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Freshly annointed as scribe for the group, I sat where Mister pointed with the gun and clutched the faxes. My buddies had been standing for almost two hours, backs to the wall, still joined together, barely able to move, and they were beginning to slouch and slump and look miserable.
But their level of discomfort was about to rise significantly.
"You first," he said to me. "What's your name?"
"Michael Brock," I answered politely. Nice to meet you.
"How much money did you make last year?"
"I've already told you. A hundred and twenty thousand. Before taxes."
"How much did you give away?"
I was certain I could lie. I was not a tax lawyer, but I was confident I could dance around his questions. I found my 1040 and took my time flipping through the pages. Claire had earned thirty-one thousand dollars as a second-year surgical resident, so our gross income looked quite handsome. But we paid fifty-three thousand in taxes-federal income and an amazing variety of others-and after repayment of student loans, Claire's educational expenses, twenty-four hundred a month for a very nice apartment in Georgetown, two late-model cars with the obligatory mortgages, and a host of other costs naturally related to a comfortable lifestyle, we had invested only twenty-two thousand in mutual funds.
Mister was waiting patiently. In fact, his patience was beginning to unnerve me. I assumed that the SWAT boys were crawling in the air vents, climbing nearby trees, scampering across the roofs of buildings next door, looking at blueprints of our offices, doing all the things you see on TV with the goal of somehow placing a bullet through his skull, and he seemed oblivious to it. He had accepted his fate and was ready to die. Not true for the rest of us.
He continually toyed with the red wire, and that kept my heart rate over a hundred.
"I gave a thousand dollars to Yale," I said. "And two thousand to the local United Way."
"How much did you give to poor people?"
I doubted if the Yale money went to feed needy students. "Well, the United Way spreads the money around the city, and I'm sure some of it went to help the poor."
"How much did you give to the hungry?"
"I paid fifty-three thousand dollars in taxes, and a nice chunk of it went for welfare, Medicaid, aid to dependent children, stuff like that."
"And you did this voluntarily, with a giving spirit?"
"I didn't complain," I said, lying like most of my countrymen.
"Have you ever been hungry?"
He liked simple answers, and my wit and sarcasm would not be productive. "No," I said. "I have not."
"Have you ever slept in the snow?"
"You make a lot of money, yet you're too greedy to hand me some change on the sidewalk." He waved the gun at the rest of them. "All of you. You walk right by me as I sit and beg. You spend more on fancy coffee than I do on meals. Why can't you help the poor, the sick, the homeless? You have so much."
I caught myself looking at those greedy bastards along with Mister, and it was not a pretty sight. Most were staring at their feet. Only Rafter glared down the table, thinking the thoughts all of us had when we stepped over the Misters of D.C.: If I give you some change you'll (1) run to the liquor store, (2) only beg more, (3) never leave the sidewalk.
Silence again. A helicopter hovered nearby, and I could only imagine what they were planning in the parking lot. Pursuant to Mister's instructions, the phone lines were on hold, so there was no communication. He had no desire to talk to or negotiate with anyone. He had his audience in the conference room.
"Which of these guys makes the most money?" he asked me.
Malamud was the only partner, and I shuffled the papers until I found his.
"That would be me," Malamud offered.
"What is your name?"
I flipped through Nate's return. It was a rare moment to see the intimate details of a partner's success, but I got no pleasure from it.
"How much?" Mister asked me.
Oh, the joys of the IRS code. What would you like, sir? Gross? Adjusted gross? Net? Taxable? Income from salaries and wages? Or income from business and investments?
Malamud's salary from the firm was fifty thousand dollars a month, and his annual bonus, the one we all dreamed about, was five hundred and ten thousand. It had been a very good year, and we all knew it. He was one of many partners who had earned over a million dollars.
I decided to play it safe. There was lots of other income tucked away near the back of the return-rental properties, dividends, a small business-but I guessed that if Mister somehow grabbed the return he would struggle with the numbers.
"One point one million," I said, leaving another two hundred thousand on the table.
He contemplated this for a moment. "You made a million dollars," he said to Malamud, who wasn't the least bit ashamed of it.
"Yes, I did."
"How much did you give to the hungry, and the homeless?"
I was already scouring his itemized deductions for the truth.
"I don't recall exactly. My wife and I give to a lot of charities. I know there was a donation, I think for five thousand, to the Greater D.C. Fund, which, as I'm sure you know, distributes money to the needy. We give a lot. And we're happy to do it."
"I'm sure you're very happy," Mister replied, with the first hint of sarcasm.
He wasn't about to allow us to explain how generous we really were. He simply wanted the hard facts. He instructed me to list all nine names, and beside each write last year's income, then last year's gifts to charities.
It took some time, and I didn't know whether to hurry or be deliberate. Would he slaughter us if he didn't like the math? Perhaps I shouldn't hurry. It was immediately obvious that we rich folks had made lots of money while handing over precious little of it. At the same time, I knew the longer the situation dragged on, the crazier the rescue scenarios would become.
He hadn't mentioned executing a hostage every hour. He didn't want his buddies freed from jail. He didn't seem to want anything, really.
I took my time. Malamud set the pace. The rear was brought up by Colburn, a third-year associate who grossed a mere eighty-six thousand. I was dismayed to learn my pal Barry Nuzzo earned eleven thousand more than I did. We would discuss it later.
"If you round it off, it comes to three million dollars," I reported to Mister, who appeared to be napping again, with his fingers still on the red wire.
He slowly shook his head. "And how much for the poor people?"
"Total contributions of one hundred eighty thousand."
"I don't want total contributions. Don't put me and my people in the same class with the symphony and the synagogue, and all your pretty white folks clubs where you auction wine and autographs and give a few bucks to the Boy Scouts. I'm talking about food. Food for hungry people who live here in the same city you live in. Food for little babies. Right here. Right in this city, with all you people making millions, we got little babies starving at night, crying 'cause they're hungry. How much for food?"
He was looking at me. I was looking at the papers in front of me. I couldn't lie.
He continued. "We got soup kitchens all over town, places where the poor and homeless can get something to eat. How much money did you folks give to the soup kitchens? Any?"
"Not directly," I said. "But some of these charities-"
He waved the damned gun again.
"How about homeless shelters? Places we sleep when it's ten degrees outside. How many shelters are listed there in those papers?"
Invention failed me. "None," I said softly.
He jumped to his feet, startling us, the red sticks fully visible under the silver duct tape. He kicked his chair back. "How 'bout clinics? We got these little clinics where doctors-good decent people who used to make lots of money-come and donate their time to help the sick. They don't charge nothing. Government used to help pay the rent, help buy the medicine and supplies. Now the government's run by Newt and all the money's gone. How much do you give to the clinics?"
Rafter looked at me as if I should do something, perhaps suddenly see something in the papers and say, "Damn! Look here! We gave half a million bucks to the clinics and soup kitchens."
That's exactly what Rafter would do. But not me. I didn't want to get shot.
About the book:
Micheal Brock is a rising star at Drake & Sweeney, a giant Washington law firm. He has no time to waste, no time to toss a few coins into the hands of beggars. No time for a conscience. But a chance violent encounter with a homeless man stops him cold. The fallout propels him onto a trail of corruption and illegality which leads straight back to Drake & Sweeney.
Grisham does it again, concocting a fast-paced thriller with a spellbinding introduction and a heart-stopping climax.