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The Rule of Law
AFTER YOU MURDER someone, life is never the same.
Ron Jameson found himself thinking about this all the time; he couldn’t get over the before and after differences.
Before, he’d been a hardworking mid-level attorney, billing his mega-hours, fair to both clients and opponents, responsive to his partners, honest to a fault.
Before, he had been a compassionate yet somewhat stern father to his two children, a righteous man who both taught and modeled the importance of respect—for property, for their mother, for other political, social, and religious viewpoints.
Before, he’d lived a circumspect, modestly successful, controlled existence, neither particularly happy nor sad, vaguely content most of the time, occasionally a bit bored, going through the motions.
Before, he’d been half-alive.
That had left the other half.
After he’d murdered the man who’d slept with his wife, it had taken him a while to get his bearings. Most of that time was spent worrying about what would happen if he were caught, about what he would tell his children and his wife. How he could justify himself and what he’d done to those he loved.
Every day he had lived with the constant fear that the police would catch onto him, that in spite of his best efforts he’d left a clue somewhere, key evidence that would convict him. He worried about going to jail, about spending the rest of his life in prison.
He was the sole support of his family; how would they all survive?
After, above all, he worried about how he could have turned into the man who could have actually done what he’d done.
When the police had found the incriminating evidence—a shell casing from the same make and caliber of the gun he’d used—on the boat of Geoff Cooke, his former best friend and partner in the law firm, it had taken him a while to understand. Mystifyingly, Geoff had apparently then used the same weapon to kill himself, which meant that the case was closed.
The police no longer believed that he’d done it. He was no longer a suspect.
It appeared that his law partner had in fact killed the philandering bastard.
When in reality—he came to understand—it had been his wife expertly shifting the blame from him to Geoff, protecting him and their marriage and their family, shooting his law partner and convincingly making it appear to have been a suicide, then planting the incriminating shell on Geoff’s boat.
Which meant that both of them, husband and wife, were killers.
And after you murder someone, life is never the same.
The Rule of Law
“PLUS ÇA CHANGE, plus c’est la même chose.”
“I hate it when he does that,” Wes Farrell said.
Gina Roake nodded. “He knows that, and that’s about half the reason he does it.”
“Seven-eighths of the reason, to be precise,” Dismas Hardy said, “and precision is my middle name.”
“Dismas Precision Hardy,” Roake said. “It doesn’t exactly sing.”
“He just wants to rub it in that I don’t speak French.”
“That hardly qualifies as French,” Hardy replied, “since anyone with even half an education should have run into that phrase somewhere and figured out what it meant.”
“Well, I didn’t.”
“Tant pis pour toi.”
Farrell threw his hands up. “I rest my case.” Then, to Roake: “Maybe this isn’t going to work out after all.”
“It means ‘The more things change, the more they stay the same.’ ”
“Thank you so much,” Farrell said, “whatever the hell that means.”
On this late Tuesday morning in early January—a clear and crisp day outside—the three of them sat around the large mahogany table in the circular conference room of the stately Freeman Building on Sutter Street in downtown San Francisco. Because of its domed glass ceiling that rose to a height of fourteen feet above their heads, the space had earned the nickname of the Solarium. The room also featured a forest of assorted indoor plants at its periphery.
Dismas Hardy, the nominal host and managing partner of the law firm Hardy & Associates, leaned over and filled Farrell’s wineglass with Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon. “That should ease some of your pain. Meanwhile, I’ll try not to lapse into French again, since you’re so sensitive about it. Although, to be honest, I don’t seem to remember sensitivity as your most shining virtue.”
“That was before I was the district attorney. Now I’m sensitive about everything. Do you know how many sensitivity training classes I’ve taken in the last eight years?”
“Twelve?” Gina guessed.
Farrell shook his head. “Seventeen. I counted.”
Hardy snorted. “I don’t think I even realized there were seventeen things to be sensitive about. I mean, after gender and poverty and the homeless, the list shortens up real quick, doesn’t it? Oh, except, of course, women . . .”
“Watch it, buster,” Roake said, but leavened things with a smile.
Farrell swallowed some wine. “Add at least four subsets under each of those, you’re still not really close. You didn’t even mention animal rights, and those subsets, too. Grandparents’ rights. Left-handers’ rights. Fish.”
“Fish?” Hardy asked.
Farrell shrugged. “Probably. I tell you, the sensitivity epidemic is out of control.”
“Hey,” Roake said. “Our firm could have a motto. ‘Sensitive about everything.’ ”
“That would bring in a lot of work, that’s for sure.” Hardy sipped at his own wine. “But way to bring us back to the point, Gina.”
