Mary DiNunzio smoothed a strand of dark blond hair into her French twist and slumped in a swivel chair beside a conference table cluttered with manila folders, trial notes, and stamped exhibits. It was after business hours, but Mary was still at the law offices of Rosato amp; Associates, watching her friend Judy Carrier work and feeling sorry for herself. The Hemex trial was finally over and its aftertaste had left Mary hating her job again. Being a lawyer was even worse than people thought it was, if that were possible. 'You sure I can't be a pastry chef?' she wondered aloud. 'I like cake better than law.'
Judy tucked a manila folder into an accordion file. 'Are you going to help or are you going to whine?'
'What do you think? Besides, right now I'm busy supervising. That folder doesn't go where you put it. That's a notes folder, so it goes in the notes accordion.' Mary pointed at the accordion standing at the far end of the table. There. Number eleven.'
'Oh, really?' Judy picked up another folder and dropped it into the same accordion. Her lemony hair, cut like a soup bowl when she stood upright, hung down when she lowered her head, reminding Mary of a dinner plate. It didn't help that Judy wore silver earrings made of spoon handles. Mary was getting hungry until she noticed her friend slide another folder into the wrong accordion.
That's wrong, too. That's Gunther deposition exhibits, so it goes in number ten. And aren't you going to fix the other one?'
'No. See? This is a folder of draft contracts, so it belongs in the second accordion.' Judy dropped another folder into the accordion. 'I put it in the fifteenth. Ask me if I care.'
'Not in the least.' Judy looked up and smiled. Her bright blue eyes smiled, too, emphasized by the cobalt of a large corduroy smock that billowed around her tall, sturdy form. Judy climbed rocks and engaged in other activities Mary found self-destructive, but she was still shapely to Mary's eye, though she dressed to hide it. And Judy's fashion sense wasn't the only thing about her that mystified Mary.
'Why are you messing up the files, girl?'
'Because it doesn't matter. That's the great secret in law firms, even one as cool as ours. Once you send the file to the records room, it doesn't matter if it's out of order. Nothing ever happens.'
That's wrong. People look at the file again.'
Mary had to think. To prepare the bill, for one thing.'
'Nah, they just make that up. You know it and I know it.' Judy crammed the next folder into the thickening accordion. 'See? I file at random. I put the folder wherever there's room. I always do it this way after trial. Nobody ever came after me. The world didn't end.'
'You mean all this time we've been packing up after trial, you haven't done it right?'
'Never.' Judy grinned. 'Didn't you ever wonder why I always finished ahead of you?'
Mary's mouth dropped open. 'I thought it was because you're smarter.'
'I am, and this is an example of it. It's dopey to put them away right.'
'But you're supposed to.'
'Oh, you're supposed to.' Judy misfiled another folder. 'It's like permanent records.'
'I don't want to hear anything bad about permanent records. My permanent record was spotless.'
'Well, mine wasn't and we ended up in the same place, which proves my point. Permanent records and mattress tags. Nothing ever happens. They're just lies they tell you to keep you in line.'
'I knew you would say that. For a lapsed Catholic, you're not that lapsed.'
'Mea culpa.' Mary crossed her legs and fiddled idly with cultured pearls that peeked from an ivory blouse she wore with a fitted grey suit. She was on the short side, but had a neat, compact figure and avoided lots of great ravioli to keep it that way. 'Maybe we should go get dinner. Have a nice salad.'
'Girl food.' Judy reached for an empty accordion. 'Let me finish disorganizing the file, then we can celebrate our victory in the most boring case of all time.'
'Don't jinx it. You don't know that we won.'
'Yes I do. We were less boring than they were. Bennie couldn't be boring if she tried.'
'Bennie Rosato, our boss? Are you kidding? Ever hear her talk about rowing?' Mary gestured at the walls of the conference room. One wall was glass, facing the elevator bank, but the end walls, of eggshell white, were decorated with Eakins prints of rowers on the Schuylkill River. Beside them hung photographs of Penn crews rowing past Boathouse Row, the bank of colorful boathouses lining the river. 'She's boring as hell when she talks about rowing. Also golden retrievers. I'm sick of golden retrievers because of Bennie. If she could put a golden retriever in a boat and row it around, she'd have it made.'
Judy stopped misfiring. 'If you actually got off your butt and did a sport, you'd understand why Bennie likes to talk about hers. As for the dog stuff, I see that too. Bear's a good dog. I've been baby-sitting him for a week and he's fun.'
