The Pelican Brief

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The vault was behind a set of massive bronze doors that were polished enough to appear almost golden, no doubt to give the appearance of infinite safety and invulnerability. The doors were opened slightly to allow a select few in and out. To the left, an important-looking lady of sixty sat behind a desk with the words SAFE DEPOST BOXES across its front. Her name was Virginia Baskin.
Virginia Baskin stared at Darby as she approached the desk. There was no smile.
"I need access to a box," Darby said without breathing. She hadn't breathed in the last two and a half minutes.
"The number, please," Ms. Baskin said as she hit the keyboard and turned to the monitor.
She punched the number and waited for the words to flash on the screen. She frowned, and moved her face to within inches of it. Run! Darby thought. She frowned harder and scratched her chin. Run, before she picks up the phone and calls the guards. Run, before the alarms go off and my idiot cohort comes blazing through the lobby.
Ms. Baskin withdrew her head from the monitor. "That was rented just two weeks ago," she said almost to herself.
"Yes," Darby said as if she had rented it.
"I assume you're Mrs. Morgan," she said, pecking on the keyboard.
Keep assuming, baby. "Yes, Beverly Anne Morgan."
"And your address?"
"891 Pembroke, Alexandria."
She nodded at the screen as if it could see her and give its approval. She pecked again. "Phone number?"
Ms. Baskin liked this too. So did the computer. "Who rented this box?"
"My husband, Curtis D. Morgan."
"And his social security number?"
Darby casually opened her new, rather large leather shoulder bag, and pulled out her wallet. How many wives memorized their husband's social security number? She opened the wallet. "510-96-8686."
"Very well," Ms. Baskin said properly as she left the keyboard and reached into her desk. "How long will this take?"
"Just a minute."
She placed a wide card on a small clipboard on the desk, and pointed at it. "Sign here, Mrs. Morgan."
Darby nervously signed on the second slot. Mr. Morgan had made the first entry the day he rented the box.
Ms. Baskin glanced at the signature while Darby held her breath.
"Do you have your key?" she asked.
"Of course," Darby said with a warm smile.
Ms. Baskin took a small box from the drawer, and walked around the desk. "Follow me." They went through the bronze doors. The vault was as big as a branch bank in the suburbs. Designed along the lines of a mausoleum, it was a maze of hallways and small chambers. Two men in uniform walked by. They passed four identical rooms with walls lined with rows of lockboxes. The fifth room held F566, evidently, because Ms. Baskin stepped into it and opened her little black box. Darby looked nervously around and behind her.
Virginia was all business. She walked to F566, which was shoulder-high, and stuck in the key. She rolled her eyes at Darby as if to say, "Your turn, dumbass." Darby yanked the key from a pocket, and inserted it next to the other one. Virginia then turned both keys, and slid the box two inches from its slot. She removed the bank's key.
She pointed to a small booth with a folding wooden door. "Take it in there. When you finish, lock it back in place and come to my desk." She was leaving the room as she spoke.
"Thanks," Darby said. She waited until Virginia was out of sight, then slid the box from the wall. It was not heavy. The front was six inches by twelve, and it was a foot and a half long. The top was open, and inside were two items: a thin, brown legal-sized envelope, and an unmarked videotape.
She didn't need the booth. She stuffed the envelope and videotape in her shoulder bag, and slid the box back into its slot. She left the room.
Virginia had rounded the corner of her desk when Darby walked behind her. "I'm finished," she said.
"My, that was quick."
Damned right. Things happen fast when your nerves are popping through your skin. "I found what I needed," she said.
"Very well." Ms. Baskin was suddenly a warm person."You know, that awful story in the paper last week about that lawyer. You know, the one killed by muggers not far from here. Wasn't his name Curtis Morgan? Seems like it was Curtis Morgan. What a shame."
Oh, you dumb woman. "I didn't see that," Darby said. "I've been out of the country. Thanks."
Her step was a bit quicker the second time through the lobby. The bank was crowded, and there were no security guards in sight. Piece of cake. It was about time she pulled a job without being grabbed.
The gunman was guarding the marble column. The revolving door spun her onto the sidewalk, and she was almost to the car before he caught her. "Get in the car!" she demanded.
