The Tenth Justice: Chapter 11


“So?” Ben asked.

“What?” Lisa asked, lying next to him.

“What’d you think?”

“About what?” Lisa said with a smile.

“About the fact that your clothes are decorating my floor. What else?”

“It was fine,” Lisa said. “It was good.”

Ben sat up in bed and shook his head. “Don’t even think about playing that game with me, sister. You are not making me crazy with vague adjectives.”

“What do you want me to say?” she asked. “It was phenomenal. World’s greatest. You were an artist—I was your canvas.”

“You suck, y’know that?”

“That’s funny,” Lisa said with a thin smirk. “You weren’t complaining a half hour ago.”

“It wasn’t that great.”

“Whatever you say,” Lisa said, staring at the clothes that were thrown across the floor. Pointing to the corner of the room, she asked, “By the way, are those your lucky boxer shorts?”

“Luck had nothing to do with it.”

“Awwww, did I upset you?” Lisa asked, running her fingers under Ben’s chin.

“This was just dumb,” Ben said, pulling away and leaning against the headboard of the bed. “I shouldn’t have given you the satisfaction. Now all you’re going to do is make sex jokes.”

“Of course I’m going to make sex jokes,” Lisa said. “That’s my nature. What’d you think, we were going to start going out? That we’d be the sweethearts of the Court? This was for fun. I’ve been waiting to jump your bones since I met you.”

“You’re just saying that.”

Lisa grabbed the back of his head and pulled him toward her. “I’m serious.”

“But now the mystery’s over.”

“Listen, whenever you want to go again, I’m ready. I had a fantastic time.”

“Oh, we’re not going again. This was it,” Ben said, pulling away. “Now we’re going to feel uncomfortable around each other at work. And every time I see you, I’m going to imagine you naked.”

“Big deal. I’m an adult. I can handle it. Besides, if you even think you can say no if I want to go again, you’re nuts.”

“You haven’t seen the bounds of my willpower. Believe me, this was a one-time engagement.”

“Whatever you say, dear,” Lisa said, turning on her side and pulling the covers to her chin.

Early Sunday morning, the Addisons drove Ben and Lisa to the airport. Lisa hugged Ben’s mother as Ben pulled their luggage from the trunk. “Thanks again for having me,” Lisa said.

“It was our pleasure,” Ben’s mother said. “I’m glad we were finally able to meet you.”

“I’ll see you later, Mom,” Ben said as he hugged his mother. Noticing the tears well up in her eyes, he added, “Don’t cry. I’ll see you soon.”

“I’m fine,” his mother said, clenching her jaw. “Have a safe trip back.”

After checking their bags, Ben and Lisa walked toward their boarding gate. “Have you heard from Ober or Nathan yet?” Lisa asked.

“Nothing. Not a phone call or anything. They’re definitely planning something.”

When they arrived at the gate, Nathan, Ober, and Eric were waiting. Hesitantly, Ben approached his roommates. “How was everyone’s weekend?”

“Fine,” Nathan said.

“Great,” Eric said.

“Fine,” Ober said. “And yours?”

“It was fine,” Ben said suspiciously. Looking around the airport, he stared back at Ober and Nathan. Finally, he said, “Okay, let’s have it. Say whatever you want, but respond already. The suspense is killing me.”

“Respond to what?” Ober asked.

“I know not of what you speak,” Nathan said with a straight face.

“Don’t give me that,” Ben said. “C’mon, what’d you plan? Is someone going to pop out and throw rice at us? Is a marching band going to come parading through? What’s happening?”

“Nothing’s happening,” Nathan said.

“Why’s he getting so crazy?” Ober asked Nathan.

“I have no idea,” Nathan said. “Looks like a classic case of paranoia to me.”

After dropping Lisa at her apartment building, the four roommates returned home. The first one to reach the door, Ober pulled the pile of mail from their mailbox, dragged in his luggage, and threw the mail on the kitchen table. After dropping his bag by the closet, Eric walked back to the door. “I’ll see you guys later. I have to go down to the paper.”

The moment the door closed, Ober grabbed Ben’s shoulders. “So how was she? I bet she’s an animal in bed.”

“You thought she was a lesbian,” Ben said.

“I never said that,” Ober said. “I said she was bisexual.”

“Sure you did,” Ben said.

Nathan sat on the couch. “I can’t believe you guys did it. I mean, what were you thinking?”

“What do you mean by that?” Ben asked.

“I mean, I thought we had an understanding that after Thanksgiving, we’d make sure we could trust Lisa,” Nathan said.

