The Arraignment (Paul Madriani Series #7)by Steve Martini
Taut, high speed, and packing a trademark wallop of a plot twist at the end, this new Steve Martini novel leaves no doubts as to lawyer-hero Paul Madriani's supremacy among the legion of courthouse protagonists in contemporary fiction. Hard-hitting and intelligent, The Arraignment shows why Steve Martini remains the most popular and acclaimed practitioner/em>… See more details below
Taut, high speed, and packing a trademark wallop of a plot twist at the end, this new Steve Martini novel leaves no doubts as to lawyer-hero Paul Madriani's supremacy among the legion of courthouse protagonists in contemporary fiction. Hard-hitting and intelligent, The Arraignment shows why Steve Martini remains the most popular and acclaimed practitioner of the form.After a close lawyer friend is killed—along with a high-profile client—in a hail of gunfire outside the federal courthouse, Paul Madriani reluctantly takes on the surviving co-defendant's case. As Paul warily sorts through the evidence surrounding his friend's murder, The Arraignment steadily gathers momentum and guides us toward a shattering and wholly unpredictable climax.
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Nick's office is on seven, the bottom floor of Rocker, Dusha and DeWine, better known to the legal set as RDD. It is the largest law firm in town, with more than three hundred lawyers and offices in four cities.
Nick has been here only two years and already he has a corner office and two young associates assigned to him. Like a mini-law firm within a firm.
His office has been sharply decorated by Dana, the new Mrs. Rush. Her touch is on everything, from the Persian carpets and artistic earthen vases that adorn the alcoves behind his leather-tufted chair to the gold stud in his right nostril.
Nick may have a new sassy-looking wife, but he is the same man I've known for more than ten years. A cigarette dangles from his lower lip as he talks, dropping ash on the expensive leather blotter of his desk. Nick may not look the part, but people tend to listen to him when he talks.
He sweeps the ash away with the back of his hand and examines the burn mark on the new leather.
"If she sees that, she'll kill me," he says. He's talking about Dana. He tongues a little saliva on his finger and tries to fix it.
"I have to smoke here. Dana doesn't like it at the house. She says it leaves a smell on the furniture and her clothes. I don't smell it. But then, my smeller's gone."
He takes a good drag from the cigarette and immediately has a coughing jag.
"First one of the day." He says it between fits of trying to catch his breath, cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth. "She's right." He holds the cigarette out looking at it, then puts it back in his mouth. "This shit'll kill you. That'll teach me to marry an interior decorator."
He says nothing about the fact that he's older than his wife by twenty years. He looks at me to see if I am offering any sympathy. That particular bank is closed at the moment.
My own practice, Madriani and Hinds, is small, no rival to RDD. My partner Harry Hinds and I staked out a quiet bungalow office lost in the foliage of a courtyard across from the Hotel Del Coronado two years ago. Looking for a cooler climate and a fresh start, we had relocated the practice from Capital City on the financial wings of a large judgment in a civil case. Since then Coronado and the environs around that city have become home for me and my fifteen-year-old daughter, Sarah. Sarah has no mother. Nikki died of cancer several years ago.
What takes me to Rocker, Dusha today is a phone call from a friend. Nick is in his fifties. Prime earning years for a trial lawyer. Old enough to have judgment and young enough to do the heavy lifting in court. He considers the move to Rocker, Dusha to have been a good one. I'm not sure I agree. To look at him, Nick has aged ten years in the last twelve months.
The firm recruited him with assurances that they would move him into civil litigation. Instead, he has been buried in white-collar crime. Along with business bankruptcies, it is one of the growth sectors of the law, both areas being driven by the aroma of corporate book-cooking that took place in the last decade. The "me generation" of the 1960s is not faring well.
Nick's corporate criminal skills have been honed over more than two decades, first in the U.S. attorney's office, then in his own solo practice before coming here. There are rumors that Nick has been recruited elsewhere but has chosen to stay with Rocker, Dusha. I suspect if you chase these rumors down, you will find Nick residing under the rock from which they crept.
What the firm wanted was somebody to pick up the respectable businessman who occasionally slips and falls through the cracks, your friendly financial adviser who decides he'd rather invest you in his new yacht than in the bonds he told you about and then prints his own securities so you'll have something to put in your safe. To Nick, this doesn't even qualify as crime.
"They were supposed to groom me for the civil side, but as you can see it hasn't happened." He points to the files on the floor lining one wall three feet high.
