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He motioned to Ruby, who took over, Figueras and Yanes following her report closely. Ainslie then summarized: "The test was had Doil told me the truth about everything else, apart from the Ernsts? As it turned out, he had, which was when I really did believe he hadn't killed the Ernsts."

"It's not proof, of course," Figueras mused, "but a fair assumption, Sergeant, which I'd share."

It was apparent that the two senior of firers were looking to Ainslie as the principal figure in the discussion, clearly regarding him with respect and, strangely it seemed, at moments with a certain deference.

Next, Ainslie had Bowe describe her examination of the boxes from the Ernst house, the revelations about Cynthia's childhood, and, finally, the discovery of the evidence proving Patrick Jensen a murderer, evidence that Cynthia had concealed all of that detail so new that it had not, until today, progressed beyond Homicide's domain.

Following it all was the arrest of Jensen earlier that day, prompting Jensen's accusations against Cynthia Ernst, and the promise of documents and a tape recording.

Figueras and Yanes, though accustomed to a daily diet of crime, were clearly startled. "Do we have any evidence," Yanes asked, "anything at all, linking Cynthia Ernst to the murders of her parents?"

Ainslie answered, "At this moment, sir, no. Which is why Jensen's documents and tape if they're as incriminating as his lawyer claims are so important. The state attorney should have everything tomorrow."

"Right now," Figueras said, his glance including Newbold, "I'll have to report this to the top. And if there is an arrest of a city commissioner it must be handled very, very carefully. This is beyond hot." He removed his glasses, rubbed his eyes, and muttered, "My father wanted me to be a doctor."

* * *

"Let's not waste time playing games," Florida's state attorney, Adele Montesino, said sternly to Stephen Cruz. "Curzon told me about your fantasy that your client plead guilty to manslaughter, so okay, you've had your little joke. Now we'll deal with reality. This is my offer: Assuming the documents and the tape recording offered by your client are as good as he claims, and he is willing to testify confirming what is there, for him we will not seek the death penalty."

"Whoa!" Raising his voice, Cruz faced her squarely.

It was late afternoon, and they were in her impressive office, with its mahogany-paneled walls and bookcases laden with heavy legal volumes. A large window looked down on a courtyard with a fountain; beyond were office towers and a seascape in the distance. The desk at which Montesino sat, if used as a dining table, would have seated twelve. Behind the desk, in an outsized padded chair capable of tilting and swiveling in all directions, was the state attorney short and heavyset, and fulfilling once more her professional reputation as a pit bull.

Stephen Cruz sat facing Montesino, Curzon Knowles on his right.

"Whoa!" Cruz repeated. "That's no concession, none at all when what my client is being held for is a crime of passion . . . you remember passion, Adele love and haste." A sudden smile accompanied the words.

"Thank you for that reminder, Steve." Montesino, whom few presumed to address by her first name, was noted for her sense of humor and a love of bandying words. "But here's a reminder for you: the possibility, which you and your client raised voluntarily, that he may be involved in another crime the Ernst murders, a case which is clearly murder one. In that event my offer not to seek death is generous."

"An interpretation of generosity would depend on the alternative," Cruz countered.

"You know it perfectly well. Life in prison."

"I presume there would be a rider a recommendation at sentencing that after ten years, clemency might be recommended to the governor."

"No way!" Montesino said. "All of that went out the window when we abolished the Parole Commission."

As all three knew, Cruz was indulging in rhetoric. Since 1995 a Florida life sentence had meant exactly that life. True, after serving ten years a prisoner could petition the state governor for clemency, but for most especially if the conviction had been for first-degree murder any hope would be slim.

If Cruz was dismayed, he didn't show it. "Aren't you overlooking something? That, given those harsh alternatives, my client may decide not to produce the tape and documents we've spoken of, and take his chances on a jury trial?"

Montesino gestured to Knowles. "We've discussed that possibility," Knowles said, "and in our opinion your client has a personal vendetta against Ms. Ernst, who has also been named in this whole matter. And to pursue that vendetta he will produce the tape and whatever else, anyway."

"What we will do," Adele Montesino added, "is take a fresh look at possible plea bargains when all the evidence is in and when we know what your client actually did. But no other guarantees than the one I've already offered. So no more argument, no more discussion. Good afternoon, counselor."

Knowles escorted Cruz out. "If you want to deal, get back to us fast, and by fast I mean today."

* * *

"Oh Jesus! God! The whole of the rest of my life in jail. It's impossible, inconceivable!" Jensen's voice rose to a wail.

"It may be inconceivable," Stephen Cruz said. "But in your case it is not impossible. It's the best deal I could get you, and unless you prefer the electric chair which, in view of all you've told me, is a clear possibility I advise you to take it." In presenting hard facts to a client, as Cruz had learned long ago, there came a time when plain, blunt words were the only ones to use.

