The Firm - Page 41

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On the dresser she found two key rings, eleven keys. Downstairs in the hall between the kitchen and the great room with a view of the beach, she found the mysterious locked door Mitch had found in November. He had paced off every room, upstairs and down, and determined this room to be at least fifteen by fifteen. It was suspicious because the door was metal, and because it was locked, and because a small Storage sign was affixed to it. It was the only labeled room in the condo. A week earlier in Unit B, he and Abby had found no such room.

One key ring held a key to a Mercedes, two keys to the Bendini Building, a house key, two apartment keys and a desk key. The keys on the other ring were unmarked and fairly generic. She tried it first, and the fourth key fit. She held her breath and opened the door. No electric shocks, no alarms, nothing. Mitch told her to open the door, wait five minutes and, if nothing happened, then turn on the light.

She waited ten minutes. Ten long and frightful minutes. Mitch had speculated that Unit A was used by the partners and trusted guests, and that Unit B was used by the associates and others who required constant surveillance. Thus, he hoped, Unit A would not be laden with wires and cameras and recorders and alarms. After ten minutes, she opened the door wide and turned on the light. She waited again, and heard nothing. The room was square, about fifteen by fifteen, with white walls, no carpet, and, as she counted, twelve fireproof legal-size file cabinets. Slowly, she walked over to one and pulled the top drawer. It was unlocked.

She turned off the light, closed the door and returned to the bedroom upstairs, where Avery was now comatose and snoring loudly. It was ten-thirty. She would work like crazy for eight hours and quit at six in the morning.

Near a desk in a corner, three large briefcases sat neatly in a row. She grabbed them, turned off the lights and left through the front door. The small parking lot was dark and empty with a gravel drive leading to the highway. A sidewalk ran next to the shrubbery in front of both units and stopped at a white board fence along the property line. A gate led to a slight grassy knoll, with the first building of the Palms just over it.

It was a short walk from the condos to the Palms, but the briefcases had grown much heavier when she reached Room 188. It was on the first floor, front side, with a view of the pool but not of the beach. She was panting and sweating when she knocked on the door.

Abby yanked it open. She took the briefcases and placed them on the bed. "Any problems?"

"Not yet. I think he's dead." Tammy wiped her face with a towel and opened a can of Coke.

"Where is he?" Abby was all business, no smiles.

"In his bed. I figure we've got eight hours. Until six."

"Did you get in the room?" Abby asked as she handed her a pair of shorts and a bulky cotton shirt.

"Yeah. There's a dozen big file cabinets, unlocked. A few cardboard boxes and other junk, but not much else."

"A dozen?"

"Yeah, tall ones. All legal size. We'll be lucky to finish by six."

It was a single motel room with a queen-size bed. The sofa, coffee table and bed were pushed to the wall, and a Canon Model 8580 copier with automatic feed and collator sat in the center with engines running. On lease from Island Office Supply, it came at the scalper's price of three hundred dollars for twenty-four hours, delivered. It was the newest and largest rental copier on the island, the salesman had explained, and he was not excited about parting with it for only a day. But Abby charmed him and began laying hundred-dollar bills on the counter. Two cases of copy paper, ten thousand sheets, sat next to the bed.

They opened the first briefcase and removed six thin files. "Same type of files," Tammy mumbled to herself. She unhitched the two-prong clasp on the inside of the file and removed the papers. "Mitch says they're very particular about their files," Tammy explained as she unstapled a ten-page document. "He says lawyers have a sixth sense and can almost smell if a secretary or a clerk has been in a file. So you'll have to be careful. Work slowly. Copy one document, and when you restaple it, try to line up with the old staple holes. It's tedious. Copy only one document at a time, regardless of the number of pages. Then put it back together slowly and in order. Then staple your copy so everything stays in order."

With the automatic feed, the ten-page document took eight seconds.

"Pretty fast," Tammy said.

