Page 50 of The Firm

The bus left Birmingham shortly before 2 P.M., Wednesday. Ray sat in the rear and studied every person who climbed in and found a seat. He looked sporty. He had taken a cab to a mall in Birmingham and in thirty minutes had purchased a new pair of faded Levi's, a plaid short-sleeved golf shirt and a pair of red-and-white Reeboks. He had also eaten a pizza and received a severe Marine-style haircut. He wore aviator sunshades and an Auburn cap.

A short, fat, dark-skinned lady sat next to him.

He smiled at her. "De donde es usted?" he asked. Where are you from?

Her face broke into unrestrained delight. A wide smile revealed few teeth. "Mexico," she said proudly. "Habla espanol?" she asked eagerly.

"Si."

For two hours, they jabbered in Spanish as the bus rolled along to Montgomery. She had to repeat occasionally, but he surprised himself. He was eight years out of practice and a little rusty.

Behind the bus, Special Agents Jenkins and Jones followed in a Dodge Aries. Jenkins drove while Jones slept. The trip had become boring ten minutes out of Knoxville. Just routine surveillance, they were told. If you lose him, no big deal. But try not to lose him.

The flight from Huntington to Atlanta was two hours away, and Abby sat in a secluded corner of a dark lounge watching. Just watching. In the chair next to her was a carry-on bag. Contrary to her urgent instructions, she had packed a toothbrush, makeup and a few clothes. She had also written a note to her parents, giving a brief story about how she had to run to Memphis, needed to see Mitch, everything's fine, don't worry, hugs and kisses, love, Abby. She ignored the coffee and watched the arriving and departing.

She did not know if he was dead or alive. Tammy said he was scared, but very much in control. As always. She said he was flying to Nashville, and she, Tammy, was flying to Memphis. Confusing, but she was certain he knew what he was doing. Get to Perdido Beach and wait.

Abby had never heard of Perdido Beach. And she was certain he'd never been there either.

The lounge was nerve-racking. Every ten minutes a drunk businessman would venture over and throw something suggestive at her. Get lost, she said a dozen times.

After two hours, they boarded. Abby was stuck in the aisle seat. She buckled her belt and relaxed. And then she saw her.

She was a striking blonde with high cheekbones and a firm jaw that was almost unfeminine, yet strong and attractive. Abby had seen the partial face before. Partial, because the eyes were covered, as before. She looked at Abby and glanced away as she passed and went to her seat somewhere in the rear.

The Shipwreck Bar! The blonde in the Shipwreck Bar. The blonde who was eavesdropping on her and Mitch and Abanks. They had found her. And if they had found her, where was her husband? What had they done to him? She thought of the two-hour drive from Danesboro to Huntington, through the winding mountain roads. She had driven like a maniac. They could not have followed her.

They taxied from the terminal and minutes later lifted off for Atlanta.

For a second time in three weeks, Abby watched dusk from the inside of a 727 at the airport in Atlanta. She and the blonde. They were on the ground for thirty minutes and then left for Mobile.

* * *

From Cincinnati, Mitch flew to Nashville. He arrived at 6 P.M., Wednesday, long after the banks had closed. He found a U-Haul truck rental place in the phone book and flagged a cab.

He rented one of the smaller models, a sixteen-footer. He paid cash, but was forced to use his driver's license and a credit card for a deposit. If DeVasher could track him to a U-Haul place in Nashville, so be it. He bought twenty cardboard packing boxes and left for the apartment.

He had not eaten since Tuesday night, but he was in luck. Tammy had left a bag of microwave popcorn and two beers. He ate like a pig. At eight, he made his first call to the Perdido Beach Hilton. He asked for Lee Stevens. He had not arrived, she said. He stretched out on the den floor and thought of a hundred things that could happen to Abby. She could be dead in Kentucky and he wouldn't know. He couldn't call.

The couch had not been folded, and the cheap sheets hung off the end and fell to the floor. Tammy was not much for housework. He looked at the small, temporary bed and thought of Abby. Only five nights ago, they had tried to kill each other on the bed. Hopefully, she was on the plane. Alone.

