A blog where Stephanie M. Belser test-drives her fictional stories.
Expect the occasional
"stall, spin, crash & burn".

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Blood On the Snow, Chapter 10

NB: Early on, it was my intention that the protagonist would be a detective who had been a lawyer. But that ran into a problem, for she lives in a small town that is in a rural area, unlike, say, V. I. Warshawski. Unlike Kate Shugak, our hero does not live in a place where she can eke out a subsistence living if need be.

So she has to have another job, one that allows her the freedom to do detectifying when she needs to. So that is why in the latter chapters, there are details about her practicing law.

Chapter 10

It was Lena’s intention to sleep in the next morning. That actually happened, Bucko didn’t pester her for food. She had tried to ensure that by leaving food out for him overnight, which she normally did not. Cats being what they are, that trick didn’t always work. It did this time. She skipped her morning exercise, though she felt guilty about it because she hadn’t had the time yesterday. Too bad. She also skipped having breakfast at the diner, opting instead for some yogurt and cold cereal.

Her answering machine was blinking when she made it into her office. It was from Betty McDougall, she left a number and asked Lena to call her back. Lena picked up the phone and called the number.
“Captain Drake’s office, this is Betty.”

“Hi, this is Lena Smirnova, returning your call.”

“Thanks. Do you have an email program?”

“”Sure do.”

“OK, let me give you some information, When you’re ready to copy.”

Lena pulled over a legal pad and a pen. “OK.”

Betty passed along a numeric URL for both downloading and uploading e-mails. She gave Lena an e-mail address and a temporary password, along with instructions on how to access that from a web page and how to change her password. Lena wrote all of that down and then read it back.

“Good copy,” Betty said. Also is this you on Skype-“ she read off a user name.

“Sure is.”

“OK. I’m sending you a Skype link request for Captain Crake. Please launch that app and he’ll call you on it later this morning.”

“Will do. What’s up?”

“Well, in all of the flailing around yesterday, he forgot to swear you in, so he has to do that. He’ll do it over Skype and that’ll have to be good enough for government work.”

Lena winced a little at the pun. “While I have you on the line, is there any significance to the yellow background on the ID picture?”

“Yellow means that you are a sworn contractor; full arrest powers, but not hourly. Blue is sworn hourly, red is sworn salaried. Green is unsworn salary, white is unsworn hourly, and white with green stripes is unsworn contractor. You may have noticed a badge where your name and description are overlaid, that isn’t there for unsworn.”

“Thanks.” More than Lena wanted to know; she did know about the badged and no-badge IDs, but not the rest.

“One other thing, I’ve ordered letterhead, envelopes and business cards for you on a rush basis. I should have the proof copies by tomorrow morning. If those are good, I’ll have them send up the order by priority mail. And if you need a badge holder, Northland Police Supply has a good selection. They’re in the book.”

“I appreciate it, Betty.”

“Oh, yeah, I’m sending an email with the procedures manual. Most of it doesn’t apply to you, as you’ll see, but if you need something to read to help you fall asleep at night, it’ll help. there are a few things particular to contracts, they’re indicated.”

“Got it.” Betty said goodby and hung up. She seemed to be terrifyingly efficient. But if Ed Drake was anything like he had been as a city sergeant, he needed Betty the way that he needed a second leg. Lena opened her laptop, launched Skype, accepted the link request and then started to work on the letters that she had recorded.

Lena was working on the third letter (this one was asking a client to pay before she sent it to a collection agency) when Ed called her on Skype. He had her raise her hand and swear to uphold the constitution and the laws of the state. He probably left out a lot of the fluff, but Lena didn’t mind.

Then he sort of cleared his throat and said: “One other thing, Lena. Don’t try to badge your way out of any traffic ticket from the troopers.”

“OK, I won’t, but you mind telling me why, though?”

Ed shrugged. “Some of the guys in the union think that we use contractors like yourself for jobs that troopers should be doing. The union reps keep saying that they could have five or so more detectives if we got rid of sworn contractors.”

“So if I show them the badge, they’re just as likely to write me up for every possible infraction they can find?”

“Something like that. You don’t need to interact any with the rest of the force, anyway. Just make your reports and submit any requests for lab work to Mac and me. Mac’ll get any of that done if you need it.”

“OK, Ed, thanks.” Ed nodded and leaned forward a little. The call screen went blank. Lena immediately closed Skype. Bad enough that people could call her without having people Skype her. Which reminded her to go to the website for Northland Police Supply to order a badge holder. And she did.

Then it was back to correspondence and the other detritus of making a living. One of her mentors had told her that there were three steps for doing work other than retail sales: You had to get the work, you had to do the work and you had to get paid for the work. She had found out a long time ago that the last part of the triad was often the toughest. Her unofficial motto was: Don’t screw with me and I won’t screw with you. She also lived by the logical corollary. It pissed some folks off, but she wasn’t doing this stuff for her health.

That afternoon at 1:30, she had to appear at a status conference in the Bozeman County court in Dalton. That was at least an hour’s round trip for a fifteen minute conference. No point in trying to get local counsel to cover it, that judge hated when substitute counsel showed up for these things. This case was going to trial, anyway. Lena was acting as insurance defense counsel and the insurance company was adamant that they weren’t going to settle for anything more than $100.

She had tried to get the insurance company to bend a little, for she knew what it was like to try a case before this judge in the last several months. He was cranky, he had come to hate trials and he tended to punish the side that he thought had prevented the matter from being settled. But the damn insurance company wouldn’t listen and, at $150 an hour for her time, she could live with that. Even if it meant putting up with a judge who perpetually seemed pissed off at the idea of putting in a day’s work for his pay.

Lena thought that she knew why the damned judge just wouldn’t schedule the case for trial: Rumor had it that the judge was carrying on an affair with the wife of systems manager for the local cable company. The husband was never home from his job in Hopkinton before six, giving the judge a few hours of fun if he didn’t have trials that day.

The Bozeman County courthouse had recently installed metal detectors and bag screening stations. Lena showed her state police badge and the deputies just waved her through. Sweet. The conference itself was what she thought it was going to be like: She met with opposing counsel for thirty seconds to confirm that his client wasn’t willing to take a hundred bucks to settle the case. They then went before the judge, told him that they had not reached a settlement and then had to endure five minutes’ worth of verbal judicial abuse. The judge then set another conference for the following month.

The lawyer for the plaintiff was from Potter County and he was sick of this charade. He asked Lena if she would join him in a motion to set the case for trial. Lena said that she’d check with her client, but she was pretty sure that the most they would do is instruct her not to oppose his motion. He stamped off, almost as pissed off as the judge.

Lena’s cell phone rang just after she got back to her Subaru. The judge’s secretary had called her to let her know that the judge was extremely pissed off and that he had said that if this case went for the plaintiff, that the insurance company could expect a “massive judgment”. Lena thanked her. The call that she would make tomorrow to the insurance company’ lawyers in Chicago was going to be interesting.

No comments: