'Jabulon,' he said.
'Jabu-who?' I asked.
'Jabulon,' Russel Orbach repeated like he was telling me the time of day.
'And who, when he's at home, is Jabulon?'
'You asked me - or would have done so if you knew anything about grammar: of whom is Andrew Mather more frightened than his father, and I am telling you - Jabulon.'
We were at Frederick's Restaurant on Camden Passage in Islington, in the downstairs, glassed-in garden room, and I was paying.
Two questions spring immediately to mind. The first is why we were in Frederick's, rather than my usual eatery in North London, M'sieur Frog's. The food at Fred's is twice as expensive, and because the cuisine is nouvelle you only get half as much. The answer is that I was foolish enough to invite Orbach to name the place for our meet and he had the sense to make it cost.
Which leads to the second question. Why was I dining with my arch-bogeyman - if not enemy - Russel Orbach? The answer is somewhat more complicated than to the first question. I have to go a little way back in time to explain. At least as far back as the morning I attended on Ian Mather - Iron Ian as he is known throughout the legal profession in which his stature is about as near to the top as mine is to the bottom - at his office off High Holborn.
I could see why they called him Iron Ian. His manner was as flexible as a rigid steel girder. He sat across a desk bigger than the bed platform in my Earl's Court basement apartment, where between jobs I spend the greater part of my life. It took me several minutes to cross the office after I was ushered in by his secretary's legs. But apart from the leather desk set, the desk was entirely empty of files or documents; only that morning's Times lay on it, at an angle so true it must have been set in place with a t-square.
'Did you know?' He asked by way of opening greeting, turning The Times around so that I didn't need to read it upside down, and pointing to a two inch column towards the bottom of the front page.
'I heard,' I said.
I'd heard the night before, when Sandy rang to tell me. Once upon a time, Sandy Nicholl and I were partners in a law firm in north London. Nicholl & Co, not Nicholl & Woolf. Once upon another time, she kicked my butt out of the office so hard it took me several years to pick myself up out of the gutter I landed in. I bore no grudges. She was right. I was doing myself more harm than the firm. My specialism was defending drug dealers; I liked to get paid in kind.
In the middle of the Disraeli Chambers' case, we'd re-encountered, not entirely coincidentally, and she'd jolted me with an altogether different kind of shock: we became lovers and so had remained, on and off, since. At the time of her call, we were off, and its subject-matter had quite a lot to do with why.
The article began:
'The body of a woman solicitor was discovered by staff arriving yesterday morning at the Holborn offices of the prestigious London solicitors, Mather's. Katrina Pankhurst, 32, had been shot. Police are investigating.'
The article was accompanied by a photograph, ten years old, probably the formal picture taken at the admission ceremony. I'd read another paper already that morning, The Times' sister-paper, The Sun. They had somehow obtained a more recent, holiday snapshot, and published a picture of Katrina Pankhurst in a bikini.
Katrina. Kat, I used to call her, sometimes to her annoyance. Hanky Pankhurst on other, less public occasions, when she wasn't in a position to deny it. For a few months, now about seven or eight years ago, Katrina had been employed by Nicholl &- Co as a locum for an assistant solicitor on maternity leave. She had done her training at Mather's; in short order married, quit work and separated; after she left us she went back to Mather's. During her stay with us we had, in a desultory fashion, been lovers. Our affair ended the day she returned to Mather's.
I waited for Mather to continue. I had been summonsed the previous afternoon, with a letter hand-delivered by a uniformed flunky carrying a bright red leather bag. He stood at my basement door, hesitating at the vision of me unshaven, bleary-eyed, hungover and still not dressed:
'Mr Woolf?' he asked doubtfully.
I mumbled ambiguously. He might have been a debt collector, though most of those from whom I borrow money don't employ uniforms to get it back. More like animals.
'Mr David Woolf?' he repeated.
'I guess. Whaddayawant?'
