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Home > The Brethren(2)

The Brethren(2)
Author: John Grisham

The rules were kept simple. Short pleadings. No discovery. Quick justice. Decisions on the spot, and all decisions were binding if both parties submitted to the jurisdiction of the court. No appeals; there was nowhere to take one. Witnesses were not given an oath to tell the truth. Lying was completely expected. It was, after all, a prison.

"What's next?" Spicer asked.

T Karl hesitated for a second, then said, "It's the Whiz case:' .

Things were suddenly still for a moment, then the plastic cafeteria chairs rattled forward in one noisy offensive. The inmates scooted and shuffied until T Karl announced, "That's close enough! "They were less than twenty feet away from the bench.

"We shall maintain decorum!" he proclaimed.

The Whiz matter had been festering for months at Trumble. Whiz was a young Wall Street crook who'd bilked some rich clients. Four million dollars had never been accounted for, and legend held that Whiz had stashed it offshore and managed it from inside Trumble. He had six years left, and would be almost forty when paroled. It was widely assumed that he was quietly serving his time until one glorious day when he would walk free, still a young man, and fly off in a private jet to a beach where-the money was waiting.

Inside, the legend only grew, partly because Whiz kept to himself and spent long hours every day studying financials and technical charts and reading impenetrable economic publications. Even the warden had tried to cajole him into sharing market tips.

An ex lawyer known as Rook had somehow got next to Whiz, and had somehow convinced him to share a small morsel of advice with an investment club that met once a week in the prison chapel. On behalf of the club, Rook was now suing the Whiz for fraud.

Rook took the witness chair, and began his narrative. The usual rules of procedure and evidence were dispensed with so that the truth could be arrived at quickly, whatever form it might take.

"So I go to the Whiz and I ask him what he thinks about ValueNow, a new online company I read about in Forbes," Rook explained. "It was about to go public, and I liked the idea behind the company. Whiz said he'd check it out for me. I heard nothing. So I went back to him and said, `Hey, Whiz, what about ValueNow?'And he said he thought it was a solid company and the stock would go through the roof."

"I did not say that," the Whiz inserted quickly. He was seated across the room, by himself, his arms folded over the chair in front.

"Yes you did:'

"I did not."

"Anyway, I go back to the club and tell them that Whiz is high on the deal, so we decide we want to buy some stock in ValueNow. But little guys can't buy because the offering is closed. I go back to Whiz over there and I say, Look, Whiz, you think you could pull some strings with your buddies on Wall Street and get us a few shares of ValueNow? And Whiz said he thought he could do that."

"That's a lie;" said Whiz.

"Quiet;" said justice Spicer. "You'll get your chance."

"He's lying;" Whiz said, as if there was a rule against it.

If Whiz had money, you'd never know it, at least not on the inside. His eight-by-twelve cell was bare except for stacks of financial publications. No stereo, fan, books, cigarettes, none of the usual assets acquired by almost everyone else. This only added to the legend. He was considered a miser, a weird little man who saved every penny and was no doubt stashing everything offshore.

"Anyway;" Rook continued, "we decided to gamble by taking a big position inValueNow. Our strategy was to liquidate our holdings and consolidate."

"Consolidate?" asked justice Beech. Rook sounded like a portfolio manager who handled billions.

"Right, consolidate. We borrowed - all we could from friends and family, and had close to a thousand bucks."

"A thousand bucks," repeated justice Spicer. Not bad for an inside job. "Then what happened?"

"I told Whiz over there that we were ready to move. Could he get us the stock? This was on a Tuesday. The offering was on a Friday. Whiz said no problem. Said he had a buddy at Goldman Sux or some such place that could take care of us."

"That's a lie; " Whiz shot from across the room.

"Anyway, on Wednesday I saw Whiz in the east yard, and I asked him about the stock. He said no problem."

"That's a lie."

"I got a witness"

"Who?" asked justice Spicer.

"Picasso."

Picasso was sitting behind Rook, as were the other six members of the investment club. Picasso reluctantly waved his hand.

"Is that true?" Spicer asked.

"Yep;" Picasso answered. "Rook asked about the stock. Whiz said he would get it. No problem."

Picasso testified in a lot of cases, and had been caught lying more than most inmates.

"Continue," Spicer said.

"Anyway, Thursday I couldn't find Whiz anywhere. He was hiding from me."

"I was not."

"Friday, the stock goes public. It was offered at twenty a share, the price we could've bought it for if Mr. Wall Street over there had done what he promised. It opened at sixty, spent most of the day at eighty, then dosed at seventy. Our plans were to sell it as soon as possible. We could've bought fifty shares at twenty, sold them at eighty, and walked away from the deal with three thousand dollars in profits."

Violence was very rare at Trumble. Three thousand dollars would not get you killed, but some bones might be broken. Whiz had been lucky so far. There'd been no ambush.

"And you think the Whiz owes you these lost profits?" asked ex-Chief Justice FinnYarber, now plucking his eyebrows.

"Damned right we do. Look, what makes the deal stink even worse is that Whiz bought ValueNow for himself."

"That's a damned lie,"Whiz said.

"Language, please," Justice Beech said. If you wanted to lose a case before the Brethren, just offend Beech with your language.

The rumors that Whiz had bought the stock for himself had been started by Rook and his gang. There was no proof of it, but the story had proved irresistible and had been repeated by most inmates so often that it was now established as fact. It fit so nicely.

"Is that all?" Spicer asked Rook.

Rook had other points he wanted to elaborate on,but the Brethren had no patience with windy litigants.

Especially ex lawyers still reliving their gory days. There were at least five of them at Trumble, and they seemed to be on the docket all the time.

"I guess so," Rook said.

"What do you have to say?" Spicer asked the Whiz.

Whiz stood and took a few steps toward their table. He glared at his accusers, Rook and his gang of losers. Then he addressed the court. "What's the burden of proof here?"

Justice Spicer immediately lowered his eyes and waited for help. As a Justice of the Peace, he'd had no legal training. He'd never finished high school, then worked for twenty years in his father's country store. That's where the votes came from. Spicer relied on common sense, which was often at odds with the law. Any questions dealing with legal theory would be handled by his two colleagues.

"It's whatever we say it is;"Justice Beech said, relishing a debate with a stockbroker on the court's rules of procedure.

"Clear and convincing proof?" asked the Whiz.

"Could be, but not in this case:'

"Beyond a reasonable doubt?"

"Probably not"

"Preponderance of the evidence?"

"Now you're getting dose."

"Then, they have no proof," the Whiz said, waving his hands like a bad actor in a bad TV drama.

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