The Tenth Justice: Chapter 5


“Hi, my name is Rick Fagen, and I was wondering if you could help me out,” Ben said in his most diplomatic voice. “I recently disconnected my phone, but I still haven’t paid the bill, and I think it’s because you still don’t have my new address.”

“What was your old phone number, sir?” After typing in Rick’s old number, the phone company employee said, “Mr. Fagen, you are correct. We still don’t have a forwarding address for you. If you’ll give me your new address, we’ll be happy to send you a duplicate bill.”

“That’d be great,” Ben said. “My new address is Post Office Box 1227, Washington, D.C. 20037.”

“Mr. Fagen, you should receive this bill in the next few weeks,” the employee said. “Is there anything else I can help you with today?”

“Actually, I have one last favor,” Ben said. “I just realized that when I moved, I misplaced all my old phone bills, which I need for tax purposes. Is it possible to get duplicates of those as well?”

“Certainly,” the employee said. “Let me just make a note of that here, and we’ll get those to you. Is there anything else I can help you with?”

“Nope. I think that’s it. Thanks for your help.” When he hung up the phone, Ben looked up at Lisa who was sitting across from him.

“Do you think the bills will really help?” she asked.

“Not really,” Ben said. “I don’t think Rick is dumb enough to call anyone important on a traceable phone. My guess is he was constantly mobile and worked most of his deals on a cell phone. The local number was probably just for me.”

“That was smart to get the P.O. box,” Lisa said, in an effort to cheer him up.

“Whatever,” Ben said. “If anyone’s watching that phone line, they already know I’m involved.”

“You don’t know that,” Lisa said. Looking at her watch, she added, “It’s almost ten. We should probably head over.”

“I don’t feel like it,” Ben said, suddenly irritated.

“Are you crazy?” she asked. “They’re handing down the CMI decision. Don’t you want to see the crowd’s reaction?”

Ben was silent.

“Well, you’re coming anyway,” she said, grabbing his hand. “We’re not supposed to miss decisions.”

Although the justices returned to work in early September, and the fall term officially began on the first Monday in October, it wasn’t until early November—when the first decisions were announced—that the energy of the Court reached critical mass. While oral arguments were heard throughout the week, decisions were handed down at precisely ten A.M. on every subsequent Monday. Open to the public, the decision sessions were always packed with tourists, press, and friends of the Court. On a typical decision day, the line began to form outside the Court at eight in the morning. For a more popular case, the lines started at six. When the Webster abortion case was handed down in 1989, local entrepreneurs found that both tourists and press would pay big money to have others wait in line for them. The result was an underground line-sitting business that covered all major media events on Capitol Hill. In anticipation of the CMI decision, the professional sitters had started lining up almost a day in advance.

At approximately nine in the morning, the restless crowds were finally led into the building. While the groups were herded through the Great Hall and two separate metal detectors, Ben and Lisa walked straight into the main courtroom. “I love this,” Lisa said as she watched the lines of tourists who were slowly being seated.

Ben was hardly enthusiastic to see Charles Maxwell’s impending victory, but he had to acknowledge the excitement of a decision day. Reporters swarmed into the tiny press area on the left side of the courtroom. It was the only place in the room where observers were allowed to take notes, although there were no recording devices allowed. Armed guards escorted tourists and other observers into the twelve rows of benches in the center of the room, where they all eagerly awaited the arrival of the justices. Everyone spoke in hushed whispers, which added a buzz of energy to the room. On the right was a seating area reserved for family and friends of the justices, as well as a small private area for the Supreme Court clerks.

“They’re all sheep,” Ben said, looking at the packed courtroom. “They just come to see the spectacle and then they leave. They don’t care about the consequences. To them it’s just a tourist attraction.”

“Lighten up,” Lisa said. Still thrilled by the pomp and circumstance, she watched the clock tick toward ten.

Ben fixed his eyes on the marble frieze over the main entrance, which the justices faced. It displayed the Powers of Evil—Corruption and Deceit—offset by the Powers of Good—Security, Charity, and Peace, with Justice flanked by Wisdom and Truth.

Following Ben’s gaze, Lisa asked, “So, does art imitate life?”

“Funny,” Ben shot back.

At exactly three minutes before ten, a buzzer summoned the justices to the conference room, where they prepared to enter the courtroom. Behind the burgundy velvet curtain, the justices ceremonially shook hands with each other. It was a custom instituted by Chief Justice Fuller early in the Court’s history, to show that “harmony of aims if not views is the Court’s guiding principle.” At precisely ten o’clock, the marshal banged his gavel, and every person in the room rose to his feet.

“The Honorable, the Chief Justice and the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States!” the marshal announced. Within seconds, the nine justices strode through openings in the curtain and moved to their respective chairs.

No matter how many times she saw it happen, Lisa was always awed by the simultaneous arrival of all nine justices. “I love this,” she whispered to Ben. “It’s like watching the arrival of the All-Star team.”

“Shhhh!” Ben said, unable to remove his eyes from center stage.

