The Partner - Page 29

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SANDY SLEPT THREE HOURS on a hard mattress in a loft somewhere above the den, far away from her, and awoke with the early sun beaming through slits beneath the blinds. It was six-thirty. They had said good night at three, after seven hours of intensely scouring documents and listening to dozens of surreptitious talks Patrick had amazingly captured.

He showered and dressed, and found his way down to the kitchen, where Leah sat in the breakfast nook with fresh coffee and a surprisingly alert face. She fixed him wheat toast with jam as he glanced at the newspapers. Sandy was ready to leave, to return to his office with the Aricia mess and sort it out on his own turf.

"Any word from your father?" he asked. The early voices were quiet, the words scarce.

"No. But I can't call from here. I'll go to the market later and use a pay phone."

"I'll say a prayer for him."

"Thanks."

They loaded the entire Aricia file into the trunk of his car, and said good-bye. She promised to call him within twenty-four hours. She would not be leaving anytime soon. Their client's problems had gone from serious to urgent.

The early air was cool. It was October after all, and even the Coast felt a hint of autumn. She put on a parka and went for a walk on the beach, barefoot and bare-legged, with one hand in a pocket and the other holding her coffee. She hid behind sunglasses, which annoyed her. The beach was deserted. Why was she compelled to hide her face?

Like all Cariocas, she had spent a great deal of her life on the beach, the center of culture. Her childhood home had been her father's apartment in Ipanema, the poshest of Rio's neighborhoods, where every kid grew up on the beach.

She was unaccustomed to long walks near the water without being surrounded by a million people happily sunning and playing. Her father had been one of the first to organize efforts against the unbridled development of Ipanema. He despised the increase of population and haphazard construction, and worked^ tirelessly with neighborhood groups. Such actions went against the typical Carioca attitude of live and let live, but with time came to be admired and even welcomed. As a lawyer, Eva still donated time to preservation groups in the neighborhoods of Ipanema and Leblon.

The sun crept behind clouds, and the breeze picked up. She returned to the house as the seagulls followed and squawked overhead. She locked every door and window, and drove two miles to a supermarket, where she planned to buy shampoo and fruit, and to find the nearest possible pay phone.

She didn't see the man at first, and when she finally noticed him he seemed to have been standing beside her forever. She was holding a bottle of hair conditioner when he sniffed, as if he had a cold. She turned, glanced from behind the sunglasses, and was startled by his sustained eye contact. He was thirty or forty, white, unshaven, but she didn't have time to notice anything else.

He was staring at her, with rabid green eyes that glowed in the middle of a beach-bronzed face. She coolly walked away, down the aisle with the conditioner. Maybe he was just a local character, a harmless pervert who lurked in the grocery and scared pretty vacationers. Perhaps everyone in the store knew his name and made excuses for him because he wouldn't harm an insect.

Minutes later, she saw him again, this time hiding near the bakery with his face behind a pizza crust but his metallic eyes watching every move she made. Why was he hiding, covering his face? He wore shorts and sandals, she noticed.

Panic hit hard through her chest and sent waves down her legs. Her first thought was to run, but she kept her cool long enough to find a small shopping basket. She had been spotted by whoever he was, and it was to her advantage to watch him as much as he was watching her. Who knew when she might see him again? She loitered in the produce department, next picked her way through the cheeses, and didn't see him for a long time. Then she saw him with his back to her, holding a gallon of milk.

A few minutes later, she caught sight of him through the large front windows, walking through the parking lot, his head cocked to one side, talking into a cell phone, carrying nothing. What happened to the milk? She would've raced through a back door, but her car was parked in the front. She paid for the items as calmly as possible, but her hands shook as she took her change.

There were thirty cars, including her rental, in the parking lot, and she knew she couldn't inspect them all. Not that she wanted to. He was in one of them. She simply wanted to leave without being followed. She quickly got in her car, left the lot, and turned in the direction of the beach house, though she knew she could never go back there. She drove a half a mile, then made an abrupt U-turn, just in time to see him behind her, three cars back, driving a new Toyota. His green eyes glanced away at the last second. Odd, she thought, that he wasn't covering them.

