The Appeal Chapter 2

Jeannette Baker was taken by her relatives back to Bowmore, her hometown twenty miles from the courthouse. She was weak from shock and sedated as usual, and she did not want to see a crowd and pretend to celebrate. The numbers represented a victory, but the verdict was also the end of a long, arduous journey. And her husband and little boy were still quite dead.

She lived in an old trailer with Bette, her stepsister, on a gravel road in a forlorn Bowmore neighborhood known as Pine Grove. Other trailers were scattered along other unpaved streets. Most of the cars and trucks parked around the trailers were decades old, unpainted and dented. There were a few homes of the permanent variety, immobile, anchored on slabs fifty years earlier, but they, too, were aging badly and showed signs of obvious neglect. There were few jobs in Bowmore and even fewer in Pine Grove, and a quick stroll along Jeannette's street would depress any visitor.

The news arrived before she did, and a small crowd was gathering when she got home.

They put her to bed, then they sat in the cramped den and whispered about the verdict and speculated about what it all meant.

Forty-one million dollars? How would it affect the other lawsuits? Would Krane be forced to clean up its mess? When could she expect to see some of the money? They were cautious not to dwell on this last question, but it was the dominant thought.

More friends arrived and the crowd spilled out of the trailer and onto a shaky wooden deck, where they pulled up lawn chairs and sat and talked in the cool air of the early evening. They drank bottled water and soft drinks. For a long-suffering people, the victory was sweet.

Finally, they had won. Something. They had struck back at Krane, a company they hated with every ounce of energy they could muster, and they had finally landed a retaliatory blow. Maybe the tide was turning. Somewhere out there beyond Bowmore someone had finally listened.

They talked about lawyers and depositions and the Environmental Protection Agency and the latest toxicology and geological reports. Though they were not well educated, they were fluent in the lingo of toxic waste and groundwater contamination and cancer clusters. They were living the nightmare.

Jeannette was awake in her dark bedroom, listening to the muffled conversations around her. She felt secure. These were her people, friends and family and fellow victims.

The bonds were tight, the suffering shared. And the money would be, too. If she ever saw a dime, she planned to spread it around.

As she stared at the dark ceiling, she was not overwhelmed by the verdict. Her relief at being finished with the ordeal of the trial far outweighed the thrill of winning.

She wanted to sleep for a week and wake up in a brand-new world with her little family intact and everyone happy and healthy. But, for the first time since she heard the verdict, she asked herself what, exactly, she might purchase with the award.

Dignity. A dignified place to live and a dignified place to work. Somewhere else of course. She would move away from Bowmore and Cary County and its polluted rivers and streams and aquifers. Not far, though, because everyone she loved lived nearby. But she dreamed of a new life in a new house with clean water running through it, water that did not stink and stain and cause sickness and death.

She heard another car door slam shut, and she was grateful for her friends. Perhaps she should fix her hair and venture out to say hello. She stepped into the tiny bathroom next to her bed, turned on the light, turned on the faucet at the sink, then sat on the edge of the tub and stared at the stream of grayish water running into the dark stains of the fake-porcelain bowl.

It was fit for flushing human waste, nothing else. The pumping station that produced the water was owned by the City of Bowmore, and the city itself prohibited the drinking of its own water. Three years earlier the council had passed a resolution urging the citizens to use it only for flushing. Warning signs were posted in every public restroom. "DON'T DRINK THE WATER, by Order of the City Council." Clean water was trucked in from Hattiesburg, and every home in Bowmore, mobile and otherwise, had a five-gallon tank and dispenser. Those who could afford it had hundred-gallon reservoirs mounted on stilts near their back porches. And the nicest homes had cisterns for rainwater.

Water was a daily challenge in Bowmore. Every cup was contemplated, fussed over, and used sparingly because the supply was uncertain. And every drop that entered or touched a human body came from a bottle that came from a source that had been inspected and certified. Drinking and cooking were easy compared with bathing and cleaning. Hygiene was a struggle, and most of the women of Bowmore wore their hair short. Many of the men wore beards.

The water was legendary. Ten years earlier, the city installed an irrigation system for its youth baseball field, only to watch the grass turn brown and die. The city swimming pool was closed when a consultant tried treating the water with massive amounts of chlorine, only to watch it turn brackish and reek like a sewage pit. When the Methodist church burned, the firemen realized, during a losing battle, that the water, pumped from an untreated supply, was having an incendiary effect. Years before that, some residents of Bowmore suspected the water caused tiny cracks in the paint of their automobiles after a few wash jobs.

