Authors: Gail Bowen
“Not great. He didn’t throw me out of the car or anything, but he was disappointed.”
“Understandably,” I said. “I’m sure he thought he was the heir apparent. He’s been working with you for a long time.”
“True, and while he was working with me, I was able to get a pretty good idea of his capabilities.”
“Good enough for an associate but not for a partner?”
“Yup. Sean is competent, but he’s not partner material.”
“That’s sad,” I said. “He’s devoted to you.”
“I’m not having him euthanized, Jo. As I reminded Sean last night, he has options. He can go to another firm or he can stay on as a senior associate at Falconer Shreve and eat what he kills.”
“What does that mean?”
“Right now, Sean gets a percentage of his billables and if his billables are high, he gets a bonus. As a senior associate, he’d get to keep pretty much everything he brought in.” Zack raised his hands, palms up. “He eats what he kills.”
I shuddered. “That terminology’s a little brutal, isn’t it?”
Zack pushed his chair back from the table. “Life is brutal. Madeleine could tell you that. On the five occasions she and I watched
March of the Penguins
, she alerted me to the line, ‘Not all penguins survive.’ ”
After we’d cleared away our breakfast things, Zack went to shower and dress and I went to Taylor’s room to get her moving. She was a girl who loved creature comforts, and her bedroom caught the morning sun. Nested in her sheets with the sunshine warm on her face and her cats, Bruce and Benny, at her feet, Taylor had many reasons for staying in bed, but even more reasons for getting up. I kissed her hair. “Time to get up,” I said.
She threw back her sheets and bolted upright. The hormones were kicking in. “Tonight’s the meeting about the Farewell. I am soooooo excited.”
“I guess we should start thinking about what you’re going to wear,” I said.
“I know what I’m not going to wear,” Taylor said.
“That’s a start,” I said. “So what are you not going to wear?”
“The same thing everybody else is wearing: sparkly T-shirt, short ruffly skirt, and sandals with plastic flowers.”
I sat on the bed beside her. “You sound like your mum. When we were in high school, we were both invited to the Battalion Ball at Upper Canada College. Your mother knew that all the girls would be wearing little pearl earrings, pearl necklaces, strapless pastel dresses with tulle skirts, and shoes with illusion heels so they wouldn’t be taller than their dates.
Taylor moved closer. “So what did she wear?”
“A slinky black silk dress with a high neck and long sleeves. She also wore spike-heeled shoes that made her about six inches taller than the boy she was with. He didn’t care. Every time he looked at her, he just about fainted because he couldn’t believe he was with such a knockout.”
It had been a long time since Taylor curled up on my knee, but that morning she put her arms around my neck and moved in close. “I guess you don’t have a picture of her at that dance.”
“No, Taylor, I don’t. I’ve kept a lot of other pictures of your mum. Whenever you’re ready to look at them, you let me know.”
Taylor nodded. “I’ve always just liked looking at the art she made.” She drew closer. “That’s been enough.”
For once, Taylor and I didn’t hurry our time together. We each had our own thoughts, and we both realized moments like this had become finite. Taylor was the one who broke our reverie. “I’d better get ready for school,” she said. “At the Farewell, I’m actually getting some dorky prize for attendance.”
She started to leave, then stopped. “What did you wear to the dance?”
“Little pearl earrings, a pearl necklace, a strapless pastel dress with a tulle skirt, and illusion heels so I wouldn’t be taller than my date.”
Taylor’s smile reflected both love and pity. I felt a pang. It was the smile her mother had given me a thousand times in the years when we were best friends.
When I came out of the shower, Taylor was in my bedroom dressed, munching a piece of toast with peanut butter, and looking critically at the outfit I’d planned to wear to court: a champagne blouse and slacks outfit that I’d loved for fifteen years.
“How come you’re getting all dressed up today?” she asked.
“I’m going to court with Ginny Monaghan.
