Page 27 of The King of Torts

Delivery on a new Gulfstream 5 would be a minimum of twenty-two months, probably more, but the delay was not the biggest obstacle. The current price tag was $44 million, fully loaded, of course, with all the latest gadgets and toys. It was simply too much money, though Clay was seriously tempted. The broker explained that most new G-5's were bought by large corporations, billion-dollar outfits who ordered two and three at a time and kept them in the air. The better deal for him, as a sole proprietor, was to lease a slightly older airplane for say, six months, to make sure it was what he wanted. Then he could convert it to a sale, with 90 percent of his rental payments applied to the sales price.

The broker had just the airplane. It was a 1998 model G-4 SP (Special Performance) that a Fortune 500 company had recently traded in for a new G-5. When Clay saw it sitting majestically on the ramp at Reagan National, his heart leaped and his pulse took off. It was snow-white, with a tasteful royal blue striping. Paris in six hours. London in five.

He climbed aboard with the broker. If it was an inch smaller than Patton French's G-5, Clay could not tell. There was leather, mahogany, and brass trim everywhere. A kitchen, bar, and rest room in the rear; the latest avionics up front for the pilots. One sofa folded out into a bed, and for a fleeting instant he thought about Ridley; the two of them under the covers at forty thousand feet. Elaborate stereo, video, and telephone systems. Fax, PC, Internet access.

The plane looked brand-new, and the salesman explained that it was fresh from the shop where the exterior had been repainted and the interior refurbished. When pressed, he finally said, "It's yours for thirty million."

They sat at a small table and began the deal. The idea of a lease slowly went out the window. With Clay's income, he would have no trouble obtaining a sweet financing package. His mortgage note, only $300,000 a month, would be slightly more than the lease payments. And if at any time he wanted to trade up, then the broker would take it back at the highest market appraisal, and outfit him with whatever he wanted.

Two pilots would cost $200,000 a year, including benefits, training, everything. Clay might consider putting the plane on the certificate of a corporate air charter company. "Depending on how much you use it, you could generate up to a million bucks a year in charters," the broker said, moving in for the kill. "That'll cover the expenses for pilots, hangar space, and maintenance."

"Any idea how much I'll use it?" Clay asked, his head spinning with possibilities.

"I've sold lots of planes to lawyers," the salesman said, reaching for the right research. "Three hundred hours a year is max. You can charter it for twice that much."

Wow, Clay thought. This thing might actually generate some income.

A reasonable voice said to be cautious, but why wait? And who, exactly, might he turn to for advice? The only people he knew with experience in such matters were his mass tort buddies, and every one of them would say, "You don't have your own jet yet? Buy it!"

And so he bought it.

Goffman's fourth-quarter earnings were up from the year before, with record sales. Its stock was at $65, the highest in two years. Beginning the first week in January, the company had launched an unusual ad campaign promoting not one of its many products but the company itself. "Goffman has always been there," was the slogan and theme, and each television commercial was a montage of well-known products being used to comfort and protect America: a mother applying a small bandage to her little son's wound; a handsome young man with the obligatory flat stomach, shaving and having a wonderful time doing it; a gray-haired couple on the beach happily free of their hemorrhoids; a jogger in agony, reaching for a painkiller; and so on. Goffman's list of trusted consumer products was lengthy.

Mulrooney was watching the company closer than a stock analyst, and he was convinced that the ad campaign was nothing but a ploy to brace investors and consumers for the shock of Maxatil. His research found no other "feel-good" messages in the history of Goffman's marketing. The company was one of the top five advertisers in the country, but had always poured its money into one specific product at a time, with outstanding results.

His opinion was shared by Max Pace, who had taken up residence in the Hay-Adams Hotel. Clay stopped by his suite for a late dinner, one delivered by room service. Pace was edgy and anxious to drop the bomb on Goffman. He read the latest revision of the class-action lawsuit to be filed in D.C. As always, he made notes in the margins.

"What's the plan?" he said, ignoring his food and wine.

Clay was not ignoring his. "The ads start at eight in the morning," he said with a mouth full of veal. "A blitz in eighty markets, coast to coast. The hot line is set up. The Web site is ready. My little firm is poised. I'll walk over to the courthouse at ten or so and file it myself."

"Sounds good."

"We've done it before. The Law Offices of J. Clay Carter II is a mass tort machine, thank you very much."

"Your new pals know nothing of it?"

"Of course not. Why would I tell them? We're in bed together with Dyloft, but French and those guys are my competitors too. I shocked them then, I'll shock them now. I can't wait."

"This ain't Dyloft, remember that. You were lucky there because you caught a weak company at a bad moment. Goffman will be much tougher."

Pace finally tossed the lawsuit on the dresser and sat down to eat.

"But they made a bad drug," Clay was saying. "And you don't go to trial with a bad drug."

"Not in a class action. My sources tell me that Goffman might want to litigate the case in Flagstaff since it's a single plaintiff."

