Chapter 21

DR. HAYANI'S LAST STOP was Patrick's room. It was almost dark, long past time to leave for the day, and he found his famous patient sitting in his gym shorts in a chair at a makeshift desk in the only empty corner of his room. The desk was a small table, with a lamp Patrick had conned out of an orderly. A plastic water cup held pens and pencils. Another held the beginning of a collection of paper clips, rubber bands, push pins, all donated by the nursing staff. He even had three legal pads.

Patrick was in business. An impressive collection of legal documents occupied one corner, and he was reviewing one of the numerous lawsuits filed against him when his doc popped in, for the third time of the day.

"Welcome to my office," Patrick said. A bulky TV hung not far above his head. The back of his chair was a foot from the end of his bed.

"Nice," Hayani said. Rumors in hospitals flew faster than in law offices, and throughout the last two days there had been amused whispers about the new firm being established in Room 312. "I hope you don't sue doctors."

"Never. In thirteen years of practicing law, I never sued a doctor. Nor a hospital." He stood as he said this and turned to face Hayani.

"I knew I liked you," the doctor said as he gently examined the burns on Patrick's chest. "How are you doing?" he asked, for the third time that day.

"I'm fine," Patrick repeated, for the umpteenth time that day. The nurses, starstruck and curious, barged in at least twice an hour with any one of a hundred errands, and always with a chirping, "How ya feeling?"

"I'm fine," he always answered.

"Did you nap today?" Hayani asked, squatting and poking along the left thigh.

"No. It's hard to sleep without pills, and I really hate to take anything during the day," Patrick answered. In truth, napping was impossible with the parade of nurses and orderlies.

He sat on the edge of the bed and looked sincerely at his doctor. "Can I tell you something?" he asked.

Hayani stopped scribbling on a chart. "Certainly."

Patrick cast his eyes to the left and to the right as if there could be ears everywhere. "When I was a lawyer," he began softly, "I had this client, a banker, who got caught embezzling. He was forty-four years old, married, three teenaged kids, a great guy who did a dumb thing. He was arrested at home, late at night, and taken to the county jail. It was crowded, and he got thrown into a cell with a couple of young street punks, black guys, mean as hell. They gagged him first so he couldn't scream. They beat him, then they did things you don't want to know about. Two hours after he was sitting in his den watching a movie, he was half-dead in a jail cell three miles from his home." Patrick's chin hit his chest and he pinched the bridge of his nose.

Dr. Hayani touched his shoulder.

"You can't let that happen to me, Doc," Patrick said, his eyes watery, his voice strained.

"Don't worry, Patrick."

"The thought of it horrifies me, Doc. I have nightmares about it."

"You have my word, Patrick."

"God knows I've been through enough."

"I promise, Patrick."

THE NEXT INTERROGATOR was a squirrely little man named Warren, who chain-smoked and viewed the world through thick, dark glasses. His eyes were invisible. His left hand worked the cigarette, his right one handled the pen, and nothing else moved, except his lips. He crouched behind his neat little piles of paper and shot questions to the other end, where Stephano fiddled with a paper clip and his lawyer fought with a laptop.

"When did you form your consortium?" Warren asked.

"After we lost his trail in New York, we pulled back and waited. We listened where we could listen. We covered old tracks. Nothing happened. The trail quickly ran cold, and we settled in for the long run. I'd met with Benny Aricia, and he was willing to finance the search. Then I also met with people from Monarch-Sierra and Northern Case Mutual, and they gave their tentative approval. Northern Case Mutual had just forked over two point five million to the widow. They couldn't sue to get it back because there was no conclusive evidence he was still alive. They agreed to put up a half a million. Monarch-Sierra was more complicated because they had not paid, at that time. Their exposure was four million."

"Monarch carried the law firm's malpractice insurance?"

"Close. It was a separate crime rider, in addition to the customary Errors and Omissions policy. It protected the law firm from fraud and theft by its employees and partners. Since Lanigan stole from the firm, Monarch-Sierra was forced to pay up, to the tune of four million dollars."

"But your client, Mr. Aricia, received this money, correct?"

"Yes. He first sued the law firm for the entire sixty million he lost, but the firm had few assets. The firm agreed to hand over the proceeds from the policy. We all sat down at the table and struck a deal. Monarch-Sierra agreed to pay the money without a fight if Mr. Aricia would use up to a million of it to find Lanigan. Mr. Aricia agreed, but only if Monarch-Sierra would kick in another one million to finance the search."

"So Aricia was in for a million, Monarch-Sierra for a million, and Northern Case Mutual for half a million. Total of two point five."

"Yes, that was the initial agreement."

"Where was the law firm?"

"They chose not to participate. Frankly, they didn't have the money, and they were too shocked to respond. Initially, they helped in other ways."

"And the players paid up?"

"Yes. The money was wired to my firm's account."

"Now that the search is over, how much of the money is left?"

"Almost none."

"How much was spent?"

