Excerpt for Pro Bono by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

The following work is a work of fiction. All characters, names, places and incidents are either a product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.

Any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.


ISBN:

Copyright 2016


All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author.


Photography and Jacket design are original works of author.





First Edition 




















ABBE ALEXANDER












PRO BONO


















CHAPTER 1




Jason Millar heard the familiar sound of the foghorn echoing its mournful groan as a gray blanket of moist air crept onto the deserted shores of Grover Beach, Oregon. This small town where he was born was never really ready for big news. When an unidentified body washed up on the beach and was subsequently discovered by him and his school pals, it set the whole village into a tailspin of speculation and gossip. The dead man was fully clothed, complete with shoes and socks. There was no watch, jewelry or identification, which would make it unlikely that the local police department could make an ID. Once the corpse was taken to the closest population center of Portland to be pronounced, the odds of identifying this man would be greatly increased.


The three school kids, aged around thirteen, who had made the discovery, had been playing an innocent game of fetch with Horatio, an Irish setter. Horatio was a middle-aged dog, healthy and active. He loved any type of sport but could easily be distracted from anything as routine as fetching his master Jason's favorite Frisbee. It was no surprise when Horatio suddenly lost interest in this routine activity and nosed off down the beach, which was covered with shells, seaweed and sea foam. He jumped over a massive waterlogged tree trunk and crouched to sniff and examine his find. He even pawed at the clothes on the body, and licked the face, perhaps in an attempt to revive the man whose fate was already sealed.


At first, Jason didn’t realize that Horatio was on a meaningful mission, not knowing the dog had actually made a macabre discovery. Jason and the other boys called and called to this animal that would not give up his post at the base of the log.


Jason Millar was the oldest of the three boys. At this point he left Arnold and Fakih as they argued over who would have the next turn at the toss of the Frisbee and proceeded to run down the beach to try to haul Horatio away from his distraction so the boys could go on playing with their buddy. As Jason got closer to the dog he sensed that there was some urgency that was causing him to bark, now, incessantly. This kind of behavior was completely out of character for Horatio, as the boys called him out of earshot. The first clue Jason had of the nature of victim's distress was the blue material, visible over the top of the log which trapped the body and held it fast as it would any other object that washed up by chance on any beach anywhere.


This man was not there by chance. He was there because someone made sure he was dead and the body was disposed of in a manner that would leave minimal clues to an apparent murder, but no answers. The man was youngish, not over thirty, anyway. His blond hair had a murky brownish tinge to it, probably from the seaweed, which dominated the plant culture in the water and on the beach. Fortunately, the eyes were closed and Jason was spared a lifetime memory of a corpse staring at him as the victim was lying face up. He was clean-shaven with a complexion that had grayed with the time spent in the water and dressed in blue jeans, a navy-blue Ralph Lauren sweater and sky-blue jacket. It appeared that a shooter, perhaps a paid assassin, had shot him in the head with a small caliber pistol loaded with hollow-point ammunition. He had evidently been dead for a few days and was now showing signs of advanced rigor mortis. He looked to be a Caucasian man, possibly a college student. These subtleties weren’t wasted on Jason and his memories would eventually be the only clues available once Forensics took possession of the body at the Portland morgue.

Jason instinctively fished in his pocket for his mother’s cell phone. Even though his father had been dead for a little over a year, his dad had been a cop and had managed to instill his values in Jason. As a result, he tried to do what he believed his father would have done under the same circumstances. He knew intuitively that he needed to dial 911. Not that he believed there was any possibility that this man was still alive, but he wasn't about to go home and tell his mother that he found a dead body on the beach and just walked away from it without doing anything about the situation. He wasn't that kind of boy, for which his mother was thankful.


As soon as he pressed the call button his younger companions started to run toward him and he waved them back and walked away from the log, hoping they could be spared the gruesome scene. Being curious, as all little boys are, they ignored him and ran toward the object of interest that had lured Horatio to the site in the first place. When the two boys got close enough to the body to see what it was, they froze in their tracks, looked immediately at one another, and ran as fast as their legs would carry them back to the park that acted as a median between the village street and the sands of Grover Beach. They kept going until they were back home and safely sequestered in their tree house to ponder their next course of action.


In the meantime, it seemed to Jason that it was taking forever for an answer to his 911 call because he was scared to death and all alone, now that his loyal friends had deserted him. While he was still standing on the beach ruminating, he heard the sirens of police, fire trucks and an ambulance, all driving through the grassy park toward the beach at such a high rate of speed that grass and mud were being churned up by their wheels and sent flying as their lugged tires dug into the turf. A short, stocky man got out of one of the police cars while two paramedics followed closely behind him with a gurney complete with an oxygen cylinder aboard.


