EXCERPT: John Grisham's 'The Confession'

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"Travis Boyette." He instinctively spelled his last name for her.

"Date of birth, October 10, 1963. Place, Joplin, Missouri. Age, forty four. Single, divorced, no children. No address. No place of employment. No prospects."

Dana absorbed this as her pen frantically searched for the proper blanks to be filled. His response created far more questions than her little form was designed to accommodate. "Okay, about the address," she said, still writing. "Where are you staying these days?"

"These days I'm the property of the Kansas Department of Corrections. I'm assigned to a halfway house on Seventeenth Street, a few blocks from here. I'm in the process of being released, 're-entry,' as they like to call it. A few months in the halfway house here in Topeka, then I'm a free man with nothing to look forward to but parole for the rest of my life."

The pen stopped moving, but Dana stared at it anyway. Her interest in the inquiry had suddenly lost steam. She was hesitant to ask anything more. However, since she had started the interrogation, she felt compelled to press on. What else were they supposed to do while they waited on the minister?

"Would you like some coffee?" she asked, certain that the question was harmless.

There was a pause, much too long, as if he couldn't decide. "Yes, thanks. Just black with a little sugar."

Dana scurried from the room and went to find coffee. He watched her leave, watched everything about her, noticed the nice round backside under the everyday slacks, the slender legs, the athletic shoulders, even the ponytail. Five feet three, maybe four, 110 pounds max. She took her time, and when she returned Travis Boyette was right where she'd left him, still sitting monk-like, the fingertips of his right hand gently tapping those of his left, his black wooden cane across his thighs, his eyes gazing forlornly at nothing on the far wall. His head was completely shaved, small, and perfectly round and shiny, and as she handed him the cup, she pondered the frivolous question of whether he'd gone bald at an early age or simply preferred the skinned look. There was a sinister tattoo creeping up the left side of his neck. He took the coffee and thanked her for it. She resumed her position with the desk between them.

"Are you Lutheran?" she asked, again with the pen.

"I doubt it. I'm nothing really. Never saw the need for church."

"But you were here yesterday. Why?"

Boyette held the cup with both hands at his chin, like a mouse nibbling on a morsel. If a simple question about coffee took a full ten seconds, then one about church attendance might require an hour. He sipped, licked his lips.

"How long do you think it'll be before I can see the reverend?" he finally asked.

Not soon enough, Dana thought, anxious now to pass this one along to her husband. She glanced at a clock on the wall and said, "Any minute now."

"Would it be possible just to sit here in silence as we wait?" he asked, with complete politeness.

Dana absorbed the stiff-arm and quickly decided that silence wasn't a bad idea. Then her curiosity returned. "Sure, but one last question." She was looking at the questionnaire as if it required one last question.

"How long were you in prison?" she asked.

"Half my life," Boyette said with no hesitation, as if he fielded that one five times a day.

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