Taylor rolled her eyes. “Boy, you should hear the jokes the kids tell about her. They say she’s a cougar.”
“Nice,” I said.
Taylor chewed thoughtfully. “It is kind of mean, isn’t it? And you know, last night, she really did seem nice. None of the boys would dance with Gracie because she’s so tall, and Ms. Monaghan told Gracie that it was great being tall – you could see more.” Taylor turned her attention back to my clothes. “Is this what you’re wearing?”
“I like it,” I said.
“I like it too,” Taylor said. “Except you wear it everywhere.” She cocked her head. “That scarf Zack gave me for Christmas would make it look a little less …”
Taylor raised an eyebrow. “I was going to say ‘beige.’ ” She flashed off the bed and came back with her scarf: a Paul Klee print that was neither boring nor beige. She held it against the blouse. “Okay?”
“More than okay,” I said. “Thanks. Now you’d better scoot. You don’t want to forfeit your dorky prize.”
I’d just opened my laptop to check out the press coverage of Ginny’s case when the phone rang. It was Ed Mariani, sounding buoyant. “I know it’s never too early to call you,” he said. “You’re like Barry – an early bird. After all that travelling yesterday, Barry was up at the crack of dawn, fresh as a daisy, doing his sit-ups. He still has a twenty-eight-inch waist. I tell him that, after the age of forty, no man but a drag queen has a twenty-eight-inch waist, but he just pats the place beside him on the mat and invites me to join him in a few stretches.” Ed sighed. “As if I could. These days, even bending to tie a shoelace is a hero’s journey for me. But I didn’t call to whine. Your Martha Washington geraniums are ready to be hardened, and when Martha’s ready, she’s ready. Can I drop them by some time this morning?”
“Sure, but can you make it in the next hour? I promised Ginny Monaghan I’d be in court with her this morning.”
“Quid pro quo. I’m going to stay with her campaign until E-Day, then use Ginny’s experience for that script about women in politics I showed you.”
“Shrewd move,” Ed said. “What you wrote is thoughtful and well researched, but it’s a little …”
“Beige?” I said.
Ed laughed. “Well, the exploits of a sexual swashbuckler would add colour.”
“And make a point,” I said. “Ginny seems to feel the rules for female swashbucklers are different from the rules for men.”
“She’s right, of course.”
“I know she is,” I said. “And because of her politics, she doesn’t have a lot of natural allies.”
“Including me,” Ed said. “To be honest, Jo, when I saw her at the party, I was prepared to leave her a wide berth, but she was your guest, and you looked a little desperate. I thought I’d take her off your hands for a while, but I really liked her. Anyway, if you want some company today, I’d be happy to come. Take one for the team.”
“Ginny’s not on your team, Ed.”
“Ah, Jo, you have no idea how large and varied our team is. The walking wounded cover the earth. The least we can do is offer one another a little support when the terrain is unfriendly.”
Half an hour later, I’d finished reviewing the media stories on Ginny Monaghan, and I was dressed and trying to find a lipstick that wasn’t a stub. Taylor came back, ready for school, to give me a final inspection. “Cool,” she said. “And that lipstick I gave you for Christmas would be perfect with that scarf.”
“The lipstick in the gift with purchase?”
“It was full size,” Taylor said. “Anyway, since you weren’t using it, I kind of borrowed it back. Want me to get it?”
I held up the stub in my hand. “Anything’s better than this,” I said.
Taylor went to her room and came back triumphant. “Here,” she said, handing me the lipstick. “It’s called Tiger Eye – great colour, eh? And Mr. Mariani’s outside with a ton of plants for you.”
I took the lipstick. It was muted but managed to pick up the deep red in the scarf. “Perfect,” I said. “Taylor, how do you know these things?”
Taylor scrunched her face in dismissal. “Everybody knows that stuff.”
I filled in my lips and threw the lipstick into my handbag. “I owe you,” I said “Now, let’s go help Ed unload.”
