The Pelican Brief

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The name is Verheek. Dutch, but he's an American. Works for the FBI in Washington. Evidently, he and Callahan were friends. They finished law school together at Georgetown, and Verheek was an honorary pallbearer at the memorial service yesterday. Last night he was hanging out in a bar not far from the campus, and was asking questions about the girl. Two hours ago, one of our men was in the same bar posing as an FBI agent, and he struck up a conversation with the bartender, who turns out to be a law student who knows the girl. They watched football and talked for a while, then the kid produced the card. Look on the back. He's in room 1909 at the Hilton."
"That's a five-minute walk." The street maps were scattered on one bed.
"Yes. We've made a few phone calls to Washington. He's not an agent, just a lawyer. He knew Callahan, and he might know the girl. It's obvious he's trying to find her."
"She would talk to him, wouldn't she?"
"How's my English?"

KHAMEL WAITED AN HOUR and left the hotel. With the coat and tie, he was just an average joe strolling along Canal at dusk headed for the river. He carried a large gym bag and smoked a cigarette, and five minutes later entered the lobby of the Hilton. He worked his way through the crowd of fans returning from the Dome. The elevator stopped on the twentieth floor, and he walked one flight down to the nineteenth.

There was no answer at 1909. If the door had opened with the chain locked, he would have apologized and explained he had the wrong room. If the door had opened without the chain and with a fate in the crack, he would have kicked it sharply and been inside. But it did not open.
His new pal Verheek was probably hanging around a bar, passing out cards, begging kids to talk to him about Darby Shaw. What a nut.
He knocked again, and while he waited he slid a six-inch plastic ruler between the door and the facing, and worked it gently until the bolt clicked. Locks were minor nuisances for Khamel. Without a key, he could open a locked car and start the engine in less than thirty seconds.
Inside, he locked the door behind him, and placed his bag on the bed. Like a surgeon, he picked the gloves from a pocket and pulled them tightly over his fingers. He laid a .22 and silencer on the table.
The phone was quick work. He plugged the recorder into the jack under the bed, where it could sit for weeks before it was noticed. He called the weather station twice to test the recorder. Perfect.
His new pal Verheek was a slob. Most of the clothes in the room were dirty and simply thrown in the direction of the suit case sitting on a table. He had not unpacked. A cheap garment bag hung in the closet with one solitary shirt.
Khamel covered his tracks and settled low in the closet. He was a patient man, and he could wait for hours. He held the .22 just in case this clown happened to barge into the closet and he had to kill him with bullets. If not, he would just listen.

GAVIN QUIT THE BARS SUNDAY. He was getting nowhere. She had called him, and she was not hanging around those places, so what the hell. He was drinking too much and eating too much, and he was tired of New Orleans. He already had a flight booked for late Monday afternoon, and if she didn't call again he was finished playing detective.

