The Partner - Page 27

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PATRICK PACED and stretched at one end of the doctors' conference room while Sandy sat and listened and doodled on a legal pad. A nurse had brought a tray of cookies, still untouched. Sandy admired the cookies and asked himself how many capital murder prisoners got cookies delivered to them? How many had their own team of bodyguards lurking nearby? How many had the Judge stopping by for pizza?

"Things are changing, Sandy," Patrick said without looking at him. "We have to move fast."

"Move where?"

"She won't stay here as long as her father is miss-ing."

"As usual, I'm thoroughly confused. The gaps are getting wider and the two of you speak in tongues. But I'm just the lawyer. Why should I know anything?"

"She has the files and records, and the story. You have to go see her."

"I just saw her last night."

"She's waiting on you."

"Really? Where?"

"There's a beach house at Perdido. She's there."

"Let me guess. I'm supposed to drop everything, and race over right now."

"It's important, Sandy."

"So are my other clients," he said angrily. "Why can't you give me a little notice here?"

"I'm sorry."

"I have court this afternoon. My daughter's got soccer. Is it asking too much for some warning?"

"I couldn't anticipate a kidnapping, Sandy. You've got to admit the circumstances are somewhat unusual. Try and understand."

Sandy took a deep breath and scribbled something. Patrick sat on the edge of the table, very near him. "I'm sorry, Sandy."

"What might we discuss at the beach house?"

"Aricia."

"Aricia," he repeated, then looked away. He knew the basics, at least what he'd read in the papers.

"It will take some time, so I'd pack for overnight."

"Am I expected to stay at the beach house?"

"Yes."

"With Leah?"

"Yes. It's a big house."

"And what exactly am I supposed to tell my wife? That I'm shacked up in a beach house with a beautiful Brazilian woman?"

"I wouldn't. Just tell her you're meeting with the rest of my defense team."

"That's nice." "Thanks, Sandy."

UNDERHILL joined Oliver after a coffee break. They sat next to each other with the video camera behind them, all eyes aimed down the table at Ste-phano.

"Who interrogated Patrick?" Underhill asked Ste-phano.

"I'm not required to give the names of my associ-ates."

"Did this person have any experience with physical interrogation?"

"Limited."

"Describe the means used."

"I'm not sure-"

"We've seen the photos of the burns, Mr. Stephano. And we, the FBI, have been sued for injuries inflicted by your men. Now, tell us how you did it."

"I wasn't there. I didn't plan the interrogation because I have little experience in that field. I knew in general terms that a series of electrical shocks would be applied to various points on Mr. Lanigan's body. That is what happened. I had no idea it would cause serious burns."

There was a pause as Underhill glanced at Oliver and Oliver glanced at Underhill. Blatant disbelief. Stephano simply sneered at them.

"How long did this go on?"

"Five to six hours."

They looked at a file and whispered something. Underhill asked him some questions about the identification process, and Stephano described the fingerprinting. Oliver struggled with the time sequences, and spent almost an hour pinning down exactly when they grabbed him and how far they drove him and how long they interrogated him. They grilled Stephano about the trip out of the jungle to the airstrip at Conception. They probed and fished and covered everything else, then they huddled for a moment and returned to the crucial question.

"During the interrogation of Mr. Lanigan, what did you learn about the money?"

"Not much. He told us where the money had been, but it had been moved."

"Can we assume he told you this under extreme duress?"

"Safe assumption."

"Are you convinced he didn't know where the money was at that time?"

"I wasn't there. But the man who conducted the interrogation has told me that, without a doubt, he believes that Mr. Lanigan did not know the exact location of the money."

"The interrogation wasn't recorded either by video or audio?"

"Of course not," Jack said, as if he had never thought about it.

"Did Mr. Lanigan mention an accomplice?"

"Not to my knowledge."

"What does that mean?"

"Means I don't know."

"How about the man who conducted the interrogation? Did he hear Mr. Lanigan mention an accomplice?"

"Not to my knowledge."

"So, as far as you know, Mr. Lanigan never mentioned an accomplice?"

"That's correct."

They shuffled files again, and whispered between themselves, then took a long pause, one that became profoundly unsettling for Stephano. He had told two lies in a row-no recording and no accomplice-and he still felt safe with them. How could these guys know what was said in the jungles of Paraguay? But they were the FBI. So he fidgeted, and waited.

