The Tenth Justice: Chapter 9


At noon the next day, Lisa entered the office and announced, “They postponed it again.”

“How?” Ben asked, looking up from one of over two dozen cert petitions piled on his desk. “It’s Saturday—the justices aren’t even here.”

“Osterman just called Joel from home. They still haven’t decided it.”

“Unbelievable,” Ben said. “What was the reason? Do they want to make Grinnell the most drawn-out decision in history?”

“They actually made the deadline next Tuesday.”

“They moved Conference from Wednesday to Tuesday?”

“Just for next week,” Lisa explained. “They wanted to make sure everyone had off the day before Thanksgiving, so it has to be decided by then.”

“That was nice,” Ben admitted.

“They have their moments,” she said. Lisa sat down on the sofa and took off her shoes. She looked at her watch. “Only eight hours until the big meeting. Are you getting scared?”

“I definitely have butterflies.”

“At least now you don’t have to worry about being tricked into revealing the Grinnell decision.”

“I learned my lesson, thanks,” Ben said curtly.

“Don’t take it personally.”

“How can I not take it personally?” Ben asked.

“I’m not saying you’d blurt it out,” she said, “but your face might give it away if he asked you how the decision came out.”

“My dear, when one has a poker face like my own, one does not worry about giving things away.”

“In your little mind, do you really believe you have a great poker face?”

“I know I have a great poker face.” Ben gave her a stone-cold stare.

“That’s your poker face? You look constipated.”

“I look fierce,” Ben said, fighting to keep his features at full intensity. “I’m a wolf on the hunt. I’m prowling. I’m sleek.”

“You’re dreaming. If I saw someone looking at me like that, I’d think they were severely medicated.”

Coming out of character, Ben wagged a finger. “Don’t underestimate the power of a medicated stare. That’s how we won the Cold War.”

“Whatever you say.”

“I’m serious,” he said. “And Reagan’s entire reelection campaign was based on the success of the medicated stare.”

“I’m not listening to you.”

“If that’s the way you want to be, I should tell you that denial is a terrible psychological deterrent. It harms you in ways you cannot imagine.”

“It’s okay,” Lisa said. “I like to live life on the edge.”

At seven-thirty that evening, Ben packed up his briefcase and took his coat from the closet. “You all ready?” Lisa asked.

“I think so,” Ben said. He put his coat on his desk and felt his chest, checking for the fifth time that his microphone was properly attached. “I think that’s it,” he added, once again grabbing his coat. “As long as Nathan does his job, this should all work out. By tomorrow, we’ll have a bribery charge and a positive I.D.”

“Call me when everything is finished. Good luck,” Lisa said, leaning over to Ben and giving him a kiss on the cheek.

Ben smiled. “How hard did you have to fight your urge to slip me the tongue?”

“I could barely restrain myself,” she said. As Ben walked to the door, she added, “Just make sure you get Rick to proposition you. Without that, all we have are some pictures of two men eating dinner.”

“Consider it done.”

As Ben headed up Massachusetts Avenue, his mind was flooded with anxiety. Looking for people who might be following him, he glanced over his shoulder at two-minute intervals. The November night was cold—freezing to Washingtonians—and he turned up the collar of his coat. I come from Boston, he thought. This weather shouldn’t bother me. Half a block away from the Thai restaurant, Ben glanced over his shoulder. No one. Then he started speaking into his chest. “Breaker One-Nine, Breaker One-Nine, do you read me? This here’s Ober’s father, Robert Oberman, and I was wondering if my son is still lightweight in the brain. Do you read me?” As he approached Two Quail, he saw that the window table was empty. He once again peered over his shoulder. Still nothing. Finally, he glanced in the window of the Thai place and saw the disguised figures of Nathan and Ober. The two friends wore Washington, D.C., sweatshirts and matching mesh baseball caps from the Smithsonian. With cameras by their sides, they fit in perfectly with the late-fall tourist crowd. Nathan gave Ben a small but unmistakable thumbs-up to let him know that the receiver was working.

Walking up the stairs to Two Quail, Ben wondered what time Rick would show up. I’m sure he’ll be a little late, he thought.

Located in an old brownstone behind Capitol Hill, Two Quail was unassuming. All that identified it as a restaurant was the tiny burgundy and white sign above the entrance. What it lacked in elegance on the outside, it made up for with its opulent interior. Filled with antique furniture, Two Quail was designed to resemble a family home, where every room was a dining room. To further the lived-in look, the tables in the restaurant offered unusual seating arrangements: sculptural sofas, Art Deco love seats, antique wingback chairs, and refinished, upholstered benches. Ben approached the maître d’, who was dressed in black wool pants and a black cashmere turtleneck. “Hi, my name is Ben Addison. I’m supposed to meet a friend here in about five minutes.”

