Page 38 of The Firm

Mitch motioned at the bartender for another drink. The domino game grew heated, and he watched the natives argue and drink beer.

"Look, boys, as we speak the goons, as you call them, are probably following my wife all over Grand Cayman. I'll be sort of nervous until I get back. Now, what about the deal?"

Tarrance left the sea and the dive boat and stared at Mitch. "Two million's fine, and - "

"Of course it's fine, Tarrance. We agreed on it, did we not?"

"Relax, Mitch. We'll pay a million when you turn over all of your files. At that point, there's no turning back, as they say. You're in up to your neck."

"Tarrance, I understand that. It was my suggestion, remember?"

"But that's the easy part. We really don't want your files, because they're clean files. Good files. Legitimate files. We want the bad files, Mitch, the ones with indictments written all over them. And these files will be much harder to come by. But when you do so, we'll pay another half million. And the rest after the last trial."

"And my brother?"

"We'll try."

"Not good enough, Tarrance. I want a commitment."

"We can't promise to deliver your brother. Hell, he's got at least seven more years."

"But he's my brother, Tarrance. I don't care if he's a serial murderer sitting on death row waiting for his last meal. He's my brother, and if you want me, you have to release him."

"I said we'll try, but we can't commit. There's no legal, formal, legitimate way to get him out, so we must try other means. What if he gets shot during the escape?"

"Just get him out, Tarrance."

"We'll try."

"You'll throw the power and resources of the FBI in assisting my brother in escaping from prison, right, Tarrance?"

"You have my word."

Mitch sat back in his chair and took a long sip of his drink. Now the deal was final. He breathed easier and smiled in the direction of the magnificent Caribbean.

"So when do we get your files?" Tarrance asked.

"Thought you didn't want them. They're too clean, remember?"

"We want the files, Mitch, because when we get the files, then we've got you. You've proved yourself when you hand us your files, your license to practice law, so to speak."

"Ten to fifteen days."

"How many files?"

"Between forty and fifty. The small ones are an inch thick. The big ones wouldn't fit on this table. I can't use the copiers around the office, so we've had to make other arrangements."

"Perhaps we could assist in the copying," said Acklin.

"Perhaps not. Perhaps if I need your help, perhaps I'll ask for it."

"How do you propose to get them to us?" Tarrance asked. Acklin withdrew again.

"Very simple, Wayne. When I've copied them all, and once I get the million where I want it, then I'll hand you a key to a certain little room in the Memphis area, and you can get them in your pickup."

"I told you we'd deposit the money in a Swiss bank account," Tarrance said.

"And now I don't want it in a Swiss bank account, okay? I'll dictate the terms of the transfer, and it'll be done exactly as I say. It's my neck on the line from now on, boys, so I call the shots. Most of them, anyway."

Tarrance smiled and grunted and stared at the pier. "So you don't trust the Swiss?"

"Let's just say I have another bank in mind. I work for money launderers, remember, Wayne, so I've become an expert on hiding money in offshore accounts."

"We'll see."

"When do I see this notebook on the Moroltos?"

"After we get your files and pay our first installment. We'll brief you as much as we can, but for the most part you're on your own. You and I will need to meet a lot, and of course that'll be rather dangerous. May have to take a few bus rides."

"Okay, but the next time I get the aisle seat."

"Sure, sure. Anybody worth two million can surely pick his seat on a Greyhound."

"I'll never live to enjoy it, Wayne. You know I won't."

Three miles out of Georgetown, on the narrow and winding road to Bodden Town, Mitch saw him. The man was squatting behind an old Volkswagen Beetle with the hood up as if engine trouble had stopped him. The man was dressed like a native, without tourist clothes. He could easily pass for one of the Brits who worked for the government or the banks. He was well tanned. The man held a wrench of some sort and appeared to study it and watch the Mitsubishi jeep as it roared by on the left-hand side of the road. The man was the Nordic. He was supposed to have gone unnoticed.

Mitch instinctively slowed to thirty miles per hour, to wait for him. Abby turned and watched the road. The narrow highway to Bodden Town clung to the shoreline for five miles, then forked, and the ocean disappeared. Within minutes the Nordic's green VW came racing around a slight bend. The McDeere jeep was much closer than the Nordic anticipated. Being seen, he abruptly slowed, then turned into the first white-rock driveway on the ocean side.

Mitch gunned the jeep and sped to Bodden Town. West of the small settlement he turned south and less than a mile later found the ocean.