He couldn't find her, and it wasn't his fault. Cabdrivers got lost in this city. Voyles would be screaming by noon. He had done his best.
He was stretched on the bed in nothing but boxer shorts, flipping through a magazine and ignoring the television. It was almost eleven. He would wait on her until twelve, then try to sleep.
It rang at exactly eleven. He pushed a button and remotely killed the television. "Hello."
"It was her.It's me, Gavin."
"So you're alive."
He sat on the edge of the bed. "What's happened?"
"They saw me today, and one of their goons, my friend Stump, chased me through the Quarter. You haven't met Stump, but he's the one who watched you and everyone else walk into the chapel."
"But you got away."
"Yeah. A small miracle, but I got away."
"What happened to Stump?"
"He was mortally wounded. He's probably lying in a bed somewhere wearing an ice pack in his shorts. He was just a few steps from me when he picked a fight with the wrong guys. I'm scared, Gavin."
"Did he follow you from somewhere?"
"No. We just sort of met on the street."
Verheek paused a second. Her voice was shaking, but under control. She was losing her cool. "Look, Darby. I've got a flight out of here tomorrow afternoon. I have this little job and my boss expects me to be at the office. So I can't hang around New Orleans for the next month hoping you don't get killed and hoping you come to your senses and trust me. I'm leaving tomorrow, and I think you need to go with me."
"Go where?"
"To Washington. To my house. To someplace other than where you are."
"What happens then?"
"Well, you get to live, for one thing. I'll plead with the Director, and I promise you'll be safe. We'll do something, dammit. Anything beats this."
"What makes you think we can just fly out of here?"
"Because we'll have three FBI agents surrounding you. Because I'm not a complete dumbass. Look, Darby, tell me where you want to meet right now, and within fifteen minutes I'll come get you with three agents. These guys have guns, and they're not afraid of your little Stump and his pals. We'll get you out of the city tonight, and take you to Washington tomorrow. I promise you'll personally meet my boss, the Honorable F. Denton Voyles, tomorrow, and we'll go from there."
"I thought the FBI was not involved."
"It's not involved, but it may be."
"Then where do the three agents come from?"
"I've got friends."
She thought for a moment, and her voice was suddenly stronger. "Behind your hotel is a place called Riverwalk. It's a shopping area with restaurants and"
"I spent two hours there this afternoon."
"Good. On the second level is a clothing store called Frenchmen's Bend."
"I saw it."
"At precisely noon tomorrow, I want you to stand by the entrance, and wait for five minutes."
"Come on, Darby. You won't be alive at noon tomorrow. Enough of this cat and mouse."
"Just do as I say, Gavin. We've never met, so I have no idea what you look like. Wear a black shirt of some type and a red baseball cap."
"Where might I find such articles?"
"Just get them."
"Okay, okay, I'll have them. I guess you want me to pick my nose with a shovel or something. This is silly."
"I'm not in a silly mood, and if you don't shut up we'll call it off."
"It's your neck."
"Please, Gavin."
"I'm sorry. I'll do whatever you say. That's a very busy spot to be."
"Yes, it is. I just feel safer in a crowd. Stand by the door for five minutes or so, and hold a folded newspaper. I'll be watching. After five minutes, walk inside the store, and go to the right rear corner where there's a rack of safari jackets. Browse around a bit, and I'll find you."
"And what might you be wearing?"
"Don't worry about me."
"Fine. Then what do we do?"
"You and I, and only you and I, will leave the city. I don't want anyone else to know of this. Do you understand?"
"No, I don't understand. I can arrange security."
"No, Gavin. I'm the boss, okay. No one else. Forget your three agent friends. Agreed?"
"Agreed. How do you propose we leave the city?"
"I've got a plan for that too."
"I don't like any of your plans, Darby. These thugs are breathing down your neck, and now you're getting me in the middle of it. This is not what I wanted. It's much safer to do it my way. Safer for you, safer for me."
"But you'll be there at noon, won't you?"
He stood by the bed and spoke with his eyes closed. "Yes. I'll be there. I just hope you make it."
"How tall are you?"
"How much do you weigh?"
"I was afraid of this. I usually lie, you know. Two hundred, but I plan to lose it. I swear."
"I'll see you tomorrow, Gavin."
"I hope I see you, dear."
She was gone. He hung up. "Son of a bitch!" he yelled to the walls. "Son of a bitch!" He walked along the end of the bed a few times, then to the bathroom, where he closed the door and turned on the shower.
He cussed her in the shower for ten minutes, then stepped out, and dried himself. It was more like two hundred and fifteen pounds, and all of it was situated badly on the five-nine frame. It was painful to look at. Here he was, about to meet this gorgeous woman who suddenly trusted him with her life, and what a slob he was.
He opened the door. The room was dark. Dark? He had left on the lights. What the hell? He headed for the switch next to the dresser.
The first blow crushed his larynx. It was a perfect blow that came from the side, somewhere near the wall. He grunted painfully and fell to one knee, which made the second blow so easy, like an ax on a fat log. It hit like a rock at the base of the skull, and Gavin was dead.
Khamel flipped on a light, and looked at the pitiful nude figure frozen on the floor. He was not one to admire his work. He didn't want carpet burns, so he lifted the pudgy corpse onto his shoulders and laid it across the bed. Working quickly without any wasted motion, Khamel turned on the television and raised it to full volume, unzipped his bag, removed a cheap.25 caliber automatic, and placed it precisely on the right temple of the late Gavin Verheek. He covered the gun and the head with two pillows, and pulled the trigger. Now the critical part: he took one pillow and placed it under the head, threw the other one on the floor, and carefully curled the fingers of the right hand around the pistol, leaving it twelve inches from the head.
He took the recorder from under the bed, and ran the telephone wire directly into the wall. He punched a button, listened, and there she was. He turned off the television.
Every job was different. He had once stalked his prey for three weeks in Mexico City, then caught him in bed with two prostitutes. It was a dumb mistake, and during his career he had been assisted by numerous dumb mistakes by the opposition. This guy was a dumb mistake, a stupid lawyer pilfering around running his mouth, passing out cards with his room number on the back. He had stuck his nose into the world of big-league killing, and look at him now.
With a little luck, the cops would look around the room for a few minutes and declare it to be another suicide. They would go through the motions and ask themselves a couple of questions they could not answer, but there were always some of those. Because he was an important FBI lawyer, an autopsy would be done in a day or so, and probably by Tuesday an examiner would suddenly discover it was not a suicide.
By Tuesday, the girl would be dead and he would be in Managua.

