Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘legal fiction’

Dark Moon - FINAL - 1600x2400

Preorder for release on March 9 at http://www.amazon.com/Dark-Legal-Thriller-Deborah-Hawkins-ebook/dp/B01BTR8Q44/

CHAPTER ONE

First Weekend of August 2013, Friday Night, La Jolla

She was sitting at the bar, staring at the full moon over the glass-smooth, night-black Pacific. Her back was toward him, but Jim Mitchell could see her reflection in the mirror behind the bar. Her dark hair was very short like a child’s pixie cut, and she was all eyes. They were the saddest brown eyes he had ever seen as they gazed through the window at the blank ocean.

Judging by her long, elegant legs and graceful posture, he guessed she was a model or a dancer. But no, he told himself. Models and dancers don’t hang out at La Jolla’s exclusive Trend Bar in conservative black couture suits and impossibly expensive white silk blouses. She was obviously a business woman. A retired model, he decided, who now ran her own modeling agency. He was glad he’d worn his business casual tan chinos and thrown his navy sport coat over his white oxford shirt. She didn’t look as if sloppy appealed to her.

She was lost in thought, and she didn’t turn when he slid onto the seat beside her. He wondered what such a beautiful woman was doing alone on a bar stool at nine p.m. on a Friday night, and he wondered how many of the losers several stools away had tried to gain the place he now occupied. And he wondered how long she would let him hold it.

“Mind if I sit down?”

“Help yourself.” Her eyes riveted on his, still sad but now guarded. He noticed a long scar snaking across her left cheek. He guessed it must have ended her career in front of the camera. She watched him glance down at her left hand.

“If I were married, I wouldn’t be here.”

“Me, either.” The bartender shifted from one foot to the other, waiting for his order. “Martini, two olives. And may I get something for you? Your glass is just about empty.”

“Another one of my usual.”

Satisfied, the bartender scurried away to earn his tip.

“If he knows your usual, you must come here often.”

“Not an original pickup line. Besides, you had me at ‘mind if I sit down.’ My office is just down the street. I like to come by on Friday night to wind down.”

“But happy hour is long over.”

“I don’t do happy hour. Too crowded.”

“Me, either.”

“Is your office just down the street, too?”

“No. I work out of my home in Pacific Beach.”

“Then why aren’t you in a bar in Pacific Beach?”

“Too loud. Too noisy. And I’m too old.”

He saw the first glint of amusement in her dark eyes. “You don’t look too old.”

“I’m forty-two. That’s too old for twenty-something coeds.”

She laughed, a deep honest laugh that he liked. “I know plenty of men your age who wouldn’t agree with that.”

“They have their preferences. I have mine. If I feel like a drink on Friday night, I drive up here. What about you? You could be down in PB with the party crowd.”

Her eyes became serious, but her tone remained light. “Too old, too.”

The bartender appeared with their drinks, and he noticed her “usual” was red wine.

“To Friday night! I’m Jim Mitchell, by the way.” He held up his glass.

“Sarah Knight.” And she lightly touched his glass with hers.

Afterward he said, “I’m not believing the ‘too old’ stuff about you.”

“Thanks, but it’s true. I’m four years ahead of you.”

“You look ten years behind me.”

She smiled. “I’ve finally reached the point where that’s an advantage.When I first started out as an attorney, no one took me seriously.”

“You’re an attorney?”

“Don’t sound so surprised. Lots of women are these days.”

“No, no. I didn’t mean that. I took you for a former model, now head of her own agency.”

Sarah threw back her head and laughed. “Now that’s a first. Thank you, I think. Ever heard of Craig, Lewis, and Weller?”

“Sure. They’re big time rivals of my old man’s stomping grounds, Cravath, Swain, and Moore.”

“Well, I went with Craig, Lewis out of law school– ”

“Which was Harvard, I bet.”

“Wrong, Yale. And I became a partner in their white-collar crime section eleven years ago.”