The door opened suddenly, and Hamilton Jaynes walked through it, followed by Warren, the third interrogator. "Hello, Jack," Jaynes said loudly as he took a seat on one side of the table. Warren sat near his buddies.

"Hello, Hamilton," Stephano said, fidgeting even more.

"Been listening in the next room," Jaynes said with a smile. "And I'm suddenly wondering if you're being truthful."

"Of course I am."

"Of course. Look, ever heard the name Eva Miranda?"

Stephano repeated it slowly, as if totally confused by it. "Don't think so."

"She's a lawyer in Rio. A friend of Patrick's."

"Nope."

"Well, see, that's what bothers me, Jack, because I think you know precisely who she is."

"I've never heard of her."

"Then why are you trying to find her?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," Stephano said rather weakly.

Underbill spoke first. He was looking directly at Stephano, but he spoke to Jaynes. "He's lying."

"He certainly is," said Oliver.

"No question about it," Warren added.

Stephano's eyes darted from voice to voice. He started to say something, but Jaynes showed him his palms. The door opened, and one more comrade from the Underbill-Oliver-Warren school walked in just far enough to say, "The voice analysis shows sufficient proof of lying." His announcement over, he withdrew immediately.

Jaynes picked up a single sheet of paper and summarized from it. "This is a story appearing in a Rio paper this morning. It tells of the kidnapping of a Mr. Paulo Miranda. His daughter is Patrick's friend, Jack. We've checked with the authorities in Rio. No ransom demand. Nothing from the kidnappers." He slid the paper in the direction of Stephano, but it stopped out of his reach.

"So where is Mr. Miranda?"

"I don't know. I don't know what you're talking about."

Jaynes looked at the other end of the table.

"Still lying," Underbill said. Oliver and Warren nodded their agreement.

"We had a deal, Jack. You would tell us the truth, and we would drop the charges against you. And, as I recall, we agreed not to arrest your clients. Now what I am supposed to do, Jack?"

Stephano was looking at Underbill and Oliver, who seemed ready to pounce on his next utterance. They, in turn, stared coldly at him, missing nothing.

"She knows where the money is," Stephano said in resignation.

"Do you know where she is?"

"No. She fled Rio when we found Patrick."

"No sign of her?"

"No."

Haynes looked at his truth squad. Yes, he had stopped the lying.

"I agreed to tell you everything," Jack said. "I did not agree to do anything else. We can still look for her."

"We didn't know about her."

"Too bad. If necessary, we can review our agreement. I'll be happy to call my lawyer."

"Yes, but we've already caught you lying."

"I'm sorry. It won't happen again."

"Lay off the girl, Jack. And release her father."

"I'll think about it."

"No. You'll do it now."

THE BEACH HOUSE was a modern tri-level in a row of seemingly identical structures along a freshly developed strip of the Coast. October was off-season. Most of the houses appeared to be empty. Sandy parked behind a shiny generic four-door with Louisiana plates, a rental car, he presumed. The sun was low on the horizon, inches off the top of the flat water. The Gulf was deserted; not a boat or a ship could be seen. He climbed the steps and followed the wraparound deck until he found a door.

Leah answered his knock with a smile, a short one forced through because she was at heart a warm person, not given to the dark mood swings which now plagued her. "Come in," she said softly, and locked the door behind him. The living room was large and vaulted, with glass on three sides and a fireplace in the center.

"Nice place," he said, then caught a delicious aroma floating in from the kitchen. He had skipped lunch, thanks to Patrick.

"Are you hungry?" she asked.

"Starving."

"I'm cooking a little something."

"Wonderful."

The authentic hardwood floors creaked a little as he followed her to the dining room. On the table was a cardboard box, and beside it were papers neatly arranged. She had been working. She paused by the table and said, "This is the Aricia file."

"Prepared by whom?"

"Patrick, of course."

"Where has it been for the past four years?"

"In storage. In Mobile."

Her answers were short, and each gave rise to a dozen quick questions Sandy would have loved to throw at her. "We'll get to it later," she said, and dismissed it with a casual wave.

In the kitchen, there was a whole roasted chicken on the cutting board by the sink. A pan of brown rice mixed with vegetables was steaming on the stove. "It's pretty basic," she said. "I find it hard to cook in someone else's kitchen."