"What'd you find!" he demanded.
"Just get outta here." She yanked the door open, and jumped in. He started the car and sped away.
"Talk to me," he said.
"I cleaned out the box," she said. "Is anyone behind us?"
He glanced in the mirror. "How the hell do I know? What is it?"
She opened her purse and pulled out the envelope. She opened it. Gray slammed on the brakes and almost smashed a car in front.
"Watch where you're going!" she yelled.
"Okay! Okay. What's in the envelope!"
"I don't know! I haven't read it yet, and if you get me killed, I'll never read it."
The car was moving again. Gray breathed deeply. "Look, let's stop yelling, okay. Let's be cool."
"Yes. You drive, and I'll be cool."
"Okay. Now. Are we cool?"
"Yes. Just relax. And watch where you're going. Where are you going?"
"I don't know. What's in the envelope?"
She pulled out a document of some sort. She glanced at him, and he was staring at the document. "Watch where we're going."
"Just read the damned thing."
"It makes me carsick. I can't read in the car."
"Dammit! Dammit! Dammit!"
"You're yelling again."
He yanked the wheel to the right and pulled into another tow-away zone on E Street. Horns honked as he slammed his brakes. He glared at her.
"Thanks," she said, and started reading it aloud.
It was a four-page affidavit, typed real neat and sworn to under oath before a notary public. It was dated Friday, the day before the last phone call to Grantham. Under oath, Curtis Morgan said he worked in the oil and gas section of White and Blazevich, and had since he joined the firm five years earlier. His clients were privately owned oil exploration firms from many countries, but primarily Americans. Since he joined the firm, he had worked for a client who was engaged in a huge lawsuit in south Louisiana. The client was a man named Victor Mattiece, and Mr. Mattiece, whom he'd never met but was well known to the senior partners of White and Blazevich, wanted desperately to win the lawsuit and eventually harvest millions of barrels of oil from the swamplands of Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana. There were also hundreds of millions of cubic yards of natural gas. The partner supervising the case for White and Blazevich was F. Sims Wakefield, who was very close to Victor Mattiece and often visited him in the Bahamas.
They sat in the tow-away zone with the bumper of the Pontiac protruding perilously into the right lane, and were oblivious to the cars swerving around it. She read slowly, and he sat with his eyes closed.
Continuing, the lawsuit was very important to White and Blazevich. The firm was not directly involved in the trial and appeal, but everything crossed Wakefield's desk. He worked on nothing but the pelican case, as it was known. He spent most of his time on the phone with either Mattiece or one of a hundred lawyers working on the case. Morgan averaged ten hours a week on the case, but always on the periphery. His billings were handed directly to Wakefield, and this was unusual because all other billings went to the oil and gas billing clerk, who turned them in to accounting. He'd heard rumors over the years, and firmly believed Mattiece was not paying White and Blazevich its standard hourly rate. He believed the firm had taken the case for a percentage of the harvest. He'd heard the figure of ten percent of the net profits from the wells. This was unheard of in the industry.
Brakes squealed loudly, and they braced for the impact. It barely missed. "We're about to be killed," Darby snapped.
Gray yanked the gearshift into Drive, and pulled the right front wheel over the curb and onto the sidewalk. Now they were out of traffic. The car was angled across a forbidden space with its front bumper on the sidewalk and its rear bumper barely out of traffic. "Keep reading," he snapped back.
Continuing, on or about September 28, Morgan was in Wakefield's office. He walked in with two files and a stack of documents unrelated to the pelican case. Wakefield was on the phone. As usual, secretaries were in and out. The office was always in a state of disruption. He stood around for a few minutes waiting for Wakefield to get off the phone, but the conversation dragged on. Finally, after waiting fifteen minutes, Morgan picked up his files and documents from Wakefield's cluttered desk, and left. He went to his office at the other end of the building, and started working at his desk. It was about two in the afternoon. As he reached for a file, he found a handwritten memo on the bottom of the stack of documents he had just brought to his office. He had inadvertently taken it from Wakefield's desk. He immediately stood, with the intention of returning to Wakefield. Then he read it. And he read it again. He glanced at the telephone. Wakefield's line was still busy. A copy of the memo was attached to the affidavit.
