The man in the holding cell loosened his tie, tossed his rumpled suit coat into a corner, and stretched out on the hard plastic bench. The woman in the facing cell slipped out of her glen plaid jacket, folded it carefully across an arm, and began pacing.
"Relax, Vickie. We're gonna be here a while," the man said.
"Victoria, " the woman corrected. Her angry footsteps echoed off the bare concrete floor.
"Wild guess. You've never been held in contempt before."
"You treat it like a badge of honor."
"A lawyer who's afraid of jail is like a surgeon who's afraid of blood," Steve Solomon said.
"From what I hear, you spend more time behind bars than your clients," Victoria Lord said.
"Hey, thanks. Great tag line for my radio spots. 'You do the crime, Steve does the time.' "
"You're the most unethical lawyer I know."
"You're new at this. Give it time."
"Sleazy son-of-a-bitch," she muttered, turning away.
"I heard that," he said.
Nice profile, he thought. Attractive in that polished, cool-as-a-daiquiri way. Long legs, small bust, sculpted jaw, an angular, athletic look. Green eyes spiked with gray and a tousled, honey-blond bird's nest of hair. Ballsy and sexy, too. He'd never heard "sleazy son-of-a-bitch" sound so seductive.
"If you weren't so arrogant," he said, "I could teach you a few courtroom tricks."
"Save your breath for your inflatable doll."
"Cheap shot. That was a trial exhibit."
"Really? People have seen the doll in your car. Fully inflated."
"It rides shotgun so I can use the car-pool lane."
She walked toward the cell door. Shadows of the bars pin-striped her face. "I know your record, Solomon. I know all about you."
"If you've been stalking me, I'm gonna get a restraining order."
"You make a mockery of the law."
"I make up my own. Solomon's Laws. Rule Number One: 'When the law doesn't work, work the law.' "
"They should lock you up."
"Actually, they already have."
"You're a disgrace to the profession."
"Aw, c'mon. Where's your heart, Vickie?"
"Victoria! And I don't have one. I'm a prosecutor."
"I'll bet you think Jean Valjean belonged in prison."
"He stole the bread, didn't he?"
"You'd burn witches at the stake."
"Not until they exhausted all their appeals." She laughed, a sparkle of electricity.
Damn, she's good at this.
Fending off his mishegoss, trumping his insults with her own. Something else appealed to him, too. No wedding band and no engagement ring. Ms. Victoria Lord, rookie prosecutor, seemed to be unattached as well as argumentative. Maybe twenty-eight. Seven years younger than him.
"If you need any help around the courthouse," he said, "I'd be willing to mentor you."
"Is that what they're calling it these days?"
Touché. But she'd said it with a smile. Maybe this wasn't so much combat as foreplay. Another parry, another thrust, who knows? The more he thought about it, the more confident he became.
She likes me. She really likes me.
I hate him.
I really hate him, Victoria decided.
Dammit, she'd been warned about Solomon. He always tested new prosecutors, baited them into losing their cool, lured them into mistrials. And she wasn't totally "new." She'd handled arraignments and preliminary hearings for eight months. And hadn't she won her first two felony trials? Of course, neither one had involved Steve Slash-and-Burn Solomon.
"You gotta know, the contempt citation is all your fault," he said from the facing cell.
She wouldn't give him the pleasure of saying, Why?
Or, Go screw yourself.
"You should never call opposing counsel a 'total fucking shark' in open court," he continued. "Save it for recess."
"You called me a 'persecutor.' "
"A slip of the tongue."
"You're incorrigible." "Lose the big words. You'll confuse the jurors. Judges, too."
Victoria stopped pacing. It was stifling in the cell, and her feet were killing her. She wanted to pry off her ankle-strapped Prada pumps, but if she stood on this disgustingly sticky floor, she'd have to burn her panty hose. The plaid pencil skirt was uncomfortable, a tad too tight. Now she wished she'd taken the time to let it out before coming to court. Especially after catching Solomon, the pig, staring at her ass.
She saw him now, sprawled on the bench, hands behind his head, like a beach bum in a hammock. He had a dark shock of unruly hair, eyes filled with mischief, and a self-satisfied grin, like he'd just pinned a "Kick Me" note on her fanny. God, he was infuriating.
She couldn't wait to get back into the courtroom and convict his lowlife client. But just now, she felt exhausted. The adrenaline rush was ebbing, the lack of sleep was fogging her mind. All those hours practicing in front of the mirror.
"Ladies and gentlemen, you will hear the testimony of Customs and Wildlife Officers..."