Standing in the middle of the room, Ben still hadn’t taken off his jacket. “Don’t start with that,” he said. “I trust her.”

“Ben, don’t take this the wrong way, but I hope you’re not letting a horny weekend get the best of you.”

“Well, no offense, but I am going to take it the wrong way. I learned a lot about Lisa this weekend, and there’s no way she’s working with Rick against me.”

“How do you know that?” Nathan challenged. “What additional information convinces you of that belief? You think that because you had sex you somehow know her better?”

“It’s not just the sexual part. I know her better as a person.”

“Ben, the only difference between this week and last week is that now you know what she looks like naked.”

“That’s not true,” Ben said. “You weren’t there this weekend, we had—”

“Stop talking about this weekend and listen to what I’m saying,” Nathan said, rising from the couch. “For an intelligent person, you’re being extremely stupid. If my theory’s right, Lisa’s doing exactly what she should be doing. Think about it! She’s playing with both your heads!”

Silence swept the room. Ben walked over to the table and sorted through the pile of mail. Pulling out his own letters, he added, “At least Lisa is concerned with my problems.”

“And what’s that supposed to mean?” Nathan asked.

“It means that she spent the entire weekend talking with me about all this crap with Rick. All you guys did was waste your energy on stupid pranks.”

“Now you’re reaching,” Nathan said. “You know how much time we’ve all invested in this. Both Ober and I have risked our jobs to catch Rick. And if that engagement announcement was anything, it was the best way we could think of to cheer you up. Besides, the only reason Lisa spends so much time talking to you is to see what you know.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Ben said, heading toward the stairs.

“Don’t get upset and walk away,” Nathan said. “Come back down here and deal with it.”

Ignoring his roommate, Ben walked to his room.

“You should have known he was going to get defensive,” Ober said when Ben was out of sight.

“Of course I knew he’d be defensive,” Nathan said. “But tough shit. I’m looking out for him.”

“I know what you’re doing,” Ober said, “but maybe you could have been more sensitive.”

“You want me to be more sensitive?” Nathan laughed.

“I’m serious. Ben’s really scared about this.”

“Of course he’s scared. I was the one who said it before Thanksgiving—sex will always interfere with rational thought. But it’s time for Ben to wake up. He had his fun, and now it’s time to face reality: Lisa can’t be trusted.”

“How was your trip?” Rick asked, talking into his cellular phone as he waited for his baggage at the airport carousel.

“Did you really have to follow us to Boston?”

“Of course,” Rick explained. “I had to keep an eye on my investment.”

“Well, I hope you’re happy with the results. You’ve made him completely nuts.”

“The thing with his father really freaked him out, huh?” Rick asked.

“That’s the understatement of the year. Now he doesn’t know who to trust.”

“Does he suspect you?”

“I don’t think so, but he’s much harder to deal with. He barely spoke the whole way back.”

Rick smiled and moved the phone to his other ear. “That’s what happens when you know you’re about to lose. You start taking it out on those closest to you.”

When he entered his room, Ben threw the mail on his desk and slumped into his chair. It couldn’t possibly be Lisa, he told himself, his thumbs tapping against the desktop in a disturbed drumbeat. Look at the facts. With everything you know about her, what are the chances she’s some kind of double agent? No. It’s impossible. There’s no way.

As he replayed the details in his head, he turned the single, messy pile of mail into three more manageable stacks, creating one pile for bills, one for junk mail, and one for personal letters. Noticing a magazine offer addressed to Benjamin N. Addison, he knew that Newsweek had sold his name. Picking up another addressed to Benjamin L. Addison, he knew that the Legal Times had made some quick cash. When he saw one addressed to Benjamin C. Addison, he frowned, annoyed that his credit card company had done it, too. He’d specifically told them not to. As he made a mental notation to call the company, he noticed the top letter on the personal-letter pile. Picking up the plain white envelope, he was surprised to see that there was no return address, no stamp, and therefore no postmark.

Ben slid his thumb across the sealed flap, opened the envelope, and pulled out the short, typed letter. “Dear Ben: Hope your Thanksgiving was enjoyable—I’m sure I’ll hear all about it. Sincerely, Rick.”

Ben’s heart beat faster as he reread the letter. He pushed himself away from the desk and left the room. Racing downstairs, he returned to the living room, where he saw Nathan hanging up the phone. “Who was that?” Ben asked.

“My mom,” Nathan explained. “I just wanted to tell her we got home okay.”

“This was hand-delivered while we were gone,” Ben said, handing Nathan the letter. “There was no postage on the envelope.” As Nathan read the short letter, Ober returned from the bathroom.