Looking down his list, the maître d’ said, “Yes, Mr. Addison, we have a reservation for two at eight o’clock. Would you like to sit now, or would you rather wait for your friend?”

“If it’s okay, I’d rather sit now.”

“Of course. Right this way.” He led Ben to the table by the window. “Enjoy your meal,” he said as he placed a menu in front of him.

“I’m in,” Ben whispered into his chest. “Can you still hear me?” From his vantage point, Ben could make out a distinct nod from his friends in the restaurant across the street.

“What’s he saying?” Ober asked.

“Hold on a second,” Nathan said, focusing on the voice that came through the tiny earplug he was wearing. “He asked if we can hear him.” Nodding his head, Nathan forced a smile and said to Ober, “Now all we have to do is wait.”

At a quarter after eight, Rick still hadn’t arrived. Where the hell is he? Ben wondered, taking a thin breadstick from the basket at the center of the table. Maybe he’s not coming. Maybe he saw right through our plan. No, there’s no way. He’ll be here. The skinny bastard’s greedy. He’ll definitely be here.

“Can I get you something from the bar?” the waiter asked.

“Huh?” Ben asked, startled.

“Can I bring you a drink while you’re waiting?”

Ben looked down and saw that he had crumbled the breadstick into tiny pieces that were now dispersed across the starched white tablecloth. “No. No, thank you.”

“He looks worried,” Ober said, peering through the telescopic lens of Nathan’s camera.

“Of course he’s worried,” Nathan said. “Rick’s fifteen minutes late.”

“Do you think he’ll show?”

“How should I know?” Nathan asked. “I don’t know this guy.”

Five minutes later, the waiter approached Ben. “Are you Mr. Addison?”

“Yes,” Ben said. Without saying a word, the waiter handed Ben a folded piece of paper. Opening it, he read the handwritten note that said: “Ben, how about moving this party elsewhere? Those tourists across the street are starting to make me nervous. Follow your waiter to the back of the restaurant, and I’ll take care of the rest. Naturally, I’ll understand if you don’t want to come, but if you don’t, this will be the end of our dialogue. Rick.”

When Ben looked up, the waiter said, “You can follow me, sir.”

“Where do you think he’s going?” Ober asked as Ben left the table.

“I have no idea,” Nathan said. “He hasn’t said a word. Maybe he’s just going to the bathroom.”

As he moved toward the back of the restaurant, Ben said to the waiter, “Y’know, here I thought I was going to have a nice relaxing dinner. Then, all of a sudden, bingo, I get a note that says to step outside. Can you imagine my surprise?”

“Holy shit, he’s in trouble,” Nathan said, picking up his camera and racing to put on his coat.

“What’d he say?” Ober asked as he followed Nathan’s lead.

“Just grab your camera,” Nathan said. Dashing out the front door, the two friends ran across the street and into Two Quail. As they entered the restaurant, they were stopped by the maître d’. “Can I help you?”

“Where’s the guy who was sitting at this table?” Nathan pointed.

“I think he went to the bathroom,” he said.

Rushing past him, Nathan ran through the restaurant. “Where’s the bathroom?” he yelled as he bumped into a busboy.

“Over there,” the busboy said, pointing Nathan to the back of the restaurant.

Nathan charged into the bathroom and pulled open each of the stalls. “Shit,” he said, seeing that both were empty. Leaving the bathroom, he ran into Ober. “He’s not in there,” Nathan said, standing in a small corridor in the back of the restaurant. Looking around, he saw an emergency exit at the end of the corridor. Nathan and Ober ran toward the door, pushed it open, and found themselves in the back alley behind the restaurant. Down the block, they saw a departing black limousine. “Quick, gimme my camera,” Nathan said. Ober handed it over. Nathan snapped four quick pictures as the car raced out of sight. “Damn!” he yelled as it disappeared around a corner.

“Could you make out the license plate?” Ober asked.

“I couldn’t see it, but the camera should’ve gotten it. Hopefully, we can enlarge the picture.” Nathan pulled the receiver from his duffel bag, put the earplug back in his ear, and turned on the receiver.

“I don’t think it’s going to help,” Ober said.

Surprised to hear Ober’s statement in both ears, Nathan looked up and saw Ober lifting Ben’s microphone from the pavement. “Damn!” Nathan said, pulling the plug from his ear.

“Do you think he’ll be okay?” Ober asked.

“He’ll be fine,” Nathan said without much conviction. “I’m sure he’s fine.” When he was positive that the car was out of sight, Nathan turned and yelled, “Lisa, did you get it?”

