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For Disclaimers see Chapter 1a
After having a few drinks with Mark at Ryans Pub, Claire returned to the office to find David Bartolo, the head of the firm's criminal defense department, waiting in her office. He was stretched out on her couch, reading the latest issue of the National Law Journal.
"And here she is, the newest member of the criminal defense department!" he proclaimed as soon as she entered the room. Leaping from his prone position he congratulated Claire by slapping her hard on the back.
Claire smiled at the veteran defense attorney. He was a small, wiry man with a full head of wavy dark hair and a mustache. His dark eyes absolutely twinkled with excitement. Although she was pleasantly surprised by the victory, there was something not quite right about the whole situation. The more she thought about it, the more convinced she became that something was downright wrong. What she didn't need right now was Dave Bartolo schmoozing her.
"Thanks Dave, but I haven't joined your department yet."
"It's just a matter of time. You and Evan will be the next legal dream team," he gushed.
Evan and I the next dream team? Dave, whatcha you been smokin? Wonder boy just got lucky. He wouldn't know where to sign a motion unless there was a "sign here" sticker to help.
Before Claire could respond, Dave started pulling her out the door. "Well, I sense some hesitation. But if you aren't convinced now, you will be soon. The grumpy old men have thrown you a victory party. Your parents will be there," he added excitedly.
"Where are we going?" I don't feel like celebrating.
"Luci Ancora. They rented out the whole upstairs!"
If this is so great how come I feel like shit? Claire pondered as the elevator door closed.
Luci Ancora, a peculiar two-story olive green stucco structure, was one of the finest restaurants in the Twin Cities. There was precious little parking so valet parking was an option. Dave had insisted on driving her there in his new Range Rover, promising to have someone drive Claire's Explorer back to her suburban home in Mendota Heights. Since it was nearly 7:00 p.m., the restaurant was crowded with eager diners. Dave proudly led Claire to the upstairs room. I feel like a blue-ribbon heifer at the State Fair, she thought testily. If this guy doesnt lay off, I'm gonna spew.
Claire immediately spotted her parents who were talking with one of the senior partners. Anxiously, they waived her over. One look at the Easton clan and it was obvious where Claire got her good looks. Claires father was a tall, distinguished looking man, his thick black hair streaked with gray. His startling blue eyes were visible beneath designer glasses.
"There she is, the latest rising star at Maylor and Moore," laughed Robert Maylor as Claire sat down and inattentively began to peruse a menu. Shed managed to ditch Dave when he became distracted by one of the new attractive receptionists.
"You know Bob, we always thought Claire was a corporate lawyer, but she's proved us wrong!" declared Matthew Easton.
"Claire, your father is so proud of you, we didn't know you had it in you to do criminal defense." Judge Anne Porter Easton was clearly ecstatic.
Claire took a deep breath as she released her napkin that was now twisted beyond use. "Well Mom, I guess I surprised myself, didn't I?"
Sensing the approach of an awkward moment, Claires boss launched into a detailed account of the trial. Her parents were immediately absorbed in the tale. Claire looked around the room. Christ, I dont know half the people here. But no attorney worth his salt would turn down a chance at free liquor. Add in the opportunity to schmooze the senior partners, and attendance might as well have been mandatory.
Looking up from the bottom of her glass Claire noticed a crowd at the door. Evan Moore had arrived. Evan cut a dashing figure with his tall, lean build, reddish hair and expressive hazel eyes. He simply oozed charm and charisma. His infectious laugh drew an attentive crowd of admirers. As he greeted the people around him, his eyes found Claire. Smiling, he strode over theatrically and took her hand.
"Well, well, we had a criminal defense lawyer locked away in the corporate department, I see. Good show! Hell of a good job," he proclaimed heartily as shook her hand with vigor. He ended the handshake with a firm slap on the back.
What is it with these criminal defense lawyers who love to slap people on the back? Isn't a handshake enough?" She reciprocated with an insincere smile and a lukewarm pat.
"You are amazing Claire, just like that, it all disappears," gushed Evan, snapping his fingers for emphasis.