“What’s up?” Ober asked.

Saying nothing, Nathan passed the letter to Ober, who quickly read it.

“Can I ask you a question in your office?” Ben asked, motioning Nathan and Ober toward the front door. Stepping outside, the three friends got into Nathan’s car.

“When did you get that?” Nathan asked, slamming the car door shut.

“Just now,” Ben said nervously. “What do you think about that last part? Where he says that he’ll hear all about my Thanksgiving.”

“You already know what I think,” Nathan said. “If that’s not a reference to Lisa, I don’t know what is.”

“I know. I know,” Ben said. “But if he was in cahoots with Lisa, do you really think he’d blow her cover?”

“At this point, I think Rick is just playing with us,” Nathan explained. “If he is secretly working with Lisa, he’s enjoying the game. If he isn’t plotting with her, he’s got us worried by hinting that he is. Either way, he’s playing on that fear, and either way, he’s making us crazy. He obviously knows how much you care for her.”

“Shit,” Ben said, slouching down in the seat.

“Can I ask a question?” Ober said, leaning forward from the backseat. Without waiting for an answer, he asked, “Why are we in the car?”

Nathan shook his head. “Goofus, if Rick was close enough to hand-deliver a letter, and he knew we weren’t home, chances are he took a stroll around our house.”

“You think he broke in?” Ober asked.

“Why wouldn’t he?” Ben said. “He knew he could look for any information we have on him. He could bug the house in complete privacy. He could do whatever he wanted. As far as I’m concerned, I wouldn’t say another word in that house.”

“So what do you want to do now?” Nathan asked.

“I think we really have to I.D. Rick—if we can get a photo and run it through the State Department, we’ll be a lot closer to catching him.”

“He obviously knew about our little photography plot,” Nathan said.

“Exactly,” Ben said. “So if I were him, I wouldn’t risk another meeting with us until we hand him the decision. That means we’re going to have to use a more unconventional way to find him.” Sitting up in his seat, Ben continued, “All we really know about him is that he’s between twenty-eight and thirty-eight years old, he’s smart, and he knows what he’s doing. Also, the way I figure it, Rick, if that’s even his real name, has got to be a lawyer. He knows way too much about the law to be a layperson.”

“Do they take your picture when you take the bar exam?” Nathan asked.

“That’s exactly what I’m thinking,” Ben said. “If we think about all the information we have on him, we can find someplace where he had his picture taken. And if we can find that picture, we should be able to I.D. him.”

“So what about the bar exam?”

“Some states don’t take your picture,” Ben said. “And I’m not sure if the Bar Association would even release the information.”

“What about driver’s license photos?” Ober asked.

“Too broad a category,” Ben said. “Even if we knew what state he’s from, it’d be too many people to search.” While the three friends sat in the motionless car, they rubbed their hands together to keep warm. “I was thinking that if Rick is a lawyer, he had to go to law school. So his picture should be in a law school yearbook from the last ten to fifteen years. Since there are over a hundred law schools nationwide, there’d be too many to search, but I was thinking that we can limit our search to just the top dozen or so schools: Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, and so on. Rick’s a snob—I’ll bet he went to a top law school.”

“That’s still a lot of photos to search through,” Ober said.

“Not really,” Ben explained. “If we take the top dozen schools and look only at the last fifteen years, that’s only one hundred and eighty yearbooks. And there’s an average of about four hundred students per class, so it’s not that bad.”

“That’s seventy-two thousand pictures,” Nathan said, tapping his wrists against the steering wheel.

“Actually, it’s only a little more than half of that,” Ben said. “We don’t have to look at the women.”

“What’s this we crap?” Ober asked. “You’re the only one who can recognize him.”

“So I’ll be looking through a lot of pictures,” Ben said. “Do you have a better plan? If I can spot his picture, we’ll have everything we need.”

“Can you even get all of the old yearbooks?” Nathan asked.

“Of course,” Ben said. “If I call a school and say that a Supreme Court justice would like to get some yearbooks, we’ll have them by the end of the week. In law school, the justices are gods who walk among men.”

“Then that sounds like the best available option.” Leaning forward on the steering wheel, Nathan added, “Now tell me what you think about the Lisa thing.”

Ben stared at the letter in his hands. “I still don’t think you’re right, but at this point, I’m not taking any chances. I trust her, but I can live with leaving her out of the plan.”

“That’s all I ask,” Nathan said. “The fewer people involved, the better.”