He was standing in the driveway with the trunk of his Buick popped and a tray of Martha Washingtons in his arms. The blossoms were dark red rimmed with silver. “Halos,” I said. “My favourites.”
“Wait till you see what I have for you out back.”
Taylor picked up her backpack. “Can I look after school? I’m already late.” She kissed Ed on the cheek, and he beamed.
“Aren’t you and I about due for another evening of Barry’s paella and some serious art talk?” he said.
“Definitely,” Taylor said. “Except not this Saturday because it’s Marissa’s birthday party and not Friday because Isobel and Gracie are coming over to watch scary movies, but any other time is good.”
“I’ll look forward to it,” Ed said. We watched her bounce off. “She’s growing up,” Ed said.
“High school next year.”
“It all goes so quickly.” Ed’s smile was rueful. “Gather your Marthas while ye may.”
“That’s exactly what I’m doing,” I said. I buried my nose in the foliage and inhaled the pungent scent of new growth and potting soil. “I love the smell of spring.”
Ed’s moon face split with a smile. “My grandmother called this the unlocking season: the ice cracks; the water begins to run; the sap flows; the ground warms; people throw open their windows and set out the porch furniture, and we’re part of our neighbours’ lives again.”
“Whether they want us to be or not,” I said.
Ed laughed. “True enough. ”
Ed and I didn’t dally over the Marthas. Courtroom C was small, so we knew that if we wanted a seat we’d have to be there early. As we entered the courthouse foyer, I glanced up at the Florentine glass mosaic that greeted everyone who came into the building.
Ed followed my gaze. “The God of Laws with his handmaidens, Truth and Justice,” he said.
“Let’s hope they’re on the job today,” Zack said.
His voice caught me by surprise. “Where did you come from?” I said.
“This new chair of mine is called the stealth model,” Zack said. He was wearing his barrister’s robes and he was with his client.
It wasn’t in Norine MacDonald’s job description, but when it came to transforming bikers, slackers, punks, and hookers for their court appearance, Zack’s executive assistant was a whiz. Zack said admiringly that Norine could make Darth Vader look like a guy who deserved a second chance, but Francesca Pope had clearly proven to be a challenge.
Francesca’s clothes had been chosen to make her look respectable and responsible: a navy pantsuit, a crisp white blouse, and black walking shoes with a hard shine, but although it was a warm day, Francesca wore winter gloves and her thick grey hair was erratically hacked, as if someone had attacked it with dull scissors. She was calm, but her lips were moving silently in an internal monologue that seemed to absorb her. Zack introduced us matter-of-factly. “Francesca, this is my wife, Joanne, and the gentleman with her is our friend, Ed Mariani.”
Francesca regarded us without interest. When Ed said hello, she nodded, but when I started to extend my hand, she shook her head violently. “I don’t shake hands,” she said. Her voice was surprisingly rich and assured, a singer’s voice.
I withdrew my hand. “Well, good luck this morning,” I said.
She nodded. “Thank you.”
Zack touched her arm and smiled encouragement. “Time for us to go in,” he said.
Francesca started to follow, then her face became animated. “Look over there,” she said, pointing towards the door. The three of us turned and saw Ginny Monaghan coming in with Sean Barton. A couple of media people were pursuing them with cameras. Francesca stared at the group. Then she said, very loudly, “I know who you are.”
“That’s Ginny Monaghan,” Zack said. “Her picture’s been in the paper a lot lately.” He touched Francesca’s elbow again and steered her towards the courtroom. Francesca moved in the appropriate direction, but her head was still turned towards Ginny, and her face was dark with anger.
Ed nudged me. “What do you suppose that’s all about?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “But I don’t think Ginny’s going to get Francesca’s vote.”
Court wasn’t scheduled to start for fifteen minutes, but the room was already crowded. “Full house,” Ed said sardonically. “Never underestimate the public’s appetite for prurience.”
I raised a mocking eyebrow. “Of course, our interest isn’t prurient.”
