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First pages

Chapter One

Look, it’s important how I tell the old man’s story. To me it is. I haven’t done it before and I’ll bet a thousand dollars right now I never will again. I don’t know whether I should start from that day he appeared in my office wearing a rumpled old tan coat. His slacks were grey and needed a trip to the dry cleaners and he wasn’t wearing a tie. I could see the top of a white t-shirt that might have been the newest thing on him, and I was grateful for it as his flesh would have been easily visible through the cheap white button down. All he carried turned out to be a stack of mostly handwritten pages, which he had tucked neatly in one of those depressing old manila folders.

I noticed it in his hands and my mind took me to one of those sad mom-and-pop office supply stores, the kind that fossilize right off small town main street when just for the sake of everyone’s mental health it should have folded twenty years before. I don’t know why my brain even knows such a place. It must have been when I was still in school or something, and needed one lousy folder. I really don’t remember. But I saw the thing in his hands and conjured up a vivid emotion, a snapshot of me standing, realizing the last person to have picked from the small stack on the cheap old olive green aluminum shelf might have done so when I was still young enough to play in the woods. Does anything else on the planet have that weird, clean, sad stagnancy that collects upon office supplies?

I shared a receptionist with the big law firm in the building and they must have told her how behind I was, because she should not have let this white haired codger with his folder that was making me feel like a coward into my office. There he sat in the chair in front of my desk, his pale eyes empty and lost.

Then he looked at me and down at the folder as though he didn’t know why it had been handed to him. Old reflexes kicked in and I took it from him gently. He let me without resistance. The name on the tab was handwritten in block capital letters: JEDEDIAH SULLIVAN. Underneath in the same hand but much smaller it read CONFIDENTIAL – ATTORNEY’S EYES ONLY. I liked that. But that’s the beginning and isn’t where it starts.

I grew up knowing people could walk around just fine without their minds. My grandfather. He wasn’t even my real grandfather, just someone grandma married after the love of her life got eaten by a disease in a few months, start to finish. That happened before I was born, so the old Chippewa—he claimed, and I never had reason to doubt—was my grandpa from that side of the family. Don’t get me started on the other side. He was nice enough. All I remember is the same joke he seemed unable to avoid any time I was within range, “You got dirt on your nose, Jamie! Gotta clean it off!”

He’d point that bent old finger with a feeble wave. I still think he hammed it up a little. When he was pissed at his nurses for no reason at all, he could clamp those bony digits on their wrists so they couldn’t get away. Which I guess means I remember more after all than his joke about my baby freckles, which have been gone so long my memories of myself don’t contain them.

But that’s all going quite a long way back. I only bring it all up to say I knew the look. It wasn’t a surprise at all to read on the first page that Mr. Jedediah Sullivan was no longer all there—it did not specify Alzheimer’s, and I would learn soon enough that was for good reason—and it was only everything else I managed to scan quickly on the next couple of pages that made my knees shake to the point I finally sat down in my chair across the desk from him.

That’s way too much too soon, though. It damn sure was for me.

After I got the old man in a cab and relayed the proscribed instructions to the driver, of course I did some digging. I couldn’t resist. I sure didn’t have anything better to do. Hell, it turned out he was paying me enough.

Did I check with the bar whether or not I should or even could take his money? Does my bartender count? Sorry, that is really bad. I don’t even have one.

Jedediah Sullivan had been a boxer, before and after his time in the military. I wasn’t able to track down his service record easily and shelved it for later. I don’t follow boxing, not like my dad did with Ali. Dad thought Tyson was a punk. But I couldn’t find anyone who’d ever heard of the old man. Just a few records that showed a career with as many losses as victories and a smattering of knockouts. On the delivering end, that is. As far as I could tell he’d never been put out on the mat, but the ref had stepped in a few times to stop the beating. I though that might explain his condition, and it made me feel smart even though I was nowhere.

