Page 17 of The Firm

"All we can do is listen, Ollie. But we listen real close, and I don't think they've had any in two weeks. Of course, he's here sixteen hours a day going through the workaholic rookie counselor routine that you guys instill. It sounds like she's getting tired of it. Could be the usual rookie's wife syndrome. She calls her mother a lot - collect, so he won't know. She told her mom that he's changing and all that crap. She thinks he'll kill himself working so hard. That's what we're hearing. So I don't have any pictures, Ollie, and I'm sorry because I know how much you enjoy them. First chance we get, we'll have you some pictures."

Ollie glared at the wall but said nothing.

"Listen, Ollie, I think we need to send the kid with Avery to Grand Cayman on business. See if you can arrange it."

"That's no problem. May I ask why?"

"Not right now. You'll know later."

* * *

The building was in the low-rent section of downtown, a couple of blocks from the shadows of the modern steel-and-glass towers which were packed together as if land was scarce in Memphis. A sign on a door directed one's attention upstairs, where Eddie Lomax, private investigator, maintained an office. Hours by appointment only. The door upstairs advertised investigations of all types - divorces, accidents, missing relatives, surveillance. The ad in the phone book mentioned the police expertise, but not the ending of that career. It listed eavesdropping, countermeasures, child custody, photographs, courtroom evidence, voice-stress analysis, location of assets, insurance claims and premarital background review. Bonded, insured, licensed and available twenty-four hours a day. Ethical, reliable, confidential, peace of mind.

Mitch was impressed with the abundance of confidence. The appointment was for 5 P.M., and he arrived a few minutes early. A shapely platinum blonde with a constricting leather skirt and matching black boots asked for his name and pointed to an orange vinyl chair next to a window. Eddie would be a minute. He inspected the chair, and noticing a fine layer of dust and several spots of what appeared to be grease, he declined and said his back was sore. Tammy shrugged and returned to her gum chewing and typing of some document; Mitch speculated whether it was a premarital report, or maybe a surveillance summary, or perhaps a countermeasure attack plan. The ashtray on her desk was filled with butts smeared with pink lipstick. While typing with her left hand, the right one instantly and precisely picked another cigarette from the pack and thrust it between her sticky lips. With remarkable coordination, she nicked something with her left hand and a flame shot to the tip of a very skinny and incredibly long liberated cigarette. When the flame disappeared, the lips instinctively compacted and hardened around the tiny protrusion, and the entire body began to inhale. Letters became words, words became sentences, sentences became paragraphs as she tried desperately to fill her lungs. Finally, with an inch of the cigarette hanging as ashes, she swallowed, picked it from her lips with two brilliant red fingernails and exhaled mightily. The smoke billowed toward the stained plaster ceiling, where it upset an existing cloud and swirled around a hanging fluorescent light. She coughed, a hacking, irritating cough which reddened her face and gyrated her full breasts until they bounced dangerously close to the typewriter keys. She grabbed a nearby cup and lapped up something, then reinserted the filter-tip 1000 and pecked away.

After two minutes, Mitch began to fear carbon monoxide. He spotted a small hole in the window, in a pane that for some reason the spiders had not draped with cobwebs. He walked to within inches of the shredded, dust-laden curtains and tried to inhale in the direction of the opening. He felt sick. There was more hacking and wheezing behind him. He tried to open the window, but layers of cracked paint had long since welded it shut.

Just when he began to feel dizzy the typing and smoking stopped.

"You a lawyer?"

Mitch turned from the window and looked at the secretary. She was now sitting on the edge of her desk, legs crossed, with the black leather skirt well above her knees. She sipped a Diet Pepsi.

"Yes."

"In a big firm?"

"Yes."

"I thought so. I could tell by your suit and your cute little preppie button-down with the silk paisley tie. I can always spot the big-firm lawyers, as opposed to the ham-and-eggers who hang around City Court."

The smoke was clearing and Mitch was breathing easier. He admired her legs, which for the moment were positioned just so and demanded to be admired. She was now looking at his shoes.

"You like the suit, huh?" he said.

"It's expensive, I can tell. So's the tie. I'm not so sure about the shirt and shoes."

Mitch studied the leather boots, the legs, the skirt and the tight sweater around the large breasts and tried to think of something cute to say. She enjoyed this gazing back and forth, and again sipped on her Diet Pepsi.

When she'd had enough, she nodded at Eddie's door and said, "You can go in now. Eddie's waiting."

The detective was on the phone, trying to convince some poor old man that his son was in fact a homosexual. A very active homosexual. He pointed to a wooden chair, and Mitch sat down. He saw two windows, both wide open, and breathed easier.

Eddie looked disgusted and covered the receiver. "He's crying," he whispered to Mitch, who smiled obligingly, as if he was amused.

He wore blue lizard-skin boots with pointed toes, Levi's, a well-starched peach button-down, which was unbuttoned well into the dark chest hair and exposed two heavy gold chains and one which appeared to be turquoise. He favored Tom Jones or Humperdinck or one of those bushy-headed, dark-eyed singers with thick sideburns and solid chins.

"I've got photographs," he said, and yanked the receiver from his ear when the old man screamed. He pulled five glossy eight-by-tens from a file and slid them across the desk into Mitch's lap. Yes, indeed, they were homosexuals, whoever they were. Eddie smiled at him proudly. The bodies were somewhere on a stage in what appeared to be a queer club. He laid them on the desk and looked at the window. They were of high quality, in color. Whoever took them had to have been in the club. Mitch thought of the rape conviction. A cop sent up for rape.