As they arrived at the log, the policeman motioned them away from the body, not wanting to move anything until Forensics arrived. The sergeant was Glen Degorgio, a member of the local police force of Grover Beach. He had disheveled, curly black hair and eyes that appeared to be two different shades of brown. He lurched forward as though a foot chase would be something he wouldn’t soon attempt. He walked toward where Jason was standing motioning to Jason to follow him and as he did, so did Horatio as though he was part of the operation. The dog still wasn't sure what had happened but sensed death and danger and was not about to leave his master alone and at risk.


“What's your name, son?”


“Jason, sir. Jason Millar.”


“You wouldn't be Bill's kid, would you?”


Grover Beach was a very small town. Sergeant Degorgio knew immediately who Jason was and had a good idea why the boy had remained at the side of the victim and why he had called 911 immediately.


“Yes, sir,” Jason answered resolutely.


Glen Degorgio had known Bill Millar and, even though they weren't close friends, he still felt as though he had a special duty to try to mitigate the shock of this event for this young man. Jason had been through a very unhappy time, losing his father at just eleven years of age. Bill Millar had been heading north on Highway 1 on his way back to the precinct at the end of his shift when he spotted a car weaving in front of him about five hundred yards ahead. He had followed him and pulled this drunken driver over on one of the main roads to the village and received a bullet in the chest from this man who was already wanted for murder and driving a stolen vehicle. Today's incident would be more than anyone would want to experience, even as an adult.


“Listen, we're not going to talk about this now. Okay? I just want you to go on home and let us handle this thing.”


“But I want to help, sir.”


“I can appreciate that, Jason, but we have the situation under control now and I'll send someone over if you want to talk. Perhaps with you and your mother, later today.”


The sergeant was thoroughly amused by Jason and realized the boy was quite intelligent and certainly precocious. Ordinarily, that wouldn't be a problem, but in this case, if Jason couldn't be persuaded to leave this matter in the hands of professionals, Glen had a feeling this situation could quickly spiral out of control. Jason was full of determination and clearly wanted to be part of the investigation. Even though he was still young, he had admired and identified with his father and felt a sense of duty, although none could possibly exist under these circumstances. Jason went on, “I would like you to come to my house, sir.” He said this with such intensity and so resolutely that Glen could not turn the kid down, even though he had had nothing to eat since breakfast and had very little sleep for three days running.


“I'll tell you what. I'll get this guy sent off today and try to get some other things done. I'll call your mother tonight and you two can meet me at Smitty's restaurant tomorrow morning and I'll buy you all breakfast.”


Glen knew that Smitty's was famous for the best pancakes in the area and wanted to do something nice for the boy because he had admired Jason's father who was well liked by nearly all the other guys in the force. He could see that Jason was reluctant at first, but he could also see the boy was maybe a little lonely since his father had died and hoped he could provide a little comfort for him at this point.


“OK, sir,” Jason responded reluctantly.


“OK,” Glen answered back and held his hand out to high-five the boy, whose enthusiastic hand met his in the air as a sign of things to come.


Glen reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a business card, handing it to Jason. As they parted Glen looked back at Jason and said, “By the way, my name is detective Degorgio.”


“I know. I saw you once at the station when I was there with my dad.”


The kid doesn’t miss a beat, Glen thought to himself. He was right and this was just the beginning.




















CHAPTER 2



Phillip Hathaway was not the best father to his son Larry and now his wife was beginning to regret her choice of husband. Larry's father was a successful lawyer and a Harvard man who went to work right out of college at a large New York firm and fought his way up the legal ladder through hard work and diligence until he made partner and, eventually, senior partner at Steadman and Collier, which then became Hathaway, Steadman and Collier. All these names were well received by the old crony crowd that dominated the New York City financial district. Phillip had every appearance of success in the legal profession including four secretaries, two paralegals, a house in the Hamptons and a winter retreat in Key West.


Phillip’s son, Larry, possessed none of these things and furthermore, he didn't want them. If he had not chosen Law as a profession, he would not have had to experience the conflict of being invited to join his father's firm and having to refuse his dad's otherwise generous offer. He had nothing against his father, even though the work Phillip had done to achieve his current measure of success had deprived Larry of a meaningful male bonding while he was growing up in a silver spoon family. Larry was much like his father in several ways, however he chose to achieve success on his own terms and this trait made the two incompatible from the get-go.


Larry had made his decision to go his own way by the time he was a junior in high school. He had taken a course in American literature. The teacher, a dedicated scholar with a healthy and abiding interest in his students, became Larry’s favorite teacher and mentor. He encouraged Larry in his writing and analysis of literature and would meet with him after school any time he wanted to go over anything Larry had questions about. Eventually Larry let it slip that he appreciated the help he had received because his own father hadn’t shown as much interest or spent as much time with him.