Early Monday morning, Ben returned to the Court wearing his favorite blue suit, a freshly starched shirt, and his black wool overcoat. Although not as well rested as he’d hoped to be, he was relieved to be finished with the holiday. As soon as he was able to see a corner of the regal marble building, however, anxiety resurfaced. The Court was always a constant, and lately, so were Ben’s problems. He made his way to his office, but paused before opening the door. Okay, he said to himself. Just play it cool with her. Nothing’s changed; you’re still friends, but you can’t tell her about your plans with Rick. Worried that his face would reveal his distress, he shut his eyes and imagined Lisa naked. Fine, I’m calm, he thought as he opened the door. I’m a rock. I’m unshakable. Walking inside, he was not surprised to see Lisa, who always arrived before he did.

“Why the goofy grin?” Lisa asked as Ben sat down on the office sofa.

“Can’t I just be happy to return to work? Is that so bad?”

“Don’t give me that,” Lisa said. “I’ve seen that look before. You’re still thinking about Thanksgiving, aren’t you?”

“Lisa, although you would like to believe that you are the center of my universe, I am sorry to say you are not. Besides, that look was a quiet-calm look. This look is a it’s-nice-to-be-back look.”

“That’s not a nice-to-be-back look,” she said. “It’s your constipated-medicated-stare look.”

“Constipation. Sex with you. Similar,” Ben deadpanned.

“That was cute,” Lisa said. “Easy, but effective.” She leaned back in her chair. “By the way, since when are you so calm about our whole sex thing? I thought you didn’t want to talk about it.”

“I’m actually fine with it now. As long as it doesn’t get in the way of things, I’ll be fine.”

“I’m fine with it as long as you’re fine with it,” she said. “So tell me what’s going on. Have you thought about what you’re doing with Rick?”

“No. Not really,” Ben said, moving over to his desk. “I’ve been thinking more about writing Grinnell than I have been about that.”

“Good.” Lisa picked up a legal pad and followed Ben to his desk. “Because I’ve been thinking about all the ways to approach the dissent.” Putting the note-filled pad in front of Ben, she explained, “Since Veidt won’t go all the way with the Osterman crowd, I think we can really limit their decision to these facts. They’ll say Grinnell is suffering a disproportionate burden, but we can say this applies only in rare cases involving certain historic monuments—that way we’ll—”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Ben said, trying to calm Lisa. “Relax a second. First I want to know when Hollis wants the decision.”

“I got a note saying he wants our first draft done within the next ten days, and he wants the whole thing done before Christmas. They plan to announce the decision before the New Year.”

“That gives us three weeks to get it done,” Ben said, “assuming that he’ll want his usual week to pass it around to the other justices.”

“Fine,” Lisa said. “Let’s get started.”

“I plan to get started,” Ben said, picking up his own legal pad. “But if you’d like to suddenly be in charge of first drafts, be my guest.”

“Oh, don’t give me that sarcasm. I’m sorry if I crossed your intellectual line in the sand by giving you some suggestions.”

“All I’m saying is that since we’ve been here, I’ve been the one to formulate the attack. Then you get to punch holes in it and patch things up. And at this point, I’m not ready to write the Grinnell attack. Before I put a thing down on paper, I need to spend at least two days in the library researching background information for this case. I’m sorry if you’re all ready to write it off the top of your head, but that’s not how a good decision is written. This isn’t high school debate.”

“Don’t pick a fight with me over this. Now can we talk about the opinion?”

“Hello? Have you been listening?” Ben asked. “I just said I don’t want to do that.”

“Well, I want to,” Lisa said.

“Why? So far, we’ve never done it that way. Why are you suddenly so obsessed with it now? It’s just another opinion.”

“Yeah, but this is the first decision we’re writing where you think the other side is right,” Lisa said.

“So that’s what this is about?” Ben asked, raising an eyebrow. “You actually think I’m going to weaken our dissent so I can have a personal victory?”

“I didn’t say—”

“You don’t have to say it. I can see it on your face. You really think I’d do that, don’t you?”

“You don’t know what I’m thinking,” Lisa said, walking back to her desk. “I just feel very strongly about this decision, so I’d like to take special care with it.”

“Don’t lie to me, because . . .”

“Ben, don’t threaten me!” She threw her legal pad on her desk. “If you want to be a control freak on this one, go ahead. Be my guest.”

Later in the week, Ben went to Mailboxes & Things to check his P.O. box. He was relieved to see that Rick’s phone bills had finally arrived. When he turned over the envelope to open it, he saw a small note written on the back: “Hope these help. Rick.”

