The Tenth Justice: Chapter 8


Later that evening, Ben and Lisa returned to Lisa’s apartment, where they found Ober and Nathan waiting outside. “Where the hell were you guys?” Ober asked, running in place. “We’re freezing out here.”

“Why didn’t you wait in the lobby?” Lisa asked.

“Because the asshole doorman wouldn’t let us. He said if our host wasn’t here, we had to wait outside.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Lisa stormed into the building and approached the smiling doorman. “Why the hell do you have my guests waiting outside?”

“Ma’am, their party was not here.”

“I’m their party,” she proclaimed. “And if I’m five minutes late, I don’t want my friends waiting out in the cold.”

“Ma’am, you may be their host, but we do have rules in this building, and no guests are admitted without their host’s approval. As doorman, it is my job to ensure that there is no loitering in our lobby.”

“Oh, it is?”

“Yes, ma’am, it is,” the doorman barked. “The tenants’ association has given me full authority to remove loiterers, vagrants, and other criminal characters from this vicinity.”

“Are you sure about that?” Lisa asked.

“Oh, no,” Ben said, peeking through his fingers. “This is about to get ugly.”

“Let me tell you a few things,” Lisa said, her finger pointed in the doorman’s face. “First, I don’t care who you are, but the moment you have my guests in this building, they become your guests. And if you think you’re authorized to let guests stand out in the cold, you’ve got your head up your ass. This may not be the frozen tundra, but it’s still cold out there. Second, general loitering laws are illegal, since they allow mall cops like you to randomly discriminate against whomever you like. So if you don’t have solid, real reasons to suspect my friends, I suggest you keep your mouth shut. Finally, if you are calling my friends vagrants or criminals, I’ll haul you into court on defamation charges just to piss you off. I won’t win the case, but I’ll have a great time wasting your time and money as you argue your way out of it. Now, unless you have anything else to say, I’m going to go upstairs. Have I made myself clear?”

“Certainly,” the doorman said, flustered. Turning to Nathan and Ober, he added, “And I apologize for any misunderstanding.”

“I accept your apology,” Ober said as the friends walked into the elevator.

“Was that really necessary?” Ben asked.

“That was fantastic!” Ober yelled.

“He pisses me off,” Lisa said. “You give guys like him a tiny bit of authority, and they think they’re dictators.”

“Yeah, but I think you made him wet his pants,” Ben said.

“I was impressed with the clarity of your argument,” Nathan said, looking at Lisa with new respect.

“Thank you,” Lisa said, as the elevator door opened.

Walking into the apartment, Lisa flipped on the lights and put her briefcase on her desk. “What’s that smell?” Ben asked as he headed toward the living room.

Sniffing the air, Ober said, “It smells so . . . feminine.”

“It’s potpourri,” Lisa said. “I just put it out. Do you like it?”

“I’m enchanted,” Ober said.

“I guess you guys aren’t used to a home that doesn’t smell like feet.” As Lisa turned toward her bedroom, she added, “I’ll be right back.” Minutes later, she returned to the living room wearing sweatpants and her favorite Stanford T-shirt. “Ready to start?” she asked, sitting down next to Ben on the sofa.

“Here’s the story.” Ben opened his briefcase and pulled out a yellow legal pad and a pen. “Rick and I are meeting tomorrow. The only reason I can think of for the meeting is that Rick still wants something, and the only thing he can want is information.”

“But you don’t know this for sure,” Lisa said.

“It’s the only logical reason. I mean, I don’t think he wants to talk politics.”

“Maybe he just wants to torture you over how big a sucker you were last time,” Ober said.

“I don’t think that’s it,” Ben said, shooting a scowl at Ober.

“But why would he want more information if he already made a million dollars from the CMI decision?” Nathan asked. He sat on the sofa and placed a small blue duffel bag on the floor.

