Wednesday morning. Tarry Ross climbed the stairs to the fourth floor of the Phoenix Park Hotel. He paused on the landing outside the hall door and caught his breath. Sweat beaded across his eyebrows. He removed the dark sunglasses and wiped his face with the sleeve of his overcoat. Nausea hit below the belt, and he leaned on the stair rail. He dropped his empty briefcase on the concrete and sat on the bottom step. His hands shook like severe palsy, and he wanted to cry. He clutched his stomach and tried not to vomit.
The nausea passed, and he breathed again. Be brave, man, be brave. There's two hundred thousand waiting down the hall. If you got guts, you can go in there and get it. You can walk out with it, but you must have courage. He breathed deeper, and his hands settled down. Guts, man, guts.
The weak knees wobbled, but he made it to the door. Down the hall, past the rooms. Eighth door on the right. He held his breath, and knocked.
Seconds passed. He watched the dark hall through the dark glasses and could see nothing. "Yeah," a voice inside said, inches away.
"It's Alfred." Ridiculous name, he thought. Where'd it come from?
The door cracked, and a face appeared behind the little chain. The door closed, then opened wide. Alfred walked in.
"Good morning, Alfred," Vinnie Cozzo said warmly. "Would you like coffee?"
"I didn't come here for coffee," Alfred snapped. He placed the briefcase on the bed and stared at Cozzo.
"You're always so nervous, Alfred. Why don't you relax. There's no way you can get caught."
"Shut up, Cozzo. Where's the money?"
Vinnie pointed to a leather handbag. He stopped smiling. "Talk to me, Alfred."
The nausea hit again, but he kept his feet. He stared at them. His heart beat like pistons. "Okay, your man, McDeere, has been paid a million bucks already. Another million is on the way. He's delivered one load of Bendini documents and claims to have ten thousand more." A sharp pain hit his groin, and he sat on the edge of the bed. He removed his glasses.
"Keep talking," Cozzo demanded.
"McDeere's talked to our people many times in the last six months. He'll testify at the trials, then hit the road as a protected witness. He and his wife."
"Where are the other documents?"
"Dammit, I don't know. He won't tell. But they're ready to be delivered. I want my money, Cozzo."
Vinnie threw the handbag on the bed. Alfred opened it and the briefcase. He attacked the stacks of bills, his hands shaking violently.
"Two hundred thousand?" he asked desperately.
Vinnie smiled. "That was the deal, Alfred. I got another job for you in a couple of weeks."
"No way, Cozzo. I can't take any more of this." He slammed the briefcase shut and ran to the door. He stopped and tried to calm himself. "What will you do with McDeere?" he asked, staring at the door.
"What do you think, Alfred?"
He bit his lip, clenched the briefcase and walked from the room. Vinnie smiled and locked the door. He pulled a card from his pocket and placed a call to the Chicago home of Mr. Lou Lazarov.
Tarry Ross walked in panic down the hall. He could see little from behind the glasses. Seven doors down, almost to the elevator, a huge hand reached from the darkness and pulled him into a room. The hand slapped him hard, and another fist landed in his stomach. Another fist to the nose. He was on the floor, dazed and bleeding. The briefcase was emptied on the bed.
He was thrown into a chair, and the lights came on. Three FBI agents, his comrades, glared at him. Director Voyles walked up to him, shaking his head in disbelief. The agent with the huge, efficient hands stood nearby, within striking distance. Another agent was counting money.
Voyles leaned into his face. "You're a traitor, Ross. The lowest form of scum. I can't believe it."
Ross bit his lip and began sobbing.
"Who is it?" Voyles asked intently.
The crying was louder. No answer.
Voyles swung wildly and slapped Ross's left temple. He shrieked in pain. "Who is it, Ross? Talk to me."
"Vinnie Cozzo," he blurted between sobs.
"I know it's Cozzo! Dammit! I know that! But what did you tell him?"
Tears ran from his eyes and blood poured from his nose. His body shook and gyrated pitifully. No answer.
Voyles slapped him again, and again. "Tell me, you little sonofabitch. Tell me what Cozzo wants." He slapped him again.
Ross doubled over and dropped his head on his knees. The crying softened.
"Two hundred thousand dollars," an agent said.
Voyles dropped to one knee and almost whispered to Ross. "Is it McDeere, Ross? Please, oh please, tell me it's not McDeere. Tell me, Tarry, tell me it's not McDeere."
Tarry stuck his elbows on his knees and stared at the floor. The blood dripped neatly into one little puddle on the carpet. Gut check, Tarry. You don't get to keep your money. You're on the way to jail. You're a disgrace, Tarry. You're a slimy little scuzzball of a chicken, and it's over. What could possibly be gained by keeping secrets? Gut check, Tarry.
Voyles was pleading softly. Sinners, won't you come? "Please say it ain't McDeere, Tarry, please tell me it ain't."
Tarry sat straight and wiped his eyes with his fingers. He breathed deeply. Cleared his throat. He bit his lip, looked squarely at Voyles and nodded.
* * *
DeVasher had no time for the elevator. He ran down the stairs to the fourth floor, to the corner, a power one, and barged into Locke's office. Half the partners were there. Locke, Lambert, Milligan, McKnight, Dunbar, Denton, Lawson, Banahan, Kruger, Welch and Shottz. The other half had been summoned.
