"Have you ever heard Cajun French?" she asked.
"It's a dialect that's rapidly disappearing, just like the wetlands. They say it cannot be understood by Frenchmen."
"That's fair. I'm sure the Cajuns can't understand the French."
She took a long drink of white wine. "Did I tell you about Chad Brunei?"
"I don't think so."
"He was a poor Cajun boy from Eunice. His family survived by trapping and fishing in the marshes. He was a very bright kid who attended LSU on a full academic scholarship, then was admitted to law school at Stanford, where he finished with the highest grade point average in the school's history. He was twenty-one when he was admitted to the California bar. He could have worked for any law firm in the country, but he took a job with an environmental defense outfit in San Francisco. He was brilliant, a real legal genius who worked very hard and was soon winning huge lawsuits against oil and chemical companies. At the age of twenty-eight, he was a highly polished courtroom lawyer. He was feared by big oil and other corporate polluters." She took a sip of wine. "He made a lot of money, and established a group to preserve the Louisiana wetlands. He wanted to participate in the pelican case, as it was known, but had too many other trial commitments. He gave Green Fund a lot of money for litigation expenses. Shortly before the trial started in Lafayette, he announced he was coming home to assist the Green Fund lawyers. There were a couple of stories about him in the New Orleans paper."
"What happened to him?"
"He committed suicide."
"A week before the trial, they found him in a car with the engine running. A garden hose ran from the exhaust pipe into the front seat. Just another simple suicide from carbon monoxide poisoning."
"Where was the car?"
"In a wooded area along Bayou Lafourche near the town of Galliano. He knew the area well. Some camping gear and fishing equipment were in the trunk. No suicide note. The police investigated, but found nothing suspicious. The case was closed."
"This is incredible."
"He had had some problems with alcohol, and had been treated by an analyst in San Francisco. But the suicide was a surprise."
"Do you think he was murdered?"
"A lot of people do. His death was a big blow to Green Fund. His passion for the wetlands would've been potent in the courtroom."
Gray finished his drink and rattled the ice. She inched closer to him. The waiter appeared, and they ordered.
HE LOBBY of the Marbury Hotel was empty at 6 A.M. Sunday when Gray found a copy of the Times. It was six inches deep and weighed twelve pounds, and he wondered how much thicker they planned to make it. He raced back to his room on the eighth floor, spread the paper on the bed, and hovered over it as he skimmed intensely. The front page was empty, and this was crucial. If they had the big story, it would of course be there. He feared large photographs of Rosenberg, Jensen, Callahan, Verheek, maybe Darby and Khamel, who knows, maybe they had a nice picture of Mattiece, and all of these would be lined up on the front page like a cast of characters, and the Times had beat them again. He had dreamed of this while he had slept, which had not been for long.
But there was nothing. And the less he found, the faster he skimmed until he was down to sports and classifieds, and he stopped and sort of danced to the phone. He called Smith Keen, who was awake.Have you seen it?" he asked.
"Ain't it beautiful," Keen said. "I wonder what happened."
"They don't have it, Smith. They're digging like hell, but they don't have it yet. Who did Feldman talk to?"
"He never says. But it was supposed to be reliable." Keen was divorced and lived alone in an apartment not far from the Marbury.
"Are you busy?" Gray asked.
"Well, not exactly. It's almost six-thirty on Sunday morning."
"We need to talk. Pick me up outside the Marbury Hotel in fifteen minutes."
"The Marbury Hotel?"
"It's a long story. I'll explain."
"Ah, the girl. You lucky stiff."
"I wish. She's in another hotel."
"Here? In Washington?"
"Yes. Fifteen minutes."
"I'll be there."
Gray nervously sipped coffee from a paper cup and waited in the lobby. She'd made him paranoid, and he half expected thugs to be hiding on the sidewalk with automatic weapons. This frustrated him. He saw Keen's Toyota ease by on M Street, and he walked quickly to it.
"What would you like to see?" Keen said as he drove away from the curb.
"Oh, I don't know. It's a beautiful day. How about Virginia?"
"As you wish. Did you get kicked out of your apartment?"
