Gray mountain, p.12
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       Gray Mountain, p.12
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           John Grisham

  harassment claims you read about. Mattie, inching closer to Snowden as her face changed colors, said, “Here’s the deal. My client owes the county about $200 in fines and fees. You boys have tacked on four hundred more for your own fun and games. We’ll pay a hundred of that, total of three hundred max, and we’ll have six months to pay it. That’s it, take it or leave it.”

  Snowden put on a phony smile, shook his head, and said, “Sorry, Ms. Wyatt, but we can’t live with that.”

  Without taking her eyes off Snowden, Mattie reached into her briefcase and whipped out some papers. “Then try living with this,” she said, waving the papers in his face. “It’s a lawsuit to be filed in federal court against Judicial Response Associates—I’ll add you later as a defendant—for wrongful arrest and wrongful imprisonment. You see, Mr. Snowden, the Constitution says, quite clearly, that you cannot imprison a poor person for failing to pay his debts. I don’t expect you to know this because you work for a bunch of crooks. However, trust me on this, the federal judges understand it because they’ve read the Constitution, most of them anyway. Debtors’ prisons are illegal. Ever heard of the Equal Protection Clause?”

  Snowden’s mouth was open but words failed him.

  She pressed on. “Didn’t think so. Maybe your lawyers can explain it, at three hundred bucks an hour. I’m telling you so you can tell your bosses that I’ll keep you in court for the next two years. I’ll drown you in paperwork. I’ll drag your asses through hours of depositions and discover all your dirty little tricks. It’ll all come out. I’ll hound you into the ground and make your lives miserable. You’ll have nightmares about me. And in the end I’ll win the case, plus I’ll collect attorneys’ fees.” She pushed the lawsuit into his chest and he reluctantly took it.

  They wheeled about and marched away, leaving Snowden weak-kneed and shell-shocked and already having glimpses of the nightmares. Samantha, stunned in her own way, whispered, “Can’t we bankrupt the $300?”

  Suddenly composed, Mattie said with a grin, “Of course we can. And we will.”

  Thirty minutes later, Mattie stood before the judge and announced they had reached a deal for the immediate release of her client, Mr. Stocky Purvis. Lady was in tears as she left the courthouse and headed for the jail.

  Driving back to Brady, Mattie said, “A license to practice law is a powerful tool, Samantha, when it’s used to help little people. Crooks like Snowden are accustomed to bullying folks who can’t afford representation. But you get a good lawyer involved and the bullying stops immediately.”

  “You’re a pretty good bully yourself.”

  “I’ve had practice.”

  “When did you prepare the lawsuit?”

  “We keep them in inventory. The file is actually called ‘Dummy Lawsuits.’ Just plug in a different name, splash the words ‘Federal Court’ all over it, and they scatter like squirrels.”

  Dummy lawsuits. Scattering like squirrels. Samantha wondered how many of her classmates at Columbia had been exposed to such legal tactics.

  At two that afternoon, Samantha was sitting in the main courtroom of the Noland County Courthouse patting the knee of a terrified Phoebe Fanning. Her facial wounds had now turned dark blue and looked even worse. She had arrived at court with a thick layer of makeup, which Annette didn’t approve of. She instructed their client to go to the restroom and scrub it off.

  Once again, Randy Fanning was driven over with his escort and entered the courtroom looking even rougher than he had two days earlier. He had been served a copy of the divorce and appeared perturbed by it. He glared at his wife, and at Samantha, as a deputy removed his handcuffs.

  The Circuit Court judge was Jeb Battle, an eager youngster who looked no more than thirty. Since the legal aid clinic handled a lot of domestic work, Annette was a regular and claimed to get on well with His Honor. The judge called things to order and approved a few uncontested matters while they waited. When he called Fanning versus Fanning, Annette and Samantha moved with their client through the bar to a table near the bench. Randy Fanning walked to another table, with a deputy close by, and waited for Hump to waddle into place. Judge Battle looked closely at Phoebe, at her bruised face, and, without saying a word, made his decision.

  He said, “This divorce was filed Monday. Have you been served a copy, Mr. Fanning? You may remain seated.”

  “Yes sir, I have a copy.”

  “Mr. Humphrey, I understand a bond will be set in the morning, is that right?”

