The Pelican Brief

Chapter Six

She grabbed his neck and pulled him to her. They kissed long and hard, a wet, almost violent kiss.

The cop stuck his thumb on the button next to the name of Gray Grantham, and held it down for twenty seconds. Then a brief pause. Then another twenty seconds. Pause. Twenty seconds. Pause. Twenty seconds. He thought this was funny because Grantham was a night owl and had probably slept less than three or four hours, and now all this incessant buzzing echoing throughout his hallway. He pushed again and looked at his patrol car parked illegally on the curb under the streetlight. It was almost dawn, Sunday, and the street was empty. Twenty seconds. Pause. Twenty seconds.

Maybe Grantham was dead. Or maybe he was comatose from booze and a late night on the town. Maybe he had someone's woman up there and had no plans to answer the door. Pause. Twenty seconds.

The mike crackled. "Who is it!"

"Police!" answered the cop, who was black and emphasized the po in police just for the fun of it.

"What do you want?" Grantham demanded.

"Maybe I gotta warrant." The cop was near laughter.

Grantham's voice softened, and he sounded wounded. "Is this Cleve?"

"It is."

"What time is it, Cleve?"

"Almost five-thirty."

"It must be good."

"Don't know. Sarge didn't say, you know. He just said to wake you up 'cause he wanted to talk."

"Why does he always want to talk before the sun comes up?"

"Stupid question, Grantham."

A slight pause. "Yeah, I guess so. I presume he wants to talk right now."

"No. You got thirty minutes. He said be there at six."


"There's a little coffee shop on Fourteenth near the Trinidad Playground. It's dark and safe, and Sarge likes it."

"Where does he find these places?"

"You know, for a reporter you can ask the dumbest questions. The name of the place is Glenda's, and I suggest you get going or you'll be late."

"Will you be there?"

"I'll drop in, just to make sure you're okay."

"I thought you said it was safe."

"It is safe, for that part of town. Can you find it?"

"Yeah. I'll be there as soon as I can."

"Have a nice day, Grantham."

Sarge was old, very black, with a head full of brilliant white hair that sprang out in all directions. He wore thick sunglasses whenever he was awake, and most of his coworkers in the West Wing of the White House thought he was half blind. He held his head sideways and smiled like Ray Charles. He sometimes bumped into door facings and desks as he unloaded trash cans and dusted furniture. He walked slowly and gingerly as if counting his steps. He worked patiently, always with a smile, always with a kind word for anyone willing to give him one. For the most part he was ignored and dismissed as just another friendly, old, partially disabled black janitor.

Sarge could see around corners. His territory was the West Wing, where he had been cleaning for thirty years now. Cleaning and listening. Cleaning and seeing. He picked up after some terribly important people who were often too busy to watch their words, especially in the presence of poor old Sarge.

He knew which doors stayed open, and which walls were thin, and which air vents carried sound. He could disappear in an instant, then reappear in a shadow where the terribly important people could not see him.

He kept most of it to himself. But from time to time, he fell heir to a juicy bit of information that could be pieced together with another one, and Sarge would make the judgment call that it should be repeated. He was very careful. He had three years until retirement, and he took no chances.

No one ever suspected Sarge of leaking stories to the press. There were usually enough big mouths within any White House to lay blame on each other. It was hilarious, really. Sarge would talk to Grantham at the Post, then wait excitedly for the story, then listen to the wailing in the basement when the heads rolled.

He was an impeccable source, and he talked only to Grantham. His son Cleve, the cop, arranged the meetings, always at odd hours at dark and inconspicuous places. Sarge wore his sunglasses. Grantham wore the same with a hat or cap of some sort. Cleve usually sat with them and watched the crowd.

Grantham arrived at Glenda's a few minutes after six, and walked to a booth in the rear. There were three other customers. Glenda herself was frying eggs on a grill near the register. Cleve sat on a stool watching her.

They shook hands. A cup of coffee had been poured for Grantham.

"Sorry I'm late," he said.

"No problem, my friend. Good to see you." Sarge had a raspy voice that was difficult to suppress with a whisper. No one was listening.

Grantham gulped coffee. "Busy week at the White House."

"You could say that. Lot of excitement. Lot of happiness."

"You don't say." Grantham could not take notes at these meetings. It would be too obvious, Sarge said when he laid the ground rules.

"Yes. The President and his boys were elated with the news of Justice Rosenberg. This made them very happy."

"What about Justice Jensen?"

"Well, as you noticed, the President attended the memorial service, but did not speak. He had planned to give a eulogy, but backed out because he would have been saying nice things about a gay fella."

