The Pelican Brief



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Instantly from the fourth row, Sallinger said: "No sir."
"I see. Might that be because you haven't read Rosenberg's dissent?"
"It might. Yes sir."
Callahan glared at him. The red eyes made the arrogant scowl all the more menacing. Only Sallinger saw it though; since everyone else was glued to their legal pads. "And why not?"
"Because I try not to read dissents. Especially Rosenberg's."
Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Sallinger had opted to fight back, but he had no ammo.
"Something against Rosenberg, Mr. Sallinger?"
Callahan revered Rosenberg. Worshiped him. Read books about the man and his opinions. Studied him. Even dined with him once.
Sallinger fidgeted nervously. "Oh no, sir. I just don't like dissents."
There was a bit of humor in Sallinger's responses, but not a smile was cracked. Later, over a beer, he and his buddies would roar with laughter when it was told and retold about Sallinger and his distaste for dissents, especially Rosenberg's. But not now.
"I see. Do you read majority opinions?"
Hesitation. Sallinger's feeble attempt at sparring was about to cause humiliation.Yes sir. Lots of them."
"Great. Explain, then, if you will, the majority opinion in Nash v. New Jersey."
Sallinger had never heard of Nash, but he would now remember it for the rest of his legal career. "I don't think I've read that one."
So you don't read dissents, Mr. Sallinger, and now we learn that you also neglect majorities. What do you read, Mr. Sallinger, romance novels, tabloids?"
There was some extremely light laughter from behind the fourth row, and it came from students who felt obligated to laugh but at the same time did not wish to call attention to themselves.
Sallinger, red-faced, just stared at Callahan.
"Why haven't you read the case, Mr. Sallinger?" Callahan demanded.
"I don't know. I, uh, just missed it, I guess."
Callahan took it well. "I'm not surprised. I mentioned it last week. Last Wednesday, to be exact. It'll be on the final exam. I don't understand why you would ignore a case that you'll see on the final." Callahan was pacing now, slowly, in front of his desk, staring at the students. "Did anyone bother to read it?"
Silence. Callahan stared at the floor, and allowed the silence to sink in. All eyes were down, all pens and pencils frozen. Smoke billowed from the back row.
Finally, slowly, from the fourth seat on the third row, Darby Shaw lifted her hand slightly, and the class breathed a collective sigh of relief. She had saved them again. It was sort of expected of her. Number two in their class and within striking distance of number one, she could recite the facts and holdings and concurrences and dissents and majority opinions to virtually every case Callahan could spit at them. She missed nothing. The perfect little cheerleader had graduated magna cum laude with a degree in biology, and planned to graduate magna cum laude with a degree in law, and then make a nice living suing chemical companies for trashing the environment.
Callahan stared at her in mock frustration. She had left his apartment three hours earlier after a long night of wine and law. But he had not mentioned Nash to her.
"Well, well, Ms. Shaw. Why is Rosenberg upset?"
"He thinks the New Jersey statute violates the Second Amendment." She did not look at the professor.
"That's good. And for the benefit of the rest of the class, what does the statute do?"
"Outlaws semiautomatic machine guns, among other things."
"Wonderful. And just for fun, what did Mr. Nash possess at the time of his arrest?"
"An AK-47 assault rifle."
"And what happened to him?"
"He was convicted, sentenced to three years, and appealed." She knew the details.
"What was Mr. Nash's occupation?"
"The opinion wasn't specific, but there was mention of an additional charge of drug trafficking. He had no criminal record at the time of his arrest."
"So he was a dope pusher with an AK-47. But he has a friend in Rosenberg, doesn't he?"
"Of course." She was watching him now. The tension had eased. Most eyes followed him as he paced slowly, looking around the room, selecting another victim. More often than not, Darby dominated these lectures, and Callahan wanted a broader participation.
"Why do you suppose Rosenberg is sympathetic?" he asked the class.
"He loves dope pushers." It was Sallinger, wounded but trying to rally. Callahan placed a premium on class discussion. He smiled at his prey, as if to welcome him back to the bloodletting.
"You think so, Mr. Sallinger?"
"Sure. Dope pushers, child fondlers, gunrunners, terrorists. Rosenberg greatly admires these people. They are his weak and abused children, so he must protect them." Sallinger was trying to appear righteously indignant.
"And, in your learned opinion, Mr. Sallinger, what should be done with these people?"
"Simple. They should have a fair trial with a good lawyer, then a fair, speedy appeal, then punished if they are guilty."
Sallinger was perilously close to sounding like a law-and-order right-winger, a cardinal sin among Tulane law students.
Callahan folded his arms. "Please continue."
Sallinger smelled a trap, but plowed ahead. There was nothing to lose. "I mean, we've read case after case where Rosenberg has tried to rewrite the Constitution to create a new loophole to exclude evidence to allow an obviously guilty defendant to go free. It's almost sickening. He thinks all prisons are cruel and unusual places, so therefore, under the Eighth Amendment, all prisoners should go free. Thankfully, he's in the minority now, a shrinking minority."
"You like the direction of the Court, do you, Mr. Sallinger?" Callahan was at once smiling and frowning.
"Damned right I do."
"Are you one of those normal, red-blooded, patriotic, middle-of-the-road Americans who wish the old bastard would die in his sleep?"
There were a few chuckles around the room. It was safer to laugh now. Sallinger knew better than to answer truthfully. "I wouldn't wish that on anyone," he said, almost embarrassed.
Callahan was pacing again. "Well, thank you, Mr. Sallinger. I always enjoy your comments. You have, as usual, provided us with the layman's view of the law."
The laughter was much louder. Sallinger's cheeks flushed and he sank in his seat.

