These were fragile people, and they certainly could not withstand interrogation by a reporter, regardless of how grave the circumstances.
Mr. Grantham asked when Mr. Linney might be discharged. Absolutely confidential, the administrator exclaimed. Probably when the insurance expired, suggested Mr. Grantham, who was talking and stalling and halfway expecting to hear loud and angry voices coming from behind the double doors.
This mention of insurance really agitated the administrator. Mr. Grantham asked if he, the administrator, would ask Mr. Linney if he would answer two questions from Mr. Grantham, and the whole thing would take less than thirty seconds.
Out of the question, snapped the administrator. They had strict policies.
A VOICE answered softly, and she stepped into the room. The carpet was thicker and the furniture was made from wood. He sat on the bed in a pair of jeans, no shirt, reading a thick novel. She was struck by his good looks.
"Excuse me," she said warmly as she closed the door behind her.
"Come in," he said with a soft smile. It was the first nonmedical face he'd seen in two days. What a beautiful face. He closed the book.
She walked to the end of the bed. "I'm Sara Jacobs, and I'm working on a story for the Washington Post."
"How'd you get in?" he asked, obviously glad she was in.
"Just walked. Did you clerk last summer for White and Blazevich?"
"Yes, and the summer before. They offered me a job when I graduate. If I graduate."
She handed him the photo. "Do you recognize this man?"
"He took it and smiled.Yeah. His name is, uh, wait a minute. He works in the oil and gas section on the ninth floor. What's his name?"
Darby held her breath.
Linney closed his eyes hard and tried to think. He looked at the photo, and said, "Morgan. I think his name is Morgan. Yep."
"His last name is Morgan?"
"That's him. I can't remember his first name. It's something like Charles, but that's not it. I think it starts with a C."
"And you're certain he's in oil and gas?" Though she couldn't remember the exact number, she was certain there was more than one Morgan at White and Blazevich.
"On the ninth floor?"
"Yeah. I worked in the bankruptcy section on the eighth floor, and oil and gas covers half of eight and all of nine."
He handed the photo back.
"When are you getting out?" she asked. It would be rude to run from the room.
"Next week, I hope. What's this guy done?"
"Nothing. We just need to talk to him." She was backing away from the bed.I have to run. "Thanks. And good luck."
"Yeah. No problem."
She quietly closed the door behind her, and scooted toward the lobby. The voice came from behind her.
"Hey! You! What're you doing?"
Darby turned and faced a tall, black security guard with a gun on his hip. She looked completely guilty.
"What're you doing?" he demanded again as he backed her into the wall.
"Visiting my brother," she said. "And don't yell at me again."
"Who's your brother?"
She nodded at his door. "Room 22."
"You can't visit right now. This is off limits."
"It was important. I'm leaving, okay?"
The door to 22 opened, and Linney looked at them.
"This your sister?" the guard demanded.
Darby pleaded with her eyes.
"Yeah, leave her alone," Linney said. "She's leaving."
She exhaled and smiled at Linney. "Mom will be up this weekend."
"Good," Linney said softly.
The guard backed off, and Darby almost ran to the double doors. Grantham was preaching to the administrator about the cost of health care. She walked quickly through the doors, into the lobby, and was almost to the front door when the administrator spoke to her.
"Miss! Oh, miss! Can I have your name?"
Darby was out the front door, headed for the car. Grantham shrugged at the administrator, and casually left the building. They jumped in, and sped away.
Garcia's last name is Morgan. Linney recognized him immediately, but he had trouble with the name. First name starts with a C." She was digging through her notes from Martindale-Hubbell. "Said he works in oil and gas on the ninth floor."
Grantham was speeding away from Parklane. "Oil and gas!"
"That's what he said." She found it. "Curtis D. Morgan, oil and gas section, age twenty-nine. There's another Morgan in litigation, but he's a partner and, let's see, he's fifty-one."
"Garcia is Curtis Morgan," Gray said with relief. He looked at his watch. "It's a quarter till four. We'll have to hurry."
"I can't wait."
RUPERT PICKED THEM UP as they turned out of Parklane's driveway. The rented Pontiac was flying all over the street. He drove like an idiot just to keep up, then radioed ahead.
