Advocate firstname.lastname@example.org & Rsawest email@example.com
DISCLAIMERS: No disclaimers are required. These characters sprung from my (Advocate?s) imagination, as well as that of my writing partner, Rsawest. Physically, however, they may remind you of? well?you know. This is the story of old souls meeting again. It takes place in the Twin Cities. Some of the locations are real and some are not (that?s why it?s called fiction, folks). "Connections" is intended for an opened minded, mature audience. If you?re not both of those things, exit now. To assist readers, I?ve attempted to give a rating to the specific areas of content listed below. We would love feedback. But please remember we?re lawyers, not writers. You have been warned. This work is protected by copyright 1999 Advocate & Rsawest, all rights reserved.
Violence: (PG13) This story contains a moderate level of violence.
Drugs/Alcohol/Profanity: (R-rated) Explicit and illegal drug use is depicted within, as well as the consumption of alcohol. They swear.
Sexual Content: (R-rated) This is alternative fiction. You know what that means. If you don't?boy are you in for a surprise (chuckle). This story contains women falling in love and (gasp!) acting on it. There is also a scene between members of the opposite sex (double gasp!). If for any reason you shouldn?t be reading this?don?t.
Beta Reader: This is where I happily get to thank kd bard (her fabulous stories can be found on several sites but most especially on her home page at http://homepages.together.net/~warriorx/WebPage.htm) for all her corrections and suggestions. She was awesome!
Thanks (Advocate): With all my heart I'd like to thank my husband, Bob. His love, companionship, and patience, teaches me everyday that a soulmate isn?t someone who completes you? it?s someone who gives you the tools to complete yourself. It was also my distinct pleasure to work with Rsawest.
Thanks (Rsawest): I want to thank Advocate, my writing partner. Her sense of humor and patience has made this a fun story to write. And thanks to JTF for support and encouragement.
Mark Gustafson recognized the tall, slender figure of his best friend as she approached. He made a small clucking noise as he watched his long time pal wade her way through the crowd. How do I not notice 5?10" of gorgeous? "Hey Claire, where?ve you been?" he said as they met.
At the sight of her friend, piercing blue eyes warmed and a smile swept across full lips. "Markie," she replied happily. Claire gave the big man a light punch on the arm, their usual greeting, but never slowed her stride. Glad to be out the hot courtroom, she tugged off her jacket and settled long dark tresses over her shoulders.
"Was that John Pears I saw you with?" Mark increased his pace to keep up with Claire.
"Yeah, that was him. That guy makes my skin crawl." Claire made a face. "I took over the Polaski case for Neil and Pears was up to his old tricks, trying to play mind games."
"And if I know you, you kept your poker face and were exceedingly polite. Ah, you and those impeccable manners."
Claire snorted and smiled at the assistant county attorney. He was every parent's "son-in-law fantasy." He looked impossibly wholesome with his wavy blond hair, dark blue eyes and cherubically handsome features. Add his 6'4" height and a solid build and you have a poster child for the Midwest dairy industry. His good looks and boy-next-door charm made him a favorite of jurors, and he was a tough lawyer who knew his criminal law.
"Claire, I haven't seen or spoken to you for almost a month. What's been up? Is corporate law still holding your interest?" Mark had rare insight into the tall lawyer?s restless nature and short attention span.
"Same shit, different day," she offered wryly. "This is the last of Neil's cases I?m finishing up."
"Hey, I meant your personal life. I always know what's going on at the firm but you haven't told me about you. Come on, I've known you since we were both twelve years old," he cajoled. "When I don't hear from you after a couple a weeks, I know something?s up."
She smiled wistfully. "Really Mark, it's nothing. I?m still me, which doesn't end up being very exciting. I get up. I go to work. I come home, and go to sleep. It's always the same."
"Are you in one of your slumps again?" the tall man inquired.
A dark eyebrow arched. "I just don't feel like seeing anyone. I like the solitude. Hey, by now you must be fully aware of my introverted, anti-social tendencies," Claire teased.
"I also know about your loneliness, Claire." His voice was friendly but serious. "You know that you have a standing invitation to my house for dinner, right? We've missed you the last few weeks."
"I have missed seeing you and the kids." She sighed. "Tell you what, let's try for next week."
"All right, I'll hold you to it. If we have to, we?ll show up at your place with dinner. And I know about your new white couch and a three-year-old who would love to express his artistic side with some crayons. You've been warned," Mark joked with a smile.
She laughed and punched him lightly again. "You?re such a menace! All right, I?ll try to find the time to come over." Steering the conversation away from her personal life, Claire inquired about Mark?s caseload. "Hey, any cases going this week?"
"Well, I?ve got one that?s supposed to go, but my case is so solid, I think it?ll plead out. I don?t want to jinx myself, but this one is a slam-dunk."
"Your humility becomes you, my friend," she smirked. A muffled ringing sound from her briefcase indicated Claire had a call on her office cell phone.
"Hey, I'll talk to you later, I got a couple pre-trials." Leaning down, he placed a light kiss on her cheek and with a wave, he was whistling down the hallway once again, files in arm. Claire smiled as she answered the phone.
"Claire Easton.... Well, I was going to grab some lunch because? Another file? But I haven?t even had lunch yet?But?A criminal case, huh? All right, I'll head back. Could you order me something from downstairs? Thanks."
Claire stowed her phone away and slid on her sunglasses. She said something new for me to try. Why don't I like the sound of that? The attorney thought as she headed to the parking lot.
Located in a renovated Victorian home on Grand Avenue in St. Paul, was the Cornerstone Clinic. Amanda Greer and her classmate Jody Penbrook established the clinic nearly two years ago. In addition to a small private clientele, the Cornerstone had a contract with the state correctional system. The contract allowed the two psychologists to see uninsured clients who couldn't afford their standard fee. In order to accommodate the steady stream of court referrals, Amanda's mentor and former teacher, Dr. Iris Park, had recently agreed to see clients on a limited basis at the clinic. Even though she was a talented counselor, it was comforting for Amanda to have Iris nearby. She knew she could always go upstairs and share her thoughts with her mentor.
