AWWWKward!, Caitlin Bradshaw thought as she glimpsed her mother striding briskly toward her with a pack of cigarettes. Then she saw that the cigarettes were Caporals, which meant they weren’t hers, which meant she wasn’t busted after all. Awkward! became wtf? when Ariane took a cigarette from the pack. In the seventeen years and three months she had lived with Ariane Bradshaw, Caitlin had never seen her mother smoke.
Ariane shook the pack again and extended it toward her daughter. If Caitlin considered deceit or evasion, it was only for a millisecond. With a cautious half-smile, she drew a Caporal from the pack and leaned forward to accept a light that Ariane offered from a satiny black and gold tube. Caitlin’s auburn bangs fluttered as, with practiced familiarity, she rocked her head back to blow smoke toward the ceiling. By the time Caitlin brought her eyes back down, Ariane had lit her own cigarette and sat down directly across the outside front corner of the computer desk from Caitlin. Please don’t let this be some gross peer-bonding thing, Caitlin prayed. I’m not just your mom anymore, I’m your friend! We can talk about everything! Please not that.
Ariane brought her cigarette up for a contemplative pull, appreciative without being needy. At thirty-nine years old, she was no longer the stunning bride in the pictures taken thirteen months before Caitlin’s birth, but she could still snap vertebrae anywhere in Pittsburgh. Unlined face almost perfectly oval, fine bone structure, chestnut hair with plenty of body, breasts noticeably full even under the bulky beige sweater that protected her against late November chill—it made a nice package. Not long ago Caitlin thought she’d seen a few extra pounds accumulating uncharacteristically around her mom’s waistline, but not now. Ariane looked like exactly the perfect weight for her five-five height.
“I didn’t know you smoked,” Caitlin said, not sure she was improving on the silence.
“I can’t say vice-versa.” Ariane smiled wryly. “But we have something more important to talk about. Soon, maybe as early as tomorrow, police officers will come to search the house. Do you have any drugs here?”
Ariane’s studied calm was infectious. Caitlin gaped at the question, but didn’t freak out.
“Before you tell me you don’t smoke pot, remember that munchies go on the grocery tab, which I pay.”
“I do weed sometimes with friends,” Caitlin said, oddly unconcerned by what, five minutes ago, would have been an unthinkable confession. “But I’ve never held any.”
“Any other drugs?”
“No.” Caitlin flicked ash and puffed on her cigarette, trying to seem blasé but not quite bringing it off.
“Anything bad on your computer?” “Not that I know of.”
Ariane bent toward Caitlin and caught her daughter’s eyes.
She put her hand comfortingly on Caitlin’s knee.
“Listen, honey. If you have something on your computer that’s just embarrassing—say a picture of you shit-faced at a party or flashing your breasts or something—just leave it. Trying to delete it won’t work and will make it look like you have something to hide. But if there’s something that might be criminal, we need to talk about it right away with Sam.”
“Sam the Really Jewish Lawyer?” Samuel Schwartzchild did the tax and estate planning work for half the families Caitlin knew. Without waiting for a reprimand, Caitlin then contritely bowed her head and murmured, “Sorry.”
“Save the apology. Let’s focus.”
Caitlin looked back up and again caught her mother’s eyes. “This is about dad, isn’t it?”
“Has anything happened to him?”
Ariane glanced at a Phillipe Patek watch on her wrist. “Not yet.”
I was on a roll when Pauline Denckla’s peremptory rap on the side of my cubicle interrupted my dictation.
“Ms. Bradshaw is here, Ms. Jakubek.” She didn’t mean either “Ms.”
“One second.” I held up an index finger. “I’m about to win a case.”
“This is the referral from Fletcher and Peck.”
Referrals from the distinguished law firm of Fletcher & Peck command attention. On the other hand, the main thing I’d gotten from Luis Mendoza’s seventy-two-second briefing an hour before was that Caitlin Bradshaw was a kid.
“Stash her in the library and get her a chocolate malt or something.” I flicked my Dictaphone back on and resumed. “— certificate of the death of Tyrell Washington on November 18, 2010. Paragraph. Wherefore the undersigned counsel of record for defendant Washington respectfully moves the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit for entry of an order vacating the judgment of conviction and remanding the case to the District Court with instructions to dismiss the indictment as moot.”
