Chapter 9

I'M GOING to scrape the dead skin away now," the doctor said, gently probing a chest wound with a pointed instrument. "I really think you should consider some pain medication."

"No thanks," Patrick said. He was sitting on his bed, naked, with the doctor, two nurses, and the Puerto Rican orderly, Luis, huddled around him.

"It's gonna hurt, Patrick," said the doctor.

"I've been through worse. Besides, where would you stick me?" he asked, lifting his left arm. It was covered with purple and dark blue bruises where the Brazilian doctor had relentlessly poked him during his ordeal. His entire body was a rainbow of bruises and scar tissue. "No more drugs," he said.

"Okay. As you wish."

Patrick reclined and gripped the side rails to his bed. The nurses and Luis held his ankles as the doctor began scraping the raw, third-degree burns on his chest. With surgical scalpels, he pulled the dead skin off the wound, then cut it free.

Patrick flinched and closed his eyes.

"How about a shot, Patrick?" asked the doctor.

"No," he grunted.

More scalpels. More dead skin.

"These are healing nicely, Patrick. I tend to think you might not need skin grafts after all."

"Good," he said,, then flinched again.

Four of the nine burns were severe enough to be considered third degree; two on the chest, one on the left thigh, and one on the right calf. The rope burns on his wrists, elbows, and ankles were raw and covered with ointments.

The doctor finished in half an hour, and explained that it would be best to remain still, unclothed and unbandaged, at least for now. He applied a cool antibacterial salve, and again offered pills for the pain. Patrick again declined.

The doctor and the nurses left, and Luis loitered long enough to see them off. He closed the door behind them and pulled down the blinds. From a pocket under his white orderly's jacket, he produced a disposable Kodak camera, with a flash.

"Start there," Patrick said, pointing to the foot of the bed. "Get the entire body, including my face." Luis stuck the camera to his head, fiddled with it, backed to the wall, then pushed the button. The camera flashed.

"Again, from there," Patrick directed.

Luis did as he was told. At first, he'd been reluctant to agree to this venture, said his boss might need to approve it. Living on the border of Paraguay, Patrick not only had perfected his Portuguese but he'd also learned to handle Spanish. He could understand almost everything Luis said. Luis had more trouble understanding Patrick.

The language of money prevailed, with Luis eventually comprehending the offer of five hundred U.S. dollars in return for his services as a photographer. He agreed to purchase three disposable cameras, take almost a hundred shots, get them developed overnight, and to hide them far from the hospital until further orders.

Patrick didn't have five hundred dollars on him, but he persuaded Luis that he was an honest man, regardless of what he might have heard, and that he would send the money as soon as he got home.

Luis wasn't much of a photographer, but then he didn't have much of a camera. Patrick coordinated every shot. There were close-ups of the serious burns on his chest and thigh, close-ups of his badly bruised limbs, full-length shots from every angle. They worked fast so they wouldn't get caught. It was almost time for lunch and another round of busy nurses with charts and incessant chatter.

Luis left the hospital on his lunch break and dropped the film off at a camera shop.

IN RIO, Osmar convinced a low-paid secretary at Eva's law firm to accept a thousand dollars in cash in exchange for all the current in-house gossip. There wasn't much. Things were very quiet among the partners. But the phone records revealed two calls to the firm from a number in Zurich. It was a hotel, Guy determined from Washington, but no other information was available. The Swiss were so discreet.

Her partners had no patience with her disappearance. Their quiet gossip about her soon changed to daily meetings about what to do. She'd called once the first day, once the second, then no word. The mysterious client she had flown off to see could not be verified. Meanwhile, her legitimate clients were making demands and threats. She missed appointments, meetings, deadlines.

Finally, they decided to temporarily remove her from the firm, and deal with her later when she returned.

Osmar and his men stalked Eva's father until the poor man was unable to sleep. They watched his apartment lobby and followed him in traffic and along the busy sidewalks of Ipanema. There was talk of snatching him and roughing him up a bit, forcing him to talk, but he was careful and never allowed himself to be isolated.

ON HIS THIRD TRIP to her bedroom, Lance finally found the door unlocked. He entered quietly with another Valium and her favorite bottled sparkling water, from Ireland, four bucks a bottle, and he sat next to her on the bed without a word and held out the pill. She took it, her second in an hour, and she sipped the water.

The police car carrying the chubby photographer had left an hour ago. Two cops hung around for twenty minutes, asking their questions, apparently not anxious to press charges since it was private property, and the press had been told to stay away, the publication was a sleazy magazine from up North anyway. The cops seemed quite sympathetic, even respectful of the way Lance handled the situation. They were given the name of Trudy's attorney downtown in case charges were to be pressed. Lance threatened to press charges of his own if hauled into court.

Trudy snapped after the cops left. She threw cushions from a sofa into the fireplace as the nanny raced off with the child. She yelled obscenities at Lance because he was the nearest target. It was just too much- the news about Patrick, the lawsuit by the insurance company, the restraining order, the horde of vultures out front, and then Lance had caught a photographer by the pool.

But she was quiet now. He'd had a Valium too, and he sighed relief that she was under control. He wanted to touch her, to pat her on the knee and say something nice, but such gestures never worked on her in these situations. A wrong move and she would snap again. Trudy would cool down, but only on her own terms.

