Read Reversible Errors Online

Authors: Scott Turow

Tags: #Psychological, #Legal, #Fiction

Reversible Errors (4 page)

BOOK: Reversible Errors
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"Gus was killed right here, behind the register, going for the phone from the looks of it. One shot to the left rear of the cranium. Based on a preliminary exam, Painless is saying three to six feet, which means the triggerman was right near the cash register. Armed robbery gone bad," Greer repeated. From his inside pocket, Harold removed a sleek silver pen and pointed out the blood, a large pool dried on the dirty linoleum and spatters on the green wall phone. Then he continued.

"Once our shooter takes down Gus, he has a serious problem because there are two customers in the restaurant. This is where we go from a felony-murder to brutal and heinous." The words were terms of art-'brutal and heinous' murders qualified, in this state, for capital punishment. "Instead of running for the door like your average punk, our guy decides to go after the witnesses. Ms. Remardi is killed right here, single shot through the abdomen."

Harold had stepped clown twenty feet to a booth opposite the front door in the original section of the restaurant. When Gus bought the place, long before he expanded into the adjoining storefronts, it must have had a medieval theme. Two rows of booths, composed of heavy dark planks lumpy from the layers of urethane, were joined at the center panel. At each corner, a square coat stand arose like a turret.

"Looks a lot like Ms. Remardi decided her best chance was to go for the gun. We have bruises on her arms and hands, one finger is broken. But that didn't work out for her. The fabric on her uniform around the wound is burned and the tissue is stippled, so the shot is point-blank. Judging from the exit wound, Painless is saying prelim that the bullet passed through her liver and her aorta, so she's dead in a few minutes."

The slug had been removed by the techs from the center panel. An uneven ring of dried blood showed up where the wood had shattered, exposing the raw pine underneath. That meant that Luisa had died sitting up. A coffee cup, with a bright half-moon of her lipstick, still rested on the table as well as an ashtray full of butts.

"If she's looking at an accomplice, it doesn't make much sense that she's fighting. So that's another reason we're figuring this was a one--

man show." Under the table, where Harold pointed, a dinner plate, streaked with steak sauce, had shattered in the struggle. An inch of beef fat lay amid the fragments of crockery, as well as half a pack of cigarettes and a disposable lighter.

"Mr. Judson was eating back in the corner by the window. Rafael cleaned up a plate, a glass, and a 7UP can from that table this morning. On the right side of Mr. Judson s suit there's a line of dust, suggesting he was probably under the table, maybe hiding from the gunfire. Maybe just hiding. But the shooter found him.

"Judging from the shoe prints in the blood and the drag pattern, and the distribution of the postmortem lividity on Gus's and Luisa's corpses, Mr. Judson was forced at gunpoint to haul both bodies into the freezer in the basement."

Harold led his detectives, like a grade-school class, past the counter, where Muriel still sat, and through a narrow door. The stairway was lit by a single bulb, beneath which the group clumped down the wooden steps. In the brick cellar, they found a significant encampment. Three wheeled stretchers were across the way awaiting the bodies, which had not yet been removed because they were frozen. The police pathologist, Painless Kumagai, had several tests and measurements to perform prior to allowing the corpses to thaw. As the group approached, Larry could hear Painless's sharp, accented voice issuing commands to his staff. Harold warned the cops behind him about the electrical cords bunched across the floor to light several halogen beacons Painless's team had set up in the freezer for photos.

Using the pen, Harold opened the food locker wider. Judson's body was right there, one leg in the doorway. Harold pointed out his shoes, both soles brown with blood. The tread patterns matched the prints in the trails upstairs. In their rubber gloves, Painless and his team were working on the far side of the freezer.

"After Mr. Judson had pulled the bodies into the food locker, he was bound with an electrical cord, gagged with a dish towel, and shot, execution style, in the back of the head." Harold's silver pen glided through the air like a missile indicating each point of interest. The force of the shot had driven Judson over on his side.

