Under normal circumstances, Peter Evans spoke to George Morton every day. Sometimes twice a day. So after a week went by without hearing from him, Evans called his house. He spoke to Sarah.
“I have no idea what is going on,” she said. “Two days ago he was in North Dakota. North Dakota! The day before that he was in Chicago. I think he might be in Wyoming today. He’s made noises about going to Boulder, Colorado, but I don’t know.”
“What’s in Boulder?” Evans said.
“I haven’t a clue. Too early for snow.”
“Has he got a new girlfriend?” Sometimes Morton disappeared when he was involved with a new woman.
“Not that I know,” Sarah said.
“What’s he doing?”
“I have no idea. It sounds like he has a shopping list.”
“A shopping list?”
“Well,” she said, “sort of. He wanted me to buy some kind of special GPS unit. You know, for locating position? Then he wanted some special video camera using CCD or CCF or something. Had to be rush-ordered from Hong Kong. And yesterday he told me to buy a new Ferrari from a guy in Monterey, and have it shipped to San Francisco.”
“I know,” she said. “How many Ferraris can one man use? And this one doesn’t seem up to his usual standards. From the e-mail pictures it looks kind of beat up.”
“Maybe he’s going to have it restored.”
“If he was, he’d send it to Reno. That’s where his car restorer is.”
He detected a note of concern in her voice. “Is everything okay, Sarah?”
“Between you and me, I don’t know,” she said. “The Ferrari he bought is a 1972 365 GTS Daytona Spyder.”
“He already has one, Peter. It’s like he doesn’t know. And he sounds weird when you talk to him.”
“Weird in what way?”
“Just…weird. Not his usual self at all.”
“Who’s traveling with him?”
“As far as I know, nobody.”
Evans frowned. That was very odd. Morton hated being alone. Evans’s immediate inclination was to disbelieve it.
“What about that guy Kenner and his Nepali friend?”
“Last I heard, they were going to Vancouver, and on to Japan. So they’re not with him.”
“When I hear from him, I’ll let him know you called.”
Evans hung up, feeling dissatisfied. On an impulse, he dialed Morton’s cell phone. But he got the voice mail. “This is George. At the beep.” And the quick beep.
“George, this is Peter Evans. Just checking in, to see if there’s anything you need. Call me at the office if I can help.”
He hung up, and stared out the window. Then he dialed again.
“Center for Risk Analysis.”
“Professor Kenner’s office, please.”
In a moment he got the secretary. “This is Peter Evans, I’m looking for Professor Kenner.”
“Oh yes, Mr. Evans. Dr. Kenner said you might call.”
“Yes. Are you trying to reach Dr. Kenner?”
“Yes, I am.”
“He’s in Tokyo at the moment. Would you like his cell phone?”
She gave him the number, and he wrote it down on his yellow pad. He was about to call when his assistant, Heather, came in to say that something at lunch had disagreed with her, and she was going home for the afternoon.
“Feel better,” he said, sighing.
With her gone, he was obliged to answer his own phone, and the next call was from Margo Lane, George’s mistress, asking where the hell George was. Evans was on the phone with her for the better part of half an hour.
And then Nicholas Drake walked into his office.
“I am very concerned,” Drake said. He stood at the window, hands clasped behind his back, staring at the office building opposite.
“This Kenner person that George is spending so much time with.”
“I don’t know that they’re spending time together.”
“Of course they are. You don’t seriously believe George isalone, do you?”
Evans said nothing.
“George is never alone. We both know that. Peter, I don’t like this situation at all. Not at all. George is a good man—I don’t have to tell you that—but he is susceptible to influence. Including the wrong influence.”
“You think a professor at MIT is the wrong influence?”
“I’ve looked into Professor Kenner,” Drake said, “and there are a few mysteries about him.”
“His résumé says he spent a number of years in government. Department of the Interior, Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee, and so on.”
“The Department of the Interior has no record of his working there.”