'I have a letter for you, sir, from Mr Mather, from Mr Ian Mather.'
I got the point. God wanted my attention. I held out a hand and, reluctantly, he passed it over. I started to shut the door in his face, but he shook his head:
'I'm to take an answer back, sir.'
I felt like telling him to bottle my bad breath and take that back to his lord and master. But most of the reason my breath was bad was booze, and most of the reason I was drinking was because I didn't have money to eat. I ripped open the envelope to see what Mather wanted. I read that he required to see me, on a professional matter, the following morning at nine o'clock. I was invited to confirm to the bearer that this would be convenient.
Convenient it wasn't. At nine in the morning, I am largely incapable of coherence. Like Tallulah Bankhead, I hardly knew there were two nine o'clocks in the day. The most I can normally manage is to roll off my bed, hang onto the railing to stop myself falling off the balcony, slide down the ship's-pitch steps and try to stay upright until I reach the lavatory. I re-read the letter. I hadn't imagined it. There was definitely a reference to a professional matter. As reluctantly as the messenger had handed me the letter, I conceded that I could keep the appointment.
I promptly went back to bed. It wasn't that I needed more sleep, even in anticipation of an early start the next day. More that I had nothing else to do. My last case had ended abruptly when I'd informed my client that the man his wife was sleeping with was a considerable improvement. I hate sex-snooping almost as much as I hate serving summonses. With divorce available from mail-order catalogues, you'd think no one would care anymore: but they still want to know who. That was a month before, and I hadn't worked since.
I lay in bed with my arms folded behind my head on the pillow. What could Ian Mather want with me? A firm like Mather's has a couple of the larger investigative outfits on retainer, and its pick of all the rest. Its clients were rich enough to afford the biggest and best. Mather himself was believed to be so powerful he could use the police as an alternative, even if no crime was involved. He was a sometime freemason, a member of the governing board of the United Grand Lodge of England and Wales, the central body of freemasonry throughout the English-speaking world.
If that wasn't enough, the firm's principal client was Sterling Latimer: Latimer International, Latimer Communications, Latimer Chemicals and Pharmaceuticals, Latimer Computers, Latimer this, that and anything that people can be seduced to spend money on. Most Latimer subsidiaries were so powerful that they constituted a significant economic influence in their individual areas of operation. When Latimer called, so they said, the marshalls of democracy, the captains of industry and the colonels of military juntae alike came running. Though an American, Latimer had made his first millions in this country, before returning in triumph to buy up most of his native land. What could Ian Mather want with me?
While I waited for him to explain, I withdrew a pack of Camels from the pocket of my cracked leather jacket. Even I knew a leather jacket wasn't conventional wear for a visit to a man like Mather, but it was the only one I had apart from my suit, and that was still waiting to be cleaned after I fell into a puddle outside Lewis' night club on the Old Brompton Road after an otherwise spectacularly uneventful evening a couple of weeks before.
I'm not sure if I really enjoy Camels, but did you ever hear of a private eye smoking Silk Cut or Number Six?
'I'd rather you didn't smoke,' Mather said flatly, expecting to be obeyed.
'That's OK. It's been nice meeting you. We could do this more often, whaddayathink?' I got up and started the long, slow trek back out of his office, picking my feet one at a time out of the deep pile carpet. Between the cows that produced the leather furniture, and the sheep that grew the wool, Mather was keeping the animal kingdom pretty well occupied, if shorn.
I'd almost reached the door, believing my bluff had been called and silently cursing my stupid pride, when he snapped:
I didn't turn around. There was a word missing: please.
Instead, he used his intercom to tell his secretary to bring in an ashtray. I didn't tell him I didn't mind using the floor but waited for her to come in, so I could follow her across the room again, watching the way she moved and wondering if it was still possible to get it up at Ian's age. Though he didn't look it, I knew he was in his early seventies. Money's a great way to keep your health: I'd like to look that good at his age. As a matter of fact, I'd like to look that good now.
