Past Tense, Future Perfect
By Anne Laughlin
This is a sequel to House Shopping. You will not be lost if you read this without having read the earlier story, but it helps in your understanding of the characters. Please send your feedback to email@example.com.
This is for Linda
Peg looked down at her watch as she started the last leg of her run. The sun had risen over Lake Michigan and was now high enough to start generating some heat, adding to her overall sense of discomfort. Heat, humidity, not enough sleep. It was a crappy run and she was looking forward to reaching the car parked near the Waveland Golf Course.
"Hey, Pokey," Allison called as she came up behind Peg on her bicycle. "You look strung out. Doing okay?"
Peg looked over at Allison, pedaling slowly beside her. "Why don't you ride ahead? I'll meet you at the car."
"Alright. But, if you're not there in 10 minutes I'm coming back for you."
"Fine. If I'm not there in 10 minutes then come back and have me arrested. I'm sure there's some law against running this slow."
Allison waved and rode off, hunched over the handlebars of her mountain bike like she was in the Tour de France. Peg had to admire her good spirits. Allison had recently agreed to come out to the lake front early in the morning several times a week, despite being a late riser by nature. She wanted to spend the time with Peg and Peg insisted on running almost every day before going in to work. Allison came up with the idea of biking while Peg ran. She also came up with the idea of making love the night before until very late, though Peg kept telling her she was still going to have to get up at 6:00 to go exercise.
"Darling, you're sounding obsessive. Clearly we're getting a full body work out tonight that can count toward this quota of yours," Allison had said, placing kisses up and down Peg's neck. "It's cross-training."
"You don't have to come in the morning if you don't want to," Peg said as she flipped Allison over.
"I don't want to come in the morning. I want to come now."
"God, I knew you were going to say that."
"In our six months together have I become so predictable?" Allison asked, closing her eyes and moaning as Peg found a nipple.
"Yes, you're very predictable. I know with certainty that when I do this," she squeezed the nipple harder and Allison moaned again, "You do that."
"And?" Allison laughed.
"And, when I do this," Peg spread Allison's legs and lay her finger against her clitoris and Allison moaned much louder, "you do that."
"So you can just phone it in, is what you're telling me," Allison was smiling, watching as Peg teased her.
"Well, phoning it in is a whole different set of predictors, of course, which I think you'll recall from my most recent trip to New York." Peg was now up on her left elbow, kissing Allison's breast as she started to explore her more deeply with her right hand.
"Yes, I do recall that performance. I wouldn't say there was anything predictable there, would you?"
"Predictable, yes, but not boring. I don't want you to misunderstand me."
"I think I'm understanding you clearly right now." Allison was starting to squirm as the pressure from Peg's steady stroking began to build.
"For instance, on the phone, when I said this," Peg leaned into Allison's ear and whispered something, "you did this." She took Allison's hand and placed it between Allison's legs.
"Yes, I most certainly did."
"What did you do then?" Peg asked
"Do you mean you don't know?"
"I want you to tell me."
"I touched myself as I listened to your voice, as I listened to you making love to me." Allison started to move her finger back and forth, as Peg continued to move inside her.
"And when I said that I was fucking you, that I was coming inside you, what did you do?" Peg asked, moving deeper and stronger inside Allison.
Allison began to gasp. "I moved my hand faster and imagined I felt you inside me. I could tell you were about to come." Allison's hand was rubbing her clit hard now, moving in a blur from side to side. "I wanted to come with you."
"You can come for me now, Allison." Peg watched her lover carefully as she continued to move in and out of her. Allison's eyes began to lose focus as they looked back at Peg and soon she opened her mouth and let out a cry as spasms raced through her body. Peg was nearly expelled from Allison's body by the sheer force of it. She moved the length of her body alongside Allison's and held her close as the aftershocks slowly subsided.
"For god's sake," said Allison. "you about kill me with these orgasms, do you realize that? Not that I'm complaining."
"No, it doesn't sound like complaining."
"I mean it. You're like a lethal weapon. Instead of karate you have a black belt in killer sex."
"The result of many years of disciplined training," Peg smiled down at Allison. "And please don't ask me about the disciplined training. I can only take this joke so far."
"Alright. I'll let you off the hook, but only because I have a little training of my own to do." And with that, Allison demonstrated her own not inconsiderable skills.
Peg smiled and then groaned as a wave of desire coursed through her at the thought of Allison making love to her just hours before. She picked up her speed when she caught sight of Allison waiting patiently by her SUV. Peg knew that they were still in the early stages of their relationship and that feeling this immoderate level of desire was to be expected. But she honestly couldn't compare the intensity to anything she'd experienced before. It had been awhile since Peg had felt any real desire at all, a condition she philosophically attributed to aging and hormones and her unwillingness to make herself available to interesting, attractive women. She'd almost forgotten that the possibility existed that she'd find someone to truly love. The reminder came the day she met Allison.
Peg pulled up to a stop as she came to Allison's car. Allison grabbed hold of her running shorts and pulled Peg to her. "You're looking all sweaty and kind of tasty."
"Well, I'm definitely sweaty. Let's get the bike in the car and go home." Peg picked up Allison's bike with ease and maneuvered it into the back of the car.
"Sweaty, tasty, and butch. A complete turn-on." Allison was watching Peg as she toweled off.
"I am not butch," Peg said, scowling.
"Of course you're butch. How can you say that? Though I have to admit, most butches would scowl like that if you said they weren't a butch, not if you said they were. But there's lots of room for variations on the butch theme."
"The butch theme? Please. And I'm not butch. I'm not femme, either, mind you. Why do we have to be one or the other?" Peg took Allison's keys from her and climbed into the drivers seat.
"Well, we don't, of course. I don't think I'm necessarily one or the other either. But I do get a butch energy from you. It's not that you look particularly masculine. Actually, I'm not sure exactly what it is. I just feel it."
"Well, is it something you like?" Peg asked, turning to look at Allison as they waited to enter Lake Shore Drive.
"Oh, yeah. It's one of the eight gazillion things I love about you. It's not the most important thing; it's just one of the things."
"Hmm. It's an interesting point. I don't know why I reacted so strongly to being called a butch. I've known a lot of women who are clearly butch and who I really admire and respect – for their butchness. I just never really thought about it in context of myself."
"Well, that's pretty butch, if you ask me. You just are who you are."
Peg laughed. "I think I'm too tired to sort all of that out just now. I wanted to ask you if you had appointments this evening. I'd like to take you out to dinner."
"That would be great, darling. I'm blissfully appointment free tonight. Anything special going on?"
Peg took Allison's hand. "No, nothing special. Just want to treat you."
Peg pulled into the driveway of Allison's house in Andersonville, one of the most gay-friendly neighborhoods on Chicago's mostly gay-friendly north side. She grabbed Allison's bike out of the back and put it into the garage while Allison went into the house to start up a pot of coffee. Peg paused to stare at the backyard and deck, contemplating finishing up the new flower bed they'd started the weekend before. Though they still maintained two separate addresses, Peg wondered if it wasn't time to end the fiction that they weren't living together. She was at Allison's house nearly all the time, the only exceptions really coming when she had to travel for business. She knew that six months together wasn't that long, but on the other hand neither of them were kids. Presumably they knew what they were doing and didn't want to waste much time. And they were lesbians, for god sakes. Six months is an eternity before moving in together, isn't it? It was time to talk it over with Allison.
Allison put her menu down and took up her glass of wine. "I'm going to have the fish."
"What do you really want to have?"
"The lamb chops. But who has lamb chops these days? I'm sure the fish is very good."
"I'm sure it is too, but you should have what you want. I bet you're thinking that the fish is better for you, has fewer calories, and will make you feel virtuous," Peg said.
