Unformatted text preview: THE
TORTS JOHN GRISHAM DOUBLE DAY
New York London Toronto Sydney Auckland PUBLISHED BY DOUBLEDAY a division of Random House, Inc.
DOUBLEDAY and the portrayal of an anchor with a dolphin are registered
trademarks of Random House, Inc.
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.
Book design by Maria Carella Cataloging-in-publication data is on file with the
Library of Congress.
ISBN 0-385-50804-2 Copyright © 2003 by Belfry Holdings, Inc.
All Rights Reserved PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA March
2003 First Edition 1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2 2 1
THE SHOTS THAT FIRED the bullets that entered
Pumpkin's head were heard by no less than eight
people. Three instinctively closed their windows,
checked their door locks, and withdrew to the safety, or
at least the seclusion, of their small apartments. Two
others, each with experience in such matters, ran from
the vicinity as fast if not faster than the gunman himself.
Another, the neighborhood recycling fanatic, was
digging through some garbage in search of aluminum
cans when he heard the sharp sounds of the daily
skirmish, very nearby. He jumped behind a pile of
cardboard boxes until the shelling stopped, then eased
into the alley where he saw what was left of Pumpkin.
And two saw almost everything. They were sitting on
plastic milk crates, at the corner of Georgia and Lamont
in front of a liquor store, partially hidden by a parked
car so that the gunman, who glanced around briefly
before following Pumpkin into the alley, didn't see
them. Both would tell the police that they saw the boy
with the gun reach into his pocket and pull it out; they
saw the gun for sure, a small black pistol. A second later
they heard the shots, though they did not actually see
Pumpkin take them in the head. Another second and the
boy with the gun darted from the alley and, for some
reason, ran straight in their direction. He ran bent at the
waist, like a scared dog, guilty as hell. He wore red-and3 yellow basketball shoes that seemed five sizes too big
and slapped the pavement as he made his getaway.
When he ran by them he was still holding the gun,
probably a .38, and he flinched just for an instant when
he saw them and realized they had seen too much. For
one terrifying second, he seemed to raise the gun as if to
eliminate the witnesses, both of whom managed to flip
backward from their plastic milk crates and scramble off
in a mad flurry of arms and legs. Then he was gone.
One of them opened the door to the liquor store and
yelled for someone to call the police, there had been a
Thirty minutes later, the police received a call that a
young man matching the description of the one who had
wasted Pumpkin had been seen twice on Ninth Street
carrying a gun in open view and acting stranger than
most of the people on Ninth. He had tried to lure at least
one person into an abandoned lot, but the intended
victim had escaped and reported the incident.
The police found their man an hour later. His name
was Tequila Watson, black male, age twenty, with the
usual drug-related police record. No family to speak of.
No address. The last place he'd been sleeping was a
rehab unit on W Street. He'd managed to ditch the gun
somewhere, and if he'd robbed Pumpkin then he'd also
thrown away the cash or drugs or whatever the booty
was. His pockets were clean, as were his eyes. The cops
were certain Tequila was not under the influence of
anything when he was arrested. A quick and rough
4 interrogation took place on the street, then he was
handcuffed and shoved into the rear seat of a D.C. police
They drove him back to Lamont Street, where they
arranged an impromptu encounter with the two
witnesses. Tequila was led into the alley where he'd left
Pumpkin. "Ever been here before?" a cop asked.
Tequila said nothing, just gawked at the puddle of
fresh blood on the dirty concrete. The two witnesses
were eased into the alley, then led quietly to a spot near
"That's him," both said at the same time.
"He's wearing the same clothes, same basketball
shoes, everything but the gun."
"No doubt about it."
Tequila was shoved into the car once again and taken
to jail. He was booked for murder and locked away with
no immediate chance of bail. Whether through
experience or just fear, Tequila never said a word to the
cops as they pried and cajoled and even threatened.
Nothing incriminating, nothing helpful. No indication of
why he would murder Pumpkin. No clue as to their
history, if one existed at all. A veteran detective made a
brief note in the file that the killing appeared a bit more
random than was customary.
No phone call was requested. No mention of a lawyer
or a bail bondsman. Tequila seemed dazed but content
to sit in a crowded cell and stare at the floor.