“A woman who looks like a model and who does white-collar crime. This has got to be a movie. I would never have guessed.”

She smiled. “I think looking like a kid gave me an advantage in front of juries, particularly with the female jurors.”

“So what brought you to San Diego?”

“I got tired of New York winters.”

“I can relate to that.”

“If your dad was a Cravath partner, you obviously grew up in New York.”

“Well, not in the city. We had the regulation big house in the Connecticut burbs.”

“And you are Jim, Junior, and your father wanted you to follow in his footsteps.”

“Now, I think you’re psychic. James Chapman Mitchell, III. He sent me to Andover because it was his prep school, and he sent me to Brown because it was his college, but I rebelled and went Georgetown because it wasn’t Harvard, his law school.”

“And did you go to work for Cravath?”

“For one miserable year. And then I joined the FBI.”

“It’s difficult to see that as an act of rebellion.”

“As far as my father was concerned, it was.”

“Why’d you pick the FBI?”

“I wanted to put the bad guys away. I thought it would give some meaning to my life.”

“And did it?”

“Too much meaning as it turns out. I got very caught up in my work. Finding a lead in a cold case was like an addiction. But my partner, who was single, had no trouble leaving work at six o’clock to hang out with my wife, who was tired of sleeping alone.Five years ago, Gail handed me the divorce papers and put Josh’s ring on her finger instead of mine.”

“Sounds tough.” Her eyes were unreadable again.

“The toughest part is being away from my son, Cody. He’s thirteen, and I only get a few weeks with him every summer. He’s just gone back to Baltimore where his mother lives. What about you? Ex-husbands? Children?”

“No time. Remember I made partner at a Wall Street firm at thirty-five. I couldn’t date my clients, and I don’t like office romances. That left the dry cleaning delivery boy and the kid who brought Chinese takeout when I got home before midnight. And I don’t do younger men.”

“Darn. And I was just getting ready to proposition you.”

“An ex-FBI agent propositioning a criminal defense attorney? In what universe?”

“This one. I’m a private investigator now. I had to leave the Bureau after Gail married Josh. I saw and heard too much, and I couldn’t take it. I’m still in love with Gail, in case you haven’t noticed.”

“I noticed.”

“I moved out here to get a fresh start. I literally closed my eyes and stuck a pin in the map. And San Diego it was. Here’s my card. I’m really good. You never know when you might need an outstanding gumshoe.”

She took the card in her long, graceful elegantly manicured fingers and studied it for a moment. She seemed to be thinking something over. Finally she said, “Actually, I do need someone.”

“I can’t believe my luck.”

“You might not think that when I tell you about the case.”

“Try me.”

“Do you know who Alexa Reed is?”

“Sure. The daughter-in-law of United States Supreme Court Justice Coleman Reed. She was arrested on June 3 for the murder of her husband, Michael, who was a partner at Warrick, Thompson, and Hayes, and a psychologist, Ronald Brigman. She and Michael were locked in a bitter custody battle for their two children. Brigman seems to have been on Michael’s side. The papers say Alexa was losing custody even though she had given up her career at Warrick, Thompson to be a stay-at-home mom. She snapped and killed Brigman and her ex.”

“I was appointed to represent Alexa today.”

“Wow! That’s going to be a tough one.”

“You have no idea. There’s a lot more, but I can’t talk about it here in public.”

“Of course not.”

“Are you in?”

“Definitely. Hey, I know a great little restaurant where we can talk. Tomorrow night at seven.”

“Ok. And where would that would be?”

“My place. Here’s the address.”

* * *

First Weekend of August 2013 – Saturday Night, Pacific Beach

Her second thoughts about Jim Mitchell began the moment she walked out of Trend, and they continued as she rang the bell at his Pacific Beach bungalow the following night. The house stood out from its beige stucco neighbors in a fresh coat of olive green paint with bright red begonias smiling from the flowerbeds. Not only did he seem strong and wise, seasoned in the ways of the world and his own man, he also appeared to have an artistic streak. She liked him; but, at the same time, she questioned her decision to hire him. This was a new experience for her. She had advanced in the competitive world of Craig, Lewis because she was smart and because she had excellent judgment. She rarely had any reason to think twice once she’d made a decision.