"Read the memo," Gray snapped.
"I'm not through with the affidavit," she snapped back. It would do no good to argue with her. She was the legal mind, and this was a legal document, and she would read it exactly as she pleased.
Continuing, he was stunned by the memo. And he was immediately terrified of it. He walked out of his office and down the hall to the nearest Xerox, and copied it. He returned to his office, and placed the original memo in the same position under the files on his desk. He would swear he'd never seen it.
The memo was two paragraphs handwritten on White and Blazevich internal stationery. It was from M. Velmano, who is Marty Velmano, a senior partner. It was dated September 28, directed to Wakefield, and read:
Advise client, research is completeand the bench will sit much softer if Rosenberg is retired. The second retirement is a bit unusual. Einstein found a link to Jensen, of all people. The boy, of course, has those other problems.
Advise further that the pelican should arrive here in four years, assuming other factors.
There was no signature.
Gray was chuckling and frowning at the same time. His mouth was open. She was reading faster.
Continuing, Marty Velmano was a ruthless shark who worked eighteen hours a day, and felt useless unless someone near him was bleeding. He was the heart and soul of White and Blazevich. To the power people of Washington, he was a tough operator with plenty of money. He lunched with congressmen, and played golf with cabinet members. He did his throat cutting behind his office door.
Einstein was the nickname for Nathaniel Jones, a demented legal genius the firm kept locked away in his own little library on the sixth floor. He read every case decided by the Supreme Court, the eleven federal appellate courts, and the supreme courts of the fifty states. Morgan had never met Einstein. Sightings were rare around the firm.
After he copied it, he folded his copy of the memo and placed it in a desk drawer. Ten minutes later, Wakefield stormed into his office, very disturbed and pale. They scratched around Morgan's desk, and found the memo. Wakefield was angry as hell, which was not unusual. He asked if Morgan had read this. No, he insisted. Evidently he mistakenly picked it up when he left his office, he explained. What's the big deal? Wakefield was furious. He lectured Morgan about the sanctity of one's desk. He was a blithering idiot, rebuking and expounding around Morgan's office. He finally realized he was overreacting. He tried to settle down, but the impression had been made. He left with the memo.
Morgan hid the copy in a law book in the library on the ninth floor. He was shocked at Wakefield's paranoia and hysterics. Before he left that afternoon, he precisely arranged the articles and papers in his desk and on his shelves. The next morning, he checked them. Someone had gone through his desk during the night.
Morgan became very careful. Two days later, he found a tiny screwdriver behind a book on his credenza. Then he found a small piece of black tape wadded up and dropped in his trash can. He assumed his office was wired and his phones were bugged. He caught suspicious looks from Wakefield. He saw Velmano in Wakefield's office more than usual.
Then Justices Rosenberg and Jensen were killed. There was no doubt in his mind it was the work of Mattiece and his associates. The memo did not mention Mattiece, but it referred to a "client." Wakefield had no other clients. And no one client had as much to gain from a new Court as Mattiece.
The last paragraph of the affidavit was frightening. On two occasions after the assassinations, Morgan knew he was being followed. He was taken off the pelican case. He was given more work, more hours, more demands. He was afraid of being killed. If they would kill two justices, they would kill a lowly associate.
He signed it under oath before Emily Stanford, a notary public. Her address was typed under her name.
"Sit tight. I'll be right back," Gray said as he opened his door and jumped out. He dodged cars and dashed across E Street. There was a pay phone outside a bakery. He punched Smith Keen's number and looked at his rented car parked haphazardly across the street.
"Smith, it's Gray. Listen carefully and do as I say. I've got another source on the pelican brief. It's big, Smith, and I need you and Krauthammer in Feldman's office in fifteen minutes."
"What is it?"
"Garcia left a farewell message. We have one more stop, and we're coming in."
"We? The girl's coming in?"
"Yes. Get a TV with a VCR in the conference room. I think Garcia wants to talk to us."
"He left a tape?"
"Yes. Fifteen minutes."
"Are you safe?"
"I think so. I'm just nervous as hell, Smith." He hung up and ran back to the car.

