Chapter 31

Monday morning, the Wall Street Journal broke the news of the collapse of the settlement negotiations down in Hattiesburg.

The story, on page 2, was written by a reporter with some very good sources inside Krane Chemical, one of whom blamed the plaintiffs' lawyers. "Their demands were just too unrealistic. We went in in good faith, and got nowhere." Another anonymous source said, "It's hopeless. Because of the verdict, every trial lawyer thinks his case is worth forty million bucks." Mr. Watts, Krane's CEO, said, "We are very disappointed.

We wanted to get this litigation behind us and move on. Now our future is quite uncertain."

Carl Trudeau read the story online at 4:30 in the morning in his penthouse. He laughed and rubbed his hands together in anticipation of a very profitable week.

Wes called Jared Kurtin throughout the morning, but the great man was traveling and could not be reached. His cell phone was stuck on voice mail. His secretary eventually became rude, but then so was Wes. He and Mary Grace seriously doubted if the wild demands by Sterling Bintz had frightened Krane away. In relative terms, his suggestion of $30 million would be a fraction of any workable settlement.

When the news finally arrived in Bowmore, it was received like another plague.

At McCarthy headquarters, Nat Lester had worked through the night and was still wired when Sheila arrived at 8:30, her usual time. He had e-mailed the Times story to every newspaper in the district and was calling reporters and editors when she walked in with a well-rested smile and asked for a pineapple juice.

"We've got these clowns on the run!" he announced jubilantly. "Their dirty tricks have caught up with them."

"Congratulations. It's beautiful."

"We're sending the editorials and the Times story to every registered voter."

"How much does that cost?"

"Who cares? With a week to go, we can't pinch pennies. Are you ready?"

"I leave in an hour."

The next seven days would take her to thirty-four stops in twenty counties, all made possible by the use of a King Air on loan from one trial lawyer and a small jet from another. The blitz had been coordinated by Nat and would take place with the help of schoolteachers, labor bosses, black leaders, and, of course, trial lawyers. She would not return to Jackson until after the election. While she was on the stump, her last round of television ads would flood the district.

By the time the votes were counted, her campaign would not have one dime. She was praying that it would not be in debt.

Ron Fisk finally left the house on Monday morning, but he did not make his usual trip to the office. Instead, he and Doreen drove to Jackson, to the offices of Judicial Vision for another long and stressful meeting with Tony Zachary They had slugged their way through a four-hour ordeal on Sunday afternoon in the den of the Fisk home, and they had resolved little. Ron was suspending all campaign activities until he could repair his good name. He had fired Tony at least four times, but they were still talking.

Throughout the day and into Sunday night, Tedford in Atlanta had been polling furiously, and by late Monday morning there were some results. In spite of the barrage of condemnation, Ron Fisk was still three points ahead of Sheila McCarthy. The gay marriage issue had captivated the voters, most of whom still favored the more conservative candidate.

Ron wasn't sure if he could believe anyone who worked for his campaign, but the new poll did lighten his mood somewhat. "You've got this thing won, Ron," Tony said again and again. "Don't blow it."

They finally reached an understanding, one that Ron insisted they sign as if they had negotiated a contract. First, Ron would stay in the race. Second, Tony would keep his job as campaign manager. Third, Ron would meet with the newspaper editors, admit his mistakes, and promise a clean race for the remaining eight days. Fourth, no campaign literature, ads, TV spots, direct mail, radio commercials, nothing would be used until it was first approved by Ron.

When they were pals again, they enjoyed a quick lunch at the Capitol Grill, then Ron and Doreen drove home. They were proud that they had held their ground, and anxious to resume the campaign. They could smell the victory.

Barry Rinehart arrived in Jackson at noon on Monday and established his base in the largest suite of a downtown hotel. He would not leave Mississippi until after the election.

He waited impatiently for Tony to arrive with the news that they still had a horse in the race. For a man who took great pride in staying cool regardless of the pressure, the past twenty-four hours had been nerve-racking. Barry had slept little. If Fisk quit, then Rinehart's career would be severely damaged, if not outright ruined.

Tony walked into the suite with a huge smile, and both men were able to laugh. They were soon reviewing their media buys and advertising plans. They had the cash to saturate the district with TV ads, and if Mr. Fisk wanted only positive ones, then so be it.

The market's reaction to the settlement news was swift and ugly. Krane opened at $15.25 and by noon was trading at $12.75. Carl Trudeau watched the fall gleefully, his net worth shrinking by the minute. To add to the fear and frenzy, he organized a meeting between the top Krane executives and the company's bankruptcy attorneys, then leaked this news to a reporter.

On Tuesday morning, the Business section of the New York Times ran a story in which an in-house lawyer for the company said, "We'll probably file for bankruptcy protection this week." For the first time in twenty years, the stock fell through the $10.00 floor and traded around $9.50.

