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Authors: Barbara Parker

Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller, #Suspense

Suspicion of Innocence (7 page)

BOOK: Suspicion of Innocence
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Whenever it was that the sky brightened from gray to blue outside her fourteenth-floor window, Gail didn't notice. She was paying more attention to her work than to the view. She had laid out her papers and case files in neat stacks on her desk, to be attended to in order of importance. She held a microcassette recorder in one hand and flipped through the pages with the other.

"Miriam, on
send copies of the complaint and answer to Dan Mursten with a note, 'At your request enclosed find, etc. If you plan to file as an intervenor please contact me before doing so.' "

Gail reached for her time log. She wrote down the case name and number and the activity code—LTR Dan Mursten. In the space for time she entered point-three. Three-tenths of an hour, eighteen minutes, which reflected the amount of time she would have spent if she had sat back in her chair for a review of the file, then dictated the entire letter, word for word. No attorney in his right mind would have done it that way. Only, perhaps, the naive, the senile, or anybody not under pressure to make forty billable hours a week at one hundred seventy-five dollars per hour. Forty hours which did not include staff meetings, reading legal publications, reviewing documents sent back down from word processing, fielding phone calls from potential clients, going to the bathroom, or having normal conversations with other human beings in the office.

No one who expected to make partner at Hartwell Black and Robineau would stop at forty hours. The truly creative might log fifteen billable hours from eight in the morning to five in the afternoon, five days a week, and grab another ten or so on the weekends. If you couldn't cut it, you would be gone. Sooner or later, they would make it known to you: find another job.

For three mornings in a row, determined to make up for time lost the week before, Gail had arrived while the city was still dark, checking in with the sleepy guard in the lobby. She had ridden up in an empty elevator, then let herself in with her key.

Hartwell Black and Robineau took up the top two floors of a granite block building dating from the thirties. The main reception room on the fourteenth could have been lifted from an English manor house: deep leather furniture, landscape paintings, a polished staircase curving to the upper floor. On the hour, a grandfather clock melodiously chimed. The firm employed a butler, an elderly man in white gloves who would direct important clients through the maze of hallways, or push a tea cart to the partners' meetings.

Despite the impressive facade of the public areas, only the partners possessed offices of any considerable size. Others made do in a warren of rooms and cubicles, most of them crammed with outdated furniture. Gail's office held her desk and chair, a credenza behind it, a bookcase, and two chairs for clients. She had bought all these herself, in blonde wood, brightened with plants and framed prints of tropical flowers.

Gail ripped the duplicate time slip off the log and stuck it in the file—the last that absolutely had to be done today to avoid the pits of hell yawning open at her feet. By Friday she might be completely back on schedule. The file went into a cardboard box on the floor by her desk.

She pulled a stack of correspondence, memos, and messages directly in front of her. For a moment she gazed down at the cards on top of the pile. Sympathy cards.

Yesterday she had thought of taking them home, of writing thank-you notes to the senders, many of whom had also sent flowers to the funeral. Last night at the doorway to her office, turning off the light, she had noticed them, and had left them on her desk. There were sixteen cards, envelopes neatly paper-clipped to show return address.
In the time of your sorrow … God's guiding hand ... With sincere sympathy for your loss
... Pastel-colored sunsets, open garden gates leading who knew where, Jesus Christ holding a lamb.

Now she sat looking at them as if they had been left there by mistake. Last night Irene had called her at home, not for anything in particular, and mentioned Renee. Surprisingly, Gail couldn't remember what Renee looked like, an odd fact she had not passed on to her mother.

She pressed the button on her recorder. The tape spun slowly. "Miriam, about these sympathy cards. My personal stationery's around somewhere. See if you can run a thank-you note through your PC, something simple. And use the person's first name. At the end just put 'sincerely.' I'll sign them."

Gail set the cards aside.

