Sustained, p.3
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       Sustained, p.3

         Part #2 of The Legal Briefs series by Emma Chase
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  home, and you’re too much of a fucking idiot to listen.”

  He stands up, his face turning from white to an angry pink. “You can’t talk to me like that! My father pays your salary.”

  I stand too—and I’m a lot scarier at it than he is. “Sit. Down.”

  He does. I stay standing. “I did just talk to you like that, asshole. And lightning didn’t strike me, so get over yourself. As for your father, no, he doesn’t pay my salary. But even if he did, I wouldn’t hesitate to call you the stupid, dickless moron you are.”

  He gets more flushed with every word.

  I sit back down, my tone turning more philosophical. “Do you know what happens to boys like you in prison, Milton? Wealthy, pretty, sweet-smelling boys?”

  And he goes from pink to pale in no time flat.

  “Unless you have a secret fantasy about getting your ass torn apart, you need to get it through your thick skull that the only thing standing between you and a cellmate named Chewbacca is me.”

  He finally looks frightened.

  “And because it’s my job, I’m going to keep your undeserving ass out of prison whether you want to cooperate or not. Got it?”

  He nods and smartly keeps his mouth shut.

  “Now—are your fingerprints on any of the heroin bags?”

  He shakes his head. “No. I never touched them.”

  Perfect. Chances are I’ll be able to work around his latest arrest.

  I take out a business card from my top drawer. “When you leave my office, go straight to this address.”

  He examines the card. “What is it?”

  “It’s a monitoring company. They’ll fit you with an ankle monitor that will tell them if you leave your house. If you do, they’ll notify me.”

  He opens his mouth to argue.

  “Not a fucking word, Milton. This is your last chance—you screw this up, it’s plan B all the way.”

  “What’s plan B?” he asks, like it’s an option he’d rather consider.

  “I beat the ever-loving shit out of you. You can’t get into trouble if you’re in traction.”

  He swallows so hard, I hear it. “O-okay,” he stutters. “For real this time, I’ll listen.”

  My expression remains stony; I’m not giving an inch. “For your sake, you damn well better.”

  • • •

  Two hours later, I’m in an exam room at my doctor’s office, sitting on the table with that stupid paper crinkling under my beige slacks. I check my watch. He’s late. As if my mood wasn’t black enough, I really hate to be kept waiting.

  With nothing better to do, I glance around the walls of the room. Framed medical certificates from Yale, a poster on proper hand-washing technique, an advertisement for the flu shot, and a reminder to get your prostate exam.

  Just shoot me now. Put me out of my misery.

  And for the thousandth time in two weeks, I swear I’ll never find myself in this position again. No more nameless hookups. No more jilted girlfriends with self-esteem issues looking to lose themselves in a stranger fuck. From here on out, it’s dating only. I’ll get to know them. I’ll become goddamn choosy, no matter how unappetizing it sounds.

  Finally the door to the room opens, and in walks an unfamiliar face in a white coat. Light brown hair, tiny dark eyes, a smooth chin that appears to have never met a razor.

  He looks fucking twelve.

  “Can I help you?” I ask.

  He glances up from the file in his hands, smiling. “Good morning, Mr. Becker, I’m Dr. Grey.”

  I fleetingly look at the door, expecting his father to walk in behind him. “You sure?”

  Good-natured teeth flash. “Yes, I’m sure I’m a doctor. I’m new to the practice. Dr. Sauer had a family emergency so I’m covering for him today.” He turns a page in the file, scanning the contents. “Before we discuss your test results, let’s go over the recommended protocols for safe sexual intercourse, including condoms, spermicidal lubricants, birth control—”

  I hold up my hand. “Let’s not. I’m good with all that. Just give it to me straight—are my results good or bad?”

  • • •

  I raise my bottle of beer, clinking it against the three raised glasses. “Clean as a whistle.” I haven’t smiled this much since I won my first case. I’m practically giddy, for Christ’s sake. My cheeks are getting sore.

  “Congratulations,” Sofia tells me happily.

  “Healthy, wealthy, and wise,” Stanton says. “Here’s to stayin’ that way.”

