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Home > The Appeal(8)

The Appeal(8)
Author: John Grisham

Ten percent was more like it, he thought. The boys in finance agreed with him.

Could Flint 's hedge fund short a significant chunk of Krane's stock without Carl knowing about it? He stared at a confused bartender and pondered the question. Yes, it was possible, but not likely. Flint was simply rubbing a little salt.

The museum's director appeared from nowhere, and Carl was delighted to see him. He would never mention the verdict, if he in fact knew about it. He would say only nice things to Carl, and of course he would comment on how fabulous Brianna looked. He would ask about Sadler and inquire into the renovation of their home in the Hamptons.

They chatted about such things as they carried their drinks through the crowded lobby, dodging little pockets of dangerous conversations, and settled themselves before Abused Imelda. "Magnificent, isn't it?" the director mused.

"Beautiful," Carl said, glancing to his left as number 141 happened by. "What will it go for?"

"We've been debating that all day around here. Who knows with this crowd. I say at least five million."

"And what's it worth?"

The director smiled as a photographer snapped their picture. "Now, that's an entirely different issue, isn't it? The sculptor's last major work was sold to a Japanese gentleman for around two million. Of course, the Japanese gentleman was not donating large sums of money to our little museum."

Carl took another sip and acknowledged the game. MuAb's campaign goal was $100 million over five years. According to Brianna, they were about halfway there and needed a big boost from the evening's auction.

An art critic with the Times introduced himself and joined their conversation. Wonder if he knows about the verdict, Carl thought. The critic and the director discussed the Argentine sculptor and his mental problems as Carl studied Imelda and asked himself if he really wanted it permanently situated in the foyer of his luxurious penthouse.

His wife certainly did.

Chapter 3

The Paytons' temporary home was a three-bedroom apartment on the second level of an old complex near the university. Wes had lived nearby in his college days and still found it hard to believe he was back in the neighborhood. But there had been so many drastic changes it was difficult to dwell on just one.

How temporary? That was the great question between husband and wife, though the issue hadn't been discussed in weeks, nor would it be discussed now. Maybe in a day or two, when the fatigue and the shock wore off and they could steal a quiet moment and talk about the future. Wes eased the car through the parking lot, passing an overfilled Dumpster with debris littered around it. Mainly beer cans and broken bottles.

The college boys humored themselves by hurling their empties from the upper floors, across the lot, above the cars, in the general direction of the Dumpster. When the bottles crashed, the noise boomed through the complex and the students were amused.

Others were not. For the two sleep-deprived Paytons, the racket was at times unbearable.

The owner, an old client, was widely considered the worst slumlord in town, by the students anyway. He offered the place to the Paytons, and their handshake deal called for a thousand bucks a month in rent. They had lived there for seven months, paid for three, and the landlord insisted he was not worried.

He was patiently waiting in line with many other creditors. The law firm of Payton amp; Payton had once proven it could attract clients and generate fees, and its two partners were certainly capable of a dramatic comeback.

Try this comeback, Wes thought as he turned in to a parking place. Is a verdict of $41 million drama enough? For a moment he felt feisty, then he was tired again.

Slaves to a dreadful habit, both got out of the car and grabbed their briefcases in the rear seat. "No," Mary Grace announced suddenly. "We are not working tonight.

Leave these in the car."

"Yes, ma'am."

They hustled up the stairs, loud raunchy rap spilling from a window nearby. Mary Grace rattled the keys and unlocked the door, and suddenly they were inside, where both children were watching television with Ramona, their Honduran nanny. Liza, the nine-year-old, rushed forth yelling, "Mommy, we won, we won!" Mary Grace lifted her in the air and clutched her tightly.

"Yes, dear, we won."

"Forty billion!"

"Millions, dear, not billions."

Mack, the five-year-old, ran to his father, who yanked him up, and for a long moment they stood in the narrow foyer and squeezed their children. For the first time since the verdict, Wes saw tears in his wife's eyes.

"We saw you on TV" Liza was saying.

"You looked tired," Mack said.

"I am tired," Wes said.

Ramona watched from a distance, a tight smile barely visible. She wasn't sure what the verdict meant, but she understood enough to be pleased with the news.

Overcoats and shoes were removed, and the little Payton family fell onto the sofa, a very nice thick leather one, where they hugged and tickled and talked about school.

Wes and Mary Grace had managed to keep most of their furnishings, and the shabby apartment was decorated with fine things that not only reminded them of the past but, more important, reminded them of the future. This was just a stop, an unexpected layover.

The den floor was covered with notebooks and papers, clear evidence that the homework had been done before the television was turned on.

"I'm starving," Mack announced as he tried in vain to undo his father's tie.

"Mom says we're having macaroni and cheese," Wes said.

"All right!" Both kids voiced their approval, and Ramona eased into the kitchen.

"Does this mean we get a new house?" Liza asked.

"I thought you liked this place," Wes said.

"I do, but we're still looking for a new house, right?"

"Of course we are."

They had been careful with the children. They had explained the basics of the lawsuit to Liza-a bad company polluted water that harmed many people-and she quickly declared that she didn't like the company, either. And if the family had to move into an apartment to fight the company, then she was all for it.

But leaving their fine new home had been traumatic. Liza's last bedroom was pink and white and had everything a little girl could want. Now she shared a smaller room with her brother, and though she didn't complain, she was curious about how long the arrangement might last. Mack was generally too preoccupied with full-day kindergarten to worry about living quarters.

Both kids missed the old neighborhood, where the homes were large and the backyards had pools and gym sets. Friends were next door or just around the corner. The school was private and secure. Church was a block away and they knew everyone there.

Now they attended a city elementary school where there were far more black faces than white, and they worshipped in a downtown Episcopal church that welcomed everyone.

"We won't move anytime soon," Mary Grace said. "But maybe we can start looking."

"I'm starving," Mack said again.

The topic of housing was routinely avoided when one of the kids raised it, and Mary Grace finally rose to her feet. "Let's go cook," she said to Liza. Wes found the remote and said to Mack, "Let's watch Sports-Center."" Anything but local news.

"Sure."

Ramona was boiling water and dicing a tomato. Mary Grace hugged her quickly and said, "A good day?" Yes, a good day, she agreed. No problems at school. Homework was already finished. Liza drifted off to her bedroom. She had yet to show any interest in kitchen matters.

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