  “Yes sir.”

  “We are here on a motion for a temporary restraining order. Phoebe Fanning is asking the court to order Randall Fanning to stay away from the couple’s residence, the couple’s three children, Phoebe herself, and anyone in her immediate family. Do you object to this, Mr. Humphrey?”

  “Of course we do, Your Honor. This matter is getting blown way out of proportion.” Hump was on his feet, waving his hands dramatically, his voice getting twangier with each sentence. “The couple had a fight, and it’s not the first one, and not all fights have been caused by my client, but, yes, he was in a fight with his wife. Obviously, they are having problems, but they’re trying to work things out. If we could all just take a deep breath, get Randy out of jail and back to work, I feel sure these two can iron out some of their differences. My client misses his children and he really wants to go home.”

  “She’s filed for divorce, Mr. Humphrey,” the judge said sternly. “Looks like she’s pretty serious about splitting up.”

  “And divorces can be dismissed as quickly as they are filed, see it all the time, Your Honor. My client is even willing to go to one of those marriage counselors if that’ll make her happy.”

  Annette interrupted: “Judge, we’re far beyond counseling. Mr. Humphrey’s client is facing a malicious wounding charge, and possibly jail time. He’s hoping all of this will simply go away and his client walks free. That will not happen. This divorce will not be dismissed.”

  Judge Battle asked, “Who owns the house?”

  Annette replied, “A landlord. They’re renting.”

  “And where are the children?”

  “They’re away, out of town, in a safe place.”

  Other than a few pieces of mismatched furniture, the house was already empty. Phoebe had moved most of their belongings to a storage unit. She was hiding in a motel in Grundy, Virginia, an hour away. Through an emergency fund, the legal clinic was paying for her room and meals. Her plans were to move to Kentucky and live near a relative, but nothing was certain.

  Judge Battle looked directly at Randy Fanning and said, “Mr. Fanning, I’m granting the relief asked for in this motion, word for word. When you get out of jail, you are not to have any contact with your wife, your own children, or anyone in your wife’s immediate family. Until further orders, you are not to go near the home you and your wife are renting. No contact. Just stay away, understood?”

  Randy leaned over and whispered something to his lawyer. Hump said, “Judge, can he have an hour to get his clothes and things?”

  “One hour. And I’ll send a deputy with him. Let me know when he’s released.”

  Annette stood and said, “Your Honor, my client feels threatened and frightened. When we left court on Monday, we were confronted on the front steps of the courthouse by Mr. Fanning’s brother Tony and a couple of other tough guys. My client was told to dismiss the criminal charges, or else. It was a brief altercation, but unsettling nonetheless.”

  Judge Battle again glared at Randy Fanning, and asked, “This true?”

  Randy said, “I don’t know, Judge, I wasn’t there.”

  “Was your brother?”

  “Maybe. If she says so.”

  “I take a dim view of intimidation, Mr. Fanning. I suggest you have a chat with your brother and get him in line. Otherwise, I’ll call in the sheriff.”

  “Thank you, Your Honor,” Annette said.

  Randy was handcuffed and led away, Hump following along whispering that things were
going to be okay. Judge Battle tapped his gavel and called for a recess. Samantha, Annette, and Phoebe left the courtroom and stepped outside, half expecting more trouble.

  Tony Fanning and a friend were waiting behind a pickup truck parked on Main Street. They saw the ladies and began walking toward them, both smoking and looking tough. “Oh boy,” Annette said under her breath. “He doesn’t scare me,” Phoebe said. The two men blocked the sidewalk, but just as Tony was about to speak, Donovan Gray appeared from nowhere and said loudly, “Well, ladies, how did it go?”

  Tony and his buddy lost every ounce of badness they’d had only seconds earlier. They backed away, avoiding eye contact, and wanting no part of Donovan. “Excuse us, fellas,” Donovan said in an effort to provoke them. As he walked by, his eyes flashed at Tony, who held the glare for only a second before looking away.

