This posting features Chapter 44 of my ongoing action novel, The Day of the Gun.
Gregg Stacey had worked as a criminal defense attorney for close to a quarter of a century. During that time, he had defended all manner of defendants — drug dealers, pimps, abusive husbands, rapists and, yes, even an occasional murderer. Some of his cases were high profile, and he found himself splashed all over the evening news and even on the cover of several lawyers’ magazines. He thought he had seen it all — until this. This was the biggest media circus/freak show he could imagine.
Minutes earlier, he had been oblivious. Things changed when his secretary, Denise, rushed into his office minutes earlier to tell him that the U.S. Attorney was on the telephone and, as she put it, “he’s pissed off in a big way.”
“Thanks, hon.” She wasn’t his “hon” yet, but Stacey was working on that.
With a sigh of longing, he picked up his office phone to hear the voice of the powerhouse attorney screaming.
“If you are hiding your client somewhere, I’ll have you up brought on charges of obstruction of justice so fast it will make your head spin. You’ll rue the day you countenanced a fraud on the court.”
“Hello to you, too, Mr. Roth.”
“You hear me? You’ll rue the day!”
“‘Rue’? C’mon, Roth. Who says ‘rue the day’ anymore?”
“I’m serious here, Stacey. Where is Harris? I demand to know.”
“Slow down, old man. Take a breath. You’re hysterical.”
“I am not hysterical. I simply want to know where your client is right now.”
“How should I know? He’s in your custody. The hospital, last I heard. What’s happened?”
Roth sighed. “You honestly don’t know? Have you been hiding in a closet all day?”
“I’ve been in a deposition, if you must know. Now, tell me what this is about.”
“Turn on your TV.”
Stacey reached for a remote control on his desk and pointed it to the big screen television in the corner. The screen blinked, came to life. It took less than a minute to piece together what had transpired.
“Stacey? Are you still there?”
“Lord have mercy. Yes, indeed.”
“So where is your client now?”
“What makes you think he would tell me?”
“He has to go somewhere. He’s desperate, and on the run. I naturally assumed he would contact you.”
“Well, Mr. Roth, you assumed incorrectly. Even if he had, I would not be at liberty to discuss the matter with you. Attorney-client privilege extends — ”
“Save it, counselor. I know the routine. I also know that harboring a fugitive and obstructing justice are serious offenses. I can move to vitiate privilege, as you know.”
Stacey raced through the problem in his mind. Steve’s face was already so famous thanks to the incident in the Parkwood Cemetery, he could not get far. Unanswered questions sped through his mind: How did he escape? Where is he now? Where would he go? Was Johnston his hostage again? Was Marciano behind this hit, too? So many questions — so few answers.
“He should be there in half an hour.”
Roth sounded impatient. “The Marshal I’m sending should be there in half an hour. If Harris tries to make contact in person, on the phone, or in any other media, I want to know at once.”
“Certainly. But why are you sending a Marshal?”
“Call it a precaution.”
“My, my, Roth. I’m hurt. Don’t you trust me?”
“I’m serious here. It’s better if we bring him in on his own accord.”
“I understand, and I agree.”
Roth ended the call satisfied that Harris had not yet contacted his attorney. Curiously, the U.S. Attorney did not mention Mac McLean’s death or Dave Tremblor’s disappearance. His natural inclination toward secrecy remained firmly in place.
Gregg Stacey collapsed into his office chair glued to his TV. Less than five minutes later, he answered his cell phone even as he wondered if Roth was not calling again to hurl a new set of threats. “This is Stacey.”
“Who? Steve? Oh, thank God.”
“No names, please. You don’t know who might be listening.”
On any other day, Stacey might dismiss such histrionic statements as paranoia. Not today.
“Where are you? The shooting’s all over the news. The place is crawling with FBI, ATF. Roth swears I know where you are. He’s threatening subpoenas, contempt of court — ”
“Let me interrupt you here. I need a favor.”
The lawyer paused. The way Steve said the words sounded ominous. “You need to turn yourself in,” he said at last. "You know that."
“Not before I know what’s going on.”
Running his hands through his hair, Stacey cleared his throat. “Look now, we know it was self-defense. Marciano’s probably behind it.” He depressed the button to turn off the television.
“Just listen, please.” In less than three minutes, the caller ran through a hastily devised plan for surrendering to the police — but only to the local police chief, Paul Hewson.
“Okay. Okay, you win. You’ve beat me down. What? Hold on.”
Stacey heard a commotion in his office lobby. Holding the cell phone against his chest, he called for Denise to see what was happening. She did not respond.
“I don't have an appointment, but it's urgent.” The gentleman standing in his doorway was a beefy, large fellow dressed in a blue suit. He jerked his thumb back toward the lobby. “I am so sorry to disturb you, but I didn’t see anyone at the reception desk.”
“Hold on a moment, sir. Let me finish this call.”
Stacey brought the phone back to his face. “Hey, I’ve got a client here and my secretary seems to be missing in action. Let me take care of this and I’ll meet you as planned.”
“Okay. Thanks. Be careful. Assume you’re being followed.”
He smiled. “I know the drill.”
The lawyer depressed the “off” button and turned to face the stranger. “Sorry about that. I don’t know what happened to Denise, my receptionist. I was speaking to another client.”
“Was the client Steve Harris?”
Stacey’s mouth dropped open. “What?”
“It’s a well-known fact that you’re his lawyer.”
“Maybe so, but I cannot divulge … who did you say you were again?”
“I didn’t,” the man replied as he reached into his inside coat pocket.
“Well, then, sir, I am afraid I am going to have to ask — ”
In an instant, before Gregg Stacey could react, the burly man lunged forward and inserted a stiletto blade through the lawyer's belly button. Pulling upward, he ripped the flesh clear to the solar plexus. Removing the knife, he wiped the blade on Stacey’s white Oxford cloth shirt a moment before the body collapsed to the floor.
“I know what happened to Denise. Sorry about her — she was a fox.”
Leaning down, Dave Tremblor picked up the cell phone from the spot where it had tumbled to the floor. He stood and flipped through the menu until he found “Calls Received.” From there, it was a simple matter to dial the number.
“Good morning, Econo Lodge. This is Sylvia. How may I direct your call?”
“Hi, Sylvia. Perhaps you can help me. A friend gave me this number, but he didn’t say where it was. You’re an Econo Lodge — as in a hotel? Spend a night, not a fortune?”
“Yes, sir, that’s us.”
“And where are you located?”
“It’s the Econo Lodge in Demopolis, Alabama, on Route 80.”
“Thank you so much, Sylvia. You’ve been a big help.”