The Pelican Brief

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"You all right, miss?" asked the black man.
She couldn't answer. Didn't try to. Her head was broken. "Where is Thomas?" she asked, looking at the crack in the sidewalk.
They looked at each other. The first fire truck screamed to a halt twenty feet away, and the crowd parted. Firemen jumped and scrambled in all directions.
"Where is Thomas?" she repeated.
"Miss, who is Thomas?" asked the black man.
"Thomas Callahan," she said softly, as if everyone knew him.
"Was he in that car?"
She nodded, then closed her eyes. The sirens wailed and died, and in between she heard the shouts of anxious men, and the popping of the fire. She could smell the burning.
The second and third fire trucks came blaring in from different directions. A cop shoved his way through the crowd. "Police. Outta the way. Police." He pushed and shoved until he found her. He fell to his knees and waved a badge under her nose. "Ma'am, Sergeant Rupert, NOPD."
Darby heard this but thought nothing of it. He was in her face, this Rupert with bushy hair, a baseball cap, black and gold Saints jacket. She stared blankly at him.
"Is that your car, ma'am? Someone said it was your car."
She shook her head. No.
Rupert was grabbing her elbows and pulling up. He was talking to her, asking if she was all right, and at the same time pulling her up and it hurt like hell. The head was fractured, split, busted, and she was in shock but what did this moron care. She was on her feet. The knees wouldn't lock, and she was limp. He kept asking if she was all right. The black man looked at Rupert as if he was crazy.
There, the legs worked now, and she and Rupert were walking through the crowd, behind a fire truck, around another one to an unmarked cop car. She lowered her head and refused to look at the parking lot. Rupert chatted incessantly. Something about an ambulance. He opened the front door and gingerly placed her in the passenger's seat.
Another cop squatted in the door and started asking questions. He wore jeans and cowboy boots with pointed toes. Darby leaned forward and placed her head in her hands.I think I need help," she said.
"Sure, lady. Help's on the way. Just a coupla questions. What's your name?"
"Darby Shaw. I think I'm in shock. I'm very dizzy, and I think I need to throw up."
"The ambulance is on the way. Is that your car over there?"
Another cop car, one with decals and words and lights, squealed to a stop in front of Rupert's. Rupert disappeared for a moment. The cowboy cop suddenly closed her door, and she was all alone in the car. She leaned forward and vomited between her legs. She started crying. She was cold. She slowly laid her head on the driver's seat, and curled into a knot. Silence. Then darkness.

SOMEONE WAS KNOCKING on the window above her. She opened her eyes, and the man wore a uniform and a hat with a badge on it. The door was locked.

