Page 28 of The Firm

Mitch said nothing to the taxi driver. He sped away like a maniac, and they were soon lost in traffic. Fifteen minutes later, they parked near the Memorial.

"Don't get out yet," the driver said with authority. Mitch did not move. For ten minutes, he did not move or speak. Finally, a white Ford Escort pulled alongside the cab and honked. It then drove away.

The driver stared ahead and said, "Okay. Go to the Wall. They'll find you after about five minutes."

Mitch stepped to the sidewalk, and the cab left. He stuck his hands deep in the pockets of his wool overcoat and walked slowly to the Memorial. Bitter wind gusts from the north scattered leaves in all directions. He shivered and flipped the collar of his coat around his ears.

A solitary pilgrim sat rigidly in a wheelchair and stared at the Wall. He was covered with a heavy quilt. Under his oversized camouflage beret, a pair of aviator's sunglasses covered his eyes. He sat near the end of the wall, near the names of those killed in 1972. Mitch followed the years down the sidewalk until he stopped near the wheelchair. He searched the names, suddenly oblivious of the man.

He breathed deeply and was aware of a numbness in his legs and stomach. He looked slowly downward, and then, near the bottom, there it was. Engraved neatly, matter-of-factly, just like all the others, was the name Rusty McDeere.

A basket of frozen and wilted flowers sat on its side next to the monument, inches under his name. Mitch gently laid them to one side and knelt before the Wall. He touched the engraved letters of Rusty's name. Rusty McDeere. Age eighteen, forever. Seven weeks in Vietnam when he stepped on a land mine. Death was instantaneous, they said. They always said that, according to Ray. Mitch wiped a small tear and stood staring at the length of the Wall. He thought of the fifty-eight thousand families who had been told that death was instantaneous and no one suffered over there.

"Mitch, they're waiting."

He turned and looked at the man in the wheelchair, the only human in sight. The aviator's glasses stared at the Wall and did not look up. Mitch glanced around in all directions.

"Relax, Mitch. We've got the place sealed off. They're not watching."

"And who are you?" Mitch asked.

"Just one of the gang. You need to trust us, Mitch. The Director has important words, words that could save your life."

"Where is he?"

The man in the wheelchair turned his head and looked down the sidewalk. "Start walking that way. They'll find you."

Mitch stared for a moment longer at his brother's name and walked behind the wheelchair. He walked past the statue of the three soldiers. He walked slowly, waiting, with hands deep in his pockets. Fifty yards past the monument, Wayne Tarrance stepped from behind a tree and walked beside him. "Keep walking," he said.

"Why am I not surprised to see you here?" Mitch said.

"Just keep walking. We know of at least two goons from Memphis who were flown in ahead of you. They're at the same hotel, next door to you. They did not follow you here. I think we lost them."

"What the hell's going on, Tarrance?"

"You're about to find out. Keep walking. But relax, no one is watching you, except for about twenty of our agents."

"Twenty?"

"Yeah. We've got this place sealed off. We want to make sure those bastards from Memphis don't show up here. I don't expect them."

"Who are they?"

"The Director will explain."

"Why is the Director involved?"

"You ask a lot of questions, Mitch."

"And you don't have enough answers."

Tarrance pointed to the right. They left the sidewalk and headed for a heavy concrete bench near a footbridge leading to a small forest. The water on the pond below was frozen white.

"Have a seat," Tarrance instructed. They sat down. Two men walked across the footbridge. Mitch immediately recognized the shorter one as Voyles. F. Denton Voyles, Director of the FBI under three Presidents. A tough-talking, heavy-handed crime buster with a reputation for ruthlessness.

Mitch stood out of respect when they stopped at the bench. Voyles stuck out a cold hand and stared at Mitch with the same large, round face that was famous around the world. They shook hands and exchanged names. Voyles pointed to the bench. Tarrance and the other agent walked to the footbridge and studied the horizon. Mitch glanced across the pond and saw two men, undoubtedly agents with their identical black trench coats and close haircuts, standing against a tree a hundred yards away.

Voyles sat close to Mitch, their legs touching. A brown fedora rested to one side of his large, bald head. He was at least seventy, but the dark green eyes danced with intensity and missed nothing. Both men sat still on the cold bench with their hands stuck deep in their overcoats.

"I appreciate you coming," Voyles started.

"I didn't feel as though I had a choice. You folks have been relentless."

"Yes. It's very important to us."