The first briefcase was finished in twenty minutes. Tammy handed the two key rings to Abby and picked up two new, empty, all-canvas Samsonite handbags. She left for the condo.

Abby followed her out the door, then locked it. She walked to the front of the Palms, to Tammy's rented Nissan Stanza. Dodging at oncoming traffic from the wrong side of the road, she drove along Seven Mile Beach and into Georgetown. Two blocks behind the stately Swiss Bank Building, on a narrow street lined with neat frame houses, she found the one owned by the only locksmith on the island of Grand Cayman. At least, he was the only one she'd been able to locate without assistance. He owned a green house with open windows and white trim around the shutters and the doors.

She parked in the street and walked through the sand to the tiny front porch, where the locksmith and his neighbors were drinking and listening to Radio Cayman. Solid-gold reggae. They quietened when she approached, and none of them stood. It was almost eleven. He had said that he would do the job in his shop out back, and that his fees were modest, and that he would like a fifth of Myers's Rum as a down payment before he started.

"Mr. Dantley, I'm sorry I'm late. I've brought you a little gift." She held out the fifth of rum.

Mr. Dantley emerged from the darkness and took the rum. He inspected the bottle. "Boys, a bottle of Myers's."

Abby could not understand the chatter, but it was obvious the gang on the porch was terribly excited about the bottle of Myers's. Dantley handed it to them and led Abby behind his house to a small outbuilding full of tools and small machines and a hundred gadgets. A single yellow light bulb hung from the ceiling and attracted mosquitoes by the hundreds. She handed Dantley the eleven keys, and he carefully laid them on a bare section of a cluttered workbench. "This will be easy," he said without looking up.

Although he was drinking at eleven at night, Dantley appeared to be in control. Perhaps his system had built an immunity to rum. He worked through a pair of thick goggles, drilling and carving each replica. After twenty minutes, he was finished. He handed Abby the two original sets of keys and their copies.

"Thank you, Mr. Dantley. How much do I owe you?"

"They were quite easy," he drawled. "A dollar per key." She paid him quickly and left.

Tammy filled the two small suitcases with the contents of the top drawer of the first file cabinet. Five drawers, twelve cabinets, sixty trips to the copier and back. In eight hours. It could be done. There were files, notebooks, computer printouts and more files. Mitch said to copy it all. He was not exactly sure what he was looking for, so copy it all.

She turned off the light and ran upstairs to check on lover boy. He had not moved. The snoring was in slow motion.

The Samsonites weighed thirty pounds apiece, and her arms ached when she reached Room 188. First trip out of sixty, she would not make it. Abby had not returned from Georgetown, so Tammy unloaded the suitcases neatly on the bed. She took one drink from her Coke and left with the empty bags. Back to the condo. Drawer two was identical. She fitted the files in order into the suitcases and strong-armed zippers. She was sweating and gasping for breath. Four packs a day, she thought. She vowed to cut back to two. Maybe even one pack. Up the stairs to check on him. He had not breathed since her last trip.

The copier was clicking and humming when she returned from trip two. Abby was finishing the second briefcase, about to start on the third.

"Did you get the keys?" Tammy asked.

"Yeah, no problem. What's your man doing?"

"If the copier wasn't running, you could hear him snoring." Tammy unpacked into another neat stack on the bed. She wiped her face with a wet towel and left for the condo.

Abby finished the third briefcase and started on the stacks from the file cabinets. She quickly got the hang of the automatic feed, and after thirty minutes she moved with the efficient grace of a seasoned copy-room clerk. She fed copies and unstapled and restapled while the machine clicked rapidly and spat the reproductions through the collator.

Tammy arrived from trip three out of breath and with sweat dripping from her nose. "Third drawer," she reported. "He's still snoring." She unzipped the suitcases and made another neat pile on the bed. She caught her breath, wiped her face and loaded the now copied contents of drawer one into the bags. For the rest of the night, she would be loaded coming and going.

