"So what did you tell Dana?"
"I told her I'm working on it. Have a little patience. Everything comes to those who wait."
"Is that something else your father told you?"
"Read it on some guy's toe tag at the morgue. He was sitting on the tracks when a train hit him, and all they could find was his foot."
I know the story to be true. Coroner's bedside manner.
"Besides, I've got a few irons in the fire."
"Can't talk about them right now." With Nick, it's always the big mystery. The next major coup in his life.
"Hell, at least with Margaret she didn't care," he says. "Whatever I wanted to do was fine, as long as we could pay the bills."
"Sounds like you regret leaving her."
"Only once a month," he says. "When I'm making the support payment." Then he thinks for a moment. "No. That's not true. Sometimes I see her in my dreams," he tells me. "Coming at me with an ax." Nick's laugh at something like this is always the same, a kind of shrill, pitched giggle you wouldn't expect from a man his size with a barrel chest. It was a bitter divorce.
"There's an old saying," says Nick, "that the truth shall set you free. I'm living proof. I told her the truth, and she divorced me. But at least I left her with a song in her heart."
With this he smiles. Nick's parting was not exactly a class act. It was talk all over town, gossip at all the watering holes. A man possessed of a tongue gilded with enough silver to waltz embezzlers and corporate confidence artists out of court couldn't figure out how to tell his wife he wanted another woman.
Even after she caught him with Dana, Margaret was prepared to forgive him. But Nick thought of a way to save her from herself; with the lyrics to a piece by Paul Simon"Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover"playing on an old turntable and a farewell note propped above it on the shelf.
Margaret had her revenge in the divorce and the support hearings that followed. Nick is likely to be practicing well into his eighties to pay the bills, though I suspect his annual income before taxes is into seven figures. I can imagine he might now be in a financial pinch.
"You're probably wondering why I asked you to come over." He cuts to the chase.
The hair on the back of my neck goes up. Nick wants a favor.
"I want you to understand it isn't me asking; it's really Dana."
"That makes it easier to say no," I tell him.
"Be nice. She likes you. She's the one who suggested I come to you."
Now I am nervous.
"She has a friend. This guy sits on the county arts commission with her. Seems he got himself involved in some kind of grand jury probe."
I'm already shaking my head.
"Listen, don't be negative," he says. "Hear me out. The guy's just a witness. He may not even be that. He hasn't even been served with a subpoena yet."
"Then why does he need a lawyer?"
"Well, he thinks he will be. I know. And I wouldn't ask you to do it, except I got a conflict. I can't represent him. The man's in business."
"So is the Colombian cartel. It's nothing personal," I tell him.
"As far as I know, he's clean. No criminal history. He's a local contractor."
Knowing Nick, the guy is probably drilling tunnels under the border crossing at San Ysidro. Nick would tell a jury his client was drilling for oil, and they'd probably believe him.
"So why would the U.S. attorney want to talk to a local contractor?"
"They got some wild hair up their ass on money laundering. That's all I know. Probably one of their snitches got into a bad box of cookies. The feds go through this every once in a while. It's like the cycles of the moon," he says. "One of their snitches has a bad trip, starts hallucinating, and half a dozen federal agencies go on overtime. From what I gather, it's the people down in Mexico they're looking at."
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.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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