Chapter 3

THERE had been no truly damaging or insightful instant message or e-mail at first. But that changed in a big way three weeks later.

The intercom in Tia's cubicle buzzed.

A brash voice said, "My office now."

It was Hester Crimstein, the big boss at her law firm. Hester always buzzed her underlings herself, never had her assistant do it. And she always sounded a little pissed off, as though you should have already known that she wanted to see you and magically materialized without her having to waste time with the intercom.

Six months ago, Tia had gone back to work as an attorney for the law firm of Burton and Crimstein. Burton had died years ago. Crimstein, the famed and much-feared lawyer Hester Crimstein, was very much alive and in charge. She was known internationally as an expert on all things criminal and even hosted her own show on truTV with the clever moniker Crimstein on Crime.

Hester Crimstein snapped-her voice was always a snap-through the intercom, "Tia?"

"I'm on my way."

She jammed the E-SpyRight report into her top drawer and started down the row with the glass-enclosed offices on one side, the ones for the senior partners with the bright sunshine, and the airless cubicles on the other. Burton and Crimstein had a total caste system with one ruling entity. There were senior partners, sure, but Hester Crimstein would not allow any of them to add their name to the masthead.

Tia reached the spacious corner office suite. Hester's assistant barely glanced up when she walked by. Hester's door was open. It usually was. Tia stopped and knocked on the wall next to the door.

Hester walked back and forth. She was a small woman, but she didn't look small. She looked compact and powerful and sort of dangerous. She didn't pace, Tia thought, so much as stalk. She gave off heat, a sense of power.

"I need you to take a deposition in Boston on Saturday," she said without preamble.

Tia stepped into the room. Hester's hair was always frizzy, a sort of bottled off-blond. She somehow gave you the sense that she was harried and yet totally together. Some people command your atten- tion-Hester Crimstein actually seemed to take you by the lapels and shake you and make you stare into her eyes.

"Sure, no problem," Tia said. "Which case?"


Tia knew it.

"Here's the file. Bring that computer expert with you. The guy with the awful posture and the nightmare-inducing tattoos."

"Brett," Tia said.

"Right, him. I want to go through the guy's personal computer."

Hester handed it to her and resumed her pacing.

Tia glanced at it. "This is the witness at the bar, right?"

"Exactly. Fly up tomorrow. Go home and study."

"Okay, no problem."

Hester stopped pacing. "Tia?"

Tia had been paging through the file. She was trying to keep her mind on the case, on Beck and this deposition and the chance to go to Boston. But that damn E-SpyRight report kept barging in. She looked at her boss.

"Something on your mind?" Hester asked.

"Just this deposition."

Hester frowned. "Good. Because this guy is a lying sack of donkey dung. You understand me?"

"Donkey dung," Tia repeated.

"Right. He definitely didn't see what he says he saw. Couldn't have. You got me?"

"And you want me to prove that?"



"Just the opposite, in fact."

Tia frowned. "I'm not following. You don't want me to prove that he's a lying sack of donkey dung?"


Tia gave a small shrug. "Care to elaborate?"

"I'd be delighted. I want you to sit there and nod sweetly and ask a million questions. I want you to wear something formfitting and maybe even low cut. I want you to smile at him as though you're on a first date and you're finding everything he says fascinating. There is to be no skepticism in your tone. Every word he says is the gospel truth."

Tia nodded. "You want him to talk freely."


"You want it all on the record. His entire story."

"Yes again."

"So you can nail his sorry ass later in court."

Hester arched an eyebrow. "And with the famed Crimstein panache."

"Okay," Tia said. "Got it."

"I'm going to serve up his balls for breakfast. Your job, to keep within this metaphor, is to do the grocery shopping. Can you handle that?"

That report from Adam's computer-how should she handle it? Get in touch with Mike, for one. Sit down, hash through it, figure their next best step...


"I can handle it, yes."

Hester stopped pacing. She took a step toward Tia. She was at least six inches shorter, but again it didn't feel that way to Tia. "Do you know why I picked you for this task?"

