The announcement had said the newlyweds would honeymoon in Mexico. Clay decided to take a trip himself. If anyone deserved a month on an island, it was he.
His once formidable team had lost all direction. Perhaps it was the holidays, perhaps it was the money. Whatever the reason, Jonah, Paulette, and Rodney were spending fewer hours at the office.
As was Clay. The place was filled with tension and strife. So many Dyloft clients were unhappy with their meager settlements. The mail was brutal. Dodging the phone had become a sport. Several clients had actually found the place and presented themselves to Miss Glick with demands to see Mr. Carter, who, it happened, was always in a big trial somewhere. Usually, he was hunkering down in his office with the door locked, riding out yet another storm. After one particularly troubling day, he called Patton French for advice.
"Toughen up, ol' boy," French said. "It goes with the territory. You're making a fortune in mass torts, this is just the downside. It takes a thick skin."
The thickest skin in the firm belonged to Oscar Mulrooney, who continued to amaze Clay with his organizational skills and his ambition. Mulrooney was working fifteen hours a day and pushing his Yale Branch to collect the Dyloft money as quickly as possible. He readily assumed any unpleasant task. With Jonah making no secret of his plans to sail around the world, Paulette dropping hints about a year in Africa to study art, and Rodney following along with some vague chatter about just plain quitting, it was obvious that there would soon be room at the top.
It was just as obvious that Oscar was hustling for a partnership, or at least a piece of the action. He was studying the massive litigation still raging over Skinny Bens, the diet pills that had gone awry, and was convinced that at least ten thousand cases were still out there, unclaimed, in spite of four years' worth of nonstop publicity.
The Yale Branch now had eleven lawyers, seven of whom had actually gone to Yale. The Sweatshop had grown to twelve paralegals, all up to their ears in files and paperwork. Clay had no hesitation in leaving both units under the supervision of Mulrooney for a few weeks. He was certain that when he returned, the office would be in better shape than when he left.
Christmas had become a season he tried to ignore, though it was difficult. He had no family to spend time with. Rebecca had always worked hard to include him with whatever the Van Horns happened to be doing, but while he appreciated the effort, he'd found that sitting alone in an empty apartment drinking cheap wine and watching old movies on Christmas Eve was a far better evening than opening gifts with those people. No gift he gave was ever good enough.
Ridley's family was still in Georgia, and likely to stay there. At first, she was certain that she could not rearrange her modeling assignments and leave town for several weeks. But her determination to do so warmed his heart. She really wanted to jet away to the islands and play with him on the beach. She finally told one client to go ahead and fire her; she didn't care.
It was her first trip on a private jet. He found himself wanting to impress her in so many ways. Nonstop from Washington to St. Lucia, four hours and a million miles.
D.C. was cold and gray when they left, and when they stepped off the plane the sun and the heat hit them hard. They walked through Customs with hardly a glance, at least none directed at Clay. Every male head turned to admire Ridley. Oddly, Clay was getting accustomed to it. She seemed oblivious. It had been a way of life for so long that she simply ignored everyone, which only made matters worse for those gawking. Such an exquisite creature, perfect from head to foot, yet so aloof, so untouchable.
They boarded a commuter for the fifteen-minute flight to Mustique, the exclusive island owned by the rich and famous, an island with everything but a runway long enough for private jets. Rock stars and actresses and billionaires had mansions there. Their house for the next week had once been owned by a prince who sold it to a dotcommer who leased it when he wasn't around.
The island was a mountain surrounded by the still waters of the Caribbean. From three thousand feet up, it looked dark and lush, a picture on a postcard. Ridley clutched and groped as they descended and the tiny airstrip came into the view. The pilot wore a straw cap and could've landed wearing a blindfold.
Marshall, the chauffeur/butler, was waiting with a huge smile and an open Jeep. They threw their rather light bags in the back and started up a winding road. No hotels, no condos, no tourists, no traffic. For ten minutes they did not see another vehicle. The house was on the side of a mountain, as Marshall described it, though it was just a hill. The view was breathtaking - two hundred feet above the water and miles of endless ocean. No other island could be seen; no boats out there, no people.
There were four or five bedrooms, Clay lost count, spread around a main house and connected with tiled walkways. Lunch was ordered; whatever they wanted because there was a full-time chef. And a gardener, two housekeepers, and a butler. A staff of five - plus Marshall - and they all lived somewhere on the premises. Before they could unpack in the main suite, Ridley had stripped down to virtually nothing and was in the pool. Topless, and if not for a small string that could barely be seen, she would have been completely nude. Just when Clay thought he was accustomed to looking at her, he found himself once more almost dizzy.
She covered up for lunch. Fresh seafood, of course - grilled prawns and oysters. Two beers and Clay was staggering toward a hammock for a long siesta. Tomorrow was Christmas Eve, and he didn't care. Rebecca was away in some tourist trap of a hotel, cuddling with little Jason.
And he didn't care.
