BY: VIVIAN RHODES
In order to exonerate his client of murder charges, Defense Attorney Sam Paris enlists the aid of Shannon Clark, an attractive psychiatrist best known for her bestselling but controversial book about the effects of oxytocin, better known as “the love glue”, a hormone that can presumably cause a woman to become dangerously attached to and obsessed with the man with whom she is sexually intimate. As Sam becomes romantically involved with the doctor, he learns that she has issues of her own and indeed may be more dangerous and violent than the woman he is defending.
Lisa Phillips’s bedroom was more like an eight-year-old girl than that of a thirty-two-year-old woman. Lavender walls were bordered with a trim of Laura Ashley pink and purple floral wallpaper. Her canopied bed sat on a large, braided rug that covered most of the bedroom floor, and the bedding ensemble, which included a rich amethyst dust ruffle, complimented the color scheme.
Propped up on a rocking chair by the side of her bed was a Raggedy Ann doll Lisa had owned since she was a child. She had amassed an impressive collection of dolls, but Raggedy Ann was the only one she kept in her bedroom.
The doll seemed to be peering down on Lisa now as she stretched across her bed and performed oral sex on Mitch Lewis, her long blonde tresses spilling across his thighs.
Lisa peeked up now and again to observe his reaction. Mitch seemed oblivious to her presence, so focused was he on the pleasure he was deriving from her remarkable skills. Lisa didn’t care. She loved being able to give this gift to the man whom she so adored. They had been together a few months now, and Lisa discovered, to her surprise, that he wasn’t like any of the other losers she had dated before. Maybe, just maybe, her luck had changed.
When he finally climaxed, he sighed with pleasure and exhaustion. Lisa wrapped her arms around him.
“Good?” she asked softly. He replied with a groan.
A quick flash of lightning illuminated the bedroom before the midnight sky belched out its roar of thunder. Lisa listened to the sudden rain that followed as it smacked against her window. She watched Mitch as he drifted off to sleep.
He had the classic looks of John F. Kennedy Jr. Black wavy hair and brown, puppy-dog eyes. His full lips might have seemed almost effeminate had it not been for the tiny scar still visible in the crevice between his nose and upper lip. She traced her finger along Mitch’s jaw then pointed to her rain-splattered window. “I think it’s kind of romantic, don’t you?”
“What?” Mitch yawned, “Oh yeah, right. Very.”
“I love you, Mitch,” she whispered in his ear.
Mitch reached over and tousled her hair. “Yeah, me too.” With that said, he rolled onto his side, away from Lisa. “Mind getting the light, babe?”
Before turning off the small lamp on her nightstand, Lisa glanced around the room. She had staged it for a night of intimacy: orchids strategically placed in vases throughout the room, scented candles. She thought of playing some music, something sweet and sexy, but she knew that was a bit over the top. Mitch would have thought it corny.
On the other hand, she couldn’t be too sure what Mitch would have thought, not lately. Lately, he seemed distant. Or perhaps she was reading too much into it, fearful because of the paths she had traveled with previous lovers.
Maybe Mitch was just tired. After all, as a financial advisor with many clients, he was generally under a good deal of stress, which could easily take its toll on a person. That must be it, Lisa assured herself. He was just tired and overworked.
Feeling a bit more reassured, Lisa switched off the lamp, blew out the one candle that remained lit, and curled her body, spooning the man to whom she had grown so attached.
Four days later, Lisa was standing in Hildy’s Donut shop, carefully examining the freshly baked pastries. Hildy, a stout woman in her forties, smiled at her. As usual, she wore a pale blue uniform and an apron tied around her thick waist.
“You’re here early today, Lisa,” Hildy observed in her thick, Eastern European accent.
“Yes, but I can’t seem to make up my mind this morning, Hildy,” Lisa answered, her eyes scanning the shelves.
“Take your time, darling,” Hildy said. “A new man in your life you’re trying to impress with my donuts, yes?”
