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Bodily Harm: A Novel: Chapter 4


KENDALL TOYS’ CORPORATE HEADQUARTERS

RENTON, WASHINGTON

The proverbial shit had hit the proverbial fan. Following through on her threat, Maxine Bolelli had issued a press release revealing Galaxy’s bid and Kendall’s rejection of that offer. Bolelli had also sent a letter to Fitzgerald and each member of Kendall’s board of directors, berating them for ignoring their fiduciary duty to Kendall’s stockholders. In New York, Wall Street analysts were expressing bewilderment that Kendall would turn down the offer, describing Fitzgerald as stubborn and short-sighted, and opining that the rejection was out of misguided loyalty to the Kendall family heritage—words obviously planted by Galaxy’s media people.

The morning before, Fitzgerald had walked from the conference room with a bounce in his step, confident about Kendall’s future. Now he was back in the same room feeling flat-footed and anything but certain.

“How bad is the fallout?” Barclay Reid asked. Kendall’s outside counsel, Reid was the managing partner of one of Seattle’s largest law firms, Reid, Matheson, and Goetz.

“Half a dozen faxes and e-mails,” Fitzgerald said. “The most polite have called me an idiot.”

“At least two lawsuits have been threatened,” Irwin Dean, Kendall’s president of operations, added. “Including one by Clay Mayfair.”

Everyone in the room knew Clay Mayfair, the infamous New York attorney who made a living suing corporations and their boards for breach of their fiduciary duty to shareholders.

“If Bolelli is serious, her next move will be to buy as much Kendall stock as she can,” Reid said, pacing an area by the windows.

The only time Fitzgerald had ever seen the woman sit was in court. At just a shade over five feet, Barclay Reid was nearly always the shortest person in the room, but after seeing her in front of a jury, Fitzgerald knew height was not an issue. In her late thirties and a type A personality, she was a perpetual ball of energy, always thinking, always moving. Her looks were equally deceiving. At first glance she appeared ordinary—drab brown hair cut in a bob, eyeglasses without frames nearly invisible on an attractive face despite no outward attempt at glamour. She wore no makeup or jewelry but for a cross on a gold chain about her neck. Her dark gray, off-the-rack summer suit and plain white blouse did nothing to accentuate her shape, though Fitzgerald had seen her in shorts and a tank top on the golf course and recognized a figure honed by daily workouts. And yet, despite her understated appearance, every eye in the room followed Reid as she paced the floor. She had that intangible ability to command attention by her sheer determination and earnestness in defending her clients. The law’s gain had been some ministry’s loss; Reid would have been dynamic at a pulpit.

“But so long as you and Sebastian maintain your interests, she can’t gain control.”

“She could pressure the hell out of us, though,” Dean said anxiously. “Any alternatives?”

Reid pressed her palms together beneath her chin as she paced. “Kendall could make its own offer, buy back stock from disgruntled shareholders, but that’s risky. The news has already sent the stock up two and a half points. It’s inflated. When it drops, you’ll be stuck.”

“Besides,” John Feinstein, Kendall’s CFO, offered, “we’d have to spend nearly all of what remains of our cash reserves to do it. In this economy, I don’t recommend that.”

Fitzgerald expected as much. Feinstein’s idea of a gamble was eating an unrefrigerated cheese sandwich. He sat forward. “I like the idea. It’s bold. It lets everyone know that Kendall is confident about its future. Let’s get the word out to all of our media contacts. I want the financial world to know that Kendall is preparing for the holidays.”

“This is an all-or-nothing play, Malcolm,” Dean said.

Fitzgerald nodded. “If Bolelli wants to play chicken, let’s play chicken and see who flinches first.”

U.S. HIGHWAY 12

SOUTHERN WASHINGTON

SLOANE GLANCED FROM the road to the manila file on the edge of the passenger seat and wondered if Kyle Horgan had hit upon the next “It” toy. If he had, Horgan’s scribbled drawings could be as valuable as a Rembrandt, according to Stroud. And that changed everything.

Money always did.

The letter in Horgan’s file indicated he had sold his design to Kendall. If that were true, it could not have come at a more opportune time for the toy company. Just that morning The Seattle Times had run an article reporting that, despite apparent financial difficulties, Kendall had rejected overtures from Galaxy Toys, the second-largest toy manufacturer in the world. Speculation was that Galaxy would now make a play to obtain the company through a hostile run on its stock. Analysts were criticizing Kendall’s declination as a poor business decision, but Seattleites applauded the move by a local institution and employer of thousands in the region.

Following the directions Sloane had plugged into the car’s GPS system, he made a right turn on State Street and drove through the heart of town, no more than a couple of square blocks of stucco buildings that looked to have been built in the 1950s. On the outskirts he drove past manufactured homes, well spaced, with metal barnlike structures in the yard and freestanding canopies under which the occupants had parked tractors and other pieces of equipment. Barbed wire on wooden fence poles pastured horses and cattle. But what caught Sloane’s attention was a large metal building that loomed over the town like Mount Rainier over Seattle. Intrigued, he decided to find out what it was.

At aT in the road he turned and drove to a gated entrance. A ten-foot Cyclone fence with three strands of barbed wire enclosed the building and a parking area surrounding it, a white sign fastened to the chain link.

KENDALL TOYS

Now this was getting interesting.

A car passed Sloane and stopped at the gated entrance, the driver talking to a guard in the booth before the gate pulled aside to allow entry. Sloane saw few cars inside the fence. Most of them were parked in a large paved area outside the compound with a footpath leading to a pedestrian entrance.

He made a U-turn and the GPS directed him to one of the cookie-cutter manufactured homes, plain beige, with an older model Volkswagen Jetta parked in the gravel driveway. A four-foot-high Cyclone fence enclosed a simple yard with a swing set on a neatly mowed grass lawn.

It was warmer than it had been in Seattle, but Sloane slipped on his sport coat as he walked to a small porch littered with shoes: work boots that would fit a grown man, women’s tennis shoes, children’s shoes, and rubber boots. He knocked twice. A Hispanic woman pulled open the door and gave him a curious look.

