The Partner - Page 13

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THROUGH THE VAST WEB of leaks and JL sources, word came that yet another lawsuit would be filed late in the day, just before the clerk closed her office. The web had already been electrified with the confirmed reports that Patrick himself would be arriving around noon tomorrow.

Sandy asked the reporters to wait in the foyer of the courthouse while he filed the suit. He then distributed copies to the dozen or so bloodhounds gathered and jostling for position. Most were newspaper reporters. There were two minicams. One radio station.

At first, it appeared to be just another lawsuit, filed by another lawyer anxious to see his face in print. Things changed dramatically when Sandy announced he represented Patrick Lanigan. The crowd grew and bunched together-curious office clerks, local lawyers, even a janitor stopped to listen. Calmly, he informed them that his client was filing suit against the FBI for physical abuse and torture.

Sandy took his time with the allegations, then answered the barrage of questions thoughtfully, fully, looking directly at the cameras. He saved the best for last. He reached into his briefcase and removed the two color photos, now enlarged to twelve, by sixteen inches, and mounted on foam board. "This is what they did to Patrick," he said dramatically.

The cameras lunged in for close-ups. The group teetered on the verge of unruliness.

"They drugged him, then stuck wires to his body. They tortured him until his flesh burned because he wouldn't, and couldn't, answer their questions. This is your government at work, ladies and gentlemen, torturing an American citizen. Government thugs who call themselves FBI agents."

Even the most jaded reporters were shocked. It was a splendid performance.

The Biloxi affiliate ran it at six, after announcing it with a sensational lead-in. Almost half the newscast was Sandy and the photos. The other half was Patrick's return tomorrow.

By early evening, CNN began running it every half-hour, and Sandy was the lawyer of the moment. The allegations were just too juicy to downplay.

HAMILTON JAYNES was enjoying a quiet drink with the boys in the lounge of a posh country club near Alexandria when he saw the news clip on a corner TV. He had played eighteen holes, during which he had forbidden himself from thinking about the Bureau and the countless headaches there.

Another headache had just found him. The FBI sued by Patrick Lanigan? He excused himself and walked to the empty bar where he punched numbers on his cell phone.

Deep inside the Hoover Building on Pennsylvania Avenue is a hallway lined with windowless rooms where technicians monitor television news broadcasts from around the world. In another set of rooms they listen to and record radio news programs. In another, they read magazines and newspapers. Within the Bureau, the entire operation is known simply as Accumulation.

Jaynes called the supervisor on duty in Accumulation, and within minutes had the full story. He left the country club and drove back to his office, on the third floor of the Hoover Building. He called the Attorney General, who, not surprisingly, had been trying to reach him. A vicious ass-chewing ensued, with Jaynes on the receiving end and being allowed to say little. He did manage to reassure the Attorney General that the FBI had absolutely nothing to do with the alleged abuse of Patrick Lanigan.

"Alleged?" asked the Attorney General. "I've seen the burns, haven't I! Hell, the whole world has seen the burns."

"We didn't do it, sir," Jaynes said calmly, armed with the knowledge that this time he was repeating the truth.

"Then who did?" the Attorney General snapped back. "Do you know who did?"

"Yes sir."

"Good. I want a three-page report on my desk at nine in the morning."

"It will be there."

The phone was hung up loudly on the other end, and Jaynes cursed and gave his desk a hard kick. Then he made another call, the effect of which was that two agents emerged from die darkness and stood before the front door of Mr. and Mrs. Jack Stephano.

Jack had watched the reports throughout the night, and was not surprised to get a reaction from the feds. As the story unfolded, he sat on the patio chatting with his lawyer on a cell phone. It was actually funny, he'd decided; the FBI getting blamed for acts committed by his men. And it was a brilliant move by Patrick Lanigan and his lawyer.

"Good evening," he said politely as he stood in the door. "Lemme guess. %u're selling doughnuts."

"FBI, sir," one said, fumbling for his pocket.

"Save it, kid. I recognize you boys by now. Last time I saw you, you were parked down at the corner reading a tabloid and trying to duck behind your steering wheel. Did you honestly think you'd be doing such exciting work when you were in college?"

"Mr. Jaynes would like to see you," the second one said.

"Why?"

"Don't know. He told us to come get you. He wants you to ride with us to his office."

"So Hamilton is working late, is he?"

"Yes sir. Can you come with us?"

"Are you arresting me again?"

"Well, no."

"Then what exactly are you doing? I have lots of lawyers, you know. Wrongful arrest or detention, and you boys could get yourselves sued."

They looked at each other nervously.

Stephano was not afraid of meeting with Jaynes, or anybody else for that matter. He could certainly handle anything Jaynes could throw at him.

But he reminded himself that there were criminal charges pending against him. A little cooperation might help.

