Page 51 of The Firm

The cab stopped at a red light in downtown Nashville, and Mitch hopped out on stiff and aching legs. He limped through the busy intersection dodging the morning traffic.

The Southeastern Bank Building was a thirty-story glass cylinder, designed along the same lines as a tennis-ball can. The tint was dark, almost black. It stood prominently away from the street corner amidst a maze of sidewalks and fountains and manicured greenery.

Mitch entered the revolving doors with a swarm of employees rushing to work. In the marble-laden atrium he found the directory and rode the escalators to the third floor. He opened a heavy glass door and walked into a large circular office. A striking woman of forty or so watched him from behind the glass desk. She offered no smile.

"Mr. Mason Laycook, please," he said.

She pointed. "Have a seat."

Mr. Laycook wasted no time. He appeared from around a corner and was as sour as his secretary. "May I help you?" he asked through his nose.

Mitch stood. "Yes, I need to wire a little money."

"Yes. Do you have an account at Southeastern?"

"Yes."

"And your name?"

"It's a numbered account." In other words, you don't get a name, Mr. Laycook. You don't need a name.

"Very well. Follow me." His office had no windows, no view. A row of keyboards and monitors sat on the credenza behind his glass desk. Mitch sat down.

"The account number, please."

It came from memory. "214-31-35."

Laycook pecked at his keyboard and watched a monitor. "That's a Code Three account, opened by a T. Hemphill, with access only by her and a certain male meeting the following physical requirements: approximately six feet tall, one seventy-five to one eighty-five, blue eyes, brown hair, about twenty-five or twenty-six years old. You fit that description, sir." Laycook studied the screen. "And the last four digits of your Social Security number are?"

"8585."

"Very well. You are accessed. Now what can I do for you?"

"I want to wire in some funds from a bank in Grand Cayman."

Laycook frowned and took a pencil from his pocket. "Which bank in Grand Cayman?"

"Royal Bank of Montreal."

"What type of account?"

"It's a numbered account."

"I presume you have the number?"

"499DFH2122."

Laycook wrote the number and stood. "I'll be just a moment." He left the room.

Ten minutes passed. Mitch tapped his bruised feet and looked at the monitors across the desk.

Laycook returned with his supervisor, Mr. Nokes, a vice president of something. Nokes introduced himself from behind the desk. Both men appeared nervous. They stared downward at Mitch.

Nokes did the talking. He held a small sheet of computer paper. "Sir, that is a restricted account. You must have certain information before we can start the wire."

Mitch nodded confidently.

"The dates and amounts of the last three deposits, sir?" They watched him intently, knowing he would fail.

Again, it came from memory. No notes. "February third of this year, six and a half million. December fourteenth, last year, nine point two million. And October eighth, last year, eleven million."

Laycook and Nokes gaped at the small printout. Nokes managed a tiny professional smile. "Very well. You are cleared to the Pen number."

Laycook stood ready with his pencil.

"Sir, what is your Pen number?" Nokes asked.

Mitch smiled and recrossed his damaged legs. "72083."

"And the terms of the wire?"

"Ten million dollars wired immediately into this bank, account 214-31-35. I'll wait."

"It's not necessary to wait, sir."

"I'll wait. When the wire is complete, I've got a few more for you."

"We'll be a moment. Would you like some coffee?"

"No. Thanks. Do you have a newspaper?"

"Certainly," Laycook said. "On the table there."

They scurried from the office, and Mitch's pulse began its descent. He opened the Nashville Tennessean and scanned three sections before he found a brief paragraph about the escape at Brushy Mountain. No picture. Few details. They were safe at the Holiday Inn on the Miracle Strip in Panama City Beach, Florida.

Their trail was clear, so far. He thought. He hoped.

Laycook returned alone. He was friendly now. A real backslapper. "Wire's complete. The money is here. Now what can we do for you?"

"I want to wire it out. Most of it, anyway."

"How many transfers?"

"Three."

"Give me the first one."

"A million dollars to the Coast National Bank in Pensa-cola, to a numbered account, accessible to only one person, a white female, approximately fifty years of age. I will provide her with the Pen number."

"Is this an existing account?"

"No. I want you to open it with the wire."

"Very well. The second transfer?"

