May 16, 1997, the day Shannon dumped me after five years of dating and a year of engagement. I'll never forget it. Late afternoon at her cousin's college graduation party. I had to work late and the party was in full swing by the time I arrived. When I arrived, I grabbed a beer, chatted with friends, and wandered looking for Shannon. I found her sitting on Joe's lap, whispering in his ear. I just stood there, looking stupid and amazed. Joe nudged her and she looked up at me. We're done, she said, and went back to whispering in Joe's ear, his hand squeezing her ass.
* * *
Two years later I finished law school. Didn't take long to figure out that graduating toward the top of your class doesn't help find a job in a down economy. I scraped together my meager savings, borrowed from friends, and opened my own office in my hometown.
The first year was tough, but I was a lifelong resident and clients trickled in. Some of the rich ones who knew my folks would throw simple work my way, and the poor ones came around because they couldn't afford anyone better. Then came the Harris murders.
Johnny Harris was a loser, 40 years old and living at home. He grew some weed in a far corner of the soybean fields, smoked the dope, listened to the Doobie Brothers, and lived wanted for little. When his parents were murdered and Johnny found the bodies, the shit hit the fan. After seventeen hours of interrogation, he broke down and admitted he might have done it in a pot-induced haze. He wouldn't sign the confession, but the cops didn't care. They charged him with capital murder.
Johnny's sister Tammy had used me for her divorce, and she told Johnny to get me for the case. I had helped out on a few murder trials in my law school clinic, but I'd never had one myself. Johnny didn't care, though. He was flat broke and I met his most important criteria: I was cheap. Real cheap.
I worked day and night on the Harris murder case. I flooded the prosecution with motions, discovery requests, and anything else I could think up to get this poor bastard acquitted. Eventually, I was successful in getting Johnny's confession suppressed. Seems the coppers hadn't bothered to read him his Miranda rights, and they had no probable cause to take him in and hold him for seventeen hours of interrogation. With no confession, no eyewitnesses, and no physical evidence tying Johnny to the crime, the State dropped the charges and Johnny walked free. Within weeks, I was the busiest goddamned attorney in the county.
I took all manner of cases. I represented banks foreclosing on homes; homeowners being foreclosed upon; criminal defense; real estate closings; personal injury; and divorces. If you could pay my bill, I'd take your case. Day after day, from early morning to late into the evening, seven days a week, behind my desk researching and drafting documents or arguing in a courtroom on behalf of my clients. My office got bigger, my part-time secretary became two full-time secretaries, and my crappy, drafty studio apartment became a large, airy ranch in the country. I had it all.
All, that is, except a love life. Sure, there was the occasional date, and the even less occasional frantic release of passionate sex with some near stranger. None of them hung around, though. Who has time for a boyfriend–or husband, for that matter–who works all the time and is late for dates when he bothers to show up at all?
That's the way it is, though. You make your bed and you sleep in the damned thing. And if your choice is to avoid the Shannon Ryans of this world, that bed becomes an empty field you throw yourself into at the end of another 16-hour workday.
* * *
By late 2006, business was to the point where an associate was needed or clients would have to go elsewhere. Not wanting to lose any valuable accounts, my eyes were out for a hard-working, talented young attorney with fire in the belly. That turned out to be Rebecca Galarza, a 30-year oldish assistant state's attorney with a flair for understatement. She was tall with long, dark hair, deep brown eyes, and flawless olive skin. Her high cheekbones ran down her face to a delicate chin and full lips. Her long legs ran straight up to a perfect, pouty ass, and her breasts were a perfect handful sitting high on her chest and pointing slightly upward. She was the only woman I knew that could make a pantsuit sexy. Not that I noticed.
I made Rebecca an offer. Fifty grand a year plus thirty points on anything above one-fifty she brought in. All told, she could expect to make ninety or more a year with an average work week, and far more if she put in longer hours. Not great in the big city, but huge money in backwater Illinois. And in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.
Rebecca's only experience was with criminal prosecution. As such, there was a learning curve she needed to meet to deal with my clientele. She sat in on meetings, real estate closings, discovery depositions, and all other manner of this strange and arcane world known as general civil law. She held the hands of wives and husbands going through divorces and custody battles, drafted contracts for commercial building contracts, and presented zoning petitions before the local powers that be. Within six months, she was working eighty hours a week and we were taking in even more money and clients than before. She required little guidance, and I was left figuring out how to meet the expanded case demands.