"Peg, despite your wonderful lawyering skills, it is not wise to go down this path. Trying to argue me into a logical approach to food is a losing battle. We don't want to be having this same conversation when we're ancient and sitting at Denny's for the early bird special."
"Okay. I withdraw my Motion." Peg said. "You look fantastic, by the way."
"I do?" Allison looked down at herself, a little perplexed. "Do you mean this moment?"
"I mean this moment, and always. I adore the way you look. It not only fills me with desire, but looking at you is the most calming thing I do as well. Whether I see you from far away, or right next to me in bed, when I look at you I feel differently about my world. You have made my world make sense for the first time."
Allison stared at Peg and slowly put down her wine glass, taking Peg's hand in hers. "If we weren't here in the restaurant I'd be crawling onto your lap, holding you tight. Thanks for telling me that."
After placing their order, Allison refused the waiter's offer of another glass of wine. She looked over at Peg as he left and asked whether it bothered her that she had wine with her meal.
"Well, here's another conversation we don't need to have into our dotage. I know I've said this before and I hope you'll believe me now. It doesn't bother me in the slightest that you enjoy some wine. You almost never have more than one glass, I've never seen you drunk, and sometimes you leave half of the glass untouched. You are one of those people I just simply couldn't – and perhaps still can't understand. You use the product as it was intended. I could not."
"So you don't look over at me with my glass of wine and wish you could have one too?"
"I don't now. Maybe I would have earlier in my sobriety. But it's been fifteen years and I'm pretty settled in with it. I'll let you know if there's a problem, I promise. But maybe I should turn the question around."
"Well," Peg said, "does it ever bother you that you're with a recovering alcoholic?"
"Why would that bother me?"
"A lot of reasons, I guess. There's the stigma of alcoholism . Knowing that you're with a drunk can't be the easiest of things."
"Peg, you're not a drunk."
"I was definitely a drunk, for quite a long time. Now I'm a recovering drunk."
"I admit it's very hard to imagine you as an active alcoholic. And perhaps it's a good thing I didn't see you that way because I don't have as deep seated a fear that you'll go back to that," Allison said.
"But you do have a fear that I will?"
"No, that's not what I meant, I don't think. I do have some recovering people in my family. My brother, a cousin. The cousin was a relapser, but has been sober for a number of years now. My brother's been sober for ten years. I didn't see your struggle the way I saw theirs, so the thought of losing the struggle doesn't come to mind when I think of your sobriety. I just see a very together woman who does what she needs to do to take care of herself. And that includes telling me when being around any alcohol at all is uncomfortable, right?"
After their dinner plates were cleared and coffee served, Peg said "It seems to me that with all of this talk about what we won't be saying to each other in our old age, we've skipped right over the part where we decide to grow old together."
Allison's eyes grew wide as she looked at Peg. "You're right."
Peg looked back at Allison for a long moment and finally said, "You're not going to help me out here, are you?"
"I'm not going to put words in your mouth. I want to hear what you have to say, not what I want to hear."
"That's fair enough." Peg shifted around in her chair, and then stirred her coffee for awhile. Finally she said, "I can't believe I'm so nervous. You would think I'd never asked a woman to live with me before, and you'd be right. I'm nearly 50 years old and I've never lived with a lover. But I've never loved anyone the way that I love you." Peg took Allison's hand and smiled. "I may be a bad bet altogether, and possibly a terrible roommate. But I want us to share a home together and our lives together and I will try my hardest to be a good partner to you."
Allison continued to gaze at Peg with a warm smile. "Darling, for the second time tonight you have virtually obliterated my ability to speak. Let's get out of here so I can show you just how much I want to share everything with you."
The Chicago offices of Ungrath, Harris were located in the heart of Chicago's loop, high up in one of the city's newest skyscrapers. Peg stared out the window of the conference room at the incredible blue of Lake Michigan in July, the waters dotted with sailboats. Across the table from her was Dr. Stuart Cohen, a microbiologist from Boston University who was a nationally recognized expert on pharmaceutical microbiology. At Peg's request he was reviewing production records from Peg's client, a manufacturer of generic pharmaceuticals. The manufacturer had been sued in a class action lawsuit for releasing a run of generic albuterol that was contaminated with bacteria. The question Peg was exploring with various expert witnesses was what level of bacteria in the product would cause harm to the consumer of albuterol. She was bored to death.
Peg's assistant Carly knocked on the conference room door and stuck her head in, "Sorry to interrupt, but I need to talk to you, Peg."
"Excuse me, Dr. Cohen. I'll just be a moment," Peg said, before joining Carly in the hall.
"What's going on, Carly? Isn't this an hour or so early for the fake emergency call to prevent me from going crazy?"
"This doesn't seem to be a fake emergency call. I've got a guy on hold who basically threatened me if I didn't get you on the line with him this minute. It's not anyone I've heard of – a Jim Braddock."
Peg felt her breath expel from her body and her heart start to hammer. She quickly composed herself and turned to Carly. "Listen, I'll need to take that call, but go hold him off for a little bit while I let Dr. Cohen go for the day. Just tell him I'll be there in a few minutes. Then you can go on to lunch."
"But it's only 10:30."
"Carly, just do it. Go shopping or something."
"Are you okay?"
"Yes, I'm okay. Just some unfinished business from a long time ago. Now, go on."
Peg took a few deep breaths as she watched Carly trot down the hall. The call she had been almost convinced would never come was now at hand. She felt a numbness descend upon her as the simple, contented life she and Allison had so happily been planning the night before now became ugly and gray and once again solitary. She could not expose Allison to what was about to come down, she knew that much. Peg would do whatever was necessary to keep Allison unaffected by her past mistakes. What she didn't know was where she'd find the energy to fight for herself. With a sigh she returned to the conference room to excuse Dr. Cohen for the day and then find out what Jim Braddock had in store for her.
In a small road side motel outside of Las Vegas, Jim Braddock lay sprawled across a bed, a phone in one hand and a cigarette in the other. The room was permeated with the smell of smoke and alcohol and bodies, all of it worked right into the laminate furniture, impervious to the strongest of cleaning solvents. Not that those were used much in this establishment.
Braddock remained on hold, growing more impatient by the second, sure that Peg Ryan was already trying to assert her power by keeping him waiting for her. He'd soon turn the tables on her, remind her as he had so many years ago that she had very little power indeed. But Braddock wasn't a stupid man. In fact, he'd graduated in the same law school class as Peg. She was third in the class and he was tenth. They were both very smart, and he was aware that in engaging Peg Ryan there was always a risk. That was one of the reasons he'd let the matter between them rest for so long – he had what he wanted from her and it was dangerous to pursue more. But circumstances had changed for Jim Braddock, and a little desperation can lead to a much higher risk tolerance.
A voice came back on the line. "Mr. Braddock, are you still there?"
"Yeah, I'm here. Where the hell is Ryan?"
"I've spoken with Ms. Ryan, who, as I mentioned, was in the middle of a conference. She is breaking away to take your call, however, so if you'll just be patient another minute or so. Or I could take your number, if you prefer."
"No, I'll wait."
Braddock was placed back on hold and he lit another cigarette. He wore jeans and a Yale sweatshirt, which he'd picked up at his 20th law school reunion. Peg hadn't been there, but most of the rest of the class had been. In response to the many stories from classmates of their stellar careers in the nation's top law firms, Braddock spoke about his private practice, which he'd started up after leaving the U.S. District Attorney's in the mid-90s. He didn't mention that he'd stayed at the D.A.'s office an unusually long time because he couldn't land a job at one of those law firms. And he didn't tell them that his private practice consisted mainly of small personal injury cases and a lot of drunk driving cases, many of them from people he knew – or people who knew people he knew – from the bars and casinos where he spent most of his time. Getting licensed in New Jersey was about the only smart business decision he'd made in the last 25 years. That and hanging on to the information he had on Peg Ryan.
