Page 46 of The Firm

The hall on the tenth floor, Madison Wing, of the Baptist Hospital was empty except for an orderly and a male nurse writing on his clipboard. Visiting hours had ended at nine, and it was ten-thirty. He eased down the hall, spoke to the orderly, was ignored by the nurse and knocked on the door.

"Come in," a strong voice said.

He pushed the heavy door open and stood by the bed.

"Hello, Mitch," Avery said. "Can you believe this?"

"What happened?"

"I woke up at six this morning with stomach cramps, I thought. I took a shower and felt a sharp pain right here, on my shoulder. My breathing got heavy, and I started sweating. I thought no, not me. Hell, I'm forty-four, in great shape, work out all the time, eat pretty good, drink a little too much, maybe, but not me. I called my doctor, and he said to meet him here at the hospital. He thinks it was a slight heart attack. Nothing serious, he hopes, but they're running tests for the next few days."

"A heart attack."

"That's what he said."

"I'm not surprised, Avery. It's a wonder any lawyer in that firm lives past fifty."

"Capps did it to me, Mitch. Sonny Capps. This is his heart attack. He called Friday and said he'd found a new tax firm in Washington. Wants all his records. That's my biggest client. I billed him almost four hundred thousand last year, about what he paid in taxes. He's not mad about the attorney's fees, but he's furious about the taxes. It doesn't make sense, Mitch."

"He's not worth dying for." Mitch looked for an IV, but did not see one. There were no tubes or wires. He sat in the only chair and laid his feet on the bed.

"Jean filed for divorce, you know."

"I heard. That's no surprise, is it?"

"Surprised she didn't do it last year. I've offered her a small fortune as a settlement. I hope she takes it. I don't need a nasty divorce."

Who does?thought Mitch. "What did Lambert say?"

"It was kind of fun, really. In nineteen years I've never seen him lose his cool, but he lost it. He told me I was drinking too much, chasing women and who knows what else. Said I had embarrassed. Suggested I see a psychiatrist."

Avery spoke slowly, deliberately, and at times with a raspy, weak voice. It seemed phony. A sentence later he would forget about it and return to his normal voice. He lay perfectly still like a corpse, with the sheets tucked neatly around him. His color was good.

"I think you need a psychiatrist. Maybe two."

"Thanks. I need a month in the sun. Doc said he would discharge me in three or four days, and that I couldn't work for two months. Sixty days, Mitch. Said I cannot, under any circumstances, go near the office for sixty days."

"What a blessing. I think I'll have a slight heart attack."

"At your pace, it's guaranteed."

"What are you, a doctor now?"

"No. Just scared. You get a scare like this, and you start thinking about things. Today is the first time in my life I've ever thought about dying. And if you don't think about death, you don't appreciate life."

"This is getting pretty heavy."

"Yeah, I know. How's Abby?"

"Okay. I guess. I haven't seen her in a while."

"You'd better go see her and bring her home. And get her happy. Sixty hours a week is plenty, Mitch. You'll ruin your marriage and kill yourself if you work more. She wants babies, then get them. I wish I had done things differently."

"Damn, Avery. When's the funeral? You're forty-four, and you had a slight heart attack. You're not exactly a vegetable."

The male nurse glided in and glared at Mitch. "Visiting hours are over, sir. You need to leave."

Mitch jumped to his feet. "Yeah, sure." He slapped Avery's feet and walked out. "See you in a couple of days."

"Thanks for coming. Tell Abby I said hello."

The elevator was empty. Mitch pushed the button to the sixteenth floor and seconds later got off. He ran two flights of stairs to the eighteenth, caught his breath and opened the door. Down the hall, away from the elevators, Rick Acklin watched and whispered into a dead telephone receiver. He nodded at Mitch, who walked toward him. Acklin pointed, and Mitch stepped into a small area used as a waiting room by worried relatives. It was dark and empty, with two rows of folding chairs and a television that did not work. A Coke machine provided the only light. Tarrance sat next to it and flipped through an old magazine. He wore a sweat suit, headband, navy socks and white canvas sneakers. Tarrance the jogger.

Mitch sat next to him, facing the hall.

"You're clean. They followed you from the office to the parking lot, then left. Acklin's in the hall. Laney's around somewhere. Relax."

"I like the headband."

"Thanks."

"I see you got the message."

