The Tenth Justice: Chapter 12


At noon the next day, Ben leaned on the file cabinets in the corner of the room, waiting for his first draft of the Grinnell dissent to roll out of the printer. Anxious to hand the opinion over to Lisa, he knew she would have to find it impressive. Wait until she sees it, he thought as the first page crawled out. This dissent is so strong, she won’t know what to do with herself. First, apologies will flow freely. She’ll beg for my forgiveness. She’ll swear that she’ll never doubt me again. Clearly, she’ll say, “You are the superior writer.” She’ll then rip off her clothes and lie naked on the desk.

As Ben smiled to himself, Lisa burst through the door carrying two medium-sized boxes. She put them on the sofa. “Where were you? You missed the anniversary party for Blake.”

“Big deal,” Ben said, grabbing another sheet from the laser printer. “I couldn’t care less that he’s spent ten years on the Court. Besides, I really wanted to finish Grinnell. I was close to the end and I didn’t want to stop the flow of genius that was oozing out of me and into my computer.” As Lisa walked back to her desk, Ben asked, “What’d Blake do, anyway? Shake hands and thank everyone for their support?”

“Basically. But it was really nice. All the justices were there, and all the clerks and support staff. It was only about a half hour, but it was nice.” Putting on her reading glasses, she added, “And you missed the inevitable confrontation between Osterman and Kovacs.”

“Did they really go to blows?” Ben asked, curious about the rumored hatred between the ultra-conservative Osterman and the semi-liberal Kovacs.

“Nothing happened, but they’re the only two who never talk to each other. And Joel told me that when Kovacs was originally appointed to the Court, Osterman greeted him by saying, ‘I hope you realize you have a great deal of reading ahead of you.’”

“Stop it.”

“I’m not joking,” Lisa said. “It was obviously a crack at Kovacs’s intelligence.”

“And what’d Kovacs say back?”

“I have no idea. That’s all Joel said.”

“It’s just so silly,” Ben said. “Some of these justices are almost seventy years old and they still behave like children. They’re like little kids in a sandbox.”

“That’s the way it works,” Lisa said as she sat at her desk. “The old justices haze the new justices. It’s like a geriatric fraternity. The newest justice gets the worst office, the worst seat on the bench, the worst section of seats reserved for their family. Even when the justices meet in Conference, the lowest-ranking justice is the one who has to answer the phone if it rings and answer the door if anyone knocks.”

“That’s not true, is it?”

“It’s definitely true. Go down to the basement bookstore. It’s written in all the books about the Court.”

“I can’t imagine it—justices hazing each other.” In a deep voice, Ben imitated Osterman and barked, “Hey, Kovacs, I want my chambers cleaned and dusted before oral args tomorrow! And if you’re not done, you’re not getting the Mirsky dissent! Do you understand me?”

“Yes, sir, Mr. Osterman, sir!” Lisa said.

“What’d you call me?” Ben yelled.

“Yes, sir, Mr. Chief Justice Osterman, sir!” Lisa screamed.

Ben pulled another sheet from the laser printer. “I guess I can see that.”

“Meanwhile, are you really finished with Grinnell?”

“It’s right here,” Ben said as the final sheet rolled out. He slapped the thirty-page document on Lisa’s desk. “Hot off the press.”

“By the way, those boxes came for you,” Lisa said, pointing to the sofa. “There are seven more waiting in reception, but I couldn’t carry them all.”

Ben pulled his keys from his pocket and sliced open one of the boxes. Inside was a Columbia University Law School yearbook. Without saying a word, Ben closed the box and returned to his desk.

For the next half hour, he watched Lisa read his first draft, hoping to see a hint of reaction in her face. She’ll be a fool if she doesn’t like it, he thought. When she turned over the final sheet of the decision, Ben asked, “So? What do you think?”

“It’s an excellent opinion,” Lisa said as she put her reading glasses on the desk. “I’m definitely impressed. The fourth section is phenomenal. Pointing out the logical repercussions of the majority opinion is definitely the best way to shred it. Blake is going to be so pissed when he reads it.”

“So I was right.”

“Yes, yes. You were right. I’ll never doubt you again, Master-of-All-That-Is-Clerking.” Lisa pointed to the boxes on the couch. “Now what’d you get?”

