Chapter Seven

Fitch himself was sitting in the back of the surveillance van at eight the next morning when Nicholas Easter walked into the sunshine and looked around the parking lot. The van had a plumber's logo on the door and a fake phone number stenciled in green. "There he is," Doyle announced and they all jumped. Fitch grabbed the scope, focused it quickly through a blackened porthole, and said, "Damn."

"What is it?" asked Pang, the Korean technician who had pursued Nicholas yesterday.

Fitch leaned toward the round window, his mouth open, top lip curled upward. "I'll be damned. Gray pullover, khakis, white socks, brown leather shoes."

"Same shirt in the photo?" Doyle asked.


Pang pressed a button on a portable radio and alerted another shadow two blocks away. Easter was on foot, probably headed in the general direction of the courthouse.

He bought a large cup of black coffee and a newspaper at the same corner grocery, and sat in the same park for twenty minutes scanning the news. He wore dark sunglasses and noticed anyone who walked nearby.

Fitch went straight to his office down the street from the courthouse and huddled with Doyle, Pang, and an ex-FBI agent named Swanson. "We have to find the girl," Fitch said over and over. A plan was devised to keep one person in the back row of the courtroom, one outside near the top of the stairs, one near the soft-drink machines on the first floor, and one outside with a radio. They would change posts with every recess. The flimsy description of her was passed around. Fitch decided to sit exactly where he'd sat yesterday, and go through the same motions.

Swanson, an expert on surveillance, was unsure of all the fuss. "It won't work," he said. "Why not?" Fitch demanded.

"Because she'll find you. She has something she wants to talk about, so she'll make the next move."

"Maybe. But I wanna know who she is."

"Relax. She'll find you."

Fitch argued with him until almost nine o'clock, then walked briskly back to the courthouse. Doyle talked to the deputy, and persuaded him to point out the girl if she happened to appear again.

NICHOLAS had selected Rikki Coleman to chat with over coffee and croissants Friday morning. She was thirty and cute, married with two young children, and worked as a records administrator in a private hospital in Gulfport. She was a health nut who avoided caffeine, alcohol, and, of course, nicotine. Her flaxen hair was short, cut like a boy's, and her pretty blue eyes looked even cuter behind designer frames. She was sitting in a corner, sipping an orange juice and reading USA Today, when Nicholas zeroed in and said, "Good morning. I don't think we officially met yesterday."

She smiled, something she did easily, and offered a hand. "Rikki Coleman."

"Nicholas Easter. Nice to meet you."

"Thanks for lunch yesterday," she said with a quick laugh.

"Don't mention it. Can I sit down?" he asked, nodding at a folding chair next to her.

"Sure." She laid the paper in her lap.

All twelve jurors were accounted for, and most were engaged in quiet pockets of early morning chatter. Herman Grimes sat alone at the table, in his beloved head chair, holding his coffee with both hands and no doubt listening for wayward words about the trial. Lonnie Shaver also sat alone at the table, his eyes poring over computer printouts from his supermarket. Jerry Fernandez had gone down the hall for a quick smoke with the Poodle.

"So how's jury service?" Nicholas asked.


"Did anyone attempt to bribe you last night?"

"No. You?"

"No. It's too bad, because Judge Harkin will be terribly disappointed if no one tries to bribe us."

"Why does he go on about this unauthorized contact?"

Nicholas leaned forward a bit, though not too close. She leaned too and cast a wary eye at the Foreman as if he could see them. They enjoyed the closeness and privacy of their little chat, the way two physically attractive people are sometimes drawn to one another. Just a little harmless flirting. "It's happened before. Several times," he said, almost in a whisper. Laughter erupted by the coffeepots as Mrs. Gladys Card and Mrs. Stella Hulie found something funny in the local paper. "What's happened before?" Rikki asked.

"Contaminated juries in tobacco cases. In fact, it almost always happens, usually at the hands of the defense."

"I don't understand," she said, believing all and wanting much more information from the guy with two years of law school under his belt.

