Right To Die - Jeremiah Healy (2 page)

"Pretty good, except we'll have to wait a
while."

She snuggled closer. "Why?"

"Well, a man my age takes two, three weeks to
recharge."

Another punch to the arm. "You're still sore
from the marathon remark."

"I'm still sore from where you punched me
before."

"Man your age, decides to run the marathon, he'd
better get used to pain."

I shifted my face to Nancy even though I couldn't see
her in the dark. "What makes you think I'm going to run the
marathon?"

"The look you gave me after I almost kept from
saying you were too old for it."

"What kind of look was it?"

"A stupid look."

I shifted again, about to talk to the ceiling, when
the telephone rang.

That started the rest of it.
 

=2=

"JOHN! GEE, HOW LONG'T IT BTEN?"

Tommy Kramer forgot to take the napkin off his lap as
he rose to greet me. It fell straight and true to the floor. Only
heavy cloth for Sunday brunch at Joe's American Bar & Grill.

"Tommy, good to see you."

He sat back, crushing a filterless cigarette in an
ashtray but not noticing the napkin between his penny loafers. Moving
upward, the flannel slacks were gray, the oxford shirt pale blue, the
tie a Silk Regent with red background, and the blazer navy blue.
Dressing down, for Tommy.

I took in the room's detailed ceilings and mahogany
wainscoting, pausing for a moment on the bay window overlooking
Newbury Street. The shoppers below bustled around half an hour before
the boutiques would open for Christmas-season high rollers. We had a
corner all to ourselves, the yuppies holding off until after twelve,
when the booze could start to flow.

Tommy's rounded face seemed to lift a little, making
him look younger. "You know, my old law firm used to own this
place."

"I didn't know. The Boston one, you mean?"

"Right, right. Firm got started before the turn
of the century, one of the first in the city to decide to make a Jew
a partner. When word leaked out about that, the downtown eating clubs
very politely told the firm's established partners, 'Well, you
understand, of course, that we can't serve him here.' At which point
the partners basically looked at each other, said 'fuck you' to the
clubs, and bought a restaurant downtown for lunch meetings and this
one here in Back Bay for dinner."

"So they could eat where they wanted."

"With whoever they wanted, including the new
Jewish partner."

"The firm still run the place'?"

"No, no. Sometime after I went out on my own in
Dedham, they sold it. Back then, though, it was heady stuff for a
young lawyer like me to be able to walk into one of the finest
restaurants in Boston and be treated like the king of Siam."

"Your practice going well?"

"The practice? Oh, yeah, yeah. Couldn't be
better. We're at eight attorneys now with the associate we brought in
last week. Evening grad from New England."

Nancy's alma mater. "Kathy and the kids?"

"Terrific. She's gone and got her real estate
ticket. Salesman, not broker yet, but that'll come in time. She's
showing real estate all over town and having a ball. Slow market,
like everywhere, but she knows the neighborhoods and the schools.
Jason's on the wrestling team, Kit's doing indoor — oh, I get it.
If everything's okay on the practice and home fronts, how come I drag
you in here on ten hours notice?"

"Something like that."

A waitress in a tux came to the table and asked if
we'd like to order. Both of us went with orange juice, eggs Benedict,
and a basket of muffins.

When she was beyond earshot, Tommy said, "It's
not for me. It's for somebody I owe."

Tommy's oblique way of reminding me that I still owed
him for a favor.

"I'm listening."

He coaxed another cigarette from the Camel soft pack.
"Okay if I . . . ?"

"The smoke doesn't bother me if the surgeon
general doesn't bother you."

A match from the little box on the table flared,
giving Tommy for an instant the look of a combat soldier, the curly
hair still full enough to mimic a helmet. "Who would've thought,
twenty, thirty years ago that someday you'd have to ask permission to
light up?"

When I didn't say anything, he took a deep draw, then
put the cigarette down, using the thumb and forefinger of his other
hand to tweezer bits of tobacco from his tongue. "The guy
approached me because he's not a lawyer himself, but he wants
confidentiality in sounding you out."

"Tommy, the licensing statute requires me to
maintain the confidentiality of whatever the client tells me."

"Right, right. And this guy knows that. It's
just . . . well, he wouldn't exactly be the client."

"Somebody wants to talk with me — "

"Wants me to talk with you — "

"But this somebody wouldn't be my actual
client?"

"Right."

Our orange juice arrived. I sipped it.
Fresh-squeezed, not from concentrate. Like the difference between
chardonnay and Ripple.

"Okay, I'm still listening."

"A friend of this guy is getting threats."

"Threats. Like over the telephone?"

"Like through the mail. Cut-and-paste jobs using
words from magazines."

"The friend of the guy been to the police?"

"Not exactly."

"What exactly?"

"The secretary of the friend of the guy tried —
"

"Tommy, this is getting a little out of hand.
How about some real names."

He turned that over, shook his head. "How about
some titles to make it easier?"

"Titles."

"Until you know whether you're interested or
not."

"Okay. Titles."

Tommy pulled on the Camel, wisps of smoke wending out
of his nostrils. "The guy I owe, let's call him the Activist.
His friend who's getting the threats, let's call the friend the
Professor. The Professor's secretary — "

"Tried going to the police."

"Right."

"And?"

"And the cops can't do much. I'm not into
criminal law, but I'm assuming they checked the notes for
fingerprints or postmarks and all, and came up empty."