Lis winced, “That obvious?”
“I’ve known you for quite a while now,” Hildy laughed. “So? Is he a chocolate kind of guy? Because you know, chocolate glazed is our best seller.”
Lisa thought about Hildy’s question a moment. “To tell you the truth, I’m not sure what kind of guy Mitch is. Why don’t I just get an assortment?”
Hildy began placing chocolate glazed, custard-filled, lemon frosted, and other colorful pastries in a pink box she pulled from beneath the counter. “Maybe your Mitch is a man who likes variety, yes?”
“I’m afraid he is,” Lisa replied solemnly.
Lisa drove her cherry red Infiniti over the bridge and headed for Williamsburg, a small enclave in Northern Brooklyn. Once a gritty neighborhood dominated by four-story walk-ups, Williamsburg had gone through significant gentrification over the past decade.
The primary demographic was, at one time, almost exclusively made up of ultra-orthodox Hasidic Jews who, in their distinctive clothing that beckoned back to sixteenth-century Poland, walked from their apartments to the many shuls, or temples, in the area. They hadn’t entirely deserted Williamsburg. On summer days, men dressed in floor-length black coats and fur hats and women dressed in long-sleeved blouses could be seen strolling the streets quite frequently, usually trailed by several of their many children.
After its recent transformation, the Hasidic Jews were joined by yuppies who sought relief from Manhattan’s skyrocketing rentals. Though the hipster culture was now prominent, kosher butcher shops peeked out between the trendy gastropubs and yoga studios that abound.
Lisa maneuvered her car around the early morning traffic still in full gear along Bedford Avenue. Before driving down a tree-lined street, she made several turns and ended up a few doors away from Mitch Lewis’s modest but elegantly renovated brownstone.
Shrewd negotiator that he was, Mitch had seen the neighborhood’s potential well before the surging crowds and had purchased the brownstone for a pittance. True, he had put some major money into the renovations, but it was worth it. His home was now valued at a much higher price. He was so smart about things like that, Lisa thought.
Scooping up her bakery box, she got out of her car and headed for the brownstone. As she walked up the steps, the door opened, and she saw Mitch, dressed in an Armani suit and ready for a day’s work. Before he could say anything, Lisa gave him a radiant smile. “Good morning.”
“Lisa! What are you doing here?” He stared at her with an expression of surprise tinged with guilt.
Lisa blushed, holding up the pink box. “I brought breakfast. Freshly baked donuts.”
“You drove all the way to Brooklyn to bring me donuts?” He tried not to seem it, but Lisa could tell he was irritated. “Look, babe, I’m late for work. I’ve really got to get a move on.”
Lisa shifted from one foot to another and hesitated before finally getting the nerve to ask the question which had motivated her to drive there in the first place. “Mitch, why haven’t you phoned me? Or answered my texts? Is it something that I’ve said? Or done? Because if it is—”
Mitch cut her off. “No, no, it’s nothing like that,” he assured her, tugging at his tie uncomfortably. “It’s just that I’ve had a lot on my plate lately. Look, I’ll give you a call later, and we’ll catch up.” He hurried down the stairs, brushing right past her.
Lisa was stunned and unsure of what to say next. Maybe she should try a different approach. “Are you driving to work today, or do you need a ride to the subway?” she asked.
“I’m good, but I really have to run. We’ll talk, okay?” He looked up at her briefly, then turned away and quickly jogged down the street.
She stood on the steps, clutching the pink box that was now growing grease stains, and watched him disappear into the distance, his words still echoing in her mind: We’ll talk.
But they never did.
Jeannie Yeager was in her mid-fifties but looked fifteen years younger. Today she was wearing a cream-colored satin blouse and a simple black skirt. A double strand of Mikimoto pearls hung loosely around her neck, a gift from her ex-husband on their last anniversary. Nurturing by nature, Jeannie was often thought of as a mother hen, seeing to it that everyone employed by the firm of Larraby, Stern, and Colson had their needs tended to, whether they wanted it or not.