* * *

It was 10 A.M. and the parking lot of Abanks Dive Lodge was half full. The two morning dive boats had left thirty minutes earlier. The McDeeres walked quickly to the bar, where Henry was already shuffling beer and cigarettes to the domino players.

Barry Abanks leaned on a post supporting the thatched roof of the bar and watched as his two dive boats disappeared around the corner of the island. Each would make two dives, at places like Bonnie's Arch, Devil's Grotto, Eden Rock and Roger's Wreck Point, places he had dived and toured and guided through a thousand times. Some of the places he had discovered himself.

The McDeeres approached, and Mitch quietly introduced his wife to Mr. Abanks, who was not polite but not rude. They started for the small pier, where a deckhand was preparing a thirty-foot fishing boat; Abanks unloaded an indecipherable string of commands in the general direction of the young deckhand, who was either deaf or unafraid of his boss.

Mitch stood next to Abanks, the captain now, and pointed to the bar fifty yards away down the pier. "Do you know all those people at the bar?" he asked.

Abanks frowned at Mitch.

"They tried to follow me here. Just curious," Mitch said. "The usual gang," Abanks said. "No strangers."

"Have you noticed any strangers around this morning?"

"Look, this place attracts strange people. I keep no ledger of the strange ones and the normal ones."

"Have you seen a fat American, red hair, at least three hundred pounds?"

Abanks shook his head. The deckhand eased the boat, uckward, away from the pier, then toward the horizon. Abby sat on a small padded bench and watched the dive lodge disappear. In a vinyl bag between her feet were two new sets of snorkeling fins and dive masks. It was ostensibly a snorkeling trip with maybe a little light fishing if they were biting. The great man himself had agreed to accompany them, but only after Mitch insisted and told him they needed to discuss personal matters. Private matters, regarding the death of his son.

From a screened balcony on the second floor of a Cayman Kai beach house, the Nordic watched the two snorkeled heads bob and disappear around the fishing boat. He handed the binoculars to Two-Ton Tony Verkler, who, quickly bored, handed them back. A striking blonde in a black one-piece with legs cut high, almost to the rib cage, stood behind the Nordic and took the binoculars. Of particular interest was the deckhand.

Tony spoke. "I don't understand. If they were talking serious, why the boy? Why have another set of ears around?"

"Perhaps they're talking about snorkeling and fishing," said the Nordic.

"I don't know," said the blonde. "It's unusual for Abanks to spend time on a fishing boat. He likes the divers. There must be a good reason for him to waste a day with two novice snorkelers. Something's up."

"Who's the boy?" asked Tony.

"Just one of the gofers," she said. "He's got a dozen."

"Can you talk to him later?" asked the Nordic.

"Yeah," said Tony. "Show him some skin, snort some candy. He'll talk."

"I'll try," she said.

"What's his name?" asked the Nordic.

"Keith Rook."

* * *

Keith Rook maneuvered the boat alongside the pier at Rum Point. Mitch, Abby and Abanks climbed from the boat and headed for the beach. Keith was not invited to lunch. He stayed behind and lazily washed the deck.

The Shipwreck Bar sat inland a hundred yards under a heavy cover of rare shade trees. It was dark and damp with screened windows and squeaky ceiling fans. There was no reggae, dominoes, or dartboard. The noon crowd was quiet with each table engrossed in its own private talk.

The view from their table was out to sea, to the north. They ordered cheeseburgers and beer-island food.

"This bar is different," Mitch observed quietly.

"Very much so," said Abanks. "And with good reason. It's a hangout for drug dealers who own many of the nice homes and condos around here. They fly in on their private jets, deposit their money in our many fine banks and spend a few days around here checking their real estate."

"Nice neighborhood."

"Very nice, really. They have millions and they keep to themselves."

The waitress, a husky, well-mixed mulatto, dropped three bottles of Jamaican Red Stripe on the table without saying a word. Abanks leaned forward on his elbows with his head lowered, the customary manner of speaking in the Shipwreck Bar. "So you think you can walk away?" he said.

Mitch and Abby leaned forward in unison, and all three heads met low in the center of the table, just over the beer. "Not walk, but run. Run like hell, but I'll get away. And I'll need your help."

He thought about this for a moment and raised his head. He shrugged. "But what am I to do?" He took the first sip of his Red Stripe.

Abby saw her first, and it would take a woman to spot another woman straining ever so elegantly to eavesdrop on their little conversation. Her back was to Abanks. She was a solid blonde partially hidden under cheap black rubber sunglasses that covered most of her face, and she had been watching the ocean and listening a bit too hard. When the three of them leaned over, she sat up straight and listened like hell. She was by herself at a table for two.