  “Damn straight.” I take a drag from the bottle. I don’t usually drink at lunch—and I never get drunk, even on the weekends. I’ve always associated being wasted with weakness, a lack of control, hazy thoughts, and regrettable actions. But this is a special occasion.

  “So what’s your plan now?” Brent asks. “As if I didn’t already know, you randy bastard. I’ve seen the way you’ve been leering at poor Mrs. Higgens. Desperate much?”

  I flip him off. Mrs. Higgens is pretty much the only female in my radius who’s exempt. Which leads me to my next question. “So . . . what’s the typical schedule with the whole dating thing? How long before one gets to the actual fucking?”

  “Three dates,” they all answer simultaneously.

  My eyebrows rise. “Three dates? Seriously? Are you guys, like . . . more religious than I ever knew?”

  “You’ve never heard of the three-date rule?” Sofia puts a forkful of Caesar salad into her mouth.

  When I shake my head, Stanton explains. “The first date, you talk, see if you can stand to be in the same room together for more than an hour. The second date is like . . . verification that you’re both actually the person you seemed to be on date one. And the third date is the sweet spot—let the good times roll.”

  Seems like a lot of effort just to get laid. I wonder if the pussy is better if you actually know the girl’s name.

  “Wait a second,” Sofia pipes up. “Does this mean you’ve never dated? Never had a girlfriend? Even in high school?”

  I shake my head. “I wasn’t exactly boyfriend material in high school. And the girls I hung around with weren’t interested in that kind of thing.”

  “That’s kind of cute, Jake,” she teases. “It’s almost like you’re a virgin.”

  I frown. “Except, not at all.”

  “I’ve got a date on Friday,” Brent tells us. “With Lucy Patterson from Emblem and Glock.”

  Emblem & Glock is another DC firm with whom we regularly compete for clients.

  “Sleeping with the enemy, huh?” Stanton asks him.

  Brent shrugs. “She’s smart, gorgeous, and doesn’t think I’m a prick when I complain about a newbie prosecutor who refuses to make a deal. Plus, the professional competition thing is kind of hot.” He looks my way. “I could see if she has a friend. We could double.”

  I do the calculations in my head. “That means the earliest I’ll be getting any is Sunday. And that’s only if I blow my whole weekend on a woman I haven’t even laid eyes on yet.”

  That doesn’t work for me.

  “You have an alternative?” Brent asks.

  As a matter of fact, I do.

  • • •

  Some guys have a problem hooking up with a woman they work with. They’re afraid it could turn awkward. Complicated. But not me. And especially not in this case. I figure already knowing each other’s names, having seen each other come and go for the last seven years, shaves at least one date from the three-date rule. Gotta love the efficiency.

  Camille Longhorn works in the billing department of my firm. Single, five ten, about a hundred and twenty pounds, long legs, fantastic rack, dirty-blond hair, and a face that resembles a young Elle Macpherson. When I asked her out to dinner four hours ago, I was desperately hoping her hair wasn’t the only thing dirty about her.

  But that was then.

  Now? Not so much.

  Because after listening to her drone on about things I could never care about
; after hearing the high-pitched snorting laugh that makes me flinch involuntarily every fucking time she does it; after watching her compulsively twirl her hair and scratch her head, to the point where I feel like I’m crawling with an infestation of angry invisible spiders—I’m just not interested anymore.

  At all.

  It’s like that fat-suit Gwyneth Paltrow movie a few years back. Now she’s hot . . . now she’s not.

  “And then I said, that’s above my pay grade!”

  Squeak-snort.

  Squeak-snort.

  Squeak-snort.

  Oh god. Please, stop talking.

  I try to block it out. To focus on the important things—like the round fullness of her tits straining against her beige sweater. I imagine how they would feel cupped in my hand, between my lips, under my tongue with her thighs around my waist and—

  And there’s spinach in her teeth. Or arugula, maybe.

  My dick hangs his head. And yet I somehow manage to keep my face impassively polite as I point at her mouth and say, “You have a . . . something . . .”

  “Oh! Thanks.”

  She lifts a knife and picks her teeth in the reflection.

  I never realized that the downside of getting to know a woman before I screw her is the possibility that I might not want to screw her after I know her. That a personality could have such a devastating effect on desirability. It’s depressing. My whole worldview is blown to bits.