The thing is, it all would’ve made a lot more sense if he’d lost someone. Maybe his daughter and grandkids got killed in some crossfire. A favorite nephew found in an alley with a needle stuck in his arm. A bomb in a café. Anything. Public records didn’t show so much as a single ill-fated marriage. I envied him that at least.

Whatever the hell it was that got the idea stuck in his head, I still don’t have a clue. Other than just wanting to kick ass, which I suppose is plenty fine in and of itself. I mean in theory. The day I met him I can say with certainty there was no longer a cell in my body with an inkling of what that felt like.

I’m not one of those lawyers that comes into court with their clients, confidence running off his sleeves like they could put their lips on a cuff and suck, like there really is balm in Gilead.

I used to be educated before I decided on the law. But I’m not one of those lawyers. I’m the kind that gets hired by one of them, or by a debt collector, or a bank, whatever. I mean I was. By the time Jedediah Sullivan was sitting in my chair I’d lost the stomach for it. I mentioned the receptionist and her spiteful little games. The dumb old condor. I could’ve sued her and her bosses for violating my rights. It was almost tempting, the idea of seeing her dehydrated neck all clamped up and trembly as my deposition really got going. Not even the grandkids are off limits if you know how to set the narrative. Not that I’d go there. Well unless the witness was a particular kind of scum. Sometimes the best thing you could do for a fat little spoiled brat was kick his patriarch so hard in the nuts he’d lose control of his bowels right there in front of everyone, legally speaking.

It’s funny. Lawyers are such candy asses. The firm that owned the building I was in? I hadn’t paid a dime of rent or my miniscule share of fees for things such as professional receptionists answering my phone and gatekeeping my goddamn door in so long I didn’t remember. I was like those deadbeats I’d slap with Unlawful Detainers, who’d stopped paying for so many months they felt life entitled them to a break on basic overheads. People really do that. They slip off that rung of the ladder and its like the next several are missing. By the time they catch themselves they’re looking up and can’t see how to make up that distance. You know what surprised me most after years of practice? That people in such circumstances aren’t more capable of doing bad things. Usually they just turn craven in petty ways. Sometimes they make threats out loud, but usually we lawyers and judges just see their sneaky little plots scroll by like headline news all over their faces. There are about five expressions we use when that happens, but usually I go for a half frown, half sneer that says, “Don’t be stupid, and you don’t have the guts.” It works. They realize they weren’t the first to think of whatever it was they wanted to do to their landlord, and it’s not like the authorities don’t know where they live, given the time and expense being undertaken to pry them out.

So for the past year and a half I had been joining their ranks, a missed month’s rent at a time. I guarantee the firm’s partners talked themselves into calling it a professional courtesy. The truth is they didn’t try to kick me out because nobody hates paying legal fees more than a lawyer, and that old expression of being dug in like a tic? A tic with a law degree who specialized in evictions and tenants’ rights. I’m a landlord’s night terrors, unless he’s paying me to evict someone for him.

It’s not a closet, either. My office is nice enough. Wood and leather and a shelf that used to have the usual collection of law books that looked like encyclopedia Britannica on steroids. They were there when I got there. I got rid of them one day, before the old man ever showed up.

I swear I don’t know why, but as soon as I cashed his check I dropped one of my own, for more than a year’s rent, right on the receptionist’s desk. I didn’t even stop to see her expression when she discovered what it was.

Later the partner who I used to know came by my office. Jesus fucking Christ there’s nothing like the scent of money to get a lawyer’s attention.

“James.”

“Warren.”

His card, and the big brass nameplate on his office read “E. Warren McCann III,” but I didn’t call him E. Warren. Don’t get me wrong, that’s exactly my style. But it’s been done too many times even for me, so I just went with Warren. Besides, he’d always treated me right, even if I did think he and his whole firm were a bunch of candy asses. I said that already, it was probably written all over my face like the deadbeats I just mentioned, as I sat there and looked at his navy blue Burberry and realized the check I’d just written wouldn’t have come close to paying for it.

Then he did something cool. He just smiled, got up, and left.

