The final Tarvan clients to sign the documents were the parents of a twenty-year-old Howard University coed who'd dropped out of school one week and been murdered the next. They lived in Warren-ton, Virginia, forty miles west of D.C. For an hour they had sat in Clay's office and held hands tightly, as if neither of them could function alone. They cried at times, pouring out their unspeakable grief. They were stoic at other times, so rigid and strong and seemingly unmoved by the money that Clay doubted they would accept the settlement.
But they did, though of all the clients he'd processed Clay was certain that the money would affect them the least. With time they might appreciate it; for now, they just wanted their daughter back.
Paulette and Miss Glick helped escort them out of the office and to the elevators, where everybody hugged everybody again. As the doors closed, the parents were fighting tears.
Clay's little team met in the conference room where they let the moment pass and were thankful that no more widows and grieving parents would visit them, at least not in the near future. Some very expensive champagne had been iced for the occasion, and Clay began pouring. Miss Glick declined because she drank nothing, but she was the only teetotaler in the firm. Paulette and Jonah seemed especially thirsty. Rodney preferred Budweiser, but he sipped along with the rest.
During the second bottle, Clay rose to speak. "I have some firm announcements," he said, tapping his glass. "First, the Tylenol cases are now complete. Congratulations and thanks to all of you." He'd used Tylenol as a code for Tarvan, a name they would never hear. Nor would they ever know the amount of his fees. Obviously, Clay was being paid a fortune, but they had no idea how much.
They applauded themselves. "Second, we begin the celebration tonight with dinner at Citronelle. Eight o'clock sharp. Could be a long evening because there is no work tomorrow. The office is closed."
More applause, more champagne. "Third, in two weeks we leave for Paris. All of us, plus one friend each, preferably a spouse if you have one. All expenses paid. First-class air, luxury hotel, the works. We'll be gone for a week. No exceptions. I'm the boss and I'm ordering all of you to Paris."
Miss Glick covered her mouth with both hands. They were all stunned, and Paulette spoke first, "Not Paris, Tennessee."
"No, dear, the real Paris."
"What if I bump into my husband over there?" she said with a half-smile, and laughter erupted around the table.
"You can go to Tennessee if you'd like," Clay said.
"No way, baby."
When she could finally speak, Miss Glick said, "I'll need a passport."
"The forms are on my desk. I'll see to it. It'll take less than a week. Anything else?"
There was talk about weather and food and what to wear. Jonah immediately began debating which girl to take. Paulette was the only one who'd been to Paris, on her honeymoon, a brief tryst that ended badly when the Greek was called away on emergency business. She flew home alone, in coach though she'd gone over in first class. "Honey, they bring you champagne in first class," she explained to the rest. "And the seats are as big as sofas."
"I can bring anyone?" Jonah asked, obviously struggling with the decision.
"Let's limit it to anyone who doesn't have a spouse, okay?" Clay said.
"That narrows the field."
"Who will you take?" Paulette asked.
"Maybe no one," Clay said, and the room went quiet for a moment. They had whispered about Rebecca and the separation, with Jonah supplying most of the gossip. They wanted their boss happy, though they were not close enough to meddle.
"What's that tower over there?" Rodney asked.
"The Eiffel Tower," Paulette said. "You can go all the way to the top."
"Not me. It don't look safe."
"You're going to be a real traveler, I can tell."
"How long are we there?" asked Miss Glick.
"Seven nights," Clay said. "Seven nights in Paris." And they all drifted away, swept along by the champagne. A month earlier they had been locked in the drudgery of the OPD. All but Jonah, who'd been selling computers part-time.
Max Pace wanted to talk, and since the firm was closed Clay suggested they meet there, at noon, after the cobwebs had cleared.
Only a headache remained. "You look like hell," Pace began pleasantly. "We celebrated." "What I have to discuss is very important. Are you up to it?" "I can keep up with you. Fire away." Pace had a tall paper cup of coffee that he carried around the room as he moved about. "The Tarvan mess is over," he said, for finality. It was over when he said it was over, and not before. "We settled the six cases. If anyone claiming to be related to our girl Bandy ever surfaces, then we'll expect you to deal with it. But I'm convinced she has no family."
"So am I."
"You did good work, Clay."
"I'm getting paid handsomely for it."
"I'll transfer in the last installment today. All fifteen million will be in your account. What's left of it."
"What do you expect me to do? Drive an old car, sleep in a rundown apartment, keep wearing cheap clothes? You said yourself that I had to spend some money to create the right impression."
"I'm kidding. And you're doing a great job of looking rich."
"You're making the adjustment from poverty to wealth with remarkable ease."
"It's a talent."
"Just be careful. Don't create too much attention."
"Let's talk about the next case."
