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The Confession  忏悔-The Confession

广东36选7好彩3开奖奖金多少 Before sunrise Friday, a short caravan of vehicles departed the town and traveled east. The lead vehicle was Robbie's customized van, with Aaron Rey at the wheel and Carlos riding shotgun. Robbie sat in his favorite chair, sipped coffee, glanced through the newspapers, and generally ignored Martha Handler, who was gulping coffee and scribbling notes and trying to wake up. Behind them was the Subaru, with Keith driving and Boyette gripping his cane and staring into the darkness. Behind the Subaru was a three-quarter-ton pickup truck with Fred Pryor at the wheel. His passengers were two private security guards who had worked off and on during the past few days to protect Robbie's law office and his home. The truck was Fred's, and it carried shovels, flashlights, and other equipment. Behind the truck was another van, white and unmarked, owned by the TV station in Slone and driven by a news director named Bryan Day, nicknamed Hairspray Day for obvious reasons. With Day was a cameraman called Buck.

The four vehicles had gathered in the long driveway of Robbie's home at 5:00 a.m. and managed to weave through side streets and back roads for a stealthy and successful getaway. The office had received enough phone calls and e-mails to convince Robbie that certain people were curious about where he might be headed on Friday.

He'd slept five hours, and it took a pill to achieve that. He was beyond the point of exhaustion, but there was so much left to do. After leaving Lamb & Son, and briefly seeing the body, he took his entourage home, where DeDe managed to produce enough food to feed everyone. Keith and Boyette slept on sofas in the basement while a maid washed and ironed their clothes.

Everyone was exhausted, but no one had trouble jumping out of bed.

Carlos was on his cell phone, listening more than talking, and when the conversation was over, he announced, "That was my man at the radio station. Forty or so arrests, two dozen injuries, but no fatalities, which is a miracle. They have sealed off most of downtown, and things have settled down for the moment. Lots of fires, too many to count. Fire trucks here from Paris, Tyler, other places. At least three police cars have been hit with Molotov cocktails, which has become the weapon of choice. They torched the press box at the football field and it's still burning. Most of the fires are in empty buildings. No homes, yet. Rumor is that the governor is sending in more guardsmen. Nothing confirmed, though."

"And what happens if we find the body?" Martha asked.

Robbie shook his head and thought for a second. "Then last night was child's play."

They had debated the various combinations and arrangements for the trip. To make sure Boyette didn't vanish, Robbie wanted him secured in his van under the watchful eye of Aaron Rey and Fred Pryor. But he just couldn't stomach the thought of being confined in a small place for several hours with the creep. Keith was adamant that he was driving his Subaru, primarily because he was determined to be in Topeka by late Friday afternoon, with or without Boyette. Like Robbie, he had no desire to sit near Boyette, but since he had done it once, he assured Robbie that he could do it again.

Fred Pryor had suggested they toss Boyette in the rear seat of the club cab of his truck and keep guns on him. Among Robbie's team, there was a yearning for retribution, and if Boyette did indeed lead them to the body, Fred Pryor and Aaron Rey could easily be convinced to take him somewhere behind the trees and put him out of his misery. Keith sensed this, and they respected his presence. There would be no violence.

The inclusion of Bryan Day had been complicated. Robbie trusted no reporter, period. However, if they found what they were looking for, it would need to be properly recorded, and by someone outside his circle. Of course Day had been eager to tag along, but he had been forced to agree to a list of firm conditions that basically prevented him from reporting anything until so directed by Robbie Flak. If he tried, he and Buck the cameraman would in all likelihood be either beaten or shot, or both. Day and Buck understood that the stakes were high and the rules would be followed. Because Day was the station's news director, he was able to slip away without leaving clues at the office.

"Can we talk?" Martha asked. They had been on the road for half an hour, and there were hints of orange in the sky ahead of them.

"No," Robbie said.

"It's been almost twelve hours since he died. What are you thinking?"

"I'm fried, Martha. My brain is not working. There are no thoughts."

"What did you think when you saw his body?"

"It's a sick world when we kill people because we assume we have the right to kill them. I thought he looked great, this handsome young man lying there asleep, no visible injuries, no signs of a struggle. Put down like an old dog by bigots and idiots too lazy and too stupid to realize what they're doing. You know what I'm really thinking about, Martha?"