"They can't bring filing cabinets in fast enough. We've generated more revenue in the last two months than any other division. I told 'em I need help. They tell me to work my people harder. If I could bill a fifty-hour day I'd do it. Chamber of commerce crap," he calls it. "Consumer fraud. Junior league crime. They should have to give you a plastic ring and a special decoding button before they charge you with any of this shit. I swear, half the stuff in those files I didn't know was illegal until I came to work here."
"Why don't you leave? You could probably write your own ticket."
"Too much invested. Two years. I'd have to start all over someplace else. Too old for that. I've got a wife who wants me to wear argyle silk socks to court and sue insurance companies so she can tell her friends over dinner that her husband's a corporate lawyer and not have to lie. I know you think I'm out of my mind for being here. Getting divorced, getting remarried."
"I didn't say anything."
"Your silence is deafening," he says.
"I'm not your therapist."
"I know that. He tells me when I fuck up."
"OK, so maybe I made some stupid moves. Stupid is the word that comes to mind, isn't it?" He assesses my expression one more time, then adds, "OK, there's no maybe about it. But it's done. Over. How do you un-ring a bell? The personal side of life for me is cooked. But the law practice, the career, that's a work in progress."
This is more optimism than I've seen in Nick in a while, on any front. He's the kind of lawyer who thrives on a full caseload.
"I wish you were my therapist," he says. "You ought to see this guy. I go to him once a week. It's like going to the dentist to have my brain drilled without Novocain. I tell him I'm feeling pretty good, I'd like to move on with my life. He tells me I need to find closure with Margaret now that the divorce is over. I tell him I got all the closure I needed when her lawyer drove a pike up my ass in the support hearing, you know, the alimony. If that wasn't enough, she took every dime I had. I tell him I've got plenty of closure, I could sell him closure. Then he says, catch this, he says I need to deal with Margaret to get over my feelings of guilt. I tell him I have no feelings of guilt. He tells me I should, that if I don't I must have problems empathizing. And for this he hits me for a hundred-and-a-half an hour."
"Stop going to see him."
He looks at me through cigarette smoke, gives me a face, something you might see from De Niro. "Then I'd probably feel guilty," he says. "My old man used to say pain is good for the soul. I know, that makes as much sense as my joining this fucking firm. But you make your bed and you sleep in it. And if it happens to be next to a twenty-six-year-old woman with an incredible ass, what can I say?" He laughs. The price Nick pays for lust.
He looks at me over the top of his cheeters, half-lenses for reading. He is wearing a three-thousand-dollar suit but has dandruff on his shoulders and cigarette ash on his tie along with a wrinkled tan forehead that ends in baldness he is trying to hide under dying wisps of black hair.
"People grow apart. Call it a midlife crisis. Call it a second childhood. Call it what you want. I got an itch. So I scratched it."
This is how he describes a two-week binge in the Caribbean with Dana. And this wasn't the first itch for Nick.
He took Dana from Nevis to St. Lucia, then down to Belize and back to the Bahamas, half a jump ahead of the investigator Margaret hired to track him down. What Dana told her employer I don't know. Maybe she took vacation time or figured she had her hook set far enough into Nick that she could quit.
The investigator caught up with them in Nassau. All the while Nick was supposed to be at a trial lawyer's seminar in New Orleans, paid for by the firm.
"You ever done it with a twenty-six-year-old?" he asks me. This comes out of nowhere.
"When I was twenty-six."
"No. No. I mean now?"
I know what he means, but knowing Nick I figure the question is rhetorical. I have seen him do this in front of juries for money, lots of it, pleading a client's case, boring holes through them with those beady little eyes over a smile you know is not being driven by humor.
When Nick asks a question like "How can you be sure the sky isn't green?" he is never looking for an answer. What he wants is the surrender of your rational thought process. Once he has you questioning your own logic, it's a simple act of illusion before he has you buying into the fable his client is going to spin on the stand.
In this case it's an exercise in absolution by silence from another lawyer. Even if I haven't done it recently with a twenty-six-year-old, Nick can comfort himself with the thought that I would like to.
"So Margaret has to go hire herself this prince of darkness," he says, "some fucking divorce lawyer out of L.A. to stake me to an anthill. Hey, do I complain?"
The fact that he is doing so now doesn't slow him down.
"No. I just pay the tab and figure this is the price of moving on with my life."
If the dark circles under his eyes are an indication, getting on with life would appear to be killing him. Nick's face is a declining graph of sleep deprivation. Whether he's working too hard to meet the alimony payments or playing too hard at night with Dana, I can't be sure. One or the other, or both, are killing him.
"If you had an itch like this," he says "wouldn't you scratch it? Any guy with a normal sex drive . . ." He continues talking as if I'm not here.