MATTHEW BARR had never experienced a speedboat before, and after five hours of a bone-jarring voyage through the ocean he was soaked and in pain. His body was numb, and when he saw land he said a prayer, the first in decades. Then he resumed his nonstop cursing of Fletcher Coal.
They docked at a small marina near a city that he believed to be Freeport. The captain had said something about Freeport to the man known as Larry when they left Florida. No other word was spoken during the ordeal. Larry's role in the journey was uncertain. He was at least six-six, with a neck as thick as a utility pole, and he did nothing but watch Barr, which was okay at first but after five hours became quite a nuisance.
They stood awkwardly when the boat stopped. Larry was the first one out, and he motioned for Barr to join him. Another large man was approaching on the pier, and together they escorted Barr to a waiting van. The van was suspiciously short of windows.
At this point, Barr preferred to say good-bye to his new pals, and simply disappear in the direction of Freeport. He'd catch a plane to D.C., and slap Coal the moment he saw his shining forehead. But he had to be cool. They wouldn't dare hurt him.
The van stopped moments later at a small airstrip, and Barr was escorted to a black Lear. He admired it briefly before following Larry up the steps. He was cool and relaxed; just another job. After all, he was at one time one of the best CIA agents in Europe. He was an ex-Marine. He could take care of himself.
He sat by himself in the cabin. The windows were covered, and this annoyed him. But he understood. Mr. Mattiece treasured his privacy, and Barr could certainly respect that. Larry and the other heavyweight were at the front of the cabin, flipping through magazines and completely ignoring him.
Thirty minutes after takeoff, the Lear began its descent, and Larry lumbered toward him.
"Put this on," he demanded as he handed over a thick, cloth blindfold. At this point, a rookie would panic. An amateur would start asking questions. But Barr had been blindfolded before, and while he was having serious doubts about this mission, he calmly took the blindfold and covered his eyes.
THE MAN who removed the blindfold introduced himself as Emil, an assistant to Mr. Mattiece. He was a small, wiry type with dark hair and a thin mustache winding around the lip. He sat in a chair four feet away and lit a cigarette.
"Our people tell us you are legitimate, sort of," he said with a friendly smile. Barr looked around the room. There were no walls, only windows in small panes. The sun was bright and pierced his eyes. A plush garden surrounded a series of fountains and pools outside the room. They were in the rear of a very large house.
"I'm here on behalf of the President," Barr said.
"We believe you." Emil nodded. He was undoubtedly a Cajun.
"May I ask who you are?" Barr said.
"I'm Emil, and that's enough. Mr. Mattiece is not feeling well. Perhaps you should leave your message with me."
"I have orders to speak directly to him."
"Orders from Mr. Coal, I believe." Emil never stopped smiling.
"I see. Mr. Mattiece prefers not to meet you. He wants you to talk to me."
Barr shook his head. Now, if push came to shove, if things got out of hand, then he would gladly talk to Emil if it was necessary. But for now, he would hold firm.
"I am not authorized to talk to anyone but Mr. Mattiece," Barr said properly.
"The smile almost disappeared. Emil pointed beyond the pools and fountains to a large gazebo-shaped building with tall windows from floor to ceiling. Rows of perfectly manicured shrubs and flowers surrounded it.Mr. Mattiece is in his gazebo. Follow me."
They left the sun room and walked slowly around a wading pool. Barr had a thick knot in his stomach, but he followed his little friend as if this was simply another day at the office. The sound of falling water echoed through the garden. A narrow boardwalk led to the gazebo. They stopped at the door.
"I'm afraid you must remove your shoes," Emil said with a smile. Emil was barefoot. Barr untied his shoes and placed them next to the door.
"Do not step on the towels," Emil said gravely.
Emil opened the door for Barr, who stepped in alone. The room was perfectly round, about fifty feet in diameter. There were three chairs and a sofa, all covered with white sheets. Thick cotton towels were on the floor in perfect little trails around the room. The sun shone brightly through skylights. A door opened, and Victor Mattiece emerged from a small room.
Barr froze and gawked at the man. He was thin and gaunt, with long gray hair and a dirty beard. He wore only a pair of white gym shorts, and walked carefully on the towels without looking at Barr.
