It was just after noon when Suzy left Peter’s office and headed with Pete for a meeting with Alex on the north shore. The traffic was dense and slow going through the city, but diminished noticeably as they approached the Causeway leading to the North Shore. Since they had removed the tollbooths on the south side of the bridge, it was a free ride across the expansive lake for all those going north.
Beside him, Suzy looked out of her window and fell into a preoccupied silence. Pete had said nothing during the long drive, so far. For him, the sky was a drab gray sheet of clouds and the wind was becoming increasingly aggressive as they neared the North Shore. It sheered off the sides of the car, skirling into the interior through invisible spaces between its doors and frame, blowing across the dashboard in chill currents, slowly bringing the heater into submission and admitting defeat to the draft. Nothing so far seemed to have gone right. First, the judge – then the bail bondsman; now this “rattletrap” had decided to get in on his bad side, too. It just wasn’t right for Suze to be so damn quiet, either, but neither could he blame her.
The minutes passed. For Pete, it seemed hours and when the silence seemed far too strained, she gave a small nod of her head as though to assure herself before clearing her throat. Her hazel eyes seemed to turn from introspection, first glancing to the floor, then forward as though studying the road ahead.
“He’s guilty as hell, Mr. Robeaux.” She blurted out suddenly, and before Pete could react, she whispered, “I thought you should know that.”
“I don’t want to hear this…”
“No.” she shot back. “You need to know this!” And again, before Peter could find his feet, she went on. “Jamie was headed for this. He told me he was leaving that life.”
“You don’t have to…!”
‘”He told me he was willing to give all that up, if I would marry him…”
“Let me finish, sir…I believe him.” She told him emphatically, the look in her eyes that of conviction.
“Then why…? Peter wondered aloud.
“Why would the feds choose to bust him now?” She said, completing his thought.
“All I know, Mr. Robeaux, is that Jamie had come to town to make final arrangements for our wedding, Fat Tuesday – Mardi Gras – and I was to meet him at the hotel. It seems to me that the feds would have caught wind of his plans.” She stopped, again hesitant before completing her thought.
“What if he was clean? Wouldn’t that mean…”
“That the evidence was planted?” Peter asked, knowingly - looking at her bemusedly.
He let the conversation dwell there and refocused his attention on the road ahead.
Planted evidence was certainly not a new defense and was certainly used frequently in many defense cases, but he tended not to believe in it as the defense of choice.
But somehow he found himself wanting to believe her.
As they arrived on the north shore, they moved through long unvaried stretches of woods. Then came filling stations and junk dealers, and more filling stations and junk dealers, few with any customers; the scenery rambled on with a kind of lowering, stagnant monotony that seemed endless and hypnotizing.
When what seemed like miles had passed, the repetitive sequence was finally interrupted as they came to Fountainbleu State Park. With its wooded campgrounds extending up towards Lake Pontchartrain on the south, the smooth gray cloudiness of the lake spread out as far as the eye could see. Wet and heavy with the morning dew, the carpet of the fallen leaves left over from last fall that covered the embankment bank seemed lasting and immovable; wholly resistant to the wind’s attempts to sweep them away.
When the two spotted the police cruiser, it was parked at the gravel shoulder of the road, about a car length behind the blue Ford sedan, its roof racks throwing off circus strobes of light.
Its two officers were scuffling with a third man outside the Ford.
One of the lawmen was fortyish, burly and wore a St. Tammany Parish deputy’s uniform. The other was perhaps twenty years younger and forty pounds leaner and wore a State of Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries uniform.
The civilian, a tall, dark-haired man in a tan cotton tee-shirt, beige multi pocket vest, jeans and hiking boots, was standing out on the road with his back pressed up against the driver’s door of the car. But it was the dark, sunken, yet defiant eyes that drew the attention of Suzy.
The warden was jammed halfway inside of the door, his head under the steering column, his body bent across the front seat, his backside sticking comically out of the car. His knees, unable to reach the black, littered pavement, struggled, yet were defeated in an effort to free him from his prison.
. The deputy had the driver’s collar bunched in his fist and was attempting to wrestle him away from the door. But the man was putting up a hard fight, shoving the deputy back with one hand, throwing punches at his face and neck with the other.
The cop had an open cut above his left eye. A pair of sunglasses lay on the blacktop near his feet, one lens missing out of the wire frame. He was shouting furiously in the driver’s face, but neither Pete nor Suzy could make out what he was saying through the closed windows of the Hummer.
“What in the world is going on up there?” she asked, peering out of her side of the windshield.
“I don’t know,” he said. “But you see that guy in the tee-shirt?’
She looked over at him, reading his face. “Pete, please don’t tell me,” she whispered.
Peter exhaled loudly again. “Alex Oliver,” he said.
She looked outside again, rolling down her window to try and hear what the shouting was about.
Unable to pry him away from the car, the thickset deputy had switched tactics and moved in on Alex, throwing his greater weight against him, pressing him to the car.
Standing his ground, Oliver caught him on the cheek with two quick overhand punches, then followed through with a right uppercut to the jaw. The deputy rocked back on his heels, breaking his hold, his hat sailing off his head to the ground, where it flipped over once and then landed beside the broken sunglasses.
“You crazy son of a bitch!” he shouted, spitting blood. “I’m telling you to move away from that door or you’re gonna be in deeper **** than you already are!”
Oliver stood there, looking at him, hands balled into fists. The warden he’d pinned in the door squirmed a little; Oliver kicked him in the back of the leg with his heel. A string of curses gushed from inside of the car.
Oliver seemed to pay no attention to them. Nor were any of the men yet paying attention to the Humvee that had eased to a halt some ten yards down the road.
“I’ve already explained how it has to work,” Oliver told the deputy. “I get to keep my product, and your boy Caronne, gets to pull his **** out of the car. Otherwise we can all stick around here from now until the Saints make the playoffs.”
The deputy wiped his mouth, glanced down at the red tinted salvia on his hand, and spat again. ”You got balls,” he said, glaring. “Giving me orders, expectin’ me to believe some concoction about---“
“The catch is legit Walker.”
“Says you. As Carrone tells it, you ‘n’ your dogs were way out past your zone.”
“We can talk about the dogs later. You and Caronne saw my license.”
“But I didn’t see where your boat was, or where you was divin', or where you come up, and besides, that’s all his area of responsibility.” Walker poked his chin out in the direction of the car.
“You let Caronne be, and leave us the crabs without anymore carrying on, maybe I let you slide for assaulting an officer.”
“Two officers! Don’t let the crazy puke forget about me, Walker!” Caronne shouted from inside of the car. His head was still wedged beneath the steering wheel.
“Don’t you dare let him…..”
Oliver kicked Caronne with the heel of his boot again and his sentence ended in a yelp of pain.
Walker released a heavy sigh.
“Two officers,” he said.
“Two crooked officers.” Alex injected.
Caronne frowned indignantly.
“That’s it, no more crap from you,” he said, dropping his hand to his holster and bring out his side arm - a 9mm Browning automatic; and would have, too – had not Oliver relieved him of the weapon during the struggle.