ochs, and Grath was not terror. It was a just and rational act. My family can't get justice. They were murdered as certain as if they too had been shot. These people chose to do it, they made a conscious decision to kill, and so have I. I won't be marginalized. For that I need your help, your cooperation, your honesty. I won't let them hang a Halloween mask on me, and most importantly, I won't have acts I do not commit attributed to me. Have you got the logic?”

Isobel felt helpless. Apparently, it showed.

“They have reason to make me mad or evil.”


They
? Which people are you talking about?”

“The people who run the news. They'll
turn me into Freddie Krueger. That's good for a couple of rating points, don't you think? They'll talk to the local cops. Ask about that screwball; that's what they'll call me. They'll line up two or three police chiefs—a fat white guy, a black career cop, a woman from somewhere. Great television. What does your now-famous local police chief say? At best he says he can't rule anything out. At worst he claims to have seen the evidence and brands me a certified madman. Livens things up all around, don't you think?”

“You want credibility. You want me to protect your image.”

“I want you to write the truth. Only the truth.”

“And what
is
the truth?” asked Isobel with a hard edge to her voice, the edge of her own anger? Her fear?

“The truth is,” Leonard said, “that the public wants criminals to get caught and the cops want to catch them. And nobody seems to care very much exactly who gets caught. The truth is that if I did it, it's
just
me. If someone else did it, then it's
not
me. That's all the truth I need.”

“You're asking me to take part in a conspiracy—”

“The hell I am! I'm acting alone. There's no conspiracy. There cannot possibly be one. That would require two or more people acting in concert. You and I are not partners. I have no partners. We already talked about that. Christ, you're blindfolded, brought here against your will. How could you be my co-conspirator? If I conspire with anyone it's with the spirit of my wife, my daughter, my grandsons. And it's not about the other people, or their survivors. I'm not avenging them. I speak for no one but me, and I act only for myself. Don't get me wrong. I'm no anarchist. I'm not waging an anticorporate crusade. I have nothing against the capitalist world. The system's been very good to me. I am, after all—if I am who you think I am—a rich man. This is only about justice for my family, for me.”

“Justice or satisfaction?”

“What's the difference?”

“I can't be any part of this.” Isobel shook her head. She felt like stamping her foot. “You can't just kill people.”

“Really?” he sipped his tea, looking into Isobel's face, sadly, as if he'd tried and failed to make a fundamentally obvious point. She could not see him, but she thought of her father scolding her twenty years ago, despairing as she withheld any sign of understanding his point of view.

Leonard said, “Eight hundred and sixty-four people were killed. Was anyone arrested? Was anyone indicted? Did anyone go to trial? Is anyone in prison? You can't just kill people? Of course you can.” His voice drifted off.
“You can't just kill people?”
he said.

“I'm sorry for your loss. What about Nina and Ellie and her boys? Let me tell your story. That will build public awareness. The people you're talking about, who want to shape the story their way? They'll have to deal with public opinion informed by the truth as you want it presented. Your personal story can be your greatest asset.”

“My aim is my greatest asset,” he said, “just me and Bobby McGee.” I want it on the record. I don't need public support, or yours either. I only want you to be my voice.” He waited a moment. Isobel said nothing. “You won't refuse.”

“Why do you think so? Because I broke the story?”

“You broke it and you got it right. But also . . .” he paused. His demeanor changed and Isobel sensed it. Suddenly he was off the soapbox, down from the lectern. “You write about the dead. That's very important to me.” He had pushed the button. Robert McG. undid her.

“Who are the others?” she asked.

“Pour yourself some more tea. We have a ways to go.”

New York

Leonard studied Isobel as
he spoke. Before deciding to meet, he'd learned what he could about her. He'd read nearly every obit she wrote, and a few of her local stories. The more he read, the more he liked her style and the sensibility he thought he sensed behind it. She struck him as involved in the lives she summarized—however few words she was given to describe them. He thought he saw a weakness for the undiscovered truth. There were no great revelations in the obits and local stories. But there were small ones. And she seemed to want to highlight the unexpected. It took a while for that distinction to settle itself in his mind, and as it did, he also came to believe that Isobel might harbor another agenda—one she might not be aware of. In some of the obits and some of the local stories, Leonard heard notes of indignant sympathy on behalf of the victims of municipal neglect, the has-been inventor denied full recognition in his day, a bus driver beaten and left blind the same day his wife gave birth to twins. It became easy for Leonard to imagine that Isobel was chained to a sense of justice. He tried to dismiss the notion as too pat, too seductively sweet.