"Open the door, lady!" he yelled.
She sat up and opened the door. "Are you drunk, lady?"
The head was pounding. "No," she said desperately.
He opened the door wider. "Is this your car?"
She rubbed her eyes. She had to think.
"Lady, is this your car?"
"No!" She glared at him. "No. It's Rupert's."
"Okay. Who the hell is Rupert?"
There was one fire truck left and most of the crowd was gone. This man in the door was obviously a cop. "Sergeant Rupert. One of you guys," she said.
This made him mad. "Get outta the car, lady."
Gladly. Darby crawled out on the passenger's side, and stood on the sidewalk. In the distance, a solitary fireman hosed down the burnt frame of the Porsche.
Another cop in a uniform joined him and they met her on the sidewalk.
The first cop asked, "What's your name?"
"Darby Shaw."
"Why were you passed out in the car?"
She looked at the car. "I don't know. I got hurt and Rupert put me in the car. Where's Rupert?"
The cops looked at each other. "Who the hell's Rupert?" the first cop asked.
This made her mad and the anger cleared away the cobwebs.
"Rupert said he was a cop."
The second cop asked, "How'd you get hurt?"
Darby glared at him. She pointed to the parking lot across the street. "I was supposed to be in that car over there. But I wasn't, so I'm here, listening to your stupid questions. Where's Rupert?"
They looked blankly at each other. The first cop said, "Stay here," and he walked across the street to another cop car where a man in a suit was talking to a small group. They whispered, then the first cop and the man in the suit walked back to the sidewalk where Darby waited. The man in the suit said, "I'm Lieutenant Olson, New Orleans PD. Did you know the man in the car?" He pointed to the parking lot.
The knees went weak, and she bit her lip. She nodded.
"What's his name?"
"Thomas Callahan."
Olson looked at the first cop. "That's what the computer said. Now, who's this Rupert?"
Darby screamed, "He said he was a cop!"
Olson looked sympathetic. "I'm sorry. There's no cop named Rupert."
She was sobbing loudly. Olson helped her to the hood of Rupert's car, and held her shoulders while the crying subsided and she fought to regain control.
"Check the plates," Olson told the second cop, who quickly scribbled down the tag number from Rupert's car and called it in.
Olson gently held both her shoulders with his hands and looked at her eyes. "Were you with Callahan?"
She nodded, still crying but much quieter. Olson glanced at the first cop.
"How did you get in this car?" Olson asked slowly and softly.
She wiped her eyes with her finger and stared at Olson. "This guy Rupert, who said he was a cop, came and got me from over there, and brought me over here. He put me in the car, and this other cop with cowboy boots starting asking questions. Another cop car pulled up, and they left. Then I guess I passed out. I don't know. I would like to see a doctor."
"Get my car," Olson said to the first cop.
"The second cop was back with a puzzled look.The computer has no record of this tag number. Must be fake tags."
Olson took her arm and led her to his car. He spoke quickly to the two cops. "I'm taking her to Charity. Wrap this up and meet me there. Impound the car. We'll check it later."
She sat in Olson's car listening to the radio squawk and staring at the parking lot. Four cars had burned. The Porsche was upside down in the center, nothing but a crumpled frame. A handful of firemen and other emergency types milled about. A cop was stringing yellow crime-scene tape around the lot.
She touched the knot on the back of her head. No blood. Tears dripped off her chin.
Olson slammed his door, and they eased through the parked cars and headed for St. Charles. He had the blue lights on, but no sirens.
"Do you feel like talking?" he asked.
They were on St. Charles. "I guess," she said.He's dead, isn't he?"
"Yes, Darby. I'm sorry. I take it he was the only one in the car."
"How'd you get hurt?"
He gave her a handkerchief, and she wiped her eyes. "I fell or something. There were two explosions, and I think the second one knocked me down. I don't remember everything. Please, tell me who Rupert is."
"I have no idea. I don't know a cop named Rupert, and there was no cop here with cowboy boots."
She thought about this for a block and a half.
"What did Callahan do for a living?"
"A law professor at Tulane. I'm a student there."
"Who would want to kill him?"
She stared at the traffic lights and shook her head. "You're certain it was intentional?"
"No doubt about it. It was a very powerful explosive. We found a piece of a foot stuck in a chain-link fence eighty feet away. I'm sorry, okay. He was murdered."
"Maybe someone got the wrong car."
"That's always possible. We'll check out everything. I take it you were supposed to be in the car with him."
She tried to speak, but could not hold the tears. She buried her face in the handkerchief.
He parked between two ambulances near the emergency entrance at Charity, and left the blue lights on. He helped her quickly inside to a dirty room where fifty people sat in various degrees of pain and discomfort. She found a seat by the water fountain. Olson talked to the lady behind the window, and he raised his voice but Darby couldn't understand him. A small boy with a bloody towel around his foot cried in his mother's lap. A young black girl was about to give birth. There was not a doctor or nurse in sight. No one was in a hurry.
Olson crouched in front of her. "It'll be a few minutes. Sit tight. I'm gonna move the car, and I'll be back in a minute. Do you feel like talking?"
"Yeah, sure."
He was gone. She checked again for blood, and found none. The double doors opened wide, and two angry nurses came after the girl in labor. They sort of dragged her away, back through the doors and down the hall.
Darby waited, then followed. With the red eyes and handkerchief, she looked like some child's mother. The hall was a zoo with nurses and orderlies and the wounded yelling and moving about. She turned a corner and saw an EXIT sign. Through the door, into another hall, much quieter, another door, and she was on a loading dock. There were lights in the alley. Don't run. Be strong. It's okay. No one's watching. She was on the street, walking briskly. The cool air cleared her eyes. She refused to cry.
Olson would take his time, and when he returned he would figure they had called her name and she was back there getting worked on. He would wait. And wait.
She turned corners, and saw Rampart. The Quarter was just ahead. She could get lost there. There were people on Royal, tourist types strolling along. She felt safer. She entered the Holiday Inn, paid with plastic, and got a room on the fifth floor.
After the door was bolted and chained, she curled up on the bed with all the lights on.

