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Authors: Barbara Levenson

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BOOK: Fatal February
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“It’s a long story. Thanks for going out on a limb to let me know. I’ll tell you all when this is over.”

The room was whirling. I put my head down on my desk. I had never been sued in my life and I had a flawless bar record, not even one complaint from a client, not even the ones serving life sentences. In a matter of minutes, my record was smashed. I needed help. When my clients are in trouble, what’s my first piece of advice? “You need a lawyer.” I racked my brain. Who could handle this whole mess?

I thumbed through the rest of my phone messages. The top one was from the law school. They needed help with an alumni project. Bang! That was it. My favorite law professor, Karen Kominsky. She was
an institution in South Florida. An authority on commercial law and a former member of the board of governors of the bar, and an advocate for women. I dashed to my car and headed for the campus.

CHAPTER EIGHT
 

On the way back to the office, I realized that I hadn’t bothered to look at the rest of my phone messages. My own problems were starting to interfere with my client’s problems. Professor Kominsky was going to work on my case. I had to turn my attention to my clients.

I called the office from my cell phone. The line rang eight times before the receptionist across the hall picked up. I hadn’t had time to start interviewing for an assistant. I was going to have to make time. The other lawyers in the building were gracious about offering help with my phone, but I needed a person of my own.

“Ms. Katz’s office,” a vague-sounding voice finally answered.

“Hi, it’s Mary Katz, just checking in.”

“Who?” the voice answered.

“Me, the person whose phone you just answered. Are there any messages for me?”

“Oh, just the ones I gave you before.”

“So there’s nothing new for me?”

“Well, yes, there’s a young girl sitting in your office. Sherry something? Said you wanted to see her.”

“Oh, my God. How long has she been there?”

“Oh, maybe fifteen minutes. I guess I told her she could come over when she called before.”

“Heather, that’s your name isn’t it? You never checked to see if I was there. How could you give her an appointment?”

“Yes, Heather’s my name. Listen, we’re pretty busy here. I can’t run around looking for you.”

“Okay, never mind, just go across the hall and tell her I’ll be right there.” I slammed the cell phone against the steering wheel. Damn Frank Fieldstone and Carlos Martin and everyone else that was messing up my life.

I broke all the speed limits and raced from the parking lot into my office. Sherry Yarmouth was sitting on the sofa. She had a book open in her lap, but she didn’t appear to be reading. She was staring out the window. She looked a lot like her mother. She had a certain air of fashion even dressed in jeans, a Dartmouth tee shirt, and flip-flops.

“Sherry, thanks for coming over. I’m so sorry I was detained at another appointment.”

“It’s okay. I really don’t have much to do right now except take care of Mother. I’m used to being so busy at school. Everything is just so weird.”

“Will you and your brother stay out of school this term?”

“We haven’t decided. I’m trying to keep up-to-date with my reading in case we do go back. Right now, I can’t think about much except missing my dad and — everything. Can you help my mother?”

“I’m sure going to try my best. I haven’t been able to have a very meaningful interview with your mother yet. How is she today?”

“Not much better. Dr. Gordon called in a prescription for her. It’s to help her sleep, which is what she’s been doing all day today. She’s so depressed.” Sherry’s voice wavered. She was trying not to cry.

“Tell me about your family. Your parents’ relationship.”

“That’s why this whole thing is so horribly strange,” she said. “My parents were devoted to each other. They’ve been married, I mean were married, twenty-five years. They did a lot of stuff together, traveled, played golf, went out on the boat. It’s crazy to think Mom would ever hurt Dad, let alone do what the police said.”

“I don’t believe I know where your dad worked. What did he do?”

“He and my uncle were in business together, wine distribution. They supplied all the hotels and restaurants.”

“How about your mom? Does she work?”

“She’s a dedicated homemaker. Never had a career, but she’s active in a lot of organizations. Dad always joked that she did more work for her charities than some people did in full-time jobs. I think sometimes she wished she had had a career. She’s always encouraging me to be able to support myself. But she went to college, Wellesley. She could have had a career. She came back to Miami. She was born and raised here. Then she met Dad and they got married.”

“Was your dad from Miami too?”

“Oh, no, he was born and raised in Brooklyn. He came to Miami on a scholarship. He played football. He was the placekicker.”

