The litigators, p.9
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       The Litigators, p.9

           John Grisham
 

  “I’m sure you’re right about that. This is us,” Wally said, pointing to the heavy double doors of a courtroom. A sign said: “Circuit Court of Cook County—Divorce Division, Hon. Charles Bradbury.”

  “Who’s Bradbury?” David asked.

  “You’re about to meet him.”

  Wally opened the door, and they stepped inside. There were a few spectators scattered through the rows of benches. The lawyers were seated up front, bored and waiting. The witness chair was empty; no trial was in progress. Judge Bradbury was reviewing a document and taking his time. David and Wally sat in the second row. Wally scanned the courtroom, saw his client, smiled, and nodded.

  He whispered to David, “This is known as an open day, as opposed to a trial day. Generally speaking, you can get motions granted, routine matters approved, crap like that. That lady over there in the short yellow dress is our beloved client DeeAnna Nuxhall, and she thinks she’s about to get another divorce.”

  “Another?” David asked as he glanced over. DeeAnna winked at him. Bleached blonde, huge chest, legs everywhere.

  “I’ve done one already. This would be my second. I think she has a prior.”

  “Looks like a stripper.”

  “Nothing would surprise me.”

  Judge Bradbury signed some papers. Lawyers approached the bench, chatted with him, got what they wanted, and left. Fifteen minutes passed, and Wally was getting anxious.

  “Mr. Figg,” the judge said.

  Wally and David walked through the bar, past the tables, and approached the bench, a low one that allowed the lawyers to almost see eye to eye with His Honor. Bradbury shoved the microphone away so they could chat without being heard. “What’s up?” he said.

  “We have a new associate, Your Honor,” Wally said proudly. “Meet David Zinc.” David reached over and shook hands with the judge, who received him warmly. “Welcome to my courtroom,” he said.

  “David’s been with a big firm downtown. Now he wants to see the real side of justice,” Wally said.

  “You won’t learn much from Figg,” Bradbury said with a chuckle.

  “He went to Harvard Law School,” Wally said, even prouder.

  “Then what are you doing here?” the judge asked, and appeared to be dead serious.

  “Got sick of the big firm,” David said.

  Wally was handing over some paperwork. “We have a slight problem here, Judge. My client is the lovely DeeAnna Nuxhall, fourth row left, in the yellow dress.” Bradbury peered slightly over his reading glasses and said, “She looks familiar.”

  “Yep, she was here about a year ago, second or third divorce.”

  “Same dress, I think.”

  “Yes, I think so too. Same dress, but the boobs are new.”

  “You getting any?”

  “Not yet.”

  David felt faint. The judge and the lawyer were discussing sex with the client in open court, though no one could hear.

  “What’s the problem?” Bradbury asked.

  “I haven’t been paid. She owes three hundred bucks, and I can’t seem to squeeze it out of her.”

  “What parts have you squeezed?”

  “Ha-ha. She refuses to pay, Judge.”

  “I need a closer look.”

  Wally turned and motioned for Ms. Nuxhall to join them at the bench. She stood and wiggled herself from between the benches, then proceeded to the front. The lawyers went mute. The two bailiffs woke up. The other spectators gawked. The dress was even shorter when she walked, and she wore platform spiked heels that would make a hooker blush. David eased as far away as possible when she joined the boys at the bench.

  Judge Bradbury pretended not to notice her. He was far too occupied with the contents of the court file. “Basic no-fault divorce, right, Mr. Figg?”

  “That’s correct, Your Honor,” Wally replied properly.

  “Is everything in order?”

  “Yes, except for the small matter of my fee.”

  “I just noticed that,” Bradbury said with a frown. “It looks as though there is a balance of $300, right?”

  “That’s correct, Your Honor.”

  Bradbury peered over his reading glasses and took in the chest first, then the eyes. “Are you prepared to take care of the fee, Ms. Nuxhall?”

  “Yes, Your Honor,” she said in a squeaky voice. “But I’ll have to wait until next week. You see, I’m getting married this Saturday, and, well, I just can’t swing it right now.”

  His eyes dancing from her chest to her face, His Honor said, “It’s my experience, Ms. Nuxhall, in divorce cases the fees are never paid after the fact. I expect my lawyers to be taken care of, to be paid, before I sign the final orders. What is the total fee, Mr. Figg?”

  “Six hundred. She paid half up front.”

  “Six hundred?” Bradbury said, feigning disbelief. “That’s a very reasonable fee, Ms. Nuxhall. Why haven’t you paid your lawyer?” Her eyes were suddenly wet.

  The lawyers and spectators couldn’t hear the details, but they nonetheless kept their eyes on DeeAnna, especially her legs and shoes. David backed away even more, shocked at this shakedown in open court.

