Thursday, October 12
An old friend. That's what Harry called her when he broached the subject just moments ago. Would I agree to represent an old friend of his who's in a bit of a jam?
"Of course I would," I told him. "But why don't you represent your old friend yourself?"
I knew his answer before I finished my question. Harry Madigan is uncommonly good at many things, but he'd die of starvation if he had to earn his living playing poker.
He leans forward in his chair by my desk and laughs, knowing I know. "All right," he says, raising his hands in mock surrender. "She's an old girlfriend. And I don't think I should represent her. Not in this case."
"You want me to represent your girlfriend?" I laugh too, fully expecting him to deliver a punch line.
He frowns. "As you happen to know," he says, "she's not my girlfriend. But she was twenty-five years ago. We were law school classmates."
He must be joking. Just in case, though, I turn to the bookshelf behind my desk and tap a pen against the red spine of the Massachusetts Lawyers Directory. "What? Is there a sudden shortage of attorneys in the Commonwealth, Harry?"
"Come on, Marty, we're not sixteen. We both have pasts. And we've both had other relationships."
I take off my frameless glasses, drop them on top of a file on the cluttered desk, then rub my tired eyes and roll them at him.
Harry gets to his feet, feigns deep concentration, and starts pacing around my small office. He's six feet tall and built like a linebacker; the room always seems crowded when he stands. His shoulders are broad, his arms muscular, and his hands enormous. His charcoal hair, thick, unruly, and always too long, has gone a paler gray at the temples. Harry can pace all night as far as I'm concerned; I'll watch.
He stops abruptly, glances sideways at me, and taps an index finger against his forehead, as if coaxing a memory to the surface. "Speaking of relationships," he says, "if I recall correctly, Attorney Nickerson, you even managed to squeeze in a husband."
"True. And if Ralph ever needs a lawyer, I'll be sure to send him straight to you."
My ex-husband is Ralph Ellis, a nationally acclaimed forensic psychiatrist. He tends to show up in high-profile trials and Harry has seen him many times on TV. The two have never actually met, though. And it's no secret between Harry and me that he's not looking forward to the occasion.
He walks to the darkened window, leans against the sill and sighs. "Please," he says. "She needs a good lawyer. She's in trouble."
He bites his lower lip and nods. "I am."
"What's her name?"
Of course it is. Harry's old girlfriend wouldn't be a Mary or a Peggy or a Sally. She'd be a Louisa. I'm sorry I asked.
"Rawlings is her married name," he adds. "She was Coleman when I knew her."
"How long were you and Louisa Coleman an item?"
"Through law school," he says.
"All of it?"
Harry leaves the windowsill, drops back into the chair by my desk, and falls quiet, drumming his fingers on the armrests. It's pretty clear that whatever happened wasn't his idea. "The public defender thing," he says at last. "It didn't appeal to her."
"She didn't want you doing the dirty work of a public defender?"
He laughs. "It wasn't the dirty work that bothered her. It was the puny paycheck."
"But didn't she know all along that you planned to become a public defender?" It's always seemed obvious to me that Harry was born with that plan.
"She did," he says. "But I think she assumed I'd change my mind -- come to my senses -- by the time we finished law school." He shrugs. "I didn't."
"So she dumped you and married Mr. Rawlings?"
"Nope. She dumped me and married Mr. Powers. She dumped him and married Mr. Rawlings."
"And I'm the one who introduced her to Glen Powers." Harry looks away from me and winces, the memory apparently still chafing. "He was a friend of mine; graduated a class ahead of Louisa and me."
"But your friend had the good sense to pursue a more lucrative career?"
"Bingo," Harry says. "Trusts and estates."
"And Mr. Rawlings?"
"Cha-ching. Corporate mergers and acquisitions."
I try to stifle my laughter, but I can't. "All lawyers? All three of you?"
"What do you mean, all three of us? We weren't a men's club, for God's sake. She married the two of them. She wouldn't marry me."
I'm silent for a few seconds, while the implication of his words sinks in. "You asked."
Harry looks down at his hands and then back at me. "Yeah," he says, "I did."
I take the red directory from the bookcase and push it across the desk to him.
"Come on, Marty. That was another lifetime. And she needs help."
"She's a lawyer, Harry. Surely someone from her own firm can hook her up with whatever help she needs."
"She's never practiced."
"Never practiced? The woman graduated from Yale Law School and she's never practiced? What does she do?"
He looks up at the ceiling, as if searching for words. "She marries well," he says.
Well, of course she does. Why didn't I think of that?
"Harry, I'm sorry your old flame is in trouble. Really I am. But I've been in court all day. It's late and I'm starving. Are we going to dinner?"
He jumps up from his chair, hustles to the back of mine, and makes a production of holding my suit coat for me. "Mais oui, madame." His French accent is tortured, reminiscent of Pepé le Pew. "Name zee establishment of your choice."
I look over my shoulder and roll my eyes at him again. We both know we'll end up at Vinnie's. The booths are private, the lights are dim, and the food's the best Italian on Cape Cod. Most important, though, the portions are big enough to keep even Harry happy.
"I'll tell you more about it while we eat," he says, pausing to massage my neck and shoulders through my jacket. I close my eyes and lean backward into his big hands. I'd have fallen for Harry even if he weren't a compulsive masseur. But I'll never tell him that.
"Why is this your project, Harry? You just said she marries well. Let her husband find her a good lawyer."
"Of course he can. If he's with a firm large enough to do mergers and acquisitions, he's well connected."
Harry turns me around to face him, still holding on to my shoulders. "Herb Rawlings is dead, Marty. He's somewhere on the ocean floor."
"And Louisa's in a bit of a jam."
Copyright © 2004 by Rose Connors