Sustained, p.6
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       Sustained, p.6

         Part #2 of The Legal Briefs series by Emma Chase
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  Marietta is originally from Jamaica, with large midnight eyes, dark skin, and long black hair that falls in a cascade of braids down her back. Her father was once a resident here, and after he died a few years ago, she started volunteering.

  “Hey, Marietta.”

  She sets the tray of food down on a corner table with wheels and brings it between us.

  “How was his week?” I ask her quietly, the judge’s attention still on the television.

  “Not too bad,” she tells me. “He was agitated Wednesday and Thursday night—couldn’t settle down enough to sleep. So the doctor changed his bedtime medication. He’s been good since then.”

  I nod and grasp his shoulder. “Judge.” He turns my way and I gesture to the food. “It’s dinnertime.”

  He looks over the meal and makes a face. “I’m not hungry.”

  I shake my head. “Don’t bust my balls, old man. You need to eat.” I stir the beef stew in the bowl. “I know it’s not Smith and Wollensky, but it smells good.” I push it closer to him. “Dig in.”

  His hand trembles as he slowly picks up the spoon and shovels in a mouthful of beef and carrot. While he chews, he glances at the tray, eyeing a dish of chocolate pudding covered with thick whipped cream under clear plastic wrapping.

  “I want that.” He points.

  “You can have the pudding after you finish your dinner,” I say automatically.

  When he brings another shaky spoonful to his mouth, a bit of stew clings to his lower lip and chin. I pick up his napkin and gently wipe his face before it drips on his clothes.

  “It’s really good for him that you’re here, that you spend time with him,” Marietta tells me, smiling. “It means a lot.”

  I shrug. “It’s not a big deal. I’m just . . . working through a lifetime of favors I’ll never be able to return.”

  The Judge grins at me and I smile back. “Besides,” I tell Marietta, “he doesn’t have anyone.”

  She puts her hand on my shoulder and squeezes. “Of course he does. He has you.”

  • • •

  Wednesday is a slow day. I lean back in my desk chair and peer out the window at the sun-filled street below. A frustrated dog walker struggles with three four-legged clients as they tangle their leashes, fighting for the lead. A double-decker tourist bus rumbles past, leaving a cloud of black exhaust in its wake. A jogging father pushes an orange running stroller; he nearly takes out one of the yapping dogs but turns onto the grass at the last second.

  Maybe it’s the baby in the stroller, maybe it’s the long-haired, ruglike dogs—maybe it’s the fact that I haven’t gotten any in almost three weeks—but the enticing image of Chelsea McQuaid slides into my mind.

  Again.

  It’s the sole image I’ve conjured every single time I’ve jerked off—which has been pathetically often.

  Those striking blue eyes; the quick-to-smile pink lips; her long, pale neck, which begged to be licked; her lithe limbs, which I just bet are oh so flexible; and most important, her firm, perfectly sized tits. I mentally kick myself for not getting her number.

  She’s too old—too hot—to be a virgin at twenty-six, but there was something about her that seemed . . . pure. Untouched. Undiscovered. And that’s a course I would love to chart.

  I rub my eyes. I need to get laid. This getting-to-know-a-woman-first shit is turning out to be a bigger hassle than I ever anticipated. Is risking contraction of an STD really such a big deal?

  And then I remember how it felt waiting for those test results. The sharp, cold terror of being saddled with a disease—possibly for life. Or, even scarier, with one that could cut my valuable life short. Hell yes—it’s a big deal.

  No fuck—no matter how spectacular—is worth dying for.

  That should be the tagline in every high school safe-sex campaign.

  My secretary opens my office door, and I’m grateful for the distraction . . . until she informs me an unscheduled client is here asking to see me. Remembering how this went down the last time, I’m about to tell Mrs. Higgens to tell them to fuck off.

  Until she adds, “Miss Chelsea McQuaid is her name, Jake. And she’s got a whole brood of little ones with her.”

  My smile is wide and slow and completely gratified. If I believed in signs, this would be a big, flashing neon one.

  I straighten my tie. “Show them in, Mrs. Higgens.”

