The Partner - Page 33

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COURT REPORTERS arrived promptly at JL eight. Both were named Linda-one with an i and one with a y. They produced business cards and followed Sandy to the center of the suite, where the furniture had been shoved to the walls and chairs added. He placed Y at one end of the room, with her back to the window with the shades pulled tightly, and sat I at the other end, in a nook next to the bar with a clear view of all the players. Both desperately needed one last smoke. He sent them into the far bedroom. Jaynes arrived next with his group. He had a driver, an aging FBI agent who also served as bodyguard, lookout, and errand boy; he had an FBI lawyer; and he had Cutter and Cutter's immediate supervisor. From the Attorney General's office, he had Sprawling, an intense dark-eyed veteran who said little but gathered every sound. All six men wore either black or navy suits; all produced business cards, which Sandy's paralegal collected. Sandy's secretary took their coffee orders while the men shuffled as a group through the small parlor and into the den.

Next came Maurice Mast, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Mississippi, traveling light with only one assistant. He was followed by T.L. Parrish, alone, and the meeting was ready to begin.

The pecking order took care of itself. Jaynes' driver and Mast's assistant stayed in the parlor, where they found a platter of doughnuts and the morning papers.

Sandy closed the door, offered a cheerful "Good morning," and thanked them all for coming. They were seated around the room. No one smiled, yet they were not unhappy to be there. It was quite intriguing.

Sandy introduced both court reporters, and explained that their dual transcripts of the meeting would be kept by him and considered extremely confidential. This seemed to satisfy everyone. There were no questions or comments at this point because they weren't sure what the meeting was about.

Sandy held a legal pad with his notes neatly arranged, his case organized for a dozen pages or so. He could've been in front of a jury. He sent greetings from his client, Patrick Lanigan, and said the burns were healing nicely. Then he recapped the charges pending against Patrick; capital murder levied by the state; theft, wire fraud, and flight charged by the United States. Capital murder could mean death. The others could tally up to thirty years.

"The federal charges are serious," he said gravely. "But they pale in comparison to capital murder. Frankly, and with all due respect, we'd like to get rid of the feds so we can concentrate on the murder charges."

"Do you have a plan to get rid of us?" Jaynes asked.

"We have an offer."

"Does it include the money?"

"It does indeed."

"We have no claim to the money. It wasn't stolen from the federal government."

"That's where you're wrong."

Sprawling was itching to say something. "Do you really think you can buy your way out of this?" It was more of a challenge. His gruff voice was flat, his words efficient.

The jury was barking back at him, but Sandy was determined to follow his script. "Just wait," he said. "If you'll allow me to present my case, then we'll discuss the options. Now, I'm assuming that we're all familiar with Mr. Aricia's 1991 claim against his former employer under the False Claims Act. It was prepared and filed by the Bogan firm here in Biloxi, a firm which, at that time, included a new partner by the name of Patrick Lanigan. The claim was fraudulent. My client found out about it, and then learned that the firm planned to kick him out after the claim was approved by Justice but before the money arrived. Over the course of many months, my client covertly gathered evidence which proves, clearly and convincingly, that Mr. Aricia and his lawyers conspired to screw the government out of ninety million dollars. The evidence is in the form of documents and taped conversations."

"Where is this evidence?" asked Jaynes.

"It's under the control of my client."

"We can get it, you know. We can get a search warrant and take the evidence anytime we want."

"And what if my client doesn't honor your search warrant? What if he destroys the evidence, or simply hides it again? What will you do then? Lock him up? Indict him for something else? Frankly, he's not afraid of you and your search warrants."

"And what about you?" asked Jaynes. "If it's in your possession, we can get a search warrant for you."

"I won't produce. Anything my client gives me is privileged and confidential, you know that. It's called attorney's work product. Don't forget that Mr. Aricia has sued my client. All documents in my possession are privileged. I will not, under any circumstances, hand over the documents until my client tells me to."

"What if we get a court order?" asked Sprawling.

"I'll ignore it, then I'll appeal it. You can't win on this one, gentlemen." And with that they seemed to accept their defeat. No one was surprised.

"How many people were involved?" asked Jaynes.

"The four partners at the firm and Mr. Aricia."

There was a heavy pause as they waited for Sandy to announce the name of the Senator, but he didn't. Instead, he looked at his notes and continued. "The deal is quite simple. We'll hand over the documents and tapes. Patrick will return the money, all of it. In exchange, the federal charges are dropped so we can concentrate on the state's. The IRS agrees to leave him alone. His Brazilian attorney, Eva Miranda, is released immediately." He clicked off these terms flu-idly because they had been well rehearsed, and his jury absorbed every word. Sprawling took careful notes. Jaynes looked at the floor, neither smiling nor frowning. The rest were noncommittal, but each had many questions.

"And it has to be done today," Sandy added. "There is a sense of urgency."

"Why?" asked Jaynes.

"Because she's locked up. Because you're all here, and you have the authority to make the decision. Because my client has set a deadline of 5 P.M. today to strike the deal, or he'll just keep the money, destroy the evidence, serve his time, and hope one day he gets out."

