"The black dude. He's an agent, you know."
"We haven't been properly introduced. Yes, he's got my car. Where is he taking it?"
"Down the interstate. He'll be back in an hour or so. We'll try to have you on the road by five so you can be at the office by six. We'd hate to mess up your day."
"It's already shot to hell."
A partially crippled waitress named Dot ambled by and demanded to know what they wanted. Just coffee. A surge of Roadway drivers swarmed in the front door and filled up the cafe. Merle could barely be heard.
"So how are the boys at the office?" Tarrance asked cheerfully.
"Everything's fine. The meters are ticking as we speak and everyone's getting richer. Thanks for asking."
"How's my old pal Voyles doing?" Mitch asked.
"He's quite anxious, really. He called me twice today and repeated for the tenth time his desire to have an answer from you. Said you'd had plenty of time and all that. I told him to relax. Told him about our little roadside rendezvous tonight and he got real excited. I'm supposed to call him in four hours, to be exact."
"Tell him a million bucks won't do it, Tarrance. You boys like to brag about spending billions fighting organized crime, so I say throw a little my way. What's a couple of million cash to the federal government?"
"So it's a couple of million now?"
"Damned right it's a couple of million. And not a dime less. I want a million now and a million later. I'm in the process of copying all of my files, and I should be finished in a few days. Legitimate files, I think. If I gave them to anyone I'd be permanently disbarred. So when I give them to you, I want the first million. Let's just call it good-faith money."
"How do you want it paid?"
"Deposited in an account in a bank in Zurich. But we'll discuss the details later."
Dot slid two saucers onto the table and dropped two mismatched cups on them. She poured from a height of three feet and splashed coffee in all directions. "Free refills," she grunted, and left.
"And the second million?" Tarrance asked, ignoring the coffee.
"When you and I and Voyles decide I've supplied you with enough documents to get the indictments, then I get half. After I testify for the last time, I get the other half. That's incredibly fair, Tarrance."
"It is. You've got a deal."
Mitch breathed deeply, and felt weak. A deal. A contract. An agreement. One that could never be put in writing, but one that was terribly enforceable nonetheless. He sipped the coffee but didn't taste it. They had agreed on the money. He was on a roll. Keep pushing.
"And there's one other thing, Tarrance."
The head lowered and turned slightly to the right. "Yeah?"
Mitch leaned closer, resting on his forearms. "It won't cost you a dime, and you boys can pull it off with no sweat. Okay?"
"My brother Ray is at Brushy Mountain. Seven years until parole. I want him out."
"That's ridiculous, Mitch. We can do a lot of things, but we damned sure can't parole state prisoners. Federal maybe, but not state. No way."
"Listen to me, Tarrance, and listen good. If I hit the road with the Mafia on my tail, my brother goes with me. Sort of like a package deal. And I know if Director Voyles wants him out of prison, he'll get out of prison. I know that. Now, you boys just figure out a way to make it happen."
"But we have no authority to interfere with state prisoners."
Mitch smiled and returned to his coffee. "James Earl Ray escaped from Brushy Mountain. And he had no help from the outside."
"Oh, that's great. We attack the prison like commandos and rescue your brother. Beautiful."
"Don't play dumb with me, Tarrance. It's not negotiable."
"All right, all right. I'll see what I can do. Anything else? Any more surprises?"
"No, just questions about where we go and what we do. Where do we hide initially? Where do we hide during the trials? Where do we live for the rest of our lives? Just minor questions like that."
"We can discuss it later."
"What did Hodge and Kozinski tell you?"
"Not enough. We've got a notebook, a rather thick notebook, in which we've accumulated and indexed everything we know about the Moroltos and. Most of it's Morolto crap, their organization, key people, illegal activities and so on. You need to read it all before we start to work."
"Which, of course, will be after I've received the first million."
"Of course. When can we see your files?"
"In about a week. I've managed to copy four files that belong to someone else. I may get my hands on a few more of those."
"Who's doing the copying?"
"None of your business."
Tarrance thought for a second and let it pass. "How many files?"
"Between forty and fifty. I have to sneak them out a few at a time. Some I've worked on for eight months, others only a week or so. As far as I can tell, they're all legitimate clients."
"How many of these clients have you personally met?"
"Two or three."
"Don't bet they're all legitimate. Hodge told us about some dummy files, or sweat files as they are known to the partners, that have been around for years and every new associate cuts his teeth on them; heavy files that require hundreds of hours and make the rookies feel like real lawyers."
"That's what Hodge said. It's an easy game, Mitch. They lure you with the money. They smother you with work that looks legitimate and for the most part probably is legitimate.
Then, after a few years, you've unwittingly become a part of the conspiracy. You're nailed, and there's no getting out. Even you, Mitch. You started work in July, eight months ago, and you've probably already touched a few of the dirty files. You didn't know it, had no reason to suspect it. But they've already set you up."
"Two million, Tarrance. Two million and my brother."
Tarrance sipped the lukewarm coffee and ordered a piece of coconut pie as Dot came within earshot. He glanced at his watch and surveyed the crowd of truckers, all smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee and gossiping.
He adjusted the sunglasses. "So what do I tell Mr. Voyles?"
"Tell him we ain't got a deal until he agrees to get Ray out of prison. No deal, Tarrance."
"We can probably work something out."
"I'm confident you can."
"When do you leave for the Caymans?"
"Early Sunday. Why?"
"Just curious, that's all."
"Well, I'd like to know how many different groups will be following me down there. Is that asking too much? I'm sure we'll attract a crowd, and frankly, we had hoped for a little privacy."
"Forget privacy. It's probably got more wires than a switchboard. Maybe even some cameras."
"That's comforting. We might stay a couple of nights at Abanks Dive Lodge. If you boys are in the neighborhood, stop by for a drink."
"Very funny. If we're there, it'll be for a reason. And you won't know it."
Tarrance ate the pie in three bites. He left two bucks on the table and they walked to the dark rear of the truck stop. The dirty asphalt pavement vibrated under the steady hum of an acre of diesel engines. They waited in the dark.
"I'll talk to Voyles in a few hours," Tarrance said. "Why don't you and your wife take a leisurely Saturday-afternoon drive tomorrow?"
"Anyplace in particular?"
"Yeah. There's a town called Holly Springs thirty miles east of here. Old place, full of antebellum homes and Confederate history. Women love to drive around and look at the old mansions. Make your appearance around four o'clock and we'll find you. Our buddy Laney will be driving a bright red Chevy Blazer with Tennessee plates. Follow him. We'll find a place and talk."
"Is it safe?"
"Trust us. If we see or smell something, we'll break off. Drive around town for an hour, and if you don't see Laney, grab a sandwich and go back home. You'll know they were too close. We won't take chances."
"Thanks. A great bunch of guys."
Laney eased around the corner in the BMW and jumped out. "Everything's clear. No trace of anyone."
"Good," Tarrance said. "See you tomorrow, Mitch. Happy truckin'." They shook hands.
"It's not negotiable, Tarrance," Mitch said again.
"You can call me Wayne. See you tomorrow."