The Partner - Page 28

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PAULO'S REQUEST for a radio was declined, but when they realized he simply wanted music they brought him a well-used tape player and two cassettes of the Rio Philharmonic Orchestra. Classical was his preference. Paulo turned the volume low and flipped through a stack of old magazines. His request for books had been taken under consideration. The food so far was more than adequate; they seemed anxious to keep him happy. His captors were young men working for someone else, someone Paulo knew he would never see. If they in fact released him, the young men would flee and prosecution would be impossible.

His second day passed slowly. Eva was too wise to rush into their trap. One day soon this would make sense. He could wait as long as they could.

HIS HONOR brought the pizza with him on the second night. He had enjoyed the first so much, he had called Patrick during the afternoon to see if they could do it again. Patrick was anxious for company.

Huskey reached into a small briefcase and withdrew a stack of envelopes which he tossed on Lawyer Lani-gan's worktable. "A lot of people want to say hello, mostly the courthouse gang. I told them they could write."

"I didn't realize I had so many friends."

"You don't. These are bored office workers with plenty of time to write letters. It's as close as they can get to the action."

"Gee thanks."

Huskey pulled a chair close to Patrick's bed and propped his feet on a drawer opened from the night table. Patrick had eaten almost two pieces of pizza and was now finished.

"I'll have to recuse myself soon," Huskey said, almost apologetically.

"I know."

"I talked with Trussel this morning at length. I know you're not crazy about him, but he is a good judge. He's willing to take the case."

"I prefer Judge Lanks."

"Yes, but unfortunately, you don't get your choice. Lanks is having trouble with his blood pressure, and we've tried to keep the big cases away from him. As you know, Trussel has more experience than Lanks and myself combined, especially in death penalty cases."

Patrick managed a slight flinch, a sudden squinting around the eyes, and a momentary sag of the bony shoulders when his friend finished the last sentence. A death penalty case. It seized him, as often happened when he dragged himself to the mirror for a long look. Huskey caught every tiny movement.

As they say, anybody is capable of murder, and Huskey had chatted with many killers during his twelve years as a judge. Patrick, however, just happened to be his first friend to face death row.

"Why are you leaving the bench?" Patrick asked.

"The usual reasons. I'm bored with it, and if I don't quit now I'll never be able to. Kids are getting closer to college, and I need to make more money." Huskey paused for a second, then asked, "Just curious, how did you know I was leaving the bench? It's not something I've broadcast."

"Word gets around."

"To Brazil?"

"I had a spy, Karl."

"Someone here?"

"No. Of course not. I couldn't run the risk of contacting anyone here."

"So it was someone down there?"

"Ifes, an attorney I met."

"And you told him everything?"

"Her. And yes, I told her everything."

Huskey tapped his fingers together and said, "I guess that makes sense."

"I highly recommend it, next time you're down there disappearing."

"I'll remember that. This attorney, where is she now?"

"Close by, I think."

"Now I see. She must be the one who has the money."

Patrick smiled, then chuckled. The ice was broken, finally. "What do you want to know about the money, Karl?"

"Everything. How'd you steal it? Where is it? How much is left?"

"What's the best courthouse rumor you've heard about the money?"

"Oh, there are hundreds. My favorite is that you've doubled the money and buried it in vaults in Switzerland, that you were just passing time in Brazil and in a few more years you would leave and go play with your cash."

"Not bad."

"Remember Bobby Doak, that little pimple-faced weasel who does divorces for ninety-nine bucks and resents any lawyer who charges more?"

"Sure, advertises in church bulletins."

"That's him. He was drinking coffee in the clerk's office yesterday and telling how he had it from an inside source that you'd blown the money on drugs and teenaged prostitutes, and that was why you were living like a peasant in Brazil."

"That sounds like Doak."

The levity passed quickly as Patrick grew quiet. Huskey wasn't about to lose the moment. "So where's the money?"

"I can't tell you, Karl."

"How much is left?"

"A ton."

"More than you stole?"

"More than I took, yes."

"How'd you do it?"

Patrick swung his feet from the other side of the bed, and walked to the door. It was closed. He stretched his back and legs, and took a drink from a bottle of water. Then he sat on the edge of the bed, looking down at KarL

"I got lucky," he said, almost in a whisper. But Karl heard every syllable.

"I was leaving, Karl, with or without the money. I knew the money was coming to the firm, and I had a plan to get it. But if that had fallen through, I was still leaving. I couldn't take another day with Trudy. I hated my job, and I was about to get my throat cut at the firm anyway. Bogan and those boys were in the midst of a gigantic fraud, and I was the only person outside the firm who knew it."

"What fraud?"

"Aricia's claim. We'll talk about that later. So I slowly planned my escape, and I got lucky and got away. The luck followed me until two weeks ago. Incredible luck."

"We got as far as the burial."

