They’re the legal world’s oddest couple—a shorts-and-sandals beach bum and a Coral Gables blue blood. Maybe the only thing keeping them from killing each other is that they’re on the same side....
It starts with a 300-pound marlin stuck in his front door. Even by South Florida standards, where murderers outnumber mosquitoes, this registers as weird. And it’s not long before Steve Solomon figures out who’s making the bizarre threats. But how can he explain to his partner why an ex-client wants him dead? Victoria Lord was used to Steve’s cutting legal corners to win, but breaking the law to lose was downright unethical, even for Steve. Now Solomon & Lord is being bashed on local radio and a celebrity shrink with a homicidal me-first philosophy wants to be Steve’s new best friend. With a killer on the loose and legal disaster looming, is Steve’s lover and law partner about to walk out on him? Is this the end of Solomon & Lord?
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The author of 16 novels, Paul Levine won the John D. MacDonald fiction award and was nominated for the Edgar, Macavity, International Thriller, and James Thurber prizes. A former trial lawyer, he also wrote 20 episodes of the CBS military drama “JAG.”
Fish Out of Water
Wearing boxers and nothing else, eyes still crusty with sleep, Steve Solomon smacked the front door with his shoulder. Stuck. Another smack, another shove, and the door creaked open. Which was when Steve noticed the three-hundred-pound fish, its razored bill jammed through the peephole. A blue marlin. Dangling there, as if frozen in midleap.
He had seen alligators slithering out of neighborhood canals. He had heard wild parrots squawking in a nearby park. He had stepped on palmetto bugs the size of roller skates. But even in the zoo that was Miami, this qualified as weird.
Steve glanced up and down Kumquat Avenue, a leafy street a mile from the brackish water of Biscayne Bay. Nada. Not a creature was stirring, not even a crab.
He checked the front of his bungalow, the stucco faded the color of pool algae. No other animals lodged in windows or eaves. No pranksters hiding in the hibiscus hedge.
A squadron of flies buzzed around the marlin's head. The air, usually scented jasmine in the morning dew, took on a distinctively fishy smell. A trickle of sweat ran down Steve's chest, the day already steaming with moist heat. He grabbed the newspaper, sprinkled with red berries from a pepper tree, like blood spatter at a crime scene. Nothing on the front page about a late-night tidal wave.
He considered other possibilities. Bobby, of course. His twelve-year-old nephew was a jokester, but where would he have come up with a giant fish? And who would have helped the kid hoist it into place?
"Would you come out here, please?"
Yeah being the oxygen of adolescent lungs.
Steve heard the boy's bare feet padding across the tile. A moment later, wearing a Miami Dolphins jersey that hung to his knees, Bobby appeared at the fish-sticked front door. "Holy shit!"
"Watch your language, kiddo."
The boy removed his black-framed eyeglasses and cleaned the lenses with the tail of his jersey. "I didn't do it, Uncle Steve."
"Never said you did." Steve slapped at his neck, squashing a mosquito and leaving a bloody smear. "Got any ideas?"
"Could be one of those he-sleeps-with-the-fishes deals."
Steve tried to remember if he had offended anyone lately. Not a soul, if you didn't count judges, cops, and creditors. He scratched himself through his boxers, and his nephew did the same through his Jockeys, two males of the species in deep-thinking mode.
"You know what's really ironic, kiddo?"
"My shorts." Steve pointed to his Florida Marlins orange-and-teal boxers, where giant fish leapt from the sea.
"You're confusing irony and coincidence, Uncle Steve," the little wise guy said.
* * *
Twenty minutes later, Victoria Lord showed up, carrying a bag of bagels, a tub of cream cheese, and a quart of orange juice. She kissed Steve on the cheek, tousled Bobby's hair, and said: "I suppose you know there's a marlin hanging on your front door."
"I didn't do it," Bobby repeated.
"So what's up?" Victoria asked.
Steve shrugged and grabbed the bagels. "Probably some neighborhood kids."
He had showered, shaved, and put on jeans and a tropical shirt with pictures of surfers on giant waves, his uniform for days with no court appearances. Before Victoria came into his life, he would have moseyed into the office wearing shorts, flip-flops and a T-shirt reading: " Lawyers Do It in Their Briefs." At the time, Steve's cut-rate law firm had the embellished name of Solomon & Associates. In truth, Steve's only associates were the roaches that crawled out of the splintered wainscoting.
Now it was Solomon & Lord. Victoria had brought a touch of class along with furniture polish, fresh lilies, and an insistence that Steve follow at least some of the ethical rules.
Today she wore a silk blouse the hue of a ripe peach, stretchy gray slacks, and a short jacket woven with intricate geometrical shapes. Five foot eleven in her velvet-toed Italian pumps. Perfect posture. Blond hair, a sculpted jaw, and bright green eyes. An overall package that projected strength and smarts and sexiness.
