The Pelican Brief

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The small bayou villages had been turned into boomtowns. The politicians from the governors down took the oil money and played along. All was well, and so what if some of the marshlands suffered.
Green Fund filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Lafayette. A federal judge halted the project pending a trial on all issues.
Mattiece went over the edge. He spent weeks with his lawyers plotting and scheming. He would spare no expense to win. Do whatever it took, he instructed them. Break any rule, violate any ethic, hire any expert, commission any study, cut any throat, spend any amount of money. Just win the damned lawsuit.
Never one to be seen, he assumed an even lower profile. He moved to the Bahamas and operated from an armed fortress at Lyford Cay. He flew to New Orleans once a week to meet with the lawyers, then returned to the island.
Though invisible now, he made certain his political contributions increased. His jackpot was still safe beneath Terrebonne Parish, and he would one day extract it, but one never knows when one will be forced to call in favors.

BY THE TIME the Green Fund lawyers, both of them, had waded in ankle deep, they had identified over thirty separate defendants. Some owned land. Some did exploring. Others laid pipe. Others drilled. The joint ventures and limited partnerships and corporate associations were an impenetrable maze.

The defendants and their legions of high-priced lawyers answered with a vengeance. They filed a thick motion asking the judge to dismiss the lawsuit as frivolous. Denied. They asked him to allow the drilling to continue while they waited on a trial. Denied. They squealed with pain and explained in another heavy motion how much money was already tied up in exploration, drilling, etc. Denied again. They filed motions by the truckload, and when they were all denied and it was evident there would one day be a trial by jury, the oil lawyers dug in and played dirty.
Luckily for Green Fund's lawsuit, the heart of the new oil reserve was near a ring of marshes that had been for years a natural refuge for waterfowl. Ospreys, egrets, pelicans, ducks, cranes, geese, and many others migrated to it. Though Louisiana has not always been kind to its land, it has shown a bit more sympathy for its animals. Since the verdict would one day be rendered by a jury of average and hopefully ordinary people, the Green Fund lawyers played heavy on the birds.
The pelican became the hero. After thirty years of insidious contamination by DDT and other pesticides, the Louisiana brown pelican perched on the brink of extinction. Almost too late, it was classified as an endangered species, and afforded a higher class of protection. Green Fund seized the majestic bird, and enlisted a half-dozen experts from around the country to testify on its behalf.
With a hundred lawyers involved, the lawsuit moved slowly. At times it went nowhere, which suited Green Fund just fine. The rigs were idle.
Seven years after Mattiece first buzzed over Terrebonne Bay in his jet helicopter and followed the swamplands along the route his precious canal would take, the pelican suit went to trial in Lake Charles. It was a bitter trial that lasted ten weeks. Green Fund sought money damages for the havoc already inflicted, and it wanted a permanent injunction against further drilling.
The oil companies brought in a fancy litigator from Houston to talk to the jury. He wore elephant-skin boots and a Stetson, and could talk like a Cajun when necessary. He was stout medicine, especially when compared to the Green Fund lawyers, both of whom had beards and very intense faces.
Green Fund lost the trial, and it was not altogether unexpected. The oil companies spent millions, and it's difficult to whip a bear with a switch. David pulled it off, but the best bet is always on Goliath. The jurors were not impressed with the dire warnings about pollution and the frailness of wetland ecology. Oil meant money, and folks needed jobs.
The judge kept the injunction in place for two reasons. First, he thought Green Fund had proven its point about the pelican, a federally protected species. And it was apparent to all that Green Fund would appeal, so the matter was far from over.
The dust settled for a while, and Mattiece had a small victory. But he knew there would be other days in other courtrooms. He was a man of infinite patience and planning.

THE TAPE RECORDER was in the center of the small table with four empty beer bottles around.

He made notes as he talked. "Who told you about the lawsuit?"
A guy named John Del Greco. He's a law student at Tulane, a year ahead of me. He clerked last summer for a big firm in Houston, and the firm was on the periphery of the hostilities. He was not close to the trial, but the rumors and gossip were heavy."
