The King of Torts

Chapter Eleven

The suite was in a different hotel. Pace was moving around D.C. as if spies were trailing him. After a quick hello and the offer of coffee, they sat down for business. Clay could tell that the pressure of burying the secret was working on Pace. He looked tired. His movements were anxious. His words came faster. The smile was gone. No questions about the weekend or the fishing down there in the Bahamas. Pace was about to cut a deal, either with Clay Carter or the next lawyer on his list. They sat at a table, each with a legal pad, pens ready to attack.

"I think five million per death is a better figure," Clay began. "Sure they're street kids whose lives have little economic value, but what your client has done is worth millions in punitive damages. So we blend the actual with the punitive and we arrive at five million."

"The guy in the coma died last night," Pace said.

"So we have six victims."

"Seven. We lost another one Saturday morning."

Clay had multiplied five million times six so many times he had trouble accepting the new figure. "Who? Where?"

"I'll give you the dirty details later, okay? Let's say it's been a very long weekend. While you were fishing, we were monitoring nine-one-one calls, which on a busy weekend in this city takes a small army."

"You're sure it's a Tarvan case?"

"We're certain."

Clay scribbled something meaningless and tried to adjust his strategy. "Let's agree on five million per death," he said.


Clay had convinced himself flying home from Abaco that it was a game of zeroes. Don't think of it as real money, just a string of O's after some numbers. For the time being, forget what the money can buy. Forget the dramatic changes about to come. Forget what a jury might do years down the road. Just play the zeroes. Ignore the sharp knife twisting in your stomach. Pretend your guts are lined with steel. Your opponent is weak and scared, and very rich and very wrong.

Clay swallowed hard and tried to speak in a normal tone. "The attorneys' fees are too low," he said.

"Oh really?" Pace said and actually smiled. "Ten million won't cut it?"

"Not for this case. Your exposure would be much greater if a big tort firm were involved."

"You catch on quick, don't you?"

"Half will go for taxes. The overhead you have planned for me will be very expensive. I'm expected to put together a real law firm in a matter of days, and do so in the high-rent district. Plus, I want to do something for Tequila and the other defendants who are getting shafted in all this."

"Just give me a figure." Pace was already scribbling something down.

"Fifteen million will make the transition smoother."

"Are you throwing darts?"

"No, just negotiating."

"So you want fifty million - thirty-five for the families, fifteen for you. Is that it?"

"That should do it."

"Agreed." Pace thrust a hand over and said, "Congratulations."

Clay shook it. He could think of nothing to say but "Thanks."

"There is a contract, with some details and stipulations." Max was reaching into a briefcase.

"What kinds of stipulations?"

"For one, you can never mention Tarvan to Tequila Watson, his new lawyer, or to any of the other criminal defendants involved in this matter. To do so would be to severely compromise everything. As we discussed earlier, drug addiction is not a legal defense to a crime. It could be a mitigating circumstance during sentencing, but Mr. Watson committed murder and whatever he was taking at the time is not relevant to his defense."

"I understand this better than you."

"Then forget about the murderers. You now represent the families of their victims. You're on the other side of the street, Clay, so accept it. Our deal will pay you five million up front, another five in ten days, and the remaining five upon final completion of all settlements.

You mention Tarvan to anyone and the deal is off. You breach our trust with the defendants, and you'll lose one helluva lot of money."

Clay nodded and stared at the thick contract now on the table.

"This is basically a confidentiality agreement," Max continued, tapping the paperwork. "It's filled with dark secrets, most of which you'll have to hide from your own secretary. For example, my client's name is never mentioned. There's a shell corporation now set up in Bermuda with a new division in the Dutch Antilles that answers to a Swiss outfit headquartered in Luxembourg. The paper trail begins and ends over there and no one, not even me, can follow it without getting lost. Your new clients are getting the money; they're not supposed to ask questions. We don't think this will be a problem. For you, you're making a fortune. We don't expect sermons from a higher moral ground. Just take your money, finish the job, everybody will be happier."

"Just sell my soul?"

"As I said, skip the sermons. You're doing nothing unethical.

You're getting huge settlements for clients who have no clue that they are due anything. That's not exactly selling your soul. And what if you get rich? You won't be the first lawyer to get a windfall."

Clay was thinking about the first five million. Due immediately.

