Chapter 16

1 HE LIGHT RAIN HAD STOPPED IN TIME FOR THE RUSH OF secretaries who moved in hurried groups of three and four along the damp sidewalks in pursuit of lunch. The sky was gray and the streets were wet. Clouds of mist boiled and hissed behind each passing car along Third Street. Reggie and her client turned on Madison. Her briefcase was in her left hand, and with her right she held his hand and guided him through the crowd. She had places to go and walked quickly.

From a generic white Ford van parked almost directly in front of the Sterick Building, Jack Nance watched and radioed ahead. When they turned on Madison and were lost from sight, he listened. Within minutes, Cal Sisson, his partner, had them and was watching as they headed for the hospital, as expected. Five minutes later, they were in the hospital.

Nance locked the van and jaywalked across Third. He entered the Sterick Building, rode the elevator to the second floor, and gently turned the knob of the door with REGGIE LOVE-LAWYER on it. It was unlocked, which was a pleasant surprise. Eleven minutes had passed since noon. Virtually every lawyer with a nickel and dime solo practice in this city broke for lunch and locked the office. He opened the door and stepped inside as a hideous buzzer went off above his head and announced his arrival. Dammit! He'd hoped to enter through a locked door, something he was very proficient at, and dig through files without being interrupted. It was easy work. Most of these small outfits thought nothing of security. The big firms were a different story, although in the off-hours Nance could enter any one of a thousand law offices in Memphis and find whatever he wanted. He'd done it at least a dozen times. There were two things ham and egg lawyers did not have at their offices-cash and security devices. They locked their doors, and that was it.

A young man appeared from the back, and said, "Yes. Can I help you?" "Yeah," Nance said without a smile. All business. Rough day. "I'm with the Times-Picayune, you know, the paper in New Orleans. Looking for Reggie Love." Glint stopped ten feet away. "She's not here." "When might she return?" "Don't know. You have any identification?" Nance was headed for the door. "You mean, like little white cards you lawyers throw on the sidewalks. No, pal, I don't carry business cards. I'm a reporter." "Fine. What's your name?" "Arnie Carpentier. Tell her I'll catch her later." He opened the door, the buzzer worked again, and he was gone. Not a productive visit, but he'd met Glint and seen the front room and reception area. The next visit would take longer.

THE RIDE TO THE NINTH FLOOR WAS UNEVENTFUL. REGGIE held his hand, which normally -would have irritated him but was rather comforting under the circumstances. He studied his feet as they ascended. He was afraid to look up, afraid of more strangers. He squeezed her hand.

They spilled into the lobby on the ninth floor and had taken no more than ten steps before three people rushed them from the direction of the waiting area. "Ms. Love! Ms. Love," one of them yelled. Reggie at first was startled, but gripped Mark's hand tighter and kept walking. One had a microphone, one a notepad, and one a camera. The one with the notepad said, "Ms. Love, just a few quick questions." They walked faster toward the nurses' station. "No comment." "Is it true your client is refusing to cooperate with the. FBI and the police?" "No comment," she said, looking ahead. They followed like bloodhounds. She leaned quickly to Mark, and said, "Don't look at them and don't say a word." "Is it true the U. S. attorney from New Orleans was in your office this morning?" "No comment." Doctors, nurses, patients, everybody vacated the center of the hallway as Reggie and her famous client raced along, followed by the yelping dogs.

"Did your client talk to Jerome Clifford before he died?" She squeezed his hand harder and walked faster. "No comment." As they neared the end of the hall, the clown with the camera suddenly dashed in front of them, knelt low as he backpedaled, and managed to get a shot before he landed on his ass. The nurses laughed. A security guard stepped forward at the nurses' station and raised his hands at the yelpers. They had met him before.

As Reggie and Mark rounded a bend in the hall, one called out, "Is it true your client knows where Boyette is buried?" There was a slight hesitation in her step. The shoulders jumped and the back arched, then she was over it and she and her client were gone.

Two overweight security guards in uniform sat in folding chairs by Ricky's door. They had pistols on their hips, and Mark noticed the pistols before anything else. One had a newspaper, which he promptly lowered as they approached. The other stood to greet them. "Can I help you?" he asked Reggie.

