The Pelican Brief

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"You could say that. Lot of excitement. Lot of happiness."
"You don't say." Grantham could not take notes at these meetings. It would be too obvious, Sarge said when he laid the ground rules.
"Yes. The President and his boys were elated with the news of Justice Rosenberg. This made them very happy."
"What about Justice Jensen?"
"Well, as you noticed, the President attended the memorial service, but did not speak. He had planned to give a eulogy, but backed out because he would have been saying nice things about a gay fella."
"Who wrote the eulogy?"
"The speechwriters. Mainly Mabry. Worked on it all day Thursday, then he backed out."
"He also went to Rosenberg's service."
"Yes, he did. But he didn't want to. Said he'd rather go to hell for a day. But in the end, he chickened out and went anyway. He's quite happy Rosenberg was murdered. There was almost a festive mood around the place Wednesday. Fate has dealt him a wonderful hand. He now gets to restructure the Court, and he's very excited about this."
Grantham listened hard. Sarge continued.
"There's a short list of nominees. The original had twenty or so names, then it was cut to eight."
"Who did the cutting?"
Who do you think? The President and Fletcher Coal. They're terrified of leaks at this point. Evidently the list is nothing but young conservative judges, most of whom are obscure."
"Any names?"
"Just two. A certain man named Pryce from Idaho, and one named MacLawrence from Vermont. That's all I know about names. I think they are both federal judges. Nothing more on this."
"What about the investigation?"
"I haven't heard much, but as usual I'll keep my ears open. There doesn't appear to be much going on."
"Anything else?"
"No. When will you run it?"
"In the morning."
"It'll be fun."
"Thanks, Sarge."
The sun was up now and the cafe was noisier. Cleve strolled over and sat next to his father. "You guys about finished?"
"We are," Sarge said.
Cleve glanced around. "I think we need to leave. Grantham goes first, I'll follow, then Pop here can stay as long as he wants."
"Mighty nice of you," Sarge said.
"Thanks, fellas," Grantham said as he headed for the door.

VERHEEK WAS LATE as usual. In the twenty-three-year history of their friendship, he had never been on time, and it was never a matter of being only a few minutes late. He had no concept of time and wasn't bothered with it. He wore a watch but never looked at it. Late for Verheek meant at least an hour, sometimes two, especially when the person kept waiting was a friend who expected him to be late and would forgive him.

So Callahan sat for an hour in the bar, which suited him just fine. After eight hours of scholarly debate, he despised the Constitution and those who taught it. He needed Chivas in his veins, and after two doubles on the rocks he was feeling better. He watched himself in the mirror behind the rows of liquor, and in the distance over his shoulder he watched and waited for Gavin Verheek. Small wonder his friend couldn't cut it in private practice, where life depended upon the clock.
When the third double was served, an hour and eleven minutes after 7 P.M., Verheek strolled to the bar and ordered a Moosehead.
"Sorry I'm late," he said as they shook hands. "I knew you'd appreciate the extra time alone with your Chivas."
"You look tired," Callahan said as he inspected him. Old and tired. Verheek was aging badly and gaining weight. His forehead had grown an inch since their last visit, and his pale skin highlighted the heavy circles under his eyes. "How much do you weigh?"
"None of your business," he said, gulping the beer. "Where's our table?"
"It's reserved for eight-thirty. I figured you would be at least ninety minutes late."
"Then I'm early."
"You could say that. Did you come from work?"
"I live at work now. The Director wants no less than a hundred hours a week until something breaks. I told my wife I'd be home for Christmas."
"How is she?"
"Fine. A very patient lady. We get along much better when I live at the office." She was wife number three in seventeen years.
"I'd like to meet her."
"No, you wouldn't. I married the first two for sex and they enjoyed it so much they shared it with others. I married this one for money and she's not much to look at. You wouldn't be impressed." He emptied the bottle. "I doubt if I can hang on until she dies."
"How old is she?"
"Don't ask. I really love her, you know. Honest. But after two years I now realize we have nothing in common but an acute awareness of the stock market." He looked at the bartender. "Another beer, please."
Callahan chuckled and sipped his drink. "How much is she worth?"