The room faced the nine chairs of the justices. Made of matching black leather, the chairs were specially designed to fit each justice’s particular body type. As the justices took their seats, the marshal announced, “Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! All persons having business before the Honorable, the Supreme Court of the United States, are admonished to draw near and give their attention, for the Court is now sitting. God save the United States and this Honorable Court!” Once again the gavel fell, and everyone took his seat.

Chief Justice Osterman sat in the center seat. “Today we will be handing down the decisions in United States v. CMI and Lexcoll, as well as Tennessee v. Shreve. Justice Blake will be reading both of our decisions today.”

“Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice,” Blake responded. Appointed to the Court nearly ten years ago, Blake was a South Carolina judge whose Southern drawl was still as strong as the day he first took the bench. Primed for the CMI decision, the spectators held their collective breath. Reading from the prepared statement sheet, Blake said, “In the case of State of Tennessee v. Shreve, we find for the plaintiff and uphold the decision of the Supreme Court of Tennessee.” Knowing full well that the crowd was starving for the CMI decision, Blake took his time announcing the findings of the Court.

When Blake finished the Tennessee case, he sat back in his chair and shifted his weight. Clearing his throat, he reached for one of the pewter mugs that were in front of every justice. He poured himself a glass of water and prepared to read the next case. Wiping the corner of his mouth with a handkerchief, Blake smirked. “In the case of United States v. CMI and Lexcoll, we believe that although the two companies will become a major communications conglomerate, there is no predatory conduct with the intent to monopolize. For this reason, the merger of the two corporations does not violate the Sherman Antitrust Act. We therefore find for the defendant and affirm the decision of the Court of Appeals.”

A sharp murmur shot through the crowd as observers acknowledged the cunning of Charles Maxwell’s recent decision to increase his holdings in Lexcoll. Then, seconds after the decision was read, the Clerk’s Office turned off its intercom to the courtroom and notified the Information Office that the decision had become public. Immediately, the seven-person staff of the Information Office handed out copies of the official decision to the assembled reporters who waited in the basement office, while two computer staffers posted the decision on various legal computer networks. Inside the courtroom, the print media took notes on the mood of the justices. Outside the Court, at least two dozen television reporters vied for stand-up space, hoping to be the first to break the story on air. By the time Justice Blake had finished explaining the Court’s reasoning, more than 3,760 people had their own copies of the decision, while 6 million people had heard the outcome of the case. As the marshal officially closed the session, the media were exhausted, Charles Maxwell was a genius, and Ben was devastated.

“Crap,” Ben said as he and Lisa walked through the mob of people exiting the courtroom.

“Why are you surprised? You’ve known the outcome of the case for months.”

“Let’s just get out of here,” Ben said, pushing his way through the crowd. As they swiped their I.D. cards through a small machine, two bulletproof doors opened, and the co-clerks were granted access to the first floor’s private office area. Taking one of the less-trafficked staircases, they walked upstairs and returned to their office. “I just can’t believe it,” Ben said as soon as the door closed behind him. “Maxwell becomes a captain of industry because a schmuck law clerk couldn’t keep his mouth shut.” Taking off his suit jacket, he hung it on the back of his chair. “Maybe Eric was right. Maybe I should go to the press.”

“No way,” Lisa said. She grabbed a brown folder from her desk and walked to the back of the office. Turning on the paper shredder, she fed the entire stack of paper to the machine. She never destroyed her old versions of an opinion until the opinion was actually announced. “First, you have no proof, so they’ll think you’re crazy. Second, if they do believe you, you’ve just sacrificed your entire career.”

“But Maxwell would be revealed.”

“Are you crazy? You’d give up your life just to be spiteful?”

“It’s the right thing to do,” Ben said, slumping on the office sofa. “I can’t find Rick; we may never see him again; it’s impossible to track him. It’s the only way to resolve this mess.”

Lisa walked over to the couch and stared down at Ben. “What the hell is wrong with you? You’re acting like the whole world is about to end. It was a mistake. You blew it. You got conned. But you didn’t do it on purpose. You were outsmarted—”

“And that pisses me off,” Ben shot back, sitting up straight.

“Is that it? You’re mad because someone finally outsmarted you? This whole feeling-sorry-for-yourself deal is based on the fact that you were intellectually beaten?”

“You don’t understand.”

“I definitely understand, Ben. You’re mad because he beat you on the I.Q. test.” Lisa sat down next to him on the sofa. “Get your head out of your ass. It’s not your fault. You weren’t stupid or gullible. You did what any smart person would’ve done. You just got set up. Rick played you and you have to accept that.”

“Can’t I just sulk a little more?”

“You get thirty more seconds,” Lisa said, looking down at her watch. She waited. “Okay, time’s up. You done?”

“How’d the decision go today?” Eric asked Ben later that night as they sat in front of the television.

“It was fine. What was the Washington Herald’s take on the whole affair?”

