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"After thirty-five years of marriage, your father should let me be on top!"
Lynn Morgan cradled the phone against her shoulder and began sorting through the messages on her desk. "I can't see what difference it makes who's on top, Mom. We're just talking about bodies, here." She glanced up to see Tony Russo looking amused as he leaned against the doorjamb of her office. "Dead bodies," she added for Tony's benefit.
His eyebrows lifted. "That's beside the point," her mother said. "It's the principle of the thing ."
Lynn knew this terrain well. Mediating her parents hare brained battles had prepared her to become a lawyer, according to her friends. She offered her mother the expected dose of logic. "Shouldn't it depend on who goes first?"
"That's what he says, and it would be just like him to outlive me so he could be on top! I want a guarantee of my final position ."
Lynn looked at Tony and rolled her eyes. "Suppose you do go first. You want to be dug up so somebody can slide him in underneath you?" "Why not?"
"Because we're not talking about rearranging leftovers in the refrigerator! Really, Mom, this is"
"I can see you don't understand, and I am not spending eternity underneath your father. I want a divorce. You can represent me ."
Lynn put down her pile of messages. "Excuse me?"
"A divorce. You are a divorce lawyer, right? Serve your father papers. That should teach him to dictate burial-plot etiquette!"
Lynn leaned forward and focused all her attention on the conversation. "I can't believe you're serious about a divorce ."
"Dead serious ."
"That's not funny ."
"Yes, it is ."
To Lynn's amazement, herheart was pounding, as if she were a little kid being threatened with this family disaster instead of a twenty-nine-year-old respected member of the Illinois State Bar. "Listen, buy two plots next to each other in a different part of the cemetery ."
"Not on your life! That's my family's plot, and my designated space, and I'm going in it. Let your father find his own plot ."
"Look, Mom" Lynn broke off as a second phone line blinked. "I have another call. Listen to the Muzak a minute and don't go away ."
"Don't forget I'm paying long distance, dear ."
"I won't forget. Be right back." Lynn put her mother on hold and glanced at Tony.
He pushed away from the doorjamb, his expression sober. he'd always been able to gauge her moods, which made him a valuable friend. "You seem to have your hands full," he said gently. "Why don't I come back later?"
"Please stay. I have a feeling I'm going to need a sounding board when I get through here ."
"That's all I need to know." Tony walked over and sat in one of the chairs in front of her desk.
"Thanks. I'll make this as quick as I can." She gave him a smile as she answered the second line. "Lynn Morgan ."
"Your mother's gone bananas," her father said.
"you're telling me. What's all that noise in the background, Dad?" She glanced at Tony, who was shaking his head in sympathy.
"Never mind the noise in the background. I think this is the big one, Peanut. Splitsville. I want you to represent me ."
Lynn rested her forehead in her hand. "You, too?"
"What'dya mean, me, too? Did she beat me to the punch?"
"No, because I'm not taking either one of you on. Honestly, you sound like two kids fighting over who gets the top bunk ."
"It's not just the plot," her father said. "She went to this Seize Your Power seminar, and as if that wasn't enough, she's started taking testosterone, which she claims is because of the Change. But if you ask me, this is one woman who doesn't need testosterone. I tell you, she's developed a real attitude, Peanut ."
"She's always had an attitude, Dad." Lynn could see this wasn't going to be a quick-fix situation. "Listen, I'll get back to you on this. Don't do anything rash ." "If you're saying don't move out, I've already got a room at the Naughty and Nice Motel ."
"you're kidding." Her father had always joked about staying there, just to get her mother's goat. Surely he hadn't actually done it.
"Well, that part was a mistake ."
"you're really at the Naughty and Nice?" She pictured the sleazy motel in a bad part of Springfield, with hookers and drug dealers hanging on every corner.
"I should have checked into the Holiday Inn instead. There's no phones in the room. I'm calling you from the Black Garter Video Shop next door ."
Lynn's brain began to spin. "Dad, you can't stay there. That's a rough area ."
"I've always wanted to see the place, Peanut. Plus I figured it would send your mother over the moon if I called her from there, but now I can't, because there are no phones ."
"Which is another thing. How am I supposed to get in touch with you?"
"I'll figure that out and call you." He lowered his voice again. "You wouldn't believe how some of the women dress around here, Peanut. Theywhoops, gotta go. Somebody needs to use the phone, and she looks pretty determined, especially with that earring through her lower lip." He whispered into the phone. "She's got tattoos everywhere ." Then he hung up.
Lynn took a deep breath before returning to her mother's call. "I have to go, Mom. I'll call you this afternoon, and I certainly hope that by then you and Dad will have come to your senses ."
"Talk to the cemetery-plot hog! He's the one who won't listen to reason ."
Lynn didn't think it wise to tell her mother the cemetery- plot hog had been on the other line, and that he was currently living in one of the more colorful parts of Springfield. "Goodbye, Mom." She hung up and gazed at Tony. "I can't believe this. They've always squabbled, but it was never serious. It was like living with Ricky and Lucy Ricardo ."
"I take it they haven't threatened divorce before ."
"Never. But it seems my mother took some motivational seminar and now she's on a rampage fueled by hot flashes. None of that really surprises me, but this talk about divorcethat's just nuts. They've always dreamed of this time, when I'd be on my own and the house would be paid off. Dad took early retirement last year, and" She stared at Tony as the truth dawned. "They're bored out of their skulls, aren't they?"
"Looks like. We've sure seen plenty of couples like that come through here ."
"Why did I suppose my parents would be any different?" Lynn threw her hands in the air. "Textbook case ."
