For seventeen days and seventeen nights, the troubled lives of Mitch and Abby McDeere proceeded quietly without interference from Wayne Tarrance or any of his confederates. The routines returned. Mitch worked eighteen hours a day, every day of the week, and never left the office for any reason except to drive home. Lunch was at the desk. Avery sent other associates to run errands or file motions or appear in court. Mitch seldom left his office, the fifteen-by-fifteen sanctuary where he was certain Tarrance could not get him. If possible, he stayed out of the halls and men's rooms and coffee room. They were watching, he was sure. He was not sure who they were, but there was no doubt that a bunch of folks were vitally interested in his movements. So he stayed at his desk, with the door shut most of the time, working diligently, billing like crazy and trying to forget that the building had a fifth floor and on the fifth floor was a nasty little bastard named DeVasher who had a collection of photographs that could ruin him.
With each uneventful day, Mitch withdrew even more into his asylum and became even more hopeful that perhaps the last episode in the Korean shoe store had scared Tarrance or maybe gotten him fired. Maybe Voyles would just simply forget the entire operation, and Mitch could continue along his happy way of getting rich and making partner and buying everything in sight. But he knew better.
To Abby, the house was a prison, though she could come and go at will. She worked longer hours at school, spent more time walking the malls and made at least one trip each day to the grocery store. She watched everyone, especially men in dark suits who looked at her. She wore black sunglasses so they could not see her eyes. She wore them when it was raining. Late at night, after supper alone while she waited for him, she stared at the walls and resisted the temptation to investigate. The phones could be examined with a magnifying glass. The wires and mikes could not be invisible, she told herself. More than once she thought of finding a book on such devices so she could identify them. But Mitch said No. They were in the house, he assured her, and any attempt to find them could be disastrous.
So she moved silently around her own house, feeling violated and knowing it could not last much longer. They both knew the importance of appearing normal, of sounding normal. They tried to engage in normal talk about how the day went, about the office and her students, about the weather, about this and that. But the conversations were flat, often forced and strained. When Mitch was in law school the lovemaking had been frequent and rowdy; now it was practically nonexistent. Someone was listening.
Midnight walks around the block became a habit. After a quick sandwich each night, they would deliver the rehearsed lines about needing exercise and head for the street. They held hands and walked in the cold, talking about The Firm and the FBI, and which way to turn; always the same conclusion: there was no way out. None. Seventeen days and seventeen nights.
The eighteenth day brought a new twist. Mitch was exhausted by 9 P.M. and decided to go home. He had worked nonstop for fifteen and a half hours. At two hundred per hour. As usual, he walked the halls of the second floor, then took the stairs to the third floor. He casually checked each office to see who was still working. No one on the third floor. He followed the stairs to the fourth floor and walked the wide rectangular hallway as if in search of something. All lights except one were off. Royce McKnight was working late. Mitch eased by his office without being seen. Avery's door was closed, and Mitch grabbed the doorknob. It was locked. He walked to the library down the hall, looking for a book he did not need. After two weeks of the casual late-night inspections, he had found no closed-circuit cameras above the halls or offices. They just listen, he decided. They do not see.
He said goodbye to Dutch Hendrix at the front gate and drove home. Abby was not expecting him at such an early hour. He quietly unlocked the door from the carport and eased into the kitchen. He flipped on a light switch. She was in the bedroom. Between the kitchen and the den was a small foyer with a rolltop desk where Abby left each day's mail. He laid his briefcase softly on the desk, then saw it. A large brown envelope addressed with a black felt marker to Abby McDeere. No return address. Scrawled in heavy black letters were the words:
Photographs - Do Not Bend
His heart stopped first, then his breathing. He grabbed the envelope. It had been opened.
A heavy layer of sweat broke across his forehead. His mouth was dry and he could not swallow. His heart returned with the fury of a jackhammer. The breathing was heavy and painful. He was nauseous. Slowly, he backed away from the desk, holding the envelope. She's in the bed, he thought. Hurt, sick, devastated and mad as hell. He wiped his forehead and tried to collect himself. Face it like a man, he said.
She was in the bed, reading a book with the television on. The dog was in the backyard. Mitch opened the bedroom door, and Abby bolted upright in horror. She almost screamed at the intruder, until she recognized him.
"You scared me, Mitch!"
Her eyes glowed with fear, then fun. They had not been crying. They looked fine, normal. No pain. No anger. He could not speak.
"Why are you home?" she demanded, sitting up in bed, smiling now.
Smiling? "I live here," he said weakly.
"Why didn't you call?"
"Do I have to call before I can come home?" His breathing was now almost normal. She was fine!
"It would be nice. Come here and kiss me."
He leaned across the bed and kissed her. He handed her the envelope. "What's this?" he asked nonchalantly.
"You tell me. It's addressed to me, but there was nothing inside. Not a thing." She closed her book and laid it on the night table.
Not a thing! He smiled at her and kissed her again. "Are you expecting photographs from anyone?" he asked in complete ignorance.
"Not that I know of. Must be a mistake."
He could almost hear DeVasher laughing at this very moment on the fifth floor. The fat bastard was standing up there somewhere in some dark room full of wires and machines with a headset stretched around his massive bowling ball of a head, laughing uncontrollably.
"That's strange," Mitch said. Abby pulled on a pair of jeans and pointed to the backyard. Mitch nodded. The signal was simple, just a quick point or a nod of the head in the direction of the patio.
Mitch laid the envelope on the rolltop desk and for a second touched the scrawled markings on it. Probably DeVasher's handwriting. He could almost hear him laughing. He could see his fat face and nasty smile. The photographs had probably been passed around during lunch in the partners' dining room. He could see Lambert and McKnight and even Avery gawking admiringly over coffee and dessert.
