Authors: John Lescroart
'Mark's a good man, Lyd. That counts.'
Once, in the very early days, Mark had subtly but very definitely come on to Lydia, his best friend's wife. When she'd called him on it, he'd backed off, saying in his charming way that she must have misunderstood something, he was sorry. But she knew she hadn't misunderstood a thing.
She'd never mentioned it to Wes or to Sheila. On some level she was flattered, even amused by it – to have something on the great Mark Dooher, who obviously thought she was attractive enough to run that risk. Imagine!
But she had decided opinions about his inherent goodness.
Still, Sheila was her friend. They'd been through moves and children and schools and their husbands' careers together, and she deserved a listen.
'I'm sorry. You're right. Good counts. I'm just a little snippy today. I'm seeing Sarah' – her divorce lawyer – 'tomorrow, and I want to be in shape. I'm always tempted to be so nice, let Wes have something I've got a legal right to. So Sarah told me, "Start thinking hate thoughts the day before. Think of all the shitty things he's done, the times he hasn't shown up when he said he would, the dinners that got cold, the shirts you've ironed, to say nothing about… more personal things. You'll never regret it." Sarah's a jewel.'
'I never want to go through that.'
'Well, I didn't either, dear, but divorce is like war. If you're in one, you'd better win. Still, you and Mark aren't going to get divorced.'
'No, I don't think that.'
'I didn't say "but".'
Lydia smiled at her friend. 'Yes, you did. So why?'
'Why do you think your marriage is suffering?'
Sheila put down her cup, picked up the tiny spoon and stirred. After a long moment she answered, 'Because Mark is.'
Sheila took a moment phrasing it. She wasn't sure herself. 'I think he's clinically depressed. With the kids gone now and all. I think he's lost.' A pause. 'I'm worried he might kill himself.'
'Has he said that?'
'No. You know Mark, but he's made a few comments.'
Lydia picked up her cup, sipped at it, eyes on Sheila. 'Why would he kill himself? He's got everything.'
'Maybe what he has doesn't mean anything. Or enough.' Sheila's eyes were dry and she spoke calmly.
But Lydia had known her since college, and had learned that just because Sheila wasn't given over to histrionics didn't mean she didn't go deep. 'How's he acting?' she asked.
'Silent. And he's not sleeping. His doctor gave him some pills but he won't take them. He was up and out by seven this morning when I got up, and we didn't get to bed until very late. Two-ish.'
'Up and out?'
'No. I called. He didn't get in till after ten:'
'I don't want to say-'
Sheila held up her hand. 'No, it's not an affair. He doesn't have time. You don't go meet your lover at six in the morning someplace. Actually, he went to Church – Ash Wednesday – for ashes. I asked and he told me.'
'The good Catholic. Still.'
'That's him. But the point is he's getting no sleep. This has been going on almost a year now. It's like he's afraid he's going to miss something – some excitement, I don't know. And then he's constantly disappointed when nothing happens.'
'Are you two doing okay? I mean, personally?'
Sheila wore a rueful look. 'You mean our sex-life, speaking of nothing happening…' Then, as though she'd said more than she intended, added, 'It's great when we get around to it, which is about every four times the moon gets full, if that.'
Lydia looked out at the drizzle, at her manicured lawn. She sighed. 'That happened to Wes. The whole thing you describe. I tried as long as I could, but I just couldn't stand it. He wasn't depressed, I don't think. He'd just stopped loving me. I don't mean that's you and Mark, but that was me and Wes.'
Sheila thought a moment. 'I just don't believe that,' she said. 'I think it's deeper and if I could just figure out what it was, everything would get better.'
Lydia took her hand over the table, patted it. 'You know him better than me, Sheila. I'm sure you're right. I hope so.'
Sheila really blamed herself.
That was her training as well as her inclination. She always blamed herself, for everything that went wrong – their kids, Mark's dissatisfaction. It had to be her.