"Not nearly as much as I thought. I'm not sure really. Somewhere around five million, I think. She cleaned out husbands one and two, and I think she was attracted to me for the challenge of marrying just an average joe. That, and the sex is great, she said. They all say that, you know."
"You always picked losers, Gavin, even in law school. You're attracted to neurotic and depressed women."
"And they're attracted to me." He turned the bottle up and drained half of it. "Why do we always eat in this place?"
"I don't know. It's sort of traditional. It brings back fond memories of law school."
"We hated law school, Thomas. Everyone hates law school. Everyone hates lawyers."
"You're in a fine mood."
"Sorry. I've slept six hours since they found the bodies. The Director screams at me at least five times a day. I scream at everybody under me. It's one big brawl over there."
"Drink up, big boy. Our table's ready. Let's drink and eat and talk, and try to enjoy these few hours together."
"I love you more than my wife, Thomas. Do you know that?"
"That's not saying much."
"You're right."
"They followed the maitre d' to a small table in the corner, the same table they always requested. Callahan ordered another round, and explained they would be in no hurry to eat.
"Did you see that damned thing in the Post?" Verheek asked.
"I saw it. Who leaked it?"
"Who knows. The Director got the short list Saturday morning, hand-delivered by the President himself, with rather explicit demands about secrecy. He showed the list to no one over the weekend, then this morning the story hit with the names of Pryce and MacLawrence. Voyles went berserk when he saw it, and a few minutes later the President called. He rushed to the White House and they had a huge cuss fight. Voyles tried to attack Fletcher Coal, and had to be restrained by K. O. Lewis. Very nasty."
Callahan hung on every word. "This is pretty good."
"Yeah. I'm telling you this part because later, after a few more drinks, you'll expect me to tell you who else is on the list and I won't do it. I'm trying to be a friend, Thomas."
"Keep going."
"Anyway, there's no way the leak came from us. Impossible. It had to come from the White House. The place is full of people who hate Coal, and it's leaking like rusty pipes."
"Coal probably leaked it."
"Maybe so. He's a sleazy bastard, and one theory has him leaking Pryce and MacLawrence to scare everyone, then later announcing two nominees who appear more moderate. It sounds like something he would do."
"I've never heard of Pryce and MacLawrence."
"Join the club. They're both very young, early forties, with precious little experience on the bench. We haven't checked them out, but they appear to be radically conservative."
"And the rest of the list?"
"That was quick. Two beers down, and you've already popped the question."
"The drinks arrived.I want some of those mushrooms stuffed with crabmeat," Verheek told the waiter. "Just to munch on. I'm starving."
Callahan handed over his empty glass. "Bring me an order too."
"Don't ask again, Thomas. You may have to carry me out of here in three hours, but I'll never tell. You know that. Let's say that Pryce and MacLawrence seem to be reflective of the entire list."
"All unknowns?"
"Basically, yes."
Callahan sipped the Scotch slowly and shook his head. Verheek removed his jacket and loosened his tie. "Let's talk about women."
"How old is she?"
"Twenty-four, but very mature."
"You could be her father."
"I may be. Who knows."
"Where's she from?"
"Denver. I told you that."
"I love Western girls. They're so independent and unpretentious and they tend to wear Levis and have long legs. I may marry one. Does she have money?"
"No. Her father was killed in a plane crash four years ago and her mother got a nice settlement."
"Then she has money."
"She's comfortable."
"I'll bet she is. Do you have a photo?"
"No. She's not a grandchild or a poodle."
"Why didn't you bring a picture?"
"I'll get her to send you one. Why is this so amusing to you?"
"It's hilarious. The great Thomas Callahan, he of the disposable women, has fallen hard."
"I have not."
"It must be a record. What, nine, ten months now? You've actually maintained a steady relationship for almost a year, haven't you?"
"Eight months and three weeks, but don't tell anyone, Gavin. It's not easy for me."
"Your secret's safe. Just give me all the details. How tall is she?"
"Five-eight, hundred and twelve pounds, long legs, tight Levis, independent, unpretentious, your typical Western girl."
"I must find one for myself. Are you gonna marry her?"