Everything seemed odd, at the moment. How odd that she was driving along a foreign highway in a foreign country with a fake passport proclaiming her to be someone she never wanted to be, and going to a place that she had yet to determine. Yes, everything was odd and blurred and frightening as hell, and what Eva needed and desperately wanted was to see Patrick so she could scream at him for an hour, and throw rocks as well. This was not part of the deal. It was one thing for Patrick to be hunted for his past, but she had done nothing wrong. Not to mention Paulo.

Being Brazilian, she normally drove with one foot on the gas and the other on the brake, and the traffic along the beach badly needed a good dose of her native driving. But she had to be calm. You don't panic when you're on the run, Patrick had said many times. You think, you watch, you plan.

She watched the cars behind her. She obeyed all highway rules.

"Always know where you are," Patrick had told her. She had studied the road atlas for hours. She turned north and stopped at a gas station to see what she attracted. Nothing. The man with the green eyes was not behind her, but this was of no comfort. He knew she had seen him. He'd been caught. He'd simply called ahead with his little cell phone and now the rest of them were watching.

An hour later, she entered the airport terminal in Pensacola and waited eighty minutes for a flight to Miami. Any flight would have suited her. The one to Miami happened to be the soonest. It would prove to be disastrous.

She waited behind a magazine in a coffee bar and watched everything that moved. A security guard enjoyed looking at her, and she found him difficult to ignore. Otherwise, the airport was almost devoid of human activity.

The flight to Miami was by turboprop commuter, and seemed to take forever. Eighteen of the twenty-four seats were vacant, and the other five passengers looked harmless. She even managed a brief nap.

In Miami, she hid in an airport lounge for an hour, sipping expensive water and watching the throngs come and go. At the Varig counter, she bought a first-class ticket to Sao Paulo, one way. She wasn't sure why. Sao Paulo wasn't home, but it was certainly in the right direction. Maybe she would hide there in a nice hotel for a few days. She'd be closer to her father, wherever he was. Planes were leaving for a hundred destinations. Why not visit her country?

AS IT ROUTINELY DOES, the FBI issued an alert to customs and immigration personnel, as well as to the airlines. This one specified a young woman, age thirty-one, traveling under a Brazilian passport, real name of Eva Miranda but probably using an alias. Having learned the identity of her father, getting her real name was a simple matter. When Leah Pires walked through a passport checkpoint at Miami International, she wasn't expecting trouble in front of her. She was still looking for the men behind her.

Her Leah Pires passport had proven quite reliable in the past two weeks.

But the customs agent had seen the alert an hour earlier during a coffee break. He pushed an alarm button on his scanner while he slowly examined every word of the passport. The hesitation at first was annoying, then Leah realized something was wrong. The travelers at the other booths were breezing through, barely slowing long enough to open their passports and having the approvals nodded back at them. A supervisor in a navy jacket appeared from nowhere and huddled with the agent. "Could you step in here, Ms. Pires?" he asked politely but with no room for discussion. He was pointing at a row of doors down the wide corridor.

"Is there a problem?" she insisted.

"Not really. Just a few questions." He was waiting for her. A uniformed guard with Mace and a gun on his waist was waiting too. The supervisor was holding her passport. Dozens of passengers behind her were watching.

"Questions about what?" she demanded as she walked with the supervisor and the guard to the second door.

"Just a few questions," he repeated, opening the door and escorting her into a square room with no windows. A holding room. She noticed the name of Rivera on his lapel. He didn't look to be Hispanic.

"Give me the passport," she demanded as soon as they were alone and the door was closed.

"Not so fast, Ms. Pires. I need to ask you a few questions."

"And I don't have to answer them."

"Please, relax. Have a seat. Can I get you some coffee or water?"

"No."

"Is this a valid address in Rio?"

"It certainly is."

"Where did you arrive from?"

"Pensacola."

"Your flight?"

"Airlink 855."

"And your destination?"

"Sao Paulo."

"Where in Sao Paulo?"

"Maybe that's a private matter."

"Business or pleasure?"

"Why does it matter?"

"It matters. Your passport lists your home in Rio. So where will you be staying in Sao Paulo?"

"A hotel."

"And the name of the hotel?"

She hesitated as she struggled to grab the name of a hotel, and the little interval was deadly. "Uh, the-the -Inter-Continental," she finally said, without the slightest hint of truthfulness.

He wrote it down, then said, "And we can assume the room there is reserved in the name of Lean Pires?"

