One of the most powerful trial lawyers in New York, Aaron Richard Golub has worked on cases involving such luminary litigants as Brooke Shields, Donald Trump, and Andy Warhol. Now Golub introduces a brazen alter-ego in his fast-paced debut novel that transports readers from affluent Park Avenue to the treacherous streets of Chinatown and ultimately, the lower Manhattan courtroom where a bizarre family drama builds to a stunningand utterly unexpectedtwist.
Seduced by periland cold, hard cashstreet-smart Johnny Ocean has earned himself an Upper East Side townhouse, a faithful Sikh butler, and a reputation for taking cases other lawyers won't touch. Enter his latest client, the shadowy Pandora Markham, an upper crust temptress so shrouded in mystery that she has yet to come face to face with her own attorney...
On the surface, the case appears to be nothing more than a cat fight between a pair of sisters-in-law over a $170 million inheritance. Johnny isn't fooled by its seeming simplicity. Nor, as the inevitable grim reality snares him in an ominous underworld web, is he frightened-not at first. But Pandora Markham hasn't told him everything-and what Johnny doesn't know can kill him...
Author Biography: AARON RICHARD GOLUB is one of the most powerful trial lawyers in New York. Some of his cases have involved Brooke Shields, Giorgio Armani, Bob Guccione, Marc Rich, Donald Trump, Andy Warhol, and William Hurt. The Big Cut is his first novel.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.80(w) x 8.57(h) x 1.18(d)|
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A four-mile-long garden grows in New York City. Only twenty feet wide, it divides the flow of two-way traffic on Park Avenue, knotting the numbered cross streets to the main thoroughfare like the warp of an Oriental carpet until it ends where Spanish Harlem begins. It is prohibited to walk on "the mall." There are no shops, just miles of rusted rectangular steel grates concealed by dwarfed yews, pear trees, and perfectly landscaped beds of pink begoniasa thatched roof high above the deafening hell of Metro-North trains roaring out of Grand Central and off to the suburbs.
Early that morning, I was walking down Park Avenue with Barkis, my 130-pound Rottweiler, passing one grand limestone apartment house after another. Every day I see these gray fortresses and think of the people I've sued and defended who live inside, hiding in their high-rise mansions above white-gloved, uniformed doormen and buzzing intercoms, avoiding wily process servers.
This neighborhood belongs in the book New York City on $10,000 a Day. Felonies are committed just above Park Avenue's horticulture by affluent citizens manipulating digits and legal principles over breakfast and the Wall Street Journal. At this time of the morning, the hissing of watering hoses and scraping of street cleaners anticipate the filthy world converging on the big city. The maxims of Manhattanaggression surmounts extreme resistance, manners over morality, revenge finds its time and placeare played out one more time, one more day.
Nearly all the events of my next case would occurin four blocks of this grid, as if the city were a country village or a sports field. People from good families commit crimes, but an old family name reduces scandal to biographical cachet. In this respectable East Side neighborhood every transgression, including murder, can make you a star. The once-convicted and once-acquitted Claus Von Bülow ate at the best table in Manhattan's top restaurants while being tried for the attempted murder of his wife.
At cocktail parties and restaurants, slurping and burping judges, writers, matrons, and maître d's love to speculate: "My opinion is he poisoned her." "Everyone knows he was just after her money, but he's very handsome." "She deserved it. But I always liked her."
As I approached the curb, the sun buffed the black-lacquered side of a Cadillac hearse with SING SI WANG FUNERAL HOME embossed in bronze on the windows. Putting a match to a Lucky, I read each word slowly. The hearse looked out of place parked in front of the Sixty-fifth Street service entrance to the Caprice, one of Park's most expensive residences. Not to mention the four large Chinese thugs, silently sidewalking, expressionless as frozen food. If you had the nerve to ask, they'd say they were in the "death-services business."
"An excellent day in the city," a radio squawked from a passing yellow taxi as two more Chinese strongarmers in tapered black suits rolled a gurney to the curb. A body sheathed in a bloodstained sheet and fastened under three red vinyl restraints lay on the stretcher. It could have been a Jackson Pollock interpretation of the Swiss flag, but that stiff was no work of art.
No one else on the street noticed, but another dead body is how a lawyer like me makes his pay.
There wasn't a cop in sight. At that moment, I had no vested interest in making a critical inquiryno paying client. The body slid into the hearse behind black velvet curtains on polished chrome window rods. The rear door swung closed, and the hearse squirmed through the traffic on East Sixty-fifth Street toward Lexington. Had murder been folded away? A streak of blood now soiled the avenue. Somewhere, some lawyer would soon be opening a file on this matter.
