The Firm - Page 22

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St. Andrew's Episcopal School was located behind the church of the same name on a densely wooded and perfectly manicured five-acre estate in the middle of midtown Memphis. The white and yellow brick was occasionally visible where the ivy had for some reason turned and pursued another course. Symmetrical rows of clipped boxwoods lined the sidewalks and the small playground. It was a one-story L-shaped building sitting quietly in the shadows of a dozen ancient oaks. Cherished for its exclusivity, St. Andrew's was the most expensive private school in Memphis for grades kindergarten through six. Affluent parents signed the waiting list shortly after birth.

Mitch stopped the BMW in the parking lot between the church and the school. Abby's burgundy Peugeot was three spaces down, parked innocently. He was unexpected. The plane had landed an hour earlier, and he had stopped by the house to change into something lawyerly. He would see her, then back to his desk for a few hours at one hundred and fifty per.

He wanted to see her here, at the school, unannounced. A surprise attack. A countermove. He would say hello. He missed her. He couldn't wait to see her, so he stopped by the school. He would be brief, the first touch and feel and words after that incident on the beach. Could she tell just by looking at him? Maybe she could read his eyes. Would she notice a slight strain in his voice? Not if she was surprised. Not if she was flattered by this visit.

He squeezed the steering wheel and stared at her car. What an idiot! A stupid fool! Why didn't he run? Just throw her skirt in the sand and run like hell. But, of course, he didn't. He said what the hell, no one will ever know. So now he was supposed to shrug it off and say what the hell, everybody does it.

On the plane he laid his plans. First, he would wait until late this night and tell her the truth. He would not lie, had no desire to live a lie. He would admit it and tell her exactly what happened. Maybe she would understand. Why, almost any man - hell, virtually every man would have taken the dive. His next move would depend on her reaction. If she was cool and showed a trace of compassion, he would tell her he was sorry, so very sorry, and that it would never happen again. If she fell all to pieces, he would beg, literally beg for forgiveness and swear on the Bible that it was a mistake and would never happen again. He would tell her how much he loved her and worshipped her, and please just give him one more chance. And if she started packing her bags, he would probably at that point realize he should not have told her.

Deny. Deny. Deny. His criminal-law professor at Harvard had been a radical named Moskowitz, who had made a name for himself defending terrorists and assassins and child fondlers. His theory of defense was simply: Deny! Deny! Deny! Never admit one fact or one piece of evidence that would indicate guilt.

He remembered Moskowitz as they landed in Miami, and began working on Plan B, which called for this surprise visit at the school and a late-night romantic dinner at her favorite place. And no mention of anything but hard work in the Caymans. He opened the car door, thought of her beautiful smiling, trusting face and felt nauseous. A thick, dull pain hammered deep in his stomach. He walked slowly in the late autumn breeze to the front door.

The hallway was empty and quiet. To his right was the office of the headmaster. He waited for a moment in the hall, waited to be seen, but no one was there. He walked quietly ahead until, at the third classroom, he heard the wonderful voice of his wife. She was plowing through multiplication tables when he stuck his head in the door and smiled. She froze, then giggled. She excused herself, told them to stay in their seats and read the next page. She closed the door.

"What're you doing here?" she asked as he grabbed her and pinned her to the wall. She glanced nervously up and down the hall.

"I missed you," he said with conviction. He bear-hugged her for a good minute. He kissed her neck and tasted the sweetness of her perfume. And then the girl returned. You piece of scum, why didn't you run?

"When did you get in?" she asked, straightening her hair and glancing down the hall.

"About an hour ago. You look wonderful."

Her eyes were wet. Those wonderfully honest eyes. "How was your trip?"

"Okay. I missed you. It's no fun when you're not around."

Her smile widened and she looked away. "I missed you too."

They held hands and walked toward the front door. "I'd like a date tonight," he said.

"You're not working?"

"No. I'm not working. I'm going out with my wife to her favorite restaurant. We'll eat and drink expensive wine and stay out late, and then get naked when we get home."

"You did miss me." She kissed him again, on the lips, then looked down the hall. "But you better get out of here before someone sees you."

They walked quickly to the front door without being seen.

He breathed deeply in the cool air and walked quickly to his car. He did it. He looked into those eyes, held her and kissed her like always. She suspected nothing. She was touched and even moved.

