Tom Myers was a cautious, intelligent person. He was aware of the dangers of trying to be too familiar with Sam as well as with any senior partners. They liked to be flattered, but one could not be obvious about such things. Sam had seen him lurking by the study and called him in to join them in conversation. Tom was aware that what Sam wanted was an audience for his stories, but he still felt lucky at being called in. Tom Myers was twenty-five years old and hoped to be a partner by the time he was thirty. His starting salary at the firm was $130,000; more than most judges received. Twice the annual salary his father—a line worker with Chrysler—had ever earned. Tom was aware that his life was going through a significant transition and that it was perhaps happening very quickly. But Tom Myers did not think in terms of luck or even of fortune. He felt that he had been planning such things since the age of twelve. Hard work, good grades, scholarship, avoiding the things that get in the way of a good career and life. Plan your work, then work your plan.
At one point in the conversation, he felt it was safe to say, “And where did he get the authority for that?”
It made the men in the room laugh. Even Sam, as it flattered him. And Sam went on with his story, eventually getting to the part he liked. Something about his closing argument that had made one of the jurors actually cry. And, as Sam pointed out, he was the one defending the big bad corporation. Much laughter.
Beneath the study, in the basement of the house, there was a bar. You could go there if you wanted hard liquor rather than wine or beer. But the room was more or less dominated by Sam’s kids and their friends who were home from college and they seemed a little raucous and territorial.
There was a young woman at the bar, waiting for a vodka tonic. She was twenty-two, her fair skin contrasting with her black cocktail dress. The dress was not something she would have picked for herself; it was something that Tom wanted her to wear. It didn’t much matter to her one way or the other. She was an attractive woman, though not strikingly pretty. But she looked good in the dress and she knew that Tom Myers took pride in having her escort him to the party. The girl’s name was Cordelia.
In its way, St. Louis is a large small town. Consequently, Cordelia Penmark was familiar with the children of Sam Fisher. She didn’t like them. She thought they were vulgar. Yet some part of her knew that she didn’t quite belong with someone like Tom Myers either. She knew that she would have to make a decision about Tom fairly soon. Because if ever a boy had marriage on his mind, it was Tom Myers. Cordelia did not begrudge him his ambition. And he was not a bad sort. But a marriage with him would be disastrous. Though she wouldn’t be able to convince him of that. Not that she intended to try to convince him. Maybe later in her life, a Tom Myers would work. But not now.
Tim Fisher was saying something to her.
“What?” Cordelia said.
Tim said, “You going to Bodie’s tomorrow night? He’s having a party.”
Tim Fisher standing next to her in his baggy jeans and his ridiculous facial hair, trying to be street. God, speaking to her as if they were old friends or something.
Cordelia looked at him briefly. Giving him that much, she said, “No.” And walked away with her drink.
She drifted out to the back patio to have a cigarette. She smoked and looked out at the dead leaves on the pool cover. Cold out here. Her coat was somewhere inside. It would be warm in the spring and she would graduate from Washington University. And then what? Europe? The Hamptons? She was welcome in both of those places, had family homes in those places. But the social strata required that she play a certain part when she was there. Dinner parties, clubs, fund-raisers, etc. It required her to pretend. It was like work. It was hard to talk about it with people. Certainly she never talked about it with Tom Myers. He would hardly be sympathetic to the plight of the poor little rich girl. Tom wanted to be in the Hamptons. Would work his tail off his whole life to be a part of something that was vague, something that probably didn’t quite exist. It’s not quite Pamela and Averell Harriman, dahling. It’s Tim Fisher in baggy pants trying to be Eminem.
Cordelia looked down into her drink. It was two-thirds drained. God, now she was becoming an alcoholic. Sucking down vodka like it was Hi-C. She would have to watch the drinking. She lifted her cigarette. Yeah, maybe cut down on the smoking too. It was what happened when you got bored at parties. Smoke and drink just to have something to do.
“Nice night, isn’t it?”
Cordelia turned to see a man standing next to her. He lit a cigarette. An older fellow, perhaps around her dad’s age.
“Yes,” she said. “A little warm for this time of year.”
The man nodded and gave her a polite smile. He wasn’t bad-looking for an older guy. Maybe he wasn’t wanting anything from her. Maybe an old guy who wouldn’t try to hit on her because she was half his age. More often than not, they just wanted to talk to a pretty girl. Or a young one.
She said, “You’re a lawyer, I suppose.”
He looked over at her. “I guess,” he said.
