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The Broker(4)
Author: John Grisham

"A pleasure to meet you," Backman said as he looked at the other men in the room. "Why, exactly, am I here?"

"We'll discuss that." ''Could you please remove these handcuffs? I promise not to kill anyone."

The warden snapped at the nearest guard, who quickly found a key and freed Backman. The guard then scrambled out of the room, slamming the door behind him, much to the displeasure of the warden, a very nervous man.

He pointed and said, "This is Special Agent Adair of the FBI. This is Mr. Knabe from the Justice Department. And this is Mr. Size - more, also from Washington."

None of the three moved in the direction of Mr. Backman, who was still standing and looking quite perplexed. He nodded at them, in a halfhearted effort to be polite. His efforts were not returned.

"Please sit," the warden said, and Backman finally took a chair. "Thank you. As you know, Mr. Backman, a new president is about to be sworn in. President Morgan is on the way out. Right now he is in the Oval Office wrestling with the decision of whether to grant you a full pardon."

Backman was suddenly seized with a violent cough, one brought on in part by the near arctic temperature in his cell and in part by the shock of the word "pardon."

Mr. Knabe from Justice handed him a bottle of water, which he gulped and splashed down his chin and finally managed to stifle the cough. "A pardon?" he mumbled.

"A full pardon, with some strings attached."

"But why?"

"I don't know why, Mr. Backman, nor is it my business to understand what's happening. I'm just the messenger."

Mr. Sizemore, introduced simply as "from Washington," but without the baggage of title or affiliation, said, "It's a deal, Mr. Back - man. In return for a full pardon, you must agree to leave the country, never return, and live with a new identity in a place where no one can find you."

No problem there, thought Backman. He didn't want to be found.

"But why?" he mumbled again. The bottle of water in his left hand could actually be seen shaking.

As Mr. Sizemore from Washington watched it shake, he studied Joel Backman, from his closely cropped gray hair to his battered dime - store running shoes, with his black prison-issue socks, and couldn't help but recall the image of the man in his prior life. A magazine cover came to mind. A fancy photo of Joel Backman in a black Italian suit, impeccably tailored and detailed and groomed and looking at the camera with as much smugness as humanly possible. The hair was longer and darker, the handsome face was fleshy and wrinkle free, the waistline was thick and spoke of many power lunches and four-hour dinners. He loved wine and women and sports cars. He had a jet, a yacht, a place in Vail, all of which he'd been quite eager to talk about. The bold caption above his head read: the broker-is this the second


The magazine was in Mr. Sizemore's briefcase, along with a thick file on Joel Backman. He'd scoured it on the flight from Washington to Tulsa.

According to the magazine article, the broker's income at the time was reported to be in excess of $10 million a year, though he'd been coy with the reporter. The law firm he founded had two hundred lawyers, small by Washington standards, but without a doubt the most powerful in political circles. It was a lobbying machine, not a place where real lawyers practiced their craft. More like a bordello for rich companies and foreign governments.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen, Mr. Sizemore thought to himself as he watched the bottle shake.

"I don't understand," Backman managed to whisper.

"And we don't have time to explain," Mr. Sizemore said. "It's a quick deal, Mr. Backman. Unfortunately, you don't have time to contemplate things. A snap decision is required. Yes or no. You want to stay here, or you want to live with another name on the other side of the world?"


"We don't know where, but we'll figure it out."

"Will I be safe?"

"Only you can answer that question, Mr. Backman."

As Mr. Backman pondered his own question, he shook even more.

"When will I leave?" he asked slowly. His voice was regaining strength for the moment, but another violent cough was always waiting.

"Immediately," said Mr. Sizemore, who had seized control of the meeting and relegated the warden, the FBI, and the Justice Department to being spectators.

"You mean, like, right now?"

"You will not return to your cell."

"Oh darn," Backman said, and the others couldn't help but smile.

"There's a guard waiting by your cell," the warden said. "He'll bring whatever you want."

"There's always a guard waiting by my cell," Backman snapped at the warden. "If it's that sadistic little bastard Sloan, tell him to take my razor blades and slash his own wrists."

Everyone swrallowed hard and waited for the words to escape through the heating vents. Instead, they cut through the polluted air and rattled around the room for a moment.

Mr. Sizemore cleared his throat, reshuffled his weight from the left buttock to the right, and said, "There are some gentlemen waiting in the Oval Office, Mr. Backman. Are you going to accept the deal?"

"The President is waiting on me?"

"You could say that."

"He owes me. I put him there."

"This really is not the time to debate such matters, Mr. Backman," Mr. Sizemore said calmly.

"Is he returning the favor?"

"I'm not privy to the President's thoughts."

"You're assuming he has the ability to think." 'Til just call and tell them the answer is no."


Chapter Two

Backman drained the bottle of water and asked for another. He wiped his mouth with a sleeve, then said, "Is it like a witness protection program, something like that?"

"It's not an official program, Mr. Backman. But, from time to time, we find it necessary to hide people."

"How often do you lose one?'

"Not too often."

"Not too often? So there's no guarantee I'll be safe."

"Nothing is guaranteed. But your odds are good."

Backman looked at the warden and said, "How many years do I have left here, Lester?"

Lester was jolted back into the conversation. No one called him Lester, a name he hated and avoided. The nameplate on his desk declared him to be L. Howard Cass. "Fourteen years, and you can address me as Warden Cass.' "Cass my ass. Odds are I'll be dead in three. A combination of malnutrition, hypothermia, and negligent health care should do it. Lester here runs a really tight ship, boys."

"Can we move along?" Mr. Sizemore said.

"Of course I'll take the deal," Backman said. "What fool wouldn't?"

Mr. Knabe from Justice finally moved. He opened a briefcase and said, "Here's the paperwork."

"Who do you work for?" Backman asked Mr. Sizemore.

"The President of the United States."

"Well, tell him I didn't vote for him because I was locked away. But I certainly would have, if given the chance. And tell him I said thanks, okay?"


Hoby poured another cup of green tea, decaffeinated now because it was almost midnight, and handed it to Teddy, who was wrapped in a blanket and staring at the traffic behind them. They were on Constitution Avenue, leaving downtown, almost to the Roosevelt Bridge. The old man took a sip and said, "Morgan is too stupid to be selling pardons. Critz, however, worries me."

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