Of the telephone messages, the first six went into the trash can under her desk; those matters had already been handled. The next was a message from Nancy Darden, stapled to the four that she had already left. Gail could almost hear her, that put-out tone, those whiny syllables. Nancy would have said to Miriam, "Her sister died? Oh, too baaa-a-d. Well, what is Ms. Connor doing about our caaa-a-se?"

Ms. Connor was taking care of it, thank you. Ms. Connor planned to have a settlement proposal by week's end.

"Miriam, give Nancy Darden a call and tell her the order went out Monday to the opposing attorney for review...." Gail hit the stop button. No good. She'd have to call Nancy Darden herself, who would get her nose out of joint if she had to discuss the case with a mere secretary. Gail hadn't called Anthony Quintana yet because she wanted to go over the entire file first. Perhaps she would do that over lunch, then call Nancy in the afternoon. She rewound the tape and cancelled the instructions.

The next two messages were also stapled together. A Sergeant Frank Britton of the Metro-Dade Police had called twice yesterday. Gail didn't know any Frank Britton. None of her cases had that name listed as a witness.

"Oh, yes," she said, remembering. She had made a contribution a few years ago to the Police Benevolent League or the Police Athletic League or something like that, and they kept coming back, worse than Jehovah's Witnesses. She routinely sent a check, like warding off evil, getting that P.B.A. reflective sticker for the rear bumper of her car. The form letter had come in recently, stamped envelope included.

"Miriam. This message from Britton at Metro-Dade. I think he's collecting for the P.B.A. Call him and see what I gave last year. If he doesn't know, tell him I'll send fifty bucks. And do a personal check."

Gail pressed rewind. The tape chittered. She hit play until she found the right spot. "Call him and say I'll send twenty-five dollars." The way things were going with Metzger Marine, she shouldn't be so free with money.

Dave's company was in trouble.
company, actually. Dave had bought it five years ago, a complete line of powerboat parts, with a marina and shop attached. But it had sucked up their savings and added a second mortgage to their house, and now a new set of creditors was getting impatient.

Leaning back in her chair, Gail pressed her fingers to her chest and rubbed. The cup of high-octane from the coffee room half an hour ago was making her heart jump. A little tickle, then a thud. Same thing last night. She had felt it lying down in bed.

On Sunday Dave had complained about missing his usual doubles match because Gail, who planned to work, had forgotten to get a sitter for Karen. The blame in his voice had rankled. He said, "Jesus Christ. How the hell long is this supposed to go on?"

Gail blew up. "Ask me that when I don't have to carry the load around here. When you spend more time at work than you do on the tennis courts, ask me that." She had slammed the door behind her. Later she called from the office, feeling guilty. There had been long silences on the phone, neither of them knowing what to say.

Her family was becoming entries on her time sheet: order and pick up pizza, point-four; look over daughter's homework, point-five; lovemaking with husband, point-three. Lately there seemed to be more pizza than love-making.

Gail set the rest of the messages beside her telephone. She would return the calls starting at nine, an hour from now. It took her just under two minutes to review four final bills to be sent to corporate clients. It took five minutes to flip through a memorandum of law prepared by one of the law clerks and another fifteen to dictate changes.

Next was an interoffice memo from Stanley Birken, a partner in the banking division. He had spent the weekend in Palm Beach at the polo matches. The owner of a string of ponies, one
Osvaldo Hoffman de Armas of Asunción, Paraguay, brother-in-law to the president, had expressed interest in raising venture capital for expansion into South Florida. If any of the members of the firm would wish to attend a cocktail party at Stanley and Margot Birken's home on Grove Isle next Tuesday evening . . .

Gail dropped it into the trash. A high-tone Tupperware party.

"Good morning, Ms. Connor!" A voice sang out from the corridor.

Gail swiveled her chair toward the door and smiled.

It was Miriam, her face still flushed from what must have been her usual fast walk from the Metrorail station. Gail had seen her one morning practically skipping along the street, long brown hair bouncing on her shoulders.

