The Tenth Justice: Chapter 19


Holding a bag of ice to his eye, Nathan waited inside a small room that connected to DeRosa’s office. For two hours, Nathan hadn’t moved, sitting in the same hard chair and leaning on the same small conference table. Throughout the ride to DeRosa’s office, the marshals wouldn’t say a word to him. When Nathan asked questions, they wouldn’t respond. When he threatened them, they weren’t fazed. All they would tell him was that Ben and Lisa were safe.

Finally the door to DeRosa’s office opened. Taking his bag of ice with him, Nathan walked inside. Ben sat in one of two chairs that faced DeRosa. A sling held Ben’s left arm in place. Nathan pulled the bag of ice from his eye and scowled at his roommate. “This’s why I’ve been locked up for two hours?” Nathan asked. “So you could interrogate Prince Charming over here?”

“Take a seat,” DeRosa said, pointing to the chair next to Ben.

“I’d rather stand,” Nathan replied shortly.

“Whatever you want,” DeRosa said.

“How are you doing?” Ben asked.

“How am I doing?” Nathan asked sarcastically. “Let’s see, my eye is a melon, my head is ringing, and no one’s told me a damn thing. Other than that, I’m superb.”

“What was the last thing you saw at the hotel?” DeRosa asked.

“The last thing I saw was a dozen marshals busting into the room. They confiscated all of Rick’s equipment, shouted about tracing Rick’s cellular phone, and then they unlocked me—obviously their lowest priority. Then you come over, introduce yourself, and disappear. A medic checks me out and gives me some ice and some aspirin, and the next thing I know, two of your Secret Service wannabes drive me here and lock me in that little room.”

“I’m sorry I had to leave,” DeRosa explained, scribbling notes as he spoke. “Now what happened before that?”

Before Nathan could respond, the door to DeRosa’s office opened and Claremont walked into the room. Carrying a cup of coffee, he sat in an empty chair near the window. Staring at his former captor, Nathan was enraged. “Who’s he, and what the hell is he doing here?” Nathan asked.

“That’s Michael Burke,” DeRosa said, pointing to Claremont. “He’s a U.S. marshal.”

“You’re a cop?” Nathan asked.

“I’m a marshal,” Burke said.

“You’re a marshal, but you let Rick beat the shit out of us?”

“Sorry about that,” Burke said. “We wanted to wait until Rick bought the stock before we did anything.”

“Then where were you after he bought the stock?” Nathan asked, his voice growing louder.

“Don’t blame me for that,” Burke said. “That was your fault. We were ready to storm in, but Lisa bolted out the door.”

“Oh, and that’s my fault?” Nathan laughed. He walked to the empty chair next to Ben and sat down. “How the hell were we supposed to know you guys were out there?”

“Ben and Lisa knew,” Burke said.

“You knew?” Nathan turned to Ben.

“I swear I didn’t know,” Ben insisted. “I thought they gave up on me.”

“Hold on a second,” Nathan said. “I thought I was about to die a few hours ago! Now what the hell is going on?”

“Here’s what—” Ben began.

“I want the full story,” Nathan demanded. “From the beginning.”

“Drop that tone and shut up,” DeRosa ordered. Nathan put his ice back on his eye. Ben then took a deep breath and explained how he’d initially approached DeRosa and how he’d thought he’d been abandoned by the Marshals Office.

“Are you telling me they could’ve grabbed Rick weeks ago?” Nathan asked in disbelief. He looked back at DeRosa. “Why did you wait until now?”

“We wanted to get everyone Rick was involved with,” DeRosa explained. “From his broker to everyone else on his payroll.”

“And we wanted to catch Carl Lungen,” Burke added.

Nathan stared coldly at Burke. He then turned back to Ben. “Did you know he was a marshal?”

“Not at all,” Ben explained. “That’s why I smashed him in the face. I didn’t know he was on our side until he saved Lisa.”

“What about Ober getting fired?” Nathan asked. “Did anyone know—”

“We didn’t know Rick was going to get Ober fired,” DeRosa said.

“And if it makes you feel any better,” Burke added, “I didn’t know Rick was going to kidnap you. He decided that at the last minute when he thought Ben was turning himself in. Remember, we were counting on Ben handing over the decision early yesterday morning.”