"Actually, he did plead guilty..." began Claire.
"A chicken shit misdemeanor! I would have paid to see the reaction on Captain America's face when Rumble granted your motion," interrupted Evan.
"Mark put on a damn good case and he's a good friend of mine." Claire raised an eyebrow in challenge.
"Claire, no one is criticizing Mark's ability," her father soothed. "Evan is just proud of your victory."
Claire just sighed and stopped talking. Claire knew better than to try to change her parents minds. Ignorethemigorethemignorethem, she silently repeated the familiar mantra. Claires sour mood didnt escape the perceptive eye of the firms founder.
"Young lady..." Robert Maylor pointed directly at Claire "you are a good attorney." Noting the dark circles under her eyes he added, "You look tired. I know we aren't easy on our junior attorneys, but I can see our training has definitely paid off with you." Claire tried to ignore his condescending tone. "But we aren't TOTAL slave drivers. I know you've been working your tail off. You have another appearance next week?"
"I have some discovery motion next week for the... uh...whats the name again????? Robertson file," she rebounded.
He smiled. Quick on your feet, hey. "Okay, after your motion, you are going to take some time off."
"That's very considerate of you Bob, but I really enjoy my work..."
"You're talking to an old man who still is a workaholic. This firm was founded on my drive, but now I have children I barely know and I hardly see my grandchildren. I've learned my lessons. I dont want you making those same mistakes. This.. is.. a.. direct.. order." A pointy finger emphasizing each word.
"After your motion next week, you take some time off. Don't worry about your cases. We have to keep those summer associates busy somehow." He smiled in anticipation.
The younger lawyer could see that arguing was futile. "All right, but after two weeks, I reserve the right to come back. I get bored easily when I'm not working," Claire confessed.
"The work will still be there when you get back. You just need some rest. Once youre rested up you'll realize how important that victory today was," he soothed.
Either that or Ill bail on criminal law altogether. A directed verdict...why?
Claire practically jumped out of Daves Range Rover. She was pathetically grateful to be home. Her family heritage and high salary permitted her to indulge in many luxuries, but this house was one of the few she allowed herself. It was her sanctuary... a place where she felt completely safe and secure when the world became too much. The white brick house sat on an acre of land surrounded by trees and was nearly invisible from the street beyond.
Its lucky I didnt have to drive home tonight, she thought wryly. Im still feelin the effects of that last scotch. Or was it the last four? Come on, I need to chill out and let myself enjoy this victory. Why cant I just enjoy this without waiting for the other shoe to drop?
She gingerly made her way up the driveway, trying not to fall flat on her face. Claire noticed that the flowering trees and tulips were beginning to bloom. She had spent last fall planting row upon row of her favorite flower and was satisfied to see the fruit of her labors.
Maybe I should just garden full time and become a landscape architect? It doesnt involve being responsible for peoples lives. There wouldnt be any guilt about outcomes. If your customer doesnt like a your work...fuckem... he can plant his own trees. She snorted.
Shuffling through the door, and tossing down her jacket and briefcase, she stumbled into her modern but bare kitchen. The sleek marble countertops and oak cabinets were mostly empty, a testimony to her lack of culinary interest. The stainless steel refrigerator, did however, contain enough pre-packaged and carryout food to last her the week.
God, I hate nylons. Ripping them off as she walked towards the stairs, she nearly fell. I gotta change out this moron uniform. Heading upstairs to her bedroom, Claire passed her baby grand piano which sat lonely in her sparsely furnished living room.
Leaving a trail of clothing as she went Claire wobbled by her library, office and two spare bedrooms. Shower. I must have a shower.
The steaming hot water began working its way through Claires scotch induced haze. Shutting off the water, the brunette. Claire wearily pulled open the shower curtain and grabbed a towel. After several minutes of riffling through the clothes on the floor Claire finally hit pay dirt. Shit...I guess tomorrow is laundry day. Sitting on her unmade bed, it took great effort to slip on her favorite pair of running shorts and threadbare T-shirt.
What am I in the mood for tonight? Dammit , dont go there. You know youre in the mood for something you cant have. Messages, then music...