“Damn,” Ben whispered to himself. He tore open the envelope and pulled out the copies of Rick’s bills. After scanning through them, he put the copies back in the envelope and returned to the Court. Relieved that his office was empty, he picked up the phone and dialed Nathan’s number.

“Administrator’s Office,” Nathan answered.

“I just picked up Rick’s phone bills.”

“They took long enough,” Nathan said. “What’d they say? Anything helpful?”

“Of course not,” Ben said, flipping through the small pile of bills. “It’s exactly what we thought. He must’ve had a cell phone for all his personal calls because the only calls on here are to my home number, my work number, and to operator assistance.”

“He’s definitely organized,” Nathan admitted.

“I’m telling you,” Ben said, tossing the bills on his desk, “I’m really worried that we’ll never be able to find him.”

“Don’t say that. He’s smart, but he can’t be that smart.”

“I used to think that, but I think he may be that smart.”

“Don’t get down on yourself. You ordered the yearbooks, didn’t you?”

“I did it yesterday. They’ll be here next week at the latest, which—” Suddenly, Lisa entered the office. Ben grabbed the phone bills and slid them into his desk drawer. “No, I definitely agree,” he said to Nathan. “Ober gets pissed whenever we forget his birthday.”

“Did Lisa just walk in?” Nathan asked.

“Oh, yes. Absolutely,” Ben said. “That’s why we should pretend we forgot it this year.”

“Do not say a single word to her.”

Looking at Lisa, Ben said, “Nathan says hi.”

“Hey,” Lisa said.

“She says hi back,” Ben relayed. “Meanwhile, I have to go. Justice and righteousness call.” Hanging up the phone, he turned to Lisa. “What’s going on?”

“Nothing really,” Lisa said. “You guys planning Ober’s birthday?”

“Yeah,” Ben said. “He gets pissed if we forget it, so we’re all going to pretend we forgot it. Then we’ll take him out to dinner or something.”

“Wish him a happy birthday for me.”

“I definitely will,” Ben said as he fidgeted with some paper clips.

“Meanwhile, have you heard about the nomination?” Lisa walked over to Ben’s desk and leaned on the corner. “Rumor has it that Kuttler’s going to be the president’s nominee.”

“Says who?” Ben asked.

“Says Joel, who heard it directly from Osterman. Apparently, the president called Osterman as a courtesy. It’s going to be announced tomorrow.”

“If it is true, that’s just sad. Kuttler’s a poor choice.”

“Why? Just because he’s not a legal genius like you?”

“He doesn’t have to be a legal genius, but I do expect him to be above the mean.”

“Oh, c’mon. He’s not an idiot.”

“Of course he’s not an idiot. But he’s nothing special. He’s okay. Average. Blah. A mop. A sieve . . .”

“I got it.”

“You know what I mean, though. He’s obviously bright, but I think that Supreme Court justices should be the absolute top of their field. They should be the most cutting-edge legal thinkers of their time.”

“Well, welcome to reality, but the political process says otherwise. Unless you’re confirmable, it doesn’t matter what you scored on the I.Q. test.” Lisa stood up from the corner of Ben’s desk and headed back to her own. “What’s wrong with you lately? You’re constantly whining.”

“I’m just having a bad day.”

“Well, don’t take it out on me,” Lisa said. “It’s not my fault.”

Early the following morning, Ben walked downstairs to grab a quick breakfast. As soon as Ben entered the kitchen, Nathan asked, “Have you seen today’s paper?”

“No,” Ben said, pouring himself a bowl of cereal. “What happened? Eric write another story about me?”

“Close,” Nathan said as he handed the front page of the paper to his roommate. The lead story’s headline read: KUTTLER GETS THE NOD; PRESIDENT PICKS NOMINEE. Eric’s name was on the byline.

“How’d he know about this?” Ben asked.

“It’s no big deal,” Nathan said casually. “Every paper carried the story. Apparently, the information was leaked last night.”

When Ben saw a similar headline on The Washington Post, he breathed a small sigh of relief.

“I’m just impressed they let Eric cover such a big story,” Nathan said.

“It is the Supreme Court,” Ben said. “That’s his specialty.”

“Give him a break. He’s been keeping his distance for the last month.”

“Nathan, I’m not joking around with this. He’s not getting a break, and my deadline still stands. If Eric doesn’t move out by the New Year, I will. Either way, one of us is out of here.”

“And who’s going to pay for his part of the rent?”

“We can either find a new roommate or I’ll pay for it myself.”

“You’d actually pay double the rent, just so you wouldn’t have to look at him? Are you sure that’s the best solution?”