“Good morning,” Sloane said. “I’m sorry to bother you. Are you Mrs. Gallegos?”

The woman looked past Sloane to his Jeep parked along the road. “Yes.”

Sloane offered a business card, which the woman accepted tentatively. “My name is David Sloane. I’m an attorney from Seattle and I was hoping for a moment of your time?”

The woman looked up from the card, suspicious. “What is this about?” She had a Hispanic accent but her English was strong.

A very difficult topic, Sloane thought. “I recently had a case in which a young boy got sick. His parents thought it was the flu and took him to the doctor, but he never got better. He got worse. By the time they brought him to the hospital it was too late. He died.”

The woman stiffened and took a step back from the door, her ponytail swinging as she turned, shouting in Spanish, but which Sloane understood. “Manny, there is a man at the door asking about Mateo.”

A Hispanic man, short but well built through the shoulders, appeared to the woman’s right, and she handed him Sloane’s business card as she told him in Spanish what Sloane had just said.

Manny looked to Sloane, hands on his hips, the Seattle Seahawk helmet on his blue shirt sticking out. “What do you want with Mateo?” His accent was thicker than his wife’s.

“I was telling your wife that I represent a family who also has lost their son. He died of symptoms very similar to the symptoms the newspaper reported your son suffered. I was hoping I could ask you a few questions.”

The man shook his head. “No. We do not talk about it.”

“I know it must be incredibly difficult—”

Manny shook his head, already closing the door. “We do not talk about it.”

“Please, just one question, not about your son.”

Manny hesitated, hand on the edge of the door.

Sloane removed Horgan’s manila file from his briefcase and pulled out the best sketch of Metamorphis. “Have you ever seen this before?”

Manny shot his wife a side glance and appeared about to answer but his wife stopped him, again speaking Spanish.

“No. The attorney said we cannot say anything, that it will be very bad for us. Do you want us to raise our children in Mexico? There is nothing for us there. Mateo is gone. We cannot bring him back.”

Manny lowered his head. “No. We do not see before,” he said. Then he stepped back and shut the door.

PRODUCT SAFETY AGENCY

BETHESDA, MARYLAND

ANNE LEROY HAD come to work excited, as she had each day for the past three months. With her degrees in engineering and product design from Georgetown University, her friends thought she was nuts when LeRoy told them she was going to work for a government regulatory agency. She could make three times her salary in the private sector. Call her naïve, but at twenty-four LeRoy didn’t want to be making life decisions based on the almighty dollar. Hadn’t that been the new president’s message? If people believed they could make a difference, they would, and that was the best way to ensure change.

And now LeRoy was about to prove him right.

She knocked on the open door and stuck her head in the office. “You wanted to see me.”

Albert Payne diverted his attention from his computer screen and looked up.

LeRoy paused, taken aback. Dark bags sagged beneath Payne’s eyes, accentuated by a pasty white complexion with pronounced red splotches on his neck. He looked as though he had aged ten years in the three weeks he had been gone. She wondered if he had picked up the flu on his trip to China, or food poisoning.

“Come in and sit down,” he said.

She made her way to one of the two chairs across from him, placing the two-inch-thick document she carried on her lap. “How was your trip? Is it as bad over there as everyone says?”

Payne cleared his throat. “I want to talk to you about your investigation.”

LeRoy immediately perked up, as she had that fateful morning when she fielded a cold call from a preschool teacher in Shakopee, Minnesota. The woman told LeRoy that a child in her care had swallowed a magnet no bigger than an aspirin from a broken toy and she was concerned enough that she had called the parents and suggested they take the child to the doctor. Although the doctor had assured the parents the child would be fine and would excrete the magnet, the preschool teacher remained upset. She said the toy came in a box that did not advise of a choking hazard, or even that the toy included these magnets, which she said were very powerful.

LeRoy put the draft of her report on the edge of Payne’s desk, flipping through the sections. “Wait until you read what the doctor in Cleveland had to say,” she said.

Starting with leads from ASTM International, LeRoy had made calls to different experts around the country. The magnets, manufactured mostly in China, were called neodymium magnets. Comprised of a metal alloy and artificially magnetized, they were many times more powerful than typical iron magnets, so much so that the attractive forces could be a potential danger, such as to people with pacemakers. Despite this, LeRoy was astounded to find just a single report, funded by the Toy Manufacturer’s Association, that concluded the magnets were safe. Her own investigation had revealed that no one had actually done any tests to confirm the findings, or to determine what might happen if a child were to swallow more than one of these magnets, or a magnet and metal ball, for instance. She also found evidence that the China Toy Association knew that the plastic used for the toy that had broken was a problem but had not reported the problem, and that some American toy manufacturers had been complicit in the cover-up, fearing product recalls or, at a minimum, consumer restraint.

“I’m afraid I’m going to have to pull the plug, Anne.”

LeRoy continued to flip the pages, searching for the section in which she quoted the expert from Cleveland. “He was extremely helpful—”

“Anne.”

LeRoy stopped flipping the pages and looked up. Specks of dry skin and dust covered the lenses of Payne’s glasses.

“More budget cuts have left us with just no money to be doing independent investigations.”

“What?”

“I’m sorry.”

“But . . . but you told me to do it. And I’m nearly done. All I have to do is finalize it.”

Payne shook his head.

“The expert in Cleveland said the danger isn’t in a child swallowing one magnet. The danger is if they swallow more than one. He said—”

“I need you to work on a potential enforcement action against TBD.”

LeRoy knew TBD to be a manufacturer of detergent, and that there had been recent reports of the product causing chemical burns.

“TBD? That’s a waste of time; it will go nowhere.” She caught herself, not believing what she had just said to her boss.

But if Payne was upset he didn’t reveal it. He looked almost bored. “Nevertheless.”

“I’ll finish it on my own time; I’ll write it up at home.”

He shook his head. “I know you worked hard on this investigation.”

“Hard? I’ve spent three solid months on it. I thought it was going to be part of the congressional hearing? How can you just pull the plug? What about Senator Tovey?”

“It’s out of my hands, I’m afraid.”

