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Caught

Chapter 18

   



WITH HIS ONE CALL, Ed Grayson woke up his attorney, Hester Crimstein. He told her that he'd been arrested.
Hester said, "This sounds like so much bull that I would normally send an underling out."
"But?" Ed said.
"But I don't like the timing."
"Me neither," Ed said.
"I mean, I just ripped Walker a new hole a few hours ago. So why pick you up and actually arrest you?" She paused. "Unless I've lost my touch?"
"I don't think that's it."
"Neither do I. So that means that they have something new."
"The blood test?"
"That shouldn't be enough." Hester hesitated. "Ed, you're sure there is no way they found, uh, anything more incriminating?"
"No way."
"You're certain?"
"Absolutely."
"Okay, you know the drill. Don't talk. I'll have my driver take me out. Shouldn't be more than an hour this time of night."
"One more troubling thing," he said.
"What?"
"I'm not at the Sussex County police station this time. I'm in Newark. That's Essex County, a different jurisdiction."
"Any idea why?"
"Nope."
"Okay, sit tight. Let me throw on some clothes. I'm bringing my A game this time. No mercy on these asswipes."
Forty-five minutes later, Hester sat with her client Ed Grayson in a small interrogation room with Formica floors and a bolted-down table. They waited. They waited a long time. Hester grew furious.
Finally the door opened. Sheriff Walker entered, wearing his uniform. Another guy-potbellied, around sixty, in a squirrel gray suit that looked as if it had been intentionally wrinkled-was with him.
"Sorry for the wait," Walker said. He leaned against the far wall. The other man took the chair across the table from Grayson. Hester was still pacing.
"We're leaving," she said.
Walker gave her a finger wave. "Bye, Counselor, we'll miss you. Oh, but your client is going nowhere. He's under arrest. He's going through the system-being processed and held. It's late. We'll probably have the bail hearing first thing in the morning, but don't worry, we have cozy accommodations."
Hester was having none of it. "Excuse me, Sheriff, but aren't you an elected official?"
"I am."
"So imagine when I put my full resources into getting your ass canned. I mean, how hard will this be? Arresting a man whose son was a victim of a heinous-"
The other man finally spoke. "Can we just cut through the threats for a moment?"
Hester looked at him.
"Do whatever the hell you want, Ms. Crimstein, okay? I don't care. We have questions. You're going to answer them or your client is going to get very lost in the system. Do you get me?"
Hester Crimstein squinted at him. "And you are?"
"My name is Frank Tremont. I'm an Essex County investigator. And really, if we could cut the posturing for a minute, maybe you'll get why you're here."
Hester looked as though she was ready to attack, but she pulled back. "Okay, big boy, what do you got?"
Walker took that one. He slapped a file down on the table. "A blood test."
"Saying?"
"As you know, we found blood in your client's car."
"So you said."
"The blood in the car is a perfect match with the victim, Dan Mercer."
Hester faked a big yawn.
Walker said, "Maybe you could tell us why that would be?"
Hester shrugged. "Maybe they took a ride together. Maybe Dan Mercer got a bloody nose on his own."
Walker folded his arms. "Is that really the best you can offer up?"
"Oh no, Sheriff Walker. I can offer up much better, if you'd like." Hester batted her eyes and put on a fake girlie voice. "May I give you a hypothetical?"
"I'd rather have facts."
"Sorry, handsome, that's the best I can do."
"Fine, go for it."
"Well, here's one hypothetical, if I may. You have a witness to the alleged murder of Dan Mercer, isn't that correct?"
"That's correct."
"Now hypothetically, let's say I've read the statement made by your witness, that TV reporter Wendy Tynes."
"That would be impossible," Walker said. "The witness's statement and identity are both confidential."
"Gasp oh gasp, my bad. The hypothetical statement made by a hypothetical TV reporter. May I continue?"
Frank Tremont said, "Go ahead."
"Super. Now according to her hypothetical statement, when she encountered Dan Mercer at this trailer, before any shooting took place, there were clear signs that he'd suffered a recent beating."
Nobody spoke.
"I like feedback," Hester said. "One of you nod."
"Pretend we both did," Frank said.
"Okay, good. Now let's say-again hypothetically-Dan Mercer met up with one of his victims' fathers a few days earlier. Let's say that a fight ensued. Let's say a little bit of blood was spilled. Let's say that little bit of blood ended up in a car."
