Authors: Michael A Kahn
A Rachel Gold Mystery
Michael A. Kahn
Poisoned Pen Press
Copyright Â© 2002 by Michael A. Kahn
Copyright Â© 2015 Poisoned Pen Press
First E-book Edition 2015
ISBN: 9781464204517 ebook
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in, or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher of this book.
The historical characters and events portrayed in this book are inventions of the author or used fictitiously.
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For my son Josh,who laughs with me and cries with me
A special acknowledgment to Mike and Martha Hogan and all of the other wonderful men, women, and families of the Small World Adoption Foundation
You'd have thought this was my first time.
Not even close.
I don't specialize in celebrities, but I've had my share. The list includes a member of the Chicago Bulls, two major-league baseball players, and the entire morning drive-time crew for one of the highest-rated FM stations in St. Louis. And that only covers contract negotiations and endorsement deals. I've sued Riverport on behalf of an Atlanta rap group in a gate-receipts dispute. When the case ended, the group's manager offered me a walk-on in their next music video. I told him I'd prefer to have my fees paid in full. I've represented a Hollywood star accused of trashing his hotel suite while on location here for a shootâand we're not talking just any star. He madeEntertainment Weekly's “20 Sexiest Men” two years running. Alas, he's also two inches shorter than me andâas I learned while defending him in a four-hour deposition in a small conference roomâafflicted with rhino breath.
But the odd thing is that I never felt the tiniest tingle before meeting any of themânot even a hint of that magical frisson that's supposed to radiate from real celebrities like, well, steam from a baked potato. And lest you get the wrong idea, I'm not one of those snooty types who professes to be above all that fawning. Far from it. I once was rendered dumbstruck on an elevator in the Met Square building when I realized that the tall man standing next to me was none other than number 45 himselfâHall of Famer Bob Gibson. For a diehard Cardinals fan, that's the equivalent of coming around the bend on Mount Sinai and finding yourself face to face with a Charlton Heston look-alike in flowing robes and sandals carrying two stone tablets. I rode several floors in flustered silence until I worked up the nerve to ask Mr. Gibson for his autograph, which he graciously signed on a sheet from my legal pad that I have since had laminated.
And that gaga response isn't limited to baseball gods. I would kill to spend an afternoon with Jane Austen. I would swoon like a schoolgirl before Clark Gableâespecially the Clark Gable ofIt Happened One Night. And if Marvin Gaye were alive and well, I might just follow him from concert to concert like a Motown version of a Deadhead. With those folks we're talking frisson.
But not for my celebrity clients. For whatever reason, with them it always seems to be business as usual. Attorney-client. Strictly professional.
Today I was driving halfway across the state of Missouri to meet my newest client.
More precisely, a former housewife. Probably the most famous former housewife in America, and surely the only one serving thirty-to-forty in Chillicothe Correctional Center.
Today I was definitely in the grip of that old black magic.
That's because today I was going to see Angela Green.
The same one whose murder trial came in at number 3 onPeoplemagazine's “Top Ten Murder Trials of the 1990s,” just behind O.J. Simpson (no. 1) and the Menendez brothers (no. 2), but ahead of Timothy McVeigh (no. 4) and Jeffrey Dahmer (no. 5). The same one whose prime-time jailhouse interview with Oprah Winfrey drew a 41 share and ended with that shot reprinted in newspapers and magazines around the countryâthe one of Oprah, tears streaming down her cheeks, her head resting on Angela's shoulder as Angela gently patted her on the back. The same Angela Green who had Anita Hill deliver her acceptance speech in absentia at theMs. magazine “Women of the Year” banquet, who caused a rift within the NAACP when she was named one of its “Women of Valor,” and who was the subject of Connie Chung's Emmy-nominated profile, which included those extraordinary testimonials from the prisoners who'd earned their high school equivalencies through the special tutoring program Angela helped establish at Chillicothe Correctional Center.
Yes, that Angela Green.
And this coming yearâher seventh since entering prisonâpromised to be her biggest yet. The publication date for her long-awaited autobiography was just six months off. A major Hollywood studio had already snagged the film rights. According to a blurb inVanity Fair, Whoopi Goldberg and Angela Bassett were vying for the lead role while Warren Beatty, Tommy Lee Jones, and Michael Douglas were in the running for the role of Michael Green.Vanity Fairpicked Bassett and Douglas as the favorites, since “it would be almost too delicious for an Angela and a Michael to play the Angela and the Michael.” Meanwhile, Angela's criminal defense attorney, Maria Fallaci, had her own book coming out late in October.
All of which translated into megabucks.
And where there are megabucks, there is usually a lawsuit. That's where I fit in. My name is Rachel GoldâCardinals fan, daughter of Sarah, big sister of Ann, and, possibly, blushing bride and mother, assuming that a thirty-three-year-old bride isn't too old to blush or too young to become the instant stepmother of two adorable girls. But for the here and now, the only relevant role was lawyer, which is why I was driving through rural Missouri on this lovely Sunday morning in late June. I was somewhere in the northwest quadrant of the state, heading north on Highway 65 through a portion of Missouri I'd never been in before. According to a highway marker on the right, I'd just passed over the Grand River, although it didn't look too grand to me. Of course, when you grow up in St. Louis, it takes a whole lot of grand before any river can claim that label.
Chillicothe was the next exit.
Two hours ago I'd dropped Benny Goldberg off at the University of Missouri in Columbia, where he was delivering a paper on antitrust law at a law school symposium. After my prison meeting with Angela Green, I was going to swing back down to Columbia to pick him up. On our way back to St. Louis we were planning to stop at a farm near Warrenton where Benny would introduce me to two new clients, Maggie Lane and Sara Freed, who were enmeshed in a dispute so outlandish that it had to be true. No one could make up such a story. Not even someone with a mind as warped as Benny'sâand Benny's is as warped as it gets.
But Maggie and Sara could wait, I told myself as I pulled off the exit and drove into town. Chillicothe was a typical Midwestern villageâchiefly frame houses, most built before World War II, a main street of redbrick buildings, including a bank and a pharmacy and a diner and a dry goods store. I turned down Third Street and slowed halfway down the block, peering out the window. Surprised, I rechecked the address.
I'd been to prisons beforeâin Missouri, Illinois, and Indianaâbut never one for women. Men's prisons are geographically isolatedâdrab fortresses built on the outskirts of town, far from the women and children, grimly asserting to the world,Here there be pariahs. In this architecture of exile, Alcatraz is the quintessential model: a gray fortress on an island, cut off from civilization by frigid water, killer currents, and hungry sharks.
Chillicothe Correctional Center didn't fit that mold. Built in the 1880s as a home for wayward girls, the facility was located in the middle of a pleasant town in the gentle countryside. Its founders envisioned a pastoral haven where lost girls could find Christian salvation far from the wicked temptations of St. Louis and Kansas City. That vision produced a campus reminiscent of a New England women's college with several two-story red brick buildings arranged like dormitories around a quadrangle.
Times change, though, and the home for wayward girls was now Missouri's main prison for women, housing nearly six hundred inmates. The prisoners ranged from minimum security residents on work-release programs to death row convicts, of which there were presently three. Fortunately, Angela Green wasn't one of them. Nevertheless, when you enter prison at the age of forty-nine, a forty-year sentence might as well be life.
I pulled my car into the administration center parking lot and got out. Stretching, I turned toward the prison buildings across the street. There were several female inmates outside the buildingsâsome working on gardens, others strolling around the grounds. The only indication that this wasn't the Missouri branch of Mount Holyoke College were the gray work shirts and slacks worn by the women and the security fence topped with coiled razor-wire ringing the campus.
I checked my watch. It was almost eleven o'clock. I turned back to the administrative center, shading my eyes in the late morning sun. Time to check in. Time to meet my newest client. I paused a moment, grinning sheepishly. No question about it. I could feel the tingle.
We were in an attorney-client interview room, facing each other across the table. Unlike the interview rooms in men's prisons, which have all the charm of a concrete bunker at Normandy Beach, this one was softened by a few feminine touches, such as frilly curtains over the barred windows and a vase of irises on the rickety wooden table in the center of the room.
I was explaining the nature of the Son of Sam claim that had brought us together as attorney and client. Angela listened carefully, her chin resting on steepled fingers. Whatever celebrity excitement I'd felt in anticipation of our meeting had vanished the moment we met. Angela Green was someone you warmed to immediately, especially, I think, if you were a woman. It was a special connection, a sisterhood sort of thing that I could feel our first moments together. My reaction was typical, I suppose. This was, after all, the same woman who was adored within the prison not only by the inmates but by the guards as well.
The first thing I noticed about Angela Green was how human she looked. Although celebrities tend to seem diminished in person, here it was hardly Angela's fault. If clothes can make the woman, they can surely unmake her as well. Take the cover girl from aSports Illustratedswimsuit issue, swap her thong bikini for a drab work shirt and an ill-fitting pair of Dickey slacks, deep-six the makeup, can the hairdresser, and we're talking, at best, the Before shot in a back-pages ad inCosmo. While the media's two favorite adjectives for Angela Green weresaintlyandregal, try dressing Joan of Arc in the Missouri Department of Corrections' version ofhaute coutureand she'd be lucky to pass for a janitor. As for regal, not even the queen of England could pull that off in prison grays.
Such was the case for Angela. Gone was the stunning African princess from her college days, the elegant suburban mother from her soccer mom days, and the coiffed matron from the final years of her marriage. In their place was a middle-aged woman who seemed older than her fifty-six years and heavier than I remembered from theOprahspecial.
Nonetheless, Angela Green had presence. There was an aura of dignity about herâa quiet, determined dignityâthat was palpable. Although her belle days were long over, she was still a handsome woman. Her skin was a deep mahogany that seemed to glow from within. Her hairâworn in a full Afro during her college days; tamed and straightened during her suburban daysâwas now braided in dozens of cornrows that reached to her shoulders. It was a striking look, especially for a woman of her age, and it gave her an air of authority. She had strong featuresâa wide nose; thick, bowed lips; full, high cheeks; broad forehead. But her most remarkable features were her eyes. They were dark and calm and wise. Although she was decades past her African princess days, it was no stretch to imagine Angela Green in the role of the village chief, seated upon her throne and resolving disputes among her subjects.
“I do not understand,” Angela said, leaning back and shaking her head. Her voice was soft and husky, the words carefully articulated. “How can that child presume to make a claim against me? I am no relation to him.”
“It's not his relation toyou,” I explained. “Under the Son of Sam law, the key is his relation to the victim. Members of the victim's family are the only ones entitled to sue.”
“Family?” Angela frowned. “How is that child family to Michael?”
“He claimsâwell, actually Trent's lawyer claimsâthat he's the equivalent of Michael's son.”
“Equivalent?” Angela repeated, puzzled. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“It's a doctrine called âequitable adoption.'”
Angela shook her head, angry now. “Michael never adopted that tramp's child. He died before the marriage.”
“I know.” I gave her a sympathetic smile. “It's a stretch.”
I explained the doctrine of equitable adoption, which the courts fashioned for that rare case where justice demands that a child be declared the rightful heir of people who never formally adopted her. In the classic “equitable adoption” situation, a married couple raises a foster child. Although they treat her as their own child, they never get around to making it official. If they die without a will or with one that refers generically to “any child of mine,” their unfinished business lands in probate court. That's because the failure to adopt has significant legal consequences: a foster child is not an heir, while anadoptedchild has the same legal status as a biological child. Thus the equitable adoption doctrine typically comes into play in an inheritance battle between the unadopted child and the biological children, orâif no biological childrenâbetween the unadopted child and the deceased's blood relatives.
“The law is suspicious of these claims,” I explained to Angela, “because the people who file them have a powerful incentive to lie about the dead person's intentions. The courts require the claimant to present direct evidence of a clear intent to adopt. Circumstantial evidence isn't enough. For example, one court ruled that claiming a child as a dependent on a tax return didn't constitute direct evidence.”
Angela frowned. “What exactly does that mean here?”
“It means the court will carefully examine Michael's actions. The key issue is whether he expressed a clear intent to adopt Samantha's son. If so, did he do anything in furtherance of that intent?”
Angela narrowed her eyes. “And did he?”
“We don't know. We're at the beginning of the lawsuit. We haven't taken any depositions, especially Samantha's, and we haven't reviewed the documents. It's too early to say.”
“How does it look so far?”
“We have some problems,” I conceded, “but nothing fatal. We know that Michael signed a prenuptial agreement with the child's mother. In paragraph seven of the document he agreed to adopt her son. We know that he had an attorney prepare the necessary adoption papers. He also had an attorney prepare new wills for him and for Samantha. Although the wills were never signed, the plaintiff's lawyer claims that Michael reviewed and approved his draft two days before his death. The new will adds Trent to the list of beneficiaries and describes him as an adopted son.” I paused. “Will the court find that to be enough evidence?” I shrugged. “It's too early to tell.”
“He barely knew that child,” Angela said quietly, her voice laced with frustration.
I reached across the table and laid my hand on top of hers. “We're going to fight it, Angela. We'll have plenty to say by the time of trial.”
She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. After a moment, she stood up and moved to the window. Pushing the curtain back, she peered out.
She turned to me. “If that tramp wins, I will have Michael Junior and Sonya file their own Son of Sam claims. They are Michael's children, too. His onlyrealchildren.” She nodded decisively. “I'll bet that lawyer never considered that.”
He didn't need to, I thought to myself. The Missouri legislature already had. The Son of Sam law barred any claim by a family member of the victim who also happened to be a family member of the killer. But I said nothing. No need to further demoralize my client this early in the case.
Instead, I explained our various defenses. She was interested to hear about the constitutional challenge to the statute, which would be led by the New York law firm representing her publisher. If we could convince the court to throw out the statute as an abridgment of the freedom of speech, the case would implode and we'd never have to worry about equitable adoption or our other defenses. She listened attentively, asking questions along the way.
When I finished explaining the legal issues, I went over a few more items regarding pretrial matters, including timing issues and the like. Then I had the deputy warden come in so that we could work out a confidential but efficient way for me to communicate with Angela by mail, phone, and faxâessential procedures given that St. Louis was a four-hour drive from Chillicothe.
I checked my watch after the deputy warden departed. We still had a few minutes before I had to drive back to Columbia for Benny. I had one more topic to broach. I wasn't quite sure how to begin, or where to go once we started.
Angela must have sensed it. “What is it, Rachel?”
I gazed at her for a moment. “I reviewed the file.”
“Your case. Everything. Court transcripts, pretrial motions, homicide investigation. Whatever I could get my hands on.”
She frowned. “Why?”
“Good question.” I leaned back in my chair and crossed my arms over my chest. “I'm not sure, Angela. I started with the trial transcript. Initially, I suppose I was looking for any stray evidence on the equitable adoption issue.” I shrugged. “Maybe to see whether Samantha said anything back then about Michael's relationship with her sonâback before her lawyer concocted this adoption theory.”
“And did she?”
I shook my head. “Not really. Oh, she said he loved to play with Trent, took him fishing once, gave him a tricycle for Christmasâthat sort of thing.”
“And,” Angela said.
“And I saw other things.”
“I'm not a criminal lawyer, Angela, but over the years I've had to look through a few homicide files. Yours was unusual.”
She leaned forward, curious. “How so?”
I paused, searching for the right words. “There were loose ends.”
“Such as the murder weapon. It's not the sort of weapon you'd expect a housewife to use.”
“The serial number was filed off. The gun was untraceable. It's the kind you'd normally expect to find with a professional hit, the kind you'd buy from an illegal gun dealer.”
She rubbed her chin, trying to remember. “I think they asked me where I bought it.”
“They did. It's in the arrest report. You told them you'd never owned a gun.”
She nodded. “That's true.”
“So where'd you get it?” I asked.
She shook her head. “I have no idea.”
I studied her for a moment. “Angela, if you wanted to buy that kind of gun, where would you go?”
“I have no idea.”
“Neither did the police.” I leaned forward. “That's my point. It was a loose end. The police were never asked to come up with an answer because it was never an issue at trial. Maybe there's a simple explanation for the gun, but it's certainly nowhere in the file.”
Angela sighed and shook her head. “I supposed I blacked that part out, too.”
After a moment, she asked, “Was that the only loose end?”
I shook my head. “How did you get into his house?”
She frowned, trying to remember. “Did I ring the doorbell?”
“Not likely. He was shot coming out of the shower. He wouldn't have let you in with a gun in your hand and then gone back in the bedroom, gotten undressed, and taken a shower.”
“Maybe the gun was in my purse? Maybe the door was open?
“Maybe. The housekeeper said the door was locked when she arrived. It was the kind that automatically locks when you close it.”
“Maybe I had a key.”
She shook her head in frustration. “I don't remember.”
“Why would you have a key? The two of you had just finished a bitter divorce. There'd be no reason for him to give you a key.”
“Maybe he gave the children a key.”
She shrugged. “I don't know.”
“I assume you don't know how to pick a lock.”
She smiled. “No.”
“So how did you get in?”
“What did the police say?”
“Nothing. It's another loose end.”
She stared at the table, frowning. After a moment, she looked up at me. “Are there other loose ends?”
“Such as John.”
John had been her alibiâher embarrassingly weak alibi. She claimed that on the night of the murder she had gone out for a drink with a nice young man named John, last name unknown, and woke up the next morning in Michael Green's bedroom with no idea of how she got there. The police found no trace of the mysterious John.
“In your police interview,” I continued, “you said that you'd known John for a couple of weeks, that he used to come visit his mother in the hospital, right?”
“You said that you felt sorry for him. That the two of you became friends. That you used to have lunch together in the hospital cafeteria on the days you volunteered at the gift shop, right?”
“So where is he?” I asked. “Andwhois he?”
Angela looked down at the table. “They think I made him up.” Her voice was soft, muffled.
She stared down at the table. When she finally looked up, her eyes were moist. “I wish I knew the answer to that, Rachel. Lord, I do. When I look back on those days, everything seems unreal, like I was living inside a dream.” She gave me a sad smile. “More like a nightmare. I can't tell for sure what part was real and what part was imaginary. I believe John was real. I have a memory of the things we used to talk about at the hospital. I can close my eyes and see that young man.”
She paused, closing her eyes. I waited. She opened them. In a discouraged voice she said, “I believe John was real.”
“The police didn't.”
She said nothing.
“But they didn't bother tying up the loose end,” I said.
She gave me a puzzled look. “How would they do that?”
“By checking the hospital records. It couldn't have been that difficult to identify every female patient between the ages of, say, forty and seventy who'd been in the hospital for at least the two weeks preceding the killing. Once they had that list, they could quickly check whether any of those women had an adult son named John.” I shook my head. “But they didn't bother to.”
Because of your lawyer's theory of the case, I wanted to say. Instead, I said, “Because they thought that they already had enough evidence.”
She sighed. “They were right.”
I obsessed over those loose ends on the drive back. After I had spent close to two hours alone with Angela Green, her guilt appeared to be even more questionable than before. Of course, eight years had passed since that appalling night, and much had changed in her life since then. But even making allowance for that, the Angela Green I'd met today seemed incapable of gunning down her ex-husband, slicing off his penis with a piece of broken glass, and hurling the severed thing against the wall.
I mulled it over as I drove.
Angela hadn't cleared up any issues, but she wasn't the best person to ask about the loose ends. The decision whether to exploit them at the criminal trial had been a matter of trial strategy, and that decision fell within the bailiwick of Angela's criminal attorney, Maria Fallaci. Maria was an experienced defenderâa former assistant U.S. attorney who'd been defending capital murder cases for years. Maria had surely spotted the same loose ends and evaluated their potential. That evaluation had led her to a different trial strategy, namely, to make the focus of her defense the “battered wife” syndrome. That tactical decision landed Maria on the cover ofNewsweek. Unfortunately, it landed her client in jail.
I thought back again to my own memories of the trial. As the television and newspaper reporters told us over and over during the weeks leading up to the jury selection, the marriage had been one of those Age of Aquarius things. Michael and Angela met in Psychology 101 their freshman year at the University of Missouri in Columbia. It was love at first sight for what seemed a perfect couple for the Woodstock generation. Michael Green was white. Angela White was black. He had shoulder-length brown hair and a Fu Manchu. She had a wild Afro. They both wore tie-dyed T-shirts and faded bell bottoms. As for so many of his generation, the sixties look was not a flattering one for Michael: photographs of him from that era invariably elicited laughter from those who saw them decades later. He looked like a long-haired, mustachioed double for Sonny Bono from the old Sonny and Cher days. By contrast, the photos of Angela from that era depict a stunning African princess: high cheekbones, strong eyes, noble forehead, full lips, ebony skin.
During the summer after their graduation, Angela White turned Green when they exchanged wedding vows. That fall, Michael started law school and Angela took a job as a substitute teacher in the St. Louis public school system. The early years were lean ones for the young couple, made even leaner with the birth of Michael junior during Michael's final year of school. Their tiny apartment became tinier when Sonya arrived two years later. The young family struggled as Michael tried to establish a law practice.
Hard work and perseverance eventually paid off. The Law Offices of Michael Green moved out of the storefront along a seedy stretch of South Grand Avenue and became Green and Associates in an upper floor of the Pierre Laclede Building in Clayton. A few years later, the firm's name became Green and Sanders after Michael's law school classmate Elliot Sanders joined. Elliot's real estate work helped pay the light bills while freeing Michael to focus on his plaintiffs' class action work. The two partners were confident that it was only a matter of time before Michael hit big casino. They were right, although Elliot didn't live to see it happen. A heart attack killed him three months before the court approved theVanguard Financesettlement and awarded Michael Green $1,250,000 in fees. TheSt. Louis Business Journalran his photo beneath the headline: GREENâTHE COLOR OF MONEY.
Michael and Angela moved their family to an eight-bedroom English Tudor on an acre of prime real estate in the snobby suburb of Frontenac. Michael's law firm moved to elegant new quarters in the Interco Tower overlooking the Ritz-Carlton. Michael traded in his battered Toyota for a silver Porsche with a vanity plate that read FRCP 23, a reference to the federal rule of civil procedure that governs class actions. Gradually, though, his court appearances became less frequent as he devoted his time to the real estate clients he'd inherited from his dead partner. Life was good. He even found himself occasionally voting Republican. After all, he told himself, someone had to get the damn deficit under control.
Like so many other perfect couples of their generation, it was only a matter of time. And as any good lawyer knows, timing is everything. For Michael, the right time came two months after his twenty-sixth wedding anniversary. He chose a brilliant Sunday afternoon in September. Michael junior had graduated from Dartmouth and was now working at an investment banking firm in Chicago. Sonya was in her junior year at Northwestern University.
As Maria Fallaci described the scene in her opening statement to the jury, there were fluffy white clouds against a dazzling blue sky when Michael Green stepped out onto the back patio and paused to take a sip of single-malt Scotch from his crystal whisky glass. He strolled down the stairs to the elegant flower garden near the pool, where his wife was on her knees dividing and replanting perennials. Angela looked up with an uncertain smile, a sheen of perspiration on her forehead and upper lip. She shaded her eyes from the sun and listened in disbelief as her husband announced in that matter-of-fact way of his that he was in love with another woman and was moving out in the morning. With the cruel coincidence that novelists and other nasty gossips relish, the object of Michael Green's passion was exactly the same age as his marriage. Samantha Cummings had been born on their wedding day twenty-six years ago.
Her friends called her Sam, and she was as lovely and lissome and honey-blond as any forty-eight-year-old housewife could fear. Sam operated the 309 Gallery, an art gallery in the trendy Central West End. Best of all, as Michael bragged to his friends, Sam made him feel young again.Gets me hard as a rock, he would confide with a wink,and tastes as good as she looks. He even got a kick out of her three-year-old son Trent, who was the product of Samantha's brief affair with a man who'd never bothered to see the boy after he was born and hadn't made a child-support payment in two years.Little kid's a regular pistol, Michael told his friends.Give me a chance to try this dad thing againâmaybe get the hang of it this time around.
Angela was devastated. Although at first she seemed to be sleepwalking through the wreckage of her marriage, once the divorce proceedings began to crank up, her outrage did as well. The final predivorce mediation session ended when she grabbed a letter opener off her lawyer's desk and tried to attack Michael.
“It was frightening,” Michael's lawyer would later testify at her criminal trial. “I dragged Michael out of there and warned him, âYou better watch out. That woman wants you dead.'”
Two weeks after the letter-opener incident, Angela dumped an entire pitcher of margaritas over Michael Green's head at a glitzy fund-raiser for the St. Louis Zoo. Two security guards hauled her off screeching and sobbing. No charges were pressed.
The divorce decree was entered in due course more than a year later, officially dissolving the marriage of Michael and Angela Green on the fourteenth of March. Wedding invitations went out the following week. The early May ceremony promised to be a spectacular event staged in the Japanese Rock Garden at the Missouri Botanical Gardens. The ornate, gold-foil invitations beckoned the recipients to “join Michael and Samantha as they celebrate a fusion of souls almost too good to be true.” Alas, it proved just that. Two weeks before the blessed event, the cleaning woman entered the master bedroom at Michael Green's place and found him facedown on the carpet near the bathroom, very naked and very dead. He'd been shot twiceâonce in the abdomen, once in the back of the headâthe first shot apparently fired as he came out of the bathroom from the shower, the second after he was on the carpet. There was a bath towel crumpled on the carpet near his corpse.
Later that morning, when the medical examiner turned the body over, there was an audible gasp among the investigators in the bedroom, followed immediately by the sounds of one of them vomiting onto the carpet. Michael's penis was missing. A homicide detective discovered it minutes later behind the nightstand and directly beneath the red impact splatter midway up the wall.
In retrospect, as Professor Alan Dershowitz emphasized in his first, sixth, eleventh, and fourteenth appearances on Geraldo's CNBC show during the murder trial, Angela should have refused to say anything when the homicide detectives arrived at her house that evening and recited theMirandawarnings. She should have insisted upon her right to speak to an attorney. Instead, a flustered Angela Green told the nice detectives that she'd been home alone the entire night of the killing. When the nice detectives asked her to explain why her cellular phone was at the crime scene, she stammered out a new storyâthe one about the young man named John and waking up the next morning in her ex-husband's bedroom and panicking and fleeing. Unsure of what to do, she explained to the nice detectives, she'd gone home and done nothing. The nice detectives nodded grimly and snapped on the handcuffs.
By any measure, the evidence had been overwhelming. In addition to her cell phone under the bed, her fingerprints were all over the bedroom. More important, they were on the murder weapon, which was found in a bush at the end of the block. As the final incriminating touch, there was the piece of broken glass that forensics identified as the cutting tool used on Michael's penis. The broken glass had come from the framed portrait of Samantha Cummings, which had been sitting on the victim's nightstand until someone slammed it against the wall in what the prosecutor later told the jury was a fit of rage. Blood tests revealed that Michael's wasn't the only blood on the broken glass. Along two of the sharp edges were smears of Angela's blood. Angela was right-handed, and sure enough, there were cuts precisely where you'd expect to find them along her right palm and thumb and on the inner sides of two fingers. In short, there was enough incriminating evidence to make an attorney consider an alternative defense.
And thus I was perhaps too hard on Maria Fallaci. She no doubt had compelling reasons for her trial strategyâor at least that's what I'd been telling myself for the past week. She was a brilliant and successful criminal defense attorney, albeit a bit too flashy for my taste.
Ironically, she now was a defendant, along with her former client, in the Son of Sam case. The other defendants were her publisher, Angela's publisher, and the motion picture studio that had optioned Angela's book. All defense counsel in the case were meeting in Chicago the day after tomorrow. The meeting would be taking place three blocks from Maria's office. She'd agreed to meet me before that meeting. I needed to find out why she'd elected not to let the jury know about the loose ends.
Oh, Benny,” I groaned, “how did Ieverlet you talk me into this case?”
“Talk you into it?” he asked, incredulous. “Talk you into it? My God, Rachel, you should be sending flowers to my office, planting trees in my honor in Israel. When are you ever going to find a case like this again?”
It was late in the afternoon and we were heading east on Highway 70 toward St. Louis. The Warrenton exit was fifteen miles ahead. Benny had directions from there to the ranch, where we were going to meet my newest clients, Maggie Lane and Sara Freed. Sara's younger brother Paul was a first-year law student in Benny's contracts class. One day after class last week Paul told Benny about a lawsuit involving his sisterâa truly preposterous case, and thus one that immediately appealed to Benny, who'd driven right over to my office to enlist my help.
Had he been any other law school professor in the United States, I would have said no. But of course he wasn't any other law school professor. He was Benny Goldberg, unique by any standard: vulgar, fat, gluttonous, and obnoxious. But also ferociously loyal, wonderfully funny, andâmost importantâmy very best friend in the whole world. I loved him like the brother I never had, although he bore as much resemblance to my fantasy brother as, appropriately enough, an ostrich does to an eagle.
Benny Goldberg and I met as junior associates in the Chicago offices of Abbott & Windsor. A few years later, we both escaped that LaSalle Street sweatshopâBenny to teach law at De Paul, me to go solo as Rachel Gold, Attorney-at-Law. Different reasons brought us to St. Louis. For Benny, it was an offer he couldn't refuse from Washington University. For me, it was a yearning to live closer to my mother after my father died.
“Come on, woman,” Benny said. “We gotta focus on the big picture here.”
“Focus me, Professor.”
“Do ostriches have dicks?”
I turned toward him with raised eyebrows. “Pardon?”
