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Kill All the Lawyers
By Paul Levine
Random House Paul Levine
All right reserved. ISBN: 0440242754
Fish Out of Water
Wearing boxers and nothing else, eyes still crusty with sleep, Steve Solomon smacked the front door with his shoulder. Stuck. Another smack, another shove, and the door creaked open. Which was when Steve noticed the three-hundred-pound fish, its razored bill jammed through the peephole. A blue marlin. Dangling there, as if frozen in midleap.
He had seen alligators slithering out of neighborhood canals. He had heard wild parrots squawking in a nearby park. He had stepped on palmetto bugs the size of roller skates. But even in the zoo that was Miami, this qualified as weird.
Steve glanced up and down Kumquat Avenue, a leafy street a mile from the brackish water of Biscayne Bay. Nada. Not a creature was stirring, not even a crab.
He checked the front of his bungalow, the stucco faded the color of pool algae. No other animals lodged in windows or eaves. No pranksters hiding in the hibiscus hedge.
A squadron of flies buzzed around the marlin's head. The air, usually scented jasmine in the morning dew, took on a distinctively fishy smell. A trickle of sweat ran down Steve's chest, the day already steaming with moist heat. He grabbed the newspaper, sprinkled with red berries from a pepper tree, like blood spatter at a crime scene. Nothing on the front page abouta late-night tidal wave.
He considered other possibilities. Bobby, of course. His twelve-year-old nephew was a jokester, but where would he have come up with a giant fish? And who would have helped the kid hoist it into place?
"Would you come out here, please?"
Yeah being the oxygen of adolescent lungs.
Steve heard the boy's bare feet padding across the tile. A moment later, wearing a Miami Dolphins jersey that hung to his knees, Bobby appeared at the fish-sticked front door. "Holy shit!"
"Watch your language, kiddo."
The boy removed his black-framed eyeglasses and cleaned the lenses with the tail of his jersey. "I didn't do it, Uncle Steve."
"Never said you did." Steve slapped at his neck, squashing a mosquito and leaving a bloody smear. "Got any ideas?"
"Could be one of those he-sleeps-with-the-fishes deals."
Steve tried to remember if he had offended anyone lately. Not a soul, if you didn't count judges, cops, and creditors. He scratched himself through his boxers, and his nephew did the same through his Jockeys, two males of the species in deep-thinking mode.
"You know what's really ironic, kiddo?"
"My shorts." Steve pointed to his Florida Marlins orange-and-teal boxers, where giant fish leapt from the sea.
"You're confusing irony and coincidence, Uncle Steve," the little wise guy said.
* * *
Twenty minutes later, Victoria Lord showed up, carrying a bag of bagels, a tub of cream cheese, and a quart of orange juice. She kissed Steve on the cheek, tousled Bobby's hair, and said: "I suppose you know there's a marlin hanging on your front door."
"I didn't do it," Bobby repeated.
"So what's up?" Victoria asked.
Steve shrugged and grabbed the bagels. "Probably some neighborhood kids."
He had showered, shaved, and put on jeans and a tropical shirt with pictures of surfers on giant waves, his uniform for days with no court appearances. Before Victoria came into his life, he would have moseyed into the office wearing shorts, flip-flops and a T-shirt reading: "Lawyers Do It in Their Briefs." At the time, Steve's cut-rate law firm had the embellished name of Solomon & Associates. In truth, Steve's only associates were the roaches that crawled out of the splintered wainscoting.
Now it was Solomon & Lord. Victoria had brought a touch of class along with furniture polish, fresh lilies, and an insistence that Steve follow at least some of the ethical rules.
Today she wore a silk blouse the hue of a ripe peach, stretchy gray slacks, and a short jacket woven with intricate geometrical shapes. Five foot eleven in her velvet-toed Italian pumps. Perfect posture. Blond hair, a sculpted jaw, and bright green eyes. An overall package that projected strength and smarts and sexiness.
"You listen to the radio this morning?" Victoria asked.
Steve poured her a thimbleful of cafe Cubano, syrupy thick. "Sure. Mad Dog Mandich's sports report."
"Dr. Bill's talk show."
"That quack? Why would I listen to him?"
"He was talking about you, partner."
"Don't believe a word he says."
