Law and Hors d'Oeuvres
by Susianne Baptiste

Ben Stone closed the door to his office and walked toward the elevator when he paused, catching the muted sound of singing. The woman's voice was husky, sweet, and soulful. The song was "St. James Infirmary." After tracking the vocals to Claire Kincaid's desk, he wasn't surprised to find Detective Broidveaux, on loan to the 27th Precinct from New Orleans Homicide, as the chanteuse. For a few moments, he listened unobtrusively. He hadn't heard a white woman with such a voice. Perhaps it was because she was Southern; something in the culture tended to lend itself to the blues. As she sat at Claire's desk doodling on the blotter, her eyes were dreamy enough to be melancholy.
"Hello." Her throaty voice was soft, breathless. "My date's stuck in a judge's chambers. Singing usually keeps me out of trouble. Unless you've come to indict me for Second Degree Noise Pollution."
When she smiled, her slight overbite shaped her mouth into an endearing coquettish pout. "Not at all. You have a lovely voice."
"I guess Catholic education has its redeeming qualities."
Since she did not know when Claire would be freed from the clutches of Judge Stein, she accepted Stone's offer of an interim drink. Simone admired what she had seen of this man. Warmth, soul, and passion were palpable in his cordial blue eyes. Unlike most of her new colleagues, his voice and gestures were readily kind, subtly demonstrative. He was a rarity for this century: a powerful man with a tender heart. Very unusual and commendable qualities for any man, let alone an attorney.
Inside the bar, her emerald velour suit and zebra-print bustier appeared strident amongst the haberdashery of lawyers in love. She was getting comfortable when a man whose attire was as ill-advised as hers greeted Stone in an upbeat manner, stationing himself next to her. He was poorly camouflaged in a vintage Army fatigue coat , jeans, and motorcycle boots: you couldn't take the arrogance out of a lawyer's stride. A left-wing civil rights defense attorney, she surmised. He was an attractive man, with burning dark eyes, black hair beginning to run to silver, and more swagger than personality. Armed with intellect, wit, and testosterone ... and considered dangerous. The sort of man she usually found herself drawn to. With a flourish, she lit a cigarette to calm her anxiety. It surprised her that Easy Rider was an ADA named Jack McCoy. When she offered her hand, he looked past the garish nails to whisk a kiss across her knuckles. He could not have noticed what she looked like. He was too preoccupied looking her straight in the cleavage. So much for law and order.
She ordered Stoli on the rocks with triple limes. If not for the undercover training of her Vice years, she would have been too insecure to talk to men who weren't in blue or in cuffs. So here she was, a Southern cop sitting between two New York lawyers, like Christ between two thieves.
"Tell me, dudes," she breathed, "why do all attorneys drink scotch?"
"Is there a punch line?" Stone asked.
McCoy's eyes panned over her shamelessly, enough to scare her. Apparently the man had little or no taste. "Occupational hazard."
"'We are stardust, we are golden'?"
"You're too young to remember that."
"My partner told me all about the Sixties. He was a Vietnam vet. Are you?" she asked brightly, eyes ingenuously wide. McCoy sputtered for a moment, blindsided by the dart wrapped in silk.
"Touché." Stone's glass clinked hers.
Lawyers didn't faze easily, the bastards. "I bet you're a veritable joy on the witness stand."
"You want to cross-examine me, Jumpin' Jack Flash?"
"Oh please. Let's not go there." Stone had, no doubt, seen enough posturing for one day.
"Hardly, babycakes. This PD was badgering me once. The judge says, 'Answer the question, Detective, or I'll find you in contempt.' I said, 'The Vice squad found you playing hide-the-salami in a massage parlor'." She tittered at the memory. "Objection sustained."
Claire arrived, dressed with a touch of urban funk. Her hair was pulled back and heavily gelled. Little gold hearts on hoops swung from her delicate earlobes. Her pale skin had the barest traces of make-up. Simone felt safe with her. She could never compete with Claire's kind of delicacy, her kind of beauty and accepted it. She said her good-byes to the counselors and picked up her fur.
"Hippie homicide detective," remarked McCoy. "The last time I saw a fur like that was on Janis Joplin."