Mondays were always the busiest day of the week, and this Monday was no exception. Amanda chewed her pencil thoughtfully, remaining silent. It appeared as though the two people in her office were in a staring contest, but in actuality, each was deep in thought. Finally, removing her pencil, Amanda broke the silence.
"How are you doing?" she asked gently.
Mike looked at Amanda a few more moments before answering. Amanda looked as if she was much too young to have graduated from college, let alone have a Ph.D. in psychology. With her shoulder length red blond hair and green eyes, the small, athletic woman could easily pass for a college co-ed. But Mike recognized her skill as a therapist and felt safe discussing his problems.
"I've been better, quite honestly," replied the client.
Amanda leaned forward. "Yeah, it is difficult, isn't it? Life is hard and nothing is ever going to change that completely. But we can have times in our lives that are less difficult than others. It may not seem that way right now, but things do get better. The challenge is to stay in the present and try to solve our problems. But at the same time, we should look forward to the possibility of the future," Amanda explained.
"I hate the way I feel, and I hate the feelings I have. It?s so pathetic, Amanda," admitted Mike, his embarrassment clear.
"Mike, you may not be happy or particularly proud of the way you feel, but that doesn?t make you or your feelings pathetic. Remember what we talked about at the beginning of our session? Feelings aren?t good or bad or impressive or pathetic. They simply are. And our job is to manage them. Be gentle with yourself," she suggested.
"How am I going to be gentle with myself when I think I hate who I am?"
Mike couldn't meet her gaze. He looked around the room. Its décor didn't resemble what he thought would be stereotypical for a "shrink?s" office. In the corner near the door, an octagonal table served as Amanda?s desk. It was piled with papers, manila folders, various personal pictures and a ceramic figurine of a bear. The rest of the room was set up similar to a comfortable den, with a small table as a centerpiece between a couch and several inviting chairs. Draped over the couch was a woven cotton blanket, while a large assortment of stuffed animals lay resting on the cushions. Art posters, paintings, and an enlarged photograph of a waterfall covered the walls. As required by law, her psychologist?s license and graduate diploma, indicating her doctorate was from the University of Minnesota, were displayed on a shelf along with a few small plants. Again, Amanda waited quietly, allowing time for her client to think.
Mandy, maybe you should listen to yourself once in a while. Physician, heal thyself, huh? What did you do when you felt that way? Stew in despair like your client is now?"
Again, it was Amanda's voice that finally broke the silence. "It feels pretty crappy to be in that place, doesn't it? Mike, I don't have a simple answer to that. Although I wish I did. That?s something we can pick up next week, all right? In the meantime, give yourself a break. You just have to hang in there and ride it out." She reached out and placed a comforting palm on his knee.
He smiled faintly back at her. "So I can't convince you to wave your magic wand over me and suddenly make me feel better, huh?" he asked in a droll tone.
Actually, if I had one of those, I'd wave it over myself first. Amanda shook her head and smiled. "Afraid not. Even if I did, the insurance companies and the HMO's would have me using it on two or three clients at a time to save money. That's always been one of your gifts, Mike. You have a good sense of humor which helps in the difficult times." She smiled at him encouragingly.
The psychologist got up, walked over to her desk and checked her calendar. "Well, looks like we're all set for next week. Bring your planner next time and we?ll set aside some time for the next month." She walked him over to the door. "Take care, Mike."
After he left, she closed her office door again and pulled out his patient file from the locked metal file cabinet. Sitting down at her desk, she jotted down a few notes before leaning back into her ergonomically designed chair. Grimacing, Amanda began to rub her temples in an effort to forestall an impending allergy headache. Running a hand through her reddish gold hair, she added a few more notes before putting the file away.
Although she had a thriving practice, and was making a good dent in her student loans, there was something missing in her life. The young psychologist had recently bought a townhouse in Eagan that she shared with her infant daughter. Melissa was the apple of her mother's eye, taking up most of her time, but there was an emptiness in her life that Amanda recognized as simple loneliness. She couldn?t quite figure it out. It was like a constant low-grade fever, nothing too severe, but uncomfortable enough to cause her concern.
Amanda glanced at the clock. Looks like I?ve got just enough time to run to the bathroom before my next client arrives. Then again, she?s usually early.
It had warmed up considerably since she left this morning, and Claire was now carrying her suit jacket as she rode up the burnished brass elevators of the Norwest Center. She pushed a lock of hair from her face and stretched a bit, her back a little sore from sitting. The elevator door opened and she stepped onto the twenty-seventh floor, one of three floors her firm occupied in the building. She made her way past the receptionist to her office, which still contained several unopened boxes from her recent move. Anxious to see the new file, Claire tossed her briefcase and jacket on the nearest file cabinet. Trying to relax, she leaned back in her chair and stretched out. Man, it ONLY took four years to get an office with walls and a door. Adios, to my old cube.
This is what you've worked toward, ya know. I?m out of that lawyer mill but so far the only difference I?ve noticed is that I get a better office. Looking down, she spotted the new file on her desk. It was a criminal file. Opening it, she discovered the criminal complaint and almost nothing else. Where are the motions to suppress or dismiss? No one?s done anything yet!
She scanned the complaint quickly. State v. Levine, six counts, ranging from misdemeanor possession, to possession with intent to distribute. The only other documentation was copies of the search warrants and receipts of what was recovered in the search.
Damn, heroin and high school kids? This is just great! Well Aaron, put your head between your legs and kiss your ass goodbye, cause you?re gonna be in the custody of the Commissioner of Corrections for at the next least twenty years.
Claire closed the file and read the attached Post-it note.
I have to fly to Chicago this week to try and get a client extradited back to the state for trial. This one is all yours! Don't worry, I've already done all the work. Just show up and it'll be fine. If you need more info, ask Dave to give you some background
Fixating on Evan?s inadequacies, Claire thought of the string of first year associates that were assigned to Evan and how he put them through a meat grinder, and then took credit for their work. He was even too egotistical to allow them to second chair the cases they had worked so hard on. Another glance at the file and Claire noticed who the prosecutor was.
