|Will Schwartz swear on the bible?|
“Where did you get that idea?” I asked as I sipped on my bourbon and water.
“Lupa hired that Dremel artist to stylize his GT,” she said referring to the lord of our manor, Lupa Schwartz. Mia worked with him in his basement garage. Well, it was more a subterranean classic car collection nearly an acre in area; but it was under his house, and it was accessed by a door in his hallway; so technically it was his basement. “I liked his style, so I asked him to design something for me.”
“No, that’s not what I meant,” I said. “I mean where did you get the idea for a saxophone? Trevor plays clarinet.” He played it beautifully too. He and several of his fellow police detectives and one of their wives were in a band called the Blues Whailers.
“That’s true,” Beverly said. Bev was Schwartz’s housekeeper/gardener/cook. She was the final member of our household. The three of us ladies lived and worked with the in-some-ways generous egomaniac detective-for-hire in his Squirrel Hill Victorian. Beverly seemed as if she had more to say, but instead she pulled at her Mai Tai which she had been nursing for close to half an hour.
“Clarinets are not aesthetically interesting visually,” Mia said. “Saxophones have that interesting arch and that bell shaped opening.”
“That’s true,” Beverly said, and she took another pull on her tropical potable.
Mia paused to stare at Beverly, waiting to see if she had anything more valuable to offer. Beverly simply raised her glass, and took another sip. “I suppose I could always get a G-clef,” she said. “Those are pretty.”
Beverly finished her swallow, and Mia and I said in unison with her, “That’s true.”
“What’s true?” Trevor asked as he stepped out onto the covered back porch with Schwartz and Schwartz’s most recent female companion, Taimi Shossling, close behind.
“It’s true that the G is the most aesthetically pleasing of the clefs,” Beverly said raising her glass in toast of the G-clef’s loftier splendor.
“I don’t know,” Trevor challenged. “The C-clef has a sort of rigid charm. It doesn’t flow like the G but it is more symmetrical. Why are we talking about clefs?”
“I’m thinking about starting a charm bracelet,” I interjected in an effort to present a credible counter story.
“You don’t wear jewelry, Ms Hoskin, and you’re not a musician,” Schwartz insisted.
“I didn’t say it was for me, I like music, and who asked you? Why are you guys here so early?” Schwartz and Taimi had left earlier for their regular Friday night date, and Trevor had begged off his date with Mia due to a problem with a case he’d been investigating. All three of them should have been away for several hours yet.
Schwartz sighed. “I came home because Taimi received a call on her cell phone from John Dachnewel saying that I was needed concerning an investigation and that I should return home. I knew there was a reason I don’t carry one of those things. As to Detective Johns, I have no idea why he’s here, but I assume it has to do with the same case.”
“It does,” Trevor said as he plopped himself heavily onto the veranda next to Mia who began absently playing with his collapsed blonde pompadour. “Mr. Dachnewel should be arriving shortly; we can discuss it when he arrives.”
“Fine,” Schwartz said. “In the meantime I believe I’ll enjoy a beer. May I get you something, my dear?” He was addressing Taimi, but Beverly had an empty glass so she responded.
“Yes, please. I’d like another Mai Tai.”
Dachnewel did, in fact, arrive shortly. We’d moved from the porch to the kitchen by this time, as the evening springtime air had begun to chill as a result of the rain we’d had over the preceding few days. We’d gathered around the breakfast counter on the central island as Dachnewel and Trevor filled us all in on the situation.
Trevor, it turns out, had been involved in the arrest of a West Virginia farmer who was accused of having stalked his local councilman who had come to Pittsburgh for a meeting with some oil company lobbyists. According to the charges, the farmer had followed the council member after his meeting, had driven him off the road into a ditch, and had then executed him by putting a bullet into his skull as he struggled to get out of his car.
The farmer was being detained in the Allegheny County jail as his trial proceeded, and he was cell-mated with a client of Dachnewel’s; a petty larcenist and sometimes stoolie who had called Dachnewel to try to barter information for time. Apparently, the farmer had been bragging that his lawyer was working on a technicality which would result in the judge being required to disallow key evidence against him. Should this happen, the trial would be rendered moot, as his exoneration would be all but certain. Trevor and Dachnewel wanted for Schwartz to either find the same evidence independently, or find new evidence which was just as strong.
“What was the evidence?” I asked.
“We can’t tell you that, Cattleya,” John Dachnewel said as he scratched at his full beard. “The whole point is for Mr. Schwartz to find the same evidence independently so that whatever technicality they use to get it thrown out won’t apply.”
“For example,” Trevor said, “if we were investigating a stabbing, and a cop beat up the accused to find the murder weapon, that would be inadmissible. However, if a second cop stumbled upon the weapon while exercising a search warrant that had been granted for reasons unrelated to the coerced confession, it would be admissible.”
“Did one of your cops get a little over zealous?” I asked.
“That was a for-instance,” Trevor said defensively. “But I can neither confirm nor deny the implication of your question.”
“I’m certain that’s not the issue,” Schwartz said. “Detective Johns is intelligent enough to fashion an example that’s as far from the actual situation as possible, and that’s what he would do in this case. Therefore, I would presume that it’s a safe assumption that the issue has naught to do with the weapon, wrongdoing by the police, nor is it evidence which could be gotten with a search warrant. Presumably that leaves motive, opportunity and means. The opportunity that has been assigned by the police is going to be common knowledge, and any investigation we would do would lead us to learn their charges basis, so it’s obviously not means either.” Schwartz leaned back in his chair and began to stroke at his chin just below his bottom lip. “That pretty much leaves motive, so our investigation will focus on that assumption.” He had pointed to me absently when he’d said the word “our.”
“Our investigation?” I said. “So I’m with you on this one?”
“Yes,” Schwartz said. “It may not develop into an interesting article for your magazine, but I may need somebody’s corroboration when I take the stand. You will be compensated for your time.”
He’d never offered to do that before. My role in the house was that I assisted him in his investigations in exchange for free room-and-board, and I got to write our adventures in article form for Gamut Magazine. Between cases, I bided my time editing other writers’ work for the magazine. If a case was too routine to result in an interesting article, I simply sat it out.
“You realize we’ll have to negotiate some kind of contract first,” I insisted.
“Mr. Dachnewel can handle that for us if you’d like,” Schwartz said.
“Seriously?” I said. “I was half joking.”
“Perhaps,” Schwartz said, “but you make a valid point.”
“Wow, you need me. How much will you pay me?” I asked twisting the knife. “How much of your fee will be mine? Thirty percent? Forty?”
“I’ll be receiving a fee as an expert witness. That fee is paid by the prosecution based on a set rate. If they call you as corroboration, they’ll pay you. I’ll also be working as an investigator for the county. I’ll share 25% of that with you.”
I looked to Dachnewel. “Is that fair?” I asked.
He nodded and said, “It’s very generous, actually.”
“Can you write it up tonight?” I asked. “I want him to sign it before he has a chance to reconsider. I don’t trust him.”
Beverly raised her glass. “That’s true,” she shouted.
The three men went into the study to hammer out the fine points. We four ladies remained in the kitchen imbibing and swapping stories. That’s not as sexist as it sounds. I was invited into the study, but declined. Schwartz could fill me in the next day.
“Should I be jealous?” Taimi asked as she sipped from her Long Island Iced Tea.
My glass hovered close to my mouth. My straw touched my teeth. My eyes darted around the room. “Jealous of what?” I asked.
“Should I be jealous that Lupa will be spending so much time alone with you?” Taimi asked playfully tilting her head.
Mia snorted derisively. I tilted my head like a curious dog and scrunched my brow. Was Mia suggesting that Taimi had no reason to be jealous? I glanced over at Taimi. If so, she may have had a point. Taimi was elegant in her pink and yellow summer frock with the light violet knit sweater on her shoulders; a wide white belt at her midriff that was complimented by her clutch and her three inch heels. Her plump lips and high cheeks mimicked the pink in her print outfit, while the dress’ yellow background flattered the natural tan on her legs, arms and décolletage. Her sandy-blonde hair fell in a gentle river to frame her expressive hooded eyes. Heck I was jealous of the time Schwartz spent with her, but not because I had feelings for Schwartz.
“She’s not interested in Schwartz,” Mia said explaining her snort. “They’re like brother-and-sister.”
“Do you not find him handsome?” Taimi asked dropping her eyes as she sipped at her drink.
I was confused. I pointed to my chin and made my eyes wide and puppy-like. Taimi nodded. “He’s alright,” I said.
“Describe him,” Taimi said. “Describe what you see physically when you look at him. Pretend I’ve never met him. What would you say to help me form a mental picture?”
I shrugged slightly and considered. “Okay,” I said, “Imagine if Harrison Ford and James Garner had a baby, and that lovechild was to mate with the lovechild of Alec Baldwin and Adam Sandler, and if with all that glorious genetics the resulting progeny somehow slightly favored Sandler; that would be Lupa Schwartz.”
“That doesn’t sound so terrible,” Taimi said.
“It isn’t terrible,” I said. “But I’m not attracted to him. You describe what you see.” I said. “That’s all that matters.”
Taimi tilted her head bashfully. “I’d say he’s more a cross between a young Sean Connery and a more mature Sean Connery.”
“You mean the same kind of mature handsome face of the older Connery with the character lines but with all his hair,” Mia said.
“The nose is all wrong,” I said.
“Sean Connery’s look isn’t about his nose,” Taimi said.
“Leave a bunch of women alone in a room, and the conversation always seems to drift to Sean Connery,” Schwartz said as the men re-entered the kitchen. “Have you ever noticed that?” Schwartz put his arm around Taimi’s waist and said, “Come on. I’ll take you home.” While Schwartz and Taimi said their goodnights and Mia left to escort Trevor to his car, Dachnewel placed a document in front of me and indicated where I should sign. I was officially employed by Lupa Schwartz for the first time in all the cases we’d worked together. My ersatz apprenticeship had come to an end.
Dachnewel said his goodnights, and soon Beverly and I were alone with each other and the dregs of our drink. “Wanna hear how I’d describe him?” Beverly asked.
“Who?” I said hopefully, “Sean Connery?”
“No, not Sean flippin’ Connery. Lupa!”
I raised one shoulder and meekly said, “Sure,” but that probably wasn’t the answer I really wanted to give.
Beverly downed her drink. She slammed the base of her glass to the counter and began, “Lupa Schwartz is both the smartest and the stupidest man in any room he finds himself. He’s unintentionally cruel even though he goes out of his way to be kind, and when he tries to be cruel he makes sure that there’s a kindness to it. He’s a misogynist wrapped in a feminist in a humanist cape. He’s gloriously vain but does nothing for vainglory. His epitaph will say ‘Here lies a man who loved everybody, was loved by all, and who never allowed himself to know real love.’ He’s just tall enough, he’s just masculine enough, and he’s just good-looking enough, but somebody needs to teach that man to dress.” She stopped, took in a deep breath and blew it out like she was trying to extinguish a birthday cake. “My drink is empty,” she said. “I’m going to bed. You’ll have to make your own breakfast in the morning.”
