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“Tracy… I just felt like hearing the sound of your voice, darling.” “What a nice surprise, Mother.” - 10


“Tracy Whitney is in here for some serious crimes,” Warden Brannigan observed.governor was thoughtful. “But she has no previous record, right, George?”
“That's right, sir.”
“I don't mind telling you, I'm getting a hell of a lot of pressure to do something about her.”
“So am I, Governor.”
“Of course, we can't let the public tell us how to run our prisons, can we?”
“Certainly not.”
“On the other hand,” the governor said judiciously, “the Whitney girl has certainly demonstrated a remarkable amount of courage. She's become quite a heroine.”
“No question about it,” Warden Brannigan agreed.governor paused to light a cigar. “What's your opinion, George?”Brannigan chose his words carefully. “You're aware, of course, Governor, that I have a very personal interest in this. It was my child she saved. But, putting that aside, I don't think Tracy Whitney is the criminal type, and I can't believe she would be a danger to society if she were out in the world. My strong recommendation is that you give her a pardon.”governor, who was about to announce his candidacy for a new term, recognized a good idea when he heard it. “Let's play this close to the chest for a bit.” In politics, timing was everything.discussing it with her husband, Sue Ellen said to Tracy, “Warden Brannigan and I would like it very much if you moved into the cottage. We have a spare bedroom in back. You could take care of Amy full-time.”
“Thank you,” Tracy said gratefully. “I would like that.”worked out perfectly. Not only did Tracy not have to spend each night locked away in a cell, but her relationship with Amy changed completely. Amy adored Tracy, and Tracy responded. She enjoyed being with this bright, loving little girl. They played their old games and watched Disney movies on television and read together. It was almost like being part of a family.whenever Tracy had an errand that took her into the cell blocks, she invariably ran into Big Bertha.
“You're a lucky bitch,” Big Bertha growled. “But you'll be back here with the common folks one day soon. I'm workin' on it, littbarn.”weeks after Amy's rescue Tracy and Amy were playing tag in the yard when Sue Ellen Brannigan hurried out of the house. She stood there a moment watching them. “Tracy, the warden just telephoned. He would like to see you in his office right away.”was filled with a sudden fear. Did it mean that she was going to be transferred back to the prison? Had Big Bertha used her influence to arrange it. Or had Mrs. Brannigan decided that Amy and Tracy were getting too close?
“Yes, Mrs. Brannigan.”warden was standing in the doorway of his office when Tracy was escorted in. “You'd better sit down,” he said.tried to read the answer to her fate from the tone of his voice.
“I have some news for you.” He paused, filled with some emotion that Tracy did not understand. “I have just received an order from the governor of Louisiana,” Warden Brannigan went on, “giving you a full pardon, effective immediately.”God, did he say what I think he said? She was afraid to speak.
“I want you to know,” the warden continued, “that this is not being done because it was my child you saved. You acted instinctively in the way any decent citizen would have acted. By no stretch of the imagination could I ever believe that you would be a threat to society.” He smiled and added, “Amy is going to miss you. So are we.”had no words. If the warden only knew the truth: that if the accident had not happeped, the warden's men would have been out hunting her as a fugitive.
“You'll be released the day after tomorrow.”“getup.” And still Tracy could not absorb it. “I — I don't know what to say.”
“You don't have to say anything. Everyone here is very proud of you. Mrs. Brannigan and I expect you to do great things on the outside.”it was true: She was free. Tracy felt so weak that she had to steady herself against the arm of the chair. When she finally spoke, her voice was firm. “There's a lot I want to do, Warden Brannigan.”Tracy's last day in prison an inmate from Tracy's old cell block walked up to her. “So you're getting out.”
“That's right.”woman, Betty Franciscus, was in her early forties, still attractive, with an air of pride about her.
“If you need any help on the outside, there's a man you should see in New York. His name is Conrad Morgan.” She slipped Tracy a piece of paper. “He's into criminal reform. He likes to give a hand to people who've been in prison.”
