Authors: John Grisham
Tags: #Fiction / Suspense
Dell Publishing a division of
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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Copyright © 2000 by Belfry Holdings, Inc.
© 2011 by Belfry Holdings, Inc.
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Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 00-23841
This book contains an excerpt from
by John Grisham.
OR THE WEEKLY DOCKET the court jester wore his standard garb of well-used and deeply faded maroon pajamas and lavender terry-cloth shower shoes with no socks. He wasn’t the only inmate who went about his daily business in his pajamas, but no one else dared wear lavender shoes. His name was T. Karl, and he’d once owned banks in Boston.
The pajamas and shoes weren’t nearly as troubling as the wig. It parted at the middle and rolled in layers downward, over his ears, with tight curls coiling off into three directions, and fell heavily onto his shoulders. It was a bright gray, almost white, and fashioned after the Old English magistrate’s wigs from centuries earlier. A friend on the outside had found it at a secondhand costume store in Manhattan, in the Village.
T. Karl wore it to court with great pride, and, odd as it was, it had, with time, become part of the show. The other inmates kept their distance from T. Karl anyway, wig or not.
He stood behind his flimsy folding table in the prison cafeteria, tapped a plastic mallet that served as a
gavel, cleared his squeaky throat, and announced with great dignity: “Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye. The Inferior Federal Court of North Florida is now in session. Please rise.”
No one moved, or at least no one made an effort to stand. Thirty inmates lounged in various stages of repose in plastic cafeteria chairs, some looking at the court jester, some chatting away as if he didn’t exist.
T. Karl continued: “Let all ye who search for justice draw nigh and get screwed.”
No laughs. It had been funny months earlier when T. Karl first tried it. Now it was just another part of the show. He sat down carefully, making sure the rows of curls bouncing upon his shoulders were given ample chance to be seen, then he opened a thick red leather book which served as the official record for the court. He took his work very seriously.
Three men entered the room from the kitchen. Two of them wore shoes. One was eating a saltine. The one with no shoes was also bare-legged up to his knees, so that below his robe his spindly legs could be seen. They were smooth and hairless and very brown from the sun. A large tattoo had been applied to his left calf. He was from California.
All three wore old church robes from the same choir, pale green with gold trim. They came from the same store as T. Karl’s wig, and had been presented by him as gifts at Christmas. That was how he kept his job as the court’s official clerk.
There were a few hisses and jeers from the spectators as the judges ambled across the tile floor, in full regalia, their robes flowing. They took their places
behind a long folding table, near T. Karl but not too near, and faced the weekly gathering. The short round one sat in the middle. Joe Roy Spicer was his name, and by default he acted as the Chief Justice of the tribunal. In his previous life, Judge Spicer had been a Justice of the Peace in Mississippi, duly elected by the people of his little county, and sent away when the feds caught him skimming bingo profits from a Shriners club.
“Please be seated,” he said. Not a soul was standing.
The judges adjusted their folding chairs and shook their robes until they fell properly around them. The assistant warden stood to the side, ignored by the inmates. A guard in uniform was with him. The Brethren met once a week with the prison’s approval. They heard cases, mediated disputes, settled little fights among the boys, and had generally proved to be a stabilizing factor amid the population.
Spicer looked at the docket, a neat hand-printed sheet of paper prepared by T. Karl, and said, “Court shall come to order.”
To his right was the Californian, the Honorable Finn Yarber, age sixty, in for two years now with five to go for income tax evasion. A vendetta, he still maintained to anyone who would listen. A crusade by a Republican governor who’d managed to rally the voters in a recall drive to remove Chief Justice Yarber from the California Supreme Court. The rallying point had been Yarber’s opposition to the death penalty, and his high-handedness in delaying every execution. Folks wanted blood, Yarber prevented it, the Republicans whipped up a frenzy, and the recall was a smashing success. They pitched him onto the street,
where he floundered for a while until the IRS began asking questions. Educated at Stanford, indicted in Sacramento, sentenced in San Francisco, and now serving his time at a federal prison in Florida.
In for two years and Finn was still struggling with the bitterness. He still believed in his own innocence, still dreamed of conquering his enemies. But the dreams were fading. He spent a lot of time on the jogging track, alone, baking in the sun and dreaming of another life.
“First case is Schneiter versus Magruder,” Spicer announced as if a major antitrust trial was about to start.
“Schneiter’s not here,” Beech said.
“Where is he?”
“Infirmary. Gallstones again. I just left there.”