Punching the button on her answering machine she smiled faintly as the messages played. They were mainly notes of congratulations for winning her first criminal trial. Claire took a deep breath after listening to them, still troubled by her "victory."
Even given her non-existent experience in criminal defense, she still understood how rare a directed verdict was. Mark presented a devastating case. He should have won!
Her thoughts shifted to Evan. How does an incompetent lawyer like Evan get such a kickass reputation? Evan probably spent more time on the Post-It than researching the case.
Am I jealous of Evan? Am I jealous because it comes so easy for him and you had to work so hard to prepare this case? Be honest with yourself. Whats wrong with this picture. My gut is telling me something. I just dont know what...Yet.
After retrieving the last of her messages, she noticed how thirsty she was. Thats what you get for emptying half a bottle of scotch. Well, at least it was good scotch, she laughed aloud.
Opening her refrigerator she reached to the back corner and retrieved some apple juice. 1:00 a.m.? What could possibly be on TV this late? She slowly padded into the den and began channel surfing, finally settling on the History Channel. I forgot how thirsty drinking makes you, she thought, as she gulped down the last of the juice.
Claire found herself mildly interested in the Greek archeology show, but she couldnt concentrate. Sighing, she clicked off the television and made her way into the living room. She needed to relax, and in a world of uncertainties, there had always been one constant - the piano. Playing was her favorite way to relax and think.
She didnt bother turning on the living room light. The dim lights streaming in from the hallway barely allowed her to see the keyboard. Sitting down on the padded leather bench she stretched out long fingers. Closing her eyes for a moment, she cleared her mind and began playing the beginning aria of Bachs Goldberg Variations. The gentle phrasing and flowing melody flowed through her. Although she liked playing all types of music, she preferred the classical masters like Bach, Handel and Scarlatti. The precise notes and the repeating patterns allowed her to concentrate. I must be an idiot-savant. Im actually playing better with a buzz.
All right, Ive got to put an end to this obsessing or it's going to drive me batty. Tomorrow I can go to the office and take a look at Evan's files. Maybe I can figure out what happened to his other cases. Then I can let it go ... or, not. Deft fingers crossed the keyboard.
Come on Claire, quit fooling yourself. You won't let it die until you get to the bottom of the whole thing. God, Im obsessive! I know it, and I still cant stop myself. But I cant do another criminal case until I know what happened with this one.
Her playing was fluid, hands moved up and down the keyboard with a natural grace. She started to play a Scarlatti sonata.
Hold it. Youre not responsible for the kids Aaron Levine sold dope to. The only person I can control is myself. I had to learn that lesson the hard way, remember?
Claire finished the Scarlatti and went to another Bach piece.
Finally having made the decision to act on her suspicions she was able to relax. She stopped playing and sighed.
"Landscape architecture. Maybe I missed my true calling," she said with a sad laugh.
The traffic going into St. Paul was surprisingly light for a Monday morning. Claire crossed the over the Mississippi River and into the outskirts of the city with her mind on a mission. Her review of Evan's old case files had left her with more questions than answers. It appeared that Evan had been granted a directed verdict in several recent trials. Claire became even more suspicious after she noted that all of Evan's clients were ordered into counseling at the Cornerstone Clinic in St. Paul. As she got off 35E at the Randolph Street exit, her mind focused on her conversation with Mark last night. The two friends had made plans for Claire to come to dinner later this week.
"I don't know if this is sour grapes or not, but my track record has been lousy with Evan lately. Whats even more surprising is that it was Uncle Luther who granted that motion. Hes always been such a hard-ass, especially with drug dealers," Mark had explained.
Claire decided to check out this Cornerstone Clinic to see just what kind of services they offered. Turning off Lexington Avenue and onto Grand Avenue, she began looking at the building numbers. The clinic was located near Billy's, a favorite student hangout for the nearby William Mitchell College of Law. Claire found a parking space about a half a block down from the clinic and walked along Grand Avenue, stopping in front of a neatly remodeled brownstone Victorian house. She looked at the discreet sign outside. This was indeed, the Cornerstone Clinic.
