The Partner - Page 32

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IT WAS LABELED the Camille Suite, and it occupied one third of the top floor of the Biloxi Nugget, the newest, gaudiest, largest, and most successful of all the Vegas-style casinos popping up along the Coast. The boys from Vegas thought it clever to name the Nugget's suites and banquet rooms after the worst hurricanes to hit the Coast. For an average Joe who came in from the street and simply wanted spacious quarters, it rented for $750 a day. That's what Sandy agreed to pay. For a high-roller flown in from afar, the suite would be complimentary. But gambling was the last thing on Sandy's mind. His client, less than two miles away, had approved the expense. The Camille had two bedrooms, a kitchen, den, and two parlors- plenty of places to meet with separate groups. It also had four incoming phone lines, a fax, and a VCR. Sandy's paralegal brought the PC and the technical machinery from New Orleans, along with the first batch of Aricia documents.

The first visitor to Mr. McDermott's temporary law offices was J. Murray Riddleton, Trudy's thoroughly defeated divorce lawyer. He sheepishly handed over a proposed settlement of property rights and child visitation. They discussed it over lunch. The terms of surrender were dictated by Patrick. And since he was now calling the shots, Sandy found numerous details to nitpick through. "This is a good first draft," he said repeatedly as he continued to mark it up with red ink. Riddleton took the thrashing like a pro. He argued every point, bitched about the amendments, but both lawyers knew the settlement would be changed to suit Patrick's whim. The DNA test and nude photos ruled supreme.

The second visitor was Talbot Minis, Biloxi counsel for Northern Case Mutual, a hyper and jovial man who traveled in a very comfortable van, complete with a fast driver, leather seats and interior, a small workta-ble, two phones, a fax, beeper, television and VCR so Minis could study video depositions, a laptop and a PC, and a sofa for quick naps, though he succumbed only after the most arduous days in court. His entourage included a secretary and a paralegal, both of whom kept cell phones in their pockets, and an obligatory associate hauled along for extra billing purposes.

The four hurriedly presented themselves at the Ca-mille Suite, where Sandy met them in jeans and offered soft drinks from the mini-bar. All declined. The secretary and the paralegal immediately found matters to discuss on their cell phones. Sandy led Mims and the unnamed associate to a parlor, where they sat before a huge window with a splendid view of the Nugget's parking garage, and beyond that the first steel pillars of yet another garish casino.

"I'll get right to the point," Sandy said. "Do you know a man by the name of Jack Stephano?"

Mims thought quickly. "No."

"I didn't think so. He's a super-sleuth out of D.C. He was hired by Aricia, Northern Case Mutual, and Monarch-Sierra to find Patrick."

"So?"

"So take a look at these," Sandy said with a smile as he slid a set of gory color photos from a file. Mims spread them out on the table-Patrick's horrid burns in all their glory.

"These were in the newspaper, right?" he said.

"Some of them."

"Yeah, I think you spread them around when you sued the FBI."

"The FBI didn't do this to my client, Mr. Mims."

"Oh really." Mims released the photos and waited for Sandy.

"The FBI didn't find Patrick."

"Then why did you sue them?"

"Publicity stunt, designed to arouse some sympathy for my client."

"Didn't work."

"Maybe not with you, but you won't be on the jury, will you? Anyway, these injuries were the result of prolonged torture, inflicted by men working for Jack Stephano, who was working for several clients, one of whom happened to be Northern Case Mutual, a very proud publicly owned company with a solid reputation for corporate responsibility and six billion in stockholders' equity."

Talbot Mims was extremely practical. He had to be. With three hundred open files in his office and eighteen large insurance companies as clients, he didn't have time to play games. "Two questions," he said. "First, can you prove this?"

"Yes. The FBI can confirm it." ,

"Second. What do you want?"

"I want a high-ranking Northern Case Mutual executive here in this room tomorrow, someone with unquestioned authority."

"These are busy people."

"We're all busy. I'm not threatening a lawsuit, but think of how embarrassing this could be."

"Sounds like a threat to me."

"Take it any way you want."

"What time tomorrow?"

"Four P.M."

"We'll be here," Mims said, reaching forward to shake hands. He then left in a rush, his minions racing behind.

Sandy's own crew arrived mid-afternoon. A secretary answered the phone, which by then was ringing every ten minutes. Sandy had placed calls to Cutter, T.L. Parrish, Sheriff Sweeney, Mark Birck in Miami, Judge Huskey, a handful of lawyers in Biloxi, and Maurice Mast, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Mississippi. On a personal level, he called his wife twice to get reports on the family, and he called the principal of his third-grader's lower school.

He had spoken to Hal Ladd twice by phone, but met him for the first time at the Camille Suite. Ladd epresented Monarch-Sierra. He arrived alone, which Sandy found shocking because insurance defense lawyers always traveled in pairs. Regardless of the task at hand, there had to be two of them before the work began. Both listened, both looked, spoke, took notes, and, most important, both billed the client for the same work.

Sandy knew of two large, rich firms in New Orleans that, not surprisingly, had adopted a threesome approach to the practice of insurance defense.

Ladd was a serious sort in his late forties, and by reputation didn't need the assistance of another lawyer. He politely took a diet cola and sat in the same seat Mr. Minis had occupied.

Sandy asked him the same question. "Do you know a man by the name of Jack Stephano?"

He didn't, and so Sandy delivered the standard brief bio. Then he laid the color photos of Patrick's wounds on the table, and they discussed them for a moment. The burns were not inflicted by the FBI, Sandy explained. Ladd read between the lines. Having represented insurance companies for many years, he had long since ceased to be surprised by the depths to which they could sink.

Even so, this was shocking. "Assuming you can prove this," Ladd said, "I'm sure my client would prefer to keep it quiet."

"We're prepared to amend our lawsuit, drop the FBI, and name as defendants your client, Northern Case Mutual, Aricia, Stephano, and anybody else responsible for the torture. It's an American citizen intentionally wounded and scarred by American efendants. The case is worth millions. We'll go to trial right here in Biloxi."

Not if Ladd had anything to do with it. He agreed to call Monarch-Sierra immediately and demand that the chief in-house lawyer drop everything and fly to Biloxi. He appeared angry that his client had funded the search without informing him. "If it's true," he said, "I'll never represent them again."

"Trust me. It's true."

IT WAS ALMOST DARK when Paulo was blindfolded and handcuffed and led from the house. No guns were poked at him, no threats made. No voices whatsoever. He rode in the backseat of a small car, by himself, for an hour or so. The radio played classical music.

When the car stopped, the two front doors opened, and Paulo was helped from the back. "Come with me," came a voice at his shoulder, and a large hand took him by the elbow. The road under his feet was gravel. They walked a hundred meters or so, then stopped. The voice said, "You are on a road twenty kilometers from Rio. To your left, three hundred meters, is a farmhouse with a telephone. Go there for help. I have a gun. If you turn around, I will have no choice but to kill you."

"I won't turn around," Paulo said, his body shaking.

"Good. I will remove the handcuffs first, then I will remove the blindfold."

"I won't turn around," Paulo said.

The handcuffs were removed. "Now, I will remove the blindfold. Walk forward quickly."

The blindfold was yanked off, and Paulo lowered his head and began jogging down the road. There was no sound behind him. He didn't dare glance around. He called the police at the farmhouse, then he called his son.



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