I sat down again. He was a clever man. He'd let me win the first round so that I wouldn't be so willing to gamble on the second. He brought his hands together in a spire and asked:
'What is it with your sort, Woolf?'
'What sort's that, Mather?'
'What is it you want, Mr Woolf?'
'You asked me to come to see you. I want you should tell me why. I want you should stop talking to me like I was a junior articled clerk. And I want you should tell me how much you're going to pay me.'
'I take it that last is the most important?'
Now I knew what sort I was. Whenever I meet anyone new, I have an irrational impulse to tell them I'm a Jew. An old Jew I once talked with about it explained that it wasn't pride, but self-defence. If you don't tell them straight out, they're bound to come out with something racist, and that's embarrassing because either you have to put up with it, which makes you feel like a coward, or provoke a hostile scene, which reinforces the image as excitable and aggressive. I should have listened to him and told Mather before we'd even begun.
We glowered at one another for a full minute. I hoped he had someone to charge for it because I was certainly going to make him pay me.
'I know about you, Mr Woolf. When this happened, yesterday, I called for Miss Pankhurst's personal file, and saw your name. She worked for you for a brief period. Your name was familiar, and I remembered it from the Disraeli Chambers' business.'
I remembered it from then too. I'd like to describe it as my biggest case, but the truth is it's the only big one I ever handled. A bunch of left-wing barristers were being offed, one by one and it took me from number three to number five to make the connections needed to bring it to an end. In my moments of fantasy - which means whenever I'm not asleep - I like to think of myself as the lawyers' investigator, the way some surgeons can be described as who doctors would choose to be operated on by.
'What happened?' he asked, apparently idly. Most of the true story never came out. Too many people would have been embarrassed: Russel Orbach, for example.
'What happened is what you read. The rest is privileged.'
He didn't argue. By accident, I'd given the answer that allowed him to open up:
'It's about Miss Pankhurst ... '
That much I'd worked out for myself: But all I said was:
'It was Mrs, actually. Pankhurst was the name of her first husband, while she was at university.' For that reason, she used to say, it didn't count. 'She got a great deal of mileage out of the name, but the big secret was, it wasn't her own to start with.'
He looked at me blankly. I don't think he got the point. I'm not even sure the name Pankhurst meant anything special to him at all. Women's suffrage was still a bit progressive for his taste. Apart from his own daughter - one of his four children in the firm - there were no women partners, nor of course Jews or blacks.
He cleared his throat:
'I want you, uh, to investigate, Mr Woolf. I want you to investigate her death.'
I paused to take it in. He was a pillar of the establishment, a believer through and through in all things English and Tory-blue. Granted, a member of his staff had died, and not of the heart-failure which comes with the pay-packet in a place as pressurized as Mather's. All the same, his only instinct ought to have been to leave the matter in the hands of the police.
'Why what, Mr Woolf? That is what you do, isn't it? Investigate?'
'Yeah, I guess. Sometimes. But why do you want me to investigate her death? That's what I'm asking.'
He swivelled around in his chair, so that his back was to me, and I heard him sighing as he stared out the bay window. When he turned round again, he looked like he'd aged a decade. The silver hair, each one laid in place by Prince Philip's barber, was now white, and maybe there weren't that many of them after all. He was slumped back in his chair. You could no longer line up the Coldstream Guards by the cut of his suit.
He coughed to clear his throat again:
'My sons, Mr Woolf. My sons are partners in this firm.'
'I know.' All the same, the name of the firm had remained Mather's, the apostrophe before the 's', not after it. It had never been Mather & Co, nor certainly Mather & anyone else. To write it as Mathers was near heresy.
He was having a hard time telling me. I decided to help him out: .
'Your sons are partners in this firm, and two of them had affairs with Katrina Pankhurst, right. You're worried how an investigation will impact on them. You're worried what comes out. You don't want me to investigate; you want me to shadow the police investigation, and protect your image.'