"The Mooneyham case?"

"That's it. If they lose, they'll be softer on the issue of settlement. If they win, then this could be a long fight."

"You said Mooneyham doesn't lose."

"It's been twenty years or something like that. Juries love him. He wears cowboy hats and suede jackets and red boots and such. A throwback to the days when trial lawyers actually tried their cases. A real piece of work. You should go meet him. It would be worth a trip."

"I'll put that on my list." The Gulfstream was just sitting in the hangar, anxious to travel.

A phone rang and Pace spent five minutes in muted conversation on the other side of the suite. "Valeria," he said as he returned to the table. Clay had a quick visual of the sexless creature munching on a carrot. Poor Max. He could do so much better.

Clay slept at the office. He had installed a small bedroom and a bath adjacent to the conference room. He was often up until after midnight, then a few hours of sleep before a quick shower, and back to the desk by six.

His work habits were becoming legendary not only within his own firm but around the city as well. Much of the gossip in legal circles was about him, at least for the moment, and his sixteen-hour days were often stretched to eighteen and twenty by those at bars and cocktail parties.

And why not work around the clock? He was thirty-two years old, single, with no serious obligations to steal his time. Through luck and a small amount of talent he had been handed a unique opportunity to succeed like few others. Why not pour his guts into his firm for a few years, then chuck it all and go play for the rest of his life?

Mulrooney arrived just after six, already with four cups of coffee under his belt and a hundred ideas on his mind. "D-Day?" he asked when he barged into Clay's office.

"D-Day!"

"Let's kick some ass!"

By seven, the place was rocking with associates and paralegals watching the clocks, waiting for the invasion. Secretaries hauled coffee and bagels from office to office. At eight, they crammed into the conference room and stared at a wide-screen TV. The ABC affiliate for metro D.C. ran the first ad: An attractive woman in her early sixties, short gray hair, smartly cut, designer eyeglasses, sitting at a small kitchen table, staring sadly out a window. Voice-over [rather ominous voice]: "If you've been taking the female hormone drug Maxatil, you may have an increased risk of breast cancer, heart disease, and stroke." Close on the lady's hands; on the table, a close-up of a pill bottle with the word MAXATIL in bold letters. [A skull and crossbones could not have been more frightening.] Voice-over: "Please consult your doctor immediately. Maxatil may pose a serious threat to your health." Close on the woman's face, even sadder now, then her eyes become moist. Voice-over: "For more information, call the Maxatil Hot Line." An 800 number flashes across the bottom of the screen. The final image is the woman removing her glasses and wiping a tear from her cheek.

They clapped and cheered as if the money was about to be delivered by overnight courier. Then Clay sent them all to their posts, to sit by the phones and begin collecting clients. Within minutes, the calls started. Promptly at nine, as scheduled, copies of the lawsuit were faxed to newspapers and financial cable channels. Clay called his old pal at The Wall Street Journal and leaked the news. He said he might consider an interview in a day or so.

Goffman opened at $65 1/4 but was soon shot down by the news of the Maxatil lawsuit in D.C. Clay got himself photographed by a stringer as he filed the lawsuit in the courthouse.

By noon, Goffman had fallen to $61. The company hurriedly released a statement for the press in which it adamantly denied that Maxatil did all the terrible things alleged in the lawsuit. It would defend the case vigorously.

Patton French called during "lunch." Clay was eating a sandwich while standing behind his desk and watching the phone messages pile up. "I hope you know what you're doing," French said suspiciously.

"Gee, I hope so too, Patton. How are you?"

"Swell. We took a long hard look at Maxatil about six months ago. Decided to pass. Causation could be a real problem."

Clay dropped his sandwich and tried to breathe. Patton French said no to a mass tort? He passed on a class-action lawsuit against one of the wealthiest corporations in the land? Clay was aware that nothing was being said, a painful gap in the conversation. "Well, uh, Patton, we see things differently." He was reaching behind him, groping for his chair. He finally fell into it.

"In fact, everybody passed, until you. Saulsberry, Didier, Carlos down in Miami. Guy up in Chicago has a bunch of cases, but he hasn't filed them yet. I don't know, maybe you're right. We just didn't see it, that's all."

French was fishing. "We got the goods on them," Clay said. The government report! That's it! Clay had it and French did not. Finally, a deep breath, and the blood started pumping again.

"You'd better have your ducks in a row, Clay. These guys are very good. They make old Wicks and the boys at Ackerman look like Cub Scouts."

"You sound scared, Patton, I'm surprised at you."

"Not scared at all. But if you have a hole in your theory of liability, they'll eat you alive. And, don't even think about a quick settlement."

"Are you in?"

"No. I didn't like it six months ago, don't like it now. Plus, I got too many other irons in the fire. Good luck."

Clay closed and locked his office door. He walked to his window and stood for at least five minutes before he felt the cool moisture of his shirt sticking to his back. Then he rubbed his forehead and found rows of sweat.

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