Authors: Nancy Taylor Rosenberg
He finally saw her and headed in her direction. When the waitress appeared with the drinks, Fowler lifted the margarita off the tray, glancing at Lily. She nodded. Then he saw the shot glass and again looked at her. “Yours?” he asked.
“No .Â .Â . yes .Â .Â . I .Â .Â .” She blushed. She was stammering like a fool. Fowler did that to her. “It's been one of those days. Thought I'd try to drown it.”
Setting both glasses on the table, he slid in close to her, in front of Duffy, who presently waved good-bye. A cloud of Fowler's cologne drifted to her nostrils, a hint of lime. For the past two weeks she'd been inhaling it, even found it lingering on her clothes like cigarette smoke when she was forced to work closely with a smoker.
“Shots, huh?” he said with a smile that lifted only one corner of his mouth. “Was it really that bad of a week?”
“No, you've been great, Richard. I mentioned the sentencing I had today, didn't
I? You know, the sweetheart who thinks human life is comparable to a Timex watch.”
“You mean, âtakes a licking'? Well, it's kinda cute, isn't it? The guy might become a stand-up comic when he gets out.”
The defendant they were talking about had pumped six bullets into a stranger in a public park. When the police asked him why he'd kept shooting when the victim was obviously dead, the killer told the cops, “He took a licking and kept on ticking.”
“That's the problem,” Lily said. “That someone can commit a murder and be back on the streets to do it again in a few years. It makes me sick. It's just something you don't get used to, no matter how many times you see it.” She spotted the waitress and bent down to get her purse, turning her back and digging for her money. “Let me buy you a drink.”
“The waitress is gone. Next time, if you insist.”
He was so close now that their hips were touching. Lily downed the shooter of tequila with one swallow and chased it with the margarita, licking the salt off her lips. The closer he stood to her, the more flustered she became. She was talking like a rookie DA, like she'd never prosecuted a homicide before.
“Do you remember the last party we were both at? I do,” he said. “You were wearing this white backless dress and your hair was down, all the way down your back. You looked terrific.”
“The last party was a barbecue at Dennis O'Connor's, and that was over five years ago. If my memory serves me right, you were wearing jeans and a blue sweater.”
Their eyes met and he refused to look away, searching there, prying where he didn't belong. The tequila was still burning her throat and she felt uncomfortable. She took her cold glass and pressed it against her cheek. “I have to make a phone call. Watch my briefcase, okay?” She turned to head to the back of the bar, and then tossed over her shoulder with a smile, “And, Richard, I've never in my life owned a white backless dress.”
There were a lot of things Lily had never done, far more significant than not wearing a backless sundress to a party. One of them was having an affair. Although John had accused her of cheating on him for years, Lily had remained faithful despite the accusations and the complete disappearance of sex in their marriage.
Elbowing her way through the people, she spotted District Attorney Paul Butler on his way to the door. He was a short, serious man in his midfifties who seldom mingled with those who worked beneath him. “Paul,” she said, “I didn't see you earlier
or I would have come over. I guess your secretary informed you of our conference tomorrow on the Lopez/McDonald matter.” The tequila had hit Lily hard on an empty stomach. She willed herself to remain sober, carefully articulating her words.
“Oh, yes,” he said with a blank look in his eyes. “Refresh me.”
“Double homicide, teenagers, lovers .Â .Â . the boy was beaten and bludgeoned, the girl raped and mutilated. Five suspects in custody, all Hispanicâprobably gang related.” It was front-page and sensational, both kids honor students, college bound. “You asked for the conference yourself, Paul. The case was assigned to me prior to the promotion, and I've already done the workup. Don't you remember?” She tried to sound nonchalant, not wanting to emphasize the fact that he was uninformed on a case of this magnitude.
Butler looked down and coughed. “The budget is due this week and the mayor is all over me.”
As he walked past her, she reached out and took his hand, then moved even closer, violating his personal space. “I just want to tell you how much I appreciate the promotion. I know you had others to consider.”
