The Criminal Attorney
I drive beneath the shadow of angel wings ornamenting the Arizona State Capitol's copper dome. A man wearing a beanie is pushing a shopping cart full of clothes and things down the scorching Phoenix street. I pull into a deserted parking lot. There's a silver Escalade parked in front of a sagging Victorian style house, a renovated law practice. Across the street, cops are talking to people they've pulled over. I feel my anxiety rise being in this neighborhood. I'm about out of gas, and my old car is making new noises. I grab my purse, quickly shutting my car door. I just want to find a decent job, and this attorney pays well.
It feels like a sauna outside; the heat has softened the asphalt parking lot. I straighten my expensive dress, a lucky find at a thrift shop. I knock on his door and a camera winks. "Come on in, you found the place okay. You saw my Cadillac Escalade," a sixtyish, big guy says, holding a drink.
"I'm Nick," he says, extending a fleshy hand.
"Nice to meet ya, I'm Lacey."
His silver hair matches his vehicle, and he's causally dressed in shorts and a polo shirt, it's a Saturday. It's the only slot of time he had.
"Should we lock the door, they're cops and criminals outside."
"Yeah," he says, pulling a key out of his pocket and turning it in the lock. "Lacey, would you like a drink," he motions to a cache of liquor bottles, cut crystal decanters, and glasses set out on a wet bar.
"No thanks, Nick. I have low tolerance for alcohol. I've got some bottled water here in my purse."
"What do you do crazy things when you drink?" he asks smiling.
"No, I just get sick."
He frowns and says, "I need to take this call. Look around. I'm an interesting guy. If you want, you could take a look upstairs," he laughs raucously.
I don't feel like going upstairs, he's in a solo practice, and I wonder if he lives here. I look around some.
"Is it okay, if I sit down?"
He nods, and I sit down on an antiquated red upholstered cane backed chair, across from his desk from a sign that says, "No Smoking." The place smells like something bad, and I try to figure out the smell. The place is cluttered with stacks of files and file cabinets. There's a camera clamped on the wall behind his desk, recording us.
He leans back in his chair speaking into the phone and says, "The Vietnam Memorial . . . "
From the chair, I scan the pictures and law books in his office. There are medals from the military and younger, thinner pictures of him. One picture with him his arm around a bigger woman wearing a big blonde wig with an Arizona senator. The senator looks so old; he looks propped up. Around his mouth, sewn like a moccasin.
Nick hangs up the phone.
It finally hits me; the place smells like dead mice.
"Lacey, you're a pretty girl, nice dress," he leans forward, into the desk, staring at my breasts.
"Oh, thank you, I have my resume," I say, pulling an envelope out of my purse, handing the unfolded resume to him.
I am no girl. The father of my children is in jail. I feel uneasy, remembering the door is locked. He looks over my resume. With Wall Street and AIG, the job market is tight, and I've been looking for a job for weeks. Crime is supposed to be up; unfortunately, so there may be some job security in criminal law. I've got an old felony, so I know it's going to be tough finding a professional job. I don't want to go back to waiting on tables with all my education, and I've got student loans.
He looks up at me. "I like your English degree," his voice softens, "That's why I wanted to interview you."
"I recently graduated with a legal assistant degree."
"Law," he says, raising his voice. "There are so damn many laws; it all depends on who you get for a judge in any given day. Right now, I'm getting sued," his face reddens, and he takes a drink.
His coarse voice grates on my nerves, and I grab my bottled water out of my purse.
"A millionaire heiress I took care of. When they brought her in some street drug addict was driving her Cadillac. She was doing crack cocaine and picking the sores all over her face. I saw her everyday, kept her straight, gave her a job as my legal assistant. That's the position I need to fill."
"Yes, I need a job."
"She turned on me, got another lawyer," he says, holding my resume with one hand and taking a drink with the other. "She had a gun, and I could have gotten her off. Now the government is suing me for a frivolous lawsuit, six digit figure."
"Oh, that's terrible," I say, and then swallow some water.
"I could teach you a lot, Lacey. I was an interrogator in Vietnam. I used to be a County Attorney. I could teach you all the tricks."
My resume floated out of his hands onto his desk.
"I'm smart and I'm streetwise," he said, putting his hands together. "A lot of people think you have to speak proper English to be smart. Fuck them."
"You really have to speak the vernacular," I said, trying not to grip the arms of the chair. "To get people to relax."
"How do you think I got all these pictures," he said, waving his hands around his office.
"Senator Goldwater, I think ran for president at one time."
"Long before your time. What are you in your late twenties?"
"I'm book smart and street smart," he says, taking a drink. "I'm an interesting guy."
"Oh, I'm sure."
He shuffles a paper, with great drama, folds his hands, pauses as though praying. "You have an old felony?" He practically sings.
"Yes, ten years ago," I say, clearing my throat. "I could've got it knocked down to a misdemeanor, but didn't. I was young, drugs."
"We can work with that. I like that you were upfront about it in your email," he said. "You'll have empathy for our clients."
"I pay better than any of the criminal attorneys around here and give bonuses. Sick time if you have kids. Kids?"
"Yes, two, they're in elementary school."
"I'm flexible with working hours, as much as I can be," he says, looking into my eyes. "I've had legal assistants bring their kids in when they get in a bind."
I think about my kids. It doesn't sound so bad.
"Husband?" he asks, looks straight into me.
"Is your physical health okay? You take meds or anything?"
"I take meds sometimes for PTSD."
"You don't know what PTSD is unless you've heard explosions and seen bodies blown apart," he rants, raising his voice. "I led my men through hell."
"I'm sure," I say, getting into my purse, looking at the time on my phone.
"Come on over, I don't bite," he laughs, raucously. "You're not taping with your phone are you?"
"What, taping, no," I say. My hands are sweating.
"All I need is a complaint to the board."
"No, what's there to complain about."
"I thought you were disappointed when you first saw me," he said.
"Not at all."
"I'm still interviewing. Your resume looks good. You'd work well with our clients with your background. I'm flexible if you get into a jam unless it's a deposition or I want you to come to court with me. Sometimes I need to relax, if you'll drive my Escalade."
"Sure, I can do that."
"Let me put you down for the final interview. I have Wednesday afternoons free."
He looks under some files, pulls out a black appointment book and opens it.
"We could go downtown on Van Buren for lunch and drinks. Visit the girls and men at the clubs there. I give my cards out. You could get a feel for my clientele."
"This coming Wednesday, twelve o'clock," he says, writing on a card.
"Sure," I say, rising from the red velvet chair.
"I could teach you all the tricks," he says, coming around from his desk, handing me his card, brushing his thumb in the cleft of my palm.
"I'm sure," I say walking toward the door, relieved to get away from him.
"When I was a County Attorney, do you know how many deals were swung on a blow job in the Arizona government? The government is so damn corrupt."
"Really?" I just want him to unlock the door.
As he unlocks the door, he softly implores, "Lacey, Wednesday, come with me to the Vietnam Memorial."
Outside, the heat hits me like a slap. The cops are still across the street. I take a deep breath and let it out.