Authors: Barbara Levenson
“What kind of a name is Mary Katz?” he asked
“A Miami kind of name. My full name is Mary Magruder Katz. My mother’s family was Southern Baptist. Her father brought the family here when she was a kid. He was the education director at that old downtown church. My dad’s family owned Katz’s Kosher Market on Miami Beach. My mom and dad met on the beach one weekend when they were teenagers, and that’s how I got my name. The Magruder was my mother’s maiden name.”
“What’s so funny? Your name is pretty mixed up too.”
“I guess so. My mother came with her family from Cuba, long before Castro took over. Her father was
hired as a professor at the university, and they never went back. My father came here from Argentina to go to college. We think his family came from Germany, but no one will say whether they were escaping the Nazis or whether they were the Nazis.”
“Well, I guess neither of us will ever need sensitivity training in diversity.” I glanced at my watch. “Carlos, it’s three o’clock, and we haven’t discussed your new legal matter. This isn’t conducive for a business meeting. Why don’t we go back to my office? It’s in the Grove and you’ll have to take me back to my car anyway.”
That simple suggestion turned out to be fatal.
We arrived at my office. All was quiet. I turned on my desk lamp and we settled on either end of my large leather sofa.
“Tell me about this Israeli investor,” I said.
“Actually, he’s coming to purchase the property I bought yesterday.” Carlos looked out the window as he spoke.
“You mean you’re going to propose a sale to him?
“Not exactly. He’s already given me a deposit, and I have a rough draft of the papers to transfer ownership to him. That’s why I need the deed recorded immediately.”
“What were you thinking? You sold property you didn’t own. That’s fraud. That’s a crime.”
“Well, I own it now. All you have to do is get the deed recorded. The papers have the earlier closing date. Remember?”
“You lied to me, and you’re making me a part of this crime. I could lose my license to practice law. How could you do this?”
Carlos moved across the sofa, and put his arm around me. “Ah,
please, don’t be angry with me.”
“I am not your love,” I shouted.
“You think not?” Carlos said, and he pulled me close and kissed me.
The next thing I knew I was kissing him back. One thing led to another and a few minutes later we were lying entwined on my leather sofa with our clothes strewn on the desk, the computer, and the floor. I couldn’t believe what had just happened. I also couldn’t believe how happy I felt, happier than I’d been in years. I had just lived every woman’s fantasy. You know, meeting some hot stranger in an elevator and having sex with him between floors.
Dusk was falling outside, and I was feeling sleepy from the sangria. A sudden noise startled me. The outer office door opened and I heard Frank.
“Mary, are you here?” My office door flew open. “What are you doing at work?” Frank spoke before he focused in the dim light. “Oh, my God. I guess I can see what you’re doing.”
Carlos was up grabbing his clothes. I remember asking him to leave. I grabbed my shirt and sat eyeing Frank.
“Is that guy a client?” Frank asked.
“He’s sort of a client.”
“Mary, don’t you realize this whole office could be
in trouble with the bar? There’s an ethics rule that prohibits sexual acts with a client.”
“Is that what’s upsetting you?” I asked. “Just that the office could suffer? You don’t really care about me, do you? I guess we should have faced the fact long ago that this was a business engagement, not a love engagement. Well, you’re off the hook. Here’s your ring,” I said, as I removed the two-karat diamond. “And another thing, I quit your law practice, too.”
“Good,” Frank said, “because you’re fired, and don’t think you can steal a bunch of my clients.”
“Your clients. I’ve brought in all my own clients, and you know it.”
Frank slammed the door as he strode out. I put on the rest of my clothes and began filling boxes and bags with my belongings. I copied the contents of my computer, grabbed my files, and began making trips to my car. In retrospect, I think I liked the two-karat diamond a lot better than I liked Frank, because I missed the ring immediately.
I was seated in my living room on Sunday morning. Boxes of office stuff filled the hallway. Sam and I were lolling on the sofa feeling sorry for ourselves. I had a mug of coffee and the unopened
New York Times
in my lap. Sam had his favorite tennis ball. I must have looked as sad as I felt in my old terry bathrobe and sneakers, when the doorbell rang.
