The litigators, p.5
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       The Litigators, p.5

           John Grisham
 

  along with all Cubs fans. Her eyes danced as she told the well-known story of the Curse of the Billy Goat. Her eyes moistened when she remembered, in detail, the Great Fall of 1969. She took a long sip after recounting the infamous June Swoon of 1977. She let it slip that her late husband had once tried to buy the team but was somehow outmaneuvered.

  After two Pearl Harbors, she was fairly smashed. The third was putting her away. She had no curiosity about David’s situation; rather, she preferred to do most of the talking, and David, who was in slow motion, was content to just sit and listen. Abner ventured by occasionally, making sure she was happy.

  At precisely 12:15, just as Abner’s lunch business hit full stride, her Asian driver arrived to collect her. She drained her glass, said good-bye to Abner, made no effort to pay a tab, thanked David for the company, and left the bar, her left hand tucked inside her driver’s elbow and her right hand working the cane. Her walk was slow, but erect, proud. She’d be back.

  “Who was that?” David asked Abner when he got close enough.

  “I’ll tell you later. You having lunch?”

  “Sure. Those burgers look good. Double cheese, with fries.”

  “You got it.”

  The cabdriver’s name was Bowie, and he was a talker. As they left the third funeral home, his curiosity could no longer be restrained. “Say, pal, I gotta ask,” he chirped over his shoulder. “What’s with all these funeral homes?”

  Wally had covered the rear seat in obituary pages, city maps, and legal pads. “Let’s head over to Wood & Ferguson on 103rd Street near Beverly Park,” he said, temporarily ignoring Bowie’s question. They had been together for almost two hours, and the meter was approaching $180, a nice chunk in terms of cab fare but chump change in the context of Krayoxx litigation. According to some of the news articles Lyle Marino had given him, the lawyers were speculating that a wrongful death case involving the drug could potentially be worth $2 to $4 million. The lawyers would take 40 percent, and Finley & Figg would, of course, have to share their fee with Zell & Potter or another tort firm spearheading the litigation. Still, after all the fee splitting, the drug was a gold mine. The urgent issue was finding the cases. As they rushed around Chicago, Wally was confident he was the only lawyer out of a million in the city who was, at that moment, shrewd enough to be combing the streets in search of Krayoxx victims.

  According to another article, the drug’s dangers had just been discovered. And another one, quoting a trial lawyer, said that the medical community and the public in general were not yet aware of the “Krayoxx fiasco.” But Wally was now aware, and he didn’t care how much he spent on cab fare.

  “I was asking about all these funeral homes,” Bowie chirped again. He was not going away, and he would not be ignored.

  “It’s one o’clock,” Wally announced. “You had lunch?”

  “Lunch? I’ve been with you for the past two hours. You seen me eat lunch?”

  “I’m hungry. There’s a Taco Bell up there on the right. Let’s use the drive-thru.”

  “You’re paying, right?”

  “Right.”

  “I love Taco Bell.”

  Bowie ordered soft tacos for himself and a burrito supreme for his passenger. As they waited in line, Bowie said, “So I keep thinking, ‘What’s this guy doing at all these funeral homes?’ you know? None of my business, but I’ve been driving for eighteen years, and I’ve never had a ride who popped in on funeral homes all over town. Never had a ride who had that many friends, know what I mean?”

  “You’re right about one thing,” Wally said, looking up from even more of Lyle’s research. “It’s none of your business.”

  “Wow. Zinged me on that one, didn’t you? Pegged you for a nice guy.”

  “I’m a lawyer.”

  “From bad to worse. Just kidding, you know, my uncle’s a lawyer. Jerk.”

  Wally handed him a $20 bill. Bowie took the sack of food and distributed it. Back on the street, he crammed a taco into his mouth and stopped talking.

  CHAPTER 6

  Rochelle was secretly reading a romance novel when she heard footsteps on the front porch. She deftly stuffed the paperback into a drawer and moved her fingertips to the keyboard so she seemed to be hard at work when the door opened. A man and a woman entered timidly, their eyes darting around, almost in fear. This was not unusual. Rochelle had seen a thousand come and go, and they almost always entered with grim and suspecting faces. And why not? They wouldn’t be there if they were not in trouble, and for most it was their first visit to a law office.

  “Good afternoon,” she said professionally.

  “We’re looking for a lawyer,” the man said.

  “Divorce lawyer,” the woman corrected. It was immediately obvious to Rochelle that she had been correcting him for some time, and he was probably fed up. They were in their sixties, though, a bit too old for a divorce.

  Rochelle managed a smile and said, “Please have a seat.” She pointed to two nearby chairs. “I’ll need to take down some basic information.”

  “Can we see a lawyer without an appointment?” the man asked.

  “I think so,” Rochelle said. They backed into the chairs and sat down, then both managed to scoot the chairs farther away from each other. This could get ugly, Rochelle thought. She pulled out a questionnaire and found a pen. “Your names, please. Full names.”

  “Calvin A. Flander,” he said, beating her to the punch.