She knew it couldn't be Mark, who didn't make mistakes – not the way other people did. Factual errors, even in casual conversation? Forget it. The man knew everything and forgot nothing. Sheila made lists to remember all of the many jobs she had to do every day or week. Mark just did them – all, and perfectly. He never needed a reminder. He never lost his temper. (Well, once in a very great while, and invariably when she had provoked him beyond the limits of a saint.) Mark Dooher performed his duties flawlessly.
So if something was wrong, and something was, it had to be Sheila's fault.
She thought it was probably the double-whammy of the onset of menopause and Jason – their baby – finally going off to school. Way off, to Boulder, where he could snowboard all winter long. And Mark Jr working now on that rig in Alaska, trying to make enough to pay the bills for a summer of his sculpting since his father wouldn't help him if he was so set on doing that kind of stupid art, and Susan in New York.
Well, at least Susan called every week or so, tried to keep them up on her life, though Sheila and especially Mark would never understand why she had no interest in men.
Sheila's hormones, too, had caught up with her, swirled her into depression. She couldn't deny it and she couldn't blame Mark. She'd become miserable to live with, a hard truth to accept for Sheila Graham Dooher, who until she turned forty-five was one of the city's legendary partyers.
But as the gloom had begun to settle and she couldn't shake herself out of it, she felt less and less motivated to try. For over a year, everything Mark did she'd pick pick pick, losing her temper, poking viciously even at his perfection, his charming smile, his trim body, his own patience with her. She couldn't blame him for retreating into himself, his work, for not approaching her on sex. Whenever he did, she turned him down.
Then came the end of their nights out, or even the laugh-filled gourmet dinners at home with Wes and Lydia. In their places thrummed the somber pervasiveness of the big, empty house.
No wonder it had gotten to him, finally worn him down.
Which is what had finally woken her up. She hadn't intended to hurt Mark. She'd just been in her own funk, thinking somehow it would end. It was her problem and – a good Dooher all the way – she would suffer it in silence.
What she hadn't counted on was the long-term effect that her depression had on Mark. He had withdrawn, and she didn't know if she could get him back.
She'd decided she had to get over it, had finally gone to her doctor, and he'd prescribed the anti-depressant Nardil, and it had worked.
The only drawback was that she couldn't drink while taking the drug, which meant no more cocktails with Mark when he came home after a hard day, no more sharing his passion – hers, too – for wine with dinner. No more getting a little silly and loose and rubbing up against him.
She might have told him about the prescription, but she was afraid of his reaction, that his opinion of her would sink even lower. Doohers didn't need to take anti-depressants, they
their weaknesses away.
So she told him, instead, that she'd reached the decision that her depression was a result
of her drinking too much
and she was going to stop, cold turkey. That was the kind of decision a Dooher would make – an act of will to better yourself. Mark had to respect that, even if he didn't like it. It was far better, she reasoned, to give up drinking and treat her husband civilly than it was to have him consider her weak, 'hooked', perhaps forever, on an anti-depressant.
But it wasn't working. Mark was gone, and she wasn't sure he was going to come back. And it was all her fault.
Joe Avery wasn't malicious or abusive. Christina didn't want to be over-critical. He had a lot of fine qualities.
But he was driving her nuts.
Joe would go into little routines with mind-numbing regularity to illustrate how, in spite of being a lawyer, he was actually a nice guy, not really a type-A kind of uptight dweeb. Fly fishing, for example – how he was catch-and-release all the way, used only barbless hooks – that way those little fishies didn't feel a thing, probably enjoyed the exercise there on the end of his two-pound test. Keep their HDLs up.
Or the volunteer work with the Sierra Club. See? Even though he made money – and he wasn't ashamed of that, nosiree – he was sensitive to the environment.
Christina did volunteer work herself, so she could back him up here. It was important to have a broad spectrum of interests and involvements. You didn't want to lose sight of the big picture, which was a quality life.
Another of his big phrases – quality life.
