dtverson, a good friend, recently wrote a story using the play “Tea and Sympathy” by Robert Anderson as a backdrop. I have never seen the Deborah Kerr film, but I have read the play and seen it perform on stage. Something has always bothered me about the Anderson play. The main character engages in adultery with if not a minor a very innocent young person. She acts not from passion or love but compassion. Her betrayal of her husband is presented as an altruistic act, a selfless sacrifice for the benefit of another.
What follows is my somewhat long exploration of a conflict between love and altruism.
The commissioner of health services finished the glowing testimonial to this year’s recipient of the County Physician of the Year award. He spread his right arm wide, directing the honoree to take the podium for the presentation of her award. She was a devastatingly beautiful redhead who looked a decade younger than her thirty-three years.
Simone O’Reilly was a tall woman whose mane of red hair descended to her pale shoulders like ringlets of fire dropping on ice. She was easily the most stunning person in the room, and she was my wife. I’m James O’Reilly, known as Jimmy to my friends. I’ve been married to Simone for ten-plus years. I was twenty when we wed, and she was twenty-two.
Simone often jokes that she married a child. The truth is that, in most ways, I’m the older, more responsible party. From an early age, my wife was studying to be a doctor. She shut herself off from the part of life that involved boys and parties and focused everything on becoming a physician. Thus, I found her as an inexperienced virgin of twenty-one at the wrong kind of frat party. She had been dragged there by her roommate to celebrate their mutual admission to medical school.
It was spring term of the school year. The Deltas were being nice and invited the Sigmas to their spring bash. Six or seven of my Sigma brothers decided to take them up on the offer of free beer, and they took me along. The party went well into the night. In the early-morning hours, I noticed three Deltas pulling a tall redhead toward a back room. She was very drunk but still resisting.
Well, I couldn’t just stand there, could I? I intercepted them and tried persuading the three large men—who were themselves a bit worse for the drink. One big fellow objected and took a swing at me. It was the last thing he did that night.
I only hit the jerk once. It was my frat brothers who stepped in to start breaking Delta heads. I may have saved the girl, but, in the end, she had to save us. The campus police showed up to break up the fight. Unfortunately, by the time they arrived, a couple dozen Deltas were down, and my brothers were mopping up the rest.
Yes, I was one of those Sigmas, the bad boy on campus. The redhead was somewhat sober by this time, and she was persuasive enough to convince the cops that we had saved her from sexual assault. After that, Simone—the redhead—and I were on a path that was to end in a wedding, and it came only a year later. Right at the end of her first year of medical school.
My wife was older in years and more mature in career, but she was my junior in worldly experience. Her medical degree, my law degree, and two kids later, she was physician of the year. A designation that my pediatric surgeon wife had earned by spending the prior year with Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières).
From the beginning, I realized how fortunate I was to have stumbled into Simone at that party. Chance is a strange thing. Or was it chance? Was there some divine force guiding our fate? Back when we met, Simone was all potential, the nerdy pre-med student waiting to emerge from her cocoon. The chrysalis about to turn into a butterfly.
I wasn’t the only one to think this. My cynical frat brothers all shook their heads at my good fortune.
“Why does a good-for-nothing Irish jerk like Jimmy O’Reilly get a woman like that?” they thought.
I was, after all, nothing special—just average academically and athletically. On the other hand, I was, if I do say so myself, way shrewder than the average college boy, and I very astutely held little faith in my fellow man.
Simone was the opposite, she believed in the greater good and the nobility of human beings. I will admit, I found this aspect of her character more attractive than her physical beauty. She was gorgeous, but, as every one of my fraternity brother would confirm, it was what was beneath her skin that shown like gold among the dross.
The word “altruism” was coined to explain people like Simone. She was in medicine not for the money, prestige, or security; Simone was out to help others. She could never stand by and watch another person suffer. If one of my many truly awkward and shy frat brothers needed a date, Simone would fix him up with one of her nerdy girlfriends.
When my fraternal brothers drank too much, as they often did, Simone wiped the vomit off them and helped them to bed. She put iodine and bandages on their wounds after their frequent brawls. Unlike other girls, she never criticized, nagged, or scolded. She simply advised against bad behavior, like an indulgent mother. Guys were attracted to Simone for her looks, but they loved her for her soul.
My relationship with my future wife was somewhat different. Once Simone got her hand in mine, it was set there permanently. We were a couple. I was her first and only seriously relationship. We were instantly exclusive. Simone would not tolerate any dalliances.
