(from the novel “Crosscurrents by Jessica Love”, © 2014, due out in June, 2015)
It had such a simple beginning.
“Hi, Jessica. It’s Tony. Got time for lunch?”
“I really don’t, Tony. “I’ve got a major headache on a case that scheduled for trial a week from Friday. I’m scrambling.”
“Jessi… have lunch with me today. Okay?”
“It’s like that?” I asked.
“Yeah, it is.”
Tony very rarely asks for anything. And, Anthony Stevens is one of the few lawyers I will count on. He was the only one to offer me a job after I got out of jail and had lost my license to practice law. When all that went away, he offered me a partnership in his firm. But that’s old news.
Tony’s motto is “I never trust anyone who doesn’t act out of self-interest.” That’s just one of the things he taught me after I got out of law school and was working for him in my first job. Of course, knowing what the other person’s self-interest really is can sometimes be pretty hard. That’s another thing that made what happened over the next six months so damned difficult. But I didn’t know that when I accepted his request to have lunch.
I’d learned a lot of other things from Tony, as well, things he hid from most people: That he is really a soft hearted man who does more for anonymous others than most of the well-intentioned who preen with their acts of generosity.
So I said, “Okay. Pike Place? Fish sandwich at Mo’s?”
“Why don’t we meet at the elevator in ten minutes? I’ll stop at your floor on the way down. Give you enough time to put files away?”
“I’ll just shut the door. See you in ten.”
My law firm is on the floor below Tony’s in one of Seattle’s older office buildings. I love this place, the intricacy of the brick work on the outside, the detail of the tiny lobby on the inside. I’d go bat-shit crazy in one of the newer, giant office towers that have cast my lovely old building into perpetual shade. They have no soul.
And soul, hard as it is to define, is one of life’s sustaining elements. It’s air, it’s water. That’s why we have The Blues. Or any of the other forms of art, my French grandmother would have said.
“Art finds for us our place in the world, gives meaning, which finds for us significance.”
Her broken English embarrased her, but for me, it always gave what she had to say even more depth.
For all these reasons, I said yes and in ten minutes, I was standing at the elevator door when it opened. I stepped inside just as Tony said, “Going down? Please?”
“Tony, do you have to break the illusion I have of a sophisticated, dapper lawyer of intelligence and grace?”
“One of my jobs in life is to shatter delusions.”
“While you create illusions, Sweet Man?”
“Hmmmph.” Tony just snorted. He wasn’t going to get into a discussion that made him look better than the image he wanted to project of a perpetually cynical, sexually avaricious, hard-nosed urban rat. He knew I had evidence, and calling him ‘Sweet Man’ was a warning that I would use what I knew about him to prove that he was much better than he wanted to appear.
“What’s up?” I asked as soon as we hit the sidewalk for a short walk to Mo’s at Pike Place Market.
“I need you to see a potential client.”
“Tony, do you have any idea what my case load is at the moment?” I was buried with work and short handed. My assistant Sarah was on paternity leave — her partner Lily had just given birth to a baby boy. My office administrator Claire said that Tony provided the semen, but that was something I didn’t want to know about one way or the other, even if it was in vitro.
“Nope. And it doesn’t matter to me. Probably not to you, either.”
That surprised me. Tony did that, on many occasions. I was silent while we walked on rain-slick streets to the eatery. I had the small backpack I use as a purse and pulled out a collapsing umbrella, offered to share the shelter, but Tony shook his head, saying “I really do like Seattle’s rain.”
“I need you to see a client out on Shipwreck Island,” said Tony when we were settled after giving Sally Jo (really) our order.
“Where in the world is Shipwreck Island?”
“Close to Vancouver Island.”
“But U.S.?” He knew I wasn’t licensed to practice law in Canada.
“Probably,” Tony said.
“Jessica, the client is a friend of mine. Just talk to him.”
“Why don’t you represent him?”
“I can’t, for several reasons. All I ask is that you take a day and talk to him. It won’t matter what day, weekday or weekend. And I guarantee that he will make that day worthwhile, even if you or he decide there is nothing you can do for him.”
“You’ll guarantee this? At my top billing rate, from the time I leave my place to the time I return?” The bill for that was likely to be close to $5,000. It’s not that I charge that much, but there would be a lot of hours. “Expenses?” I had to eat, and might stay over if I couldn’t catch a ferry back to Anacortes.
“He’ll pay everything, but yes, I’ll guarantee you’ll be paid.”
I thought for several minutes while I enjoyed my fresh halibut sandwich. Mo’s is really the best place for that. They don’t kill flavors with salt or tartar sauce, the bread is always fresh from another Pike Place bakery, and Mo’s makes their own potato chips. Yes, really, home made potato chips. Thick enough to play poker with, skin on, crisp enough to crackle and each one nearly a mouthful. I promised myself I’d only eat three, but gave myself permission to have the fourth.
I’d work it off in the gym this evening jumping rope after doing weights.
$5,000 for work on a long Saturday? That would almost pay for repairs that my Porsche probably needed after it suffered on a track day at Pacific Raceways. I’d been a little too enthusiastic and over-revved the engine over the bump on the back straight. The Porsche still ran, but she was sickly.
And if I didn’t need the money for that, I wouldn’t mind buying an airline ticket to France to see my niece in the Spring, and hopefully talk the family into letting her come back to Seattle with me and stay the summer.
“Okay, Tony,” I said at last. “I’ll see him.”
“Thank you, Jessica. He’ll be calling you at 2 p.m.”
“Tony, how does he know I will be willing to talk to him? I just decided about 30 seconds ago.”
“I told him.”
“How did you know?”
“Because, Jessica, self-interest is the only thing you can trust. And I trust yours.”
“You don’t always know everything,” I said, but that was weak and I knew that and he knew it too. The fact is, Tony Stevens knows me pretty well. And I like the fact that he does. It means there is someone I trust who has my back.
Of course, when it came down to it, even Tony couldn’t bail me out of the trouble I was about to get into.