Page 39 of The Firm

At eight monday morning, Oliver Lambert and Nathan Locke were cleared through the concrete wall on the fifth floor and walked through the maze of small rooms and offices. DeVasher was waiting. He closed the door behind them and pointed to the chairs. His walk was not as quick. The night had been a long losing battle with the vodka. The eyes were red and the brain expanded with each breath.

"I talked with Lazarov yesterday in Las Vegas. I explained as best I could why you boys were so reluctant to fire your four lawyers, Lynch, Sorrell, Buntin and Myers. I gave him all your good reasons. He said he'd think about it, but in the meantime, make damned sure those four work on nothing but clean files. Take no chances and watch them closely."

"He's really a nice guy, isn't he?" Oliver Lambert said.

"Oh yes. A real charmer. He said Mr. Morolto has asked about once a week for six weeks now. Said they're all anxious."

"What did you tell him?"

"Told him things are secure, for now. Leaks are plugged, for now. I don't think he believes me."

"What about McDeere?" asked Locke.

"He had a wonderful week with his wife. Have you ever seen her in a string bikini? She wore one all week. Outstanding! We got some pictures, just for fun."

"I didn't come here to look at pictures," Locke snapped.

"You don't say. They spent an entire day with our little pal Abanks, just the three of them and a deckhand. They played in the water, did some fishing. And they did a lot of talking. About what, we don't know. Never could get close enough. But it makes me very suspicious, guys. Very suspicious."

"I don't see why," said Oliver Lambert. "What can they talk about besides fishing and diving, and, of course, Hodge and Kozinski? And so they talk about Hodge and Kozinski, what's the harm?"

"He never knew Hodge and Kozinski, Oliver," said Locke. "Why would he be so interested in their deaths?"

"Keep in mind," said DeVasher, "that Tarrance told him at their first meeting that the deaths were not accidental. So now he's Sherlock Holmes looking for clues."

"He won't find any, will he, DeVasher?"

"Hell no. It was a perfect job. Oh sure, there are a few unanswered questions, but the Caymanian police damned sure can't answer them. Neither can our boy McDeere."

"Then why are you worried?" asked Lambert.

"Because they're worried in Chicago, Ollie, and they pay me real good money to stay worried down here. And until the Fibbies leave us alone, everybody stays worried, okay?"

"What else did he do?"

"The usual Cayman vacation. Sex, sun, rum, a little shopping and sightseeing. We had three people on the island, and they lost him a couple of times, but nothing serious, I hope. Like I've always said, you can't trail a man twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, without getting caught. So we have to play it cool sometimes."

"You think McDeere's talking?" asked Locke.

"I know he lies, Nat. He lied about the incident in the Korean shoe store a month ago. You guys didn't want to believe it, but I'm convinced he went into that store voluntarily because he wanted to talk with Tarrance. One of our guys made a mistake, got too close, so the little meeting broke up. That ain't McDeere's version, but that's what happened. Yeah, Nat, I think he's talking. Maybe he meets with Tarrance and tells him to go to hell. Maybe they're smoking dope together. I don't know."

"But you have nothing concrete, DeVasher," Ollie said.

The brain expanded and pressed mightily against the skull. It hurt too much to get mad. "No, Ollie, nothing like Hodge and Kozinski, if that's what you mean. We had those boys on tape and knew they were about to talk. McDeere's a little different."

"He's also a rookie," said Nat. "An eight-month lawyer who knows nothing. He's spent a thousand hours on sweat files, and the only clients he's handled have been legitimate. Avery's been extremely careful about the files McDeere's touched. We've talked about it."

"He has nothing to say, because he knows nothing," added Ollie. "Marty and Joe knew a helluva lot, but they'd been here for years. McDeere's a new recruit."

DeVasher gently massaged his temples. "So you've hired a real dumb-ass. Let's just suppose the FBI has a hunch who our biggest client is. Okay. Think along with me. And let's just suppose Hodge and Kozinski fed them enough to confirm the identity of this particular client. See where I'm going? And let's suppose the Fibbies have told McDeere all they know, along with a certain amount of embellishment. Suddenly, your ignorant rookie recruit is a very smart man. And a very dangerous one."

"How do you prove this?"

"We step up surveillance, for starters. Put his wife under twenty-four-hour watch. I've already called Lazarov and requested more men. Told him we needed some fresh faces. I'm going to Chicago tomorrow to brief Lazarov, and maybe Mr. Morolto. Lazarov thinks Morolto has a lead on a mole within the Bureau, some guy who's close to Voyles and will sell information. But it's expensive, supposedly. They wanna assess things and decide where to go."

"And you'll tell them McDeere's talking?" asked Locke.

"I'll tell them what I know and what I suspect. I'm afraid that if we sit back and wait for concrete, it might be too late. I'm sure Lazarov will wanna discuss plans to eliminate him."

