Read The Associate Page 2

Chapter 2

  Buster's Deli was long and narrow with red vinyl booths along the wall to the right. To the left was a bar and a grill behind a counter, and a row of pinball machines. All manner of Yale memorabilia was tacked haphazardly on the walls. Kyle had eaten there a few times during his first year in law school, many months ago.

  The last two booths were properly secured by the federal government. Yet another trench coat stood at the last table, chatting with Plant and Ginyard, waiting. When Kyle made his slow approach, the agent glanced at him, then offered the standard smirk before sitting in the next booth. No. 4 was waiting there, sipping coffee. Plant and Ginyard had ordered sandwich platters with subs and fries and pickles, all of it untouched. The table was covered with food and cups of coffee. Plant climbed to his feet and moved around to the other side so that both agents could watch their victim. They were shoulder to shoulder, still in trench coats. Kyle slid into the booth.

  The lighting was old and bad; the back corner was dark. Pinball racket mixed with a loud game on ESPN from the bartender's flat screen.

  "It takes four?" Kyle asked, nodding over his shoulder at the booth behind him.

  "That's just what you can see," Ginyard said.

  "Would you like a sandwich?" Plant asked.

  "No. " An hour earlier he had been famished. Now his digestive system and his excretory system and his nervous system were on the verge of a meltdown. He was struggling to breathe normally as he desperately tried to appear unfazed. He removed a disposable pen and a note card, and with all the nerve he could summon, he said, "I'd like to see those badges again. "

  The responses were identical - disbelief, insulted, then oh-what-the-hell as they slowly reached into their pockets and extracted their most prized possessions. They laid them on the table, and Kyle selected Ginyard's first. He wrote down the full name - Nelson Edward Ginyard - then his agent number. He squeezed the pen hard and recorded the information carefully. His hand shook, but he thought it wasn't noticeable. He rubbed the brass emblem carefully, not sure what he was looking for but still taking his time. "Could I see a photo ID?" he asked.

  "What the hell?" Ginyard growled.

  "Photo ID, please. "

  "No. "

  "I'm not talking until I finish the preliminaries. Just show me your driver's license. I'll show you mine. "

  "We already have a copy of yours. "

  "Whatever. Let's have it. "

  Ginyard rolled his eyes as he reached for his back pocket. From a battered billfold he produced a Connecticut license with an ominous snapshot of himself. Kyle examined it and jotted down the birth date and license data. "That's worse than a passport photo," he said.

  "You wanna see my wife and kids?" Ginyard said as he removed a color photo and tossed it on the table.

  "No, thanks. Which office are you guys from?"

  "Hartford," Ginyard said. He nodded at the next booth and said, "They're from Pittsburgh. "

  "Nice. "

  Kyle then examined Plant's badge and driver's license, and when he had finished, he pulled out his cell phone and began pecking.

  "What are you doing?" Ginyard asked.

  "I'm going online to check you out. "

  "You think we're posted on some nice little FBI Web site?" Plant said with a flash of anger. Both found it humorous. Neither seemed concerned.

  "I know which site to check," Kyle said as he entered the address of a little-known federal directory.

  "You won't find us," Ginyard said.

  "This will take a minute. Where's that tape recorder?"

  Plant produced a slender digital recorder the size of an electric toothbrush and flipped it on.

  "Please give the date, time, and place," Kyle said with an air of confidence that surprised even him. "And please state that the interrogation has yet to begin and that no statements have been made before now.

  "Yes, sir. I love law students," Plant said.

  "You watch too much television," Ginyard said.

  "Go ahead. "

  Plant situated the recorder in the center of the table, a pastrami and cheddar on one side and a smoked tuna on the other. He aimed his words at it and announced the preliminaries. Kyle was watching his phone, and when the Web site appeared, he entered the name of Nelson Edward Ginyard. A few seconds passed, and to the surprise of no one Agent Ginyard was confirmed as a field agent, FBI, Hartford. "You wanna see it?" Kyle asked, holding up the tiny screen.

  "Congratulations," Ginyard shot back. "Are you satisfied now?"

  "No. I'd prefer not to be here. "

  "You can leave anytime you want," Plant said.

  "You asked for ten minutes. " Kyle glanced at his wristwatch.

  Both agents leaned forward, all four elbows in a row, the booth suddenly smaller. "You remember a guy named Bennie Wright, chief investigator, sex crimes, Pittsburgh PD?" Ginyard was talking, both were staring, watching every nervous twitch of Kyle's eyelids.

  "No. "

  "You didn't meet him five years ago during the investigation?"

  "I don't remember meeting a Bennie Wright. Could have, but I don't remember that name. It has been, after all, five years since the nonevent did not happen. "

  They absorbed this, mulled it over slowly while maintaining eye contact. It appeared to Kyle as if both wanted to say, "You're lying. "

  Instead, Ginyard said, "Well, Detective Wright is here in town, and he'd like to meet with you in about an hour. "

  "Another meeting?"

  "If you don't mind. It won't take long, and there's a good chance you can head off the indictment. "

  "Indictment for what, exactly?"

  "Rape. "

  "There was no rape. The Pittsburgh police made that decision five years ago. "

  "Well, it looks like the girl is back," Ginyard said. "She's put her life back together, gone through some extensive therapy, and, best of all, she's got herself a lawyer now. "

  Since Ginyard stopped without a question, there was no need for a response. Kyle couldn't help but sink an inch or two. He glanced over at the counter, at the empty stools. He glanced over at the flat-screen television.

  It was a college game, the stands full of screaming students, and he asked himself why he was sitting where he was sitting.

  Keep talking, he said to himself, but don't say anything.

  "Can I ask a question?" he asked.

  "Sure. "

  "If the indictment has been issued, how can it be stopped? Why are we talking?"

