The litigators, p.11
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       The Litigators, p.11

           John Grisham

  passed, then he asked, “So when do we file some big lawsuit?”

  Wally, the expert, cleared his throat in preparation for a mini-seminar. “Very soon. We have Iris Klopeck signed up, so we could file tomorrow if we wanted. I plan to get Chester Marino’s widow on board as soon as the funeral is over. These letters go out today; the phones’ll start ringing in a day or so. With some luck, we might have half a dozen cases in hand within a week, then we’ll file. I’ll start drafting the lawsuit tomorrow. It’s important to file quickly in these mass tort cases. We’ll drop the first bomb here in Chicago, get the headlines, and every person on Krayoxx will toss the drug and give us a call.”

  “Oh, brother,” Rochelle said.

  “ ‘Oh, brother’ is right. Wait till we get around to the settlement, and I’ll show you another ‘Oh, brother.’ ”

  “State or federal court?” David asked, quick to throttle the bickering.

  “Good question, and I’d like for you to research the issue. If we go into state court, we can also sue the doctors who prescribed Krayoxx to our clients. That’s more defendants, but also more high-powered defense lawyers causing trouble. Frankly, there’s enough money at Varrick Labs to make us all happy, so I’m inclined to keep the doctors out of it. On the federal side, because the Krayoxx litigation will go nationwide, we can plug into the mass tort network and ride their coattails. No one really expects these cases to go to trial, and when the settlement negotiations begin, we need to be hooked in with the big boys.”

  Again, Wally sounded so knowledgeable that David wanted to believe him. But he’d already been at the firm long enough to know that Wally had never handled a mass tort case. Nor had Oscar.

  Oscar’s door opened, and he emerged with his usual frown and look of fatigue. “What the hell is this?” he said pleasantly. No one responded. He walked to the table, picked up a letter, then dropped it. He was about to say something when the front door burst open and a tall, thick, burly, tattooed Philistine stomped in and yelled at the entire room, “Which one is Figg!?”

  With no hesitation, Oscar and David and even Rochelle pointed at Wally, who was wild-eyed and frozen. Behind the intruder was a tart in a yellow dress, DeeAnna Nuxhall from divorce court, and she yelled, “That’s him, Trip, the short fat one!”

  Trip went straight for Wally as if he might kill him. The rest of the firm scrambled away from the table, leaving Wally to fend for himself. Trip made a couple of fists, hovered over Wally, and said, “Look, Figg, you little weasel! We’re getting married Saturday, so my girl here needs her divorce tomorrow. What’s the problem?”

  Wally, still seated and hunkering down in anticipation of a beating, said, “Well, I would like to get paid.”

  “She promised to pay you later, didn’t she?”

  “I sure did,” DeeAnna added helpfully.

  “If you touch me, I’ll have you arrested,” Wally said. “You can’t get married if you’re in jail.”

  “I told you he was a smart-ass,” DeeAnna said.

  Because he needed to hit something but was not quite ready to slap Wally around, Trip backhanded a stack of Krayoxx letters and sent them flying. “Get the divorce, okay, Figg! I’ll be there tomorrow, in court, and if my girl doesn’t get her divorce then, I’ll stomp your chubby little ass right there in the courtroom.”

  “Call the police,” Oscar barked at Rochelle, who was too frightened to move.

  Trip needed something with more drama, so he grabbed a thick law book off the table and tossed it through a front window. Glass shattered and rattled across the porch. AC yelped but retreated to a hiding place under Rochelle’s desk.

  Trip’s eyes were shiny and glazed. “I’ll snap your neck, Figg. You got that?”

  “Hit him, Trip,” DeeAnna urged.

  David glanced at the sofa and saw Wally’s briefcase. He eased closer to it.

  “We’ll be in court tomorrow, Figg. You gonna be there?” Trip took another step closer. Wally braced for the assault. Rochelle moved in the direction of her desk, and this upset Trip. “Don’t move! You’re not calling the cops!”

  “Call the police,” Oscar barked again, but made no effort to do so himself. David inched closer to the briefcase.

  “Talk to me, Figg,” Trip demanded.

  “He embarrassed me in open court,” DeeAnna whined. It was obvious she wanted bloodshed.

  “You’re a slimeball, Figg, you know that?”

  Wally was about to say something clever when Trip finally made contact. He pushed Wally, a rather benign little shove that seemed tame in light of the buildup, but it was an assault nonetheless. “Hey, watch it!” Wally barked, slapping at Trip’s hand.

  David quickly opened the briefcase and withdrew the long black .44 Magnum Colt. He was not certain if he had ever touched a revolver, and he wasn’t sure he could do so now without blowing his hand off, but he knew to avoid the trigger. “Here, Wally,” he said as he placed the gun on the table. Wally snatched it and jumped from his chair, and the rules of engagement changed dramatically.

  Trip blurted “Holy shit!” in a high-pitched voice and took a long step back. DeeAnna ducked behind him, whimpering. Rochelle and Oscar were as stunned as Trip was by the weapon. Wally did not aim the gun at anyone, not directly anyway, but he handled it in such a way that there was little doubt he could and would unload a few rounds in a matter of seconds.

