The Firm - Page 54

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Saturday, 7 a.m. Andy Patrick looked east and west along the Strip, then walked quickly across the parking lot to Room 39. He knocked gently.

After a delay, she asked, "Who is it?"

"The manager," he answered. The door opened, and the man who resembled the composite of Mitchell Y. McDeere slid out. His hair was now very short and gold-colored. Andy stared at his hair.

"Good morning, Andy," he said politely while glancing around the parking lot.

"Good morning. I was kinda wondering if you folks were still here."

Mr. McDeere nodded and continued to look around the parking lot.

"I mean, according to the television this morning, you folks traveled halfway across Florida last night."

"Yeah, we're watching it. They're playing games, aren't they, Andy?"

Andy kicked at a rock on the sidewalk. "Television said there were three positive identifications last night. At three different places. Kinda strange, I thought. I was here all night, working and being on the lookout and all, and I didn't see you leave. Before sunrise I sneaked across the highway to a coffee shop, just over there, and as usual, there were cops in there. I sat close to them. According to them, the search has been called off around here. They said the FBI moved out right after the last sighting came in, around four this morning. Most of the other cops left too. They're gonna keep the Strip blocked until noon and call it off. Rumor has it you've got help from the outside, and you're trying to get to the Bahamas."

Mr. McDeere listened closely as he watched the parking lot. "What else did they say?"

"They kept talking about a U-Haul truck full of stolen goods, and how they found the truck, and it was empty, and how nobody can figure out how you loaded the stolen goods into a trailer and sneaked outta town right under their noses. They're very impressed, all right. Of course, I didn't say nothing, but I figured it was the same U-Haul you drove in here Thursday night."

Mr. McDeere was deep in thought and did not say anything. He didn't appear to be nervous. Andy studied his face carefully.

"You don't seem too pleased," Andy said. "I mean, the cops are leaving and calling off the search. That's good, ain't it?"

"Andy, can I tell you something?"


"It's more dangerous now than before."

Andy thought about this for a long minute, then said, "How's that?"

"The cops just wanted to arrest me, Andy. But there are some people who want to kill me. Professional killers, Andy. Many of them. And they're still here."

Andy narrowed his good eye and stared at Mr. McDeere. Professional killers! Around here? On the Strip? Andy took a step backward. He wanted to ask exactly who they were and why they were chasing him, but he knew he wouldn't get much of an answer. He saw an opportunity. "Why don't you escape?"

"Escape? How could we escape?"

Andy kicked another rock and nodded in the direction of a 1971 Pontiac Bonneville parked behind the office. "Well, you could use my car. You could get in the trunk, all three of you, and I could drive you outta town. You don't appear to be broke, so you could catch a plane and be gone. Just like that."

"And how much would that cost?"

Andy studied his feet and scratched his ear. The guy was probably a doper, he thought, and the boxes were probably full of cocaine and cash. And the Colombians were probably after him. "That'd be pretty expensive, you know. I mean, right now, at five thousand a day, I'm just an innocent motel clerk who's not very observant. Not part of nothing, you understand. But if I drive you outta here, then I become an accomplice, subject to indictment and jail and all that other crap I've been through, you know? So it'd be pretty expensive."

"How much, Andy?"

"A hundred thousand."

Mr. McDeere did not flinch or react; he just kept a straight face and glanced across the beach to the ocean. Andy knew immediately it was not out of the question.

"Let me think about it, Andy. For right now, you keep your eyes open. Now that the cops are gone, the killers will move in. This could be a very dangerous day, Andy, and I need your help. If you see anyone suspicious around here, call us quick. We're not leaving these rooms, okay?"

Andy returned to the front desk. Any fool would jump in the trunk and haul ass. It was the boxes, the stolen goods. That's why they wouldn't leave.

The McDeeres enjoyed a light breakfast of stale pastries and warm soft drinks. Ray was dying for a cold beer, but another trip to the convenience store was too risky. They ate quickly and watched the early-morning news. Occasionally a station along the coast would flash their composites on the screen. It scared them at first, but they got used to it.

A few minutes after 9 A.M., Saturday, Mitch turned off the television and resumed his spot on the floor among the boxes. He picked up a stack of documents and nodded at Abby, the camera operator. The deposition continued.

* * *

Lazarov waited until the maids were on duty, then scattered his troops along the Strip. They worked in pairs, knocking on doors, peeking in windows and sliding through dark hallways. Most of the small places had two or three maids who knew every room and every guest. The procedure was simple, and most of the time it worked. A goon would find a maid, hand her a hundred-dollar bill, and show her the composites. If she resisted, he would continue giving money until she became cooperative. If she was unable to make the ID, he would ask if she had noticed a U-Haul truck, or a room full of boxes, or two men and a woman acting suspicious or scared, or anything unusual. If the maid was of no help, he would ask which rooms were occupied, then go knock on the doors.