Nick suspects I have had my own dalliances, perhaps in a former life before becoming widowed, though I have never shared any of this with him. It's the reason he calls me from time to time. I'm cheaper than his therapist, and he can more easily ignore whatever I tell him since I have no training in the occult. Being outside the loop of his partnership, I am a safe shoulder to cry on.
As he sits across the desk from me, his brown eyes look like they belong behind wire mesh in the dog pound. There are basset hound bags under each.
Dana, the new Mrs. Rush, is sleek and blond, four inches taller than Nick. She has the fresh look of a model on her way to becoming a movie star. And unless I have completely lost my judgment of character, she knows how to climb the rungs of life. I have met her three times, and on each occasion she parted with looks that made me wonder if she wasn't trying to come on to me. But then, I suspect with Dana most men might foster this illusion, feeding it regularly, in hopes that it might grow into reality.
Dana possesses a kind of style that screams TROPHY. Tall and tan with a smile that glows like a nuclear reactor, she can stoke the coals that fire most male egos with a single fleeting glance across a crowded room. And for all you know she might be looking at the clock on the wall behind you, worried that she is late for an appointment to have her nails done.
The first time Nick met her was at a political fund-raiser. He left his brains on the table along with the tip and began doing his thinking with his dick. He hired her to decorate his office and the rest is history. He has been on this particular treadmill now for almost two years and is beginning to show serious signs of wear.
"You would scratch it. Right?"
"What?" I look at him.
"This itch? Tell me you would," he says, "otherwise I'm gonna start thinking you misplaced your libido."
I give him an expression that is noncommittal.
"Fine, then tell me you wouldn't scratch it."
"She's your wife," I tell him. "I wouldn't scratch it."
"But if she wasn't my wife?"
"I don't think I have your stamina."
He laughs. "The secret is to pace yourself."
"You'll have to show me sometime."
"Yeah, well. I admit it can be a problem." He looks at me. Wrinkles an eyebrow. Wrinkles on wrinkles. "All the same, if you gotta go, what better way?"
It's the kind of expression you could get from Nick just before he told you what your fee was going to be-and always up front. Nick has made a religion out of tracing the source of his clients' money to make sure that it will not be confiscated by the government as the fruits of some illicit deal.
"She wants me to quit," he says.
This catches my attention and Nick notices.
"Not the practice," he says, "just the heavier criminal stuff. So I'm getting it from both ends. Screwed over by the firm and Dana putting pressure." He grabs a bottle of antacid tablets from the desk, unscrews the cap, pours some into his hand without counting, and slings them into his mouth, chewing and swallowing, then follows it with something in his coffee cup.
By the time he swallows and comes up for air, he's back ragging on Dana. "She's angry that they haven't come through on their promises. She wants me to talk to Tolt. Press him to get the big civil cases. Like he's gonna turn these over to me. He hates my ass."
"I don't know."
"There must be a reason?"
"Hey, you know me. Even-tempered. Easy-goin'. I get along with everybody. I'm learning how to climb the corporate rungs. You may not believe it, but I'm becoming discreet, diplomatic, political," he says.
"Lose your knife in somebody's back, did you?"
"There you go again. This dog's tryin' to learn new tricks and you keep running me down."
"No, I know this dog. He may be calling it a bush but he's trying to pee on my leg."
"How can you say that? There's talk that some of the partners want to put me on the management committee."
"I take it these are some of the partners whose pictures are on the walls out there in reception with brackets around the dates under their names?"
"I'm serious," he says.
"I know you're serious. It's their mental state I'm worried about. If they're serious, they're in the grips of dementia."
"You think so?"
"Nick, putting you on any committee would be an act of anarchy. The only administrative position for which you're qualified is emperor, and that would only work in hell and then only if there were bars on the windows."
He laughs. "Well, they're thinking about it. Tolt's the only one standing in the way. From what I hear, half the partners in the firm are ready to walk." He says it with a little glee as if burning his own place of employment to the ground is his ultimate objective. Nick gets off on blood, especially if it's somebody else's.
"Don't say you heard it here, but they're pissed at him." He's talking about Tolt. "Rumor is there will be no year-end bonuses. He wants to plough everything into a new branch office in Chicago. They're already overextended. That's what happens when you grow too fast," he says. "I stay here long enough and Tolt starts doing some creative accounting, I might pick him up as a client."
Nick is having fantasies. Adam Tolt is the firm's managing partner, for all intents the CEO, Yahweh, the higher power of what is now Nick's universe. He chairs a management committee, but according to anyone who knows Tolt, he's the man who makes the decisions. He is on a dozen corporate boards, two of the companies that make up Dow-Jones.