"There have been several of these cases around the country, and the tobacco industry has yet to get hit with a verdict. They pay millions for defense because they can't afford to lose the first time. One big plaintiff's verdict, and the floodgates open." He paused, looked around, and sipped his coffee. "So, they use all sorts of dirty tricks."

"Such as?"

"Such as offering money to family members of jurors. Such as spreading rumors in the community that the deceased, whoever he was, had four girlfriends, beat his wife, stole from his friends, went to church only for funerals, and had a homosexual son."

She frowned in disbelief, so he continued. "It's true, and it's well known in legal circles. Judge Harkin knows it, I'm sure, that's why we're getting the warnings."

"Can't they be stopped?"

"Not yet. They're very smart, and shrewd, and crooked, and they leave no trail. Plus, they have millions." He paused as she studied him. "They watched you before jury selection."


"Of course they did. It's standard procedure in big trials. The law forbids them to directly contact any prospective juror before selection, so they do everything else. They probably photographed your house, car, kids, husband, place of employment. They might have talked to co-workers, or eavesdropped on conversations at the office or wherever you eat lunch. You never know."

She set her orange juice on a windowsill. "That sounds illegal, or unethical, or something."

"Something. But they got by with it because you had no idea they were doing it."

"But you knew?"

"Yep. I saw a photographer in a car outside my apartment. And they sent a woman into the store where I work to pick a fight over our no-smoking policy. I knew exactly what they were doing."

"But you said direct contact was prohibited."

"Yes, but I didn't say they played fair. Just the opposite. They'll break any rule to win."

"Why didn't you tell the Judge?"

"Because it was harmless, and because I knew what they were doing. Now that I'm on the jury, I'm watching every move."

With her curiosity piqued, Nicholas thought it best to save more dirt for later. He glanced at his watch and abruptly stood. "I think I'll run to the boys' room before we get back in the box."

Lou Dell burst into the room, rattling the door on its hinges. "Time to go," she said firmly, not unlike a counselor at camp with much less authority than she assumed.

The crowd had thinned to about half of yesterday's number. Nicholas scanned the spectators as the jurors sat and adjusted themselves on the worn cushions. Fitch, predictably, was sitting in the same spot, now with his head partially behind a newspaper as if he couldn't care less about the jury; couldn't give a damn what Easter was wearing. He'd stare later. The reporters had all but vanished, though they'd trickle in during the day. The Wall Street types looked to be thoroughly bored already; all were young, fresh college grads sent South because they were rookies and their bosses had better things to do. Mrs. Herman Grimes held her same position, and Nicholas wondered if she'd be there every day, hearing everything and ever ready to help her husband cast his lot.

Nicholas fully expected to see the man who'd entered his apartment, maybe not today, but at some point during the trial. The man was not in the courtroom at the moment.

"Good morning," Judge Harkin said warmly to the jury when everyone was still. Smiles everywhere: from the Judge, the clerks-even the lawyers, who had stopped their huddling and whispering long enough to look at the jury with phony grins. "I trust everyone is well today." He paused and waited for fifteen faces to nod awkwardly. "Good. Madam Clerk has informed me that everyone is ready for a full day." It was hard to picture Lou Dell as Madam anything.

His Honor then lifted a sheet of paper which contained a list of questions the jurors would learn to hate. He cleared his voice and stopped smiling. "Now, ladies and gentlemen of the jury. I'm about to ask you a series of questions, very important questions, and I want you to respond if you feel the slightest need to. Also, I'd like to remind you that your failure to respond, if a response is in order, could be deemed by me as an act of contempt, punishable by a jail term."

He allowed this grievous warning to float around the courtroom; the jurors felt guilty just for receiving it. Convinced he'd found his mark, he then started the questions: Did anyone attempt to discuss this trial with you? Did you receive any unusual phone calls since we adjourned yesterday? Did you see any strangers watching you or any members of your family? Did you hear any rumors or gossip about any of the parties in the trial? Any of the lawyers? Any of the witnesses? Did any person contact any of your friends or family members in an effort to discuss this trial? Did any friend or family member attempt to discuss this trial with you since yesterday's adjournment? Did you see or receive any piece of written material which in any way mentioned anything to do with this trial?

