The Pelican Brief

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"She's not completely stupid," Swank inserted. "She cut her hair and colored it black. She's moving around. It's apparent she has no plans to leave the city any time soon. I'll give her seventy-two hours before they find her."
Gminski sipped his water. "This means her little brief is directly on point. And it means our friend is now a very desperate man. Where is he?"
Hooten answered quickly. "We have no idea."
"We have to find him."
"He hasn't been seen in three weeks."
Gminski set the glass on the desk, and picked up a room key. "So what do you think?" he asked Hooten.
"Do we bring her in?" Hooten asked.
"It won't be easy," Swank said. "She may have a gun. Someone could get hurt."
"She's a scared kid," Gminski said. "She's also a civilian, not a member. We can't go around snatching civilians off the sidewalk."
"Then she won't last long," Swank said.
"How do you take her?" Gminski asked.
"There are ways," Hooten answered. "Catch her on the street. Go to her room. I could be inside her room in less than ten minutes if I left right now. It's not that difficult. She's not a pro."
Gminski paced slowly around the room and everyone watched him. He glanced at his watch."I'm not inclined to take her. Let's sleep four hours, and meet here at six-thirty. Sleep on it. If you can convince me to snatch her, then I'll say do it. Okay?" They nodded obediently.

THE WINE WORKED. She dozed in the chair, then made it to the bed and slept hard. The phone was ringing. The bedspread was hanging to the floor, and her feet were on the pillows. The phone was ringing. The eyelids were glued together. The mind was numb and lost in dreams, but somewhere in the deep recesses something worked and told her the phone was ringing.

The eyes opened but saw little. The sun was up, the lights were on, and she stared at the phone. No, she did not ask for a wake-up call. She thought about this for a second, then she was certain. No wake-up call. She sat on the edge of the bed and listened to it ring. Five times, ten, fifteen, twenty. It would not stop. Could be a wrong number, but they would stop after twenty rings.
It was not a wrong number. The cobwebs began to clear, and she moved closer to the phone. With the exception of the registration clerk and maybe his boss, and perhaps room service, not a single living soul knew she was in this room. She had ordered food, but made no other calls.
It stopped ringing. Good, wrong number. She walked to the bathroom, and it was ringing again. She counted. After the fourteenth ring, she lifted the receiver." Hello."
"Darby, it's Gavin Verheek. Are you okay?"
She sat on the bed. "How'd you get the number?"
"We have ways. Listen, have"
"Wait, Gavin. Wait a minute. Let me think. The credit card, right?"
"Yes. The credit card. The paper trail. It's the FBI, Darby. We have ways. If'snot that difficult."
"Then they could do it too."
"I suppose. Stay in the small joints and pay with cash."
There was a thick knot in her stomach, and she stretched on the bed. Just like that. Not difficult. The paper trail. She could be dead. Killed along the paper trail.
"Darby, are you there?"
"Yes." She looked at the door to make sure it was chained. "Yes, I'm here."
"Are you safe?"
"I thought so."
"We've got some information. There will be a memorial service tomorrow at three on campus, with burial afterward in the city. I've talked to his brother, and the family wants me to serve as a pallbearer. I'll be there tonight. I think we should meet."
"Why should we meet?"
"You've got to trust me, Darby. Your life is in danger right now, and you need to listen to me."
"What're you guys up to?"
"There was a pause.What do you mean?"
"What did Director Voyles say?"
"I haven't talked to him."
"I thought you were his attorney, so to speak. What's the matter, Gavin?"
"We're taking no action at this time."
"And what might that mean, Gavin? Talk to me."
"That's why we need to meet. I don't want to do this over the phone."
"The phone is working fine, and it's all you're going to get right now. So let's have it, Gavin."
"Why won't you trust me?" He was wounded.
"I'm hanging up, okay. I don't like this. If you guys know where I am, then someone could be out there in the hallway waiting."
"Nonsense, Darby. You've got to use your head. I've had your room number for an hour, and done nothing but call. We're on your side, I swear."
"She thought about this. It made sense, but they had found her so easily. "I'm listening. You haven't talked to the Director, but the FBI's taking no action. Why not?"
"I'm not sure. He made the decision yesterday to back off the pelican brief, and gave instructions to leave it alone. That's all I can tell you."
"That's not very much. Does he know about Thomas? Does he know that I'm supposed to be dead because I wrote it and forty-eight hours after Thomas gave it to you, his old buddy from law school, they, whoever in hell they are, tried to kill both of us? Does he know all this, Gavin?"
"I don't think so."
"That means no, doesn't it?"
"Yes. It means no."
"Okay, listen to me. Do you think he was killed because of the brief?"
"That means yes, doesn't it?"
"Thanks. If Thomas was murdered because of the brief, then we know who killed him. And if we know who killed Thomas, then we know who killed Rosenberg and Jensen. Right?"
Verheek hesitated.
"Just say yes, dammit!" Darby snapped.
"I'll say probably."
"Fine. Probably means yes for a lawyer. I know it's the best you can do. It's a very strong probably, yet you're telling me the FBI is backing off my little suspect."
"Settle down, Darby. Let's meet tonight and talk about it. I could save your life."
She carefully laid the receiver under a pillow, and walked to the bathroom. She brushed her teeth and what was left of her hair, then threw the toiletries and change of clothes into a new canvas bag. She put on the parka, cap, and sunglasses, and quietly closed the door behind her. The hall was empty. She walked up two flights to the seventeenth, then took the elevator to the tenth, then casually walked down ten flights to the lobby. The door from the stairway opened near the rest rooms, and she was quickly inside the women's. The lobby appeared to be deserted. She went to a stall, locked the door, and waited for a while.

