The Partner - Page 8

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TO SAY it was Patrick's day in the papers would be an understatement. The Coast morning daily ran nothing on the front page but Patrick.

LANIGAN BACK FROM THE DEAD shouted the headline in thick block letters. Four stories with no less than six photos covered the front page and continued inside. He also played well on the front page in New Orleans, his hometown, as well as in Jackson and Mobile. Memphis, Birmingham, Baton Rouge, and Atlanta also ran photos of the old Patrick with small front-page stories.

Throughout the morning, two television vans kept a vigil outside his mother's home in Gretna, a New Orleans suburb. She had nothing to say, and was protected by two vigorous ladies from down the street who took turns walking to the front door and glaring at the vultures.

The press also congregated near the front of Trudy's home on Point Clear, but were kept at bay by Lance, who sat under a shade tree with a shotgun. He wore a tight black tee shirt, black boots and trousers, and looked very much the part of a successful mercenary. They yelled banal questions at him. He only scowled. Trudy hid inside with Ashley Nicole, the six-year-old, who'd been kept home from school.

They flocked to the law office downtown and waited on the sidewalk. They were denied entrance by two beefy security guards who'd been hurriedly pressed into action.

They loitered around the Sheriffs office, and Cutter's office, and anywhere else they might pick up a scent. Someone got a tip, and they gathered at the Circuit Clerk's office just in time to see Vitrano, in his finest gray suit, hand the clerk a document which he described as a lawsuit the firm was filing against Patrick S. Lanigan. The firm wanted its money back, plain and simple, and Vitrano was perfectly willing to discuss this with the press for as long as he could hold an audience.

It would prove to be a litigious morning. Trudy's lawyer leaked the earth-shattering news that at 10 A.M. he would stride over to the clerk's office in Mobile and file a petition for divorce. He performed this task admirably. Though he'd filed a thousand divorces, this was the first time he'd done it in front of a TV news crew. He reluctantly agreed to be interviewed, at length. The grounds were abandonment, and the petition alleged all sorts of heinous sins. He posed for some pictures in the hallway outside the clerk's office.

Word spread quickly about yesterday's lawsuit, the one in which Northern Case Mutual sued Trudy Lanigan for the return of the two-point-five million. The court file was ransacked for details. The attorneys involved were contacted. A leak here, a casual word there, and before long a dozen reporters knew Trudy couldn't write a check for groceries without court approval.

Monarch-Sierra Insurance wanted its four million dollars back, plus interest and attorneys' fees, of course. Its Biloxi lawyers hurriedly threw together a suit against the law firm for receiving the policy limit and against poor Patrick for defrauding everyone. As was becoming customary, the press got tipped off, and copies of the lawsuit were in hand only minutes after its filing.

Not surprisingly, Benny Aricia wanted his ninety million from Patrick. His new lawyer, a flamboyant mouthpiece, had a different approach in dealing with the media. He called a press conference for 10 A.M., and invited everyone into his spacious conference room to discuss every insignificant aspect of his client's claim before he filed suit. Then he invited his new pals in the press corps to stroll with him down the sidewalk as he went to file it. He talked every step of the way.

The capture of Patrick Lanigan did more to create legal work on the Coast than any single event in recent history.

WITH THE Harrison County Courthouse bustling to a near frenzy, seventeen members of the grand jury quietly entered an unmarked room on the second floor. They had received urgent phone calls during the night from the District Attorney himself, T.L. Parrish. They knew the nature of this meeting. They got coffee and took their designated seats around the long table. They were anxious, even excited to be in the middle of the storm.

Parrish said hello, apologized for the emergency session, then welcomed Sheriff Sweeney and his chief investigator, Ted Grimshaw, and Special Agent Joshua Cutter. "Seems we suddenly have a fresh murder on our hands," he said, unfolding a copy of the morning paper. "I'm sure most of you have seen this." Everyone nodded.

