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Authors: John Grisham

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A raw, nagging burden he had carried for twenty years had now been lifted, and he was at peace.

When the cycle finished, he put his clothes in the dryer and waited some more. Mal’s phone was buzzing. Someone wanted to know where he was. It was almost seven, at least an hour to go before darkness.

Knowing Mal, he figured the crook had not told anyone at the office what he was up to. He had left behind no notes, no phone number, no address of his potential new client. There was an excellent chance Mal had not even gone by the office but had hustled over to Sugar Land to sign up a lucrative case, one that he would try to keep to himself and steal another fee.

But there was a chance he had said something to the secretary. The lingering became monotonous, and as the clock ticked the risks grew.

When his clothes were dry, he put them on and packed his stuff in the grocery sack—Leddie, the used wipes, the bag from the vacuum cleaner, the pistol. After dark, he stepped outside and walked to the Ford pickup. Some kids were kicking a soccer ball down the street. Still wearing gloves, he got in the truck, started the engine, and drove away. Three blocks over he parked it in the lot of a central market, one with a gas station, a convenience store, some cheap shops, and the management’s office. He left the keys in the ignition and disappeared into the darkness. Ten minutes later he was back at his trailer. He went inside to get the grocery sack and take one last, satisfied look at Mal, still quite dead.

He switched off his burner and removed its battery, then drove away.

An hour later, he pulled into a truck stop on Interstate 45 south of Huntsville and parked behind some rigs. He changed the license plates and put the fake ones in his grocery bag, then tossed it into a large, dirty dumpster. Getting caught with Mal’s Glock was unthinkable.

Suddenly famished, he went inside and enjoyed eggs and biscuits with the truckers. Santa Fe was twelve hours away and he looked forward to the drive.

30

Jeri’s flight landed at Detroit International at 2:40 Friday afternoon. As she walked through the busy terminal she felt a sense of freedom, of relief at being so far away from Mobile and Florida and her worries there. On the plane she had convinced herself that her nightmare was finally coming to an end, that she had taken the first bold steps in finding justice for her father, and that no one was watching her. She found her rental car and drove away, headed for Ann Arbor.

Denise, her only child, was in her second year of graduate studies in physics at Michigan. She had grown up in Athens, Georgia, where Jeri had been on the faculty. Denise had breezed through the university there in three years and landed a hefty scholarship to Michigan. Her father, Jeri’s ex, worked for the State Department in Washington. He had remarried and Jeri had little contact with him, but he kept close tabs on his daughter.

Jeri had not seen her since the Christmas holidays when the two of them spent a week on a beach in Cabo. She had been to Ann Arbor twice and enjoyed the town. She had lived alone for many years now and envied her daughter’s busy social life and wide circle of friends. When she parked on the street in front of her apartment building in Kerrytown, Denise was waiting. They hugged and looked each other over and seemed satisfied with their appearances. Both were staying in shape and knew how to dress, though Denise had the advantage. She looked great in anything, including the jeans and sneakers she was wearing. They hauled the bags into her small apartment, where she lived alone. The building was filled with graduate and law students and there was usually loud music and a gathering of some sort. Especially on a Friday in late April. There was a keg by the pool and they made their way into the courtyard. Denise delighted in introducing her mom to her friends, and occasionally referred to her as Dr. Crosby. Jeri was content to sip a beer from a plastic cup and listen to the chatter and laughter of those twenty years younger.

A law student drifted closer and seemed more interested than the others. Denise had hinted on the phone that there might be a guy in the picture, and Jeri’s radar was on high alert. His name was Link, a handsome kid from Flint, and it didn’t take long to realize he was more than a casual friend. Jeri was secretly delighted that he was African American. Denise had dated all types and Jeri was fine with that, but deep inside she was like most folks. She wanted her grandchildren to look like her.

Without asking Jeri, Denise invited Link to join them for drinks. The three left the apartment complex and took a leisurely walk through Kerrytown. They snagged a table outdoors at the Grotto Watering Hole and enjoyed watching the endless parade of students going nowhere. Jeri fought the temptation to grill Link about his family, his studies, his interests, his plans for the future. To do so would rankle her daughter and she had vowed to avoid all drama for the weekend. She and Denise ordered wine, and Link asked for a draft beer. A check in the positive column. Jeri knew enough about students, especially the males, to raise an eyebrow at the ones who began the evening with hard liquor.

Link was a schmoozer who laughed easily and seemed deeply interested in Dr. Crosby’s curriculum. Jeri knew he was gaming her but she enjoyed him nonetheless. More than once, she caught the two lovebirds looking at each other with pure adoration. Or maybe it was lust.

