This posting features Chapter 33 of my ongoing action novel, The Day of the Gun.
“You know who I am,” the woman said as she waved a badge in front of the officers. Behind her, a cameraman seemed to be recording the confrontation. “You must have seen me on the evening news.”
“Ma’am,” the older Marshal said, calmly as he motioned to his partner, “I know who you are. Please turn off the camera. As I told you, no visitors are allowed.”
“What about him?” she said, pointing at Stacey.
Turning, the older Marshal frowned. “He’s an attorney.”
“Mr., uh, Mr. Harris’s attorney?”
The Marshal regarded her without comment.
To Stacey, she called, “sir, would you make a statement on behalf of your client?” To the cameraman, she muttered, “are you getting this, Bob?”
“Yes, Dana.” His was the voice of the perpetually henpecked.
The younger Marshal grabbed the camera and forced it down, where it slid from Bob’s hands and struck the floor with a loud thud.
The Channel 11 news director, Roger, was monitoring the scene on Dana’s earpiece. “What was that? Dana, what’s happening?”
“My God, what are you doing?” Dana Dotson was livid. “You’re interfering with the First Amendment here. We don’t need any Gestapo tactics. If that camera’s broken we’ll send you the bill!”
“Ma’am, please remain calm.”
Roger was furious as well. “Remain calm? Remain calm? Tell the bastard to shove it up his —”
Dana overrode her producer’s voice. “Officer, this will not stand!”
Stacey ducked back in the hospital room. “The media’s after you again.”
Steve smiled. “Is it Ms. Dotson — the reporter I spoke with in the cemetery?”
“One and the same. Quite the firebrand, that one.”
“She’s tenacious. I’ll give her that.”
Suddenly, the commotion grew louder. Another voice was raised against the reporter’s high-pitched, shrill siren. It caused Stacey to scramble back to the door.
“You will need to leave the premises, madam.”
“Sir, do you know who I am? I am Dana —”
“I am well aware of who you are, Ms. Dotson,” Robert Roderick Roth assured the intrepid reporter. “The entire world knows who you are. I would have to be a social hermit not to have seen you all over the airwaves today.”
“Then, sir, you will understand —”
The U.S. Attorney leaned in close. Although he had not laid a hand on her, he had violated her personal space. He was standing so close she could smell his aftershave and his slightly musky breath. She had the sense of being assaulted even if the facts suggested otherwise.
“You have quite enough damage for one day,” the obviously infuriated man said between gritted teeth. He spit the words at her as though he were hissing at an archenemy. “The question is not whether I know who you are. The question is whether you know who I am! I am the U.S. Attorney. I am investigating multiple homicides, and you are impeding my investigation.”
Everyone froze for a moment. Even the normally imperturbable Dana Dotson missed a beat. In the interim, Roth stood straight and spoke to the U.S. Marshals.
“Kindly escort Ms. Dodson and her associate from the floor,” he said with the air of a grand pronouncement. “If either resists, arrest them both.”
Roger screamed in Dana Dotson’s ear. “This is a free country. They can’t do that!”
The reporter refused to be intimidated. “On what charge?”
“Obstruction of justice, for openers.” Roth was already recovering his composure. He smoothed the wrinkles from his suit coat and smiled a serpent’s smile.
“Now, see here, sir.”
“Do I make myself clear?” Roth said to the older Marshal.
“As crystal, sir.”
The U.S. Attorney spun on his heels and marched toward the room. Behind him, Dana Dotson argued with the Marshals as she and Bob were pushed toward the elevators.
“I’ll have the station lawyers on the phone in 10 minutes. We’re gonna fight this, Dana,” Roger vowed from her earpiece.
“You must be Mr. Roth. Your reputation precedes you.” Gregg Stacey stood in the doorway with his arms crossed.
Roth stopped and looked at his rival with a discerning eye. He so conspicuously sized up the man that it was almost a caricature in a film noir version of life as a private eye. When he seemed to have taken a fair measure of the fellow, Roth smiled his sharpest, most ingratiating smile and extended his hand.
“I am, indeed, Robert Roth. And you must be Mr. Stacey.”
“Yes, I’m Gregg Stacey.” He, too, extended his hand.
