A GUEST AT THE CLUB
by Henry Simpson
“That was a delightful performance, counselor,” said a man with a voice that easily pierced the sound and fury of the courthouse hallway.
I opened my eyes. Standing before me was a tall, imposing man about sixty in a perfectly tailored suit. He had the look of Ivy League and aplomb of a Rockefeller.
“Do I know you?” I said.
“Doug Evans,” he said.
“What do you want?”
He smiled, cool and unoffended by my rudeness. “We have mutual friends, Mr. Costa. I wonder if you’d mind talking with me. Won’t take long.”
“The Gentry family. It’s about that suicide over at Macarthur. The police have arrested my son and Steve Gentry. The arraignment hearing is at two o’clock today. I am their defense lawyer. I would like to know everything possible about the evidence before I go to court.”
“You’ll find out soon enough. I can’t help you much. I’m not involved in that case at all. I don’t know anything.”
He smiled. “Ah, those familiar words. Do you mind if I call you Joe? I believe you are being disingenuous, Joe. My sources tell me you are directly involved. You know Dougie and Steve. Do you seriously think they would murder one of their best friends?”
I got to my feet. “I witnessed your son kill my dog and skewer her with a bayonet. He also threatened me with an air rifle. Does that answer your question?”
“An air rifle?” He chuckled. “Listen, Joe . . .”
I put my hand on his chest. “You don’t know me. Don’t call me Joe. Please get the hell out of my face.”
He backed away, straightening his Yale necktie and smoothing back his thinning dyed black hair. “Douglas is a blockhead, not a murderer. The only things he has ever shown any talents for are football and close order drill. I am sorry about your dog, but my son has feared all dogs since he was bitten as a small child. He is cynophobic. He was protecting himself against attack when he killed your dog. It is unfortunate, but I am sure a court would interpret his actions as justified. As for the air rifle incident, it is hard to take seriously. Now, if he had pointed a loaded firearm at you, it would be entirely different.”
I walked away from him to the exit. Moments later, I was on State, thinking about lunch. “My club’s in the next block,” Evans said from behind. Catching up, he was soon beside me. “Come on, shipmate. Be my guest at the University Club.”
“I’m not a member.”
“I will vouch for you, Mr. Costa. Does my calling you that help? Loosen up a scoche.” He surged ahead, then turned to face me, standing opposite the elegant tile and wrought iron doorway of his club, pointing at it like a shill.
I had never entered it before, never been invited. It was for millionaires, bluebloods, Ivy Leaguers, and their ilk, not commoners. The doorman greeted Evans with a broad smile and ushered us inside, where he handed us off like a relay runner to a maitre d’ who led us to a reserved table in the middle of a compact dining room. The floors were covered with thick mauve carpet and the walls with dark wood panels and gilt-framed oil portraits of prosperous white men. I scanned the room. I counted two judges and three attorneys who looked familiar and at ease among all the other nice suits, high cheekbones, confident expressions, and easy laughter. They owned this exclusive little oasis and much outside it as well. Before I knew it, a bowtied waiter set Cobb salads and tall glasses of ice water with lemon on the table. “Gentlemen, enjoy yourselves,” he said in parting.
“This is my usual lunch fare,” Evans said. “Quick and healthy. Hope it suits you.”
I lifted a salad fork and tasted. “Very good.”
We ate without talking. Evans finished before I was halfway. He signaled a waiter. The waiter quickly delivered a crystal Old Fashioned glass half filled with amber liquid.
“Care for a cocktail?” he said.
The waiter left.
“Do you have a son?” Evans said.
“A daughter. She’s fourteen.”
“Good. You will understand. We are protective, fathers. We want the best for our offspring. It is fundamental to our being. When they are young, we try to aim them in the right direction, and hope they will do well in the world. When they err, we help them recover. Sometimes we make excuses for them.”
“Is there a limit?” I said.
“Of course. There must be. People in our profession are especially aware of limits.” He drank and, for a moment, seemed to admire the splendid crystal. He set down the glass and looked me in the eyes. “Your father is an impressive man, a leader and a hero, a genuine asset to Macarthur.”
“How do you know my father?”
“I chair the oversight committee at Macarthur. We pass on all professional hires. I reviewed his resume and interviewed him. With his background, he is highly qualified for a post at Macarthur. The committee so recommended. It would probably be best if you did not mention to your father that I told you about my role in his hiring. I just thought you should know.”
