The Partner - Page 38

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BY 10 A.M. in London, the wiring instructions for the return of the loot had not yet arrived. Eva left her hotel and took a long walk along Piccadilly. With no particular destination and no schedule, she drifted with the crowd, gazed at the store windows, and enjoyed life on the sidewalk. Three days in solitary had sharpened her appreciation for the sounds and voices of people hurrying about. Lunch was a warm goat cheese salad in the corner of a crowded ancient pub. She absorbed the light, happy voices of people who had no clue as to who she was. And they didn't care.

Patrick had told her his first year in Sao Paulo was often exhilarating because not a single person knew his name. Sitting in the pub, she felt more like Leah Pires than Eva Miranda.

She began shopping on Bond Street, first for the necessities-undergarments and perfume-but before long it was Armani and Versace and Chanel, with little regard for price. She was a very wealthy woman at the moment.

IT WOULD have been simpler, and certainly less dramatic, to wait until nine and arrest them at the office. But then their work habits were erratic, and one, Rapley, seldom left home.

A predawn raid was chosen. So what if it scared them and humiliated them in front of their families. So what if the neighbors were drawn to the commotion. Catch 'em while they're sleeping or in the shower, that would be the best tactic.

Charles Bogan answered the door in his pajamas, and began crying quietly when a U.S. Marshal, a man he knew, produced handcuffs. Bogan had lost his family, so at least he was spared some of the shame.

Doug Vitrano's wife answered the door and was immediately hostile. She slammed it in the faces of two young FBI agents, who waited patiently as she ran upstairs to get her husband out of the shower. Thankfully, the kids were asleep when they put Doug in the back of the car, handcuffed like a common criminal, and left her on the front steps in her nightgown, cursing them and crying at the same time.

As usual, Jimmy Havarac had gone to bed blind drunk and the doorbell proved inadequate. They called him from a cell phone as they sat in his driveway, and he was eventually aroused and arrested.

Ethan Rapley was in the attic when the sun rose, working on a brief, oblivious to day or time. He heard nothing below. His wife was awakened by the knocking on the door, and she climbed the steps to deliver the bad news. First, though, she hid his gun. He kept it in a drawer in his dresser. He looked for it twice as he searched for the right pair of socks. But he wouldn't ask her for it. He was afraid she would tell him where it was.

The lawyer who founded the Bogan firm had been promoted to the federal bench thirteen years earlier. He had been nominated by Senator Nye, and once he left the firm Charles took over. The firm had strong connections with all five sitting federal judges, and so it was no surprise that the phones were ringing even before the partners were reunited at the jail. At eight-thirty, they were transported in separate cars to the federal courthouse in Biloxi for a hastily arranged appearance before the nearest federal Magistrate.

Cutter was irritated by the speed and ease with which Bogan pulled strings. While he didn't expect the four to stay in jail pending their trials, neither could he accept the sudden hearing before a Magistrate barely out of bed. And so Cutter tipped the local newspaper, and then he tipped the TV station.

The paperwork was prepared and signed quickly, and the four left the courthouse, on foot, unshackled, free to walk the three blocks to their offices. They were followed by a large, clumsy boy fumbling with a minicam and a young, green reporter who wasn't sure what the story was, but had been told it was huge. No comments from the stern faces. They made it to their office building on Vieux Marche, and locked the door behind them.

Charles Bogan went straight to the phone to call the Senator.

THE PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR, the one recommended by Patrick, found the woman in less than two hours, using nothing but the phone. She lived in Meridian, two hours north and east of Biloxi. Her name was Deena Postell, and she ran the deli and worked the second cash register of a brand-new convenience store on the edge of town.

Sandy found the place and walked inside. He pretended to admire a fresh rack of fried chicken breasts and deep-fried potato logs while he surveyed the employees hustling behind the counters. A wide, squatty woman with frosted hair and a loud voice caught his attention. Like all employees, she wore a red-and-white-striped shirt, and when she got close enough, Sandy could see her nameplate. It said Deena.

To build trust, he wore jeans and a navy blazer, no tie.

"Can I help you?" she said with a smile.

It was almost 10 A.M., much too early for a potato log. "A large coffee, please," Sandy said, also with a smile, and there was a twinkle in her eye. Deena enjoyed flirting. She met him at the cash register. Instead of handing over the money, Sandy gave her a business card.

She took one glance at it, then dropped it. For a woman who had raised three juvenile delinquents, a surprise like this only meant trouble. "A dollar-twenty," she said, punching buttons and glancing down the counter to see if anyone was watching.

"I have nothing but good news for you," Sandy said, reaching for the money.

"What do you want?" she said, almost under her breath.

"Ten minutes of your time. I'll wait over there at a table."

"But what do you want?" She took his money, and got the change.

"Please. You'll be happy you gave me the time."

She loved men, and Sandy was a nice-looking guy, much better dressed than most of the traffic she endured. She fiddled with the rotisserie chicken, made some more coffee, then told her supervisor she was taking her break.

