The Partner - Page 40

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PATRICK SAT at the end of the table. His space was clear, unlike his attorney to the right, who had two files and a short stack of legal pads arranged like weapons poised for battle. To his left sat T.L. Parrish, with only one legal pad but also armed with a bulky tape recorder, which Patrick had allowed him to set up. No associates or flunkies to complicate things, but since all good lawyers need verifiers, they agreed to the taping.

Now that the federal charges had disintegrated, the pressure was on the state to extract justice from Patrick. Parrish felt it. The feds had dumped this defendant on him so they could chase a Senator; off to bigger things. But this defendant had new twists to add to the story, and Parrish was at his mercy.

"You can forget capital murder, Terry," Patrick said. Though nearly everyone called him Terry, it grated a bit coming from a defendant he'd barely known years before in a prior life. "I didn't kill anyone."

"Who burned in the car?"

"A person who had been dead for four days."

"Anybody we know?"

"No. It was an old person nobody knew."

"How did this old person die?"

"Old age."

"Where did this old person die of old age?"

"Here, in Mississippi."

Parrish drew lines and made squares on his pad. The door had opened when the feds collapsed. Patrick was walking through it; no shackles, no handcuffs, nothing, it seemed, could stop him.

"So you burned a corpse?"

"That's correct."

"Don't we have a statute on that?"

Sandy slid a sheet of paper across the table. Parrish read it quickly and said, "Forgive me. It's not something we prosecute every day."

"It's all you have, Terry," Patrick said, with all the cool confidence of someone who'd planned this meeting for years.

T.L. was convinced, but no prosecutor folded this easily. "Looks like a year in jail," he said. "A year in Parchman should do you good."

"Sure, except that I'm not going to Parchman."

"Where do you plan to go?"

"Somewhere. And I'll get there with a first-class ticket."

"Not so fast. We have this body."

"No, Terry. You don't have a body. You have no clue who got cremated, and I'm not telling until we cut the deal."

"The deal being?"

"Drop the charges. Give it up. Both sides pack up and go home."

"Oh, that'll look nice. We catch the bank robber, he gives the money back, we drop the charges, and wave good-bye to him. That'll send the right message to the other four hundred defendants I have under indictment. I'm sure their lawyers will understand. A real shot in the arm for law and order."

"I don't care about the other four hundred, and they certainly don't care about me. This is the criminal process, Terry. It's every man for himself."

"But not everybody is on the front page."

"Oh, I see. You're worried about the press.,When is reelection. Next year?"

"I'm unopposed. I'm not too worried about the press."

"Of course you are. You're a public official. It's your job to be worried about the press, which is precisely the reason why you should dismiss the charges against me. You can't win. You're worried about the front page? Imagine your picture there after you lose."

"The family of the victim does not wish to press charges," Sandy said. "And the family is willing to go public." He lifted a piece of paper and waved it. The message was delivered: we have the proof, we have the family, we know who they are and you don't.

"That'll look good on the front page," Patrick said. "The family begging you not to prosecute."

How much did you pay them, he started to ask, then let it go. It was not relevant. More doodling on the legal pad. More appraising his sinking options as the tape recorder captured the silence.

With his opponent on the ropes, Patrick moved in for the knockout. "Look, Terry," he said sincerely. "You can't prosecute me for murder. That's gone. You can't prosecute me for mutilating a corpse, because you don't know who got mutilated. You have nothing. I know it's a bitter pill to swallow, but you can't change the facts. You'll take some heat, but, hell, that's part of your job."

"Gee thanks. Look, I can indict you for mutilating the corpse. We'll call him John Doe."

"Why not Jane Doe?" Sandy asked.

"Whatever. And we'll pull the records of every old codger who died in early February of 1992. We'll go to the families, see if they've talked to you. We might even get a court order, dig up a few graves. We'll take our time. Meanwhile, you'll get transferred to the Harrison County Jail, where I'm sure Sheriff Sweeney will see the need to give you a few good cellmates. We'll oppose bail, and no judge will grant it because of your propensity to flee. Months will go by. Summer will come. The jail has no air conditioning. You'll lose some more weight. We'll keep digging, and with a little luck we'll find the empty grave. And in exactly nine months, two hundred and seventy days after the indictment, we'll go to trial."

"How are you going to prove I did it? There are no witnesses, nothing but some circumstantial evidence."

"It'll be close. But you miss my point. If I drag my feet getting the indictment, I could add two months to your sentence. That's almost a year you'll spend in the county jail before trial. That's a long time for a man with plenty of money."

"I can handle it," Patrick said, staring into Parrish's eyes, hoping he didn't blink first.