“I got ’em!” Lisa yelled, standing up as she pushed open the cover of the dark green Dumpster next to the back exit. As Nathan and Ober approached, she handed them her own camera and hopped out of the Dumpster. “I got everything! The limo driver, Rick, the license plate—you name it.”

“I just wish we had the audio,” Nathan said, rewinding Lisa’s camera.

“Don’t worry about it,” Lisa said. “At least we’ll be able to get an I.D. now.”

“Thank God you were hiding in the Dumpster,” Ober added.

“It was Ben’s idea,” Lisa said. “He knew Rick would spot you guys in a heartbeat.” Wiping bits of random filth from her jeans, she added, “I just wish I didn’t have to be the one sitting in that smelly rathole.”

“Rick wouldn’t have made a move if he couldn’t account for me and Ober,” Nathan said as the three friends walked down the alleyway. “Now, are you sure you got clear shots of Rick?” he asked, holding both cameras.

“Absolutely,” Lisa said. “The windows were tinted, but Ben made Rick roll them down before he got into the car.”

“Speaking of which,” Nathan said, “are we sure he’s safe? Because if he’s not, I’d be happy calling the police.”

“Don’t call the police just yet,” Lisa said as they reached the street. “As far as we know, Rick’s just after information.”

“Long time no speak,” Ben said to Rick as they sat in the back of the limousine. “I guess you’ve been pretty busy lately.”

“You could say that,” Rick said, smoothing his beige cashmere coat against his expensive brown tweed pants.

“And I guess you’ve moved up in the world since then. I’m impressed. A whole limo just for me.”

“Well, we thought you deserved the best.”

“Y’know, I should also say thank you to your driver.” Ben tapped on the glass partition that separated him from their chauffeur. “He really gave me a great pat-down before I got in the car.”

“It was my idea to frisk you,” Rick confessed. “To be honest, he said you didn’t have the resourcefulness to get a wireless mike.”

“He said that about me?” Ben said, tapping the glass a bit harder. When the driver looked over his shoulder, Ben put up his middle finger. Turning back to Rick, he said, “I’m sorry. Where were we?”

“You’re a bit more tense than I remember,” Rick said. He ran his hand over his perfectly combed blond hair.

“Well, you know what working in the Supreme Court does to you,” Ben said. “Oh, I forgot, you didn’t work there. My mistake.”

“Ben, I know you’re upset. And I understand—”

“No. You don’t. That is, unless you were ever dicked over for some quick cash by someone you trusted.”

“Don’t be so judgmental. You know nothing about my life,” Rick snapped. “I’m sorry I had to do that to you, but at that point I wasn’t sure whether I could trust you.”

“So that’s why we’re riding around right now? Now you can trust me?”

“I didn’t say that. I simply thought you deserved an explanation.”

“So what’s your explanation? You went to Maxwell with the information you stole from me and made yourself a few million dollars. What else is there to say?”

“Are you really that sure of my actions?”

“I’m pretty sure,” Ben said. “Last time we met, you spent four ninety-nine at an all-you-can-eat pizza place. Now, we’re cruising around in a limo, and you’re decked out for a movie premiere. Add that to the fact that Maxwell made one of the riskiest wagers in telecommunications history, and I’d say we’ve got the full picture. Am I wrong?”

“Why are you so obsessed with right and wrong?” Rick asked. “That’s your problem, y’know. You always want the black-and-white answer. But life is all grays, my friend—”

“Rick, why did you want to meet with me?” Ben interrupted.

“I’m just chatting with an old friend. I know you’ve been through some hardships lately, and I wanted to make sure you’re okay.”

“And what hardships are those?” Ben asked, wondering exactly what Rick knew.

“First, your roommate uses you to advance his journalism career, then you get interrogated by the Marshals Office, and your plan to get me on tape falls apart. All in all, I’d say you’ve been having a pretty terrible week. Am I wrong?”

“It’s been hectic, but manageable.”

“Now that’s an optimistic way to look at it,” Rick said with a smirk. “Let me ask you something, Ben. Have your investigations into my background turned up anything yet? As I said in my letter, the phone bill trick was clever, but that attempt at my old apartment was embarrassing. I mean, from a man of your intellect, I expect real thinking.”

“Well, besides the wireless microphone that’s built into my cuff links, I’d say I was doing terribly. But since I have that, I’d say I’m pretty happy.”

“You should be so lucky,” Rick said with a forced laugh.

Noticing Rick’s discomfort, Ben pulled a handkerchief from his suit pocket and handed it to him. “You may want to wipe your brow. You look terribly unprofessional.”