But Jim presented a number of challenges beginning with his dark hair, decisively dimpled chin, and firm, square-jawed good looks. He was six feet, two hundred pounds of well-honed muscle that any woman would have found attractive, and she never dated or slept with anyone she worked with. It was a rule set in stone. And even though Jim’s background meant he knew his way around the tough world of criminal defense, he had the kindest brown eyes she had ever seen. Their empathy tempted her to open up about herself in a way she would never have considered with anyone else. But never looking back was another implacable rule. Finally, his honesty about his responsibility for the loss of his marriage and his love for his former wife surprisingly tugged at her heart, an organ that was nearly impossible to touch after years spent turning herself into one of the toughest lawyers on Wall Street. So Sarah considered telling Jim Mitchell the deal was off as soon as they had settled down to dinner on his charming patio in the remnants of the soft summer evening scented with ocean breeze and night-blooming jasmine.

But she hesitated. He was not the average private detective. Even his dress that night was not average California casual. No slouchy knit shirts and faded jeans. Instead, he wore an I-mean-business blue oxford cloth shirt, sleeves rolled back to the elbows, and impeccable tan linen slacks. Everything about him broadcast confidence and professionalism. If she searched the entire West Coast for an investigator to work on behalf of Alexa Reed, she couldn’t do better than Jim. And loyalty to her client was, according to the cannons of legal ethics, her top priority.

“Where did you learn to cook like this?” She had just tasted the lamb chops in a delicate mustard cream sauce with tiny peas and braised leeks.

“You were expecting steaks from the butane grill.” His eyes teased her.

“Most definitely. You do not look like a sous chef.”

He grinned. “Thank you, I think. My mother came from old money. Her father was an investment banker and a Cravath client. She insisted on having a professional chef. I liked hanging out in the kitchens and learning about cooking. Drove my old man nuts because he was afraid I’d go to culinary school.”

“You’d have been very successful.”

“Doubtless. But in the end, I wanted to catch the bad guys more.” He smiled. “My cooking skills came in handy when I was living on a government salary and couldn’t afford five-star restaurants.”

“And now you can?”

“In theory. My father died three years ago and left me, his only child, his fortune along with my mother’s money. In trust, of course. But the monthly payments have made me financially independent. It’s unlikely I’ll ever need to touch the capital.”

“So why keep working? And on the side of the bad guys?”

“I keep working because I love doing investigations. Every one is a new story, with a new plot, and new characters. And the clients aren’t ‘bad guys.’ They’re innocent people I’m keeping out of prison. I’m still on the side of justice. Tell me about Alexa Reed.”

Sarah sighed and traced patterns on the base of her wine glass with one finger.“In the interests of full disclosure, I should let you know I didn’t want this case.”

“How’d you get it, then?”

“When I left Craig, Lewis and set up shop out here alone, I brought a few clients with me who are based in Los Angeles. One was accused of masterminding a Ponzi scheme, two others were indicted for insider trading, and the fourth was on the hook for racketeering.”

“Isn’t defending clients under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act a speciality of yours?”

She felt herself stiffen and hoped he didn’t notice. “I’ve done a few RICO cases, that’s true.”

“But you won one of the most influential and toughest cases of all time, the Joey Menendez case.”

Sarah’s mouth went dry at the name, and she gulped a sip of wine to make her tongue work. “How’d you know about Menendez?”

“It’s famous throughout law enforcement. You persuaded a jury to acquit the head of the Menendez drug cartel of six counts of murder for hire and twenty counts of extortion. No one ever thought that would happen, including the U.S. Attorney who opposed you. What’s wrong? You look upset.”