"Not exactly. I'm following orders from the girl. She thinks like a field marshal, and I'm here because I was told to be here. I must stay until Tuesday, or until she gets jumpy and moves me again. I'm in room eight-thirty-three if you need me, but don't tell anyone."
"I assume you want the Post to pay for this," Keen said with a smile.
"I'm not thinking about money right now. The same people who tried to kill her in New Orleans turned up in New York on Friday, or so she thinks. They have amazing talent in pursuit, and she's being painfully cautious."
"Well, if you're being followed by someone, and she's being followed by someone, then perhaps she knows what she's doing."
"Oh, listen, Smith, she knows exactly what she's doing. She's so good it's scary, and she's leaving here Wednesday morning for good. So we've got two days to find Garcia."
"What if Garcia's overrated? What if you find him and he won't talk, or what if he knows nothing? Have you thought about that?"
"I've had nightmares about that. I think he knows something big. There's a document or a piece of paper, something tangible, and he's got it. He referred to it a time or two, and when I pressed him he wouldn't admit it. But the day we were supposed to meet, he planned to show it to me. I'm convinced of that. He's got something, Smith."
"And if he won't show it to you?"
"I'll break his neck."
They crossed the Potomac and cruised by Arlington Cemetery. Keen lit his pipe and cracked a window. "What if you can't find Garcia?"
"Plan B. She's gone and the deal's off. Once she leaves the country, I have permission to do anything with the brief except use her name as a source. The poor girl is convinced she's dead regardless of whether we get the story, but she wants as much protection as possible. I can never use her name, not even as the author of the brief."
"Does she talk much about the brief?"
"Not the actual writing of it. It was a wild idea, she pursued it, and had almost dismissed it when bombs started going off. She's sorry she wrote the damned thing. She and Callahan were really in love, and she's loaded down with a lot of pain and guilt."
"So what's Plan B?"
"We attack the lawyers. Mattiece is too devious and slippery to penetrate without subpoenas and warrants and things we can't dispense, but we know his lawyers. He's represented by two big firms here in town, and we go after them. A lawyer or a group of them carefully analyzed the Supreme Court, and suggested the names of Rosenberg and Jensen. Mattiece wouldn't know who to kill. So his lawyers told him. It's a conspiracy angle."
"But you can't make them talk."
"Not about a client. But if the lawyers are guilty, and we start asking questions, something'll break. We'll need a dozen reporters making a million phone calls to lawyers, paralegals, law clerks, secretaries, copy room clerks, everybody. We assault these bastards."
Keen puffed his pipe and was noncommittal. "Who are the firms?"
"White and Blazevich, and Brim, Stearns, and Kidlow. Check our library on them."
"I've heard of White and Blazevich. It's a big Republican outfit."
Gray nodded and sipped the last of his coffee.
"What if it's another firm?" Keen asked. "What if the firm is not in Washington? What if the conspirators don't break? What if there's only one legal mind at work here and it belongs to a part-time paralegal in Shreveport? What if one of Mattiece's in-house lawyers devised the scheme?"
"Sometimes you irritate the hell out of me. Do you know that?"
"These are valid questions. What if?"
"Then we go to Plan C."
"And what's that?"
"I don't know yet. She hasn't gotten that far."
SHE HAD INSTRUCTED HIM to stay off the streets and to eat in his room. He had a sandwich and fries in a bag, and was obediently walking to his room on the eighth floor of the Marbury. An Asian maid was pushing her cart near his room. He stopped at his door and pulled the key from his pocket.
"You forget something, sir?" the maid asked.
Gray looked at her. "I beg your pardon."
"You forget something?"
"Well, no. Why?"
The maid took a step closer to him. "You just left, sir, and now you are back."
"I left four hours ago."
She shook her head and took another step for a closer look. "No sir. A man left your room ten minutes ago." She hesitated and studied his face intently.But, sir, now I think it was another man."
Gray glanced at the room number on the door. 833. He stared at the woman. "Are you certain another man was in this room?"
"Yes, sir. Just minutes ago."
