Memory Man



  lobby manning the entrance. Decker didn’t know him and he didn’t know Decker.

  Good and good.

  He walked over to the information desk. The elderly woman sitting there was obviously not in uniform. She must be a civilian. Having a uniformed officer sitting at the front desk was not a smart deployment of resources.

  His cover story formed in his head, Decker looked down at her. She looked up at him. Her eyes widened, perhaps simply to take in the whole of him.

  “Can I help you?” she asked.

  “You have a prisoner in the holding cell, Sebastian Leopold?”

  She blinked in confusion. “I’m not sure what you—”

  “I’d like to talk to him.”

  “And who are—”

  “He needs counsel. I don’t think anyone has been appointed to rep him yet.”

  “I’m not sure—”

  “Sixth Amendment, right to counsel. Can’t be denied. Just need a few minutes with him.”

  “I’ll have to phone—”

  “If you have to you have to. But I know things are pretty hairy around here right now. So if you don’t get an answer, I just need a few minutes with him.”

  Decker lifted up his briefcase so she could see it and patted the side. “His arraignment is coming up. He’ll need to be prepped for the plea. I’ve got some ideas.”

  “If you could have a seat.”

  Decker looked around at the police officer manning the magnetometer. He was staring at Decker, which was not good.

  Realizing he might have just blown a bunch of money he didn’t have on lawyer-looking attire, Decker sat down in a chair bolted to the wall and waited. The old woman picked up her phone and slowly, ever so slowly, punched in numbers.

  Numbers. Always numbers.

  They had a hypnotic effect on him, sending him to places he didn’t always want to go.

  Decker closed his eyes and his mind began to whir, back…back to the day, no, to the exact moment when his life changed forever.

  Chapter

  8

  THE CROWD WENT berserk every time the hit was replayed on the megatron, and that was often, I was told later. My helmet flew five feet and rolled another six, ending at the feet of a zebra who picked it up and maybe checked inside to see if my head was still in there.

  I think my brain bounced against my skull multiple times like a bird trying to introduce itself to a window until its neck snaps.

  Yep, the crowd cheered and whooped whenever the megatron belched out the replay.

  Then I was told that they stopped cheering. Because I didn’t get up. Because I didn’t move a muscle. And then someone noticed I had stopped breathing and had also turned blue. They told me the head trainer was alternating pounding on my chest like a punch press attacking metal slabs and blowing air into my mouth. Later, they told me I died on the field twice but he brought me back both times from the hereafter. They told me he was screaming in my ear, “Hang on, ninety-five. Hang the hell on.” I was such a nobody that he knew my jersey number but not my name. My professional football player identity was a nine and a five printed on my chest. Nine and five. Violet and brown in my counting colors mind. I never consciously assigned colors to numbers. My brain did it for me without my permission.

  The collision changed everything about me, because it essentially rewired my brain. So I died, twice, and then came back, essentially as someone else. And for the longest time I thought that would be the most awful thing that would ever happen to me. And then came that night and those three bodies in neon blue, and the gridiron blindside dropped to a distant number two on the list of my personal devastations.

  * * *

  “Excuse me, sir? Sir?”

  Decker opened his eyes to see the woman staring down at him. Not the old lady from behind the desk. She was far younger, maybe in her late twenties, dressed in black slacks and a light blue blouse with the two top buttons undone. She had a fresh complexion and an optimistic, efficient air about her. She must be very new, he thought. She wouldn’t look this way in a year. Or maybe even in six months. Dealing with scumballs all day aged you faster than the sun.

  He eyed the lanyard ID riding on her hip.

  Sally Brimmer. Public Affairs. She must have come on after he left. His luck was running great right now.

  Lie perfectly, Amos. You can do this. You have to do this. Every word counts. Because there will be blowback on this. Every word…So hit it.

  He stood and held out his hand. “Yes, Ms. Brimmer?”

