Authors: Michael A Kahn
Her name was Gail Harris and she worked in promotions for one of the local FM radio stationsâthe one with the “classic rock” format. We met for breakfast at the Ritz-Carlton in Clayton. Gail was in her thirtiesâslightly overweight with high cheekbones, freckles, very curly brown hair, and a cheerful smile. Her first words to me were, “I totally love your hair. Who did your perm?”
“Oh, my God, those big curls. I am
“You wouldn't have been back in high school. I hated my hair. I used to sleep with it wrapped around an empty orange juice can and then blow-dry it straight in the morning.” I smiled and touched my hair. “Times change, and they'll change again.”
Gail's outfit had initially struck me as a bit prim for rock radioâdark skirt hemmed at the knee, white blouse, simple gold earrings and matching necklaceâbut then I remembered that she'd dressed for the funeral.
The waiter arrived. Gail ordered orange juice and an English muffin, toasted and plain. I ordered coffee, fresh strawberries, and oatmeal.
Gail told me that she was heading to an industry convention in Las Vegas, where she'd never been before. To prepare, she'd bought a book on gambling tips and had rented the movie
with Chevy Chase, “which was such a hoot I couldn't stop laughingâI almost peed in my pants.” She was extra excited because in the movie Chevy Chase had stayed at the Mirage, which is where she was staying.
The waiter arrived with our breakfasts. After he left, I briefly described my one meeting with Sebastian Curry, mainly to let her know how charming I'd found him.
“Oh, it's so sad,” she said, her eyes welling up. “I just adored Sebastian. Everyone did. I can't imagine who would do this to him. That's exactly what I told the police.”
“When did they talk to you?”
“Do they have any leads?”
“I don't think so.”
“How did you and Sebastian become friends?”
Gail sat back in her chair, chewing on the English muffin as she remembered. “The station did this afternoon drive-time event at King Louie's about two years ago. Sebastian was a waiter there. You couldn't miss himâI mean, talk about tall, dark, and handsome. Totally gorgeous. And so sweetâhelping us out and all. Afterward, the radio crew was heading over to this bar in Soulard to party and hear some blues. We dragged Sebastian along. I'm telling you, Rachel, by the time the night was over every girl at the bar was ready to take him home. Of course, like every sweet good-looking single guy you meet in this town, he was gay.” She glanced at my left hand. “Right?”
“Sure seems that way sometimes. So you knew him for about two years?”
“Did you know he was also a painter?”
“Oh, sure. Poor guy wasn't having much luck. It made you sad because he was so committed to his art.”
“Did he ever talk to you about his life before you met him?”
She frowned. “What do you mean?”
“Where he grew up, the things he did before he became a waiter?”
She thought about it. “Not really. He used to say he'd been through some really dark times, but he never talked about them. I remember he once told me his mother was an alcoholic and he never knew who his father was. He said he was raised by his grandmother.”
“Is she still alive?”
“No. He said she died of cancer when he was a teenager.” She hesitated. “Why are you so interested in this?”
“I represent Angela Green.”
Her eyes widened. “Oh, wow. The one in jail?”
“I like totally respect that woman. I taped that show where Oprah interviewed her in jail.” She paused and frowned. “But what does Sebastian have to do with that?”
“I think there might be some connection between my client and whoever killed Sebastian Curry.”
“Really? Oh, God.”
“I had some questions I wanted to ask him. I actually went over to his loft to talk to him. I was the one who found his body.”
“Oh, gross. You poor thing. That is so awful.”
“So I'm trying to find someone he was really close withâmaybe a lover or a best friend, someone he might have confided in. Did he have a boyfriend?”
“He did, but they broke up about three months ago. His name is Gregory. Gregory Johnson. They were together for maybe a month.” She mulled it over. “They never really seemed all that close, though.”
“Did he have someone before Gregory?”
“Yeah.” She paused, trying to remember. “But nothing serious. Nothing that ever lasted more than like a few weeks. Sebastian was one of those bachelor types. He liked to fool around, if you know what I mean. Who could blame him, huh? I mean he was such a total hunk that gay guys were practically throwing themselves at his feet. He never had a real lover during the time I knew him.”
“How about a best friend?”
She gave me a sad shrug. “That was probably me, and we weren't all that close.”
“Who else might he have confided in?”
“The best bet would be Reverend Wells.”
“His pastor. The one surprising thing about Sebastian was how totally religious he became the last year or so. He went to church every Sunday and always had his Bible handy. He really admired Reverend Wells. Those are the only times he'd ever mention his dark times. He'd tell me that Reverend Wells was helping save his soul. I never met the man, but I understand he's doing the funeral today.”
I did a quick mental review of my calendar. There was no way I could squeeze in the funeral. “I'll try to talk to him later this week.”
“He might know something,” Gail said.
I went over some other names with herâMichael Green, Billy Woodward, Samantha Cummings. She'd never met them and had never heard Sebastian mention them.
Before we parted I told her how important it was to keep our meeting confidential. “Gail, I don't know who killed Sebastian or why. All I know is that he was rattled by some of the things I mentioned to him during our meeting. I keep thinking that after our meeting he talked to the wrong person about whatever it was that bothered him, and that person arranged to have him killed.”
“I don't know, but I don't want anyone else to make that mistake. Don't mention our meeting to anyone.”
Her eyes widened. “I totally won't.”
“And if someone saw us together today and asks you why you were meeting with me, tell them you were trying to arrange a radio station promotion with one of my clients.” I mentioned a baseball player I represented.
“Wow, you represent him?”
I nodded. “Understand?”
“Got it. My lips are sealed.”
“If you think of anything else, or if someone asks you about our meeting, call me immediately, okay?
“Good luck, Rachel.”
Mr. Goddard will see you now.”