“We’re together—a couple, right?” she would ask.
I was no fool. I was not arguing this point. Having been selected by some divine intervention to be with Simone, I was shrewd enough to know when to cash in as a winner. And, of course, Simone had captured my heart. She does that. If you have the least bit of good in your soul, you can’t help loving Simone.
So, on that Thursday afternoon, I slipped out of my office early to attend the meeting of the County Medical Society. I had not been invited. The wife of the County Clerk was a hospital administrator. When I went to record a deed, he congratulated me on my wife’s award. I pretended I knew all about it.
My wife had not told me about the award or the meeting. As was her practice, she separated her family and professional life. So, I was crashing the affair. Normally, her not inviting me to a medical association meeting would have raised no questions in my mind. However, her failing to mention the award had elevated my eyebrows.
I wanted to see her get the award and hear her acceptance speech. I’m very proud of Simone. But since her return from abroad, she had been distant and reserved. Our former warm familiarity had been replaced by a wintery chill. At first, I saw it as a result of her fatigue. She returned to us a worn shadow of her former robust self. But as Simone regained her vigor, we did not regain our former passion. The woman had come back, but the wife was still traveling.
Simone seemed to regain her relationship with our daughters, Vicky, eight, and Beth, six, but with her husband, there seemed to exist some barrier she could not or would not cross. For three months, I waited for my wife to return to me. I missed her and the warm, loving relationship we had. Something had changed our relationship, but what it was I knew not. I was aware of nothing that would explain the current distance that had developed between my wife and myself.
I had stealthily entered the large banquet hall of the Gideon Hotel. Simone hadn’t begun to speak yet. The room was filled nearly to its capacity of fifteen hundred. In the back, I eased in next to the bar, which had been set up for the cocktail reception. The bartender had stopped serving when the speakers had begun; however, two tall, good-looking men still stood, leaning on the bar rail and nursing their drinks. One of them I recognized Tony Curoso, MD, a gynecologist at Memorial Hospital where Simone worked. The other had a swarthy complexion and a slicker appearance, but he was one handsome fellow. He wore an expensive tailored European-cut suit.
I assumed fancy suit was also a doctor. He had the appearance of a player, as did Curoso. The not-so-good doctor Curoso had never met a young nurse he did not want to bed, and he did not let a wedding ring deter him. I knew of several passes he had made at Simone, one of which was right in front of me. She had always shot him down, but he kept coming like the Energizer bunny.
I was behind them at the back end of the bar. They were facing into the room, as was I, and apparently, they didn’t see me. But I was close enough to hear their conversation without straining.
“I mean to get me some of the that,” said the man in the sharp suit as he nodded toward my wife.
Simone was approaching the podium to start her acceptance speech.
“Don’t let the red hair fool you; that is one frigid bitch,” Tony replied.
“Maybe once, but not anymore. I heard she spread it around rather wide in Africa. She was a very fiery number indeed,” said the second man.
“Well, that would be a big change, but that was over there,” said Tony.
“Yeah, but once they taste strange, they never go completely without,” Dr. Slick told Tony.
“Care to wager on it?” said Tony.
“Sure, how about we double what you owe me for that little fix job I did?” Mr. Slick said.
“Done, and just to make things interesting, I’ll take a run at her myself,” Tony said as they both gave a smug laugh.
Just then my wife began to speak: “I want everyone to know how exceptionally honored I feel receiving this award from my professional collogues. But in all honesty, I must tell you that you have given it to the wrong person.
“This is an award given to those who have made sacrifices for humanity. My work for Médecins Sans Frontières was no hardship on my part. It was others who made the actual sacrifice: my daughters, who gave up their mother for fourteen months, my husband, who became a single parent for that time, and all those family and friends who stepped in to help while I was gone.
“We so often forget those who stay behind and support the work in the field. They make the day-to-day unnoticed contributions. As I accept this award for my family and friends, I want them and you to know that not only do I appreciate their sacrifice, but so do all those tens of thousands who have been helped by Doctors Without Borders.
“We the medical professionals and our patients owe a great debt to all those families who have given up a husband, wife, brother, sister, or child for an extended period of time to bring the benefits of medicine to those most in need but least able to receive.
“So, for my and the other volunteer families, I accept this award with great humility and deep honor.” When Simone finished, the crowd stood, and the applause thundered.