Braddock heard the phone click off hold and he straightened up on the bed. "Is that you, Ryan?"
"Now, don't go on and on about how glad you are to hear from me. We don't have all day."
"Just tell me what this is about."
"Well, Peg, recess is over. It's time for us to renegotiate our terms." Braddock relaxed a little, comfortable in the familiar role of negotiating a settlement. There was a pause on the line before Peg responded.
"I believe the terms of our deal were met. There is nothing further to negotiate as far as I'm concerned."
"That's the hellish thing, isn't it. When you fuck up as royally as you did it's never really put to rest. And here it is, rearing its ugly head again."
"You're rearing your ugly head, Braddock. I don't intend to play this game with you."
"Still cool as a cucumber. You'd never know we were talking about how easy it would be for me to contact the authorities, tell them what you did way back when, and watch your life completely fall apart."
"I don't think that's what would happen. It's old news now."
Braddock laughed and stubbed out his cigarette. "Are you still practicing law, Peg? Or have you forgotten everything about how things work? Let me lay this out for you."
"Alright. I'd be curious to hear what you have dreamed up."
"This is no dream, Peg. Let me paint the picture for you. Way back when you were an unbelievably cocky young assistant district attorney. Good in court, I'll give you that, and you were racking up a string of impressive wins. Golden girl, star of the office, soon the youngest head of a division in the entire history of the U.S. District Attorneys Office in New York."
"Sounds like you had a little crush on me, Jim."
"You know what? I actually did. You were pretty hot back then. But then I found out that I'd never have a chance with you with the kind of equipment I carry around."
"You'd never have a chance with me anyway," Peg said.
"That was your loss, then. But it turns out that playing for the other team wasn't the only thing you managed to keep hidden from the higher ups. You had a pretty gigantic problem with the booze. Really, when you think about it, it's pretty pathetic. Your weakness for young blondes and lots of alcohol put you on the same level with the creepy white males you scorned. How do you justify that to yourself, Peg?"
"You still aren't anywhere near telling me what this has to do with the present. I'm giving you two minutes and then I'm hanging up."
"Just thought I'd remind you of some of the details, given how hazy your memory is bound to be of that time."
"Times running, Braddock."
"Alright, let's cut to the proverbial chase. You make the moves on a paralegal at the local bar. I overhear you tell her the new name of our latest inductee into the witness protection program. You leave the bar with your conquest. Two days later that poor witness is found dead somewhere outside of Albuquerque, two shots to the back of head."
"I still know all of this. Our deal was that I'd resign and you'd keep your mouth shut. We did that. You were promoted to my job. What's changed?"
"A few things, and they all add up to my insistence that we recast our terms. First of all, it's entirely clear to me now that I let you off too easily. Had I done my civic duty at the time and reported you, you would not only have lost your law license, but you would have been arrested and done time, possibly for felony murder."
"Well, you were never a model citizen, Jim."
Braddock took a sip of his drink before continuing. He felt a certain righteousness swelling within him. "Because I had limited vision at the time, I didn't see beyond wanting your job as division head and wanting you out of my sight. Now I believe you should dig a little deeper than that."
"I want $200,000 by the end of business tomorrow, plus nine more installments of $200,000 each over the next nine months."
There was a long pause on the line. Braddock squirmed with uncertainty, unsure whether the amount he asked for was too much or too little. Peg would no doubt be earning a large amount annually as a partner at Ungrath, but she'd only been a partner for a decade. On the other hand, she did not seem to live an ostentatious lifestyle and may well have saved a lot more than a couple million dollars.
Peg's low voice came back on the line. "I need more time than that."
"Does that mean you're agreeing to pay up?"
"It means I need more time than one business day to get my affairs in order. I will get back to you by the end of the week."
Braddock sighed into the phone. "Peg, I know you never considered me your intellectual equal. I don't believe anyone has ever been accorded that status. But give me a little credit here. Today is Tuesday. I'll give you until end of business on Thursday to make whatever wire transfers you need to get the money – in cash or cashiers check – ready to hand over to me. And in case you're thinking you can take this opportunity to quit your job and leave the country, let me tell you about a few things tying you to your new home in the Windy City."
"What are you talking about now?"
"Actually, it's who, not what. I've spent some time in Chicago recently getting to know the city and a little about your life in it. I think there's a certain well known real estate broker who might be affected by the news that her lover was an accomplice to murder. Don't you think that might impact her and her business a little bit? The Chicago papers love that kind of thing."
Braddock laughed into the phone as he waited for Peg to break her long silence. Finally he said, "Listen, Peg. You've got a lot to sort out so why don't we get off the phone. I will expect to meet you in New York at the scene of the crime, Halliday's on 48th, at 6:00 on Thursday evening. If you're not there, I'll keep the appointment I made today with the D.A.'s office for first thing Friday morning and tell them how they can clean up that old but still embarrassing mess with their protected witness. And if you are there, well, hell, I guess that just means you're still a smart lady. Hope to see you Thursday."
Braddock hung up the phone and placed it back on the rickety nightstand. He took a deep breath and followed it up with a deep drink from his glass of bourbon. Starting in two days time he was going to be seeing a better class of hotel and a better class of bourbon. He didn't see how she could work around it. Braddock smiled to himself as he realized he had all along had the key to how to play Peg Ryan. Just make it seem like things would be worse for someone she cares about than they would be for herself and you can make her dance.
"God, what an ass," said Allison as she slammed the phone down. Her assistant looked up from her computer.
"What's up, boss?"
"Oh, that creep Gersten from Higgens Realty. He just called to tell me he's sending an offer over on the Altgeld listing."
"That's cool, isn't it?" Sophie asked. "It's been on the market forever."
"It's a $350,000 offer on a $500,000 property"
"Ah. Well, I'll just run out to lunch when you call the client with that."
"Don't blame you. But I'm going to wait for the contract to be in my hand before I pick up the phone. In the meantime, I'm going shopping." Allison beamed at Sophie and started gathering her things together.
"Something special, I take it? What's going on?"
"Peg and I decided last night to live together. She's moving in this weekend."
"That is awesome. You guys are fantastic together." Sophie looked genuinely pleased.
"Yeah, we are, aren't we. I'm feeling a little smug, I must admit." Allison couldn't wipe the smile off her face. She thought of the night before when she and Peg made love the moment they got back from the restaurant, and then stayed up half the night talking about everything from where to set up Peg's study to what they meant by commitment. Allison was holding Peg in her arms when they finally fell asleep, amazed at how open and trusting Peg had become.
She shook herself from her reverie and stood up. "I thought I would buy my beloved something along the lines of an engagement present. I have to go downtown anyway for the Johnson closing at 2:00."
"So you won't be back here today?" Sophie asked.
"Don't get any ideas. I want you here until 5:00, just like I pay you for. And call me when that contract comes in. You can probably fax it to me at the closing."
An hour later Allison found herself at Neiman Marcus, gasping at prices as she looked at some jewelry. The problem wasn't really the cost, Allison realized. This was the fourth or fifth department she'd been in and she was forced to admit that she had no idea what to get for Peg. She was impossible to shop for. She showed no real enthusiasm for clothes, though she was always dressed well; she didn't wear jewelry; she had no real hobbies that Allison knew of, other than voracious reading. Everything Allison picked up seemed like a desperate choice. Perhaps a long weekend away to celebrate their decision. Allison left the store, hailed a cab, and reached for her phone to call her travel agent. She thought it reasonable to expect Peg to break away from business for four days in Paris, and she was intent on booking the flight and hotel. The thought of walking arm in arm with Peg through the Tuileries brought an enormous smile to her Allison's face as she sped down Michigan Avenue to her closing.
