Excerpt from The King of Torts by John Grisham, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The King of Torts

by John Grisham

The King of Torts
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2003, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Dec 2003, 480 pages

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No phone call was requested. No mention of a lawyer or a bail bondsman. Tequila seemed dazed but content to sit in a crowded cell and stare at the floor.


PUMPKIN HAD NO TRACEABLE father but his mother worked as a security guard in the basement of a large office building on New York Avenue. It took three hours for the police to determine her son's real name--Ram-n Pumphrey--to locate his address, and to find a neighbor willing to tell them if he had a mother.

Adelfa Pumphrey was sitting behind a desk just inside the basement entrance, supposedly watching a bank of monitors. She was a large thick woman in a tight khaki uniform, a gun on her waist, a look of complete disinterest on her face. The cops who approached her had done so a hundred times. They broke the news, then found her supervisor.

In a city where young people killed each other every day, the slaughter had thickened skins and hardened hearts, and every mother knew many others who'd lost their children. Each loss brought death a step closer, and every mother knew that any day could be the last. The mothers had watched the others survive the horror. As Adelfa Pumphrey sat at her desk with her face in her hands, she thought of her son and his lifeless body lying somewhere in the city at that moment, being inspected by strangers.

She swore revenge on whoever killed him.

She cursed his father for abandoning the child.

She cried for her baby.

And she knew she would survive. Somehow, she would survive.


ADELFA WENT TO COURT to watch the arraignment. The police told her the punk who'd killed her son was scheduled to make his first appearance, a quick and routine matter in which he would plead not guilty and ask for a lawyer. She was in the back row with her brother on one side and a neighbor on the other, her eyes leaking tears into a damp handkerchief. She wanted to see the boy. She also wanted to ask him why, but she knew she would never get the chance.

They herded the criminals through like cattle at an auction. All were black, all wore orange coveralls and handcuffs, all were young. Such waste.

In addition to his handcuffs, Tequila was adorned with wrist and ankle chains since his crime was especially violent, though he looked fairly harmless when he was shuffled into the courtroom with the next wave of offenders. He glanced around quickly at the crowd to see if he recognized anyone, to see if just maybe someone was out there for him. He was seated in a row of chairs, and for good measure one of the armed bailiffs leaned down and said, "That boy you killed. That's his mother back there in the blue dress."

With his head low, Tequila slowly turned and looked directly into the wet and puffy eyes of Pumpkin's mother, but only for a second. Adelfa stared at the skinny boy in the oversized coveralls and wondered where his mother was and how she'd raised him and if he had a father, and, most important, how and why his path had crossed that of her boy's. The two were about the same age as the rest of them, late teens or early twenties. The cops had told her that it appeared, at least initially, that drugs were not involved in the killing. But she knew better. Drugs were involved in every layer of street life. Adelfa knew it all too well. Pumpkin had used pot and crack and he'd been arrested once, for simple possession, but he had never been violent. The cops were saying it looked like a random killing. All street killings were random, her brother had said, but they all had a reason.

On one side of the courtroom was a table around which the authorities gathered. The cops whispered to the prosecutors, who flipped through files and reports and tried valiantly to keep the paperwork ahead of the criminals. On the other side was a table where the defense lawyers came and went as the assembly line sputtered along. Drug charges were rattled off by the Judge, an armed robbery, some vague sexual attack, more drugs, lots of parole violations. When their names were called, the defendants were led forward to the bench, where they stood in silence. Paperwork was shuffled, then they were hauled off again, back to jail.

Excerpted from The King of Torts by John Grisham Copyright© 2003 by John Grisham. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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