SHE WAS SURROUNDED BY BRILLIANT WHITE LIGHT. Not the peaceful kind. The blinding, painful kind that burned her eyes, shining into the darkest recesses of her memory, leaving her nowhere to hide.
She heard voices.
Frank Hammond: "Someone framed Lenny and set you up to take the fall. Someone with inside information on Quorum."
John Merrivale: "Trust Frank. D-do everything he tells you and you'll be fine. Don't worry about the FBI; I'll d-deal with them."
The light faded.
WARDEN MCINTOSH FELT BEADS OF SWEAT trickle down his back as he watched the flat green line on the heart monitor.
Please, God, let her live.
If Grace Brookstein succeeded in killing herself on his watch, his career would be over. He could wave good-bye to his pension, his retirement, to everything he'd worked so hard for these past eight years. None of his achievements, his good intentions, would count for a damn. In that moment, James McIntosh hated Grace Brookstein more than he had ever hated another human being.
The doctors applied shock paddles to Grace's heart. Her tiny body leaped off the bed. The green line flickered, then jumped to life, pulsing in a slow but steady rhythm.
THE HEAD OF THE NEW YORK State Department of Corrections took the call at his golf club.
"I should be firing you, James. No questions asked. You do realize that?"
"If word got out we'd allowed Grace Brookstein access to a sharp object in her own cell..."
"I know, sir. It won't happen again, sir."
"Damn right it won't! And what was she doing on A Wing in the first place? We sent her to Bedford Hills so she could be protected."
Warden McIntosh fought down his irritation. Grace Brookstein didn't deserve to be protected. Even now that she was in jail, she was getting special treatment. It stuck in his craw.
"When she's well, I want her on twenty-four-hour suicide watch. She gets psychotherapy, she gets decent food. What's her work detail?"
Warden McIntosh braced himself. "She's been on the farm, sir. Early shifts."
"She's been what? Are you out of your fucking mind, James? I want her in the children's center, with the nuns, as soon as she's well enough. Capisce? Whatever you may feel about her personally, from now on I want you walking on eggshells with Lady Brookstein. Am I clear?"
"Yes, sir. Clear as crystal."
GRACE WOKE UP TO A WORLD of pain. It came in waves.
The first wave was physical: the throbbing in her wrists, the parched dryness of her throat, the dull ache in her limbs. Whoever had inserted the needle in her arm had clearly done so in a hurry. Whichever way Grace turned, she felt a sharp stabbing in her vein. The entire surrounding area was badly bruised.
The second wave was emotional: she'd tried to kill herself, and she had failed. She was not in heaven with her darling Lenny. She was here, in Bedford Hills, living the nightmare. Depression washed over her.
But it was the third wave - the mental anguish - that made Grace sit bolt upright in bed and tear at her hair until the doctors came and sedated her. Somewhere deep in her unconscious mind, between death and life, darkness and dawn, the truth had jumped out and grabbed her by the throat. In her mind, she heard Caroline Merrivale's voice, smug and spiteful. There will be no appeal. John wants nothing more to do with you.
At the time, Grace had thought, No, not John. It's you. You're the one who wants nothing more to do with me. You've poisoned him. But now, finally, she realized. Caroline was just the messenger.
It was John. It was John all along!
John was the one who'd betrayed Lenny. He'd betrayed them both. The more Grace thought about it, the more obvious it was. John was the only person close enough to Lenny to have been able to steal that money. When the SEC started looking into Quorum, he must have panicked. Somehow he persuaded Lenny to change the fund's partnership structure so that he, John, wouldn't be liable when the money was discovered missing. Of course, Lenny's sudden death must have raised the stakes dramatically. Exposure was always likely, but after Lenny disappeared it became a certainty. Quorum investors started asking for their money back and the fraud was exposed. But by then it was easy for John to shift the blame to Grace. She was Lenny's partner now, not him. Better still, Grace trusted him. He'd made sure of that. When everyone else had deserted her, John Merrivale stayed close. Not because he cared for me. Because he wanted to stage-manage the whole thing! The FBI investigation. My trial. It was John who had dealt with the police, "protecting" Grace from their questions. It was John who had insisted she fire Kevin McGuire and hire Frank Hammond, the attorney who had let her down in court. Now that she was safely behind bars, John had washed his hands of her. He wasn't even man enough to come himself. He sent Caroline to do his dirty work for him.