  “Barbara Marie Scarbro Flander,” she said. “Scarbro’s the maiden name, and I might take it up again, haven’t decided yet, but everything else has been worked out, and we’ve even signed a property settlement agreement, one I found online, and it’s all right here.” She was holding a large sealed envelope.

  “She just asked for your name,” Mr. Flander said.

  “I got that.”

  “Can she take her old name back? I mean, you know, it’s been forty-two years since she’s used it, and I keep telling her that no one will know who she is if she starts going by Scarbro again.”

  “It’s a helluva lot better than Flander,” Barbara shot back. “Flander sounds like someplace in Europe or somebody who sleeps around—fi-lander or fi-lander-er. Don’t you think so?”

  Both were staring at Rochelle, who calmly asked, “Any minor children under the age of eighteen?”

  Both shook their heads. “Two grown,” Mrs. Flander said. “Six grandkids.”

  “She didn’t ask about grandkids,” Mr. Flander said.

  “Well, I damn sure told her, didn’t I?”

  Rochelle managed to guide them through birth dates, address, Social Security numbers, and employment histories without serious conflict. “And you say you’ve been married for forty-two years?”

  Both nodded defiantly.

  She was tempted to ask why, and what went wrong, and couldn’t this be salvaged? But she knew better than to start that conversation. Let the lawyers deal with it. “You mentioned a property settlement. I assume what you have in mind is a no-fault divorce, on the grounds of irreconcilable differences.”

  “That’s right,” Mr. Flander said. And the sooner the better.

  “It’s all right here,” Mrs. Flander said, clutching the envelope.

  “House, cars, bank accounts, retirement accounts, credit cards, debts, even furniture and appliances?” Rochelle asked.

  “Everything,” he said.

  “It’s all right here,” Mrs. Flander said again.

  “And you’re both satisfied with the agreement?”

  “Oh yes,” he said. “We’ve done all the work, all we need is for a lawyer to draw up the papers and go to court with us. No hassle whatsoever.”

  “That’s the only way to do it,” Rochelle said, the voice of experience. “I’ll get one of our lawyers to meet with you and go into more detail. Our firm charges $750 for a no-fault divorce, and we require half of that to be paid at the initial conference. The other half is due on the day you go to court.”

>   The Flanders reacted differently. Her jaw dropped in disbelief, as if Rochelle had demanded $10,000 in cash. His eyes narrowed and his forehead wrinkled, as if this was exactly what he expected—a first-class shaft job by a bunch of slimy lawyers. Not a word, until Rochelle asked, “Is something wrong?”

  Mr. Flander growled, “What is this, the old bait and switch? This firm advertises no-fault divorces for $399, then you get us in the door and double the price.”

  Rochelle’s immediate reaction was to ask herself, What has Wally done now? He advertised so much, in so many ways, and in so many odd places that it was impossible to keep up with him.

  Mr. Flander stood abruptly, yanked something from his pocket, and tossed it on Rochelle’s desk. “Look at this,” he said. It was a bingo card from VFW Post 178, McKinley Park. Across the bottom was a bright yellow ad announcing: “Finley & Figg, Attorneys, No-Fault Divorces as Easy as Pie, $399. Call 773-718-JUSTICE.”

  Rochelle had been surprised so many times that she should have been immune. But bingo cards? She had watched as prospective clients rifled through purses, and bags, and pockets to pull out church bulletins, football programs, Rotary Club raffles, coupons, and a hundred other little pieces of propaganda that Attorney Figg littered around Greater Chicago in his ceaseless quest to drum up business. And now he’d done it again. She had to admit that she was indeed surprised.

  The firm’s fee schedule was always a moving target, with the costs of representation subject to change on the fly depending on the client and the situation. A nicely dressed couple driving a late-model car might get a quote of $1,000 for a no-fault from one lawyer, and an hour later a working stiff and his haggard wife could negotiate half that much from the other lawyer. Part of Rochelle’s daily grind was ironing out fee disputes and discrepancies.

  Bingo cards? Easy as pie for $399? Oscar would blow a gasket.

  “Okay,” she said calmly, as if bingo card advertising were a long tradition at their firm. “I need to see your property settlement.”

  Mrs. Flander handed it over. Rochelle scanned it quickly, then gave it back.

  “Let me see if Mr. Finley is in,” she said. She took the bingo card with her.

  Oscar’s door was closed, as always. The firm had a rigid closed-door policy that kept the lawyers shielded from each other and from the street traffic and riffraff that ventured in. From Rochelle’s perch near the front, she could see every door—Oscar’s, Wally’s, the kitchen, the downstairs restroom, the copy room, and a small junk room used for storage. She also knew the lawyers had a tendency to listen quietly through their closed doors when she was grilling a prospective client. Wally had a side door he often used to escape from a client who promised trouble, but Oscar did not. She knew he was at his desk, and since Wally was hitting the funeral homes, she had no choice.

  She closed his door behind her and placed the bingo card in front of Mr. Finley. “You’re not going to believe this,” she said.