MRS. VERHEEK rolled her plump but rich ass away from the center of the bed, and grabbed the phone. "It's for you, Gavin!" she yelled into the bathroom. Gavin emerged with shaving cream on half his face, and took the receiver from his wife, who burrowed deep into the bed. Like a hog rutting in mud, he thought.

"Hello," he snapped.
It was a female voice he'd never heard before. "This is Darby Shaw. Do you know who I am?"
He smiled instantly, and for a second thought of the string bikini on St. Thomas. "Well, yes. I believe we have a mutual friend."
"Did you read the little theory I wrote?"
"Ah, yes. The pelican brief, as we refer to it."
"And who is we?"
Verheek sat in a chair by the night table. This was no social call. "Why are you calling, Darby?"
"I need some answers, Mr. Verheek. I'm scared to death."
"It's Gavin, okay?"
"Gavin. Where is the brief now?"
"Here and there. What's wrong?"
"I'll tell you in a minute. Just tell me what you did with the brief."
"Well, I read it, then sent it to another division, and it was seen by some folks within the Bureau, then shown to Director Voyles, who sort of liked it."
"Has it been seen outside the FBI?"
"I can't answer that, Darby."
"Then I won't tell you what's happened to Thomas."
Verheek pondered this for a long minute. She waited patiently. "Okay. Yes, it's been seen outside the FBI. By whom and by how many, I don't know."
"He's dead, Gavin. He was murdered around ten last night. Someone planted a car bomb for both of us. I got lucky, but now they're after me."
Verheek was hovering over the phone, scribbling notes. "Are you hurt?"
"Physically, I'm okay."
"Where are you?"
"New Orleans."
"Are you certain, Darby? I mean, I know you're certain, but, dammit, who would want to kill him?"
"I met a couple of them."
"How'd you"
"It's a long story. Who saw the brief, Gavin? Thomas gave it to you Monday night. It's been passed around, and forty-eight hours later he's dead. And I'm supposed to be dead with him. It fell into the wrong hands, wouldn't you say?"
"Are you safe?"
"Who the hell knows?"
"Where are you staying? What's your phone number?"
"Not so fast, Gavin. I'm moving real slow right now. I'm at a pay phone, so no cute stuff."
"Come on, Darby! Give me a break! Thomas Callahan was my best friend. You've got to come in."
"And what might that mean?"
"Look, Darby, give me fifteen minutes, and we'll have a dozen agents pick you up. I'll catch a flight and be there before noon. You can't stay on the streets."
"Why, Gavin? Who's after me? Talk to me, Gavin."
"I'll talk to you when I get there."
"I don't know. Thomas is dead because he talked to you. I'm not that anxious to meet you right now."
"Darby, look, I don't know who or why, but I assure you you're in a very dangerous situation. We can protect you."
"Maybe later."
"He breathed deeply and sat on the edge of the bed.You can trust me, Darby."
"Okay, I trust you. But what about those other people? This is heavy, Gavin. My little brief has someone awfully upset, wouldn't you say?"
"Did he suffer?"
"She hesitated.I don't think so." The voice was cracking.
"Will you call me in two hours? At the office. I'll give you an inside number."
"Give me the number, and I'll think about it."
"Please, Darby. I'll go straight to the Director when I get there. Call me at eight, your time."
"Give me the number."

THE BOMB EXPLODED too late to make the Thursday morning edition of the Times-Picayune. Darby flipped through it hurriedly in the hotel room. Nothing. She watched the television, and there it was. A live shot of the burned-out Porsche, still sitting amid the debris in the parking lot, secluded nicely with yellow tape running everywhere. The police were treating it as a homicide. No suspects. No comment. Then the name of Thomas Callahan, age forty-five, a prominent professor of law at Tulane. The dean was suddenly there with a microphone in his face, talking about Professor Callahan and the shock of it all. The shock of it all, the fatigue, the fear, the pain, and Darby buried her head in the pillow. She hated crying, and this would be the last of it for a while. Mourning would only get her killed.

