Lamar closed his eyes. "FBI," he mumbled.
"That's right. He had a badge and everything."
"Where did you meet him?"
"He found me at Lansky's Deli on Union. He knew who I was, knew I'd just been admitted. Says he knows all about. They watch us real close."
"Have you told Avery?"
"No. No one but you. I'm not sure what to do."
Lamar picked up the phone. "We need to tell Avery. I think this has happened before."
"What's going on, Lamar?"
Lamar talked to Avery's secretary and said it was an emergency. In a few seconds he was on the other end. "We've got a small problem, Avery. An FBI agent contacted Mitch yesterday. He's in my office."
Lamar listened, then said to Mitch, "He's got me on hold. Said he was calling Lambert."
"I take it this is pretty serious," Mitch said.
"Yes, but don't worry. There's an explanation. It's happened before."
Lamar held the receiver closer and listened to the instructions. He hung up. "They want us in Lambert's office in ten minutes."
Avery, Royce McKnight, Oliver Lambert, Harold O'Kane and Nathan Locke were waiting. They stood nervously around the small conference table and tried to appear calm when Mitch entered the office.
"Have a seat," Nathan Locke said with a short, plastic smile. "We want you to tell us everything."
"What's that?" Mitch pointed to a tape recorder in the center of the table.
"We don't want to miss anything," Locke said, and pointed to an empty chair. Mitch sat and stared across the table at Black Eyes. Avery sat between them. No one made a sound.
"Okay. I was eating lunch yesterday at Lansky's Deli on Union. This guy walks up and sits across my table. He knows my name. Shows me a badge and says his name is Wayne Tarrance, Special Agent, FBI. I look at the badge, and it's real. He tells me he wants to meet because we'll get to know each other. They watch this firm real close and he warns me not to trust anyone. I ask him why, and he said he doesn't have time to explain, but he will later. I don't know what to say, so I just listen. He says he will contact me later. He gets up to leave and tells me they saw me at the funerals. Then he says the deaths of Kozinski and Hodge were not accidents. And he leaves. The entire conversation lasted less than five minutes."
Black Eyes glared at Mitch and absorbed every word. "Have you ever seen this man before?"
"Whom did you tell?"
"Only Lamar. I told him first thing this morning."
"Did he leave you a phone number to call?"
"I want to know every word that was said," Locke demanded.
"I've told you what I remember. I can't recall it verbatim."
"Are you certain?"
"Let me think a minute." A few things he would keep to himself. He stared at Black Eyes, and knew that Locke suspected more.
"Let's see. He said he saw my name in the paper and knew I was the new man here. That's it. I've covered everything. It was a very brief conversation."
"Try to remember everything," Locke persisted.
"I asked him if he wanted some of my tea. He declined."
The tape recorder was turned off, and the partners seemed to relax a little. Locke walked to the window. "Mitch, we've had trouble with the FBI, as well as the IRS. It's been going on for a number of years. Some of our clients are high rollers - wealthy individuals who make millions, spend millions and expect to pay little or no taxes. They pay us thousands of dollars to legally avoid taxes. We have a reputation for being very aggressive, and we don't mind taking chances if our clients instruct us to. We're talking about very sophisticated businessmen who understand risks. They pay dearly for our creativeness. Some of the shelters and write-offs we set up have been challenged by the IRS. We've slugged it out with them in tax litigation for the past twenty years. They don't like us, we don't like them. Some of our clients have not always possessed the highest degree of ethics, and they have been investigated and harassed by the FBI. For the past three years, we, too, have been harassed.
"Tarrance is a rookie looking for a big name. He's been here less than a year and has become a thorn. You are not to speak to him again. Your brief conversation yesterday was probably recorded. He is dangerous, extremely dangerous. He does not play fair, and you'll learn soon enough that most of the feds don't play fair."
"How many of these clients have been convicted?"
"Not a single one. And we've won our share of litigation with the IRS."
"What about Kozinski and Hodge?"
"Good question," answered Oliver Lambert. "We don't know what happened. It first appeared to be an accident, but now we're not sure. There was a native of the islands on board with Marty and Joe. He was the captain and divemaster. The authorities down there now tell us they suspect he was a key link in a drug ring based in Jamaica and perhaps the explosion was aimed at him. He died, of course."
"I don't think we'll ever know," Royce McKnight added. "The police down there are not that sophisticated. We've chosen to protect the families, and as far as we're concerned, it was an accident. Frankly, we're not sure how to handle it."
"Don't breathe a word of this to anyone," Locke instructed. "Stay away from Tarrance, and if he contacts you again, let us know immediately. Understand?"
"Don't even tell your wife," Avery said.