"Right. I went back to the litde condo I had rented at Orange Beach. I stayed there a couple of days, indoors, listening to language tapes and memorizing Portuguese vocabulary. I also spent hours editing the conversations I had recorded around the office. There were a lot of documents to organize. I actually worked quite hard. At night, I walked the beach for hours, working up a sweat, trying to melt the pounds off as quickly as possible. I completely disassociated myself from food."

"What kind of documents?"

"The Aricia file. I ventured out in the sailboat. I knew the basics, and suddenly I was motivated to become a good sailor. The boat was big enough to live on for days at a time, and soon I was hiding out there on the water."

"Here?"

"Yes. I'd anchor close to Ship Island, and watch the shoreline of Biloxi."

"Why did you want to do that?"

"I had the office wired, Karl. Every phone, every desk, except for Bogan's. I even had a mike in the men's room on the first floor between Bogan's office and Vitrano's. The mikes transmitted to a hub I had hidden in the attic. It's an old firm in an old building with a million old files stashed away in the attic. Nobody ever went up there. There was an old TV antenna attached to the chimney on top of the building, and I ran my wires through it. The receiver then transmitted to a ten-inch dish I had on the sailboat. This was high-tech, state-of-the-art stuff, Karl. I bought it on the black market in Rome, cost me a ton of money. With binoculars, I could see the chimney, and the signals were easy to collect. Every conversation within earshot of a mike was beamed to me on the sailboat. I recorded all of them, and did my editing at night. I knew where they were eating lunch and what moods their wives were in. I knew everything."

"That's incredible."

"You should've heard them trying to sound serious after my funeral. On the phone, they took all these calls, all these condolences, and sounded so grave and proper. But among themselves, they joked about my death. It saved a nasty confrontation. Bogan had been elected to deliver the news to me that I was being booted from the firm. The day after the funeral he and Havarac drank Scotch in the conference room and laughed about how lucky I was to have died at such an opportune time."

"Do you have these tapes?"

"Of course. Get this. I have the tape of the conversation between Trudy and Doug Vitrano, in my old office, just hours before my funeral, when they open my lockbox and find the surprise life insurance policy for two million dollars. It's hilarious. It took Trudy about twenty seconds before she asked, "When do I get the money?"

"When can I hear it?"

"I don't know. Soon. There were hundreds of tapes. The editing took twelve hours a day for several weeks. Imagine all the phone calls I had to wade through."

"Were they ever suspicious?"

"Not really. Rapley once made the remark to Vitrano that my timing was incredible, since I had purchased the two-million-dollar policy only eight months before my death. And there was a comment or two about how strange I had been acting, but it was harmless. They were so thrilled that I was gone and out of the way."

"Did you tap Trudy's phones?"

"I thought about it, but then why bother? Her behavior was predictable. She couldn't help me."

"But Aricia could."

"Certainly. I knew every move they made for Aricia. I knew the money was going offshore. I knew which bank, and when it would get there."

"So how'd you steal it?"

"Again, lots of luck. Though Bogan was calling the shots, Vitrano was doing most of the talking with the bankers. I flew to Miami .with a fresh set of papers declaring me to be Doug Vitrano. I had his Social Security number and other vitals. This guy in Miami has a computer catalog with a million faces in it, and you simply point to the one you want, and presto, that face is on your driver's license. I picked a face that was somewhere between mine and Vitrano's. From Miami I flew to Nassau, and that's where it got sticky. I presented myself to the bank, the United Bank of Wales. The main guy Vitrano had been talking to was a chap named Graham Dunlap. I presented all my fake papers, including a forged partnership resolution, on firm stationery of course, which directed me to wire the money out as fast as it came in. Dunlap had not expected Mr. Vitrano, and he was quite surprised, even flattered, that someone from the firm would make the journey for such a routine matter. He fixed me coffee and sent a secretary out for croissants. I was eating one in his office when the wire came in."

"He never thought about calling the firm?"

"No. And listen, Karl, I was prepared to bolt. If Dunlap had been the least bit suspicious, I would have slugged him, run from the building, grabbed a cab, and raced to the airport. I had three different tickets for three different flights."

"Where would you have gone?"

"Well, I was still dead, remember. Probably to Brazil. I would've, found a job as a bartender and spent the rest of my days on the beach. In retrospect, I might have been better off without the money. I had it, and they had to come after it. That's why I'm here now.

Anyway, Dunlap asked the right questions and my answers came out beautifully. He confirmed the wire was in, and I immediately authorized the wire out, to a bank in Malta."

"All of it?"

"Almost all of it. Dunlap hesitated for a moment when he realized all the money was leaving his bank. I almost swallowed my tongue. He mentioned something about an administrative fee for his services, and I asked him what was customary. He turned into a slimy little twerp, said fifty thousand would be appropriate, and I said fine. Fifty thousand stayed in the account and was later transferred to Dunlap. The bank is in downtown Nassau-"

"Was in downtown Nassau. It folded six months after you robbed it."