“We're talkingschlongshere, and if the answer is yes, then we're not talking ordinary birdschlongs. We're talking big swinging ones. So that's the issue, woman. Do ostriches have them?”
“I have no idea.”
“Then we better find out pronto, eh? I mean, what's going on down there between Big Bird's legs? We talking Ken doll or we talking Burger King?”
I gave him a dubious look. “Burger King?”
He winked. “Home of the Whopper.”
I sighed and shook my head. “I can't believe this.”
“Come on, Rachel, this is a great case. These women pay ten grand for a genetically superior stud and instead they get the Slobodan Milosevic of the ostrich world.”
I glanced over and shrugged. “I have no idea.”
“I just assumed that birds had them.”
“Not so, O provincial one. Ducks do, but most don't. Canaries and parakeets definitely don't.”
“Benny, how in the world do you know this?”
“I worked in a pet store in high school.”
“If they don't have penises, how do theyâyou know?”
“Ah,” he said, segueing into his impression of the narrator in a cheesy documentary. “Join me on a voyage into the strange and wondrous world of ornithological amour, to that magic moment that experts call the âcloacal kiss.'”
“Basically,” he said, switching back to his standard New Jersey, “they press their butts together.”
“I'm serious. The male's sex organs are inside his butt, and the female's are inside hers. When birds get some booty, we're talking booty squared.”
“Are you making this up, Benny?”
“Would I make something like that up?”
The sign ahead read Warrenton Next Exit.
I mulled over his question, recalling some of the material I'd downloaded from the Internet in preparation for today's meeting.
“Those birds are humongous,” I said. “They can weigh three hundred and fifty pounds. Penis or not, that's a lot of ostrich to fight off.”
We drove in silence for a while.
I shook my head in disbelief. “Could this case possibly be any stranger?”
“Actually,” he said, pausing.
I shot him a look. “What?”
He gave me an awkward grin. “Your clientsâthe two women.”
“What about them?”
“Well, they'reâyou know.”
“Daughters of Sappho.”
“Whose daughters?” I asked, pulling ahead of a truck and into the right lane.
“Sappho. Sappho? Good grief, Rachel,” he said in exasperation, “you may have showgirl legs, but don't ever try to win Ben Stein's money.”
“Your clients are lesbians.”
“So? You think I'd have a problem with that?”
“I knowyoudon't. I'm not talking about you.”
I looked over with a frown. “What do you mean?”
“Charlie Blackwell. He's the breeder who sold them the ostrich. That's his explanation.”
“What are you talking about?”
“After the ostrich killed one of their hens, the women demanded their money back. Blackwell refused. Wait until you see his lawsuit. He claims that up until his breeding cock arrived at their ranch it was perfectly normalâpresumably a caring, tender, romantic, sensitive lover. He claims the two women messed him up. He accuses them of incompetence and inexperience, and he also blames their lesbianism.”
I turned to him, flabbergasted. “Are you serious?”
“There's more. He claims he's suffering mental anguish over the damage to his bird. That's why he's seeking punitive damages.”
I could feel my litigator's pulse quicken. “That is absolutely outrageous.”
Benny chuckled. “You go, girl.”
I took the Warrenton exit and followed Benny's instructions down Highway 47. He had, by now, switched topics to one far dearer to his heart: barbecue.
“I don't care how long they smoke them,” I said with a shudder. “I'm not eating noses.”
“Not noses, you Philistine. Snouts. Actually, we pig proboscis aficionados call them âsnoots.' Believe me, woman, you ain't done St. Louis barbecue till you scarf down a bucket of hickory-smoked snoots at C and K Restaurant bathed in their sweetâ¦” His voice trailed off.
I turned to him with a curious look.
“Rachel,” he said, a hint of concern in his voice, “you really shouldn't get so hung up on Angela Green's criminal case.”
I leaned back in the driver's seat. “You're probably right.”
When I had picked him up from the law school on my return from the prisonâlong before Benny had changed the subject to ostrich genitaliaâI'd filled him in on my meeting with Angela and my growing doubts about the original conviction.
“What's done is done,” he said. “She's been convicted, the court of appeals affirmed the conviction. That's the past. The Son of Sam claim is more than enough for you to deal with, especially with those assholes from New York and L.A.”
Angela's publisher had retained Braun, Proctor & Silverberg and the motion picture studio had retained Corcoran Fox.
“I've dealt with Braun, Proctor before,” Benny continued, “and believe me, those five-hundred-dollar-an-hour yahoos could fuck up a wet dream. Forget about the criminal conviction. You'll have plenty to worry about with those douche bags.”
“I know, I know. It's just that all those loose ends bother me, Benny.”
“There aren't that many, Rachel, especially compared to that mountain of evidence against her, starting with the fact that she was physically in his room that night. There's no other explanation.”
I mulled that over. He was probably right, I conceded. You couldn't overlook the damning fact that Angela had been in his bedroom the night of the murder.
“Rachel,” Benny said, “we've both had cases that are weak and others that are slam dunks. With which ones do you spend more time on pretrial preparations? The weak ones, right? It's the same here. This case was a slam dunk for the prosecution. Their main worry was the battered-wife crap, and that's what they spent their time on, and that's why you've got some of these looseâlooseâSweet Jesus! Check that out.”
I slowed the car. “Wow.”
It was an astounding sight, made even more so by being here in the middle of the middle of America. We'd been driving past typical farmland vistas: grazing cattle, red barns, fields of soybean, metal silos, green rows of corn stretching to the horizon. And then suddenly we came upon a pasture with a flock of ostriches running parallel to our car. The adults were enormous, all easily over seven feet tall, loping along on long, skinny legs that thickened near the top to massive drumsticks. Their black-feathered torsos were balanced above their pumping legs while their little white wings flapped absurdly, as if they were a garden party of maiden aunts escaping a sudden shower. Their tiny beaked heads were perched on long, reddish necks that undulated in synch with their gait. Scampering behind were about twenty chicks, some the size of adult geese, others the size of third-graders, all looking even more prehistoric than the parents, with their ridged heads and protruding black eyes and juvenile feathers that resembled spiky bristles.
“Whoa,” Benny said, peering out the window, “welcome to Jurassic Park.”
Maggie Lane and Sara Freed were seated together on the porch swing, each sipping a glass of lemonade, as we pulled up to their snug farmhouse. They came down to greet us.
Simpatico. That's what I felt the moment I met them. Maggie was in her late fortiesâa tall, slender brunette with the strong, elegant face, wise eyes, and wavy hair of a British stage actress. Her last name could have been Redgrave. Sara was in her late twenties, stood maybe an inch over five feet, and had a sturdy build. She was a perky all-American type: blond hair, blue eyes, lots of freckles, cheerful smile. Both women wore jeans, work shirts, and boots.
We joined them on the porch, where there were chairs for us and a big pitcher of fresh-squeezed lemonade. They filled me in on the background of the lawsuit, starting with the strange world of ostrich ranches. Maggie explained that ostriches had been bred and raised in captivity for more than a century. Originally marketed for their feathers and leather, they were increasingly valued as food. Indeed, the recent boom in ostrich ranching had been fueled by the belief that ostrich steaksâan excellent source of low-fat, low-cholesterol proteinâwould be the health meat of the twenty-first century. Newborn chicks weighed two pounds and stood ten inches tall. They grew fast and reached processing size in a little over a year.
“Luckily,” Maggie said, “we're in the middle of breeding season.”
“Luckily?” I asked.
She nodded. “You're likely to see one of our pairs mate. It'll give you something to compare to Rush.”
“Rush?” Benny perked up. “That's his name?”
“We changed it,” Sara said. “The breeder named him Big Red. We liked Rush better.”
Benny chuckled. “As in football?”
“As in Limbaugh,” Sara said, wrinkling her nose in disgust.
“What?” Benny said, offended. Unfortunately, Benny's politics were somewhere to the right of Vlad the Impaler.
“Shush,” I hissed, grabbing him by the arm. “Behave yourself.”
I went over the lawsuit basics with Maggie and Sara, explaining that I'd be able to tell them more once I'd had a chance to review the court papers. Sara had given her only copy of the petition to her younger brother Paul, the one in Benny's law school class. She said she'd call Paul that night and have him send me a copy of the papers.
Time for the tour. We started in the barn, where a portion of the interior had been turned into a hatchery. There were two incubators, each resembling a double-sized white refrigerator, sitting side by side on an immaculate cement floor. Maggie pulled open one of the double doors to reveal dozens of huge eggs in rows in seven stainless steel bins.
“Here,” she said, reaching into one of the bins and carefully lifting out an egg with both hands. She placed it into my hands. The egg was smooth and warm and weighed almost five pounds. I could feel a slight movement inside of it.
“Wow,” I said, cradling the egg in my hands as I gave it back to Maggie.
From the hatchery we moved to the nursery, which took up part of the barn and extended into a fenced-off pen outside. Milling around were about a dozen brown and black baby chicks and a little white goat. The chicks resembled furry, prehistoric ducks.
“Goats are like nannies,” Sara explained as she kneeled down by the fence. “This one's Rita. The chicks learn to eat and drink and avoid the rain by following her around.” The little goat trotted over on stiff, pigeon-toed legs. She was adorableâlittle brown horns, loppy ears, a short, upturned tail, and a streak of black fur running down the middle of her back. Sara put her hand through the fence to nuzzle it against the goat's neck.
We moved on to what Maggie called the “breeding colony,” which presently consisted of ten adult hens, two adult cocks, and about two dozen chicks. They lived in a fenced-off area about three times the size of a football field. They were milling around and pecking at the grass as we approached.
Maggie scanned the pasture. “Oh, there's Tracy.” She turned to us. “Let's go say hi. She's a doll.”
We followed Maggie and Sara across the pasture. As we approached, the bird turned to face us.
“Jesus,” Benny said under his breath, “look at the size of that chicken.”
Tracy was immense, standing every bit of eight feet tall, her tiny head perched atop a long, rubbery neck. From a distance her long legs had merely looked skinny, but up close I could see the outlines of thick tendons and muscles beneath her rough skinâmuscles and tendons powerful enough to propel three hundred and fifty pounds of ostrich at speeds of up to forty miles per hour. I stared down at her feet. They were thin and callusedâalmost human, but with two toes instead of five. One of the toes was huge, with what looked like a sharpened toenail. It reminded me of another thing I'd read in the material: ostriches used their feet as weapons.
I took a wary step back, but it was quickly apparent that Tracy was no kick boxer. She was delighted to see Maggie, and started rubbing up against her with her wings spread. Maggie gave her a hug around her neck, and Tracy pecked playfully at Maggie's shirt buttons. She took a step toward me, tilting her head to stare.
“Hi,” I said to her, smiling.
Tracy lowered her head for a better look. Her huge dark eyes were framed by impossibly long lashes. As she studied me, there was a deep, booming roar off in the distance. Tracy quickly straightened and turned to look.
“What the hell was that?” Benny asked.
“Oh, good,” Maggie said, shading her eyes as she stared at a pair of ostriches who were slowly circling each other about fifty yards away. “It's Regis and Kathie Lee.”
I burst into laughter. “You're kidding.”
Maggie turned to me with a smile. “They're about to mate. You'll be able to see the way it's supposed to be done. We have Rush on video.”
“On video?” Benny repeated.
Sara turned to him and nodded triumphantly. “It'll be Rachel's best trial exhibit. The jury will go crazy when they see it.”
My God, I thought, trying to imagine how to present this case to a jury.
Another booming roar.
“Come on,” Maggie said. “We can get a little closer.”
As we approached, one of the ostrichesâpresumably Regisâseemed to kick his mating dance into high gear. Standing in front of Kathie Lee, he began shimmying his shoulders like some massive go-go dancer on speed. He dropped to his hocks and fanned his wings rapidly. Another bellow, and then he scrambled back to his feet and started rocking forward as if he weredahveningin synagogue.
“This is foreplay?” Benny mumbled.
Apparently so. Kathie Lee had been watching Regis impassivelyâalmost disdainfullyâthrough the early phase of his fan dance, but now she was fluttering her own wings and batting her eyelashes. Apparently, she was getting in the mood. Suddenly she spun away from Regis and dropped to the ground, her head extended, her rump slightly raised. Regis moved in quickly.
I felt uncomfortable watching, but Regis was oblivious to his audience, totally caught up in his act. Fifteen seconds, a grunt, and curtains. Regis stood, stretched his neck, and sauntered off without a glance back.
Fifteen seconds, a grunt, and curtains, I thought, feeling a stab of solidarity as I watched Kathie Lee stagger to her feet in the dust.
You see that thing on Regis?”
“Yes, Benny, I saw it.”
“Peculiar-looking, wasn't it?”
We were heading east on Highway 70, the sun setting behind us.
I looked over and shrugged. “No offense, Benny, but they're all kind of peculiar-looking.”
“Maybe, but did you see the grooves on that Johnson? What the hell's that all about? It looked like a goddamn NASA docking device.”
“Probably the same design principle is at work.”
“Damn, I'm starving.” Benny was peering out the window at the restaurant billboards. “What say we go put on the feedbag, eh?”
I checked my watch and shook my head. “I can't. I have to be at the rabbi's house in a half hour. I've barely got enough time to drop you off.”
“The rabbi again? Give me a break.”
I looked over at him and sighed. “I made a promise.”
“Promise,” he snorted. “Jonathan owes you big time.”
“It's not about owing, Benny. He's Orthodox. It's a big part of his life.”
“So? You're Reform. What's that? Chopped liver?”
“He was angry with me, Benny. I can understand.”
“Understand what? Jonathan's a good guy and all, but he's got some chutzpah giving you grief over being Reform. Give me a break. My grandfather was Orthodox. It's a wacko throwback cult from the Dark Ages.”
“No it's not. Look, I promised him I'd give this a try.”
“Yeah, yeah. What's tonight's topic?”
“I'm not sure,” I lied.
“Speaking of which, I got a topic for the rebbe.”
“Oh?” I gave him a look. “Not another query about the status of your job application for lifeguard at themikvah?”
“Very funny. I'm talking a topic for the ages.”
“I'm talking one of the haunting mysteries of Jewish law.”
I rolled my eyes. “Let's hear it.”
“Ask that learned scholar tonight to explain the origins of the eleventh commandment.”
“The one that applies only to Jewish women.”
“Which one is that?”
“Come on, Rachel, don't act coy with me. This is the one they hide from the guys.”
“How's it go?”
“Like you don't know.”
“Thou shalt not giveth head.”
“I'm serious. You ever read the laws of kashruth? You wouldn't believe the things you can put in your mouth. Pickled herring, fried chicken fat, that grotesque mucus that comes with gefilte fish, chopped liver, boiled tongue, bone marrow, schmaltzâeven certain insects, for chrissake! Bugs! You're telling me this isn't a wacko cult? What kind of religion says yes to cockroaches and no to cocks?”
“It also says no to lobsters.”
“The hell with lobsters. I can live without lobsters.”
I gave him a look.
He paused. “Well, maybe not. Add them to the list. Ask him tonight. Ask him what kind of religion bans lobsters and blow jobs.”
“Maybe I'll save it for another night.”
“Wait.” He jabbed his finger at me. “Bacon, too. Lobsters, bacon, and blow jobs. Listen, I'm not asking for the answer to the riddle of human existence or for the secret to the afterlife, Rachel. All I'm asking for is why the only thing that ever gets blown in a Jewish home is a shofar.”
It's my fault,” I said glumly.
“Your fault?” my mother said. “Don't talk ridiculous. What is it with these men? Your father, alev asholem, tried that same number on me before we got married. You know what I told him?”
“What?” I asked, amused.
“I looked him right in the eye,” she said, wagging the serving spoon as she reenacted the event, “and I warned him, âSeymour, if you're looking for a girl who'll do that crazy stuff with you, then you better keep looking because I'm not that kind of girl.'”
I couldn't help but smile as I imagined that scene. My poor father. He never knew what hit him. My mother is the most determined and exasperating woman I know. Life trained her well. She came to America from Lithuania at the age of three, having escaped with her mother and baby sister after the Nazis killed her father, the rest of his family, and whatever semblance of religious faith my mother might ever have had. Fate remained cruel. My motherâa woman who reveres books and learningâwas forced to drop out of high school and go to work when her mother (after whom I'm named) was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer. My grandmother Rachel died six months later, leaving her two daughters, Sarah and Becky, orphans at the ages of seventeen and fifteen. Two years later, my mother married a gentle, shy, devoutly Jewish bookkeeper ten years her senior named Seymour Gold. My sweet father was totally smitten by his beautiful, spirited wife and remained so until his death from a heart attack two years ago on the morning after Thanksgiving.
“And you know what?” she continued. “Your father never brought it up again. Never.” She nodded with satisfaction, but then noticed an empty centimeter of space on my plate. “How about some more brisket, doll baby?”
“Oh, Mom, I'm stuffed.”
“Really, Mom, I'mplotzing. It's delicious, but I couldn't eat another bite of anything.”
“Wait, I've got strudel.”
I leaned back in my chair. “Then let's take a break first. I'll help you clean up the dinner dishes.”
I washed, my mom dried.
As I soaped one of the dinner plates, I said, “I still think it's my fault.”
“How could it possibly be your fault?”
“I might be able to connect with these traditions if I were a more spiritual person.”
“You're plenty spiritual. A saint should have the soul you do. But this Orthodox nonsense isn't spiritual. It's superstition.”
“You sound like Benny.”
“Benny's no dummy. Orthodox Judaism.” She shook her head. “Ridiculous rules and rituals. Worse than ridiculous, and you know why? Because the point of those rules and rituals is to remind us that men are special and we aren't. That's why I told Seymour to forget it.”
“Mom, it's not that simple. For every Orthodox Jewish man there's an Orthodox Jewish woman, and those women don't feel oppressed.”
“How do you know?”
“I know, Mom. Take the rabbi's wife. Sylvia is brilliant and successful, and she loves every ritual connected with the religion.”
“Including thismishagossshe told you about tonight? What's it called?Nadah?”
“Niddah, nadahâwhatever. It's just Jewish men passing rules to make women feel unclean and inferior.”
For the past five weeks, I'd been spending an hour one night a week in Rabbi Isaac Kalman's study trying to learn the laws, customs, and traditions of Orthodox Judaism. Although my father had been Orthodox, my sister, Ann, and I were raised as Reform Jews. When my mother told my father that she wasn't going to do that “crazy stuff” with him, she made sure the ban included her children, too. But now, like my mother before me, I'd fallen in love with a devout Jewish man. Unlike my father, however, Jonathan was a widower with two small girls. And unlike my mother, I was willing to at least give Orthodox Judaism a try.
Dating an Orthodox Jew was a new experience. In addition to the strict observance of the Sabbath from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturdayâno cars, no telephones, no electric appliances, no workâthere were exacting rules about food, prayer, and sex. Although few organized religions celebrate the joys of marital sex more than Orthodox Judaism, the counterweight is a stern prohibition against premarital sex. I suppose it added a touch of nostalgic charm to our relationship, as if we were a pair of high school sweethearts from a 1950s sitcom. It added plenty of frustration, too.
Tonight, though, had been a real test of faith, because tonight the topic had been the laws ofniddah. Due to the subject matter, my teacher tonight had been the rabbi's wife, Sylvia Kalman. She'd explained that a woman becomes aniddahat the onset of menstruation. Theniddahphase lasts almost two weeks, since the woman must have seven consecutive “clean” days after her period ends. She ends theniddahby going to themikvah, or ritual bath, and immersing herself in the waters. She emerges physically and spiritually cleansed.
From the onset of menstruation until the ritual bath twelve to fourteen days later, Jewish law strictly forbids not only all sexual activity but all physical contact between husband and wife. Indeed, sexual intercourse with aniddahis punishable by the severest penalty,kahret, the Jewish version of excommunication in which the sinner is spiritually cut off from the destiny of the Jewish people.
The rabbi's wife had sensed my resistance. As she no doubt had done for scores of women before me, she explained the various rationales the rabbis offer. The laws ofniddahgive the woman a special time to herself. They protect a couple from the dangers of overindulgence and over-familiarity, which could lead to monotony and restlessness. The laws ofniddah, some say, are designed to increase the love between the man and woman by creating a monthly honeymoon. As the Torah promises, when the wife returns to the marital bed after the end ofniddah, “she will be as beloved to her husband as she was when she entered thechupah.”
“It's a beautiful mitzvah,” Sylvia told me. “A monthly blessing.”
I tried to believeâI really didâbut my heart wasn't in it. To me, the various explanations sounded more like rationalizations for a set of rules concocted by a neurotically squeamish guyâthe same guy who'd come up with those obsessive washing-of-the-hands rituals at Passover and other holidays. But the rabbi's wife believed in the wisdom and the beauty of the laws ofniddahâtruly believedâand she was no fool. Sylvia Kalman held a Ph.D. from Columbia University and taught modern European history at St. Louis University. She seemed the embodiment of the joy that Orthodox Jewish women shared with their men. I wanted to believe the way she did. Despite my mother's assurances, I knew the failure was my fault.
“Niddah, smiddah,” my mother said as she poured us tea. “When you get to be an old lady like me, you don't have to worry about that monthly stuff anymore.”
“Old lady? Come on, Mom, you look gorgeous.”
With her high cheekbones, trim figure, and curly red hair (colored these days to cover the gray), Sarah Gold was still a good-looking woman at the age of fifty-four. I called her my “Red Hot Mama.”
“Ah,” she said with a dismissive wave, “enough with this Orthodox craziness. Have another piece of strudel and tell me more about Angela.”
I'd already filled her in on my prison meeting. I went through some of my unease about the original conviction.
“Benny's right,” she said when I finished. “What's done is done. That's why we have juries. There was just too much evidence against her. Everywhere you looked there was something that said guilty. Even that piece of glass that she used to cut off that poor man's penis.”
“That's another gap in the evidence,” I said.
“Rachel, it was her blood on the glass. The DNA test confirmed it. Even I remember that.”
“Mom, I know it was her blood. That's the point, in fact. Yesterday, I got a copy of the results of the blood tests. There were traces of two drugs in them: a steroid and a muscle relaxer with a long name. Fluniâuhâ¦” I paused, trying to remember. “Flunitrazepam.”
“Sounds like something from a Groucho Marx movie.”
I said, “The cops interviewed her internist as part of the investigationâmainly for his insights into her mental state. He said he prescribed the steroid for some sort of sinus infection. Over the years he'd prescribed sleeping pills and Valium for her, but never that drug.”
“So maybe another doctor did.”
“I doubt it. According to a note in the file, the drug is legal elsewhere but not in the U.S.”
“Rachel, honey, maybe she had muscle cramps the last time she was on a cruise or overseas on vacation.”
“They didn't find any more of those pills in her medicine cabinet.”
“So maybe that was the last pill and she pitched the bottle.”
“She hadn't been out of the country for a while.”
“So it was an old bottle. No big deal. Your father had pill bottles dating back to the Korean War. So does your aunt Becky. There must be plenty of people with expired prescriptions in their medicine cabinet.”
She leaned across the table and placed her hand over mine. “Rachel, honey, listen to your mother. What do you have? A blood test showing on the night of the murder she took a muscle relaxer that she must have bought on a trip overseas? And that's going to prove she's innocent? Even our criminal justice system isn't that crazy, and you know what I think of our criminal justice system.”
After we finished our tea and my mother had forced me to take four slices of strudel she'd wrapped in aluminum foil, she walked with me to the front door.
“So is Jonathan going to be out of town the whole summer?” she asked.
“Possibly. He told me the government has thirty-eight names on its witness list. Jonathan thinks it may take three days just to pick the jury.”
Jonathan Wolf was representing one of the defendants in a huge securities fraud prosecution in the federal district court in Manhattan. The trial was scheduled to last two months. At least the timing worked well for his daughters, whose school year ended a week ago. His parents still lived in Brooklyn. Although Jonathan would be living in a mid-town hotel during the week, his daughters would get to spend the summer in New York with their grandparents.
Jonathan and I met as litigation adversaries a year ago. I'd detested him from the start. My mother, of course, decided that he was the perfect man for me. I told her no wayâhe was far too arrogant. She told me it was pride, not arrogance. I told her if that was pride, he had too much of it. She told me he sounded like someone else she knew. I told her forget it. She told me mothers know best. I told her not with this guy you don't. She told me to give it a few months. I did.
It's amazing how much smarter mothers grow over time.
“When did you talk to him?”
“Last night. Sounds like the pretrial stuff is going okay.” I paused. “I really miss him.”
“He's a good man. A little crazy with this Orthodox stuff, but still a good man.” She gave me a fierce hug. “I love you, doll baby.”
“I love you, Mom.”
I waited for Sheila Trumble in the marble rotunda of City Hall. We were scheduled for combat this morning with Nathaniel Turner, aka Nate the Great. Although I hoped we could reason with him, based on my last telephone conversation with him I was afraid that a battle seemed more likely.
I was a few minutes early and happy to spend the time enjoying the interior of my favorite city hall. Unlike the standard Greco-Roman structures that house the mayors of America, the St. Louis City Hall resembles its counterpart in Parisâa resemblance that is hardly coincidental. When the St. Louis city fathers decided to build a new city hall in 1890, they chose to recognize the city's heritage by selecting a French Renaissance Revival design based on the HÃ´tel de Ville de Paris. The result was striking, with an interior as lovely as its exterior. I was standing in the rotunda, whose walls were illuminated by a graceful set of three-pronged globe lamps. Directly ahead, the grand marble stairway led up to a four-story interior courtyard that was capped by gold-leafed archways and pastel murals of scenes from the early days of the city. High overhead, a ceiling of stained-glass skylights bathed the interior in a soft glow that could almost make you forget the nasty business transacted behind so many of those imposing doors.
I turned to see Sheila Trumble approaching, her low heels clicking against the marble floor. She was a handsome woman in her fifties with an aquiline nose, short-cropped black hair streaked with gray, and keen blue eyes. She was dressed, as always, with that understated elegance that whispered “exquisite taste” and “big bucks.” She had plenty of both. Sheila was, after all, the wife of Carson Trumble III, who had the good fortune (literally) to be the son of the founder of Trumble Communications.
I smiled, delighted to see her.
“Did you meet with Angela yesterday?” she asked when she reached me.
“I did. She sends her greetings.”
“That's sweet.” Her smile faded to a concerned frown. “How is she?”
“Hanging in there.”
She nodded sympathetically. Sheila Trumble was high on my list of quality peopleâa genuinely fine woman who'd somehow avoided the perils of wealth. Oh, yes, she and Carson were members of the right clubs, sent their children to the right private schools, and owned vacation homes in the right places (Aspen and Martha's Vineyard). But unlike her social peersâwhose definition of a charitable act required a designer gown, a good table, a boldface blurb in the society column, and a flattering photograph in theLadue NewsâSheila's commitment to philanthropy was authentic and totally without glitz. She did her good deeds down in the trenches, tutoring third-graders three times a week at an inner-city elementary school and taking part in several rehab projects for Habitat for Humanity each year. Typical of her no-nonsense attitude, a month before her first Habitat project she'd hired a carpenter to train her in the tools of his craft. She wanted to make sure she'd be useful on the job site. She was, too. I'd worked alongside her on a project last winter and watched in amazement at her adeptness with a nail gun.
Although the tutoring and rehab projects would have sufficed for many volunteers, Sheila's overriding allegiance was to the Oasis Shelter, which she founded sixteen years ago and which brought us together today. Back at the beginning, she'd been spurred into action by the plight of her cook, Pearlie Brown, who was trapped in a physically abusive relationship. Sheila found a vacant two-flat in north St. Louis, signed a one-year lease for the entire building, and helped Pearlie and her two children pack up and move in. By the end of the first year, there were six battered women and eleven children living in the building. During the first year, Sheila shopped for all the groceries herself, arranged day care for the children, and hired the security guards posted around the clock to keep out the angry husbands and boyfriends. But by the time of the gala tenth-anniversary celebration at the Hyatt Regency, the Oasis was a self-sufficient shelterâa model, in fact, for other citiesâhaving expanded to include the adjacent apartment building and a full staff of professionals to help the women turn around their lives.
Six months ago, though, the storm clouds known as Renewal 2004 began gathering. That's when Sheila retained me as the attorney for the shelter. Today would be our third meeting with Nate the Great in an effort to avoid a head-on collision between Renewal 2004 and the Oasis Shelter.
Sheila was also my connection to Angela Green. They'd become good friends while serving together on the Oasis board, and their relationship had survived the trial and Angela's incarceration. When Angela needed a civil lawyer to defend her in the Son of Sam case, she turned to Sheila for advice, and Sheila gave her my name.
“By the way,” I said as we waited for the elevator, “Angela knows Nate the Great.”
“Really?” Sheila said, intrigued. “How?”
“She once baby-sat for him. She told me they grew up in the same neighborhood. He was a few years behind her younger sister at Soldan High.”
“What did her sister think of him?”
“Not much. She said he was one of those slick Casanova types, dressing real fine, checking himself in every mirror, always patting and fiddling with his Afro.”
Sheila smiled. “Nate with an Afro. Now there's an image.”
“Actually,” I said, grinning, “I have a better image. It's a story Angela told me about Nate.”
“Back when Angela was in college, Nate's mother hired her one summer to baby-sit for Nate and his younger sister while she was out of town. Nate was twelve years old, and his sister was eight. Angela took her to the zoo one day. When she came home that afternoon she caught Nate on his bed with some of her bras and underwear and a pair of her high heels.”