Mitch breathed deeply. "Do you have any idea how confused and scared I am? I'm totally bewildered. I would like an explanation, sir."

"Mr. McDeere, can I call you Mitch?"

"Sure. Why not?"

"Fine. Mitch, I am a man of very few words. And what I'm about to tell you will certainly shock you. You will be horrified. You may not believe me. But I assure you it's all true, and with your help we can save your life."

Mitch braced himself and waited.

"Mitch, no lawyer has ever left your law firm alive. Three have tried, and they were killed. Two were about to leave, and they died last summer. Once a lawyer joins Bendini, Lambert & Locke, he never leaves, unless he retires and keeps his mouth shut. And by the time they retire, they are a part of the conspiracy and cannot talk. The Firm has an extensive surveillance operation on the fifth floor. Your house and car are bugged. Your phones are tapped. Your desk and office are wired. Virtually every word you utter is heard and recorded on the fifth floor. They follow you, and sometimes your wife. They are here in Washington as we speak. You see, Mitch, The Firm is more than a firm. It is a division of a very large business, a very profitable business. A very illegal business. The Firm is not owned by the partners."

Mitch turned and watched him closely. The Director looked at the frozen pond as he spoke.

"You see, Mitch, the law firm of Bendini, Lambert & Locke is owned by the Morolto crime family in Chicago. The Mafia. The Mob. They call the shots from up there. And that's why we're here." He touched Mitch firmly on the knee and stared at him from six inches away. "It's Mafia, Mitch, and illegal as hell."

"I don't believe it," he said, frozen with fear. His voice was weak and shrill.

The Director smiled. "Yes you do, Mitch. Yes you do. You've been suspicious for some time now. That's why you talked to Abanks in the Caymans. That's why you hired that sleazy investigator and got him killed by those boys on the fifth floor. You know The Firm stinks, Mitch."

Mitch leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees. He stared at the ground between his shoes. "I don't believe it," he mumbled weakly.

"As far as we can tell, about twenty-five percent of their clients, or I should say your clients, are legitimate. There are some very good lawyers in that firm, and they do tax and securities work for rich clients. It's a very good front. Most of the files you've worked on so far have been legit. That's how they operate. They bring in a new rookie, throw money at him, buy the BMW, the house, all that jazz, wine and dine and go to the Caymans, and they work his ass off with what is really legitimate legal stuff. Real clients. Real lawyer stuff. That goes on for a few years, and the rookie doesn't suspect a thing, right? It's a great firm, great bunch of guys. Plenty of money. Hey, everything's wonderful. Then after five or six years, when the money is really good, when they own your mortgage, when you have a wife and kids and everything is so secure, they drop the bomb and tell the truth. There's no way out. It's the Mafia, Mitch. Those guys don't play games. They'll kill one of your children or your wife, they don't care. You're making more money than you could possibly make anywhere else. You're blackmailed because you've got a family that doesn't mean a damned thing to the Mob, so what do you do, Mitch? You stay. You can't leave. If you stay you make a million and retire young with your family intact. If you want to leave, you'll wind up with your picture on the wall in the first-floor library. They're very persuasive."

Mitch rubbed his temples and began shivering.

"Look, Mitch, I know you must have a thousand questions. Okay. So I'll just keep talking and tell you what I know. The five dead lawyers all wanted out after they learned the truth. We never talked to the first three, because, frankly, we knew nothing about until seven years ago. They've done an excellent job of staying quiet and leaving no trail. The first three just wanted out, probably, so they got out. In coffins. Hodge and Kozinski were different. They approached us, and over the course of a year we had several meetings. They dropped the bomb on Kozinski after he'd been there for seven years. He told Hodge. They whispered between themselves for a year. Kozinski was about to make partner and wanted out before that happened. So he and Hodge made the fatal decision to get out. They never suspected the first three were killed, or at least they never mentioned it to us. We sent Wayne Tarrance to Memphis to bring them in. Tarrance is an organized-crime specialist from New York. He and the two were getting real close when that thing happened in the Caymans. These guys in Memphis are very good, Mitch. Don't ever forget that. They've got the money and they hire the best. So after Hodge and Kozinski were killed, I made the decision to get. If we can bust that firm, we can indict every significant member of the Morolto family. There could be over five hundred indictments. Tax evasion, laundering, racketeering, just whatever you want. It could destroy the Morolto family, and that would be the single most devastating blow to organized crime in the past thirty years. And, Mitch, it's all in the files at the quiet little Bendini firm in Memphis."