  After three straight dinners with Annette and her kids, Samantha begged off, saying she needed to study and retire early. She fixed a bowl of soup on a hot plate, spent another hour on the seminar materials, and put them aside. It was hard to imagine running a general practice on Main Street and trying to survive on no-fault divorces and real estate closings. Annette had said more than once that most of the lawyers in Brady were just scratching out livelihoods and trying to net $30,000 a year. Her salary was $40,000, same as Mattie’s. Annette had laughed when she said, “It’s probably the only place in the country where the legal aid lawyers make more than the average private practitioner.” She said Donovan made far more than anyone else, but then he took greater risks.

  He was also the biggest contributor to the clinic, where all funding was private. There was some foundation money, and a few big law firms from “up north” kicked in generously, but Mattie still struggled to raise the $200,000 annual goal. Annette said, “We’d love to pay you something, but the money’s just not here.” Samantha assured her she was content with the arrangement.

  Her Internet connection was through Annette’s satellite system, perhaps the slowest in North America. “It takes patience,” she had said. Luckily, patience was plentiful these days as Samantha found herself happily settling into a routine that included quiet nights and plenty of sleep. She went online to check the local newspapers, the Times out of Roanoke and the Gazette out of Charleston, West Virginia. In the Gazette she found an interesting story under the headline “Ecoterrorists Suspected in Latest Spree.”

  For the past two years, a gang had been attacking heavy equipment in several strip mines in southern West Virginia. A spokesman for a coal company referred to them as “ecoterrorists” and threatened all manner of reprisals if and when they were caught. Their favorite method of destruction was to wait until predawn hours and fire away from the safety of surrounding hills. They were excellent snipers, used the latest military rifles, and were proving quite efficient in disabling the hundred-ton off-road coal-mining trucks built by Caterpillar. Their rubber tires were fifteen feet in circumference, weighed a thousand pounds, and sold for $18,000 apiece. Each mining truck had six tires, and evidently these were easy targets for the snipers. There was a photo of a dozen yellow trucks, all idle and lined up neatly in an impressive show of muscle. A foreman was pointing to the flat tires—twenty-eight of them. He said a night watchman was startled at 3:40 a.m. when the assault began. In a perfectly coordinated attack, the bullets began hitting the tires, which exploded like small bombs. He wisely took cover in a ditch while calling the sheriff. By the time law enforcement arrived, the snipers had had their fun and were long gone. The sheriff said he was hard at work on the case but conceded it would be difficult to track down the “thugs.” The site, known as the Bull Forge Mine, was next to Winnow Mountain and Helley’s Bluff, both over three thousand feet in height and thick with untouched hardwoods. From deep in those forests, it was easy to hide and easy to fire at trucks, day or night. However, the sheriff said that in his opinion these were not just a bunch of guys with deer rifles having some fun. From wherever they were hiding, they were hitting targets a thousand yards away. The bullets found in some of the tires were 51-millimeter military-style slugs, obviously fired from sophisticated sniper rifles.

  The story recapped recent attacks. The ecoterrorists picked their targets carefully, and since there was no shortage of strip mines on the map, they seemed to wait patiently until the mining trucks were parked in just the right places. It was noted that the snipers seemed to be concerned with avoiding injury to others. They had yet to fire upon a vehicle that wasn’t parked, and many of the mines worked twenty-four hours a day. Six weeks earlier, at the Red Valley site in Martin County, twenty-two tires had been ruined in a barrage that seemed to last only seconds, according to another night watchman. As of now, four coal companies were offering rewards totaling $200,000.

  There was no link to the Bullington Mine attack two years earlier, where, in the most brazen act of sabotage in decades, explosives from the company’s own warehouse were used to damage six dump trucks, two draglines, two track loaders, a temporary office building, and the warehouse itself. Damages exceeded $5 million. No suspects had been arrested; none existed.

  Samantha dug through the newspaper’s archives, and found herself cheering for the ecoterrorists. Later, as she began to doze off, she reluctantly pulled up the New York Times. Except for a rare Sunday morning, back in her New York days, she seldom did more than scan it. Now, avoiding the Business section, she zipped through it but stopped cold in the Dining section. The food critic was trashing a new restaurant in Tribeca, a hot spot she had been to a month earlier. There was a photo of the bar scene, with young professionals stacked two deep, sipping and smiling and waiting for their tables. She remembered the food as excellent and soon lost interest in the reviewer’s complaints. Instead, she stared at the photo. She could hear the din of the crowd; she could feel the frenetic energy. How good would a martini taste right now? And a two-hour dinner with friends, all the while keeping an eye out for cute guys?