Two days after Christmas, Max Pace arrived with a companion. Her name was Valeria, a rugged, crunchy outdoors type with broad shoulders and no makeup and a very reluctant smile. Max was a very handsome fellow, but there was nothing attractive about his friend. Hopefully, Valeria would keep her clothes on around the pool. When Clay shook her hand he felt calluses. Well, at least she wouldn't be a temptation for Ridley.
Pace was quick to change into shorts and head for the pool. Valeria pulled out some hiking boots and asked where the trails were. Marshall had to be consulted, said he was unaware of any trails, which of course displeased Valeria who struck off anyway, in search of rocks to climb. Ridley disappeared into the living room of the main house, where she had a stack of videos to watch.
Because Pace had no background, there was little to talk about. At first, anyway. However, it soon became apparent that he had something important on his mind. "Let's talk business," he said after a nap in the sun. They moved to the bar and Marshall brought drinks.
"There's another drug out there," Pace began, and Clay immediately began seeing money. "And it's a big one."
"Here we go again."
"But the plan is a little different this time. I want a piece of the action."
"Who are you working for?"
"Me. And you. I get twenty-five percent of the gross attorneys' fees."
"What's the upside?"
"It could be bigger than Dyloft."
"Then you get twenty-five percent. More if you want." The two shared so much dirty laundry, how could Clay say no?
"Twenty-five is fair," Max said, and reached across for a handshake. The deal was done.
"Let's have it."
"There's a female hormone drug called Maxatil. Used by at least four million menopausal and postmenopausal women, ages forty-five to seventy-five. It came out five years ago, another wonder drug. It relieves hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause. Very effective. It's also touted to preserve bone strength, reduce hypertension and the risks of heart disease. The company is Goffman."
"Goffman? Razor blades and mouthwash?"
"You got it. Twenty-one billion in sales last year. The bluest of all blue-chips. Very little debt, sound management. An American tradition. But they got in a hurry with Maxatil, typical story - profits looked huge, drug looked safe, they rammed it through the FDA and for the first few years everybody was happy. Doctors loved it. The women are crazy about it because it works beautifully."
"But there are problems. Huge problems. A government study has been tracking twenty thousand women who've been taking the drug for four years. The study has just been completed, and a report is due in a few weeks. It will be devastating. For a percentage of women, the drug greatly increases the risk of breast cancer, heart attacks, and strokes."
"About eight percent."
"Who knows about the report?"
"Very few people. I have a copy of it."
"Why am I not surprised?" Clay took a long pull on the bottle and looked around for Marshall. His pulse was racing. He was suddenly bored with Mustique.
"There are some lawyers on the prowl, but they haven't seen the government report," Pace continued. "One lawsuit has been filed, in Arizona, but it's not a class action."
"What is it?"
"Just an old-fashioned tort case. A one-shot deal."
"Not really. The lawyer is a character named Dale Mooneyham, from Tucson. He tries them one at a time, and he never loses. He's on the fast track to get the first shot at Goffman. It could set the tone for the entire settlement. The key is to file the first class action. You learned that from Patton French."
"We can file first," Clay said, as if he'd been doing it for years.
"And you can do it alone, without French and those crooks. File it in D.C., then blitz with ads. It'll be huge."
"Just like Dyloft."
"Except you're in charge. I'll be in the background, pulling strings, doing the dirty work. I have lots of contacts with all the right shady characters. It'll be our lawsuit, and with your name on it Goffman will run for cover."
"A quick settlement?"
"Probably not as quick as Dyloft, but then that was remarkably fast. You'll have to do your homework, gather the right evidence, hire the experts, sue the doctors who've been peddling the drug, push hard for the first trial. You'll have to convince Goffman that you are not interested in a settlement, that you want a trial - a huge, public spectacle of a trial, in your own backyard."
"The downside?" Clay asked, trying to appear cautious.
"None that I can see, except that it'll cost you millions in advertising and trial prep."
"No problem there."
"You seem to have the knack for spending it."
"I've barely scratched the surface."
"I'd like an advance of a million dollars. Against my fee." Pace took a sip. "I'm still cleaning up some old business back home."
The fact that Pace wanted money struck Clay as odd. However, with so much at stake, and with their Tarvan secret, he was in no position to say no. "Approved," he said.
They were in the hammocks when Valeria returned, soaked with sweat and appearing somewhat relaxed. She stripped everything off and jumped in the pool. "A California girl," Pace said softly.
"Something serious?" Clay asked, tentatively.
"Off and on for many years now." And he let it go at that.
The California girl requested a dinner that included no meat, fish, chicken, eggs, or cheese. She didn't do alcohol either. Clay arranged grilled swordfish for the rest of them. The meal was over quickly, with Ridley anxious to run and hide in her room and Clay equally as eager to get away from Valeria.
Pace and his friend stayed for two days, which was at least one day too long. The purpose of the trip had been solely business, and since the deal had been struck Pace was ready to leave. Clay watched them speed away with Marshall driving faster than ever.
"Any more guests?" Ridley asked warily.
"Hell no," Clay said.