Larry’s confession to his teacher, Mr. Silas Gray, reinforced Larry’s epiphany which was that he didn’t want to end up like his old man. He wanted to be an attorney, to get married and have a family. But he didn’t want to be a slave to his profession, alienating his family and ending up a lonely old man. That’s where Phillip was headed whether he liked it or not. Larry didn’t want to join him.

When Larry graduated Summa Cum Laude and second in his class from Harvard, his dad's alma mater, the expectation on the part of his father was a tacit one. It wasn't an issue of whether; it was an issue of which office he would occupy during his initial involvement in the firm as one of the youngest associates ever hired by Hathaway, Steadman and Collier. Instead of preparing himself for his initial year of internship in Dad's place of business, Larry was following his heart by submitting his Curriculum Vitae to various District Attorney offices as far away from New York as possible. He had a passion for criminal law since he had discovered that his grandfather had defended his great uncle, another family lawyer, in a murder trial. Earl Hathaway, his grandfather's brother, had been accused of murdering a traveling salesman in the early 20s and hiding the body in a sluice shed while they were trying to pan for gold in the California Sierra Nevadas. His grandfather, Roy, won the case and another man who was the innocent victim of an angry lynch mob was condemned and hanged inside a week even though he was undoubtedly not guilty. Roy Hathaway had visited this poor sonofabitch in jail every two or three days to try to seek a stay of execution, not stopping short of the California governor’s office, though ultimately failing. Speedy trials were a well-recognized form of legal procedure in that day and brought a swift end to many dubious cases.


Larry's fiancée was another awkward and cumbersome situation. Aside from being his childhood sweetheart, Cheryl had been a great deal of his financial support as a school teacher since he had finished law school because he was still without work and hadn’t yet written the bar exam. In the process of securing employment, Larry had received an urgent call from her one afternoon asking him to pick her up from work because there was something they needed to discuss immediately. He didn't like the sound of this. He was prepared, he felt, for any turn of events. He gathered up the books he needed to return to the library and looked around their apartment to make sure it wasn't a total disaster because when he got home with Cheryl he needed to be in a calm state so that he could read his offer from the Portland District Attorney's office. He decided the place was acceptably clean now so she couldn’t be critical of his housekeeping skills. He got into his VW bug, setting his books on the seat beside him and started out as quickly as he could because it was already 4:30 and if he hit any traffic he would keep her waiting. Judging from the tone of her voice on the phone message, this would not be the best idea. Not today.


Cheryl was tall and thin and exquisitely proportioned. She had long, straight blond hair, blue eyes and a smile that made loving her the easiest thing Larry had ever done in his life. There was no question in his mind, even at the tender age of seventeen when they had met, that he would never leave her no matter what, and for the most part they had very few problems. They got along well, joked and laughed at virtually everything, which was typical of their age. They went everywhere together and neither of them even had an interest in anyone outside of their relationship.


Cheryl had seven brothers and sisters that she had helped her mother to rear since her father had died when she was ten years old. Her life from that moment forward had been one of stress and hard work. It was impossible to tell if she had always been this way or whether it was a tool of survival. Either way, she was like the Energizer Bunny. She just plain never stopped. She worked at the library as a relief clerk when she wasn’t substitute teaching and was always busy either preparing classes or grading papers. When he wasn’t consumed with his class work, Larry would pick her up and drive her from one location to another because the traffic in Boston was bad and public transportation was only totally reliable during the rush hour.



Today seemed different to him somehow. Larry pulled into a parking space at the bank next to the library where Cheryl worked, as he usually found her waiting patiently for him. Today she wasn’t. This was very unlike her. As he perused the headlines of the Drudge Report on his iPhone, he glanced up occasionally at the back door of the library. He sat there for what seemed like hours, even though it was only a little more than five minutes when the library door did open. The first person he saw was Mrs. McRae, the head librarian. As he looked closer he realized that Cheryl was a step behind and the two women seemed to be carrying on a limited form of conversation, paying little or no attention to him. When they finally sensed they were being watched they looked straight at him, exited the door and went their separate ways. Cheryl opened the passenger door to the car, threw a book on the floor and leaned back all in one continuous motion.


“You look like you've been through the trials of hell today,” Larry said, waiting for the bomb to drop.


“I have.”


“So, can I ask what happened?”


“No. Just take me home, please.” Cheryl's reply was weak and her voice reflected a hint of sadness she seemed reluctant to express verbally.


“We're not going to the market?”