“They went crazy with it,” Eric explained between mouthfuls of cereal. “Wait until you see tomorrow’s edition. The front page has a massive picture of Maxwell minutes after the decision. He’s wearing this shit-eating grin that just about makes you want to vomit.”

“Great.”

“And the Sunday edition is running a massive piece on him. The guy is getting better press than the pope.”

“Great,” Ben repeated, flipping through channels. He stopped on CNN, then caught a glimpse of Maxwell and continued flipping.

“CMI stock flew up almost seventeen points by the end of closing today.”

“Great. Eric, can you go to the kitchen and get me a knife? I want to gouge my eyes out.”

“Oedipus, huh?” Eric said, shoveling another spoonful of cereal into his mouth. “That’d be a good look for you.”

Without warning, Ober walked into the house singing, “Guess who’s stopped answering phones in Senator Stevens’s office?”

“You got a promotion?” Eric asked, jumping up to embrace his friend.

Nathan strolled in behind Ober. “He got the promotion?” Ben asked.

“You won’t believe this one,” Nathan said. “Ober, tell the story.”

“Oh, you’ve got to hear this,” Ober said. “This is mondo.”

“Mondo?” Eric laughed. “This isn’t L.A. Get out of here with that crazy talk.”

“Just let him tell the story,” Ben said.

“Here’s the story,” Ober began. “Remember when you had me write that fake death threat from Rick to Senator Stevens?” Ben nodded. “Apparently, the staff director found out that I started a State Department computer search on Rick. Last week, she came up to me and asked me why I did it, so I told her I was just being cautious—that I didn’t think it was a real death threat, but I wanted to be extra safe. This week, she calls me into her office and tells me that I’m their newest legislative assistant. I’ll be responding to all of the constituent complaints on zoning laws and orange juice subsidies.”

“Clearly, you’re at the forefront of Stevens’s re-election campaign,” Ben said.

“It gets better,” Nathan said. “Ober, show them the letter.”

“Oh, yeah,” Ober said, opening the leather briefcase his parents had bought him for graduation. He pulled out a single piece of paper and handed it to Ben.

“Dear William,” Ben read aloud as he stood in the living room. “Thank you so much for your follow-up efforts on the recent threat on my life. Your actions are a shining example of the kind of initiative few people are willing to take. I hope you know how much I appreciate all of your work. Marcia tells me you are doing a wonderful job. Keep up the fight.”

“Read the closing,” Ober said, laughing.

“Your friend, Paul.”

“He signed it ‘Paul’?” Eric asked, grabbing the letter from Ben’s hands.

“And I’m his friend,” Ober said.

“This is unbelievable,” Ben said.

“Unprecedented,” Nathan said.

“Unheard of.”

“Impossible.”

“It’s fantastic!” Ben continued.

“They’re mondo stupid!” Ober shouted. “And I got a promotion out of it!”

As Ober and Eric danced around the room, Ben asked, “Have you ever read ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’?”

“Exactly,” Nathan said as the phone rang.

“Hold on a second.” Ben walked to the kitchen to get the phone. Picking up the receiver, he answered, “Hello?”

“Hello, Benjamin.”

“Hi, Mom,” Ben said.

“Benjamin, let me ask you a question. Did you have anything to do with that Charles Maxwell decision that came down today?”

“Not really,” Ben said, rolling his eyes. “That was handled by another justice’s clerks.”

“But you knew the decision before it happened, didn’t you?” she asked.

“Of course, Mom. I knew it three months ago.”

“Thank you,” Sheila Addison said. “Now why don’t you tell your father because he’ll never believe it if I say it. The man thinks that just because he’s a columnist, he knows everything.”

“Mom, is there anything else?” Ben asked. “We’re in the middle of celebrating. Ober just got a promotion.”

“Good for him!” Sheila said. “Oh, Barbara will be so proud. Put him on the phone, I want to say hello.”

“I’m not putting him on the phone,” Ben said.

“Well, tell him I better see him when you guys come home for Thanksgiving. By the way, do you know if you’re coming in Tuesday or Wednesday yet?”

“It’s still three weeks away. I have no idea,” Ben said. Hoping to change the subject he asked, “What else is going on at home?”

“Nothing really,” Sheila said. “I got a piece of mail for you today. It looked like an important bill, so I didn’t know if you wanted me to open it before I sent it to you.”

“Who’s it from?” Ben asked.

“The return address says ‘Mailboxes and Things.’ It has a big stamp on it that says ‘Second Notice.’”

Recognizing the name of the store where he had opened his P.O. box, Ben was confused. He’d already paid them in advance, he thought. “Open it,” he said.

“It’s definitely a bill,” she said. “It says that if you don’t pay the balance, your P.O. box, number thirteen twenty-seven, will be closed, and your mail confiscated. Why do you have a P.O. box, Benjamin?”

“What was the number of the box?” Ben asked, ignoring his mother’s question.

“Thirteen twenty-seven.”

“It must be a mistake. That’s not my box.”

“Should I send you the bill?”

