Page 31 of The Street Lawyer

Most of the floor was covered when I finished, three hours after I started. I carefully reassembled the file, then drove to the clinic and copied it.

* * *

She was shopping, her note said. We had nice luggage, an item we failed to mention when we split the assets. She would be traveling more than I in the near future, so I took the cheap stuff---duffel and gym bags. I didn't want to get caught, so I threw the basics into a pile on the bed--socks, underwear, tee shirts, miletries, shoes, but only the ones I had worn in the past year. She could discard the others. I hurriedly cleaned out my drawers and my side of the medicine cabinet. Wounded and aching, physically and otherwise, I hauled the bags down two flights of stairs to my rental car, then went back up for a load of suits and dress clothes. I found my old sleeping bag, unused for at least the last five years, and carried it down, along with a quilt and a pillow. I was entitled to my alarm clock, radio, portable CD player with a few CD's, thirteen-inch color TV on the kitchen counter, one coffeepot, hair dryer, and the set of blue towels.

When the car was full, I left a note telling her I was gone. I placed it next to the one she'd left, and refused to stare at it. My emotions were mixed and just under the skin, and I was not equipped to deal with them. I'd never moved out before; I wasn't sure how it was done.

I locked the door and walked down the stairs. I knew I would be back in a couple of days to get the rest of my things, but the trip down felt like the last time.

She would read the note, check the drawers and closets to see what I had taken, and when she realized I had indeed moved out, she would sit in the den for a quick tear. Maybe a good cry. But it would be over before long. She would easily move to the next phase.

As I drove away, there was no feeling of liberation. It wasn't a thrill to be single again. Claire and I had both lost.

Chapter Seventeen

I locked myself inside the office. The clinic was colder Sunday than it had been on Saturday. I wore a heavy sweater, corduroy pants, thermal socks, and I read the paper at my desk with two steaming cups of coffee in front of me. The building had a heating system, but I wasn't about to meddle with it.

I missed my chair, my leather executive swivel that rocked and reclined and rolled at my command. My new one was a small step above a folding job you'd rent for a wedding. It promised to be uncomfortable on good days; in my pummeled condition at that moment, it was a torture device.

The desk was a battered hand-me-down, probably from an abandoned school; square and boxlike, with three drawers down each side, all of which actually opened, but not without a struggle. The two clients' chairs on the other side were indeed folding types--one black, the other a greenish color I'd never seen before.

The walls were plaster, painted decades ago and allowed to fade into a shade of pale lemon. The plaster was cracked; the spiders had taken over the corners at the ceiling. The only decoration was a framed placard advertising a March for Justice on the Mall in July of 1988.

The floor was ancient oak, the planks rounded at the edges, evidence of heavy use in prior years. It had been swept recently, the broom still standing in a corner with a dustpan, a gentle cue that if I wanted the dirt cleared again, then it was up to me.

Oh how the mighty had fallen! If my dear brother Warner could've seen me sitting there on Sunday, shivering at my sad little desk, staring at the cracks in the plaster, locked in so that my potential clients couldn't mug me, he would've hurled insults so rich and colorful that I would've been compelled to write them down.

I couldn't comprehend my parents' reaction. I would be forced to call them soon, and deliver the double shock of my changes of address.

A loud bang at the door scared the hell out of me. I bolted upright, unsure of what to do. Were the street punks coming after me? Another knock as I moved toward the front, and I could see a figure trying to look through the bars and thick glass of the front door.

It was Barry Nuzzo, shivering and anxious to get to safety. I got things unlocked, and let him in.

"What a slumhole!" he began pleasantly, looking around the front room as I relocked the door.

"Quaint, isn't it?" I said, reeling from his presence and trying to figure out what it meant.

"What a dump!" He was amused by the place. He walked around Sofia's desk, slowly taking off his gloves, afraid to touch anything for fear of starting an avalanche of files.

"We keep the overhead low, so we can take all the money home," I said. It was an old joke around Drake & Sweeney. The partners were constantly bitching about the overhead, while at the same time most were concerned about redecorating their offices.

"So you're here for the money?" he asked, still amused.

"Of course."

"You've lost your mind."

"I've found a calling."

"Yeah, you're hearing voices."

"Is that why you're here? To tell me I'm crazy?"

"I called Claire."

"And what did she say?"

"Said you had moved out."

"That's true. We're getting a divorce."

"What's wrong with your face?"

"Air bag."

"Oh, yeah. I forgot. I heard it was just a fender bender."

"It was. The fenders got bent."

He draped his coat over a chair, then hurriedly put it back on. "Does low overhead mean you don't pay your heating bill?"

"Now and then we skip a month."

He walked around some more, peeking into the small offices to the side. "Who pays for this operation?" he asked.

"A trust."

"A declining trust?"

"Yes, a rapidly declining trust."

"How'd you find it?"

"Mister hung out here. These were his lawyers."

"Good old Mister," he said. He stopped his examination for a moment, and stared at a wall. "Do you think he would've killed us?"

"No. Nobody was listening to him. He was just another homeless guy. He wanted to be heard."

"Did you ever consider jumping him?"

"No, but I thought about grabbing his gun and shooting Rafter."

"I wish you had."

"Maybe next time."

"Got any coffee?"

"Sure. Have a seat."

I didn't want Barry to follow me into the kitchen, because it left much to be desired. I found a cup, washed it quickly, and filled it with coffee. I invited him into my office.

"Nice," he said, looking around.

"This is where all the long balls are hit," I said proudly. We took positions across the desk, both chairs squeaking and on the verge of collapse.

"Is this what you dreamed about in law school?" he asked.

"I don't remember law school. I've billed too many hours since then."

He finally looked at me, without a smirk or a smile, and the kidding was set aside. As bad as the thought was, I couldn't help but wonder if Barry was wired. They had sent Hector into the fray with a bug under his shirt; they would do the same with Barry. He wouldn't volunteer, but they could apply the pressure. I was the enemy.

"So you came here searching for Mister?" he said.

"I guess."

"What did you find?"

"Are you playing dumb, Barry? What's happening at the firm? Have you guys circled the wagons? Are you coming after me?"

He weighed this carefully, while taking quick sips from his mug. "This coffee is awful," he said, ready to spit.

"At least it's hot."

"I'm sorry about Claire."

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