Max filled in some blanks deep in the contract, then slid it across the table. "This is our preliminary deal. Sign it, and I can then tell you more about my client. I'll get us some coffee."

Clay took the document, held it as it grew heavier, then tried to read the opening paragraph. Max was on the phone to room service.

He would resign immediately, on that day, from the Office of the Public Defender and withdraw as counsel of record for Tequila Watson. The paperwork had already been done and was attached to the contract. He would charter his own law firm directly; hire sufficient staff, open bank accounts, etcetera. A proposed charter for the Law Offices of J. Clay Carter II was also attached, all boilerplate. He would, as soon as practicable, contact the seven families and begin the process of soliciting their cases.

Coffee arrived and Clay kept reading. Max was on a cell phone across the suite, whispering in a hushed, serious voice, no doubt relaying the latest events to his superior. Or perhaps he was monitoring his network to see if another Tarvan murder had occurred. For his signature on page eleven, Clay would receive, by immediate wire, the sum of $5 million, a figure that had just been neatly written in by Max. His hands shook when he signed his name, not from fear or moral uncertainty, but from zero shock.

When the first round of paperwork was complete, they left the hotel, and climbed into an SUV driven by the same bodyguard who'd met Clay in the lobby of the Willard. "I suggest we get the bank account opened first," Max said softly but firmly. Clay was Cinderella going to the ball, just along for the ride because it was all a dream now.

"Sure, a good idea," he managed to say.

"Any bank in particular?" Pace asked.

Clay's current bank would be shocked to see the type of activity that was coming. His checking account there had barely managed to remain above the minimum for so long that any significant deposit would set off alarms. A lowly bank manager had once called to break the news that a small loan was past due. He could almost hear a big shot upstairs gasping in disbelief as he gawked at a printout.

"I'm sure you have one in mind," Clay said.

"We have a close relationship with Chase. The wires will run smoother there."

Then Chase it would be, Clay thought with a smile. Anything to speed along the wires.

"Chase Bank, on Fifteenth," Max said to the driver, who was already headed in that direction. Max pulled out more papers. "Here's the lease and sublease on your office. It's prime space, as you know, and certainly not cheap. My client used a straw company to lease it for two years at eighteen thousand a month. We can sublease it to you for the same rent."

"That's four hundred thousand bucks, give or take."

Max smiled and said, "You can afford it, sir. Start thinking like a trial lawyer with money to burn."

A vice president of some strain had been reserved. Max asked for the right person and red carpets were rolled down every hallway. Clay took charge of his affairs and signed all the proper documents.

The wire would be received by five that afternoon, according to the veep.

Back in the SUV, Max was all business. "We took the liberty of preparing a corporate charter for your law firm," he said, handing over more documents.

"I've already seen this," Clay said, still thinking about the wire transfer.

"It's pretty basic stuff - nothing sensitive. Do it online. Pay two hundred dollars by credit card, and you're in business. Takes less than an hour. You can do it from your desk at OPD."

Clay held the papers and looked out a window. A sleek burgundy Jaguar XJ was sitting next to them at a red light, and his mind began to wander. He tried to concentrate on business, but he simply couldn't.

"Speaking of OPD," Max was saying, "how do you want to handle those folks?"

"Let's do it now."

"M at Eighteenth," Max said to the driver, who appeared to miss nothing. Back to Clay he said, "Have you thought about Rodney and Paulette?"

"Yes. I'll talk to them today."


"Glad you approve."

"We also have some people who know the city well.

They can help. They'll work for us, but your clients won't know it." He nodded at the driver as he said this. "We can't relax, Clay, until all seven families have become your clients."

"Seems as though I'll need to tell Rodney and Paulette everything."

"Almost everything. They will be the only people in your firm who'll know what's happened. But you can never mention Tarvan or the company, and they'll never see the settlement agreements. We'll prepare those for you."

"But they have to know what we're offering."

"Obviously. They have to convince the families to take the money. But they can never know where the money is coming from."

"That'll be a challenge."

"Let's get them hired first."

If anyone at OPD missed Clay it wasn't obvious. Even the reliable Miss Glick was preoccupied with the phones and had no time for her usual expression of "Where have you been?" There were a dozen messages on his desk, all irrelevant now because nothing mattered anymore. Glenda was at a conference in New York, and, as usual, her absence meant longer lunches and more sick days around OPD. He quickly typed a letter of resignation and e-mailed it to her. With the door shut, he filled two briefcases with his personal office junk and left behind old books and other things he owned and once thought had sentimental value. He could always come back, though he knew he would not.

