The Partner - Page 6

Listen Audio

JACK STEPHANO was arrested by the FBI in his D.C. office. He spent thirty minutes in jail, then

was rushed to a small courtroom in the federal courthouse where he faced a U.S. Magistrate in a closed hearing. He was informed that he would be released immediately on his own recognizance, that he couldn't leave the area, and that he would be watched by the FBI around the clock. While he was in court, a small army of agents entered his office, seized virtually every file, and sent the employees home.

After being dismissed by the Magistrate, Stephano was driven to the Hoover Building on Pennsylvania Avenue where Hamilton Jaynes was waiting. When the two were alone in Jaynes' office, the Deputy Director offered a lukewarm apology for the arrest. But he had no choice. You can't snatch a federal fugitive, drug him, torture him, and damned near kill him without being charged with something.

The issue was the money. The arrest was the leverage. Stephano swore Patrick had told them nothing.

As they spoke, the doors to Stephano's office were being chained shut and ominous federal bulletins were being taped to the windows. His home phones were being bugged while Mrs. Stephano played bridge.

After the brief and fruitless meeting with Jaynes, he was dropped off near the Supreme Court. Since he'd been ordered to stay away from his office, he flagged a cab and told the driver to go to the Hay-Adams Hotel, corner of H and Sixteenth. He sat in traffic, calmly reading a newspaper, occasionally rubbing the tracking device they'd sewn in the hem of his jacket when they booked him. It was called a tracing cone, a tiny but powerful transmitter used to monitor movements of people, packages, even automobiles. He'd frisked himself while chatting with Jaynes, and had been tempted to rip out the cone and toss it on his desk.

He was an expert at surveillance. He stuffed his jacket under the seat of the cab, and walked quickly into the Hay-Adams Hotel, across from Lafayette Park. There were no rooms, he was told. He asked to see the manager, a former client, and within minutes Mr. Stephano was escorted to a suite on the fourth floor, with a splendid view of the White House. He stripped to his socks and shorts and carefully placed each item of clothing on the bed where he examined and even caressed every inch of fabric. He ordered lunch. He called his wife, but there was no answer.

Then he called Benny Aricia, his client, the man whose ninety million got diverted just minutes after it had arrived at the bank in Nassau. Aricia's take was to have been sixty million, with thirty going to his lawyers, Bogan and Vitrano and the rest of those filthy crooks in Biloxi. But it had vanished, just before it reached Benny.

He was at the Willard Hotel, also near the White House, hiding and waiting to hear from Stephano.

They met an hour later at the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown, in a suite Aricia had just reserved for a week.

Benny was almost sixty, but looked ten years younger. He was lean and bronze, with the perpetual tan of an affluent South Florida retiree who played golf every day. He lived in a condo on a canal with a Swedish woman who was young enough to be his daughter.

When the money was stolen, the law firm owned an insurance policy covering fraud and theft by its partners and employees. Embezzlement is common in law firms. The policy, sold by Monarch-Sierra Insurance Company, had a limit of four million dollars, payable to the firm. Aricia sued the law firm with a vengeance. His lawsuit demanded sixty million; all that he was entitled to.

Because there was little else to collect, and because the firm was about to run to bankruptcy court, Benny had settled for the four million paid by Monarch-Sierra. He'd spent almost half of that searching for Patrick. The fancy condo in Boca had cost a half a million. Other expenditures here and there, and Benny was down to his last million.

He stood in the window and sipped decaffeinated coffee. "Am I going to be arrested?" he asked.

"Probably not. But I'd keep low anyway."

Benny placed his coffee on the table and sat across from Stephano. "Have you talked to the insurance companies?" he asked.

"Not yet. I'll call later. You guys are safe."

Northern Case Mutual, the life insurance company which had made Trudy rich, had secretly set aside half a million for the search. Monarch-Sierra had put up a million. In all, Stephano's little consortium had pledged and spent over three million dollars in the hunt for Patrick.

"Any luck with the girl?" Aricia asked.

"Not yet. Our people are in Rio. They found her father, but he wouldn't talk. Same at her law firm. She's out of town on business, they say."

Aricia folded his hands and calmly said, "Now tell me, what exactly did he say?"

"I haven't heard the tape yet. It was supposed to be delivered to my office this afternoon, but now things are complicated. Plus, it was sent from the jungles of Paraguay."

"I know that."

"According to Guy, he broke after five hours of shock. He said the money was still intact, hidden in various banks, none of which he could name. Guy damned near killed him when he couldn't, or wouldn't, name the banks. By then, Guy figured, correctly, that someone else had control of the money. A few more jolts, and the girl's name came out. Guy's men immediately called Rio, and confirmed her identity. She had already vanished."

"I want to hear that tape."

"It's brutal, Benny. The man's skin is burning and he's screaming for mercy."

