EXCERPT: John Grisham's 'The Confession'

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Dana went straight to the Web site for the Kansas Department of Corrections and within seconds plunged into the wretched life of Travis Dale Boyette. Sentenced in 2001 to ten years for attempted sexual assault. Current status: incarcerated.

"Current status is in my husband's office," she mumbled as she continued hitting keys.

Sentenced in 1991 to twelve years for aggravated sexual battery in Oklahoma. Paroled in 1998. Sentenced in 1987 to eight years for attempted sexual battery in Missouri. Paroled in 1990. Sentenced in 1979 to twenty years for aggravated sexual battery in Arkansas. Paroled in 1985. Boyette was a registered sex offender in Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.

"A monster," she said to herself. His file photo was that of a much heavier and much younger man with dark, thinning hair. She quickly summarized his record and sent an e-mail to Keith's desktop. She wasn't worried about her husband's safety, but she wanted this creep out of the building.

After half an hour of strained conversation and little progress, Keith was beginning to tire of the meeting. Boyette showed no interest in God, and since God was Keith's area of expertise, there seemed little for him to do. He wasn't a brain surgeon. He had no jobs to offer. A message arrived on his computer, its appearance made known by the distant sound of an old-fashioned doorbell. Two chimes meant anyone might be checking in. But three chimes signaled a message from the front desk. He pretended to ignore it.

"What's with the cane?" he asked pleasantly.

"Prison's a rough place," Boyette said. "Got in one fight too many. A head injury. Probably led to the tumor." He thought that was funny and laughed at his own humor.

Keith obliged with a chuckle of his own, then stood, walked to his desk, and said, "Well, let me give you one of my cards. Feel free to call anytime. You're always welcome here, Travis." He picked up a card and glanced at his monitor. Four, count 'em, four convictions, all related to sexual assault. He walked back to the chair, handed Travis a card, and sat down.

"Prison's especially rough for rapists, isn't it, Travis?" Keith said. You move to a new town; you're required to hustle down to the police station or the courthouse and register as a sex offender. After twenty years of this, you just assume that everybody knows. Everybody's watching. Boyette did not seem surprised. "Very rough," he agreed. "I can't remember the times I've been attacked."

"Travis, look, I'm not keen on discussing this subject. I have some appointments. If you'd like to visit again, fine, just call ahead. And I welcome you back to our services this Sunday." Keith wasn't sure he meant that, but he sounded sincere.

From a pocket of his Windbreaker, Boyette removed a folded sheet of paper. "You ever hear of the case of Donte Drumm?" he asked as he handed the paper to Keith.

"No."

"Black kid, small town in East Texas, convicted of murder in 1999. Said he killed a high school cheerleader, white girl, body's never been found."

Keith unfolded the sheet of paper. It was a copy of a brief article in the Topeka newspaper, dated Sunday, the day before. Keith read it quickly and looked at the mug shot of Donte Drumm. There was nothing remarkable about the story, just another routine execution in Texas involving another defendant claiming to be innocent. "The execution is set for this Thursday," Keith said, looking up.

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