"The Director called me yesterday," Tarrance said without moving his lips. "He asked about you. Said it was time you made a decision."
"Tell him I'm still thinking."
"Have you told the boys at the office?"
"No. I'm still thinking."
"That's good. I don't think you should tell them." He handed Mitch a business card. "Keep this. There are two numbers on the back. Use either one from a pay phone. You'll get a recorder, so just leave a message and tell me exactly when and where to meet you."
Mitch put the card in his pocket.
Suddenly, Tarrance ducked lower.
"What is it!" Mitch demanded.
"I think we've been caught. I just saw a goon walk past the store and look in. Listen to me, Mitch, and listen carefully. Walk with me out of the store right now, and the instant we get out the door, yell at me to get lost and shove me away. I'll act like I want to fight, and you run in the direction of your office."
"You're gonna get me killed, Tarrance."
"Just do as I say. As soon as you get to the office, report this incident to the partners. Tell them I cornered you and you got away as soon as possible."
Outside, Mitch shoved harder than necessary and yelled, "Get the hell away from me! And leave me alone!" He ran two blocks to Union Avenue, then walked to the Bendini Building. He stopped in the men's room on the first floor to catch his breath. He stared at himself in the mirror and breathed deeply ten times.
* * *
Avery was on the phone, with two lights holding and blinking. A secretary sat on the sofa, ready with a steno pad for the onslaught of commands. Mitch looked at her and said, "Would you step outside, please. I need to speak with Avery in private." She stood and Mitch escorted her to the door. He closed it.
Avery watched him closely and hung up. "What's going on?" he asked.
Mitch stood by the sofa. "The FBI just grabbed me as I was returning from Tax Court."
"Damn! Who was it?"
"Same agent. Guy by the name of Tarrance."
Avery picked up the phone and kept talking. "Where did it happen?"
"On the mall. North of Union. I was just walking alone, minding my own business."
"Is this the first contact since that other thing?"
"Yes. I didn't recognize the guy at first."
Avery spoke into the receiver. "This is Avery Tolar. I need to speak to Oliver Lambert immediately. ... I don't care if he's on the phone. Interrupt him, and now."
"What's going on, Avery?" Mitch asked.
"Hello, Oliver. Avery here. Sorry for the interruption. Mitch McDeere is here in my office. A few minutes ago he was walking back from the Federal Building when an FBI agent approached him on the mall.... What? Yes, he just walked in my office and told me about it. ... All right, we'll be there in five minutes." He hung up. "Relax, Mitch. We've been through this before."
"I know, Avery, but this does not make sense. Why would they bother with me? I'm the newest man in."
"It's harassment, Mitch. Pure and simple. Nothing but harassment. Sit down."
Mitch walked to the window and looked at the river in the distance.
Avery was a cool liar. It was now time for the "they're just picking on us" routine. Relax, Mitch. Relax? With eight FBI agents assigned to and the Director, Mr. Denton Voyles himself, monitoring the case daily? Relax? He'd just been caught whispering to an FBI agent inside a dollar shoe store. And now he was forced to act like he was an ignorant pawn being preyed upon by the evil forces of the federal government. Harassment? Then why was the goon following him on a routine walk to the courthouse? Answer that, Avery.
"You're scared, aren't you?" Avery asked as he put his arm around him and gazed out the window.
"Not really. Locke explained it all last time. I just wish they would leave me alone."
"It's a serious matter, Mitch. Don't take it lightly. Let's walk over and see Lambert."
Mitch followed Avery around the corner and down the hall. A stranger in a black suit opened the door for them, then closed it. Lambert, Nathan Locke and Royce McKnight stood near the small conference table. Again, a tape recorder sat on the table. Mitch sat across from it. Black Eyes sat at the head of the table and glared at Mitch.
He spoke with a menacing frown. There were no smiles in the room. "Mitch, has Tarrance or anyone else from the FBI contacted you since the first meeting last August?"
"Are you certain?"
Mitch slapped the table. "Dammit! I said no! Why don't you put me under oath?"
Locke was startled. They were all startled. A heavy, tense silence followed for thirty seconds. Mitch glared at Black Eyes, who retreated ever so slightly with a casual movement of his head.
Lambert, ever the diplomat, the mediator, intervened. "Look, Mitch, we know this is frightening."
"Damn right it is. I don't like it at all. I'm minding my own business, working my ass off ninety hours a week, trying to be nothing but a good lawyer and member of this firm, and for some unknown reason I keep getting these little visits from the FBI. Now, sir, I would like some answers."
