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The Litigators

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The Theodore Boone Books

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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2011 by Belfry Holdings, Inc.

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.


DOUBLEDAY and the portrayal of an anchor with a dolphin are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

Jacket design by John Fontana

Jacket photograph by Deborah Lill

Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file with the Library of Congress.

eISBN: 978-0-385-53525-0




Other Books by This Author

Title Page


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50



The law firm of Finley & Figg referred to itself as a “boutique firm.” This ; misnomer was inserted as often as possible into routine conversations, and it even appeared in print in some of the various schemes hatched by the partners to solicit business. When used properly, it implied that Finley & Figg was something above your average two-bit operation. Boutique, as in small, gifted, and expert in one specialized area. Boutique, as in pretty cool and chic, right down to the Frenchness of the word itself. Boutique, as in thoroughly happy to be small, selective, and prosperous.

Except for its size, it was none of these things. Finley & Figg’s scam was hustling injury cases, a daily grind that required little skill or creativity and would never be considered cool or sexy. Profits were as elusive as status. The firm was small because it couldn’t afford to grow. It was selective only because no one wanted to work there, including the two men who owned it. Even its location suggested a monotonous life out in the bush leagues. With a Vietnamese massage parlor to its left and a lawn mower repair shop to its right, it was clear at a casual glance that Finley & Figg was not prospering. There was another boutique firm directly across the street—hated rivals—and more lawyers around the corner. In fact, the neighborhood was teeming with lawyers, some working alone, others in small firms, others still in versions of their own little boutiques.

F&F’s address was on Preston Avenue, a busy street filled with old bungalows now converted and used for all manner of commercial activity. There was retail (liquor, cleaners, massages) and professional (legal, dental, lawn mower repair) and culinary (enchiladas, baklava, and pizza to go). Oscar Finley had won the building in a lawsuit twenty years earlier. What the address lacked in prestige it sort of made up for in location. Two doors away was the intersection of Preston, Beech, and Thirty-eighth, a chaotic convergence of asphalt and traffic that guaranteed at least one good car wreck a week, and often more. F&F’s annual overhead was covered by collisions that happened less than one hundred yards away. Other law firms, boutique and otherwise, were often prowling the area in hopes of finding an available, cheap bungalow from which their hungry lawyers could hear the actual squeal of tires and crunching of metal.

With only two attorneys/partners, it was of course mandatory that one be declared the senior and the other the junior. The senior partner was Oscar Finley, age sixty-two, a thirty-year survivor of the bare-knuckle brand of law found on the tough streets of southwest Chicago. Oscar had once been a beat cop but got himself terminated for cracking skulls. He almost went to jail but instead had an awakening and went to college, then law school. When no firms would hire him, he hung out his own little shingle and started suing anyone who came near. Thirty-two years later, he found it hard to believe that for thirty-two years he’d wasted his career suing for past-due accounts receivable, fender benders, slip-and-falls, and quickie divorces. He was still married to his first wife, a terrifying woman he wanted to sue every day for his own divorce. But he couldn’t afford it. After thirty-two years of lawyering, Oscar Finley couldn’t afford much of anything.

His junior partner—and Oscar was prone to say things like, “I’ll get my junior partner to handle it,” when trying to impress judges and other lawyers and especially prospective clients—was Wally Figg, age forty-five. Wally fancied himself a hardball litigator, and his blustery ads promised all kinds of aggressive behavior. “We Fight for Your Rights!” and “Insurance Companies Fear Us!” and “We Mean Business!” Such ads could be seen on park benches, city transit buses, cabs, high school football programs, even telephone poles, though this violated several ordinances. The ads were not seen in two crucial markets—television and billboards. Wally and Oscar were still fighting over these. Oscar refused to spend the money—both types were horribly expensive—and Wally was still scheming. His dream was to see his smiling face and slick head on television saying dreadful things about insurance companies while promising huge settlements to injured folks wise enough to call his toll-free number.

But Oscar wouldn’t even pay for a billboard. Wally had one picked out. Six blocks from the office, at the corner of Beech and Thirty-second, high above the swarming traffic, on top of a four-story tenement house, there was the most perfect billboard in all of metropolitan Chicago. Currently hawking cheap lingerie (with a comely ad, Wally had to admit), the billboard had his name and face written all over it. But Oscar still refused.

Wally’s law degree came from the prestigious University of Chicago School of Law. Oscar picked his up at a now-defunct place that once offered courses at night. Both took the bar exam three times. Wally had four divorces under his belt; Oscar could only dream. Wally wanted the big case, the big score with millions of dollars in fees. Oscar wanted only two things—divorce and retirement.

How the two men came to be partners in a converted house on Preston Avenue was another story. How they survived without choking each other was a daily mystery.

Their referee was Rochelle Gibson, a robust black woman with attitude and savvy earned on the streets from which she came. Ms. Gibson handled the front—the phone, the reception, the prospective clients arriving with hope and the disgruntled ones leaving in anger, the occasional typing (though her bosses had learned if they needed something typed, it was far simpler to do it themselves), the firm dog, and, most important, the constant bickering between Oscar and Wally.

Years earlier, Ms. Gibson had been injured in a car wreck that was not her fault. She then compounded her troubles by hiring the law firm of Finley & Figg, though not by choice. Twenty-four hours after the crash, bombed on Percocet and laden with splints and plaster casts, Ms. Gibson had awakened to the grinning, fleshy face of Attorney Wallis Figg hovering over her hospital bed. He was wearing a set of aquamarine scrubs, had a stethoscope around his neck, and was doing a good job of impersonating a physician. Wally tricked her into signing a contract for legal representation, promised her the moon, sneaked out of the room as quietly as he’d sneaked in, then proceeded to butcher her case. She netted $40,000, which her husband drank and gambled away in a matter of weeks, which led to a divorce action filed by Oscar Finley. He also handled her bankruptcy. Ms. Gibson was not impressed with either lawyer and threatened to sue both for malpractice. This got their attention—they had been hit with similar lawsuits—and they worked hard to placate her. As her troubles multiplied, she became a fixture at the office, and with time the three became comfortable with one another.

Finley & Figg was a tough place for secretaries. The pay was low, the clients were generally unpleasant, the other lawyers on the phone were rude, the hours were long, but the worst part was dealing with the two partners. Oscar and Wally had tried the mature route, but the older gals couldn’t handle the pressure. They had tried youth but got themselves sued for sexual harassment when Wally couldn’t keep his paws off a busty young thing. (They settled out of court for $50,000 and got their names in the newspaper.) Rochelle Gibson happened to be at the office one morning when the then-current secretary quit and stormed out. With the phone ringing and partners yelling, Ms. Gibson moved over to the front desk and calmed things down. Then she made a pot of coffee. She was back the next day, and the next. Eight years later, she was still running the place.

Her two sons were in prison. Wally had been their lawyer, though in all fairness no one could have saved them. As teenagers, both boys kept Wally busy with their string of arrests on various drug charges. Their dealing got more involved, and Wally warned them repeatedly they were headed for prison, or death. He said the same to Ms. Gibson, who had little control over the boys and often prayed for prison. When their crack ring got busted, they were sent away for ten years. Wally got it reduced from twenty and received no gratitude from the boys. Ms. Gibson offered a tearful thanks. Through all their troubles, Wally never charged her a fee for his representation.

Over the years, there had been many tears in Ms. Gibson’s life, and they had often been shed in Wally’s office with the door locked. He gave advice and tried to help when possible, but his greatest role was that of a listener. And with Wally’s sloppy life, the tables could be turned quickly. When his last two marriages blew up, Ms. Gibson heard it all and offered encouragement. When his drinking picked up, she saw it clearly and was not afraid to confront him. Though they fought daily, their quarrels were always temporary and often contrived as a means of protecting turf.

There were times at Finley & Figg when all three were snarling or sulking, and money was usually the cause. The market was simply overcrowded; there were too many lawyers loose on the streets.

The last thing the firm needed was another one.


David Zinc made it off the L train at the Quincy Station in downtown Chicago, and he managed to shuffle down the steps that led to Wells Street, but something was going wrong with his feet. They were getting heavier and heavier, his steps slower and slower. He stopped at the corner of Wells and Adams and actually looked at his shoes for a clue. Nothing, just the same standard black leather lace-ups worn by every male lawyer in the firm, and a couple of the females as well. His breathing was labored, and in spite of the chill he felt moisture in his armpits. He was thirty-one years old, certainly too young for a heart attack, and though he’d been exhausted for the past five years, he had learned to live with his fatigue. Or so he thought. He turned a corner and looked at the Trust Tower, a glistening phallic monument jutting one thousand feet upward into the clouds and fog. As he paused and looked up, his heart rate quickened and he felt nauseous. Bodies touched him as they jostled by. He crossed Adams in a pack and plodded on.

The atrium of the Trust Tower was tall and open, with plenty of marble and glass and incomprehensible sculpture designed to inspire and provide warmth, when in reality it seemed cold and forbidding, at least to David. Six escalators crisscrossed each other and hauled hordes of weary warriors up to their cubicles and offices. David tried, but his feet would not carry him to an escalator. Instead, he sat on a leather bench beside a pile of large painted rocks and tried to understand what was happening to him. People rushed by, grim-faced, hollow-eyed, stressed-out already, and it was only 7:30 on this gloomy morning.

A “snap” is certainly not a medical term. Experts use fancier language to describe the instant when a troubled person steps over the edge. Nonetheless, a snap is a real moment. It can happen in a split second, the result of a terribly traumatic event. Or it can be the final straw, the sad culmination of pressure that builds and builds until the mind and body must find a release. David Zinc’s snap was of the latter variety. After five years of savage labor with colleagues he loathed, something happened to David that morning as he sat by the painted rocks and watched the well-dressed zombies ride upward to yet another day of useless labor. He snapped.

“Hey Dave. You going up?” someone was saying. It was Al, from antitrust.

David managed to smile and nod and mumble, then he stood and followed Al for some reason. Al was a step ahead as they got onto an escalator, and he was talking about last night’s Blackhawks game. David kept nodding as they rose through the atrium. Below him and following behind were dozens of lonely figures in dark overcoats, other young lawyers rising, quiet and somber, much like pallbearers at a winter funeral. David and Al joined a group at a wall of elevators on the first level. As they waited, David listened to the hockey talk, but his head was spinning and he was nauseous again. They rushed onto an elevator and stood shoulder to shoulder with too many others. Silence. Al was quiet. No one spoke; no one made eye contact.

David said to himself: “This is it—my last ride in this elevator. I swear.”

The elevator rocked and hummed, then stopped at the eightieth floor, Rogan Rothberg territory. Three lawyers got off, three faces David had seen before but didn’t know by name, which was not unusual because the firm had six hundred lawyers on floors seventy through one hundred. Two more dark suits got off at eighty-four. As they continued to rise, David began to sweat, then to hyperventilate. His tiny office was on the ninety-third floor, and the closer he got, the more violently his heart pumped. More somber exits on ninety and ninety-one, and with each stop David felt weaker and weaker.