They'd better enjoy the pictures, dammit. They'd better enjoy the remaining few months of their bright and rich and happy legal careers.
Abby walked by and he grabbed her hand. "What's for dinner?" he asked for the benefit of those listening.
"Why don't we go out. We should celebrate since you're home at a decent hour."
They walked through the den. "Good idea," said Mitch. They eased through the rear door, across the patio and into the darkness.
"What is it?" Mitch asked.
"You got a letter today from Doris. She said she's in Nashville, but will return to Memphis on the twenty-seventh of February. She says she needs to see you. It's important. It was a very short letter."
"The twenty-seventh! That was yesterday."
"I know. I presume she's already in town. I wonder what she wants."
"Yeah, and I wonder where she is."
"She said her husband had an engagement here in town."
"Good. She'll find us," Mitch said.
* * *
Nathan Locke closed his office door and pointed DeVasher in the direction of the small conference table near the window. The two men hated each other and made no attempt to be cordial. But business was business, and they took orders from the same man.
"Lazarov wanted me to talk to you, alone," DeVasher said. "I've spent the past two days with him in Vegas, and he's very anxious. They're all anxious, Locke, and he trusts you more than anyone else around here. He likes you more than he likes me."
"That's understandable," Locke said with no smile. The ripples of black around his eyes narrowed and focused intently on DeVasher.
"Anyway, there are a few things he wants us to discuss."
"McDeere's lying. You know how Lazarov's always bragged about having a mole inside the FBI. Well, I've never believed him, and still don't, for the most part. But according to Lazarov, his little source is telling him that there was some kind of secret meeting involving McDeere and some FBI heavyweights when your boy was in Washington back in January. We were there, and our men saw nothing, but it's impossible to track anyone twenty-four hours a day without getting caught. It's possible he could've slipped away for a little while without our knowledge."
"Do you believe it?"
"It's not important whether I believe it. Lazarov believes it, and that's all that matters. At any rate, he told me to make preliminary plans to, uh, take care of him."
"Damn DeVasher! We can't keep eliminating people."
"Just preliminary plans, nothing serious. I told Lazarov I thought it was much too early and that it would be a mistake. But they are very worried, Locke."
"This can't continue, DeVasher. I mean, damn! We have reputations to consider. We have a higher casualty rate than oil rigs. People will start talking. We're gonna reach a point where no law student in his right mind would take a job here."
"I don't think you need to worry about that. Lazarov has put a freeze on hiring. He told me to tell you that. He also wants to know how many associates are still in the dark."
"Five, I think. Let's see, Lynch, Sorrell, Buntin, Myers and McDeere."
"Forget McDeere. Lazarov is convinced he knows much more than we think. Are you certain the other four know nothing?"
Locke thought for a moment and mumbled under his breath. "Well, we haven't told them. You guys are listening and watching. What do you hear?"
"Nothing, from those four. They sound ignorant and act as if they suspect nothing. Can you fire them?"
"Fire them! They're lawyers, DeVasher. You don't fire lawyers. They're loyal members of The Firm."
"The Firm is changing, Locke. Lazarov wants to fire the ones who don't know and stop hiring new ones. It's obvious the Fibbies have changed their strategy, and it's time for us to change as well. Lazarov wants to circle the wagons and plug the leaks. We can't sit back and wait for them to pick off our boys."
"Fire them," Locke repeated in disbelief. "This firm has never fired a lawyer."
"Very touching, Locke. We've disposed of five, but never fired one. That's real good. You've got a month to do it, so start thinking of a reason. I suggest you fire all four at one time. Tell them you lost a big account and you're cutting back."
"We have clients, not accounts."
"Okay, fine. Your biggest client is telling you to fire Lynch, Sorrell, Buntin and Myers. Now start making plans."
"How do we fire those four without firing McDeere?"
"You'll think of something, Nat. You got a month. Get rid of them and don't hire any new boys. Lazarov wants a tight little unit where everyone can be trusted. He's scared, Nat. Scared and mad. I don't have to tell you what could happen if one of your boys spilled his guts."
"No, you don't have to tell me. What does he plan to do with McDeere?"
"Right now, nothing but the same. We're listening twenty-four hours a day, and the kid has never mentioned a word to his wife or anyone else. Not a word! He's been corralled twice by Tarrance, and he reported both incidents to you. I still think the second meeting was somewhat suspicious, so we're being very careful. Lazarov, on the other hand, insists there was a meeting in Washington. He's trying to confirm. He said his sources knew little, but they were digging. If in fact McDeere met with the Fibbies up there and failed to report it, then I'm sure Lazarov will instruct me to move quickly. That's why he wants preliminary plans to take McDeere out."
"How do you plan to do it?"
"It's too early. I haven't given it much thought."
"You know he and his wife are going to the Caymans in two weeks for a vacation. They'll stay in one of our condos, the usual."
"We wouldn't do it there again. Too suspicious. Lazarov instructed me to get her pregnant."
"Yep. He wants them to have a baby, a little leverage. She's on the pill, so we gotta break in, take her little box, match up the pills and replace them with placebos."
At this, the great black eyes saddened just a touch and looked through the window. "What the hell's going on, DeVasher?" he asked softly.
"This place is about to change, Nat. It appears as though the feds are extremely interested, and they keep pecking away. One day, who knows, one of your boys may take the bait, and you'll all leave town in the middle of the night."
"I don't believe that, DeVasher. A lawyer here would be a fool to risk his life and his family for a few promises from the feds. I just don't believe it will happen. These boys are too smart and they're making too much money."
"I hope you're right."