With that Pace took a seat and slid a file across. "The drug is Dyloft, manufactured by Ackerman Labs. It's a potent anti-inflammatory drug used by sufferers of acute arthritis. Dyloft is new and the doctors have gone crazy over it. It works wonders, patients love it. But it has two problems: First, it's made by a competitor of my client's; second, it's been linked to the creation of small tumors in the bladder. My client, same client as Tarvan, makes a similar drug that was popular until twelve months ago when Dyloft hit the market. The market is worth about three billion a year, give or take. Dyloft is already number two and will probably hit a billion this year. It's hard to tell because it's growing so fast. My client's drug is doing a billion and a half and losing ground fast. Dyloft is the rage and will quickly crush all competition. It's that good. A few months ago my client bought a small pharmaceutical company in Belgium.
This outfit once had a division that was later swallowed by Ackerman Labs. A few researchers got shoved out and shafted along the way. Some lab studies disappeared then surfaced where they didn't belong. My client has the witnesses and the documents to prove that Ackerman Labs has known of the potential problems for at least the past six months. You with me?"
"Yes. How many people have taken Dyloft?"
"It's really hard to tell because the number is growing so fast. Probably a million."
"What percentage get the tumors?"
"The research indicates about five percent, enough to kill the drug."
"How do you know whether a patient has the tumors?"
"You want me to sue Ackerman Labs?"
"Hang on. The truth about Dyloft will be out very shortly. As of today, there has been no litigation, no claims, no damaging studies published in the journals. Our spies tell us Ackerman is busy counting its money and stashing it away to pay off the lawyers when the storm hits. Ackerman may also be trying to fix the drug, but that takes time and FDA approvals. They're in a real quandary because they need cash. They borrowed heavily to acquire other companies, most of which have not paid off. Their stock is selling for around forty-two bucks. A year ago it was at eighty."
"What will the news about Dyloft do to the company?"
"Hammer the stock, which is exactly what my client wants. If the litigation is handled right, and I'm assuming you and I can do it properly, the news will murder Ackerman Labs. And since we have the inside proof that Dyloft is bad, the company will have no choice but to settle. They can't risk a trial, not with such a dangerous product."
"What's the downside?"
"Ninety-five percent of the tumors are benign, and very small. There's no real damage to the bladder."
"So the litigation is used to shock the market?"
"Yes, and, of course, to compensate the victims. I don't want tumors in my bladder, benign or malignant. Most jurors would feel the same way. Here's the scenario: You put together a group of fifty or so plaintiffs, and file a big lawsuit on behalf of all Dyloft patients. At precisely the same time, you launch a series of television ads soliciting more cases. You hit fast and hard, and you'll get thousands of cases. The ads run coast to coast - quickie ads that'll scare folks and make them dial your toll-free number right here in D.C., where you have a warehouse full of paralegals answering the phones and doing the grunt work. It's gonna cost you some money, but if you get, say, five thousand cases, and you settle them for twenty thousand bucks each, that's one hundred million dollars. Your cut is one third."
"No, Clay, that's mass tort litigation at its finest. That's how the system works these days. And if you don't do it, I guarantee you someone else will. And very soon. There is so much money involved that the mass tort lawyers wait like vultures for any hint of a bad drug. And believe me, there are plenty of bad drugs."
"Why am I the lucky guy?"
"Timing, my friend. If my client knows exactly when you file the lawsuit, then they can react to the market." "Where do I find fifty clients?" Clay asked. Max thumped another file. "We know of at least a thousand. Names, addresses, all right here." "You mentioned a warehouse full of paralegals?" "Half a dozen. It'll take that many to answer the phones and keep the files organized. You could end up with five thousand individual clients." "Television ads?" "Yep, I've got the name of a company that can put the ad together in less than three days. Nothing fancy - a voice-over, images of pills dropping onto a table, the potential evils of Dyloft, fifteen seconds of terror designed to make people call the Law Offices of Clay Carter II. These ads work, believe me. Run them in all major markets for a week and you'll have more clients than you can count."
"How much will it cost?"
"Couple of million, but you can afford it."
It was Clay's turn to pace around the room and let the blood circulate. He'd seen some ads for diet pills that had gone bad, ads in which unseen lawyers were trying to frighten folks into dialing a toll-free number. Surely, he wasn't about to sink that low.
But thirty-three million dollars in fees! He was still numb from the first fortune.
"What's the timetable?"
Pace had a list of the first things to do. "You'll have to sign up the clients, which will take two weeks max. Three days to finish the ad. A few days to buy the television time. You'll need to hire paralegals and put them in some rented space out in the suburbs; it's too expensive here. The lawsuit has to be prepared. You have a good staff. You should be able to get it done in less than thirty days."
"I'm taking the firm to Paris for a week, but we'll get it done."
"My client wants the lawsuit filed in less than a month. July the second, to be exact."
Clay returned to the table and stared at Pace. "I've never handled a lawsuit like this," he said.
Pace pulled something out of his file. "Are you busy this weekend?" he asked, looking at a brochure.
"Been to New Orleans lately?"
"About ten years ago."
"Ever heard of the Circle of Barristers?"
"It's an old group with a new life - a bunch of trial lawyers who specialize in mass torts. They get together twice a year and talk about the latest trends in litigation. It would be a productive weekend." He slid the brochure across to Clay who picked it up. On the cover was a color photo of the Royal Sonesta Hotel in the French Quarter.