"Yeah, so I heard. Too bad. When I left through the front door, my feet hit the sidewalk, and it was difficult to keep from sprinting like a madman through the traffic. I wanted to scream and leap from street to street, but I controlled myself. I jumped into the first empty cab, told the driver I was late for a flight, and off we went. The plane to Atlanta left in an hour. The one to Miami was an hour and a half. The one to La Guardia was boarding, so I flew to New York."

"With ninety million bucks."

"Minus fifty thousand for old Dunlap. It was the longest flight of my life, Karl. I knocked down three martinis and was still nothing but nerves. I would close my eyes and see customs agents with machine guns waiting on me at the gate. I just knew Dunlap had gotten suspicious and called the firm, and that somehow they had tracked me to the airport and onto the flight. I have never wanted to get off a plane so badly in my life. We landed, taxied to the terminal, got off the plane. A camera flashed as we stepped into the gate area, and I thought, This is it! They've got me! It was some kid with a Kodak. I practically ran to the men's room, where I sat on the toilet for twenty minutes. Next to my feet was a canvas overnight bag with all my worldly possessions."

"Don't forget the ninety million."

"Oh yeah."

"How'd the money get to Panama?"

"How do you know it went to Panama?"

"I'm the Judge, Patrick. The cops talk to me. It's a small town."

"It was in the wiring instructions from Nassau. The money went into a new account in Malta, then quickly on to Panama."

"How'd you become such a wizard at wiring money?"

"Just took a little research. I worked on it for a year. Tell me, Karl, when did you hear that the money was missing?"

Karl laughed and reclined even farther. He clasped his hands behind his head. "Well, your pals at the firm did a poor job of keeping their little settlement quiet."

"I'm shocked."

"In fact, the whole town knew they were about to be filthy rich. They acted so serious about the secrecy, yet they were spending money like crazy. Havarac bought the biggest, blackest Mercedes ever made. Vitrano's architect was in the final stage of designing their new home-eleven thousand square feet. Rapley signed a contract to buy an eighty-foot sailboat; said he was contemplating retirement. I heard the private jet talk a few times. Thirty million in legal fees would be hard to hide around here, but they didn't really try. They wanted people to know."

"Sounds like a bunch of lawyers."

"You struck on a Thursday, right?"

"Right. March twenty-sixth."

"The next day, I was preparing to proceed with a civil trial when one of the lawyers got a call from the office. The news was that there were problems with the big settlement over at Bogan, Rapley, Vitrano, Havarac, and Lanigan. The money vanished. All of it. Stolen by someone offshore."

"Was my name mentioned?"

"Not the first day. It didn't take long, though. Word got out that the bank's security cameras had captured someone vaguely resembling you. Other pieces fell into place, and the gossip roared around town."

"Did you believe I did it?"

"At first, I was too shocked to believe anything. All of us were. We had buried you, put you to rest, said our prayers. It was impossible to believe. But, as the days passed, the shock wore off and the puzzle came together. The new will, the life insurance, the cremated corpse-we started getting suspicious. Then they found the office crawling with bugs. The FBI was questioning everyone around here. A week after it happened, it was pretty well accepted that you had pulled it off."

"Were you proud of me?"

"I wouldn't say I was proud. Astonished maybe.

Perhaps stunned. There was, after all, a dead body. Then, I was intrigued."

"Not the slightest hint of admiration?"

"I don't remember it that way, Patrick. No, an innocent person had been murdered so you could steal the money. Plus, you left behind a wife and daughter."

"The wife got a bundle. The child isn't mine."

"I didn't know that at the time. No one did. No, I don't think you were admired around here."

"What about my pals at the firm?"

"No one saw them for months. They got sued by Aricia. Other litigation followed. They had grossly overspent, so bankruptcy got them. Divorces, booze, it was awful. They self-destructed in textbook fashion."

Patrick crawled onto his bed and gently folded his legs. He savored this with a nasty smile. Huskey stood and walked to the window. "How long did you stay in New York?" he asked, peeking through the shades.

"About a week. I didn't want any of the money coming back into the States, so I arranged to have it wired to a bank in Toronto. The bank hi Panama was a branch of the Bank of Ontario, so it was easy to wire in as much as I needed."

"You started spending?"

"Not much. I was a Canadian now, with good papers, a transplant from Vancouver, and the money allowed me to purchase a small apartment and obtain credit cards. I found a Portuguese instructor and studied the language six hours a day. I went to Europe several times so my passport would get used and scrutinized. Everything worked perfectly. After three months, I put the apartment on the market and went to Lisbon, where I studied the language for a couple of months. Then, on August 5, 1992, I flew to Sao Paulo."

"Your independence day."

"Absolute freedom, Karl. I landed in that city with two small bags. I got in a cab and I was soon lost in a sea of twenty million people. It was dark and raining, traffic was standing still, and I was in the back of a cab thinking to myself that no one in the world knew where I was. And no one would ever find me. I almost cried, Karl. It was sheer, unbridled freedom. I looked at the faces of the people racing down the sidewalks, and I thought to myself, I'm now one of them. I'm a Brazilian named Danilo, and I'll never be anybody else."



Tags: John Grisham Thriller
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