"Yes. I'm the attorney for the family, and this is Mark Sway, the patient's brother." She spoke in a professional whisper as if she had a right to be there and they didn't, so be quick with the questions because she had things to do. "Dr. Greenway is expecting us," she said as she walked to the door and knocked. Mark stood behind her, staring at the pistol, which was remarkably similar to the one poor Romey had used.

The security guard returned to his seat and his partner returned to his paper. Greenway opened the door and stepped outside, followed by Dianne, who had been crying. She hugged Mark and placed her arm on his shoulder.

"He's asleep," Greenway said quietly to Reggie and Mark. "Doing much better, but very tired." "He was asking about you," Dianne whispered to Mark.

He looked at the moist eyes and asked, "What's the matter, Mom?" "Nothing. We'll talk about it later." "What's happened?" Dianne looked at Greenway, then at Reggie, then at Mark. "It's nothing," she said.

"Your mother was fired this morning, Mark," Greenway said. He looked at Reggie. "These people sent a letter by courier informing her she'd been fired. Can you believe it? Had it delivered to the nurses here on the ninth floor, and one of them delivered it about an hour ago." "Let me see the letter," Reggie said. Dianne pulled it from a pocket. Reggie unfolded it and read slowly. Dianne hugged Mark, and said, "It'll be all right, Mark. We've managed before. I'll find another job." Mark bit his lip and wanted to cry.

"Can I keep this?" Reggie said as she stuffed it in her briefcase. Dianne nodded yes.

Greenway studied his watch as if he couldn't determine the correct time. "I'm gonna grab a quick sandwich, and I'll be back here in twenty minutes. I want to spend a couple of hours with Ricky and Mark, alone." Reggie glanced at her watch. "I'll be back around four. There are reporters here, and I want you to ignore them." She was talking to all three of them.

"Yeah, just say no comment, no comment," Mark added helpfully. "It's really fun." Dianne missed the fun. "What do they want?" "Everything. They've seen the newspaper. The rumors are rampant. They smell a story, and they'll do anything to get information. I saw a television van on the street, and I suspect they're somewhere close by. I think it's best if you stay here with Mark." "Okay," Dianne said.

"Where's a telephone?" Reggie asked.

Greenway pointed in the direction of the nurses' station. "Come on. I'll show you." "I'll see you guys at four, okay?" she said to Dianne and Mark. "Remember, not a word to anyone. And stay close to this room." She and Greenway disappeared around the bend. The security guards were half-asleep. Mark and his mother entered the dark room and sat on the bed. A stale doughnut caught his attention, and he devoured it in four bites.

Reggie called her office, and Glint answered. "You remember that lawsuit we filed last year on behalf of Penny Patoula?" she asked softly, looking around for the bloodhounds. "It was sex discrimination, wrongful discharge, harassment, the works. I think we threw in everything. Circuit Court. Yeah, that's it. Pull the file. Change the name from Penny Patoula to Dianne Sway. The defendant will be Ark-Lon Fixtures. I want you to name the president individually. His name is Chester Tanfill. Yeah, make him a defendant too, and sue for wrongful discharge, labor violations, sexual harassment, throw in an equal rights charge, and ask for a million or two in damages. Do it now, and quickly. Prepare a summons, and a check for the filing fee. Run over to the courthouse and file it. I'll be there in about thirty minutes to pick it up, so hurry. I'll personally deliver it to Mr. Tanfill." She hung up and thanked the nearest nurse. The reporters were loitering near the soft drink machine, but she was through the door to the stairwell before they saw her.

ARK -  LON FIXTURES WAS A SERIES OF METAL-CONNECTED buildings on a street of such structures in a minimum wage industrial park near the airport. The front building was a faded orange in color, and expansion had taken place in every direction except toward the street. The newer additions were of the same general architecture but with different shades of orange. Trucks waited near a loading dock in the rear. An enclosed chain-link fence protected rolls of steel and aluminum.

Reggie parked near the front in a space reserved for visitors. She held her briefcase, and opened the door. A chesty woman with black hair and a long cigarette ignored her and listened to the phone stuck in her ear. Reggie stood before her, waiting impatiently. The room was dusty, dirty, and clouded -with blue cigarette smoke. Matted pictures of beagles adorned the walls. Half the fluorescent lights were out.

"May I help you?" the receptionist asked as she lowered the phone.