Callahan did not smile. "I would like to raise the intellectual level of this discussion, okay. Now, Ms. Shaw, why is Rosenberg sympathetic to Nash?"


"The Second Amendment grants the people the right to keep and bear arms. To Justice Rosenberg, it is literal and absolute. Nothing should be banned. If Nash wants to possess an AK-47, or a hand grenade, or a bazooka, the state of New Jersey cannot pass a law prohibiting it."
"Do you agree with him?"
"No, and I'm not alone. It's an eight-to-one decision. No one followed him."
"What's the rationale of the other eight?"
"It's obvious, really. The states have compelling reasons to prohibit the sale and possession of certain types of arms. The interests of the state of New Jersey outweigh the Second Amendment rights of Mr. Nash. Society cannot allow individuals to own sophisticated weaponry."
Callahan watched her carefully. Attractive female law students were rare at Tulane, but when he found one he moved in quickly. Over the past eight years, he had been quite successful. Easy work, for the most part. The women arrived at law school liberated and loose. Darby had been different. He first spotted her in the library during the second semester of her first year, and it took a month to get her to dinner.
"Who wrote the majority opinion?" he asked her.
"Runyan."
"And you agree with him?"
"Yes. It's an easy case, really."
"Then what happened to Rosenberg?"
"I think he hates the rest of the Court."
"So he dissents just for the hell of it."
"Often, yes. His opinions are becoming more indefensible. Take Nash. For a liberal like Rosenberg, the issue of gun control is easy. He should have written the majority opinion, and ten years ago he would have. In Fordice v. Oregon, a 1977 case, he took a much narrower interpretation of the Second Amendment. His inconsistencies are almost embarrassing."
Callahan had forgotten Fordice. "Are you suggesting Justice Rosenberg is senile?"
Much like a punch-drunk fighter, Sallinger waded in for the final round. "He's crazy as hell, and you know it. You can't defend his opinions."
"Not always, Mr. Sallinger, but at least he's still there."
"His body's there, but he's brain-dead."
"He's breathing, Mr. Sallinger."
"Yeah, breathing with a machine. They have to pump oxygen up his nose."
"But it counts, Mr. Sallinger. He's the last of the great judicial activists, and he's still breathing."
"You'd better call and check," Sallinger said as his words trailed off. He'd said enough. No, he'd said too much. He lowered his head as the professor glared at him. He hunkered down next to his notebook, and started wondering why he'd said all that.
Callahan stared him down, then began pacing again. It was indeed a bad hangover.

3

AT LEAST he looked like an old farmer, with straw hat, clean bib overalls, neatly pressed khaki workshirt, boots. He chewed tobacco and spat in the black water beneath the pier. He chewed like a farmer. His pickup, though of recent model, was sufficiently weathered and had a dusty-road look about it. North Carolina plates. It was a hundred yards away, parked in the sand at the other end of the pier.


