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Authors: Richard North Patterson

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BOOK: The Lasko Tangent
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“I think we keep on digging until we solve this.” I turned to Woods. “You told me that cases like this were the measure of an agency. Do you think this deal rates a supplement to Profiles in Courage?”

Woods looked troubled. “It has its merits.”

“Not many, even overlooking the special handling for Lasko.”

“That’s hardly unique,” he said in a defensive tone.

“And neither are you if you sign off on this.”

He shook his head. “The thing is, Chris, we’re not criminal investigators. This case has gone beyond what we do. What’s happened to you is proof of that. I don’t want you hurt. It’s time for someone else to take it on.”

I kept trying. “But I’m on the right track, if you’ll keep me on it. We can’t just settle and forget it. That’s what Lasko wants. I think he’s let Green confess to give us enough to settle the case. There’s something else here that Lasko is desperate to keep hidden.”

Woods thought for a moment. “What bothers me,” he said to McGuire, “is dropping the rest of it.” McGuire didn’t reply, and Woods continued. “What I propose is that Chris report all this to the Department of Justice and let them look into it.”

McGuire nodded. Feiner looked pleased. And I was out of a case, just like that. The pit of my stomach seemed to drop two feet. I could almost sense Lasko at the table, smiling. I made a last stab in Woods’ direction. “You know damned well Justice will sit on this. If we feel pressure over here, look at them. The Attorney General is a cabinet member, for Christsakes.”

“I don’t accept that,” Woods replied calmly. “And it’s the best thing we can do. Your investigation has been unconventional, to put it mildly. This case belongs at Justice.” His voice was very final.

I hoped no one knew I was hunting Martinson. Then it hit me that I wasn’t anymore. I forgot myself and remembered Tracy. Someone would have to find him for her—Di Pietro, I hoped. “I’d like to brief the Boston police before I write this up,” I said.

“What for?” McGuire asked.

“Because Lehman is their business. You said so yourself.”

That stung him. “Don’t you think you’ve done enough?”

Woods spoke over him. “If Chris confines himself to facts, I think that’s acceptable. We can’t pretend facts don’t exist.”

McGuire flushed and was silent.

“All right,” Woods said smoothly. “If you recommend settlement to the Commission, I’ll support it. I’ll set up a meeting. Chris will make his report and brief the police on Monday, if he likes. Then this case is closed.”

“It isn’t good enough,” I said to Woods. “It’s not even close.”

Woods looked at me evenly. “I’m sorry, Chris. You’ve been through a lot, worked hard, and done well. But I think this is the right thing for you and for the agency.” He glanced around. “Is there anything else?”

They all turned to me. My eyes moved over them slowly, one by one. Then I stood, slid my chair in carefully, and left them sitting there.

I stalked back to the office and called Di Pietro, while I could still think. He agreed to meet me Monday, with no particular enthusiasm. That only made me angrier. I wanted to leave right then. But to go before Monday, without orders, could only give away my plans and endanger Martinson. I had to wait—and hope. And I needed Di Pietro. So I thanked him for his time.

I had been standing with the phone in hand, talking. I slammed it down and slumped into my plastic chair. For some reason, I began staring at the one thing there I owned: my bookends, onyx, carved with fierce Aztec faces. I called them mine. They were Great-grandfather Kenyon’s, really. He’d picked them up in Mexico in the last century, while he was picking up part of Mexico. I looked at them glumly. The only thing I could say for McGuire’s settlement was that it might make me safe—as safe as the nicest little bureaucrat at the sleepiest agency in town. I wondered why it felt so bad.

I was still staring at the bookends when McGuire opened the door. I was surprised. He’d never done that before.

“Don’t you think you’ve done enough?” I parroted.

He ignored that. “You think Woods is your friend, don’t you?”

I wondered where that came from. He stood in front of my desk, his face completely expressionless. “Are you going to be my friend, Joe? That’s a real comfort.”

His eyes narrowed, as if debating whether to say more. I watched him, feeling as friendly as the Aztec carvings. “I’m just telling you to watch your step,” he answered quietly.

I shrugged. “I guess you know what happens to people who don’t watch their step.” I looked up at him, but what I saw was Tracy—and Lehman in the street.

