When We Were Married Ch. 04CbyDanielQSteele1©
Thursday, July 21, 2005 -- 2 p.m.
My name is Bill Maitland. I am the second most powerful man in the State Attorney's office in Jacksonville. The most powerful if you consider that my boss' eye and attention and heart is really centered on the Governor's chair in Tallahassee. Day to day, I run the place.
I was also, at this particular moment in time, looking and feeling like a survivor of World War III. My face looked like one of those mutants in 1950s-Atomic Bomb horror movies My left eye had been a spreading pool of red, brown and yellow before Doctor Gary Wells in the Shands Emergency Room had examined it and covered it with a patch before administering several medications into the eye.
"You say you hurt your eye when you got hit by a doorknob? That was an amazing doorknob. It seems to have possessed knuckles."
"That's my story and I'm sticking to it."
He just shook his head. I had put the three thugs, who had raped and murdered his wife eight years before as they caught her leaving Shands early on a Saturday morning, on death row in Raiford and Wells had never forgotten. He had remarried, but he still checked with me every few months to see how close they were to dying in the Death Chamber.
"Amazing things they're doing with doorknobs nowadays," he said dryly. "Anyway, I don't think that...doorknob..shattered the bone around the eye, although there might be some hairline fractures that should heal on their own. I'm also pretty sure that the cornea and eye itself haven't sustained any real damage. You need to come in here in about a week and let me check it again."
He gestured at the rest of my face, which was a patchwork of bruises, cuts, a couple of missing chunks in my lower lip, and general mayhem.
"The rest of it is superficial. It will heal in time and I don't think you'll be frightening little children in another week or so."
He touched up my face with a few smaller bandages, antibiotic salves and stepped back to look at his handiwork.
"You're a lucky man, Bill. That doorknob could have cost you your eye. There's a reason why boxing gloves were introduced to the Sweet Science. The 'doorknob' that hit you was really pissed off and knew what it was doing. You are lucky. How did the doorknob do, by the way?"
There was no one around.
"He got his nose broken, a couple of times. He probably won't be able to pose for Playgirl again. And I think I busted a couple of his ribs, but I don't think he suffered any real internal damage. I've got a pro boxing trainer taking care of him."
"I'm glad you didn't hurt him too badly. I know it seems pretty bad right now. When...Sharon...was gone...I didn't think I'd ever wake up again and be glad to be alive again. But now I've got Melissa and little Brad and I'm glad to be alive every morning. It will get better, Bill."
I just grunted. I was happy for him, but right now I was just beginning to see the possibility of a life after Debbie.
I was able to drive and I made my way to Carlos' gym where he was bandaging up Doug Baker. As I walked in Baker and Ernesto were talking about the politics involved in picking the boxers who actually won spots on the Olympic teams. Baker looked up at me sourly and said, "I hope you lose that damned eye. It hurts every time I breathe and Christ knows what my nose is going to look like. I may need plastic surgery. And you broke my goddamned hand."
He held up his right hand, which Carlos had covered in a plaster cast.
Carlos slapped him hard on the back and grinned as Baker winced, saying, "Don't be a baby, Professor. It will give you character. Any woman who turns away from a broken nose probably isn't worth having anyway."
"Thank you, Carlos, Ernesto. I appreciate you being there for me. And Doug, I want you out of town. You say you've got a job in Chicago. Don't dawdle on getting out of here. I want at least a thousand miles between you and Kelly. As soon as possible, understand? I'd kind of like the idea of having you branded a sexual predator and being forbidden from being around kids for the rest of your life. Get out of town. Don't tempt me."
I walked out. I really couldn't stomach seeing any more of the bastard for one day. I hoped he did get out of town.
Thursday, July 21, 2005 -- 2 p.m.
"Come this way, Ms. Bascomb."
Debbie followed the heavy-set older woman into the office whose nameplate read, "Johnny August -- Public Defender."
She had met August before. She'd met most of the lawyers on both sides of aisle, judges and courthouse officials during the ten years that Bill had been with the State Attorney's Office. As she walked in, she gestured and then realized that was a superfluous gesture and simply said, "Please don't get up, Mr. August. I appreciate the gesture, but it's not needed."