“Is it Maggie Powers?”

“I’d like you to provide me with all of your research and any drafts you have on your computer. If we get the funding in the future perhaps we can pursue it further.”

“But it will be too late. The problem is already out there, and the Senate hearing will have passed. Most doctors don’t even consider X-rays because eighty percent of the things a child swallows will just pass through their system. But when you have two—”

“I’m sorry,” he offered again.

She became more adamant. “Don’t you want to hear what the doctor in Cleveland said? There is a significant danger to American consumers, to children.”

“I’ll need all of your files on my desk by this afternoon.”

“We could take it to the media.”

Payne pounded the desk, a burst of anger that caused LeRoy to jump back in her seat.

His gaze focused and his face had flushed an even darker shade of red. “You will do no such thing. Do you understand me?” He tapped the desk with his finger as he spoke. “You work for me. That means you do what I tell you. Your work here belongs to this agency. It’s proprietary. If you release an unauthorized report I will see that you are fired and that the Justice Department prosecutes you to the fullest extent of the law. Do you understand me?”

LeRoy’s lower lip quivered, but she fought back the tears. A stabbing pain pierced her, exactly where she would have expected, just between the shoulder blades.

LEROY HURRIED BACK to her cubicle and began to dump the contents of her desk drawers into the cardboard box she found in the supply closet, pausing briefly to dab her eyes with a tissue. She wasn’t bothering to organize her belongings. She didn’t care. Pens and pencils mixed with paper clips and scraps of paper. She grabbed the picture frame with the photo of her former boyfriend, over which she had drawn a bull’s-eye in permanent marker, and tossed it in with a snow globe from Fort Lauderdale. A tear trickled from the corner of her eye but she quickly wiped it away, not wanting to give anyone the satisfaction.

“You’re upset, Anne. Take a minute to think about this.” Peggy Seeley stood outside her cubicle, alternately trying to calm LeRoy and to ask her further questions.

“There’s nothing to think about. This is a waste of my time.”

“Did he say why he was pulling the plug?”

“He said they didn’t have the funds.”

“Well, that’s probably true,” Seeley said.

LeRoy stopped what she was doing. “Then why did he bother to have me pursue it at all?” she countered. “What a colossal waste of time. It’s exactly as everyone said it would be.”

“Calm down. Don’t make any rash decisions.”

LeRoy didn’t want to hear it, especially not from Seeley, who didn’t even like to order food in a restaurant unless she could see the cook making it. The two had little in common except their jobs. Seeley was overweight and didn’t care. LeRoy worked out daily to try to keep her weight at an even 120 pounds. At twenty-nine, Seeley wore no makeup, wire-rimmed glasses, and did little but brush her light brown hair that extended to the middle of her back. LeRoy wasn’t a fashion princess by any stretch of the imagination, but she did take a few minutes each morning to apply basic makeup. She suspected their friendship would fizzle after she had left the agency.

“‘Rash’? The only rash decision I made was taking a job at this shithole in the first place.”

“Thanks for that.”

“We don’t get paid squat. We’re not appreciated, and he just confirmed that we serve no purpose. What’s the point?”

“This isn’t exactly the best economy to be out looking for a job.”

“I don’t care. I’ll work in a restaurant again before I stay here another day.”

“Give it a day or two. Maybe he’ll change his mind.”

“Trust me; he’s not changing his mind. When I pushed him on it he pounded his fist on the desk and—”

“Albert pounded his fist? Are you sure you were in the right office?”

The staff had often joked that Payne’s bland demeanor and passive nature were the result of twenty-five years of boredom that had desensitized him. The man had to be desensitized to put up with all the bureaucratic bullshit for so long. LeRoy wasn’t about to suffer the same fate. Though she had been optimistic about the new administration, she wouldn’t sit around and wait to find out if things really would change.

“He looked like a thermometer popping out from a cooked turkey. I thought his head was going to explode.”

LeRoy pulled out a memory stick from her backpack, shoved it into a USB port on her computer, and sat at the keyboard.

“What are you doing?” Seeley asked.

“I’m not done with this, not after all the time I’ve invested.”

“You can’t take your work; it’s proprietary.”

“They’re not going to get away with this.”

“Who?”

“The agency, Powers, whoever is behind pulling the plug.”

“You’re going to get yourself in trouble, Anne, and for what? Didn’t you learn anything working around here? You just said it, people don’t care. Nobody cares.”

“I care.”

Seeley’s eyes widened. “Well, whatever you’re going to do, you better do it fast because Payne just walked around the corner in this direction and he’s bringing a security guard with him.”

LEWIS COUNTY COURTHOUSE

CHEHALIS, WASHINGTON

PERPLEXED, SLOANE DOUBLE-CHECKED the spelling with the article clipped in Kyle Horgan’s file and retyped the name, but the computer again indicated no match.

He approached the clerk’s window of the Lewis County Courthouse, located about twenty minutes from Mossylog. A middle-aged woman with reading glasses dangling from a colorful beaded chain around her neck sat behind the glass.

“I was wondering if you might be able to help me. I’m a bit of a computer dinosaur,” Sloane said.

“I’m with you,” the woman replied, smiling up at him. “But I can try.”

“I’m looking for the name of the attorney who represented a young boy who recently died in Mossylog.”

“Mateo Gallegos,” the woman said without hesitation. “It was in the papers. He got an infection from a rusted nail. It was so sad. Cute little guy.”

“A rusted nail?”

“That’s what I heard. The family didn’t have insurance, so they waited to bring him to the hospital, and by that time it was too late. We get that here with the migrant workers.”

The information puzzled Sloane further. “So do you know if there was a lawsuit?”

“I don’t think so,” she said, “but I heard that Dayron Moore was their attorney.”

Sloane retrieved a pen attached to a chain glued to the counter and wrote down the name. “Darren?”

“Day-ron.” She wrote the name on a slip of paper despite three-inch-long red nails adorned with stars and moons and handed it to him. “Day-ron.”

“Interesting name.”

“Wait until you meet him.”

“You know him?”

“Everyone knows Dayron around here. He’s here so often he could do my job.”