"One million dollars to the Dane County Bank in Danesboro, Kentucky, to any account in the name of Harold or Maxine Sutherland, or both. It's a small bank, but it has a correspondent relationship with United Kentucky in Louisville."

"Very well. The third transfer?"

"Seven million to the Deutschebank in Zurich. Account number 772-03BL-600. The remainder of the money stays here."

"This will take about an hour," Laycook said as he wrote.

"I'll call you in an hour to confirm."

"Very well."

"Thank you, Mr. Laycook."

Each step was painful, but the pain was not felt. He moved in a controlled jog down the escalators and out of the building.

On the top floor of the Royal Bank of Montreal, Grand Cayman branch, a secretary from Wire Transfers slid a computer printout under the very pointed and proper nose of Randolph Osgood. She had circled an unusual transfer of ten million. Unusual because the money in this account did not normally return to the United States and unusual because it went to a bank they had, never dealt with. Osgood studied the printout and called Memphis. Mr. Tolar was on leave of absence, the secretary informed him. Then Nathan Locke? he asked. Mr. Locke is out of town. Victor Milligan? Mr. Milligan is away also.

Osgood placed the printout in the pile of things to do tomorrow.

* * *

Along the Emerald Coast of Florida and Alabama, from the outskirts of Mobile east through Pensacola, Fort Walton Beach, Destin and Panama City, the warm spring night had been peaceful. Only one violent crime along the coast. A young woman was robbed, beaten and raped in her room at the Perdido Beach Hilton. Her boyfriend, a tall blond-headed man with strong Nordic features, had found her bound and gagged in her room. His name was Rimmer, Aaron Rimmer, and he was from Memphis.

The real excitement of the night was a massive manhunt in the Mobile area for the escaped murderer, Ray McDeere. He had been seen arriving at the bus station after dark. His mug shot was on the front page of the morning paper, and before ten, three witnesses had come forth and reported sightings. His movements were traced across Mobile Bay to Foley, Alabama, then to Gulf Shores.

Since the Hilton is only ten miles from Gulf Shores along Highway 182, and since the only known escaped murderer was in the vicinity when the only violent crime occurred, the conclusion was quick and inescapable. The hotel's night clerk made a probable ID of Ray McDeere, and the records reflected that he checked in around nine-thirty as a Mr. Lee

Stevens. And he paid cash. Later, the victim checked in and was attacked. The victim also identified Mr. Ray McDeere. The night clerk remembered that the victim asked about a Rachel James, who checked in five minutes before the victim and paid cash. Rachel James vanished sometime during the night without bothering to check out. Likewise for Ray McDeere, alias Lee Stevens. A parking-lot attendant made a probable ID of McDeere and said he got in a white four-door Cutlass with a woman between midnight and one. Said she was driving and appeared to be in a hurry. Said they went east on 182.

Calling from his room on the sixth floor of the Hilton, Aaron Rimmer anonymously told a Baldwin County sheriff's deputy to check the car rental companies in Mobile. Check them for an Abby McDeere. That's your white Cutlass, he told him.

From Mobile to Miami, the search began for the Cutlass rented from Avis by Abby McDeere. The sheriffs investigator promised to keep the victim's boyfriend, Aaron Rimmer, posted on all developments.

Mr. Rimmer would wait at the Hilton. He shared a room with Tony Verkler. Next door was his boss, DeVasher. Fourteen of his friends sat in their rooms on the seventh floor and waited.

It took seventeen trips from the apartment to the U-Haul, but by noon the Bendini Papers were ready for shipment. Mitch rested his swollen legs. He sat on the couch and wrote instructions to Tammy. He detailed the transactions at the bank and told her to wait a week before contacting his mother. She would soon be a millionaire.

He set the telephone in his lap and prepared himself for an unpleasant task. He called the Dane County Bank and asked for Harold Sutherland. It was an emergency, he said.

"Hello," his father-in-law answered angrily.

"Mr. Sutherland, this is Mitch. Have you - "

"Where's my daughter? Is she okay?"

"Yes. She's fine. She's with me. We'll be leaving the country for a few days. Maybe weeks. Maybe months."

"I see," he replied slowly. "And where might you be going?"

"Not sure. We'll just knock around for a while."

"Is something wrong, Mitch?"