He panicked. He walked quickly to the stairs, and ran down eight flights. What was in the room? Nothing but clothes. Nothing about Darby. He stopped and reached into a pocket. The note with the Tabard Inn address and her phone number was in the pocket. He caught his breath, and eased into the lobby.
He had to find her, and quick.
DARBY FOUND an empty table in the reading room on the second floor of the Edward Bennett Williams Law Library at Georgetown. In her new hobby as a traveling critic of law school libraries, she found Georgetown's to be the nicest so far. It was a separate five-story building across a small courtyard from Mc-Donough Hall, the law school. The library was new, sleek, and modern, but still a law library and quickly filling with Sunday students now thinking of final exams.
She opened volume five of Martindale-Hubbell, and found the section for D.C. firms. White and Blazevich ran for twenty-eight pages. Names, birth dates, birthplaces, schools, professional organizations, distinctions, awards, committees, and publications of four hundred and twelve lawyers, the partners first, then the associates. She took notes on a legal pad.
The firm had eighty-one partners, and the rest were associates. She grouped them by alphabet, and wrote every name on the legal pad. She was just another law student checking out law firms in the relentless chase of employment.
The work was boring and her mind wandered. Thomas had studied here twenty years ago. He'd been a top student and claimed to have spent many hours in the library. He'd written for the law journal, a chore she would be enduring under normal circumstances.
Death was a subject she'd analyzed from different angles in the past ten days. Except for going quietly in one's sleep, she was undecided as to the best approach. A slow, agonizing demise from a disease was a nightmare for the victim and the loved ones, but at least there was time for preparation and farewells. A violent, unexpected death was over in a second and probably best for the deceased. But the shock was numbing for those left behind. There were so many painful questions. Did he suffer? What was his last thought? Why did it happen? And watching the quick death of a loved one was beyond description.
She loved him more because she watched him die, and she told herself to stop hearing the explosion, and stop smelling the smoke, and stop watching him die. If she survived three more days, she would be in a place where she could lock the door and cry and throw things until the grieving was over. She was determined to make it to that place. She was determined to grieve, and to heal. It was the least she deserved.
She memorized names until she knew more about White and Blazevich than anyone outside the firm. She eased into the darkness and caught a cab to the hotel.
MATTHEW BARR went to New Orleans, where he met with a lawyer who instructed him to fly to a certain hotel in Fort Lauderdale. The lawyer was vague about what would happen at the hotel, but Barr checked in Sunday night and found a room waiting for him. A note at the desk said he would receive a call in the early a.m.
He called Fletcher Coal at home at ten, and briefed him on the journey so far.
"Coal had other things on his mind.Grantham's gone crazy. He and a guy named Rifkin with the Times are making calls everywhere. They could be deadly."
"Have they seen the brief?"
"I don't know if they've seen it, but they've heard of it. Rifkin called one of my aides at home yesterday and asked what he knew about the pelican brief. The aide knew nothing, and got the impression Rifkin knew even less. I don't think he's seen it, but we can't be certain."
"Damn, Fletcher. We can't keep up with a bunch of reporters. Those guys make a hundred phone calls a minute."
"Just two. Grantham and Rifkin. You've already got Gran-tham wired. Do the same for Rifkin."
"Grantham's wired, but he's using neither the phone in his apartment nor the one in his car. I called Bailey from the airport in New Orleans. Grantham hasn't been home in twenty-four hours, but his car's still there. They called and knocked on his door. He's either dead in the apartment, or he sneaked out last night."
"Maybe he's dead."
"I don't think so. We were following, and so were the Fibbies. I think he got wind of it."
"You must find him."
"He'll turn up. He can't get too far away from the newsroom on the fifth floor."
"I want Rifkin wired too. Call Bailey tonight and get it started, okay?"
"Yes sir," Barr said.
"What do you think Mattiece would do if he thought Grantham had the story and was about to spread it across the front page of the Washington Post?" Coal asked.
Barr stretched on the hotel bed and closed his eyes. Months ago he had made the decision never to cross Fletcher Coal. He was an animal.
"He's not afraid of killing people, is he?" Barr said.
"Do you think you'll see Mattiece tomorrow?"
