The Partner - Page 4

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IT WAS EITHER the fourth or fifth call from the neighbors that sent Mrs. Stephano over the edge, and it also forced Jack to tell his wife the truth. The three men in dark suits loitering outside the car parked in the street directly in front of their house were FBI agents. He explained why they were there. He told her most of the Patrick story, a serious breach of professional etiquette. Mrs. Stephano never asked questions.

She didn't care what her husband did at the office. She did, however, hold some rather strong feelings about what the neighbors might think. This was, after all, Falls Church, and, well, people would talk.

She went to bed at midnight. Jack napped on the sofa in the den, rising every half-hour to peek through the blinds and see what they were doing out there. He happened to be asleep at 3 A.M. when the doorbell rang.

He answered it in his sweatsuit. Four of them were at the door, one of whom he immediately recognized as Hamilton Jaynes, Deputy Director, FBI. The number-two man at the Bureau, who just happened to live four blocks over and belong to the same golf club, though the two had never met.

He allowed them into his spacious den. Stiff introductions were made. They sat while Mrs. Stephano wandered down in her bathrobe, then scurried back up at the sight of a room full of men in dark suits.

Jaynes did all the talking for the FBI. "We're working nonstop on this Lanigan discovery. Our intelligence informs us that he's in your custody. Can you confirm or deny?"

"No." Stephano was as cool as ice.

"I'm holding a warrant for your arrest."

The ice melted a bit. Stephano glanced at another stone-faced agent. "On what charges?"

"Harboring a federal fugitive. Interference. You name it, we'll include it. What difference does it make? I'm not interested in convicting you. All I want is to haul your ass off to jail, then later we'll get the rest of your firm, then we'll lock up your clients. Take about twenty-four hours to round up everybody. We'll get the indictments later, depending on whether or not we get Lanigan. You get the picture?"

"Yeah. I think so."

"Where's Lanigan?"

"Brazil."

"I want him. And now."

Stephano blinked a couple of times, and things fell into place. Under the circumstances, handing over Lanigan was not a bad move. The feds had ways of making him talk. Faced with life in prison, Patrick just might snap his fingers and make the money appear. There would be enormous pressure from all angles to produce it.

Later, Stephano would again ponder the incredible question of how anyone in the world knew he had captured Lanigan.

"All right, here's the deal," Stephano said. "Give me forty-eight hours, I'll give you Lanigan. And you burn my warrant and drop the threats of future prosecution."

"It's a deal."

There was a moment of silence as both sides savored the victory. Jaynes said, "I need to know where to pick him up."

"Send a plane to Asuncion."

"Paraguay? What happened to Brazil?"

"He has friends in Brazil."

"Whatever." Jaynes whispered to an associate, who then left the house. "Is he in one piece?" he asked Stephano.

"Yeah."

"He'd better be. One bruise on his body, and I'll hound you to hell."

"I need to make a phone call."

Jaynes actually managed a grin. He scanned the walls and said, "It's your house."

"Are my lines tapped?"

"No."

"You swear?"

"I said no."

"Excuse me." Stephano stepped into the kitchen, then to a utility room where he kept a hidden cell phone. He walked onto the rear patio where he stood in the wet grass by a gaslight. He called Guy.

THE SCREAMING had stopped for the moment when the Brazilian guarding the van heard the phone ringing. It rested on its power unit in the front seat of the van, its antenna shooting fifteen feet beyond the roof. He answered it in English, then ran to get an American.

Guy rushed from the cabin and grabbed it.

"Is he talking?" Stephano asked.

"A little. He broke about an hour ago."

"What do you know?"

"The money still exists. He doesn't know where. It's controlled by a woman in Rio, a lawyer."

"Do you have her name?"

"Yes. We're making calls now. Osmar has people in Rio."

"Can you get any more out of him?"

"I don't think so. He's half-dead, Jack."

"Stop whatever you're doing. Is the doctor there?"

"Sure."

"Get the boy treated and spruced up. Drive him toward Asuncion as soon as possible."

"But why-"

"Don't ask questions. There's no time for it. The feds are all over us. Just do as I say, and make sure he's not hurt."

"Not hurt? I've been trying to kill him for five hours."

"Just do as I say. Put him back together. Drug him.

Start toward Asuncion. Call me every hour, on the hour."

"Whatever."

"And find the woman."

Patrick's head was lifted gently and cool water was poured on his lips. The ropes were cut from his wrists and ankles, and they very slowly removed the tape and the wires and the electrodes. He jerked and twitched, moaning words no one could understand. A shot of morphine was pumped into his well-worn veins, then a light depressant, and Patrick floated away again.

At dawn, Osmar was in the airport at Ponta Pora waiting for a flight that would eventually get him to Rio by the end of the day. He had made contact with people in Rio. He had pulled them out of bed with promises of big bucks. They were supposed to be on the streets.

SHE CALLED her father first, just-after sunrise, a time of the day he always enjoyed on his small terrace with his newspaper and his coffee. He lived in a small apartment in Ipanema, three blocks from the shore, not far from his beloved Eva. His apartment building was over thirty years old, making it one of the oldest in the poshest section of Rio. He lived alone.