Evans shrugged. “It was more than ten years ago. Government records being what they are…”
“Possibly,” Drake said. “But there is more. Professor Kenner comes back to MIT, works there for eight years, very successfully. Consultant to the EPA, consultant to Department of Defense, God knows what else—and then he suddenly goes on extended leave, and no one seems to know what happened to him since. He just fell off the radar.”
“I don’t know,” Evans said. “His card says he is Director of Risk Analysis.”
“But he’s on leave. I don’t know what the hell he is doing these days. I don’t know who supports him. I take it you’ve met him?”
“And now he and George are great pals?”
“I don’t know, Nick. I haven’t seen or spoken to George in more than a week.”
“He’s off with Kenner.”
“I don’t know that.”
“But you know that he and Kenner went to Vancouver.”
“Actually, I didn’t know.”
“Let me lay it out for you plainly,” Drake said. “I have it on good authority that John Kenner has unsavory connections. The Center for Risk Analysis is wholly funded by industry groups. I needn’t say more. In addition, Mr. Kenner spent a number of years advising the Pentagon and in fact was so involved with them that he even underwent some sort of training for a period of time.”
“You mean military training?”
“Yes. Fort Bragg and Harvey Point, in North Carolina,” Drake said. “There is no question the man has military connections as well as industry connections. And I am told he is hostile toward mainstream environmental organizations. I hate to think of a man like that working on poor George.”
“I wouldn’t worry about George. He can see through propaganda.”
“I hope so. But frankly I do not share your confidence. This military man shows up, and the next thing we know, George is trying to audit us. I mean, my God, why would he want to do that? Doesn’t George realize what a waste of resources that involves? Time, money, everything? It would be atremendous drag on my time.”
“I wasn’t aware an audit was going forward.”
“It’s being discussed. Of course, we have nothing to hide, and we can be audited at any time. I have always said so. But this is an especially busy time, with the Vanutu lawsuit starting up, and the conference on Abrupt Climate Change to be planned for. All that’s in the next few weeks. I wish I could speak to George.”
Evans shrugged. “Call his cell.”
“I have. Have you?”
“He call you back?”
“No,” Evans said.
Drake shook his head. “That man,” he said, “is my Concerned Citizen of the Year, and I can’t even get him on the phone.”
MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 13
8:07 A. M.
Morton sat at a sidewalk table outside a café on Beverly Drive at eight in the morning, waiting for Sarah to show up. His assistant was ordinarily punctual, and her apartment was not far away. Unless she had taken up with that actor again. Young people had so much time to waste on bad relationships.
He sipped his coffee, glancing at theWall Street Journal without much interest. He had even less interest after an unusual couple sat down at the next table.
The woman was petite and strikingly beautiful, with dark hair and an exotic look. She might have been Moroccan; it was hard to judge from her accent. Her clothing was chic and out of place in casual Los Angeles—tight-fitting skirt, spike heels, Chanel jacket.
The man who accompanied her could not have been more different. He was a red-faced, beefy American, with slightly piggish features, wearing a sweater, baggy khakis, and running shoes. He was as big as a football player. He slumped at the table and said, “I’ll have a latte, sweetheart. Nonfat. Grande.”
She said, “I thought you would get one for me, like a gentleman.”
“I’m not a gentleman,” he said. “And you’re no fucking lady. Not after you didn’t come home last night. So we can forget about ladies and gentlemen, okay?”
She pouted. “Chéri,do not make a scene.”
“Hey. I asked you to get a fucking latte. Who’s making a scene?”
“You going to get it, or not?” He glared at her. “I’ve really had it with you, Marisa, you know that?”
“You don’t own me,” she said. “I do as I please.”
“You’ve made that obvious.”
During this conversation, Morton’s paper had been slowly drifting downward. Now he folded it flat, set it on his knee, and pretended to read. But in fact he could not take his eyes off this woman. She was extremely beautiful, he decided, although not very young. She was probably thirty-five. Her maturity somehow made her more overtly sexual. He was captivated.
She said to the football player, “William, you are tiresome.”
