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Authors: John Grisham

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BOOK: Judge's List
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“Yes.”

“Good. It’s still there in the parking lot. Tell her to park beside it. Your room was 232. I’ve reserved it for another night, in the same name of Margie Frazier, so when she checks she’ll see you’re staying there. I told the manager not to clean the room. Maybe your stuff is still there.”

“I don’t care.”

“Do you care about your 9 millimeter? It was on the nightstand.”

“I wish I’d grabbed it in time.”

“So do I.”

There was a long pause as she stared at the fire and he stared at the floor. Slowly, he picked up the gun but did not point it at her. “Make the call. You will meet her tonight at nine at the Bayview Motel. And sell it, okay?”

“I’m not a very good liar.”

“Bullshit. You’re a gifted liar, just a lousy poet.”

“Promise me you won’t hurt her.”

“No promises, except that if I return here without Lacy, I’ll use this.” He grabbed a strand of rope and tossed it on her. She shrieked and tried to slap it away.

37

The game began at nine, an awful hour to expect ten-year-old boys to be in uniform, properly stretched, warmed-up, and ready to play. The Royals took the field in the top of the first, and a handful of parents clapped politely from the bleachers. A few shouted words of encouragement that the players didn’t hear. The coaches clapped their hands and tried to create excitement.

Diana Zhang sat alone in a lawn chair on the first-base side, a quilt tucked over her legs, a tall coffee in hand. The morning air was crisp and surprisingly cool for late April in the Panhandle. Across the way, down the third-base line, her ex-husband leaned on the fence and watched their child jog out to center field. Their divorce was too recent for any effort at civility.

From behind her, a female voice said quietly, “Excuse me, Ms. Zhang.”

She glanced to her right and confronted an officious-looking badge in a black leather wallet. A woman held it and said, “Agent Agnes Neff, FBI. Got a minute for a quick word?”

Startled, like anyone would be, Diana said, “Well, I was planning to watch my son play.”

“So are we. Let’s just move down the fence line there and have a word. Won’t take ten minutes.”

Diana stood and looked at the bleachers to make sure no one was watching. She turned around and saw what could only be another agent. He led the way and they stopped near the foul pole.

Neff said, “This is Special Agent Drew Suarez.”

She shot him a look of irritation and he nodded in return.

Neff continued, “We’ll be brief. We’re looking for your boss and can’t find him. Any idea where Judge Bannick might be right now?”

“Well, uh, no. I assume he’s at home on a Saturday morning.”

“He’s not.”

“Well, then, I don’t know. What’s going on?”

“When did you last see him?”

“He stopped by the office Thursday morning, two days ago. Haven’t talked to him since.”

“We understand he’s undergoing treatment.”

“He is. Cancer. Is he in trouble or something?”

“No, not at all. We just have some routine questions regarding allegations from another investigation.”

That was vague enough to mean nothing, cop-speak at its best, but Diana decided this was no time to push. She nodded as if she understood completely. Neff said, “So, no idea where he might be?”

“I’m sure you’ve checked the courthouse. He has a key and comes and goes at all hours.”

“We’re watching it. He’s not there. He’s not at home. Any idea where else he might be?”

Diana watched the game for a few seconds, not sure how much to say. “He has a bungalow at Seaside, though he rarely goes there.”

“We’re watching it too. He’s not there.”

“Okay. You say he’s not in trouble, so why are you watching everywhere?”

“We need to talk to him.”

“Obviously.”

Suarez took a step closer, gave her a hard look, and said, “Ms. Zhang, you are talking to the FBI. May I remind you it’s against the law to be untruthful?”

“Are you calling me a liar?”

“No.”

Neff shook her head. No. She said, “It’s important that we find him as soon as possible.”

Diana glared at Suarez, then looked at Neff. “There’s a chance he went back to Santa Fe. He’s undergoing treatment there for colon cancer. Look, he’s very private and makes his own travel arrangements. He’s taken leave and he doesn’t discuss things with anyone.” She looked at Suarez and said plainly, “Honestly. I have no idea where he is.”

Neff said, “He’s booked no flights in the past forty-eight hours.”

