Chapter 4

During the night, Wes had somehow managed to gain the sofa, a much softer resting place, and when he awoke before daylight, Mack was wedged tightly by his side. Mary Grace and Liza were sprawled on the floor beneath them, wrapped in blankets and dead to the world. They had watched television until both kids dropped off, then quietly opened and finished a bottle of cheap champagne they had been saving. The alcohol and the fatigue knocked them out, and they vowed to sleep forever.

Five hours later Wes opened his eyes and could not close them. He was back in the courtroom, sweating and nervous, watching the jurors file in, praying, searching for a sign, then hearing the majestic words of Judge Harrison. Words that would ring in his ears forever.

Today would be a fine day, and Wes couldn't waste any more of it on the sofa.

He eased away from Mack, covered him with a blanket, and moved silently to their cluttered bedroom, where he slipped into his running shorts and shoes and a sweatshirt.

During the trial, he tried to run every day, often at midnight, often at five in the morning. A month earlier, he'd found himself six miles from home at 3:00 a.m.

The running cleared his mind and relieved the stress. He plotted strategy, cross-examined witnesses, argued with Jared Kurtin, appealed to the jurors, did a dozen tasks as he pounded the asphalt in the dark.

Perhaps on this run he might concentrate on something, anything, other than the trial.

Maybe a vacation. A beach. But the appeal was already bugging him.

Mary Grace did not move as he eased from the apartment and locked the door behind him. It was 5:15.

Without stretching, he took off and was soon on Hardy Street, headed for the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi. He liked the safety of the place. He circled around the dorms where he once lived, around the football stadium where he once played, and after half an hour pulled into Java Werks, his favorite coffee shop, across the street from the campus. He placed four quarters on the counter and took a small cup of the house blend. Four quarters. He almost laughed as he counted them out. He had to plan his coffee and was always looking for quarters.

At the end of the counter was a collection of morning newspapers. The front-page headline of the Hattiesburg American screamed: "Krane Chemical Nailed for $41 Million." There was a large, splendid photo of him and Mary Grace leaving the courthouse, tired but happy.

And a smaller photo of Jeannette Baker, still crying. Lots of quotes from the lawyers, a few from the jurors, including a windy little speech by Dr. Leona Rocha, who, evidently, had been a force in the jury room. She was quoted as saying, among other gems, "We were angered by Krane's arrogant and calculated abuse of the land, by their disregard for safety, and then their deceit in trying to conceal it."

Wes loved that woman. He devoured the long article while ignoring his coffee. The state's largest paper was the Clarion-Ledger, out of Jackson, and its headline was somewhat more restrained, though still impressive:

"Jury Faults Krane Chemical-Huge Verdict." More photos, quotes, details of the trial, and after a few minutes Wes caught himself skimming. The Sun Herald from Biloxi had the best line so far: "Jury to Krane-Fork It Over."

Front-page news and photos in the big dailies. Not a bad day for the little law firm of Payton amp; Payton. The comeback was under way, and Wes was ready. The office phones would start ringing with potential clients in need of divorces and bankruptcies and a hundred other nuisances that Wes had no stomach for. He would politely send them away, to other small-timers, of which there was an endless supply, and he would check the nets each morning and look for the big ones. A massive verdict, photos in the paper, the talk of the town, and business was about to increase substantially.

He drained his coffee and hit the street.

Carl Trudeau also left home before sunrise. He could hide in his penthouse all day and let his communications people deal with the disaster. He could hide behind his lawyers. He could hop on his jet and fly away to his villa on Anguilla or his mansion in Palm Beach. But not Carl. He had never run from a brawl, and he wouldn't start now.

Plus, he wanted to get away from his wife. She'd cost him a fortune last night and he was resenting it.

"Good morning," he said abruptly to Toliver as he scampered into the rear seat of the Bentley.

"Good morning, sir." Toliver wasn't about to ask something stupid, such as "How are you doing, sir?" It was 5:30, not an unusual hour for Mr. Trudeau, but not a customary one, either. They normally left the penthouse an hour later.

"Let's push it," the boss said, and Toliver roared down Fifth Avenue. Twenty minutes later, Carl was in his private elevator with Stu, an assistant whose only job was to be on call 24/7 in case the great man needed something. Stu had been alerted an hour earlier and given instructions: Fix the coffee, toast a wheat bagel, squeeze the orange juice. He was given a list of six newspapers to arrange on Mr. Trudeau's desk, and was in the midst of an Internet search for stories about the verdict. Carl barely acknowledged his presence.

In his office, Stu took his jacket, poured his coffee, and was told to hurry along with the bagel and juice.

Carl settled into his aerodynamic designer chair, cracked his knuckles, rolled himself up to his desk, took a deep breath, and picked up the New York Times.

Front page, left column. Not front page of the Business section, but the front page of the whole damned paper!! Right up there with a bad war, a scandal in Congress, dead bodies in Gaza.

The front page. "Krane Chemical Held Liable in Toxic Deaths," read the headline, and Carl's clenched jaw began to slacken. Byline, Hat-tiesburg, Mississippi: "A state court jury awarded a young widow S3 million in actual damages and $38 million in punitive damages in her wrongful-death claims against Krane Chemical." Carl read quickly-he knew the wretched details. The Times got most of them right. Every quote from the lawyers was so predictable. Blah, blah, blah.

But why the front page?

He took it as a cheap shot, and was soon hit with another on page 2 of Business, where an analyst of some variety held forth on Krane's other legal problems, to wit, hundreds of potential lawsuits claiming pretty much the same thing Jeannette Baker had claimed.