"So you want me to do what?"

"I want you to talk to the Activist and the
Secretary as my agent, if you're willing."

"As your agent."

"Right."

"Talk to them about what, bodyguarding the
Professor?"

"No, no. She — they can talk to you more about
that."

"Tommy . . ."

"Look, John, I know this sucks a little, but
like I said, I owe the guy.”

"The Activist."

"Right."

"Can you at least tell me how you owe this guy?"

Tommy took another puff. "When I was with that
firm in Boston, they were real civil rights conscious."

"Good thing to be."

"Yeah, well, most of us young associates signed
up as volunteers, whatever, for different causes through the BBA."

"Boston Bar Association'?"

"Right, right. I drew . . ."

He stopped, took a puff out of sequence. "I drew
this activist, and after I helped him out a couple of times, he
started throwing a lot of business my way, business I really needed
once I broke off on my own."

"Activist, Professor, Secretary."

"Huh?"

"Tommy, these don't sound like people who need
the layers of confidentiality you're throwing up around them."

"John, that's kind of their business, don't you
think?"

"Tommy, you want me to meet with them, it's kind
of my business, don't you think?"

He put a casual look on his face, checking the room.
"This activist, John, he's . . . Alec Bacall."

"Rings a bell somewhere."

"He's a gay activist, John."

Bacall. Majored in housing and employment rights,
minored in AIDS issues. "Tommy, the professor here. Maisy
Andrus?"

He flinched. "Keep your voice down, okay?"

"The right-to-die fanatic."

Tommy reddened. "She's not — " He caught
himself speaking too loudly, our waitress thinking he meant her to
come over. Tommy shook her off with an apologetic smile.

More quietly, Tommy said to me, "She's not a
fanatic, John. She was a professor of mine, back in law school."

"At Boston College'?"

"Right, right. Before she went over to Mass
Bay."

I waited for Tommy to say something about my year as
a student at the Law School of Massachusetts Bay. He didn't.

I said, "So Andrus was a professor of yours."

"And she helped me get that first job, at the
law firm. Letter of recommendation, couple of phone calls, I found
out later."

"So you owe her too."

"Yeah."

"And now she's being threatened."

Tommy ground out the cigarette. "Right."

"And she turns to you to turn to me."

"No, no, Alec — Bacall — is the one who
called me."

I sat back. Watching him.

"What's the matter, John?"

"Quite a coincidence."

"Huh?"

"You contacting me to maybe help these people
who preach the quick-and-happy ending."

Tommy looked very uncomfortable. Which was as good an
answer as my next question could bring.

"John, look — "

"Tommy. I lost Beth to cancer, slowly. Bacall
pushes the right to die for AIDS victims, Andrus casts a wider net.
I'm the first one you think of'?"

"John, I'm sorry. I should have . . . Look, I
owe these people. From a long time ago, but I owe them. I once
mentioned to Alec about Beth. Not directly, just that I could
understand his position because I had a good friend who became a
private investigator partly because his wife died. I never used your
name or Beth's, it was just . . ."

"An example."

"Yeah. I'm sorry, but yeah. Then Alec calls me
yesterday, and the guy's got a mind like a steel trap. He remembers
me mentioning your situation, John. And he asks me to ask you."

Picking up my orange juice, I pictured Tommy dropping
everything to help me with Empire and with Beth. To Tommy bailing me
out when I was filling a hospital bed, a bullet hole in my shoulder
and a skeptical D.A. on my neck.

"I'll talk to them."

"Great, great. Uh, John?"

"Yes."

"Today maybe?"

Nancy was at work, catching up on some research.
After one more stop in the neighborhood, I'd be free for the
afternoon.

"Two o'clock, Tommy. My office on Tremont
Street."

"Alec said he'd be at the professor's house, so
I'll call them now. I really appreciate this, John."

Getting up, Tommy got his feet tangled in the napkin
and nearly fell into our waitress and eggs Benedict.
 

=3=

"JOHN, YOU WORKING OUT FORMAL NOW?"

Gesturing at my coat and tie, Elie put his Dunkin'
Donuts coffee on the front desk. His olive skin and blue eyes were
twin legacies from the broad gene pool in Lebanon. Maybe twelve
people were using the Nautilus machines in the large room behind him,
a separate aerobics class thumping in the back studio.

"I was in yesterday, Elie. You got a minute?"

"Sure, sure. How can I help you?"

I waited for a heavyset man in a Shawmut Bank T-shirt
to dismount the Lifecycle closest to the desk and head for the
showers.

"Not for publication, but I'm thinking about
running the marathon."

A look of concern. "Boston?"

"Right."

"You still doing what, three to five miles?"

"Three times a week. Most weeks, anyway."

"John, I'm not a runner, but if I was as big as
you, I wouldn't try it."

"Why not?"

"Running is awful tough on the joints over the
longer distances. Your size and weight, there's going to be a lot of
stress on the knees, hips, even the ankles."

"Can't I train for that?"

"I don't think you can train without that. But
like I said, I'm not a runner, and unfortunately, nobody on the staff
here is. Biking and rowing, sure. But the marathon? No."

"How can I find somebody?"

"You mean like to train you? That costs a
fortune. Tell you what. I can go through some magazInés at the
library."

"Magazines?"

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