By Wayne J. Keeley
Published by The Fiction Works
January 2002; ISBN: 1581246714 ; 215 pages
I knew it was going to be a bad Monday when I opened the door to my office and found my boss, Johnathan Simpson, slumped in my captain's chair, naked, with his throat cut from ear to ear.
My initial reaction was to carry his limp carcass to his office on Mahogany Row. As I considered moving his body, my secretary came up behind me, her scream echoing down the hallowed hallways of Ashley, Stepford & Simpson.
I walked into the office and faced my boss. Johnathan Simpson had been a handsome man. The remnants of his good looks were evident: deep-set blue eyes, high cheekbones, strong chin. Even his tan had not yet succumbed to the pasty pallor of death. He had been quite the ladies man in his younger days. Now in his sixties, rumor had it he still allowed his smaller head to control his larger one. His silver hair was fluffed out in an Einstein-like fringe. His head was tilted back, his blue eyes wide open, staring at the fake mahogany-ceiling fan. His tongue, purple and bloated, hung out of his mouth like one of his Cuban cigars. Fresh blood seeped out of the gaping slash across his throat and dripped down his hairy chest to his groin. His penis was smaller than I would have imagined. His trousers and boxer shorts were wrapped around his ankles. The late great Jonathan Simpson, Esquire, Attorney Extraordinaire—now corpse a la mode.
One by one, a crowd gathered outside my office. Roger Ashley, the "Ashley" of Ashley Stepford & Samson, studied the scene with a cool detachment. Stepford passed away several years earlier. Simpson's demise would leave Ashley the undisputed lord of the manor.
"Don't touch anything, Mark," he said. "The police are on the way." He turned to the crowd of onlookers. "We should all get on with our business, people."
Even though Ashley didn't hold a candle to Simpson in the looks department, the man had presence. He was huge, over six feet and carried two hundred pounds on his large frame. His voice was deep and authoritative. When he spoke, people listened.
The crowd and their hushed murmurs dispersed.
I went to my file cabinet in the corner of the room and pulled out the Candle file. Since there wasn't anything I could do about Simpson, I figured I'd bill time. The Candle file could use additional hours. It was an old Southgate case; one I had inherited from Simpson who, in turn, had inherited it from Ashley. Where old cases were concerned, inheritance by associates was the principal way of disposition.
An hour later, my secretary, Mary, found me in a carrel in the library abstracting a set of depositions. My billing pad lay by the file. Although I could have my junior associate, Russ Barrett, or a paralegal abstract them, I needed the billable hours.
Some clients would object to paying a senior associate's rates for summarizing transcripts. But this was a Southgate case. Southgate was an insurance company, one of the largest in North America. It was also the firm's biggest client. The empire of Ashley, Stepford & Simpson was built on the hundreds of files Southgate sent it. If you were going to whack a case for billable hours, Southgate was a good place to start.
"The police want to see you in Mr. Ashley's office," Mary said. She was a plain woman, not overly conscientious or friendly. She had worked for me for eight years, and I'd yet to establish any sort of rapport, business or otherwise, with her.
"Fine." I noted my time sheet, packed my papers and headed for Mahogany Row.
Mahogany Row was the name given to the wing of the firm housing the senior partners. Spacious corner offices lined with mahogany, plush pile carpeting, and expansive views of New York City stood in stark contrast to the graves they called offices used by the associates of the firm, those revenue-generating people also called slaves.
The wing was crowded. A detective ushered me to Roger Ashley's corner office. I passed Simpson's office on the way. I saw a forensics team at work within its mahogany confines. Simpson's secretary, Miranda, waved as I passed.
"How you holdin' up," I asked.
She averted her face, wiping away tears. "As well as can be expected," she managed.
Miranda was a pretty African-American divorcee. She had big, almond-shaped brown eyes and high arching eyebrows. The picture of her ten-year-old son, Matthew James, lay face down on her desk. I picked up the picture and placed it upright.
She looked at me. "What did you say?"
"Your son, Matthew. How's he doing?"
