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Authors: Barbara Levenson

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BOOK: Fatal February
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“Carlos, will the food hold for a while? Maybe you could show me the rest of the house and your bedroom.”

“Come on,” he said, as he turned off the oven.

A few hours later, I felt happy and almost giddy. We had just finished a late dinner, when I remembered something.

“Is Angelina Martin, by any chance, a relative of yours?” I asked.

“She’s my mother. Why do you ask? Don’t tell me she’s in trouble.”

“Not that I know of. Does she get in trouble a lot? The reason I asked is that her name came up on the board of directors of Elite Wines. That’s the company that Gary Yarmouth was president of. You know, my client’s husband that she’s accused of offing.”

“My parents are on a number of boards. My dad has a few businesses here and in Argentina. I can’t keep track of all of them. Maybe you could ask her yourself. They’d love to meet you.”

“You mean you mentioned me to your parents?”

“Sort of. I told them I was going to marry you. How about dinner with them this weekend? Or maybe when they go to their beach condo on Marco Island?”

I was stunned. Marriage? Well, he was a keeper, and he could cook.

CHAPTER TEN
 

The next morning I left Carlos’s house at six o’clock and dashed for home. I couldn’t go to work in the mini-skirt outfit, and I had abandoned poor Sam.

I came into the house through the kitchen. Sam was nowhere to be seen. No barks greeted me. I went into the living room and found that it had snowed over night. That’s how it looked. Sam had punished me for failing to return. He had chewed open the needlepoint pillows my mother had made for the sofa. Stuffing was everywhere. It’s amazing how foam shreds into millions of tiny snowflakes.

“Sam. Get out here now,” I yelled.

He crawled out from under the dining room table. He was wearing a wreath of needlepoint fabric around his neck. He looked so funny that I couldn’t scold him. Instead, I gave him his breakfast, made some coffee, and began to shovel my way through the foam snow.

“Next time, you can go with me. I think you’ll love Carlos’s big backyard,” I said.

* * *

I arrived at the office a couple of minutes before nine, and waited to meet Brittany, the Shmeegle-trained assistant. Nine fifteen came and went, but still no Brittany. At nine thirty the door opened and a high voice called out, “Hello? Miss. Uh. Hello?”

As I entered the reception room, a stream of heavy perfume filled my nostrils.

“Brittany? I’m Mary Katz. Please come in.” I led her into my office.

She was dressed in jeans so tight they appeared to be painted on her ample behind. With the jeans, she wore a baby-doll top, at least thirty clanking silver bracelets, and high-heeled boots. She had long red hair and long red fingernails.

“Please have a seat.” I motioned to the chair across the desk from me. “Did you bring your résumé?”

“Of course.” She handed it to me. “I hope Margaret told you that I do not work past five o’clock, and I need to have lunch at twelve every day.”

“Why don’t I look over your résumé first,” I said. “What was the last law firm you worked for?”

“It was the law office of Hank Fowler. It’s all right there.”

“What was the reason you left there? It doesn’t seem to be here.” I skimmed down the single page of paper.

“He was disbarred, so there wasn’t any more work there.” She smiled and looked around the office.

“Where will I be sitting. I absolutely have to have a window where I work. I have claustrophobia.” She smiled again.

“That seems to be your only law firm experience. How long were you there?”

“Three months.”

“The next place you worked was Stanley’s Pest Control. What did you do there?”

“I answered the phones. When customers called up with special problems, like mice in the kitchen or bugs or something, I dispatched a truck to take care of it.”

“I see. How long did you work there?”

“Six months, but I quit. Everyone smelled like bug spray. It made me sick.”

“Then you were at Mike’s Body Shop.”

“Yeah, I was the cashier in one of those little window places, where the customers go to pick up their cars, but they get them only if they pay, you know. I had to leave there. The claustrophobia got me.”

“I thought Ms. Shmeegle said you were a trained legal secretary.”

Well, I worked for Hank and he was a lawyer. When do you want me to start and what’s the pay?”

“Somehow, Brittany, I don’t think you’re right for this job, but thanks for coming over.” I stood up and led her to the door. So much for the Shmeegle legal service.

I was back to square one. I dug into the first pile of motions, booted up my computer, and thanked God that I knew how to type.

