Excerpt from In the Shadow of the Law by Kermit Roosevelt. Copyright © 2005 by Kermit Roosevelt. To be published in June, 2005 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.
September 23, 1999
Alanton, Virginia, 6:30 a.m.
Detective Ray Robideaux pulled his cruiser to the curb in front of a small clapboard house. Morning shadows hung long down the empty street. People in this neighborhood tended to sleep in, perhaps because few of them had much to get up early for. Through the quiet air Robideaux could hear the rumble of traffic from a highway overpass. Approaching the house, he flipped open the snap of his holster and glanced at his partner. Bill Campbell’s gun was already out, held low at his side. Robideaux tried the doorknob, which turned in his hand, and he knocked. The wood was soft under his knuckles and resounded hollowly. “Police,” he called. “We have a warrant to enter this building.” By his side Campbell counted seconds off in a whisper. At eight he nodded and Robideaux threw the door open.
The uncertain dawn spilled inside the house, revealing shabby furniture and the faint glow of a television. From the couch a man turned dull eyes on the officers. He wore a sleeveless T-shirt that looked like it had been slept in, and from a quick whiff, Robideaux guessed he’d made a start on the day’s drinking. Or, at this hour, that the night wasn’t quite over.
“Earl Harper?” he asked. The man grunted an affirmative. “Where’s your boy?”
“He ain’t here,” Harper answered. “What right you got to come bustin’ through my door?”
“We have a warrant for the arrest of your son,” Robideaux told him. “For the murder of Leslie Anne Clarke. It’ll go easier if you cooperate with us, now.” He looked up as a woman in a housecoat entered the room. “Mrs. Beth Harper?”
The woman ignored him. “Don’t you lie to the police, Earl,” she said. “You know what they’re here for.” Harper shook his head. He lifted a bottle from the floor and took a deliberate pull.
“Ma’am,” said Robideaux. “We need to ask your son some questions.”
Harper gave a guttural laugh that exploded into a phlegmy cough. “You can ask him all you want. I don’t think you’ll be getting many answers.” His wife’s face tightened. She drew the coat closer around her and, as Robideaux watched, jerked her head almost imperceptibly to the side. He followed her gesture down an unlit hall. The door yielded to his touch, and he entered, one hand on the butt of his pistol, squinting into the darkness.
The room was small and cluttered. As Robideaux’s eyes adjusted to the gloom, he could see clothes on the floor and clumps of dust that looked long undisturbed. Squalor and solitude, the parents of violence. Unidentified shapes slowly resolved themselves into tattered dolls and children’s toys, used and broken beyond repair. For a moment Robideaux wondered if he’d stumbled into the wrong room, but the figure in the bed bulked man-sized. The detective fumbled for a light, found the switch, and flicked it on. The figure sat up, blinking.
“Wayne Harper?” A slow puzzled nod. Robideaux pulled the cuffs from his belt and wrestled the man facedown, pulling his wrists behind his back.
“You hurtin’ me,” Wayne complained thickly.
“You are under arrest for the murder of Leslie Anne Clark,” Robideaux said. “You have the right to remain silent. If you give up that right, anything you say may be used against you. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford one, an attorney will be appointed to defend you at the state’s expense. Do you understand these rights as I have read them to you?”
“You hurtin’ me,” Wayne repeated. “What’d I do to you?”
Robideaux pulled him to a sitting position, let him sag against the wall. Wayne Harper was a big soft man, his cheeks sprouting the tawny stubble of early morning, his close-cropped hair thinning on top. His face was empty of expression, his eyes a pale, vacant blue. Robideaux felt a familiar disappointment. Eighteen years he’d been on the force, working his way up, making his share of arrests. Tracking down the predators. Just once he’d have liked to have them spit at him in defiance, cry out that they would never be taken alive. Or at least resist. Many times, at the end of an investigation, steeped in the crime, he’d hoped for a little resistance at the collar. But no. The drunks on the street resisted, unable to calculate consequences. But no. The drunks on the street resisted, unable to calculate consequences. But the ones he came for with a warrant had time to think it through, to act innocent and surprised. Too many cop shows.
“Do you understand these rights as I have read them to you?” Robideaux repeated.
Campbell stepped into the room, holstering his pistol. “That him, Ray?”
“Ugly son of a bitch, ain’t he? He ask for a lawyer?”
Ray shook his head. On the bed, Wayne Harper frowned, his lips moving. He looked toward the two officers. “A what?” he said.
Mayfield, Texas, 5:30 a.m.
Janette Guzman was getting blisters. The work boots she was wearing had been on sale, but they weren’t quite the right size, and they were men’s and they pinched her feet in some places and let them slide in others as she patrolled the perimeter of the Hubble factory. She hadn’t wanted to be a fencewalker in the first place. It was lonely work, with bad hours and occasional danger, but there weren’t a lot of opportunities for a girl with a GED and no job training. There were tech dollars in Austin, there was oil cash in Midland, but none of that was coming her way. At least not yet. Things might be different with a junior college degree or vocational schooling. But that took money, and money in Mayfield was mostly locked into the operations of Hubble Chemical. Which was why she was pacing the grounds of the main factory with a burning sensation growing on the outside of her right heel.
The factory was a gray concrete block, featureless but for infrequent windows. It was the tallest structure in Mayfield, save the water tower, but wide enough to look squat. In the daylight it seemed to have dropped from the sky, flattening on impact. Now it was just a dark bulk looming in Janette’s peripheral vision. Her flashlight’s beam played across the fence, up to the razor wire, down to the hard-baked dust. Some feet beyond, an incurious armadillo trundled by. She took a deep breath of the cold night air, looking up to the vastness of the spangled sky, then raised the radio to her lips. “West four,” she said. “All clear.” Then she bent down to pull on her sock, and that was how she missed the first shy flames showing through the factory windows. She saw what followed, though.
With a deep roar, a blast swelled up through the building. The windows burst in a glistening rain of glass, and thick black smoke followed. For a few moments Janette watched, stunned, as backlit figures struggled from the plant, turned strange pirouettes, dropped to the ground. “Marty,” she said into the radio. “Something’s happened. There’s been an explosion. There’s a fire.”
The reply crackled back. “What? Say again.”
“You’d better send someone. There’s a big fire. There are people running out of the plant.” She paused, watching the figures against the glow. Another explosion shook the building. “They’re dancing. I don’t know. They’re falling down. They’re sort of twitching.” She stumbled and realized that she had backed up into the fence, its chain links pressing against her body. The firelight dimmed, obscured by smoke, then reasserted itself. She turned and through the fence saw jackrabbits bounding away, the armadillo lumbering awkwardly, its scales a fading gleam. A thought flashed irrelevantly through her mind, a rhyme learned from a library book: Something wicked this way comes. “Marty, the gate’s locked.”
Janette tugged the handle. “This gate’s locked. I can’t get out.” The radio made no reply, and she let it fall to the ground, taking hold of the fence, pulling herself up. Her boots scraped uselessly against the metal, too large to find a foothold, and she gave a high cry of frustration as she dropped like a supplicant to her knees, fingers meshed with the unyielding wire. She caught her breath and looked back at the factory, watching the roiling smoke, black against the fire, blacker than the black sky. A chemical scent laced the air now, stinging her eyes, burning her throat. She fumbled for the radio. “Marty, this smoke is poisonous. I can’t . . . Tell . . . Oh, God, I don’t know . . . Tell . . .”
In a room across town Martin Jessup laid the silent radio on his desk and looked at it. Out the window he could see a garish glow, a lewd carnival