Authors: Steve Martini
Tags: #Trials (Murder), #Mystery & Detective, #Legal, #General, #Psychological, #Suspense, #Large type books, #Fiction
Harry and I have become increasingly close in the months
banishment from Potter, Skarpellos. Hopelessly out different bow tie for each day of the week, we seem to ,Tr, the same route to court each morning. Twenty years ago Harry was one of'the foremost criminal 7p1w;, attorneys in town. Tried no more than four cases a year, I front‐page felonies. That was before he found courage and rxiwiop. in a bottle. Now his days are filled trying to keep other T,nx.' from the clutches of the DA and the angry machinations MADD. For variety, his life is punctuated by the occasional T I hang up my coat and open my briefcase on the couch, then through a couple of files I took home. "Fuckin' Congress,"
says Harry. He's finished reading the arti‐ "First they allow their friends to steal all the money from the @J&, then they want us to pay it all back." He follows this with [email protected] sigh as if conceding that it is something over which Harry 1: no control. b)avery time I vote, I have the same feeling," he says. "Like @, a I , put a bag of‐dogshit on my doorstep and set it on fire. 7,7‐W know whether to just stand there and hold my nose, or to stamp it out." mental picture drawn by this little vignette leads me to 7rror.‐ that Harry has probably seen these images, up close and ZM at some youthful point in his life from behind a wicked at the edge of some poor soul's front porch. : trust government," he says. 4 know," I say. "I used to work for 'em.". rr."
" s office is half the size of my own, He's taken to camping *te W n clients and family need a private conference‐a hit to money for his fees, or to square the details of an alibi .‐Vthe story is locked in stone with their lawyer. They don't '‐'ihow flexible and creative Harry can be. @, @JM by the soles of his shoes, the surface of my desk f‐7777‐@ confusion. I've taken to hoarding the most important case files in my own office, a defense against Dee‐saster. There are a score of files piled here, marshaled in term that only its maker can fathom‐two [email protected],Igg‐Iqm cases that may settle, but only on the courthouse ‐4MM
criminal appeal with seven volumes of transcripts, me by the district court as part of the )Ori el‐an economic hedge I'd taken before 615"n'tlsmwa,[email protected];" Propagating like the poor is a stack of files requiring and correspondence, a chore that would involve a noon's work dictating to a competent secretary, but will no doubt spend endless evenings stroking out on keyboard. I paw through my mail, which Dee has stacked on the my d6sk‐a few bills, letters in a couple of cases, a report in a sentencing matter, and an announcement 11 Feinberg will speak at the next meeting of the Capitol [email protected] yers Association: "Probate and You‐The Lawyer's .Vol the Hereafter."
I fli the announcement to Harry. p
"Tasteful," he says, "You and I said
it, we'd be MT,7' "Half the judges in the county will be there to there to take notes," I add. "What for?"
I tap a thick file that sits looming on the center of alone, solitary, like‐ some ancient tome written in MMM' waits to be deciphered. "Probate file," I say. "Only one I have. Only one take."
Harry looks at the tab on the file jacket and then single word: "Oh."
With all of his warts, Harry Hinds at times displays i7r a French diplomat. He has heard about Sharon Cooper. This file is one of those objects in life, the sight chums acid in my stomach. Sharon's probate sensations of creeping, escalating uneasiness. I have iv'@ file a dozen times, to the credenza, the floor, and
"Mr‐, desk again. It lies there,
a testament to my ignorance c, and my inability to say no to a friend, in this *V Cooper. I have spent hours poring through the loose‐leaf lawyers' self‐help books, that forest of publications 4' rennial subscriptions and annual pocket parts, each vir%' Mil I checklist of things to be done. It is, I have conit‐1 unfathomable. The probate lawyers have found the magic in that kills competition. They have constructed processes and 1 @ I [email protected]'111‐m terminology that can be translated only by the high priests their own cloistered sect. I read Dee's secretarial handbook, like the computer I've bought for her, she has never used. hopes that maybe this would be my Rosetta stone, the key the mysteries of probate. It was not. The probate secretaries, it ,‐1L
have their own guild. As might be expected, Dee is without inion card.
what had begun with a simple one‐page petition a year ago now a morass to inspire Dickens's most Draconian tale of ii;i" and judges, of a court system constipated by endless and fam‐ sl(;@ forms. Probate reform, it seems, has gone the way tax simplification. I am beaten. Defeated. I concede. I am ready to consult, and necessary to take a. ride, to pay the freight on the Feinberg [email protected] to the la‐la land of the surrogate courts. I stare at the file 1, the announcement in Harry's hands. The ultimate cop‐outill hire another lawyer to service my client. "How'd it go last night?" he asks. ght as a choirboy's bum. That was Harry last night after meeting with Ben. With him in his snockered condition, I It waste my tithe giving him the details. Now he's catching on dirt. "Good.
