Chapter 22

THEY BEGAN TRACKING Sandy McDermott as he left New Orleans at 8 A.M. and worked his way through the traffic on Interstate 10. He was followed until the congestion thinned near Lake Pont-chartrain. They called ahead and reported he was on his way to Biloxi. Following him was easy. Listening would be another matter. Guy had bugs for Sandy's office and home phones, even one for his car, but the decision to install them had not yet been made. The risks were significant. Aricia especially was wary. He argued with Stephano and with Guy that Sandy might well expect his phones to get tapped, and might feed them all sorts of useless or even damaging gossip. His client had so far proved quite proficient at seeing around corners. And so they argued.

Sandy wasn't looking over his shoulder. Nor was he seeing much in front of him. He was simply driving, moving forward while avoiding contact, his mind, as usual, many miles away.

From a strategic point of view, the various Lanigan battles were in good shape. The civil suits filed by Monarch-Sierra, the law firm, and Aricia had been placed on dockets already densely crowded. Formal responses by Sandy were a month away. Discovery wouldn't start for three months and would last for a year. Trials were two years away at the earliest. Likewise for Patrick's suit against the FBI; it would one day be amended to bring in Stephano and his consortium. It would be a delightful case to try, but Sandy doubted he would ever get the chance.

The divorce was under control.

The capital murder charge, clearly the center of attention, was another matter. Obviously the most serious of Patrick's problems, it was also the speediest. By law, the state had to try Patrick within two hundred and seventy days of the indictment, so the clock was ticking.

In Sandy's opinion, a conviction based on the evidence would be a longshot. For the moment, crucial elements of proof were missing-significant facts such as the identity of John Doe, and the manner in which he died, and the certainty that Patrick killed him. It was a tenuous circumstantial case at best. Large assumptions would be called for.

However, a conviction based on public sentiment was foreseeable. By now everyone within a hundred miles of Biloxi knew most of the details, and you couldn't find a literate breathing soul who didn't think Patrick killed someone to fake his death so he could lie in ambush and steal ninety million dollars. Patrick had a few admirers, those who also dreamed of a new life with a new name and plenty of dough. But they would not be on his jury. Most folks, it seemed through the informal polling of coffee shop talk and courthouse gossip, felt he was guilty and should spend time in prison. Very few favored the death penalty. Leave that for rapists and cop killers.

Most pressing, though, at the moment, was keeping Patrick alive. The file on Lance, hand-delivered last night by the lovely Leah in yet another hotel room, portrayed a quiet man with a hair-trigger temper and a penchant for violence. He liked guns, and had once been indicted by a federal grand jury for fencing them through a pawnshop. The charges were later dismissed. In addition to his three-year stint for smuggling pot, he had been sentenced to sixty days for his part in a barroom brawl in Gulfport, though the time was suspended due to an overcrowded jail. There were two other arrests-one for another fight and one for a DUI.

Lance could be cleaned up and made presentable. He was lanky and handsome, and well admired by the ladies. He knew how to dress and carry on amusing chitchat over cocktails. But his forays into society were temporary. His heart was always in the street, just above the gutter, where he hung out with loan sharks and bookies and fences and reputable drug dealers, the smart white-collar boys of local crime. These were his friends, the guys from his neighborhood. Patrick had found them too, and the file contained no fewer than a dozen little biographies of Lance's pals, all with criminal records.

Sandy at first had been skeptical of Patrick's paranoia. Now he believed it. Though he knew little of the underworld, the nature of his profession occasionally brought him into contact with criminals. He had heard many times that for five thousand bucks you could get anyone killed. Maybe even less along the Coast.

Lance certainly had more than five thousand bucks. And he had a wonderful motive to eliminate Patrick. The life insurance policies that made Trudy rich didn't exclude any particular causes of death, other than suicide. A bullet to the head was treated just like a car wreck, or a heart attack, or anything else. Dead was dead.

THE COAST was not Sandy's turf. He didn't know the sheriffs and their deputies, the judges and their quirks, the other members of the bar. He suspected this was precisely why Patrick picked him.

Sweeney had been less than hospitable on the phone. He was very busy, he said, and besides, meetings with lawyers were usually a waste of time. He could spare a few minutes, starting at nine-thirty and barring an emergency. Sandy arrived early, and poured his own coffee from a pot he found next to the watercooler. Deputies milled about. The sprawling jail was in the rear. Sweeney found him and led him through to his office, a spartan room with government hand-me-down furniture and fading photos of smiling politicians on the wall.

"Have a seat," Sweeney said, pointing to a ratty chair as he sat behind his desk. Sandy did as he was told.

