Page 33 of The Firm

"You covered it well. It won't happen again."

"Promise me, Tarrance. Promise me no one will ever again approach me in public."

Tarrance looked down the aisle and nodded.

"No, Tarrance. I need to hear it from your mouth. Promise me."

"Okay, okay. It won't happen again. I promise."

"Thanks. Now maybe I can eat at a restaurant without fear of being grabbed."

"You've made your point."

An old black man with a cane inched toward them, smiled and walked past. The rest-room door slammed. The Greyhound rode the left lane and blew past the lawful drivers.

Tarrance flipped through a magazine. Mitch gazed into the countryside. The man with the cane finished his business and wobbled to his seat on the front row.

"So what brings you here?" Tarrance asked, flipping pages.

"I don't like airplanes. I always take the bus."

"I see. Where would you like to start?"

"Voyles said you had a game plan."

"I do. I just need a quarterback."

"Good ones are very expensive."

"We've got the money."

"It'll cost a helluva lot more than you think. The way I figure it, I'll be throwing away a forty-year legal career at, say, an average of half a million a year."

"That's twenty million bucks."

"I know. But we can negotiate."

"That's good to hear. You're assuming that you'll work, or practice, as you say, for forty years. That's a very precarious assumption. Just for fun, let's assume that within five years we bust up and indict you along with all of your buddies. And that we obtain convictions, and you go off to prison for a few years. They won't keep you long because you're a white-collar type, and of course you've heard how nice the federal pens are. But at any rate, you'll lose your license, your house, your little BMW. Probably your wife. When you get out, you can open up a private investigation service like your old friend Lomax. It's easy work, unless you sniff the wrong underwear."

"Like I said. It's negotiable."

"All right. Let's negotiate. How much do you want?"

"For what?"

Tarrance closed the magazine, placed it under his seat and opened a thick paperback. He pretended to read. Mitch spoke from the corner of his mouth with his eyes on the median.

"That's a very good question," Tarrance said softly, just above the distant grind of the diesel engine. "What do we want from you? Good question. First, you have to give up your career as a lawyer. You'll have to divulge secrets and records that belong to your clients. That, of course, is enough to get you disbarred, but that won't seem important. You and I must agree that you will hand us The Firm on a silver platter. Once we agree, if we agree, the rest will fall in place. Second, and most important, you will give us enough documentation to indict every member of The Firm and most of the top Morolto people. The records are in the little building there on Front Street."

"How do you know this?"

Tarrance smiled. "Because we spend billions of dollars fighting organized crime. Because we've tracked the Moroltos for twenty years. Because we have sources within the family. Because Hodge and Kozinski were talking when they were murdered. Don't sell us short, Mitch."

"And you think I can get the information out?"

"Yes, Counselor. You can build a case from the inside that will collapse and break up one of the largest crime families in the country. You gotta lay out for us. Whose office is where? Names of all secretaries, clerks, paralegals. Who works on what files? Who's got which clients? The chain of command. Who's on the fifth floor? What's up there? Where are the records kept? Is there a central storage area? How much is computerized? How much is on microfilm? And, most important, you gotta bring the stuff out and hand it to us. Once we have probable cause, we can go in with a small army and get everything. But that's an awfully big step. We gotta have a very tight and solid case before we go crashing in with search warrants."

"Is that all you want?"

"No. You'll have to testify against all of your buddies at their trials. Could take years."

Mitch breathed deeply and closed his eyes. The bus slowed behind a caravan of mobile homes split in two. Dusk was approaching, and, one at a time, the cars in the westbound lane brightened with headlights.

Testifying at trial!This, he had not thought of. With millions to spend for the best criminal lawyers, the trials could drag on forever.

Tarrance actually began reading the paperback, a Louis L'Amour. He adjusted the reading light above them, as if he was indeed a real passenger on a real journey. After thirty miles of no talk, no negotiation, Mitch removed his sunglasses and looked at Tarrance.

"What happens to me?"