“Glad you heard that,” someone spoke into my ear.
I turned to find Claire Hudson at my side. She was coming down off her toes. At five foot four, she had to stretch to speak into my ear. Claire was my wife’s preferred surgical nurse. Simone is very partial to having Claire at her side in the operating room.
Claire was a mother of three, but you would have never known it. In her mid-thirties, she had the figure of a twenty-something and not a strand of gray in her raven hair. She was the kind of woman who, in the common slang, is referred to as a MILF. But she was married to one of the best men I knew. Declan Hudson was the premier diesel mechanic in our part of the world. If you needed the best, then you went to Hudson.
Declan, who was universally referred to as Deke, was a mountain of a man. Prematurely bald, he gave the appearance a movie bad ass but had the disposition of a kitten. Claire wore the pants in the family. Together they were the couple that Simone and I were closest to—the friends we often had over and whose parties we always attended. Our house was often full with their three boys and our two girls. It had been no different while Simone was away. I had wondered what Simone did in Africa without Claire at her side.
“I’m very proud of her,” I answered Claire.
“She loves you deeply,” Claire said.
I looked over to where the bartender had refilled the drinks for Tony Curoso and his friend. They took their refreshed drinks and headed into the crowd, which had resumed sitting.
“Who’s that with Dr. Curoso?” I asked.
“Oh ... him. Ah, that’s Dr. Eshe Faraji, our new head of surgery,” Claire said.
I caught the hesitation and the wobble in Claire’s voice. Sometimes, it is not a good thing to be a criminal lawyer. It was all too obvious to me that Claire was holding something back, something personal. I let it pass because I had seen my wife get her award, and it was time to play daddy and pick up my daughters from school.
“Got to go,” I said to Claire, looking at my watch. “Tell Simone I heard her speech.”
“Will do,” Claire said as I turned to go.
In my car on the way to the grade school, I mulled over Dr. Faraji’s accusation against my wife. When we met, the woman who would one day be described as the hottest-looking doctor in the state was the female equivalent of a nerd. She was a virgin, as was I.
Being referred to as the shrewdest asshole on campus didn’t make me do any better with the girls than the average guy did. With Simone, all that was different. I put my brains on hold after our first kiss and never let an unkind thought come between us.
Simone was a banker’s daughter and an honors student. If it weren’t for some drunken frat boys, we never would have met. We were attending the same university but were in very different fields. She was honor roll pre-med, and I was a sophomore with an undecided major. I wasn’t doing badly grade-wise, but I was nowhere near her league. We dated the whole school year, and the week after her graduation we consummated our romance with a night of sex.
When Simone attended medical school, she had an apartment in Albany proper near the Medical Center. Daddy was fronting the living costs, but even his wealth was tested by the medical school tuition. Simone ended up borrowing heavily on student loans. I became a steady fixture in Simone’s bed. Simone was embarked on her medical studies, and I was stringing cable for an independent company subcontracted to do electrical utility. Every chance I got I popped in to disrupt my lover’s studies.
In hindsight, we should have been more discreet. Word got back to her parents, and they went ballistic. I guess Mom and Dad, but mostly Mom, were unprepared for their college graduate daughter to become a woman. The upshot was that, prepared or not, we ended up engaged by Christmas and married the following June.
I was a junior and a married man but was still relatively carefree with an undecided major. That all changed senior year. I had never worried about unprotected sex. Simone took care of that. We were healthy and monogamous. Simone was on the pill, but, I guess, then she wasn’t. Early on in her second year of med school, she announced her pregnancy.
“I thought you were on the pill?” I said.
“I stopped last month. This way I have the baby between terms.”
“But what then?”
“It’s all worked out. Don’t worry,” she said.
To some extent, she was right. Both sets of parents were desperate for grandchildren. Simone was an only child, and Mrs. Mercer wanted grandbabies. My parents were equally desperate since my older sister had come out of what is called “the closet.”
To me, Tara was always my big sister. She is five foot eleven, which is two inches shorter than I am now, but growing up, she was always the taller one. She was referred to as pretty, and she had no shortage of male attention. In high school, Tara had what is referred to as “a reputation.” You know, that pretty girl who is not the easiest lay but still will not leave a guy hanging.
Tara was never short a date to the dance but never managed to keep a steady boyfriend. My mom used to tell her friends how Tara was playing the field and keeping her options open. I guess she really was. Once my sister hit college, she was dressing more and more like a pretty guy. Her hair got shorter and more boyish. It was “just a phase” to my mother, right until the day Tara brought her girlfriend home to meet the family.