Pacing slowly along one wall with a legal pad in hand, Parrish recited the particulars: background on Patrick; his firm's representation of Benny Aricia; Patrick's death, faked now, of course; his burial; most of the details they'd read in the morning paper Parrish had just laid on the table.

He passed around photos of Patrick's burned-out Blazer at the site; photos of the site the next morning without the Blazer; photos of the charred brush, soil, the burned weeds and trunk of a tree. And, quite dramatically and with a warning, Parrish passed around color eight by tens of the remains of the only person in the Blazer.

"We, of course, thought it was Patrick Lanigan," he said with a smile. "We now know we were wrong."

There was nothing about the blackened hulk to suggest it was human remains. No distinguishable body parts, except for a protruding pale bone which Parrish gravely explained came from the pelvis. "A human pelvis," he added, just in case his grand jurors got confused and thought that perhaps Patrick had murdered a hog or some other beast.

The grand jurors took it well, mainly because there was little to see. No blood, tissue, or gore. Nothing to get sick over. He, or she, or whatever it was, had come to rest in the right front passenger seat, which had been burned to the frame, like everything else.

"Of course it was a gasoline fire," Parrish explained. "We know that Patrick had filled his tank eight miles up the road, so twenty gallons exploded. Our investigator did, however, make a note that the fire seemed unusually hot and intense."

"Did you find the remains of any containers in the vehicle?" asked one grand juror.

"No. Plastic containers are typically used in fires such as this. Gallon milk jugs and antifreeze containers seem to be the favorite of arsonists. They don't leave a trace. We see it all the time, though rarely in a car fire."

"Are the bodies always this bad?" asked another.

Parrish answered quickly, "No, as a matter of fact they are not. I've never seen a corpse burned this badly, frankly. We would try to exhume it, but, as you probably know, it was cremated."

"Any idea who it is?" asked Ronny Burkes, a dockworker.

"We have one person in mind, but it's only speculation."

There were other questions about this and that, nothing of significance, just little inquiries served up in hopes of taking something from the meeting that the papers had left out. They voted unanimously to indict Patrick on one count of capital murder-murder committed in the perpetration of another crime, to wit, grand larceny. Punishable by death, by lethal injection up at the state penitentiary at Parchman.

In less than twenty-four hours, Patrick managed to get himself indicted for capital murder, sued for divorce, sued for ninety million by Aricia, plus punitive damages, sued for thirty million by his old law firm buddies, plus punitive, and sued for four million by Monarch-Sierra Insurance, plus another ten million in punitive, for good measure.

He watched it all, compliments of CNN.

THE PROSECUTORS, T.L. Parrish and Maurice Mast, once again stood glumly before the cameras and announced, jointly, though the feds had nothing to do with this indictment, that the good people of Harrison County, acting by and through the office of its grand jury, had now moved swiftly to lay charges against Patrick Lanigan, a murderer. They deflected the questions they could not answer, evaded the ones they could, and hinted strongly that more charges would follow.

When the cameras left, the two men met quietly with the Honorable Karl Huskey, one of the three circuit judges for Harrison County, and a close friend of Patrick's, before the funeral. Cases were supposedly assigned at random, but Huskey, as well as the other judges, knew how to manipulate the filing clerk so that he could receive, or not receive, any particular case. Huskey wanted Patrick's case, for now.

WHILE EATING a tomato sandwich in the kitchen, alone, Lance saw something move in the rear yard, near the pool. He grabbed his shotgun, eased from the house, around some shrubs on the patio, and spotted a chubby photographer squatting by the pool house, three bulking cameras dangling from his neck. Lance tiptoed barefoot around the pool house, gun at the ready, and crouched to within two feet of the man's back. He leaned forward, placed the gun near the man's head with the barrel pointed upward, and pulled the trigger.

The photographer lurched forward and fell on his face, screaming frightfully and floundering on top of his cameras. Lance kicked him between the legs, then again as he rolled over and finally got a glimpse of his assailant.

Lance ripped off the three cameras and threw them into the pool. Trudy was on the patio, horrified. Lance yelled at her to call the police.



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