"Sit over there," he said, pointing at a chair. "Don't step on the towels."
Barr avoided the towels and took his seat. Mattiece turned his'back and faced the windows. His skin was leathery and dark bronze. His bare feet were lined with ugly veins. His toenails were long and yellow. He was crazy as hell.
"What do you want?" he asked quietly to the windows.
"The President sent me."
"He did not. Fletcher Coal sent you. I doubt if the President knows you're here."
Maybe he wasn't crazy. He spoke without moving a muscle in his body.
"Fletcher Coal is the President's chief of staff. He sent me."
"I know about Coal. And I know about you. And I know about your little Unit. Now, what do you want?"
"Don't play games with me. What do you want?"
"Have you read the pelican brief?" Barr asked.
The frail body did not flinch. "Have you read it?"
"Yes," Barr answered quickly.
"Do you believe it to be true?"
"Perhaps. That's why I'm here."
"Why is Mr. Coal so concerned about the pelican brief?"
"Because a couple of reporters have wind of it. And if it's true, then we need to know immediately."
"Who are these reporters?"
"Gray Grantham with the Washington Post. He picked it up first, and he knows more than anyone. He's digging hard. Coal thinks he's about to run something."
"We can take care of him, can't we?" Mattiece said to the windows. "Who's the other one?"
"Rifkin with the Times."
Mattiece still had not moved an inch. Barr glanced around at the sheets and towels. Yes, he had to be crazy. The place was sanitized and smelled of rubbing alcohol. Maybe he was ill.
"Does Mr. Coal believe it to be true?"
"I don't know. He's very concerned about it. That's why I'm here, Mr. Mattiece. We have to know."
"What if it's true?"
"Then we have problems."
Mattiece finally moved. He shifted his weight to the right leg, and folded his arms across his narrow chest. But his eyes never moved. Sand dunes and sea oats were in the distance, but not the ocean.
"Do you know what I think?" he said quietly.
"I think Coal is the problem. He gave the brief to too many people. He handed it to the CIA. He allowed you to see it. This really disturbs me."
Barr could think of no response. It was ludicrous to imply that Coal wanted to distribute the brief. The problem is you, Mattiece. You killed the justices. You panicked and killed Callahan. You're the greedy bastard who was not content with a mere fifty million.
Mattiece turned slowly and looked at Barr. The eyes were dark and red. He looked nothing like the photo with the Vice President, but that was seven years ago. He'd aged twenty years in the last seven, and perhaps gone off the deep end along the way.
"You clowns in Washington are to blame for this," he said, somewhat louder.
Barr could not look at him. "Is it true, Mr. Mattiece? That's all I want to know."
Behind Barr, a door opened without a sound. Larry, in his socks and avoiding the towels, eased forward two steps and stopped.
Mattiece walked on the towels to a glass door, and opened it. He looked outside and spoke softly. "Of course it's true." He walked through the door, and closed it slowly behind him. Barr watched as the idiot shuffled along a sidewalk toward the sand dunes.
"What now? he thought. Perhaps Emil would come get him. Perhaps.
Larry inched forward with a rope, and Barr did not hear or feel anything until it was too late. Mattiece did not want blood in his gazebo, so Larry simply broke the neck and choked him until it was over.
HE GAME PLAN called for her to be on this elevator at this point in the search, but she thought enough unexpected events had occurred to warrant a change in the game plan. He thought not. They had engaged in a healthy debate over this elevator ride, and here she was. He was right; this was the quickest route to Curtis Morgan. And she was right; it was a dangerous route to Curtis Morgan. But the other routes could be just as dangerous. The entire game plan was deadly.
She wore her only dress and her only pair of heels. Gray said she looked really nice, but that was to be expected. The elevator stopped on the ninth floor, and when she walked off it there was a pain in her stomach and she could barely breathe.
The receptionist was across a plush lobby. The name WHITE AND BLAZEVICH covered the wall behind her in thick, brass lettering. Her knees were weak, but she made it to the receptionist, who smiled properly. It was ten minutes before five.
"May I help you?" she asked. The nameplate proclaimed her to be Peggy Young.