“You really love it when you think the victory is yours, don’t you? But if you even had the slightest hint of a communicator on you, I’d know about it. I have way too much invested in my business to risk it all on a stupid mistake.” Noticing the slight sweat that now covered Ben’s forehead, Rick handed back the handkerchief. “Cuff-link microphones—who do you think you are? James Bond?”

“Rick, if you’re so well informed, tell me why you need to risk being caught with me.”

“As I said, I’m simply checking up on an old friend. Now tell me, how’s everything at the Court?”

“It’s fine. I’ve written over thirty decisions since the session began. At least twelve of them could’ve made you over a million dollars.” Ben stared at Rick, unflinching. “Don’t insult my intelligence. Tell me what you want and name your price.”

“Oh, you’d love to have it in a neat little package, wouldn’t you?” Rick said. “I know you’re in a tough position. When this year started, you were poised for stardom. But because of this disaster with Eric, you’ve put your entire career at risk. If the press links you to Eric, you’ll be eaten alive. No matter what the D.C. law firms have offered you, if you’re suspected of leaking information, there isn’t a firm in the country that’ll touch you. Which means these next few weeks will be risky ones for you.”

“Is that a threat?”

“Not at all. In fact, I’m here to suggest a truce. You know what I need. I’m pretty sure that’s always been clear to you. In return, I’ll make sure you’re handsomely rewarded.”

“You’ll have to forgive me—I’m not up on my criminal-speak. How much is ‘handsomely’ these days?”

“Three million dollars,” Rick said curtly. “I assume that’ll be enough to bury all your fears about your financial future.”

“Have you been smoking some of the money you made? Why the hell would I take money from you? Right now, my life is fine. The press is a little suspicious, but otherwise, they’re calm. But if I take the money, I’m definitely screwed. If a clerk shows up with three million bucks, someone’s liable to get a bit suspicious.”

“Ben, you’re screwed either way. You may have no problems with the press at the moment, but as I said, it’s only a matter of time before they link you with Eric. When that happens, I hope you’re prepared. Take the money—at least you’ll be ready for the disaster that will become your life.”

“You’re right—if the press links us, I’m dead. But there’s no guarantee they’ll find out. If my bank account suddenly hits three mil, though, I’m guaranteed to raise a few eyebrows. At that point, I might as well admit guilt.”

“Now you’re getting caught up in semantics. Do you really believe I’d be dumb enough to just show up with a bag of money at your doorstep? Your three million dollars will be put into an account that no one but ourselves will ever be able to find.”

“Of course—the Swiss bank account. How stupid of me.”

“Ben, this isn’t a game. This is real life here. If you want to risk your existence on the unlikely possibility of media incompetence, be my guest. But I know you’re more of a pragmatist than that. Unless you take the money, you risk losing everything. I hope you’ll choose a more secure future.”

“And if I don’t help you, how do I know you won’t blackmail me?”

Rick looked coldly across at his passenger. “You don’t. But blackmail doesn’t solve any of our problems. Revealing your link with these decisions means risking my own indictment as well. As you know, if the truth comes out, the world’s largest magnifying glass will be turned on all of us. While it’s easy to outsmart a single Supreme Court clerk, it’s not as easy to sidestep the SEC and the resources of an unrelenting media.”

“And if I say no?”

“Then I’ll find someone to say yes,” Rick said. “Believe me, it won’t be hard.”

“Is there a particular decision you have in mind?”

“Grinnell v. New York is one. There are others.”

“And when do you want the information?”

“Get it to me at least three weeks before the decision is announced. The earlier the better.”

Ben picked at a hole in the leather seat. “How does it feel to know you’re going to hell?”

“Don’t get on a moral high horse with me,” Rick said. “It’s easy to be honest when you’re on top. Try starting the race from the back of the pack.”

“Cry me a river.”

“I’m serious. If I were you, I’d be less concerned with ethics and more concerned about securing your future. There isn’t much demand for out-of-work legal geniuses.”

“Let me ask you one last question,” Ben said. “How’d you get all the information about me?”

“That would be telling. You know the line—about magicians revealing their tricks.”

“That’s a good one. You’re so original. So what else do we have to talk about?”

“I believe that’s it.”

“You should know one thing,” Ben said. “Ever since they lowered my security clearance, the marshals have been watching me pretty hard.”

“I don’t think your recent drop in security status will affect anything,” Rick said. “In the future, if you need to reach me, you can contact me through our P.O. box.”

“By the way, that P.O. box thing was a pretty good trick. I was impressed.”

“Doesn’t take much,” Rick said sarcastically. Pushing the intercom button on the side of the door, he said to the driver, “As soon as you see a good place, I want to let our guest out.”