Friendly. It was," I say, "cordial."
"Which was itt' he says. "Friendly or cordial? With the one it ,Z, means he isn't gonna kill ya. The other means you may to go back for more nooky." ignore him. "I'm surprised," he says. Harry talks about fire and dragons. fact that I was porkin' another man's wife and Ben didn't i give me a lecture on alienation of affections. "The man's ,civilized,"
he says. "Times have changed since my day." ni surprised you can remember back that far.", looks at me from the comer of his eye. back, are you?" he asks. Pf4 00 gi say sarcastically. "Ben and I discussed the matter, but decided it wouldn't be a good idea‐for me to go back for Z
Mo @," asshole." There's irritation in his tone. "Are you going' the firm?"
I am early for my meeting with Ben. The Broiler is more subdued P0, Wong's. The decor is Early Naugahyde, but it is quiet, a r,ro 7su place for talking, to discuss Sharon's trust and Ben's future. r belly to the bar and order a drink. "Paul‐Paul Madriani." My only recognition of this voice is F IT,7 it is someone unpleasant. Someone I would rather not be rj4s with, not here, not now. I turn from the bar just in time to receive a back‐slapping Irtsl on my shoulder. Eli Walker is dean of the outcast press. usually three sheets to the wind, in his late sixties, M:i4, regularly traverses that nether‐land between what he calls [57 "N.
Nio.,.and political flackery for paying clients. "Haven't seen ya in here in a while." He licks his lips as if he's W stepped from the parched sands of the Sahara. "Haven't been around," I say. The bartender returns with my
"Mons '@ and I swallow a quick shot. I offer nothing that Walker can !PMT onto, turn into conversation. He's one of those clinging souls Mo(t, as a result of some fleeting commercial contact fancy themyour friends. In my case I had the misfortune of writing a D; letter to unravel a title problem on his house, a favor I did @Pthe request of one of the partners while I was with the firm. He's not moving on. Seconds pass in light banter, Eli doing [email protected] of the talking, the two of us weaving in. the light trafw.' around the bar.
Walker's eyeing me like a thirsty dog. In assignments and clients, he's drooling for a drink. His L17 [email protected] is still on my shoulder, tugging on it like a ship trying 4 berth
"How's the solo practice going't' An
odoriferous blast hol is emitted with each spoken word. In the lorr of a7r. r" it has been said of Eli Walker that any cremation after i 7‐'
result in the ultimate perpetual flame. "Fine, keeps me busy."
I begin to turn back toward the bar, a not so subtle A this conversation is at an end. I finally break his grip. Walker doesn't take the hint. He muscles his way in i r,41 me. The woman on the stool beside me gives Walker look, then scoots her stool a few inches away, giving I ‐A to square his body to the bar. Standing next to Walker I feel like a man in the 61s)WO' a leper. I sense that I have suddenly declined in the dozen drunks surrounding the bar. "I'll have what he's having." Walker looks at the Tt who in turn looks at me. Reluctantly I nod. In his own )[email protected]'
way Eli Walker has found his way onto my bar tab. e,@ moments like this that I regret lacking the sand to osmir7'@@ rudeness. "Why'd ya leave Potter's firmt' The question is MT77`
, breathtaking subtlety. "Oh, I don't know. Guess it was time to strike out own. "Sorta like Custer against all them fuckin' Indians, 7NI chuckles to himself The least he could do if he's going to hustle drinks 44‐‐., I think, is quietly accept my bullshit. He drops the iillm career and launches into a lecture on his latest journalistic scandal featuring pork‐barrel politics and the state water I tune him out. I check my watch. Ben's running late. I consider ways [email protected] Walker. I think about the restroom, but somehow I know on. follow me‐stand at the urinal and check my bladder. 073, mostly empty and Walker is desperate, in search of a Or, companion. The bartender has spied my empty glass. "Anothert'
'in I nod and notice that I'm now one drink up on Walker. It to slow my pace. I'll smell like Eli by the time Ben There's the sound of sirens outside on the street, a c M‐971, patrol car followed seconds later by the lumbering echo iialt, drone‐a fire pumper. An emergency medical team headed scene of some fire or accident. Eli tilts his glass toward the sound in the street, a salute, then ns the last gulp. ‐Too bad," he says. "A tragedy," he says. ‐‐What's that?"