"Of course not! Finish your drink."
"Are you, like, monogamous now?"
"Are you?"
"Hell no. Never have been. But we're not talking about me, Thomas, we're talking about Peter Pan here, Cool Hand Callahan, the man with the monthly version of the world's most gorgeous woman. Tell me, Thomas, and don't lie to your best friend, just look me in the eyes and tell me if you have succumbed to a state of monogamy."
Verheek was leaning halfway across the table, watching and grinning stupidly.
"Not so loud," Callahan said, looking around.
"Answer me."
"Give me the other names on the list, and I'll tell you."
Verheek withdrew. "Nice try. I think the answer is yes. I think you're in love with this gal, but too cowardly to admit it. I think she's got your number, pal."
"Okay, she does. Do you feel better?"
"Yeah, much better. When can I meet her?"
"When can I meet your wife?"
"You're confused, Thomas. There's a basic difference here. You don't want to meet my wife, but I do want to meet Darby. You see. I assure you they are very dissimilar."
Callahan smiled and sipped. Verheek relaxed and crossed his legs in the aisle. He tilted the green bottle to his lips.
"You're wired, buddy," Callahan said.
"I'm sorry. I'm drinking as fast as I can."
The mushrooms were served in simmering skillets. Verheek stuffed two in his mouth and chewed furiously. Callahan watched. The Chivas had knocked off the hunger pains, and he would wait a few minutes. He preferred alcohol over food anyway.
Four Arabs noisily filled a table next to them, yakking and jabbering in their language. All four ordered Jack Daniel's.
"Who killed them, Gavin?"
He chewed for a minute, then swallowed hard. "If I knew, I wouldn't tell. But I swear I do not know. It's baffling. The killers vanished without a trace. It was meticulously planned and perfectly executed. Not a clue."
"Why the combination?"
He stuffed another in his mouth. "Quite simple. It's so simple, it's easy to overlook. They were such natural targets. Rosenberg had no security system in his townhouse. Any decent cat burglar could come and go. And poor Jensen was hanging around those places at midnight. They were exposed. At the exact moment each died, the other seven Supremes had FBI agents in their homes. That's why they were selected. They were stupid."
"Then who selected them?"
"Someone with a lot of money. The killers were professionals, and they were probably out of the country within hours. We figure there were three, maybe more. The mess at Rosenberg's could have been done by just one. We figure there were at least two working on Jensen. One or more looking out while the guy with the rope did his thing. Even though it was a dirty little place, it was open to the public, and quite risky. But they were good, very good."
"I've read a lone assassin theory."
"Forget it. It's impossible for one man to kill both of them. Impossible."
"How much would these killers charge?"
"Millions. And it took a bunch of money to plan it all."
"And you have no idea?"
"Look, Thomas, I'm not involved in the investigation, so you'll have to ask those guys. I'm sure they know a helluva lot more than I do. I'm just a lowly government lawyer."
"Yeah, who just happens to be on a first-name basis with the Chief Justice."
"He calls occasionally. This is boring. Let's get back to women. I hate lawyer talk."
"Have you talked to him lately?"
"Picking, Thomas, always picking. Yes, we chatted briefly this morning. He's got all twenty-seven law clerks scouring the federal dockets high and low looking for clues. It's fruitless, and I told him so. Every case that reaches the Supreme Court has at least two parties, and each party involved would certainly benefit if one or two or three justices would disappear and be replaced by one or two or three more sympathetic to its cause. There are thousands of appeals that could eventually end up here, and you can't just pick one and say 'This is it! This is the one that got 'em killed.' It's silly."
"What did he say?"
"Of course he agreed with my brilliant analysis. I think he called after he read the Post story to see if he could squeeze something out of me. Can you believe the nerve?"
The waiter hovered over them with a hurried look.
Verheek glanced at the menu, closed it, and handed it to him. "Grilled swordfish, blue cheese, no vegetable."
"I'll eat the mushrooms," Callahan said. The waiter disappeared.
Callahan reached into his coat pocket and removed a thick envelope. He laid it on the table next to the empty Moosehead. "Take a look at this when you get a chance."
"What is it?"