"Looks delicious. Whose kitchen is this?"

"It's just a rental. I have it for the month."

She sliced the chicken and directed Sandy to pour the wine, a fine pinot noir from California. They sat at a small table in the breakfast nook, with a splendid view of the water and the remains of the sunset.

"Cheers," she said, raising her glass.

"To Patrick," Sandy said.

"Yes, to Patrick." She made no effort to address her food. Sandy stuffed a large slice of chicken breast into his mouth.

"How is he?"

He chewed rapidly so he wouldn't disgust this delightful young woman with a mouthful of food. A sip of wine. Napkin to the lips. "Patrick's okay. The burns are healing nicely. A plastic surgeon examined him yesterday, and said that no grafts will be necessary. The scars will be with him for a few years, but they will eventually fade. The nurses bring him cookies. The Judge brings him pizza. No less than six armed men guard him around the clock, so I'd say Patrick is doing better than most capital murder defendants."

"This is Judge Huskey?"

"Yes, Karl Huskey. Do you know him?"

"No. But Patrick spoke of him often. They were good friends. Patrick told me once that if he was captured, he hoped it would happen while Karl Huskey was still the Judge."

"He's retiring soon," Sandy said. What fortunate timing, he thought.

"He can't hear Patrick's case, can he?" she asked.

"No. He'll recuse himself very soon." Sandy ate a much smaller piece of chicken, still eating alone because she had yet to touch her knife and fork. She held the glass of wine near her head, and looked at the orange and violet clouds on the horizon.

"I'm sorry. I forgot to ask about your father."

"No word. I talked to my brother three hours ago, and there's still no word."

"I'm very sorry, Leah. I wish I could do something."

"And I wish I could do something. It's frustrating. I can't go home, and I can't stay here."

"I'm sorry," Sandy said again, because he could think of nothing better to offer.

He continued his meal in silence. She played with her rice and watched the ocean.

"This is delicious," he said, twice.

"Thanks," she said with a sad grin.

"What does your father do?"

"He's a university professor."

"Where?"

"In Rio. At the Catholic University."

"Where does he live?"

"In Ipanema, in the apartment I grew up in."

Her father was a delicate subject, but at least Sandy was getting answers to his questions. Maybe it helped her to talk about him. He asked more questions, all very general and all far away from the kidnapping.

She never touched her food.

WHEN HE FINISHED, she asked, "Would you like some coffee?"

"We'll probably need it, won't we?"

"Yes."

They removed the plastic rental dishes from the table and left them in the kitchen. Leah made coffee while Sandy inspected the house. They met in the dining room, where the coffee was served and the polite talk, such as it was, came to an end. They sat facing each other across the glass table.

"How much do you know about the Aricia matter?" she asked.

"He was the client whose ninety million got snatched by Patrick, if you believe the papers. He was an executive with Platt & Rockland, who had squealed on the company for overbilling. He filed a charge under the False Claims Act. Platt & Rockland got caught to the tune of something like six hundred million. His reward, under the act, was fifteen percent of that. His lawyers were Bogan and company, where our pal Patrick worked. That's about it. The basics."

"That's pretty good. What I'm about to tell you can all be verified by these documents and tapes. We'll go through them, as it will be necessary for you to know this material inside and out."

"I've actually done this before, you know." He smiled, but she didn't. No more lame efforts at humor.

"The Aricia claim was fraudulent from the very beginning." She spoke deliberately, there was no hurry. She waited until he absorbed this, which took a few seconds. "Benny Aricia is a very corrupt man who conceived a scheme to defraud both his company and his government. He was assisted by some very capable lawyers, Patrick's old firm, and some powerful people in Washington."

"That would be Senator Nye, Bogan's first cousin."

"Primarily, yes. But, as you know, Senator Nye has considerable influence in Washington."

"So I've heard."

"Aricia carefully planned his scheme, then took it to Charles Bogan. Patrick was a new partner then, but he knew nothing of Aricia. The other partners were brought into the conspiracy, everyone but Patrick. The law firm changed, and Patrick knew something was different. He started digging and eavesdropping and eventually found out that this new client named Aricia was the cause for all the secrecy. He was patient. He pretended to notice nothing, and all the time he was gathering evidence. A lot of it is in here." She touched the box when she said this.