"Yes, sir. Something is very wrong, but I can't explain now. Maybe one of these days. Watch the newspapers closely. You'll see a major story out of Memphis within two weeks."

"Are you in danger?"

"Sort of. Have you received any unusual wire transfers this morning?"

"As a matter of fact we have. Somebody parked a million bucks here about an hour ago."

"That somebody was me, and the money is yours."

There was a very long pause. "Mitch, I think I deserve an explanation."

"Yes, sir, you do. But I can't give you one. If we make it safely out of the country, you'll be notified in a week or so. Enjoy the money. Gotta run."

Mitch waited a minute and called Room 1028 at the Holiday Inn, Panama City Beach.

"Hello." It was Abby.

"Hi, babe. How are you?"

"Terrible, Mitch. Ray's picture is on the cover of every newspaper down here. At first it was the escape and the fact that someone saw him in Mobile. Now the TV news is claiming he is the prime suspect in a rape last night."

"What? Where?"

"At the Perdido Beach Hilton. Ray caught that blonde following me into the hotel. He jumped her in her room and tied her up. Nothing serious. He took her gun and her money, and now she's claiming she was beaten and raped by Ray McDeere. Every cop in Florida is looking for the car I rented last night in Mobile."

"Where's the car?"

"We left it about a mile west of here at a big condo development. I'm so scared, Mitch."

"Where's Ray?"

"He's lying on the beach trying to sunburn his face. The picture in the paper is an old one. He's got long hair and looks real pale. It's not a good picture. Now he's got a crew cut and he's trying to turn pink. I think it will help."

"Are both rooms in your name?"

"Rachel James."

"Listen, Abby. Forget Rachel and Lee and Ray and Abby. Wait until almost dark, then leave the rooms. Just walk away. About a half a mile east is a small motel called the Blue Tide. You and Ray enjoy a little walk on the beach until you find it. You go to the desk and get two rooms next to each other. Pay in cash. Tell them your name is Jackie Nagel. Got that? Jackie Nagel. Use that name, because when I get there I'll ask for it."

"What if they don't have two rooms next to each other?"

"Okay, if anything goes wrong, two doors down is another dump called the Seaside. Check in there. Same name. I'm leaving here now, say one o'clock, and I should be there in ten hours."

"What if they find the car?"

"They'll find it, and they'll throw a blanket over Panama City Beach. You've got to be careful. After dark, try to sneak into a drugstore and buy some hair dye. Cut your hair extremely short and dye it blond."

"Blond!"

"Or red. I don't give a damn. But change it. Tell Ray not to leave his room. Do not take any chances."

"He's got a gun, Mitch."

"Tell him I said not to use it. There will be a thousand cops around there, probably tonight. He can't win a gunfight."

"I love you, Mitch. I'm so scared."

"It's okay to be scared, babe. Just keep thinking. They don't know where you are, and they can't catch you if you move. I'll be there by midnight."

* * *

Lamar Quin, Wally Hudson and Kendall Mahan sat in the conference room on the third floor and contemplated their next move. As senior associates, they knew about the fifth floor and the basement, about Mr. Lazarov and Mr. Morolto, about Hodge and Kozinski. They knew that when one joined, one did not leave.

They told their stories about the Day. They compared it to the day they learned the sad truth about Santa Claus. A sad and frightening day, when Nathan Locke talked to them in his office and told them about their biggest client. And then he introduced them to DeVasher. They were employees of the Morolto family, and they were expected to work hard, spend their handsome paychecks and remain very quiet about it. All three did. There had been thoughts of leaving, but never serious plans. They were family men. In time, it sort of went away. There were so many clean clients to work for. So much hard, legitimate work.

The partners handled most of the dirty work, but growing seniority had brought increasing involvement in the conspiracy. They would never be caught, the partners assured them. They were too smart. They had too much money. It was a perfect cover. Of particular concern at the conference table was the fact that the partners had skipped town. There was not a single partner in Memphis. Even Avery Tolar had disappeared. He had walked out of the hospital.

They talked about Mitch. He was out there somewhere, scared and running for his life. If DeVasher caught him, he was dead and they would bury him like Hodge and Kozinski. But if the feds caught him, they got the records, and they got The Firm, which, of course, included the three of them.