“As I said, I don’t handle his travel.”

“Do you know the name of the treatment center in Santa Fe?”

“No.”

Neff and Suarez looked at each other and nodded as if they believed her. Neff said, “I’d like to keep this conversation between us, okay, off the record.”

Suarez chimed in with, “In other words, don’t mention it to the judge should you hear from him. Okay?”

“Sure.”

“If you tell him about us you might be held for aiding and abetting.”

“I thought you said he’s done nothing wrong.”

“Not yet. Just keep it quiet.”

“Got it.”


She knew only that Allie was somewhere in the Caribbean, watching, stalking, intercepting. He had let it slip that it was a joint effort with the DEA. Something big was happening, but then she’d heard that for almost three years now. All that mattered was his safety, but he had been gone for eight days with hardly a word. She was growing tired of his job, as was he, and she couldn’t imagine being married to a man who was constantly disappearing. Their summit was growing closer, weeks now instead of months. The big conversation in which nothing would be held back. Complicated, yet simple. Either we commit ourselves to each other and a different future, or we call it quits and stop wasting time.

She was in pain, stretching in some form of mixed yoga and physical therapy, a thirty-minute routine she was supposed to check off twice a day, when the phone rang at 10:04. Probably Jeri, looking for an update.

Instead, it was the not too pleasant voice of Clay Vidovich, her new pal from yesterday at the FBI meeting in Pensacola. Sorry to bother on a Saturday morning, he went on, but didn’t really seem concerned with the interruption.

“We can’t find this guy, Lacy,” he said. “You have any ideas?”

“Well, no, Mr. Vidovich—”

“It’s Clay, okay? I thought we dropped the formalities yesterday.”

“Right, Clay. I don’t know this guy, never met him, so I have no idea where he hangs out. Sorry.”

“Does he know you’re involved, that BJC is investigating?”

“We haven’t contacted him directly, we’re not required to until after our initial assessment, but he probably knows about us.”

“How would he?”

“Well, Betty Roe, our source, believes Bannick can see around corners and hears everything. So far, she’s been right most of the time. Anytime you investigate a judge, the gossip seems to leak out. People love to talk, especially lawyers and court clerks. So, yes, there’s a decent chance Bannick knows we’re investigating.”

“But he would not know that you’ve gone to the state police and the FBI.”

“Clay, I have no idea what Bannick knows.”

“Good point. Look, I’m not trying to ruin your Saturday morning or anything, but are you somewhere safe?”

Lacy looked around her condo. Looked at her dog. Looked at her front door, certain that it was locked. “Sure. I’m at home. Why?”

“Are you alone?”

“Now you’re prying.”

“Okay, I’m prying. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that we’d feel better if you were not alone, at least until we find him.”

“You’re serious?”

“Dead serious, Lacy. This guy, a sitting judge, has simply vanished in the past thirty-six hours. He could be anywhere, and he could be dangerous. We’ll find him, but until then I think you should take precautions.”

“I’ll be okay.”

“Sure you will. Please call if you hear anything.”

“Will do.”

She stared at her phone as she walked to the door and checked the lock. It was a gorgeous spring morning, cool with no clouds, and she had planned to shop at her favorite nursery and plant some azaleas in her flower beds. She scolded herself for being frightened on such a perfect day.

Allie was off playing cop. Darren had taken a new girlfriend to the beach for a getaway. She walked around the condo, checking doors and windows, still scolding. To relax, she lowered herself to her yoga mat and folded into a child’s pose. After two deep breaths, her phone buzzed again, startling her. Why was she so jumpy?

It was the third man in her life, and she was not unhappy to hear Gunther’s voice. He apologized for missing her weekly call the previous Tuesday; of course it was all because of a critical development meeting with his new team of architects.

She stretched out on the sofa and they chatted for a long time. Both admitted to being bored. Gunther’s current girl, if indeed he had a serious one, was away too. Once he realized that Lacy had nothing planned for the afternoon, he was even more animated and finally mentioned lunch.

It had been only two weeks since their last one, and the fact that he was so eager to fly down again this soon was disheartening. More than likely, he was one step away from the bankers and they were closing in fast.