"You listen to the radio this morning?" Victoria asked.
Steve poured her a thimbleful of cafe Cubano, syrupy thick. "Sure. Mad Dog Mandich's sports report."
"Dr. Bill's talk show."
"That quack? Why would I listen to him?"
"He was talking about you, partner."
"Don't believe a word he says."
"Why didn't you tell me you were his lawyer?"
Steve took his time spreading cream cheese on a poppyseed bagel. "It was a long time ago." Evading all questions about Dr. William Kreeger. Pop psychiatrist. Mini-celebrity. And now ex-con. "What'd he say?"
"He called you Steve-the-Shyster Solomon."
"I'll sue him for slander."
"Said you couldn't win a jaywalking case if the light was green."
"Gonna get punitive damages."
"Claimed you barely graduated from a no-name law school."
"The Key West School of Law has a name; it just doesn't have accreditation."
"He said you botched his trial and that he'd sue you for malpractice, except he has no faith in the justice system. Then he ranted about O. J. Simpson and Robert Blake and Michael Jackson."
"I saw O.J. at Dadeland the other day," Bobby said, munching a bagel. "He's really fat."
"So did you screw up Dr. Bill's case?" Victoria asked Steve.
"I did a great job. The jury could have nailed him for murder but came back with manslaughter."
"Then why's he so mad at you?"
"Aw, you know clients."
"I know mine are usually happy. What happened between you and Dr. Bill?"
If he told her, Steve knew, she'd go ballistic. " You did what? That's unethical! Illegal! Immoral!"
"Nothing happened. He did time, so he blames me."
"Uh-huh." She sipped at the Cuban coffee. "Bobby, you know how I can tell when your uncle's lying?"
"His lips are moving," the boy answered.
"He speaks very quietly and puts on this really sincere look."
"I'm telling the truth," Steve said. "I don't know why the bastard's mad at me."
Technically, that was true. Steve knew exactly what he did wrong in Kreeger's case. He just didn't know what Kreeger knew. On appeal, the guy never claimed ineffective counsel. He never sued for malpractice or filed disbarment proceedings. Instead, he went off and served six years, worked in the prison mental health facility, and got early release.
Before he was indicted for murder, William Kreeger had a clinical psychiatry practice in Coral Gables and had achieved notoriety with a self-help book, But Enough About You. He peddled a simplistic me-first philosophy, and after a puff piece on Good Morning America, he landed his own syndicated TV show where he dispensed feel-good one-liners along with relationship advice. Women adored the guy, and his ratings shot into Oprah territory. "You ever see Kreeger on TV?" Steve asked.
"Caught his show when I was in college. I loved the advice he'd give those women. 'Drop the jerk! Drop-kick him out of your life right now.' "
"Ever notice his eyes?"
"A killer's eyes?" Bobby sneaked a sip of the cafe Cubano. It only took a thimbleful to turn him into a whirling dervish. "Like Hannibal Lecter. Or Freddy Krueger. Or Norman Bates. Killers, killers, killers!"
"They're fictional characters, not real killers," Steve corrected him. "And put down the coffee."
The boy stared defiantly at his uncle, hoisted the cup, and took a gulp. "Ted Bundy. Ted Kaczynski. John Wayne Gacy. Real enough, Uncle Steve?"
"Cool it, kiddo."
"David Berkowitz. Dennis Rader. Mr. Callahan . . ."
"Who's Mr. Callahan?" Victoria asked.
"My P.E. teacher," the boy replied. "He's a real dipstick."
Bobby's rebellious streak had started with the onset of puberty. If it were up to Steve, his nephew would have stayed a little kid forever. Playing catch, riding bikes, camping out in the Glades. But the kid had become a steaming kettle of testosterone. He was already interested in girls, dangerous terrain for even the well-adjusted. For a troubled boy like Bobby, this new frontier would be even more treacherous.
"Last warning, and I mean it." Steve poured some molten steel into his voice. "No more coffee, no more murderers, or you're grounded."
Bobby put down the cup, and drew a finger– hush, hush–to his lips.
Steve nodded his thanks and turned to Victoria. "What were you saying about Kreeger's eyes?"
"Hot," Victoria said. "Dark, glowing coals. The camera would come in so close you could almost feel the heat."
"Turned women on," Steve said.
"What about that woman in his hot tub? Did he kill her?"
"Jury said he did, in a manslaughterly kind of way."
"What do you say?"
"I never breach a client's confidence."
Victoria laughed. "Since when?"
"Dr. William Kreeger is out of my life."
"But you're not out of his. What aren't you telling me?"
"Wil-liam Kree-ger," Bobby said, drawing out the syllables, his eyes narrowing.
Steve knew the boy was working up an anagram from Kreeg...
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