"And all the firms were from New Orleans and Houston?"
"Yes, the principal litigation firms. But these companies are from a dozen different cities, so of course they brought their local counsel with them. There were lawyers from Dallas, Chicago, and several other cities. It was a circus."
"What's the status of the lawsuit?"
"From the trial level, it will be appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. That appeal has not been perfected, but should be in a month or so."
"Where's the Fifth Circuit?"
"New Orleans. About twenty-four months after it arrives there, a three-judge panel will hear and decide. The losing party will undoubtedly request a rehearing by the full panel, and this will take another three or four months. There are enough defects in the verdict to insure either a reversal or a remand."
"What's a remand?"
"The appellate court can do any of three things. Affirm the verdict, reverse the verdict, or find enough error to send the whole thing back for a new trial. If it goes back, it's been remanded. They can also affirm part, reverse part, remand part, sort of scramble things up."
Gray shook his head in frustration as he scribbled away. "Why would anyone want to be a lawyer?"
"I've asked myself that a few times in the past week."
"Any idea what the Fifth Circuit might do?"
"None. They haven't even seen it yet. The plaintiffs are alleging a multitude of procedural sins by the defendants, and given the nature of the conspiracy, a lot of it's probably true. It could be reversed."
"Then what happens?"
"The fun starts. If either side is unhappy with the Fifth Circuit, they can appeal to the Supreme Court."
"Surprise, surprise."
"Each year the Supreme Court receives thousands of appeals, but is very selective about what it takes. Because of the money and pressure and issues involved, this one has a decent chance of being heard."
"From today, how long would it take for the case to be decided by the Supreme Court?"
"Anywhere from three to five years."
"Rosenberg would have died from natural causes."
"Yes, but there could be a Democrat in the White House when he died from natural causes. So take him out now when you can sort of predict his replacement."
"Makes sense."
"Oh, it's beautiful. If you're Victor Mattiece, and you've only got fifty million or so, and you want to be a billionaire, and you don't mind killing a couple of Supremes, then now is the time."
"But what if the Supreme Court refused to hear the case?"
"He's in good shape if the Fifth Circuit affirms the trial verdict. But if it reverses, and the Supreme Court denies cert, he's got problems. My guess is that he would go back to square one, stir up some new litigation, and try it all again. There's too much money involved to lick his wounds and go home. When he took care of Rosenberg and Jensen, one has to assume he committed himself to a cause."
"Where was he during the trial?"
"Completely invisible. Keep in mind, it is not public knowledge that he's the ringleader of the litigation. By the time the trial started, there were thirty-eight corporate defendants. No individuals were named, just corporations. Of the thirty-eight, seven are traded publicly, and he owns no more than twenty percent of any one. These are just small firms traded over the counter. The other thirty-one are privately held, and I couldn't get much information. But I did learn that many of these private companies are owned by each other, and some are even owned by the public corporations. It's almost impenetrable."
"But he's in control."
"Yes. I suspect he owns or controls eighty percent of the project. I checked out four of the private companies, and three are chartered offshore. Two in the Bahamas, and one in the Caymans. Del Greco heard that Mattiece operates from behind offshore banks and companies."
"Do you remember the seven public companies?"
"Most of them. They, of course, were footnoted in the brief, a copy of which I do not have. But I've rewritten most of it in longhand."
"Can I see it?"
"You can have it. But it's lethal."
"I'll read it later. Tell me about the photograph."
Mattiece is from a small town near Lafayette, and in his younger years was a big money man for politicians in south Louisiana. He was a shadowy type back then, always in the background giving money. He spent big bucks on Democrats locally and Republicans nationally, and over the years he was wined and dined by big shots from Washington. He has never sought publicity, but his kind of money is hard to hide, especially when it's being handed out to politicians. Seven years ago, when the President was the Vice President, he was in New Orleans for a Republican fundraiser. All the heavy hitters were there, including Mattiece. It was ten thousand dollars a plate, so the press tried to get in. Somehow a photographer snapped a picture of Mattiece shaking hands with the VP. The New Orleans paper ran it the next day. It's a wonderful picture. They're grinning at each other like best friends."