Only three were left at ninety-three—David, Al, and a large woman who was called Lurch behind her back. The elevator stopped, a bell chimed pleasantly, the door opened silently, and Lurch stepped off. Al stepped off. David refused to move; in fact, he couldn’t move. Seconds passed. Al looked over his shoulder and said, “Hey, David, this is us. Come on.”

No response from David, just the blank, hollow gaze of someone in another world. The door began to close, and Al jammed his briefcase in the opening. “David, you okay?” Al asked.

“Sure,” David mumbled as he managed to move forward. The door slid open, the bell chimed again. He was out of the elevator, looking around nervously as if he’d never before seen the place. In fact, he’d left it only ten hours earlier.

“You look pale,” Al said.

David’s head was spinning. He heard Al’s voice but didn’t comprehend what he was saying. Lurch was a few feet away, staring, puzzled, as if watching a car wreck. The elevator pinged again, a different sound, and the door began to close. Al said something else, even reached out a hand as if to help. Suddenly David spun and his leaden feet came to life. He bolted for the elevator and made a diving reentry just as the door slammed shut. The last thing he heard from the outside was Al’s panicked voice.

When the elevator began its descent, David Zinc started to laugh. The spinning and nausea were gone. The pressure on his chest vanished. He was doing it! He was leaving the sweatshop of Rogan Rothberg and saying farewell to a nightmare. He, David Zinc, of all the thousands of miserable associates and junior partners in the tall buildings of downtown Chicago, he and he alone had found the spine to walk away that gloomy morning. He sat on the floor in the empty elevator, watching with a wide grin as the floor numbers zipped downward in bright red digital numbers, and he fought to control his thoughts. The people: (1) his wife, a neglected woman who wanted to get pregnant but found it difficult because her husband was too tired for sex; (2) his father, a prominent judge who had basically forced him to go to law school, and not just anywhere but Harvard Law School because that’s where the judge had gone; (3) his grandfather, the family tyrant who’d built a mega firm from scratch in Kansas City and still put in ten hours a day at the age of eighty-two; and (4) Roy Barton, his supervising partner, his boss, a prickish crank who yelled and cursed throughout the day and was perhaps the most miserable person David Zinc had ever met. When he thought of Roy Barton, he laughed again.

The elevator stopped at the eightieth floor, and two secretaries started to enter. They paused momentarily when confronted with David sitting in a corner, briefcase at his side. Carefully, they stepped over his legs and waited for the door to close. “Are you okay?” one asked. “Fine,” David answered. “And you?”

There was no response. The secretaries stood rigid and quiet during the brief descent and hustled off at seventy-seven. When David was alone again, he was suddenly worried. What if they came after him? Al would no doubt go straight to Roy Barton and report that Zinc had cracked up. What would Barton do? There was a huge meeting at ten with an angry client, a big-shot CEO; in fact, as David would think about things later, the showdown was probably the tipping point that finally caused the Snap. Roy Barton was not only an abrasive prick but also a coward. He needed David Zinc and others to hide behind when the CEO marched in with a long list of valid complaints.

Roy might send Security after him. Security was the usual contingent of aging uniformed door guards, but it was also an in-house spy ring that changed locks, videoed everything, moved in the shadows, and engaged in all manner of covert activities designed to keep the lawyers in line. David jumped to his feet, picked up his briefcase, and stared impatiently at the digital numbers blinking by. The elevator rocked gently as it fell through the center of the Trust Tower. When it stopped, David got off and darted to the escalators, which were still packed with sad folks moving silently upward. The descending escalators were unclogged, and David ran down one. Someone called out, “Hey, Dave, where are you going?” David smiled and waved in the general direction of the voice, as if everything was under control. He strode past the painted rocks and bizarre sculpture, and he eased his way through a glass door. He was outside, and the air that had seemed so wet and dreary moments earlier now held the promise of a new beginning.

He took a deep breath and looked around. Gotta keep moving. He began walking down LaSalle Street, quickly, afraid to look over his shoulder. Don’t look suspicious. Be calm. This is now one of the most important days of your life, he told himself, so don’t blow it. He couldn’t go home because he was not ready for that confrontation. He couldn’t walk the streets because he would bump into someone he knew. Where could he hide for a while, think about things, clear his head, make a plan? He checked his watch, 7:51, the perfect time for breakfast. Down an alley he saw the red-and-green flashing neon sign of Abner’s, and as he grew closer, he couldn’t tell if it was a café or a bar. At the door he glanced over his shoulder, made sure Security was nowhere in sight, and entered the warm, dark world of Abner’s.

It was a bar. The booths along the right were empty. The chairs were sitting upside down on the tables, waiting for someone to clean the floor. Abner was behind the long, well-polished wooden counter with a smirk on his face, as if to ask, “What are you doing here?”

“Are you open?” David asked.

“Was the door locked?” Abner shot back. He wore a white apron and was drying a beer mug. He had thick, hairy forearms, and in spite of his gruff manner he had the trusting face of a veteran bartender who’d heard it all before.

“I guess not.” David walked slowly to the bar, glanced to his right, and at the far end saw a man who’d apparently passed out, still holding a drink.

David removed his charcoal-gray overcoat and hung it on the back of a stool. He took a seat, looked at the rows of liquor bottles aligned in front of him, took in the mirrors and beer taps and dozens of glasses Abner had arranged perfectly, and when he was settled, he said, “What do you recommend before eight o’clock?” Abner looked at the man with his head on the counter and said, “How about coffee?”

“I’ve already had that. Do you serve breakfast?”

“Yep, it’s called a Bloody Mary.”

“I’ll take one.”

Rochelle Gibson lived in a subsidized apartment with her mother, one of her daughters, two of her grandchildren, varying combinations of nieces and nephews, and even an occasional cousin in need of shelter. To escape the chaos, she often fled to her workplace, though at times it was worse than home. She arrived at the office each day around 7:30, unlocked the place, fetched both newspapers from the porch, turned on the lights, adjusted the thermostat, made the coffee, and checked on AC, the firm dog. She hummed and sometimes sang softly as she went about her routine. Though she would never admit it to either of her bosses, she was quite proud to be a legal secretary, even in a place like Finley & Figg. When asked her job or profession, she was always quick to state “legal secretary.” Never just a garden-variety secretary, but a legal one. What she lacked in formal training she made up for in experience. Eight years in the middle of a busy street practice had taught her a lot of law and even more about lawyers.

AC was a mutt who lived at the office because no one there was willing to take him home. He belonged to the three—Rochelle, Oscar, and Wally—in equal shares, though virtually all of the responsibilities of his care fell upon Rochelle. He was a runaway who’d chosen F&F as his home several years earlier. Throughout the day he slept on a small bed near Rochelle, and throughout the night he roamed the office, guarding the place. He was a passable watchdog whose bark had chased away burglars, vandals, and even several disgruntled clients.

Rochelle fed him and filled his water bowl. From the small fridge in the kitchen, she removed a container of strawberry yogurt. When the coffee was ready, she poured herself a cup and arranged things just so on her desk, which she kept in immaculate order. It was glass and chrome, sturdy and impressive, the first thing clients saw when they walked through the front door. Oscar’s office was somewhat tidy. Wally’s was a landfill. They could hide their business behind closed doors, but Rochelle’s was in plain view.

She opened the Sun-Times and started with the front page. She read slowly, sipping her coffee, eating her yogurt, humming softly while AC snored behind her. Rochelle treasured these few quiet moments of the early morning. Before long, the phone would start, the lawyers would appear, and then, if they were lucky, clients would arrive, some with appointments, others without.

To get away from his wife, Oscar Finley left home each morning at seven, but he seldom got to the office before nine. For two hours he moved around the city, stopping by a police station where a cousin handled accident reports, dropping in to say hello to tow truck drivers and catch the latest gossip on the most recent car wrecks, drinking coffee with a man who owned two low-end funeral parlors, taking doughnuts to a fire station and chatting with the ambulance drivers, and occasionally making his rounds at his favorite hospitals, where he walked the busy halls casting a trained eye for those injured by the negligence of others.

Oscar arrived at nine. With Wally, whose life was far less organized, one never knew. He could blow in at 7:30, fueled by caffeine and Red Bull and ready to sue anyone who crossed him, or he could drag in at 11:00, puffy eyed, hungover, and soon hiding in his office.

On this momentous day, however, Wally arrived a few minutes before eight with a big smile and clear eyes. “Good morning, Ms. Gibson,” he said with conviction.

“Good morning, Mr. Figg,” she responded in similar fashion. At Finley & Figg, the atmosphere was always tense, with a fight just one comment away. Words were chosen carefully and received with scrutiny. The mundane early morning salutes were cautiously handled because they could be a setup for an attack. Even the use of “Mr.” and “Ms.” was contrived and loaded with history. Back when Rochelle had been only a client, Wally had made the mistake of referring to her as a “girl.” It had been something like, “Look, girl, I’m doing the best I can here.” He certainly meant no harm by it, and her overreaction was uncalled for, but from that moment on she insisted on being addressed as “Ms. Gibson.”

She was slightly irritated because her solitude was interrupted. Wally spoke to AC and rubbed his head, and as he headed for the coffee, he asked, “Anything in the paper?”

“No,” she said, not wanting to discuss the news.

“No surprise there,” he said, the first shot of the day. She read the Sun-Times. He read the Tribune. Each considered the other’s taste in news to be rather low.

The second shot came moments later when Wally reappeared. “Who made the coffee?” he asked.

She ignored this.

“It’s a bit weak, don’t you think?”

She slowly turned a page, then had some yogurt.

Wally sipped loudly, smacked his lips, frowned as though swallowing vinegar, then picked up his newspaper and took a seat at the table. Before Oscar won the building in a lawsuit, someone had knocked out several of the walls downstairs near the front and created an open lobby area. Rochelle had her space on one side, near the door, and a few feet away there were chairs for waiting clients and a long table that was once used somewhere for dining purposes. Over the years, the table had become the place where newspapers were read, coffee consumed, even depositions taken. Wally liked to kill time there because his office was such a pigsty.

He flung open his Tribune with as much noise as possible. Rochelle ignored him and hummed away.

A few minutes passed, and the phone rang. Ms. Gibson seemed not to hear it. It rang again. After the third ring, Wally lowered his newspaper and said, “You wanna get that, Ms. Gibson?”

“No,” she answered shortly.

It rang a fourth time.

“And why not?” he demanded.

She ignored him. After the fifth ring, Wally threw down his newspaper, jumped to his feet, and headed for a phone on the wall near the copier. “I wouldn’t get that if I were you,” Ms. Gibson said.

He stopped. “And why not?”

“It’s a bill collector.”

“How do you know?” Wally stared at the phone. Caller ID revealed “NAME UNKNOWN.”

“I just do. He calls this time every week.”

