Home > The Appeal(10)

The Appeal(10)
Author: John Grisham

All sixteen were buried in the small cemetery behind the church. When the weather was warm, he cut the grass around the headstones, and when it was cold, he painted the white picket fence that surrounded the cemetery and kept the deer away. Though he had not planned it, his church had become the hub of anti-Krane activity in Cary County. Almost all of its members had been touched by the illness or death of someone harmed by the company.

His wife's older sister finished Bowmore High with Mary Grace Shelby. Pastor Ott and the Paytons were extremely close. Legal advice was often dispensed in the pastor's study with the door closed and one of the Paytons on the phone. Dozens of depositions had been taken in the fellowship hall, packed with lawyers from big cities. Ott disliked the corporate lawyers almost as much as the corporation itself.

Mary Grace had phoned Pastor Ott often during the trial and had always warned him not to be optimistic. He certainly was not. When she called two hours earlier with the astounding news, Ott grabbed his wife and they danced through the house yelling and laughing. Krane had been nailed, humbled, exposed, brought to justice. Finally.

He was greeting his flock when he saw Jeannette enter with her stepsister Bette and the rest of her entourage. She was immediately engulfed by those who loved her, those who wanted to share in this great moment and offer a quiet word. They sat her in the rear of the room, near an old piano, and a receiving line materialized. She managed to smile a few times and even say thanks, but she looked so weak and frail.

With the casseroles growing colder by the minute, and with a full house, Pastor Ott finally called things to order and launched into a windy prayer of thanks. He finished with a flourish and said, "Let us eat."

As always, the children and old folks lined up first, and dinner was served.

Ott made his way to the back and was soon sitting next to Jean-nette. As the attention shifted away from her and to the food, she whispered to her pastor, "I'd like to go to the cemetery."

He led her through a side door, onto a narrow gravel drive that dipped behind the church and ran for fifty yards to the small graveyard. They walked slowly, silently, in the dark. Ott opened the wooden gate, and they stepped into the cemetery, neat and tidy and well tended to. The headstones were small. These were working people, no monuments or crypts or gaudy tributes to great ones.

Four rows down on the right, Jeannette knelt between two graves. One was Chad 's, a sickly child who'd lived only six years before tumors choked him. The other held the remains of Pete, her husband of eight years. Father and son, resting side by side forever. She visited them at least once a week and never failed to wish she could join them. She rubbed both headstones at the same time, then began talking softly. "Hello, boys, it's Mom. You won't believe what happened today."

Pastor Ott slipped away, leaving her alone with her tears and thoughts and quiet words that he did not want to hear. He waited by the gate, and as the minutes passed, he watched the shadows move through the rows of headstones as the moonlight shifted through the clouds. He had already buried Chad and Pete. Sixteen in all, and counting.

Sixteen silent victims who perhaps were not so silent anymore. From within the little picket-fenced cemetery at the Pine Grove Church a voice had finally been heard. A loud angry voice that begged to be heard and was demanding justice.

He could see her shadow and hear her talking.

He had prayed with Pete in the minutes before he finally slipped away, and he had kissed the forehead of little Chad in his final hour. He had scraped together money for their caskets and funerals. Then he and two of his deacons had dug the graves.

Their burials were eight months apart.

She stood, said her farewells, and began moving. "We need to go inside," Ott said.

"Yes, thank you," she said, wiping her cheeks.

Mr. Trudeau's table cost him $50,000, and since he wrote the check, he could damned well control who sat with him. To his left was Brianna, and next to her was her close friend Sandy, another skeleton who'd just been contractually released from her last marriage and was on the prowl for husband number three. To his right was a retired banker friend and his wife, pleasant folks who preferred to chat about the arts.

Carl's urologist sat directly across from him. He and his wife were invited because they said little. The odd man out was a lesser executive at Trudeau Group who simply drew the short straw and was there by coercion.

The celebrity chef had whipped up a tasting menu that began with caviar and champagne, then moved on to a lobster bisque, a splash of sauteed foie gras with trimmings, fresh Scottish game hen for the carnivores, and a seaweed bouquet for the veggies.

Dessert was a gorgeous layered gelato creation. Each round required a different wine, including dessert.

Carl cleaned every plate put before him and drank heavily. He spoke only to the banker because the banker had heard the news from down south and appeared to be sympathetic.

Brianna and Sandy whispered rudely and, in the course of dinner, hammered every other social climber in the crowd. They managed to push the food around their plates while eating virtually none of it. Carl, half-drunk, almost said something to his wife while she tinkered with her seaweed. "Do you know how much that damned food cost?" he wanted to say, but there was no sense starting a fight.

The celebrity chef, one Carl had never heard of, was introduced and got a standing ovation from the four hundred guests, virtually all of them still hungry after five courses. But the evening wasn't about food. It was about money.

Two quick speeches brought the auctioneer to the front. Abused Imelda was rolled into the atrium, hanging dramatically from a small mobile crane, and left to hover twenty feet off the floor for all to see clearly. Concert-style spotlights made it even more exotic. The crowd grew quiet as the tables were cleared by an army of illegal immigrants in black coats and ties.

The auctioneer rambled on about Imelda, and the crowd listened. Then he talked about the artist, and the crowd really listened.

Was he truly crazy? Insane? Close to suicide? They wanted details, but the auctioneer held the high ground. He was British and very proper, which would add at least a million bucks to the winning bid.

"I suggest we start the bidding at five million," he said through his nose, and the crowd gasped.

Brianna was suddenly bored with Sandy. She moved closer to Carl, fluttered her eyelashes at him, and placed a hand on his thigh. Carl responded by nodding at the nearest floor assistant, a man he'd already spoken to. The assistant flashed a sign to the podium, and Imelda came to life.

"And we have five million," the auctioneer announced. Thunderous applause. "A nice place to start, thank you. And now onward to six."

Six, seven, eight, nine, and Carl nodded at ten. He kept a smile on his face, but his stomach was churning. How much would this abomination cost him? There were at least six billionaires in the room and several more in the making. No shortage of enormous egos, no shortage of cash, but at that moment none of the others needed a headline as desperately as Carl Trudeau.

And Pete Flint understood this.

Two bidders dropped out on the way to eleven million. "How many are left?" Carl whispered to the banker, who was watching the crowd and searching for the competition.

"It's Pete Flint, maybe one more."

That son of a bitch. When Carl nodded at twelve, Brianna practically had her tongue in his ear.

"We have twelve million." The crowd exploded with applause and hoorays, and the auctioneer wisely said, "Let's catch our breath here." Everyone took a sip of something. Carl gulped more wine. Pete Flint was behind him, two tables back, but Carl didn't dare turn around and acknowledge their little battle.

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