New Orleans was warm and humid as always, especially in the Quarter.
He was alone, and that was fine. Even if he and Rebecca were still together she would not have made the trip. She would've been too busy at work, with shopping to do on the weekend with her mother. The usual routine. He had thought about inviting Jonah, but that relationship was strained at the moment. Clay had moved out of their cramped apartment and into the comfort of Georgetown without offering to take Jonah with him, an affront, but one that Clay had anticipated and was prepared to deal with. The last thing he wanted in his new town house was a wild roommate coming and going at all hours with whatever stray cat he could pick up.
The money was beginning to isolate him. Old friends he once called were now being ignored because he didn't want all the questions. Old places were no longer frequented because he could afford something better. In less than a month, he had changed jobs, homes, cars, banks, wardrobes, eating places, gyms, and he was most definitely in the process of changing girlfriends, though no substitute was on the horizon. They had not spoken in twenty-eight days. He'd been under the assumption that he would call her on the thirtieth day, as promised, but so much had changed since then.
By the time Clay entered the lobby of the Royal Sonesta his shirt was wet and clinging to his back. The registration fee was $5,000, an outrageous amount for a few days of fraternizing with a bunch of lawyers. The fee said to the legal world that not everyone was invited, only the rich who were serious about their mass torts. His room was another $450 & night, and he paid for it with an unused platinum credit card.
Various seminars were under way. He drifted through a discussion on toxic torts, led by two lawyers who'd sued a chemical company for polluting drinking water that might or might not have caused cancer, but the company paid a half a billion anyway and the two lawyers got rich. Next door a lawyer Clay had seen on television was in full throttle on how to handle the media, but he had few listeners. In fact, most of the seminars were lightly attended. But it was Friday afternoon and the heavyweights arrived on Saturday.
Clay eventually found the crowd in the small exhibition hall where an aircraft company was showing a video on its upcoming luxury jet, the fanciest of its generation. The show was on a wide screen in one corner of the hall, and lawyers were packed together, all silent, all gawking at this latest miracle of aviation. Range of four thousand miles - "Coast to coast, or New York to Paris, nonstop of course." It burned less fuel than the other four jets Clay had never heard of, and went faster too. The interior was roomy with seats and sofas everywhere, even a very comely flight attendant in a short skirt, holding a bottle of champagne and a bowl of cherries. The leather was a rich tan color. For pleasure or for work, because the Galaxy 9000 came with a cutting-edge phone system and a satellite receiver that allowed the busy lawyer to call anywhere in the world; and faxes and a copier, and, of course, instant Internet access. The video actually showed a group of harsh-looking lawyer types huddled around a small table, with their sleeves rolled up as if they were laboring over some settlement, while the comely blonde in the short skirt got ignored along with her champagne.
Clay inched closer into the crowd, feeling very much like a trespasser. Wisely, the video never gave the selling price of the Galaxy 9000. There were better deals, involving time-shares and trade-ins, and leasebacks, all of which could be explained by the sales reps who were standing nearby ready to do business. When the screen went blank, the lawyers all began talking at once, not about bad drugs and class-action suits, but about jets and how much pilots cost. The sales reps were surrounded by eager buyers. At one point, Clay overheard someone say, "A new one is in the thirty-five range."
Surely it wasn't thirty-five million.
Other exhibitors were offering all sorts of luxury items. A boat-builder had a group of serious lawyers interested in yachts. There was a specialist on Caribbean real estate. Another was peddling cattle ranches in Montana. An electronics booth with the latest absurdly expensive gadgets was particularly busy.
And the automobiles. One entire wall was lined with elaborate displays of expensive cars - a Mercedes-Benz convertible coupe, a limited edition Corvette, a maroon Bentley, which every respectable mass tort lawyer had to have. Porsche was unveiling its own SUV and a salesman was taking orders. The biggest gathering was gawking over a shiny royal blue Lamborghini. Its price tag was almost hidden, as if the manufacturer was afraid of it. Only $290,000, and a very limited supply. Several lawyers appeared ready to wrestle for the car.
In a quieter section of the hall, a tailor and his assistants were measuring a rather large lawyer for an Italian suit. A sign said they were from Milan, but Clay heard some very American English.
In law school, he had once attended a panel discussion on large settlements, and what lawyers should do to protect their unsophisticated clients from the temptations of instant riches. Several trial lawyers told horror stories of working families who had ruined their lives with their settlements, and the stories were fascinating studies in human behavior. At one point, a lawyer on the panel quipped, "Our clients spend their money almost as fast as we do."
As Clay gazed around the exhibition hall, he saw lawyers spending money as fast as they could make it. Was he guilty of this?
Of course not. He'd stuck to the basics, at least so far.
Who wouldn't want a new car and a better home? He wasn't buying yachts and planes and cattle ranches. Didn't want them. And if Dyloft earned him another fortune, he would not, under any circumstances, waste his money on jets and second homes. He would bury it in the bank, or in the backyard.
The frenzied orgy of consumption sickened him, and Clay left the hotel. He wanted some oysters and Dixie Beer.
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