Looking back, Grace was astonished at her own naivete. The way she'd begged John to believe her about the partnership, to believe that she knew nothing about Lenny cutting him out and transferring his shares to her. How could I have been so stupid? It was in his interest not to be a partner! If John had been a partner, he'd have been legally liable for what happened at Quorum. He'd be in jail now, not me.
Grace had no idea how John had done it. How he'd managed to dupe Lenny into changing the company structure, never mind how he'd stolen all that money and kept it hidden. But she knew that he had done it somehow. If it took her the rest of her life, Grace Brookstein was going to find out how.
I'll discover the whole truth and nothing but the truth. And when I do, I'll tell the world. I'll clear Lenny's name and my own. I'll get out of the hellhole.
GAVIN WILLIAMS FELT DIRTY.
Just being here, inside a prison, surrounded by deviants, was enough to make his flesh creep. Of course, the fact that the wrongdoers were women made it all the more disgusting. It was unnatural. Women should be chaste and clean and subservient. They should be good and loving, like his mother. Gavin Williams's mother had adored him. "You're so handsome, Gavin," she used to say. "You're so smart. You can be anything you want to be."
Gavin bolted into the men's room and washed his hands for a third time, scalding them under the faucet until his skin was red raw.
Women should be like his mother. But they weren't. In the real world, women were greedy, dirty bitches, whores who only wanted to have sex with you if you were rich or powerful. Hedge fund guys, billionaires like Lenny Brookstein, they spent their lives drowning in pussy. How Gavin Williams loathed those men, with their flashy cars and their model girlfriends and their beach houses and their private jets. He, Gavin Williams, was better than the Lenny Brooksteins of this world. He was an incorruptible patriot, a modern-day Robespierre. He was a revolutionary, bringing justice to America.
I am the righteous sword of the law.
The Lord Almighty says, "I will punish them. The young men will die, their sons and daughters starve. Not one of these plotters will survive, for I will bring disaster upon them..."
Gavin stood in the hallway of Bedford Hills infirmary. A pretty young nurse looked at him strangely.
"Yes? What is it?"
"Mrs. Brookstein is awake. You can talk to her now."
GAVIN WILLIAMS WAS CERTAIN THAT GRACE Brookstein held the key to finding the stolen Quorum money. The rest of the FBI task force had given up on her as a potential witness. Harry Bain told him, "Forget about Grace, Gavin. She's a dead end. If she were going to tell us anything, she'd have done it by now."
But Gavin could not forget about Grace. Her dirty whore's face haunted his dreams at night. Her voice mocked him during his long days spent poring over the complex paper trail that Lenny had left behind: I know, she taunted him. I know where that money is, and you don't.
The press continually compared the Quorum fraud with the Madoff case, but the two could not have been more different. Madoff's returns were so ludicrously consistent. It was plain to anyone with the brains to look that he was a fraud. Either he was doing insider trading, or running a Ponzi scheme. Those were the only two logical possibilities. Given the fact that nobody traded with Madoff, none of the major banks, no brokerages, nobody, it had to be a Ponzi.
Quorum was different. Everybody had traded with Lenny Brookstein. There wasn't a firm on Wall Street that had seen through the guy, not a whisper of the scandal that was to engulf him and his fund so spectacularly. The missing Quorum billions were not just the figment of some creative accountant's imagination. They were real. But Brookstein had been so secretive about his trades, even flying paper records to Cayman and Bermuda to be burned, it was virtually impossible to follow any transaction to its end point. Not unless you were an insider. Not unless you knew.
