"How original. Let me ask you something. What will you do if you wake up one day and you're, let's say, sixty years old. You're tired of saving the world because it can't be saved. You don't have a pot to piss in, not a dime, no firm, no partners, no wife making big bucks as a brain surgeon, nobody to catch you. What will you do?"
"Well, I've thought about that, and I figure I'll have this big brother who's filthy rich. So I'll give you a call."
"What if I'm dead?"
"Put me in your will. The prodigal brother."
We became interested in our food, and the conversation waned. Warner was arrogant enough to think that a blunt confrontation would snap me back to my senses. A few sharp insights from him on the consequences of my missteps, and I would ditch the poverty act and get a real job. "I'll talk to him," I could hear him say to my parents.
He had a few jabs left. He asked what the benefit package was at the 14th Street Legal Clinic. Quite lean, I told him. What about a retirement plan? None that I knew of. He embraced the opinion that I should spend only a couple of years saving souls before returning to the real world. I thanked him. And he offered the splendid advice that perhaps I should search for a likeminded woman, but with money, and marry her.
We said good-bye on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant. I assured him I knew what I was doing, that I would be fine, and that his report to our parents should be optimistic. "Don't worry them, Warner. Tell them everything is wonderful here."
"Call me if you get hungry," he said in an effort at humor.
I waved him off and walked away.
* * *
The Pylon Grill was an all-night coffee shop in Foggy Bottom, near George Washington University. It was known as a hangout for insomniacs and news addicts. The earliest edition of the Post arrived each night just before twelve, and the place was as busy as a good deli during lunch. I bought a paper and sat at the bar, which was an odd sight because every person there was buried in the news. I was struck by how quiet the Pylon was. The Post had just arrived, minutes before me, and thirty people were poring over it as if a war had been declared.
The story was a natural for the Post. It began on page one, under a bold headline, and was continued on page ten where the photos were--a photo of Lontae taken from the placards at the rally for justice, one of Mordecai when he was ten years younger, and a set of three, which no doubt would humiliate the bluebloods at Drake & Sweeney. Arthur Jacobs was in the center, a mug shot of Tilhnan Gantry was on the left, and on the right was a mug shot of DeVon Hardy, who was linked to the story only because he'd been evicted and got himself killed in a newsworthy fashion.
Arthur Jacobs and two felons, two African-American criminals with little numbers across their chests, lined up as equals on page ten of the Post.
I could see them huddled in their offices and conference rooms, doors locked, phones unplugged, meetings canceled. They would plan their responses, devise a hundred different strategies, call in their public relations people. It would be their darkest hour.
The fax wars would begin early. Copies of the trio would be sent to law offices coast to coast, and every big firm in the world of corporate law would have a laugh.
Gantry looked extremely menacing, and it scared me to think we had picked a fight with him.
And then there was the photo of me, the same one the paper used the Saturday before when it announced my arrest. I was described as the link between the firm and Lontae Burton, though the reporter had no way of knowing I'd actually met her.
The story was long and thorough. It began with the eviction, and all the participants therein, including Hardy, who surfaced seven days later at the offices of Drake & Sweeney where he took hostages, one of whom was me. From me it went to Mordecai, then to the deaths of the Burtons. It mentioned my arrest, though I had been careful to tell the reporter little about the disputed file.
He was true to his word--we were never referred to by name, only as informed sources. I couldn't have written it better myself.
Not a word from any of the defendants. It appeared as if the reporter made little or no effort to contact them.
Warner called me at 5 A.M. "Are you awake?" he asked. He was in his hotel suite, hyper, bouncing off the walls with a hundred comments and questions about the lawsuit. He'd seen the paper.
Trying to stay warm in my sleeping bag, I listened as he told me exactly how to proceed with the case. Warner was a litigator, a very good one, and the jury appeal of the Burton case was more than he could stand. We hadn't asked for enough in damages--ten million wouldn't cut it. The right jury, and the sky was the limit. Oh, how he'd love to try it himself. And what about Mordecai? Was he a trial lawyer?
And the fee? Surely we had a forty percent contract. There might be hope for me after all.
"Ten percent," I said, still in the darkness.
"What! Ten percent! Are you out of your mind?"
"We're a nonprofit firm," I tried to explain, but he wasn't listening. He cursed me for not being greedier.
The file was a huge problem, he said, as if we had not thought about it. "Can you prove your case without the file?"
He howled with laughter at the sight of old man Jacobs sitting there in the paper with a convict on each side. His flight to Atlanta left in two hours. he'd be at his desk by nine. He couldn't wait to pass around the photos. He would start faxing them to the West Coast immediately.
He hung up in the middle of a sentence.
I'd slept for three hours. I turned a few times, but further sleep escaped me. There had been too many changes in my life to rest comfortably.
I showered and left, drank coffee with the Pakistanis until sunrise, then bought cookies for Ruby.
There were two strange cars parked at the corner of Fourteenth and Q, next to our office. I drove by slowly at seven-thirty, and my instincts told me to keep going. Ruby was not sitting on the front steps.
If Tillman Gantry thought violence would somehow help his defense of the lawsuit, he wouldn't hesitate to use it. Mordecai had cautioned me, though no warning was necessary. I called him at home and told him what I had seen. He would arrive at eight-thirty, and we agreed to meet then. He would warn Sofia. Abraham was out of town.
* * *
For two weeks my primary focus had been on the lawsuit. There had been other significant distractions-Claire, moving out, learning the ropes of a new career but the case against RiverOaks and my old firm was never far from my mind. There was a prefiling frenzy with any large case, then a deep breath and a pleasant calmness after the bomb hit and the dust settled.
Gantry didn't kill us the day after we sued him and his two co-defendants. The office was quite normal. The phones were no busier than usual. The foot traffic was the same. With the lawsuit temporarily set aside, my other cases were easier to concentrate on.
I could only imagine the panic in the marbled halls of Drake & Sweeney. There would be no smiles, no gossip by the coffeepot, no jokes or sports talk in the hallways. A funeral parlor would be rowdier.
In antitrust, those who knew me best would be especially somber. Polly would be stoic, detached, and forever efficient. Rudolph wouldn't leave his office except to huddle with the higher-ups.
The only sad aspect of slandering four hundred lawyers was the inescapable reality that almost all of them were not only innocent of wrongdoing but completely ignorant of the facts. No one cared what happened in real estate. Few people knew Braden Chance. I was there seven years before I met the man, and then it was only because I went looking for him. I felt sorry for the innocent ones--the old-timers who'd built a great firm and trained us well; the guys in my class who would carry on the tradition of excellence; the rookies who had awakened to the news that their esteemed employer was somehow responsible for wrongful deaths.