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"Just wait." Laura Leindecker's voice was soft and riddled with pain. "You'll see. He comes across as being honest and charming, and that's what people think he is. That's what I thought he was. For twenty-four years, that's what I thought." She swallowed hard in a bid for strength. "But I know better now. He's not what he seems. He cheats and he lies."
Ignoring the headache that was part and parcel of late afternoon on a hell of a day, Faith Barry came forward, bracing her elbows on her desk. "Did he come right out and confess to having an affair?"
Laura swallowed again. "He had no choice. I found the note. It was right there in the pocket of his trench coat. I'm sure he meant for me to find it. He was the one who asked me to take the coat to the dry cleaner, and he knew I'd check the pockets."
"How did he know that?"
"Because I always do it. Bruce is a tightwad, still he leaves money in his pockets." She frowned. "I think he does it to test me. He's always telling me that I don't really work. But what does he expect," she asked, growing beseechful, "when he has me doing this, that and the other for him all day long? It takes time to see to his custodial needs. But that's my job. So I check his pockets." She paused. "Only there wasn't any money this time." Her voice shook. "Just the note."
Faith nodded, which, aside from injecting an occasional question, was pretty much what she'd been doing for the past fifteen minutes. Laura Leindecker's story wasn't a new one. Faith heard similar ones often, and though the details might differ, the anger, the hurt, the sense of betrayal were the same.
Faith hurt for her. She knew that her questioning didn't help. Still, it was a necessary means to an end. "Can you tell me what the note said?" she asked gently.
Laura looked at the carpeted floor while she gathered her wits. Keeping her lids lowered against humiliation, she said, "'Better than ever. Next week, same time, same place.'" Her eyes rose, filled with hurt. "It was written on notepaper from the Four Seasons. That's our favorite hotel. We've eaten at the restaurant there a dozen times in as many months, and I'm not exaggerating. And he had the gall to take her there."
"To the restaurant?" Faith asked. "Do you think he'd risk that kind of exposure?" She knew of Bruce Leindecker. Most Bostonians did. He'd made his name in real estate, and while he was far from a mega-mogul, his face was well-known.
"I wouldn't put anything past him," Laura cried in a moment's lapse of composure. "No decent human being would risk that kind of exposure, but then no decent human being would cheat on a woman who's been faithful and loving and giving and patient and understanding and solicitous for twenty-four years!"
Faith had to marvel at Laura if, indeed, she'd been all those things for so long. Faith had been married for eight years, and in that time she'd only managed to stay faithful. Somehow, all the rest had gone down the tubes—but mutually so. The divorce had been amicable.
"Do you have children?" she asked. She thought she remembered reading about some, but she wasn't sure.
"Two," Laura told her and let out a defeated breath. "They trusted him, too, though it's a miracle. I can't begin to count the number of times over the years when he was to be at a football game or a dance recital and then didn't arrive until the janitors were closing up." She paled when a new thought hit. "I wonder how many of those times he was with a paramour. There were so many opportunities. So many late nights. So many business trips."
"Did you ever suspect anything?"
"No. I told you. I trusted him. I was a fool." She pressed a finger over her lip. When that was ineffective in stanching her tears, she took a handkerchief from her purse, pressed it to her nose, then dabbed at the corners of her eyes.
Faith remembered the first time she'd had a client break down in her office. She'd wanted to put her arms around the woman and tell her everything was going to be all right, except it wasn't true. That particular woman was on welfare, had two preschoolers and chronic asthma, and didn't know how to balance a checkbook, let alone fill out a job application.
Laura Leindecker's situation was different. She was older, for one thing, early fifties, perhaps, and the children were probably grown. She was also more formal, very pretty, elegant in an understated way. She seemed in good health, but Faith knew looks could be deceiving. One thing was sure, though. She wasn't on welfare.
Still, she was in pain. Rich or poor, it didn't matter. Infidelity hurt. Betrayal hurt. The pending dissolution of something that had stood for nearly a quarter century hurt.
Faith waited until Laura was in control again. Quietly she said, "I know that this is all very difficult for you, Mrs. Leindecker, but if I'm to represent you, I'll have to know more. When you confronted your husband with the note, when he admitted to having the affair, how did he react?"
Laura brooded on that for a minute. "He was charming."
"He acted totally humbled. He apologized. He said he'd made a mistake. He almost cried." She shot a teary glance skyward. "Bruce has never cried in his life. Calm, even-tempered, in control—that's Bruce."
"Perhaps if he nearly cried, it's a sign he was truly sorry."
"No. It was an act."
"Maybe he's only now realizing the ramifications of what he's done."
"No doubt," Laura agreed a bit facetiously. "He's wondering where he's going to sleep tonight. I told him I'd call the police if he tried coming home."
Faith was uneasy with threats, particularly ones that would be impossible to enforce. Unless Laura could show that her husband posed a physical danger to her, the police wouldn't do a thing—except report the call in the local newspaper the next week. Once a domestic quarrel went public like that, things were harder to resolve.
"Where were you when you told him this?"
"In his office. When I found that note, I dropped everything and raced right in there. I've never been so angry in my entire life."
Faith could believe that, since Laura struck her as being a relatively sedate soul. But humiliation and hurt often found an outlet in anger.
"He kept telling me to quiet down," Laura went on.
"He didn't want anyone in the office to think something was wrong." Her gentle voice went higher. "This is a man who has a weekly tryst with a woman who isn't his wife at a hotel where any number of people can recognize him, and he's worried about being embarrassed at work?" And higher. "Well, what about me? Do you think I'll be able to show my face ever again in that hotel and not be mortified?"
"You will," Faith assured her in a calming tone. "Given who and what your husband is, he was probably discreet."
