"Mr. Keane," she said, "I understand that people in your line of work can't promise a specific result, but this was not a coincidence. Three mathematicians with expertise in a very esoteric branch of geometry all die of unnatural causes within six months of each other? Fat chance."
"You should've been a lawyer," I said. I reached for my briefcase and removed my clipboard.
"Does that mean you'll take the case?" "I'll look into it. If I conclude you're wasting your money, I'll tell you."
"I appreciate your concern for my money," she said coldly, "but let me worry about that." "I was just trying to-"
"I'm sorry," she said, "I didn't mean to be rude. Obviously, I don't have unlimited resources. But these deaths are connected. And if you accept that, it follows that evidence of that connection exists."
"Assuming that's true," I said, "it doesn't follow that I or anyone else will find it." She pondered that.
"One thing is certain," she said, "we won't find it if we don't try." I gave in to a slight smile and that, in turn, brought a smile to her pink lips, but this pleasant moment was cut short by two quick knocks on the imitation walnut door.
"Come in," she said. The door opened. It was Stephen Finn, Ph.D. He stood about six-three and possessed a sinewy build. Maybe one hundred eighty pounds. Blond hair, parted on the left.
Green eyes. Blue veins crisscrossed his forearms like roads on a map, and I guessed he was an athlete of some sort-a cycling enthusiast or perhaps a mountain climber. He wore a white alligator shirt, tan slacks, and cordovan loafers.
"I'm sorry," he said with another forced smile, "I didn't know you were with someone. I just wanted to see if we were still on for tonight?" The question was directed to her, but intended for me. He was marking his territory, claiming some form of ownership.
"Yes," she said, "I'll meet you at seven." She did not introduce us and I made no effort to introduce myself. Clearly curious about my business with Jayne Smyers, he studied me briefly, apologized again for interrupting, and closed the door behind him. "I won't take much more of your time," I said.
"That's all right," she said, "I want to give you as much information as I can."
We talked for another twenty-five minutes. She told me what she knew about the three deaths and gave me some news clippings she'd obtained when she'd first discovered them. I asked if she'd received any threats since discovering the deaths, and she said no. She also assured me she had not received any unusual phone calls or letters. I told her I didn't think she was in any danger, but gave her a pamphlet Scott and I had written on security for women. I requested a copy of the article she'd wanted the victims to review and she provided one. Eventually we came to the subject of fees.
One of the many things I'd hated about practicing law was having to constantly keep track of my time. No matter how accurate my records, there was always some asshole complaining he'd been billed fifty dollars for what was invariably described as a "two-minute conversation."
"I have sort of a Zen approach to fees," I said. "You and I will agree on a retainer. We'll talk about my progress from time to time. If you think I'm charging too much, you can fire me. If I think you're not paying me enough, I can quit."
"You don't keep track of your time?" "Too much trouble," I said. "You'll know whether I'm earning my money."
"Interesting," she said, not quite sure how to respond. "It requires a certain amount of trust," I admitted. "It requires a great deal of trust."
"Look," I said, "I'd make more money if I charged by the hour, but whenever I do that I seem to spend half my time generating paperwork to justify my fees and the other half wondering if the client can afford to pay me to do what needs to be done. That leaves very little time for investigation."
Copyright © 2004 by Mark Cohen
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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