"Who wrote the eulogy?"

"The speechwriters. Mainly Mabry. Worked on it all day Thursday, then he backed out."

"He also went to Rosenberg's service."

"Yes, he did. But he didn't want to. Said he'd rather go to hell for a day. But in the end, he chickened out and went anyway. He's quite happy Rosenberg was murdered. There was almost a festive mood around the place Wednesday. Fate has dealt him a wonderful hand. He now gets to restructure the Court, and he's very excited about this."

Grantham listened hard. Sarge continued.

"There's a short list of nominees. The original had twenty or so names, then it was cut to eight."

"Who did the cutting?"

"Who do you think? The President and Fletcher Coal. They're terrified of leaks at this point. Evidently the list is nothing but young conservative judges, most of whom are obscure."

"Any names?"

"Just two. A certain man named Pryce from Idaho, and one named MacLawrence from Vermont. That's all I know about names. I think they are both federal judges. Nothing more on this."

"What about the investigation?"

"I haven't heard much, but as usual I'll keep my ears open. There doesn't appear to be much going on."

"Anything else?"

"No. When will you run it?"

"In the morning."

"It'll be fun."

"Thanks, Sarge."

The sun was up now and the cafe was noisier. Cleve strolled over and sat next to his father. "You guys about finished?"

"We are," Sarge said.

Cleve glanced around. "I think we need to leave. Grantham goes first, I'll follow, then Pop here can stay as long as he wants."

"Mighty nice of you," Sarge said.

"Thanks, fellas," Grantham said as he headed for the door.

Verheek was late as usual. In the twenty-three-year history of their friendship, he had never been on time, and it was never a matter of being only a few minutes late. He had no concept of time and wasn't bothered with it. He wore a watch but never looked at it. Late for Verheek meant at least an hour, sometimes two, especially when the person kept waiting was a friend who expected him to be late and would forgive him.

So Callahan sat for an hour in the bar, which suited him just fine. After eight hours of scholarly debate, he despised the Constitution and those who taught it. He needed Chivas in his veins, and after two doubles on the rocks he was feeling better. He watched himself in the mirror behind the rows of liquor, and in the distance over his shoulder he watched and waited for Gavin Verheek. Small wonder his friend couldn't cut it in private practice, where life depended upon the clock.

When the third double was served, an hour and eleven minutes after 7 P.M., Verheek strolled to the bar and ordered a Moosehead.

"Sorry I'm late," he said as they shook hands. "I knew you'd appreciate the extra time alone with your Chivas."

"You look tired," Callahan said as he inspected him. Old and tired. Verheek was aging badly and gaining weight. His forehead had grown an inch since their last visit, and his pale skin highlighted the heavy circles under his eyes. "How much do you weigh?"

"None of your business," he said, gulping the beer. "Where's our table?"

"It's reserved for eight-thirty. I figured you would be at least ninety minutes late."

"Then I'm early."

"You could say that. Did you come from work?"

"I live at work now. The Director wants no less than a hundred hours a week until something breaks. I told my wife I'd be home for Christmas."

"How is she?"

"Fine. A very patient lady. We get along much better when I live at the office." She was wife number three in seventeen years.

"I'd like to meet her."

"No, you wouldn't. I married the first two for sex and they enjoyed it so much they shared it with others. I married this one for money and she's not much to look at. You wouldn't be impressed." He emptied the bottle. "I doubt if I can hang on until she dies."

"How old is she?"

"Don't ask. I really love her, you know. Honest. But after two years I now realize we have nothing in common but an acute awareness of the stock market." He looked at the bartender. "Another beer, please."

Callahan chuckled and sipped his drink. "How much is she worth?"

"Not nearly as much as I thought. I'm not sure really. Somewhere around five million, I think. She cleaned out husbands one and two, and I think she was attracted to me for the challenge of marrying just an average joe. That, and the sex is great, she said. They all say that, you know."

"You always picked losers, Gavin, even in law school. You're attracted to neurotic and depressed women."

"And they're attracted to me." He turned the bottle up and drained half of it. "Why do we always eat in this place?"

"I don't know. It's sort of traditional. It brings back fond memories of law school."

"We hated law school, Thomas. Everyone hates law school. Everyone hates lawyers."

"You're in a fine mood."

"Sorry. I've slept six hours since they found the bodies. The Director screams at me at least five times a day. I scream at everybody under me. It's one big brawl over there."

"Drink up, big boy. Our table's ready. Let's drink and eat and talk, and try to enjoy these few hours together."

"I love you more than my wife, Thomas. Do you know that?"

"That's not saying much."

"You're right."