When I take my usual morning walk with Barkis I'm not exactly looking for action or clients. But nearby, behind the paneled ebony door to my townhouse on East Sixty-seventh Street, I keep my law office. You won't find a name or a bell on the building. The first two floors are offices, and I live on the top three, but I haven't been to the fifth in four years except to dig out a dusty bottle of 1962 Château Haut-Brion.
Inside the office, my Indian butler, Mr. K, was sitting behind the receptionist's desk on the ground floor, acting busy while slyly reading poetry. Clients treat him like the rare ornament he isa wafer-thin Sikh with a long, white Van Dyck beard tied in a double knot. His skin is tan and parched, worn as an old wallet. His business card reads: "Mr. K, Managing Director, Eyeballs, Inc.," but I own that private investigation agency.
Mr. K thinks of himself as my bodyguard. He practices gatka, the Punjabi art of self-defense, and carries a kirpan, or sword, concealed under his shirt. It is one of the five "Ks" of dress and appearance required by the Sikh religion, known also as the Panth, the path. The other four are: kada, the steel bracelet that reminds the Sikh not to steal or commit bad deeds; kesh, the vow taken by Sikhs not to cut any of their hair, as it permits them to be recognized as the selfless servants of all mankind; kangha, the comb, to keep hair neat and secured under the turban; and kachha, undergarments worn to ensure self-control and sexual discipline.
The kirpan cannot be displayed for mere amusement. Once the weapon is unsheathed, violence is inevitable. But in moments of crisis, K is the first to say, "Be cool, sir, be cool." Violence is always the last resort. I try to achieve a state of coolness in this unforgiving city, although it is difficult.
K straightened his pink turban. Although K abhors change, he "tucks up" a different colored turban every morning. Instructing him to change an unpressed suit or a wrinkled, threadbare shirt is part of my daily ritual. The same tie has hung from his neck for months.
"That's a great outfit, K."
"Pink on Tuesday. Fine dress is very important. It makes the man, Sahib. We must look our best for the clients. Gird up your loins and get ready for your legal battles. Sahib, don't give up, don't give in. We will be victorious."
K is a loyal, God-fearing family man absorbed by religion and the belief that he is on this planet to serve me and mankind.
"Sagai." K clasped his hands and bowed. That meant he was turning right. He disappeared upstairs to prepare breakfast and I went to my office on the second floor.
During the next hour, the telephone seemed to ring incessantly. I answered the last call ahead of Mercedes, who handles my secretarial work even though it is beneath her Mount Holyoke B.A. in art history and M.A. in political science. But she tells me she needs the money for another degree.
A dignified female secretary who sounded more like a Palm Beach socialite than a law-office drone asked me to hold for Mr. I-didn't-catch-the-name before I was swallowed in a disconnect. Then it rang again.
"Call for you, Mr. Ocean," Mercedes said on the intercom, and I picked up.
"Johnny. Sorry I was cut off. Got a minute? Something interesting for you."
It was Jack Dyson, a good friend who worked for one of those fifty-partner, two-hundred-associate law firms on Wall Street. Hidden well by his Ivy League education and three-piece suits was a rough background.
"We've got a hot one here. The computer calls it an 00868means 'not for us.' The case is fixed. The judge is wrapped around the other side's finger."
"That puts another small crack in your Yale Law School mug, Jack." Dyson sent over cases every few months that were too small or politically loaded for Davis & Shiring.
"Right, the firm doesn't want it. It's an estate matter, ripe for the Ocean Liner. You've been around the Surrogate's Court before, haven't you?"
The second I heard Surrogate's Court, I knew it was messy but probably very lucrative.
"Yeah, sure, but only to use the men's room."
"This is a good case for you." He paused. "The client only wants you for a limited purpose."
"What's that? Some sort of"
"Power play. The case needs new blood. Just come on like a grizzly, intimidate the shit out of the opposition. Take a deposition for about 100K, including all your expenses. It'll take some complex legal research and some investigation. But it'll be like a summer job. Like when I was a tennis pro in Southampton."
That was the summer he tore the ligaments in his right knee racing for a bitchy drop shot that ended his amateur-circuit tennis career. But now wasn't the time to remind him.
"My kind of case, no long-term commitments."