"Preliminary plans?" Ollie asked, with a touch of hope.

"We've passed the preliminary stage, Ollie."

* * *

The Hourglass Tavern in New York City faces Forty-sixth Street, near its corner with Ninth Avenue. A small, dark hole-in-the-wall with twenty-two seats, it grew to fame with its expensive menu and fifty-nine-minute time limit on each meal. On the walls not far above the tables, hourglasses with white sand silently collect the seconds and minutes until the tavern's timekeeper - the waitress - finally makes her calculations and calls time. Frequented by the Broadway crowd, it is usually packed, with loyal fans waiting on the sidewalk. Lou Lazarov liked the Hourglass because it was dark and private conversations were possible. Short conversations, under fifty-nine minutes. He liked it because it was not in Little Italy, and he was not Italian, and although he was owned by Sicilians, he did not have to eat their food. He liked it because he was born and spent the first forty years of his life in the theater district. Then corporate headquarters was moved to Chicago, and he was transferred. But business required his presence in New York at least twice a week, and when the business included meeting a member of equal stature from another family, Lazarov always suggested the Hourglass. Tubertini had equal stature, and a little extra. Reluctantly, he agreed on the Hourglass.

Lazarov arrived first and did not wait for a table. He knew from experience the crowd thinned around 4 P.M., especially on Thursdays. He ordered a glass of red wine. The waitress tipped the hourglass above his head, and the race was on. He sat at a front table, facing the street, his back to the other tables. He was a heavy man of fifty-eight, with a thick chest and ponderous belly. He leaned hard on the red-checkered tablecloth and watched the traffic on Forty-sixth.

Thankfully, Tubertini was prompt. Less than a fourth of the white sand was wasted on him. They shook hands politely, while Tubertini scornfully surveyed the tiny sliver of a restaurant. He flashed a plastic smile at Lazarov and glared at his seat in the window. His back would face the street, and this was extremely irritating. And dangerous. But his car was just outside with two of his men. He decided to be polite. He deftly maneuvered around the tiny table and sat down.

Tubertini was polished. He was thirty-seven, the son-in-law of old man Palumbo himself. Family. Married his only daughter. He was beautifully thin and tanned with his short black hair oiled to perfection and slicked back. He ordered red wine.

"How's my pal Joey Morolto?" he asked with a perfect brilliant smile.

"Fine. And Mr. Palumbo?"

"Very ill, and very ill-tempered. As usual."

"Please give him my regards."

"Certainly."

The waitress approached and looked menacingly at the timepiece. "Just wine," said Tubertini. "I won't be eating."

Lazarov looked at the menu and handed it to her. "Sauteed blackfish, with another glass of wine."

Tubertini glanced at his men in the car. They appeared to be napping. "So, what's wrong in Chicago?"

"Nothing's wrong. We just need a little information, that's all. We've heard, unconfirmed of course, that you have a very reliable man somewhere deep in the Bureau, somewhere close to Voyles."

"And if we do?"

"We need some information from this man. We have a small unit in Memphis, and the Fibbies are trying like hell to infiltrate. We suspect one of our employees may be working with them, but we can't seem to catch him."

"And if you caught him?"

"We'd slice out his liver and feed it to the rats."

"Serious, huh?"

"Extremely serious. Something tells me the feds have targeted our little unit down there, and we've grown quite nervous."

"Let's say his name is Alfred, and let's say he's very close to Voyles."

"Okay. We need a very simple answer from Alfred. We need to know, yes or no, if our employee is working with the Fibbies."

Tubertini watched Lazarov and sipped his wine. "Alfred specializes in simple answers. He prefers the yes and no variety. We've used him twice, only when it's critical, and both times it was a question of 'Are the feds coming here or there?' He's extremely cautious. I don't think he would provide too many details."

"Is he accurate?"

"Deadly accurate."

"Then he should be able to help us. If the answer is yes, we move accordingly. If no, the employee is off the hook and it's business as usual."

"Alfred's very expensive."

"I was afraid so. How much?"

"Well, he has sixteen years with the Bureau and is a career man. That's why he's so cautious. He has much to lose."

"How much?"

"Half a million."

"Damn!"

"Of course, we have to make a small profit on the transaction. After all, Alfred is ours."

"A small profit?"

"Quite small, really. Most of it goes to Alfred. He talks to Voyles daily, you know. His office is two doors down."

"All right. We'll pay."

Tubertini flashed a conquering smile and tasted his wine. "I think you lied, Mr. Lazarov. You said it was a small unit in Memphis. That's not true, is it?"

"No."

"What's the name of this unit?"

"The Bendini firm."

"Old man Morolto's daughter married a Bendini."

"That's it."

"What's the employee's name?"

"Mitchell McDeere."

"It might take two or three weeks. Meeting with Alfred is a major production."

"Yes. Just be quick about it."

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