August was a tow-headed 50-year-old who looked 20 years younger. He resembled nothing so much as a country boy grown older without growing up. His hands still looked too big for his body. He looked, she thought, like he ought to be chewing on a blade of grass and looking up at the clouds on a summer day, barefoot and happy.
It was all an act, of course. He was a 6-foot-6 intellectual who had graduated with honors from Harvard and, before he'd lost his sight, was said to have read Plato in Greek and Latin editions. But he had mastered the art of the "aw shucks southern boy" charm that kept getting him re-elected Public Defender term after term.
He looked at her in the pleasant, but slightly out-of-focus way of adults who had lost their sight as adults. He knew what things looked like, knew where he should be looking, but could only see things in shapes and blurred outlines.
"Mrs. Maitland. It's a pleasure to -- well not to see you of course, but to sense you here in my office."
"It's Bascomb, Mr. August."
She tried to keep an edge out of her voice, to keep the honeyed charm that she wanted to wield on this man who, when he still had remnants of sight, had stripped her naked just as readily as any other healthy male.
He had always liked her, she knew that, and for more than her body and face. He was one of those men who seemed not challenged but to visually enjoy the sight of a beautiful female body. And he had actually treated her as if she had a brain in her head at those interminable courthouse events that she had let Bill drag her to during their marriage. Talking with him had been more than the usual interplay of male/female flirting.
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Bascomb. It's just, that I've known you for too long as Ms. Maitland. It will be hard to break that habit."
She sat down at a chair in front of him and from force of habit crossed her legs and leaned back smiling at him. She saw him gesture to the fat secretary who closed the door behind her.
"I know. It's been a hard habit for me to break, too. That's why I'm going by Debbie Bascomb now. Bill and I will be divorced in less than a month and I -- I need to start carving out a life for myself instead of just being known as Bill Maitland's wife. It still feels funny sometimes to call myself Bascomb...but it's necessary."
He stared at her and she wondered how much sight he actually retained.
"I was sorry to hear about it, Debbie. Nobody ever knows what somebody else's marriage is really like, but that man loved you. Really did....Anyway, I agreed to meet you for old times' sake and because that was an interesting message you left for me. Would you care to elaborate?"
"As to my message, I'm here because I need you and I think you need me."
He just looked in her direction and after a minute she continued.
"I'm here because I'm on my way out at UNF, for reasons that I don't need to explain to you. I know that you know President Myers. I have to believe that he would have called you before indicating that there might be the chance of employment here in -- a different capacity than I've had the academic arena."
"I've talked to him. We're old friends, actually."
"I know you know each other. I did a little research -- actually a lot in a little bit of time -- after I met with him yesterday. And I decided that his hint I contact you had some thought behind it. I just don't understand why he would offer to help someone he evidently loathes as much as he loathes me."
August steepled his fingers in front of him.
"It's not that he loathes you, Debbie. I would say that you...trouble him. You bring up memories he has tried to tamp down. I only know this because we were friends between my second and third divorces and as men sharing similar --experiences --we grew familiar with how we think about certain things. If he truly hated you, he would not have talked to me about you.
"Let's just say that I think he felt casting you out from the comfortable academic womb you're comfortable in and forcing you to sink or swim in the outside world is both a punishment -- and a chance for you to remake your life. Frankly, if you wind up destroyed, he will be able to salve his conscience with the knowledge that he did give you a chance to make a new life. And you didn't take advantage of it."
"Now...as to why I need you?"
"Have you read the paper lately?"
"No, but I've had it read to me."
"Then you're aware that your office is in political hot water almost constantly. You exceed your budgets and have to come back to the state constantly for temporary funding to finish up your budget years, plus money just seems to have a habit of disappearing and no one can tell exactly where it went. Were it not for your personal popularity and the fact that everybody knows you're an honest man, the governor would have sacked you a long time ago.
"Plus, you have a constant roiling of office waters with backbiting among your subordinates, most of whom seem more concerned about sitting in your chair than winning cases, and in general, this office is perceived as an asylum run by the inmates, rather than by a strong administrator."