5 PUMPKIN HAD NO TRACEABLE father but his
mother worked as a security guard in the basement of a
large office building on New York Avenue. It took three
hours for the police to determine her son's real name—
Ramon Pumphrey—to locate his address, and to find a
neighbor willing to tell them if he had a mother.
Adelfa Pumphrey was sitting behind a desk just
inside the basement entrance, supposedly watching a
bank of monitors. She was a large thick woman in a tight
khaki uniform, a gun on her waist, a look of complete
disinterest on her face. The cops who approached her
had done so a hundred times. They broke the news, then
found her supervisor.
In a city where young people killed each other every
day, the slaughter had thickened skins and hardened
hearts, and every mother knew many others who'd lost
their children. Each loss brought death a step closer, and
every mother knew that any day could be the last. The
mothers had watched the others survive the horror. As
Adelfa Pumphrey sat at her desk with her face in her
hands, she thought of her son and his lifeless body lying
somewhere in the city at that moment, being inspected
She swore revenge on whoever killed him.
She cursed his father for abandoning the child.
She cried for her baby.
And she knew she would survive. Somehow, she
6 ADELFA WENT TO COURT to watch the
arraignment. The police told her the punk who'd killed
her son was scheduled to make his first appearance, a
quick and routine matter in which he would plead not
guilty and ask for a lawyer. She was in the back row
with her brother on one side and a neighbor on the
other, her eyes leaking tears into a damp handkerchief.
She wanted to see the boy. She also wanted to ask him
why, but she knew she would never get the chance.
They herded the criminals through like cattle at an
auction. All were black, all wore orange coveralls and
handcuffs, all were young. Such waste.
In addition to his handcuffs, Tequila was adorned
with wrist and ankle chains since his crime was
especially violent, though he looked fairly harmless
when he was shuffled into the courtroom with the next
wave of offenders. He glanced around quickly at the
crowd to see if he recognized anyone, to see if just
maybe someone was out there for him. He was seated in
a row of chairs, and for good measure one of the armed
bailiffs leaned down and said, "That boy you killed.
That's his mother back there in the blue dress."
With his head low, Tequila slowly turned and looked
directly into the wet and puffy eyes of Pumpkin's
mother, but only for a second. Adelfa stared at the
skinny boy in the oversized coveralls and wondered
where his mother was and how she'd raised him and if
he had a father, and, most important, how and why his
7 path had crossed that of her boy's. The two were about
the same age as the rest of them, late teens or early
twenties. The cops had told her that it appeared, at least
initially, that drugs were not involved in the killing. But
she knew better. Drugs were involved in every layer of
street life. Adelfa knew it all too well. Pumpkin had
used pot and crack and he'd been arrested once, for
simple possession, but he had never been violent. The
cops were saying it looked like a random killing. All
street killings were random, her brother had said, but
they all had a reason.
On one side of the courtroom was a table around
which the authorities gathered. The cops whispered to
the prosecutors, who flipped through files and reports
and tried valiantly to keep the paperwork ahead of the
criminals. On the other side was a table where the
defense lawyers came and went as the assembly line
sputtered along. Drug charges were rattled off by the
Judge, an armed robbery, some vague sexual attack,
more drugs, lots of parole violations. When their names
were called, the defendants were led forward to the
bench, where they stood in silence. Paperwork was
shuffled, then they were hauled off again, back to jail.
"Tequila Watson," a bailiff announced.
He was helped to his feet by another bailiff. He
stutter-stepped forward, chains rattling.
"Mr. Watson, you are charged with murder," the
Judge announced loudly. "How old are you?"
"Twenty," Tequila said, looking down.
8 The murder charge had echoed through the
courtroom and brought a temporary stillness. The other
criminals in orange looked on with admiration. The
lawyers and cops were curious.
"Can you afford a lawyer?"
"Didn't think so," the Judge mumbled and glanced at
the defense table. The fertile fields of the D.C. Superior
Court Criminal Division, Felony Branch, were worked
on a daily basis by the Office of the Public Defender, the
safety net for all indigent defendants. Seventy percent of
the docket was handled by court-appointed counsel, and
at any time there were usually half a dozen PDs milling
around in cheap suits and battered loafers with files
sticking out of their briefcases. At that precise moment,
however, only one PD was present, the Honorable Clay
Carter II, who had stopped by to check on two much
lesser felonies, and now found himself all alone and
wanting to bolt from the courtroom. He glanced to his
right and to his left and realized that His Honor was
looking at him. Where had all the other PDs gone?
