Chapter Twenty One
"The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it. ~Albert Einstein
Two days later:
The sign on Travis’s door read:
ENTER . . . Coffee fresh. Soda and water in fridge. I’m on phone.
She quietly closed the door, grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge, and tread softly down the hall to Travis’ office.
He was learning back in his chair, head cradled in his hands with his eyes closed. “Okay. Yeah. Sounds reasonable. I’ll be in touch.” He ended the call, stretched and spotted Susan. He motioned her to a chair that had been positioned so that she would be able to view his computer desktop. “I’ve been tying up loose ends with Traynor and Tillman.”
“Wesley? Isn’t he still in Washington?”
“No, he and another agent have been in Baton Rouge since Friday of last week. He returned to Hazelton early this morning. How’s Maddie today?”
“The migraine is gone, so it’s a good day. Yesterday she was a little spacy, but today she’s back to normal. Are we going by the bank this morning? I brought the key.”
“Later. Wesley is going to be dropping by. I think he’ll be able to fill in the missing pieces. I thought that you’d want to be here.”
She took the key out of her pocket and handed it to him. “Sorry, about yesterday.”
“No problem. In fact, today is better for me. Since whatever is in the box belongs to Maddie, we won’t use it unless she gives us permission. Could be it’s the book she was working on. If it turns out to be more information about McCorkle, it will be icing on the cake.”
“I am still adjusting to the fact that both Maddie and Charles went to such lengths to see that justice was served. Travis, I’ve decided that there’s some information that I don’t want Lara to have. Maybe someday, when she’s emotionally stronger.”
Travis said, “You might want to rethink that, Susan. It’ll all come out at the trial.”
“The trial won’t be for a couple of months, will it?”
“I’ll tell her before trial, but I want to wait until I’ve read your full report. I need time to digest the information.”
“You are my client, so I’m sensitive to the pain you and your family have suffered, but the unfortunate fact is that there are dozens, if not hundreds, of families who have been destroyed by the drugs McCorkle and his employees have peddled. Not to mention the children and adults who have been sold to be used as sex slaves. The police have found evidence of several homicides, and several questionable accidents that are connected to McCorkle in one way or another.”
“That sounds like something Charles would have said.”
“On those days when your anger comes back, remember that Charles and Maddie wanted to put an end to the pain and suffering. None of us can end all of it, but we do try. When you hired me to look into Charles’ disappearance, there’s no way I could have foreseen the kind of snake pit I would be stepping into."
“I have two questions, Travis. How involved has the FBI been? And if they knew about the human trafficking, why didn’t they step in before now?”
“The FBI has been trying to get a handle on the drug and human trafficking in the southeast for three years, but they haven’t had enough concrete evidence to make any arrests. They had agents working under cover, but what they have been after is the money men.
“When Wesley contacted me, he hadn’t been personally assigned to look into any of the crimes, but he had been briefed. When he read about Charles and Donovan’s longstanding friendship in my files, he immediately suspected a connection between Charles’ case and the corruption in city hall. Because of his suspicions, he dug deeper.
“After consulting Traynor and talking to me, he was convinced that McCorkle was the common thread. Wesley is wickedly smart, Susan. He sees connections that others miss. He noticed the similarities between the local crime organization and George McCorkle’s organization in Chicago when no one else did. George was Van’s dad.
“The dominoes began to fall because Maddie didn’t trust McCorkle. She believed that he was negatively influencing Mayor Keller, and she was livid. At that point, I imagine it was more about protecting Donovan, than investigating McCorkle. We’ll never know unless Maddie remembers.
“He was only a blip in the FBI’s McCorkle file, but Maddie didn’t buy that. She was convinced that he was a crooked as his dad, but smarter.”
Susan said, “I remember reading that Van’s brother was in prison? When did Milo get out?”
“He was released three years ago. He dropped out of sight at about the same time the FBI started hearing rumors about gun running, racketeering and money laundering in the Carolinas. FBI agents’ noses go to the ground when obvious similarities to other crime organizations occur, or when they know that a notorious criminal is on the loose.”
Travis pulled up an image on the computer. “Take a look at this photo. Recognize it?”
