After Bernadette had announced in an urgent whisper that a Mae Gallagher was here to see me but before I could remind her that this wasn’t Supercuts and that we don’t accept walk-ins off the street, Mayday leaned into the intercom on my desk and instructed, “Send her in.”
“The Ari Goldstone murder,” she said, moving from the client chair opposite my desk to the sofa against the wall. “Hello? Daughter of Jimmy Kwan.”
That I hadn’t recognized the Gallagher name was not surprising since it evoked, at least in my imagination, a mental image of ginger hair and freckles. There also was the fact that I’d been in trial up in Sacramento for the past three weeks while the media frenzy surrounding the Goldstone murder was consuming L.A. like Godzilla. The latest remake of which, come to think of it, might have been an Ari Goldstone production, but before I could put that question to Mayday, Bernie knocked and swung the door open and stepped aside with a sweep of her arm as though she were ushering royalty.
Jimmy Kwan’s daughter was younger than I’d expected – maybe late twenties at most. Tall and willowy, she strode the carpeted distance from the doorway to my desk with the ramrod posture and swinging hips of the runway model she’d been. Her raven hair was long and sleek and parted on the side, leaving but one Eurasian eye with which to navigate.
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My first impression was of a woman used to being stared at, and that this morning would be no exception.
“Mr. MacTaggart. Thank you for seeing me without an appointment.”
“Jack, please. And the pleasure’s mine.” I nodded to Mayday as I stood. “My partner, Marta Suarez.”
She shook our hands in turn and took the chair Mayday had vacated, plunking a pricey-looking handbag in her lap. She tossed her hair and crossed her exquisite legs. She wore no jewelry that I could see, and her navy skirt and starched linen blouse were stylish yet conservative, the overall effect being that of long-stemmed roses wrapped in newsprint.
Or maybe it was nuclear fission encased in lead, for public safety.
“I’ll come straight to the point,” she said in a velvety voice inflected with a faintly British accent. “My father, as you probably know, has been arrested for Ari Goldstone’s murder. He didn’t do it, and he can prove he didn’t do it, so there’s no reason he should be sitting in jail right now like, like . . .”
“Like a man who’s guilty of murder?” I suggested, bailing her out.
“Exactly. Which of course he isn’t.”
“Why is he still in custody?” I’d addressed that one to Mayday, who was working the iPad tablet in her lap like a concert pianist. “He should’ve made bail days ago.”
Mayday turned the screen to face me. “According to the news reports, Mr. Kwan hasn’t sought bail and is fully cooperating with the authorities. He’s apparently refused all visitors, including family. Rumor has it that a plea deal is imminent.”
“It’s true that he won’t see me,” our visitor said, “but the rest can’t possibly be right. I told you he’s innocent. You can’t plead guilty to a crime you didn’t commit, can you?”
You could, of course, but I rarely recommended it to my own clients. From what little I knew of the Goldstone case, the infamous Jimmy Kwan had been arrested five days earlier upon his return from Hong Kong where, according to multiple business associates, he’d been visiting for over a week. Meaning he’d been seven thousand miles from the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles when the producer’s naked body was discovered by a hotel maid, its wrists and ankles bound to the bedposts and twelve stab wounds dimpling its fat and hairy abdomen.
“The Chimera Club”
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“Any idea why they arrested your father in the first place? I mean, had he and Goldstone ever done business together? Did they even know each other?”
“No,” she said, “and that’s what’s been so frustrating. I’ve tried calling the District Attorney’s office, but nobody there will talk to me. I went to the jail, but they turned me away. Even the woman who questioned me isn’t returning my calls.”
“The woman who questioned you?”
“A police detective.” She opened her bag and fished a business card from inside. “A very nice black woman. Shonda Robbins.”
“When was that?”
“Last Monday. Two days before my father’s arrest. She asked after my whereabouts on the night Ari was murdered, but mostly she wanted to know about Father. Where he was, whether he knew Ari – that sort of thing. I thought that was strange. I explained to her that I hadn’t spoken to my father in years.”