His eyes sparked, then turned blank. “Shut up, Chris,” he said, very softly. He wheeled and snapped the door behind him, as if kissing me off.

Life goes on, I thought. Cases come and go and widows get over it. Husbands get lost and stay that way. I couldn’t worry about that. After all, I had important things to do. Greenfeld and I were playing squash.

Twenty-Four

 

 

The green ball ricocheted off the white walls, pursued by an echo, a rubberized whine which carried into the next hit. Greenfeld and I scrambled after it, armed with wooden rackets. The only other sound was the quick, hollow thud of our tennis shoes.

Greenfeld played with tenacious alertness, as if squash were his job. The ball shot to my backhand. I wheeled and slammed it hard and low to the left corner. Greenfeld sped for the left wall. The stretched arc of his racket ripped air and missed the green blur by half an inch. He shook his head. We usually played even. Today I was beating hell out of him.

It kept up. I flowed on a savage adrenalin rush, half-conscious. The last point was low and to my right. I lunged, skidded on my chest, and hacked wildly from the elbow. The ball looped off the front wall. Greenfeld went for it and missed. Another half inch. My game.

He stared at the ball, dying in small bounces in a far corner. It gave a last rubbery whimper and rolled into stillnes. He turned, hands on hips.

“You’ll never do that again,” he said.

“I know.”

We showered and dressed in silence, then taxied toward the Hill. Greenfeld lost hard. He leaned against the right rear door, thinking it over. “Crew was your sport in college, right?”

“Yeah.”

“That explains the forearms,” he said, as if he’d caught me cheating.

“It also was perfect training for my current position. I sat absolutely still until someone shouted at me. Then I would stroke as fast as they told me, no faster, until someone said to stop. Then I stopped.”

Greenfeld’s absent smile turned inquisitive without changing at all. “What happened over there?”

“Nothing. Doesn’t it always?”

His eyes sharpened. “Did they screw up your case?”

“No, we’ve got a splendid result. Lasko has promised never to do it again, without conceding he did it in the first place.”

“You don’t sound impressed.”

“Are you?”

“Not very.”

“Well, that makes you smarter than most of your colleagues in the financial press. Not to mention Congress.”

“You’ll have to go farther to flatter me. Particularly after that squash game. Now why”—his voice arched—“do I get the feeling you’re holding out?”

“I don’t know, Lane. Paranoia, maybe.”

He didn’t smile. I decided to answer. “If I’m holding out, it’s because there’s something still at stake.” Martinson, for instance. “We can’t always work the same side of the street.”

“I’m not persuaded,” he said with irony.

“You don’t know what I know.”

“That’s the problem.”

“Bullshit, Lane. Do I know all there is to know about the Post? Do your readers know all there is to know about the news?”

He didn’t pursue that, and neither did I. I still wanted to pump him. It was reflex, mainly; the ECC had just closed the case. But it wasn’t that easy for me. I kept looking for answers. “Just out of useless curiosity,” I tried, “what is Justice doing about the antitrust case? Settling like us?”

“Why should I tell you?” he jibed, not joking.

“Because I beat you at squash.”

He smiled slightly. “The honest answer is I don’t know. One lawyer at Justice has been slipping me bits sub rosa. He says they were poised to prosecute. Then your friend Catlow stepped in to negotiate for Lasko. In July sometime the word seeped down that the case was going to be settled. Just like that. My source thought that was pretty solid. Then this month he heard maybe the settlement was off, that something was holding it up. I figure maybe the something was your investigation.” He paused and looked at me quizzically. “Just what have you got?”

“I just wish they’d let me find out.”

“So why hold out?” It wasn’t pressure now, but real curiosity.

“All I can say is that you would, too.”

“Thanks.” The crack needled both of us.

“You’re welcome.”

The taxi got to the Hill and dropped us off. We walked together. The wet sun steamed our foreheads. We loosened our ties and slung our jackets over our shoulders. Greenfeld looked over at me. “I picked up a rumor the other day from a guy who writes one of our financial columns. He says Lasko’s in a cash squeeze, something about the plants they’ve built to handle the defense stuff costing a lot of money. Is that what you’re into?”

I shook my head. “No. I haven’t seen any sign, but then I haven’t been looking. I suppose it’s possible—if they’ve dressed up their financials some.”