Even in the dim light of the bar, she could see his face turning beet red in embarrassment. She was standing far too close, a bad habit resulting from vanity, refusing to wear her glasses outside of the office. She looked down at the top of his head and saw how thin his hair was, something she'd never noticed before. He stepped back as if he knew.
“Certainly, certainly,” he said. “Well, I guess we'll discuss this Lopez/McDonald case tomorrow.”
As he started to pass, he was pushed into her, against her chest, her breasts. The terrified look in his eyes almost caused her to laugh. Did he actually believe she was flirting with him? How ludicrous. If she was going to flirt with anyone, it sure wouldn't be Butler. She leaned against the brass rail of the bar and watched him scurry away on his short little legs, musing on a world where a genuine expression of gratitude was so rare that it raised suspicion. Maybe Butler wasn't even aware he'd promoted her. Perhaps his assistant just picked her name out of a hat.
No, she rationalized, impossible. He had called Fowler into his office on a rampage and demoted him, offering Lily his position a few hours later. Fowler was still a supervisor, but over the municipal court division, a clear step down. The story went that he'd become enraged over a lenient sentence on a particularly vicious sex crime and had stormed into Judge Raymond Fisher's chambers without announcement, all
the way into his private bathroom, where he had found the forty-year-old judge snorting lines of cocaine out of a small bullet-looking device. This was one of the reasons Lily wanted a position on the bench. Like oil in water, some of the slimiest had risen to the top and floated there, untouchable, their shifting shadow spreading and darkening all the lives beneath them. Judge Fisher got caught snorting cocaine; Fowler got demoted. That sounded like a fair and impartial decision.
At the back of the bar, Lily spotted the phone outside the ladies' room. She thought it was the ladies' room, but she couldn't read the African name. She'd been there many times but never drinking PatrÃ³n tequila. With the alcohol flooding her bloodstream, the floor moved and swayed like a ship at sea. Searching for the little stick figure of a woman with a skirt and finding none, she decided what the hell, barging through the door. She almost ran over Carol Abrams.
“Lily,” the petite blonde said, “congratulations on the promotion. That really was quite a coup.”
She patted Lily on both shoulders with dainty hands and bright pink manicured nails. The movement caused her blunt-cut, shiny hair to swing forward, and Lily watched, mesmerized, as it fell back to the exact same position, every hair perfectly aligned. Pushing an unruly strand off her forehead, Lily spotted the chipped paint on her own fingernails and quickly dropped her hands to her side.
“I won't say I didn't want that promotion. No, I won't deny it. But I'm glad that at least it was you and not some idiot that will sit in his office all day and make paper airplanes. You know what I mean?”
Lily went into a stall and shut the door, carefully pulling the latch. Carol Abrams might follow her inside or open the door to continue the conversation while Lily sat there with her panty hose stuck around her thighs. Brilliant and never tiring, Abrams was an asset to any department. In court, she simply wore them down: judges, juries, defense attorneys, every last one of them.
“I don't know how you feel about Fowler, but I don't mind saying I'm glad to see him go. I mean, he clearly knows the law but recently he's lost all semblance of self-control. Everyone knows you don't go after a judge like a madman. My God, I think he's suffering from burnout. You know what I mean?” She stopped and took an audible breath, preparing to continue.
“Carol, I'd prefer we talk about this tomorrow.” Just as Lily flushed the toilet, she realized she didn't want to leave until Abrams had left and wished she hadn't flushed. She had an urge to tell her off to her face, open the door and tell her Fowler knew
more about the law than she would ever know in her hyperactive life, but she didn't need enemies.
She opened the door and the woman was gone. Thank God for small favors. Seeing her bedraggled face in the mirror, she removed the bobby pins out of the loose knot and brushed her red hair. She reapplied her lipstick, tried to resmudge her eye shadow, and headed to the phone to call her twelve-year-old daughter.
“Shana, it's me.”
“Hold on, Mom, let me put Charlotte on hold.”