“Oh, my God,” Sheila said, giggling and covering her mouth. “Was heâ¦you know?”
“Probably. He must have heard her coming down the hall because when she walked in on him he had a towel wrapped around his waist.”
“What did she do?”
“She slapped him in the face and called him a pervert and told him if he ever misbehaved she'd tell everyone in the neighborhood what he was really like.”
“I don't think he learned his lesson. From what I hear, he still spends his free time trying to get into other women's pants.”
“It's so disgusting. I was at a fund-raiser last year, and he was, too. He acts like he's God's gift to women.”
“Maybe we can convince him to be God's gift to the women in our shelter.”
Have a seat,” the secretary informed us in a bored tone, barely looking up, the phone cradled in the crook of her neck. She had iridescent fingernails the size of vulture talons. “The commissioner will be with you soon.” She swiveled away from us and resumed her telephone conversation. “So, then he goes, âGirl, don't be talkin' âbout whatâ¦'”
I wandered along the back wall of the reception area, studying the framed photographs of the city's flamboyant redevelopment commissioner posed with various visiting dignitariesâNate the Great shaking hands with Donald Trump; standing next to Sammy Sosa, both of them wearing Chicago Cubs hats; embracing Colin Powell; giving a thumbs-up to the Pope, who looked baffled; grinning alongside President Bill Clinton, the two of them flanked by a pair of St. Louis Rams cheerleaders.
“Ah, welcome, ladies.”
I turned to see Nate beaming at us from the doorway of his office.
Sheila stood. “Good morning, Commissioner.”
“Sheila, my dear.” He stepped to the side and with a sweeping gesture toward his office said, “Please come in, ladies.”
He followed us into his office, where a familiar, perennial figure stood by the picture window.
Nate said, “I believe you ladies have already made the acquaintance of my assistant, Herman Borghoff.”
Borghoff turned to gaze at us, expressionless, his arms crossed over his chest.
Although both men were in their late forties, Herman Borghoff made such a contrast to his boss that cynics claimed Nate kept him around just to make himself look better. Borghoff was tall and lumpy and pasty-white. His boss was short and lean and jet-black. Borghoff wore thick hornrimmed glasses, an old-fashioned black Timex watch with a faded canvas watchband, and his high school class ring. He had a bad haircut that failed to disguise the cowlicks in his brown hair. His boss had a stylish goatee, a shaved head, tinted aviators, and lots of gold jewelry, including a Piaget watch worth more than my car. Borghoff wore an ill-fitting plaid suit and scuffed black shoes. His boss could have stepped out of the pages of GQ in his chalk-striped double-breasted navy suit, starched blue shirt with white collar, elegant silk patterned tie, and shiny black alligator shoes. The contrast remained in their lifestyles as well. Borghoff drove a late-model Chevy, lived with his mother, and rarely was seen outside of City Hall. Nate the Great cruised around town in a gleaming black Jaguar XJ8 and appeared at public functions with an ever-changing procession of gorgeous women of all races and ethnic origins. Never married, Nate madeSt. Louis Magazine's“Most Eligible Bachelor” list every year.
To me, their eyes were perhaps their biggest contrast. Borghoff's were inert. Staring into themâas I had done on several occasionsâwas like staring at two gray pebbles. Nate's were dazzling and manic, darting from face to face, sizing you up in an instant, moving on, zooming in, zooming out. Nate's eyes kept me on guard. Borghoff's gave me the creeps.
Borghoff moved off to the side wall, where there was a chair with a legal pad on it. He lifted the pad and settled into the seat as his boss slid into the high-back leather chair behind his imposing desk.
Nate smiled at us. “Sheila, always a pleasure and a privilege to see you, my dear. Rachel Gold, you are looking fine today, girl, yes you are. Gonna make me have to take some of my blood pressure medication.”
Typical meaningless jabber from Nate the Great. We'd been tangling over the fate of the Oasis Shelter for more than half a year now, and during that period he'd called me everything from a “stone-cold fox” to a “demon spawn,” from “sexy mama” to “goddamn ball-breaking bitch”âand sometimes all four during the same meeting. He had what charitably could be described as a volatile personality.
The walls of his office were festooned with even more framed photographs than the reception area, along with various proclamations, letters of commendations, and the like. The enormous picture window behind his desk displayed the Arch in the distance and the Civil Courts Building up closeâtwo impressive edifices unique to St. Louis, although the Civil Courts Building was easily the more intriguing of the two. Hailed in 1930 as the Skyscraper Temple of Law, it's an otherwise undistinguished fourteen-story limestone structure until you get to the “roof,” which consists of an Ionic Greek temple crowned by an Egyptian pyramid crowned by two enormous griffins, those half-eagle, half-lion creatures of myth. This curiosity is actually a replica of the Tomb of Halicarnassus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Why it sits atop the Civil Courts Building is anyone's guess, but the way it dominated the view from the window added an oddly sinister aura to Nate's office.
“So, my lovely ladies,” Nate said, “what's on your mind today?”
“Same as last time,” I told him.
He chuckled and glanced playfully at Borghoff, who stared back without expression.
Although Nate sometimes assumed the manner of a jester, he was as innocent and harmless as a king cobraâand at least as lethal. After all, his mother was Lucille Turner, which meant that his uncle was the Reverend Orion Sampson, an old-fashioned fire-and-brimstone preacher who'd given up the pulpit thirty years ago to run for Congress. St. Louis had never seen a black politician of his ilk. While others kowtowed to the city's white power elite, Orion Sampson spent thirty years in Congress thumbing his nose at the white boys while his constituents kept reelecting him with increasingly lopsided votes. The Republicans hadn't even bothered putting up a candidate the last four elections. The reverend apparently was as pure and principled as he was self-righteous and arrogant. Three scandal-free decades on Capitol Hill translated into sufficient seniority to chair the types of committees and subcommittees that forced white boys to kowtow to him if they wanted that tax break or federal subsidy or government contract for their Fortune 500 company.
Orion Sampson dearly loved his older sister Lucille, and Lucille dearly loved her precious son Nathaniel. All of which meant that Nate was not only dangerous but untouchable. He was also the city official in charge of Renewal 2004, the ambitious plan to transform a large section of north St. Louis into an urban environment that would attract middle-class whites back to the city. As redevelopment commissioner, he helped administer the special government-guaranteed mortgages that were the city's principal tool for implementing the massive redevelopment planâtens of millions of dollars in redevelopment funds, much of it from the federal government, thanks to Uncle Orion. The properties intended for redevelopment were principally two- and three-flat apartment buildings acquired by the city over the years through tax delinquency seizures, abandonment, or eminent domain proceedings. Indeed, Nate the Great, through his office as redevelopment commissioner, was now the single largest property owner in north St. Louis.
The target year for completion was 2004, which was the one hundredth anniversary of the St. Louis World's Fair, which in turn was the one hundredth anniversary of the start of the Lewis and Clark expedition at St. Louis. As part of the redevelopment plan, Nate's office was attempting to condemn various properties within the area that were deemed to be “inharmonious” with the redevelopment plan. The Oasis Shelter was one such allegedly inharmonious property, which made Nate the Great my principal adversary in the Oasis Shelter condemnation dispute. And now that he'd moved to phase two of Renewal 2004, the battle was heating up.
“Ladies,” he told us, “I understand your devotion to that shelter, but we're talking about the future.” He slid into the singsong manner of a preacher. “As we move further into the new millennium we need to expand our perspectives. We have made a commitment to revive a dying portion of this fine city. The sobering reality is that the march of progress often demands the sacrifice of a few to make life better for the many. I am afraid that is the case here.”
“Come on, Nate,” I said, “you're not building Disney World out there. You're talking about revitalizing a real city. Any real city has all typesâblacks and whites, Asians and Hispanics, rich and poor, good guys and bad guys, and, unfortunately, some innocent women who are victims of abusive husbands and boyfriends.”
Nate placed his hands palm-down on the desk and nodded. “I hear you, Rachel. I admire your compassion. But you're refusing to look at the big picture. We got all types living in this city but one. The one type we don't have is the white professional class.” He was standing now, turning to gaze out the window at the skyline. “We got to find a way to lure all those white doctors and lawyers and accountants and businessmen back into our fine city.” He turned back to face us. “Let me tell you something, ladies, you don't bait that hook with a depressing shelter for abused women. Isn't that the truth, Herman?”
Borghoff slowly looked up from his notes, his expression impassive, his gaze remote.
“That's ridiculous,” I said, pressing on. “We're not running a crack house, Commissioner. Those are well-maintained apartment buildings, and the cause is a good one.”
“You're missing the point, Rachel. I don't care whether you got the Virgin Mary herself running that operation. My job is to convince Ward and June Cleaver to sell their home out there in the white-bread suburbs, pack up their honky belongings, put Wally and the Beaver in the minivan, and move into the city. I'm never going to close that deal when they find out they're going to be living next door to a bunch of skanky women hiding out from psycho boyfriends. That just ain't gonna fly.”
The meeting went downhill quickly from there and broke up ten minutes later with my assurance to Nate that the shelter's supporters would be stocking the war chest to fight any condemnation proceeding.
That just made him chuckle. “You may think you're messing with City Hall,” he told me, “but you're forgetting something important, counselor. When it comes to messing, City Hall got a whole lot more ways of messing with your client than you got messing with City Hall. Your client may have enough money to hire a lawyer, but we already got lawyers, girl, and we got a whole arsenal besides, and it's called âcity government.' Before you declare war, counselor, you better first remind yourself that we got lots of different weapons in that arsenal. Isn't that so, Herman?”
I was glad to get out of Nate's office. Everything about him infuriated meâfrom his indifference to the plight of the women served by the Oasis Shelter to his smarmy male chauvinism to the way he wielded the instruments of power as if he'd actually earned them. Absent Orion Sampson, Nate would be a nobodyâa fact that only underscored his own hypocrisy, and vulnerability. The congressman lived by the fundamentalist tenets of his church. According to one joke, he and his wife never had sex standing up because someone might think they were dancing. Swearing, drinking, and fornication were also on Sampson's forbidden list. The consequences of violating that list were wondrous to behold. Seven years ago, Sampson's eldest son, Orion junior, was a state representative, a vice president of a black-owned bank in his father's district, and the heir apparent to his father's congressional seat. Then he got sued by an exotic dancer who claimed that he'd fathered her child. When blood tests confirmed paternity, the congressman responded with Old Testament vengeance. These days, Orion junior sells used cars in north St. Louis.
Fortunately for Nate, his uncle was rarely in town and never frequented Nate's favorite nightspots. According to those in the know, Nate had taken one additional precautionary stepâhe'd procured a “fiancÃ©e” in the form of a churchgoing schoolteacher in her early thirties named Beatrice who accompanied Nate to all family gatherings. Uncle Orion was apparently quite taken with the demure Beatrice and never passed up the opportunity to urge his nephew to finally set the wedding date.
Out in the hallway near the elevators, I conferred briefly with Sheila. She was heading back to the shelter, but I had another meeting in the building to try to straighten out a permit problem for a client.
“Put me on the agenda for the next board meeting,” I told her. “I can tell them our options.”
“Do we have any?” she asked bleakly.
“Absolutely, Sheila. We have more leverage than you realize. Remember, Nate's goal is to get this situation resolved quickly. He's in there right now telling Borghoff to light a fire under the city's lawyers. He'll want them cranking out condemnation papers. The more we slow it down, the more the balance shifts in our favor.”
“But how much can we really slow it down?”
“You might be surprised.”
My other meeting at City Hall lasted just thirty minutes. Afterward, I wandered slowly through the rotunda toward the exit, thinking over Angela's situation. A large plaque on the wall caught my attention. According to the engraved text, it was placed there in memory of “the Distinguished Citizens of Greater St. Louis who perished in the Great Glider Crash at Lambert Field, August 1, 1943.” The list of dead included the mayor and nine other Distinguished Citizens.
The Great Glider Crash of 1943?
Here I was, a little over a half century later, with absolutely no idea what the plaque memorialized. I'd never heard of the Great Glider Crash of 1943 and didn't recognize any of the names of the Distinguished Citizensânot even the mayor.
There's a lesson there, I told myself. Fifty years from now, the memories of Angela Green's murder trial would be just as faint. After all, hadn't other “trials of the century” faded long before the century had? Who today could even recognize the names Bruno Hauptmann and Alfred de Marigny, much less recall the details of their respective murder trials, each of which mesmerized the nation while dominating the front pages for months? Were you to suggest to someone of Bruno Hauptmann's era that there would come a time in America when the typical citizen could not recite the age, sex, or first name of the kidnapped Lindbergh baby or the place where the infant's corpse was found, he would laugh in disbelief. Or that Sacco and Vanzetti, the most famous pair of criminal defendants of the first half of the twentieth century, could today be passed off as a perfumery from Florence: “Thrill to the scent of liberationâAnarchy, from Sacco & Vanzetti.” Who today even recalled their first names, much less their crime?
And someday, I told myself, Angela's celebrity would fade as well, along with the entourage of lawyers, judges, and witnesses who shared her spotlight. We'll all meet up in the foyer of that celebrity netherworld with Bruno Hauptmann, the Lindbergh baby, O.J. Simpson, and the victims of the Great Glider Crash of 1943. As usual, Shakespeare said it first and said it best:
Imperious Caesar, dead and turned to clay,Might stop a hole to keep the wind away.O, that that earth which kept the world in aweShould patch a wall to expel the winter's flaw!
I was back in my office after lunch trying to focus, trying to prepare for the two meetings tomorrow in Chicagoâfirst with Angela's criminal defense lawyer and then with the lawyers for all defendants in the Son of Sam lawsuit. But it was no use. I was distractedâstill troubled by the Groucho Marx drug. Was it just another loose end, or an important one? How and why did something called “flunitrazepam” get into Angela Green's bloodstream?
I'd called Brett Abrams that morning. Brett was a lawyer friend in Chicago who specialized in plaintiffs' medical malpractice cases. I knew that Brett, like all medical malpractice lawyers, would have a copy of thePhysicians' Desk Referenceon his desk. He checked the listings for me and reported that there was no entry for flunitrazepam.
Perhaps, I'd mused after hanging up, there was no listing because the drug wasn't lawful to prescribe in the United States. Before leaving for my lunch meeting, I'd asked my secretary, Jacki, to check with the medical school library at St. Louis University to see whether they had a reference book with any information on the drug. When I returned to the office after lunch, Jacki's typed notes of her telephone conversation with one of the librarians were sitting on my desk.
The librarian had found the information in a European equivalent of thePDR. According to Jacki's notes, flunitrazepam was in the class of drugs used to treat anxiety, convulsions, muscle tension, and sleep disorders. Developed in the 1970s by Hoffman-La Roche, the drug was more popularly known by its trade name, Rohypnol.
I stared at the name.
I said it aloud.
It sounded awfully familiar.
I read through the rest of her notes. The drug was legal in eighty-six countries in Europe, South America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Low doses of Rohypnol could cause “drowsiness, dizziness, motor incoordination, memory loss, gastrointestinal upsets, headache, reduced blood pressure, visual disturbances, dry mouth, and hangover.” Higher doses could cause coma, respiratory depression, and even death.
I leaned back in my chair and mulled it over. Flunitrazepam could be prescribed for sleeplessness or anxiety. That was not inconsistent with Angela's history. Over the years, her physician had given her prescriptions for sleeping pills and for tranquilizers.
I studied the notes. Legal in eighty-six countries. According to the investigative file, Angela had visited London, Rome, and Bermuda and had taken a Caribbean cruise during the four years before Michael Green's murder. Maybe Rohypnol was legal in one of those countries.
I turned toward the computer screen. My computer was hooked up to Nexis, a computer data bank of hundreds and hundreds of newspapers, periodicals, and specialized journals. It was worth a shot.
I signed onto Nexis. At the search prompt, I typed in a single word:flunitrazepam. I stared at the word for a moment, my lips pursed. This was already a long shot. Better to do the search using its trademark. That might improve my chances of a hit, since newspapers and periodicals were far more likely to use a drug's brand name. Who knew, or could remember, that the dentist numbed you with a shot of procaine hydrochloride, or that the generic name for the twenty-one Ortho-Novums I took each month was norethindrone/mestranol? After all, even Angela's physician had used brand names during his police interview. He told them he had prescribed Nembutal and Valium, not pentobarbital sodium and diazepam.
So I backspaced overflunitrazepamand typed inRohypnol. Then I hit the transmit key and leaned back to wait. After fifteen seconds the screen flashed a message:
Search interruptedâyour current search request has located more than 1,000 documents. Would you care to modify your search request? Yes/No?:I frowned in surprise. There were more than a thousand newspaper and magazine articles in which the wordRohypnolappeared?
I typed inyesand then modified the search to eliminate all articles shorter than one thousand words. It took two more search modifications to get the number under one hundred articles.
By then I was very curious. I pressed the key to view the first document. A moment later, the screen filled with the opening paragraphs of an article that had appeared three years ago in the financial section of theWashington Postunder the headline:
COUNTERING ILL EFFECTS OF AN ABUSED DRUG;FIRM RAISES AWARENESS IN SEX-RELATED ATTACKS
I leaned forward and started reading.
The pill is small, white and tasteless when dissolved in liquid. It is manufactured by Swiss pharmaceutical giant Hoffman-La Roche Ltd. for treating severe insomnia.The prescription sleeping aid is sold and marketed in 80 countries around the world, including many in Europe and Asia, and is a strong revenue producer for the company, though the drug manufacturer has never sought approval to sell it in the United States.Yet it is in this country where the pharmaceutical, known as Rohypnol, has been branded a “date rape drug” by police and has engendered calls for stricter penalties for those who possess it.Rohypnol has been called the date rape drug because of a rise in sexual assaults that police suspect have been committed after the illegally imported drug was slipped into a victim's drink. The drug so incapacitates those who ingest it that they cannot resist sexual assault and they often don't remember much of the attack later, police say.
I reread the last paragraph.
Now, of course, I knew why the wordRohypnolsounded familiar. The date rape drug.
I leaned forward and read on.
The article focused on the struggle between those fighting to maintain the status quo and those seeking to get the drug reclassified from Schedule 4 to Schedule 1 on the Drug Enforcement Administration's controlled substances list. Schedule 1 drugs include crack cocaine and heroin. According to the article, the legislative compromise had been to stiffen the criminal penalties for the use of any controlled substance in a sexual assault. But the director of the D.C. Rape Crisis Center discounted the value of that approach.
“A drug like Rohypnol can cause amnesia,” she explained. “That means that women will not be able to provide the information the police need to prosecute a sexual assault case. You'll never get to the point of using the enhanced penalties.”
I paged slowly through the other articles. Rohypnol had started coming into the U.S. about three years before Michael Green's death, much of it smuggled up through Mexico. It had a variety of street names, the most popular being “roofies.” Other street names included Roachies, Ropes, La Rocha, Rib Roche, R-2, and Mexican Valium.
Rohypnol's use in sexual assaults had earned it a creepier set of nicknames, including the Forget Pill, Trip-and-Fall, and Mind Erasers. In a case in Broward County, a convicted rapist boasted of using Rohypnol to rape more than twenty women. In Miami, where the drug comes in from Latin America through courier services and passengers on commercial airplanes, the poison control center had logged more than two hundred confirmed “roofie” rapes, with hundreds more suspected. A story in theLegal Timesdescribed why Rohypnol was the weapon of choice for rapists:
Rohypnol tablets dissolve easily and quickly. They are odorless, colorless and tasteless. The victim often blacks out, so she cannot piece together enough details to put a rapist away. “You've got a drug that makes your partner less capable of resisting and unable to remember afterwards,” says Mary Hibbard, a drug policy expert at the University of California at Los Angeles. “It really is the perfect crime.”
I stared at that last line, feeling a chill run down my spine.
I skimmed the rest of the articles, trying to figure out why, with all this publicity, Angela Green's defense attorney had said nothing about the blood analysis at trial. Nexis had organized the articles in descending chronological orderâthe most recent first, oldest last. That chronology held at least a partial answer. The media coverage had markedly escalated during the past five years. Indeed, the only articles that mentioned the drug during the three years before Michael Green's death were financial or business profiles on Hoffman-La Roche Ltd. in which the name Rohypnol would pop up on a list of the pharmaceutical company's more successful drugs, along with Valium and a heart-attack medicine called Activase.
All of which might explain why the presence of flunitrazepam had not sent up a red flag in the medical examiner's office when they got the results of the blood tests on the broken glass.
But that was then. This was now.
My mother didn't kill him,” Sonya said bluntly. “She was framed.”
“Who framed her?”
She took a sip of her wine and shrugged. “Probably that blond bimbo.”
We were in the bar at Harry's Restaurant on Market StreetâSonya Green and me. She'd been reluctant to meet, even after I explained that I was representing her mother in the Son of Sam case. After some cajoling, I finally got her to agree to give me thirty minutes after work. I'd suggested Harry's, which was near A. G. Edwards and Sons, where she worked as an analyst in the underwriting department.
Although Sonya was heavier than her mother and had a complexion closer to her father's, she'd inherited her mother's broad facial features. Unlike her mother, though, there was a slightly unkempt quality to Sonya. There were makeup smudges on the collar of her blouse, which was not well pressed. Her straightened hair was a little tousled, her lipstick and eyeliner just a tad off line. I felt a pang in my heart. Although I was probably doing a little projecting, Sonya seemed a big little girl to me, one who still needed a mommy to help her get fixed up, to make sure the blouses were cleaned and ironed and that her the eyeliner was on straight. Unfortunately, the state of Missouri had snatched her mommy and locked her up two hundred miles from home.
How unfair life must have seemed to Sonya. She'd been just a few weeks from graduation at Northwestern when her father was murdered and her mother arrested and charged with the crime. During the same month her classmates celebrated in Evanston with their parents, Sonya was back in St. Louis burying one and visiting the other in jail. For the first two years after graduation, she lived with her grandmotherâAngela's mother. She now lived alone in a condominium in Clayton.
“Why Samantha Cummings?” I asked. “Where's the motive?”
“Motive?” Sonya gave me a scornful look. “Money, of course. Look at the lawsuit. If her kid wins, she'll be wealthy.”
I shook my head. “The lawsuit is an afterthoughtâsomething dreamed up by a lawyer. If she was really after your father's money, the simplest way to get it was to marry him. If she was a gold digger, her best strategy was to keep him alive until the wedding. If he died before that, she'd have no claim to anythingâshe wouldn't be the wife, she wouldn't be the widow, she wouldn't even be the longtime live-in girlfriend who could try to portray herself as the common-law wife. Look at her situation today. In the eyes of the law, she's a nobody. She can't even be a plaintiff in the Son of Sam case. No, if she were looking for money, the last thing she'd want is for your father to die before the wedding.”
“I don't care,” Sonya said, her voice laced with anger. “Some things aren't logical. I'm telling you that whore was behind the murder. I may not know whyâat least not yetâbut I know what I know, and I know there's some connection between her and whoever killed him.”
I backed off the topic. We talked more generally about her mother's predicament. Sonya visited her every month and they corresponded frequently. She'd been much closer to her mother than her father while growing up. The opposite had been true for her older brother, Michael junior.
“Mike's been brainwashed,” she said, snorting in disgust.
“What do you mean?”
“He turned completely against Mom. He hasn't talked to her since the trial. Can you believe that? His own mother.” She shook her head. “But he was turning against her even before my father was killed. Did you know he was planning to go to that awful wedding? I couldn't believe it when I found out. I told him I wouldn't stoop to be in the same room with that whore. He got mad at me, said our father was entitled to happiness, too, said she was a sweet girl. Let me tell you something.” She leaned forward and lowered her voice. “I sometimes think Mike might have had the hots for that whore himself back then. He used to visit her whenever he came to St. Louis. Even after the murder. I bet he still talks to her once in a while.”
“I'm going to see him tomorrow afternoon.”
She looked surprised. “Really? Is he coming down here?”
I shook my head. “I've got meetings in Chicago. On this case, in fact. Your brother agreed to meet me in the afternoon before I fly back to St. Louis.”
“Then you're going to see what I'm telling you. When it comes to my father, Mike's a total believer. Like one of those Moonies.” She leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms over her chest. “Funny how things change.” She sighed. “When we were growing up, Mike was the rebel and I was Daddy's girl, little Miss Perfect. When Mike was in high school, he and my father used to scream at each other all the time. He actually hit my father out in our backyard one afternoon. Hit his own father. In the face. Have you ever? My father grounded him for a month and took away his car. They didn't speak for more than a year. But now, to hear Mike talk, you'd think he'd been raised by an angel of God.” She paused, frowning. “Strange how some things turn out.”
Maria Fallaci stared at me, incredulous. “And the punch line is?”
We were in her law office, which was on the fourth floor of an older high-rise along LaSalle Street in Chicago's Loop.
“No punch line.” I shrugged. “I'm just saying there were traces of Rohypnol in her blood.”
“Which means what? That I should have argued to the jury that he drugged her and fucked her, and when he came out of the shower she rose like some zombie fromThe Night of the Living Deadand cut off his cock? Come on, Rachel. I'm a defense lawyer, not a horror-flick producer.” She paused, trying to get herself under control. “Look, I'm sure you're a fine civil lawyer, and I'm sure you'll give Angela a fine defense in this Son of Sam case. But defending a lawsuit over money is totally different from defending a capital murder case.”
“I know,” I said, trying a conciliatory smile, ignoring her not-so-subtle put-down. I'd only make it worse by acting confrontational. I'd come up here assuming that she would react defensively to anything she could interpret as second-guessing her representation of Angela Green. And I didn't blame her. She'd lost one of the most famous trials of the decade and, in the process, had been subjected to plenty of armchair lawyering from the likes of Geraldo Rivera, Alan Dershowitz, F. Lee Bailey, Gerry Spence, Marcia Clark, and the rest of the cable-TV courtroom mavens. And I'm sure she'd done it to herself as wellâduring and after the trial.
“Maria, I didn't come up here to critique your trial tactics, and I certainly didn't come here to make you angry. If I did, I'm sorry.”
Her nostrils flared and she nodded. “Don't worry,” she said, waving her hand dismissively. “I'm a big girl.”
She ran her fingers through her long black hair, which was streaked with gray. As she did, she turned toward the window, her profile accenting her strong Italian nose. Now in her early forties, Maria Fallaci was still the “smoldering Sicilian beauty” thatEsquirehad labeled her four years ago in the short profile the magazine ran in its annual “Women We Love” issue. What made her appearance there even more memorable was the Annie Leibovitz portrait that accompanied the copy. Instead of the usual defense-lawyer shotâglaring from the courthouse steps with arms crossed over chest or posed in front of the jury box with a forefinger pointing ominouslyâMaria was in a silky nightgown reclining on her four-poster bed. In the background, slightly out of focus, was her live-in lover, a young ballerina named Annette.
Like most of the cast in Angela's criminal trial, Maria first became a celebrity and then became an author. Her book,Battered Justice, was scheduled for release in November. I'd read somewhere that the book promotion included a twenty-city tour with readings at several women's prisons. Only last week Liz Smith reported that Spike Lee had signed on to film the book-and-prison tour for an HBO documentary. And thus, Maria became a defendant in the Son of Sam case.
The meeting of defense counsel would start at ten o'clock this morning. I'd flown up early to meet with Maria in the hopes that she'd help quell my doubts about Angela's conviction. That seemed less and less likely.
I said, “I'm sure that the Angela Green I met earlier this week is a lot different than the Angela Green you represented back then.” I paused. “It's just thatâ¦” My voice trailed away.
“That she seems incapable of murder?”
“That's the way it is in most domestic violence cases.” She stood and walked to the window. Staring down at the El train rumbling past, she said, “I've defended husbands and I've defended wives in everything from spousal abuse to murder. Very few of them seem the type.” She turned toward me. “It's as if there's a secret chemical reaction going on inside the relationship, something toxic that's hidden from the rest of us. Sometimes it turns one of them into a temporary monster.”
“But not always.”
She studied me. “Not always. But in Angela's case there was plenty of evidence pointing toward a temporary monster.”
In deciding how to defend the murder charge, Maria had had to make a difficult choice between the traditional route of trying to plant reasonable doubt in the jurors' minds and the more unusual route of finding a theme that could turn the case into a trial about something other than the crime charged. Most of the media pundits had assumed long before she rose in court to deliver her opening statement that Maria would choose that second option. After all, the evidence against Angela had seemed overwhelming, with or without the trace of Rohypnol in her blood. But in predicting the second option, the media assumed that the theme would be race. They assumed that Maria would play the “race” card, focusing on the black-white angle. A “reverse O.J.,” as Geraldo labeled itâscorned jealous black woman kills the white man she's about to lose to a white woman.
Instead, Maria played the “battered wife” card, calling to the stand a parade of Angela's friends to testify to the emotional abuse Michael had subjected her client to over the yearsâthe withering sarcasm, the nasty put-downs, the racist jabs. After Angela gained twenty-five pounds during the final years of their marriage, one friend testified that Michael took to calling her “Aunt Jemima.” In public. Although Michael junior refused to testify, Sonya did, and she recounted to a hushed courtroom the time that her father had reduced her mother to tears at his own birthday party because she'd undercooked the cake.