My first felony trial and have to go up against my best friend who happens to be one of the best drug prosecutors in the state. Maybe, we won't be having dinner next week, she mused.
Claire knew that her friendship with Mark would survive the trial. This was business, not personal. They had long since accepted that one-day they might be on opposite sides of the courtroom. Sighing heavily, she began reading. There was a ton of work to do and she only had 48 hours to prepare for her first criminal case. And what a piece of shit it was.
"That concludes the State?s case your honor." Mark nodded to the Judge, confidant that this was one rich-boy punk who wouldn?t get away with his crimes. Selling and doing drugs with high school kids in the bleachers of the school stadium. Talk about crappy! The State?s case had been carefully laid out, no details being left to chance. Too many of these guys have been way too lucky lately. Time to win one for the home team.
Claire watched as Mark put on a nearly flawless case. Although, several times she did manage to cast a scintilla of doubt on the State?s key witnesses. But she knew it wouldn?t be enough. How could it be? It?s so totally obvious this scum is guilty! The police did everything by the book and Mark hasn?t let anything slip. Evan, you are truly an incompetent idiot! Why are we even here? Why didn?t you advise this twerp to take the offered plea bargain? For Christ sakes! It was a more than a fair offer. And we have no case. At the very least you should have insisted on a jury trial.
Claire looked over at the conspicuously empty jury box, then back to Judge Rumble. There is no way "Uncle Luther" is gonna let this guy off. What were you thinking? She mentally rolled her eyes. That is, if you thought about this case at all. Even an inadequate asshole like you knows that with a jury you always have a chance of acquittal, no matter how hopeless your case. But a bench trial? It?s suicide for a guilty defendant. Any second-year law student knows that. It?s nearly impossible to razzle-dazzle or distract a good judge. I think you just didn?t want to be here when this dirtball is found guilty and gets a huge sentence! Nothin? like passing the buck. Well, look on the bright side Claire, at least this guy will get what he deserves and be off to Stillwater Penitentiary.
Oddly, even though it was clear she was going to loose her first big criminal case, she was comforted by the fact that the outcome would be just. Heh. Somehow I don?t think that thought is going to be very comforting to Levine.
Judge Luther Rumble removed his wire-rimmed glasses, rubbing tired eyes. In a clipped serious tone, he spoke. "Thank you Counselor." Looking at Claire, "Ms. Easton, are you ready to proceed with the defense?"
"May I have a moment, Your Honor?"
"Five minute recess." CRACK!! The sound of the gavel boomed through the small courtroom. Judge Rumble leaned back in his dark leather chair, motioning to his clerk up to the bench. Shutting off the small bench microphone he leaned forward, and along with his clerk he started to shuffle through contents of the criminal file. The old judge grimaced and began fussing with the stiff white collar of his shirt.
You?d think he could get Helen to stop having the cleaners starch his shirts after 50 years. Claire smiled, thinking of the childhood cookouts her family and the Rumbles shared. How many years has it been now? Twelve? Fifteen? And those God awful formal dinners. Ughhhh! If Mom and Dad hadn?t bribed me with the possibility of hearing some of Uncle Luther?s legendary courtroom stories, I don?t think I even they would've been able to force me to attend. The mental picture of herself in a horrible lavender party dress shook Claire out of her brief trip down memory lane. Putting a stop to her mental ramblings, she took this opportunity to lean over and quietly speak to her client.
"No! I told you! I can?t go to jail," Aaron hissed.
"Mr. Levine, were you paying attention to the prosecutor?s case? Weren?t you the guy sitting next to me when they paraded out witness after witness? Weren?t you sitting here when each one of those witness pointed right at you and detailed EXACTLY what happened that night?" Claire could see this approach wasn?t working. Corporate defendants are soooo much more practical. Okay. Plan B.
"Aaron, if you?re convicted, based on these charges, you?re looking at nearly 22 years in prison. You know that right?" Aaron nodded and for a brief moment he almost looked ashamed. However, as quickly as the look appeared, it was gone, replaced by that annoying, cocky grin, he had been sporting the entire trial. Claire clinched her jaw, and continued. "I?m your advocate Aaron. And I?m thinkin? what?s best for you is not to go to prison for so long that when you?re finally released... Rogaine and Viagra will be regular items on your shopping list. Maybe if we stop this right now it won?t be too late to accept the plea? Wadda ya say?" That's assuming Mark has pity on you, Buddy. I know I wouldn?t. I know he smells the blood in the water. Claire looked hard into Aaron's muddy brown eyes. Fuck. He?s too stupid to even help himself.
"Are you ready to proceed Ms. Easton?" The clerk had returned to his chair and the criminal file was now laid open and spread across the bench. Judge Rumble had just finished cleaning his glasses, and looked oddly impatient.
"Yes, your honor."
She briefly flashed a look over at Mark who smiled slightly. Shit. That was a pity smile if I?ve ever seen one. Rising, Claire buttoned her blue silk jacket, and addressed the Court. Her eyes were still scanning her notes as she made a purely perfunctory motion.
"May it please the Court. Based on the evidence presented by the Prosecution, Defendant moves for a directed verdict of acquittal."
Claire looked up from her notes and glanced at Mark who was now leaning forward, intently watching the Judge Rumble. For a full 30 seconds the judge was silent. What the hell is going on? Is he actually considering my motion?
Mark was visibly growing more and more agitated. One of his fists was in clinched in a tightly ball. His knuckles were turning white and a slight flush began to appear around his collar. The unadulterated disbelief that the Judge would even consider acquitting this defendant, ESPECIALLY before he had even presented his own case, was plainly written across Mark?s face. Claire returned Mark?s look and was surprised when his face seemed to grow cold and even angrier. Now what? Then Claire turned to Aaron Levine and took in the smug look on his face. I wouldn?t count your chickens just yet you little shit, she thought disgustedly.
