Too Many Clients Excerpt

Chapter One

The soft rain had stopped now, and the man switched off the wipers. He lowered his window and ran his hand over his head. He was bald, and his scalp felt damp and warm. Everything felt damp and warm. He'd had a couple more drinks than he'd planned to, and was feeling it, so he drove with extra care. He didn't need a traffic stop, he thought, not tonight of all nights. And not with someone like Lauren in the car.

It wasn't like they were doing anything illegal. He'd met Lauren in an upscale bar, a favorite of his, out near O'Hare, a little before closing time. Half-Asian, he thought, with high cheekbones, brown eyes, and honey-colored skin. She had straight black hair, cut in bangs across her forehead and falling to her shoulders. She could have been a high-class hooker, of course. She had that look. But she didn't seem aggressive enough for that, and there'd been no talk of money. She wore a navy blue pants suit, expensive, with the jacket open over a shiny, silk-looking blouse. The blouse was white, and unbuttoned far enough to show just a bit of cleavage.

The bar stools were comfortable—with padded backs to lean against—and he bought her a drink and they got to talking. She said she lived near Wrigley Field and was a sales rep for a pharmaceutical firm. She'd spent all day yesterday and today, Saturday and Sunday, at a sales meeting at the O'Hare Hilton. Then they were all expected to have drinks and dinner together. "It was awful," she said, "and when it was finally over everyone else ... they're all from out of town ... escaped to their hotel rooms ... I started home in a cab, but after a few blocks I decided to stop and treat myself to a nightcap."

"All by yourself?" he'd asked.

"I'm by myself a lot," she said.

"That's hard to believe." He smiled. "I'd have thought you had lots of friends. Guys, anyway."

"Yes ... well ... " She dipped the plastic stirrer in and out of her scotch and water. "Guys ... especially my age, you know ... they're so ... I don't know ... " She picked up her glass and took a sip. "It's not that I don't like a good time. Don't get me wrong. But I'm not ... I'm not like most girls. I ... well ... " She shrugged. "Anyway, I feel more comfortable with older men ... like your age. Maybe it's a father thing, or—" She stopped and lowered her eyes. "No offense." She laid one hand on top of his on the bar; and with the other, finished her drink.

"None taken." He ordered another round and stood up and took off his jacket and hung it on the back of his bar stool. He moved the stool a little closer to hers, and when he sat down again he could smell her perfume ... mingled with her own personal scent.

There was an awkward moment of silence, but she smiled at him, looking a little embarrassed. When the bartender returned and set the drinks down she reached for hers, and as she did she leaned her breast against his upper arm. It was clearly deliberate and he felt the hardness of her nipple, and that stirred a hint of hardness in him. He kept his arm against the tip of her breast and moved it in a gentle rubbing motion. She had nothing on under the blouse.

She finally pulled away and sighed. "Nice," she said, and sipped at her scotch.

"Very." He kissed her lightly on the cheek. "Unfortunately," he said, bringing himself back to reality, "I have to be go—"

She put a finger to his lips to stop him, and leaned in close to his ear. "I meant it," she whispered, "when I said I'm not like other girls." She giggled a little ... and then took his hand and gently drew it down to her lap.

The bald man considered himself a practical person, and he knew that tonight of all nights he should get some sleep. He had an important meeting of his own in the morning. But this ... this Lauren person ... had surprised him, to say the least. And had very much excited him—which wasn't so easy these days.

Now they were only a couple of blocks from the bald man's place.

He lived alone in the house he'd bought after his divorce. Just blocks from his ex, which had pissed her off, the bitch. It was an area of tree-lined streets and single-family homes on the far north-west side, near the forest preserve. Lots of cops and firemen and other city employees. Sunrise was a long way off and the streets were deserted, but around here the streets and alleys were always clean and well-lit. His own place was smaller than most, and overloaded with loans. He needed cash, but he had to be patient. There was money on the way, and as soon as it came in he planned to sell and pay off the loans—all but one, anyway—and get himself a condo near downtown.

There hadn't been much talk in the car, but finally Lauren said, "It's warm for October, isn't it?" Her speech was a little slurred. "Or is it the scosh that's making me so hot?"

He grinned. "It's not the scotch, honey. It's—" He stopped when he glanced over and saw her fumbling with the buttons on her blouse. When she had it open all the way down she flapped the two sides in and out, fanning her bare breasts.

"Jesus," he said. By then they were already in the alley that ran behind his house. He'd torn down his small, ancient garage and had a wide concrete slab put in and always parked in the middle. Lots of space on both sides.  Safer that way.  Now he pulled in and turned off the lights. "Home sweet home," he said. "Let's go."

