Home > The Broker(11)

The Broker(11)
Author: John Grisham

"I don't have a dime."

"That's what they say. None that they could find, anyway." He pulled some bills out of his pocket and laid them on the file. "While you were tucked away, Italy abandoned the lira and adopted the euro. There's a hundred of them. One euro is about a dollar. Ill be back in an hour with some clothes. In the file is a small dictionary, two hundred of your first words in Italian. I suggest you get busy."

An hour later Stennett was back with a shirt, slacks, jacket, shoes, and socks, all of the Italian variety. "Buon giorno," he said.

"Hello to you," Backman said.

"What's the word for car?"


"Good, Marco. It's time to get in the macchina."

Another silent gentleman was behind the wheel of the compact, nondescript Fiat. Joel folded himself into the backseat with a canvas bag that held his net worth. Stennett sat in the front. The air was cold and damp and a thin layer of snow barely covered the ground. When they passed through the gates of the Aviano Air Base, Joel Backman had the first twinge of freedom, though the slight wave of excitement was heavily layered with apprehension.

He watched the road signs carefully; not a word from the front seat. They were on Route 251, a two-lane highway, headed south, he thought. The traffic soon grew heavy as they approached the city of Pordenone.

"What's the population of Pordenone?" Joel asked, breaking the thick silence.

"Fifty thousand," Stennett said.

"This is northern Italy, right?"


"How far away are the Alps?"

Stennett nodded in the general direction of his right and said, 'About forty miles that way. On a clear day, you can see them."

"Can we stop for a coffee somewhere?" Joel asked.

"No, we, uh, are not authorized to stop."

So far the driver appeared to be completely deaf.

They skirted around the northern edge of Pordenone and were soon on A28, a four-lane where everyone but the truckers appeared to be very late for work. Small cars whizzed by them while they puttered along at a mere one hundred kilometers per hour. Stennett unfolded an Italian newspaper, La Repubblica, and blocked half the windshield with it.

Joel was very content to ride in silence and gaze at the countryside flying by. The rolling plain appeared to be very fertile, though it was late January and the fields were empty. Occasionally, above a terraced hillside, an ancient villa could be seen.

He'd actually rented one once. A dozen or so years earlier, wife number two had threatened to walk out if he didn't take her somewhere for a long vacation. Joel was working eighty hours a week with time to spare for even more work. He preferred to live at the office, and judging by the way things were going at home, life would've certainly been more peaceful there. A divorce, however, would've cost too much money, so Joel announced to everyone that he and his dear wife would spend a month in Tuscany. He acted as though it had all been his idea-"a monthlong wine and culinary adventure through the heart of Chianti!"

They found a fourteenth-century monastery near the medieval village of San Gimignano, complete with housekeepers and cooks, even a chauffeur. But on the fourth day of the adventure, Joel received the alarming news that the Senate Appropriations Committee was considering deleting a provision that would wipe out $2 billion for one of his defense-contractor clients. He flew home on a chartered jet and went to work whipping the Senate back into shape. Wife number two stayed behind, where, as he would later learn, she began sleeping with the young chauffeur. For the next week he called daily and promised to return to the villa to finish their vacation, but after the second week she stopped taking his calls.

The appropriations bill was put back together in fine fashion.

A month later she filed for divorce, a raucous contest that would eventually cost him over three million bucks.

And she was his favorite of the three. They were all gone now, all scattered forever. The first, the mother of two of his children, had remarried twice since Joel, and her current husband had gotten rich selling liquid fertilizer in third world countries. She had actually written him in prison, a cruel little note in which she praised the judicial system for finally dealing with one of its biggest crooks.

He couldn't blame her. She packed up after catching him with a secretary, the bimbo that became wife number two.

Wife number three had jumped ship soon after his indictment.

What a sloppy life. Fifty-two years, and what's to show for a career of bilking clients, chasing secretaries around the office, putting the squeeze on slimy little politicians, working seven days a week, ignoring three surprisingly stable children, crafting the public image, building the boundless ego, pursuing money money money? What are the rewards for the reckless pursuit of the great American dream?

Six years in prison. And now a fake name because the old one is so dangerous. And about a hundred dollars in his pocket.

Marco? How could he look himself in the mirror every morning and say, "Buon giorno, Marco"?

Sure beat the hell out of "Good morning, Mr. Felon."

Stennett didn't as much read the newspaper as he wrestled with it. Under his perusal, it jerked and popped and wrinkled, and at times the driver glanced over in frustration.

A sign said Venice was sixty kilometers to the south, and Joel decided to break the monotony. ''I'd like to live in Venice, if that's all right with the White House."

The driver flinched and Stennett's newspaper dropped six inches. The air in the small car was tense for a moment until Stennett managed a grunt and a shrug. "Sorry," he said.

"I really need to pee," Joel said. "Can you get authorization to stop for a potty break?"

They stopped north of the town of Conegliano, at a modern roadside servizio. Stennett bought a round of corporate espressos. Joel took his to the front window where he watched the traffic speed by while he listened to a young couple snipe at each other in Italian. He heard none of the two hundred words he'd tried to memorize. It seemed an impossible task.

Stennett appeared by his side and watched the traffic. "Have you spent much time in Italy?" he asked.

"A month once, in Tuscany."

"Really? A whole month? Must've been nice."

"Four days actually, but my wife stayed for a month. She met some friends. How about you? Is this one of your hangouts?"

"I move around." His face was as vague as his answer. He sipped from the tiny cup and said, "Conegliano, known for its Prosecco."

"The Italian answer to champagne," Joel said.

"Yes. You're a drinking man?"

"Haven't touched a drop in six years."

"They didn't serve it in prison?"


"And now?"

"I'll ease back into it. It was a bad habit once."

"We'd better go."

"How much longer?"

"Not far."

Stennett headed for the door, but Joel stopped him. "Hey, look, I'm really hungry. Could I get a sandwich for the road?"

Stennett looked at rack of ready-made panini. "Sure."

"How about two?"

"No problem."

A27 led south to Treviso, and when it became apparent they would not bypass the city, Joel began to assume the ride was about to end. The driver slowed, made two exits, and they were soon bouncing through the narrow streets of the city.

"What's the population of Treviso?" Joel asked.

"Eighty-five thousand," Stennett answered.

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