“The kidnapping thing really messed us up,” DeRosa said. “We didn’t think—”

“No, you didn’t think,” Nathan interrupted. “The moment Rick grabbed us, you should’ve blown the whistle. Instead I got my face kicked in for no reason.”

“There was nothing I could do,” Burke said.

“That’s bullshit,” Nathan said. “You could’ve revealed who you were. That would’ve forced everyone to rush in the room and save us all.”

“I couldn’t do that,” Burke said. “It would’ve jeopardized all of our lives. I didn’t know where the backup was hiding. I just knew they would be there if things got out of control.”

“You don’t call this out of control?” Nathan yelled, pointing to his black eye. “And what about when Rick put a gun in Lisa’s mouth? That wasn’t out of control enough for you?”

Ben put his hand on Nathan’s shoulder. “Nathan, calm down,” he said. “If everyone came charging in at that moment Rick would’ve blown Lisa’s head off. As it is, we should consider ourselves lucky nothing else happened.”

Nathan pulled away from Ben and stood up. “What else could possibly happen? This was the worst weekend of my life!” Ben reached over to calm him, but Nathan continued to pull away. Eventually, Nathan was standing in the middle of DeRosa’s office. “When Ober lost his job, they already had Rick in their hands! And you didn’t say a word! You could’ve blown the whistle on all of this! You could’ve—”

“I did what I thought was best for everyone,” Ben said. “If I had blown the whistle early, Rick would’ve disappeared. The only way to deal with Rick permanently was to catch him.”

As his fists tightened, Nathan could no longer contain his rage. “YOU SELF-CENTERED SON OF A BITCH! THE ONLY THING YOU DEALT WITH PERMANENTLY WAS OBER! BY KEEPING YOUR MOUTH SHUT, YOU KILLED HIM!” Blindly, Nathan threw his ice pack across the room, sending it flying toward DeRosa’s neatly organized desk. As it landed on the desk, the ice bag sent a stack of papers crashing to the floor.

“I understand you’re upset,” Burke said, “but you have to look at the big picture—”

“Screw the big picture,” Nathan yelled. “My life isn’t there for you guys to play with! You used us! And Ober paid the price for it!”

“That’s enough,” DeRosa interrupted, his voice booming through the office. “Ober acted on his own. And if suicide was his best solution, he had more problems than the ones Ben gave him. As for you, you should be thrilled you’re alive. If you’re not, you can drop a note in the suggestion box on your way out.”

Silent as DeRosa picked up his papers, Nathan remained motionless in the center of the room.

“Nathan, I’m so sorry,” Ben said. “I tried my best to—”

“I don’t want to hear it,” Nathan interrupted. Walking over to DeRosa, he added, “I guess you knew about the blackmail letters Rick sent us.”

“All about them,” DeRosa said. “Don’t worry. We’ll let your office know that your participation in this case was invaluable. There’s no way they’ll fire you after I’m done with them.”

“Great. Fine,” Nathan said, walking to the door of DeRosa’s office.

Burke followed Nathan to the door. “You’re not going anywhere,” Burke growled. “We still have questions for you to—”

Nathan opened the door and stormed out.

“Let him go,” DeRosa said. “It’s been a long day.” When the door closed, DeRosa turned to Ben, who looked exhausted. “Well, that’s one battle lost—you ready for Hollis?”

Sitting outside of Hollis’s private office, Ben anxiously waited for the door to open. What’s taking so long? he wondered. Restlessly, he fidgeted with the sling on his left arm. Not since his first day on the job had he been this nervous about an encounter with Hollis. Twenty minutes later, the thick mahogany door opened, and Lisa walked out.

“How’d it go?” Ben asked. “What’d he say?”

“He’s ready to see you,” Lisa said.

“But how’d—”

“Go in and talk to him,” Lisa said. “He’s the boss. Not me.”

Uneasy as he stepped inside, Ben forced a smile and took his usual seat in front of Hollis’s desk. “Nice to see you,” Ben said.

With eyes that had watched the evolution of the law for more than thirty years, Justice Mason Hollis was the most accessible of the nine. The oldest of seven children and the father of five, he radiated a paternal presence. As a college baseball player at Yale, he was rumored to strike out on purpose when he felt the other team was losing by too wide a margin, and as a judge on the D.C. Circuit, he’d once granted an extension so that counsel could “get some sleep.” According to the employees of the Court, Hollis was the one justice no one feared. At this moment, however, Ben Addison was terrified.