  Bradbury moved in for the kill. He raised his voice slightly and said, “I’m not granting this divorce today, Ms. Nuxhall. You get your lawyer paid, then I’ll sign the papers. You understand this?”

  Wiping her cheeks, she said, “Please.”

  “I’m sorry, but I run a tight ship. I insist that all obligations be met—alimony, child support, legal fees. It’s just $300. Go borrow it from a friend.”

  “I’ve tried, Your Honor, but—”

  “Please. I hear this all the time. You’re excused.”

  She turned around and walked away, His Honor leering at every step. Wally watched too, shaking his head, marveling, as if ready to pounce. When the door closed, the courtroom breathed again. Judge Bradbury took a sip of water and said, “Anything else?”

  “One more, Judge. Joannie Brenner. No-fault, complete property settlement, no children, and, most important, my fee has been paid in full.”

  “Get her up here.”

  “I’m not sure I’m cut out for divorce law,” David admitted. They were back on the street, inching along in noon traffic, leaving the Daley Center behind.

  “Great, you’ve been to court one time now, for less than an hour, and you’re already streamlining your practice,” Wally replied.

  “Do most judges do what Bradbury just did?”

  “What? You mean protect his lawyers? No, most judges have forgotten what it’s like to be in the trenches. As soon as they put on the black robe, they forget. Bradbury, he’s different. He remembers what a bunch of creeps we represent.”

  “So what happens now? Will DeeAnna get her divorce?”

  “She’ll stop by the office this afternoon with the money, and we’ll get the divorce on Friday. She gets married on Saturday, and in six months or so she’ll be back for another divorce.”

  “I rest my case. I’m not cut out for divorce work.”

  “Oh, it sucks all right. Ninety percent of what we do sucks. We hustle the nickel-and-dime stuff to pay the overhead and dream of the big case. But last night, David, I didn’t dream, and I’ll tell you why. Ever hear of a drug called Krayoxx, a cholesterol drug?”

  “No.”

  “Well, you will. It’s killing people right and left, no doubt the next big mass tort wave of litigation, and we gotta get in fast. Where are you going?”

  “I need to run a quick errand, and since we’re downtown, it won’t take a second.”

  A minute later, David parked illegally outside of Abner’s. “Ever been here?” he asked.

  “Oh, sure. There aren’t many bars with which I’m unacquainted, David. But it’s been a while.”

  “This is where I spent yesterday, and I need to pay my bar bill.”

  “Why didn’t you pay it yesterday?”

  “Because I couldn’t find my pockets, remember?”

&n
bsp; “I’ll wait in the car,” Wally said, then took a long, lustful look at the door into Abner’s.

  Miss Spence was on her throne, eyes glazed, cheeks red, in another world. Abner was hustling around the bar, mixing drinks, pouring beer, sliding along platters of burgers. David caught him near the cash register and said, “Hey, I’m back.”

  Abner smiled and said, “So you’re alive after all.”

  “Oh, sure. Just left court. You got my tab somewhere close?”

  Abner fished through a drawer and pulled out a ticket. “Let’s call it a hundred and thirty bucks.”

  “Is that all?” David handed over two $100 bills and said, “Keep it.”

  “Your chick is over there,” Abner said, nodding at Miss Spence, whose eyes were temporarily closed.

  “She’s not as cute today,” David said.

  “I gotta friend in finance, he was in last night, says she’s worth eight billion.”

  “On second thought.”

  “I think she likes you, but you’d better hurry.”

  “I’d better leave her alone. Thanks for taking care of me.”

  “No problem. Come back and see me sometime.”

  Highly unlikely, David thought as they quickly shook hands.

  CHAPTER 11

  For an unlicensed driver, Wally proved to be a skillful navigator. Somewhere near Midway Airport, he directed David through a series of quick turns onto short streets, delivered them from two impossible dead ends, insisted he drive two blocks the wrong way, and did it all with a nonstop monologue that included “I know this place like the back of my hand” several times. They parked at the curb in front of a sagging duplex with aluminum foil covering the windows, a barbecue grill on the front porch, and a huge orange cat guarding the front door.

  “And who lives here?” David asked, taking in the run-down neighborhood. Two sketchy teenagers across the street seemed fascinated by his shiny Audi.

  “Here liveth a lovely woman by the name of Iris Klopeck, widow of Percy Klopeck, who died about eighteen months ago at the age of forty-eight, died in his sleep. Very sad. They came to see me about a divorce one time but then changed their minds. As I recall, he was rather obese, but not nearly as large as she.”

  The two lawyers were sitting in the car talking, as if they did not want to get out. Only a couple of FBI agents in black suits and a black sedan could have been more conspicuous.

  “So, why are we here?” David asked.

