"They are horrified of a trial," he told me.
Our theory was strong enough to withstand their attacks, he explained to them. Either through intentional acts or gross negligence, the eviction was carried out. It was foreseeable that our clients would be forced into the streets with no place to live, in February. He could convey this wonderfully simple idea to any jury in the country, but it would especially appeal to the good folks in the District.
Weary of arguing liability, Arthur moved to their strongest hand--me. Specifically, my actions in taking the file from Chance's office, and doing so after being told I couldn't have it. Their position was not negotiable. They were willing to drop the criminal charges if a settlement could be reached in the civil suit, but I had to face disciplinary action on their ethics complaint.
"What do they want?" I asked.
"A two-year suspension," Mordecai said gravely.
I couldn't respond. Two years, non-negotiable.
"I told them they were nuts," he said, but not as emphatically as I would have liked. "No way."
It was easier to remain silent. I kept repeating to myself the words Two years. Two years.
They jockeyed some more on the money, without closing the gap. Actually, they agreed on nothing, except for a plan to meet again as soon as possible.
The last thing Mordecai did was hand them a copy of the Marquis Deese lawsuit, yet to be filed. It listed the same three defendants, and demanded the paltry sum of fifty thousand dollars for his wrongful eviction. More would follow, Mordecai promised them. In fact, our plans were to file a couple each week until all evictees had been accounted for.
"You plan to provide a copy of this to the newspapers?" Rafter asked.
"Why not?" Mordecai said. "Once it's fled, it's public record."
"It's just that, well, we've had enough of the press."
"You started the pissing contest."
"You leaked the story of Michael's arrest."
"We did not."
"Then how did the Post get his photograph?"
Arthur told Rafter to shut up.
* * *
Alone in my office with the door closed, I stared at the walls for an hour before the settlement began to make sense. The firm was willing to pay a lot of money to avoid two things: further humiliation, and the spectacle of a trial that could cause serious financial damage. If I handed over the file, they would drop the criminal charges. Everything would fold neatly into place, except that the firm wanted some measure of satisfaction.
I was not only a turncoat, but in their eyes I was responsible for the entire mess. I was the link between their dirty secrets, well hidden up in the tower, and the exposure the lawsuit had cast upon them. The public disgrace was reason enough to hate me; the prospect of stripping them of their beloved cash was fueling their hunger for revenge.
And I had done it all with inside information, at least in their collective opinion. Apparently, they did not know of Hector's involvement. I had stolen the file, found everything I needed, then pieced together the lawsuit.
I was Judas. Sadly, I understood them.
Long after Sofia and Abraham had left, I was sitting in the semidarkness of my office when Mordecai walked through the door and setfled into one of two sturdy folding chairs I'd bought at a flea market for six bucks. A matching pair. A prior owner had painted them maroon. They were quite ugly, but at least I had stopped worrying about clients and visitors collapsing in mid-sentence.
I knew he had been on the phone all afternoon, but I had stayed away from his office.
"I've had lots of phone calls," he said. "Things are moving faster than we ever thought."
I was listening, with nothing to say.
"Back and forth with Arthur, back and forth with Judge DeOrio. Do you know DeOrio?"
"He's a tough guy, but he's good, fair, moderately liberal, started with a big firm many years ago and for some reason decided he wanted to be a judge. Passed up the big bucks. He moves more cases than any trial judge in the city because he keeps the lawyers under his thumb. Very heavy-handed. Wants everything settled, and if a case can't be settled, then he wants the trial as soon as possible. He's obsessive about a clean docket."
"I think I've heard his name."
"I would hope so. You've practiced law in this city for seven years."
"Antitrust law. In a big firm. Way up there."
"Anyway, here's the upshot. We've agreed to meet at one tomorrow in DeOrio's courtroom. Everybody will be there--the three defendants, with counsel, me, you, our trustee, everybody with any interest whatsoever in the lawsuit."
"Yep. The Judge wants you present. He said you could sit in the jury box and watch, but he wants you there. And he wants the missing file."
"He is notorious, in some circles I guess, for hating the press. He routinely tosses reporters from his courtroom; bans TV cameras from within a hundred feet of his doors, He's already irritated with the notoriety this case has generated. He's determined to stop the leaks."
"The lawsuit is a public record."
"Yes, but he can seal the file, if he's so inclined. I don't think he will, but he likes to bark."
"So he wants it settled?"
"Of course he does. He's a judge, isn't he? Every judge wants every case settled. More time for golf."
"What does he think of our case?"
"He kept his cards close, but he was adamant that all three defendants be present, and not just flunkies. We'll see the people who can make decisions on the spot."
"Gantry will be there. I talked to his lawyer."
"Does he know they have a metal detector at the front door?"
"Probably. He's been to court before. Arthur and I told the Judge about their offer. He didn't react, but I don't think he was impressed. He's seen a lot of big verdicts. He knows his jurors."
"What about me?"
There was a long pause froin my friend as he struggled to find words that would be at once truthful yet soothing. "He'll take a hard line."
Nothing soothing about that. "What's fair, Mordecai? It's my neck on the line. I've lost perspective."
"It's not a question of fairness. You took the file to right a wrong. You did not intend to steal it, just borrow it for an hour or so. It was an honorable act, but still a theft."
"Did DeOrio refer to it as a theft?"
"He did. Once."
So the Judge thought I was a thief. It was becoming unanimous. I didn't have the guts to ask Mordecai his opinion. He might tell me the truth, and I didn't want to hear it.
He shifted his considerable weight. My chair popped, but didn't yield an inch. I was proud of it. "I want you to know something," he said soberly. "You say the word, and we'll walk away from this case in the blink of an eye. We don't need the settlement; no one does really. The victims are dead. Their heirs are either unknown or in jail. A nice settlement wili not affect my life in the slightest. It's your case. You make the call."
"It's not that simple, Mordecai."
"Why isn't it?"
"I'm scared of the criminal charges."
"You should be. But they'll forget the criminal charges. They'll forget the bar complaint. I could call Arthur right now and tell him we would drop everything if they would drop everything. Both sides walk away and forget it. He would jump at it. It's a piece of cake."