The Partner - Page 34

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SOLEMN-FACED and noncommittal, they returned to the Camille Suite and took their same seats. Most had left their jackets in the other room, and had rolled up their sleeves and loosened their ties, as if all manner of hard work was under way. By Sandy's watch, they had been gone for almost an hour and a half. Sprawling was now their spokesman.

"About the money," he began, and Sandy instantly knew they had a deal. It was just a matter of the details. "About the money, how much is your client willing to return?"

"All of it."

"All of it being?"

"All ninety million."

"What about interest?"

"Who cares about interest?"

"We do."

"Why?"

"Well, it's only fair."

"Fair to whom?"

"Uh, the taxpayers."

Sandy practically laughed at him. "Come on. You guys work for the federal government. Since when do you worry about protecting the taxpayers?"

"It's standard in cases involving theft and embezzlement," Maurice Mast added.

"How much?" Sandy asked. "At what rate?"

"Prime is nine percent," Sprawling said. "That would be fair, I think."

"Oh you do? What does the IRS pay when it determines I've paid too much and it sends me a refund?"

No one could answer. "Six percent," Sandy said. "Six lousy percent is what the government pays."

Sandy, of course, had had the benefit of planning this. He had anticipated the questions and had crafted the answers, and it was enormous fun watching them squirm as they tried to catch up.

"So, are you offering six percent?" Sprawling asked. His words were careful and slow.

"Of course not. We have the money; we'll determine how much we'll pay. It's the same principle used by the government. We figure the money'll simply go back into the black hole at the Pentagon."

"We can't control that," Jaynes said. He was already tired and in no mood for a lecture.

"Here's the way we see the money," Sandy said. "It would've been lost entirely, paid to some very slick crooks and never seen again. My client prevented this, has held the money, and is now willing to return it."

"So we give him a reward?" asked Jaynes.

"No. Just back off the interest."

"We have to sell this to some people in Washington," Sprawling said, not pleading but needing help. "Give us something to work with."

"We'll pay half the IRS rate, and not a penny more."

With a serious poker face, Sprawling said, "I'll run it by the Attorney General. I just hope he's in a good mood."

"Give him my regards," Sandy said.

Jaynes looked up from his notetaking and asked, "Three percent, right?"

"That's right. From March 26, 1992, until November 1, 1996. Total comes to a hundred and thirteen million, plus some change, which we'll ignore. One hundred thirteen million, even."

The figure had a nice ring to it, and it certainly sounded good to the government boys. They each wrote it on their legal pads. It looked large. Who could argue with a deal that brought so much back into the hands of the taxpayers?

To offer this much meant only one thing: Patrick had taken the ninety and invested well. Sprawling's boys had crunched some numbers earlier. Assuming Patrick placed all the money in investments earning eight percent a year, the loot would now be worth a hundred and thirty-one million. Ten percent, and the value would be one hundred and forty-four million. Tax free, of course. Apparently, Patrick hadn't spent much of it, so he would remain a very wealthy man.

"We're also concerned about this lawsuit you filed on behalf of Mr. Lanigan," Sprawling said.

"We'll dismiss the FBI from the lawsuit, but I'll need a quick favor from Mr. Jaynes. We can discuss it later. It's a minor point."

"All right. Moving right along. When will your client be prepared to testify before the grand jury?"

"Whenever you need him. Physically, he's able to do it anytime."

"We intend to move quickly with this."

"The sooner the better for my client."

Sprawling circled items on his checklist. "We will insist on confidentiality. No press whatsoever. This deal will be subject to a lot of criticism."

"We're not saying a word," Sandy promised.

"When would you like for Ms. Miranda to be released?"

"Tomorrow. And she needs to be escorted from the jail in Miami to the private air terminal. We would like FBI protection until she is on the plane."

Jaynes shrugged as if he didn't understand. "No problem," he said.

"Anything else?" Sandy asked, rubbing his hands together as if the fun was about to start.

"Nothing from the government," Sprawling said.

