Read The Knowland Retribution Online

Authors: Richard Greener

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

The Knowland Retribution (32 page)

BOOK: The Knowland Retribution
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“That true?” Ike asked. “St. John's a college?”

“It is,” Isobel said. “A fine institution of higher learning. In Annapolis, Maryland.”

“And you learned about Einstein?”

“I did Billy. I surely did. But don't hold that against me.”

“You studied it, but I almost got it right, didn't I?” Ike was bubbling with pride and soon smoking with it too. Isobel smiled and nodded at the old man.

Walter said, “I still say that sounds like an argument to me. Write it up, Billy.”

“Write what up?”

“Einstein, Stugots, and Isobel.”

“I don't know what that means,” said Ike, “but it sounds good.” He shook his head, giving the okay to Billy.

“What's the ‘Isobel' for?” Billy asked.

“Beauty,” said Walter. “Beauty and knowledge.”

“A mighty powerful combination,” Ike said.

Once more the bartender with an uncertain past and more than one name picked up the chunk of blue chalk lying near the register and wrote on the familiar blackboard: Einstein/Stugots/Isobel. He poured himself a glass of tomato juice, took a swig, and said to no one in particular, “It ain't ‘Stugots.' It's ‘The Stugots.'”

New Orleans

Leonard rented a one
-bedroom second-floor apartment on St. Ann near Burgundy, a block away from N. Rampart Street, the northern end of the French Quarter. He paid a premium holiday rate, taking the place for both Christmas and New Year's. He'd seen an ad for the apartment on the Internet and made all his arrangements by e-mail. The owner told him there had been a cancellation and he was lucky to find a place, any place, still available inside the French Quarter. Leonard e-mailed back that he wanted to rent the apartment through the month of January. He told the owner he and his wife loved New Orleans and this was a special surprise for her. He mentioned he was already in transit, and, as such, it would be more convenient if he paid in cash when he arrived. Leonard called when he was less than an hour's drive from New Orleans, arriving purposely after dark. The owner, a middle-aged gay man named Erubio, was waiting at the entrance to the building with the key. The transaction took only a moment. Leonard did his best to look away from the man's face as he handed him the money, and he wore a floppy, brown cowboy hat pulled down across his eyes. He handed the money over in an envelope, took the key, and disappeared inside. He never said where his wife was and was not asked. Although he paid for six weeks, he intended to be gone by the middle of January.

Leonard had been there ten days, far away from Vermont. Newspaper and TV reports speculated he was headed for, or already holed up in, New York City gunning for the rest of the crew at Stein, Gelb. The
New York Post
twice reported Leonard Martin sightings complete with fuzzy, grainy, out-of-focus photos in which, of course, his face was never shown. They were all photos of fat guys with long, light-colored hair. One such picture, supposedly showing Leonard leaving a movie theater on Third Avenue, made most of the major papers in the country. He saw it on page one of the
New Orleans Times-Picayune
over coffee and funnel cake loaded with powered sugar, in a tiny restaurant near Jackson Square. He laid the paper, photo up, next to his coffee cup on the small, round table and looked at himself in the mirrored wall. He looked as much like the man in the picture as he did like Santa Claus. His waitress came over and refilled his empty cup. Gazing at the paper, she said, “I hope they catch that guy, but I hope he gets all the others first.” Then she smiled at the real Leonard Martin and asked if he wanted anything else.

New Year's Eve was already a thing of the past, and the Super Bowl still weeks from kickoff. The French Quarter was crowded anyway. Even the unusually cold weather didn't keep the crowds away or the best players from coming out to blow their horns. In the mornings, Leonard took the twenty-minute stroll to Jackson Square or Decatur Street down by the Mississippi River. He'd have breakfast in one of the many small coffee shops in the area, read the morning paper, and take in some fresh air. After two winters in the mountains of New Mexico, a chilly morning in New Orleans was like a spring day. The rest of the time he spent in the apartment, on the Internet, making calculations, checking the spreadsheets Carter Lawrence had sent him. Most nights he walked up the block to the corner of St. Ann and N. Rampart
to Donna's Bar & Grill. He liked Donna's because the place had the
casual atmosphere of a neighborhood bar or a slightly rundown Cajun hangout. Of course there were always a few out-of-towners and tourists, but Donna's was off the beaten path for the conventioneers at the Hilton or the Marriott, and certainly not the kind of place visited by the folks from Iowa in the Big Easy on a two- night, three-day package holiday.

