The Tenth Justice: Chapter 14


At ten A.M. Wednesday, Ben stretched out on the deep red office sofa. With his eyes closed, he stroked his favorite polka-dot tie. “How do you feel?” Lisa whispered.

“I’m okay,” Ben said, sitting up and taking a long, deep breath. He looked at his watch. “I guess it’s time.”

“Just stay calm. Think of long walks in the woods, scuba diving—anything that keeps you relaxed.”

“I’m focused,” Ben said, standing up. “I’m a picture of calm. I’m intensely Zen.”

“Good luck,” Lisa said as Ben walked out the door.

Thinking it would be the least traveled route, Ben took the spiral marble staircase to the basement. Slowly, he descended into the heart of the building, counting each step to take his mind off his destination. When he reached the basement, he walked to the Marshals Office and told the receptionist that he had an appointment with Carl Lungen.

“You can go right in. He’s expecting you.”

When Ben entered Lungen’s office, he was hit by the stench of cigars. “Nice to see you, Ben,” Lungen said, leaning back in his leather chair. “Have a seat.”

“I thought this was a smoke-free building,” Ben said, refusing to look Lungen in the eye. “It is a historic monument, you know.”

“Well, you know how it is,” Lungen said, rubbing his beard. He pointed to the chair in front of his desk. “Sit.”

“No offense, but can we get on with this?” Ben asked. “I have work to do. Besides, cigar smoke gets my blood pressure worked up.”

Lungen got up from his seat and headed for the door. Following him out of the office, Ben was led back to the receptionist’s desk. “I’ll be in the interrogation room if anyone needs me,” Lungen announced. He then led Ben back to the main area of the basement. Walking toward a door marked STORAGE, Lungen pulled a wad of keys from his pocket and opened the door.

The large, windowless, musty room measured about fifty feet in both length and width. The walls were lined with surplus desks, chairs, file cabinets, and other office equipment. Fluorescent bulbs illuminated the dust-filled air. “So I guess this is a storage area for most of the year, and an interrogation room when you need to scare people,” Ben said.

“That’s it,” Lungen said. “You’ve got us all figured out.”

In the center of the room were a wooden desk and three wooden chairs. On the desk was the lie detector machine, which reminded Ben of his office’s laser printer, except with more wires. Dennis Fisk was untangling the large cluster of wires and didn’t look up until they approached the equipment.

“Are we ready yet?” Lungen asked.

“Almost there,” Fisk said. He glanced at Ben with a smirk. “Take a seat, buddy.”

Ben sat down, crossed his legs, and said nothing.

“So tell us what’s been happening with your life,” Lungen said. “How’s your friend Eric?”

“I have no idea,” Ben said. “I haven’t spoken to him in weeks.”

“That’s too bad,” Lungen said, sitting in one of the two chairs behind the desk. Lungen leaned forward, so that his elbows rested on his knees. “But you still live together, don’t you?”

“Not for long,” Ben answered. “He’s moving out the first of the year.”

“I guess he’s moving to a bigger place now that he’s a hot shot at the paper. I saw that he’s covering all Supreme Court stories.”

“He’s moving out because I’m making him move out,” Ben said, struggling to remain composed.

“I know what you mean,” Fisk said, still fidgeting with the wires. “If I were you, I’d definitely be mad that my roommate wrote about my involvement with the whole CMI thing.”

“Listen, you better control your sidekick,” Ben said to Lungen. “If he wants to make an accusation like that, he’d better have proof. Otherwise, I’d be thrilled to slap your office with workplace harassment and defamation suits.”

“Fisk didn’t mean anything,” Lungen said defensively. “We’re all just a little anxious.”

“Well, I told you before and I’ll tell you again, I was as surprised about the CMI fiasco as you were.”

“But you do still admit that you leaked information to Eric about Blake’s resignation?” Lungen asked.

“I definitely did,” Ben said, his voice even-tempered and steady. “And as far as I know, there’s nothing illegal about that. I was just trying to help my friend.”

“So now Eric’s your friend again?” Fisk interrupted.