"Good. Here's what I suggest," Sandy said, as if they had a choice. "I have two secretaries here with PC's. We have already prepared a rough draft of a settlement agreement and order of dismissal. It shouldn't take too long to hammer out the finer points, then you guys can sign off. I will then drive it over to my client, and hopefully within a couple of hours we'll be finished. Mr. Mast, I suggest you contact the federal Judge and arrange a conference call as soon as possible. We'll fax him the order of dismissal."

"When do we get the documents and tapes?" asked Jaynes.

"If everything gets signed and approved in the next few hours, you can have them at 5 P.M. today."

"I need a phone," Sprawling said. So did Mast and Jaynes. They scattered throughout the suite.

REGULAR INMATES received an hour each day outdoors. It was late October, a cool and cloudy day, and Patrick decided to demand his constitutional rights. The deputies in the hallway said no; it had not been authorized.

Patrick called Karl Huskey and got everything approved. He also asked Karl if he could stop by Rosetti's on Division Street near the Point and pick up a couple of Vancleave Specials-crabmeat and cheese po'boys-and join him for lunch, outside. Karl said he would be delighted.

They ate on a wooden bench, not far from a small fountain and a sad little maple. The various wings of the hospital surrounded them. Karl had brought po'boys for the deputies as well, and they sat nearby, just out of earshot.

Karl knew nothing of the meeting under way at the hotel suite, and Patrick didn't tell him. Parrish was there, and before long he would tell His Honor.

"What are people saying about me?" Patrick asked after he finished a third of his sandwich and put it away.

"The gossip has died down. Things are back to normal. Your friends are still your friends."

"I'm writing letters to some of them. Would you deliver them?"

"Of course I will."

"Thanks."

"I hear they caught your lady friend in Miami."

"Yeah. But she'll be out soon. Just a small problem with her passport."

Huskey took a large bite of his sandwich and chewed in silence. He was growing accustomed to the long quiet intervals in their dialogue. He struggled with what to say next. Patrick did not.

"The fresh air is nice," he finally said. "Thanks."

"You have a constitutional right to fresh air."

"You ever been to Brazil?"

"No."

"You should go."

"Like you, or with my family?"

"No, no. Go visit sometime."

"The beaches?"

"No. Forget the beaches, and forget the cities. Go to the heart of the country, to the open spaces where the sky is clear and blue, the air is light, the land is beautiful, the people are gentle and uncomplicated. It's my home, Karl. I can't wait to go back there."

"Might be a while."

"Maybe, but I can wait. I'm not Patrick anymore, Karl. Patrick is dead. He was trapped and unhappy. He was fat and miserable and, thankfully, he went away. I'm Danilo now, Danilo Silva, a much happier person with a quiet life in another country. Danilo can wait."

And with a beautiful woman and a large fortune, Karl wanted to say, but he let it pass.

"How does Danilo get back to Brazil?" Karl asked.

"I'm still working on that."

"Look, Patrick-I guess it's okay if I call you Patrick and not Danilo."

"Sure."

"I think it's time for me to step down and give the case to Judge Trussel. Some motions will soon be due, and rulings will have to be issued. I've done all I can do to help you."

"Are you taking some heat?"

"A little, but nothing that worries me. I don't want to hurt you, and I'm afraid if I keep your case much longer, people might resent it. Everybody knows we're friends. Hell, you even picked me as one of your pallbearers."

"Did I ever thank you for serving?"

"No. You were dead at the time, so don't mention it. It was fun."

"Yeah, I know."

"Anyway, I've talked to Trussel, and he's ready to take the case. I've also told him about your heinous injuries, and how important it is for you to stay here for as long as possible. He understands."

"Thanks."

"But you have to be realistic. At some point, you're gonna be put in jail. And you might be there for a long time."

"Do you think I killed that boy, Karl?"

Karl dropped the remains of his sandwich into a bag and drank his iced tea. He was not inclined to lie about this. "It looks suspicious. First, there were human remains in the car, so somebody was killed. Second, the FBI has done an exhaustive computer analysis of all persons who became missing on or shortly before February 9, 1992. Pepper is the only person within three hundred miles who has not been heard from."