"Why didn't you tell me you were his lawyer?"
Steve took his time spreading cream cheese on a poppyseed bagel. "It was a long time ago." Evading all questions about Dr. William Kreeger. Pop psychiatrist. Mini-celebrity. And now ex-con. "What'd he say?"
"He called you Steve-the-Shyster Solomon."
"I'll sue him for slander."
"Said you couldn't win a jaywalking case if the light was green."
"Gonna get punitive damages."
"Claimed you barely graduated from a no-name law school."
"The Key West School of Law has a name; it just doesn't have accreditation."
"He said you botched his trial and that he'd sue you for malpractice, except he has no faith in the justice system. Then he ranted about O. J. Simpson and Robert Blake and Michael Jackson."
"I saw O.J. at Dadeland the other day," Bobby said, munching a bagel. "He's really fat."
"So did you screw up Dr. Bill's case?" Victoria asked Steve.
"I did a great job. The jury could have nailed him for murder but came back with manslaughter."
"Then why's he so mad at you?"
"Aw, you know clients."
"I know mine are usually happy. What happened between you and Dr. Bill?"
If he told her, Steve knew, she'd go ballistic. "You did what? That's unethical! Illegal! Immoral!"
"Nothing happened. He did time, so he blames me."
"Uh-huh." She sipped at the Cuban coffee. "Bobby, you know how I can tell when your uncle's lying?"
"His lips are moving," the boy answered.
"He speaks very quietly and puts on this really sincere look."
"I'm telling the truth," Steve said. "I don't know why the bastard's mad at me."
Technically, that was true. Steve knew exactly what he did wrong in Kreeger's case. He just didn't know what Kreeger knew. On appeal, the guy never claimed ineffective counsel. He never sued for malpractice or filed disbarment proceedings. Instead, he went off and served six years, worked in the prison mental health facility, and got early release.
Before he was indicted for murder, William Kreeger had a clinical psychiatry practice in Coral Gables and had achieved notoriety with a self-help book, But Enough About You. He peddled a simplistic me-first philosophy, and after a puff piece on Good Morning America, he landed his own syndicated TV show where he dispensed feel-good one-liners along with relationship advice. Women adored the guy, and his ratings shot into Oprah territory. "You ever see Kreeger on TV?" Steve asked.
"Caught his show when I was in college. I loved the advice he'd give those women. 'Drop the jerk! Drop-kick him out of your life right now.' "
"Ever notice his eyes?"
"A killer's eyes?" Bobby sneaked a sip of the cafe Cubano. It only took a thimbleful to turn him into a whirling dervish. "Like Hannibal Lecter. Or Freddy Krueger. Or Norman Bates. Killers, killers, killers!"
"They're fictional characters, not real killers," Steve corrected him. "And put down the coffee."
The boy stared defiantly at his uncle, hoisted the cup, and took a gulp. "Ted Bundy. Ted Kaczynski. John Wayne Gacy. Real enough, Uncle Steve?"
"Cool it, kiddo."
"David Berkowitz. Dennis Rader. Mr. Callahan . . ."
"Who's Mr. Callahan?" Victoria asked.
"My P.E. teacher," the boy replied. "He's a real dipstick."
Bobby's rebellious streak had started with the onset of puberty. If it were up to Steve, his nephew would have stayed a little kid forever. Playing catch, riding bikes, camping out in the Glades. But the kid had become a steaming kettle of testosterone. He was already interested in girls, dangerous terrain for even the well-adjusted. For a troubled boy like Bobby, this new frontier would be even more treacherous.
"Last warning, and I mean it." Steve poured some molten steel into his voice. "No more coffee, no more murderers, or you're grounded."
Bobby put down the cup, and drew a finger-hush, hush-to his lips.
Steve nodded his thanks and turned to Victoria. "What were you saying about Kreeger's eyes?"
"Hot," Victoria said. "Dark, glowing coals. The camera would come in so close you could almost feel the heat."
"Turned women on," Steve said.
"What about that woman in his hot tub? Did he kill her?"
"Jury said he did, in a manslaughterly kind of way."
"What do you say?"
"I never breach a client's confidence."
Victoria laughed. "Since when?"
"Dr. William Kreeger is out of my life."
"But you're not out of his. What aren't you telling me?"