The old man, Charlie, was always there, with Donna, and they were happy to see you no matter who you were. Leonard also liked the anonymity numbers afforded since Donna's was always packed even in the wee hours of the morning. The best brass band music in the world is heard there nightly. New Orleans has no second team. For musicians, no minor leaguers need apply. There are no off-nights, no such thing as a slow season. Donna's Bar & Grill was the place in the Quarter where the hornmen showed up after playing their regular gigs on Bourbon Street or the small joints over on Iberville or on Canal near the businessmen's hotels, where the Quarter ends and New Orleans becomes just another city. One after another they'd wander in, instrument in hand. A few were instantly recognized by some in the crowd and applause greeted their entrance. Even if they were unknown, anyone carrying a horn case, especially a black man, caused an immediate stir among Donna's patrons. No doubt, he came to play. As the hours passed the band got bigger or smaller as players arrived or called it a night. Sometimes there were as many as a dozen playing at the same time. Trombone and coronet players traded solos on “Tiger Rag” or “Bogalusa Strut” like boxers whipping their left jab into an opponent's helpless face—snap, snap, snap. Then—it was always the same, a kind of ritual—they stopped and smiled, the crowd cheered, and another boxer, dancer, painter, or poet stepped forward to pick up the gauntlet, accept the challenge. A couple of hours, a few beers, and Leonard could walk back to the apartment, hoping for a dreamless sleep. He was in Donna's every night for more than a week, until one night when Charlie greeted him with a friendly smile and a small nod of his head, acknowledging familiarity. Leonard could have none of that. He left immediately and never returned.

Wesley Pitts longed for the gym. His size and speed set him apart, even as a child. By the time he was ten or eleven his days of running free on the street or in the woods were over. Would-be and future coaches ushered him into the inner sanctum of high-tech body care. His birth certificate was altered to make him a year younger. That change delayed his entrance to high school by a year, allowing his high school football coach the luxury of playing him until Wes was almost twenty years old. During those years and the time to come in a bigtime college program and finally at the highest echelon of professional football, he had at his disposal the finest workout equipment and facilities in the world. Once he tasted steak it was unthinkable he would go back to macaroni and cheese. Now he found himself in the backwoods of Mississippi. The only exercise option around was running, so he ran twice each day. In the morning, before breakfast, he'd jog a mile and a half from his grandmother's house to the intersection with one of the two red lights before you get to town. On one corner was a small grocery store, and diagonally across the street a feed-supply warehouse. At seven o'clock in the morning neither was open for business. He'd turn around at the light and this time run—sometimes sprinting—all the way back. He repeated this at about four-thirty each afternoon. The round trip took at most twenty to twenty-five minutes.

On the morning of January 15th, Wesley Pitts jogged to the red light. He bent over, his hands on his knees, catching his breath, and turned around, ready to begin his run back. He had excellent vision, a seldom mentioned yet key aspect to his success as a receiver. Some people could judge distance by car lengths, others by city blocks. Pitts had a keen sense of distance measured in yards, in football fields. As he looked up he saw something he figured to be about two hundred and fifty yards away. It looked like a man standing in the middle of the road. The man appeared to be wearing a cowboy hat. He held something up to his shoulder or chin with both hands. The instant it took for Wesley Pitts to realize the man was holding a rifle was his last. The bullet struck him in the center of his chest. Almost at the same time, two more hit him. None of the three mortal wounds were more than two inches apart.

St. John

The phone rang at
a quarter to eight. Wesley Pitts's blood still flowed hot on a Mississippi asphalt two-lane beneath a lonely traffic light. Walter reached over to the end table where he put his cell phone the night before. He rubbed the cobwebs from his eyes and tried not to wake Isobel.

He said, “Yeah?”

“Good morning, Mister Sherman.”

“Who's this?” The voice was vaguely familiar. Walter sought to clear his mind, get his bearings.