“One last thing,” Rick said as the driver pulled to the side of the road. “Please take out your contact lenses.”

“What?”

“You heard me. Take out your contacts. I’d prefer that you didn’t memorize our license plate.”

“These things cost a hundred bucks,” Ben said as he took out his left lens.

“I don’t want to keep them,” Rick said. “I only want them out of your eyes.”

When he saw that Ben was holding both lenses, Rick opened the door and let him out. “Thanks for dinner,” Ben said sarcastically. Rick slammed the door and the limo sped off. Squinting hard, Ben struggled in vain to read the plates. “Asshole.”

“Where the hell is he?” Nathan asked.

“I’m sure he’s fine,” Ober said, bent over and staring into the refrigerator. “He and Rick just went for a ride.”

“How can you be so damn calm?” Nathan asked.

“I’m not,” Ober said, selecting a soda. “But what do you want me to do? He’ll be home when he gets home.” As he opened the can, he added, “You don’t think Rick kidnapped him and threw him off a pier, do you?”

“Of course not,” Nathan said, walking into the kitchen. “Rick isn’t some petty criminal. If he wanted to eliminate Ben as a witness, he would’ve put a bullet in his brain a few days after the decision came down. Rick’s after more information.” Nathan washed his hands in the sink. He then shut off the water and paused. “Ober, do you trust Lisa?”

“What are you talking about?”

“I’m serious,” Nathan said, drying his hands with a dish towel. “Do you trust Lisa?”

“Of course I trust her,” Ober said, sitting at the dining-room table. “She makes me crazy, but I definitely trust her. Why? What are you thinking?”

“I’m thinking that someone had to tip off Rick. You don’t just get lucky and guess our entire plan. Even if he did spot the two of us, how did he know about the microphone? As far as I can figure, either Rick has all of us bugged, or he has an inside person telling him what we’re up to.”

“That’s not true. Maybe he actually realizes that Ben is a worthy opponent. In that case, he could’ve just been trying to be cautious.”

“Maybe,” Nathan said.

“Anyway, why would you suspect Lisa?” Ober asked.

“Because, besides Ben, only the three of us knew the plan. So if someone’s leaking, it’s either you, me, or Lisa.”

“Well, it’s not me,” Ober said defensively.

“I didn’t say it was you. I said it was Lisa.”

“Do you think she’d really do that?”

“How should I know?” Nathan asked. “But don’t you think it was weird that she wanted to go home rather than come here and wait with us?”

“She wanted to take a shower. She smelled.”

“She could’ve showered here. Besides, what do we really know about her?”

“We know Ben’s been working with her for the past four months, and he doesn’t have a bad word to say about her.”

“That’s just because he’s hot for her. Sex will always obscure good judgment. Always.”

“I don’t know about that,” Ober said, shaking his head. “I don’t really think Lisa could be involved.”

Suddenly, the front door opened and Ben walked in.

The questions started flying: “What happened?” “Where’d he take you?” “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Ben said, his hands cupped together. “I just need some contact solution.” Turning toward the bathroom, he explained, “Mastermind made me take out my contacts so I couldn’t make out his license plates.”

“Well, it doesn’t matter what you saw, because we got everything,” Nathan said as Ben reinserted his lenses. “We got some shots of the limo, and Lisa got everything else.”

“Where is she?” Ben asked. As he blinked his contacts into place, saline-solution tears ran down his face.

“She went home to shower,” Ober explained.

“Did she see Rick when he opened the window?” Ben asked.

“She said she did. She took a whole roll of film.”

“Did you bring it in yet? Are they clear shots? We can probably enlarge them.”

“Already taken care of,” Nathan said. “We took them to the place around the corner. They were closing, so the pictures won’t be ready until tomorrow. As soon as we pick them up, I’ll bring them into work. We’ll have an I.D. in no time.”

“So what’d he say?” Ober asked. “What happened?”

“You saw the whole story,” Ben said, still struggling with his contacts. “Just like we thought, he fucking knew everything. When I was sitting at the table, he slipped me a note saying that I should meet him outside since he didn’t want to be photographed by the two of you. I almost shit my pants.”

“So he did know we were there,” Nathan said. “Did you save the note? Maybe we can analyze it for fingerprints or do a handwriting analysis.”

“Forget about it,” Ben said. “The limo driver took it away from me right before he patted me down for the microphone.”

“I told you—” Ober began.

“I don’t want to hear it,” Ben said angrily.

“Take a seat,” Nathan said.

