On a Monday morning, the last week in August, I called Harry into my office. At one time, Harry Hinds had been one of the foremost criminal lawyers in town, trying mostly front-page felonies. Fifteen years ago he lost a death case, and his client lost his life in the state's gas chamber. Harry was never the same. By the time I opened a practice in the same building where Harry had his offices, he was defending drunk drivers and commiserating with them on bar stools after hours.
He came on board to lend a hand with the Talia Potter murder trial, and ever since has been a fixture. Harry's speciality is the mountains of paper produced in any trial. With a mind like a steel trap, Harry refers to his document searches as "digging through the bullshit to find the flowers." He is the only man I know who hates losing more than I do.
I didn't have the heart to tell him I was leaving Capital City, so I put it out as just opening a branch office.
He surprised me. His only question was where.
When I told him, his eyes lit up. It seemed Harry was game for the move himself. A new practice in a fresh place, the mellow swells of the Pacific, a few boat drinks along the way, maybe snag another big judgment in a civil case and head for the pastures of semi-retirement. In that instant Harry saw himself sipping piña coladas and surveying the swells on their yachts from the veranda of the Del Coronado. Harry has a fanciful imagination.
We found an associate to keep things together in the Capital City office. Harry and I weren't ready to burn our bridges. We would take turns trekking back to the home office, keeping one foot in both worlds until we could make the jump south for good.
In these months Susan played a pivotal role as surrogate mother for Sarah. I could leave my daughter with her for a week at a time. When I called Susan's house on those weeklong trips it was difficult to get Sarah even to come to the phone. When she did, her voice was filled with laughter and the abruptness that tells you that your call is an interruption. For the first time in five years, since Nikki died, our daughter was a carefree child. Even when Susan's house was burglarized in the late winter, I felt secure in her ability to protect and care for my daughter.
Susan is seven years younger than I, a dark-haired beauty, and divorced. She has the fine features and innocent looks of a child, coupled with the mind of a warrior.
For eight years, Susan has been the director of Children's Protective Services in San Diego, an agency that investigates allegations of child abuse and makes recommendations to the DA regarding prosecutions and to the courts regarding child custody. To call Susan's vocation a job is like calling the Christian Crusades a hobby. She pursues it with the zeal of a true believer. Children are her life. Her training is in early-childhood development where the mantra Save the kids has become a battle cry.
We have been seeing each other for more than two years, though even now in San Diego, we do not live together. I moved south to be with her, but-after some discussion-we decided not to move in together. At least not yet.
When I moved south, some unstated law of independence dictated that we maintain separate households. It seems we spend increasing amounts of time in each other's company; that is, when I am not on the road back to Capital City.
That particular Gordian knot will be cut as soon as Harry and I have secured a sufficient client base in the south, which is why today I am renewing an old acquaintance.
Jonah and Mary Hale sit across the desk from me. He has aged since I saw him last. Mary looks the same, different hairdo, but in the ten years she has not changed much. That was before Ben's death and Talia's murder trial. Oceans of water under that bridge.
Jonah was one of my earliest cases in private practice, soon after I left the DA's office where I'd cut my teeth. The firm had directed him down the hall to the new man in the cubicle at the end.
From The Attorney by Steve Martini. (c) Novemeber 1999 , Steve Martini used by permission of the publisher.
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