"It'll be easy to get."
"I stuck it on the last page of the brief, just for the fun of it. This is fun, isn't it?"
"I'm having a ball."
"Mattiece dropped out of sight a few years ago, and is now believed to live in several places. He's very eccentric. Del Greco said most people believe he's demented."
The recorder beeped, and Gray changed tapes. Darby stood and stretched her long legs. He watched her as he fumbled with the recorder. Two other tapes were already used and marked.
"Are you tired?" he asked.
"I haven't been sleeping well. How many more questions?"
"How much more do you know?"
"We've covered the basics. There are some gaps we can fill in the morning."
Gray turned off the recorder and stood. She was at the window, stretching and yawning. He relaxed on the sofa.
"What happened to the hair?" he asked.
Darby sat in a chair and pulled her feet under her. Red toe-nails. Her chin rested on her knees. "I left it in a hotel in New Orleans. How did you know about it?"
"I saw a photograph."
"From where?"
"Three photos, actually. Two from the Tulane yearbook, and one from Arizona State."
"Who sent them to you?"
"I have contacts. They were faxed to me, so they weren't that good. But there was this gorgeous hair."
"I wish you hadn't done that."
"Every phone call leaves a trail."
"Come on, Darby. Give me a little credit."
"You were snooping around on me."
"Just a little background. That's all."
"No more, okay? If you want something from me, just ask. If I say no, then leave it alone."
Grantham shrugged and agreed. Forget the hair. On to less sensitive matters. "So who selected Rosenberg and Jensen? Mattiece is not a lawyer."
"Rosenberg is easy. Jensen wrote little on environmental issues, but he was consistent in voting against all types of development. If they shared common ground with any consistency, it was protecting the environment."
"And you think Mattiece figured this out by himself?"
"Of course not. A pretty wicked legal mind presented him with the two names. He has a thousand lawyers."
"And none in B.C.?"
Darby raised her chin and frowned at him. "What did you say?"
"None of his lawyers are in D.C."
"I didn't say that."
"I thought you said the law firms were primarily from New Orleans and Houston and other cities. You didn't mention D.C."
Darby shook her head. "You're assuming too much. I can think of at least two D.C. firms that I ran across. One is White and Blazevich, a very old, powerful, rich Republican firm with four hundred lawyers."
Gray moved to the edge of the sofa.
"What's the matter?" she asked. He was suddenly wired. He was on his feet walking to the door, then back to the sofa.
"This may fit. This may be it, Darby."
"I'm listening."
"Are you listening?"
"I swear I'm listening."
He was at the window. "Okay, last week I got three phone calls from a lawyer in D.C. named Garcia, but that's not his name. He said he knew something and saw something about Rosenberg and Jensen, and he wanted so badly to tell me what he knew. But he got scared and disappeared."
"There are a million lawyers in B.C."
"Two million. But I know he works in a private firm. He sort of admitted it. He was sincere and very frightened, thought they were following. I asked who they were, and he of course wouldn't say."
"What happened to him?"
"We had a meeting planned for last Saturday morning, and he called early and said forget it. Said he was married and had a good job, and why risk it. He never admitted it, but I think he has a copy of something that he was about to show me."
"He could be your verification."
"What if he works for White and Blazevich? We've suddenly narrowed it to four hundred lawyers."
"The haystack is much smaller."
Grantham darted to his bag, flipped through some papers, and presto! pulled out a five-by-seven black and white. He dropped it in her lap. "This is Mr. Garcia."
Darby studied the picture. It was a man on a busy sidewalk. The face was clear. "I take it he didn't pose for this."
"Not exactly." Grantham was pacing.
"Then how'd you get it?"
"I cannot reveal my sources."
She slid it onto the coffee table, and rubbed her eyes. "You're scaring me, Grantham. This has a sleazy feel to it. Tell me it's not sleazy."
"It's just a little sleazy, okay. The kid was using the same pay phone, and that's a mistake."
"Yes, I know. That's a mistake."
"And I wanted to know what he looked like."
"Did you ask if you could take his photograph?"