Angela's psychiatrist spent a full day on the stand testifying about the mental anguish inflicted by her sadistic husband, about how Michael played upon Angela's lifelong fear of abandonment and her deep insecurities, about how Angela's inability to fight back only accelerated the downward spiral of their corrosive relationship. Throughout it all, her psychiatrist explained, Angela struggled to be the good wife, to keep up the faÃ§ade, to try to placate her demanding husband in the hope that the bad Michael would somehow give way to the good Michael. In the end, when Michael finally walked out on her, she was besieged by feelings of failure. If indeed she'd been driven to kill him, the shrink opined, it would have been in a fit of madnessâand the fact that she could remember none of it only proved the magnitude of her remorse.
The national interest in the trial seemed to double each day. Dominick Dunne sniffed around for a week or so and filed an elegant little chatter piece forThe New Yorker. Even theNew York Postgot into the act, running the headline AVENGING ANGELA on the morning of closing arguments. Geraldo himself appeared on a split screen during the closing arguments. That way, he explained, he could watch Maria Fallaci on the studio monitor as his television audience could watch him watch. Geraldo put on a good show. Overcome by Fallaci's fiery coda, he actually raised his fist toward the camera in a Black Panther salute and shouted, “Right on!”
The analysts from Court TV, CNBC, and CNN agreed that Maria Fallaci's closing was breathtaking. But of course the analysts from Court TV, CNBC, and CNN hadn't been sitting on that white, suburban jury for the past five weeks, and those jurors just plain weren't buying any “battered wife” defense. It took them less than six hours to return a verdict of guilty on one count of murder in the second degree.
“What else bothered you about the file?” Maria asked.
She shrugged. “There always are gaps. It's the nature of the beast. Which gap bothered you the most?”
“Her alibi witness?” She shook her head. “A dead end.”
“I didn't see anything one way or the other in the file.”
“Maybe in thepolicefile. I had one of my investigators try to find him.”
“No such person.” She returned to her desk and took a seat. “My investigator started with the hospital's records. He turned up three female patients who'd been in the hospital during the relevant period and had adult sons named John. Two of those Johns lived out of town, and only one of the two had come to St. Louis to visit his mother in the hospital. He'd come only once, and in no way resembled Angela's John. She agreed he wasn't the one.”
“What about the third?”
“He lived in St. Louis, but it definitely wasn't him.”
“He's black, he's extremely obese, and he had an airtight alibi for the night of the murder.”
I let it sink in. “So no John.”
“So no alibi.”
I leaned back in my chair and frowned. “I don't get it.”
“Neither did I. So I ignored it.”
There were twelve of us seated around the enormous conference table. We were on the sixty-third floor of River's Edge Tower, a curved-front steel-and-glass office building along Wacker Drive, high above the Chicago River. Only the caption was missing from our tableau.
PerhapsPowwow of the Pomposities.
OrAssemblage of the Arrogant.
Or maybeSynod of the Self-Important.
Here on behalf of Angela Green's publisher were three lawyers from the 275-lawyer Park Avenue firm of Braun, Proctor & Silverberg, led today by none other than the 275-pound Harvey Silverberg, self-styled First Amendment “freedom fighter”âfighting the good fight today at $600 an hour. But as Hefty Harvey was quick to point out, the price of liberty is not cheap. Nor were Harvey's bespoke London suit and platinum Rolex watch.
A team of four attorneys from the Century City firm of Corcoran Fox was here on behalf of the motion picture studio. At their helm was sixty-eight-year-old Nelson Liberman, tagged “the Silver Fox of Corcoran Fox” byThe American Lawyer. Reputed to have graduated from Harvard Law School with the fourth highest grade-point average in the school's history, Liberman had represented everyone from Sam Goldwyn and Swifty Lazar to Steven Spielberg and Michael Ovitz. The tinted glasses and raspy voice only added to his Hollywood mystique.
Our hosts today were the Chicago attorneys of McCambridge and Faber, retained by Maria Fallaci's publisher. Lead counsel for that crew was Hank Brunanski, who'd earned the moniker “Hammerin' Hank” during his tenure as U.S. attorney. Although Hank loved “dah Bears” and was proud of his “Sout' side” roots, his accent was deceiving. He'd graduated number one in his class at the University of Chicago, clerked for Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, and was blessed with a photographic memory. Hammerin' Hank regularly astonished courtroom observers while cross-examining witnesses by quoting verbatim from their depositions, and all without notesâDo you recall, Mr. Aronson, that I took your deposition two years ago on March third? At page 112 of that deposition, I asked you, and I quote, “When you dictated your letter of April 17, 1997â¦”
An even dozen attorneys around the tableâthree from Braun, Proctor & Silverberg, four from Corcoran Fox, four from McCambridge and Faber, andâta-da!âone from the Law Offices of Rachel Gold, all of us gathered together today by a clever lawsuit starring Trent Cummings, son of Samantha Cummings. The lawsuit contended that the eleven-year-old Trent was an heir of Michael Green by virtue of the doctrine of “equitable adoption.” As Michael Green's alleged de facto stepson, Trent was suing for his inheritance. Ordinarily, this would have been the most pointless of lawsuits, the litigation equivalent of trying to squeeze blood out of a turnip, since the estate of Michael Green was insolvent. Green had gone to his grave at a particularly inopportune time financially, leaving an estate with more debts than assets. But Trent's lawyer was no ordinary plaintiff's shark, and there was nothing in the least bit ordinary about his lawsuit. He'd done something never before attempted in Missouri. He'd filed a Son of Sam claim.
As the name suggests, a Son of Sam claim is based on a law enacted in the aftermath of the serial killer who terrorized New York City during the summer of 1977 under the pseudonym Son of Sam. By the time the police identified David Berkowitz as Son of Sam and apprehended him, the rights to his story were worth millions. The New York legislatureâoutraged at the prospect of a mass murderer profiting from his notoriety while the families of his victims remained uncompensatedâenacted the first Son of Sam law. It provided that all income otherwise payable to a convicted or admitted criminal from any book, motion picture, or other work depicting the crime must instead be paid to the New York crime victims board for use in compensating victims of the crime and their families. Ironically, the law captured millions of dollars from the perpetrators of several highly publicized homicides but not a penny from the original target, since it applied only to people actually convicted of a capital crime. David Berkowitz was found mentally incompetent to stand trial and thus was never convicted of anything.
The U.S. Supreme Court eventually declared New York's Son of Sam law unconstitutional, but other states enacted their own versions, each with its own twist. Missouri's covered not merely royalties payable to the criminal but also half of the revenues payable to anyone else involved in the creation of a book or dramatic work about either the criminal or the trial. Little Trent Cummings, as an alleged heir of the victim, was seeking all royalties payable to Angela and half of the money to be earned by Maria Fallaci, by the respective publishers of her book and Angela's, and by the producers of any movies based on those books. Trent, as the child of Samantha Cummings, was, quite literally, a son of Sam, and thus his lawsuit was truly a first: a real Son of Sam asserting a Son of Sam claim. The media tagged it “Sam Squared.”
Although the other firms had each retained a St. Louis attorney to serve as local counsel, that role in this case would be only one small step up the evolutionary ladder from a mail drop. Indeed, none of those St. Louis attorneys was present today. By contrast, I was the local yokel who'd somehow, some way, ended up as the sole attorney for the central defendant in Sam Squared. To say the least, that made me a disconcerting presence at the table. I was a solo practitioner from the boonies who, God forbid, was answerable to no higher authority in a different time zone. While I assumed that one of the flunkeys on each team of lawyers had done a background check on my credentials, they would no doubt assume that the benefits of a Harvard Law School education had long since been squandered during my sojourn in the fly-over land. Their unease made me smile.
We had plenty of important issues to cover that morningâstrategy questions ranging from a challenge to the constitutionality of Missouri's Son of Sam law to the various possible defenses to the “equitable adoption” theory. Instead, I spent two hours watching the alpha dogs take turns marking their territory as their entourages looked on approvingly. Harvey Silverberg staked out the First Amendment high ground, subjecting us to an eye-glazing summary of the three “seminal decisions” in the field, all of which, coincidentally enough, featured Hefty Harvey as lead counsel for the victors. Next came Nelson Liberman, who lifted his hind leg and sprayed us with a discourse on the importance of burying the other side in a blizzard of motions and discovery requests. Then it was Hammerin' Hank's turn. He sniffed around the perimeter and spouted a lengthy reenactment of his cross-examination in a bribery case from the 1980s, the relevance of which completely eluded me but apparently galvanized the others into a decision to focus their efforts on a constitutional challenge to the Son of Sam law. I didn't even bother to dissent, having already concluded that this high-priced wrecking crew was as likely to demolish its own clients as the other side. Instead, I would chart my own course and keep a lookout in the courtroom for errant spurts from the big dogs.
As the meeting drew to a close, Hammerin' Hank's first lieutenant, a severe junior partner named Catherine Hart, turned to me with a rigid smile. “Rachel, can you give us some local flavor?”
“Local flavor?” I asked sweetly, ignoring the condescension in her tone.
“A feel for the things down there. For example, have you had any experience before Judge Byrne?”
“Actually, I have.”
“Oh, really? And what kind would that be?”
“A trial and two preliminary injunction hearings.”
Catherine Hart drew back.
I couldn't resist. “First chair,” I added.
As a junior partner in the litigation department of a large Chicago law firm, Catherine Hart probably had yet to first-chair a single trial.
“I see,” she said, quickly regaining her patronizing air. “Would you have any helpful suggestions for our constitutional challenge?”
I shrugged. “It doesn't really matter how you pitch it.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because he's going to deny it anyway.”
She gave me a perplexed look. “Why would you say that?”
“Judge Byrne ducks tough decisions. That's his style. If there's a way he can pass the buck to the jury, he'll do it. If not, he'll sidestep it and let the court of appeals decide. You should raise the constitutional issueâif for no other reason than to preserve it for appeal. But don't view it as a substitute for trial preparations, because”âI paused to look around the tableâ“sooner than you realize we're going to be sitting together at counsel's table picking a St. Louis jury.”
“Have you met her?”
I shook my head. “Not yet.”
“You're going to be surprised.”
“Why do you say that?”
“The press demonized her. They completely missed the mark. She's, well”âhis eyes seemed to go out of focusâ“she's lovely.” He took a sip of his martini and stared down at the green olive. “My father would have been a very lucky man.”
Michael Green Jr. and I were in a hotel bar along Michigan Avenue. He'd initially refused to meet, but after three phone calls from St. Louis he agreed to give me a few minutes between the end of my defense counsel meeting and my ride to O'Hare.
Unlike his sister, who'd inherited the worst of each of her parents' features, Michael junior was, in the words of my niece, a “hotty.” He had chiseled good looks, light brown skin, clear green eyes, and the lean build of a professional tennis player. As he had strolled through the bar area to my booth in his investment banker pinstripes, I'd noticed several female heads turning to follow him. The waitress giggled and flirted when she took his order, but he hadn't responded.
“How did you get to know her?” I asked.
“I met her when they got engaged. The three of usâSam, my father, and Iâused to go out to dinner whenever I came to town.”
“Did you ever see your father around her son?”
“Once or twice. He was good with Trent. Very affectionate. He told me he was looking forward to raising another son.”
“What about after your father died?”
His green eyes narrowed. “What about what?”
“Did you still see her?”
He took a sip of his martini and watched the olive shift in the clear liquid. “The rest of her so-called friends abandoned her. The media camped outside her apartment. It was a bad time for her. She was very much in love with my father, and suddenly she was all aloneâjust her and her son.” He paused. “I tried to be helpful.”
“What about now? Are you still in touch?”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“She's suing your father's estate. If she wins, you lose.”
He shrugged. “So? She could use the money. I don't need it. Neither does my sister.”
“What about your mother?”
He chuckled. “My mother? Are you kidding? She'll have Oprah and the rest of those ridiculous women fawning over her the rest of her life. People used to insult Sam by saying she'd be nothing more than a trophy wife for my father, but look at what's happened to my mother. My God, the woman has become everyone's trophy widow.”
“Maybe now,” I said, “but that won't last. Nothing changes faster than a celebrity's favorite cause or the media's latest darling. Five years from now her fans will have a new pet.”
“So? Forgive me here, Miss Gold, but I'm having trouble working up a lot of sympathy for the person that killed my father.”
“Let's get back to Sam.”
“What about her?”
“Are you still in touch?”
He frowned. “Haven't you already asked me that?”
“I did. You didn't answer.”
“Why do you care?”
“I'm defending your mother, Michael. Sam's on the other side. I'm trying to learn about her.”
“That's between you and her, then. I'm neutral.”
He stared at me, a vein pulsing at his temple. “Yes,” he finally said. He checked his watch. “I'm also late.” He removed a money clip from his pocket, peeled off a twenty-dollar bill, dropped it on the table, and stood up. “Goodbye, Miss Gold.”
I didn't expect much help from Beverly Toft, and I didn't get it. Not because she didn't want to help. Far from it. She kept apologizing. It was just that Michael Green had drawn a shroud over his personal life when he started his affair with Samantha Cummings, having correctly assumed that Beverly Toft would side with Angela. Although Beverly had been his secretary for more than a decade, she'd also grown close to Angela. In addition, she had her own reason for empathizing with Angela's situation. Beverly's marriage had ended a few years before Angela's did, and under similar circumstances. Her husband Earl left her for a thirty-three-year-old waitress named Tammy who worked at the Denny's restaurant where Earl and Beverly had been having Sunday dinner for years. Tammy had often been their waitressâa fact that irked and mortified Beverly to this day, especially when she thought back to the huge tips that her tightwad husband used to leave that chippie, who'd wiggled her tight little heinie at him from that very first dinner.
I'd met Beverly for lunch at CafÃ© Napoli's in suburban Clayton, where she now worked for a small accounting firm. Although she was about my mother's age, she seemed a full decade older in her 1950s hairdo and bifocals.
“Oh, I knew Mr. Green was up to some hanky-panky,” Beverly told me, her penciled eyebrows arching disapprovingly. “A wife might miss itâI certainly did with Earl, that creep. But believe you me, honey, a secretary knows the moment her boss becomes a tomcat. We're talking about long lunches that weren't on his appointment calendar, the bottle of men's cologne that suddenly appeared in his office, those sneaky phone calls, the bills from the florist and the jewelry store and the motels. I kept hoping for poor Angela's sake that it was just a fling, one of those midlife-male-crisis things that fizzle out.” She shook her head, her lips pursed with censure.
Although Michael had invited her to the wedding and she had reluctantly planned to attend, her relationship with her boss had long since cooled into a strictly professional one. She'd met Samantha, of course. Once the divorce proceedings started and Michael's affair became public, Samantha used to call the office and occasionally drop by, either at lunch or the end of the day.
“I admit she was a friendly little thing,” Beverly sniffed. “You know the typeâvery perky, very sweet, very young.”
“But you never met her son?”
“Or saw Michael around him?”
She sighed. “I wish I could help you, honey. I really do. But he never even talked to me about the boy. He must have known how disappointed I was in him. I typed the draft of the new will, of course. Mr. Green dictated it himself. But he never said anything about it to me. The will was just one of several documents on a dictation tape in my in box.”
“What about Samantha? Did she ever ask you about the will?”
Beverly thought about it and shook her head. “No.”
“When she came around, what did you two talk about?”
“Sometimes her sonâhow he was doing in nursery school, that sort of thing. Sometimes her art gallery. Mr. Green did some legal work for the gallery, you know.” She paused. “Come to think of it, you should talk to Stanley Brod.”
Stanley Brod was a partner in the small accounting firm where Beverly now worked. I remembered from the police file that he'd been Michael Green's personal accountant.
“Why Stanley Brod?” I asked.
“Mr. Green had him do the accounting for her art gallery. Stanley's people spent a lot of time with her. His firm continued handling her books and records until the gallery closed down. I can talk to Stanley when I get back to the office. He's a very sweet man. I'm sure he'll meet with you.”
The waiter brought our meals. We made small talk for a while as I tried to find the best way to broach the other subject I wanted to discuss. I finally decided that the best way was the direct way.
“During the murder investigation,” I said, “did the police ask you about other possible suspects?”
Beverly frowned. “What do you mean?”
“When a lawyer gets killed,” I explained, “any list of suspects ought to include his disgruntled clients.”
Beverly leaned back in the booth, her eyebrows arched. “Interesting. They never even asked.”
“What if they had?”
She gave me a knowing look. “Oh, I'd have told them a few things.”
Beverly studied me. “Why do you want to know this? What does it have to do with your case?”
I shrugged. “Maybe nothing. According to the criminal file, Angela became the sole suspect by the end of the second day. No one bothered with other possible suspects, including any enemies Michael Green might have had.” I paused and shook my head. “I just can't believe she did it.”
She nodded. “Neither can I.”
“If they hadn't arrested Angela, would you have suspected any client?”
Beverly told me that from the moment she learned of the murder she'd had her own list of suspects. Number one on that list was Billy Berger, the founder, chairman, and majority shareholder of Gateway Trust Company and a notoriously slick wheeler-dealer. Michael had thousands of trust accounts at Gateway Trust Company, one for each of the children he'd represented in a personal-injury class action against a pharmaceutical company. As such, Michael was not merely an important customer but a force within the trust company through his control of a significant percentage of the assets under management. Three weeks before his death, Michael announced his intention to move the trust accounts to Guaranty Trust. According to Beverly, the two men got into a shouting match in Michael's office three days before the murder.
“I don't think he'd be the one to pull the trigger, of course,” Beverly said. “But Mr. Berger would certainly know how to hire one. He was that type.”
“What did they argue about?”
“I don't know, and Mr. Green refused to tell me. He said it wasn't any of my business. But they were angry, believe you me. You should have heard the words they called each other.” She fanned herself with her hand. “Such language.”
Number two on Beverly's list was Millie Robinson, ex-wife of former St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Larry Robinson. Millie was a recovering cocaine addict who'd lost custody of her children in a postdivorce battle in which Michael had represented her ex-husband. When the court awarded full custody to Larry Robinson, he promptly moved to Detroit with the children. That was one month before Michael died.
“Millie called Mr. Green day and night, screaming obscenities and death threats. I was the one who answered the daytime calls.” Beverly shuddered. “It was awful.”
“Did you report her to the police?”
“Mr. Green said not to. He said she'd get over it.”
“I don't know. The calls tapered off. I didn't receive one from her that last week.”
“How about Michael? Was he still getting calls at home?”
“He didn't mention it.”
Number three was Jerry Feckler.
“You're kidding. The Dingdong Man?” I was grinning.
Beverly gave me a weary smile. “The very same.”
“Good grief, I'd forgotten Michael represented him.”
Jerry Feckler, aka the Dingdong Man, became Michael Green's client about a year after undergoing an experimental surgical procedure on his penis. The poor man was hoping that longer and thicker would equal more and better luck with women. Alas, more equaled less and worse. Although he did gain approximately an inch in length, the fat liposuctioned from his love handles and injected into his penis for added girth gradually migrated south, leaving him with a weird appendage about as useful in bed as a bell clapper, which it happened to resemble. Unfortunately for Jerry, a nationally syndicated columnist got wind of the lawsuit, flew down for the medical malpractice trial, and wrote a funny column that got wide distribution during a slow news week. The headline said it all: LONG DONG DREAM BECOMES DINGDONG NIGHTMARE.
When his medical malpractice suit ended in a defense verdict, Jerry's odds of getting laid got a whole lot longer. He blamed it all on his lawyer, whom he then sued for legal malpractice. Two months before Michael Green died, the judge dismissed Feckler's malpractice case against him, inspiring thePost-Dispatch'sheadline writer once again: JUDGE RINGS FINAL BELL FOR DINGDONG MAN; RULES FECKLER'S CLAIM FECKLESS.
Feckler's final communication with Michael was a enraged message left the next night on the office phone-mail warning Michael that “misery loves company, especially miserable dicks, you sleazy bastard.”
Visions of malformed penises were dancing in my head, though not quite like sugar plums, when I returned to the office and discovered that the afternoon's mail had brought me the petition inBlackwell Breeders LLC and Charlie Blackwellv.Maggie Lane and Sara Freed.
The crazy ostrich case.
I read the petition with a skeptic's eye. Charlie Blackwell alleged that my clients “acquired sole custody and control of said ostrich at an especially sensitive stage in its development.” He claimed that “if said ostrich has any alleged defect, then the proximate cause of said defect is the negligent animal husbandry procedures, general incompetence, and degenerate lifestyles of said defendants.”
But he saved the bestâor rather, the worstâfor last. When I reached the final page, I stared at the signature block: “MackReynold Armour, Attorney for Plaintiffs.”
“Oh, great,” I groaned aloud.
Mack Armour, aka Mack the Knife, was the kind of litigator who made opponents consider career changesâthat is, when they weren't considering ethics complaints and contract hits. Although I'd never faced him before, I knew his reputation. He was belligerent, devious, and brazenâand to top it off, an unabashed male chauvinist pig. He was always looking for the sly angle in his lawsuits, and this case was a perfect example. Blackwell Breeders should have been the defendant in the case, but Armour jumped the starting gun and filed first, seeking a declaratory judgment that his client didn't have to refund a penny. As an added bargaining chip, he tacked on Charlie Blackwell's ludicrous claim for mental anguish. His goal: scare off my clients.
They didn't scare.
“We're not backing down,” Maggie told me over the phone after I'd described Mack the Knife.
“He'll drag your personal lives into it, Maggie. He'll try to turn the case into a freak show.”
“We understand,” she said calmly. “This is a matter of principle, Rachel. Mr. Blackwell cheated us. When he learned of the problem we had with his ostrich, he should have done the right thing on his own, but he refused. So now we'll ask a judge to make him do it. We're not looking for sympathy, Rachel, and we're not looking for favors. We're looking for justice.”
“You won't always find it in a courtroom.”
“We understand that. If we lose, we lose. We can deal with it, Rachel. We're big girls. Just get us our day in court.”
Beverly called around five to tell me that Stanley Brod could meet me tomorrow morning at nine. I'd planned on spending the morning getting ready for a deposition that afternoon in a copyright case, but I thanked Beverly and told her to let Stanley know I'd be at his office at nine. Then I canceled my dinner plans, called Domino's Pizza, and settled down to do tomorrow's deposition preparation tonight. I didn't get home until almost ten o'clock. I was feeling crabby and antsy and tired. I knew the cure.
“Hey, Oz,” I said, kneeling next to the greatest golden retriever in the universe. “Wanna go for a jog?”
Ozzie wagged his tail and padded off to the kitchen, returning a moment later with his leash in his mouth.
“Let me change first, cutie.” I patted him on the head. “I can't run in these heels.”
He followed me to my bedroom, where I slipped off my attorney clothes and put on my jogging outfit. As I tied my Nikes, he sat on the rug at the foot of my bed, the leash on the rug between his front paws. He listened attentively as I filled him in on my day.
“So I'll meet with his accountant tomorrow morning,” I told him as I stood up. “We'll see what he can tell me.” Ozzie seemed to think that was a good idea, since he wagged his tail, barked once, and picked up the leash.
We took the five-mile route. I spent most of the run trying to figure out what I was doing and where I was going with Angela's case. I supposed that Stanley Brod might be able to shed some light on the equitable adoption issue in the lawsuit, and he'd eventually get to repeat it under oath when the clown patrol representing the other defendants fired up their discovery juggernaut. But I knew that my real interest in Stanley, like my real interest in Beverly Toft, was the possibility of finding a new angle on the crime at the heart of the Son of Sam case. I could rationalize it as part of the defenseâafter all, the Son of Sam claim would vanish if Angela were exoneratedâbut that was nothing more than a rationalization. I hadn't been retained to clear her of the murder charge.
Angela had seemed intrigued during our prison meeting when I pointed out the holes in the homicide investigation, but she'd by no means evinced a determination to clear herself of the criminal conviction. Perhaps she'd become reconciled to what she deemed to be immutable. And perhaps there was something more subtle afoot. Seeing what had happened to her since the murder trial, I could understand if she felt a tinge of ambivalence at the prospect of reopening the criminal case. She'd truly become, in the words of her estranged son, a trophy widow. Her role as celebrity martyr for various women's and minority organizations depended upon her image as the abused and spurned first wife who'd finally turned on her tormentor. Her life behind bars had invested her with an esteem and dignity that had eluded her during marriage. Within the controlled and cloistered world of a women's prison, Angela had become a saintâadored by the inmates that she tutored and counseled, honored by the prison administrators who bragged about her at national conventions, and fawned over by visiting members of the press. If it turned out she'd been innocent from the start, that she'd been framed, a mere pawn in someone else's deadly game, how much of her new persona would she lose?
But that was ultimately her decision, not mine. And it was purely conjectural at this point, I reminded myself. Angela had no decision to makeâher appeals had run out and it would be years before she was eligible for parole. Talk of freedom was purely academic. But if she hadn't killed Michael Greenâif she'd been unjustly convictedâthen I owed it to her to try to make an academic choice a real one.
So I'd meet with Stanley Brod in the morning, and I'd give the names of Beverly's three suspects to one of my investigators for a quick background check. If that uncovered anything, I'd follow the leads. And if not, then I'd worry about my other cases and wait for the circus train to arrive with Hefty Harvey, the Silver Fox, Hammerin' Hank, and the rest of the clown patrol.
None of them,” I repeated, shaking my head in outrage. “Not even a telephone interview.”
“Can you blame them?” Benny took a long pull on his beer and reached for another handful of Welsh chips. “Would you want to spend time around a guy with a dick that looks like a Tootsie Roll pop on steroids?”
“No, but I'm not a cop investigating a homicide, Benny. These were people with serious grudges against Michael Green. No one talked to them.”
It was two days after my night jog with Ozzie. Benny and I were at Llywelyn's Pub in the Central West End, where we'd met for drinks after work. I was headed to a dinner meeting at the Jewish Federation and he was going downtown for a date with a woman lawyer from L.A. named Sheila who was in town for a closing. They'd met at a Practicing Law Institute program last summer, where Benny was supposed to participate in a panel discussion on recent developments in antitrust law. He claimed the two of them remained in his hotel room for all but one of the next thirty-six hoursâthe lone hour away being for his panel discussion. Of course, Benny claimed a lot of things, especially in the realm of his amatory abilities.
“Hey, Rachel, there are people out there with serious grudges against me, but no cops are talking to them.”
“That's because you aren't dead.”
“I guess that's a good point. So what's your investigator found on Beverly's three suspects?”
“Not much yet.” I watched as he grabbed another enormous handful of Welsh chips and stuffed them in his mouth. “Benny, aren't you supposed to be taking this woman to dinner first?”
“And your point is?”
“This is your second basket. Save a little room, boychik.”
He washed the chips down with a drink of beer. “Just stoking the old furnace.”
He was dressed to kill, Benny style: red Converse high-tops, baggy chinos, and a black T-shirt with the legend I Am an EndomorphâPlease Help Me. He gave me a wink. “I'm going to need endurance tonight.”
I raised my eyebrows. “Oh?”
“Sheila may hail from L.A.,” he said, “but inside a hotel room that woman becomes the Boston Marathon of Love.”
“The Boston Marathon of Love?” I rolled my eyes. “Who writes your material? Barry White?”
He grabbed some more chips, pausing to ask, “What about his accountant? Cops talk to him?”
“You met him, right? Stanley something-or-other.”
“Brod. Stanley Brod. We met yesterday. I went back to his office this morning to look through some boxes of records he retrieved from the storage warehouse.”
“What's the story with him?”
“Seems like a decent guy. Decent enough to get embarrassed and admit ignorance when I asked him about an odd overlap in the records that he'd never spotted before.”
“What do you mean?”
“After Michael Green started dating Samantha Cummings, he had Stanley handle the books and records for her art gallery.”
“Is that place still around?”
“No, it closed less than a year after Michael died. From the records, it looks like the gallery's revenues dried up almost immediately after his murder. She ran it at a loss for several months before her creditors finally forced her to close it down and liquidate the assets.”
“What's she do these days?”
“She works in that fancy jewelry store at Plaza Frontenac.”
“Have you met her?”
“Not yet, but I'm sure we'll be taking her deposition before long. Why? You don't know her, do you?”
He shook his head. “I don't think so, but she looks awfully familiar for some reason.”
“Were you ever in her gallery?”
“She was on TV during the trial.”
“She looked familiar back then, too. She's a babe.”
I took a sip of my ale and nodded.
Benny said, “So you mentioned an odd overlap in the records. What is it?”
“I spent two hours looking through the files for the art gallery,” I explained. “I'm going to spend some more time next week, too. The records I reviewed showed that she paid six thousand dollars to an outfit called Millennium Management Services for every painting sold by an artist named Sebastian Curry. The payments were listed as âagency commissions.'”
“How many payments we talking about?”
“According to the financial records, over a two-year period the 309 Gallery paid one hundred thirty-eight thousand dollars in commissions to Millennium.”
“That's a lot of dough.”
“That's also a lot of paintings by one artist. Twenty-three altogether, which is far more than any other artist during that period. They weren't cheap, either. Almost all of the Sebastian Curry paintings sold for fifteen thousand dollars.”
“That Millennium outfit got a six grand commission off of that?”
“Looks like it. She'd pay the artist seven thousand, Millennium six, and keep the other two as profit.”
“Any other payments to Millennium?”
“No, just the Sebastian Curry paintings.”
“Must be his agent.”
“That's what I assumed, too.”
I frowned. “That's where the overlap comes in. Guess who else was paying money to Millennium Management Services?”
I shook my head. “Gateway Trust Company.”
“That's where Michael Green had all those trust accounts for minors when he settled that big class action against the drug company. Gateway was paying Millennium Management Services an annual âconsulting fee' of one-third of a percent on every trust fund he established there.”