I popped the minicassette out of the Dictaphone as I stood up and handed it to the formidable Pauline D, who hadn’t moved a millimeter. She accepted it without enthusiasm.
“If Tyrell Washington is dead, this is a waste of time.” “Let’s hope the Third Circuit sees it that way.”
I headed for the reception area to fetch Bradshaw myself. In addition to potted plants and old magazines, it features a massive aquarium built into the wall. I think it’s a nice touch, except when some of the fish die.
The Law Office of Luis Mendoza occupies half the fourth floor of a former warehouse now gentrified into a no-frills office building in downtown Pittsburgh. Eleven lawyers work there. Ten of them get paid. I’m the eleventh. Ten of them didn’t go to Harvard Law School. I’m the eleventh. Ten of them work in offices. I draft briefs (for other lawyers to sign) and outline cross-examinations (for other lawyers to use) in a cubicle. But on the rare occasions when I see a client I get to use the library, which has a large maple table and four pine chairs and therefore qualifies as a conference room.
The Law Office of Luis Mendoza was not the plan. Harvard Law School cum laude, Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy (not quite Harvard Law Review, but not bad), two-year clerkship with a federal district judge in Philadelphia—that résumé was supposed to park my cute little butt on Wall Street. It was working out just fine, too. By the end of interview season my third year in law school, I had an offer in hand from Calder & Bull, a solid Wall Street firm with lots of securities lawyers and even more litigators to get the securities lawyers out of trouble. Hundred-and-a-half starting salary with a twenty-five-thousand dollar signing bonus and a report date the September after my clerkship ended.
Then Lehman Brothers happened. Fall of 2008. End of the world as we know it. The letter from C & B came in June, 2009. New hires for the following September were being “deferred” until February 1, 2011. Fifty thousand dollars to tide us over, on the condition that we reaffirm our intention to go to work there and find some “non-competitive law-related activity” that would keep up our legal skills in the meantime. My personal theory was that they expected us all to go to Legal Aid and file class action suits against C & B clients. That way they could write the fifty thousand off to Business Development.
I’ve never been gut-punched, but I don’t think it could hurt much worse than reading that letter. My fiancé, Paul Kaplan, actually took the news even harder than I did. I got some of my perspective back talking him down from his passionate artist’s moral outrage. Paul is a budding postmodern novelist.
“That sucks!” he’d yelled around an f-bomb participle, startling several other pedestrians on Walnut Street in Philly. “That totally sucks! This is a tragedy!”
“Eight-year-old girls starving to death in Africa is a tragedy.
This is a disappointment.”
“But they’re just blowing you off!” His perfect guardsman’s moustache had quivered with indignation as his cobalt blue eyes flared in righteous anger at the bosses’ perfidy.
“They’re paying me roughly as much to loaf for a year-and- a-half as the average American family gets by working hard for twelve months. My dad would have loved to have someone blow him off like that when he was twenty-six.”
With that, man-mountain Paul had whirled his six-foot- four-inch frame around and locked me in a bear hug that a few strollers probably thought was a mugging. He’d told me in a close-to-tears whisper how brave I was and how desperately he loved me. Paul did that kind of stuff regularly. It had given me a warm fuzzy, as it usually did. An artist’s total empathy for the Other, combined with absolute devotion to yours truly. All that, and he was a hunk to boot.
“We’ll make the best of it,” he’d whispered then, intensely. Paul does almost everything intensely. “Maybe use the time to get settled properly in the City.”
I’d hated to spoil the moment, but that crack called for a Cindy Jakubek specialty: the reality check. If you could some- how combine Paul’s passionate impulsiveness with my analytic detachment and divide by two, you’d probably end up with a fairly normal human being. I figured our kids would become either Nobel laureates or serial killers.
“Uh, Paul?” I’d said in my patient, no-you-can’t-have-a-pony voice. “Someone with student loans to repay does not live in New York City for nineteen months on fifty thousand dollars. Not since the yuppies discovered Brooklyn.”