Sandy was waiting patiently at a table in the small dining section, next to the beer cooler and the ice machine. "Thanks," he said as she sat down.

She was in her mid-forties, with a round face generously adorned with cheap cosmetics.

"A lawyer from New Orleans, huh?" she said.

"Yeah. I don't suppose you've read or heard about that case down on the Coast where they caught the lawyer who stole all that money?"

She was shaking her head before he finished. "I don't read nothin', honey. I work sixty hours a week here, and I got two grandbabies livin' with me. My husband keeps 'em. He's disabled. Bad back. I don't read nothin', watch nothin', do nothin' but work here and change dirty diapers when I'm home."

Sandy was almost sorry he asked. How depressing!

As efficiently as possible, he told Patrick's story. She found it amusing, but her interest waned toward the end.

"Give 'im the death penalty," she said during a pause.

"He didn't kill anybody."

"Thought you said there was a body in his car."

"There was. But the body was already dead."

"Did he kill it?"

"No. He just sort of stole it."

"Hummm. Look, I gotta get back to work. If you don't mind me askin', what's all this got to do with me?"

"The body he took was Clovis Goodman, your dear departed grandfather."

Her head rolled to the right. "He burned up Clovis!"

Sandy nodded.

Her eyes narrowed as she tried to arrange the proper emotions. "What for?" she asked.

"He had to fake a death, okay?"

"But why Clovis?"

"Patrick was his lawyer and friend."

"Some friend."

"Yeah, look, I'm not trying to make sense of all this. It was done four years ago, long before you and I entered the picture."

She tapped the fingers of one hand and chewed the nails of the other. The guy across from her seemed to be a pretty sharp lawyer, so the onset of drippy feelings about her beloved old gramps probably wouldn't work. This was confusing. Let him do the talking.

"I'm listening," she said.

"It's a felony to mutilate a corpse."

"It should be."

"It's also actionable at civil law. That means the family of Clovis Goodman can sue my client for destroying the corpse."

Ah, yes. Her back stiffened as she took a deep breath, then smiled, then said, "Now I see."

Sandy smiled too. "Yes. That's why I'm here. My client would like to offer a very quiet settlement with Clovis' family."

"What does family mean?"

"Surviving spouse, children, and grandchildren."

"I guess I'm the family."

"What about your brother?"

"Nope. Luther died two years ago. Drugs and al-kyhall."

"Then you're the only person with a right to sue."

"How much?" she blurted out, unable to hold it, then was embarrassed by it.

Sandy leaned a bit closer. "We're prepared to offer twenty-five thousand dollars. Right now. The check's in my pocket."

She was leaning down too, getting lower and closer to his face, when the money hit and stopped her cold. Her eyes watered and her bottom lip quivered. "Oh my God," she said.

Sandy glanced around. "That's right, twenty-five thousand bucks."

She ripped a paper napkin from the holder and in doing so knocked over the salt shaker. She dabbed her eyes, then blew her nose. Sandy was still glancing around, hoping to avoid a spectacle.

"All mine?" she managed to say. Her voice was hoarse and low, her breathing rapid.

"All yours, yes."

She wiped her eyes again, then said, "I need a Coke."

SHE DRANK a 44-ounce Big Gulp without a word. Sandy sipped his bad coffee and watched the foot traffic come and go. He was in no hurry.

"The way I figure it," she finally said, clear-eyed now, "is that if you walk in here and offer twenty-five thousand right off the bat, then you're probably willing to pay more."

"I'm in no position to negotiate."

"If I sue, it might look bad for your client, you know what I mean? The jury will look at me, and think about poor old Clovis getting burned up so your client could steal ninety million dollars."

Sandy sipped and nodded. He had to admire her.

"If I got me a lawyer, I could probably get a lot more money."

"Maybe, but it might take five years. Plus, you have other problems."

"Such as?" she asked.

"You were not close to Clovis."

"Maybe I was."

"Then why didn't you go to his funeral? That might be hard to sell to a jury. Look, Deena, I'm here ready to settle. If you don't want to, then I'll get in my car and go back to New Orleans."

"What's your top dollar?"

"Fifty thousand."

"It's a deal." She stuck forth her beefy right hand, still moist from the Big Gulp, and squeezed his.

Sandy pulled a blank check from his pocket and filled it in. He also produced two documents; one was a short settlement agreement, the other was a letter from Deena to the prosecutor.

The paperwork took less than ten minutes.

FINALLY, there was movement on the canal in Boca. The Swedish lady was seen hurriedly shoving luggage into the trunk of Benny's BMW. She sped away. They tracked her to Miami International, where she waited two hours before boarding a plane to Frankfurt.

They would be waiting in Frankfurt. They would patiently watch her until she made a mistake. Then they would find Mr. Aricia.



Tags: John Grisham Thriller
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