“How much we talking?”
“According to Stanley Brod, the total settlement amount was about thirty million, which means that the fees had to be running about a hundred thousand dollars a year.”
“How did you find out Gateway was paying those fees?”
“Because Stanley maintained a file for Michael on each of those trust funds. The payments to Millennium show up on the annual statements from Gateway.”
“So this Millennium outfit represents artistsandprovides consulting services to trust companies. What's the story with that?”
I shrugged. “That's what I'm hoping Billy Berger can tell me. He's the chairman of Gateway Trust Company. I'm meeting with him tomorrow morning.”
“But what does Brod say?”
“He doesn't. He knew about the trust company's fees, but Michael never talked to him about them. He'd never made the connection with the art gallery commissions to Millennium until I pointed it out to him. He seemed kind of embarrassed about it. Felt he should have spotted the overlap himself.”
“Why didn't he?”
“It really wasn't his fault. One of his assistants handled the books for the gallery. I don't think Stanley paid much attention to them. He was doing it mainly as a favor to Michael Green. When I was showing him the entries I could tell he wasn't familiar with the records.”
“Have you talked to anyone at Millennium?” Benny asked.
“I have to find them first. They're not in the phone book and I don't have an address for them. I've got Jacki working on it.”
We paid the bill and stepped out into the late afternoon summer air. Benny walked me to my car, which was parked half a block north on Euclid.
“So when's your next meeting with the rebbe?” Benny asked with a grin.
“We meet tonight,” I said. “After the dinner thing at the federation. Actually, I'm meeting with the rabbi's wife again.”
“Oh, great. Is this going to be chapter two in the joys of Jewish life on the rag, or is tonight the night she turns you into abalabusta?”
Balabustais the Yiddish expression for “mistress of the house.” It's the term of affection and admiration for the classic Orthodox Jewish woman who functions in the role of chairman and CEO of the household.
“Actually, neither. Believe it or not, tonight the topic is sex.
“No shit? Jewish sex?”
I held up my hand. “Don't start.”
“Me?” he asked, feigning innocence.
“Yeah, you. Good luck on the marathon, Barry White.”
He grinned. “Wait until you see me charge up Heartbreak Hill.”
“I think I'll pass.”
I miss you, too, sweetie,” Jonathan said.
I was lying on the couch in my bathrobe and white socks, the phone cradled between my neck and shoulder. Al Green was on the stereo and Ozzie was curled on the floor below me, his big brown eyes watching my face. I'd been readingDaniel Derondawhen Jonathan called from the mid-town Manhattan law office he was using during the trial. It was close to midnight for himâanother late night of preparations in a securities fraud prosecution that was getting daily front-page ink in theNew York Times. The good news: the defense was going well for Jonathan's client. The bad news: the government was still weeks from resting, which meant the trial would last longer than expected.
We talked about his trial and his daughters and his parents and then he said, “Tell me about Angela Green.”
I described what I'd learned so far, including my initial review of the accounting records at Stanley Brod's office. I was relieved to be finally talking to a former prosecutor and thus someone with more experience in this area than me.
He listened quietly. When I was through, he said, “It's still a long shot.”
I sighed. “I realize that.”
“But you may have stumbled across a money trail. If you have, that could change everything.”
“Most murders are about anger or revenge, and this one fits that profile. Whether the killer was Angela Green or one of Michael Green's angry ex-clients, the odds are that the murder was a crime of passion.”
“But what if it wasn't?”
“Then there'll be a money trail.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because if it wasn't a crime of passion, then he was killed over money.”
“I don't know, Jonathan. He doesn't seem to have had much money.”
“Maybe he did and maybe he didn't, but trust me on this. Somebody's moneyâhis or someone else'sâwill hold the key to his death if it wasn't a crime of passion. He'll be connected to that money somehow. Just follow it.”
“I'm trying to.”
“Stay on the money trail and you'll up end at the killer's doorsteps.”
He paused and then chuckled. “Sorry. I tend to get a little carried away at this time of the night.”
“How about atanytime of the night or the day?”
“Poor thing,” I said, glancing at my watch, “it's really late for you. Are you almost ready for bed?”
“Soon. I have maybe an hour of preparation for a cross-examination tomorrow.”
I groaned. “I wish that trial would end already.”
Jonathan Wolf was New York City-born and -bred. He'd been raised an Orthodox Jew, and as a child attended a Jewish day school steeped in bookish traditions. Somehow, though, he fell in love with boxing. From his bar mitzvah on, he fought in every Golden Gloves competition in the area. At the age of seventeen, he won the Brooklyn title and traveled to Madison Square Garden to compete against the title holders from the other four boroughs. Jimmy Breslin tagged him “the Talmudic Tornado.”
He started his legal career in the U.S. attorney's office in St. Louis, his wife's hometown. During his prosecutor days he'd been a classic intimidatorâstalking criminal defendants in the courtroom as if they were prey, boring in on them with rapid-fire questions. Six years ago his wife died of ovarian cancer, leaving behind two adorable little daughters, Leah and Sarah. He resigned from the U.S. attorney's office and hung out a shingle as a criminal defense attorney. It was an astounding career change, and astoundingly successful. Although one might think that a Brooklyn accent and an embroidered yarmulke would be a drawback in front of a St. Louis jury, he'd become a preeminent defense attorney with a growing national practice. He was in his early forties now, his close-trimmed black beard flecked with gray. He was also drop-dead gorgeous and the sexiest man in the world, although I might have been a little biased on the subject.
“I almost forgot,” I said, smiling, “I had another session tonight.”
“With the rabbi?”
“No, his wife again.”
“And?” His tone was guarded.
“That sounds a little more promising. What did you two cover?”
“Ah, yes. The laws ofonah.”
“I'm pleased to report that things are finally starting to look up, big guy.”
“That's good to hear.”
“You never told me about the sex part.”
“You never asked me about the sex part.”
“Never asked? How would I have ever guessed? All those pious Jewish men in their beards and yarmulkes and dark suits. How was I supposed to know what was going on behind those bedroom doors.”
He was laughing.
“According to Mrs. Kalman,” I said, “one of the fundamental commandments of Jewish law is a husband's duty to sexually satisfy his wife. You never told me this.”
“You never asked.”
“When a wife is ready for some hanky-panky, her husband better be ready, willing, and able to performâand he better do a good job, too. Otherwise, she has grounds for divorce. The whole thing is right there in the marriage contract.”
“I never read the fine print.”
“You better, big boy. You would not believe all the official guidelines.” I sat up on the couch. “It's like the JewishKama Sutra. First the husband has to have a nice loving conversation with his wife. Then he has to do lots of hugging and kissing. And he has to be naked. In fact, if the husband refuses to get naked with his wife, it's grounds for divorce.”
“What about the wife?” Jonathan asked.
“She has to be naked, too.”
“That sounds good.”
“I'll say. But wait. There's more. When the husband makes love, he has to be enthusiastic. It's Jewish law. Let me read you this thing.” I reached for my briefcase at the foot of the couch and snapped it open. “Mrs. Kalman had me write it down. Listen to this. There was this medieval Jewish sage named Rabenu Yaakov. He wrote the definitive Jewish guide of the Middle Ages, something called theTur. Here's what he said about marital sex: âWhen a husband is intimate with his wife, his intent should not be his own pleasure but, rather, he should be as one honoring an obligation to another.' Mrs. Kalman said under Jewish law the husband is commanded to learn exactly what his wife wants in bed. You listening?”
“I'm all ears.”
“Good. In fact, the learning part is so important that the Torah says the husband has to spend the entire first year of the marriage free from any outside distraction so that he can devote all of his energies to learning how to satisfy his wife.”
“I think I could handle that.”
“You better, Jonathan, because as near as I can tell, unbelievably good sex is the only possible explanation.”
“For why those poor Orthodox woman are willing to put up with all that obnoxious male chauvinism. Frankly, your rabbi and I are not in synch here. Women can't be rabbis, can't be called up to the Torah, can't be witnesses in a Jewish court of law. Even worse, they have to stand by as their husbands recite that awful morning prayer thanking God for not making them a woman. I don't know about the rest of those women, Jonathan, but let me tell you something about me. It's going to take a steady diet of world-class love-making from you to make me put up with that prayer every morning. Now get back to work and win that case.”
“Aye, aye, Captain.”
“Kiss those adorable girls for me and tell them I miss them.”
“I love you, Jonathan.”
“I love you, Rachel.”
Billy Berger's female assistant put me in a conference room and brought me hot coffee in a green mug that had Gateway Trust Company's familiar logo inscribed in gold. The front wall of the room consisted of floor-to-ceiling windows facing east with a dramatic view of the Mississippi River and the Arch. The other three walls picked up the coffee mug's color schemeâgreen walls hung with gold-framed photographs and historical prints of the St. Louis riverfront dating back to paddle wheelers along the levee. I sipped my coffee and watched a towboat push a double row of barges upriver, its powerful screws churning the brownish water into a cappuccino froth. The barges stretched out in front of the tow by the length of at least two football fields.
The door opened and Berger entered, followed by a younger man. The two resembled one of those before-and-after portraits, although which was which was not quite clear. Billy Berger was large and ruddy, with thick lips, broad features, big teeth, and a thatch of unruly brown hair. He reminded me of the head bear in Disney's Country Bear Jamboree. His sidekick was skinny and pale and fastidious, with severe steel-rimmed glasses resting on a pointy nose. Berger was in his early sixties but seemed far more vigorous than his sidekick, who was at least twenty years his junior.
“Howdy, Rachel,” Berger said, reaching across the conference table to shake my hand with a big callused paw. “I'm Billy Berger. It's a real nice pleasure to meet you. This here is Mr. L. George Mizzler, our general counsel.”
“Miss Gold,” Mizzler said with a curt nod and reached across the table. His handshake was bony and moist and creepy. I resisted the urge to wipe my hand dry with a napkin.
The men took seats side by side across the table facing me. Mizzler placed a set of file folders on the table in front of him and frowned at them.
“I want to thank you both for meeting with me,” I said.
Berger nodded and leaned back, lacing his fingers together and resting his massive hands on his paunch. “Our pleasure, Rachel.” He gave me a hearty smile. “You have a mighty fine reputation in this town, both for your legal talents and for your loveliness. I'll say this right off the bat: you must be a regular Clarence Darrow if your admirers understated your legal talents to the same degree that they understated your beauty.”
“Thank you, Mr. Berger. I think that's the most elaborate compliment I've ever received.”
He chuckled and nodded his head as he looked toward his stern assistant. “I can tell this gal's a regular pistol, George.” He turned to me. “And let's put a stop to that âMr. Berger' nonsense. Makes me feel like an old fart. Call me Billy.”
I knew enough about Berger to resist his folksy manner. The trust business was the third snake pit he'd conquered in a remarkable career that had started after he dropped out of high school to sell used cars at his father's Chevy dealership. When a heart attack felled Russ Berger a few years later, his twenty-two-year-old son took over as the president of Berger Chevrolet. Sixteen years later, he sold his thriving dealership to one of his competitors and started a new career selling life insurance. Within three years, he'd become Northwestern Mutual's leading salesman in Missouri. Before the decade ended, he'd realized that there was an even more lucrative way to service the scores of doctors, lawyers, and business executives who were his customers, namely, handle their trusts and estates. Gateway Trust Company, founded nine years ago, now boasted a larger portfolio of assets under management than the trust departments of every local bank. While charm and corny jokes couldn't hurt your business, you don't accomplish in one career what Billy Berger had accomplished without also possessing a keen sense for an opponent's soft spots and a willingness to exploit that knowledge.
“I understand you're representing Angela Green these days,” Berger said.
“I am. That's why I'm here.”
“I had George here check our accounts.” He nodded toward Mizzler. “Couple of living trusts, right?”
Mizzler opened two of the folders and read, “âThe Angela Green Living Trust Number One and the Angela Green Living Trust Number Two.'” He looked up, serious. “She receives monthly statements on both. Current assets in Trust Number One are”âhe glanced downâ“eighteen thousand three hundred and forty-one dollars and change. As for Trust Number Two, twenty-eight thousand five hundred and twenty dollars and change. If you'd care to review the statements, I have the most recent several months.”
“No, thanks. I didn't come down to talk about her trusts. As you may know, I'm representing Ms. Green in a lawsuit filed by the son of Samantha Cummings. Miss Cummings was Michael Green's fiancÃ©e. The lawsuit is premised on the contention that Mr. Green had essentially adopted Miss Cummings's son at the time of his death.”
“That's about what I heard,” Berger said.
“I understand that your trust company did a lot of work with Mr. Green and his clients.”
“I don't know that I'd call it a lot,” Berger said, “but I'd agree that Michael was a good customer of ours.”
“Were you friends?”
“Friends? You could say we were friendly. Not exactly bosom buddies. We grabbed a bite to eat together a few times a yearâthat sort of thing.”
“Did he talk to you about Samantha Cummings?”
Berger pursed his lips in a thoughtful mannerâor at least he feigned a thoughtful manner. I'd already realized that Bergerâlike any good car salesmanâwas a master of disguise when it came to what was really going on in his head. He could do “sincere” or “innocent” or “thoughtful” or whatever other emotion was to his advantage at the moment, arranging those broad, ruddy features into the appropriate mask. The only clue that something else might be going on behind the mask was the hard glint in his gray eyes.
Finally, he said, “I think he mentioned that gal during one of our last lunches. He was talking about the upcoming weddingâhow excited he was and all that.”
“Were you invited?”
“I can't recall. Probably.”
“Did he talk about her son?”
Berger frowned. “It's not sticking out if he did. I guess it's possible, but I don't recollect.”
I hadn't expected to get much out of this line of questioning, and I wasn't. It didn't matter. The questions were mainly fillers up front to cushion the real purpose of my meeting, which was about to start now.
“Your trust company is still handling trusts for a lot of his clients, correct?”
“Hisformerclients,” Mizzler said, a self-satisfied edge to his voice.
“His former clients,” I repeated, giving Mr. Meticulous a pleasant nod. “Specifically, I'm referring to the children in the Merker class action. According to the court records, your trust company still files an annual statement with the clerk of the court on each of those cases.”
I knew this because on my way downtown I'd stopped by the clerk's office and looked through several of the individual files in the class action.
“Why do you have an interest in those cases?” Mizzler asked sharply.
I shrugged, acting nonchalant. “Just trying to get a handle on Michael Green's activities during the last few years of his life. It might be relevant for my case. On the subject of those class action files, though, I did notice one difference since Michael Green's death.”
“What was that?” Mizzler asked.
“There is no longer an annual service charge by Millennium Management Services.”
Mizzler seemed puzzled. “Who?”
“Millennium Management Services,” I repeated. “What did they do for you?”
Mizzler turned to Berger, who was gazing at me with his head tilted, as if he were pondering me or my question. Berger gave me a quizzical smile and said, “Now help me here, Rachel. How exactly do those class action files relate to the lawsuit against Mrs. Green?”
“I'm not quite sure.”
Mizzler sniffed. “Then I'm not quite sure that we can answer your question. As a regulated financial institution we have certain confidentiality obligations toward our customersâespecially those who are minors.”
“Actually, Mr. Mizzler,” I said, “that's not the case here. Those court files are public, and everything in them, including your annual reports to the court, are public. The reports you filed during the last three years of Michael Green's life show payments to Millennium Management Services. Since Mr. Green's death, however, the reports show no such service charge.”
“How is that relevant?” Mizzler snapped.
“That depends on what that outfit was doing for the trust company back then.”
“Apparently,” Berger said with an affable chuckle, “they were providing a service. Now I may be just an old car dealer, but I sure as hell don't plan to pay some outfit for nothing.” He turned to Mizzler. “Let's check those files, George. See what we can turn up.”
“What exactly is Millennium Management Services?” I asked them both.
Mizzler glanced at Berger, who was gazing at me. “I don't seem to recall,” Berger said. “Maybe there'll be something in the files on that outfit. If so, we'll be sure to let you know.”
“I'd appreciate that,” I said, though I doubted whether I'd ever hear anything further from Gateway on the topic of Millennium Management Services. “One last thing. About a week or so before Michael Green's death, he had a big argument with you in his office. What was that all about?”
Mizzler stiffened angrily. “Are you attempting to contend that Mr. Berger's relationship with Mr. Green has anyâ”
“Hold your fire, George,” Berger said, raising his hand like a traffic cop. He gave me a big smile. “I'll be frank, Rachel. I liked Michael, but he had what you could call a volatile temperament. The man could be a real hotheadâwhich I suppose can be a good thing in a trial lawyer. If we had an argument that day, it sure wouldn't have been the first time.”
“Did you have an argument?”
“Don't remember yea or nay.”
“What did you used to argue about?”
“Oh, everything from sports to business to women.”
Mizzler said, “This is entirely outside the scope of your lawsuit, Miss Gold. The trust company and Mr. Berger have been more than cooperative today, and I can assure you that if you need any additional information directly relevant to your client's case, we will be willing to take any such requests under advisement. Until such time, however, I must insist on adjourning this meeting.”
Berger smiled and lumbered to his feet. “Guess I better follow my lawyer's orders, eh? It's what we pay 'em for. Been a real pleasure, Rachel. We ought to get together sometime for lunch or a drink. Just give my gal a buzz and see if we can set something up.”
Nothing?” I repeated.
“Not a thing.” Jacki shook her head. “I checked with the secretaries of state of Missouri, Illinois, and Delaware. I went by the public library and checked phone books from all over the country. Nothing on any company by that name.”
We were in my office that afternoon.
“What about an Internet search?” I asked.
“I tried. I got about ten million hits for Millennium, but no Millennium Management Services.”
“What about the payments on all those minors' trusts? Where did Gateway Trust send them?”
“According to the court records, to a lockbox in the Canary Islands.”
“Terrific,” I said glumly.
I reached for my telephone messages. I'd spent the lunch hour at the veterinarian's office getting Ozzie his annual checkup and a shot. Jacki had just returned from lunch with her new boyfriend.
“So how's Bob?” I asked, flipping through the messages.
She blushed. “He's doing fine.”
“Things going okay down at UPS?”
“Bob thinks he's in line for a promotion.”
Bob was a big, burly guyâabout as big and burly as Jacki. He had a dark beard and a wonderful smile. He was the UPS delivery guy in our area, which is how he met Jacki. He was an absolute doll, andâgiven the very existence of his relationship with Jackiâan open-minded individual.
“New dress?” I asked.
“I got it last weekend.”
“Really?” She colored again.
I was smiling. After a frustrating morning meeting at Gateway Trust Company and forty minutes in the crowded waiting room at the veterinarian's office, the mere sight of my secretary buoyed my spirits. And what a sight she was. Jacki Brand was a former Granite City steelworker who was putting herself through night law school while working days as my secretary, paralegal, law clerk, and all-around aide. Standing six feet three and weighing close to two hundred and forty pounds, with plenty of steelworker muscles rippling beneath her size 22 shirtwaist dress, she was surely the most intimidating legal secretary in town. And also one of the best. I'd call her my girl Friday, except that anatomically she was still a heâand would so remain until next summer, when she would undergo the surgical procedure that would lop off the last dangling evidence that her name had once been Jack.
“What's on the schedule this afternoon?” I asked, putting down the phone messages and reaching for my calendar.
“Nothing but your meeting with Charlie at four.”
Charlie Ross was the investigator I'd hired to do a quick background check on Billy Berger and Beverly Toft's other two suspects, Millie Robinson and the Dingdong Man.
“I called Stanley Brod from the vet's,” I told her. “I asked if one of us could go over there this afternoon to look through his records on Samantha's art gallery. Maybe you could do that.”
“I've already looked through the art gallery's payables ledger. Samantha was making payments to that Millennium outfit on each painting she sold by an artist named Sebastian Curry. I'm going to try to locate the artist. Meanwhile, we need to review the rest of the gallery's records to find out who bought the paintings.”
Jacki frowned. “Why?”
“Because someone was paying Millennium every time one of those paintings sold. That means that Millennium was acting as either the artist's agent or the buyer's agent.”
“Or maybe the gallery's agent.”
“If so, then the buyer or the artist ought to know that.” I paused, mulling over an idea that Jacki's comment had triggered. “Jacki, while you're over at Brod's office, see if he's got a roster of Michael Green's clients. Maybe in the billing files. If so, make a copy for us. Let's see if there are any matches between his clients and the buyers of those paintings.”
“Why do you think there might be?”
“Just a hunch. Look at the chronologies. Two things happened shortly after Michael Green died. First, Gateway Trust stopped paying a service fee to Millennium. Second, Samantha's gallery stopped paying commissions to Millennium. Maybe there's no connection to Green's death, but he's the only link we know between Gateway and the gallery. Jonathan told me to follow the money. So far, this is the only money trail I've found.”
“Brought us some goodies, counselor.”
I looked up from the appellate opinion I was reading. Charlie Ross stood in the doorway holding aloft a white bakery bag.
I smiled. “From World's Fair Donuts?”
“Where else? Got us some glazed and some cherry filled.”
I placed my hand over my heart. “You're my hero, Charlie.”
“Just don't tell the wife, huh? She got me on a new diet. Wants me to lose thirty pounds. Got a whole list of things I can eatârice cakes, raw carrots, chicken bouillon, lettuce without salad dressing. I don't recall glazed doughnuts on that list.”
“My lips are sealed.”
He came in and sat down in the chair facing my desk. “Some diet. Lots of fiber and a grapefruit before every meal.” He grimaced. “The wife's got me eating this cerealâlooks like rabbit droppings. Gives me terrible gas. I'm thinking maybe the folks at Maalox are behind this diet.”
“No fiber in doughnuts, Charlie.”
“Not a trace,” he said, with a contented grin.
“I'll get us some coffee. You like black, right?”
“That'd be fine.”
Charlie Ross was an ex-FBI special agent who'd worked as a private investigator since his retirement from the government. He was good with records and even better with people, who tended to tell him far more than you'd expect, which was probably because he reminded them, like he reminded me, of the plump neighborhood butcher instead of the square-jawed G-man of crime-fighting lore. Although his jawline had long since softened into jowls, he was a resourceful investigator who'd proved his mettle during his FBI days in a twelve-hour hostage crisis at Boatmen's Bank downtown and a four-day manhunt through the Ozarks.
As we ate our doughnuts and sipped our coffee, he filled me in.
“Plenty of court files on Billy Berger,” he said, checking his notes. “Been divorced two timesâlooked through those files, talked to one of his ex-wives. Nothing special there. He never told her much about his financial affairs when they were married, and she's happy with the alimony arrangement.”
“Why'd they get divorced?”
“The usual. Billy's got a zipper problem. Big time.” He glanced at his notes. “Let's see. Got sued a few times during his days in the insurance businessâdisputes with policy holders. Two cases settled, another got dismissed. Been a plaintiff himself three times. Sued the contractor that built his last house, complaining about structural defects. Settled that one for one hundred twenty-three thousand dollars. In another case, he and three other investors sued the general partner of a real estate limited partnership when that deal went south. Some sort of condo development down in Branson, Missouri. Case settled last year, but the court file didn't have the settlement agreement in it. At present, he's got a suit pending against the company he bought his private jet from. Breach-of-warranty claim. Case is pending in St. Louis County.” He closed his notepad. “Pretty much what you'd expect to find for one of those rich entrepreneur types.”
“I had a meeting with him this morning.”
“What'd you think?”
“Very smooth. Very slick. Very smart.”
“That's why he did so well selling cars and insurance.”
“What about the other two people?”
Charlie glanced down at his notes as he sipped his coffee. “Plenty of court files on Millie Robinsonâwhat with the divorce, the cocaine problems, the custody battle with her ex.” He looked up. “That's the one where Michael represented her ex-husbandâthat ballplayer.”
“Right. He's living in Detroit with the kids. Here's an interesting one,” he said, reading his notes. “She sued Gateway Trust Company a year ago.”
“Really. Over what?”
“Can't tell. File is sealed.”
He studied his notes. “Three.”
“Three is equity. Could be a dispute over management of a trust. Could you tell from the other files whether she had a trust with Gateway?”
He paged through his notes. “Here we areâgood thinking, Rachel. When she had her cocaine problem, the court ordered that her assets and all future alimony payments be deposited into a trust. The order appointed Gateway as the trustee.”
“Think it's worth talking to her?”
Charlie scratched his neck. “Might be. I'll look her up.”
“How about the Dingdong Man?”
Charlie chuckled. “That's really something, isn't it? Poor bastard.” He flipped through his notes. “Feckler moved to Kansas City last year. He's working as a paralegal at the firm that represents all those tobacco companies. No court records on him over there. Must be keeping his nose clean. But here's something interesting from before he moved. Samantha Cummings swore out a complaint against him two years after Michael Green's murder.”
“She claimed he was harassing her.”
“Nasty phone calls, creepy letters. About her and Michael. Some pretty sick stuff. Like who missed his penis the mostâher or Michael.”
“The guy is one sick puppy. She swore out a complaint and the cops arrested him. Judge gave him six months' probation and ordered him to keep away from her. The arresting officer is a vice squad detective named Vic Riganti. I talked to him this morning. He remembered the case. Said he thought Feckler was your basic harmless wacko.”
“Do you agree?”
Charlie frowned as he scratched his neck. “Hard to say. Those types usually are.”
“But aren't their phone calls and letters usually anonymous?”
“But not here.”
I sighed in frustration. “The police never even talked to him after Michael Green's murder.”
Charlie nodded. “That trail's pretty cold by now.”
“They all are.”
He pursed his lips thoughtfully. “You're better off following the money.”
“That's what Jonathan told me, too.”
“He's right, Rachel. I worked the Hornig car bombing for Jonathan back when he was at the U.S. attorney. We followed the money trail right to the brother-in-law's door.”
I leaned back in my chair. “I wish I could talk to Samantha.”
“Why can't you?”
“We're on opposite sides of this lawsuit. I can't talk to her without her lawyer present. I doubt whether he'd let me talk to her anywayâespecially with all the other defendants and lawyers involved. He'll tell me to take her deposition. That way he can keep it all on the record and avoid inconsistent statements.”
“Maybe,” Charlie said, removing a second glazed doughnut from the bag. “But what if you had a topic she didn't want to have on the record?” He took a bite and chewed thoughtfully. He washed it down with a sip of coffee. “What if it was a subject her lawyer didn't want the other lawyers to know about? Maybe he'd let you have a private session.”
“Maybe so, but I don't have anything like that here.”
I looked at Charlie. “What's that mean?”
He shrugged. “No promises, Rachel, but let me do a little poking around. You do this kind of work for thirty-five years and you learn to spot patterns. Pretty gal like that, coming out of nowhere, suddenly running her own business, moving in fancy circles, getting romanced by rich lawyersâgal like that often has something in her past she don't want the whole world talking about. You find out what that is, you'll get yourself a private audience with her.”
“You really think there's something like that out there?”
“Can't guarantee it, but like I say, you learn to spot patterns.”
“Fifteen thousand dollars?”
“Not just one time, either,” I said.
“I counted twenty-three.”
“For Sebastian Curry?” Ellen McNeil shook her head in disbelief. “That's ridiculous.”
We were in the back office at Unique Expressions, Ellen's art gallery in the University City Loop. Ellen was tall and thin with intense dark eyes and long curly black hair. She was wearing a black turtleneck, a Navajo silver-and-turquoise necklace with matching dangly earrings, wheat-colored drawstring cotton woven pants, and clogs. Hard to believe that just four years ago, Ellen McNeil had been dressed in conservative business suits and earning tens of thousands of frequent flyer miles as a financial consultant for one of the big accounting firms.
Ellen had graduated from Vassar with a degree in art history twenty-three years ago and moved to Greenwich Village to live the artist's life, which turned out to be three lonely years of waiting tables and scrounging tips to pay the outrageous rent on a roach-infested studio with a panoramic view of a gray airshaft. That experience shocked her into the M.B.A. program at Wharton and a huge starting salary in a Boston merchant banking house. She talked the corporate talk and walked the corporate walk for fifteen yearsâin Boston and then Chicago and then St. Louisâbefore quitting to return to her real passion. In just three years she'd become one of the movers and shakers in the St. Louis art community, serving on the boards of the St. Louis Art Museum and the Regional Arts Council while running one of the most successful art galleries in the Midwest.
We'd met when we'd worked together on an Arts Council committee. Since then, I'd represented her on an insurance claim, she'd sold me a piece of sculpture, and we'd been guests at each other's houseâshe'd come to my house with her Jewish boyfriend Gabe for the second night of Passover this year, and I'd taken Benny to her funky Halloween party last year (we went dressed as Beauty and the Beast, with Benny in drag as Beauty).
“So you know Sebastian Curry's work?” I asked.
“Oh, yes.” She shook her head derisively. “Strictly third-rate. I'm embarrassed to say that I actually sold a piece of his work two years ago. He'd been begging me to show his paintings, and I finally gave in. I listed it for twelve hundred dollars. It sat here for almost a year before I unloaded it for eight hundred on a social-climbing bimbo who said it was a perfect match for the wallpaper in her dining room.”
“All of these sales,” I said, holding up the list Jacki had compiled from the files at Stanley Brod's office, “are from several years back. Was he worth more back then?”
“I doubt it.” She paused, gesturing toward the list in disbelief. “You're telling me that Samantha sold almost two dozen of Sebastian's paintings at an average price of fifteen thousand dollars each?”
“According to these records.”
“She must be the greatest hustler since P. T. Barnum.”