A week earlier, Mr. Carter had finished a murder case,
one that had lasted for almost three years and had
finally been closed with his client being sent away to a
prison from which he would never leave, at least not
officially. Clay Carter was quite happy his client was
now locked up, and he was relieved that he, at that
moment, had no murder files on his desk.
That, evidently, was about to change.
9 "Mr. Carter?" the Judge said. It was not an order, but
an invitation to step forward to do what every PD was
expected to do—defend the indigent, regardless of the
case. Mr. Carter could not show weakness, especially
with the cops and prosecutors watching. He swallowed
hard, refused to flinch, and walked to the bench as if he
just might demand a jury trial right there and then. He
took the file from the Judge, quickly skimmed its rather
thin contents while ignoring the pleading look of
Tequila Watson, then said, "We'll enter a plea of not
guilty, Your Honor."
"Thank you, Mr. Carter. And we'll show you as
counsel of record?"
"For now, yes." Mr. Carter was already plotting
excuses to unload this case on someone else at OPD.
"Very well. Thank you," the Judge said, already
reaching for the next file.
Lawyer and client huddled at the defense table for a
few minutes. Carter took as much information as
Tequila was willing to give, which was very little. He
promised to stop by the jail the next day for a longer
interview. As they whispered, the table was suddenly
crowded with young lawyers from the PD's office,
colleagues of Carter's who seemed to materialize from
Was this a setup? Carter asked himself. Had they
disappeared knowing a murder defendant was in the
room? In the past five years, he'd pulled such stunts
himself. Ducking the nasty ones was an art form at OPD.
10 He grabbed his briefcase and hurried away, down the
center aisle, past rows of worried relatives, past Adelfa
Pumphrey and her little support group, into the hallway
crammed with many more criminals and their mommas
and girlfriends and lawyers. There were those in OPD
who swore they lived for the chaos of the H. Carl
Moultrie Courthouse—the pressure of trials, the hint of
danger from people sharing the same space with so
many violent men, the painful conflict between victims
and their assailants, the hopelessly overcrowded
dockets, the calling to protect the poor and ensure fair
treatment by the cops and the system.
If Clay Carter had ever been attracted to a career in
OPD, he could not now remember why. In one week the
fifth anniversary of his employment there would come
and go, without celebration, and, hopefully, without
anyone knowing it. Clay was burned out at the age of
thirty-one, stuck in an office he was ashamed to show
his friends, looking for an exit with no place to go, and
now saddled with another senseless murder case that
was growing heavier by the minute.
In the elevator he cursed himself for getting nailed
with a murder. It was a rookie's mistake; he'd been
around much too long to step into the trap, especially
one set on such familiar turf. I'm quitting, he promised
himself; the same vow he had uttered almost every day
for the past year.
There were two others in the elevator. One was a
court clerk of some variety, with her arms full of files.
11 The other was a fortyish gentleman dressed in designer
black—jeans, T-shirt, jacket, alligator boots. He held a
newspaper and appeared to be reading it through small
glasses perched on the tip of his rather long and elegant
nose; in fact, he was studying Clay, who was oblivious.
Why would someone pay any attention to anyone else
on this elevator in this building?
If Clay Carter had been alert instead of brooding, he
would have noticed that the gentleman was too well
dressed to be a defendant, but too casual to be a lawyer.
He carried nothing but a newspaper, which was
somewhat odd because the H. Carl Moultrie Courthouse
was not known as a place for reading. He did not appear
to be a judge, a clerk, a victim, or a defendant, but Clay
never noticed him. 12 2
IN A CITY of 76,000 lawyers, many of them clustered
in megafirms within rifle shot of the U.S. Capitol—rich
and powerful firms where the brightest associates were
given obscene signing bonuses and the dullest exCongressmen were given lucrative lobbying deals and
the hottest litigators came with their own agents—the
Office of the Public Defender was far down in the minor
leagues. Low A.