And we drank the stuff for years, Jeannette said to herself. We drank it when it started to stink. We drank it when it changed colors. We drank it while we complained bitterly to the city. We drank it after it was tested and the city assured us it was safe. We drank it after we boiled it. We drank it in our coffee and tea, certain the heat would cure it. And when we stopped drinking it, we showered and bathed in it and inhaled its steam.

What were we supposed to do? Gather at the well each morning like the ancient Egyptians and carry it home in pots on our heads? Sink our own wells at $2,000 a hole and find the same putrid mix the city had found? Drive to Hattiesburg and find a spare tap and haul it back in buckets?

She could hear the denials-those from long ago when the experts pointed at their charts and lectured the city council and the mob packed into a crowded boardroom, telling them over and over that the water had been tested and was just fine if properly cleansed with massive doses of chlorine. She could hear the fancy experts Krane Chemical had brought in at trial to tell the jury that, yes, there may have been some minor "leakage" over the years at the Bowmore plant, but not to worry because bichloronylene and other "unauthorized" substances had actually been absorbed by the soil and eventually carried away in an underground stream that posed no threat whatsoever to the town's drinking water. She could hear the government scientists with their lofty vocabularies talk down to the people and assure them that the water they could barely stand to smell was fine to drink.

Denials all around as the body count rose. Cancer struck everywhere in Bowmore, on every street, in almost every family. Four times the national average. Then six times, then ten. At her trial, an expert hired by the Paytons explained to the jury that for the geographical area as defined by the Bowmore city limits, the rate of cancer was fifteen times the national average.

There was so much cancer that they got themselves studied by all manner of public and private researchers. The term "cancer cluster" became common around town, and Bowmore was radioactive. A clever magazine journalist labeled Cary County as Cancer County, U.S.A., and the nickname stuck.

Cancer County, U.S.A. The water placed quite a strain on the Bow-more Chamber of Commerce. Economic development disappeared, and the town began a rapid decline.

Jeannette turned off the tap, but the water was still there, unseen in the pipes that ran unseen through the walls and into the ground somewhere underneath her. It was always there, waiting like a stalker with unlimited patience. Quiet and deadly, pumped from the earth so polluted by Krane Chemical.

She often lay awake at night listening for the water somewhere in the walls.

A dripping faucet was treated like an armed prowler.

She brushed her hair with little purpose, once again tried not to look at herself too long in the mirror, then brushed her teeth with water from a jug that was always on the sink. She flipped on the light to her room, opened the door, forced a smile, then stepped into the cramped den, where her friends were packed around the walls.

It was time for church.

Mr. Trudeau's car was a black Bentley with a black chauffeur named Toliver who claimed to be Jamaican, though his immigration documents were as suspicious as his affected Caribbean accent. Toliver had been driving the great man for a decade and could read his moods. This was a bad one, Toliver determined quickly as they fought the traffic along the FDR toward midtown. The first signal had been clearly delivered when Mr. Trudeau slammed the right rear door himself before a lunging Toliver could fulfill his duties.

His boss, he had read, could have nerves of cold steel in the boardroom. Unflappable, decisive, calculating, and so on. But in the solitude of the backseat, even with the privacy window rolled up as tightly as possible, his real character often emerged. The man was a hothead with a massive ego who hated to lose.

And he had definitely lost this one. He was on the phone back there, not yelling but certainly not whispering. The stock would crash. The lawyers were fools. Everyone had lied to him. Damage control. Toliver caught only pieces of what was being said, but it was obvious whatever happened down there in Mississippi had been disastrous.

His boss was sixty-one years old and, according to Forbes, had a net worth of almost $2 billion. Toliver often wondered, how much was enough?

What would he do with another billion, then another? Why work so hard when he had more than he could ever spend? Homes, jets, wives, boats, Bentleys, all the toys a real white man could ever want.

But Toliver knew the truth. No amount of money could ever satisfy Mr. Trudeau. There were bigger men in town, and he was running hard to catch them.

