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Chapter 16

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"Mr. Frost," the secretary was babbling, "I'm so sorry. I told her you had clients and she said she would wait, but I didn't realize she was right behind ... I'm so sorry ..."

"It's all right, Doris. Thank you, now just run along, it's all right."

"Poor John." The woman smiled. "I'm sorry to discombobulate you. I was downtown and just took a chance you might be free. I had no idea my visit would be so opportune."

"Er, yes. Let me introduce you. My assistant, attorney Patricia Woodworth. Mrs. Sanhope."

They exchanged greetings and John turned toward me. I was already on my feet, Fargo standing alertly beside me. It had been drilled into me since I could walk, to always stand up when an older person enters the room. And so I had done, and would probably still be doing when I was sixty, if the person entering were sixty-one.

"Mrs. Sanhope, Alexandra Peres, my investigator."

I extended my hand and she took it in her cool, dry, firm one. "Hello, Alexandra. You look just like your mother. I remember her from years back."

"Thank you for the compliment. And I'm sure Mother will be thrilled by your recollection."

Grace Sanhope uttered a genuine, full-throated laugh. "Ooh, the cub has teeth! Good. I like that. I like it when people stand up for their families." She looked down at Fargo. "And I assume this handsome animal is yours? May I pet him?"

I liked that she asked. So many people meet an animal and just maul the hell out of him, never asking if that's agreeable with owner or pet. "He'll be disappointed if you don't. His name is Fargo."

She let him smell her hand and then stroked his head and neck around his ears. I was proud that he stood so straight, not wiggling and nudging for more, tail moving in a slow, regal sweep. This was royalty greeting royalty here and they both knew it.

"Oh, Fargo, you are just fine, aren't you?" She gave him a smile several watts warmer than any of us had gotten, and before John could continue his litany, she turned to Maureen.

"And you must be the dear little mother-to-be." She did not offer to shake hands. "I must admit you're a pretty thing even if you are missing a brain under that beautiful hair. And if it is any comfort, Jack will be paying heavily for his equal stupidity." Maureen never looked up, never said a word.

Amazin' Grace moved her eyes to Mary, and for the first time, her composure slipped.

"Mary Sloan! What in God's name are you doing here? Is there no end to your meddling?"

Maureen spoke at last. "She's my friend! You leave her alone!"

"Your friend?" Grace asked. "I'd heard rumors you were a lesbian, but I never dreamed . . . you do have a bent for forming catastrophic relationships. Well, Mary, your presence is neither needed nor wanted. Please leave us."

"I want her here!''' Maureen almost screamed.

"And I do not. Mary, either leave, or this meeting is finished and we will see you in court."

Finally, John found his voice. "Ah, Ms. Sloan, perhaps it would be best if only the principals remained . . . and my staff, obviously ... if you would be so kind."

"All right, Mr. Frost, I'll go. But be careful, she's a slick one." Mary gave Grace a look that would disintegrate Mount Rushmore and walked out.

Mrs. Sanhope slid into a chair at my end of the table and took an envelope from her bag. "Would you pass that to John, please?"

She leaned her elbows on the table and pushed an errant ashtray away. "You don't need to read that right now, John. It's just for reference. I'll tell you what we're going to do." Oh, goody, someone else to tell us what to do! She folded her hands on the table and began calmly. "I am assuming the child is Jack's and that it is normal. In that case, Maureen will have the baby, but will straightaway sign an agreement forfeiting all custody rights. Immediately after the baby is born, we—my attorney—will take over any adoption proceedings."

"I'm keeping the baby." Maureen sounded firm.

John patted her arm. "Let her finish, my dear, then we'll talk."

Grace gave him a tight smile that said, Like hell we will, and continued. "We will pay all medical expenses surrounding the pregnancy and birth. A few weeks before the baby is due, Maureen will check into an excellent private maternity hospital of our choice in New Hampshire, where she will have the baby."

She turned to Maureen. "Whenever you go on maternity leave from your job, Maureen, if it is unpaid leave, we will pay whatever salary you currently make. When the baby is born, you will receive five thousand dollars when you leave the hospital, minus the eight hundred you extorted from my grandson." Without a pause, she asked, "John, do you know Jake Raymond, my attorney in Boston?"

"Quite well. We both clerked for Judge Allsworth."

"Fine." Grace collected her bag and gloves and stood. "Get together with him and get that written up so everything reads right." She pointed at the envelope. "Jack will sign it. So will Maureen. Good to see you, John, nice to meet you, ladies. Good day."

"Wait!" Maureen sounded desperate. "I want to keep that baby, and I won't sign this thing."

Grace answered her with a mild tone and deadly words. "That is certainly your right. If you elect not to accept our offer, you will have to go to court to get child support. Jack has a very small income. You will not be awarded much. We will make sure that you have nothing resembling a reputation left when the trial is over. We will prove you a crook and a dubious mother. It will be widely publicized because of who we are. I do not look forward to that, but we will survive it. You will look like the Whore of Babylon." She nodded once more to John and strode through the door.

We sat as if posed for an artist. Stiff, expressionless, silent. Maureen recovered first. "That terrible old woman! Can she do that? Can she get away with it?"

Trish shrugged. "Could and probably would. Actually, she's offered a lot of what you wanted anyway. We can hopefully get you some more cash. As for the rest of it, they'd probably drag in six guys to swear they slept with you, and Jack just had the bad luck to get you pregnant. They would question your late report of one rape and the good possibility that the other didn't happen at all. They would ask why you took the abortion money when you had no intention of actually having one. When her bunch of lawyers got through with you, you'd be a basket case and you'd be lucky to get a hundred dollars a month in child support... if the State let you keep the baby at all."

"Then I really want that twenty thousand. I'll need every penny." Maureen was hanging tough. Where had the happy couple bringing up baby gone?

"You won't get it," John supplied. "I'll try for ten plus attorney's fees. Let me talk to Jake Raymond, he's a reasonable guy. Now try not to be upset." God, I loved it when people said that. "I'll be in touch." We dispersed.

Fargo and I hid in the ladies room for a while until we were pretty sure neither Maureen nor Mary might still be around. We went down the back stairs and out through the alley. And then we practically ran to the Rat.

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