The Racketeer(14)

by John Grisham

Pretrial maneuvering eliminated some of the defendants; several were allowed to peel off and either cooperate with the government or have their own separate trials. My lawyer and I filed twenty-two motions from the day I was indicted until the day I went to trial, and only one was granted. And it was a useless win.

The Department of Justice, through its FBI and U.S. Attorney's Office in D.C., threw everything it had against Barry Rafko and his confederates, including one congressman and one of his aides. It didn't matter if a couple of us might be innocent, nor did it matter that our version of the truth would be distorted by the government.

There I was, sitting in a crowded courtroom with seven other defendants, including the most nefarious political operative Washington had produced in decades. I was guilty all right. Guilty of stupidity for allowing myself to fall into such a mess.

After the jury was selected, the U.S. Attorney offered me one last deal. Plead to one RICO violation, pay a fine of $10,000, and serve two years.

Once again, I told him to go to hell. I was innocent.

Chapter 8

Mr. Victor Westlake

Assistant Director, FBI

Hoover Building


935 Pennsylvania Avenue

Washington, D.C. 20535

Dear Mr. Westlake:

My name is Malcolm Bannister, and I am an inmate at the Federal Prison Camp at Frostburg, Maryland. On Monday, February 21, 2011, I met with two of your agents investigating the murder of Judge Fawcett - Agents Hanski and Erardi. Nice guys and all, but I got the feeling they were not too impressed with me and my story.

According to this morning's reports in the Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Roanoke Times, you and your team are still chasing your tails and don't have much of a clue. I have no way of knowing if you have a list of credible suspects, but I can guarantee you the real killer is not on any list compiled by you and your team.

As I explained to Hanski and Erardi, I know the identity of the killer, and I know his motive.

In case Hanski and Erardi screwed up the details, and by the way their note taking was not too impressive, here is my idea of a deal: I reveal the killer, and you (the Government) agree to my release from prison. I will not consider some type of conditional suspension of my sentence. I will not consider parole. I walk out, a free man, with a new identity and protection by the guys on your side.

Obviously, such a deal will necessitate the involvement of the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney's offices in both the Northern and the Southern Districts of Virginia.

Also, I want the reward money, to which I will be entitled. According to the Roanoke Times this morning, it has just been increased to $150,000.

Please feel free to continue chasing your tails.

As a couple of former Marines, we really should talk.

You know where to find me.

Sincerely, Malcolm Bannister #44861-127

My celly is a nineteen-year-old black kid from Baltimore, in for eight years for selling crack. Gerard is like a thousand other guys I've seen in the past five years, a young black from the inner cities whose mother was a teenager when he was born and whose father was long gone. He dropped out of school in the tenth grade and found a job as a dishwasher. When his mother went to prison, he moved in with his grandmother, who was also raising a horde of cousins. He started using crack, then selling it. In spite of a life on the streets, Gerard is a kindly soul with no mean streak. He has no history of violence and no business wasting his life in prison. He's one of a million young blacks being warehoused by the taxpayers. We're approaching 2.5 million prisoners in this country, by far the highest rate of incarceration in any semicivilized nation.

It's not unusual to get a celly you really don't like. I had one who required little sleep, and he played his iPod throughout the night. He had earphones, which are required after 10:00 p.m., but the volume was so high I could still hear the music. It took me three months to get a transfer. Gerard, though, understands the rules. He told me he once slept in an abandoned car for weeks and almost froze to death. Anything is better than that.

Gerard and I begin each day at 6:00 a.m. when a buzzer wakes us. We dress quickly in our prison work clothes, careful to give each other as much space as our ten-by-twelve cell will allow. We make our bunks. He has the top one, and because of my seniority I have the bottom. At 6:30, we hustle over to the chow hall for breakfast.

The chow hall has invisible barriers that dictate where one sits and eats. There is a section for the blacks, one for the whites, and one for the browns. Intermingling is frowned upon and almost never happens. Even though Frostburg is a camp, it is still a prison, with a lot of stress. One of the most important rules of etiquette is to respect each other's space. Never cut in line. Never reach for anything. If you want the salt and pepper, ask someone to pass them, please. At Louisville, my prior home, fights were not unusual in the chow hall, and they were usually started when some jackass with sharp elbows infringed on someone else's space.

Here, though, we eat slowly and with manners that are surprising for a bunch of convicted criminals. Out of our cramped cells, we enjoy the wider spaces of the chow hall. There is a lot of ribbing, and crude jokes, and talk of women. I've known men who spent time in the hole, or solitary confinement, and the worst part of it is the lack of social interaction. A few handle it well, but most start cracking up after a few days. Even the worst loners, and there are plenty of them in prison, need people around them.

After breakfast, Gerard reports to work as a janitor scrubbing floors. I have an hour of downtime before I report to the library, and this is when I walk over to the coffee room and start reading newspapers.

Again, today, there appears to be little progress in the Fawcett investigation. Interestingly, though, his oldest son complained to a reporter from the Post that the FBI is doing a lousy job of keeping the family updated. No response from the FBI.

With each passing day, the pressure mounts.

Yesterday a reporter wrote that the FBI was interested in the former husband of Naomi Clary. Their divorce three years ago had been contentious, with both parties accusing the other of adultery. According to the reporter, his sources were telling him the FBI had interrogated this ex-husband at least twice.

The library is in an annex that also houses a small chapel and nurses' station. It is exactly forty feet long and thirty feet wide, with four cubicles for privacy, five desktop computers, and three long tables where inmates are allowed to read, write, and do research. There are also ten stacked tiers that hold, at any given time, about fifteen hundred books, mostly hardbacks. At Frostburg, we are allowed to keep up to ten paperbacks in our cells, though virtually everyone has more. An inmate may visit the library in his off-hours, and the rules are fairly flexible. Two books per week may be checked out, and I spend half of my time keeping up with past-due books.