For Jack MacTaggart, the wise-guy protagonist in my series of legal mysteries from St. Martin’s Minotaur, no two days in the office are ever alike. Nor, for that matter, does he spend a whole lot of time in the office. But luckily for us, we caught him there one afternoon, in this excerpt from HUSH MONEY, his soon-to-be released debut:
It was a Thursday afternoon, almost five o’clock, and I was typing feverishly in the knowledge that by 5:01, Bernadette would be long gone. Reliability is a prized quality in a legal secretary, and when it came to quitting time, Bernie Catalano was a regular Old Faithful.
I was drafting a letter to the local claims manager of the Hartford Allied Insurance Company, which had issued a policy of health insurance to my client, Victor Tazerian. Victor was a fifty-four year old Armenian trash hauler whose leukemia was temporarily in remission. Hartford Allied, to the bewilderment of the Tazerian family, was refusing to pay for a new but promising medical procedure that involved harvesting and freezing Victor’s own bone marrow while he was healthy, so that it later could be transplanted back into his body when the cancer made its inevitable return.
Hartford Allied reasoned that as long as the cancer was in remission, no surgery was warranted. In other words, they wouldn’t pay for the procedure until Victor got sick again, and of course, once he got sick again, the procedure would be useless.
In the vernacular of my profession, this was called insurance bad faith – a state of affairs to which, in its many and varied forms, I was no stranger. As I’d tried to explain to Victor’s sobbing wife Lina, the insurance industry operates in strict accordance with the three rules of American capitalism: Invest someone else’s money, make a profit, and try to keep both.
And so Victor Tazerian lay in a pre-op ward at the City of Hope National Medical Center awaiting a surgical procedure that costs more than he’ll earn in a lifetime, while Hartford Allied’s regional claims manager stood by his fax machine in Thousand Oaks waiting for a demand letter from me that we both knew he had no intention of honoring. Lina, meanwhile, sat by her telephone in Glendale wearing out her worry beads, while Bernadette, bless her heart, was eying the little digital clock on her desk next to the framed photo of Johnny Depp.
And that’s the precise moment that Russ Dinsmoor chose to burst into my office and announce that Hush Puppy was dead.
I shot him a side-glance and kept on typing.
“Shouldn’t Buster Brown be notified?”
“Hush Puppy is a horse, you Philistine. A very valuable horse belonging to Mrs. Everett, who, need I remind you, is a very valuable client of the firm.”
None of which, other than Russ’s uncharacteristic solecism in tense, concerned me in the least. And so I ignored him, in the faint hope that he’d simply go away.
“I need you over at Fieldstone right away,” he persisted. “Jared’s out of town, and Sydney is beside herself with grief.”
Sydney Everett, I knew by reputation, was one of the wealthiest old dowagers in Pasadena, a city positively freighted with women of a certain age who’d made their fortunes the old fashioned way. Which is to say, by outliving their husbands. I also knew that a felicitously large percentage of these women happened to be clients of the city’s oldest and snobbiest law firm, Henley & Hargrove, under whose yoke I presently toiled.
Jared would be Jared Henley, who, although not the brightest bulb in the Henley & Hargrove chandelier, was the only grandson of the firm’s founder and, I surmised, the partner currently assigned to wipe when Mrs. Everett’s nose started to run. Characteristically, however, Jared was vacationing in Cancun, or Bimini, or wherever it was that slow-witted grandchildren with trust funds went to mate with others of their kind.
“Why me?” I finally asked, glancing up from my screen. “I don’t know a fetlock from a half nelson.”
“Because there are two insurance adjusters out there as we speak, and we don’t want there to be any trouble.”
Deftly, painlessly, Russ Dinsmoor had sunk the hook.
“Trouble? Why would there be trouble?”
“I’ll fill you in on the details later, Mac. For now, we must let slip the dogs of war!” He threw his hands skyward, then joined them together in prayer. “Please, big fella? For me?”
I caught a faint whiff of horse manure right there in my office, but I could see that Russ was genuinely concerned.
“All right already, I’m slipping. Just get out of here and let me finish this.”
When I finally brought the letter out to Bernie, at exactly 4:59 p.m., she was sitting with her long legs crossed, filing her fingernails.
“Isn’t that a little cliché?” I asked.
“No,” she said, frowning at the clock. “It’s a friggin’ emery board.”
Meet the author
Chuck Greaves spent 25 years as a trial lawyer in Los Angeles before turning his talents to fiction. Some of his courtroom opponents might argue that it wasn’t a great leap. In any event, his debut novel HUSH MONEY has received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly (a “stellar first novel”) and Library Journal (a “delightful debut”), and will be in bookstores nationwide on May 8, 2012. For more of this sort of drivel, visit www.chuckgreaves.com.
Books are available at retail and online booksellers.