The murmurings from the "peanut gallery" increased steadily as Judge Rumble remained silent. Finally, he cleared his throat and the courtroom went silent.
"Based on a careful consideration of the case presented by the State, this Court has no choice but to dismiss all counts? save count six?the misdemeanor possession charge. With the evidence presented, it is clear that a finding of guilt on counts one through five would be impossible."
The courtroom exploded. Claire was stunned. Did I just win? Aaron Levine immediately jumped to his feet and began hugging his shocked attorney. His words barely registered.
"See? I knew you?d do it! You just had to keep the faith." Claire wasn?t responding. "Earth to Ms. Easton?Earth to Ms. Easton. Hey, are you still in there?"
What? Oh. "Ya?ya...congratulations Mr. Levine. But listen, the trials not over yet, we still have to worry about that misdemeanor possession charge. And?"
"ORDER! Keep it down in here or I'm CLEARING this courtroom." CRACK! CRACK! Judge Rumble raised the gavel a third time but stopped mid-motion as silence descended in the courtroom once again. This time you could hear a pin drop. His face was deadly serious and slightly flustered. "Counsel approach the bench," he commanded, and clicked off the bench microphone.
Mark was still trying to compose himself as he slowly made his way around to the counsel table and approached the elevated wooden bench. Claire followed behind Mark not wanting to look him in the eye. What in God?s name is Uncle Luther thinking? Did I miss something?
Quickly raising a placating hand to forestall Mark?s questions, the judge made his position clear. "Save it Counselor. I?ve made my ruling. I?ll explain my reasoning in my Order and Memorandum. The only thing left to discuss is what you are going to do about count six."
"I won?t voluntarily drop the charge," Mark challenged.
"No one is asking you to, Counselor." The judged turned back to Claire. "Come on Claire, we all know your client needs help. Isn?t there any way to get him to take a plea so we can all go home?" The judge?s voice had softened, and his eyes appeared watery.
What?s with this case Luther? What?s got you so upset? Claire glanced at her client, who was now hugging and kissing his spiky-haired girlfriend. Bet Mommy and Daddy had a cow when you brought her home, she mused silently. Oh yeah?I?ll bet they were pissed. Or is that the whole point?
Turning back toward the Judge and still avoiding direct eye contact with Mark, she spoke. "He won?t accept jail time under any circumstances. And I can?t convince him otherwise. It?s his choice."
"This is a lousy misdemeanor possession charge," the Judge groused. Who?s talking jail time?" The judge was now solely focused on Mark. The inference was clear. "What about drug counseling?"
Mark briefly closed his eyes. How am I gonna explain this to my boss? Crap! I?ve gotta get somethin? here. This case was a no-brainer. Anything, even a guilty plea to this one last pissant charge is better than nothing. I know when I?m licked. Mark drew a deep breath and looked at Claire?s face, but not into her eyes. Angrily, he stuffed his fists into his trouser pockets and murmured, "Minimum of 15 drug counseling sessions with a court contracted clinic. He misses even one session and he?s violated."
Claire nodded. "I?ll talk to my client. It shouldn?t take long." The tall attorney made her way back to the defense table and a clearly pleased Aaron Levine.
"Why should I plead guilty to anything? Judge Rumble already tossed out the other charges," Aaron protested arrogantly.
"Because, the Judge made it clear he believes you have a problem Aaron. He wouldn?t have come to that conclusion if he didn?t think you were using. Trust me on this, you won?t skate on the misdemeanor too. Look, there?s no jail time involved just a couple months of drug counseling with a court appointed psychologist." It was clear Aaron was considering the deal. Finally, he?s starting to listen to reason. Am I ever glad I didn?t have to work for this dickweed before today. I already feel like I?ve spent a lifetime with spoiled brats just like him.
"Ok, Ms. Easton. You can tell the Prosecutor you?ve got a deal."
Claire breathed a sigh of relief. "I think that was a really smart choice, Aaron. It won?t be too much longer, we?ll just need to read the agreement into record and proceed with a few formalities."
Aaron leaned in towards Claire and clasped her arm tightly. "No jail right? I won?t do actual jail time?"
"No jail time. You?ll have to attend fifteen counseling sessions. And I mean all fifteen. If you miss even one then you?ll be right back here. Understand?"
"Sure Beautiful, I understand." Aaron flashed his most charming smile and his grip on Claire?s arm loosened. His hand slowly made its way down to her wrist.
Jerking away her hand, she stared at him coldly. "I?ll be right back Mr. Levine." Yuck! I wonder if I could get away with breaking his arm right here in court? Then again, after what I saw today?I?m not so sure I couldn?t.
Smoothing the sleeve of her jacket the attorney visibly straightened her posture and made her way back to the bench. Mark and Judge Rumble were both occupied with their own thoughts and appeared to be oblivious to the other.
Claire stopped next to Mark and spoke quietly, fully knowing that the day was a raving success for her client, which meant it was a rousing failure for her friend. "He?ll take the deal, Mark."
The big man smiled at Claire?s good sportsmanship. This was clearly a huge victory, especially since it was her first venture into criminal defense. "Well, I think they?ll be a celebration over at Maylor & Moore. Good for you, Claire." Mark spoke softly to Claire, his smile never reaching his eyes.
"Come on Mark, let?s get this over with and head over to Ryan?s Pub for a drink. I?m buyin?."
"Damn right you are, Kiddo," he said gruffly. But this time the smile was genuine. "And, I may need two."
After having a few drinks with Mark at Ryan?s Pub, Claire returned to the office to find David Bartolo, the head of the firm's criminal defense department, waiting in her office. He was stretched out on her couch, reading the latest issue of the National Law Journal.
"And here she is, the newest member of the criminal defense department!" he proclaimed as soon as she entered the room. Leaping from his prone position he congratulated Claire by slapping her hard on the back.