With Tara out of the baby-making business, my parents looked to their daughter-in-law. Simone did not let them down. Little Victoria Tara Louise O’Reilly was eight pounds two ounces at birth. My sister became the big aunt and moved in with us. She was then a probationary officer with the city police. Between Tara and myself, we managed to take most of the parenting duties off the would-be doctor.
Simone has a major fault. Given the slightest opportunity, she will try to do everything. I’m firm in my belief that you can’t be a full-time medical student and be a full-time mother to a newborn. Simone, of course, disagreed. She would have worked herself into the ground, eventually failing both as a student and as a mother had I not stepped in.
This became the turbulence and the pattern of our marriage. Simone struggled to be Superwife and Mom, with me playing the strict the husband and daddy who imposed the limits. It was “You study while Tara and I take care of Vicky and the housework.”
Eventually, my sister and I had it down to a system that even Simone could see was best for Vicky. And it was Tara who encouraged me to consider a law degree.
“You would never make a cop, Jimmy, but maybe a lawyer?” Tara said.
That was a difficult period. I was working stringing cable, taking care of my daughter, and going to law school. I came through it thanks to Tara and Simone. Oddly, I was a better man for the difficulties I faced.
Simone and Tara were both at my law school graduation, although neither could stay for the celebration my parents threw after. Simone and Tara were both on the evening shift. Little did we know that six years later, I would be defending Tara against false charges brought to (as I was able to prove) “get rid of the dyke sergeant.”
Tara had never had an easy time with the male-dominated police. We eventually took a settlement and an apology, and Tara went on to establish her own security firm. I, on the other hand, had made an enemy of just about every serving officer. But it was worth it.
By that time, little Beth had come along, and life had settled into a pattern. Simone had completed her surgical residency, and I had a small practice. We were happy. And then Kevin McFarlin came home from Liberia. Kevin, an emergency physician, was a med School friend of Simone’s.
Kevin returned with tales of the work done in Africa. As doctors go, I think in an emergency, I would hope someone else would be available. He was an academic overachiever who had little talent for medicine, which I had come to regard as more art than science.
By the time Kevin returned, Simone was a board-certified pediatric surgeon. It’s one of the highest-paid medical specialties. Simone and I had just begun to climb out of the financial basement. She made three times my income, but it wasn’t the money that motivated my wife.
“I can’t get what Kevin said out of my head,” she whispered in my ear after sex.
“No!” I said. “You’re not going.”
“I know, I have too many responsibilities here. I have the girls to think about. I’m not free.”
“And I’m not crazy enough to let my wife go off and get herself killed,” I replied.
“I wouldn’t get killed, and there’s so much good I could do. It’s only one year.”
My wife was asking me to help her go play Doctors Without Borders for a year. She knew there was nothing I couldn’t work my way around. I’m like that: give me a problem, and I will work you out a fix. It made me a good, if not an always honest, lawyer. Simone also knew I would do anything for her. But would I let her put herself in jeopardy?
“It’s just too dangerous,” I said.
I had listened to Kevin, and I knew the things he said would be like catnip to my wife. I did some checking and liked nothing I heard. The group goes where others will not. MSF goes to the war zones in Afghanistan, Yemen, and Syria. Their facilities had been hit by air strikes that were meant to target others, and then there was the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the violence was intentionally aimed at the health care workers.
Everything told me I had to stop Simone from going, but I knew I ultimately would not. Another woman would have been content with a successful career and family. But Simone could never be just another woman or doctor. There were people in need, children who needed her special skills. She needed to go, and I knew it.
I could have prevented her. I probably should have stopped her. But I loved her, and when you truly love someone, you can feel their needs even greater than your own. So, in the end, I helped her. I hugged our girls as they sat on the living room couch while Simone knelt before us, explaining why she had to go and help the children in Africa.
When Simone announced to the rest of the family that she would be leaving her surgical residency for at least a year to take a job with Doctors Without Borders, it was Tara who stepped in first to help me. By then, Vicky was seven and Beth, short for Elizabeth, was five. Tara brought Lisa to the table. My sister is the very definition of the word “butch.” Once a very pretty girl, she is now a boyish creature—still pretty but never to be mistaken for a heterosexual.