When Gavin Williams got word of Grace Brookstein's suicide attempt, he knew it was an opportunity not to be missed. Like the last time he interviewed her at the morgue, she would be in a weakened state. But this time there would be no lawyers to protect her, no phone calls, no escape. This time, Gavin Williams would squeeze her till she couldn't breathe. He would get the truth from Grace Brookstein if he had to make her vomit it out.
For today's interview Gavin had dressed as he always dressed: dark suit and tie, his short, gray hair neatly parted, black shoes so shiny he could see his own reflection in the leather. Discipline, that was the key. Discipline and authority. Gavin Williams would make Grace Brookstein respect him. He would bend the deviant to his will, and expose Harry Bain, his so-called boss, for the shortsighted fool that he was.
When Grace saw Gavin Williams, her pupils dilated with fear.
Gavin Williams smiled. Her terror aroused him. "Hello again, my dear."
She looked weak. Dwarfed by her white prison nightgown, still pale from blood loss, she seemed as insubstantial as a ghost or a wisp of smoke.
"What do you want?"
"I'm here to make a deal with you."
Yes, a deal, you greedy bitch. Don't pretend you don't understand the concept. You're as corrupt as hell and one day you will rot in hell for your sins.
"It's a deal you can't refuse. The procedure is simple. You will provide me with three account numbers. All refer to funds held in Switzerland. You are familiar with all of them."
Grace shook her head. She didn't know any account numbers. Hadn't they been through this the last time?
"In return, I will see to it that you are moved to a mental health facility."
"Mental health? But I'm not crazy."
"I assure you, the conditions at penal sanatoriums are considerably superior to those at correctional facilities such as this one. The account numbers, please." He handed Grace a piece of paper with a Credit Suisse letterhead. Grace glanced at it and sighed, closing her eyes. The drugs made her sleepy. As frightened as she was of this man, it was a struggle to stay awake.
"John Merrivale," she croaked. "It's John Merrivale. He took the money. He knows where it is. Ask him."
Gavin Williams's eyes narrowed. How typical of a woman! To try to shift the blame, just as Eve blamed the serpent when she polluted the world with her sin. How stupid did Grace think he was? Did she think the FBI hadn't looked into Merrivale, into all the staff at Quorum?
"Don't play games with me, Mrs. Brookstein. I want those account numbers."
Grace was about to reason with him, but then she thought, What's the point? He won't listen. He's insane. If anyone needs the sanatorium, it's this guy, not me.
"I know what you're doing. You're holding out for more." Gavin Williams positively glowed with rage. "Well, you won't get it, do you understand me? You won't get it!"
Grace looked around for the nurse but there was no one. I'm alone with this nutcase!
"There will be no appeal. No parole. It's the sanatorium or you will die in this place. Die! Give me those account numbers!"
"I told you! I. Don't. Know. Them." Exhausted, Grace fell back on the pillow. She was losing the battle for consciousness. Sleep engulfed her.
Gavin Williams watched her eyes flicker and close.
Her neck is so tiny. So fragile. Like a willow twig. I could reach out and snap it. Just like that. Put my hands around her lying, thieving throat and crush the devil inside.
There were no other patients. No staff. He and Grace were alone.
No one would know. I could do it in a split second. Smite the wicked, purge the evildoer of sin.
In a trance, Gavin Williams reached his hands out in front of him, flexing his long, bony fingers open and closed, open and closed. He imagined Grace's windpipe collapsing beneath them, felt his excitement building.
"I know what you're thinking."
The nurse's voice made him jump physically out of his seat.
"Your fingers. I know what you're thinking."
Gavin was silent.
"You're a smoker, aren't you? I was the same when I gave up. You never stop thinking about it, do you? Not for a second."
