فصل 15

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فصل 15

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Chapter fifteen

Fitch’s Surprise

Lou Dell delivered a note from Nicholas to the Judge. In it, Nicholas asked for a deputy to accompany him from the courthouse as soon as the trial was finished. He said he was scared.

The Judge gave the necessary instructions, and then went into the courtroom. The atmosphere was full of anticipation. Lawyers were walking around, nervous and wild-eyed. It was almost eight o’clock.

“I have been informed that the jury has reached a verdict,” Harkin said loudly. “Please bring in the jury.”

They came in looking serious. Lou Dell took the verdict form from Nicholas and handed it to the Judge. His face showed no reaction to the extraordinary news he was holding. He was very shocked, but there was nothing he could do. It was technically correct. There would be action to reduce it later on, but he couldn’t do anything now. He gave it back to Lou Dell, who asked Nicholas to read it.

“We, the jury, find in favor of the plaintiff, Celeste Wood, and grant her damages of two million dollars.”

Wendall Rohr and his lawyers breathed a huge sigh of relief. They’d just made history.

But the jury wasn’t finished. “And we, the jury, find in favor of the plaintiff, Celeste Wood, and grant punitive damages of four hundred million dollars.”

Cable sank down into his chair as if he’d been shot. The other defense lawyers stared at the jury box, mouths open, eyes wide in total disbelief. “Oh my God!” one of them said.

Rohr was all smiles as he put his arm around Celeste Wood, who’d started crying. The other lawyers with Rohr congratulated each other. Oh, the thrill of victory, the thought of sharing 40 percent of this verdict.

“Now, ladies and gentlemen of the jury,” Judge Harkin said. “I am going to ask each of you individually if you voted in favor of this verdict.”

“I did,” answered Nicholas Easter and six others. When it came to Lonnie, he said loudly, “No, your Honor, I did not, I disagree with this verdict entirely.” Two more jurors said they hadn’t voted for the verdict, but the final two, Sylvia and Jerry, stated they’d supported it. The vote was nine to three.

Nicholas was extremely worried that Fitch wasn’t in court. How much did he now know? Nicholas wanted to get out of the courtroom and leave town. The Judge thanked the jury and told them that they couldn’t tell anyone about the discussions they’d had. They were dismissed.

Fitch was watching from the viewing room in his office. He was alone; all the jury consultants had been dismissed. He’d discussed what he could do with Swanson. They could kidnap Easter, but he wouldn’t talk and they’d go to jail for it. They decided to follow him, hoping he’d lead them to Marlee. But what could they do if they found her? They couldn’t report her to the police.

Fitch was trapped whatever he did.

Nicholas left court quickly without saying goodbye to anyone. At the back entrance, the Sheriff was waiting for him in his car. “Judge said you needed some help.” Nicholas directed him to a large apartment building north of town and got out, thanking the Sheriff. He then got in a new rental car that Marlee had left there two days ago and drove to Hattiesburg, where a private plane was waiting. He arrived in George Town with new Canadian papers. Marlee met him at the airport. They kissed.

“Have you heard?” he asked.

“Sure, it’s all over CNN,” she said. “Was that the best you could do?” she asked with a laugh. They kissed again.

They went to the beach and sat in the sand alone as the waves washed across their feet. What a moment it was. Their four-year operation was over. Their plans had finally worked, perfectly.

Marlee went alone to the Royal Swiss Trust bank the following day. Marcus greeted her in his office.

“Your trade in Pynex shares seems to have been extremely successful. I’ve been on the phone to New York, and things are really confused. The verdict has surprised everyone. Except you, I guess.” There were so many questions he wanted to ask, but he knew there would be no answers. “They might stop trading for a day or two.” He looked at his computer, and spoke to someone in New York. “They’re offering Pynex shares at fifty dollars.” Two minutes passed. His eyes never left the computer screen. “They’re at forty-five now. Yes or no?”

“No. What about the others?” Marcus’s fingers danced across the keyboard. “The entire tobacco industry is down.”

“Check Pynex again,” Marlee said.

“Still falling. Forty-two, with a few small buyers.”

“Buy 20,000 shares at forty-two.”