  "It's under seal, by court order," Ginyard said. "According to Detective Wright, the prosecutor has a deal for you, one that the victim's lawyer cooked up, one that will allow you to walk away from this mess. You play ball, and the indictment against you will never see the light of day. "

  "I'm still confused. Maybe I should call my father. "

  "That's up to you, but if you're smart, you'll wait until you chat with Detective Wright. "

  "You guys didn't advise me of my Miranda rights. "

  "This is not an interrogation," Plant finally said. "It's not an investigation. " Then he reached into the smoked-tuna basket and pulled out a greasy fry.

  "What the hell is it?"

  "A meeting. "

  Ginyard cleared his throat, leaned back a few inches, and proceeded. "It's a state crime, Kyle, we all know that. Normally we wouldn't be involved, but since you're here in Connecticut and the indictment is in Pennsylvania, the boys in Pittsburgh asked us to help arrange the next meeting. After that, we'll step aside. "

  "I'm still confused. "

  "Come on. Bright legal mind like you. Surely you're not that thick. "

  There was a long pause as all three considered the next move. Plant chomped on his second fry, but his eyes never left Kyle.

  Ginyard took a sip of coffee, frowned at the taste, and continued staring. The pinball machines were silent. The deli was empty except for the four
FBI agents, a bartender absorbed in the game, and Kyle.

  Finally, Kyle leaned forward on his elbows, and with the recorder just inches away he said, "There was no rape, no crime. I did nothing wrong. "

  "Fine, talk to Wright. "

  "And where is he?"

  "At ten o'clock, he'll be at the Holiday Inn on Saw Mill Road, room 222. "

  "This is a bad idea. I need a lawyer. "

  "Maybe you do, maybe you don't," Ginyard said, leaning in so that their heads were a foot apart. "Look, I know you don't trust us, but please believe it when we say you should talk to Wright before you talk to anyone else. Hell, you can call a lawyer, or your father, at midnight. Or tomorrow. If you overreact now, the outcome could be a disaster. "

  "I'm leaving. Conversation over. Turn off the recorder. "

  Neither made any move toward the recorder. Kyle looked at it, then leaned down and said, very clearly, "This is Kyle McAvoy. The time is 8:50 p. m. I have nothing else to say. I have made no statements, and I am leaving Buster's Deli right now. " He scooted off the bench and was almost out of the booth when Plant blurted, "He's got the video. "

  A horse kick to the groin could not have hit harder. Kyle clutched the red vinyl and looked as though he might faint. Slowly, he sat down again. Slowly, he reached for a plastic cup and took a long sip of water. His lips and tongue were parched, and the water did little to help.

  The video. A fraternity brother, one of the drunks at the little party, had allegedly recorded something with his cell phone. Supposedly, there were images of the girl, naked on a sofa, too drunk to move, and admiring her were three or four or five Beta brothers, all naked, too, or in the process of undressing. Kyle vaguely remembered the scene, but he'd never seen the video. It had been destroyed, according to Beta legend. The cops in Pittsburgh had searched but never found it. It was gone, forgotten, buried deep in the secrecy of Beta brotherhood.

  Plant and Ginyard were elbow to elbow again, all four eyes focused and unblinking.

  "What video?" Kyle managed to ask, but it was so lame and so unconvincing that he didn't believe himself.

  "The one you boys hid from the cops," Plant said, barely moving his lips. "The one that places you at the scene of the crime. The one that will destroy your life and send you away for twenty years. "

  Oh, that video.

  "I don't know what you're talking about," Kyle said, then drank some more water. Waves of nausea crashed through his stomach and head, and he thought about vomiting.

  "Oh, I think you do," Ginyard said.

  "Have you seen this video?" Kyle asked.

  Both nodded.

  "Then you know I didn't touch the girl. "

  "Maybe, maybe not. But you were there," Ginyard said. "You were an accessory. "

  To keep from throwing up, Kyle closed his eyes and began rubbing his temples. The girl was a wild little thing who'd spent more time in the Beta house than in her dorm room. A groupie, a dinger, a party animal with an abundant supply of Daddy's cash. The brothers of Beta passed her around. When she cried rape, the brothers had instantly gone mute and solidified into an impenetrable wall of denial and innocence. The cops eventually gave up when she proved too unreliable with the details. No charges were filed. She later left Duquesne and mercifully disappeared. The great miracle of the ugly little episode was that it had been kept quiet. No additional lives were ruined.

  "The indictment names you and three others," Ginyard said.

  "There was no rape," Kyle said as he continued to rub his temples. "If she had sex, I promise you it was by consent. "

  "Not if she blacked out," Ginyard said.

  "We're not here to argue, Kyle," Plant said. "That's what lawyers are for. We're here to help cut a deal. If you'll cooperate, then this will all go away, at least your part of it. "

  "What kind of deal?"

  "Detective Wright will handle that. "

  Kyle slowly sat back and tapped his head on the red vinyl bench behind him. He wanted to plead, to beg, to explain that this wasn't fair, that he was about to graduate and pass the bar and start a career. His future held so much promise. His past was unblemished. Almost.

  But they already knew that, didn't they? He glanced at the tape recorder and decided to give them nothing. "All right, all right," he said. "I'll be there. "

  Ginyard leaned even closer and said, "You have one hour. If you make a phone call, we'll know it. If you try to run, we'll follow, okay? No funny stuff, Kyle. You're making the right decision here, I swear it. Just keep it up, and this will all go away. "

  "I don't believe you. "

  "You'll see. "

  Kyle left them there with their cold sandwiches and bitter coffee. He made it to his Jeep, then drove to his apartment three blocks from campus. He rummaged through his roommate's bathroom, found a Valium, then locked his bedroom door, turned off the light, and stretched out on the floor.