Claire smiled at the veteran defense attorney. He was a small, wiry man with a full head of wavy dark hair and a mustache. His dark eyes absolutely twinkled with excitement. Although she was pleasantly surprised by the victory, there was something not quite right about the whole situation. The more she thought about it, the more convinced she became that something was downright wrong. What she didn't need right now was Dave Bartolo schmoozing her.
"Thanks Dave, but I haven't joined your department yet."
"It's just a matter of time. You and Evan will be the next legal dream team," he gushed.
Evan and I the next dream team? Dave, whatcha you been smokin?? Wonder boy just got lucky. He wouldn't know where to sign a motion unless there was a "sign here" sticker to help.
Before Claire could respond, Dave started pulling her out the door. "Well, I sense some hesitation. But if you aren't convinced now, you will be soon. The grumpy old men have thrown you a victory party. Your parents will be there," he added excitedly.
"Where are we going?" I don't feel like celebrating.
"Luci Ancora. They rented out the whole upstairs!"
If this is so great how come I feel like shit? Claire pondered as the elevator door closed.
Luci Ancora, a peculiar two-story olive green stucco structure, was one of the finest restaurants in the Twin Cities. There was precious little parking so valet parking was an option. Dave had insisted on driving her there in his new Range Rover, promising to have someone drive Claire's Explorer back to her suburban home in Mendota Heights. Since it was nearly 7:00 p.m., the restaurant was crowded with eager diners. Dave proudly led Claire to the upstairs room. I feel like a blue-ribbon heifer at the State Fair, she thought testily. If this guy doesn?t lay off, I'm gonna spew.
Claire immediately spotted her parents who were talking with one of the senior partners. Anxiously, they waived her over. One look at the Easton clan and it was obvious where Claire got her good looks. Claire?s father was a tall, distinguished looking man, his thick black hair streaked with gray. His startling blue eyes were visible beneath designer glasses.
"There she is, the latest rising star at Maylor and Moore," laughed Robert Maylor as Claire sat down and inattentively began to peruse a menu. She?d managed to ditch Dave when he became distracted by one of the new attractive receptionists.
"You know Bob, we always thought Claire was a corporate lawyer, but she's proved us wrong!" declared Matthew Easton.
"Claire, your father is so proud of you, we didn't know you had it in you to do criminal defense." Judge Anne Porter Easton was clearly ecstatic.
Claire took a deep breath as she released her napkin that was now twisted beyond use. "Well Mom, I guess I surprised myself, didn't I?"
Sensing the approach of an awkward moment, Claire?s boss launched into a detailed account of the trial. Her parents were immediately absorbed in the tale. Claire looked around the room. Christ, I don?t know half the people here. But no attorney worth his salt would turn down a chance at free liquor. Add in the opportunity to schmooze the senior partners, and attendance might as well have been mandatory.
Looking up from the bottom of her glass Claire noticed a crowd at the door. Evan Moore had arrived. Evan cut a dashing figure with his tall, lean build, reddish hair and expressive hazel eyes. He simply oozed charm and charisma. His infectious laugh drew an attentive crowd of admirers. As he greeted the people around him, his eyes found Claire. Smiling, he strode over theatrically and took her hand.
"Well, well, we had a criminal defense lawyer locked away in the corporate department, I see. Good show! Hell of a good job," he proclaimed heartily as shook her hand with vigor. He ended the handshake with a firm slap on the back.
What is it with these criminal defense lawyers who love to slap people on the back? Isn't a handshake enough?" She reciprocated with an insincere smile and a lukewarm pat.
"You are amazing Claire, just like that, it all disappears," gushed Evan, snapping his fingers for emphasis.
"Actually, he did plead guilty?" began Claire.
"A chicken shit misdemeanor! I would have paid to see the reaction on Captain America's face when Rumble granted your motion," interrupted Evan.
"Mark put on a damn good case and he's a good friend of mine." Claire raised an eyebrow in challenge.
"Claire, no one is criticizing Mark's ability," her father soothed. "Evan is just proud of your victory."
Claire just sighed and stopped talking. Claire knew better than to try to change her parent?s minds. Ignorethemigorethemignorethem, she silently repeated the familiar mantra. Claire?s sour mood didn?t escape the perceptive eye of the firm?s founder.
"Young lady?" Robert Maylor pointed directly at Claire "you are a good attorney." Noting the dark circles under her eyes he added, "You look tired. I know we aren't easy on our junior attorneys, but I can see our training has definitely paid off with you." Claire tried to ignore his condescending tone. "But we aren't TOTAL slave drivers. I know you've been working your tail off. You have another appearance next week?"
"I have some discovery motion next week for the? uh?what?s the name again????? Robertson file," she rebounded.
He smiled. Quick on your feet, hey. "Okay, after your motion, you are going to take some time off."
"That's very considerate of you Bob, but I really enjoy my work?"
"You're talking to an old man who still is a workaholic. This firm was founded on my drive, but now I have children I barely know and I hardly see my grandchildren. I've learned my lessons. I don?t want you making those same mistakes. This.. is.. a.. direct.. order." A pointy finger emphasizing each word.
"After your motion next week, you take some time off. Don't worry about your cases. We have to keep those summer associates busy somehow." He smiled in anticipation.
The younger lawyer could see that arguing was futile. "All right, but after two weeks, I reserve the right to come back. I get bored easily when I'm not working," Claire confessed.
"The work will still be there when you get back. You just need some rest. Once you?re rested up you'll realize how important that victory today was," he soothed.
Either that or I?ll bail on criminal law altogether. A directed verdict?why?
Claire practically jumped out of Dave?s Range Rover. She was pathetically grateful to be home. Her family heritage and high salary permitted her to indulge in many luxuries, but this house was one of the few she allowed herself. It was her sanctuary? a place where she felt completely safe and secure when the world became too much. The white brick house sat on an acre of land surrounded by trees and was nearly invisible from the street beyond.
It?s lucky I didn?t have to drive home tonight, she thought wryly. I?m still feelin? the effects of that last scotch. Or was it the last four? Come on, I need to chill out and let myself enjoy this victory. Why can?t I just enjoy this without waiting for the other shoe to drop?