“Which was . . . ? Oh yeah, the new firm.”
“Are we really going to do it?” Farrell asked.
“Up to you,” Hardy said.
Ten years before, these three attorneys, plus one, made up the core of the firm Freeman, Farrell, Hardy & Roake. But then, in rapid succession, David Freeman had died; Gina Roake, who had inherited the building after Freeman’s demise, had decided to take a sabbatical to pursue novel writing full-time; and Wes Farrell had stunningly and unexpectedly won election to district attorney, which necessitated the removal of his name from the firm’s roster.
But two months ago Farrell had been defeated going for his third term as DA, and at his wake of a victory party, which Gina and Hardy had both attended, someone had floated the idea of reconstituting the old firm—or what was left of it.
Hardy, who was looking to reduce his hours in any event, had followed up in a low-key yet persistent way, and now here they were.
• • •
AN HOUR LATER, the three of them were in a booth at Sam’s Grill, celebrating their decision to go ahead with the firm’s resurrection. Assertions about his sensitivity notwithstanding, Farrell rather famously wore a themed T-shirt every day that always pushed the limit on that score. There were those among his political supporters who believed that this was what had eventually caught up with him and cost him the election. Warmed up by the wine in the Solarium and a preprandial martini here, Farrell was midway through buttoning up his collar, having shown off today’s T-shirt, which read: “Alcohol—because no great story ever starts with a salad.”
Someone knocked on the panel and threw open the curtain.
“Ahoy, commoners,” Abe Glitsky said by way of greeting. “I thought I heard familiar voices behind this shroud.”
“He’s a trained detective,” Hardy said. “Nothing escapes.”
“Former detective,” Glitsky corrected him, not that anybody needed to be reminded. All of the voices he’d heard behind the curtain were indeed familiar to him. Hardy had been his best friend since they were beat cops together nearly forty years ago. He knew Gina from her days with the earlier iteration of Hardy’s law firm. And he’d worked for Farrell in the district attorney’s investigative unit until only a few weeks before, when he’d retired as the new DA’s administration had gotten itself settled in.
Tall and broad, with a scar through both lips, milk chocolate skin, and blue eyes—his mother had been black and his father Jewish—Glitsky projected a threatening and, to some, even terrifying demeanor. Before he’d gone to work for Wes’s DA’s office, he had risen through the police department—patrolman, Robbery, Vice, head of Homicide—until he eventually became the deputy chief of inspectors. “A former detective, I might add,” he said, “now well and truly retired.”
“And how’s that going?” Farrell asked.
“He hates it.” Glitsky’s wife, Treya, appeared from behind her husband. “He’ll tell you he’s loving it, but that’s a lie. And I don’t like it so much, either.” Treya had been Farrell’s secretary during the eight years of his administration, and like her husband had resigned when her boss had left office.
“Well,” Gina said, “maybe our new firm can dig up some work for both of you. Would you like to join us for lunch and talk about it?”
Glitsky jumped at the invitation. “If it’s no trouble,” he said. Coming forward, he pulled one of the chairs back, stepping aside to hold it for Treya. “So,” Glitsky said as he took his own seat, “is it just me? Or does this little gathering smack of conspiracy?”
“Nothing so dramatic,” Gina said. “We’re just reconstituting the old firm. Or talking about it, anyway.”
“We’re thinking we could have more fun than just each of us working alone,” Hardy said.
“Lawyers looking for fun,” Glitsky said. “There’s something you don’t hear about every day.”
“We’re breaking the mold,” Farrell said. “It’ll be a brave new world.”
• • •
DIZZY FROM THE wine and more than a little breathless from the climb up the hill from Sam’s, Hardy ascended the eight stone steps that led to the doorway of the Freeman Building. Opening the brass-trimmed door to the circular lobby with its marble floor and upholstered wallpaper, he caught his breath for the next twelve steps up the ornately filigreed cast-iron spiral staircase that led to the first floor and its wide-open oval reception area.
Halfway across that space, on his way to his office, Hardy stopped again, made a face, and changed course. Seated behind the low wooden wall that delineated the workstation of his long-suffering secretary, Phyllis, sat another woman whose name, he was pretty sure, was Karen, the secretary to one of the junior associates.
He checked his watch. It was 2:30, long after Phyllis in the normal course of events would have returned from lunch—if she had taken one in the first place, which was a rare enough occurrence. Most days, loath to abandon her post, deeply committed to her sacred mission of controlling access to visitors to Hardy’s office, Phyllis ate from her little plastic salad container and drank her bottled water at her desk.