* * *

At midnight, the Barefoot Boys sang their last song, and the Palms settled down for the night. The quiet hum of the copier could not be heard outside Room 188. The door was kept locked, the shades pulled tightly, and all lights extinguished except for a lamp near the bed. No one noticed the tired lady, dripping with sweat, lugging the same two suitcases to and from the room.

After midnight they did not speak. They were tired, too busy and scared, and there was nothing to report except lover boy's movements in bed, if any. And there was none, until around 1 A.M., when he subconsciously rolled onto his side, where he stayed for about twenty minutes, then returned to his back. Tammy checked on him with each visit and asked herself each time what she would do if his eyes suddenly opened and he attacked. She had a small tube of Mace in her shorts pocket, just in case a confrontation occurred and escape became necessary. Mitch had been vague on the details of such an escape. Just don't lead him back to the motel room, he said. Hit him with the Mace, then run like crazy and scream, "Rape!"

But after twenty-five trips, she became convinced he was hours away from consciousness. And it was bad enough hiking like a pack mule to and from, but she also had to climb the stairs, fourteen of them, each trip to check on Casanova. So she went to check every other trip. Then one out of three.

By 2 A.M., halfway through the project, they had copied the contents from five of the file cabinets. They had made over four thousand copies, and the bed was covered with neat little stacks of materials. Their copies stood along the wall next to the sofa in seven even rows almost waist high.

They rested for fifteen minutes.

At five-thirty the first flicker of sunrise rose in the east, and they forgot about being tired. Abby quickened her movements around the copier and hoped it would not burn up. Tammy rubbed the cramps in her calves and walked quickly back to the condo. It was either trip number fifty-one or fifty-two. She had lost count. It would be her last trip for a while. He was waiting.

She opened the door and went straight to the storage room, as usual. She set the packed Samsonites on the floor, as usual. She quietly walked up the stairs, into the bedroom, and froze. Avery was sitting on the edge of the bed, facing the balcony. He heard her and turned slowly to face her. His eyes were swollen and glazed. He scowled at her.

Instinctively, she unbuttoned the khaki shorts and they fell to the floor. "Hey, big boy," she said, trying to breathe normally and act like a party girl. She walked to the edge of the bed where he was sitting. "You're up kinda early. Let's get some more sleep."

His gaze returned to the window. He said nothing. She sat beside him and rubbed the inside of his thigh. She slid her hand up the inside of his leg, and he did not move.

"Are you awake?" she asked.

No response.

"Avery, talk to me, baby. Let's get some more sleep. It's still dark out there."

He fell sideways, onto his pillow. He grunted. No attempt at speech. Just a grunt. Then he closed his eyes. She lifted his legs onto the bed and covered him again.

She sat by him for ten minutes, and when the snoring returned to its former intensity, she slid into the shorts and ran to the Palms.

"He woke up, Abby!" she reported in panic. "He woke up, then passed out again."

Abby stopped and stared. Both women looked at the bed, which was covered with uncopied documents.

"Okay. Take a quick shower," Abby said coolly. "Then go get in bed with him and wait. Lock the door to the storage room, and call me when he wakes up and gets in the shower. I'll keep copying what's left, and we'll try to move it later, after he goes to work."

"That's awfully risky."

"It's all risky. Hurry."

Five minutes later, Tammy/Doris/Libby with the bright orange string bikini made another trip-without the suitcases - to the condo. She locked the front door and the storage door and went to the bedroom. She removed the orange top and crawled under the covers.

The snoring kept her awake for fifteen minutes. Then she dozed. She sat up in bed to prevent sleep. She was scared, sitting there in bed with a nude man who would kill her if he knew. Her tired body relaxed, and sleep became unavoidable. She dozed again.