"Don't kid yourself, there's time involved." Dyson continued, "It's a cat fight between two sisters-in-law. Your client is being sued for 170 mil by her sister-in-law, Babette Longwood. Seems Babette loaned her dear brother Marcel the dough. He croaks, leaves everything to his wife, the sister-in-law, your client. Makes Babette little angry, comprendo? You've heard of the husband" a long Dyson cigar draw"Edgar Longwood?"
I had, but he didn't give me chance to get a word in. Edgar Longwood, Babette's late husband, was a powerful man. The Longwoods were one of the richest families in the country, playing an almost historic role in national and local politics and international finance. Edgar had run the family fortune while he was alive.
"You'll be taking Babette's deposition. If it gets complicated, I'll see to it that you get no less than 200K. Whack her around, scare the fucking shit out of her from the other side of a table. Shouldn't take more than that, and you're out. If it goes well and stays relatively uncomplicated, you could get another hundred grand. The client's that way. You don't even have to appear as the attorney of record. She's already represented by some senile geezer named Rupert Hargrove. She probably found his name in an old Social Register. And from my point of view, you don't have to know the whole case inside and out. It'll take too long to learn the details of the entire file, lots of junk facts in a billion-dollar estatetoo many cardboard boxes, thousands of documents, manila up the ass. Just kill. Rip Babette's heart out and drink her blood! Got to call you right back."
Such are the carefully chosen words of top trial lawyers. I already knew it wouldn't be easy.
Long before I'd ever thought about a deposition, some twenty years ago, Jack and I met in Criminal Court at 100 Centre Street. Dyson was an assistant district attorney. I was well out of law school but not practicing. In fact, I'd never even taken the bar exam. Two junkiesone black, one whitehad broken into my small apartment in the West Village. They'd beaten my brains out, wrecked the place, and stolen my driver's license, some gas credit cards, and an engraved wristwatch my father gave me when I was sixteen. Some young plainclothes cops collared them when the black one produced my New York State driver's license with a photo of my white face after he was asked for identification somewhere in the East Village.
The cops called me as a witness. I had to appear at the arraignment, conveniently set for midnight at 100 Centre Street. When I stepped up to the counsel table in front of the bench, Jack and I seemed to know each other from someplace. Dyson insisted that he knew me from summers on the Jersey shore during his Budweiser-blurred college years. I had never driven an inch off the New Jersey Turnpike. We never figured it out.
Jack is a red-haired, freckle-faced Irishman. His looks don't fit this truly tough guy. He grew up in Hell's Kitchen, while I was raised in a bad neighborhood in a factory town in Massachusetts. Jack's parents owned a bar. Mine owned a small grocery store over which I grew up. His father never made a mixed drink or served a highball, just beer and shots. My father rang a cash register; butchered meat, poultry, and pork; and bagged fruits and vegetables. My mother worked as a secretary who never touched a drop, but Dyson's mother was no slouch when it came to boozing. Jack's folks gave this world a lawyer with granite nuts and a lethal mouth who could make anyone cringe on the stand. As an assistant district attorney, Dyson didn't just cross-examine witnesseshe nailed them to the cross.
That's what the two guys who broke into my apartment soon discovered. They were swiftly prosecuted and convicted. In the courtroom, I watched Jack perform. Like all good trial lawyers, he was a great actor, and I got angry at myself for not taking the bar exam. It'd been five years since law school and three since I was discharged from the military. I had been doing investigative work and liking it because it was bringing in the bucks. But after I left the courthouse that morning, I was determined to change my life.
Jack and I became Fast friends. Every few months over the years we'd get together for a fast lunch at Grand Central's Oyster Bar, talking as if one of us were going to be late for a train. In a way, in exchange for inspiring me to pass the bar exam over red snapper and stone crab claws, I encouraged Jack to make some real money, leave the DA's office, and take a job in a large, civil, private practice with the white-shoe firm Davis & Shiring. The most senior partner, Bud Davis, took a real interest in Jack and introduced him to the city's heavy hitters on Wall Streetand to real-estate moguls, media tycoons, the team owners, and the movie stars.
Dyson plugged himself into the circuit of big-time judges and politicos, quickly made partner, and landed in a hallowed corner office. When it finally happened, it depressed him. Older partners who'd been retired to mid-floor offices when their client list shortened loved rainmakers like Jack, who graciously turned over all his businessthree million plus dollars per yearto the firm. He drew an annual salary of five hundred thousand dollars while Davis and his best buddy, Shiring, pulled five million each. The firm sold Jack on the prestige, but there was no big money in sight. Jack was disappointed that Davis & Shiring was a one-way street, but he didn't make a change. For all that it was worth, he could say, "I'm a partner in Davis & Shiring." That alone got him into every important midtown club. He could read the Wall Street Journal, smoke Cuban cigars, drink cognac, play backgammon, and fall asleep in a green leather wingback chair alongside ten WASPy geezers who attended Ivy League schools in the twenties. Fortunately, any time a party invitation allowed him to drag a friend along he called me, which was my introduction to the swells.
