The investigator caught up with them in Nassau. All the while Nick was supposed to be at a trial lawyer's seminar in New Orleans, paid for by the firm.
"You ever done it with a twenty-six-year-old?" he asks me. This comes out of nowhere.
"When I was twenty-six."
"No. No. I mean now?"
I know what he means, but knowing Nick I figure the question is rhetorical. I have seen him do this in front of juries for money, lots of it, pleading a client's case, boring holes through them with those beady little eyes over a smile you know is not being driven by humor.
When Nick asks a question like "How can you be sure the sky isn't green?" he is never looking for an answer. What he wants is the surrender of your rational thought process. Once he has you questioning your own logic, it's a simple act of illusion before he has you buying into the fable his client is going to spin on the stand.
In this case it's an exercise in absolution by silence from another lawyer. Even if I haven't done it recently with a twenty-six-year-old, Nick can comfort himself with the thought that I would like to.
"So Margaret has to go hire herself this prince of darkness," he says, "some fucking divorce lawyer out of L.A. to stake me to an anthill. Hey, do I complain?"
The fact that he is doing so now doesn't slow him down.
"No. I just pay the tab and figure this is the price of moving on with my life."
If the dark circles under his eyes are an indication, getting on with life would appear to be killing him. Nick's face is a declining graph of sleep deprivation. Whether he's working too hard to meet the alimony payments or playing too hard at night with Dana, I can't be sure. One or the other, or both, are killing him.
"If you had an itch like this," he says "wouldn't you scratch it? Any guy with a normal sex drive . . ." He continues talking as if I'm not here.
Nick suspects I have had my own dalliances, perhaps in a former life before becoming widowed, though I have never shared any of this with him. It's the reason he calls me from time to time. I'm cheaper than his therapist, and he can more easily ignore whatever I tell him since I have no training in the occult. Being outside the loop of his partnership, I am a safe shoulder to cry on.
As he sits across the desk from me, his brown eyes look like they belong behind wire mesh in the dog pound. There are basset hound bags under each.
Dana, the new Mrs. Rush, is sleek and blond, four inches taller than Nick. She has the fresh look of a model on her way to becoming a movie star. And unless I have completely lost my judgment of character, she knows how to climb the rungs of life. I have met her three times, and on each occasion she parted with looks that made me wonder if she wasn't trying to come on to me. But then, I suspect with Dana most men might foster this illusion, feeding it regularly, in hopes that it might grow into reality.
Dana possesses a kind of style that screams TROPHY. Tall and tan with a smile that glows like a nuclear reactor, she can stoke the coals that fire most male egos with a single fleeting glance across a crowded room. And for all you know she might be looking at the clock on the wall behind you, worried that she is late for an appointment to have her nails done.
The first time Nick met her was at a political fund-raiser. He left his brains on the table along with the tip and began doing his thinking with his dick. He hired her to decorate his office and the rest is history. He has been on this particular treadmill now for almost two years and is beginning to show serious signs of wear.
"You would scratch it. Right?"
"What?" I look at him.
"This itch? Tell me you would," he says, "otherwise I'm gonna start thinking you misplaced your libido."
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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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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