“Okay,” I said, coming straight to a point of my own. “So what is it you’d like us to do?”
The question seemed to surprise her. “I want you to represent him, of course. There’s obviously been a mistake. He has an alibi. I want you to get him out of jail, and then I want you to do whatever it takes to defend him.”
She returned to her bag and removed two letter-sized envelopes, handing one across the desk. I sat back and extracted the cashier’s check from inside. Ten thousand dollars, payable to MacTaggart & Suarez, LLP.
I was liking her more by the minute.
“I’ve asked around, Mr. MacTaggart, and you have quite the reputation. I’ve also heard that you and the District Attorney are friends. I know that confirming my father’s alibi will involve some expense. I hope that’s enough to get started.”
I returned the check to its envelope and set both on the desk between us.
“Call me Jack. And yes, that’s enough to get started. But your father doesn’t appear to want visitors, let alone an attorney. If he won’t see his own daughter, what makes you think he’ll see me?”
By way of an answer she laid the second envelope next to the first one and pushed it toward me with a lacquered fingernail.
“Give him this. If you do, I think he’ll at least talk to you.”
Scrawled on the front of the second envelope was the word Father in a distinctive, slanting script.
“You need to understand something,” I told her. “Even if I could find a way to get this to your father, the authorities will open it first.”
“That’s all right,” she said. “You can open it now if you’d like.”
I tapped the envelope against my blotter. As an old mentor once warned me, the law would be a splendid profession if not for the unhappy necessity of having clients. Meaning that even under the best of circumstances, clients can be demanding, impatient, ungrateful, and general pains in the ass, with criminal clients the worst of the lot. Jimmy Kwan, the so-called Chinese Bernie Madoff, was a convicted felon and a certified lowlife and now, very possibly, a brutal knife murderer. Worse, he was holed up in a cell downtown refusing to talk to anyone but the cops and the prosecutors, which made him either stupid or suicidal, and very possibly both.
Did I really need a guy like that in my life right now?
On the other side of the ledger, the Ari Goldstone murder was the hottest ticket in town, and whatever it was that District Attorney Gabriel Montoya had on Kwan, it must’ve been pretty compelling to warrant an arrest in the face of what seemed like an ironclad alibi. That made the case interesting. What made the case fascinating was the beautiful young woman sitting across the desk from me with the anxious look in her eye. So maybe I did need Jimmy Kwan in my life right now. I mean, how bad could the guy really be?
“Two more things you need to understand,” I told her, again sinking back in my chair. “If I agree to take your father’s case, then it’s your father who’ll be my client, not you, and therein lies an important distinction. For example, whatever’s said between you and me isn’t subject to the attorney-client privilege. That means if you’re ever questioned under oath about any of our conversations, including this one, you’ll have to answer fully and truthfully.”
“All right. I think I understand.”
“Did you ever play a game called Telephone when you were a girl? It’s where you sit in a circle of friends and whisper a secret, and by the time it comes all the way back to you, it’s a totally different message?”
“I suppose I did.”
“Good. Point number two is that you’re not to discuss our conversations with anyone, even with people you trust, because they too would have to answer truthfully if questioned and God only knows what they’d say. The same goes for phone calls, emails, or text messages. In other words, don’t discuss your father’s case with anyone, and from now on that includes the police. If they contact you again, just refer them to me and I’ll make some arrangements on your behalf.”
She nodded. “All right, I get the picture.”
I studied her for a moment longer, then took up my letter opener and slipped it under the flap. Inside the second envelope was a folded sheet of cream-colored stationery with the words Jack MacTaggart scrawled in that same distinctive script. That was it – the entire message – except for the three printed words centered in shiny green ink at the top of the page:
THE CHIMERA CLUB
Chuck Greaves has been a finalist for many national awards in crime writing, including the Lefty, Shamus, Macavity, and Audie Awards, as well as the New Mexico-Arizona, Oklahoma, and Colorado Book Awards, the CAL Award in both Fiction and Mystery, the RT Reviewer’s Choice Award, and the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction. He is the author of seven novels including The Chimera Club, a 2023 Colorado Book Award finalist.