“No. Of course not.” But she gripped the base of the wine glass to keep her hands from shaking. He was violating one of her iconoclastic rules: don’t look back. She needed to change the subject quickly. “Anyway, I didn’t want to defend Alexa Reed.”

“So then how’d you become counsel of record?”

“In a word: blackmail. Last month I settled all but one of the four cases I started with. I’ve picked up one or two new ones as I’ve gone along, but they are all out of L.A. I haven’t developed any business in San Diego. So I put my name on the list of attorneys willing to accept trial court appointments for indigent defendants. Yesterday morning, Hal Remington, who heads the appointments panel, called and insisted I come to his office at ten a.m.”

“He couldn’t offer you the case on the phone?”

“Apparently not.” Her hands had stopped shaking, and she paused to fortify herself with a sip of wine.

“So what happened?”

“I found his office in the basement of the old Justice Building on the third try. They’ve hidden it pretty well. Remington turned out to be a scruffy version of Icabod Crane, slouched behind a desk so covered in paper, I doubt he’s ever filed anything in his entire career. He told me he was appointing me on Alexa Reed’s case, and I said no.”

Jim leaned over and poured more Australian shiraz into her class as he asked,“And then?”

“And then he said if I didn’t take the case, I’d never work in this town. He’d personally guarantee it. I didn’t know whether to believe him or laugh in his face.”

“I hope you believed him.”

“What do you mean?”

“People have their own way here. Money and influence talk.”

“But surely they follow the state bar’s ethical rules just like everyone else?”

“Some do. Some don’t. Have you ever heard of Patrick Frega?”

She shook her head.

“He was a San Diego attorney. Back in 1992, he was caught by us feds bribing two very willing superior court judges. They all three got disbarred and sentenced to federal prison. What did you tell Remington after he threatened to blackball you?”

“I told him I couldn’t take the Reed case because I’m not death-qualified in California. Alexa is facing the death penalty because it was a double murder.”

“And then what?”

“Remington said my death qualification in New York was enough, and I’d better take the case. Then he leaned over his desk and said, ‘For a woman who graduated number three in her class at Yale, you’re kind of dense. You’re getting this case because you aren’t qualified, and you’ll lose it because that’s exactly what Coleman Reed wants. He wants the woman who killed his son to die by lethal injection as quickly as possible. You and twelve citizens of this city are going to oblige him. You were hand picked because you look qualified, but you aren’t.”

“He actually said that?”

“I wish I’d been wearing a wire. I asked him what made him think I’d lose; after all, I did graduate number three, and I’m a quick study.”

“And?”

“And he said, ‘Yeah, you were editor of the law review at Yale. Big f’ing deal. That means nothing in this town. I’m It when it comes to handing out defense work. You want to survive professionally? Better not win Alexa Reed’s case.’

“When I reminded him that was unethical, he laughed and said, ‘Then go tell the state bar. You’ll never prove a word out of my mouth. There’s only me and you in this room, and I’ve been appointing lawyers for twenty years. Everyone knows me, but you’re some New York hot shot who doesn’t belong here. It’s my word against yours, and mine will win. Why don’t you go back where you belong?”

“Wow. So you took the case?”

“He made me angry. I could see if I didn’t take it, she’d never get an attorney who’d give her a fair defense.”

“Who represented her at the preliminary hearing?”

“Trevor Martin. I picked up her file from his office yesterday, but I didn’t get a chance to talk to him. I read his withdrawal motion. He claims his mother has inoperable brain cancer, but I think he just doesn’t want anything to do with Alexa Reed.”

Jim reached over to refill her glass one more time, but she put her hand over it. “No, thanks. I’m driving.”

“You can stay here. I have a guest room.”