With Patrick, they doubted nothing. He had thus far managed to spend his incarceration in a rather cushy private room with a staff at his beck and call.

"Let's talk about the Senator," Sprawling said.

"Great idea," Sandy said. He opened a door to the parlor and said something to a paralegal. A table with speakers and tape deck was rolled into the center of the room, and Sandy closed the door again. He looked at his notes, said, "The date was January 14, 1992, about three weeks before Patrick disappeared. The conversation took place in the law firm, on the first floor, in a room known as the Closet, sort of an all-purpose room sometimes used for very small meetings. The first voice you'll hear is that of Charlie Bo-gan, then Benny Aricia, then Doug Vitrano. Aricia had arrived at the firm unannounced, and, as you'll see, was not in a good mood."

Sandy stepped to the table and examined the various buttons. The tape deck was new and had two expensive speakers wired to it. They watched him carefully, most of them pushing forward just a little.

Sandy said, "Again, Bogan first, then Aricia, then

Vitrano." He pushed a button. There was a ten-second gap of complete silence, then voices came sharply from the speakers. Edgy voices.

BOGAN: We agreed on a fee of one third, that's our standard fee. You signed the contract. You've known for a year and a half that our fee was a third.

AEICIA: You don't deserve thirty million dollars.

VITRANO: And you don't deserve sixty.

ARICIA: I want to know how the money will be split.

BOGAN: Two thirds, one third. Sixty, thirty.

ARICIA: No, no. The thirty million that comes in here. Who gets how much?

VITRANO: That's none of your business.

ARICIA: The hell it's not. It's money I'm paying as a fee. I'm entitled to know who gets how much.

BOGAN: No you're not.

ARICIA: How much does the Senator get?

BOGAN: None of your business.

ARICIA: (Shouting) It is my business. This guy's spent the last year in Washington twisting arms, leaning on people at Navy and the Pentagon and Justice. Hell, he's spent more time working on my file than he has working for his constituents.

VITRANO: Don't yell, okay, Benny.

ARICIA: I want to know how much the slimy little crook's getting. I have a right to know how much you're shoveling under the table, because it's my money.

VITRANO: It's all under the table, Benny.

ARICIA: How much?

BOGAN: He'll be taken care of, Benny, okay. Why are you so hung up on this? This is nothing new.

VITRANO: I think you picked this firm specifically because of our connections in Washington.

ARICIA: Five million, ten million? How expensive is he?

BOGAN: You'll never know.

ARICIA: The hell I won't. I'll call the sonofabitch up and ask him myself.

BOGAN: Go ahead.

VITRANO: What's with you, Benny? You're about to get sixty million bucks, and now you're getting greedy.

ARICIA: Don't preach to me, especially about greed. When I came here you guys were working for two hundred bucks an hour. Now look at you, trying to justify a fee of thirty million bucks. Already redoing your offices. Already ordering new cars. Next it'll be boats and airplanes and all the other toys of the seriously rich. And all with my money.

BOGAN: Your money? Aren't we missing something here, Benny? Help me out. Your claim was as bogus as a three-dollar bill.

ARICIA: Yeah, but I made it happen. I, not you, set the trap for Platt & Rockland.

BOGAN: Then why did you hire us?

ARICIA: A helluva question.

VITRANO: You got a bad memory, Benny. You came here because of our clout. You needed help. We put the claim together, spent four thousand hours working on it, and we pulled the right strings in Washington. All with your full knowledge, I might add.

ARICIA: Let's cut the Senator out. That should save us ten million. Shave another ten million, and that leaves you boys with ten million for yourselves. That's a much fairer fee, in my opinion.

VITRANO: (Laughing) That's a great deal, Benny. You get eighty, we get ten.

ARICIA: Yeah, and we screw the politicians.

BOGAN: No way, Benny. You're forgetting something very important. If not for us and the politicians, you wouldn't be getting a dime.

Sandy pushed the button. The tape stopped, but the voices seemed to rattle around the room for a full minute. The players looked at the floor, the ceiling, the walls, each trying to savor and record for later the best of what had been said.

With a vulgar smile, Sandy said, "Gentlemen, this is just a sample."

"When do we get the rest?" asked Jaynes.

"Could happen within hours."

"Will your client testify before a federal grand jury?" asked Sprawling.

"Yes, he will. But he won't promise to testify at trial."

"Why not?"

"He doesn't have to explain. That's just his position." Sandy rolled the table to the door, knocked, and gave it back to the paralegal. He addressed his group again. "You fellas should talk. I'll step outside. Make yourselves comfortable."

"We're not talking in here," Jaynes said, jumping to his feet. There were too many wires, and given Patrick's history, no room was safe. "We'll go to our room."

"Whatever," Sandy said. They were all rising and grabbing briefcases. They filed through the door, through the parlor, and finally out of the suite. Lynda and Linda raced to the rear bedroom for a smoke and a pee.

Sandy fixed a coffee, and waited.