He sat there and just looked at her with that blind gaze for an interminable time but she kept her mouth shut. If she went down in flames, at least she would have gone down fighting.
Finally he said, "So you're saying I'm a shitty administrator?"
"You're a fine lawyer."
Finally he smiled.
"Very nicely done. You might have a political future. Yes, I'll concede that I might not be the best administrator on the planet. I would only say that guiding an office full of ambitious, contentious young lawyers is akin to herding cats. It's easier said than done."
'I haven't had a lot of time, as I said, to do research on this, but I know that the structure of a typical legal firm is closer to medieval times than the 21st century. You might not know it, but what I've researched and taught has focused on corporate structure and, more importantly, on making organizations more coherent and effective in their core activities."
She leaned forward.
"I would like some time to do some planning and prepare a presentation on how I might be of service to you in this office. If nothing else, you might benefit by having somebody be the 'bad cop' to your 'good cop' when you have to exert discipline or take unpopular actions. A powerful office manager could play that role."
August sat there rubbing the knuckles of one big hand with his other hand and then turned in his chair so that he was looking away from her. You didn't have to be an expert in negotiating to know that was a bad sign.
"All of that is very interesting, Ms. Bascomb. Debbie. But...."
"I probably should at least let you make your presentation, but I will have to tell you that I have some misgivings about bringing you into this office."
"We know each other, Debbie, so let me be frank. It is your....reputation..."
"Could you be a little more specific, Mr. August? Is it my reputation as a big boobed slut that gets wild at office parties? Is that what you've heard? I'm surprised an attorney would take innuendo as fact.
" Anybody ever actually see anything happen between me and any man at any party, except guys rubbing themselves against a woman while dancing? Or maybe a kiss under the mistletoe at an office party?
"I've got a birthmark where it can't be seen under normal clothing. In any of the stories about all the guys supposed to have gotten lucky with me, got my top off or dress down, has anyone ever mentioned that birthmark? Don't you think, Mr. August, that if guys were screwing me left and right the way the stories say, that somebody would have mentioned that?"
"No, but Debbie, let's be honest, you have always been the center of attention for men at those parties and guys have been after you. And, there is the matter of Doug Baker..."
"Which didn't happen until my marriage was dead...and let me tell you despite everybody's loving my soon-to-be ex, he isn't blameless in that marriage's death."
Johnny August swung around to face her and held out his hand to stop her.
"Debbie, understand me, okay. I'm no prude. Men and women are going to get together...inside the office and outside. I have no problem with a very hot, very sexy woman coming to work here, even if most of the male staff start trying to kill each other to win your favor. The problem I have with you is not you -- it's the man who is going to be your ex."
"Bill? You're worried about hiring me because of Bill?"
"Yes. Look. I'm not afraid of Bill Maitland. He's a good, tough attorney and he's run over a lot of my people. But he puts his pants on one leg at a time. He's just a man. But, he is a very powerful man. Austin Edwards lets him pretty much run the office while he's running for Governor.
"The thing is, this is not a popular office. Nobody really loves the Public Defender's Office. Most of our clients, many of them, are scumbags. A lot of them are guilty, if not of the crimes they're charged with, of something else. We don't inspire warm and fuzzy feelings on the part of the public.
"The State Attorney always has the edge. They have us outgunned and outmanned. They've got the cops, investigators, resources we can't match. If you get a real son of a bitch in Bill's position, somebody who's out for headlines, he can crucify people. There are a lot of bad prosecutors around the country.
"Bill Maitland has always been a fair man. He's hard as nails, but he's honest and he plays by the rules.
"And you are his Achilles' heel. For three months he's been snarling around the courthouse like a lion with a big thorn up his ass. Anybody makes any kind of cheating wife jokes, he's tearing them a new one. One of his assistants nearly lost his job for saying something -- unkind -- about you. It's clear to anybody who's not completely blind, that the guy is still hung up on you.