Toliver turned west on Sixty-third and inched his way to Fifth, where he turned suddenly and faced a set of thick iron gates that quickly swung back. The Bentley disappeared underground, where it stopped and a security guard stood waiting. He opened the rear door. "We'll leave in an hour," Mr. Trudeau barked in Toliver's general direction, then disappeared, carrying two thick briefcases.

The elevator raced up sixteen levels to the top, where Mr. and Mrs. Trudeau lived in lavish splendor. Their penthouse rambled over the top two floors and looked out from its many giant windows at Central Park. They had purchased the place for $28 million shortly after their momentous wedding six years earlier, then spent another $ 10 million or so bringing it up to designer-magazine quality. The overhead included two maids, a chef, a butler, his and hers valets, at least one nanny, and of course the obligatory personal assistant to keep Mrs. Trudeau properly organized and at lunch on time.

A valet took his briefcases and overcoat as he flung them off. He bounded up the stairs to the master suite, looking for his wife. He had no real desire to see her at the moment, but their little rituals were expected.

She was in her dressing room, a hairdresser on each side, both working feverishly on her straight blond hair.

"Hello, darling," he said dutifully, more for the benefit of the hairdressers, both young males who seemed not the least bit affected by the fact that she was practically nude.

"Do you like my hair?" Brianna asked, glaring at the mirror as the boys stroked and fussed, all four hands doing something. Not, "How was your day?" Not, "Hello, dear."

Not, "What happened with the trial?" Just simply, "Do you like my hair?"

"It's lovely," he said, already backing away. Ritual complete, he was free to go and leave her with her handlers. He stopped at their massive bed and looked at her evening gown-"Valentino," she had already advised him. It was bright red with a plunging neckline that might or might not adequately cover her fantastic new breasts. It was short, almost sheer, probably weighed less than two ounces, and probably cost at least $25,000. It was a size 2, which meant it would sufficiently drape and hang on her emaciated body so the other anorexics at the party would drool in mock admiration at how "fit" she looked. Frankly, Carl was growing weary of her obsessive routines: an hour a day with a trainer ($300 per), an hour of one-on-one yoga ($300 per), an hour a day with a nutritionist ($200 per), all in an effort to burn off every last fat cell in her body and keep her weight between ninety and ninety-five pounds. She was always ready for sex-that was part of the deal-but now he sometimes worried about getting poked with a hip bone or simply crushing her in the pile. She was only thirty-one, but he had noticed a wrinkle or two just above her nose. Surgery could fix the problems, but wasn't she paying a price for all this aggressive starvation?

He had more important things to worry about. A young, gorgeous wife was just one part of his magnificent persona, and Brianna Trudeau could still stop traffic.

They had a child, one that Carl could easily have foregone. He already had six, plenty, he reasoned. Three were older than Brianna. But she insisted, and for obvious reasons.

A child was security, and since she was married to a man who loved ladies and adored the institution of marriage, the child meant family and ties and roots and, left unsaid, legal complications in the event things unraveled. A child was the protection every trophy wife needed.

Brianna delivered a girl and selected the hideous name of Sadler MacGregor Trudeau, MacGregor being Brianna's maiden name and Sadler being pulled from the air. She at first claimed Sadler had been a roguish Scottish relative of some variety, but abandoned that little fiction when Carl stumbled across a book of baby names. He really didn't care. The child was his by DNA only. He had already tried the father bit with prior families and had failed miserably.

Sadler was now five and had virtually been abandoned by both parents. Brianna, once so heroic in her efforts to become a mother, had quickly lost interest in things maternal and had delegated her duties to a series of nannies. The current one was a thick young woman from Russia whose papers were as dubious as Toliver's. Carl could not, at that moment, remember her name. Brianna hired her and was thrilled because she spoke Russian and could perhaps pass on the language to Sadler.

"What language did you expect her to speak?" Carl had asked.

But Brianna had no response.

He stepped into the playroom, swooped up the child as if he couldn't wait to see her, exchanged hugs and kisses, asked how her day had been, and within minutes managed a graceful escape to his office, where he grabbed a phone and began yelling at Bobby Ratzlalf.

After a few fruitless calls, he showered, dried his perfectly dyed hair, half-gray and got himself into his newest Armani tux. The waistband was a bit snug, probably a 34, up an inch from the early days when Brianna stalked him around the penthouse.