He considered that and so did I. But I didn’t want to talk it over then. “Whatever happened with the pretty girl and your Bogart film?” I asked.

He smiled thinly. “The girl palled. The film held up nicely, though.” His words held a note of irony, as if he were tired of himself. I didn’t pursue it. I was tired of myself too—and the strange and treacherous world in which I worked.

We walked across the Capitol grounds toward the Senate wing, moving from shade tree to shade tree. We stopped in the parking lot. The sun baked it, soaking the asphalt and glazing windshields. Greenfeld stood sideways, still holding his coat. “You know, Chris,” he said, “something hit me the other day.”

“What’s that?”

“That at our age, Mozart was dead.”

“That’s just great, Lane.”

“You’re welcome,” he said dryly, and strolled off toward the Senate.

I walked back to the agency wishing I were somewhere else. The lobbies looked deserted, and the elevators seemed sluggish. Debbie was out. I gazed past her desk, feeling as empty as my office. No one at home in there. Martinson had to wait till Monday, and Lehman haunted me. I picked up the phone and called Mary.

Twenty-Five

 

 

Mary showed up at my place about eight that evening, in a working girl’s Volkswagen. She wore blue jeans, a leather belt, and a quiet, expensive crepe blouse. “Hi,” she said in a soft, direct voice. “I’m glad you’re all right.”

I thanked her and led her into the living room. “You know,” I admitted, “I haven’t thought about what we’re doing tonight.”

“It doesn’t really matter. Whatever.” That was companionable, I thought. I glanced over at her. She had turned to the wall and was silently appraising the print next to the fireplace.

“That’s a Vasarély,” I explained.

She nodded, not turning. “I like it.” I couldn’t have guessed how much she knew about art. I didn’t care really, except that she was always that way.

Her eyes had moved on, scanning the room with a careful gaze which seemed somehow proprietary. “You’re certainly neat for a bachelor.”

“Yes,” I smiled, “I’m almost totally housebroken.”

She grinned back in real amusement. “I guess that was fairly condescending.”

“Fairly. Care for some wine?”

“What is it?”

I went to the refrigerator and reported back over my shoulder. “A California Riesling, cheap but drinkable. At least I drink it.”

“That sounds fine.”

I poured two glasses and bore them carefully into the living room. She was sitting on the couch across from the fireplace. I gave her a glass and sat.

She took a sip. “I hear you’re settling the Lasko case.”

“They did that,” I said pointedly.

“And you’re unhappy?” she asked, looking over at me.

“It leaves a corpse unaccounted for, and a husband missing.”

“I’m sorry, Chris.” She sounded sympathetic enough. “What are you going to do?”

I realized that I was holding up my left hand as if to deflect her questions. “The Lasko case is not for tonight. Really.”

“OK.” She was certainly agreeable, as if her edginess were melting with the case. Maybe that made some sense. But the Lasko thing was something we weren’t discussing. Not tonight, and not ever.

I had a wooden backgammon set on the glass coffee table in front of the couch. She opted for that. I put Melissa Manchester on the stereo while she set up the board. Night was coming fast, staining the corners with darkness. I turned up the dimmer on the living room chandelier and came back to the couch.

I won the first move, a six-five combination. I cleared my end point and watched her. She played with fierce concentration. I freed the other end point, then got great rolls, and strung together some points. The play moved fast. She showed me a wicked end game, smart and decisive. But I beat her, finally. This seemed to be my day for winning games. Except the one that mattered.

We talked quietly, finishing our second glass of wine while Melissa sang “New Beginnings.” I had some joints rolled in the cigarette case I kept in a bedroom drawer. I offered one to Mary. She nodded her interest.

I went to the bedroom and brought back two, turning down the dimmer on the way. We both sat cross-legged on the couch, facing each other, with an ashtray in between and the half-dead wine bottle still on the table.

I lit one. Mary leaned back and took a hit. “What kind is that?”

“Something called Meshpecon. They grow it in Mexico, or Peru, or some such place.” I pulled on it and passed it back. She took another hit, a good one.

“You know, I never asked where you took that vacation. The one”—she picked for a frame of reference other than Lasko—“a couple of weeks ago.”

BOOK: The Lasko Tangent
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