"What would you like us to call you?" I asked, sensing that I was about to become the leader of the hostages. I said this very delicately, with great deference, and he appreciated my respect.
"Mister," he said. Mister was perfectly fine with everyone in the room.
The phone rang, and I thought for a split second he was going to shoot it. Instead he waved it over, and I placed it squarely before him on the table. He lifted the receiver with his left hand; his right still held the gun, and the gun was still pointed at Rafter.
If the nine of us had a vote, Rafter would be the first sacrificial lamb. Eight to one.
"Hello," Mister said. He listened briefly, then hung up. He carefully backed himself into the seat at the end of the table and sat down.
"Take the rope," he said to me.
He wanted all eight of them attached at the wrists. I cut rope and tied knots and tried my best not to look at the faces of my colleagues as I hastened their deaths. I could feel the gun at my back. He wanted them bound tightly, and I made a show of practically drawing blood while leaving as much slack as possible.
Rafter mumbled something under his breath and I wanted to slap him. Umstead was able to flex his wrists so that the ropes almost fell loose when I finished with him. Malamud was sweating and breathing rapidly. He was the oldest, the only partner, and two years past his first heart attack.
I couldn't help but look at Barry Nuzzo, my one friend in the bunch. We were the same age, thirty-two, and had joined the firm the same year. He went to Princeton, I went to Yale. Both of our wives were from Providence. His marriage was working-- three kids in four years. Mine was in the final stage of a long deterioration.
Our eyes met and we both were thinking about his kids. I felt lucky to be childless. The first of many sirens came into range, and Mister instructed me to close the blinds over the five large windows. I went about this methodically, scanning the parking lot below as if being seen might somehow save me. A lone police car sat empty with its lights on; the cops were already in the building.
And there we were, nine white boys and Mister.
At last count, Drake & Sweeney had eight hundred lawyers in offices around the world. Half of them were in D.C., in the building Mister was terrorizing. He instructed me to call "the boss" and inform him that he was armed and wired with twelve sticks of dynamite. I called Rudolph, managing partner of my division, antitrust, and relayed the message.
"You okay, Mike?" he asked me. We were on Mister's new speakerphone, at full volume.
"Wonderful," I said. "Please do whatever he wants."
"What does he want?"
"I don't know yet."
Mister waved the gun and the conversation was over.
Taking my cue from the pistol, I assumed a standing position next to the conference table, a few feet from Mister, who had developed the irritating habit of playing absentmindedly with the wires coiled against his chest.
He glanced down and gave a slight tug at a red wire. "This red one here, I give it a yank and it's all over." The sunglasses were looking at me when he finished this little warning. I felt compelled to say something.
"Why would you do that?" I asked, desperate to open a dialogue.
"I don't want to, but why not?"
I was struck by his diction--a slow, methodical rhythm with no hurry and each syllable getting equal treatment. He was a street bum at the moment, but there had been better days.
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.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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