Dyson rang back.
"So Jack, who's the client?" I asked.
"Pandora Markham. You probably know the name, or Pandora's face. On her way to her late thirties. A thoroughbred. In great shape the last time I saw her, two months ago. Long brown hair. Lives in a seven- or eight-million-dollar co-op on Park Avenue. Your type, very good body, very tall, very fucking desirable. Loves to challenge men. Her sister-in-law, Babette, will be scared shitless of you. Evidently, Pandora met you at a party some years ago, and everyone was buzzing about the way you destroy witnesses."
He paused, and I inhaled the compliment.
Then the looks profile continued. There wasn't any need to take notes. I recalled Pandora fine because we had met at a chic event, which always makes beautiful women larger than life. If I'd met her in my kitchen over a beer I'm sure she'd come down to size. Context is always misleading.
Pandora and her brother, Webb, had been with Edgar and Babette Longwood when we met at that party. A crowd had collected around me, the token maverick, while I reenacted a dramatic cross-examination I'd done that afternoon in the federal court. I'd been practicing law for about ten years by then, and my white-collar-crime clients lived elegantly on the Avenue.
While I performed I didn't fail to take in her two thin strands of pearls, lavender dress that revealed a delicate collarbone, and beautiful shoulders. Pandora's long brown hair full of curls and ringlets was swept back over diamond ear clips. The nose was sharp, provocative, to the point; her aristocratic face chiseled, angular. What could Dyson tell me that I didn't already know?
I wanted the case, and I wasn't about to give Dyson an excuse to call the next lawyer on his list.
"She's about five-nine. An excellent body."
"C'mon Jack, you're repeating yourself," I said.
But he went steamrolling along at the pace of a sportscaster. "When she was eighteen, she did a famous cult filmgreat scene in which she stripped in the ballroom of some white-columned mansion in Southampton and displayed the small Persian carpet. Parents and society went nutsthe whole nine yards of rebellion on Park Avenue."
I knew the profilequietly ferocious.
Dyson went on, "The movie, Violet Avenue, was released in the early eighties. She was Violet. Banged around with the Valentino and Hollywood crowd for a while. I went out with her years ago, before she was married. She wouldn't fuck me then, and now the firm, old D&S, can't take this case on. So why don't you do both?"
"How do I get paid?"
"A no-brainer. She inherited a lot of cash from her old man, who owned a big racetrack, a Long Island steel mill, and some other high-number assets. He checked out with about a hundred million dollars, and she's too smart to lose it. She has plenty of it, and it's growing, but she'll never admit it. Always claiming she's broke or doesn't have access to the money. I don't know, you may not get to see her. These days, it's all E-mail, fax and phonethe safest way to go."
"That's fine, I can handle a voice-mail relationship."
"Look, Ocean, nothing to complain about. There's nothing in this case but a good time. It's not just another sleepy litigation, especially if she sleeps with you."
I'd already made an unsuccessful pass at her at that party. But so many men hit on her, I doubted she'd remember.
"Anyway, I'll start with the case," I said.
"Are you one of the few lawyers who say they won't have sex with a client? Is there something in the code of ethics about it?" Dyson was more than half serious.
"Maybe. I'll research it if it gets that far."
"Good. You're a man with a steel heart and I'll be shocked if you nail her. No, I'll be angry."
"At me or her?" Now he had me thinking about it.
Dyson laughed. "I'm outta here. I'll call her and she'll call you in ten minutes. By the way, how's your boy Slade?"
"Don't really talk to him that much. See you later."
That was none of Dyson's concern. My ex-wife committed suicide and my son was raised by his stepfather, an ex-criminal client of mine who I disliked.
I hung up the phone and drank some cold coffee from the breakfast tray while I called up some Nexis articles and cruised the Web for something interesting on Pandora.
An hour passed and the new client hadn't called when Mercedes brought in a small white package with my name scribbled in black ink along with a "Personal/Confidential" legend. No return address. I opened it and found a video. Mercedes said the mailman found the package leaning against the front door.
I put the tape in the office VCR.
