The Partner - Page 25

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PAULO MIRANDA'S last phone call from his daughter had been two days earlier. She was in a hotel in New Orleans, still traveling on her legal work for her mysterious new client, still warning him of people who might be looking for her and watching him because her client had enemies in Brazil. As with the previous calls, she was brief and vague and scared, though trying desperately not to show it. He had become angry and pressed for details. She had been more concerned with his safety. He wanted her to come home. He exploded and revealed for the first time that he had met with her former partners and knew that she had been terminated. She had calmly explained that she was on her own now, a solo practitioner with a rich client in international trading, and that extended travel like this would become routine.

He hated to argue with her on the phone, especially since he was so worried about her.

Paulo was also tired of the shady little men lurking around his street and following him as he walked to the market or drove to his office at the Pontificia Universidade Catolica. He watched for them; they were always nearby. He had nicknames for them. Paulo had spoken several times to the manager of Eva's apartment building, and the same shifty creatures were watching there too.

His last class, a survey of German philosophy, ended at one. He met in his office for thirty minutes with a struggling student, then left for the day. It was raining and he had forgotten his umbrella. His car was parked in a small faculty lot behind a classroom building.

Osmar was waiting. Paulo was deep in thought as he left the building, his eyes down, with a newspaper on top of his head, his mind a million miles away as he walked under a dripping shade tree and stepped in a puddle near his car. Next to it was a small red Fiat delivery van. The driver emerged, but Paulo didn't notice. The driver opened the rear door of the van, but Paulo neither heard nor saw anything. He was reaching for his keys when Osmar shoved him from the side, and knocked him roughly into the van. His briefcase fell to the ground.

The door slammed. In the darkness, the barrel of a gun was placed between Paulo's eyes, and a voice told him to be silent.

The driver's door of his car was opened, and papers from his briefcase were strewn from the front seat to the rear tires.

The van raced away.

A phone call to the police informed them of the kidnapping.

For an hour and a half, they drove Paulo out of the city, then into the countryside, though he had no idea where he was. The van was hot-no windows, no lights. There were the silhouettes of two men sitting close to him, both with guns. They stopped behind a sprawling farmhouse, and Paulo was led inside. His quarters were in the rear; a bedroom, a bath, a parlor with a television. There was plenty of food. He would not be harmed, he was told, unless of course he made the mistake of trying to escape. He would be held for a week or so, then released, if he behaved himself.

He locked his door and peeked from a window. Two men sat under a tree, laughing and drinking tea with submachine guns nearby.

Anonymous calls were made to Paulo's son in Rio, to the manager of Eva's apartment, to her old law firm, and to one of her friends who worked at a travel agency. The message was the same; Paulo Miranda had been kidnapped. The police were investigating.

EVA WAS IN NEW YORK, staying for a few days in a suite at the Pierre Hotel, shopping along Fifth Avenue, spending hours in museums. Her instructions were to keep on the move, to pop in and out of New Orleans. She had received three letters from Patrick, and she had written him twice, all correspondence being passed through Sandy. Whatever physical abuse he had suffered had certainly not affected his attention to details. His letters were specific-plans and checklists and emergency procedures.

She called her father, and there was no answer. She called her brother, and the sky came crashing down. She had to return immediately, he insisted. Her brother was a delicate type, unaccustomed to pressure and adversity. He cracked easily. The difficult family decisions were always left to Eva.

She kept him on the phone for half an hour as she tried to calm both of them. No, there had been no ransom demand. Not a word from the kidnappers.

AGAINST his specific instructions, she called him. Fidgeting at a pay phone in La Guardia, looking over her shoulder through thick sunglasses and tugging nervously at her hair, she dialed his room number, and spoke in Portuguese. If they were listening, at least they would have to find a translator.

"Patrick, it's Leah," she said, with as little emotion as possible.

"What's wrong?" he asked, also in Portuguese. He hadn't heard her wonderful voice for some time, and he was not pleased to hear it now.

"Can we talk?"

"Yes. What's the matter?" Patrick checked the phone in his room for bugs every three or four hours. He was bored. He also scanned every possible hiding place with the bugging sensor Sandy had found him. With guards posted around the clock, he had learned to relax somewhat. But the outside lines still worried him.

"It's my father," she said, then blurted out the story of Paulo's disappearance. "I have to go home."

"No, Leah," he said calmly. "It's a trap. Your father is not a wealthy man. They are not asking for money. They want you."

"I cannot abandon my father."

"And you can't find him either."

"This is all my fault."