“Thank you, but I don't think I'll need —”
“You never know. Keep his address.”hours later, Tracy was walking through the penitentiary gates, moving past the television cameras. She would not speak to the reporters, but when Amy broke away from her mother and threw herself into Tracy's arms, the cameras whirred. That was the picture that came out over the evening news.to Tracy was no longer simply an abstract word. It was something tangible, physical, a condition to be enjoyed and savored. Freedom meant breathing fresh air, privacy, not standing in lines for meals, not listening for bells. It meant hot baths and good-smelling soaps, soft lingerie, pretty dresses, and high-heeled shoes. It meant having a name instead of a number. Freedom meant escape from Big Bertha and fear of gang rapes and the deadly monotony of prison routine.'s newfound freedom took getting used to. Walking along a street, she was careful not to jostle anyone. In the penitentiary bumping into another prisoner could be the spark that set off a conflagration. It was the absence of constant menace that Tracy found most difficult to adjust to. No one was threatening her.was free to carry out her plans.Philadelphia, Charles Stanhope III saw Tracy on television, leaving the prison. She's still beautiful, he thought. Watching her, it seemed impossible that she had committed any of the crimes for which she had been convicted. He looked at his exemplary wife, placidly seated across the room, knitting. I wonder if I made a mistake.Cooper watched Tracy on the television news in his apartment in New York. He was totally indifferent to the fact that she had been released from prison. He clicked off the television set and returned to the file he was working on.Joe Romano saw the television news, he laughed aloud. The Whitney girl was a lucky bitch. I'll bet prison was good for her. She must be really horny by now. Maybe one day we'll meet again.was pleased with himself. He had already passed the Renoir to a fence, and it had been purchased by a private collector in Zurich. Five hundred grand from the insurance company, and another two hundred thousand from the fence. Naturally, Romano had split the money with Anthony Orsatti. Romano was very meticulous in his dealings with him, for he had seen examples of what happened to people who were not correct in their transactions with Orsatti.noon on Monday Tracy, in her Lureen Hartford persona, returned to the First Merchants Bank of New Orleans. At that hour it was crowded with customers. There were several people in front of Lester Torrance's window. Tracy joined the line, and when Lester saw her, he beamed and nodded. She was even more goddamned beautiful than he had remembered.Tracy finally reached his window, Lester crowed, “Well, it wasn't easy, but I did it for you, Lureen.”warm, appreciative smile lit Lureen's face. “You're just too wonderful.”
“Yes, sir, got 'em right here.” Lester opened a drawer, found the box of checks he had carefully put away, and handed it to her. “There you are. Four hundred blank checks. Will that be enough?”
“Oh, more than enough, unless Mr. Romano goes on a check-writing spree.” She looked into Lester's eyes and sighed, “You saved my life.”felt a pleasurable stirring in his groin. “I believe people have to be nice to people, don't you, Lureen?”
“You're so right, Lester.”
“You know, you should open your own account here. I'd take real good care of you. Real good.”
“I just know you would,” Tracy said softly.
“Why don't you and me talk about it over a nice quiet dinner somewhere?”
“I'd surely love that.”
“Where can I call you, Lureen?”
“Oh, I'll call you, Lester.” She moved away.
“Wait a min —” The next customer stepped up and handed the frustrated Lester a sackful of coins.the center of the bank were four tables that held containers of blank deposit and withdrawal slips, and the tables were crowded with people busily filling out forms. Tracy moved away from Lester's view. As a customer made room at a table, Tracy took her place. The box that Lester had given her contained eight packets of blank checks. But it was not the checks Tracy was interested in: It was the deposit slips at the back of the packets.carefully separated the deposit slips from the checks and, in fewer than three minutes, she was holding eighty deposit slips in her hand. Making sure she was unobserved, Tracy put twenty of the slips in the metal container.moved on to the next table, where she placed twenty more deposit slips. Within a few minutes, all of them had been left on the various tables. The deposit slips were blank, but each one contained a magnetized code at the bottom, which the computer used to credit the various accounts. No matter who deposited money, because of the magnetic code, the computer would automatically credit Joe Romano's account with each deposit. From her experience working in a bank, Tracy knew that within two days all the magnetized deposit slips would be used up and that it would take at least five days before the mix-up was noticed. That would give her more than enough time for what she planned to do.the way back to her hotel, Tracy threw the blank checks into a trash basket. Mr. Joe Romano would not be needing them.'s next stop was at the New Orleans Holiday Travel Agency. The young woman behind the.desk asked, “May I help you?”