  “Krayoxx, my friend, Krayoxx. I want to talk to Iris and see if by chance Percy had been on the drug when he died. If so, then voilà! We have another Krayoxx case, worth somewhere between two and four mill. Any more questions?”

  Oh, dozens of questions. David’s mind was spinning as he realized they were about to cold-call Ms. Klopeck to inquire about her dead husband. “Is she expecting us?” he asked.

  “I haven’t called, have you?”

  “No, actually.”

  Wally yanked open the door and got out. David reluctantly did the same and managed to frown at the teenagers admiring his car. The orange cat refused to move from the doormat. The doorbell could not be heard from outside, so Wally commenced knocking. Louder and louder, while David continued to glance nervously at the street. Finally, a chain was heard, then a crack in the door.

  “Who is it?” a woman asked.

  “Attorney Wally Figg, looking for Ms. Iris Klopeck.”

  The door opened, and through the glass storm door Iris presented herself. As large as advertised, she wore what appeared to be a beige bedsheet with openings for her head and arms. “Who are you?” she asked.

  “Wally Figg, Iris. I met you and Percy when you were thinking about a divorce. Probably three years ago. You guys came to my office over on Preston.”

  “Percy’s dead,” she said.

  “Yes, I know. I’m sorry. That’s why I’m here. I want to talk about his death. I’m curious about what medications he was taking when he died.”

  “Why does it matter?”

  “Because there’s a lot of litigation over cholesterol drugs and painkillers and antidepressants. Some of these drugs killed thousands of people. There could be a lot of money on the table.”

  A pause as she looked at them. “The house is a wreck,” she said. What a surprise, thought David. They followed her inside to a narrow, dirty kitchen and sat at the table. She fixed instant coffee in three mix-matched Bears mugs, then sat across from them. David’s chair was a flimsy wooden model that felt as though it might collapse any second. Hers appeared to be of the same variety. The trip to the door, then to the kitchen, along with the preparation of the coffee, had winded her. There was sweat on her spongy forehead.

  Wally finally got around to introducing David to Ms. Klopeck. “David went to Harvard Law, and he’s just joined our firm,” Wally said. She did not offer a hand to shake, nor did Mr. Harvard. She could not have cared less where David, Wally, or anyone else went to college or law school. Her breathing was as noisy as an old furnace. The room smelled of dried cat urine and yesterday’s nicotine.

  Wally again expressed his phony condolences for dear Percy’s demise, then quickly got to the point. “The main drug I’m after is called Krayoxx, a cholesterol drug. Was Percy taking it when he died?”

  With no hesitation, she said, “Yes. He’d taken it for years. I used to take it, but I quit.”

  Wally was at once thrilled by Percy’s usage and disappointed that Iris had given it up.

  “Something wrong with Krayoxx?” she asked.

  “Oh yes, very wrong,” Wally said, rubbing his hands together. He launched into what was becoming a fluid and compelling case against Krayoxx and Varrick Labs. He cherry-picked facts and figures from the preliminary research that was being touted by the mass tort lawyers. He quoted heavily from the one-sided lawsuit filed in Fort Lauderdale. He made a convincing case that time was of the essence and Iris needed to sign on with Finley & Figg immediately.

  “How much will it cost me?” she asked.

  “Not a penny,” Wally fired back. “We front the expenses of litigation and take 40 percent of the recovery.”

  The coffee tasted like saltwater. After one sip, David wanted to spit. Iris, though, seemed to savor it. She took a long drink, swirled it around her mammoth mouth, then swallowed. “Forty percent sounds like a lot,” she said.

  “This is very complicated litigation, Iris, against a corporation with a zillion dollars and a thousand lawyers. Look at it like this: Right now you have 60 percent of nothing. In a year or two, if you hire our firm, you could have 60 percent of something big.”

  “How big?”

  “Tough question, Iris, but then I remember that you always ask the tough questions. That’s what I always liked about you. Tough question, and to be honest, I can’t answer it, because no one can predict what a jury might do. The jury might see the truth about Krayoxx and get ticked off at Varrick and give you five million bucks. Or, the jury might believe the lies put forth by Varrick and its shifty lawyers and give you nothing. Me, I tend to think the case will go for around a million bucks, Iris, but you gotta understand that I’m not making any promises.” He looked at David and said, “Right, David, we can’t make promises in cases like this? Nothing is guaranteed.”

  “That’s right,” David said convincingly, the new mass tort specialist.

  She sloshed some more saltwater around her mouth and glared at Wally. “I could sure use some help,” she said. “It’s just me and Clint, and he’s only working part-time these days.” Wally and David were taking notes and nodding along as if they knew exactly who Clint was. She did not bother to elaborate. “I’m living off $1,200 a month Social Security, so anything you can get would be great.”

  “We’ll get you something, Iris. I feel sure of it.”

 
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