The blood had drained from his face when I told him I knew his sons had both, at different times I hasten to add, had affairs with Kat, and I don't think he heard the rest of what I said because all he asked was:
'How did you know?'
'It's my job, knowing things. That's why I don't think you really want to hire me, Mr Mather. Because I'm not into saving faces; I want to know who killed Kat, far worse than you do; I'd like to see them swing for it, but since we don't have the death penalty anymore, I'll settle for a minimum stretch of a quarter ton. If I start working for you, that's what I'm going to be trying to do, and if one of your sons is involved, that's what's going to happen to them.'
My speech contained a lot of bravado. But I meant some of it. At least the bit about wanting to see whoever killed Kat swing for it. I don't generally believe in the death penalty; people are pretty shitty anyhow, and most of us don't hang for it. But there's a small number of offences in which I have no doubt it's still essential: stealing from me, getting in my way and hurting my friends. I don't have much to steal, I don't go nowhere much, and I don't have so many friends I can afford to lose.
He began to catch up with me: .
'I said I knew about you, Mr Woolf, and I do.' He opened a drawer in the desk and withdrew a folder:
'This is your file,' he extracted a computer print-sheet.
'My file? I got a file at Mather's?' I was genuinely astonished.
'We keep files on everyone we can, Mr Woolf,' his lips twitched in what I'm fairly sure was an attempt to smile.
I'd never really understood before what they mean by advanced information technology. I thought maybe it just meant you got information at the touch of a button rather than a touch of a secretary; I'd rather remain old-fashioned, especially when they look like Ian Mather's.
Solicitors keep files, of course; case-files. The only reason a firm would retain a file on another solicitor would be if the solicitor in question was one of the parties to an action, not merely the opponent's representative. But I could see the value of storing information about how lawyers conducted themselves, their procedural weak points, their sharp tactics, their resources and contacts, their strengths and their Achilles' heels.
'What does it tell you, Mr Mather?'
He closed the file before he answered, to emphasize that he'd pre-read and absorbed it.
'It tells me you're a fighter. It tells me you never let go. It tells me you don't settle unless you never even had a case to begin with.' That was the good news. 'It tells me you did better by your clients than you did by yourself. It tells me your respect for the law was hardly greater than theirs. It tells me that if you hadn't left practice, you probably would have been thrown out of the profession.'
'I was,' I said: 'I didn't leave my practice, I was thrown out of it by my partner.'
'Yup. Sandy. We're good friends now, though. And Kat was a good friend. I saw her about a month ago.'
He nodded, understanding I had now told him how I knew about her and his sons.
'And what else did she tell you, Mr Woolf?'
"Most of what else is worrying you. In particular, she told me about the leaks.'
'Ah,' he expelled air. The worst was over. The thing he found most difficult of all to tell me was something I already knew.
A murder on the premises is bad news for a law-firm. It discourages clients. It's natural. After all, as the barristers at Disraeli Chambers had discovered, clients aren't keen to start off a case with a lawyer who is not expected to live to see it through. It also discourages recruits, which is damaging to a firm like Mather's with a large reputation, a lot of clients, but very few partners. They need new, young, salaried blood to put in the hours, charging for which keeps the profit-sharing partners in new carpets, cars and caviar. But a thorough professional would prefer a murder to a leak any day of the week. Even a client on legal aid - than whom there is no lower - doesn't want a solicitor who can't keep a secret. And Mather's clients' secrets are worth a lot more than those of a tenant confronting eviction or even a drug dealer confronting cold turkey and turnkey. Aside from Latimer - and that's a fairly hefty aside; Kat reckoned more than a million chargeable pounds a year - their clients included major banks, share-issuing public corporations, patent-owning engineering companies, every branch of the media, and on occasion the government itself.