"Three and a half million, give or take a little. About a year ago, the funds ran out. The insurance companies said no. Mr. Aricia kicked in another half a million, then another three hundred thousand. His total to date is one point nine."

Actually, it was an even two million, now that Benny had reluctantly decided to go after the girl. The FBI, of course, would not know this.

"And how was the money spent?"

Stephano referred to his notes, but only for a glimpse.

"Almost a million in payroll, travel, and other expenses related to the search. One point five million in rewards. And an even million to my firm as fees."

"You've been paid a million dollars?" Warren asked, still with no movement of muscle but with a slightly raised voice.

"Yes. Over a four-year period."

"Tell me about the rewards."

"Well, it goes to the heart of the search."

"We're listening."

"One of the first things we did was to establish a reward for any information about the disappearance of

Patrick Lanigan. You guys knew about the reward, but you thought the law firm was backing it. We quietly went to the law firm and convinced Charles Bogan to announce the formation of a reward for information. He went public and promised fifty thousand, at first. Our deal with Bogan was that he would secretly notify us if there was any response."

"The FBI was not informed of this."

"No. The FBI knew about the reward, and approved it. But our agreement with Bogan was kept quiet. We wanted the first shot at any information. We didn't distrust the FBI, we simply wanted to find Lanigan and the money ourselves."

"How many men did you have working on the case at this point?"

"Probably a dozen."

"And where were you?"

"Here. But I went to Biloxi at least once a week."

"Did the FBI know what you were doing?"

"Absolutely not. To my knowledge, the FBI never knew we were involved, until last week."

The file in front of Warren certainly reflected this. "Continue."

"We heard nothing for two months, three months, four. We raised the reward money to seventy-five, then to a hundred. Bogan got hammered with all the nuts out there, and he passed this along to the FBI. Then in August of '92, he got a call from a lawyer in New Orleans who claimed to have a client who knew something about the disappearance. The guy sounded very legitimate, and so we went to New Orleans to meet with him."

"What was his name?"

"Raul Lauziere, on Loyola Street."

"Did you meet with him?"

"I did."

"And who else from your firm?"

Stephano glanced at his lawyer, who had frozen for the moment and was deep in thought. "This is a secretive business. I'd rather not mention the names of my associates."

"He doesn't have to," the lawyer pronounced loudly, and that was the end of the matter.

"Fine. Continue."

"Lauziere appeared to be serious, ethical, and believable. He was also very prepared. He seemed to know everything about the disappearance of Patrick and the money. He had a file of all the press clippings. Everything was indexed and at his fingertips. He handed us a four-page, double-spaced narrative of what his client knew."

"Just summarize it in detail. I'll read it later."

"Certainly," Stephano said, and recounted the narrative from memory: "His client was a young woman named Erin who was struggling through med school at Tulane. She was recently divorced, broke, etc., and to help make ends meet she worked the late shift in a large bookstore in a mall, one of those big chains. Sometime in January of '92 she noticed a customer milling around the travel and language section. He was heavyset, dressed in a suit, neat black and gray beard, and appeared to be somewhat nervous. It was almost nine at night, and the store was practically deserted. He finally picked out a language course with twelve cassettes, workbooks, etc., all in one slick box, and he was easing toward the checkout area where

Erin worked when another man entered the store. The first man immediately withdrew between the racks and placed the language course back on the shelf. He then emerged on the other side, and attempted to slip past the second man, a person he obviously knew and didn't want to speak to. But he didn't make it. The second man glanced up, and said, "Patrick, it's been a long time." A brief conversation ensued in which the two men talked about their law careers. Erin puttered around the checkout stand and listened because there was nothing else to do. Evidently, she was keenly curious and watched everything.

"Anyway, the one called Patrick was anxious to leave, so he finally found the right moment and made a graceful getaway. Three nights later, at about the same time, he came back. Erin was putting up stock, not checking out. She saw him enter, recognized him, remembered he was called Patrick, and watched him. He made a point to look at the checkout clerk, and when he realized she was a different one, he loitered around the store until he stopped in the language and travel section. He picked out the same language course, slid to the counter, paid for it in cash, and left quickly. Almost three hundred bucks. Erin watched him leave. He never saw her, or if he did, he didn't recognize her."

"So what's the language?"

"That, of course, was the big question. Three weeks later Erin saw in the paper where Patrick Lanigan was killed in a terrible auto accident, and she recognized his picture. Then, six weeks later the story broke about the stolen money from his old firm, the same picture was in the papers, and Erin saw it again."

"Did the bookstore have security cameras?"

"No. We checked."

"So what was the language?"

"Lauziere wouldn't tell us. At least at first he wouldn't. We were offering a hundred thousand dollars for solid information about Lanigan's whereabouts. He, and his client, quite naturally wanted all of the money for the name of the language. We negotiated for three days. He wouldn't budge. He allowed us to interrogate Erin. We spent six hours with her, and every aspect of her story checked out, so we agreed to pay the hundred grand."

"Brazilian Portuguese?"

"Yes. The world suddenly shrunk."