Someone in that category didn’t keep living in Philly, either, at least not in the apartment I’d leased when I had a nice, cushy, federal judicial clerk’s salary. That basic economic reality brought me to Pittsburgh, which had two things going for it. The first was Luis Mendoza. He said that he could find a cubicle for me if I were willing to work as an unpaid legal intern at the Mendoza Foundation’s Justice for All Project, which is one of several enterprises operating under the Law Office of Luis Mendoza umbrella. The second was my dad’s house, where I could have room and board for three hundred a month plus help with the groceries. I could have had it for free, but I insisted.
Paul and I got to where we were moving through this little character-building experience with grudging acquiescence, if not contentment. I was learning some street law, maintaining legal skills, seeing Paul two or three weekends a month, talking once in a while with him about actually setting a date, and checking a snarky blog called “Above the Law” for rumors about Calder & Bull. Paul was writing a novel full of subtext and attitude, with occasional dialogue.
Anyway, that’s how it came about that in late November, 2010, instead of helping out with abstruse motion practice in securities litigation of mind-boggling complexity in lower Manhattan, I was padding out to the lobby of a converted warehouse in Pittsburgh to shake hands with Caitlin Bradshaw. Mendoza had told me to do a preliminary interview so that he could deal with her problem, whatever it turned out to be, without wasting too much of his own time. Mendoza wasn’t excessively scrupulous about the distinction between his non-profit foundation, which was pro bono and received lots of public and private grant money, and the emphatically pro pecunio side of his office: workers’ comp, personal injury, small-time criminal work, divorce, bankruptcy—and referrals from Fletcher & Peck. He used me interchangeably between the two. In case you ever find yourself running a law firm, this is called “leverage.”
The second I laid eyes on Caitlin I repented my chocolate malt crack. She wasn’t a Valley girl airhead. A girl–woman, but more woman than girl. Her face, and especially her dove gray eyes, didn’t look hard but they did look tempered, as if she’d had to take some knocks more serious than finding a zit on prom night. Only when we shook hands and I noticed the strength of her grip did it hit me: tennis. She’d been on a girls’ varsity tennis team that had done something or other with “state” in it last spring. I didn’t think much of jockettes when I was in high school—the feeling was mutual—but you have to give them one thing: winning, losing, and pumping your muscles even after they’re throbbing and your gut is screaming at you to stop, puts one part of childhood in your rearview mirror pretty fast.
“Girls’ Tennis State Championship, right?” I guessed on the way back to the library.
“Third place.” “Not bad.”
“Better than fourth.”
I got her a paper cup of water, sat her down at the table, and scrounged a half-used legal pad from one of the drawers. Then I asked her to tell me how Sam Schwartzchild at Fletcher & Peck had come to recommend that she see Mr. Mendoza. She walked me through the face-to-face with mom two days earlier. I’m pretty good at poker faces but my eyebrows arched when she mentioned calling Schwartzchild “Sam the Really Jewish Lawyer.”
“I can’t believe I said that.” She noticed my reaction and veiled her eyes briefly with her right hand. “It was, like, I just regressed to mall-speak all of a sudden. Like when I was a sophomore and we were hanging out someone might say, ‘We can chill at my house while the ’rents are downtown seeing Sam the Really Jewish Lawyer.’ And mom is sharing with me and trusting me and I just blurted that out.”
“Stress.” I said this as if I knew what I was talking about. “Stress can do things like that. It acts in different ways on different people. Did the police come to search your house?”
My back-to-business follow-up drew a searching look from her. She saw 5 feet 6 inches and 117 rather well-distributed pounds of Slavic attitude now only a little over two months away from her Wall Street dream. I have an olive complexion and wear very little makeup. Jet black hair combed straight back from my forehead and parted in the middle, with no attempt at pie-crust curls or other nonsense at the ends. Small glasses with black half-frames perched an inch or so down my nose. The dress code at Mendoza’s shop is business casual, but I was wearing a charcoal gray jacket and skirt, ivory blouse, hose, and black pumps. I was a lawyer, dammit, and I was going to dress like one.
