The Pelican Brief



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Darby was in a tiny booth, crouched over a beer bottle, with sunglasses and a hat. Alice squeezed her hand. "It's good to see you." She studied the hairdo, and was amused by it. Darby removed the sunglasses. The eyes were red and tired.
"I didn't know who else to call."
Alice listened with a blank face, unable to think of something appropriate and unable to take her eyes off the hair. "Who did the hair?" she asked.
"Nice, huh. It's sort of the punk look, which I think is making a comeback and will certainly impress folks when I start interviewing for a job."
"Why?"
"Someone tried to kill me, Alice. My name's on a list that some very nasty people are holding. I think they're following me."
"Kill? Did you say 'kill'? Who would want to kill you, Darby?"
"I'm not sure. What about my apartment?"
Alice stopped looking at the hair, and handed her the printout of the Directory. Darby studied it. It was real. This was not a dream or a mistake. The bomb had found the right car. Rupert and the cowboy had had their hands on her. The face she had seen was looking for her. They had gone to her apartment and erased what they wanted to erase. They were out there.
"What about floppies?"
"None. Not a single one. The expandable files on the kitchen table were placed together real neat and are real empty. Everything else appears to be in order. They unscrewed the bulb in the nightlight, so there's total darkness. I checked it. Works fine. These are very patient people."
"What about Mrs. Chen?"
"She's seen nothing."
Darby stuffed the printout into a pocket. "Look, Alice, suddenly I'm very scared. You don't need to be seen with me. Maybe this was not a good idea."
"Who are these people?"
"I don't know. They killed Thomas, and they tried to kill me. I got lucky, and now they're after me."
"But why, Darby?"
"You don't want to know, and I'm not going to tell. The more you know, the more danger you're in. Trust me, Alice. I can't tell you what I know."
"But I won't tell. I swear."
"What if they make you tell?"
Alice glanced around as if all was fine. She studied her friend. They had been close since freshman orientation. They had studied hours together, shared notes, sweated exams, teamed up for mock trials, gossiped about men. Alice was hopefully the only student who knew about Darby and Callahan. "I want to help, Darby. I'm not afraid."
Darby had not touched the beer. She slowly spun the bottle. "Well, I'm terrified. I was there when he died, Alice. The ground shook. He was blown to pieces and I was supposed to be with him. It was intended for me."
"Then go to the cops."
"Not yet. Maybe later. I'm afraid to. Thomas went to the FBI, and two days later we were supposed to be dead."
"So the FBI is after you?"
"I don't think so. They started talking, and someone was listening very closely, and it found the wrong ears."
"Talked about what! Come on, Darby. It's me. Your best friend. Stop playing games."
Darby took the first tiny swallow from the bottle. Eye contact was avoided. She stared at the table. "Please, Alice. Allow me to wait. There's no sense telling you something that could get you killed." A long pause. "If you want to help, go to the memorial service tomorrow. Watch everything. Spread the word that I called you from Denver where I'm staying with an aunt with a name you don't know, and that I've dropped out this semester but I'll be back in the spring. Make sure that rumor gets started. I think some people will be listening carefully."
"Okay. The paper mentioned a white female near the scene when he was killed, as if she might be a suspect or something."
"Or something. I was there and I was supposed to be a victim. I'm reading the papers with a magnifying glass. The cops are clueless."
"Okay, Darby. You're smarter than I am. You're smarter than every person I've ever met. So what now?"
"First, go out the back door. There's a white door at the end of the hall where the rest rooms are. It goes into a storage room, then to the kitchen, then out the back door. Don't stop. The alley leads to Royal. Catch a cab and ride back to your car. Watch your rear."
"Are you serious?"
"Look at this hair, Alice. Would I mutilate myself like this if I was playing games?"
"Okay, okay. Then what?"
"Go to the service tomorrow, start the rumor, and I'll call you within two days."
"Where are you staying?"
"Here and there. I move around a lot."
Alice stood and pecked her on the cheek. Then she was gone.

FOR TWO HOURS, Verheek stomped the floor, picking up magazines, tossing them around, ordering room service, unpacking, stomping. Then for the next two hours, he sat on the bed, sipping a hot beer and staring at the phone. He would do this until midnight, he told himself, and then, well, then what?