"Yes," Darby managed, clearing her throat. "I have a five o'clock appointment with Curtis Morgan. My name is Dorothy Blythe."
The receptionist was stunned. Her mouth fell open, and she stared blankly at Darby, now Dorothy. She couldn't speak.
Darby's heart stopped.Is something the matter?"
"Well, no. I'm sorry. Just a moment." Peggy Young stood quickly, and disappeared in a rush.
Run! Her heart pounded like a drum. Run! She tried to control her breathing, but she was battling hyperventilation. Her legs were rubbery. Run!
She looked around, trying to be nonchalant as if she was just another client waiting on her lawyer. Surely they wouldn't gun her down here in the lobby of a law office.
He came first, followed by the receptionist. He was about fifty with bushy gray hair and a terrible scowl. "Hi," he said, but only because he had to. "I'm Jarreld Schwabe, a partner here. You say you have an appointment with Curtis Morgan."
Keep it up. "Yes. At five. Is there a problem?"
"And your name is Dorothy Blythe?"
Yeah, but you can call me Dot. "That's what I said. Yes. What's the matter?" She sounded genuinely irritated.
He was inching closer. "When did you make the appointment?"
"I don't know. About two weeks ago. I met Curtis at a party in Georgetown. He told me he was an oil and gas lawyer, and I happen to need one. I called the office here, and made an appointment. Now, will you please tell me what's going on?" She was amazed at how well these words were coming from her dry mouth.
"Why do you need an oil and gas lawyer?"
"I don't think I have to explain myself to you," she said, real bitchy-like.
The elevator opened, and a man in a cheap suit approached quickly to join the conversation. Darby scowled at him. Her legs would give way just any second.
Schwabe was really bearing down. "We don't have any record of such an appointment."
"Then fire the appointment secretary. Do you welcome all new clients this way?" Oh, she was indignant, but Schwabe did not let up.
"You can't see Curtis Morgan," he said.
"And why not?" she demanded.
The knees were jelly and about to go. A sharp pain rippled through the stomach. But, she thought quickly, it was okay to looked shocked. He was, after all, supposed to be her new lawyer.
"I'm sorry. Why didn't anyone call me?"
Schwabe was still suspicious. "As I said, we have no record of a Dorothy Blythe."
"What happened to him?" she asked, stunned.
"He was mugged a week ago. Shot by street punks, we believe."
The guy in the cheap suit took a step closer. "Do you have any identification?"
"Who in the hell are you?" she snapped loudly.
"He's security," said Schwabe.
"Security for what?" she demanded, even louder. "Is this a law firm or a prison?"
The partner looked at the man in the cheap suit, and it was obvious neither knew exactly what to do at this point. She was very attractive, and they had upset her, and her story was somewhat believable. They relaxed a little.
"Why don't you leave, Ms. Blythe?" Schwabe said.
"I can't wait!"
The security man reached to assist her. "Here," he said.
She slapped his hand. "Touch me and I'll sue your ass first thing tomorrow morning. Get away from me!"
This shook them a bit. She was mad and lashing out. Perhaps they were being a bit hard.
"I'll see you down," the security man said.
"I know how to leave. I'm amazed you clowns have any clients." She was stepping backward. Her face was red, but not from anger. It was fear. "I've got lawyers in four states, and I've never been treated like this," she yelled at them. She was in the center of the lobby. "I paid a half a million last year in legal fees, and I've got a million to pay next year, but you idiots won't get any of it." The closer she got to the elevator, the louder she yelled. She was a crazy woman. They watched her until the elevator door opened and she was gone.
GRAY PACED along the end of the bed, holding the phone and waiting for Smith Keen. Darby was stretched out on the bed with her eyes closed.
Gray stopped. "Hello, Smith. I need you to check something quick."
"Where are you?" Keen asked.
"A hotel. Look back six or seven days. I need the obituary for Curtis D. Morgan."
"Garcia! What happened to Garcia?"
"He died, obviously. Shot by muggers."
"I remember that. We ran a story last week about a young lawyer who was robbed and shot."
"Probably him. Can you check it for me? I need his wife's name and address if we have it."
"How'd you find him?"
"It's a long story. We'll try to talk to his widow tonight."
"Garcia's dead. This is weird, baby."