"Maybe, but you can't run the risk of getting convicted."

"What's your bottom line?" Sandy asked.

"You gotta look at the big picture," Parrish said, spreading his hands wide above his head. "You can't make fools out of us, Patrick. The feds have hit the back door. The state doesn't have much left. Give us a notch for our belts, something."

"I'll give you a conviction. I'll walk into a courtroom, face the Judge, listen to your routine, and I'll plead guilty to the felony charge of mutilating the corpse. But I get no jail time. You can explain to the Judge that the family does not want to prosecute. You can recommend a suspended sentence, probation, fines, restitution, credit for time served. You can talk about the torture and what I've been through. You can do all that, Parrish, and you'll look very good. Bottom line is this: no jail."

Parrish tapped his fingers and analyzed it. "And you'll reveal the name of the victim?"

"I will, but only after we have a deal."

"We have authorization from the family to open the casket," Sandy said, waving another document briefly before returning it to the file.

"I'm in a hurry, Terry. I have places to go."

"I need to speak with Trussel. He'll have to approve this, you know."

"He will," Patrick said.

"Do we have a deal?" Sandy asked.

"As far as I'm concerned we do," Parrish said, then turned off the recorder. He gathered his weapons and stuffed them into his briefcase. Patrick winked at Sandy.

"Oh, by the way," Parrish said as he stood. "I almost forgot. What can you tell us about Pepper Scarboro?"

"I can give you his new name and Social Security number."

"So he's still with us?"

"Yes. You can track him down, but you can't disturb him. He's done nothing wrong."

The D.A. left the room without another word.

HER TWO O'CLOCK APPOINTMENT was with a senior vice president of DeutscheBank, London branch. He was a German with perfect English, an impeccably tailored navy double-breasted suit, rigid manners, and a fixed smile. He gazed for one split second at her legs, then got down to business. The wire from his bank, Zurich branch, would be for one hundred and thirteen million dollars, sent immediately to the AmericaBank, Washington branch. She had the account numbers and routing instructions. Tea and biscuits were brought in as he excused himself to have a private chat with Zurich.

"No problem, Ms. Pires," he said, smiling warmly now as he returned and took a biscuit for himself. She certainly hadn't expected any problems.

His computer hissed with quiet efficiency, and a printout emerged. He handed it to her. After the wire, the balance in DeutscheBank would be one point nine million dollars and change. She folded it and put it in her purse, a sleek new Chanel.

Another Swiss account had a balance of three million. A Canadian bank on Grand Cayman held six point five million. A money manager in Bermuda was investing over four million for them, and seven point two million was currently parked in Luxembourg, but was about to be moved.

When her business was complete, she left the bank and found her car and driver parked nearby. She would call Sandy, and pass along her next movements.

BENNY'S STINT as a federal fugitive was brief. His girlfriend spent the night in Frankfurt, then flew to London, landing at Heathrow around noon. Since they knew she was coming, the customs officer double-checked her passport and made her wait. She wore dark sunglasses and her hands shook. It was all captured on video.

At the cab stand, she was unknowingly detained by a policeman who appeared to be in charge of whistling for taxis. He asked her to stand over there, next to those other two ladies, while he worked the traffic. Her driver was a true cabbie, but only seconds earlier had been briefed and given a small radio.

"Athenaeum Hotel on Piccadilly," she said. He eased away from the terminal in heavy traffic, and nonchalantly gave the destination on the radio.

He took his time. An hour and a half later, he deposited her at the door of the hotel. She waited again at the registration desk. The assistant manager apologized for the delay, but the computer was down.

Then word came that the phone in her room was adequately tapped, they gave her a key and a bellman took her away. She tipped him lightly, locked and chained her door, and went straight for the phone.

The first words they heard her say were, "Benny, it's me. I'm here."

"Thank God," said Benny. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine. Just scared."

"Did anyone follow you?"

"No. I don't think so. I was very careful."

"Great. Look, there's a little coffee bar on Brick Street near Down, two blocks from your hotel. Meet me there in an hour."

"Okay. I'm scared, Benny."

"Everything's fine, dear. I can't wait to see you."

Benny wasn't at the coffee bar when she arrived. She waited for an hour before panicking and running back to her hotel. He didn't call, and she didn't sleep.

The next morning, she gathered up the morning papers in the lobby and read them over coffee in the dining room. Deep in the Daily Mail she finally found a two-paragraph blip about the capture of an American fugitive, one Benjamin Aricia.

She packed her bags and booked a flight to Sweden.

Tags: John Grisham Thriller