At the time, Jonah was just a working stiff, a married man in his fifties with a daughter in her late teens. He was getting ready to retire-against his will. He worked for the railroad in Capital City, the locomotive works which was in its death throes. Jonah had a chronic bad back and knees, thanks to years of toil on hard concrete lifting machine parts. So when the railroad was looking to downsize, he was an immediate candidate to go. Even now he walks with a cane, though this one is much more ornate than the plain curved-handled wooden stick I had seen him with back then.
"The legs don't get any better with age," he tells me as he shifts back into his chair to find the point of relative comfort.
"But the smile is as good as ever," I tell him.
"Only because I've found an old friend. I only hope you can help me."
Jonah has the good looks of an aging Hemingway, with all the wrinkles in the right places. Even with his infirmities he has not put on weight. His tanned face is framed by a shock of white hair. His beard is close cropped, his eyes deep-set and gray. He is a rugged-looking man, well dressed, with a dark sweater-vest under a cashmere sport coat, and light-colored slacks. On his wrist is a gold watch the size of an oyster, a Rolex he could never have afforded in the old days.
I introduce him to Harry.
"I've heard a lot about you," says Harry.
Jonah just smiles. He is used to this by now: people coming up, slapping him on the back, cozying to get close.
"It's what happens when your number comes up," he tells Harry. "Everybody assumes that you had something to do with it."
"Well, you did buy the ticket," says Harry.
"Yes. And there have been times when I wish he hadn't," says Mary.
"Having money can be its own curse," Jonah tells us. One senses that he means what he says.
Jonah won the largest lottery payout in state history: $87 million. He had purchased the ticket five years after I'd won his case, securing a disability from the railroad that paid him $26,000 a year plus medical benefits for life.
"I couldn't believe it when I saw your name in the phone book. I told Mary when I saw your name it had to be you, or your kid. How many Paul Madrianis could there be? Especially lawyers."
"One of a kind," says Harry. "Broke the mold."
"So what can we do for you?" I ask.
"It's our daughter," says Jonah. "I don't think you've ever met Jessica."
"I don't think so."
"I went to the police. But they said it wasn't a criminal matter. Can you believe it? She's kidnapped my granddaughter, and the police tell me it isn't criminal. They can't get involved."
"Kidnapped?" I ask.
"I don't know what else to call it. For three weeks now, going on a month, I been runnin' around like a chicken without my head. Going to the police. Following up with the lawyer we hired."
"There's another lawyer?"
"Yeah, but he can't do anything. Supposedly nobody can."
"Calm down. Tell me what happened."
"My granddaughter, Amanda, is eight years old. She's lived with us, Mary and me, almost since the day she was born."
"She's your daughter's child?"
"Jessica gave her birth, if that's what you mean," he says. "She's not what you would call a good mother. Jessica's had problems with drugs. Been in and out of jail." He pauses to look at Harry and me. "The fact is, she spent two years in the women's correctional facility at Corona."
This is not jail, but state prison. Harry lifts an eyebrow in question and before he can put it to words, Jonah responds.
"For drugs. She was caught transporting a quantity of cocaine across the border for a dealer down in Mexico. God knows where she meets these people. We paid for her attorney. He made some kind of a deal with the federal government so that she could serve her time in a state facility rather than a federal penitentiary, supposedly so she could be closer to Amanda. The fact is, she's never really shown much interest in Mandy. That's what we call her, Mary and I."
From The Attorney by Steve Martini. (c) Novemeber 1999 , Steve Martini used by permission of the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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