The phone went silent, and Wally returned to the table and his newspaper. He hid behind it, wondering which bill had not been paid, which supplier was irritated enough to call a law office and put the squeeze on lawyers. Rochelle knew, of course, because she kept the books and knew almost everything, but he preferred not to ask her. If he did, then they would soon be bickering over the bills and unpaid fees and lack of money in general, and this could easily spiral down into a heated discussion about overall strategies of the firm, its future, and the shortcomings of its partners.

Neither wanted this.

Abner took great pride in his Bloody Marys. He used precise amounts of tomato juice, vodka, horseradish, lemon, lime, Worcestershire sauce, pepper, Tabasco, and salt. He always added two green olives, then finished it with a stalk of celery.

It had been a long time since David had enjoyed such a fine breakfast. After two of Abner’s creations, consumed rapidly, he was grinning goofily and proud of his decision to chuck it all. The drunk at the end of the bar was snoring. There were no other customers. Abner was a man about his business, washing and drying cocktail glasses, taking inventory of his booze, and fiddling with the beer taps while offering commentary on a wide variety of subjects.

David’s phone finally rang. It was his secretary, Lana. “Oh, boy,” he said.

“Who is it?” Abner asked.

“The office.”

“A man’s entitled to breakfast, isn’t he?”

David grinned again and said, “Hello.”

Lana said, “David, where are you? It’s eight thirty.”

“I have a watch, dear. I’m having breakfast.”

“Are you okay? Word’s out that you were last seen diving back into an elevator.”

“Just a rumor, dear, just a rumor.”

“Good. What time will you be in? Roy Barton has already called.”

“Let me finish breakfast, okay?”

“Sure. Just keep in touch.”

David put down his phone, sucked hard on the straw, then announced, “I’ll have another.” Abner frowned and said, “You might want to pace yourself.”

“I am pacing myself.”

“Okay.” Abner pulled down a clean glass and started mixing. “I take it you’re not going to the office today.”

“I am not. I quit. I’m walking away.”

“What type of office?”

“Law. Rogan Rothberg. You know the outfit?”

“Heard of it. Big firm, right?”

“Six hundred lawyers here in the Chicago office. Couple of thousand around the world. Currently in third place when it comes to size, fifth place in hours billed per lawyer, fourth place when looking at net profits per partner, second place when comparing associates’ salaries, and, without question, first place when counting assholes per square foot.”

“Sorry I asked.”

David picked up his phone and asked, “You see this phone?”

“You think I’m blind?”

“This thing has ruled my life for the past five years. Can’t go anywhere without it. Firm policy. It stays with me at all times. It’s interrupted nice dinners in restaurants. It’s dragged me out of the shower. It’s woken me up at all hours of the night. On one occasion it’s interrupted sex with my poor neglected wife. I was at a Cubs game last summer, great seats, me and two buddies from college, top of the second inning, and this thing starts vibrating. It was Roy Barton. Have I told you about Roy Barton?”

“Not yet.”

“My supervising partner, a pernicious little bastard. Forty years old, warped ego, God’s gift to the legal profession. Makes a million bucks a year but he’ll never make enough. Works fifteen hours a day, seven days a week, because at Rogan Rothberg all Big Men work nonstop. And Roy fancies himself a really Big Man.”

“Nice guy, huh?”

“I hate him. I hope I never see his face again.”

Abner slid the third Bloody Mary across the counter and said, “Looks like you’re on the right track, pal. Cheers.”


The phone rang again, and Rochelle decided to answer it. “The law firm of Finley & Figg,” she said professionally. Wally did not look up from his newspaper. She listened for a moment, then said, “I’m sorry, but we do not handle real estate transactions.”

When Rochelle assumed her position eight years earlier, the firm did in fact handle real estate transactions. However, she soon realized this type of work paid little and relied heavily upon the secretary with almost no effort from the lawyers. A quick study, she decided she disliked real estate. Because she controlled the phone, she screened all calls, and the real estate section of Finley & Figg dried up. Oscar was outraged and threatened to fire her but backed down when she mentioned, again, that she might sue them for legal malpractice. Wally brokered a truce, but for weeks things were more tense than usual.

Other specialties had been cast aside under her diligent screening. Criminal work was history; Rochelle didn’t like it, because she didn’t like the clients. DUIs were okay because there were so many of them, they paid well, and they required almost no involvement on her part. Bankruptcy bit the dust for the same reason that real estate had—paltry fees and too much work for the secretary. Over the years Rochelle had managed to streamline the firm’s practice, and this was still causing problems. Oscar’s theory, one that had kept him broke for over thirty years, was the firm should take everything that walked in the door, cast a wide net, then pick through the debris in the hope of finding a good injury case. Wally disagreed. He wanted the big kill. Though he was forced by the overhead to perform all sorts of mundane legal tasks, he was always dreaming of ways to strike gold.

“Nice work,” he said when she hung up. “I never liked real estate.”

She ignored this and returned to her newspaper. AC began a low growl. When they looked at him, he was standing on his small bed, nose tilted upward, tail straight and pointing, eyes narrow with concentration. His growl grew louder, then, on cue, the distant sound of an ambulance entered their solemn morning. Sirens never failed to excite Wally, and for a second or two he froze as he skillfully analyzed it. Police, fire, or ambulance? That was always the first issue, and Wally could distinguish the three in a heartbeat. Sirens from fire trucks and police cars meant nothing and were quickly ignored, but a siren from an ambulance always quickened his pulse.

“Ambulance,” he said, then placed his newspaper on the table, stood, and casually walked to the front door. Rochelle also stood and walked to a window where she opened the blinds for a quick look. AC was still growling, and when Wally opened the door and stepped onto the front porch, the dog followed. Across the street, Vince Gholston exited his own little boutique and cast a hopeful look at the intersection of Beech and Thirty-eighth. When he saw Wally, he flipped him the bird, and Wally quickly returned the greeting.

The ambulance came screaming down Beech, weaving and lurching its way through heavy traffic, honking angrily, causing more havoc and danger than whatever awaited it. Wally watched it until it was out of sight, then went inside.

The newspaper reading continued with no further interruptions—no sirens, no phone calls from prospective clients or bill collectors. At 9:00 a.m., the door opened, and the senior partner entered. As usual, Oscar wore a long dark overcoat and carried a bulky black leather briefcase, as if he’d been laboring away throughout the night. He also carried his umbrella, as always, regardless of the weather or forecast. Oscar toiled far away from the big leagues, but he could at least look the part of a distinguished lawyer. Dark coats, dark suits, white shirts, and silk ties. His wife did the shopping and insisted that he look the part. Wally, on the other hand, wore whatever he could pull from the pile.

“Morning,” Oscar said gruffly at Ms. Gibson’s desk.

“Good morning,” she replied.

“Anything in the newspaper?” Oscar was not interested in scores or floods or market reports or the latest from the Middle East.

“A forklift operator got crushed in a plant out in Palos Heights,” Ms. Gibson responded promptly. It was part of their morning ritual. If she did not find an accident of some variety to brighten his morning, then his sour mood would only get worse.

“I like it,” he said. “Is he dead?”

“Not yet.”

“Even better. Lots of pain and suffering. Make a note. I’ll check it out later.”

Ms. Gibson nodded as if the poor man were practically signed up as a new client. Of course, he was not. Nor would he be. Finley & Figg rarely got to the accident scene first. Chances were the forklift operator’s wife was already being hounded by more aggressive lawyers, some of whom were known to offer cash and other goodies to get the family on board.

Buoyed by this good news, Oscar walked over to the table and said, “Good morning.”

“Morning, Oscar,” Wally said.

“Any of our clients make the obituaries?”

“I haven’t got that far yet.”

“You should start with the obituaries.”

“Thank you, Oscar. Any more tips on how to read a newspaper?”

Oscar was already walking away. Over his shoulder he asked Ms. Gibson, “What’s on my calendar for today?”

“The usual. Divorces and drunks.”

“Divorces and drunks,” Oscar mumbled to himself as he stepped into his office. “What I need is a good car wreck.” He hung his overcoat on the back of the door, placed his umbrella in a rack by his desk, and began unpacking his briefcase. Wally was soon standing nearby, holding the newspaper. “Does the name Chester Marino ring a bell?” he asked. “Obit. Age fifty-seven, wife, kids, grandkids, no cause given.”

Oscar scratched his close-cropped gray hair and said, “Maybe. Could’ve been a last will and testament.”

“They got him down at Van Easel & Sons. Visitation tonight, service tomorrow. I’ll snoop around and see what’s up. If he’s one of ours, you wanna send flowers?”

“Not until you know the size of his estate.”

“Good point.” Wally was still holding his newspaper. “This Taser thing is out of control, you know. Cops in Joliet are accused of Tasering a seventy-year-old man who went to Walmart to buy Sudafed for his sick grandchild. The pharmacist figured the old man was using the stuff for a meth lab, so the pharmacist, being a good citizen, called the cops. Turns out the cops all got themselves brand-new Tasers, so five of these clowns stop the old man in the parking lot and Taser his ass. Critical condition.”

“So we’re back doing Taser law, are we, Wally?”

“Damn right we are. These are good cases, Oscar. We gotta get a few.”

Oscar sat down and sighed heavily. “So this week it’s Taser guns. Last week it was diaper rashes—big plans to sue the makers of Pampers because a few thousand babies have diaper rashes. Last month it was Chinese drywall.”

“They’ve paid four billion bucks already in the drywall class action.”

“Yes, but we haven’t seen any of it.”

“That’s my point, Oscar. We have got to get serious about these mass tort cases. This is where the money is. Millions in fees paid by companies that make billions in profits.”

The door was open, and Rochelle was listening to every word, though this particular conversation was getting a bit stale.

Wally was talking louder. “We get us a few of these cases, then hook up with the mass tort specialists, give them a piece of the cake, then ride their coattails until they settle, and we walk away with a truckload. It’s easy money, Oscar.”

“Diaper rashes?”

“Okay, that didn’t work. But this Taser thing is a gold mine.”

“Another gold mine, Wally?”

“Yep, I’ll prove it.”

“You do that.”

The drunk at the end of the bar had rallied somewhat. His head was up, his eyes were partially open, and Abner was serving him coffee and chatting away, all in an effort to convince the man it was time to leave. A teenager with a broom was sweeping the floor and arranging tables and chairs. The little pub was showing signs of life.

With his brain coated with vodka, David stared at himself in the mirror and tried in vain to put things into perspective. One moment he was filled with excitement and proud of his bold escape from the death march at Rogan Rothberg. The next moment he was fearful for his wife, his family, his future. The booze gave him courage, though, and he decided to keep drinking.

His phone vibrated again. It was Lana at the office. “Hello,” he said quietly.

“David, where are you?”

“Just finishing breakfast, you know.”

“David, you don’t sound so good. Are you all right?”

“I’m fine. I’m fine.”

A pause, then, “Are you drinking?”

“Of course not. It’s only nine thirty.”