She looked through the open french doors into his living room, full of an eclectic mix of old and new furniture, antiques, and Ikea pieces. Maple and mahogany and a few painted chairs and chests here and there. Cozy and comfortable. The kind of room you’d be tempted to put your feet up in and snuggle into a soft throw on the sofa. Jim was probably like that, too. Safe and comforting. She reminded herself she didn’t get close to men like Jim. She had one-night stands with married men, and men she’d never see again. But men who were capable of relationships were dangerous to the self-contained, tightly controlled world she had created.

Her dark eyes locked onto his mellow, softer ones. “No, thanks. And let’s get one rule very clear: I never sleep with anyone I work with.”

“I wasn’t inviting you into my room. There really are two.” He grinned, and the tension broke. “Now, tell me what we’re up against.”

“June 2 was a Sunday night. Meggie, who’s six and Sam, who’s five, were with their father at his house on Mount Soledad in La Jolla. Alexa was alone in her rented place in Pacific Beach. Ronald Brigman, who lived about ten minutes away from Michael, had a surveillance camera recording traffic at his front door. The video footage shows Alexa arriving alone at nine p.m. but doesn’t show her leaving. Brigman was killed around eleven, and Michael was shot about twenty minutes later. Around eleven- fifteen, Meggie’s cell phone called Alexa’s. Alexa’s phone pinged off a cell tower that shows she was close to Ronald Brigman’s when Meggie called. Within ten minutes of the call from Meggie’s phone, Alexa’s cell was dialing 911 from Michael’s house. She told 911 she’d arrived to check on the children and had found him dead. The Glock .9 millimeter used in both murders was registered to her and was found next to Michael’s body. There were two DNA profiles on the gun: hers and Michael’s. Ballistics show five bullets in Brigman, and four in Michael, all from that Glock. That’s all I know so far. I’m meeting with Martin at ten on Monday morning.”

“Do you want me there?”

“No. I don’t expect him to be a witness in her case, and he’ll open up to me better if we’re alone. But I’m going to the jail to see Alexa on Tuesday afternoon. I’ll need you then. Two o’clock”

Read Full Post »

 

PRELUDE AND THEME

CHAPTER THREE

December 2007
As the waiters rolled back the doors to reveal the dance floor, the eight-piece band broke into “Let’s Get This Party Started.” Karen would have cringed at the cliche with any other group, but she barely noticed the song. Her eyes were riveted on the man in the red sequined jacket with the trumpet, standing just behind the two, statuesque blonde singers in plunging green velvet gowns. Over the course of twelve years she had often tried to imagine his face, wondering how much he had changed. And occasionally she had seen men who somewhat resembled him and had incorporated their features into her mental picture. But she hadn’t gotten it true to life. And now she had the chance, at last, to see what he had become.

Middle age had thickened his formerly wiry five eleven, but not a great deal. His hair was still wavy and dark, but noticeably receding, leaving a broad forehead exposed. He had put on weight in his face which gave him a rounder, more open appearance than the sharper features of his youth.

But his eyes, dark and mischievous, were exactly the same. She watched them dart from curvaceous singer to curvaceous singer and felt the old familiar stab of envy as she wondered which one he was sleeping with. Her jealousy broke the dam that had held back her feelings. As she stood watching him again, after twelve years, she couldn’t stop the memories.

* * *

October, 1994

When Karen Moon graduated from Harvard Law in 1984, she went to work on Wall Street for the securities powerhouse, Jennings, Cooper, and Duran. For five years she tried to learn to love securities law; but by June of 1989, she was willing to admit, only to herself, that it was exquisitely boring. So when a head hunter called with the news that Warrick, Thompson in San Diego had an opening for a rising mid-to-senior-level associate in the securities field, Karen decided a change of venue might spark her interest in filling in Securities and Exchange Commission forms.

Alan Warrick, a former securities litigator, interviewed Karen. During their conversation, Karen realized Alan knew litigation but not the regulatory side of securities law. Her job would be to do the substantive legal work to make him look good, so the firm would attract clients. In 1989, the local San Diego corporations were going to New York for their securities needs. Alan wanted to change that.