Left me to wonder what the hell I was going to do now that I’d taken a senile old man’s retainer.

It took more than a month. I got the call and went to the hospital. You’ve never seen a bruise till you’ve seen one on seventy-two year old skin. He had so many tubes coming out of him, and his face was puffy in that way you don’t see on younger fighters. Like it swelled inward instead of out. Nothing rounded and shiny, just purple and black and lumpy.

The doctor wouldn’t tell me anything at first. Power of attorney or no, he was a stickler about the patient confidentiality stuff. It pissed me off. Which is such bullshit. The two sets of people on the planet who know better than anyone the value of keeping one’s mouth shut are cops and lawyers. Yet nobody gets more annoyed than precisely those at people who are smart enough to shut the hell up. So I was mad, which didn’t matter. That first day in the hospital I didn’t get to learn the terrifying details about the old man’s condition.

I don’t run into many who’ve read Nabokov. Him I haven’t forgotten. The beautiful sonuvabitch was right, everything is a cipher.

I should never have been a lawyer.

Chapter Two

“Is he going to…?” I let my question tail off and waited. Old trick. The doctor was younger than me, brown hair with matching eyes. There was real intelligence in them, none of that phony squinting or eyebrow raising some of them do, like Clooney back in the ER days. He looked like he could hop out the door and run a cool marathon, blue hospital shirt and stethoscope around his neck the whole time, and he refused my prompting without a blink. Score one for the handsome, young, intelligent shit. “I mean, how bad?”

That’s when we went through the whole song and dance. All he’d tell me that first day is with two ribs puncturing the left lung, there was still risk of infection, pneumonia, and a bunch of other stuff that kept going on and on as though he’d been handed a list to memorize from the insurance agency.

Want to know what a hypocrite is? A lawyer who wishes just one doctor would straight shoot him.

The old man was still asleep when I came back the next day armed with a hard copy of my power of attorney and a couple other documents I typed right out of my ass. They were titled Medical Addendum, Client Healthcare Provisions, and End of Life Representation. It was all crap and I think the doc suspected, but he finally opened up.

“I inherited Mr. Sullivan from his former GP.”

“How long ago?”

He looked at the screen next to him, by Sullivan’s bed. I was sitting on the other side against the wall in a padded wooden chair that was more comfortable than it looked.

“Almost six weeks.”

I was about to say something when my rusted brain let out a clank only I could hear. “What was the date?”

He gave it to me. It was the day after he’d been in my office.

“What happened to his old doctor?”

“No idea.”

“You didn’t get a medical history?”

“Of course I did.” He tapped a few times and frowned.

“What?”

He just kept frowning, and wouldn’t meet my eyes. I was already sick of it. “Look, Doc, I’m not going to sue you. Let me prove it to you.”

I pulled out a legal pad from my black leather briefcase on the floor and in about seventy seconds scratched out a new client agreement. I signed it then shoved it to him.

“Isn’t this a potential conflict?”

“I told you, I’m not suing you. You fuck up, someone else can do that without any help from me. Sign that, and I can’t tell anyone anything.”

He read it again while I resisted the urge to punch him. Then he surprised me by pulling out his pen and adding a sentence before signing. I gave him a glare and wished I could take it back when I read he’d made me his patient. I couldn’t make out his name from the writing.

“I’m Jamie Bryer.” I held out my hand and he shook it.

“Alex Procter.” I held in a snort, but he caught me without changing expression. “Yeah, Procter the doctor. This means we can communicate in confidence, right?”

I looked at the legal pad, and then laughed. “Doc, maybe more than any other two people on the planet, we sure as hell can. You’re my client and I’m your patient.”

“Don’t we need to give each other a dollar or something now?”

“Nah. Signatures are good. And if anyone asks, we’ll lie and say we did.”

He surprised me by smiling at that. “Alright then. Mr. Sullivan’s medical history has a two year gap in it, which is surprising considering his age and mental state. I should have caught that sooner, but when I arrived in the ER late last night I focused on prior condition and allergies.”

