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Will Riordan, lawyer, husband, and father, is a modern man, and this is the story of his awakening and return to humanity -- a powerful tale of New York City and of modern faith, family, and redemption.
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Vince Passaro's essays, fiction, and criticism have appeared in many national magazines and journals, including Esquire, GQ, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, and Harper's Magazine, where he is a contributing editor. He lives with his wife and three children in New York City. Violence, Nudity, Adult Content is his first novel.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
From the desk of William H. Riordan. To the files: I would like to tell the truth. I am in my office on Rector Street, looking out at the cemetery of Trinity Church, pretending to work, in this sort of trance just short of being asleep. It's a form of mental break, but to make partner around here you can never look like you're taking a break, you have to look like you're billing time, so I have a deposition open in front of me and my head's down over it, as if I'm reading it. You get into an intensity of work that is like exercise, a zone; time attenuates, you're inside the thing; then you're out again and you rest. My head lowered, my eyes cast to the left, toward the window, watching the light on the blackened stone walls and gray slate roof of the church, I can hear the rapid, soft pock pock pock of Anna, my secretary, inputting this morning's draft of a motion I'm supposed to have on Jack's desk by tomorrow night; it's a matrimonial case.
* Contrary to the specious, self-serving assertions in Wife's Answer to Husband's Motion to Order Compliance, Husband 1) never hit, struck, or slapped, or physically or verbally or in any other manner abused or attacked Wife, 2) never hit, struck, or slapped, or physically or verbally or in any other manner abused or attacked his children, 3) never addressed his children and/or appeared in their rooms either in the nude, in unusual garments, or in any other unseemly manner or condition, either while they were sleeping or while they were awake. The introduction into the proceeding before the Court at this late date of these reckless and false allegations, when Husband merely seeks compliance with an existing order of the Court rendered four months prior to this proceeding and well after all due opportunity was given to Wife to present arguments against Husband's parental suitability, deeply undermines the credibility of the allegations.
* Husband did not, as claimed by Wife, arrive home drunk on "a regular basis"; Husband became inebriated on no more than ten occasions during his sixteen-year Marriage to Wife, each of those in relation to business-oriented social events such as dinners, dinner-dances, banquets, shows, and other forms of business-related entertainment.
* Because at the appropriate time, when custody was under valid examination by the Court, no arguments were made against Husband's suitability, nor was such evidence presented, the argument is, inherently, without standing and merit before this Court, as fully described in Part 1, §1 et seq.
* For these and the reasons above stated in Parts I and II, with special emphasis on Part I, Section C, Paragraph 5, Wife's Morion for Summary Dismissal of Claim should be rejected, and immediate compliance with existing, legally valid and proclaimed custody agreements should be ordered...
Below me, in the whitening summer light, the gravestones in the churchyard look like scattered teeth. A woman's voice comes over Anna's intercom: "Anna, can you please ask Will to see me in my office when he has the chance? Tell him to bring his Day-Timer. Thanks." It's Sue Williamson, one of the partners. She refuses to buzz me directly, insists on using an intermediary; not only as a proper formal exercise of her authority, but because then she avoids the risk of buzzing me, finding me not there or on a call, and then having to buzz Anna -- five seconds or so of otherwise billable fucking time.
"Did you get that?" Anna calls out.
"Yeah," I say. "Thanks."
"Hey, glad to help, anytime," Anna says, still typing. "Do you want some pages?"
"Give me some pages," I say. "Give me some precious pages."
"I'm, like, on sixteen or something," she says.
"Fine, whatever you have."
Anna says, "I'm sending it to the printing station."
"Why can't you use the printer you have there?" I say. She always avoids the smaller dedicated printer on her credenza, I've noticed.
"I don't want to be responsible for loading the paper," she says. "There's a right way and a wrong way; where it jams, and I can never figure it out."
"That's ridiculous. Just put it in, see what happens." I look up at her from my desk. "Take some risks, for chrissakes."
"That's easy for you to say," she says. "What risks do you ever take?"
"Okay, fine," I say.
"I'm shooting it to the laser."
"Fine," I say. "Whatever." I'm shooting it to the laser. I'm setting it on fire and catapulting it over the church spire.
"Sue?" I say; arriving at Sue's office.
"Will," she says. "How are you on Thursday? I have a client coming in for a preliminary discussion at three-thirty."
"Fine," I say.
"Where's your Day-Timer?" she says.
"I don't use a Day-Timer," I say.
"Are you sure about Thursday? I want to confirm with the client."
"Thursday's fine," I say. "Friday I'm getting a haircut."