During that same interview, Alan decided that this thin, serious, auburn-haired woman with eyes the color of a stormy green sea and whose resume said she was thirty but who looked twenty, was the one he wanted for the job. She knew her stuff, and he could tell she was meticulous in her attention to detail. And she wasn’t married, so she had nothing to keep her from concentrating on her work for him. To win her over, Alan make it clear that the firm would highly prize an attorney who oversaw public stock offerings for large corporations and who shepherded their routine filings through the Securities and Exchange Commission. An associate attorney who knew how to fill in all the blank lines with all the right financial data on SEC forms and who got all the pictures in the right places in the annual reports would become a partner and earn a huge annual income.

So for the first year at Warrick, Thompson, Karen had tackled her work with renewed vigor, if not interest. She was the lone securities expert in the firm, unlike Jennings, Cooper, where securities expertise had lined the walls and carpeted the floors. Being “The One” all the other attorneys came to with SEC questions was fun. For a while.

But financial data has no heart and soul. Ten mind-numbing years of manipulating numbers for corporations of all sizes and persuasions took their toll. By 1994, her fifth year in San Diego, she realized she was as blank and empty inside as the documents she spent her days producing.

Then one Monday morning in March 1994, on the day that the handful of associates who had dared to take a few days off for Easter returned, rested and tanned, but apprehensive that all their files had been reassigned, Alan came into her office to announce that her partnership decision would be made in September of the following year. Karen, of course, had taken no time off for the holiday.

Just keep on, keep on, he advised; and she’d be a certainty for partner in September 1995. After all, she thought, as the aura of Alan’s smugness followed his retreating back out of her office, who are they going to replace me with? Although she now had two junior associates who helped in her practice, neither of them had the expertise to handle her clients. And neither had her dedication to work. Both had made the highly unprofessional mistake of absenting themselves over the Easter weekend.

Still, from day one, when she’d sized up Alan as a litigator and not a securities specialist, she had understood he was tough and expected to be pleased. Even if she knew more about securities law, Alan and David Thompson were the name partners. Cross them, and you were out.

So on that March Monday in 1994 Karen focused on making Alan happy. This was relatively easy to do because she was already used to working long hours, generating as much revenue from clients as humanly possible – or even as inhumanly impossible. She had learned in the early days of her career an associate in a big law firm that life was like was a prisoner-death-march. If you became ill, took a vacation, or fell in love, the firm eliminated you right where you fell, brought in your replacement, and moved on.

* * *

Then one clear Wednesday night in mid-October 1994, pleasing Alan Warrick became much, much tougher to do. Around eight thirty p.m., she looked up from the Hartfield Corporation’s 10-Q and saw Alan standing in her doorway.

“Great job on Waterfront Development’s closing today.”

“Thanks.” That was a matter Karen had truly hated. As a securities specialist, she did not often oversee corporate buyouts. But because she was being groomed for partner, to prove her “versatility,” Alan had dumped the Waterfront deal on her plate.

“Anyone else would be out celebrating,” Alan observed as he plopped into one of the chairs in front of her desk.

“Another time. I have to get Hartfield into the overnight word processing pool before I leave. I’m behind on reviewing my 10-Q’s because of the Waterfront deal.”

Alan heard the irritation in her voice. “Look, Karen, I apologize for pulling you off your regular clients, but Waterfront Development is huge. They are going to be redeveloping the entire area by San Diego Bay in the next ten years. David and I wanted them to be comfortable with you. They are going to be selling a lot of securities to finance their construction. We wanted them to love you.”

“And do they?”

“Looks like it. In fact, I’ve got a special request for you to take a look at a property for them.”

“A property? Alan, this is going too far. I have nothing to do with real estate. Let them fall in love with someone from that section.”

“No. That’s not what we need.”

Karen sighed. She was tired, and the Hartfield numbers were beginning to swim in front of her eyes. She hated being unable to finish a project before going home. “So what exactly do you need?”

