The litigators, p.6
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       The Litigators, p.6

           John Grisham
 

  “In fact, you’re getting probably 80 percent of the household furnishings, right?”

  “I suppose. What’s wrong with that?”

  “Nothing, except he’s getting most of the cash.”

  “I think it’s fair,” said Mr. Flander.

  “I’m sure you do.”

  “Do you think it’s fair?” she asked.

  Oscar shrugged as if it weren’t his business. “Pretty typical, I’d say. But cash is more important than a trainload of used furniture. You’ll probably move into an apartment, something much smaller, and you won’t have enough room for all your old stuff. He, on the other hand, has money in the bank.”

  She shot a hard look at her soon-to-be-ex-husband. Oscar hammered away. “And your car is three years older, so you’re getting the old car and the old furniture.”

  “It was his idea,” she said.

  “It was not. We agreed.”

  “You wanted the IRA account and the newer car.”

  “That’s because it’s always been my car.”

  “And that’s because you’ve always had the nicer car.”

  “That’s not true, Barbara. Don’t start exaggerating like you always do, okay?”

  Louder, Barbara responded, “And don’t you start lying in front of the lawyer, Cal. We agreed we would come here, tell the truth, and not fight in front of the lawyer. Didn’t we?”

  “Oh, sure, but how can you sit there and say I’ve always had the nicer car? Have you forgotten the Toyota Camry?”

  “Good God, Cal, that was twenty years ago.”

  “Still counts.”

  “Well, yes, I remember it, and I remember the day you wrecked it.”

  Rochelle heard the voices and smiled to herself. She turned a page of her paperback. AC, asleep beside her, suddenly rose to his feet and began a low growl. Rochelle looked at him, then slowly got up and walked to a window. She adjusted the blinds to give herself a view, then she heard it—the distant wail of a siren. As it grew louder, AC’s growl also picked up the volume.

  Oscar was also at a window, casually looking at the intersection in the distance, hoping for a glimpse of the ambulance. It was a habit too hard to break, not that he really wanted to stop. He, along with Wally and now Rochelle and perhaps thousands of lawyers in the city, couldn’t suppress a rush of adrenaline at the sound of an approaching ambulance. And the sight of one flying down the street always made him smile.

  The Flanders, though, were not smiling. They had gone silent, both glaring at him, each hating the other. When the siren faded away, Oscar returned to his chair and said, “Look, folks, if you’re going to fight, I can’t represent both of you.”

  Both were tempted to bolt. Once on the street, they could go their separate ways and find more reputable lawyers, but for a second or two they were not sure what to do. Then Mr. Flander blinked. He jumped to his feet and headed for the door. “Don’t worry about it, Finley. I’ll go find me a real lawyer.” He opened the door, slammed it behind him, then stomped past Rochelle and the dog as they were settling into their places. He yanked open the front door, slammed it too, and happily left Finley & Figg forever.

  CHAPTER 7

  Happy hour ran from five to seven, and Abner decided his new best friend should leave before it started. He called a cab, soaked a clean towel with cold water, then walked to the other side of the bar and gently punched him. “David, wake up, pal, it’s almost five o’clock.” David had been out for an hour. Abner, like all good bartenders, did not want his after-work crowd to see a drunk facedown on the bar, comatose, snoring. Abner touched his face with the towel and said, “Come on, big guy. Party’s over.”

  David suddenly came around. His eyes and mouth flew open as he gawked at Abner. “What, what, what?” he stammered.

  “It’s almost five. Time to go home, David. There’s a cab outside.”

  “Five o’clock!” David shouted, stunned at the news. There were half a dozen other drinkers in the bar, all watching with sympathy. Tomorrow it could be them. David got to his feet and with Abner’s help managed to pull on his overcoat and find his briefcase. “How long have I been here?” he asked, looking around wildly as if he’d just discovered the place.

  “A long time,” Abner replied. He stuffed a business card into a coat pocket and said, “Call me tomorrow and we’ll settle the tab.” Arm in arm they staggered to the front door and through it. The cab was at the curb. Abner opened the rear door, wrestled David into the seat, said “He’s all yours” to the driver, and closed the door.

  David watched him disappear into the bar. He looked at the driver and said, “What’s your name?”

  The driver said something unintelligible, and David barked, “Can you speak English?”

  “Where to, sir?” the driver asked.

  “Now, that’s a really good question. You know any good bars around here?”

  The driver shook his head.

  “I’m not ready to go home, because she’s there and, well, oh, boy.” The inside of the cab had started to spin. There was a loud honk from behind. The driver eased into traffic. “Not so fast,” David said with his eyes closed. They were going ten miles an hour. “Go north,” David said.

  “I need a destination, sir,” the driver said as he turned onto South Dearborn. Rush-hour traffic was already heavy and slow.

