A Short Excerpt

He joined Lillian in the conference room. A paper plate had been set out for him and the chilled chicken and salsa had been laid out on it. She had also provided him with a cranberry Snapple.

“So does Mrs. Kelly get to keep the chihuahua?” she asked him as he sat down.

“Yes,” Steve answered as he picked up his white plastic fork.

“Thank god,” Lillian exclaimed. “She’s been on the phone to me all week. If we had lost that one my life would have become a nightmare.”

Steve laughed. Sometimes matrimonial law was like that. A person’s most important issues often seemed trivial to others. Mrs. Kelly was bad, but he had had a lot worse. The worse was when there was a custody battle. The little zings the parties liked to give each other often erupted into full blown brouhahas.

“And, as expected, we won the Fastco motion. Remind me to call the client after lunch. And the Delgado kid got three years.”

“That wasn’t unexpected,” she replied.

“No,” was all Steve said. He forked a quantity of chicken and spiced, chopped tomato into his mouth.

“Well, maybe the kid’ll learn something from it,” Lillian commented.

“Yeah,” Steve replied as he chewed his chicken. “He’ll probably learn a lot from those Essex County boys. He’s a big fellow and someone will pick him up. The next time we see him he’ll probably be looking at an armed robbery or an aggravated assault. His best hope is to commit it in Essex County and not here where they’ll throw the book at him.”

For a while, the pair ate in silence. Steve finished off his plate of chicken and pushed it away. “So, who else called,” he asked Lillian.

She was finished too, had finished before him. She was drinking a cup of black coffee, her addiction. She had the pile of messages beside her.

There were a few from attorneys on cases, some clients looking for updates. The accounting expert they used to evaluate businesses in matrimonial cases had returned his call. The report would be in by Monday. There were no salesman calls. Lillian handled them all herself.

“Then there’s this one from a lady at Greystone,” Lillian told him. Greystone was the state psychiatric hospital located in Morris County. It had a somewhat tarnished reputation from some recent disclosures of abuses and its facilities were as old as the hills.

“A patient or a staff member?” Steve asked.

“Definitely a patient. It was hard to understand her. The best I could do is Beverley Kaufman. She called this morning before I got here and left a message on voicemail. It was pretty garbled. Something about being held against her will. She called again around 11. I couldn’t get much more out of her. She sounded pretty crazy to me.”

“Half the patients there, or more, are being held against their will, at least technically,” Steve said. “What’s so special about her?”

“She sounded very desperate.”

“People with paranoid fantasies usually are.”

“I know. But there was something about her.”

“Did she sound young or old?”

“Definitely young.”

“How did she get our number?”

“I couldn’t get her to say.”

Steve mulled this over a bit. He took a gulp of his Snapple. “Do you think there’s any money in it?”

“Who can say?” Lillian answered. “I guess some of these people have money.”

“Yeah, but they also have guardians who are holding it.”

“True.”

“What does she think I can do for her?”

“I don’t know, Steve,” Lillian replied, a little annoyed.  “I just give you the messages.”

“Did she leave a number I can use to get back to her?”

“No.”

Steve finished off his Snapple and emitted a slight burp. “I’m going to go over to the juvenile detention center on Saturday. Maybe I’ll stop by Greystone and see if I can see her.”

“That’s up to you,” Lillian replied. “But don’t get all caught up in some pro bono work. You’ve got a bad habit of doing that when we’ve got plenty of paying work to do.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Steve returned. “It’s good for the soul. On judgment day nobody’s going to be asking how much money I made. And sometimes it brings in referrals too. Just last week that couple I represented on their dispute with the auto shop called and referred a municipal court case.”

“Yeah,” Lillian huffed. “And you charged them rock bottom rates. If that’s how you want to spend your nights, picking up chump change, that’s your gig. Just make sure we have enough to pay the bills.”

Steve held back a moment’s surge of resentment. He knew that Lillian was right. And she had earned the right to speak to him that way. She had saved his ass when the ship had taken two torpedoes and was sinking fast.

“I’ll just talk to her. That’s all,” he said.

 

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