Also, he had the habit of saying, 'Look at the facts,' followed by, 'That's very interesting.' Both of which set Christina's teeth on edge.
When she'd first started seeing Joe, she'd been attracted by the sense of sweetness he projected. It had been nearly three years since her professor. And Joe had just happened.
He'd been the TA in her Contracts course. After a few classes, some of the students started hanging around together afterward, going out for pizza, talking the ever-fascinating law talk. And then one night everyone else went home early.
She and Joe had closed the place, in the course of the night leaving Contracts behind them, discovering a mutual interest in backpacking, skiing, the Great Outdoors. Christina also liked Joe's looks, his full head of black hair over a chiseled face. A cleft chin like her father's.
Joe and some friends were going out in the Tahoe Wilderness for five days over Thanksgiving. Would Christina like to come?
No push, no come on. She'd liked that.
After a while, she came to recognize that she liked his manner and his personality in a lukewarm way that occasionally got up to a fair impersonation of heat. That was all right. Maybe it would change – she would wait. She didn't trust too much passion. She also desperately wanted to believe that the 'like' could over time transmogrify into 'love.' It was why she had after all this time picked a nice person, someone whose company was, if not thrilling, then pleasant, livable with.
Joe was now at his desk at four in the afternoon, twirling a pen between his fingers, glaring at Christina, struggling to control his anger.
'I don't know why you're so mad,' she was saying.
'I'm not mad. I just thought we'd already talked about this. I mean, you didn't even mention it last night, and now here you are, dressed to impress.'
She spread her hands in front of her. 'Joe, this is a simple business suit.'
'Yes, but every other applicant for summer clerk or anything else sends in a letter and a resume. Then we review it and decide whether-'
'I know all that. Mark Dooher asked me to come down, so I thought it would be appropriate to dress nicely.'
'Which on you doesn't-' He stopped himself, not wanting to say it, to admit that whether she liked it or not, her beauty was an issue, over and over again. 'I'm… maybe I'm a little disappointed, is all.' The pencil snapped between his hands, and he looked down at it in surprise.
'I don't know why you'd be disappointed, I really don't. Mark said…'
'Mark? You mean Mr Dooher?'
Her lips tightened in frustration. 'He said to call him Mark. He's a nice guy, Joe.'
'He's a nice guy.' Avery reeled himself in. 'I lied,' he said calmly. 'I am really mad.' He looked over Christina's shoulder, making triple sure his door was closed all the way. 'Mr Dooher is
nice guy. Let's get that straight. Look at the facts. He is a hatchet man. He cut both McCabe and Roth out of here like so much driftwood after thirty years and-'
She was shaking her head. 'Okay. He's tough in business. He's the boss, right? That comes with the territory. But he asked me to come down. What was I supposed to do?'
'I asked you
to come down. How about that? How about how comfortable I am with you going around feeling out the job situation here behind my back?'
'I didn't do that.' The volume went up. 'I told you, I ran into him at church. Jesus, give me a break, Joe. Don't be so – so…'
'So what?' Jumping on her, notching it up.
Avery sat back, lowering his voice almost to a whisper. Trn controlling? If I am, I'm not very good at it, am I?'
'You shouldn't be. That's my point. This is
career and if the managing partner invites me down for an interview, what do you expect me to do? Say, "Oh, I'm sorry, I'm a modern woman and all, but my boyfriend would be so upset."'
'I'm not upset.'
'And you're not mad either, I suppose.' Though she knew he was furious. 'Damn it, Joe, you don't have any right to be mad at me.' She grabbed up her briefcase.
'Where are you going?'
'I'm going to talk to Mr Dooher.' She hesitated. 'To
This got him up, hand outstretched, nearly knocking his chair over behind him. 'Whoa, whoa, wait a minute, Christina. Wait a minute!'
She paused, her hand on the doorknob. 'All right, one minute. What for?'
