Chapter Twenty-Two

It was pointed out to Judge Harkin by Phillip Savelle, in a tersely worded, hardly legible message, that the word "conjugal" as denned by Webster covered husband and wife only, and he objected to the term. He did not have a wife, and had little regard for the institution of marriage. He suggested "Communal Interludes," and he went on to bitch about the worship service held that morning. He faxed the letter to Harkin, who received it at home during the fourth quarter of the Saints game. Lou Dell arranged the fax through the front desk. Twenty minutes later she received a return fax from His Honor changing the word "conjugal" to "personal," and relabeling the whole thing "Personal Visits." He directed her to make copies for all jurors. Because it was Sunday, he threw in another hour, from 6 P.M. to 10, instead of 9. He then called her to ask what else Mr. Savelle might want, and inquired as to the general mood of his jury.

Lou Dell just couldn't tell him about seeing Mr. Savelle all nude and perched on his bed like that. She figured the Judge had enough things to worry about. Everything was fine, she assured him.

Hoppy was the first guest to arrive and Lou Dell whisked him away quickly to Millie's room, where he once again delivered chocolates and a small bouquet of flowers. They kissed briefly on the cheeks, never considered anything conjugal, and lounged on the beds during "60 Minutes." Hoppy slowly brought the conversation around to the trial, where he struggled to keep it for a while. "Just doesn't make sense, you know, for people to sue like this. I mean, it's silly, really. Everybody knows cigarettes are addictive and dangerous, so why smoke? Remember Boyd Dogan, smoked Salems for twenty-five years, quit just like that," he said, snapping his fingers.

"Yeah, he quit five minutes after the doctor found that tumor on his tongue," Millie reminded him, then added a mocking snap of her own.

"Yeah, but lots of people quit smoking. It's mind over matter. Not right to keep smoking then sue for millions when the damned things kill you."

"Hoppy, your language."

"Sorry." Hoppy asked about the other jurors and their reactions so far to the plaintiff's case. Mr. Cristano thought it would be best to try and win Millie over with the merits, instead of terrorizing her with the truth. They'd talked about this over lunch. Hoppy felt treacherous plotting against his own wife, but each time the guilt hit him so did the thought of five years in prison.

Nicholas left his room during halftime of the Sunday-night game. The hall was empty of jurors and guards. Voices were heard in the Party Room, generally male voices it seemed. Once again the men drank beer and watched football while the women made the most of their personal visits and communal interludes.

He slid silently through the double glass doors at the end of the hallway, ducked around the corner, past the soft-drink machines, then bounded up the stairs to the second floor. Marlee was waiting in a room she'd paid cash for and registered under the name of Elsa Broome, one of her many aliases.

They went straight to bed, with a minimum of words and preliminaries. Both had agreed that eight consecutive nights apart was not only a record for them, but also unhealthy.

MARLEE MET NICHOLAS when both had other names. The point of contact was a bar in Lawrence, Kansas, where she worked as a waitress and he spent late nights with pals from law school. She had collected two degrees by the time she settled in Lawrence, and because she wasn't eager to initiate a career, she was pondering the option of law school, that great American baby-sitter for directionless postgrads. She was in no hurry. Her mother had died a few years before she met Nicholas, and Marlee had inherited almost two hundred thousand dollars. She served drinks because the hangout was cool and she would've been bored otherwise. It kept her in shape. She drove an old Jaguar, watched her money closely, and dated only law students.

They noticed each other long before they spoke. He'd come in late with a small group, the usual faces, sit in a booth in a corner, and debate abstract and incredibly boring legal theories. She'd deliver draft beer in pitchers, and try to flirt, with varying degrees of success. During his first year, he was enamored with the law and paid little attention to girls. She asked around and learned he was a good student, top third in his class, but nothing outstanding. He survived the first year and returned for the second. She cut her hair and lost ten pounds, though it wasn't necessary.

He had finished college and applied to thirty law schools. Eleven said yes, though none were top ten. He flipped a coin and drove to Lawrence, a place he'd never seen. He found a two-room apartment stuck to the rear of a spinster's crumbling house. He studied hard and had little time for a social life, at least during the first two semesters.

The summer after his first year he clerked for a large firm in Kansas City where he pushed interoffice mail from floor to floor with a cart. The firm had three hundred lawyers under one roof, and at times it seemed as though all were working on one trial -  the defense of Smith Greer in a tobacco/lung cancer case down in Joplin. The trial lasted five weeks and ended with a defense verdict. Afterward, the firm threw a party and a thousand people showed up. Rumor was that the catered celebration cost Smith Greer eighty grand. Who cared? The summer was a miserable experience.

He hated the big firm, and midway through his second year he was fed up with the law in general. No way he would spend five years locked in a cubbyhole writing and rewriting the same briefs so rich corporate clients could be bilked.

Their first date was to a law school keg party after a football game. The music was loud, the beer plentiful, the pot passed around like candy. They left early because he didn't like noise and she didn't like the smell of cannabis. They rented videos and cooked spaghetti in her apartment, a rather spacious and well-furnished layout. He slept on the sofa.

A month later he moved in and first broached the subject of dropping out of law school. She was thinking about applying. As the romance blossomed, his interest in things academic diminished to the point of barely completing his fall exams. They were madly in love, and nothing else mattered. Plus, she had the benefit of a little cash, so the pressure was off. They spent Christmas in Jamaica between semesters of his second, and final, year.

