The litigators, p.33
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       The Litigators, p.33

           John Grisham

  fast-food dinners. The arrival of Emma had briefly interrupted things, but before long they were packing her along for the visits. A ritual had clearly been established. As Helen approached the apartment building with the baby, Lwin and Zaw, mother and grandmother, bolted from the door and raced to see the baby. Inside, Lynn and Erin, Thuya’s two older sisters, sat side by side on the sofa, waiting eagerly to get their hands on Emma. Helen would place her gently in one of the laps, and the girls and their mother and grandmother would chatter and squeal and act as if they had never before seen an infant. They gently passed her around, back and forth with great care. This would go on for a long time while the men were starving.

  Thuya watched it from his high chair and seemed amused. Each week David and Helen hoped to see some tiny sign of improvement in his condition, and each week they were disappointed. As his doctors predicted, progress was highly unlikely. The damage was, after all, permanent.

  David sat by him, rubbed his head as always, and handed him a French fry. He chatted with Soe and Lu as the women formed a gaggle around the baby. Eventually, they made their way to the table, where they were delighted to learn that David and Helen would be eating with them. They usually avoided burgers and fries, but not tonight. David explained that they were a bit rushed and would not have time to take Thuya out for a drive.

  Halfway through a cheeseburger, David’s cell phone vibrated in his coat pocket. He looked at it, jumped to his feet, whispered “It’s Wally” to Helen, and stepped outside the front door.

  “Where are you, Wally?”

  In a weak, dying voice, the reply came, “I’m drunk, David. So drunk.”

  “That’s what we figured. Where are you?”

  “You gotta help me, David. There’s no one else. Oscar won’t talk to me.”

  “Sure, Wally, you know I’ll help, but where are you?”

  “At the office.”

  “I’ll be there in forty-five minutes.”

  He was on the sofa next to the table, snoring, AC nearby watching him with great suspicion. It was Wednesday night, and David assumed, correctly, that Wally’s last shower had been bright and early Monday morning, the day the retrial commenced, six days after Oscar’s dramatic collapse, and six days after Wally’s legendary mistrial. No shower, no shave, no change of clothes—he was wearing the same navy suit and white shirt as when David had last seen him. The tie was missing. The shirt was heavily stained. There was a slight tear on the right leg of his trousers. Dried mud caked the soles of his new black wing tips. David tapped his shoulder and called his name. Nothing. His face was red and puffy, but there were no bruises, cuts, or scrapes. Perhaps he had not been brawling in bars. David wanted to know where he had been, but then he didn’t. Wally was safe. There would be time for questions later, one being “How’d you get here?” His car was nowhere in sight, which was somewhat of a relief. Maybe, drunk as he was, Wally had the presence of mind not to drive. On the other hand, his car could have been wrecked, stolen, or repossessed.

  David punched him on the biceps and yelled from six inches away. Wally’s heavy breathing paused for a second, then continued. AC was whining, so David let him out for a pee and made a pot of coffee. He sent a text to Helen: “Drunk as a skunk but alive. Not sure what’s next.” He called Rochelle and passed along the news. A call to Oscar’s cell went straight to voice mail.

  Wally rallied an hour later and took a cup of coffee. “Thanks, David,” he said over and over. Then, “Have you called Lisa?”

  “And who might Lisa be?”

  “My wife. You need to call her, David. That sonofabitch Oscar won’t talk to me.”

  David decided to play along, to see where the chatter might go. “I did call Lisa.”

  “You did? What did she say?”

  “Said you guys got a divorce years ago.”

  “That sounds just like her.” He was staring at his feet, glassy-eyed, unable or unwilling to make eye contact.

  “She said she still loves you, though,” David said, just for the fun of it.

  Wally started crying, the way drunks do when they cry over nothing and everything. David felt a little lousy but a lot more amused.

  “I’m sorry,” Wally said, wiping his face with a forearm. “I’m so sorry, David, thank you. Oscar won’t talk to me, you know. Laid up in my apartment, hiding from his wife, cleaning out my refrigerator. I came home, had the door locked and chained. We had a big fight, neighbors called the police, I barely got away. Running away from my own apartment now, what kinda deal is that?”

  “When did this happen?”

  “I don’t know. An hour ago, maybe. Not real sharp on times and days right now for some reason. Thank you, David.”

  “You’re welcome. Look, Wally, we need to put together a plan. Sounds like your apartment is off-limits. If you want to sleep here tonight and sober up, I’ll pull up a chair and keep you company. AC and I will get you through this.”

  “I need help, David. Ain’t just a matter of sobering up.”

  “Okay, but getting sober will be an important first step.”

  Wally suddenly burst into laughter. He threw his head back and laughed as loud as humanly possible. He shook, squealed, gyrated, coughed, lost his breath, wiped his cheeks, and when he couldn’t laugh anymore, he sat and chuckled for several minutes. When things were under control, he glanced at David and laughed again.

  “Got something you’d like to share, Wally?”

  Working hard to suppress more laughter, he said, “I just thought of the first time you came here, remember?”

