The litigators, p.7
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       The Litigators, p.7

           John Grisham

  way from the tall buildings of downtown Chicago to the blue-collar neighborhood around Preston Avenue. Mr. Figg had said he didn’t have all the details, and it would be best if they talked about it later.

  She opened the front door. A cheap bell rattled. A dog growled at her but made no effort to attack.

  Rochelle Gibson and Oscar Finley were gone. Wally was sitting at the table, clipping obituaries from old newspapers, and dining on a bag of chips and a diet soda. He stood quickly, swiped his hands on his pants, and offered a big smile. “You must be Helen,” he said.

  “I am,” she said, almost flinching as he thrust out a hand to shake.

  “I’m Wally Figg,” he said, already sizing her up. A very nice package. Short auburn hair, hazel eyes behind chic designer frames, five feet eight, slender, well dressed. Wally approved. He then turned and waved an arm in the direction of the cluttered table. Beyond it, against the wall, was an old leather sofa, and on the sofa was David Zinc, dead to the world, comatose again. His right pants leg was torn—a small wound from the car smashup and its aftermath—but other than that he looked quite undisturbed.

  Helen took a few steps over and gave him a look. “Are you sure he’s alive?” she asked.

  “Oh yes, very much so. He got into a scuffle at the car wreck and tore his pants.”

  “A scuffle?”

  “Yep, guy named Gholston, a slimeball across the street, was trying to steal one of our clients after the big wreck, and David here chased him off with a piece of metal. Somehow he tore his pants.”

  Helen, who had endured enough for one day, shook her head.

  “Would you like something to drink? Coffee, water, Scotch?”

  “I don’t drink alcohol,” she said.

  Wally looked at her, looked at David, looked back at her. Must be a strange marriage, he thought.

  “Neither do I,” he said proudly. “There’s fresh coffee. I made a pot for David, and he drank two cups before taking his little nap.”

  “Yes, thank you,” she said.

  They sipped coffee at the table and spoke softly. “The best I can tell,” Wally said, “is that he snapped on the elevator this morning as he was going to work. Cracked up, left the building, and wound up in a bar where he pretty much spent the whole day drinking.”

  “That’s what I gather,” she said. “But how did he get here?”

  “Haven’t got that far yet, but I gotta tell you, Helen, he says he’s not going back, says he wants to stay here and work.”

  She couldn’t help herself as she glanced around the large, open, cluttered room. It would be difficult to imagine a place that appeared to be less prosperous. “Your dog?” she asked.

  “That’s AC, the firm dog. He lives here.”

  “How many lawyers are in your firm?”

  “Just two. It’s a boutique firm. I’m the junior partner. Oscar Finley’s the senior partner.”

  “And what kind of work would David do here?”

  “We specialize in injury and death cases.”

  “Like all those guys who advertise on television?”

  “We don’t do TV,” Wally said smugly. If she only knew. He worked on his scripts all the time. He fought with Oscar about spending the money. He watched with envy as other injury lawyers flooded the airwaves with ads that, in his opinion, were almost always poorly done. And, most painfully, he imagined all the lost fees from all the lost cases scooped up by less talented lawyers willing to roll the dice on a TV budget.

  David made a gurgling sound and followed it up with a quick nasal snort, and though he was at least making noises, there was no indication he was anywhere near consciousness.

  “Do you think he’ll remember any of this in the morning?” she asked as she frowned at her husband.

  “Hard to say,” Wally observed. His romance with alcohol was long and ugly, and he had spent many fogged-in mornings struggling to remember what had happened. Wally took a sip and said, “Look, really none of my business and all, but does he do this often? He says he wants to work here, and, well, we need to know if he might have a problem with the bottle.”

  “He doesn’t drink much at all. Never has. He might occasionally at a party, but he works too hard to drink much. And since I rarely touch the stuff, we don’t keep it around the house.”

  “Just curious. I’ve had my problems.”

  “I’m sorry.”

  “No, it’s okay. I’ve been sober for sixty days now.”

  That didn’t impress Helen as much as it worried her. Wally was still fighting the bottle, with victory far away. She was suddenly tired of the conversation and tired of the place. “I suppose I should take him home.”

  “Yes, I suppose. Or he could stay here with the dog.”

  “That’s what he deserves, you know? He should wake up in the morning here on the sofa, still dressed, a splitting headache, upset stomach, parched tongue, and have no idea where he is. That would serve him right, don’t you think?”

  “It would, but I’d rather not clean up after him again.”