As he dressed himself, he cursed the evening ahead and the party and the people he would see there. They would know. At that very moment, the news was racing around the financial world. Phones were buzzing as his rivals roared with laughter and gloated over Krane's misfortune. The Internet was bursting with the latest from Mississippi.

For any other party, he, the great Carl Trudeau, would simply call in sick. Every day of his life he did whatever he damned well pleased, and if he decided to rudely skip a party at the last minute, what the hell? But this was not just any event.

Brianna had wormed her way onto the board of the Museum of Abstract Art, and tonight was their biggest blowout. There would be designer gowns, tummy tucks and stout new breasts, new chins and perfect tans, diamonds, champagne, foie gras, caviar, dinner by a celebrity chef, a silent auction for the pinch hitters and a live auction for the sluggers. And, most important, there would be cameras on top of cameras, enough to convince the elite guests that they and only they were the center of the world.

Oscar night, eat your heart out.

The highlight of the evening, at least for some, would be the auctioning of a work of art. Each year the committee commissioned an "emerging" painter or sculptor to create something just for the event, and usually forked over a million bucks or so for the result. Last year's painting had been a bewildering rendering of a human brain after a gunshot, and it went for six mill. This year's item was a depressing pile of black clay with bronze rods rising into the vague outline of a young girl.

It bore the mystifying title Abused Itnelda and would have sat neglected in a gallery in Duluth if not for the sculptor, a tortured Argentine genius rumored to be on the verge of suicide, a sad fate that would instantly double the value of his creations, something that was not lost on savvy New York art investors. Brianna had left brochures around the penthouse and had dropped several hints to the effect that Abused Imelda would be stunning in their foyer, just off the elevator entrance.

Carl knew he was expected to buy the damned thing and was hoping there would not be a frenzy. And if he became its owner, he was already hoping for a quick suicide.

She and Valentino appeared from the dressing room. The hair boys were gone, and she had managed to get into the gown and the jewelry all by herself. "Fabulous," Carl said, and it was indeed true. In spite of the bones and ribs, she was still a beautiful woman. The hair very much resembled what he had seen at six that morning when he kissed her goodbye as she sipped her coffee. Now, a thousand dollars later, he could tell little difference.

Oh, well. He knew very well the price of trophies. The prenuptial gave her $ 100,000 a month to play with while married and twenty million when they split. She also got Sadler with liberal visitation for the father, if he so chose.

In the Bentley, they hurried from beneath the apartment building and were onto Fifth Avenue when Brianna said, "Oh, my, I forgot to kiss Sadler. What kind of mother am I?"

"She's fine," Carl said, who likewise had failed to say good night to the child.

"I feel awful," Brianna said, feigning disgust. Her full-length black Prada coat was split so that the backseat was dominated by her amazing legs. Legs from the floor up to her armpits. Legs unadorned by hosiery or clothing or anything whatsoever.

Legs for Carl to see and admire and touch and fondle and she really didn't care if Toliver had a good look, either. She was on display, as always.

Carl rubbed them because they felt nice, but he wanted to say something like "These things are beginning to resemble broomsticks."

He let it pass.

"Any word from the trial?" she finally asked.

"The jury nailed us," he said.

"I'm so sorry."

"We're fine."

"How much?"

"Forty-one million."

"Those ignorant people."

Carl told her little about the complicated and mysterious world of the Trudeau Group.

She had her charities and causes and lunches and trainers, and that kept her busy.

He didn't want and didn't tolerate too many questions.

Brianna had checked online and knew exactly what the jury decided. She knew what the lawyers were saying about the appeal, and she knew Krane's stock would take a major hit early the next morning. She did her research and kept her secret notes.

She was gorgeous and thin, but she was not stupid. Carl was on the phone.

The MuAb building was a few blocks south, between Fifth and Madison. As the traffic inched closer, they could see the popping flashes of a hundred cameras. Brianna perked up, crunched her perfect abs, brought her new additions to attention, and said, "God, I hate those people."


"All those photographers."

He snickered at the obvious lie. The car stopped and an attendant in a tuxedo opened the door as the cameras swung to the black Bentley. The great Carl Trudeau popped out without a smile, then the legs followed. Brianna knew precisely how to give the photographers, and thus the gossip pages and maybe, just maybe, a fashion magazine or two, what they wanted-miles of sensuous flesh without revealing everything. The right foot landed first, shoed with Jimmy Choo at a hundred bucks per toe, and as she expertly swung around, the coat opened and Valentino cooperated upward and the whole world saw the real benefit of being a billionaire and owning a trophy.