“Do you know her?”
“I don't think so. I may have run into her at a few functions back thenâart shows, opening nights, that sort of thingâbut her gallery was closed by the time I opened mine. She hasn't been in the business since then.”
“What do you know about Millennium Management Services?”
“Millennium?” Ellen frowned. “Never heard of them. What is it?”
“Some sort of agency, I think.”
“I don't know. It received a fee on each painting.”
“Six thousand dollars.”
“Really?” She seemed puzzled. “Six grand on a fifteen-thousand-dollar painting? What's thatâforty percent? That's a huge commission. Do you happen to know what Curry got paid?”
She frowned as she mulled it over. “Ordinarily, I'd say the artist got screwed, but the sales prices for those paintings are so outrageous that it's hard to feel sorry for him.”
“Maybe Millennium wasn'thisagent,” I said. “Maybe they were somehow responsible for finding buyers for the paintings. Maybe they were the gallery's agent.”
“And the payments were finder's fees?” She tilted her head as she thought it over. “I guess that's possible. Some galleries, especially in New York and Chicago, pay finder's fees to interior design firms that get hired to decorate corporate headquarters and big law firms. You don't hear of it down here, though. Still, I suppose it's possible. Are you able to tell from the records who Millennium was working for?”
“The gallery paid the fee.”
“That doesn't mean that they were working for the gallery. A lot of agents for artists insist that the galleries pay their fees direct. That way they avoid fee squabbles with their clients.” She glanced at the list. “Samantha ought to know who Millennium was working for. Ask her.”
“I can't, at least not without her lawyer present.”
“Well, Sebastian should know. Ask him.”
“I plan to,” I said. “What's he like?”
She smiled. “He's big and he's dumb and he's totally gorgeous.”
“Beyond gorgeous, honey. Imagine the African warrior of your hottest sexual fantasy. We're talking total eye candyâtall, great bod, cool dreadlocks, perfect teeth, a smile to die for. He should be the artist's model, not the artist. In fact, I hear that's how he makes some of his money these days. Wait until you see him in tight pants.” Ellen gave me a leer as she fanned herself with her hand. “I can understand why Samantha would be willing to carry his work. I can understand why any woman would. That's probably why I agreed to carry one for him. Carrying it's one thingâbut selling it is an entirely different proposition.”
“Speaking of which,” I said, handing her the list that Jacki had put together from the gallery's records. “These are the people that bought his paintings. Do you recognize any of the names?”
She leaned against the edge of her desk, put on her reading glasses, and studied the names, moving down the list one by one. When she reached the bottom she skimmed through the names again and then looked up. “I've sold pieces to six of the buyers. Two of the six are real surprises.”
“Because they actually have taste. I can't imagine either one of them hanging anything by Sebastian Curry in their homes, much less paying fifteen thousand dollars for the privilege. The other fourâwell, I'm not shocked. They couldn't tell quality from crap. If Sebastian Curry happened to be the artist of the hourâand who knows? Maybe he was back thenâthey wouldn't blink at paying fifteen grand. But as for these two,” she said, pointing at the names with her finger, “how Samantha got them to pay those prices is beyond me.”
“You interested in talking to them?” I asked.
She nodded. “Actually, yes. I'd like to see their paintings and find out what the fuss was all about.”
“You want to visit some of them with me?”
She gave me a curious look. “Rachel, you don't just call these people out of the blue and ask to come over to see their paintings. You'd have to have a good reason.”
“I have one.”
“Sure. You and I are putting together a special showing of St. Louis artists. We're thinking of including a few representative works by Sebastian Curry. We'd like to see their paintings for possible inclusion in the exhibition.”
“We are, are we?” She was grinning. “And who exactly are we?”
“We're representatives of the Art Guild of Metropolitan St. Louis.”
“Which is what?”
I shrugged. “A new group. Brand-new, in fact. This will be our inaugural event. That's why you're helping them put this show together. You've agreed to consult with the group in the selection of artists to include. I handle their legal work, which is why I need to go with you.” I winked. “I have to make sure everything is kosher.”
She laughed. “You're terrible.”
“Come with me for two visits. Once I see how you handle the art part, I can visit a few others on my own and fake it. You choose which two you want to see. I'll buy you dinner afterward.”
She considered it for all of two seconds. “It's a deal. But we'll have to meet them today 'cause I'm off to New York tomorrow.”
“Then toss me that phone book and let's start calling. I have a court hearing right after lunch, but the rest of the afternoon belongs to you.”
I'm here on the motion inBlackwell Breeders,” I told Judge Parker's clerk.
She paused in filing her nails and glanced down at the calendar. “Are you Gold?”
“Knock on the door. The judge is ready.”
“Has plaintiffs' counsel arrived?”
“Oh, yeah. He's in there already.”
Of course, I said to myself, trying to control my irritation. This was the second time I'd found Mack the Knife already inside the judge's chambers when I arrived for a court appearance in the ostrich case. Not that I was surprised. What Mack lacked in legal talent he more than made up in sheer gall. Over the years, he'd bullied his way through hundreds of lawsuits, building a lucrative practice with clients who believed that the best lawyer was a confrontational lawyer. The book on him was to be patient and hang in there. Although he curried favor with the trial judgesâdrinking with them after hours, hunting and golfing with them on the weekendsâthe breaks they gave him in the courtroom rarely survived scrutiny on appeal. But the catch was that few lawyers, and even fewer clients, had the stomach or the wallet to endure Mack the Knife through a trial and an appeal. Most chose to settle.
I rapped on the door and opened it just as Armour was delivering what sounded like the punch line to a dirty joke.
“â¦and don't ride your bike for a week.”
Judge Parker was seated behind his desk, leaning back in the chair, his arms crossed over his ample gut. He chuckled and leaned forward, noticing my arrival and waving me in. “That's a good one, Mack. Hello, counselor. Come on in.”
“Good afternoon, Your Honor.”
Armour got up from his chair to face me, his eyes doing a quick body scan. “Miss Gold,” he said, nodding curtly.
I returned the nod. “Mr. Armour.”
Mack the Knife was a burly, athletic man in his early fifties. He had a golf tan, a smooth shaved scalp, slate-gray eyes, and a neatly trimmed black mustache. In his khaki suit, crisp white shirt, and gleaming brown loafers, he reminded me of a corrupt CIA operative in a Latin American capital.
Judge Lamar Parker, by contrast, was the fleshy, heavy-lidded deer hunter from rural Missouri. Neither saint nor sinner, Judge Parker was a former insurance defense lawyer in his late fifties who'd used Republican Party connections to get appointed to the bench. His demeanor was affable, his rulings unimaginative, and his workday short. He rarely was reversed on appeal because he rarely was bold at trial.
“This is your motion, Miss Gold?” Judge Parker asked.
“It is, Your Honor.”
“What's it seek?” he asked, paging through the file. As usual, Judge Parker had read none of the papers and done nothing to prepare for the argument.
“As the court knows,” I explained, “my clients seek a full refund on the male ostrich they purchased from Blackwell Breeders. They also seek compensation for injuries inflicted upon several of the hens, including the death of one. I'm here today asking the court to dismiss Mr. Blackwell's claim. He alleges that he suffers emotional distress from the thought of his ostrich residing on my clients' farm. Frankly, Your Honor, the claim is absurd on its face.”
The judge turned to Armour. “Mack?”
Armour snorted. “Judge, my client sold those gals a normal, heterosexual stud cockâthe kind of animal that's happiest when he's putting the lumber to some hen.” He became solemn. “Except now he's stuck out there in Kinkyland withâ”
“That's ridiculous,” I snapped, immediately regretting my interruption, knowing Armour would take advantage of it.
“Your Honor,” he said, pointedly ignoring me, “I'm simply attempting to answer the court's question. May I continue?”
He glanced at me. “Without further interruption?”
“Get on with it,” I said through clenched teeth.
“These women,” Armour said, shaking his head sternly, “concealed their inexperience and their incompetence and, even worse, their perverted lesbian lifestyle from my client at the time of the sale. Mr. Blackwell is overwhelmed by feelings of guilt and remorse over what he's done to that poor ostrich. When Miss Gold has the opportunity to look him in the eye, she will feel his pain.”
“Your Honor, I've already looked Mr. Blackwell in the eye at his deposition. He could barely keep a straight face.”
“Smiling through his tears,” Armour answered. “The man is devastated. He's entitled to compensation.”
“Your Honor,” I said, trying to contain my anger, “the only reason Mr. Armour put that ludicrous claim in the lawsuit is to confuse and prejudice the jury. It should be dismissed for that reason alone. More important, the claim has no scientific basis.”
Judge Parker turned to him. “What about that, Mack?”
Armour smiled as he unclicked his briefcase. “She wants science, Judge, I'll give it to her in spades.” He started pulling scientific journals out of his briefcase and piling them, one by one, onto the judge's desk. I skimmed the titles as they dropped onto the deskâJournal of Animal Behavior, Field Studies in Evolutionary Biology, Animal Husbandry Quarterly, Zoological Record.
When he completed his stack, Armour leaned back triumphant and crossed his arms over his chest. “How's that for starters?”
“How's what?” I responded. “What are these?”
“Scientific studies of animal behavior. And there's plenty more where that came from.”
I started to answer when the judge held up his hand. “You make some good points, Miss Gold, but I think we'd all agree this is a case of first impression. The safest route here is to let the jury take a crack at it. We can clean up any miscues in the posttrial motions.”
Last chance,” Armour told me as we emerged from the courthouse. “Settle now or this trial's gonna put your clients on the cover of theNational Enquirer.”
“What's your proposal?” I responded frostily.
“Well,” he said, scratching his mustache thoughtfully, “I might be willing to recommend a dog fall.”
I stared at him. “You drop your claims and we drop ours? You call that a good-faith offer?”
“Not an offer yet. I said it's what I'd be willing torecommend.”
“Forget it, Mack. Your offer is as absurd as your lawsuit.”
“Suit yourself, counselor, but you're living in a fantasy world.” He chuckled. “The only absurd thing here is someone who thinks a St. Louis jury is going to award one red cent to a pair of muff divers.”
I stared at him as a bunch of possible responses flashed through my headâall at the playground level, none a real zinger. Oh, where is Benny Goldberg when you need him?
Unbelievable,” Benny said, shaking his head as he sliced off another hunk of sausage. “What did you say to him?”
“Nothing. I just walked away.”
“Nothing?” Benny took a big chug of beer and swallowed. “Nothing?”
I shrugged. “What would you have said?”
“Easy,” he said, putting down the bottle and stifling a belch, which rumbled ominously in his belly. He jabbed his finger at an imaginary Mack Armour. “I'd say, âWatch your mouth, bullet-head, 'cause I got chunks of guys like you in my stool.'”
I shook my head. “Works better coming from you.”
He gestured toward the cutting board. “You sure you don't want some more?”
I held up my hands. “I'm stuffed.”
It was late afternoon. Benny had come by my office for a surprise happy hour. He'd stopped at his favorite Italian deli for a “light snack”âa smoked turkey breast, a thick slab of cheese, a jar of pickled onions, an Italian bread, and a truly repulsive sausage composed of semi-identifiable animal parts suspended in a pink gelatinous goo.
I shook my head in wonder. “An entire turkey breast, Benny?”
“Hey, girl, I bought it because of you.”
“You should have seen the smoked ham. Talk about enticing. I got sexually aroused just looking at it.”
“I did. That's the point. Now that you're becoming the Orthodox Jewish Princess, God forbid I should bringtreifinto your office.”
“That's sweet. But speaking oftreif, what in heaven's name is in that sausage?”
“This?” Benny stared at it a moment, rubbing his chin. He finally shrugged. “There are some things man was not meant to know. So when's the ostrich battle scheduled for trial?”
“Not for another month.” I leaned back in my chair and sighed. “I just want it to be over, Benny. Armour's been a complete jerkâhid documents from me, lied to the judge, hired an investigator to harass two of Maggie's former lovers. I feel like I'm stuck in an endless backstreet brawl with that guy. Each day brings a new dirty trick. Today, he dumped a pile of scientific journals on the judge's desk, supposedly to support his contention that my clients' actions could have changed that ostrich's behavior.”
“There was nothing even remotely close in there.” I shook my head in exasperation. “Just another sleazy stunt.”
“So what'd you expect? Tea and crumpets with Miss Manners? The guy's a fucking scumbag. Hell, I feel like taking a bath after talking to him on the phone. Don't sweat it, Rachel. When that case finally gets to trial, you're going to nail his ass.”
“As my father would have said, âFrom your lips to God's ears.'”
“You got that right. So how's Angela Green's case coming along?”
“I had an interesting afternoon with Ellen McNeil.”
“We visited two of the people who bought Sebastian Curry paintings from Samantha's gallery.”
I frowned. “I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it sure wasn't what we found.”
“Really?” He looked up expectantly, his fingers jammed in the jar of pickled onions. “Talk to me.”
I described our meeting with Martha Galbraith in her stylish home in Chesterfield. Although the list of purchasers included the name Dr. Peter Galbraith, Ellen decided to call Martha instead. Ellen explained to me that Peter, a urologist with a practice in St. Charles, viewed art the way he viewed stocks: purely as an investment. He relied on his broker to pick stocks and on his wife to pick art. Over the years Ellen had sold the Galbraiths two paintings and a blown-glass vaseâand all three times Peter had been unable to mask his boredom as he waited for Martha to make her selection. Martha had superb taste and a connoisseur's eye, Ellen told me, and thus she was our best candidate to unveil the mystery of the Sebastian Curry paintings.
But Martha was no help. Indeed, she confessed to being as mystified as Ellen. Peter bought the painting on his ownâsomething he'd never done. Although fifteen thousand dollars was nowhere near as much as they'd paid for other works of artâin fact, as Ellen later told me, the price for one of the paintings she sold them was thirty-five thousand dollarsâit was still a lot of money to pay without even consulting his wife. Suffice to say, the good doctor was defensive about the painting from the day he brought it home. He told his wife that Sebastian Curry would be the next big name in the art world, just you wait and see. She waited and she didn't see. The painting hung on a wall in his home office for a year and then he took it to work, where it hung in the waiting room. At some point that year he got it appraised for insurance purposes. The appraiser valued it at four hundred dollars. A few months later, he donated it to some charityâpresumably for a tax write-off in the full amount originally paid. Martha Galbraith couldn't remember which charity and had no idea where the painting was now. It wouldn't be worth tracking down anyway, she told them. The painting wasâas Martha put itâ“decidedly pedestrian and derivative.”
“Decidedly pedestrian and derivative, eh?” Benny said in a mock-snooty tone. “Well, la-de-fucking-da.”
I watched him slice off a chunk of that revolting sausage and shove it in his mouth. He chased it with two pickled onions, a wedge of cheese, and a big gulp of beer. Even after years of watching him gorge on all manner of things, I was still astounded and grossed out by his eating habits. He must have caught me staring and misinterpreted my nauseous expression for one of longing.
“You want some?” he asked, gesturing toward the food, his mouth full.
“No, thanks,” I said.
“I'm just not feeling hungry right now.”
“You're missing a real treat here.” He tore off a big piece of bread and took a bite. Chewing, he asked, “So who else did you and Ellen see?”
Don Goddard was one of the name partners in Goddard, Jones & Newberger, a twenty-five-lawyer firm in Clayton that handled corporate, tax, and contract matters for various small businesses. He was a tall, slender, balding man in his fifties with a large nose and an elegant demeanorâa smooth operator, but not quite smooth enough to conceal his social pretensions. Like a lot of corporate lawyers with working-class origins, Don Goddard expended great time and energy on appearance.
“We went to his office,” I told Benny. “He had the painting in one of the firm's conference rooms. He was clearly thrilled by the prospect that a painting of his might make it into the show. On the way to the conference room he told Ellen that he'd like the ownership credit for the art show to read, âFrom the Donald E. Goddard Collection.'”
“So how was the painting?”
“It was one of those abstract things with lots of bright colors.” I shrugged. “I'm no judge of modern art, but it didn't do anything for me.”
“What did Ellen think of it?”
“She was polite during the meeting with Goddard, but afterward she told me the painting was mediocre.”
“So what did you learn?”
“That something fishy is going on.”
“What kind of fishy?”
“While Ellen was busy examining the painting, I started asking him questionsâmostly innocuous ones, like you'd need for filling out an information questionnaire. I explained that we'd need some basic facts if we selected his painting for the exhibit. He started getting nervous as soon as I got beyond where and when he bought the painting. Did he own anything else by Sebastian Curry? No. Was he familiar with Curry's work? Not really. What other works of art were in the âDonald E. Goddard Collection'? That one had him fumbling. Turns out the only other items are a couple of pieces of pottery his wife bought in CancÃºn, an art print from either Monet or Picassoâhe wasn't sure whichâand a set of those LladrÃ³ ballerina figurines.”
“Wow,” Benny said, arching his eyebrows. “Sounds like the Donald E. Goddard Collection is almost ready for its own wing at the Guggenheim.”
“By then he was really antsy. I asked him how he ended up at Samantha's gallery. Didn't remember. Had he been there often? Didn't remember. Had he ever heard of Millennium Management? No, he said, who are they? I explained that Millennium received a big commission on the painting. Never heard of them, he snapped.”
“You're right,” Benny said. “There is something fishy going on here. I think I know what the bait is.”
“Come on, Rachel. It's obvious. You got a pair of big-money guys who are fairly savvy businessmen but don't know jackshit about art. Both of them plunk down fifteen grand for pieces of crap by some unknown yutz. What's that tell you?”
“I don't know. What's it tell you?”
“That we got two guys choosing art with their dicks.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Look who owned that gallery. Samantha Cummings. That girl is a fox. I don't know exactly what she did to those guys, but I'm betting she aimed her sales pitch somewhere lower than their aesthetic sensibility. The thing she was enlarging wasn't their artistic taste.”
“Benny, flirting is not going to make a bunch of guys spend fifteen grand.”
“Come on, Rachel. We're talking about the male of the species here. And we're probably talking about more than flirting. Fifteen grand is pocket change to a rich guy chasing pussy. You got guys plunking down five times that much on a swanky car with nothing more than the hope that a car like that will make some hot chick overlook the dork behind the wheel. Here, though, you've already interested the hot chick, who happens to own the gallery, which means you have an easy way to prove you're a big spender.”
I frowned. “Why waste your money trying to impress Samantha? She was already taken. She was engaged to Michael Green.”
“You think guys don't waste time chasing women who're already taken?” Benny paused, frowning as an idea took shape. “Hey, what if one of those guys fell in love with her? And what if he was one of those crazy jealous types?”
I gave him a puzzled look. “So?”
“Wouldn't be the first time a jealous guy killed for love, eh?”
I thought it over. “You think that's possible?”
He shrugged. “It's no more bizarre than what the jury said actually happened, right?”
I tried to imagine Don Goddard, Mr. Smooth, in the role of infatuated, lust-crazed killer. He didn't fit the role, but there were still plenty of other names on the list. In fact, all twenty-three purchasers had been men. After Jacki had compiled the list from the gallery's books and records at Stanley Brod's office, I'd cross-checked the names against Michael Green's Rolodex, which was also at Brod's office. All but two of the buyers had been on his Rolodex. From what I knew of Green's behavior, he apparently bragged about Samantha to nearly everyone he talked to. Who could judge the impact of those boasts?
I checked my watch. “I have one more of these buyers to see before dinner. Ellen is seeing one, too, and then we're meeting for dinner.”
“Who are you seeing?”
“Jack Foley. He's a stockbroker. I'm meeting him at his house at six-thirty. His wife will be there, too.”
“Ellen's not going with you?”
“No, she's meeting another guy.”
“Perfect.” Benny was grinning.
“Ellen won't be there. You're going to need an art expert, right?”
“Oh?” I said, amused. “Would you perhaps happen to know where I might find such an expert on short notice?”
“If we can swing by my place on the way, I just might be able to rouse one for you.”
We were in the Foleys' living room. The Sebastian Curry paintingâa large abstract work combining black-and-white splatters and what looked like roller swipes in bright primary colorsâwas on the floor propped against the fireplace. Bennyâor “Benito,” as he'd introduced himself in what sounded like an Italian-Hungarian accentâstood in front of the painting, his arms crossed, expression grave, as he pretended to scrutinize it.
Benny had, of course, pushed his art critic routine out near the border between impersonation and farce. He was dressed entirely in black: black turtleneck, black jeans, black boots, black beret, black wraparound sunglasses. He'd done more than just change outfits when we stopped by his house on our way over. For an added bizarre touch, which I hadn't noticed until we stood in the bright light of the Foleys' front hall, he'd slicked back his hair with what appeared to be Vaseline and powdered his face white, which heightened the contrast with his lips. The black stubble of his beard poked through the powder. Perhaps he hoped the overall effectâblack outfit, greased hair, powdered face, black stubbleâwould shout avant-garde art critic. To me, though, it was shouting overweight transvestite geisha from hell.
The Foleys eyed him warily as he frowned and grumbled in front of the painting. I tried to ignore him, tried to keep a straight face, tried to keep the conversation focused on the information I was attempting to elicit. It was not easy.
“So it was in the basement all this time?” I asked.
“Until today,” Margo Foley said with a perky smile. “Until you called Jack. Isn't that so, honey?”
“Right,” he answered stiffly.
Margo was seated to the left of the fireplace on a white couch with a loose-pillow back. I was facing her across the coffee table on the matching love seat. Jack Foley stood to my leftâto Margo's rightâbehind a wing chair that faced the fireplace from the far side of the coffee table. Both in their late thirties, the Foleys were the type of couple who'd raise the level of tension in any gatheringâMargo with her forced cheer and brittle smile, Jack with his edgy stare and slight stammer.
“Isn't that crazy?” she said brightly, looking from me to her husband to Benny, who was still grumbling at the painting. “I mean, I remember that Jack brought it homeâwhat, eight or nine years ago, right, honey?âand put it down in the basement. We had no idea it was so special. Why, we never even unwrapped it until you called today.” She looked at the painting. “It's certainly, well, brash.”
And, I thought, completely different from the other works of art in their living and dining rooms, all of which were either prints of famous Impressionist paintings or posters advertising museum exhibitions of works by famous Impressionist painters.
“What attracted you to the painting?” I asked Jack.
He shrugged. “I don't know. I supposed I must have liked it.”
“Had you bought other art from the 309 Gallery?”
He frowned. “I don't recall.”
Benny spun around. “You dona recall?” he said in his strange accent. “But surely you recalla de owner, Meez Cummings, ya?” He gave Jack a lecherous wink and put his hands on his hips and thrust them forward twice. “Magnifica, eh?”
Jack leaned back and frowned. “I don't remember her.”
Trying to ignore Benito, I asked Jack, “What exactly appealed to you about this painting?”
“I don't know.”
“Did you view other paintings at the gallery?”
“I don't remember. I may have just called over there, asked them if they had a painting by this Curry guy. I remember going by to pick it up. I didn't really spend much time in the gallery.”
“What made you interested in Sebastian Curry?” I asked.
He shrugged, clearly uncomfortable with this line of questions. “I think someone told me he was going to be the next big thing. I suppose it seemed like a good investment opportunity.”
“Did you have it appraised at the time you bought it?”
“How about since then?”
Margo asked me, “Do you think our painting is worth a lot of money?”
“Hard to say,” I told her. “Some of his work may have held its value, but I know of at least one of his paintings that was recently appraised for only four hundred dollars.”
Margo looked at the painting and then back at me. “That's not so bad, is it?”
“Not if you paid less than a hundred dollars for it,” I said, glancing at her husband.
“How much did we pay, hon?” she asked him.
He glanced from his wife to me and back to her. “Uh, something like thatâor maybe a little more. I don't remember. It's been a long time.”
“Less than four hundred dollars?” I asked, trying to keep my voice neutral.
“Yeah,” he answered, averting his eyes, “somewhere around there.”
Benny turned around and announced, “Now Benito ees done.”
“What do you think of it, SeÃ±or Benito?” Margo asked hopefully.
Benny shook his head. “I am sorry to say zat deesa work eesaâhow shall I put eet?âdecidedly pedestrian and derivative.”
The three of us were having dinner at the Lynch Street Bistro in the Soulard areaâBenny, Ellen McNeil, and me.
“I don't know about your guy,” Ellen told us, “but Allen Sutter definitely did not have a thing for Samantha Cummings.”
“How can you be sure?” I asked.
“Because I met his companion Tony.”
I looked at Benny. He shrugged. “So maybe Allen swings both ways.”
Ellen shook her head. “Not this cowboy. Trust me. Allen and Tony have been a couple for a long time. On a wall in their den are framed photographs of the two of them together that go back more than ten years.”
While Benny and I had been meeting with the Foleys, Ellen paid a visit to Allen Sutter, a psychologist who specialized in designing motivational seminars for corporations. His name was one of the twenty-three on the list. Ellen knew Allen, having sold him a painting about a year ago.
“So what was Allen's story?” I asked.
“He was surprised there was that much interest in Sebastian Curry,” Ellen said. “He told me he regretted buying his painting and eventually gave it to a gallery on consignment. It sold for about three hundred dollars.”
“Did he tell you why he bought it in the first place?” I asked.
“Not really. He was about as vague as your guyâsaid he thought Curry was an artist on the rise. Claims he viewed the purchase as an investment, but that when Curry's reputation appeared to be going nowhere he decided to cut his losses and sell it.”
“What the hell is going on here?” Benny asked. “You've got this Sutter dude claiming he made an investment but then bailing out at a huge loss after only a few years. Why not keep the damn thing in storage in the hopes that one day Sebastian Curry gets recognized as America's answer to Vincent van Gogh? Then you got Jack Foley. That stiff claims that he was making an investment, except he's so secretive about it that he never even unwrapped the painting during all those years, never told his wife that he shelled out fifteen large for that piece of shit, and acts like he remembers almost nothing about it.” Benny shook his head, confused. “I was hoping that maybe these guys wereshtuppingSamantha, that maybe that's why they seemed uncomfortable talking about the paintings, but I have to admit that Rachel's got a point there. I mean, we're talking about twenty-three guys in the space of less than two yearsâand she's engaged to Michael Green for part of that time. Even if she's the greatest lay of the century, fifteen grand is still a lot to pay for some nooky. And where does that leave your gay caballero?”
Ellen nodded. “You've got a lot of smart, successful men making the same dumb decision at the same art gallery. Something's fishy.”
“I agree,” I said. “It's one thing to overpay for something you love. I did it once. Back when I was in law school and really scraping by, I went to an art fair on the Boston Common one Saturday afternoon and ended up paying two hundred dollars for a painting of a peasant woman.” I turned to Benny. “It's the one in my kitchen.”
He nodded. “Oh, yeah. Two hundred bucks? Whoa.”
“I couldn't help myself. I fell totally in the love with the woman in the painting. I made the artist hold it until I could take the T to my bank in Cambridge and come back with the money. It was a crazy thing to do. Two hundred dollars was my food allowance for two months, but that didn't matter. I had to have that painting. It seemed more important to me than food. It still does. I love it. I keep it in my kitchen so that I can see it every morning at breakfast and every night at dinner and then again when I make some tea before bed. But these guys.” I shook my head. “I don't get it. They pay fifteen thousand dollars for paintings that they don't seem to have any emotional bond with. In fact, none of the men that we've talked to even liked their painting. Not even Don Goddard. As for Jack Foley, it sounded like he may not have even seen his before he bought it, and that really makes no sense. Even if he was buying it purely for investment purposes, you'd think he'd at least want to see what he was buying before he wrote the check.”
“Or in his case,” Benny said, “hand over the cash. Sounded like his wife had no idea what he paid, which tells me he didn't write a check or put it on their credit card.”
“So where do you go from here?” Ellen asked me.
I leaned back in my chair and frowned. “I've got to find a way to talk to Samantha Cummings. I have an investigator doing a background check on her. He's coming by tomorrow morning to show me what he's found. Maybe he'll have something worth pursuing. I'm also going out to visit Angela again. Tomorrow afternoon. Bring her up to speed on this stuff. Maybe Millennium will ring a bell for her.”
No bells tolled for Angela Green. She knew nothing about Millennium Management Services, had never heard of Sebastian Curry, and had no idea what paintings Samantha Cummings had carried in her gallery.
We were in the interview room at Chillicothe Correctional Center, and I was bringing Angela up to date on my investigation. I'd driven out there that morning through a steady rain that started falling an hour out of St. Louis and stayed with me the whole way. It was still gray and chilly and gloomy outside, the sky occasionally illuminated by a distant flash of lightning, the rain a steady drum roll on the roof. Inside, it was as cozy as I could make it. I'd brought along a large thermos filled with hot green tea blended with honey and ginseng, two pottery mugs, and a big tin ofkamishbroit, which my mother had baked special for Angela.Kamishbroitis a deliciously crunchy Yiddish pastry that's a cousin to the Italianbiscottiâexcept that my mother'skamishbroitmakes the finestbiscottitaste like stale Wonder bread.
Angela apparently agreed. She was nibbling on her third piece ofkamishbroitand sipping her tea as I went through the thick investigative file that Charlie Ross had put together on Samantha Cummings. Most of the stuff was fairly unexceptionalâcreditor claims against her gallery after it closed down; a speeding violation that a traffic lawyer plea-bargained down to excessive vehicular noise; a garnishment action against her son's father, Ray Franco, who worked on the minivan line at the Chrysler plant in Fenton.