"OK," she mumbled amid sobs, discomfited by the question. Perhaps my detachment over our boss was disconcerting.
I about-faced. A detective was standing in the doorway to Ashley's office. "This way, please. We have a number of people to interview."
"Yeah, sure." I turned to Miranda. "I'll talk to you later."
I entered the office and took a seat across from a dour-faced detective. He looked as if he came out of central casting: trench coat, rumpled polyester sports jacket, and unfiltered cigarettes. He was stocky, with stubby little fingers and dirty yellow fingernails. He was also missing a neck. I watched the ashes fall from his cigarette onto Ashley's mahogany desk. A shock of silver hair dribbled over his wrinkled forehead.
"I'm Detective McGuire," he said, studying papers in front of him. "I'd like to ask you a few questions and then maybe have you sign a statement.
McGuire shifted the paperwork in front of him. "You worked for the deceased?"
"He was your boss?" He gave me a cursory once-over and a lungful of smoke before I sat down.
"I was assigned to his group," I said.
He looked into my eyes for the first time. I saw years of late night paperwork and bureaucratic weariness in his bloodshot corneas. I also saw something else—penetrating, coal-black eyes.
I assumed the pecking order of a large metropolitan law firm would be beyond the ken of a public Dick, so I tried to make it easy for him. That was my first mistake.
"A large law firm," I began, "like this one is departmentalized."
He stared at me, unblinking.
"The firm is broken down into groups," I continued. "I was in Simpson's group. So, being a member of his group, I worked for him."
He wiped a hand over the bumpy mound of flesh that served for his nose and snorted like a pig. I couldn't tell if this was an investigative tactic or if he was a classless slob.
"Is that a 'yes'?" he grunted.
"Yeah. That's a 'yes'," I said.
"You were directly under him?" Another snort.
"In a manner of speaking."
A vein suddenly bulged on McGuire's temple. "Look, counselor, I'm not cross examining you . . . yet. Was he your boss or not?"
My blood pressure began to rise. "Yes," I responded.
"Thank you." He returned his attention to the papers. "Did you guys get along?"
"We had a solid business relationship."
Another lungful of smoke in my face. "Solid," he mimicked.
"Ditto," I replied.
He studied my face for a long moment. "Was there ever any ill will between you and Simpson?"
"Absolutely not." I responded.
It was my turn to be dissembling. "What do you mean by 'friction'?"
The detective didn't miss a beat. "It's a simple question, counselor. Hard feelings, hate, loathing, scorn, prejudice—"
"Prejudice?" I asked, surprised.
"Yeah, prejudice. Did you ever feel Simpson treated you in a prejudicial manner—maybe because he was Protestant and you were Irish Catholic? You are Irish Catholic, aren't you?"
"What makes you think so?"
"Takes one to know one." The exhaled smoke hung above us like a cloying halo.
"Detective, this is the nineties. Ashley, Stepford & Simpson is a vocal advocate for equal opportunity employment—"
"Answer my questions. Are you Irish Catholic?"
By now, my blood pressure was ceiling high. "Yeah," I responded.
"How many Irish Catholic partners does the firm have?"
"I don't know."
McGuire leaned back in his chair, steepling his fingers, the cigarette dangling from his bloodless lips. "You don't know the nationalities of the partners in your firm?"
"It's a huge firm. I've never counted." My second mistake.
"I did, by reviewing the masthead on the firm's stationary. It took me a minute. There are no Irish Catholic partners. There are no female, black or Hispanic partners either."
"Those groups are represented in our associate population and it's only a matter of time before some of those people make partner."
"What about this tenure thing you guys have?"
"You mean partnership?"
"Yeah, that's it. You're not a partner."
Although McGuire's statement wasn't a question, I felt it needed a response.
"No, I'm not a partner yet. I'm a senior associate. I'm up for partnership this year."
"What happens if an associate doesn't make partner?"
"They're asked to leave."
McGuire was surprised. He rocked forward, the black eyes intent. "You mean, that's it? A person can work eight years and it's over just like that? They kick you out on your ass?"
