EW.com’s exclusive excerpt of John Grisham‘s The Associate continues today with Chapter 3. (Click here if you missed Chapter 1 or Chapter 2). Check back at EW.com next week to see chapter 4 of the legal thriller, which hits bookstores on Jan. 27.
It was an old Holiday Inn, built in the 1960s, when motels and fast-food chains raced to build along the highways and frontage roads. Kyle had passed it a hundred times and never seen it. Behind it was a pancake house, and next door was a large discount appliance store.
The parking lot was dark and one-third full when he backed the red Jeep into a space next to a minivan from Indiana. He turned off the lights but left the engine running and the heater on. A light snow was falling. Why couldn’t there be a blizzard, or a flood or earthquake, an invasion, anything to interrupt this awful scenario? Why, exactly, was he sleepwalking through their little plan?
In the past hour he’d thought of calling his father, but that conversation would take far too long. John McAvoy would provide sound legal advice, and quickly, but the backstory had many complications. He’d thought of calling Professor Bart Mallory, his adviser, his friend, his brilliant teacher of criminal procedure, a former judge who would know exactly what to do. But again, there were too many blanks to fill in and not enough time. He’d thought of calling two of his Beta brothers from Duquesne, but why bother? Any advice they might give would be as unsound as the strategies racing through his mind. No sense ruining their lives. And in the horror of the moment he’d thought of the various schemes he could use to disappear. A mad dash to the airport. A clandestine car ride to the bus station. A long jump off a tall bridge.
But they were watching, weren’t they? And probably listening, too, so all phone calls would be shared. Someone was watching at that very moment, he was certain. Perhaps in the minivan from Indiana there were a couple of goons with headsets and night-vision gear, getting their jollies as they monitored him and burned taxpayer money.
If the Valium was working, he couldn’t tell.
When the digital clock on the radio hit 9:58, he turned off the engine and stepped into the snow. He walked bravely across the asphalt, each step leaving footprints. Could this be his last moment of freedom? He’d read so many cases of criminal defendants freely walking into the police station for a few quick questions, only to be charged, handcuffed, jailed, railroaded by the system. He could still run, to somewhere.
When the glass doors slammed behind him, he paused for a second in the deserted lobby and thought he heard the clanging of cellblock iron at his back. He was hearing things, seeing things, imagining things. Apparently, the Valium had reversed itself and had him ready to jump out of his skin. He nodded at the decrepit clerk behind the front counter, but there was no audible response. As he rode the musty elevator to the second floor, he asked himself what kind of fool would voluntarily enter a motel room filled with cops and agents all hell-bent on accusing him of something that never happened? Why was he doing this?
He had never seen it. He did not know anyone who had seen it.
In the secret world of Beta there were rumors and denials and threats, but no one had even known for sure if the ”Elaine thing” had actually been recorded. The reality that it had, and that the evidence was now in the possession of the Pittsburgh police and the FBI, made him ponder the bridge scenario.
Wait a minute. I did nothing wrong. I did not touch that girl, not that night anyway.
No one touched her. At least that was the sworn and battle-tested version within the Beta fraternity. But what if the video proved otherwise? He would never know until he saw it.
The noxious smell of fresh paint hit him as he stepped into the hallway on the second floor. He stopped at room 222 and glanced at his watch to make sure he was not a minute too early. He knocked three times, then heard movement and muffled voices. The lock chain rattled, the door was jerked open, and Special Agent Nelson Edward Ginyard said, ”Glad you could make it.” Kyle stepped inside, leaving the old world behind. The new one was suddenly terrifying.
Ginyard had his jacket off, and strapped over his white shirt was a shoulder harness, with a fairly large black pistol in a black holster snug under his left arm. Agent Plant and the two others from Buster’s were staring, and all three were also coatless so that young Kyle could get the full measure of their arsenal. Identical nine-millimeter Berettas, with matching holsters and black leather harnesses. Seriously armed men, all with the same scowl as if they’d be more than happy to shoot the rapist.
”Good move,” Plant said, nodding now.
Actually, Kyle thought in the haze of the moment, coming here was a very stupid move.