“No, I’ll just go down there tomorrow to fix it. Listen, I really have to go. Give my love to Dad.” Ben hung up the phone and returned to the living room.

“Are you coming out with us?” Ober asked. “We’re going to celebrate my promotion.”

“Of course I’m coming,” Ben said, grabbing his coat from the hall closet. “Miracles like this happen only once a decade.”

Walking into Boosin’s Bar, Ober inhaled the smell of stale beer and smoldering cigarettes. “Ahhh, there’s nothing like bar whiff,” he said. “I feel like I’m back in college.” Their regular haunt since they had arrived in D.C., Boosin’s was the second home for much of Washington’s young shirt-and-tie crowd. It wasn’t long before they were approached by their regular waitress at their usual spot in the back.

“Hey, Tina,” Ben said.

“What’s happening?” she asked.

“Ober got promoted today. We’re hoping to fill him with so much beer that he falls down and vomits in joyous celebration.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” she said as she headed to the bar. She returned with two pitchers and four glasses. After filling each of the roommates’ glasses, Nathan raised his glass in a toast.

“To Ober. May dumb luck embrace you in all of your travails.”

After the friends toasted, Ben put his hand on Ober’s shoulder. “I’m really proud of you, my friend.”

“Wow, a compliment from the Job Guru himself.”

“I’m serious,” Ben said. “No matter how it happened, we all know you deserve that promotion.”

“I don’t know,” Ober said. “I mean, I’m still not a Supreme Court clerk.”

“You don’t have to be a clerk,” Ben said. “All you have to do is be yourself.”

“And always let your conscience be your guide!” Eric and Nathan sang.

A half hour later, Ober was tapped on the shoulder by a beautiful brown-haired woman, dressed in a jet-black designer pantsuit. “Do you mind if we join you?” she asked.

“Lila!” Ober shouted. “What are you doing here?” After getting up to hug the stranger, he looked at his roommates and explained, “This is Lila Jospin. We used to fool around in college.”

“That’s a wonderful introduction,” Ben said. Shaking Lila’s hand, he said, “You are obviously a woman of fine taste. Nice to meet you.”

“You, too,” Lila said.

“Looks like you brought some friends. How many are you?” Ober asked as he began to pull together tables to make more room.

“There are four of us,” Lila said as her three friends approached the table.

“Perfect,” Ober said. “Absolutely perfect.”

At seven-thirty Tuesday morning, Ben entered the office. “You’re late,” Lisa said as he collapsed on the sofa.

“I’m tired,” he said.

“Where were you last night? Drowning your sorrows in beer?”

“Last night, I’ll have you know, there were no sorrows to be found. Last night was full of joy.”

“So you went out to a bar, found a woman, and took her home. Big deal. Who do you think you are, William the Conqueror?”

“Actually, I picture myself more as Magellan. He was so much more regal and imposing—a true visionary. Like myself, he was a Renaissance man living in a world that rarely understood him.”

“Actually, he was a misogynist barbarian who barely understood what he had found. In that sense, you are alike.” Leaning back in her chair, Lisa put her hands behind her head. “So, aren’t you going to ask me how my date went last night?”

“You had a date?” Ben asked, raising an eyebrow.

“What’s so surprising about that? I’m a strong woman with needs of her own.”

“Why didn’t you tell me you were going on a date?”

“Because you’d tease me about it.”

“I’m still going to tease you about it. Now tell me, who was the poor victim?”

“His name is Jonathan Kord. He works in Senator Greiff’s office.”

“Oh my God! Jonathan Kord? I know that guy! A friend of mine, may she rest in peace, went out with him.”

“You don’t know him,” Lisa said, grabbing a handful of paper clips and throwing them at Ben.

“I don’t need to. With a name like Jonathan, I can tell he’s stale.”

“What are you talking about? Jonathan’s a great name. His friends all call him Jon.”

“But he goes by Jonathan, doesn’t he?” Lisa was silent. “I knew it!” Ben shouted. “He’s stale.”

“He didn’t taste stale,” Lisa shot back.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Ben said, sitting up straight on the sofa. “Did you really get some play last night?”

“I might’ve,” Lisa teased. “But even if I didn’t, I get to know that you’re jealous.”

“I’m not jealous.”

“Then why does your face match the sofa?”

“Trust me, I’m not jealous. Now tell me what happened.”

“It wasn’t much. We went to dinner and then we walked around the Washington Monument.”

“Oh, please,” Ben said, throwing his hands in the air. “This guy played you like a fiddle. He buys you dinner and then takes you to walk around a giant erection? What kind of message does that send?”

“I paid for dinner, stud-boy. And it was my idea to go to the Monument.”

“Now that’s a date,” Ben said, nodding his head. “I’m impressed.” He crossed his arms and said, “Go on.”

“And then I dropped him off.”

“That’s it?” Ben asked suspiciously. “You took him out and dropped him off?”

“I don’t know,” Lisa said, her eyes focused on her feet. “I think I scared him off. I might’ve been too aggressive.”

“You? Aggressive?”