"Let's go back to the beginning," Sandy said. "Explain how the claim was fraudulent."

"Aricia ran New Coastal Shipyards in Pascagoula. It's a division of Platt & Rockland."

"I know all that. Big defense contractor with a shady past, a bad reputation for bilking the government."

"That's it. Aricia took advantage of its size to implement his plan. New Coastal was building the Expedition nuclear submarines, and things were already over budget. Aricia decided to make matters worse. New Coastal submitted fraudulent labor records, thousands of hours at union scale for work that was never done, for employees who never existed. It procured materials at grossly inflated prices-lightbulbs for sixteen dollars each, drinking cups at thirty dollars each, and on and on. The list is endless."

"Is the list in this box?"

"Only the big items. Radar systems, missiles, weapons, things I've never heard of. The lightbulbs are insignificant. Aricia had been with the company long enough to know exactly how to avoid detection. He created a ton of paperwork, little of it with his name on it. Platt & Rockland had six different divisions involved with defense contracting, and so the home office was a zoo. Aricia took advantage of this. For every bogus claim he submitted to the Navy, he had written authorization signed by some executive at the home office. Aricia would subcontract for the inflated materials, then request approval from a higher-up. It was an easy system to work, especially for a shrewd man like Aricia, who was planning on screwing the company anyway. He kept meticulous records, and later gave them to his lawyers."

"And Patrick got diem?"

"Some of them."

Sandy looked at the box. The top flaps were closed. "And this has been in hiding since he disappeared?"

"Yes."

"Did he ever come back to check on it?"

"No."

"Did you?"

"I came two years ago to renew the rental at the storage facility. I looked in the box, but didn't have the time to examine the contents. I was scared and nervous, and I didn't want to come. I was convinced these materials would never be needed because he would never be caught. But Patrick always knew."

The cross-examiner in Sandy was ready to burst with another round of questions unrelated to Aricia, but he let the moment pass. Relax, he told himself, don't appear eager and maybe the questions will get answered eventually. "So Aricia's scheme worked, and at some point he approached Charles Bogan, whose cousin is an asskicker in Washington and whose old boss is a federal judge. Did Bogan know Aricia had caused the overruns?"

She stood, reached into the box, and removed a battery-operated tape player and a rack of neatly labeled mini-cassettes. She picked through the cassettes with a pen until she found the one she wanted. She inserted it in the tape player. It was obvious to Sandy that she had done this many times before.

"Listen," she said. "April 11, 1991. The first voice is Bogan, the second is Aricia. Aricia had placed the call, and Bogan took it in the conference room on the second floor of the firm's offices."

Sandy leaned forward on his elbows. The tape began to play.

BOGAN: I gotta call from one of Platt's New York lawyers today. A guy named Krasny.

ARICIA: I know him. Typical New Tfork ass.

BOGAN: Ifes, he wasn't very friendly. He said they might have proof that you knew about the double-billing on the Stalker screens New Coastal bought from RamTec. I asked him to show me the proof. He said it would be a week or so.

ARICIA: Relax, Charlie. There's no way they can prove that because I didn't sign anything.

BOGAN: But you knew about it?

ARICIA: Of course I knew about it. I planned it. I set it in motion. It was another one of my wonderful ideas. Their problem, Charlie, is that they can't prove it There are no documents, no witnesses.

The cassette went silent, and Leah said, "Same conversation, about ten minutes later."

ARICIA: How's the Senator?

BOGAN: Doing well. Yesterday he met with the Secretary of the Navy.

ARICIA: How'd it go?

BOGAN: Went well. They're old friends, you know. The Senator expressed his strong desire to punish Platt & Rockland for its greed, yet not harm the Expedition project. The Secretary feels the same, and said he would push for a stiff penalty against Platt & Rock-land.

ARICIA: Can he speed things up?

BOGAN: Why?

ARICIA: I want the damned money, Charlie. I can feel it. I can taste it.

Leah pushed a button and the recording stopped. She removed the cassette and placed it back in the rack. "Patrick started recording early in '91. Their plans were to cut him out of the firm at the end of February, on the grounds that he was not generating enough business."

"Is that box full of tapes?"

"There are about sixty of them, all carefully edited by Patrick, so you can listen to everything in three hours."

Sandy glanced at his watch.

"We have a lot of work to do," she said.



Tags: John Grisham Thriller
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