فصل 09

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فصل 09

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Chapter nine

Buying a Verdict

In Lawrence, Kansas, Fitch’s local investigator tried too hard. Small spoke to a girl called Rebecca, who’d worked at Mulligan’s with Claire Clement. Small went to see her in the bank where she worked.

“Didn’t you work with Claire Clement a few years ago?” Small asked.

“Maybe. Who wants to know?”

“Do you know where she is now?”

“No. Why are you asking?”

“Well, she’s a possible juror in a trial. My firm has been asked to investigate her background.”

“Where’s the trial?”

“Can’t tell you. You worked at Mulligan’s, right?”

“Yes. That was a long time ago.”

“Have you talked to her recently?”

“Not in the last four years. Now please, I’m very busy, and you’re wasting your time.”

When Small had gone, Rebecca rang the number of an apartment in St. Louis, and left a recorded message for her friend, Claire. They chatted at least once a month, though they hadn’t seen each other in a year. Claire and Jeff lived an odd life, never staying long in one place. Only the apartment in St. Louis stayed the same. Claire had warned Rebecca that people might come and ask difficult questions. She’d hinted that she and Jeff were working for the government.

When Marlee checked her messages at the St. Louis apartment, she was worried. She called Rebecca and managed to sound perfectly normal, though her mouth was dry. Rebecca was able to remember the whole conversation.

“Are you OK?” Rebecca asked her friend.

“Oh, we’re fine,” Marlee assured her. They said goodbye to each other, and promised to keep in contact.

Neither Marlee nor Nicholas had believed they’d be traced to Lawrence. Who’d found them? Which side, Fitch or Rohr? More likely Fitch, because he was smarter and had more money. What had been their mistake? How much did these people know? She needed to speak to Nicholas, but he was on a boat with his fellow jurors.


Fitch was in the office when the call came.

“Hello, Marlee,” he said to the girl of his dreams.

“Hey, Fitch. What are the chances of a meeting without your goons hiding behind the bushes?”

“The chances are excellent.”

“You’re lying. Let’s do it this way. Let’s meet and talk, and if my people see your people, this is the end.”

“It’s a deal.”

“I’m at Casella’s, a seafood restaurant at the end of the Biloxi dock. I’m waiting.”

When Fitch arrived at the restaurant, Marlee was sitting at a wooden table with an umbrella above it. She was wearing jeans, sunglasses, and a fishing cap.

“I got a call from Lawrence this morning,” she said, and Fitch swallowed. “It seems you have some goons up there trying to find things out.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Fitch didn’t sound very certain.

So it was Fitch! His eyes betrayed him!

“Right. One more phone call like that, and you’ll never hear my voice again.” She said nothing for a moment.

“Fine, whatever you want. I just wish I knew what you were talking about,” said Fitch. She was silent for a moment. Then finally, Fitch said, “When do we stop playing games?”

“Now.”

“Wonderful. How much money do you want?”

“I’ll name a price later. It depends on what you want. The jury can do one of four things. It can deliver a verdict for the plaintiff. It can split down the middle, and there will have to be a retrial. It can vote nine to three in your favor and you have a huge victory. It can vote twelve to zero in your favor, and you and your clients can relax for several years.”

“I know all this.”

“Of course you do. If we forget a verdict for the plaintiff, then you have three choices.”

“What can you deliver?”

“Anything I want. Including a verdict for the plaintiff.”

“So the other side is willing to pay?”

“We’re talking.”

“Tell me how the deal works.”

“It’s very simple. We agree on the verdict you want. Then we agree on the price. You get your money ready. We wait until the lawyers finish their closing arguments, and the jury withdraws to discuss the case. At that moment I give you instructions about which bank you send the money to. When the bank confirms they’ve received the money, the jury delivers your verdict.”

“But there’s no guarantee!” he protested.

She leaned forward. “Do you doubt me, Fitch?”

Fitch would pay. He’d decided a week earlier to pay whatever she wanted, and he knew that when the money left The Fund there were no guarantees. He didn’t care, he trusted his Marlee. He’d love to ask her lots of questions, but he knew she wouldn’t answer. He also knew she’d deliver his verdict. She’d worked too hard to fail.

“I’m not totally helpless in this, you know,” he said, trying to look in control.

“Of course not, Fitch. I know you’ve laid traps for at least four of the jurors. Shall I name them?”

No, he didn’t want her to name them. How did he know if she was telling the truth? It simply wasn’t fair.

“I feel you doubt whether I’m in control. What if I get a juror removed from the jury, say, Lonnie Shaver?”

Fitch tried not to react. “No, he’s harmless. I think we should keep Lonnie. But I can’t agree a deal without details.”

Without any hesitation she said, “And I’m not agreeing to anything as long as you keep investigating my past.”

“Are you hiding something?”

“No, but I don’t like getting phone calls from my friends. One more call, and I’ll never speak to you again.”

“Don’t say that.”