She got up and walked out of the room. I raised my glass. “That’s true,” I said.
Schwartz wanted to take his Delahaye, but on her way out to spend the day with relatives Mia convinced him that he might need something with better traction on the mountainous West Virginia roads. We ultimately found ourselves flying down I-79 in the early Saturday sunshine in Schwartz’s 1985 Ferrari Testarossa; twelve cylinders, twin overhead cams, fuel injection, rear-wheel drive, and a bunch of other specs that I have no idea what they meant, but I had to hear about it as Schwartz bragged about his “red-head.”
“Can we talk about the case?” I asked as we approached the state line, knowing that soon we’d be in the outskirts of Morgantown and our ultimate destination of Bugler Slew, West Virginia.
Schwartz told me what he knew. The case involved a farmer named George Bond who was accused of killing a Bugler Slew councilman named Ed Soigne over the councilman’s efforts to impose a ban on shale gas drilling within two miles of city limits. A few years back, it had been learned that much of the eastern US, the Appalachian region in particular, sat on a large shale deposit known as the Marcellus Formation; an untapped wealth of available natural gas which is extruded through a process known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking.
Fracking involved piercing deeply into the bedrock and then extending bore-holes in all directions which were injected with water and assorted chemicals under pressure to produce fissures in the shale to free-up the trapped methane, ethane and other gases. Consequently, fuel extraction companies had come to the Appalachian region in droves with large checkbooks and the promise of jobs and economic boon.
Many had welcomed their coming, but others were hesitant or even resistant. Some were dubious of the drillers’ promises of jobs. Nobody in the region was particularly well-trained in the nuances of the engineering involved, so they supposed that most of the jobs would go to outsiders from industry-savvy states such as Texas and Oklahoma.
Others doubted claims that fracking was safe. After all, it involved injecting fluids deep into the ground to create cracks in the deep rock formations which would allow access to the trapped gas. The process had been accused of everything from poisoning ground water to causing earthquakes. In fact, a few years prior, one of the largest earthquakes in eastern US history had an epicenter in Virginia near a community which had been fracking heavily for some time. That quake had been felt as far north as Lake Eerie and had resulted in damage to the Washington Monument. Parts of England had also disallowed fracking after industry engineers there had admitted that fracking may have been responsible for some seismic anomalies they had experienced.
All of these concerns had been enough to convince Ed Soigne that the benefits of fracking did not outweigh the risks, and he had convinced a few of his fellow council members to vote with him on the ban. The law allowed the council members to impose the ban to within an easement outside their official jurisdiction, and that easement included land owned by George Bond. This meant that he could not allow drilling on his property, and therefore represented a potential financial loss worth hundreds–of-thousands of dollars.
On the night he’d died, Ed Soigne had gone to Pittsburgh for a meeting with oil company executives who were trying to persuade the councilman to alter his position. The meeting had been publicized by Soigne who had written the local paper to promise his constituency that his will could not be swayed, so Bond would have known about the meeting.
Bond had a daughter who was a student at Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University, and he had chosen that night to come to Pittsburgh for a visit. His daughter and her dorm roommate verify that he had taken them to dinner, and that he had left for home at around 8 PM. The meeting with the oil lobby had also broken up around that time, so both Soigne and Bond would have been on the same path home at the same approximate time.
Both men would have left I-79 in Mt Pleasant, and when Soigne failed to return home, local police began a search on that path, finding Soigne with a bullet in his head, still strapped into his Ford Fiesta which had been run off-road into a ditch just on the northern side of the Mason-Dixon line.
“That’s pretty circumstantial,” I said.
“Yes, it is,” Schwartz agreed. “However, apparently the investigators were able to find something that allowed them to bring charges, and now we are tasked to either also discover that same factoid or something just as convincing.” Schwartz raised a finger. “I should note, however, that we will not be conducting our investigation as if it’s a foregone conclusion. Only religion begins with the conclusion and seeks evidence to support it. Should we find evidence which clears Mr. Bond, that too we are honor-bound to report. Even though it means we won’t be paid as well, or possibly not at all. Is that understood?”
“Of course it is,” I said. “I have no desire to be party to convicting an innocent man.”
“Very good,” Schwartz said. “It’s pretty down here. Let’s enjoy the drive.”
Schwartz by-passed the off-ramp in Mt. Pleasant and continued down the Interstate to the next exit. As we passed an area of highway which had been blasted out of a higher elevation, Schwartz began waxing scientific. “Do you see those strata in the hillside?” he asked. “According to science, those formations were laid down over eons as the surrounding environs went through changes. The tectonic plates shifted; the environment changed. The poles moved; the environment changed again. Far beneath the surface, magma and trapped water precariously interacted like the flap of a butterfly’s wing causing hurricanes and glaciers and floods and uplifts on the surface miles above. Species were born, reproduced and died out dozens and dozens of times. This place may have been a desert, an ocean bed, tundra, and marsh time and again over the geological epochs. And each stripe, each striation in that rock face represents a different story in that experience. The signs of pressure and heat and decay both biological and radio-metrical were hidden here until man decided he needed a road. Then a few sticks of dynamite later and all of that hidden history is exposed.”
I slouched and held my knees assuming something of a fetal position and settling in for the long haul. “The explanation for it is both poetic and simple,” Schwartz continued. “It’s apparent and obvious as soon as it’s understood. Yet there are those who refuse to acknowledge it; people who insist that the planet is too young to have experienced epochs which lasted millions of years each; people who think the sediment drifted into layers as the flood waters receded; people who shouldn’t be allowed to write letters to the editor, yet they teach children, run for public office and vote.” There it was. I knew he was going someplace, and I knew that it was going to wind up at religion. Somehow it always did.
“The gas in the shale that this valley is trying to capitalize upon is the result of marine fauna mostly, formed in great ocean depths over lengthy periods of time, under great pressure, requiring long absences of oxygen and light. However, according to these fools, God released water from within the Earth and from a canopy that separated the world from the heavens, and that water covered the earth for a few months causing deposits of silt and mud which decayed and became gas and oil and strata and canyons and all of our modern geography and how dare anyone doubt that.”
I had begun staring out the window at the scenery by this time, listening politely but mentally counting bird species. “They teach this bible-based so-called creation science to their children in private schools and complain that they aren’t allowed to teach it to other people’s children in public ones. They ignore the science that says fossils from any given eon are found only in one given layer with more modern fossils found in higher and higher layers, yet they tout any science that they think they can use to support their nonsensical ideas. They muddy the waters by using the word ‘theory’ to describe their outlandish hypothesis and then diminish the word theory even further by insisting that evolution is ‘only’ a theory.”
“Speaking of muddy water,” I said as Schwartz barreled on.
“Right, evolution is only a theory, but so is gravity, and so is vaccination, and for that matter so is the atom, but the bomb works and so do the power plants.”
I spoke again sitting up this time. “Speaking of muddy water... Hey, what’s going on there?” We were speeding past a cascade on the sheer rock face of the hillside. Brownish rust-colored water was gushing from a mountain stream undoubtedly caused by an accumulation from the recent rains. The stone and the nearby vegetation were monochromatic; an ugly stain like a sewer main had broken; only there would not have been a sewer line on that hilltop. “Could that have been caused by the fracking?” I asked.
“I have no idea,” Schwartz said. “People have complained that ground water is contaminated by the process, but usually they’re talking about invisible chemicals or gas particulates. That looks like iron.” We spent the next several minutes observing the spillways on the hillside. All of them were brown, and there were several, too many for it to be something like a sewer main break or flushing pipes. The rains had washed something out of these layers of strata that had not been formed in them in eons past. This was something which had been left behind recently and on a large scale, and it was sickening to see.
Schwartz pulled into a diner at about 9:30 AM. We didn’t eat earlier because neither of us felt like cooking when we got up, and the breakfast crowds at the eateries in Pittsburgh made that option unappealing as well. I noticed a small sign in the window announcing that the restaurant offered free wi-fi so I carried my laptop inside with me.
Just outside the entry to the diner, in a close-by parking slot, somebody had rather haphazardly parked a Chevy Malibu at an unusual angle. The lot was otherwise mostly vacant, but Schwartz had an obsessive hatred of bad parking. He surveyed the car from all sides before finally deciding to let this one go. Had they been over the line he’d almost certainly have released the air from two tires with a little gizmo he carried that removes valve-cores; and he’d have left a calling card informing the driver of his arrogance in assuming two parking spaces.
Once we had ordered, I did an internet search for “Does fracking cause brown water?” I found an interesting letter by Yoko Ono describing how she and Susan Sarandon had visited a farm where the well water had been affected by hydraulic fracturing. According to John Lennon’s widow, the water was indeed brown, and it smelled of gas and was flammable. I continued my search. Several people spoke of brown water related to fracking. I decided to type in the names of several local communities to see if anyone else locally had commented on the ruddy-water phenomenon.
I didn’t find anything mentioned locally about that issue, but I did come across a few news reports from the week before about fires at local gas wells. One was being called a “flash fire,” in which three workers were badly burned. The second fire, a few counties over, had caused millions in damage. Noxious smoke billowing from the earth could be seen for miles.
“Did you hear about this?” I asked Schwartz as I turned the screen for him to see as he cut into his sausage.
He leaned forward to read the headline. “I thought you were going to research the brown water,” he said.
“I did that already. I can’t find much, but there have been complaints about brown water in the past near fracking sites.”
“Nobody has ever proven that fracking affects the water table.” Those words had come from a neighboring table. A gentleman who had been reading his own newspaper had apparently overheard our conversation and decided to chime in. Round faced and dressed for success, his wispy, drab-colored hair falling into his eyes, he smiled a friendly smile as if to assure us that he wasn’t a stock character in a western taking offense at the nosy strangers come into town.
“Have you seen the brown water rushing off the hills on the Interstate?” I asked.
“Iron occurs naturally in the ground. Sometimes it winds up in wells, sometimes in streams. It’s been raining so there’s more water than usual.”
“Do you remember ever seeing brown streams on the hills before?” I asked. “I’m from Ohio originally. We have pretty much the same geography. Seems to me the water has always been clear a few days after a hard rain.”
“Let’s suppose for the sake of argument that brown does come from fracking,” the stranger said. “So what? Maybe brown is the new color of money. I’ve been to Ohio. That’s where the river caught fire that time, right? And more than one of your towns smells like crap. People put up with it if it means jobs.”
“Do you work for the fracking companies?” I asked.
“Matter of fact, no,” he said. “I work in real estate. Lots of my business properties that had set empty for years are being used by them boys. I’m grateful for ‘em.”
“What about the people who have seen their property values decrease because of the fouling of their wells?” I asked.