Trudy reclined on the bed, closed her eyes, placed the back of her wrist on her forehead. The room was dark, like the rest of the house-blinds and shades pulled tight, lights off or dimmed. There were a hundred people loitering out by the road taking pictures and shooting film to be used with all those wretched Patrick stories. At noon, she'd seen her house on the local news, in the background as some silly orange-faced woman with large teeth gushed on about Patrick this and Patrick that, and the divorce filed by Patrick's wife that very morning.

Patrick's wife! The thought made her numb with disbelief. She hadn't been Patrick's wife for almost four and a half years. She'd buried him right properly, then tried to forget about him as she waited for the money. By the time she received it, he was a fading memory.

The only painful moment had come when she sat down with Ashley Nicole to inform the child, then barely two, that her father would no longer be around, that he had gone on to heaven where he would certainly be happier. The child was puzzled for a while, then shook it off as only a toddler can. No one was allowed to mention Patrick's name in the presence of the child. This was to protect her, Trudy had explained. She doesn't remember her father, so please don't try and make her.

Other than that one brief episode, she had shouldered the weight of widowhood with remarkable resiliency. She shopped in New Orleans, ordered health foods from California, sweated two hours a day in designer spandex, and treated herself to expensive facials and treatments. She had a nanny to keep the kid so she and Lance could travel. They loved the Caribbean, especially St. Barts with its nude beaches. They stripped and strutted with the French.

Christmas was in New York at the Plaza. January was in Vail with the rich and beautiful. May meant Paris and Vienna. They longed for a private jet like some of the wonderful people they'd met in the fast lane. A small, used Lear could be bought for a million, but for now was out of the question.

Lance claimed to be working on this idea, and she worried anytime he grew serious about business matters. She knew he smuggled dope, but it was just pot and hash from Mexico and there was little risk. They needed the income, and she liked him out of the house occasionally.

She didn't hate Patrick, not the dead one anyway. She just hated the fact that he wasn't dead, that he had been resurrected and was back to complicate things. She'd first met him at a party in New Orleans, during a period of time when she was pouting with Lance and looking for another husband, preferably one with money and promise. She was twenty-seven, four years out of a bad marriage and restless for stability. He was thirty-three, still single and ready to settle down. He had just accepted a job with a nice firm in Biloxi, which was where she happened to be living at the time. After four months of nonstop passion, they were married in Jamaica. Three weeks after the honeymoon, Lance sneaked into their new apartment and spent the night while Patrick was away on business.

She couldn't lose the money, that was for certain. Her lawyer would simply have to do something, find some loophole which would allow her to keep it. That's what he got paid to do. Surely the insurance company couldn't get the house, the furniture and cars and clothes, the bank accounts, the boat, the fabulous things she'd bought with the money. It just didn't seem fair. Patrick had died. She'd buried him. She'd been a widow now for over four years. That must count for something.

It wasn't her fault he was alive.

"We'll have to kill him, you know," Lance said in the semidarkness. He had moved to a cushioned chair between the bed and the window, his bare feet draped over an ottoman.

She didn't move, didn't flinch in the smallest way, but thought about it for a second before saying, "Don't be stupid." This she offered with little conviction.

"There is no alternative, you know that."

"We're in enough trouble."

She only breathed, her wrist still stuck to her forehead, eyes closed, perfectly still, and actually quite happy that Lance had broached the subject. She, of course, had thought about this within minutes of being told that Patrick was headed home. She had walked through various scenarios, each leading to the same inescapable conclusion: to keep the money, Patrick must be dead. It was, after all, an insurance policy on his life.

She couldn't kill him; that was a ridiculous notion. Lance, on the other hand, had lots of shadowy friends in dark places.

"You wanna keep the money, don't you?" he asked.

"I can't think about it now, Lance. Maybe later." Perhaps real soon. She couldn't seem eager or Lance would get too excited. As usual, she would manipulate him, string him along into some devilish plot until it was too late for him to back out.

"We can't wait too long, baby. Hell, the life insurance company's already got us choked."

"Please, Lance."

"There ain't no way around it. You wanna keep this house, the money, everything we've got, then he's gotta die."

She didn't speak or move for a long time, but his words delighted her soul. In spite of half a brain and many other flaws, Lance was the only man she'd ever loved. He was nasty enough to take care of Patrick, but was he smart enough not to get caught?

THE AGENT'S NAME was Brent Myers, from the office in Biloxi, sent by Cutter to make contact with their prize. He introduced himself and flashed a badge at Patrick, who hardly acknowledged it while reaching for the remote. "A pleasure," he said as he pulled the sheets over his boxer shorts.

"I'm from the office in Biloxi," Myers said, genuinely trying to be nice.

"Where's that?" Patrick asked, poker-faced.

"Yes, well, I thought we should meet and get to know each other. We'll be spending some time together during the next few months."

"Don't be so sure of that."

"Do you have a lawyer?"

"Not yet."

"Do you plan to hire one?"

"Absolutely none of your business."

Myers was obviously no match for a seasoned lawyer like Lanigan. He placed his hands on the railing across the foot of the bed, and stared at Patrick with his best effort at intimidation. "Doc says you might be ready to transport in two days," he said.

"So. I'm ready now."

"There's quite a party waiting on you in Biloxi."

"I've been watching," Patrick said, nodding at the television.

"Don't suppose you'd want to answer some questions."

Patrick snorted his contempt at this ludicrous suggestion.

"Didn't think so," Myers said, and took a step for the door. "Anyway, I'll be escorting you home." He tossed a card on the sheets. "Here's my hotel number, in case you want to talk."

"Don't sit by the phone."