"I need to see Chester Tanfill." "He's in a meeting." "I know. He's a very busy man, but I have something for him." The receptionist placed the phone on the desk. "I see. And what might that be?" "It's really none of your business. I need to see Chester Tanfill. It's urgent." This really pissed her off. The nameplate declared her to be Louise Chenault. "I don't care how urgent it is, ma'am. You can't just barge in here and demand to see the president of this company." "This company is a sweatshop, and I've just sued it for two million bucks. And I've also sued Chester boy for a couple of million, and I'm telling you to find his sorry ass and get him out here immediately." Louise jumped to her feet and backed away from the desk. "Are you some kind of lawyer?" Reggie pulled the lawsuit and the summons from the briefcase. She looked at it, ignored Louise, and said, "I am indeed a lawyer. And I need to serve these papers on Chester. Now, find him. If he's not here in five minutes, I'll amend it and ask for five million in dam-ages." Louise bolted from the room and ran through a set of double doors. Reggie waited a second, then followed. She walked through a room filled with tacky, cramped cubicles. Cigarette smoke seemed to ooze from every opening. The carpet was ancient shag and badly worn. She caught a glimpse of Louise's round rump darting into a door on the right, and she followed.

Chester Tanfill was in the process of standing behind his desk when Reggie barged in. Louise was speechless. "You can leave now," Reggie said rudely. "I'm Reggie Love, attorney-at-law," she said, glaring at Chester.

"Chester Tanfill," he said without offering a hand. She wouldn't have taken it. "This is a bit rude, Ms. Love." "The name is Reggie, okay, Chester? Tell Louise to leave." He nodded and Louise gladly left, closing the door behind her.

"What do you want?" he snapped. He was wiry and gaunt, around fifty, with a spotted face and puffy eyes partially hidden behind wire-rimmed glasses. A drinking problem, she thought. The clothes were Sears or Penney's. His neck was turning dark red.

She threw the lawsuit and the summons on his desk. "I'm serving you with this lawsuit." He smirked at it, a man unafraid of lawyers and their games. "For what?" "I represent Dianne Sway. You fired her this morning, and we're suing you this afternoon. How's that for swift justice?" Chester's eyes narrowed and he looked at the lawsuit again. "You're kidding." "You're a fool if you think I'm kidding. It's all right there, Chester. Wrongful discharge, sexual harassment, the works. A couple of million in damages. I file these things all the time. I must say, however, that this is one of the best I've seen. This poor woman has been at the hospital for two days with her son. Her doctor says she cannot leave his bedside. In fact, he's called here and explained her situation, but no, you assholes fire her for missing work. I can't wait to explain this to a jury." It sometimes took Chester's lawyer two days to return a phone call, and this woman, Dianne Sway, files a full-blown lawsuit within hours of being terminated. He slowly picked up the papers and studied the front page. "I'm named personally?" he asked as if his feelings were hurt.

"You fired her, Chester. Don't worry though, when the jury returns a verdict against you individually, you can simply file for bankruptcy." Chester pulled his chair under him and carefully sat down. "Please, sit," he said, waving at a chair.

"No thanks. Who's your attorney?" "Uh, jeez, uh, Findley and Baker. But just wait a minute. Let me think about this." He flipped the page and scanned the pleadings. "Sexual harassment?" "Yeah, that's a fertile field these days. Seems as though one of your supervisors has put the move on my client. Always suggesting things they might do in the rest room during lunch. Always telling dirty jokes. Lots of crude talk. It'll all come out at trial. Who should I call at Findley and Baker?" "Just wait a minute." He nipped the pages, then laid them on the desk. She stood next to his desk, glaring down. He rubbed his temples. "I don't need this." "Neither did my client." "What does she want?" "A little dignity. You run a sweatshop here. You prey on single working mothers who can barely feed their children on what you pay. They cannot afford to complain." He was rubbing his eyes now. "Skip the lecture, okay. I just don't need this. There could, well, there might be some trouble at the top." "I couldn't care less about you and your troubles, Chester. A copy of this lawsuit will be hand-delivered to the Memphis Press this afternoon, and I'm sure it'll run tomorrow. The Sways are getting more than their share of ink these days." "What does she want?" he asked again.