“Yes,” she finally said. “They came the next day. Sunday.” “Did they have a warrant?”
“What did it say?”
“I didn’t see it. But they checked our two computers, the one Mom and I use in the great room and Dad’s in his upstairs study. They asked Mom if there were any others. She told them about Dad’s laptop but she was pretty sure he had it with him. They made a gross mess looking for it, but they didn’t find it. They asked Mom where Dad kept his passport and she said it should be in his top dresser drawer. But they didn’t find that either.”
“Your dad was out of town?”
“He went to New York to a private show,” Caitlin said. “Appraising art and antiques is one of the things he does. I thought he was coming back Sunday evening, but mom told the police that he’d called and said he’d be back tonight instead.”
“Flying or driving?”
“What? Oh, I’m sorry. Driving.” “Did the police take anything else?”
“Three briefcases or attaché cases or something. They were all Dad’s. Plus all our old check registers and bank statements. And there were a couple of mobile phones that I didn’t know Dad used. They took those too.”
In framing my questions I focused on this numbing detail deliberately. A good deal of the work done by Justice For All was on court appointments to handle criminal appeals for indigent defendants like Tyrell Washington. I’d seen plenty of criminal cases during my judicial clerkship as well. Between the two, I’d picked up enough to know that having your home searched even by well-behaved cops isn’t like Law and Order S.V.U. It means drawers yanked out and turned upside down to dump their contents on the floor. It means guys wearing latex gloves throwing your bras and panties over their shoulders after they’ve pawed through them. It means couches pulled four feet away from walls and left sitting there in the middle of the room, with their cushions on the floor. It means books, CDs, and DVDs flung onto the carpet and ceiling panels in the basement pushed out of their frames. It had to be a searingly traumatic intrusion on Caitlin’s white-bread life. I wanted to get her into the routine of talking about this stuff as though it were the French Open before I reached the elephant-in-the-corner issue: Who else in the house, if anyone, was in cahoots with Dad on whatever had caused a magistrate somewhere to sign off on a search warrant? “We’ve been calling them ‘police.’” I underlined the word in my notes. “Were they in uniform or civvies?”
“They were wearing suits. I thought they were FBI, but mom said they were some kind of state police.”
I scribbled methodically on my legal pad to buy myself some time so I could figure out how to ask Caitlin whether her father might now be in, say, Brazil instead of driving back to Pittsburgh. Before I could come up with anything she set off on a ramble, almost as if she were talking to herself.
“I didn’t know she smoked. I can’t believe that.” “Excuse me?”
“I told you how Mom smoked a cigarette while she was telling me about how the police were going to come.” Caitlin spoke over a catch in her voice. “I didn’t have any idea she smoked. I remembered seeing her with a little extra weight a few months back and at first I thought maybe she’d started smoking to help her shed some pounds in a hurry, but that isn’t Mom. It can’t be a new thing. She must have hidden it all these years. So she wouldn’t set a bad example for me, I suppose. Looking back, it seems so…I don’t know, so sweet, somehow. So Mom.”
She started to cry. I fished out a handkerchief and gave it to her, then patted her hand to show a little sympathy while she wiped her tears. While all this was going on, though, I didn’t stop thinking—and what I thought was, I’m not buying it. The first thing my mom did after coming out of Mass every Sunday was light a cigarette, so I was going on intuition rather than firsthand experience; but I don’t think you can live in the same house as a smoker for seventeen years and not know she smokes. I’d figured out that Caitlin had had at least one cigarette that day during our brief handshake and walk to the library.
Why would a mature and intelligent adult resume a smoking habit that she’d presumably dropped something like eighteen years before? Maybe because she was stressed out by knowing about her husband’s illegal activities, whatever they were. If not that, what? I put down my pen and took off my glasses. I leaned for- ward and put my hand close to Caitlin’s without touching it. I reminded myself that I was talking to someone in serious pain, and made my voice as soft and sympathetic as I could. “Caitlin, do you have any reason to believe that your mom and dad have been having problems in their marriage?”
She couldn’t have looked any more wide-eyed if I’d asked whether she thought the pope might drop by for dinner.