'Good. Have a great time, just don't tell me about it. Or show me dog pictures.'
'You like dogs.'
'No, I like ravioli, and I'm still pissed that you screwed up our files.'
Judy ignored it. 'My family had Labs and Goldens growing up and they were great. I'm thinking about getting a puppy.'
'Wonderful. See it between trials. Pat it on the head.' The phone rang on the oak credenza, and Mary looked over. 'Do I have to get that?'
'Of course.' Judy gathered a stack of folders and dumped them into an empty accordion. 'I'm busy wreaking havoc, and you're closer.'
'But it's after hours.'
The phone rang again, and Judy scowled. 'Get it, Mare.'
'No. I'm beat. The voice-mail's on.'
Rrring! 'Get it!' Judy said. 'You'll feel guilty if you don't. Don't you feel guilty already?'
'Shame on you, guilt-tripping a Catholic. How low will you go?' Mary grabbed the receiver. 'Rosato amp; Associates… I'm sorry, Bennie's out of the country for the entire month. Yes, there are associates of hers here.' She slipped a small, manicured hand over the phone and caught Judy's eye. 'Man needs a criminal defense lawyer. Should I tell him wrong number?'
'Very funny. Ask him what the charge is.' So Mary asked, and Judy read the hue of her friend's face. Tell him we'll take it,' she said quickly, but Mary's brown eyes flared in alarm.
'A murder case? You and me? By ourselves? We can't do that! We don't have permission, we don't have authority, we don't have expertise, we don't have any of the stuff you're supposed to -'
'We'll apologize later. Tell him yes.'
'But we don't know what we're doing.' Mary's hand stiffened over the receiver. 'We've only done two murder cases and in one we almost got murdered.'
'I thought you grew up last case.'
'Two steps forward, one step back.'
'You told me you weren't afraid anymore.'
'I lied. I was born afraid.'
'Tell him we'll take it, dufus!' Judy dropped the file and crossed to the credenza. 'Gimme that phone.'
'No!' Mary clutched the receiver to her chest. 'We can't do it! We're not smart enough!'
'Speak for yourself,' Judy said, and snatched the phone away.
Ten minutes later, they were in a cab jostling down Market Street toward the Roundhouse. The rain had stopped, but the streets were wet and the gutters full of cold, rushing water. Leftover Christmas garlands wreathing the streetlights blew in the wind, and the lights from the Marriott, The Gallery mall, and the shops lining the Market reflected on the slick asphalt in colored orbs, like Christmas lights. To Mary, the city seemed shut down, with everybody recovering from the winter holidays. Even the cab driver was unusually quiet, but Mary and Judy more than made up for him. They had yammered since they left the office. Only God knew how many trial strategies, settlement conferences, and oral arguments had been discussed in the backseats of the city's cabs. By now cabbies could have law degrees, set up practice, and improve the entire profession.
Mary slumped in her trench coat. 'I've never tried a murder case, first-chair.'
'So what? We were second-chair to Bennie.'
'He called Bennie,' Mary said.
'No, he didn't. He called the firm. You and me have more criminal experience than anybody at the firm except her.'
Two criminal trials? Please. This is bait-and-switch, with lawyers instead of air conditioners.'
'So tell him.' Judy shrugged, the gesture buried in a white down coat that encircled her like a sugar-frosted doughnut. 'Let the man make his choice. He wants another lawyer, he can get one.'
'I will tell him,' Mary said, as if Judy had disagreed. She looked out the window and watched the city sleep. 'How did we get into this?'
'We like to have fun.'
'I hate fun. I hate rowing and goldens and fun of all sorts.'
'Buck up, Mare. We can handle it. Just use your common sense. Now, who'd Newlin kill? Allegedly?'
Mary blushed, suddenly glad it was dark in the cab. 'Uh, I don't know. I didn't ask.'
'Smooth move.' Judy laughed, but Mary didn't.
'You could've asked him.'
'I thought you knew already.'
Mary closed her eyes, briefly. 'I'm not competent to do this. I'm screwing up before I meet the client. Is that even possible?'
'It's a land speed record,' Judy answered, without rancor. 'You and me, we get it done, don't we?'
Mary couldn't smile. Malpractice wasn't funny, and murder even less so. She looked out the window as the cab pulled up at the Roundhouse. The rain began to fall again, a freezing down-pour, and somehow Mary wasn't completely surprised.