FRIDAY MORNING in the Quarter. The air was cool and clean without the lingering smell of food and sin. Eight A.M.too early for people. She walked a few blocks to clear her head and plan the day. On Dumaine near Jackson Square she found a coffee shop she'd seen before. It was nearly empty and had a pay phone in the back. She poured her own thick coffee, and set it on a table near the phone. She could talk here.

Verheek was on the phone in less than a minute. "I'm listening," he said.
"Where will you stay tonight?" she asked, watching the front door.
"Hilton, by the river."
"I know where it is. I'll call late tonight or early in the morning. Don't track me again. I'm into cash now. No plastic."
"That's smart, Darby. Keep moving."
"I may be dead by the time you get here."
"No, you won't. Can you find a Washington Post down there?"
"Maybe. Why?"
"Get one quick. This morning's. Nice little story about Rosenberg and Jensen and perhaps who done it."
"I can't wait. I'll call later."
The first newsstand did not have the Post. She zigzagged toward Canal, covering her tracks, watching her rear, down St. Ann, along the antique shops on Royal, through the seedy bars on both sides of Bienville, and finally to the French Market along Decatur and North Peters. She was quick but nonchalant. She walked with an air of business, her eyes darting in all directions behind the shades. If they were back there somewhere in the shadows watching and keeping up, they were good.
She bought a Post and a Times-Picayune from a sidewalk vendor, and found a table in a deserted corner of Cafe du Monde.
Front page. Citing a confidential source, the story dwelt on the legend of Khamel and his sudden involvement in the killings. In his younger days, it said, he had killed for his beliefs, but now he just did it for money. Lots of money, speculated a retired intelligence expert who allowed himself to be quoted but certainly not identified. The photos were blurred and indistinct, but ominous beside each other. They could not be of the same person. But then, said the expert, he was unidentifiable and had not been photographed in over a decade.
A waiter finally made it by, and she ordered coffee and a plain bagel. The expert said many thought he was dead. Interpol believed he had killed as recently as six months ago. The expert doubted he would travel by commercial air. The FBI had him at the top of their list.
She opened the New Orleans paper slowly. Thomas did not make page one, but his picture was on page two with a long story. The cops were treating it as a homicide, but there wasn't much to go on. A white female had been seen in the area shortly before the explosion. The law school was in shock, according to the dean. The cops said little. Services were tomorrow on campus. A horrible mistake had been made, the dean said. If it was murder, then someone had obviously killed the wrong person.
Her eyes were wet, and suddenly she was afraid again. Maybe it was simply a mistake. It was a violent city with crazy people, and maybe someone got their wires crossed and the wrong car was chosen. Maybe there was no one out there stalking her.
She put the sunglasses on and looked at his photo. They had pulled it from the law school annual, and there was that smirk he habitually wore when he was the professor. He was clean shaven, and so handsome.