Claire carefully pulled open the door and went inside. She immediately encountered a waiting area, complete with a large couch and several chairs. Spotting a coffee table that held some magazines, Claire picked one up and looked at the date. At least these magazines arent two years old. She also saw an assortment of toys and a tiny plastic picnic table in the other corner. There were two doors leading to the offices of the psychologists, Amanda Greer and Jody Penbrook. It appeared that the clinic was the sole occupant of the building. Claire wandered over to the stairs and looked up, seeing two other offices, a bathroom and a small kitchen.
Looks normal enough, Claire thought as she went over to a wall rack with brochures and booklets next to the offices. She picked one up entitled, "About Cornerstone Clinic," and scanned it quickly. Nothing too out of the ordinary, just some background on the services provided and educational information about the two psychologists. Claire looked at another one entitled, "The Therapeutic Process and You," and was about to read it when one of the doors opened and a man walked out of the office and into the waiting area. He went directly to the drinking fountain, giving her a friendly smile. She smiled back and went on reading the brochure, before picking up another one. The other office door opened and a woman walked over to greet Claire.
"Hi, are you here for an appointment?" asked a brown-haired woman in a friendly tone.
"Uh, no, not exactly. I was just here to... pick up some brochures about the clinic, you know," Claire replied a bit nervously.
Claire noticed another woman out of the corner of her eye. She was casually dressed in khakis and a soft cotton shirt. Claire felt that she was being watched and turned her full gaze to the petite women. The woman looked very young, her reddish blond hair pulled back into a ponytail. Her eyes were a unique green which Claire couldnt recall seeing before. The attorney found herself smiling sheepishly at the woman, before turning her attention back to the brunette.
The woman smiled. "Okay, well take your time. You might want to look at this one." She handed Claire a pamphlet. If you have any questions, give us a call."
"Thanks. I will," Claire added, as she left the building.
Claire snapped out of her little trance and shook her head. Shit. What was that all about? One smile and you're feeling all warm inside? It has been a long time, hasn't it? She shrugged. Maybe I know her from somewhere.
The padded oak rocking chair tipped back into its normal position as Amanda rose and stepped forward. With a muffled groan she twisted her head. Straining her neck, she smiled with satisfaction as the vertebrae popped back into place. Careful not to wake the sleeping form resting against her shoulder, she swayed slightly backward and was rewarded with another audible pop, this time in her lower back. Amanda continued to unconsciously sing the song from her own childhood, even after she recognized the soft, even breaths of sleep, which tickled her neck.
Several squirming seconds later, the girl was sound asleep and Amanda hesitantly removed her hand, immediately missing the warmth of the connection. She spent a full minute simply gazing at the baby, wondering how such a small person could have such a profound impact on her life. With a soundless sigh and one last adoring look at her daughter, she turned to leave the room. At that moment her stomach decided to protest its sad treatment as of late.
Oops. Time for snack I think. Amanda made her way to the small kitchen, not bothering to turn on the light. What do I want? Healthy or decadent? Im definitely in the mood for somethin bad for me and Im waaaay too tired to fix somethin healthy. Any of those cookies left? Small hands fumbled around blindly through the cupboards. Finally! "Yummmmy, Oreos," she purred. Grabbing several cookies she turned and opened the refrigerator, the bright light temporarily blinding her. Man, thats bright. Milk. Wheres the darn milk? Ahhh. Okay, all set.
Finally, a little quiet time to think. Blindly, she made her way to her favorite recliner. Snuggling down, she gazed through the glass of her patio doors into the night. The light pattern of the rain tapping against the glass and her rhythmic chewing began to relax away the day's tension. With eyes closed she leaned back heavily into the soft fabric, relishing its softness, and letting her mind drift back over her day.
I wonder who she was? I hope shes not a patient. A mental frown. Then again, Id love to get a better look at her...just under different circumstances. She was pretty. Snorting slightly, Okay...admit it. She was more than just pretty. How often can you actually say that about someone? And those eyes. Wow!