She stopped, spread her hands, and arched her eyebrow. Walker looked at Tremont.
Frank Tremont said, "Well, well."
"Well, well what?"
He tried to smile through the strain. "If a hypothetical fight started, that would certainly give your client motive, now wouldn't it?"
"I'm sorry, what's your name again?"
"Frank Tremont, Essex County investigator."
"You new on the job, Frank?"
Now he spread his hands. "Do I look new?"
"No, Frank, you look like a hundred years of bad decisions, but your statement about motive would be the kind of thing some oxygen-deficient rookie might try on a brain-dead paralegal. First off-pay attention here-the loser of the fight is usually the one who seeks retribution, correct?"
"Most of the time."
"Well"-Hester gestured to her client as if she were a hostess on a game show-"take a look at this strapping hunk of manhood I call a client. Do you see any bruises or abrasions on him? No. So it would seem that if there was a physical altercation, my boy got the better of it, don't you think?"
"That's proof of nothing."
"Trust me, Frank, you don't want to get into a proof argument with me. But either way, win or lose a fight, it's irrelevant. You're talking about finding motive, like that's innovative or helpful. You're new to the case, Frank, so let me help you here-Dan Mercer took nude pictures of my client's eight-year-old son. That's motive already. See? When a man sexually assaults your child, that would be motive to seek revenge upon him. Write that down. Experienced investigators need to know stuff like this."
Frank made a grumbling noise. "That's hardly the point."
"Unfortunately, Frank, that's exactly the point. You claim some big breakthrough with this blood test. You drag us down here in the middle of the night because you're so impressed by it. I'm telling you, your so-called evidence-and I'll skip the part about how I'll tear apart your crime scene guys and the chain of handling because Walker can play you the tape from our first tete-a-tete-means absolutely bubkes and can easily be explained away."
Hester looked over at Walker. "I don't mean to make bold threats, but are you really going to use this dumb-ass blood test to falsely arrest my client for murder?"
"Not for murder," Tremont said.
That made Hester pull back a bit. "No?"
"No. Not for murder. My thinking is, an accessory after the fact."
Hester turned to Ed Grayson. He shrugged. She looked back at Tremont. "Let's pretend I gasped and move straight on to what you mean by accessory after the fact."
"We searched Dan Mercer's motel room," Frank Tremont said. "We found this."
He slid an eight-by-ten photograph across to them. Hester looked at it-a pink iPhone. She showed it to Ed Grayson, her hand on his forearm as though warning him not to react. Hester said nothing. Grayson did the same. Hester understood certain basic tenets. There were times that called for attack and times that called for silence. She had a habit, big surprise, of leaning too much toward the attack-of talking too much. But they wanted a reaction here. Any reaction. She would not give them one. She would wait them out.
Another minute passed before Frank Tremont said, "That phone was found under Mercer's bed in his hotel room in Newark, not far from where we now sit."
Hester and Grayson stayed silent.
"It belongs to a missing girl named Haley McWaid."
Ed Grayson, retired federal marshal who should have known better, actually groaned. Hester turned to him. Grayson's face drained of color as though someone had opened a spigot and let out all the blood. Hester grabbed his arm again, squeezed, tried to bring him back.
Hester tried to buy some time. "You can't possibly think that my client-"
"You know what I think, Hester?" Frank Tremont interrupted. He was gaining confidence, his voice full of bluster. "I think your client killed Dan Mercer because Mercer was getting off for what he did to your client's son. That's what I think. I think your client decided to take the law into his own hands-and on one level, I can't blame him. If someone did that to my kid, yeah, sure, I'd go after him. Honest to God, I would. And then I'd hire the best lawyer I could because the truth is, the victim here is so unsympathetic-such a bucket of scum-that he could indeed get shot in front of the home crowd at a Giants game and no one would convict."
He glared at Hester. Hester folded her arms and waited.
"But that's the problem with taking the law into your own hands. You don't know where it will lead. So now-oh, and this is all hypothetically speaking, right?-your client killed the only man who may have told us what happened to a seventeen-year-old girl."
"Oh God," Grayson said. He dropped his face in his hands.
Hester said, "A moment with my client."
"Why?"
"Just get the hell out." Then, thinking better of it, she leaned into Grayson's ear and whispered, "Do you know something about this?"
Grayson leaned away and looked at her in horror. "Of course not."
Hester nodded. "Okay."