“We have no idea how much he made on CMI. He may’ve made ten million or he may’ve made ten thousand. The problem is, we don’t know his background. If he isn’t wealthy already, then he probably didn’t have a great deal of money to invest in the CMI stock before it shot up. All of his winnings might’ve come from a fee Maxwell gave him.”

“But I’m sure that’s a tidy sum,” Nathan said.

“It probably is,” Ben said, “but I wouldn’t underestimate the power of greed. If Rick made a million his first time out, I’m sure he’d love to make ten million the next. Now, we don’t know that he’s going to ask me for more information, but if he does, I think our best option is to follow Lisa’s original plan and try to get it all on tape.”

“If he does proposition you, he’s sure to offer you some money for the information. Obviously, he’s not going to be able to trick you out of the information again.”

“You never know, though,” Ober said. “Ben can be pretty naive when he wants to be.”

Ignoring his roommate, Ben said, “And if he does offer me money, we’ll get the bribe on tape. Then we’ll at least be able to prove that he bribed a government official.”

“I don’t understand one thing,” Nathan said. “If you do get Rick on tape, how are you going to use it against him? By turning it over to the authorities, you’ll reveal your own involvement as well as his.”

“I know,” Ben said. “But at this point, I’m more concerned with the fact that he’ll always have my involvement to dangle over my head. If I get something on him, he can’t use that information against me. Although it’s not the optimal situation, we’ll at least be on a level playing field. Otherwise, I’ll never be safe.”

“Did you get the taping equipment?” Lisa asked Nathan.

Nathan pulled the small blue duffel bag onto his lap and unzipped it. “Here’s our wireless microphone. And just so you know, it’s equipment like this that makes the United States the enduring superpower of our time.”

“That’s great, Colonel,” Ben said. “Who’d you get it from?”

“This friend of mine who works down in security. I was hoping he could get us the state-of-the-art stuff, but this was the best he could do. Without authorization, the best equipment never leaves the security room.”

“Does he have those microphones that are built into your cuff links?” Ober asked.

“Those are fantastic,” Nathan agreed. “I was hoping for the poison darts that shoot out of your watch, but this was the best he could do.” Rising from his chair, he pulled the various wires from the bag. Looking over at Ben, he said, “Stand up and take off your shirt.”

“Woooooooo!” Lisa howled as Ben unbuttoned his dress shirt.

“Wait until you see his bod,” Ober said. “The man has no chest hair.”

“Hey, at least I don’t have the Isle of Capri on my chest,” Ben said as he stood topless in the living room. Looking at Lisa, he explained, “Ober is hairless except for a great island right in the middle of his chest.”

“Wrong,” Ober said.

“Take off your shirt,” Ben challenged.

“There’s no need for that,” Ober smiled. “But, trust me, it’s not shaped like the Isle of Capri.”

“Let me figure out how this works,” Nathan said, struggling to untangle the wires.

“I hate to admit it,” Lisa said, “but you have a sexy bod.” As Ben tried to fight back a blush, she continued, “I’m serious. I didn’t think you had one, but you have a great chest.” Looking at Ober, she said, “I think I’m actually turned on.”

“Well, I have that effect on people,” Ober said.

“Here we go,” Nathan said, looking over at Ben. “Why are you blushing?” he asked.

“Just show me how this thing works,” Ben said.

“Okay. You take this Velcro strap and you wrap it around your chest. The microphones are built into this,” Nathan explained, pointing to two tiny bumps in the wide strap. “This is your battery source,” he said, tapping a larger protrusion on the back of the strap. “It should last at least eight hours and I just put that battery in, so it’ll be fine.” He pulled a thick black box from the bag. “This is the receiver. It has a cassette deck in it, so we can tape the whole conversation.”

“Is it on?” Ben asked.

“It should be.” Nathan raised the antennae on the box and flipped a few knobs. “Go in the other room and say something.”

As Ben walked toward Lisa’s bedroom, the three friends waited in silence, staring at the black box. Suddenly they heard, “Here I am in Lisa’s bedroom. The satin sheets come as no surprise, but I am shocked to see a picture of myself right next to her bed.”