All of this new business left even less time for a love life. Rebecca, though beautiful, was an employee, and it didn't seem prudent to risk the investment. Occasionally I'd turn and catch her looking at me in a way that indicated the chance was there, but messy dating followed by messy break-up would leave poor Erik with another associate to find and train. Still, if something didn't happen soon . . . .
* * *
My intercom buzzed. "Mr. Taylor, your four o'clock appointment is here to see you." I pressed the button. "Please show her into the conference room."
I looked at my schedule. 4:00 Hollis, S–possible divorce/custody.
I grabbed a legal pad and pen and strode to the conference room. She was sitting in a chair with her back to me, her short brown hair bobbed above the collar, her shoulders slumped slightly, her long fingers twirling a pen on the tabletop. "Thank you for waiting, Ms. Hollis," I said, closing the door and walking around to the other side of the table.
She looked up at me. "Hello, Erik," Shannon said.
I stood there a moment before inching out my chair and slid in. She hadn't changed much. Short-cut blonde hair, square jaws with high cheekbones, and green eyes that could look through you. Her hair accentuated her long neck and willowy figure, which she had managed to keep firm over the years. She was still a real looker, no two ways about it.
I didn't say anything, just drank her in and remembered our times, both good and bad.
"It's good to see you again, too," she said, trying to smile. "It's been a long time."
I put the pen and pad of paper on the table, leaned back, and crossed my legs. "About ten years," I said.
"Too long." She looked back down at the table.
I said nothing.
"Ron's leaving me." She looked at a picture on the wall to her right. "Says he's taking the kids, too. Taking everything. Says he's going to leave me in the streets, where I belong."
I nodded. "Who's Ron?"
"I figured that much. Why's he so all powerful is my point."
"Ron Hollis," she said, looking back at me before searching out another picture on the walls. "I know you've heard of him." I shook my head. "His family owns Hollis Construction."
I nodded. "Okay."
"They're loaded. He says he's going to get a battery of lawyers and take it all. Keep me from ever seeing my children again." She looked back at me, her eyes not leaving mine. "Erik, you've got to help me."
"No, Shannon, I don't."
Her shoulders slumped further. "I knew you'd say that."
"Why's he leaving you, as if I really need to ask?"
She looked back at me, her green eyes flashing with fury. "Fuck you."
"No," I said. "It wasn't fucking me."
"I don't . . ."
"See where it's any of my concern?" I leaned across the table, my face inches from hers. "Of course you don't," I said, "because you're not a lawyer. But if you need a lawyer, you'd better be prepared to answer that question and many more. Do you understand?"
She looked up, a tear running down her cheek. "You'll help me then?"
I sat back. "No, Shannon, I won't help you. You can't afford me. But I'll give you some referrals."
"How do you know I can't afford you?"
"Because if you could, you wouldn't be here."
She nodded. "I guess I just figured that . . . Well, you know."
"That I'd help you for old times sake? That you treated me so well I'd come running to defend you?"
She looked me in the eyes, tears now streaming down both cheeks smearing her makeup. "I don't know what I thought. I guess I didn't think." She was sobbing now. "That's been the problem lately. I haven't been thinking straight."
I pushed a box of tissue toward her. She took a few and wiped at here eyes. Those deep, bright, green eyes.
"Don't tell me, let me guess," I said. "You married this asshole because he was fun. He could take you out and show you a good time. And you wanted kids. I mean, what the fuck, that's part of the whole life's experience, right?"
"Don't go there, Erik," she flashed, "I love my kids. I'd do anything for them."
I nodded. "Sure you would. Anything, that is, except stay home for them. Be faithful to your husband for them. Quit going out whenever and wherever you want for them." "You don't understand," she said.
"Oh, but I do understand. You see, Shannon, that's the way you've always been. It's the way you'll always be. Marriage–and kids, for that matter–was just another experience for you. Consequences on everyone else be damned. Your biggest concern is where's your next good time going to come from."