"How about you? Do you think you'll make partner?"
Partnership is a sensitive subject, especially for an eight-year senior associate. "What does this have to do with Simpson's murder?"
McGuire's right silver eyebrow arched. "Who said it was murder?"
My third mistake. I felt as if I'd been snared by the proverbial trick question, 'how many times do you beat your wife'.
"Well, it had to be murder."
"Why?" Now both silver eyebrows pointed toward heaven.
"I don't think he could slit his own throat."
"I'll keep that in mind. About this partnership thing. Do you think you're going to make it?" The black eyes narrowed to pupils.
"Of course," I said. "I'm counting on partnership. Now can you tell me what this has to do with Simpson's demise?"
He scratched his head and rubbed his fleshy jowls. "Counselor, I have a dead guy on my hands and few clues. I'm following leads. Right now you are my best lead."
"You were his personal—
"Flunky. I found out from the scuttlebutt that you two weren't on good terms. I heard you left his office screaming at the top of your lungs two days ago."
"We were arguing over a case. We had lots of. . .creative differences."
"So many that he advised the Executive Committee of this firm to deny you partnership?"
"What?" I was incredulous.
"I have his letter," he continued. He tapped a page on the desk. "He didn't think you're partnership material. Thought the firm was better off without you. Wanna read it?" He floated the page in front of my face.
I grabbed it and forced my eyes over its contents.
Eight years of blood, sweat and tears. . .destroyed in two sentences.
"Where'd you get this?"
"I wish I could say by astute investigative work, but we don't work that fast. It was lying on top of the desk in plain view."
Simpson's words repeated over and over in my head. "I cannot, in good conscience, recommend Partnership. . ."
McGuire sat there, watching me. I felt his eyes burning into me. I handed the memo back to him. He didn't take it, and it ended up drifting on the paperwork.
"I don't know what to say," I managed.
"It comes as a shock? The memo? His recommendation?"
"A big one."
"No idea about the memo or recommendation?"
He snubbed the last of his cigarette on Ashley's crystal paperweight and washed his face in his hands. "I see. I have one more question. . . for now."
"Where were you last night?"
"Am I a suspect?"
"Everybody's a suspect."
"Then you should speak to my attorney."
McGuire snorted. "Have him give me a call. Here's my card." His stubby fingers dug into his pockets until he found a crumpled business card. He tossed it on the blotter.
I picked it up and rose to leave.
"You didn't answer my question, counselor. Where were you last night?"
"I was home."
He resumed shuffling papers. "OK," he mumbled.
"You can go."
I turned and approached the door.
I stopped. "Now what?"
"You're not going on any vacations, are you?"
© 2001 Wayne J. Keely
Attorney Mark McCoy has a credibility problem. Everyone, including his lawyer, thinks he murdered his boss. He had motive, opportunity and no alibi.
His only chance is to remain a fugitive and prove his innocence. Not an easy task with a relentless detective, a killer and a Goliath law firm out to take him down.
This gritty, non-stop thriller takes place on the streets of New York. The body count rises as he uncovers dark and sinister secrets about his kinky boss, his loyal girlfriend, and his white shoe firm.
But the truth may have a high price tag: his life.
penned a taut thriller in MAHOGANY ROW, with a clear, concise style of
writing that ranges from wry to suspenseful. The addition of an intricate
plot, strong characterization, and smooth prose makes this novel a compelling
read . . . This is a book to be read with the doors locked and the phone
off the hook; you won't want to miss a word of Keeley's clever and riveting
tale of action and suspense."
Amazon readers rating: from 16 reviews
Wayne J. Keeley is a writer, producer, and attorney. He's a two-time Emmy Award winner for Outstanding Public Service campaigns and holds a Masters in Law from NYU.
Keeley is presently an Adjunct Associate Professor at Audrey Cohen College where he teaches the Film Indusry in the MBA Media Management program. He has also taught film and business on both the undergraduate and graduate levels at Baruch College, Fordham University and Bronx Community College.