Book 11 in the Rosato and Associates series
In memory of my father,
Frank Joseph Scottoline,
and my grandparents,
Giuseppe and Mary Scottoline
A woman is like a tea bag. You never know how strong she is until she’s in hot water.
– ELEANOR ROOSEVELT
“Rosato amp; Associates,” Mary DiNunzio said into the receiver, then kicked herself for answering the phone. The caller was Premenstrual Tom, a man who wanted to sue the Philadelphia Police Department, the United States Congress, and a local cantaloupe. He’d been calling the office at all hours, and Mary felt sorry for him. He was obviously off his meds and had reached one of the few lawyers in the city who wouldn’t sue fruit.
“This is Mr. Thomas Cott!” he shouted. “Who’s this?”
“I’m Mary DiNunzio. We spoke yesterday -”
“Get me Ms. Benedetta Rosato!”
“Ms. Rosato is gone for the day, sir.” Mary checked her watch. 10:16 P.M. Everyone had gone home hours ago, and until now, the offices had been blessedly quiet. “The office is closed.”
“Then what are you doing there, Ms. Mary DiNunzio?”
Good question, Mr. Thomas Cott. Mary was working late again, reading until her brown eyes turned red and her contacts dried to the crispness of breakfast cereal. Documents blanketed the conference table like a legal snowstorm, and her compact figure had been curled into the swivel chair for so long she felt like a meatball. “Mr. Cott, I’ll take a message and tell Bennie -”
“I refuse to leave any more messages! Get Ms. Benedetta Rosato on the line! I demand to know why she won’t represent me! She specializes in constitutional rights, it says so on the computer!”
“In the library! The website, your website! It says it right there! That’s false advertising! What about my constitutional rights? They don’t matter? I don’t matter?”
“Mr. Cott, no lawyer can take every case,” Mary answered, then hesitated. Bennie had told the associates not to engage Premenstrual Tom, but if she could explain it to him, maybe he’d stop calling. “I think Bennie told you she didn’t think your case could prevail in court. She’s practiced constitutional law for a long time and has excellent judgment, so -”
“All those judges are in on it! All of them are crooked, every single one of them! City Hall is a pit of conspiracy and corruption! They’re all in the mayor’s pocket!”
“Mr. Cott, the judges in City Hall aren’t crooked, and your case would be in federal court anyway -”
“You’re not fooling me, either of you! Put Ms. Benedetta Rosato on the telephone right now! I know she’s there! She must be, she’s not at home!”
Mary blinked. “How do you know she’s -”
“I went to her house! I knocked on her door, I waited for her to answer! The windows were dark!”
Mary stiffened. “How did you get her address?”
“It’s in the phone book, I looked it up! What do you think I am, incapable? I may not have a fancy law degree, but I am not incapable, MS. MARY DiNUNZIO!”
Mary suddenly stopped feeling sorry for him. He was shouting louder now, almost screaming.
“I SAID, get MS. BENEDETTA ROSATO on this telephone RIGHT NOW! I KNOW she’s right there with you!”
“Mr. Cott, if you’ll just -”
“DON’T LIE TO ME! Don’t you DARE LIE TO ME!”
“Mr. Cott, I’m not -”
“I’ll come down there, you LYING WHORE! I’ll come down there and SHOOT -”
Mary hung up, shaken. The conference room fell abruptly silent. The air felt charged. It took her a moment to process what had just happened. Okay, Premenstrual Tom had morphed into Psychotic Tom, and it wasn’t funny anymore. Bennie was at an ACLU dinner, but it would be ending soon. She could be going home. Mary had to warn her. She reached for the phone to call the boss’s cell.
Rring, rrriiinng! The phone rang underneath Mary’s hand, jarring her. Rrrriiinng! She gritted her teeth and let it ring twice more so voicemail would pick up. She should never have engaged Premenstrual Tom. When would she learn? Her good-girl reflexes – Help Out, Be Nice, Tell the Truth – sucked in the practice of law.
Mary pushed the button for her direct phone line and called Bennie, but there was no answer. She left a detailed message, then hung up, uneasy. She’d call her back in five minutes to make sure the boss had gotten the message.
Mary eased back in her swivel chair, wishing suddenly that she weren’t alone in the office. She eyed the doorway to the conference room, surprised to find the threshold dark. Who turned out the lights in the reception area? Maybe the cleaning people, when they’d left.
I’ll come down there and shoot
Mary eyed the phone, daring it to ring again. She didn’t leave it off the hook because the drill was to record threatening messages for evidence, in case the office had to go for a restraining order, like with Premenstrual Fred. Mary wondered fleetingly if she could find a career that didn’t attract garden-variety homicidal rage or bad television commercials.
She told herself to get over it. Premenstrual Tom had been blowing off steam, and there was a security desk in the lobby of the building. The guard wouldn’t let anybody upstairs without calling her first, especially after business hours, and nowadays you couldn’t get past the desk without a driver’s license and a mortgage note.
She got back to work, tucking a dark blonde tendril into its loose French twist, and picking up the document she’d been reading. It was a letter dated December 17, 1941, from the provost marshal general’s office, a federal agency that no longer existed. Its type was grainy because it was a Xerox copy of a photocopy of a carbon copy, and on another night, Mary would have gotten a charge out of its vintage. Everybody in the office called her case the History Channel, but she loved the History Channel. Mary loved mostly everything on cable except The Actor’s Studio, which she wouldn’t watch at gunpoint. But she didn’t want to think about gunpoint right now.
Mary scribbled USELESS on a Post-it, stuck it on the letter, and set it in the USELESS stack in front of her. She ignored how tall the USELESS stack was getting because it would be USELESS. Documents surrounded her and sat packed in boxes along the side wall of the conference room. Somewhere in these papers was the file for a man named Amadeo Brandolini. Amadeo had emigrated from Italy to Philadelphia, where he’d married, had a son, and built up a small fishing business. When World War II broke out, he was arrested by the FBI and imprisoned along with ten thousand other Italian-Americans, under an act better known for authorizing the internment of the Japanese. Amadeo lost everything and eventually committed suicide in the camp. His son’s estate had hired Mary to sue for reparations, and she couldn’t help but mourn him. Very few shows on the History Channel had happy endings, which was why everybody watched Fox.
Rring! The phone rang, and Mary jumped. It had to be Premenstrual Tom calling back, because she had told Bennie to call her on her cell and she didn’t have anybody else to call her, which was why she was working late. Perhaps these things were related, but Mary was in no mood for introspection. She tensed all over. Rrriiinng! Rrriiinng!
Finally the ringing stopped. The conference room fell silent again. Mary waited for the silence to seem more like friendly-silence and less like scary-silence, but that wasn’t happening. The reception area was still dark. She tried to relax but couldn’t. She glanced over her shoulder even though she was thirty-two stories up. It was dark outside, and in the onyx mirror of the windows, she saw the sparkling new conference room, a messy table dotted with Styrofoam coffee cups, and a Drama Queen with a law degree.