Home > The Racketeer(3)

The Racketeer(3)
Author: John Grisham


Winchester was not my first choice of places to have a career. I went to law school at George Mason, in the D.C. suburbs of Northern Virginia. The summer after my second year, I got lucky and landed a clerkship with a giant firm on Pennsylvania Avenue, near Capitol Hill. It was one of those firms with a thousand lawyers, offices around the world, former senators on the letterhead, blue-chip clients, and a frenetic pace that I thoroughly enjoyed. The highlight was playing gofer in the trial of a former congressman (our client) who was accused of conspiring with his felonious brother to take kickbacks from a defense contractor. The trial was a circus, and I was thrilled to be so close to the center ring.

Eleven years later, I walked into the same courtroom in the E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse, in downtown Washington, and suffered through a trial of my own.

I was one of seventeen clerks that summer. The other sixteen, all from top-ten law schools, received job offers. Since I had put all my eggs in one basket, I spent my third year of law school scrambling around D.C., knocking on doors, finding none that were open. At any given moment, there must be several thousand unemployed lawyers pounding the pavement in D.C., and it's easy to get lost in the desperation. I eventually fanned out through the suburbs where the firms are much smaller and the jobs even scarcer.

Finally, I went home in defeat. My dreams of big-league glory were smashed. Mr. Copeland and Mr. Reed did not have enough business and certainly could not afford a new associate, but they had pity on me and cleared out an old storage room upstairs. I worked as hard as possible, though it was often a challenge to put in long hours with so few clients. We got along smoothly, and after five years they generously added my name to the partnership. My income barely rose.

During my prosecution, it was painful watching their good names get dragged through the mud, and it was so senseless. When I was on the ropes, the lead FBI agent informed me that Mr. Copeland and Mr. Reed were going to be indicted if I didn't plead guilty and cooperate with the U.S. Attorney. I thought it was a bluff, but I had no way of knowing for sure. I told him to go to hell.

Luckily, he was bluffing.

I've written them letters, long weepy letters of apology and all that, but they have not replied. I've asked them to come visit so we can talk face-to-face, but they have not responded. Though my hometown is just sixty miles away, I have only one regular visitor.

My father was one of the first black state troopers hired by the Commonwealth of Virginia. For thirty years, Henry patrolled the roads and highways around Winchester, and he loved every minute of his job. He loved the work itself, the sense of authority and history, the power to enforce the law, and the compassion to help those in need. He loved the uniform, the patrol car, everything but the pistol on his belt. He was forced to remove it a few times, but he never fired it. He expected white folks to be resentful and he expected black folks to want leniency, and he was determined to show complete fairness. He was a tough cop who saw no gray areas in the law. If an act wasn't legal, then it was certainly illegal, with no wiggle room and no time for technicalities.

From the moment I was indicted, my father believed I was guilty, of something. Forget the presumption of innocence. Forget my rants about being innocent. As a proud career man, he was thoroughly brainwashed by a lifetime of chasing those who broke the law, and if the Feds, with their resources and great wisdom, deemed me worthy of a one-hundred-page indictment, then they were right and I was wrong. I'm sure he felt sympathy, and I'm sure he prayed I would somehow get out of my mess, but he had a difficult time conveying those feelings to me. He was humiliated, and he let me know it. How could his lawyer son get himself so entangled with such a slimy bunch of crooks?

I have asked myself the same question a thousand times. There is no good answer.

Henry Bannister barely finished high school and, after a few minor scrapes with the law, joined the Marine Corps at the age of nineteen. The Marines quickly turned him into a man, a soldier who craved the discipline and took great pride in the uniform. He did three tours in Vietnam, where he got shot and burned and briefly captured. His medals are on the wall of his study in the small home where I was raised. He lives there alone. My mother was killed by a drunk driver two years before I was indicted.

Henry travels to Frostburg once a month for a one-hour visit. He is retired with little to do, and he could visit once a week if he wanted. But he does not.

There are so many cruel twists in a long prison term. One is the feeling of being slowly forgotten by the world and by those you love and need. The mail, which arrived in bundles during the early months, gradually trickled down to one or two letters a week. Friends and family members who once seemed eager to visit have not been seen in years. My older brother, Marcus, drops in twice a year to kill an hour updating me on his latest problems. He has three teenagers, all at various stages of juvenile delinquency, plus a wife who's crazy. I guess I have no problems after all. In spite of his chaotic life, I enjoy the visits. Marcus has been mimicking Richard Pryor his entire life, and every word he utters is funny. We usually laugh the entire hour as he rails against his children. My younger sister, Ruby, lives on the West Coast, and I see her once a year. She dutifully writes me a letter every week, and I treasure these. I have a distant cousin who served seven years for armed robbery - I was his lawyer - and he comes to see me twice a year because I visited him when he was in prison.

After three years here, I often go months without a visitor, except for my father. The Bureau of Prisons tries to place its inmates within five hundred miles of home. I'm lucky in that Winchester is so close, but it might as well be a thousand miles away. I have several childhood friends who've never made the drive and a few others whom I haven't heard from in two years. Most of my former lawyer friends are too busy. My running buddy in law school writes once every other month but can't quite squeeze in a visit. He lives in Washington, a hundred fifty miles to the east, where he claims to work seven days a week in a big law firm. My best pal from the Marine Corps lives in Pittsburgh, two hours away, and he's been to Frostburg exactly once.

I suppose I should be thankful that my father makes the effort.

As always, he's sitting alone in the small visiting room with a brown paper sack on the table in front of him. It's either cookies or brownies from my Aunt Racine, his sister. We shake hands but do not embrace - Henry Bannister has never hugged another man in his life. He looks me over to make sure I have not gained weight and, as always, quizzes me about my daily routine. He has not gained a pound in forty years and can still fit into his Marine uniform. He's convinced that eating less means living longer, and Henry's afraid of dying young. His father and grandfather dropped dead in their late fifties. He walks five miles a day and thinks I should do the same. I have accepted the fact that he will never stop telling me how to live my life, incarcerated or not.

Hot Books
» A Court of Wings and Ruin (A Court of Thorn
» Anti-Stepbrother
» Empire of Storms (Throne of Glass #5)
» Sugar Daddies
» Royally Screwed (Royally #1)
» Egomaniac
» The Hating Game
» Salvatore: a Dark Mafia Romance (Standalone
» To Hate Adam Connor
» Wait for It
» Mischief and the Masters (Masters of the Sh
» How to Date a Douchebag: The Studying Hours
» Managed (VIP #2)
» The Chosen (Black Dagger Brotherhood #15)
» Womanizer (Manwhore #4)