"Because I'm a Columbia Law School grad, a damn fine attorney, and in the six months I've been here, you've barely given me work that would challenge a rhesus monkey?"


"Why, then?"

"Because you're old."

Tia looked at her.

"Not that way. I mean, what are you, mid-forties? I have at least ten years on you. I mean the rest of my junior lawyers are babies. They'll want to look like heroes. They'll think they can prove themselves."

"And I won't?"

Hester shrugged. "You do, you're out."

Nothing to say to that so Tia kept her mouth closed. She lowered her head and looked at the file, but her mind kept wrestling her back to her son, to his damn computer, to that report.

Hester waited a beat. She gave Tia the stare that had made many a witness crack. Tia met it, tried not to feel it. "Why did you choose this firm?" Hester asked.



"Because of you," Tia said.

"Should I be flattered?"

Tia shrugged. "You asked for the truth. The truth is, I've always admired your work."

Hester smiled. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm the balls."

Tia waited.

"But why else?"

"That's pretty much it," Tia said.

Hester shook her head. "There's more."

"I'm not following."

Hester sat down at her desk chair. She signaled for Tia to do the same. "You want me to elaborate again?"


"You chose this firm because it is run by a feminist. You figured that I'd understand why you'd take years off to raise your kids."

Tia said nothing.

"That about right?"

"To some degree."

"But see, feminism isn't about helping a fellow sister. It's about an equal playing field. It's about giving women choices, not guarantees."

Tia waited.

"You chose motherhood. That shouldn't punish you. But it shouldn't make you special either. You lost those years in terms of work. You got out of line. You don't just get to cut back in. Equal playing field. So if a guy took off work to raise his kids, he'd be treated the same. You see?"

Tia made a noncommittal gesture.

"You said you admire my work," Hester went on.


"I chose not to have a family. Do you admire that?"

"I don't think it's a question of admiration or not."

"Precisely. And it's the same with your choice. I chose career. I didn't get out of that line. So law-career-wise, I'm in the front now. But at the end of the day, I don't get to go home to the handsome doctor and the picket fence and the two-point-four kids. You understand what I'm saying?"

"I do."

"Wonderful." Hester's nostrils flared as she turned the famed glare up a notch. "So when you're sitting in this office-in myoffice-your thoughts are all about me, how to please and serve me, not what you're going to make for dinner or whether your kid will be late for soccer practice. You follow?"

Tia wanted to protest but the tone didn't leave much room for debate. "I follow."


The phone rang. Hester picked it up. "What?" Pause. "That moron. I told him to shut his mouth." Hester spun the chair away. That was Tia's cue. She rose and headed out, wishing like hell she was only worried about something as inane as dinner or soccer practice.

In the corridor she stopped and took out her mobile phone. She stuck the file under her arm, and even after Hester's scolding, her mind went straight back to the e-mail message in the E-SpyRight report.

The reports were often so long-Adam surfed a lot and visited so many sites, so many "friends" on places like MySpace and Facebook- that the printouts were ridiculously voluminous. For the most part she skimmed them now, as though that also made it somehow less an invasion of privacy, when in truth, she couldn't stand knowing so much.

She hurried back to her desk. The requisite family photograph was on her desk. The four of them-Mike, Jill, Tia and, of course, Adam, in one of the few moments he would grant them an audi- ence-out on the front stoop. All of the smiles looked forced, but this picture brought her such comfort.

She pulled out the E-SpyRight report and found the e-mail that had startled her so. She read it again. It hadn't changed. She thought about what to do and realized that it wasn't her decision alone.

Tia took out her cell phone and put in Mike's number. Then she typed out the text and hit SEND.

MIKE was still wearing his ice skates when the text came in.

"That Handcuffs?" Mo asked.

Mo had already taken off the skates. The locker room, like all hockey locker rooms, stunk horribly. The problem was that the sweat got into all the pads. A big oscillating fan swayed back and forth. It didn't help much. The hockey players never noticed. A stranger would have entered and nearly passed out from the stench.