Between each question in this script, the Judge would stop, look hopefully at each juror, then seemingly with disappointment, return to his list.

What struck the jurors as odd was the air of expectation surrounding the questions. The lawyers hung on every word, certain that damning responses were forthcoming from the panel. The clerks, usually busy shuffling papers or exhibits or doing a dozen things unrelated to the trial, were completely still and watching to see which juror would confess. The Judge's glowering face and arched eyebrows after each question challenged the integrity of every juror, and he took their silence as nothing short of deceit.

When he finished, he quietly said, "Thank you," and the courtroom seemed to breathe. The jurors felt assaulted. His Honor sipped coffee from a tall cup and smiled at Wendall Rohr. "Call your next witness, Counselor."

Rohr stood, a large brown stain in the center of his wrinkled white shirt, bow tie as crooked as ever, shoes scuffed and getting dirtier by the day. He nodded and smiled warmly at the jurors, and they couldn't help but smile at him.

Rohr had a jury consultant assigned to record everything the jurors wore. If one of the five men happened to wear cowboy boots one day, then Rohr had an old pair at the ready. Two pairs actually-pointed toe or round. He was prepared to wear sneakers if the time was right. He'd done so once before when sneakers appeared in the jury box. The Judge, not Harkin, had complained in chambers. Rohr had a foot ailment, he'd explained, and had produced a letter from his podiatrist. He could wear starched khakis, knit ties, polyester sports coats, cowboy belts, white socks, penny loafers (either shined or battered). His eclectic wardrobe was designed to connect with those now forced to sit nearby and listen to him for six hours a day.

"We'd like to call Dr. Milton Fricke," he announced.

Dr. Fricke was sworn and seated and the bailiff adjusted his microphone. It was soon learned that his resum6 could be measured by the pound-lots of degrees from many schools, hundreds of published articles, seventeen books, years of teaching experience, decades of research into the effects of tobacco smoke. He was a small man with a perfectly round face with black horn-rimmed glasses; he looked like a genius. It took Rohr almost an hour to cover his astounding collection of credentials. When Fricke was finally tendered as an expert, Durr Cable wanted no part of him. "We stipulate that Dr. Fricke is qualified in his field," Cable said, in what sounded like a major understatement.

His field had been narrowed over the years, so that Dr. Fricke now spent ten hours a day studying the effects of tobacco smoke on the human body. He was the director of the Smoke Free Research Institute in Rochester, New York. The jury soon learned that he had been hired by Rohr before Jacob Wood died, and that he had been present during an autopsy performed on Mr. Wood four hours after his death. And that he had taken some photos of the autopsy.

Rohr emphasized the existence of the photos, leaving no doubt that the jurors would see them eventually. But Rohr was not ready yet. He needed to spend time with this extraordinary expert on the chemistry and pharmacology of smoking. Fricke proved quite the professor. He treaded cautiously through ponderous medical and scientific studies, weeding out the big words and giving the jurors what they could understand. He was relaxed and thoroughly confident.

When His Honor announced the lunch recess, Rohr informed the court that Dr. Fricke would be on the stand for the remainder of the day.

Lunch was waiting in the jury room, with Mr. O'Reilly himself in charge of its presentation and readily offering apologies for what had happened the day before.

"These are paper plates and plastic forks," Nicholas said as they took their seats around the table. He did not sit. Mr. O'Reilly looked at Lou Dell, who said, "So?"

"So, we specifically said we wanted to eat on real china with real forks. Didn't we say that?" His voice was rising, and a few of the jurors looked away. They just wanted to eat.

"What's wrong with paper plates?" Lou Dell asked nervously, her bangs shaking.