  7

  Mrs. Higgens heads out of the office and a few moments later, Chelsea and her fidgeting, noisy gaggle of nieces and nephews come into my office. She’s wearing a casual outfit—definitely “mommy wear,” but on that body it screams sexy. A dark green sweater that highlights the red in her auburn hair. Snug blue jeans tucked into high brown boots accent those endless legs—and the tight swell of her supple ass. That’s a pleasant surprise—I didn’t notice her ass the first time we met, but it’s fucking gorgeous.

  She adjusts her grip on the baby carrier and her smile is strained. “Hello, Mr. Becker.”

  I stand up behind my desk. “Chelsea, it’s good to see you again. What brings you . . .”

  My eyes scan each of the faces that crowd my office, and I realize one is missing.

  “Where’s Rory?”

  Chelsea sighs. Before she can speak, the grouchy girl—fourteen-year-old Riley—answers for her. “The idiot got arrested. He stole a car.”

  “A car?”

  In a week, the little shit went from mugging to grand theft auto. That escalated quickly.

  The small towheaded one, Rosaleen, continues. “And then he crashed it.”

  The two-year-old supplies sound effects. “Brooocshhh.”

  The smart one, Raymond, adds, “And not just any car—a Ferrari 458 Italia Limited Edition. The starting price is around nine hundred thousand dollars.”

  I look to Chelsea, who nods. “Yeah, that’s pretty much the whole story. He’s in juvenile detention—serious trouble this time.”

  This time implies there’s been other times—my almost-robbery notwithstanding.

  Jesus Christ, kid.

  Chelsea explains in a strained voice, “My brother has dozens of attorneys in his contact list, but none of them are defense attorneys. I had your card . . . and you seem like a good lawyer.”

  Out of curiosity, I ask, “What makes you think I’m good?”

  She raises her chin and meets my eyes. “You look like a man who knows how to win a fight. That’s what I need—what Rory needs.”

  I take a few moments to think—to plan.

  Chelsea must interpret my silence as rejection, because her voice turns almost pleading. “I don’t know what your typical retainer is, but I can afford—”

  My lifted finger stops her. “I don’t think that’s going to be necessary. Wait here.” Then I point to Raymond. “Come with me.” And to the oldest girl. “You too, Smiley.”

  As they follow me out the door, the brooding teen corrects me. “My name is Riley.”

  “I know. But I’m going to call you Smiley.”

  “Why?” she asks, like it’s the stupidest, most vile thing she’s ever heard.

  I smirk. “Because you’re not.”

  Let the eye-rolling commence.

  I lead them into the office next door. Sofia Santos’s head is bent over her desk, her perfectly manicured hands scribbling rapid notes on a document. She looks up as we enter.

  “Hey, Sofia.” I hook my thumb at the sullen girl behind me. “This is Smiley McQuaid—her aunt is a new client and we have to head downtown for a few hours. Is it okay if she hangs with you?”

  Stanton’s daughter, Presley, is almost thirteen. I figure if anyone is adept at dealing with a teenage female, it’s Sofia.

  “Sure. I’ll be here all afternoon.”

  Riley moves to my side. “My name is Riley.”

  Sofia smiles. “Hi, Riley.” Then she points to a chair in the corner, next to a wall outlet. “The phone charger’s over there.”

  Riley almost cracks a grin. Almost
. “Swag.”

  I turn to Sofia’s office companion, who’s staring at images on his laptop. “Brent, this is Raymond. Raymond, Brent. Can you keep him out of trouble for a few hours?”

  Brent nods. Then, with the excitement of a boy allowed to watch his first R-rated horror movie, he asks Raymond, “You want to see pictures of blood splatter?”

  The boy steps forward. “Is it as cool as it sounds?”

  “Waaay cooler.”

  “Sure!”

  And my work here is done.

  I pop my head back into my office and crook my finger at Rosaleen. She looks up at her aunt, who nods permission, and Rosaleen steps out to join me in front of Mrs. Higgens’s desk.

  “Mrs. Higgens, this is Rosaleen. Can you mind her for a bit while her aunt and I head to the courthouse?”

  Rosaleen looks down shyly, and Mrs. Higgens pulls up a chair beside her. “Of course. I have a granddaughter about your age, Rosaleen. I keep coloring books right here for when she visits. Do you like to color?”

  Rosaleen nods eagerly, climbing into the chair.