"Tell me."

"I'll tell you. I'm thinking about Vermont, cool summers, no humidity, no executions. A civilized place. A cabin on a lake. I can learn to shovel snow. If I sell everything and close my firm, maybe I can net a million. I'll retire to Vermont and write a book."

"About what?"

"I have no idea."

"No one believes that, Robbie. You'll never leave. You might take some time off, catch your breath, but before long you'll find another case and get mad and file a lawsuit, or ten. You'll be doing that until you're eighty, and they'll carry you out of the station on a stretcher."

"I'll never see eighty. I'm fifty-two now and I feel like a geezer."

"You'll be suing people when you're eighty."

"I don't know."

"I do. I know where your heart is."

"Right now my heart is broken, and I'm ready to quit. A half-ass lawyer could've saved Donte."

"And what could this half-ass lawyer have done differently?"

Robbie showed her both palms and said, "Not now, Martha. Please."

In the car behind them, the first words were spoken when Boyette said, "Did you really watch the execution?"

Keith took a sip of coffee and waited awhile. "Yes, I did. It wasn't planned; it just happened at the last second. I didn't want to watch it."

"Do you wish you hadn't?"

"That's a very good question, Travis."

"Thank you."

"On the one hand, I wish I had not watched a man die, especially a man who claimed to be innocent."

"He is innocent, or was."

"I tried to pray with him, but he refused. He said he doesn't believe in God, though he once did. As a minister, it's very difficult to be with someone who is facing death and does not believe in God or Christ or heaven. I've stood at hospital beds and watched my members die, and it's always comforting to know that their souls are bound for a glorious hereafter. Not so with Donte."

"Nor with me."

"On the other hand, I saw something in the death chamber that should be seen by everyone. Why hide what we are doing?"

"So you would watch another one?"

"I didn't say that, Travis." It was a question Keith could not answer. He was struggling with his first execution; he couldn't imagine the next one. Just hours earlier, seconds before he'd finally fallen asleep, the image of Donte strapped to the deathbed came into focus, and Keith ran through it again in slow motion. He remembered staring at Donte's chest as it lifted slightly, then fell. Lifted, then fell. Up and down, barely noticeable. And then it stopped. He had just watched a man exhale for the final time. Keith knew the image would never go away.

The sky was lighter to the east. They crossed into Oklahoma.

Boyette said, "I guess that's my last trip to Texas."

Keith could not think of a response.

The governor's helicopter touched down at 9:00 a.m. Since the media had received plenty of advance notice and were waiting anxiously, there was considerable debate among the governor and Barry and Wayne about the details of the landing. En route, they finally settled on the parking lot next to the football field. The media were informed and scrambled to Slone High School for this late-breaking development. The press box was badly damaged, charred, and smoldering. Firemen were still on the scene, cleaning up. When Gill Newton emerged from his chopper, he was met by state police, colonels from the Guard, and a few carefully selected and weary firefighters. He shook their hands warmly as if they were Marines returning from combat. Barry and Wayne were quick to survey the surroundings, and they organized the press conference so that the backdrop would be the football field and, most important, the burned-out press box. The governor was wearing jeans, cowboy boots, no tie, and a Windbreaker--a real working man.

With a troubled face but an enthusiastic spirit, he faced the cameras and reporters. He condemned the violence and unrest. He promised to protect the citizens of Slone. He announced he was calling in more guardsmen and would mobilize the entire Texas National Guard, if need be. He talked about justice, Texas style. He engaged in a bit of race-baiting by calling on black leaders to rein in the hooligans. He said nothing of the sort about white troublemakers. He ranted and raved, and when he was finished, he ducked away from the microphones without taking questions. Neither he nor Barry and Wayne wanted to deal with the Boyette matter.

For an hour he buzzed around Slone in a patrol car, stopping to drink coffee with soldiers and policemen, and to chat with citizens, and to survey, with a grim and pained face, the ruins of the First Baptist Church, and all the while the cameras were rolling, recording it all for the glory of the moment, but also for future campaigns.

After five hours, the caravan finally stopped at a country store north of Neosho, Missouri, twenty miles south of Joplin. After a restroom break and more coffee, they headed north, now with the Subaru in the lead and the other vehicles close behind.