He waved me over and I came around for a look at the screen. A quick search on my phone showed his previous doctor had retired, and then died that same weekend.

“Christ,” I said, and showed him.

Procter snapped his fingers. “I remember now. God, the cocktail party chatter. Everyone was going on about work being life for some people. How poor old Barnes should have just kept on going. Jesus, what a bunch of assholes.”

He was growing on me pretty fast. “Why’d you say inherited?”

“That’s just it. Sullivan was referred to me. I’m not sure why. I only knew Barnes by reputation.”

“Throwing a young guy a bone?”

“I guess. Hang on.” He turned the screen away from my eyes, and waited until I took a step sideways to make sure I couldn’t catch anything. “It’s odd. I did get four other patients from the man. They’re all still with me. Why I only met Mr. Sullivan so recently I do not know.”

“Is he unconscious because of the beating, or drugs?”

“The beating. He’s not on any drugs but antibiotics.”

That surprised me. “No morphine in the IV, or whatever?”

Procter shoved the screen out of his way and leaned forward, interested. I know a lecture coming when I see it, and took my seat again.

“Mr. Sullivan has an extraordinarily rare condition. I’d never heard of it until meeting him the first time six weeks ago.”

“Almost six.”

“Right.” He frowned at me. I shrugged. “Have you heard of analgesia?”

I hunted my memory. It sounded vaguely familiar, but I was drawing a blank and shook my head.

“It’s also known as CIP, or congenital insensitivity to pain. In the most extreme cases, the people who suffer it can accidentally put their hands on a hot stove and not know they are burning until they smell it.”

“Yes, I have heard of that, I remember now. But you’d never heard of it until the last six weeks?”

“No, what Mr. Sullivan has is a form of analgesia combined with something far more strange. It’s called amnalgesia, or at least that’s what the few physician’s who’ve even seen it in the modern era are taking to calling it. I think they can be forgiven for the lack of creativity. What it means is that while he can in fact feel pain, he does not experience it the way you or I do.”

The old man’s notes only said pain did not bother him, which I guess I’d filed away under tough guy BS. “How does he experience it?”

“The best way to answer that is a bit oblique. Do you know why we give people benzodiazepines?”

“Your what hurts?” He didn’t smile, but it was an old one. They entertain me. Sue me. Really, try.

“Valium, Xanax.”

“So they don’t kill their spouses?”

That got a twitch on one side of his mouth and if he wasn’t careful I was going to actually start thinking about liking him.

“Those drugs don’t actually do anything for pain. They affect memory.”

I leaned forward, elbows on my knees, and nodded for him to go on.

“Specifically, very short term memory. So we give patients things like morphine or different kinds of pain killers, which actually do numb the nerves. We give them anti-inflammatories because pain is inflammation in so many ways. But we also give them these drugs that simply make them forget, practically as the experience is happening. It’s arguable those are more effective than the others in terms of how patients deal with the unbearable.”

I thought about that. It hurt my brain. It’s not that I’m stupid, but like I said, there was a lot of rust built up since that day I stopped working. “But they still feel the pain, right Doc? I mean, when it happens.”

“Yes and no.”

“How’s that?”

“Well, without getting philosophical about it, this is what makes Mr. Sullivan’s condition so fascinating. His nerves are not numb. He can tell when something hot is about to burn him and pull his hand away. But if it did burn him, he would not let out a shout. At least not at the time.” He frowned.

“What?”

“It’s hard to explain because there are not a lot of records. Those who have suffered from the condition present varied symptoms. And Mr. Sullivan, as you know, is not fully present.”

“Punch drunk. Age.”

“Unrelated, I think.”

I shook my head, but he held up a hand. “I’m happy to tell you more, but I do have other patients. The best way I can put this is that your client, my patient, he is for lack of a better analogy in the moment, a kind of pain battery. His mind, perhaps even in some ways his physiology, stores pain events.”

“Stores them?”

“For later.”

