The accused, p.2
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       The Accused, p.2

         Part #3 of Theodore Boone series by John Grisham
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  Theo waited and waited, and finally left when a bailiff was turning off the lights. He had no place to go but school, and he biked in that general direction. Two blocks away from the courthouse, a black Jeep Cherokee eased alongside Theo. Its passenger window came down, and Paco’s swarthy head leaned out. He smiled but said nothing.

  Theo braked and they passed. Why would they be following him?

  He was rattled and made the quick decision to duck through an alley and cross a backyard. He was half looking over his shoulder when a large man stepped in front of him and grabbed the handlebars of his bike. “Hey, kid!” he growled, now face-to-face with Theo.

  It was Buck Baloney, breathing fire and ready for war. “Stay outta my yard, okay?” he growled, still gripping the handlebars.

  “Okay, okay, sorry,” Theo said, afraid of getting slapped.

  “What’s your name?” Buck hissed.

  “Theodore Boone. Let go of my bike.”

  Buck was dressed in an ill-fitting and cheap uniform with the words All-Pro Security stitched on the sleeves. And, he had a rather large pistol on his belt.

  “Stop cutting across my yard, you understand?”

  “I got it,” Theo said.

  Buck let go, and Theo sped away without getting shot. Suddenly, he was excited about returning to school, and to the safety of his classroom.

  Chapter 3

  Theo checked in at the front office and returned his release form. His classmates were in fourth period Chemistry, and Theo wanted to avoid walking in late. Instead, he went to Mr. Mount’s tiny office, down the hall from his classroom. The door was open, and, luckily, Mr. Mount was at his desk, eating a sandwich and watching the local news on his laptop.

  “Have a seat,” Mr. Mount said, and Theo sat in the only other chair in the office.

  “So I guess you know,” Theo said.

  “Oh, yes. It’s all over the news.” Mr. Mount slid his laptop over a few inches so Theo could have a better look. The sheriff was talking to a gang of reporters. He was saying that there was no sign of Mr. Duffy. They had searched his home and found nothing. Both of his vehicles, a Mercedes sedan and a Ford SUV, were locked and parked in the garage. Evidently Mr. Duffy had played golf, alone, late Sunday afternoon and was seen leaving the course by a caddy. He was in his golf cart and headed in the general direction of his home on the sixth fairway, the same route the caddy had seen him take many times after playing a round. At 10:30 on Sunday night, Pete Duffy spoke by phone to Clifford Nance, and, according to Nance, agreed to meet with his defense team at 7:00 a.m. sharp for a lengthy prep session.

  Pete Duffy lived two miles east of town in a fairly new development called Waverly Creek, an upscale residential community designed around three golf courses and meant to offer its residents a lot of privacy. Entry and exit were monitored twenty-four hours a day by guards at gates, with surveillance cameras recording everything. The sheriff was positive Pete Duffy had not left Waverly Creek during the night through one of the gates. “There are some gravel roads leading in and out, and I suppose that’s where he went,” the sheriff speculated. It was obvious the sheriff had little patience with reporters.

  He went on to say there was no indication, yet, of how Pete Duffy fled. On foot, bike, scooter, four-wheeler, golf cart—they had not been able to determine that. But, there was no record of Duffy owning a scooter, motorcycle, or other type of vehicle that required registration.

  In response to random and thoughtless questions, the sheriff explained that (1) there was no evidence of an accomplice involved in the Duffy escape; (2) there was no suicide note, in the event he jumped from a bridge or some other dramatic stunt; (3) there was no evidence of foul play, as if an intruder, for some unknown reason, wanted to eliminate Duffy the night before he was to stand trial; and (4) so far, they had found no witness who laid eyes on Duffy after the caddy saw him drive away with his golf clubs.

  The sheriff finally had enough and excused himself. The news station switched back to the studio, where a couple of anchors launched into a windy summary of what little had just been said by the sheriff.

  “So where is he?” Mr. Mount asked, chewing on his sandwich.

  “I can’t believe he would take off in the middle of the night on foot and through the woods,” Theo said. “What’s your theory?”