“I'm Joseph Romano's secretary. Mr. Romano would like to make a reservation for Rio de Janeiro. He wants to leave this Friday.”
“Will that be one ticket?”
“Yes. First class. An aisle seat. Smoking, please.”
“Round trip?”
“One way.”travel agent turned to her desk computer. In a few seconds, she said, “We're all set. One first-class seat on Pan American's Flight seven twenty-eight, leaving at six-thirty-five P.M. on Friday, with a short stopover in Miami.”
“He'll be very pleased,” Tracy assured the woman.
“That will be nineteen hundred twenty-nine dollars. Will that be cash or charge?”
“Mr. Romano always pays cash. COD. Could you have the ticket delivered to his office on Thursday, please?”
“We could have it delivered tomorrow, if you like.”
“No. Mr. Romano won't be there tomorrow. Would you make it Thursday at eleven A.M.?”
“Yes. That will be fine. And the address?”
“Mr. Joseph Romano, Two-seventeen Poydras Street, Suite four-zero-eight.”woman made a note of it. “Very well. I'll see that it's delivered Thursday morning.”
“Eleven sharp,” Tracy said. “Thank you.”a block down the street was the Acme Luggage Store. Tracy studied the display in the window before she walked inside.clerk approached her. “Good morning. And what can I do for you this morning?”
“I want to buy some luggage for my husband.”
“You've come to the right place. We're having a sale. We have some nice, inexpensive —”
“No,” Tracy said. “Nothing inexpensive.”stepped over to a display of Vuitton suitcases stacked against a wall. “That's more what I'm looking for. We're going away on a trip.”
“Well, I'm sure he'll be pleased with one of these. We have three different sizes. Which one would —?”
“I'll take one of each.”
“Oh. Fine. Will that be charge or cash?”
“COD. The name is Joseph Romano. Could you have them delivered to my husband's office on Thursday morning?”
“Why, certainly, Mrs. Romano.”
“At eleven o'clock?”
“I'll see to it personally.”an afterthought, Tracy added, “Oh… would you put his initials on them — in gold? That's J.R.”
“Of course. It will be our pleasure, Mrs. Romano.”smiled and gave him the office address.a nearby Western Union office, Tracy sent a paid cable to the Rio Othon Palace on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro. It read: REQUEST YOUR BEST SUITE COMMENCING THIS FRIDAY FOR TWO MONTHS. PLEASE CONFIRM BY COLLECT CABLE. JOSEPH ROMANO, 217 POYDRAS STREET, SUITE 408, NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA, USA.days later Tracy telephoned the bank and asked to speak to Lester Torrance. When she heard his voice, she said softly, “You probably don't remember me, Lester, but this is Lureen Hartford, Mr. Romano's secretary, and —”remember her! His voice was eager. “Of course I remember you, Lureen. I —”
“You do? Why, I'm flattered. You must meet so many people.”
“Not like you,” Lester assured her. “You haven't forgotten about our dinner date, have you?”
“You don't know how much I'm lookin' forward to it. Would next Tuesday suit you, Lester?”
“Great!”
“Then it's a date. Oh. I'm such an idiot! You got me so excited talkin' to you I almost forgot why I called. Mr. Romano asked me to check on his bank balance. Would you give me that figure?”
“You bet. No trouble at all.”, Lester Torrance would have asked for a birth date or some form of identification from the caller, but in this case it was certainly not necessary. No, Sir. “Hang on, Lureen,” he said.walked over to the file, pulled out Joseph's Romano's sheet, and studied it in surprise. There had been an extraordinary number of deposits made to Romano's account in the past several days. Romano had never kept so much money in his account before. Lester Torrance wondered what was going on. Some big deal, obviously. When he had dinner with Lureen Hartford, he intended to pump her. A little inside information never hurt. He returned to the phone.
“Your boss has been keeping us busy,” he told Tracy. “He has just over three hundred thousand dollars in his checking account.”
“Oh, good. That's the figure I have.”
“Would he like us to transfer it to a money market account? It's not drawing any interest sitting here, and I could —”
“No. He wants it right where it is,” Tracy assured him.
“Okay.”
“Thank you so much, Lester. You're a darlin'.”