“DON’T TOUCH MY BED!” she yelled.

“And wait . . . what’s this? There are remnants of lipstick marks around my face. Oh, Lisa, you are so very, very sad.”

“GET OUT OF MY ROOM!”

“Wait, is this her underwear drawer? Yes, I think it is, boys!”

As Lisa jumped from the sofa, Ben turned the corner and entered the living room. Hitting rewind, Nathan waited a moment and hit play. “. . . bedroom. The satin sheets come as no surprise, but—”

“It works,” Nathan said.

Ben took off the microphone and put on his shirt. “So all I have to do is talk normally, and everything should come through?”

“Yep.”

“Maybe you should stuff it into your underwear just in case Rick decides to pat you down,” Ober suggested.

“I don’t know if that’s such a good idea,” Nathan said. “If you do that, I think we’ll lose a lot of clarity.” Shutting off the receiver, he added, “The only other thing I should tell you is that since it’s cordless, it has only about a hundred-yard radius.”

“That should be fine,” Ben said, buttoning his shirt. “We’re meeting at Two Quail, a tony restaurant on Massachusetts Avenue. I went there today during lunch just to scope it out. It’s a small place and it has only one window that faces the street. But there’s a Thai restaurant across the street that you guys can wait in.”

“I know the one you’re talking about,” Nathan said. “Bangkok Orchid.”

“That’s the one,” Ben said. “I figure you and Ober should get there at about seven. I’m supposed to meet Rick at eight. They’re right across the street from each other, so we should definitely be in range.”

“Is there anything that might interfere with the microphone?” Lisa asked. “Shortwave transmissions? Satellite dishes? Anything like that?”

“My friend said it should be fine,” Nathan said. “It’s not the best equipment, but it’s still reliable.”

“Y’know what we need?” Ober said, excited. “We should have a password. Just in case something goes wrong, it’ll be our signal that you need help.”

“That’s not a bad idea,” Ben said, returning to his seat on the couch.

“How about if the password is ‘What’s your damage, Heather?’” Ober asked.

“No way,” Ben said. “It has to be something that I can easily work into the conversation, and it can’t look like I’m panicking.”

“How about ‘travesty of justice’?” Nathan asked.

“What about ‘electric cheese’?” Ober said.

“How the hell can I work that in?” Ben asked. “Please don’t kill me, and can I please have some electric cheese?”

“‘Crimes against humanity,’” Nathan said.

“‘Devil Dogs,’” Ober said.

“How about if I just scream, ‘Help me, unimaginative roommates! Help me!’” Ben said.

“Why don’t you use the word ‘bingo’?” Lisa asked. “It’s easy to work into a sentence, and it always works in the movies.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Ober said. “Name one movie that used bingo as the password.”

“Lots of them.”

“Name one,” Ober challenged.

“I don’t care if it works in the movies,” Ben interrupted. “Bingo’s the password. If I say ‘bingo,’ you guys come running.”

“That should take care of the bribing part,” Lisa said. “The only other thing we have to worry about is getting his picture taken so we can I.D. him.”

“This should take care of that,” Nathan said, pulling out a telescopic lens from the duffel. “It’ll fit on my camera, and it should give us all the pictures we want of this asshole.”

“We need detailed pictures, though,” Lisa said.

“Trust me, this puppy’ll show us the blackheads on his nose. It even has a built-in infrared filter.” Nathan looked at Ben and added, “I just need to know who to photograph. I’ve never seen Rick before.”

“I took care of that today,” Ben said. “Two Quail has one table that sits in front of the main window. Rick and I will be seated at that table, so all you have to do is snap pictures of the guy I’m sitting with.”

“And what if you don’t get seated at that table?” Nathan asked.

“We’ll be there. During lunch, when I went to scope out the restaurant, I gave the maître d’ a hundred bucks to make sure that my party is seated at that table.”

“You blew another hundred bucks?” Ober asked.

