Nick's office is on seven, the bottom floor of Rocker, Dusha and DeWine, better known to the legal set as RDD. It is the largest law firm in town, with more than three hundred lawyers and offices in four cities.
Nick has been here only two years and already he has a corner office and two young associates assigned to him. Like a minilaw firm within a firm.
His office has been sharply decorated by Dana, the new Mrs. Rush. Her touch is on everything, from the Persian carpets and artistic earthen vases that adorn the alcoves behind his leather-tufted chair to the gold stud in his right nostril.
Nick may have a new sassy-looking wife, but he is the same man I've known for more than ten years. A cigarette dangles from his lower lip as he talks, dropping ash on the expensive leather blotter of his desk. Nick may not look the part, but people tend to listen to him when he talks.
He sweeps the ash away with the back of his hand and examines the burn mark on the new leather.
"If she sees that, she'll kill me," he says. He's talking about Dana. He tongues a little saliva on his finger and tries to fix it.
"I have to smoke here. Dana doesn't like it at the house. She says it leaves a smell on the furniture and her clothes. I don't smell it. But then, my smeller's gone."
He takes a good drag from the cigarette and immediately has a coughing jag.
"First one of the day." He says it between fits of trying to catch his breath, cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth. "She's right." He holds the cigarette out looking at it, then puts it back in his mouth. "This shit'll kill you. That'll teach me to marry an interior decorator."
He says nothing about the fact that he's older than his wife by twenty years. He looks at me to see if I am offering any sympathy. That particular bank is closed at the moment.
My own practice, Madriani and Hinds, is small, no rival to RDD. My partner Harry Hinds and I staked out a quiet bungalow office lost in the foliage of a courtyard across from the Hotel Del Coronado two years ago. Looking for a cooler climate and a fresh start, we had relocated the practice from Capital City on the financial wings of a large judgment in a civil case. Since then Coronado and the environs around that city have become home for me and my fifteen-year-old daughter, Sarah. Sarah has no mother. Nikki died of cancer several years ago.
What takes me to Rocker, Dusha today is a phone call from a friend. Nick is in his fifties. Prime earning years for a trial lawyer. Old enough to have judgment and young enough to do the heavy lifting in court. He considers the move to Rocker, Dusha to have been a good one. I'm not sure I agree. To look at him, Nick has aged ten years in the last twelve months.
The firm recruited him with assurances that they would move him into civil litigation. Instead, he has been buried in white-collar crime. Along with business bankruptcies, it is one of the growth sectors of the law, both areas being driven by the aroma of corporate book-cooking that took place in the last decade. The "me generation" of the 1960s is not faring well.
Nick's corporate criminal skills have been honed over more than two decades, first in the U.S. attorney's office, then in his own solo practice before coming here. There are rumors that Nick has been recruited elsewhere but has chosen to stay with Rocker, Dusha. I suspect if you chase these rumors down, you will find Nick residing under the rock from which they crept.
What the firm wanted was somebody to pick up the respectable businessman who occasionally slips and falls through the cracks, your friendly financial adviser who decides he'd rather invest you in his new yacht than in the bonds he told you about and then prints his own securities so you'll have something to put in your safe. To Nick, this doesn't even qualify as crime.
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
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