Start with the maids, Lazarov had instructed them. Enter from the beach side. Stay away from the front desks. Pretend to be cops. And if you hit pay dirt, kill them instantly and get to a phone.

DeVasher placed four of the rented vans along the Strip near the highway. Lamar Quin, Kendall Mahan, Wally Hudson and Jack Aldrich posed as drivers and watched every vehicle that passed. They had arrived in the middle of the night on a private plane with ten other senior associates of Bendini, Lambert & Locke. In the souvenir shops and cafes, the former friends and colleagues of Mitch McDeere milled about with the tourists and secretly hoped they would not see him. The partners had been called home from airports around the country, and by midmorning they were walking the beach and inspecting pools and hotel lobbies. Nathan Locke stayed behind with Mr. Morolto, but the rest of the partners disguised themselves with golf caps and sunglasses and took orders from General DeVasher. Only Avery Tolar was missing. Since walking out of the hospital, he had not been heard from. Including the thirty-three lawyers, Mr. Morolto had almost a hundred men participating in his private little manhunt.

At the Blue Tide Motel, a janitor took a hundred-dollar bill, looked at the composites and said he thought he might have seen the woman and one of the men check into two rooms early Thursday evening. He stared at Abby's sketch and became convinced it was her. He took some more money and went to the office to check the registration records. He returned with the information that the woman had checked in as Jackie Nagel and paid cash for two rooms for Thursday, Friday and Saturday. He took some more money, and the two gunmen followed him to the rooms. He knocked on both doors. No answer. He unlocked them and allowed his new friends to inspect them. The rooms had not been used Friday night. One of the troops called Lazarov, and five minutes later DeVasher was poking around the rooms looking for clues. He found none, but the search was immediately constricted to a four-mile stretch of beach between the Blue Tide and the Beachcomber, where the U-Haul was found.

The vans moved the troops closer. The partners and senior associates scoured the beach and restaurants. And the gunmen knocked on doors.

Andy signed the Federal Express ticket at 10:35 and inspected the package for Sam Fortune. It had been shipped by Doris Greenwood, whose address was listed as 4040 Poplar Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee. No phone number. He was certain it was valuable and for a moment contemplated another quick profit. But its delivery had already been contracted for. He gazed along both ends of the Strip and left the office with the package.

After years of dodging and hiding, Andy had subconsciously trained himself to walk quickly in the shadows, near the corners, never in the open. As he turned the corner to cross the parking lot, he saw two men knocking on the door to Room 21. The room happened to be vacant, and he was immediately suspicious of the two. They wore odd-fitting matching white shorts that fell almost to their knees, although it was difficult to tell exactly where the shorts stopped and the snow-white legs began. One wore dark socks with battered loafers. The other wore cheap sandals and walked in obvious pain. White Panama hats adorned their beefy heads.

After six months on the Strip, Andy could spot a fake tourist. The one beating on the door hit it again, and when he did Andy saw the bulge of a large handgun stuck in the back of his shorts.

He quickly retraced his quiet footsteps and returned to the office. He called Room 39 and asked for Sam Fortune.

"This is Sam."

"Sam, this is Andy at the desk. Don't look out, but there are two very suspicious men knocking on doors across the parking lot."

"Are they cops?"

"I don't think so. They didn't check in here."

"Where are the maids?" Sam asked.

"They don't come in till eleven on Saturday."

"Good. We're turning off the lights. Watch them and call when they leave."

From a dark window in a closet, Andy watched the men go from door to door, knocking and waiting, occasionally getting one to open. Eleven of the forty-two rooms were occupied. No response at 38 and 39. They returned to the beach and disappeared. Professional killers! At his motel.

Across the Strip, in the parking lot of a miniature golf course, Andy saw two identical fake tourists talking to a man in a white van. They pointed here and there and seemed to be arguing.

He called Sam. "Listen, Sam, they're gone. But this place is crawling with these people."

"How many?"

"I can see two more across the Strip. You folks better run for it."

"Relax, Andy. They won't see us if we stay in here."

"But you can't stay forever. My boss'll catch on before much longer."

"We're leaving soon, Andy. What about the package?"

"It's here."

"Good. I need to see it. Say, Andy, what about food? Could you ease across the street and get something hot?"

Andy was a manager, not a porter. But for five thousand a day the Sea Gull's Rest could provide a little room service. "Sure. Be there in a minute."