They were in an interview room at Dade County Jail. Jensen had been brought here, in restraints, from the cell to which he had been moved from Police Headquarters, a block away. Outside it was dark.

Cruz had had to get special clearance for the late interview, but a phone call from the state attorney's office had cleared the way.

"There is one other possibility, and as your legal counsel I'll point this out. That is, you do not produce the tape, and go to trial solely for the killings of Naomi and her man. In that event, though, you'd always have hanging over you the possibility that proof implicating you and Cynthia in the Ernsts' murders could come out later."

"It will come out," Jensen said glumly. "Now that I've told them, the cops especially Ainslie won't stop digging until they can prove it. Ainslie talked to Doil just before his execution, and afterward started to tell Cynthia something Doil had said about her parents, but she cut him off. I know Cynthia was scared stiff, wondering how much Ainslie had discovered."

"You know that Ainslie was once a priest?"

"Yeah. Maybe that gives him some special insights." Making a decision, Jensen shook his head. "I won't hold the tape and papers back. I want it all to come out now, partly because I've had enough of deceit and lies, and partly because whatever happens to me, I want Cynthia to get hers, too."

"In which case we're back to the plea bargain you've been offered," Cruz said. "I've promised to give an answer yes or no tonight."

It took another half hour, but in the end Jensen conceded tearfully, "I don't want to die in the chair, and if that's the only way not to, I suppose I'll take it." He gave a long, deep sigh. "A few years ago, when I was riding high, with everything I'd ever wanted coming true, I never dreamed that one day I'd be in this position."

"Unfortunately," Cruz acknowledged, "I meet others who say exactly the same thing."

As Cruz left the room, escorted by a guard, he called back, "Early tomorrow I'll make arrangements to get that tape and papers."

* * *

The next morning, at the First Union Bank at Ponce De Leon and Alcazar in Coral Gables, Malcolm Ainslie entered first. The bank had just opened, and he went directly to the manager's office; a secretary seemed ready to stop him, but he flashed his police badge and walked in.

The manager, fortyish and well dressed, saw Ainslie's credentials and smiled. "Well, I guess I was driving a little fast coming in this morning."

"We'll overlook it," Ainslie said, "if you'll help with a small problem."

He explained that a customer of the bank, now a prisoner, was waiting in an unmarked police car outside. He would be escorted to his safe-deposit box, which he would open, and the police would remove whatever the box contained. "This is entirely voluntary on your customer's part you may ask him if you wish so no warrant is needed, but we'd like to do the whole thing quickly and quietly."

"So would I," the manager said. "Do you have . . ."

"Yes, sir." Ainslie handed over a paper on which Jensen had written his name and the safe-deposit box number.

As he saw the name, the manager raised his eyebrows. "This is like a scene from one of Mr. Jensen's books."

"I suppose so," Ainslie said. "Except this isn't fiction. "

Earlier that morning, Friday, Ainslie had gone to where Jensen's personal effects, taken from him immediately after his arrest, were stored at Police Headquarters. Among the effects was a key ring from which Ainslie removed what was obviously a safe-deposit box key.

The process in the bank's safe-deposit vault was brief. Jensen, whose hands were free, though handcuffs secured his left hand to Ruby Bowe's right, went through the usual formality of signing, then opened his box with the key.

With the box removed from its housing, a woman technician from ID staff stepped forward. Wearing rubber gloves, she opened the box lid and took out four items: an apparently old, folded real-estate brochure, a small notebook page filled with handwriting, an airline ticket stub, and a tiny Olympus XB60 audiotape. The technician inserted everything in a plastic container, which she sealed.

The technician would rush the items to ID, where they would be checked for fingerprints, then two copies made of everything, including the tape, regarded as the most important. Ainslie would deliver the original items and one set of copies to the state attorney's office. The second set was for Homicide.

"Okay, that's it. Let's go," Ainslie said.

Only the manager, hovering in the background, had a question. "Mr. Jensen, I notice the box is now empty. Will you be wanting it anymore?"

"Highly unlikely," Jensen told him.

"In that case, may I have the key?"

"Sorry, sir." Ainslie shook his head. "It's evidence; we'll have to retain it."

"But who will pay the box rent?" the manager asked as the visitors filed out.

The rest of Friday was a patchwork of sharing information. Ainslie delivered the original documents and tape, along with a set of copies, to Curzon Knowles at the attorney general's office. Ainslie returned to Homicide and, in the privacy of Leo Newbold's office, he, Newbold, and Bowe listened to their copy of the tape.

The sound quality was excellent, with every word from both Jensen and Cynthia Ernst audible and clear. Part way through, Bowe breathed excitedly, "It's exactly what Jensen promised. Everything is there!"

"You can tell he's steering the conversation," Newbold pointed out. "Cagily, but making sure he gets everything that matters on the tape."