“Okay, whatever. Look, Roy Barton just left here, and he’s in a rage. I’ve never heard such language. All kinds of threats.”

“Tell Roy to kiss my ass.”

“I beg your pardon.”

“You heard me. Tell Roy to kiss my ass.”

“You’re losing it, David. It’s true. You’re cracking up. I’m not surprised. I saw this coming. I knew it.”

“I’m fine.”

“You’re not fine. You’re drunk and you’re cracking up.”

“Okay, I may be drunk but—”

“I think I hear Roy Barton again. What should I tell him?”

“To kiss my ass.”

“Why don’t you tell him, David? You have a phone. Give Mr. Barton a call.” With that, she hung up.

Abner was easing over, curious to get the scoop on this latest phone call. He was rubbing the wooden counter again, for the third or fourth time since David had planted himself at the bar.

“The office,” David said, and Abner frowned as if this were bad news for everyone. “The aforementioned Roy Barton is looking for me, throwing things. Wish I could be a fly on the wall. Hope he has a stroke.”

Abner moved closer. “Say, I never caught your name.”

“David Zinc.”

“A pleasure. Look, David, the cook just got here. You want something to eat? Maybe something loaded with grease? French fries, onion rings, a big thick burger?”

“I want a double order of onion rings and a large bottle of ketchup.”

“Attaboy.” Abner disappeared. David drained his latest Bloody Mary and went to look for the restroom. When he returned, he assumed his seat, checked the time—9:28—and waited for the onion rings. He could smell them back there somewhere sizzling in hot oil. The drunk to his far right was gulping coffee and struggling to keep his eyes open. The teenager was still sweeping floors and arranging furniture.

The phone vibrated on the counter. It was his wife. David made no move to answer it. When the vibrating was over, he waited, then checked the voice mail. Helen’s message was about what he expected: “David, your office has called twice. Where are you? What are you doing? Everyone is very worried. Are you all right? Call me as soon as possible.”

She was a doctoral student at Northwestern, and when he had kissed her good-bye that morning at 6:45, she was still under the covers. When he arrived home the night before at 10:05, they had dined on leftover lasagna in front of the television before he fell asleep on the sofa. Helen was two years older and wanted to get pregnant, something that was looking more and more unlikely given her husband’s perpetual exhaustion. In the meantime, she was pursuing a Ph.D. in art history, and doing so at a leisurely pace.

A soft beep, then a text message from her: “Where are you? Are you okay? Please.”

He preferred not to speak to her for several hours. He would be forced to admit he was cracking up, and she would insist he get professional help. Her father was a shrink and her mother was a marriage counselor, and the entire family believed that all of life’s problems and mysteries could be solved with a few hours in therapy. At the same time, though, he couldn’t stand the thought that she was frantically worrying about his safety.

He sent a text: “I’m fine. I had to leave the office for a while. I’ll be okay. Please don’t worry.”

She replied: “Where are you?”

The onion rings arrived, a huge pile of golden-brown circles covered in thick batter and grease, hot from the fryer. Abner placed them in front of David and said, “These are the best. How about a glass of water?”

“I was thinking about a pint of beer.”

“You got it.” Abner found a mug and stepped to the tap.

“My wife’s looking for me now,” David said. “You got a wife?”

“Don’t ask.”

“Sorry. She’s a great girl, wants a family and all, but we can’t seem to get things started. I worked four thousand hours last year, can you believe it? Four thousand hours. I usually punch in at seven in the morning and leave around ten at night. That’s a typical day, but it’s not unusual to work past midnight. So when I get home, I crash. I think we had sex once last month. Hard to believe. I’m thirty-one. She’s thirty-three. Both in our prime and wanting to get pregnant, and big boy here can’t stay awake.” He opened the bottle of ketchup and unloaded a third of it. Abner placed a frosty pint of lager in front of him.

“At least you’re making plenty of dough,” Abner said.

David peeled off an onion ring, dipped it in ketchup, and stuffed it in his mouth. “Oh, sure, they pay me. Why would I subject myself to such abuse if I weren’t getting paid?” David glanced around to make sure no one was listening. No one was there. He lowered his voice as he ground away on the onion ring, and said, “I’m a senior associate, five years in, my gross last year was three hundred K. That’s a lot of money, and since I don’t have time to spend it, it’s just piling up in the bank. But look at the math. I worked four thousand hours but billed only three thousand. Three thousand hours, tops in the firm. The rest of it got lost in firm activities and pro bono work. Are you with me, Abner? You look bored.”

“I’m listening. I’ve served lawyers before. I know how dull they are.”

David took a long swig of lager and smacked his lips. “I appreciate your bluntness.”

“Just doing my job.”

“The firm bills my time at five hundred bucks an hour. Times three thousand. That’s one point five mill for dear old Rogan Rothberg, and they pay me a measly three hundred K. Multiply that by five hundred associates all doing pretty much the same thing, and you understand why law schools are packed with bright young students who think they want to join a big law firm and make it to partner and get rich. Are you bored, Abner?”


“You want an onion ring?”

“No thanks.”

David stuffed another large one into his parched mouth, then washed it down with half a pint. There was a loud thud at the end of the bar. The drunk down there succumbed once again. His head was on the counter.

“Who’s the guy?” David asked.

“His name’s Eddie. His brother owns half of the place, so he runs a tab that never gets paid. I’m sick of the guy.” Abner eased away and spoke to Eddie, who didn’t respond. Abner removed the coffee cup and wiped the counter around Eddie, then slowly made his way back to David.

“So you’re walking away from three hundred grand,” Abner said. “What’s the plan?”

David laughed, much too loud. “A plan? Haven’t got that far. Two hours ago I reported for work as always; now I’m cracking up.” Another swig. “My plan, Abner, is to sit here for a long time and try to analyze my crack-up. Will you help me?”

“It’s my job.”

“I’ll pay my tab.”

“Sounds like a deal.”

“Another pint, please.”


After an hour or so of reading the newspaper, eating her yogurt, and enjoying her coffee, Rochelle Gibson reluctantly went to work. Her first task was to check the client register for one Chester Marino, now resting quietly in a modestly priced bronze casket at Van Easel & Sons Funeral Home. Oscar was right. The firm had prepared a last will and testament for Mr. Marino six years earlier. She found the thin file in the storage room next to the kitchen and took it to Wally, who was hard at work amid the debris on his desk.

The office of Wallis T. Figg, Attorney and Counselor-at-Law, had been a bedroom in the original scheme of things, but over the years, as walls and doors were reconfigured, the square footage had been expanded somewhat. It certainly gave no hint of once being a bedroom, but then it didn’t much resemble an office either. It began at the door with walls no more than twelve feet apart, then doglegged to the right, to a larger space where Wally worked behind a 1950s-style faux-modern desk he’d snapped up at a fire sale. The desk was covered with stacks of manila files and used legal pads and hundreds of phone message slips, and to anyone who didn’t know better, including prospective clients, the desk gave the impression that the man behind it was extremely busy, maybe even important.

As always, Ms. Gibson walked slowly toward the desk, careful not to upset the piles of thick law books and old files stacked along the route. She handed him the file and said, “We did a will for Mr. Marino.”

“Thanks. Any assets?”

“I didn’t look,” she said, already backtracking. She left without another word.

Wally opened the file. Six years earlier, Mr. Marino was working as an auditor for the State of Illinois, earning $70,000 a year, living with his second wife and her two teenagers, and enjoying a quiet life in the suburbs. He had just paid off the mortgage on their home, which was their only significant asset. They had joint bank accounts, retirement funds, and few debts. The only interesting wrinkle was a collection of three hundred baseball cards that Mr. Marino valued at $90,000. On page 4 of the file, there was a Xerox copy of a 1916 card of Shoeless Joe Jackson in a White Sox uniform, and under it Oscar had written: $75,000. Oscar cared nothing for sports, and he had never mentioned this little oddity to Wally. Mr. Marino signed a simple will he could have prepared himself for free, but instead paid Finley & Figg $250 for the honors. As Wally read the will, he realized its only real purpose, since all other assets were jointly owned, was to make sure his two stepchildren didn’t get their hands on his baseball card collection. Mr. Marino left it to his son, Lyle. On page 5, Oscar had scribbled: “Wife doesn’t know about cards.”

Wally estimated the value of the estate at somewhere in the $500,000 range, and under the probate scheme currently in place the lawyer handling Mr. Marino’s final affairs would earn about $5,000. Unless there was a fight over the baseball cards, and Wally certainly hoped there would be, the probate would be painfully routine and take about eighteen months. But if the heirs fought, then Wally could drag it out for three years and triple his fee. He did not like probate work, but it was far better than divorce and child custody. Probate paid the bills, and occasionally it led to additional fees.

The fact that Finley & Figg prepared the will meant nothing when it was time to probate it. Any lawyer could do so, and Wally knew from his vast experience in the murky world of client solicitation that there were scores of hungry lawyers poring over obituaries and calculating fees. It was worth his time to check on Chester and lay claim to the legal work necessary in tidying up his affairs. It was certainly worth a drive-by at Van Easel & Sons, one of many funeral homes on his circuit.

Three months remained on the suspension of Wally’s driver’s license for drunken driving, but he drove nonetheless. He was careful, though, keeping to the streets near his home and office where he knew the cops. When he went to court downtown, he took the bus or the train.

Van Easel & Sons was a few blocks outside his comfort zone, but he decided to roll the dice. If he got caught, he could probably talk his way out of trouble. If the police didn’t budge, then he knew the judges. He used the backstreets as much as possible and stayed away from the traffic.

Mr. Van Easel and his three sons had been dead for many years, and as their funeral parlor passed from one owner to another, the business had declined, as had the “loving and thoughtful service” that was still advertised. Wally parked in the rear, in an empty lot, and walked through the front door as if he were there to pay his respects. It was almost 10:00 a.m., on a Wednesday morning, and for a few seconds he saw no one else. He paused in the lobby and looked at the visiting schedule. Chester was two doors down on the right, in the second of three visiting rooms. To the left was a small chapel. A man with pasty skin, brown teeth, and a black suit approached and said, “Good morning. May I help you?”

“Good morning, Mr. Grayber,” Wally said.

“Oh, it’s you again.”

“Always a pleasure.” Though Wally had once shaken hands with Mr. Grayber, he made no effort to do so again. He wasn’t sure, but he suspected him to be one of the morticians. He had always remembered the soft, chilly touch of his palm. And Mr. Grayber kept his palms to himself as well. Each man disliked the other’s profession.

“Mr. Marino was a client,” Wally said gravely.

“His visitation is not until this evening,” Grayber said.

“Yes, I see that. But I’m leaving town this afternoon.”

“Very well.” He sort of waved in the direction of the viewing rooms.

“I don’t suppose any other lawyers have stopped by,” Wally said.

Grayber snorted and rolled his eyes. “Who knows? I can’t keep up with you people. We had a service last week for an illegal Mexican, got himself pinned under a bulldozer, used the chapel there,” he said, nodding at the chapel door. “We had more lawyers here than family members. Poor guy’s never been so loved.”