It made her laugh. She said, “Is it that bad?”
“No, it’s not that bad. Are you a law student?”
“No. I’m still in college. I’ll graduate this year.”
She waited for him to ask what she would do next. But he didn’t. And she thought, He doesn’t know. He doesn’t know that I don’t have to think about a career or work or money. Sometimes you’d let people know to keep things straight. She remembered seeing an old Tom Hanks movie on cable. Tom Hanks when he was young and thin, playing a recent college graduate from an aristocratic family, telling the Long Island girl that he came from “that kind of money” and then asking her to forget about it. She liked him in that film because he played a pretty ratty guy and wasn’t so serious. She could tell this man, I don’t have to work. You see, I’m a Penmark. Maybe throw in a little Katharine Hepburn accent, see if it would make him laugh. But maybe he wouldn’t see that she was trying to be funny. And she would hear him say “oh” in that way people tended to say “oh” when they heard the name . . . well, maybe you couldn’t blame them for it. Maybe she would react the same way in their place, though she liked to think she wouldn’t.
Cordelia said, “So . . .”
“So?” the man said.
“You’re going through a midlife crisis or something?”
“Right. The Corvette’s down the street.”
She smiled. “Corvette? Isn’t that a little, uh, Arkansas for a serious lawyer?”
“That’s not nice.”
“I’m not a nice girl.”
“Hey, don’t tease a lonely man.”
The man said, “Oh, here he comes.”
It was Tom. Cordelia saw that he was uncomfortable. She looked from the middle-aged man to Tom. Tom said, “Hey, Ross. I see you’ve met my girl.”
“Not formally,” Ross said.
“My name is Cordelia.”
The man called Ross gave her a tilt of his head.
Tom said, “Ross is our chief litigator. We call him the Terminator.”
“Oh, God,” Ross said, the intended flattery actually insulting him.
Cordelia said, “Do they now?”
“Not for a long time.”
“You should see this guy at trial,” Tom said. “He’s the best.”
And just like that, the mood was ruined. Cordelia, who was a little wise beyond her years, could see that both men now had to act in character. The middle-aged litigator had to hide his disenchantment with law and his cynicism from the young associate, and the young associate had to kiss up to the litigator. Ross was shaking his head now, saying, “It’s just a job.” He seemed embarrassed.
Cordelia thought, If Tom wasn’t here, we could have fun. Not fun like dirty, shameful fun. But a good conversation. Jokes, some naughtiness, something to salvage this boring night. But we play different roles for different people and these two would not mix. She wondered if the man named Ross was aware of it.
She realized that he was when he said, “It was nice chatting with you.” He started back to the house.
Tom was looking after him, not quite sure what to make of it. Finally, he said, “That Ross,” like he really knew him. He turned to Cordelia and said, “You ready to leave?”
“Yeah,” Cordelia said.
They were walking in the grass alongside parked cars, Cordelia keeping her thoughts to herself. Telling herself that it wasn’t really Tom’s fault. He was who he was. She had agreed to come to the party with him. She would have to do it soon: have to break it off with him. Maybe after Christmas. Maybe after New Years’ Day. January was a bleak time anyway; he would be better off without her.
Tom walked ahead of her. The grass was still moist and she could feel wetness in her toes. The car was parked almost three houses down and she began to feel the chill. The noise of the party drifted off behind them.
They got to Tom’s car, a new BMW 5 series he had bought a month ago. Part of the lawyer’s uniform, he told her. The cars were parked close together, so Tom had to squeeze between the car in front of his to get to the driver’s side. Cordelia remained on the passenger side, watching him as he bent down to put the key in the lock.
Cordelia felt her heart jump before she realized that she was seeing the men. It surprised her because she hadn’t heard anything. All in the same instant, she saw the first man on Tom’s side of the car and another man on her side, to her left. She was frightened already and her jaw dropped as she saw the man on Tom’s side raise a pistol. Tom said, “Hey,” almost like he was starting a conversation, before the man shot him twice and he dropped out of sight.
Cordelia started to scream but then was grabbed from behind by the man on her side of the car. She smelled him, smelled his body odor, as an arm and hand encircled her throat and she felt something on her mouth and nose.
It was like a dream. Vague, black, hideous. Her vision blurring as she saw the man on the other side of the car, a man in a green jacket, pointing his arm down toward the ground. Tom, who she couldn’t see now. Then the man pulled the trigger again.
That was all she remembered.
Copyright © 2008 by James Patrick Hunt. All rights reserved.