“No, not at all. The Blake incident took place before Eric wrote the CMI story. In case you’re having trouble with temporal relationships, that means it happened before I was mad at him.” Smiling, Ben watched as Fisk’s jaw shifted slightly off-center. “Now, I know you’re supposed to intimidate me with an hour of questions, but can we get on with this?”

“Hook him up,” Lungen told Fisk.

Fisk rolled up Ben’s sleeve and wrapped a Velcro pad around his arm.

“I thought you needed an expert to administer the test,” Ben said.

“I’m trained to do it,” Fisk shot back.

“Oh, then I know I’m in good hands,” Ben said sarcastically. “Your middle name is Impartial. Dennis Impartia—”

“Shut up.”

When the rest of the instruments were attached, Fisk sat in the empty seat on the other side of the desk. “I want you to take ten deep breaths,” Fisk instructed. “On the tenth, just remain as calm as possible. Then we’ll take your baseline reading.”

Following Fisk’s instructions, Ben took ten deep breaths. When he saw Lungen pull a sheet of notes from his jacket pocket, Ben tried to remain tranquil; closing his eyes, he ignored the image and thought about hang-gliding in the South of France.

When he heard the machine whir with electronic buzzes and beeps, Ben opened his eyes and looked straight ahead. Out of the corners of his eyes, he saw Lungen writing on the sheet of paper.

Fisk opened one of the drawers in the desk and pulled out a deck of playing cards. “Look over here,” he said to Ben.

So predictable, Ben thought, struggling to remain in control.

“Here’s the thing,” Fisk explained. “I’m going to hold up a card and you’re going to tell me what the card is. If you tell the truth, you’ll see the little pencil on the machine stay still. If you lie, the pencil will scribble a bit wider.”

“Are you sure you’re trained to tell the difference?” Ben asked.

“That’s funny, smart-ass. We’ll see who’s laughing in an hour.”

“Calm down,” Rick said, cradling the telephone between his shoulder and chin.

“I’m serious—I want my money.”

“I told you, you’ll get the rest as soon as I’m sure Ben is out of my hair.”

“How much more out of your hair do you want him? I told you everything he knows, everything he’s doing, everything he’s thinking—”

“And when I complete my transaction, you’ll have your money.”

“I can’t believe how scared you are of Ben. For such a know-it-all, you can be a real coward.”

“It has nothing to do with fear,” Rick said, switching the telephone to his other ear. “It has to do with being realistic. Ben’s too resourceful to be left unchecked.”

“Listen, you can call it anything you want. But take it from me—just because you complete your transaction doesn’t mean Ben is going to give up the trail. If he has to, he’ll be after your ass forever. He’s stubborn like that.”

“You’re definitely right about that,” Rick agreed. “But if Ben can’t find me in Washington, what makes you think he’ll be able to find me when the search goes global?”

In her office, Lisa stared at the government-issue, oversized wall clock above the sofa, wondering what was taking so long. She’d already had two cups of coffee and was now on her first cup of tea. The phone rang. Lunging at the receiver, she picked it up before the first ring finished. “This is Lisa,” she said. Listening for a moment, she continued, “No, of course I remember. I’ll have it to you as soon as possible.” Looking back at the clock, she continued, “Ben should be back any second. I’ll make sure he—”

The office door flew open and Ben stepped in. He looked haggard, his face even whiter than his usual winter pale. Staring at the floor, he walked right past Lisa and collapsed on the sofa.

“He just walked in. I’ll speak to you soon,” Lisa said. Hanging up the phone, she raced from her seat. “So what happened?”

“I failed,” he said.

“You failed? Are you kidding me?”

“I absolutely am!” he said, jumping from the sofa. He raised his hands in the air. “I passed with flying colors!”

“That’s fantastic!” Lisa screamed, hugging him as they both jumped up and down.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Ben said, breaking their embrace. “I think I’m getting excited. My penis is expanding.”

Laughing, Lisa pulled away. “So tell me what happened. What’d they say? Were they mad?”

