Home > The King of Torts(14)

The King of Torts(14)
Author: John Grisham

"The poor guy?"

"That's right. I pity the poor guy you marry because your parents are insufferable. And you know it."

"The poor guy I marry?" Her eyes were no longer wet. They were flashing now.

"Take it easy."

"The poor guy I marry?"

"Look, I'll make you an offer. Let's get married right now. We quit our jobs, do a quickie wedding with no one present, sell everything we own, and fly to, say, Seattle or Portland, somewhere far away from here, and live on love for a while."

"You won't go to Richmond but you'll go to Seattle?"

"Richmond is too damned close to your parents, okay?"

"Then what?"

"Then we'll find jobs."

"What kinds of jobs? Is there a shortage of lawyers out West?"

"You're forgetting something. Remember, from last night, that I'm smart, talented, well educated, sharp as a tack, and even handsome. Big law firms will chase me all over the place. I'll make partner in eighteen months. We'll have babies."

"Then my parents will come."

"No, because we won't tell them where we are. And if they find us, we'll change our names and move to Canada."

Two more drinks arrived and they wasted no time shoving the old ones aside.

The light moment passed, and quickly. But it reminded both of why they loved each other and of how much they enjoyed their time together. There had been much more laughter than sadness, though things were changing. Fewer laughs. More senseless spats. More influence from her family.

"I don't like the West Coast," she said, finally.

"Then pick a spot," Clay said, finishing the adventure. Her spot had been chosen for her, and she wasn't getting too far from Mommy and Daddy.

Whatever she had brought to the meeting finally had to be said. A long pull on the drink, then she leaned forward and stared him directly in the eyes. "Clay, I really need a break."

"Make it easy on yourself, Rebecca. We'll do whatever you want."

"Thank you."

"How long a break?"

"I'm not negotiating, Clay."

"A month?"

"Longer than that."

"No, I won't agree to it. Let's go thirty days without a phone call, okay? Today is the seventh of May. Let's meet here on June the sixth, right here at this very table, and we'll talk about an extension."

"An extension?"

"Call it whatever you want."

"Thank you. I'm calling it a breakup, Clay. The big bang. Splitsville. You go your way, I go mine. We'll chat in a month, but I don't expect a change. Things haven't changed much in the past year."

"If I'd said yes to that awful job in Richmond, would we be doing this split thing?"

"Probably not."

"Does that mean something other than no?"


"So, it was all a setup, wasn't it? The job, the ultimatum? Last night was just what I thought it was, an ambush. Take this job, boy, or else."

She would not deny it. Instead, she said, "Clay, I'm tired of fighting, okay? Don't call me for thirty days."

She grabbed her purse and jumped to her feet. On the way out of the booth, she somehow managed to plant a dry and meaningless kiss near his right temple, but he did not acknowledge it. He did not watch her leave.

She did not look back.

Chapter Eight

Clay's apartment was in an aging complex in Arlington. When he'd leased it four years earlier he had never heard of BVH Group. Later, he would learn that the company had built the place in the early eighties in one of Bennett's first ventures. The venture went bankrupt, the complex got bought and sold several times, and none of Clay's rent went to Mr. Van Horn. In fact, no member of that family knew Clay was living in something they'd built. Not even Rebecca.

He shared a two-bedroom unit with Jonah, an old pal from law school who'd flunked the bar exam four times before passing it and now sold computers. He sold them part-time and still earned more money than Clay, a fact that was always just under the surface.

The morning after the breakup, Clay fetched the Post from outside his door and settled down at the kitchen table with the first cup of coffee. As always, he went straight to the financial page for a quick and rewarding perusal of the dismal performance of BVHG. The stock barely traded and the few misguided investors who owned it were now willing to unload it for a mere $0.75 a share.

Who was the loser here?

There was not a single word about Rebecca's crucial subcommittee hearings.

When he was finished with his little witch hunts, he went to the sports section and told himself it was time to forget the Van Horns. All of them.

At twenty minutes after seven, a time when he was usually eating a bowl of cereal, the phone rang. He smiled and thought, It's her. Back already.

No one else would call so early. No one except the boyfriend or husband of whatever lady might be upstairs sleeping off a hangover with Jonah. Clay had taken several such calls over the years. Jonah adored women, especially those already committed to someone else. They were more challenging, he said.

But it wasn't Rebecca and it wasn't a boyfriend or a husband.

"Mr. Clay Carter," a strange male voice said.


"Mr. Carter, my name is Max Pace. I'm a recruiter for law firms in Washington and New York. Your name has caught our attention, and I have two very attractive positions that might interest you. Could we have lunch today?"

Completely speechless, Clay would remember later, in the shower, that the thought of a nice lunch was, oddly, the first thing that crossed his mind.

"Uh, sure," he managed to get out. Headhunters were part of the legal business, same as every other profession. But they rarely spent their time bottom-feeding in the Office of the Public Defender.

"Good. Let's meet in the lobby of the Willard Hotel, say, noon?"

"Noon's fine," Clay said, his eyes focusing on a pile of dirty dishes in the sink. Yes, this was real. It was not a dream.

"Thanks, I'll see you then. Mr. Carter, I promise it will be worth your time."

"Uh, sure."

Max Pace hung up quickly, and for a moment Clay held the receiver, looked at the dirty dishes, and wondered who from his law school class was behind this practical joke. Or could it be Bennett the Bulldozer getting one last bit of revenge?

He had no phone number for Max Pace. He did not even have the presence of mind to get the name of his company.

Nor did he have a clean suit. He owned two, both gray, one thick and one thin, both very old and well used. His trial wardrobe. Fortunately, OPD had no office dress code, so Clay usually wore khakis and a navy blazer. If he was going to court, he would put on a tie and take it off as soon as he returned to the office.

In the shower, he decided that his attire did not matter. Max Pace knew where he worked and had a rough idea of how little he earned. If Clay showed up for the interview in frayed khakis, then he could demand more money.

Sitting in traffic on the Arlington Memorial Bridge, he decided it was his father. The old guy had been banished from D.C. but still had contacts. He'd finally hit the right button, called in one last favor, found his son a decent job. When Jarrett Carter's high-profile legal career ended in a long and colorful flameout, he pushed his son toward the Office of the Public Defender. Now that apprenticeship was over. Five years in the trenches, and it was time for a real job.

What kinds of firms would be looking for him? He was intrigued by the mystery. His father hated the large corporate and lobbying outfits that were packed along Connecticut and Massachusetts Avenues. And he had no use for the small-timers who advertised on buses and billboards and clogged up the system with frivolous cases. Jarrett's old firm had ten lawyers, ten courtroom brawlers who won verdicts and were in demand.

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