He crossed around his desk, stopping an arm's length from her. 'Look…' A long breath, getting his own control back. 'Look, I'm sorry. Don't go to Mr Dooher, not like this.'
'Like what? Like all mad at you? Like I'll get you in trouble? I promise, I won't mention you at all.'
'I don't understand why you don't want me to work here, Joe. I thought you'd be happy. We could be together, see each other during the day, go out to lunch… I thought it would be fun.'
He moved toward her, held her arms gently. 'I know,' he said. 'I know. It would.'
'So what's the problem?'
'It just surprised me, that's all. I thought we'd decided something else, and then just having this sprung on me…'
Joe. I didn't feel like I needed to ask your permission. I came down and here I am now, telling you. I'm not hiding anything.'
'All right,' he said. 'All right, I'm sorry. I don't want to fight about this.'
'I don't either.'
'Okay, then.' He stepped back. 'Did you bring your resume with you? A cover letter?'
She nodded, crossed to his desk, put her briefcase on it and snapped it open. Handing him the envelope, she asked him where it went now.
There was a look in his eyes that she didn't like very much. Then a half-smile to back it up. He motioned with his head – follow me. On the floor next to one of the bookcases across the room was a cardboard box that had originally held a case of wine.
As the associate in charge of the summer clerk program, Avery received all the hopefuls' resumes, which a four-person committee reviewed once every two weeks. In the meanwhile, Avery 'filed' the resumes in the cardboard box, which currently was two or three inches deep in them.
He dropped Christina's in on top.
'Okay,' he said, 'you're in the hopper. Next it goes to the committee.' He reached out a hand and touched her sleeve. 'After this it gets pretty objective, Chris. We'll just have to see what happens.'
All that to drop her envelope in a box! She had been finessed.
Christina was so angry that she didn't even feel her reaction until she'd kissed Joe goodbye by the elevator banks and ridden the twenty-one floors back down to the lobby that opened on to Market Street. There, she stopped still, her heart suddenly pounding.
Though it was short notice, Victor Trang had been only too happy to come down for an afternoon meeting with Mr Dooher, who was representing the Archdiocese.
As usual, Trang wasn't exactly loaded down with litigation and he was heartened by the almost immediate response represented by Dooher's call. Also, late in the day, he welcomed the excuse to leave his one-room office in the darkened back corner of a turn-of-the-century building near the Geneva Avenue off-ramp of the Junipero Serra Freeway – as bleak a setting as San Francisco offered.
As soon as possible, would he like to come downtown to the no-doubt elegantly appointed twenty-first floor of the One California Building and discuss this matter? Why, yes. He allowed as to how he could find the time.
He'd only brought the matter up with Dooher on the previous Thursday, and thought that this quick a reply boded well for an equally quick settlement, which was why he was in the game.
Mark Dooher wasn't drinking anything, but his secretary came in and served excellent French roast coffee in an almost-translucent white china cup with a thin band of gold at the rim. Trang was sitting before a mahogany coffee table on an Empire-style couch, looking across Dooher's spacious office and out through the floor-to-ceiling windows.
The office, hanging here exposed above the city, was intimidating. The message it conveyed was clear – Dooher hadn't gotten here by losing very often. The weather had been dismal all day, and now wisps of dark clouds blew by in the strong wind, alternately obscuring then revealing the view – the Bay Bridge and Treasure Island, freighters and tugs on the water. The hills across the Bay, in the distance, were hulking shapes of gunmetal gray.
Trang took a sip of his coffee, nodded, and smiled at his host. He was thirty-three years old. He'd been a U.S. citizen for fifteen years, and was used to Caucasian faces, but this one was unreadable – open, honest, apparently friendly, civilized and well groomed. It was the kind of face that scared him the most, and the man who owned it sat kitty-corner to him, hands crossed, elbows on his knees, leaning slightly forward, getting right to the point.
'First, the Archbishop wanted me to convey to you that there is no intentional policy of toleration toward this kind of behavior in the Archdiocese. If Father Slocum had this relationship with Mrs Diep…
'He did, and with her daughter, too.'