“We want you to check out a place at Seaport Village, Jazz By the Bay. It’s a restaurant and jazz club that was part of the properties Waterfront picked up in the deal you closed for them today. The owner, Harry Rich, is half-way through a ten-year lease. Waterfront wants him out, so it can begin construction on a new set of shops and restaurants at the Village.”

“So start eviction proceedings.”

“It’s not that simple. As far as we know, Harry’s not in breach of his lease. Pays his rent on time, all that stuff.”

“Then wait five years.”

“Too expensive. No, look, here’s the lease.” Alan held up a file folder. “It has a provision for early termination if Rich hasn’t shown a profit for six of the last twelve months.”

“Ask to see his books.”

“But first, we want to know what kind of traffic the club generates. We don’t want to piss him off if he’s making money.”

“So you want me to put down this very important 10-Q that has to go out in two days to drink wine at a jazz club tonight? And I assume the time is billable?”

“Very billable.”

“And you’re coming, too?”

“Absolutely not. My wife hasn’t seen me in weeks – since we started the Waterfront deal. Besides, you at least know something about music. I can’t stand the stuff.”

Karen stared at Alan. “You’ve never mentioned my undergraduate major in the entire five years I’ve been here. You never even asked me about it in my interview.”

“Yeah, but now you know I read your resume. Flute, music degree. Boston University. You were on your way to Julliard. Then you wised up and went to law school, instead. Good thing, or you’d be starving like Harry and his buddies at that club. Do it for me, Karen. It might even be fun. You could stand a night or two away from the office.”

“As long as it’s billable. I’m up for partner, remember?”

“I never forget. Look, jazz clubs don’t close early. You’ve got plenty of time to wrap up Hartfield, get it into the pool, and make it to Seaport Village. Besides, I bet the crowd – if there is one – shows up late.”

“But it’s Wednesday night, Alan. Who parties on Wednesday night?”

“Beats me. Go find out for both of us. See you later. Good luck.”

* * *

Mumbling under her breath, she fixed up the Hartfield numbers and took the final draft to the overnight secretarial pool, then headed for her convertible VW Rabbit in the basement parking garage. She had promised herself a small BMW as soon as the partnership decision was made. The money to pay for it was waiting in her brokerage account. But buying it too soon might look cocky to Alan and David.

Well, hearing some jazz would be more fun than heading back to her condo in Del Mar, eating Haagen Daz out of a carton for supper, and then staring at rerun movies on TV until it was time to kill her boredom with a glass of wine and sleep.

She parked and wandered through the Village’s maze of tiny white fairy lights, until she found the little club, tucked into a corner with a stellar view of the harbor. Prime real estate, she thought, as she handed her cover to the bouncer at the door. He couldn’t believe she asked for a receipt, but she fully intended to bill the $10.00 to Waterfront Development. And that was the last fully rational thought Karen Moon had for some time.

She heard him playing before she saw him. Stan Benedict’s trumpet was pure gold in the medium range, had the depths of a human voice in the low range, and cut through her soul like diamond on diamond when he soared above the staff. She grabbed the receipt from the astounded bouncer and hurried inside to see who could be making these unexpected miracles of sound on an ordinary Wednesday night in San Diego, California.

It was a small club, only about twenty tables, with most of them empty on a mid-week night. But the attention to detail lavished on the decor gave it the elegant feel of a upscale forties night-club. Every table was covered in crisp white linen and topped with a candle glowing in ruby glass, next to a spray of red and white roses. The stage was small but professionally lit. The aroma of irresistible cooking wafted from the kitchen.

Karen was so fascinated by the music she forgot her role as corporate spy. Instead of taking a table in the back, she hurried to one close enough to the stage to see every detail, but far enough away to be engulfed in his incredible sound.