EVEN THOUGH it was a wonderful crisis, with the ratings up and Rosenberg dead, with his image clean and polished and America feeling good about itself because he was in command, with the Democrats running for cover and reelection next year in the bag, he was sick of this crisis and its relentless predawn meetings. He was sick of F. Denton Voyles and his smugness and arrogance, and his squatty little figure sitting on the other side of his desk in a wrinkled trench coat looking out a window while he addressed the President of the United States. He would be here in a minute for another meeting before breakfast, another tense encounter in which Voyles would tell only a portion of what he knew.

He was sick of being in the dark, and fed only what bits and crumbs Voyles chose to throw his way. Gminski would throw him a few, and somehow in the midst of all this crumb scattering and gathering he was supposed to get enough and be satisfied. He knew nothing compared to them. At least he had Coal to plow through their paper and memorize it all, and keep them honest.
He was sick of Coal, too. Sick of his perfectness and sleeplessness. Sick of his brilliance. Sick of his penchant for beginning each day when the sun was somewhere over the Atlantic, and planning every damned minute of every damned hour until it was over the Pacific. Then he, Coal, would load up a box of the day's junk, take it home, read it, decipher it, store it, then come in a few hours later blazing away with all the painfully boring mishmash he had just devoured. When Coal was tired, he slept five hours a night, but normal was three or four. He left his office in the West Wing at eleven each night, read all the way home in the back of his limo, then about the time the limo cooled off Coal was waiting on it for the return ride to the White House. He considered it a sin to arrive at his desk after 5 A.M. And if he could work a hundred and twenty hours a week, then everyone else should be able to do at least eighty. He demanded eighty. After three years, no one in this Administration could remember all the people fired by Fletcher Coal for not working eighty hours a week. Happened at least three times a month.
Coal was happiest on mornings when the tension was thick and a nasty meeting was planned. In the past week this thing with Voyles had kept him smiling. He was standing beside the desk, going through the mail while the President scanned the Post and two secretaries scurried about.
The President glanced at him. Perfect black suit, white shirt, red silk tie, a bit too much grease on the hair above the ears. He was sick of him, but he'd get over it when the crisis passed and he could get back to golf and Coal could sweat the details. He told himself he had that kind of energy and stamina when he was only thirty-seven, but he knew better.
Coal snapped his fingers, glared at the secretaries, and they happily ran from the Oval Office.
"And he said he wouldn't come if I was here. That's hilarious." Coal was clearly amused.
"I don't think he likes you," the President said.
"He loves people he can run over."
"I guess I need to be sweet to him."
"Lay it on thick, Chief. He has to back off. This theory is so weak it's comical, but in his hands it could be dangerous."
"What about the law student?"
"We're checking. She appears harmless."
The President stood and stretched. Coal shuffled papers. A secretary on the intercom announced the arrival of Voyles.
"I'll be going," Coal said. He would listen and watch from around the corner. At his insistence, three closed-circuit cameras were installed in the Oval Office. The monitors were in a small, locked room in the West Wing. He had the only key. Sarge knew of the room, but had not bothered to enter. Yet. The cameras were invisible and supposedly a big secret.
The President felt better knowing Coal would at least be watching. He met Voyles at the door with a warm handshake and guided him to the sofa for a warm, friendly little chat. Voyles was not impressed. He knew Coal would be listening. And watching.
But in the spirit of the moment, Voyles removed his trench coat and laid it properly on a chair. He did not want coffee.
The President crossed his legs. He was wearing the brown cardigan. The grandfather.
"Denton," he said gravely. "I want to apologize for Fletcher Coal. He doesn't have much finesse."
Voyles nodded slightly. You stupid bastard. There are enough wires in this office to electrocute half the bureaucrats in B.C. Coal was somewhere in the basement hearing about his lack of finesse. "He can be an ass, can't he?" Voyles grunted.
"Yes, he can. I have to really watch him. He's very bright and drives hard, but he tends to overdo it at times."
"He's a son of a bitch, and I'll say it to his face." Voyles glanced at an air vent above the portrait of Thomas Jefferson where a camera watched it all below.
