Authors: Steven J Patrick
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery, #Retail, #Suspense, #Thriller
"I just wined, dined, and slam-dunked a new account, m'boy," he smiled. "Dinner at El Gaucho, Cohibas, bottle or two of Shafer Cab, Warres '90 Port with dessert. The works."
"Ouch," I chuckled. "Was your expense account air-lifted to Harborview after?"
"Chump change, compared to what's coming the other way," he sighed. "Two-point-six annual budget for six years."
"Jeez," I murmured. "I'm in the wrong line of work."
"So come over," he shrugged. "I've always thought we could use a leg-breaker for those occasional slow-pays."
"Waaal," I yawned, "I may have my own rather tiny gravy train after tomorrow. Attorney from Eastern WA, a man with a lightning checkbook, needs a goodly chunk of my romantically unencumbered time. I feel a rate increase coming on."
"Bravo," Chip nodded. "Hey, how's about beers Friday, after the cows are in the barn?"
"Done," I smiled. "Palomino?"
"Nah," he frowned. "Like Yogi Berra said, 'Nobody goes there anymore because it's too crowded'. Let's do the ol' Virginia Inn."
"I like it," I grinned. "Nostalgic."
"Back to the days when we both had no money, eh?" he laughed.
"Chip," I groaned, "I still don't have any money."
"Okay, I'm buying," he snorted. "No money, my ass."
I sighed and slapped him on the back. We walked out together and said our goodbyes at my parking space. I watched Leroy, an ageless black street musician who was there the first day I came to Seattle and would doubtless be there after I'm gone, tuning his ancient Martin on a bench in Occidental Square. He looked up and saw me and nodded, grave and silent as ever. Leroy rarely spoke and I once asked him why.
"I speak all the time, man," he said softly, "I just do it while I'm singing."
Hard to argue with that.
The game had just ended when I reached the corner of South First and Royal Brougham, in front of the brewery.
It felt strange not to be at the ballpark. I have season tickets and rarely miss a game. Tonight, though, I had promised Scott all four so he could take Pam's parents, from St. Paul, to watch the M's play the Twins. I heard the wrap-up on a sausage vendor's radio as I walked down Occidental. The M's won 11-2. I had a feeling it had been a long night for Scott with Pam and the in-laws.
Lee was already at a table and had two ambers in place. I slid into a chair, picked up one of the mugs, and downed about a third of it at one go.
“Well,” Lee smiled, “hello to you, too.”
“I looked at you and looked at the beer and remembered my priorities,” I replied. “The rest was just reflexes.”
Lee’s own glass was almost empty. If he had been here much more than five minutes, he was nursing it. Lee’s capacity is a thing of much wonder and envy. I’ve stayed mug-to-mug with him a couple of times and have gone a trifle goofy around the edges while Lee remains as lucid as Charlie Rose.
Lately, he has been nursing them, though. Rumor has it that the current D.A. is making retirement-type noises while Lee has steadily emitted run-for-District-Attorney signals, relentlessly as a radio transmitter, for ten solid years. Curiously, he’s managed to wind up as the logical successor to the job without more than a dollop of ass-kissing and with the respect of his colleagues. He’s a tireless worker and a borderline-brilliant litigator. The word “dogged” doesn’t even begin to describe his pursuit of evidence or presentation of it in court. His favorite saying is that Shaquille O’Neal carries such a great field-goal percentage because slam-dunks almost never miss.
We became friends mainly because I dropped three high-profile cases into his lap, gift-wrapped and bow-tied, setting him up for those monster jams.
“I talked to Dave today,” he smiled, a mischievous glint in his eye.
“About his little lecture during your haircut.”
“Aw, shit,” I sighed, “not you, too.”
“No,” he grinned. “No lectures. Just one word...”
“Which is?” I nodded.
“Ditto,” he smirked. “Dit-frikkin’-to.”
“Yep, you too,” I groaned.
“Aw, grow up, willya?” Lee snapped. “What are you proving, now, anyway? That you’re not ruled by your Johnson? Stipulated. That you can live without a relationship? Hell, anybody can. it’s just that most people don’t know it. So, what?”
“What happened to ‘just one word’?” I fumed.
“That was my opening argument,” he said. “This is the evidence portion.”
“If your opening in court were ever that succinct, somebody would have to give the judge oxygen,” I snorted. “Why aren’t you talking about the game?”
“Respect for the dead,” he grinned evilly. “They buried the Twins in the infield, after.”
He killed the final two fingers of beer and signaled the waiter for two more.
“Besides,” he chuckled, “this is more fun.”
“Well, then,” I yawned, “I’ll enter a plea. I’m going to try it again.”
“Wonderful!” Lee barked, smacking the table and scaring the hell out of our waiter. “I got just the girl for ya!”
“Good Christ,” I moaned. “Here we go.”
“What?” he said innocently. “She’s single, gorgeous, and has had a little thing for you for years.”
“Single Single?” I asked. “Or Single Divorced?”
“Single Single,” he shot back.
“Oooh, I’m sorry,” I shrugged. “The judges say she’s too young.”