According to the expert, a name Carl had never seen, which was unusual, Krane's exposure could be "several billion" in cash, and since Krane, with its "questionable policies regarding liability insurance," was practically "naked," such exposure could be "catastrophic."

Carl was cursing when Stu hurried in with juice and a bagel. "Anything else, sir?" he asked.

"No, now close the door."

Carl rallied briefly in the Arts section. On the front page beneath the fold there was a story about last night's MuAb event, the highlight of which had been a spirited bidding war, and so on. In the bottom right-hand corner was a decent-sized color photo of Mr. and Mrs. Carl Trudeau posing with their newest acquisition. Brianna, ever photogenic, as she damned well should be, emanated glamour. Carl looked rich, thin, and young, he thought, and

Imelda was as baffling in print as she was in person. Was she really a work of art? Or was she just a hodgepodge of bronze and cement thrown together by some confused soul working hard to appear tortured?

The latter, according to a Times art critic, the same pleasant gentleman Carl had chatted with before dinner. When asked by the reporter if Mr. Trudeau's $ 18 million purchase was a prudent investment, the critic answered, "No, but it is certainly a boost for the museum's capital campaign."

He then went on to explain that the market for abstract sculpture had been stagnant for over a decade and wasn't likely to improve, at least in his opinion. He saw little future for Imelda.

The story concluded on page 7 with two paragraphs and a photo of the sculptor, Pablo, smiling at the camera and looking very much alive and, well, sane.

Nevertheless, Carl was pleased, if only for a moment. The story was positive. He appeared unfazed by the verdict, resilient, in command of his universe. The good press was worth something, though he knew its value was somewhere far south of $18 million. He crunched the bagel without tasting it.

Back to the carnage. It was splashed across the front pages of the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, and USA Today.

After four newspapers, he was tired of reading the same quotes from the lawyers and the same predictions from the experts. He rolled back from his desk, sipped his coffee, and reminded himself of exactly how much he loathed reporters. But he was still alive.

The battering by the press was brutal, and it would continue, but he, the great Carl Trudeau, was taking their best shots and still on his feet.

This would be the worst day of his professional life, but tomorrow would be better.

It was 7:00 a.m. The market opened at 9:30. Krane's stock closed at $52.50 the day before, up $1.25 because the jury was taking forever and appeared to be hung. The morning's experts were predicting panic selling, but their damage estimates were all over the board.

He took a call from his communications director and explained that he would not talk to any reporters, journalists, analysts, whatever they called themselves and regardless of how many were calling or camped out in the lobby. Just stick to the company line-"We are planning a vigorous appeal and expect to prevail." Do not deviate one word.

At 7:15, Bobby Ratzlaff arrived with Felix Bard, the chief financial officer. Neither had slept more than two hours, and both were amazed that their boss had found the time to go partying. They unpacked their thick files, made the obligatory terse greetings, then huddled around the conference table. They would be there for the next twelve hours. There was much to discuss, but the real reason for the meeting was that Mr. Trudeau wanted some company in his bunker when the market opened and all hell broke loose.

Ratzlaff went first. A truckload of post-trial motions would be filed, nothing would change, and the case would move on to the Mississippi Supreme Court. "The court has a history of being plaintiff-friendly, but that's changing. We have reviewed the rulings in big tort cases over the past two years, and the court usually splits 5 to 4 in favor of the plaintiff, but not always."

"How long before the final appeal is over?" Carl asked.

"Eighteen to twenty-four months."

Ratzlaff moved on. A hundred and forty lawsuits were on file against Krane because of the Bowmore mess, about a third of them being death cases. According to an exhaustive and ongoing study by Ratzlaff, his staff, and their lawyers in New York, Atlanta, and Mississippi, there were probably another three hundred to four hundred cases with "legitimate" potential, meaning that they involved either death, probable death, or moderate to severe illness. There could be thousands of cases in which the claimants suffered minor ailments such as skin rashes, lesions, and nagging coughs, but for the time being, these were classified as frivolous.

Because of the difficulty and cost of proving liability, and linking it with an illness, most of the cases on file had not been pushed aggressively. This, of course, was about to change. "I'm sure the plaintiff's lawyers down there are quite hungover this morning," Ratzlaff said, but Carl did not crack a smile. He never did. He was always reading, never looking at the person with the floor, and missed nothing.

"How many cases do the Paytons have?" he asked.

"Around thirty. We're not sure, because they have not actually filed suit in all of them. There's a lot of waiting here."

"One article said that the Baker case almost bankrupted them."

"True. They hocked everything."

"Bank loans?"

"Yes, that's the rumor."

"Do we know which banks?"

"I'm not sure if we know that."

"Find out. I want the loan numbers, terms, everything."

"Got it."

There were no good options, Ratzlaff said, working from his outline. The dam has cracked, the flood is coming. The lawyers will attack with a vengeance, and defense costs would quadruple to $100 million a year, easily. The nearest case could be ready for trial in eight months, same courtroom, same judge. Another big verdict, and, well, who knows.

Carl glanced at his watch and mumbled something about making a call. He left the table again, paced around the office, then stopped at the windows looking south.

The Trump Building caught his attention. Its address was 40 Wall Street, very near the New York Stock Exchange, where before long the common shares of Krane Chemical would be the talk of the day as investors jumped ship and speculators gawked at the roadkill. How cruel, how ironic, that he, the great Carl Trudeau, a man who had so often watched happily from above as some unfortunate company flamed out, would now be fighting off the vultures. How many times had he engineered the collapse of a stock's price so he could swoop down and buy it for pennies? His legend had been built with such ruthless tactics.

How bad would it be? That was the great question, always followed soon by number two: How long would it last?

He waited.