Room 222 had been converted into a makeshift field office. The king-sized bed had been pushed into a corner. The curtains were tightly closed. Two folding tables had been hauled in and were covered with the evidence of busy work?files and thick envelopes and note pads. Three laptops were open and on, and in the one nearest the door Kyle caught a glimpse of himself, from his high school yearbook. Central York High School, class of 2001. Tacked to the bare wall behind the folding tables were eight-by-ten color photos of three of his Beta brothers. At the far end, almost to the curtains, was one of Elaine Keenan.
The room adjoined another, and the door between them was open. Agent No. 5 walked through it — same gun, same holster — and glared at Kyle. Five agents? Two rooms. A ton of paperwork. All this effort, all this work, all these men, just to nail me? Kyle felt light-headed as he observed the power of his government in action.
”Do you mind emptying your pockets?” Ginyard said as he offered a small cardboard box.
”You think I’m armed? You think I might pull out a knife and attack you guys?”
Agent No. 5 saw the humor and broke the ice with a good laugh. Kyle pulled out his key ring, jangled its collection for Ginyard to see, then put it back in his pocket.
”How about a pat down?” Plant said, already moving toward Kyle.
”Oh, sure,” he said, then raised his arms. ”All Yale students are heavily armed.”
Plant began a very soft and quick frisk. He finished just seconds after he started, then disappeared into the other room.
”Detective Wright is across the hall,” Ginyard said. Yet another room.
Kyle followed him out of the room, into the stuffy hallway, then waited as he tapped gently on the door to room 225. When it opened, Kyle entered alone.
Bennie Wright displayed no weaponry. He offered a quick handshake while spitting out, ”Detective Wright, Pittsburgh PD.”
A real pleasure, Kyle thought but said nothing. What am I doing here?
Wright was in his late forties, short, trim, bald with a few strands of black hair slicked back just above his ears. His eyes were also black and partially concealed behind a pair of tiny reading glasses perched halfway down his narrow nose. He closed the door behind Kyle, then waved at the appointed spot and said, ”Why don’t you have a seat?”
”What do you have in mind?” Kyle asked without moving.
Wright walked past the bed and stopped beside yet another folding table, this one with two cheap metal chairs facing each other. ”Let’s talk, Kyle,” he said pleasantly, and Kyle realized he had a slight accent. English was not his first language, though there was almost no trace of his native tongue. But it was odd. A man named Bennie Wright from Pittsburgh should not have a foreign accent.
There was a small video camera mounted on a tripod in one corner. Wires ran to the table, to a laptop with a twelve-inch screen. ”Please,” Wright said, waving at one chair as he settled himself into the other.
”I want all of this recorded,” Kyle said.
Wright glanced over his shoulder at the camera and said, ”No problem.”
Slowly, Kyle walked to the other chair and sat down. Wright was rolling up the sleeves of his white shirt. His necktie was already loose.
To Kyle’s right was the laptop with a blank screen. To his left a thick, unopened file. In the center of the table was a fresh legal pad, white, with a black pen on it, waiting. ”Turn on the camera,” Kyle said. Wright punched the laptop, and Kyle’s face appeared on the screen. He looked at himself and saw nothing but fear.
Wright went efficiently into the file, retrieving the necessary paperwork as if young Kyle here were simply applying for a student credit card. When the proper sheets were found, he placed them in the center and said, ”First, we need to cover your Miranda rights.”
”No,” Kyle said softly. ”First we need to see your badge and some identification.”
This irritated the detective, but only for a few seconds. Without a word, he fished out a brown leather wallet from a rear pocket, opened it, and said, ”Had this for twenty-two years now.”
Kyle examined the bronze badge, and it did indeed show signs of age. Benjamin J. Wright, Pittsburgh Police Department, officer number 6658. ”How about a driver’s license?”
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Excerpted from THE ASSOCIATE by John Grisham
Published by Doubleday
Reprinted by permission of the publisher
Copyright © 2009 by Belfry Holdings, Inc
THE ASSOCIATE is on sale January 27, 2009 wherever books are sold