"Give me five minutes," he said, then disappeared inside.

JAYNES STOOD behind his desk holding a thick report and flipping its pages when Stephano entered. "Have a seat," he said abruptly, waving at the chairs opposite his desk. It was almost midnight.

"A pleasant evening to you, Hamilton," Stephano said with a grin.

Jaynes dropped the report. "What on earth did you do to that boy down there?"

"I don't know. I guess one of the Brazilian boys got a little rough. He'll survive."

"Who did it?"

"Do I need my lawyer here, Hamilton? Is this an interrogation?"

"I'm not sure what this is, okay? The Director is at home, on the phone, consulting with the Attorney General, who by the way is not taking this very well, and they call me every twenty minutes and peel off some more skin. This is serious stuff, okay, Jack? These allegations are hideous, and right now the whole country is looking at those damned pictures and wondering why we tortured an American citizen."

"I'm terribly sorry."

"I can tell. Now, who did it?"

"Some locals down there. A gang of Brazilians we hired when we got a tip he was there. I don't even know their names."

"Where'd the tip come from?"

"Wouldn't you like to know?"

"Yes, I would." Jaynes loosened his tie and sat on the edge of his desk, looking down at Stephano, who was looking up without the slightest trace of concern. He could bargain his way out of any trouble the FBI might send him. He had very good lawyers. . "I have a deal for you," Jaynes said. "And this just came down from the Director."

"I can't wait."

"We're prepared to arrest Benny Aricia tomorrow. We'll make a big deal out of it, leak it to the press and all, tell them how this guy who lost ninety million hired you to track down Lanigan. And when you caught him, you worked him over but still didn't find the money."

Stephano listened hard, but revealed nothing.

"Then we'll arrest the two CEO's-Atterson at Monarch-Sierra Insurance and Jill at Northern Case Mutual. Those are the other two members of your little consortium, as we understand it. We'll march into their fancy offices with storm troopers, cameras won't be far behind, and we'll haul them out in handcuffs and throw them in black vans. Lots of leaks to the media, you understand. And we'll make sure that it's well reported that these guys helped Aricia fund your little mission into Brazil to drag out Patrick. Think of it, Stephano, your clients will all be arrested and placed in jail."

Stephano wanted to ask just exactly how in hell the FBI identified the members of his little Patrick consortium, but then he figured it wasn't too difficult. They isolated the people who'd lost the most.

"It'll kill your business, you know," Jaynes said, feigning sympathy.

"So what do you want?"

"Well, here's the deal. It's quite simple. You tell us everything-how you found him, how much he told you, etc., everything. We have lots of questions-and we'll drop the charges against you and lay off your clients."

"It's nothing but harassment then."

"Exactly. We wrote the book. Your problem is that we can humiliate your clients and put you out of business."

"Is that all?"

"No. With a bit of luck on our end, you could also go to jail."

There were lots of reasons to grab this deal, not the least of which was Mrs. Stephano. She felt disgraced because word was out the FBI was watching her house at all hours. Her phones were bugged; she knew this for a fact because her husband made his calls in the backyard near the rosebushes. She was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. They were respectable people, she kept telling her husband.

By implying he knew more than he did, Stephano had placed the FBI precisely where he wanted them. He could get his charges dismissed. He could protect his clients. And, most importantly, he would enlist the considerable resources of the feds to track down the money.

"I'll have to talk to my attorney."

"You have until 5 P.M. tomorrow."

PATRICK SAW his ghastly wounds on a late edition of CNN, in full color, as his man Sandy waved the pictures around like a boxer showing the world his newly won belt. It was about halfway through an hour wrap-up of the day's stories. There was no official response from the FBI, said a correspondent who was poised outside the Hoover Building in Washington.

Luis happened to be in the room when the report ran. He froze, listening to it, looking from the television to the bed where Patrick sat smirking. Things connected quickly. "My pictures?" he asked in heavily accented English.

"Yes," Patrick replied, ready to laugh.

"My pictures," he repeated proudly.

THE STORY about the American lawyer who faked his death, watched his burial, stole ninety million from his firm and got caught four years later living quietly in Brazil made for good light reading in most of the Western world. Eva read the latest episode in an American paper while sipping coffee under a canopy at Les Deux Garcons, her fayorite sidewalk cafe in Aix. It was raining, a steady mist that soaked the tables and chairs not far from her.

The story was buried deep inside the front section.

It described third-degree burns but did not run the photos. Her heart broke and she put on sunglasses to hide her eyes.

Patrick was going home. Wounded and chained like an animal, he would make the one journey he always knew was inevitable. And she would go. She would linger in the background, hiding and doing what he wanted, and praying for the safety of both of them. She would roam her room at night, just like Patrick, asking herself what had become of their future.



Tags: John Grisham Thriller
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