BRANTS REPLY from Upper Darby, Pa., had an urgent tone to it:
Wow! What a photo! I'm coming down even sooner. I'll be there on April 20. Are you available? If so, we'll have the house to ourselves because my wife will stay here for another two weeks. Poor woman. We've been married for twenty-two years and she doesn't have a clue.
Here's a picture of me. That's my Learjet in the background, one of my favorite toys. We'll buzz around in it if you want.
Write me immediately, please.
There was still no last name, not that that was a problem. They would dig for it soon enough. Spicer inspected the postmark, and for a passing moment thought about how quickly the mail was running between Jacksonville and Philadelphia. But the photo kept his attention. It was a four-by-six candid shot, very similar to an ad for a get-rich-quick scheme where the huckster is pictured with a proud smile, flanked by his jet, his Rolls, and possibly his latest wife. Brunt was standing beside a plane, smiling, dressed neatly in tennis shorts and a sweater, with no Rolls in sight but with an attractive middle-aged woman next to him.
It was the first photo, in their growing collection, in which one of their pen pals had included his wife. Odd, thought Spicer, but then Brunt had mentioned her in both letters. Nothing surprised him anymore. The scam would work forever because there was an endless supply of potential victims willing to ignore the risks.
Brunt himself was fit and tanned, short dark hair with shades of gray, and a mustache. He was not particularly handsome, but what did Spicer care?
Why would a man with so much be so careless? Because he'd always taken chances and never been caught. Because it was a way of life. And after they squeezed him and took his money, Brunt would slow down for a while. He'd avoid the personal ads, and the anonymous lovers. But an aggressive type like Brunt would soon return to his old ways.
Spicer figured the thrill of finding random partners overshadowed the risks. He was still bothered by the fact that he, of all people, spent time each day trying to think like a homosexual.
Beech and Yarber read the letter and studied the photo. The small cramped room was completely silent. Could this be the big one?
"Reckon how much that jet cost;" Spicer said, and all three laughed. It was nervous laughter, as if they weren't sure they could believe it.
"A couple of million," Beech said. Since he was from Texas, and had been married to a rich woman, the other two assumed he knew more about jets than they. "It's a small Lear."
Spicer would settle for a small Cessna, anything that would lift him off the ground and take him away. Yarber didn't want a plane. He wanted tickets, in first class where they brought you champagne and two menus and you had your choice of movies. First class over the ocean, far away from this country.
"Let's bust him;'Yarber said.
"How much?" asked Beech, still staring at the photo.
"At least a half a million," Spicer said. "And if we get that, we'll go back for more."
They sat in silence, each playing with his portion of half a million dollars. Trevor's third was suddenly getting in the way. He'd take $167,000 off the top, leaving each of them $111,000. Not bad for prisoners, but it should be a helluva lot more. Why was the lawyer making so much?
"We're going to cut Trevor's fee;" Spicer announced. "I've been thinking about this for some time. Beginning now, the money will be split four ways. He takes an equal share."
"He won't do it;'Yarber said.
"He has no choice."
"It's only fair," Beech said. "We're doing the work, and he's getting more than each of us. I say we cut it."
"I'll do it Thursday"
Two days later, Trevor arrived at Trumble just after four with a particularly bad hangover, one deadened by neither the two-hour lunch nor the one-hour nap.
Joe Roy seemed particularly edgy. He passed across the outgoing mail, but held a large, red, oversized envelope. "We're getting ready to bust this guy," he said, tapping it on the table.
"Who is he?"
"Brant somebody, near Philadelphia. He's hiding behind the post office, so you need to flush him out."
"A half a million bucks."
Trevor's red eyes narrowed and his dry lips fell open. He did the math $167,000 in his pocket. His sailing career was suddenly drawing closer. Perhaps he didn't need a full million bucks before he slammed his office door and left for the Caribbean. Maybe half that would do it. And he was getting so close.
"You're kidding," he said, knowing that Spicer was not. Spicer had no sense of humor, and he certainly took his money seriously.
"No. And we're changing your percentage."
"I'll be damned if we are. A deal's a deal."
"Deals can always be changed. From now on you get the same piece we do. One fourth."
"Then you're fired."
"You can't fire me."
"I just did. What, you think we can't find another crooked lawyer to run mail for us?"
"I know too much,"Trevor said, his cheeks flashing pink and his tongue suddenly parched.
"Don't overestimate yourself.You're not that valuable."
"Yes I am. I know everything that's going on here."
"And so do we, hotshot. Difference is, we're already in jail.You're the one with the most to lose.You play hardball with me and you'll be sittin on this side of the table."
Bolts of pain shot through Trevor's forehead and he closed his eyes. He was in no condition to argue. Why had he stayed at Pete's so late last night? He had to be sharp when he met with Spicer. Instead, he was tired and half-drunk.
His head spun and he thought he might be sick again. He did the math. They were arguing over the difference between $167,000 and $125,000. Frankly, both sounded good to Trevor. He couldn't run the risk of being fired because he'd managed to alienate what few clients he had. He spent less time in the office; he wouldn't return their calls. He'd found a far richer source of income, so to hell with the small-time foot traffic along the beaches.