“They were so pissed. Fisk was biting his nails so much, I thought he was going to gnaw all the way to his knuckle.”

“How’d you pass? What’d you say?”

“They made me look at all these playing cards,” Ben explained. “And if the card was an ace of spades, and I said it was an ace, the machine just scrolled forward. But then when I lied and said it was a king, nothing different happened. Both Lungen and Fisk were beyond irate. They couldn’t believe it. So they unhooked me and started all over. They asked me about ten minutes of questions without the machine on, and then they hooked me up again. And this time, when they got to the cards part, the machine went nuts when I lied. I think it was because I was so excited about beating the machine the first time around.”

“You must’ve been dying.” Lisa sat on the sofa.

“I was,” Ben said, unable to stand still. “I thought I was going to wet my pants. When Fisk was putting away the cards, I closed my eyes and just thought about G-rated movies. I don’t know how it happened, but I started regaining the calm I had when I walked in there.”

“Do you think it was the pills?”

“It could’ve been,” Ben said. “To be honest, that’s what I was thinking about when I closed my eyes—I just imagined that the pills were working, and I started thinking about the day of my brother’s funeral. With those two thoughts in my head, my body basically shut down.”

“That sounds terrible.”

“It was no thrill,” Ben said. “But it did completely calm me. Whenever I need to bring anything in perspective, all I have to do is think about death. Everything else pales in comparison.”

“Whatever works,” Lisa said, leaning on the arm of the sofa. “So what did the marshals ask you?”

“I have to admit, Nathan was right on the money. They asked me if I was over twenty-one years of age, and I had to answer no. When the machine didn’t do anything out of the ordinary, I knew I was home free.”

“Did the marshals say anything?”

“To be honest, I did everything in my power to avoid looking at them. I was worried that if I saw their disappointment, I’d get excited and fail the last part.”

“So then what’d they ask?”

“After my age, they asked me if I smoked. When I said no, the machine didn’t do anything. Then they asked if I had ever done anything I was ashamed of. That’s when I thought about having sex with you. The machine was so silent, I thought they had shut it off.”

“That’s very funny.”

“Then, finally, they asked me whether I knew about the information that was leaked to Eric or whether I knew anything about Eric’s story—to be honest, I’m not exactly sure what they asked. Whatever it was, I tried to zone out of it. Then, when I heard silence, I just answered no. After the third question, when the machine didn’t go crazy, I turned toward the marshals. At that point, I could actually feel the rage seething from Fisk’s little pea-brained head. I asked them if I checked out okay, and Lungen said I was all finished. He thanked me for my time and apologized for the inconvenience.”

“Do you think they knew you were lying?”

“Hold on a second,” Ben said opening the door to their office. “Maybe you can say that a little louder. I don’t think everyone in Maryland was able to hear you.”

“You know what I mean.”

Ben let the door close. “Let’s put it this way: I don’t think for a second that they think I’m completely innocent. But until they find some proof, they really can’t do anything.” Walking to his desk, Ben said, “By the way, who were you talking to when I walked in?”

“Huh?” Lisa asked.

“When I came in, you were on the phone with someone. You said, ‘He just walked in,’ and then you hung up the phone. Who were you talking to?”

“Oh, that was Nancy calling from Hollis’s office. Hollis sent his final version of Grinnell and he wants both of us to do one more read on it. He needs our final copy by Friday. He wants to submit it to the Clerk’s Office by the end of the week so they can announce it this Monday.”

“And that’s all she said?”

“That was it.” Lisa noticed the skeptical expression on Ben’s face. “Don’t give me that bullshit.”

“What bullshit?”

“I know what you’re thinking,” Lisa said, rising from the sofa. “Sorry to disappoint you, but I wasn’t speaking to Rick.”

“Who said you were speaking to Rick?”

“Believe me, I know your suspicious look. I don’t care how well you did with the marshals downstairs, I can always tell when you’re lying.”

“Well, you don’t have to worry. I’m not suspicious. If you say it was Nancy, it was Nancy.”

“Well, it was Nancy.”