"But that's not enough to convict me."

"Your question was not about getting a conviction."

"Fine. Do you think I killed him?"

"I don't know what to think, Patrick. I've been a judge for twelve years, and I've seen people stand before me and confess to crimes that they still couldn't believe they committed. Under the right circumstances, a man can do just about anything."

"So you believe it?"

"I don't want to. I'm not sure what I believe."

"You think I could kill someone?"

"No. But I didn't think you could fake your death and swipe ninety million bucks either. Your recent history is full of surprises."

Another long pause. Karl glanced at his watch. Patrick left him on the bench and walked slowly around the courtyard.

LUNCH in the Camille Suite was an array of bland sandwiches served on plastic trays, and it was interrupted by a return call from the federal Judge who had been assigned Patrick's case four years earlier. The Judge was in the middle of a trial in Jackson, and had only a minute. Mast described the cast of players assembled in the suite, and the Judge consented to being placed on a speakerphone. Mast then gave a hurried summary of the proposed agreement. The Judge wanted to hear Sandy's version next, and he delivered it. Sprawling was asked a few questions, and the short phone conference became a lengthy one. At one point, Sprawling left the room to chat privately with the Judge. He conveyed the urgent wishes of higher-ups in Washington to cut the deal with Mr. Lanigan so bigger fish could be caught. The Judge also talked privately with T.L. Parrish, who gave the same assurances that Lanigan was not walking away, that he would indeed face the more serious charges, and in all likelihood, though no guarantees were given, spend many years in jail.

The Judge was reluctant to act in such a hurry, but with pressure from those so intimately involved with the case, and given the stature of those present in Biloxi, he relented and agreed to sign the order dismissing all federal charges against Patrick. The order was promptly faxed to him, and he promptly signed it and faxed it back.

As they finished lunch, Sandy left them briefly for a quick drive to the hospital. Patrick was in his room, writing a letter to his mother, when Sandy burst in. "We did it!" He threw the agreement on Patrick's worktable.

"We got everything we wanted," he said.

"Full dismissal?"

"Yep. The Judge just signed it."

"How much money?"

"Ninety, plus three percent."

Patrick closed his eyes and clenched his fists. The fortune had just taken a major hit, but there was plenty left; enough for him and Eva to one day settle down somewhere safe and have a house full of kids. A large house. And many kids.

They scanned the agreement. Patrick signed it, then Saridy raced back to the hotel.

THE CROWD had thinned by 2 P.M., when the second meeting got started. Sandy welcomed Talbot Mims and his client, a senior VP for Northern Case Mutual named Shenault, who brought with him two in-house lawyers whose names Sandy missed. For good measure, Mims also brought one of his partners and an associate, both nameless too. Sandy collected their business cards and escorted them into the same parlor where the first meeting had taken place. The court reporters took their positions.

Jaynes and Sprawling were next door in the den, on the phone to Washington. They had sent the rest of their entourage down to the casino for an hour of leisure, no alcohol.

The squad from Monarch-Sierra was much smaller, just Hal Ladd, one of his associates, and the chief in-house lawyer for the company, a dapper little man named Cohen. Stiff introductions were made around the room, and they all settled in to listen to Sandy. He had packets for them, thin folders which he distributed and asked them to flip through. Each contained a copy of the lawsuit filed by Patrick against the FBI for his injuries, and each had a set of color pictures of the burns. The insurance boys had been prepped by their lawyers, so none of this was a surprise.

Sandy summarized what he had alleged yesterday- that the injuries to his client had not been inflicted by the FBI because the FBI didn't find Patrick. Stephano did. And Stephano was working for three clients:

Benny Aricia, Northern Case Mutual, and Monarch-Sierra. All three had serious exposure in a civil liability suit to be filed by Patrick.

"How do you plan to prove this Stephano business?" asked Talbot Mims.