“No, I was definitely too aggressive,” Lisa said, suddenly serious. “I think he was really intimidated when I told him that I could teach him a thing or two in bed.”

“You said that?” Ben blurted.

“See, I knew I was too aggressive.”

“Lisa, don’t beat yourself up. You were just being yourself. You can’t be faulted for that. You’re an aggressive woman, and most men are intimidated by aggressive women. You’ve seen the talk shows—the average guy in America wants a complacent, weaker woman, simply because they’ve been taught to feel threatened by strong women.”

“Okay, Freud. Now where does that leave me?”

“You’re left with much less to choose from, but the quality of those men is three hundred percent better than the average loser. The gene pool you’re fishing from is more confident, more sophisticated, more intelligent . . .”

“They’re men like yourself,” Lisa said sarcastically.

“Exactly. We’re a new breed of men. We’re not afraid to let our feelings show. We like strong women. Sexually, we enjoy being dominated.”

“You’re not afraid to cry at the end of the Rocky movies,” Lisa added.

“Correct. And we like the smell of potpourri.”

“Well, I hate to burst your bubble, but what if I don’t want the sensitive type? What if I want a big, dumb jock who’ll be fun to fool around with, and who won’t care if I don’t call him?”

“You like big jocks?”

“For a few thrills, sure. I’d never marry one, but they’re fun to hook up with.”

Confused, Ben scratched his forehead. “How can you like big jocks? How can you go to bed with someone who just thinks of you as a sexual conquest?”

“Let me tell you something, the sexual conquest is a two-way street, and I’m driving a Ferrari.”

Laughing, Ben said, “I take back what I said before. You’re way too aggressive to find a man. You’ll probably be lonely for the rest of your life.” Getting up from the sofa, Ben flipped through the newest pile of paper on his desk. “What’s happening today?”

“A whole new batch of cert petitions just came in. Hollis wants us to really tear through them since he expects we’ll write the opinion for the Grinnell decision.”

“They didn’t vote on that already, did they?”

“Take a look at your watch, moron,” Lisa said. “Conference isn’t until tomorrow. Hollis doesn’t think they’ll even get to it, but it’ll definitely be done by next week. Osterman’s been stalling. And Justice Veidt’s clerks said Veidt’s on the fence, so Osterman has been working on him since the cert petition came in.

“What’s wrong with Veidt? Do you think he has a thing for Osterman?”

“I doubt it,” Lisa said. “Veidt’s an intellectually unimpressive justice who knows he was selected because he was confirmable. I think he figures that by hanging with the chief justice, it’ll give him some credibility.”

“That could be,” Ben said, “but my way’s much cooler. Can you imagine? Two Supreme Court justices caught in a sordid love affair? How great would that be?”

“It’d sure be more interesting than reading cert petitions all day.”

After a quick lunch in the Court’s cafeteria, Ben walked down to Mailboxes & Things on Constitution Avenue. Time to break out the overcoat, he thought as a chilly November wind pulled the last leaves from the trees. Fighting off the impending arrival of winter, Ben blew warm air into his cupped hands. Within ten minutes, he arrived at the store, which was painted red, white, and blue—the color scheme of choice for so many D.C. vendors.

“Can I help you?” a cashier wearing a turtleneck asked.

“Yes, I received an overdue payment notice for a P.O. box. Not only did I pay for my box in advance, but the number on the bill wasn’t my box.”

“Oh, I’m sure we just made a mistake,” the cashier said. “Let me look up your name.”

“My name is Be—” Catching himself, Ben remembered the fake name he’d given to open the box. “My name is Alvy Singer.”

“Singer, Singer . . .” the cashier said, looking through his files. “Here it is.” He pulled out the file and continued, “You opened box twelve twenty-seven on October twenty-eighth, and you paid for that in advance. You then opened box thirteen twenty-seven on October twenty-ninth, requesting that you be billed for it.” Reading the file, the cashier added, “It says here you also paid an extra twenty-five-dollar lock fee so that both boxes could be opened with the same key.”

“Of course, how stupid of me,” Ben said, wiping away the cold sweat that had suddenly formed on his forehead.

“Would you like to pay your balance today?”

“Sure. That’s fine,” Ben said. He pulled out his wallet and paid the bill.

When he reached the room of P.O. boxes, Ben was in a full-fledged panic. Looking around, he was relieved no one was watching him. He pulled the key from his pocket and opened his box, 1227. Empty. Directly under his was box 1327. Inserting his key, he opened the box. Inside was a single manila envelope. Taking out the envelope, he locked the box and walked to a small counter.

Inside the envelope was a single typed sheet of paper. “Dear Ben,” he read. “I’m sorry I haven’t been in touch, but, as you’ve probably guessed, I’ve been quite busy. Needless to say, all went extremely well. I realize you’re frustrated with what’s happened, but please stop trying to find me. You’re wasting your time. Tearing apart my flowers was useless, your bribery attempt at my old apartment was pathetic, and as far as your telephone bill idea—do you really believe I would make important calls on a line so easily traceable? Come on, now. Since you still haven’t gone to the authorities, I assume you understand the consequences to your own career should you reveal your story.