"Are you trying to bargain?""Maybe. I don't think you can win this case, Ms. Love, but I don't need the headache." "It'll be more than a headache, I promise. She makes nine hundred dollars a month, and takes home around six-fifty. That's eleven thousand bucks a year, and I promise your legal costs on this lawsuit will run five times that much. I'll obtain access to your personnel records. I'll take the depositions of other female employees. I'll open up your financial books. I'll subpoena all your records. And if I see anything the least bit improper, I'll notify the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the National Labor Relations Board, the IRS, OSHA, and anybody else who might be interested. I'll make you lose sleep, Chester. You'll wish a thousand times you hadn't fired my client." He slapped the table with both palms. "What does she want, dammit!" Reggie picked up her briefcase and walked to the door. "She wants her job. A raise would be nice, say from six bucks an hour to nine, if you can spare it. And if you can't, then do it anyway. Transfer her to another section, away from the dirty supervisor." Chester listened carefully. This was not too bad.

"She'll be in the hospital for a few weeks. She has bills, so I want the payroll checks to keep coming. In fact, Chester, I want the payroll checks delivered to the hospital, just like you clowns delivered her termination letter this morning. Every Friday, I want the check delivered. Okay?" He slowly nodded yes.

"You have thirty days to answer the lawsuit. If you behave and do as I say, I'll dismiss it on the thirtieth day. You have my word. You don't have to tell your lawyers about it. Is it a deal?" "Deal." Reggie opened the door. "Oh, and send some flowers. Room 943. A card would be nice. In fact, send some fresh flowers every week. Okay, Chester?" He was still nodding.

She slammed the door and left the grungy corporate offices of Ark-Lon Fixtures.

MARK AND RICKY SAT ON THE END OF THE FOLDAWAY BED and looked up into the bearded and intense face of Dr. Greenway less than two feet away. Ricky wore a pair of Mark's hand-me-down pajamas with a blanket draped over his shoulders. He was cold, as usual, and scared, and uncertain about this first venture out of his bed, even though it was inches away. And he preferred his mother to be present, but the doctor had gently insisted on talking to the boys by themselves. -Greenway had spent almost twelve hours now trying to win Ricky's confidence. He sat close to his big brother, who was bored with this little chat before it started.

The shades were pulled, the lights were dim, the room was dark except for a small lamp on a table by the bathroom. Greenway leaned forward with his elbows on his knees.

"Now, Ricky, I would like to talk about the other day when you and Mark went to the woods for a smoke. Okay?" This frightened Ricky. How did Greenway know they were smoking? Mark leaned over an inch or two and said, "It's okay, Ricky. I've already told them about it. Mom's not mad at us." "Do you remember going for a smoke?" Green-way asked.

Slowly, he nodded his head yes. "Yes sir." "Why don't you tell me what you remember about you and Mark in the woods smoking a cigarette." He pulled the blanket tighter around him and knotted it with his hands at his stomach. "I'm really cold," he muttered, his teeth chattering.

"Ricky, the temperature is almost seventy-eight degrees in here. And you've got the blanket and flannel pajamas. Try and think about being warm, okay?" He tried but it didn't help. Mark gently placed his arm around Ricky's shoulder, and this seemed to help.

"Do you remember smoking a cigarette?" "I think so. Uh-huh." Mark glanced up at Greenway, then at Ricky.

"Okay. Do you remember seeing the big black car when it pulled up in the grass?" Ricky suddenly stopped shaking and stared at the floor. He mumbled the word "Yes," and that would be his last word for twenty-four hours.

"And what did the big black car do when you first saw it?" The mention of the cigarette had scared him, but the image of the black car and the fear it brought were simply too much. He bent over at the waist and placed his head on Mark's knee. His eyes were shut tightly, and he began sobbing, but with no tears.

Mark rubbed his hair, and repeated, "It's okay, Ricky. It's okay. We need to talk about it." Greenway was unmoved. He crossed his bony legs and scratched his beard. He had expected this, and had warned Mark and Dianne that this first little session would not be productive. But it was very important.

"Ricky, listen to me," he said in a childlike voice. "Ricky, it's okay. I just want to talk to you. Okay, Ricky." But Ricky had had enough therapy tor one aay. He began to curl under the blanket, and Mark knew the thumb could not be far behind. Greenway nodded at him as if all was well. He stood, carefully lifted Ricky, and placed him in the bed.