"It's sort of a brief."
"I hate briefs, Thomas. In fact, I hate the law, and the lawyers, and with the exception of you, I hate law professors."
"Darby wrote it."
"I'll read it tonight. What's it about?"
"I think I told you. She is very bright and intelligent, and a very aggressive student. She writes better than most. Her passion, other than me of course, is constitutional law."
"Poor thing."
"She took off four days last week, totally ignored me and the rest of the world, and came up with her own theory, which she has now discarded. But read it anyway. It's fascinating."
"Who's the suspect?"
The Arabs erupted in screaming laughter, slapping each other and spilling whiskey. They watched them for a minute until they died down.
"Don't you hate a bunch of drunks?" Verheek said.
"It's sickening."
Verheek stuffed the envelope into his coat on the back of his chair. "What's her theory?"
"It's a bit unusual. But read it. I mean, it can't hurt, can it? You guys need the help."
"I'll read it only because she wrote it. How is she in bed?"
"How's your wife in bed?"
"Rich. In the shower, in the kitchen, at the grocery. She's rich in everything she does."
"It can't last."
"She'll file by the end of the year. Maybe I'll get the townhouse and some change."
"No prenuptial agreement?"
"Yes, there is, but I'm a lawyer, remember. It's got more loopholes than a tax reform act. A buddy of mine prepared it. Don't you love the law?"
"Let's talk about something else."
"I've got an idea. You want to meet the girl, right?"
"We're talking about Darby?"
"Yes. Darby."
"I'd love to meet her."
"We're going to St. Thomas during Thanksgiving. Why don't you meet us there?"
"Do I have to bring my wife?"
"No. She's not invited."
"Will she run around in a little string job on the beach? Sort of put on a show for us?"
"Wow. I can't believe this."
"You can get a condo next to us, and we'll have a ball."
"Beautiful, beautiful. Just beautiful."

HE PHONE RANG four times, the answering machine clicked on, the recorded voice echoed through the apartment, the beep, then no message. It rang again four times, same routine, and no message. A minute later it rang again, and Gray Grantham grabbed it from bed. He sat on a pillow, trying to focus.

"Who is it?" he asked in pain. There was no light coming through the window.
The voice on the other end was low and timid. "Is this Gray Grantham with the Washington Post?"
"It is. Who's calling?"
Slowly, "I can't give you my name."
The fog lifted and he focused on the clock. It was five-forty. "Okay, forget the name. Why are you calling?"
"I saw your story yesterday about the White House and the nominees."
"That's good." You and a million others. "Why are you calling me at this obscene hour?"
"I'm sorry. I'm on my way to work and stopped at a pay phone. I can't call from home or the office."
The voice was clear, articulate, and appeared to be intelligent. "What kind of office?"
"I'm an attorney."
Great. Washington was home for half a million lawyers. "Private or government?"
A slight hesitation. "Uh, I'd rather not say."
"Okay. Look, I'd rather be sleeping. Why, exactly, did you call?"
"I may know something about Rosenberg and Jensen."
Grantham sat on the edge of the bed. "Such as"
A much longer pause. "Are you recording this?"
"No. Should I?"
"I don't know. I'm really very scared and confused, Mr. Grantham. I prefer not to record this. Maybe the next call, okay?"
"Whatever you want. I'm listening."
"Can this call be traced?"
"Possibly, I guess. But you're at a pay phone, right? What difference does it make?"
"I don't know. I'm just scared."
"It's okay. I swear I'm not recording and I swear I won't trace it. Now, what's on your mind?"
"Well, I think I may know who killed them."
Grantham was standing. "That's some pretty valuable knowledge."
"It could get me killed. Do you think they're following me?"
"Who? Who would be following you?"
"I don't know." The voice trailed off, as if he was looking over his shoulder.
Grantham was pacing by the bed. "Relax. Why don't you tell me your name, okay. I swear it's confidential."
"That's not a real name, is it?"
"Of course not, but it's the best I can do."
"Okay, Garcia. Talk to me."
"I'm not certain, okay. But I think I stumbled across something at the office that I was not supposed to see."
"Do you have a copy of it?"
