by Henry Simpson
At the beginning of May, the end of the
semester was near, and I had not yet lined up a summer law internship. I asked some of
my professors and law school office contacts to suggest some law firms I might approach.
I got several leads, started cold-calling them, and seldom got past the receptionist. Every
law student was seeking the same thing I was, and the competition was brutal. A guy like
me, with no friend or relative who could influence hiring, stood little chance of scoring
such a prize.
After weeks of futile effort, I scored my first interview at a large,
general practice law firm in an old office building in downtown Los Angeles. By now, I’d
been rejected by all the major firms, middling ones, those that had been recommended to
me, and was working through those I’d looked up in the yellow pages. What this one
had going for it was that, as a general practice firm, it promised to do some criminal
told the receptionist I was seeking a summer law internship. To my amazement, she called
someone on the intercom, and a moment later a balding, thirtyish man in a threadbare suit
but no tie came out, looked me over, and wordlessly summoned me to follow him back to his
office. It was a cramped space, metal desk piled high with papers and single window view
of another building. “Sit,” he said, dropping into his swivel chair. “Hand me
I handed him my folder.
He opened the folder, peered over his glasses
down, shuffled the papers, nodded, sniffed, shuffled the papers some more, read on. He
looked up, straightened his glasses. “You did well in college, good grades in law school. These letters of recommendation
are nice. Did you write them yourself?”
familiar, like boilerplate. I think the professors keep recycling them. Do you have any
actual legal experience?”
“None. That’s why I’m here. I’m looking
for a summer internship.”
He nodded. “Yeah, you’ll need it. You work at this club, Bunga
“Yes, sir. I work weekends as night manager.”
“Do you know who
Silvio Berlusconi is?”
Italian media magnate. Why . . .”
“What do you manage?”
“Do you have
a criminal record?”
“A few misdemeanors.”
He nodded. “You look familiar. Were you
in court recently?”
“A drunk complained
I beat him up, filed a complaint. Judge Peel dismissed the complaint.”
“Yes, sir. I can explain what happened if you’re
“I’m sure you can. Sorry, Mr. Costa. I know about
Bunga West. It’s owned and operated by professional criminals. With your background,
and the fact you work there, you have no chance in this law office or any others I can
think of off the top of my head. You might have better luck in one with lower hiring standards.” He closed the folder
and pushed it across his desk like something repellant.
I sat in my car for a while, thinking. I was not angry,
not even upset. For weeks I’d been trying to get my foot through the door and failed.
When I finally did, the answer that came back was “No!” No was better than
an evasion or maybe. It was at least a definite answer. Ironically, it came from a man
who never shook my hand or even introduced himself. I did not actually know his name. At
least he had been honest with me. I was grateful to him for that.
Another week of door knocking?
I laughed. What reason had I to believe I’d have any better luck now?
My one remaining option was Moe
Klein, the Carbone Family mouthpiece who had defended me on that Assault and Battery
I punched in Moe’s
“Hey, Joey,” he
answered after one ring. “Are you in jail?” He snickered.
“No, Moe. I’m not
in trouble, nothing like that.”
“What’s up?” He sounded serious, almost distressed.
“Well . .
. uh . . . I just, uh . . . I just finished my first year of law school and I’m looking
for a summer internship with a law firm. I thought yours might be a possibility.”
After a long silence,
“Is that so . . . how’d you do in school?”
“Top of my class.”
“You like the law?”
“Yes, so far I do.” I hesitated. “I like it very much.”
“Listen, Joey.” As if breaking bad news, “Fact is, we seldom offer internships. We’re a
small firm and in the past the interns we’ve had, well, it just didn’t work
out for them or us. Basically, it’s more trouble for us than it’s worth.”
A painfully awkward silence followed.
“Oh . . .
Is that a no? If so, I’ll understand, no hard feelings.” Holding my
tongue with imaginary tongs.
“Let me think about it
some, and I’ll talk to the partners, see what they say. Okay, kid?”
“Sure. I’d appreciate that. You have
my phone number. Call me back anytime. I mean, anytime.”
One day passed, no call from Moe.
Two days passed, no call from Moe.