She said she would call.
He could save her life if she would only call.
At midnight, he threw another magazine and left the room. An agent in the New Orleans office had helped a little, and given him a couple of law school hangouts close to campus. He would go there and mix and mingle, drink a beer, and listen. The students were in town for the game. She wouldn't be there, and it wouldn't matter because he'd never seen her. But maybe he would hear something, and he could drop a name, leave a card, make a friend who knew her or maybe knew someone who knew her. A long shot, but a helluva lot more productive than staring at the phone.
He found a seat at the bar in a joint called Barrister's, three blocks from campus. It had a nice little varsity look to it with football schedules and pinups on the walls. The crowd was rowdy and under thirty.
The bartender looked like a student. After two beers, the crowd thinned and the bar was half empty. There would be another wave in a moment.
Verheek ordered number three. It was one-thirty. "Are you a law student?" he asked the bartender.
"Afraid so."
"It's not that bad, is it?"
He was wiping around the peanuts. "I've had more fun."
Verheek longed for the bartenders who served his beer in law school. Those guys knew the art of conversation. Never met a stranger. Talk about anything.
"I'm a lawyer," Verheek said in desperation.
Oh, hey, wow, this guy's a lawyer. How rare. Someone special. The kid walked off.
Little son of a bitch. I hope you flunk out. Verheek grabbed his bottle and turned to face the tables. He felt like a grandfather amid the children. Though he hated law school and the memories of it, there had been some long Friday nights in the bars of Georgetown with his pal Callahan. Those were good memories.
"So what kind of law?" The bartender was back. Gavin turned to the bar, and smiled.
"Special counsel, FBI."
He was still wiping. "So you're in Washington?"
"Yeah, in town for the game Sunday. I'm a Redskins freak." He hated the Redskins and every other organized football team. Don't get the kid started on football.Where do you go to school?"
"Here. Tulane. I'll finish in May."
"Then where?"
"Probably Cincinnati for a clerkship for a year or two."
"You must be a good student."
He shrugged it off. "You need a beer?"
"No. Did you have Thomas Callahan?"
"Sure. You know him?"
"I was in law school with him at Georgetown." Verheek pulled a card from his pocket and handed it to the kid. "I'm Gavin Verheek." The kid looked at it, then politely laid it next to the ice. The bar was quiet and the kid was tired of chitchat.
"Do you know a student by the name of Darby Shaw?"
The kid glanced at the tables. "No. I haven't met her, but I know who she is. I think she's second year." A long, rather suspicious pause. "Why?"
"We need to talk to her." We, as in FBI. Not simply he, as in Gavin Verheek. The "we" part sounded much graver.Does she hang out in here?"
"I've seen her a few times. She's hard to miss."
"I've heard." Gavin looked at the tables.Do you think these guys might know her?"
"Doubt it. They're all first year. Can't you tell? They're over there arguing property rights and search and seizure."
"Yeah, those were the days. Gavin pulled a dozen cards from his pocket and laid them on the bar.I'll be at the Hilton for a few days. If you see her, or hear anything, drop one of these."
"Sure. There was a cop in last night asking questions. You don't think she was involved in his death?"
"No, not at all. We just need to talk to her."
"I'll keep my eyes open."
Verheek paid for the beer, thanked the kid again, and was on the sidewalk. He walked three blocks to the Half Shell. It was almost two. He was dead tired, half drunk, and a band cranked up the second he walked through the door. The place was dark, packed, and fifty fraternity joes with their sorority sues were immediately dancing on tables. He weaved through the uprising and found safety in the back near the bar. They were three deep, shoulder to shoulder, and no one moved. He clawed his way forward, got a beer to be cool, and realized again he was by far the oldest one there. He retreated to a dark but crowded corner. It was hopeless. He couldn't hear himself think, let alone carry on a conversation.