"He used me, Erik," she said. "He used me as his goddamned plaything. He didn't love me, he wanted me. As a trophy, something to show off at the club and with his friends and family. And he got me, which is all he ever wanted. And when he got me, he moved along to the next whore who would share his bed."
I leaned back, locking my hands behind my head. "Sounds like peas in a pod. You two are perfect for each other."
She stopped crying, sniffled a few times, and continued. "It was okay. I wasn't real happy about it, mind you. But I really wanted to make this work." She wiped the corners of her eyes, crumpled the tissue, and set it neatly on the table in front of her. "But then he started slapping me around." She looked at me, as if gauging the effect her allegation had. I remained impassive. "You don't believe me."
"It doesn't really matter what I believe. It only matters what I can prove."
She reached into her purse. "How about these?" she said, sliding a series of photographs and medical reports across the table to me.
I glanced down. Yep, she seemed to have some proof, not that his battery of attorneys wouldn't go after it and try to–perhaps successfully–shoot it all down.
"Okay, you've got some proof. Why do you need me?"
"This doesn't make you mad? You don't give a shit at all?"
I leafed through the photos and the reports. He liked kidney shots and punches to the thighs. Nothing that would show outside a dress, mind you, but plenty in a court of law. I put the pile back down in front of her. "No," I said, "I guess I quit caring about ten years ago, Shannon."
Her shoulders slumped. "Erik," she said, her eyes glued to her hands on the table before her, "no one else will represent me. At least no one worth hiring. I've tried. They all want too much money, and he won't give me access to enough to hire anyone." She looked me in the eyes, chewing her bottom lip. "I don't really know how to say this."
I raised my eyebrows; she looked back at her hands and softly spoke. "Erik, I'll do anything if you represent me. Anything." I leaned forward, my face near hers, my lips close to her ear. "What do you mean, 'anything?'"
"I mean anything. Whatever you want. You name the terms. You want me to come back with you, I'll do it. You want to fuck me, I'll do it. I mean anything."
I leaned back, saying nothing. She continued to stare at her hands, then at a teardrop that fell on the table before her. After a moment, she looked up. Tears were now streaming down her face. "Aren't you going to say something? Anything?"
"First," I said, crossing my arms, "why would I want you back? You haven't changed. Second, why would I want to sleep with you? Been there, done that. Third, I represent you here–give you thirty grand in legal services–and you sleep with me once? Christ, I don't know how good you think you are, but pros charge $500 a night out here. I know, I've represented them."
She saw a glimmer of hope. "So if we could work out an arrangement, then maybe . . . ."
I shook my head. "No, Shannon, we couldn't. It's unethical, and I have no reason to believe you won't report me."
Her hands flew across the table and grabbed my left hand. "Erik, set your terms. I don't care what they are, just set them. I won't tell anyone, swear to Christ I won't."
I took a deep breath and started thinking. It took a few minutes, but the puzzle started coming together nicely.
"All right, Shannon, here's how it'll work." I took her hands and kissed them. "You'll get billed at the normal rates. You will be billed every two weeks. You will come to my house the first Saturday night following your receipt of the bill. Got it?" I looked at her. After a moment, she nodded. "You have, of course the right to review your bills. If there's anything you think is unfair or not proper, we will discuss it and negotiate a resolution. I will be absolutely fair on this point, treat you just like I do all of my other clients. Okay?" Again, she nodded. She was getting nervous, though, waiting for the hammer to fall.
I leaned forward and whispered. "For every thousand dollars on that bill you owe me, you will spend a Saturday night at my house. With me. Doing–as you say it–anything."
Her eyes opened wide. "But that could be . . ."
"Exactly," I said, "that could be a lot of Saturday nights. And you can't get behind in your bill, either. So if the bill is two grand, you've got to spend the next two Saturday nights after getting the bill."
"But that's not fair," she said. "That's not what I proposed."
"No, it's not. But it's what I propose. And it's fair. I'm essentially paying you twice what a hooker would get, so the terms are actually more than fair."
"But I'm not a hooker," she said. Tears again streamed down her face. "I don't know," she said.
"Wait," I said, "there are two more rules. First, when you are done spending the nights required, I will give you cash equal to the nights–two nights, two grand. You will then get a money order payable to my law firm and pay the bill with the money I give you. Understand?" She nodded. "Second," I continued, "anything means just what it says: anything. Understand?"