“Who is it?” I yelled. Sam bounded back and forth waiting for the door to open. He loves company.
“Go away,” I said. “How did you find my house?”
“Open the door and I’ll tell you.”
Curiosity won out, and I opened the door. Sam put his paws on Carlos’s shoulders and licked his face. Carlos rubbed Sam’s ears and chest. An instant bond of friendship was forged.
“Can I come in?” Carlos asked, as he moved through the door. “Haven’t you heard of the Internet? I Googled you. Got your address, phone number, social security number, credit rating, which was only fair;
everything but your bra size, but I already knew that.”
I was not in the mood for jokes. “What do you want?”
“I want to find out if you’re okay. I see you’re not wearing the rock engagement ring. Is that over?”
“Of course, my engagement is over and I am now out of job. That’s my office sitting around in these boxes.”
“This is not a worry. I have a building on Dixie Highway. There are many lawyers in the building. I will rent you an office immediately.”
“What’s the rent?”
“Whatever you want to pay.”
“Don’t think this will allow you to have sex with me again,” I said.
“The office space has nothing to do with that. I was hoping you would want to have sex with me because you liked it.”
On Monday morning, I was moving into my new office. I insisted on paying a thousand bucks and gave Carlos back his check as payment.
On Tuesday, I recorded the deed to the Overtown property. Carlos had a friend in the clerk’s office who accommodated an instant recording. On Wednesday, I met with Carlos and the Israeli. It turned out that the investor would only eat kosher cuisine, so I accompanied him to Forty-first Street in Miami Beach where I knew every Kosher restaurant. My grandfather Katz was
still remembered fondly. We were treated like celebrities, and by Thursday, Carlos’s deal was closed. His six-million-dollar investment was sold for thirty-eight million dollars. Carlos had learned that the whole area was being rezoned for high-rise condos, and the Israeli expected to build seventy-five units to be sold for two million dollars apiece.
I was feeling pretty good with my hefty fees from Carlos and my regular clients transitioning to my new office. Life was good.
Life was good for me, but not for Lillian. Monday evening I phoned her and asked if I could come by and see her. She was not staying in the house in Coral Gables. The police still had it roped off as a crime scene. She had moved to a condo on Miami Beach. Gary had bought it as a rental investment, but it was unoccupied and furnished so Lillian and her son and daughter moved in.
She was wearing an electronic bracelet and could not go farther than the range of the telephone without setting off an alarm. Her two children had refused to leave her and return to school, so they were there to run errands. The court did not even allow Lillian to attend her husband’s funeral. House arrest meant just that.
The condo was in one of the high-rise behemoths that cover Collins Avenue, which is called the Concrete Canyon by us natives. Behind the buildings lies the
ocean. But an out-of-towner would never know it’s there. It is completely hidden by the oversized buildings.
I searched for the address, 5801 Collins. I spotted it looming at the top of a lighted circular drive. I pulled up under the covered entry. A valet parker rushed out to claim my car. He turned up his nose when he viewed the dog hair and half-chewed tennis ball on the passenger seat. The guard in the ornate lobby checked my name off a list and I whisked up on the elevator to the fifteenth floor.
Lillian opened the door, but she appeared to be in shock. She was dressed in a bathrobe. Her hair was uncombed and she was without any makeup, even lipstick. She had turned into an old woman overnight.
She motioned to the living room. Several days’ newspapers covered the sofa. She pushed them to the floor and motioned for us to sit.
“Where are your son and daughter?” I asked. “It’s Sherry and Brett, right?”
“They’re taking a walk on the beach,” Lillian said. She remained quiet, her hands in her lap. She didn’t meet my gaze.
“Lillian, I’m here for two reasons. We had very little time to talk at the jail, and I need to know everything you can tell me that will help me prepare your case.” I pulled a pad and pen from my purse. “But before we even get to that, I need to explain to you that I have left the Fieldstone firm and opened my own
office. Here’s my new card with all the numbers and e-mail so you can reach me at any time.”
