The Partner - Page 31

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MRS. STEPHANO was sleeping again. Those bothersome young men in matching dark suits had left their street, and the neighbors had stopped calling with their nosy questions. The gossip over bridge had returned to more normal topics, Her husband was relaxed.

She was sleeping soundly when the phone rang at 5:30 A.M. She grabbed it from the night table. "Hello."

A stout, firm voice said, "Jack Stephano, please."

"Who's calling?" she demanded. Jack was moving under the covers.

"Hamilton Jaynes, FBI," came the reply.

And she said, "Oh my God!" She placed a hand over the receiver. "Jack, it's the FBI again."

Jack turned on a light, glanced at the clock, took the phone. "Who is it?"

"Good morning, Jack. This is Hamilton Jaynes. Hate to call so early."

"Then don't."

"Just wanted you to know that we've got the girl, Eva Miranda, in custody. She's safe and secure, so you boys can call off your dogs."

Stephano swung his feet out of the bed and stood next to the table. Their last hope was gone. The search for the money was finally over. "Where is she?" he asked, not expecting any meaningful answer.

"We have her, Jack. She's with us."

"Congratulations."

"Look, Jack, I've sent some men down to Rio to monitor the situation with her father. You have twenty-four hours, Jack. If he is not released by five-thirty tomorrow morning, then I'll have a warrant for your arrest, and the arrest of Aricia. Hell, I'll probably arrest Mr. Atterson at Monarch-Sierra and Mr. Jill at Northern Case Mutual, you know, just for the hell of it. I've really wanted to talk to those boys, along with Aricia."

"You enjoy the harassment, don't you?"

"Love it. We'll help the Brazilians extradite you guys down to Brazil, you know, and that should take a coupla months. No bail with an extradition, so you and your sleazy clients would spend Christmas in jail. Who knows, extradition might work for a change, and you'd get to go to Rio. I hear the beaches are lovely. Are you there, Jack?"

"I hear you."

"Twenty-four hours." The phone clicked and the line was dead. Mrs. Stephano was in the bathroom with the door locked, too rattled to face him.

Jack went downstairs and made coffee. He sat at the kitchen table, in the semidarkness, waiting for the sun to rise. He was tired of Benny Aricia.

He had been hired to find Patrick and the money, not to ask questions about how the money got created. He knew the basics of Benny Aricia's history with Platt & Rockland, and he had always suspected there was much more to the story. He had probed once or twice, but Aricia showed no interest in discussing the events which preceded Patrick's disappearance.

From the beginning, Jack had suspected the law firm's offices had been wired for two reasons. The first was to gather dirt on the other partners and their clients, specifically Aricia. The second was to lead Patrick to the money after his funeral. What was unknown to everyone, except to maybe Aricia and the partners, was how much damaging evidence had been taped and stored by Patrick. Stephano suspected that plenty of dirt had been gathered.

When the money vanished, and Stephano began his search, the law firm chose not to join the consortium. It had thirty million dollars at stake, yet chose to lick its wounds and go home. The reason given was lack of money. The partners were basically broke, things were about to get much worse, and they simply couldn't afford to participate. This had some logic at the time, but Stephano also sensed a reluctance to find Patrick.

Something was on the tapes. Patrick had caught them redhanded. As miserable as their lives had become, the actual capture of Patrick could be their worst nightmare.

Same for Aricia. He'd wait an hour, then call him.

BY SIX-THIRTY, the office of Hamilton Jaynes was crawling with people. Two agents sat on a sofa and studied the latest report from their contacts in Rio. One stood beside Jaynes' desk and waited to give an update on Aricia's whereabouts; he was still at the rented condo in Biloxi.

Another stood nearby with an update on Eva Miranda. A secretary carried a box of files into the office. Jaynes was in his chair, on the phone, haggard and coatless, ignoring everyone.

Joshua Cutter entered, also worn and wrinkled. He'd slept two hours in the Atlanta airport waiting for a flight to Washington, D.C., where an agent met him for the drive to the Hoover Building. Jaynes immediately hung up, and ordered everyone from his office.

"Get us some coffee, lots of it," he barked at the secretary. The room cleared and Cutter sat rigidly before the grand desk. Though mightily fatigued, he tried hard to be alert. He'd never been near the Deputy Director's office before.

"Let's hear it," Jaynes growled.

"Lanigan wants to cut a deal. He claims to have enough evidence to convict Aricia, the lawyers, and an unnamed U.S. Senator."

"What kind of evidence?"

"A box full of documents and tapes, stuff Lanigan accumulated before he skipped out."

"Did you see the box?"

"No. McDermott said it was in the trunk of his car."

"And what about the money?"

"We never got that far. He wants to meet with you and somebody at Justice to discuss settlement possibilities. I got the impression he thinks they can buy their way out of it."

"That's always a possibility when you steal dirty money. Where does he want to meet?"