  “An accomplice. Duffy is not the outdoor type, not a man who understands the woods and what it takes to survive. I’ll bet he slipped away from his house, after midnight when his neighbors were sound asleep, used a bicycle because he didn’t want to make noise, and rode a mile or two down a trail where his accomplice was waiting. They tossed the bike in the trunk of the car, or the back of a pickup, and away they went. He wasn’t due in court until 9:00 a.m., so they had a head start of seven or eight hours.”

  “You’re really into this, aren’t you?” Theo asked, amused.

  “Sure. And you’re not?”

  “Of course, but I haven’t given it as much thought as you. Where is he right now?”

  “Far away. The cops have no idea what kind of vehicle they’re driving, so they’re home free until more clues pop up. He could be anywhere.”

  “You think they’ll catch him?”

  “Something tells me they will not. This might be the perfect escape, especially if he has an accomplice.”

  Mr. Mount was in his midthirties and, at least in Theo’s opinion, was by far the coolest teacher at the school. His father was a judge and his older brother was a lawyer, and he often talked of leaving the classroom and going to law school. He sponsored the Eighth-Grade Debate Team. Theo was his star, and so the two had developed a close friendship. As they watched the news on the laptop, both minds were spinning wild scenarios about what had happened to Pete Duffy. How had he really managed to disappear?

  “I guess we’ll discuss this in Government tomorrow,” Theo said.

  “Are you kidding? This town will talk of nothing else for the next two days.”

  The bell rang and Theo was suddenly ready to leave. Lunch was only a twenty-minute break and there was no time to waste. The halls were instantly crowded as five sections of eighth graders hurried from their classrooms, to their lockers, and to the cafeteria.

  The Strattenburg Middle School had been modernized a few years earlier, and one of the more popular improvements was the new lockers. They were wide and deep, and made of wood instead of the old noisy metal boxes that had lined the halls for decades. Keys were not needed because each locker had an entry panel similar to the keypad of a phone. Punch in your five- or six-digit secret code, and the door clicked open.

  Theo’s pass code was Judge (58343), in honor of his beloved dog. He pulled open the door, and immediately knew something was wrong. Several things were missing. Theo occasionally suffered asthma attacks, which required him to use an inhaler. He kept one in his pocket at all times, and he kept a three-pack of reserves in his locker. These were gone, as was a blue and red Minnesota Twins cap he kept on a hook in case it rained. Two unused notepads were missing. His books were there, stacked on top of each other. He froze for a moment, staring into the locker to make sure he wasn’t dreaming, then glanced around to see if anyone (the thief?) might be watching. No one seemed to be paying attention to him. He shifted his books, poked around, and finally came to the conclusion that his locker had been broken into. He had been robbed!

  Small-time thievery happened occasionally. The new lockers, though, with their advanced security system, had virtually eliminated such break-ins. He looked down the hall and up to a spot above a large wall clock. There was an empty bracket where a security camera had once been installed. The camera was gone because the school was in the process of updating its video-monitoring system.

  Theo wasn’t sure what to do. If he reported the theft, he would spend the next hour or so in the principal’s office filling out paperwork. And, worse still, he would have to deal with a hundred nosy questions from his friends and classmates. As he walked to the cafet
eria, he decided to wait, to think about it, to try and figure out how someone could learn his code and break in his locker. He could always report it tomorrow.

  He paid two dollars for a bowl of spaghetti, a piece of cold bread, and a bottle of water. He sat with Chase and Woody, and the conversation quickly turned to the Duffy trial and disappearance. As they talked, Theo could not help but survey the cafeteria. It was filled with eighth graders, none of whom was wearing his Twins cap. As far as Theo knew, he was the only Twins fan in Strattenburg.

  During Mr. Mount’s study hall that afternoon, Theo gave a quick description of what he’d seen in court that morning, then they watched the local news as the Duffy story continued to dominate every conversation in town. Still no sign of the fugitive. An FBI agent was interviewed and asked the community for leads. So far, they had no clues into his disappearance. Much was being made of the one million dollar bond he had posted to remain free on bail, and this led to several stories about his financial situation. A former business partner claimed to know Duffy well, and offered the opinion that he “. . . always kept a lot of cash . . .” stashed away in secret places. This juicy bit of gossip sent the local reporters into a frenzy.