Tara prefers her women feminine, and Lisa is one hundred percent female. She’s what I believe they term a “lipstick lesbian.” Lisa is small, the kind of petite woman who can wear anything and look good. Extra short with long blond hair all down her back. The kind of girl who only looks more female when filling out a pair of jeans.
When Simone went to Africa, Lisa became the female influence for my daughters, buying their clothes and watching Frozen and Pocahontas with them. Tara and I upheld the fatherly end of things. I needed the help. With my wife gone, I lost not only a spouse but also an income. My wife’s new earnings were just enough to cover her student loan bills. I had to pay my loans, the mortgage, and the household bills.
The average criminal attorney is lucky to clear fifty grand a year after expenses. At the time Simone left, I was breaking sixty because I spent every spare hour seeking new business. I think I wrote a will for every family member and friend I had. But mostly I hunted the town courts, looking for the driving-while-intoxicated, disorderly, or public indecency clients.
We had survived and had even prospered, but I could not have done it without Tara and Lisa. Mostly I worried. The news was never good from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I never wanted Simone to go. Why her family was not enough for her, I never understood. Nor did I understand how the mother of small children could put herself so decidedly in harm’s way. Everything I learned about the Congo said it was a place to avoid at all costs.
The first two months she was gone, she was in France for training. We kept in good communication. A phone call every day. Two, sometimes three, emails a day to me and the girls. The next two months were the same, but then things changed. There was a call maybe once a week and a letter rarely. It didn’t change slowly; it happened all at once. There was a sudden shift, and then things slipped further. The letters began coming every other week and the calls once a month. Mostly she talked to the girls. Something happened in that third month she was in the Congo. I never knew what.
What I knew was that my wife had never quite returned to me. I had been celibate for fourteen months. But was Simone equally celibate? I knew how libertine medical staff could be. Did my wife engage is extramarital sex while I stayed at home tending to the kids? Was Dr. Faraji talking out of his ass, or did he have knowledge I lacked? I had worried for my wife’s safety, but should I have been concerned for her fidelity?
As I pulled up in my Honda CRV, my daughters were waiting at the curb. Vicky had become the responsible older sister. She held Beth’s hand and waiting patiently at the curb for my arrival. The absence of their mother had made my daughters more responsible and less dependent.
“Hi, Dad,” Vicky said, opening the door and helping her sister in.
“What we having for dinner?” Beth asked as she buckled herself into the one remaining car seat.
“I think Aunt Tara is bringing liver and onions,” I teased.
“No, she’s not. Lisa won’t let her,” Beth insisted.
“Dad!” Vicky implored.
“Well, you know your mother will be late, and Aunt Tara really likes liver.”
“Yuck!” the girls said in unison.
When we arrived home, the girls stormed out of the garage and into the kitchen. They were protesting the liver when they saw the pizza boxes sitting on the kitchen table. Aunt Lisa reassured them that she would never let Aunt Tara feed them liver.
Simone didn’t make it home for dinner, but then, I didn’t expect her to. There would be a cocktail reception for the bigwigs after the meeting, and Simone would use the opportunity to argue for greater support for Doctors Without Borders. She did arrive home at about eight, just as I was giving the girls their baths.
Tara and Lisa stayed until I had the girls in bed. They said they wanted to talk to us about something. When the girls were settled, Tara broke out a bottle of wine she had bought and nestled into the living room sofa.
“I want you to be the first to know that I have asked Lisa to marry me,” Tara began.
Simone was the first to offer congratulations, but I followed a second later. Despite knowing how close the two women were, they had taken me by surprise.
“Go on!” Lisa prompted.
“Ah. Well, the reason we are going to marry is that—”
“What your sister is trying to get out is that we intend to marry and start a family,” Lisa said to me.
“Okay, well, you will make the ‘rents happy,” I said.
Simone was fidgeting next to me. I was missing something the three women instinctively understood.
“Jim, we want you to be the bio father,” Tara said.
This took me back a bit, but Lisa jumped in before I could recover.
“It’s not just about you being Tara’s biological brother. I want my children to have the kind of father I know you to be. I could not think of a better man to father our children. We are only asking for a sperm donation,” Lisa said.
They had put me on the spot, and I could feel the icy chill coming from Simone.
“Can I have some time to think?” I hedged.
“Of course,” they agreed, and we went on to discuss their wedding plans until they left.
Simone sat on the edge of our bed. She was wearing an old terry cloth robe over a granny nightgown. Before she had gone to Africa, she slept with me naked. Now she hid her body from me. I could tell she was troubled.