In the bedroom, he sat on the unopened Sony box and marveled at the roomful of documents. Across the carpet she had built perfect columns of paper, all painstakingly divided into Cayman banks and Cayman companies. On top of each stack was a yellow legal pad, with the company name followed by pages of dates and entries. And names!

Even Tarrance could follow the paper trail. A grand jury would eat it up. The U.S. Attorney would call press conferences. And the trial juries would convict, and convict and convict.

* * *

Special Agent Jenkins yawned into the telephone receiver and punched the numbers to the Memphis office. He had not slept in twenty-four hours. Jones was snoring in the car.

"FBI," a male voice said.

"Yeah, who's there?" Jenkins asked. Just a routine check-in.

"Acklin."

"Hey, Rick. This is Jenkins. We've - "

"Jenkins! Where have you been? Hold on!"

Jenkins quit yawning and looked around the bus terminal. An angry voice yelled into the earpiece.

"Jenkins! Where are you?" It was Wayne Tarrance.

"We're at the bus station in Mobile. We've lost him."

"You what? How could you lose him?"

Jenkins was suddenly alert and leaning into the phone. "Wait a minute, Wayne. Our instructions were to follow him for eight hours to see where he went. Routine, you said."

"I can't believe you lost him."

"Wayne, we weren't told to follow him for the rest of his life. Eight hours, Wayne. We've followed for twenty hours, and he's disappeared. What's the big deal?"

"Why haven't you called in before now?"

"We called in twice. In Birmingham and Montgomery. Line was busy both times. What's going on, Wayne?"

"Just a minute."

Jenkins grabbed the phone tighter and waited. Another voice: "Hello, Jenkins?"

"Yes."

"Director Voyles here. What the hell happened?"

Jenkins held his breath and looked wildly around the terminal. "Sir, we lost him. We followed him for twenty hours, and when he got off the bus here in Mobile, we lost him in the crowd."

"That's great, son. How long ago?"

"Twenty minutes."

"All right, listen. We desperately need to find him. His brother has taken our money and disappeared. Call the locals there in Mobile. Tell them who you are, and that an escaped murderer is on the loose in town. They've probably got Ray McDeere's name and picture stuck to the walls. His mother lives in Panama City Beach, so alert every local between there and Mobile. I'm sending in our troops."

"Okay. I'm sorry, sir. We weren't told to trail" him forever."

"We'll discuss it later."

* * *

At ten, Mitch called the Perdido Beach Hilton for the second time. He asked for Rachel James. No arrival. He asked for Lee Stevens. One moment, she said. Mitch sat on the floor and waited intently. The line to the room was ringing. After a dozen rings, someone picked up.

"Yeah." It was quick.

"Lee?" Mitch asked.

A pause. "Yeah."

"This is Mitch. Congratulations."

Ray fell on the bed and closed his eyes. "It was so easy, Mitch. How'd you do it?"

"I'll tell you when we have time. Right now, there are a bunch of folks trying to kill me. And Abby. We're on the run.

"Who, Mitch?"

"It would take ten hours to tell the first chapter. We'll do it later. Write this number down. 615-889-4380."

"That's not Memphis."

"No, it's Nashville. I'm in an apartment that's serving as mission control. Memorize that number. If I'm not here, the phone will be answered by a girl named Tammy."

"Tammy?"

"It's a long story. Just do as I say. Sometime tonight, Abby will check in there under the name of Rachel James. She'll be in a rented car."

"She's coming here!"

"Just listen, Ray. The cannibals are chasing us, but we're a step ahead of them."

"Ahead of who?"

"The Mafia. And the FBI."

"Is that all?"

"Probably. Now listen to me. There is a slight chance Abby is being followed. You've got to find her, watch her and make damned sure no one is behind her."

"And if they are?"

"Call me, and we'll talk about it."

"No problem."

"Don't use the phone except to call this number. And we can't talk much."

"I've got a bunch of questions, little brother."

"And I've got the answers, but not now. Take care of my wife and call me when she gets there."

"Will do. And, Mitch, thanks."

"Adios."