  I stride back into my office, where Chelsea and the two youngest rug rats await. I point at them. “You two look like the real troublemakers in the group, so you’re coming with us.”

  “Hi!” the two-year-old replies with a deceptively sweet smile.

  “Oh no, you’re not roping me into that again.”

  I take the baby carrier from Chelsea’s hands—and almost drop the thing. “Wow,” I say, glancing down. “You’re heavier than you look.” He gurgles back with a mouth full of drool.

  I turn to Chelsea. “You grab Thing One. Let’s go.”

  Her voice stops me. It’s a whisper, quiet and inquisitive.

  “Jake?”

  It’s the first time she’s said my name. One small syllable that makes my gut tighten. That makes me want to hear her say it again—in a moan, a gasp. A pleasure-spiked scream.

  “Can I ask you something before we go?”

  “Sure.”

  She searches my face with an honest curiosity that could pierce body armor. “If it’s not the money . . . why are you helping us?”

  It’s an interesting question. I’m not the noble type. I’m more of an “every man for himself” kind of guy. So why the hell am I helping them?

  Because I want in her pants, of course. Doing Chelsea a favor is the most direct route to doing her. Really not that complicated.

  I shrug. “I’m a sucker for a lost cause.”

  And because I just can’t hold back any longer, I reach out one hand and gently stroke the ivory skin of her cheek. It’s softer than I ever could’ve imagined.

  “And for a pretty face.”

  • • •

  We walk out to the parking garage and as Chelsea buckles the kids into their seats, I check out her truck. Her gigantically large dark blue truck. She notices my gaze and remarks, “It’s my brother’s truck.”

  I lift an eyebrow. “Your brother—the environmental lobbyist—drove a gas-guzzling Yukon XL?”

  She climbs up into the driver’s seat. “With six kids, a bicycle wasn’t gonna cut it.”

  I give her directions to the Moultrie Courthouse, where Rory was taken after his arrest this morning. I don’t have a lot of experience in family court, but I’m familiar enough with the process to fill her in.

  “Rory will be assigned a probation officer who’ll review the charges and his history, and make a recommendation to the OAG. The probation officer decides whether he’s released to you today or has to remain at the Youth Services Center until trial. They’re also the ones I’ll talk plea deal with.”

  The good news is, I know one of the probation officers at Moultrie intimately. We used to bang frequently until she got engaged. Our parting terms were friendly.

  A soft V forms on Chelsea’s forehead. “The OAG?”

  “Office of the Attorney General. That’s who would prosecute his case, but don’t worry—it’s not going that far.”

  Juvenile cases are very different from adult ones. The system still has hope for delinquents—it’s all about rehabilitation and redemption. Saving them before they’ve gone too far down that dark, wrong road to nowhere. In criminal courts, the main question is, did you do it? In family court, it’s all about why you did it. An orphaned nine-year-old dealing with his parents’ deaths by stealing a car will garner a shitload more leniency than an eighteen-year-old boosting a joyride.

  The Moultrie Courthouse is an intimidating concrete building with a cavernous maze of hallways. After passing through security, we’re ushered into a waiting room with a dozen nondescript tables and chairs scattered around and vending machines along one wall. A few other visitors occupy the room, heads huddled, speaking in hushed whispers.

  Chelsea and I sit at an empty table. I put the infant carrier with its sleeping cargo on the table, and the blond, baby-haired Regan squirms on her lap. A guard opens a door across the room and walks in with Rory, who’s still wearing his school uniform: tan slacks, a white button-down shirt, a navy blazer.

  His young lips are set in a hard frown, his dark blue eyes so full of resentment you can practically hear the “screw you” thoughts. This is not the face of a sad, little soul who knows he messed up—it’s the face of an angry cherub, desperately trying to look badass, who’d rather go down in flames than admit he was wrong.

  For a second, I reconsider helping him—a few days in juvenile detention could be just what the doctor ordered.

  But then Chelsea wraps her arm around him and kisses his forehead, looking both elated with relief and like she wants to strangle him. “Thank god you’re okay! Everything’s going to be all right, Rory, don’t be scared. What the hell were you thinking? A car? You’re never leaving your room again—ever!”

  I lean back in my chair, just watching.

  He brushes her off with a rough shrug. “Get off. I’m fine. It’s not a big deal.”