  “I might be sick,” David said, swallowing hard and afraid to open his eyes.

  “Please, not in my car.”

  They stopped and started for two blocks. David managed to calm himself. “A destination, sir?” the driver repeated.

  David opened his left eye and looked out the window. Next to the cab was a city transit bus waiting in traffic, packed with weary workers, its exhaust spewing fumes. Along its side was an ad, three feet by one, proclaiming the services of Finley & Figg, Attorneys. “Drunk Driving? Call the Experts. 773-718-JUSTICE.” Address in smaller print. David opened his right eye and for an instant saw the smiling face of Wally Figg. He focused on the word “drunk” and wondered if they could help in some way. Had he seen such ads before? Had he heard of these guys? He wasn’t sure. Nothing was clear; nothing made sense. The cab was suddenly spinning again, and faster now.

  “Four eighteen Preston Avenue,” he said to the driver, then passed out.

  ———

  Rochelle was never in a hurry to leave, because she never wanted to go home. As tense as things could get around the office, they were far tamer than her cramped and chaotic apartment.

  The Flanders’ divorce got off to a rocky start, but with Oscar’s skillful manipulation it was now on track. Mrs. Flander had hired the firm and paid a retainer of $750. It would eventually be worked out and settled on no-fault grounds, but not before Oscar clipped her for a couple of grand. Still, Oscar was fuming over the bingo card and lying in wait for his junior partner.

  Wally rolled in at 5:30, after an exhausting day looking for Krayoxx victims. The search had turned up no one but Chester Marino, but Wally was undaunted. He was onto something big. The clients were out there, and he would find them.

  “Oscar’s on the phone,” Rochelle said. “And he’s upset.”

  “What’s up?” Wally asked.

  “A bingo card showed up: $399.”

  “Pretty clever, huh? My uncle plays bingo at the VFW.”

  “Brilliant.” She gave him the quick version of the Flander situation.

  “See! It worked,” Wally said proudly. “You gotta get ’em in here, Ms. Gibson, that’s what I always say. The $399 is the bait, then you pull the switch. Oscar did it perfectly.”

  “What about false advertising?”

  “Most of what we do is false advertising. Ever hear of Krayoxx? Cholesterol drug?”

  “Maybe. Why?”

  “It’s killing people, okay, and it’s gonna make us rich.”

  “I think I’ve heard this before. He’s off the phone.”

  Wally went straight to Oscar’s door, rapped it as he pushed it op
en, and said, “So you like my bingo card ads, I hear.”

  Oscar was standing at his desk, tie undone, tired, and in need of a drink. Two hours earlier he’d been ready for a fight. Now he just wanted to leave. “Come on, Wally, bingo cards?”

  “Yep, we’re the first law firm in Chicago to use bingo cards.”

  “We’ve been the first several times, and we’re still broke.”

  “Those days are over, my friend,” Wally said as he reached into his briefcase. “Ever hear of a cholesterol drug called Krayoxx?”

  “Yeah, yeah, my wife’s taking it.”

  “Well, Oscar, it’s killing people.”

  Oscar actually smiled, then caught himself. “How do you know this?”

  Wally dropped a stack of research onto Oscar’s desk. “Here’s your homework, all about Krayoxx. A big mass tort firm in Fort Lauderdale sued Varrick Labs last week over Krayoxx, a class action. They claim the drug vastly increases the risk of heart attack and stroke, and they have experts to prove it. Varrick has put more crap on the market than any of the Big Pharmas, and it’s also paid more in damages. Billions. Looks like Krayoxx is its latest boondoggle. The mass tort boys are just now waking up. This is happening now, Oscar, and if we can pick up a dozen or so Krayoxx cases, then we’re rich.”

  “I’ve heard this all before, Wally.”

  When the cab stopped, David was awake again, though semiconscious. With some effort, he managed to toss two $20 bills over the front seat and with even more effort managed to extricate himself from the cab. He watched it drive away, then vomited in the gutter.

  Afterward, he felt much better.

  Rochelle was tidying up her desk and listening to the partners bicker when she heard heavy footsteps on the porch. Something hit the door, then it swung open. The young man was wild-eyed, red-faced, unsteady on his feet, but well dressed.

  “Can I help you?” she said with great suspicion.

  David looked at her but didn’t see her. He looked around the room, wobbled, squinted as he tried to focus.

  “Sir?” she said.

  “I love this place,” he said to her. “I really, really love this place.”

  “How nice. Could I—”

  “I’m looking for a job, and this is where I want to work.”

  AC smelled trouble and walked around the corner of Rochelle’s desk. “How cute!” David said loudly, giggling. “A dog. What’s his name?”

  “AC.”

  “AC. All right. Help me out here. What does AC stand for?”

  “Ambulance Chaser.”