“It’s nothing.”

“Just tell me what it is,” Lisa said, moving toward the box.

Ben hopped out of his seat to stop her. “It’s private,” he said, holding the box closed. “No offense, but I don’t want to talk about it.”

“What’s in it? A severed head? Sex toys? What’s the big secret?”

“Leave it alone!” Ben pushed Lisa’s hands away from the box.

Surprised by the intensity of Ben’s objection, Lisa stepped away from her co-clerk.

“I’m sorry,” Ben said. “I just don’t want you touching it.”

“If you don’t trust me, say it to my face.”

“Lisa, it’s not that, I just—”

“Don’t bullshit me. It insults both my intelligence and yours. It obviously has something to do with Rick. What else can be that important?”

“It has nothing to do with Rick.”

“Then show me what’s in the box.”

“Lisa, I can’t. I—”

“Ever since we got back from Thanksgiving, you’ve been acting creepy around me. I know it’s not the sex—I give you more credit than that. But it’s clear that you’re hiding something.”

“What am I hiding?” Ben asked.

“It’s just the way you act. You’re just . . . different. I can’t explain it. It’s some kind of Walden-like withdrawal. And then, when I walked in on your phone call last week, you said you were planning Ober’s birthday party. When I first met Ober, he told me he was born in the summer. He was complaining that summer birthdays suck because everyone always forgets them, and you don’t get any presents. Ben, in case you didn’t realize, it’s now December.” Lisa stared at her co-clerk in silence.

“It’s not that I don’t trust you.”

“Then tell me what’s in the box.”

“What?”

“You heard me. If you trust me so much, tell me what’s in the box.”

Ben reluctantly pulled open the carton. “They’re just old yearbooks. I was hoping that if I could pick out Rick’s picture, I’d have a better chance of identifying him.”

Tapping her foot against the floor, Lisa looked like she was ready to explode, her face crimson with anger. She pulled her wallet from her desk drawer, stormed to the closet, grabbed her coat, and opened the door.

“Lisa, I didn’t mean—”

She left the office, slamming the door behind her.

At eight that evening, Ben pounded on the front door of his house. “Open the door!” he yelled. Struggling to carry four boxes full of yearbooks, Ben felt his grip slipping. “Hurry up!”

“Hold on!” Nathan called out as he rushed to the door. “I’m coming!”

When Nathan opened the door, Ben staggered into the house and dropped the boxes on the couch. “There are a few more in the taxi. Can you help me carry them?”

Braving the cold without a jacket, Nathan ran to the taxi waiting in front of their house. He pulled three of the five boxes from the trunk of the car and ran back to the house, followed by Ben. Once inside, he said, “I assume these are the yearbooks.”

“Most of them,” Ben said as he took off his coat. “We’re still missing Harvard’s and Michigan’s.”

“I saw Blake’s anniversary party on the news. Were you there for it?”

“No, I missed it,” Ben said. “I was too busy getting reamed by Lisa. She was pissed because she finally realized I wasn’t telling her about Rick anymore.”

“How could she realize that?”

“Because she’s smart,” Ben said. “Unlike those grunts at the State Department, I work with brilliant, deductive people. When she saw the yearbooks, she realized things were going on without her, and she got a tad irate with me.”

“So you told her about the yearbooks?”

“I had to. I thought it was the only way to show her I trusted her.”

“And that didn’t work?”

“Are you kidding? Now she has concrete proof I was hiding stuff.”

“And so now the one person we don’t trust not only knows about our newest plan but is also intensely mad at you?”

“That sums it up,” Ben said. “Not a bad day at work, huh? Tomorrow, I think I’m going to smash a few mirrors to see if things can possibly get worse.”

Ober walked through the door. “I have the single best idea for a new restaurant!” he announced. “Better than Tequila Mockingbird!”

“Looks like you don’t have to wait until tomorrow,” Nathan said.

“Here’s the idea,” he said, throwing his jacket on the dining-room table. “It’ll be the world’s first non-Jewish delicatessen.” As his arms flailed through the air, he explained, “There are way too many Jewish delis, and they all serve the same thing. But there are millions of people who don’t want the typical pastrami and roast beef on rye. So I’m going to open ‘Christ, That’s a Good Sandwich,’ the world’s first non-Jewish deli. Every sandwich will be served on white bread, and everything comes with your choice of mayo or cheese. It’ll be a gold mine!” Rubbing his hands together, he said, “If you guys want, you can be initial investors.”

