Page 39 of The King of Torts

To read, he was forced to raise half of the bed, and since his legs were already pointed upward, he sort of folded himself into a V. A painful one. He could hold that position for no more than ten minutes before lowering the bed and relieving the pressure. With Jonah's laptop resting on both casts, he was browsing through the newspaper articles from Arizona when Paulette answered the phone. "It's Oscar," she said.

They had talked briefly on Sunday night, but Clay had been drugged and incoherent. Now he was wide awake and ready for details. "Let's hear it," he said, lowering the bed and trying to stretch out. "Mooneyham rested Saturday morning. His case could not have been more perfect. The guy is brilliant, and he has the jury eating out of his hands. The Goffman boys were strutting when the trial started, now I think they're running for the bunkers. Roger Redding put on their star expert yesterday afternoon, a researcher who testified that there is no direct link between the drug and the plaintiff's breast cancer. I thought the guy was very good, very believable, hell he has three doctorates. The jury paid attention. Then Mooneyham ripped him to shreds. He pulled out some bad research the guy did twenty years ago. He attacked his credentials. The witness was completely slain when it was over. I'm thinking, 'Somebody call nine-one-one, get this poor guy outta here.' I've never seen a witness so thoroughly humiliated. Roger was pale. The Goffman boys were sitting there like a bunch of thugs in a police lineup."

"Beautiful, beautiful," Clay kept saying, the phone stuck to the gauze on the left side of his face, opposite the slashed ear.

"Here's the good part. I found out where the Goffman folks are staying, so I switched hotels. I see them at breakfast. I see them in the bar late at night. They know who I am, so we're like two rabid dogs circling each other. They have an in-house lawyer named Fleet who caught me in the hotel lobby yesterday after adjournment, about an hour after the slaughter of their expert. He said he wanted to have a drink. He had one, I had three. The reason he had only one is because he had to go back to the Goffman suite on the top floor where they spent the night pacing the floors, kicking around the possibilities of a settlement."

"Say it again," Clay said softly.

"You heard me. Goffman, at this very moment, is thinking about settling with Mooneyham. They are terrified. They're convinced, like everybody else in the courtroom, that this jury is about to nuke their company. Any settlement will cost a fortune because the old stud doesn't want to settle. Clay, he is eating their lunch! Roger is excellent, but he can't carry Mooneyham's briefcase."

"Back to the settlement."

"Back to the settlement. Fleet wanted to know how many of our cases are legitimate. I said, 'All twenty-six thousand.' He beats around the bush for a while, then asks if I think you would consider settling them for something in the neighborhood of a hundred thousand each. That's two point six bil, Clay. Are you doing the math?"

"It's done."

"And the fees?"

"Done." And with that the pain immediately vanished. The throbbing skull was still. The heavy casts were featherlike. The delicate bruises ceased to exist. Clay felt like crying.

"Anyway, it definitely was not an offer to settle, just the first feeler. A real tense one. You hear a lot of rumors around the courthouse, especially from the lawyers and stock analysts. According to the gossip, Goffman could afford a compensation pool of up to seven billion. If the company settled now, its stock price might hold steady because the Maxatil nightmare would be over. That's one theory, but after the bloodletting yesterday, it makes a lot of sense. Fleet came to me because we have the biggest class. The courthouse gossip puts the number of potential claims at somewhere around sixty thousand, so we have about forty percent of the market. If we're willing to settle for around a hundred grand each, then they can predict their costs."

"When do you see him again?"

"It's almost eight here, the trial resumes in an hour.

We agreed to meet outside the courtroom." "Call me as soon as you can." "Don't worry, chief. How are the broken bones?" "Much better now." Paulette took the phone. Seconds later, it rang again.

She answered, handed it back to Clay, and said, "It's for you, and I'm getting out of here."

It was Rebecca, in the hospital's lobby, on her cell phone, wondering if a quick visit would be appropriate. Minutes later, she walked into his room and was shocked at the sight of him. She kissed him on the cheek, between bruises.

"They had sticks," Clay said. "To even things out. Otherwise, I would've had an unfair advantage." He punched the controls to the bed and began raising himself into the V.

"You look awful," she said. Her eyes were moist. "Thank you. You, on the other hand, look spectacular." She kissed him again, same place, and began rubbing his left arm. A moment of silence passed between them. "Can I ask you a question?" Clay said. "Sure." "Where is your husband right now?" "He's in either Sao Paulo or Hong Kong. I can't keep track." "Does he know you're here?" "Of course not." "What would he do if he knew you were here?" "He would be upset. I'm sure we'd fight."

