Home > The Broker(15)

The Broker(15)
Author: John Grisham

"Yes, okay."

"You know where your hotel is?"

"Yes, the albergo."

"And you have a map of the city?"


"Good. You're on your own, Marco." And with that Luigi ducked into an alley and disappeared. Joel watched him for a second, then continued his walk to the main square.

He felt very much alone. Four days after leaving Rudley, he was finally free and unaccompanied, perhaps unobserved, though he doubted it. He decided immediately that he would move around the city, go about his business, as if no one was watching him. And he further decided, as he pretended to examine the items in the window of a small leather shop, that he would not live the rest of his life glancing over his shoulder.

They wouldn't find him.

He drifted until he found himself at Piazza San Vito, a small square where two churches had been sitting for seven hundred years. The Santa Lucia and San Vito were both closed, but, according to the ancient brass plate, they would reopen from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. What kind of place closes from noon to four?

The bars weren't closed, just empty. He finally mustered the courage to sneak into one. He pulled up a stool, held his breath, and said the word "Birra" when the bartender got close.

The bartender shot something back, waited for a response, and for a split second Joel was tempted to bolt. But he saw the tap, pointed

at it as if it was perfectly clear what he wanted, and the bartender reached for an empty mug.

The first beer in six years. It was cool, heavy, tasty, and he savored every drop. A soap opera rattled from a television somewhere at the end of the bar. He listened to it from time to time, understood not a single word, and worked hard to convince himself that he could master the language. As he was making the decision to leave and drift back to his hotel, he looked through the front window.

Stennett walked by.

Joel ordered another beer.

The Backman affair had been closely chronicled by Dan Sandberg, a veteran of The Washington Post. In 1998, he'd broken the story about certain highly classified papers leaving the Pentagon without authorization. The FBI investigation that soon followed kept him busy for half a year, during which he filed eighteen stories, most of them on the front page. He had reliable contacts at the CIA and the FBI. He knew the partners at Backman, Pratt amp; Boiling and had spent time in their offices. He hounded the Justice Department for information. He'd been in the courtroom the day Backman hurriedly pled guilty and disappeared.

A year later he'd written one of two books about the scandal. His sold a respectable 24,000 copies in hardback, the other about half of that.

Along the way, Sandberg built some key relationships. One in particular grew into a valuable, if quite unexpected, source. A month before Jacy Hubbard's death, Carl Pratt, then very much under indictment, as were most of the senior partners of the firm, had contacted Sandberg and arranged a meeting. They eventually met more than a dozen times while the scandal ran its course, and in the ensuing years had become drinking buddies. They sneaked away at least twice year to exchange gossip.

Three days after the pardon story first broke, Sandberg called Pratt and arranged a meeting at their favorite place, a college bar near Georgetown University.

Pratt looked awful, as if he'd been drinking for days. He ordered vodka; Sandberg stuck with beer.

"So where's your boy?' Sandberg asked with a grin.

"He's not in prison anymore, that's for sure." Pratt took a near lethal slug of the vodka and smacked his lips.

"No word from him?"

"None. Not me, not anyone at the firm."

"Would you be surprised if he called or stopped by?"

"Yes and no. Nothing surprises me with Backman." More vodka. "If he never set foot in D.C. again, I wouldn't be surprised. If he showed up tomorrow and announced the opening of a new law firm, I wouldn't be surprised."

"The pardon surprised you."

"Yes, but that wasn't Backman's deal, was it?"

"I doubt it." A coed walked by and Sandberg gave her a look. Twice-divorced, he was always on the prowl. He sipped his beer and said, "He can't practice law, can he? I thought they yanked his license."

"That wouldn't stop Backman. He'd call it 'government relations' or 'consulting' or something else. It's lobbying, that's his speciality, and you don't need a license for that. Hell, half the lawyers in this city couldn't find the nearest courthouse. But they can damned sure find Capitol Hill."

"What about clients?"

"It's not gonna happen. Backman ain't coming back to D.C. Unless you've heard something different?"

"I've heard nothing. He vanished. Nobody at the prison is talking. I can't get a word from the penal folks."

"What's your theory?" Pratt asked, then drained his glass and seemed poised for more.

"I found out today that Teddy Maynard went to the White House late on the nineteenth. Only someone like Teddy could squeeze it out of Morgan. Backman walked away, probably with an escort, and vanished."

"Witness protection?"

"Something like that. The CIA has hidden people before. They have to. There's nothing official on the books, but they have the resources."

"So why hide Backman?"

"Revenge. Remember Aldrich Ames, the biggest mole in CIA history?"


"Now locked away securely in a federal pen. Don't you know the CIA would love to have a crack at him? They can't do it because it's against the law-they cannot target a US. citizen, either here or abroad."

"Backman wasn't a CIA mole. Hell, he hated Teddy Maynard, and the feeling was very mutual."

"Maynard won't kill him. He'll just set things up so someone else will have the pleasure."

Pratt was getting to his feet. "You want another one of those?" he asked, pointing at the beer.

"Later, maybe." Sandberg picked up his pint for the second time and took a drink.

When Pratt returned with a double vodka, he sat down and said, "So you think Backman's days are numbered?"

"You asked my theory. Let me hear yours."

A reasonable pull on the vodka, then, "Same result, but from a slightly different angle." Pratt stuck his finger in the drink, stirred it, then licked his finger, thinking for a few seconds. "Off the record, okay?"

"Of course."They had talked so much over the years that everything was off the record.

"There was an eight-day period between Hubbard's death and Backman's plea. It was a very scary time. Both Kim Boiling and I were under FBI protection, around the clock, around the block, everywhere. Quite odd, really. The FBI was doing its best to send us to prison forever and at the same time felt compelled to protect us." A sip, as he glanced around to see if any of the college students were eavesdropping. They were not. "There were some threats, some serious movements by the same people who killed Jacy Hubbard. The FBI de briefed us later, months after Backman was gone and things settled down. We felt a bit safer, but Boiling and I paid armed security for two years afterward. I still glance in the rearview mirror. Poor Kim has lost his mind."

"Who made the threats?"

"The same people who'd love to find Joel Backman."


"Backman and Hubbard had made a deal to sell their little product to the Saudis for a trainload of money. Very pricey, but far less than the cost of building a brand-new satellite system. The deal fell through. Hubbard gets himself killed. Backman hurries off to jail, and the Saudis are not happy at all. Neither are the Israelis, because they wanted to make a deal too. Plus, they were furious that Hubbard and Backman would deal with the Saudis." He paused and took a drink, as if he needed the fortitude to finish the story. "Then you have the folks who built the system in the first place."

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