  “Not a big deal?” She grimaces, and I see a flash of hurt feelings, too. “You could’ve killed yourself—or someone else.”

  “Well, I didn’t, okay? So stop freaking out.”

  I’ve seen enough.

  “Chelsea, go get Regan a soda or juice.” I pull a couple of bills from my wallet and hand them to her. She hesitates. I tilt my head toward Rory. “Give us a minute.”

  Still looking unsure, she sets the two-year-old on her feet and leads her away.

  Once we’re alone, Rory sits down. “What are you doing here?”

  “Your aunt wanted a good lawyer. Lucky for you, I’m the best—and I happened to have the afternoon free.”

  “Whatever.”

  I pin him with an assessing stare. “You’re in deep shit, kid.”

  So sure he knows everything, he scoffs, “I’m nine. What’s the worst they can do to me?”

  “Keep you here for the next nine years. At least,” I tell him simply.

  For the first time since he walked into the room, his confidence wavers. His cheeks bloom nervous pink and his voice rises half an octave as he says, “It’s not so bad here.”

  It’s a tiny crack in the façade—but still a crack.

  I don’t waste time telling him he’s full of shit. I lean forward and explain, “Here’s what’s gonna happen. I’m going to call your aunt back over, and you’re going to apologize for the way you spoke to her.”

  He wasn’t expecting that. “Why?”

  “Because she doesn’t deserve it.”

  He lowers his eyes, almost ashamed. Maybe there’s hope for the punk yet.

  “Then you’re going to sit there”—I point at him—“and let her hug you and kiss you all she wants.”

  His chin rises, not ready to give up the fight. “And what if I don’t?”

  I look him right in the eyes. “Then I’ll let you rot in here.”

  And I will.

  He doesn’t look happy, doesn’t like being backed into a corner. He wants to come out swinging—to do the opposite of
what I’m ordering, simply because it’s an order.

  I know what he’s feeling. I know this kid through and through.

  He needs an out—a way to give up the battle without feeling like he’s lost the war. So I give him one.

  “You don’t need to show me how tough you are, Rory—I can see it. I was a lot like you when I was your age—a tough, pissed-off little asshole. The difference is, I was smart enough not to shit on the people who cared about me.” I raise my eyebrows. “Are you?”

  He watches me. Looks deep inside with that sixth sense that all children have, to see if I’m being straight with him or just fucking patronizing. After a moment, he gives the briefest of nods and says in a small voice, “Okay. I’ll apologize to Aunt Chelsea. And I’ll let her kiss and hug me if it makes her happy.”

  I smile. “Good. Smart and tough. I like you more already, kid.”

  • • •

  I leave Chelsea with the kids and head upstairs to the probation offices. I knock on Lisa DiMaggio’s door, even though it’s open. She swivels around in her desk chair, her long blond hair fanning out behind her.

  “Jake Becker.” She stands, giving me a perfect view of tan, toned legs beneath her black skirt, and hugs me. Parting on friendly terms most definitely has its benefits. “What are you doing in my neck of the woods?” she asks, stepping back with a smile. “Or is this a social call?”

  “I’m here about a client.”

  “Since when do you play in family court?”

  “Long story.” I shrug. “And its name is Rory McQuaid.”

  “Ah.” She retrieves a file from her desk. “My car thief. I did his intake this morning. Said he took the car because, and I quote, he ‘wanted to see if driving was as easy as Mario Kart.’ ” She shakes her head. “Kids these days.”

  I lean back against the wall. “That’s not why he took the car. There are extenuating circumstances.”

  “Enlighten me. I haven’t had a chance to interview the parents yet.”

  “The parents are dead,” I tell her. “Robert and Rachel McQuaid were killed in a horrific crash two months ago, leaving Rory and his five brothers and sisters in the care of their aunt—their only living relative.”

  She sits down in her chair. “Jesus.”

  “The kid’s been dealt a shitty hand and he’s not dealing with it well. But he doesn’t belong in lockup. Talk to his social worker; I’ll bet my left nut he was a saint until his parents died.”

  “That’s really saying something—I know how precious your nuts are to you.”

  I nod.

  “Unfortunately,” Lisa sighs, “Rory picked the wrong person’s car to steal.” She names a cranky, influential former presidential hopeful. “And he wants the
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