At times like this I realize I'm too old to be starting over, working with law clerks. I own pantyhose with more mileage than these kids, and better judgment. For example, two of the clerks, Ben Safer and Artie Weiss, are bickering as we speak; never mind that they're making a scene in an otherwise quiet appellate courtroom, in front of the most expensive members of the Philadelphia bar.
"No arguing in the courtroom," I tell them, in the same tone I use on my six-year-old. Not that it works with her either.
"He started it, Grace," Ben says in a firm stage whisper, standing before the bank of leather chairs against the wall. "He told me he'd save me a seat and he didn't. Now there's no seats left."
Will you move, geek? You're blocking my sun," Artie says, not bothering to look up from the sports page. He rarely overexerts himself; he's sauntered through life to date, relying on his golden-boy good looks, native intelligence, and uncanny jump shot. He throws one strong leg over the other and turns the page, confident he'll win this argument even if it runs into overtime. Artie, in short, is a winner.
But so is Ben in his own way; he was number two at Chicago Law School, meat grinder of the Midwest. "You told me you'd save me a seat, Weiss," he says, "so you owe me one. Yours. Get up."
"Eat me," Artie says, loud enough to distract the lawyers conferring at the counsel table like a bouquet of bald spots. They'd give him a dirty look if he were anyone else, but because he works for the chief judge they flash capped smiles; you never know which clerk's got your case on his desk.
"Get up. Now, Weiss."
"Separate, you two," I say. "Ben, go sit in the back.Argument's going to start any minute."
"Out of the question. I won't sit in public seating. He said he'd save me a seat, he owes me a seat."
"It's not a contract, Ben," I advise him. For free.
"I understand that. But he should be the one who moves, not me." He straightens the knot on his tie, already at tourniquet tension; between the squeeze on his neck and the one on his sphincter, the kid's twisted shut at both ends like a skinny piece of saltwater taffy. "I have a case being argued."
"So do 1, jizzbag," Artie says, flipping the page.
"Why would I do that> Then I'd have to sit next to him." He gives Ben the finger behind the tent of newspaper.
"Ooooh, spank me, Grace. Spank me hard. Pull my wittle pants down and throw me over your gorgeous knees."
"You couldn't handle it, big guy."
"Try me." He leans over with a broad grin.
441 mean it, Artie. You're on notice." He doesn't know I haven't had sex since my marriage ended three years ago. Nobody's in the market for a single mother, even a decent-looking one with improved brown hair,, authentic blue eyes, and a body that's staying the course, at least as we speak.
"Come on, sugar," Artie says, nuzzling my shoulder. "live the dream."
"Cut it out."
"You read the book, now see the movie."
Ben scans the back row where the courthousegroupies sit; it's a lineup that includes retired men, the truly lunatic, even the homeless. Ben, looking them over, makes no effort to hide his disdain; you'd think he'd been asked to skinnydip in the Ganges. He turns to me, vaguely desperate. "Let me have your seat, Grace. I'll take notes for you."
"No."But my notes are like transcripts. I used to
sell them at school."
"I can take my own notes, thank you." Ten years as a trial lawyer, I can handle taking notes-, taking notes is mostly what I do now as the assistant to the chief judge. I take notes while real lawyers argue, then I go to the library and draft an opinion that real lawyers cite in their next argument. But I'm not complaining. I took this job because it was part-time and I'm not as good a juggler as Joan Lunden, Paula Zahn, and other circus performers.
"How about you, Sarah?" Ben asks the third law clerk, Sarah Whittemore, sitting on my other side. "You don't have a case this morning. You can sit in the back."
Fat chance. Sarah smooths a strand of cool blond hair away from her face, revealing a nose so diminutive it's a wonder she gets any oxygen at all. "Sorry, I need this seat," she says.
A paneled door opens near the dais and the
court crier, a compact man with a competent air, begins a last-minute check on the microphones at the dais and podium. Ben glances at the back row with dismay. "I can't sit back there with those people. One of them has a plastic hat on, for God's sake."
Artie looks over the top of his paper. "A plastic hat? Where?"
"There." Ben jerks his thumb toward a bearded man sporting a crinkledcellophane rain bonnet and a black raincoat buttoned to the neck.
Grace Rossi is starting over after a divorce, and a part-time job with a federal appeals court sounds perfect. But she doesn't count on being assigned to an explosive death penalty appeal. Nor does she expect ardor in the court in the form of an affair with the chief judge. Then Grace finds herself investigating a murder, unearthing a secret bank account and following a trail of bribery and judicial corruption that's stumped even the FBI. In no time at all, Grace under fire takes on a whole new meaning.