"Then it's sleazy as hell."
"Okay. It's sleazy as hell. But I did it, and there it is, and it could be our link to Mattiece."
"Our link?"
"Yes, our link. I thought you wanted to nail Mattiece."
"Did I say that? I want him to pay, but I'd rather leave him alone. He's made a believer out of me, Gray. I've seen enough blood to last me a long time. You take this ball and run with it."
He didn't hear this. He walked behind her to the window, then back to the bar. "You mentioned two firms. What's the other?"
"Brim, Stearns, and somebody. I didn't get a chance to check them out. It's sort of odd because neither firm is listed as counsel of record for any of the defendants, but both firms, especially White and Blazevich, kept popping up as I went through the file."
"How big is Brim, Stearns, and somebody?"
"I can find out tomorrow."
"As big as White and Blazevich?"
"I doubt it."
"Just guess. How big?"
"Two hundred lawyers."
"Okay. Now we're up to six hundred lawyers in two firms. You're the lawyer, Darby. How can we find Garcia?"
"I'm not a lawyer, and I'm not a private detective. You're the investigative reporter." She didn't like this "we" business.
"Yeah, but I've never been in a law office, except for the divorce."
"Then you're very fortunate."
"How can we find him?"
She was yawning again. They had been talking for almost three hours, and she was exhausted. This could resume in the morning. "I don't know how to find him, and I really haven't given it much thought. I'll sleep on it, and explain it to you in the morning."
Grantham was suddenly calm. She stood and walked to the bar for a glass of water.
"I'll get my things," he said, picking up the tapes.
"Would you do me a favor?" she asked.
She paused and looked at the sofa. "Would you mind sleeping on the sofa tonight? I mean, I haven't slept well in a long time, and I need the rest. It would, well, it would be nice if I knew you were in here."
He swallowed hard, and looked at the sofa. They both looked at the sofa. It was a five-footer at most, and did not appear to be the least bit comfortable.
"Sure," he said, smiling at her. "I understand."
"I'm spooked, okay?"
"I understand."
"It's nice to have someone like you around." She smiled demurely, and Gray melted.
"I don't mind," he said. "No problem."
"Lock the door, get in the bed, and sleep well. I'll be right here, and everything's all right."
"Thanks." She nodded and smiled again, then closed the door to her bedroom. He listened, and she did not lock it.
He sat on the sofa in the darkness, watching her door. Some time after midnight, he dozed and slept with his knees not far from his chin.

HER BOSS was Jackson Feldman, and he was the executive editor, and this was her turf, and she didn't take any crap off anyone but Mr. Feldman. Especially an insolent brat like Gray Grantham, who was standing in front of Mr. Feldman's door, guarding it like a Doberman. She glared at him, and he sneered at her, and this had been going on for ten minutes, ever since they huddled in there and closed the door. Why Grantham was waiting outside, she did not know. But this was her turf.

Her phone rang, and Grantham yelled at her. "No calls!"
Her face was instantly red, and her mouth flew open. She picked up the receiver, listened for a second, then said, "I'm sorry, but Mr. Feldman is in a meeting." She glared at Grantham, who was shaking his head as if to dare her.Yes, I'll have him call you back as soon as possible." She hung up.
"Thanks!" Grantham said, and this threw her off guard. She was about to say something nasty, but with the "Thanks" her mind went blank. He smiled at her. And it made her even madder.
It was five-thirty, time for her to leave, but Mr. Feldman asked her to stay. He was still smirking at her over there by the door, not ten feet away. She had never liked Gray Grantham. But then, there weren't too many people at the Post she did like. A news aide approached and appeared headed for the door when the Doberman stepped in front of him. "Sorry, you can't go in right now," Grantham said.
"And why not?"
"They're in a meeting. Leave it with her." He pointed at the secretary, who despised being pointed at and despised being referred to simply as "her." She had been here for twenty-one years.
The news aide was not easily intimidated. "That's fine. But Mr. Feldman instructed me to have these papers here at precisely five-thirty. It's precisely five-thirty, here I am, and here are the papers."