“He files a lot of lawsuits?”

“He files his share.”

Which made it even more perplexing that Moore had apparently not filed a lawsuit in this particular instance. “Does he handle a lot of personal injury cases?”

“Dayron does anything that walks in the door, has a heartbeat, and can pay fifteen hundred dollars up front.”

Sloane pointed to the computer terminals. “So I gather that if I type in his name it will bring up a list of his cases?”

The clerk smiled back at him. “Sure. But be prepared to sit there for a while.”

HALF AN HOUR after leaving the courthouse, Sloane got out of his car and walked the block but could not find the address on State Street in Mossylog. He stepped into Smokey’s House of Billiards on the corner to ask for help. The man behind the bar pointed to a small sign on the wall at the back of the building that said LAW OFFICE. A bent arrow directed anyone interested up a narrow staircase. Dayron Moore likely didn’t get many walk-ins.

As the clerk had warned, Sloane’s search using the attorney’s name pulled up a long list. Scrolling through the cases, Sloane had quickly deduced that most of Moore’s clients had Hispanic surnames. Clicking on a few of those particular cases he found a paucity of pleadings after the initial complaint. That meant Moore routinely settled, and quickly, which gave Sloane a pretty good idea about Dayron Moore the lawyer.

At the top of the stairs Sloane stepped into an office and instinctively ducked. He estimated the rectangular tiles and fluorescent lighting to be about a foot lower than a standard eight-foot ceiling, though it felt just inches from the top of Sloane’s head and made the man who stood from his seat behind a laminated wood desk look even more peculiar. Perhaps five six and dressed in a light blue, short-sleeved polo shirt and black slacks that bunched at his shoes despite being hitched well above his waist, Dayron Moore was as round as a Kewpie doll.

“Can I help you?” Moore looked and sounded surprised to see someone in his office. He spoke in a high-pitched voice from behind a bushy white mustache that extended over his upper lip.

After confirming the man to be Dayron Moore, Sloane said, “I’d like to speak to you about a potential legal matter.”

Rather than offer Sloane a chair, Moore asked, “You from around here?”

“Seattle, actually.”

Moore ran a hand through a shock of white hair, wisps of which stuck out over his ears. “What brings you down here, Mr. . . . ?”

“Sloane, David Sloane.” Sloane motioned to a chair. “May I?”

Moore’s eyes narrowed, but he wobbled back behind his desk, much of which was taken up by an antiquated computer screen that matched the office decor, which had not been upgraded since the 1960s. The desk, credenza, and walls were a cheap wood laminate, and Sloane sat in one of two matching lime green cloth chairs. Two diplomas hung framed on the wall behind Moore, but Sloane did not recognize either school.

“I hope I’m not catching you at a bad time,” Sloane said. He detected a recently applied coating of very strong aftershave which, along with blotchy red cheeks and a bulbous nose traced by several broken blood vessels, indicated Moore had just drunk most of his lunch and likely did so often.

“What can I do you for?” Moore asked.

“I have a client in Seattle who has something in common with one of your former clients,” Sloane said, telling the truth.

“You’re an attorney?” Moore sounded immediately deflated.

“Your client was Mateo Gallegos.”

Moore’s eyebrows inched closer and the suspicion returned to his voice. “What about him?”

“My client’s son recently died after running a very high fever and suffering flulike symptoms. The family kept the boy home and tried to hydrate him, but by the time they got him to the hospital the kid had a massive infection and died.”

Moore offered no condolences. “What’d the coroner say?”

“There wasn’t an autopsy. The boy was older than five so the state didn’t mandate it.”

“Was the body cremated?”

“No.”

Moore sat back, rubbing his mustache but offering nothing further.

“I just spoke to Mr. and Mrs. Gallegos,” Sloane said, continuing to tell the truth. “I wanted to talk to you about Kendall Toys.”

Moore flushed beet red. “They weren’t supposed to say anything about that. All of that is confidential.”

Sloane had played a hunch and Moore’s response confirmed that the lawyer had settled the Gallegos case without ever even filing a lawsuit. Sloane had no idea why Kendall would settle a suit in which a boy had fallen on a rusty nail, but then he had been skeptical of the clerk’s understanding of the case. Recalling something else the clerk had told him, Sloane said, “I’d be willing to put up a retainer if that helps. I just want to see the family taken care of.”

Moore calmed at the mention of money. “You don’t want to represent them?”

“It’s not really my area of expertise. Besides, I don’t even know if they have a case; it sounds like you’ve already gone down this road.”

“Did they get one of the toys?”

The question caught Sloane momentarily off guard but he recovered to ask, “Metamorphis?”

“That’s the one.” Moore perked up considerably, retrieved a business card from his desk drawer, and held it across the desk. “Have the family give me a call to set up an appointment. Ordinarily I work strictly contingency, but for this I’ll need a ten-thousand-dollar retainer.”

Sloane whistled. “That much?”

“This is a big case.”

“You think?”

Moore nodded. “Of course you know that I can’t breach the confidentiality of a settlement agreement.”

“Of course.”

“But if this is what I think it is, they’ll get back five times that amount, minimum.”

Sloane acted impressed. “No kidding?”

“Let’s just say the defendant will be very motivated to make this go away.”

“Kendall Toys?”

Dayron raised a hand. “I can’t say. You understand.”

Sloane nodded. “I wouldn’t want you to do anything unethical.”

THE PUMP HOUSE

GEORGETOWN, WASHINGTON, D.C.

AS SHE POLISHED off the remnants of her second beer, Anne LeRoy checked her BlackBerry. She was about to call when she saw Peggy Seeley walk from the slatted sunlight into the bar’s dim atmosphere and waved her over.

“Don’t ever do that to me again,” Seeley said even before she sat on the adjacent barstool. “I’ve been a nervous wreck all afternoon.” Seeley pulled LeRoy’s memory stick from beneath her blouse, slipping the strap over her head and slapping it on the counter. “I don’t want anything more to do with this.”