She paused, then nodded.
"Shannon, if you don't follow these rules, I will immediately withdraw as your attorney. You'll have no evidence of our arrangement, and you'll probably lose custody of your kids. Wind up on the streets, for that matter, flat broke and alone. Do you understand?" I leaned forward and took her hands into mine. "You don't have to decide now. For old times' sake, I'll get started on your case immediately. I'll know what your answer is on the first Saturday after the first bill. If you show up, we've got a deal. If you don't, I withdraw."
* * *
Three weeks later, my doorbell rang at 7:00 o'clock on Saturday night. It was a warm evening in early Summer, and she was dressed simply in a yellow cotton sun dress and sandals. The dress flattered her long, slim legs, flat tummy, flaring hips, and breasts still pointing upward. She had taken care of herself since we'd broken up and was, if anything, more beautiful than ever.
"Please," I said, stepping aside, "come in."
She walked past me into the great room, standing there and looking around. Looking at everything except me.
After a few moments of silence, I asked, "So, is this your answer?"
She looked at me. "I don't know yet," she said. "I want to know what anything is going to entail."
I motioned to the love seat and she sat, crossing her legs. I sat on the couch and faced her.
"Anything means anything," I said. "It was your proposal, your choice of words. It seems clear that it means anything . . . I . . . damned . . . well . . . please."
She nodded. "Even . . . you know?"
I nodded. "Yes," I said, "even that. Don't tell me you still haven't tried . . ."
She shook her head. "No. Never." She looked at me, her eyes pleading. "Why are you doing this?"
I sat back, crossed my legs, and put my right arm over the back of the couch. "I'm not, Shannon. You're doing this. This is your decision."
"You know what I mean," she said.
I smiled. "Yes, I know what you mean." I got up and walked into the kitchen, grabbed a couple of beers, opened them, and returned, placing one of the beers on the table in front of her. I took a drink of my beer. "When you dumped me, you didn't give a shit. Five years, and the best you could do was dump me in two words while some asshole squeezed your ass. A fucking engagement ring on your finger, and you treated me like a goddamned housefly. Brush me off, move on. It's all about you, it's always been all about you, and it will always be all about you." I took another drink. "Well, now it's going to be all about someone else, and you're going to be giving instead of taking."
Her eyes flashed, her anger palpable in her tensed jaw. She picked up the beer and downed half of it, her eyes never leaving me.
"Fine," she said, putting down the beer and kicking off her sandals, "I'll take the deal. And I'll do whatever you say. But it's not going to be me giving to you. Just know that, Erik. I'll be doing this for my children, not for you. And I'll be thinking of someone else every time I do it, not of you."
I nodded. "That's fine," I said. "Then let's begin."
I stood, walked to the light switch, and dimmed the lights, walked to the front door and locked it, and returned to the sofa.
"When we first started dating, I remember you asking me once whether I ever jerked off. I told you yes–hell, who the fuck doesn't–and you laughed. And you would bring it up occasionally, and you'd laugh some more." She tried to suppress a smile. "And you said you never played with yourself." I raised my eyebrow. Her smile disappeared as she saw where this was going. "So what I want you to do is to play with yourself for me."
She laughed. "You're kidding me."
I shook my head. "I assure you I'm not." I leaned forward. "There's more. I want you to talk dirty to me while you do it." She glared at me. "And I mean dirty to me, not to someone else." She couldn't avoid thinking of me now, and she knew it. I smiled and raised my eyebrow. "I'm waiting."
She stood, took another drink of her beer, pushed her dress straps to one side, and shrugged it down her lithe figure. She was wearing a lacy white push-up bra and a matching g-string. Her skin was pale, almost luminescent. Her belly was flat, her hips flaring slightly, and no hair showed from the sides of the g-string. Did she shave now? There was a faint scar just above the top of the g-string. I leaned forward and gazed, lost in her beauty. Say this, she looked better than when she was in high school. And the scar was probably from a caesarean section, so her pussy may still be tight. I felt a tightening in my trousers.
"Like what you see?" she said, reaching up to unclasp her bra from the front.