THEY REASSEMBLED two floors below in a double room that immediately became cramped. Jackets were removed and thrown across the pillows of both beds. Jaynes asked his driver to wait in the hall with Mast's assistant. Matters too sensitive for their lowly ears were about to be discussed.

The deal's biggest loser would be Maurice Mast. If the federal charges were dropped, he would have nothing to prosecute. A rather grand trial would vanish, and he felt compelled to at least register his objection before the others got started. "We'll look foolish if we allow him to buy his way out," he said, primarily in the direction of Sprawling, who was trying vainly to relax in a flimsy wooden chair.

Sprawling was only one level down from the Attorney General himself, and this placed him several levels above Mast. He would listen politely for a few minutes to the opinions of the underlings, then he and Jaynes would make the decision.

Hamilton Jaynes looked at T.L. Parrish, and asked, "Are you reasonably confident you can convict Lani-gan of murder?"

T.L. was a cautious type, and he knew full well any promises made to this group would be long remembered. "Murder might have some problems. Manslaughter is a lock."

"How much time on a manslaughter?"

"Twenty years."

"How much would he serve?"

"Five, more or less."

Oddly, this seemed to please Jaynes, a career man who thought trespassers should serve time. "You agree, Cutter?" he asked, pacing along the edge of the bed.

"There's not much evidence," Cutter said. "We can't prove who, how, what, when, or where as far as the murder goes. We think we know why, but the trial could be a nightmare. Manslaughter is much easier."

Jaynes asked Parrish, "How about the Judge? Will he sentence him to the maximum?"

"If convicted of manslaughter, I would expect the Judge to sentence him to twenty years. Parole is determined by the prison authorities."

"Can we safely assume that Lanigan will spend the next five years behind bars?" Jaynes asked, looking around the room.

"Yes, certainly," said Parrish defensively. "And we're not backing off the capital murder. We intend to make a strong argument that Lanigan killed another person so he could steal the money. The death penalty is a longshot, but if he's convicted of simple murder, he could face life in prison."

"Does it really make any difference to us whether he spends time at Parchman prison or in a federal facility?" Jaynes asked. It was obvious it didn't make any difference to him.

"I'm sure Patrick has an opinion on the matter," Parrish said, and got a few weak grins.

T.L. especially liked the deal because he would become the sole remaining prosecutor. Mast and the FBI would make a hasty exit from the case. There was a gap, and he decided to shove Mast a bit closer to the edge of the cliff. "I have no doubt Patrick will serve time, at Parchman," he said helpfully.

Mast wouldn't go quietly. He shook his head and frowned gravely. "I don't know," he said. "I think we look bad if we do this. You can't rob a bank, then get caught, then offer to give the money back if the charges are dropped. Justice is not for sale."

"It's a bit more complicated than that," Sprawling said. "We suddenly have bigger fish to catch, and Lanigan is the key. The money he stole was contaminated. We're simply retrieving it and returning it to the taxpayers."

Mast wasn't about to argue with Sprawling.

Jaynes looked at T.L. Parrish and said, "With all due respect, Mr. Parrish, could I ask you to step outside for just a moment. Us federal boys need to discuss something."

"Sure," Parrish said. He walked to the door and stepped into the hallway.

Enough of the chitchat. It was time for Sprawling to close the deal. "Gentlemen, it's very simple. There are some very important people in the White House who are watching things closely. Senator Nye has never been a friend of the President's, and, frankly, a good scandal down here would make the administration happy. Nye's up for reelection in two years. These allegations will keep him busy. And if they're true, then he's dead."

"We'll do the investigation," Jaynes said to Mast. "And you'll get to prosecute."

It was suddenly obvious to Mast that this meeting was for his benefit. The decision to cut a deal with Patrick had been made by people with far more clout than Sprawling and Jaynes. They were just trying to keep him happy, since he was, after all, the U.S. Attorney for the district.

The idea of indicting and prosecuting a U.S. Senator had enormous potential, and Mast warmed to it immediately. He could see himself in a crowded courtroom playing Patrick's tapes, the jurors and spectators hanging on every word. "So we're gonna take the deal?" he said, shrugging as if he couldn't have cared less.

"Yes," said Sprawling. "It's a no-brainer. We look good by getting the money back. Patrick stays in jail for a long time. We nail even bigger crooks."

"Plus the President wants it done," Mast said, smiling, though no one else did so.

"I didn't say that," Sprawling said. "I haven't talked to the President about this. My bosses talked to his people. That's all I know."

Jaynes retrieved T.L. Parrish from the hall, and they spent almost an hour walking through Patrick's offer and examining each of its components. The girl could be released with an hour's notice. Patrick would also have to pay interest on the money, they decided. What about the lawsuit he'd filed against the FBI? Jaynes made a list of points to cover with Sandy.

IN MIAMI, Mark Birck personally delivered to Eva the wonderful news that her father had been released.

He had not been harmed; in fact, had been treated quite well.

He told her that with a little luck, she might be released herself in a day or two.

Tags: John Grisham Thriller