A quiet panic filled the room. DeVasher sat at the head of the conference table, and they gathered around.
"Okay, boys. It's not time to haul ass and head for Brazil. Not yet, anyway. We confirmed this morning that he has talked extensively to the Fibbies, that they have paid him a million cash, that they have promised another million, that he has certain documents that are believed to be fatal. This came straight from the FBI. Lazarov and a small army are flying into Memphis as we speak. It appears as though the damage has not been done. Yet. According to our source - a very high-ranking Fibbie - McDeere has over ten thousand documents in his possession, and he is ready to deliver. But he has only delivered a few so far. We think. Evidently, we have caught this thing in time. If we can prevent further damage, we should be okay. I say this, even though they have some documents. Obviously, they don't have much or they would've been here with search warrants."
DeVasher was onstage. He enjoyed this immensely. He spoke with a patronizing smile and looked at each of the worried faces. "Now, where is McDeere?"
Milligan spoke. "In his office. I just talked to him. He suspects nothing."
"Wonderful. He's scheduled to leave in three hours for Grand Cayman. Correct, Lambert?"
"That's correct. Around noon."
"Boy, the plane will never make it. The pilot will land in New Orleans for an errand, then he'll take off for the island. About thirty minutes over the Gulf, the little blip will disappear from radar, forever. Debris will scatter over a thirty-square-mile area, and no bodies will ever be found. It's sad, but necessary."
"The Lear?" asked Denton.
"Yes, son, the Lear. We'll buy you another toy."
"We're assuming a lot, DeVasher," Locke said. "We're assuming the documents already in their possession are harmless. Four days ago you thought McDeere had copied some of Avery's secret files. What gives?"
"They studied the files in Chicago. Yeah, they're full of incriminating evidence, but not enough to move with. They couldn't get the first conviction. You guys know the damning materials are on the island. And, of course, in the basement. No one can penetrate the basement. We checked the files in the condo. Everything looked in order."
Locke was not satisfied. "Then where did the ten thousand come from?"
"You're assuming he has ten thousand. I rather doubt it. Keep in mind, he's trying to collect another one million bucks before he takes off. He's probably lying to them and snooping around for more documents. If he had ten thousand, why wouldn't the Fibbies have them by now?"
"Then what's to fear?" asked Lambert.
"The fear is the unknown, Ollie. We don't know what he's got, except that he's got a million bucks. He's no dummy, and he just might stumble across something if left alone. We cannot allow that to happen. Lazarov, you see, said to blow his ass outta the air. Quote unquote."
"There's no way a rookie associate could find and copy that many incriminating records," Kruger said boldly, and looked around the group for approval. Several nodded at him with intense frowns.
"Why is Lazarov coming?" asked Dunbar, the real estate man. He said "Lazarov" as if Charles Manson was coming to dinner.
"That's a stupid question," DeVasher snapped, and looked around for the idiot. "First, we've got to take care of McDeere and hope the damage is minimal. Then we'll take a long look at this unit and make whatever changes are necessary."
Locke stood and glared at Oliver Lambert. "Make sure McDeere's on that plane."
* * *
Tarrance, Acklin and Laney sat in stunned silence and listened to the speaker phone on the desk. It was Voyles in Washington, explaining exactly what had happened. He would leave for Memphis within the hour. He was almost desperate.
"You gotta bring him in, Tarrance. And quick. Cozzo doesn't know that we know about Tarry Ross, but Ross told him McDeere was on the verge of delivering the records. They could take him out at any time. You've got to get him. Now! Do you know where he is?"
"He's at the office," Tarrance said.
"Okay. Fine. Bring him in. I'll be there in two hours. I wanna talk to him. Goodbye."
Tarrance punched the phone, then dialed the number.
"Who are you calling?" Acklin asked.
"Bendini, Lambert & Locke. Attorneys-at-law."
"Are you crazy, Wayne?" Laney asked.
The receptionist answered the phone. "Mitch McDeere, please," Tarrance said.
"One moment, please," she said. Then the secretary: "Mr. McDeere's office."
"I need to speak to Mitchell McDeere."
"I'm sorry, sir. He's in a meeting."
"Listen, young lady, this is Judge Henry Hugo, and he was supposed to be in my courtroom fifteen minutes ago. We're waiting for him. It's an emergency."
"Well, I see nothing on his calendar for this morning."
"Do you schedule his appointments?"
"Well, yes, sir."
"Then it's your fault. Now get him on the phone."
Nina ran across the hall and into his office. "Mitch, there's a Judge Hugo on the phone. Says you're supposed to be in court right now. You'd better talk to him."
Mitch jumped to his feet and grabbed the phone. He was pale. "Yes," he said.
"Mr. McDeere," Tarrance said. "Judge Hugo. You're late for my court. Get over here."
"Yes, Judge." He grabbed his coat and briefcase and frowned at Nina.
"I'm sorry," she said. "It's not on your calendar."
Mitch raced down the hall, down the stairs, past the receptionist and out the front door. He ran north on Front Street to Union and darted through the lobby of the Cotton Exchange Building. On Union, he turned east and ran toward the Mid-America Mall.
The sight of a well-dressed young man with a briefcase running like a scared dog may be a common sight in some cities, but not in Memphis. People noticed.