Having worked for the firm as a receptionist over many years, she learned the delicate art of discretion, juggling the calls of wives, girlfriends, and mistresses. As she was getting off the phone, she heard bellowing laughter coming down the hallway, indicating that the guys were returning from lunch and that Jim Davis had no doubt been telling another one of his dumb, off-color jokes.
The door opened, and Jim and Mitch Lewis entered the reception area. Mitch was still guffawing along with Jim and was about to pass the reception desk when Jeannie held up her hand.
“Not so fast. I have something for you,” Jeannie told Mitch, crooking her finger.
Mitch walked over to Jeannie’s desk. “Go on, Jim,” he told his friend. “I’ll be right in. What’s up, Jeannie?”
“You have to sign for it,” Jeannie said, holding out a slip of paper on a clipboard.
“Oh no.” Mitch winced, shaking his head in disbelief. “Not again.”
“This one’s kind of cute,” Jeannie replied as she took the clipboard from him and reached below her desk to retrieve something. She emerged with an over-stuffed Teddy Bear, whose chest bore a bright red heart, and handed it to Mitch along with an envelope. “That’s the note that came with it.”
He opened the envelope and read the note aloud: “Sorry I’ve been so needy, xoxo, Lees. Jesus!” He crumpled the paper and dropped it on Jeannie’s desk, shoving the bear back into her arms.
“Excuse me for saying anything, Mitch, but I thought there was a new woman in your life,” Jeannie said. She knew all about Mitch’s shenanigans and the women that passed through his life like a revolving door.
“There is,” he said, frowning. “Trouble is the old one refuses to let go.”
“I should have your problems,” Jeannie muttered. She looked down at the bear. “What should I do with it?”
Mitch shrugged, “Same as you did with the other crap. Throw it out. Donate it. I don’t care.”
With an audible sigh of disapproval, Jeannie tossed the bear into a box containing other gifts Lisa had sent. Mitch took out his phone and texted Lisa: Leave me alone. It’s over. He held the phone up for Jeannie to see.
“Pretty harsh, don’t you think?” Jeannie remarked as she returned to her computer.
Mitch considered this for a moment. “You know what they say: sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind.”
“Still, if you ask my opinion—,” Jeannie began. Then she looked up to see that Mitch had already left the room before she could share her views with him. There was one thing for certain: Jeannie was grateful that Mitch Lewis wasn’t dating her daughter.
The following evening Mitch, stoked, drove home from Citi Field. The Mets had slaughtered the Phillies tonight, and he had some good money riding on the game. Mitch had fond memories of himself attending Mets games with his dad. That’s when the team had played at Shea Stadium, of course. Since its demolition in 2008, the former stadium had become a parking lot for Citi Field. The new replacing the old, Mitch reasoned. Same thing happened at Larraby, Stern, and Colson regularly, which was one reason he always tried to stay two steps ahead of the game. The fear of being replaced by “fresh blood” was never far from his psyche.
Wanting to take his mind off work, he let his thoughts wander to the plans he had made for the weekend. He had halfheartedly committed to visiting his sister and her family in Fair Lawn on Saturday. He didn’t enjoy the drive to Jersey, but he only made it out there a few times a year. Besides, he got a kick out of his six-year-old nephew, Brian. Now that the kid was really into baseball—
Mitch glanced into his rear-view mirror, suddenly aware that a car had been trailing close behind him ever since he had left the stadium. His heart sank. No, it couldn’t be. Only it was. He recognized Lisa’s Infiniti with the stupid little Kewpie doll that sat on the dashboard.
“Fucking A!” Mitch slapped the steering wheel. What the hell was she thinking, stalking him like this? He thought about pulling over, getting out of the car, and confronting her, but that would just make things worse. Instead, he waited for the light to change, then he hit the accelerator and floored it. He made a few turns and was able to lose her in a matter of minutes.