“Maybe you can get a cooperative crossover deal with Wonder bread,” Nathan said.

“That’s not a bad idea,” Ober agreed. Noticing the sullen expression on Ben’s face, he asked, “What’s wrong with you?”

“Lisa found out that we were planning against Rick without her, and now she thinks we don’t trust her.”

“She’s right,” Ober said. “We don’t.”

“She also won’t speak to Ben anymore. She hates him and wishes he’d disappear.”

“Awwww, don’t let that get you down.” Ober sat next to Ben. “Lots of women hate me. It’s not that bad.”

“Why are you in such a good mood?” Ben asked, staring at his roommate. “I haven’t seen you this manic since you ate that whole bottle of Flintstone vitamins.”

“I’m just happy,” Ober said, putting his arm around Ben. “I have good friends, a good home, a good job—” Ober noticed the boxes that covered the small couch. “Are those the yearbooks?”

“Those’re them,” Nathan said. “The proverbial straws that broke Lisa’s back.”

“I really wouldn’t worry about her.” Ober turned back to Ben. “You guys are good friends. You’ll make up soon.”

“It’ll be fine,” Nathan agreed. “I mean, look at you and Eric. You guys are making improvements by leaps and bounds.”

An hour later, a large tomato and garlic pizza was delivered to the house. After everyone had grabbed a slice, the roommates turned their attention to the yearbooks scattered around the living room.

Dressed in gray sweatpants and a black-striped T-shirt, Ober sat with his feet up on the sofa. “I don’t even understand why we have to do this,” he moaned, staring at an old Stanford Law School yearbook. “I have no idea what Rick looks like. I’ve never seen him before.”

“Just keep flipping,” Ben said. “I told you what he looks like. He has a really thin head and permanent bags under his eyes.”

“That’s half the people in here,” Ober complained. “No offense, but lawyers aren’t the physical gems of society.”

“You’re looking because I need your help,” Ben said. “If you see someone that fits the description, highlight their name. That way, there’s less of a chance that I’ll overlook them when I go through it.”

“But you still have to look through them yourself,” Ober said.

“Just shut up and look,” Nathan said.

“These people are all starting to look the same,” Ober said two hours later. “Every class is the same: bald guy, ugly guy, ugly girl, bald guy, ugly girl, bald girl.”

“They’re certainly not a pretty bunch,” Nathan agreed.

“I think we should have a contest,” Ober said. “The person that finds the ugliest picture wins.”

“What do you win?” Ben asked.

“It doesn’t matter,” Nathan said, sitting up on the couch. “I just won. Take a look at this freak.”

Passing the book to Ober, Nathan pointed to a picture of Ben from his days at Yale Law School. “Look at you,” Ober said. “What’d you comb your hair with that morning? A rake?”

“It definitely wasn’t my best hair day,” Ben admitted, looking at the picture.

“I’ll say,” Ober said. “It looks like you slept with a small box around your hair. It’s almost a perfect square.”

“We should try to find Lisa’s picture,” Nathan said, moving toward the Stanford pile. “She graduated the same year as you, didn’t she?” He flipped through the appropriate yearbook. “She’s not in here,” Nathan said after a minute. “She’s apparently camera shy.”

“Really?” Ben asked suspiciously.

“See for yourself,” Nathan said, handing Ben the yearbook. “She’s nowhere to be found.”

Ben scanned through the last names that started with S. Finding no picture, he flipped to the back of the photo section and saw Lisa’s name among the list of “Not Pictured” Students. “Y’know what I was just thinking?” he finally asked. “What if . . .”

Before Ben could finish his thought, Eric opened the front door, stepped inside, and shook the snow from his hair. “It’s almost midnight,” Ober said, looking at his watch. “This is an early work night, even for you.”

“What’re you guys doing?” Eric asked, immediately noticing the yearbooks scattered around the room.

“If you don’t mind, this is private,” Ben said.

