We walked down the glistening white corridor of the law school. Everything was stark and modern, except for the gold-framed oil portraits on the walls, one dead lawyer after another. I trailed behind the law student, whose name turned out to be Glenn Milestone, as he led me through the halls and down the basement to the legal clinic. He unlocked the door when we reached it, and it swung open onto a new office that cost more than its indigent clients would make in a lifetime.
“You swear you won’t steal anything?” Glenn said for the fiftieth time.
“Swear to God. And you’re not going to tell the cops, right?”
“I swear. I’m going, I don’t want to see this.” He slipped the keys into the pocket of his baggy shorts and turned away.
“Thanks.” I watched him go, then looked around to make sure nobody was watching. The place was deserted, so I went inside and closed the door behind me.
The clinic was set up for the kids to play office in, and I half expected to see toy cash registers with Monopoly money in white, pink, and the coveted yellow. There was a small reception area and I went past it to the hall. Off the hall was a lineup of offices. Each one was the same, with steel desks against the wall and padded chairs in front, but I was looking for the file room. I found it at the end of the hall and flicked on the light.
The files were alphabetical. I went to the J’s and yanked out the drawer. The files were neatly kept by the lawyers-to-be, and I thumbed through the Jacksons, Jameses, Jimenezes, and Joneses. No Jennings. I stopped, stumped for a moment.
Renee graduated from law school three years ago, so any client file of hers had probably been put away. Where did the law babies keep the dead files? I glanced around but there were no cardboard file boxes or archives in sight. Maybe they were in the file cabinets, unlabeled. I opened the drawers, one after another, each one sliding out with a smooth sound. No dice. They were all current files, applications for credits and evaluation forms, form complaints, answers, and other pleadings. Damn.
I slammed the last one closed and stood there snarling, my hands on my hips. There must be storage somewhere. No lawyer throws away files. No lawyer throws away anything. I thought about my young friend Glenn. I was having second thoughts about him. How long before he told them about me? Would he betray me? How much time did I have? I left the file room and hustled through the office, searching for a storage room.
I ran down the hall, then checked the closets in the offices. Coats, umbrellas, and backpacks. No luck. Behind one of the offices was a small coffee room. I went inside. A can of Folger’s sat next to an abandoned coffeemaker and a cord of Celestial Seasonings boxes. Red Zinger, Ginseng Plus, Sleepytime Tea, my ass. I wouldn’t hire a kid who didn’t drink coffee. No fire in the belly. I shoved the chamomile aside and opened the closet door.
BIERS BUSINESS ARCHIVES, said the cardboard boxes. Bingo. The same archives we used at Grun. I yanked on a hanging string and turned on the closet light, but it was still too dim. I dug in my handbag for my penlight, got up on tiptoe in my clumpy shoes, and rummaged in the first box. They were dead files, but only the first part of the alphabet. I thought I heard voices outside and waited. Nothing. My heart began to pound as I dove into the middle box, propping up the other boxes on my shoulder.
Hilliard. Jacobs. Jensen. A tiny circle of light fell on each manila folder. Then finally, Jennings. My hands began to tremble as I yanked out the folder, then peeked inside to see if it was Eileen’s. Complaint In Divorce, said the papers. It was a draft, and the caption readEILEEN JENNINGS V. ARTHUR JENNINGS.
Yes! I flicked off the penlight. But was it the same Eileen Jennings? I tugged the manila folder from the box and flipped to the back of the first pleading. It was signed, in a neat hand, by the name of the lawyer wannabe who drafted it:
So Reneehad been Eileen’s lawyer! I fought the impulse to read the file and stuffed it in my purse so Glenn wouldn’t see me carrying it out. I felt momentarily guilty for breaking my word to him, but it couldn’t be helped. I was about to leave when a news clipping sailed to the floor. I picked it up. The paper was yellowed and the printing blotchy, like a neighborhood newspaper:
York Man Found Slain
A York man, Arthur “Zeke” Jennings, was found dead in the alley beside Bill’s Taproom this morning, at Eighth and Main. He died from multiple stab wounds. Police Chief Jeffrey Danziger said the police have no suspects in the murder at the present time.
What? The clipping must have dropped from Eileen’s file. I held it in my hand and mentally rewound Eileen’s cassette tape. She’d said her husband had been shot in a hunting accident, not stabbed in an alley. What gives? And was Renee connected with it somehow? She must have been.
I heard a noise outside in the hall, then something creaky being dragged. I swallowed hard. Someone was coming in. There was no time to run.
“Who’s there?” called a woman’s voice, from the clinic hallway.
“Linda Frost,” I answered.
“Who’s Linda Frost?” she asked, coming into view. A stocky black woman, at least fifty years old, wearing a T-shirt and jeans. She pulled an old cleaning cart with a white bag attached, and she squinted at me with suspicion. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m a partner at Grun amp; Chase, one of the law firms downtown, and I needed some information on a clinic student. They let me in to get it.”
“In the middle of the damn night?”
“We want to make her an offer tomorrow, and I forgot my notes.”
“Well, they wouldn’t be in that closet. The students never go in there. That’s old files.”
“Oh. I thought they might have stuck them in here. You know, put them away. After the interview.”
“You interviewed students here today?”
She put a skeptical hand on her soft hip. “What’s this student’s name? Maybe I know him. I know all the students in the clinic.”
“I don’t think you know this one. She graduated a few years ago.”
“I been here ten years, come December.” She rolled her cleaning cart in front of the door, blocking it, and not inadvertently. “What’s the student’s name?”
I gave up. I was out of lies. “Renee Butler.”
“Oh, Renee!” Her broad face burst into a sunny grin and her distrust melted instantly into warmth. “I know Renee! Well, well, well, you lookin’ to give Renee a job? You’d be lucky to have her, yes you would. She’s smart, that girl, and sweet as jelly. She helped everybody that came through here and plenty of them needed it, believe me.”
“I’m sure,” I said, surprised.
“And she’s not a snob, that girl, no sir. Not high-and-mighty just ’cause she’s a lawyer. Always remembers my birthday, even now. Renee sends me a card, every August the 12th. She’s smart as a whip. And strong.”
“Very strong. Come through fire.” She nodded emphatically. “She had a bad childhood, you know. Her daddy, he beat her and her momma. She had to raise herself, that child, and she did a pretty good job of it.”
I thought of Eileen’s husband and the beatings she talked about on the tape. Maybe this woman knew something. “Renee told me she helped a lot of abused women at this clinic.”
“She did. She was a hard worker, always went the extra mile.” She nodded again, and I began to wonder what the extra mile included. Had Eileen killed her husband and Renee covered it up? And what, if anything, did that have to do with Bill or Mark? The cleaning woman had fallen silent and was looking at me expectantly. I didn’t think she knew any more, so I stood up stiffly, closed the closet door, and replaced the Red Zinger.
“Thanks for your time now. I think I’ll recommend she be hired. I’d better go.”
“What about your notes?” She rolled her cart slowly from the threshold, and I squeezed past it, catching a strong whiff of ammonia.
“I don’t need them, after talking to you. Bye, now.” I went down the office corridor as quickly as I could without renewing her suspicion.
“When you see Renee, tell her ‘hi’ from Jessie Morgan, will you?” she called after me.
“And tell her to get her fat butt to the next meeting! I never miss a meeting, I lost twenty-eight pounds in one year and kept off every single ounce!”
I reached the clinic door. “Meeting?” I asked, at the threshold.
“Weight Watchers! She missed last Monday night!”
But I couldn’t ask another question. Glenn was hustling down the hall towards me, and with him were Azzic and three uniformed cops.