He said, “I’m an hour from the airport and the flight takes about eighty minutes. Wanna say two p.m.?”

“Sure.”

As troublesome as he was, it would be comforting to have him around, at least for the next twenty-four hours. She would convince him to stay for dinner, then sleep over, and at some point they would have no choice but to talk about her lawsuit.

It might be a relief to get that conversation out of the way.

38

The first two calls went unanswered, which was not unusual, especially on a Saturday. He nodded, said try again.

“Could you please put the gun down?” she asked.

“No.”

He just sat there, five feet away, his back to the fire, with the thirty-inch section of nylon rope draped around his collar and falling harmlessly to his chest. “Try again.”

She had lost all feeling in her ankles and feet, and maybe that was a good thing. They were numb, so if they were broken the pain could not be felt. But the numbness was radiating up her legs and she felt paralyzed. She had asked to use the restroom. He said no. She had not moved in hours, and had no idea of the time.

On the third call, Lacy answered.

“Lacy, hi, it’s Jeri, how are you dear?” she sang as cheerily as humanly possible with a six-inch barrel watching every move. He raised the gun a few inches.

They went back and forth with the weather, the beautiful spring day, then got down to business with the FBI’s futile search for Bannick.

“They’ll never find him,” Jeri said, staring into Bannick’s soulless eyes.

She closed her own and launched into the fiction: an anonymous informant had given her clear physical proof that would nail Bannick. She couldn’t discuss it on the phone—they needed to meet and it was urgent. She was hiding in a motel two hours away and she didn’t care what was planned for the evening. Cancel it.

She said, “My car is in the lot on the south side of the motel. Park next to it, I’ll be watching. And Lacy, please come alone. Is that possible?”

“Sure—there’s no danger, right?”

“No more than usual.”

The conversation was brief, and when she hung up Bannick actually smiled. “See, you are a gifted liar.”

She handed him the burner and said, “Please, give me the dignity of going to the bathroom.”

He put away the gun and the phone and reached to unlock her ankle chains and cuffs. He tried to help her stand but she pushed him away, her first contact made in anger. “Just give me a minute, okay?”

She stood for a moment as the blood rushed to her feet and lower legs, and the pain returned in hot bolts. He handed her a walking cane, which she took to steady herself. She was tempted to crack him with it, to strike at least one blow for all the victims, but she wasn’t balanced enough. Besides, he would easily subdue her and the aftermath wouldn’t be pretty. She shuffled into a small bedroom where he waited, with the pistol, as she managed to lock the door to a closet-style bathroom with no tub or shower. And no window. The dim light barely worked. She relieved herself and sat on the toilet for a long time, so content to be locked away from him.

Content? She was a dead woman and she knew it. Now, what had she done to Lacy?

She flushed again, though it wasn’t necessary. Anything to stall. He finally tapped on the door and said, “Let’s go. Time’s up.”

In the bedroom, he nodded at the bed and said, “You can rest in here. I’ll be right in there. That window is locked and it won’t open anyway. Do anything stupid and you know what will happen.”

She almost thanked him, but caught herself and stretched out on the bed. It was the perfect time and place for a sexual assault, but she wasn’t worried. Evidently, it never crossed his mind.

Though the cabin was warm, she pulled a dusty blanket over herself anyway and was soon sleepy. It was the fatigue, the fear, and probably the remnants of his drugs still racing through her body.

When she was asleep, he popped a benny and tried to stay awake.


Always eager to show off for a pretty girl, even for his sister, Gunther had the idea of flying off to lunch and dining on great seafood. He claimed that all small aircraft pilots in that part of the world were familiar with Beau Willie’s Oysters on a bayou near Houma, Louisiana. A 4,000-foot airstrip was surrounded by water on three sides and made for white-knuckle landings. Once on the ground, the restaurant was a ten-minute walk. During the day, most of the customers were pilots out looking for fun and good food.

When they landed and got out of the plane, Lacy checked her phone. Jeri had called twice. Seconds later, she called again and they chatted as she followed her brother to Beau Willie’s. Though the call was somewhat mysterious, the news was breathtaking. Clear proof that would nail Bannick.