“I can’t,” Ben said, leaning on the kitchen table. “I’m too wound up.” Running his hands through his hair, he added, “I can’t believe this. Now we have no audio. If we’d given him a power drill, I don’t think he could’ve screwed us harder.”

“What else did he say?”

“He wants the Grinnell decision, and he said he’d pay me three million dollars if I gave it to him.”

“Three million?” Ober asked.

“Did you tell him no?” Nathan asked.

“Of course not,” Ben said. “I did exactly what we talked about. I told him I’d think about it.”

“When did you talk about that?” Ober asked. “I don’t remember that.”

“Last night,” Ben said. “You were down here talking to Eric.”

“How come you didn’t invite me?”

“I just said—you were with Eric,” Ben explained. “Sorry.”

“About Eric—” Ober began.

“Ober, I know it upsets you, but I really don’t want to talk about it,” Ben said. “It’s a dead issue, so drop it already.”

“Do you think Rick believed that you were interested?” Nathan asked.

“Absolutely. He said if I’m linked to Eric, I’m screwed. So if I don’t take the money, I’d be a fool.”

Nathan paused for a moment. “You would be.”

“I know,” Ben said. Pushing himself away from the table, Ben walked toward the kitchen. “The only other thing that freaked me out was how much information he had on me. He knew everything. He knew about Eric and the Marshals Office. He even mentioned something about my meeting with my firm,” Ben said as he picked up the phone.

“Who’re you calling?” Nathan asked suspiciously.

“Lisa,” Ben said. “I want to tell her what happened.” Noticing the odd look on both Nathan’s and Ober’s faces, Ben asked, “Why? What’s wrong?”

Nathan was silent.

“He thinks Lisa might be leaking information to Rick,” Ober explained.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Ben said, hanging up the phone. Coming back into the dining room, he asked, “You don’t really believe that, do you?”

“It’s definitely possible,” Nathan said. “How else do you explain how Rick knew about everything?”

“It’s not that hard to figure out,” Ben reasoned. “He knows Eric’s name, so he probably saw his story in the paper.”

“And how did he know about our entire plan?”

“He might’ve seen you guys across the street.”

“That’s what I said,” Ober said.

“But what about the rest? What about the marshals? And your firm? And the mikes?” Nathan asked. “C’mon, Ben, don’t be blind to this.”

“I’m not being blind,” Ben insisted. “Trust me, I’ve been thinking about this since the beginning. I just don’t think it’s Lisa, though. She’d never do that to me.”

“You barely know her,” Nathan said. “You have no idea what she would and wouldn’t do.”

“She’s a good friend,” Ben said. “I guarantee she wouldn’t do that. Besides, just because Rick is unbelievably resourceful doesn’t mean that one of my close friends is responsible.”

“Eric’s been your close friend for two decades and he had no problem selling you out. How can you say Lisa wouldn’t do the same?”

“Because Lisa’s a better person than Eric is. I know she seems like a loudmouth to you guys, but she has integrity. Trust me, she’d never do it.”

“Ben, now you’re being stupid,” Nathan said, rising from his seat. “If you think she wouldn’t sell you out, you’re wrong. Everyone has their price, and she’s no exception. If you started thinking with your real head, you’d see how right I am.”

“No. No way,” Ben insisted, shaking his head. “If Lisa was leaking information, Rick would be better informed than he was. He knew about things that have gone on, but he only knew about them in a general sense. He really didn’t have any details.”

“You don’t know that for sure.”

“Yes, I do,” Ben said. “I dangled our red herring and he snapped it up.”

“He fell for the security clearance?” Nathan asked.

“Hook, line, and sinker.”

“That’s interesting,” Nathan said.

“What security clearance?” Ober asked, confused. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“Last night, we were talking strategy,” Ben explained, “so Nathan and I said that I should say something happened when it really didn’t. If Rick said he knew about it, we’d know to what extent he was bluffing his way through some of this crap. So I told him that the Marshals Office knocked down my security clearance, which they didn’t. And Rick said he knew about it.”

“Great move,” Ober said, impressed.

“It definitely was,” Ben said. “But I still want to know how Rick had even the little information he had.”

“I think he has us bugged,” Ober said.

“I still think it could be Lisa,” Nathan said.

“I don’t want to hear about it,” Ben said, walking up to his room. “I have way too much to worry about, and I don’t want to have to start suspecting my closest friends.” When he got into his bedroom, Ben closed the door behind him, picked up the phone, and dialed Lisa’s home number.

“Ben?” she answered anxiously.

“Relax, I’m fine,” he said, looking under his desk for anything that resembled a microphone.

“What happened? Are you okay? Did he proposition you?”