“You want me to leave?”
“Perhaps it is best.”
“Oh, fuck you,” he said, and slapped her.
Morton could not restrain himself. “Hey,” he said, “take it easy there.”
The woman gave him a smile. The beefy man stood up, fists bunched. “Mind your own fucking business!”
“You don’t hit the lady, pal.”
“How about just you and me?” he said, shaking his fist.
At that moment, a Beverly Hills cruiser drove by. Morton looked at it, and waved. The cruiser came over to the curb. “Everything all right?” one of the cops said.
“Just fine, officer,” Morton said.
“Fuck this noise,” the football player said, and turned away. He stalked off up the street.
The dark woman smiled at Morton. “Thank you for that.”
“No problem. Did I hear you say you wanted a latte?”
She smiled again. She crossed her legs, exposing brown knees. “If you would be so kind.”
Morton was standing to get it when Sarah called to him, “Hey, George! Sorry to be late.” She came jogging up in a tracksuit. As always, she looked very beautiful.
Anger flashed across the dark woman’s features. It was fleeting, but Morton caught it and he thought,Something is wrong here. He didn’t know this woman. She had no reason to be angry. Probably, he decided, she had wanted to teach the boyfriend a lesson. Even now the guy was hanging around at the end of the block, pretending to look in a shop window. But at this early hour, all the shops were closed.
“Yes,” she said, “but I doubt it. I am sorry.Ça va. ”
“Have a nice day.”
As they walked off, Sarah said, “Who was that?”
“I don’t know. She sat down at the next table.”
“Spicy little number.”
“Did I interrupt something? No? That’s good.” She handed Morton three manila folders. “This one’s your contributions to NERF to date. This one is the agreement for the last contribution, so you have the language. And this one is the cashier’s check you wanted. Be careful with that. It’s a big number.”
“Okay. It’s not a problem. I’m leaving in an hour.”
“You want to tell me where?”
Morton shook his head. “It’s better you don’t know.”
MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 27
9:45 A. M.
Evans had heard nothing from Morton for almost two weeks. He could not remember ever having gone so long without contact with his client. He had lunch with Sarah, who was visibly anxious. “Do you hear from him at all?” he said.
“Not a word.”
“What do the pilots say?”
“They’re in Van Nuys. He’s rented a different plane. I don’t know where he is.”
“And he’s coming back…”
She shrugged. “Who knows?”
And so it was with considerable surprise that he received Sarah’s call that day. “You better get going,” she said. “George wants to see you right away.”
“At NERF. In Beverly Hills.”
It was a ten-minute drive from his offices in Century City to the NERF building. Of course the National Environmental Resource Fund was headquartered in Washington, DC, but they had recently opened a west coast office, in Beverly Hills. Cynics claimed that NERF had done it to be closer to the Hollywood celebrities who were so essential to their fund-raising. But that was just gossip.
Evans half expected to find Morton pacing outside, but he was nowhere in sight. Evans went into the reception area and was told that Morton was in the third-floor conference room. He walked up to the third floor.
The conference room was glass-walled on two sides. The interior was furnished with a large, boardroom-style table and eighteen chairs. There was an audiovisual unit in the corner for presentations.
Evans saw three people in the conference room, and an argument in progress. Morton stood at the front of the room, red-faced, gesticulating. Drake was also standing, pacing back and forth, pointing an angry finger at Morton, and shouting back at him. Evans also saw John Henley, the saturnine head of PR for NERF. He was bent over, making notes on a yellow legal pad. It was clearly an argument between Morton and Drake.
Evans was not sure what to do, so he stood there. After a moment, Morton saw him and made a quick jabbing motion, indicating that Evans should sit down outside. He did. And watched the argument through the glass.
It turned out there was a fourth person in the room as well. Evans hadn’t seen him at first because he was hunched down behind the podium, but when that person stood, Evans saw a workman in clean, neatly pressed overalls carrying a briefcase-style toolbox and with a couple of electronic meters clipped to his belt. On his chest pocket a logo read av network systems.