Three days passed, no call from
Moe. It was now Wednesday, and I was getting antsy, wondering if he would ever call. How
long would it take for him to meet with his two partners, have a short meeting, and decide
the fate of Joe Costa? I was tempted it to call him but decided to hold off for two more
days. Five working days was a reasonable amount of time I had learned somewhere, probably
in one of those otherwise useless business classes I took as an undergraduate.
As it happened, Moe called me on
the fourth day, a Thursday, told me to bring my resume, curriculum vita, work samples,
and anything else that I thought would impress him and his partners on Friday
morning at 9 a.m.
Moe’s office was on the third floor of a modern office building
in downtown Los Angeles. I took the elevator and got off in a reception area with a matronly
woman sitting behind a desk. I signed the guest register and walked down a hallway to the
open door of Moe’s office. So intent that he did not notice me, Moe was standing,
holding a golf club poised to hit a ball across the thick carpet to a putting cup on the
other side of his office. I waited, admiring his spacious office, large desk, genuine oil
paintings, and view of treetops and office buildings. Moe hit the ball, which, having a
mind of its own, meandered in an arc underneath his desk like an errant mouse. I laughed
turned to face me. “How
d’ya like that? I hate this game. Never could get the hang of it. Do you golf?”
even watch it on TV.”
He waved me in, pointed at a chair, retired
his club against a filing cabinet, and sat behind his desk. “What’ve you got to impress me?”
I handed him my folder.
He opened, read fast,
nodding, paused as something caught his interest, read on, digesting my entire file in
a minute. Lawyers read fast. He looked up. “You managed a rock band?”
“For two years,
but it seemed much longer.”
“What’s your father
“Military. He’s still on active duty.”
“No, they’re still
“Lucky you. Maybe that’s why you’re like
“Normal, no separation
trauma from childhood. Normal is abnormal these days.”
“I’ve always felt
“Are you mocking me?”
“No harm intended.”
“What kind of law do you think I practice?”
law, unless the sign downstairs is wrong.”
“And your great
ambition is to be, what, a criminal defense lawyer?”
“Yes, most definitely.”
“You heard that on TV or
in a movie.”
“Probably did, but I believe it.”
rapists? Wife beaters? Sadists? Loan sharks? Pedophiles?”
“Do you have a criminal mind?”
“Yes, I do, think
like a criminal, I mean. I believe that would be an asset in the defense business.”
like contention, arguments . . . winning?”
“I’m a bouncer.
That’s what bouncers do.”
“Do you have any legal
“I’ve been a defendant, played prosecutor and
defense in law school role-plays, negotiated contracts, resolved disputes, and taken the
law into my own hands.”
“That’s good. Creative to say the least. I’m
willing to give you a chance. Brother Al, for whatever it’s worth, says you don’t
get rattled handling difficult situations with drunks, violent types, or nut cases.”
“Did he actually
tell you that?”
Moe smirked. “Do you think I’d lie about my own brother?”
“If it served your purpose.”
“Do you believe
brother Al told me you have a smart mouth?”
got me there. From now on I’ll trust everything you say.”
Moe laughed. “In my business, working with people is more important
than knowing law books. Leading that security crew is a good test of what you’re
made of. How’s Dino like his new job?” Dino, the son of one of the club
owners, was a fuckup I promoted to a job with an impressive title and no duties that might
permit him to do any harm.
“He’s doing well.”
He held up my file.
“May I keep this?”
“Sure, I made that copy
He stood. “I’ll talk to the partners and get back to you one way or the other
early next week.”
Moe phoned on Monday. “How’re you doing this morning?”
“I’m doing fine. What’s up?”
tell you this. I’m afraid I have some bad news for you. I talked to the partners,
we had a big meeting in fact, and I showed them your file. I told them I wanted to
hire you. They argued we don’t usually hire interns, wouldn’t know how to use
them, and they outvoted me, so it’s a no go. I’m real sorry, kid.”
You gave me that excuse last week and now you’re acting like you’ve had a
revolution in thought over there at Kern, Brough, and Klein. Don’t lie to me.”
After a long silence, “I know, and I’m truly sorry. I never should’ve
raised your hopes as I did. That was my error.”
“Tell me the truth. If
you don’t, I’ll never trust you again.”