  “What’s he done now?” Oscar asked as he scanned the card. “Three hundred and ninety-nine dollars?”

  “Yep.”

  “I thought we agreed that $500 was the minimum for a no-fault?”

  “No, we agreed on $750, then $600, then $1,000, then $500. Next week I’m sure we’ll agree on something else.”

  “I will not do a divorce for $400. I’ve been a lawyer for thirty-two years, and I will not prostitute myself for such a meager fee. Do you hear me, Ms. Gibson?”

  “I’ve heard this before.”

  “Let Figg do it. It’s his case. His bingo card. I’m too busy.”

  “Right, but Figg’s not here, and you’re not really that busy.”

  “Where is he?”

  “He’s visiting the dead, one of his funeral laps around town.”

  “What’s his scheme this time?”

  “Don’t know yet.”

  “This morning it was Taser guns.”

  Oscar laid the bingo card on his desk and stared at it. He shook his head, mumbled to himself, and asked, “What kind of tormented mind could even conceive of the notion of advertising on bingo cards in a VFW?”

  “Figg,” she said without hesitation.

  “I might have to strangle him.”

  “I’ll hold him down.”

  “Dump this riffraff on his desk. Make an appointment. They can come back later. It’s an outrage that people think they can just walk in off the street and see a lawyer, even Figg, without an appointment. Give me a little dignity, okay?”

  “Okay, you have dignity. Look, they have some assets and almost no debt. They’re in their sixties, kids are gone. I say you split ’em up, keep her, start the meter.”

  By 3:00 p.m., Abner’s was quiet again. Eddie had somehow disappeared with the lunch crowd, and David Zinc was alone at the bar. Four middle-aged men were getting drunk in a booth as they made big plans for a bonefishing trip to Mexico.

  Abner was washing glasses in a small sink near the beer taps. He was talking about Miss Spence. “Her last husband was Angus Spence. Ring a bell?”

  David shook his head. At that moment, nothing rang a bell. The lights were on, but no one was home.

  “Angus was the billionaire no one knew. Owned a bunch of potash deposits in Canada and Australia. Died ten years ago, left her with a bundle. She would be on the Forbes list, but they can’t find all the assets. The old man was too smart. She lives in a penthouse on the lake, comes in every day at eleven, has three Pearl Harbors for lunch, leaves at 12:15 when the crowd comes in, and I guess she goes home and sleeps it off.”

  “I think she’s cute.”

  “She’s ninety-four.”

  “She didn’t pay her tab.”

  “She doesn’t get a tab. She sends me a thousand bucks every month. She wants that stool and three drinks and her privacy. I’ve never seen her talk to anyone before. You should consider yourself lucky.”

  “She wants my body.”

  “Well, you know where to find her.”

  David took a small sip of a Guinness stout. Rogan Rothberg was a distant memory. He wasn’t so sure about Helen, and he really didn’t care. He had decided to get wonderfully drunk and enjoy the moment. Tomorrow would be brutal, and he would deal with it then. Nothing, absolutely nothing, could interfere with this delightful slide into oblivion.

  Abner slid a cup of coffee in front of him and said, “Just brewed it.”

  David ignored it. He said, “So you work on retainer, huh? Just like a law firm. What could I get for a thousand bucks a month?”

  “At the rate you’re going, a thousand won’t touch it. Have you called your wife, David?”

  “Look, Abner, you’re a bartender, not a marriage counselor. This is a big day for me, a day that will change my life forever. I’m in the middle of a major crack-up, or meltdown, or whatever it is. My life will never be the same, so let me enjoy this moment.”

  “I’ll call you a cab whenever you want.”

  “I’m not going anywhere.”

  For initial client conferences, Oscar always put on his dark jacket and straightened his tie. It was important to set the tone, and a lawyer in a black suit meant power, knowledge, and authority. Oscar firmly believed the image also conveyed the message that he did not work cheap, though he usually did.

  He pored over the proposed property settlement, frowning as if it had been drafted by a couple of idiots. The Flanders were on the other side of his desk. They occasionally glanced around to take in the Ego Wall, a potpourri of framed photos showing Mr. Finley grinning and shaking hands with unknown celebrities, and framed certificates purporting to show that Mr. Finley was highly trained and skilled, and a few plaques that were clear proof he had been justly recognized over the years. The other walls were lined with shelves packed with thick, somber law books and treatises, more proof still that Mr. Finley knew his stuff.

  “What’s the value of the house?” he asked without taking his eyes off the agreement.

  “Around two-fifty,” Mr. Fl
ander replied.

  “I think it’s more,” Mrs. Flander added.

  “This is not a good time to be selling a house,” Oscar said wisely, though every homeowner in America knew the market was weak. More silence as the wise man studied their work.

  He lowered the papers and peered over his drugstore reading glasses into the expectant eyes of Mrs. Flander. “You’re getting the washer and dryer, along with the microwave, treadmill, and flat-screen television?”

  “Well, yes.”

 
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