  They shook hands. Hers was swallowed by his and he hoped she didn’t interpret his sweaty palm as evidence of his deceit.

  She said, “I was told you wanted to meet with Sebastian Leopold?”

  “That’s right. I understand he needs legal counsel.”

  “And who do you understand that from?”

  Decker fought back the anxiety building in his chest, fast-framed through his mental DVR, formulated his response, and out came the words.

  “I have a contact at the News Leader, Alex Jamison. Heard of her?”

  “Yeah, I have. She’s good. She probably does know. And you’re a lawyer?”

  He showed her a business card with an office address on the other side of the city that was actually the address of a law firm.

  She stared down at this and then handed it back. “We’ve got an emergency going down,” she said.

  “I heard. Pete Rourke told me on the way in. Mansfield High School. His grandson goes there. I hope he’s okay.”

  “So you know Pete?”

  “We go way back, Ms. Brimmer.”

  She sighed and looked around. “I’m not really the one who should be making this decision.”

  “I could come back.” Before she could react to this offer he quickly added, “But Leopold has to be arraigned in forty-eight hours or else he gets released. I doubt anyone here wants that.”

  “No, no they don’t. It’s just that—”

  The right words flashed through Decker’s mind. It was like he was reading off a teleprompter. “And sending him to an arraignment without counsel or with ill-prepared counsel could create a legal snafu that could come back to bite the department in the ass, pardon the French. I know you don’t want that either. No law-abiding citizen would.”

  She started to nod halfway through his spiel.

  “You’ll only need a few minutes?”

  “All I’ll need,” he said.

  She hesitated and he could read the vacillation in her eyes.

  She wanted no part of this and was feeling boxed into making a decision.

  The farther he got into this lie the more anxiety he started to feel. He drew a long breath, pushing the bile back down his throat with the exhalation. “Just a few minutes,” he said. “Then I’ll be out of here. And he won’t be able to complain later.”

  Decker truly meant this last part.

  “You know what he’s accused of?” she asked.

  “Yes, I know it pretty well, actually. But regardless of these heinous acts, he is entitled to counsel. And if he’s found guilty they can lethal-inject him without one complaint from yours truly. That I promise.”

  The truth will surely set you free, Amos.

  Her vacillation finally broke, like water from a womb.

  “Okay, follow me.”

  And Amos Decker followed her.

  Chapter

  9

  THEY ROUNDED THE corner of the hall and there he was, a rat in a cage, at least to Decker’s thinking. But that wasn’t enough. He needed to be sure.

  Brimmer looked at Decker and then Leopold.

  “There he is. I can give you fifteen minutes, max.”

  “All I’ll need,” replied Decker.

  There was a jailer there, again a guy that Decker didn’t recognize. As a detective for ten years he hadn’t mixed that much with the uniforms.

  “Open it up, please,” said Brimmer to the jailer.

  Keys came out and the door slid back
and Decker walked into the cell and stared down at the man, who sat perched like a cat on the bunk bed.

  Brimmer said, “Fifteen minutes, okay?”

  Decker nodded but didn’t look at her. Her heels tap-tapped away. Decker waited until the jailer went back to his desk at the end of the corridor before moving forward and fully focusing on the prisoner.

  Sebastian Leopold wasn’t as big as he would have thought from Lancaster’s description.

  Or maybe I’ve just gotten a lot bigger.

  They’d put him in an orange prison jumpsuit. His hands and feet were manacled and the waist chain bolted to the wall. Which was a pity because if he tried to attack Decker, Decker could just kill him in self-defense.

  The head turned to Decker and he braced for some sort of recognition from Leopold. But none came. Strange, since he’d apparently dissed this guy so badly he’d taken his revenge in the slaughter of Decker’s family.

  The eyes were bloodshot, the pupils dilated. Decker figured the cops had given him a drug test, made him pee into a bottle, taken a cheek swab for DNA and breathalyzed him for booze. The jumpsuit had short sleeves, so the man’s forearms were revealed. There was a tattoo of twin dolphins on his right arm. That was interesting.