He pulled into the first gas station he saw, took out his cell, and punched in 911.
An operator answered and said, “You’ve reached 911. Is this an emergency?”
“Damn straight it is,” Mitch said, “Who do I contact to take out a restraining order?”
Lisa caught a glimpse of herself in the rear-view mirror as she headed home. The reflection made her cringe. Her clear, denim-blue eyes were bloodshot—a testament to the lack of sleep she had had lately, and her skin, usually velvety-smooth and flawless, was blotchy and swollen with tears. She felt old and used up.
What had possessed her to follow Mitch home from the baseball game? He must have spotted her when he took off after the light changed. What had she accomplished? Nothing. But she couldn’t seem to help herself. It was as though she were watching another person, a different Lisa, relentlessly following the man like…well, like some pathetic act of desperation.
She glanced out the window and saw a group of what looked to be college students laughing as they trickled out of a local bar. They had probably just been carded and thrown out on their asses.
It occurred to her that she hadn’t been to an AA meeting in over two weeks, and while it was true she hadn’t gone off the wagon, she knew how important attending those meetings was. She was going on four years clean and sober and was proud of it. Still, it was a daily battle to stay that way, especially when things got really, really bad.
The kids were still lingering in front of the bar. Lisa stared at the neon sign that read, “Tony’s,” a sign that seemed to be beckoning her. She debated only for a moment before continuing her drive home.
At 6 o’clock on a late Saturday afternoon, when most people were either completing their weekend chores or preparing to go out for the evening, Lisa, ignoring the restraining order, drove her car over the Williamsburg Bridge and headed for Mitch’s brownstone. Her driving was erratic, but, fortunately for her, she seemed not to have been on the police radar that day.
Lisa attempted to pull into a spot in front of Mitch’s house. Tires screeching, her car jumped the curb, crashing into two trash cans, knocking them both over. The contents of the cans spilled onto the walkway but Lisa, her rage growing, stomped on eggshells and chicken bones, oblivious to the debris that now lies scattered on the ground.
She realized that she had drawn the attention of the Johnsons, a young family walking down their stairs with suitcases and two small children in tow. Though they were undoubtedly in a hurry to begin the trip they were going on, they stared in amazement as an inebriated Lisa marched up Mitch’s front steps with an unsteady gate. Lisa couldn’t care less. Fuck ‘em. Let them gawk, she thought.
She pounded her fist on his door. “Open up, you prick! I know that you’re in there!”
Karen Johnson, a kindergarten teacher who always considered the needs of children to be paramount, tried to usher her daughters into their Volvo sedan to protect them from the verbal onslaught she suspected would only escalate.
A moment later, Mitch, dressed in a robe, opened the door.
“Hiding from me, you fucker?” Lisa hissed, spitting out her slurred words.
“I think you should go,” Mitch replied as calmly as he could.
“I’ll go when I damn well please!” she sputtered. “I hear you’re seeing someone.”
“You’re drunk. I’m calling the police.” He removed his cell from a pocket in his robe.
Lisa ignored his threat. “So who is she? Doesn’t matter. Whoever she is, I hope she knows what kind of a scumbag she’s involved with.” She stuck her chin out, defiantly. “You lying piece of shit!”
Realizing she wasn’t going to leave on her own accord, Mitch decided to try to minimize Lisa’s tantrum and avoid a public scene. He had already gotten a disapproving glance from Eric Johnson, his neighbor, and he responded with an apologetic shrug.
“Come on, babe. This isn’t getting us anywhere.” Mitch told Lisa, placing a hand on her shoulder, which she shook free as if repelled by his touch.
“Lay one finger on me again, you bastard, and I’ll kill you!” she screamed.
“Hey! Something I can do to help, Mitch?” Eric Johnson asked though he hoped he wouldn’t have to get involved in what was basically a domestic situation. Hell, he didn’t even know this Mitch very well. Maybe the guy was only getting what he deserved.