“Do you know anyone who was mad at your dad? Or anything your parents argued about?”

Well, sometimes they argued about where to go for dinner, or whether Brett and I should go to the same college, but no big things. I don’t think Dad had any enemies. I think my uncle was kind of jealous of him. They argued about the business sometimes or family stuff.”

“Where’s Brett today? I thought he’d be coming with you.”

“We didn’t want to leave Mom alone for too long, and he said he’d come over by himself.”

“Will you ask him to come over soon? How do I get in touch with your uncle?”

“He’s trying to keep everything going at work, but
I’ll tell him to call you.” Sherry pulled herself up from the sofa. She looked so forlorn. Her sad eyes made me think of a wounded puppy.

“I’ll call your uncle. What’s his name, and where can I reach him?”

“Jack Brandeis. Just call the office, Elite Wine Distributors.”

“Sherry, I have one last question. I don’t want to upset you, but this is something I need to know. The newspaper said that the weapon used to stab your dad was an antique silver letter opener. Have you ever seen that letter opener?”

“I think so. I think it belonged to my grandmother.”

“Do you know where it was kept?”

“No. Most of our silver was kept in drawers in cloth covers. Mom might have had it in her writing desk in the bedroom. That’s where she kept her mail, but I can’t really remember seeing it there.”

“Okay, Sherry. You’ve helped me a lot. If you think of anything else, even the smallest detail, please, call me.”

I watched Sherry walk across the parking lot and get into an Audi sports car. Something told me that there was a lot about this family that I’d have to dig out. The uncle must be Lillian’s brother, not Gary’s. I moved to the computer and Googled Elite Wines.

There was a good bit of information that popped up.

Elite Wines: founded 1953 by the late Martin Brandeis

Current President: Gary Yarmouth

Vice President: Jack Brandeis

Gross sales for 2004: $20,000,000

Largest Clients: The Forge Restaurant, Four
Seasons Hotels South Florida, Ritz Carleton
Hotels South Florida, Omni Hotels nationally

Board of Directors: Lillian Yarmouth, Marian
Brandeis, Angelina Martin, Guillermo Gonzalez

Warehouse and Home Office, 13555
Biscayne Blvd., North Miami, Florida

So Elite was owned by Lillian’s family, and I was right, Jack must be her brother, but he’s not the head honcho. Gary must have beat him out of the presidency. No wonder Sherry said her uncle was jealous of her dad.

I dialed Elite Wines. “Jack Brandeis, please.”

“He’s not available. I’ll give you his voice mail,” said a bored female voice.

“No, I need to speak to him directly. It’s very important.”

“That’s not possible. There’s been a death in the family, and he’s unavailable.”

I thought I heard gum chewing on the other end of the line. “Look, miss, I know there’s been a death in the family. This is Mary Magruder Katz, Lillian Yarmouth’s attorney. Can’t you contact him?”

“Just a minute,” the voice said. Boredom had turned to impatience.

While I waited, I printed out the information from the computer. Angelina Martin? Was that a relative of Carlos who was on the board of Elite? A male voice interrupted my thoughts.

“This is Jack Brandeis.”

“Mr. Brandeis, this is Mary Katz, your sister’s attorney. Lillian is your sister, correct?”

“Yes, Ms. Katz. Just tell me what I can do to help. I guess you’re calling about your fee. Of course, the company and I will take care of whatever is necessary.”

“No, this isn’t about my fee. I’m calling to ask you to come to my office, so we can talk about Lillian’s case. Your sister is not able to communicate much. She’s very depressed. I need as much information about the family and the business, so I can prepare her defense.”

“Well, I’m afraid I’m awfully busy right now. I have to keep things going here. The office is in a turmoil. I’m sure you understand. Maybe next week.”

“I understand that you can’t get away, so I’ll come to your office. Tomorrow. Is morning or afternoon better for you, or shall I pick the time?”

“Come over around noon. I’ll do my best to spend a little time with you.” He hung up.

I was getting the picture that the Yarmouth-Brandeis clan was not one big happy family.