“What do you expect me to do? Give him a big hug and tell him all is forgiven? It’s not happening. If this were a silly little spat between friends, that’s one thing, but Eric went way beyond that. He—”

“Listen, I don’t need the speech,” Nathan interrupted. “I’m on your side. Ober’s really upset by this and he’s on your side. If you want Eric out of the house, that’s your decision. I just want you to consider all your options.” Flipping through the newspaper, Nathan asked, “Have you ever stopped to think what Eric might do back to you if you do make him move out?”

“What are you talking about?” Ben asked in disbelief.

“I’m just saying that if you made me move out, I’d be pretty pissed at you. Maybe I’d even write another story about you for revenge.”

“I dare him to write another story,” Ben said, seething. “I’d rip his head off. And then I’d—”

“Calm down,” Nathan said. “He hasn’t written anything. It was just a hypothetical.”

Ben took a sip of his juice. “You don’t really think he’d do that, do you?”

“If he did it once . . .”

“Are you telling me I should make up with him just so he doesn’t hurt me further? Are you absolutely nuts?”

“I didn’t say make up with him. I just think you should watch your back.”

Ben waved hello to Nancy, Hollis’s secretary, as he walked through her office on his way to his own. “Hi, Ben,” Nancy smiled back. Nancy had worked for Hollis for almost twenty years. She’d been with him when he was a judge on the D.C. Circuit, and she was one of the five people in his office the day he found out about his nomination to the Court. A matronly woman with graying brown hair, Nancy would probably work for Hollis until the day he retired. As far as she was concerned, there was no more exciting job in the world.

Nancy picked up a large envelope from the corner of her desk and held it out for Ben. “This just came for you. By messenger—must be important.”

“Thank you,” Ben said, and headed for his office. Before he took off his coat, he ripped open the package. Inside was the current edition of the Washington Herald. Eric’s byline was circled in red. Next to it was a handwritten message: “Still trust him?”

Asshole, Ben thought. Never lets me forget he’s around. Ben tossed the newspaper in the garbage and saw a pink message sheet with Lisa’s handwriting on it taped to his computer screen: “Call the Marshals Office. ASAP.” He pulled the message from his computer, crumpled it up, and added it to the garbage. Taking a quick glance at the Court’s telephone directory, he dialed. “Hi, this is Ben Addison, with Justice Hollis’s chambers.”

Seconds later, Carl Lungen, the chief marshal, was on the line. “Hello, Ben. How’re you doing?” he asked.

“I’m fine,” Ben said, struggling to remain calm. “What’s happening there?”

“Nothing much,” Lungen said. “I just happened to see that your roommate had another scoop, and it reminded me that we haven’t spoken in a while.”

“Listen, you know I didn’t have a thing to do with that story,” Ben shot back, raising his voice. “Every paper in the country carried it today.”

“I didn’t say you had anything to do with it,” Lungen said. “I just said it made me think about you. The last time we spoke, you promised that you’d come see us after you confronted Eric.”

“I never promised you that,” Ben said. “Fisk asked me if I’d come. I said I’d think about it. Now, I don’t mean to be abrupt, but is there anything else you want to talk about? I’m really busy here.”

“Actually, we were wondering what happened with Eric.”

As Lisa entered the room, Ben said, “Eric and I aren’t talking anymore. He had no excuse for his actions, so I told him to fuck off. All he could say was that he wanted to help his career. Any more questions?”

“There was no other explanation for his actions?” Lungen asked. Ben wrote the word “Marshals” on a scrap piece of paper and passed it to Lisa. “If there was, he didn’t tell me,” Ben said. “Anything else?”

“One last thing,” Lungen said. “We wanted to take you up on your offer to take that lie detector test.”

Ben froze in his chair. “I don’t see any reason why—”

“It’s just precautionary. You know we’re trying to keep this investigation low-key, so we haven’t notified the justices yet. If you don’t, though . . .”

“I’ll take the test.”

“Great,” Lungen said. “We scheduled it for the twenty-third. Is that okay?”

“Sure. That’s fine,” Ben said. “That’ll be fine.”

“Great. We’ll see you down here in two weeks. Say hello to Justice Hollis for me.”

Ben hung up the phone and stared at his desk.

“What’s wrong?” Lisa asked. “What’d they want?”

“They saw Eric’s story about Kuttler’s nomination, and they want me to take a lie detector test.”

“No way,” she said, throwing the scrap paper at Ben. “That was in every paper in the country. The announcement ceremony is today. The White House leaked it late last night so they could get two days of press out of it.”

“Tell that to the marshals.”

“They can’t make you take a lie detector test,” Lisa insisted. “It’s a violation of privacy.”