“That’s okay, Eric,” Mitch said, holding up a hand, “I’ve got things under control.”
Johnson sighed with relief as he placed the last suitcase in the trunk of his car and then drove his family away from the turmoil.
Mitch turned back to Lisa and spoke very softly, trying his best to avoid another outburst. “Why don’t we take this inside, okay? We can talk things over in private. Rationally. What do you say?”
Hesitantly, Lisa nodded and followed Mitch into his house.
Vinny Barone had aspirations beyond his present occupation as a delivery boy for his Uncle Sal’s pizza parlor. Not that he could complain. Uncle Sal had always been a standup guy. He paid him well, and on a good night, Vinny could clear almost seventy-five dollars in tips, a fact that he didn’t share with Uncle Sal, or Uncle Sam for that matter. His uncle treated him fair, too, never getting pissed if the car smelled like weed when he returned it at the end of his shift or if he decided to make a stop at his girl’s house in-between orders.
What Vinny truly saw for himself was a career as a record producer. Okay, so he was short. Very short. And he wasn’t exactly Brad Pitt. But he wasn’t looking to be a star. He wanted to be a mover and shaker, and he didn’t think it mattered much what you looked like when it came to that. To that end, Vinny never left his house without putting on his silver St. Gregory medal. St. Gregory was the Patron Saint of Music, and Vinny thought he could use all the help he could get to land the plum job he desired.
He knew music. Really knew music. And his taste was eclectic too. He enjoyed rap, rock, country, reggae, and even that house and electronica shit, though only when he was truly stoned. He had not only been playing guitar for almost all of his seventeen years, but he also had a knack for knowing what the next trend in music would be. Sometimes he envisioned himself poolside at a fancy-ass Beverly Hills mansion making deals. All he needed was a fucking break.
He contemplated all of this as he took the stairs of Mitch’s house two at a time. Dressed in a wife-beater and jeans, Vinny balanced the extra-large meat and mushroom pie above his head, just like the cartoon on the box. He had been to Lewis’s place many times before. Cool dude—a little straight edge for Vinny’s taste, but a sharp dresser. Yeah, Vinny would say that for the man: he sure as hell knew how to wear his threads. And this Lewis guy was a damn good tipper too.
The door was slightly ajar, something Vinny thought strange. After all, the neighborhood may have been a lot safer than it used to be, but, shit, it was still New York.
He pushed the door open with one hand, holding on to the pizza box with the other. Stepping into the small hallway, Vinny shouted, “Pizza delivery. Mr. Lewis? It’s me, Vinny.”
Maybe he was in the shower or on the shitter and couldn’t hear him. Vinny entered the kitchen and was immediately accosted by the sweet, coppery smell of blood.
He dropped the box he was holding and heaved the calzone he had consumed only an hour before. Then he looked down at his undigested food and the ruined mess that was Uncle Sal’s Number 2 Special. Bright red marinara splattered across the floor, mixing with fresh pools of blood.
That’s when he took in the totality of the carnage. Blood was everywhere: on the granite countertops, the cherry wood cabinets, and even on the sub-zero, wood-paneled refrigerator.
Vinny momentarily felt another wave of nausea, and he managed to swallow it back, but by the time he recognized the lifeless, blood-soaked heap on the floor as Mitch Lewis, he had heaved up the remainder of his dinner.
ONE MONTH LATER
It was the end of the week, with the weekend on the horizon.
While driving along the Rikers Island Bridge, Manhattan Defense Attorney, Sam Paris, imagined himself stretched out on the sofa, a frosty glass of Stella in one hand, the latest Nelson DeMille in the other. He knew this to be just a pipe dream. The Phillips case he was working on right now was taking up every minute of his free time, and he still wasn’t sure what angle to approach it from. More likely than not, he would be spending the greater part of the weekend at the office.