He knew from her voice something was wrong. She assured him she was safe and would remain so, that a client in Europe suddenly needed her for two weeks, and that she would call every day. She went on to explain that this particular client was perhaps a bit shady and very secretive, and therefore he might send representatives to poke around in her past. Don't be alarmed. It was not unusual in international trade.

He had several questions, but he knew there would be no answers.

The call to her supervising partner was much more difficult. The story she had rehearsed delivered well, but there were huge gaps in it. A new client had called late yesterday, a referral from an American lawyer she went to school with, and she was needed immediately in Hamburg. She was taking an early flight. The client was in telecommunications, with plans for a large expansion in Brazil.

The partner was half-asleep. He asked her to call later with more details.

She called her secretary with the same story, and asked her to postpone all appointments and meetings until she returned.

From Curitiba, she flew to Sao Paulo, where she boarded an Aerolineas Argentinas flight to Buenos Aires, nonstop. For the first time, she used her new passport, one Danilo had helped her acquire a year earlier. She had kept it hidden in the apartment, along with two new credit cards and eight thousand dollars in U.S. cash.

She was Leah Pires now, same age but different birthday. Danilo didn't know these details; he couldn't know.

She certainly felt like someone else.

There were many scenarios. He could've been shot by bandits making a routine heist along a rural road. Happened occasionally along the Frontier. -He could've been grabbed by the shadows from his past, tortured, killed, buried in the jungle. Maybe he talked, and if he did maybe her name got mentioned. She could spend the rest of her life on the run. At least he had warned her of this in the beginning. Maybe he didn't talk, and she could remain Eva.

Perhaps Danilo was still alive somewhere. He had promised her they wouldn't kill him. They might make him beg for death, but they couldn't afford to kill him. If the American authorities found him first, it would be a matter of extradition. He'd picked Latin America because of its historical reluctance to extradite.

If the shadows found him first, they would beat him until he told them where the money was. That's what he feared most-the coercion.

She tried to nap in the Buenos Aires airport, but sleep was impossible. She called his home again in Ponta Pora, then the cell phone and the apartment in Curitiba.

In Buenos Aires, she boarded a flight to New York, where she waited three hours then caught another one to Zurich on SwissAir.

THEY LAID HIM across the rear seat of the Volkswagen van, and wrapped a seat belt around his waist so he wouldn't bounce off. The roads ahead were rough. He was dressed in his running shorts only. The doctor checked the heavy gauze bandages-eight of them in all. He had covered the burns with ointments and shot antibiotics into Patrick's blood. The doctor took the seat in front of his patient, and tucked his little black bag between his feet. Patrick had suffered enough. He would protect him now.

A day or two of rest and more painkillers, and Patrick would be on his way to recovery. The burns would leave small scars, which would probably fade with time.

The doctor turned around and patted him on the shoulder. He was so pleased they hadn't killed him. "He's ready," he said to Guy in the front seat. A Brazilian driver started the van and backed away from the cabin.

They stopped every hour, precisely every sixty minutes, so the antenna could be raised and the cell phone could work around the mountains. Guy called Ste-phano, who was in his D.C. office with Hamilton Jaynes and a top official with the State Department. The Pentagon was being consulted.

What the hell was going on, Guy wanted to ask. Where did the feds come from?

In the first six hours they traveled a hundred miles. At times, the roads were almost impassable. They often fought with the phone trying to get Washington. At two in the afternoon, the roads improved as they left the mountains.

THE EXTRADITION ISSUE was sticky, and Hamilton Jaynes wanted no part of it. Important diplomatic strings were pulled. The Director of the FBI called the President's Chief of Staff. The American Ambassador to Paraguay got involved. Promises and threats were made.

A suspect with cash and resolve can stifle extradition from Paraguay for years, if not forever. This suspect had no money on him, and didn't even know what country he was in.

The Paraguayans reluctantly agreed to ignore extradition.

At four, Stephano instructed Guy to find the airport at Concepcion, a small city three hours by car from Asuncion. The Brazilian driver cursed, in Portuguese, when told to turn around and head north.

IT WAS DUSK when they entered Concepcion, and it was dark when they finally found the airport, a small brick building next to a narrow asphalt strip. Guy called Stephano, who instructed him to leave Patrick in the van, with the keys in the ignition, and walk away from it. Guy, the doctor, the driver, and another American eased away slowly while looking over their shoulders at the van. They found a spot a hundred yards away, under a large tree where they couldn't be seen. An hour passed.

Finally, a King Air with American registration landed and taxied to the small terminal. Two pilots emerged and went inside the terminal. A moment later, they walked to the van, opened the doors, got inside, and drove it to a spot near their airplane.

Patrick was gently removed from the back of the van and loaded onto the turboprop. An Air Force medic was on board, and he immediately took possession of the prisoner. The two pilots returned the van to its original spot in the parking lot. Minutes later, the plane took off.

The King Air refueled in Asuncion, and while it was on the ground there Patrick began to move. He was too weak and sore and groggy to sit up. The medic gave him cold water and crackers.

They refueled again in La Paz and Lima. In Bogota, they transferred him to a small Lear, which flew at twice the speed of the King Air. It refueled on Aruba, off the coast of Venezuela, then flew nonstop to a U.S. Navy base outside San Juan, Puerto Rico. An ambulance took him to the base hospital.

After almost four and a half years, Patrick was back on American soil.



Tags: John Grisham Thriller
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