“Then I believe you,” Ben said.

“It really was!”

“I said I believe you.”

“Ben, I—”

“Listen, if I really thought you were lying, I’d pretend to go to the bathroom and then I’d go up to Nancy to ask her if she called you. I trust you, Lisa. If you say it was her, it was her.”

By late Friday afternoon, Ben had been staring at his computer screen for three consecutive hours. “I can’t believe he hasn’t made a move yet,” he said, rubbing his now bloodshot eyes. “The only way to make money is to buy the property.”

For the eighth time since Wednesday, Lisa reread the final draft of Grinnell. “Maybe Rick never got the Grinnell decision. Maybe he got a different decision.”

“No way,” Ben said. “He definitely got Grinnell. I can feel it.”

“Oh, you can?” Lisa asked, her eyes still glued to the page. “And assuming your supernatural powers are correct, what makes you so sure that Rick’s seller will even report the sale? He may just hand over the deed and run.”

“The seller may do that, but Rick won’t. It’s in Rick’s best interest to report the sale. Otherwise, the seller might be able to reneg on the deal. By reporting the property, Rick will guarantee the transaction, and he’s too smart not to do that.”

Intrigued by the logic of Ben’s hypothesis, Lisa put down the decision and turned toward her own computer, which was also logged on to Lexis’s Public Records database. As the two clerks sat mesmerized in front of the property records, their silence was interrupted by the ringing of Ben’s phone.

“Hello. Justice Hollis’s chambers,” Ben answered.

“Hey, is this Ben Addison? The same Ben Addison that worked at Wayne and Portnoy two summers ago?”

Rolling his eyes, Ben recognized the voice of Adrian Alcott. He forced a congenial tone. “How’re you doing, Adrian? Great to hear your voice.”

“Yours too,” Alcott said. “We haven’t spoken in a while. How’s everything at the Court?”

“Busy, busy, busy,” Ben said, annoyed that his attention was taken from his computer screen.

“So I hear,” Alcott said. “I’ve heard it gets really crazy there as the year comes to a close.”

“Absolutely. They try to get out as many decisions as possible so everyone can enjoy their holidays.”

“Don’t I know it,” Alcott said. “Even here, we try to—”

“Ben, you better take a look at this!” Lisa yelled, pointing to her screen.

Ignoring Alcott’s ramblings, Ben turned back to his screen, where he struggled to find the source of Lisa’s outburst.

“So have you decided on your career plans for next year yet?” Alcott asked. When he didn’t get an answer, he added, “Ben, are you there?”

“Yeah, yeah. I’m here,” Ben said, scrolling through the list of more than a hundred identifiable owners. “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear that last part.”

“I just wanted to know if you had decided on your career plans for next year,” Alcott repeated.

“Not yet. I’ve been too busy to think about next week, much less next year.”

“Go to the top of the list!” Lisa called out.

“I totally understand,” Alcott said. “As long as you’re keeping us in mind, that’s all I ask.”

As he scrolled to the top of the alphabetical list, Ben searched for the most recent addition to the register of Grinnell property owners. When he finally saw the newest entry, his heart dropped. He didn’t want to believe his eyes, but there it was at the top of his screen: Addison & Co. “Listen, Adrian, I have to go.”

“Is everything okay?” Alcott asked. Before Alcott finished the question, Ben was gone.

“I don’t believe this,” Ben said, his hands pulling at his hair. “I can’t believe this is happening. I’m completely screwed.”

“Don’t say that,” Lisa said, walking over to calm her co-clerk. “It’s not—”

“Lisa, when this decision comes down on Monday, a company with my last name attached to it is going to make millions because of a decision I worked on. You don’t think that’s something to worry about?”

“Ben, there’s no way to link that company to you. You didn’t create it; you have nothing to do with it. Besides, who else besides us is actually watching the Public Records database for current changes in Grinnell ownership?”

Ben’s phone rang. Frozen, he looked at Lisa. Again, the ring cut through the room.

“Are you going to answer it?” Lisa asked.

Again, the phone rang.

