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Authors: Carolyn Wheat

Mean Streak

BOOK: Mean Streak
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Mean Streak

A Cass Jameson Mystery

Carolyn Wheat

For Margaret and Malice IV

With friends all things are possible


“You know when it's over?” I didn't wait for an answer, just said the words that occurred to me as I scanned the
Daily News
. “When you stop looking for his horoscope in the morning paper.”

“Riordan, you mean,” Dorinda interpreted. She lifted the plastic cover from a tray of pastries and squeezed a doughnut to test its freshness. It was fifteen minutes before the Morning Glory Luncheonette was due to open its doors to the public. I sat in my privileged seat by the window sipping my first cup of the day.

“Those okay?” I tipped my head toward the pastries.

“They'll do. Maybe the crullers are a little hard, though.” She gave me an amused look. “Want to test one?”

I shrugged assent. The cruller, homemade in a bakery over on Henry Street, was spun of sugar, flour, and air. Even a day old, they melted in the mouth. “They'll do,” I agreed.

“I never had much faith in you and Riordan,” Dorinda said. She walked to the back, toward the kitchen, and returned with a rack of newly washed juice glasses. She set the rack on the counter and emptied it as we talked, the clink of glass punctuating our conversation, while the early morning sun lit the sky behind the Court Street storefronts.

“What makes you say that?” I had my own reasons for thinking Dorinda was right, but like any good cross-examiner, I wanted the witness's own version.

“You said it yourself, Cass,” she replied with a smug little smile. She poured herself a glass of orange juice, took a quick sip, and explained. “The horoscope. You're Sagittarius and he's Scorpio. It was bound to fail.”

“Sagittarius and Scorpio,” I muttered, gazing into the depths of my coffee as though looking for something. “I should have known.”

“You should have,” Dorinda agreed, unaware we were on different wavelengths. “The Scorpion has a way of lashing out with his poisoned stinger,” she said, her blue eyes intense. “And of course the arrows of truth aimed by Sagittarius can—”

“Can annoy the hell out of a saint,” I finished. I'd heard this one before. “And as we both know, Matt Riordan is no saint.”

“Have you read it yet?” Dorinda asked, carefully polishing one of her vintage juice glasses. This one was printed with gaily colored oranges that diminished in size as they reached the narrow bottom.

The question was not the
non sequitur
it sounded at first hearing; my ex's picture graced the cover of this week's
New York

“It's in my briefcase,” I mumbled. “I'll read it in court while I wait for the court officers to produce my client.” The truth was, I was afraid to open the glossy cover, afraid to learn things about Matt Riordan I didn't want to know.

“Besides,” Dorinda went on, bringing the discussion back to the personal, “he was too”—she broke off and gave an awkward shrug—“too driven, too involved in his career, too—” Another pause. “I never thought he wanted a relationship, just somebody to ball when he needed a—”

“Ball,” I repeated. “I haven't heard that expression in a long time. I never really understood it; I mean it isn't the balls that do the—”

“And you aren't much better,” my old friend went on, disregarding my excursion into anatomy. “If you had to choose between your main squeeze and your career, the guy'd be gone so fast his head would spin.”

“Which made my relationship with Riordan perfect for both of us,” I pointed out. “We were both driven, both ambitious, both selfish, each of us using the other for sexual release. We were made for each other.”

Dorinda began shaking her head somewhere in the middle of my recitation. “You knew from the beginning it wouldn't last,” she said. “In fact, I would have sworn you were getting ready to dump him.”

I swallowed a hit of coffee and let the dark roast linger in my mouth. Then I spoke the truth that branded me a totally shallow, ego-driven woman: “That's not the same as him dumping me.”

I looked down at the Formica counter. “For a lemon-haired lady,” I added under my breath.

“Whatever happened to Dory Previn, anyway?” Dorinda asked.

This was a
non sequitur
. “What are you talking about?”

“That's her song. ‘Lemon-haired ladies.' I just wondered what—”

“God, I don't know. I forgot that was hers.” I stopped a minute as the irony struck me; if the song was Dory Previn's, then the original lemon-haired lady was Mia Farrow. What goes around, and all that. Which meant that somewhere along the line I was getting what I deserved for all the times I'd been the dumper instead of the dumpee. Not to mention those times when I'd been the Younger Woman. Times now far in the past; for me to qualify as a Younger Woman these days, the guy would have to be collecting Social Security.

