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“I tried to call you last night,” she said. They were sitting at the kitchen table, waiting for water to boil so Mason could make some instant coffee.
“I was out for awhile.”
“Oh. Where’d you go?”
“Fletcher’s Inn. Place with good music. Jazz.”
“Was it nice.”
“Nice? It was OK.”
“Who’d you go with?”
“I didn’t go with anybody, Gail.” He tried to sound slightly hurt, the victim of unwarranted suspicions.
“Why didn’t you call me?”
“Partly because I felt like being alone, and also I guess I figured you didn’t particularly want to hear from me.”
“It would have been nice to hear from you, Mason, considering what I went through yesterday.”
He consciously restrained himself from saying he was sorry, even though he felt that way. The water had begun to boil, so he got up to make the coffee. When he set a cup down in front of Gail she slipped off her coat, causing him to feel even more threatened. For the first time since he got up, Mason remembered that George was ensconced in the spare bedroom.
“I’ve been doing some more thinking,” Gail said. Mason slumped a little upon hearing that.
“I think you and I should sell everything and move someplace where we can make a fresh start.”
“Oh.” Mason was dumbfounded. How could she think that he would ever give serious consideration to such a proposal. Did she not know him as well as he had assumed? Or did he not know her? Two sides of the same coin.
“I was thinking of a small town. Maybe someplace in California. Like Santa Barbara.
“Santa Barbara isn’t exactly a small town.”
“Well, you know what I mean. Someplace where there aren’t many other attorneys. You could open an office and get a nice practice going, maybe even teach like you do here. And I could get a little business of my own. I always wanted to own a flower shop. And it would just be us doing what we wanted to do. We could get married and have kids, if you wanted.” She paused to clarify that last statement. “But we wouldn’t have to at first.”
It was such a precious, loving fantasy that Mason momentarily felt awed by its appeal. In a way, she almost made him want to abandon everything and go with her.
“But, Gail, I’m 47 years old. I can’t just start my life over. It may not be much, and I may have gotten it pretty well fucked up, but it’s what I know. I can’t change now. You need a younger man to give you those things.”
“I wouldn’t want those things with a younger man.”
There were footsteps in the hallway and the sound of the bathroom door closing, followed in a few moments by the fainter sound of urine splashing in the toilet. Gail at first looked alarmed and then flashed him a murderous look.
“Who’s here?” she snapped.
He took a deep breath before settling into an explanation. “George came back last night.”
“George? Oh for Christ’s sake.”
“He needed a place to stay. He knows he’s welcome here.”
“I suppose his latest girlfriend kicked him out.”
“He did say something along those lines.”
The toilet flushed. They heard the door open again and the scuff of bare feet on their way back to the spare room. When it was evident that George was not going to join them, Gail resumed her conversation about him.
“How long’s he going to be here?”
Mason shrugged. “Depends.”
“Sometimes I think you have more regard for him than for me.”
“Come on, Gail. George and I have been pals since high school. We know we can count on each other for some things. I was his best man, and he was mine. At our weddings, I mean.”
“Yeah. And look what that got you.”
Her bitterness was unappealing, and since he couldn’t follow whatever transition she was trying to make to her analysis of his life style, he remained silent.
“OK,” she said. “I guess that’s it. You really don’t want anything better for yourself, do you? And you really don’t care about anyone else, including me. That’s it, Mason. I came here this morning to try to save our relationship, but I can’t wait for you forever. You can just pay me the five thousand dollars and we’ll call it quits.”
“Gail, how did you decide to ask me for money? Don’t you think that’s kind of a strange thing to do?”
“Strange? No. Money seems to be one of your basic operating principles. And the courts are doing it routinely. There was that case in California with the movie actor. He didn’t get off with a measly five thousand.”
“I know that case. It was reversed. He didn’t have to pay anything.”
“I don’t believe that. I haven’t heard anything about it. You think that just because you’re an attorney you can lord it over me. Well, I know one thing. His attorney fees were probably a whole lot more then five thousand, whether he won the case or not.”
She had managed to combine an unreasonable denial with an entirely reasonable threat. As an attorney himself, it was true that he could handle his own defense at little cost except for the lost time. Regardless of that, he did not like to hear her thinking along those lines. He did not want to be defending himself against a claim filed by a girlfriend more than fifteen years younger than himself. It would become a public failure that could cost him his teaching job and his position as a municipal judge. And he would become a laughing stock in the legal community, as well as having his chaotic personal life painfully exposed.