And he thought he glimpsed one more thing: a puritanical interest, possibly an obsession, with simple accuracy. He saw it in her face, her expression when they talked. He wished he could have watched her eyes. And Leonard was keenly aware that behind her impulse to accuracy, with nothing at all to lose by it, stood the
New York Times.

He wanted to harness Isobel and her fast-emerging celebrity.

After a lengthy inner debate, he decided on the meeting. Nothing that she'd said, and nothing in her manner this evening, led him to alter or regret his assumptions. She seemed moved as she listened, and he felt her making unwritten notes, but he would not know the outcome for one, or two, or three days. When they were done, she seemed exhausted.

It might have been Kermit who drove her back, or someone else. There was no talk between them. She made no effort to track the time. Her mind was a tornado. The car pulled to a stop. The engine died. The driver's door opened and shut. She sat for a while, blindfold still in place. When she took it off she was alone in a parked car on 63rd Street, off Central Park West—the exact spot where she had been picked up.

It wasn't any warmer or drier, but Isobel walked home. Her wind-sore hand clutched the computer disc Leonard gave her. Isobel knew why Hopman, MacNeal, Ochs, and Grath were dead. She knew the names of the ones to follow, and why, in Leonard Martin's mind, they must. And she knew something else—something special—about Leonard Martin. She nodded to the doorman, who asked if she felt well.

She sat on her bed, reconstructing her mental notes with her coat on. In a notebook she wrote with a pencil, clarifying the squiggles whose meaning she'd lose by tomorrow. She cleaned the notes for almost an hour, then summarized and bulleted, and committed it all to her hard drive, her back-up, and another that was safely tucked away in Fiji. She did the same with Leonard's CD, knowing she would not open it until tomorrow.

Words and sentences brought back how Leonard sounded, and she struggled to put pictures with them. Her imagination created fragments that filled in what he did not describe: the unbelieving look that must have been on Korman's face when Ochs instructed him to leave it alone, when he said, “Wayne, you just leave it to me”; the faces and voices and gestures along the chain of panicky phone calls that followed; the Stein, Gelb office argument bemusing poor Dr. Roy. She imagined the flip charts in Dr. Roy's presentation; the devil's loose in Ganga Roy's head, her quick, black eyes struck wide as she made her bargain; the face of Tom Maloney in front of hers.

Isobel knew she was stuck with it all, for good.

She'd worked in her coat for hours. Now she needed a very hot shower. Not long after, flat on her back, wearing the fluffy white robe she stole from the Palace Hotel in Madrid, she called Walter Sherman, expecting to wake him up.

“You go to bed too early,” she said when he grumbled. She told him, “I need to talk.”

“Where are you?”

She heard the cobwebs shredding like whispers in his mind.

“I'm home.”

“Come here,” he said, as though speaking from down the hall, sounding so close she almost glanced that way.

“I met him, tonight, just a few hours ago.”

“Number
8
?”

“He sent me another note. I met him here in the city. I don't know where. I had to wear a blindfold.” She thought of saying more, but didn't. “The thing is, Walter, he confirmed to me that he is who we think. He told me who else is on the list.”

“Do you want to inform the police?” Walter said. “Go to the cops?”

“I don't have to do that,” Isobel said. “New York's press shield is absolute. I'm not an accessory or anything like that. I really should file the st-st-story before I go off island hopping, don't you think?”

“If he gave you a list I doubt he'll act until you publish it. Otherwise the list wouldn't have any meaning and he'd have no reason to give it to you—unless he's entirely crazy. Do you think he is?”

“I don't believe he's crazy at all. He gave me the list for a reason.”

“Write your story on your way down. File from here. You can't get it into print any sooner. There's an early morning flight to St. Thomas from Newark. Book it right now. Take the St. John Ferry. You should be here by lunchtime. Come straight to Billy's.”

“Where's that?”

“Directly across from the ferry. Look for an old guy. He's got a baseball cap and a beard. He sits out front during lunch.”

Walter was fully awake and elated.

“See you tomorrow?” Isobel said.

“Set your alarm. It's an early plane. And for God's sake, wear something comfortable.”

He hung up thinking her voice sounded different, unsettled and unsettling, revved up, but grave, and also eager, and maybe . . . what? There was certainly something different there. Or maybe not. Maybe a part of his mind remained in his vanished dream, or maybe he was listening too closely, hoping to hear something . . . else.

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