“I’m sorry,” LeRoy said. “I couldn’t think of anything else to do.” When LeRoy saw Payne and the security guard marching toward her cubicle, she tossed the memory stick with the downloaded report on magnets to Seeley, who shoved it down her blouse.

The bartender approached. “I’ll have a beer,” Seeley said, “whatever she’s drinking. She’s buying.”

“Why am I buying? I’m unemployed.”

“Too bad, that was by choice.”

As the bartender tipped the tall cylindrical glass under the tap Seeley gave a nervous giggle. “I still can’t believe what you said to him.”

After suffering the indignation of having her personal belongings searched, LeRoy had picked up her backpack to leave when Payne said, “And might I remind you—”

LeRoy had interrupted him. “No, you can’t. I don’t work for you anymore.” Then she stared down the guard until he too backed away. It had been one of those rare moments in life when she had said exactly what she wanted. The retort had just rolled off her tongue. But it had been born more of desperation than bravado. She wanted Payne and the guard out of there before they got the idea to search Seeley as well.

“He was stalking your cubicle most of the day,” Seeley said. “He had the IT people clear it out.”

“They took the computer?”

Seeley nodded as the bartender put her beer, with a healthy head of foam, beside the memory stick, which LeRoy slipped in her backpack.

“What are you going to do with that?” Seeley asked.

LeRoy had thought about all the reasons she went to work for the agency in the first place rather than taking a job in the private sector. “I don’t know. Probably nothing, but it’s the principle of the thing. This was a good investigation. Those magnets are dangerous. The public has a right to know that before someone gets seriously hurt, or dies.”

Seeley did not respond, drinking her beer.

“Do you think he would do it?” LeRoy asked, with a little less conviction.

“Do what?” Seeley asked.

“Go to the Justice Department. Prosecute me.”

Seeley shrugged. “It sounded like he would.”

LeRoy lifted the glass to her lips, lowered it. “They really took my computer?”

THE LUNCH BUCKET

MOSSYLOG, WASHINGTON

SLOANE SHIELDED HIS face with a menu as Manny Gallegos walked into the diner, looked about with uncertainty, and sat in a booth close to the door. A waitress filled his coffee mug, but Gallegos shook his head when she offered him a menu. He tore open four pink packages and stirred in the granules while looking out the restaurant windows at the parking lot like a Labrador in a car awaiting his master’s return.

Sloane set down his menu, slid from his booth, and approached Gallegos from behind, waiting to allow another man entering the diner to pass and take the booth across the aisle.

When Sloane slid into the booth, Gallegos sat up straight and glanced at the parking lot.

“He’s not coming.”

Gallegos’s eyes narrowed.

In a brief telephone conversation Sloane had told Gallegos he was calling from Dayron Moore’s office, and that Dayron wanted to meet immediately to discuss the possibility that Gallegos had breached the settlement agreement with Kendall Toys. Gallegos had become defensive on the phone and Sloane regretted manipulating the man, but he hoped that if he could get him away from his wife, Gallegos might open up about what had happened to their son.

“I’m sorry,” Sloane said, speaking Spanish. “But it’s important I speak to you.”

“I can’t,” Gallegos responded, also in Spanish. “I can’t say anything about it.” He started from the booth.

“I already know about Kendall,” Sloane said.

Gallegos stopped and looked over his shoulder at Sloane. “Then why are you bothering me if you know about it?”

It was a good question. “I only need you to confirm a few things. You don’t even have to talk. Just listen. If anything I say is wrong, you can get up and leave. If what I say is right, you stay and you still won’t have told me anything. Okay?”

Gallegos remained seated at an angle, and Sloane was uncertain whether the man would stay or go. His chest expanded and deflated.

“You can’t get in trouble for listening,” Sloane said.

Gallegos hesitated, then turned back into the booth, his gaze fixed on his coffee mug.

“I know that your son became ill and that you did your best to try to help him. I know that you took him to the hospital, but by that time it was too late; that he had lapsed into a coma and died.”

Tears pooled in Gallegos’s eyes. “We should have taken him earlier,” he whispered.

“You’re in the country illegally.”

Another nod.

“And you were afraid that you could be deported if someone at the hospital found out.”

Gallegos fought back his tears. “We could have saved him; Mateo would still be alive.”

“Do you work at the Kendall factory?” Sloane asked.

Gallegos nodded.

“How did you get a job if you’re illegal?”

“I used my cousin’s name and Social Security number.”

“Your name isn’t Manny Gallegos?”

“Here I am Manny Gallegos. In Mexico I am Manny Gutierrez. When you come to my home, my wife, she thinks maybe you are from immigration. Mr. Moore, he says that if we don’t take the settlement, Kendall will find out I am not Manny Gallegos and we will be deported. He said he negotiated so that I can keep my job.”

“Mr. Moore represents a lot of Hispanic workers in this area, doesn’t he?” Sloane asked.

Gallegos said Moore did, as the waitress returned to refill their cups.

“Do you want something to eat?” Sloane asked.

Gallegos declined and the waitress departed. He reached for the ceramic container but it was empty. Sloane leaned across the aisle, talking to the man in the adjacent booth. “Excuse me? Could I get a couple packets of sweetener?”

The man handed Sloane the entire container, which Sloane slid to Gallegos. “Can you tell me what happened to Mateo?”

Gallegos opened three more packets. “It is as you say. He got the fever. We think it is the flu and give him medicine from the store. But Mateo, he did not get better. He continues to throw up and have the fever. He did not eat. One morning I go to wake him and he don’t wake up. His forehead . . .” Gallegos wept. “His forehead was so hot but his body was cold. We take him to the hospital, but the doctor, he said it was too late.”

Again Sloane gave the man time to compose himself. “Was there an autopsy?”

Gallegos nodded. “The police come to our house. The doctor called them. And they send a woman to look to see that we don’t have any other bad things.”

Sloane shook his head. There had been no autopsy of Austin McFarland, and it was not lost on him that the hospital in Southern Washington had likely called the police because the Gallegos were low income and Hispanic and therefore, by stereotype, not as fit to parent, or more likely to have neglected or even abused their child, than the middle-class, Caucasian McFarlands. But that did not answer the question as to what the coroner found that compelled him to call the police, or why the police had then likely alerted Child Protective Services to inspect the Gallegos home.