"Would that be unusual?"

"Happens all the time, I'm afraid. It's not working, Clay. I want out."

In spite of his wounds, Clay was having an awesome day. A fortune was within his grasp, as was Rebecca. The door to his room opened quietly and Ridley entered. She was at the foot of his bed, unnoticed, when she said, "Sorry to interrupt."

"Hi, Ridley," Clay said weakly.

The women gave each other looks that would terrify cobras. Ridley moved to the other side of the bed, directly opposite Rebecca, who kept her hand on Clay's bruised arm. "Ridley, this is Rebecca, Rebecca, this is Ridley," Clay said, then gave serious consideration to pulling the sheets over his head and pretending to be dead.

Neither smiled. Ridley reached over just a few inches and began gently rubbing Clay's right arm. Though he was being pampered by two beautiful women, he felt more like fresh roadkill seconds before the wolves arrived.

Since there was absolutely nothing anybody could say for a few seconds, Clay nodded to his left and said, "She's an old friend," then to his right, and said, "She's a new friend." Both women, at least at that moment, felt much closer to Clay than just a mere friend. Both were irritated. Neither flinched nor moved an inch. Their positions had been staked out.

"I believe we were at your wedding reception," Ridley said, finally. A not too subtle reminder to Rebecca that she happened to be married.

"Uninvited as I recall," Rebecca said.

"Oh, darn, time for my enema," Clay said, and nobody laughed but him. If a catfight broke out across his bed, he'd be mauled even worse. Five minutes earlier he'd been on the phone to Oscar, dreaming of record fees. Now, two women were drawing swords.

Two very beautiful women. Things could be worse, he told himself. Where were the nurses? They barged in at all hours of the day, with no regard for privacy or sleep patterns. Sometimes they came in pairs. And if a visitor happened to be in Clay's room, a needless drop-in by a nurse was guaranteed. "Anything we can get for you, Mr. Carter?"

"Adjust your bed?"

"Want the TV on?"

"Or off?"

The halls were silent. Both women pawed at him.

Rebecca blinked first. She had no choice. She did, after all, have a husband. "I guess I'll be going." She left the room slowly, as if she didn't want to leave, didn't want to concede territory. Clay was thrilled by that.

As soon as the door closed, Ridley withdrew to the window, where she stood for a long time and looked at nothing. Clay scanned a newspaper, completely unconcerned with her and whatever her moods might be. The cold shoulder she was working diligently to deliver happened to be welcome.

"You love her, don't you?" Ridley said, still looking out the window, trying to appear wounded.

"Who?"

"Rebecca."

"Oh, her. Naw, she's just an old friend."

With that she wheeled around and walked to the side of his bed. "I'm not stupid, Clay!"

"Didn't say you were." He was still reading the newspaper, quite unmoved by this attempt at high drama. She grabbed her purse and stomped out of his room, heels clicking as loudly as possible. A nurse entered shortly thereafter, to inspect him for damages.

Oscar called a few minutes later, on his cell phone outside the courtroom. A quick recess had been ordered. "Rumor has it Mooneyham turned down ten million this morning," he said.

"Fleet tell you this?"

"No, we didn't meet. He was tied up with some motions. I'll try and catch him during lunch."

"Who's on the stand?"

"Another Goffman expert, a female professor from Duke who's discrediting the government study on Maxatil. Mooneyham is sharpening his knives. Should be ugly."

"Do you believe the rumor?"

"I'm not sure what to believe. The Wall Street boys seem excited about it. They want a settlement because they figure that's the best way to predict costs. I'll call you back during lunch."

There were three possible outcomes in Flagstaff; two would be delightful. A verdict against Goffman would put enormous pressure on the company to settle and avoid years of litigation and the constant barrage of big verdicts. A mid-trial settlement there would likely mean a national compensation plan for all plaintiffs.

A verdict in favor of Goffman would force Clay to scurry around and prepare for his own trial in D.C. That prospect brought back the sharp pains in his skull and legs.

Lying motionless for hours in a hospital bed was sufficient torture in itself. Now, the silent phone made matters much worse. At any moment, Goffman could offer Mooneyham enough money to make him settle. His ego would push him all the way to a verdict, but could he ignore the interests of his client?

A nurse closed the blinds, turned off the lights and the TV. When she was gone, Clay rested the phone on his stomach, pulled the sheets over his head, and waited.

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