MS. STANFORD owned a court reporting service on Vermont. She was dusting the bookshelves when Gray and Darby walked in. They were in a hurry.

"Are you Emily Stanford?" he asked.
"Yes. Why?"
He showed her the last page of the affidavit. "Did you notarize this?"
"Who are you?"
"Gray Grantham with the Washington Post. Is this your signature?"
"Yes. I notarized it."
Darby handed her the photograph of Garcia, now Morgan, on the sidewalk. "Is this the man who signed the affidavit?" she asked.
"This is Curtis Morgan. Yes. That's him."
"Thank you," Gray said.
"He's dead, isn't he?" Ms. Stanford asked. "I saw it in the paper."
"Yes, he's dead," Gray said. "Did you by chance read this affidavit?"
"Oh no. I just witnessed his signature. But I knew something was wrong."
"Thank you, Ms. Stanford." They left as fast as they'd come.

THE THIN MAN hid his shiny forehead under a ragged fedora. His pants were rags and his shoes were torn, and he sat in his ancient wheelchair in front of the Post and held a sign proclaiming him to be HUNGRY AND HOMELESS. He rolled his head from shoulder to shoulder as if the muscles in his neck had collapsed from hunger. A paper bowl with a few dollars and coins was in his lap, but it was his money. Maybe he could do better if he was blind.

He looked pitiful, sitting there like a vegetable, rolling his head, wearing green Kermit the Frog sunglasses. He watched every move on the street.
He saw the car fly around the corner and park illegally. The man and the woman jumped out, and ran toward him. He had a gun under the ragged quilt, but they were moving too fast. And there were too many people on the sidewalk. They entered the Post building.
He waited a minute, then rolled himself away.

SMITH KEEN was pacing and fidgeting in front of Feldman's office door as the secretary looked on. He saw them weaving hurriedly down the aisle between the rows of desks. Gray was leading and holding her hand. She was definitely attractive, but he would appreciate it later. They were breathless.

"Smith Keen, this is Darby Shaw," Gray said between breaths.
They shook hands. "Hello," she said, looking around at the sprawling newsroom.
"My pleasure, Darby. From what I hear, you are a remarkable woman."
"Right," Grantham said. "We can chitchat later."
"Follow me," Keen said, and they were off again. "Feldman wanted to use the conference room." They cut across the cluttered newsroom, and walked into a plush room with a long table in the center of it. It was full of men who were talking but immediately shut up when she walked in. Feldman closed the door.
"He reached for her hand.I'm Jackson Feldman, executive editor. You must be Darby."
"Who else?" Gray said, still breathing hard.
Feldman ignored him and looked around the table. He pointed.This is Howard Krauthammer, managing editor; Ernie DeBasio, assistant managing editor/foreign; Elliot Cohen, assistant managing editor/national; and Vince Litsky, our attorney."
She nodded politely and forgot each name as she heard it. They were all at least fifty, all in shirtsleeves, all deeply concerned. She could feel the tension.
"Give me the tape," Gray said.
She took it from her bag and handed it to him. The television and VCR were at the end of the room on a portable stand. He pushed the tape into the VCR. "We got this twenty minutes ago, so we haven't seen it."
Darby sat in a chair against the wall. The men inched toward the screen and waited for an image.
On a black screen was the date-October 12. Then Curtis Morgan was sitting at a table in a kitchen. He held a switch that evidently worked the camera.
"My name is Curtis Morgan, and since you're watching this, I'm probably dead." It was a helluva first sentence. The men grimaced and inched closer.
"Today is October 12, and I'm doing this at my house. I'm alone. My wife is at the doctor. I should be at work, but I called in sick. My wife knows nothing about any of this. I've told no one. Since you're watching this, you've also seen this. [He holds up the affidavit.] This is an affidavit I've signed, and I plan to leave it with this video, probably in a safe deposit box in a bank downtown. I'll read the affidavit, and discuss other things."
"We've got the affidavit," Gray said quickly. He was standing against the wall next to Darby. No one looked at him. They were glued to the screen. Morgan slowly read the affidavit. His eyes darted from the pages to the camera, back and forth, back and forth.
It took him ten minutes. Each time Darby heard the word pelican, she closed her eyes and slowly shook her head. It had all come down to this. It was a bad dream. She tried to listen.