Rikers Island, New York City’s main jail complex, is located between the boroughs of Queens and The Bronx. Home to one of the world’s largest correctional institutions, it is often ranked among the worst in the United States. Generally referred to as a prison, Rikers is technically a jail, housing inmates whose crimes were considered so heinous that they were not given bail while awaiting trial.
Sam always found the sign outside the facility proclaiming the “Home of New York City’s Boldest” to be somewhat ironic. Was it the boldness of the inmates being lauded? If that were the case, it could also be argued that they were dumb in addition to being bold. Why else would they have allowed themselves to be caught and incarcerated?
Sam found himself standing in front of the x-ray machine and metal detector within the next thirty minutes. He glanced at his watch. It wasn’t even 10 AM, and already he could feel the day weighing heavily upon his shoulders.
Sam placed his belt, keys, cell phone, and wallet into a large gray bin. Then he removed his shoes and watched as the security guard stared at the small hole in his left sock. Sam offered up a smile, but it was not reciprocated. A few minutes later, he headed to the Rose M. Singer jail, which houses female inmates: cell block “C” was Lisa Phillip’s current home away from home.
He entered the visitors’ area and waited patiently for his client, Lisa Phillips. She finally arrived and sat down on the other side of the glass partition, looking drawn and somewhat disheveled. Sam couldn’t help but observe that prison life was probably a huge detour from the monthly visits to the hairdresser and the mani-pedis his client was undoubtedly used to. Sam reached for the phone in front of him.
“Not looking so good today, Lisa,” Sam said, matter-of-factly, into the receiver. “Are you eating?”
Lisa shrugged. “Everything tastes like crap.”
“Yeah, well, Rikers isn’t especially known for its Michelin star cuisine, but all the same, you need to keep up your strength,” Sam advised her.
Lisa said nothing. Instead, she looked away and began to play with a stray split end on her hair. How the hell was he going to help a client who didn’t seem to want to help herself?
“So, since the last time we met, have you remembered anything? Anything at all about that night?” Sam ventured.
“I told you, Sam, I was totally blitzed,” Lisa admitted. “I don’t remember shit until the police barged into my place the next morning and arrested me.”
“And you’re still maintaining that you weren’t at Mitch Lewis’s house at all that evening? Because I’ve got to tell you, some witnesses will swear—”
“I didn’t say I wasn’t there. I said I don’t remember. I just don’t. Not a thing.”
“It’s true, but I’ll tell you one thing,” Lisa said.
“What’s that?” Sam asked hopefully.
“That son-of-a-bitch got exactly what he deserved.”
Sam drove out of prison feeling more discouraged than when he entered, if that was possible. He spotted the media circus waiting for him at the foot of the bridge and knew there was no way to avoid the throngs of reporters and cameramen. He had no choice but to go on the offensive. He rolled down the window and attempted a stab at cordiality.
“C’mon, guys, would you let me pass?” I promise when I have something to share with you, I will.”
Several microphones were immediately shoved close to his face. Reporters blurted out a steady stream of questions: What’s your client saying? Does Lisa deny she murdered Mitchell Lewis? How well did she know the victim?
One reporter, a woman with teeth like a gopher, leaned in and said, “Mr. Paris, what kind of defense do you have planned for your client?”
“Look, I promise when I have something to share with you, I will. But for now, I have no comment,” Sam said, rolling up his window. As he drove away, he considered the last question that had been asked of him. What defense could Sam come up with that would possibly sway a jury passing judgment on what was a particularly vicious and brutal murder? Pressed for an answer, he had come up empty.
The following morning, Sam enjoyed a breakfast of left-over, cold spaghetti and meatballs with his seven-year-old son, Tyler. Sam glanced up at the television, tuned to CNN. It was nearly 9 A.M., and Tyler hadn’t finished eating, though his white shirt was already splattered liberally with tomato sauce.
Cold spaghetti and meatballs wasn’t the most orthodox breakfast, but Tyler wasn’t complaining, though his mother might not have approved. Of course, Sam and Melanie had been divorced long enough for Sam to have stopped seeking her approval about anything.