“Do you know what the autopsy showed?”

“Not so much.”

“Can you read English, Manny?”

Gallegos shook his head. “A friend of ours, he tells us to hire Mr. Moore. He talked to the police and the doctors. He handled it all for us.”

“What did Moore say the autopsy showed?”

“He said something about magnets making Mateo sick, but also that Mateo, he fall on a nail and the rust poisoned him.”

“Magnets?”

A shrug.

“Where did the magnets come from?”

“Mr. Moore, he says he cannot prove it.”

“Can’t prove what, Manny?”

“That maybe the magnets they come from the toy that Kendall gives to Ricky.”

“Is Ricky Mateo’s brother?”

“Yes.”

Sloane pulled out a sketch from Kyle Horgan’s file. “Was it this toy?”

Gallegos nodded. “But Mr. Moore, he says he cannot prove it.”

“Did Mateo play with the toy?”

“No, only Ricky.”

“What else did Mr. Moore say?”

“Just that maybe Mateo dies from an infection when he falls on the nail.”

“Why would Kendall pay you money if Mr. Moore couldn’t prove the magnets came from the toy?”

Again Gallegos shrugged. “He just says that Kendall does not want the bad news.”

“You mean bad publicity?”

“He says Kendall’s lawyers want to go to the court but he convinces them that they will not like the bad publicity. He tells us to take the money because Kendall is very big and has very much money to go to the court. He says that I could lose my job and be deported.”

“Did you sign an agreement to get the money?”

“Mr. Moore says we have to sign, so we sign.”

“How much did Kendall pay you?”

Gallegos didn’t respond.

“Okay. If the number I say is right, take a sip of coffee.”

Sloane remembered Moore’s statement that the family could recover five times a $10,000 retainer. “Was it fifty thousand dollars?”

Gallegos took a sip of coffee.

“How much did Mr. Moore keep?”

“Thirty thousand.”

Sloane seethed. Moore’s fee should have been one third, at most, and given that the man had not even filed a lawsuit, he would have had virtually no costs to be reimbursed. He had one more series of questions for Gallegos.

“How did you get one of the toys?”

“Kendall gives it to me to take home because I work hard and they pay us fifty dollars for Ricky to play with and say what he likes and does not like.”

“Do you still have the toy?”

“No. We must return it after the meeting.”

“What meeting?”

“They have a meeting to watch Ricky play with the toy and ask him questions.”

“Were there other children who played with the toy?”

“Two boys and a girl, I think Ricky say.”

A focus group, Sloane thought. “What did your son think of it?”

For the first time since Sloane sat down, Gallegos smiled. “He loved it. He loved it more than his other toys. But some of the pieces, they crack, so they say they are doing more work and the real ones will be better.”

Sloane could only hope that Gallegos was right, but at the moment he could only think of his conversation with Dee Stroud. If Kendall was about to launch a new “It” toy for the holiday season there would soon be millions on store shelves.

“More children could die,” Kyle Horgan had warned.

NEARING THE END of the workday, Sloane returned to the billiard parlor, about to climb the narrow staircase when he saw Dayron Moore in the corner of the room near a green felt pool table. Moore chose a pool cue from a rack on the wall and chalked the blue end, about to break, when Sloane approached the opposite end of the table. Moore straightened. “You still here?”

“I just had a late cup of coffee with Manuel Gallegos.”

Moore gave Sloane a sideways glance. “What for?”

Sloane opened his briefcase and pulled out the document he had hand-drafted and Manny Gallegos had signed in the diner. He handed it to Moore and watched the man’s face turn the color of a traffic light as he read it. The document directed Moore to provide Sloane with Gallegos’s entire legal file, though Sloane knew Moore’s file would be slim. What he wanted was the release of all of Mateo’s medical records in Moore’s possession, including the autopsy report.

“He can’t do that,” Moore said.

“He already has. My office will be faxing you a signed Substitution of Attorneys tomorrow morning.”

“The case is over.”

“The case never got started.”

“They signed a binding settlement agreement.”

“You coerced them into signing a settlement agreement under threat Manny would lose his job and they’d be deported if they didn’t. You also lied about the autopsy report.”

“I did nothing of the sort. I just told them the facts.”

“You can tell that to the bar association if the Gallegoses have to file a complaint.”

“Now wait a minute, Mr. Sloane. I don’t know what he told you, but I can assure you—”

“He told me that you took thirty thousand dollars of a fifty-thousand-dollar settlement, Dayron. Given that the case did not proceed to trial, your percentage should have been thirty-three percent at the most, and since you didn’t even file a complaint I can’t imagine your expenses were more than the gas you spent rushing this settlement agreement back to Kendall’s lawyers as fast as you could.”

Moore’s mustache twitched and his nostrils flared. “Fine. I’ll send the file over tomorrow.”

“No.” Sloane did not want to give the man any time to alter the file contents. “You and I are going upstairs to your office and you’re going to provide me with the file, including the medical records.”

Moore stood his ground, either because he was defiant, or about to wet his pants. “I don’t have it. It’s already in storage.”

“Then we’ll go get it.”

“It isn’t open now.”

“Mr. Moore,” Sloane said. “Do you really want the bar association looking into the files of your past clients as well?”

Moore lowered his eyes. After a brief hesitation, he placed the pool cue onto the table and, without uttering another word, shuffled toward the staircase at the back of the room.

THREE TREE POINT

BURIEN, WASHINGTON

“OH MY GOD,” Tina said.

Sloane had just explained the findings of the doctor’s autopsy, which he had read in the car before leaving Mossylog. Mateo Gallegos had been taken to the hospital in a coma and, like Austin McFarland, when initial treatment was ineffective, further blood tests were taken, but too late. The throat swab had come back negative for the flu virus, but the blood cultures confirmed the boy had septicemia, commonly referred to as blood poisoning. The word had nearly leapt off the page when Sloane read it. Could it be coincidence that two boys who presented with symptoms of the flu, both died from a very aggressive bacterial infection seemingly caused by an infectious source somewhere in the body? Sloane didn’t think so. And while Mateo Gallegos did show physical signs of having suffered a puncture wound to his abdomen, likely from having fallen on a rusty nail, the autopsy had also revealed perforations in his intestinal walls, perforations caused when several powerful magnets attracted one another and pinched the lining, cutting off blood supply to that area.