The idea of Mather's as untrustworthy was about as absurd as suggesting that Prince Charles is a KGB agent. (I think I'm not allowed to say the Queen, even in jest. Mind you, if most of MIs 5 and 6 and the Queen's art adviser have at one time or another been in the pay of the alleged enemy, maybe the idea isn't that absurd after all).
But that was precisely what Katrina was suggesting when we met. It isn't what I'd been expecting to hear when she rang. Then, I thought maybe after all these years she'd finally realized what she'd been passing up, though that isn't what I said when I returned her call.
'Looking for work, huh?'
'Yes, sure,' she laughed: 'I'm really likely to give up a job at Mather's to come scavenge in the gutter with you.'
'What, then?' I waited optimistically, and wasn't too disappointed in her reply.
'Are you free to meet sometime soon?'
'I could make time. Any day between now and next year any good to you?' .
'Gee, I don't know, Dave. What about the year after? Next week? Monday evening?'
'Not re-married, I gather.' Only the unpartnered, and the very long married, volunteer an evening, and I've already explained that I knew she couldn't be the latter.
'Right. Nor looking to,' she put a damper on my hopes.
She wasn't a great looking woman. A bit overweight. Her hair was a mess and her dress sense was markedly inferior to her ability at law. But she was warm, and good company. We used to get stoned, go out to the late night supermarkets, stock up on sweet goodies to feed the munchies, and come back, usually to her place rather than mine, to settle in front of the fire and gradually undress the night away. I'd always thought, she knew what she liked and she knew how to get it.
We met in the Freemason's Arms on Longacre. Despite the name, they let women in. She was late and I was already a large Southern Comfort - no ice, no soda - ahead. She dumped her bag beside me and apologized:
'Sorry. Conference with counsel.'
A lot of people don't understand the English legal profession, and that includes a lot of lawyers. The profession is split into two. There are solicitors, who the client has to see first; but if a matter involves some extremely difficult legal task like looking up a bit of law, or has to go to court, the solicitor instructs a barrister to advise or represent. They're the ones with the fancy wigs and funny collars. It's a very cosy relationship, which means the punter has to pay for two lawyers when he probably doesn't even need one: the solicitor who rips him off in the office, and the barrister who sells him out in court.
Conferences with counsel happen at the end of the day. The client and the solicitor trek down to the Temple, where most of the barristers in London work; so that the barrister can find out what a case is about before he actually stands up to present or defend it in court, usually the next morning. With two lawyers in attendance, both paid by the hour, conferences invariably take twice as long as they ought.
Kat gestured at my drink:
'When did I ever say no? Besides, you've already told me there's no point staying sober.'
She pulled a face:
'Still as obvious as ever, Woolf.'
'I wouldn't like to disappoint.' I swallowed the last of my drink and handed her the glass, watching her disappear into the after-work throng and re-emerge efficiently, with a refill for me and a gin and tonic for herself.
She had changed. She looked good. She'd lost weight, her hair was expensively coiffeured, and I guess she spent more of that Mather money on clothes than she used to spend of Sandy's and mine. But, then, there was much more of it to spend. Mather's - for all the Scots influence in the firm - paid well: that's how they managed to keep their salaried solicitors without offering too many of them partnerships.
We bantered good-naturedly while she unwound, swapping names and gossip. She asked about Disraeli Chambers and I told her a whole lot more than later I was to tell her boss. I asked if she ever briefed them:
'No way. They're far too left-wing for Mather's.'
'What about Orbach?' He was already an ex-member when I was involved. Indeed, his efforts had been directed towards making many more of them ex-: ex-members and ex-humans. Orbach was a Queen's Counsel, which is a senior barrister and a mark of considerable success, professional and financial. She shook her head:
'You have to be a card-carrying Tory or a freemason - preferably both - to screw a brief out of Mather's.'
'But not to be employed there?' I doubted she would have joined the Tory party: it already had one female star and she didn't like competition. And the freemasons don't have women members.