He waved a hand. “If they can prove the fracking caused the problem, they have legal recourse.”
“The fracking companies just hire their own experts who say the contaminants could have gotten there naturally,” I said.
“That’s because they could have. They have a right to defend against frivolous suits, don’t they? When they first come to an area they do tests on the water and the soil. They check periodically for changes to the levels of butane, methane and whatnot. Also, the law allows for an acceptable amount of change because some change occurs naturally. Look, no production is without its problems, but this area needs this industry. Steel went away, the economy is crap. The government is trying to take coal away.”
“Coal burns even dirtier than gas,” I interrupted, “so they should take it away. Although I just read that because of the amount of methane leaking from fracking sites, natural gas extraction is an even worse option than the CO2 from coal.”
“Look, lady,” the man said gathering his things, “we have a natural resource. We need to take advantage of it. You all have a nice breakfast.” He had tossed a few bills on the table and folded his paper as he’d spoken. He stood and said, “If you’re part of that damn anonymous group who keeps posting people’s personal information, you might want to not be so obvious in public places.” Then he was gone.
Throughout the entire conversation Schwartz had kept eating. Now that it was over he spoke up. “Could you check the jelly packets and see if there’s any apple flavor?”
Schwartz promised to get dinner if I’d get brunch. This seemed fair enough since we were working partners on this case, so I paid the bill while he started the car. Once we were back on the road he said, “Can you use your phone to look up how anonymous is involved in the local fracking issue?”
“That will burn up my data,” I said. “I could have looked it up back at the diner where the wi-fi was free.”
“That would have put us behind schedule. We’re burning daylight as they say.” He offered nothing more. He simply looked straight ahead focused on the road as I stared slack-jawed at the side of his head.
“Fine, but I’m billing you for any bandwidth I use over my limit.” I said as I opened my phone’s browser.
“Oh, I don’t have to pay for that,” Schwartz said.
This stopped me short. In the past, since he refuses to carry a phone he’d always paid to use mine. “What do you mean?” I asked.
“Your contract stipulates that you agree to use any tools at your disposal in the investigation of the case,” Schwartz said.
I stared into his ear for several moments. “Excuse me,” I said at last.
“We’re using my car,” he said. “That’s a tool at my disposal. The phone is a tool. You have one. I don’t. You agreed to the deal. You signed it.”
“I didn’t think you’d use it to trick me into giving you free access to my data plan,” I said indignantly.
“You should have had your lawyer read over the contract,” he said smugly.
“Dachnewel is our lawyer,” I said punching the word “is.”
“No, he’s my lawyer,” Schwartz noted punching the word “my.” “He can’t represent both of us in a contract. That would be a conflict of interest. Besides, he didn’t write the contract. I did.”
I was getting to know that ear pretty well. After a moment I said, “Excuse me? You wrote it?”
“Yes,” he said. “I knew that the time would come when I would need assistance on a relatively trivial case, and you’d have no reason to assist me if the case wasn’t print-worthy, so I mocked up a contract a few months ago. Of course since I wrote it I made it heavily weighted to my favor, but I had no idea you’d sign it as-is.”
Oh, he knew that. I’m sure he knew that. He sucks like that.
“By the way,” he said, “we’re getting low on gasoline. You have your credit card, I presume.”
According to what I could find about anonymous, the loose-knit hacker group had created a website on which they had dumped a large cache of documents indicating that the oil lobbies had contributed to numerous local politicians, which isn’t unusual, and isn’t information most good reporters couldn’t have found and reported on. Additionally though, according to anonymous, some of the local pols had also received extra money in the form of private “finder’s bonuses” for arranging abatement deals on property taxes with some of the local land owners. In other words, anonymous was accusing the oil companies of paying bribes, and they were accusing the politicians of taking bribes. A recent entry had been also posted by a member of anonymous who went by the name MountaineerWeVa; a surreptitious recording of an oil company higher up explaining what had happened at the large well fire that had resulted in millions of dollars of damage.
According to the oil company rep, workers had improperly capped a nearby well site, and as they were drilling the new site, a spark had ignited and blew out both well heads. The inspector he was speaking to had asked whether the worker who had signed off on the well cap was properly documented to be doing that job. The company man had asked the inspector to reword the question. After a pause the inspector had asked if a documented worker had been on site. “Of course there was,” the company man had said.
By all legal rights, this tape should have remained a non-public part of the official file only to see light of day in case of trial, and then almost certainly under gag order to keep it private. If it could be established that this tape was genuine, it could cost the inspector his job, lead to an official revue of government practices, and result in a lawsuit if not several for the oil company. The assumption is that the inspector had accepted a bribe to ask only questions which would clear the oil company of culpability. Included on the page with the recording, was a listing of the names and addresses as well as the private cell numbers and emails for the inspector allegedly on the tape as well as the oil company rep.
“Holy crap,” I said. “This stuff could get somebody killed. If Ed Soigne wasn’t dead before this was posted, I’d think somebody had killed him because they thought he was MountaineerWeVA.” I had an idea, and scrolled back on the stories. I couldn’t find anything older than two weeks. This anonymous attack was recent, a dead end.
“Can you find for me who was chosen to replace Mr. Soigne on city council, and which members of Bugler Slew’s council are being accused of taking bribes?” Schwartz asked.
“I can, but it would be easier on my laptop,” I said.
“Do you have something else to do while I’m driving?” he asked.
Soigne’s party’s central committee had selected one of their own, a data entry specialist for the bank, Russell Hobart, to assume Soigne’s seat for the remainder of his term. Of the seven city council members, four plus council president had all been accused by anonymous of accepting bribe money. Hobart was not one of them, but that was to be expected as he had only just recently been appointed.
However, a deeper search on Hobart exposed a nasty letter to the editor which had been submitted when his name had come up as a possible replacement for Soigne. According to the letter writer, Hobart would not honor Soigne’s legacy, as he would be a toady for the oil companies since his bank relied on their business. It turns out Hobart was not only a bank employee; his father sat on the bank board, and their family had been major stakeholders for years.
“Does MountaineerWeVa give Mr. Hobart’s home address?” Schwartz asked.
“He does,” I said. “Well, he or she does.”
“Will it put you much further over your data limit to use the map function to plot a route from our present location to Mr. Hobart’s front door?”
Russell Hobart lived in a double-wide trailer 20 feet behind a hedgerow off a narrow dirt road. His front yard was a gravel drive with a cluttered Escort parked in it, and his back yard was a sloping hilly lawn that terminated at the tree line to a deep wooded area. His neighbors on both sides and across the dirt road were close enough to hear a yard party, but the only hint that they even existed was the guy wires that disappeared over their own high hedges. Finding his house had required that I download a GPS app to my phone in addition to the directions and map.
My straight, auburn, bangless bob dangled in my eyes filtering and diffusing the sunlight reflecting from the aluminum screen door as Schwartz knocked. Shortly the door opened and the Addams’ family’s Uncle in a suit and wide tie answered. “Yup?” he said.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Hobart?” Schwartz said with a question mark. Hobart nodded his hairless dome. “My name is Lupa Schwartz. This is my associate, Cattleya Hoskin. We have been retained by the Allegheny County prosecutor’s office to investigate the case of George Bond.”
“I thought he’d already been charged,” Hobart said. “Isn’t that trial going on even as we speak?”
“It is,” Schwartz said. “May we come in so that I can explain?”
Hobart again waggled his naked skull directing us inside. Once in he sat us on barstools at the pass-through from his kitchenette. “Can I get you something to drink?” he asked. “I have raspberry iced tea.” Both Schwartz and I accepted. Once the service had been made and we’d offered our polite congratulations on his skill at mixing water, ice and powder, we finally got down to business.
“I can’t give specifics, but suffice to say Ms Hoskin and I have been retained to shore up the prosecution’s case if possible.” Schwartz was playing with the sleeves on his green dress shirt which were refusing to stay rolled up on his formidable forearms.
“What can I tell you?” Hobart asked.
“Well, first,” Schwartz said losing patience with the sleeve and buttoning the cuffs, “were you ever questioned by the police in this case before?”
“Me?” Hobart said rubbing the fat roll on the nape of his – I guess you’d have to call it a neck. “No, why would they? I didn’t really know either man.”
Schwartz took a large gulp from his beverage as if he expected that Hobart might be demanding it back soon. “Well, the motive they have chosen to prosecute is that Bond hoped to benefit from Mr. Soigne’s death by having him replaced on the city council with somebody who would be more willing to overturn the drilling ban. You are Mr. Soigne’s replacement on city council, are you not?”
“That’s true,” Hobart said, “but I have never publicly said how I would vote on that issue.”
Schwartz emptied his glass. “Conspiracy doesn’t usually involve public pronouncements of intent. This was delicious. May I have another please?”
“Conspiracy?” Hobart said indignantly.
“Oh, I’m not accusing you,” Schwartz said. “I simply mean that your statement about having never publicly spoken about how you would vote would be meaningless if there was in fact a conspiracy.”
“Okay,” Hobart said suspiciously.
“Additionally, there was a rather vitriolic letter written to the paper suggesting that you would have a personal motive to vote to overturn the ban,” I said having my partner’s back.
Hobart sighed. He went to the fridge to dispense more ice and water, and he spoke as he worked. “You two aren’t from around here, so allow me to explain a little bit about local politics. That letter was written by a supporter of one of the other individuals who had put their names in the ring to assume the vacant seat. When Soigne died, three of us wrote letters to the local party’s central committee board explaining why we wanted the job and how we’d use it. I never even mentioned fracking in my letter. I spoke about economic development in non-specific terms. I also talked about the need for more police and the need for a free wi-fi hotspot in the city’s downtown. I’m a bit of a computer geek.”
“You’re also an employee and shareholder at the bank the fracking industry people are using,” I said. “I mean, that’s what the letter to the editor said. Is that not true?”
“Every bank in the area has ties to every industry in the area,” Hobart said. “That’s how banking works. Neither the bank nor I personally stand to benefit from repealing the fracking ban. As to why the police didn’t question me, that’s probably because at the time they had no idea that I’d be getting Soigne’s seat. For that matter, neither did I. I had never been interested in politics before, and I only put my name in the ring because...” He trailed off.
“Because your wife left you and you wanted to impress her,” Schwartz said.
Hobart’s tongue played at the inside of his lips. “What are you talking about?”
“The house and property is clearly too large for a bachelor, so you had a woman living here with you recently. However, you don’t have a pitcher of tea made up because you only drink it a glass at a time, which suggests that you’re adapted to being alone, which means it isn’t all that recent that she left.”
“Okay, smart guy,” Hobart said. “Yes, I put my name in for the seat because I was trying to show her that I can have outside interests.”
“Other than the computer?” Schwartz said.
“Other than the Internet,” Hobart conceded.
“Can I see the letter you wrote the central committee?”
