He reaches into the inside of his coat and pulls out a small leather container. It looks as if it is designed to hold expensive fountain pens. He opens it, and I see cigars.
"Do you mind?"
Mary shoots him a disapproving look.
Ordinarily my office is a smoke-free zone, but I make an exception. He offers me one, but I decline. Harry accepts.
"My doctor says I shouldn't smoke. My only vice, besides the boat and fishing. Do you ever go out?" he asks. "Sport fishing?"
I shake my head. Jonah is wandering now, trying to avoid a painful subject.
"You should try it sometime. Soothes the soul. I'll take you out on the Amanda." The words stick in his throat for a second. "I named it after my granddaughter. She used to love to go out."
"Enough with the boat," says Mary. "Our daughter wanted money. She always wanted money. That ticket was a curse. Without it she would have left Amanda alone. Left her with us and gone about her life, such as it was. But with all that money . . . It was its own kind of narcotic."
"She came to me for money when she got out. Said she wanted to start a business. I said I wouldn't give her any. I knew the money would go into her arm, or up her nose, for drugs. Or to one of those bums she's habitually shacked up with. My daughter's taste in men leaves a lot to be desired. She is too attractive for her own good."
He pulls his wallet out of an inside coat pocket, and from it he plucks a photograph. He hands it across the desk to me.
"She had her hair cut like Meg Ryan, the movie star. Everybody kept telling her she looked like her."
I look at the photo. Her friends weren't lying. Jessica is blond, cute in a sexy kind of way. Her short hair is cut in a pixie. The most endearing feature is her smile, which, if you stopped there, would mark her as the kid next door. Her jeans look like they had been molded to her body, and a tank top leaves little to the imagination. Slumped over her, hugging her from behind, is a guy in a leather vest and no shirt. I can see a tattoo on one arm and, though the picture is too indistinct, I can imagine needle tracks below the elbow.
"Jessica always seemed to collect the losers," says Jonah. "Tattoos up the ass. Worthless men living on the backs of motorcycles. You know the kind." He looks at me through a smoke veil and takes a puff.
"This is Mandy." Jonah hands me another snapshot. Mandy is in a school uniform. Her hair is tied in a neat ponytail with wisps escaping at the sides.
"Mandy's hair is a little longer now," says Mary. "At least I think it is. Unless they cut it."
"The police told us they do that sometimes. And dress 'em up to look like boys. So a picture in the paper, on a milk carton doesn't do any good," adds Jonah.
Harry looks at the photo of Jessica, an appraising eye. "How old is she?"
"Jessica's twenty-eight. She survives to be thirty, it'll be a miracle. That's why we gotta get Mandy back. Different man with her mother every night. Some of them pretty bad."
"What about the girl's father?" says Harry.
"Your guess is as good as mine," says Jonah. "Nobody ever came forward, and Jessica wasn't talking."
"Who has legal custody?" I ask.
"We had temporary custody when Jess went to prison. Now it's permanent. Not that it does a damn bit of good.
"Jessica only got interested in Mandy after I won the lotto. Her message was clear. When she got out, she wanted money, and the collateral was Mandy. Unless I paid, she would be taking her back as soon as she got out. I offered to buy her a house. Of course I wouldn't put it in her name. I wasn't that foolish. She would have sold it first chance, pocketed the money, and run off. But just the same, I offered to put her up in a good home in the neighborhood where we live. To support her. But she didn't want any part of that. Too many strings attached, she said."
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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