Allison thought back to the beginning of her last significant relationship and tried to recall feeling anything like what she felt for Peg. Lorraine came into her life twelve years before, when she and Allison worked the same hideous hours at the same horrible law firm. One night they found themselves staggering into each other's arms after surviving another hundred hour work week. Despite their profound fatigue they both thought the sex was pretty hot and before they quite knew what was happening they were in an established relationship. During the time that they had the evil law firm in common the relationship seemed to sustain itself. They could endlessly amuse and comfort themselves and each other by talking about work. The first crack appeared when Allison decided to leave the practice of law and move into real estate. The decision seemed abrupt to Lorraine and she claimed she didn't understand Allison leaving a high paying, prestigious position. When Allison succeeded in real estate almost immediately, Lorraine felt more betrayed. She just didn't say anything to Allison about how she was feeling.
The crack in the thin veneer of their relationship widened further when Lorraine failed to make partner at the firm. She ended up in-house at a start up tech firm, clearly unhappy and humiliated. But still she did not tell Allison what she was feeling. Not until the day Allison walked in on Lorraine and another woman, whereupon Lorraine proceeded to tell Allison just how miserable she had been with her and that she didn't even realize it until she met whatever-her-name-was. And thus ended their ten-year relationship. Even allowing for the passage of time and its toll on the memory, even allowing for the hard feelings of the relationship's bitter end, Allison was sure she never felt the magnetic pull toward Lorraine that she felt toward Peg. There was no comparison. And that momentarily scared Allison to death. If she felt exponentially more in love with Peg than she ever had with Lorraine, did that mean the pain Peg could cause her would be exponentially greater as well?
Allison's cell phone rang and her frown turned to a smile when she saw Peg's office number on the phone's display.
"Hello, sweetheart. What a nice surprise to hear from you."
"Why a surprise?" Peg asked.
"Just that I knew you were going to be with the expert witness all day today. Are you on a break?"
"Well, actually, something's come up, which is why I'm calling."
"As long as it's not to say you've changed your mind about moving in with me, then I'm all ears," Allison said.
Peg paused a moment on the other end of the line. "Peg, Jesus, that's not what you've called to say is it?" Allison could hear the incipient panic in her own voice.
"No, of course not. We've just had an emergency of sorts and I have to go to the New York office for a few days."
"Oh, is that all? Will you be back for the weekend?"
"Yes, I should be. It might put me back a little in terms of packing. At least we'll get started this weekend," Peg said.
"So, is this some kind of really bad emergency? You sound a little, I don't know, flat. Or far away, or something."
"It's okay. It wasn't a complaint or a judgment. Just an observation. Are you okay?" Allison asked.
"Yes, I'm fine."
"And you'd tell me if you weren't?"
"Of course. The case has just gone to hell and I have to go in for some settlement discussions. Listen, I have to run home and get some things thrown in a bag and catch a flight. I'll give you a call from my hotel later."
"Hmm. If you sounded a little more like yourself right now I'd be purring at the thought of one of your phone calls from New York. We'll just have to wait and see what kind of mood you're in tonight."
"I'll talk to you later. I love you." Peg hung up and Allison stared at her cell phone. There was something Peg wasn't telling her, that much was clear. Whether it was the sort of thing that Allison should push right now was what she was unclear about. She didn't want to sound like she demanded that Peg tell her every little thing that was going on. But she didn't want Peg holding back from her. It was too dangerous, too destructive to the relationship. Allison hit a speed dial number on her phone. It was time for some Thai food and relationship analysis with her best friend, Lucy.
Peg hung up from her call to Allison and hit the do not disturb button on her phone. She twirled her chair around to face the window and stared out at the lake. The vivid blue of just an hour ago was rapidly changing to gray as clouds covered the sky. Peg could see the rain start off in the distance. For several minutes her mind sat on hold, unable to take in any thought beyond what she was seeing through her unblinking eyes. And then the deluge began; the remorse, the regret, the frustration, the sadness. The irony. She should have known that the happiness she felt in affirming her commitment to Allison was not meant to be. She had dared to believe that her past was firmly behind her, only to quickly receive the strongest reminder possible that her past was to be very much a part of her future. Peg thought of the line in the twelve-step literature that said "we will not regret the past nor wish to close the door on it." That sentiment had simply never been true for her. She would give anything to close the door on the consequences of her actions of so many years ago.
The alarm erupted for the fourth time that morning. Peg's hand came down and whacked the snooze button before retreating back under the covers. Slowly Peg began to assess the damage. She seemed to be alone in her own bed, so that was good. Since she had no memory of picking anyone up it was best that she actually, for once, hadn't. What had she done last night? With a groan Peg started to haul herself out of bed, pausing as her feet hit the floor and a pounding wave hit her head. This was going to be a bad one, she realized. She glanced at the clock and remembered she had a meeting in an hour and a half. A meeting of her staff, which meant she had to be coherent enough to preside over it. At the moment it didn't feel possible. But as awful as it felt, the hangover was familiar and somehow she knew that she'd get through it. She always had.
As she made her way to the bathroom, Peg took no notice of the week's worth of clothes strewn across the bedroom floor. Nor did she notice the mess of toiletries spilling over the granite topped vanity or the towels wadded up and thrown into corners. But when she turned toward the toilet she groaned again. The seat was up and the evidence still visible that she'd thrown up before passing out. She had no memory of it, but the sight brought on a fresh wave of sickness. Falling to her knees in front of the toilet, Peg retched up bile. She'd not eaten since early the morning before and there was really nothing for her to expel. But her body seemed to insist that there was, sending wave after wave of gut clenching nausea, leaving Peg sobbing, drenched with sweat, trembling. She lay by the toilet, unable to move, the cool porcelain soothing on her cheek. In the distance she heard her alarm go off again.
With one eye opened Peg tried to work out what had happened. She remembered coming home by 8:00, having finished up a brief a little earlier than expected. She had promised herself that she would have a quiet night at home – no stopping off at Hallidays, no cruising at the women's bar. Just home, an absolute maximum of three beers and then early to bed. At some point toward the end of her third beer, Peg discovered a favorite old movie on TV, which immediately called for a tumbler of scotch. That was the extent of her memory of the previous evening. She felt the familiar despair of not keeping to the limits she would try to place on her drinking, but took comfort from the fact that as far as she could tell, no one else was involved this time. No apologies to make, no strangers to introduce herself to when she woke up in an unfamiliar bed, no panic at trying to remember how she got home. But the remorse was still there, as familiar as the despair.
Peg hauled herself up and started to put herself together. She felt thankful that at least her day was relatively light, with no appointments other than the staff meeting. She headed toward the kitchen to make coffee, noting the nearly empty fifth of Scotch on the floor by the sofa. While the coffee brewed she downed an ice cold Coke, savoring the way the carbonation and sweetness cut through the terrible thirst she had with every hangover. Then she took her coffee back into the bathroom to try to make herself presentable. Already a part of her brain was calculating when her work day might end and she could get a drink.
By three in the afternoon Peg was feeling almost human. As the senior attorney in the organized crime division of the U.S. Attorney's office in New York, Peg's responsibilities were administrative as well as legal. She distributed the work load, oversaw investigations, acted as liaison with the FBI and other law enforcement and intelligence gathering agencies, and developed trial strategies and legal theories with the attorneys on her staff. She was in court less than she had been before she became chief, but still acted as lead counsel on the more difficult or higher profile cases.
