The Pelican Brief

Chapter Five

"I don't have to explain. It's public record, isn't it?"


Darby took the strip of paper and folded it. "Are you familiar with the Freedom of Information Act?"

"Are you a lawyer?"

"I don't have to be a lawyer to look at this file."

The clerk opened a drawer in the counter, and took out a key ring. She nodded, pointing with her forehead. "Follow me."

The sign on the door said JURY ROOM, but inside there were no tables or chairs, only file cabinets and boxes lining the walls. Darby looked around the room.

The clerk pointed to a wall. "That's it, on this wall. The rest of the room is other junk. This first file cabinet has all the pleadings and correspondence. The rest is discovery, exhibits, and the trial."

"When was the trial?"

"Last summer. It went on for two months."

"Where's the appeal?"

"Not perfected yet. I think the deadline is November 1. Are you a reporter or something?"


"Good. As you obviously know, these are indeed public records. But the trial judge has placed certain restrictions. First, I must have your name and the precise hours you visited this room. Second, nothing can be taken from this room. Third, nothing in this file can be copied until the appeal is perfected. Fourth, anything you touch in here must be put back exactly where you found it. Judge's orders."

Darby stared at the wall of file cabinets. "Why can't I make copies?"

"Ask His Honor, okay? Now, what's your name?"

"Darby Shaw."

The clerk scribbled the information on a clipboard hanging near the door. "How long will you be?"

"I don't know. Three or four hours."

"We close at five. Find me at the office when you leave." She closed the door with a smirk. Darby opened a drawer full of pleadings, and began flipping through files and taking notes. The lawsuit was seven years old, with one plaintiff and thirty-eight wealthy corporate defendants who had collectively hired and fired no less than fifteen law firms from all over the country. Big firms, many with hundreds of lawyers in dozens of offices.

Seven years of expensive legal warfare, and the outcome was far from certain. Bitter litigation. The trial verdict was only a temporary victory for the defendants. The verdict had been purchased or in some other way illegally obtained, claimed the plaintiff in its motions for a new trial. Boxes of motions. Accusations and counteraccusations. Requests for sanctions and fines flowing rapidly to and from both sides. Pages and pages of affi davits detailing lies and abuses by the lawyers and their clients. One lawyer was dead.

Another had tried suicide, according to a classmate of Darby's who had worked on the fringes of the case during the trial. Her friend had been employed in a summer clerkship with a big firm in Houston, and was kept in the dark but heard a little.

Darby unfolded a chair and stared at the file cabinets. It would take five hours just to find everything.

The publicity had not been good for the Montrose. Most of its customers wore dark sunglasses after dark, and tended to enter and exit rather quickly. And now that a U.S. Supreme Court Justice had been found in the balcony, the place was famous and the curious drove by at all hours pointing and taking pictures. Most of the regulars went elsewhere. The bravest darted in when the traffic was light.

He looked just like a regular when he darted in and paid his money inside the door without looking at the cashier. Baseball cap, black sunglasses, jeans, neat hair, leather jacket. He was well disguised, but not because he was a homosexual and ashamed to be hanging around such places.

It was midnight. He climbed the stairs to the balcony, smiling at the thought of Jensen wearing the tourniquet. The door was locked. He took a seat in the center section on the floor, away from anyone else.

He had never watched queer movies before, and after this night he had no plans to watch another one. This was his third such smut house in the past ninety minutes. He kept the sunglasses on and tried to avoid the screen. But it was difficult, and this irritated him.

There were five other people in the theater. Four rows up and to his right were two lovebirds, kissing and playing. Oh, for a baseball bat and he could put them out of their misery. Or a nice little piece of yellow ski rope.

He suffered for twenty minutes, and was about to reach in his pocket when a hand touched his shoulder. A gentle hand. He played it cool.

"Could I sit by you?" came the rather deep and manly voice from just over his shoulder.

"No, and you can remove your hand."

The hand moved. Seconds passed, and it was obvious there would be no more requests. Then he was gone.

This was torture for a man violently opposed to pornography. He wanted to vomit. He glanced behind him, then reached carefully into the leather jacket and removed a black box, six inches by five and three inches thick. He laid it on the floor between his legs. With a scalpel, he made a careful incision in the cushion of the seat next to him, then, while glancing around, inserted the black box into the cushion. There were springs in this one, a real antique, and he delicately twisted the box from one side to the other until it was in place with the switch and the tube barely visible through the incision.

He took a deep breath. Although the device had been built by a true professional, a legendary genius at miniature explosives, it was not pleasant carrying the damned thing around in a coat pocket, just centimeters from his heart and most other vital organs. And he wasn't particularly comfortable sitting next to it now.