“No. Not if I can help it. Not now.”


“Do you mind telling me why?”


She turned away from him and looked out the window at the parking lot. She said, “Yes, I do. We can talk better at home.”


Larry knew from the time he had spent with Cheryl that it was best to just let her calm down and then attempt to deal with her when she could relax and tell him the whole story. They rode in silence for a few miles while minutes seemed like centuries. All the time Larry was hoping against hope that since he had been all but hired by the Portland District Attorney’s office, Cheryl could be persuaded to uproot and follow him out of New York where her family had resided ever since they arrived as immigrants from Norway more than a hundred years earlier. As they drove up to the front of the house, Cheryl said, “Please let me out here and park the car. I'll see you inside.”


“Okay.”


He dutifully wheeled the car around to the driveway and Cheryl had already gone inside the house even before he could turn the car around the other in an attempt to back into the garage which stood open awaiting his return from town.


“What seems to be the trouble?” Larry asked as he wandered off to the kitchen in search of a cold drink that would cool him down a bit from the heat and pressure of the day and now this situation.


“Well, let me put it this way...” Cheryl was sitting on the couch and had a handful of papers, which she looked at as though she was checking them over before she did anything else. She leaned forward and tried to hand them to him, but he waved her back.


“Just tell me whatever it is. You and I don't have to play any games and you don't have to prove whatever it is that you have to tell me.”


“Okay. Is that the way you want things?” She sounded a little peeved now as she openly glared at Larry and turned her neck and swished her hair from one side of her head to the other. This was something she had done since childhood when she was angry.


“Look, sweetheart. I love you and I'm worried about you.”


“I hope so.” She paused. “I'm pregnant.”


This didn't really come as a complete shock to Larry, but he felt like someone had just knocked the wind out of him. The fact was, he had been expecting this meeting to take place a long time ago and, when it didn't, he had just forgotten about it and assumed that she was taking care of things. It appeared now she was going to have their baby, which was great with him. He was overjoyed and overwhelmed with emotion. He loved her so much and now they were going to be a family. Something he hadn’t really appreciated in depth until this moment. He stood up, walked over to the sofa and pulled her very gently to her feet as though she might break if he wasn’t careful. He kissed her just as softly and in his heart now he knew that all was well. He could tell her his news and this would be the perfect time because it would help to give her the support she needed.


“Well I have some news for you, too. I have a job. I grabbed the mail on my way in from parking the car and it seems the County of Multnomah, Oregon has hired me as Deputy in the DA’s office to start as soon as I can make myself available.” He looked down at her and smiled. “So, what do you think of that?”


“I think it's just fine.” She smiled slowly and very sincerely because all of this had come as a great relief.


“We can go straight to Portland and stop off in Las Vegas on the way to get married. This will help to mitigate some of the conflict here with our parents and the law firm and everything else that’s making life difficult.” Larry had posed this as a form of question to Cheryl, and to his great amazement, she didn’t object. At least not at this moment.

“So, it's doable?” He paused. “You'll marry me?”


“Of course.”


She smiled broadly and kissed him again. Oregon would become their newfound freedom.


He hoped.




















CHAPTER 3



Charles Crawley had been the Medical Examiner at the Portland morgue for twenty-five years. He was five-foot six, and one hundred eighty pounds of solid muscle. He had a shaved head and wore a thin, trim, gray and white moustache. He smoked Cuban cigars, when he could get them. These stogies became a part of his working procedure. He would arrive at work at five-thirty each morning, find a fresh disposable surgical tray and remove its sterilized scalpel. Then he would proceed to use the scalpel to segment his day’s allotment of Cubans, which he would then smoke in a corncob pipe. Using his favorite old tamper, he would crush yesterday’s dottle into the bowl of the pipe. At about eight AM he would place his corncob pipe in his mouth and there it stayed for the remainder of the day to comfort him, impress others and just plain suck on, when all else failed. He had a reputation that preceded him of being tough, but also, he was an impeccable diagnostician and had a perfect court record for his work as a forensic expert that had never been successfully challenged, let alone beaten, by any prosecutor in the county. No one would take him on now, or testify in opposition to him either.


When the corpse that Jason and Horatio had found in Grover Beach was delivered to the morgue in Portland, it was just another routine day for Crawley. The corpse was viewed by the coroner first and pronounced dead with a Cause of Death attached. Charlie knew that every county in America has anywhere up to eight hundred unclaimed cadavers pass through its facility every year with the numbers presently rising at a rate of as large as twenty-five percent annually. So, it was not a surprise that “The Rock”, as he was affectionately referred to by his fellow physicians, viewed this recent delivery as just another unidentified victim. He might have been a homeless man or a person who was so reclusive that he was never reported missing since everyone might assume he’d just left town. He also might have been a victim of organized crime. Any of these possibilities would make it unlikely that his identity would ever become known or that anyone would ever come to claim the body and give it a decent, formal burial. Charlie did his best to identify these people, but after all, he was only a medical examiner and who could expect him to accomplish much more than that?