  “He’s already—”

  “Twice. Once on the porch, once in the restroom.”

  “I’m so sorry.”

  “It’s okay. But he needs to go home.”

  “I know. Let’s get him up.”

  Once awake, David chatted pleasantly with his wife as if nothing had happened. He walked unaided from the office, down the front steps, and to the car. He yelled a long good-bye and a hearty thanks to Wally and even offered to drive. Helen declined. They left Preston and headed north.

  For five minutes nothing was said. Then Helen casually began, “Look, I think I have most of the major plot points, but just a few details might help. Where was the bar?”

  “Abner’s. A few blocks from the office.” He was sitting low, with the collar of his overcoat turned up over his ears.

  “Been there before?”

  “No, great place, though. I’ll take you there sometime.”

  “Sure. Why not tomorrow? And you walked into Abner’s at what time this morning?”

  “Between 7:30 and 8:00. I fled the office, ran a few blocks, found Abner’s.”

  “And started drinking?”

  “Oh yes.”

  “Recall what you consumed?”

  “Well, let’s see.” He paused as he tried to remember. “For breakfast, I had four of Abner’s special Bloody Marys. They’re really good. Then I had a plate of onion rings and several pints of beer. Miss Spence showed up, and I had two of her Pearl Harbors, wouldn’t want to do that again.”

  “Miss Spence?”

  “Yep. She shows up every day, same stool, same drink, same everything.”

  “And you liked her?”

  “I adored her. Very cute, hot.”

  “I see. She married?”

  “No, a widow. She’s ninety-four and worth a few billion.”

  “Any other women?”

  “Oh no, just Miss Spence. She left sometime around noon, and, uh, let’s see. I had a burger and fries for lunch, then back to the beer, and then at some point I took a nap.”

  “You blacked out?”


  A pause as she drove and he stared out the windshield.

  “So how did you get from the bar to that law office back there?”

  “A cab. Paid the guy forty bucks.”

  “Where did you get into the cab?”

  A pause. “Don’t remember that.”

  “Now we’re making progress. And the big question: How did you find Finley & Figg?”

  David began shaking his head as he pondered this. Finally, he said, “I have no idea.”

  There was so much to talk about. The drinking—could there be a problem, in spite of what she’d told Wally? Rogan Rothberg—was he going back? Should she bring up Roy Barton’s ultimatum? Finley & Figg—was he serious? Helen had a lot on her mind, plenty to say, a long list of complaints, but at the same time she couldn’t help but be slightly amused.
She had never seen her husband so plastered, and the fact that he’d jumped from a tall building downtown and landed in the outback would soon become a family tale of legendary proportions. He was safe, and that was really all that mattered. And he probably wasn’t crazy. The crack-up could be dealt with.

  “I have a question,” he said, his eyelids getting heavier.

  “I have lots of questions,” she replied.

  “I’m sure you do, but I don’t want to talk now. Save it for tomorrow when I’m sober, okay? It’s not fair to hammer me now when I’m drunk.”

  “Fair enough. What’s your question?”

  “Are your parents, by chance, in our home at this moment?”

  “Yes. They’ve been there for some time. They’re very concerned.”

  “How nice. Look, I’m not walking into our home if your parents are there, got that? I don’t want them to see me like this. Understand?”

  “They love you, David. You scared all of us.”

  “Why is everyone so scared? I texted you twice and said I was okay. You knew I was alive. What’s all the panic about?”

  “Don’t get me started.”

  “So I had a bad day, what’s the big deal?”

  “A bad day?”

  “Actually, it was a pretty good day, come to think of it.”

  “Why don’t we argue tomorrow, David? Isn’t that what you asked?”

  “Yes, but I’m not getting out of the car until they leave. Please.”

  They were on the Stevenson Expressway, and traffic was heavier. Nothing was said as they inched along. David struggled to stay awake. Helen finally picked up the cell phone and called her parents.


  About once a month Rochelle Gibson arrived for work expecting her usual quiet time, only to find the office already opened, the coffee brewed, the dog fed, and Mr. Figg bustling around with excitement over a new scheme to stalk injured people. This irritated her immensely. It not only ruined the few tranquil moments in her otherwise noisy day but also meant more work.

  She was barely inside the door when Wally nailed her with a hearty “Well, good morning, Ms. Gibson,” as if he were surprised to see her arrive at work at 7:30 on a Thursday.

  “Good morning, Mr. Figg,” she replied with far less enthusiasm. She almost added “And what brings you here so early?” but held her tongue. She would hear about his scheme soon enough.