He watched the bartenders: all young, all students. The oldest looked late twenties, and he rang up check after check as if he was closing out. His moves were hurried, as if it was time to go. Gavin studied every move.
He quickly untied his apron, flung it in a corner, ducked under the bar, and was gone. Gavin elbowed through the mob, and caught him as he stepped through the kitchen door. He had an FBI business card ready. "I'm sorry. I'm with the FBI." He stuck the card in his face.Your name is?"
The kid froze, and looked wildly at Verheek. "Uh, Fountain. Jeff Fountain."
"Fine, Jeff. Look, nothing's wrong, okay? Just a couple of questions." The kitchen had shut down hours ago, and they were alone.Just take a second."
"Well, okay. What's up?"
"You're a law student, right?" Please say yes. His friend said most of the bartenders here were law students.
"Yes. At Loyola."
"Loyola! Where the hell! Yeah, well, that's what I thought. You've heard about Professor Callahan at Tulane. Funeral's tomorrow."
"Sure. It's all over the papers. Most of my friends go to Tulane."
"Do you know a second-year student there by the name of Darby Shaw? Very attractive female."
"Fountain smiled.Yeah, she dated a friend of mine last year. She's in here occasionally."
"How long ago?"
"It's been a month or two. What's wrong?"
"We need to talk to her." He handed Fountain a stack of cards.Hang on to these. I'll be at the Hilton for a few days. If you see her around, or if you hear anything, drop one of these."
"What might I hear?"
"Something about Callahan. We need to see her real bad, okay?"
"Sure." He stuck the cards in a pocket.
Verheek thanked him and returned to the revelry. He inched through the mob, listening to the attempts at conversation. A fresh mob was entering, and he wrestled his way out the door. He was too old for this.
Six blocks away, he parked illegally in front of a fraternity house next to the campus. His last stop for the night would be a dark little pool hall, which, at the moment, was not crowded. He paid for beer at the bar, and surveyed the place. There were four pool tables and the action was light. A young man in a T-shirt walked to the bar and ordered another beer. The shirt was green and gray with the words TULANE LAW SCHOOL stamped across the front with what appeared to be an inmate identification number under the words.
Verheek spoke without hesitating. "You a law student?"
The young man glanced at him while pulling money from his jeans. "Afraid so."
"Did you know Thomas Callahan?"
"Who are you?"
"FBI. Callahan was a friend of mine."
The student sipped the beer and was suspicious. "I was in his con law class."
"Bingo! So was Darby. Verheek tried to appear uninterested. "Do you know Darby Shaw?"
"Why do you want to know?"
"We need to talk to her. That's all."
"Who is we?" The student was even more suspicious. He took a step closer to Gavin as if he wanted some hard answers.
"FBI," Verheek said nonchalantly.
"You got a badge or something?"
"Sure," he said as he pulled a card from his pocket. The student read it carefully, then handed it back. "You're a lawyer, not an agent."
This was a very valid point, and the lawyer knew he would lose his job if his boss knew he was asking questions and in general impersonating an agent. "Yes, I'm a lawyer. Callahan and I were in law school together."
"Then why do you want to see Darby Shaw?"
The bartender had eased closer and was eavesdropping.
"Do you know her?"
"I don't know," the student said, and it was obvious he did in fact know her but was not about to talk. "Is she in trouble?"
"No. You know her, don't you?"
"Maybe. Maybe not."
"Look, what's your name?"
"Show me a badge, and I'll tell you my name."
Gavin took a long drink from the bottle and smiled at the bartender. "I need to see her, okay. It's very important. I'll be at the Hilton for a few days. If you see her, ask her to call." He offered the card to the student, who looked at it and walked away.