"Just a second," Sandy said. He opened the door that led to the den and asked Jaynes if he had a minute. Jaynes entered the room, and identified himself to the group. With great pleasure he described in detail the things Stephano had told them about the search for Patrick; the financing of the consortium, the rewards, the tips, the hunt in Brazil, the plastic surgeon, the boys from Pluto, the capture, and the torture. Everything. And all done with money provided by Aricia, Monarch-Sierra, and Northern Case Mutual. And all done solely for their benefit.

It was a dazzling performance, one Jaynes himself enjoyed immensely.

"Any questions for Mr. Jaynes?" Sandy asked happily as the narrative came to a close.

There were none. In the past eighteen hours, neither Shenault of Northern Case Mutual nor Cohen of Monarch-Sierra had been able to determine who in their companies had authorized the hiring of Jack Stephano. It was unlikely they would ever know, now that tracks were being erased.

Both companies were large and rich, with lots of shareholders and big ad budgets used to protect their good corporate names. Neither wanted this headache.

"Thank you, Mr. Jaynes," Sandy said.

"I'm next door if you need me," Jaynes said, as if he would like nothing better than to return and do some more coffin-nailing.

His presence was baffling and ominous. Why was the Deputy Director of the FBI in Biloxi, and why did he seem so eager to place blame on them?

"Here's the deal," Sandy said when the door was shut. "It's simple, quick, non-negotiable. First, Mr. Shenault, as to Northern Case Mutual, your client's last assault in this little war is an effort to recoup its two and a half million paid to Trudy Lanigan. We prefer that you simply go back home. Dismiss the lawsuit, forget about Trudy, let her live in peace. She has a child to raise, and, besides, most of the money has been spent anyway. Dismiss, and my client will not pursue his claim for personal injuries against your company."

"Is that all?" Talbot Mims asked in disbelief.

"Yes. That's it."

"Done."

"We'd like a moment to consult," Shenault said, still hard-faced.

"No we don't," Mims said to his client. "It's a great deal. It's on the table. We take it. Just like that."

Shenault said, "I'd like to analyze-"

"No," Mims said, bristling at Shenault. "We take the deal. Now, if you want someone else to represent you, fine. But as long as I'm your lawyer, we're taking the deal, right now."

Shenault went speechless.

"We'll take it," Mims said.

"Mr. Shenault?" Sandy said.

"Uh, sure. I guess we'll agree to it."

"Great. I have a proposed settlement agreement waiting on you in the room next door. Now, if you gentlemen will leave us for a few minutes, I need to talk with Mr. Ladd and his client in private."

Minis led his crew out. Sandy locked the door behind them and turned to address Mr. Cohen, Hal Ladd, and his associate. "Your deal is a bit different from theirs, I'm afraid. They get off lightly because there is a divorce. It's messy and complicated, and my client can use his claim against Northern Case Mutual to his advantage in the divorce proceedings. You, unfortunately, are not in the same position. They put up a half a million for Stephano, you put up twice that much. You have more liability, more exposure, and, as we all know, a helluva lot more cash than Northern Case Mutual."

"How much do you have in mind?" Cohen asked.

"Nothing for Patrick. He's very concerned, however, about the child. She's six, and her mother burns money. That's one reason Northern Case Mutual collapsed so quickly-it'll be very difficult to collect from Mrs. Lanigan. Patrick would like a modest amount to go into a trust fund for the child, money out of the mother's reach."

"How much?"

"A quarter of a million. Plus the same amount to cover his legal fees. Total of a half a million, paid very quietly so your client won't be embarrassed by those pictures."

The Coast had a history of generous verdicts in personal injury and wrongful death cases. Hal Ladd had advised Cohen that he could see a multi-million-dollar verdict against Aricia and the insurance companies for what was done to Patrick. Cohen, from California, certainly understood this. The company was quite anxious to settle and leave town.

"All litigation is dismissed," Cohen said. "And we pay a half a million?"

"That's it."

"We'll do it."

Sandy reached into a file and removed some papers. "I have a proposed settlement agreement, which I'll leave with you." He handed copies to them, and left them.



Tags: John Grisham Thriller
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