It was midnight Monday, the first Monday in October, and for the next thirty minutes he was to wait in the dark coolness of the deserted pier, chewing pensively, resting on the railing while staring intently at the sea. He was alone, as he knew he would be. It was planned that way. This pier at this hour was always deserted. The headlights of an occasional car flickered along the shoreline, but the headlights never stopped at this hour.
He watched the red and blue channel lights far from shore. He checked his watch without moving his head. The clouds were low and thick, and it would be difficult to see it until it was almost to the pier. It was planned this way.
The pickup was not from North Carolina, and neither was the farmer. The license plates had been stolen from a wrecked truck at a scrap yard near Durham. The pickup had been stolen in Baton Rouge. The farmer was not from anywhere, and per formed none of the thievery. He was a pro, and so someone else did the dirty little deeds.
Twenty minutes into the wait, a dark object floated in the direction of the pier. A quiet, muffled engine hummed and grew louder. The object became a small craft of some sort with a camouflaged silhouette crouching low and working the motor. The farmer moved not an inch in anticipation. The humming stopped and the black rubber raft stalled in the calm water thirty feet from the pier. There were no headlights coming or going along the shore.
The farmer carefully placed a cigarette between his lips, lit it, puffed twice, then thumped it down, halfway to the raft.
"What kind of cigarette?" the man on the water asked upward. He could see the outline of the farmer on the railing, but not the face.
"Lucky Strike," the farmer answered. These passwords made for such a silly game. How many other black rubber rafts could be expected to drift in from the Atlantic and pinpoint this ancient pier at this precise hour? Silly, but oh so important.
"Luke?" came the voice from the boat.
"Sam," replied the farmer. The name was Khamel, not Sam, but Sam would do for the next five minutes until Khamel parked his raft.
Khamel did not answer, was not required to, but quickly started the engine and guided the raft along the edge of the pier to the beach. Luke followed from above. They met at the pickup without a handshake. Khamel placed his black Adidas gym bag between them on the seat, and the truck started along the shoreline.
Luke drove and Khamel smoked, and both did a perfect job of ignoring each other. Their eyes did not dare meet. With Khamel's heavy beard, dark glasses, and black turtleneck, his face was ominous but impossible to identify. Luke did not want to see it. Part of his assignment, in addition to receiving this stranger from the sea, was to refrain from looking at him. It was easy, really. The face was wanted in nine countries.
Across the bridge at Manteo, Luke lit another Lucky Strike and determined they had met before. It had been a brief but precisely timed meeting at the airport in Rome, five or six years earlier, as best he could remember. There had been no introductions. It took place in a restroom. Luke, then an impeccably tailored American executive, had placed an eelskin attache case next to the wall next to the washbasin where he slowly rinsed his hands, and suddenly it was gone. He caught a glimpse of the manthis Khamel, he was now certainin the mirror. Thirty minutes later, the attache case exploded between the legs of the British ambassador to Nigeria.
In the guarded whispers of his invisible brotherhood, Luke had often heard of Khamel, a man of many names and faces and languages, an assassin who struck quickly and left no trail, a fastidious killer who roamed the world but could never be found. As they rode north in the darkness, Luke settled low in his seat, the brim of his hat almost on his nose, limp wrist across the wheel, trying to remember the stories he'd heard about his passenger. Amazing feats of terror. There was the British ambassador. The ambush of seventeen Israeli soldiers on the West Bank in 1990 had been credited to Khamel. He was the only suspect in the 1985 car-bomb murders of a wealthy German banker and his family. His fee for that one was rumored to have been three million, cash. Most intelligence experts believed he was the mastermind of the 1981 attempt to kill the Pope. But then, Khamel was blamed for almost every unsolved terrorist attack and assassination. He was easy to blame because no one was certain he existed.
This excited Luke. Khamel was about to perform on American soil. The targets were unknown to Luke, but important blood was about to be shed.

AT DAWN, the stolen farm truck stopped at the corner of Thirty-first and M streets in Georgetown. Khamel grabbed his gym bag, said nothing, and hit the sidewalk. He walked east a few blocks to the Four Seasons Hotel, bought a Post in the lobby, and casually rode the elevator to the seventh floor. At precisely seven-fifteen, he knocked on a door at the end of the hall. "Yes?" a nervous voice asked from inside.