“How nice,” Wally said. He had attended the service last week. Finley & Figg did not get the case. “Thanks,” he said and walked away. He passed the first viewing room—closed casket, no mourners. He stepped into the second, a dimly lit room, twenty feet by twenty, with a casket along one wall and cheap chairs lining the others. Chester was sealed up, which pleased Wally. He put his hand on the casket as if fighting back tears. Just he and Chester, sharing one last moment together.

The routine here was to hang around for a few minutes and hope a family member or friend showed up. If not, then Wally would sign the register and leave his card with Grayber with specific instructions to tell the family that Mr. Marino’s lawyer stopped by to pay his respects. The firm would send flowers to the service and a letter to the widow, and in a few days Wally would call the woman and act as though she were somehow obligated to hire Finley & Figg because they had prepared the will. This worked about half the time.

Wally was leaving when a young man entered the room. He was about thirty, nice looking, reasonably dressed with a jacket and tie. He looked at Wally with a great deal of skepticism, which was the way a lot of people initially viewed him, though this no longer bothered him. When two perfect strangers meet at a casket in an empty viewing room, the first words are always awkward. Wally finally managed to state his name, and the young man said, “Yes, well, uh, that’s my father. I’m Lyle Marino.”

Ah, soon-to-be owner of a nice collection of baseball cards. But Wally could not mention this. “Your father was a client of my law firm,” Wally said. “We prepared his last will and testament. I’m very sorry.”

“Thanks,” Lyle said, and seemed relieved. “I can’t believe this. We went to the Blackhawks game last Saturday. Had a great time. Now he’s gone.”

“I’m very sorry. So it was sudden?”

“A heart attack.” Lyle snapped his fingers and said, “Just like that. He was at work Monday morning, at his desk, all of a sudden he started sweating and breathing hard, then he just fell on the floor. Dead.”

“I’m very sorry, Lyle,” Wally said as if he’d known the young man forever.

Lyle was patting the top of the casket and repeating, “I just can’t believe this.”

Wally needed to fill in some blanks. “Your parents divorced about ten years ago, right?”

“Something like that.”

“Is your mother still in the city?”

“Yes.” Lyle wiped his eyes with the back of his hand.

“And your stepmother. Are you close to her?”

“No. We don’t speak. The divorce was ugly.”

Wally suppressed a smile. A feuding family would run up his fees.

“I’m sorry. Her name is …”


“Right. Look, Lyle, I gotta run. Here’s my card.” Wally deftly whipped out a business card and handed it over. “Chester was a great guy,” Wally said. “Call us if we can help.”

Lyle took the card and stuffed it into his pants pocket. He was staring blankly at the casket. “I’m sorry, what’s your name?”

“Figg, Wally Figg.”

“And you’re a lawyer?”

“Yes. Finley & Figg, a small boutique firm with lots of business in all major courts.”

“And you knew my father?”

“Oh yes, very well. He loved to collect baseball cards.”

Lyle took his hand off the casket and looked square into the shifty eyes of Wally Figg. “You know what killed my father, Mr. Figg?”

“You said it was a heart attack.”

“Right. You know what caused the heart attack?”

“Well, no.”

Lyle glanced at the door to make sure they were still alone. He glanced around the room to make sure no one could possibly be listening. He took a step closer so that his shoes were almost touching those of Wally, who by now was expecting to hear that old Chester had been murdered in some clever fashion.

In a near whisper, Lyle asked, “Ever hear of a drug called Krayoxx?”

There was a McDonald’s in the shopping center next to Van Easel’s. Wally bought two cups of coffee, and they huddled in a booth, as far away from the counter as possible. Lyle had a stack of papers—articles pulled from the Internet—and it was obvious he needed someone to talk to. Since his father’s death forty-eight hours earlier, he had become obsessed with Krayoxx.

The drug had been on the market for six years, and its sales had grown rapidly. In most cases, it lowered the cholesterol of obese people. Chester’s weight had slowly climbed toward three hundred pounds, and this had caused other increases—blood pressure and cholesterol, to name the most obvious. Lyle had hounded his father about his weight, but Chester couldn’t stay away from the midnight ice cream. His way of handling the stress of the ugly divorce was to sit in the dark and knock out one pint after another of Ben & Jerry’s. Once the weight was on, he couldn’t get it off. His doctor prescribed Krayoxx a year earlier, and his cholesterol dropped dramatically. At the same time, he began complaining of an irregular heart rate and shortness of breath. He reported these to his doctor, who assured him there was nothing wrong. The dramatic dip in his cholesterol far outweighed any of these minor side effects.

Krayoxx was made by Varrick Labs, a New Jersey firm currently number three on Big Pharma’s list of the world’s ten largest drug companies, annual sales of some $25 billion, and a long, ugly history of bruising battles with federal regulators and tort lawyers.

“Varrick makes six billion a year off Krayoxx,” Lyle was saying as he sifted through research. “With an annual increase of 10 percent.”

Wally ignored his coffee as he scanned a report. He listened silently, though the wheels were turning so fast he was almost dizzy.

“And here’s the best part,” Lyle said, picking up another sheet of paper. “Ever hear of a law firm called Zell & Potter?”

Wally had never heard of Krayoxx, though at 240 pounds and with a slightly elevated cholesterol he was mildly surprised his doctor had not mentioned the drug. Nor had he heard of Zell & Potter, but, sensing they were major players in something important, he wasn’t about to admit his ignorance. “I think so,” he said, frowning, searching.

“Big plaintiffs’ firm in Fort Lauderdale.”


“They filed suit in Florida last week against Varrick, a huge lawsuit for wrongful deaths caused by Krayoxx. Here’s the story in the Miami Herald.”

Wally scanned the story as his heart rate doubled.

“I’m sure you heard about this lawsuit,” Lyle said.

Wally was constantly amazed at the naïveté of the average guy. Over two million lawsuits are filed in the United States each year, and poor Lyle here was thinking that Wally had noticed one filed in south Florida. “Yep, I’ve been watching this one,” Wally said.

“Does your firm handle cases like this?” Lyle asked, so innocently.

“It’s our specialty,” Wally said. “We cut our teeth on injury and death cases. I’d love to go after Varrick Labs.”

“You would? Have you ever sued them before?”

“No, but we’ve gone after most of the major drug companies.”

“This is great. Then you’re willing to take my dad’s case?”

Damn right I’ll take it, Wally thought, but through years of experience he knew not to rush in. Or at least not to seem overly optimistic. “Let’s just say the case has real potential. I’ll need to confer with my senior partner, do some research, chat with the boys down at Zell & Potter, do my homework. Mass tort work is very complicated.”

And it could also be insanely lucrative, which was Wally’s primary thought at the moment.

“Thank you, Mr. Figg.”

At five minutes before eleven, Abner became somewhat animated. He began watching the door as he continued shining martini glasses with his white towel. Eddie was awake again, sipping coffee but still in another world. Finally, Abner said, “Say, David, could you do me a favor?”


“Could you move two stools over? The one you got now is reserved at eleven each morning.”

David looked to his right—there were eight empty stools between him and Eddie. And to his left there were seven empty stools between him and the other end of the bar. “Are you kidding?” David asked.

“Come on.” Abner grabbed his pint of beer, which was almost empty, replaced it with a full one, and situated everything two stools to the left. David slowly lifted himself up and followed his beer. “What’s the deal?” he asked.

“You’ll see,” Abner said, nodding at the door. There was no one else in the pub, other than, of course, Eddie.

Minutes later, the door opened, and an elderly Asian man appeared. He wore a dapper uniform, a bow tie, and a little driver’s cap. He was helping a lady much older than himself. She walked with a cane, unassisted but with the driver hovering, and the two of them shuffled across the floor toward the bar. David watched with fascination—was he finally seeing things, or was this for real? Abner was mixing a drink and watching too. Eddie was mumbling to himself.

“Good morning, Miss Spence,” Abner said politely, almost with a bow.

“Good morning, Abner,” she said as she slowly lifted herself up and delicately mounted the stool. Her driver followed her movements with both hands but didn’t touch her. Once she was properly seated, she said, “I’ll have the usual.”

The driver nodded at Abner, then backed away and quietly left the bar.

Miss Spence was wearing a full-length mink coat, thick pearls around her tiny neck, and layers of thick rouge and mascara that did little to hide the fact that she was at least ninety years old. David admired her immediately. His own grandmother was ninety-two and strapped to a bed in a nursing home, absent from this world, and here was this grand old dame boozing it up before lunch.

She ignored him. Abner finished mixing her drink, a baffling combination of ingredients. “One Pearl Harbor,” he said as he presented it to her. She slowly lifted it to her mouth, took a small sip with her eyes closed, swirled the booze around her mouth, then offered Abner the slightest of heavily wrinkled grins. He seemed to breathe again.

David, not quite plastered but well on his way, leaned over and said, “Come here often?”

Abner gulped and showed both palms to David. “Miss Spence is a regular, and she prefers to drink in silence,” he said, panicky. Miss Spence was taking another sip, again with her eyes closed.

“She wants to drink in silence in a bar?” David asked in disbelief.

“Yes!” Abner snapped.

“Well, I guess she picked the right bar,” David said, flopping an arm around and taking in the emptiness of the pub. “This place is deserted. Do you ever have a crowd around here?”

“Quiet,” Abner urged. His face said, “Just be cool for a while.”

But David kept on. “I mean, you’ve had just two customers all morning, me and old Eddie down there, and we all know that he doesn’t pay his tab.”

At the moment, Eddie was lifting his coffee cup in the general direction of his face but was having trouble finding his mouth. Evidently, he did not hear David’s comment.

“Knock it off,” Abner growled. “Or I’ll ask you to leave.”

“Sorry,” David said and went silent. He had no desire to leave because he had no idea where to go.

The third sip did the trick and loosened things up a little. Miss Spence opened her eyes and looked around. Slowly, and with an ancient voice, she said, “Yes, I come here often. Monday through Saturday. And you?”

“My first visit,” David said, “but I doubt it’s my last. After today, I’ll probably have more time to drink and more reasons for doing so. Cheers.” He leaned across with his pint of lager and ever so carefully touched her glass.

“Cheers,” she said. “And why are you here, young man?”

“It’s a long story, and getting longer. Why are you here?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Habit, I guess. Six days a week for how long, Abner?”

“At least twenty years.”

She apparently did not want to hear David’s long story. She took another sip and looked as though she wanted to nod off. David was suddenly sleepy too.


Helen Zinc arrived at the Trust Tower a few minutes after noon. Driving downtown, she had tried to call and text her husband for the umpteenth time, with no recent success. At 9:33 he had sent her a text message instructing her not to worry, and at 10:42 he’d sent his second and final text, in which he had said: “No swaet. Am ok. Don’t wory.”

