Home > The King of Torts(10)

The King of Torts(10)
Author: John Grisham

According to a recent article in the Post, Bennett's group was in third place and losing ground by the month. Their finances were unclear, downright shaky, according to one unnamed source, and throughout the article the name of Bennett Van Horn was never mentioned. Clay knew he had enormous debts. Several of his developments had been stalled by environmental groups trying to preserve whatever land was left in Northern Virginia. He had lawsuits raging against former partners. His stock was practically worthless. Yet there he sat slugging down Scotch and yapping away about a new stadium for $400 million and a franchise fee of $200 million and a payroll of at least $100 million.

Their steaks arrived just when the salads were finished, thus sparing Clay another tortured moment of conversation with nothing to stuff in his mouth. Rebecca was ignoring him and he was certainly ignoring her. The fight would come very soon.

There were stories about the Guv, a close personal friend who was putting his machine in place to run for the Senate and of course he wanted Bennett in the middle of things. A couple of his hottest deals were revealed. There was talk of a new airplane, but this had been going on for some time and Bennett just couldn't find the one he wanted. The meal seemed to last for two hours, but only ninety minutes had passed when they declined dessert and started wrapping things up.

Clay thanked Bennett and Barb for the food and promised again to move quickly on the job down in Richmond. "The chance of a lifetime," Bennett said gravely. "Don't screw it up."

When Clay was certain they were gone, he asked Rebecca to step into the bar for a minute. They waited for their drinks to arrive before either spoke. When things were tense both had the tendency to wait for the other to fire first.

"I didn't know about the job in Richmond," she began.

"I find that hard to believe. Seems like the entire family was in on the deal. Your mother certainly knew about it."

"My father is just concerned about you, that's all."

Your father is an idiot, he wanted to say. "No, he's concerned about you. Can't have you marrying a guy with no future, so he'll just manage the future for us. Don't you think it's presumptuous to decide he doesn't like my job so he'll find me another one?"

"Maybe he's just trying to help. He loves the favors game."

"But why does he assume I need help?"

"Maybe you do."

"I see. Finally the truth."

"You can't work there forever, Clay. You're good at what you do and you care about your clients, but maybe it's time to move on. Five years at OPD is a long time. You've said so yourself."

"Maybe I don't want to live in Richmond. Perhaps I've never thought about leaving D.C. What if I don't want to work under one of your father's cronies? Suppose the idea of being surrounded by a bunch of local politicians does not appeal to me? I'm a lawyer, Rebecca, not a paper pusher."

"Fine. Whatever."

"Is this job an ultimatum?"

"In what way?"

"In every way. What if I say no?"

"I think you've already said no, which, by the way, is pretty typical. A snap decision."

"Snap decisions are easy when the choice is obvious. I'll find my own jobs, and I certainly didn't ask your father to call in a favor. But what happens if I say no?"

"Oh, I'm sure the sun will come up."

"And your parents?"

"I'm sure they'll be disappointed."

"And you?"

She shrugged and sipped her drink. Marriage had been discussed on several occasions but no agreement had been reached. There was no engagement, certainly no timetable. If one wanted out, there was sufficient wiggle room, though it would be a tight squeeze. But after four years of (1) dating no one else, and (2) continually reaffirming their love for each other, and (3) having sex at least five times a week, the relationship was headed toward permanent status.

However, she was not willing to admit the truth that she wanted a break from her career, and a husband and a family and then maybe no career at all. They were still competing, still playing the game of who was more important. She could not admit that she wanted a husband to support her.

"I don't care, Clay," she said. "It's just a job offer, not a Cabinet appointment. Say no if you want to."

"Thank you." And suddenly he felt like a jerk. What if Bennett had simply been trying to help? He disliked her parents so much that everything they did irked him. That was his problem, wasn't it? They had the right to be worried about their daughter's future mate, the father of their grandchildren.

And, Clay grudgingly admitted, who wouldn't be worried about him as a son-in-law?

"I'd like to go," she said.


He followed her out of the club and watched her from the rear, almost suggesting that he had time to run by her apartment for a quick session. But her mood said no, and, given the tone of the evening, she would thoroughly enjoy a flat rejection. Then he would feel like a fool who couldn't control himself, which was exactly what he was at these times. So he dug deep, clenched his jaws together, and let the moment pass.

As he helped her into her BMW, she whispered, "Why don't you stop by for a few minutes?"

Clay sprinted to his car.

Chapter Six

He felt somewhat safer with Rodney, plus 9 A.M. was too early for the dangerous types on Lamont Street. They were still sleeping off whatever poison they had consumed the night before. The merchants were slowly coming to life. Clay parked near the alley.

Rodney was a career paralegal with OPD. He'd been enrolled in night law school off and on for a decade and still talked of one day getting his degree and passing the bar. But with four teenagers at home both money and time were scarce. Because he came from the streets of D.C. he knew them well. Part of his daily routine was a request from an OPD lawyer, usually one who was white and frightened and not very experienced, to accompany him or her into the war zones to investigate some heinous crime. He was a paralegal, not an investigator, and he declined as often as he said yes.

But he never said no to Clay. The two had worked closely together on many cases. They found the spot in the alley where Ramon had fallen and inspected the surrounding area carefully, with full knowledge that the police had already combed the place several times. They shot a roll of film, then went looking for witnesses.

There were none, and this was not surprising. By the time Clay and Rodney had been on the scene for fifteen minutes, word had spread. Strangers were on-site, prying into the latest killing, so lock the doors and say nothing. The liquor store-milk crate witnesses, both men who spent many hours every day in the same spot sipping cheap wine and missing nothing, were long gone and no one had ever known them. The merchants seemed surprised that there had been a shooting at all. "Around here?" one asked, as if crime had yet to reach his ghetto.

After an hour, they left and headed for D Camp. As Clay drove, Rodney sipped cold coffee from a tall paper cup. Bad coffee, from the look on his face. "Jermaine got a similar case a few days ago," he said. "Kid in rehab, locked down for a few months, got out somehow, don't know if he escaped or was released, but within twenty-four hours he'd picked up a gun and shot two people, one died."

"At random?"

"What's random around here? Two guys in cars with no insurance have a fender bender and they start shooting at each other. Is that random, or is it justified?"

"Was it drugs, robbery, self-defense?"

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