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Home > The Appeal(15)

The Appeal(15)
Author: John Grisham

"Have you regretted the litigation?"

"No, never. We've lost a lot, but then so has my hometown. Hopefully, the losing is over now. Wes and I are young; we'll survive. But many of these folks are either dead or deathly ill."

"Do you think about the money?"

"What money? The appeal will take eighteen months, and right now that seems like an eternity. You have to see the big picture."

"Which is?"

"Five years from now. In five years, the toxic dump will be cleaned up and gone forever and no one will ever be hurt by it again. There will be a settlement, one big massive settlement where Krane Chemical, and its insurers, are finally brought to the table with their very deep pockets and are forced to compensate the families they have ruined. Everybody gets their share of damages."

"Including the lawyers."

"Absolutely. If not for the lawyers, Krane would still be here manufacturing pillamar 5 and dumping its by-products in the pits behind the plant, and no one could hold them accountable."

"Instead, they are now in Mexico- "

"Oh yes, manufacturing pillamar 5 and dumping its by-products in the pits behind the plants. And nobody gives a damn. They don't have these trials down there."

"What are your chances on appeal?"

She sipped the stale and heavily sugared coffee and was about to answer when an insurance agent stopped by, shook her hand, hugged her, said thanks several times, and appeared to be on the verge of tears when he walked away. Then Mr. Greenwood, her junior high principal, now retired, spotted her as he entered and practically crushed her in a bear hug. He ignored Shepard while rambling on about how proud he was of her. He thanked her, promised to keep praying for her, asked about her family, and so on.

As he withdrew in a windy farewell, Babe, the owner, came over for a hug and another lengthy round of congratulations.

Shepard finally stood and eased out the door. A few minutes later, Mary Grace made her exit. "Sorry about that," she said. "It's a big moment for the town."

"They are very proud."

"Let's go see the plant."

The Krane Chemical Bowmore Plant Number Two, as it was officially known, was in an abandoned industrial park on the east side of the city limits. The plant was a series of flat-roofed cinder-block buildings, connected by massive piping and conveyors.

Water towers and storage silos rose behind the buildings. Everything was overgrown with kudzu and weeds. Because of the litigation, the company had secured the facility with miles of twelve-foot chain-link fencing, topped with glistening razor wire.

Heavy gates were chained and padlocked. Like a prison, where bad things happened, the plant shut out the world and kept its secrets buried within.

Mary Grace had visited the plant at least a dozen times during the litigation, but always with a mob-other lawyers, engineers, former Krane employees, security guards, even Judge Harrison. The last visit had been two months earlier when the jurors were given a tour.

She and Shepard stopped at the main gate and examined the padlocks. A large, decaying sign identified the plant and its owner. As they stared through the chain-link fence, Mary Grace said, "Six years ago, when it became apparent that litigation was inevitable, Krane fled to Mexico. The employees were given three days' notice and $500 in severance pay; many of them had worked here for thirty years. It was an incredibly stupid way to leave town, because some of their former workers were our best witnesses during the trial. The bitterness was, and is, astounding. If Krane had any friends in Bowmore, it lost every one of them when it screwed its employees."

A photographer working with Shepard met them at the front gate and began snapping away. They strolled along the fence, with Mary Grace directing the brief tour. "For years, this place was unlocked. It was routinely vandalized. Teenagers hung out here, drinking and doing drugs. Now people stay as far away as possible. The gates and fences are really not needed. No one wants to get near this place."

From the north side, a long row of thick metal cylinders was visible in the midst of the plant. Mary Grace pointed and explained, "That's known as Extraction Unit Two. The bichloronylene was reduced as a byproduct and stored in those tanks. From there, some was shipped away for a proper disposal, but most was taken into the woods there, farther back on the property, and simply dumped into a ravine."

"Proctor's Pit?"

"Yes, Mr. Proctor was the supervisor in charge of disposal. He died of cancer before we could subpoena him." They walked twenty yards along the fence. "We really can't see from here, but there are three ravines in there, deep in the woods, where they simply hauled the tanks and covered them with dirt and mud. Over the years, they began to leak-they were not even sealed properly-and the chemicals soaked into the earth. This went on for years, tons and tons of bichloronylene and cartolyx and aklar and other proven carcinogens.

If you can believe our experts, and the jury evidently did, the poisons finally contaminated the aquifer from which Bowmore pumps its water."

A security detail in a golf cart approached on the other side of the fence. Two overweight guards with guns stopped and stared. "Just ignore them," Mary Grace whispered.

"What're you lookin' for?" a guard asked.

"We're on the right side of the fence," she answered.

"What're you lookin' for?" he repeated.

"I'm Mary Grace Payton, one of the attorneys. You boys move along."

Both nodded at once, and then slowly drove away.

She glanced at her watch. "I really need to be going."

"When can we meet again?"

"We'll see. No promises. Things are quite hectic right now."

They drove back to the Pine Grove Church and said goodbye. When Shepard was gone, Mary Grace walked three blocks to Jeannette's trailer. Bette was at work, the place was quiet. For an hour, she sat with her client under a small tree and drank bottled lemonade. No tears, no tissues, just girl talk about life and families and the past four months together in that awful courtroom.

Chapter 6

With an hour to go before trading closed, Krane bottomed at $18 a share, then began a rather feeble rally, if it could be called that. It nibbled around $20 a share for half an hour before finding some traction at that price.

To add to the catastrophe, investors for some reason chose to exact revenge on the rest of Carl's empire. His Trudeau Group owned 45 percent of Krane and smaller chunks of six other public companies-three chemical companies, an oil exploration firm, an auto parts maker, and a chain of hotels. Shortly after lunch, the common shares of the other six began slipping as well. It made no sense whatsoever, but then the market often cannot be explained. Misery is contagious on Wall Street. Panic is common and rarely understood.

Mr. Trudeau did not see the chain reaction coming, nor did Felix Bard, his savvy financial wizard. As the minutes dragged by, they watched in horror as a billion dollars in market value slipped away from the Trudeau Group.

Blame was rampant. Obviously, it all went back to the verdict in Mississippi. But many analysts, especially the babbling experts on cable, made much of the fact that Krane Chemical had for years chosen to go brazenly forward without the benefit of full liability insurance.

The company had saved a fortune in premiums, but was now giving it back in spades. Bobby Ratzlaff was listening to one such analyst on a television in a corner when Carl snapped, "Turn that thing off!"

It was almost 4:00 p.m., the magic hour when the exchange closed and the bloodshed ended. Carl was at his desk, phone stuck to his head. Bard was at the conference table watching two monitors and recording the latest stock prices. Ratzlaff was pale and sick and even more bankrupt than before, and he went from window to window as if selecting the one for his final flight.

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