“Okay, here’s what
it boils down to. I work for John Carbone. So do you. You’ve been doing odd jobs
for Mario. You can’t work for me and for John and for Mario at the same time. Too
many jobs. If I offer you an internship, Mario’ll be unhappy. If he’s unhappy,
John will be unhappy. If John’s unhappy, he’ll shit on me, beside which he’ll
figure out you’re not gonna work for him forever and he’ll be pissed off at
you. Trust me, Joey, I’m doing you a favor.”
“Thank you for being honest.” End of call. Convoluted
logic, but he was right.
I went grocery shopping to take my mind off my miseries.
Finished, I carried the groceries out to my car, got in, and sat back in my seat. I felt
terrible. The entire legal establishment had rejected me. Even Moe Klein had failed me.
I put the key in the ignition,
turned it, and heard the Porsche roar. I loved that sound and loved the car. The Porsche
was the one good thing I had to show for my disastrous foray into show business.
I’d bought it at the high point of that crazy time, and it was still with me. I
would never let it go. I absolutely adored it. After that time, I had another
low point, but recovered. And since last September I’d been making headway,
getting better. Strangely, the car gave me hope now. I backed out of the
parking space, and drove.
Approaching Santa Monica, I was feeling better. I understood now
that it was not in my nature to be defeated. It sometimes happened, these little setbacks,
but as long as I was alive and striving, life would get better. I knew this now with certainty.
Ah, blue skies, perfect beaches,
fine surf, beautiful girls—what more could I ask for? So, I’d lost the opportunity
to work gratis all summer in an office.
But what had I gained?
I parked in my slot, carried my
groceries into the apartment, put them away, downed a cold beer, changed into faded surf
shorts, went outside, grabbed one of Walt’s longboards, and walked to the
|Art by Sean O'Keefe © 2018
by Henry Simpson
Lane first noticed
the coyote one morning on the back edge of his property. Lean, with a brownish coat
and upright ears, it might have been a dog, but moved with the light, quick
steps of a predator. It paused once in crossing, yellow eyes staring at Lane;
intelligent, wary, fearless. A moment later, it disappeared into the underbrush.
Lane was sorry to see it go, a wild creature in his neighborhood on the outskirts of Ojai.
He lived in a weathered 1950 house on five acres of what had once been an orchard. The
rest of the land had been sold off to developers who filled it with oversized tract houses
on small lots. Lane’s place sat on the eastern edge, adjacent to the Los Padres National
Forest. It was a small oasis in an ever-encroaching urban landscape.
The coyote returned
each morning so promptly that Lane wondered if it had an innate sense of time or
tracked the sunrise. He sat in a ruined Adirondack chair and followed its
progress and halt, again those sharp eyes, staring, longer this time than the
day before, and it seemed closer, too. And every morning after that for a week,
he was out there waiting as it made its journey, each time closer, its staring pause longer.
It was alone, and so was he, his wife in the ground, gone six years
now, and his daughter away at university in Mexico City. He enjoyed the coyote’s
company, however brief and remote. One morning, the coyote did not come, and he wondered
what had happened to it. A cat had gone missing recently, predation possible, and neighbors
had guns. He waited each morning for it, but it never came, and he lost hope.
He had not been sleeping well. Beside his loneliness, he had not
held a regular job for three years. Before that, he had been in the Army and then a criminal
investigator with the Federal Police. He would have stayed on with the Federales but was
forced into early retirement. His love life was nil. He had something going for a while,
but it went south with his career. He wondered if he was having a midlife
crisis, laughed, rejected the notion. At forty-nine, it was late and unseemly.
He had been in downers before, always pulled out of them on his own. He did not
believe in counseling, drugs, heavy drinking, risky behavior, religion, or golf.
Time usually fixed his disposition.
What differed this time was unemployment.
The thought of how many of his Army peers had died a few years after retirement was unsettling.
He needed to get busy. He had sent out many resumes, been offered and rejected jobs as
a rent-a-cop, bail bondsman, repo man, insurance agent, prison guard, and instructor in
a private military school for wayward youths. He was too old to start over as a sheriff’s
deputy or cop. He considered becoming a private investigator but was not sure he had
the entrepreneurial wherewithal to handle such independent work after all the
years working for Big Uncle. Tired of waiting for a good job offer, he settled
for a part-timer delivering pizzas at night. It did not pay well, but it was a
way to stay busy and meet people.