“Nice to see you, too,” Eric said to Ben. “By the way, I wanted to talk to you about your note.”

“There’s nothing to talk about,” Ben said. “Just let me know what your decision is. I won’t fight you on it.”

“But what about—”

“I don’t want to discuss it now. So unless you have an answer, can you excuse us? I want to discuss something in private.”

“Can we talk about it tomorrow?” Eric asked, scratching at the five o’clock shadow on his chin.

“No, I already told you what—”

“Ben, if you expect me to move out, the least you can do is spare half an hour. Now, can we please talk tomorrow?”

“Fine,” Ben acquiesced, grabbing a piece of pizza crust from his plate. “I’ll find you tomorrow.”

As Eric walked up the stairs, Nathan asked, “What was that about?”

“I left him a note that said I wanted his decision as soon as possible. If he doesn’t move out after New Year’s, I will. I just need to know so I can start looking for a place.”

“Ben, please don’t do this,” Ober pleaded. “You guys can work it out.”

“No, we can’t,” Ben said. “We’re way beyond working it out. I know the idea upsets you, but we can’t all be best friends for the rest of our lives.”

“Don’t say that,” Ober shot back angrily. “All you have to do is—”

“I don’t have to do anything. Whatever Eric decides, I’m abiding by. I really don’t care at this point.”

“You don’t care?” Ober asked. “How can you be so dense?”

“I’m dense?” Ben responded. “This is coming from the man who wants to open a non-Jewish deli, and who thinks Mussolini is a kind of pastry, and who thinks it’s a federal crime that the Air and Space Museum doesn’t sell bomb-pops! This is the person telling me I’m dense?”

Looking as if he had the wind knocked out of him, Ober was silent.

“What?” Ben asked.

Nathan turned to Ben. “Was that really necessar—”

“I’m not stupid,” Ober said, his voice shaking. “I may not be as great as Super Ben Addison, but I’m not a moron.”

“I’m sorry,” Ben said defensively. “I was just trying to—”

“You were just trying to make yourself feel better,” Ober interrupted, his eyes welling with tears. “You did what you always do—pick on Ober and get everyone laughing again. That’s the best way to deal with a problem. Yes, sir, that’s the best thing I can think of. Forget about the fact that I constantly take the fall. You just keep doing what you do best.”

Caught off guard by Ober’s outburst, Ben didn’t know what to say. In all their years together, after all the teasing Ober had taken, it was the first time Ben had ever seen his friend crack. “Calm down,” Ben began.

“I don’t want to calm down,” Ober said, wiping the tears from his cheeks. “You guys may get a big laugh out of it, but I’m sick of being court jester. I’m not a failure.” Ober’s face turned scarlet. “I’m not a failure and I refuse to be treated like one.”

“No one thinks you’re a failure,” Nathan reassured his friend. “Now take a deep breath and relax.”

Ober turned his head away.

“I’m really sorry,” Ben said. “I never should’ve taken it out on you.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” Ober said.

“I knew you were upset about Eric moving out, and I shouldn’t have pushed your buttons like that.”

“I’ll get over it.”

Silently staring at Ober, Ben wondered how a calm conversation had turned into such a disaster. He knew Ober was upset about Eric, but he could tell he had struck a deeper nerve in Ober’s self-confidence. “You know I don’t think you’re a failure.”

“I know,” Ober said. “And I’m sorry for getting so crazy. It just really bothered me.” Leaning forward on the couch, Ober took a deep breath and stared straight at the floor. “It’s not even about Eric moving out. It’s about the four of us. If we’re all going to be together, the two of you have to work it out.”

“To be honest, I don’t think that’s possible anymore,” Ben said, sitting down next to Ober. “You have to be prepared for that possibility.”

“Can’t you just—”

“Ober, I’m doing the best I can.”

“No, you’re not.”

“We don’t have to go through this again,” Ben said. “The choice is in Eric’s hands now. Let’s wait and see what happens.”

“Fine—we’ll wait,” Ober said as he stood up from the couch. “But if you wreck these friendships, I want you to know I won’t forgive you.” Without saying another word, Ober walked upstairs.

When Ober was out of sight, Nathan looked over at Ben. “You really have to take it easy on him,” Nathan said.