He was in the middle of his first set. His dark eyes darted over the audience from time to time, and occasionally rested on her, probably because she was new. Or maybe it was her business getup. The remainder of the audience, in everything from casual to full evening dress, seemed to be regulars. There were four couples, varying in age from twenties to forties, and one table of three women, mid-twenties to early thirties, obviously well known as fans because he grinned or winked from time to time when they clapped for a particularly high note or difficult passage. Each one wore a skin tight cocktail dress revealing plenty of cleavage.

Karen couldn’t take her eyes off him. Which conservatory had taught him to play like that? He was meticulous as he settled the horn to his lips, gripping it precisely with his left hand and running the long fingers of his right expertly across the valves. He was in charge of the sound, and it was overwhelming. In one shocking instant, the notes sent her world from black and white to color. At that moment, she couldn’t have even spelled Waterfront Development Corporation.

After the first set, he came into the audience, a glass of scotch in his left hand, and exchanged a few words with the various couples, who offered song requests. Karen busied herself ordering a red zin so she wouldn’t let her eyes linger over his conversation with the three women. She heard lots of laughter; and he glanced her way once and found her watching him. Embarrassed, she took a quick sip of wine and fixed her eyes on San Diego Bay, visible through the window behind the stage.

As if he knew he had her at a disadvantage and anxious to follow up, he left the women and sauntered over to her table.

“Hi, I’m Stan. You’re new, tonight.”

“Karen.” She stuck out her hand and then hated herself as he eyed it with amusement and gave it a light shake. Too many years among lawyers, she thought and gritted her teeth. “You play – ” She was so caught up in the sincerity of her feelings she didn’t care that she sounded tongue tied. “Incredibly.”

He grinned, and her heart turned over. She didn’t want to be one of the string of conquests like the poor women at the other table, but he did something to her that she could not describe.

“Not incredibly. But thanks.”

“No, I meant it. Where did you learn to make that sound? To play so effortlessly in the octaves off the charts?”

He shrugged. “Here and there.” The laughter in his eyes deepened. To her great satisfaction, he was flirting with her. “How do you know which octave I’m playing in? Or about trumpet players. You don’t look like a musician. You look like a banker.”

All at once Karen was miserably self-conscious in her mannish blue suit and starched blouse. She blurted out, “I’m an attorney. But I studied music – once.”

“Where?” His laughing eyes were skeptical.

“Boston University.”

His face became serious, and he backed away imperceptibly. She hadn’t thought her college background would intimidate him. Surely he had studied somewhere even more prestigious, given the way he played. Why should he be threatened by someone who filled in SEC forms all day? She bit her lip and wished she could begin her conversation over with him. At that moment, the only thing she wanted in the entire world was for Stan Benedict to like her.

But he was all cool, professional reserve now. The twinkle in his eyes had been extinguished. “Thanks for coming in, Kay. Come back again.”

“Karen.”

“Karen,” he repeated absently as he turned toward the stage.

She sat at her table, filled with despair, clutching her wine glass. Obviously he would not even remember her an hour from now.

He reached the stage where a stunning, raven-haired woman in her late twenties or early thirties in a tight, dark blue clingy silk dress joined him along with a drummer and an alto sax player. Stan leaned over and kissed the woman on the cheek, and Carrie felt a sharp, unexpected stab of envy. Was she his wife? He hadn’t acted like a married man at the Table of Three.

Stan started to put the horn to his lips, going through the now familiar routine of setting his mouth carefully in position before he took his first breath. But just before he completed his preparations, he put the horn down, catching the other musicians by surprise. They all looked at him quizzically.

He gave them his twenty-watt grin, walked over to the edge of the stage, and looked straight at Karen.

Her heart began to slam in her chest, and her hands trembled. She clutched the glass to keep them still.

Stan smiled and called out, “What’s your favorite tune?”

“‘I Can’t Get Started.'” She hoped her voice had sounded calm and normal.

He stepped back to his position on stage and said to the others, “Second set, first number. ‘I Can’t Get Started.’ For Kay, the banker.”

images (4)

Read Full Post »