* * *

Lover boy broke from his coma at three minutes past nine. He moaned loudly and rolled to the edge of the bed. His eyelids were stuck together. They opened slowly, and the bright sun came piercing through. He moaned again. The head weighed a hundred pounds and rocked awkwardly from right to left, shifting the brain violently each time. He breathed deeply, and the fresh oxygen went screaming through his temples. His right hand caught his attention. He tried to raise it, but the nerve impulses would not penetrate the brain. Slowly it went up, and he squinted at it. He tried to focus with the right eye first, then the left. The clock.

He looked at the digital clock for thirty seconds before he could decipher the red numbers. Nine-oh-five. Damn! He was expected at the bank at nine. He moaned. The woman!

She had felt him move and heard his sounds, and she lay still with her eyes shut. She prayed he would not touch her. She felt him staring.

For this career rogue and bad boy, there had been many hangovers. But none like this. He looked at her face and tried to remember how good she had been. He could always remember that, if nothing else. Regardless of the size of the hangover, he could always remember the women. He watched her for a moment, then gave it up.

"Damn!" he said as he stood and tried to walk. His feet were like lead boots and only reluctantly complied with his wishes. He braced himself against the sliding door to the balcony.

The bathroom was twenty feet away, and he decided to go for it. The desk and dresser served as braces. One painful, clumsy step after another, and he finally made it. He hovered above the toilet and relieved himself.

She rolled to face the balcony, and when he finished she felt him sit on her side of the bed. He gently touched her shoulder. "Libby, wake up." He shook her, and she bolted stiff.

"Wake up, dear," he said. A gentleman.

She gave him her best sleepy smile. The morning-after smile of fulfillment and commitment. The Scarlett O'Hara smile the morning after Rhett nailed her. "You were great, big boy," she cooed with her eyes closed.

In spite of the pain and nausea, in spite of the lead boots and bowling-ball head, he was proud of himself. The woman was impressed. Suddenly, he remembered that he was great last night.

"Look, Libby, we've overslept. I gotta go to work. I'm already late."

"Not in the mood, huh?" she giggled. She prayed he wasn't in the mood.

"Naw, not now. How about tonight?"

"I'll be here, big boy."

"Good. I gotta take a shower."

"Wake me up when you get out."

He stood and mumbled something, then locked the bathroom door. She slid across the bed to the phone and called Abby. After three rings, she answered.

"He's in the shower."

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah. Fine. He couldn't do it if he had to."

"What took so long?"

"He wouldn't wake up."

"Is he suspicious?"

"No. He remembers nothing. I think he's in pain."

"How long will you be there?"

"I'll kiss him goodbye when he gets out of the shower. Ten, maybe fifteen minutes."

"Okay. Hurry." Abby hung up, and Tammy slid to her side of the bed. In the attic above the kitchen, a recorder clicked, reset itself and was ready for the next call.

By ten-thirty, they were ready for the final assault on the condo. The contraband was divided into three equal parts. Three daring raids in open daylight. Tammy slid the shiny new keys into her blouse pocket and took off with the suitcases. She walked quickly, her eyes darting in all directions behind the sunglasses. The parking lot in front of the condos was still empty. Traffic was light on the highway.

The new key fit, and she was inside. The key to the storage door also fit, and five minutes later she left the condo. The second and third trips were equally quick and uneventful. When she left the storage room for the last time, she studied it carefully. Everything was in order, just as she found it. She locked the condo and took the empty, well-worn Samsonites back to her room.

For an hour they lay beside each other on the bed and laughed at Avery and his hangover. It was over now, for the most part, and they had committed the perfect crime. And lover boy was a willing but ignorant participant. It had been easy, they decided.

The small mountain of evidence filled eleven and a half corrugated storage boxes. At two-thirty, a native with a straw hat and no shirt knocked on the door and announced he was from an outfit called Cayman Storage. Abby pointed at the boxes. With no place to go and no hurry to get there, he took the first box and ever so slowly carried it to his van.

Like all the natives, he operated on Cayman time. No hurry, mon.

They followed him in the Stanza to a warehouse in Georgetown. Abby inspected the proposed storage room and paid cash for three months' rental.

Tags: John Grisham Suspense