What if, they speculated, no one caught him? What if he made it, just vanished? Along with his documents, of course. What if he and Abby were now somewhere on a beach, drinking rum and counting their money? They liked this thought and talked about it for a while.

Finally, they decided to wait until tomorrow. If Mitch was gunned down somewhere, they would stay in Memphis. If he was never found, they would stay in Memphis. If the feds caught him, they would hit the road, Jack.

Run, Mitch, run!

* * *

The rooms at the Blue Tide Motel were narrow and tacky. The carpet was twenty years old and badly worn. The bedspreads had cigarette burns. But luxury was unimportant.

After dark Thursday, Ray stood behind Abby with a pair of scissors and snipped delicately around her ears. Two towels under the chair were covered with her dark hair. She watched him carefully in the mirror next to the antique color television - and was free with her instructions. It was a boyish cut, well above the ears, with bangs. He stepped back and admired his work.

"Not bad," he said.

She smiled and brushed hair from her arms. "I guess I need to color it now," she said sadly. She walked to the tiny, bathroom and closed the door.

She emerged an hour later as a blonde. A yellowish blonde. Ray was asleep on the bedspread. She knelt on the dirty carpet and scooped up the hair.

She picked it from the floor and filled a plastic garbage bag. The empty dye bottle and the applicator were thrown in with the hair, and she tied the bag. There was a knock at the door.

Abby froze, and listened. The curtains were pulled tightly. She slapped Ray's feet. Another knock. Ray jumped from the bed and grabbed the gun.

"Who is it?" she whispered loudly at the window.

"Sam Fortune," he whispered back.

Ray unlocked the door, and Mitch stepped in. He grabbed Abby and bear-hugged Ray. The door was locked, the lights turned off, and they sat on the bed in the darkness. He held Abby tightly. With so much to say, the three said nothing.

A tiny, weak ray of light from the outside filtered under the curtains and, as minutes passed, gradually lit the dresser and television. No one spoke. There were no sounds from the Blue Tide. The parking lot was virtually empty.

"I can almost explain why I'm here," Ray finally said, "but I'm not sure why you're here."

"We've got to forget why we're here," Mitch said, "and concentrate on leaving here. All together. All safe."

"Abby's told me everything," Ray said.

"I don't know everything," she said. "I don't know who's chasing us."

"I'm assuming they're all out there," Mitch said. "DeVasher and his gang are nearby. Pensacola, I would guess. It's the nearest airport of any size. Tarrance is somewhere along the coast directing his boys in their all-out search for Ray McDeere, the rapist. And his accomplice, Abby McDeere."

"What happens next?" Abby asked.

"They'll find the car, if they haven't already done so. That will pinpoint Panama City Beach. The paper said the search extended from Mobile to Miami, so now they're spread out. When they find the car, they zero in here. Now, there's a thousand cheap motels just like this one along the Strip. For twelve miles, nothing but motels, condos and T-shirt shops. That's a lot of people, a lot of tourists with shorts and sandals, and tomorrow we'll be tourists too, shorts, sandals, the whole bit. I figure even if they have a hundred men after us, we've got two or three days."

"Once they decide we're here, what happens?" she asked.

"You and Ray could have simply abandoned the car and taken off in another one. They can't be certain we're on the Strip, but they'll start looking here. But they're not the Gestapo. They can't crash a door and search without probable cause."

"DeVasher can," Ray said.

"Yeah, but there's a million doors around here. They'll set up roadblocks and watch every store and restaurant. They'll talk to every hotel clerk, show them Ray's mug shot. They'll swarm like ants for a few days, and with luck, they'll miss us."

"What are you driving, Mitch?" Ray asked.

"A U-Haul."

"I don't understand why we don't get in the U-Haul, right now, and haul ass. I mean, the car is sitting a mile down the road, just waiting to be found, and we know they're coming. I say we haul it."

"Listen, Ray. They might be setting roadblocks right now. Trust me. Did I get you out of prison? Come on."

A siren went screaming past on the Strip. They froze, and listened to it fade away.

"Okay, gang," Mitch said, "we're moving out. I don't like this place. The parking lot is empty and too close to the highway. I've parked the U-Haul three doors down at the elegant Sea Gull's Rest Motel. I've got two lovely rooms there. The roaches are much smaller. We're taking a quiet stroll on the beach. Then we get to unpack the truck. Sound exciting?"

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