This was his third plant of the night, and he had one more, at another movie house where they showed old-fashioned heterosexual pornography. He was almost looking forward to it, and this irritated him.

He looked at the two lovers, who were oblivious to the movie and growing more excited by the minute, and wished they could be sitting right there when the little black box began silently spewing forth its gas, and then thirty seconds later when the fireball would flash-fry every object between the screen and the popcorn machine. He would like that.

But his was a nonviolent group, opposed to the indiscriminate killing of innocent and/or insignificant people. They had killed a few necessary victims. Their specialty, however, was the demolition of structures used by the enemy. They picked easy targets - unarmed abortion clinics, unprotected ACLU offices, unsuspecting smut houses. They were having a field day. Not one single arrest in eighteen months.

It was twelve-forty, time to leave and hurry four blocks to his car for another black box, then six blocks over to the Pussycat Cinema, which closed at one-thirty. The Pussycat was either eighteen or nineteen on the list, he couldn't remember which, but he was certain that in exactly three hours and twenty minutes the dirty movie business in D.C. would take a helluva blow. Twenty-two of these little joints were supposed to receive black boxes tonight, and at 4 A.M. they were all supposed to be closed and deserted, and demolished. Three all-nighters were scratched from the list, because his was a nonviolent group.

He adjusted his sunglasses and took one last look at the cushion next to him. Judging from the cups and popcorn on the floor, the place got swept once a week. No one would notice the switch and tube barely visible between the ragged threads. He cautiously flipped the switch, and left the Montrose.

Eric East had never met the President, nor been in the White House. And he'd never met Fletcher Coal, but he knew he wouldn't like him.

He followed Director Voyles and K. O. Lewis into the Oval Office at seven Saturday morning. There were no smiles or handshakes. East was introduced by Voyles. The President nodded from behind the desk but did not stand. Coal was reading something.

Twenty porno houses had been torched in the D.C. area, and many were still smoldering. They had seen the smoke above the city from the back of the limo. At a dump called Angels a janitor had been badly burned and was not expected to live.

An hour ago they had received word that an anonymous caller to a radio station had claimed responsibility for the Underground Army, and he promised more of the same in celebration of the death of Rosenberg.

The President spoke first. He looked tired, East thought. It was such an early hour for him. "How many places got bombed?"

"Twenty here," Voyles answered. "Seventeen in Baltimore and around fifteen in Atlanta. It appears as though the assault was carefully coordinated because all the explosions happened at precisely 4 A.M."

Coal looked up from his memo. "Director, do you believe it's the Underground Army?"

"As of now they're the only ones claiming responsibility. It looks like some of their work. Could be." Voyles did not look at Coal when he spoke to him.

"So when do you start making arrests?" the President asked.

"At the precise moment we obtain probable cause, Mr. President. That's the law, you understand."

"I understand this outfit is your top suspect in the killings of Rosenberg and Jensen, and that you're certain it killed a federal trial judge in Texas, and it most likely bombed at least fifty-two smut houses last night. I don't understand why they're bombing and killing with immunity. Hell, Director, we're under siege."

Voyles' neck turned red, but he said nothing. He just looked away while the President glared at him.

K. O. Lewis cleared his throat. "Mr. President, if I may, we are not convinced the Underground Army was involved with the deaths of Rosenberg and Jensen. In fact, we have no evidence linking them. They are only one of a dozen suspects. As I've said before, the killings were remarkably clean, well organized, and very professional. Extremely professional."

Coal stepped forward. "What you're trying to say, Mr. Lewis, is that you have no idea who killed them, and you may never know."

"No, that's not what I'm saying. We'll find them, but it will take time."

"How much time?" asked the President. It was an obvious, sophomoric question with no good answer. East immediately disliked the President for asking it.

"Months," Lewis said.

"How many months?"

"Many months."

The President rolled his eyes and shook his head, then with great disgust stood and walked to the window. He spoke to the window. "I can't believe there's no relation between what happened last night and the dead judges. I don't know. Maybe I'm just paranoid."

Voyles shot a quick smirk at Lewis. Paranoid, insecure, clueless, dumb, out of touch. Voyles could think of many others.

The President continued, still pondering the window. "I just get nervous when assassins are loose around here and bombs are going off. Who can blame me? We haven't killed a President in over thirty years."

"Oh, I think you're safe, Mr. President," Voyles said with a trace of amusement. "The Secret Service has things under control."

"Great. Then why do I feel as though I'm in Beirut?" He was almost mumbling into the window.

Coal sensed the awkwardness and picked up a thick memo from the desk. He held it and spoke to Voyles, much like a professor lecturing to his class.