AT THREE, he unlocked the door to his room, and checked the phone. No messages. Wherever Darby was, she still had not called. Assuming, of course, she was still alive.


GARCIA CALLED for the last time. Grantham took the call before dawn Saturday, less than two hours before they were to meet for the first time. He was backing out, he said. The time was not right. If the story broke, then some very powerful lawyers and their very rich clients would fall hard, and these people were not accustomed to falling, and they would take people with them. And Garcia might get hurt. He had a wife and little daughter. He had a job that he could endure because the money was great. Why take chances? He had done nothing wrong. His conscience was clear.


"Then why do you keep calling me?" Grantham asked.
"I think I know why they were killed. I'm not certain, but I've got a good idea. I saw something, okay."
"We've had this conversation for a week now, Garcia. You saw something, or you have something. And it's all useless unless you show it to me." Grantham opened a file and took out the five by sevens of the man on the phone.You're driven by a sense of morality, Garcia. That's why you want to talk."
"Yeah, but there's a chance they know that I know. They've been treating me funny, as if they want to ask if I saw it. But they can't ask because they're not sure."
"These are the guys in your firm?"
"Yeah. No. Wait. How'd you know I was in a firm? I haven't told you that."
"It's easy. You go to work too early to be a government lawyer. You're in one of those two-hundred-lawyer firms where they expect the associates and junior partners to work a hundred hours a week. The first time you called me you said you were on the way to the office, and it was something like 5 A.M."
"Well, well, what else do you know?"
"Not much. We're playing games, Garcia. If you're not willing to talk, then hang up and leave me alone. I'm losing sleep."
"Sweet dreams." Garcia hung up. Grantham stared at the receiver.

THREE TIMES in the past eight years he had unlisted his phone number. He lived by the phone, and his biggest stories came out of nowhere over the phone. But after or during each big one, there had been a thousand insignificant ones from sources who felt compelled to call at all hours of the night with their hot little morsels. He was known as a reporter who would face a firing squad before revealing a source, so they called and called and called. He'd get sick of it, and get a new, unlisted number. Then hit a dry spell. Then rush to get back in the B.C. directory.


He was there now. Gray S. Grantham. The only one in the book. They could get him at work twelve hours a day, but it was so much more secretive and private to call him at home, especially at odd hours when he was trying to sleep.
He fumed over Garcia for thirty minutes, then fell asleep. He was in a rhythm and dead to the world when it rang again. He found it in the darkness. "Hello."
It was not Garcia. It was a female. "Is this Gray Grantham with the Washington Post?"
"It is. And who are you?"
"Are you still on the story about Rosenberg and Jensen?"
He sat in the darkness and stared at the clock. Five-thirty. "It's a big story. We've got a lot of people on it, but, yes, I'm investigating."
"Have you heard of the pelican brief?"
He breathed deeply and tried to think. "The pelican brief. No. What is it?"
"It's a harmless little theory about who killed them. It was taken to Washington last Sunday by a man named Thomas Callahan, a professor of law at Tulane. He gave it to a friend with the FBI, and it was passed around. Things snowballed, and Callahan was killed in a car bombing Wednesday night in New Orleans."
The lamp was on and he was scribbling. "Where are you calling from?"
"New Orleans. A pay phone, so don't bother."
"How do you know all this?"
"I wrote the brief."
"He was wide awake now, wild-eyed and breathing rapidly.Okay. If you wrote it, tell me about it."
"I don't want to do it that way, because even if you had a copy you couldn't run the story."
"Try me."
"You couldn't. It'll take some thorough verification."
"Okay. We've got the Klan, the terrorist Khamel, the Underground Army, the Aryans, the"
"Nope. None of the above. They're a bit obvious. The brief is about an obscure suspect."
He was pacing at the foot of the bed, holding the phone. "Why can't you tell me who it is?"
"Maybe later. You seem to have these magical sources. Let's see what you find."
"Callahan will be easy to check out. That's one phone call. Give me twenty-four hours."
"I'll try to call Monday morning. If we're gonna do business, Mr. Grantham, you must show me something. The next time I call, tell me something I don't know."
She was at a pay phone in the dark. "Are you in danger?" he asked.
"I think so. But I'm okay for now."
She sounded young, mid-twenties, maybe. She wrote a brief. She knew the law professor. "Are you a lawyer?"
"No, and don't spend your time digging after me. You've got work to do, Mr. Grantham, or I'll go elsewhere."
"Fine. You need a name."
"I've got one."
"I mean a code name."
"You mean like spies and all. Gee, this could be fun."
"Either that or give me your real name."
"Nice try. Just call me Pelican."

HIS PARENTS were good Irish Catholics, but he had sort of quit many years ago. They were a handsome couple, dignified in mourning, well tanned and dressed. He had seldom mentioned them. They walked hand-in-hand with the rest of the family into Rogers Chapel. His brother from Mobile was shorter and looked much older. Thomas said he had a drinking problem.