“You may remember me as Michael Del—”

“Leonard Martin.”

“Yes, I thought you knew back when—”

“What do you want?”

“Well, good morning to you too. It's time for us to talk.”

Walter was struggling now, fighting what he knew was his stupid, damaged, ego-driven reaction. He tried to tell himself—quickly—that Leonard Martin had fooled him with his Michael DelGrazo act out of a sense of survival. What could he have expected in New Mexico? Did he ever really think Leonard Martin would welcome him with open arms, buy him a cup of coffee, tell him his life story? What would he have done in the same situation? “Oh, fuck it,” he thought.

“I'm glad you called,” he said. “I am.”

Leonard said, “Good. Let's get together tomorrow, in the afternoon. How does that work for you?”

“Where do you want me to meet you?”

“No need. I'll meet you. I like St. John. If Ms. Gitlin is there, I hope to see her too. Save me a trip.”

“Let me give you directions,” Walter said without skipping a beat. “Finding my house is not always the easiest thing. It can be confusing.” How did he know about Isobel? How did he know Isobel was here? What did he know about Isobel? Does he know . . . ?

“I'll find it okay. See you tomorrow,” Leonard said. And the phone went dead.

Leonard Martin was on a plane from Jackson to Atlanta before noon. While waiting to change planes there, he made one more phone call to Carter Lawrence. “Go ahead,” he told him, “tell Nick to get started. Have him make the call.” He landed on St. Thomas in the midst of the Caribbean afternoon's slow and glorious multicolored fade to evening. He took the first ferry for St. John. He meant to rent a car and had made an Internet reservation with the island's biggest rent-a-car agency, an enterprise owned and operated by one of Ike's sons. Ike's grandson Roosevelt met Leonard Martin at the dock. He held a sign in front of his chest with his customer's name in bold, capital letters. He did not make Leonard for a tourist, but Leonard saw him.

“Mister DelGrazo?”

“Yes,” said Leonard.

Roosevelt introduced himself with a smile, a warm and friendly handshake, and a small apology. “I'm very sorry, sir, but can you bare with me a minute? I need to give a message to my grandfather. He's just over there across the square.” He pointed to Ike, who was sitting at his regular table on the other side of the small square. “It will only take a moment, then we can be off to the paperwork and your vehicle. Then you can begin what I'm sure will be a wonderful stay for you here on our lovely island of St. John.”

“Quite alright,” said Leonard. “No apology needed. I've been sitting all day. I'd like a little stroll.” Roosevelt grinned broadly and the two were off on the short walk to the open-air bar called Billy's. Not wishing to intrude on the young man's words with his grandfather, Leonard stood at a respectful distance. Only a moment later he tensed up. His heart rate increased and in his fear he considered that he might have made a big mistake coming here—here to this tiny island, here to a place where there was only one way out and it was behind him. He was a man on the run. Only a few hours ago he'd killed someone. Was he now trapped? Although he was a complete stranger, newly arrived, Leonard had an uncomfortable feeling he was being watched.

Someone was indeed staring at him. At the far end of the bar he saw Isobel Gitlin looking right at him. A sense of shock rolled over him. He was riveted to the ground, undone by the dread he felt that his carefully constructed cocoon of privacy and safety had been pierced. Did she recognize him? How could she recognize him? She was blindfolded all the time. She hadn't seen him, or had she? Then, next to her, he saw Walter Sherman. He was drinking from a bottle that appeared to be a Coke. Of course, Leonard realized with a comforting sense of relief, she had his description from him. There could be no other way. Unlike Isobel, Walter had not yet noticed him. Leonard chuckled. He tapped Roosevelt gently on the shoulder and told him to bring the rental car here, to Billy's.