“At this point in time, I propose a truce. If you are interested, please meet me at Two Quail on Saturday at eight P.M. The reservation has been made under your name. If you do need to contact me, please feel free to use our P.O. box, number 1327. Yours, Rick.”

Ben stuffed the letter back into the envelope, left the store, and walked briskly back to the Court. How the hell does he know everything? he asked himself. Bounding up the Court’s steps, Ben waved his I.D. card at the guard and sidestepped the metal detector. Within a minute, he was charging through the reception area on the way to his office. Slamming the door behind him, he threw the envelope on Lisa’s desk. “You won’t believe it,” he said.

“Where did you get this?” Lisa asked as she read the letter.

“He opened a P.O. box right under mine—under my fake name,” Ben said, his voice shaking.

“How did he know you had a P.O. box?” Holding up her hand, Lisa stopped Ben from answering. “Let me finish reading this first.” Eventually looking up, she asked, “Okay, now, how did he know you had a P.O. box?”

“How did he know my fake name? How did he know what we did with the flowers? How did he know I called the phone company? How did he know we broke into his old apartment building? He knows my parents’ address, for Chrissakes! He billed me for the P.O. box at my parents’ house!”

“Calm down a second,” Lisa said, putting her reading glasses on the desk. “Let’s think about this.”

“If he goes near my family, I swear I’ll kill him. I’ll fucking kill him.”

“Relax, I’m sure he did that just to scare you.”

“Well, it’s working,” Ben said, taking off his suit jacket. “He’s obviously been following me for the last month of my life. He knows everything I do, everywhere I go. He knows where my family lives . . .”

“You have to calm down. Let me think for a minute.”

Pacing up and down the office, Ben remained silent.

“I can understand that he knew we broke into the apartment building, but I don’t understand how he knew about the phone bill. Both times you called the phone company, you called from this office, didn’t you?” When Ben nodded, she added, “I doubt he’s tapped the phone in here. I mean, this’s the Supreme Court.”

“There’s no way he could tap this phone—not with the security system we have here,” Ben agreed. “But how did he know what we did with the flowers? We’re the only ones that knew about that.”

Still focused on the phone bills, Lisa said, “Most likely, he didn’t change his address on purpose. Then he just waited to see what we did. The phone company probably told him you ordered a copy of the bill.” After pausing to reflect, she continued, “I just can’t believe he knew we’d do that.”

“This guy is no dummy,” Ben said, unable to stand still.

“Do you really think he has someone following you?”

“How should I know? How else would he know my fake name for the P.O. box?”

“Are you going to meet with him?”

“Of course,” Ben said. “This guy is all mine. I’m gonna nail his ass to the wall.”

“You sound like a bad TV movie,” Lisa said. “I think you should come up with a serious plan first.”

“Definitely,” Ben agreed. Sitting at his desk, he pulled out a sheet of paper. “I’d like to get everyone together for a little brainstorming session. Can we do it at your place?”

“Why my place?”

“Because I think he might have my house bugged.”

“Listen, you have to calm down,” Lisa said. “This isn’t The Firm.”

“This guy has the resources to reach Charles Maxwell, he pulls off one of the greatest insider information scams of the decade, and you’re telling me he doesn’t have the resources to bug my crappy house with its nonexistent alarm system?”

“Fine,” Lisa said. “We’ll meet at my apartment.” Rising from her seat, she walked over to Ben and leaned on his desk. “Meanwhile, want to hear some fresh gossip?”

“I’m not in the mood.”

“Okay. Fine. Then I won’t tell you that Justice Blake is stepping down.”

“That’s nothing new,” Ben said. “People have been saying that for years.”

“But now it’s official,” Lisa said. “He gave his notice today to Osterman.”

“Are you serious?” Ben asked as his raised eyebrows creased his forehead.

“Scout’s honor.”

“Is this confirmed, or is it just what you heard?”

“Let’s put it this way—when you were at lunch, Hollis came down here and told me Blake just gave notice of his resignation. He’s calling the president this afternoon and the press will be notified within the next week or two. You think that source is trustworthy enough for you?”

“If Hollis said it, it’s the gospel.”

“The thing is, I don’t think most of the justices have told their clerks, so keep it a secret. Hollis said it was just for our information.”

“What else did he say?” Ben asked.

“He said that Grinnell won’t be decided until the end of the week. Justice Veidt still hasn’t responded, and all the conservatives have pushed it back so they can work on getting him aboard.”

“Excellent gossip,” Ben admitted. “Sounds like Hollis was running at the mouth today.”

“You know how he is,” Lisa said. “Sometimes he won’t say a word, and other times he won’t shut up. Today was just a good day.”

“So I guess that means we won’t be working on Grinnell this week.”

“That’s what I wanted to tell you,” Lisa said, slapping Ben’s desk. “Since Blake is stepping down, he’s going to be lightening his workload. So he’s no longer writing the Pacheco v. Rhode Island decision.”