"Look, we don't think your client hurt Haley McWaid," Frank continued. "But we're pretty damn sure Dan Mercer did. So now we need to know everything we can to find Haley. Everything. Including where Mercer's body is. And we're running against the clock here. For all we know, Dan was holding her someplace secret. Haley could be tied up, scared, hurt, who knows? We're digging up his yard. We are asking neighbors, coworkers, friends, even his ex about places he liked to go. But the clock is ticking-and that girl may be alone, starving or trapped or worse."
"And," Hester said, "you think a corpse might tell you where she is?"
"It could, yes. He may have a clue on his body or in his pockets, something. Your client needs to tell us where Dan Mercer is."
Hester shook her head. "Do you really expect me to allow my client to incriminate himself?"
"I expect your client to do the right thing here."
"For all I know you're making this all up."
Frank Tremont stood. "What?"
"I've dealt with cops and their tricks before. Confess and we can save the girl."
He leaned down. "Take a close look at my face. Do you really think this is a ploy?"
"Could be."
Walker said, "It's not."
"And I'm supposed to take your word for it?"
Both Walker and Tremont just looked at her. They all knew-this was real. De Niro couldn't give this good a performance.
"Still," Hester said, "I won't let my client incriminate himself."
Tremont got up, his face red. "Is that how you feel, Ed?"
"Talk to me, not my client."
Frank ignored her. "You're a law enforcement officer." He leaned right into Ed Grayson's lowered face. "By killing Dan Mercer, you may be responsible for killing Haley McWaid."
"Back off," Hester said.
"You can live with yourself, Ed? With your conscience? If you think I'm going to waste time on legal maneuvers-"
"Wait," Hester said, her voice suddenly calm. "You're basing this connection simply on this phone?"
"What?"
"That's all you have? This phone in his hotel room?"
"What, you don't think that's enough?"
"That's not what I asked you, Frank. I asked, what else have you got?"
"Why do you care?"
"Just tell me."
Frank Tremont looked back at Walker. Walker nodded. "His ex-wife," Frank said. "Mercer used to visit her house. Apparently so did Haley McWaid."
"You think that's where Mercer met this girl?"
"We do."
Hester nodded. Then: "Let my client go now, please."
"You're joking, right?"
"Right now."
"Your client killed our only lead!"
"Wrong," Hester snapped. Her voice boomed through the room. "If what you're saying is true, Ed Grayson gave you your only lead."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"How did you bumbling idiots finally find this phone?"
No one answered.
"You searched Dan Mercer's room. Why? Because you thought that my client had murdered him. So without that, you'd have nothing. Three months of investigating and you had nothing. Until today. Until my client handed you your only clue."
Silence. But Hester wasn't done.
"And while we're on the subject, Frank, I know who you are. Essex County investigator Frank Tremont, who botched up that high-profile murder case a few years back. Washed-up has-been ridden out by his boss Loren Muse because of his lazy-ass incompetence, right? And here you are, on your last case, and what happens? Rather than redeem yourself and your pitiful career, you never bother to even look at a well-known pedophile who crossed paths with the victim in a fairly obvious way. How the hell did you miss that, Frank?"
Now it was Frank Tremont who was losing color in his face.
"And now, lazy cop that you are, you have the nerve to come raining down on my client as an accessory? You should be thanking him. All these months on the case and you found nothing. Now you're closer than you've ever been to finding this poor girl because of what you allege my client did."
Frank Tremont deflated right in front of them.
Hester nodded at Grayson. They both started to rise.
Walker said, "Where do you think you're going?"
"We're leaving."
Walker looked to Tremont to protest. Tremont was still reeling. Walker picked up the ball. "Like hell you are. Your client is under arrest."
"I want you to listen to me," Hester said. Her voice was softer now, almost apologetic in tone. "You're wasting your time."
"How do you figure?"
She looked him dead in the eye. "If we knew something that could help that girl, we would tell you."
Silence.
Walker tried for bravado, but it wasn't there anymore. "Why don't you let us decide what might help?"
"Yeah," Hester said, standing all the way up now, flicking a glance at Tremont, then back to Walker. "You've both done so much to inspire confidence so far. What you need to do is concentrate on finding that poor girl-not on prosecuting a man who may be the only hero in all this."
There was a knock on the door. A young cop opened it and leaned in. All eyes turned toward him. Walker said, "What's up, Stanton?"
"I found something on her phone. I think you're going to want to see this."