By the time I reach the city jail, I’ve told the story of Sonny Cross’s death three times: first to sheriff’s deputies, then to sheriff’s detectives, and finally to Sheriff Byrd himself. Part of me wanted to hold back what Sonny told me about Kate visiting Cyrus, but I couldn’t in good conscience do that. All I could do was withhold my near certainty that Kate was buying those bottles of Lorcet for Ellen Elliott.
I also gave up the information Sonny tortured out of Marko, and that seemed to go a long way toward convincing Sheriff Byrd that Kate’s death might be more complex than a matter of a jealous older man. The fact that Cyrus had been tracking Kate’s GPS location through her cell phone was particularly convincing. Once Byrd and I were alone, I told him exactly how Sonny had extracted this information, and that this made it unusable in court. Nevertheless, I had a feeling that Marko Bakic was in for a long night.
Sheriff Byrd ordered roadblocks set up on all routes leaving the city, but his dragnet didn’t catch the black Lexus. Either the killers slipped out of town before the roadblocks were set up, or they were still hiding somewhere in the city, waiting for things to cool down. An army of deputies raided Cyrus’s known safe houses and rousted all their drug snitches, but nothing has produced results. Like the Asian killers he probably summoned here, Cyrus White has vanished.
Piled on the shock of watching Sonny die, the ordeal of being grilled for two hours exhausted me, and I was tempted to go home to bed. But I had to know one thing before I could sleep. Was I right about Kate’s errands to Cyrus?
Tonight the bench on the other side of the glass in the visiting cubicle is empty. Drew finally walks in and sits down, no guard visible behind him. His eyes have the empty look of a man in a fugue state.
”Sonny Cross is dead,“ I tell him.
Drew tilts his head to the left as if to say, ”What does that have to do with me?“
”He told me some things before he died. Like why Kate was visiting Cyrus White.“
Now he’s interested.
”Kate was buying Lorcet from him, Drew. A hundred pills at a time.“
Drew’s eyes close.
”Lorcet is hydrocodone, right? The drug Ellen is addicted to?“
He nods slowly, then hangs his head.
”Don’t make me drag it out of you, Drew. I need to know.“
He opens his eyes and lays his forearms on the little window ledge. ”I didn’t know she was getting it from Cyrus. I had no idea.“
I’m stunned by the amount of anger that erupts from within me. ”What did you know, man? Why was Kate buying the drugs at all?“
Drew’s right cheek twitches as though in response to an electric shock. ”I told you how bad Ellen’s addiction was. Four times through rehab, and still she couldn’t kick it. I’d prescribed the absolute limit to keep her out of withdrawal. The DEA was watching me all the time. A lot of doctors are hooked on Lorcet, so they monitor those prescriptions closely. Anyway, Ellen finally stole one of my pads and forged some prescriptions. She got away with it a couple of times, but then she got caught. If Win Simmons at Rite-Aid hadn’t called me instead of the police, she’d have been in deep trouble.“
”How did Kate come into it?“
”We were deeply involved by that time. She saw how upset I was the night of the prescription incident, so I told her what had happened. I was in pretty bad shape myself. I couldn’t concentrate at work. I was afraid to leave the house for fear of what Ellen might do. She refused to go back into rehab. She was drinking heavily to mask the withdrawal, and that made her violent. Then, in the middle of this nightmare, Kate showed up one night with a bottle of Lorcet Plus. One hundred ten-milligram pills in a pharmacist’s bottle.“ Drew shakes his head as though in awe. ”It was like salvation. I asked where she got them, and she just said, ‘From a friend. Don’t worry about it.’ Of course Iwas worried, but Kate wouldn’t tell me any more. She said it was no big deal to get Lorcet, half the town was popping them. She needed five hundred dollars to cover the cost, but she said she could get whatever I needed, whenever I needed it, no risk at all. I know how terrible this sounds, but…it made life bearable at last. I had the DEA off my back, and Kate was happy that I could relax and pay attention to her.“
”Yeah, it was perfect,“ I say bitterly. ”Except that Kate was risking her freedom every time she made a pickup for you. Jesus, Drew. Do you realize how sleazy this is?“
He bows his head again.
”I can understand you falling in love with Kate, okay? She was a beautiful girl, full of promise, a lot like you when you were eighteen. And I understand the temptation to consummate those feelings. It takes serious effort for me not to just sit and stare at Mia sometimes. But this is different. You risked that girl’s future to make life a little easier on yourself. That’s low, man. That sucks. “
”I know it.“
”Is that all you have to say?“
He turns up his palms. ”What can I say? Do you think words really matter at this point?“
He’s right about that. ”You realize that Cyrus may have killed Kate?“
He nods almost imperceptibly.