After an hour with Link, Jeri thought she might be falling for him too.

At some point Denise gave the signal, one that Jeri didn’t catch, and Link said he had to go. His law school softball team had a night game in the intramural league and, of course, he was the star. Jeri wanted him to join them for dinner, but he begged off. Maybe tomorrow night.

As soon as he was gone, Jeri zeroed in and asked, “Okay, how serious is it?”

“Come on, Mom, let’s not go there.”

“I’m not blind, girl. How serious?”

“It’s not serious enough to talk about as of now.”

“Are you sleeping with him?”

“Of course. Wouldn’t you?”

“Don’t ask that question.”

“And who are you sleeping with?”

“No one, and that’s the problem.” Both laughed, but somewhat nervously.

Denise said, “Now, changing the subject, Alfred called two days ago. He checks in occasionally.”

“How nice of him. I’m glad he’s calling someone.” Alfred was Jeri’s older brother, Denise’s uncle, and Jeri had not seen him in at least three years. They had been close until their father’s murder, after which they had tried to support one another. But Jeri’s obsession with finding the killer had eventually driven them apart. In her opinion, Alfred had given up too soon. Once he became convinced the crime would never be solved, he stopped talking about it. Since she talked of little else, in those days anyway, he shut her out. To get away, and to start over, he moved to California and he wasn’t coming back. He had a wife Jeri detested and three kids she adored, but she was too far away to be involved in their lives.

They sipped their wine for a few minutes and watched the students. Jeri finally said, “I’m sure your father checks in from time to time.”

“Look, Mom, let’s get the family stuff out of the way and be done with it, okay? Dad sends me a hundred dollars a month and calls every other week. We text and email and stay in touch. I wish he wouldn’t send money. I don’t need it. I have a scholarship and a job and I’m on my own.”

“It’s guilt, Denise. He left us when you were a toddler.”

“I know, Mom, and we are now finished with the family discussion. Let’s go to dinner.”

“Have I told you I’m proud of you?”

“At least once a week. I’m proud of you too.”


Dinner was at Café Zola, a popular restaurant in a handsome old redbrick building just around the corner. Denise had reserved a table near the front, and they settled in for a long dinner and lots of catching up. They ordered another glass of wine and then salads and fish. At Jeri’s prompting, Denise talked about her studies and lab work, and used scientific terms that were over her mother’s head. She got the science and math gene from her father, the one for history and literature from her mother.

Halfway through the meal, Jeri got serious and said, “I have something important to tell you.”

“You’re pregnant?”

“In more ways than one, that’s biologically impossible.”

“Just kidding, Mom.” Denise suspected the big news had something to do with the murder, a subject they rarely broached.

“I know.” Jeri put down her fork and took her glass, as if she needed fortification. “I, uh, I know who killed my father.”

Denise stopped chewing and glared at her in disbelief.

Jeri went on, “That’s right. After twenty years of research, I’ve found the man.”

Still speechless, Denise swallowed and took a sip. She nodded, go on.

“I’ve notified the authorities, and, well, maybe this nightmare is coming to an end.”

Denise exhaled and kept nodding but struggled for words. “Am I supposed to be thrilled by this? I’m sorry, but I don’t know how to react. Is there a chance he’ll be arrested?”

“I think so. Let’s hope and pray.”

“Uh, where is he?”

“Pensacola.”

“That’s awfully close to Mobile.”

“Close enough.”

“Don’t tell me his name, okay? I’m not sure I’m ready for it.”

“I’ve told no one, except the authorities.”

“You’ve gone to the police?”

“No. There are other investigative authorities in Florida. They have the case now. I’m assuming the police will be notified by them in the near future.”

“Do you have proof? Is the case ironclad, as they say?”

“No. I’m afraid it will be hard to prove, and of course that worries me greatly.”

Denise took another sip, emptying her glass. The waitress happened by and she asked for another. She glanced around and lowered her voice. “Okay, Mom, but if there’s no proof how will they nail this guy?”

“I don’t have all the answers, Denise. That will be up to the police and prosecutors.”

“So, there will be a big trial and all of that?”

“Again, I hope so. I won’t be able to sleep until he’s convicted and put away.”

Denise often worried about her mother’s obsession. Alfred seemed to think that his sister teetered on the edge of delusion. A fierce obsession with anything, and especially something as traumatic as a murder, was not healthy. Denise and Alfred had discussed it over the years, but not recently. They worried about Jeri, though they could do nothing to change her.

For the rest of the family, the murder was a subject to be avoided.