"It's more than weird. The kid knew something, and they knocked him off."
"Do you think you're safe?"
"Where's the girl?"
"She's with me."
"What if they're watching his house?"
Gray hadn't thought about it. "We'll have to take that chance. I'll call you back in fifteen minutes."
He placed the phone on the floor and sat in an antique rocker. There was a warm beer on the table, and he took a long drink. He watched her. A forearm covered both eyes. She was in jeans and a sweatshirt. The dress was thrown in a corner. The heels had been kicked across the room.
"You okay?" he asked softly.
She was a real smartass, and he liked that in a woman. Of course, she was almost a lawyer, and they must teach smartass-ness in law school. He sipped the beer and admired the jeans.
He enjoyed this brief moment of uninterrupted staring without getting caught.
"Are you staring at me?" she asked.
"Sex is the last thing on my mind."
"Then why'd you mention it?"
"Because I can feel you lusting after my red toenails."
"I've got a headache. A real, genuine, pounding headache."
"You've worked for it. Can I get you something?"
"Yes. A one-way ticket to Jamaica."
"You can leave tonight. I'll take you to the airport right now."
She removed the forearm from her eyes and gently massaged both temples. "I'm sorry I cried."
He finished the beer with a long drink. "You earned the right." She was in tears when she stepped off the elevator. He was waiting like an expectant father, except he had a .38 in his coat pocket-a .38 she knew nothing about.
"So what do you think of investigative reporting?" he asked.
"I'd rather butcher hogs."
"Well, in all honesty, not every day is this eventful. Some days I simply sit at my desk and make hundreds of phone calls to bureaucrats who have no comment."
"Sounds great. Let's do that tomorrow."
He kicked his shoes off and placed his feet on the bed. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply. Minutes passed without a word.
"Do you know that Louisiana is known as the Pelican State?" she asked with her eyes closed.
"No. I didn't know that."
"It's a shame really, because the brown pelicans were virtually wiped out the the early 1960's."
"What happened to them?"
Pesticides. They eat nothing but fish, and the fish live in river water filled with chlorinated hydrocarbons from pesticides. The rains wash the pesticides from the soil into small streams which eventually empty into rivers which eventually empty into the Mississippi. By the time the pelicans in Louisiana eat the fish, they are loaded with DDT and other chemicals which accumulate in the fatty tissues of the birds. Death is seldom immediate, but in times of stress such as hunger or bad weather, the pelicans and eagles and cormorants are forced to draw upon their reserves, and can literally be poisoned by their own fat. If they don't die, they are usually unable to reproduce. Their eggs are so thin and fragile they crack during incubation. Did you know that?"
"Why would I know that?"
"In the late sixties, Louisiana began transplanting brown pelicans from southern Florida, and over the years the population has slowly increased. But the birds are still very much in danger. Forty years ago there were thousands of them. The cypress swamp that Mattiece wants to destroy is home to only a few dozen pelicans."
Gray pondered these things. She was silent for a long time.
"What day is it?" she asked without opening her eyes.
"I left New Orleans a week ago today. Thomas and Verheek had dinner two weeks ago today. That, of course, was the fateful moment when the pelican brief changed hands."
"Three weeks ago tomorrow, Rosenberg and Jensen were murdered."
"I was an innocent little law student minding my own business and having a wonderful love affair with my professor. I guess those days are gone."
Law school and the professor might be gone, he thought. "What're your plans?"
"I have none. I'm just trying to get out of this damned mess and stay alive. I'll run off somewhere and hide for a few months, maybe a few years. I've got enough money to live for a long time. If and when I reach the point when I'm not looking over my shoulder, I might come back."
"To law school?"
"I don't think so. The law has lost its allure."
"Why'd you want to be a lawyer?"
"Idealism, and money. I thought I could change the world and get paid for it."
"But there are so damned many lawyers already. Why do all these bright students keep flocking to law school?"
"Simple. It's greed. They want BMWs and gold credit cards. If you go to a good law school, finish in the top ten percent, and get a job with a big firm, you'll be earning six figures in a few short years, and it only goes up. It's guaranteed. At the age of thirty-five, you'll be a partner raking in at least two hundred thousand a year. Some earn much more."