Chapter 1 CHAPTER 1
“ALL I ASK IS THAT you talk to my wife. I’ve done everything I can to help her. This is my last attempt. If it works, it works. If not—”
Joseph Quentin and I are sitting in the late August sun on the marina-side patio of Cardero’s Restaurant. Sustainable seafood, the menu boasts. As if, I think. Half a lifetime in the law has made me a skeptic of no-harm claims, but this is where Quentin suggested we meet for lunch. Having worked his way through his crab salad, he’s moved on to what’s on his mind. I lean back and wait.
“I’ve run out of options, Ms. Truitt,” he says, fingering the stem of his glass of red wine.
I know where this conversation is headed. His wife has been charged with murdering her elderly mother by administering a lethal dose of morphine. A mercy killing, the papers say, but the law is the law and killing is killing. She doesn’t need a visit. She needs a criminal defence lawyer. Quentin has decided that person is me. What I don’t know is why.
“The Fixer,” I say.
I raise my Perrier toward him. “The Fixer.”
Joseph Quentin earned his reputation as unofficial leader of the bar the honest way, taking hard cases and winning them. But these days he holds court in his forty-first-floor suite, fixing the messes the rich and powerful get themselves into.
“That’s what they call you, Mr. Quentin. But you must know. You’re the lawyers’ lawyer, the one to call when we’re in trouble. Betrayed a confidence, dipped into your trust account, got caught drunk driving? Call Quentin. He’ll make it like it never happened. And you tell me you’ve run out of options?”
I study him while he considers his response. His long face is an odd assortment of uneven features—high cheekbones, bony nose, pointed chin—none of which are individually handsome, but which together make for an arresting ensemble. A face to trust.
“Perhaps you don’t understand,” he says, his jaw tight. “This is not about saving some fool who got mixed up with the local mafia or touched his secretary the wrong way. This is about me, about my wife, about my family. Vera’s trial has already been adjourned twice, and the judge says hell or high water, lawyer or no lawyer, it’s going ahead on September twenty-seventh. Three weeks from now, Ms. Truitt, three weeks.”
“And five days,” I start to say, but he doesn’t hear.
“To make matters worse, the case has become a cause célèbre—half the people say lock her up and throw away the key, and the other half say she should never have been charged. More than two years have passed since Vera’s mother died. We’re up against the Supreme Court’s delay deadline. The press will howl if the case is adjourned again, scream if it gets into stay of proceedings territory.” His palm comes down on the table in a soft thud and the couple at a nearby table look over. He lowers his voice. “This trial is going to happen and my wife has no lawyer. Tell me, Ms. Truitt, how do I fix that?”
“Evidently, you’ve settled on the answer, Mr. Quentin—you fix it by persuading me to take the case.”
I feel a modicum of pity for him. The media have made a big deal of the fact that Olivia Stanton was suffering from incurable cancer, but that doesn’t allow children to off their mothers. The law—medical assistance in dying—is clear: conditions must be met and procedures followed. Using MAID to end your life raises eyebrows; killing in contravention of MAID provokes outrage. No one thinks Joseph did the deed. Clearly it was his overwhelmed wife, whose struggles with depression and anxiety have since become public knowledge. But that he let it come to this—a murder trial—fits ill with his reputation among the elite of the elite.
“I’m sorry, but I’m booked solid for the next month. And even if I weren’t, what makes you think I would take this case, when two other perfectly good lawyers have quit?”
“Your sense of professional obligation, Ms. Truitt.”
“Surely you can do better than that,” I say.
“Alright. I’ll be frank. You haven’t exactly shied from controversial cases in the past. You’ve built a reputation on them.” He fixes me with pale grey eyes. “Please, Ms. Truitt. Vera needs a lawyer.”
“She’ll have a lawyer. The judge will appoint one, if it comes to that.”
“Some child from legal aid. Never.” He leans across the table. “You call me The Fixer—what a joke. I couldn’t stop the police from charging Vera. I couldn’t stop the prosecutor from pushing this on to trial. And when I arranged a deal that would have gotten Vera out of jail in less than a year, I couldn’t persuade her to accept it: I will never say I killed my mother. I’d rather do ten years in jail.” He takes a gulp of his wine. “I’ve spent my life fixing other peoples’ problems. But when it comes to my own, I can’t fix anything. So I’ve decided I will do the right thing: find a good lawyer to help my wife through this ordeal.”
“I’m not a babysitter, Mr. Quentin.”
“No, no. I put that badly. I wish I had come to you first. Your reputation—shall we just say you are among the best criminal lawyers in this city. I’m asking you to take the case because I believe you will succeed where others have failed.”
Flattery, nice, but this time it’s not going to work. This isn’t the first high-profile case Quentin has brought me. Last time things didn’t end so well. I lost, and Vincent Trussardi was sentenced to life behind bars. Sure, I got the conviction overturned, and Vincent is now free, but the case left a bitter burn that sears my throat when I’m reminded of it.