"They soak up grease, okay? They get spongy and leave stains on the table, you understand? That's why I specifically asked for real plates. And real forks." He took a white plastic fork, snapped it in two, and threw it in a waste can. "And what really makes me mad, Lou Dell, is that right now the Judge and all the lawyers and their clients and the witnesses and the clerks and the spectators and everybody else involved with this trial are sitting down to a nice lunch in a nice restaurant with real plates and real glasses and forks that don't snap in two. And they're ordering good food from a thick menu. That's what makes me mad. And we, the jurors, the most important people of the whole damned trial, we're stuck here like first-graders waiting to be fed our cookies and lemonade."

"The food's pretty good," Mr. O'Reilly said in self-defense.

"I think you're overdoing it a bit," said Mrs. Gladys Card, a prim little lady with white hair and a sweet voice.

"Then eat your soggy sandwich and stay out of this," Nicholas snapped, much too harshly.

"Are you gonna show your ass every day at lunch?" asked Frank Herrera, a retired colonel from somewhere up North. Herrera was short and portly with tiny hands and an opinion, so far, on just about everything. He was the only one who was truly disappointed when he wasn't elected foreman.

Jerry Fernandez had already nicknamed him Napoleon. Nap for short. The Retarded Colonel as an alternative.

"There were no complaints yesterday," Nicholas shot back.

"Let's eat. I'm starving," Herrera said, unwrapping a sandwich. A few of the others did the same.

The aroma of baked chicken and french fries rose from the table. As Mr. O'Reilly finished unpacking a container of pasta salad, he said, "I'll be happy to bring over some plates and forks on Monday. No problem."

Nicholas quietly said, "Thanks," and sat down.

THE DEAL was an easy one to make. The details were wrapped up between two old friends over a three-hour lunch at the '21' Club on Fifty-second. Luther Vandemeer, CEO of Trellco, and his former protege, Larry Zell, now CEO of Listing Foods, had discussed the basics on the phone, but needed to meet face-to-face over food and wine so no one could hear them. Vandemeer gave him the background of the latest serious threat down in Biloxi, and didn't hide the truth that he was worried. Sure, Trellco was not a named defendant, but the entire industry was under fire and the Big Four was standing firm. Zell knew this. He'd worked for Trellco for seventeen years, and had learned to hate trial lawyers a long time ago.

There was a small regional grocery chain, Hadley Brothers, out of Pensacola, which just happened to own a few stores along the Mississippi Coast. One such store was in Biloxi, and its manager was a sharp young black man named Lonnie Shaver. Lonnie Shaver just happened to be on the jury down there. Vandemeer wanted SuperHouse, a much larger grocery chain in Georgia and the Carolinas, to purchase, at whatever premium necessary, Hadley Brothers. SuperHouse was one of twenty or so divisions of Listing Foods. It would be a small transaction-Vandemeer's people had already done the numbers-and would cost Listing no more than six million. Hadley Brothers was privately owned, so the deal would create virtually no attention. Listing Foods had grossed two billion last year, so six million was no sweat. The company had eighty million in cash and little debt. And to sweeten the deal, Vandemeer promised that Trellco would quietly purchase Hadley Brothers in two years if Zell wished to unload it.

Nothing could go wrong. Listing and Trellco were totally independent of each other. Listing was already in the business of owning grocery chains. Trellco was not directly involved in the litigation down there. It was a simple handshake deal between two old friends.

Later, of course, there would need to be a personnel shakeup within Hadley Brothers, one of the usual realignments inherent in any buyout or merger or whatever it was to be called. Vandemeer would need to pass along some instructions for Zell to send down the line until the right amount of pressure could be placed on Lonnie Shaver.

And it needed to be done quickly. The trial was scheduled to last for four more weeks. Week one would end in just a few hours.

After a brief nap in his office in downtown Manhattan, Luther Vandemeer called the number in Biloxi and left a message for Rankin Fitch to call him in the Hamptons over the weekend.

FITCH'S OFFICE was in the back of an empty store, a five-and-dime that had closed years earlier. The rent was low, parking was plentiful, no one noticed the place, and it was just a short walk from the courthouse. There were five large rooms, all hastily built with unpainted plywood walls; the sawdust was still on the floor. The furniture was cheap, rented, and consisted primarily of folding tables and plastic chairs. The lighting was fluorescent and plentiful. The outer doors were heavily secured. Two men with guns guarded the suite at all times.