HIS USUAL, official sources at the White House denied any knowledge of the pelican brief. Sarge had never heard of it. Long-shot phone calls to the FBI produced nothing. A friend at Justice denied ever hearing about it. He dug all weekend, and had nothing to show for it. The story about Cal-lahan was verified when he found a copy of the New Orleans paper. When her call came in at the newsroom Monday, he had nothing fresh to tell her. But at least she called.

The Pelican said she was at a pay phone, so don't bother.
"I'm still digging," he said. "If there's such a brief in town, it's being closely protected."
"I assure you it's there, and I understand why it's being protected."
"I'm sure you can tell me more."
"Lots more. The brief almost got me killed yesterday, so I may be ready to talk sooner than I thought. I need to spill my guts while I'm still alive."
"Who's trying to kill you?"
"Same people who killed Rosenberg and Jensen, and Thomas Callahan."
"Do you know their names?"
"No, but I've seen at least four of them since Wednesday. They're here in New Orleans, snooping around, hoping I'll do something stupid and they can kill me."
"How many people know about the pelican brief?"
"Good question. Callahan took it to the FBI, and I think from there it went to the White House where it evidently caused quite a fuss, and from there who knows. Two days after he handed it to the FBI, Callahan was dead. I, of course, was supposed to have been killed with him."
"Were you with him?"
"I was close, but not close enough."
"So you're the unidentified female on the scene?"
"That's how the paper described me."
"Then the police have your name?"
"My name is Darby Shaw. I am a second-year law student at Tulane. Thomas Callahan was my professor and lover. I wrote the brief, gave it to him, and you know the rest. Are you getting all this?"
Grantham scribbled furiously. "Yes. I'm listening."
"I'm rather tired of the French Quarter, and I plan to leave today. I'll call you from somewhere tomorrow. Do you have access to presidential campaign disclosure forms?"
"It's public record."
"I know that. But how quickly can you get the information?"
"What information?"
"A list of all major contributors to the President's last election."
"That's not difficult. I can have it by this afternoon."
"Do that, and I'll call you in the morning."
"Okay. Do you have a copy of the brief?"
She hesitated. "No, but it's memorized."
"And you know who's doing the killing?"
"Yes, and as soon as I tell you, they'll put your name on the hit list."
"Tell me now."
"Let's take it slow. I'll call you tomorrow."
Grantham listened hard, then hung up. He took his notepad and zigzagged through the maze of desks and people to the glass office of his editor, Smith Keen. Keen was a hale and hearty type with an open-door policy that ensured chaos in his office. He was finishing a phone chat when Grantham barged in and closed the door.
"That door stays open," Keen said sharply.
"We have to talk, Smith."
"We'll talk with the door open. Open the damned door."
"I'll open it in just a second." Grantham spoke with both palms facing the editor. Yes, it was serious. "Let's talk."
"Okay. What is it?"
"It's big, Smith."
"I know it's big. You shut the damned door, so I know it's big."
"I just finished my second phone conversation with a young lady by the name of Darby Shaw, and she knows who killed Rosenberg and Jensen."
Keen sat slowly and glared at Grantham. "Yes, son, that's big. But how do you know? How does she know? What can you prove?"
"I don't have a story yet, Smith, but she's talking to me. Read this." Grantham handed over a copy of the newspaper account of Callahan's death. Keen read it slowly.
"Okay. Who's Callahan?"
"One week ago today, he handed a little paper known as the pelican brief to the FBI here in town. Evidently, the brief implicates an obscure person in the killings. The brief gets passed around, then sent to the White House, then beyond that no one knows. Two days later, Callahan cranks his Porsche for the last time. Darby Shaw claims to be the unidentified female mentioned there. She was with Callahan, and was supposed to die with him."
"Why was she supposed to die?"
"She wrote the brief, Smith. Or she claims she did."
Keen sank deeper into his seat and placed his feet on the desk. He studied the photo of Callahan. "Where's the brief?"
"I don't know."
"What's in it?"
"Don't know that either."
"Then we don't have anything, do we?"
"Not yet. But what if she tells me everything that's in it?"
"And when will she do this?"
Grantham hesitated. "Soon, I think. Real soon."
Keen shook his head and threw the copy on the desk. "If we had the brief, we'd have a helluva story, Gray, but we couldn't run it. There's gotta be some heavy, painful, flawless, and accurate verification before we can run it."
"But I've got the green light?"
"Yeah, but you keep me posted every hour. Don't write a word until we talk."
Grantham smiled and opened the door.

