Home > The Brethren(7)

The Brethren(7)
Author: John Grisham

Strict rules prohibited the Brethren from charging fees for their legal work, but the strict rules meant little. They were, after all, convicted felons, and if they could quietly pick up some cash on the outside then everyone would be happy. Sentencing was a moneymaker. About a fourth of the inmates who arrived at Trumble had been improperly sentenced. Beech could review the records overnight and find the loopholes. A month earlier, he had knocked four years off the sentence of a young man who'd been given fifteen. The family had agreed to pay, and the Brethren earned $5,000, their biggest fee to date. Spicer arranged the secret deposit through their lawyer in Neptune Beach.

There was a cramped conference room in the back of the law library, behind the shelves and barely visible from the main room. The door to it had a large glass window, but no one bothered to look in. The Brethren retired there for quiet business. They called it their chamber.

Spicer had just met with their lawyer and he had mail, some really good letters. He dosed the door and removed an envelope from a file. He waved it for Beech and Yarber to see. "It's yellow;" he said. "Ain't that sweet? It's for Ricky"

"Who's it from?"Yarber asked.

"Curbs from Dallas."

"The banker?" Beech asked excitedly.

"No, Curtis owns the jewelry stores. Listen." Spicer unfolded the letter, also on soft yellow stationery. He smiled and cleared his throat and began to read: " `Dear Ricky: Your letter of January eighth made me cry. I read it three times before I put it down.You poor boy Why are they keeping you there?"'

"Where is he?" askedYarber.

"Ricky's locked down in a fancy drug rehab unit his rich uncle is paying for. He's been in for a year, is dean and fiilly rehabbed, but the terrible people who run the place won't release him until April because they've been collecting twenty thousand dollars a month from his rich uncle, who just wants him locked away and won't send any spending money. Do you remember any of this?"

"Now I do."

"You helped with the fiction. May I proceed?"

"Please do."

Spicer continued reading: " `I'm tempted to fly down there and confront those evil people myself. And your uncle, what a loser! Rich people like him think they can just send money and not get involved.

As I told you, my father was quite wealthy, and he was the most miserable person I've ever known. Sure he bought me things-objects that were temporary and meant nothing when they were gone. But he never had time for me. He was a sick man, just like your uncle. I've enclosed a check for a thousand dollars if you need anything from the commissary.

"Ricky, I can't wait to see you in April. I've already told my wife that there is an international diamond show in Orlando that month, and she has no interest in going with me."'

"April?" asked Beech.

"Yep. Ricky is certain he will be released in April."

"Ain't that sweet," Yarber said with a smile. "And Curtis has a wife and kids?"

"Curtis is fifty-eight, three adult children, two grandchildren."

"Where's the check?" asked Beech.

Spicer flipped the sheets of stationery and went to page two." `We have to make certain you can meet me in Orlando,' "he read." `Are you sure you'll finally be released in April? Please tell me you will. I think about you every hour. I keep your photo hidden in my desk drawer, and when I look into your eyes I know that we should be together."'

"Sick, sick, sick;" Beech said, still smiling. "And he's from Texas."

"I'm sure there are a lot of sweet boys in Texas," Yarber said.

"And none in California?"

"The rest of it is just mush," Spicer said, scanning quickly. There would be plenty of time to read it later.

He held up the $1,000 check for his colleagues to see. In due course, it would be smuggled out to their attorney and he would deposit it in their hidden account.

" When are we gonna bust him?"Yarber asked.

"Let's swap a few more letters. Ricky needs to share some more misery."

"Maybe one of the guards could beat him up, or something like that," Beech said.

"They don't have guards;" replied Spicer. "It's a designer rehab clinic, remember? They have counselors."

"But it's a lockdown facility, right? That means gates and fences, so surely there's a guard or two around. What if Ricky got attacked in the shower or the locker room by some goon who wanted his body?"

"It can't be a sexual attack;"Yarber said. "That might scare Curtis. He might think Ricky caught a disease or something."

And so the fiction went for a few minutes as they created more misery for poor Ricky. His picture had been lifted from the bulletin board of a fellow inmate, copied at a quick print by their lawyer, and had now been sent to more than a dozen pen pals across North America. The photo was of a smiling college grad, in a navy robe with a cap and gown, holding a diploma, a very handsome young man.

It was decided that Beech would work on the new story for a few days, then write a rough draft of the next letter to Curtis. Beech was Ricky, and at that moment their little tormented fictional boy was writing his tales of misery to eight different caring souls. Justice Yarber was Percy, also a young man locked away for drugs but now clean and nearing release and looking for an older sugar daddy with whom to spend meamngfixl time. Percy had five hooks in the water, and was slowly reeling them in.

Joe Roy Spicer didn't write very well. He coordinated the scam, helped with the fiction, kept the stories straight, and met with the lawyer who brought the mail. And he handled the money.

He pulled out another letter and announced, "This, Your Honors, is from Quince."

Everything stopped as Beech and Yarber stared at the letter. Quince was a wealthy banker in a small town in Iowa, according to the six letters he and Ricky had swapped. Like the rest, they'd found him through the personals of a gay magazine now hidden in the law library. He'd been their second catch, the first having become suspicious and disappearing. Quince's photo of himself was a snapshot taken at a lake, with the shirt off, the potbelly, the skinny arms, the receding hairline of a fifty-one-year-old-his family all around him. It was a bad photo, no doubt selected by Quince because it might be difficult to identify him, if anyone ever tried.

"Would you like to read it, Ricky boy?" Spicer asked, handing the letter to Beech, who took it and looked at the envelope. Plain white, no return address, typed lettering.

"Have you read it?" Beech asked.

"No. Go ahead."

Beech slowly removed the letter, a plain sheet of white paper with tight single-spaced paragraphs produced by an old typewriter. He cleared his voice, and read: " `Dear Ricky: It's done. I can't believe I did it,

but I pulled it off. I used a pay phone and a money order so nothing could be traced-I think my trail is clean. The company you suggested in New York was superb, very discreet and helpful. I have to be honest, Ricky, it scared the hell out of me. Booking a gay cruise is something I never dreamed of doing. And you know what? It was exhilarating. I am so proud of myself. We have a cabin suite, a thousand bucks a night, and I can't wait."'

Beech stopped and glanced above his reading glasses halfway down his nose. Both of his colleagues were smiling, savoring the words.

He continued: " 'We set sail on March tenth, and I have a wonderful idea. I will arrive in Miami on the ninth, so we won't have much time to get together and introduce ourselves. Let's meet on the boat, in our suite. I'll get there first, check in, get the champagne on ice, then wait for you. Won't that be fun, Ricky? We'll have three days to ourselves. I say we don't leave the room.' "

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