Page 47 of The Firm

Tuesday morning the office buzzed with concern for Avery Tolar. He was doing fine. Running tests. No permanent damage. Overworked. Stressed out. Capps did it. Divorce did it. Leave of absence.

Nina brought a stack of letters to be signed. "Mr. Lambert would like to see you, if you're not too busy. He just called."

"Fine. I'm supposed to meet Frank Mulholland at ten. Do you know that?"

"Of course I know that. I'm the secretary. I know everything. Your office or his?"

Mitch looked at his appointment book and pretended to search. Mulholland's office. In the Cotton Exchange Building.

"His," he said with a frown.

"You met there last time, didn't you? Didn't they teach you about turf in law school? Never, I repeat, never meet two times in a row on the adversary's turf. It's unprofessional. It's uncool. Shows weakness."

"How can you ever forgive me?"

"Wait till I tell the other girls. They all think you're so cute and macho. When I tell them you're a wimp, they'll be shocked."

"They need to be shocked, with a cattle prod."

"How's Abby's mother?"

"Much better. I'm going up this weekend."

She picked up two files. "Lambert's waiting."

* * *

Oliver Lambert pointed at the stiff sofa and offered coffee. He sat perfectly erect in a wing chair and held his cup like a British aristocrat. "I'm worried about Avery," he said.

"I saw him last night," Mitch said. "Doctor's forcing a two-month retirement."

"Yes, that's why you're here. I want you to work with Victor Milligan for the next two months. He'll get most of Avery's files, so it's familiar territory."

"That's fine. Victor and I are good friends."

"You'll learn a lot from him. A genius at taxation. Reads two books a day."

Great,thought Mitch. He should average ten a day in prison.

"Yes, he's a very smart man. He's helped me out of a jam or two."

"Good. I think you'll get along fine. Try and see him sometime this morning. Now, Avery had some unfinished business in the Caymans. He goes there a lot, as you know, to meet with certain bankers. In fact, he was scheduled to leave tomorrow for a couple of days. He told me this morning you're familiar with the clients and the accounts, so we need you to go."

The Lear, the loot, the condo, the storage room, the accounts. A thousand thoughts flashed in his mind. It did not add up. "The Caymans? Tomorrow?"

"Yes, it's quite urgent. Three of his clients are in dire need of summaries of their accounts and other legal work. I wanted Milligan to go, but he's due in Denver in the morning. Avery said you could handle it."

"Sure, I can handle it."

"Fine. The Lear will take you. You'll leave around noon and return by commercial flight late Friday. Any problems?"

Yes, many problems. Ray was leaving prison. Tarrance was demanding the contraband. A half million bucks had to be collected. And he was scheduled to disappear anytime.

"No problems."

He walked to his office and locked the door. He kicked off his shoes, lay on the floor and closed his eyes.

The elevator stopped on the seventh floor, and Mitch bolted up the stairs to the ninth. Tammy opened the door and locked it behind him. He walked to the window.

"Were you watching?" he asked.

"Of course. The guard by your parking lot stood on the sidewalk and watched you walk here."

"Wonderful. Even Dutch follows me."

He turned and inspected her. "You look tired."

"Tired? I'm dead. In the past three weeks I've been a janitor, a secretary, a lawyer, a banker, a whore, a courier and a private investigator. I've flown to Grand Cayman nine times, bought nine sets of new luggage and hauled back a ton of stolen documents. I've driven to Nashville four times and flown ten. I've read so many bank records and legal crap I'm half blind. And when it's bedtime, I put on my little Dustbusters shirt and play maid for six hours. I've got so many names, I've written them on my hand so I won't get confused."

"I've got another for you."

"This doesn't surprise me. What?"

"Mary Alice. From now on, when you talk to Tarrance, you're Mary Alice."

"Let me write that down. I don't like him. He's very rude on the phone."

"I've got great news for you."

"I can't wait."

"You can quit Dustbusters."

"I think I'll lie down and cry. Why?"

"It's hopeless."

"I told you that a week ago. Houdini couldn't get files out of there, copy them and sneak them back in without getting caught."

"Did you talk to Abanks?" Mitch asked.

"Yes."

"Did he get the money?"