  After school, Theo checked his locker again, and things appeared to be fine. Nothing else had been taken. He thought about changing his pass code, but decided to wait. Changing the code was no simple matter because all codes were registered with the principal’s office. The school maintained the right to open any locker at any time, for good cause, but this was seldom done. On at least one prior occasion, Theo had failed to properly close his locker, and the following day was puzzled to find its door shut, but unlocked. This was not uncommon in the seventh and eighth grades because the closing mechanism required a student to press and hold the Close button for a full three seconds. Twelve- and thirteen-year-olds can get in a hurry, or get distracted, and fail to hold the button long enough.

  By the time Theo left the building and walked to his bike, he had convinced himself that his locker had been vandalized, but not broken into. He vowed to be more vigilant.

  Theo soon had another problem. He unchained his bike, wrapped the chain around his handlebars as always, and pushed off. Instantly, he realized his front tire was flat. He got off his bike, examined the tire, and found a small gash where someone had punctured the sidewall.

  Theo was in the midst of an unlucky run with his bike tires. In the previous three months, he had collected two nails, a piece of glass from a soft drink bottle, a jagged piece of metal, and he had punctured two front tires on account of reckless riding. His father was not happy with this and when the subject of the cost of bike tires came up over dinner, things were tense.

  This latest puncture, though, was no accident. Someone had deliberately stuck a sharp object into his tire.

  He waited until his friends rode away, then began the humiliating journey downtown, pushing his bike along streets that now seemed much longer, wondering who would do such a thing to him, and trying to put this latest act of vandalism in the context of a day that had not gone well. The excitement of the trial had vanished; Omar Cheepe and Paco had followed him as he rode to school; Buck Baloney had almost hit him with a rock and then caught him the second time he dashed through his backyard; someone had vandalized his locker; and now this—a slashed bike tire that would cut deeply into his savings account.

  Theo couldn’t help but take an occasional glance over his shoulder, certain that eyes were watching.

  Gil’s bike shop was downtown, three blocks from the courthouse, on a narrow street lined with small mom-and-pop stores. There was a cleaners, a shoe shop, photo lab, bakery, a knife sharpener that owed Ike money for tax services, and a couple of delis. Theo took pride in knowing every owner. Gil was one of his favorites—a short, round man with an awesome belly that was always partially hidden by a thick work apron covered in dirt and grime. Gil sold bikes and he loved to repair them. His shop was jam-packed with models of every size and color, with the smaller ones hanging from large hooks in the ceiling and the fancier mountain bikes lined up in the front windows.

  Theo rolled his through the front door, thoroughly defeated by the day. Gil was sitting on a stool by the back counter, drinking coffee. “Well, well,” he said. “Look who’s back.”

  “Hey, Gil,” Theo said. “Another flat tire.”

  “What happened?” Gil asked as he rolled himself off the stool and waddled over.

  “Looks like sabotage.”

  Gil lifted the handlebars, spun the front tire until he found the hole in it, and exhaled a soft whistle. “You make somebody mad?”

  “Not that I know of.”

  “Small penknife, I’d say. Certainly no accident. Can’t do anything with it. Theo, you gotta have a new one.”

  “I was afraid of that. How much?”

  “You should know the price better than me. Eighteen bucks. You want me to send the bill to your dad?”

  “No, he’s fed up with me and my bike tires. I’ll pay for this one, but I can’t swing eighteen dollars today.”

  “How much can you pay now?”

  “I can give you ten tomorrow, and the rest in a couple of weeks. You have my word, Gil. I’ll even sign a promissory note.”

  “I thought you were a lawyer, Theo.”

  “Sort of.”

  “Well, then, you need to do some more research. A person has to be eighteen years old before he can enter into a valid contract, including a promissory note.”

  “Sure, sure, I know that.”