  “First, I want an apology,” he said as he moved toward Trip, who had lost his swagger. “You got a lotta balls coming in here and making demands when your girl there won’t pay her bills.”

  Trip, who no doubt had some experience in handguns, stared at the Colt and said meekly, “Yeah, sure, you’re right, man.”

  “Call the police, Ms. Gibson,” Wally said, and she dialed 911. AC poked his head out and growled at Trip.

  “I want three hundred bucks for the divorce and two hundred bucks for the window,” Wally demanded. Trip was still backing away, with DeeAnna practically unseen behind him.

  “Be cool, man,” Trip said, both palms facing Wally.

  “Oh, I’m very cool.”

  “Do something, baby,” DeeAnna said.

  “Like what? You see the size of that thing?”

  “Can’t we just get outta here?” she asked.

  “No,” Wally replied. “Not until the cops get here.” He raised the gun a few inches, careful not to point it directly at Trip.

  Rochelle backed away from her desk and went to the kitchen. “Be cool, man,” Trip pleaded. “We’re leaving.”

  “No you’re not.”

  The police arrived in minutes. Trip was handcuffed and placed in the backseat of a patrol car. DeeAnna cried without effect, then she tried flirting with the cops, and this proved slightly more useful. In the end, though, Trip was hauled away to face charges of assault and vandalism.

  When the excitement was over, Rochelle and Oscar went home, leaving Wally and David to sweep up the broken glass and finish signing the Krayoxx letters. They worked for an hour, mindlessly signing Wally’s name and also discussing what to do about the broken window. It could not be replaced until the following day, and the office wouldn’t survive the night with a missing window. Preston wasn’t a dangerous neighborhood, but no one left keys in cars or doors unlocked. Wally had just made the decision to sleep at the office, on the sofa, next to the table, with AC nearby and the Colt within reach, when the front door swung open and dear DeeAnna popped in for the second time.

  “What are you doing here?” Wally demanded.

  “We need to talk, Wally,” she said in a voice that was unsteady and much softer. She sat in a chair near Rochelle’s desk and crossed her legs in such a way as to leave most of the flesh exposed. She had very nice legs and was wearing the same hooker’s heels she had displayed in court that morning.

  “Ooh la la,” Wally said under his breath. Then, “And what would you like to talk about?” he asked.

  “I think she’s been drinking,” David whispered as he
kept signing.

  “I’m not sure I should marry Trip,” she announced.

  “He’s a brute, a real loser, DeeAnna. You can do better than that.”

  “But I really want my divorce, Wally, can’t you help me out here?”

  “Then pay me.”

  “I can’t get the money before court tomorrow. I swear that’s the truth.”

  “Then too bad.”

  David decided that, had the case been his, he would do whatever necessary to get the divorce so DeeAnna and Trip would be history. An extra $300 wasn’t worth all the hassle.

  She recrossed her legs, and her skirt inched up even higher. “I was thinking, Wally, that maybe we could make some other arrangements. You know, just me and you.”

  Wally sighed, looked at the legs, thought for a second, and said, “Can’t do it. I gotta stay here tonight because some jackass knocked out the front window.”

  “Then I’ll stay too,” she cooed, licking her bright red lips.

  Wally had never possessed the willpower to run from these situations, not that he encountered them all the time. Seldom had a client been so open and obvious. In fact, he could not, at that dreadful yet thrilling moment, remember one being so easy. “We might work something out,” he said, leering at DeeAnna.

  “I’m outta here,” David said, jumping to his feet and grabbing his briefcase.

  “You can hang around,” she said.

  The visual was instantaneous and ugly—happily married David romping around with a cute slut who’d had as many divorces as her chubby and naked lawyer. David ran for the door and slammed it behind him.

  Their favorite late-night bistro was within walking distance of their home in Lincoln Park. They had often met there for a quick dinner just before the kitchen closed at eleven, just as David staggered home from another crushing day at the office. Tonight, though, they arrived before nine and found the place bustling. Their table was in a corner.

  At some point, about halfway through his five-year career at Rogan Rothberg, David had adopted the policy of not discussing his work, of never bringing it home. It was so unpleasant and distasteful, and boring to boot, he simply could not dump it on Helen. She happily went along with this policy, and so they usually talked about her studies or what their friends were doing. But things were suddenly different. The big firm was gone, as were the faceless clients and their tedious files. Now David worked with real people who did incredible things that had to be retold in great detail. Take, for example, the two near gun-fights David had survived with his sidekick, Wally. At first, Helen flatly refused to believe that Wally had actually fired a shot in the air to scatter the street thugs, but she eventually softened under David’s relentless narrative. Nor did she believe the Trip story on the first telling. She was equally skeptical of the Wally–Judge Bradbury shakedown of DeeAnna Nuxhall in open court. She was incredulous that her husband would fork over all of his cash to Iris Klopeck, then sign an IOU for more. Oscar getting mauled by an angry (female) divorce client was slightly more believable.

  Saving the best for last, David wrapped up his unforgettable first day at Finley & Figg with: “And, dear, even as we speak, Wally and DeeAnna are naked on the sofa having a romp with the window open and the dog watching and the unpaid fee getting satisfied in spectacular fashion.”