We left Hobart’s house, and I opened the attachment he’d put on my laptop as we drove away. The letter Hobart had written to acquire Soigne’s council seat was full of big ideas, but it was light on specifics. He talked about understanding that the board would want to appoint somebody electable to the seat, and he hyped his being a family man – which was sort of sad considering that the ploy to impress his wife hadn’t brought her back. He described the benefits of open wi-fi and how other cities had used it to attract upscale business and young families. He talked about how he wanted to work with the chamber of commerce to advance a re-development plan that would focus on their downtown and create some sort of annual festival to promote tourism and increase foot traffic and economic growth. He concluded by noting how there had been many times when he had spoken with Ed Soigne about his vision for a renaissance for Bugler Slew, and how he hoped he could be that voice for Ed Soigne.
“So what do you think?” I asked Schwartz. “Was he somehow involved?”
“No,” Schwartz said. “In fact, not only was he not involved, but if he was appointed by the party in the hopes that he’d overturn the ban, they are going to be sorely disappointed.”
“Why do you say that?” I asked.
“Well, for one thing he practically promises not to do anything his predecessor wouldn’t do. His actual plans for the city are grandiose visions of a tourist Mecca with charming shops and quaint festivals full of young upwardly mobile families and cul-de-sacs. None of that is ever going to happen if they become a hydraulic fracturing hub.”
“Do you think the party realizes that?” I asked.
“Probably not,” Schwartz said. “In fact, I would suspect that the letter written to undermine his candidacy probably did more to seal the deal in his favor than that insipid letter ever could have. Incidentally, I also suspect that he is the anonymous hacker known as MountaineerWeVa, and that he got most of the evidence he posted from Ed Soigne’s relatives when he was killed.”
“That makes sense,” I said, “but really the hacker could be anyone.”
“It could be anyone with a vendetta against the oil companies, a skill with computers, and the free time of a single man trying to impress somebody with his heroics.”
“Holy crap,” I said. “Hobart is MountaineerWeVa.”
We drove through Bugler Slew’s downtown to get a feel for the community. The Slew was a hollow between two minor creeks which merged south of town and flowed into the Monongalia, River. In that sense it was like a miniature Pittsburgh, however that was where the similarities ended.
Downtown Bugler Slew was centered on a round-about with a First World War memorial and a small well-kept square with unused benches at its heart. Watched over by three lush green hills, there were two active restaurants, a sandwich shop, three banks, four insurance agencies, a single tavern, a town hall, a fire station, six churches and a store for gas and groceries with a deli all within a hundred yards of the doughboy statue. Everything else was either shuttered or had been converted to unused rental office space.
There were other businesses in town outside of the downtown. A sign in one yard advertised daycare. Another advertised photography services. Pest control, sweeper repair, fishing tackle, wedding planning, automotive detailing, and a psychic reader all had shingles out. Children and dogs played in yards and on porches. The local teens walked the streets in cliques and congregated in the parking lot of the seldom-opened library avoiding the school campus which occupied two city blocks and spread all twelve grades across two buildings.
Bugler Slew was unremarkable, and possibly unredeemable. Wi-fi, a festival, and promotion wouldn’t change the fact that there were no jobs. Good intentions wouldn’t attract tourists, and quaint shops wouldn’t open without the promise of people with cash to spend in them. Oil money also wouldn’t help make that dream come true, though. In fact, it would crush any hope that a delusional well-meaning sap like Hobart might be clinging to.
Oil money would mean bars and gun shops; and if there was to be a festival, it wouldn’t be a renaissance fair or an antiquers’ jubilee. It would involve mudding or a celebration of cured meats. The hills that overlook the commons would be marred with tractor trails and felled trees. The new residents would be more interested in football than book clubs. The empty store fronts would fill with temp agencies and gas company related support offices that wouldn’t even bother to redecorate because they’d be leaving soon anyway.
Hobart and Soigne and any allies they had on council had been fighting a battle in a war they’d already lost. I told Schwartz to turn left at the next street, and after we rounded the corner between the condemned house and the residence advertising custom sewing, we pulled up to the curb in front of where my phone told me Ed Soigne’s widow and sons lived.
Ed Soigne had been survived by a wife and two adult sons both of whom were students at West Virginia University in nearby Morgantown. When they learned that we were there investigating his murder they invited us into their home and insisted that we remain for dinner. About halfway through the meal it dawned on me that this meant Schwartz would not be buying dinner as he had promised, and I wondered if he had planned it that way, but I kept my concern to myself.
The Soigne family, it turns out, were about as American as they come. They were devout if boilerplate-variety Christians with a picture of white Jesus on the wall. They had a pretty Cocker Spaniel named Lady and a Tabby cat they called Missy. The boys had been born a little over a year apart and had been given the alliterative first names of Danny and Donny. Mrs. Soigne kept a collection of updated and apparently unread periodicals fanned out on the coffee table. The family photos on the bureau told the story of family vacations to national parks, years spent in little league and scouting, and a church wedding a quarter century before when Dee Dee Soigne had stopped being Dee Dee Something-other.
We were treated to the family history. The details made me sad for their loss but happy that they had had him for as long as they had. My own parents had both been killed when I was much younger, so I was able to emphasize. Schwartz too had lost his parents, and about at the same age as the Soigne boys were now, but he had long since blocked out his sympathetic impulses.
The description of their lives was peppered with references to God and Jesus. “God blessed us with a second baby boy,” Mrs. Soigne had said, and Schwartz’s eyes had rolled into his skull. “And praise Jesus, he was accepted into the program,” Dee Dee had said, and again Schwartz’s ocular muscles strained in their orbits. “With the grace of God, I’ll graduate next may,” Donny had said, and one didn’t have to be an expert on reading faces to see Schwartz’s ticks.
By the time dinner was ready we had learned every detail of Ed and Dee Dee’s courtship, marriage and lives to date, but Schwartz had not asked a single question that could be considered pertinent to the case. We moved from the living room to the dining table and Dee Dee served our beverages. The three of them had cola on rocks; I had milk. Schwartz’s usual dinner potable was beer that looked like espresso with a thick crema, but this was an alcohol-free home so he opted for water. Many was the time I had heard him quote his hero, W.C. Fields’, attitude toward water, but this time he politely and judiciously kept that one to himself.
Dee Dee carried the pasta to the table in a chafing dish as her sons brought in the garlic toast and the salad. The sauce was from a jar, the bread from the freezer and the salad from a bag, all a little disappointing when one is used to eating one’s meals prepared by a deft home cook who grows her own herbs and tomatoes, who bakes her own bread, and who would probably mill her own semolina if it wasn’t quite so impractical. Still, the meal was pretty and served with love, and it had been forever since I had set down at an actual family table, so I was glad to have it.
“Mr. Schwartz,” Dee Dee said as she took her seat, “would you like to say the grace?” I bit my lip.
Schwartz looked around the table smiling in disbelief. “I’d prefer not to,” he said.
“Mom,” Danny said, “Schwartz is a Jewish name.”
Dee Dee’s eyes became apologetic. “Do the Jews not pray over meals?” she asked.
“The Jews do pray over meals,” Schwartz said. “I’m an atheist.”
“You believe there isn’t a God?” Donny asked.
“I don’t believe there is a God,” Schwartz said. “I don’t know that there isn’t one though, if that helps.”
“I don’t understand,” Dee Dee said, but to her credit she gave no indication that she was becoming offended.
"I'm a private detective," Schwartz said. "Therefore my primary interest is in finding the truth. I have to sift through all of the evidence and reject ideas which might seem plausible if they turn out to be unsupported by other observations. I apply that same philosophy to explanations of the natural world. Careful skepticism of things which might be true is preferable to un-careful acceptance of things which probably are not true." He smiled. "Of course, what I just said may not be true in a philosophical sense. Perhaps acceptance of comforting falsehoods is a better way to live. Unfortunately, it's a luxury I cannot personally afford." He looked around the room. “At any rate, bottom line, I have to decline your offer to say the grace.”
Dee Dee bobbed her head from side to side considering. “Danny,” she said, “would you please say grace?”
After dinner we retired once again to the family room, each with a dish of ice cream. “Do you have questions about our father?” Donny finally asked as we sat in the semi-circle of couches and wing back chairs.
“Yes,” Dee Dee said. “The prosecutor’s office called and said you’d be coming by to investigate the case. He said you’d have questions that we had already answered, but that it was important that we answer again. So far, you haven’t asked anything about the case.”
“Forgive me,” Schwartz said. “One of the primary things I needed to learn was whether Mr. Soigne might have been involved in anything – shall we say ‘shady.’ If I had simply asked that, I would be unable to rely on your answers to that question or to any question thereafter. Instead, I preferred to simply allow you to tell me about your family history. Had there been any such duplicity, I’m sure it would have presented in what you were careful not to say. I have to admit, however, that I see no such chicanery. Do you Ms Hoskin?”
I took the spoon from my mouth. “I didn’t,” I said, although truth be told, I hadn’t been looking.
“That’s because there isn’t anything,” Donny said. “Our father was an honest man.”
“I believe that,” Schwartz said. “Even after being carefully skeptical, I believe that.” The family exchanged relieved smiles. “However,” Schwartz said, “somebody did assassinate him. Somebody less honest than he ended his life.”
“George Bond,” Danny said nodding.
“Perhaps,” Schwartz said. “I understand that you have resigned yourselves to that conclusion, but I am obliged to act on the assumption that he may be innocent until I find the evidence that sways that conclusion. You understand that, right?” The family nodded. “Did Mr. Soigne have any other political enemies or perhaps business rivals of whom you are aware?”
“Everybody loved Dad,” Danny said.
“What about the drilling ban?” I asked. “Surely there were others besides George Bond who were upset by that one.”
“That’s a good point,” Schwartz said. “Do you know anything about the politics behind that? How was he able to convince the council to vote along with him given the obvious economic distress facing this community?”
“Dad was smart,” Danny said. “He knew the rules, and he used them to his favor.”
“Tell me the story,” Schwartz said sitting back in his seat to open the floor.
Mrs. Soigne laid her ice cream on a doily. “He had been in that office for over twenty years,” she said. “He curried favors by voting with other council members on their pet issues and stockpiling the courtesy. So when he proposed the ban he knew that he had at least two other votes in his pocket; but three votes wouldn’t be enough. There were seven council members and council president who voted on ties. He’d need four votes to assure a win, so he had to disqualify two of the others or disqualify one and sway council president. The second option was undoable, so he concentrated on getting two DQs. The first one was easy. Martin Burns worked for the gas company, so he had to abstain from voting on any issues pertinent to the industry due to a conflict of interest.”
“Of course,” Schwartz said. “How did he manage the second disqualification?”
“That was Doroteo Sagese,” Dee Dee said with a sneer. “He’d been on council almost as long as Ed. He owns a bunch of those cafés you see in other big cities around the state.”
“Coffee shops?” I asked.