“Oh, no. Dad is a lot older than Mom. Sixty-three. I guess some people called her kind of a trophy wife for him when they got married. But she’s completely his. Absolutely devoted to him. I mean, he never threatens her or raises his voice, but he can get her to do anything he wants her to. Sometimes he’ll just say, ‘Ari, this is very important to me.’ Or he’ll act hurt and disappointed. And he gets what he wants. In the four or five years since I really started noticing it, he got her to stop seeing a friend that he didn’t like and to drop her involvement with Greenpeace, which he called ‘a bunch of eco-terrorists.’ And to quit a woman’s club he thought was ‘skewing old’ for her. Which is kind of funny, coming from him, but that’s what he said. He said, ‘Every time you walk in there you lower the average age by seven years.’ So, I mean, like, no. She admires him and she really loves him. I don’t think there’s any way she could imagine living without him.”
I didn’t induce this massive data dump because I’m a master interviewer. I think Caitlin had just been holding that stuff in for a long time and aching to get it off her chest. I saw a kind of gnawing worry in her eyes when she talked about Ariane, the kind of feeling you have when you love someone so deeply that her pain really is your pain, and her joy exhilarates you. I’d already pegged Caitlin as a pretty tough cookie for a rich brat, but I decided that she and her mom had something special going on in the bonding department. Whatever. At least I had enough to fill Mendoza in about what was going on.
I asked her if she wanted some more water, or maybe some coffee. She said no, so I told her to sit tight while I went to see if Mr. Mendoza was ready for her. I found him leaning against the door of his office, chatting with Pauline D. He was holding a piece of paper and looking jovially dyspeptic.
“What’s this I got here, Jake? We filing motions for the exercise now?”
“Hey, a win’s a win.”
“Sure, but how’s this a win? It’s just red tape for the clerks in Philly. Washington getting a shiv buried in him is tough luck for him, but it doesn’t wipe out the jury’s verdict.”
“Yes it does.” “How you figure?”
“The presumption of innocence applies throughout the criminal process, including appeals. Thanks to us, Washington had a viable appeal pending. Because he’s dead, that appeal is moot. Because of the presumption of innocence, the court can’t just assume we would have lost. So the only thing the court can do is set the conviction aside and tell the lower court to throw out the indictment as moot. We win.”
“That’s one ugly win.”
“There is such a thing as winning ugly. There is no such thing as an ugly win.”
This was Mendoza’s kind of language. Behind his forehead a scoreboard flashed
Law Office of Luis Mendoza 1
U.S. Attorney 0
His face lit up in a radiant beam. His eyes widened in delight. He raised his arms in a caricature gesture, as if he were an Anglo thespian in a high school production of Man of La Mancha. He rattled out something in Spanish, which I didn’t understand a word of, except that I think chica magnifica showed up in it somewhere. Then he turned toward Pauline D, rolling her draft of my motion into a cylinder as if he were going to swat her with it.
“Get this puppy filed and served pronto.”
He turned back to me, smile still on high beam, and offered me his right palm for a congratulatory slap. Then he stepped into his office and summoned me to follow him.
“So what’s the deal with this chica Sam sent over here?”
I gave him a quick rundown, sticking to the essential facts. I knew he’d spot the issue without my spelling it out for him. He sat in profile to me while I talked, leaning back in his chair and looking at the ceiling. He’s a quick study. He’s never going to handle a triple-inverse merger or remove a case from state court to federal court under the embedded jurisdiction doctrine, but in his chosen areas of practice he’s one helluva good lawyer. Even with the business casual dress code, he always wears suit and tie, including dress shirts with French cuffs. Sometimes the cufflinks have a scales-of-justice design embossed on them, and sometimes a skull-and-crossbones. Today was skull-and-crossbones.
“Okay.” He jumped to his feet a second or two after the last syllable was out of my mouth. “Let’s go.”
He turned on the professional charm as he walked into the library and shook Caitlin’s hand. No more macho swagger or sexist slang. He strolled in with a warm, reassuring smile and quietly confident body language that said, “No worries, I’ve been in tougher scrapes than this.”