It took Gavin a moment to register what she was saying. She thinks I'm grasping for an imaginary cigarette. As if he, Gavin Williams, would ever be so weak as to succumb to an addiction. Out loud he smiled and said, "No. You never do."
"Believe me, I get it," chirped the nurse. "It's like an itch you can't scratch. There's a courtyard outside if you're desperate."
Gavin Williams retrieved the Credit Suisse paper from Grace's sleeping fingers and slipped it back into his briefcase.
"Thank you. I am not desperate."
But he was.
AFTER TWO WEEKS GRACE RETURNED TO her cell on A Wing. Warden McIntosh had intended to transfer her back to her original cell with the Latinas on the less austere C Wing, but Grace became so agitated that the psychiatrists recommended the prisoner be allowed to have her way. The warden was baffled.
"But Cora Budds assaulted her. She's one of our most violent inmates. I don't understand. Why would Grace want to go back to that?"
The psychiatrist shrugged. "Familiarity?"
Not for the first time, James McIntosh reflected on how little he understood the workings of the female mind.
Grace's fellow inmates viewed the situation more crudely. "No wonder Cora and Karen look so excited. Did you hear? Grace is comin' back to A Wing. Looks like the oyster bar has reopened, ladies!"
In fact, when the time came, Cora Budds greeted Grace coolly. Something had changed about Grace. The old fear, the wariness, had gone. In its place was a calmness, a confidence that made Cora uneasy.
"So you made it, huh?"
"I made it."
Karen Willis was more demonstrative, flinging her arms around Grace and hugging her tightly. "Why didn't you talk to me? If things were that bad? You shoulda talked to me. I could've helped."
Karen Willis did not know what it was that drew her to Grace Brookstein. Part of it she put down to her stubborn streak. Grace was the underdog at Bedford Hills, a pariah, hated by screws and inmates alike. Karen Willis did not believe in running with the herd. Besides, Karen knew what it felt like to be an outsider, betrayed by one's own friends and family. When she shot her sister Lisa's abusive boyfriend, a bully and a rapist who had terrorized Lisa for six torturous years, Karen expected her family to rally around. Instead they'd turned on her like a pack of hyenas. Lisa played the grief-stricken widow: "We had our problems, but I loved Billy." She even testified against Karen in court, making her out to be an angry, violent person who had a "vendetta" against men, implying that she'd acted not out of sisterly love but out of sexual rejection. "Karen always wanted Bill. I could see it. But Billy wasn't interested." The prosecutor changed the charges against Karen from manslaughter to second-degree murder. Karen never spoke to any of her family again.
But Karen Willis's affection for Grace Brookstein ran deeper than their shared abandonment. Lisa had been right about one thing. Karen had never been much of a fan of men. Short, weasel-faced rapists like her sister's boyfriend Billy had never been Karen's type. Fragile, innocent blondes like Grace Brookstein, on the other hand, with her wide-set eyes and slender, supple gymnast's limbs, her soft skin and smattering of girlish freckles across the nose, that was another matter entirely. Karen Willis was as far removed from the stereotypical predatory prison dyke as it was possible to get. Jokes about "oyster bars" made her want to gag. She had no intention of forcing herself on Grace. The girl was quite clearly (a) straight and (b) grieving. Unfortunately, neither of those things changed the fact that Karen Willis was in love with her. When she heard Grace had tried to kill herself, Karen collapsed. When they told her Grace was going to live, that the worst was over, Karen wept with relief.
Grace hugged her friend.
"You couldn't have helped, Karen. Not then. But perhaps you can help now."
"How? Tell me what you need, Grace. I'm here for you."
"I know who framed me and my husband. What I don't know is how he did it. I need evidence. Proof. And I don't know where to begin."
A smile lit up Karen's face. Perhaps she could help Grace after all?
"I have an idea."
DAVEY BUCCOLA LOOKED AT HIS WATCH and stamped his feet against the cold. I must be crazy, coming out to this godforsaken place on some wild-goose chase for Karen.