  When the check comes Camille starts to take her wallet out of her purse, but I wave her off. I toss a couple fifties on the table and together we stand, put on our coats, and head out onto the sidewalk. We walked here after work, so the good news is, I don’t have to drive her home.

  “Thank you for dinner, Jake.” She smiles up at me. “This was fun. We should do it again sometime.”

  I open my mouth to tell her no thanks. Honesty has always been my policy. I don’t have the time or will for sugarcoating. But I stop myself—because this is dating. Spin, half-truths, white lies, keeping options open and bases covered are what you do when you’re dating. And maybe she’s having an off day. Maybe the next time I see her she won’t be annoying and I’ll actually want to fuck her brains out. It could happen. And I’d hate to shoot myself in the cock if that is even the slightest possibility.

  So I go with the old standby. “I’ll call you.”

  Camille reaches up on tiptoes and kisses my cheek. “Good night, Jake.”

  “Bye, Camille.”

  And I walk back to my empty apartment alone. Reminding myself that it could actually be worse. I could be alone with syphilis.

  • • •

  The next day goes by in a bit of a blur. I spend it reviewing discovery—mostly medical reports—for an upcoming domestic violence case. Senator William Holten is a career politician with his hands in all kinds of cookie jars. That makes him a formidable enemy—and an even more powerful ally. He’s charged with several counts of aggravated assault against his wife of thirty years. My boss, Jonas Adams, is Holten’s good friend—he asked me personally to take the case. That’s a really big fucking deal. This one case could make my whole career at this firm.

  Which is why I took it—even though Holten has flat, emotionless eyes that I find unsettling. Even though reading the files, seeing the photographs and details of his wife’s injuries going back years, makes me uneasy. Makes my stomach twist with the familiarity of it all.

  By five o’clock, I could use some air. I walk out onto the sidewalk and down the block, stretching my legs. It’s cooler out today, the sky a dirty gray, with a breeze that blows back the jacket of my navy suit. Still, the cold wind feels good after being inside all day. I close my eyes and inhale deeply, feeling the icy oxygen expand my lungs . . . and then I collide with something waist-high and warm.

  It bounces off me with a soft, “Oomph!”

  I look down into big cobalt eyes, brown curly hair, pale skin with freckles. He can’t be more than nine or ten. He stares at me for a few seconds from where he’s sprawled on his ass on the sidewalk, lips parted, breathing hard with surprise. Then he turns on his side, scrambling to bury his hands in his backpack, making sure nothing fell out of the many pockets.

  “You all right, kid?” I ask, offering to help lift him up.

  His eyes dart to my hand, and he pauses before taking it. I pull him to his feet.

  “Yeah, I’m good. Sorry, mister.” He drops his chin to his chest and hoists his brown leather backpack up on one shoulder.

  “Watch where you’re going,” I say. “If I’d been on a bike, you would have taken some serious damage.”

  He mutters a quick “Okay,” then turns and continues down the block.

  I keep walking in the opposite direction. But after just a few steps, I realize something feels . . . different.

  Lighter.

  Off balance.

  Immediately my hands go to the pockets in my jacket. My phone is in my right pocket and my wallet . . . my wallet is not in my left.

  I turn sharply, weaving my gaze through the throngs of stooped pedestrians walking against the wind, until I zero in on the kid, who’s now a half block away.

  “Hey!” My voice booms like a cannon, and he and several other passersby stop and glance my way.

  Even from this distance I make eye contact with him. And the diabolical expression that slowly comes over his face tells me everything I need to know. A confident smirk over straight, baby-white teeth, and a victorious glint shining in catlike eyes because he thinks he’s out of my reach.

  And he holds his right hand high and flips me off with his middle finger.

  Little shit.

  Then he hauls ass down the block.

  I don’t fucking think so, kid.

  4

  Arms pumping, I sprint up the block, then take a sharp left down the connecting street, trying my damnedest not to take out the pedestrians on the sidewalk. I dodge a honking car and make it across the street in three strides, then up concrete steps in two, entering the door of a mall that empties out two blocks up—onto the street I saw the kid turn onto. I dash past the Gap and through the food court.