The story of Ray and Samantha had briefly occupied the police's attention after Michael Green's murder. The two had never married. They'd been living together when she got pregnant, but Ray moved out a few weeks after Trent was born. He married another woman within a year and had since fathered two children with her. Although Samantha eventually got a child-support order against Ray, his poor compliance record filled the court file with garnishments, show cause orders, and the like.
The police had brought Ray in for questioning during the murder investigation. Oddly enough, he'd briefly been a suspectâodd because Ray seemed to have every financial reason to want Samantha to marry a prosperous man like Green, since maybe she'd finally stop hounding him for child support. In any event, Ray Franco had an airtight alibi. On the night of the murder he'd gone to the Cardinals game with three coworkers from the Chrysler plant. After the game, they'd partied down on Laclede's Landing until the bars closed and then headed over to a strip club on the east side, where they stayed until five-thirty. They watched the sun rise from the parking lot, drove back across the Mississippi, stopped at a Denny's in south St. Louis, had a huge breakfast, and then drove to the plant, where they reported for work at seven sharp. In addition to his three pals, each of whom corroborated his story, there were bartenders or waitresses at each stop along the way who remembered the rowdy foursome.
“Here's an eerie one,” I said, handing Angela a photocopy of a three-paragraph news clipping from thePost-Dispatch. “This guy committed suicide in front of her town house.”
“Really? When was this?”
“About six months after your trial.” I pointed to the top of the page, which showed the date of the article. “The guy's name was Billy Woodward. He was thirty-three.”
“A pay phone?” she said when she finished the article. “Was he actually talking to someone when he shot himself?”
“That's a really eerie part. Charlie copied the police file. The pay phone across the street was off the hook when the police arrived. The phone company records showed that he was talking to Samantha just before he shot himself.”
“Samantha confirmed it. Here's a photocopy of his suicide note.”
I handed it to her. It read:
dear sam:no more waiting for woodyâsayonara.
“Nickname, I guess,” I said. “His last name was Woodward.”
“Who was this guy?” Angela asked. “How did she know him?”
I pulled out the police report and turned it so that both of us could see. “She claimed that Billy was an old boyfriend who'd harassed her on and off for yearsâboth before and after Michael Green's death. He was kind of a creepy, pathetic character. Served four months on a burglary charge when he was twenty. Prison psychiatrist diagnosed him as manic-depressive and put him on medication. Went to a vocational school to become an electrician but dropped out. Held a variety of odd jobs over the yearsâshoe salesman, bartender, forklift operator. Even acted in a few porno films when he was younger.”
Angela made a face. “This was a boyfriend of hers?”
“A long time ago, she claimed. She hadn't seen him in years. According to the police report, he spent most of his time lifting weights at a local gym and visiting talent agencies in town. He worshiped Arnold Schwarzenegger. He used to tell people at the gym that someday he'd be an action-hero movie star, tooâjust like Arnold.” I shook my head. “Not likely. His career was going nowhere. For the last six months of his life he was basically unemployed except for a few short gigs as a fashion model.”
“A fashion model? Was he that good-looking?”
“Sort of. The police found a few shots of him at his apartment. The kind you'd use for a portfolio, I guess. Charlie made a copy of one.” I flipped through the folder. “Here it is.” I studied it a moment. “Not bad, I guess. What do you think?”
Angela took the picture. Her eyes widened and she gasped. “Dear God.”
“That'sâoh, Lordâthat's him.”
“John. That's my John.”
“John?” I repeated with a frown. And then I made the connection. “Oh. My. God.”
On the drive back to St. Louis from Chillicothe, I tried to organize my own thoughts, having left my poor client's in a shambles.
That Angela had never until now made the connection between Billy Woodward and her mysterious John was not surprising. She was in prison by the time he'd committed suicide, and the newspaper account had not included his photograph. She hardly seemed a porno fan, and thus wouldn't have been likely to see him in one of his films before prison, and certainly not after. At least that part made sense.
But nothing else about Woodward did. Why had he killed himself on Samantha Cummings's doorstep? Why had he identified himself to Angela as John? Why had he disappeared on the night of the murder and remained incognito until after Angela entered prison? Where had he gone? And why? Why hadn't he come forward during her trial? Maybe there was some connection to Michael Green's murder, but I couldn't even begin to figure out how to connect those dotsâor any others, for that matter. From Millennium Management Services to Sebastian Curry's twenty-three paintings to the suicide of Billy Woodward, there seemed no logical relationship to anything, yet all seemed somehow connected. Even more puzzling was the fact that all roadsâincluding the money trailâseemed to lead to Samantha Cummings, who was the least logical connection of all. Even if she despised her fiancÃ©âand where was the evidence of that?âshe nevertheless had every conceivable financial incentive to keep Michael Green alive long enough to say “I do.” His premarital death was an economic disaster for her.
In the fading light I drove east on Highway 70 and tried to pinpoint my own role in all of this. I'd been retained to defend Angela in Sam Squared. That particular winding road led back to Samantha Cummings, the mother of the plaintiff in Sam Squared. Eventually, I would have the opportunity to take Samantha's deposition and get answers to at least some of these questions. But I had several questions for Samantha that would draw a vigorous objection from her lawyer on the ground that they were entirely irrelevant to the claims in the case. I needed to find a way to overcome that objection. Better yet, I needed to find some golden nugget of information that would convince the lawyer to let me talk to her privately. The best place to pan for that gold now seemed to be in the life and death of one Billy Woodward.
By the time I reached my office, I had the beginnings of a Billy Woodward game plan. I was surprised to see Jacki still thereâit was after six o'clock.
“Rachel, where have you been? I've been trying to reach you on your cell phone.”
“The battery's dead. What's wrong?”
“Sheila Trumble has called three times. She's going crazy.”
“The health department is closing down the Oasis Shelter. The last time she called she told me they were boarding it up and making all the women and children leave. Sheila is over there now, helping the women pack up their stuff.”
“The health department?” I repeated. “I can't believe this. Nate Turner is behind it. I just know it.”
Jacki handed me a message slip. “Here's Sheila's cell phone number.”
I dialed it, standing at Jacki's desk.
“Oh, Rachel, thank heavens it's you. I can't believe this. These poor women. What can we do?”
“I'm coming right over, Sheila.”
I slowed as I approached the Oasis Shelter and carefully weaved my car through the obstacle course of TV news vans double-parked at odd angles along the street. The scene in front of the shelter resembled the aftermath of a highly contained natural disaster, as if a tornado had touched down briefly before leaping clear of the county. All was calm on either side of the pair of two-flats, and all was chaos in between. Jumbled belongingsâclothes, toiletries, towels, hair dryersâlay in haphazard piles on the lawn. Small children wandered among the piles, barefoot and in diapers; others cried in their mothers' arms. Some of the mothers were crying, too. Other women were gathered in small groupsâconfused, angry, peering around warily. First-floor windows were boarded up. Yellow hazard tape crisscrossed the door fronts. Stapled to the front doors of both two-flats were white cardboard signs reading Condemned by Order of Health Department. Arc lights from the TV news crew illuminated the scene, casting jumpy shadows as reporters moved among the crowd, trailing minicam crews behind them.
I spotted Sheila Trumble off to the side of the front porch of the two-flat on the right. She was huddled with one of the social workers, Rashita Jordan.
“What is going on here?” I asked when I reached her.
“The health department.” Sheila shook her head in frustration. “They kicked everyone out and closed us down. They've condemned the buildings.”
“Rats? You've got be kidding.”
“Rats, my ass,” Rashita grumbled. She was a scowling, heavyset black woman. “Bullshit's what that is.”
“Were you here when the health department arrived?” I asked her.
“Oh, yeah,” Rashita said, nodding her head derisively. “Heard 'em banging around down there, claiming they found nests of rats in the basement, rat droppings all over the place. âDangerous infestation,' they say. âGots to call in vector control ASAP,' they say.” She snorted in disgust. “Vector control, my ass. Only evidence they found down there is what they brought in themselves.”
“How do you know that?” I asked.
“'Cause I know rat droppings, that's why. 'Cause I grew up with rat droppings. 'Cause I been working at this shelter for going on a year now. 'Cause I been in that basement a dozen times, including just last Wednesday. Unless Mayflower moved in a pack of rats yesterday, only rat droppings down there are the ones those deceitful motherfuckers carried in with them.”
“When did they start kicking people out?” I asked her.
“About ninety minutes ago.”
I checked my watch. “After the courts closed. Of course.”
“They called me at home,” Sheila said. “I drove down here as quickly as I could, but they'd already boarded the place up. Just look.” She gestured helplessly toward the scene on the front lawn. “These poor women.”
I shook my head angrily. “Turner.”
“The great Nate the Great. He's behind this.”
She nodded distractedly. “We have to find places for these people tonight. I've got Sara calling around to motels, but she's not having much luck. I can put up a few at my house. Oh, this is terrible.”
I fished my keys out of my purse and worked the house key off the chain. “Here,” I said, handing the key to Sheila. “This is the key to my house. There are two extra bedrooms, a couch, and a sleeping bag in the basement. I can put up at least sixâmore if they don't mind sleeping on the floor. My dog's in the backyard. He'll bark, but he's harmless.”
I turned to Rashita. She had her arms crossed over her chest and was tapping her foot irately.
“So you know rats?” I asked her.
She snorted. “Honey, I grew up with rats. I knew some of them better than my cousins.”
“Then you're coming with me.”
“Where we going?”
“To find a judge.”
She glanced at her watch and frowned. “Where you going to find a judge at seven-thirty?”
“At home. Come on.”
Sheila walked with us to my car. I started the engine and rolled down the window.
“I'll call you on your cell phone when we find a judge,” I told her. “Give us about an hour. See if you can delay things here.”
The city judges rotated duty callâa different one each night. That meant that the first thing we had to do was find out which judge was on call. I knew from prior experience that the best place to start was the warrant division of the circuit attorney's office at the Muny Courts, which is what most attorneys called the Municipal Courts Building on Market Street. The folks in the warrant division would definitely have the name and phone number of tonight's duty judge, since the principal judicial function after hours was the approval of search warrants and arrest warrants.
As we approached Muny Courts, I recited three names under my breath like a mantra:
Grady, Ritter, or WilliamsâGrady, Ritter, or WilliamsâGrady, Ritter, or Williams.
There were twenty-one judges in the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis, and eighteen of them were men. The other threeâJoan Grady, Carolyn Ritter, and LaDonna Williamsâwere my top picks to hear a motion for emergency relief on behalf of a battered-women's shelter. Judge Williams was number one on the list. Not only was she black but she had handled domestic abuse cases during her years in the circuit attorney's office. We needed a sympathetic judge tonight.
Grady, Ritter, or WilliamsâGrady, Ritter, or WilliamsâGrady, Ritter, or Williams.
The assistant circuit attorney was fat guy in his thirties with thinning hair and a messy brown mustache speckled with food crumbs. He gave me a dubious look as he tugged at the edge of his disgusting mustache. “A civil case? I don't know.”
“What don't you know?” I asked.
“These judges”âhe paused, shaking his headâ“they don't want to be bothered by some civil case that can wait until tomorrow.”
“That may be true, but this happens to be a civil case that can't wait until tomorrow.”
He raised his eyebrows. “That's what you say. How am I supposed to know that's really so?”
“What you know or don't know about my case is irrelevant.”
“Oh, yeah?” He thrust his chin forward. “Then how am I supposed to decide whether there's really an emergency?”
“You're not. That decision is mine. I'm the lawyer and it's my client and I've decided that it's an emergency.”
He stared at me, his jaws clenched.
Oh, the marvels of testosterone.
Finally, I said, “Are you going to give me the name and number?”
“Are you going to tell me why I should?”
I nodded. “Sure, I'll tell you why. But first tell me your name.”
“Dick Carple, lady. Now tell me why.”
“Sure, Dick. My client is the Oasis Shelter. That's a shelter for battered women. The health department closed them down tonightâkicked all the women and children out. They're out on the front yard right nowâchildren milling about in the dark, clothes and teddy bears and personal belongings piled on the ground. Right now. And guess who else is out there right now, Dick? Reporters and camera crews from every television station in town.” I put my hands on the countertop separating us and leaned forward. “You want to know why you should give me the name and the phone number of the duty judge, Dick? Because if you don't, I am going to go right back over to Oasis Shelter and I'm going to stand on the front lawn, and I'm going to hold a press conference. Once I'm sure all those video cameras are running, I am going to announce that the only reason those poor women and children are stranded out there in the darkness is because of a pompous city attorney named Dick Carple who thinks he's too important to give me the name of the duty judge. And then, Dick, I will tell them exactly where they can find you. Ten minutes later, all those TV reporters with their minicams are going to descend on you like a pack of wolves and you're going to get to explain why you think you're so much more important than a bunch of homeless women and children.”
I leaned back from the counter. “Tell you what, Dick. I'm going to count to ten. Either you give me that name and number before I finish, or I am going to make sure your name and number are the lead story on every newscast tonight.”
Rashita cackled. “You better do like she say, white boy.”
“Ready, Dick? Oneâtwoâthreeâfourâ”
“Here,” he said, scribbling out the name and number. “Take it, goddammit.”
I took the slightly crumpled sheet of paper and looked down at it. Judge Joan Grady.Yes.
I look up and smiled. “Thank you, Dick.”
“But I thought you were the duty judge.”
“I am, Miss Gold.” There was static on the line. Judge Grady must have been on a cell phone. “But you're seeking a TRO for the shelter. That makes your case a civil equity matter. You need to call Judge Clausen. I have his number here.”
“But he's not the duty judge.”
“That's okay. The equity judges prefer to control their own dockets. You need to call Judge Clausen. Do you have a pen?”
So much for sisterhood solidarity.
I wrote down the phone number. Rashita and I were at the pay phone down the hall from the circuit attorney's office. I fed more coins into the slot and dialed the number.
Judge Clausen's wife answered the phone with all the warmth she no doubt displayed for telephone solicitors. “He's not the duty judge tonight, young lady.”
“I know that, Mrs. Clausen. I called the duty judge. When she heard that I had an equity matter, she instructed me to call your husband.”
“Oh, really? Which one is she?”
“Hmmph,” she sniffed. “Well, hold on.” And then, in a muffled voice, “It's for you. I don't knowâsomeladylawyer.”
I could hear the television in the background. Sounded like the Honorable Martin Clausen was watching aSeinfeldrerun.
“Hello?” The voice was raspy with age and cigarettes.
“Who is this?”
“Rachel Gold, Your Honor. I have an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order.”
“Who's the defendant?”
“The city of St. Louisâor at least the health department.”
“What's the emergency?”
I told him who my client was and described the current predicament of the residents. He listened quietly and said nothing when I finished.
“This can't wait until tomorrow,” I said. “I've got homeless women and children on the lawn.”
I heard a deep inhale. “Okay, but I want the city represented.”
“How do I arrange that?”
“Call someone in the city counselor's office. Tell them I'm hearing your motion in my dining room in one hour. Tell them to send someone.”
“That office is closed, Your Honor. How do I get a home phone number?”
“Go down to the Muny Courts, young lady. There'll be an assistant circuit attorney in the warrants division. Tell him you want the home phone list for the city counselor's office. If he can't find it, then tell him he's it.”
“Tell him that I expect him in my dining room when the hearing starts. Got it?”
“Yes, Your Honor.”
“See you in one hour, Miss Gold.”
I hung up and turned to Rashita.
“Well?” she said.
I glanced down the hall toward the warrants division. “Guess who we get to talk to again?”
Judge Clausen was seated at the head of the dark walnut table in the dining room of his brick bungalow in south St. Louis. The polished surface of the table gleamed in the spotless room. Like most of his neighbors, the Honorable Martin Clausen was of German descent and no doubt a blood relative to some of the employees of Anheuser-Busch, whose enormous brewery and corporate headquarters anchored this part of town. I was used to seeing Judge Clausen in black robes. Tonight he could have passed for one of those brewery workers in his faded khakis, scuffed brown loafers, and black and gold Missouri Tigers T-shirt stretched tight across his ample belly. His thinning gray hair was slicked straight back. I watched him tug absently on one of his pendulous earlobes as he read through my three-page, handwritten Petition for Temporary Restraining Order, which I'd drafted up on my yellow legal pad between my phone call to him and the drive to his house. His wire-frame reading glasses were perched halfway down his broad nose, which was webbed with tiny red veins.
I'd appeared before the Honorable Martin Clausen twice beforeâboth times on motions in a lawsuit that settled before trial. What had been most striking about him in court was the absence of anything striking about him. He didn't dominate the courtroom with his presence; instead, he seemed just another member of the courthouse staff, albeit one who happened to be seated higher than the others. He entered and left his courtroom without fanfare, leafed through papers or jotted notes as you presented your motion, appeared mildly distracted, rarely asked questions, and generally ruled from the bench without giving any reasonsâjust “motion denied” or “motion granted.”As he called the next motion, the winning lawyer would take an order form and draft up a terse orderâMotion to dismiss called, heard, deniedâand hand it to Clausen's clerk, who'd pass it up to the judge as the lawyers in the next motion droned on. He'd glance at it for unnecessary words, scratch out any he found, scribble his name at the bottom, and pass the order back down to her, never once acknowledging the attorneys. After an hour in Judge Clausen's courtroom, even a trip to the license bureau felt like an opportunity for profound levels of human interaction.
Tonight, though, down from his perch on the bench, stripped of his black robe, and lacking his supporting cast of courtroom bureaucrats, he nevertheless radiated more judicial authority than I'd seen before.
The dining room was silent, waiting.
A scowling Dick Carple sat across the table from Rashita and me. He hadn't been able to reach anyone from the city counselor's office until after he'd arrived at Judge Clausen's house. The judge was unwilling to delay the hearing another hour, which is how long it would take for someone from the city counselor's office to get here. That meant that Carple was the man tonight. He glared at me, his expression suggesting that our relationship was still somewhat short of professional bonhomie.
Judge Clausen studied the last page of my handwritten petition, his lips pursed thoughtfully. He fired up another Marlboro, exhaled twin streams through his nostrils, looked up at us, and rapped his knuckles on the table.
“Court's in session.” He turned toward Carple and removed his reading glasses. “Condemned the shelter without any notice, eh? A little extreme, counselor, wouldn't you say?”
“Hardly, Your Honor. Extremism in the defense of health is no vice.”
I groaned. “Thank you, Senator Goldwater.”
“It's the truth,” Carple snarled at me.
I ignored him and focused on Clausen. “Judge, the truth is that the city can't just condemn a property and close it down without any advance notice or an opportunity for the property owner to be heard. The city ignored its own notice requirements. While extremism in defense of my clients' health may not be a vice, a violation of my clients' due process rights is not only a vice but an unconstitutional one.”
“This was an emergency situation,” Carple said. “The health department has the authority to act without notice and close down a facility that presents a clear and present health hazard to its inhabitants.”
“Judge, as Mr. Carple surely knows, the health department's power to suspend due process is triggered only in the extraordinary situation of an imminent threat to life or health. Is the building about to collapse? No. Is there dangerous radiation or the presence of toxic chemicals? No. We're talking, at most, of some rats.”
“Some?” Carple said, outraged. “This isn't the suburbs, Miss Gold. We're talking city rats, not lab rats. You obviously know nothing about city rats.”
I nodded. “You're absolutely correct, Mr. Carple. That is why I've brought an expert on rats to this hearing.” I turned to the judge. “Your Honor, this is Ms. Rashita Jordan. She is a social worker at the Oasis Shelter. Through her profession and her own background, Ms. Jordan has extensive experience with rat infestations and is quite familiar with the buildings in question. She can assure the court that the health department has grossly exaggerated the rat problem at the Oasis Shelter. To her knowledge there is no rat problem.”
Judge Clausen gazed at Rashita, who was glowering across the table at Dick Carple, her arms crossed over her ample chest. Carple eyed her warily.
“Well, Mr. Carple,” the judge said, “do you have witnesses to counter that testimony?”
“I'm sure I could find plenty of experts, Judge, but not tonight. Not on such short notice.”
“Ah,” the judge said with the hint of a smile, “short notice. But at least you had some notice, eh? Unlike the women in that shelter.” He turned toward Rashita. “Ma'am, you've been a social worker at this shelter for a year?”
“One year and two weeks, Your Honor.”
He nodded. “You have female residents there?”
“Yes, sir. Women and children. Lots of little babies.”
“You know these women pretty well?”
“I do, Your Honor.”
He stubbed out the cigarette in the crystal ashtray. “You talk to these women?”
“About intimate thingsâthings that concern them?”
The judge nodded and lit another cigarette. He exhaled the smoke and asked her, “What about their health concerns? Do these women ever talk to you about their health concerns?”
“Every day. That's a big topic with them.”
“How about their children? Do these women talk about health concerns for their children?”
“Yes, sir. That's one of my jobsâto make sure their little babies get the right medicines and see the doctors and keep healthy.”
“Been there a little over a year, right?”
“During that time, ma'am, has any resident of that shelter told you she's been bitten by a rat?”
“No, sir, Your Honor,” she answered, smiling.
“During that time has any resident of that shelter told you that her child had been bitten by a rat?”
“No, sir, Your Honor.”
“During that time have you heard of any resident of that shelter being bitten by a rat?”
“No, sir, Your Honor.” She was beginning to get some rhythm into her answers.
“During that time has any resident of that shelter complained to you about rats?”
“No, sir, Your Honor.”
“During that time have you heard of any complaints about rats?”
“No, sir, Your Honor.”
Judge Clausen nodded. “Thank you, ma'am.” He turned to me. “Anything else you need to ask this lady, Miss Gold?”
“None, Your Honor. You've covered all my questions.”
He turned to Carple. “And you have no witness to counter this testimony, correct?”
“Well, not here.”
“Is that ano, Mr. Carple?”
Clausen put on his reading glasses and glanced down at my handwritten petition. After a moment he turned to Carple, peering at him over his reading glasses. “Mr. Carple, maybe the health department found a problem with rats at that shelter. Or maybe someone at City Hall found some other sort of problem with that shelter. But let's assume for tonight that we're talking about a genuine rat problem. Okay?”
Carple nodded uncertainly. “Okay.”
“Even so,” Clausen continued, “this rat problem hardly sounds to the court like the type of dire emergency that justines dispensing with the due process clause of our Constitution and throwing a bunch of women and children onto the street after dark. Whatever this so-called rat problem is, Mr. Carple, the residents of that shelter have been putting up with it without any complaint or injury for at least a year and”âhe turned to Rashitaâ“how many weeks, ma'am?”
“Two weeks, Your Honor, sir.”
“At least a year and two weeks. Hearing no evidence to the contrary, Mr. Carple, I think we'll let the shelter and its residents struggle with this rat problem on their own for a little while longer while your client gets its act together and gives them a proper notice and a genuine opportunity to be heard.” He turned to me. “I'll grant your TRO, Miss Gold. Draft it up for me, but keep it short and to the point.” He looked at Carple. “You can use my phone, Mr. Carple.”
Carple looked puzzled. “For what, Your Honor?”
“To call whoever you need to call to let them know that I've entered a TRO and that the health department better have that shelter back in operation and those women and children and their belongings moved back inside it in exactly two hours.”
I called Sheila Trumble as soon as Judge Clausen signed the order. By the time Rashita and I drove back across town to the Oasis Shelter, the jumble of TV news vans had been joined by several official city of St. Louis cars and vans, some double-parked on the street, others parked along the sidewalks. The yellow hazard tape was gone from the doors, and two minicam crews were filming city workers, their arms loaded with belongings, following the women residents back into the buildings. I didn't see Sheila.
A little toddler in a diaper and T-shirt stood alone in the middle of the lawn crying. I went over and kneeled beside him. “It'll be okay,” I said gently as I stroked his hair.
Rashita reached down and picked him up. “Where's your momma, Darius?”
That made him cry harder. As I watched the two of themâRashita trying to soothe Darius while he cried for his motherâI could feel my fury spike again over the misery that Nate the Great had inflicted through this nasty little gambit.
Still angry, I spun toward a familiar face holding a microphone. Sherry McCutchen. I recognized her from Channel Five news. Behind her the minicam nightlights went on, making me squint as my eyes adjusted. I could see the red light on the camera blink on.
“We're standing here live with Rachel Gold, the attorney for the shelter. I understand you just returned from an emergency hearing before Judge Clausen, Miss Gold.”
“That's true. The judge heard the facts and ordered the health department to reopen this shelter immediately.”
“Is there really a rat problem?”
“My client has seen no evidence of such a problem, which means the real question is location. Is the rat problem here or downtown?”
“What do you mean?”
“It's no secret that certain city officials want this shelter closed. For their sake, these better not turn out to be imaginary rats.”
“And if they are imaginary, then what?”
But by now the adult voice in my head was shouting,Shut up, fool. It snapped me back to reality.
“It's too early in the case for that kind of speculation,” I said. “We're pleased that Judge Clausen has allowed these women and children back in the shelter. Their comfort and safety is our first concern. We'll deal with the other matters in due time.”
I walked away from the camera, ignoring the shouted requests from the other reporters.
The hearing before Judge Clausen had been last Thursday night. This was Monday at noon. Last Thursday I'd hinted darkly that someone in City Hall might be behind the phony rat emergency. Four days later I was meeting that same someone for lunch at Faust's, one of the fanciest spots in town.
The tuxedoed maÃ®tre d' responded with a dignified nod when I told him my name.
“This way, mademoiselle,” he said, gesturing toward the dining area. I followed him to a private booth near the back of the restaurant.
“The commissioner called from his car moments ago,” the maÃ®tre d' said, handing me a heavy cloth napkin. “He appears to be running a few minutes late and offers his apologies. Can I bring Mademoiselle something to drink while she waits?”
“Some iced tea, please.”
“With pleasure,” he said with a slight bow.
I looked around the elegant dining room and recognized a few facesâa pair of corporate lawyers from Bryan Cave at one table, a paunchy alderman huddled in a booth with a redhead young enough to be his niece, sportscasters Bob Costas and Mike Shannon laughing at another booth. Other tables had what clearly were business lunches in progressâexecutive types talking terms or examining financial pro formas.
Although Faust's had been the scene of many unholy deals over the years, the legend behind its name was strictly local and mostly benign. More than a century ago, a Prussian immigrant named Tony Faust opened a restaurant downtown at Broadway and Elm. By 1890, Faust's had becometherestaurant of St. Louisâthe place to see and be seen, both for local luminaries and visiting celebrities, including the stars who performed at the nationally renowned Olympia Theatre next door. The long bar on the first floor accommodated more than a hundred men (plus spittoons), while the ornate dining room upstairs served meals of such distinction that Faust's was featured in newspapers across the country and throughout the world. By the turn of the century, Faust's was as much the signature restaurant of St. Louis as LÃ¼chow's was of New York. Indeed, Tony Faust and August LÃ¼chow teamed up for the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis and opened the LÃ¼chow-Faust restaurant in the Tyrolean Alps section of the fairground.
Tony Faust died a few years after the 1904 World's Fair. His children married into the Anheuser and the Busch families, and his restaurant closed for good on the eve of World War I. That last night the waiters passed out extra napkins to wipe the tears shed by the loyal patrons. Sixty years later, the Adam's Mark Hotelâconstructed a few blocks from the site of the original Faust'sârevived the name for its premier restaurant.
I looked up to see Nathaniel Turner's beaming face.
I nodded politely. “Commissioner.”
He slid into the booth across from me, adjusted his gold cuff links, and gave me an appraising look and a wink. “You lookin' fine today.”
I gave him a sardonic wink in return. “You lookin' fine today, too.”
“Damn.” He chuckled. “I tell you, Rachel, I like a woman with spunk.”
A young waitress appeared with a filled highball glass on a tray. She gave him a perky smile. “Hello, Commissioner.”
“Belinda. Good to see you, darlin'. My, my, looks like you might have something special on that tray for me.”
She blushed. “Boodles and tonic, sir.” She set it on the table in front of him. “With a twist of lime.”
“You have read my innermost thoughts, young lady.” He gestured toward me. “Belinda, this is Rachel Gold, noted attorney and the only graduate of Harvard Law School who could pose for theSports Illustratedswimsuit edition. You want Belinda to bring you something a little more exciting than that watered-down iced tea?”
“Tea is fine for me.”
We were still making Nate's version of small talk when Belinda came back to tell us the specials and take our orders. I'd decided to let Nate get to the point of our meeting at his own pace. After all, this was his idea. The call came in Friday afternoon from his secretary. When I learned who the caller was, I had assumed that her boss was waiting to get on the line and blast me for my comment to the TV reporter the night before about a rat downtownâa comment given prominent play in the lead story on the ten o'clock news. Instead, though, his secretary told me that Commissioner Turner would like me to be his guest at lunch on Monday. I was surprised. Was he planning to lecture me over grilled tuna and couscous? As much as I wasn't in the mood for lunch with Nate the Great, I accepted the invitation. Nate and I had only one thing in common: the Oasis Shelter. He posed the single greatest threat to its continued existence. Accordingly, my responsibilities to my client overrode any personal issues I might have with him.