“It’s the Marshals Office,” Ben said. “They know.” He raced toward the closet and grabbed his coat.

“Where are you going?” Lisa asked.

“I have to get out of here,” Ben explained, picking up his briefcase and heading for the door. “Switch I.D.s with me.”

“What?”

“I said, switch I.D.s,” Ben demanded, throwing Lisa his Court I.D. “Hurry!”

Lisa ran back to her desk, pulled her I.D. from her desk drawer, and threw it to him. As soon as he caught it, he was gone.

“Call me when you get home,” Lisa yelled as the phone continued to ring.

Running full speed down the main staircase, Ben was in a deep sweat. When he reached the main floor, his pace slowed and he tried his best to maintain a casual walk. Avoiding the main exit, he stayed in the north wing of the Court and headed for the only unmanned door in the building. As he approached the exit, he thought he heard someone behind him. He turned around and saw no one, but he picked up his pace. His heart racing, Ben reached the I.D. machine that would grant him access to the locked exit. He pulled out Lisa’s card, held his breath, and swiped it through the machine. Nothing. With shaking hands, he ran it through again. Finally, a click of recognition. He pressed forward and pushed open the side door of the building. Once outside, he let out his breath and dropped his briefcase on the ground, relieved to feel the bitter wind on his face. Bent over, with his hands on his knees, Ben took a minute and struggled to compose himself. Running his fingers through his hair, he closed his eyes and tried to think. He picked up a handful of snow from the ground, rubbed it across his forehead, and put the rest in his mouth. Walking a few blocks up Maryland Avenue, Ben stopped at a pay phone and dialed Lisa’s office number.

“Hello, Justice Hol—”

“Lisa, it’s me.”

“What the hell happened to you?”

“I’m sorry. I just had to get out of there. I felt sick to my stomach.”

“What the hell did you need my I.D. for?”

“I thought the marshals were going to put a lock on mine so I couldn’t leave the building. That’s how they got me last time.”

“So now I’m stuck here?”

“No,” Ben said, checking over his shoulder. “You can still use mine. If the marshals lock you in, it means they know about Grinnell. If not, I’ll know they’re clueless.”

“But that doesn’t answer my question. If they lock me in, how am I supposed to get out of here?”

“Just walk to the main exit and tell them you can’t find your I.D. They’ll look you up manually and you’ll get out. Meanwhile, have you figured out who Rick bought the property from?”

“I went through the list we printed out last week and there was only one name missing. Addison and Company replaced a company called the Micron Group.”

“And the Micron Group is?”

“I ran a Lexis search on them and it came up blank. All I could find was that they were a limited partnership chartered in Delaware about five years ago. The original incorporation papers were registered to a Murray Feinman, but when I looked up Feinman, the only story on him was his obituary. He died late last year at the age of eighty-four. Micron was probably created solely to make predeath investments, and I have no idea who runs it now.”

“And you couldn’t find anything else?”

“What the hell else do you want? I mean, all I have to work with is Lexis, which means I’m limited to periodicals and public records. I was impressed I found as much as I did.”

“I’m sorry. I’m just freaking out,” Ben explained as a small crowd of guided tourists walked past him. He waited until the last of the group was gone before he said another word. “Do you think we can find Rick by looking at Addison and Company?”

“I don’t know. I looked up the name, and it’s not incorporated anywhere. My bet is he’s either incorporated in another country or Addison and Company is a subsidiary of a company that we don’t know the name of. Obviously, Rick used the Addison part just to piss you off.”

“I think it was more than that. Shining a light on me means that no one will be looking for him.”

“That may be true. So what are you going to do now?”

“I’m going to wait here until you get off work. That way I’ll know if the marshals are after me.”

“You’re going to wait there for two hours?”

“Screw two hours. Just leave now. Hollis doesn’t care. The Grinnell decision is fine—send it to Nancy. Besides that, we have nothing else to do.”

“So I guess we don’t have about fifty cert petitions to go through?”

“C’mon, Lisa, it’s Friday. Just leave.”

