The Racketeer(5)

by John Grisham

The other body was that of Naomi Clary, a thirty-four-year-old divorced mother of two who had recently been hired by Judge Fawcett as a secretary. The judge, who was sixty-six and had five adult children, was not divorced. He and Mrs. Fawcett had been living apart for several years, though they were still seen together around Roanoke when the occasion called for it. It was common knowledge they had separated, and because he was such a prominent man in town, their living arrangements created some gossip. Both had confided in their children and in their friends that they simply did not have the stomach for a divorce. Mrs. Fawcett had the money. Judge Fawcett had the status. Both seemed relatively content, and both had promised no outside affairs. The handshake deal provided they would proceed with the divorce if and when one of them met someone else.

Evidently, the judge had found someone to his liking. Almost immediately after Ms. Clary was added to the payroll, the rumors rippled through the courthouse that the judge was fooling around, again. A few on his staff knew that he had never been able to keep his pants on.

Naomi's body was found on a sofa near the spot where the judge was murdered. She was naked, with both ankles bound tightly together with silver duct tape. She was lying on her back with both wrists taped together behind her. She had been shot twice in the forehead. Her body was covered with small burn marks. After a few hours of debate and analysis, the chief investigators agreed that she had likely been tortured as a means of forcing Fawcett to open the safe. Apparently, it had worked. The safe was empty, its door left open, not a shred of anything left behind. The thief had cleaned it out, then executed his victims.

Judge Fawcett's father had been a framing contractor, and as a kid he tagged along, always with a hammer. He never stopped building things - a new back porch, a deck, a storage shed. When his children were small and his marriage was happy, he had gutted and completely renovated a stately old home in central Roanoke, acting as the general contractor and spending every weekend on a ladder. Years later he renovated a loft apartment that became his love nest, then his home. To him, the hammering, sawing, and sweating were therapy, a mental and physical escape from a job filled with stress. He had designed the A-frame lake cabin and, over a four-year period, had built most of it himself. In the basement where he died, there was a wall covered with fine cedar shelves, all crammed with thick law books. In the center, though, was a hidden door. A set of shelves swung open, and there, perfectly hidden, was the safe. At the crime scene, the safe had been rolled forward some three feet out of the wall and then cleaned out.

The safe was a metal and lead vault mounted on four five-inch wheels. It had been manufactured by the Vulcan Safe Company of Kenosha, Wisconsin, and sold online to Judge Fawcett. According to its specs, it was forty-six inches in height, thirty-six inches in width, forty inches in depth; offered nine cubic feet of storage; weighed 510 pounds; retailed at $2,100; and, when properly sealed, was fireproof, waterproof, and, ostensibly, burglarproof. A keypad on the door required a six-digit code for entry.

Why a federal judge who earned $174,000 a year needed such a secured and hidden container for his valuables was an immediate mystery to the FBI. At the time of his death, Judge Fawcett had $15,000 in a personal checking account, $60,000 in a certificate of deposit earning less than 1 percent a year, $31,000 in a bond fund, and $47,000 in a mutual fund that had underperformed the market for almost a decade. He also had a 401(k) and the standard array of benefits for top federal officials. With almost no debt, his balance sheet was blandly impressive. His real security was in his job. Since the Constitution allowed him to serve until he died, the salary would never stop.

Mrs. Fawcett's family owned a trainload of bank stock, but the judge had never been able to get near it. Now, with the separation, it was even further off-limits. Bottom line: the judge was quite comfortable but far from rich, and not the type who needed a hidden safe to protect his goodies.

What was in the safe? Or, bluntly, what got him killed? Interviews with family and friends would later reveal he had no expensive habits, did not collect gold coins or rare diamonds or anything that needed such protection. Other than an impressive baseball card collection from his youth, there was no evidence the judge had an interest in collecting anything.

The A-frame was tucked away so deeply in the hills that it was nearly impossible to find. A porch wrapped around the cabin, and from any vantage point not another person, vehicle, cabin, home, shack, or boat could be seen. Total isolation. The judge stored a kayak and a canoe in the basement, and he was known to spend hours on the lake, fishing, thinking, and smoking cigars. He was a quiet man, not lonely and not shy, but cerebral and serious.

It was painfully obvious to the FBI there would be no witnesses because there were no other human beings within miles. The cabin was the perfect spot to kill someone and be far away before the crime was discovered. From the moment they first arrived, the investigators knew they were way behind on this one. And, for them, things got worse. There was not a single fingerprint, footprint, piece of fiber, stray hair follicle, or tire mark to help with the clues. The cabin had no alarm system and certainly no surveillance cameras. And why bother? The nearest policeman was half an hour away, and, assuming he could even find the place, what was he supposed to do when he got there? Any brain-dead burglar would be long gone.

For three days the investigators inspected every inch of the cabin and four acres around it, and they found nothing. The fact that the murderer was so careful and methodic did not help the mood of the team. They were dealing with some real talent here, a gifted killer who left no clues. Where were they supposed to start?

There was already pressure from Justice in Washington. The Director of the FBI was putting together a task force, sort of a special ops unit to descend upon Roanoke and solve the crime.

As expected, the brutal murders of an adulterous judge and his young girlfriend were splendid gifts to the media and the tabloids. When Naomi Clary was buried three days after her body was found, the Roanoke police used barricades to keep reporters and the curious away from the cemetery. When Raymond Fawcett was memorialized the following day, at a packed Episcopal church, a helicopter hovered above the building and drowned out the music. The police chief, an old friend of the judge's, was forced to send up his helicopter and shoo away the other one. Mrs. Fawcett was steadfast in the front row among her children and grandchildren, refusing to shed a tear or look at his coffin. Many kind words were spoken about the judge, but some people, especially the men, were thinking, How did this old boy get such a young girlfriend?