His routine day consisted of waking in
the morning, searching for the coyote that had ceased appearing, an hour of exercise, trolling
the Internet for job prospects, mailing resumes, following up on interviews and leads,
and lunch. After lunch, a nap, working around the house, reading, and then to work at 4
p.m. until midnight, delivering pizzas in a yellow econocar fit for midgets. This routine,
tedious except for variations in the exercise pattern, was so relentlessly uninspiring
that Lane’s funk only deepened. Asleep in the early hours, he nightmared
existential events in his life: jumping with a faulty parachute to a
paratrooper’s death, drowning in the frigid waters of La Tempestad Island,
dodging sniper shots in Bosnia, seeing shadowy figures and hearing ghostly voices while
touring bunkers in Berlin.
What ended Lane’s string of dreary days was a chance event
one Saturday night as he was out delivering pizzas. Fatigued from drudgery and lack of
sleep, he was waiting at a stoplight for the red to turn green. When it did, he goosed
the accelerator, plunged into the intersection, and suddenly became aware of bright lights
illuminating the inside of his coffin-like conveyance and the roar of a powerful V8 engine.
The collision blew the airbags and threw Lane right, forward, left, and back as the
econocar spun on its axis then crossed the intersection and stopped blam-bam at
the curb; Lane stunned. His next conscious perception was an ambulance ride
with siren blaring in the company of two alert young men in whites who were
smiling in overwatch, enjoying the excitement.
They delivered him to a
hospital emergency room and turned him over to a doc who examined him, sent him for X-rays,
and had him checked into the hospital for observation. Still dazed, now sedated, his neck
in a brace, he soon found himself alone, secured in a crib-railed bed in a private room,
hooked up to an IV and vitals monitors. Through the open door, distant voices and footsteps
of passersby periodically disturbed the silence. Eyes shut, sleep.
Now he was in a
hospital ward, surrounded by bedridden men swathed in bandages, limbs suspended from
braces. He felt numb from morphine, his mouth dry, a bitter taste, the smell of
disinfectant and blood, the rustle of voices speaking German. Nearby, two men
were staring at him, talking softly, as if not to be overheard. The tall,
distinguished physician—white coat, steel-framed spectacles—stood at the foot of
his bed, checked the clipboard, shook his head at the male attendant, moved on.
Eyes open, he was back in his single room in the darkness, with a splitting
headache, remembering the dream—the image, sounds, and other sensations were absolutely
real, as was his conviction it was 1944 and he was a German soldier like all the rest of
them in that ward, dying.
The hospital came back to
life at 6 a.m. An upbeat young nurse visited, checked his vitals and mood, and advised
him he was doing well, Dr. Cronin would soon drop by to see him.
hour later, a lean, fit, fortyish man in pressed whites entered his room and came to his
bed. “Good morning!” he said coolly, checking Lane’s chart. “I’m
Dr. Cronin, the attending neurologist. How’re you feeling, Mr. Lane?”
and a world-class headache.”
had a mild concussion, whiplash, and some facial trauma. X-rays show no
fractures. I want to keep a watch on you for a while to see if anything
develops. Stay here for a few days so I can monitor your condition, run an MRI if
necessary. Has anything like this happened to you before?”
“In the Army, twenty years, I got bounced around plenty. Injured
once during a parachute jump, broke my left arm in a fracas, a road accident on the Autobahn.
Nothing in the last few years.”
happened last night?”
truck hit me in an intersection.”
good you had airbags.”
nodded. “Do any hospital staff speak German?”
smiled. “That’s an odd question. Many speak Spanish. We have a few German
men speaking German last night.”
had a shock. Rattled your central processing unit, so to speak. This can have
unpredictable effects on people. Ever been in a German hospital?”
“I was stationed in Germany and spent two weeks at a former
Wehrmacht hospital in Baumholder recovering from a training accident.”
nodded. “Possibly you had a dream based on a memory of that experience.”
had not recalled the strange hospital stay for years. Nights, lying there, he
heard German voices, felt the presence of soldiers, had the conviction he died
“What do you do these days, Mr. Lane?”
you like it?”
“Retirement’s not good for
the health, physical or otherwise. Depressed?”
you a psychiatrist?”
Depression’s a treatable condition. I’m making an observation, not a diagnosis.
Consider yourself lucky to be where you are, with your faculties intact. You could’ve
broken your neck or cracked your skull, scrambled your brain, even died.”