“I'm sorry. I can't do that, sir,” said Roosevelt, confused and a little worried he'd somehow offended a customer, perhaps by stopping to talk with his grandfather. “There's the paperwork, and I have to—”

“It's okay, boy,” said Ike, not missing the stare that now both Walter and Isobel were giving to this bearded cowboy. “He ain't no bushwhacker.” Leonard acknowledged the old man with a pleasant tip of his hat and moved slowly but easily toward the far end of the bar where Walter and Isobel sat motionless. Billy saw the connection too. His old friend Walter and his new friend Isobel looked right at this guy with the floppy, western hat. The surprise on their faces was unmistakable. They knew him, Billy figured, but were they happy to see him? He couldn't tell. The cowboy seemed eager enough to see them. His gait as well as his smile was definitely friendly. Billy had reached for the baseball bat he kept behind the bar. It had been so long since he grabbed a bat, or anything like that, with bad intentions. He broke a sweat, but as Leonard passed him, he realized it was uncalled for. He dropped the wooden club and, shaken, wiped his face with a bar towel. Walter had not missed Billy's clenched teeth or his hands beneath the bar. Even the sight of Leonard Martin could not overcome the nagging question in Walter's mind:
Who was this William Mantkowski?

“Ms. Gitlin, a pleasure to see you—again,” Leonard said, holding his hand out. She shook it and it seemed she was trying to say something, but nothing came out. “Mister Sherman.” Again, he tipped his hat politely.

Walter said, “Please call me Walter. And what should I call you?”

“Leonard will do just fine. I hope my deception can be forgiven between us.”

“You look just like Walter said you would.”

“Ms. Gitlin—”

“Isobel.”

“Isobel, you're nervous. You know what I look like, so why haven't you printed it?”

“We can't. The
New York Times
won't print something we can't confirm to be true.”

“Of course not,” Leonard said. Even Walter caught that one.

“That's not a joke.” Isobel was unnerved. Despite her education and experience, she believed in the integrity of the press in general and the
New York Times
in particular. Plus, Walter told her that Leonard Martin was coming tomorrow afternoon. Not now. Seeing him, like this, without even the semblance of a blindfold—she needed to collect herself. “Just because Walter told me what he saw doesn't mean I can print it. I didn't see it.”

“No, I suppose you didn't and you can't. And you couldn't say that Walter Sherman saw me without explaining who Walter Sherman is. That I suspect would be just as difficult. So difficult that it will never happen.”

Isobel said, “Yes. That will never happen.”

A moment of awkward silence followed. Isobel had yet to fully digest what was going on, yet at the same time, she understood Walter actually encouraged moments like these. That whole character revelation thing, she remembered. Walter tried to gauge Leonard's state of mind. He seemed unfazed by the absence of conversation. Walter noticed he hadn't changed his clothes for a while. His boots were soiled and Leonard Martin gave off a scent Walter immediately recognized as country, rural, backwoods. No airplane ride was sufficient to hide this. This guy hadn't gone back to New Mexico, had he?

Leonard asked Isobel, “You haven't spoken to anybody today, have you?”

Isobel said, “No. I mean, who do y-you mean?”

“Check your messages. You have a call to return.”

“This is not a good place to talk,” Walter said. “Why don't we go to my house.”

“I'm expecting a car here.”

“You won't need one. Really, you won't. If you need to go somewhere afterward, I can have you driven, wherever. Or, if you haven't made arrangements, I have room. You can stay at my place.”

“Thank you,” Leonard said. “That's very considerate, but I wouldn't want to put you to any trouble.”

“No trouble at all,” said Walter. “Are you ready to go?”

Walter looked to Isobel. She answered his question with obvious uncertainty. “Sure,” she said. “I'm ready to go.” Walter left some money on the bar and the three of them walked out. As they passed Ike, Leonard stopped and said, “Please tell your grandson I won't need that car after all. And give him this for any trouble I've caused.”

“That's not called for,” said Ike, refusing the money, “but I'll let him know.”

When they were gone, Billy yelled to Ike, “What the hell was that all about?”

“Don't know,” Ike said, puffing like a locomotive running full steam ahead uphill. “Don't know. But I seen that guy somewhere, I think—don't remember, exactly. But something about him. I seen him, I think.”

Unlike Tom Maloney, Leonard Martin did not seem to notice the beauty of St. John or the darkening sea below and beyond the mountain road. The setting sun, the clouds floating over St. Thomas, the sailboats leaving their sunlit silver wakes—they held no interest for him. He was oblivious to the condition of the roads and didn't bother to look when they passed a herd of noisy goats struggling to climb one of the hills. He sat in the back seat, alone and quiet. Walter thought he might have dozed off. He looked in the rearview mirror. Leonard had the brim of his hat pulled down, covering most of his face. Perhaps his eyes were closed. “If I had a gun,” thought Walter, “I could kill him right here.”