This is the short list of potential nominees to the Supreme Court. There are eight names, each with a biography. It was prepared by Justice. We started with twenty names, then the President, Attorney General Horton, and myself cut it to eight, none of whom have any idea they are being considered."

Voyles still looked away. The President slowly returned to his desk, and picked up his copy of the memo. Coal continued.

Some of these people are controversial, and if they are ultimately nominated we'll have a small war getting them approved by the Senate. We'd prefer not to start fighting now. This must be kept confidential."

Voyles suddenly turned and glared at Coal. "You're an idiot, Coal! We've done this before, and I can assure you when we start checking on these people the cat's out of the bag. You want a thorough background investigation, and yet you expect everyone contacted to keep quiet. It doesn't work that way, son."

Coal stepped closer to Voyles. His eyes were glowing. "You bust your ass to make sure these names are kept out of the papers until they're nominated. You make it work, Director. You plug the leaks and keep it out of the papers, understand?"

Voyles was on his feet, pointing at Coal. "Listen, asshole, you want them checked out, you do it yourself. Don't start giving me a bunch of boy scout orders."

Lewis stood between them, and the President stood behind his desk, and for a second or two nothing was said. Coal placed his memo on the desk and retreated a few steps, looking away. The President was now the peacemaker. "Sit down, Denton. Sit down."

Voyles returned to his seat while staring at Coal. The President smiled at Lewis and everyone took a seat. "We're all under a lot of pressure," the President said warmly.

Lewis spoke calmly. "We'll perform the routine investigations on your names, Mr. President, and it will be done in the strictest of confidence. You know, however, that we cannot control every person we talk to."

"Yes, Mr. Lewis, I know that. But I want extra caution. These men are young and will shape and reshape the Constitution long after I'm dead. They're staunchly conservative, and the press will eat them alive. They must be free from warts and skeletons in the closet. No dope smokers, or illegitimate children, or DUIs, or radical student activity, or divorces. Understand? No surprises."

"Yes, Mr. President. But we cannot guarantee total secrecy in our investigations."

"Just try, okay?"

"Yes, sir." Lewis handed the memo to Eric East.

"Is that all?" Voyles asked.

The President glanced at Coal, who was ignoring them all and standing before the window. "Yes, Denton, that's all. I'd like to have these names checked out in ten days. I want to move fast on this."

Voyles was standing. "You'll have it in ten days."

Callahan was irritated when he knocked on the door to Darby's apartment. He was quite perturbed and had a lot on his mind, a lot that he wanted to say, but he knew better than to start a fight because there was something he wanted much worse than to blow off a little steam. She had avoided him for four days now while she played detective and barricaded herself in the law library. She had skipped classes and failed to return his calls, and in general neglected him during his hour of crisis. But he knew when she opened the door he would smile and forget about being neglected.

He held a liter of wine and a real pizza from Mama Rosa's. It was after ten, Saturday night. He knocked again, and looked up and down the street at the neat duplexes and bungalows. The chain rattled from inside, and he instantly smiled. The neglect vanished.

"Who is it?" she asked through the chain.

"Thomas Callahan, remember? I'm at your door begging you to let me in so we can play and be friends again."

The door opened and Callahan stepped in. She took the wine and pecked him on the cheek. "Are we still buddies?" he asked.

"Yes, Thomas. I've been busy." He followed her through the cluttered den to the kitchen. A computer and an assortment of thick books covered the table.

"I called. Why didn't you call me back?"

"I've been out," she said, opening a drawer and removing a corkscrew.

"You've got a machine. I've been talking to it."

"Are you trying to fight, Thomas?"

He looked at her bare legs. "No! I swear I'm not mad. I promise. Please forgive me if I appear to be upset."

"Stop it."

"When can we go to bed?"

"Are you sleepy?"

"Anything but. Come on, Darby, it's been three nights."

"Five. What kind of pizza?" She removed the cork and poured two glasses. Callahan watched every move.

"Oh, it's one of those Saturday night specials where they throw on everything headed for the garbage. Shrimp tails, eggs, crawfish heads. Cheap wine too. I'm a little low on cash, and I'm leaving town tomorrow so I have to watch what I spend, and since I'm leaving I thought I'd just come on over and get laid tonight so I wouldn't be tempted by some contagious woman in D.C. What do you think?"

Darby was opening the pizza box. "Looks like sausage and peppers."

"Can I still get laid?"

"Maybe later. Drink your wine and let's chat. We haven't had a long talk in a while."

"I have. I've been talking to your machine all week."

He took his wineglass and the bottle and followed her closely to the den, where she turned on the stereo. They relaxed on the sofa.

