Chapter Thirteen: On the lam
She brought the stuff. I went to a gas station by the express way and went directly into the Men’s Room. I died my fair hair (with some grey on the sides) and eyebrows dark brown. I put on horn rimmed glasses. It wasn’t much, but it would have to do. Then I got out of town for awhile, to let the heat die down. To the perfect place. Where they would never look. I went back to “Janet’s property.”
Craig had a little shack there. It was just about 10 foot by 8 foot shed, with two windows and a door. There was no insulation, nothing but a couple of cots and a woodstove. But it was out of sight from all but those who stumbled upon it, or were looking for it.
I hid the old truck, and hung out for a few days, eating the jerky and dry cereal and canned pork and beans that Janet had bought me. And sleeping on a hard plywood floor with just a couple of old blankets to keep me warm. And drinking bottled water. I kept up my walking routine, hiking several miles a day through the woods; while carefully avoiding anything or anywhere that had anything to do with the shootings. When the food and water was almost gone, I decided to head back into Richmond to take care of some un-finished business.
I met with attorney David Ball at a pre-determined place. He was one of the handful of lawyers that came to my mind whom I would want to hire if I was charged with murder in or around Richmond. The fact that he is black was a negative out in King William County, which has a majority of white citizens. But the fact that he handles tough cases was a plus. He was the only African American that I knew of who ever handled a cross burning case for the Ku Klux Klan. He defended them on the basis that burning a cross was protected by the Constitution as a form of freedom of expression.
“Mr. Ball, so good to meet you.”
“My pleasure. What can I do for you?”
“I want you to represent me. I didn’t do it.”
“I thought you were a lawyer?”
“Don’t you know? I don’t care if you did it or not. I don’t want to know whether or not you ‘did it.’ It is not my job to determine whether or not you ‘did it.’ It is my job to force the government to prove that you did it. If they can’t, if they fail to prove that you ‘did it,’ that’s their tough luck. That’s how the system works. I don’t care about you. I care about ‘The System.’ If they can put you away without jumping through the proper hoops, without proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that you ‘did it’, then they can do it to me, and to all the people whom I love. They can do it to anybody.”
I held up my hands in surrender.
“Just answer some questions that I have. I’ll handle the rest.”
“Don’t you care about whether I can pay you or not?”
“I’ve already looked into that. You own a house with a second mortgage, but you have over a hundred grand in equity. That’ll do for now. And even if I end up getting nothing for my time, the notoriety will be worth it in future business.”
“Hey, are you always this blunt with your new clients?”
“No. But we are fellow professionals.”
I answered some questions. I signed some papers, formalizing our relationship. Then I asked a couple.
“Is it a valid excuse to break the law because I was running away to avoid false charges?”
He looked at me, incredible. “What do you think?”
“Can I claim that I was under duress? They killed Butch. They tried to kill Craig.”
He just looked at me sideways and tilted his head. And gave a slight shake of the head.
“Well, how are they going to prove that what I say happened didn’t happen? It was just me and the State Trooper, and he is dead. I say he shot at me first. I tried to tell him that I was innocent, but he kept shooting at me. I killed him in self defense.”
“You forgetting about the Sheriff of King William County? He was there.”
“What are you talking about? The Sheriff wasn’t there.”
“He’s been going around telling everybody that he was there, and that he saw you ambush the trooper.”
My jaw dropped. “Noooo.” Incredulus look.
“Yes.” Been there, heard that look.
“He. Was. Not. There.”
David Ball just held his palms up, and gave a little shrug.
“Can we make any deal with the Commonwealth’s Attorney?” (Prosecutors in Virginia are called ‘Commonwealth’s Attorneys.’ In this case, at least for the murder charge, we would have to deal with the Commonwealth’s Attorney for King William County.)
“Yeah, you can plead guilty to ‘Capital Murder’ and let a jury decide whether you deserve life imprisonment, or the death penalty.”
I looked incredulous. He nodded matter-of-factly.
As I drove away from that meeting I felt slightly nauseous. A fine cold sweat broke over me. And it was only late afternoon and in the upper sixties, a typical late September or early October day in the lowlands of Virginia. I spent the rest of the day and most of the night in another Wal-Mart parking lot, only this time it was the “Mechanicsville” one, not the Short Pump Wal-Mart. I’m not particularly partial to Wal-Mart; it’s just that they always have vehicles parked in their lot that allowed me to blend in. One crazy looking guy out in the middle of nowhere, if seen, stands out, but one guy in the middle of many doesn’t. I slept fitfully, waking up every few minutes, or every hour or two. Finally, in the wee hours of the night, I drove to my next destination.
I parked on the side of I-64. It must have been around 4:00 a.m., judging by the lack of traffic and the darkness and the chill in the air. I hurried to the place where I thought I had left my .357 before I had last gone to the Wal-Mart for new clothes. Nothing looked familiar. I had not taken any specific precautions to ensure that I could find the exact location again. I Couldn’t. I walked back and forth, and then I went diagonally. Finally, I got down on my hands and knees and felt around in the dew-covered grass and leaves. Darkness, punctuated only occasionally by cars whizzing up and down I-64. Nothing.
I must have spent a half hour or more. I knew I was in the general vicinity. Then a car pulled off the highway behind the truck. Oh, crap.
It had lights on top of the car. I flattened myself into the grass and leaves; about twenty five yards from Craig’s truck. Lights came on, but they didn’t look like typical police overhead lights. I heard a door open, then close, and the “crunch, crunch, crunch” of someone walking along towards Craig’s truck. I couldn’t see them in the dark. I silently cursed them and my bad luck. Then the beam of a flashlight shined into the truck. I pressed myself flatter into the ground, and refused to look anymore. At one point, it seemed as though the beam of the flashlight was directly on me for a split second as it quickly swept the nearby surroundings. I held my breath.