"Well, I wouldn't go that far. I don't remember any other middle-aged couple filing because they couldn't figure out how to share a cemetery plot ."
"They will not file for divorce. Not if I have anything to say about it." She crossed her arms and glared at Tony as if he would challenge her claim. "It'll probably blow over," Tony said with a show of conviction.
She wanted to believe him. "I don't like the sound of things, though. My dad's checked into a motel in the redlight district and my mother's busy shuffling coffins. We're not talking your general run-of-the-mill argument, like whether to give Goliath a bath in the bidet ."
Tony's mouth twitched. "And Goliath is a?"
"My father's toy poodle. Mom has a rottweiler named Snookums." Lynn glanced at him. "you're trying not to laugh, aren't you?"
"Not me. Is this funny? I don't see anything funny ."
"Well, at least they've always been entertaining ."
"And you've always had to keep a cool head ."
She leaned back in her chair. "Yeah, I'm the straitlaced one ."
"Oh, I wouldn't say so. you're the one who suggested we hit a fun park the night after my divorce became final ."
Lynn smiled at the memory. They'd scoured the suburbs until they'd found what she was looking forbumper cars, pinball machines, noise and people. "That was a special case. I don't do that for clients, as a rule ."
"Just the pro bono ones ."
"Hey, I don't take money from a good friend and colleague. I may need your services sometime. Besides, after the way Michelle" She saw the look on his face and wished she hadn't started the sentence in the first place.
"After the way Michelle screwed up my life, you were going to say ." "She was a fool." Lynn couldn't understand Michelle at all, cheating on a man like Tony. His Italian good looks, intelligence and career choice made him what Lynn's mother would call a "catch," but he was also a damned nice guy.
"We both were fools. To be honest, I'd rather talk about your folks' problems than mine ."
"Makes sense. Sorry I brought it up." She figured he had to be grieving. The divorce was only six months old, and Michelle had been the center of his universe.
"So, how are you going to keep them from splitting up?" Tony asked.
"Well" Lynn propped her elbows on the desk and rested her chin on her hands. She and Tony had brainstormed cases many times and she'd come to trust his input. This situation wasn't so different from a complicated point of law. "They're creating conflict because they have no real problems, right?"
"That's my best guess ."
"What if I give them one?"
Tony crossed his ankle over his knee and leaned back in the chair. "Like what?"
Lynn thought back to her childhood. "Whenever I used to get in trouble"
"Yeah, right ."
"Okay, it was pretty tame stuff. But considering how my parents debated everything from how to hang toilet paper on the roll to the background pictures on their checks, they never disagreed on how to handle me. On that issue they were a united front ."
"Gonna get yourself in trouble?"
She doodled on a pad of paper as her plan took shape. "Yes, I am. It's time their logical, sane daughter kicked over the traces. And I'm going to get in trouble the old-fashioned way." She looked up. "I'll get pregnant ."
Tony lurched forward in the chair. "Hey, not so fast! I don't think this situation requires you to"
"Not really!" She grinned. "I'll just say I'm PG ."
"Oh." He sank back in his chair. "I was afraid you were heading to the nearest bar to rustle up a one-night stand ."
"For heaven's sake. Does that sound like me? Besides, that would take too long. I need to be pregnant right this minute ."
"Lynn, it's a creative idea, but have you thought it through? you're a terrible liar. Even I know that, and you're setting out to fool your parents, the people who raised you ."
She tapped her pen against the blotter. "As usual, you've hit on the biggest glitch in my plan. But it's such a good idea ."
"You could practice your story ."
"I'd have to. Can I practice with you?"
"Sure. I'll even help you come up with it. First of all, you need an identity for the imaginary father of this imaginary kid ."
She smiled at him. "I have a feeling you've had some practice with telling tall tales ."
"Let's just say I got in more trouble than you did when I was growing up ."
"Okay, who's the father? Somebody my parents will go into an apoplectic fit over. Swaggering, macho, cigarette dangling from the corner of his lip, tight jeans, a tattoo. No job prospects, but he's happy I'm working and keeping him in beer. In short, a gigolo ."
Tony started to laugh. "you're overdoing it. There's no way they'll buy a story that far-fetched. They'll know you're lying through your teeth the minute you start describing this make-believe lover of yours ."
"Ah, but logical women are notorious for becoming attracted to some sexy loser and having their good sense destroyed by great sex. Besides, I've always been completely honest with them. They'll never expect me to make up an elaborate story like this." The thought pricked her conscience. She didn't like the idea of lying to her parents, but she couldn't actually get pregnant to bring them together, so she had no choice.
"Even so, I think they'll want proof for anything this wild ."
"Possibly. But I can't imagine how I couldhmm." She gazed at him, narrowing her eyes as she mentally rearranged his appearance. Maybe, just maybe, he was her solution.
Tony shifted in his chair. "Why are you looking at me like that?"
"Take off your jacket ."
"Why?" He looked uneasy.
"Humor me ."
He shrugged. "The lady wants the jacket off, I guess I'll take the jacket off. It's been a strange morning." He stood and removed the jacket of his pin-striped suit.
"Now take off the tie ."
He stared at her.
"Come on, Tony. I'm working on a concept here ."
He sighed and took off the tie. "Now unbutton the first three or four buttons of your shirt, and mess up your hair ."
"Mess up my" He looked at her as if she'd gone totally bonkers.
She got up and came around the desk. "Like this." She rubbed her fingers vigorously over his scalp.
"Hey!" He leaped back. "Who are you and what have you done with Lynn?"
"That's not quite the look I had in mind." She started toward him.