“Will you have to testify in court?” The idea clearly troubled her.

“I suppose. A family member of the deceased is usually one of the first witnesses called by the State.”

“And you’re ready for that?”

“Yes, I’m fully prepared to meet the killer in court. I won’t miss a word of his trial.”

“I’m not going to ask how you found this guy.”

“It’s a long and complicated story, Denise, and one day I’ll talk about it. But not now. Let’s enjoy the moment and dwell on happier thoughts. I just thought you would want to know.”

“Have you told Alfred?”

“No, not yet. But I will soon.”

“I guess I should be satisfied. This is good news, right?”

“Only if he’s convicted.”


Saturday morning began late with yogurt on the sofa, Jeri’s bed for the weekend, and they stayed in their pajamas until past noon. They eventually showered and ventured out, first to a coffee bar on Huron Street. It was a perfect spring day and they sat in the sun talking about life, the future, fashion, television shows, movies, boys, whatever came to mind. Jeri savored the time with Denise and knew the moments were precious. She was maturing into a smart and ambitious young woman with a promising future, one that would probably take her far away from Mobile, a place she had never lived anyway.

Denise worried that her mother was watching life slip away with no one to share it with. At forty-six, she was still beautiful and sexy and had so much to offer, but she had chosen to commit herself to finding justice for her father. Her obsession had precluded any thoughts of serious romance, even friendships. It was a subject they avoided throughout the day.

The law school was engaged in an all-day softball tournament, with a dozen teams playing double elimination. With Denise behind the wheel of her little Mazda, they found the sports complex, unloaded chairs and a cooler, and made a place under a tree beyond the left-field fence. Link found them immediately and took a seat on a quilt. He drank a pregame beer—most of the players seemed to be enjoying a beverage, even on the field—and Jeri quizzed him about his future. His dream job was with the Department of Justice in Washington as a starter, then perhaps something in private practice. He was wary of the big firm grind and wanted to litigate civil rights for the disabled. His father had been injured on the job and was confined to a wheelchair.

The more Jeri watched him around her daughter, the more convinced she became that Link was the future. And she was fine with that. He was engaging, smart, quick-witted, and obviously enamored with Denise.

After he left to play, Denise said, “Okay, Mom, I want to know how you found this guy.”

“Which guy?”

“The killer.”

Jeri smiled, shook her head, and finally said, “The whole story?”

“Yes. I want to know.”

“This might take some time.”

“What else are we doing for the next few hours?”

“Okay.”

31

Late Saturday morning, Lacy and her boyfriend left Tallahassee for a three-hour drive to Ocala, north of Orlando. Allie did the driving as Lacy handled the entertainment. They began with an audiobook by Elmore Leonard, but she soon decided she’d had enough of crime and dead bodies and switched to a podcast on politics. It, too, quickly became depressing so she found NPR and they laughed through an episode of
Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!
Their appointment with Herman Gray was at 2:00 p.m.


Mr. Gray was an FBI legend who had overseen the Behavioral Analysis Unit at Quantico for two decades. Now pushing eighty, he had retired to Florida and lived behind a gate with his wife and three dogs. Allie had been referred to him by a supervisor and had made the necessary calls. Herman said he was bored and had plenty of time, especially if the conversation was about serial killers. He had tracked and studied them throughout his career, and, according to the legend, knew more about the breed than anyone. He had published two books on the subject, neither of which was particularly helpful. Both were more or less collections of his war stories, complete with gory photographs and a bit too much self-congratulation.

He greeted them warmly and seemed genuinely pleased to have guests. His wife offered lunch, which they declined. She served them iced tea without sugar, and they talked for the first half hour on the patio with the spaniels licking their ankles. When he began talking about his career, Lacy interrupted politely with “We’ve read both of your books, so we know something about your work.”

He liked that and tried to defer with “Most of that stuff is accurate. Maybe a bit of embellishment here and there.”

“It’s fascinating,” she said.

Allie said, “As I explained on the phone, Lacy would like to walk through each of the victims and get your thoughts.”

“The afternoon belongs to you,” Herman said with a smile.

Lacy said, “It’s extremely confidential and we won’t use any real names.”

“I understand discretion, Ms. Stoltz. Believe me, I do.”

“Can we go with Lacy and Allie?”

“Sure, and I’m Herman. I see you’ve brought a briefcase, so I assume there’s paperwork, maybe some photos.”

“Yes.”

“Perhaps we should go to the kitchen and use the table.”