  “You’re lying.”

  “I wish. The $300 will be forgiven, and DeeAnna will be divorced by noon tomorrow.”

  “What a sleazeball.”

  “Which one?”

  “How about both? Do most of your clients pay this way?”

  “I doubt it. I mentioned Iris Klopeck. I suspect she’s more in line with the firm’s client profile. The fee couch couldn’t hold up under the pounding.”

  “You can’t work for these people, David. Come on. Quit Rogan if you want, but let’s find a different firm somewhere. These two clowns are a couple of crooks. What about ethics?”

  “I doubt if they spend much time discussing ethics.”

  “Why not look for a nice midsized firm somewhere, with nice people who don’t carry guns and chase ambulances and swap labor for sex?”

  “What’s my specialty, Helen?”

  “Something to do with bonds.”

  “Right. I know a lot about high-yield, long-term bonds issued by foreign governments and corporations. That’s all I know about the law because that’s all I’ve done for the past five years. Put that on a résumé, and the only people who might call are a handful of eggheads at other large firms, just like Rogan, who might be in need of someone like me.”

  “But you can learn.”

  “Of course I can, but no one will hire a five-year lawyer at a nice salary and put him in kindergarten. They demand experience, and I don’t have it.”

  “So Finley & Figg is the only place you can work?”

  “Or someplace like it. I’ll treat it like a seminar for a year or two, then maybe open my own shop.”

  “Great. One day on the job and you’re already thinking about leaving.”

  “Not really. I love the place.”

  “You’ve lost your mind.”

  “Yes, and it’s so liberating.”


  Wally’s mass-mailing scheme proved futile. Half of the letters were returned by the postal service for a variety of reasons. Phone traffic spiked a bit in the week that followed, though most of the calls were from former clients who demanded to be removed from Finley & Figg’s mailing list. Undaunted, Wally filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, naming Iris Klopeck and Millie Marino, as well as “others to be named later,” and claimed their loved ones had been killed by the drug Krayoxx, manufactured by Varrick Labs. Throwing darts, Wally asked for an even $100 million in total damages, and he demanded a trial by jury.

  The filing was not nearly as dramatic as he wished. He tried desperately to attract the media to the lawsuit he was brewing, but there was little interest. Instead of simply filing it online, he and David, both dressed in their finest dark suits, drove to the Everett M. Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in downtown Chicago and hand delivered the twenty-page lawsuit to the clerk. There were no reporters and no photographers, and this upset Wally. He harangued a deputy clerk into snapping a photograph of the two grim-faced lawyers as they filed the lawsuit. Once back at the office, he e-mailed the lawsuit and the photograph to the Tribune, the Sun-Times, the Wall Street Journal, Time, Newsweek, and a dozen other publications.

  David prayed the photograph would go unnoticed, but Wally got lucky. A reporter from the Tribune called the office and was immediately put through to an ecstatic Attorney Figg. The avalanche of publicity began.

  On the front page of Section B the following morning, a headline read: “Chicago Attorney Attacks Varrick Labs over Krayoxx.” The article summarized the lawsuit and said local attorney Wally Figg was a “self-described mass tort specialist.” Finley & Figg was a “boutique firm” with a long history of fighting big drug companies. The reporter, though, did some sniffing and quoted two well-known plaintiffs’ lawyers as saying, in effect, we’ve never heard of these guys. And there was no record of similar lawsuits filed by Finley & Figg during the past ten years. Varrick responded aggressively by defending its product, promising a vigorous defense, and “looking forward to a fair trial before an impartial jury to clear our good name.” The reproduced photograph was rather large. This tickled Wally and embarrassed David. They were quite a pair: Wally was balding, rotund, and badly dressed, while David was taller, trimmer, and much younger looking.

  The story went wild on the Internet, and the phone rang nonstop. At times, Rochelle was overwhelmed and David helped out. Some of the callers were reporters, others were lawyers sniffing around for information, but most were Krayoxx users who were terrified and confused. David wasn’t sure what to say. The firm’s strategy, if it could be called that, was to pick through the net and take the death cases, then at some undefined point in the future corral the
non-death” clients and lump them into a class action. This was impossible to explain over the phone because David didn’t quite grasp it himself.

  As the phones rang and the excitement continued, even Oscar came out of his office and showed some interest. His little firm had never seen such activity, and, well, maybe this was indeed their big moment. Maybe Wally was finally right about something. Maybe, just maybe, this could lead to real money, which meant at long last the divorce he so fervently wanted, followed immediately by retirement.

  The three lawyers met at the table late in the day to compare notes. Wally was wired, even perspiring. He waved his legal pad in the air and said, “We got four death cases here, brand-new ones, and we gotta sign ’em up right now. Are you in, Oscar?”

  “Sure, I’ll take one,” Oscar said, trying to appear reluctant as always.

  “Thank you. Now, Ms. Gibson, there’s a black lady who lives on Nineteenth, not far from you, Bassitt Towers, number three. She says it’s safe.”

  “I will not go to Bassitt Towers,” Rochelle said. “I can practically hear the gunfire from my apartment.”


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