"So what did you tell Dana?"
"I told her I'm working on it. Have a little patience. Everything comes to those who wait."
"Is that something else your father told you?"
"Read it on some guy's toe tag at the morgue. He was sitting on the tracks when a train hit him, and all they could find was his foot."
I know the story to be true. Coroner's bedside manner.
"Besides, I've got a few irons in the fire."
"Can't talk about them right now." With Nick, it's always the big mystery. The next major coup in his life.
"Hell, at least with Margaret she didn't care," he says. "Whatever I wanted to do was fine, as long as we could pay the bills."
"Sounds like you regret leaving her."
"Only once a month," he says. "When I'm making the support payment." Then he thinks for a moment. "No. That's not true. Sometimes I see her in my dreams," he tells me. "Coming at me with an ax." Nick's laugh at something like this is always the same, a kind of shrill, pitched giggle you wouldn't expect from a man his size with a barrel chest. It was a bitter divorce.
"There's an old saying," says Nick, "that the truth shall set you free. I'm living proof. I told her the truth, and she divorced me. But at least I left her with a song in her heart."
With this he smiles. Nick's parting was not exactly a class act. It was talk all over town, gossip at all the watering holes. A man possessed of a tongue gilded with enough silver to waltz embezzlers and corporate confidence artists out of court couldn't figure out how to tell his wife he wanted another woman.
Even after she caught him with Dana, Margaret was prepared to forgive him. But Nick thought of a way to save her from herself; with the lyrics to a piece by Paul Simon-"Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover"-playing on an old turntable and a farewell note propped above it on the shelf.
Margaret had her revenge in the divorce and the support hearings that followed. Nick is likely to be practicing well into his eighties to pay the bills, though I suspect his annual income before taxes is into seven figures. I can imagine he might now be in a financial pinch.
"You're probably wondering why I asked you to come over." He cuts to the chase.
The hair on the back of my neck goes up. Nick wants a favor.
"I want you to understand it isn't me asking; it's really Dana."
"That makes it easier to say no," I tell him.
"Be nice. She likes you. She's the one who suggested I come to you."
Now I am nervous.
"She has a friend. This guy sits on the county arts commission with her. Seems he got himself involved in some kind of grand jury probe."
I'm already shaking my head.
"Listen, don't be negative," he says. "Hear me out. The guy's just a witness. He may not even be that. He hasn't even been served with a subpoena yet."
"Then why does he need a lawyer?"
"Well, he thinks he will be. I know. And I wouldn't ask you to do it, except I got a conflict. I can't represent him. The man's in business."
"So is the Colombian cartel. It's nothing personal," I tell him.
"As far as I know, he's clean. No criminal history. He's a local contractor."
Knowing Nick, the guy is probably drilling tunnels under the border crossing at San Ysidro. Nick would tell a jury his client was drilling for oil, and they'd probably believe him.
"So why would the U.S. attorney want to talk to a local contractor?"
"They got some wild hair up their ass on money laundering. That's all I know. Probably one of their snitches got into a bad box of cookies. The feds go through this every once in a while. It's like the cycles of the moon," he says. "One of their snitches has a bad trip, starts hallucinating, and half a dozen federal agencies go on overtime. From what I gather, it's the people down in Mexico they're looking at."
"What people down in Mexico?"
"You can get all the details when you talk to the guy."
"That assumes I'm going to talk to him."
"Dana's friend's name." He ignores me. "Actually he's not even a friend. She just met him a few months ago. Apparently his name was mentioned by another witness in front of the jury."
"How did that happen? More to the point, how do you know what a witness said in front of a grand jury? Last time I looked, they lock the door and pull all the blinds inside grand jury rooms."
"Don't ask me things I can't tell you," he says. "Hell, if I was subpoenaed in front of a grand jury, I'd probably end up mentioning your name."
"No. I mean it. If I told 'em 'I went to lunch with my friend Paul,' the FBI would start sifting through your trash. They do this all the time. They'll spend two years doing an investigation, dig up your garden, talk to all your friends, tell your boss it's nothing to worry about, they just want to look in your desk for heroin, and then they stop. Nobody gets indicted, and nobody ever knows why. Of course, all your neighbors drag their kids in the house, draw the drapes, and chain their doors every time you walk by. But that's life in a democracy, right?"
I'm still wondering who's down in Mexico.
"Listen. All I'm asking is that you talk to the guy. It'll probably just go away. I doubt if they'll subpoena him."