Then, “crunch, crunch, crunch” as whomever it was walked back to their car. The car started, and drove away. Just like that, I was back in darkness. But now scared. I considered just staying there until sunrise, hoping that daylight would help me find the damn gun. But only for a second; I was in a location that would have a lot of traffic very soon, and an abandoned vehicle would likely attract the attention of law enforcement. I concluded that the vehicle that stopped was motorist assistance instead of law enforcement, but that did not make me feel any less threatened. Where was the damn gun?
After what seemed like hours, but was more likely just tens of minutes, I gave up. I got in the truck and got the hell out of there.
I parked on a side street and walked behind a building, and hid behind a dumpster. I had a dumpster hiding me one direction, and a fence covered with ivy and weeds and bushes on the other side, with only a foot or two visible from the other two directions. I hunkered down and waited for my prey. The sun came up, and I knew it wouldn’t be long. After almost an hour, I guessed it must be about 7 o’clock to 7:30 a.m., a car drove up and parked. I knew the car. I could read the personalized license plate. The occupant got out, and walked towards the entrance of the office. I got out of my hiding place and followed.
Joe looked startled. “John.” He looked around, like a cornered wild animal. I could almost see him calming himself, trying to act normal. “Good to see you. Come on in.”
“Want some coffee?” He unlocked the door with a key that was new. An hour before, I had tried my key, and it no longer worked. He punched some numbers in the alarm system, and I had no doubt that they were different than the code we had when I was his partner and working here. I couldn’t think of any reason why Joe would change the locks on a building that he and I owned together, as partners.
Joe is bigger than I am, a “beer belly” and “massive arms covered in red hair” as some Times-Dispatch writer had once described him. Joe had been forced to sue the Virginia Bar in order to get his license decades ago, and it had made the news. Joe had framed the article, along with the picture of a young Joe. Then, he had been a street fighter, lean and mean. Now he was just fat and old, but still a scrapper.
He tried to act normal, making the day’s first pot of coffee. I hung around the waiting room, feeling like a stranger. Finally, after awkward silence, the coffee was done. We each fixed our own in silence.
“Hey. Come on into my office.” In his best deep baritone, the voice he used to try to intimidate. The voice I knew all too well. He sat behind his overly large desk. Behind his desk that he used to intimidate people. I know, because he had told me so.
“So, what happened to you when we were supposed to meet at Wal-Mart?” Slurp of coffee.
I just gave him a stone face.
“I showed up; where were you?”
“Cut the bullshit, Joe. I saw the cops.” I lowered my brow and glared at him.
“What?” He tried his innocent act. He lifted his palms and shrugged.
For some reason, that really pissed me off. I almost could hear the blood rushing into my ears. I suppose that my feelings were evident on my face. I scrunched my mouth; I squinted my eyes, and clenched my teeth.
“Hey, don’t blame me if the Wal-Mart parking lot happens to contain some police. I didn’t ask to meet you there. I showed up and you never did.”
He seemed to sense that I could not really prove that he was lying through his teeth. He smiled, that fake, I’ll rip your heart out if I get the chance, if you let your guard down, smile of his.
“Never mind about the damn Wal-Mart. I need money.”
He put on his reading glasses, cleared his throat, and said: “We are no longer partners.” He was using his slow, this is the way it is tone of voice. “Once you began to live a life of crime, our partnership was automatically dissolved. Paragraph 11, the third sentence, reads, and I quote…”
“Shut the fuck up!” I slapped my hand down on his big fancy desk. That got his attention.
“Legally, all of your cases are mine now. Legally, all the money in our joint general account is mine now. Frankly, none of your clients want you as their attorney any longer.” He couldn’t hide a slight smirk.
“That’s fine. I don’t want them as my clients anymore.” I gave my own smirk. “Life on the lam suits me just fine.” OK, my nostrils flared a little. “But you know you owe me some money to dissolve this partnership.”
He gave me a dismissive fake-smile. He was starting to feel confident. “I’m not paying you a damn thing. You killed a man, you ran from the law, you have committed God only knows how many felonies in the past few weeks, and now you show up out of the blue and demand that I pay you money that I quote unquote ‘owe you.’ You are dreaming.”
Just then, Rooney came into the office. Joe’s trusted legal assistant, she had been with him for years. We could hear her going to her desk, shuffling papers about, pouring herself some coffee. Joe said “Morning Rooney” in a loud voice. I got up and closed the door.
“Besides, there is a hundred thousand dollar bounty on your head.”
Oh, shit. I tried to ignore that remark.
“You know, and I know, that our partnership, my cases, our money in the bank, was worth tens of thousands of dollars. I’m not asking for anything even remotely close to ‘fair’ value for my share. But I’ll be damned if I’ll let you walk away with all of it. I need cash, and I need it now.”
He looked at me with his little condescending look, and said in a patronizing voice: “I don’t think so. You don’t have any bargaining chips.” He smiled, and picked up the phone, pushed Rooney’s number, “Rooney, call 911 and report a burglary in progress. I’ve found an intruder.” Click.
“You son of a bitch!”
He looked like a junkyard dog standing watch over his bone. Only that “bone” was tens of thousands of dollars that he rightfully owed me. I saw how it was. He was lucky that I hadn’t found my .357 magnum. I got the hell out of dodge before the cops came. I hit Janet’s house one last time, and then figured that it was time to get out of Richmond for awhile.