“Not that Taylor's hair is really lemon-yellow,” I mused aloud. “More an ash-blond. Cut like Hillary's.”

“She's younger than you, isn't she?”

“Younger, slimmer, blonder, better dressed—you name it, Taylor has it. Including the name Taylor. She's like someone on a nighttime soap opera. She even has a soap opera job; she designs interiors.”

I swallowed the last of the coffee and stood up. I squared my shoulders and prepared to do battle in the only interior I knew anything about—the interior of the Kings County supreme court.

It was pushing eighty degrees, and the sun wasn't even over the three-story brownstones yet. It was going to be another scorcher. I wore a silk camp shirt and a cotton skirt and had my all-purpose linen jacket slung over my arm. I'd need it in the arctic air of the supreme court building.

Riordan and I had never promised each other fidelity. The thought hit me as I stood waiting for the light to change so I could cross Atlantic Avenue, home of Arab spice stores and warehouses filled with antique furniture. Also the home of the Brooklyn House of Detention, another building whose interior I was all too familiar with.

We had never promised anything.

Then why did it hurt so much?

I want my secrets back
. The thought came unbidden as I strode along the steamy street. I wanted my secrets back. I wanted to unsay things I'd said as we'd lain in bed on delicious Sunday mornings when neither of us had a trial to prepare for.

That was the worst part about breaking up with someone. You'd told them things you'd never told anyone else. And now he wasn't your confidant anymore; he was a stranger, and he knew things you no longer wanted him to know.

In Brooklyn, the supreme court is decorated in blond wood, very fifties, with the added touch of carved slogans behind the judge's bench. The one in Part 57 said “Let Justice Be Done Though The Heavens Fall.” It's shorter and pithier in Latin:
fiat justitia, ruat coelum

I tossed my files on the defense table. It was 12:30; I'd hit every courtroom on my schedule and if I could finish this case before the lunch break, I'd have the afternoon to catch up on office work.

I looked up at the slogan on the wall and reflected that today we were going to do very little in the way of justice; the heavens were safe from me.

I walked up to the court clerk and pointed to my case. “Do you think we can get my client down before lunch?” I asked, a wistful note in my voice. I really didn't want to come back; I had pleadings to draft on a breach of contract suit my Atlantic Avenue antique-dealer clients were bringing against a mirror restorer. Who knew there were people that spent their whole lives resilvering old mirrors?

God, the things you learn practicing law.

“I'll send the court officers right away,” the clerk promised. “But if we can't get him down in ten minutes, I'll have to put it over. Judge Rossi doesn't like it when we go into the lunch hour.”

I nodded, then walked back to the front row, traditionally reserved for lawyers and reporters. No reporters today; no other lawyers—until the door opened to admit Murray Singer.

He was a natty little man, if your idea of high style was formed in 1955. Balding, gray-haired, pink-cheeked, he was the constant butt of judicial humor, and had been known to contribute some of his own to the otherwise dull proceedings. I'd been on trial with him once, and in response to my making motions
in limine
—motions for a ruling on the admissibility of evidence before the jury hears it—he suggested to the judge that we make our motions in Bimini instead.

No one, least of all the very scholarly Judge Baumgartner, had laughed.

He was a Court Street hack, pure and simple. The kind of guy who stood in the lobby of 120 Schermerhorn Street, the Criminal Court building, and handed out his cards to perfect strangers. The cards were printed on light pink cardboard so that an illiterate defendant could flash it at the arraignment judge and be recognized at once as a Singer client. Guys like Singer didn't retire. Someday he'd grab his chest and go down like a tree in Jury One, having had The Big One at last.

When I'd stormed the male bastions of law school back in the Year One, I had envisioned a future as a female Perry Mason. Hell, why not say it: a female Matt Riordan.

There was every possibility I'd end my days as a female Murray Singer instead.

On that depressing note, I opened my briefcase and took out my copy of
New York

The man I'd slept with, off and on, for four years stared out at me from the glossy page, his fading summer tan artificial-looking, his startling blue eyes an advertiser's dream. Every wrinkle, every gray hair, only added to his mature masculine charm.

BOOK: Mean Streak
13.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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