“Something bothered me, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. It was just a gut reaction that Douvalidis did not do anything wrong.”

They sat in silence, thinking of the consequences.

Tina said, “Well, it doesn’t mean he wasn’t negligent, right? I mean shouldn’t he have diagnosed it, or at least had X-rays taken?”

Sloane knew Tina was trying to ease his conscience, but the two-hour drive home had given him time to think through the implications, and it had done nothing to make him feel better. “Douvalidis had no reason to suspect Austin swallowed anything because there were no signs he had choked, and even if he had suspected it, eighty percent of the things a child swallows are excreted. I’m going to have to check, but I’m fairly certain this is not something that has been heavily documented in the literature. These types of magnets are relatively new and untested.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know. They’ve buried their son, Tina. Eva said the verdict would be a new start for all of them. How can I make them go back? How could I even bring up the subject again?”

AFTER TINA DRIFTED off to sleep Sloane knew he would not be as fortunate. He sneaked downstairs, made a cup of chamomile tea, and stepped into his office to reconsider the Gallegos file in greater detail. He also took out the newspaper, which he had shoved in his case that morning without reading. He started to set the newspaper aside when a headline caught his attention.

BUILDING MANAGER

BEATEN TO DEATH

Latest Pioneer Square Attack

Has Residents on Edge

The headline was above the fold, the article below it. He flipped over the paper and felt the air rush from his lungs.

Seattle Police went door to door yesterday seeking information in the death of a Pioneer Square building manager. Edgar Paterno, 53, was found beaten to death in his apartment on Jackson Street, in a building he managed. Detectives would release little information, but witnesses said Paterno was discovered by the building owner, who had gone to collect the rent. What the owner found instead was something he described as a “horror.”

“Interesting reading?”

The voice startled him. Not Tina. Not Jake.

Sloane sprung from his chair, heart in his throat. A man stood just inside his office door. Sloane didn’t wait to ask questions or to determine the man’s intent. He took two quick steps and bull-rushed him, but grabbed at air. The man sidestepped him and turned his body, then lowered an elbow into the small of Sloane’s back, driving him to a knee. Grimacing, Sloane rose, turned, and arced a left hook at the man’s head, but with the element of surprise gone the man raised his right arm, blocked the blow and countered, knuckles striking hard against Sloane’s rib cage. The force of the punch, and Sloane’s momentum, sent him crashing off-kilter into the file cabinet and he again fell to his knees. Back on his feet, fighting to catch his breath, ribs aching, he spun and started for the intruder, but the man now held a gun, aiming a long cylinder screwed onto the end of the barrel directly between Sloane’s eyes, stopping his advance.

He had produced the weapon as fast as a card trick.

“Do you know the problem with being famous, Mr. Sloane? It makes it so easy for someone to find information about you. What you do . . . Where you live . . . Who lives with you.”

Sloane’s side felt as though it had burst into flames, and he fought to regain his breath. The implication that the man had been researching him brought greater alarm, but there was something else more disturbing—a feeling that Sloane knew the man, though he could not immediately recall how.

Sloane contemplated the gun he kept in his upper desk drawer but saw no way to get to it.

“People think using P.O. boxes will keep their address confidential, but there are all those applications out there to the bar association, health clubs, school records, wine clubs, and now they’re all online. Just about anyone motivated to do so can violate the sanctity of our personal privacy.”

Well-muscled, the man had a dark complexion and shoulder-length hair pulled into a ponytail. But that was not the image of the man Sloane continued to try to pull from the recesses of his mind. The image formulating was of a man wearing a baseball cap pulled low on his forehead.

“People don’t think twice about divulging their home addresses and telephone numbers to the school nurse,” the man continued. “You really can’t be too careful with all the crazies around today.”

The image cleared. The diner in Mossylog. The man had entered as Sloane went to Gallegos’s booth and then had sat across from them. Sloane had asked him for sweetener.

The man picked up the paper from Sloane’s desk, considering the article. “Some people just have no respect for the laws of society,” he said.

There was something dark about the man’s demeanor, something perverse and unnatural in the calm he projected. Most men, no matter how brave, no matter how lopsided the odds in their favor, would have shown some reservation, some hint of nerves at an impending encounter. But dressed in a black sweat suit and gloves the man looked like he had just finished a casual jog along the beach. This was no amateur.

Sloane needed to find a way to get the man out of the house, away from Tina and Jake.

“What is it you want?”

“You’re a bright man, Mr. Sloane. I think you know why I’m here.”

“No, I don’t think I do.”

He sighed. “I came for Kyle Horgan’s file.”

“I don’t have it,” Sloane said. “It’s at my office in Seattle.”

The man moved the newspaper to the side and looked down at the file on Sloane’s desk. “Don’t worry, Mr. Sloane, I have no interest in your wife or son. I even waited until you put them both to bed. I was hoping you had gone to sleep. I didn’t expect you to be awake. Insomnia? That explains the chamomile tea. I also avoid caffeine.”

Sloane maintained eye contact though he thought again of the gun. If he was going to die, he was going to do so fighting to stay alive.

“All right, there’s the file. Take it and go,” he said.

“As I said, that had been my intent, but I’m afraid you’ve seen me, and . . . well, I can’t have that in my line of work.”

Sloane raised his hands. “I don’t want my wife and kid to see this. Okay? Let’s go outside.”

“Very noble, Mr. Sloane. As you wish.”

The man motioned with the gun and Sloane started for the door. Footsteps descended the staircase, and it brought a wave of panic.

“David?”

The man diverted his eyes to the sound.

“Tina, run!”