  “Let’s just do an old-fashioned handshake deal. Ten bucks tomorrow, and the other eight bucks in two weeks.” Gil extended his dirty and chubby right hand, and Theo shook it.

  Fifteen minutes later he was flying down Park Street, happy to be so mobile again, but still wondering if the day could get any worse. He was also debating about how much of his bad luck should be reported to his parents. The farther he got away from his vandalized locker, the less important it seemed. Theo could live with those losses, irritating as they were. The slashed tire was another story because it involved a weapon.

  As he approached the law offices of Boone & Boone, Theo suddenly had a frightening thought. What if the same person had robbed his locker, then slashed his tire as well?

  Chapter 4

  Boone & Boone was a small law firm on a street full of other lawyers, accountants, and architects. All of the buildings along that section of Park Street had once been homes, long before Theo was born.

  He carried his bike up the front steps and leaned it against the wall, near the door, its customary parking place. He glanced around, just to make sure no one was watching him, or his bike. Inside the front door, the reception area was the turf of Elsa Miller, the firm’s head secretary and sometimes its boss. She was a spry, hyperactive woman who was old enough to be Theo’s grandmother, and she often acted as though she was.

  As always, she bounced from her chair behind her desk and assaulted Theo the moment she saw him. There was a fierce hug, a painful yank of the earlobe, a tussling of his hair, but, thankfully, no kissing. Elsa understood that thirteen-year-old boys did not want to be kissed by anyone. During this attack, and Theo considered it nothing less, she was talking nonstop. “Theo! How was your day? Are you hungry? Does that shirt match those pants? Have you finished your homework? Have you heard the news about Pete Duffy jumping off a bridge?”

  “Jumping off a bridge?” Theo repeated, taking a step back and freeing himself from her embrace.

  “Well, that’s just one theory, but, good gosh, there is so much gossip racing around this town right now.”

  “I was in court this morning when he didn’t show,” Theo said proudly.

  “You were?!”


  Elsa retreated as quickly as she had attacked, allowing Judge to come forth and say hello. Judge spent his days easing around the office, checking on everyone, sleeping in various places, and always looking for something to eat. He usua
lly waited for Theo in one of two places—either Theo’s chair back in his office, or on a small bed at Elsa’s feet, supposedly providing protection for the firm but doing nothing of the sort.

  “There are pecan brownies in the kitchen,” Elsa said.

  “Who made them?” Theo asked. It was a fair question. Elsa’s pecan brownies were somewhat edible, if one were starving, but the wedges occasionally brought in by Dorothy, the real estate secretary, were not. They looked like brick mortar and tasted like mud, and not even Judge would give them a sniff.

  “I made them, Theo, and they’re delicious.”

  “Yours are perfect,” Theo said as he headed down the hall.

  “Your mother is in court and your father is across town wrapping up a real estate deal,” Elsa said. An important part of her job was to keep track of everybody, especially Mr. and Mrs. Boone, and this was easy because she was in charge of their schedules. But Elsa, at any given moment, could give you the precise whereabouts of Dorothy, and of Vince, the paralegal who worked under Mrs. Boone. Add Judge and Theo to the list, and Elsa knew everyone’s appointments, lunch dates, coffee dates, doctors’ visits, depositions, loan closings, birthdays, vacations, anniversaries, even funerals. She once gave Dorothy a sympathy card after her father’s funeral—three years to the day after the old guy was buried.

  According to the Boone master plan for daily living, Theo was expected to (1) arrive at the office each day after school, where he (2) checked in with Elsa and suffered through her rituals, then (3) stopped by his mother’s office for a quick hello, then (4) walked upstairs, with Judge close at his heels, where he gave his father a rundown of the day’s activities, then, (5) after a quick word with Dorothy, and (6) another one with Vince, he (7) went to his small office in the back of the building and cranked out his homework, which was to be done before dinner. Of course, if he had something else to do, like work on a merit badge or watch his classmates play soccer or basketball, he was excused from the office ritual. He was a kid, an only child, and his parents, strict as they were, understood the realities of raising a well-rounded thirteen-year-old.