“How are you doing?” Hollis asked. As his hand slid over his sparse white hair, his fingers brushed against the numerous liver spots that dotted his head.

“I’m fine,” Ben said, unable to look his boss in the face.

“Sounds like you’re lucky to be alive, yes?”

“I suppose.”

Hollis picked up a pencil and started nibbling on the eraser. “Don’t be so downcast,” he said. “You should be proud of yourself—quick thinking and all that.” Getting no reaction, he added, “A lesser person would’ve been beaten by this.”

“I’m just glad it’s finally over.”

Hollis smiled at Ben. “I have to tell you—when I hired you and Lisa, I knew you’d be a lively team. I didn’t expect you to be this lively, but that’s neither here nor there.”

Tapping his foot against the thick burgundy carpet, Ben wished Hollis would get to the point. He wanted to know Hollis’s decision. “Can I ask you a question?” he blurted. “Do I get to keep my job?”

“Ben—”

“Since I helped catch Rick, I’m not going to be criminally charged,” Ben said, his voice shaking. “The marshals said my record would stay completely clean, and they want to give me a commendation for helping them catch Lungen. They arrested him early this morning.”

“Ben, I’m sorry . . .”

“They said I could—”

“Ben, listen to me,” Hollis demanded. “Theoretically, you may be innocent, but you still violated the Code of Ethics of this Court. I have no choice but to let you go.”

At eight-thirty that evening, Ben returned home. Eric was in the dining room, hunched over a small canvas. Flicking drops of red, blue, yellow, and green paint from his fingers, Eric was trying to re-create the splatter painting that he had done directly on the wall. It was Eric’s fourth attempt to duplicate his earlier work; only a close match would be suitable to go in Ober’s coffin. Seeing Ben walk through the door, Eric rubbed his fingers with a turpentine-covered rag and headed toward the living room, rattling off questions: “What happened? Are you okay? How’s your shoulder? What’d they say? What took so long?”

Ben took off his coat and put it in the closet. He then turned toward Eric and gave a single answer. “I was fired.”

“What?” Eric asked as Ben moved into the kitchen. “I don’t believe it. Tell me what happened.”

Ben poured himself a tall glass of water. “There’s nothing to tell. They fired me. I told my story to Hollis. He listened. He tried to soften the blow. He fired me. Then he took me to see Osterman. After a long lecture, they let me leave. That’s it. I no longer work at the Supreme Court.”

Ben drank the entire glass of water.

“What else did they say?”

Ben ignored Eric’s question. “Where’s Nathan?”

“He drove back to Boston. Ober’s funeral is tomorrow.”

Slowly rotating his shoulder, Ben felt a heavy ache setting in. “Did he say anything?”

“He told me the story about Rick, packed up his stuff, and left.”

“Was he still mad?”

“I wouldn’t call him until we get to Boston. He’s pretty pissed off.”

“I understand,” Ben said. Pulling a small vial from his pants pocket, he read the directions for his pain medication. Ben poured some more water and took one of the tiny pink pills.

“So tell me what happened,” Eric demanded. “I just saw the story on the news.”

“Great,” Ben said sarcastically. “Did they mention my name?”

“No. It was just a short clip. They said someone named—”

“Mark Wexler,” Ben said as Eric struggled to remember the name.

“That’s it. Mark Wexler,” Eric repeated. “They said he was arrested for insider trading using confidential Supreme Court decisions. They didn’t have much information, so I wasn’t sure—”

“Mark Wexler is Rick’s real name,” Ben explained, turning back to the living room. “Apparently, he used to work in a high-powered Seattle law firm that did high-tech legal work for CMI and Charles Maxwell. About a year ago, he was fired for ethics violations—they thought he was buying stock in one of the cases he was working on.”

“So he has a criminal record,” Eric said as he sat on the small couch.

“No, he’s clean,” Ben explained. “The law firm could never prove anything. Whatever Rick was doing, he was good about keeping it secret. Even though they couldn’t find proof, the firm asked him to leave. It looks like he moved to New York after that, and he’s been living there ever since. When he needed to do business in D.C., he was only a shuttle away.”