Even as he yelled, Sloane had already turned, stepped, and leapt toward his desk, hearing the gun explode. His thigh burst in searing pain. He cleared the desk and barrel-rolled onto the floor behind it. Somehow he had managed to grab the drawer handle as he fell, pulling it from the desk, its contents spilling about the floor.

“David!”

Sloane fumbled through the debris, grabbed the butt of the gun, and rose from behind the desk. The second bullet hit him in the shoulder, knocking him backward and causing his reflexes to squeeze the trigger, firing twice, though well off aim. From his back he watched in horror as the man’s arm swept toward the staircase. Tina leaned over the side, looking down at them, eyes wide. Sloane struggled to his knees, blood seeping from the wounds in his thigh and right shoulder. His right arm dangled useless at his side. He fought to raise the gun, but his hand no longer held it.

Sloane grabbed the side of the desk, pulling himself to his knees. The man glanced back over his shoulder, and smiled.

“NO!”

Instinct caused Tina to step away from the rail. The bullet shoved her backward against the wall then she fell, arms splayed, her body impacting against the stairs, seeming to bounce, and hit again. At first she did not move, then, slowly, her body slid down, coming to rest on the landing. The man walked to where she lay, standing over her, watching, seeming to delight in the fear and shock etched on her face. Sloane reached out, but his leg would not move, and he toppled forward, facedown onto the wood floor. He raised his head, watching. Tina spit blood, choking, struggling to breathe.

The man reentered the office, bent to a knee, and placed the barrel of the gun to Sloane’s temple. “Ask for mercy, Mr. Sloane, and I may grant it.”

Sloane grimaced, struggling to speak. His eyes fixated on Tina.

“No jokes? No funny puns?”

He shifted his focus, looking up. “I’m going to kill you . . .” he sputtered.

The man shook his head. “As a lawyer, Mr. Sloane, I think you would agree with me that the current state of the evidence makes the chances of that occurring highly unlikely.” The man glanced back at Tina. “As I said, I did my best to avoid just this kind of scenario. It seems you are not the only one with insomnia. The wrong place at the wrong time, I’m afraid.”

“Mom!” Jake thundered down the stairs to the landing, dropping the phone as he did. It clattered onto the hardwood.

“Jake, run!”

But the boy fell atop his mother, his face a mask of pain and agony. “Mom! Mom!”

“Doesn’t anyone in this house sleep?” The man stood from his crouch.

Sloane grabbed the man’s boot, but he had no strength, and it pulled free of his grip. Sloane sat up, reaching out, watching as the man took aim at the back of Jake’s head.

“No.”

A siren wailed, close.

The man turned his head to the sound, then to the phone on the ground. He picked it up, considering the last dialed number. “Nine-one-one. Smart boy.”

He replaced the gun inside his jacket and stepped back into the office, seemingly undisturbed by the now howling sirens or the flash of lights reflecting on the office windows. He retrieved Kyle Horgan’s file, flipping through it.

Voices sounded outside.

Closing the file, he slipped it under his arm, and looked again at Sloane. Then he glided out the French doors, past Jake and Tina, and blended back into the darkness.

HIS FEET SLIPPED in the trail of blood seeping from his wounds, but somehow he found the strength, pulling with the fingers of his one good hand, pushing with his one leg, inches at a time, his only focus reaching her. Nearing, he grabbed for the banister, but the blood caused his hand to slip from the rail, leaving a red smear on the white paint. He struggled forward another inch, gripped the wooden pole, and pulled himself the final distance.

Jake lay over his mother’s body, sobbing.

Banging on the door reverberated throughout the house.

Jake raised his head, his face streaked with his mother’s blood.

“Dead bolt,” Sloane said, gasping for air. “Go.”

Jake rose and ran from the room.

Sloane bit back the pain and pulled himself next to her. Tina lay with her head on the bottom stair, eyes open. Her chest fluttered as it rose and fell.

“Tina?”

He lifted himself so she could see his face but her eyes stared absently, pupils dilated.

“Tina?”

Mouth open, she began to moan, a haunting, staccato sound.

“I’m here,” he whispered. “I’m right here.”

Her chest rose, each breath becoming more shallow.

“No,” he cried. “Tina. Please. Don’t leave me. Stay with me.”

Her limbs stiffened, her chest trembled, rapid breaths, eyes wide.

“Tina! Tina! No. Don’t go. Please. Please. Don’t go.”

He heard the sound of people rushing into the house, toward them.

She blinked, and for a moment her pupils fixated on him.

“Stay with me,” he said. “Stay with me.”

HIGHLINE COMMUNITY HOSPITAL

BURIEN, WASHINGTON

LIGHTS BLURRED OVERHEAD, blinding him and creating halos of light around the faces hovering above him.

“Forty-seven-year-old male. Gunshot wounds to the right leg and right shoulder, likely forty caliber. Extensive blood loss at scene. Patient is awake. No loss of consciousness.”

A different voice. “Pressure’s eighty over fifty. Heart rate a hundred and ten, respirations twenty-five with oxygen saturation of ninety-two percent.”

“Get a dopamine drip started, run it open. Prepare to intubate.”

“Dr. Tressel is in the OR.”

A mask pinched Sloane’s face. Needles punctured his arms. Tubes led to bags hanging overhead. He heard the sound of his own breathing, but he could not speak, could not ask anyone the one thing that mattered.

Where is she?

He had promised he would stay with her. He had promised he would not let her go.

“He’s lost a lot of blood.”

“His pressure is dropping.”

He felt cold. He had never felt so cold.

“On my call. Go.”

The overhead light brightened, blinding. He felt hands lifting him up before placing him back down. Others cut the clothing from his body.

“Do we have X-rays yet?”

Hands touched his chest and abdomen. He felt the cold on his back. “Patient has gunshot wound entrance site in right upper shoulder and right midthigh. Log roll him.”

They rolled him onto his side. Fingers touched the back of his thigh and shoulder. “Exit wounds in upper thigh and right scapula.”

“Can you move your foot? Can you move your foot?”

Sloane wiggled his toes.

“Possible neurological damage. Likely pneumothorax. I’ll need a chest tube.”

“What about an air-evac to Harborview?”

“He won’t last that long.”


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