Gail said,
"Buenos días
to you,
in the purposefully thick American accent that usually made Miriam laugh.

This morning it didn't. Miriam looked at her with almost motherly concern. "Were you here early again?"

"No, I spent the night." Gail put the box of files and papers on her desk and ejected the cassette into it.

“Tú eres loca
Miriam came in to take the box. There was a policy about not speaking Spanish in the office, which she selectively ignored.

Gail rummaged in her desk for another tape. When she glanced up, Miriam was still there. Her eyes had grown moist. They were large brown eyes, outlined in black pencil. "You are so brave," Miriam said. "If I lost my sister, I wouldn't know what I would do. She's my best friend."

Such young, uncomplicated goodness. Miriam was married to a twenty-two-year-old paramedic for Hialeah Fire Rescue. Their wedding picture was on her desk, along with snapshots of their baby. Miriam's mother kept the baby during the day. Her father owned a shoe store. Traditional Cubans, they still chaperoned Miriam's younger sister Naomi. Miriam called her mother at least twice a day.

"I'm all right," Gail said. "Thanks."

"Can I bring you another cup of coffee?"

"Better not. I've already had two." Miriam picked up the box of files.

Gail said, "Wait. Did you see that temporary girl around this morning?"

"Cindy? We came up in the elevator."

"Who's she working for this week?"

"Bob Wilcox, I think."

"I'll arrange to have her help you out this afternoon." Wilcox was one of the new babies. One good thing about being higher on the ladder: In an emergency, Gail could raid his cookie jar and he couldn't do much about it.

More than once Gail had thanked God, Allah, or whatever other divine benefactor had blessed her with Miriam Ruiz. The girl had more on the ball at twenty-one than most of the firm's established secretaries. Unfortunately, whoever thought up the pay structure rewarded longevity, not brains. To keep things fair, Gail quietly gave Miriam cash on the side.

Miriam scurried out the door with the file box, on her way to her glass-fronted cubicle across the hall.

A tap came on Gail's open door.

"Good morning." It was Lawrence Black, her supervising partner. He was only thirty-eight, but already graying, with a high forehead and long, thin face. The original founding Black had been his grandfather. Larry was lucky to have the name, Gail thought. Most of the family's intellectual currency had been spent before it got to him.

She wondered what he wanted. He rarely dropped in unless he had something to bitch about. Conferences were usually held in his office upstairs.

"Hi, Larry. Sit down."

He took one of the client chairs, putting his coffee mug on the corner of her desk. The mug had an Orange Bowl Committee logo on the side. She doubted Larry had been inside a courtroom in years. He didn't have to. He and the other fifteen partners of the firm went out and hustled business.

"I've not had a chance to come down and ask how you are," he said. "Is there anything I can do?"

She shook her head, smiling. "No, I'm fine. Thank you."

"Deedee asked me to tell you she has extra snapshots of the school musical. The girls look great. I'll bring you duplicates of the ones with Karen, if you like."

Their daughters were in the same third grade at Biscayne Academy, which had put on
Winnie the Pooh
last month.

Gail said, "Yes, I'd like to have copies." She restrained an impulse to look at her watch.

Larry took a sip from his coffee mug, then held it in his lap. "I had a little chat with Jack Warner yesterday."

"Did you?" Warner supervised the litigation department.

"He noticed we're showing a lot of hours on that case for Doug Hartwell's girl."

So that's what this was about. Gail lined up the cassette recorder with the edge of the desk "I sent you a memo last week, Larry." Which he had obviously forgotten. "I could give a copy to Jack." That would be the fastest thing to do. But perhaps not the smartest. She had learned a long time ago that partners rarely seemed pressed for time. A grand illusion, no doubt, but so was half the practice of law. "Better still, I'll drop by his office sometime this afternoon and bring him up to date."

BOOK: Suspicion of Innocence
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