Dr. Cronin kept
Lane in the hospital two more nights. Satisfied he was doing well, he advised Lane to
take at least a week off from work, and released him. Lane taxied home, neck in
a brace, headache and whiplash discomfort. On the answering machine was a testy
message from Pizza HQ questioning his driving skill and judgment and whining
about the high cost of insurance, now sure to rise with another accident on the
company record. Pizzaboss had brought in a new deliveryman for the 4 p.m. to midnight
shift. Absent from the diatribe were words of encouragement for a quick recovery, its tone
conveying the message Pizza HQ did not expect his return. The job, his thin link to society,
was now toast.
His twenty-year old daughter was studying Spanish language and culture
for a year in Mexico. She had almost fallen off the grid, her emails and phone calls rare.
He missed her painfully, hoped she had not fallen in love with a penniless Latin charmer
or involved herself in local political causes.
After a week home,
watching TV, bored out of his mind, he realized he was going to the dogs. In
the mirror, unkempt hair, beard stubble, bruises and dark rings around his
eyes, that ridiculous contraption still around his neck. To salvage dignity, he removed
the neck brace and hung it in the garage. While there, he noticed an old chest of photos
and mementos from happier days, carried it into the house, sat on the couch, opened it
The best days were at the bottom, Maggie, beautiful, young, dark-haired,
blue eyes, a smile to end time. He was there, often in uniform, as feckless as she about
the future, in love, entire lives ahead. Wedding photos, corny poses, happy guests. Traveling
Europe in a VW microbus. Army buddies, some
now dead in distant wars. Sifting upward through the pile, Kathy, their amazing
daughter, was born, in myriad baby photos, and then growing up, birthdays, long
forgotten playmates, school shots. A Labrador puppy, suddenly grown large, gone
after two years, struck by a car. Toward the top, eighteen years on, fewer
photos, after Maggie’s cancer diagnosis, she so frail, sallow complexion, fading.
Back in the USA, Army retirement, the move to Ojai close to her family, and then she was
no longer, no photos, no record of that last year, only a few shots with Kathy. He held
the last photo of Maggie, taken six years ago at a barbecue in the backyard, seated in
that ruined Adirondack chair, smiling at the camera through her pain, holding a glass of
red wine she never finished. All the family gathered that Sunday afternoon, a week before
wiped away indigent tears, put the photos back in the trunk, closed the lid. No
use going to pieces over history, good while it lasted, now gone. He put the trunk back
in the garage, hidden, no longer an invitation to nostalgia, sadness, regret.
reached into a high cupboard and took down his Army Beretta nine millimeter,
ejected the clip to check it. Fully loaded, he shoved it back into the gun.
This Beretta was an old friend of nearly thirty years. He thought to put it
back in its hiding place, but for some reason unclear to him did not, took it to the
couch and set it on the coffee table, stared at it. It was late afternoon now, getting
dusk outside, the house silent except for refrigerator hum. He closed his eyes, dozed.
she said. “Wake up, Ed.”
opened his eyes, aware of her sitting an arm’s length away from him on the
couch. He turned his head left, felt a shooting pain in his neck, saw her there in
white blouse and tan shorts—impossible—recoiled fearfully, unable to grasp
how she could be here now. “What!” he said, moving away. “Who are you? What are
“I’m your wife.” Her
voice was Maggie’s, calm, soft, her exact intonation.
He forced himself to look at her: she was as she had been twenty years before. He
could not take his eyes away. “How can you be here?”
She stared at him, eyes
penetrating, holding him, shook her head. “I don’t know, I can’t explain.” She
reached out, touched his forearm, warm fingertips then palm against his arm.
He shivered at her touch and inconceivable presence, pulled his
arm away. “You’re not real. You can’t be real.”
“But I am.”
“How can you be here? Where have you been?”
know. I can’t explain. I was waiting for you, and then, suddenly, I’m here.
Let me stay. Don’t you want me to stay?”
“Why are you here?”
you need me now? You don’t look good, Ed, honey. You should take better care of
yourself.” She looked down.
her eyes to the gun, looked back at her. “How can you be my Maggie? My Maggie is
gone. You must be an impostor, or I’m dreaming.” But he immediately knew he
was not dreaming. Her presence was too real, vivid. He could see her, feel her touch, even
smell her perspiration and breath. “Where did we meet?”