* * *

Wayne Tarrance grabbed the phone and fell across the single bed in his Ramada Inn room in Orlando. He was exhausted, furious, baffled and sick of F. Denton Voyles. It was 1:30 P.M., Saturday. He called Memphis. The secretary had nothing to report, except that Mary Alice called and wanted to talk to him. They had traced the call to a pay phone in Atlanta. Mary Alice said she would call again at 2 P.M. to see if Wayne - she called him Wayne - had checked in. Tarranee gave his room number and hung up. Mary Alice. In Atlanta. McDeere in Tallahassee, then Ocala. Then no McDeere. No green Ford pickup with Tennessee plates and trailer. He had vanished again.

The phone rang once. Tarrance slowly lifted the receiver. "Mary Alice," he said softly.

" Wayne baby! How'd you guess?"

"Where is he?"

"Who?" Tammy giggled.

"McDeere. Where is he?"

"Well, Wayne, you boys were hot for a while, but then you chased a wild rabbit. Now you're not even close, baby. Sorry to tell you."

"We've got three positive IDs in the past fourteen hours."

"Better check them out, Wayne. Mitch told me a few minutes ago he's never been to Tallahassee. Never heard of Ocala. Never driven a green Ford pickup. Never pulled a U-Haul trailer. You boys bit hard, Wayne. Hook, line and sinker."

Tarrance pinched the bridge of his nose and breathed into the phone.

"So how's Orlando?" she asked. "Gonna see Disney World while you're in town?"

"Where the hell is he!"

"Wayne, Wayne, relax, baby. You'll get the documents."

Tarrance sat up. "Okay, when?"

"Well, we could be greedy and insist on the rest of our money. I'm at a pay phone, Wayne, so don't bother to trace it, okay? But we're not greedy. You'll get your records within twenty-four hours. If all goes well."

"Where are the records?"

"I'll have to call you back, baby. If you stay at this number, I'll call you every four hours until Mitch tells me where the documents are. But, Wayne, if you leave this number, I might lose you, baby. So stay put."

"I'll be here. Is he still in the country?"

"I think not. I'm sure he's in Mexico by now. His brother speaks the language, you know?"

"I know." Tarrance stretched out on the bed and said to hell with it. Mexico could have them, as long as he got the records.

"Stay where you are, baby. Take a nap. You gotta be tired. I'll call around five or six."

Tarrance laid the phone on the nightstand, and took a nap.

* * *

The dragnet lost its steam Saturday afternoon when the Panama City Beach police received the fourth complaint from motel owners. The cops were dispatched to the Breakers Motel, where an irate owner told of armed men harassing the guests. More cops were sent to the Strip, and before long they were searching the motels for gunmen who were searching for the McDeeres. The Emerald Coast was on the brink of war.

Weary and hot, DeVasher's men were forced to work alone. They spread themselves even thinner along the beach and stopped the door-to-door work. They lounged in plastic chairs around the pools, watching the tourists come and go. They lay on the beach, dodging the sun, hiding behind dark shades, watching the tourists come and go.

As dusk approached, the army of goons and thugs and gunmen, and lawyers, slipped into the darkness and waited. If the McDeeres were going to move, they would do it at night. A silent army waited for them.

DeVasher's thick forearms rested uncomfortably on a balcony railing outside his Best Western room. He watched the empty beach below as the sun slowly disappeared on the horizon. Aaron Rimmer walked through the sliding glass door and stopped behind DeVasher. "We found Tolar," Rimmer said.

DeVasher did not move. "Where?"

"Hiding in his girlfriend's apartment in Memphis."

"Was he alone?"

"Yeah. They iced him. Made it look like a robbery."

* * *

In Room 39, Ray inspected for the hundredth time the new passports, visas, driver's licenses and birth certificates. The passport photos for Mitch and Abby were current, with plenty of dark hair. After the escape, time would take care of the blondness. Ray's photo was a slightly altered Harvard Law School mug shot of Mitch, with the long hair, stubble and rough academic looks. The eyes, noses and cheekbones were similar, after careful analysis, but nothing else. The documents were in the names of Lee Stevens, Rachel James and Sam Fortune, all with addresses in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Doc did good work, and Ray smiled as he studied each one.

Abby packed the Sony video camera into its box. The tripod was folded and leaned against the wall. Fourteen videocassette tapes with stick-on labels were stacked neatly on the television.

After sixteen hours, the video deposition was over. Starting with the first tape, Mitch had faced the camera, raised his right hand and sworn to tell the truth. He stood next to the dresser with documents covering the floor around him. Using Tammy's notes, summaries and flowcharts, he methodically walked through the bank records first. He identified over two hundred and fifty secret accounts in eleven Cayman banks. Some had names, but most were just numbered. Using copies of computer printouts, he constructed the histories of the accounts. Cash deposits, wire transfers and withdrawals. At the bottom of each document used in his deposition, he wrote with a black marker the initials MM and then the exhibit number: MM1, MM2, MM3 and so on. After Exhibit MM1485, he had identified nine hundred million dollars hiding in Cayman banks.