I paused when I saw Lillian look up with a startled expression. At least I caught her attention.
“I will still be able to give you full representation, but it’s your decision as to whether you feel comfortable with me as your lawyer under these new circumstances.”
“Don’t you want to be my lawyer?” Lillian asked. Tears welled up in her red-rimmed eyes.
“Certainly, I do. It’s just that I want to be fair to you and be sure that being in a small office rather than a large firm doesn’t make you uncomfortable in any way.”
“I like you, Mary. I hired you. I don’t know anything about law offices. I just need help.” She began to sob.
I pulled a wad of Kleenex from my purse and put it in her lap. “I’m here to help, but I need you to help yourself, as well. Remember when we talked at the jail? You told me what you wanted was to go home and take a shower and wash your hair. As soon as you and I finish talking, that’s what I want you to do; shower, do your hair, put on some slacks and some makeup. You need to do it for yourself and for your kids. Now let’s start talking about you and everything you can remember about the day Gary died.”
She dabbed at her eyes with the Kleenex. “I was so happy that day. Sherry and Brett were on their way
home from Dartmouth. They were going to be here for five days, to thaw out they said. Gary was going to be home early to go with me to the airport. I went to the grocery and then to get the car washed. I pulled into the garage and saw that Gary’s car was already there. I pulled a couple of grocery bags out and went through the garage door into the back hall. I thought I heard the front door or some noise. I called for Gary, but there was no answer. I went up the back stairs and into his office. He wasn’t there, so I went into our bedroom and I saw all the blood and him.” She stopped abruptly. Her face was ashen and she began to shake violently.
“Lillian, are you okay?” I put her feet up on the sofa and forced her to stretch out. I went to the bedroom and found a quilt, which I threw over her. I found the kitchen, ransacked the cupboards until I found a bottle of brandy. I rushed back to the living room and forced her to drink a few sips of the brandy. Lillian was clearly in shock.
“Who is your doctor?” I shouted. I wasn’t sure she could hear me. “Have you been prescribed any medications to help you through this time?”
She looked at me, her eyes glassy. “It’s Dr. Gordon,” she mumbled.
The door opened and two young people came in.
“Mother,” the young woman rushed over to the sofa. “Who are you?” she looked angrily at me.
“I’m Mary Katz, your mother’s attorney. You’re Sherry and Brett?”
“Oh, hi,” Sherry said. Brett extended his hand. “What happened?”
I drew the two of them into the hall and explained that I was sure their mother was in shock and needed medical help.
“Can you call her doctor? I need her to get back on her feet so she can help prepare her case. And I need both of you to come to my office as soon as possible. I’ll need your input, anything you can tell me about your dad. Call and make appointments as soon as possible.” I thrust my card into Brett’s hand. “Please, call me later tonight or tomorrow and let me know how your mother’s doing.” I let myself out.
On the following Monday, as I arrived at the office, I was greeted by Luis, the process server we used at Frank’s office.
“Hi, Luis, what are you doing here? Slumming?”
“No, Ms. Katz, sorry, consider yourself served.” He thrust papers at me.
I was stunned. I opened the folder and found that Frank was suing me for the theft of trade secrets and business interference. The vindictive son of a bitch wanted a temporary restraining order for allegedly stealing his clients.
I was shaking when I entered the office. The receptionist in the law office across the hall called to me. She was answering my phone until I could hire an assistant.
“Ms. Katz, the Florida Bar has been calling you all morning. You need to call them right back.”
My first thought was that I hadn’t updated my new address. I dialed the number that answered, “Florida
Bar Ethics Commission.” I hung up and shut my office door.
I looked through the rest of my messages. There was one from Katy Levine, a law-school buddy who works as counsel to the Florida Bar. I dialed her number. She took the call immediately.
“Hi, Katy, what’s up?”
“Mary, I wanted to give you a heads up. I happened to see an ethics complaint that was filed last Friday. It’ll probably be delivered to you today. I couldn’t believe it.”
“Franklin Fieldstone has filed a complaint about you having sexual relations with a client. I thought you and he were engaged. What’s going on?”