The Partner - Page 10

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SANDYMcDERMOTT had read with great interest the news accounts of the amazing discovery of his old pal from law school. He and Patrick had studied and partied together for three years at Tulane. They had clerked for the same Judge after they passed the bar exam, and they had spent many hours in their favorite pub on St. Charles plotting their assault upon the legal world. They would build a firm together-a small but powerful firm of hard-charging trial lawyers with impeccable ethics. They would get rich in the process, and they would donate ten hours a month to clients who couldn't afford to pay. It was all planned. Life intervened. Sandy took a job as an assistant federal prosecutor, primarily because the pay was good and he was a newlywed. Patrick got lost in a firm with two hundred lawyers in downtown New Orleans. Marriage eluded him because he worked eighty hours a week.

Their plans for their perfect little firm lasted until they were about thirty. They tried to meet for a quick lunch or a drink whenever possible, though the meetings and the phone calls happened less frequently as the years passed. Then Patrick escaped to a calmer life in Biloxi, and they hardly spoke once a year.

Sandy's big break in the suing game came when the friend of a cousin was maimed on an offshore oil rig in the Gulf. He borrowed ten thousand dollars, opened his own shop, sued Exxon and collected close to three million dollars, one third of which he kept. He was in business. Without Patrick, he built a nice little firm of three lawyers whose specialty was offshore injuries and deaths.

When Patrick died, Sandy actually sat down with his calendar and determined that it had been nine months since he'd talked to his buddy. Of course he felt lousy about this, but he was also realistic. Like most college friends, they had simply gone their separate ways.

He sat with Trudy through the ordeal, and he helped carry the casket to the grave.

When the money disappeared six weeks later, and the gossip started, Sandy had laughed to himself and wished his buddy well. Run Patrick run, he'd thought many times over the past four years, and always with a smile.

Sandy's office was off Poydras Street, nine blocks from the Superdome, near the intersection of Magazine, in a beautiful nineteenth-century building he'd bought with an offshore settlement. He leased the second and third floors, and kept the bottom one for himself, his two partners, three paralegals, and half a dozen secretaries.

HE WAS VERY BUSY when his secretary entered his office with a grim face and said, "There's a lady here to see you."

"Does she have an appointment?" he asked, glancing at one of three daily-weekly-monthly planners on the edge of his desk.

"No. She says it's urgent. She's not leaving. It's about Patrick Lanigan."

He looked at her curiously. "She says she's a lawyer," the secretary said.

"Where's she from?"

"Brazil."

"Brazil?"

"Yes."

"Does she look, you know, Brazilian?"

"I guess."

"Show her in."

Sandy met her at the door and greeted her warmly. Eva gave her name as Leah, with nothing behind it.

"I didn't catch your last name," Sandy said, all smiles.

"I don't use one," she said. "Not yet, anyway."

Must be a Brazilian thing, Sandy thought. Like Pele, the soccer player. Just a first name with no last.

He escorted her to a chair in the corner and sent for coffee. She declined and sat slowly. He glanced at her legs. She was dressed casually, nothing flashy. He sat across the coffee table from her and noticed her eyes-beautiful eyes, light brown, but very tired. Her long dark hair fell past her shoulders.

Patrick always had a good eye. Trudy was a mismatch, but she could certainly stop traffic.

"I'm here on behalf of Patrick," she said haltingly.

"Did he send you?" Sandy asked.

"Yes, he did."

She spoke slowly, her words soft and low. The accent was very slight.

"Did you study in the States?" he asked.

"Yes. I have a degree in law from Georgetown."

That would explain the near perfect American-English.

"And you practice where?"

"In a firm in Rio. My work is in international trade."

She had yet to smile, and this bothered Sandy. A visitor from afar. A beautiful one at that; one with a brain and nice legs. He wanted her to relax in the warmth of his office. This was, after all, New Orleans.

"Is that where you met Patrick?" he asked.

"Yes. In Rio."

"Have you spoken to him since-"

"No. Not since he was taken." She almost added that she was desperately worried about him, but that would seem unprofessional. She was not to divulge much here; nothing about her relationship with Patrick. Sandy McDermott could be trusted, but he was to be fed information in small doses.

There was a pause as they both looked away, and Sandy instinctively knew that there were many chapters to this story he would never know. But, oh, the questions! How did he steal the money? How did he get to Brazil? How did he pick her up along the way?

Arid the big one: Where's the money?

"So what am I supposed to do?" he asked.

"I want to retain you, for Patrick."

"I'm available."

"Confidentiality is crucial."

"It always is."

"This is different."

Got that right. Different to the tune of ninety million bucks.

"I assure you that anything you and Patrick tell me will be held in the strictest of confidence," he said with a reassuring smile, and she managed a very slight one in return.

"You might be pressured to divulge client secrets," she said.

"I'm not worried about that. I can take care of myself."

"You might be threatened."

"I've been threatened before."

"You might be followed."

"By whom."

"Some very nasty people."

"Who?"

"The people chasing Patrick."

"I think they've caught him."

"Yes, but not the money."

"I see." So the money was still around; that was not surprising. Sandy, and everyone else for that matter, knew Patrick couldn't go through such a fortune in four years. But how much was left?

"Where is the money?" he asked, somewhat tentatively, not for a moment expecting an answer.

"You can't ask that question."

"I just did."