“It’s one of the photos that Maddie sent to the police, isn’t it?”
Travis nodded and pulled up a second photo. “This photo of Milo McCorkle was included with the McCorkle family’s background information. Milo now goes by the name Mitch Somner.”
“Well, I’ll be. I remember thinking that Mitch Somner looked familiar. He has the McCorkle eyes.”
“Snake eyes. Van has replicated his dad’s organization, but he’s been smarter and more patient while doing it. It’s taken almost twenty years to establish himself in the Hazelton area. He operated under the radar for years while waiting for the ideal politician to befriend and represent.
“Donovan’s ambition and his insecurities played right into Van’s hands. If Maddie hadn’t become suspicious, the McCorkle organization would probably still be operating smoothly.”
“How large is his organization?”
“Any figure I give you would be a guess, but it’s safe to say that hundreds of people are involved. Van is the kingpin. Our guess is that Mel Patterson was the muscle until Milo was brought into the organization.
“The information we now have, came from the FBI’s files, Traynor’s files, Maddie’s notes and Charles’ letter. I’m not at liberty to share all of the information.”
“No problem. If I have specific questions, I’ll ask.”
“Do you remember seeing the names Sid Morrison, Adam Fournier and Mason Argos?”
“Morrison and Fournier’s names came up in one of my conversations with Maddie, and I saw Mason Argos’s background report.”
“Van McCorkle, in addition to those three, were part of a secret fraternity during their college years. There was never enough proof for an arrest, but it was rumored that they were selling drugs and running a prostitution ring.
“After college, they went their separate ways. Morrison eventually ended up in Atlanta and Argos in Charlotte. According to the FBI, both men are involved in illegal activities.” He pulled up three photos and placed them side by side. He pointed to the first in line. That is Argos. The second is Morrison and the third is Fournier. As you can see from the photos, all three attended several of the Keller's social functions."
“So, that’s why Charles sent the photos to the police.”
“It appears so. He trusted his aunt’s judgment. As a crime reporter, Maddie was one of those rare individuals who believed wholeheartedly in the law. In addition, she was willing to put herself in harm’s way to protect the people who were unable to protect themselves. When she changed careers, she approached her writing in the same way that she approached her job as a crime reporter.
Susan nodded. “Sadly, she feels responsible for Donovan’s fall from grace, and Charles’ death.”
“That’s something she is going to have to live with.”
“You suggested that Mel was the muscle before Milo took over. Does that mean that he was the person responsible for eliminating the organization’s enemies?”
“For a time, he was. I’ll let Wesley fill you in on Mel and Milo. He knows the details of the investigation into Mel’s accident and death.”
“Death? When did he die?”
“Two days ago.”
Susan’s eyes widened “My biggest regret in the outcome of the case is not having someone stand trial for Charles’ murder. As a result, the newspapers will never have to retract their negative statements about him.”
Travis glanced toward the door as Wesley came striding into the room. “It’s about damn time you got here, Wesley. I was just telling Susan that you would fill her in on the Baton Rouge investigation.”
Wesley nodded to Travis and Susan in turn. “Travis. Susan. I’m on a tight schedule, so forgive me for skipping the pleasantries.” He reached in his pocket and removed a plastic bag and handed it to Susan. “I wanted to deliver these in person, Susan.”
Her hand trembled as she reached for the bag. “Thank you.” She opened the bag and choked up. “Excuse me.” She stood and hurried out of the room.”
Wesley winced. “Damn, Travis. I read her wrong. I thought she would prefer a direct approach.”
“There is no good way to deliver personal possessions. Give her a minute. She’s a tough cookie. I’ve given her an overview of McCorkle’s organization, but I didn’t tell her anything about Mel’s death or your findings.”
Moments later, Susan reentered the room. “Sorry guys. Sometimes the memories are tough to handle. I knew that Charles’ watch had been found, but I didn’t know about his ring.”
Wesley’s voice was gentle, “Travis didn’t know about the ring. No one knew until I went through Mel’s possessions. When I read the ring’s inscription, I knew it wasn’t his.”
Susan brushed away a tear. “Anyone who takes a ring off a dead man’s finger is truly evil.” She slumped into a chair.