“I knew he was upset, but I didn’t think it was that bad. When he started crying, I thought I was going to break down. I felt like someone had kicked me in the stomach.”

“Does that mean you’re changing your mind about Eric?”

“For Ober’s sake I’d like to, but you know I can’t. Right now, my main concern is still catching Rick and getting myself out of this mess.”

“That’s fine,” Nathan said. “But do us all a favor? Don’t forget your friends.”

Early the following morning, Ben took the Metro to Union Station and headed to Mailboxes & Things. As he approached the store, he wondered if everything would work out with Eric. It’s the only way, he reassured himself. This is the best solution to the problem. Just sit tight and see what happens.

At the store, he pulled an unsealed envelope from his back pocket, removed the typed letter inside, and reread it for the fourth time. “Dear Rick: Since we’re almost three weeks away from decision time, I thought it would be appropriate for us to get together. As we discussed in the limo, I have what you requested, and you have what I want. Please pick an appropriate time and place as soon as possible.”

Stuffing the letter back into the envelope, Ben placed the envelope inside his empty P.O. box. He wondered if Rick would believe that he was interested in the money. After locking the box, Ben walked to the front of the store. Maybe we should stake out this place, he thought. Rick will have to come here to pick up the letter—unless he sends a messenger to get it. Deep in thought, Ben pushed open the door and accidentally bumped into an incoming customer.

“I’m sorry,” the customer said. “My fault.”

Ben recognized the voice with shock and looked up. It was Rick.

“Don’t look so surprised,” Rick said. “It makes you look like a little kid.” As Rick stepped into the store, Ben turned around and walked in behind him.

“You followed me here, didn’t you?” Ben asked.

Ignoring the question, Rick pulled out his own key and opened the P.O. box. He removed Ben’s letter, opened it, and read its contents. “I agree,” he eventually said. “Now where would you like to meet?”

“I asked you a question. Did you follow me here?”

“Why so upset?” Rick asked with a thin smirk.

“Because you piss me off. And don’t think I’ve forgotten about Thanksgiving. I know that was you with my dad. If you ever go near my family—”

“Can you please stop with the threats?” Rick asked, waving Ben off. “You’re worse than the guys in my office.” Looking past Rick’s shoulder, Ben couldn’t help noticing the other customers filling up the store. Following Ben’s glance, Rick turned around. “Makes you want to scream, doesn’t it? You finally have me in broad daylight and there’s not a single camera in sight. If you were really bright, you would’ve had one of your friends follow you here.”

“Maybe I did,” Ben said.

“Not even in your dreams,” Rick said, amused. “Face facts—until you’re able to I.D. me, you need me. Now, as far as where we’re meeting, I’d like to do it in the airport. At five o’clock next Saturday, go to Washington National. Pick up the white courtesy phone, and there’ll be a message waiting for you. Follow those instructions, and I’ll see you soon after that.”

“I don’t want to meet in the airport,” Ben said, hoping to stall. “It’s too crowded. Let’s pick someplace else.”

“It’s the airport, or it’s not happening,” Rick shot back. “And if I were in your position, I’d stop screwing around. After that lie detector test, you’re going to need a new job anyway.” Rick slid the letter into the inside pocket of his camel-colored coat, turned around, and headed to the door. “See you next week.”

Following Rick outside, Ben frantically looked around the parking lot, hoping to at least get a look at Rick’s license plates. “Damn,” he whispered to himself when he saw Rick hail a passing taxi. Ben attempted to hail another cab, furiously waving his hands in the air. “TAXI!” he yelled. Watching Rick’s taxi fade down the block, Ben struggled to keep it in sight. When it eventually made a left-hand turn, he knew Rick was gone.

Ben walked down his block, cursing himself for not anticipating Rick’s actions. Wondering what he should do at this point, he realized that he now had only a week to come up with a plan. As Ben turned onto the front path to his house, he tried to predict where in a busy airport Rick would most likely want to meet. Maybe someplace private, like one of those executive lounges. When he opened the front door, Ben saw no one in the living room or the kitchen. He took off his coat, put it in the closet, and headed upstairs. By the time he reached the second floor, Ben heard the sound of running water coming from the upstairs bathroom. Unconcerned with who else was home, he was deep in thought about how Rick knew about the lie detector test. Ben’s thoughts were interrupted when he opened the door to his room and saw Eric rummaging through his top desk drawer.

