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Home > The Appeal(11)

The Appeal(11)
Author: John Grisham

If Flint had really shorted Krane's stock, then he would reap millions from the verdict.

Carl, obviously, had just lost millions because of it. It was all on paper, but then wasn't everything?

Imelda was not. It was real, tangible, a work of art that Carl could not lose, not to Pete Flint anyway.

Rounds 13, 14, and 15 were dragged out beautifully by the auctioneer, each ending in rapturous applause. Word had spread quickly, and everyone knew it was Carl Trudeau and Pete Flint. When the applause died, the two heavyweights settled in for more.

Carl nodded at sixteen million, then accepted the applause.

"Do we have seventeen million?" boomed the auctioneer, quite excited himself.

A long pause. The tension was electric. "Very well, we have sixteen. Going once, going twice, ah yes-we have seventeen million."

Carl had been making and breaking vows throughout the ordeal, but he was determined not to exceed seventeen million bucks. As the roar died down, he settled back in his seat, cool as any corporate raider with billions in play. He was finished, and quite happy about it.

Flint was bluffing, and now Flint was stuck with the old girl for $ 17 million.

"Dare I ask for eighteen?" More applause. More time for Carl to think. If he was willing to pay seventeen, why not eighteen? And if he jumped at eighteen, then Flint would realize that he, Carl, was staying to the bloody end.

It was worth a try.

"Eighteen?" asked the auctioneer.

"Yes," Carl said, loud enough for many to hear. The strategy worked. Pete Flint retreated to the safety of his unspent cash and watched in amusement as the great Carl Trudeau finished off a lousy deal.

"Sold for eighteen million, to Mr. Carl Trudeau," roared the auctioneer, and the crowd leaped to its feet.

They lowered Imelda so her new owners could pose with her. Many others, both envious and proud, gawked at the Trudeaus and their new addition. A band cranked up and it was time to dance. Brianna was in heat-the money had sent her into a frenzy-and halfway through the first dance Carl gently shoved her back a step. She was hot and lewd and flashing as much skin as possible. Folks were watching and that was fine with her.

"Let's get out of here," Carl said after the second dance.

Chapter 4

During the night, Wes had somehow managed to gain the sofa, a much softer resting place, and when he awoke before daylight, Mack was wedged tightly by his side. Mary Grace and Liza were sprawled on the floor beneath them, wrapped in blankets and dead to the world. They had watched television until both kids dropped off, then quietly opened and finished a bottle of cheap champagne they had been saving. The alcohol and the fatigue knocked them out, and they vowed to sleep forever.

Five hours later Wes opened his eyes and could not close them. He was back in the courtroom, sweating and nervous, watching the jurors file in, praying, searching for a sign, then hearing the majestic words of Judge Harrison. Words that would ring in his ears forever.

Today would be a fine day, and Wes couldn't waste any more of it on the sofa.

He eased away from Mack, covered him with a blanket, and moved silently to their cluttered bedroom, where he slipped into his running shorts and shoes and a sweatshirt.

During the trial, he tried to run every day, often at midnight, often at five in the morning. A month earlier, he'd found himself six miles from home at 3:00 a.m.

The running cleared his mind and relieved the stress. He plotted strategy, cross-examined witnesses, argued with Jared Kurtin, appealed to the jurors, did a dozen tasks as he pounded the asphalt in the dark.

Perhaps on this run he might concentrate on something, anything, other than the trial.

Maybe a vacation. A beach. But the appeal was already bugging him.

Mary Grace did not move as he eased from the apartment and locked the door behind him. It was 5:15.

Without stretching, he took off and was soon on Hardy Street, headed for the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi. He liked the safety of the place. He circled around the dorms where he once lived, around the football stadium where he once played, and after half an hour pulled into Java Werks, his favorite coffee shop, across the street from the campus. He placed four quarters on the counter and took a small cup of the house blend. Four quarters. He almost laughed as he counted them out. He had to plan his coffee and was always looking for quarters.

At the end of the counter was a collection of morning newspapers. The front-page headline of the Hattiesburg American screamed: "Krane Chemical Nailed for $41 Million." There was a large, splendid photo of him and Mary Grace leaving the courthouse, tired but happy.

And a smaller photo of Jeannette Baker, still crying. Lots of quotes from the lawyers, a few from the jurors, including a windy little speech by Dr. Leona Rocha, who, evidently, had been a force in the jury room. She was quoted as saying, among other gems, "We were angered by Krane's arrogant and calculated abuse of the land, by their disregard for safety, and then their deceit in trying to conceal it."

Wes loved that woman. He devoured the long article while ignoring his coffee. The state's largest paper was the Clarion-Ledger, out of Jackson, and its headline was somewhat more restrained, though still impressive:

"Jury Faults Krane Chemical-Huge Verdict." More photos, quotes, details of the trial, and after a few minutes Wes caught himself skimming. The Sun Herald from Biloxi had the best line so far: "Jury to Krane-Fork It Over."

Front-page news and photos in the big dailies. Not a bad day for the little law firm of Payton amp; Payton. The comeback was under way, and Wes was ready. The office phones would start ringing with potential clients in need of divorces and bankruptcies and a hundred other nuisances that Wes had no stomach for. He would politely send them away, to other small-timers, of which there was an endless supply, and he would check the nets each morning and look for the big ones. A massive verdict, photos in the paper, the talk of the town, and business was about to increase substantially.

He drained his coffee and hit the street.

Carl Trudeau also left home before sunrise. He could hide in his penthouse all day and let his communications people deal with the disaster. He could hide behind his lawyers. He could hop on his jet and fly away to his villa on Anguilla or his mansion in Palm Beach. But not Carl. He had never run from a brawl, and he wouldn't start now.

Plus, he wanted to get away from his wife. She'd cost him a fortune last night and he was resenting it.

"Good morning," he said abruptly to Toliver as he scampered into the rear seat of the Bentley.

"Good morning, sir." Toliver wasn't about to ask something stupid, such as "How are you doing, sir?" It was 5:30, not an unusual hour for Mr. Trudeau, but not a customary one, either. They normally left the penthouse an hour later.

"Let's push it," the boss said, and Toliver roared down Fifth Avenue. Twenty minutes later, Carl was in his private elevator with Stu, an assistant whose only job was to be on call 24/7 in case the great man needed something. Stu had been alerted an hour earlier and given instructions: Fix the coffee, toast a wheat bagel, squeeze the orange juice. He was given a list of six newspapers to arrange on Mr. Trudeau's desk, and was in the midst of an Internet search for stories about the verdict. Carl barely acknowledged his presence.

In his office, Stu took his jacket, poured his coffee, and was told to hurry along with the bagel and juice.

Carl settled into his aerodynamic designer chair, cracked his knuckles, rolled himself up to his desk, took a deep breath, and picked up the New York Times.

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