“Do you feel right about asking for money?”
“Do you feel right about making me get an abortion?”
Before Mason could respond to her remark, there was a loud knock on the door, accompanied by the voice of a man yelling, “Open up! This is the police!”
Mason’s first thought was that it was a prank. He looked at Gail as though she might be responsible, but she looked as puzzled as him. Before he could get up to answer the door, which was still unlocked, it flew open and six mean looking men in ordinary street clothes rushed in with guns drawn. One of them approached Mason immediately and flashed a badge in Mason’s face.
“Police. Detective Langly. Are you Mason Prewitt?”
Mason could only nod affirmatively, wild eyed.
“We have a warrant to search this house, Mr. Prewitt. If you’ll just cooperate, everything will go very smoothly. Is there anyone else here?”
“Uh… George is in the spare bedroom. Search for what?”
The detective handed Mason a document. Mason read only the title, “Search Warrant”, and could not focus enough to read the remainder, which spilled over into a total of three pages.
The other detectives – at least that’s what Mason assumed they were – had dispersed through the house. One of them now marched George into the kitchen in his underwear.
“Can I put on a pair of pants?” George asked in a tone so calm that it suggested the circumstances were normal.
“Collins, for Chrissakes let the man get a pair of pants on,” Detective Langly said irritably.
“What’s this all about, Mason?” George asked.
“Beats the shit out of me.”
Collins prodded George back into the bedroom to get his pants.
“Well, Mason, what are you going to do?” Gail asked. “Are you going to let these men go all through your house?”
He held up the paper. “They’ve got a warrant that says they can.”
“Who are you, ma’am,” Detective Langly asked.
“Should I tell him, Mason?”
“I think you’d better.”
Gail gave him her name and address and he laboriously wrote it all into a notebook.
“What are you guys looking for?” Mason asked again.
“Like the search warrant says. Drugs and drug paraphernalia.”
“Drugs?” Gail said. “You must have the wrong house. Tell him you don’t use drugs, Mason”
“I don’t use drugs.”
Detective Langly flipped shut his notebook and put it in his hip pocket. “That’s not what we hear.”
“Mooney,” he called to one of his cohorts. Mooney a short round-face man shuffled in from one of the back rooms, looking as though his nap had been disturbed.
“Where did Borst say that stuff would be?”
Mooney looked around the kitchen on slow scan and fixed on the steins. “He said behind some mugs on a shelf in the kitchen. Looks like maybe there.”
“Well, look and see,” Langly instructed, nodding impatiently toward the steins.
“Did you say Borst?” Mason asked.
“Maybe I did.”
“Used to be Borstikyan?”
“You know him?”
“I’m the attorney representing his ex-wife, who’s been trying to collect child support from him. Been in court several times and now he’s about to go to jail for non-support. He came to my office, threatening some kind of retaliation, but I never imagined this sort of thing.” Mason was already thinking about the stuff he had found behind a beer stein and George had flushed down the toilet.
Langly, who had been watching Mooney grope around the steins, snapped his head around toward Mason at the mention of Borst. He squinted his eyes, suggesting that something here failed to match the usual matrix.
“I don’t see anything,” Mooney said.
“Be careful,” Langly urged for the first time. “Take all those things and put them on the table. And look inside each one while you’re doing it.”
Mason had figured it out. It wasn’t very complicated, but it was incredibly ruthless. And there was only one way now to deal with it. “You won’t find anything,” he said.
“Won’t find what?” Langly asked.
“The packet of white powder that was planted there last night.”
“Mason, what are you talking about?” Gail asked.
“Last night, George and I found a packet of white powder in back of those steins. Neither one of us knew how it got there and we figured that it was dope, so we flushed it down the toilet. But I think I understand now where it came from.”
“Don’t keep us in suspense,” Langly said sarcastically.
Mason tried to direct his explanation to Langly, hoping that somehow Gail would be able to pretend she didn’t hear. “I had a guest over here last night. Her name is Elaine Bettendorff. She is probably Borst’s girlfriend, what he would call his informant. She roamed around the house for a few minutes by herself before she left. She must have put the dope there at Borst’s request.”