For half an hour, students and faculty had streamed into the small chapel. The game was tonight and there was a nice crowd on campus. A television van was parked in the street. A cameraman kept a respectable distance and shot the front of the chapel. A campus policeman watched him carefully and kept him in place.
It was odd seeing these law students with dresses and heels and coats and ties. In a dark room on the third floor of Newcomb Hall, the Pelican sat with her face to the window and watched the students mill about and speak softly and finish their cigarettes. Under her chair were four newspapers, already read and discarded. She'd been there for two hours, reading by sunlight and waiting on the service. There was no other place to be. She was certain the bad guys were lurking in the bushes around the chapel, but she was learning patience. She had come early, would stay late, and move in the shadows. If they found her, maybe they would do it quick and it would be over.
She gripped a wadded paper towel and dried her eyes. It was okay to cry now, but this was the last one. The people were all inside, and the television van left. The paper said it was a memorial service with private burial later. There was no casket inside.
She had selected this moment to run, to rent a car and drive to Baton Rouge, then jump on the first plane headed to any place except New Orleans. She would get out of the country, perhaps Montreal or Calgary. She would hide there for a year and hope the crime would be solved and the bad guys put away.
But it was a dream. The quickest route to justice ran smack through her. She knew more than anyone. The Fibbies had circled close, then backed off, and were now chasing who knows who. Verheek had gotten nowhere, and he was close to the Director. She would have to piece it together. Her little brief had killed Thomas, and now they were after her. She knew the identity of the man behind the murders of Rosenberg and Jensen and Callahan, and this knowledge made her rather unique.
Suddenly, she leaned forward. The tears dried on her cheeks. There he was! The thin man with the narrow face! He was wearing a coat and tie and looked properly mournful as he walked quickly to the chapel. It was him! The man she'd last seen in the lobby of the Sheraton on, when was it, Thursday morning. She'd been talking to Verheek when he strolled suspiciously through.
He stopped at the door, jerked his head nervously around he was a klutz, really, a giveaway. He stared for a second at three cars parked innocently on the street, less than fifty yards away. He opened the door, and was in the chapel. Beautiful. The bastards killed him, and now they joined his family and friends for last respects.
Her nose touched the window. The cars were too far away, but she was certain there was a man in one watching for her. Surely they knew she was not so dumb and so heartbroken as to show up and mourn her lover. They knew that. She had eluded them for two and a half days. The tears were gone.
Ten minutes later, the thin man came out by himself, lit a cigarette, and strolled with hands stuck deep in his pockets toward the three cars. He was sad. What a guy.
He walked in front of the cars but did not stop. When he was out of sight, a door opened and a man in a green Tulane sweatshirt emerged from the middle car. He walked down the street after the thin one. He was not thin. He was short, thick, and powerful. A regular stump.
He disappeared down the sidewalk behind the thin man, be hind the chapel. Darby poised on the edge of the folding chair. Within a minute, they emerged on the sidewalk from behind the building. They were together now, whispering, but for only a moment because the thin man peeled off and disappeared down the street. Stump walked quickly to his car and got in. He just sat there, waiting for the service to break up and get one last look at the crowd on the off chance that she was in fact stupid enough to show up.
It had taken less than ten minutes for the thin man to sneak inside, scan the crowd of, say, two hundred people, and determine she was not there. Perhaps he was looking for the red hair. Or bleached blond. No, it made more sense for them to have people already in there, sitting around prayerfully and looking sad, looking for her or anyone who might resemble her. They could nod or shake or wink at the thin man.
This place was crawling with them.

HAVANA was a perfect sanctuary. It mattered not if ten or a hundred countries had bounties on his throat. Fidel was an admirer and occasional client. They drank together, shared women, and smoked cigars. He had the run of the place: a nice little apartment on Calle de Torre in the old section, a car with a driver, a banker who was a wizard at blitzing money around the world, any size boat he wanted, a military plane if needed, and plenty of young women. He spoke the language and his skin was not pale. He loved the place.




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