He looked around his upper west side apartment, which overlooked Central Park. It had a good layout. He had to admit that. And he was damn lucky to have found a place in such a great location after the divorce. But sometimes, he was a little bit of a slob. Okay, sometimes he was a big slob.
This morning he surveyed his kitchen: books and papers were scattered everywhere on the pine dining table, and empty take-out food containers lined the counters. No, Melanie would definitely not have approved.
She probably wouldn’t have thought much about what he was wearing either. Dressed in a torn, old Penn State t-shirt that he’d outgrown several years ago and a pair of navy sweats that had also seen better days, Sam had long ago accepted that he’d never been much of a clothes horse. Melanie had come to accept it as well.
Hell, it was Saturday morning. Defensively, he wondered how dressed up was anyone in the privacy of his own home on a Saturday morning.
Sam looked fondly at his son. Tyler just might have been the best thing Sam had ever accomplished in his forty-two years. It had been a rough go at first. Tyler had been diagnosed with bacterial meningitis as a baby, and by the time he was three, he’d lost more than sixty percent of his hearing.
Sam would be lying if he said that he and Melanie hadn’t been thrown for a loop by this and that it hadn’t affected their relationship. Accusations of over-indulging or of not indulging enough were tossed about frequently.
They both loved their son. Sometimes, they were just at a loss as to how to do what was best for him. Eventually, they learned to follow their instincts, but the strain had been too much for their marriage by then. Or was it more than their different child-rearing philosophies that ended the marriage? Who the hell knew anymore?
Thankfully, he and Melanie had, what one might call, a pretty harmonious relationship now. He had seen enough to know the kind of effect an acrimonious divorce could have on kids. No, he and Melanie were good. More than good, they had become friends again. Sometimes he considered whether or not they should have tried harder to. . .
“Vroom, vroom.” Tyler’s voice broke through Sam’s musings. Tyler, who was small for his age, was “driving” his small, yellow Matchbox truck along the edge of the table.
“Come on, Tyler quit fooling around and finish up. Your mom will be here to get you any minute now,” Sam told him both verbally as well as in sign, as he always did when communicating with his son.
“I thought we were going to hang out together,” Tyler answered in the same manner.
“Can’t hang out today, Ty. I’ve got lots of work to do.”
Sam could feel the sting in Tyler’s disappointed eyes, which were a smoky gray, like his mother’s, so he added quickly, “Hey, why don’t I stop at the toy store and pick up a new truck for you? That one looks like it has most definitely seen better days,” Sam said, pointing to the Matchbox truck in Tyler’s hand.
Tyler shook his head slowly, clutching the truck to his chest. He signed, “I love my truck the way it is.”
“Don’t blame you for holding on to it, buddy,” Sam sighed, “I don’t do too well with change myself.” Sam could see that it would take more than the promise of a new truck to cheer Tyler up. “Okay, how about this? How about I take you to the planetarium next weekend?
Tyler’s eyes lit up. “Promise?”
Sam made a theatrical gesture of crossing his heart, which caused Tyler to tackle his father to the floor playfully. They wrestled for a few minutes until Sam heard a knock at the door. He released himself from Tyler’s grip and said, “If you don’t get ready soon, your mom will have my head.” That image was so funny to him that Tyler began giggling uncontrollably.
Sam opened the door, and Melanie Richardson walked in. At thirty-seven, Melanie was as attractive and appeared as youthful as she had been when she and Sam had met back in law school. She was petite and well-toned, thanks to a strict workout regimen. If only she didn’t dress so conservatively, Sam thought.
Her usual attire was a business suit in various shades of charcoal, and even her weekend get-ups left much to be desired. If she wasn’t wearing her workout clothes, she usually favored jeans and a loose-fitting t-shirt, which is what she was wearing now. Her honey-blonde hair was pulled back in a tight ponytail with a few wisps of bangs framing her small, heart-shaped face. Oh well, what she wore and didn’t wear was her business, Sam supposed.