"Yes, well, I'll keep him out of your way until this thing is over."
"You do that."
The President slowly sipped from his coffee and pondered what to say next. Voyles was not known for his conversation.
"I need a favor."
Voyles stared with rigid and unblinking eyes. "Yes, sir."
"I need the scoop on this pelican thing. It's a wild idea, but, hell, it mentions me, sort of. How serious are you taking it?"
Oh, this was funny. Voyles fought off a smile. It was working. Mr. President and Mr. Coal were sweating the pelican brief. They had received it late Tuesday, worried with it all day
Wednesday, and now in the waking hours of Thursday were on their knees begging about something one notch above a practical joke.
"We're investigating, Mr. President." It was a lie, but how could he know? "We are pursuing all leads, all suspects. I wouldn't have sent it over if I wasn't serious." The wrinkles squeezed together on the tanned forehead, and Voyles wanted to laugh.
"What have you learned?"
"Not much, but we just started. We got it less than forty-eight hours ago, and I assigned fourteen agents in New Orleans to start digging. It's all routine." The lies sounded so good he could almost hear Coal choking.
Fourteen! It hit him in the gut so hard he sat up straight and placed the coffee on a table. Fourteen Fibbies out there flashing badges, asking questions, and it was just a matter of time before this thing got out. "Fourteen, you say. Sounds like it's pretty serious."
Voyles was unyielding. "We're very serious, Mr. President. They've been dead a week, and the trail's growing colder. We're tracking leads as fast as we can. My men are working around the clock."
"I understand all that, but how serious is this pelican theory?"
Damn, this was fun. The brief had yet to be sent to New Orleans. In fact, New Orleans had not been contacted. He had instructed Eric East to mail a copy to that office with orders to quietly ask a few questions. It was a dead end, just like a hundred others they were chasing.
"I doubt if there's anything to it, Mr. President, but we've got to check it out."
"The wrinkles relaxed and there was a touch of a smile.I don't have to tell you, Denton, how much this nonsense could hurt if the press found out."
"We don't consult the press when we investigate."
"I know. Let's not get into that. I just wish you would back off this thing. I mean, what the hell, it's absurd, and I could really get burned. Know what I'm saying?"
"Voyles was brutal.Are you asking me to ignore a suspect, Mr. President?"
Coal leaned toward the screen. No, I'm telling you to forget this pelican brief! He almost said it out loud. He could make it real plain for Voyles. He could spell it out, then slap the dumpy little wretch if he got smart. But he was hiding in a locked room, away from the action. And, for the moment, he knew he was where he belonged.
The President shifted and recrossed his legs at the knees.Come on, Denton, you know what I'm saying. There are bigger fish in the pond. The press is watching this investigation, just dying to find out who's a suspect. You know how they are. I don't have to tell you that I have no friends with the press. Even my own press secretary dislikes me. Ha, ha, ha. Forget about it for a while. Back off and chase the real suspects. This thing is a joke, but it could embarrass the hell out of me."
Denton looked hard at him. Relentless.
The President shifted again. "What about this Khamel thing? Sounds pretty good, huh?"
"Could be."
"Yeah. Since we're talking numbers, how many men have you assigned to Khamel?"
Voyles said, "Fifteen," and almost laughed. The President's mouth fell open. The hottest suspect in the game gets fifteen, and this damned pelican thing gets fourteen.
Coal smiled and shook his head. Voyles had been caught in his own lies. On the bottom of page four of the Wednesday report, Eric East and K. O. Lewis gave the number at thirty, not fifteen. Relax, Chief, Coal whispered to the screen. He's playing with you.
The President was anything but relaxed. "Good god, Denton. Why only fifteen? I thought this was a significant break."
"Maybe a few more than that. I'm running this investigation, Mr. President."
"I know. And you're doing a fine job. I'm not meddling. I just wish you'd consider spending your time elsewhere. That's all. When I read the pelican brief I almost vomited. If the press saw it and started digging, I'd be crucified."
"So you're asking me to back off?"
The President leaned forward and stared fiercely at Voyles. "I'm not asking, Denton. I'm telling you to leave it alone. Ignore it for a couple of weeks. Spend your time elsewhere. If it flares up again, take another look. I'm still the boss around here, remember?"

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