Locke pressed the red button on the recorder. "We'll talk about that in a minute. First, you tell us everything that happened."
"It's very simple, Mr. Locke. I walked to the Federal Building at ten for an appearance before Judge Kofer on the Malcolm Delaney case. I was there about an hour, and I finished my business. I left the Federal Building, and I was walking in the direction of our office - in a hurry, I might add. It's about twenty degrees out there. A block or two north of Union, this guy Tarrance came out of nowhere, grabbed my arm and pushed me into a small store. I started to knock the hell out of him, but, after all, he is an FBI agent. And I didn't want to make a scene. Inside, he tells me he wants to talk for a minute. I pulled away from him, and ran to the door. He followed me, tried to grab me, and I shoved him away. Then I ran here, went straight to Avery's office, and here we are. That's all that was said. Play by play, everything."
"What did he want to talk about?"
"I didn't give him a chance, Mr. Locke. I have no plans to talk to any FBI agent unless he has a subpoena."
"Are you sure it's the same agent?"
"I think so. I didn't recognize him at first. I haven't seen him since last August. Once inside the store, he pulled his badge and gave me his name again. At that point, I ran."
Locke pressed another button and sat back in the chair. Lambert sat behind him and smiled ever so warmly. "Listen, Mitch, we explained this last time. These guys are getting bolder and bolder. Just last month they approached Jack Aldrich while he was eating lunch in a little grill on Second Street. We're not sure what they're up to, but Tarrance is out of his mind. It's nothing but harassment."
Mitch watched his lips but heard little. As Lambert spoke, he thought of Kozinski and Hodge and their pretty widows and children at the funerals.
Black Eyes cleared his throat. "It's a serious matter, Mitch. But we have nothing to hide. They could better spend their time investigating our clients if they suspect wrongdoing. We're lawyers. We may represent people who flirt with the law, but we have done nothing wrong. This is very baffling to us."
Mitch smiled and opened his hands. "What do you want me to do?" he asked sincerely.
"There's nothing you can do, Mitch," said Lambert. "Just stay away from this guy, and run if you see him. If he so much as looks at you, report it immediately."
"That's what he did," Avery said defensively.
Mitch looked as pitiful as possible.
"You can go, Mitch," Lambert said. "And keep us posted."
He left the office by himself.
* * *
DeVasher paced behind his desk and ignored the partners. "He's lying, I tell you. He's lying. The sonofabitch is lying. I know he's lying."
"What did your man see?" asked Locke.
"My man saw something different. Slightly different. But very different. He says McDeere and Tarrance walked sort of nonchalantly into the shoe store. No physical intimidation by Tarrance. None at all. Tarrance walks up, they talk, and both sort of duck into the store. My man says they disappear into the back of the store, and they're back there for three, maybe four minutes. Then another one of our guys walks by the store, looks in and sees nothing. Evidently, they saw our man, because within seconds they come flying out of the store with McDeere shoving and yelling. Something ain't right, I tell you."
"Did Tarrance grab his arm and force him into the store?" Nathan Locke asked slowly, precisely.
"Hell no. And that's the problem. McDeere went voluntarily, and when he said the guy grabbed his arm, he's lying. My man says he thinks they would've stayed in there for a while if they hadn't seen us."
"But you're not sure of that," Nathan Locke said.
"I wasn't sure, dammit. They didn't invite me into the store."
DeVasher kept pacing while the lawyers stared at the floor. He unwrapped a Roi-Tan and crammed it into his fat mouth.
Finally, Oliver Lambert spoke. "Look, DeVasher, it's very possible McDeere is telling the truth and your man got the wrong signals. It's very possible. I think McDeere is entitled to the benefit of the doubt."
DeVasher grunted and ignored this.
"Do you know of any contact since last August?" asked Royce McKnight.
"We don't know of any, but that doesn't mean they ain't talked, does it now? We didn't know about those other two until it was almost too late. It's impossible to watch every move they make. Impossible."
He walked back and forth by his credenza, obviously deep in thought. "I gotta talk to him," he finally said.
"McDeere. It's time he and I had a little talk."
"About what?" Lambert asked nervously.
"You let me handle it, okay? Just stay out of my way."
"I think it's a bit premature," Locke said.
"And I don't give a damn what you think. If you clowns were in charge of security, you'd all be in prison."
Mitch sat in his office with the door closed and stared at the walls. A migraine was forming at the base of his skull, and he felt sick. There was a knock at the door.
"Come in," he said softly.
Avery peeked inside, then walked to the desk. "How about lunch?"