LIKE EVERY LAWYER, J. Murray Riddleton had been through it many times before, unfortunately. The airtight case suddenly springs leaks. The tables get turned in the blink of an eye.

Just for the fun of it, and with no small measure of enjoyment, he allowed Trudy to puff and posture for a bit before he lowered the ax.

"Adultery!" she gasped, with all the self-righteousness of a Puritan virgin. Even Lance pulled off a look of shock. He reached across and took her hand.

"I know, I know," J. Murray said, playing along. "Happens in almost every divorce. These things do get nasty."

"I'll kill him," Lance grunted.

"We'll get to that later," J. Murray said.

"With whom?" she demanded.

"With Lance here. They claim the two of you were getting it on before, during, and after the marriage. In fact, they claim it goes all the way back to high school."

Ninth grade, actually. "He's an idiot," Lance said without conviction.

Trudy nodded and agreed with Lance. Preposterous. Then she asked nervously, "What proof does he claim to have?"

"Do you deny it?" J. Murray asked, completing the setup.

"Absolutely," she snapped.

"Of course," added Lance. "The man is a living lie."

J. Murray reached into a deep drawer and withdrew one of the reports Sandy had given him. "Seems Patrick was suspicious throughout most of the marriage. He hired investigators to snoop around. This is a report from one of them."

Trudy and Lance looked at each other for a second, then realized they had been caught. Suddenly, it was difficult to deny a relationship that was now more than twenty years old. They both became smug at the same instant. So what? Big deal.

"I'll just summarize it," J. Murray said, then clicked off dates, times, and places. They weren't ashamed of their activities, but it was discomforting to know that things were so well documented.

"Still deny it?" J. Murray asked when he finished.

"Anybody can write that stuff," Lance said. Trudy was silent.

J. Murray pulled out another report, this one cover-

ing the seven months prior to Patrick's disappearance. Dates, times, places. Patrick left town, bam, Lance moved in. Every time.

"Can these investigators testify in court?" Lance asked when J. Murray finished.

"We're not going to court," J. Murray said.

"Why not?" Trudy asked.

"Because of these." J. Murray slid the eight-by-ten color glossies across his desk. Trudy grabbed one and gasped at the sight of herself lounging by the pool, naked, her stud next to her. Lance was shocked too, but managed a tiny grin. He sort of liked them.

They swapped the photos back and forth without a word. J. Murray relished the moment, then said, "You guys got too careless."

"Skip the lecture," Lance said.

Predictably, Trudy started to cry. Her eyes watered, her lip quivered, her nose sniffled, and then she cried. J. Murray had seen it a thousand times. They always cried, not for what they had done, but for the wages of their sins.

"He's not getting my daughter," she said angrily through the tears. She lost it, and they listened to her bawl for a while. Lance, ever vigilant, pawed at her and tried to console.

"I'm sorry," she finally said, wiping tears.

"Relax," J. Murray said without the slightest trace of compassion. "He doesn't want the kid."

"Why not?" she asked, the tear ducts shutting down instantly.

"He's not the father."

They squinted, thought hard, tried to assemble things.

J. Murray reached for yet another report. "He took a blood sample from the child when she was fourteen months old, and had a DNA test run on it. No way he's the father."

"Then who ..." Lance started to ask, but couldn't complete the thought.

"Depends on who else was around," J. Murray said helpfully.

"No one else was around," she said, mocking him angrily.

"Except me," Lance volunteered, then slowly closed his eyes. Fatherhood descended heavily upon his shoulders. Lance despised children. He tolerated Ashley Nicole only because she belonged to Trudy.

"Congratulations," J. Murray said. He reached into a drawer, pulled out a cheap cigar and tossed it to Lance. "It's a girl," he said, and laughed loudly.

Trudy fumed and Lance toyed with the cigar. When J. Murray finished humoring himself, she asked, "So where are we?"

"It's simple. You waive any right to his assets, whatever they may be, and he gives you the divorce, the kid, everything else you want."

"What are his assets?" she asked.

"His lawyer is not sure right now. We may never know. The man is headed for death row, and the cash might stay buried forever."

"But I'm about to lose everything," she said. "Look at what he's done to me. I got two and a half million when he died, now the insurance company is ready to bankrupt me."

"She deserves a helluva lot of money," Lance piped in on cue.

"Can I sue him for mental distress, or fraud, or something like that?" she pleaded.

"No. Look, it's very simple. You get the divorce and the kid, and Patrick keeps whatever money is out there. And everything is kept quiet. Otherwise, he'll leak all this to the press." J. Murray tapped the reports and the photos when he said this. "And you'll be humiliated. You've gone public with your dirty laundry; he's quite anxious to return the favor."

"Where do I sign?" she said.

J. MURRAY fixed them all a vodka, and before too long he was mixing another round. He finally brought up the subject of those silly rumors about Lance looking for a hit man. The denials came fast and furious, and J. Murray confessed that he really didn't believe the trash anyway.

There were so many rumors racing up and down the Coast.