"Down there, somewhere in Biloxi."

"Let me call Sprawling at Justice," Jaynes said almost to himself, as he lunged for the phone. The coffee arrived.

MARK BIRCK tapped his designer pen on the table as he waited in the visitors' room of the federal detention center. It was not quite nine, much too early for lawyers to see their clients, but he had a friend in administration. Birck explained it was an emergency. The table had privacy panels on both sides and a thick glass plate down the center. He would talk to her through a small screened opening.

For thirty minutes he tapped and fidgeted. She was finally brought from around the corner, dressed in a yellow one-piece jumpsuit with faded lettering stamped in black across the chest. The guard removed the handcuffs and she rubbed her wrists.

When they were alone, she sat in her chair and looked at him. He slid a business card through a tiny slot. She took it and examined every letter.

"Patrick sent me," he said, and she closed her eyes.

"Are you okay?" he asked.

She leaned forward on her elbows and spoke through the screened opening. "I'm fine. Thanks for coming. When do I get out?"

"Not for a few days. The feds can do one of two things. First, and the most serious, they can indict you for traveling under a false passport. This is a longshot because you're a foreigner and you have no criminal record. Second, and most likely, they'll simply deport you with your promise never to return. Either way, it'll take them a few days to decide. In the meantime, you're stuck here because we can't get bail right now."

"I understand."

"Patrick is very concerned about you."

"I know. Tell him I'm fine. And I'm very concerned about him."

Birck adjusted his legal pad and said, "Now, Patrick wants a detailed account of exactly how you were caught."

She smiled and seemed to relax. Of course Patrick would want the details. She started with the man with the green eyes, and'slowly told the story.

BENNY HAD ALWAYS laughed at the Biloxi beach. Just a narrow strip of sand bordered on one side by a highway too dangerous to cross on foot, and on the other by dull brown water too brackish to swim in. During the summer it attracted low-budget vacationers, and on weekends students threw Frisbees and rented jet-skis. The casino boom brought more tourists to the beach, but they seldom lingered long before returning to their gambling.

He parked at the Biloxi pier, lit a long cigar, removed his shoes, and walked the beach anyway. It was much cleaner now, another benefit from the casinos.

It was also deserted. A few fishing boats drifted out to sea.

Stephano's call an hour earlier had ruined his morning, and, for the most part, altered the remainder of his life. With the girl locked away, he had no chance of finding the money. She couldn't lead him to it now, nor could she be used as leverage with Lanigan.

The feds had an indictment hanging over Patrick's head. Patrick, in turn, had the money and the evidence. One would be swapped for the other, and Aricia would get caught in the crossfire. When the pressure was applied to his co-conspirators, Bogan and the rest of those pansy-ass lawyers, they would sing in an instant. Benny was the odd man out, and he knew this perfectly well. Had known it, in fact, for a long time. His dream had been to somehow find the money, then disappear with it, just like Patrick.

But his dream was over now. He had a million bucks left. He had friends in other countries, and contacts around the world. It was time to split, just like Patrick.

SANDY KEPT a scheduled 10 A.M. meeting with T.L. Parrish, in the D.A.'s office, though he'd been tempted to postpone it and spend the morning working on the documents. When he left his office at 8:30, his entire staff and both of his partners were making copies and enlarging crucial pages.

Parrish had requested the meeting. Sandy was certain he knew why. The state's case had major holes in it, and now that the thrill of the indictment had passed, it was time to talk business. Prosecutors tend to try the airtight cases, and there is never a shortage of them. But a high-profile case with gaping holes is serious trouble.

Parrish wanted to fish, but first he puffed and postured and talked about venue. A jury anywhere would not be sympathetic to a lawyer who murdered for money. Sandy just listened, at first. Parrish recited his favorite statistics about his conviction rate and the fact that he'd never lost a capital murder trial. Got eight of 'em on death row, he said, not bragging.

Sandy really had better things to do. He needed to have a serious conversation with Parrish, but not today. He asked how he would prove the murder occurred in Harrison County. And he followed it by the cause of death-how could that be proven? Patrick certainly wouldn't testify and help them out. And the big one, who was the victim? According to Sandy's research, there was not a single reported murder conviction in the state with an unidentified victim.

Parrish anticipated these troublesome inquiries, and did an adequate job of evading concrete answers. "Has your client considered a plea bargain?" he finally asked, as if in deep pain.

"No."

"Would he?"

"No."

"Why not?"

"You ran to the grand jury, got your capital murder indictment, waved it in front of the press, now you have to prove it. You didn't bother to wait and assess your evidence. Forget it."

"I can get a conviction for manslaughter," Parrish said angrily. "That carries twenty years."

"Maybe," Sandy said nonchalantly. "But my client has not been charged with manslaughter."

"I can do that tomorrow."

"Fine. Go do it. Dismiss the capital murder charges, refile for manslaughter, then we'll talk."



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