“Well, they scheduled it for the twenty-third. And I’m going to be there to take it.”

“Why?”

“I have to take it,” Ben said, rearranging a stack of papers on his desk. “If I don’t, they’ll tell Hollis everything they know, which’ll definitely get me thrown out of here. And even if they’re just bluffing about telling Hollis, if I don’t take it, they’ll be more suspicious than ever.”

“I’ll tell you when they’ll be suspicious: when you fail the test.”

“I won’t fail the test,” Ben insisted. “Those tests are beatable. That’s why they’re not admissible in court. They’re not foolproof. At this point, I may’ve done something wrong, but I didn’t do anything maliciously against the Court. If I keep a cool head, I bet I can pass it.”

“If you say so,” Lisa said, shaking her head. “But, I still think—”

“You know what? I just don’t want to talk about it anymore.”

“But—”

“I said drop it,” Ben demanded, refusing to look at his co-clerk. “I’ll deal with it.”

Later that evening, Ben returned home covered in the first snow of the year. Wiping frozen clumps of hair from his eyes, he searched for the key to his front door and unlocked it.

“Put your stuff down, we’re going out!” Ober shouted as he threw on his coat. Getting no reaction from Ben, Ober stopped and searched Ben’s face. “What’s wrong with you? You look like crap.”

“Thanks.” Ben dropped his briefcase on the floor and let his jacket slide from his arm.

“Tough day on the job, dear?”

“Terrible day,” Ben said, undoing his tie and unbuttoning his collar. “The decision we’re working on still isn’t done. The Marshals Office is making me take a lie detector test. Rick’s on the loose. I can’t trust Lisa. My life is a mess.”

“They’re making you take a lie detector test?” Nathan asked. “They can’t do that.”

“I know they can’t, but they’ll tell Hollis if I don’t.”

“No offense, but are you coming with us or not?” Ober asked. “Nathan got promoted today and all we’re doing is moping around here.”

“You got the S/P job?” Ben asked. Nathan smiled. Ben gave him a bear hug. “Congratulations!”

“You are now looking at the newest member of the secretary of state’s policy planning staff,” Ober explained. “Whatever that is.”

“From now on, I get to muck with all the major policy work that comes through our department,” Nathan said.

“That is unbelievable!” Ben said. “I knew you’d get it. I hope you got a bigger office.”

“Bigger office, bigger computer, slightly bigger salary.”

“What more can you ask for?” Ben said. “And now I feel like a schmuck—here I was complaining when you had good news that you were waiting to tell me.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Nathan said.

“Enough of this friendship crap,” Ober said. “Let’s go out and celebrate!”

Ben ran to his room and changed into jeans and a chocolate-brown henley. “Where are we going?” he asked as he walked downstairs.

“Guess,” Ober said.

“Are we really going there?”

“Hey, it’s my promotion,” Nathan said. “Now, c’mon, it closes at eight.”

When the three friends arrived at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, they stepped through the large plate-glass doors and into the heart of the building. Within a minute, they were all gazing up at the Milestones of Flight exhibit. Among the collection of aerodynamic marvels suspended from the roof were the Wright brothers’ original flyer, the Spirit of St. Louis, and Nathan’s favorite, Glamorous Glennis, the first airplane to fly faster than the speed of sound.

“How many flights did the Wright brothers take that first day?” Ben asked, reading a short exhibit card about the Wright brothers’ first flight.

“Four,” Nathan said.

“What was the day?”

“December seventeenth, 1903.”

“Who flew first?”

“Orville flew first for twelve seconds,” Nathan said, his eyes still fixed on the ceiling. “But Wilbur flew the longest with fifty-nine seconds.”

“I still don’t understand why you’re so into this stuff,” Ben said, looking at a replica of Sputnik I. “You have no science background, your father isn’t in the military, your—”

“Can’t you simply appreciate the wonders of technology?” Nathan asked. “Can your legal mind even comprehend such a thought? We’re in the midst of science’s greatest feat—escaping the bounds of our existence.”

Ober walked over to an authentic moon rock brought back by the Apollo 17 crew and rubbed the pale gray object. “This rock is so fake. It isn’t from the moon.”

“And you base this hypothesis on what?” Nathan asked. “Your vast knowledge of interplanetary geology?”

“It doesn’t feel real,” Ober explained. “It feels like it’s completely fake.” Turning around to the crowd of tourists that were walking near the exhibit, Ober announced loudly, “THIS ROCK IS FAKE! IT’S A HOAX!”