GRANTHAM'S KHAMEL STORY electrified Washington Friday morning. It mentioned neither the memo nor the White House, so the hottest game in town was speculating about the source.

The game was especially hot in the Hoover Building. In the office of the Director, Eric East and K. O. Lewis paced nervously about while Voyles talked to the President for the third time in two hours. Voyles was cussing, not directly at the President, but all around him. He cussed Coal, and when the President cussed back, Voyles suggested they set up the polygraph, strap in everyone on his staff, beginning with Coal, and just see where the damned leaks were coming from. Yes, hell yes, he, Voyles, would take the test, and so would everyone who worked in the Hoover Building. And they cussed back and forth. Voyles was red and sweating, and the fact that he was yelling into the telephone and the President was on the other end receiving all this mattered not a bit. He knew Coal was listening somewhere.
Evidently, the President gained control of the conversation and launched into a long-winded sermon of some sort. Voyles wiped his forehead with a handkerchief, sat in his ancient leather swivel, and began controlled breathing to lower the pressure and pulse. He had survived one heart attack and was due for another, and had told K. O. Lewis many times that Fletcher Coal and his idiot boss would eventually kill him. But he'd said that about the last three Presidents. He pinched the fat wrinkles on his forehead and sunk lower into the chair. "We can do that, Mr. President." He was almost pleasant now. He was a man of swift and radical mood swings, and suddenly before their eyes he was courteous. A real charmer.Thank you, Mr. President. I'll be there tomorrow."
He hung up gently, and spoke with his eyes closed. "He wants us to place that Post reporter under surveillance. Says we've done it before, so will we do it again? I told him we would."
"What type of surveillance?" asked K.O.
"Let's just follow him in the city. Around the clock with two men. See where he goes at night, who he sleeps with. He's single, isn't he?"
"Divorced seven years ago," Lewis answered.
"Make damned sure we don't get caught. Do it with plain-clothes, and switch 'em up every three days."
"Does he really believe the leaks are coming from us?"
"No, I don't think so. If we were leaking, why would he want us to trail the reporter? I think he knows it's his own people. And he wants to catch them."
"It's a small favor," Lewis added helpfully.
"Yeah. Just don't get caught, okay?"

THE OFFICE of L. Matthew Barr was tucked away on the third floor of a tacky and decaying office building on M Street in Georgetown. There were no signs on the doors. An armed guard in a coat and tie turned people away at the elevator. The carpet was worn and the furniture was old. Dust covered it, and it was apparent the Unit spent no money on housekeeping. Barr ran the Unit, which was an unofficial, hidden, little division of the Committee to Reeled the President. CRP had a vast suite of plush offices across the river in Rosslyn. It had windows that opened and secretaries who smiled and maids that cleaned every night. But not this dump.