“Café is a euphemism,” Danny said. “Several years ago, West Virgina decided to allow gambling machines in private businesses that were licensed through the state; only they aren’t allowed to advertise that they have the machines, so this trend developed that they would call the places cafés. If a person is looking for a place to gamble, they look for that on the sign.”
“But there aren’t any cafés in Bugler Slew,” I said. “At least I didn’t see any.”
“That’s because dad kept them out,” Donny said proudly. “Dad saw the trend coming before the state passed the law, so he led a campaign to illegalize gambling in Bugler Slew before the law passed. Public support for the ban was pretty strong at the time, so even Sagese voted with Dad. He didn’t care about Bugler Slew. He could put his cafés in bigger towns.”
“Only now, with the gas companies coming, not having gambling here actually worked against Sagese. It was actually to his interest to keep the oil company workers in the places where he had his machines. At least, that was what Dad convinced council president. So Sagese was told that he couldn’t vote on the oil drilling ban.”
“Was Sagese going to vote with your dad?” I asked.
“Probably not,” Danny said. “George Bond had been pushing him pretty hard to allow the drilling. Sagese was first ward council, and Bond’s farm borders city limits at the first ward line. Sagese needed his support.”
“That was very smart of your dad to have him disqualified,” I said.
“Not if it got him killed,” Donny said.
The room fell silent. “Do you have any other questions, Mr. Schwartz?” Dee Dee finally wondered.
“Yes,” Schwartz said. “I want to ask Danny and Donny how they were able to introduce Mr. Hobart to their friends at anonymous.”
Unlike the mafia, there actually is no anonymous. The subculture name anonymous as it is used to refer to a hive-like faceless entity does not refer to an actual organization with cells and sub-cells that answer to higher-ups and have to get things approved by a sort of Star Chamber of mega-hackers. However, to acquire acknowledgment from the masses that one’s online activity actually is the work of “anonymous,” one does have to establish an association with a known anonymous activity.
When Schwartz asked the Soigne boys how they were able to introduce Mr. Hobart to their friends at anonymous, it would have been easy for them to deny any knowledge of what he was talking about. However he had taken them unawares. They hadn’t seen the question coming, and had no opportunity to fashion plausible denial. So they acknowledged the charge.
It turns out that when their father died, Russell Hobart had contacted their mother about his concern that the oil drilling ban might be overturned. She agreed, and put him in contact with her sons. Daniel had a friend at school who had been involved in the Occupy movement and who had helped hack the school’s mainframe to re-post something about the school, the banks, and student loan defaults. Danny had introduced Hobart to this friend, and MountaineerWeVa was born.
The idea had been to work up the community about the risks of fracking, so they would pressure their representatives to maintain the ban. Hobart had also decided to put his name in for consideration as Ed Soigne’s replacement, not actually believing that he would get the seat. Danny’s friend had written the disparaging letter to the editor to help create the impression that Hobart would favor lifting the ban, all to create a ruse so nobody would suspect Hobart of being MountaineerWeVa.
“What about the gambling ban?” Schwartz asked.
“What do you mean?” Donny yawned.
Schwartz explained. “You partnered up with Mr. Hobart because you trusted that he would help continue the drilling ban, but what about your father’s hope to keep the betting machines out of Bugler Slew? Does Mr. Hobart also support that objective?”
Danny and Donny exchanged a long glance that involved pushed-down mouth corners, raised eyebrows, and shrugs. They had never considered that question.
Schwartz drove to Morgantown and pulled into a motel parking lot. “We’ll need your credit card,” he said. As with cell phones, Schwartz refused to carry a credit card on him for any reason. Under our normal agreement, he often used mine and then reimbursed me with interest. Consequently, I had excellent credit and a surplus in my bank account.
“Oh, nuh-uh,” I said. “My credit card does not qualify as a tool. You already owe me a meal as it is.”
“How do you figure?” Schwartz asked.
“I bought brunch and you said you’d pay for dinner,” I reminded him.
“I said I would take care of dinner. I did that,” he said.
I stared him down. “You owe me a meal on your dime, and I am not paying for your room.”
“I didn’t ask you to pay for my room,” he said. “I have cash. I can pay for my own room, but they won’t let us check in without a credit card.”
“Does this come out of my share of the proceeds?” I asked.
“The county pays a per diem,” Schwartz said.
“Then why don’t we just drive back to Pittsburgh, pocket the per diem, and drive back here in the morning?” I asked. “It’s Saturday night. You should be out with Taimi.” I was really just looking for an excuse not to stay in a motel. I never feel like they are clean enough, and who knows who was on that bedspread before I got there. I always envision the room having been used to film snuff porn.
“That would be a huge waste of gasoline and time,” Schwartz said. “Besides, I want to get an early start in the morning, and we still have work yet to do tonight. I will need for you to research the names of the owners of all of the farms that abut George Bond’s property. This motel advertises that they offer free Internet connectivity.”
“I hate motels,” I said as I stepped out of my side of the car. “You’re getting breakfast.”
“Agreed,” Schwartz said. Apparently he had also noted that in addition to internet connectivity, this particular motel also offered a free continental breakfast. Given that I was worried that we might run into Norman Bates’ mother, I had not noticed that as yet.
My dry Danish and cold instant coffee were almost gone by the time we reached the first farmhouse Sunday morning, but my resentment lingered. Schwartz approached the gingerbread house and introduced him and me to the friendly woman who answered the door, explaining that we were investigating the Bond case.
“Oh, yes,” she said shivering in the doorway. “That was terrible, wasn’t it? I have to say though, we weren’t surprised.”
“You weren’t?” I asked. “You mean you actually expected he might harm Councilman Soigne?”
“Well, no, not that,” she said pushing the hair from her eye. “We probably thought he’d file a lawsuit or make an angry appearance at a council meeting or something. He was very upset about the ban.”
“Were you upset about the ban too?” Schwartz asked.
“Well, no,” she said. “Why should we be? We don’t own the mineral rights. Those were sold off years ago, before we ever bought the property. All the ban means for us is that the oil companies can’t put those ugly rigs on our property.”
We moved on to the next farmhouse; a ranch-style home very near the road with apple groves for acres behind. The elderly man who answered our knock was hard of hearing, so he called for his son to speak with us, and he disappeared back into the recesses of the house. We heard the sound of a large piece of machinery being dragged across linoleum, and soon a sweating beefy unattractive man came to the door. “What can I do for you folks?” the first man’s son asked wiping grease from his hands onto a soiled towel.
“We’re investigating the murder of Ed Soigne for the Allegheny County prosecutor’s office in Pennsylvania,” Schwartz said.
“Ed Soigne wasn’t killed in Allegheny County,” the man said.
“That’s true,” Schwartz said, “but the chase would have begun in Pittsburgh, so Allegheny County has jurisdiction.”
“Jurisdiction,” the man said. “That’s funny. That’s what George Bond was worked up over. He said Bugler Slew’s jurisdiction ended at the city line, so what gave them the right to ban drilling on our property?”
“So you spoke with him about the issue?” I asked.
“Several times,” the man said leaning on his door jam. It was strange how people in town had invited us inside, but the people in the country wanted to talk to us only on the porch.
“We understand that it bothered him that he would be unable to sell his mineral rights,” Schwartz said.
“That’s what the papers said,” the man responded.
“Is that what he said?” Schwartz asked, adding, “to you?”
“All he ever mentioned to me was the jurisdiction thing,” the man said.
“I understand from one of the other neighbors that her family was happy for the ban. They owned no mineral rights and were happy that the ban would keep the gas companies from accessing her land to build wells.” Schwartz tilted his head. “What about your family?”
“We own our mineral rights,” the man said. “My family has continuously owned this orchard for over a century. But we don’t care about the ban. We wouldn’t allow gas rigs on our property at any rate. We make enough money selling apples.”
“Is that why you’re trying to fix a refrigerator with a broken fan rather than just buy a new one?” Schwartz asked.
The ugly man gave an ugly smile. “Waste not, want not,” he said.
We had to drive across a bridge over a rocky creek bed to access the next farmhouse. A tall man in jeans and a sleeveless tee appeared in the door before we could reach the porch. “What can I do for y’all?” he asked. His was the first regional accent we’d encountered. I hadn’t even noticed that until now.
“We’re investigating...” Schwartz began, but he was interrupted.
“Yeah, yeah, I know all about that. Small town. News travels fast. What can I,” he said punching the word “I,” “do for y’all?”
“Did George Bond ever mention to you that he was upset over the gas drilling ban?”
“Course he did,” the man said. “He tol’ ever’one.”
“Did he ever specifically complain that he was being cheated out of an opportunity to profit from his mineral rights?”
The man pondered. “Not that I can recall,” he said. “Why?”
“Did he ever inquire about your mineral rights?” I asked. He shook his head.
“Has anybody ever inquired about your mineral rights?” Schwartz asked.
The answer came quickly. “Sure, the oil company guy they sent around did.”
“What specifically did he say?” Schwartz prodded.
The tall man explained that the gas company had sent a representative to talk to all of the neighbors prior to the ban. They had explained that while it was not necessary for them to honor any claims to gas rights if a neighbor’s gas migrated to a well site during extraction from a nearby well, it was common practice for the companies to pay a small fee anyway rather than litigate later. He had further explained that there was a process known as slant drilling which would allow a well driller on one property to physically extend a well under a neighboring property without physically setting a well on that property’s surface.
All of the neighbors who still owned their mineral rights had been offered a payoff to keep them from litigating a losing case once extraction began. They had all been told to refer to Kelly vs Ohio Oil Company for precedent if they doubted the gas company’s claims. The amount they could expect to receive would depend on the volume ultimately produced on neighboring land based on legal principles known as the correlative rights doctrine and the rule of capture.
“So how much money are we talking about here?” I asked.
“In my case,” the man said, “enough to send my three kids to college.”
“So how did the ban on drilling affect you?” I asked.
“It don’t,” he said. “They didn’t want to drill on my property anyway; but they will be drilling nearby, and my mineral rights are still mine. I’m getting paid the same, ban or no ban.”
“The prosecutor’s office is operating under the belief that George Bond was losing money because of the drilling ban,” I said. “But if what we just learned is true, that may not be the case. Maybe that’s what Bond’s lawyer is going to reveal in court.”
“I doubt that the prosecutor’s office would have gone to trial without first making sure that Mr. Bond actually owns his property rights and that the oil companies had wanted them,” Schwartz said. “To win a prosecution, the state must overcome reasonable doubt; to do that they have to establish motive, means, and opportunity. Unless Mr. Bond stood to lose financially, he wouldn’t have significant motive. Any prosecutor would have known this, and would have investigated to that end.”
I raised a finger. “But if the neighbors are still being paid, clearly the gas company didn’t actually need Bond’s property. Ban or no, they may have chosen not to drill on his land, and he’d have still been paid something.”
“That’s true,” Schwartz said. “In fact, it seems likely that even if the ban was lifted, their drilling plans would already have been finalized on the belief that Bond’s property was off limits.”
