Page 27 of The Firm

At five P.M., Mitch turned off the light in his office, grabbed both briefcases and stopped at Nina's desk. Her phone was glued to one shoulder while she typed on the IBM. She saw him and reached in a drawer for an envelope. "This is your confirmation at the Capital Hilton," she said into the receiver.

"The dictation is on my desk," he said. "See you Monday." He took the stairs to the fourth floor, to Avery's office in the corner, where a small riot was in progress. One secretary stuffed files into a massive briefcase. Another one spoke sharply to Avery, who was yelling on the phone to someone else. A paralegal shot orders to the first secretary.

Avery slammed the phone down. "Are you ready!" he demanded at Mitch.

"Waiting for you," Mitch replied.

"I can't find the Greenmark file," a secretary snarled at the paralegal.

"It was with the Rocconi file," said the paralegal.

"I don't need the Greenmark file!" Avery shouted. "How many times do I have to tell you? Are you deaf?"

The secretary glared at Avery. "No, I can hear very well. And I distinctly heard you say, Tack the Greenmark file.' "

"The limousine is waiting," said the other secretary.

"I don't need the damned Greenmark file!" Avery shouted.

"How about Rocconi?" asked the paralegal.

"Yes! Yes! For the tenth time. I need the Rocconi file!"

"The airplane is waiting too," said the other secretary.

One briefcase was slammed shut and locked. Avery dug through a pile of documents on his desk. "Where's the Fender file? Where are any of my files? Why can't I ever find a file?"

"Here's Fender," said the first secretary as she stmTed it into another briefcase.

Avery stared at a piece of notepaper. "All right. Do I have Fender, Rocconi, Cambridge Partners, Greene Group, Sonny Capps to Otaki, Burton Brothers, Galveston Freight and McQuade?"

"Yes, yes, yes," said the first secretary.

"That's all of them," said the paralegal.

"I don't believe it," Avery said as he grabbed his jacket. "Let's go." He strode through the door with the secretaries, paralegal and Mitch in pursuit. Mitch carried two briefcases, the paralegal had two, and a secretary had one. The other secretary scribbled notes as Avery barked the orders and demands he wanted carried out while he was away. The entourage crowded onto the small elevator for the ride to the first floor. Outside, the chauifeur sprang into action, opening doors and loading it all in the trunk.

Mitch and Avery fell into the back seat.

"Relax, Avery," Mitch said. "You're going to the Caymans for three days. Just relax."

"Right, right. I'm taking with me enough work for a month. I've got clients screaming for my hide, threatening suits for legal malpractice. I'm two months behind, and now you're leaving for four days of boredom at a tax seminar in Washington. Your timing is great, McDeere. Just great."

Avery opened a cabinet and mixed a drink. Mitch declined. The limo moved around Riverside Drive in the rush-hour traffic. After three swallows of gin, the partner breathed deeply.

"Continuing education. What a joke," Avery said.

"You did it when you were a rookie. And if I'm not mistaken, you spent a week not long ago at that international tax seminar in Honolulu. Or did you forget?"

"It was work. All work. Are you taking your files with you?"

"Of course, Avery. I'm expected to attend the tax seminar eight hours a day, learn the latest tax revisions Congress has bestowed upon us and in my spare time bill five hours a day."

"Six, if you can. We're behind, Mitch."

"We're always behind, Avery. Fix another drink. You need to unwind."

"I plan to unwind at Rumheads."

Mitch thought of the bar with its Red Stripe, dominoes, darts and, yes, string bikinis. And the girl.

"Is this your first flight on the Lear?" Avery asked, more relaxed now.

"Yes. I've been here seven months, and I'm just now seeing the plane. If I had known this last March, I'd have gone to work with a Wall Street firm."

"You're not Wall Street material. You know what those guys do? They've got three hundred lawyers in a firm, right? And each year they hire thirty new associates, maybe more. Everybody wants a job because it's Wall Street, right? And after about a month they get all thirty of them together in one big room and inform them they're expected to work ninety hours a week for five years, and at the end of five years, half of them will be gone. The turnover is incredible. They try to kill the rookies, bill them out at a hundred, hundred-fifty an hour, make a bundle off them, then run them off. That's Wall Street. And the little boys never get to see plane. Or limo. You are truly lucky, Mitch. You should thank God every day that we chose to accept you here at good old Bendini, Lambert & Locke."

"Ninety hours sounds like fun. I could use the rest."

"It'll pay off. Did you hear what my bonus was last year?"

"No."

"Four-eight-five. Not bad, huh? And that's just the bonus."

"I got six thousand," Mitch said.

"Stick with me and you'll be in the big leagues soon enough."

"Yeah, but first I gotta get my continuing legal education."

Ten minutes later the limo turned into a drive that led to a row of hangars. Memphis Aero, the sign said. A sleek silver Lear 55 taxied slowly toward the terminal. "That's it," Avery said.

The briefcases and luggage were loaded quickly onto the plane, and within minutes they were cleared for takeoff. Mitch fastened his seat belt and admired the leather-and-brass cabin. It was lavish and luxurious, and he had expected nothing less. Avery mixed another drink and buckled himself in.

An hour and fifteen minutes later, the Lear began its descent into Baltimore - Washington International Airport. After it taxied to a stop, Avery and Mitch descended to the tarmac and opened the baggage door. Avery pointed to a man in a uniform standing near a gate. "That's your chauffeur. The limo is in front. Just follow him. You're about forty minutes from the Capital Hilton."

"Another limo?" Mitch asked.