Shortly after the arrival of this John Doe cadaver, Charlie received a message from Jan, his secretary, saying that Glen Degorgio from the Grover Beach Police Department would like to meet with him at the morgue the following day. Since Charlie had nothing planned he went back to his work on the cadaver to see if there were some facts he could unearth immediately so that their meeting might lend some purpose to solving the identity problem. A small town like Grover Beach was no place to dump a body. The fact that this man ended up there created more problems than it solved.


The day before the proposed meeting with The Rock, Degorgio had done his duty and met Jason and Jason’s mother, Melissa Millar, at the pancake house. Melissa was what would have been referred to years ago as a handsome woman with features a little on the rugged side for a girl, but pleasing to the eye all the same. He was reminded of his own mother, who always said that if you were a boy with a mother like this you would benefit from it. But a girl, that was a different story.


Glen was already seated at his usual table with a cup of coffee surrounded by empty creamers and little packets of sugar that had been ripped open and scattered carelessly over and around the surface of the table. There were two menus that had been left by Phyllis, Glen's favorite waitress. Jason's face lit up like a floodlight as soon as he spotted Glen and he grabbed his mother's hand attempting to pull her quickly toward Glen’s table and hasten the meeting and the promised pancakes.


“Mr. Degorgio,” Jason pronounced enthusiastically. “This is my mom, Mrs. Millar.”


Melissa Millar reached to shake Glen's hand. The first thing he noticed was that her hands felt rough and chapped. She obviously wasn't sitting home with nothing else to do than parenting.


“It's very nice to meet you.”


“Same here.”


“Thank you very much for helping Jason,” she commented shyly and at the same time thought to herself that she wished Jason had never been there to find a body at all because she had already experienced her share of death and dying and wasn't particularly interested in going through another similar experience herself or along with her son.


“It's no trouble at all. I knew of your husband, although I must admit we never really knew each other. We still saw each other around the precinct and here and there on the street. He was a good man and I'm sorry for your loss.”


Melissa sat still and silent, making Glen feel discomfited. She finally said, “Thank you.”


Jason spotted Phyllis, their waitress, heading their way. He already knew what he wanted. The Super Stack. While Glen and his mother were talking, he opened the menu so he could point directly to his order and in doing this, save some time getting the order to their table.


“Well, Phyllis, I guess you would like our order. What would you like, Jason?” Degorgio had a good idea what the answer would be.


Jason flipped the menu open and pointed directly at item number 13. Phyllis didn't bother writing anything down and asked the two adults what they wanted. Both replied they were satisfied with just coffee. Phyllis left them to continue their conversation, heading back to the kitchen to put in Jason’s order.


“I know you've been through a lot of stress, but I invited you here today because I have something in mind for Jason. I know he seems young for this kind of thing, but like it or not, he is a prime witness to a very gruesome crime. I don't want to upset him or his life and schoolwork, but I have a meeting tomorrow in Portland and I would appreciate it if you would let him come with me. We won't take any more time out of the day than is necessary, but Jason is our only link to the crime scene and what has become a grisly murder.”


Glen leaned back against the side of the booth with one hand remaining poised on the table and took a long sip of his coffee. Jason's fascination with the pancakes quickly subsided as he looked at his mother for some non-verbal form of approval of Glen's plan. She returned Glen's questioning look, appearing disgruntled, but underneath that Jason could see that old familiar sign of resignation he had seen her give to his father. He was old enough to understand the subtleties of non-verbal communication. She looked at Jason the same way she had looked at his father when he was about to go out on an assignment for the department. Almost always something she had no control over. While she objected, she knew he would go anyway. The more she pushed him and made an issue of the situation, the more uncomfortable it was for them both.


Jason's pancakes arrived at the table with three large scoops of butter and a rack containing five different kinds of syrup plus a tray of jam in packets, even peanut butter. The decision to allow Jason to accompany Glen to the morgue in Portland had been made. Jason ate the five small pancakes, slowly pouring a different flavor of syrup on every pancake as each layer was eaten away. He seemed oblivious to the conversation between Glen and his mother, which had morphed down to remarks about the weather and the decor of the restaurant.


“Listen, I have to get back to the station. I have a few more things to check into today to get ready for the meeting tomorrow. Can Jason be ready at seven-thirty tomorrow morning? I don't want this to take any longer than necessary and I especially don't want to get stuck in commuter traffic.”