Fletcher Coal stepped off the elevator and nodded at the security guard, who nodded back without making another move. They were old acquaintances. He made his way through the small maze of dingy offices in the direction of Barr's. Coal took pride in being honest with himself, and he honestly did not fear any man in Washington, maybe with the possible exception of Matthew Barr. Sometimes he feared him, sometimes not, but he always admired him.
Barr was an ex-Marine, ex-CIA, ex-spy with two felony convictions for security scams from which he earned millions and buried the money. He had served a few months in one of the country clubs, but no real time. Coal had personally recruited Barr to head the Unit, which officially did not exist. It had an annual budget of four million, all cash from various slush funds, and Barr supervised a small band of highly trained thugs who quietly did the work of the Unit.
Barr's door was always locked. He opened it and Coal entered. The meeting would be brief, as usual.
"Let me guess," Barr started.You want to find the leak."
"In a way, yes. I want you to follow this reporter, Grantham, around the clock and see who he's talking to. He's getting some awfully good stuff, and I'm afraid it's coming from us."
"You're leaking like cardboard."
"We've got some problems, but the Khamel story was a plant. Did it myself."
Barr smiled at this. "I thought so. It seemed too clean and pat."
"Did you ever run across Khamel?"
"No. Ten years ago we were sure he was dead. He likes it that way. He has no ego, so he'll never get caught. He can live in a paper shack in Sao Paulo for six months, eating roots and rats, then fly off to Rome to murder a diplomat, then off to Singapore for a few months. He doesn't read his press clippings."
"How old is he?"
"Why are you interested?"
"I'm fascinated. I think I know who hired him to kill Rosenberg and Jensen."
"Oh, really. Can you share this bit of gossip?"
"No. Not yet."
"He's between forty and forty-five, which is not that old, but he killed a Lebanese general when he was fifteen. So he's had a long career. This is all legend, you understand. He can kill with either hand, either foot, a car key, a pencil, whatever. He's an expert marksman with all weapons. Speaks twelve languages. You've heard all this, haven't you?"
"Yeah, but it's fun."
"Okay. He's believed to be the most proficient and expensive assassin in the world. In his early years he was just another terrorist, but he was much too talented for simple bomb throwing. So he became an assassin for hire. He's a bit older now, and kills just for money."
"How much money?"
"Good question. He's probably in the ten-to-twenty-million-a-job range, and there's not but one other guy I know of in that league. One theory believes he shares it with other terrorist groups. No one knows, really. Let me guess, you want me to find Khamel and bring him back alive."
"You leave Khamel alone. I sort of like the work he did here."
"He's very talented."
"I want you to follow Gray Grantham and find out who he's talking to."
"Any ideas?"
"A couple. There's a man by the name of Milton Hardy who works as a janitor in the West Wing." Coal threw an envelope on the desk. "He's been around for a long time, appears to be half blind, but I think he sees and hears a lot. Follow him for a week or two. Everyone calls him Sarge. Make plans to take him out."
"This is great, Coal. We're spending all this money to track blind Negroes."
"Just do as I say. Make it three weeks." Coal stood and headed for the door.
"So you know who hired the killer?" Barr said. "We're getting close."
"The Unit is more than anxious to help."
"I'm sure."

MRS. CHEN owned the duplex, and had been renting the other half to female law students for fifteen years. She was picky but private, and lived and let live as long as all was quiet. It was six blocks from campus.