“Wait a minute! Should I call you at the office about the arrangements for Tuesday?”
“I'll call you, honey,” Tracy told him.the connection was broken.modern high-rise office building owned by Anthony Orsatti stood on Poydras Street between the riverfront and the gigantic Louisiana Superdome, and the offices of the Pacific Import-Export Company occupied the entire fourth floor of the building. At one end of the suite were Orsatti's offices, and at the other end, Joe Romano's rooms. The space in between was occupied by four young receptionists who were available evenings to entertain Anthony Orsatti's friends and business acquaintances. In front of Orsatti's suite sat two very large men whose lives were devoted to guarding their boss. They also served as chauffeurs, masseurs, and errand boys for the capo.this Thursday morning Orsatti was in his office checking out the previous day's receipts from running numbers, bookmaking, prostitution, and a dozen other lucrative activities that the Pacific Import-Export Company controlled.Orsatti was in his late sixties. He was a strangely built man, with a large, heavy torso and short, bony legs that seemed to have been designed for a smaller man. Standing up he looked like a seated frog. He had a face crisscrossed with an erratic web of scars that could have been woven by a drunken spider, an oversized mouth, and black, bulbous eyes. He had been totally bald from the age of fifteen after an attack of alopecia, and had worn a black wig ever since. It fitted him badly, but in all the years no one had dared mention it to his face. Orsatti's cold eyes were gambler's eyes, giving away nothing, and his face, except when he was with his five daughters, whom he adored, was expressionless. The only clue to Orsatti's emotions was his voice. He had a hoarse, raspy voice, the result of a wire having been tightened around his throat on his twenty-first birthday, when he had been left for dead. The two men who had made that mistake had turned up in the morgue the following week. When Orsatti got really upset, his voice lowered to a strangled whisper that could barely be heard.Orsatti was a king who ran his fiefdom with bribes, guns, and blackmail. He ruled New Orleans, and it paid him obeisance in the form of untold riches. The capos of the other Families across the country respected him and constantly sought his advice.the moment, Anthony Orsatti was in a benevolent mood. He had had breakfast with his mistress, whom he kept in an apartment building he owned in Lake Vista. He visited her three times a week, and this morning's visit had been particularly satisfactory. She did things to him in bed that other women never dreamed of, and Orsatti sincerely believed it was because she loved him so much. His organization was running smoothly. There were no problems, because Anthony Orsatti knew how to solve difficulties before they became problems. He had once explained his philosophy to Joe Romano: “Never let a little problem become a big problem, Joe, or it grows like a fuckin' snowball. You got a precinct captain who thinks he oughta get a bigger cut — you melt him, see? No more snowball. You get some hotshot from Chicago who asks permission to open up his own little operation here in New Orleans? You know that pretty soon that 'little' operation is gonna turn into a big operation and start cuttin' into your profits. So you say yes, and then when he gets here, you melt the son of a bitch. No more snowball. Get the picture?”Romano got the picture.Orsatti loved Romano. He was like a son to him. Orsatti had picked him up when Romano was a punk kid rolling drunks in alleys. He himself had trained Romano, and now the kid could tap-dance his way around with the best of them. He was fast, he was smart, and he was honest. In ten years Romano had risen to the rank of Anthony Orsatti's chief lieutenant. He supervised all the Family's operations and reported only to Orsatti., Orsatti's private secretary, knocked and came into the office. She was twenty-four years old, a college graduate, with a face and figure that had won several local beauty contests. Orsatti enjoyed having beautiful young women around him.looked at the clock on his desk. It was 10:45. He had told Lucy he did not want any interruptions before noon. He scowled at her. “What?”
“I'm sorry to bother you, Mr. Orsatti. There's a Miss Gigi Dupres on the phone. She sounds hysterical, but she won't tell me what she wants. She insists on speaking with you personally. I thought it might be important.”sat there, running the name through the computer in his brain. Gigi Dupres? One of the broads he had up in his suite his last time in Vegas? Gigi Dupres? Not that he could remember, and he prided himself on a mind that forgot nothing. Out of curiosity, Orsatti picked up the phone and waved a dismissal at Lucy.
“Yeah? Who's this?”
“Is thees Mr. Anthony Orsatti?” She had a French accent.
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