"No. The blame lies with me. But don't make matters worse by rushing into their trap."

She twirled her hair and watched the parade of people rushing by. "So what do I do?"

"Go to New Orleans. Call Sandy when you get there. Let me think."

She bought a ticket, then walked to her gate and found a seat in a corner where she could hide her face next to the wall and behind a magazine. She thought of her poppa and the horrible things they could be doing to him. The only two men she loved had been kidnapped by the same people, and Patrick was still in the hospital because of his wounds. Her father was older and not as strong as Patrick. They were hurting him because of her. And there was nothing she could do.

AFTER A DAY of searching, a Biloxi policeman saw Lance's car leaving the Grand Casino at 10:20 P.M. Lance was stopped and Retained for no valid reason until Sweeney arrived. He and Lance conferenced in the backseat of a flashing patrol car in the parking lot of a Burger King.

The Sheriff asked how the dope trade was going, and Lance said business was good.

"How's Trudy?" the Sheriff asked, toothpick between his lips. It was a massive struggle in the backseat to see who could be the coolest. Lance even put on his newest Ray-Bans.

"She's fine. How's your woman?"

"I don't have one. Look, Lance, we've picked up some pretty serious tips that you're in the market for a trigger."

"Lies, lies, total lies."

"Yeah, well, we don't think so. You see, Lance, all your pals are just like you. Either just off probation or working hard to get back on. Scum, you know. Just scum. Always looking for a dirty buck, always one step ahead of trouble. They hear a good rumor, they can't wait to whisper it to the feds. Might help them with their probation."

"That's nice, real nice. I like that."

"And so we know you got some cash, you got this woman who's about to lose a bundle, and everything would be great if Mr. Lanigan sorta remained dead."

"Who?"

"Yeah. So here's what we're doing. Us and the feds. We're puttin' you under surveillance, you and the woman, and we're watching and listening real hard. You make a move, we'll get you. Both you and Trudy will get yourselves in more trouble than Lanigan's in."

"I'm supposed to be frightened by this?"

"If you had a brain you would be."

"Can I go now?"

"Please."

Both doors were opened from the outside, and Lance was taken back to his car.

AT THE SAME TIME, Agent Cutter rang Trudy's doorbell, hoping she was asleep. He had been sitting in a coffee shop in Fairhope, waiting for word that Lance had been detained.

Trudy was awake. She unbolted the front door and spoke through the chain. "What do you want?" she demanded as Cutter flashed his badge and emphasized the "FBI." She recognized him.

"Can I come in?"

"No."

"Lance is in police custody. I think we should talk."

"What!"

"The Biloxi police have him."

She unlocked the chain and opened the door. They stood in the foyer, facing each other. Cutter was thoroughly enjoying himself.

"What's he done?" she asked.

"I think he'll be released soon."

"I'll call my lawyer."

"Fine, but there's something I should tell you first. We have it from a good source that Lance has been trying to locate a hit man to take out your husband, Patrick Lanigan."

"No!" She covered her mouth with a hand. The surprise seemed real.

"Yes. And you could be implicated. It's your money Lance is trying to protect, and I'm sure you'll be considered a co-conspirator. If something happens to Lanigan, we'll come here first."

"I haven't done anything."

"Not yet. We're watching you very closely, Mrs. Lanigan."

"Don't call me that."

"Sorry."

Cutter left her standing in the foyer.

SANDY PARKED in a lot off Canal around midnight, and darted down Decatur and into the heart of the French Quarter. His client had lectured him sternly about security, especially when meeting Leah. Only Sandy could lead them to her, and so he must be extremely cautious. "She's in grave danger, Sandy," Patrick had told him an hour before. "You can't be too careful."

He walked around one block three times, and when he was certain no one could possibly be behind him, he ducked into an open bar, where he drank a soda and watched the sidewalk. Then he walked across the street to the Royal Sonesta. He milled about the lobby with the tourists, then he rode the elevator to the third floor. Leah opened the door and locked it behind him.

Not surprisingly, she looked tired and wrung out.

"I'm sorry about your father," Sandy said. "Have you heard anything?"

"No. I've been traveling." There was a tray of coffee on top of the television. Sandy poured a cup and stirred in sugar. "Patrick told me about it," he said. "Who are these people?"

"There's a file over there," she said, nodding at a small table. "Please sit." She was pointing at the end of the bed. Sandy sat with his coffee, and waited. It was time for a talk.