Nuremberg, in a bar. I was waiting tables and you were with some Army friends
celebrating a promotion.”
did you give me your number? What did you say that night?”
smiled. “I said you looked like a young man who could use some lessons in
walked to the back door, darkness outside.
leave me, Ed.”
through, took a deep breath, the cool night air, walked to the back of his property, and
then back and forth, not looking at the house. What was it in there? Five minutes gone,
he pulled himself together, looked back, through the window to the couch where he had sat,
now empty. Whatever it was, gone.
heard a coyote howling, way, way out there in the night.
She did not
visit him again during his recovery. He tried not to think about her visitation, so implausible
it challenged his sense of how existence worked. He assumed it was an hallucination or
waking dream brought on by his injury.
called at exactly the right moment, assured him she was well, studying hard,
not in love or pregnant.
visited Cronin weekly, checkups, no complications. After a month, Cronin shook
his hand, told him to go, no more appointments, drive carefully.
|Art by Christopher Goss © 2019
by Henry Simpson
Costa followed a cobblestone
path through the thick green lawn to the courthouse. A peaked arch framed a side entrance
on which were chiseled the words, “Reason Is The Life Of The Law.” Seven wide
steps rose from the path to an entrance well and, beyond it, four more to a wrought iron
and glass door. Through the door, Costa found himself in a white hallway with high beamed
ceilings punctuated by white arches and suspended chandeliers over a sparkling red tile
floor. Murals and courtroom doors alternated along walls.
He sat on a wooden bench
against a wall. With courtroom action behind closed doors, the hallway was quiet except
for distant faint echoes of voices and footsteps.
After a minute or so, a young man in an ill-fitting
suit opened a courtroom door, entered the hallway, and disappeared through an exit; a paralegal
on an urgent errand for a lawyer inside the courtroom?
Minutes later, a police
officer carrying a briefcase opened a door and entered a courtroom; a prosecution witness
Irregular footsteps drew Costa’s attention to a one-legged woman on crutches,
moving through the hallway beside a man; wife and husband suing for loss of a limb?
More movement, doors
opening and closing, distant voices and footsteps.
He closed his eyes and revisited
his last case, in a sterile, noisy, and malodorous L.A. courthouse larger and less grand
than this one. It involved contract killer Wade Voss and his nitwit accomplice Larry Lenz.
With Lenz as lookout, Voss murdered a Federal judge in his office. Lenz was later stopped
at a DUI checkpoint and arrested when the murder weapon was found during a search of his
car. He incriminated Voss during interrogation. When Voss was arrested, Lenz recanted his
statement. Jail guards later found Lenz in his cell, hanging from a noose.
Absent prosecution witness
Lenz, Costa could easily have won Voss’ acquittal, but he withdrew from the
case and had it reassigned to a colleague. To Costa, it marked the end of his
association with the Carbones and career with Kern, Brough, and Klein. After court
on the day of his resignation, he followed Voss through a crowd of reporters to a limousine
waiting at curbside. Voss slid into the backseat, looked up at him, and drew an index finger
across his throat. At that moment, Costa decided to leave L.A.
Since then, he had spoken
occasionally to John and Carlo. Only once was Voss’ death threat mentioned. “He
was real steamed up,” Carlo said.
“I got that impression,”
“Keep that brick on the nightstand.” Carlo made a deep rumbling laugh,
followed by a struggle to regain breath. The Capo had nicknamed Costa “Joey Brick”
for breaking the skull of a thug with a brick when he tried to hijack his Porsche near
a Carbon Construction Company building site. Man and brick were now entombed in the
foundation of a high-rise condominium building.
“If he wants me, I’m not
hard to find,” Costa said.
“You’re still family, Joey. Wade knows
the rules. If he touches you, he’ll go on our list.”
It was nice to hear that
his death would be avenged, but Costa preferred a less fatalistic option.
Lost in thought on the bench, he became aware of a red dot light flitting like a
hummingbird along a wall and then vanishing at a window. What was that?
He stood, checked his
surroundings, and scanned the hallway. Darkness and shadows. He focused afar,
his eyes adapting to the dimness at the end of the hallway. He sensed movement,
a figure walking briskly. Possibly a man, but the hallway was too dim and the figure too
distant to be sure. Then, as quickly as it had appeared, it disappeared.