And he was no match for Spicer. The man had no conscience. He was mean and conniving and desperate to stash away as much money as possible.
"Are Beech and Yarber in favor of this?" he asked, knowing damned well they were, and knowing that even if they weren't he'd never know the difference.
"Sure. They're doing all the work. Why should you make more than them?"
It did seem a little unfair. "Okay, okay," Trevor said, still in pain. "There's a good reason you're in prison."
"Are you drinking too much?"
"No! Why do you ask?"
"I've known drunks. Lots of them. You look like hell."
"Thanks. You take care of your business, I'll take care of mine."
"It's a deal. But nobody wants a drunk for a lawyer. You're handling all our money, in an enterprise that's very illegal. A little loose talk in a bar and somebody starts asking questions."
"I can handle myself."
"Good. Watch your back too. We're squeezing a couple, making them hurt. If I were on the other end of our little sting, I'd be tempted to come down and trv to get some answers before I coughed up the money
"They're too scared."
"Keep your eyes open anyway. It's important for you to stay sober and alert."
"Thank you very much. Anything else?"
"Yeah, I got some games for you." On to the important stuff. Spicer opened a newspaper and they began making their bets.
Trevor bought a quart of beer at a country store on the edge of Trumble, and sipped it slowly as he puttered back to Jacksonville. He tried his best not to think of their money, but his thoughts were out of control. Between his account and their account, there was just over $250,000 sitting offshore, money he could take anytime he wanted. Add a half a million bucks to it, and, well, he just couldn't stop adding $750,000!
He'd never get caught stealing dirty money; that was the beauty of it. The victims of the Brethren weren't complaining now because they were too ashamed. They weren't breaking any laws. They were just scared. The Brethren, on the other hand, were committing crimes. So who would they run to if their money disappeared?
He had to stop thinking such thoughts.
But how could they, the Brethren, catch him? He'd be on a sailboat drifting between islands they'd never heard of. And when they were finally released, would they have the energy and money and willpower to track him dawn? Of course not. They were old men. Beech would probably die at Trumble.
"Stop it," he yelled at himself:
He walked to Beach Java for a triple-shot latte, and returned to his office determined to do something productive. He went online and found the names of several private investigators in Philadelphia. It was almost six when he began calling. The first two went to answering machines.
The third, to the offices of Ed Pagnozzi, was answered by the investigator himself. Trevor explained that he was a lawyer in Florida and needed a quick job in Upper Darby.
"Okay What kinds job?"
"I'm trying to track some mail here;" Trevor said glibly. He'd done this enough to have it well rehearsed. "Pretty big divorce case. I got the wife, and I think the husband's hiding money. Anyway, I need somebody up there to find out who's renting a certain post office box."
"You gotta be kiddin."
"Well, no, I'm pretty serious about this."
"You want me to go snoopin around a post office?"
"It's just basic detective work."
"Look, pal, I'm very busy. Call somebody else." Pagnozzi was gone, off to more important matters. Trevor cursed him under his breath and punched the next number. He tried two more, and hung up on both when the machines answered. He'd try again tomorrow.
Across the street, Klockner listened to the brief chat with Pagnozzi one more time, then called Langley. The final piece of the puzzle had just fallen into place, and Mr. Deville would want to know it immediately.
While dependent on fancy words and smooth talk and compelling photos, the scam was basic in its operation. It preyed on human desire and it paid off by sheer terror. Its mechanics had been solved by Mr. Garbe's file, and by the Brant Wbite reverse scam, and by the other letters they'd intercepted.
Only one question had gone unanswered: When aliases were used to rent post office boxes, how did the Brethren find the real names of their victims? The phone calls to Philadelphia had just given them their answer. Trevor simply hired a local private detective, evidently one with less business than Mr. Pagnozzi.
It was almost ten when Deville was finally cleared to see Teddy. The North Koreans had shot another American soldier in the DMZ, and Teddy had been dealing with the fallout since noon. He was eating cheese and crackers and sipping a Diet Coke when Deville entered the bunker.
After a quick briefing, Teddy said, "That's what I thought."
His instincts were uncanny, especially with hindsight.
"This means, of course, that the lawyer could hire a local here to somehow uncover the real identity of Al Konyers;" Deville said.
"We can think of several ways. First is surveillance, the same way we caught Lake sneaking to his box. Watch the post office. That's somewhat risky because there's a good chance you'll get noticed. Second is bribery. Five hundred bucks cash to a postal clerk will work in a lot of places. Third is computer records. This is not highly classified material. One of our guys just hacked his way into the central post office in Evansville, Indiana, and got the list of all box leases. It was a random test, took him about an hour. That's high tech. Low tech is to simply break into the post office at night and have a look around."
"How much does he pay for this?"
"Don't know, but we'll find out soon when he hires an investigator."
"He has to be neutralized."
"Not yet. I'd rather buy him first. He is our window. If he's working for us, then we know everything and we keep him away from Konyers. Put together a plan.
"And for his removal?"
"Go ahead and plan it, but we're in no hurry. Not yet anyway".