Davey Buccola was tall, dark and, if not quite handsome, certainly better looking than the vast majority of his profession. He had olive skin, faintly scarred from acute teenage acne, intelligent hazel eyes and strong, masculine features dominated by an aquiline nose that gave him a hawklike, predatory look. Women were attracted to Davey. At least, they were until he took them home to the shoddy two-bedroom apartment in Tuckahoe he still shared with his mother, or picked them up in his twelve-year-old Honda Accord, the same car he'd been driving when he graduated from high school. Private investigation was interesting work, dangerous and challenging. But it didn't make anybody rich. It wasn't like Magnum, P.I.
Davey Buccola had had a crush on Karen Willis since they were kids. He felt bad when they locked her up and her family turned their backs on her. The shit-for-brains who Karen killed had had it coming. But Davey wasn't here just for Karen's sake. He was here for his own. He needed money, pure and simple. And Grace Brookstein had money.
At last the gates of the prison opened and the visitors were taken through security. Davey Buccola had visited numerous correctional facilities, so he knew the drill. Coat off, shoes off, jewelry off, scanner, metal detector, dogs. Kind of like catching a plane, only without the luggage and the duty-free stores. Better for people watching, though. You could tell the moms right away, the tired slump of the shoulders, the resignation in the faces, aged from years of sacrifice and pain. There were a couple of husbands, deadbeats most of 'em, overweight, long-haired, telltale signs of drug use. But overall there were very few men in the visiting line. It was all women, women and children, braving the cold to make the depressing journey to Bedford Hills in hopes of keeping their families together.
Davey thought, Women are a lot less selfish than men.
Then he thought, They're also a lot more conniving. Men lie when they have to. Women do it for kicks. He would listen to Grace Brookstein. But he would take nothing she said at face value.
Davey walked into the visitors' room and sat down at a wooden table. A scrawny little kid came and sat down opposite him.
"I think you have the wrong seat. I'm here to meet Mrs. Brookstein."
The kid smiled. "I'm Grace Brookstein. How do you do, Mr. Buccola?"
Davey shook her hand and tried not to look shocked. "I'm good, thanks."
Jesus H. What happened to her? She's only been in here a month. The Grace Brookstein he'd expected to meet was the fur-clad vixen from the courtroom, glamorous, groomed, dripping in diamonds and disdain. The girl in front of him now looked about fourteen, with close-cropped hair and a pale urchin's face. She had a broken nose, deep shadows under the eyes, and she looked like she hadn't eaten in weeks. The orange jumpsuit she was wearing swamped her tiny frame. When Davey shook her hand, he noticed the skin was almost transparent.
"Karen said you need some help."
Grace dispensed with the pleasantries. "I want you to help me prove that John Merrivale framed me and my husband."
Karen hadn't mentioned anything about this. "She needs you to do a little digging," those had been her exact words. Nothing about Grace Brookstein being a total fucking fruit loop who'd convinced herself her old man was framed. Jesus. Every man and his dog knew that Lenny Brookstein was as crooked as a two-dollar bill.
"John Merrivale. Wasn't he the number two at Quorum? The guy the FBI has been working with?"
Reading his thoughts, Grace said, "I understand your skepticism. I don't expect you to believe me. All I'm asking is that you look into it. I'm doing as much research as I can from the library here, but I'm sure you appreciate my resources are limited."
"Look, Mrs. Brookstein."
"Look, Grace, I'd like to help you. But I gotta be honest. The FBI has been through Quorum's finances with a fine-tooth comb. If there were any evidence that Merrivale had framed your husband, any evidence at all, don't you think they'd have found it?"
"Not necessarily. Not if they trust him. John's been working with the FBI, Mr. Buccola. He's part of the investigative team. Don't you see? He's convinced them he's one of their own. Believe me, John Merrivale can be very plausible."