Some OPD lawyers were zealously committed to
defending the poor and oppressed, and for them the job
was not a stepping-stone to another career. Regardless of
how little they earned or how tight their budgets were,
they thrived on the lonely independence of their work
and the satisfaction of protecting the underdog.
Other PDs told themselves that the job was transitory,
just the nitty-gritty training they needed to get launched
into more promising careers. Learn the ropes the hard
way, get your hands dirty, see and do things no big-firm
associate would ever get near, and someday some firm
with real vision will reward the effort. Unlimited trial
experience, a vast knowledge of the judges and the
clerks and the cops, workload management, skills in
handling the most difficult of clients—these were just a
few of the advantages PDs had to offer after only a few
years on the job.
13 OPD had eighty lawyers, all working in two cramped
and suffocating floors of the District of Columbia Public
Services Building, a pale, square, concrete structure
known as The Cube, on Mass Avenue near Thomas
Circle. There were about forty low paid secretaries and
three dozen paralegals scattered through the maze of
cubbyhole offices. The Director was a woman named
Glenda who spent most of her time locked in her office
because she felt safe in there.
The beginning salary for an OPD lawyer was $36,000.
Raises were minuscule and slow in coming. The most
senior lawyer, a frazzled old man of forty-three, earned
$57,600 and had been threatening to quit for nineteen
years. The workloads were staggering because the city
was losing its own war on crime. The supply of indigent
criminals was endless. Every year for the past eight
Glenda had submitted a budget requesting ten more
lawyers and a dozen more paralegals. In each of the last
four budgets she had received less money than the year
before. Her quandary at the moment was which
paralegals to terminate and which lawyers to force into
Like most of the other PDs, Clay Carter had not
entered law school with the plan of a career, or even a
brief stint, defending indigent criminals. No way. Back
when Clay was in college and then law school at
Georgetown his father had a firm in D.C. Clay had
worked there part-time for years, and had his own
office. The dreams had been boundless back then, father
14 and son litigating together as the money poured in.
But the firm collapsed during Clay's last year of law
school, and his father left town. That was another story.
Clay became a public defender because there were no
other last-second jobs to grab.
It took him three years to jockey and connive his way
into getting his own office, not one shared with another
lawyer or paralegal. About the size of a modest
suburban utility closet, it had no windows and a desk
that consumed half the floor space. His office in his
father's old firm had been four times larger with views
of the Washington Monument, and though he tried to
forget those views he couldn't erase them from his
memory. Five years later, he still sat at his desk at times
and stared at the walls, which seemed to get closer each
month, and asked himself how, exactly, did he fall from
one office to the other?
He tossed the Tequila Watson file on his very clean
and very neat desk and took off his jacket. It would have
been easy, in the midst of such dismal surroundings, to
let the place go, to let the files and papers pile up, to
clutter his office and blame it on being overworked and
understaffed. But his father had believed that an
organized desk was a sign of an organized mind. If you
couldn't find something in thirty seconds, you were
losing money, his father always said. Return phone calls
immediately was another rule Clay had been taught to
So he was fastidious about his desk and office, much
15 to the amusement of his harried colleagues. His
Georgetown Law School diploma hung in a handsome
frame in the center of a wall. For the first two years at
OPD he had refused to display the diploma for fear that
the other lawyers would wonder why someone from
Georgetown was working for minimum wages. For the
experience, he told himself, I'm here for the experience.
A trial every month—tough trials against tough
prosecutors in front of tough juries. For the down-in-thegutter, bareknuckle training that no big firm could
provide. The money would come later, when he was a
battle-hardened litigator at a very young age.
He stared at the thin Watson file in the center of his
desk and wondered how he might unload it on someone
else. He was tired of the tough cases and the superb
training and all the other crap that he put up with as an
There were six pink phone message slips on his desk;
five related to business, one from Rebecca, his longtime
girlfriend. He called her first.
"I'm very busy," she informed him after the required
"You called me," Clay said.
"Yes, I can only talk a minute or so." Rebecca worked
as an assistant to a low-ranking Congressman who was
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- Fall '19
- You Got It, Did You See Me Coming?, Tha Carter III, Clay Carter