At midday on Tuesday, Meyerchec and Spano arrived in Jackson by private jet. They were picked up by a car with a driver and taken to the office of their attorney, where they met a reporter with the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.

In a one-hour interview, they rebuked the story by Gilbert, reaffirmed their citizenship in their new state, and talked at length about the importance of their lawsuit now pending before the Mississippi Supreme Court. They held hands throughout the entire interview and posed for a photographer from the newspaper.

While this was happening, Barry Rinehart and Tony Zachary pored over the findings from their latest poll. Fisk's sixteen-point lead had been reduced to five, the most dramatic seventy-two-hour drop Barry had ever seen. But he was too seasoned to panic.

Tony, however, was a nervous wreck.

They decided to reshuffle the television ads. They discarded the Darrel Sackett attack piece and one showing illegal aliens crossing the border. For the next three days, they would stick to gay marriage and the glory of guns. Over the weekend, they would shift to the comfort ads and leave the voters with warm and fuzzy feelings about Ron Fisk and his wholesomeness.

Meanwhile, the weary mail carriers in south Mississippi would deliver several tons of Fisk propaganda each day until the campaign was mercifully over.

All to be done with Mr. Fisk's approval, of course.

Denny Ott finished his letter after several drafts and asked his wife to read it.

When she approved, he took it to the post office. It read:

Dear Brother Ted:

I have listened to a recording of your sermon last Sunday, broadcast on radio station WBMR during your worship hour. I hesitate to call it a sermon. It was more along the lines of a stump speech. I'm sure your condemnation of homosexuals is standard fare from your pulpit, and I will not comment on it. However, your attack on liberal judges, nine days before the election, was nothing but a diatribe against Sheila McCarthy, who, of course, was never called by name. By attacking her, you obviously endorsed her opponent.

Such political speech is expressly forbidden by law, and specifically forbidden by Internal Revenue Service regulations. As a 501 (C) (3) nonprofit organization, Harvest Tabernacle cannot engage in political activity. To do so is to risk losing its nonprofit status, a catastrophic event for any church.

I have heard from good sources that other local pastors, all members of your Brotherhood Coalition, are involving themselves and their churches in this campaign. I'm sure this is part of a well-coordinated effort to help elect Ron Fisk, and I have no doubt that this Sunday you and the others will use the pulpit to urge your members to vote for him.

Mr. Fisk is being used by a conspiracy of big business interests to stack our supreme court with judges who will protect corporate wrongdoers by limiting their liability.

Only the little folks will suffer- your people and mine.

Be warned that I will be watching and listening this Sunday. And I will not hesitate to notify the Internal Revenue Service if you continue your illegal activities.

Yours in Christ,

Denny Ott

At noon Thursday, the Payton law firm met for a quick lunch and final review of its last-minute campaigning. On a Sheetrock wall in The Pit, Sherman had arranged, in chronological order, the print ads used so far by Ron Fisk. There were six full-page solicitations from newspapers and five direct mailings. The collection was now being updated daily because the Fisk printing presses were working overtime.

It was an impressive, and quite depressing, lineup.

Using a street map of Hattiesburg and a list of registered voters, Sherman assigned neighborhoods near the university. Walking door-to-door, he would go with Tabby, Rusty with Vicky, Wes with Mary Grace. They had two thousand doors to cover during the next five days.

Olivia agreed to stay behind and answer the phone. She was a bit too arthritic to hit the streets.

Other teams, many of them from the offices of local trial lawyers, would canvass the rest of Hattiesburg and its outlying suburbs. In addition to handing out McCarthy materials, most of these volunteers would distribute brochures for judge Thomas Harrison.

The prospect of knocking on hundreds of doors was actually quite welcome, at least to Wes and Mary Grace. The mood at the office had been funereal since Monday. The settlement fiasco had drained their spirits. The constant chatter about Krane filing Chapter 11 frightened them. They were distracted and edgy, and both needed a few days off.

The final push was orchestrated by Nat Lester. Every precinct in all twenty-seven counties had someone assigned to it, and Nat had the cell phone number of every volunteer.

He started calling them Thursday afternoon, and he would hound them until late Monday night.

The letter from Brother Ted was hand delivered to Pine Grove Church. It read:

Dear Pastor Ott:

I'm touched by your concern, and I'm also delighted you have taken an interest in my sermons. Listen to them carefully, and one day you may come to know Jesus Christ as your personal savior. Until then, I will continue to pray for you and all those you are leading astray.

God built our house of worship fourteen years ago, then He paid off the mortgage.

He led me to the pulpit there, and each week He speaks to His beloved flock through my words.

When preparing my sermons, I listen to no one but Him. He condemns homosexuality, those who practice it, and those who support it. It's in the Bible, which I suggest you spend more time reading.

And you can stop wasting your time worrying about me and my church. Surely, you have enough on your plate in Pine Grove.

I shall preach whatever I choose. Send in the federal government. With God on my side, I have nothing to fear.

Praise be to Him,

Brother Ted