Lily thought it was insane for a child her age to have a private line as well as call-waiting, but her father .Â .Â .
“MOM, I'm on the other line.” Shana was screaming at her the way people did on the
Jerry Springer Show.
Lily opened her eyes wide and stepped back from the phone. Shana was getting more sarcastic every day. Lily remembered what it was like to go through puberty, and she was trying her best to let it slide, thinking it was just an adolescent phase. “Are you doing your homework or just talking on the phone, sweetie? Where's your dad?”
“Charlotte's helping me on the phone and Dad's asleep on the sofa.”
Lily pictured him there as he was every evening, the dishes piled in the sink, the television blasting, stretched out on the sofa snoring. He worked for the government in employee relations and got home every day at four-thirty. The year before, his hours had been cut and he now not only got home early, he didn't work at all on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Rather than get another job to substitute for the income he had lost, John just fiddled around the house or fell asleep in front of the TV. This was one of the reasons she had begun staying late at the office. With John sacked out in front of the television and Shana in her room on the phone every night with the door closed, there wasn't a compelling reason to go home. “Tell him I'm tied up in a meeting and will be home in a few hours.”
“Tell him yourself.”
“I love you,” Lily whispered, hearing the phone click as Shana went back to the other line. She saw her adorable face in her mind and tried to match it to her tone of voice. Her own child, her precious little girl, was becoming rude and obnoxious. She'd just hung up on her. Only a few years ago, Shana would sit on the floor in front of Lily for hours, enthralled at every word that came out of her mouth, her face bright and beaming. Now she was talking to her like a dog and hanging up on her. If Lily
had spoken that way to her father, she would have been slapped to the floor. But John said those days were over, that children had a right to talk back. And Shana adored her father.
Lily started to call John and then decided against it. She'd say something to him about Shana talking on the phone and not studying; she couldn't stop herself. She could only be what she had already become. John would hang up and march to Shana's room, telling her that her mother said she had to get off the phone, but it was okay because he wouldn't tell on her. He might even add that her mother said she had to clean her room. That would go over great. If that didn't make Shana despise her, he could also remind her that her mother once said she'd have to become a waitress because she'd never study hard enough to get into college. One of those off-the-wall comments a parent makes to prove a point to the other parent, her remark wasn't something to repeat to a child. But John repeated it and said a lot of other things that were outright lies.
He was a brilliant manipulator, Lily thought as she walked back into the noisy bar, straightening her skirt and pushing up her bra. He should have been a defense attorney. No, he'd make a perfect divorce lawyer.
Back at the table, she saw a fresh margarita, a new shooter, and Richard Fowler. She slid the shot glass away and took a sip of her margarita, letting her hair fall seductively over one corner of her eye while she drank in Fowler from his shoes to the top of his head. She was looking at a determined man, a man of conviction, a warrior, not the type of man who needed to fight with a child as his shield. Nor was he a man who could be happy with a mediocre government job where his hours had been cut to only twenty a week and his wife carried the weight of the family while he puttered around in the kitchen. He wasn't a wimp like John.
Silverstein's New York accent rang out from the adjoining table, where he was throwing popcorn in his mouth and trying to talk at the same time. He was complaining about some case, four out of five kernels ending up on his clothes or the floor. Duffy had apparently gone home.
“Your hair looks great,” Richard told her. “I had no idea it was still so long. You never wear it down at the office.” He reached out and touched a strand, twirling it between his fingers.
“Not too professional. I don't know why I don't cut it. Guess I'm trying to hold on to my youth or something.” She was breathless. He was so close.
Fowler's fingers disappeared from her hair. Lily wanted to reach for his hand and put it back, feel the electricity again, feel his fingers on her face, her skin, but the moment was shattered. From across the room, they both saw Lawrence Bodenham, a private defense attorney. He honed in on Lily and headed in her direction. The new rage with those in private practice was to wear their hair long, almost shoulder-length, and Bodenham's curled at the bottom. Reaching the table, he extended his hand.