"I don't know. These guys are very secretive. They speak in hushed tones behind closed doors. They've told me little."
"Why do they want you in Fort Lauderdale?"
"I do not know, but it's much closer to the Bahamas. I think I'm going there tomorrow, or perhaps he's coming here. I just don't know."
"Perhaps you should exaggerate the Grantham angle. Mattiece will snuff out the story."
"I'll think about it."
"Call me in the morning."
SHE STEPPED ON THE NOTE when she opened her door. It said: Darby, I'm on the patio. It's urgent, Gray. She took a deep breath and crammed the note in her pocket. She locked the door, and followed the narrow, winding hallways to the lobby, then through the dark sitting room, by the bar, through the restaurant, and onto the patio. He was at a small table, partially hidden by a brick wall.
"Why are you here?" she demanded in a whisper as she sat close to him. He looked tired and worried.
"Where have you been?" he asked.
"That's not as important as why you're here. You're not supposed to come here unless I say so. What's going on?"
He gave her a quick summary of his morning, from the first phone call to Smith Keen to the maid in the hotel. He'd spent the rest of the day darting all over the city in various cabs, almost eighty bucks' worth of cabs, and he waited until dark to sneak into the Tabard Inn. He was certain he had not been followed.
She listened. She watched the restaurant and the entrance to the patio, and heard every word.
"I have no idea how anyone could find my room," he said.
"Did you tell anyone your room number?"
He thought for a second. "Only Smith Keen. But he'd never repeat it."
"She was not looking at him.Where were you when you told him your room number?"
"In his car."
She shook her head slowly. "I distinctly told you not to tell anyone. Didn't I?"
He would not answer.
"It's all fun and games, isn't it, Gray? Just another day at the beach. You're a big stud reporter who's had death threats before, but you're fearless. The bullets will bounce off, won't they? You and I can spend a few days here frolicking around town playing detective so you can win a Pulitzer and get rich and famous, and the bad guys aren't really so bad because, hey, you're Gray Grantham of the Washington Post and that makes you a mean son of a bitch."
"Come on, Darby."
"I've tried to impress upon you how dangerous these people are. I've seen what they can do. I know what they'll do to me if they find me. But no, Gray, it's all a game to you. Cops and robbers. Hide-and-seek."
"I'm convinced, okay?"
"Listen, hotshot, you'd better be convinced. One more screwup and we're dead. I'm out of lucky breaks. Do you understand?"
"Yes! I swear I understand."
"Get a room here. Tomorrow night, if we're alive, I'll find you another small hotel."
"What if this place is full?"
"Then you can sleep in my bathroom with the door closed."
She was dead serious. He felt like a first-grader who'd just received his first spanking. They didn't speak for five minutes.
"So how'd they find me?" he finally asked.
"I would assume the phones in your apartment are tapped, and your car is bugged. And I would assume Smith Keen's car is also wired. These people are not amateurs."
HE SPENT THE NIGHT in room 14 upstairs, but slept little. The restaurant opened at six, and he sneaked down for coffee, then sneaked back to his room. The inn was quaint and ancient, and had somehow been formed when three old townhouses were connected. Small doors and narrow hallways ran in all directions. The atmosphere was timeless.
It would be a long, tiresome day, but it would all be spent with her, and he looked forward to it. He'd made a mistake, a bad one, but she'd forgiven him. At precisely eight-thirty, he knocked on the door to room 1. She quickly opened it, then closed it behind him.
She was a law student again, with jeans and a flannel shirt. She poured him coffee, and sat at the small table where the phone was surrounded by notes from a legal pad.
"Did you sleep well?" she asked, but only out of courtesy.
"No." He threw a copy of the Times on the bed. He'd already scanned it, and it was empty again.
Darby took the phone and punched the number of the Georgetown law school. She looked at him, and listened, then said, "Placement office, please." There was a long pause.Yes, this is Sandra Jernigan. I'm a partner with White and Blazevich here in town, and we're having a problem with our computers. We're trying to reconstruct some payroll records, and the accountants have asked me to ask you for the names of your students who clerked here last summer. I think there were four of them." She listened for a second. "Jernigan. Sandra Jernigan," she repeated.I see. How long will it take?" A pause. "And your name is, Joan. Thank you, Joan." Darby covered the receiver and breathed deeply. Gray watched intently, but with an admiring grin.