Hatlee Beech was the third member of the tribunal. He spent most of his time in the infirmary because of hemorrhoids, or headaches, or swollen glands. Beech was fifty-six, the youngest of the three, and with nine years to go he was convinced he would die in prison. He’d been a federal judge in East Texas, a hardfisted conservative who knew lots of Scripture and liked to quote it during trials. He’d had political ambitions, a nice family, money from his wife’s family’s oil trust. He also had a drinking problem which no one knew about until he ran over two hikers in Yellowstone. Both died. The car Beech had been driving was owned by a young lady he was not married to. She was found naked in the front seat, too drunk to walk.
They sent him away for twelve years.
Joe Roy Spicer, Finn Yarber, Hatlee Beech. The
Inferior Court of North Florida, better known as the Brethren around Trumble, a minimum security federal prison with no fences, no guard towers, no razor wire. If you had to do time, do it the federal way, and do it in a place like Trumble.
“Should we default him?” Spicer asked Beech.
“No, just continue it until next week.”
“Okay. I don’t suppose he’s going anywhere.”
“I object to a continuance,” Magruder said from the crowd.
“Too bad,” said Spicer. “It’s continued until next week.”
Magruder was on his feet. “That’s the third time it’s been continued. I’m the plaintiff. I sued him. He runs to the infirmary every time we have a docket.”
“What’re ya’ll fightin over?” Spicer asked.
“Seventeen dollars and two magazines,” T. Karl said helpfully.
“That much, huh?” Spicer said. Seventeen dollars would get you sued every time at Trumble.
Finn Yarber was already bored. With one hand he stroked his shaggy gray beard, and with the other he raked his long fingernails across the table. Then he popped his toes, loudly, crunching them into the floor in an efficient little workout that grated on the nerves. In his other life, when he had titles—Mr. Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court—he often presided while wearing leather clogs, no socks, so that he could exercise his toes during the dull oral arguments. “Continue it,” he said.
“Justice delayed is justice denied,” Magruder said solemnly.
“Now that’s original,” said Beech. “One more week, then we’ll default Schneiter.”
“So ordered,” Spicer said, with great finality. T. Karl made a note in the docket book. Magruder sat down in a huff. He’d filed his complaint in the Inferior Court by handing to T. Karl a one-page summary of his allegations against Schneiter. Only one page. The Brethren didn’t tolerate paperwork. One page and you got your day in court. Schneiter had replied with six pages of invective, all of which had been summarily stricken by T. Karl.
The rules were kept simple. Short pleadings. No discovery. Quick justice. Decisions on the spot, and all decisions were binding if both parties submitted to the jurisdiction of the court. No appeals; there was nowhere to take one. Witnesses were not given an oath to tell the truth. Lying was completely expected. It was, after all, a prison.
“What’s next?” Spicer asked.
T. Karl hesitated for a second, then said, “It’s the Whiz case.”
Things were suddenly still for a moment, then the plastic cafeteria chairs rattled forward in one noisy offensive. The inmates scooted and shuffled until T. Karl announced, “That’s close enough!” They were less than twenty feet away from the bench.
“We shall maintain decorum!” he proclaimed.
The Whiz matter had been festering for months at Trumble. Whiz was a young Wall Street crook who’d bilked some rich clients. Four million dollars had never been accounted for, and legend held that Whiz had stashed it offshore and managed it from inside
Trumble. He had six years left, and would be almost forty when paroled. It was widely assumed that he was quietly serving his time until one glorious day when he would walk free, still a young man, and fly off in a private jet to a beach where the money was waiting.
Inside, the legend only grew, partly because Whiz kept to himself and spent long hours every day studying financials and technical charts and reading impenetrable economic publications. Even the warden had tried to cajole him into sharing market tips.
An ex-lawyer known as Rook had somehow got next to Whiz, and had somehow convinced him to share a small morsel of advice with an investment club that met once a week in the prison chapel. On behalf of the club, Rook was now suing the Whiz for fraud.
Rook took the witness chair, and began his narrative. The usual rules of procedure and evidence were dispensed with so that the truth could be arrived at quickly, whatever form it might take.
“So I go to the Whiz and I ask him what he thinks about ValueNow, a new online company I read about in
,” Rook explained. “It was about to go public, and I liked the idea behind the company. Whiz said he’d check it out for me. I heard nothing. So I went back to him and said, ‘Hey, Whiz, what about ValueNow?’ And he said he thought it was a solid company and the stock would go through the roof.”
“I did not say that,” the Whiz inserted quickly. He was seated across the room, by himself, his arms folded over the chair in front.
“Yes you did.”
“I did not.”
“Anyway, I go back to the club and tell them that Whiz is high on the deal, so we decide we want to buy some stock in ValueNow. But little guys can’t buy because the offering is closed. I go back to Whiz over there and I say, ‘Look, Whiz, you think you could pull some strings with your buddies on Wall Street and get us a few shares of ValueNow?’ And Whiz said he thought he could do that.”