“Fine, fine,” she said. “Tell me where you are.”

“I’m at the pay phone on the corner of Maryland and D.”

“You got it. I’ll see you in ten minutes.”

When Lisa arrived on the corner, she was concerned when she couldn’t find Ben. Looking around, she saw a few dozen people fighting their way through the recently shoveled sidewalks, none of them resembling him. Spotting the pay phone on the corner, she approached it and was surprised to see a sheet of paper sandwiched between the receiver and its cradle. She picked up the phone and removed the paper, which contained a note written in Ben’s handwriting: “Hail the black and beige taxi across the street.”

Lisa crumpled up the paper and looked over her shoulder, wondering if she was being followed. Crossing the street, she saw the black and beige taxi. “Taxi!” she yelled. When the driver nodded back, she opened the back door and got inside. Before she could say a word, the car headed down Maryland Avenue. “Excuse me, but do you know where we’re going?” Lisa asked.

“So was there a problem?” Ben asked as he popped his head up from the front passenger seat.

Lisa jumped back in her seat. “Holy crap, you scared the hell out of me!” she yelled. “Why the hell were you hiding on the floor?”

“I didn’t know if someone was going to follow you or if you were going to come out alone.”

“Well, you don’t have to worry. Your I.D. worked with no problem. I think the marshals are lost.”

“Or maybe they knew I was already gone.”

“Ben, you have to calm down. No one but us knew to watch that database. The marshals don’t know dick. You said it yourself: They’re morons.”

“Whatever.” Ben’s eyes were focused on the back window behind Lisa.

Lisa turned around. “Stop it already. No one is following us.”

“I just can’t believe this is happening,” Ben said, shaking his head. “My life is ruined.”

“Let’s not talk about it now,” Lisa said, motioning with her chin toward the taxi driver. “We can discuss it when we get home.”

Fifteen minutes later, they arrived at Ben’s house. “See, you’re home free,” Lisa said as Ben put his key in the door. “If the marshals really wanted you, they would’ve jumped us as soon as we got out of the taxi.”

When Ben opened the door, he was surprised to see Ober watching TV in the living-room. “Hey, why are you home so early?” Ober asked. “Oh, now I see,” he added when he saw Lisa follow Ben inside. “What’s new with you, missy?”

“Nothing really,” Lisa said, taking off her coat. “You?”

“Not much,” Ober said.

“What are you doing here, anyway?” Ben asked his roommate. “Aren’t you supposed to be working?”

“I am,” Ober said, shutting off the TV. “I’m just taking a long lunch.”

“It’s almost three-thirty,” Ben said.

“It is?” Ober said, turning the television back on. “Then I have at least another half hour before I have to show my face.”

“Do you realize that our tax dollars are paying for you to sit around?” Lisa asked as she took a seat on the couch. “Go back to work.”

“Hey, my tax dollars are paying your salary, too,” Ober said. “Aren’t they?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Ben said, collapsing next to Ober on the couch.

“What happened?” Ober asked, still staring at the TV.

After explaining the entire story, Ben said, “And once the decision comes down on Monday, Grinnell and Associates is going to make millions and every finger is going to point to me.”

“And they should,” Ober said. “You are the president of Addison and Company.”

“This is not the time for jokes,” Ben said.

“Then can I ask you a favor?” Ober said. “If Monday is going to be your last day at the Court, can I come along to watch the decision being announced?”

“Do you really want to come?” Ben asked.

“Absolutely,” Ober said. “If you’re not going to be there anymore, I figure this’s the last time I’ll be able to get backstage.”

“There’s no stage,” Lisa said. “The justices sit behind a bench.”

“Then backbench,” Ober corrected himself. “So will you take me?”

“Sure,” Ben said, shrugging his shoulders. “Why not?” He turned toward Lisa and added, “By the way, I guess the Addison and Company purchase answers your question about whether Rick was going to take part in Grinnell.”

“I just don’t understand it,” Lisa said. “How could Nathan do that to you?”

“You have no proof it was him,” Ober interrupted, suddenly angry.