"Let's get drunk," he said.

"You're so romantic."

"I've got some romance for you."

"You've been drunk for a week."

"No I haven't. Eighty percent of a week. It's your fault for avoiding me."

"What's wrong with you, Thomas?"

"I've got the shakes. I'm all keyed up and I need companionship to knock the edge off. Whatta you say?"

"Let's get half drunk." She sipped her wine and draped her legs across his lap. He held his breath as if in pain.

"What time is your flight?" she asked.

He was gulping now. "One-thirty. Nonstop to National. I'm supposed to register at five, and there's a dinner at eight. After that I may be forced to roam the streets looking for love."

She smiled. "Okay, okay. We'll do it in a minute. But let's talk first."

Callahan breathed a sigh of relief. "I can talk for ten minutes, then I'll just collapse."

"What's up for Monday?"

"The usual eight hours of airhead debate on the future of the Fifth Amendment, then a committee will draft a proposed conference report that no one will approve. More debate Tuesday, another report, perhaps an altercation or two, then we adjourn with nothing accomplished and go home. I'll be in late Tuesday evening, and I'd like a date at a very nice restaurant, after which we can go back to my place for an intellectual discussion and animal sex. Where's the pizza?"

"In there. I'll get it."

He was stroking her legs. "Don't move. I'm not the least bit hungry."

"Why do you go to these conferences?"

"I'm a member, and I'm a professor, and we're just sort of expected to roam the country attending meetings with other educated idiots and adopting reports nobody reads. If I didn't go, the dean would think I was not contributing to the academic environment."

She refilled the wineglasses. "You're uptight, Thomas."

"I know. It's been a rough week. I hate the thought of a bunch of Neanderthals rewriting the Constitution. We'll live in a police state in ten years. I can't do anything about it, so I'll probably resort to alcohol."

Darby sipped slowly and watched him. The music was soft and the lights low. "I'm getting a buzz," she said.

"That's about right for you. A glass and a half and you're history. If you were Irish you could drink all night."

"My father was half Scottish."

"Not good enough." Callahan crossed his feet on the coffee table and relaxed. He gently rubbed her ankles. "Can I paint your toes?"

She said nothing. He had a fetish for her toes, and insisted on doing the nails with bright red polish at least twice a month. They'd seen it in Bull Durham, and though he wasn't as neat and sober as Kevin Costner, she had grown to enjoy the intimacy of it.

"No toes tonight?" he asked.

"Maybe later. You look tired."

"I'm relaxing, but I'm filled with virile male electricity, and you will not put me off by telling me I look tired."

"Have some more wine."

Callahan had more wine, and sank deeper in the sofa. "So, Ms. Shaw, who done it?"

"Professionals. Haven't you read the papers?"

"Of course. But who's behind the professionals?"

"I don't know. After last night, the unanimous choice seems to be the Underground Army."

"But you're not convinced."

"No. There have been no arrests. I'm not convinced."

"And you've got some obscure suspect unknown to the rest of the country."

"I had one, but now I'm not so sure. I spent three days tracking it down, even summarized it all real nice and neat in my little computer, and printed out a thin rough draft of a brief which I have now discarded."

Callahan stared at her. "You're telling me you skipped classes for three days, ignored me, worked around the clock playing Sherlock Holmes, and now you're throwing it away."

"It's over there on the table."

"I can't believe this. While I sulked around in loneliness all week, I knew it was for a worthy cause. I knew my suffering was for the good of the country because you would peel away the onion and tell me tonight or perhaps tomorrow who done it."

"It can't be done, at least not with legal research. There's no pattern, no common thread in the murders. I almost burned up the computers at the law school."

"Ha! I told you so. You forget, dear, that I am a genius at constitutional law, and I knew immediately that Rosenberg and Jensen had nothing in common but black robes and death threats. The Nazis or Aryans or Kluxers or Mafia or some other group killed them because Rosenberg was Rosenberg, and because Jensen was the easiest target and somewhat of an embarrassment."

"Well, why don't you call the FBI and share your insights with them? I'm sure they're sitting by the phone."

"Don't be angry. I'm sorry. Please forgive me."

"You're an ass, Thomas."

"Yes, but you love me, don't you?"

"I don't know."

"Can we still go to bed? You promised."

"We'll see."

Callahan placed his glass on the table, and attacked her. "Look, baby. I'll read your brief, okay? And then we'll talk about it, okay? But I'm not thinking clearly right now, and I won't be able to continue until you take my weak and trembling hand and lead me to your bed."

"Forget my little brief."

"Please, dammit, Darby, please."

Tip: You can use left and right keyboard keys to browse between pages.