"Mind if I record?" Sweeney asked, already punching the button on a large tape recorder in the center of his desk. "I tape everything," he said.

"Sure," Sandy said, as if he had a choice. "Thanks for working me in."

"No problem," Sweeney said. He had yet to smile or offer anything other than the impression of being bothered by this. He lit a cigarette and sipped steaming coffee from a Styrofoam cup.

"I'll get right to the point," Sandy said, as if idle conversation were an option. "My office has received a tip that Patrick's life may be in danger." Sandy hated the lying, but he had little choice under the circumstances. This was what his client wanted.

"Why would someone tip your office that your client was in danger?" Sweeney asked.

"I have investigators working on the case. They know lots of people. Some gossip got passed along, and one of my investigators tracked it down. That's the way these things happen."

- Sweeney showed neither belief nor disbelief. He smoked his cigarette and thought about it. In the past week, he had heard every conceivable species of rumor about the adventures of Patrick Lanigan. People were talking about nothing else. The hit man stories were of several varieties. Sweeney figured his network was better than the lawyer's, especially one from New Orleans, so he would let him talk. "Got any suspects?"

"Yes. His name is Lance Maxa; I'm sure you know him."

"We do."

"He took Patrick's place with Trudy not long after the funeral."

"Some would say Patrick took his place," Sweeney said, with his first smile. Sandy was indeed on foreign turf. The Sheriff knew more than he.

"Then I guess you know all about Lance and Trudy," Sandy said, a little rattled.

"We do. We take good notes around here."

"I'm sure you do. Anyway, Lance, as you know, is a nasty sort, and my men got a rumor that he was looking for a contract killer."

"How much is he offering?" Sweeney asked skeptically.

"Don't know. But he has the money, and he has the motive."

"I've already heard this."

"Good. What do you plan to do?"

"About what?"

"About keeping my client alive."

Sweeney took a deep breath and decided to hold his tongue. He struggled with his temper. "He's on a military base, in a hospital room with my deputies guarding his door and FBI agents down the hall. I'm not sure what else you have in mind."

"Look, Sheriff, I'm not trying to tell you how to do your job."


"No. I promise. Please try and understand that my client is a very frightened man right now. I'm here acting on his behalf. He's been stalked for over four years. He's been caught. He hears voices we don't hear. He sees shadows we don't see. He's convinced people will try to kill him, and he expects me to protect him."

"He's safe."

"For now. What if you talked to Lance, and you grilled him pretty good and told him about the rumors. If he knew you were watching, he'd be stupid to try something."

"Lance is stupid."

"Maybe, but Trudy is not. If she thinks she might get caught, she'll yank Lance back where he belongs."

"Been yanking him all his life."

"Precisely. She will not run the risk."

Sweeney lit another cigarette, and glanced at his watch. "Anything else?" he asked, suddenly anxious to get up and leave. He was a Sheriff, not an office manager with a desk and Rolodex.

"Just one thing. And again, I'm not trying to tend to your business. Patrick has enormous respect for you. But, well, he thinks he's much safer where he is."

"What a surprise."

"Jail could be dangerous for him."

"He shoulda thought about that before he killed Mr. Doe."

Sandy ignored this and said, "He'll be easier to protect in the hospital."

"Have you been to my jail?"


"Then don't lecture me about how unsafe it is. I've been doing this for a long time, got it?"

"I'm not lecturing."

"The hell you're not. You got five more minutes. Anything else?"


"Good." Sweeney bolted to his feet and left the room.

THE HONORABLE KARL HUSKEY arrived at Keesler Air Force Base late in the afternoon, and slowly made his way through security to the hospital. He was in the middle of a one-week drug trial, and he was tired. Patrick had called and asked him to stop by, if possible.

Himself a pallbearer, Karl had sat next to Sandy McDermott at Patrick's funeral. Unlike Sandy, though, Huskey had been a recent friend of Patrick's. The two had met during a civil case Patrick had tried not long after he arrived in Biloxi. They became friendly, the way lawyers and judges often do when they see each other every week. They chatted over bad food at the monthly bar luncheons, and once drank too much at a Christmas party. They played golf twice a year.

It was an easy acquaintance, but not a close friendship, at least not for the first three years Patrick was in Biloxi. But they grew closer in the months before he disappeared. With the benefit of hindsight, though, it was easy to look back and see a change in Patrick.

IN THE MONTHS after his disappearance, those in the legal community who knew him best, including Karl, liked to gather over drinks at the Lower Bar at Mary Mahoney's Restaurant on Friday afternoons and piece together the Patrick puzzle.