I looked up from the transcript of the deposition I'd taken of Charlie Blackwell several weeks ago. I'd been so engrossed in making notes for cross-examination that it took me a moment to get my bearings. I was seated in the swanky reception area of Goddard, Jones & Newberger. Don Goddard's secretary, a tall silver-haired woman with a British accent, was standing before me.
“Great.” I closed the transcript and legal pad, capped the pen, and put everything back in my briefcase.
“This way, please.”
I followed her down the hall to the large corner office of Don Goddard. The great man himself was seated behind an antique Queen Anne library desk in a high-backed leather chair large enough to double as a throne. He stood to greet me.
“Good morning, Rachel.” I let him take my hand. “What a delight to see you.”
“Thanks for meeting me on short notice.”
“It is my pleasure.”
There was a gleam in his eyes that I recognized. Goddard assumed that I was bringing him a new piece of legal business. When I'd called on my drive to the Ritz that morning, I told his secretary that I needed to talk to Mr. Goddard about some significant corporate and real estate matters involving a client of mine. That was true, of course, although its meaning was open to varying interpretations.
“I'm just a litigator,” I'd told her, explaining that I hoped Mr. Goddard would be able to help me out. She put me on hold a moment and came back on the line to tell me that Mr. Goddard would be delighted to squeeze me in at nine-thirty.
As I took a seat facing him, his phone rang. He hesitated, gazing longingly at it.
“Go ahead,” I told him.
During my years at Abbott & Windsor I'd learned that to a rainmaker a ringing phone was more alluring than the song of the Sirens. Indeed, one way to ascertain the pecking order among the partners at any big law firm is to figure who is the inflictor and who is the inflictee in what came to be known among the associates of Abbott & Windsor as “doing a Ma Bell.”
Goddard lifted the receiver and was quickly into full smoothie mode. I could almost hear the honey oozing through the phone lines. Not wanting to eavesdrop, I stood and looked around his office. There was the usual trophy wall of framed photographs of a tuxedo Goddard posing with various local and national luminaries, including former president Jimmy Carter, Congressman Richard Gephardt, Senator Ted Kennedy, local radio personality Jack Buck, and Stan Musial. Although Goddard's three years at Washington University's law school had been noteworthy primarily for their lack of anything noteworthy, he'd apparently dedicated the past decade to gilding that connection, as attested by the plaques, certificates, and photographs lining one of his other office walls. It's amazingâor sadâwhat money can buy at an institution of higher learning.
The telephone call came to end and I returned to my seat.
“I apologize for the interruption, Rachel.” He offered what he must have assumed would resemble a sincere smile. “Now let's talk about your client's concerns.”
“Great. First off, though, I'd like to get a better sense of the kinds of services your firm can provide in the corporate and real estate area.”
“To coin a phrase, you've come to the right place, Rachel. We provide our clients with three interrelated areas of specialization: corporate, real estate, and tax. We dedicate all of our energies and talent to those three areas of the law.”
“So if I had a client who needed to form a corporation, that's something you could handle.”
“Absolutely. We form new corporations every day of the week.”
“And if I had a client who wanted to use that corporation to buy a piece of propertyâsay, a two- or three-flat in the cityâis that something your firm could handle as well?”
“Rachel, not only could we handle that type of transaction; we actually do them all the time.” He leaned forward, giving me the full bedside manner. “Rachel, I sincerely believe that there's not another law firm in this town with more experience and skill in these two areas. That enables us to give value-added service to our clients and, just as important, cost-effective service as well.”
“Tell me a little more about that, Don. I'm just a litigator. I have no idea what those kinds of services even cost.”
“Rachel, we are interested in a long-term relationships with our clients. The client who forms a corporation to buy a piece of rental property today may very well blossom tomorrow into a national real estate concern. So while other firms may try to gouge such a client for what they believe is a one-time transaction, we price our services with an eye toward the future.”
“Help me there, Don. What do you call gouging, and how does that compare with your firm's billing practices?”
“Certainly. Now fees will vary on a case-by-case basis, of course, but there are firms in this town that would charge six to eight thousand dollars to form a simple corporation and draft the deal documents for the purchase of a small rental property. We'll do those tasks better and we'll do them more efficiently and we'll charge less than three thousand dollars.”
Time to see how far out on the limb I could lure him. “When I was an associate in the Chicago office of Abbott and Windsorâ”
“An outstanding law firm,” Goddard said.
I nodded. “Agreed. Anyway, the partners at Abbott and Windsor used to have the firm's lawyers handle their personal corporate and real estate matters. That always seemed a pretty good testimonial to the quality of the firm's services in those areas.”
Goddard chuckled. “Far be it from me to draw parallels between our humble firm here and that great national legal institution, but I can state without hesitation that the partners of this firm consistently rely on the expertise of their fellow partners in personal business matters, especially in the real estate area.”
“That's good to know.”
“Now,” he said, giving me that avuncular smile, “tell me about your client.”
“Her name is Angela Green.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Really? Fascinating. I take it, then, that she has some business affair to attend to?”
“In a way. It's kind of a sensitive situation.”
He lowered his voice. “My firm can be quite discreet, Rachel. We understand the importance of client confidences.”
“That's good to know. Actually, the business matter has more to do with her husband than her. You knew Michael Green, correct?”
“Well, I knew of him. Fellow attorneys and all. We may even have served together once on an alumni committee.”
I frowned. “Actually, I thought you knew him better than that. You were a client of his, weren't you?”
Goddard leaned back. “A client? I'm not sure I'm following you.”
“It is kind of confusing. At least to me. But the records I have clearly show you were one of his clients. According to those records, Michael Green formed the Sevens Corporation for you and did the deal documents for the purchase of a three-flat in the city of St. Louis. Does that ring a bell?”