“So Bond would stand nothing to gain from killing Ed Soigne,” I said, “unless they think he did it on principle, revenge for the money he’d already lost.”
“That’s true,” Schwartz said. “We need to make sure he actually did lose money because of the ban.”
Russell Hobart seemed genuinely surprised to see us at his door again. He went from surprise to concern when Schwartz explained to him that we knew he was MountaineerWeVa. He sheepishly invited us in, and we gathered in his cluttered main room.
“Do you have any more of that raspberry tea?” Schwartz asked. As Hobart mixed the drinks, Schwartz asked him about his hacking skillset. “That audio tape you posted of the oil company man and the government’s safety auditor discussing the explosion; how were you able to locate that recording?”
Hobart stuck a long spoon in one of the glasses and began to agitate the mixture. “Look, I don’t want to get in any trouble,” he said.
“I have no interest in making trouble for you,” Schwartz said. “I’m asking for background for my own knowledge base. It doesn’t pertain to the case Ms Hoskin and I are working, and I have no interest in any other cases. You can feel secure in addressing all of my queries with no fear of reprisal.”
“No, I don’t think so,” Hobart said. “I think I should lawyer up. Crushed ice or cubes?”
“Cubes,” Schwartz said. “I don’t understand why anybody prefers crushed ice. It melts too fast.” He turned to me. “Ms Hoskin, would you please let Mr. Hobart know that I am a man of my word.”
I tilted my head. “He’s tricky,” I said. “You’re right to be careful. Never enter into a contract with this man unless you are sure all of the Ts are crossed and the Is dotted.”
“You’re not helping,” Schwartz said.
“Hey, I’m just being honest,” I rebutted.
“Fine,” Schwartz said. “How about this then? Suppose I toss out theories about how you did it, and you let me know when I’m warm.”
“I will not confirm or deny any illegal activity which I may or may not have been involved with,” Hobart said smiling smugly as he placed our beverages on the coffee table before us.
Schwartz pulled at his lip. “What about this?” he said. “I’ll make up hypothetical hacking scenarios and you tell me whether you have the capacity to accomplish it.”
“All hypothetically?” Hobart asked.
“Not an actual scenario in the batch,” Schwartz assured him.
“I reserve the right to refuse to answer any scenario that makes me uncomfortable,” Hobart insisted as he took his seat.
Schwartz then began asking about database hacking and records on private servers. Without ever admitting to having ever done anything that was being described, Hobart confessed to having the skill to supply a client with a pretty impressive litany of illicitly acquired documents.
“If one of the local gas companies had a deal with one of the land owners that was other than boiler-plate, would you be able to hack the gas company’s records to view the contract?” Schwartz finally asked after the better part of an hour.
“Sure,” Hobart said. “All of the gas companies do transfers with the bank. I could route backward pretty easily.”
“What if the contract was at the gas company’s lawyer’s office, and not on the gas company’s system?” Schwartz inquired.
“Once I was into the gas company’s system, I could search the history and find any emails from the lawyer. It would probably be there; but if not, I could probably find a backdoor into the lawyer’s system. Only I might not have to do that. I might actually be able to send an email from the gas company’s email account requesting a copy of the file.”
“Wouldn’t you be worried that somebody would retrieve the email at the gas company?” I asked.
“Actually, there’s a little trick I’d use to avoid that possibility.”
“Potentiality,” Schwartz said.
“Excuse me?” Hobart said.
“You said possibility. The word you want there is potentiality,” Schwartz said. “Never mind. Carry on.”
“As I was saying, since I have access to the gas company email system in this scenario, all I would have to do is flag the lawyer’s email address as spam. The reply would filter straight to the junk mail folder, and I could retrieve it without anybody who might be monitoring the inbox even noticing that it had come through.” He smiled smugly proud of himself. I looked over to Schwartz and noticed that he was wearing the exact same smugly proud smile.
“Mr. Hobart,” Schwartz said, “I have a special favor to ask of you.”
By the time we returned to the Victorian on Hazelwood Avenue, it was too late for our routine Sunday evening meal. Heck, it was too late for that when we woke up in a different state. Schwartz’s day to cook was Sunday, and he made a huge production of it; prepping all day and often taunting his largely Jewish neighborhood for hours with the scent of roasting porcine flesh. Fortunately, anticipating our return, Beverly had barbecued a pork loin over coals and smoking bourbon-soaked hickory. This she served with boiled new red potatoes tossed with chives and vinegar, and a side of greens with pine nuts. It was enough to make me forget the diner brunch and the mass produced spaghetti meal from the day before; but nothing would ever get me over that brick pretending to be a Danish and the gritty cup of tepid mud Schwartz had fed me for breakfast.
Sated, I poured a smoky Kentucky corn mash over ice and sat in my usual chaise on the covered porch to await desert. Schwartz sat beside me insulting a bock by pouring it into a Pilsner glass and asked if I understood my role for the next day.
“I know my role,” I said, “but I still don’t fully understand what you have planned.”
“I don’t expect you to understand my part,” he said, “and I can’t explain all of the particulars to you. You will require plausible deniability. The less you know about the overall scheme, the better.”
Schwartz had convinced himself that he’d gotten everything he needed to assure that George Bond would be a convicted felon by the middle of the week. I’d been with him at every turn. I’d heard all of the same evidence, and I had all of the same knowledge set, but danged if I could see how he planned to accomplish it. I tipped my glass, and decided to forget all about “the scheme” for now. French Vanilla ice cream, caramel sauce and bourbon were all I cared about for the time being.
Schwartz had retired to his room to prepare himself mentally for his next day’s appearance in court. This preparation ritual involved watching a mini marathon of Steve Martin movies from Martin’s salt-and-pepper period. Schwartz insisted that Martin’s S&P period was his best period, by-far outshining his black-haired and white-haired periods.
Rested and mentally prepped, Schwartz helped Beverly make his breakfast that Monday morning as he wanted to bulk up on proteins and carbs for reasons that would soon be obvious. I approached him as he was whisking eggs over a double boiler. “Do you think the jacket is a good idea?” I asked. He was wearing black slacks and black loafers, a dark green dress shirt and matching tie, and a herring bone sport jacket.
“I’ll be appearing in court,” he said. “A jacket is called for.”
We arrived at the courthouse and located the prosecutor. Of average height and athletically built, Yves Stacova was ambitious but impulsive. He and an intern were going over a brief when Schwartz approached. “Mr. Schwartz,” the prosecutor said smiling broadly, “I didn’t expect to see you so early. I thought it would take you at least until Wednesday to solve our dilemma.”
The two men shook hands and Schwartz said, “Well, I believe I may have good news for you, but you’ll have to put me on the stand this morning.”
“That won’t be a problem,” Stacova said, “if you are certain that you have the evidence we need.”
Schwartz nodded. “I believe that I can establish to your satisfaction that I’ve accomplished my task. As you know, I was told only that you had reason to fear that a part of your case was about to be undone due to a proverbial ace in the sleeve of the defense lawyer, but I was not informed as to the nature of that ace. My own investigation suggests that the problem is with the motive. Your team speculated that Mr. Bond was angry over having lost a sizable windfall due to the drilling ban, and that he stalked and killed Mr. Soigne in a premeditated attack in the hopes that his replacement would help overturn the ban. Moreover, I suspect that you based your assumption at least partly on a claim to that effect made by Mr. Bond himself before he was properly Mirandized, so you are unable to use his admission in court. Therefore, if Mr. Bond can establish doubt that he stood to lose financially as a result of the ban, you’ll be left with no motive and the case becomes purely circumstantial conjecture. Is that correct?”
“You figured all of that out in a weekend?” Stacova asked.
“We,” I interjected, “figured all of that out by lunchtime on Sunday.”
“Forgive me, Ms Hoskin,” Schwartz said. “Mr. Stacova, this is my assistant on this case, Cattleya Hoskin.”
“Charmed,” Stacova said taking my hand gently. “Also impressed,” he added, his eye sleazily tracing my length head to calf. “So were you able to find what we need?”
“If you put me on the stand today, you won’t have to worry anymore about establishing motive,” Schwartz assured. “However, you’ll have to ask a very specific question. I won’t tell you how I’ll answer, because that would be rehearsing testimony, and I don’t do that. Do you have a legal pad and pen handy?”
As we took our seats in the galley behind the prosecutor’s table, Schwartz took an envelope from his jacket’s breast pocket and handed it to me. It was addressed to John Dachnewel, and I was given instructions to deliver it to him after court.
George Bond and his attorney, Jami Lamont, whispered at their table as soon as the lawyer recognized Lupa Schwartz in the courtroom. Bond pulled at the necktie on his beefy neck with his sausage shaped fingers and tried to look indifferent.
Court commenced, the honorable Judge Severin Nemesio presiding. Opening statements had been mercifully made before the weekend. We sat through a few preliminary witnesses, and then Yves called Schwartz to the stand.
Schwartz stood and strode confidently to the dais. He turned and faced the bailiff who extended a bible and said, “Raise your hand and repeat after me.”
“I’m sorry,” Schwartz said, “I can’t do that. I’m an atheist.”
“That’s fine, Mr. Schwartz,” the judge said, “you can simply affirm if you prefer.”
“I prefer to forego the ceremony altogether and simply give my testimony,” Schwartz said.
“Excuse me,” Judge Nemiseo said, her brow twisting, her face reddening.
“My testimony will be the truth as I know it,” Schwartz said. “If it isn’t I will be guilty of perjury. That will be the situation irrespective of whether I swear it, affirm it, or pinky-swear it.”
“All the same,” Judge Nemiseo said, “I’m going to need for you to make an official affirmation.”
“I’m afraid I’m going to have to refuse,” Schwartz said.
“You will make an affirmation,” the judge insisted, “or you will be found in contempt of court, and you’ll be put in a holding cell until such time as you change your mind.”
“I have no contempt for the court,” Schwartz said. “My contempt is for unnecessary ceremony.”
The judge banged a gavel as the galley began to giggle quietly. “Bailiff,” the judge said, “Please take Mr. Schwartz into custody until such time as he comes to his senses.”
As the uniformed court officer removed Schwartz from the stand, Yves Stacova looked at me pleadingly. I shrugged, but I knew everything was going according to plan.
The court granted Yves a brief recess, and he pulled me out into the hall. “What was that all about?” he demanded.
“Why are you asking me?” I said. “Didn’t Dachnewel warn you that Schwartz is something of a loose cannon sometimes?”
“He told me that he’s eccentric, and that his methods are unconventional, but I know his reputation and was glad to have him; but this could damage the case. The jury...”
“Schwartz is aware of the jury issue,” I promised him. “Trust me, there’s a method to his madness. I can’t tell you what it is though, because – well, you have certain responsibilities to the court, if you know what I’m saying.” I lay a finger to the side of my nose. Recognition alighted on Yves’ face.