"Yeah. They wouldn't do this for you on Wall Street."

They shook hands, and Avery climbed back on the plane. The refueling took thirty minutes, and when the Lear took off and turned south, he was asleep again.

Three hours later, it landed in Georgetown, Grand Cayman. It taxied past the terminal to a very small hangar where it would spend the night. A security guard waited on Avery and his luggage and escorted him to the terminal and through customs. The pilot and copilot ran through the post flight ritual. They too were escorted through the terminal.

After midnight, the lights in the hangar were extinguished and the half dozen planes sat in the darkness. A side door opened, and three men, one of them Avery, entered and walked quickly to the Lear 55. Avery opened the baggage compartment, and the three hurriedly unloaded twenty-five heavy cardboard boxes. In the muggy tropical heat, the hangar was like an oven. They sweated profusely but said nothing until all boxes were out of the plane.

"There should be twenty-five. Count them," Avery said to a muscle-bound native with a tank top and a pistol on his hip. The other man held a clipboard and watched intently as if he was a receiving clerk in a warehouse. The native counted quickly, sweat dripping onto the boxes.

"Yes. Twenty-five."

"How much?" asked the man with the clipboard.

"Six and a half million."

"All cash?"

"All cash. U.S. dollars. Hundreds and twenties. Let's get it loaded."

"Where's it going?"

"Quebecbanq. They're waiting for us."

They each grabbed a box and walked through the dark to the side door, where a comrade was waiting with an Uzi.

The boxes were loaded into a dilapidated van with Cayman Produce stenciled badly on the side. The armed natives sat with guns drawn as the receiving clerk drove away from the hangar in the direction of downtown Georgetown.

* * *

Registration began at eight outside the Century Room on the mezzanine. Mitch arrived early, signed in, picked up the heavy notebook of materials with his name printed neatly on the cover and went inside. He took a seat near the center of the large room. Registration was limited to two hundred, the brochure said. A porter served coffee, and Mitch spread the Washington Post before him. The news was dominated by a dozen stories of the beloved Redskins, who were in the Super Bowl again.

The room filled slowly as tax lawyers from around the country gathered to hear the latest developments in tax laws that changed daily. A few minutes before nine, a clean-cut, boyish attorney sat to Mitch's left and said nothing. Mitch glanced at him and returned to the paper. When the room was packed, the moderator welcomed everyone and introduced the first speaker. Congressman something or other from Oregon, chairman of a House Ways and Means subcommittee. As he took the podium for what was supposed to be a one-hour presentation, the attorney to Mitch's left leaned over and offered his hand.

"Hi, Mitch," he whispered. "I'm Grant Harbison, FBI." He handed Mitch a card.

The congressman started with a joke that Mitch did not hear. He studied the card, holding it near his chest. There were five people seated within three feet of him. He didn't know anyone in the room, but it would be embarrassing if anyone knew he was holding an FBI card. After five minutes, Mitch shot a blank stare at Harbison.

Harbison whispered, "I need to see you for a few minutes."

"What if I'm busy?" Mitch asked.

The agent slid a plain white envelope from his seminar notebook and handed it to Mitch. He opened it near his chest. It was handwritten. Across the top, in small but imposing letters, the words read simply:

Office of the Director

FBI

The note read:

Dear Mr. McDeere:

I would like to speak with you for a few moments during lunch. Please follow the instructions of Agent Harbison. It won't take long. We appreciate your cooperation.

Thanks.

F. Denton Voyles,Director

Mitch folded the letter in the envelope and slowly placed it in his notebook. We appreciate your cooperation. From the Director of the FBI. He realized the importance at this moment of maintaining his composure, of keeping a straight, calm face as if it was simply routine. But he rubbed his temples with both hands and stared at the floor in front of him. He closed his eyes and felt dizzy. The FBI. Sitting next to him! Waiting on him. The Director and hell knows who else. Tarrance would be close at hand.

Suddenly, the room exploded in laughter at the congressman's punch line. Harbison leaned quickly toward Mitch and whispered, "Meet me in the men's room around the corner in ten minutes." The agent left his notebooks on the table and exited amid the laughter.

Mitch flipped to the first section of the notebook and pretended to study the materials. The congressman was detailing his courageous battle to protect tax shelters for the wealthy while at the same time easing the burden on the working class. Under his fearless guidance, the subcommittee had refused to report legislation limiting deductions for oil and gas exploration. He was a one-man army on the Hill.

Mitch waited fifteen minutes, then another five, then began coughing. He needed water, and with hand over mouth he slid between the chairs to the back of the room and out the rear door. Harbison was in the men's room washing his hands for the tenth time.

Mitch walked to the basin next to him and turned on the cold water. "What are you boys up to?" Mitch asked.

Harbison looked at Mitch in the mirror. "I'm just following orders. Director Voyles wants to personally meet you, and I was sent to get you."

"And what might he want?"

"I wouldn't want to steal his thunder, but I'm sure it's rather important."

Mitch cautiously glanced around the rest room. It was empty. "And what if I'm too busy to meet with him?"

Harbison turned off the water and shook his hands into the basin. "The meeting is inevitable, Mitch. Let's not play games. When your little seminar breaks for lunch, you'll find a cab, number 8667, outside to the left of the main entrance. It will take you to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and we'll be there. You must be careful. Two of them followed you here from Memphis."

"Two of whom?"

"The boys from Memphis. Just do as we say and they'll never know."

The moderator thanked the second speaker, a tax professor from New York University, and dismissed them for lunch.

* * *

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