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«Pleading guilty», Scott Turow

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Where was my heart to flee for refuge from my heart? Whither was I to fly, where I would not follow? In what place should I not be prey to myself?

The Confessions of St Augustine, BOOK FOUR, CHAPTER VII

The secret self -ever more secret, unhappy, misled.

 

TAPE 1

 

GAGE amp; GRISWELL

 

Office Memorandum

 

ATTORNEY WORK-PRODUCT PRIVILEGED AND CONFIDENTIAL

TO: Management Oversight Committee FROM:McCormack A. Malloy RE: Our Missing Partner

 

Attached, pursuant to your assignment, please find my report.

 

(Dictated but not read)

Monday, January 23

I. MY ASSIGNMENT

The Management Oversight Committee of our firm, known among the partnership simply as 'the Committee', meets each Monday at 3:00 p.m. Over coffee and chocolate brioche, these three hotshots, the heads of the firm's litigation, transactional, and regulatory departments, decide what's what at Gage amp; Griswell for another week. Not bad guys really, able lawyers, heady business types looking out for the greatest good for the greatest number at G amp; G, but since I came here eighteen years ago the Committee and their austere powers, freely delegated under the partnership agreement, have tended to scare me silly. I'm forty-nine, a former copper on the street, a big man with a brave front and a good Irish routine, but in the last few years I've heard many discouraging words from these three. My points have been cut, my office moved to something smaller, my hours and billing described as far too low. Arriving this afternoon, I steadied myself, as ever, for the worst.

'Mack,' said Martin Gold, our managing partner, 'Mack, we need your help. Something serious.' He's a sizable man, Martin, a wrestler at the U three decades ago, a middleweight with a chest broad as the map of America. He has a dark, shrewd face, a little like those Mongol warriors of Genghis Khan's, and the venerable look of somebody who's mixed it up with life. He is, no question, the best lawyer I know.

The other two, Carl Pagnucci and Wash Thale, were eating at the walnut conference table, an antique of Continental origin with the big heavy look of a cuckoo clock. Martin invited me to share the brioche, but I took only coffee. With these guys, I needed to be quick.

'This isn't about you,' said Carl, making a stark appraisal of my apprehensions. 'Who?' I asked. 'Bert,' said Martin.

For going on two weeks, my partner Bert Kamin has not appeared at the office. No mail from him, no calls. In the case of your average baseline human being who has worked at Gage amp; Griswell during my time, say anyone from Leotis Griswell to the Polish gal who cleans the cans, this would be cause for concern. Not so clearly Bert. Bert is a kind of temperamental adolescent, big and brooding, who enjoys the combat of the courtroom. You need a lawyer who will cross-examine opposing party's CEO and claw out his intestines in the fashion of certain large cats, Bert's your guy. On the other hand, if you want someone who will come to work, fill out his time sheets, or treat his secretary as if he recollected that slavery is dead, then you might think about somebody else. After a month or two on trial, Bert is liable to take an absolute powder. Once he turned up at the fantasy camp run by the Trappers, our major league baseball team. Another time he was gambling in Monte Carlo. With his dark moods, scowls, and hallway tantrums, his macho stunts and episodic schedule, Bert has survived at Gage amp; Griswell largely through the sufferance of Martin, who is a champion of tolerance and seems to enjoy the odd ducks like Bert. Or, for that matter, me.

'Why don't you talk to those thugs down at the steam bath where he likes to hang out? Maybe they know where he is.' I meant the Russian Bath. Unmarried, Bert is apt to follow the Kindle County sporting teams around the country on weekends, laying heavy bets and passing time in sports bars or places like the Bath where people talk about the players with an intimacy they don't presume with their relations. 'He'll show up,' I added, 'he always does.' Pagnucci said simply, 'Not this time.'

'This is very sensitive,' Wash Thale told me. 'Very sensitive.' Wash tends to state the obvious in a grave, portentous manner, the self-commissioned voice of wisdom.

'Take a look.' Martin shot a brown expandable folder across the glimmer of the table. A test, I feared at once, and felt a bolt of anxiety quicken my thorax, but inside all I found were eighteen checks. They were drawn on what we call the 397 Settlement Account, an escrow administered by G amp; G which contains $288 million scheduled to be paid out shortly to various plaintiffs in settlement of a massive air crash case brought against TransNational Air. TN, the world's biggest airline and travel concern, is G amp; G's largest client. We stand up for TN in court; we help TN buy and deal and borrow. With its worldwide hotels and resorts, its national catering business, its golf courses, airport parking lots, and rent-a-car subsidiaries, TN lays claim to some part of the time of almost every lawyer around here. We live with the company like family in the same home, tenanted on four floors of the TN Needle, just below the world corporate headquarters.

The checks inside the folder had all been signed by Bert, in his flourishing maniac hand, each one cut to something called Litiplex Ltd., in an amount of several hundred thousand dollars. On the memo lines of the drafts Bert had written 'Litigation Support.' Document analyses, computer models, expert witnesses – the engineers run amok in air crash cases. 'What's Litiplex?' I asked.

Martin, to my amazement, rifled a finger as if I'd said something adroit.

'Not incorporated or authorized to do business in any of the fifty states,' he said. 'Not in any state's Assumed Names registry. Carl checked.' Nodding, Carl added like an omen, 'Myself.'

Carl Pagnucci – born Carlo – is forty-two, the youngest of three, and stingy with words, a lawyer's lawyer who holds his own speech in the same kind of suspicion with which Woody Hayes viewed the forward pass. He is a pale little guy with a mustache like one of those round brushes that comes with your electric shaver. In his perfect suits, somber and tasteful, with a flash of gold from his cuff links, he reveals nothing.

Assessing the news that Bert, my screwball colleague, had written millions of dollars of checks to a company that didn't exist, I felt some peculiar impulse to defend him, my own long-time alliance with the wayward. 'Maybe somebody asked him to do it,' I said.

'That's where we started,' Wash replied. He'd taken his stout figure back to the brioche. This had come up initially, Wash said, when Glyndora Gaines, our staff supervisor in Accounting, noticed these large disbursements with no backup.


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