Benny couldn't stop the smile. "I know. That's what I want to hear."

THEY PUT PATRICK at the end of a wing on the base hospital. His was the only room with doors which could be locked from the- outside and windows that wouldn't open. The blinds were closed. Two military guards sat outside the hallway, for whatever reason.

Patrick wasn't going anywhere. The voltage had severely bruised the muscles and tissue in his legs and chest. Even his joints and bones were tender. The burns had laid open his flesh in four places, two on his chest, one on his thigh, one on his calf. Four other spots were being treated as second-degree burns.

The pain was intense, and so his doctors, all four of them, had made the simple decision to keep him sedated for the time being. There was no rush to move him. He was a wanted man, but it would take a few days to determine who got him first.

They kept the room dark, the music low, the IV full of delightful narcotics, and poor Patrick snored away the hours dreaming of nothing and oblivious to the storm brewing back home.

IN AUGUST of 1992, five months after the money vanished, a federal grand jury in Biloxi indicted Patrick for the theft. There was sufficient evidence that he had pulled the heist, and there was not the slightest hint that anyone else might be a suspect. It occurred internationally, thus the feds had jurisdiction.

The Harrison County Sheriffs Department and the local District Attorney had started a joint investigation into the murder, but had long since moved on to other, more pressing matters. Suddenly they were back in business.

The noon press conference was delayed while the authorities met in Cutter's office in downtown Biloxi to sort things out. It was a tense meeting, attended by people with competing interests. On one side of the table sat Cutter and the FBI, who took their orders from Maurice Mast, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Mississippi, who had driven in from Jackson. On the other side sat Raymond Sweeney, the Sheriff of Harrison County, and his right-hand man, Grimshaw, both of whom despised the FBI. Their spokesman was T.L. Parrish, the District Attorney for Harrison and surrounding counties.

It was federal versus state, big budgets versus low, with serious egos around the room and everyone wanting most of the Patrick show.

"The death penalty is crucial here," D.A. Parrish said.

"We can use the federal death penalty," U.S. Attorney Mast said, a little timid, if that was possible.

Parrish smiled and cast his eyes down. The federal death penalty had just recently been passed by a Congress with little clue of how to implement it. It certainly sounded good when the President signed it into law, but the kinks were enormous.

The state, on the other hand, had a rich and proven history of legal executions. "Ours is better," Parrish said. "And we all know it." Parrish had sent eight men to death row. Mast had yet to indict one for capital murder.

"And then there is the issue of prison," Parrish continued. "We send him to Parchman, where he's locked down twenty-three hours a day in a steam room with bad food served twice a day, two showers a week, lots of roaches and rapists. If you get him, he gets a country club for the rest of his life while the federal courts pamper him and find a thousand ways to keep him alive."

"It won't be a picnic," Mast said, on the ropes and covering badly.

"A day at the beach maybe. Come on, Maurice. The issue is leverage. We have two big mysteries, two questions that must be answered before Lanigan is put to rest. The big one is money. Where is it? What did he do with it? Can it be recovered and given to its owners? The second is just exactly who is buried out there. I gotta hunch that only Lanigan can tell us, and he won't unless he's forced to. He's gotta be scared, Maurice. Parchman is terrifying. I promise you, he's praying for a federal indictment."

Mast was convinced but he couldn't agree. The case was simply too big to hand over to the locals. Cameras were arriving at the moment.

"There are other charges, you know," he said. "The theft happened offshore, a long way from here."

"Yeah, but the victim was a resident of this county at the time," Parrish said.

"It's not a simple case."

"What are you proposing?"

"Perhaps we should do it jointly," Mast said, and the ice melted considerably. The feds could preempt at any time, and the fact that the U.S. Attorney was offering to share was the best Parrish could hope for.

Parchman was the key, and everyone in the room knew it. Lanigan the lawyer had to know what awaited him there, and the prospect of ten years in hell prior to death could loosen his tongue.

A plan was devised to divide the pie, with both men, Parrish and Mast, tacitly agreeing to share the spotlight. The FBI would continue its search for the money. The locals would concentrate on the murder. Parrish would hastily summon his grand jury. A united front would be presented to the public. Such sticky matters as the trial and its subsequent appeals were glossed over with a hasty promise to address them later. It was important now to reach a truce so that one side wouldn't be worrying about the other.

Because a trial was in progress in the federal building, the press was herded directly across the street into the Biloxi courthouse, where the main courtroom on the second floor was available. There were dozens of reporters. Most were wild-eyed locals, but others were from Jackson, New Orleans, and Mobile. They pressed forward and bunched together like children at a parade.

Mast and Parrish walked grim-faced to a podium laden with microphones and wires. Cutter and the rest of the cops made a wall behind them. Lights came on and cameras flashed.