"Why Memphis?"

"Ah, good question. Who would suspect a small firm in Memphis, Tennessee? There's no mob activity down there. It's a quiet, lovely, peaceful city by the river. It could've been Durham or Topeka or Wichita Falls. But they chose Memphis. It's big enough, though, to hide a forty-man firm. Perfect choice."

"You mean every partner..." His words trailed off.

"Yes, every partner knows and plays by the rules. We suspect that most of the associates know, but it's hard to tell. There's so much we don't know, Mitch. I can't explain how operates and who's in on it. But we strongly suspect a lot of criminal activity down there."

"Such as?"

"Tax fraud. They do all the tax work for the Morolto bunch. They file nice, neat, proper-looking tax returns each year and report a fraction of the income. They launder money like crazy. They set up legitimate businesses with dirty money. That bank in St. Louis, big client, what is it?"

"Commercial Guaranty."

"Right, that's it. Mafia-owned. Firm does all its legal work. Morolto takes in an estimated three hundred million a year from gambling, dope, numbers - everything. All cash, right? Most of it goes to those banks in the Caymans. How does it move from Chicago to the islands? Any idea? The plane, we suspect. That gold-plated Lear you flew up here on runs about once a week to Georgetown."

Mitch sat straight and watched Tarrance, who was out of hearing range and standing now on the footbridge. "So why don't you get your indictments and bust it all up?"

"We can't. We will, I assure you. I've assigned five agents to the project in Memphis and three here in Washington. I'll get them, Mitch, I promise you. But we must have someone from the inside. They are very smart. They have plenty of money. They're extremely careful, and they don't make mistakes. I am convinced that we must have help from you or another member of The Firm. We need copies of files, copies of bank records, copies of a million documents that can only come from within. It's impossible otherwise."

"And I have been chosen."

"And you have been chosen. If you decline, then you can go on your way and make plenty of money and in general be a successful lawyer. But we will keep trying. We'll wait for the next new associate and try to pick him off. And if that doesn't work, we'll move in on one of the older associates. One with courage and morals and guts to do what's right. We'll find our man one day, Mitch, and when that happens we'll indict you along with all the rest and ship your rich and successful ass off to prison. It will happen, son, believe me."

At that moment, at that place and time, Mitch believed him. "Mr. Voyles, I'm cold. Could we walk around?"

"Sure, Mitch."

They walked slowly to the sidewalk and headed in the direction of the Vietnam Memorial. Mitch glanced over his shoulder. Tarrance and the other agent were following at a distance. Another agent in dark brown sat suspiciously on a park bench up the sidewalk.

"Who was Anthony Bendini?" Mitch asked.

"He married a Morolto in 1930. The old man's son-in-law. They had an operation in Philadelphia back then, and he was stationed there. Then, in the forties, for some reason, he was sent to Memphis to set up shop. He was a very good lawyer, though, from what we know."

A thousand questions flooded his brain and fought to be asked. He tried to appear calm, under control, skeptical.

"What about Oliver Lambert?"

"A prince of a guy. The perfect senior partner, who just happened to know all about Hodge and Kozinski and the plans to eliminate them. The next time you see Mr. Lambert around the office, try to remember that he is a cold-blooded murderer. Of course, he has no choice. If he didn't cooperate, they'd find him floating somewhere. They're all like that, Mitch. They started off just like you. Young, bright, ambitious, then suddenly one day they were in over their heads with no place to go. So they play along, work hard, do a helluva job putting up a good front and looking like a real respectable little law firm. Each year or so they recruit a bright young law student from a poor background, no family money, with a wife who wants babies, and they throw money at him and sign him up."

Mitch thought of the money, the excessive salary from a small firm in Memphis, and the car and low-interest mortgage. He was headed for Wall Street and had been sidetracked by the money. Only the money.

"What about Nathan Locke?"

The Director smiled. "Locke is another story. He grew up a poor kid in Chicago and was running errands for old man Morolto by the time he was ten. He's been a hood all his life. Scratched his way through law school, and the old man sent him South to work with Anthony Bendini in the white-collar-crime division of the family. He was always a favorite of the old man."

"When did Morolto die?"

"Eleven years ago at the age of eighty-eight. He has two slimy sons, Mickey the Mouth and Joey the Priest. Mickey lives in Las Vegas and has a limited role in the family business. Joey is the boss."