The workman looked confused. Apparently Drake didn’t want the workman in the room during the argument, whereas Morton seemed to like an audience. Drake wanted the guy to go; Morton insisted he stay. Caught in the middle, the workman looked uncomfortable, and ducked down out of sight again. But soon after, Drake prevailed, and the workman left.
As the workman walked past him, Evans said, “Rough day?”
The workman shrugged. “They got a lot of network problems in this building,” he said. “Myself, I think it’s bad Ethernet cable, or the routers are overheating…” And he walked on.
Back inside, the argument raged, fiercer than ever. It continued for another five minutes. The glass was almost entirely soundproof, but from time to time, when they shouted, Evans could hear a phrase. He heard Morton yell, “God damn it, I want to win!” and he heard Drake reply, “It’s just too risky.” Which made Morton even angrier.
And later Morton said, “Don’t we have to fight for the most important issue facing our planet?” And Drake answered something about being practical, or facing reality. And Morton said, “Fuck reality!”
At which point the PR guy, Henley, glanced up and said, “My sentiments exactly.” Or something like that.
Evans had the distinct impression that this argument concerned the Vanutu lawsuit, but it seemed to range over a number of other subjects as well.
And then, quite abruptly, Morton came out, slamming the door so hard that the glass walls shook. “Fuck those guys!”
Evans fell into step with his client. Through the glass, he saw the other two men huddle, whispering together.
“Fuck ’em!” George said loudly. He paused and looked back. “If we have right on our side, shouldn’t we be telling the truth?”
Inside, Drake just shook his head sorrowfully.
“Fuck ’em,” Morton said again, walking off.
Evans said, “You wanted me here?”
“Yes.” Morton pointed. “You know who that other guy was?”
“Yes,” he said. “John Henley.”
“Correct. Those two guysare NERF,” George said. “I don’t care how many celebrity trustees they have on their letterhead. Or how many lawyers they keep on staff. Those two run the show, and everyone else rubberstamps. None of the trustees really knows anything about what is going on. Otherwise they wouldn’t be a part of this. And let me tell you, I’m not going to be a part of this. Not anymore.”
They started walking down the stairs.
“Meaning what?” Evans said to him.
“Meaning,” Morton said, “I’m not giving them that ten-million-dollar grant for the lawsuit.”
“You told them that?”
“No,” he said, “I did not tell them that. And you will not tell them that either. I think I’ll let it be a surprise, for later.” He smiled grimly. “But draw up the papers now.”
“Are you sure about this, George?”
“Don’t piss me off, kid.”
“I’m just asking—”
“And I said draw up the papers. So do it.”
Evans said he would.
Evans said he would do it at once.
Evans waited until they got to the parking garage before he spoke again. He walked Morton to his waiting town car. His driver, Harry, opened the door for him. Evans said, “George, you have that NERF banquet honoring you next week. Is that still going ahead?”
“Absolutely,” Morton said. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
“The man’s demented. The things he was saying…could you hear him?”
“He’s demented. I really am worried about him. I mean as a friend. To say nothing of our banquet next week. I mean, is he going to be all right?”
“I think so. He’s taking a planeload of friends up there.”
“Are you sure?”
“That’s what Sarah says.”
“Can I talk to George? Can you set something up?”
“My understanding,” Evans said, “is that he just went out of town again.”
“It’s that damn Kenner. He’s behind all this.”
“I don’t know what’s going on with George, Nick. All I know is, he’s coming to the banquet.”
“I want you to promise me you’ll deliver him.”
“Nick,” Evans said. “George does what he wants.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of.”
TO SAN FRANCISCO
MONDAY, OCTOBER 4
1:38 P. M.
Flying up on his Gulfstream, Morton brought several of the most prominent celebrity supporters of NERF. These included two rock stars, the wife of a comedian, an actor who played the president on a television series, a writer who had recently run for governor, and two environmental lawyers from other firms. Over white wine and smoked salmon canapés, the discussion became quite lively, focusing on what the United States, as the world’s leading economy, should be doing to promote environmental sanity.