But she wasn’t there now.
Karen—Karen?—had a phone bud in her ear and was speaking with someone, and Hardy waited in front of her until she bid good-bye to whoever it was and looked up at him, stood with a smile, and extended a hand. “Hello, I’m Kathleen. Mr. Peek’s secretary?”
Hardy shook her hand. “Yes, of course, Kathleen.” His famous though sometimes AWOL memory suddenly kicked in. “Kathleen Mavone Wheeler, if I’m not mistaken.”
“Wow,” she said. “You got my whole name. I’m impressed.”
Hardy shrugged. “Old party trick. But what are you doing up here? Is Phyllis all right?”
“I really don’t know. Mr. Peek just asked me if I could handle the phones for a while and here I am. She had to leave unexpectedly.”
“There’s a first,” Hardy said. “But thanks for filling in. I appreciate your flexibility. Would you ask Don”—Mr. Peek—“to come down when he gets a second? Oh, and when I get calls, would you please buzz me on the intercom to let me know who it is before you patch them through? I’ve got my cell for my friends, but business calls I like a little warning. Good?”
Less than a minute later, Hardy had just hung his suit coat over the chair behind his desk when he looked up, frowning at the knock on his door. Hadn’t he just told Kathleen-not-Karen that he liked a little advance warning before . . . ?
But no. He’d only mentioned phone calls. And he’d asked her to call Don Peek and have him come down, so that was almost undoubtedly who was now at the door. But if Kathleen stayed on, even for a short while, he’d need to bring her up to speed on how he liked things handled. The revelation struck him that Phyllis was more valuable to him than he might have realized. It brought him up short. But for now: “Come in.”
Don Peek, large and genial, with a horsey smile, opened the door and took half a second to acclimatize to the grandeur of the managing partner’s office, with its Persian rugs covering the hardwood floors under the two separate seating areas—one formal, one less so—the wet bar, the espresso machine, the wine cooler. Nodding approval, he came around to Hardy. “You wanted to see me?”
“I did. Do you know what’s up with Phyllis? She just left in the middle of the day?”
He nodded. “About an hour ago. Norma”—the office manager—“was still at lunch and I was the first office down the hall, so Phyllis came to me and said she had to leave right away: some crisis in her family.”
“In her family?”
“That’s what she said.”
What family? Hardy thought. He’d never heard her talk about any siblings, and both of her parents were deceased. “How did she seem?”
Don Peek shrugged. “Pretty much regular Phyllis-like,” he said. “No offense.”
“No. I know what you mean. No mention of when she might be coming back?”
“No. And I didn’t ask. Sorry.”
Hardy waved away the apology. “No worries. I’m sure she’ll let us know the second she’s able to. It’s just a little odd. No. A lot odd, actually.”
“Well, as you say, she’ll probably call. Meanwhile . . .” Peek made some vague motion back in the direction of his office and showed off his grin. “Billables await.”
“Go get ’em,” Hardy said. “Don’t let me keep you. Thanks for coming down.”
• • •
EITHER KATHLEEN HAD held all of his calls as Hardy had requested or he hadn’t gotten any. When, at a quarter to five, he woke up from the hour-long nap he’d taken on his office couch, he sat up and walked over to his espresso machine, got a cup going, then crossed to his desk and pushed the intercom button. “Yo, Kathleen,” he said. “I’m back in the land of the living. Did I get any calls during that little hiatus?”
“Slow day on the prairie, I guess. And still no word from Phyllis?”
“Hmm. Is Norma in her office?”
A pause while Kathleen turned around to look. “Yes, sir.”
“If she tries to make a getaway before I come out, please ask her to wait for me.”
Straightening, he checked the mirror on his closet door, buttoning up his shirt and tightening the knot of his tie. The machine finished spitting out his two-ounce cup of coffee and he drank it down black. Going around his desk, he grabbed his suit coat and put it on, then once again noted his reflection in the mirror. Good to go.
For an old guy, he didn’t think he was doing too badly.
Hell, he thought, he was about to launch a new firm, or relaunch an old one. Either way, the idea excited him. He still had his energy and his wits about him, to say nothing of a wife whom he loved, two healthy grown-up children, and a small but select coterie of close friends.
In fact, he suddenly realized that, except for the somewhat disconcerting disappearance of Phyllis, his life was all but perfect.
And even the Phyllis situation, he thought, would probably . . .