  For the first time she felt a bit homesick, but soon brushed it off. She could leave tomorrow if she wanted to. She could certainly earn more money back in the city than she was making in Brady. If she wanted to leave, there was nothing to hold her back.


  The hike began at the end of a long-abandoned logging trail no one but Donovan could have possibly found. The drive getting there required the skill and nerve of a stunt driver, and at times Samantha was certain they were sliding into the valley. But he made it to a small opening heavily shaded with oak, gum, and chestnut, and said, “This is the end of the road.”

  “You call that a road?” she said as she slowly opened her door. He laughed and said, “It’s a four-lane compared to some of these trails.” She was thinking that life in the big city had done nothing to prepare her for this, but she was also thrilled at the thought of adventure. His only advice had been to “wear boots to hike in and neutral clothing.” She understood the boots, but the clothing required an explanation.

  “We have to blend in,” he said. “They’ll be watching for us and we’ll be trespassing.”

  “Any chance of getting arrested again?” she had asked.

  “Slim. They can’t catch us.”

  The boots had been purchased the day before at the dollar store in Brady—$45 and a bit stiff and tight. She wore old khakis and a gray sweatshirt with “Columbia Law” across the front in small letters. He, on the other hand, wore green hunter’s camouflage and state-of-the-art, mail-order hiking boots with a thousand miles on them. He opened the rear hatch of the Jeep and removed a backpack which he slung over his shoulders. When it was in place, he removed a rifle with a large scope. When she saw it she said, “Hunting, are we?”

  “No, it’s for protection. A lot of bears in these parts.”

  She doubted that, but was not sure what to believe. For a few minutes, they walked a trail that someone had used before, but not often. The incline was slight, the undergrowth thick with sassafras, redbud, foamflower, and red catchfly, plant li
fe he casually pointed out as if fluent in another language. For her benefit, he moved at an easy pace, but she knew he could sprint up the mountain anytime he wanted. Soon she was panting and sweating, but she was determined to stay on his heels.

  It was mandatory for all single professionals in the city to own a gym membership, and not just any gym. It had to be the right one—the right place and the right outfit, the right time of the day or night to be seen sweating and grunting and getting properly toned for $250 a month. Samantha’s membership had collapsed under the ruthless demands of Scully & Pershing, had expired two years earlier, and had not been missed in the least. Her workouts had been reduced to long walks in the city. Those, along with light eating habits, had kept the weight off, but she was far from fit. The new boots grew heavier with each turn as they zigzagged upward.

  They stopped at a small clearing and looked through the woods into a long, deep valley with mountain ridges in the distance. The view was spectacular, and she appreciated the break. He waved an arm and said, “These are the most biodiverse mountains in North America, much older than any other range. Home to thousands of species of plants and wildlife not found anywhere else. It took an eternity for them to become what they are.” A pause as he soaked in the scenery. Like a tour guide who needed no prompting, he went on. “About a million years ago, coal began to form, seams of it. That was the curse. Now we’re destroying the mountains as fast as possible to extract it so we can have all the cheap energy we can eat. Every person in this country uses twenty pounds of coal per day. I did some research into coal usage per region; there’s a Web site. Did you know that the average person in Manhattan uses eight pounds of coal each day that comes from strip-mining here in Appalachia?”

  “Sorry, I didn’t know that. Where do the other twelve pounds come from?”

  “Deep mines here in the East. Ohio, Pennsylvania, places where they mine coal the old-fashioned way and protect the mountains.” He sat his backpack on the ground and pulled out binoculars. Through them he scanned the view and found what he wanted. He handed them to her and said, “Over there, at about two o’clock, you can barely see an area that’s gray and brown.” She looked through the binoculars, focused them, and said, “Okay, got it.”

  “That’s the Bull Forge Mine in West Virginia, one of the largest stripping operations we’ve seen.”

  “I read about it last night. They had a little trouble a few months back. Some truck tires were used as target practice.”

  He turned and smiled at her. “Doing your homework, huh?”

  “I have a laptop and it can find Google in Brady. The ecoterrorists struck again, right?”

  “That’s what they say.”

  “Who are these guys?”

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