She gingerly made her way up the driveway, trying not to fall flat on her face. Claire noticed that the flowering trees and tulips were beginning to bloom. She had spent last fall planting row upon row of her favorite flower and was satisfied to see the fruit of her labors.
Maybe I should just garden full time and become a landscape architect? It doesn?t involve being responsible for people?s lives. There wouldn?t be any guilt about outcomes. If your customer doesn?t like a your work?fuck?em? he can plant his own trees. She snorted.
Shuffling through the door, and tossing down her jacket and briefcase, she stumbled into her modern but bare kitchen. The sleek marble countertops and oak cabinets were mostly empty, a testimony to her lack of culinary interest. The stainless steel refrigerator, did however, contain enough pre-packaged and carryout food to last her the week.
God, I hate nylons. Ripping them off as she walked towards the stairs, she nearly fell. I gotta change out this moron uniform. Heading upstairs to her bedroom, Claire passed her baby grand piano which sat lonely in her sparsely furnished living room.
Leaving a trail of clothing as she went Claire wobbled by her library, office and two spare bedrooms. Shower. I must have a shower.
The steaming hot water began working its way through Claire?s scotch induced haze. Shutting off the water, the brunette. Claire wearily pulled open the shower curtain and grabbed a towel. After several minutes of riffling through the clothes on the floor Claire finally hit pay dirt. Shit?I guess tomorrow is laundry day. Sitting on her unmade bed, it took great effort to slip on her favorite pair of running shorts and threadbare T-shirt.
What am I in the mood for tonight? Dammit , don?t go there. You know you?re in the mood for something you can?t have. Messages, then music?
Punching the button on her answering machine she smiled faintly as the messages played. They were mainly notes of congratulations for winning her first criminal trial. Claire took a deep breath after listening to them, still troubled by her "victory."
Even given her non-existent experience in criminal defense, she still understood how rare a directed verdict was. Mark presented a devastating case. He should have won!
Her thoughts shifted to Evan. How does an incompetent lawyer like Evan get such a kickass reputation? Evan probably spent more time on the Post-It than researching the case.
Am I jealous of Evan? Am I jealous because it comes so easy for him and you had to work so hard to prepare this case? Be honest with yourself. What?s wrong with this picture. My gut is telling me something. I just don?t know what?Yet.
After retrieving the last of her messages, she noticed how thirsty she was. That?s what you get for emptying half a bottle of scotch. Well, at least it was good scotch, she laughed aloud.
Opening her refrigerator she reached to the back corner and retrieved some apple juice. 1:00 a.m.? What could possibly be on TV this late? She slowly padded into the den and began channel surfing, finally settling on the History Channel. I forgot how thirsty drinking makes you, she thought, as she gulped down the last of the juice.
Claire found herself mildly interested in the Greek archeology show, but she couldn?t concentrate. Sighing, she clicked off the television and made her way into the living room. She needed to relax, and in a world of uncertainties, there had always been one constant - the piano. Playing was her favorite way to relax and think.
She didn?t bother turning on the living room light. The dim lights streaming in from the hallway barely allowed her to see the keyboard. Sitting down on the padded leather bench she stretched out long fingers. Closing her eyes for a moment, she cleared her mind and began playing the beginning aria of Bach?s Goldberg Variations. The gentle phrasing and flowing melody flowed through her. Although she liked playing all types of music, she preferred the classical masters like Bach, Handel and Scarlatti. The precise notes and the repeating patterns allowed her to concentrate. I must be an idiot-savant. I?m actually playing better with a buzz.
All right, I?ve got to put an end to this obsessing or it's going to drive me batty. Tomorrow I can go to the office and take a look at Evan's files. Maybe I can figure out what happened to his other cases. Then I can let it go ... or, not. Deft fingers crossed the keyboard.
Come on Claire, quit fooling yourself. You won't let it die until you get to the bottom of the whole thing. God, I?m obsessive! I know it, and I still can?t stop myself. But I can?t do another criminal case until I know what happened with this one.
Her playing was fluid, hands moved up and down the keyboard with a natural grace. She started to play a Scarlatti sonata.
Hold it. You?re not responsible for the kids Aaron Levine sold dope to. The only person I can control is myself. I had to learn that lesson the hard way, remember?
Claire finished the Scarlatti and went to another Bach piece.
Finally having made the decision to act on her suspicions she was able to relax. She stopped playing and sighed.
"Landscape architecture. Maybe I missed my true calling," she said with a sad laugh.
The traffic going into St. Paul was surprisingly light for a Monday morning. Claire crossed the over the Mississippi River and into the outskirts of the city with her mind on a mission. Her review of Evan's old case files had left her with more questions than answers. It appeared that Evan had been granted a directed verdict in several recent trials. Claire became even more suspicious after she noted that all of Evan's clients were ordered into counseling at the Cornerstone Clinic in St. Paul. As she got off 35E at the Randolph Street exit, her mind focused on her conversation with Mark last night. The two friends had made plans for Claire to come to dinner later this week.
"I don't know if this is sour grapes or not, but my track record has been lousy with Evan lately. What?s even more surprising is that it was Uncle Luther who granted that motion. He?s always been such a hard-ass, especially with drug dealers," Mark had explained.
Claire decided to check out this Cornerstone Clinic to see just what kind of services they offered. Turning off Lexington Avenue and onto Grand Avenue, she began looking at the building numbers. The clinic was located near Billy's, a favorite student hangout for the nearby William Mitchell College of Law. Claire found a parking space about a half a block down from the clinic and walked along Grand Avenue, stopping in front of a neatly remodeled brownstone Victorian house. She looked at the discreet sign outside. This was indeed, the Cornerstone Clinic.