"Yes. It was wired Friday."

"Is he ready?"

"Said he was."

"Good. What about the forger?"

"I'm meeting with him this afternoon."

"Who is he?"

"An ex-con. He and Lomax were old pals. Eddie said he was the best documents man in the country."

"He'd better be. How much?"

"Five thousand. Cash, of course. New IDs, passports, driver's licenses and visas."

"How long will it take him?"

"I don't know. When do you need it?"

Mitch sat on the edge of the rented desk. He breathed deeply and tried to think. To calculate. "As soon as possible. I thought I had a week, but now I don't know. Just get it as soon as possible. Can you drive to Nashville tonight?"

"Oh yes. I'd love to. I haven't been there in two days."

"I want a Sony camcorder with a tripod set up in the bedroom. Buy a case of tapes. And I want you to stay there, by the phone, for the next few days. Review the Bendini Papers again. Work on your summaries."

"You mean I have to stay there?"

"Yeah. Why?"

"I've ruptured two disks sleeping on that couch."

"You rented it."

"What about the passports?"

"What's the guy's name?"

"Doc somebody. I've got his number."

"Give it to me. Tell him I'll call in a day or so. How much money do you have?"

"I'm glad you asked. I started with fifty thousand, right? I've spent ten thousand on airfare, hotels, luggage and rental cars. And I'm still spending. Now you want a video camera. And fake IDs. I'd hate to lose money on this deal."

Mitch started for the door. "How about another fifty thousand?"

"I'll take it."

He winked at her and closed the door, wondering if he would ever see her again.

* * *

The cell was eight by eight, with a toilet in a corner and a set of bunk beds. The top bunk was uninhabited and had been for a year. Ray lay on the bottom bunk with wires running from his ears. He spoke to himself in a very foreign language. Turkish. At that moment on that floor, it was safe to bet he was the only soul listening to Berlitz jabber in Turkish. There was quiet talk up and down the hall, but most lights were out. Eleven o'clock, Tuesday night.

The guard walked silently to his cell. "McDeere," he said softly, secretly, through the bars. Ray sat on the edge of the bed, under the bunk above, and stared at him. He removed the wires.

"Warden wants to see you."

Sure, he thought, the warden's sitting at his desk at 11 P.M. waiting on me. "Where are we going?" It was an anxious question.

"Put your shoes on and come on."

Ray glanced around the cell and took a quick inventory of his worldly possessions. In eight years he had accumulated a black-and-white television, a large cassette player, two cardboard boxes full of tapes and several dozen books. He made three dollars a day working in the prison laundry, but after cigarettes there had been little to spend on tangibles. These were his only assets. Eight years.

The guard fitted a heavy key in the door and slid it open a few inches. He turned off the light. "Just follow me, and no cute stuff. I don't know who you are, mister, but you got some heavy-duty friends."

Other keys fit other doors, and they were outside under the basketball hoop. "Stay behind me," the guard said.

Ray's eyes darted around the dark compound. The wall loomed like a mountain in the distance, beyond the courtyard and walking area where he had paced a thousand miles and smoked a ton of cigarettes. It was sixteen feet tall in the daylight, but looked much larger at night. The guard towers were fifty yards apart and well lit. And heavily armed.

The guard was casual and unconcerned. Of course, he had a uniform and a gun. He moved confidently between two cinder-block buildings, telling Ray to follow and be cool. Ray tried to be cool. They stopped at the corner of a building, and the guard gazed at the wall, eighty feet away. Floodlights made a routine sweep of the courtyard, and they backed into the darkness.

Why are we hiding?Ray asked himself. Are those guys up there with the guns on our side?

He would like to know before he made any dramatic moves.

The guard pointed to the exact spot on the wall where James Earl Ray and his gang went over. A rather famous spot, studied and admired by most of the inmates at Brushy Mountain. Most of the white ones anyway. "In about five minutes, they'll throw a ladder up there. The wire has already been cut on top. You'll find a heavy rope on the other side."

"Mind if I ask a few questions?"

"Make it quick."

"What about all these lights?"

"They'll be diverted. You'll have total darkness."

"And those guns up there?"

"Don't worry. They'll look the other way."

"Dammit! Are you sure?"