The case that was currently demanding most of her attention was the upcoming trial of Johnnie Lanzito, the head of a second tier crime family that had recently been making moves to consolidate with other small families in a challenge to the ranking Beragamo family. The Beragamo family was pleased by the indictment of Lanzito. Peg had received a dozen yellow roses at her home with a card that read simply "I am in your debt. C. B.," whom she took to be Claudio Beragamo. That he knew her home address did not surprise her. That he considered himself in her debt did. Lanzito must have been a formidable threat to Bergamo's power. The biggest threat to Lanzito was the testimony to be given by one of his captains, Tadzio Scarpelli. Scarpelli's grand jury testimony had been key in Lanzito's indictment, and in exchange for it he received immunity and a place in the witness protection program. With the trial more than two months away, Scarpelli was scheduled for relocation. He would be brought back to the city to give testimony, but all felt his chances of surviving until that time depended on him being secreted away.
Peg was just finishing up a phone call when Jim Braddock walked through her open office door and threw a manila envelope on her desk. She cast a wary eye at him. "What is it?"
"Just came in from the Bureau. Looks like it's Scarpelli's hiding papers." Braddock slid into one of the two chairs in front of Peg's desk, peering at her over steepled fingers. "Are you going to put me on him?"
"No, you've got the three witnesses I've already assigned you. What, are you looking for more work all of a sudden?" Peg stared at Braddock, waiting to hear what was behind his request. She knew that a genuine desire to be an integral part of an important case was not his motivation. Gaining recognition for being part of a headline worthy case would be more in keeping with his style. Braddock had somehow hung on long enough to become her number two in the division, mainly through longevity and several important connections in the Department of Justice and the federal bench. Peg knew him to be book smart, but essentially lazy. While her brilliance was deployed in courtroom strategy, he reserved his acumen for office and inter-department politics. She admitted he was fairly brilliant at that and had even relied on him to maneuver those murky waters for her when it was absolutely necessary. At times she felt like Braddock had always been a fixture in her life, having endured him in nearly every class and study group in law school. She remembered saying goodbye to him at graduation, hugely relieved to be rid of his shadowy presence. After clerking for a couple of years, Peg joined the D.A.'s office, only to discover Braddock an entrenched part of the staff. He seemed excited to be working with her again and pulled strings to be transferred to the same division. And then he watched as she rocketed to the top, quickly gaining the respect and trust of her superiors and being handed more and more responsibility on complicated matters. Courtroom victories came in stunning succession, and Peg became the youngest head of a division in anyone's memory.
Braddock shifted in his chair and smiled at Peg. "You know I never shy away from a challenge, Peg. I'd love to work up Scarpelli. I take it he'll need to be interviewed where ever it is he's being shipped off to."
"Oh, Jesus. I should have known. You're probably betting on him being sent off to Arizona or Florida or anyplace warm. Right?"
"So cynical. It's really sad. Who do you plan to have work up Scarpelli?"
"That would be me," Peg said.
"Ah, so he is going somewhere warm. I imagine you had some pull deciding where they would send him."
"Nope. I have no idea where he's going, and I won't until I open this envelop. Which by the way is for my eyes only. That's the main reason I'm assigning myself to him. The higher ups want as few people as possible in this chain."
Braddock gave Peg another broad smile and stood up to go. "Well, I worry about you Peg. You just don't look as well as you used to. Adding this to your work load isn't going to help matters in that regard."
Peg turned back to the papers in front of her. "Don't worry about me, not that I think you really are."
"Are you coming to the party tonight?"
Peg looked up. "What party?"
"Cam Alexander's engagement party at Hallidays. The whole staff will be there. You should probably make an appearance."
"No, please tell me I don't have to." Peg looked truly horrified at the thought.
"I thought you liked Cam."
"Well, I do. I just . . never mind. I'll stop by after I finish up here."
Peg sighed as Braddock closed the door behind him. It's not that she didn't regularly drink with people from the office. It's just that tonight she didn't feel like playing nice. She was tired and still hung over. Well, she'd just go by for one, make her obligatory appearance, and get home nice and early. It was right on the way, after all. She opened the envelope Braddock had brought in and reviewed the contents. New Mexico in January would not be bad at all.
By eight o'clock the party at Hallidays was in full swing. Peg entered the tavern and headed for the back room, nodding to the bartender and several drinking buddies at the bar. They had the well settled look of people with no plans to move. No plans period. Peg looked at them with envy. She had just spent the last two hours at a women's bar in the Village, drinking steadily and occasionally sharing small talk with the women around her. She found it a perfect blend of having the option to engage with others or ignore them altogether.
As Peg neared the end of the bar a woman reached out and grabbed her, yanking her right up to her six foot frame. Peg yelped before gathering her wits, furrowing her brow, and nearly meeting the woman's gaze at eye level.
"You said you'd call," the woman stated. Not an accusation, not a complaint. Just a fact. Peg tried to take a step back but the woman still had a hold of her arm. She was not only tall but sturdily built as well. Peg didn't have the faintest notion who she was. She suspected she wasn't going to like finding out.
Peg smiled at her and gently moved the hand off of her arm. "Remind me when it was I said that to you."
"Do you mean you don't remember?" The woman started to look unhappy.
"Well I remember, of course, but I need help with the specific day. Come on, be a sweetheart."
"It was last Tuesday. You do remember last Tuesday don't you? At Vixen's?"
"Christ, yes. No way I could forget that night, with you." Peg felt a sort of caving-in feeling in her gut, the one she got when people told her about things she did in a blackout. A strange mixture of panic, remorse, shame. A toxic emotional cocktail that usually just led her to drink more. Now she thought back to the week before, vaguely remembering going home with a woman after closing Vixen's, not remembering any of the details. Even seeing the woman didn't spark any memories. Peg, however, was famously quick on her feet. "But what happened was that on Wednesday I got to work, and I don't mind telling you I was a little worse for wear, and all hell had broken loose. I got sent out of town and didn't have your number with me."
The woman looked skeptical. "Uh-huh."
"But here you are now. What a coincidence. Listen, though. I have this engagement party thing to go to here and then I've got to rush back to the office. Things are still really crazy there. Why don't you write down your number again and we'll start over." Peg tried on her most engaging smile and hoped the woman would just drop it.
"You also said I was the best you ever had. Why would you blow off the best you've ever had?"
"Why, indeed? You wouldn't. I wouldn't, anyway."
Peg watched as the woman wrote a number on her business card and handed it to her. "There's my cell. Use it. I can show you that last week was just a warm up. The best you ever had is still ahead of you."
Peg glanced at the card. "I'll do that, uh, Lindsay. Gotta run now, but I'll be in touch."
Peg made her escape and fled into the tavern's back party room. Her office colleagues were scattered about, their voices reaching the sort of volume that indicated inebriation on approximately the mid-point of the scale. Across the room she spied the party's honoree, surrounded by various lawyers, secretaries and paralegals from her division. Braddock was passing around a tray full of tequila shots and as they held them aloft someone spotted Peg and got a shot into her hand as well.
"Peg," Braddock practically roared. "So glad you could finally make it." Peg plastered a grin on her face while her eyes shot daggers at him. "Would you do us the honor of proposing the toast to Cam?"
Peg looked around at the faces staring at her, some of them bleary, some of them expectant, some of them bored. Cam Alexander was three sheets to the wind and kept tipping her shot glass, spilling most of its contents. Keeping Cam mostly vertical was the senior trial paralegal on their team, Jenna Clark. She smiled at Peg in a way that let Peg know she understood not really wanting to be at the party at all. Peg winked at her before she even realized that winking at her was something she wanted to do. She saw Jenna's eyebrow go up a bit.
Peg turned to address the group and raised her glass. "I've known Cam Alexander since her summer associate days here. For some reason she chose our office to start her career in, rather than the usual high paying law firms, all of which we know were anxious to get her. Cam has continued to break hearts ever since, mostly those of the male attorneys that have passed through these halls. Now she's decided to cast her lot with one of them, and I know I speak for all of us when I say how thrilled we are at your happiness. To Cam and Michael."