I watched him go through an elaborate selection process with the waitress as he tried to decide between the catch of the day, the veal chops, and the pasta special. Maybe he still planned to give me an angry lecture, I thought. I'd learned early on that his flirtatious overtures at the beginning of a meeting meant absolutely nothing. But as I watched him banter with the waitress, I realized that my dark hint to the TV reporter probably was as threatening to Nathaniel Turner as an empty water pistol. By the following morning the TV stations had consigned my comment to the news morgue in the scramble to cover that day's stories. Although the print media was not as easily distracted, their resources were so limited that Nate and his henchman, Herman Borghoff, could easily deflect any effort to probe the health department action. Moreover, even if some persistent reporter found Nate's shadow behind the health department smokescreen, there was no guarantee the newspaper would go with the story. Nate the Great was a particularly unappealing target to the local media. Not only were their editors and publishers caught up in the booster hype over Renewal 2004âin which Nate's office occupied a pivotal roleâbut looming above Commissioner Turner was the ominous silhouette of Congressman Orion Sampson, who'd proven before that he was capable of bringing down a world of hurt on anyone foolish enough to mess with his sister's boy.
Which brought me back to this meeting. I knew that Nate was behind the health department's attempt to condemn the Oasis Shelter, and he knew I knew it, but I couldn't prove it, and he knew that as well. All of which made this meeting ever more mysterious.
After the waitress left with our orders, Nate leaned back and said, “Caught you on TV the other night.”
“Sounded like you had a rough evening.”
“Not as rough as the one those women and children had.”
“But you got them all back inside. That was mighty fortunate.”
“A rat problem, right?”
“So they claimed. We had an exterminator inspect the buildings on Saturday.”
I gazed at him a moment before replying. “He disagrees with the health department.”
“Rats can be tricky little devils.”
“So I've learned.”
He was grinning. “I did some checking around at City Hall. It's not really any of my business, of course, except that my people would like to get your shelter out of there, too. Sooner the better. But unlike the health department, we prefer to do our condemnations the old-fashioned way. I'm referring to the powers of eminent domain, with all the bells and whistles, due process for all concerned.”
“How nice, Commissioner. I am tingling with anticipation.”
“And while you're tingling, Rachel, you won't have to worry about getting blindsided by the health department.” He leaned forward, solemn now. “You have my word on that.”
As if his word meant anything to me. But no reason to pick a fight. “That's good to know. Thanks.”
“Herman tells me we should have our condemnation papers on file in a week or so.”
“Super. I can't tell you how thrilling that sounds.”
“We're prepared to go the whole nine yards if we have to, Rachel, but”âhe paused, and then continued slowlyâ“we might still be able to work something out.”
Finally, I thought.Time to get down to business.
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“For starters,” he said, raising his fork and pointing it at me, “you have to understand that any deal we cut must include relocation of that shelter. No way that shelter stays put. No way, no how. But no reason that shelter can't house those women just as well in another part of town. As you know, my office has determined that your client's operation of a shelter in that particular neighborhood constitutes what's known under the statute as an âinharmonious use' within the redevelopment area. But a use deemed inharmonious there could be just fine and dandy on property outside the redevelopment area.” He smiled. “And we got plenty of that kind of property.”
“You're suggesting a property swap?”
“I'm suggesting we think about it. The city of St. Louis, through my office and through the collector of revenue, controls lots of property on the north side, including plenty of possible sites outside the redevelopment area, including some buildings bigger than the ones your client is squeezed into now.”
The waitress arrived with our meals. Grilled tuna for me, veal chops and a second gin and tonic for Nate. As he flirted with her, I mulled over his settlement concept. The Oasis Shelter was in a marginal area of town, but at least the neighborhood seemed to be rebounding, and property values were on the rise. By contrast, the properties the city controlled outside the redevelopment area were, for the most part, buildings condemned by the health department, seized by the city for nonpayment of taxes, or abandoned by the ownersâin short, properties in lousy shape in bad neighborhoods. That meant any swap would be a big step down in quality and surroundings. Nevertheless, a swap would also buy peace with Nate and, just as important, more room. Space was growing tight in the current facilityâthere were two bunk beds in every bedroom, and some of those rooms housed two mothers and three or four children. Even if we ultimately prevailed in the condemnation fight and even if the city approved the addition of another building to the shelterâan approval that would never happen under Nate the Great's regimeâthere was no way we'd have enough money to expand the current facility. But the value of the existing facility, if honored in a property swap, would result in the acquisition of significantly more space. And if I could convince the city to help fund the renovation of the buildings as part of the settlement, maybe there was a deal in there somewhere.
“Well?” Nate said after the waitress left.
“I'll talk to my client and see if there's any interest in a swap.”
“You do that, Rachel, and I'll see if I can hold off those condemnation papers for a while. See if we can't work this out to everyone's satisfaction.” He gave me a playful smile. “Like I always say, no need for us to make war if we can make love.”
Nate reverted to meaningless small talk. After the waitress laid the bill at his side and went off to get us more coffee, he said, “I hear you're putting together an exhibit of paintings by Sebastian Curry.”
I looked over, surprised. He was studying the bill.
“How did you hear?” I asked.
“Herman mentioned it to me the other day.”
“How did he find out?”
Nate looked up with a frown as he tried to remember. “Not sure. Someone must have mentioned it to him.”
“Does he know Curry?”
“I guess so. He knew I might be interested in the exhibit, though.”
“I have one of Curry's paintings.”
“Never thought it was worth much before, but maybe I got myself a lost treasure. Where's the exhibit going to be?”
“We're not sure. We're still in the concept stage.”
“Who's theweyou're talking about?”
My mind went blank. I couldn't remember the name of my imaginary organization. “It's a new group of artists,” I said, trying to sound matter-of-fact. “I'm helping them on the legal end. Curry is one of the local artists they have under consideration, but nothing's final. How long have you owned yours?”
“Long time. Think it's worth much money?”
“Hard to say. How much did you pay?”
“Somewhere around a grand, I think.”
“Did you buy it at a gallery?”
“Think I bought it at one of those art fairs. Does that matter?”
“No, just curious. Do you know Curry?”
“I might have met him. Maybe at that art fair. He's a brother, I believe.” He paused and then grinned. “Maybe I ought to put that picture of mine in your show, eh? Might increase its value. Who do I talk to?”
“I'm a good one to start with. I'll pass it along. If they decide to go ahead with the show, I'm sure someone will call.”
“Maybe me.” I paused as the waitress refilled our coffee cups, grateful for her interruption. When she left, I said, “I'll let you know who.”
“Good. You do that.”
I was at my desk working on a draft of an appellate brief when Jacki announced that I had a visitor. I looked up in surprise.
“Sebastian Curry.” She stepped inside my office and pulled the door closed behind her. “We're talking hot,” she whispered.
I smiled. “Really?”
She raised her eyebrows. “Oh, yes.”
I touched my hair. “Then show him in.”
A moment later, he was standing at my door.
Ellen McNeil had described him as eye candy. That was an understatement. Sebastian Curry was a hot fudge sundae with whipped cream and, well, nuts. He was tall and lean and athleticâbroad shoulders, narrow torso, slim hips. He had on a black turtleneck, tan cargo pants, and black army boots. Dreadlocks framed a strong, angular face. His skin was the color of milk chocolate and his eyes were emerald-green.
He was literally breathtaking, as I discovered when I spoke. “Please come in,” I said in a hoarse voice.
As he approached my desk, he gave me a pleasant smile that revealed perfect white teeth. “I'm Sebastian Curry.”
We shook. My hand disappeared inside his.
He took a chair facing my desk. “I should have called first. I'm meeting someone for lunch over at Bar Italia and was early so I decided to give it a try. Thanks for seeing me. I've really been wanting to talk to you.” He had a friendly, low-key manner.
“What's on your mind?” My voice was back to normal, thank goodness.
“I wanted to find out if it was really true about the show.”
“My paintings. I heard there might be a show of my paintings.”
His hopeful expression made me feel guilty. It's one thing to mislead a bunch of wealthy purchasers, especially when most of them have no discernible emotional attachment to paintings they apparently bought solely as investments. But it's an entirely different thing to mislead the artist, and especially one in Sebastian Curry's circumstances. From what Ellen McNeil told me, his career had been in the dumps for years.
I said, “We're looking at several local artists. You're one of them. We're not yet sure whether there'll be a show. It's too early to say.”
“When will you know for sure?”
I shrugged. “Another month or so.”
“Who's the organization?”
“It's a new group of artists and gallery owners.”
“Cool. What's their name?”
I still couldn't remember the name Ellen and I had concocted. “They haven't picked an official name, yet. How did you hear about it?”
That question flustered him. He sat back in the chair, eyes blank. “Well, I think someoneâI can't remember whoâsomeone must have told meâsaid you were, you know, looking at my paintings.”
“We did look at several of your paintings,” I said. “Mostly, we saw ones that were sold several years ago by the 309 Gallery.”
“Right. They sold a whole bunch.”
“Samantha Cummings ran that gallery, didn't she?”
“She sure did.”
“Did you know her well?”
“I guess you could say that she and Iâwell, what do you mean?”
“Just curious. She sold a lot of your paintings.”
He shrugged. “Yeah, I knew her, sure. No big deal.”
“How did she end up handling so much of your work?”
“Does that matter?”
I smiled, trying to keep things low-key. “You seem to have been her most successful artist. I thought maybe the two of you had a special relationship.”
“What do you mean?”
“Like maybe you were in art school together, or maybe she met you when you were just getting started.” I offered a cheerful smile. “Something like that.”
“Maybe she just happened to like my work.”
“That makes sense,” I told him, even though it didn't.
I tried to steer the conversation toward topics that would seem less threatening than his relationship with Samantha Cummings. He told me that he was still painting but hadn't been having much luck with sales or galleries lately. He did occasional modeling workâmostly fashion shoots for the local department storesâand waited tables at a restaurant.
“I work nights. I try to keep my days free to paint.” He hesitated, almost sheepish. “Maybe your group would like to look at some of my newer work.”
“I'm sure they would.”
He took his wallet out of his back pocket. “Here's my card.”
“Great.” I took the card.
“My studio's in a loft on Washington Avenue. I live there, too. I'm usually up and around by ten in the morning. Just drop by someday and I'll show you my work.”
“I'll do that.”
“And be sure to let me know what your group decides.” He checked his watch and stood up. “I better go. Thanks for seeing me.”
“Sure. One last thing, Sebastian. Are you represented by an agency?”
“Just so we know who we need to deal with. What about the older paintings? The ones Samantha Cummings handled for you.”
“What about them?”
“Wasn't there an agency involved back then?”
He looked puzzled. “An agency?”
“Millennium Management Services?”
His demeanor cooled. “How do you know about that?”
“The name showed up on some of the records.”
I pretended that I was trying to remember. “Something with the paintings. I can't recall. I just remember seeing the name. I thought maybe they were your agent.”
“No. They never were.” He shook his head adamantly. “I had nothing to do with them. Ever.”
“Who were they?”
“I don't know. Look, that part was none of my business. I know nothing about them. Nothing. I never did.”
“Did they work for the gallery?”
“I just told you I don't know anything about them. They had nothing to do with me. You have to understand that, Miss Gold. Nothing.”
“I hear you.”
“Right.” I nodded. “Nothing. Got it.”
It's obvious, Rachel.”
“Oh, come on, Benny. According to you, everyone'sshtuppingeveryone.”
“I'm serious. Not only that, I'd say that from the way he reacted to your questions he must have been doing her even after she got engaged to Michael Green.”
“What? How can you say that?”
He paused with the chopsticks in front of his mouth and shrugged. “Because it makes perfect sense.” He popped the shrimp in his mouth and reached for his beer.
Benny and I were eating Chinese take-out at my kitchen table. I'd been working late at the office when Benny called from the law school, where he'd just finished judging several rounds of moot court competition. We agreed to meet at my house for dinner, with Benny to bring the food and me to bring the beer and dessert. I picked up a six-pack of Pete's Wicked Ale and two pints of Ben & Jerry's on my way home. Benny, who should never order take-out on an empty stomach, arrived with four egg rolls, a pint of hot-and-sour soup, and four entrees: twice-cooked pork, Szechwan beef, Hunan shrimp, and kung pao chicken. Not that he'd have trouble finishing his portionâthree egg rolls and three entrees fell somewhere between a heavy snack and a light meal for Benny. Indeed, we were down to the Hunan shrimp and my kitchen table was strewn with empty white take-out containers. Ozzie sat at attention in the corner, his eyes on his beloved pal Benny, who'd already tossed him half of the last egg roll, which Ozzie caught on the fly with his mouth. Although Ozzie wasn't picky when it came to Chinese takeout, you could tell he had his hopes pinned on a share of the Hunan shrimp.
Benny took a big chug of beer and set the bottle back on the table. “Look at what we know,” he said. “Start with Sebastian Curry. As an artist, the guy is for shit, right? Even I can tell that, and I've got the keen aesthetic taste of a sack of hammers. No gallery would touch his crap until Samantha arrives on the scene. Not only does she touch his stuff. She becomes his goddamn patron saintâstocking her gallery with that schlock, selling it for fifteen, twenty, twenty-five times what it's worth. The woman was clearly promoting the living shit out of that guy. And remember, we're not talking Vincent van Gogh and we're not even talking Jack van Gogh. We're talking Jack Shit, and you know what that tells me? That tells me we got something more going on here than the usual artist/gallery relationship. That tells me that Natty Dreadlocks was pumping more than just her balance sheet. The proof is when you asked him about his relationship with her. What happens? He gets all flustered, right?”
“True,” I conceded.
“What's that tell you? If once upon a time they had an affair, what's the big deal? But his reaction tells me we might not just be talking nooky. We might be talking naughty nooky.”
I gave him a look. “What in the world is naughty nooky?”
“Look at the time period. She's peddling his schlocky paintings the entire time she's engaged to Michael Green. Maybe the reason Sebastian got defensive was because he was doing her the whole timeâright up until Green got killed.”
It sounded improbable, but no more improbable than any other scenario. “Maybe.”
He shrugged. “You got a better explanation?”
“Ask him. He gave you his card. Go over to his loft one morning and ask him straight-out.”
“He's pretty uptight about it. I'd rather ask Samantha, assuming I can ever figure out a way to talk to her in private.
“Good luck. Her lawyer's not going to let you talk to her.”
“He might. You never know. It's worth a try. I've got plenty to ask her besides her relationship with Sebastian Curry.”
“Such as what's the deal with Millennium Management Services? You think Sebastian got uptight when I asked him about Samantha? You should have seen his reaction when I mentioned Millennium Management.”
“What makes you think she'll know any more about it?”
“She has to. She was the one who paid Millennium. I also want to find out more about Billy Woodward. He's the number one item on my list.”
“The guy who committed suicide in front of her town house?”
“Yep. Angela's mysterious John. I spoke to her about him again this morning. The poor woman calls me every day now. She's obsessed with him.”
“Can you blame her?”
“At least I was able give her some new information.”
“My investigator Charlie confirmed that Woodward's mother wasn't in the hospital when Angela met him. She was living in a trailer park in southern Illinois, somewhere on the outskirts of Metropolis. Still does. Claims she's never been sick a day in her life. Also claims she hadn't heard from her son in more than a decade. Charlie thinks she's telling the truth about that. Apparently, she didn't even know he was dead until Charlie told her.”
“Did the guy have any brothers or sisters?”
“One older sister. She died in an auto accident when Woodward was in high school.”
“Who else knew him?”
“I've got one name for sure. Harry Silver.”
“Who's Harry Silver?”
“He's the head of a little company across the river in Sauget. I've got an appointment to see him tomorrow morning.”
“What kind of company?”
“It's called Pinnacle Productions.”
Benny frowned. “Pinnacle? What is it?”
I blushed slightly. “I believe they're in what is known as the adult entertainment industry.
“No shit? Porno? Right here in River City?”
“They operate in an industrial park off Route Three.”
“Whoa. So this guyâthe dude who killed himselfâhe was in those films?”
“In the films, around the films, behind the films. He apparently worked for Pinnacle for a few years. Harry Silver knew him fairly well. He's willing to talk to me. He agreed to meet me tomorrow.”
“Hey,” Benny said with a grin, “make sure you give Harry my phone number. You tell him to give me a buzz if he ever needs the expert services of a fluff boy.”
Being Benny's pal means expanding your vocabulary in ways not measured by the verbal portion of the SATsâfrom the alternative meaning of “pearl necklace” to the job category known as “fluff girl.”
I smiled and shook my head. “I hate to break your heart, boychik, but I don't think they use fluff boys.”
He put his hand over his heart in mock dismay. “I am shocked. Women have needs, too. You tell him that when it comes to the fine art of fluffing, Benny Goldberg is a big supporter of women's rights.”
“I'll be sure to tell him that.”
“I'm serious, woman. You tell him that in ten minutes I'll have his coldest porno queen leaning back with a sigh and saying, âThank you, Big Daddy.'”
He peered into the carton of Hunan shrimp and then glanced over at Ozzie, whose tail immediately started flopping. Benny looked back at me. “You want any of this shrimp?”
I shook my head. “I'mplotzing.”
He stifled a rumbling belch. “I'm starting to get a little full myself. Better save some room for your ice cream.” He turned toward Ozzie. “You in the mood for a little Hunan action, Oz? This stuff'll put lead in your pencil.”
Ozzie gave a jubilant bark and dashed over to Benny.
“In his bowl, Professor,” I ordered.
Benny patted him on the head. “You hear Miss Manners? Time you and I show a little class, eh? Stay right here, my man.”
Ozzie watched as Benny went over to his bowl and used his chopsticks to plop the rest of the Hunan shrimp into it. He turned toward Ozzie, who sat at attention, his eyes fixed on Benny, who glanced at me. I nodded.
He gave Ozzie a wink and a thumbs-up. “Go for it, dude.”
Ozzie scrabbled across the kitchen floor to the bowl.
Benny went over to the refrigerator and peered into the freezer section. “Whoa! Chunky MonkeyandJerry's Jubilee!” He turned to me with his hand on his heart. “Rachel Gold, you are one awesome babe.”
I leaned back with a big sigh. “Thank you, Big Daddy.”
Pinnacle Productions was in a nondescript building in a nondescript industrial park along a nondescript section of Route 3 in Illinois. I pulled into a parking space near the front of the building. The top half of the Arch was visible in the distance to the east. The building was one of those windowless warehouse tilt-ups that exist somewhere along the design continuum between airport hangar and Home Depot. There was no name on the buildingâjust the street address stenciled in large numerals above the steel door. To the right of the door was a keypad code device and, for the rest of us, a speaker box and a buzzer. I pressed the buzzer.
“Who is it?” a female voice asked over the static.
“Rachel Gold to see Mr. Silver.”
A pause, and then the door buzzed. I pulled it open and stepped into a no-frills reception area. To my left: a metal coat rack. To my right: a wall-mounted fire extinguisher and pay phone. A half-dozen stackable plastic chairs were arranged along each of the side walls. A battered metal magazine rack was at the end of the row of chairs to my left, and a scarred wooden coffee table was in front of the chairs to my right.
Directly ahead was the sole exception to the no-frills decor: a fortysomething receptionist with teased platinum hair and tortoiseshell reading glasses was seated behind a metal desk. She had bright red lipstick, long false eyelashes, a face that had been exposed to far too much sun for far too many years, and a formidable pair of breasts bulging against her royal-blue Tommy Hilfiger T-shirt. She'd apparently been stuffing videotapes, catalogues, and invoices into envelopes when I'd buzzed. Centered on the wall above her head was the company logo in hot-pink script:
PINNACLE PRODUCTIONS“More Peaks than the Rockies!”
As I approached her desk, she sealed the envelope she was holding and peered at me over her reading glasses.
“Guild, right?” She was chewing gum.
“Gold.” She smiled. “Hey, Gold for Silver. That's pretty good.”
I smiled politely.
She paused to blow a bubble and pop it. “I'm Jillian Silver, honey. Harry's wife. He had to go to the bank. Oughta be back in a sec. If you don't mind waiting, you can sit out here.”
The phone rang. Jillian answered with a cheerful, “Good morning, Pinnacle Productions!â¦Oh, hi, Murray. How are you?â¦Sure, just a sec.” With the phone cradled against her neck, she turned toward the computer on her desk and began typing. “Let me get that account up on the screen.”
I looked around. On the walls over the chairs were posters advertising various Pinnacle Production videos:Screwing Private Ryan, Anal Affairs, There's Something Inside Mary, American Hair Pie, Jurassic Pussy, Inside Jenni Chambers.
I took a seat and sorted through the magazines strewn on the coffee table. To say the least, it was a diverse collection. There were several issues of a glossy periodical calledAdult Video Newsalong with issues ofThe Economist, The New Yorker, Hustler, Glamour, Playboy, American Scholar,Soap Opera Weekly, andParis Review. With the exception of theHustlerand thePlayboy, which had no subscription labels, and theGlamourandSoap Opera Weekly, which had labels for Jillian Silver at the office address, the rest of the magazines were addressed to Harry Silver at a ritzy suburb of St. Louis. The fact that Harry Silver subscribed toAmerican Scholar, The Economist, andParis Reviewwas intriguing. That he would put old issues in his waiting roomâwhere aspiring porno starlets and studs awaited their audition callsâwas puzzling. Somehow, I couldn't imagine Tyffany Platinum, the featured actress on theAnal Affairsposter, settling down with Harold Bloom'sAmerican Scholaressay on nihilism and mockery in Shakespeare'sTroilus and Cressida. Nor could I imagine the next Harry Reems scrutinizing the piece entitled “Virtual Orphicality in the Romantic Poets,” in which the author, an assistant professor at Wesleyan University, opines that “once proper recognition is given to the difference-based nature of linguistic meaning that must necessarily be seen as a âreaching-beyond' into an incompletely articulated extra-linguistic presence, one realizes that the virtue of gesture is not subsumable under a system of textuality.” Then again, if Harry Silver himself was settling down with these essays, what in God's name was he doing in this business?
The door to the right of the reception desk opened and a skinny guy in his twenties came in pushing a cart piled high with videocassettes, mailers, and various papers. He had a scraggly beard and was wearing baggy jeans and a Black Sabbath T-shirt. Still on the phone, Jillian motioned him toward the side of the desk. He set the cart there and gave me an appraising glance before going back through the inner door. Self-consciously, I tugged at my skirt, realizing that he must have assumed I was here for an audition. I glanced up at the image of Tyffany Platinum, her hands pressed against the sides of her face, her perky mouth formed into an O of surprise as she looked back over her shoulders at the camera, wearing nothing but a silver thong and spiked heels. Platinum and Silver and Goldâoh, my. Platinum and Silver and Goldâoh, my.
I was leafing through theGlamourwhen Jillian got off the phone. “Oh, brother,” she said with a sigh.
I looked up. She was staring at the videocassettes on the cart and shaking her head. She turned to me. “That was a distributor in Maryland. Ever since we put our catalogue on the Internet we've been so busy.”
“Are those all your titles?” I asked.
“Pretty much. Harry's partner has another studio in Arizona. That's where we film a lot of our titles. But we still make some here, and we handle the shipping for everything out of here.”
The phone rang again.
“Good morning, PinnaâOh, Harry, the girl's here. What's taking so long at the bank?â¦Well, how much longer?â¦Okayâ¦No, he hasn't called yetâ¦Okay. See you soon, baby.”
She hung up and gave me sympathetic smile. “Harry's running late. Maybe fifteen minutes.”
“I can wait.”
“You're here about Billy Woodward, right?”
“Did you know him?”
“Naw. Billy was dead before I met Harry.”
“When did you and Harry meet?”
“Five years ago. At theAdult Video NewsAwards. I was living in Vegas back then. They hold the awards out there every year.” She showed me the diamond engagement ring and matching gold wedding band on her ring finger. “We been married almost three years.”
“Billy Woodward was in some of Harry's films, right?”
“I think that's right, but I'm not positive. That was a long time ago.”
“Would those films have been made here?”
“Oh, yes. Harry has a whole studio in back.” She gestured toward the door to the right of her desk. “Soundstages, editing booths, the whole works. They're filming one today. Why not go back there and look around?”
I glanced at that door. “I don't know.”
“You should. Really. We've got other girls back thereâbesides the actresses, I mean. It'll help give you a sense of what Billy Woodward did on the production side. Let's see where they're shooting this morning.” She checked a schedule on her desk. “Okay, here's what you do. Go through the door and turn left. Follow the corridor around to the right and you'll end up in Control Room A. You can watch from there. I'll send Harry back when he gets here.”
I followed her directions to Control Room A, which was a small room jammed with electronic equipmentârecorders, editing machines, and the like. The room smelled of burned coffee and doughnut grease and cigarette smoke and stale perspiration. There were three guys in the room, all in their late twenties, all dressed in jeans and sweatshirts. Two were seated in front of a video monitor screen. The third was leaning back in his chair against the side wall, his arms crossed over his ample stomach, his head resting on his chest. It took me a moment to realize that what I first mistook for a low electronic buzz was the third guy's snores. On a metal table next to the sleeping man was a coffeemaker, a stack of Styrofoam cups, and a nearly empty box of glazed doughnuts.
The front wall of Control Room A was a large picture window that looked onto a dimly lit film set which consisted of a three-sided faÃ§ade of a bedroom. A queen-sized bed with a brass-rail headboard was against the back wall. There was a window to the right of the bed that appeared to look out onto a country landscape. The pretty view was actually a poster taped to the other side of the window frameâa bit of set design that reminded me, incongruously, of the Jimmy Stewart movieIt's a Wonderful Life.
From across the control room I peered through the window, trying to make sense out of the six people on the set, all of whom seemed to be waiting for something to begin. There was a heavyset guy in his forties seated with his back to me in a director's chair. His chair actually had the wordDirectorstenciled on the back. He had a headset resting on the back of his neck and was talking on a cell phone. Next to him, seated on a plain director's chair, was a much younger guy with a long nose and thinning brown hair. He was scribbling something on a clipboard balanced on his lap. Leaning against the side wall of the bedroom faÃ§ade was a fat, bald guy with a big video camera on his shoulder. He was talking to a skinny guy with tattooed arms and a big tool belt. Both were smoking cigarettes and occasionally glancing toward the two people at the far end of the set, who appeared to be the actors in the scene about to be filmed. They were certainly dressed for the roles. The man was naked and the woman was in a black teddy and spiked heels. The naked guy was seated on the edge of the bed and the woman was on his lap. The guy had a blond crew cut and the muscular physique of a bodybuilder. The woman had red hair and the finest pair of breasts money could buy. I glanced at the monitor, which was apparently receiving a live feed from the video camera on the fat guy's shoulder. It displayed a tilted and slightly off-center shot of the man and woman on the bed. She was leaning against him, whispering in his ear as her hand moved slowly up and down between his legs.
One of the guys seated in front of the monitor turned around and looked at me with mild surprise. “Who are you?”
“Rachel Gold. I'm a lawyer. I have a meeting with Mr. Silver.”
The second guy glanced back at me and stifled a yawn. Both of them turned toward the monitor, which showed the actors still huddled on the edge of the bed. The naked guy was looking anxiously at something off camera. I shifted my gaze from the monitor toward the window and saw that he was looking at the director, who was still seated but no longer talking on the cell phone.
“Shit,” one of the guys at the monitor grumbled. “This looks bad.”
The third guy awoke with a start. He looked back at me with a frown and then turned toward the monitor. “What's going on?”
“What else? That's Frankie out there.”
“Same as last week,” the second guy said, checking his watch. “Fifteen minutes and we're still waiting for wood.”
“Who's fluffing him?”
The third guy squinted toward the monitor and then through the window. “She's getting nowhere, man. It's still a fucking Slinky.”
“We got a stunt dick today?”
“I think Bobby's in this afternoon for one scene, but he's usually good for two.”
Through a speaker came the director's voice. “Okay, Frankie, how âbout we try to shoot the scene, huh?” You could hear the impatience in his voice.
Frankie nodded forlornly. The woman in the black teddy stood up and stretched, rubbing her right shoulder as she flexed and unflexed the fingers of her right hand.
The skinny guy with the tool belt went over and flicked on the hot lights. The bedroom set became incandescent.
“Let's back up and start the sequence from the top,” the director was saying as he put his headset on. “Doggie with April. Then we go Cowgirl with April. Lynette comes in. Then Cowgirl with Lynette. Jesus, someone get Lynette on the set already.” The young guy with the long nose jumped up and started to leave the set as the director continued. “Then we go Missionary with Lynette and finish with the money shot on Lynette. Hey, Phil?”
The skinny guy stopped at the edge of the set and turned toward the director.
“Does Lynette do face?”
The skinny guy consulted his clipboard a moment and shook his head.
“Okay, money shot on her tits. You got that, Frankie?” The naked actor nodded glumly.
“How's it coming? Any wood?”
The actor stared down between his legs, his shoulders slumped.
A long pauseâeveryone but the naked actor watching the director and waiting. Waiting. The director yanked off his headset and stood up, shaking his head with frustration. “Take a break.”
Someone doused the hot lights. The set went dark. Everyone but the naked actor left the set. He sat alone on the bed, head down.
I turned. Standing in the doorway to the studio was a wiry guy in his fifties with a high bald forehead and reflecting aviator sunglasses.
“Harry Silver,” he said. He removed the sunglasses and hooked them into the breast pocket of his shirt.
We shook hands.
I'd been expecting a chewed cigar, lots of bristly ear hair, and beady eyes swimming behind glasses big enough to squeegee. I'd been expecting a pasty, pudgy sleazeball. Instead, I was facing what appeared to be the senior partner of a law firm on casual day. Harry Silver stood about my height and had the slender build of an athlete. He was wearing a starched white Oxford-cloth shirt, dress khakis, and polished cordovan loafers. He was tanned and had a neatly trimmed gray goatee and intelligent blue eyes.