Even from the doorway of her office Amanda could make out the depth and brilliance of their color. She realized she must have been staring for an inappropriate length of time when the woman suddenly looked up at her and broke into a slightly crooked smile, then quickly shifted her focus back to Jody. Quite without her permission, Amanda found an answering grin on her own face. I wonder if shes shy? Jody handed the women some brochures and she was gone. She didnt look like she had a drug problem. Maybe she was there for marriage counseling. Was there a ring? Knowing the absurdity of her own thoughts, Amanda chuckled. Okay, and she didnt look like she had too serious a problem. Some of the people that came in for drug counseling truly did appear to be on their last leg. She looked healthy. Strong even. Amanda felt an unexpected pang of disappointment at the more than likely prospect of never seeing this woman again. Well, if shes not coming to see us professionally, maybe its because shes deliriously happy. I hope she is. Someone should be.
With that depressing thought, she sighed deeply and got up, pulling the curtain shut on the patio door. Leaving her glass on the coffee table, she turned towards her bedroom and away from gentle sound of the spring rain against the glass.
Amanda sat looking around the empty jury room that smelled like wood, dust and sweat. Rising from the uncomfortable wooden chair she walked to the window and peered out at to the grass below. The day had been a complete disaster. The hellish metro traffic had nearly caused her to be late. She arrived in court only minutes before she had to testify. She rubbed her temples in frustration. Her testimony had not gone well. Her client was a recovering alcoholic who had, at least temporarily, lost custody of his 8-year-old son.
His attorney had subpoenaed her to testify to her clients life improvements, apparently through successful rehabilitation. After receiving the subpoena shed tried to contact her patient's attorney. For a solid week she left voice and email messages, with no response. The day before she was scheduled to testify she was desperate enough to skip over the attorney completely. She phoned her client directly only to get his answering machine.
The therapist knew the kind of testimony they wanted. She was expected to take the stand and say that her client had gotten his life together, that he had recovered from the disease which had crippled him for years, and that he was now capable of being a fit parent to his son. Only problem was...it wasnt true. Her client had made vast improvements since he began counseling. But improving didnt mean he was ready to have his son back. It was too soon.
Amanda earnestly testified that her client was making progress, all the while praying that she wouldn't be directly asked if she believed he was emotionally ready to take on the responsibility of an 8-year-old child. But of course, she was asked. And she responded in the only way possible. She told the truth. Her client had been livid, calling her a traitorous bitch. Their doctor/patient relationship was damaged beyond repair. She wasnt sure if she wanted to shout or cry. Months of progress had been effectively wiped away in all of 15 minutes. She only hoped he would continue with his treatment elsewhere. Now she stood, alone in the quiet jury room, licking her wounds and wishing she had stayed in bed this morning.
"That shouldnt be a problem. Ive got a few minutes before my hearing so Im gonna find a nice quiet spot and review the briefs... Okay...Ill be by later today and pick up some reading material so Ill have something to do on my enforced vacation...Ha..ha..very funny. See you later." Claire snapped her phone shut and began climbing the steps to the third floor jury room.
Boy, its been a while sense Ive come up the back way. I dont think Ive even been up here since I stopped clerking for Judge Peters.
Shifting her briefcase into her left hand Claire opened the door to the jury room. It had been a favorite work spot when she was a judicial clerk. The room provided better lighting and more space than her small office and whenever it wasnt in use shed claim it as her own. Claire sniffed as she opened the door. Oh yeah...must have been a close one... criminal maybe. Setting down her briefcase she suddenly noticed a silent figure in the corner of the room, standing in the shadows. Disappointed she exhaled, I guess I shouldnt have expected the place to be empty. Stay or go? The woman in the corner had her back to Claire and was staring out the window. She was apparently oblivious to the fact that someone else had entered the room. Claire noticed the woman's shoulders slightly lurch. Is she crying? Well, so what if she is? She obviously wants to be alone or she wouldnt be in here. Man...This is none of my business! But even from behind she looks so sad. A moment of indecision. What the hell.
