Home > The Broker(7)

The Broker(7)
Author: John Grisham

Hiding on the back row, seated with strangers, was Neal Backman, Joel's oldest son. He was, at that moment, still an associate with Backman, Pratt 8c Boiling, but that was about to change. He watched the proceedings in a state of shock, unable to believe that his once powerful father was pleading guilty and about to be buried in the federal penal system.

The defendant was eventually herded to the bench, where he looked up as proudly as possible and faced the judge. With lawyers whispering in both ears, he pled guilty to his four counts, then was led back to his seat. He managed to avoid eye contact with everyone.

A sentencing date was set for the following month. As Backman was handcuffed and taken away, it became obvious to those present that he would not be forced to divulge his secrets, that he would indeed be incarcerated for a very long time while his conspiracies faded away. The crowd slowly broke up. The reporters got half the story they wanted. The big men from the agencies left without speaking-some were pleased that secrets had been protected, others were furious that crimes were being hidden. Carl Pratt and the other beleaguered partners headed for the nearest bar.

The first reporter called the office just before 9:00 a.m. Pratt had already alerted his secretary that such calls were expected. She was to tell everyone that he was to be busy in court on some lengthy matter and might not be back in the office for months. Soon the phone lines were gridlocked and a seemingly productive day was shot to hell. Every lawyer and other employee dropped everything and whispered of nothing but the Backman news. Several watched the front door, half expecting the ghost to come looking for them.

Behind a locked door and alone, Pratt sipped a Bloody Mary and watched the nonstop news on cable. Thankfully, a busload of Danish tourists had been kidnapped in the Philippines, otherwise Joel Backman would have been the top story. But he was running a close second, as all kinds of experts were brought in, powdered up, and placed in the studio under the lights where they prattled on about the man's legendary sins.

A former Pentagon chief called the pardon "a potential blow to our national security." A retired federal judge, looking every day of his ninety-plus years, called it, predictably, "a miscarriage of justice." A rookie senator from Vermont admitted he knew little about the Backman scandal but he was nonetheless enthusiastic about being on live cable and said he planned to call for all sorts of investigations. An unnamed White House official said the new President was "quite disturbed" by the pardon and planned to review it, whatever that meant.

And on and on. Pratt mixed a second Bloody Mary.

Going for the gore, a "correspondent"-not simply a "reporter" - dug up a piece on Senator Jacy Hubbard, and Pratt reached for the remote. He turned up the volume when a large photo of Hubbard his face was flashed on the screen. The former senator had been found dead with a bullet in the head the week before Backman pled guilty. What appeared at first to be a suicide was later called suspicious, though no suspect had ever been identified. The pistol was unmarked and probably stolen. Hubbard had been an active hunter but had never used handguns. The powder residue on his right hand was suspicious. An autopsy revealed a stout concentration of alcohol and barbiturates in his system. The alcohol could certainly be predicted but Hubbard had never been known to use drugs. He'd been seen a few hours earlier with an attractive young lady at a Georgetown bar, which was fairly typical.

The prevailing theory was that the lady slipped him enough drugs to knock him out, then handed him over to the professional killers. He was hauled to a remote section of the Arlington National Cemetery and shot once in the head. His body came to rest on the grave of his brother, a decorated Vietnam hero. A nice touch, but those who knew him well claimed he seldom talked about his family and many knew nothing of the dead brother.

The unspoken theory was that Hubbard was killed by the same people who wanted a shot at Joel Backman. And for years afterward Carl Pratt and Kim Boiling paid serious money for professional bodyguards just in case their names were on the same list. Evidently, they were not. The details of the fateful deal that nailed Backman and killed Hubbard had been handled by those two, and with time Pratt had loosened the security around himself, though he still carried a Ruger with him everywhere.

But Backman was far away, with the distance growing every minute. Oddly enough, he, too, was thinking of Jacy Hubbard and the people who might have killed him. He had plenty of time to think - fourteen hours in a fold-down bunk on a rattling cargo plane did much to deaden the senses, for a normal person anyway. But for a freshly released former convict who'd just walked out of six years in solitary lockdown, the flight was quite stimulating.

Whoever killed Jacy Hubbard would want very much to kill Joel Backman, and as he bumped along at 24,000 feet he pondered some serious questions. Who had lobbied for his pardon? Where did they plan to hide him? Who, exactly, were "they"?

Pleasant questions, really. Less than twenty-four hours earlier his questions had been: Are they trying to starve me to death? Freeze me?

Am I slowly losing my mind in this twelve-by-twelve cell? Or losing it rapidly? Will I ever see my grandchildren? Do I want to?

He liked the new questions better, troubling as they were. At least he would be able to walk down a street somewhere and breathe the air and feel the sun and perhaps stop at a cafe and sip a strong coffee.

He'd had a client once, a wealthy cocaine importer who'd been snared in a DEA sting. The client had been such a valuable catch that the feds offered him a new life with a new name and a new face if he would squeal on the Colombians. Squeal he did, and after surgery he was reborn on the north side of Chicago, where he ran a small bookshop. Joel had dropped in one day years later and found the client sporting a goatee, smoking a pipe, looking rather cerebral and earthy. He had a new wife and three stepchildren, and the Colombians never had a clue.

It's a big world out there. Hiding is not that difficult.

Joel closed his eyes, grew still, listened to the steady hum of the four engines, and tried to tell himself that wherever he was headed he would not live like a man on the run. He would adapt, he would survive, he would not live in fear.

There was a muted conversation under way two bunks down, two soldiers swapping stories about all the girls they'd had. He thought of Mo the mob snitch who, for the last four years, had occupied the cell next to Joel's, and who, for about twenty-two hours a day, was the only human he could chat with. He couldn't see him, but they could hear each other through a vent. Mo didn't miss his family, his friends, his neighborhood, or food or drink or sunshine. All Mo talked about was sex. He told long, elaborate stories about his escapades. He told jokes, some of the dirtiest Joel had ever heard. He even wrote poems about old lovers and orgies and fantasies.

He wouldn't miss Mo and his imagination.

Unwillingly, he dozed off again.

Colonel Gantner was shaking him, whispering loudly, "Major Herzog, Major Herzog. We need to talk." Backman squeezed out of his bunk, and followed the colonel along the dark cramped aisle between the bunks and into a small room, somewhere closer to the cockpit. "Take a seat," Gantner said. They huddled over a small metal table.

Gantner was holding a file. "Here's the deal," he began. "We land in about an hour. The plan is for you to be sick, so sick that an ambulance from the base hospital will meet the plane at the landing field. The Italian authorities will do their usual quick inspection of the paperwork, and they might actually take a look at you. Probably not. We'll be at a US. military base, and soldiers come and go all the time. I have a passport for you. I'll do the talking with the Italians, then you'll be taken by ambulance to the hospital."

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