“What are you thinking?” she asked.
“You know what. Donating to Tara and Lisa,” she said.
“Don’t quite know, actually. A bit flattered, as you should expect. What were you thinking?”
“Have we drifted so far apart that you can’t see how I feel about it?”
“Well, I didn’t think you were pleased, but you didn’t say no, and it’s only a sperm donation.”
“I was thinking what it will mean to the girls?”
“I don’t think anyone was planning on telling them until they are adults.”
“But what if something happened to Lisa and Tara? Those would be your children.”
“If the worst happened, they would be my children no matter who donated the sperm. Tara is my sister. Our kids are her nieces. She and Lisa proved what that meant while you were away. We owe them a lot. I will have a hard time turning them down on so small a request,” I said.
Simone did not look happy. “I want to think about it and talk more when I’m not so tired,” she said.
“That’s good—sleep on it. We will talk tomorrow evening.”
“I can’t. I promised to go out with the staff people from work to celebrate tomorrow night. I received an award today which Claire says you know.”
“What were you doing tonight?”
Simone didn’t look happy with my question. “Today was for the poohbahs. I was out with the hospital executive committee after the award ceremony. They may offer me an executive position.”
“Oh, and just when were you planning on celebrating with your family?”
“Please Jimmy, don’t be like that. I’m doing the best I can,” she said, pausing to take a breath. “Everything feels strange. When you go away like I did, you expect that it will all be the same when you return. But it’s not. Everyone has moved on. Worse, you are different, and you can’t help that. You saw things—had experiences. Not all of them bad, but some so horrific.”
She suddenly started weeping. I moved to the bed. I put my arm around her and pulled us together. For a moment, it was the old Simone and me. A man and his wife working through whatever had happened to her. But then the moment passed, and she pulled away, the curtain dropped.
I went to bed that night with the doctor of the year, not my wife. But it was not a sexless night. As had happened many nights since Simone returned, we had intercourse. It had become the pattern, and Simone had started it. During her first weeks back, Simone had been a bit hesitant when it came to sex. After my long dry spell, I was anxious to resume conjugal relations. Simone was tentative at first as if she were unsure of me. But this quickly changed.
Simone became very aggressive in bed within two weeks of returning home. The change was troubling. When we first married, we bought The Joy of Sex and worked our way through the book. Simone was never very adventurous and hated giving oral sex but loved getting it. The post-Africa Simone was a tiger in the sack and attacked orally as a prelude to heart-pounding sex.
Whereas once twice a week was a lot, now it was every night and twice a day if our days off matched. But the love was gone. I had the distinct feeling that all we were doing was fucking. We were getting each other off as if Simone had some compulsion that needed a fix each night. The wife I knew was gone, replaced by an oversexed surrogate.
My morning began at a quarter to six. Up, showered, and shaved, I woke the girls. They were good little troopers and headed for the bathroom on their own while I finished dressing. When I was ready for the day, I helped the girls dress. It was a routine we had perfected during the last year. Breakfast was eaten, and lunches made.
We were headed for the garage. I would drop the girls at school before heading to police court. It was the same most days, but earlier Fridays because I needed to consult with the assistant district attorney before the Friday police court. Officially, the judge came on the bench at 9:30, but he was rarely seated before 10:00, and then, only if the ADA was ready. She would arrive at eight to start cutting the deals the judge would bless from the bench.
Simone appeared in her robe just as the girls and I were leaving. “Give your mother a kiss goodbye,” I said.
“Bye, Mom,” they said as they each gave their mother a peck on the cheek.
“What about a kiss from my husband?” Simone asked as I was nearly out the door.
I turned and gave her a brief kiss on the lips.
“I won’t be too late tonight,” she said.
I left Simone knowing that before work she would run three miles. Yet another change since her African sojourn. The old Simone did Pilates and yoga, but the new woman did three miles each workday morning and five miles on her days off. I think she was in the best shape of her life, and, certainly, she looked great. All this seemed to do was put more distance between us.
At police court, the ADA was seated in a tiny room off to the side. It had just enough room for a small table at which the pretty, young woman who was the ADA. There was one free chair for the defense attorney. My colleagues on the low end of the criminal bar were lined up in the hall. I knew them all, but not well. We were a friendly, convivial group.