  “I remember some of it.”

  “I’ve never seen anybody drunker. All day in a bar, right?”


  “Falling-down drunk, then you took a swing at that prickhead Gholston across the street, almost hit him too.”

  “That’s what I’ve heard.”

  “I looked at Oscar, he looked at me, we said, ‘This guy has potential.’ ” A pause as he drifted away for a moment. “You threw up twice. Now who’s drunk and who’s sober?”

  “We’re gonna get you sober, Wally.”

  His body was no longer shaking, and he was silent for a long time. “Do you ever wonder what you got yourself into here, David? You had it all, big firm, big salary, life in the lawyers’ fast lane.”

  “I have no regrets, Wally,” David said. For the most part, it was a true statement.

  Another long pause and Wally cradled his coffee cup with both hands and stared into it. “What’s gonna happen to me, David? I’m forty-six years old, broker than ever, humiliated, a drunk who can’t stay away from the sauce, a washed-up street lawyer who thought he could play in the big leagues.”

  “Now is not the time to ponder the future, Wally. What you need is a good detox, get all the alcohol out of your system, then you can make decisions.”

  “I don’t want to be like Oscar. He’s seventeen years older than me, and in seventeen years I don’t want to be here doing the same shit we do every day, you know, David? Thank you.”

  “You’re welcome.”

  “Do you wanna be here in seventeen years?”

  “I really haven’t thought about it. I’m just trying to get through this trial.”

  “What trial?”

  He didn’t appear to be joking or pretending, so David let it pass. “You went through rehab a year ago, didn’t you, Wally?”

  He grimaced as he struggled to remember his last rehab. “What’s today?”

  “Today is Wednesday, October 26.”

  Wally began nodding. “Yes, October of last year. In for thirty days, a great time.”

  “Where was the rehab?”

  “Oh, Harbor House, just north of Waukegan. My favorite. It’s right on the lake, beautiful. I guess we should call Patrick.” He was reaching for his wallet.

  “And who’s Patrick?”

  “My counselor,” Wally said, handing over a business card. Harbor House—Where a New Life Begins. Patrick Hale, Tea
m Leader. “You can call Patrick any time of the day. It’s part of his job.”

  David left a message on Patrick’s voice mail, said he was a friend of Wally Figg’s and it was important that they speak soon. Moments later, David’s cell vibrated. It was Patrick, truly sorry to hear the bad news about Wally, but ready to help immediately. “Don’t let him out of your sight,” Patrick said. “Please, bring him in now. I’ll meet you at the House in an hour.”

  “Let’s go, big boy,” David said, grabbing Wally by the arm. He stood, found his balance, and they walked arm in arm out of the building to David’s SUV. By the time they accelerated onto I-94 North, Wally was snoring again.

  With the help of his GPS, David found Harbor House an hour after they left the office. It was a small, private treatment facility, tucked away in the woods just north of Waukegan, Illinois. David was unable to rouse Wally, so he left him and went inside, where Patrick Hale was waiting in the reception room. Patrick sent two white-robed orderlies with a stretcher out to fetch Wally, and five minutes later they wheeled him in, still unconscious. David followed Patrick to a small office where paperwork was waiting.

  “How many times has he been here?” David asked in an effort to make conversation. “He seems to know the place well.”

  “I’m afraid that’s confidential, at least on our end.” His warm smile had vanished when he closed the office door.


  Patrick was looking at some papers on a clipboard. “We have a slight problem with Wally’s account, Mr. Zinc, and I’m not sure what to do about it. You see, when Wally checked out a year ago, his insurance would pay only $1,000 a day for his treatment here. Because of our exceptional treatment, and results, and facilities and staff, we charge $1,500 a day. Wally left here owing slightly less than $14,000. He’s made a few payments, but his balance is still at $11,000.”

  “I am not responsible for his medical bills or his treatment for alcoholism. I have nothing to do with his insurance.”

  “Well, then, we will not be able to keep him.”

  “You can’t make money charging $1,000 a day?”

  “Let’s not get into that, Mr. Zinc. We charge what we charge. We have sixty beds and none are empty.”

  “Wally’s forty-six years old. Why does he need someone to co-sign?”

  “Normally, he wouldn’t, but he’s not good at paying his bills.”

  And that was before Krayoxx, David thought to himself. You should see his balance sheet now.

  “How long do you plan to keep him this time?” David asked.

  “His insurance will cover thirty days.”

  “So it’s thirty days, regardless of how much progress is made with your patient. It’s all driven by the insurance company, right?”

  “That’s the reality of it.”

  “That sucks. What if a patient needs more time? I have a friend from high school who crashed and burned on cocaine. Did the thirty-day gig a few times, never stuck. It finally took a hard year in a locked-down facility to get him clean and committed.”

  “We can all tell stories, Mr. Zinc.”

  “I’m sure you can.” David threw up his hands. “Okay, Mr. Hale, what’s the deal? You and I both know he’s not leaving here tonight because he’ll hurt himself.”