Not wanting to frighten the woman, Claire made her approach much noisier than necessary. Hearing the loud steps, Amanda turned around quickly wiping an angry hand across her cheeks. "Im sorry, I thought it would be okay if I used this room, it was empty so..."
"No, no, its fine for you to be in here you just looked a little...er...upset... and I was just gonna see if you were okay ... or if there was anything I could do," Claire offered uncomfortably.
"Im fine but thanks for..." Amanda stepped forward, completely out of the shadows and each woman immediately recognized the other. "Thanks for asking," the blonde finally finished.
Claire felt an instant tightening in her chest when she saw the trail of dried tears on Amandas cheeks. Anger? Am I angry at whoevers made her so upset? Claire didnt have time to analyze the strange feelings before Amanda spoke again.
"You were at the Cornerstone Clinic earlier this week right?" she questioned.
She actually remembers me? Why not? I sure as hell remember her. "Yes, I was picking up some brochures for a friend." Its not a TOTAL lie. Time to change the subject. "Whats got you so upset? Dr. Penbrook?"
"Nope, thats my partner." Amanda extended her hand. "Im Amanda Greer."
Claire gently gripped the offered hand, "Its a pleasure to meet you, Dr. Greer. Im Claire Easton." Her hand feels so soft. Claire released the hand a second later than she should have. Jesus, I need to get a grip. One look at those pretty green eyes and my mind goes blank. Embarrassed, Claire quickly refocused on whatever was bothering Amanda. "Have a seat." She gestured to the nearest chair. "Why are you in here all alone, and obviously upset?" she asked again.
Amandas first reaction was to simply say she was fine and to leave it at that. But for some reason, she found herself more than willing to share what had happened.
"To make a long story short, I testified in a child custody hearing this morning. My client is the one who subpoenaed me. But he wasnt too pleased with my testimony." Amanda frowned. "Then my clients attorney must have decided to discredit me or...whatever... because he suddenly turned on me, basically trying to make it look like I wasnt considering my clients best interests and..." Amanda stopped and looked up at Claire. "Thats probably more than you wanted to know, huh?" Amanda cringed, embarrassed that shed been rambling.
Claire winced knowing shed employed that same tactic herself on rare occasion.
"Are you in here hiding too?" the smaller woman asked, trying to lighten the mood.
Chuckling, Claire responded. "Not this time." Then her face grew serious and Amanda wondered what she could possibly be thinking. When she spoke again her had eyes softened and she sat down next to Amanda. "Sounds to me like you could use some hints on how to survive in court."
"Are you offering?" Amanda queried, hoping the answer was yes. Maybe this day wont be a total loss.
"I guess I am." Claire shifted in her seat. "Wanna get together for lunch on Monday? I could give you a few pointers." Say yes!
"Do you get sued a lot or something?" Amanda joked. The friendly banter felt...comfortable...familiar even. Thats weird.
"No." Claire laughed, but was painfully aware Amanda hadnt accepted her invitation. "Im an attorney. I could tell you a little about what to expect in court. To be honest, your clients attorney should have done that before he ever put you on the stand."
"That sounds great Id..." Amanda stopped, the smile dropping from her face. "But...well...maybe we shouldnt." Claire felt her heartbeat increase, and she unconsciously gripped the arm of her chair, waiting for the inevitable excuses. "I mean I know you said you were picking up the brochures for a friend and all, but if theres a chance youd end up a patient I really can't...ah.."
"NO!" Claire exclaimed, a little too loudly. Grabbing hold of her emotions she softened her voice. "No. Theres no chance of me being a patient," she reassured. "Honestly."
Amandas smile immediately returned.
When she smiles she gets the cutest lines around her eyes and nose. Claire thought. Aackk! God, Im downright disgusting!
Amanda stood and gathered her purse from below the table. "I have to be going. How about noon?" Claire nodded. "Okay, then. Since you know where I work why dont you pick me up there and we can leave from the clinic?" The tall attorney nodded again. "Till Monday then," Amanda waived and strode out the door.
As the door closed behind Amanda, Claire finally found her voice. "Bye," she called out to the empty room.
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