The grandfather's warmth returned to Oliver Lambert's face. He smiled and twirled his reading glasses. "Mitch, we know this is frightening, but we've grown accustomed to it. Let us handle it, and trust us. We are not afraid of Mr. Tarrance, the FBI, the IRS or anybody else because we've done nothing wrong. Anthony Bendini built this firm by hard work, talent and uncompromising ethics. It has been drilled into all of us. Some of our clients have not been saints, but no lawyer can dictate morals to his client. We don't want you worrying about this. Stay away from this guy - he is very, very dangerous. If you feed him, he'll get bolder and become a nuisance."
Locke pointed a crooked finger at Mitch. "Further contact with Tarrance will jeopardize your future with this firm."
"I understand," Mitch said.
"He understands," Avery said defensively. Locke glared at Tolar.
"That's all we have, Mitch," Mr. Lambert said. "Be cautious."
Mitch and Lamar hit the door and found the nearest stairway.
* * *
"Get DeVasher," Locke said to Lambert, who was on the phone. Within two minutes the two senior partners had been cleared and were sitting before DeVasher's cluttered desk.
"Did you listen?" Locke asked.
"Of course I listened to it, Nat. We heard every word the boy said. You handled it real well. I think he's scared and will run from Tarrance."
"What about Lazarov?"
"I gotta tell him. He's the boss. We can't pretend it didn't happen."
"What will they do?"
"Nothing serious. We'll watch the boy around the clock and check all his phone calls. And wait. He's not gonna move. It's up to Tarrance. He'll find him again, and the next time we'll be there. Try to keep him in the building as much as possible. When he leaves, let us know, if you can. I don't think it's that bad, really."
"Why would they pick McDeere?" asked Locke.
"New strategy, I guess. Kozinski and Hodge went to them, remember. Maybe they talked more than we thought. I don't know. Maybe they figure McDeere is the most vulnerable because he's fresh out of school and full of rookie idealism. And ethics - like our ethical friend Ollie here. That was good, Ollie, real good."
"Shut up, DeVasher."
DeVasher quit smiling and bit his bottom lip. He let it pass. He looked at Locke. "You know what the next step is, don't you? If Tarrance keeps pushing, that idiot Lazarov will call me one day and tell me to remove him. Silence him. Put him in a barrel and drop him in the Gulf. And when that happens, all of you honorable esquires will take your early retirement and leave the country."
"Lazarov wouldn't order a hit on an agent."
"Oh, it would be a foolish move, but then Lazarov is a fool. He's very anxious about the situation down here. He calls a lot and asks all sorts of questions. I give him all sorts of answers. Sometimes he listens, sometimes he cusses. Sometimes he says he's gotta talk to the board. But if he tells me to take out Tarrance, then we'll take out Tarrance."
"This makes me sick at my stomach," Lambert said.
"You wanna get sick, Ollie. You let one of your little Gucci-loafered counselors get chummy with Tarrance and start talking, you'll get a helluva lot worse than sick. Now, I suggest you boys keep McDeere so busy he won't have time to think about Tarrance."
"My God, DeVasher, he works twenty hours a day. He started like fire and he hasn't slowed down."
"Just watch him close. Tell Lamar Quin to get real tight with him so if he's got something on his mind, maybe he'll unload."
"Good idea," said Locke. He looked at Ollie. "Let's have a long talk with Quin. He's closest to McDeere, and maybe he can get closer."
"Look, boys," DeVasher said, "McDeere is scared right now. He won't make a move. If Tarrance contacts him again, he'll do what he did today. He'll run straight to Lamar Quin. He showed us who he confides in."
"Did he tell his wife last night?" asked Locke.
"We're checking the tapes now. It'll take about an hour. We've got so damned many bugs in this city it takes six computers to find anything."
* * *
Mitch stared through the window in Lamar's office and selected his words carefully. He said little. Suppose Tarrance was correct. Suppose everything was being recorded.
"Do you feel better?" Lamar asked.
"Yeah, I guess. It makes sense."
"It's happened before, just like Locke said."
"Who? Who was approached before?"
"I don't remember. Seems like it was three or four years ago."
"But you don't remember who it was?"
"No. Why is that important?"
"I'd just like to know. I don't understand why they would pick me, the new man, the one lawyer out of forty who knows the least about this firm and its clients. Why would they pick me?"
"I don't know, Mitch. Look, why don't you do as Locke suggested? Try to forget about it and run from this guy Tarrance. You don't have to talk to him unless he's got a warrant. Tell him to get lost if he shows up again. He's dangerous."
"Yeah, I guess you're right." Mitch forced a smile and headed for the door. "We're still on for dinner tomorrow night?"
"Sure. Kay wants to grill steaks and eat by the pool. Make it late, say around seven-thirty."
"See you then."