The man with the rubber boots slammed the door behind me, and slowly waved the gun through the air so that all eight litigators could admire it. It seemed to be working fine; the smell of its discharge was more noticeable than the odor of its owner.
The room was dominated by a long table, covered with documents and papers that only seconds ago seemed terribly important. A row of windows overlooked a parking lot. Two doors led to the hallway.
"Up against the wall," he said, using the gun as a very effective prop. Then he placed it very near my head, and said, "Lock the doors."
Which I did.
Not a word from the eight litigators as they scrambled backward. Not a word from me as I quickly locked the doors, then looked at him for approval.
For some reason, I kept thinking of the post office and all those horrible shootings--a disgruntled employee returns after lunch with an arsenal and wipes out fifteen of his co-workers. I thought of the playground massacres--and the slaughters at fast-food restaurants.
And those victims were innocent children and otherwise decent citizens. We were a bunch of lawyers!
Using a series of grunts and gun thrusts, he lined the eight litigators up against the wall, and when their positions suited him he turned his attention to me. What did he want? Could he ask questions? If so, he could get anything he damned well pleased. I couldn't see his eyes because of the sunglasses, but he could see mine. The gun was pointed at them.
He removed his filthy trench coat, folded it as if it were new, and placed it in the center of the table. The smell that had bothered me in the elevator was back, but not important now. He stood at the end of the table and slowly removed the next layer--a bulky gray cardigan.
Bulky for a reason. Under it, strapped to his waist, was a row of red sticks, which appeared to my untrained eye to be dynamite. Wires ran like colored spaghetti from the tops and bottoms of the sticks, and silver duct tape kept things attached.
My first instinct was to bolt, to lunge with arms and legs flapping and flailing for the door, and hope for luck, hope for a bad shot as I scrambled for the lock, then another bad shot as I fell through the doorway into the hallway. But my knees shook and my blood ran cold. There were gasps and slight moans from the eight against the wall, and this perturbed our captor. "Please be quiet," he said in the tone of a patient professor. His calmness unnerved me. He adjusted some of the spaghetti around his waist, then from a pocket in his large trousers produced a neat bundle of yellow nylon rope and a switchblade.
For good measure, he waved the gun at the horrified faces in front of him, and said, "I don't want to hurt anybody."
That was nice to hear but hard to take seriously. I counted twelve red sticks--enough, I was certain, to make it instantaneous and painless.
Then the gun was back on me. "You," he said, "tie them up."
Rafter had had enough. He took one very small step forward and said, "Look, pal, just exactly what do you want?"
The third shot sailed over his head into the ceiling, where it lodged harmlessly. It sounded like a cannon, and Madam Devier or some female shrieked in the foyer. Rafter ducked, and as he attempted to stand upright the beefy elbow of Umstead caught him squarely in the chest and returned him to his position against the wall.
"Shut up," Umstead said with clenched jaws.
"Do not call me Pal," the man said, and Pal was instantly discarded as a reference.
Excerpted from The Street Lawyer by John Grisham. Copyright 1998 by Belfry Holdings, Inc. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of the Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, 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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No Man's Land
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Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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