Maybe she was going about this the wrong way. How many times had she had researched the legal issues, prepped her witnesses, rehearsed her opening statement?
". . . who will testify that the defendant, Amancio Pedrosa, did unlawfully smuggle contraband, to wit, four parakeets, three parrots, two cockatoos . . ."
And a partridge in a pear tree.
Maybe she'd burned herself out. Maybe that's why she'd cracked today. Had she looked ridiculous pushing a grocery cart overflowing with boxes to the prosecution table? There was Solomon, holding a single yellow pad, and there she was, weighted down with books, research folders, and color-coded index cards bristling with notes.
Even though she despised Solomon, she did envy his brash confidence. The way he glided across the courtroom, skating to the clerk's table, flashing an easy smile at the jurors. He was lean and wiry and graceful, comfortable in his own skin. When she rose to speak, she felt stiff and mechanical. All those eyes staring at her, judging her. Would she ever have his self-assurance?
An hour earlier, she hadn't even realized she was being held in contempt. Judge Gridley never used the word. He just formed a T with his hands and drawled, "Time-out, y'all. This ain't gonna look good on the instant replay." It was only then that she remembered that the judge was a part-time college football official.
"Mr. Solomon, you oughta know better," Judge Gridley continued. "Miss Lord, you're gonna have to learn. When I say that's enough bickering, that's by-God enough. No hitting after the whistle in my courtroom. Bailiff, show these two squabblers to our finest accommodations."
How humiliating. What would she say to her boss? She remembered Ray Pincher's "two strikes" orientation lecture: "If you're held in contempt, you'll feel blue. If it happens again, you'll be through."
But she wouldn't let it happen again. When they got back into the courtroom, she'd . . .
Something was stuck on the velvet toe of her pump.
A sheet of toilet paper!
Grimacing, she scraped it off with the bottom of her other shoe. What else could go wrong?
"Hey, Lord, we're gonna be in here a while." That aggravating voice from the other cell. "So here are the ground rules. When one person has to pee, the other turns around."
She shot a look at the seatless, metal toilet bowl.
Right. As if I'd squat over that fondue pot of festering bacteria.
When she didn't respond, he said: "You still there or you bust out?" Somewhere, deep inside the walls, the plumbing groaned and water gurgled. "Suit yourself, but I gotta take a leak."
What a jerk.
Solomon was one of those men you run into in bars and gyms, she thought, so clueless as to believe they're both witty and charming.
"No peeking," he said.
There was a plague of these men, with a sizable percentage becoming lawyers.
"Unzipping now . . ."
Dear God, scrunch his scrotum, zipper his balls.
"Ahhh," he sighed, the tinkle-tinkle sounding like hailstones on a tin roof. "Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall," he sang out. "Ninety-nine bottles of beer . . ." "I didn't realize they still made men like you," Victoria Lord said.
I'm getting through to her, Steve thought. Sure, she was still playing that old I am strong, I am invincible, I am wo-man shtick, but he sensed a shift in her mood.
There seemed to be something different about the feisty Ms. Lord. Nothing like the court stenographers he usually dated. Quiet, rather submissive women who transcribed whatever they heard. And nothing like the SoBe models, whose brains must have been fried by exposure to so many strobe lights.
He remembered looking around the courtroom when Victoria rose to address the judge. All the players--from his shifty client to the sleepy bailiff--had been riveted. Jurors, witnesses, cops, probation officers, jailers, clerks, public defenders. Hell, everybody watched her, even when he was talking. Yeah, she was a natural, with the kind of pizzazz they can't teach in law school.
Maybe the best rookie I've ever seen.
Of course, she had a rigid prosecutorial mentality, but he could work on that, once she forgave him for suckering her into contempt. Not that he minded the downtime. To him, this eight-by-eight cell was a cozy second home, a pied-a-terre with a view of the Miami River from the barred window. Hell, they ought to put his name on the door, like a luxury suite at Pro Player Stadium. Failing that, he scribbled on the cell wall:
"Beating the state's butt for nine years"
Call UBE-FREE, 822-3733
Steve preferred to defend the truly innocent, but where would he find them? If people didn't lie, cheat, and steal, he figured he'd be starving, instead of clearing about the same as a longshoreman at the Port of Miami who worked overtime and stole an occasional crate of whiskey. Steve usually settled for what he called "honest criminals," felons who ran afoul of technicalities that would not be illegal in a live-and-let-live society. Bookies, hookers, or entrepreneurs like today's client, Amancio Pedrosa, who imported exotic animals with a blithe disregard of the law.