Trudy took her share of the blame, though she was too easy a target, in Karl's opinion. On the surface, the marriage didn't appear to be that bad. Patrick certainly didn't discuss it with anybody, at least no one who drank with them at Mary Mahoney's. Trudy's actions after the funeral, especially the red Rolls and the live-in toyboy and the go-to-hell attitude she adopted as soon as the life insurance was collected, had soured everyone and made objectivity impossible. No one was certain that she was sleeping around before Patrick left. In fact, Buster Gillespie, the Chancery Clerk and a regular at those sessions, professed admiration for Trudy. She'd once worked with his wife at a charity ball of some variety, and he always felt compelled to say something nice about her. He was about the only one. Trudy was easy to talk about and easy to criticize.

Job pressure was certainly a factor in pushing Patrick to the brink. The firm was rolling in those days, and he desperately wanted to become a partner. He worked long hours, and he took the difficult cases his partners didn't want. Not even the birth of Ashley Nicole kept him home. He had made partner three years after joining as an associate, but few people outside the firm knew it. He had whispered it to Karl one day after court, but Patrick was not the least bit boastful.

He was tired and stressed, but then so were most of the lawyers who entered Karl's courtroom. The oddest changes in Patrick were physical. He was an even six feet tall, and he said he had never been thin. He claimed to have been quite a jogger in law school, at one point doing forty miles a week. But as a busy lawyer, who had the time? His weight crept up, then ballooned the last year he was in Biloxi. He seemed oblivious to the jokes and comments from the court-house crowd. Karl had chided him more than once, but he kept eating. A month before he disappeared, he told Karl over lunch that he weighed two hundred and thirty pounds, and that Trudy was raising hell about it. She, of course, aerobicized two hours a day with Jane Fonda and was as thin as a model.

He said his blood pressure was up, and he promised to go on a diet. Karl had encouraged this. He found out later that Patrick's blood pressure had been normal.

The weight gain, and its overnight loss, made perfect sense now that they thought about it.

The beard too. He had grown it around November of 1990, said it was his deer hunting beard. Such growth was not unusual among non-rednecks and lawyers in Mississippi. The air was cool. The testosterone was up. It was a boy thing. He didn't shave it, and Trudy bitched about that too. The longer he kept it, the grayer it became. His friends got accustomed to it. She did not.

He let his hair a grow a bit and started wearing it thicker on top and halfway down the ears. Karl called it the Jimmy Carter look from 1976. Patrick claimed to have lost his hairstylist and couldn't find one he trusted.

He wore nice clothes and carried his weight well, but he was too young to let himself go.

Three months before he checked out of Biloxi, Patrick succeeded in convincing his partners that the firm needed its own brochure. It was a small project, but one he embraced with great vigor. Though Patrick wasn't supposed to know it, the firm was getting closer to the Aricia settlement, and the money was almost in sight. Egos were expanding daily. A very serious firm was about to become a very wealthy one, so why not impress themselves with a professionally done brochure. It was a way to humor Patrick. Each of the five sat for a professional photographer, then they spent an hour on the group shot. Patrick printed five thousand, and received high marks from the other partners. There he was on page two, fat, bearded, bushy-headed, and looking nothing like the Patrick they found in Brazil.

The photo was used by the press when his death was reported. It was by far the most recent, and coinciden-tally, Patrick had sent a brochure to the local paper, just in case the firm decided to advertise. They had laughed about this over drinks at Mary Mahoney's. They could envision Patrick orchestrating the photography in the firm's conference room. They could see Bogan and Vitrano and Rapley and Havarac in the darkest navy suits and their most serious smiles, and all the while Patrick was laying the groundwork for his exit.

In the months after he left them, the gang at Mary Mahoney's had toasted Patrick many times and played the game of "Where could he be?" They had wished him well and thought about his money. Time passed and so did the shock of his disappearance. Once they had thoroughly analyzed his life, the sessions came further apart and finally stopped. Months became years. Patrick would never be found.

KARL STILL FOUND IT difficult to believe. He entered the elevator in the lobby and rode alone to the third floor.

He wondered if he had ever given up on Patrick. The mysteries were too rich to escape. A bad day on the bench, and he would think of Patrick on a sundrenched beach reading a novel, sipping a drink, watching the girls. Another year without a pay raise, and he would wonder what the ninety million was doing. The latest rumor on the demise of the Bogan firm, and he would shame Patrick for the misery he had caused. No, the truth was, Karl had thought of Patrick, for one reason or another, at least once a day, every day, since he left.

There were no nurses or other patients in the hall. The two deputies stood. One said, "Evenin', Judge." He greeted them and entered the darkened room.