Page 2 of The Street Lawyer

If the nine of us had a vote, Rafter would be the first sacrificial lamb. Eight to one.

"Hello," Mister said. He listened briefly, then hung up. He carefully backed himself into the seat at the end of the table and sat down.

"Take the rope," he said to me.

He wanted all eight of them attached at the wrists. I cut rope and tied knots and tried my best not to look at the faces of my colleagues as I hastened their deaths. I could feel the gun at my back. He wanted them bound tightly, and I made a show of practically drawing blood while leaving as much slack as possible.

Rafter mumbled something under his breath and I wanted to slap him. Umstead was able to flex his wrists so that the ropes almost fell loose when I finished with him. Malamud was sweating and breathing rapidly. He was the oldest, the only parmer, and two years past his first heart attack.

I couldn't help but look at Barry Nuzzo, my one friend in the bunch. We were the same age, thirty-two, and had joined the firm the same year. He went to Princeton, I went to Yale. Both of our wives were from Providence. His marriage was working--three kids in four years. Mine was in the final stage of a long deterioration.

Our eyes met and we both were thinking about his kids. I felt lucky to be childless.

The first of many sirens came into range, and Mister instructed me to close the blinds over the five large windows. I went about this methodically, scanning the parking lot below as if being seen might somehow save me. A lone police car sat empty with its lights on; the cops were already in the building.

And there we were, nine white boys and Mister.

* * *

At last count, Drake & Sweeney had eight hundred lawyers in offices around the world. Half of them were in D.C., in the building Mister was terrorizing. He instructed me to call "the boss" and inform him that he was armed and wired with twelve sticks of dynamite. I called Rudolph, managing parmer of my division, antitrust, and relayed the message.

"You okay, Mike?" he asked me. We were on Mister's new speakerphone, at full volme.

"Wonderful," I said. "Please do whatever he wants."

"What does he want?"

"I don't know yet." Mister waved the gun and the conversation was over. Taking my cue from the pistol, I assumed a standing position next to the conference table, a few feet from Mister, who had developed the irritating habit of playing absentmindedly with the wires coiled against his chest.

He glanced down and gave a slight tug at a red wire. "This red one here, I give it a yank and it's all over." The sunglasses were looking at me when he finished this litfie warning. I felt compelled to say something.

"Why would you do that?" I asked, desperate to open a dialogue.

"I don't want to, but why not?"

I was struck by his diction--a slow, methodical rhythm with no hurry and each syllable getting equal treatment. He was a street bum at the moment, but there had been better days.

"Why would you want to kill us?" I asked.

"I'm not going to argue with you," he announced. No further questions, Your honor.

Because I'm a lawyer and live by the clock, I checked my watch so that whatever happened could be duly recorded, if we somehow managed to survive. It was one-twenty. Mister wanted things quiet, and so we endured a nerve-racking period of silence that lasted fourteen minutes.

I could not believe that we were going to die. There appeared to be no motive, no reason to kill us. I was certain that none of us had ever met him before. I remembered the ride on the elevator, and the fact that he seemed to have no particular destination. He was just a nut in search of hostages, which unfortunately would have made the killings seem almost normal by today's standards.

It was precisely the kind of senseless slaughter that would grab the headlines for twenty-four hours and make people shake their heads. Then the dead lawyer jokes would start.

I could see the headlines and hear the reporters, but I refused to believe it would happen.

I heard voices in the foyer, sirens outside; a police radio squawked somewhere down the hallway.

"What did you eat for lunch?" Mister asked me, his voice breaking the silence. Too surprised to consider lying, I hesitated for a second, then said, "A grilled chicken Caesar."

"Alone?"

"No, I met a friend." He was a law school buddy from Philly.

"How much did it cost, for both of you?"

"Thirty bucks."

He didn't like this. "Thirty bucks," he repeated. "For two people." He shook his head, then looked at the eight litigators. If he polled them, I hoped they planned to lie. There were some serious stomachs among the group, and thirty bucks wouldn't cover their appetizers.

"You know what I had?" he asked me.

"No."

"I had soup. Soup and crackers at a shelter. Free soup, and I was glad to get it. You could feed a hundred of my friends for thirty bucks, you know that?"

I nodded gravely, as if I suddenly realized the weight of my sin.

"Collect all the wallets, money, watches, jewelry," he said, waving the gun again.

"May I ask why?" I asked.

"No."

I placed my wallet, watch, and cash on the table, and began rummaging through the pockets of my fellow hostages.

"It's for the next of kin," Mister said, and we all exhaled.

He instructed me to place the loot in a briefcase, lock it, and call "the boss" again. Rudolph answered on the first ring. I could envision the SWAT leader camped in his office.

"Rudolph, it's me, Mike, again. I'm on the speakerphone."

"Yes, Mike. Are you okay?"

"Just fine. Look, this gentleman wants me to open the door nearest the reception area and place a black briefcase in the hallway. I will then close the door and lock it. Understand?"

"Yes."

With the gun touching the back of my head, I slowly cracked the door and tossed the briefcase into the hallway. I did not see a person anywhere.

* * *

Few things can keep a big-firm lawyer from the joys of hourly billing. Sleep is one, though most of us slept little. Eating actually encouraged billing, especially lunch when the client was picking up the check. As the minutes dragged on, I caught myself wondering how in the world the other four hundred lawyers in the building would manage to bill while waiting for the hostage crisis to end. I could just see them out there in the parking lot, most of them sitting in their cars to keep warm, chatting away on cell phones, billing somebody. The firm, I decided, wouldn't miss a beat.

Some of the cutthroats clown there didn't care how it ended. Just hurry up and get it over with.

Mister seemed to doze for a second. His chin dipped, and his breathing was heavier. Rafter grunted to get my attention, then jerked his head to one side as if to suggest I make a move. Problem was, Mister held the gun with his right hand, and if he was indeed napping, then he was doing so with the dreaded red wire held firmly in his left hand.

And Rafter wanted me to be the hero. Though Rafter was the meanest and most effective litigator in the firm, he was not yet a parmer. He was not in my division, and we weren't in the Army. I didn't take orders.

"How much money did you make last year?" Mister, very much awake, asked me, his voice clear.

Again, I was startled. "I, uh, gosh, let me see--"

"Don't lie."

"A hundred and twenty thousand."

He didn't like this either. "How much did you give away ?"

"Give away?"

"Yes. To charities."

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