“Oh, yeah?” Lisa asked. “Then how come we never saw that briefcase mike?”

“Don’t ask me,” Ober said. “But if you want to talk about Nathan, do it elsewhere. I don’t want to hear that crap anymore.”

“That must make you Hear No Evil,” Lisa said. “Now if we only could’ve gotten Nathan and Eric to play Speak No Evil and Print No Evil.”

“Listen you bony little bitch, you can—”

“Both of you, stop it!” Ben interrupted. “I don’t have time to play mediator now. Save it for later.”

“How can you let her get away with that?” Ober asked. “These people are still your friends.”

“Me?” Lisa asked, pointing to herself. “What about you?”

“Listen, I don’t care if it’s Nathan,” Ben said. “I don’t care if it’s either of you. In fact, I don’t even care if it’s my own damn mother at this point. The bottom line is that come Monday, it’s all over.”

Ober pulled his jacket from the couch. “Ben, I’ll talk to you about it later, when she’s gone. I really have to get back to work.”

“Good riddance,” Lisa shouted as Ober slammed the door. “Listen, I really should get going, too. We’ll talk about this later?”

“Sure,” Ben said. “Just abandon me now. It’s okay.”

“C’mon, Ben, don’t give me guilt. You know that we have to get those cert petitions done. At least this way, one of us will be working on them.”

“No, you’re right,” Ben said. “It’ll be good for me to have some time alone. That way I don’t have to share my burden with anyone else.”

“Don’t say that,” Lisa said. “You know I care about—”

“I’m just joking,” Ben interrupted. “Go ahead. We’ll talk about it later.”

Avoiding the main lobby of the Washington Hilton, Rick slid his coded key into the computerized lock and walked into the side entrance that adjoined the parking lot. As he headed straight for the elevators, his pace was brisk and confident. Getting off on the tenth floor, he made a sharp right turn toward room 1014. Sliding his key into the lock, he turned the knob and stepped inside.

“Where the hell have you been? You’re a half hour late.”

“Where I’ve been is none of your business,” Rick said, a faint smile lighting his features.

“So you made a lot of money. Big deal.”

“It was definitely a big deal,” Rick said. He sat back on one of the canary-yellow couches and kicked his feet up onto the coffee table. It was a plush suite: three rooms, oil paintings on the walls, deep cream carpet, and a full bar. “Did you know that President Reagan was shot at this hotel?”

“I didn’t know that. But I’m sure the information will someday come in handy.”

“It’s true,” Rick said. “Locals still call it the Hinkley Hilton.”

“That’s great. I’m thrilled.”

“What’re you so pissed about?” Rick asked.

“Listen, I don’t have time for this. I have to get back to work. Is the money transferred or not?”

“The last five hundred thousand will be there at the end of business today,” Rick said. He reached into his jacket pocket, pulled out a small sheet of paper, and slapped it on the coffee table. “Here’s the account number. I hope you enjoy your winnings.”

“I definitely will.”

“And to think,” Rick said, “all of this happened because you don’t like your roommate.”

“You have it all wrong. Just because I took a decision from Ben’s briefcase doesn’t mean I don’t like him. I just saw a golden opportunity that I couldn’t walk away from.”

“Sure, sure. And you’re a great friend otherwise. That’s the real reason you told me about the lie detector and the yearbooks and the—”

“I meant to ask you: How come Ben couldn’t find you in the yearbooks? I thought that was a foolproof plan on his part.”

“Then you’re as big a fool as he is,” Rick said. “The flaw with the yearbook plan is that it assumes I went to a top law school. Being the intellectual snobs you are, you can’t fathom the possibility that smart people exist at non–Ivy League schools as well.”

“You’re definitely right. You fooled me.” Slapping himself on the knee, he rose from the couch. “Oh, well, you win some and you lose some.”

“Well, I guess you won this time.”

“That’s for sure.”

“It’s been a pleasure doing business with you,” Rick said, extending his hand.

“You, too,” Eric said as he walked into the hallway. “Maybe I’ll see you on the beach.”


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