Wesley put his hand on her shoulder. “I agree. Words are inadequate at times.”
“Thanks for your concern, Wesley. I’m fine now. I don’t want to hold you up. Just tell me what I need to know about your findings.”
Wesley took one of the remaining chairs in the room and turned it so that he faced Susan. “
“To you, the wheels of justice must seem to grind slowly, but building an iron-clad case takes time. Van McCorkle is smart, knows the law and has a loyal network of employees. It’s difficult to bring down long established organizations.”
Susan locked eyes with his. “I understand that, Wesley, and I also understand that my family isn’t the only family who has suffered. But, a man like Milo shouldn’t be walking the streets.”
“He’s been detained. My partner, Dutch, and I were sent to Baton Rouge to search Mel’s car for evidence that Charles was a passenger. It was a long shot.”
“But, he had Charles’ watch.”
“Having Charles’ watch in his possession could have been explained. Dutch and I found traces of Charles’ blood and few strands of his hair in the car. Our open and shut case against Patterson became irrelevant when Mel died. We changed our minds when we learned that his condition had been upgraded the day before. His death was a little too convenient.
“Dutch and I reexamined his car and found that the brake line had been cut. Because of our findings we checked for fingerprints other than Mel’s. Bingo. We found a partial that belong to none other than Milo McCorkle, aka Mitch Somner.
“We ordered an autopsy on Mel’s body and learned that the cause of death was asphyxiation. In laymen’s terms, he was smothered. Milo’s fingerprints weren’t in Mel’s hospital room, but there was one thumb print on the door jamb leading into his room. He was also spotted on one of the hospital cameras.”
Susan broke her silence. “Has he been charged with Mel’s death?”
“Yes. We’ll have to see how this plays out. He’s guilty of crimes in Ohio, North Carolina and Louisiana.”
“Let me make sure that I understand the evidence chain. Mel murdered Charles, and then Milo murdered Mel to cover up Mel’s crime.”
“That’s the assumption. Even if Mel had lived, there’s a possibility that he would have walked. It’s hard to prove a murder when there’s no body. The salient point is that there’s enough evidence to convict Milo of numerous crimes.”
Susan said, “As difficult as it is to accept that Charles was murdered, I’m grateful my family doesn’t have to deal with years of uncertainty. Would I like to see the person responsible for his death behind bars? You bet. But, Mel’s dead, and I’m not going to waste my time or energy hating a dead man. On the other hand, I’ll find great satisfaction in seeing the McCorkle brothers behind bars. Van McCorkle is guilty of Charles’ murder even though he wasn’t physically involved.”
“Don’t expect immediate results, Susan, and don’t expect the rumors and innuendoes to subside any time soon. The corruption scandal will dominate the headlines and news broadcasts until the trial is over, and that won’t be for months. There is good news. There are enough charges against McCorkle to keep him in prison for the rest of his life. Unfortunately, it will take years for the city government officials to regain the trust of the people.”
Susan took a deep breath. “Wesley, I appreciate what you and the FBI have done. I really do. I’ve watched the direction this investigation was taking, so none of this information comes as a shock. I haven’t lied to Lara and Maddie, but I haven’t shared everything that Travis has reported.”
“I was hoping that Charles’ name would not be dragged through the mud again.”
Travis interrupted the conversation. “That’s not going to happen, Susan. I’ve already talked to a reporter friend who works for Hazelton Times. He is working on an article that will enumerate Charles and Maddie’s contributions to Hazelton and to the people of Hazelton. He will make it clear that the McCorkle brothers would not have been exposed if Charles and Maddie had not been willing to put their lives in jeopardy. The article won’t stop all of the gossip, but it will go a long way toward undoing the damage that was done to Charles’ reputation.”
“Thank you, Travis. I’ve learned to live with the insinuations. It’s more difficult for Maddie and Lara.”
Wesley glanced at his watch. “Sorry, I’ve got to run. I hope I’ve answered your questions. Travis if you need anything else from me, send me a text. Susan, I’ll see you at the Thanksgiving dinner table.”
“Uh . . . you will?”