"Obviously. Real clever, McDeere. I'm sitting at my desk this afternoon, minding my own business, trying to work on something other than the Bendini case. I've got others, you know. And my secretary comes in and says there's a woman on the phone who wants to talk about a man named Marty Kozinski. I jump from my chair, grab the phone, and of course it's your girl. She says it's urgent, as always. So I say okay, let's talk. No, she don't play it. She makes me drop everything I'm doing, run over to the Peabody, go to the lounge - what's the name of it? Mallards - and have a seat. So I'm sitting there, thinking about how stupid this is because our phones are clean. Dammit, Mitch, I know our phones are clean. We can talk on our phones! I'm drinking coffee and the bartender walks over and asks if my name is Kozinski. Kozinski who? I ask. Just for fun. Since we're having a ball, right? Marty Kozinski, he says with a puzzled look on his face. I say yeah, that's me. I felt stupid, Mitch. And he says I have a call. I walk over to the bar, and it's your girl. Tolar's had a heart attack or something. And you'll be here around eleven. Real clever."

"Worked, didn't it?"

"Yeah, and it would work just as easily if she would talk to me on my phone in my office."

"I like it better my way. It's safer. Besides, it gets you out of the office."

"Damned right, it does. Me and three others."

"Look, Tarrance, we'll do it my way, okay? It's my neck on the line, not yours."

"Yeah, yeah. What the hell are you driving?"

"A rented Celebrity. Nice, huh?"

"What happened to the little black lawyer's car?"

"It had an insect problem. Full of bugs. I parked it at a mall Saturday night in Nashville and left the keys in it. Someone borrowed it. I love to sing, but I have a terrible voice. Ever since I could drive I've done my singing in the car, alone. But with the bugs and all, I was too embarrassed to sing. I just got tired of it."

Tarrance could not resist a smile. "That's pretty good, McDeere. Pretty good."

"You should've seen Oliver Lambert this morning when I walked in and laid the police report on his desk. He stuttered and stammered and told me how sorry he was. I acted like I was real sad. Insurance will cover it, so old Oliver says they'll get me another one. Then he says they'll go get me a rental car for the meantime. I told him I already had one. Got it in Nashville Saturday night. He didn't like this, because he knew it was insect-free. He calls the BMW dealer himself, while I'm standing there, to check on a new one for me. He asked me what color I wanted. I said I was tired of black and wanted a burgundy one with tan interior. I drove to the BMW place yesterday and looked around. I didn't see a burgundy of any model. He told the guy on the phone what I wanted, and then he tells him they don't have it. How about black, or navy, or gray, or red, or white? No, no, no, I want a burgundy one. They'll have to order it, he reports. Fine, I said. He hung up the phone and asked me if I was sure I couldn't use another color. Burgundy, I said. He wanted to argue, but realized it would seem foolish. So, for the first time in ten months, I can sing in my car."

"But a Celebrity. For a hotshot tax lawyer. That's got to hurt."

"I can deal with it."

Tarrance was still smiling, obviously impressed. "I wonder what the boys in the chop shop will do when they strip it down and find all those bugs."

"Probably sell it to a pawnshop as stereo equipment. How much was it worth?"

"Our boys said it was the best. Ten, fifteen thousand. I don't know. That's funny."

Two nurses walked by talking loudly. They turned a corner, and the hall was quiet. Acklin pretended to place another phone call.

"How's Tolar?" Tarrance asked.

"Superb. I hope my heart attack is as easy as his. He'll be here for a few days, then off for two months. Nothing serious."

"Can you get in his office?"

"Why should I? I've already copied everything in it."

Tarrance leaned closer and waited for more.

"No, I cannot get in his office. They've changed the locks on the third and fourth floors. And the basement."

"How do you know this?"

"The girl, Tarrance. In the last week, she's been in every office in the building, including the basement. She's checked every door, pulled on every drawer, looked in every closet. She's read mail, looked at files and rummaged through the garbage. There's not much garbage, really. The building has ten paper shredders in it. Four in the basement. Did you know that?"

Tarrance listened intently and did not move a muscle. "How did she - "

"Don't ask, Tarrance, because I won't tell you."

"She works there! She's a secretary or something. She's helping you from the inside."

Mitch shook his head in frustration. "Brilliant, Tarrance. She called you twice today. Once at about two-fifteen and then about an hour later. Now, how would a secretary make two calls to the FBI an hour apart?"

"Maybe she didn't work today. Maybe she called from home."

"You're wrong, Tarrance, and quit guessing. Don't waste time worrying about her. She works for me, and together we'll deliver the goods to you."

"What's in the basement?"

"One big room with twelve cubicles, twelve busy desks and a thousand file cabinets. Electronically wired file cabinets. I think it's the operations center for their money-laundering activities. On the walls of the cubicles, she noticed names and phone numbers of dozens of banks in the Caribbean. There's not much information lying around down there. They're very careful. There's a smaller room off to the side, heavily locked, and full of computers larger than refrigerators."

"Sounds like the place."