Mike looked at his wife's phone number.


"God, you are so whipped."

"Yeah," Mike said. "She texted me. Totally whipped."

Mo made a face. Mike and Mo had been friends since their Dartmouth days. They'd played on the hockey team there-Mike the leading scorer at left wing, Mo the tough goon at defenseman. Nearly a quarter century after graduating-Mike now the transplant surgeon, Mo doing murky work for the Central Intelligence Agency-they still played those roles.

The other guys removed their pads gingerly. They were all getting older and hockey was a young man's game.

"She knows this is your hockey time, right?"


"So she should know better."

"It's just a text, Mo. "

"You bust your balls at the hospital all week," he said, with that small smile that never let you know for sure if he was kidding or not. "This is hockey time, sacred time. She should know that by now."

Mo had been there on that cold winter day when Mike first saw Tia. Actually, Mo had seen her first. They'd been playing the home opener against Yale. Mike and Mo were both juniors. Tia had been in the stands. During the pregame warm-up-the part where you skate in a circle and stretch-Mo had elbowed him and nodded toward where Tia sat and said, "Nice sweater puppies."

That was how it began.

Mo had a theory that all women would go for either Mike or, well, him. Mo got the ones attracted to the bad boy while Mike took the girls who saw picket fences in his baby blues. So in the third period, with Dartmouth comfortably ahead, Mo picked a fight and beat the hell out of someone on Yale. As he punched the guy out, he turned and winked at Tia and gauged her reaction.

The refs broke up the fight. As Mo skated into the penalty box, he leaned toward Mike and said, "Yours."

Prophetic words. They met up at a party after the game. Tia had come with a senior, but she had no interest. They talked about their pasts. He told her right away that he wanted to be a doctor and she wanted to know when he first knew.

"Seems like always," he'd answered.

Tia wouldn't accept that answer. She dug harder, which he'd soon learn was always her way. Eventually he surprised himself by telling her how he had been a sickly kid and how doctors became his heroes. She listened in a way no one else ever had or would. They didn't so much start a relationship as plunge into it. They ate together in the cafeteria. They studied together at night. Mike would bring her wine and candles to the library.

"Do you mind if I read her text?" Mike said.

"She's such a pain in the ass."

"Express that then, Mo. Don't hold back."

"If you were in church, would she be texting you?"

"Tia? Probably."

"Fine, read it. Then tell her we're on our way to a really great titty bar."

"Yeah, okay, I'll do that."

Mike clicked and read the message:

Need to talk. Something I found in computer report. Come straight home.

Mo saw the look on his friend's face. "What?"


"Good. So we're still on for the titty bar tonight."

"We were never on for a titty bar."

"You one of those sissies who prefer to call them 'gentlemen's clubs'?"

"Either way, I can't."

"She making you come home?"

"We got a situation."


Mo didn't know from the word "personal."

"Something with Adam," Mike said.

"My godson? What?"

"He's not your godson."

Mo wasn't the godfather because Tia wouldn't allow it. But that didn't stop Mo from thinking he was. When they had the baby-naming, Mo had actually come up to the front and stood next to Tia's brother, the real godfather. Mo just glared at him. And Tia's brother hadn't said a word.

"So what's wrong?"

"Don't know yet."

"Tia is too overprotective. You know that."

Mike put down his cell phone. "Adam quit the hockey team."

Mo made a face as if Mike had suggested that his son had gotten into devil worship or bestiality. "Whoa."

Mike unlaced his skates, slid them off.

"How could you not tell me that?" Mo asked.

Mike reached for his blade protectors. He unsnapped his shoulder pads. More guys walked by, saying good-bye to Doc. Most knew to give Mo, even off the ice, wide berth.

"I drove you here," Mo said.


"So you left your car at the hospital. It'll waste time to drive you back there. I'll take you home."

"I don't think that's a good idea."

"Tough. I want to see my godson. And figure out what the hell you're doing wrong."