“When I got there, there was already a reservation in my name,” Ben said. “It was pretty spooky.”

“You’ll be fine,” Nathan said, repacking the microphone in the duffel.

“I was just thinking,” Lisa interrupted. “What if Rick doesn’t ask for the info?”

Ben shrugged his shoulders. “I guess we’ll just have to be happy with the pictures we get. If we can I.D. him, we’ll be able to finger him if he decides to act against me. And then we can at least link him with whoever his next Charles Maxwell is.”

“Speaking of which,” Nathan said, “do you have any idea what case he might ask for?”

“I was thinking about that,” Lisa said. “The American Steel case is a big money issue. That one’s got to be worth at least a couple of million.”

“No way,” Ben insisted. “As far as I’m concerned, there’s only one it could be: Grinnell.”

“You think?” Lisa asked.

“I’m sure,” Ben said. “That case is a potential gold mine.”

“How about clueing us legally impaired spectators in?” Nathan said.

“Howard Grinnell and a bunch of other investors own a gigantic old church in downtown Manhattan. About three years ago, they decided to tear down the church to build a new restaurant and shopping complex—just what New York needs. When they went to the zoning board for approval on their demolition plans, word got out, and the New-York Historical Society and a bunch of religious groups asserted that the church was a historic landmark and couldn’t be destroyed. After major lobbying by everyone involved, the church was officially declared a landmark, and therefore was protected by the city. Grinnell and his investors eventually sued New York, saying that by not allowing them to build on their land, the rezoning was a taking of their property.”

“According to the Takings Clause of the Constitution,” Lisa interjected, “the state cannot take land without paying the owner a reasonable value for it. In this case, the value is the money the property would have brought in if it was made into a skyscraper.”

“But I thought you said it was rezoned,” Nathan said. “How is zoning a taking?”

“That’s exactly the question,” Ben said. “Zoning isn’t considered a taking as long as the zoning furthers important community interests. For example, a city can zone an area of land as residential to keep away commercial developers and to ensure that a community thrives. That’s fair zoning. The issue here is whether preserving a historic landmark furthers the community’s interests.”

“It obviously does,” Lisa said, “since the landmark is part of the community. It helps protect the history of the community, and it also helps attract tourists to the community.”

“That’s one way to look at it,” Ben said. Looking back to Nathan, he explained, “Lisa and I disagree on this one. I think it’s definitely a taking. Just look at the facts: This investment group paid millions of dollars for this property, which, when they bought it, was allowed to have commercial development on it. They should have been able to rely on that information. Instead, Lisa thinks it’s okay for the government to come in and say, ‘Sorry, we changed our minds. You can’t build anything here and, moreover, you can’t even touch the church since it’s a historic landmark.’ That’s crazy. The government just waltzed in and effectively took the land from the owners. Grinnell and Company now have a dingy old church that’s basically worthless.”

“It’s not worthless. Now they own a historic landmark.”

“Lisa, no one is coming to New York City to see this run-down church. It’s not Disney World. They can’t charge admission. They’re stuck with it as is.”

“If the land needs so much protection, why doesn’t the government just pay Grinnell for it?” Nathan asked. “Why should a private citizen have to bear the burden of paying for a historic site that everyone else enjoys for free?”

“There you go,” Ben said. “I told you you should’ve gone to law school.”

“But the owner still owns a historic monument,” Lisa said.

“Big deal,” Ben said. “What are the bragging rights going to get you? If you can’t make money from it, you’ve got fifty million dollars sunk into a stamp collection you can’t sell.”

“What’s wrong with that?” Lisa asked. “Otherwise, we bulldoze history so we can have more strip malls.”

“Listen, I don’t want to sound like Scrooge here, but history doesn’t pay the bills. This group invested millions of dollars because they relied on the city’s zoning. If the city changes its mind, then the city should compensate whoever it screws. Period.”

“Ben, you’re saying we should—”

“Okay, I think we get the idea,” Nathan interrupted. “I’m sure you two can go at it all night, but some of us have work tomorrow.”