My criminal defense colleagues overlooked my somewhat shady reputation. It is hard to keep your hands clean when you represent those who work the dirty side of the street. Representing your client vigorously sometimes means bending the rules. I may have influenced a few witnesses. Told a client to dispose of some evidence before the police could think to seize it. I was a good attorney but not always a good citizen.
When my turn finally came with the ADA, I had my arguments ready. I had five cases. They all arose from the police staking out a local bar on the previous Friday night. The bar owner took a dim view of the local cops harassing his patrons, particularly so because not a single DWI arrest took place. Every driver stopped after exiting his establishment was below the legal limit. Nevertheless, five citations for disorderly conduct and driving while impaired were issued.
Before I could open my mouth, the ADA shoved her disposition sheet across to me.
“ACD,” she said, referring to the Adjourned Contemplating Dismissal designation.
ACD is all but a dismissal of the charge. It is the best you can do on a first appearance.
“Which one?” I stuttered.
“All five,” she said. “Look close at the charge sheet.”
She pointed to the initials next to each client name. The letters SK were written very clearly. The DA was Stanislas Katsaros, known as Stan. He was very proud of his Greek heritage. As the saying goes, “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts, but don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” This was certainly a gift, one that had just netted me an eight-hundred-dollar fee in each of five cases—four thousand dollars.
The question was, however, what did Stan want? Politicians do nothing without purpose. If Stan wanted a favor, he had not asked for it. The pretty ADA gave me a look and a shrug. Apparently, she had no more idea what was going on than I did.
I was back in my office by 10:00 a.m. I found June waiting there for me. June is what passes for my staff. She is a twenty-eight-year-old woman with five kids. The oldest girl is fourteen. The other four are under ten. The five children have three fathers, and June has never been married. She is good at running my calendar and serving papers. She would never make a paralegal or secretary in a big firm. But I’m a solo practitioner, and it suits me. June spends a considerable amount of time each day on the phone settling family problems with her mother, who lives with her and watches June’s children.
“DA Stanislas Katsaros wants to see you,” June said.
“When?” I asked.
“This afternoon at his office at about three.”
Not wasting any time, I thought. But what could the DA want from me?
Stan greeted me in his office along with his chief assistant, Betty Gray. There were always rumors about Stan and Betty. The DA was in his fifties, and Betty was a forty-something woman who, if not classically beautiful, was still a good-looking single woman. Rumors notwithstanding, I had it on good authority that their relationship was strictly professional. For one thing, Stan was married to a true Greek beauty imported from the old country who was twenty years his junior. Betty, on the other hand, had a number of studly younger men whom she saw in private. Few knew about Betty’s stable of studs, but there aren’t many things you can hide from my sister, the investigator.
Stan and Betty sat me down on the old worn leather sofa in the DA’s inner office and offered me coffee. When his cup was filled halfway with cream and sugar, Stan added the coffee and launched into the reason for calling our meeting.
“Have you heard the accusations concerning Van Patten Correctional Facility?” he began.
Of course, I had. Even my domestically preoccupied mind had not missed a juicy scandal like that. Our local correctional facility had begun its life as a minimum-security prison for male inmates. Most of its former male residents served only a few months before release, often staying only nights and weekends behind bars.
Lawsuits about overcrowded conditions at the women’s prisons to the south and west caused the state to convert Van Patten into a medium-security facility for female inmates. The conversion involved nothing more than erecting a fence and stringing razor wire. Female prisons have little or no security since no one has ever heard of a female prison break. The scandal currently brewing involved not security but sex.
Sex is a commodity in prison and is more prevalent than it is in the outside community. In female institutions, it is rampant, a fact aggravated by the federal government’s insistence on equal employment opportunity. Because of their size and number, the promotional opportunities all existed at male facilities. The work was easier and safer at female facilities, but fewer positions meant fewer promotions.
The result was that female officers sought employment at male facilities. There were exceptions based on geography. Most officers came from the local community, and with seniority-based assignments, getting a slot close to home was what most officers worked toward. So, officer staffing at female institutions was roughly fifty-fifty male and female.
The civilian personnel of Van Patten CF was predominantly female, but its uniformed personnel was split evenly between the sexes. The current problem arose because of complaints of sexual abuse of female inmates by male officers. Those complaints were made to the State Commission on Corrections. The COC is not the DOCS (Department of Correctional Services.) The Department runs the prisons. The Commission is an oversite agency created after the Attica riot in 1971. The Commission is a toothless watchdog. It reports abuse but has no ability to correct.