They followed him inside, as did the dogs, and Mrs. Gray refilled their glasses. Herman sat on one side of the table and faced Lacy and Allie. She took a deep breath and began, “There are eight murders that we know about. The first was in 1991, the most recent less than a year ago. The first seven were by strangulation, same type of rope, same method, but for the last one no rope was used. Just a few blows to the head.”

“Twenty-three years.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Could we drop the ‘sirs’?”

“Yep.”

“Thank you. I’ll be eighty in two months but I am refusing to let the old man in.” Thin as a weed, he looked like he could walk ten miles in the hot sun.

“Obviously, we believe our suspect killed all eight people. Six men, two women.”

“There are probably more, you know?”

“Yes, but we have no knowledge of them.”

Herman took out his pen and found a notepad. “Let’s talk about Number One.”

Allie opened the briefcase and handed Lacy a file. She said, “Number One was a forty-one-year-old white male—all but one were white—who was found beside a walking trail in Signal Mountain, Tennessee.” She handed Herman a sheet of paper she had prepared with the words
Number One
typed in bold letters at the top. Date, place, age of victim, cause of death, and a color photo of Thad Leawood lying in the bushes.

Herman studied the summary and the photo and took notes. They watched him carefully and said nothing. When he had reviewed it, he asked, “Other than the body, was there anything from the crime scene?”

“The police found nothing. No prints, fibers, hair, no blood other than the victim’s. Same for all the crime scenes.”

“A strange knot, something like a clove hitch.”

“A double clove hitch, not very common.”

“Rare indeed. If he used it every time, then it’s obviously his calling card. How many blows to the head?”

“Two, with what appears to be the same weapon.”

“Autopsy?”

“The skull splintered, numerous cracks radiating from the contact point. The police in Wilmington, North Carolina, at another crime scene, thought it was something like a hammer or small round metal ball.”

“Works every time, though it does make a messy scene. The blood spatters to such a degree that the suspect probably had some on his clothing.”

“Which, of course, was never found.”

“Of course not. Motive?”

“The theory is that Number One sexually abused the killer when he was a young boy.”

“That’s a lot of motive. Any proof of this?”

“Not really.”

“Okay. How about Number Two.”

Lacy handed him the sheet for Bryan Burke and said, “The following year, 1992.”

Herman looked at it and said, “South Carolina.”

“Yes, each was in a different state.”

He smiled and made notes. “Motive?”

“Their paths crossed in college when the killer was a student. Number Two was one of his professors.” Lacy was careful not to use the words “law school.” That would come later. Allie had not told Herman much about her and had not revealed where she worked or who she investigated. Again, that would be discussed later in the afternoon.

Number Three was Ashley Barasso. Lacy said, “Four years later, in Columbus, Georgia. We know nothing of motive, only that they were in school together.”

“College?”

“Yes.”

“Was she sexually abused in any way?”

“No. She was fully clothed, nothing was disturbed, no sign of molestation.”

“That’s unusual. Sex is a factor in about eighty percent of serial crimes.”

Number Four was Eileen Nickleberry, in 1998.

With Number Five, Danny Cleveland, Lacy said, “Our man took a break for eleven years, at least as far as we know.”

“That’s quite a gap,” Herman said, studying the photo. “Same knot. He doesn’t want to get caught, too smart for that, but he wants someone to know that he’s out there. Not at all uncommon.” He scribbled more notes as his wife appeared and offered them cookies. She did not stay in the kitchen but Lacy got the impression she was close by, probably listening.

Number Six was Perry Kronke down in Marathon. Herman studied the photos and asked, “Where did you get these?”

“They were given to us by a source who’s been working on this for many years. Freedom of Information Act, FBI clearinghouse, the usual. We have photos from the first six crime scenes but not the last.”

“Too recent, I suppose. Poor guy was out fishing, just minding his own business. In broad daylight.”

“I’ve been to the scene and it was pretty remote.”

“Okay. Motive?”

“They crossed paths in the workplace, probably a disagreement over a job offer that didn’t materialize.”

“So he knew him too?”

“He knew all of them.”

Herman just thought he’d seen it all and was visibly impressed. “Okay, let’s see the last one.”

Lacy handed over
Number Seven
and
Number Eight,
and explained their theory that the first victim was the target and the second arrived on the scene at the wrong time. Herman studied the summaries and photos for a long time, then said with a grin, “Well, is that all?”

“That’s all we know about.”

“You can bet there’s more, and you can bet he’s not finished.”

They nodded and both took a bite of a cookie.

Herman said, “So, now you want a profile, right?”

Allie said, “Sure, that’s one reason we’re here.”