"I tell you what," Sue says. "Come to lunch with me tomorrow. I'll fill you in on background."
"I'm kind of tied up writing this motion for Jack," I say.
Sue's face undergoes a series of changes, a surface darkening with underlying tectonic shifts. In law firms, superiors rarely give you shit directly; so finely tuned are the nuances of authority that the mere threat of giving you shit is enough. "I'm not going to be free between now and Thursday," Sue says. This means, if I want to work on the case, or any others she has anything to do with in the furore, I have to go to lunch with her.
"I guess I can slip out," I say.
"Good," Sue says. The face as instrument of power: hers softens now; she is warm with rectitude and approval. "It's an interesting case. Very desirable if we can get something going. Deep-pocket defendant, possible press, the whole bit. It's a name case when it comes to partnership."
I'm up for partner in December. Broad hints are now regularly dropped. Offers dangle, bribes and extortions hang in the air flaccid as yesterday's balloons. "Thanks, Sue," I say.
She lowers her voice. "Actually, Jack wanted me to use Carol but I insisted on you."
"Carol's a putz. She's smart, I guess, but she's a putz."
"So lunch, tomorrow, one?"
"Sure." I turn. "And thanks again, Sue."
"Fine." Sue snaps down the flap on her Filofax. It sounds like small-arms fire in a distant field.
At four-fifteen Sue's secretary, Jeannie, delivers to Anna a Redweld file containing Sue's correspondence and notes so far on the Murray case, the case she's invited me to work on. On the outside of the folder, a little yellow stick-on note from Sue: "Will -- please review this material before tomorrow's lunch. S." I put the folder on the floor next to my desk, and don't pick it up again until seven, when I've finished revising today's draft of Jack's motion. It is a rape case. Two men broke into the client's apartment, beat her, raped her, and eventually robbed her before they left several hours later. They were never apprehended. It is obvious that we will propose she make a case of negligence and loss of contracted service against the building, an east side high-rise. According to the police report, there were three security people scheduled to be on duty, but only two had reported for work, and at the rime of the attack, one of those was on break. The video equipment, a camera mount in the hall-way, had been in disrepair for three weeks. No one was overseeing the displays for the surveillance system at that rime anyway, because of the shorthanded shift. The police are pleased to include these details because they like to see the guilt radiate and hum, especially without a suspect in hand.
The file includes a psychiatrist's letter, which describes our client as suffering from "chronic clinical levels of depression, hostility, alienation, and aggravated sexual dysfunction. She has been unable to conduct normal relations, sexual and across her personal life, since the trauma. There is little reason to expect any notable level of recovery in the foreseeable future." It also points out that she was a sexually active bisexual before the rape and that now, though she cannot become intimate with men, she continues to have sporadic, "though not entirely conjugal," relationships with women. I wonder what this means. My take is that this evidence can be suppressed, but that with a New York jury, it need not be; we can manage it to our benefit. Sue's notes are in a jaunty hand.
I get home at eight-thirty, neither early nor late for me these days. The entire front of Ellie's blouse is soaked from giving Henry his bath. Henry is almost two and a half; Sam, our second son, is brand-new, fourteen weeks. Ellie's mother was here for a while helping out, but now she's back at her place on West End. She comes once or twice a week for a couple of hours. Ellie mostly has been trying to take care of things alone -- I keep telling her to hire someone, but she doesn't do it.
"What's for dinner?" I say.
"It's eight-thirty," Ellie says. "Cookies are for dinner."
"I like the wet T-shirt look," I say.
"Don't even think about it," Ellie says.
"Touch me and I'll kill you," she says.
I reach out for the front of her blouse and she drives a fist into my rib cage. "I haven't had a moment to myself all day, mister," she says, a little too loudly. She goes into the bedroom and I make a tuna sandwich.