CHAPTER NINE
 

My desk was piled high with unanswered motions, unopened mail, and assorted dirty coffee mugs. I had to hire an assistant. The support staff at my old firm appeared in my memory as perfection, even though I had griped about them. All of the associates believed they spied on us for the partners, but they did keep the wheels of justice moving.

I grabbed my copy of the
Daily Legal Review
and turned to the want ads. One ad jumped off the page.
LEGAL SHMEEGLE FOR ALL YOUR LAW OFFICE NEEDS
. The name made me giggle, until I read more.

Margaret Shmeegle, former legal secretary at one of America’s top-ten law firms, will find the right people to serve your every law office need. Paralegals, secretaries, receptionists, computer specialists, we have them all and they are trained and ready to make your office a perfect Shmeegle experience.

I grabbed the phone, and within minutes Ms. Shmeegle herself promised to send over the perfect candidate first thing the next morning. Brittany Wilson would be there with a résumé filled with experience.

After a few minutes of sorting the haphazard papers on my desk into something that passed for neat piles, I sat back and contemplated the events of the day. My head ached thinking of Frank suing me, and the bar investigating me. I had no clue into Lillian’s case, and my other clients’ files were untouched. I knew what I needed.

Carlos had given me his cell phone numbers. He carried more than one and also had a satellite phone in the Escalade. The first number I tried answered immediately.

“Mary, is that you? I recognized your number on the caller ID. What’s up?”

A great question. I knew what I hoped was up. “I’ve had a lousy day. How about dinner tonight? I’ll pick up something on my way home.”

“Hey, you’ve never seen my house. I’ll provide dinner there and maybe even some after dinner entertainment, if you’re in the mood,” he said.

“I can probably get in the mood,” I answered. “Seven o’clock?”

I was definitely in the mood. Why else did he think I called?

* * *

I locked up and went straight home, fed Sam, and walked him. I soaked in a bubble bath perfumed with Obsession bath oil. I put on my prettiest undies, a mini skirt, and low-cut blouse, and I was on my way.

Pinecrest is an old suburb filled with enormous ficus and oak trees. All the pines are gone because of some kind of beetles, but the name is still there. There are older homes mixed in with new McMansions. The name of choice this year for these humongous abodes is Starter Castles.

I pulled into the circular drive at the address Carlos gave me. There was a brick courtyard in front of a fake Mediterranean château. Starter Castle was definitely the right name for this one. The doorbell sounded like a call to church. The only outdoor amenity lacking was a moat with a crocodile.

Carlos opened the door. Behind him was a two-story entry hall with a sort of turret at the very top with stained-glass skylights. He was dressed in shorts and a polo shirt. An appetizing odor of cooking wafted from somewhere. I wasn’t sure whether it was the food or Carlos that whet my appetite.

He pulled me in the door and kissed me. My headache disappeared.

“Oh, come with me,” he said, and pulled me through the hall and into a kitchen, which looked as if it had been designed for a professional chef. Gleaming stainless steel appliances were reflected in the glossy white tile. Cherry cabinets and a refrigerator
that looked large enough to walk into filled the walls

“When I saw you, I forgot that I was cooking.” He pointed to a bar stool in front of a butcher-block island in the center of the room

I sat down and Carlos put a glass of wine in front of me. “You didn’t have to cook,” I said. “I had no idea you had so many talents.”

“You haven’t begun to enjoy my talents yet, but maybe you can start tonight. What happened today that was so lousy?”

“I’m being sued by my ex-boss for stealing his clients and trade secrets. The jerk has gotten an ethics complaint filed against me by the Florida Bar. I had to hire myself a lawyer, and my murder case makes no sense. I also have no help in my office, and I seem to be going in circles.”

“What kind of ethics thing?” Carlos looked over at me with a frown.

“The bar has a rule about attorneys having sex with their clients. Frank, the vindictive son of a bitch, filed a complaint about what he saw in the office. You know, you and me.”

“Oh, so that’s all.” Carlos looked relieved. “I thought maybe it had to do with the work you did on the Israeli deal. You’ll get past all of this. My grandmother always said ‘the smaller the problem, the faster the solution.’ Or something like that. It doesn’t seem to translate too well. Drink your wine and relax. I have
a great shrimp creole cooking.” He crossed the room and put an arm around me.

BOOK: Fatal February
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