Boyette was visibly nervous, the tic more active, his fingers thumping the cane. "We're getting close to the turnoff," he said. "It's to the left." They were on Highway 59, a busy two-lane road in Newton County. They turned left at the bottom of a hill, next to a gas station. "This looks right," Travis kept saying, obviously anxious about where he was taking them. They were on a county road with bridges over small creeks, sharp curves, steep hills. Most of the homes were trailers with an occasional square redbrick from the 1950s.

"This looks right," Boyette said.

"And you lived around here, Travis?"

"Yep, right up here." He nodded, and when he did so, he began rubbing his temples. Please, Keith thought, not another seizure. Not at this moment. They stopped at an intersection in the middle of a small settlement. "Keep going straight," Boyette said. Past a shopping center with a grocery, hair salon, video rental. The parking lot was gravel. "This looks right," he said again.

Keith had questions, but he said little. Was Nicole still alive, Travis, when you drove through here? Or had you already taken her life? What were you thinking, Travis, when you drove through here nine years ago with that poor girl bound and gagged and bruised, traumatized after a long weekend of sexual assault?

They turned to the left, onto another road that was paved but narrower, and drove a mile before they passed a dwelling. "Old man Deweese had a store up here," Travis said. "I'll bet it's gone now. He was ninety years old when I was a kid." They stopped at a stop sign in front of Deweese's Country Market.

"I robbed that place once," Travis said. "Couldn't have been more than ten. Crawled through a window. Hated the old bastard. Keep going straight."

Keith did as he was told and said nothing.

"This was gravel last time I was here," Boyette said, as if recalling a pleasant boyhood memory.

"And when was that?" Keith asked.

"I don't know, Pastor. My last visit to see Nicole."

You sick puppy, Keith thought. The road had sharp turns, so sharp that at times Keith thought they would loop back and meet themselves. The two vans and the pickup stayed close behind. "Look for a little creek with a wooden bridge," Boyette said. "This looks right." A hundred yards past the bridge, Boyette said, "Slow down now."

"We're going ten miles an hour, Travis."

Travis was looking to their left, where thick underbrush and weeds lined the road. "There's a gravel road here, somewhere," he said. "Slower." The caravan was almost bumper-to-bumper.

In the van, Robbie said, "Come on, Travis, you sick little weasel. Don't make liars out of us."

Keith turned left onto a shaded gravel road with oaks and elms entangled above it. The trail was narrow and dark like a tunnel. "This is it," Boyette said, relieved, for the moment. "This road sort of follows the creek for a while. There's a camping area down here on the right, or at least there was." Keith checked his odometer. They went 1.2 miles into the near darkness with the creek showing up occasionally. There was no traffic, no room for traffic, and no sign of human life anywhere in the vicinity. The camping area was just an open space with room for a few tents and cars, and it appeared to have been forgotten. The weeds were knee-high. Two wooden picnic tables were broken and turned on their sides. "We camped here when I was a kid," Boyette said.

Keith almost felt sorry for him. He was trying to remember something pleasant and normal from his wretched childhood.

"I think we should stop here," Boyette said. "I'll explain."

The four vehicles stopped and everyone gathered in front of the Subaru. Boyette used his cane as a pointer and said, "There's a dirt trail that goes up that hill. You can't see the trail from here, but it's here, or it used to be. Only the truck can get up there. The other vehicles should stay here."

"How far up there?" Robbie asked.

"I didn't check the odometer, but I'd say a quarter of a mile."

"And what will we find when we get there, Boyette?" Robbie asked.

Boyette leaned on his cane and studied the weeds at his feet. "That's where the grave is, Mr. Flak. That's where you'll find Nicole."

"Tell us about the grave," Robbie pressed on.

"She's buried in a metal box, a large toolbox I took from the construction site where I worked. The top of the box is two feet under the ground. It's been nine years, so the ground is thick with vegetation. It will be difficult to locate. But I think I can get close. This is all coming back to me now, now that I'm here."

They discussed the logistics and decided that Carlos, Martha Handler, Day and Buck, and one of the security guards (armed) would stay at the campsite. The rest would pile into Fred's pickup and assault the hill with a video camera.