  With coffee, yogurt, and the newspaper, she settled at her desk and tried to ignore him.

  “I met David’s wife last night,” Wally said from the table across the room. “Very cute and nice. Said he doesn’t drink much, maybe blows it out from time to time. I think the pressure gets to him occasionally. I know that’s my story. Always the pressure.”

  When Wally drank, he needed no excuse. He boozed it up after a hard day, and he had wine with lunch on an easy day. He drank when he was stressed, and he drank on the golf course. Rochelle had seen and heard it all before. She also kept up with the score—sixty-one days without a drink. That was the story of Wally’s life—a count of some sort always in progress. Days on the wagon. Days until his driving suspension was over. Days until his current divorce was final. And sadly, days until he was released from rehab.

  “What time did she get him?” she asked without looking up from the newspaper.

  “After eight. He walked out of here, even asked if he could drive. She said no.”

  “Was she upset?”

  “She was pretty cool. Relieved more than anything else. The big question is whether he’ll remember anything. And if he does, then the question is whether he’ll find us again. Will he really walk away from the big firm and the big bucks? I got my doubts.”

  Rochelle had her doubts too, but she was trying to minimize the conversation. Finley & Figg was not the place for a big-firm type with a Harvard degree, and, frankly, she didn’t want another lawyer complicating her life. She had her hands full with these two.

  “I could use him, though,” Wally went on, and Rochelle knew the latest scheme was now on the way. “You ever hear of a cholesterol drug called Krayoxx?”

  “You’ve already asked me this.”

  “It causes heart attacks and strokes, and the truth is just now coming out. The first wave of litigation is unfolding, could be tens of thousands of cases before it’s over. The mass tort lawyers are all over it. I talked to a big firm in Fort Lauderdale yesterday. They’ve already filed a class action and are looking for more cases.”

  Rochelle turned a page as if she were hearing nothing.

  “Anyway, I’m spending the next few days looking for Krayoxx cases, and I could sure use some help. Are you listening, Ms. Gibson?”


  “How many names are in our client database, both active and retired?”

  She took a bite of yogurt and seemed exasperated. “We have about two hundred active files,” she said.

  At Finley & Figg, though, a file deemed active was not necessarily one that received attention. More often than not, it was simply a neglected file that no one had bothered to retire. Wally usually had about thirty files he would touch in a week’s time—divorces, wills, estates, injuries, drunk drivers, small contract disputes—and another fifty or so he diligently avoided. Oscar, who was more willing to take on a new client but was also slightly more organized than his junior partner, had about one hundred open files. Throw in a few that were lost, hidden, or unaccounted for, and the number was always around two hundred.

  “And retired?” he asked.

  A sip of coffee, another grunt. “Last time I checked, the computer showed three thousand files retired since 1991. I don’t know what’s upstairs.”

  Upstairs was the final resting place for everything—old law books, outdated computers and word processors, unused office supplies, and dozens of boxes of files Oscar had retired before he added Wally as a partner.

  “Three thousand,” Wally said with a satisfied grin, as if such a large number were clear evidence of a long and successful career. “Here’s the plan, Ms. Gibson. I have drafted a letter that I want you to print on our stationery. It goes to every client, current and past, active and retired. Every name in our client database.”

  Rochelle thought of all the unhappy clients who had left Finley & Figg. The unpaid fees, the nasty letters, the threats of malpractice lawsuits. She even kept a file labeled “Threats.” Over the years, half a dozen or so disgruntled ex-clients had been angry enough to put their feelings on paper. A couple promised ambushes and beatings. One mentioned a sniper’s rifle.

  Why not leave these poor people alone? They had suffered enough having passed through the office the first time.

  Wally jumped to his feet and walked over with the letter. She had no choice but to take it and read it.

  Dear _______:

  Beware of Krayoxx! This cholesterol drug, made by Varrick Labs, has been proven to cause heart attacks and strokes. Though it has been on the market for six years, scientific evidence is just now revealing the deadly side effects of this drug. If you are using Krayoxx, stop immediately.

  The law firm of Finley & Figg is at the forefront of Krayoxx litigation. We will soon be joining a national class action lawsuit in a highly complicated move to bring Varrick to justice.

  We need your involvement! If you or anyone you know has a history with Krayoxx, you may have a case. More important, if you know of anyone who has taken Krayoxx and has suffered a heart attack or stroke, please call immediately. A lawyer from Finley & Figg will be at your home within hours.

  Don’t hesitate. Call now. We anticipate a huge settlement.

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