The Pelican Brief

by John Grisham

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Student Question

In John Grisham's The Pelican Brief, why does Darby mistake Khamel for Gavin?

Quick answer:

Darby believes Khamel is Gavin because Khamel dresses and acts like him. Also, she has never met Gavin before so she does not know what he looks like.

Expert Answers

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In John Grisham's The Pelican Brief, Darby Shaw makes an arrangement to meet Gavin Verheek. 

Khamel—the assassin who killed the Supreme Court Justices—has been sent to kill Darby. He has been tailing Gavin in an attempt to find her. While Gavin is out of his hotel room trying to find information on Darby, Khamel sneaks into his room, places a recorder on the phone and hides in the closet to wait. When Gavin returns to his room, he waits until Darby calls. She has never met him before so she asks him how tall he is and how much he weighs. Darby tells Gavin to meet her the next day at a shopping center behind the hotel—to go up to the second floor, find the clothing store she mentions and to make his way to the back corner where she will find him.

Gavin is very unhappy about the entire plan. He thinks it is silly. Darby says:

I'm not in a silly mood, and if you don't shut up we'll call it off.

He apologizes and agrees to do whatever she wants. She tells him:

Wear a black shirt of some type and a red baseball cap.

After they hang up, Gavin starts the shower; when he goes back into the bedroom, Khamel murders him. The next day, with the directions Darby gave Gavin over the phone (caught on the recorder the assassin planted on Gavin's phone), Khamel shows up, having assumed Gavin's identity. He has put on a lot of extra clothing to bulk up to Gavin's overweight stature.

When Darby meets Khamel, she believes she is in the company of Gavin. He is wearing clothes as she directed him to, carrying a folded newspaper as she had specified, and he shows up where and when she and Gavin had agreed to meet. Khamel pretends to have a cold so he sounds more like Gavin; he has even studied the way Gavin speaks. Without knowing what Gavin looks like, Darby has no way to know he is not Gavin Verheek.

They leave together and Khamel is close to killing her when an unknown assailant cracks Khamel in the back of the head. He goes down bleeding, moaning and speaking in a foreign language. When someone in the crowd says that he is Egyptian, Darby realizes that this was not Gavin at all. She takes off and gets lost in the crowd.

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