"And then, I guess to celebrate, our hero sodomized Ms. Remardi'
s b
ody." One of the pathologists moved aside, fully revealing Luisa Remardi s remains. Following the preliminary exam, they'd repositioned her as she'd been found, bent face-down over a stack of fifty-pound bags of frozen French fries. Above the waist, she was clad in Trans- National's rust-colored uniform. The exit wound in her back had made a neat little tear in the fabric, almost as if she'd merely snagged the vest, and the halo of blood Larry had seen vaguely imprinted on the side of the booth upstairs was enlarged there, darkening the fabric like a tie-dye. Her matching skirt and her red panties had been jacked down to her ankles and, beneath the starched tails of her white blouse, the melonish rounds of her buttocks were hiked in the air, penetrated by the dark ellipsis of her anal sphincter, which had been distended at the time of death. Somebody had worked her over down there -there was redness, meaning, if Harold was correct, this had occurred right after her death, while a vital reaction was still possible.

"Rape kit is negative, but you find the top of a condom wrapper here in her drawers, and what appears to be a lubricant track around the anus." At Greer's instruction, a younger pathologist directed a flashlight to illustrate the last point. The gel had failed to evaporate in the cold. Rapists these days worried about AIDS-and had heard of DNA. There was no accomplice, Larry thought. Not if that was the story. Necrophiliacs and backdoor boys didn't perform for an audience. Even creeps had shame.

Harold covered a few procedural orders, then headed upstairs. Larry remained in the freezer and asked Painless if he could look around.

"Don't touch," Painless told him. Painless had worked on the Force for two decades and knew to a moral certainty that the next cop was clumber than the one before.

Larry was the first to say he was a little witchy about the entire process of investigation, but he wasn't alone. Half the murder dicks he knew confessed, after a couple of whiskeys, to occasionally feeling the guiding presence of ghosts. He couldn't claim to understand it, but evil on this scale seemed to set off some kind of cosmic discord. For whatever it was worth, he often started with an instant of solemn communion with the victims.

He stood over Gus for a minute. Not counting gangbangers, who were suspects one day and murdered the next, it was rare for Larry to be acquainted with a vie. He hadn't known Gus well, except for enjoying his wild immigrant routine and the omelettes, always on the house. But Gus had that gift, like a good teacher or priest-he could connect. You felt him.

I'm with you, compadre, Larry thought.

The gunshot had penetrated the occipital plane at the back of Gus's skull, blowing away tissue and bone. Positioned as he'd been found, Gus's face was laid out on a box of beef patties, his mouth open. Dead fish. They all looked like dead fish.

As always, at this moment, Larry was intensely aware of himself. This was his profession. Murder. Like everybody else, he thought about buying a new garden hose and the line on tomorrow's hockey match, and how he could get to both boys' soccer games. But at some point every day, he snuck into the mossy cave of murder, to the moist thrilling darkness of the idea.

He had nothing to apologize for. Murder was part of the human condition. And society existed to restrain it. To Larry, the only more important job than his was a mother's. Read some anthropology, he always told civilians who asked. All those skeletons unearthed with the stone ax still right in the hole? You think this just started? Everyone had murder in him. Larry had killed. In Nam. God knows who he'd shot blowing off his M16 in the darkness. The truth was he knew the dead on his own side far better. But one day, during his brief time on patrol, he'd tossed a grenade down a tunnel and watched the ground give way and the bodies come flying up in a fountain of dirt and blood. The first man was launched in pieces, a trunk with one arm, the legs airborne alone. But the other two men exploded from the earth intact. Larry still recalled them flying through the air, one screaming, the other who was probably out cold, with this expression that you could only call profound. So this is it, the guy was thinking- he might as well have held up a sign. Larry still saw that look all the time. He beheld it on Gus's face now, the largest thing in life - death-and it filled Larry on each occasion with the exacting, breathless emotion of one of those perfect realist paintings you'd see in a museum-Hopper or Wyeth. That thing: this is it.