I felt goose bumps raise on my arms and my eyes must have gone wide. I was going to have to work on my trial face all over again, but Procter nodded. “Mr. Sullivan doesn’t feel the pain when it happens, not at all. But he does feel it later.”

“How?”

“I have no idea.” He shook his head. “I only met with him once. Most of the time he acted as though I was the one who’d made him come visit me.”

I nodded. “Same here. He showed me a set of notes.”

It was Procter’s turn to reach into his briefcase. It was a slim, light one, that matched his hair. There was no ring on his finger, so I guessed the case had come from a girlfriend, or boyfriend for all the hell I could figure. I do admit to being something of a dinosaur. Have been since I was about twelve.

He pulled out a manila folder and my mind didn’t even return to the dead old office supply store. The one difference was, Procter the doctor’s only had a single page inside, and it wasn’t even full. On it I recognized the neat, block capital handwriting I had seen before.

 

DR. ALEX PROCTER. MY NAME IS JEDEDIAH SULLIVAN. I WAS REFERED BY ALAN BARNES, WHO WAS A FRIEND. HE HELPED ME WRITE THIS IN ORDER THAT YOU MAY EFFICIENTLY GO ABOUT YOUR WORK. I SUFFER FROM A FORM OF DEMENTIA, THOUGH I STILL HAVE LUCID MOMENTS. IF I AM NOT EXPERIENCING SUCH AT THE TIME OF OUR MEETING, PLEASE PROVIDE ME WITH A MEDICAL CHECKUP AND ANY TREATMENT YOU DEAM I MAY NEED IN YOUR JUDGMENT. TREAT THIS AS PERMISSION TO DRAW BLOOD AND PERFORM NORMAL TESTS FOR A STANDARD HEALTH EXAMINATION OF A MAN MY AGE. IF NECESSARY, PLEASE GET ME IN A TAXI FOR MY HOME ADDRESS AT THE CONCLUSION OF MY EXAMINATION. I WILL BE FINE FROM THERE. THANK YOU AND I HOPE TO MEET WITH MY WITS ABOUT ME.

 

SINCERELY,

 

J. SULLIVAN

 

Procter was watching my face as I read. When I looked up he didn’t wait. “What did yours say?”

“One hell of a lot more than that.”

The doc earned himself another point for not pouting and it had been so long since anybody had gotten that high up the scoreboard I was worried I might embarrass myself. “How did you learn about his, uh, condition?”

“He told me, right before he slipped away. I never get used to that.”

“It’s the eyes, isn’t it.”

Procter nodded. “Suddenly I had this lost boy on my hands. You know, the mind, the demented mind works in many ways as though it were on a permanent dose of benzodiazepine. Short term memory simply fails to function.”

“Are you saying he’s been behaving this way since he was younger? Even in the military?”

This time Procter did raise an eyebrow. If anything, the young turd was better looking than Clooney, but I didn’t really mind. It was clear I had earned my own point and had to resist a shit eating grin.

He went on. “As soon as I got him in the cab I read everything I could find on his diagnosis, but the one thing that may be unique from other documented cases of amnalgesia is how his pain presents.”

He took a breath. I waited.

“He described it like a discharge. Like the battery gives off a lightning bolt. All the pain since the last discharge comes out all at once. Others I read about had it differently, as though a tape were playing back later, sometimes faster, other times slower. I’m not sure which would be worse.”

“Slower.”

“Maybe, but some accounts mentioned that those who had it stretched out also seemed to find it somewhat dulled, diluted. And just the opposite for those who experienced it faster.”

We looked down at Sullivan. The doctor did not know what I knew. He did not know the old man had gotten himself into this, planned it. Not a bit of his exposed skin was its normal ashen white. Two of his broken ribs had pierced a lung, but there were ten others snapped so badly they could have. Procter reached and gently lifted the collar of the old man’s hospital gown. I saw a sheet of white gauze that already needed to be changed from stains of pink puss.

“Someone burned him in fourteen places with the butt of a cigar.” He pointed at the wrists, which were wrapped in more gauze. “Handcuffs. The detective who was here said he must have been hung in the air by them.”