"you haven't heard?"
"Heard what?" I wait for the latest bit of unconfirmed gos‐ . The stuff of which most of Walker's columns are comsed. "Ben Potter," he says.
Walker, I suspect, is brokering information on the high court .nation.
Probably third‐hand hearsay, which he's spreading ter than typhoid from a cesspool. "He passed on," says Walker. "What are you talking about?"
11 mean he's dead‐muerto‐‐mort‐fish food," he says. The words push me perceptibly back from the bar. I turn my and stare at this old man in stony silence. "Heard it on the police scanner in my car. They were callin' the EMTS, the paramedics." He looks at his watch. "Can you ieve it? Over ten minutes ago now. Get a coronary in this town, u'd better call a taxi," he says. Suddenly I catch his meaning, the sirens in the street. Walker nks they're responding to some tragedy involving Potter.
rhis conversation is surreal. I want to tell him that Ben's going come walking through the door behind us any second. I look dn at my watch.
He's just late. compose myself. Walker's pulling some scam, trying to flesh information on why I left the firm. Feed me some crap about r's death to see if I'll defame the dead. It's the kind of dirt Walker would slip into a column. "What did you hear, exactly?"
"Dead at the scene,"
he says. rry as I do, there's some psychic staggering here. There's no itation in his responses. Even Eli Walker would have a hard confusing the manifest line between life and death. "An accident?" I ask. le shakes his head. "Heart attack?" Walker slaps his glass on the bar, a satisfied grin on his face. finally has my undivided attention. t's clear, Walker's not talking until he has another drink. I the bartender.
Having humored me with scotch, Walker now orders a double bourbon. I ask for the tab and pass the Irrr two twenties. "Gunshot," he says. "His office."
Shock and disbelief are registered by the fire I feel all 1;@ to the tips of my ears. He reads disbelief in my eyes. @ I "It's true," he says. "I swear." He holds up a loose ir,4 like a confused Boy Scout.
"What happened?" I ask. He shrugs his shoulders. "They don't give out news over the police bands."
This is Eli's idea of dogged journalism. Hustling i mvi T bar with tidbits of information. I wonder what part of the transmission he didn't hear or failed to interpret. "Do you have a press pass?" I ask. I's 11
ure. 111,et's go.9, "Where we going'? Our drinks haven't come yet." My hand grips his elbow like a vise, pushing him ‐.i of me. "Haven't you heard, Eli? Alcohol keeps."
All the way there, Walker's making like an echo in the @i4. to me as I drive. He's babbling some nonsense about ITTO' meet a source back at the bar. "Sure, Eli, what's the guy's name? Johnnie Walker?"
"No, really, l9ve got a meeting back there."
"I'm sure he'll wait for you. I'll take you back later. All you have to do is get me past the police lines." Trurs oti are any. Hope finds refuge in the improbable crackling R‐M.351 of a police‐band radio as interpreted by Eli Walker. :T' expectations sag as I pull to the curb on the mall in the Emerald Tower. Minicam crews from channel five and eight are already bled outside the entrance, jockeying for film advantage. "I M, sprouting microwave dishes and the small spiraled cellular telephones, are parked at the curb like prodigious insects in search of carrion on which to feast. Two patrol *,T driven to the fountain on the cobblestone plaza in front building. The driver's door on one is still open, and the r‐4 of the units flash amber, red, and blue, the reftections the emerald glass of the structure in a surreal I'm back to Walker. He's getting bored. Wants to leave., hearing more about his meeting back at the Broiler. There's the single tone of a bell, one of the elevator reaching the lobby. Klieg lights zero in on the elevator I
"M antiaircraft in the London blitz. The doors slide open. A figure stands in the center of the elevator car blinded by the If and inundated by a stream of concurrent, incoherent ‐a I I *1, Elbows go up to shade the light. "You'll have to get that'the police. I've got nothing to say." The cop at the elevator several of the cameras back away from the door. "Get that light out of my eyes." In a grudging sequence., the lights and the crowd at the elevator begins to dissipate, wandering', to the comers of the lobby. 4. He's halfway across the lobby headed for the door vii't sees me. George Cooper's eyes are still adjusting from the bombardment. He carries a small black satchel goo.‐TMITT'l instruments of his dark calling. "Coop." My voice echoes just a little in the cavernous r. ‐r his eyes, There are rings of unrequited sleep unde almost bemused smile under a salt‐and‐pepper mustache. "Paul." There's a momentary hesitation, then the :1 question. "How did you find outt'