"One last thing," Boyette said. "Years ago this property was known as Roop's Mountain, owned by the Roop family, pretty tough folks. They took a dim view of trespassers and hunters, and they were notorious for running off campers. That's one reason I picked this place. I knew there wouldn't be much traffic." A pause as Boyette grimaced and rubbed his temples. "Anyway, there were a lot of Roops, so I figure it's still in the family. If we bump into someone, we better be prepared for trouble."

"Where do they live?" Robbie asked, somewhat nervously.

Boyette waved his cane in another direction. "A good ways off. I don't think they will hear or see us."

"Let's go," Robbie said.

What had begun on Monday morning with a seemingly routine pastoral conference now came down to this--Keith was riding in the rear of a pickup truck, bouncing up the side of Roop's Mountain, which was nothing more than a medium-size hill dense with kudzu and poison ivy and thick woods, facing a real chance of armed conflict with surly landowners no doubt high on meth, in the final push to determine whether Travis Boyette was, in fact, telling the truth. If they did not find Nicole's remains, Boyette was a fraud, Keith was a fool, and Texas had just executed the right person, in all likelihood.

If, however, they found the body, then, well, Keith could not comprehend what would happen next. Certainty had become a fuzzy concept, but he was reasonably certain that he would be home sometime that night. He couldn't begin to imagine what would happen in Texas, but he was sure he wouldn't be there. He would watch it all on television, from a safe distance. He was fairly certain events down there would be sensational and probably historic.

Boyette was in the front seat, rubbing his head and straining to see something familiar. He pointed to his right--he was sure the grave was to the right of the trail--and said, "This might be familiar." The area was a dense patch of weeds and saplings. They stopped, got out, and grabbed two metal detectors. For fifteen minutes, they scoured the thick undergrowth looking for clues and waiting for the detectors to make their noise. Boyette limped along, whacking weeds with his cane, followed by Keith and watched by everyone. "Look for an old tire, a tractor tire," Boyette said more than once.

But there was no tire, and no noise from the detectors. They retook their positions in the truck and moved slowly onward, inching up the incline on a logging trail that gave no indication of having been used in decades. Strike one.

The trail disappeared, and for twenty yards Fred Pryor inched the truck forward through vegetation, flinching as it was scraped by branches and vines. Those in the rear of the truck ducked for cover as limbs whipped about. Just as Fred was about to stop, the trail appeared again, vaguely, and Boyette said, "Keep going." Then the trail split. Fred stopped as Boyette studied the fork and shook his head. He doesn't have a clue, Fred said to himself. In the rear, Robbie looked at Keith and shook his head.

"Over there," Boyette said, motioning to his right, and Fred followed his direction.

The woods became thicker, the trees younger and closer together. Like a bloodhound, Boyette raised his hand and pointed, and Fred Pryor turned off the ignition. The search party fanned out, looking for an old tractor tire, looking for anything. A beer can aroused one of the metal detectors, and for a few seconds the tension spiked. A small airplane flew low overhead, and everyone froze, as if someone were watching. Robbie said, "Boyette, do you remember if the grave is under the trees or in an open area?" The question seemed reasonable. Boyette replied, "I think it was more out in the open, but the trees have grown in nine years."

"Great," Robbie mumbled, then continued stomping around, crushing weeds, gawking at the ground as if the perfect clue were just one step away. After half an hour, Boyette said, "This is not it. Let's move on."

Strike two.

Keith crouched in the back of the truck and exchanged glances with Robbie. Both seemed to say, "We should've known better." But neither spoke. No one spoke because there was absolutely nothing to say. There were a thousand thoughts.

The road turned, and when it straightened, Boyette pointed again. "This is it," he said as he yanked open the door before the engine was turned off. He launched himself into a clearing of weeds waist-high as the others scrambled to follow. Keith took a few steps and tripped over something, falling hard. As he scrambled to his feet, brushing off bugs and brush, he realized what had tripped him. The remains of a tractor tire, virtually buried in vegetation.

"Here's a tire," he announced, and the others stopped moving. Boyette was only a few feet away. "Get the metal detectors," he said. Fred Pryor had one, and within seconds it was clicking and buzzing, giving all indications of being highly agitated. Aaron Rey produced two shovels.