'To get to be partner. Anyway, I'm friendly with most of the children so I guess I'm protected.'
'How many are there?' At that time, I knew only that Mather's was, above all else, a family fiefdom, but I didn't know any of the details.
'Four,' she told me, listing them briefly. The oldest was Randolph, then came Martin, then - in age but, on account of her sex, not next in the pecking order of the firm's hierarchy - Allison Mather Hoyt, and finally the spoiled brat of the family, Andrew.
'Are they all in London?' Mather's had three provincial offices: Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol, serving the north, the midlands and the west of England. I'd read an article about the way they had linked the offices up to share resources, using computers and other technological innovations I didn't begin to understand.
The article was in the Law Society's Gazette, the journal of the profession's governing organization, on the principal committee of which Ian Mather had also served, and on sub-committees of which some of his children still sat. I read it not because I was interested in technology, but because - like everyone else - I'm fascinated by power and by how the rich spend their money.
She confirmed that all the children were in London:
'So's John Gauldie. He's the second partner. He and Ian have been together for ever.' The firm had been founded by Mather shortly after the Second World War. He had had, as they used to say, a good war; he had served his country proud, and his country was going to serve him proudly back. His father was a Scots industrialist and that for which Mather's was earliest known was the way Ian had put his father's money into resources and facilities long before the rest of the profession reluctantly shrugged off the habits of the last century and caught up with this. In this respect, Mather had learned from the Americans.
Kat had booked a table at the Cafe Pelican on St Martin's Lane. It's a French theme cafe. The waiters wear long-tailed tuxedoes, carry trays of pungent french pastries high above their shoulders, call out to one another with heavy, guttural accents, sport six o'clock shadows and reek of Gauloise. At least one of them had probably once taken a day-trip to Calais.
I wasn't complaining. Kat was paying.
'I figure I can afford it better than you.'
'I ain't arguing, Kat.'
'Don't call me that,' she hissed: 'I've told you before.'
She wasn't the only one who thought it sexist to call women by a diminutive. Sandy used to get angry with me about some of my pet abbreviations. Once, for a whole week, I insisted on calling her Sandra Jane, which is her full name. We reached a sort of truce when she sent a postcard to my home listing all my male friends I call by an abbreviation. The list didn't cover the card, but that's only because I don't have many friends.
'What do you want me to call you? Ms Pankhurst?'
Am I the only one who finds Ms completely unpronounceable?
'Try calling me by my name,' she snapped.
'You're beginning to sound like a wife,' I protested mildly: 'I thought you said .. .' I let the sentence drift back into the nowhere it had begun. She caught my meaning:
'I know about you and Sandy,' she said.
It wasn't exactly a state secret, but we'd been out of touch for a long time and, so far as I knew, she and Sandy had never been close. I wasn't pleased she knew; I've never been able to think of an answer to female solidarity as an excuse not to hop into my bed. Since the revised Katrina had arrived in the pub, I was less willing to accept the limits she had set for the evening than I had been on the 'phone.
'I heard. I can't remember who from. It doesn't matter. It didn't surprise me. I always expected it.'
'You did?' I was truly shocked. It had been the last thing I expected when Sandy and I had reencountered, and we'd never got it on when we'd been in partnership.
'Sure. Anyone could've guessed you'd end up together. You were made for each other, like a couple of old trees planted next to one another in a clearing in the forest.'
Kat had a feel for metaphors. I'd forgotten that too, as well as not to call her Kat.
We were into the second bottle, and main course (steak: if I'm not working, I grab it when I can; it might be my last meal for a week) before she began to talk about what was worrying her. It took me more probing than I get from the dentist on my once every five years visit, and that's saying something.
'You gonna tell me why you called, or do I got to drag it out of you like pine needles from a carpet after Christmas.'
'Hey, that's not bad. Can I have it?'