Voices and footstep echoes
approached from his left. He turned that way, stood still against the wall, and
waited. Soon a docent led a tour group from a stairway landing into the hallway
toward him while describing the architectural details, murals, and other points
of interest. They were a motley crew of middle-aged and senior tourist couples in shorts,
bright tops, and baseball caps, armed with digital cameras and toting souvenir bags. Laggards
with kids in tow trailed the main body.
The docent, a well-dressed
gray-haired woman, recited her lines like a member of an amateur theatre group:
“This courthouse is a truly magnificent structure. It covers one full city block
in the center of downtown. It is four stories tall, built in an L shape, with two wings,
each 370 feet long. It was designed by Thomas Mooser Architects after the 1925 earthquake
in a classical style that combines elements of Spanish and Moorish architecture, with turrets,
stained glass windows, and huge wooden doors. The Santa Barbara Police Department occupies
the north wing, and the windows on the upper two stories are covered with bars to prevent
prisoners from escaping the city jail. From the outside, it is hard to imagine that
prisoners dwell there; it would better suit the chambers of judges or other
high municipal officials. This exquisite and noble structure at once comprises
the entire legal system, from police to courtrooms to jailhouse. Moreover, it
is a first-rate tourist attraction that draws visitors to its architectural splendor
every day and to concerts and shows staged on the verdant bowl of its Sunken Garden during
Costa smiled as he watched the tour group pass, its members gawking in all directions
and chatting among themselves. The courthouse was a rich confection, and he found it hard
to imagine any lawyer actually working in its courtrooms.
Suddenly, a door banged
open, and out charged a queue seeking fresh air, a cigarette, lunch, a restroom, or
simple escape. Soon they were gone, and peace reigned again.
So much for architecture.
“Joe Costa,” said a man’s
Costa noticed a man leaning against the wall, looking
directly at him. Early forties, medium height, well dressed in tailored tan suit and blue
we met?” Costa said.
“I know you,” the man
said, extending his hand. “You’re Joe Costa, right?” His voice was cloying and
overfamiliar, like a pushy salesman’s.
Costa nodded, ignoring the hand.
“I heard some guys in L.A.
Criminal Court. They called you Joe Goldbrick, or maybe it was Joey the Brick,
something like that. Those guys, I don’t think they were lawyers, maybe they
were your clients, you know, wiseguys. They called you that, smoking in the
hall. That’s illegal now, smoking in the courthouse hall.”
“Who the fuck are you?”
“Apparently, you don’t recognize me, though
we frequented common environs. Let me introduce myself. I’m Tom Price. I’m
a lawyer, too, from L.A. I used to watch you dance in court, saw you on TV, read about
you in the papers. Then you disappeared. What happened?”
“Change of career.”
Price smiled with a set of perfect white teeth. “No kidding. You were hot
stuff, a major league player. So, why’d you quit?”
Costa moved closer to
Price. “For reasons of health.”
Price snickered. “Okay, so . . . what’s
your new game?”
“You’re selling real estate?” He shook his head. “Then,
what’re you doing in a courthouse?”
“Studying local architecture.”
“You got a card, Joey?”
“Why? You must be kidding. I thought real estate people were hustlers.
I might be interested in looking at property.”
Costa handed him a business
still Joey the Brick,” Price said.
Costa stiffened, and then kicked
a leg out from under Price, who collapsed to the floor hard, a fountain pen and laser pointer
popping from his coat pocket onto the red tiles.
“Stay away from me,” Costa
He walked down the hallway to the stairwell, and then climbed up it step
by step to the bell tower lookout. It was a lovely sunny day, and he lingered there enjoying
the rooftop view of downtown Santa Barbara—terra cotta tiles, white walls, arches,
palms, slow-moving traffic on narrow, quiet streets, green hills rising to the
sheltering Santa Ynez mountains.
Simpson is the author of several novels, two short story collections, many book
reviews, and occasional pieces in literary journals. His most recent novel
is Golden Girl (Newgame, 2017).
Christopher Goss, longtime
Black Petals and Yellow Mama contributor, has recently made
some lifestyle changes, moving from Del Rio Texas, where he made his living building and
servicing radio and TV towers, to Spearville, Kansas, where he now works on giant generators
on a 300-unit wind farm. He has also started dabbling in some photo art, along with his
dark fiction and poetry.