"They were sifting my garbage a couple of seconds ago."
"Yeah, but you're not as squeaky clean as this guy. Listen, all he needs is somebody to hold his hand."
"Sounds like a perfect case for you, to turn over a new leaf," I tell him. "You said he was a businessman."
"I would if I could. But we've got a conflict. The firm did some work, a civil case against his company a few years ago. You know how it is? Dana did this big buildup on her husband the lawyer. She's new on the arts commission. She wanted to make a good impression. So when this guy tells her about his legal problems, she says 'I'll have my husband talk to you.' Now she can't. What do you want me to do? You want her to lose face?"
Knowing Dana, the guy was probably trying to come on to her. I don't share this thought with Nick.
"She's trying to make an impression," he says. "Besides, the man's a big giver. He digs deep for all the right causes."
"So if he's into so many good works, why does the grand jury want to talk to this Brother Teresa?"
"It's probably nothing."
I begin to waffle and Nick can smell it.
"You'd be doing me a huge favor. I'd owe you my life," he says. "Well, maybe not that much."
"What you mean is I'd be doing Dana a big favor."
I can already see him edging her toward the sack tonight whispering in her ear about how he took care of her friend, put him in good hands, all the while looking for a little sweet reciprocity.
"What's his name? This client?" I got one of his business cards and my pen to make a note.
"Gerald Metz. I'll have him give you a call."
"No drugs, Nick. I don't do drug cases. You know that."
"I know. It's not drugs. Trust me. As far as I know, the guy's clean. His name is being dragged into it because he had one business deal with some people. You know how it is?"
"I know how it is." I hold up a hand and cut him off before he can start all over again. Chapter two, Rush on civil rights.
"Listen to his story, tell him not to worry, and charge him a big fee," he says.
"What if the grand jury calls him to testify? Does he understand I can't go into the jury room with him?"
"You're borrowing problems. Hey, if he gets called, you advise him of his rights. Tell him to take the Fifth."
"I thought you said he was clean."
Nick gives me one of his famous smiles. "Why would anybody need a lawyer if they were totally clean?" Then he laughs. "I'm only kidding," he says.
"Listen, I gotta go. I got a client waiting outside. I'm already late. But we'll talk," he says.
"I thought you were going to spring for lunch."
"I know, and you said yes. But you said it too easily," he says. "Next time make it a challenge." He's around the desk, his hand on my arm, ushering me toward the door. "Next week. It's on me. I promise. We'll do it at the club. You haven't seen the club. It comes with the partnership," he says. "That and a window."
Nick has what he wants: me on the hook. "Dana told him you'd give him a call to set up an appointment."
"I thought you said he was gonna call me?"
"Did I? You better call him. He might forget. I told Dana you'd understand."
I was wrong. Nick has already gotten his treat from Dana.
"Listen, I'm sure this guy's clean. I mean, my wife doesn't run around with felons." He looks at me over the top of his half-frames. "That's my job."
He's got me by the arm now, guiding me toward the side door, the one that leads to the hallway outside instead of reception where he has clients stacked up like planes at LaGuardia.
"How well does Dana know this guy?"
"Listen, I gotta tell you a story." Nick changes the subject. He's good at that.
"A couple of weeks ago, Dana takes me to this exhibit. The guy who gets the blue ribbon. Catch this. His piece of art is a cardboard wall painted dark blue with all this glitter shit on it. It's covered with condoms, all different colors, glued on like deflated elephant trunks. The artist calls the thing 'Living Fingers.' I ask Dana what it means. She says she doesn't have a clue."
"Maybe it's in the eye of the beholder," I tell him.
"Something's in somebody's eye," says Nick. "Because later that night this particular Picasso sells for twenty-seven hundred bucks to some old broad wearing a silk cape and a felt fedora with a feather in it. I guess she figures the fingers will come to life when she gets it home. Don't get me wrong," he says. "I like art as well as the next guy."
This from a man who in college took art history early in the morning so he could sleep through the slide presentations in the dark.
"You didn't answer my question."
"What's that?" he says.
"How well does Dana know this guy?"
"Who, the guy who did the painting?"
"Gerald Metz," I say.
"Oh, him. She doesn't know him at all. They meet once a month. Give him a call. And next week we'll do lunch," he says. He looks at me with those big brown eyes, the last thing I see as I find myself standing just across the threshold of his door, watching the walnut paneling as it swooshes closed in my face. Chalk another victory up to Nick Rush.
from The Arraignment by Steve Martini, Copyright © 2003, G. P. Putnam & Sons, a member of The Penguin Group, Inc., used by permission.
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