The sidewalk reached an intersection with another one. In the distance to the left, the Washington Monument reached upward in the bitter wind. To the right, the walkway led to the Wall. A handful of people were now staring at it, searching for the names of sons and husbands and friends. Mitch headed for the Wall. They walked slowly.

Mitch spoke softly. "I don't understand how can do so much illegal work and keep it quiet. That place is full of secretaries and clerks and paralegals."

"Good point, and one I cannot fully answer. We think it operates as two firms. One is legitimate, with the new associates, most of the secretaries and support people. Then, the senior associates and partners do the dirty work. Hodge and Kozinski were about to give us plenty of information, but they never made it. Hodge told Tarrance once that there was a group of paralegals in the basement he knew little about. They worked directly for Locke and Milligan and McKnight and a few other partners, and no one was really sure what they did. Secretaries know everything, and we think that some of them are probably in on it. If so, I'm sure they're well paid and too scared to talk. Think about it, Mitch. If you work there making great money with great benefits, and you know that if you ask too many questions or start talking you wind up in the river, what do you do? You keep your mouth shut and take the money."

They stopped at the beginning of the Wall, at a point where the black granite began at ground level and started its run of 246 feet until it angled into the second row of identical panels. Sixty feet away, an elderly couple stared at the wall and cried softly. They huddled together, for warmth and strength. The mother bent down and laid a framed black-and-white photo at the base of the Wall. The father laid a shoebox full of high school memorabilia next to the photo. Football programs, class pictures, love letters, key rings and a gold chain. They cried louder.

Mitch turned his back to the Wall and looked at the Washington Monument. The Director watched his eyes.

"So what am I supposed to do?" Mitch asked.

"First of all, keep your mouth shut. If you start asking questions, your life could be in danger. Your wife's also. Don't have any kids in the near future. They're easy targets. It's best to play dumb, as if everything is wonderful and you still plan to be the world's greatest lawyer. Second, you must make a decision. Not now, but soon. You must decide if you will cooperate or not. If you choose to help us, we will of course make it worth your while. If you choose not to, then we will continue to watch until we decide to approach another associate. As I said, one of these days we'll find someone with guts and nail those bastards. And the Morolto crime family as we know it will cease to exist. We'll protect you, Mitch, and you'll never have to work again in your life."

"What life? I'll live in fear forever, if I live. I've heard stories of witnesses the FBI has supposedly hidden. Ten years later, the car explodes as they back out the driveway to go to work. The body is scattered over three blocks. The Mob never forgets, Director. You know that."

"They never forget, Mitch. But I promise you, you and your wife will be protected."

The Director looked at his watch. "You'd better get back or they'll be suspicious. Tarrance will be in touch. Trust him, Mitch. He's trying to save your life. He has full authority to act on my behalf. If he tells you something, it's coming from me. He can negotiate."

"Negotiate what?"

"Terms, Mitch. What we give you in return for what you give us. We want the Morolto family, and you can deliver. You name your price, and this government, working through the FBI, will deliver. Within reason, of course. And that's coming from me, Mitch." They walked slowly along the Wall and stopped by the agent in the wheelchair. Voyles stuck out his hand. "Look, there's a taxi waiting where you came in, number 1073. Same driver. You'd better leave now. We will not meet again, but Tarrance will contact you in a couple of weeks. Please think about what I said. Don't convince yourself is invincible and can operate forever, because I will not allow it. We will make a move in the near future, I promise that. I just hope you're on our side."

"I don't understand what I'm supposed to do."

"Tarrance has the game plan. A lot will depend upon you and what you learn once you're committed."

"Committed?"

"That's the word, Mitch. Once you commit, there's no turning back. They can be more ruthless than any organization on earth."

"Why did you pick me?"

"We had to pick someone. No, that's not true. We picked you because you have the guts to walk away from it. You have no family except a wife. No ties, no roots. You've been hurt by every person you ever cared for, except Abby. You raised yourself, and in doing so became self-reliant and independent. You don't need The Firm. You can leave it. You're hardened and calloused beyond your years. And you're smart enough to pull it off, Mitch. You won't get caught. That's why we picked you. Good day, Mitch. Thanks for coming. You'd better get back."

Voyles turned and walked quickly away. Tarrance waited at the end of the Wall, and gave Mitch a quick salute, as if to say, "So long - for now."

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