“I won’t say a word.”
“Now, about my son, and Steven . . .”
I said, “I don’t have anything to tell you, Mr. Evans. My only connection with your two young clients is that Steven is . . .”
“Max Gentry’s brother. I know. He was your close friend. Steven explained all that to me.”
“What else did he say?”
“That he likes you. He said you have been like a mentor to him, and have given him good advice. What’s your opinion of him?”
“Nice young man, polite, good family and prospects, undoubtedly a catch for some debutante.”
“Not exactly how I’d put it. Let us stop this chess game. I am due in court in fifty minutes. What I need before I face the lions in that arena is some inside information. Help me. You have been where I am. What say?”
“The bluesuits want to put away some murderers and close some cases.”
“What’s the evidence?”
“A bruised and broken neck.”
“That’s all I know.”
“Is political pressure involved?”
“The mayor has taken an interest. I believe she’s made it clear to Homicide.”
“You mean Pete Romero?”
“He’s the ambitious one over there. Do you know him?”
“Of course. Do you have any advice?”
“Why ask me?”
He smiled. “Professional courtesy. Surely you’ve played devil’s advocate before.”
“Well, if the prosecution focuses on your son in particular, consider an insanity defense.”
“He’s not crazy.”
“Who cares? Let a psychiatrist muddy the waters.”
“You could try shifting blame to Steven.”
“Some friend and mentor you are.”
“No, devil’s advocate.”
He raised his glass and finished it. As soon as he tabled it, the waiter whisked it away and left a fresh one.
“What happened two years ago?” I said.
“I have no idea what you mean.”
“You were involved. I’d bet my life on it.”
“Don’t ever bet your life, son.” He raised his glass. “Quite a puzzle, isn’t it?”
“Two years ago, a burning death, this year Max’s murder, and now Bobby Hughes. They’re connected.”
“Prove it,” Evans said sarcastically.
I slammed my hand on the table with a bang and clatter of silver and glass. All eyes faced us. “You son of a bitch. You played me. You’re like every other rich asshole in this cave. You get away with murder without a murmur of conscience.”
“You really should have a drink, Mr. Costa. Believe me, we seldom get away with murder, and most of us carry heavy burdens of guilt as we live our lives. It comes with the responsibities we bear and the difficult decisions we must make to hold together the thin fabric of society. Your father would know what I mean. I am surprised you do not. Just to show you how fair and broad-minded I can be, I will let you look at a confidential case file that will interest you. It deals with the pranks and mischief that got three juveniles into trouble. Alas, I do not have much time, and would violate the law if I let you borrow it, so I will give you exactly two minutes to examine it.” He reached into an inside pocket of his jacket, pulled out some folded pages, and laid them before me. He checked his wristwatch. “Starting now.”
I leaned over and went into speed-reading mode. The papers comprised a two-year old juvenile case file involving Douglas Evans, Jr., Steven Gentry, and Robert Hughes. The three were charged with assault on several homeless men, resulting in one charge of involuntary manslaughter of a man who died of burns. D.C. Evans defended, presenting as character witnesses family friends, two high school coaches, and a teacher. The prosecution had no witnesses and slim circumstantial evidence. In a plea bargain, the defendants admitted guilt to one charge of battery and malicious mischief. They were sentenced to 180 days in juvenile detention and two years probation. At defense counsel’s request, the judge agreed to allow the defendants to attend Macarthur Preparatory Academy under close supervision for two years in lieu of juvenile detention. Before I could finish reading, Evans pulled away the papers and pocketed them.
“Why did you show me that?” I said.
He looked at his watch and stood. “I must leave now. Let us part as friends.” He extended his hand, I accepted it, and soon heard polite applause from several nearby tables; again, all eyes were on us from these fine, well-bred people.
“I’ll expect an invitation to join,” I said.
“Don’t get your hopes up. A parting thought. Your father has a bright future at Macarthur. He has many good years ahead of him. He could aspire to any job he wants there. It is always helpful to have a friend in the front office. Marines cherish loyalty. It is one of their prime virtues, a wonderful thing. It’s reciprocal.”
It surprised me how quickly he left.
About the Authors:
Henry Simpson is the author of several novels, two short story collections, many book reviews, and occasional pieces in literary journals. His most recent novel is Golden Girl (Newgame, 2017).