"You'll have a lot of money, for what that's worth. If you have any sense of morality, you can face yourself each day. You can live anywhere in the country, with a new identity, of course. We'll find you a job, fix your nose, do anything you want, really."

Mitch tried to keep his eyes on the road, but it was impossible. He glared at Tarrance. "Morality? Don't ever mention that word to me again, Tarrance. I'm an innocent victim, and you know it."

Tarrance grunted with a smart-ass grin.

They rode in silence for a few miles.

"What about my wife?"

"Yeah, you can keep her."

"Very funny."

"Sorry. She'll get everything she wants. How much does she know?"

"Everything." He thought of the girl on the beach. "Well, almost everything."

"We'll get her a fat government job with the Social Security Administration anywhere you want. It won't be that bad, Mitch."

"It'll be wonderful. Until an unknown point in the future when one of your people opens his or her mouth and lets something slip to the wrong person, and you'll read about me or my wife in the paper. The Mob never forgets, Tarrance. They're worse than elephants. And they keep secrets better than your side. You guys have lost people, so don't deny it."

"I won't deny it. And I'll admit to you that they can be ingenious when they decide to kill."

"Thanks. So where do I go?"

"It's up to you. Right now we have about two thousand witnesses living all over the country under new names with new homes and new jobs. The odds are overwhelmingly in your favor."

"So I play the odds?"

"Yes. You either take the money and run, or you play big-shot lawyer and bet that we never infiltrate."

"That's a hell of a choice, Tarrance."

"It is. I'm glad it's yours."

The female companion of the ancient black man with the cane rose feebly from her seat and began shuffling toward them. She grabbed each aisle seat as she progressed. Tarrance leaned toward Mitch as she passed. He would not dare speak with this stranger in the vicinity. She was at least ninety, half crippled, probably illiterate, and could care less if Tarrance received his next breath of air. But Tarrance was instantly mute.

Fifteen minutes later, the rest-room door opened and released the sounds of the toilet gurgling downward into the pit of the Greyhound. She shuffled to the front and took her seat.

"Who is Jack Aldrich?" Mitch asked. He suspected a cover-up with this one, and he carefully watched the reaction from the corner of his eye. Tarrance looked up from the book and stared at the seat in front of him.

"Name's familiar. I can't place him."

Mitch returned his gaze to the window. Tarrance knew. He had flinched, and his eyes had narrowed too quickly before he answered. Mitch watched the westbound traffic.

"So who is he?" Tarrance finally asked.

"You don't know him?"

"If I knew him, I wouldn't ask who he was."

"He's a member of our firm. You should've known that, Tarrance."

"The city's full of lawyers. I guess you know them all."

"I know the ones at Bendini, Lambert & Locke, the quiet little firm you guys have been studying for seven years. Aldrich is a six-year man who allegedly was approached by the FBI a couple of months ago. True or false?"

"Absolutely false. Who told you this?"

"It doesn't matter. Just a rumor around the office."

"It's a lie. We've talked to no one but you since August. You have my word. And we have no plans to talk to anyone else, unless, of course, you decline and we must find another prospect."

"You've never talked to Aldrich?"

"That's what I said."

Mitch nodded and picked up a magazine. They rode in silence for thirty minutes. Tarrance gave up on his novel, and finally said, "Look, Mitch, we'll be in Knoxville in an hour or so. We need to strike a deal, if we're going to. Director Voyles will have a thousand questions in the morning."

"How much money?"

"Half a million bucks."

Any lawyer worth his salt knew the first offer had to be rejected. Always. He had seen Avery's mouth drop open in shock and his head shake wildly in absolute disgust and disbelief with first offers, regardless of how reasonable. There would be counteroffers, and counter-counteroffers, and further negotiations, but always, the first offer was rejected.

So by shaking his head and smiling at the window as if this was what he expected, Mitch said No to half a million.

"Did I say something funny?" Tarrance, the nonlawyer, the nonnegotiator, asked.

"That's ridiculous, Tarrance. You can't expect me to walk away from a gold mine for half a million bucks. After taxes, I net three hundred thousand at best."

"And if we close the gold mine and send all you Gucci-footed hotshots to jail?"