CHAPTER ELEVEN
 

I drove into the parking lot of Elite Wines at five minutes before noon for my appointment with Jack Brandeis. The two-story stucco building covered the whole block. The front of the building looked like an office building with floor-to-ceiling glass doors. At the back, near the parking lot, were a loading dock and numerous trucks. I chose the front door. Jack Brandeis didn’t sound like the type to be hands-on, shipping and receiving cargo. He sounded like the executive type, consumed with his own importance. He had tried to dodge meeting with me. I was getting the idea he cared more about Elite Wines than about his sister.

An information desk filled the front lobby. Three attractive young women were behind the desk fielding telephone calls. They looked more like models than receptionists. One of the Naomi Campbell look-alikes finally noticed me.

“I have an appointment with Jack Brandeis. I’m Mary Katz.” I handed her my card.

I glanced around the lobby. It was decorated in an
art deco look. A showcase was filled with interesting wine bottles. A poster announced the new wine of the month. A sauvignon blanc from New Zealand. Mymind wandered. A bottle of wine and Carlos sure would be great. The receptionist broke into my daydream.

“I’ll ring him,” she said in a fake British accent, “but I believe he just left the building.”

“That can’t be correct. We had an appointment for twelve sharp.” I tried to swallow the anger building up in my throat. I had left my office at eleven and fought the traffic through the usual freeway lane closings for repairs. I had left loads of other clients’ work strewn around my office.

The receptionist was on the phone. “Yes, I told her he went out, but she insists that she has an appointment. Okay, I’ll tell her.”

She replaced the phone and turned to me. “Mr. Brandeis is very sorry. He was called out unexpectedly and asks that you reschedule.”

“That won’t be necessary. I’ll wait in his office,” I said as I rushed for the elevator. I had glanced at the guide as I entered the lobby and noted executive offices, second floor.

I was in the elevator before any of the models could chase me down in their super spike heels. I imagined that they were calling security, but I was dashing down the hallway until I saw the mahogany double doors with a gold plate announcing executive suite.

The woman behind the desk was wiping her
glasses. It was obvious she had been crying. She looked more like a librarian than an executive secretary. Her salt-and-pepper hair was held tightly in a bun. She wore a dark dress and pearls.

“Excuse me.” I said. “I’m here to see Jack Brandeis. We have an appointment for twelve o’clock.”

The woman looked me over. “They called from the lobby. They said you came up here without permission.”

“Look, I’m Lillian Yarmouth’s attorney. Mr. Brandeis was unable to come to my office, so I came here to interview him. It’s essential that I meet with everyone who can help me with Mrs. Yarmouth’s defense.”

Before I finished my sentence, the woman began to cry in great gulping sobs. I moved around the desk and patted her shoulder. My handy supply of Kleenex was retrieved from my briefcase. Tears go with the territory of criminal defense.

“I didn’t mean to upset you,” I said.

“Oh, it’s not you. It’s just everything that’s happened. We all loved Gary — Mr. Yarmouth, and his wife, too. It’s so sad here without him. I’m sorry, I’m Beverly Klein, Mr. Yarmouth’s administrative assistant. Or I guess I should say, I was his assistant.” This brought on a new flood of tears.

“Where is Mr. Brandeis anyway? We were supposed to meet here at noon.”

“God knows,” she sniffled. “He hightailed it out of here a few minutes ago.”

“Well, I’m going to sit right here and wait for him.” I marched over to one of the leather easy chairs and plunked down. “You better call downstairs and see if they’re sending some security guys up here to evict me. Oh, by the way, I’m Mary Katz. While I’m waiting, why don’t you and I talk about Gary and Lillian? Maybe you can give me some help.”

Beverly seemed accustomed to following orders. She called off the hounds who were on their way, assuring them that I seemed harmless. Then she left her desk and took the chair next to me.

“How can I help?” she asked. “I could never believe that Lillian would harm Gary, no matter what.”

“You know the family well. I see that. What do you mean by ‘no matter what?’”

“I was Gary’s assistant for fifteen years. I worked here before old Mr. Brandeis died. The Yarmouths seemed to be an ideal family, always laughing and busy with a thousand activities.”

She was avoiding my question, so I moved to another subject. “How did Jack Brandeis get along with Gary and Lillian?”