  “We can forgive the past-due account, but we will require someone to co-sign for the uninsured portion going forward.”

  “And that’s $500 a day? Not a penny more.”


  David yanked out his wallet, removed a credit card, and tossed it on the desk. “Here’s my American Express. I’m good for ten days max. I’ll come get him in ten days, and then I’ll think of something else to do.”

  Patrick quickly scribbled down the credit card info and handed back the card. “He needs more than ten days.”

  “Of course he does. He’s proven that thirty is not enough.”

  “Most alcoholics require three or four efforts, if they are in fact ultimately successful.”

  “Ten days, Mr. Hale. I don’t have much money, and practicing law with Wally is proving to be less than profitable. I don’t know what you do here, but do it faster. I’ll be back in ten days.”

  As he approached the intersection of the Tri-State Tollway, a dashboard warning light flashed red. He was almost out of gas. For the past three days, he had never once checked his fuel gauge.

  The truck stop was crowded, grungy, in need of a renovation. There was a diner on one side and a convenience store on the other. David filled his tank, paid by credit card, and went inside to buy a soft drink. There was only one cashier and a line of waiting customers, so he took his time, found a Diet Coke and a bag of peanuts, and was headed to the front of the store when he stopped dead cold.

  The rack was crammed with cheap Halloween toys, gadgets, and trinkets. In the middle, at eye level, was a clear plastic container with brightly colored … Nasty Teeth. He grabbed it and went straight for the fine print on the label. Made in China. Imported by Gunderson Toys, Louisville, Kentucky. He collected all four packets, evidence of course, but he also wanted to yank the crap off the market before another kid got sick. The cashier gave him a weird look as she rang up his purchases. He paid in cash and hustled back to his SUV. He pulled away from the pumps and parked under a bright overhanging light near the 18-wheelers.

  Using his iPhone, he Googled Gunderson Toys. The company was forty years old and had once been privately owned. Four years earlier, it had been purchased by Sonesta Games Inc., the third-largest toy company in America.

  He had a file on Sonesta.


  Reuben Massey arrived after dark on a Varrick Gulfstream G650. He landed at Midway Airport and was immediately scooped up by an entourage that sped away in black Cadillac Escalades. Thirty minutes later he entered the Trust Tower and was whisked high into the sky to the 101st floor, where Rogan Rothberg kept an elegant private dining room that was used by only the most senior partners and their most important clients. Nicholas Walker and Judy Beck were waiting, along with Nadine Karros and Marvin Macklow, the managing partner of the law firm. A waiter wearing a white tux brought cocktails as everyone was properly introduced and became comfortable with each other. Reuben had been wanting to meet, and examine, Nadine Karros for many months. He was not disappointed. She turned on the charm, and after the first cocktail Reuben was thoroughly smitten. He ran the ladies hard and was always on the prowl, and, well, you never know what might happen with a new acquaintance. However, according to the scouting report, she was happily married, and her only diversion was working. In the ten months Nick Walker had known Nadine, he had seen nothing less than a complete devotion to professionalism. “It’s not going to work,” he said to his boss back at the home office.

  Per Reuben’s preference, dinner was a lobster salad with pasta shells. He sat next to Nadine and hung on her every word. He went heavy on the praise for her handling of the case and the trial. He, along with everyone around the table, was anxiously awaiting a momentous verdict.

  “We’re here to have a conversation,” Nick said after the dessert plates were removed and the door closed. “But first, I would like Nadine to tell us what’s up next in the courtroom.”

  Without hesitation, she began her summary. “We are presuming the plaintiff has no more witnesses. If the pharmacologist were to appear in the morning, he would be allowed to testify, but according to our sources Dr. Threadgill is still hiding at home in Cincinnati. So, the plaintiff should rest its case at 9:00 a.m. At that point, we have a choice. First, and obvious, is to move for summary judgment. Judge Seawright allows this to be done both orally and in writing. We’ll do both at the same time, if we choose to go that route. In my opinion, which is shared by my trial team, there is an excellent chance Judge Seawright will grant our motion immediately. The plaintiff has failed to establish even the most basic elements of a case, and everyone, including the plaintiff’s lawyer, knows this. Judge Seawright has never liked this c
ase, and, frankly, I get the impression he can’t wait to toss it.”

  “What’s his history with summary judgment motions made after the plaintiff rests?” Reuben asked.

  “In the past twenty years, he’s granted more than any other federal judge in Chicago and the State of Illinois. He has zero patience with cases that cannot reach even the lowest standard of proof.”

  “But I want a verdict,” Reuben said.

  “Then we will forget summary judgment and start putting on witnesses. We have a lot, you’ve paid for them, and they will be unimpeachable. But I have a strong feeling that this jury is fed up.”

  “Absolutely,” said Nick Walker, who had been in the courtroom for every word. “I suspect they’ve already started their deliberations, in spite of Judge Seawright’s admonitions.”

  Judy Beck added, “Our consultants feel strongly that we should finish the case as soon as possible, definitely before the weekend. The verdict is all but in.”

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