"Plausible's one thing. Stealing seventy billion dollars and stashing it where no one can find it, not the SEC, not the smartest brains at the bureau, no one...some might say that's impossible."
Grace smiled. "I believe that's what my attorney told the jury. And yet here I am."
Davey Buccola smiled back. Touche.
"I've never even opened a bank statement, Mr. Buccola. John Merrivale's a financial wizard. If I could do it, couldn't he?"
Davey Buccola thought, I underestimated her. She's not a fruit loop. Misguided, maybe. But she's nobody's fool. "All right, Mrs. Brookstein. I'll do some digging for you. But I'm warning you now, don't believe in foregone conclusions. They're against my religion."
"If I take this case, I'll take it with an open mind. I'm digging for the truth. You might not like what I find."
"I'll take my chances."
"Another thing you should know: nothing's going to happen quickly. This is a complicated case. A lot of the information is classified. I have FBI sources, guys in the police and the SEC who'll talk to me, but it's slow work."
Grace looked at the four walls around her. "Time's about the one thing I have left, Mr. Buccola. I'm not going anywhere."
Davey Buccola shook her hand. "In that case, Mrs. Brookstein, I'm your man."
"WHERE ARE YOU GOING, HONEY? COME back to bed."
Harry Bain looked at his wife's voluptuous naked body sprawled out across the sheets. Then he looked at his watch. Six A.M. Fucking Quorum.
"I can't. We've got a team meeting at seven."
"Can't you say you're sick?"
"Not really. I called the meeting."
The whole of America hated Lenny Brookstein. But at that moment no one hated him quite as much as Harry Bain.
I can outsmart a street fighter like Brookstein, Bain had reasoned, when he first took the case. It's not like we're looking for a pair of cuff links. Seventy-five billion dollars is missing. That's like trying to hide a country. "Excuse me, but has anyone seen Guatemala? Some dead Jewish guy from Queens mislaid it last June."
Of course he would find the money. How could he not?
Yet here he was, a year later, with nothing. Harry Bain, Gavin Williams and their team had commandeered Quorum's old offices as a base for their investigation. With John Merrivale's help, the task force had spent millions, chasing leads all over the world, from New York to Grand Cayman to Paris to Singapore. Between them, Harry Bain, Gavin Williams and John Merrivale had clocked more air miles than a migrating flock of Canadian geese, produced enough paper to wipe out an entire rain forest, conducted thousands of interviews and seized countless bank records. If Lenny Brookstein took a shit between January 2001 and June 2009, the FBI had a record of it. But still no goddamn money.
Their failure wasn't from lack of effort. Gavin Williams might be a card-carrying weirdo but you couldn't fault the guy for commitment. As far as Harry Bain could tell, Williams had no friends or family, no personal life at all. He lived and breathed Quorum, following the impenetrable, circuitous paper trail of trades Lenny Brookstein had left behind him with the dogged bloodlust of a fox hound. Then there was John Merrivale, the Quorum insider-turned-police-asset. John was an odd bird, too. So shy he was almost autistic, the guy still teared up whenever Lenny Brookstein's name was mentioned. In the beginning, Harry had wondered whether John might be implicated in the fraud himself. But the more he learned about Lenny Brookstein's business practices, the less he suspected John Merrivale, or Andrew Preston, or any of the other employees. Brookstein was so secretive he made the CIA look indiscreet. Surrounded by people, a social animal to the last, at the end of the day Lenny had trusted no one. No one except his wife.
Rumors on the team were that John Merrivale was unhappy at home. Harry Bain had met Caroline Merrivale once and could well believe it. That bitch probably wore stilettos and a whip to bed. Or a gestapo uniform. No wonder John was happy to put in long hours on the task force. So would I be if I was married to Madam Whiplash.
"OKAY, FOLKS. WHAT HAVE WE GOT?"
