"Why would you want to kill us?" I asked.
"I'm not going to argue with you," he announced. No further questions, Your Honor.
Because I'm a lawyer and live by the clock, I checked my watch so that whatever happened could be duly recorded, if we somehow managed to survive. It was one-twenty. Mister wanted things quiet, and so we endured a nerve-racking period of silence that lasted fourteen minutes.
I could not believe that we were going to die. There appeared to be no motive, no reason to kill us. I was certain that none of us had ever met him before. I remembered the ride on the elevator, and the fact that he seemed to have no particular destination. He was just a nut in search of hostages, which unfortunately would have made the killings seem almost normal by today's standards.
It was precisely the kind of senseless slaughter that would grab the headlines for twenty-four hours and make people shake their heads. Then the dead lawyer jokes would start.
I could see the headlines and hear the reporters, but I refused to believe it would happen.
I heard voices in the foyer, sirens outside; a police radio squawked somewhere down the hallway.
"What did you eat for lunch?" Mister asked me, his voice breaking the silence. Too surprised to consider lying, I hesitated for a second, then said, "A grilled chicken Caesar."
"No, I met a friend." He was a law school buddy from Philly. "How much did it cost, for both of you?"
He didn't like this. "Thirty bucks," he repeated. "For two people." He shook his head, then looked at the eight litigators. If he polled them, I hoped they planned to lie. There were some serious stomachs among the group, and thirty bucks wouldn't cover their appetizers.
"You know what I had?" he asked me.
"I had soup. Soup and crackers at a shelter. Free soup, and I was glad to get it. You could feed a hundred of my friends for thirty bucks, you know that?"
I nodded gravely, as if I suddenly realized the weight of my sin.
"Collect all the wallets, money, watches, jewelry," he said, waving the gun again.
"May I ask why?" I asked.
I placed my wallet, watch, and cash on the table, and began rummaging through the pockets of my fellow hostages.
"It's for the next of kin," Mister said, and we all exhaled.
He instructed me to place the loot in a briefcase, lock it, and call "the boss" again. Rudolph answered on the first ring. I could envision the SWAT leader camped in his office.
"Rudolph, it's me, Mike, again. I'm on the speakerphone."
"Yes, Mike. Are you okay?"
"Just fine. Look, this gentleman wants me to open the door nearest the reception area and place a black briefcase in the hallway. I will then close the door and lock it. Understand?"
With the gun touching the back of my head, I slowly cracked the door and tossed the briefcase into the hallway. I did not see a person anywhere.
Few things can keep a big-firm lawyer from the joys of hourly billing. Sleep is one, though most of us slept little. Eating actually encouraged billing, especially lunch when the client was picking up the check. As the minutes dragged on, I caught myself wondering how in the world the other four hundred lawyers in the building would manage to bill while waiting for the hostage crisis to end. I could just see them out there in the parking lot, most of them sitting in their cars to keep warm, chatting away on cell phones, billing somebody. The firm, I decided, wouldn't miss a beat.
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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