"They were supposed to groom me for the civil side, but as you can see it hasn't happened." He points to the files on the floor lining one wall three feet high.
"They can't bring filing cabinets in fast enough. We've generated more revenue in the last two months than any other division. I told 'em I need help. They tell me to work my people harder. If I could bill a fifty-hour day I'd do it. Chamber of commerce crap," he calls it. "Consumer fraud. Junior league crime. They should have to give you a plastic ring and a special decoding button before they charge you with any of this shit. I swear, half the stuff in those files I didn't know was illegal until I came to work here."
"Why don't you leave? You could probably write your own ticket."
"Too much invested. Two years. I'd have to start all over someplace else. Too old for that. I've got a wife who wants me to wear argyle silk socks to court and sue insurance companies so she can tell her friends over dinner that her husband's a corporate lawyer and not have to lie. I know you think I'm out of my mind for being here. Getting divorced, getting remarried."
"I didn't say anything."
"Your silence is deafening," he says.
"I'm not your therapist."
"I know that. He tells me when I fuck up."
"OK, so maybe I made some stupid moves. Stupid is the word that comes to mind, isn't it?" He assesses my expression one more time, then adds, "OK, there's no maybe about it. But it's done. Over. How do you un-ring a bell? The personal side of life for me is cooked. But the law practice, the career, that's a work in progress."
This is more optimism than I've seen in Nick in a while, on any front. He's the kind of lawyer who thrives on a full caseload.
"I wish you were my therapist," he says. "You ought to see this guy. I go to him once a week. It's like going to the dentist to have my brain drilled without Novocain. I tell him I'm feeling pretty good, I'd like to move on with my life. He tells me I need to find closure with Margaret now that the divorce is over. I tell him I got all the closure I needed when her lawyer drove a pike up my ass in the support hearing, you know, the alimony. If that wasn't enough, she took every dime I had. I tell him I've got plenty of closure, I could sell him closure. Then he says, catch this, he says I need to deal with Margaret to get over my feelings of guilt. I tell him I have no feelings of guilt. He tells me I should, that if I don't I must have problems empathizing. And for this he hits me for a hundred-and-a-half an hour."
"Stop going to see him."
He looks at me through cigarette smoke, gives me a face, something you might see from De Niro. "Then I'd probably feel guilty," he says. "My old man used to say pain is good for the soul. I know, that makes as much sense as my joining this fucking firm. But you make your bed and you sleep in it. And if it happens to be next to a twenty-six-year-old woman with an incredible ass, what can I say?" He laughs. The price Nick pays for lust.
He looks at me over the top of his cheeters, half-lenses for reading. He is wearing a three-thousand-dollar suit but has dandruff on his shoulders and cigarette ash on his tie along with a wrinkled tan forehead that ends in baldness he is trying to hide under dying wisps of black hair.
"People grow apart. Call it a midlife crisis. Call it a second childhood. Call it what you want. I got an itch. So I scratched it."
This is how he describes a two-week binge in the Caribbean with Dana. And this wasn't the first itch for Nick.
He took Dana from Nevis to St. Lucia, then down to Belize and back to the Bahamas, half a jump ahead of the investigator Margaret hired to track him down. What Dana told her employer I don't know. Maybe she took vacation time or figured she had her hook set far enough into Nick that she could quit.
Reprinted from The Arraignment by Steve Martini, by permission of G. P. Putnams Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 2003, Steve Martini. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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