When Morgan finished the affidavit, he laid it on the table, and looked at some notes on a legal pad. He was comfortable and relaxed. He was a handsome kid who looked younger than twenty-nine. He was at home, so there was no tie. Just a starched white button-down. White and Blazevich was not an ideal place to work, he said, but most of the four hundred lawyers were honest and probably knew nothing about Mattiece. In fact, he doubted if many besides Wakefield, Velmano, and Einstein were involved in the conspiracy. There was a partner named Jarreld Schwabe who was sinister enough to be involved, but Morgan had no proof. (Darby remembered him well.) There was an ex-secretary who'd quit abruptly a few days after the assassinations. Her name was Miriam LaRue, and she'd worked in the oil and gas section for eighteen years. She might know something. She lives in Falls Church. Another secretary whom he would not name had told him she overheard a conversation between Wakefield and Velmano, and the topic was whether he, Morgan, could be trusted. But she just heard bits and pieces. They treated him differently after the memo was found on his desk. Especially Schwabe and Wakefield. It was as if they wanted to throw him up against the wall and threaten his life if he told of the memo, but they couldn't do it because they weren't sure he'd seen it. And they were afraid to make a big deal out of it. But he'd seen it, and they were almost certain he'd seen it. And if they conspired to kill Rosenberg and Jensen, well, hell, he was just an associate. He could be replaced in seconds.
Litsky the lawyer shook his head in disbelief. The numbness was wearing off, and they moved a bit in their seats.
Morgan commuted by car, and twice he was trailed. Once during lunch, he saw a man watching him. He talked about his family for a while, and started to ramble. It was apparent he'd run out of hard news. Gray handed the affidavit and the memo to Feldman, who read it and passed it to Krauthammer, who passed it on.
Morgan finished with a chilling farewell: "I don't know who will see this tape. I'll be dead, so it won't really matter, I guess. I hope you use this to nail Mattiece and his sleazy lawyers. But if the sleazy lawyers are watching this tape, then you can all go straight to hell."
Gray ejected the tape. He rubbed his hands together and smiled at the group. "Well, gentlemen, did we bring you enough verification, or do you want more?"
"I know those guys," Litsky said, dazed. "Wakefield and I played tennis a year ago."
Feldman was up and walking. "How'd you find Morgan?"
"It's a long story," Gray said.
"Give me a real short version."
"We found a law student at Georgetown who clerked for White and Blazevich last summer. He identified a photograph of Morgan."
"How'd you get the photograph?" Litsky asked.
"Don't ask. It doesn't go with the story."
"I say run the story," Krauthammer said loudly.
"Run it," said Elliot Cohen.
"How'd you learn he was dead?" Feldman asked.
"Darby went to White and Blazevich yesterday. They broke the news."
"Where was the video and affidavit?"
"In a lockbox at First Columbia. Morgan's wife gave me the key at five this morning. I've done nothing wrong. The pelican brief has been verified fully by an independent source."
"Run it," said Ernie DeBasio. "Run it with the biggest headline since NIXON RESIGNS."
Feldman stopped near Smith Keen. The two friends eyed each other carefully. "Run it," said Keen.
He turned to the lawyer. "Vince?"
"There's no question, legally. But I'd like to see the story after it's written."
"How long will it take to write it?" the editor asked Gray.
"The brief portion is already outlined. I can finish it up in an hour or so. Give me two hours on Morgan. Three at the most."
Feldman hadn't smiled since he shook hands with Darby. He paced to the other side of the room, and stood in Gray's face. "What if this tape's a hoax?"
"Hoax? We're talking dead bodies, Jackson. I've seen the widow. She's a real, live widow. This paper ran the story of his murder. He's dead. Even his law firm says he's dead. And that's him on the tape, talking about dying. I know that's him. And we talked to the notary public who witnessed his signature on the affidavit. She identified him." Gray was getting louder and looking around the room. "Everything he said verifies the pelican brief. Everything. Mattiece, the lawsuit, the assassinations. Then we've got Darby, the author of the brief. And more dead bodies, and they've chased her all over the country. There are no holes, Jackson. It's a story."

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