“What the hell are you doing?”

“Jesus!” Eric said. “You scared the crap out of me.”

“How about answering my question? Why the hell were you going through my drawers?”

“I was looking for a stapler,” Eric said. “I wanted to put up some flyers in the coffee shops up the street. I do have to find some new housing. Now, do you want to see my flyers, too?”

Ben pulled open a desk drawer, pulled out a stapler, and handed it to Eric.

Eric took the stapler and started for the door. “Thanks for all your help.”

Rick glanced at his watch as he strolled through the lobby of the Washington Hilton. Stepping into the elevator, he readjusted his tie and rested his hands in the pockets of his brown tweed suit. When he reached the tenth floor, he was exactly fifteen minutes late. As he wandered through the corridors, he caught sight of his visitor, waiting outside room 1027.

“You’re late.”

“I’m sorry. I just wanted to make sure none of your friends were lying in wait for me,” Rick explained as he opened the door to the room. “I’m a very popular guy, you know.” Walking inside, he waited for his visitor to follow. When they were both in the room, Rick closed the door. “Stand right there.”

“Wha’?”

“It’s just a precaution,” Rick said as he pulled a thin, black metal detector from his briefcase. Waving the detector across his colleague’s body, he said, “I’m sure you understand.” When he was satisfied that there were no recording devices present, Rick headed to the living room of the suite, where he took a seat on one of the room’s two identical couches and motioned for his guest to be seated as well. Rick got right to the point. “I don’t mean to be short, but do you have the decision?”

“I have it. Do you have the money?”

“Most of it,” Rick said.

“What do you mean, most of it? How much is most?”

“So far, exactly one million is in the account. Naturally, you can call to verify.”

“And what about the other five hundred thousand?”

“I’ll deposit that after our next meeting—as long as you keep me informed about Ben.”

“That wasn’t part of the deal.”

“Yes, it was,” Rick said matter-of-factly. “When I first approached you, I said that part of the deal was for you to keep Ben at bay. The best way for you to do that is to keep me informed of his whereabouts. Simply stated, when I tell him I don’t need his help, he’s going to be livid. And he’ll make every attempt to figure out how I got the decision without him.”

“So you want me to rat on him for another month?”

“Believe me, it’s no worse than what you’ve done so far.”

“Thanks, I appreciate the moral advice.”

“Do we have a deal?” Rick asked.

“Not yet. First, I want the money within the next two weeks. I’ll tell you what Ben’s up to, but this isn’t going to be an ongoing job. Once the decision is announced, you’re on your own.”

Rick crossed his legs and leaned back on the sofa. “That’s fair.”

“Second, I want you to know that I am not simply the least expensive option. If you went with Ben, you’d not only spend more money to get the decision—you’d also have to worry about his resourcefulness during every meeting. The only reason he continued to deal with you was so he could I.D. you. And it was only a matter of time before he succeeded.”

“Believe me, Ben was never close to succeeding.”

“I doubt that. I saw your mouth drop when I explained about his yearbook plan.”

“Believe what you want,” Rick said. “But you should know that the only reason I went with you is because Ben was becoming too unstable. When it came right down to it, I didn’t think he would hand over the decision.”

“You may be right,” Rick’s visitor said, pulling the Grinnell decision from a paper bag. “Fortunately for you . . .”

When the thirty-page document hit the glass coffee table, Rick leaned forward and picked up the pile. He flipped through it. “Unbelievable. The Court actually found that the regulation was a taking. I didn’t think Justice Veidt had it in him.” Reaching the last page, he added, “It’s too bad Grinnell doesn’t know he’s sitting on a gold mine. If he did, he wouldn’t be as excited about taking on new partners.”

“That’s great. Now, when would you like to get together next?”

As he put the document in his own briefcase, Rick said, “I’ll be in touch.” Rising from the sofa, he walked to the door and opened it. When they were both in the hallway, Rick said, “If you don’t mind, I’m going to take the elevator on the other side of the building.”

“Whatever makes you happy.”

As he headed down the hallway, Rick turned around. “By the way, congratulations. You’re now a millionaire.”


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