The terrain was strewn with rocks, but the soil was soft and moist. After ten minutes of furious digging, Fred Pryor's shovel struck what clearly sounded like metal.

"Let's stop for a second," Robbie said. Both Fred and Aaron needed a break.

"All right, Boyette," Robbie said. "Tell us what we are about to find."

The tic, the pause, then, "It's a metal box used for hydraulic tools, heavy as hell, almost ruined my back dragging the damned thing over here. It's orange in color with the name of the company, R. S. McGuire and Sons, Fort Smith, Arkansas, painted on the front. It opens from the top."

"And inside?"

"Nothing but bones by now. It's been nine years." He spoke with an air of authority, as if this wasn't his first hidden grave site. "Her clothing was wadded together and placed next to her head. There's a belt around her neck, should be intact." His voice trailed off, as if this were somehow painful for him. There was a pause while the others glanced at each other, then Travis cleared his throat and continued. "In her clothing, we should find her driver's license and a credit card. I didn't want to get caught with them."

"Describe the belt," Robbie said. The security guard handed Robbie a video camera.

"Black, two inches wide, with a round silver buckle. It is the murder weapon."

The digging continued as Robbie captured it on video. "It's about five feet long," Boyette said, pointing, indicating an outline for the box. With its shape clear, each shovelful of dirt revealed more. It was indeed orange. Deeper, the name "R. S. McGuire and Sons, Fort Smith, Arkansas," became visible.

"That's enough," Robbie said, and the digging stopped. Aaron Rey and Fred Pryor were sweating and breathing heavily. "We won't be removing it."

The toolbox presented an obvious challenge, one that had gradually become more and more evident. The top lid was secured by a latch, and the latch was secured by a combination lock, the inexpensive kind found in every hardware store. Fred did not have the proper tools to cut the lock, but there was little doubt that they would somehow snap it free. After coming this far, they would not be denied a look inside. The six men huddled close together and gawked at the orange toolbox and the combination lock. Robbie said, "So, Travis, what's the combination?"

Travis actually smiled, as though, finally, he was about to be vindicated. He lowered himself to the edge of the grave, touched the box as if it were an altar, then gently took the lock and shook dirt from it. He turned the dial a few times to clear the code, then slowly turned to the right, to 17, then back to the left, to 50, then to the right, to 4, and finally back to the left, to 55. He hesitated and lowered his head as if to hear something, then he pulled sharply. There was a soft click, and the lock was open.

Robbie was filming from five feet away. Keith couldn't suppress a grin, in spite of where he was and what he was doing.

"Don't open it," Robbie said. Pryor hustled to the truck and returned with a package. He passed out sanitary gloves and masks, and when everyone had put them on, Robbie handed him the camera and told him to start filming. He instructed Aaron to step down and slowly open the lid. He did so. There was no corpse, only bones, the skeletal remains of someone, Nicole they assumed. Her hands and fingers were laced together below her ribs, but her feet were near her knees, as if Boyette had been forced to fold her to fit her in the toolbox. Her skull was intact but a molar was missing. She'd had perfect teeth; they knew that from the photographs. Around the skull there were strands of long blond hair. Between the skull and the shoulder, there was a length of black leather, the belt, they assumed. Next to the skull, in the corner of the box, there appeared to be clothing.

Keith closed his eyes and said a prayer.

Robbie closed his eyes and cursed the world.

Boyette stepped back and sat on the edge of the tractor tire, in the weeds, and began rubbing his head.

With Fred filming, Robbie directed Aaron to gently remove the roll of clothing. The articles were intact, though frayed along some of the edges and stained in places. A blouse, blue and yellow with some type of fringe, and a large ugly hole made by either insects or decaying flesh. A short white skirt, badly stained. Brown sandals. Matching bra and panties, dark blue. And two plastic cards, one her driver's license and one a MasterCard. Nicole's things were placed neatly on the side of her grave.

Boyette returned to the truck, where he sat in the front seat and massaged his head. For ten minutes, Robbie gave orders and made plans. Dozens of photographs were taken, but nothing else was touched. It was a crime scene now, and the local authorities would take charge.

Aaron and the security guard stayed behind while the others retreated down Roop's Mountain.


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