“I'll be ready.” Jason looked up from the last pancake and gazed intently at Glen.


“Good. So, it's seven-thirty then?”


“Absolutely.”


Jason had the last word as usual.















CHAPTER 4




Larry had no money. He was almost broke and, seemingly fated to stay that way. He could have gone to his father, told him about the pregnancy and his father would undoubtedly have offered him any amount of money he needed. That is, at least until he found out that Lawrence Milton Hathaway had no intention of coming to work for him. Not now, or ever. Then, when Phillip found out Larry had taken an entry-level position as a deputy District Attorney at the Portland DA's office, his father probably would discontinue all communication. But then Larry knew all of this and convinced Cheryl, much to her chagrin and over her persistent objection, not to tell her parents anything until after they reached Portland and found a suitable place to live. And then, they’d booked a flight that connected through Las Vegas so that they could layover, have a cheap, but legal, wedding and a bit of a honeymoon watching the shows and playing the machines, since neither one of them was much of a gambler, anyway. With all sincerity, his offer to her included a proper wedding within three months before any visible signs of the pregnancy, in Portland, and at the church of her choosing, since he was Jewish and to him a house of God was just that.


So, reluctantly, Cheryl packed both their Tourister bags with a few essentials and within twenty-four hours they were on a red-eye to Las Vegas for the joyous event. The ceremony amounted to a very cheerful and cheesy Justice of the Peace checking their paperwork, asking very few questions, and pronouncing them man and wife in a small chapel the size of a one-bedroom apartment. Not very romantic, but it completed the task at hand which was to show up two days later in Portland as Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence Hathaway. From there, they would find living accommodations so that Larry could start work at the DA's office on Monday morning, the 3rd of November.


Cheryl was very good at computers and went to the Portland library as soon as they arrived and spent hours searching Craig’s List for available apartments. It would have to be two bedrooms in case they couldn’t move in until after the baby was born. Larry made it clear to her that she didn’t have to tell anyone about her pregnancy because she could have become pregnant while living in the apartment and it would never constitute grounds to cancel a lease if the building didn't permit children.


As a result, Cheryl was able to find them a condo, in an Adult Only building that leased chiefly to fifty-year old plus tenants, except when they had a unit that languished empty. Not being rented now in the late fall could mean that it would not be rented until early spring at the earliest. Cheryl was insightful enough to negotiate a discount in the rental rate in exchange for which she promised that they would sign a lease. Larry was certainly happy about that.


This building was quieter than most, which would make Larry's work a lot easier if he could take his cases home when circumstances permitted and work there without suffering through noisy disturbances of other people's unruly children. A bit elitist, according to Cheryl, but Larry knew he had more important things to worry about right now than keeping an intrusive homeowner’s association happy.


Larry arrived at the DA's office a bit early, at seven forty-five. He was in time for his interview as all the previous screenings had taken place on Skype making this meeting more of a formality. They had already reviewed his grades, standing in his class, participation in the Law Review, etcetera and they seemed very impressed with him as a future member of their team.


He knocked on Stan Rollins’s door and was greeted by a booming voice inviting him to enter the office, which looked more like a mountain cabin than any government law office he had ever seen. There were graphic hunting pictures interspersed with various plaques that looked like awards of merit, accented with trophies for shooting competitions around the US and Canada. In the corner of the office was a diminutive brown bear that had been stuffed and stood poised for attack on an unsuspecting victim. Near the top of one wall were two large catfish, symbols of someone’s angling prowess. Stan's desk was a massive oak, hand-carved antique. The two chairs facing it looked like they belonged in an exclusive men’s club. Topping it all off in the entrance to the office was a huge black bear rug, complete with head and glass eyes that were enough to horrify any man with any feelings of animal compassion.


Stan rose and strode towards him with outreached hand to meet Larry's for a brisk and hearty shaking. Larry's head was pounding and he couldn't help but wonder if this situation was going to be an improvement over going to work for his father who was just as weird in his own special way.


“Mr. Rollins, thank you....”


“Just call me Stan. We're not very formal around here, as you can see.”


He smiled and motioned to Larry to take a seat while he sat and reached for his coffee, which looked as if it was already cold and bitter, even from across the desk. Stan took quick swig and as he did so, he glanced up at Larry’s uncertainty and visible chagrin.


“I'm sorry, can I get you a cup of coffee? I have this coffeemaker here with individual choices of flavored coffee. Let me see...” Larry could see Stan was calculating the choices as he spoke.