  Theo closed the door to his tiny office and pulled his laptop from his backpack. He checked the local news for an update on the search for Pete Duffy. There was not a single word about the man jumping off a bridge, and this did not surprise Theo. Elsa was known to exaggerate.

  Theo found it difficult to concentrate, but after two hours the homework was complete, for the most part. Elsa was tidying up her desk and preparing to leave. Both Mr. and Mrs. Boone were still busy elsewhere. Theo checked his bike for further damage, and finding none, took off with Judge in hot pursuit.

  Ike’s office was on the second floor of an old building owned by a Greek couple. The first floor was their small deli, and the office above it was always engulfed in the smell of lamb roasting in onions. To a visitor, it was a heavy shot to the nose, though not altogether unpleasant, but Ike, after many years there, seemed not to notice the aroma.

  Ike was at his long, cluttered desk, sipping a bottle of beer, listening to a barely audible Bob Dylan on the stereo, when Theo walked in without knocking and fell into a dusty old chair. “How’s my favorite nephew,” Ike asked, the same opening question each week. Theo was Ike’s only nephew. Ha-ha.

  “Great,” Theo replied. “Kinda bummed out about the trial.”

  “Strange, indeed. I’ve been listening all day and have heard nothing.”

  Since his dramatic fall from a prominent and well-respected lawyer to a disbarred and eccentric old hippie, Ike had lived on the fringes of the underworld in Strattenburg, and down there he heard plenty. In one poker club, he played cards with retired cops and lawyers. In another, he rubbed elbows with several ex-criminals like himself. Regardless of the raging story, Ike could usually track down a rumor and examine it closely before it made its wider rounds.

  “So what’s your theory?” Ike asked.

  Theo shrugged as if he knew precisely what happened. “It’s simple, Ike. Pete Duffy hopped on a bike sometime after midnight, rode it a couple miles down a gravel road, hooked up with his accomplice, tossed his bike in the trunk of a car or the back of a pickup, and away they went.” Theo delivered this quick narrative casually, as if he knew exactly how things had happened, and when he finished he offered a silent word of thanks to Mr. Mount.

  Ike’s eyes narrowed as he absorbed this. His jaw dropped slightly as he thought about it. His forehead wrinkled as he analyzed it. “Where did you hear that?” he asked.

  “Hear it? Nowhere. I think it’s obvious what happened. How else can you explain it?”

  Ike scratched his beard and stared across the table. He was often impressed by the maturity and street savvy of his nephew, but this easy explanation of the Duffy mystery seemed a bit rehearsed. Theo decided to continue: “And I’ll bet they don’t find him. I’ll bet Pete Duffy planned this perfectly and is now somewhere far away, probably with plenty of cash and a new set of ID papers.”

  “Oh really.”

  “Sure, Ike. He had an eight-hour head start, and the police have no idea what kind of vehicle he’s in. So, what are they looking for? They don’t know.”

  “You want something to drink?” Ike asked as he turned in his swivel chair. There was a small refrigerator under the credenza behind his desk and it was usually well stocked.

  “No thanks,” Theo said.

  Ike pulled out another bottle of beer, popped the top, and took a sip. Theo knew that he drank too much, which he had learned by listening carefully around the offices at Boone & Boone, and around the courthouse as well. Two or three times he had picked up on comments that suggested Ike Boone struggled with the bottle, and Theo assumed this was true. However, he had never witnessed it. Ike was divorced and far removed from his children and grandchildren. He lived alone, and was, in Theo’s opinion, a sad old man.

  “Do you still have a B in Chemistry?” Ike asked.

  “Come on, Ike. Do we have to discuss my grades all the time? They get enough attention from my parents. And it’s an A minus, not a B.”

  “How are your parents?”

  “They’re doing fine. I have a note from my mother reminding me to ask you to join us for dinner tonight at Robilio’s.”

  “How nice of her.” Ike waved his hand over the files stacked haphazardly on his desk, then delivered the same, tired old line Theo heard almost daily from his own parents: “I have too much work.”

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