All heads snapped back as the shots were downed and the glasses then slapped back on the tray. Someone grabbed the tray and headed back to the bar for refills. Cam threw her arms around Peg and hugged her tight, and then fell back in a chair. Jenna hovered close by, afraid Cam would keel over.
"She'll be okay, " Peg said, looking Jenna over and thinking, she was pretty sure for the first time, that Jenna was an amazing looking woman. Why hadn't she noticed her before? "Why don't you join me for a drink? I wanted to touch base with you about something."
Jenna looked at Peg and cocked her head to the side, as if trying to guess what Peg was up to. Then she grabbed the elbow of a woman walking by and asked her to keep an eye on Cam. Peg led Jenna over to a table at the side of the room nearest the front of the tavern. On the other side of the partition next to the table was a hallway leading to rest rooms. The shouts of their office colleagues competed with the noise from the jukebox, the pool table, the TV. Before sitting down Peg motioned over to the bartender for two beers, and then she sat across from Jenna.
"I hope beer is okay."
"Beer's fine, though I probably don't need anymore."
Peg stared into Jenna's eyes until she saw Jenna shift around in her seat and she realized she was making her uncomfortable. Peg was starting to feel the effects of the many drinks she'd already had, but the only thing she was cognizant of was that Jenna was the most desirable woman she'd seen for some time and she intended to get her into her bed. Preferably that night. As the evening wore on, Peg's hangover became a distant memory.
"Jenna, I know we've worked together before, but haven't you just been assigned to the Lanzito trial?"
"That's right. I'm starting with your group tomorrow." Jenna smiled up at the waitress as two beers and two shots were placed on the table. Peg looked around to see Braddock staring at them from across the room, raising his glass.
"The shots are from that guy," the waitress said, pointing at Braddock.
Jenna turned to look and turned back with a scowl on her face. "Oh, god. That guy is such a jerk."
Peg laughed. "I think he'd like to think he has a way with women. He's not your type?"
"Even if I were straight he wouldn't be my type. But I'm not. You knew that already, didn't you?"
"I didn't know. But I hoped. You knew I'm a lesbian?"
"I think everyone knows that, Peg."
"Hmm. I'm not sure what to make of that." Peg threw back her shot and followed it with some beer. She peered at Jenna, who was leaning toward her across the table, holding her beer bottle with both hands. Her discomfort seemed to have transformed into curiosity, and Peg leaned in to meet her half way. "So, are you looking forward to working your ass off on this Lanzito case?"
"Is it going to mean really long hours working in close proximity to you?"
Peg raised an eyebrow. "Yes, very long hours in very close proximity. Probably long after everyone else has gone home for the night and we're stuck at the office, all alone."
Jenna took a drink from her bottle and when she put it back down on the table she moved her hands over Peg's. "Are all of these long hours going to be here in town, or is there any travel involved?"
Peg brought one of Jenna's hands up to her lips. On the other side of the partition, Braddock paused on his way to the men's room as he saw Peg kiss the palm of Jenna's hand. He moved behind a planter that obscured him from their site.
"You know, I think there might be. I'm going to be working with a protected witness who is out of town, and I'm pretty sure I'll need a paralegal with me," Peg said, caressing Jenna's hands with her own.
"Oh, right. Is that Scarpelli? He's the main guy, right?"
"Yeah. I just got his papers today. They gave him a completely idiotic name. I'd be so pissed if I were him. His new name is Paul Prufrock." Peg laughed and then moved her hands from Jenna's so she could signal for another round of drinks.
"Prufrock? There's some literary reference there, I'm pretty sure. Anyway, I bet he'll be glad to get out of town. There's got to be an army of people after him."
"Well, I'll be meeting up with him in Albuquerque in a week or so. I'll see what I can do to get you assigned to the trip as well."
Braddock moved on from his listening spot and slipped into the men's room. When he emerged he saw Peg and Jenna making their way out the door, arm in arm, Peg tucking a beer bottle into the pocket of her long overcoat. Braddock tried to hide his glee as he went to find a pay phone.
Two days later Peg made it to work on time, relatively hangover free for the first time in memory. The fog of remorse that clung to her after waking up in her bed with Jenna was almost more than she could handle. Once again she found she had no memory of getting together with the woman, let alone having sex with her. It was the first time she had seduced someone who worked for her, something she thought she'd never do. Another line she'd sworn she'd never cross. She knew that her bad behavior of the other night was now compounded by how she was acting in the aftermath. Jenna was a perfectly charming and level headed woman and she didn't deserve the cold shoulder Peg gave her when she woke up and realized what had happened. The look of hurt and confusion in Jenna's eyes when she saw Peg in the office yesterday was painful in the extreme. Peg could not bring herself to talk with Jenna, to explain that she hadn't planned to sleep with her, didn't think it was a good thing that she had, didn't, in any event, even remember it. It was almost better to just have her hate her. Certainly it was easier.
Peg had just settled behind her desk with a cup of coffee when her boss called and asked her to join him in his office. Alexander Shuman had been the U.S. District Attorney for the past ten years and he was well regarded for having assembled a strong prosecuting team with a string of impressive courtroom victories. Shuman had a particular zeal for prosecuting mob defendants and significant dents had been made in the organization's power during his tenure. As the head of the organized crime division and one of his best courtroom advocates, Peg was Shuman's lieutenant in this crusade and they had a respectful and business-like relationship. When Shuman saw Peg enter his office he gestured her into one of the chairs in front of his desk. She wondered if she was about to be fired for sleeping with a member of her staff. She also wondered why the thought didn't bother her much.
"What's up, Alex?"
"I just got some very disturbing news, Peg, and I wanted to talk with you about it first." Shuman leaned forward in his chair and looked directly in Peg's eyes. She was convinced now that he was going to fire her.
"Okay," Peg said. "Let me hear it."
"Tad Scarpelli was found dead late last night outside his new home in Albuquerque. He had two bullets in the back of his head."
Peg felt her mouth drop open and the word "Fuck" fly out before she was able to censor herself. She'd never said the word in front of Shuman and doubted anyone else had either.
"Yes, my assessment exactly. Without Scarpelli we haven't a prayer for a conviction against Lanzito. How could this have happened?"
"You're asking me? What, do you think Lanzito's people call me for a sit-down before they order a hit on one of our witnesses?"
Shuman leaned back in his chair. "Sarcasm does not become you, Peg. Nor is it helpful right now. We have the FBI about to barge through our doors investigating this mess and I am going to tell them that as far as I know and have authorized, you and I were the only ones here who knew Scarpelli's new name and location. That's correct, isn't it?"
"You're sure? No one could have taken a peek at your file or anything?"
"No, sir, it was locked away. I'm sure no one else in the office knew. I made my own travel arrangements for next week and told everyone I was going to an undisclosed location. I was only to be available by cell phone."
"Well, there were only a few people at the Bureau who knew, but the leak must be over at their office. They're going to want to give you a going over though," Shuman said.
"I imagine. What should we do with the case against Lanzito?"
"Go through the file and give me your assessment. If we have to dismiss the case you can send the flowers back to Beragamo."
Peg left Shuman's office, surprised that he found any humor in the situation. This was the sort of cock-up that would enrage him, and she imagined that was only starting to build now. She prayed that no one in her group was responsible for the leak, though she couldn't imagine how that could be. She had locked up the envelope with the Scarpelli information almost as soon as she got it, and it was sealed when it was delivered to her. She was familiar with the group of FBI agents involved in investigating the cases she prosecuted, and she had a hard time believing any of them would be the source of the leak. Someone's head would roll, that was certain, and it didn't really matter if it was the right person. Shuman and the FBI Director were going to be relentless in tracking down the leak, for they were already anticipating the skewering they were going to receive in the press for having to dismiss the Lanzito case, an inevitability as far as Peg was concerned. Peg's thoughts moved to the possibility of getting a drink at lunch, a practice she carefully avoided. She just knew she was going to need it after the FBI got through with her.