“There's plain coffee, of course, and then flavored coffees…” Stan hesitated for a split second as he squinted against the sun’s rays that were still low in the November morning sky, making it difficult to see a man’s face across the desk. This guy is trying to impress me, Larry thought. I don't know why he's trying to do that. I'm the candidate here. There must be something I'm missing.


Stan was about forty-five, tall and clean-shaven other than a large handlebar moustache meticulously trimmed and obviously worn with a great deal of pride. He dressed in a sixties version of what might be termed Western Office, replete with black Tony Lama cowboy boots and a hand-carved thick leather belt complimented by a large, silver Jack Daniels belt buckle. His hands looked almost as large as his boots and on his right hand he wore a gold ring with a large ruby stone as big as a penny.


“I know about your background,” he continued, “Your father and all. We don't usually get an applicant of your caliber who seeks out an office like ours for employment.”


Larry took a deep breath and suppressed a sigh of remorse. He couldn't let this guy get to him because his whole plan would fall apart and the only backup he had was his father. He really was trapped, in every sense of the word. Larry thought about it for a few seconds before answering. More than anything he wanted to communicate to Stan Rollins that he wasn't about to play his game.


He said, “Excuse me. Why would anyone in your office do a personal background check on me? Do you think there was authorization for that hidden in my application or resume somewhere?”


“We're pretty efficient here, I have to admit. In answer to your question, no. You didn't authorize anything of that nature. But we have our ways, as the saying goes.”


Stan pushed his chair back a bit when he was finished. He sat motionless now with a Cheshire cat grin on his face and his hands crossed over his belly with his fingers interlaced like he was an actor in a low-budget detective movie waiting for Larry to make the next move.


Larry had to get the upper hand in Rollins’s game or he was finished.


He said, “Excuse me,” in the most officious and obnoxious tone he could muster. “I think, just maybe, you don’t really understand what I’m trying to say here. I came across the country relying on the integrity of this office to take a job here that I believed I was educated for and competent to do only to find that your staff has taken the liberty with the information I'd given to dig into my private life which is no concern to anyone but me.” He paused dramatically. “I don't like that.”


“Ah, come on, Larry.” As he said this Stan reached down to the bottom drawer of the desk and pulled out a bottle of Jim Beam and then continued to reach further to the back of the same drawer and pull out two shot glasses between his fingers. He placed the glasses on the desk and immediately started pouring the liquor to defuse the situation. While Larry wasn’t the least bit impressed by this man, he was certainly aware that accepting this job was a necessity that could not be argued with.


When Stan was finished pouring the drinks he pushed one of the glasses toward Larry with one hand and grabbed up the other glass to offer a toast. “Here's to a long and successful relationship.”


Larry knew there was no other way to handle the situation with Stan if he wanted to reach his objectives so he picked up his glass and the two men toasted and drank which completed the most important part of the interview. Larry was onboard with the DA's office. The rest of his time could be devoted to getting settled and taking care of Cheryl who would be a lot more difficult to please than he cared to think about.


Looking back, graduating from law school was nothing compared to this new juggling act.


The worst was yet to come, or so he feared.





















CHAPTER 5



When Larry arrived back at the condo complex he was greeted by two large crates standing like sentinels at the front entrance of the building. The unpainted plywood containers were massive, and looked like a shipment to someone, but had just been dumped at the door, and had technically qualified as being “delivered”. A trucker had just dropped them off without being signed for or claimed. Two men in their fifties were standing beside one of the boxes, one smoking a pipe, while the other appeared to be examining the shipment and offering advice on who needed to be notified or which unit should be told of the shipment. Larry’s stomach churned when he saw the crates, wondering if Cheryl had somehow managed to have the things she left behind packed by a friend and sent on to her here. She was very good at getting things organized and she didn't really want to give up on her personal treasures and comforts.


Larry said hello and one of the two men offered his hand, introducing himself as Alex Gordon.


“This is my friend, Henry Kinbote from the Homeowner's Association.”


Everyone shook hands and Alex, who had taken it on himself to be in charge, informed Larry that the shipment was evidently intended for him and offered him any help he could give including lending him a dolly or hand truck. Before Larry could get his thoughts together to answer Alex’s questions, he noticed Henry had disappeared. Just as quickly Henry re-appeared with a battered red hand truck and a carpenter's belt containing a hammer, screwdriver and, most important of all, a crowbar to pry open the shipment. With the help of his new friends, Larry had both crates open in no time at all and all three started to unload them and ferry the boxes into the condo while Henry stood at the door, holding it open to expedite the process.


“I can't imagine what my wife was thinking or how she managed to get all of this past me.” Larry spoke with abashed astonishment.


The other two men just smiled knowingly. Alex, who was the self appointed leader of the pack said, “You are a newlywed, I presume.”


