The Street Lawyer
The man with the rubber boots stepped into the elevator behind me, but I didn't see him
at first. I smelled him though - the pungent odor of smoke and cheap wine and life on the
street without soap. We were alone as we moved upward, and when I finally glanced over I
saw the boots, black and dirty and much too large. A frayed and tattered trench coat fell
to his knees. Under it, layers of foul clothing bunched around his midsection, so that he
appeared stocky, almost fat. But it wasn't from being well fed; in the wintertime in D.C.,
the street people wear everything they own, or so it seems.
He was black and aging--his beard and hair were half-gray and hadn't been washed or cut in years. He looked straight ahead through thick sunglasses, thoroughly ignoring me, and making me wonder for a second why, exactly, I was inspecting him.
He didn't belong. It was not his building, not his elevator, not a place he could afford. The lawyers on all eight floors worked for my firm at hourly rates that still seemed obscene to me, even after seven years.
Just another street bum in from the cold. Happened all the time in downtown Washington. But we had security guards to deal with the riffraff.
We stopped at six, and I noticed for the first time that he had not pushed a button, had not selected a floor. He was following me. I made a quick exit, and as I stepped into the splendid marble foyer of Drake & Sweeney I glanced over my shoulder just long enough to see him standing in the elevator, looking at nothing, still ignoring me.
Madam Devier, one of our very resilient receptionists, greeted me with her typical look of disdain. "Watch the elevator," I said.
"Street bum. You may want to call security."
"Those people," she said in her affected French accent.
"Get some disinfectant too."
I walked away, wrestling my overcoat off my shoulders, forgetting the man with the rubber boots. I had nonstop meetings throughout the afternoon, important conferences with important people. I turned the corner and was about to say something to Polly, my secretary, when I heard the first shot.
Madam Devier was standing behind her desk, petrified, staring into the barrel of an awfully long handgun held by our pal the street bum. Since I was the first one to come to her aid, he politely aimed it at me, and I too became rigid.
"Don't shoot," I said, hands in the air. I'd seen enough movies to know precisely what to do.
"Shut up," he mumbled, with a great deal of composure.
There were voices in the hallway behind me. Someone yelled, "He's got a gun!" And then the voices disappeared into the background, growing fainter and fainter as my colleagues hit the back door. I could almost see them jumping out the windows.
To my immediate left was a heavy wooden door that led to a large conference room, which at that moment happened to be filled with eight lawyers from our litigation section. Eight hardnosed and fearless litigators who spent their hours chewing up people. The toughest was a scrappy little torpedo named Rafter, and as he yanked open the door saying "What the hell?" the barrel swung from me to him, and the man with the rubber boots had exactly what he wanted.
"Put that gun down," Rafter ordered from the doorway, and a split second later another shot rang through the reception area, a shot that went into the ceiling somewhere well above Rafter's head and reduced him to a mere mortal. Turning the gun back to me, he nodded, and I complied, entering the conference room behind Rafter. The last thing I saw on the outside was Madam Devier shaking at her desk, terror-stricken, headset around her neck, high heels parked neatly next to her wastebasket.
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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