Later that night we stretch out on the couch together, me propped up and Ellie lying between my legs, with her head resting on my chest, watching television. Television scares us. ER scares us, the news scares us, the wildly exuberant weatherman scares us. Jay Leno commences, with the stupid grins of the lawn-jockey bandleader and Jay's tonnage of false cheer. "Let's try Letterman. He's sure to be depressed and easier to take," I say. Ellie does not reply. The desperate, idiotic faces, Jay looking around after each middling joke, a comedian without a trace of spontaneity left in him. All of it drains our lives of meaning, throws into question the reality of who we are, where we are, our high-ceilinged, slightly crumbly apartment, our chairs from Ellie's mother, our plain white Wedgwood china, our nervous days and windless nights -- for a moment our existences seem to be staggering at a cliff's edge of unreality. Letterman has some sort of scene from the street, a Pakistani guy with a thick accent stopping people on Seventh Avenue and asking them how much cash they're carrying. I hand Ellie the remote and she switches to Charlie Rose: he's with a painter turned film director who's just published a memoir. Charlie is in a frenzy of interest. The painter's face screams substance abuse. I'm still back with Jay, my mind's eye tracking him throughout his day, all the caution of a middle-aged man in jeans and white sneakers, meetings in the morning, teams of Californians helping craft tonight's jokes. The extinction of personality that is television. Ellie burrows into my chest. I hold her. A slight trembling, it's hard to tell which of us it is. Her head feels like it's trying to push straight through to my heart. She is mumbling something into my chest cavity, I can feel words resonating in my lungs.
"Excuse me?" I say.
"Please turn off the television," she says.
"Are you crying?" I say.
"No, just turn off the television," she says.
"Where did you put the remote?" I say.
"I don't know," she murmers.
I feel around underneath us, look down at the floor. Nothing. I make a small motion to disengage and get up.
"Don't leave!" she says. She pins me with arms and legs, her head up under my chin. I stroke her hair. The top of her head has a smell I think I would recognize anywhere. "See if you can turn it off with your foot," she says. I extend my leg, probe with my big toe. It is a big Sony color set, eight or nine years old, that a cousin passed on to us after we were married and I was just out of law school, doing a clerkship; we've never replaced it or upgraded, we employ a guarded laziness in the face of new technologies.
"I need the remote control," I say, unable to reach the little buttons on the bottom, which are so small and invisible a toe probably can't manipulate them anyway. Finally I rise, turn the volume all the way down, glance around for the remote, don't see it, get under Ellie again on the couch. I am sitting, she is lying. The set flickers in silence, like a flame.
"This is why normal people always have the remote control," I say.
"We're not normal," Ellie says. "And we're not even remotely in control." We stay like that for a while, her on top, rising and falling as I breathe. We pass our different brands of tiredness back and forth to each other through the skin. She shifts, then I shift, and then we are pressed together in a familiar and unmistakable way, we click into place like two pieces that fit. A faint rhythm. My hands are in the area between her ribs and hips, the soft concavity of her waist. I pull up her blouse, still damp, she never bothered to change it, and I put my hands on her skin, cold from the moisture. She kisses my neck; her face is wet and slithery, a mermaid's face. She arches up and our lips meet. Moisture. Salt.
"Henry was conceived on tiffs couch," I say.
Ellie pulls back and eyes me. "Henry," she says, "was conceived on the red chair."
"That's right," I say. "I forgot. We were so wild in those days."
"It was just three years ago," she says.
"Our lost youth," I say.
"I'll show you lost youth," Ellie says. We undress. The sadness of clothes on furniture and floor; the hint of missing human forms. Naked, she stands fiat-footed; a child at the beach. We touch again, and I know instantly that the small flame that was in her has gone out; her enthusiasm is quieted now, she is tense and shy, her body and her psyche have endured a three-year battering at the hands of the human sex act and she doesn't know what to do with this. She is at the stage of I'll-submit. I don't want her to submit, I want her to want. Or that's not true -- if she truly wanted to submit, we would have that kind of relationship, I would physically overwhelm her, and we would both affirm my power in the act. But this is not what she wants at all -- I'll-submit passes into I-resent-submitting. Hard muscles, rubbery skin. My advances come back, no forwarding address. Then we wait. She waits to see if I can reignite her, I wait for her to ignite. I try various things, and they have all the awkward, one-way feeling of trying. With my fingers, my lips, my tongue and arms and shoulders and legs, I'm pressing, dusting, leaning, and appealing. I'm in court to argue a case I haven't prepared. It's a weak case, in any event. Her body is the jury, slack, unbelieving, diverse, impenetrable, And so we reach a settlement, she and I, because I know I cannot win, and she knows she doesn't want to prove it. Not now. Next time. All politeness.
Over onion soup, in a slightly upmarket version of an Irish pub, new wood and cut glass, Sue gives me more details about the Murray case. This distinctly unfashionable, stock-and-bond-trader-type restaurant is a place Sue would never take anyone else, having chosen it as a reminder to me of where both of us are coming from (she's Long Island Irish, I'm Queens). Sue runs down the case. This is the gossipy voyeuristic side of the law, the personal swamp gases you live in so that you can represent someone else in the eyes of the state, so that you can become the person on behalf of the person. The client, when she works, is a "freelance" writer. As far as we...
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