They followed the maitre d' to a small table in the corner, the same table they always requested. Callahan ordered another round, and explained they would be in no hurry to eat.

"Did you see that damned thing in the Post?" Verheek asked.

"I saw it. Who leaked it?"

"Who knows. The Director got the short list Saturday morning, hand-delivered by the President himself, with rather explicit demands about secrecy. He showed the list to no one over the weekend, then this morning the story hit with the names of Pryce and MacLawrence. Voyles went berserk when he saw it, and a few minutes later the President called. He rushed to the White House and they had a huge cuss fight. Voyles tried to attack Fletcher Coal, and had to be restrained by K.O. Lewis. Very nasty."

Callahan hung on every word. "This is pretty good."

"Yeah. I'm telling you this part because later, after a few more drinks, you'll expect me to tell you who else is on the list and I won't do it. I'm trying to be a friend, Thomas."

"Keep going."

"Anyway, there's no way the leak came from us. Impossible. It had to come from the White House. The place is full of people who hate Coal, and it's leaking like rusty pipes."

"Coal probably leaked it."

"Maybe so. He's a sleazy bastard, and one theory has him leaking Pryce and MacLawrence to scare everyone, then later announcing two nominees who appear more moderate. It sounds like something he would do."

"I've never heard of Pryce and MacLawrence."

"Join the club. They're both very young, early forties, with precious little experience on the bench. We haven't checked them out, but they appear to be radically conservative."

"And the rest of the list?"

"That was quick. Two beers down, and you've already popped the question."

The drinks arrived. "I want some of those mushrooms stuffed with crabmeat," Verheek told the waiter. "Just to munch on. I'm starving."

Callahan handed over his empty glass. "Bring me an order too."

"Don't ask again, Thomas. You may have to carry me out of here in three hours, but I'll never tell. You know that. Let's say that Pryce and MacLawrence seem to be reflective of the entire list."

"All unknowns?"

"Basically, yes."

Callahan sipped the Scotch slowly and shook his head. Verheek removed his jacket and loosened his tie. "Let's talk about women."


"How old is she?"

"Twenty-four, but very mature."

"You could be her father."

"I may be. Who knows."

"Where's she from?"

"Denver. I told you that."

"I love Western girls. They're so independent and unpretentious and they tend to wear Levis and have long legs. I may marry one. Does she have money?"

"No. Her father was killed in a plane crash four years ago and her mother got a nice settlement."

"Then she has money."

"She's comfortable."

"I'll bet she is. Do you have a photo?"

"No. She's not a grandchild or a poodle."

"Why didn't you bring a picture?"

"I'll get her to send you one. Why is this so amusing to you?"

"It's hilarious. The great Thomas Callahan, he of the disposable women, has fallen hard."

"I have not."

"It must be a record. What, nine, ten months now? You've actually maintained a steady relationship for almost a year, haven't you?"

"Eight months and three weeks, but don't tell anyone, Gavin. It's not easy for me."

"Your secret's safe. Just give me all the details. How tall is she?"

"Five-eight, hundred and twelve pounds, long legs, tight Levis, independent, unpretentious, your typical Western girl."

"I must find one for myself. Are you gonna marry her?"

"Of course not! Finish your drink."

"Are you, like, monogamous now?"

"Are you?"

"Hell no. Never have been. But we're not talking about me, Thomas, we're talking about Peter Pan here, Cool Hand Callahan, the man with the monthly version of the world's most gorgeous woman. Tell me, Thomas, and don't lie to your best friend, just look me in the eyes and tell me if you have succumbed to a state of monogamy."

Verheek was leaning halfway across the table, watching and grinning stupidly.

"Not so loud," Callahan said, looking around.

"Answer me."

"Give me the other names on the list, and I'll tell you."

Verheek withdrew. "Nice try. I think the answer is yes. I think you're in love with this gal, but too cowardly to admit it. I think she's got your number, pal."

"Okay, she does. Do you feel better?"

"Yeah, much better. When can I meet her?"

"When can I meet your wife?"

"You're confused, Thomas. There's a basic difference here. You don't want to meet my wife, but I do want to meet Darby. You see. I assure you they are very dissimilar."

Callahan smiled and sipped. Verheek relaxed and crossed his legs in the aisle. He tilted the green bottle to his lips.

"You're wired, buddy," Callahan said.

"I'm sorry. I'm drinking as fast as I can."

The mushrooms were served in simmering skillets. Verheek stuffed two in his mouth and chewed furiously. Callahan watched. The Chivas had knocked off the hunger pains, and he would wait a few minutes. He preferred alcohol over food anyway.

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