The Firm - Page 29

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After making the obligatory stop in Atlanta, the Delta DC-9 landed in a cold rain at Memphis International. It parked at Gate 19, and the tightly packed crowd of business travelers quickly disembarked. Mitch carried only his briefcase and an Esquire. He saw Abby waiting near the pay phones and moved quickly through the pack. He threw the briefcase and magazine against the wall and bear-hugged her. The four days in Washington seemed like a month. They kissed again and again, and whispered softly.

"How about a date?" he asked.

"I've got dinner on the table and wine in the cooler," she said. They held hands and walked through the mob pushing down the concourse in the general direction of the luggage pickup.

He spoke quietly. "Well, we need to talk, and we can't do it at home."

She gripped his hand tighter. "Oh?"

"Yes. In fact, we need to have a long talk."

"What happened?"

"It'll take a while."

"Why am I suddenly nervous?"

"Just keep cool. Keep smiling. They're watching."

She smiled and glanced to her right. "Who's watching?"

"I'll explain in just a moment."

Mitch suddenly pulled her to his left. They cut through the wave of human traffic and darted into a dark, crowded lounge full of businessmen drinking and watching the television above the bar and waiting for their nights. A small, round table covered with empty beer mugs had just been vacated, and they sat with their backs to the wall and a view of the bar and the concourse. They sat close together, within three feet of another table. Mitch stared at the door and analyzed every face that walked in. "How long are we going to be here?" she asked.


She slid out of the full-length fox and folded it on the chair across the table. "What exactly are you looking for?"

"Just keep smiling for a moment. Pretend you really missed me. Here, give me a kiss." He pecked her on the lips, and they smiled into each other's eyes. He kissed her cheek and returned to the door. A waiter rushed to the table and cleaned it off. They ordered wine.

She smiled at him. "How was your trip?"

"Boring. We were in class eight hours a day, for four days. After the first day, I hardly left the hotel. They crammed six months' worth of tax revisions into thirty-two hours."

"Did you get to sightsee?"

He smiled and looked dreamily at her. "I missed you, Abby. More than I've ever missed anyone in my life. I love you. I think you're gorgeous, absolutely stunning. I do not enjoy traveling alone and waking up in a strange hotel bed without you. And I have something horrible to tell you."

She stopped smiling. He slowly looked around the room. They were three deep at the bar and yelling at the Knicks - Lakers game. The lounge was suddenly louder.

"I'll tell you about it," he said. "But there's a very good chance someone is in here right now watching us. They cannot hear, but they can observe. Just smile occasionally, although it will be hard."

The wine arrived, and Mitch began his story. He left nothing out. She spoke only once. He told her about Anthony Bendini and old man Morolto, and then Nathan Locke growing up in Chicago and Oliver Lambert and the boys on the fifth floor.

Abby nervously sipped her wine and tried valiantly to appear as the normal loving wife who missed her husband and was now enjoying immensely his recollection of the tax seminar. She watched the people at the bar, sipped a little and occasionally grinned at Mitch as he told of the money laundering and the murdered lawyers. Her body ached with fear. Her breath was wildly irregular. But she listened, and pretended.

The waiter brought more wine as the crowd thinned. An hour after he started, Mitch finished in a low whisper.

"And Voyles said Tarrance would contact me in a couple of weeks to see if I will cooperate. He said goodbye and walked away."

"And this was Tuesday?" she asked.

"Yes. The first day."

"What did you do the rest of the week?"

"I slept little, ate little, walked around with a dull headache most of the time."

"I think I feel one coming."

"I'm sorry, Abby. I wanted to fly home immediately and tell you. I've been in shock for three days."

"I'm in shock now. I'm not believing this, Mitch. This is like a bad dream, only much worse."

"And this is only the beginning. The FBI is dead serious. Why else would the Director himself meet with me, an insignificant rookie lawyer from Memphis, in fifteen-degree weather on a concrete park bench? He's assigned five agents in Memphis and three in Washington, and he said they'll spend whatever it takes to get. So if I keep my mouth shut, ignore them and go about my business of being a good and faithful member of Bendini, Lambert & Locke, one day they'll show up with arrest warrants and haul everybody away. And if I choose to cooperate, you and I will leave Memphis in the dead of the night after I hand The Firm to the feds, and we'll go off and live in Boise, Idaho, as Mr. and Mrs. Wilbur Gates. We'll have plenty of money, but we'll have to work to avoid suspicion. After my plastic surgery, I'll get a job driving a forklift in a warehouse, and you can work part-time at a day care. We'll have two, maybe three kids and pray every night that people we've never met keep their mouths shut and forget about us. We'll live every hour of every day in morbid fear of being discovered."

"That's perfect, Mitch, just perfect." She was trying hard not to cry.

He smiled and glanced around the room. "We have a third option. We can walk out that door, buy two tickets to San Diego, sneak across the border and eat tortillas for the rest of our lives."

"Let's go."

"But they'd probably follow us. With my luck, Oliver Lambert will be waiting in Tijuana with a squad of goons. It won't work. Just a thought."

"What about Lamar?"

"I don't know. He's been here six or seven years, so he probably knows. Avery's a partner, so he's very much a part of the conspiracy."

"And Kay?"

"Who knows. It's very likely none of the wives know. I've thought about it for four days, Abby, and it's a marvelous front. looks exactly like it's supposed to look. They could fool anyone. I mean, how would you and I or any other prospective recruit even think of such an operation. It's perfect. Except, now the feds know about it."

"And now the feds expect you to do their dirty work. Why did they pick you, Mitch? There are forty lawyers in."