Rodney's desk was in a tiny workspace he shared with two other paralegals. "Got a minute?" Clay said.

"Not really," Rodney said, barely looking up from a pile of reports.

"There's a breakthrough in the Tequila Watson case. It'll just take a minute."

Rodney reluctantly stuck a pen behind an ear and followed Clay back to his office, where the shelves had been cleared, and the door was locked behind them. "I'm leaving," Clay began, almost in a whisper.

They talked for almost an hour, while Max Pace waited impatiently in the SUV, parked illegally at the curb. When Clay emerged with two bulky briefcases, Rodney was with him, also laden with a briefcase and a stuffed paper shopping bag. He went to his car and disappeared. Clay jumped in the SUV.

"He's in," Clay said.

"What a surprise."

At the office on Connecticut Avenue, they met a design consultant who'd been retained by Max. Clay was given his choice of rather expensive furniture that happened to be in the warehouse and thus deliverable within twenty-four hours. He pointed at various designs and samples, all on the higher end of the price scale. He signed a purchase order.

A phone system was being installed. A computer consultant arrived after the decorator left. At one point, Clay was spending money so fast he began to ask himself if he'd squeezed Max for enough.

Shortly before 5 P.M., Max emerged from a freshly painted office and stuck his cell phone in his pocket. "The wire is in," he said to Clay.

"Five million?"

"That's it. You're now a multimillionaire."

"I'm outta here," Clay said. "See you tomorrow."

"Where are you going?"

"Don't ever ask that question again, okay? You are not my boss. And stop following me. We have our deal."

He walked along Connecticut for a few blocks, jostling with the rush-hour crowd, smiling goofily to himself, his feet never touching the concrete. Down Seventeenth until he saw the Reflecting Pool and the Washington Monument, where hordes of high school groups clustered for photos. He turned right and walked through Constitution Gardens and past the Vietnam Memorial. Beyond it, he stopped at a kiosk, bought two cheap cigars, lit one, and continued to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, where he sat for a long time and gazed down The Mall to the Capitol far away.

Clear thinking was impossible. One good thought was immediately overwhelmed and pushed out by another. He thought of his father living on a borrowed fishing boat, pretending it was the good life but struggling to scrape out a living; fifty-five years old with no future whatsoever; drinking heavily to escape his misery. He puffed on the cigar and mentally shopped for a while, and just for the fun of it made a tally of how much he would spend if he bought everything he wanted - a new wardrobe, a really nice car, a stereo system, some travel. The total was but a small subtraction from his fortune. What kind of car was the big question. Successful but not pretentious.

And of course he would need a new address. He'd look around Georgetown for a quaint old town house. He'd heard tales of some of them selling for six million, but he didn't need that much. He was confident he could find something in the million-dollar range.

A million here. A million there.

He thought of Rebecca, though he tried not to dwell on her. For the past four years she had been the only friend with whom he'd shared everything. Now there was no one to talk to. Their breakup was five days old, and counting, but so much had happened that he'd had little time to think about her.

"Forget the Van Horns," he said aloud, blowing a thick cloud of smoke.

He'd make a large gift to the Piedmont Fund, designating it for the fight to preserve the natural beauty of Northern Virginia. He'd hire a paralegal to do nothing but track the latest land grabs and proposed developments of BVH Group, and wherever possible he'd sneak around and hire lawyers for small landowners unaware that they were about to become neighbors of Bennett the Bulldozer. Oh, what fun he would have on the environmental front!

Forget those people.

He lit the second cigar and called Jonah, who was at the computer store putting in a few hours. "I have a table at Citronelle, eight o'clock," Clay said. It was, at that moment, everybody's favorite French restaurant in D.C.

"Right," Jonah said.

"I'm serious. We're celebrating. I'm changing jobs. I'll explain later. Just be there."

"Can I bring a friend?"

"Absolutely not."

Jonah went nowhere without the girl-of-the-week. When Clay moved out he would move out alone, and he would not miss Jonah's bedroom heroics. He called two other law school pals, but both had kids and obligations, and it was pretty short notice.

Dinner with Jonah. Always an adventure.

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