“He definitely wants info,” Ben said. After a full explanation of the last few hours, he continued, “So all we have left are the pictures that you and Nathan snapped as we drove away. Hopefully, those’ll be enough.”

“When will they be done?”

“They’ll be ready tomorrow morning,” Ben said, searching under every piece of his memorabilia collection. “Nathan gave them to some place around the corner. But if those don’t come out, we’re back where we started.”

“They’ll come out,” Lisa said. “Once Nathan runs the photos and the license plates through the State Department, we’ll have everything we need.”

“I guess,” Ben said.

“So you’re calm? You’re not crazy?”

“I’m completely calm,” he said, crawling on the floor and searching under his bed. “Lisa, by the way, thanks for hanging in the Dumpster. We would’ve been lost without you.”

“Don’t sweat it. That’s what I’m here for.”

“I know, but I just wanted to say thank you.”

“Any time,” Lisa said, hanging up the phone.

Later that evening, Nathan walked into Ben’s room. Ben was sitting at his desk, slumped in his chair and staring at the wall. “How’re you doing?” Nathan asked.

“I’m okay. Just trying to figure this whole thing out.”

“Any ideas?”

Ben slowly shook his head. “Not really.”

“You don’t really need to stay involved with this bullshit,” Nathan said as he sat on Ben’s bed. “I mean, you can just walk away. The only thing hurt is your pride.”

“It’s not about pride,” Ben said, still slumped over. “Rick will always have information that can damage my career. If I walk away, I’ll never know when he’ll be back to dangle it in front of my face. At least if we get something on him, we can counteract whatever blackmail he might think of in the future.” Ben opened the top drawer of his desk and pulled out a pencil. “Besides, I want this guy.”

“Not to be a pessimist, but have you thought about turning yourself in and explaining the situation to the police? I mean, it’s not like you leaked the information on purpose. Rick tricked you out of it.”

“I’ve definitely thought about that,” Ben said. “But it doesn’t matter how Rick got the information from me. If they found out I released a decision, they’d have to kick me off the Court.”

“Yeah, but it’s not like you’d go to jail—there was no criminal intent on your part.”

“If a clerk got fired from the Supreme Court, it’d make every paper in the country. The media eats up Court scandals faster than my family eats dessert. And if that happened, my entire career would be finished. I’d be disbarred and I’d never be able to practice law again.”

“I think you’re just worried that you’d lose your Golden Boy status.”

“You’re probably right. I’ve busted my ass to get where I am. The last thing I want to do is throw it all away by confessing. No offense, but that doesn’t sound like the optimal solution.”

“I’m just exploring all your options,” Nathan said. “You know I’ll support you no matter what you decide to do.”

Early the next morning, Ben knocked on Nathan’s door. “Do you have the receipt for the pictures? I want to go pick them up.”

“Hold on a second,” Nathan said, bent over as he tied the laces on his sneakers. “I’ll go down with you.”

Nathan untied his laces and retied them again. “C’mon,” Ben said. “How many times have you tied them already? Four? Five? Six? You have a sickness, y’know that?”

“I just like the perfect knot,” Nathan said, still bent over. “Excuse me for being a perfectionist.”

“You’re not a perfectionist. You’re the poster boy for next year’s obsessive-compulsive calendar.”

“There. Done.”

“Now that’s a beautiful bow,” Ben said, staring at his roommate’s shoes. “Wonderful job.”

“Jealous,” Nathan said as they headed downstairs to get their coats. “By the way, my mother’s been bothering me all week. Are you coming over to dinner the night before Thanksgiving?”

“Who’s going to be there?” Ben asked, buttoning his coat.

“Well, it’ll be my family, the four of us, and Lisa, if she’s coming.”

“What do you mean, the four of us? I’m not eating with Eric.”

“C’mon,” Nathan pleaded, opening the front door. “Now you’re being immature.”

“I’m not being immature. I just want to enjoy my time at your house. If Eric’s there, I won’t. It’s as simple as that.”

“What do you want me to do?” Nathan asked. “Should I tell him he can’t come? Should I invite everyone and leave him out? Besides, if he’s not invited, our mothers’ll never leave us alone. They’ll want to know the whole story, start to finish.”

Silent until they reached the corner, Ben said, “Fine. He can come.”

“Thank you,” Nathan said, breathing a sigh of relief. “I’m glad your forgiving side won out.”

“Don’t think this has anything to do with forgiveness. I just weighed my hatred for Eric against the consequences of maternal interrogation. From there it was no contest. Moms are undefeated.”

Ben and Nathan walked three more blocks until they reached Rob’s Camera and Video. As they approached the store, Ben said, “We’ll probably have to enlarge the photo.”