  “I like it. I really, really like it. Does he bite?”

  “Don’t touch him.”

  The two partners had moved quietly into view. They were standing in the door of Oscar’s office. Rochelle gave them a nervous look.

  “This is where I want to work,” David repeated. “I need a job.”

  “Are you a lawyer?” Wally asked.

  “Are you Figg or Finley?”

  “I’m Figg. He’s Finley. Are you a lawyer?”

  “I think so. As of eight o’clock this morning I was employed by Rogan Rothberg, one of six hundred. But I quit, snapped, cracked up, went to a bar. It’s been a long day.” David leaned against the wall to steady himself.

  “What makes you think we’re looking for an associate?” Oscar asked.

  “Associate? I was thinking more in terms of coming straight in as a partner,” David said, then doubled over in laughter. No one else cracked a smile. They were not sure what to do, but Wally would later confess he thought about calling the police.

  When the laughing stopped, David steadied himself again and repeated, “I love this place.”

  “Why are you leaving the big firm?” Wally asked.

  “Oh, lots of reasons. Let’s just say I hate the work, hate the people I work with, and hate the clients.”

  “You’ll fit in here,” Rochelle said.

  “We’re not hiring,” Oscar said.

  “Oh, come on. I went to Harvard Law School. I’ll work part-time—fifty hours a week, half of what I’ve been working. Get it? Part-time?” He laughed again, alone.

  “Sorry, pal,” Wally said dismissively.

  Not too far away, a driver hit the horn, a long frantic sound that could only end badly. Another driver slammed his brakes violently. Another horn, more brakes, and for a long second the firm of Finley & Figg held its collective breath. The crash that followed was thunderous, more impressive than most, and it was obvious that several cars had just mangled themselves at the intersection of Preston, Beech, and Thirty-eighth. Oscar grabbed his overcoat. Rochelle grabbed her sweater. They followed Wally out the front door, leaving the drunk behind to take care of himself.

  Along Preston, other offices emptied as lawyers and their clerks and paralegals raced to inspect the mayhem and offer solace to the injured.

  The pileup involved at least four cars, all damaged and scattered. One was lying on its roof, tires still spinning. There were screams amid the panic and sirens in the distance. Wally ran to a badly crumpled Ford. The front passenger door had been torn off, and a teenage girl was trying to get out. She was dazed and covered in blood. He took her arm and led her away from the wreckage. Rochelle helped as they sat the girl on a nearby bus bench. Wally returned to the carnage in search of other clients. Oscar had already found an eyewitness, someone who could help place blame and thus attract clients. Finley & Figg knew how to work a wreck.

  The teenager’s mother had been in the rear seat, and Wally helped her too. He walked her to the bus bench and into the waiting arms of Rochelle. Vince Gholston, their rival from across the street, appeared, and Wally saw him. “Stay away, Gholston,” he barked. “These are our clients now.”

  “No way, Figg. They’re not signed up.”

  “Stay away, asshole.”

  A crowd grew quickly as onlookers rushed to the scene. Traffic was not moving, and many drivers got out of their cars to take a look. Someone yelled, “I smell gas!” which immediately increased the panic. A Toyota was upside down, and its occupants were trying desperately to get out. A large man with boots kicked at a window but could not break it. People were yelling, screaming. The sirens were getting closer. Wally was circling a Buick whose driver appeared to be unconscious. Oscar was handing out business cards to everyone.

  In the midst of this mayhem, a young man’s voice boomed through the air. “Stay away from our clients!” he yelled, and everyone followed the voice. It was an amazing sight. David Zinc was near the bus bench, holding a large, jagged piece of metal from the wreckage, waving it near the face of a frightened Vince Gholston, who was backing away.

  “These are our clients!” David said angrily. He looked crazed, and there was no doubt he would use the weapon if necessary.

  Oscar moved next to Wally and said, “That kid may have some potential after all.”

  Wally was watching with great admiration. “Let’s sign him up.”

  CHAPTER 8

  When Helen Zinc pulled in to the driveway at 418 Preston, the first thing she noticed was not the well-worn exterior of Finley & Figg, Attorneys-at-Law; rather, it was the flashing neon sign next door advertising massages. She turned off the lights and the engine and sat for a moment to gather her thoughts. Her husband was alive and safe; he’d just had “a few drinks,” according to one Wally Figg, a somewhat pleasant man who’d phoned an hour earlier. Mr. Figg was “sitting with her husband,” whatever that meant. The digital clock on the dash gave the time as 8:20, so for almost twelve hours now she had been worrying frantically over his whereabouts and safety. Now that she knew he was alive, she was thinking of ways to kill him.

  She glanced around, taking in the neighborhood, disapproving of everything about it, then got out of her BMW and slowly headed for the door. She had asked Mr. Figg how, exactly, her husband made his

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