'Be my guest. I'm yours. So? Tell. If it's not my body you're after, what's on your mind?'
'Couldn't it be I just wanted to see an old friend?'
'After these years, you suddenly can't wait to see me? Really.'
But she wasn't listening to my answer. People often do that, like they aren't expecting me to say anything worthwhile.
'You are a friend, aren't you, Dave? I mean, I know it was never that big a deal between us, and I know we haven't been in touch forever, but whenever I think about you, you know, I always think of you like a friend, I'm very fond of you.'
Her eyes were watery. I took her hand:
'I'm your friend, Kat. I'm not saying I wouldn't mind being more, but I'm at least your friend. O.K.?'
'You never give up, do you?'
'What's the line that reminds me of?' I asked.
She knew exactly what I must be thinking of. The reason she and I could communicate so easily, even after such a long break, is because we both believed that few of life's truths couldn't be found somewhere in Hill Street Blues. The show had finished in the States by this time. They kill everything good in America: the Kennedys, Martin Luther King, John Lennon, the Cavett interviews and now Hill Street. But England was - as England is - years behind, and we were still only half-way through the penultimate series. To help locate it, Robin was at this time still pregnant with Mick's kid.
'It's in the pilot. La Rue's chatting up Joyce Davenport who he doesn't know is having an affair with Furillo. She says: "Have you quite finished, detective?" And he says, meaningfully: "No, ma'am, I don't finish for a very long time. I just go on and on.'"
She was right. It was the line I'd been reminded of:
'And she pours a cup of coffee on his crotch, right?'
Thus did we fully re-establish communication between us.
The story came, when it came, in bits and bobs, like she had upended a jigsaw box and a few pieces were already stuck together to make tiny, but identifiable, parts of the whole. She didn't present it like the skilled lawyer she certainly was. But, then, she wasn't consulting me as a lawyer, only as a friend.
'Did you read, a while ago, oh, maybe a month ago, about the L.C.P. business?'
I shook my head. Unless someone's paying me to do so, I don't read much. Not even the papers. Anyhow, not the ones with a lot of words in. That's why later I didn't turn to The Times for an account of her death, but to The Sun.
'You must've,' she insisted: 'It was the largest single personal injuries settlement ever in English legal history.'
It struck a faint chord in the back of my befuddled mind. I'd probably heard it on the t.v. news.
'Babies with bits missing?'
'Yuk, but yes.'
I also managed to remember, or work out that LCP meant Latimer Chemicals and Pharmaceuticals.
'Not mine personally, but the firm's of course.' Of course. It was hardly likely to be Nicholl & Co. On either side. Way out of our league.
'What about it?'
She hesitated one last time, but since she'd booked the evening to tell me, and had to pay for the meal anyway. she went ahead:
'We should have been able to fight it and win. All the evidence was on our side. God knows it ought to have been: most of the expert witnesses worked at some time or another in an institution funded by Latimer, and even if they didn't would want to tap him for research money eventually.'
'I love scientists. They've got the same sort of integrity we lawyers have.'
'I thought you called yourself a private eye these days?'
'Mostly I don't call myself anything. Go on,' I wasn't going to let her back off now. It wasn't that I gave a damn about the subject - personally, I think babies are a pretty bad idea anyhow: they shit and piss and vomit all over the place, and they can't make decent conversation. But I like to know things that others don't, just for its own sake.
'There was just one report which was damning. It was very damning, too. We had it, of course, but the other side got their hands on it and that was it. We had to settle.' I swallowed the impulse to point out that hands was what the other side were missing.
'Wouldn't it have to have been discovered anyway?'
Her eyes shone: this was the bit of the job she loved best. Out-manoeuvring the opposition:
'Hell, no. Discovery's for the birds.'