“Amazing,” Eric said.

“I really don’t want to talk about him anymore,” Ben said. “He’s been the topic of conversation all afternoon.”

“Well, at least tell me what happened with Hollis.”

“There’s nothing to tell. Since the story was going to be announced to the public, they couldn’t just turn their backs on the whole thing. And if they let me stay, I’d be a stigma on the Court. I violated the Code of Ethics. If I wasn’t asked to step down, no one would take it seriously.”

“But you weren’t fired,” Eric clarified. “They asked you to step down.”

“There’s no difference,” Ben said.

“Was Hollis at least nice about it?”

“He couldn’t have been nicer. He told me how much he appreciated my work for him, and how he hoped we’d stay in touch. He said he’d write me a recommendation for my next job. He even said he was impressed with how we caught Rick. But it didn’t change his decision.”

“What’s going to happen to Lisa?”

“Nothing,” Ben said. “I made sure she was left out of it. As far as anyone’s concerned, she’s the co-clerk who designed the plan and helped me through the hard times. Otherwise, she had nothing to do with the original leak.” Ben rested his arm on one of the couch’s pillows and wondered how long it would be before the pain medication kicked in.

“What did Osterman say?” Eric asked.

“He was a typical jackass. He gave me a big lecture about the aims and ideals of the Court and how they could never be compromised. I really wanted to reach over and mess up his pathetic comb-over. I don’t know why they brought me to see him. Hollis had already fired me.”

“You should’ve grabbed the comb-over,” Eric said. “What’s the worst thing he could’ve done? Fired you again?”

“I guess,” Ben said, distracted.

“One last question?” Eric said, unable to shake his reporter’s instincts. “How did Burke convince Rick that he was Claremont?”

“After Grinnell, Lisa and I knew that Rick was going to try to get his money back. So we isolated all the cases on the Court’s docket that he could potentially make money on.”

“How many cases were there?” Eric asked, intrigued.

“There were only four involving major dollars.”

“So how’d Burke find Rick?”

“He didn’t,” Ben said. “Rick picks his own partners, so we had to figure out a way to make Rick find Burke. We staked out—”

“You staked out?” Eric asked.

“Actually, the marshals did all of the legwork, but Lisa came up with the idea,” Ben explained. “The Marshals Office watched the top executives at all four corporations—”

“But there are hundreds of executives at each one,” Eric pointed out.

“Not when you’re only looking at the ones with criminal records,” Ben said. “We figured that if Rick was going to look at a hundred executives and pick one, he’d probably go for the one who was most likely to break the law.”

“So they watched every executive until Rick made his move?” Eric asked.

“Better,” Ben said. “The marshals replaced every executive until Rick made his move. Burke stood in for Richard Claremont, American Steel’s executive vice president of marketing, who was previously convicted of tax evasion.”

“How many executives did they replace?”

“They couldn’t afford to do everyone,” Ben explained. “Especially if they wanted to keep it quiet. So we picked the twenty most likely candidates and we waited.”

“Wasn’t the real Claremont’s life disrupted?”

“All they did was take over his phone line. The real Claremont didn’t even change offices. The only difference was that his calls were routed to Burke. If it was a real client, he passed the call back to Claremont. If it was Rick, he kept it.”

“And you weren’t sure any of this was going on?” Eric asked.

“We didn’t know a thing,” Ben said, distracted by the throbbing pain that ran down his arm. “Lisa and I gave DeRosa the plan and the list of corporate suspects, but we never knew if it was implemented. I didn’t know how it played out until the car ride over here.”

“Unreal,” Eric said, leaning back on the couch. Noticing the vacant look on Ben’s face, he asked, “Are you okay?”

“I’m just feeling a little out of it. Between the pain and the medication . . .”

“You look like hell. Maybe you should get some sleep.”

“I feel like hell,” Ben said, rising from the couch.

“Cheer up. You had a huge victory today.”

Ben slowly made his way to the stairs. “Doesn’t feel like it.”

Eric pulled his notepad from his back pocket. “Ben, can I ask you one last favor? I don’t mean to be inconsiderate or obnoxious, but would you care if I wrote the story on this?” He looked at his watch and added, “I can probably make page one if I hurry.”

“Eric, go fuck yourself,” Ben said, climbing the stairs. “And you can quote me on that.”


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