”And that Cyrus would never have gotten within a mile of her if-“
”I’ve already gone farther down that road than you ever will,“ Drew says softly. ”The irony is that if Cyrus did kill her, that will free me from jail. But it can’t free me from my own judgment-or yours-or worst of all, my son’s. And whether you believe it or not, those judgments will be harder for me to bear than a life sentence in Parchman prison. If I caused Kate’s death, I will live in hell until the day I die.“
I study him without speaking. I’ve heard many people say this kind of thing over the years. And they do suffer-usually for a month or two. Then they thank the stars for their freedom and happily go back to their old ways. I don’t think Drew is like those people. He is quite capable of torturing himself for years. But that doesn’t make what he did any less reprehensible.
”If Cyrus killed her, that may free you on the murder charge,“ I tell him. ”But you still may do thirty years for sexual battery. And if a jury ever finds out about this little drug arrangement, you can count on it.“
His eyes lock onto mine. ”Did you tell anyone about it?“
I wait before answering, watching him for signs of self-concern. ”Not yet.“
He doesn’t react. He doesn’t even thank me. He seems resigned to whatever fate awaits him.
There’s a soft knock at the door behind me, and then someone pulls it open. Looking back, I see Chief Logan gazing down at me, his dark eyes sober.
”I need to see you a minute, Penn.“
Drew glances up at him. ”Hey, Don.“
Logan doesn’t even look in Drew’s direction. The days of special treatment for the police chief’s doctor are over.
I get up and follow Logan to his office. He sits behind his desk, puts his face in his hands, and rubs his temples with his thumbs.
”What’s happened?“ I ask. ”Have you found Cyrus?“
”No.“ He looks up. ”But somebody did.“
”What do you mean?“
”Cyrus has been hiding in a safe house downtown. North Union Street. Fifty minutes ago, a car pulled up to it, and a guy wearing black from head to toe got out holding two pistols. One was silenced. He shot the two guards on the porch, but nobody heard him. One of those guys is still alive, but they already shipped him to University Hospital in Jackson with a severe head wound. He’s unlikely to make it.“
My stomach has gone hollow. As Chief Logan speaks, I flash back to my years as an assistant district attorney in Houston. This kind of thing happened all the time there. But here, in my hometown? A placid little city that wouldn’t even be called a city anywhere but Mississippi? This kind of crime is as alien as a terrorist attack.
”After the gunman took out Cyrus’s guards,“ Logan goes on, ”he walked calmly through the house, shooting people as he went. Cyrus was in a back bedroom with a girl. With that silencer, I doubt he heard anything but grunts and muffled cries. Maybe a scream. When Cyrus walked out, the shooter nailed him five times with the second pistol. Then the shooter dropped both guns and walked out like he didn’t have a care in the world. He even left the car out front.“
”Was it a Lexus?“
”My first thought,“ says Logan. ”But no, it was a Camry with Adams County plates. It was stolen a few minutes before the crime.“
”This was obviously a professional hit.“
Logan nods. ”Just like Sonny Cross.“
”Anybody say the shooter was Asian?“
”He wore his mask the whole time, and he never said a word.“
”The guy who shot Sonny wasn’t wearing a mask.“
”I know.“ Logan takes a pen from a mug that reads TALLADEGA! and starts tapping it on his desktop. ”The total body count from this little encounter is five wounded and three dead. Probably four by morning.“
I shake my head, not quite able to accept that my strongest alternative suspect in Kate Townsend’s murder is dead. ”Did you learn anything about Kate’s murder from the survivors?“
”My detectives are still over at the hospital questioning them. But so far, all we’ve got is computer matches on the shooter’s handguns.“
Logan nods, his face unreadable. ”The silenced one was stolen from a residence in Biloxi a few months ago.“
Biloxi…gambling capital of the Gulf Coast. Also the base of the Asian drug gangs.”Well, that sure tells us something.“
The chief is watching me closely. ”The other handgun was bought and registered right here in Natchez, two years ago.“
A chill of anxiety runs along my skin. ”Who bought it?“
”Drew Elliott. And it’s never been reported lost or stolen.“
I feel as though my body mass has doubled. Breathing is difficult, and the idea of moving seems impossible. ”Drew’s been in jail all night. Right?“
Logan sighs. ”As best I can determine, yes. But I wasn’t here myself. And there’s no closed-circuit camera in his cell.“
Again I remember the escapes I’ve read about in the Examiner. For some reason, inmates at the city jail are allowed to exercise in a fenced area behind the station, and more than a few have disappeared from this flimsy enclosure. ”He couldn’t have gotten out for like forty minutes and then come back, could he?“
”I don’t think so, Penn. But I can’t be certain.“
Logan looks up at me, his eyes filled with regret. ”That’s not really my main concern, to be honest. I’m more worried that Drew used his cell phone to hire this done.“
I struggle not to let Logan see how much this possibility worries me. ”Who could Drew call that could have found Cyrus? Both you and Sheriff Byrd have guys working around the clock, and they couldn’t find him. How could Drew?“
”Granted,“ says Logan, but he still looks unconvinced.