“Sure,” Langly said, again sarcastically.
“Look,” Mason said calmly, “I don’t care if you believe me or not. I don’t even care if there’s ever enough proof to send Borst to jail. But what you should understand is that I’m a lawyer and that I am cautioning you right now that you’ve been conned and that the City is courting one hell of a big law suit if you don’t cease this search right now.” Mason had seen his opportunity, and he spoke more convincingly, only slightly exaggerating.
Langly squinted at him again, still sorting out what was happening. He looked to Mooney, still fussing around the assortment of steins. “Find anything of interest? Anything at all?”
“No. Just a lot of dust. There’s nothing here.”
“You two stay here.” Langly stormed off in the direction of the spare bedroom, from which George had not yet returned.
“Who is Elaine Betterndorff?” Gail asked.
Mason pretended to be distracted.
“Mason, look at me. Who is this Elaine Bettendorff and why was she here?”
Mason took a deep breath. “She’s one of my students.”
“You told me you went out. By yourself.”
“I did. I went to Fletcher’s Inn, like I told you. She must have followed me there. Or maybe Borst followed me and told her where I was. I don’t know.” He spoke patiently, hearing himself describe a scheme that still seemed incredible. He realized that he was confessing some misbehavior to Gail, that he felt no constraint to hold back any information she wanted, and that it felt good.
“She followed you to Fletcher’s? But why would she do that?”
“Because she must have figured it wouldn’t be difficult for her to get invited here, into my home.”
“Why would she think that? Have you brought her here before? Is she some kind of new girlfriend or what?”
“She is not a new girlfriend, Gail, whatever that means. And she had never been here until last night.” He paused, feeling the need to tell more. “But we weren’t exactly strangers.”
George called down the hallway to Mason. “Hey, Mason. Is it OK if I talk to this Langly or should I just not say anything? He’s asking me a bunch of questions about last night.”
Mason called back, “Tell him anything he wants to know about last night. The truth, George. All of it.”
Gail tugged on his sleeve to regain his attention. “Did you make love to her?”
Mason struggled to re-focus on Gail’s immediate concerns. “Make love to her?” he repeated. That was not an appropriate phrase for any connection he had ever had with Elaine Bettendorff. What they had done did not in any way resemble love, although last night he had made a feeble effort to propel their relationship in that direction, maybe only as a belated attempt to satisfy some suppressed sense of morality that he still possessed, which now seemed supremely ironic.
“Did you, Mason?” She brought him back to the present.
“Sex. We had sex. Yes. She made herself available. But it didn’t mean anything. She knew that if she offered, I would accept.” Mooney, who had finished examining the steins and had been listening to this conversation, shook his head knowingly. Mason added, “And she did it all for Borst.”
“It didn’t mean anything?” Gail repeated his dismissive remark in a tone of absolute disbelief. “Of course it did. How can you say that? I wanted to marry you. And you go off and fuck one of your students. I think you are lacking any sense of decency, Mason. We were practically engaged. My god, you were almost a father to a child I was carrying.” She sobbed a couple times and then progressed into a bout of unrestrained crying, rubbing her forehead, putting her hand over her mouth, shoulders shaking. When she had calmed a bit she told him, “I’ve tried so hard to be patient and loving and to give you everything you needed, and this is what I get in return.” Now Mooney was looking harshly at Mason.
When Gail had settled down fully, she wiped her eyes and told him “I want that money, Mason. If you don’t pay me I’ll sue you.” With that said, she pulled on her coat and started for the door.
“Wait a minute, ma’am,” Mooney said, reaching out toward her from ten feet away but not making any other effort to block her exit. “I don’t think you’re supposed to leave yet. Detective Langly has got to release you.”
She walked up to Mooney. Although they were about the same height, it seemed that she looked down at him. “Fuck off,” she told Mooney and then walked out the door.
Mooney shook his head and made a whistling sound. “Boy, you really got her pissed.”
It was not much longer before the police left. When Langly came out of the bedroom he checked with each of his men to see if they had turned up any drugs, but none of them had. He ordered them to put everything back as they had found it, which did not seem to make them happy. While they were doing that, Langly sat down at the kitchen table with Mason and went over Mason’s story again carefully, obtaining Mrs. Borstykian’s name and the dates of Mason’s various legal actions in her behalf, and also more details about the office visits by Borst. They talked about Elaine Bettendorff; and Mason made the shamefaced admission that he had wondered a little about her sexual aggressiveness but had not wanted to spoil what he expected to be a pleasurable experience.