'If, as I say, if this went on with Father Slocum, it was wrong and we deplore his actions. But,' Dooher continued, 'the larger issue – the whole question of officially looking the other way – that's a very sensitive area.'
Trang nodded. 'That's true,' he said, 'but it's equally true that many people have been substantially damaged.'
Dooher winced at the legal phrase. Without 'damages', there is no recovery. Trang was putting him on notice that he was here to talk turkey.
actually suffered damages, Mr Trang. For the moment, I thought we might stick with Mrs Diep. She's your primary client, isn't she?'
Trang put his coffee cup down and smiled. For the first time, he had a sense that this was going to work. And if it did, he would be on his way. 'Only until I file the amended complaint.' Another smile. 'Which I believe you've seen.'
'Yes, of course. That's what I wanted to see you about. Needless to say, we'd prefer you don't make that filing.'
Trang barely concealed his excitement. The Archdiocese was going to offer a settlement! He lifted his shoulders an inch. 'Naturally, if we could reach some understanding here…
Dooher smiled, nodded, and stood. 'Good,' he said, 'I think we can.' He walked over to his desk, where he picked up a leather folder and opened it. 'I have here a check in the amount of fifteen thousand dollars as a settlement for Mrs Diep's claims.'
Trang's stomach went hollow. Ten seconds before, he'd been thinking in the millions, and now…
'It's a generous offer, considering,' Dooher was saying. 'I know Mrs Diep feels that she's been wronged, but let's not pretend that she wasn't a willing participant in this whole unfortunate scenario. This is as far as we're going to go. I know the Archbishop. If I were you, I'd take it. That's honest advice.'
Trang forced himself to remain seated, to keep his voice calm. 'We were asking-'
'I know, I know, but look, Victor – do you mind if I call you Victor? – let's not pussy-foot around. You and I know what you've been doing. You've been out beating the bushes trying to find witnesses or victims or whatever you want to call them, to accuse priests of things that didn't happen, or are very difficult to prove. It's going to get ugly and it's going to take forever and PS you're going to lose. You're going to waste five years of your young life.' Dooher was standing by the windows. 'Come here a minute. Come here.'
Obediently, Trang rose and crossed the room. The height was dizzying. The floor upon which they stood seemed to end, unsupported, in space. Dooher stepped to the window, his shoes nearly touching the glass. He motioned Trang up next to him, stood too close to him, threateningly close.
Dooher picked up the thread of the discussion. 'You know, not a day goes by that I don't stand here looking down over the city reflecting on the frivolity of our fellow men. All these buildings, all this scrambling activity…' He leaned right into the window.'… All that humanity down on the street, tiny and busy as ants, doing so much that is frivolous. You know what I'm saying?'
'You are warning me about the dangers of bringing a frivolous lawsuit.'
A beam lit Dooher's face. 'That's exactly right, Victor. That's what I'm doing. Because I must tell you – this may be old news to you – that the courts are overworked as it is and extremely sensitive to frivolous lawsuits. Extremely sensitive. They smell frivolous and you got fines and even suspensions like you wouldn't believe. Bad stuff, very bad. Especially for sole practitioners such as yourself. Courts have been known to put 'em right out of business.'
Trang straightened himself, moved away from the windows. 'This lawsuit isn't frivolous.'
'Mrs Diep's may have some merit. We agree. Hence the fifteen thousand. Look.' Dooher laid a hand on his shoulder, seeming to push him out over the city. 'I was going to play hardball with you, Victor, and not make any offer. But when I told Jim Flaherty – the Archbishop – that you would be fined and have to pay our fees, and possibly be suspended from the Bar and so on… well, he insisted I convey to you this warning and offer the really generous settlement. Myself, I hate to give away strategy, but His Excellency doesn't want you to suffer, and if you go ahead with this lawsuit, you're going to.'