“Hi, baby,” Melanie signed to Tyler as he rushed to hug her. Melanie looked around the apartment, taking in the spaghetti and meatball breakfast, the food cartons, and the general disarray. She looked at Sam. “What? You fired your housekeeper?”
Sam smiled wryly, “No, Mel, Delia still comes in once a week, sometimes more.”
Melanie nodded but held her tongue. How tidy Sam “was or was not” was no longer her concern. She spoke directly to Tyler. “Okay, sweetheart, go get your backpack. I told Grandma we’d be at her house in an hour.” Tyler ran out of the room.
“Going to visit Lucille today, are you?” Sam asked. “How’s she doing?”
“She consumes more sugar than she should, but she’ll probably outlive us all.” Melanie hesitated. “She asks about you, you know. Still thinks you walk on water.”
Sam laughed, “I don’t?”
Tyler ran back to retrieve his truck which was still sitting on the table. Before leaving the room again, he turned to his mother.
Melanie’s attention became momentarily diverted by the CNN newscaster as he switched to another news topic. She looked up as Lisa’s name was mentioned, but she said nothing. Tyler tugged at her shirt.
“What is it, Tyler?” Melanie asked, wiping a smear of spaghetti sauce off his cheek.
“How come we never have spaghetti and meatballs for breakfast?” Tyler asked.
Melanie shot Sam a look, but he merely responded with a shrug. “Honey, we don’t have spaghetti and meatballs for breakfast,” Melanie explained, “because I’m not nearly as cool as your dad. Now brush your teeth, get your backpack, and let’s get going.”
Tyler rushed out of the room, this time holding his truck. Melanie looked up at the television again as Lisa’s face filled the screen. In the month since Mitch Lewis had been murdered, Lisa, the primary suspect, had become a media sensation and a household name. Nancy Grace alone must have devoted upwards of four-hundred hours to the case.
The scene on the screen shifted from Lisa’s face to Sam having been cornered by reporters while driving away from Rikers Island. Melanie listened to Sam gingerly dodge their questions.
“Nice tie,” was her only comment.
Sam picked up the remote and turned off the T.V.
“So, how are things going with your latest client?” Melanie asked, diplomatically, aware that things were probably not going as well as Sam might have liked.
“How are they going?” Sam repeated, pointing to the screen. “Pretty shitty if you must know. Mind you, that was off the record. I don’t exactly want to be sharing my innermost feelings on the case with the D.A.’s office.”
“Duly noted,” Melanie responded with a smile. “Is it as bad as all that?”
Sam nodded as he poured himself another cup of coffee. He momentarily wondered just how much to confide in his ex-wife but finally decided to be straightforward. “She’s still sticking to her claim that she was on a bender the night her boyfriend was slashed to death.”
“It gets worse,” he said, sipping his coffee. “Lisa says she doesn’t remember a thing until she woke up at five in the morning with cops pounding at her door to search her place.”
“Uh-huh. And you believe her?” Melanie rested on the arm of Sam’s sofa. “Or shouldn’t I ask?”
“You shouldn’t. And whether I believe her or not is irrelevant,” Sam reminded her. “There were no CCTVs in the area to either support or negate her claim. The only thing she has going for her at this point is that no murder weapon has been found.”
A crease formed on Melanie’s forehead. “You sound worried, Sam. That’s not like you.”
“I am worried,” Sam admitted. “I’ve been struggling to come up with a solid defense for a client who says she can’t remember a damn thing.”
“You’ll think of something. You always do.” Melanie said, patting Sam on the shoulder encouragingly.
Always the optimist, he thought. He smiled at her and thanked her for her vote of confidence.
Tyler came back into the room, backpack in tow. As they reached the door, Melanie gave Sam a sly look.
“Hey, how’s this for a defense?” she said, waving her arm around the messy room, “Maybe the guy was an absolute slob, and the poor girl just couldn’t take it anymore.”