Arm in arm they glided across the red carpet, waving at the photographers and ignoring the handful of reporters, one of whom had the audacity to yell, "Hey, Carl, any comment on the verdict in Mississippi?" Carl of course did not hear, or pretended not to.

But his pace quickened slightly and they were soon inside, on somewhat safer turf.

He hoped. They were greeted by paid greeters; coats were taken; smiles were offered; friendly cameras appeared; old pals materialized; and they were soon lost in the warm cluster of seriously rich people pretending to enjoy one another's company.

Brianna found her soul mate, another anorexic trophy with the same unusual body-everything superbly starved but the ridiculous breasts. Carl went straight for the bar, and almost made it before he was practically tackled by the one jerk he hoped to avoid.

"Carl, ole boy, bad news down south I hear," the man boomed as loudly as possible.

"Yes, very bad," Carl said in a much lower voice as he grabbed a champagne flute and began to drain it.

Pete Flint was number 228 on the Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans. Carl was number 310, and each man knew exactly where the other fit on the roster. Numbers 87 and 141 were also in the crowd, along with a host of unranked contenders.

"Thought your boys had things under control," Flint pressed on, slurping a tall glass full of either scotch or bourbon. He somehow managed a frown while working hard to conceal his delight.

"Yes, we thought so, too," Carl said, wishing he could slap the fat jowls twelve inches away.

"What about the appeal?" Flint asked gravely.

"We're in great shape."

At last year's auction, Flint had valiantly hung on to the frenzied end and walked away with the Brain After Gunshot, a $6 million artistic waste but one that launched the MuAb's current capital campaign. No doubt he would be in the hunt for tonight's grand prize.

"Good thing we shorted Krane last week," he said.

Carl started to curse him but kept his cool. Flint ran a hedge fund famous for its daring. Had he really shorted Krane Chemical in anticipation of a bad verdict? Carl's puzzled glare concealed nothing.

"Oh yes," Flint went on, pulling on his glass and smacking his lips. "Our man down there said you were screwed."

"We'll never pay a dime," Carl said gamely.

"You'll pay in the morning, ole boy. We're betting Krane's stock drops 20 percent."

And with that he turned and walked away, leaving Carl to finish off his drink and lunge for another. Twenty percent? Carl's laser-quick mind did the math. He owned 45 percent of the outstanding common shares of Krane Chemical, a company with a market value of $3.2 billion, based on the day's closing price. A 20 percent decline would cost him 1280 million, on paper. No real cash losses, of course, but still a rough day around the office.

Ten percent was more like it, he thought. The boys in finance agreed with him.

Could Flint 's hedge fund short a significant chunk of Krane's stock without Carl knowing about it? He stared at a confused bartender and pondered the question. Yes, it was possible, but not likely. Flint was simply rubbing a little salt.

The museum's director appeared from nowhere, and Carl was delighted to see him. He would never mention the verdict, if he in fact knew about it. He would say only nice things to Carl, and of course he would comment on how fabulous Brianna looked. He would ask about Sadler and inquire into the renovation of their home in the Hamptons.

They chatted about such things as they carried their drinks through the crowded lobby, dodging little pockets of dangerous conversations, and settled themselves before Abused Imelda. "Magnificent, isn't it?" the director mused.

"Beautiful," Carl said, glancing to his left as number 141 happened by. "What will it go for?"

"We've been debating that all day around here. Who knows with this crowd. I say at least five million."

"And what's it worth?"

The director smiled as a photographer snapped their picture. "Now, that's an entirely different issue, isn't it? The sculptor's last major work was sold to a Japanese gentleman for around two million. Of course, the Japanese gentleman was not donating large sums of money to our little museum."

Carl took another sip and acknowledged the game. MuAb's campaign goal was $100 million over five years. According to Brianna, they were about halfway there and needed a big boost from the evening's auction.

An art critic with the Times introduced himself and joined their conversation. Wonder if he knows about the verdict, Carl thought. The critic and the director discussed the Argentine sculptor and his mental problems as Carl studied Imelda and asked himself if he really wanted it permanently situated in the foyer of his luxurious penthouse.

His wife certainly did.

Prev page Next page