Uncharacteristically, Morton did not join in. Instead, he slumped in the back of the plane, looking irritable and gloomy. Evans sat beside him, keeping him company. Morton was drinking straight vodka. He was already on his second.
“I brought the papers cancelling your grant,” Evans said, taking them out of his briefcase. “If you still want to do this.”
“I do.” Morton scribbled his signature, hardly looking at the documents. He said, “Keep those safe until tomorrow.” He looked back at his guests, who were now trading statistics on species loss as the rain forests of the world were cut down. Off to one side, Ted Bradley, the actor who played the president, was talking about how he preferred his electric car—which, he pointed out, he had owned for many years now—to the new hybrids that were so popular. “There’s no comparison,” he was saying. “The hybrids are nice, but they’re not the real thing.”
At the center table, Ann Garner, who sat on the boards of environmental organizations, was arguing that Los Angeles needed to build more public transportation so that people could get out of their cars. Americans, she said, belched out more carbon dioxide than any other people on the planet, and it was disgraceful. Ann was the beautiful wife of a famous attorney, and always intense, especially on environmental issues.
Morton sighed. He turned to Evans. “Do you know how much pollution we’re creating right this minute? We’ll burn four hundred fifty gallons of aviation fuel to take twelve people to San Francisco. Just by making this trip, they’re generating more pollution per capita than most people on the planet will generate in a year.”
He finished his vodka, and rattled the ice in the glass irritably. He handed the glass to Evans, who dutifully signaled for more.
“If there’s anything worse than a limousine liberal,” Morton said, “it’s a Gulfstream environmentalist.”
“But George,” Evans said. “You’re a Gulfstream environmentalist.”
“I know it,” Morton said. “And I wish it bothered me more. But you know what? It doesn’t. Ilike flying around in my own airplane.”
Evans said, “I heard you were in North Dakota and Chicago.”
“I was. Yes.”
“What’d you do there?”
“I spent money. A lot of money. Alot. ”
Evans said, “You bought some art?”
“No. I bought something far more expensive than art. I bought integrity.”
“You’ve always had integrity,” Evans said.
“Oh, not my integrity,” Morton said. “I bought somebody else’s.”
Evans didn’t know what to say to that. For a minute he thought Morton was joking.
“I was going to tell you about it,” Morton continued. “I got a list of numbers, kid, and I want you to get it to Kenner. It is very much—for later. Hello, Ann!”
Ann Garner was coming toward them. “So, George, are you back for a while? Because we need you here now. The Vanutu lawsuit, which thank God you are backing, and the climate change conference that Nick has scheduled, and it’s so important—my God, George. This is crunch time.”
Evans started to stand to let Ann take his seat, but Morton pushed him back down again.
“Ann,” he said, “I must say you look more lovely than ever, but Peter and I are having a small business discussion.”
She glanced at the papers, and Evans’s open briefcase. “Oh. I didn’t know I was interrupting.”
“No, no, if you’d just give us a minute.”
“Of course. I’m sorry.” But she lingered. “This is so unlike you, George, doing business on the plane.”
“I know,” Morton said, “but, if you must know, I am feeling quite unlike myself these days.”
That made her blink. She didn’t know how to take it, so she smiled, nodded, and moved away. Morton said, “She looks wonderful. I wonder who did her work.”
“She’s had more, in the last few months. I think eyes. Maybe chin. Anyway,” he said, waving his hand, “about the list of numbers. You are to tell this to no one, Peter. No one. Not anyone in the law firm. And especially not anyone at—”
“George, damn it, why are you hiding back there?” Evans looked over his shoulder and saw Ted Bradley coming toward them. Ted was already drinking heavily, though it was only noon. “It hasn’t been the same without you, George. My God, the world without Bradley is a boring world. Oops! I mean, without George Morton, is a boring world. Come on, George. Get up out of there. That man is a lawyer. Come and have a drink.”