It was dark when she answered the door. The person on the porch was an attractive young lady with short dark hair and a nervous smile. Very nervous.
Mrs. Chen frowned at her until she spoke.
"I'm Alice Stark, a friend of Darby's. May I come in?" She glanced over her shoulder. The street was quiet and still. Mrs. Chen lived alone with the doors and windows locked tightly, but she was a pretty girl with an innocent smile, and if she was a friend of Darby's, then she could be trusted. She opened the door, and Alice was inside.
"Something's wrong," Mrs. Chen said.
"Yes. Darby is in a bit of trouble, but we can't talk about it. Did she call this afternoon?"
"Yes. She said a young woman would look through her apartment."
Alice breathed deeply and tried to appear calm. "It'll just take a minute. She said there was a door through a wall somewhere. I prefer not to use the front or rear doors." Mrs. Chen frowned and her eyes asked, Why not? but she said nothing.
"Has anyone been in the apartment in the last two days?" Alice asked. She followed Mrs. Chen down a narrow hallway.
"I've seen no one. There was a knock early yesterday before the sun, but I didn't look." She moved a table away from a door, pushed a key around, and opened it.
Alice stepped in front of her. "She wanted me to go in alone, okay?" Mrs. Chen wanted to check it out, but she nodded and closed the door behind Alice. It opened into a tiny hallway that was suddenly dark. To the left was the den, and a light switch that couldn't be used. Alice froze in the darkness. The apartment was black and hot with a thick smell of old garbage. She'd expected to be alone, but she was a second-year law student, dammit!, not some hotshot private detective.
Get a grip. She fumbled through a large purse and found a pencil-thin flashlight. There were three of them in there. Just in case. In case of what? She didn't know. Darby had been quite specific. No lights could be seen through the windows. They could be watching.
Who in hell are they? Alice wanted to know. Darby didn't know, said she would explain it later but first the apartment had to be examined.
Alice had been in the apartment a dozen times in the past year, but she'd been allowed to enter through the front door with a full array of lights and other conveniences. She had been in all the rooms, and felt confident she could feel around in the darkness. The confidence was gone. Vanished. Replaced with trembling fear.
Get a grip. You're all alone. They wouldn't camp out here with a nosy woman next door. If they had indeed been here, it was only for a brief visit.
After staring at the end of it, she determined that the flashlight worked. It glowed with all the energy of a fading match. She pointed it at the floor, and saw a faint round circle the size of a small orange. The circle was shaking.
She tiptoed around a corner in the direction of the den. Darby said there was a small lamp on the bookshelves next to the television, and that the light was always on. She used it as a nightlight, and it was supposed to cast a faint glow across the den to the kitchen. Either Darby lied, or the bulb was gone, or someone had unscrewed it. It didn't matter, really, at this point, because the den and kitchen were pitch-black.
She was on the rug in the center of the den, inching toward the kitchen table where there was supposed to be a computer. She kicked the edge of the coffee table, and the flashlight quit. She shook it. Nothing. She found number two in the purse.
The odor was heavier in the kitchen. The computer was on the table along with an assortment of empty files and casebooks. She examined the mainframe with her dinky little light. The power switch was on the front. She pushed it, and the monochrome screen slowly warmed up. It emitted a greenish light that covered the table but did not escape the kitchen.
Alice sat down in front of the keyboard and began pecking. She found Menu, then List, then Files. The Directory covered the screen. She studied it closely. There were supposed to be somewhere around forty entries, but she saw no more than ten. Most of the hard-drive memory was gone. She turned on the laser printer, and within seconds the Directory was on paper. She tore it off and stuffed it in the purse.
She stood with her flashlight and inspected the clutter around the computer. Darby estimated the number of floppy disks at twenty, but they were all gone. Not a single floppy. The casebooks were for con law and civil procedure, and so dull and generic no one would want them. The red expandable files were stacked neatly together, but empty.
It was a clean, patient job. He or they had spent a couple of hours erasing and gathering, then left with no more than one briefcase or bag of goods.
In the den by the television, Alice peeked out the side window. The red Accord was still there, not four feet from the window. It looked fine.
She twisted the bulb in the nightlight, and quickly flicked the switch on, then off. Worked perfectly. She unscrewed it just as he or they had left it.
Her eyes had focused; she could see the outlines of doors and furniture. She turned the computer off, and eased through the den to the hall.
Mrs. Chen was waiting exactly where she'd left her. "Okay?" she asked.
"Everything's fine," Alice said. "Just watch it real close. I'll call you in a day or two to see if anyone has been by. And please, don't tell anyone I was here."
Mrs. Chen listened intently as she moved the table in front of the door. "What about her car?"
"It'll be fine. Just watch it."
"Is she all right?"
They were in the den, almost to the front door. "She's gonna be fine. I think she'll be back in a few days. Thank you, Mrs. Chen."
Mrs. Chen closed the door, bolted it, and watched from the small window. The lady was on the sidewalk, then gone in the darkness.
Alice walked three blocks to her car.

FRIDAY NIGHT in the Quarter! Tulane played in the Dome tomorrow, then the Saints on Sunday, and the rowdies were out by the thousands, parking everywhere, blocking streets, roaming in noisy mobs, drinking from go cups, crowding bars, just having a delightful time raising hell and enjoying themselves. The Inner Quarter was gridlocked by nine.

Alice parked on Poydras, far away from where she wanted to park, and was an hour late when she arrived at the crowded oyster bar on St. Peter, deep in the Quarter. There were no tables. They were packed three deep at the bar. She retreated to a corner with a cigarette machine, and surveyed the people. Most were students in town for the game.
A waiter walked directly to her. "Are you looking for another female?" he asked.
She hesitated. "Well, yes."
He pointed beyond the bar.Around the corner, first room on the right, there's some small tables. I think your friend is there."

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