“Say no more,” he said. “Should I call you to testify?”
“I wouldn’t if I were you,” I said.
Stacova pulled at his hair and blew air out through his nose. “Is he going to testify tomorrow?”
“If I were guessing, I’d say that by tomorrow he’ll have learned his lesson, and he’ll affirm to the oath.”
At that moment, John Dachnewel came through the metal detector at the courthouse entrance. “John,” Yves shouted waving him over tersely.
“Yves,” Dachnewel said, “Cattleya, hello. So what’s he done now? I got a text telling me Lupa was under arrest for contempt.”
“That was me,” I said. “You should probably have a talk with your client. He is your client right? That’s why you didn’t bother to warn me about that ridiculous contract.” He began to speak, but I raised a hand. “Save it,” I said. “Here, this is for you.” I handed him the envelope Schwartz had slipped to me earlier. “I’m going home. I’ll be back tomorrow.” I walked away leaving the two lawyers to their law-talk before either of them could think to ask when I had had time to text Dachnewel during court. I didn’t want to answer that one, because the fact is I’d sent the text before court had even begun.
Schwartz was still wearing his sport coat when they took him into custody, which not only meant that he had to surrender it to the authorities along with his belt and necktie, but it also meant he had to surrender the contents of the jacket’s pockets – which in this case included the keys to his Delahaye. I had to take the bus home.
So it would be just the ladies for dinner, including Taimi Shossling who decided to drop by and check on how the case was going. “It’s going great,” I said as I welcomed her into the house. “Schwartz is spending the night in jail.”
“Something tells me,” she said, “that this isn’t his first rodeo. I hope he ate a big breakfast.”
“As a matter of fact, he did,” I said; “four scrambled eggs, six slices of bacon, two buckwheat waffles and a yogurt smoothie made with banana and kiwi.”
“So what have you ladies planned for dinner since he won’t be here to insist on pork?” she asked.
“Well, as it happens, he owes me a meal, so I went into the pantry and planned the menu myself.” I rubbed my palms together in the universal sign for glee. “We’re having filet mignon marinated in a German Riesling I found on a shelf and I hope it’s expensive; baby asparagus from a rhizome he’s been nursing for three years that probably isn’t mature enough to eat yet without putting the plant at risk, but whatever; and risotto. Would you care to join us?”
“I would,” she said. “That sounds delicious.
“Great,” I said, “I’ll go chop some more spear heads - or whatever they’re called - from the asparagus bed.”
I didn’t have to go into court the next morning. Whatever Schwartz was going to do, he’d set it all up already. My part was finished, but there was no way I was going to miss seeing him straggle in all contrite, apologetic, and unshaven after his night in the hoosegow. I slid into my seat on the galley pew and wished they would allow popcorn in these proceedings.
Court commenced, and the judge asked Yves Stacova if his witness had come to his senses. Stacova assured her that Schwartz had promised to be on his best behavior, and she allowed that he might approach. The bailiff went to retrieve him, and I beamed knowing in my heart that I was about to see Schwartz at his lowest.
Schwartz, however, must have friends on the inside. He was clean shaven and well groomed when he was eventually escorted in. He’d been given a clean change of clothes; a green polo shirt and black jeans – which were the only colors I’d seen him wear ever. “Mr. Schwartz,” Judge Nemiseo began, “Mr. Stacova informs me that you are now willing to affirm for the court that your testimony will be truthful.”
“If it should please the court,” Schwartz said, “it has always been my intention to give honest and truthful testimony, and I have always been willing to attest and affirm as much.”
“Correct me if I am wrong, Mr. Schwartz, but just yesterday did you not refuse to affirm for this court?” The judge seemed to be losing patience already. I could feel myself grin.
Schwartz shrugged. “Yesterday, I said that I preferred not to engage in ceremony. I still prefer to forego ceremony, however I do affirm under penalty of perjury that my testimony will be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”
“I believe you just swore an oath,” the judge said.
“Then may I suggest that we proceed, your honor?” Schwartz said playfully raising his hands. The judge banged her gavel again as the courtroom tittered.
With all of that unpleasantness settled, Yves Stacova approached the witness and began his examination. “Would you please state your full name and address for the record?”
Schwartz spoke clearly and confidently. “My name is Lupa Schwartz. I’m a private investigator residing at 808 Hazelwood Avenue in Squirrel Hill.”
“Could you please tell the court how you came to be involved in this case?” Stacova asked.
“I occasionally work for the city and the county in my capacity as a licensed private investigator,” Schwartz said. “I was approached by Detective Trevor Johns on Friday night to look into the killing of Bugler Slew, West Virginia councilman Ed Soigne.”
“Were you told any non-published particulars of the case before you began your investigation?” Stacova asked.
“I was not,” Schwartz said as the court recorder typed away.
Confident that the jury understood that Schwartz’s evidence had been independently collected, Stacova walked over to the prosecutor’s table and lifted a yellow legal pad. He read his next question from it. It was the question Schwartz had dictated that he ask the morning before. “Having completed your investigation, is it your opinion that you can prove that the accused, George Bond, acting alone and with malice of forethought, killed the victim, Councilman Ed Soigne?”
Schwartz nodded, leaned forward in his seat to get his mouth as close as possible to the microphone, and confidently said, “No, but I do know who did it.”
Stacova froze. He tilted his head and glared at Schwartz who shrugged and sat back in his seat. “Um,” Stacova said. “No further questions.”
“But I swore to tell the whole truth,” Schwartz began, and a murmur arose in the court. Bang, bang, went the gavel as Schwartz insisted he had more truth to tell. George Bond was frantically trying to get his lawyer’s attention, but she was far too fascinated by what was happening on the stand.
“I will have order in this court,” Judge Nemiseo shouted. “Miss Lamont, do you have anything for this witness?”
Jami Lamont rose confused from her seat at the defendant’s table and cautiously approached Schwartz like he was a caged lion. Finally she decided on a tactic. “Did you just tell the court that your investigation exonerates my client?”
“Would you like to have the court reporter read the question and response again?” Schwartz asked.
“No, that won’t be necessary,” Lamont said. “Mr. Schwartz, would you care to tell the court what it is that you uncovered?”
“Objection,” Stacova shouted standing. “The defense attorney is fishing.”
“Perhaps we should have the court reporter read the transcript,” Jami Lamont said, “because if I’m not mistaken, the prosecutor opened this line of questioning.”
“I’m going to overrule that objection, councilor,” the judge said. “You did begin the line of inquiry the defense is now exploring.” Stacova slowly sat, and the judge continued, “Mr. Schwartz, you may answer the question.”
“I’m afraid I actually do need the court reporter to read the question back; what was Mr. Stacova’s last question?” he said looking directly at the court reporter. He knew the question though. After all, he’d scripted it.
The court reporter found the line in question and quoted, “Having completed your investigation, is it your opinion that you can prove that the accused, George Bond, acting alone and with malice of forethought, killed the victim, Councilman Ed Soigne?”
“Could you answer that in detail?” Jami Lamont asked. George Bond’s hand found his face.
“Ah,” Schwartz said, and once again he leaned into the microphone for emphasis, “I believe that I have uncovered evidence indicating all of that except for the acting alone part, because there was an accomplice.” George Bond tried not to move, but his eyes had other plans.
Jami Lamont knew at that moment that she had been played. “I object,” she shouted. George Bond slinked down in his chair and began to gnaw on his fingertips.
“What do you mean you object?” the judge demanded. “This was your question.”
“It’s speculation,” Lamont insisted.
“Could the court reporter please read back the defense attorney’s second question to me?” Schwartz asked.
“Yes,” the judge agreed. “Would the court reporter please read back the defense attorney’s second question to Mr. Schwartz?”
Again the court reporter scanned the transcript. “Mr. Schwartz, would you care to tell the court what it is you uncovered?” she read.
“Mr. Schwartz, since both the prosecution and defense have basically asked you to answer the same question, I’m going to give you some leeway here, but be careful.”
“Your honor,” Schwartz said, “I have no desire to perjure myself. I have affirmed under penalty of perjury that my testimony will be not only the truth and nothing other than the truth; but that it will, in fact, be the whole truth. So far, I have been stopped from honoring that affirmation twice. May I please be allowed to tell the whole truth to the court perhaps with the jury sequestered so as not to taint them with potentially inadmissible testimony? As the saying goes, a bell cannot be un-rung, and I cannot offer my evidence without first providing context.”
“No,” the judge said, “If you go off topic, I’ll stop you and the jury will be instructed to disregard the inadmissible part.”
“Excellent,” Schwartz said, “because I have a story to tell.”
Schwartz had managed everything he’d set out to do so far. He had been granted carte blanche to pontificate on the witness stand. It had cost him a night of freedom, and I’m sure he’d eaten nothing in over twenty-four hours, but that for him would all be a small price to pay for such a grandiose opportunity. He began his theatricality-laden testimony by introducing the band.
“My associate, Cattleya Hoskin, and I began our investigation by driving into Bugler Slew on Saturday morning.” He had gestured to me sitting in the galley. I was tempted to stand and take a bow. “It had stormed a few days prior, and as we approached the region we noticed that rain run-off was an unusual rust color as it fell from the hillsides. Knowing that the case had been centered on the risks of hydraulic fracturing which is also called fracking, we pulled into a nearby diner and accessed their wireless internet signal to explore the possibility that this discoloration was the result of despoilment caused by the drilling process. We found nothing specific in that regard, but we did learn that brown well water has been blamed on the drilling process. We also learned that fracking has been accused of causing chemicals to leach into the ground water, of causing toxic radon gas to seep into people’s homes, and of causing seismic tremors.”
“Objection, your honor,” Jami Lamont said standing. “The hydraulic fracking industry is not on trial today.”
“Is this relevant, Mr. Schwartz?” the judge asked.
“It is part of the whole truth which I am honor-bound to include on the record,” Schwartz said. “Also it goes toward the mental state of the victim at the time of the incident. He vehemently opposed fracking in his community, and that’s what ultimately contributed to his murder.”
“Proceed,” the judge allowed, “but don’t stray from the relevant.”
“While in the diner, we were introduced to information concerning an ongoing computer hacking activism program wherein sensitive information on the fracking industry was being released to the public. This information dump had begun only after the murder of Mr. Soigne, which caused Ms Hoskin and me to speculate that perhaps somebody was attempting to pressure the Bugler Slew city council to maintain the drilling ban now that the sponsor of the ban was deceased.”
Jami Lamont stood again. “How is Mr. Schwartz’s speculation pertinent to this trial?” she demanded.
Schwartz leaned into the microphone and said, “It bore fruit.”
The judge waved him on. He continued, “Knowing that Mr. Bond was being accused of the murder of Mr. Soigne based on the assumption that he committed the murder in order to benefit financially when and if the drilling ban would be lifted, Ms Hoskin and I determined to inquire if any of Mr. Bond’s neighbors who also stood to benefit had ever heard him complain that he was losing financially, or if perhaps any of them might also have either been involved in the murder either through conspiracy with Mr. Bond or of their own volition.”