That was the end for the victims, the instant of surrender. But few gave up willingly. With death so imminent and unexpected, every human was reduced to terror and desire-the desire to continue and the inexpressible anguish that she or he would not. No one, Larry believed, could die with dignity in these circumstances. Paul Judson, heaped by the doorway, surely hadn't. He was your vanilla suburbanite, a mild-looking guy, just starting to lose his blond hair, which was fine as corn silk. Probably the kind never to show much emotion. But he had now. On his knees, Larry could see salt tracks in the corner of his eyes. Paul had died, as Larry would, crying for his life.

Finally, Larry went to Luisa Remardi, who, as his responsibility, required the greatest attention. Her blood had stained the huge bags on which her body was heaped, but she'd died upstairs. Ripped apart by the bullet like a building in a bomb blast, the devastated arteries and organs had spurted out the blood which the stupid heart kept pumping. Luisa became sleepy first, and then as less and less oxygen reached her brain, hallucinations had begun, fearful ones probably, until her dreams bleached into fathomless light.

When the pathologists okayed it, he climbed over the levee of bags to see her face. Luisa was pretty, soft under the chin, but with lovely, high cheekbones. Bright highlights were streaked into her dark hair, and even though she worked the midnight shift, she'd applied lots of makeup, doing an elaborate job around her large brown eyes. At her throat, you could see the line where the blush and base stopped and her natural paleness took over. She was one of those Italian chicks - Larry had known plenty-spreading out as she reached her early thirties, but not ready to stop thinking of herself as hot stuff.

You're my girl now, Luisa. I'm gonna take care of you.

Upstairs, Larry went looking for Greer to see if he could pull Muriel into the case. On the way, he stopped at a table where an evidence tech, a kid named Brown, was inventorying the discarded contents from Luisa s purse, which had been spread on the floor near the door.

"Anything?" he asked.

"Address book." With his gloves, Brown turned the pages for Larry.

"Beautiful handwriting," Larry noted. The rest was the usual mess-house keys, receipts, mints. Under Luisa s checkbook cover, Brown pointed out two lubricated condoms in the same maroon wrapper as the one in her panties. What did that mean, Larry wondered, besides the fact that Luisa got around? Maybe the bad guy found these as he was looking in her handbag for her wallet and got turned on.

But they'd never reconstruct events exactly. Larry had learned that. The past was the past, always eluding the full grasp of memory or the best forensic techniques. And it didn't matter. The essential information had reached the present: Three people had died. Without dignity. In terror. And some cruel fuck had exulted in his power each time he pulled the trigger.

Standing by the spot where Luisa had been murdered, Larry closed his eyes to transmit one more time. He was certain that somewhere, probably not far away, a man had just experienced a painful twitch in his heart.

I'm coming for you, motherfucker, Larry told him.


may 4, 2001

The Former Judg
e g
illian sullivan, forty-seven, recently released from the Federal Prison Camp for Women at Alderson, West Virginia, sat with a cigarette in a small Center City coffee shop, awaiting Arthur Raven. On the phone, Raven, whom she had known for well more than a decade, had made a point to say he wished to see her for business. Like so many others, he apparently did not want her to think he would be offering consolation or support. She was reconsidering her decision to come, not for the first time, when she saw Arthur, charging through the glass doors of the restaurant vestibule with a briefcase bundled under his arm.

"Judge," he said, and offered his hand. It struck a false note instantly. Even before her disgrace, it had been unlikely he'd call her 'Judge' in private.

" 'Gillian' will do, Arthur."

"I'm sorry."
"It's awkward." She crushed out the cigarette, thinking only now that the smoke might bother him. Inside, no one ever complained about smoke. It remained a privilege.

In her time, Gillian had gone from prosecutor to judge and then to convicted criminal defendant. It was an extreme example, but even her wayward career reflected the nature of the criminal bar, which was much like a repertory theater company in which every attorney was apt to have a turn at each part. The prosecutor against whom you tried a case was on the bench the next time you saw her, and in private practice hustling your clients a decade after that. Rivalries and friendships were fortified or forgotten in the parade of years, while ever\T achievement or failure endured somewhere in the memory of the community.

BOOK: Reversible Errors
11.4Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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