"Yes, Joan. Seven of them. Our records are a mess. Do you have their addresses and social security numbers? We need it for tax purposes. Sure. How long will it take? Fine. We have an office boy in the area. His name is Snowden, and he'll be there in thirty minutes. Thank you, Joan." Darby hung up and closed her eyes.
"Sandra Jernigan?" he said.
"I'm not good at lying," she said.
"You're wonderful. I guess I'm the office boy."
"You could pass for an office boy. You have an aging law school dropout look about you." And you're sort of cute, she thought to herself.
"I like the flannel shirt."
She took a long drink of cold coffee. "This could be a long day."
"So far, so good. I get the list, and meet you in the library. Right?"
"Yes. The placement office is on the fifth floor of the law school. I'll be in room 336. It's a small conference room on the third floor. You take a cab first. I'll meet you there in fifteen minutes."
"Yes, ma'am." Grantham was out the door. Darby waited five minutes, then left with her canvas bag.
The cab ride was short but slow in the morning traffic. Life on the lam was bad enough, but running and playing detective at the same time was too much. She'd been in the cab five minutes before she thought about being followed. And maybe that was good. Maybe a hard day as an investigative reporter would take her mind off Stump and the other tormentors. She would work today, and tomorrow, and by late Wednesday she would be on a beach.
They would start with the law school at Georgetown. If it was a dead end, they would try the one at George Washington. If there was time, they would try American University. Three strikes, and she was gone.
The cab stopped at McDonough Hall, at the grungy base of Capitol Hill. With her bag and flannel shirt, she was just one of many law students milling about before class. She took the stairs to the third level, and closed the door to the conference room behind her. The room was used for an occasional class and on campus job interviews. She spread her notes on the table, and was just another law student preparing for class.
Within minutes, Gray eased through the door. "Joan's a sweet lady," he said as he placed the list on the table. "Names, addresses, and social security numbers. Ain't that nice."
Darby looked at the list and pulled a phone book from her bag. They found five of the names in the book. She looked at her watch. "It's five minutes after nine. I'll bet no more than half of these are in class at this moment. Some will have later classes. I'll call these five, and see who's at home. You take the two with no phone number, and get their class schedules from the registrar."
Gray looked at his watch. "Let's meet back here in fifteen minutes." He left first, then Darby. She went to the pay phones on the first level outside the classrooms, and dialed the number of James Maylor.
A male voice answered, "Hello."
"Is this Dennis Maylor?" she asked.
"No. I'm James Maylor."
"Sorry." She hung up. His address was ten minutes away. He didn't have a nine o'clock class, and if he had one at ten he would be home for another forty minutes. Maybe.
She called the other four. Two answered and she confirmed, and there was no answer at the other two.
Gray waited impatiently in the registrar's office on the third floor. A part-time student clerk was trying to find the registrar, who was somewhere in the back. The student informed him that she wasn't sure if they could give out class schedules. Gray said he was certain they could if they wanted to.
The registrar walked suspiciously around a corner. "May I help you?"
"Yes, I'm Gray Grantham with the Washington Post, and I'm trying to find two of your students, Laura Kaas and Michael Akers."
"Is there a problem?" she asked nervously.
"Not at all. Just a few questions. Are they in class this morning?" He was smiling, and it was a warm, trusting smile that he flashed usually at older women. It seldom failed him.
"Do you have an ID or something?"
"Certainly." He opened his wallet and slowly waved it at her, much like a cop who knows he's a cop and doesn't care to spell it out.
"Well, I really should talk to the dean, but"
"Fine. Where's his office?"
"But he's not here. He's out of town."
"I just need their class schedules so I can find them. I'm not asking for home addresses or grades or transcripts. Nothing confidential or personal."
She glanced at the part-time student clerk, who sort of shrugged, like "What's the big deal?"
"Just a minute," she said, and disappeared around the corner.