At this comment, Larry realized he was smiling without any intention to do so and it was obvious what the answer was. He said, “Yes. I guess you have more experience with these things.”


“Ah, yes. Women don't always ask, and when you find out what's going on it very often has already happened.”


“Usually it's pretty harmless,” Alex said kindheartedly. He could tell that Larry was very anxious and a little blindsided by this delivery, which was clearly something he knew nothing about.


“It's okay. She arranged for the condo and offered to make all the arrangements for the move.”


“Well, then she's done a good job,” Henry said and smiled, trying to be as encouraging as he could, under the circumstances. As soon as the last item was in the condo, Henry offered to take Larry and Alex to the Rod and Gun Club, which was a small local pub, for a quick beer before anybody's wife could find them to assign something else for them to do.


Larry wanted to start work but, instead, joined his two new buddies to enjoy some local color. The pub was just around the block from the apartment building and Henry led the way, walking quite briskly as though he was leading some sort of scouting mission, while leaving Larry and Alex to cover his six. When they arrived at the “Club”, as Henry referred to it, they seated themselves at the bar, Henry jumped right in as soon as the bartender took their order and ordered Guinness Draft all around. Apparently, Henry had been stifling his hunger without complaint, and ordered two-dozen of their famous Buzzard Wings and a plate of nachos as well. The waiter just kept bringing food and the bartender kept drawing beer. The stories grew longer and more involved and the afternoon that Larry had been slated to complete his work for the next at the DA's office was now being spent partying with and forming a new group of cohorts.


Henry was a practical man, a retired engineer who loved to talk about cars, car repair and anything to do with an engine and the way it either functioned or failed to function. Alex was just your everyday ordinary nice guy who had gone from one job to another most of his life. The interesting thing about him was that he had worked as a volunteer in the Portland police department ever since his brother, a senior detective, had been caught in a shootout in downtown Portland. This brother, Steve, had been investigating a gang of traffickers dealing in cocaine when one of them sensed that there was a snitch at work and started shooting. Bullets flew everywhere and when the dust settled, Steve was dead. Alex probably knew more about the dirt that made the city go around than anybody else he might meet, Steve having been buried fifteen years earlier.


Even though there was no real use for any of this information for him now, Larry could see how Alex could become the “go to” person for info that might be needed on his job in the future. Larry also decided the afternoon, aside from being a hell of a lot of fun, could also be a wellspring of information that might not have been available to him otherwise.


Alex loved to rant and, with his brother dead, had free range, in his mind at least, to say whatever he thought might be appropriate with no sense of danger or retribution. How reliable all this information was remained to be seen. For right now it sounded credible. Larry was absorbed in this conversation, which ranged from city crime to local politics. The real fact of the matter was all this information was great from Larry's point of view. He would worry about verifying it later.


By the time the sun sank below the city skyline, the bartender must have decided the boys had enough and the bill appeared on the bar. Alex was so pleased with himself and his verbal expose that he slapped down a hundred-dollar bill to punctuate his treatise and drive home his pronouncements.


Henry seemed just as pleased with the free lunch as Larry and when the bartender started to pick up the money, Alex said graciously, “Just keep the change, Joe, that was a great spread!”


The three men left the bar and started back to the condo on foot without a care in the world. It was much later now and Larry was worried that Cheryl might make it home before he did.


“Hey guys, let's pick up the pace a bit.”


“Uh-oh, Larry is in trouble,” Alex said jokingly.


“No, Larry's not in trouble. He's a newlywed, and hasn't been married long enough to get himself in that deep.” Henry had this all figured out, too.


“We'll cover for him though, right?” Alex said reassuringly.


“You better believe it.”


“We're the new Formidable Three and the terror of Hycroft Towers!” Alex smiled.


They guffawed and walked faster for home, hoping not to be missed by anyone. Their wish was fulfilled. They arrived just as the delivery truck was picking up the empty crates. They all shook hands and went off in separate directions with no one the wiser.


No one would ever guess.






















CHAPTER 6



Larry was in luck. Cheryl didn't arrive home for about another hour and by that time he had unpacked a lot of the boxes, putting away their contents. Their place was a shambles, but he had found a coupon in the mailbox and was all set to order a pizza and whatever else Cheryl's heart desired after her exhausting day trying to take care of all the utilities and other details inherent in a long-range move. His need for an alibi had disappeared along with his fear of an impending argument. Although arguments were his forte, with her they always seemed to fall somewhat short of a decisive win.


“So how was your day?” she asked dryly as she dropped her handbag on the couch.


“Okay.” He smiled. “Yeah, I got a lot done today and I feel a lot better about this place now than I did when we arrived here. That's for sure.”


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