"We met two years ago, in 1994, after his surgery in Rio. Patrick said he was a Canadian businessman who needed a lawyer with experience in trade matters. But he really needed a friend. I was a friend for two days, then we fell in love. He told me everything about his past, everything. He had done a perfect job of escaping, and he had lots of money, but Patrick could not forget his past. He was determined to know who was chasing him, and how close they were. In August of 1994, I came to the U.S., and I made contact with a private security firm in Atlanta. It's an odd name, the Pluto Group, a bunch of ex-FBI types Patrick had found before he disappeared. I gave them a false name, told them I was from Spain, and that I needed information about the search for Patrick Lanigan. I paid them fifty thousand dollars. They, in turn, sent people to Biloxi, where they at first made contact with Patrick's old law firm. They pretended to have some vague information about his whereabouts, and the lawyers very quietly referred them to a man in Washington named Jack Stephano. Stephano is a high-priced sleuth who specializes in corporate espionage and the locating of missing people. They met with him in Washington. He was very secretive and told them little, but it was obvious he was running the search for Patrick. They met with him several times, and the prospect of a reward popped up. They offered to sell their information, and Stephano agreed to pay fifty thousand dollars if it led to Patrick. In the course of these meetings, they learned that Stephano had good reason to believe Patrick was in Brazil. This, of course, terrified Patrick and me."

"This was Patrick's first hint that they knew he was in Brazil?"

"Absolutely. He had been there for over two years. When he told me the truth about his past, he had no idea if his pursuers were on the right continent. To learn they were in Brazil was devastating."

"Why didn't he run again?"

"Lots of reasons. He thought about it. We talked about it forever. I was willing to leave with him. But in the end, he was convinced he could disappear even farther into the country. He knew it well-the language, the people, the endless places to hide. Plus, he didn't want me to leave my home. I guess we should've run to China or some place."

"Maybe you couldn't run."

"Maybe. I kept in touch with the Pluto Group. They were hired to monitor the' Stephano investigation as best they could. They contacted his client, Mr. Benny Aricia, with the same story about possible information. They also contacted the insurance companies. All calls were referred to Jack Stephano. I flew in every three or four months, always from some place in Europe, and they would tell me what they had discovered."

"How did Stephano find him?"

"I can't tell you that story now. Patrick will have to do it."

Another black hole, and a rather significant one. Sandy placed his coffee on the floor and tried to sort things out. It would certainly be easier if these two would tell him everything. Start at the beginning, bring it forward to the present, so that he, the lawyer, could help them with their immediate future. Perhaps they didn't need any help.

So Patrick knew how he'd been found.

She handed him the thick folder from the table. "These are the people who have my father," she said.

"Stephano?"

"Yes. I'm the only person who knows where the money is, Sandy. The kidnapping is a trap."

"How does Stephano know about you?"

"Patrick told them."

"Patrick?"

"Yes. You've seen the burns, haven't you?"

Sandy stood and tried to clear his head. "Then why didn't Patrick tell them where the money is?"

"Because he didn't know."

"He gave it all to you."

"Something like that. I have control of it. Now I'm being chased, and my poor father is caught in the middle."

"What am I supposed to do?"

She opened a drawer and removed a similar but thinner file. "This contains information about the FBI investigation of Patrick. We didn't learn much, for obvious reasons. The agent in charge is a man named Cutler, in Biloxi. As soon as I knew Patrick had been captured, I called Cutter. It probably saved Patrick's life."

"Slow down. This is hard to follow."

"I told Cutter that Patrick Lanigan had been found, and that he was in the custody of people working for Jack Stephano. We assume the FBI went straight to Stephano and threatened him. His operatives in Brazil tortured Patrick for a few hours, almost killed him, then handed him over to the FBI."

Sandy absorbed every word with his eyes closed hard. "Go on," he said.

"Two days later, Stephano was arrested in Washington and his offices were locked up."

"How do you know this?"

"I'm still paying a lot of money to the men at Pluto. They're very good. We suspect that Stephano is talking to the FBI, while at the same time quietly pursuing me. And my father."

"What am I supposed to tell Cutter?"

"First, tell him about me. Describe me as a lawyer who is very close to Patrick, that I'm making decisions for him, and that I know everything. Then, tell him about my father."

"And you think the FBI will lean on Stephano?"

"Maybe, maybe not. But we have nothing to lose."

It was almost one, and she was very tired. Sandy gathered the files and headed for the door.

"We have a lot to talk about," she said.

"It would be nice to know everything."

"Just give us time."

"You'd better hurry."



Tags: John Grisham Thriller
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