"At the Four Seasons?"
"There are ways. A room can be taken by the woman. The man arrives after her. No one has to know what floor he goes to or what business he's on. It's simple."
"Yes, but it's done all the time, and with no one the wiser save a wife who finds a note in her husband's coat. Do you have any idea who the woman is?"
"He refused to tell me."
"Do you know how long it's been going on?"
"He wouldn't tell me that, either. He's protecting her. He's afraid I'll go after her in a divorce suit."
"You don't need to go after anyone. Not in this state. The fight won't be about the divorce, just the settlement."
"And I want a big one," Laura said in a show of bravado. "I sacrificed the best years of my life for that man. He was a nobody when I met him. I stood by him through the early years. I was patient. I gave him support. I saw that his needs were filled—" She stopped, looking stricken. Then she grew defensive. "Yes, I did fill his needs. It's not my fault that he had to further prove his virility. He should have known better. This is going to cost him."
"It's going to cost you, too, Mrs. Leindecker," Faith felt compelled to point out, albeit gently, "and I'm not only talking about my fee. I'm talking about the emotional pain involved in divorce. You may feel that nothing can be worse than finding a note in your husband's coat pocket, but that's not so. If you decide to file for divorce, things could be harder than you imagine. You'll be alone for the first time in twenty-four years. Have you thought about that? Is it what you want?" She let the question sink in for a minute. "And beyond the emotional, there's the physical settlement. If your husband agrees to your demands, that's fine. If he doesn't, the trouble's just begun."
Laura eyed her warily. "You're trying to talk me out of this. Why?"
"Because that's my job."
"I thought your job was to represent me. You have the reputation of being a tough lawyer who fights hard for her clients. I'm willing to pay you to fight hard for me. Why won't you?"
"I will, if that's what you truly want. But as a lawyer, I have a moral obligation to try to salvage the marriage before we end it." She couldn't stress the point enough. "As an officer of the court in this state, I have an ethical obligation to do that. No-fault divorce doesn't mean that the marital gates should swing open and shut with the flick of a finger." She paused. "Some people come to me after years of marital counseling and months of discussing divorce. You and your husband haven't done either of those thingsat least, not to my knowledge. Have you ever had marital counseling?"
"Have you ever considered divorce before?"
"No. I told you. I trusted him. I was completely taken in."
Faith looked down at her hands, laced and unlaced them, then sat back in her seat. "You had a shock this morning when you found that note. Sometimes a shock like that starts certain wheels moving. They pick up speed and propel you toward something that, if you were to stop and really think about it, you might not want."
Laura clutched the lip of her purse. "I want a divorce."
"You haven't even slept on the thought."
"I want a divorce."
"Are you sure that there isn't the slightest chance of a reconciliation?"
"Yes, I'm sure. I can't trust Bruce anymore. I want a divorce. Will you represent me?"
Faith recognized stubbornness when she saw it, but she had a stubborn streak of her own. "I'll represent you, but only if you go home and think really hard about what you want to do. Today's Friday. If by next Tuesday you still feel that there's no hope for the marriage, I'll help you get your divorce." When she saw Laura pull a checkbook from her purse, she held up a hand. "Wait until Tuesday. If the divorce is what you want, I'll take a retainer then."
"I thought you'd want the money now," Laura said in surprise. "Aren't you afraid that after taking up your time today, I may turn around and go to another lawyer?"
Faith smiled. It was a tired smile, subdued by her headache, not in the least bit smug. But it held pride. "You may, and that's your choice. I think, though, that I offer something unique. I'm a woman and I'm tough. I also happen to get along with most every judge I've faced, and that's what's different here. I'm not strident, like some of my colleagues. I'm not militant. I'm a professional, and a professional gets results. So if results are what you want, you'll be back."
Laura Leindecker left shortly after that, which was none too soon for Faith who immediately went off in search of a painkiller. Her secretary didn't have any, but she'd half expected that, since Loni was as close to a flower child as a 1990's woman could be. She was sweet and extremely capable, and Faith found a nostalgic charm in her dedication to all things natural and pure, but she had no painkillers.
Nor did Monica, the colleague with whom Faith shared the suite of offices and Loni.
So Faith returned to her desk, determined to beat the headache with sheer willpower, and set about answering the phone calls she'd deliberately left for the end of the day. Several of them were difficult and required adjunctive calls, such as the one to the client suing for custody of her eleven-year-old son, whom she'd just learned was picked up for shoplifting in the local five-and-dime, or the one to the client who had shown up in a hospital the night before with injuries from a beating given her by the husband who, by order of the court, had been forbidden to approach her.
Sheer willpower didn't have much of a chance against emotional situations like those, and by the time Faith hung up the phone, her headache was no better. So she closed her eyes, put her head in her hands and concentrated on relaxing. But it had been a hard week, and her tension reflected that. She was grateful it was Friday. Though she had plenty of work to do over the weekend, the pace of weekend work was different.
Buoyed by that thought, she reached for a small recorder to dictate several letters. Loni had left for the day, which was fine for the letters since they didn't have to be typed until Monday. It wasn't so fine for the phone. Before Faith had a chance to turn the line over to the answering service, she received back-to-back calls that were both tedious and time-consuming. By the time she finally hung up the phone, she'd just about had it.
That was when the buzzer rang in the outer office. Someone was at the front door of the suite, locked now that Loni was gone. For a minute, Faith considered ignoring it. She considered curling up in a ball in the corner of the sofa, burying her aching head under her arms and shirking every legal responsibility she had. Last time the buzzer had rung after hours, though, it had been a seventeen-year-old girl who had seen Faith on television and wanted help in stopping her parents from making her abort the baby she carried.