Herman put down his pen, stood and stretched his back, and scratched his chin as he thought. “White male, age fifty, started his mischief when he was mid-twenties. Single, probably never married. Except for the first two, he kills on Fridays and weekends, clear indication that he has an important job. You mentioned college, and it’s obvious he’s bright, even brilliant, and patient. No sex angle, so he’s probably impotent. You know the motive, driven by a sick need for revenge. Kills without remorse, which is usually the case. Sociopathic to say the least. Antisocial but, being educated, probably manages to put up a front and maintain what appears to be a normal life. Seven crime scenes in seven states over a twenty-three-year period. Very unusual. He knows the police won’t dig deep enough to link the crimes. And the FBI is not involved?”

“Not yet,” Allie said. “That’s another reason we’re here.”

“He knows forensics, police procedure, and the law,” Lacy said.

Herman slowly sat down and looked at his notes. “Quite unusual. Even unique. I’m impressed with this guy. What do you know about him?”

Lacy said, “Well, he certainly fits your profile. He’s a judge.”

Herman exhaled as if somewhat overwhelmed. He shook his head and thought for a long time. Finally he said, “A sitting judge?”

“Duly elected by the voters.”

“Wow. Quite unusual. Narcissistic, split personality, able to live in one world as a respected, productive member of society while spending his off-hours plotting the next kill. It’ll be hard to nail this guy. Unless.”

Allie said, “Unless he makes a mistake, right?”

“Right.”

Lacy said, “We think he’s made one, at his last stop. You asked about the FBI. They’re not involved in the investigation but they have found a clue. He left a partial thumb print on a cell phone. The lab in Quantico has spent months with it, run all the tests. The problem is there is no match anywhere. The FBI thinks he’s probably altered his prints.”

Herman shook his head in disbelief. “Well, I’m not a print guy, but I know that’s virtually impossible, without extensive surgery.”

Lacy said, “He can afford it, and he’s had plenty of time.”

Allie said, “I’ve checked around, talked to some of our experts. There have been a handful of cases where the prints were altered.”

“If you say so. I have my doubts.”

Lacy said, “So do we. If we can’t get a match, then the case looks hopeless. There’s no other proof, other than motive, and that’s not enough. Right?”

“I don’t know. I suppose there’s no way to get his prints, his current ones?”

“Not without a warrant,” Lacy said. “We have suspicion, but that’s not enough to convince a judge to issue one.”

“We need advice, Herman,” Allie said. “What’s our next step?”

“Where does the guy live?”

“Pensacola.”

“And the print is in Mississippi, right?”

“Correct.”

“Will the authorities there call in the Bureau?”

“I’m sure they will. They’re desperate to solve the murders.”

“Then you have to start there. Once our boys are involved, it’ll be easier to convince a federal magistrate to issue a search warrant.”

“And search what?” Lacy asked.

“His home, his office, anyplace there might be prints.”

Allie said, “There might be a couple of problems with that. The first is that this guy is capable of leaving no prints anywhere. The second is that he might disappear at the first whiff of trouble.”

“Let our boys worry about the prints. They’ll find ’em. No one is capable of wiping clean their home or office. As for the disappearing act, that’s a chance you take. You can’t arrest him until there is a match with the prints, right? No other proof?”

“So far, none,” Lacy said.

“There might be another problem,” Allie said. “Is there a chance the Bureau will decline to get involved?”

“Why?”

“The slim chance of success. The first six crime scenes yielded zero evidence. Those cases are ice cold and have been for years. You know the politics at Quantico. And you know how perpetually understaffed the BAU is. Is it possible they could take a hard look at this and pass?”

Herman waved off the idea. “No, I don’t see it. We’ve tracked serial killers for years and never found them. Some of the cases I worked on thirty years ago are still unsolved, always will be. That will not deter the BAU. This is their meat and potatoes. And, keep in mind, they don’t have to solve all of the murders. You just need one to put this guy away.”

Herman put down his pen and folded his arms across his chest. “You have no choice but to bring in the Bureau. I sense some hesitation.”

Lacy told the story of Betty Roe and her twenty-year quest to find her father’s murderer. Herman interrupted with “Is she looking for a job? I think the Bureau needs her.”

“She has a career,” Lacy said after a laugh. “She filed a complaint with the Board on Judicial Conduct. That’s where I work. She’s very fragile, and frightened, and I promised we would not bring in the police until we finished our initial investigation.”

Herman didn’t like this and said, “Too bad. She’s no longer a factor. You have a very sophisticated killer still at work, and it’s time to bring in the Bureau. The longer you wait, the more bodies they’ll find. This guy will not stop.”

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