He slammed the phone down. "So you're Mitchell McDeere! Nice to meet you."

They shook hands across the desk. "My pleasure," Mitch said. "I saw Ray Sunday."

"I feel like I've known you for years. You look just like Ray. He told me you did. Told me all about you. I guess he told you about me. The police background. The conviction. The rape. Did he explain to you it was statutory rape, and that the girl was seventeen years old, looked twenty-five, and that I got framed?"

"He mentioned it. Ray doesn't say much. You know that."

"He's a helluva guy. I owe him my life, literally. They almost killed me in prison when they found out I was a cop. He stepped in and even the blacks backed down. He can hurt people when he wants to."

"He's all the family I have."

"Yeah, I know. You bunk with a guy for years in an eight-by-twelve cell and you learn all about him. He's talked about you for hours. When I was paroled you were thinking about law school."

"I finished in June of this year and went to work for Bendini, Lambert & Locke."

"Never heard of them."

"It's a tax and corporate firm on Front Street."

"I do a lot of sleazy divorce work for lawyers. Surveillance, taking pictures, like those, and gathering filth for court." He spoke quickly, with short, clipped words and sentences. The cowboy boots were placed gingerly on the desk for display. "Plus, I've got some lawyers I run cases for. If I dig up a good car wreck or personal-injury suit, I'll shop around to see who'll give me the best cut. That's how I bought this building. That's where, the money is - personal injury. These lawyers take forty percent of the recovery. Forty percent!" He shook his head in disgust as if he couldn't believe greedy lawyers actually lived and breathed in this city.

"You work by the hour?" Mitch asked.

"Thirty bucks, plus expenses. Last night I spent six hours in my van outside a Holiday Inn waiting for my client's husband to leave his room with his whore so I could take more pictures. Six hours. That's a hundred eighty bucks for sitting on my ass looking at dirty magazines and waiting. I also charged her for dinner."

Mitch listened intently, as if he wished he could do it.

Tammy stuck her head in the door and said she was leaving. A stale cloud followed her and Mitch looked at the windows. She slammed the door.

"She's a great gal," Eddie said. "She's got trouble with her husband. He's a truck driver who thinks he's Elvis. Got the jet-black hair, ducktail, lamb-chop sideburns. Wears those thick gold sunglasses Elvis wore. When he's not on the road he sits around the trailer listening to Elvis albums and watching those terrible movies. They moved here from Ohio just so this clown can be near the King's grave. Guess what his name is."

"I have no idea."

"Elvis. Elvis Aaron Hemphill. Had his name legally changed after the King died. He does an impersonation routine in dark nightclubs around the city. I saw him one night. He wore a white skintight jumpsuit unbuttoned to his navel, which would've been okay except he's got this gut that hangs out and looks like a bleached watermelon. It was pretty sad. His voice is hilarious, sounds like one of those old Indian chiefs chanting around the campfire."

"So what's the problem?"

"Women. You would not believe the Elvis nuts who visit this city. They flock to watch this buffoon act like the King. They throw panties at him, big panties, panties made for heavy, wide lardasses, and he wipes his forehead and throws them back. They give him their room numbers, and we suspect he sneaks around and tries to play the big stud, just like Elvis. I haven't caught him yet."

Mitch could not think of any response to all this. He grinned like an idiot, like this was truly an incredible story. Lomax read him well.

"You got trouble with your wife?"

"No. Nothing like that. I need some information about four people. Three are dead, one is alive."

"Sounds interesting. I'm listening."

Mitch pulled the notes from a pocket. "I assume this is strictly confidential."

"Of course it is. As confidential as you are with your client."

Mitch nodded in agreement, but thought of Tammy and Elvis and wondered why Lomax told him that story.

"It must be confidential."

"I said it would be. You can trust me."

"Thirty bucks an hour?"

"Twenty for you. Ray sent you, remember?"

"I appreciate that."

"Who are these people?"

"The three dead ones were once lawyers in our firm. Robert Lamm was killed in a hunting accident somewhere in Arkansas. Somewhere in the mountains. He was missing for about two weeks and they found him with a bullet in the head. There was an autopsy. That's all I know. Alice Knauss died in 1977 in a car wreck here in Memphis. Supposedly a drunk driver hit her. John Mickel committed suicide in 1984. His body was found in his office. There was a gun and a note."

"That's all you know?"

"That's it."

"What're you looking for?"

"I want to know as much as I can about how these people died. What were the circumstances surrounding each death? Who investigated each death? Any unanswered questions or suspicions."

"What do you suspect?"

"At this point, nothing. I'm just curious."

"You're more than curious."

"Okay, I'm more than curious. But for now, let's leave it at that."

"Fair enough. Who's the fourth guy?"

"A man named Wayne Tarrance. He's an FBI agent here in Memphis."

"FBI!"

"Does that bother you?"

"Yes, it bothers me. I get forty an hour for cops."

"No problem."

"What do you want to know?"

"Check him out. How long has he been here? How long has he been an agent? What's his reputation?"

"That's easy enough."

Mitch folded the paper and stuck it in his pocket. "How long will this take?"

"About a month."

"That's fine."

"Say, what was the name of your firm?"

"Bendini, Lambert & Locke."

"Those two guys who got killed last summer - "

"They were members."

"Any suspicions?"

"No."

"Just thought I'd ask."

"Listen, Eddie. You must be very careful with this. Don't call me at home or the office. I'll call you in about a month. I suspect I'm being watched very closely."

"By whom?"

"I wish I knew."

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