Helen parked in a garage, hurried down the street, and entered the atrium of the building. Minutes later she stepped off the elevator on the ninety-third floor. A receptionist led her to a small conference room where she waited alone. Though it was lunchtime, the Rogan Rothberg culture frowned on anyone leaving the building to eat. Good food and fresh air were almost taboo. Occasionally, one of the big partners would take a client out for a splashy marathon, an expensive lunch that the client would ultimately pay for through the time-honored tricks of file padding and fee gouging, but as a general rule—though unwritten—the associates and lesser partners grabbed a quick sandwich from a machine. On a typical day, David had both breakfast and lunch at his desk, and it was not unusual to have dinner there as well. He once bragged to Helen he had billed three different clients an hour each as he shoved down a smoked tuna with chips and a diet soda. She hoped he was only joking.

Though she wasn’t sure of the exact number, he had put on at least thirty pounds since their wedding day. He ran marathons back then, and the extra weight was not a problem yet. But the steady diet of bad food along with a near-complete absence of exercise worried both of them. At Rogan Rothberg, the hour between 12:00 and 1:00 was no different from any other hour of the day or night.

It was Helen’s second visit to the office in five years. Spouses were not excluded, but they were not invited either. There was no reason for her to be there, and, given the avalanche of horror stories he brought home, she had no desire to see the place or spend time with the people. Twice a year she and David dragged themselves to some dreadful Rogan Rothberg social gathering, some miserable outing designed to foster camaraderie among the battered lawyers and their neglected spouses. Invariably, these turned into sloppy drinking parties with behavior that was embarrassing and impossible to forget. Take a bunch of exhausted lawyers, ply them with booze, and things get ugly.

A year earlier, on a party boat a mile out on Lake Michigan, Roy Barton had tried to grope her. If he hadn’t been so drunk, he may have succeeded, and that would have caused serious problems. For a week she and David argued about what to do. David wanted to confront him, then complain to the firm’s Standards Committee. Helen said no, it would only harm David’s career. There were no witnesses, and the truth was that Barton probably didn’t remember what he’d done. With time, they stopped talking about the incident. After five years she had heard so many Roy Barton stories that David refused to mention his boss’s name at home.

Suddenly there he was. Roy walked into the small conference room with a snarl on his face and demanded, “Helen, what’s going on here?”

“Funny, I have the same question,” she shot back. Mr. Barton, as he preferred to be called, ran over people by barking first and trying to embarrass. She would have none of it.

“Where is he?” he barked.

“You tell me, Roy,” she said.

Lana, the secretary, and Al and Lurch appeared together, as if they’d been subpoenaed by the same marshal. Quick introductions were made as Roy closed the door. Helen had spoken to Lana many times on the phone but had never met her.

Roy looked at Al and Lurch and said, “You two, tell us exactly what happened.” They tag-teamed through their version of David Zinc’s last elevator ride and without the slightest bit of embellishment presented a fairly clear picture of a troubled man who’d simply snapped. He was sweating, breathing hard, pale, and he actually dived headfirst back into the elevator, landing on its floor, and, just as the door closed, they heard him laughing.

“He was fine when he left home this morning,” Helen assured them, as if to emphasize the point that the crack-up was the firm’s fault and not hers.

“You,” Roy barked in the direction of Lana. “You’ve talked to him.”

Lana had her notes. She had spoken to him twice, then he stopped answering the phone. “In the second conversation,” she said, “I got the clear impression that he was drinking. His tongue was a bit thick; his syllables were not as sharp.”

Roy glared at Helen as if she were to blame.

“Where would he go?” Roy demanded.

“Oh, the usual place, Roy,” Helen said. “The same place he always goes when he cracks up at 7:30 in the morning and gets plastered.”

There was a heavy pause in the room. Evidently, Helen Zinc felt free to sass Mr. Barton, but the others certainly did not.

In a lower tone, Mr. Barton asked her, “Is he drinking too much?”

“He doesn’t have time to drink, Roy. He comes home at ten or eleven, sometimes has a glass of wine, then he’s out on the sofa.”

“Is he seeing a shrink?”

“For what? Working a hundred hours a week? I thought that was the norm around here. I think all of you people need to see a shrink.”

Another pause. Roy was getting his ass handed to him, and this was very unusual. Al and Lurch stared at the table and worked hard to conceal grins. Lana was a deer in headlights, ready to be fired on the spot.

“So you have no information that might help us here?” Roy said.

“No, and evidently you have no information to help me either, right, Roy?”

Roy had had enough. His eyes narrowed, his jaws clenched, his face turned red. He looked at Helen and said, “He’ll show up, okay, sooner or later. He’ll get in a cab and find his way home. He’ll crawl back to you, and then he’ll crawl back to us. He gets one more chance, you understand? I want him in my office tomorrow morning at 8:00 sharp. Sober, and sorry.”

Helen’s eyes were suddenly wet. She touched both cheeks and, in a cracking voice, said, “I just want to find him. I want to know he’s safe. Can you help me?”

“Start looking,” Roy said. “There are a thousand bars in downtown Chicago. You’ll find him sooner or later.” And with that Roy Barton made a dramatic exit from the room, slamming the door behind him. As soon as he was gone, Al stepped forward, touched Helen on the shoulder, and said softly, “Look, Roy’s an asshole, but he’s right about one thing. David’s in a bar getting drunk. He’ll eventually get in a cab and go home.”

Lurch stepped closer too and said, “Helen, this has happened before around here. In fact, it’s not that unusual. He’ll be fine tomorrow.”

“And the firm has a counselor on the payroll, a real pro who deals with casualties,” Al added.

“A casualty?” Helen asked. “Is that what my husband is at this point?”

Lurch shrugged and said, “Yes, but he’ll be okay.”

Al shrugged and said, “He’s in a bar. I’d love to be with him.”

At Abner’s, the lunch crowd had finally arrived. The booths and tables were full, and the bar was packed with office workers washing down burgers with pints of beer. David had moved one stool to his right so that he was now next to Miss Spence. She was on her third and last Pearl Harbor. David was on his second. When she offered him his first, he had initially declined, claiming he had no taste for fussy mixed drinks. She insisted, and Abner whipped one up and slid it in front of David. Though it looked as harmless as cough syrup, the drink was a lethal combination of vodka, melon liqueur, and pineapple juice.

They found common ground at Wrigley Field. Miss Spence’s father had taken her there as a small girl, and she had followed her beloved Cubs her entire life. She had held season tickets for sixty-two years, a record, she was certain, and she had seen the great ones—Rogers Hornsby, Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins, and Ryne Sandberg. And she had suffered greatly, along with all Cubs fans. Her eyes danced as she told the well-known story of the Curse of the Billy Goat. Her eyes moistened when she remembered, in detail, the Great Fall of 1969. She took a long sip after recounting the infamous June Swoon of 1977. She let it slip that her late husband had once tried to buy the team but was somehow outmaneuvered.

After two Pearl Harbors, she was fairly smashed. The third was putting her away. She had no curiosity about David’s situation; rather, she preferred to do most of the talking, and David, who was in slow motion, was content to just sit and listen. Abner ventured by occasionally, making sure she was happy.

At precisely 12:15, just as Abner’s lunch business hit full stride, her Asian driver arrived to collect her. She drained her glass, said good-bye to Abner, made no effort to pay a tab, thanked David for the company, and left the bar, her left hand tucked inside her driver’s elbow and her right hand working the cane. Her walk was slow, but erect, proud. She’d be back.

“Who was that?” David asked Abner when he got close enough.

“I’ll tell you later. You having lunch?”

“Sure. Those burgers look good. Double cheese, with fries.”

“You got it.”

The cabdriver’s name was Bowie, and he was a talker. As they left the third funeral home, his curiosity could no longer be restrained. “Say, pal, I gotta ask,” he chirped over his shoulder. “What’s with all these funeral homes?”

Wally had covered the rear seat in obituary pages, city maps, and legal pads. “Let’s head over to Wood & Ferguson on 103rd Street near Beverly Park,” he said, temporarily ignoring Bowie’s question. They had been together for almost two hours, and the meter was approaching $180, a nice chunk in terms of cab fare but chump change in the context of Krayoxx litigation. According to some of the news articles Lyle Marino had given him, the lawyers were speculating that a wrongful death case involving the drug could potentially be worth $2 to $4 million. The lawyers would take 40 percent, and Finley & Figg would, of course, have to share their fee with Zell & Potter or another tort firm spearheading the litigation. Still, after all the fee splitting, the drug was a gold mine. The urgent issue was finding the cases. As they rushed around Chicago, Wally was confident he was the only lawyer out of a million in the city who was, at that moment, shrewd enough to be combing the streets in search of Krayoxx victims.

According to another article, the drug’s dangers had just been discovered. And another one, quoting a trial lawyer, said that the medical community and the public in general were not yet aware of the “Krayoxx fiasco.” But Wally was now aware, and he didn’t care how much he spent on cab fare.

“I was asking about all these funeral homes,” Bowie chirped again. He was not going away, and he would not be ignored.

“It’s one o’clock,” Wally announced. “You had lunch?”

“Lunch? I’ve been with you for the past two hours. You seen me eat lunch?”

“I’m hungry. There’s a Taco Bell up there on the right. Let’s use the drive-thru.”

“You’re paying, right?”


“I love Taco Bell.”

Bowie ordered soft tacos for himself and a burrito supreme for his passenger. As they waited in line, Bowie said, “So I keep thinking, ‘What’s this guy doing at all these funeral homes?’ you know? None of my business, but I’ve been driving for eighteen years, and I’ve never had a ride who popped in on funeral homes all over town. Never had a ride who had that many friends, know what I mean?”

“You’re right about one thing,” Wally said, looking up from even more of Lyle’s research. “It’s none of your business.”

“Wow. Zinged me on that one, didn’t you? Pegged you for a nice guy.”

“I’m a lawyer.”

“From bad to worse. Just kidding, you know, my uncle’s a lawyer. Jerk.”

Wally handed him a $20 bill. Bowie took the sack of food and distributed it. Back on the street, he crammed a taco into his mouth and stopped talking.


Rochelle was secretly reading a romance novel when she heard footsteps on the front porch. She deftly stuffed the paperback into a drawer and moved her fingertips to the keyboard so she seemed to be hard at work when the door opened. A man and a woman entered timidly, their eyes darting around, almost in fear. This was not unusual. Rochelle had seen a thousand come and go, and they almost always entered with grim and suspecting faces. And why not? They wouldn’t be there if they were not in trouble, and for most it was their first visit to a law office.

“Good afternoon,” she said professionally.

“We’re looking for a lawyer,” the man said.

“Divorce lawyer,” the woman corrected. It was immediately obvious to Rochelle that she had been correcting him for some time, and he was probably fed up. They were in their sixties, though, a bit too old for a divorce.

Rochelle managed a smile and said, “Please have a seat.” She pointed to two nearby chairs. “I’ll need to take down some basic information.”