"Looking for Mr. Sneller," Khamel said slowly in a perfect generic American tongue as he stuck his thumb over the peephole.
"Mr. Sneller?"
"Yes. Edwin F. Sneller."
The knob did not turn or click, and the door did not open. A few seconds passed, and a white envelope eased from under the door. Khamel picked it up. "Okay," he said loud enough for Sneller or whoever he was to hear.
"It's next door," Sneller said. "I'll await your call." He sounded like an American. Unlike Luke, he'd never seen Khamel, and had no desire to, really. Luke had seen him twice now, and was indeed lucky to be alive.
Khamel's room had two beds and a small table near the window. The shades were drawn tightly; no chance of sunlight. He placed his gym bag on one bed, next to two thick briefcases. He walked to the window and peeked out, then to the phone.
"It's me," he said to Sneller. "Tell me about the car."
"It's parked on the street. Plain white Ford with Connecticut plates. The keys are on the table." Sneller spoke slowly.
"Stolen?"
"Of course, but sanitized. It's clean."
"I'll leave it at Dulles shortly after midnight. I want it destroyed, okay?" The English was perfect.
"Those are my instructions. Yes." Sneller was proper and efficient.
"It's very important, okay? I intend to leave the gun in the car. Guns leave bullets and people see cars, so it's important to completely destroy the car and everything in it. Understand?"
"Those are my instructions," Sneller repeated. He did not appreciate this lecture. He was no novice at the killing game.
Khamel sat on the edge of the bed. "The four million was received a week ago, a day late I should add. I'm now in D.C., so I want the next three."
"It will be wired before noon. That was the agreement."
"Yes, but I'm worried about the agreement. You were a day late, remember?"
This irritated Sneller, and since the killer was in the next room and not about to come out, he could sound a bit irritated. "The bank's fault, not ours."
This irritated Khamel. "Fine. I want you and your bank to wire the next three million to the account in Zurich as soon as New York opens. That will be about two hours from now. I'll be checking."
"Okay."
"Okay, and I want no problem when the job is finished. I'll be in Paris in twenty-four hours, and from there I'll go straight to Zurich. I want all the money waiting for me when I arrive."
"It will be there, if the job is finished."
Khamel smiled to himself. "The job will be finished, Mr. Sneller, by midnight. That is, if your information is correct."
"As of now it is correct. And no changes are expected today. Our people are in the streets. Everything is in the two briefcases; maps, diagrams, schedules, the tools and articles you requested."
Khamel glanced at the briefcases behind him. He rubbed his eyes with his right hand. "I need a nap," he mumbled into the phone.I haven't slept in twenty hours."
Sneller could think of no response. There was plenty of time, and if Khamel wanted a nap, then Khamel could have a nap. They were paying him ten million.
"Would you like something to eat?" Sneller asked awkwardly.
"No. Call me in three hours, at precisely ten-thirty." He placed the receiver on the phone, and stretched across the bed.

THE STREETS were clear and quiet for day two of the fall term. The justices spent their day on the bench listening to lawyer after lawyer argue complex and quite dull cases. Rosenberg slept through most of it. He came to life briefly when the attorney general from Texas argued that a certain death-row inmate should be given medication to make him lucid before being lethally injected. If he's mentally ill, how can he be executed? Rosenberg asked incredulously. Easy, said the AG from Texas, his illness can be controlled with medication. So just give him a little shot to make him sane, then give him another shot to kill him. It could all be very nice and constitutional. Rosenberg harangued and bitched for a brief spell, then lost steam. His little wheelchair sat much lower than the massive leather thrones of his brethren. He looked rather pitiful. In years past he was a tiger, a ruthless intimidator who tied even the slickest lawyers in knots. But no more. He began to mumble, and then faded away. The AG sneered at him, and continued.