He stopped talking and looked around the room knowingly and silently nodding. Finally the judge interjected. “Well,” she said, “how does that speculation about others having the same motive tie to the other speculation about somebody pressuring the Bugler Slew council to maintain the ban?”
“Ms Hoskin and I learned that most of Mr. Bond’s neighbors had no interest in lifting the drilling ban. Some had no claim to the mineral rights which had long since been severed from their property rights, others had no desire to see the rigs on their property, and still others had been paid off by the oil companies rather than face litigation over the fact that the gases and fluids under their property would migrate toward the release of pressure once drilling commenced. This suggested that Mr. Bond might also have received financial recompense for the gas beneath his property, which would mean that he had no motive to oppose the ban.”
“Your honor,” Yves Stacova bellowed, “this is all just speculation on Mr. Schwartz’s part. He has not established any of his initial postulation.”
“Are you objecting to the testimony of your own witness, Mr. Stacova?” the judge demanded. “Need I remind you that you opened this line of speculation? Continue, Mr. Schwartz.”
“When Ms Hoskin and I had been retained for this investigation, we had been told that the prosecution had reason to fear that part of their case was about to be undermined by a revelation from the defense. We had not been told what that revelation might be, but it seemed likely that it was this challenge to motive. However, to me, it seemed odd that the defense would keep such a thing secret if it could simply be used to coerce a dropping of all charges. Why save the information until after the prosecution had made their case, unless it was to either force a directed verdict from the judge or to force the jury to reach a not-guilty verdict? What would this accomplish that dropped charges could not accomplish? The only thing I could imagine was that it would leave Mr. Bond immune from further charges should a different motive be discovered later. The doctrine of double-jeopardy would apply.”
“Your honor, before this goes any further,” Jami Lamont shouted, “all of this is nothing but speculation, and I would like to have the jury cleared.”
Ten minutes later the jury had been sequestered, and Schwartz was allowed to continue. The court reporter refreshed his memory as to his place in his narrative, and he began where he’d left off. “The question then became what other motive might Mr. Bond have for wanting Mr. Soigne dead? We had to assume that it was somehow related to Mr. Soigne’s position on council, so perhaps it had been something he had done in the past. As it turns out, Mr. Soigne’s previous and greatest accomplishment as a member of council had been another business ban. He had successfully lobbied to have gambling machines outlawed within the city limits of Bugler Slew.”
“My client has no association with the gambling industry,” Jami Lamont crowed.
“That’s true,” Schwartz agreed, “but another Bugler Slew resident, Doroteo Sagese, would benefit from both an end to the gambling ban and a lifting of the drilling moratorium. My theory became as follows, what if misters Bond and Sagese had colluded to kill Ed Soigne? With Soigne out of the way, Sagese could quickly work to overturn both laws, and he could then retire from council and open several gambling cafés in town. Sagese could not, however, commit the murder himself, so he enlisted Mr. Bond to do it for him. Sagese would have to promise Bond enough to make it worth his while to take the risk, and assure that Bond could not be convicted. So he arranged for Bond to receive a payout from the oil company worth as much as he would have received had the drilling actually been done on his property thus making whatever motive the state could come up with disappear. Meanwhile, Mr. Bond would make a point of letting everybody know that he was irate over the ban without ever directly saying that he had personally lost money due to its existence.”
“All of this is speculation,” Jami Lamont parroted.
“Mr. Schwartz, do you have any evidence to support these claims?”
“Do you recall earlier when I was mentioning the anonymous internet hacker who was trying to assure that the drilling ban would remain in place?” Schwartz asked coyly.
“I do,” the judge said scrunching her face in worry.
“Hackers have this trick where they breech a business’ server – say a gas company – and then use the business’ own email account to request information from their lawyers without the business ever being the wiser. It involves listing the incoming mail as spam.”
“Are you telling me that you illegally viewed correspondence suggesting that Mr. Bond received a larger than usual payment for his mineral rights?” the judge demanded.
“As I understand the law,” Schwartz said, “even though I have sworn to tell the whole truth, I cannot legally be compelled to offer testimony which might implicate me in a crime.”
“Are you invoking the fifth, Mr. Schwartz?” the judge demanded.
“Hypothetically speaking,” Schwartz said, “if you believe that I acquired my evidence through illegal means, what would be your course of action?”
“I cannot compel you to offer testimony which might implicate you criminally, and I cannot allow the jury to hear evidence which was illegally acquired or was even only potentially acquired illegally. I would have no choice but to declare a mistrial. As you said, one cannot un-ring a bell.”
“And if you declare a mistrial,” Schwartz continued, “Would Mr. Bond be allowed to go free?”
“Yes,” the judge said, “until such time as the prosecution can find untainted evidence to re-file charges.”
“One more question,” Schwartz said. “If a mistrial is declared, and if Mr. Bond is allowed to go free for now, and if untainted evidence is found which implicates Mr. Bond and Mr. Sagese in a criminal conspiracy, do you think the prosecutor’s office might be tempted to offer Mr. Bond a deal which includes protection if he cooperates against Mr. Sagese? Especially if he promised to give his ill-gotten gains to Mr. Soigne’s devastated family?”
“You would have to ask Mr. Stacova that question,” the judge said.
Schwartz shifted his gaze to Stacova. Stacova looked over at Bond and noticed an imploring look in the defendant’s eyes. “A person can’t legally benefit from a criminal act,” the lawyer said, “but giving the money to the Soigne family would be a sign of good faith. We could probably work out a deal,” Stacova said.
“In that case,” Schwartz said, “I’m pleading the fifth.”
The judge banged her gavel. “Then I’m afraid I have no choice but to declare a mistrial,” she said.
Bond leapt to his feet shouting, “I confess.”
In the confusion, Schwartz simply stood from his seat next to the judge and strode from the courtroom as the lawyers, bailiff, and other court officers surrounded the defendant’s table. I followed behind him as he passed me in the galley, and once outside I got up to his ear and said, “What the hell just happened in there?”
“George Bond just confessed to murder,” Schwartz replied matter-of-factly.
“I know that, but why?” I asked.
“Because he doesn’t want to be killed on the street by Doroteo Sagese, I would imagine,” Schwartz said pressing the button to the elevator. “I’m hungry,” he added. “Do you happen to know what Beverly is planning for lunch?”
The elevator door opened and we stepped inside, “Why is he so afraid of Doroteo Sagese all of a sudden?” I demanded.
Schwartz raised a finger while the doors slid closed. Once we were alone he said, “Because his cellmate told him that Doroteo Sagese got word from his lawyer that somebody knows about the deal they had, and that word on the street is that George Bond worked out a deal to turn evidence on Sagese to get all of the charges dropped.”
“Why would his cellmate tell him that?” I asked, but even as I asked I understood.
“Because,” Schwartz began, but I interrupted.
“Because that was what you instructed John Dachnewel to tell him in that letter you had me slip to him yesterday.”
“Very good,” Schwartz said as the doors opened revealing the lobby and John Dachnewel who was waiting for us with the Soigne family. Over Dachnewel’s arm I saw a familiar sport coat, tie and belt.
“Mr. Schwartz,” Daniel said, “I see my father’s pants and shirt fit you.”
“Yes,” Schwartz said taking Dan’s extended hand to shake. “Thank you for bringing them. It was much better than appearing in court wearing the same wrinkled clothes I’d had on the day before.”
“Did everything work according to plan?” Dee Dee asked hopefully.
“Bond is working out the specifics of his confession as we speak,” Schwartz said.
“It’s a lucky thing for you that he is too,” Judge Severin Nemesio said as she appeared on the mezzanine. She continued berating Schwartz as she made her way to the stairs to our level. “Do you realize how difficult it would have been for the prosecutor to find evidence that wouldn’t be challenged tying George Bond to Doroteo Sagese after you illegally viewed it and announced it in open court?”
“Your honor,” Schwartz said, “I never said that I saw any such evidence.”
“You invoked the fifth to avoid admitting it,” she shouted.
“Or I invoked the fifth rather than acknowledge that I had no direct knowledge that any such evidence actually exists,” Schwartz said. “Once Mr. Bond releases the documents as part of his plea deal, the associated law office will tell you whether or not they received an email concerning them from the associated oil company this weekend. I doubt very strongly that they will say there had been such an email.”
“So that was a bluff?” the judge asked in recognition.
“If it hadn’t worked, the prosecutor could issue a warrant and find the evidence free of taint,” Schwartz said. “The important thing was to force a mistrial to prevent an acquittal. Luckily though, Mr. Bond chose to confess rather than face Mr. Sagese.”
Luckily? There was no luck involved, and Schwartz knew this. He’d stacked the deck. In fact, he’d stacked the deck in more ways than this, but I was only going to learn this information shortly.
“Fortunately for you, that’s true,” the judge said, then she begrudgingly added, “Good work, Mr. Schwartz.”
She turned for the elevator and returned to her courtroom to await her opportunity to sign off on the confession and to release the jury.
“Is he actually going to sign over his mineral rights money to us?” Donny asked excitedly.
“He’s not allowed to profit from his misdeeds, and the oil company is already legally bound to honor their commitment. Besides, they aren’t going to challenge the amount. They don’t want questions about why they agreed to such a large payout, so yes, you will be getting the money. The prosecutor made the promise in open court.”
“How much do you think it will be?” Donny asked.
“I don’t know that much about the gas company, but I would assume it will be at least $200,000.”
“So that means at least $150,000 that we can use to donate to anti-fracking organizations. That’s delicious irony,” Donny said.
“$150,000?” I said inquisitively. “What about the rest?”
“That’s Mr. Schwartz’s reward,” Danny said. “Mr. Dachnewel called us during dinner last night and told us about Mr. Schwartz’s plan, and we agreed that if he could get Mr. Bond to confess and implicate any co-conspirators and also agree to give us his ill-gotten gains to use as we see fit, that Mr. Schwartz would receive 25% as a fee.”
“Wow,” I said.
Schwartz said his farewells to his clients, and we retrieved his Delahaye from the parking garage. I didn’t even object when he asked me to pay for two days parking with my credit card. I had visions of dollar signs from my share of the reward. “That was very impressive, I must admit, the way you finagled that large payout for us. Don’t forget our deal,” I whispered to Schwartz.
“I haven’t forgotten,” Schwartz said. “The prosecutor’s office pays me $150 a day, and I put in four days. That’s $600, a quarter of which is yours, after taxes.”
“You mean I don’t get any of the $50 grand?” I said in shock.
“You really need to pay closer attention to the contracts you sign,” Schwartz said shaking his head and rolling his eyes.
If you enjoyed this brief introduction to the Lupa Schwartz mysteries' cast of characters, check out their other stories in full novel form by clicking here.