Mast cleared his throat and said, "We are pleased to announce the capture of Mr. Patrick S. Lanigan, formerly of Biloxi. He is indeed alive and well, and now in our custody." He paused for dramatic effect, savoring his moment in the sun, listening as a ripple of excitement played through the throng of vultures. He then gave a few details of the capture-Brazil, two days ago, assumed identity-without giving the slightest hint that neither he nor the FBI had had anything to do with the actual locating of Patrick. Next, some useless details about the arrival of the prisoner, the pending charges, the swift and sure hand of federal justice.

Parrish was not as dramatic. He promised a quick indictment for capital murder, and for any other charge he might think of.

The questions came in torrents. Mast and Parrish declined comment on just about everything, and managed to do so for an hour and a half.

SHE INSISTED that Lance be allowed to sit through the appointment with her. She needed him, she said. He was quite cute in his tight denim shorts. His muscular legs were hairy and brown. The lawyer was scornful, but then, he'd seen everything.

Trudy was dressed to the nines-tight short skirt, tasteful red blouse, full complement of makeup and jewelry. She crossed her shapely legs to get the lawyer's attention. She patted Lance on the arm as he massaged her knee.

The lawyer ignored her legs as he ignored their groping.

She had to file for divorce, she declared, though she had already given the short version on the phone. She was mad and bitter. How could he do this to her? And to Ashley Nicole, their precious daughter? She had loved him dearly. Their lives together had been good. Now this.

"The divorce is no problem," the lawyer said, more than once. His name was J. Murray Riddleton, an accomplished divorce practitioner with many clients. "It's an easy case of abandonment. Under Alabama law, you'll get the divorce, full custody, all assets, everything."

"I want to file as fast as possible," she said, looking at the Ego Wall behind the lawyer.

"I'll do it first thing in the morning."

"How long will it take?"

"Ninety days. Piece of cake."

This did nothing to relieve her anxiety. "I just don't see how a person could do this to someone he loved. I feel like a fool." Lance's hand moved slightly upward, still massaging.

The divorce was the least of her worries. The lawyer knew it. She could try to fake a broken heart, but it wasn't working.

"How much did you get in life insurance?" he asked, flipping through the file.

She looked absolutely shocked at the mention of her life insurance. "Why is that relevant?" she snapped.

"Because they're gonna sue you to get it back. He isn't dead, Trudy. No death, no life insurance."

"You must be kidding."


"They can't do that. Can they? Surely not."

"Oh yes. In fact, they'll do it quickly."

Lance withdrew his hand and slumped in his chair. Trudy's mouth opened and her eyes watered. "They just can't."

He took a fresh legal pad and uncapped his pen. "Let's make a list," he said.

She paid a hundred and thirty thousand dollars for the Rolls, and still owned it. Lance drove a Porsche, which she'd bought for eighty-five thousand. The house had been purchased for nine hundred thousand, cash, no mortgage, and it was in Lance's name. Sixty thousand for his dope boat. A hundred thousand for her jewelry. They figured and pondered and pulled numbers from the air. The list stopped at about a million and a half. The lawyer didn't have the heart to tell them that these precious assets would be the first to go.

Like pulling teeth without Novocain, he made Trudy estimate their monthly living expenses. She reckoned it was around ten grand a month, for the past four years. They had taken some fabulous trips, money spilled down the drain that no life insurance company could ever recover.

She was unemployed, or retired, as she preferred to call it. Lance was not about to mention his narcotics business. Nor did they dare reveal, even to their own lawyer, that they had hidden three hundred thousand in a bank in Florida.

"When do you think they'll sue?" she asked.

"Before the week is out," said the lawyer.

IT WAS, in fact, much faster. In the middle of the press conference, when the news of Patrick's resurrection was being made, attorneys for Northern Case Mutual quietly entered the clerk's office downstairs and sued. Trudy Lanigan for the full two and a half million dollars, plus interest and attorneys' fees. The lawsuit also included a petition for a temporary restraining order to prevent Trudy from moving assets now that she was no longer a widow.

The attorneys carried their petition down the hall to the chambers of an accommodating judge, one they had spoken to hours earlier, an emergency and perfectly proper closed hearing, the judge granted the restraining order. As an established member of the legal community, the judge was very familiar with the saga of Patrick Lanigan. His wife had been snubbed by Trudy shortly after she took delivery of the red Rolls.

As Trudy and Lance pawed each other and schemed with their lawyer, a copy of the restraining order was driven to Mobile and enrolled with the county clerk. Two hours later, as they sipped their first drink on their patio and gazed forlornly across Mobile Bay, a process server intruded long enough to hand Trudy a copy of the lawsuit filed by Northern Case Mutual, a summons to appear in court in Biloxi, and a certified copy of the restraining order. Among its list of prohibitions was an order for her not to write another check until the judge said so.

Tags: John Grisham Thriller