“It won’t be a problem. They can do that within an hour. I’m more worried that the license won’t give us good information.”

“It definitely will. Even if it only gives us a limo company, that’s a start.” Ben opened the door for his friend and followed him inside.

Nathan pulled out the two ticket stubs and handed them to one of the two female clerks waiting behind the counter. “We have some pictures to pick up.”

As one of the clerks took the stubs to the photo bins, the other looked at Ben. “Did you go to Maryland undergrad? Because you look really familiar.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t,” Ben said. “My friend did, though. He got a degree in shoelace tying.” Pointing to Nathan’s feet, he asked, “Have you ever seen anything tied so tight in your whole life? I mean, besides him?”

The clerk leaned over the counter. “That is a nice bow.”

“I’m sorry,” the other clerk said, shuffling though the envelopes of finished photos. “When did we say your pictures would be ready?”

“You said to pick them up this morning,” Nathan said. “They were under the last name Oberman. Two rolls of film.”

The clerk shook her head. “I can’t find them here. Hold on a second.” The clerk flipped through a small looseleaf binder and stopped on a page. “Wait, I found them. They were picked up about an hour ago by your friend.”

A chill ran down Ben’s back. “What friend?”

“Oh, I remember that guy. I helped him,” the other clerk said. “He said that if you came in, we should tell you that he already picked up the photos.”

“This wouldn’t happen to be a tall guy with blond hair and droopy eyes?” Ben asked.

“That’s him,” she said. “He was so sweet.”

“Fuck!” Ben said, banging the glass counter.

“Relax,” Nathan said. Looking at the perplexed clerks, Nathan explained, “That wasn’t our friend. You gave our pictures to someone who shouldn’t have seen them.”

“I’m so sorry,” the clerk said. “I didn’t mean—”

“Don’t worry about it,” Nathan said.

“What do you mean, don’t worry about it?” Ben yelled. Turning to the clerks, he asked, “Don’t you have a policy about picking film up? Don’t you always ask for a receipt?”

“He knew the name—he said you guys were friends.”

“Do you keep any negatives on file?” Ben shot back. “Anything at all in case someone walks off with your pictures?”

“No. The negatives go right back to the customer.”

“I don’t fuckin’ believe this,” Ben said, walking to the door.

“You don’t happen to have security cameras here, do you?” Nathan asked. “Something that might’ve snapped a picture of our friend?”

“I’m sorry, we don’t,” the clerk said. “They were stolen when we were robbed last March.”

“Unbelievable,” Ben said as he left the store.

Waving to the clerks, Nathan said, “Thanks for your help,” and walked outside. Running to catch up with Ben, he said, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have left the photos in there overnight.”

“It’s not your fault,” Ben said. “I should’ve seen this one a mile away. This was just dumb. I could’ve been here early this morning.”

“How do you think he knew? Do you think there was someone following us when we left you at the restaurant?” As he struggled to keep pace with his friend, Nathan asked, “Did you tell Lisa where the photos were?”

Ben was silent.

“You told her, didn’t you?”

Again, silence.

“Answer me,” Nathan demanded. “Did you tell Lisa about the photos?”

Coming to an abrupt halt, Ben threw his arms in the air and screamed, “YES! I TOLD HER! What the hell do you want me to say? I told her they were at a camera store a few blocks away!”

“Now why’d you do that? I told you—”

“I told her because I trust her. And when I speak to her, I don’t worry about guarding my thoughts—she’s my friend. So no matter what you say, until you have proof that it’s Lisa, I won’t believe a single bit of your conjecture.”

“What kind of proof are you waiting for? If she put a knife in your back, you’d say it wasn’t her because you didn’t see her with your own two eyes.”

“Lisa has nothing to gain by talking to Rick. If she was after the money, she’d leak the decisions to Rick herself.”

“Is that what you think?” Nathan asked. “What about this scenario: Rick and Lisa are conspiring, and Lisa is leaking the decisions to Rick. The only problem is that if word gets out that information is leaking, there’s no fall guy. Enter one befuddled clerk named Benjamin Addison. Get enough information on him, and if anything ever goes wrong, you have an instant scapegoat. All they need to do is keep amassing evidence of your involvement.”

Ben walked silently for almost a block. Finally, he said, “I don’t agree with you, but I understand what you’re saying. When we get back from Thanksgiving, I’ll be happy to talk about it, but until then, I want to enjoy my time at home. Lisa’ll be with me and I refuse to suspect her the entire weekend.”

“Then maybe you shouldn’t take her home with you,” Nathan said.

“Get it out of your head. She’s got her ticket and she’s coming home. That’s the end of the discussion.”

“It’s your life,” Nathan said.


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