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Authors: Steve Martini

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Thrillers, #Mystery fiction, #Legal, #California, #Legal stories, #Madriani; Paul (Fictitious character)

The Arraignment

BOOK: The Arraignment
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

The Arraignment

 

A
Jove
Book / published by arrangement with the author

 

All rights reserved.

Copyright ©
2003
by
SPM, Inc.

This book may not be reproduced in whole or part, by mimeograph or any other means, without permission. Making or distributing electronic copies of this book constitutes copyright infringement and could subject the infringer to criminal and civil liability.

For information address:

The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Putnam Inc.,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

 

The Penguin Putnam Inc. World Wide Web site address is
http://www.penguinputnam.com

 

ISBN:
0-7865-4424-4

 

A
JOVE
BOOK®

Jove
Books first published by The Jove Publishing Group, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc.,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

JOVE
and the “
J
” design are trademarks belonging to Penguin Putnam Inc.

 

Electronic edition: January, 2004

Titles by Steve Martini

THE ARRAIGNMENT
THE JURY
THE ATTORNEY
CRITICAL MASS
THE LIST
THE JUDGE
UNDUE INFLUENCE
PRIME WITNESS
COMPELLING EVIDENCE
THE SIMEON CHAMBER

In memory of Ralf

CHAPTER ONE

N
ick’s office is on seven, the bottom floor of Rocker, Dusha and DeWine, better known to the legal set as RDD. It is the largest law firm in town, with more than three hundred lawyers and offices in four cities.

Nick has been here only two years and already he has a corner office and two young associates assigned to him. Like a mini–law firm within a firm.

His office has been sharply decorated by Dana, the new Mrs. Rush. Her touch is on everything, from the Persian carpets and artistic earthen vases that adorn the alcoves behind his leather-tufted chair to the gold stud in his right nostril.

Nick may have a new sassy-looking wife, but he is the same man I’ve known for more than ten years. A cigarette dangles from his lower lip as he talks, dropping ash on the expensive leather blotter of his desk. Nick may not look the part, but people tend to listen to him when he talks.

He sweeps the ash away with the back of his hand and examines the burn mark on the new leather.

“If she sees that, she’ll kill me,” he says. He’s talking
about Dana. He tongues a little saliva on his finger and tries to fix it.

“I have to smoke here. Dana doesn’t like it at the house. She says it leaves a smell on the furniture and her clothes. I don’t smell it. But then, my smeller’s gone.”

He takes a good drag from the cigarette and immediately has a coughing jag.

“First one of the day.” He says it between fits of trying to catch his breath, cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth. “She’s right.” He holds the cigarette out looking at it, then puts it back in his mouth. “This shit’ll kill you. That’ll teach me to marry an interior decorator.”

He says nothing about the fact that he’s older than his wife by twenty years. He looks at me to see if I am offering any sympathy. That particular bank is closed at the moment.

My own practice, Madriani and Hinds, is small, no rival to RDD. My partner Harry Hinds and I staked out a quiet bungalow office lost in the foliage of a courtyard across from the Hotel Del Coronado two years ago. Looking for a cooler climate and a fresh start, we had relocated the practice from Capital City on the financial wings of a large judgment in a civil case. Since then Coronado and the environs around that city have become home for me and my fifteen-year-old daughter, Sarah. Sarah has no mother. Nikki died of cancer several years ago.

What takes me to Rocker, Dusha today is a phone call from a friend. Nick is in his fifties. Prime earning years for a trial lawyer. Old enough to have judgment and young enough to do the heavy lifting in court. He considers the move to Rocker, Dusha to have been a good one. I’m not sure I agree. To look at him, Nick has aged ten years in the last twelve months.

The firm recruited him with assurances that they would move him into civil litigation. Instead, he has been buried in white-collar crime. Along with business bankruptcies, it is one of the growth sectors of the law, both areas being driven by the aroma of corporate book-cooking that took
place in the last decade. The “me generation” of the 1960s is not faring well.

Nick’s corporate criminal skills have been honed over more than two decades, first in the U.S. attorney’s office, then in his own solo practice before coming here. There are rumors that Nick has been recruited elsewhere but has chosen to stay with Rocker, Dusha. I suspect if you chase these rumors down, you will find Nick residing under the rock from which they crept.

What the firm wanted was somebody to pick up the respectable businessman who occasionally slips and falls through the cracks, your friendly financial adviser who decides he’d rather invest you in his new yacht than in the bonds he told you about and then prints his own securities so you’ll have something to put in your safe. To Nick, this doesn’t even qualify as crime.

“They were supposed to groom me for the civil side, but as you can see it hasn’t happened.” He points to the files on the floor lining one wall three feet high.

“They can’t bring filing cabinets in fast enough. We’ve generated more revenue in the last two months than any other division. I told ’em I need help. They tell me to work my people harder. If I could bill a fifty-hour day I’d do it. Chamber of commerce crap,” he calls it. “Consumer fraud. Junior league crime. They should have to give you a plastic ring and a special decoding button before they charge you with any of this shit. I swear, half the stuff in those files I didn’t know was illegal until I came to work here.”

“Why don’t you leave? You could probably write your own ticket.”

“Too much invested. Two years. I’d have to start all over someplace else. Too old for that. I’ve got a wife who wants me to wear argyle silk socks to court and sue insurance companies so she can tell her friends over dinner that her husband’s a corporate lawyer and not have to lie. I know you think I’m out of my mind for being here. Getting divorced, getting remarried.”

“I didn’t say anything.”

“Your silence is deafening,” he says.

“I’m not your therapist.”

“I know that. He tells me when I fuck up.”