He picked a chair that let him sit facing Caitlin, about four non-threatening feet from her with a corner of the table in between them. I took one at the far end of his side of the table, where I’d be unobtrusively in the background.
“I’ve worked with Sam Schwartzchild on a lot of cases over the years.” Mendoza carefully modulated his voice. “He is a very good lawyer. Did he tell you why he thought you should see me?” “Not really. He just said there was a possible conflict of interest and he thought it would be better if I had my own lawyer.”
Mendoza’s grave nod acknowledged the Solomonic wisdom of Schwartzchild’s view.
“Did the state troopers—that’s what they were, by the way— ask you about your conversation with your mom on Saturday?” “No. It’s funny, Mr. Schwartzchild asked me that same question right before the conflict of interest thing came up.”
I’ll just bet he did, I thought. I kept my head down so that I could concentrate on my penmanship.
“Well,” Mendoza said, “the first issue I would like to discuss with you is whether you have any legal obligation to report that conversation to the police.”
“What? Why would I do that? Why is it their business?”
Ask her! I telepathically willed Mendoza. “Have you actually talked to your father since that conversation?” Ask her that!
“Good questions,” Mendoza said calmly, meaning Caitlin’s audible ones rather than my mental one. “It would only be a concern for law enforcement if your father were in some danger. I take it you don’t have any reason to think he is. Am I right?” Caitlin’s eyes went back and forth rapidly, as if she’d suddenly lost her bearings in the woods and was looking for a landmark.
After a second or two, she seemed to recover. When she spoke her voice sounded confused but not panicky.
“No. No reason at all. I mean, I’m like, I don’t even know why you’d ask that. I guess you have to, but I just don’t see…. I mean, Dad is a curator and an art dealer. He spends volunteer time working as a docent. Why would anyone want to hurt him?” “Very good point.” Mendoza gave Caitlin a confident, affirming nod. “I’m not here to speculate about half-baked ideas some cop might have—or not. My job is to give you legal advice, and I’m going to give you some.”
“What is it?” Caitlin seemed genuinely curious.
“You don’t have any legal obligation at this time to go to the police and tell them about that talk you and your mom had. If the police ask you about that talk, you don’t have to answer their questions. You can just say, ‘That’s private and I don’t want to talk about it.’ In fact, you can just say, ‘Talk to my lawyer.’ That’s even better. You understand what I’m saying?”
“You mean I’m lawyered up, like the bad guys on TV.” “You’re lawyered up like a smart girl in the real world. I’m not telling you not to talk to them. That’s up to you. I’m just saying you don’t have to if you don’t want to. Right?”
“Sure, I guess.”
“Okay. Now, Caitlin, do you have any questions for me?” “No, I don’t think so.”
Mendoza stood up and took out three of his cards. Before handing them to her, he leaned over to put one of them on the table while he wrote an additional number on it.
“Caitlin, I want you to call me if any questions come up or if anything happens that you’re concerned about. Call me anytime of the day or night. That number I wrote on the top card is my mobile phone, and I have that with me all the time. You can give the other cards to cops if they drop by to pass the time of day. Jake, you give her a card too, just in case.”
Caitlin suddenly seemed to glow as I handed over one of my cards—and why shouldn’t she? She’d just been treated like the most important client Mendoza had. I’d seen him do the same trick with restaurant owners and rock-hard hookers. It worked with them, too.
“I mean it, Caitlin. If anything comes up, give me a call. Ms. Jakubek here will show you out and get your parking ticket stamped.”
He smiled. She beamed. They shook hands. Mendoza exited, basking in the glow of her esteem.
I showed her back to the reception area, and saw to it that the receptionist put a shiny yellow sticker on her parking stub. Then I walked her to the elevator.
“So if I, like, can’t reach Mr. Mendoza, then I could call you?” I felt the tiniest little surge of professional satisfaction. I wasn’t exactly basking in the glow of her esteem, but apparently
I’d made an impression. “Sure.”
She examined my card closely with a puzzled expression on her face. Then she looked back up at me with her charmingly ingenuous, tempered-but-not-hard-seventeen-year-old eyes.
“So, you’re, like, you’re a lawyer, too?”