“I mean it, Fitch. Stop your people. If you don’t, I’ll talk to Rohr. He might want to do a deal. A verdict for him means you have no job, and your clients lose billions. You can’t afford it, Fitch.” She was right about that. “I’m hungry,” she said. “I’ll call you in a couple of days.”

“I’m hungry too,” he said.

“No thanks, I’ll eat alone.”


The boat traveled eighty kilometers from the coast, where half the jury started fishing. One of the jurors, Angel Weese, got sick but recovered with the help of some medicine and actually caught the first big fish. Nicholas and Jerry had decided to chat to Lonnie Shaver. Nicholas was friendly with Jerry, who sometimes agreed to say what Nicholas wanted him to. It was a game to him; he had no idea what Nicholas was really doing. They made sure that Lonnie had a supply of cold beer, and after a few cans he talked more easily.

“I wonder how many experts the defense will call,” Nicholas said.

“They don’t have to call any,” Lonnie said, staring at the sea.

“You’ve had enough?” Nicholas said.

“Damned ridiculous. A man smokes for thirty-five years, then wants millions for his family after he kills himself.”

“Jerry and I thought that you would support the defense,” Nicholas said.

“And what about you?” Lonnie asked.

“Me, I’m still open-minded. Jerry’s leaning toward the defense, because he’s addicted to nicotine. He thinks he can stop smoking if he really wants to, so Jacob Wood should have stopped long before he got cancer. Right?”

“That’s about right,” Jerry said.

The boat returned soon after five. Its arrival was reported to Fitch. He was in his office with one of his people, Swanson, replacing the goons that had annoyed Marlee with another firm who guaranteed not to get caught. Swanson was going to Kansas City to direct operations. Fitch couldn’t lose Marlee, but he had to know who she was. There was something hidden in her past.

Angel Weese was in love with and planned to marry Derrick Maples, a young man who was between jobs and between wives. He was in the process of divorcing his first wife. They had two young children, and his wife and her lawyer wanted six hundred dollars a month. The situation wasn’t good.

Angel was two months’ pregnant, though she’d told no one except Derrick.

Derrick’s brother Marvis had once been a deputy sheriff and was now a part-time minister. Marvis was approached by a man named Cleve, who said he’d like to meet Derrick. Introductions were made. Cleve was known as a runner. He ran cases for Wendall Rohr. His usual task was to find good death and injury claims and make sure that they went to Rohr’s office. Cleve had to work carefully; looking for clients like this wasn’t considered acceptable behavior. On his business card, he was called an “Investigator.”

Over a beer, Cleve talked to Derrick and quickly realized that he had financial problems. He started asking questions about Angel and the trial.

“Why don’t you tell me what this is about?” Derrick asked.

“My client is willing to purchase influence. For cash. Five thousand dollars. Half now, half after the trial.”

Derrick smiled. “And I do what?”

“You talk with Angel when you see her during personal visits and you make sure she knows how important this case is to the plaintiff. Just don’t tell her about the money, or about me, or any of this. Not now. Maybe later.”

“Why not?”

“Because this is illegal, OK? If the Judge found out that I was talking to you, offering you money to talk to Angel, then both of us would go to jail. Understand?”

“Ten thousand. Five now, five when the trial is over.”

“OK, ten.”

Durwood Cable was in charge of keeping D. Martin Jankle away from any alcohol. Fitch and Jankle had fought over the question of whether or not Jankle could drink on the night before he testified. Fitch accused Jankle of having a drink problem. Jankle cursed Fitch for trying to tell him, the CEO of Pynex, if, when, and how much he could drink.

Cable got involved in the argument. He insisted that Jankle stay in his office to prepare his testimony, and then practice it. Jankle performed adequately. Nothing special. Cable made him watch a video of his performance. When he was finally taken to his hotel after ten, he found that Fitch had replaced the alcoholic drinks in his room with juices. He cursed and went to his overnight bag, where he kept a bottle hidden in a leather case. Fitch had removed that too.


At 1 A.M. Nicholas silently opened his motel room door and looked up and down the hall. The guard was gone, probably asleep, Marlee was waiting in a room on the second floor. They kissed. She hurriedly told him about her chat with Rebecca in Lawrence, then she tried to recall every word of her conversation with Fitch.

They were both shocked to realize that they’d been partly discovered. They were sure it was Fitch, and they wondered how much he knew. They were certain that Jeff Kerr would have to be discovered in order to find Claire Clement. Although Jeffs background was harmless, Claire’s had to be protected, or they wouldn’t be able to continue with their plan.

There was little that they could do except wait.

Derrick entered Angel’s room through the window. He couldn’t wait until tomorrow night, he told her, because he loved her and missed her. She noticed he’d been drinking.

They awoke at dawn, and Angel was nervous because she had a man in her room and this was against the Judge’s orders. Derrick wasn’t worried. He’d been thinking and he’d decided that Angel’s vote was worth a lot more than ten thousand dollars. He’d suggest to Cleve that they paid him cash now, and then a percentage of the money granted to the plaintiff after the verdict. There would never be a chance like this for him again.

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