  There were also drug tracks. And they looked relatively new. He wondered if the man had taken a pop before waltzing in here and copping to three murders. You’d need some extra juice to do something like that, Decker thought.

  Part of one finger on his left hand was gone, cut off at the first section. There was a scar on his face. A busted nose that slid ten degrees to the left. Hands heavily callused and strong-looking. He had done manual labor.

  And are those the hands that took Molly from me?

  “Mr. Leopold?” he said.

  Leopold continued to look at him without really seeing anything. At least it seemed that way to Decker.

  Still no recognition. And with the cleanup and cutting of beard and hair, Decker looked closer to the cop he’d been seventeen months ago when he’d allegedly dissed Leopold at the 7-Eleven.

  He stared into the man’s face and turned on his DVR. Frame after frame raced through his mind, going back to the precise time period when he had supposedly run into the man. The date flashed up in his head so close that it seemed to be on the other side of his eyeballs. One month before the murders, that’s what Lancaster had said. Decker tacked on one week on either side of that date just to be sure.

  His DVR whirred and frames flew past by the hour, by the minute. Decker had been to that 7-Eleven three times during that period.

  Sebastian Leopold was simply not in there.

  Decker shut off his DVR and sat down in a chair built into the wall.

  “Mr. Leopold,” he said in a low voice. “Do you recognize me?”

  Leopold seemed to be listening but not actually hearing.

  “Do you recognize me?”

  Leopold gave a shake of the head.

  He moved his hands in odd ways in front of him. Decker observed the precise patterns the man was making.

  “You need an attorney,” said Decker, and he patted his briefcase.

  Leopold stopped moving his hands and nodded at this.

  Decker took out his pad and pen.

  “Can you tell me what happened that night?”

  “Why?”

  There was a sudden caginess in the voice that slightly surprised Decker. He had interviewed many prisoners, many accused. Many were dumb as dirt and had committed crimes for reasons stupider than they were. But some were a lot smarter than folks gave them credit for. And maybe Leopold was one of those.

  “You need a defense. You’ve confessed to three murders.”

  “I’m guilty. I done it.”

  “You still need legal representation.”

  “Why?”

  “It’s just how the legal system works. So I need to know the facts.”

  “They’re going to execute me.” The tone was of a child confessing his expected punishment. The cagey prisoner had transformed into a little boy. Decker wondered if it were the drugs doing this to him, making a pinball game out of his thought process.

  “Is that what you want?”

  “Not up to me.”

  “You’re right. It’s largely up to a judge and a jury. But you still have input. So, you want to tell me what happened?”

  Decker checked his watch. Four minutes had passed. And at any moment someone might walk by who knew him. He turned so that his back was to the cell door.

  “I killed them,” said Leopold simply. He was staring dead at Decker now, and Decker was looking for any hint of recognition in the other man’s eyes. If he saw it, what would he do? Strangle the man like he might have done to his daughter?

  Leopold started moving his hands again. He looked like a conductor leading an orchestra that didn’t exist. Decker watched for a few moments, then refocused.

  “And why did you do that?”

  “Dude pissed me off.”

  “What dude?”

  “The dude. Dude that lived there.”

  “How he’d piss you off?”

  “Just pissed me off.”

  “But how?”

  “Didn’t show me no respect.”

  “You worked there? You were a customer there? At the 7-Eleven on DeSalle?”

  Leopold ignored this and said, “Well, I got him, didn’t I?”

  “How’d you do that?”

  “Killed his family.”

  “No, I mean how did you know where he lived?”

  “Followed him.”

  “How?”

  Now there came a caution in the man’s eyes that Decker had not seen before.

  “I don’t need to tell you shit. You a cop? Trying to trick me?”

  “You confessed, Mr. Leopold. There’s nothing left to trick. Do you see that?”