Mitch is a lawyer who is lured by a big law firm with the promise of a bright future. However, things don't go as planned after he finds himself embroiled in a murder case. Grisham's classic is a ...(more)
Mitch flew into Washington on the firm's private jet. DeVasher didn't want him to go. Chicago had given orders that McDeere was not to leave Memphis on firm business except with at least two partners. But the firm had arranged months ago for Mitch to go to this conference on taxes in Washington. DeVasher couldn't argue against it, because as far as he knew Tarrance had only met Mitch that one time, and Mitch had immediately reported it. So Mitch seemed to be a loyal member of the firm.
His first morning at the conference, surrounded by strangers, a man whispered, 'Harbison, FBI,' and passed him a note. The note read:
Dear Mr McDeere I would like to speak to you for a few minutes during lunch. Please follow Grant Harbison's instructions. Thank you for your co-operation.
Voyles was the almost legendary boss of the FBI. Harbison arranged a meeting in the men's room. He went first and Mitch followed after twenty minutes.
'What does Voyles want?' he asked.
'Something important. It's not my job to tell you,' said Harbison.
'When the conference breaks for lunch you'll find a taxi, number 8667, outside the hotel. It will take you to the meeting. Be careful: two of the boys from Memphis followed you here. They're in the bedroom next to you in the hotel.'
Mitch followed his instructions. The driver of the taxi spoke to others constantly on his radio. When he was certain that no one was following them he stopped acting like a tour guide and took Mitch directly to his meeting with Voyles in another hotel. Tarrance was waiting in the hotel room. After a few minutes Voyles walked in with another agent. Voyles offered his hand and Mitch stood up to shake it.
'Thank you for coming,' Voyles said. 'This is very important to us.'
Mitch breathed deeply. 'Sir, do you have any idea how confused and frightened I am? I really need an explanation. What's happening?'
'Mitch, what I'm about to tell you will certainly shock you. You won't want to believe it. But it's all true, and with your help we can save your life.'
'No lawyer has ever left your firm alive,' Voyles went on. 'Three have tried, and they were killed. Two others were about to leave, and they died last summer. When a lawyer joins Bendini, Lambert & Locke, he never leaves, unless he retires and keeps his mouth shut. And by the time they retire they are part of it all and cannot talk. The firm has a major surveillance operation on the fifth floor. Your house, car and phones are bugged. Your desk and office are bugged. Almost every word you speak is heard and recorded on the fifth floor. They follow you, and sometimes your wife. You see, Mitch, the firm is not what it seems. It is not owned by the partners. It is part of a very large and very illegal business. The firm of Bendini, Lambert & Locke is owned by the Morolto crime family in Chicago. The Mafia.'
'I don't believe it,' Mitch said, frozen with fear. His voice was weak. Voyles smiled. 'Yes, you do, Mitch. You've suspected something for some time. That's why you talked to Abanks in the Caymans. That's why you hired that investigator and got him killed by those boys on the fifth floor. You know the firm is rotten, Mitch.'
Mitch rested his head in his hands and stared at the floor.
'As far as we can see,' Voyles said, 'about a quarter of the firm's clients and businesses are legal. There are some very good lawyers in the firm, doing tax work for rich clients. It's a very good cover. Most of the files you've worked on so far are OK. That's how they operate. They bring in a new man, throw money at him, buy the car and house, take him to the Caymans and put him to work on their legal clients. Then after five or six years, when the money is really good, when you and your family have become completely used to this rich way of living, they tell the truth. By then you can't get out even if you want to. They'll kill your wife, or one of your children; they don't care. So you stay. You can't leave. If you stay, you make a million dollars and retire young with your family safe. If you try to leave, your picture will hang in the first-floor library.'
'You mean that every partner . . .?' Mitch couldn't finish.
'Yes, they all know and they all do what they're told. We suspect that most of the associates know as well. We don't think the wives do. We really want these people. We could destroy the Morolto family. We could arrest hundreds of them.'
'How do they help the Moroltos?' Mitch asked.
'To be honest,' Voyles said, 'we don't know everything. We've only been watching them for about seven years, and very little information gets out. But here's an example. A partner takes several million dollars in "dirty" money to the Caymans on the firm's private jet.' Mitch thought of all the journeys the partners kept making to the Caymans.
Voyles continued his story. 'Then the same partner, or one of the others, forms a legal company back in the States, to buy some land perhaps. The money is wired through from the Caymans to . . . what's the name of that bank in St Louis with whom the firm does a lot of business?'
'That's the one. The Mafia own it. So the money arrives back in the States and is used legally. Suddenly, "dirty" money is "clean". That's why Bendini was sent down there in 1944. Locke grew up working for the Moroltos. He's a criminal first and a lawyer second. Lambert is the perfect cover for the firm. He looks and sounds like everyone's idea of a lawyer. But the next time you see him in the office, Mitch, remember that he's a killer.'
'What about the secretaries and support staff?'
'Good question. We think some of them are part of it too. But some of them don't know anything. That's how they operate as two firms at once: a lot of the people there really are doing legal business. But Hodge told Tarrance that there's a group of support staff who work only for the main partners of the firm. They probably do all their legal work, so that the partners are free to do the Moroltos' dirty business.'
'If you know so much, why don't you just go in there and arrest them all?' asked Mitch.
'We need evidence,' Voyles said. 'That's where you come in. We want you to photocopy files, bank records, all those documents which we can't reach from the outside but you can. We need the names of all the staff; we need to know who works on which files; we need all the information you can give us, about every part of Bendini, Lambert & Locke. And then eventually we'll want you to appear in court and be a witness -- our most important witness. You must decide whether or not you'll co-operate, Mitch. Tell us soon. If you decide not to help us, we'll find someone else who will, sooner or later, and we'll put you in prison along with the rest of them. If you choose to help us, we can negotiate a price. And then we'll look after you, send you and your wife anywhere in the world you want to go.'
'But the Mafia never forgets,' Mitch said. 'I've heard stories of witnesses hidden by the FBI whose car suddenly explodes. You people are capable of mistakes; one day, in ten years' time, one of you will talk to the wrong person. If I help you I'll always live in fear. I'll never be able to practise law again; Abby and I will have to change our faces and become Mr and Mrs Ordinary in Nowheretown.'
'It's true, Mitch,' Voyles said. 'They never forget. But I promise you, we will look after you and your wife. We have about two thousand witnesses living all over the country under new names, with new homes and new jobs. Now you had better get back to your hotel. Tarrance will make contact with you soon.'
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