* * *

An hour later Abby turned off Highway 182 onto the winding driveway to the Hilton. She parked the four-door Cutlass with Alabama tags and walked nervously under the sprawling veranda to the front doors. She stopped for a second, looked behind her at the driveway and went inside.

Two minutes later, a yellow cab from Mobile stopped under the veranda, behind the shuttle vans. Ray watched the cab. A woman was in the back seat leaning forward and talking to the driver. They waited a minute. She pulled money from her purse and paid him. She got out and waited until the cab drove away. The woman was a blonde, and that was the first thing he noticed. Very shapely, with tight black corduroy pants. And black sunglasses, which seemed odd to him because it was pushing midnight. She walked suspiciously to the front doors, waited a minute, then went in. He watched her carefully. He moved toward the lobby.

The blonde approached the only clerk behind the registration desk. "A single room, please," he heard her say.

The clerk slid a registration form across the counter. The blonde wrote her name and asked, "That lady who just checked in before me, what's her name? I think she's an old friend."

The clerk nipped through the registration cards. "Rachel James."

"Yeah, that's her. Where's she from?"

"It's a Memphis address," the clerk said.

"What's her room number? I'd like to say hello."

"I can't give room numbers," the clerk said.

The blonde quickly pulled two twenties from her purse and slid them across the counter. "I just want to say hello."

The clerk took the money. "Room 622."

The woman paid in cash. "Where are the phones?"

"Around the corner," the clerk said. Ray slid around the corner and found four pay phones. He grabbed a middle one and began talking to himself.

The blonde took a phone on the end and turned her back to him. She spoke softly. He could hear only pieces.

"... checked in ... Room 622... Mobile... some help ... I can't ... an hour?... yes... hurry..."

She hung up, and he talked louder into his dead phone.

Ten minutes later, there was a knock at the door. The blonde jumped from the bed, grabbed her .45 and stuck it in the corduroys under the shirt. She ignored the safety chain and cracked the door.

It burst open and knocked her against the wall. Ray lunged at her, grabbed the gun and pinned her to the floor. With her face in the carpet, he stuck the barrel of the .45 in her ear. "If you make a sound, I'll kill you!"

She stopped struggling and closed her eyes. No response.

"Who are you?" Ray demanded. He pushed the barrel deeper into her ear. Again, no response.

"Not a move, not a sound. Okay? I'd love to blow your head off."

He relaxed, still sitting on her back, and ripped open her flight bag. He dumped its contents on the floor and found a pair of clean tennis socks. "Open your mouth," he demanded.

She did not move. The barrel returned to her ear, and she slowly opened her mouth. Ray crammed the socks in between her teeth, then tightly blindfolded her with the silk nightshirt. He bound her feet and hands with panty hose, then ripped the bedsheets into long strips. The woman did not move. When he finished the binding and gagging, she resembled a mummy. He slid her under the bed.

The purse contained six hundred dollars in cash and a wallet with an Illinois driver's license. Karen Adair from Chicago. Date of birth: March 4, 1962. He took the wallet and gun.

* * *

The phone rang at 1 A.M., and Mitch was not asleep. He was in bank records up to his waist. Fascinating bank records. Highly incriminating.

"Hello," he answered cautiously.

"Is this mission control?" The voice was in the vicinity of a loud jukebox.

"Where are you, Ray?"

"A joint called the Floribama lounge. Right on the state line."

"Where's Abby?"

"She's in the car. She's fine."

Mitch breathed easier and grinned into the phone. He listened.

"We had to leave the hotel. A woman followed Abby in - same woman you saw in some bar in the Caymans. Abby is trying to explain everything. The woman followed her all day and showed up at the hotel. I took care of her, and we disappeared."

"You took care of her?"

"Yeah, she wouldn't talk, but she's out of the way for a short time."

"Abby's fine?"

"Yeah. We're both dead tired. Exactly what do you have in mind?"

"You're about three hours away from Panama City Beach. I know you're dead tired, but you need to get away from there. Get to Panama City Beach, ditch the car and get two rooms at the Holiday Inn. Call me when you check in."

"I hope you know what you're doing."

"Trust me, Ray."

"I do, but I'm beginning to wish I was back in prison."

"You can't go back, Ray. We either disappear or we're dead."

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