“Can we see a lawyer without an appointment?” the man asked.

“I think so,” Rochelle said. They backed into the chairs and sat down, then both managed to scoot the chairs farther away from each other. This could get ugly, Rochelle thought. She pulled out a questionnaire and found a pen. “Your names, please. Full names.”

“Calvin A. Flander,” he said, beating her to the punch.

“Barbara Marie Scarbro Flander,” she said. “Scarbro’s the maiden name, and I might take it up again, haven’t decided yet, but everything else has been worked out, and we’ve even signed a property settlement agreement, one I found online, and it’s all right here.” She was holding a large sealed envelope.

“She just asked for your name,” Mr. Flander said.

“I got that.”

“Can she take her old name back? I mean, you know, it’s been forty-two years since she’s used it, and I keep telling her that no one will know who she is if she starts going by Scarbro again.”

“It’s a helluva lot better than Flander,” Barbara shot back. “Flander sounds like someplace in Europe or somebody who sleeps around—fi-lander or fi-lander-er. Don’t you think so?”

Both were staring at Rochelle, who calmly asked, “Any minor children under the age of eighteen?”

Both shook their heads. “Two grown,” Mrs. Flander said. “Six grandkids.”

“She didn’t ask about grandkids,” Mr. Flander said.

“Well, I damn sure told her, didn’t I?”

Rochelle managed to guide them through birth dates, address, Social Security numbers, and employment histories without serious conflict. “And you say you’ve been married for forty-two years?”

Both nodded defiantly.

She was tempted to ask why, and what went wrong, and couldn’t this be salvaged? But she knew better than to start that conversation. Let the lawyers deal with it. “You mentioned a property settlement. I assume what you have in mind is a no-fault divorce, on the grounds of irreconcilable differences.”

“That’s right,” Mr. Flander said. And the sooner the better.

“It’s all right here,” Mrs. Flander said, clutching the envelope.

“House, cars, bank accounts, retirement accounts, credit cards, debts, even furniture and appliances?” Rochelle asked.

“Everything,” he said.

“It’s all right here,” Mrs. Flander said again.

“And you’re both satisfied with the agreement?”

“Oh yes,” he said. “We’ve done all the work, all we need is for a lawyer to draw up the papers and go to court with us. No hassle whatsoever.”

“That’s the only way to do it,” Rochelle said, the voice of experience. “I’ll get one of our lawyers to meet with you and go into more detail. Our firm charges $750 for a no-fault divorce, and we require half of that to be paid at the initial conference. The other half is due on the day you go to court.”

The Flanders reacted differently. Her jaw dropped in disbelief, as if Rochelle had demanded $10,000 in cash. His eyes narrowed and his forehead wrinkled, as if this was exactly what he expected—a first-class shaft job by a bunch of slimy lawyers. Not a word, until Rochelle asked, “Is something wrong?”

Mr. Flander growled, “What is this, the old bait and switch? This firm advertises no-fault divorces for $399, then you get us in the door and double the price.”

Rochelle’s immediate reaction was to ask herself, What has Wally done now? He advertised so much, in so many ways, and in so many odd places that it was impossible to keep up with him.

Mr. Flander stood abruptly, yanked something from his pocket, and tossed it on Rochelle’s desk. “Look at this,” he said. It was a bingo card from VFW Post 178, McKinley Park. Across the bottom was a bright yellow ad announcing: “Finley & Figg, Attorneys, No-Fault Divorces as Easy as Pie, $399. Call 773-718-JUSTICE.”

Rochelle had been surprised so many times that she should have been immune. But bingo cards? She had watched as prospective clients rifled through purses, and bags, and pockets to pull out church bulletins, football programs, Rotary Club raffles, coupons, and a hundred other little pieces of propaganda that Attorney Figg littered around Greater Chicago in his ceaseless quest to drum up business. And now he’d done it again. She had to admit that she was indeed surprised.

The firm’s fee schedule was always a moving target, with the costs of representation subject to change on the fly depending on the client and the situation. A nicely dressed couple driving a late-model car might get a quote of $1,000 for a no-fault from one lawyer, and an hour later a working stiff and his haggard wife could negotiate half that much from the other lawyer. Part of Rochelle’s daily grind was ironing out fee disputes and discrepancies.

Bingo cards? Easy as pie for $399? Oscar would blow a gasket.

“Okay,” she said calmly, as if bingo card advertising were a long tradition at their firm. “I need to see your property settlement.”

Mrs. Flander handed it over. Rochelle scanned it quickly, then gave it back.

“Let me see if Mr. Finley is in,” she said. She took the bingo card with her.

Oscar’s door was closed, as always. The firm had a rigid closed-door policy that kept the lawyers shielded from each other and from the street traffic and riffraff that ventured in. From Rochelle’s perch near the front, she could see every door—Oscar’s, Wally’s, the kitchen, the downstairs restroom, the copy room, and a small junk room used for storage. She also knew the lawyers had a tendency to listen quietly through their closed doors when she was grilling a prospective client. Wally had a side door he often used to escape from a client who promised trouble, but Oscar did not. She knew he was at his desk, and since Wally was hitting the funeral homes, she had no choice.

She closed his door behind her and placed the bingo card in front of Mr. Finley. “You’re not going to believe this,” she said.

“What’s he done now?” Oscar asked as he scanned the card. “Three hundred and ninety-nine dollars?”


“I thought we agreed that $500 was the minimum for a no-fault?”

“No, we agreed on $750, then $600, then $1,000, then $500. Next week I’m sure we’ll agree on something else.”

“I will not do a divorce for $400. I’ve been a lawyer for thirty-two years, and I will not prostitute myself for such a meager fee. Do you hear me, Ms. Gibson?”

“I’ve heard this before.”

“Let Figg do it. It’s his case. His bingo card. I’m too busy.”

“Right, but Figg’s not here, and you’re not really that busy.”

“Where is he?”

“He’s visiting the dead, one of his funeral laps around town.”

“What’s his scheme this time?”

“Don’t know yet.”

“This morning it was Taser guns.”

Oscar laid the bingo card on his desk and stared at it. He shook his head, mumbled to himself, and asked, “What kind of tormented mind could even conceive of the notion of advertising on bingo cards in a VFW?”

“Figg,” she said without hesitation.

“I might have to strangle him.”

“I’ll hold him down.”

“Dump this riffraff on his desk. Make an appointment. They can come back later. It’s an outrage that people think they can just walk in off the street and see a lawyer, even Figg, without an appointment. Give me a little dignity, okay?”

“Okay, you have dignity. Look, they have some assets and almost no debt. They’re in their sixties, kids are gone. I say you split ’em up, keep her, start the meter.”

By 3:00 p.m., Abner’s was quiet again. Eddie had somehow disappeared with the lunch crowd, and David Zinc was alone at the bar. Four middle-aged men were getting drunk in a booth as they made big plans for a bonefishing trip to Mexico.

Abner was washing glasses in a small sink near the beer taps. He was talking about Miss Spence. “Her last husband was Angus Spence. Ring a bell?”

David shook his head. At that moment, nothing rang a bell. The lights were on, but no one was home.

“Angus was the billionaire no one knew. Owned a bunch of potash deposits in Canada and Australia. Died ten years ago, left her with a bundle. She would be on the Forbes list, but they can’t find all the assets. The old man was too smart. She lives in a penthouse on the lake, comes in every day at eleven, has three Pearl Harbors for lunch, leaves at 12:15 when the crowd comes in, and I guess she goes home and sleeps it off.”

“I think she’s cute.”

“She’s ninety-four.”

“She didn’t pay her tab.”

“She doesn’t get a tab. She sends me a thousand bucks every month. She wants that stool and three drinks and her privacy. I’ve never seen her talk to anyone before. You should consider yourself lucky.”

“She wants my body.”

“Well, you know where to find her.”

David took a small sip of a Guinness stout. Rogan Rothberg was a distant memory. He wasn’t so sure about Helen, and he really didn’t care. He had decided to get wonderfully drunk and enjoy the moment. Tomorrow would be brutal, and he would deal with it then. Nothing, absolutely nothing, could interfere with this delightful slide into oblivion.

Abner slid a cup of coffee in front of him and said, “Just brewed it.”

David ignored it. He said, “So you work on retainer, huh? Just like a law firm. What could I get for a thousand bucks a month?”

“At the rate you’re going, a thousand won’t touch it. Have you called your wife, David?”

“Look, Abner, you’re a bartender, not a marriage counselor. This is a big day for me, a day that will change my life forever. I’m in the middle of a major crack-up, or meltdown, or whatever it is. My life will never be the same, so let me enjoy this moment.”

“I’ll call you a cab whenever you want.”

“I’m not going anywhere.”

For initial client conferences, Oscar always put on his dark jacket and straightened his tie. It was important to set the tone, and a lawyer in a black suit meant power, knowledge, and authority. Oscar firmly believed the image also conveyed the message that he did not work cheap, though he usually did.

He pored over the proposed property settlement, frowning as if it had been drafted by a couple of idiots. The Flanders were on the other side of his desk. They occasionally glanced around to take in the Ego Wall, a potpourri of framed photos showing Mr. Finley grinning and shaking hands with unknown celebrities, and framed certificates purporting to show that Mr. Finley was highly trained and skilled, and a few plaques that were clear proof he had been justly recognized over the years. The other walls were lined with shelves packed with thick, somber law books and treatises, more proof still that Mr. Finley knew his stuff.

“What’s the value of the house?” he asked without taking his eyes off the agreement.

“Around two-fifty,” Mr. Flander replied.

“I think it’s more,” Mrs. Flander added.

“This is not a good time to be selling a house,” Oscar said wisely, though every homeowner in America knew the market was weak. More silence as the wise man studied their work.

He lowered the papers and peered over his drugstore reading glasses into the expectant eyes of Mrs. Flander. “You’re getting the washer and dryer, along with the microwave, treadmill, and flat-screen television?”

“Well, yes.”

“In fact, you’re getting probably 80 percent of the household furnishings, right?”

“I suppose. What’s wrong with that?”

“Nothing, except he’s getting most of the cash.”

“I think it’s fair,” said Mr. Flander.

“I’m sure you do.”

“Do you think it’s fair?” she asked.

Oscar shrugged as if it weren’t his business. “Pretty typical, I’d say. But cash is more important than a trainload of used furniture. You’ll probably move into an apartment, something much smaller, and you won’t have enough room for all your old stuff. He, on the other hand, has money in the bank.”

She shot a hard look at her soon-to-be-ex-husband. Oscar hammered away. “And your car is three years older, so you’re getting the old car and the old furniture.”

“It was his idea,” she said.

“It was not. We agreed.”

“You wanted the IRA account and the newer car.”

“That’s because it’s always been my car.”

“And that’s because you’ve always had the nicer car.”

“That’s not true, Barbara. Don’t start exaggerating like you always do, okay?”

Louder, Barbara responded, “And don’t you start lying in front of the lawyer, Cal. We agreed we would come here, tell the truth, and not fight in front of the lawyer. Didn’t we?”