By noon the feds had arrived to interview Peg and anyone else she may suggest to them. She faced the two agents across her desk and answered their preliminary questions. As they began to take her through her day from the point that she received the sealed envelope from Jim Braddock, the unease that Peg had been feeling since hearing the news about Scarpelli grew more pronounced. She fought to maintain her professional calm but felt herself starting to sweat. Her desire for a drink grew stronger and she still didn't know what was making her so nervous. She showed the agents where she locked the file, where the file still resided, and showed them that her office door automatically locked behind her.
John Butler, a veteran agent with whom Peg had worked in the past, asked Peg to describe what she did after leaving the office that night. She described stopping off at a bar in the Village ("yes, John, a lesbian bar") and then heading over to Hallidays for the office party. As Butler and his colleague made notes, Peg felt herself nearly seize up as the memory came to her of telling Jenna the new identity and location of the protected witness. The memory was hazy and incomplete, but it was undeniable. Peg nearly gasped as it sank in what she'd done and the adrenaline started to race through her system.
"Peg, what time did you leave the party at Hallidays?" Butler asked. He seemed to be going through the motions, feeling it unlikely that Peg Ryan had anything to do with this kind of disaster.
"I'm not sure. It was probably about 9:00. Not late."
"Did you leave alone?"
"Well, I did leave the bar with a very pretty young woman, but it's not what you think. We were just walking out at the same time. Sorry, John. Not much on the titillation front to offer you this time."
"Even you have your off days, Peg." Butler grinned as he closed his notebook and stood to go. "Any idea on how this might have happened?"
"Absolutely none, but I'll keep my ears and eyes open. Without Scarpelli we're completely screwed on the Lanzito case. We'll probably have to dismiss."
Peg showed the agents out and closed the door after them. She felt shaken to the core, though not because she feared being caught as the source of the leak She was shattered by the realization that she had so casually given out the name and location of the protected witness She had only the dimmest recollection of the conversation, but she knew there had been no point to the disclosure. She was flirting and showing off, trying once again to get a woman into bed with her. For the first time Peg felt a deep fear that her drinking was beyond her control. She had always been a person of clearly defined and observed principles, and now it seemed she was observing fewer and fewer of them. Some nights she would drink and remember the evening clearly and generally stay out of trouble. Other nights, and she never could predict which nights these would be, she'd go into a blackout. She would have no idea what she had done unless it was reported back to her, which was never a pleasant experience. It was as if another person invaded her body during the blackout, behaved in ways that Peg would never dream of, and then returned the badly used body to Peg just in time for a bone-crushing hangover.
Peg sat slowly behind her desk and held her hand out in front of her. She knew it trembled not because she was emotionally shaken, but because her body needed alcohol. She was in withdrawal. She also knew that to be drinking repeatedly in blackout the way she had been was completely insane, because no sane person would keep putting themselves in that situation. She knew that she was an alcoholic. What she didn't know was whether she was willing to do anything about it. She simply could not imagine life without alcohol, but for the first time she was having a hard time imagining life with it.
Grabbing her coat from behind the door, Peg told her secretary she was going to lunch and headed out. She had to sort out what she told Jenna and try to figure out whether Jenna could possibly have given that information to the people who had Scarpelli killed. She would not tell the FBI about her role until she learned more about Jenna and what role she played in Scarpelli's death. If, as Peg suspected, she had nothing to do with it, she had to make sure that Jenna did not suffer because of Peg's indiscretion. If Jenna did turn the information over to someone, then Peg would not hesitate to admit her own indiscretion and to give them Jenna's name.
As Peg walked through the lobby of her building she saw Jim Braddock loitering by the door. He fell in behind her as she exited through the revolving door and came up to her side out on the street.
"Can I talk to you for a minute, Peg?"
"Now's not a great time."
"Yeah, I imagine not. You're probably pretty spooked."
Peg turned sharply to stare at him. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"That the FBI is going to be interviewing you about the witness protection leak, if they haven't already, and they're going to be tough."
Peg paused on the street and looked at him. "How did you know about Scarpell?"
"Oh, come on, Peg. Like that's going to stay quiet for long. The people assigned to that trial are already planning their vacations in the spring."
"Listen, Peg. There is something that I know that no one else knows. I don't want to drag this out, so I'll just lay it on the line. I heard you tell Jenna the new name and location for Scarpelli. Two days later he's dead. You are in a world of shit and so is Jenna unless we can come to some sort of accommodation."
Peg felt like her head was exploding. "What the hell are you talking about?"
"At Cam's engagement party. You brought Jenna over to a table at the side of the room for a dose of the Ryan magic, and just as I passed nearby on my way to the little boys room you were telling her that Scarpelli's new name if Prufrock and having a good laugh over how goofy the name sounded."
"Jesus." Peg started walking again, her coat flapping behind her, her pace furious.
Braddock trotted to catch back up to her. "We have more to discuss, Peg."
"Are you blackmailing me?"
Braddock was looking pleased. "All I can say, Peg, is that I hope she was great in bed, because this is going to cost you something you love almost as much as the ladies. And the booze."
"What the hell is it you want, Braddock?"
Braddock steered them into a small park where he led Peg to a bench and sat down. "It's very straightforward and not that costly to you, all things considered. I want you to resign from the D.A.'s office and recommend me for your job. In exchange, I'll not tell the authorities what I overheard at Hallidays. You'll be able to keep your law license and you'll stay out of jail. Seems like a no brainer to me."
Peg stared at Braddock and considered her options. "What makes you think that Shuman or the feds would take your information seriously when you've waited this long to tell them?"
Braddock grinned. "Yeah, I thought about that. There's a small risk I'll take a rap on the knuckles for not coming forward straightaway. But I'm confidant that they will be so anxious to hang someone for this that I'll be forgiven. You're my boss, after all, and I wanted to be sure I heard you correctly at Hallidays. You've confirmed that for me now. I'd say I don't have anything to worry about. I don't think the same can be said for you."
"What about Jenna?" Peg asked.
"What about her? I don't think anyone is going to think that you gave the information directly to Lanzito's people, or whoever killed Scarpelli. That's down to Jenna."
"Don't you think it's a little far fetched to think of Jenna selling information to the mob?"
"It doesn't matter what I think. But I know what the feds and the D.A. are going to think. They will not be able to turn up any other source for the leak and they will build a case around Jenna."
"But based on what? I mean, from where I stand it seems more likely that you were the one who passed on the information," Peg said.
"Hmm. Let's see how that plays out. I don't need the money, I don't have mob connections, I don't owe money, I'm a licensed attorney with my whole career to lose, who isn't a boozing blabber mouth like my boss, and I have good connections with people who will vouch for me. I think that's a pretty rough trail to hack through, Peg. But you do what you need to do."
"Fuck." Peg turned on her heel and walked out of the park, Braddock right behind her. "I'm going to need twenty-four hours to get an answer to you. I have to think about this."
"That's fine. You know how to reach me. If I don't hear from you by 2:00 pm tomorrow I'll give Butler a call over at the FBI and we'll see how they sort out everyone's credibility." Braddock watched Peg stride away, feeling exultant at finally besting her at something.
That evening Peg rented a car and drove out to Queens. Jenna had not been in the office that day and Peg asked for Jenna's home address from personnel after deciding she needed to see her face to face to tell her about the leak. As she left the familiar confines of Manhattan, Peg tried to assess what she needed to do and what she needed to avoid. Her normally quick brain felt sluggish, but the one thing she felt sure of was the need to protect Jenna from being prosecuted for something she didn't do. As far as Peg knew, the only one aware of the fact that Jenna now knew the name of the protected witness was Braddock. The only way that Peg would come forward to admit that she leaked the name was if she had reason to believe that Jenna turned that information over to Scarpelli's killers. Braddock was probably right about the authorities hanging the charge on Jenna absent any other suspect. To allow that to happen to Jenna seemed the greater wrong than not admitting to the authorities that she'd leaked the name. Either way, her life as an Assistant District Attorney was about to come to an end.