THIS WAS NOT forty-bucks-an-hour work. Not even thirty, or twenty. Croft knew he'd be lucky to squeeze fifteen out of Grantham for this needle-in-the-haystack Mickey Mouse crap. If he'd had other work, he'd have told Grantham to find someone else, or better yet, do it himself.

But things had been slow, and he could do a lot worse than fifteen bucks an hour. He finished a joint in the last stall, flushed it, and opened the door. He stuck the dark sunglasses over his ears, and entered the hallway that led to the atrium where four escalators carried a thousand lawyers up to their little rooms, where they would spend the day bitching and threatening by the hour. He had Garcia's face memorized. He was even dreaming of this kid with the bright face and good looks, the slim physique draped with an expensive suit. He would know him if he saw him.
He stood by a pillar, holding a newspaper and trying to watch everyone from behind the dark shades. Lawyers everywhere, scurrying upward with their smug little faces and carrying their smug little attache cases. Man, how he hated lawyers. Why did they all dress alike? Dark suits. Dark shoes. Dark faces. An occasional nonconformist with a daring little bow tie. Where did they all come from? Shortly after his arrest with the drugs, the first lawyers had been a group of angry mouthpieces hired by the Post. Then he hired his own, an overpriced moron who couldn't find the courtroom. Then, the prosecutor was of course a lawyer. Lawyers, lawyers.
Two hours in the morning, two hours at lunch, two hours during the evening, and then Grantham would have another building for him to patrol. Ninety bucks a day was cheap, and he would give this up as soon as he got a better deal. He told Grantham this was hopeless, just shooting in the dark. Grantham agreed, but said to keep shooting. It's all they could do. He said Garcia was scared and wouldn't call anymore. They had to find him.
In his pocket he had two photos just in case, and from the directory he had made a list of the firms in the building. It was a long list. The building had twelve floors filled mainly with firms filled with nothing but these fancy little esquires. He was in a den of snakes.
By nine-thirty the rush was over, and some of the faces looked familiar coming back down the escalators, headed no doubt for the courtrooms and agencies and commissions. Croft eased through the revolving doors, and wiped his feet on the sidewalk.

FOUR BLOCKS AWAY, Fletcher Coal paced in front of the President's desk and listened intently to the phone in his ear. He frowned, then closed his eyes, then glared at the President as if to say, "Bad news, Chief. Really bad news." The President held a letter and peered at Coal over his reading glasses. Coal's pacing back and forth like Der F├╝hrer really irritated him, and he made a mental note to say something about it.