“Oh, sure, but how can you sit there and say I’ve always had the nicer car? Have you forgotten the Toyota Camry?”

“Good God, Cal, that was twenty years ago.”

“Still counts.”

“Well, yes, I remember it, and I remember the day you wrecked it.”

Rochelle heard the voices and smiled to herself. She turned a page of her paperback. AC, asleep beside her, suddenly rose to his feet and began a low growl. Rochelle looked at him, then slowly got up and walked to a window. She adjusted the blinds to give herself a view, then she heard it—the distant wail of a siren. As it grew louder, AC’s growl also picked up the volume.

Oscar was also at a window, casually looking at the intersection in the distance, hoping for a glimpse of the ambulance. It was a habit too hard to break, not that he really wanted to stop. He, along with Wally and now Rochelle and perhaps thousands of lawyers in the city, couldn’t suppress a rush of adrenaline at the sound of an approaching ambulance. And the sight of one flying down the street always made him smile.

The Flanders, though, were not smiling. They had gone silent, both glaring at him, each hating the other. When the siren faded away, Oscar returned to his chair and said, “Look, folks, if you’re going to fight, I can’t represent both of you.”

Both were tempted to bolt. Once on the street, they could go their separate ways and find more reputable lawyers, but for a second or two they were not sure what to do. Then Mr. Flander blinked. He jumped to his feet and headed for the door. “Don’t worry about it, Finley. I’ll go find me a real lawyer.” He opened the door, slammed it behind him, then stomped past Rochelle and the dog as they were settling into their places. He yanked open the front door, slammed it too, and happily left Finley & Figg forever.


Happy hour ran from five to seven, and Abner decided his new best friend should leave before it started. He called a cab, soaked a clean towel with cold water, then walked to the other side of the bar and gently punched him. “David, wake up, pal, it’s almost five o’clock.” David had been out for an hour. Abner, like all good bartenders, did not want his after-work crowd to see a drunk facedown on the bar, comatose, snoring. Abner touched his face with the towel and said, “Come on, big guy. Party’s over.”

David suddenly came around. His eyes and mouth flew open as he gawked at Abner. “What, what, what?” he stammered.

“It’s almost five. Time to go home, David. There’s a cab outside.”

“Five o’clock!” David shouted, stunned at the news. There were half a dozen other drinkers in the bar, all watching with sympathy. Tomorrow it could be them. David got to his feet and with Abner’s help managed to pull on his overcoat and find his briefcase. “How long have I been here?” he asked, looking around wildly as if he’d just discovered the place.

“A long time,” Abner replied. He stuffed a business card into a coat pocket and said, “Call me tomorrow and we’ll settle the tab.” Arm in arm they staggered to the front door and through it. The cab was at the curb. Abner opened the rear door, wrestled David into the seat, said “He’s all yours” to the driver, and closed the door.

David watched him disappear into the bar. He looked at the driver and said, “What’s your name?”

The driver said something unintelligible, and David barked, “Can you speak English?”

“Where to, sir?” the driver asked.

“Now, that’s a really good question. You know any good bars around here?”

The driver shook his head.

“I’m not ready to go home, because she’s there and, well, oh, boy.” The inside of the cab had started to spin. There was a loud honk from behind. The driver eased into traffic. “Not so fast,” David said with his eyes closed. They were going ten miles an hour. “Go north,” David said.

“I need a destination, sir,” the driver said as he turned onto South Dearborn. Rush-hour traffic was already heavy and slow.

“I might be sick,” David said, swallowing hard and afraid to open his eyes.

“Please, not in my car.”

They stopped and started for two blocks. David managed to calm himself. “A destination, sir?” the driver repeated.

David opened his left eye and looked out the window. Next to the cab was a city transit bus waiting in traffic, packed with weary workers, its exhaust spewing fumes. Along its side was an ad, three feet by one, proclaiming the services of Finley & Figg, Attorneys. “Drunk Driving? Call the Experts. 773-718-JUSTICE.” Address in smaller print. David opened his right eye and for an instant saw the smiling face of Wally Figg. He focused on the word “drunk” and wondered if they could help in some way. Had he seen such ads before? Had he heard of these guys? He wasn’t sure. Nothing was clear; nothing made sense. The cab was suddenly spinning again, and faster now.

“Four eighteen Preston Avenue,” he said to the driver, then passed out.


Rochelle was never in a hurry to leave, because she never wanted to go home. As tense as things could get around the office, they were far tamer than her cramped and chaotic apartment.

The Flanders’ divorce got off to a rocky start, but with Oscar’s skillful manipulation it was now on track. Mrs. Flander had hired the firm and paid a retainer of $750. It would eventually be worked out and settled on no-fault grounds, but not before Oscar clipped her for a couple of grand. Still, Oscar was fuming over the bingo card and lying in wait for his junior partner.

Wally rolled in at 5:30, after an exhausting day looking for Krayoxx victims. The search had turned up no one but Chester Marino, but Wally was undaunted. He was onto something big. The clients were out there, and he would find them.

“Oscar’s on the phone,” Rochelle said. “And he’s upset.”

“What’s up?” Wally asked.

“A bingo card showed up: $399.”

“Pretty clever, huh? My uncle plays bingo at the VFW.”

“Brilliant.” She gave him the quick version of the Flander situation.

“See! It worked,” Wally said proudly. “You gotta get ’em in here, Ms. Gibson, that’s what I always say. The $399 is the bait, then you pull the switch. Oscar did it perfectly.”

“What about false advertising?”

“Most of what we do is false advertising. Ever hear of Krayoxx? Cholesterol drug?”

“Maybe. Why?”

“It’s killing people, okay, and it’s gonna make us rich.”

“I think I’ve heard this before. He’s off the phone.”

Wally went straight to Oscar’s door, rapped it as he pushed it open, and said, “So you like my bingo card ads, I hear.”

Oscar was standing at his desk, tie undone, tired, and in need of a drink. Two hours earlier he’d been ready for a fight. Now he just wanted to leave. “Come on, Wally, bingo cards?”

“Yep, we’re the first law firm in Chicago to use bingo cards.”

“We’ve been the first several times, and we’re still broke.”

“Those days are over, my friend,” Wally said as he reached into his briefcase. “Ever hear of a cholesterol drug called Krayoxx?”

“Yeah, yeah, my wife’s taking it.”

“Well, Oscar, it’s killing people.”

Oscar actually smiled, then caught himself. “How do you know this?”

Wally dropped a stack of research onto Oscar’s desk. “Here’s your homework, all about Krayoxx. A big mass tort firm in Fort Lauderdale sued Varrick Labs last week over Krayoxx, a class action. They claim the drug vastly increases the risk of heart attack and stroke, and they have experts to prove it. Varrick has put more crap on the market than any of the Big Pharmas, and it’s also paid more in damages. Billions. Looks like Krayoxx is its latest boondoggle. The mass tort boys are just now waking up. This is happening now, Oscar, and if we can pick up a dozen or so Krayoxx cases, then we’re rich.”

“I’ve heard this all before, Wally.”

When the cab stopped, David was awake again, though semiconscious. With some effort, he managed to toss two $20 bills over the front seat and with even more effort managed to extricate himself from the cab. He watched it drive away, then vomited in the gutter.

Afterward, he felt much better.

Rochelle was tidying up her desk and listening to the partners bicker when she heard heavy footsteps on the porch. Something hit the door, then it swung open. The young man was wild-eyed, red-faced, unsteady on his feet, but well dressed.

“Can I help you?” she said with great suspicion.

David looked at her but didn’t see her. He looked around the room, wobbled, squinted as he tried to focus.

“Sir?” she said.

“I love this place,” he said to her. “I really, really love this place.”

“How nice. Could I—”

“I’m looking for a job, and this is where I want to work.”

AC smelled trouble and walked around the corner of Rochelle’s desk. “How cute!” David said loudly, giggling. “A dog. What’s his name?”


“AC. All right. Help me out here. What does AC stand for?”

“Ambulance Chaser.”

“I like it. I really, really like it. Does he bite?”

“Don’t touch him.”

The two partners had moved quietly into view. They were standing in the door of Oscar’s office. Rochelle gave them a nervous look.

“This is where I want to work,” David repeated. “I need a job.”

“Are you a lawyer?” Wally asked.

“Are you Figg or Finley?”

“I’m Figg. He’s Finley. Are you a lawyer?”

“I think so. As of eight o’clock this morning I was employed by Rogan Rothberg, one of six hundred. But I quit, snapped, cracked up, went to a bar. It’s been a long day.” David leaned against the wall to steady himself.

“What makes you think we’re looking for an associate?” Oscar asked.

“Associate? I was thinking more in terms of coming straight in as a partner,” David said, then doubled over in laughter. No one else cracked a smile. They were not sure what to do, but Wally would later confess he thought about calling the police.

When the laughing stopped, David steadied himself again and repeated, “I love this place.”

“Why are you leaving the big firm?” Wally asked.

“Oh, lots of reasons. Let’s just say I hate the work, hate the people I work with, and hate the clients.”

“You’ll fit in here,” Rochelle said.

“We’re not hiring,” Oscar said.

“Oh, come on. I went to Harvard Law School. I’ll work part-time—fifty hours a week, half of what I’ve been working. Get it? Part-time?” He laughed again, alone.

“Sorry, pal,” Wally said dismissively.

Not too far away, a driver hit the horn, a long frantic sound that could only end badly. Another driver slammed his brakes violently. Another horn, more brakes, and for a long second the firm of Finley & Figg held its collective breath. The crash that followed was thunderous, more impressive than most, and it was obvious that several cars had just mangled themselves at the intersection of Preston, Beech, and Thirty-eighth. Oscar grabbed his overcoat. Rochelle grabbed her sweater. They followed Wally out the front door, leaving the drunk behind to take care of himself.

Along Preston, other offices emptied as lawyers and their clerks and paralegals raced to inspect the mayhem and offer solace to the injured.

The pileup involved at least four cars, all damaged and scattered. One was lying on its roof, tires still spinning. There were screams amid the panic and sirens in the distance. Wally ran to a badly crumpled Ford. The front passenger door had been torn off, and a teenage girl was trying to get out. She was dazed and covered in blood. He took her arm and led her away from the wreckage. Rochelle helped as they sat the girl on a nearby bus bench. Wally returned to the carnage in search of other clients. Oscar had already found an eyewitness, someone who could help place blame and thus attract clients. Finley & Figg knew how to work a wreck.

The teenager’s mother had been in the rear seat, and Wally helped her too. He walked her to the bus bench and into the waiting arms of Rochelle. Vince Gholston, their rival from across the street, appeared, and Wally saw him. “Stay away, Gholston,” he barked. “These are our clients now.”

“No way, Figg. They’re not signed up.”

“Stay away, asshole.”

A crowd grew quickly as onlookers rushed to the scene. Traffic was not moving, and ma