I swallowed. Had to do it twice. “Got a name for the detective?”

He nodded toward the bedside table. I picked up a card with a badge embossed on it, surprised I hadn’t noticed it before. It read Detective Lieutenant Brant Cantino, and had his phone and badge numbers, and an email. Then Procter handed me one of his own. I had to fish in my wallet for an old wrinkled one of mine.

“I’d like to learn more about my patient, Mr. Breyer.”

“Call me Jamie.”

“Alright.”

He must have figured me out more than I thought, because he didn’t even wait for me to share what I wasn’t ready to divulge, but turned to go check on his other patients. He stopped at my voice. “You’re telling me that Mr. Sullivan may not have experienced any pain from this, but he will? All at once?”

“Yes, possibly more intensely than were it to play back at normal speed. And there’s no way to predict it. No way to give him any amount of morphine before the lightning strikes. And even if we could, I’m not sure morphine works on a memory.”

“What about Valium?”

“As far as I can tell there’s only one set of people on the planet for whom benzodiazepines have no effect.”

“People with amnalgesia.”

He nodded. Then something like curiosity crossed his face. I’d seen the look many times before in depositions.

“What?”

“Nothing. Just a thought.”

He turned and left. I wanted to take a point away, but that wouldn’t have been fair at all considering how many more cards I had than him, which I hadn’t come close to showing.

Chapter Three

Detective Brant Cantino’s name didn’t ring a bell. As if it should have. I didn’t know any cops. Not much reason for them to testify on old credit card debts, and even when they got called in on a landlord/tenant dispute that got out of hand, the judges would get pissed when bottom shelf guys like us tried swear in a cop, so we would stick with the police reports unless absolutely necessary.

Every morning in those courtrooms was such a dance. Such a farce. I work in San Jose, the county seat of Santa Clara. I sometimes wonder if San Jose is the biggest city people all over the world won’t admit they know anything about. San Francisco’s only a little over an hour’s drive to the north, either up the 101 or the 280, and as far as I’ve been able to tell for the last near half century the only reason “the city,” as everyone calls it for hundreds of miles in every direction—as if it’s the only one—hasn’t collapsed upon itself in a rundown, rotten mess is because of all the money that’s been slopping over from Silicon Valley. And ever since I’ve been here I’ve found it odd that everyone seems to take such pains to make sure San Jose is carved out of that territory, when it shouldn’t be. Or at least I think it’s unfair, but the courthouses I work in don’t see much traffic from the crowd with the money, and I guess that’s the short version of the story right there.

My office is in Palo Alto, the sweet part. The part you hear about when you read stories on all the tech history here—and Stanford. The university’s been there longer, but that’s not quite why I think the whole crowd surrounding it remains intimidated. I think it’s simply brainpower, but what do I know.

My hypocrisy in all things should be reasonably established by now, but actually I only landed the space on a tip that came through my wife, when we were still married. Even though my office lies right in the heart of all that money, it all remains a whole other world with which I am not familiar. I see the clothes, not suits, and have no idea where they shop, and even their cars seem to have little extra things on them that dealers inside the boundaries seem to add on their own. Just crap like little blue lights and extra chrome fixtures as slick and well designed as our phones. It’s probably ‘smart,’ like everything else here. Go ahead, thieves, try stealing this car and see what happens.

My apartment, such as it is, festers in East Palo Alto. I’m clean enough. Everything festers there. My landlord, a shell company, gave up on evicting me awhile back and instead let me file the rest of their unlawful detainers for them.

When I stopped filing them I wondered what would happen. Nothing. They’ve probably got ten or twenty more catfish just like me in this county alone. All the other stuff that actually paid me something, I farmed out over a year before to a former felon who can’t get a law license. My cut from his hustling kept me eating and filling the gas tank until the old man came along.

Why did I stop working? It’s a funny story, but it’ll come.