“And I suppose we are?” Ben asked. Lisa nodded. “Why do we have to do it? That’s a solid bankruptcy issue. It’s a good case.”

“It’s a good case, but it’s not a great case. Hollis said that when a justice steps down, he gets the pick of the litter when it comes to cases. All the other justices defer to him so he can make his last great pronouncements on the law.”

“So that means he’ll get all the best cases this session?”

“Pretty much,” Lisa said. “He can’t write all of them, but I’m sure he’ll get a good number.”

“That’s great,” Ben said sarcastically. “Did Hollis say when Blake’s office would send us the materials?”

“The Clerk’s Office will transfer them later today.”

Turning on his computer, Ben said, “And Hollis still hasn’t looked over our Oshinsky opinion.”

“Actually, he did,” Lisa said, passing Ben a stack of paper.

“And still not satisfied,” Ben said, unable to avoid the bright red marks covering the front page of the document. “What is this, draft six?”

“Seven if you count our original outline.”

“He’s never going to be happy with this decision,” Ben said. “I think we should just realize that and move on.”

“You have to stop complaining,” Lisa said. “It’s not that bad.”

“Are you kidding? We get here at seven every morning, we have four pending cases that we’re simultaneously working on, a fifth that a retiring justice just passed off on us, and now a sixth case arriving just as soon as Veidt caves in to the conservatives. At the same time, we have a dozen or so cert petitions to get through every week. How much busier can we be?”

“I don’t know,” Lisa said. “I guess we could also be involved in a chase for a psychotic mastermind who’s trying to undermine the entire court system.”

At nine-thirty that evening, Ben and Lisa arrived at Lisa’s apartment, which was a short walk from the Tenleytown Metro. Ober and Nathan were waiting in front of the drab brick apartment building. “What took you so long?” Ober asked as they walked inside. “You said to meet at nine.”

“Sorry,” Ben said sharply. “We were only busting our asses rewriting history at the Supreme Court. Some of us aren’t lucky enough to have jobs that end at five.”

“Hey, who crapped in your Apple Jacks?” Nathan asked as they stepped into an elevator. “We’re the ones trying to help you.”

Getting out on the fourth floor, they walked down the hallway and eventually reached Lisa’s apartment. “I’m sorry,” Ben said to Ober as Lisa opened the door. “I didn’t mean to snap like that.”

“Here we are,” Lisa said. “It’s not much, but it’s mine.” Sparsely decorated, the living room consisted of a worn brown leather couch, a coffee table, and a desk, which was actually a piece of finished wood balanced on two small file cabinets. Both the coffee table and desk were submerged under papers. On the wall opposite the sofa was a huge picture of cats playing poker. Over the couch were two portraits done on black velvet, one of the Mona Lisa, the other a Smurf standing next to a flower.

“Nice art,” Ben said, intrigued to see how his co-clerk lived.

“I’m into neo-garbage,” Lisa said. “The trashier, the better. The Smurf is the prize of my collection. I won it at a carnival.”

“This is actually a pretty cool place,” Ober said.

“You sound surprised,” Lisa said. “Were you expecting pink and purple satin pillows thrown everywhere?”

“I’m not sure,” Ober said. “I think I was expecting maxi pads and other feminine hygiene products.”

“Expecting or hoping?” Nathan asked as he took a seat on the couch.

Lisa threw her attaché case full of Court documents on her desk and headed toward the kitchen. “Does anyone want something to eat or drink?”

“I’ll take a rack of lamb and a white wine spritzer,” Ober said.

“Where’s Eric?” Ben asked, sitting on the couch.

“He’s working late tonight,” Ober said. “He said he’s sorry he couldn’t make it.”

“Typical,” Ben said.

“Are you okay with this?” Nathan asked, watching Ben rifle through the magazines on the coffee table.

“Huh?” Ben asked. “Yeah, I’m fine. I just want to get started.”

Lisa pulled a chair from the kitchen, put it down in the living room, and faced the couch. “What I don’t understand is why Rick sent you the letter through his P.O. box. He could’ve just mailed it, or better yet, he could’ve put the letter in your box.”

“I was thinking about that,” Ben said. “I think Rick was just showing off. In that one action, he ripped apart my new plan and sent the message that my attempts at secrecy were a joke.”

“What I can’t understand is why he wants a truce,” Ober said. “It’s obvious you have no chance of catching him. In a way, you’re nothing more than an annoyance.” Looking at Ben, he added, “No offense.”

“I think he wants information,” Nathan said.

“I agree,” Ben said. “There’s no reason on earth why Rick needs a truce with me.”

“Do you think he wants you to tell him another decision?” Lisa asked.

Ben continued to flip through the magazines. “That’s the only thing I can imagine.”

“Then I think we should assume that’s what he’s going to ask you when you go to the restaurant on Saturday.”

“You’re going to meet with him?” Lisa asked.