Leah smiled, and quickly moved on. "Let's settle some details. How much is your retainer?"

"For what am I being retained?"

"To represent Patrick."

"For which batch of sins? According to the newspapers, it'll take an entire army of lawyers to cover his flanks."

"A hundred thousand dollars?"

"That'll do for starters. Am I doing the civil as well as the criminal?"

"Everything."

"Just me?"

"Yes. He wants no other lawyer."

"I'm touched," Sandy said, and he meant it. There were ^dozens of lawyers Patrick could turn to now, bigger lawyers with more death penalty experience, connected lawyers on the Coast with local clout, lawyers in bigger firms with more resources, and, undoubtedly, lawyers who'd been closer friends than Sandy had been for the past eight years.

"Then I'm hired," he said. "Patrick's an old friend, you know."

"I know."

How much did she really know? he wondered. Was she more than a lawyer?

"I'd like to wire the money today," she said. "If you could give me wiring instructions."

"Of course. I'll prepare a contract for legal services."

"There are some other things Patrick is concerned about. One is publicity. He wants you to say nothing to the press. Never. Not a word. No press conferences unless approved by him. Not even a casual 'no comment.' "

"No problem."

"You can't write a book about it when it's over."

Sandy actually laughed, but she missed the humor. "I wouldn't think of it," he said.

"He wants it in the contract."

He stopped laughing, and scribbled something to that effect on the legal pad. "Anything else?"

"Yes, you can expect your office and home to get wired. You should hire a surveillance expert to protect you. Patrick is willing to pay for this."

"Done."

"And it will be best if we don't meet here again. There are people trying to find me, because they think I can lead them to the money. So we'll meet in other places."

There was nothing Sandy could say to this. He wanted to help, to offer protection, to question her about where she would go and how she would hide, but Leah seemed to have things very much under control.

She glanced at her watch. "There's a flight to Miami in three hours. I have two first-class tickets. We can talk on the plane."

"Uh, where might I be going?"

"You'll fly on to San Juan, to see Patrick. I've made arrangements."

"And you?"

"I'll go another direction."

SANDY ORDERED more coffee and muffins while they waited for the wiring instructions to be finalized. His secretary canceled his appointments and court appearances for the next three days. His wife brought an overnight bag to the office.

A paralegal drove them to the airport, and at some point along the way Sandy noticed she had no luggage, nothing but a small brown leather satchel, well used and quite handsome.

"Where are you staying?" he asked as they sipped a cola in an airport deli.

"Here and there," she said, looking out the window.

"How do I contact you?" he asked.

"We'll work that out later."

They sat next to each other in the third row in first class, and for twenty minutes after takeoff she said nothing as she skimmed a fashion magazine and he tried to read a thick deposition. Sandy didn't want to read the deposition-it could wait. He wanted to talk, to fire away the endless questions, the same questions everyone else wanted to ask.

But there was a wall between them, a rather thick one that went far beyond gender and familiarity. She had the answers, but she was perfectly willing to keep them to herself. He tried his best to match her coolness.

Salted peanuts and pretzels were distributed. They declined the complimentary champagne. Bottled water was poured. "So how long have you known Patrick?" he asked cautiously.

"Why do you ask?"

"Sorry. Look, is there anything you can tell me about what's happened to Patrick in the past four years? I am, after all, an old friend. And now I'm his lawyer. You can't blame me for being curious."

"You'll have to ask him," she said, with a trace of sweetness, then returned to her magazine. He ate her peanuts.

She waited until they started their descent into Miami before speaking again. It came fast, clearly well rehearsed. "I won't see you again for a few days. I have to keep moving because of the people after me. Patrick will give you instructions, and for the time being he and I will communicate through you. Watch for the unusual. A stranger on the phone. A car behind you. Someone hanging around your office. Once you're identified as his lawyer, you will attract the people who are looking for me."

"Who are they?"

"Patrick will tell you."

"You have the money, don't you?"

"I can't answer that question."

He watched the clouds get closer below the wing. Of course the money had grown. Patrick wasn't an idiot. He'd stashed it away in a foreign bank where pros handled it. Probably earned at least twelve percent a year.

There was no more conversation until they landed. They hurried through the terminal to catch his flight to San Juan. She shook his hand firmly and said, "Tell Patrick I'm fine."

"He'll ask where you are."

"Europe."

He watched her disappear into the mass of hustling travelers, and as he did he envied his old friend. All that money. A gorgeous lady with exotic charm and class.

A boarding call woke him up. He shook his head and asked himself how he could envy a man who now faced the possibility of spending the next ten years on death row waiting to be executed. And a hundred hungry lawyers anxious to peel away his skin in search of the money.

Envy! He took his seat, first class again, and began to feel the magnitude of representing Patrick.

EVA TOOK A CAB back to the trendy hotel on South Beach where she had spent the night. She would be there for a few days, depending on what happened in Biloxi. Patrick had told her to move around, and not to stay in one place more than four days. She was registered under the name of Leah Pires, and now had a gold credit card issued to her in that name. Her address was in Sao Paulo.

She quickly changed and went to the beach. It was mid-afternoon, the beach was crowded, and that suited her fine. Her beaches in Rio were crowded, but there were always friends around. Now she was a stranger, another nameless beauty in a small bikini baking in the sun. She wanted to go home.



Tags: John Grisham Thriller
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