During the last oral argument of the day, a lifeless desegregation case from Virginia, Rosenberg began snoring. Chief Runyan glared down the bench, and Jason Kline, Rosenberg's senior clerk, took the hint. He slowly pulled the wheelchair backward, away from the bench, and out of the courtroom. He pushed it quickly through the back hallway.
The Justice regained consciousness in his office, took his pills, and informed his clerks he wanted to go home. Kline notified the FBI, and moments later Rosenberg was wheeled into the rear of his van, parked in the basement. Two FBI agents watched. A male nurse, Frederic, strapped the wheelchair in place, and Sergeant Ferguson of the Supreme Court police slid behind the wheel of the van. The Justice allowed no FBI agents near him. They could follow in their car, and they could watch his townhouse from the street, and they were lucky to get that close. He didn't trust cops, and he damned sure didn't trust FBI agents. He didn't need protection.
On Volta Street in Georgetown, the van slowed and backed into a short driveway. Frederic the nurse and Ferguson the cop gently rolled him inside. The agents watched from the street in their black government-issue Dodge Aries. The lawn in front of the townhome was tiny and their car was a few feet from the front door. It was almost 4 P.M.
After a few minutes, Ferguson made his mandatory exit and spoke to the agents. After much debate, Rosenberg had acquiesced a week earlier and allowed Ferguson to quietly inspect each room upstairs and down upon his arrival in the afternoons. Then Ferguson had to leave, but could return at exactly 10 P.M. and sit outside the rear door until exactly 6 A.M. No one but Ferguson could do it, and he was tired of the overtime.
"Everything's fine," he said to the agents. "I guess I'll be back at ten."
"Is he still alive?" one of the agents asked. Standard question.
"Afraid so." Ferguson looked tired as he walked to the van.
Frederic was chubby and weak, but strength was not needed to handle his patient. After arranging the pillows just so, he lifted him from the wheelchair and placed him carefully on the sofa, where he would remain motionless for the next two hours while dozing and watching CNN. Frederic fixed himself a ham sandwich and a plate of cookies, and scanned a National Enquirer at the kitchen table. Rosenberg mumbled something loudly and changed channels with the remote control.
At precisely seven, his dinner of chicken bouillon, boiled potatoes, and stewed onions stroke food was placed neatly on the table, and Frederic rolled him up to it. He insisted on feeding himself, and it was not pretty. Frederic watched television. He would clean up the mess later.
By nine, he was bathed, dressed in a gown, and tucked tightly under the covers. The bed was a narrow, reclining, pale green army-hospital job with a hard mattress, push-button controls, and collapsible rails that Rosenberg insisted remain down. It was in a room behind the kitchen that he had used as a small study for thirty years, before the first stroke. The room was now clinical, and smelled of antiseptic and looming death. Next to his bed was a large table with a hospital lamp and at least twenty bottles of pills. Thick, heavy law books were stacked in neat piles around the room. Next to the table, the nurse sat close by in a worn recliner, and began reading from a brief. He would read until he heard snoring-the nightly ritual. He read slowly, yelling the words at Rosenberg, who was stiff, motionless, but listening. The brief was from a case in which he would write the majority opinion. He absorbed every word, for a while.
After an hour of reading and yelling, Frederic was tired and the Justice was drifting away. He raised his hand slightly, then closed his eyes. With a button on the bed, he lowered the lights. The room was almost dark. Frederic jerked backward, and the recliner unfolded. He laid the brief on the floor, and closed his eyes. Rosenberg was snoring.
He would not snore for long.

SHORTLY AFTER TEN, with the house dark and quiet, the door to a bedroom closet upstairs opened slightly, and Khamel eased out. His wristbands, nylon cap, and running shorts were royal blue. His long-sleeved shirt, socks, and Reeboks were white with royal trim. Perfect color coordination. Khamel the jogger. He was clean shaven, and under the cap his very short hair was now blond, almost white.


The bedroom was dark, as was the hall. The stairs creaked slightly under the Reeboks. He was five-ten, and weighed less than a hundred and fifty pounds, with no fat. He kept himself taut and light so the movements would be quick and soundless. The stairs landed in a foyer not far from the front door. He knew there were two agents in a car by the curb, probably not watching the house. He knew Ferguson had arrived seven minutes ago. He could hear the snoring from the back room. While waiting in the closet, he had thought of striking earlier, before Ferguson arrived so he wouldn't have to kill him. The killing was no problem, but it created another body to worry about. But he guessed, wrongly, that Ferguson probably checked in with the male nurse when he came on duty. If so, then Ferguson would find the carnage and Khamel would lose a few hours. So he waited until now.



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