Discovery is the process by which one party to civil litigation has to disclose to the other the documents pertaining to the case which are in his possession. He also has to list those which have been in his possession, even if they no longer are. The only things not discoverable are documents which were prepared with the litigation in mind, such as witness statements, instructions to counsel and correspondence with the client. In England, discovery is done by lists prepared by lawyers. That way, so the theory goes, the other side can rely on its integrity. The implication of what Kat was saying was that their disclosure in the case would have been less than complete.
She explained how it worked. You only have to discover what is or has been in the possession of a party to the action. In English law, every company is a separate legal person. Latimer had so many subsidiaries, affiliates, even spare companies kept for just such an eventuality as this, that he could show his lawyers a document - for them to evaluate and advise on - in the name of one company, even though what it affected was the affairs of another.
'It's about as sharp a practice as any of mine.' I didn't like it, either. It was a practice only available to the wealthy. It is procedures like discovery which are intended to place everyone on an equal footing before the law. I didn't need telling the law wasn't equal, but I didn't enjoy being reminded.
'Why're you so surprised, Dave? Didn't you teach me that lawyers are about beating law not upholding it? Mather's aren't different; just better at it. Anyway,' she continued: 'The scientist who did this particular piece of research was no schmuk. He took it to Latimer in the States. I don't know who. One of the Latimer's companies. Coincidentally - I'm sure you're going to find this difficult to believe - he came to the conclusion that his research method may have been unsound just about the same time he was offered some very heavy funding, by Latimer of course.'
'So recanting in open court wouldn't be particularly convincing, right?'
'Right. Meanwhile, and just in case the other side did get hold of it, a copy was sent over here. And that's where the leak came from.'
'Ah, come on, Kat ... uh ... rina. How'd'you know it came from Mather's? It could've come from anywhere. It's a classic case for a bleeding heart leak.'
'I agree, which rules out Mather's. But Latimer - in another incarnation - has developed some heavily sophisticated copying equipment, which means you can trace exactly where a copy came from, even several copies down the line. Part of the settlement was, they got back the leaked copy. And Latimer says: it came from Mather's.'
I still wasn't impressed. One leak don't a flood make. Why had Katrina called me out of my cellar to tell me about it?
'Because it's not the first. It's not even the second. I don't know how many leaks there have been from Mather's, but I do know quite a few.'
She told me about them. The first had been a libel action, where the defendant newspaper's principal witness had some long-spent form under another name which nobody knew about - or was supposed not to. Next had been a society divorce, where the husband had a half-million pound estate in the Bahamas his wife hadn't been told about in an admittedly extremely brief marriage but which, again, she found out about just in time to cash it in. The client, and his wife, had both been friends of Randolph and Andrew: Martin and an assistant had to handle the case; the other brothers were too close.
Last of the ones she told me about was a commercial landlord-tenant dispute, which hinged on for how long the landlords could be proved to have known about a construction defect. At the last moment, a discreet connection was made which fixed them with liability dating back several more years than admitted and qualified the damages for inclusion in the telephone directory. In other cases, there were files not in the right place at the right time, and that reappeared shortly before the position of a Mather's client took a sharp downward plunge. And, she assured me, I didn't want to know about stocks and shares: insider dealing.
I heard her out, but something was missing. She wasn't implicated in any of the incidents. She wasn't a partner. She didn't stand to lose financially, nor even if the unthinkable occurred and the matter became public knowledge, would it be her reputation that suffered. I reminded her of an elementary proposition:
'Lawyers are human. They all talk. Granted, they don't usually to the other side, but who knows who's connected to who. They have to talk, you know that. They have to show off to people just how important they are, how privy to privileged information, how trusted. And to do that, once in a while, they have to, well, spill the colour of their beans.'
She pulled a face:
'That's one of the worst mixed metaphors I've ever heard, Dave.' Then she paused for thought: 'Isn't it?'
'I don't know, Katrina. That isn't the point, anyway. The point is: it isn't really enough to be worth a first class stamp on a letter home, let alone to spend an evening with me. Is it?' There had to be more.