|The Last Goodbye
By Reed Arvin
Published by HarperCollins
February 2004; 0060555513; 352 pages
So I'll tell you. I'll tell you because confession is supposed to be good for the soul, and when choosing between the tonics available -- from religion to Tony Robbins to the friendly late-night chemist -- this unburdening seems to present the least risk. When it comes to my soul, I have adopted a doctor's attitude: First, do no harm.
The complete overthrow of my principles. That was what I had done. A moment in time, and my life -- previously not lived to the highest standards, but plenty respectable -- blew up. The distance between integrity and the loss of innocence proved to be razor-thin, a handful of decisions, frictionless, greased with desire. I thought I was choosing a woman. I thought -- and I have to swallow this back, but it's the truth, and this is the unburdening, after all -- I had earned her. And now she is my ghost, come to judge me.
This is the beginning of moral collapse: to be held captive by a woman's eyes. Looking into hers, my mind went blank. All I knew was that she was in my office, and she was crying, and at some point I asked her to sit down. Her name was Violeta Ramirez, and I ignored her faux leather pocketbook, her Wal-mart dress, the run in her stocking. These were signals that she was in the wrong office, of course, in the same way that a Timex is the wrong watch in a store that sells yachts. But I was looking at her flawless, caramel skin, the deep, black hair pulled back, the fathomless, brown eyes. The familiar script in my body began to play, this hormone washing over these cells, neurons lighting up, a million years of evolution lining up my thoughts like little soldiers.
The clients of Carthy, Williams and Douglas did not generally cry in my office. They were far more likely to rant, curse, or even, when I was lucky, to intently listen. But having paid four hundred dollars an hour for the privilege of occupying the chair opposite me, complaints about their manners were not welcome. A crying woman was something else, however, and I found myself leaping up, asking her if I could get her anything. She was exquisitely beautiful, she was crying, and she could not be ignored.
Caliz was the father of her child, she said. There had been a mistake; he had aggravated the police; they had planted las drogas on him. He was good, if only people understood him. He had a smart mouth, and the police had made him pay. He was no choirboy, she knew that -- was that a bruise hiding underneath her dark makeup? -- but of this, he was innocent.
I don't know if she was aware of the effect she was having on me. I watched, mesmerized, as each tear slipped down her cheek. She crossed her legs, and I caught my breath. It's not that I didn't appreciate most women. I have appreciated them from my earliest memories, from the bosomy warmth of my mother to the incisive intelligence of the female associates at the firm. It's just that feminism doesn't mean anything to the human body, and there was something so uncomplicated and vulnerable in her that I couldn't stop my entire soul from wanting her.
There were obligations, which I met: I explained the firm didn't do drug cases, or for that matter, criminal law of any kind. The crying had gotten worse then, and in the end I couldn't even bring up the obvious impossibility of her paying my fee. But it wouldn't have mattered, because Carthy, Williams and Douglas would sooner invite the archangel of death into their offices than defend a drug dealer. So I simply said that my hands were tied, which was true. I did not have the power to change the rules of the firm. She rose, shook my hand, and crept from my office in tears and humiliation. Hours after she left, the image of her lingered. I stared at the chair where she had been, willing her back. For two days, I couldn't do a thing at the office. At last I called her, telling her I would see what I could do. The truth is, I would have moved heaven and earth to see her again.
It was work selling the idea to the firm. By meticulous design, Carthy, Williams and Douglas was as far away from legal aid as it was possible to get. Its offices occupied three floors of the Tower Walk building in Buckhead, the part of Atlanta where it's a crime to be either old or poor. And if anybody was going to go play in the slums for a few days, it wasn't likely to be me, Jack Hammond. At three years out of law school, I had just moved to Atlanta -- the magnet that pulls together the shards of humanity from all over the Southeast -- was working seventy-hour weeks, and generally outspending my salary with a vengeance. I couldn't afford any detours. But in spite of this, I made an appointment with founding partner Frank Carthy.
Carthy was seventy years old and had come up when pro bono work was a part of every big firm's responsibility. Until the early 1980s it had been expected, and judges had handed it out as a part of the obligation of the profession. That had suited him fine; he was an old-school southern liberal, with a soft spot for civil rights cases. He still told stories about getting protesters out of jail in the 1960s, mostly for things like being the wrong color to sit at a particular place in a restaurant. So even though he would resist a drug case, he might be attracted to a case about a crying girl and false arrest based on race ...
From the hot new suspense writer critics predict will have Grisham fans "switching their allegiance in midstream" comes a thrilling tale of love and murder set on the mean streets and in the sleek society haunts of Atlanta. . . .
Sleeping with a client's gorgeous girlfriend may have been the gutsiest move in Jack Hammond's formerly booming law career, but it wasn't the smartest. Booted from his elite law firm, Jack now scrapes by as a court-appointed attorney, his client list a revolving door of small-time drug offenders and petty thieves.
When his friend -- a computer whiz and former addict who'd brought his life back from the brink -- is found dead in his apartment with a syringe stuck in his arm, Jack knows something is very wrong.
Where the cops see just another overdose, Jack sees a murder. Investigating the case, he learns that his friend was obsessed with a beautiful singer -- who also happens to be half of the most popular power couple in Atlanta.
Talented and privileged, the spellbinding Michele Sonnieris nevertheless a deeply troubled woman, plagued by secrets. Against his better judgment -- and in a disturbing echo of his earlier fall from grace -- Jack is pulled further and further into her world, where he discovers more suspicious deaths, all pointing toward a mysterious cover-up.(back to top)