"Look, man, I've seen some inside jobs before, but this takes the cake. Warden Lattemer himself planned this one. He's right up there." The guard pointed to the nearest tower.

"The warden?"

"Yep. Just so nothing'll go wrong."

"Who's throwing up the ladder?"

"Coupla guards."

Ray wiped his forehead with his sleeve and breathed deeply. His mouth was dry and his knees were weak.

The guard whispered, "There'll be a dude waiting for you. His name is Bud. White dude. He'll find you on the other side, and just do what he says."

The floodlights swept through again, then died. "Get ready," the guard said. Darkness settled in, followed by a dreadful silence. The wall was now black. From the nearest tower, a whistle blew two short signals. Ray knelt and watched.

From behind the next building, he could see the silhouettes running to the wall. They grabbed at something in the grass, then hoisted it.

"Run, dude," the guard said. "Run!"

Ray sprinted with his head low. The homemade ladder was in place. The guards grabbed his arms and threw him to the first step. The ladder bounced as he scurried up the two-by-fours. The top of the wall was two feet wide. A generous opening had been cut in the coiled barbed wire. He slid through without touching it. The rope was right where it was supposed to be, and he eased down the outside of the wall. Eight feet from pay dirt, he turned loose and jumped. He squatted and looked around. Still dark. The floodlights were on hold.

The clearing stopped a hundred feet away, and the dense woods began. "Over here," the voice said calmly. Ray started for it. Bud was waiting in the first cluster of black bushes.

"Hurry. Follow me."

Ray followed him until the wall was out of sight. They stopped in a small clearing next to a dirt trail. He stuck out a hand. "I'm Bud Riley. Kinda fun, ain't it?"

"Unbelievable. Ray McDeere."

Bud was a stocky man with a black beard and a black beret. He wore combat boots, jeans and a camouflage jacket. No gun was in sight. He offered Ray a cigarette.

"Who are you with?" Ray asked.

"Nobody. I just do a little free-lance work for the warden. They usually call me when somebody goes over the wall. Course, this is a little different. Usually I bring my dogs. I thought we'd wait here for a minute until the sirens go off, so you can hear. Wouldn't be right if you didn't get to hear 'em. I mean, they're sorta in your honor."

"That's okay. I've heard them before."

"Yeah, but it's different out here when they go off. It's a beautiful sound."

"Look, Bud, I - "

"Just listen, Ray. We got plenty of time. They won't chase you, much."

"Much?"

"Yeah, they gotta make a big scene, wake everybody up, just like a real escape. But they ain't coming after you. I don't know what kinda pull you got, but it's something."

The sirens began screaming, and Ray jumped. Lights flashed across the black sky, and the faint voices of the tower guards were audible.

"See what I mean?"

"Let's go," Ray said, and began walking.

"My truck's just up the road a piece. I brought you some clothes. Warden gave me your sizes. Hope you like them."

Bud was out of breath when they reached the truck. Ray quickly changed into the olive Duckheads and navy cotton work shirt. "Very nice, Bud," he said.

"Just throw them prison clothes in the bushes."

They drove the winding mountain trail for two miles, then turned onto blacktop. Bud listened to Conway Twitty and said nothing.

"Where are we going, Bud?" Ray finally asked.

"Well, the warden said he didn't care and really didn't want to know. Said it was up to you. I'd suggest we get to a big town where there's a bus station. After that, you're on your own."

"How far will you drive me?"

"I got all night, Ray. You name the town."

"I'd like to get some miles behind us before I start hanging around a bus station. How about Knoxville?"

"Knoxville it is. Where are you going from there?"

"I don't know. I need to get out of the country."

"With your friends, that should be no problem. Be careful, though. By tomorrow, your picture will be hanging in every sheriff's office in ten states."

Three cars with blue lights came blazing over the hill in front of them. Ray ducked onto the floorboard.

"Relax, Ray. They can't see you."

He watched them disappear through the rear window. "What about roadblocks?"

"Look, Ray. Ain't gonna be no roadblocks, okay? Trust me." Bud stuck a hand in a pocket and threw a wad of cash on the seat. "Five hundred bucks. Hand-delivered by the warden. You got some stout friends, buddy."

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