"Look, Garcia. You called me, right. Do you want to talk or not?"
"I'm not sure. What will you do if I tell you something?"
"Check it out thoroughly. If we're gonna accuse someone of the assassinations of two Supreme Court Justices, believe me, the story will be handled delicately." There was a very long silence. Grantham froze by the rocker and waited. "Garcia. Are you there?"
"Yeah. Can we talk later?"
"Of course. We can talk now."
"I need to think about this. I haven't eaten or slept in a week, and I'm not thinking rationally. I might call you later."
"Okay, okay. Thrt's fine. You can call me at work at"
"No. I won't call you at work. Sorry I woke you." He hung up. Grantham looked at the row of numbers on his phone and punched seven digits, waited, then six more, then four more. He scribbled a number on a pad by the phone, and hung up. The pay phone was on Fifteenth Street in Pentagon City.

GAVIN VERHEEK slept four hours and woke up drunk. When he arrived at the Hoover Building an hour later, the alcohol was fading and the pain was settling in. He cursed himself and he cursed Callahan, who no doubt would sleep until noon and wake up fresh and alive and ready for the flight to New Orleans. They had left the restaurant when it closed at midnight, then hit a few bars and joked about catching a skin flick or two, but since their favorite movie house had been bombed they couldn't. So they just drank until three or four.

He had a meeting with Director Voyles at eleven, and it was imperative to appear sober and alert. It would be impossible. He told his secretary to close the door, and explained to her that he had caught a nasty virus, maybe the flu, and he was to be left alone at his desk unless it was awfully damned important. She studied his eyes and seemed to sniff more than usual. The smell of beer does not always evaporate with sleep.
She left and closed the door behind her. He locked it. To make things equal, he called Callahan's room, but no one answered.
What a life. His best friend earned almost as much as he did, but worked thirty hours in a busy week, and had his pick of pliant young things twenty years his junior. Then he remembered their grand plans for the week in St. Thomas, and the thought of Darby strolling along the beach. He would go, even if it caused a divorce.
A wave of nausea rippled through his chest and up his esophagus, and he quickly lay still on the floor. Cheap government carpet. He breathed deeply, and the pounding started at the top of his head. The plaster ceiling was not spinning, and this was encouraging. After three minutes, it was evident he would not vomit, at least not now.
His briefcase was within reach, and he carefully slid it next to him. He found the envelope inside with the morning paper. He opened it, unfolded the brief, and held it with both hands six inches above his face.
It was thirteen letter-sized pages of computer paper, all double-spaced with wide margins. He could handle it. Notes were scribbled in the margins by hand and whole sections were marked through. The words FIRST DRAFT were handwritten with a felt pen across the top. Her name, address, and phone number were typed on the cover sheet.
He would skim it for a few minutes while he was on the floor, then hopefully he would feel like sitting at the desk and going through the motions of being an important government lawyer. He thought of Voyles, and the pounding intensified.
She wrote well, in the standard, scholarly legal fashion of long sentences filled with large words. But she was clear. She avoided the double-talk and legal lingo most students strive so desperately for. She would never make it as an attorney employed by the United States Government.
Gavin had never heard of her suspect, and was certain it was not on anyone's list. Technically, it was not a brief, but more of a story about a lawsuit in Louisiana. She told the facts succinctly, and made them interesting. Fascinating, really. He was not skimming.
The facts took four pages, then she filled the next three with brief histories of the parties. It dragged a bit here, but he kept reading. He was hooked. On page eight, the briefer whatever it was summarized the trial. On nine, it mentioned the appeal, and the final three pages laid an implausible trail to the removal of Rosenberg and Jensen from the Court. Callahan said she had already discarded this theory, and she appeared to lose steam at the end.
But it was highly readable. For a moment he had forgotten his current state of pain, and read thirteen pages of a law student's brief while lying on the floor on dirty carpet with a million things to do.
There was a soft knock at the door. He slowly sat up, gingerly stood, and walked to the door. "Yes."
It was the secretary. "I hate to bother. But the Director wants you in his office in ten minutes."
Verheek opened the door. "What?"
"Yes sir. Ten minutes."

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