"No, thanks. I'm not hungry."
The partner slid his hands into his trouser pockets and smiled warmly. "Look, Mitch, I know you're worried. Let's take a break. I've got to run downtown for a meeting. Why don't you meet me at the Manhattan Club at one. We'll have a long lunch and talk things over. I've reserved the limo for you. It'll be waiting outside at a quarter till."
Mitch managed a weak smile, as if he was touched by this. "Sure, Avery. Why not?"
"Good. I'll see you at one."
At a quarter till, Mitch opened the front door and walked to the limo. The driver opened the door, and Mitch fell in. Company was waiting.
A thick, bald-headed man with a huge, bulging, hanging neck sat smugly in the corner of the rear seat. He stuck out a hand. "Name's DeVasher, Mitch. Nice to meet you."
"Am I in the right limo?" Mitch asked.
"Sure. Sure. Relax." The driver pulled away from the curb.
"What can I do for you?" Mitch asked.
"You can listen for a while. We need to have a little talk." The driver turned on Riverside Drive and headed for the Hernando De Soto Bridge.
"Where are we going?" Mitch asked.
"For a little ride. Just relax, son."
So I'm number six,thought Mitch. This is it. No, wait a minute. They were much more creative than this with their killing.
"Mitch, can I call you Mitch?"
"Fine. Mitch, I'm in charge of security for, and - "
"Why does The Firm need security?"
"Just listen to me, son, and I'll explain. The Firm has an extensive security program, thanks to old man Bendini. He was a nut about security and secrecy. My job is to protect, and quite frankly, we're very concerned about this FBI business."
"So am I."
"Yes. We believe the FBI is determined to infiltrate our firm in hopes of collecting information on certain clients."
"Some high rollers with questionable tax shelters."
Mitch nodded and looked at the river below. They were now in Arkansas, with the Memphis skyline fading behind them. DeVasher recessed the conversation. He sat like a frog with his hands folded across the gut. Mitch waited, until it became apparent that lapses in conversation and awkward silence did not bother DeVasher. Several miles across the river, the driver left the interstate and found a rough county road that circled and ran back to the east. Then he turned onto a gravel road that went for a mile through low-lying bean fields next to the river. Memphis was suddenly visible again, across the water.
"Where are we going?" Mitch asked, with some alarm.
"Relax. I want to show you something."
A gravesite,thought Mitch. The limo stopped on a cliff that fell ten feet to a sandbar next to the bank. The skyline stood impressively on the other side. The top of the Bendini Building was visible.
"Let's take a walk," DeVasher said.
"Where to?" Mitch asked.
"Come on. It's okay." DeVasher opened his door and walked to the rear bumper. Slowly, Mitch followed him.
"As I was saying, Mitch, we are very troubled by this contact with the FBI. If you talk to them, they will get bolder, then who knows what the fools will try. It's imperative that you not speak to them, ever again. Understand?"
"Yes. I've understood since the first visit in August."
Suddenly, DeVasher was in his face, nose to nose. He smiled wickedly. "I have something that will keep you honest." He reached in his sport coat and pulled out a manila envelope.
"Take a look at these," he said with a sneer, and walked away.
Mitch leaned on the limo and nervously opened the envelope. There were four photographs, black and white, eight by ten, very clear. On the beach. The girl.
"Oh my god! Who took these?" Mitch yelled at him.
"What difference does it make? It's you, ain't it?"
There was no doubt about who it was. He ripped the photographs into small pieces and threw them in DeVasher's direction.
"We got plenty at the office," DeVasher said calmly. "Bunch of them. We don't want to use them, but one more little conversation with Mr. Tarrance or any other Fibbie and we'll mail them to your wife. How would you like that, Mitch? Imagine your pretty little wife going to the mailbox to get her Redbook and catalogues and she sees this sftrange envelope addressed to her. Try to think of that, Mitch. The next time you and Tarrance decide to shop for plastic shoes, think about us, Mitch. Because we'll be watching."
"Who knows about these?" Mitch asked.
"Me and the photographer, and now you. Nobody in the firm knows, and I don't plan to tell them. But if you screw up again, I suspect they'll be passing them around at lunch. I play hardball, Mitch."
He sat on the trunk and rubbed his temples. DeVasher walked up next to him. "Listen, son. You're a very bright young man, and you're on your way to big bucks. Don't screw it up. Just work hard, play the game, buy new cars, build bigger homes, the works. Just like all the other guys. Don't try to be no hero. I don't want to use the pictures."