The elite group of FBI agents who formed the Quorum task force stared at their boss dejectedly. One joker piped up, "Gavin's thinking of heading out to Bedford Hills again, right, Gav? He's gonna use his legendary charm with the laydeez to get Mrs. B to sing like a bird."
The rest of the group sniggered. Gavin Williams's obsession with "breaking" Grace Brookstein had become a running joke. Either Grace didn't know where Lenny had stashed the cash, or she knew but she wasn't telling. Either way, Williams was beating a dead horse and everyone could see it but him.
Gavin didn't join in the laughter. "I have no plans to return to Bedford, Stephen. Your information is incorrect."
The joker murmured to his partner, "'Your information is incorrect.' Is he human? He sounds like R2 fucking D2."
"No kidding," his partner replied more loudly. "'Help me, Obi-Wan Brookstein. You're my only hope!'"
Gavin Williams glanced around the table at his so-called colleagues. If he could, he would have ripped every one of their hearts out with his bare hands and stuffed them down Harry Bain's smug, self-satisfied throat till he choked. What did any of them have to laugh about? They were all part of the biggest, lamest operation in FBI history. If he, Gavin, were running the show, things would be different.
Harry Bain said, "Okay, then, so it's all on this trip to Geneva."
John Merrivale had spent the last three weeks researching a huge swap trade from 2006. The trail led as far as a numbered account in Switzerland, then went cold.
"Gavin, I'd like you and John to make the trip together this time. Two heads may prove better than one."
John Merrivale failed to hide his surprise. He and Gavin Williams usually worked independently, following up on separate leads. This was the first time Bain had asked them to travel together.
"I'm f-fine to handle the Geneva trip alone, Harry."
"I know you are. But I'd like the two of you together on this one."
John Merrivale's relationship with Harry Bain had come a long way since Harry's "bad-cop" interview with him, before Grace's trial. It had taken months to persuade not just Bain, but the entire task force, that he was on their side, that he was as much a victim of Lenny Brookstein as anyone else. But slowly, with the steady, quiet patience on which he'd built his entire career, John Merrivale had won them over. He was no longer frightened of Harry Bain. But at the same time he didn't want to cross him. John still loathed confrontation. As much as Gavin Williams's dour, monosyllabic presence was bound to ruin the Switzerland trip, John didn't want to fight about it.
Harry Bain said, "We need to build some more team spirit. Bounce ideas off each other more. Somehow we've got to break this deadlock."
John Merrivale tried to imagine a scenario in which anyone might "bounce an idea" off Gavin Williams. Bain really must be getting desperate.
THE FLIGHT FROM NEW YORK WAS bumpy and unpleasant. John Merrivale felt his stomach flip over with nerves. He tried to make small talk with his companion. "Of course, legally we can't force the Swiss to cooperate with us. But I know the g-guys at the Banque de Geneve pretty well. I may be able to p-persuade them to stretch a point."
Silence. It was like talking to a corpse.
Gavin Williams closed his eyes. "Persuade them?" "Stretch a point?" They're criminals who laundered Brookstein's dirty money. They should be stretched on a rack till their limbs are wrenched out of their sockets and their screams can be heard from the Statue of Liberty.
"Have you spent m-much time in Geneva, Gavin?"
"It's a beautiful city. The m-m-mountains, the lake. Lenny and I used to love coming here."
Gavin Williams pulled on his sleep mask. "Good night."
The plane rattled on.
JOHN MERRIVALE WAS BOOKED INTO LES Amures, an exclusive five-star hotel in Geneva's old town. In the old days, he and Lenny had enjoyed many fine meals in Les Amures's famous restaurant, which had been built in the thirteenth century and decorated with exquisite frescos, painted façades and art treasures. Lenny used to say it was like eating in the Sistine Chapel.
Gavin Williams refused to join him, preferring the more modest Hotel Eden. It was right on the lake, but Gavin purposely chose a room with no view that was closer to the gym and business center. "We're not here to enjoy ourselves," he told John tersely.