Even a man who's lost his sense of natural beauty could not resist the view from the patio of Walter's house. Leonard Martin was no exception. He stood, pressed against the railing, overlooking the steep mountainside and the sea. Walter seriously wondered what such a man could be thinking. He could make no guesses. Finally, Leonard turned to the covered table where both Walter and Isobel sat, took a chair, and accepted a glass of lemonade from Clara.

“This morning,” Leonard began.

“I know,” said Walter. “We know. We saw it on CNN earlier this
afternoon.”

“I hope that doesn't make this too uncomfortable.”

“This whole thing is a little creepy, is it not?” said Isobel.

“It is a bit. I don't know,” said Walter. “A black man shot to death in Mississippi on Martin Luther King's birthday.” A statement or a question—Walter's words hung in the humid air.

“Judged by the content of his character,” Leonard said.

Walter went on. “That you could kill a man in Mississippi in the morning and by evening be a thousand miles away, on a tiny island, sitting in the very same chair he once sat in.” Leonard Martin showed no reaction. “What would you call that?” Walter asked.

“Serendipity?” said Leonard. “I can change seats, if you want.”

Isobel's curiosity was near the bursting point. She said nothing, but inside her head she was screaming,
“My God! What are we doing here?”
Leonard tried to look completely at ease, but Isobel saw the movement of his upper lip, the increased respiration, and the occasional darting of his eyes. Walter had taught her well. His hat was off and the close cut of his hair no longer obscured his features. Looking closely—real closely—you could see it was him. From the corner of one eye she saw Walter, as calm as if he had been relaxing on the beach. His gaze was fixed on the other man, the one who used to be fat and blonde, the one who used to be a successful real estate lawyer, the one who used to be a husband and a father and a grandfather, the one who was now a killer.

“Isobel, I would really like you to check your messages and return that call while I talk to Walter. Please?”

“Sure,” she said, getting up and walking into the house, closing the glass sliding doors behind her.

“I have a message for your employers,” Leonard said when he and Walter were alone.

“Best I can figure, there's only two of them left.”

“Yes, that's quite correct. And it's possible they may stay alive, die of natural causes in their old age.” He reached down and picked up an attaché case he'd carried with him to the patio. Walter could not help remembering Wesley Pitts doing the same thing, reaching for his money-laden, million dollar case, in exactly the same place. His better judgment told him to keep such a remembrance to himself. Meanwhile, Leonard removed a file folder, stuffed with papers, and placed it on the table. “Stein and Maloney,” he said, “will each make a contribution to a named nonprofit foundation with which I am completely unconnected in any discernable way, and that will allow them to live. Additionally, the companies of Stein, Gelb, Hector & Wills, SHI Inc., which used to be known as Second Houston Holding, and Alliance Industries Inc. will make similar contributions. I realize that Christopher Hopman, Billy MacNeal, and Pat Grath are already dead, and I acknowledge that those now running these companies share none of their culpability. The current senior officers and directors of those companies, however, still maintain and benefit from the proceeds derived from the sale and effective combination of the two companies. Therefore, they are to make contributions equal to the amounts of money they made in, and as a result of, the IPO of Second Houston, just as Stein, Gelb will and just as Stein and Maloney individually will. Failure of these executives and directors to comply with this requirement will have the effect of making them accessories after the fact. I make no immediate threats against them, but they hold the fate of Nathan Stein and Tom Maloney in their hands. Their failure to respond according to my instructions, even if Stein and Maloney comply, will result in the deaths of both men. What happens afterward is yet to be determined.” He picked up the folder from the table, took a long drink of his lemonade, and looked at Walter. Walter looked back at Leonard Martin in amazement. Leonard Martin may be the most dangerous person he'd ever known. But he just changed the rules. Killing him was out of the question, totally unnecessary. The pressure on Walter had been relieved. He had nothing to say, and so said only, “After the fact?”

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