Claire carefully pulled open the door and went inside. She immediately encountered a waiting area, complete with a large couch and several chairs. Spotting a coffee table that held some magazines, Claire picked one up and looked at the date. At least these magazines aren?t two years old. She also saw an assortment of toys and a tiny plastic picnic table in the other corner. There were two doors leading to the offices of the psychologists, Amanda Greer and Jody Penbrook. It appeared that the clinic was the sole occupant of the building. Claire wandered over to the stairs and looked up, seeing two other offices, a bathroom and a small kitchen.
Looks normal enough, Claire thought as she went over to a wall rack with brochures and booklets next to the offices. She picked one up entitled, "About Cornerstone Clinic," and scanned it quickly. Nothing too out of the ordinary, just some background on the services provided and educational information about the two psychologists. Claire looked at another one entitled, "The Therapeutic Process and You," and was about to read it when one of the doors opened and a man walked out of the office and into the waiting area. He went directly to the drinking fountain, giving her a friendly smile. She smiled back and went on reading the brochure, before picking up another one. The other office door opened and a woman walked over to greet Claire.
"Hi, are you here for an appointment?" asked a brown-haired woman in a friendly tone.
"Uh, no, not exactly. I was just here to? pick up some brochures about the clinic, you know," Claire replied a bit nervously.
Claire noticed another woman out of the corner of her eye. She was casually dressed in khakis and a soft cotton shirt. Claire felt that she was being watched and turned her full gaze to the petite women. The woman looked very young, her reddish blond hair pulled back into a ponytail. Her eyes were a unique green which Claire couldn?t recall seeing before. The attorney found herself smiling sheepishly at the woman, before turning her attention back to the brunette.
The woman smiled. "Okay, well take your time. You might want to look at this one." She handed Claire a pamphlet. If you have any questions, give us a call."
"Thanks. I will," Claire added, as she left the building.
Claire snapped out of her little trance and shook her head. Shit. What was that all about? One smile and you're feeling all warm inside? It has been a long time, hasn't it? She shrugged. Maybe I know her from somewhere.
The padded oak rocking chair tipped back into its normal position as Amanda rose and stepped forward. With a muffled groan she twisted her head. Straining her neck, she smiled with satisfaction as the vertebrae popped back into place. Careful not to wake the sleeping form resting against her shoulder, she swayed slightly backward and was rewarded with another audible pop, this time in her lower back. Amanda continued to unconsciously sing the song from her own childhood, even after she recognized the soft, even breaths of sleep, which tickled her neck.
Several squirming seconds later, the girl was sound asleep and Amanda hesitantly removed her hand, immediately missing the warmth of the connection. She spent a full minute simply gazing at the baby, wondering how such a small person could have such a profound impact on her life. With a soundless sigh and one last adoring look at her daughter, she turned to leave the room. At that moment her stomach decided to protest its sad treatment as of late.
Oops. Time for snack I think. Amanda made her way to the small kitchen, not bothering to turn on the light. What do I want? Healthy or decadent? I?m definitely in the mood for somethin? bad for me and I?m waaaay too tired to fix somethin? healthy. Any of those cookies left? Small hands fumbled around blindly through the cupboards. Finally! "Yummmmy, Oreos," she purred. Grabbing several cookies she turned and opened the refrigerator, the bright light temporarily blinding her. Man, that?s bright. Milk. Where?s the darn milk? Ahhh. Okay, all set.
Finally, a little quiet time to think. Blindly, she made her way to her favorite recliner. Snuggling down, she gazed through the glass of her patio doors into the night. The light pattern of the rain tapping against the glass and her rhythmic chewing began to relax away the day's tension. With eyes closed she leaned back heavily into the soft fabric, relishing its softness, and letting her mind drift back over her day.
I wonder who she was? I hope she?s not a patient. A mental frown. Then again, I?d love to get a better look at her...just under different circumstances. She was pretty. Snorting slightly, Okay?admit it. She was more than just pretty. How often can you actually say that about someone? And those eyes. Wow!
Even from the doorway of her office Amanda could make out the depth and brilliance of their color. She realized she must have been staring for an inappropriate length of time when the woman suddenly looked up at her and broke into a slightly crooked smile, then quickly shifted her focus back to Jody. Quite without her permission, Amanda found an answering grin on her own face. I wonder if she?s shy? Jody handed the women some brochures and she was gone. She didn?t look like she had a drug problem. Maybe she was there for marriage counseling. Was there a ring? Knowing the absurdity of her own thoughts, Amanda chuckled. Okay, and she didn?t look like she had too serious a problem. Some of the people that came in for drug counseling truly did appear to be on their last leg. She looked healthy. Strong even. Amanda felt an unexpected pang of disappointment at the more than likely prospect of never seeing this woman again. Well, if she?s not coming to see us professionally, maybe it?s because she?s deliriously happy. I hope she is. Someone should be.
With that depressing thought, she sighed deeply and got up, pulling the curtain shut on the patio door. Leaving her glass on the coffee table, she turned towards her bedroom and away from gentle sound of the spring rain against the glass.
Amanda sat looking around the empty jury room that smelled like wood, dust and sweat. Rising from the uncomfortable wooden chair she walked to the window and peered out at to the grass below. The day had been a complete disaster. The hellish metro traffic had nearly caused her to be late. She arrived in court only minutes before she had to testify. She rubbed her temples in frustration. Her testimony had not gone well. Her client was a recovering alcoholic who had, at least temporarily, lost custody of his 8-year-old son.
His attorney had subpoenaed her to testify to her client?s life improvements, apparently through successful rehabilitation. After receiving the subpoena she?d tried to contact her patient's attorney. For a solid week she left voice and email messages, with no response. The day before she was scheduled to testify she was desperate enough to skip over the attorney completely. She phoned her client directly only to get his answering machine.
The therapist knew the kind of testimony they wanted. She was expected to take the stand and say that her client had gotten his life together, that he had recovered from the disease which had crippled him for years, and that he was now capable of being a fit parent to his son. Only problem was?it wasn?t true. Her client had made vast improvements since he began counseling. But improving didn?t mean he was ready to have his son back. It was too soon.