“Huh?” Lee sputtered, “whaddaya mean, ‘too young’?”
“I mean,” I began, “if she’s single/never-married and gorgeous, then she’s waaay too young for me because the only two kinds of women who reach my age range unhitched are either lesbians or bitches. If she’s a lesbian, she’s not interested in me. If she’s a bitch, I’m not interested in her.”
“What, for the love of God, is wrong with ‘young’?” Lee asked, stunned. “Jeez, ‘too young’. That’s like saying you’ve got too much money.”
“What’s wrong with ‘young’ is that I’m not,” I replied. “I’m 50. I’m content to be 50. Any young woman who is totin’ around a thing for a 50-year-old guy is working out unresolved issues with her father. Period.”
“Whoa, whoa! No ‘period’,” Lee shot back. “She isn’t that young and I know her dad. He’s a great guy.”
“How old?” I asked.
“Jeez,” he muttered, “I dunno.”
“She work with you?” I smiled.
“Ummm...yeah, but...” he stammered.
“Then you know,” I said. Lee has an absolute mania about the vitals of everyone around him. I knew damned well he could not only spit out her age but her dog’s name, shoe size, and favorite color, if pressed.
“31,” he sighed.
I made my game show buzzer noise and sipped my beer.
“Too young,” I nodded.
Well, fu...screw me,” Lee sighed. His tune-up for the run at DA included a resolution to swear less which, for Lee, was like taking a vow to cut back on breathing.
“Okay,” he groaned, tucking into the new pint. “So thumbs down on the only deranged woman I know who is actually interested in you. Hmmm....let’s see.”
“Don’t you have a job?” I muttered. “Fairly time-consuming job?”
“I can make time for a little creative match-making,” Lee replied. “It’s worth it. People above me on the food chain, when they forget your name, refer to you as ‘your buddy, the loner’. Didja know that?”
“How would I know that?” I shrugged. “I remember my name.”
“Ha-ha,” Lee said dryly. “Besides, if I don’t help you, you’ll fu...uh, bugger it up.”
“Better watch ‘bugger’,” I grinned. “Might piss off the English voters.”
“Bugger off,” Lee yawned.
The rest of the evening was spent in my warding off Lee’s relentless attempts to think of just the right date for me. The phrase ‘get back on the horse’ kept popping up and I finally told him I might be a tad rusty on the dating do's and don’ts but, I was pretty sure that women don’t wear saddles. Then I told him I’d do another nine years of abstinence if he said another word. The conversation became a little stilted after that.
I got home just about midnight and took Clyde for a quick spin up to Kerry Park. I was asleep as soon as my hair met linen.
My dreams were a full-tilt montage of every thorny relationship episode since I was 14. I woke at 3:49, bladder screaming and brain afire with ghosts of liaisons past.
It took me until 4:45 to get back to sleep. When the alarm buzzed at me at 7:50, I slapped at it and went back to sleep.
I was still in the fog after walking Clyde and got to the office, finally, at a quarter of eleven, groggy, grumpy, and in no shape to talk with Art D’Onofrio. I made a note to call him after lunch and spent the morning paying bills, placing my office supply order, and returning emails from my mother, my cousin Rachel, and my wine guru and good pal, Phil Plochman. Phil was offering Lamborghini Campoleone at $74 a bottle, so I bit down hard and ordered six.
Rachel and Mom had obviously conspired a bit, as Mom’s was the periodic full-court press for me to start dating and Rachel worked the subject artfully into a description of her sister-in-law.
I shut down the computer and went downstairs to Torrefazone d’Italia for an espresso, an occasional sin that my caffeine sensitivity mostly rules out. I was already climbing the walls, so what more could the caffeine do?
My office line was ringing as I walked in the door.
“Truman North,” I managed.
“Tru?” A voice croaked, “How’s tricks?”
“Arturo D’Onofrio,” I smiled. “Come state, signor, mi amico.”
"I'm about as Italian as you are, Bubba." It was a vintage exchange, "Did I catch you at a bad time?"
“Any time before noon is technically a bad time for me, Art,” I laughed. “But…show must go on. I’d made a note to call you after lunch."
"Hey, I can call back," he said hastily.
"No problem," I replied. "Now is good."
"Outstanding," he murmured. "Well, Tru, I sorta don't know what I've got here, if, in fact, I have anything at all. I got a longstanding client, a builder/developer from D.C., who's one of the backers of this new hunting/fishing/resort/casino deal going in on the Colville Reservation west of Colville. Got permits, hardware on site, financing in place, but some members of the tribal council are claiming that the land use was never put to a vote."
"Known malcontents?" I asked.
"No, actually," Art sighed, "that's what's odd. I do a lot of res-related stuff and the static always seems to come from the 20-30 something activist types. Not this time. One of the people there is a woman…and 78 years old."
"What's your client's take?" I probed.
"He's a good dude," Art yawned. "He'll drop a project in a hot minute rather than disrespect a legit group of locals. But he'll also go to the mat if it's just a bunch of your chronic complainers, so he needs to know."
"Well, Art," I mused, "much as I like you and much as I love your money, sounds like something one of your law clerks could do by phone or e-mail."