Her appetite vanished but she managed to choke down half a dozen raw oysters as she watched Gunther gorge on a dozen for starters and then attack a fried oyster po’boy. They talked about Aunt Trudy and got that out of the way. He quizzed her about any news on the Allie front and again offered too much advice. It was time for her to find a husband and start a family and forget the notion of going through life alone. She reminded him that he was perhaps the last person she would listen to when the subject was long-term commitments. That was always good for a laugh and Gunther was a sport about it. She asked about his current flame and he seemed as disinterested as he’d been two weeks earlier.

“Got a question,” she said as she sipped iced tea. Gunther had toyed with the idea of a cold beer, even said he had never eaten oysters without one, but he was, after all, flying an airplane.

“Anything.”

“I just got a call that sort of changes my plans. There’s a town called Crestview about an hour east of Pensacola, population twenty thousand. I need to meet an important witness there at nine tonight. Would it be possible to land there and rent a car?”

“Probably. Any town of that size will have an airport. What’s going on?”

“It’s big.” She glanced around. They were on a deck at the edge of the water and the other tables were empty. It was almost 5:00 p.m., on a Saturday, too late for lunch and too early for dinner. The bar was crowded with locals drinking beer.

“Last time I mentioned that we’re investigating a judge who might be involved in a murder.”

“Sure. Not one of your run-of-the-mill cases.”

“Hardly. Well, the call came from our star witness and she says she has some important information. I need to see her.”

“In Crestview?”

“Yes. It’s on the way home. Could we stop there?”

“I guess I’m not going back to Atlanta tonight.”

“Please. It would be a big favor, plus I’d like to have someone with me.”

Gunther pulled out his smartphone and went online. “No problem. They say they have rentals. This could be dangerous?”

“I doubt it. But a little caution might be in order.”

“I love it.”

“And this is strictly confidential, Gunther.”

He laughed and looked around. “And who might I tell?”

“Just keep it between us.”


He stood in the dark room beside her bed and listened to her heavy breathing. His instincts told him to take the rope dangling from his left hand and finish her off. It would be the easiest one of all. He could do it quickly, effortlessly, then wipe down the cabin and drive away. It would be days before she was found.

On the one hand, he hated her for what she had done to him. She had brought down his world and his life would never be the same. She and she alone had stalked him, tracked him, and now his game was over. But on the other hand, he couldn’t help but admire her pluck, brains, and doggedness. This woman had done better work than a hundred cops in several states, and now he was on the run.

He tossed the rope onto the bed, took a microfiber cloth wet with ether, and held it onto her face. As she jerked, he clasped one arm around her neck and held the cloth as tightly as possible with his hand. She fought and kicked but was no match. A minute passed and she began to go limp. When she was still, he released his grip and put away the cloth. Slowly, methodically, he took a hypodermic needle and poked it into her arm. Five hundred milligrams of ketamine, enough to keep her out several hours. He toyed with the idea of another dose, but it was risky. Too much and she might never wake up. If he had to kill her, he preferred doing it the proper way.

He walked into the other room, tossed some more files onto the fire, picked up the handcuffs and ankle chains, and took them to the bed where he pinned her wrists tightly behind her back and locked the cuffs. He secured her ankles with the chains, and for fun wrapped the nylon rope lightly around her neck. As always, he was wearing plastic gloves, but for good measure he wiped down the surfaces anyway. He checked the windows, again, and could not open them. It was an old cabin, and in bad repair, and the windows had been locked by dried paint and disuse. He burned the last of the files, and when he was certain the fire was safe he locked the cabin’s only door, stepped onto the porch, and checked his watch. 7:10. He was about an hour north of Crestview, near Gantt Lake, in Alabama.

The dirt trail wound through the woods with only an occasional glimpse of the lake. It passed a drive here and there but the other cabins were not visible. He turned onto a gravel road and waved at two scruffy teenagers on ATVs. They stopped to watch him go by.

He preferred not to be seen by anyone and debated returning to the cabin, just to make sure the kids were not curious. He let it pass, called it paranoia. The gravel eventually yielded to a paved county road and he was soon on a state highway, headed south.

BOOK: Judge's List
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