Peg found Jenna's address in a typical Queens blue collar neighborhood. She pulled up to a modest frame four-flat where Jenna lived in a rear two-bedroom unit. As Peg made her way along the gangway to the rear door, she could hear sounds from various TVs coming from neighbors within and next door to the building. A game show, a cop show, and a particularly nasty exchange on CNN. After Peg rang the buzzer a voice came over the intercom asking who it was.
"Jenna, it's Peg Ryan from the office. I need to talk to you if you have a minute."
There was a long pause before the voice squawked through the intercom again. "This isn't the greatest time, Peg. Can it wait until I see you tomorrow?"
Peg impatiently wondered why Jenna would think she'd drive out to the middle of Queens if it was something that could wait until tomorrow. Instead she said, "It's important, Jenna. May I come up?"
Another pause, and then, "Yes, we're on the second floor." A buzz sounded and Peg went through the door into a dark foyer. As she started to climb the stairs she could hear a door opening above her. Jenna came out in the hallway to meet her.
"Peg, what are you doing here?" Jenna did not sound curious. She sounded annoyed. Peg jammed her hands in the pockets of her overcoat and looked past Jenna's shoulder to the apartment beyond. She saw an older woman pass by the door and look out at Jenna and Peg.
"Is everything okay, Jenna?" the woman asked, pausing with her hand on the door.
"Yes, Nana. I'll be right in." Jenna turned to the woman and put her hand on her arm. "Would you start getting Sam ready for bed?"
"I'm sorry to disturb your evening," Peg said to Jenna as the woman moved away from the door. "But it's important that we talk. Is there somewhere we can sit down?"
Jenna just sighed and moved into the apartment, leading Peg to the sofa in a small and very neat living room. As Peg looked around the room she noticed a box of toys in the corner of the room. Peg looked at Jenna as she sat down and said, "I didn't realize you had a child."
Jenna sat as far away from Peg as she could on the sofa. "I told you I have a son the other night. We talked about him for quite awhile. But then, I've gotten the message loud and clear that you weren't really interested in anything I had to say."
"Jenna, we don't have nearly enough time to cover all the ways I'm a rotten person." Peg sighed and leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees and clasping her hands together. "Do you remember the other night at Hallidays when I told you the new name of the witness in the Lanzito case."
"Sure. I think you said it was Prufrock. I thought about it since because I remembered that was the name of the guy in the T.S. Elliot poem."
Peg sighed. "Well, with a memory like that you're going to be amazed when I tell you that I don't remember telling you that."
"Well, you did," Jenna said.
"Oh, I know I did. I just don't remember it. And I don't remember you telling me that you have a child, and, worst of all, I don't remember making love with you." Peg managed to keep her eyes on Jenna, though she longed to run away. She longed for a drink.
"We didn't make love," Jenna said quietly. "You fell asleep almost as soon as we fell into bed."
"Oh, god. I don't know which is worse. Listen, Jenna, clearly I had too much to drink that night and I have a lot to apologize for. That alone would justify a trip here to make that apology, including for the truly immature way I treated you in the office afterward. I am just embarrassed and mortified and not a little concerned, given that you are a member of my staff."
"Don't worry about that. It's not like I consider this sexual harassment. I wanted to go home with you. But I don't like feeling used, that's for sure."
"Again, I apologize. You didn't deserve that. But I'm also here to tell you about another aspect of that evening that I just learned about." Peg was interrupted by the sound of a child running down the hallway toward his mother. She looked up to see a boy of about six hurling himself into his mother's arms, shrieking with laughter. He was terribly thin and completely bald. Peg felt her stomach flip and her heart break. She pulled herself together to return the child's gravely executed handshake after the introduction by his mother.
"Are you a friend of Mommy's?" Sam asked.
"I'd like to think so," Peg replied. She smiled down at the wide open face, guileless, friendly, and adorable, much like his mother.
"Sam," Jenna said, holding her son by the shoulders, "why don't you go in and let Gran finish getting you ready for bed and I'll be in soon to read to you."
"Okay, Mom. It was nice to meet you," he said to Peg, before racing back down the hall.
Peg looked at Jenna with a raised eyebrow. "Geez, the manners on that kid. How did you teach him all that?"
Jenna smiled wanly. "Sam has had a lot of time indoors with grown-ups, either here or at the hospital. He's always been quick to absorb what's around him."
"What's wrong with him?"
"It's leukemia. He's just finished a course of chemo and seems to be in remission now. We had a very good check-up today. So we're taking it day to day and hoping for the best. There are new treatments all the time."
"Of course. I'm sure he'll …, well, I'm sure he's a lucky boy to have you looking out for him."
"Peg, what did you come here to tell me?" Jenna looked calmly at Peg.
"You weren't in the office today so you probably haven't heard that Tad Scarpelli was murdered last night and it looks like it was a hit." Peg carefully watched Jenna's face as she told her the news. Her blank expression took on a slight frown.
"That means we're screwed on the court case, doesn't it?"
"Yes. It also means there was almost certainly a leak of the information on his new identity that led to his being shot. The investigation by the Bureau has already begun," Peg said.
Now Jenna's eyes widened. "You're not saying you think I have anything to do with it, are you?"
Peg held Jenna's gaze. "No, I'm not, and I don't think you did have anything to do with it. Because of that I haven't told the authorities about my telling you the new identity. I'm afraid that if they don't identify another source of the leak they'll try to hang something on you."
"But I haven't done anything wrong," Jenna said.
"And sometimes that doesn't matter. We both know that. Listen, I just wanted you to have a heads up from me. You'll do whatever feels right for you, but I wanted you to know that I didn't tell them when I was interviewed today and I don't intend on telling them. Unfortunately, that looks a little self-serving on my part, like I'm trying to avoid admitting to my own mistake. I certainly wouldn't blame you for thinking badly of me. But I can see you have a lot of responsibility here and I really don't want my drunken indiscretion to be the cause of difficulty for you."
Jenna glanced to the rear of the apartment and then turned back to Peg. "Is this anything I should worry about?"
"No, I don't want you to worry. It will be fine. I just wanted you to know, in case you are interviewed by the FBI, that I have not told them that I told you about Scarpelli and that it's my opinion – for whatever that's worth – that you shouldn't tell them."
"Well, despite what a shit you've been, your opinion does matter to me. I'll think about what you've said." Jenna stood up and led Peg to the door. She looked up at Peg and smiled sadly. "Peg, I think it's best if we just pretend the other night didn't happen between us, don't you?"
"Yes. I agree. And again, I'm really sorry."
"I accept your apology, and I think that you're a really good person. But maybe it's time you took a look at your drinking."
Peg stiffened and forced a thin smile. "I'll see you around, Jenna." She clattered back down the stairs and out of the building, trotting back to her car and gunning her way back to Manhattan. She felt ripped open and vulnerable, an irresistible desire to outrun the flood of fear and awareness that was threatening to overwhelm her. No one had ever said anything to her before about her drinking. Suddenly, the thing she secretly feared was not as easy to deny.
The following day Peg met with Braddock and agreed to his terms. She resigned her position a month after Scarpelli's death, thinking the time between events would lessen suspicion that she had anything to do with the leak. Braddock assumed her title and Peg disappeared. For the next two years she discovered that denial was indeed much more difficult than it had been before. It basically required that she stay drunk nearly all of the time, which she did. Until she simply couldn't any more.
To be continued . . .
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