If pennies had been pinched throwing the place together, nothing had been spared in getting it plugged in. Computers and monitors were everywhere. Wires to faxes and copiers and phones ran over the floor in no apparent design. Fitch had the latest technology, and he had the people to operate it.

The walls of one room were covered with large photos of the fifteen jurors. Computer printouts were tacked to another wall. A huge seating chart was on another wall, and an employee was adding data to the block under Gladys Card's name.

The room in the back was the smallest, and it was strictly off-limits for the regular employees, though they all knew what was happening in it. The door locked automatically from the inside, and Fitch had the only key. It was a viewing room, with no windows, a large screen on one wall, and half a dozen comfortable chairs. Friday afternoon, Fitch and two jury experts sat in the dark and stared at the screen. The experts preferred not to engage in small talk with Fitch, and Fitch wasn't about to entertain them. Silence.

The camera was a Yumara XLT-2, a tiny unit capable of fitting almost anywhere. The lens was half an inch in diameter, and the camera itself weighed less than a pound. It had been meticulously installed by one of Fitch's boys, and was now situated in a well-worn brown leather satchel sitting on the floor in the courtroom under the defense table, and being covertly guarded by Oliver McAdoo, a lawyer from Washington and the only foreigner selected by Fitch to sit alongside Cable and the rest. Mc-Adoo's job was to think strategy, smile at the jurors, and feed documents to Cable. His real job, known only to Fitch and a few others, was to walk into the courtroom each day, heavily laden with the tools of warfare, including two large, identical brown briefcases, one of which held the camera, and to sit at approximately the same spot at the defense table. He was the first defense lawyer in the courtroom each morning. He would set the satchel upright, aim it at the jury box, then quickly call Fitch on a cellphone to get things adjusted.

At any given moment during the trial, there were twenty or so briefcases scattered through the courtroom, most congregated on or under the counsel tables, but some were stacked together near the clerk's bench, some were under chairs where the lower-tier lawyers labored, some were even leaning against the bar, seemingly abandoned. While they varied in size and color, as a collection they all looked pretty much the same, including McAdoo's. One he opened occasionally to retrieve papers, but the other, the one holding the camera, was locked so tight that explosives would be required to open it. Fitch's strategy was simple-if, for some unimaginable reason, the camera attracted attention, then in the ensuing fracas McAdoo would simply switch briefcases and hope for the best.

Detection was extremely remote. The camera made no noise and sent signals no human could hear. The briefcase sat near several others, and it 'occasionally got itself jostled or even kicked over, but readjustment was easy. McAdoo would simply find a quiet spot and call Fitch. They'd perfected the system during the Cimmino trial last year in Alien-town.

The technology was amazing. The tiny lens captured the width and depth of the jury box, and sent all fifteen faces, in color, down the street to Fitch's little viewing room where two jury consultants sat throughout the day and studied every slight twitch and yawn.

Depending on what was happening in the jury box, Fitch would then chat with Durr Cable, and tell him their people in the courtroom had picked up on this and that. Neither Cable nor any of the local defense lawyers would ever know about the camera.

The camera recorded dramatic responses Friday afternoon. Unfortunately, it was frozen on the jury box. The Japanese had yet to design one that could scan from inside a locked briefcase and focus on other points of interest. So the camera couldn't see the enlarged photos of the shriveled, blackened lungs of Jacob Wood, but the jurors certainly saw them. As Rohr and Dr. Fricke worked through their script, the jurors, without exception, gawked with unrestrained horror at the ghastly wounds slowly inflicted over thirty-five years.

Rohr's timing was perfect. The two photos were mounted on a large tripod in front of the witness stand, and when Dr. Fricke finished his testimony at fifteen minutes after five, it was time to adjourn for the weekend. The last image the jurors had, the one they'd think about for the next two days and the one that would prove to be unshakable, was of the charred lungs, removed from the body and posed on a white sheet.