Over a gray background a male voice said, "Welcome." No picture. "This program was developed for friends of Pandora Markham. As her attorney, you may be interested in this product, your future client."
Pandora slowly materialized wearing a short blue dress, facing the camera. She brushed the shoulder straps to the side and pulled the dress down over her hips. It fell to the floor, and she was nearly naked. Her long fingers unhooked a black bra. A nude Pandora sauntered across the room to a black lacquered 1920s vanity.
The camera zoomed to a lit cigarette in an ivory holder. Smoke rose from a mother-of-pearl ashtray. The camera panned up her legs, crossed on an ottoman covered in leopard skin. She picked up the cigarette, took a long drag, and studied the reflection of her breasts in the vanity's mirror.
An attractive man in his mid-forties, possibly the "Man in the Hathaway Shirt," walked into the frame wearing a black silk dressing gown. He guided her to a large four-poster bed with fringed pillows that were carefully arranged on paisley sheets. The camera followed them as he untied his belt and removed the robe. She picked up the belt and tied his hands behind his back. An oil painting of two Egyptian lovers hung on the wall over the bed.
Pandora spread her hands across his back, vampirishly biting his shoulders. Her body was far more curvaceous than I had imagined. She pushed him onto the bed and slapped him. A small, evil smirk walked across her face. The picture faded to black. But the sound of sex continued, no images.
Several minutes passed. Pandora slid open a pair of thick red-velvet curtains to a view of the Metropolitan Museum's Temple of Dendur wing. A breeze blew through an open window as she ran a hairbrush through her curls. Sitting at the vanity, she clipped her stockings to a lavender garter belt and took a pull on the cigarette. For a moment she hesitated before tapping out a number on a white telephone. The camera zoomed to a piece of paper next to the ashtray. My telephone number was written on it.
The voice-over: "Mr. Ocean, she's got your number. You just bought a one-way ticket to the Dead Sea."
The tape ended. I was sold on this case.
Then the phone rang and I grabbed for it.
I watched Mercedes answer it from my office. She held the receiver and listened a few seconds. "Please hold," she said, her tongue stopping just before "bitch."
It was Pandora.
I told Mercedes to get the number and say that I'd phone back in about an hour.
Mr. K nodded to me from Mercedes's desk and said, "Cool, sir. They are crazy creatures. Clients."
Then I played the tape for K.
"Give me your opinion of this."
"I enjoy films, especially when they are connected to our cases," he answered and watched the screen with great interest. When it finished, K thoughtfully pulled at his beard, leaned forward in his chair, and jabbed two index fingers at the screen. "Sir, it is merely a film, entertainment for my boss, but it is intended for enticement. In India, movie stars are revered as gods."
"But K, what do you think of the woman?" I was toying with him, which he liked.
"Sir, I am only opining at your behest. The lady wants you to admire her and to be intrigued. You are the judge of what is going on and can extract the truth from her."
"But what do you think? She may be a new client," I pressed him.
"Sir, that would be fine, very fine. A very good thing for your adrenaline." He fixed his turban, gripping the folds at the top with his fingertips, and left.
For about twenty minutes I sat behind my desk, my willpower playing havoc with my mind as my fingers traced the desk's Victorian scrollwork like a crisp stack of hundred-dollar bills I was deciding how to spend. Who was the voice? Had someone somehow listened in on Dyson's call? Or was Dyson behind all of this? The picture was clearshe wasn't that single gardenia I was looking for growing out of the city's concrete.
For once, money was irrelevant. The woman was unbelievable, but I knew it was too soon to return the call. I didn't want to appear too eager.
About three o'clock I accompanied K outside while he was telling me that the TV was now out of order. "Sir, the rays, they are not coming to the roof ... or if they are coming, the TV is not catching them. The screen is all confused, crazy and coughing." He pointed to the roof and laughed. "It is because the video was 'hot as coals of a glowing fire.' William Shakespeare."
Although he said he was going to the TV repair shop, K headed in the direction of Third Avenue and Fifty-ninth Street, where there's a newsstand owned by a Sikh. Hours from now Pandora Markham's name would be on the lips of the Sikh community. I'd return her call sometime tomorrow. A little sweat would do her good.
What People are Saying About This
Nicholas Gage, author of Eleni
Aaron Richard Golub is brash, creative, cunning, and daring. He has used his inside view of the city's justice system to weave a tale in The Big Cut hat offers a shock or a surprise on almost every page. His fast-moving story echoes the work of Scott Turow and Carl Hiassen, but with a darker, sharper edge. An ideal read for a cold winter evening.