"If. If. If. If you knew so much, why haven't you done something? Voyles said you boys have been watching and waiting for seven years. That's real good, Tarrance. Do you always move so fast?"

"Do you wanna take that chance, McDeere? Let's say it takes us another five years, okay? After five years we bust the joint and send your ass to jail. At that point it won't make any difference how long it took us, will it? The result will be the same, Mitch."

"I'm sorry. I thought we were negotiating, not threatening."

"I've made you an offer."

"Your offer is too low. You expect me to make a case that will hand you hundreds of indictments against a group of the sleaziest criminals in America, a case that could easily cost me my life. And you offer a pittance. Three million, at least."

Tarrance did not flinch or frown. He received the counteroffer with a good, straight poker face, and Mitch, the negotiator, knew it was not out of the ballpark.

"That's a lot of money," Tarrance said, almost to himself. "I don't think we've ever paid that much."

"But you can, can't you?"

"I doubt it. I'll have to talk to the Director."

"The Director! I thought you had complete authority on this case. Are we gonna run back and forth to the Director until we have a deal?"

"What else do you want?"

"I've got a few things in mind, but we won't discuss them until the money gets right."

The old man with the cane apparently had weak kidneys. He stood again and began the awkward wobble to the rear of the bus. Tarrance again started his book. Mitch flipped through an old copy of Field & Stream.

The Greyhound left the interstate in Knoxville two minutes before eight. Tarrance leaned closer and whispered, "Take the front door out of the terminal. You'll see a young man wearing an orange University of Tennessee sweat suit standing beside a white Bronco. He'll recognize you and call you Jeffrey. Shake hands like lost friends and get in the Bronco. He'll take you to your car."

"Where is it?" Mitch whispered.

"Behind a dorm on campus."

"Have they checked it for bugs?"

"I think so. Ask the man in the Bronco. If they were tracking you when you left Memphis, they might be suspicious by now. You should drive to Cookeville. It's about a hundred miles this side of Nashville. There's a Holiday Inn there. Spend the night and go see your brother tomorrow. We'll be watching also, and if things look fishy, I'll find you Monday morning."

"When's the next bus ride?"

"Your wife's birthday is Tuesday. Make reservations for eight at Grisanti's, that Italian place on Airways. At precisely nine, go to the cigarette machine in the bar, insert six quarters and buy a pack of anything. In the tray where the cigarettes are released, you will find a cassette tape. Buy yourself one of those small tape players that joggers wear with earphones and listen to the tape in your car, not at home, and sure as hell not at the office. Use the earphones. Let your wife listen to it. I'll be on the cassette, and I'll give you our top dollar. I'll also explain a few things. After you've listened to it a few times, dispose of it."

"This is rather elaborate, isn't it?"

"Yes, but we don't need to speak to each other for a couple of weeks. They're watching and listening, Mitch. And they're very good. Don't forget that."

"Don't worry."

"What was your football jersey number in high school?"

"Fourteen."

"And college?"

"Fourteen."

"Okay. Your code number is 1-4-1-4. Thursday night, from a touch-tone pay phone, call 757-6000. You'll get a voice that will lead you through a little routine involving your code number. Once you're cleared, you will hear my recorded voice, and I will ask you a series of questions. We'll go from there."

"Why can't I just practice law?"

The bus pulled into the terminal and stopped. "I'm going on to Atlanta," Tarrance said. "I will not see you for a couple of weeks. If there's an emergency, call one of the two numbers I gave you before."

Mitch stood in the aisle and looked down at the agent. "Three million, Tarrance. Not a penny less. If you guys can spend billions fighting organized crime, surely you can find three million for me. And, Tarrance, I have a third option. I can disappear in the middle of the night, vanish into the air. If that happens, you and the Moroltos can fight each other till hell freezes over, and I'll be playing dominoes in the Caribbean."

"Sure, Mitch. You might play a game or two, but they'd find you within a week. And we wouldn't be there to protect you. So long, buddy."

Mitch jumped from the bus and darted through the terminal.

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