But Lauren was leaning back in the seat, head against the headrest. She was holding her jacket and blouse wide open and thrusting her upper body forward. "Toush me again," she said, the slur more pronounced. "Hurry."

"Not here, dammit. Wait till we're inside."

"I can't wait." She reached down between her legs. "Don't you wanna shee what I got?"

"I already felt what you got, back at the bar." Same as I got, he thought, only smaller. He'd run across a few she-males on the job over the years, when he was working the street, but never up close and personal. He released his seat belt. "We'll both see a whole lot better when we get inside."

"Toush me." She grabbed his arm and pulled, and he gave in and leaned toward her. Then he heard something ... or thought he did ... and froze. She giggled, pulled on him again.

"Dammit, let go!" He yanked his arm free, twisted around in his seat. Too late. He should've been paying more attention and now there was someone there, already close beside his open window. "Jesus," he said, "what is this?"

Lauren must have seen, too. He heard her muffled cry, heard her open her door and scramble out of the car. But he didn't turn, couldn't take his eyes off the pistol pointed straight at his face. A Glock, he thought, like the one right under my seat. As though that mattered. The revolver he carried high up under his arm didn't matter, either.

The sound of the shot made him jump.

He may have heard a second shot, and a third. Or they may have been echoes in his exploding brain.


Chapter Two

"May I help you, sir?" The receptionist was silver-haired and motherly. She didn't look at all like a predator, out to rob people of their livelihoods. But Dugan knew better. That was the point, after all, of this whole office. These people got paid to take away lawyers' licenses. Lawyers like him.

He handed his business card across the chest-high barrier between him and the predator-in-disguise. "I'm here for the deposition of John O'Hern at nine thirty." He looked at his watch. "I'm a few minutes early."

The woman stared at his card, then looked up with doubt in her eyes. "Are you here as ... as additional counsel for Mr. O'Hern?"

"Nope. I'm here to attend his dep."

"I don't know if—" She shook her head. "The court reporter and Mr. O'Hern's attorney are already waiting in the conference room," she said, "and counsel for the Administrator—that's Gina Chan—will join them when Mr. O'Hern arrives. But Ms. Chan didn't tell me you were coming."

"Ms. Chan didn't know." He smiled, trying to look at ease and friendly, when he felt just the opposite. "You could let her know I'm here, though."

"Oh ... well, yes ... of course." She picked up the phone, hesitated, then said, "You may have a seat, sir."

Dugan turned and walked across the smooth gray carpet and sat down. The room, with its high, white ceiling and gray walls, was bright with fluorescent lighting. He'd entered by one of a pair of glass doors, set in a floor-to-ceiling glass wall. It was the only office on this floor of One Prudential Plaza, a high-rise on Randolph Street, just east of Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago, and the words painted on the glass announced:

Illinois Attorney Registration
Disciplinary Commission

Dugan read them as:

Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here

He sat in one of a dozen identical chairs, upholstered in the same shade of maroon and arranged in sets of two along the side walls, presumably so lawyers in trouble could confer with counsel as they waited for the axe to fall. All the other chairs were empty. It was a quiet Monday morning at the ARDC.

The receptionist put down the phone. "Ms. Chan will be with you shortly," she said, then immediately picked up the phone again to answer an incoming call. Dugan tuned her out and sat staring through the glass wall toward the elevators. Johnny O'Hern would be coming up soon on one of them. Johnny wasn't a lawyer. He was a cop, and Dugan wondered if he'd be in uniform or plain clothes. He was a detective now, though, wasn't he? So probably no uniform.

He also wondered if maybe this was a bad idea, coming here by himself. He was too psyched up ... way more than he thought he'd be. It had finally happened, though. The ARDC was after his license.

Not that he loved his law practice. Most mornings he woke up thinking he'd rather go somewhere else besides his office—anywhere else, actually. But these people were after him for something he didn't really think was so bad. In the end, they'd probably yank his ticket, but he wasn't about to let them push him around in the process.

He looked at his watch. Time was passing and, except for the constant flow of phone calls to the desk, nothing was happening. Gina Chan didn't come out. Johnny O'Hern didn't show up. Dugan didn't calm down.

Finally, at ten minutes to ten, the doors to one of the elevators slid open. Two people stepped out. But neither was Johnny. One was a short, husky Hispanic-looking man dressed like a construction worker, angry-looking and obviously pumped up to come in and scream about the terrible things his lawyer had done to him. The other was the prettiest woman Dugan had ever laid eyes on.

Her name was Kirsten, and she was Dugan's wife.

"Always nice to see you," Dugan said, and kissed her on the cheek. He'd run out and stopped her near the elevators, while the husky man went inside and was already gesturing angrily at the ARDC's receptionist as though she were the crook he'd hired to handle his legal matter. "Or almost always," Dugan added. "What the hell are you doing here?"