Simone licked her lips. "Just call me Pearl, sugar: rare and lustrous. Subpoena me sometime."
"You shouldn't start conversations like that with McCoy," Claire cautioned as they walked toward Chinatown. "I don't know him very well, and don't care to. If you believe the gossip, he'll start howling outside your window."
"I don't date outside my species, heart. I tried an ADA once."
"Law and hors d'oeuvres? What happened?"
Phil Lartigue Esquire had blackened Simone's eye when she refused to have sex. She offered Claire a more upbeat dénouement: "I got a sweet tooth, babe. He didn't have enough sugar on his candy cane."
They dined in a small restaurant on Mott Street. Claire chatted about her days in Harvard Law and bubbled enthusiastically about her job. Because Stone's regular assistant had been ill, Claire stepped forward into the homicide case Simone was handling. The extradition order disappointed her, for she hoped to try this case in court, to prove herself. Simone related how she had become a detective, all because the Vice lieutenant heard of some uniform who was a great mimic. They were similar in some aspects, strong women who had chosen to compete in male-dominated professions. Although their packaging differed, they were clever and tenacious.
In the Village, they stopped at a club, located a table, and ordered tequila slammers. The music was funky, yet not loud enough to cause hearing damage. Claire asked about New Orleans, about voodoo. They joked about love spells and, eventually, about men in particular. The tequila was beginning to erode Claire's cool judicial air. Simone delighted in her sense of humor, in the wit that Jose Cuervo only seemed to sharpen. For a while, they watched the crowd, making judgments that were both comic and freezing. With their defenses down and camaraderie established, Simone appealed for information about Logan.
"I thought he was a sexist pig at first," Claire replied frankly. They both laughed. "I've heard those stories from the clerks ... he's been in more bedrooms than a Gideon Bible, et cetera." She tried to read Simone's impassive face. "Do I believe it? He's always been very professional with me. I think he's probably rather old-fashioned where women are concerned. Anybody can talk a good game. Like you, for instance. That fake fur probably hides a little parochial schoolgirl in a plaid skirt." Simone gulped. "By the same token, I'm sure that beneath the badge, leather, and attitude, Logan's just a big teddy bear."
"Mmmm," Simone purred. "Teddy bears are soooo good for the inner child."
"And the outer child."
"I need something to keep me warm up here."
"I'm sure you know how to invite someone up for an interview, Detective."
Simone squeezed her lime wedge into the shot glass. "Since he wears all that leather, you think he's into S&M?"
Claire kept a straight face as she bantered, her voice as calm as if she were reading evidence. "He wears handcuffs. I'd characterize him as aggressive at times. I wouldn't take it to a jury, but it's possible." Her lip lifted in a wicked smirk. "Are you an S or an M, Miss Scarlett?"
"Jeezum peace, the guy's like six-two! Like I have a choice?" They high-fived and dissolved into bawdy laughter. "I likes a real man, me."
"You mean someone who's capable of hog-tying you."
"I'd like to be hog-tied by someone who knows how."
"Or handcuffed?"
"Everyone needs to be Mirandized now and then."
"You're a bad influence on me, Miss Scarlett." Claire's Southern drawl was pathetic. "Ah doan know what I'm-all gonna do."
"Check yourself, Melly." Simone offered another tequila. "I'm a professional bad influence. Tell me about Adonis-At-Law, that cute thing you had in your office. I always liked Italian food, me."
"Nothing tastier."
"Especially smothered in Chianti."
"Or whipped cream."
"Ya'll serious?"
"I'd like for it to be."
"Tell ya what. Take nine drops of menstrual blood, mix it in his food, and he's yours forever."
She grimaced. "Oooogggh! Objection!" Her attorney's reasoning skills surfaced. "Does that really work?"
"So I've heard."
"You try it first."
"I can't. The cardinal returned to the Vatican. I'm hoping I'll be home when he comes back."
"I saw the look on your face outside my office. If you were an oil fire, Red Adair couldn't cap you."
Simone guffawed.
"I don't think you're ready to run back to Tara."
Simone nudged her. "Not till I get laid, anyway."


end


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