“I understand that you and Lara will be at the Thanksgiving shindig that Ms. Lou and Dora are planning. So, will I. Tell Lara that Chris is counting the days.”
Susan’s eyes followed him out of the room.
Travis asked, “What was that all about?”
Susan’s voice was indignant, “What are you talking about?”
Travis voice softened. “I know that you’ve lost your soulmate, and I’m sure that some days you wish that you didn’t have to go on without him. Charles is gone, Susan. You’re here. Be grateful for the time you had with him, but don’t hide in a closet. Single men with Wesley’s integrity are hard to find. You might not be ready for a romantic relationship, but you are going to need friends.”
Three weeks after her conversation with Travis and Wesley, Susan woke to the smell of coffee. The aroma was tantalizing, but puzzling. Lara slept in on Saturday’s and Maddie rarely rose before ten. Susan pulled on a pair of worn jeans and her favorite college sweatshirt.
She found Maddie at the kitchen counter pouring a mug of coffee.
“There’s nothing like the aroma coffee to get a person up and going. Sometimes I think it’s more about the smell than the taste.”
Maddie glanced her way. “Mornin’ dahlin’.” She poured a second cup and handed it to Susan.
“You’re up with the birds, Aunt Maddie. Do you have plans that I don’t know about?”
“No plans. Since I’m not writing, I have absolutely no reason for burning the midnight oil.”
Susan reached for the newspaper on the table and handed it to Maddie. “You made coffee, I’ll cook breakfast. Relax and read the paper while I make omelets.”
Maddie nodded and then opened the paper. “I’m not going to turn down an offer like that.” She let out a gasp. “Well, praise the Lord!”
“What are you reading?”
Maddie turned the paper so Susan could read the headlines.
Tri-State Roundup of Criminals.
Susan’s hand flew to her heart. “Excuse my French, but it’s about damn time. I don’t suppose the article even mentioned you and Charles. I wish I had the resources to put out a newsflash that the roundup might have been delayed for years if you and Charles hadn’t been willing to expose the criminal activity that was going on in around Hazelton. Both of you deserve a word of praise.”
“Honey, we weren’t looking for recognition or thanks. We wanted justice for the people who were suffering. And as far as an article is concerned, Travis’s friend plans to write one, but he had to wait until the criminals were in custody.”
“I hope you are right. What the paper needs to do is print a retraction, but that’s not going to happen."
Maddie said, “There hasn’t been much to celebrate since my accident, but today comes close. Justice has been served. I don’t remember why I decided to take on the city hall corruption, but I’m positive if I could have foreseen what the outcome would be, I wouldn’t have taken those photos. I couldn’t have loved Charles more. To lose him in his prime is a tragedy. He was a brave man, Susan. Be proud of him. He gave his life so that hundreds of others could live.”
“I am proud of him, Maddie, and I’m proud of you. He wouldn’t want you to have regrets.”
“I hope not.”
“Now, I have something for you. I’ve been waiting for the right time to give it to you. I’ll be back in a sec.” Moments later Susan returned and laid a manuscript on the kitchen table.
Maddie was momentarily speechless. “I . . .
“After your accident, Charles found the manuscript for your memoir on a thumb drive. He knew that it would be quite some time before you would be able to finish the final chapters, so he printed out a copy. He put the printed copy in a safety deposit box, and kept the drive. Unless that is one of the drives that was stolen, the drive has disappeared. You have Charles to thank for protecting the manuscript.”
Tears were rolling down Maddie’s cheeks. “I can’t tell you how thrilled I am. I would give anything to be able to write the last few chapters.”
“I talked to your editor, Maddie. She misses working with you. She would like to fly down next week and discuss the memoir. She assured me that if you don’t feel comfortable doing the final writing yourself, she will find a ghost writer. She was beyond happy to hear from me.”
Maddie’s voice trembled, “Do you think I can do it?
“I know you can. Lara, Travis and I will help you with the details.”
“I can’t believe this is happening.”
“Believe it Maddie! Think of this as your reward. Now, why don’t you read the newspaper article to me while I cook. After we’ve finished breakfast, we’re going shopping. Both of us need new outfits.”