John thought again how much Lenny would have despised Gavin Williams. His joylessness. His anger. Wandering alone around Geneva's chilly, medieval streets after dinner, he thought how much more fun the trip would have been had Lenny been with him.
"WHAT DO YOU MEAN I'M NOT COMING?"
Gavin Williams looked fit to be tied. He and John were breakfasting together at Gavin's hotel, prior to the meeting with the people from the Banque de Geneve.
"I have a r-relationship with the bankers. They're more likely to trust me if I g-go alone."
"Trust you?" Gavin Williams balled up his napkin in his fist.
"Yes. Banking, especially in Switzerland, is all about t-trust."
Gavin Williams thought furiously, You were the right-hand man to the biggest thief of all time, and you have the nerve to pontificate about trust? Even now, even after Quorum's disgrace, it's still an old boys' club, isn't it? You're still one of them - a banker - and I'm not. Out loud he snapped, "Don't patronize me, John. I've written textbooks on Swiss banking."
"Marvelous. Then you know what I'm talking about."
"These people you claim to have a relationship with are money launderers. They are scum and their trust is worth nothing. I will attend the meeting, whether they like it or not."
John Merrivale could not resist a fleeting, triumphant smile. "I'm afraid you won't, Gavin. You see, I already cleared it with Harry Bain. I'm g-going alone. You're to follow up on any information I get out of them. Take it up with Harry if you're not happy."
"How can I take it up with Harry?" Gavin spluttered. "It's three in the morning in New York."
"Is it?" John smiled again. "What a pity."
THREE DAYS LATER THEY FLEW BACK to the States.
John Merrivale reported to Harry Bain: whatever money Lenny had stashed in Geneva was long gone. Some of it was paid out to investors in returns. The rest was siphoned into property deals in South America. Gavin Williams would fly to Bogota tomorrow to see what he could uncover.
Harry Bain put his head in his hands. Bogota. And so it goes on.
"I'm s-sorry about Geneva, sir. I really thought that might be a breakthrough."
Harry Bain hated the way John Merrivale insisted on calling him "sir." Nobody else did. He'd told Merrivale to cut it out months ago, but it was like a verbal tic with the guy. Subservience was second nature to him. Not for the first time, Harry wondered what on earth had attracted a type A man's man like Lenny Brookstein to this weak, milquetoast number cruncher. It didn't make any sense.
"It's okay, John. You did your best. The bureau appreciates your efforts."
"Th-thank you, sir. I'll keep trying."
Yeah. We're all trying. But there are no prizes for effort. Not in this life.
"John, do you mind if I ask you a personal question?"
John looked momentarily taken aback.
"Does it ever get to you?"
"Does what ever get to me?"
"You must have lost millions because of Lenny Brookstein, right? Tens of millions."
John Merrivale nodded.
"You see your entire life's work destroyed, your good name dragged through the mud. Doesn't it, I don't know...test your faith in humanity?"
John Merrivale smiled. "I'm afraid I've never had much f-faith in humanity."
"Okay, then. In friendship."
In a flash, the smile was gone.
"Let me tell you something about friendship, Mr. Bain. Friendship is everything. Everything. It's the only thing that really m-m-matters in this world. People can say what they like about me. But I'll tell you this. I'm a loyal friend."
He turned and walked away. Harry Bain watched him go.
He felt uneasy, but he had no idea why.
IN A HOTEL BATHROOM in BOGOTa, Gavin Williams stood under a cold shower, scrubbing his body with soap. It was so hard to stay clean in this filthy world. Colombia was the greatest cesspool of all. Every aspect of life here was diseased, tainted by greed, infected with corruption. It made Gavin sick.
As he scrubbed away, cleansing his soiled body, Gavin's thoughts turned to John Merrivale. John had humiliated him in Switzerland. No doubt he thought he'd had the last laugh. But Gavin Williams knew better.
John Merrivale had patronized the wrong man.
He would live to regret it.