"What I have to ask myself is, what if I hire you and you come in here and you fall or some guy in here falls for you and word gets out that one of my assistants is banging Bill Maitland's ex-wife? You want to know what I think will happen? What I'm afraid will happen?
"I'm afraid that he will take out his anger on everybody associated with this office. Now, like I said, I'm not afraid of him. We'll fight it out in court and I'll still get a paycheck and go home and get a good night's sleep.
"But, the people we represent....they're going to be hurt. Our clients don't have a lot of money. They don't have the resources that your upper middle class types do. They're a lot closer to the ground and can get hurt a lot more by an angry prosecutor."
He seemed to be staring into her eyes as he said, "I guess what I'm saying, Debbie, is that if you can't keep it in your pants, so to speak, you could do a lot of damage to people whose main crime is being poor and powerless. I don't know if I can take that chance."
"I appreciate your honesty, Johnny. All I can say is that I need this job and I'll do anything I have to do to avoid jeopardizing it. I can promise you that I will keep mine in my pants if your guys will do the same. I don't see a problem, and Bill and I will work out our...problems. All I can ask if that you at least give me the chance to show you that I could improve this office."
"Alright I will look at anything you want to present to me. And I will promise to try to be fair in evaluating you. I would only ask you one small favor."
"For God's sake, please never wear anything skintight to this office. I don't want a riot to break out in here."
Thursday, July 21, 2005 -- 3 p.m.
"Oh, My God, Bill- Mr. Maitland, what happened?"
I waived off Cheryl while two other secretaries and a couple of Assistant SAs came out of their offices to look in my direction. With the taped and covered eye-patch, assorted red-yellow-brown bruises and a banged up mouth, I wasn't surprised at the reaction.
"I was coming down the stairs at my condo and missed a step and bounced down a stair or two," I lied, pretty smoothly I thought.
"Are you okay?"
"I'm fine, Cheryl. I've already been to the hospital. I'll have to wear the patch for a week or two, but I'll be okay. Make sure everybody get the word so a lot of wild rumors don't start sweeping the office, okay?"
I made my way as quickly as possible into my office. Wild rumors would still sweep the building, but at least I might have headed off the worst of them. I closed the door and sat down trying to think about what was in front of me.
A note on the desk said that a Rev. Montgomery had called twice and was coming by. I suddenly wished I had played hooky for the rest of the day, but I had to try to figure out what to do about Deaven Thompson.
As I'd expected, my phone buzzed and Cheryl said, "Mr. Maitland, Rev. Montgomery is outside. He's insisting on talking with you." I rubbed my right eye, which was starting to ache too, but I couldn't duck him forever.
A moment later Montgomery walked into my office and sat down in front of me without being asked. He was a short, round, black man with close-cropped hair and fairly expensive clothes. He wore a chain with a heavy gold crucifix around his neck and enough gold and diamond rings on his fingers to put the lie to the myth that men of the cloth have no pride of appearance.
"Mr. Maitland? I'm glad we've finally had this chance to talk. By the way, what happened. You look like you've been in a war."
"Reverend, I'm happy to give you some time to talk. I'm sorry that it's been so hard to get together. Oh, and those are just some injuries I suffered in a fall at my home. Get older and you get clumsy."
He gave me a look.
"I've found that public servants usually find the time to talk with people they want to talk to."
"I apologize, but I've been professionally and personally swamped for awhile. It's been very busy."
He bit his lower lip.
"Not so busy that you couldn't take a junket on an expensive French cruise ship for a week while underlings had to do your job."
I held my tongue. He was a powerful man in the African American community both for his position as the leader of a large black church and a political organizer as well.
"That's the first vacation I've taken in three years and I have been...experiencing some personal....stress..."
"I didn't mean any criticism. It's just that there are some important matters that are before you, and people's lives are on hold until you make a decision."
"People like Shawn Smith?"
He played with a large gold and diamond ring on his pinkie finger for a moment and then looked up at me.
"Yes, Patrolman Smith has been left hanging for an intolerable length of time. When is your office going to exonerate him in that shooting and let him get on with his life?"
"You're assuming he deserves to be exonerated?"
Montgomery straightened up in his seat."