Back to the other world that’s just kind of overlaid right there, like two alternate universes occupying enough of the same space some physicist from Stanford, or Berkeley up and across the bay, should have written a paper by now. Whatever else is wrong with me, I’d have read it. But what gets me is with all that money flooding the pipes around here like they talk about data thrumming through fiber optics, one could be forgiven for wondering whether some kind souls might have taken a two minute drive east and helped clean things up a bit. As far as I can tell, the closest you can say they come is bulldozers and office parks all over San Mateo, almost as depressing as that old office supply store with the shelves and manila folders, and even then there’s still this tough little hardscrabble knot of East Palo Alto where the venture capitalists and tech dweebs refuse to tread, unless they think a walk on the wild side constitutes a ten dollar special from some tweaker. And that’s only at the old hotel just out of sight of the freeway. They don’t dare hover their new Beemers and Teslas through the neighborhoods.

I asked Warren once why one of his twenty-something billionaire clients didn’t see an opportunity. Rent, from north on the other side of the Golden Gate—hell from the northern border to San Diego—has been out of hand so long people here have forgotten what normal overheads are. You’d think someone’d snap up all of East Palo Alto and make a killing.

Warren just shook his head and made a fair point. “That’s why they’re billionaires, James, and you’re not.”

Even billionaires need their food cooked and tables waited, I guess, but the kind of dudes I’ve seen hanging on the streets and stoops on the way home sure aren’t fielding orders for Wagyu burgers, so I haven’t figured it out. Maybe they keep their mothers and sisters, daughters and sons with half a chance locked away at home, and only let them out to bus tables or work in the kitchens. I knew someone I could ask, but had not quite gotten around to it.

I realize I often sound like an ape, but what I’m saying is I don’t understand how anyone pays rent around here.

When I was really putting in the time I’d have forty cases a morning. Each one got a page on my legal pad, even if just a sentence at the top to remind me of name, case number, and disposition. There was this mix of being completely sick of each other’s voices and faces—me and whichever judges had the smalltime civil matters—and the kind of cordiality that comes from real pros trying to sort the stuff of broken lives. For more years than I like to admit, my job was either to stall or speed up, depending on which side had hired me. Civilians paid me $100 per hour, up front of course, which by all rights should be considered highway robbery except everything’s relative. I’ve been in the room when a few $500 per hour types do their thing and I’ve got no idea how some of them passed the bar.

Then there are the firms that farm out work to guys like me. They pay a lot less than retail.

That never goes both ways, by the way. Were I to ever need legal help? They’d probably charge me more than Joe Schmoe.

So every morning, when I had been working, me and the three or four other catfish in the chamber would be hustling up and down the aisles between the pews, to the front as cases were called by the clerk. Sometimes I’d be standing alone by the defense chair, snatching another thirty to ninety days over plaintiff’s objection. Then the other guy and I would be walking back to our seats and find ourselves turning right back around, switching chairs, and I was the one acting like anther two months of breathing room for some poor, broke, divorced out-of-work waitress was a travesty of justice.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Todd Templeman grew up in a family that moved around, a lot. He attended UC Berkeley, majoring in English, before founding a computer and video games development and publishing business in the Bay Area of California. After several years of producing games, writing fiction for them, and publishing them around the world, he left the games business to focus on writing. He lives on California’s central coast.

Q. Tell us about the cover and the inspiration for it.
A.
The background is of the Richmond Bridge, with San Quentin penitentiary out of sight on the right, and the city of Richmond to the left. All have relevance to the tale. The large hook is self-evident from the title, and the lips are, well, you'll see.
Q. Where can readers find out more about you?
A.
As one who spent a lot of years in tech and games, I don't shy away from social media.
Q. Where did the idea for this book come from?
A.
We were up in Healdsburg for the weekend and met a man who owned some property along the river delta. He told us a story of illicit crops grown on the banks, which ended up involving the FBI, and Mexican drug cartels and the slave laborers they sent up to tend the crops.

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Will protecting her save him from himself?
The Marquez Enigma
Search for El Dorado ends in C21st Spain