“But we’re professionals. These other are …” He peered at the public benches. “Good grief. Who do you suppose all these people are?”
“Well, I recognize some of them,” I said. “They’re lawyers, and like my husband, they’re courtroom junkies. If Zack doesn’t have a case, he drifts in to watch somebody else’s.” I pointed to the front row. “There’s space up there. Shall we give it a shot?”
We made our way up and discovered that, in true Canadian fashion, the spectators had presumed the empty front row was reserved. We took our places, and within seconds, Ginny Monaghan joined us. Her closely tailored pantsuit was the colour of dark honey and her creamy leather handbag matched her silk blouse. She was the epitome of assured success. She was also incredibly alone.
She brightened when she saw us. “Right on time,” she said. “I’d planned to save you a place, Joanne, but it seems you beat me to it. And you brought Ed.”
“To support you in any way I can,” Ed said with a little bow. He lowered himself onto the bench and breathed with the pleasure of a big man who is finally off his feet. “As long as I can render my support from a seated position,” he added.
I gestured to the lawyers’ tables, where Sean was riffling through the papers he’d shaken from his briefcase. “I thought you’d be sitting up there with Sean,” I said.
Ginny shook her head. “In this court, we don’t sit with our lawyers. In fact, unless they’re testifying, the parents don’t even have to show up. Sean says a lot of lawyers are happier if their clients stay home. It seems parents have a tendency to micromanage their cases. I’ve promised to be a model client: legs crossed demurely at the ankle, hands folded in my lap, mouth zipped.”
Sean’s table was close, and when he heard Ginny’s voice, he turned, winked at her, and gave Ed and me the thumbs-up sign. Obviously, he wasn’t bearing a grudge about being passed over for partner, and I had my own reasons for being relieved.
Jason Brodnitz’s lawyer, Margot Wright, was sitting at the table across from Sean. Even in her barrister’s robes, Margot was a man-magnet. She was a true blonde, with shoulder-length, softly curling hair, creamy skin, and a dust of freckles across a nose that a romance novelist would describe as saucy. She had made flame-red lipstick and nails her trademark, and that morning, she was, as always, riveting, but it gave me no pleasure to acknowledge her charms.
One night at a banquet for a retiring judge, Margot and I had had an encounter in the ladies room. She had been drunk. After she’d told me more than I cared to know about Zack’s romantic adventures before we met, she assured me that like every woman before me, I would be dumped.
Later, when she defended an old friend of mine, I came to respect Margot as a lawyer, but in my personal pantheon, she was still a question mark. Contemplating her history with my husband was not pleasant, so I turned back to Ginny.
“So what happens?” I said. “I don’t know much about custody trials.”
“Jason and I testify. Then it’s on to the girls’ teachers, whom I’ve never met; the principal of their school, whom I’ve also never met; the girls’ basketball coach, with whom I showered after a fundraiser for their school gym. Then the experts Jason and I hired to produce favourable assessments of our parenting skills testify. Then the court-appointed social worker reports on her talk with the girls. After hearing all that, the judge makes her decision.”
“Your daughters don’t have to testify,” Ed said, and his relief was palpable.
“No,” Ginny said. “We at least spared them that.” Her shoulders slumped, and for a beat, her mask of invulnerability slipped. Then the court clerk entered.
“All rise. Court is now in session. Madam Justice Susan Gorges presiding.” Madam Justice Gorges, a petite woman wearing the black and red robe of a Queen’s Bench judge, strode into the court.
“Do you know her?” Ginny whispered.
“No,” I said. “But Zack says she runs a tight ship.”
“Good,” Ginny said. “Because nobody wants this to drag on.”