“Well, to be honest, Gary and Jack didn’t see eye to eye when it came to the business. See, Gary was the one with the ideas. He really built on what old Mr. Brandeis had started. He expanded sales. I guess you’d say he was a born salesman. Everyone here loved him. He always had a smile, or a joke to tell. Jack was more the detail man. He likes everything to be organized. Some
here say he’s a bit stingy, and he thought Gary overstepped his role in the business and the family.”

“Was Jack jealous of Gary?”

“I wouldn’t say jealous. But he did resent Gary’s relationship with Mr. Brandeis. Before he died, he appointed Gary president of Elite. I guess that hurt Jack.”

“Is Jack close to Lillian?”

“Well, he’s always been protective of her. She’s his kid sister, and Lillian is a quiet woman, devoted to her home and kids. I always thought Gary was good for her. He was so outgoing. If you ever saw Lillian with Gary, it was clear she adored him. I know she’d never hurt him, let alone do what they say she did.”

“So what did you mean by Lillian wouldn’t hurt him, no matter what?”

“I don’t want to cause trouble,” Beverly said. “I want to see Lillian get through this.” She twisted the lump of Kleenex in her hand.

I reached over and put my hand on hers. “Beverly, if you know something that could hurt Lillian’s case, please, tell me. I need to know before the prosecutors dig up some dirt. I can’t help if I don’t know what I’m fighting.”

“Please, don’t tell anyone this came from me.” She drew a deep breath. “Last year Gary was spending a lot of time on the Omni Hotel account. We supplied most of the hotels in the southeast. Gary said he was trying to get the national account, but he seemed to be having a number of appointments with the local manager,
Maddie Rodriguez. Gary had me setting lunch and dinner reservations. Maddie was calling him here all the time.”

Beverly stopped and looked past me. She looked frightened. I turned around and saw a tall, balding man glaring at her.

“Well, you must be Mary Katz,” he said. He continued to stare at Beverly, who jumped up and returned to her desk. “I’m sorry. I was detained in the warehouse. The front desk told me you were here waiting.”

“I was just keeping her company while she waited,” Beverly said.

“Yes, I can see that. Thank you, Beverly. You should have called me.”

“I would have, if I’d known where you were,” Beverly answered.

“Well, Ms. Katz, let’s go into my office. I don’t have a lot of time, but I see you are persistent, so let’s have our little talk,” Jack said.

I followed him down a long hall with pictures of Miami as it had been over the years. We entered a large corner office, well furnished, with the neatest desk I’d ever seen. Beverly was right. This was a man who tended to details.

Jack motioned to the chair across the desk from him. “Now, Ms. Katz, the company and I are prepared to assist Lillian in every way possible. I will tell you
straight out that I wanted to hire a more, shall we say, well-known attorney for my sister. I contacted a New York firm. However, Lillian feels that she wants you, so that’s that. What is it you want from me?”

“I need to gather all the information possible regarding Gary, his friends, family, his work, anything that will lead to a defense. I’m sure you know that Lillian is in shock and not able to assist me very much at this time.”

“Lillian has always been a delicate woman. I did not know that she was unwell. I will call the family doctor.”

Jack’s expression of impatience was growing. He reminded me of Sam when I’m slow in getting his dog chow served up. I thought he might leap from his chair at any moment.

“I understand that you’re very busy, but I need to ask you some questions. Did Gary have any business enemies? Anyone you know of who would have wanted to hurt him?”

“On the contrary, everyone loved Gary. He was Mister Personality.”

“Did you share that view?”

“What I thought of him is unimportant. As long as he kept my sister happy, he was okay with me.”

“Were you friends as well as family and business colleagues?”

“None of this is really your business, but I’ll try to
explain. Gary didn’t really fit in to our family or community. He was raised in a very poor family. He lacked many advantages that we grew up with. He expanded his horizons when he married Lillian and came into the business. I’m sure you understand what I mean. Now is there anything else?” Jack started to get up.

“Yes, there is. Was Gary seeing another woman?”

Jack’s face turned red. “Why would you ask that?”

“Look, Mr. Brandeis, if Gary was cheating on Lillian, that could be a motive for her having murdered him. The prosecution will use that. I need to know matters like this so I can stop any speculation about a motive. You and I are on the same side. We both want what’s best for your sister.”

BOOK: Fatal February
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