A few seconds passed before he said, “Confirmed.” The Marlee - Nicholas team had just made seven hundred and forty thousand dollars, less the bank’s fees. She went on buying slowly. The quick kill was happening. She’d planned this very carefully and she’d never have another opportunity.

A few minutes before noon, with the market still very upset, she’d finished. Marcus wiped his forehead.

“Not a bad morning, Ms. MacRoland. You’ve made over eight million dollars, less fees.”

“I want the money transferred to a bank in Zurich.” She handed him written instructions. “Immediately, please.”

She packed quickly. Then Nicholas and Marlee flew first class to Miami, where they waited two hours and flew on to Amsterdam. They watched the news in the plane. Wall Street was going round in circles. Experts were speaking every where. Judge Harkin had no comment. Cable couldn’t be found, but Rohr finally came out of his office and took the credit for the victory.

From Amsterdam they flew to Geneva, where they rented a hotel apartment for a month.

Fitch left Biloxi three days after the verdict. His future as director of The Fund was in doubt, but his firm had plenty of other work. Not as well paid as The Fund, however.

A week after the verdict, he met with Luther Vandemeer and D. Martin Jankle in New York, and confessed every detail of his deal with Marlee. It wasn’t a pleasant meeting.

He also discussed with other New York lawyers the best way of attacking the verdict. The fact that Easter had disappeared immediately was suspicious. Herman Grimes had agreed to release his medical records, which showed that he’d been fit and healthy until that morning. He remembered an odd taste to his coffee, then he was on the floor. Colonel Frank Herrera had already given a sworn statement which said that the magazines under his bed weren’t his. The mystery surrounding the verdict increased.

The New York lawyers didn’t know about the Marlee deal. They never would.

Cable was planning to ask permission to interview all the jurors, an idea that judge Harkin seemed to like. How else could they find out what had happened in there? Lonnie Shaver was particularly anxious to talk. He’d received his promotion and was ready to defend American business.

The appeal would be long and difficult.

Rohr’s future was filled with opportunity. Extra staff were employed just to answer the phone calls from other lawyers and possible victims. Wall Street seemed more sympathetic to Rohr than to the tobacco industry. The share prices stayed low. Antismoking groups openly predicted the bankruptcy and eventual death of the tobacco industry.

Six weeks after he left Biloxi, Fitch was eating lunch alone in a tiny Indian restaurant near Dupont Circle in Washington. It was snowing outside.

She appeared from nowhere. “Hi, Fitch,” she said, and he dropped his spoon.

“What are you doing here?” he said, without moving his lips. He remembered how pretty she was. Her hair seemed shorter.

“Just came to say hello.”

“You’ve said it.”

“And the money is being returned to you, as we speak. I’m transferring it back to your account. All ten million dollars, Fitch.”

He could think of no quick response. He was looking at the lovely face of the only person who’d ever beaten him. “How kind of you,” he said.

“I started to give it away, you know, to some of the antismoking groups, but we decided against it.”

“How’s Nicholas?”

“He’s fine.”

“Why are you returning it?”

“It’s not mine. I never planned to keep the money. I just wanted to borrow it. Tell me, Fitch, did you find Gabrielle?”

“Yes, we did.”

“And her parents?”

“We know where they are.”

“Does it make more sense now?”

“It makes more sense, yes.”

“They were both wonderful people. They were intelligent and energetic and loved life. They both got addicted to cigarettes in college and I watched them fight their habit until they died. They died terrible deaths, Fitch. I was their only child. My mother died at home on the sofa because she couldn’t walk to her bedroom.” She paused, but her eyes were surprisingly clear. It must have been sad, but Fitch could feel no sympathy.

“When did you start this operation?”

“Graduate school. I studied finance, thought about law, and then I dated a lawyer and heard stories of tobacco litigation. The idea grew.”

“An amazing idea.”

“Thanks, Fitch. From you, that’s a nice thing to hear.”

“Are you finished with us?”

“No. We’ll watch the appeal closely, and if your lawyers go too far attacking the verdict, then I’ve got copies of the bank transfers. Be careful, Fitch. We’re proud of that verdict, and we’re always watching. And remember, Fitch, next time you go to trial, we’ll be there.”

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