Amanda earnestly testified that her client was making progress, all the while praying that she wouldn't be directly asked if she believed he was emotionally ready to take on the responsibility of an 8-year-old child. But of course, she was asked. And she responded in the only way possible. She told the truth. Her client had been livid, calling her a traitorous bitch. Their doctor/patient relationship was damaged beyond repair. She wasn?t sure if she wanted to shout or cry. Months of progress had been effectively wiped away in all of 15 minutes. She only hoped he would continue with his treatment elsewhere. Now she stood, alone in the quiet jury room, licking her wounds and wishing she had stayed in bed this morning.
"That shouldn?t be a problem. I?ve got a few minutes before my hearing so I?m gonna find a nice quiet spot and review the briefs? Okay?I?ll be by later today and pick up some reading material so I?ll have something to do on my enforced vacation?Ha..ha..very funny. See you later." Claire snapped her phone shut and began climbing the steps to the third floor jury room.
Boy, it?s been a while sense I?ve come up the back way. I don?t think I?ve even been up here since I stopped clerking for Judge Peters.
Shifting her briefcase into her left hand Claire opened the door to the jury room. It had been a favorite work spot when she was a judicial clerk. The room provided better lighting and more space than her small office and whenever it wasn?t in use she?d claim it as her own. Claire sniffed as she opened the door. Oh yeah?must have been a close one? criminal maybe. Setting down her briefcase she suddenly noticed a silent figure in the corner of the room, standing in the shadows. Disappointed she exhaled, I guess I shouldn?t have expected the place to be empty. Stay or go? The woman in the corner had her back to Claire and was staring out the window. She was apparently oblivious to the fact that someone else had entered the room. Claire noticed the woman's shoulders slightly lurch. Is she crying? Well, so what if she is? She obviously wants to be alone or she wouldn?t be in here. Man...This is none of my business! But even from behind she looks so sad. A moment of indecision. What the hell.
Not wanting to frighten the woman, Claire made her approach much noisier than necessary. Hearing the loud steps, Amanda turned around quickly wiping an angry hand across her cheeks. "I?m sorry, I thought it would be okay if I used this room, it was empty so?"
"No, no, it?s fine for you to be in here you just looked a little?er?upset? and I was just gonna see if you were okay ? or if there was anything I could do," Claire offered uncomfortably.
"I?m fine but thanks for?" Amanda stepped forward, completely out of the shadows and each woman immediately recognized the other. "Thanks for asking," the blonde finally finished.
Claire felt an instant tightening in her chest when she saw the trail of dried tears on Amanda?s cheeks. Anger? Am I angry at whoever?s made her so upset? Claire didn?t have time to analyze the strange feelings before Amanda spoke again.
"You were at the Cornerstone Clinic earlier this week right?" she questioned.
She actually remembers me? Why not? I sure as hell remember her. "Yes, I was picking up some brochures for a friend." It?s not a TOTAL lie. Time to change the subject. "What?s got you so upset? Dr. Penbrook?"
"Nope, that?s my partner." Amanda extended her hand. "I?m Amanda Greer."
Claire gently gripped the offered hand, "It?s a pleasure to meet you, Dr. Greer. I?m Claire Easton." Her hand feels so soft. Claire released the hand a second later than she should have. Jesus, I need to get a grip. One look at those pretty green eyes and my mind goes blank. Embarrassed, Claire quickly refocused on whatever was bothering Amanda. "Have a seat." She gestured to the nearest chair. "Why are you in here all alone, and obviously upset?" she asked again.
Amanda?s first reaction was to simply say she was fine and to leave it at that. But for some reason, she found herself more than willing to share what had happened.
"To make a long story short, I testified in a child custody hearing this morning. My client is the one who subpoenaed me. But he wasn?t too pleased with my testimony." Amanda frowned. "Then my client?s attorney must have decided to discredit me or...whatever... because he suddenly turned on me, basically trying to make it look like I wasn?t considering my clients best interests and?" Amanda stopped and looked up at Claire. "That?s probably more than you wanted to know, huh?" Amanda cringed, embarrassed that she?d been rambling.
Claire winced knowing she?d employed that same tactic herself on rare occasion.
"Are you in here hiding too?" the smaller woman asked, trying to lighten the mood.
Chuckling, Claire responded. "Not this time." Then her face grew serious and Amanda wondered what she could possibly be thinking. When she spoke again her had eyes softened and she sat down next to Amanda. "Sounds to me like you could use some hints on how to survive in court."
"Are you offering?" Amanda queried, hoping the answer was yes. Maybe this day won?t be a total loss.
"I guess I am." Claire shifted in her seat. "Wanna get together for lunch on Monday? I could give you a few pointers." Say yes!
"Do you get sued a lot or something?" Amanda joked. The friendly banter felt?comfortable?familiar even. That?s weird.
"No." Claire laughed, but was painfully aware Amanda hadn?t accepted her invitation. "I?m an attorney. I could tell you a little about what to expect in court. To be honest, your client?s attorney should have done that before he ever put you on the stand."
"That sounds great I?d?" Amanda stopped, the smile dropping from her face. "But?well?maybe we shouldn?t." Claire felt her heartbeat increase, and she unconsciously gripped the arm of her chair, waiting for the inevitable excuses. "I mean I know you said you were picking up the brochures for a friend and all, but if there?s a chance you?d end up a patient I really can't?ah.."
"NO!" Claire exclaimed, a little too loudly. Grabbing hold of her emotions she softened her voice. "No. There?s no chance of me being a patient," she reassured. "Honestly."
Amanda?s smile immediately returned.
When she smiles she gets the cutest lines around her eyes and nose. Claire thought. Aackk! God, I?m downright disgusting!
Amanda stood and gathered her purse from below the table. "I have to be going. How about noon?" Claire nodded. "Okay, then. Since you know where I work why don?t you pick me up there and we can leave from the clinic?" The tall attorney nodded again. "Till Monday then," Amanda waived and strode out the door.
As the door closed behind Amanda, Claire finally found her voice. "Bye," she called out to the empty room.
Continued in Part 2.