“I made a few inquiries after you called this morning. Your wife killed her mother. Word on the street is that she has no defence. And that she’s difficult—so difficult that two respected criminal lawyers have quit. Why should I be the third?” I press on before he can answer. “Now, let me be frank. I used to take losers when I had no choice. But these days I like to win. This case is not a winner. In fact, from what I hear, this case is hopeless.”
“I know that. She needs to accept the plea deal. She didn’t listen to Barney or Slaight. Perhaps she will listen to you.”
“Because I’m a woman? Sorry to inform you, the world no longer works that way. If it ever did.”
He’s staring over the harbour again. “We’ve been married almost a quarter century, Vera and I. It’s not a perfect marriage. We’ve had our ups and downs. She’s had her… issues, although she’s better now. We’ve come so far together—I can’t walk away. If I can’t fix this situation, I want it to end with dignity, with someone strong at her side.”
I look at him with new appreciation. I don’t know much about it, but I recognize it when I see it—that rare thing called commitment. This isn’t just about him—it’s about the fact that once, long ago, he pledged to care for Vera for as long they should live. He took her on, for better or worse, and he will stay with her to the end. Not easy. I think of Michael St. John. Mike and I were best friends, then more; we had saved each other from dark places since meeting in law school years ago—but still I couldn’t commit. I feel a twinge of something in my belly.
I sigh. “Very well, Mr. Quentin, I will see your wife. No promises. But I’ll talk to her.”
He bows his head. “Thank you, Ms. Truitt. I am deeply grateful.”
Our server, a slender young man in black, arrives and clears the table in a clatter of cutlery.
“Coffee,” Quentin murmurs.
“Green tea,” I say.
Silence descends. I can talk about the presumption of innocence for hours, but I’ve never been good at the chitchat that gets people through awkward moments. No matter, our patio table has a view. I look out over the panorama of softly rocking yachts below, remembering another vessel in the yacht club across the bay where Vincent Trussardi confessed that he was my long-lost biological father. I turn away, trying to dispel the painful memory. He may claim to be my father, but that doesn’t make it so. I’m grateful when our drinks arrive.
Quentin stirs his coffee. He has what he wants—my promise to see his wife; he can relax now. “Have you seen Vincent Trussardi recently?”
I stiffen. Seasoned diplomat that he is, he uncannily senses where my mind has drifted.
“It’s alright. I know it all. After all I was—am—Vincent’s advisor. I know he’s your father.” The eyes that peer at me over the rim of his cup are kind. “Life is complicated. Nothing surprises me.”
“Did you know that when you persuaded me to take his case?” I ask.
Quentin shakes his head. “All I knew is that he requested you as his lawyer. He told me after.”
“But you must have known he had set up a trust for me?”
“No. Oh, I knew the general outline of the estate, but the trust was in Mick O’Connor’s hands. When you took Trussardi’s case, Mick should have filled me in, but he didn’t.”
“Hard to believe,” I say.
He shrugs. “That’s how it was.”
A part of me wonders if Vincent has put him up to this. “I don’t want the trust, if that’s what this is about.”
“Hard to make it go away. My advice is to let it sit for the time being. Reconsider in a year or two. Things may change in your life. Where you are, how you feel.” He pauses. “Do you keep in touch? With Vincent, I mean?”
“No, not really.” What I don’t say is that I had lunch with him three months ago in May. He brought up the trust again. It didn’t go well. “Why do you ask?”
“He seems to have disappeared. I haven’t seen or heard from him in months. Neither has his office staff or his financial people. I’ve made inquiries. No financial transactions.”
I curse the knot that tightens in my chest. I did my professional duty for Vincent Trussardi and then some. But now it’s over. “You know Vincent,” I say, pretending lightness. “Stash of money in every port, and a girl to boot. He’s probably in Sicily basking in la dolce vita as we speak.”
Quentin gives me a remorseful look. “You do your father a disservice, Ms. Truitt.”
“Perhaps,” I say. “But I owe Vincent Trussardi nothing. He may be my biological father, but in every other way he is just an ex-client. Someone I fought for with every ounce of strength I could muster. When justice was finally done, I closed the file. I respect him for what he is—a man who made mistakes he regrets. But it’s too late to claim me now.”
“Ah, well,” says Quentin, staring at the coffee growing cold in his cup. “Family. Complicated. I should know.” A rueful smile. “Ready?”
He places a few bills on the table and stands. “My car is waiting. May I offer you a lift, Ms. Truitt—or may I now say Jilly?”
I consider. I’ve just agreed to see a woman whose case doesn’t have a hope and been reminded of the existence of a father I’d rather not have. I need to clear my head.
“It’s a nice day for a walk,” I say, rising. “And Jilly’s fine.”