“Of course I’m going to meet with him,” Ben said. “You think I’m going to let him get away from me? He’s mine come Saturday.”

“And how do you propose to do that?” Lisa asked.

“I’m not sure. That’s where I was hoping you’d help. I was thinking about videotaping him at the restaurant, or something like that.”

“I got it!” Ober yelled. “What if one of us dresses up like a waiter and somehow gets his wineglass, which will be covered in his fingerprints.”

“And then what?” Lisa asked. “We’ll run it through our computers in the Batcave?”

“We can send it through Nathan at the State Department.”

“I say we take surveillance pictures of him as he enters the restaurant,” Nathan said. “We’ll have a positive I.D. on this guy in no time.”

“I know the perfect spot for you to wait,” Ben said as his voice raced with excitement. “There’s an outdoor café right across the street from the restaurant.”

“We can go buy a night lens for the camera,” Ober said, rising from the couch.

“And we can wear cool disguises with trench coats and hats and fake mustaches,” Lisa said sarcastically. “You all have to relax. That won’t do you any good.”

“Oh, it won’t?” Ben asked. “And I assume you’ll tell us why.”

“So what if you have a few pictures of him? You’re still in the same position you’re in right now. Even if you have Rick’s real name, you can’t turn him in—unless we want Ben to go to jail too.”

As silence swept through the room, Nathan said, “The woman speaks the truth.”

“We have to somehow get him to proposition you about a new case,” Lisa suggested. “If he does that, then we can get him for bribing a public official.”

“Ben’s not a public official,” Ober said.

“He’s a federal employee,” Lisa said. “By bribing him, Rick will be attempting to interfere with the United States government. That’s a federal offense, and it’ll get him put away for at least a couple of years.”

“Hold on a second,” Nathan said. “What’s to prevent Rick from striking a plea bargain with the authorities? For all we know, he can point to the CMI case and offer up Ben on a silver platter, saying that the Supreme Court clerk is the mastermind behind the whole scheme. Then Rick walks free, and Ben gets indicted—all because of our great plan.”

“Rick would never do that,” Lisa said. “The CMI decision is probably the best thing that ever happened to him. He probably made at least a couple million dollars on that deal. If he turns in Ben, or even attracts any attention toward CMI, the SEC will be all over Charles Maxwell’s ass, even more than they are now. I’m sure Rick understands that it’s better for him to do a few years for bribery on this second decision than to lose all his money and risk the wrath of Maxwell. He’s not playing with small fish. CMI will eat him alive.”

“I’m impressed,” Nathan admitted.

“And you didn’t think she was smart,” Ben said, crossing his arms as he looked at Ober.

“Wait a minute,” Lisa said to Ober. “You didn’t think I was smart?”

“I didn’t—” Ober began.

“You?” Lisa persisted, rising from her chair. “When we were playing Scrabble last week, you tried to use the word ‘duh,’ and you think I’m stupid?”

“‘Duh’ is a word,” Ober said.

“It’s not a word!” Lisa said. “It’s a slang expression used by primates in the late twentieth century. It’s nonsense. Noise. Stupidity. But it’s not a word.”

“It’s a word,” Ober repeated.

“You can fight later,” Ben interrupted. “Right now I want to think about the plan. It sounds like our best bet is to nail him on the bribery charge. It’s not the greatest revenge, but it’s the best we can do. Now how are we going to catch him?”

“What if you wear a wire?” Nathan said. “I might be able to get one from some of my buddies who work in security.”

“Can you definitely get one?” Ben asked.

“If not, you’ll wear a tape recorder,” Lisa said. “Either way, he’s on tape.”

“I still think we should get some pictures of him,” Ober said.

“You just want to wear a disguise,” Lisa said.

“I definitely want to wear a disguise,” Ober admitted. “But I also think it’d be smart to get some physical proof of what Rick looks like.”

“That’s actually not a bad call,” Ben admitted. “Eventually, the authorities are going to have to bring him in. We might as well let them know what he looks like.” When he saw Lisa scrunch up her nose, Ben asked, “What’s wrong?”

“Huh?” she asked. “No, it’s nothing.”

“Don’t give me that,” Ben said. “I know that look. What are you worried about?”

“Well, I can’t help but think—shouldn’t we go directly to the authorities with this? I mean, we’re getting way out of our league. We might be better off asking for help.”

“No way,” Ben said. “If I do that, it means I might as well kiss my job good-bye. Besides, even if I went to the police, Rick would see us coming a mile away.”

“What makes you think that?” Lisa asked.

“Are you kidding?” Ben asked. “For the past month he’s watched our every move. Besides, it’s not like we’re doing anything so sophisticated. We’re just trying to get his voice on tape. It’s not like we’re trying to invade his hidden sanctuary located on a private island.”

Lisa turned to Ober. “Don’t worry. Rick doesn’t really have a private island. It’s just a figure of speech.”

“No duh,” Ober shot back.

“I’m serious, though,” Ben said. “If things get hairy, we can call in help. But until then, I’d like to try this by ourselves.”


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