Coal slammed the phone down.
"Don't slam the damned phones!" the President said.
Coal was unfazed. "Sorry. That was Zikman. Gray Grantham called thirty minutes ago, and asked if he had any knowledge of the pelican brief."
"Wonderful. Fabulous. How'd he get a copy of it?"
Coal was still pacing. "Zikman knows nothing about it, so his ignorance was genuine."
"His ignorance is always genuine. He's the dumbest ass on my staff, Fletcher, and I want him gone."
"Whatever." Coal sat in a chair across the desk and folded his hands in a little steeple in front of his chin. He was very deep in thought, and the President tried to ignore him. They thought for a moment.
"Voyles leaked it?" the President finally said.
"Maybe, if it was leaked. Grantham is known for bluffing. We can't be certain he's seen the brief. Maybe he heard about it, and he's fishing."
"Maybe, my ass. What if they run some crazy story about that damned thing? What then?" The President slapped his desk and bolted to his feet.What then, Fletcher? That paper hates me!" He moped to the windows.
"They can't run it without another source, and there can't be another source because there's no truth to it. It's a wild idea that's gone much further than it deserves."
"The President sulked for a while and stared through the glass.How did Grantham find out about it?"
Coal stood and began pacing, but much slower now. He was still painfully in thought. "Who knows. No one here knows about it but you and I. They brought one copy, and it's locked away in my office. I personally Xeroxed it once, and gave it to Gminski. I swore him to secrecy."
The President sneered at the windows.
Coal continued. "Okay, you're right. There could be a thousand copies out there by now. But it's harmless, unless of course our friend actually did these dirty deeds, then"
"Then my ass is cooked."
"Yes, I would say our asses are cooked."
"How much money did we take?"
"Millions, directly and indirectly." And legally and illegally, but the President knew little of these transactions and Coal chose to stay quiet.
The President walked slowly to the sofa. "Why don't you call Grantham? Pick his brain. See what he knows. If he's bluffing, it'll be obvious. What do you think?"
"I don't know."
"You've talked to him before, haven't you? Everyone knows Grantham."
"Coal was now pacing behind the sofa.Yeah, I've talked to him. But if I suddenly call out of nowhere, he'll be suspicious."
"Yeah, I guess you're right." The President paced on one end of the sofa, and Coal on the other.
"What's the downside?" the President finally asked.
"Our friend could be involved. You asked Voyles to back off our friend. Our friend could be exposed by the press. Voyles covers his tail and says you told him to chase other suspects and ignore our friend. The Post goes berserk with another cover-up smear. And we can forget reelection."
"Anything else?"
Coal thought for a second. "Yeah, this is all completely off the wall. The brief is fantasy. Grantham will find nothing, and I'm late for a staff meeting." He walked to the door.I've got a squash game for lunch. Be back at one."
The President watched the door close, and breathed easier. He had eighteen holes planned for the afternoon, so forget the pelican thing. If Coal wasn't worried, neither was he.
He punched numbers on his phone, waited patiently, and finally had Bob Gminski on the line. The director of the CIA was a terrible golfer, one of the few the President could humiliate, and he invited him to play this afternoon. Certainly, said Gminski, a man with a thousand things to do but, well, it was the President so he would be delighted to join him.
"By the way, Bob, what about this pelican thing in New Orleans?"
Gminski cleared his throat and tried to sound relaxed. "Well, Chief, I told Fletcher Coal Friday that it was very imaginative and a fine work of fiction. I think its author should forget about law school and pursue a career as a novelist. Ha, ha, ha."
"Great, Bob. Nothing to it then."
"We're digging."
"See you at three." The President hung up, and went straight for his putter.

RIVERWALK RUNS for a quarter of a mile along the water, and is always crowded. It is packed with two hundred shops and cafes and restaurants on several levels, most under the same roof, and several with doors leading onto a boardwalk next to the river. It's at the foot of Poydras Street, a stone's throw from the Quarter.

She arrived at eleven, and sipped espresso in the rear of a tiny bistro while trying to read the paper and appear calm. Frenchmen's Bend was one level down and around a corner. She was nervous, and the espresso didn't help.
She had a list in her pocket of things to do, specific steps at specific moments, even words and sentences she had memorized in the event things went terribly wrong and Verheek got out of control. She had slept two hours, and spent the rest of the time with a legal pad diagraming and charting. If she died, it would not be from a lack of preparation.

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