Nebraska Center for Writers

by Mark Cohen

ONE OF THE MANY THINGS I'd hated about practicing law was having to constantly keep track of my time. No matter how accurate my records, there was always some asshole complaining he'd been billed fifty dollars for what was invariably described as a "two-minute conversation."
"I have sort of a Zen approach to fees," I said. "You and I will agree on a retainer. We'll talk about my progress from time to time. If you think I'm charging too much, you can fire me. If I think you're not paying me enough, I can quit."
"You don't keep track of your time?" "Too much trouble," I said. "You'll know whether I'm earning my money."
"Interesting," she said, not quite sure how to respond. "It requires a certain amount of trust," I admitted. "It requires a great deal of trust."
"Look," I said, "I'd make more money if I charged by the hour, but whenever I do that I seem to spend half my time generating paperwork to justify my fees and the other half wondering if the client can afford to pay me to do what needs to be done. That leaves very little time for investigation."
"That leaves no time for investigation," she corrected. I smiled to signify she'd made her point. In the future I would refrain from using fractions in my figures of speech.
"If you'd be more comfortable with-" "Will two thousand dollars be enough to get started?" She retrieved her purse from the floor, removed a maroon checkbook, and began to write.
"More than enough," I said, "but I don't want your money if you're not comfortable with the arrangement."
"I'm comfortable with it," she said as she handed me a check. "Good." Not surprisingly, her checks featured scenes from the Southwest; this one depicted a pastel orange sun setting behind a cactus-covered canyon. I folded it in half, placed it in my shirt pocket, returned the clipboard to my briefcase, and stood up. "I want to read what you've given me and do a little digging. I'll call you in a few days to let you know what I've learned."
"I'll help you in any way I can," she said as she rose from her chair. "I feel better just knowing someone will be working on this." She extended her hand and I shook it.
"By the way," I said, "who else knows about this?" "Just Mary Pat," she said, "my graduate assistant."
"That's it?" "That's it," she assured me. "Let's keep it that way." "Certainly."
"One more thing," I said. "Do you recall the names of the two agents you spoke with?"
"Just a moment," she said, "I have their names right here." She opened the top drawer of her desk and retrieved two business cards, the gold seal of the Federal Bureau of Investigation visible on each. "Special Agent Gombold and Special Agent Polk." My expression must have changed when she said their names.
"Do you know them?" she asked. "Yeah," I said, "I know 'em."

Reprinted with permission
from The Fractal Murders
Copyright © 2004
by Mark Cohen
Mysterious Press

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