“I have heard many comments on your work, Mr. Stacey.”
“And I know of yours as well.”
As the two adversaries exchanged greetings in the doorway of his hospital room, Steve Harris could not help but smile. It was like watching two scorpions in a bottle dance around each other as they appraised the likelihood of physical confrontation. The mutual handgrip was so tight it brought a grimace to each man’s face.
“So,” Roth said, turning, when they broke off the handshake. “You must be the famous Steven Harris, aka Kurt Martin.”
“With all due respect, Mr. Roth, I would appreciate it if you would address your questions to my client through me. In any event, I don’t think he’s up for much at the moment.”
Roth ignored the comment and briskly walked to a chair in the corner. Hoisting it from the floor, he moved to the bed and placed it next to Steve.
“Do you mind?” he asked with a sweep of his hand.
Steve and his lawyer exchanged glances. Momentarily stunned by Roth’s bold action, they both shrugged.
“Thank you.” The U.S. Attorney slipped into the chair and sat forward so that his elbows rested on his knees. “There are two ways we can play this thing, gentlemen. We can do this big lawyer thing where Mr. Stacey and I dance around making threats and filing motions in court. The matter could take months — hell, years — to resolve. For most criminal defendants, it’s a great strategy. Any time delays mean the client stays out of jail on bail — am I right, Mr. Stacey?”
It was a rhetorical question, so Stacey felt no need to respond.
“Thing is, I need answers now. I need resolution now.” He rubbed his brow, and for a flickering instant he showed the men his weariness. Being the U.S. Attorney took its toll on a man. “I am sure that I have something you want as well.”
Sensing that he must say something, Stacey spoke up. “So what’s on the table?”
Roth regarded him for a moment as if he were reassessing the man’s character. Nodding, he smiled. “I see you’re a man after my own heart, Mr. Stacey. Direct and to the point.” He cleared his throat and sat up in the chair. “What would you say if I offered your client an opportunity to do no jail time — limited immunity — in exchange for his testimony and assistance in resolving this matter? That’s a generous offer under the circumstances.”
“What do you mean by ‘resolving the matter’?”
“Ah, yes. The devil is all in the details. Isn’t that the saying?”
Stacey nodded. “That’s the saying.”
“Yes, well. We believe that recent events can be traced back to one Anthony Marciano.” He leaned over Steve’s bed. “I believe you two are intimately acquainted.”
“The deal, Mr. Roth? What about my client’s deal?”
“Yes, yes. Quite right.” Roth spoke to the attorney, but his eyes never left Steve’s face. “The deal is that we need incontrovertible proof of Mr. Marciano’s involvement, and we don’t have that right now. Perhaps your client can assist us. What do you say to that?”
“I’d say: We’re listening.”
Roth crossed his legs. “I thought that might get your attention.” He pointed at the hospital bed. “We have pieced together most of what happened, but I’ll need a full accounting, as you no doubt understand.”
Stacey nodded. To his client, he said, “they’ll want you to provide a running narrative — fairly detailed — about what happened: Who, what, where, when, and why. A signed statement under oath.”
Roth nodded. “That’s right. We also want to know all about your prior involvement with Anthony Marciano.”
“That’s a matter of public record.”
Roth smiled. “There’s public record, and then there’s public record.”
Stacey stepped forward so the U.S. Attorney would look at him. “What’s the catch?”
“The catch is that we may need your client to assist us in drawing Mr. Marciano out from the shadows once we have the facts understood.”
“Bait. You want him to act as your bait.”
“Bait is such a harsh word, Mr. Stacey.”
“But it’s an accurate word, isn’t that right, Mr. Roth?”
The U.S. Attorney looked back at Steve. “You are already, uh, bait. We simply propose to use that fact to our advantage.”
“Now, hold on. I’m not sure I accept your premise.”
Steve had anticipated this request. Nodding, he lifted himself up on the elbow of his good arm and turned to face the U.S. Attorney. “No, Gregg. It’s all right. I know what Mr. Roth is saying.”
The U.S. Attorney leaned back in his chair. “Good. Good. I’m pleased that we understand each other so well.”
Steve sighed. “Okay, Mr. Roth. What do you want to know?”