Home > The Street Lawyer(4)

The Street Lawyer(4)
Author: John Grisham

He slowly shook his head. "And how much for the poor people?"

"Total contributions of one hundred eighty thousand."

"I don't want total contributions. Don't put me and my people in the same class with the symphony and the synagogue, and all your pretty white folks clubs where you auction wine and autographs and give a few bucks to the Boy Scouts. I'm talking about food. Food for hungry people who live here in the same city you live in. Food for little babies. Right here. Right in this city, with all you people making millions, we got little babies starving at night, crying 'cause they're hungry. How much for food?"

He was looking at me. I was looking at the papers in front of me. I couldn't lie. He continued. "We got soup kitchens all over town, places where the poor and homeless can get something to eat. How much money did you folks give to the soup kitchens? Any?"

"Not directly," I said. "But some of these charities--"

"Shut up!"

He waved the damned gun again.

"How about homeless shelters? Places we sleep when it's ten degrees outside. How many shelters are listed there in those papers?"

Invention failed me. "None," I said softly.

He jumped to his feet, startling us, the red sticks fully visible under the silver duct tape. He kicked his chair back. "How 'bout clinics? We got these little clinics where doctors--good decent people who used to make lots of money--come and donate their time to help the sick. They don't charge nothing. Government used to help pay the rent, help buy the medicine and supplies. Now the govemment's run by Newt and all the money's gone. How much do you give to the clinics?"

Rafter looked at me as if I should do something, perhaps suddenly see something in the papers and say, "Damn! Look here! We gave half a million bucks to the clinics and soup kitchens."

That's exactly what Rafter would do. But not me. I didn't want to get shot. Mister was a lot smarter than he looked.

I flipped through the papers as Mister walked to the windows and peeked around the mini-blinds. "Cops everywhere," he said, just loud enough for us to hear. "And lots of ambulances."

He then forgot about the scene below and shuffled along the edge of the table until he stopped near his hostages. They watched every move, with particular attention paid to the explosives. He slowly raised the gun, and aimed it directly at Colburn's nose, less than three feet away.

"How much did you give to the clinics?"

"None," Colburn said, closing his eyes tightly, ready to cry. My heart froze and I held my breath. "How much to the soup kitchens?"


"How much to the homeless shelters?"


Instead of shooting Colburn, he aimed at Nuzzo and repeated the three questions. Nnzzo had identical responses, and Mister moved down the line, pointing, asking the same questions, getting the same answers. He didn't shoot Rafter, much to our dismay.

"Three million dollars," he said in disgust, "and not a dime for the sick and hungry. You are miserable people."

We felt miserable. And I realized he was not going to kill us.

How could an average street bum acquire dynamite? And who would teach him how to wire it?

* * *

At dusk he said he was hungry, and he told me to call the boss and order soup from the Methodist Mission at L Street and Seventeenth, Northwest. They put more vegetables in the broth, Mister said. And the bread was not as stale as in most kitchens.

"The soup kitchen does carry-out?" Rudolph asked, his voice incredulous. It echoed around the room from the speakerphone.

"Just do it, Rudolph!" I barked back at him. "And get enough for ten people." Mister told me to hang up, and again put the lines on hold.

I could see our friends and a squadron of cops flying across the city, through rash-hour traffic, and descending upon the quiet little mission where the ragged street people hunched over their bowls of broth and wondered what the hell was going on. Ten orders to go, extra bread.

Mister made another trip to the window when we heard the helicopter again. He peeked out, stepped back, tugged at his beard, and pondered the situation. What type of invasion could they possibly be planning that would involve a helicopter? Maybe it was to evacuate the wounded.

Umstead had been fidgeting for an hour, much to the dismay of Rafter and Malamud, who were joined to him at the wrists. He finally couldn't stand it any longer.

"Uh, sir, excuse me, but I really have to, uh, go to the boys' room."

Mister kept ragging. "Boys' room. What's a boys' room?"

"I need to pee, sir," Urnstead said, very much like a third-grader. "I can't hold it any longer."

Mister looked around the room, and noticed a porcelain vase sitting innocently on a coffee table. With another wave of the gun, he ordered me to untie Umstead. "The boys' room is over there," Mister said. Umstead removed the fresh flowers from the vase, and with his back to us urinated for a long time while we studied the floor. When he finally finished, Mister told us to move the conference table next to the windows. It was twenty feet long, solid walnut like most of the furniture at Drake & Sweeney, and with me on one end and Umstead grunting on the other, we managed to inch it over about six feet until Mister said stop. He made me latch Malamud and Rafter together, leaving Umstead a free man. I would never understand why he did this.

Next, he forced the remaining seven bound hostages to sit on the table with their backs to the wall. No one dared ask why, but I figured he wanted a shield from sharpshooters. I later learned that the police had snipers perched on a building next door. Perhaps Mister had seen them.

After standing for five hours, Rafter and company were relieved to be off their feet. Umstead and I were told to sit in chairs, and Mister took a seat at the end of the table. We waited.

Life in the streets must teach one patience. He seemed content to sit in silence for long periods of time, his eyes hiding behind the glasses, his head perfectly still.

"Who are the evictors?" he mumbled, to no one in particular, and he waited a couple of minutes before saying it again.

We looked at each other, confused, with no clue what he was talking about. He appeared to be staring at a spot on the table, not far from Colburn's right foot.

"Not only do you ignore the homeless, you help put them in the streets."

We, of course, nodded along, all singing from the same sheet. If he wanted to heap verbal abuse on us, we were perfectly willing to accept it.

Our carry-out arrived at a few minutes before seven. There was a sharp knock on the door. Mister told me to place a call and warn the police that he would kill one of us if he saw or heard anyone outside. I explained this carefully to Rudolph, and I stressed that no rescue should be attempted. We were negotiating.

Rudolph said he understood.

Umstead walked to the door, unlocked it, and looked at Mister for instructions. Mister was behind him, with the gun less than a foot from Umstead's head.

"Open the door very slowly," Mister said.

I was standing a few feet behind Mister when the door opened. The food was on a small cart, one of our paralegals used to haul around the enormous amounts of paper we generated. I could see four large plastic containers of soup, and a brown paper bag filled with bread. I don't know if there was anything to drink. We never found out.

Urnstead took one step into the hallway, grabbed the cart, and was about to pull it back into the conference room when the shot cracked through the air. A lone police sniper was hiding behind a credenza next to Madam Devier's desk, forty feet away, and he got the clear look he needed. When Umstead bent over to grab the cart, Mister's head was exposed for a split second, and the sniper blew it off.

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