Putting his hand over the mouth of his roommate, Nathan said, “Can you be more embarrassing? What’re you, ten years old?”

“He’s twelve,” Ben said. He rubbed the moon rock for himself and added, “It really doesn’t feel real. It seems synthetic or plastic or something.”

“See, I told you,” Ober said.

“It’s a real moon rock,” Nathan insisted. “Read the sign. It was brought back by the crew of the Apollo Seventeen. It’s nearly four billion years old.”

“Maybe the real rock was radioactive, and when it killed a bunch of tourists, they replaced it with this smooth piece of junk,” Ober said.

“I refuse to have this conversation,” Nathan said. “The only reason it’s smooth is because millions of goofball tourists like you feel the need to touch it.”

Touching it one more time, Ober said, “It’s so obviously not real. I want my money back.”

“Would you like to go to the next exhibit?” Nathan asked. “Is that what you’re telling me?”

“I’m starving,” Ober said. “I just want something to eat.”

The roommates walked to the east end of the building and entered The Flight Line cafeteria. After filling their trays with premade sandwiches and plastic-wrapped desserts, they chose one of the cafeteria’s empty tables. “Tell me about the lie detector. When do you have to take it?” Nathan asked.

“Two weeks from now.”

“What if you fail it?”

“I have no idea,” Ben said, unwrapping his roast beef sandwich. “I assume that won’t be a good thing, but they never said what would happen. I don’t think they’ll fire me on the spot, but I don’t think it’ll help my case. My main concern is that they don’t tell Hollis. If it gets to him, he’ll never trust me with anything.”

“I don’t understand why they picked today to call you. Was it because of Eric’s story?”

“Of course,” Ben said. “They said it reminded them that we hadn’t spoken in a while.”

“And I guess you haven’t told Eric that.”

“Absolutely not,” Ben said. “He might write another story about it. All I have to do now is figure out a way to pass the test.”

“Ben, I know I’ve asked this already,” Ober asked, his voice uncharacteristically serious, “but are you sure you want Eric to move out?”

“You know how I feel,” Ben said. “Let’s leave it at that.”

“But what if he—”

“The tests are beatable,” Nathan interrupted, shooting Ober a look. “I’m sure of that. I saw a special on PBS about how the military gives soldiers special drugs that lets them beat them. It somehow calms their heart rates.”

“I heard that if you remain calm and focus yourself, you can definitely beat it,” Ben said. “The common criminal usually panics.”

“But white-collar criminals like yourself can usually keep it together?” Nathan asked.

“That’s really funny,” Ben said. “You’re a laugh riot.”

“Maybe you can get those military drugs through the State Department,” Ober suggested to Nathan. “Now that you’re a big shot there, you should be able to get anything.”

“I can definitely try,” Nathan said. “It can’t hurt to ask.” Taking another bite of his burger, he said, “So, did Lisa say anything about this?”

“Can you stop with Lisa?” Ben pleaded. “Ever since we’ve been back from Thanksgiving, it’s been impossible dealing with her. When she asks me about anything, I clam up.”

“I told you it was a bad idea to have sex with her,” Ober said, shaking his head.

“This has nothing to do with the sex part. We’re both perfectly fine with that. I just feel like an asshole for lying to her. Maybe you can’t understand, but Lisa’s a good friend of mine. I know you don’t trust her, but honestly, I do.”

“So go ahead and tell her whatever you want,” Nathan said. “Sleep with her every night. Dig yourself deeper. You’re a grown man; it’s your choice. I just want you to face reality.”

“Listen, I’m not complaining. I’m just saying it’s uncomfortable to lie to someone’s face.”

“Well, you better get good at it. You have a date with a lie detector in two weeks.”

Ignoring the light snow that melted on the car’s front windshield, Rick watched the entrance to the Air and Space Museum. “What’s taking them so long?”

“I’m sure they’re just looking around. Now get back to the real question: Are you sure you can get the decision?”

“Don’t worry about it,” Rick said, turning on the defroster. “We’ll definitely get it. My source tells me—”

“I wish you’d stop relying on this source. Simply being close to Ben doesn’t mean a thing. We need—”

“Trust me, I know exactly what we need. And if we don’t get the decision from our source, we can always get it from Ben. I should be meeting with him sometime next week—I’m just waiting for him to get back to me.”

“How do you know he’ll agree to meet with you?”

Watching Ober, Nathan, and Ben leave the museum, Rick grinned. “I know Ben. Given the opportunity to catch me, he can’t resist. He values his career too much to let me walk all over it. Besides, even if he can’t catch me, how many people can say no to a three-million-dollar finder’s fee?”


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