  “Watch it!” a bowed, gray-haired mall walker yells as I pass, wagging his cane.

  I bust through the rear doors to the street.

  I look right, then left. And I spot the little shit, still running, his backpack like a beacon in the fading sunlight. Beads of sweat break out on my forehead as I race up the block, jumping over a fire hydrant like a track hurdler. I stretch out my arm, fingers reaching—and grab the little fucker by the back of his white collared shirt.

  Gotcha!

  He squeaks in outrage, then twists and bucks like a fish on a hook, trying to dislodge my grip. But there’s no way that’s happening.

  “Get off! Let me go!”

  I shake him to get his attention and bark, “Cut it out!”

  Small closed fists smack against my arm, push at my stomach. So I shake him again. “I said stop! Now.” And then in a lower voice, “I’m not going to hurt you.”

  But he’s determined. “Help!” he shouts, trying to make eye contact with the curious faces glancing at us. Like most bystanders, they continue on their way, figuring someone else will intervene—but not them. Then the little bastard calls out the mantra drilled into children’s heads by overprotective parents and stranger-danger public service announcements.

  “You’re not my father! I don’t know you! Help!”

  I shake him harder now, rattling his teeth. Then I hiss, “You really want to bring attention to us with my wallet in your fucking backpack?”

  That settles him down. Panting like a fox in a trap, he stops squirming. And he actually has the balls to glare at me, brows glued together with resentment.

  “Is there a problem here?”

  The question comes from the uniformed police officer who just stepped up to my right. He takes in the scene with an authoritative expression—until he looks at me, and his face melts into
recognition.

  “Hey, Becker.”

  Most cops instinctually don’t like defense attorneys. I can understand their issue; they spend their days risking their lives to get scum off the street, and those in my profession bust their asses to get them back out, frequently Monday-morning quarterbacking the cop’s own actions—how they conducted the arrest, if they had probable cause—to find grounds to spring our clients. It’s a naturally antagonistic relationship. Oil and vinegar.

  Personally, I like cops. Sure, they’re hard-asses and they can be authoritarian pricks, but by and large, they’re decent people trying to do a really difficult job.

  Paul Noblecky is a beat cop who works out at the same gym as me. We’ve played basketball a few times and had a couple beers afterward.

  “How’s it going, Noblecky?”

  He cocks his head pleasantly. “Can’t complain.” He points to the kid I’m still holding by the scruff of his neck, like an errant puppy. “What’s this about?”

  And before I can answer, the puppy says, “I was just messing around. Becker’s my babysitter. I told him I was faster than him and he said I wasn’t.”

  My first instinct is to laugh, ’cause the kid definitely has a knack for bullshitting. Wonder if he’s ever considered a legal career—or a political one. My second impulse is to call him on it—rat him out—and toss him over to Noblecky. To walk away and wash my hands.

  But something in his face . . . won’t let me. The look in his eyes—a mixture of desperation and bitterness. He’s hoping for my help, my mercy, but at the same time he hates that he needs it. And there’s an innocence about this boy that’s unlike the jagged exterior of true street kids. Something that tells me he’s still saveable.

  And that he’s worth saving.

  So I rub his head, messing up his hair, putting on a good show. “I told you I could take you.”

  Noblecky laughs. “Someone actually let you watch their kid?” He glances at the boy. “My condolences.”

  The kid flinches in response. It’s quick, almost unobservable. But I notice.

  Noblecky nudges me with his elbow and says jokingly, “What do you charge?” He has a five-year-old at home. “If I don’t take Amy out to dinner soon, she’s going to divorce me.”

  I shake my head. “It’s a one-shot deal. Kids aren’t my thing.”

  He turns to go. “All right, see you around, Becker.”

  “Take it easy,” I call as he walks away.

  As soon as Noblecky is out of earshot I drag the kid across the sidewalk, closer to the wall of a building. I hold out my hand. “Give it back.”

  He rolls his eyes, digs into his backpack, and slaps my wallet into my hand. I don’t think he had enough time to lift anything from it, but I check my cash and credit cards just to be sure.

  Satisfied, I slide it into my pocket. “What’s your name?”

  He glowers up at me. “You a cop?”

 
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