"Wil-liam Kree-ger," Bobby said, drawing out the syllables, his eyes narrowing.
Steve knew the boy was working up an anagram from Kreeger's name. Bobby's central nervous system deficit had a flip side. Doctors called it "paradoxical functional facilitation." The kid had a savant's capacity to memorize reams of data. Plus the ability to work out anagrams in his head.
"William Kreeger," the boy repeated. "I EMERGE, KILL RAW."
"Nicely done," Steve complimented him.
"So you do think he's a murderer?" Victoria cross-examined.
"The jury's spoken. So has the judge and the appellate court. I respect all of them."
"Don't you have to get to court, Vic?"
"I've got lots of time."
"But I don't. Bobby, let's go to school."
"I'd rather watch you two fight," the boy said.
"We're not fighting," Steve said.
"Yet." Victoria studied him, her eyes piercing green laser beams. "This morning, Dr. Bill challenged you to come on the air and defend yourself."
"I thought you'd leap at free publicity."
"Not on some third-rate radio program."
"Aren't you the guy who bought ads on the back of ambulances?"
"Ancient history, Vic," Steve said. "I've decided to become more like you. Principled and dignified."
"Uncle Steve's speaking softly again," Bobby said, "and trying to look sincere."
* * *
Thirty minutes later, Steve was headed across the MacArthur Causeway toward Miami Beach. He had kissed Victoria good-bye and dropped off Bobby at Ponce de Leon Middle School. Now, as his old Mustang rolled past the cruise ships lined up at the port, Steve tried to process the morning's information. What was this feeling of dread creeping over him? The last time he'd seen Kreeger was at the sentencing. It had been a messy case with just enough tabloid elements-drugs, sex, celebrity-to attract media attention.
A woman named Nancy Lamm had drowned in three feet of water. Unfortunately for Kreeger, the water was in the hot tub on his pool deck. That wouldn't have been so bad, except for the gash on Nancy Lamm's skull. Then there was the tox scan revealing a potent mixture of barbiturates and booze. The pills had come from Kreeger, which was a big no-no. He was a court-appointed expert in Nancy's child custody case, so he shouldn't have been playing footsie with her in a Jacuzzi. In an unseemly breach of medical ethics, Kreeger and Nancy had become lovers. The state claimed they'd had a spat, and she was going to blow the whistle on him with the state medical board. Armed with proof of motive, the state charged Kreeger with murder.
Steve could still remember his closing argument. He used the trial lawyer's trick of the loaded rhetorical question.
"Is Dr. William Kreeger a stupid man? No, he has a near-genius IQ. Is he a careless man? No, quite the contrary. He's precise and meticulous. So, ask yourselves, if Dr. Kreeger were inclined to kill someone, would he do it at his own home? Would he be present at the time of death? Would he admit to police that he had provided a controlled substance to the victim? I think you know the answers. This was an unfortunate accident, not an act of murder."
The jury returned a compromise verdict: guilty of involuntary manslaughter. Not a bad result, Steve thought-but then, he didn't have to serve the time. Now he dredged up everything he could remember about the moment the jury came back with the verdict. Kreeger didn't even wince. Not one of those clients whose knees buckle and eyes brim with tears.
Kreeger didn't blame Steve. Thanked him, in fact, for doing his best. Kreeger hired another lawyer for the appeal, but nothing unusual there. Appellate work was brief writing. Steve was never much for book work, and footnotes gave him a headache.
He never heard from Kreeger again. Not a call or postcard from prison. And nothing when he got out.
So what's with all the insults now? Why is he calling me a shyster and challenging me to debate him on the air?
Steve didn't like the answer. Only one thing could have changed.
He found out. Somehow, he found out exactly what I did.
Meaning Kreeger also figured out that he would have been acquitted if any other lawyer on the planet had defended the case. And that marlin on the door? It had to be a message from Kreeger, something they both would understand.
Not a grouper or a shark or a moray eel.
A marlin had significance for both of them.
So what's Kreeger want?
Steve tried the loose-thread approach, something his father taught him. "Whenever you're stumped and feeling dumb as a suck-egg mule," Herbert T. Solomon used to drawl, "grab a loose thread and pull the cotton-picking thing till you find where it leads.&
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