After the bank records, he painstakingly pieced together the structure of the empire. In twenty years, more than four hundred Cayman corporations had been chartered by the Moroltos and The Firm their incredibly rich and incredibly corrupt attorneys. Many of the corporations owned all or pieces of each other and used the banks as registered agents and permanent addresses. Mitch learned quickly that he had only a fraction of the records and speculated, on camera, that most documents were hidden in the basement in Memphis. He also explained, for the benefit of the jury, that it would take a small army of IRS investigators a year or so to piece together the Morolto corporate puzzle. He slowly explained each exhibit, marked it carefully and filed it away. Abby operated the camera. Ray watched the parking lot and studied the fake passports.

He testified for six hours on various methods used by the Moroltos and their attorneys to turn dirty money into clean. Easily the most favored method was to fly in a load of dirty cash on a Bendini plane, usually with two or three lawyers on board to legitimate the trip. With dope pouring in by land, air and sea, U.S. customs cares little about what's leaving the country. It was a perfect setup. The planes left dirty and came back clean. Once the money landed on Grand Cayman, a lawyer on board handled the required payoffs to Cayman customs and to the appropriate banker. On some loads, up to twenty-five percent went for bribes.

Once deposited, usually in unnamed, numbered accounts, the money became almost impossible to trace. But many of the bank transactions coincided nicely with significant corporate events. The money was usually deposited into one of a dozen numbered holding accounts. Or "super accounts," as Mitch called them. He gave the jury these account numbers, and the names of the banks. Then, as the new corporations were chartered, the money was transferred from the super accounts to the corporate accounts, often in the same bank. Once the dirty money was owned by a legitimate Cayman corporation, the laundering began. The simplest and most common method was for the company to purchase real estate and other clean assets in the United States. The transactions were handled by the creative attorneys at Bendini, Lambert & Locke, and all money moved by wire transfer. Often, the Cayman corporation would purchase another Cayman corporation that happened to own a Panama corporation that owned a holding company in Denmark. The Danes would purchase a ball-bearing factory in Toledo and wire in the purchase money from a subsidiary bank in Munich. And the dirty money was now clean.

After marking Exhibit MM4292, Mitch quit the deposition. Sixteen hours of testimony was enough. It would not be admissible at trial, but it would serve its purpose. Tarranee and his buddies could show the tapes to a grand jury and indict at least thirty lawyers from the Bendini firm. He could show the tapes to a federal magistrate and get his search warrants.

Mitch had held to his end of the bargain. Although he would not be around to testify in person, he had been paid only a million dollars and was about to deliver more than was expected. He was physically and emotionally drained, and sat on the edge of the bed with the lights off. Abby sat in a chair with her eyes closed.

Ray peeked through the blinds. "We need a cold beer," he said.

"Forget it," Mitch snapped.

Ray turned and stared at him. "Relax, little brother. It's dark, and the store is just a short walk down the beach. I can take care of myself."

"Forget it, Ray. There is no need to take chances. We're leaving in a few hours, and if all goes well, you'll have the rest of your life to drink beer."

Ray was not listening. He pulled a baseball cap firmly over his forehead, stuck some cash in his pockets and reached for the gun.

"Ray, please, at least forget the gun," Mitch pleaded.

Ray stuck the gun under his shirt and eased out the door. He walked quickly in the sand behind the small motels and shops, hiding in the shadows and craving a cold beer. He stopped behind the convenience store, looked quickly around and was certain no one was watching, then walked to the front door. The beer cooler was in the rear.

In the parking lot next to the Strip, Lamar Quin hid under a large straw hat and made small talk with some teenagers from Indiana. He saw Ray enter the store and thought he might recognize something. There was a casualness about the man's stride that looked vaguely familiar. Lamar moved to the front window and glanced in the direction of the beer cooler. The man's eyes were covered with sunglasses, but the nose and cheekbones were certainly familiar. Lamar eased inside the small store and picked up a sack of potato chips. He waited at the checkout counter and came face-to-face with the man, who was not Mitchell McDeere but greatly resembled him.

It was Ray. It had to be. The face was sunburned, and the hair was too short to be stylish. The eyes were covered. Same height. Same weight. Same walk.

"How's it going?" Lamar said to the man.

"Fine. You?" the voice was similar.

Lamar paid for his chips and returned to the parking lot. He calmly dropped the bag in a garbage can next to a phone booth and quickly walked next door to a souvenir shop to continue his search for the McDeeres.

Tags: John Grisham Suspense