“OK, so maybe I made some stupid moves.
Stupid
is the word that comes to mind, isn’t it?” He assesses my expression one more time, then adds, “OK, there’s no maybe about it. But it’s done. Over. How do you un-ring a bell? The personal side of life for me is cooked. But the law practice, the career, that’s a work in progress.”

This is more optimism than I’ve seen in Nick in a while, on any front. He’s the kind of lawyer who thrives on a full caseload.

“I wish you were my therapist,” he says. “You ought to see this guy. I go to him once a week. It’s like going to the dentist to have my brain drilled without Novocain. I tell him I’m feeling pretty good, I’d like to move on with my life. He tells me I need to find closure with Margaret now that the divorce is over. I tell him I got all the closure I needed when her lawyer drove a pike up my ass in the support hearing, you know, the alimony. If that wasn’t enough, she took every dime I had. I tell him I’ve got plenty of closure, I could sell him closure. Then he says, catch this, he says I need to deal with Margaret to get over my feelings of guilt. I tell him I have no feelings of guilt. He tells me I should, that if I don’t I must have problems empathizing. And for this he hits me for a hundred-and-a-half an hour.”

“Stop going to see him.”

He looks at me through cigarette smoke, gives me a face, something you might see from De Niro. “Then I’d probably feel guilty,” he says. “My old man used to say pain is good for the soul. I know, that makes as much sense as my joining this fucking firm. But you make your bed and you sleep in it. And if it happens to be next to a twenty-six-year-old woman with an incredible ass, what can I say?” He laughs. The price Nick pays for lust.

He looks at me over the top of his cheaters, half-lenses for reading. He is wearing a three-thousand-dollar suit but has dandruff on his shoulders and cigarette ash on his tie
along with a wrinkled tan forehead that ends in baldness he is trying to hide under dying wisps of black hair.

“People grow apart. Call it a midlife crisis. Call it a second childhood. Call it what you want. I got an itch. So I scratched it.”

This is how he describes a two-week binge in the Caribbean with Dana. And this wasn’t the first itch for Nick.

He took Dana from Nevis to St. Lucia, then down to Belize and back to the Bahamas, half a jump ahead of the investigator Margaret hired to track him down. What Dana told her employer I don’t know. Maybe she took vacation time or figured she had her hook set far enough into Nick that she could quit.

The investigator caught up with them in Nassau. All the while Nick was supposed to be at a trial lawyer’s seminar in New Orleans, paid for by the firm.

“You ever done it with a twenty-six-year-old?” he asks me. This comes out of nowhere.

“When I was twenty-six.”

“No. No. I mean now?”

I know what he means, but knowing Nick I figure the question is rhetorical. I have seen him do this in front of juries for money, lots of it, pleading a client’s case, boring holes through them with those beady little eyes over a smile you know is not being driven by humor.

When Nick asks a question like “How can you be sure the sky isn’t green?” he is never looking for an answer. What he wants is the surrender of your rational thought process. Once he has you questioning your own logic, it’s a simple act of illusion before he has you buying into the fable his client is going to spin on the stand.

In this case it’s an exercise in absolution by silence from another lawyer. Even if I haven’t done it recently with a twenty-six-year-old, Nick can comfort himself with the thought that I would like to.

“So Margaret has to go hire herself this prince of darkness,” he says, “some fucking divorce lawyer out of L.A. to stake me to an anthill. Hey, do I complain?”

The fact that he is doing so now doesn’t slow him down.

“No. I just pay the tab and figure this is the price of moving on with my life.”

If the dark circles under his eyes are an indication, getting on with life would appear to be killing him. Nick’s face is a declining graph of sleep deprivation. Whether he’s working too hard to meet the alimony payments or playing too hard at night with Dana, I can’t be sure. One or the other, or both, are killing him.

“If you had an itch like this,” he says “wouldn’t you scratch it? Any guy with a normal sex drive . . .” He continues talking as if I’m not here.

Nick suspects I have had my own dalliances, perhaps in a former life before becoming widowed, though I have never shared any of this with him. It’s the reason he calls me from time to time. I’m cheaper than his therapist, and he can more easily ignore whatever I tell him since I have no training in the occult. Being outside the loop of his partnership, I am a safe shoulder to cry on.

As he sits across the desk from me, his brown eyes look like they belong behind wire mesh in the dog pound. There are basset-hound bags under each.

Dana, the new Mrs. Rush, is sleek and blond, four inches taller than Nick. She has the fresh look of a model on her way to becoming a movie star. And unless I have completely lost my judgment of character, she knows how to climb the rungs of life. I have met her three times, and on each occasion she parted with looks that made me wonder if she wasn’t trying to come on to me. But then, I suspect with Dana most men might foster this illusion, feeding it regularly, in hopes that it might grow into reality.

Dana possesses a kind of style that screams TROPHY. Tall and tan with a smile that glows like a nuclear reactor, she can stoke the coals that fire most male egos with a single fleeting glance across a crowded room. And for all you know she might be looking at the clock on the wall behind you, worried that she is late for an appointment to have her nails done.

The first time Nick met her was at a political fund-raiser.
He left his brains on the table along with the tip and began doing his thinking with his dick. He hired her to decorate his office and the rest is history. He has been on this particular treadmill now for almost two years and is beginning to show serious signs of wear.

“You would scratch it. Right?”

“What?” I look at him.

“This itch? Tell me you would,” he says, “otherwise I’m gonna start thinking you misplaced your libido.”

I give him an expression that is noncommittal.

“Fine, then tell me you wouldn’t scratch it.”

BOOK: The Arraignment
13.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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