Steve glanced into Victoria's cell. She had resumed pacing, a tigress in a cage. Her tailored plaid jacket was draped over an arm. An expensive outfit, he was sure, but wrong for the jury. The high neck accentuated her--well, stiff-neckedness. She should ditch that Puritan look, get something open at the collar, a bright blouse underneath. The matching skirt was fine, a little tighter than he'd expect on the prim prosecutor. A nice ass for someone so flat on top.
"What do you say, after we get out, we hit Bayside, dive into a pitcher of margaritas?" he said.
"I'd rather drink from the toilet bowl."
Keeping her distance for now, he thought. Made sense as long as they were in trial. "Okay, let's wait till we get a verdict. Win or lose, I'll treat you to tapas."
"I'd die of starvation first."
"You might not be aware, but over the years, I've tutored several young women prosecutors."
"I'm aware you've bedded down a few. And rifled their briefcases in the middle of the night."
"Don't believe everything you hear in the cafeteria."
"You're one of those toxic bachelors, a serial seducer. The only thing that shocks me is that some women find you attractive."
Have I missed a signal? Shouldn't she be warming up by now?
"I'll bet any relationship you've had, the woman always ended it," she said.
"My nephew lives with me and scares most women off," Steve said.
"He scares them off?"
"He's kind of a reverse chick magnet."
"That sort of thing genetic?" she asked.
An hour later, her feet still ached and the toilet still gurgled, but at least Solomon had shut up. Victoria hoped he understood that she had no interest in him. You hit some men with a frying pan, they think you're going to make them an omelette.
But as annoying as she found him, the sparring did help pass the time. And if nothing else, jousting with Solomon might sharpen her courtroom tactics. The trick was not to let him provoke her once they were back in front of judge and jury. She made a vow. Even if he led a herd of elephants into the courtroom, she would maintain a Zen-like tranquillity.
If I get back into the courtroom.
She wondered if word had reached Ray Pincher that she'd been sent to the slammer. A shudder went through her, and suddenly she felt both alone and afraid.
Awfully quiet over there, Steve thought, trying to see her through the shadows.
What was she thinking right now? Uptown girl inhaling the stale sweat and toxic cleansers of her own private Alcatraz. Probably planning what she'd tell her boss, that pious phony Ray Pincher. Scared he'd demote her to Traffic Court.
Had he gone too far, Steve wondered, baiting her into those outbursts? Judge Gridley's contempt citations were sort of like calling unsportsmanlike conduct on both teams. But would Pincher understand? Did he even recognize Lord's potential?
Dammit, Steve thought, beginning to feel regretful. He hadn't wanted to hurt her. He was just trying to have some fun while defending his client.
Another worry, too. His nephew, Bobby, barely eleven, was home alone. If Steve was late, who knows what might happen? One day last week, when he rushed through the door just after seven, the kid announced he'd already made dinner. Sure enough, Bobby had found a dead sparrow on the street, covered it with tomato sauce, zonked it in the microwave for an hour, and called it "roasted quail marinara." It had been easier to throw out the microwave than to clean it.
If he ever dated Victoria, he'd introduce her to Bobby, his relationship litmus test. If she responded to the boy's sweetness and warmth--if she saw past his disability--she might be a contender. But if she was repulsed by Bobby's semi-autistic behavior, Steve would toss her out with his empty bottles of tequila.
Now what the hell was going on? Did he just hear a sniffle?
I will not cry, Victoria told herself.
She didn't know what had come over her. A feeling of being totally inadequate. A loser and a failure and a fraud. Dammit, what baggage had spilled out of the closet without her even knowing it?
"You okay?" Steve Solomon called out.
Shit, what did he want now? A lone tear tracked down her face, and then another. Great. Her mascara would turn to mud.
"Hey, everything all right?" he asked.
"Look, I'm sorry if I--"
"Shut up, okay?"
The clatter of footsteps and the jangle of keys interrupted them. Moments later, a man's voice echoed down the dim passageway. "Ready to go back to work?"
"Go away, Woody," Steve said. "You're disturbing my nap."
Elwood Reed, the elderly bailiff, skinny as an axe blade in his baggy brown uniform, appeared in front of their cells. He hitched up his pants. "Mr. Pincher wants to see both of you, pronto."
A chill went through Victoria. Pincher could fire her in an instant.
"Tell Pincher I don't work for him," Steve said.
"Tell him yourself," Reed said, fishing for the right key. "He's waiting in Judge Gridley's chambers and he ain't happy."
Reed unlocked their cells, and they headed down the passageway, Steve whistling a tune, jarringly off-key, and Victoria praying she still had a job.