Abby dug her fingernails into her husband's leg, and their table became quiet. The blonde in black listened, then turned to her table and her drink.

* * *

Wayne Tarrance had improved his wardrobe by Friday of Cayman Week. Gone were the straw sandals and tight shorts and teenybop sunglasses. Gone were the sickly-pale legs. Now they were bright pink, burned beyond recognition. After three days in the tropical outback known as Cayman Brae, he and Acklin, acting on behalf of the U.S. government, had pounced on a rather cheap room on Grand Cayman, miles from Seven Mile Beach and not within walking distance of any remote portion of the sea. Here they had established a command post to monitor the comings and goings of the McDeeres and other interested people. Here, at the Coconut Motel, they had shared a small room with two single beds and cold showers. Wednesday morning, they had contacted the subject, McDeere, and requested a meeting as soon as possible. He said no. Said he was too busy. Said he and his wife were honeymooning and had no time for such a meeting. Maybe later, was all he said.

Then late Thursday, while Mitch and Abby were enjoying grilled grouper at the Lighthouse on the road to Bodden Town, Laney, Agent Laney, dressed in appropriate island garb and looking very much like an island Negro, stopped at their table and laid down the law. Tarrance insisted on a meeting.

Chickens had to be imported into the Cayman Islands, and not the best ones. Only medium-grade chickens, to be consumed not by native islanders but by Americans away from home without this most basic staple. Colonel Sanders had the damnedest time teaching the island girls, though black or close to it, how to fry chicken. It was foreign to them.

And so it was that Special Agent Wayne Tarrance, of the Bronx, arranged a quick secret meeting at the Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise on the island of Grand Cayman. The only such franchise. He thought the place would be deserted. He was wrong.

A hundred hungry tourists from Georgia, Alabama, Texas and Mississippi packed the place and devoured extra-crispy with cole slaw and creamed potatoes. It tasted better in Tupelo, but it would do.

Tarrance and Acklin sat in a booth in the crowded restaurant and nervously watched the front door. It was not too late to abort. There were just too many people. Finally, Mitch entered, by himself, and stood in the long line. He brought his little red box to their table and sat down. He did not say hello or anything. He began eating the three-piece dinner for which he paid $4.89, Cayman dollars. Imported chicken.

"Where have you been?" Tarrance asked.

Mitch attacked a thigh. "On the island. It's stupid to meet here, Tarrance. Too many people."

"We know what we're doing."

"Yeah, like the Korean shoe store."

"Cute. Why wouldn't you see us Wednesday?"

"I was busy Wednesday. I didn't want to see you Wednesday. Am I clean?"

"Of course you're clean. Laney would've tackled you at the front door if you weren't clean."

"This place makes me nervous, Tarrance."

"Why did you go to Abanks?"

Mitch wiped his mouth and held the partially devoured thigh. A rather small thigh. "He's got a boat. I wanted to fish and snorkel, so we cut a deal. Where were you, Tarrance? In a submarine trailing us around the island?"

"What did Abanks say?"

"Oh, he knows lots of words. Hello. Give me a beer. Who's following us? Buncha words."

"They followed you, you know?"

"They! Which they? Your they or their they? I'm being followed so much I'm causing traffic jams."

"The bad guys, Mitch. Those from Memphis and Chicago and New York. The ones who'll kill you tomorrow if you get real cute."

"I'm touched. So they followed me. Where'd I take them? Snorkeling? Fishing? Come on, Tarrance. They follow me, you follow them, you follow me, they follow you. If I slam on brakes I get twenty noses up my ass. Why are we meeting here, Tarrance? This place is packed."

Tarrance glanced around in frustration.

Mitch closed his chicken box. "Look, Tarrance, I'm nervous and I've lost my appetite."

"Relax. You were clean coming from the condo."

"I'm always clean, Tarrance. I suppose Hodge and Kozinski were clean every time they moved. Clean at Abanks. Clean on the dive boat. Clean at the funerals. This was not a good idea, Tarrance. I'm leaving."

"Okay. When does your plane leave?"

"Why? You guys plan to follow? Will you follow me or them? What if they follow you? What if we all get real confused and I follow everybody?"

"Come on, Mitch."

"Nine-forty in the morning. I'll try to save you a seat. You can have the window next to Two-Ton Tony."

"When do we get your files?"

Mitch stood with his chicken box. "In a week or so. Give me ten days, and, Tarrance, no more meetings in public. They kill lawyers, remember, not stupid FBI agents."

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