”The theory that Drew slipped out and did the shooting himself has the same flaw,“ I point out. ”How would he know where to find Cyrus?“
”You told me Kate Townsend visited Cyrus regularly.“
”But only at Brightside Manor.“
Logan raises his eyebrows. ”Are you sure?“
I’m not sure.”Don, let’s be realistic. This had to be the Asian crew that popped Sonny Cross.“
”I hope so. Because I gave Drew access to his cell phone when I shouldn’t have. And I sure regret that now.“
”This was some kind of drug hit. It had to be.“
”Like I said, I hope so. But you’ve got one more problem.“
”We recovered another pistol at the scene. You’ll be interested in that one, too.“
”It’s a Springfield XD-9. And it’s registered to you.“
It takes all my composure to keep my mouth from falling open. ”I can explain that, Don.“
Logan nods, but he looks far less confident in me than he has for the past couple of days. ”I hope so, Penn. Because this looks bad. Really bad.“
”I lost it the other night, chasing a guy who tried to blackmail Drew. Two guys, actually.“
Logan shakes his head, clearly furious that I’ve been holding back information. ”Why didn’t you report it lost?“
”Because I lost the gun on hunting camp land. Dr. Felder’s camp, right behind St. Stephen’s. I knew if anybody found it, it would be a hunter from that club. I called Dr. Felder the next day and told him to warn his members to be on the lookout for it. I also told Coach Anders at St. Stephen’s to watch for it, just in case I lost it on the field. I searched the field and the track myself but found nothing. One of the blackmailers must have picked it up. That’s the only explanation.“
”Okay. I’ll call Dr. Felder tomorrow and try to verify that.“
Two days ago, Chief Logan wouldn’t have had to make such a call. My word would have been enough. ”I can’t believe this,“ I murmur.
”That Cyrus is dead. I needed him alive to save Drew. I needed a confession from that son of a bitch. I mean, DNA might prove that Cyrus had sex with Kate, but it can’t prove he killed her. It can’t even prove he raped her. And now we’ll never know what Cyrus knew about her last hours, if anything. Barring the discovery of an eyewitness who saw Cyrus kill Kate, Drew is going on trial for murder.“
The chief’s gaze is not without sympathy. ”Don’t give up hope yet.“
”Why not? Have you found a witness?“
Logan’s eyes shine with knowledge I can’t read. ”Cyrus was hit five times,“ he says. ”That’s what two witnesses told my detectives. But when my patrolmen responded to the 911 call, they didn’t find his body.“
”There was nothing but some blood where the witnesses said he fell.“
I stare at Logan in disbelief. ”Do you think the wits lied to you? I mean…Christ, was Cyrus really shot at all? Could the whole thing have been staged to make us believe he’s dead?“
”This is real life, Penn. Forget that TV shit. The girl Cyrus was in bed with made the 911 call, and she’s not part of his crew. She’s a white girl from Morgantown. On the 911 tape you can hear a black guy screaming at the girl to hang up, then the phone goes dead. I doubt Cyrus’s guys would even have called 911. Anyway, the girl told us Cyrus was wearing a bulletproof vest. His homeys confirmed that he owns one. Kevlar with ceramic inserts.“
I’m trying to visualize the scene. ”Even if that’s true, why would Cyrus be wearing it in his bedroom?“
”Expecting a hit, maybe? Cyrus heard about Sonny and got scared?“
The prospect of Cyrus alive and breathing has me wired with excitement. ”Have you covered all the hospitals? Of course you have. I don’t know-“
”Penn,“ the chief cuts in.
”I’m going to interrogate Drew. Right now. I’m assuming you want to be present?“
Suddenly, and for the first time, I view Don Logan as a potential enemy. ”Don, Drew was in your custody while these shootings occurred. I think we’d better wait until-“
”I’m going in there,“ Logan says in a voice edged with steel. ”You can take it up with the Supreme Court later, but right now I’m going to do what I have to do. I’ve been more than fair with Drew, but he hasn’t reciprocated. And I’ve had enough of people getting hurt and killed in my town. Kids are dying, and Drew knows more than he’s saying. More than he’s saying to me, anyway.“
I hold up my hands in supplication. ”Let me call his attorney first. That’s all I ask.“
Logan looks at me like I’m crazy. ” You’rehis attorney. I just told you I’d let you be present.“
”I’m not Drew’s attorney, Don.“
”Who the hell is?“
Logan freezes in his chair. ”You’re kidding, right?“
I shake my head. ”You know who Avery is?“
”Yessir, I do.“ The chief stands and removes his gun belt. Every move communicates an attitude of defensiveness. ”And I’m not waiting around for that SOB to make a federal case out of this. As far as I’m concerned, you’re all the lawyer Dr. Elliott needs. The interrogation starts in one minute.“
He walks past me without meeting my eyes.
”Don, wait,“ I plead.