“Besides, it’s not our decision,” Ben said. “Hollis and crew will tell us what to write, and that’ll be it.”

“Precisely,” Nathan said, closing his duffel. “So let’s wrap this up. Is there anything else we need to discuss?”

“I think that’s about it,” Ben said. “Let’s hope it goes well tomorrow.”

“And if it doesn’t, I just hope you don’t freak out and become a sick and twisted version of yourself,” Ober said.

“What are you talking about?” Lisa asked.

“Oh, no,” Ben moaned. “Not the Batman theory.”

“What?” Lisa asked.

“I don’t know if you’ll be able to handle it,” Ober said.

“I’ll take my chances.”

Slapping his hands together, Ober said, “The theory is based on the idea that your whole life can fall apart in one bad day.”

“And how does this relate to Batman?” Lisa asked skeptically.

“Think about how Bruce Wayne became Batman: His parents were shot to death in front of his eyes. On that day, he lost his entire life and had to become something different to stay sane. Same thing with Robin—his parents died on the trapeze. Now think about the villains: The Joker fell in a vat of acid and was betrayed by those he trusted. Two-Face was hit with a vial of acid. In the movies, Catwoman was pushed out of a window and the Riddler lost his job. All it takes is one bad day to step over to the side of obsessive madness.”

“That’s a wonderful theory, but there’s one flaw,” Ben said.

“And what’s that?”

“It’s that THOSE PEOPLE AREN’T REAL! THEY’RE COMIC BOOK CHARACTERS!” Ben yelled, sending Nathan and Lisa into hysterics.

“So?” Ober asked.

“So, I’m not that worried about whether I’ll want to get myself a Bat-a-rang or become Gotham City’s newest villain. For some silly reason, I don’t think your theory applies to real life.”

“You say that now,” Ober said, “but you have no idea what tomorrow will bring.”

“You’re right,” Ben said. “I may not know what tomorrow will bring, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be a cape and a utility belt.”

When Ben, Nathan, and Ober returned home, they found Eric sitting at the dining-room table, writing. “Where were you guys?” he asked, putting down his pen. “I was starting to get worried.”

“We were—”

“Nowhere,” Ben interrupted.

“Ben, can you just stop it?” Eric asked.

“No, I can’t just stop it,” Ben said, walking into the kitchen to get a drink. “You started it, and now you have to deal with it.”

“I said I’m sorry. What the hell else do you want?”

“What do I want?” Ben asked, pouring himself a glass of cold water. “Let’s see: I want trust. I want respect.”

“Forget about it,” Nathan said, taking a seat next to Eric. “Everyone just go to bed.”

“Oh, and Ober,” Ben said, “I don’t appreciate you telling my mother about Eric’s and my argument. It’s none of her business.”

Ober sat on the couch, leafing through a magazine. “I just said it was a tiny disagreement.”

“Now why did you have to tell my mother that?” Ben asked. “Was that really necessary?”

“You know how she is,” Ober said. “She started grilling me on what was going on. She’s relentless. It was like she could smell that something was wrong. That was the only thing I said, though. I swear.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’m positive. After that, I was strong.”

“Then why did she tell me that you also confirmed the rumor that I was sleeping with my co-clerk?”

A wide smile spread across Ober’s face. “That one I told her just for fun.”

“Thank you,” Ben said sarcastically. “Because of your idiocy, Lisa is now invited to my house for Thanksgiving.”

“She’s going to your house for Thanksgiving?” Ober laughed. “She’ll be eaten alive there! Oh, is this great, or what?”

“You may want to tell Lisa to wear a bulletproof vest,” Eric said.

Shooting a scowl at Eric, Ben turned back to Ober. “Just wait until I get your mom on the phone.” Picking up the blue duffel that was at Nathan’s feet, Ben headed toward the stairs. “You may want to bring the straitjacket back from the cleaners, just in case.”


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