He concluded, “She’s attractive. And she’s really good in bed. Or on the floor. She knows how to turn on a man’s animal instincts. Or at least mine.”
“Let me get this straight,” Langly said. “The first time she approached you in your office was shortly after the time that Borst came there. And on that particular occasion with Borst you pretended to call the Chief’s office about him. And you were making that call in his presence. Is that correct?”
“So, how do you connect that disagreement with Borst in your office to your suggestion that he had this Elaine woman plant drugs in your house?”
“I can only suppose. But you have the opportunity to check it out easily enough. You already know that Borst put you onto me. Now get Borst to reveal his confidential informant. It’s got to be her.”
“You’re still not making a case, Prewitt. Suppose Borst does admit that she was his informant. And suppose she says she was here last night. She could say you revealed to her that you had a baggie of drugs hidden on that shelf. Why the hell should I believe you over her?”
“What you mean to say is how will you ever get any proof. And the fact is, if nobody admits they’re guilty there’s not a shred of evidence against anybody. But, if you don’t mind, stop thinking like a cop for a second. What you asked was why you should believe me. The answer to that is that you’ve searched my house and haven’t found anything. And you won’t find a soul who will tell you that I use any drugs, aside from occasionally smoking a little marijuana when somebody gives it to me. Remember, Borst had a clear motive for trying to discredit me. He told me that if he ended up doing a few days in jail for non-support he would lose his job.”
“OK. OK.,” Langly said impatiently and got up from the table.
“Tell me something,” Mason said, causing Langly to pause. “How much has she been paid?” If Borst had gotten money for an informant who turned out to be his girlfriend, his actions had become even more compromised.
Langly squeezed his lips together tensely before answering “No comment.” But Mason had gotten enough of an answer.
Langly left Mason sitting in the kitchen and went to round up his crew from the other parts of the house. He brushed past George, leaning against the wall at the end of the hallway. Although George had put on pants and shirt, he was still without shoes or socks.
Mooney had remained in the kitchen throughout Langly’s questioning. With only Mason, Gail, and Mooney left in the kitchen, Mooney used the opportunity to speak to Mason.
“You’re one lucky hombre, Prewitt.”
“Huh?” Mason did not understand how having his house searched by the police and having Gail threaten to sue him qualified him as lucky.
“If you hadn’t dumped that stuff last night, your ass would be on its way to jail. His too.” He nodded toward George, who had been listening. “And maybe even your girlfriend as well.”
A chill ran down into his fingertips as Mason realized that Mooney was right.
“We cops tend to stick together, unless one of us is way out of line,” Mooney said. “If the drugs had been here, nobody would have paid any attention to your story. We’ve heard it all before. Guys are all the time making excuses for having drugs. They’re always saying they didn’t know how the stuff got there. You wouldn’t be the first. Not by a long ways.”
Langly returned to the kitchen leading a procession of the other detectives. He told them they could “secure.” He paused with his hand on the doorknob after the others had all filed out.
“Good thing this was unlocked,” he said, looking the door up and down. “Otherwise we would have had to kick it in. Of course, if you were innocent, the City might have bought you a new door.”
Langly stepped outside and started to close the door behind him, but Mason had one final question.
“Will you let me know what you find out?”
Langly smiled. “Probably not. If this turns into an internal investigation, those are kept secret even from us. You could sue, and you and the City attorney could fight it out in court, but that has nothing to do with me. Have a nice day, Mr. Prewitt.” He closed the door behind him.
“What the fuck was that all about?” George asked.
Mason looked at his old friend from high school. Then he walked over and hugged him. “You saved me, George. Thank you.”
“I still don’t get it.”
“Just another instance of my cock leading me into something that my brain was trying to tell me I should avoid.”
“And all this was from that girl you screwed last night? Man, you must have really been a failure in the sack.”
“I thought I was OK.” But Mason’s tone suggested that he had already considered that possibility as a contributing factor.
George ran his hand through his yet uncombed hair. “If it wasn’t so damned early I think I’d have a beer.”
“Early, shit,” Mason said. “It’s already past seven and we just had the house searched.” He got two beers out of the refrigerator.
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