Ginny was the first to testify. Not surprisingly, for a woman whose moves had been scrutinized since she was a seventeen-year-old bounding across the basketball court, she was a good witness. Head high, spine straight, she delivered her testimony clearly and factually. Sean phrased his questions about her work schedule in a way that allowed her to talk about the projects involving women and children that had been among her initiatives as minister of Canadian heritage and the status of women. She confronted the fact that the girls lived with their father head-on, explaining that she had given the twins the option of moving to Ottawa, but that they’d decided to stay in Regina and start high school with their friends. They had chosen a private school with an excellent reputation for academics and sports. Ginny had attended the school herself, so she had agreed. She said she came back to Regina as many weekends as she could manage, but cabinet business often kept her in Ottawa. Then she pointed out that Jason had become a stay-at-home father through necessity rather than choice. Business reverses had forced him to close his office and work from home. “Like many couples,” Ginny said, “our child-care decision was dictated by finances. I didn’t choose to stay away from my girls any more than Jason chose to stay home with them. It just worked out that way.”
Sean finished by asking Ginny how she would characterize her relationship with her daughters. Surprisingly, Ginny seemed taken aback at the question. “I’m not a milk-and-cookies mother, if that’s what you mean. But Em and Chloe are strong, independent girls. They can get their own milk and cookies.”
When Margo approached the witness box, she and Ginny eyed each other warily, taking each other’s measure. Successful and assured, they were, in every essential way, alike, but that didn’t keep Margot from going for the jugular.
“Ms. Monaghan, you say you’re not a milk-and-cookies mother. No one would dispute the fact that the work you do is important or that it’s time-consuming. That said, women in our generation are fortunate. We have options. We can be prime minister; we can be milk-and-cookie mothers.” Margot glanced at Madam Justice Gorges. “We can even be Queen’s Bench judges.” After Susan Gorges favoured her with what might have passed for a smile, Margot continued. “Ms. Monaghan, no one questions your right to be politically active, but you’re here today seeking custody of your daughters, so the court has a right to know how involved you are in your daughters’ lives.”
“They’re fourteen years old,” Ginny said. “They have lives of their own.”
Margot permitted herself a small smile. “Still, fourteen-year-olds aren’t allowed to live on their own.” She paused. “Of course, they don’t live alone, do they? They live with their father. My client has made a home for Emma and Chloe.”
“A home that I subsidize.” Ginny shifted her gaze to Jason Brodnitz. “My ex-husband has suffered some serious business reverses. I also pay for the girls’ school.”
Ed leaned towards me. “Did you know that?”
“No,” I whispered. “And judging from the fire in Margot’s eye, she didn’t know it either.”
Margot might have been taken aback, but she recovered quickly. “You wouldn’t dispute the fact that my client is the parental presence in the home.”
“Because he has the time,” Ginny said coldly. “And, Ms. Wright, I am present in my daughters’ lives: I talk to them every night.”
“From four thousand kilometres away.”
“If the need arises, I can be in Regina in five hours.”
“Did you come home when Em broke her arm?”
“No. It was a clean break.”
“And you were in Puerto Vallarta with a male friend.”
“Did you come home last year when Chloe had her appendix out?”
“On a direct flight from Ottawa?”
“No. I stopped in Toronto overnight.”
“Were you alone?”
“No. I spent the night with a friend.”
“A male friend?”
Margot shook her head. “girls’ night out, huh? How about when you’re in Regina? Are your daughters with you then?”
“Yes. They stay in the apartment with me.”
“And you’re there with them all night.”
“As a rule, yes.”
“I understand there was an incident when Em awoke in the middle of the night vomiting and you weren’t there.”
“Chloe called me on my cell, and I was home in twenty minutes.”
“Were you with a lover?”
Years in politics had taught Ginny how to sidestep landmines. “As I said, I was home in twenty minutes.”
Jason Brodnitz fared better in the witness box than his ex-wife had. Slender, physically graceful, grey hair cut very short, he bore an uncanny resemblance to the actor Richard Gere. Jason might have suffered business reverses, but the lightweight, single-breasted suit he was wearing hadn’t come off the rack, and he moved to the witness box with the assurance of a man who expected to do well.