* * *

DeVasher paced anxiously behind his desk and sucked nervously on a Roi-Tan. He sat in his worn swivel chair and tried to concentrate on a memo, then he jumped to his feet and paced again. He checked his watch. He called his secretary. He called Oliver Lambert's secretary. He paced some more.

Finally, seventeen minutes after he was supposed to arrive, Ollie was cleared through security and walked into DeVasher's office.

DeVasher stood behind his desk and glared at Ollie. "You're late!"

"I'm very busy," Ollie answered as he sat in a worn Naugahyde chair. "What's so important?"

DeVasher's face instantly changed into a sly, evil smile. He dramatically opened a desk drawer and proudly threw a large manila envelope across the desk into Ollie's lap. "Some of the best work we've ever done."

Lambert opened the envelope and gaped at the eight-by-ten black-and-white photographs. He stared at each one, holding them inches from his nose, memorizing each detail. DeVasher watched proudly.

Lambert reviewed them again and began breathing heavily. "These are incredible."

"Yep. We though so."

"Who's the girl?" Ollie asked, still staring.

"A local prostitute. Looks pretty good, doesn't she? We've never used her before, but you can bet we'll use her again."

"I want to meet her, and soon."

"No problem. I kinda figured you would."

"This is incredible. How'd she do it?"

"It looked difficult at first. He told the first girl to get lost. Avery had the other one, but your man wanted no part of her friend. He left and went to that little bar on the beach. That's when our girl there showed up. She's a pro."

"Where were your people?"

"All over the place. Those were shot from behind a palm tree, about eighty feet away. Pretty good, aren't they?"

"Very good. Give the photographer a bonus. How long did they roll in the sand?"

"Long enough. They were very compatible."

"I think he really enjoyed himself."

"We were lucky. The beach was deserted and the timing was perfect."

Lambert raised a photograph toward the ceiling, in front of his eyes. "Did you make me a set?" he asked from behind it.

"Of course, Ollie. I know how much you enjoy these things."

"I thought McDeere would be tougher than that."

"He's tough, but he's human. He's no dummy either. We're not sure, but we think he knew we were watching him the next day during lunch. He seemed suspicious and began darting around the shopping district. Then he disappeared. He was an hour late for his meeting with Avery at the bank."

"Where'd he go?"

"We don't know. We were just watching out of curiosity, nothing serious. Hell, he might've been in a bar downtown for all we know. But he just disappeared."

"Watch him carefully. He worries me."

DeVasher waved another manila envelope. "Quit worrying, Ollie. We own him now! He would kill for us if he knew about these."

"What about Tarrance?"

"Not a sign. McDeere ain't mentioned it to anybody, at least not to anybody we're listening to. Tarrance is hard to trail sometimes, but I think he's staying away."

"Keep your eyes open."

"Don't worry about my end, Ollie. You're the lawyer, the counselor, the esquire, and you get your eight-by-tens. You run. I run the surveillance."

"How are things at the McDeere house?"

"Not too good. She was very cool to the trip."

"What'd she do when he was gone?"

"Well, she ain't one to sit around the house. Two nights she and Quin's wife went out to eat at a couple of those yuppie joints. Then to the movies. She was out one night with a schoolteacher friend. She shopped a little.

"She also called her mother a lot, collect. Evidently there's no love lost between our boy and her parents, and she wants to patch things up. She and her mom are tight and it really bothers her because they can't be a big happy family. She wants to go home to Kentucky for Christmas, and she's afraid he won't go for it. There's a lot of friction. A lot of undercurrents. She tells her mom he works too much, and her mom says it's because he wants to show them up. I don't like the sound of it, Ollie. Bad vibes."

"Just keep listening. We've tried to slow him down, but he's a machine."

"Yeah, at a hundred and fifty an hour I know you want him to slack off. Why don't you cut all your associates back to forty hours a week so they can spend more time with their families? You could cut your salary, sell a Jag or two, hock your old lady's diamonds, maybe sell your mansion and buy a smaller house by the country club."

"Shut up, DeVasher."

Oliver Lambert stormed out of the office. DeVasher turned red with his high-pitched laughter, then, when his office was empty, he locked the photos in a file cabinet. "Mitchell McDeere," he said to himself with an immense smile, "now you are ours."

Tags: John Grisham Suspense