By the time he quit, she'd been in Lawrence for three years, and was ready to move on. He would follow her anywhere.

MARLEE HAD BEEN ABLE to learn little about the fire Sunday afternoon. They suspected Fitch, but couldn't pinpoint a reason. The only asset of value was the computer, and Nicholas was certain no one could breach its security system. The important discs were locked away in a vault in Marlee's condo. What could Fitch gain by burning a run-down apartment? Intimidation maybe, but it didn't fit. Fire officials were conducting a routine investigation. Arson seemed unlikely.

They'd slept in finer places than the Siesta Inn, and they'd slept in worse. In four years they'd lived in four towns, traveled to a half-dozen countries, seen most of North America, backpacked in Alaska and Mexico, rafted the Colorado twice, and floated the Amazon once. They had also tracked tobacco litigation, and that journey had forced them to set up housekeeping in places such as Broken Arrow, Allentown, and now Biloxi. Together, they knew more about nicotine levels, carcinogens, statistical probabilities of lung cancer, jury selection, trial tactics, and Rankin Fitch than any group of high-powered experts.

After an hour under the covers, a light came on beside the bed and Nicholas emerged, hair ruffled, reaching for clothing. Marlee got dressed and peeked through the shades at the parking lot.

Directly below them, Hoppy was trying his best to discount the scandalous revelations of Lawrence Krigler, testimony Millie seemed quite impressed with. She dished it out to Hoppy in heavy doses, and was puzzled by his desire to argue so much.

Just for the fun of it, Marlee had left her car parked on the street a half a block from the offices of Wendall Rohr. She and Nicholas were operating under the assumption that Fitch was following every move she made. It was amusing to imagine Fitch squirming with the idea that she was in there, in Rohr's office, actually meeting with him face-to-face and agreeing to who knew what. For the personal visit, she had arrived in a rental car, one of several she'd used in the past month.

Nicholas was suddenly weary of the room, an exact replica of the one he was confined to. They went for a long drive along the Coast; she drove, he sipped beer. They walked down a pier above the Gulf, and kissed as the water rocked gently below them. They talked little of the trial.

At ten-thirty, Marlee emerged from the car at a point two blocks from Rohr's office. As she walked hurriedly along the sidewalk, Nicholas followed nearby. Her car was parked alone. Joe Boy saw her get into it and radioed Konrad. After she drove away, Nicholas hurried back to the motel in the rental car.

Rohr was in the midst of a heated council meeting, the daily gathering of the eight trial lawyers who'd put up a million each. The issue Sunday night was the number of witnesses left to be called by the plaintiff, and as usual, there were eight separate opinions about what to do next. Two schools of thought, but eight very firm and very different inclinations about precisely what would be effective.

Including the three days spent selecting the jury, the trial was now three weeks old. Tomorrow would start week four, and the plaintiff had enough experts and other witnesses to go on for at least two more weeks. Cable had his own army of experts, though typically the defense in these cases used less than half the time of the plaintiff. Six weeks was a reasonable prediction, which meant the jury would be sequestered for almost four weeks, a scenario that troubled everyone. At some point the jury would rebel, and since the plaintiff used the bulk of the court time, the plaintiff had the most to lose. But on the other hand, since the defense went last, and the jury would tire at the end, then perhaps the jury's venom would be aimed at Cable and Pynex. This argument raged for an hour.

Wood v. Pynex was unique because it was the first tobacco trial featuring a sequestered jury. It was, in fact, the first sequestered civil jury in the history of the state. Rohr was of the opinion that the jury had heard enough. He wanted to call only two more witnesses, finish their case by noon Tuesday, then rest and wait for Cable. He was joined by Scotty Mangrum of Dallas and Andre Durond of New Orleans. Jonathan Kotlack of San Diego wanted three more witnesses.

The opposing view was vigorously pushed by John Riley Milton of Denver and Rayner Lovelady of Savannah. Since they'd spent so damned much money on the world's greatest collection of experts, why be in a hurry, they argued. There remained some crucial testimony from outstanding witnesses. The jury wasn't going anywhere. Sure they'd get tired, but didn't every jury? It was far safer to stick to the game plan and try the case thoroughly than to jump ship in midstream because a few jurors were getting bored.

Carney Morrison of Boston harped repeatedly on the weekly summaries from the jury consultants. This jury was not convinced! Under Mississippi law, it would take nine of the twelve to get a verdict. Morrison was certain they didn't have nine. Rohr especially paid little attention to the current analyses of how Jerry Fernandez rubbed his eyes and how Loreen Duke shifted her weight and how poor old Herman twisted at the neck when Dr. So-and-So was testifying. Frankly, Rohr was sick of the jury experts and especially sick of the obscene sums of money they were getting. It was one thing to have their assistance while investigating potential jurors. It was a far different matter to have them lurking everywhere during the trial, always anxious to prepare a daily report to tell the lawyers how the case was trying. Rohr could read a jury far better than any consultant.

Arnold Levine of Miami said little because the group knew his feelings. He'd once taken on General Motors in a trial that lasted eleven months, so six weeks was a warm-up for him.

There was no coin toss when the vote was even. It had been agreed long before jury selection that this was Wendall Rohr's trial, filed in his hometown, fought in his courtroom before his judge and his jurors. The plaintiff's trial council was a democratic body to a point, but Rohr had veto power which could not be overridden.

He made his decision late Sunday, and the serious egos left bruised but not permanently damaged. There was too much at stake for bickering and second-guessing.