CHAPTER 30

Lacey Delgato had thick calves, no waist and a nose that cast a long shadow-behind her back, cops called her ‘‘the Sun Dial.’’ She wore an unfashionably long black skirt zipped too tightly across her seat so that a labyrinth of intersecting folds and seams showed in an unsightly display. She had a voice like a squeeze toy, a trial attorney’s tendency to act out her words and an abrasive laugh that warned of her cynicism. Her one extravagance was Italian shoes. Her tall heels tapped out her quickened pace against the Justice Building’s marble corridor. ‘‘This individual has offered to sell the camera back to KSTV.’’

‘‘A digital camera?’’ LaMoia clarified. ‘‘You’re sure about that?’’ he asked the assistant prosecuting attorney.

‘‘I’m only repeating what was said to me,’’ Delgato replied. ‘‘It’s your case, Sergeant. You worry about what kind of camera it is.’’

‘‘Do we foresee any problems with our involvement in this?’’ he asked.

‘‘There are some issues need clearing up,’’ she informed him. He struggled to keep up with her. ‘‘Possession issues. If you monitor the drop for them as they’re asking you to do, then who gets the camera? Little things like that.’’

‘‘And our position on this is. .?’’ he asked.

‘‘Stolen evidence? You retain the confiscated property until such time it is no longer needed by us as evidence in a trial. No different than any other case.’’ She snapped her head in his direction, but never broke her stride. ‘‘Mind you, they have a slightly different interpretation. They’ll let us keep the camera, but they’re claiming that if there’s a tape in that camera then they retain the tape for themselves. Intellectual property laws are sticky. I’ve got to warn you up front about that.’’

SPD was under tremendous pressure to clear the container case. McNeal’s nightly broadcasts kept the story not only in front of the public, but on the political front burner as well. Election years were always the worst.

‘‘No mention of the missing woman? Just the camera? We’re clear that the ransom demanded is for the camera alone?’’

‘‘I’m just repeating what I was told,’’ she offered. ‘‘You heard the Asian community is going to march on the mayor’s office?’’

He said, ‘‘Thanks. I needed to be reminded.’’

‘‘They’re expecting a big crowd.’’

‘‘Only because the press will be there,’’ he said. ‘‘Take away the cameras, ten people show up.’’

She looked at him strangely, still at a near run. ‘‘You busy for dinner?’’

‘‘What dinner?’’ he asked. ‘‘I haven’t had dinner in three days. I slept an hour and a half last night.’’

‘‘We could skip dinner, I suppose.’’

The corridor’s long wooden benches were occupied by attorneys, witnesses, detectives and distraught family members. For LaMoia, it was not so much a courthouse as a processing center, the law reduced to a series of appearances, negotiations and compromises. As a cop, he couldn’t think about it without growing discouraged or even depressed. He didn’t see Delgato as a woman, only as an attorney. He didn’t know how to break it to her.

‘‘I called Robbery figuring they would watch the drop,’’ Delgato explained. ‘‘The minute I mentioned KSTV they put me on to you. They said anything to do with the television station went to you. . I told them I only wanted to do this once. I’m saying the same thing to you.’’ She was clearly angry with him for not picking up on her passes. She wasn’t going to take a third swing at the ball. She knocked on the door to a jury room and led him into where police and lawyer work ended and justice began.

Despite hundreds of court appearances, LaMoia had rarely been inside a deliberation room. It smelled of pine disinfectant. The long oval table’s edge had been victim to jurors nervously doodling. He could almost hear the deliberations-angry voices ringing off the walls. Among the ballpoint graffiti he noticed a hangman’s noose. He sat down into one of the chairs and ran his fingernail around the cartoon character’s neck. He said, ‘‘Do we know this information is good?’’

‘‘The station engraves its initials on its gear. The caller described that correctly.’’

‘‘The ransom?’’

‘‘He started at three thousand. The station settled at one-the amount of the deductible on their policy.’’

‘‘And he went for it?’’

‘‘Apparently.’’

‘‘That’s not a junkie, that’s a businessman.’’

‘‘A junkie would have hocked it,’’ she said.

‘‘Which may be what happened,’’ LaMoia concurred. ‘‘Who knows where this bozo got it from?’’

‘‘He demanded that anchor, Stevie McNeal, take the drop.’’

‘‘No way!’’

‘‘Wants a face he can recognize.’’

‘‘Can’t do it.’’

‘‘Nonnegotiable. The station already accepted the condition. That’s why they came to us. Their security firm wanted us aware of it, and you on board.’’

‘‘Prime Time Live? I don’t think so!’’

‘‘It’s nonnegotiable,’’ she repeated. ‘‘You’re there to protect and serve.’’ She continued, ‘‘It gets worse.’’

‘‘Not possible,’’ he said.

‘‘They claim anything recovered is theirs.’’

‘‘You’ve got to be kidding! They ask for our help retrieving stolen property and then make demands on us if we agree?’’

‘‘I don’t think that’s exactly how they would put it,’’ she said.

‘‘This is not an episode of Cops!’’

‘‘They haven’t shared the time and place of the drop. We could, if and when they move without us, file obstruction of justice, but to be honest with you, it would never reach court and we’d lose. The press is one slippery eel. You would never see that tape.’’

‘‘If there is a tape,’’ he muttered. Lives were decided in this room by grocery clerks, housewives and CEOs. He rarely struggled over his career choice, but that hangman’s noose carved into the table twisted his gut.

‘‘There are still some unanswered questions,’’ she agreed. ‘‘How much do you want to be involved?’’

‘‘If there’s something useful to us on that tape-if there even is a tape-I can’t have it broadcast to the world. There’s a woman missing. I have a life to protect-maybe hundreds of lives.’’

‘‘If there’s a tape in the camera, we can certainly take physical possession until trial. If they press for possession, they’re likely to win. It’s going to come down to timing. But the gloves-off attitude is you’ll get a look at anything that’s there.’’

‘‘Set up the drop,’’ he ordered.

‘‘It’s the right call,’’ she encouraged.

‘‘Then why don’t I feel better about it?’’

She walked out, seams and folds of fabric and skin in a shifting blur of whistling fabric. She stopped at the door. ‘‘I’m different when the lawyer hat comes off.’’ She spared him any reply by hurrying out the door. Her quickened footsteps reminded him of horses’ hooves.

LaMoia’s eye fell back to that hangman’s noose. The lines of the noose had been gone over repeatedly, the ink dark and saturated and leaving little doubt in his mind how the artist had voted.

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