Page 6 of The Firm

"Yeah. She and Abby spent next year's salary."

"That's nice. Nice house. We're glad you're here, Mitch. I'm just sorry about the circumstances. You'll like it here."

"You don't have to apologize."

"I still don't believe it. I'm numb, paralyzed. I shudder at the thought of seeing Marty's wife and the kids. I'd rather be lashed with a bullwhip than go over there."

The women appeared, walked across the wooden patio deck and down the steps to the pool. Kay found the faucet and the sprinkler was silenced.

They left Chickasaw Gardens and drove west with the traffic toward downtown, into the fading sun. They held hands, but said little. Mitch opened the sunroof and rolled down the windows. Abby picked through a box of old cassettes and found Springsteen. The stereo worked fine. "Hungry Heart" blew from the windows as the little shiny roadster made its way toward the river. The warm, sticky, humid Memphis summer air settled in with the dark. Softball fields came to life as teams of fat men with tight polyester pants and lime-green and fluorescent-yellow shirts laid chalk lines and prepared to do battle. Cars full of teenagers crowded into fast-food joints to drink beer and gossip and check out the opposite sex. Mitch began to smile. He tried to forget about Lamar, and Kozinski and Hodge. Why should he be sad? They were not his friends. He was sorry for their families, but he did not really know these people. And he, Mitchell Y. McDeere, a poor kid with no family, had much to be happy about. Beautiful wife, new house, new car, new job, new Harvard degree. A brilliant mind and a solid body that did not gain weight and needed little sleep. Eighty thousand a year, for now. In two years he could be in six figures, and all he had to do was work ninety hours a week. Piece of cake.

He pulled into a self-serve and pumped fifteen gallons. He paid inside and bought a six-pack of Michelob. Abby opened two, and they darted back into the traffic. He was smiling now.

"Let's eat," he said.

"We're not exactly dressed," she said.

He stared at her long, brown legs. She wore a white cotton skirt, above the knees, with a white cotton button-down. He had shorts, deck shoes and a faded black polo. "With legs like that, you could get us into any restaurant in New York."

"How about the Rendezvous? The dress seemed casual."

"Great idea."

They paid to park in a lot downtown and walked two blocks to a narrow alley. The smell of barbecue mixed with the summer air and hung like a fog close to the pavement. The aroma filtered gently through the nose, mouth and eyes and caused a rippling sensation deep in the stomach. Smoke poured into the alley from vents running underground into the massive ovens where the best pork ribs were barbecued in the best barbecue restaurant in a city known for world-class barbecue. The Rendezvous was downstairs, beneath the alley, beneath an ancient red-brick building that would have been demolished decades earlier had it not been for the famous tenant in the basement.

There was always a crowd and a waiting list, but Thursdays were slow, it seemed. They were led through the cavernous, sprawling, noisy restaurant and shown a small table with a red-checked tablecloth. There were stares along the way. Always stares. Men stopped eating, froze with ribs hanging from their teeth, as Abby McDeere glided by like a model on a runway. She had stopped traffic from a sidewalk in Boston. Whistles and catcalls were a way of life. And her husband was used to it. He took great pride in his beautiful wife.

An angry black man with a red apron stood before them. "Okay, sir," he demanded.

The menus were mats on the tables, and completely unnecessary. Ribs, ribs and ribs.

"Two whole orders, cheese plate, pitcher of beer," Mitch shot back at him. The waiter wrote nothing, but turned and screamed in the direction of the entrance: "Gimme two whole, cheese, pitcher!"

When he left, Mitch grabbed her leg under the table. She slapped his hand.

"You're beautiful," he said. "When was the last time I told you that you are beautiful?"

"About two hours ago."

"Two hours! How thoughtless of me!"

"Don't let it happen again."

He grabbed her leg again and rubbed the knee. She allowed it. She smiled seductively at him, dimples forming perfectly, teeth shining in the dim light, soft pale brown eyes glowing. Her dark brunet hair was straight and fell perfectly a few inches below her shoulders.

The beer arrived and the waiter filled two mugs without saying a word. Abby took a small drink and stopped smiling.

"Do you think Lamar's okay?" she asked.

"I don't know. I thought at first he was drunk. I felt like an idiot sitting there watching him get soaked."

"Poor guy. Kay said the funerals will probably be Monday, if they can get the bodies back in time."

"Let's talk about something else. I don't like funerals, any funeral, even when I'm there out of respect and don't know the deceased. I've had some bad experiences with funerals."

The ribs arrived. They were served on paper plates with aluminum foil to catch the grease. A small dish of slaw and one of baked beans sat around a foot-long slab of dry ribs sprinkled heavily with the secret sauce. They dug in with fingers.

"What would you like to talk about?" she asked.

"Getting pregnant."

"I thought we were going to wait a few years."

"We are. But I think we should practice diligently until then."

"We've practiced in every roadside motel between here and Boston."

"I know, but not in our new home." Mitch ripped two ribs apart, slinging sauce into his eyebrows.

"We just moved in this morning."

"I know. What're we waiting for?"

"Mitch, you act as though you've been neglected."

"I have, since this morning. I suggest we do it tonight, as soon as we get home, to sort of christen our new house."

"We'll see."

"Is it a date? Look, did you see that guy over there? He's about to break his neck trying to see some leg. I oughta go over and whip his ass."

"Yes. It's a date. Don't worry about those guys. They're staring at you. They think you're cute."

"Very funny."

Mitch stripped his ribs clean and ate half of hers. When the beer was gone, he paid the check and they climbed into the alley. He drove carefully across town and found the name of a street he recognized from one of his many road trips of the day. After two wrong turns, he found Meadow-brook, and then the home of Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell Y. McDeere.

The mattress and box springs were stacked on the floor of the master bedroom, surrounded by boxes. Hearsay hid under a lamp on the floor and watched as they practiced.

* * *

Four days later, on what should have been his first day behind his new desk, Mitch and his lovely wife joined the remaining thirty-nine members of The Firm, and their lovely wives, as they paid their last respects to Martin S. Kozinski. The cathedral was full. Oliver Lambert offered a eulogy so eloquent and touching not even Mitchell McDeere, who had buried a father and a brother, could resist chill bumps. Abby's eyes watered at the sight of the widow and the children. That afternoon, they met again in the Presbyterian church in East Memphis to say farewell to Joseph M. Hodge.