"Me?" She smiled ever-so-sweetly. "I just happened to be in the building," she said, "and I came up to register a complaint. The thing about lawyers, you know, is they just don't—"


"They don't communicate," she continued, staring at him. "I mean ... I live with a lawyer, for God's sake, and does he tell me that he's up to his ass in trouble at the Disciplinary Commission? No, not him, dammit." She was mad as hell, and had dropped any façade of sweetness. "I have to find out from—Well, I can't say who from, but I—"

"I bet it was your buddy Parker Gillson. He's supposed to keep his mouth shut about ARDC investigations, and he told you. I should complain about him. Go after his job."

"You wouldn't get far," she said. "They just made him chief investigator."

"Oh, so that makes it legitimate for him to blab about what this damn place is investigating?"

"What makes it 'legitimate' is that he's my friend ... and he owes me. And you, dammit, are my husband. You owe me, too. You owe me enough to tell me when someone's coming after your license."

"Yeah ... well ... I'd have told you, but—"

"Park called me on my cell twenty minutes ago. Told me to get over here. Said you'd just shown up, uninvited, and they weren't going to let—"

"Excuse me," someone interrupted.

They turned to see a woman in a black pants suit holding the ARDC's glass door open. She was scarcely over five feet tall, slim and pale-skinned. Her black hair was cut short and fell in curls over her forehead above large dark eyes. "I'm Gina Chan," she said. "You wanted to see me?"

They went inside and the three of them stood in the middle of the reception area. The angry construction worker could be seen in a windowed conference room to their right, where a young woman sat at a table, apparently writing down what he was saying. "Johnny O'Hern told me you're taking his dep today," Dugan said. "I'm here to attend it."

"That's what the receptionist told me," the woman said. "Although ... technically it's a sworn statement I'll be taking from Mr. O'Hern when he arrives, not a deposition. At any rate, there's no need for you to wait, because you will not be allowed to attend."

"There's a court reporter present and his lawyer's here, and you're going to sit down at a table and ask him questions—questions about me." Dugan yanked his thumb back toward his own chest. "So whatever you call it, I have a right to be there."

"Actually, you're wrong." Gina Chan didn't smile, didn't frown, didn't flinch. "The subject matter of our investigation is confidential. When and if a formal complaint is filed, against you or anyone else, the matter will become public. Until that time, neither our policies nor the Supreme Court's rules afford you the right to participate."

"I'm not talking about participating, just being present." He struggled to control his voice. He knew it was stupid, but this tiny Gina Chan—competent, confident, and cute as hell—was really pissing him off. "Dammit," he said, "I'm not—"

Kirsten stepped in front of Dugan and then backed up, subtly forcing him away from the woman. "Rights are one thing, Ms. Chan. But we were hoping you might not object to—"

"Gina Chan." It was a female voice, coming over a paging system. "Line three, please. Ms. Chan, line three."

Chan turned and walked to the receptionist's desk and picked up the phone. Just then a door to the right of the desk swung open and a tall, wide-shouldered black man appeared. Dugan hadn't seen the guy in awhile and he'd put on a few more pounds, but it was Parker Gillson.

Gillson came up close to Dugan and Kirsten. "Don't argue," he said. "Just move." He herded them out through the glass doors and to the elevators. He hit the button and one of the elevator doors slid open, and he maneuvered them inside with him.

"What the hell's going on?" Dugan asked, as they started down. "I want to attend that dep—I mean ... sworn statement, and they can't keep me out."

"That issue's been litigated to death," Gillson answered. "And the Supreme Court says they can keep you out. But believe me, this time they won't."

"What?" Dugan felt suddenly confused. "Then why are we going—"

"Just wait." The elevator had stopped. Two men in white shirts and dark ties got on, and it was clear Gillson didn't want to talk in front of them. They continued down to the lobby and got out and he led them to a quiet corner. "I can't stay long," he said. "I rode down with you and what I did was urge you to come back up with me, but you refused. Right?"

"What?" Dugan said again. "I don't—"

"Right, I got it." Kirsten raised her palm to shut Dugan up. "So c'mon, Park," she said. "Tell us, for God's sake."

"The sworn statement's been canceled." Gillson kept his eyes on Kirsten, as if Dugan wasn't even there. "If I were you, I'd tell my husband to stop being such an asshole, and to get the hell out of here and get himself a lawyer."

"I am a lawyer, dammit," Dugan said. "I don't need—"

"He may be somewhere else by now." Gillson still looked only at Kirsten. "But as of not too long ago Johnny O'Hern was sitting behind the wheel of his car. Not going anywhere, though. Not after taking three bullets to the head."

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