"Of course," she said, snapping back nicely. But one quick phone call would prove she was lying.

"Where is your luggage?" he asked.

Another crack in the facade, and this one even more revealing. She hesitated, glanced away, and said, "I'm traveling light."

Someone knocked on the door. Rivera opened it slightly, took a sheet of paper, and whispered to his unseen colleague. Leah sat down and tried to relax. The door closed and Rivera studied his evidence.

"According to our records, you entered the country eight days ago, here in Miami, on a flight from London which originated in Zurich. Eight days, and no luggage. Seems odd, doesn't it?"

"Is it a crime to travel light?" she asked.

"No, but it is a crime to use a false passport. At least here, in the U.S."

She looked at the passport lying on the table near him, and she knew it was as phony as could be. "It's not a false passport," she said indignantly.

"Do you know a person by the name of Eva Miranda?" Rivera asked, and Leah couldn't keep her chin up. Her heart stopped and her face fell, and she knew the chase was over.

Rivera knew they had snared another one. "I'll have to contact the FBI," he said. "It will take some time."

"Am I under arrest?" she asked.

"Not yet."

"I'm a lawyer. I-"

"We know. And we have the right to detain you for questioning. Our offices are on the lower level. Let's go" She was led away hurriedly, clutching her purse, her eyes still covered.

THE LONG TABLE was piled with papers and files, with crumpled sheets from legal pads and napkins and empty cups and even half-eaten sandwiches from the hospital cafeteria. Lunch had been five hours earlier but neither lawyer had thought of dinner. Time was being kept outside the room. Inside, it didn't matter.

Both men were barefoot. Patrick wore a tee shirt and gym shorts. Sandy wore a very wrinkled cotton button-down, khakis, no socks, the same attire he'd put on hours earlier in the beach house.

The Aricia box was empty in a corner, its contents all on the table.

The door opened while it was being knocked on, and Agent Joshua Cutter entered before he was asked. He stayed by the door.

"This is a private meeting," Sandy said, very near Cutter's face. The documents on the table could not be seen by anyone. Patrick walked to the door and helped shield the view.

"Why don't you knock before you enter?" he said angrily.

"Sorry," Cutter said calmly. "I'll just be a minute. Just thought you'd want to know that we have Eva Miranda in custody. Caught her sneaking through the Miami airport, on her way home to Brazil, fake passport and all."

Patrick froze and tried to think of something to say.

"Eva?" Sandy asked.

"Yeah, also known as Leah Pires. That's what her fake passport calls her." Cutter was looking at Patrick while answering Sandy.

"Where is she?" Patrick asked, stunned.

"Jail, in Miami."

Patrick turned and walked along the table. Jail would be horrible anywhere, but jail in Miami had a particularly ominous ring to it.

"Do you have a number where we can call her?" Sandy asked.

"No."

"She has the right to a telephone."

"We're working on it."

"Get me a number, okay."

"We'll see." Cutter continued to watch Patrick and ignore Sandy. "She was in a hurry. No luggage, not one bag. Just trying to sneak back to Brazil, leaving you behind."

"Shut up," Patrick said.

"You can leave now," Sandy said.

"Just thought you'd want to know," Cutter said with a smile, and left.

Patrick sat down and gently massaged his temples. His head had been aching before Cutter arrived, now it was splitting. He and Eva had gone over and over the three scenarios Which she would face if they caught him. First, and the one according to plan, was that she would remain in the shadows, assisting Sandy and moving at will. Second, she might be caught by Stephano and Aricia, was by far the most frightening possibility. Third, the FBI could catch her, which was not nearly as terrifying as the second, but did pose enormous problems. At least she was safe.

They had not discussed this fourth scenario, her return to Brazil without him. He would not believe it was abandonment.

Sandy quietly gathered files and cleaned up the table.

"What time did you leave her?" Patrick asked.

"About eight. She was fine, Patrick. I told you that."

"No mention of Miami or Brazil?"

"No. None whatsoever. I left with the impression she would be at the beach house for a while. She told me she leased it for a month."

"Then she got scared. Why else would she run?"

"I don't know."

"Find a lawyer in Miami, Sandy. And quickly."

"I know a couple."

"She must be scared to death."



Tags: John Grisham Thriller
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