"Look, we're real proud of you. But you can't go in, understand? Now just leave the papers with that nice lady over there, and the sun will come up tomorrow." Grantham moved squarely in front of the door, and appeared ready for combat if the kid insisted.
"I'll take those," the secretary said. She took them, and the news aide left.
"Thanks!" Grantham said loudly again.
"I find you to be very rude," she snapped.
"I said 'Thanks.' He tried to look hurt.
"You're a real smartass."
The door suddenly opened, and a voice called out, "Grantham."
He smiled at her, and stepped inside. Jackson Feldman was standing behind his desk. The tie was down to the second button and the sleeves were rolled to the elbows. He was six-six, with no fat. At fifty-eight, he ran two marathons a year and worked fifteen hours a day.
Smith Keen was also standing, and holding the four-page outline of a story along with a copy of Darby's handwritten reproduction of the pelican brief. Feldman's copy was lying on the desk. They appeared dazed.
"Close the door," Feldman said to Grantham.
Gray closed the door and sat on the edge of a table. No one spoke.
Feldman rubbed his eyes roughly, then looked at Keen. "Wow," he finally said.
Gray smiled. "You mean that's it. I hand you the biggest story in twenty years, and you are so moved you say 'Wow.'
"Where's Darby Shaw?" Keen asked.
"I can't tell you. It's part of the deal."
"What deal?" Keen asked.
"I can't tell you that either."
"When did you talk to her?"
"Last night, and again this morning."
"And this was in New York?" Keen asked.
"What difference does it make where we talked? We talked, okay. She talked. I listened. I flew home. I wrote the outline. So what do you think?"
Feldman slowly folded his thin frame and sat deep in his chair. "How much does the White House know?"
"Not sure. Verheek told Darby that it was delivered to the White House one day last week, and at the time the FBI thought it should be pursued. Then for some reason, after the White House had it, the FBI backed off. That's all I know."
"How much did Mattiece give the President three years ago?"
"Millions. Virtually all of it through a myriad of PACs that he controls. This guy is very smart. He's got all kinds of lawyers, and they figure out ways to funnel money here and there. It's probably legal."
The editors were thinking slowly. They were stunned, as if they'd just survived a bomb blast. Grantham was quite proud, and swung his feet under the table like a kid on a pier.
Feldman slowly picked up the papers clipped together and flipped through until he found the photograph of Mattiece and the President. He shook his head.
"It's dynamite, Gray," Keen said.We just can't run without a bunch of corroboration. Hell, you're talking about the world's greatest job of verifying. This is powerful stuff, son."
"How can you do it?" Feldman asked.
"I've got some ideas."
"I'd like to hear them. You could get yourself killed with this."
Grantham jumped to his feet, and stuck his hands in his pockets. "First, we'll try to find Garcia."
"We? Who's we?" Keen asked.
"Me, okay. Me. I'll try to find Garcia."
"Is the girl in on this?" Keen asked.
"I can't answer that. It's part of the deal."
"Answer the question," Feldman said. "Look at where we are if she gets killed helping you with the story. It's much too risky. Now where is she and what have you guys got planned?"
"I'm not telling where she is. She's a source, and I always protect my sources. No, she's not helping with the investigation. She's just a source, okay?"
They stared at him in disbelief. They looked at each other, and finally Keen shrugged.
"Do you want some help?" Feldman asked.
"No. She insists on me doing it alone. She's very scared, and you can't blame her."
"I got scared just reading the damned thing," Keen said.
"Feldman kicked back in his chair and crossed his feet on the desk. Size fourteens. He smiled for the first time.You've got to start with Garcia. If he can't be found, then you could dig for months on Mattiece and not put it together. And before you start digging on Mattiece, let's have a long talk. I sort of like you, Grantham, and this is not worth getting killed over."
"I see every word you write, okay?" Keen said.
"And I want a daily report, okay?" Feldman said.
"No problem."
Keen walked to the glass wall and watched the madness in the newsroom. In the course of each day, the chaos came and went a half a dozen times. Things got crazy at five-thirty. The news was being written, and the second story conference was at six-thirty.

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