"It is, but forget it. There's no way to get the stuff out without alerting them. Impossible. I know of only one way to bring the goods out."

"Okay."

"A search warrant."

"Forget it. No probable cause."

"Listen to me, Tarrance. This is how it's gonna be, okay? I can't give you all the documents you want. But I can give you all you need. I have in my possession over ten thousand documents, and although I have not reviewed all of them, I've seen enough to know that if you had them, you could show them to a judge and get a search warrant for Front Street. You can take the records I have now and obtain indictments for maybe half. But the same documents will get your search warrant and, consequently, a truckload of indictments. There's no other way to do it."

Tarrance walked to the hall and looked around. Empty. He stretched his legs and walked to the Coke machine. He leaned on it and looked through the small window to the east. "Why only half?"

"Initially, only half. Plus a number of retired partners. Scattered through my documents are various names of partners who've set up the bogus Cayman companies with Morolto money. Those indictments will be easy. Once you have all the records, your conspiracy theory will fall in place and you can indict everyone."

"Where did you get the documents?"

"I got lucky. Very lucky. I sort of figured had more sense than to keep the Cayman bank records in this country. I had a hunch the records might be in the Caymans. Fortunately, I was right. We copied the documents in the Caymans."

"We?"

"The girl. And a friend."

"Where are the records now?"

"You and your questions, Tarrance. They're in my possession. That's all you need to know."

"I want those documents from the basement."

"Listen to me, Tarrance. Pay attention. The documents in the basement are not coming out until you go in with a search warrant. It is impossible, do you hear?"

"Who are the guys in the basement?"

"Don't know. I've been there ten months and never seen them. I don't know where they park or how they get in and out. They're invisible. I figure the partners and the boys in the basement do the dirty work."

"What kind of equipment is down there?"

"Two copiers, four shredders, high-speed printers and all those computers. State of the art."

Tarrance walked to the window, obviously deep in thought. "That makes sense. Makes a lot of sense. I've always wondered how, with all those secretaries and clerks and paralegals, could maintain such secrecy about Morolto."

"It's easy. The secretaries and clerks and paralegals know nothing about it. They're kept busy with the real clients. The partners and senior associates sit in their big offices and dream up exotic ways to launder money, and the basement crew does the grunt work. It's a great setup."

"So there are plenty of legitimate clients?"

"Hundreds. They're talented lawyers with an amazing clientele. It's a great cover."

"And you're telling me, McDeere, that you've got the documents now to support indictments and search warrants? You've got them - they're in your possession?"

"That's what I said."

"In this country?"

"Yes, Tarrance, the documents are in this country. Very close to here, actually."

Tarrance was fidgety now. He rocked from one foot to the other and cracked his knuckles. He was breathing quickly. "What else can you get out of Front Street?"

"Nothing. It's too dangerous. They've changed the locks, and that sort of worries me. I mean, why would they change the locks on the third and fourth floors and not on the first and second? I made some copies on the fourth floor two weeks ago, and I don't think it was a good idea. I'm getting bad vibes. No more records from Front Street."

"What about the girl?"

"She no longer has access."

Tarrance chewed his fingernails, rocking back and forth. Still staring at the window. "I want the records, McDeere, and I want them real soon. Like tomorrow."

"When does Ray get his walking papers?"

"Today's Monday. I think it's set up for tomorrow night. You wouldn't believe the cussing I've taken from Voyles.

He's had to pull every string in the book. You think I'm kidding? He called in both senators from Tennessee, and they personally flew to Nashville to visit the governor. Oh, I've been cussed, McDeere. All because of your brother."

"He appreciates it."

"What's he gonna do when he gets out?"

"I'll take care of that. You just get him out."

"No guarantees. If he gets hurt, it ain't our fault."

Mitch stood and looked at his watch. "Gotta run. I'm sure someone's out there waiting for me."

"When do we meet again?"

"She'll call. Just do as she says."

"Oh, come on, Mitch! Not that routine again. She can talk to me on my phone. I swear! We keep our lines clean. Please, not that again."

"What's your mother's name, Tarrance?"

"What? Doris."

"Doris?"

"Yeah, Doris."

"Small world. We can't use Doris. Whom did you take to your senior prom?"

"Uh, I don't think I went."

"I'm not surprised. Who was your first date, if you had one?"

"Mary Alice Brenner. She was hot too. She wanted me."

"I'm sure. My girl's name is Mary Alice. The next time Mary Alice calls, you do exactly as she says, okay?"

"I can't wait."

"Do me a favor, Tarrance. I think Tolar's faking, and I've got a weird feeling his fake heart attack is somehow related to me. Get your boys to snoop around here and check out his alleged heart attack."

"Sure. We have little else to do."

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