"Because I knew nothing about it. I was a sitting duck. The FBI is not sure when the partners spring the surprise on the associates, so they couldn't take a chance with anyone else. I happened to be the new guy, so they set the trap as soon as I passed the bar exam."

Abby chewed her lip and held back tears. She looked blankly at the door across the dark room. "And they listen to everything we say," she said.

"No. Just every phone call and conversation around the house and in the cars. We're free to meet here or in most restaurants, and there's always the patio. But I suggest we move farther away from the sliding door. To be safe, we need to sneak behind the storage shed and whisper softly."

"Are you trying to be funny? I hope not. This is no time for jokes. I'm so scared, angry, confused, mad as hell and not sure where to turn. I'm afraid to speak in my own house. I watch every word I utter on the phone, even if it's a wrong number. Every time the phone rings, I jump and stare at it. And now this."

"You need another drink."

"I need ten drinks."

Mitch grabbed her wrist and squeezed firmly. "Wait a minute. I see a familiar face. Don't look around."

She held her breath. "Where?"

"On the other side of the bar. Smile and look at me."

Sitting on a barstool and staring intently at the TV was a well-tanned blond man with a loud blue-and-white alpine sweater. Fresh from the slopes. But Mitch had seen the tan and the blond bangs and the blond mustache somewhere in Washington.Mitch watched him carefully. The blue light from the tube illuminated his face. Mitch hid in the dark. The man lifted a bottle of beer, hesitated, then, there!, shot a glance into the corner where the McDeeres huddled closely together.

"Are you sure?" Abby asked through, clenched teeth.

"Yes. He was in Washington, but I can't place him. In fact, I saw him twice."

"Is he one of them?"

"How am I supposed to know?"

"Let's get out of here."

Mitch laid a twenty on the table and they left the airport.

Driving her Peugeot, he raced through the short-term parking lot, paid the attendant and sped away toward midtown. After five minutes of silence, she leaned across and whispered in his ear, "Can we talk?"

He shook his head. "Well, how's the weather been while I was away?"

Abby rolled her eyes and looked through the passenger window. "Cold," she said. "Chance of light snow tonight."

"It was below freezing the entire week in Washington."

Abby looked flabbergasted at this revelation. "Any snow?" she asked with raised eyebrows and wide eyes as if enthralled with the conversation.

"No. Just raw cold."

"What a coincidence! Cold here and cold there."

Mitch chuckled to himself. They rode silently on the interstate loop. "So who's gonna win the Super Bowl?" he asked.


"Think so, huh? I'm for the Redskins. That's all they talked about in Washington."

"My, my. Must be a real fun city."

More silence. Abby placed the back of her hand over her mouth and concentrated on the taillights ahead. At this moment of bewilderment, she would take her chances in Tijuana. Her husband, number three in his class (at Harvard), the one with Wall Street firms rolling out the red carpet, the one who could have gone anywhere, to any firm, had signed up with the... Mafia! With five dead lawyers notched on their belts, they most surely wouldn't hesitate with number six. Her husband! Then the many conversations with Kay Quin swirled around her brain. The Firm encourages babies. The Firm permits wives to work, but not forever. The Firm hires no one with family money. The Firm demands loyalty to. The Firm has the lowest turnover rate in the country. Small wonder.

Mitch watched her carefully. Twenty minutes after they left the airport, the Peugeot parked in the carport next to the BMW. They held hands and walked to the end of the driveway.

"This is crazy, Mitch."

"Yes, but it's real. It will not go away."

"What do we do?"

"I don't know, babe. But we gotta do it quick, and we can't make mistakes."

"I'm scared."

"I'm terrified."

* * *

Tarrance did not wait long. One week after he waved goodbye to Mitch at the Wall, he spotted him walking hurriedly in the cold in the direction of the Federal Building on North Main, eight blocks from the Bendini Building. He followed him for two blocks, then slid into a small coffee shop with a row of windows facing the street, or the mall, as it was called. Cars were prohibited on Main Street in Memphis. The asphalt had been covered with tile when the boulevard had ceased being a street and had been transformed into the Mid-America Mall. An occasional useless and desolate tree rose from the tile and stretched its barren limbs between the buildings. Winos and urban nomads drifted aimlessly from one side of the mall to the other, begging for money and food.

Tarrance sat at a front window and watched in the distance as Mitch disappeared into the Federal Building. He ordered coffee and a chocolate doughnut. He checked his watch. It was 10 A.M. According to the docket, McDeere had a brief hearing in Tax Court at this moment. It should be very brief, the clerk of the court had informed Tarrance. He waited.

Nothing is ever brief in court. An hour later, Tarrance moved his face closer to the window and studied the scattered bodies walking quickly in the distance. He drained his coffee cup for the third time, laid two dollars on the table and stood hidden in the door. As Mitch approached on the other side of the mall, Tarrance moved swiftly toward him.

Mitch saw him and slowed for a second.

"Hello, Mitch. Mind if I walk with you?"

"Yes, I mind, Tarrance. It's dangerous, don't you think?"

They walked briskly and did not look at each other. "Look at that store over there," Tarrance said, pointing to their right. "I need a pair of shoes." They ducked into Don Pang's House of Shoes. Tarrance walked to the rear of the narrow store and stopped between two rows of fake Reeboks at $4.99 for two pairs. Mitch followed him and picked up a pair of size tens. Don Pang or some other Korean eyed them suspiciously but said nothing. They watched the front door through the racks.

Tags: John Grisham Suspense