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“A Tragic Case”

“Dave, you have a call on line one,” Patti whispered into the phone.

“Any idea if it`s a client?” I asked.

This time, “Neil Muh-call-ee” was on hold.

“Thanks, I’ll take it,” I said. Evidently, LJ’s voice eluded all recognition. Falling victim to the same fake names—DeNiro’s in the movie “Heat” being a favorite—made it difficult to take her seriously.

I picked up the phone saturated in frustration. “What`s up, LJ?”

“What`s the good word, David?”

“You do that every time,” I said, “and she still has no clue.”

“I know. What is wrong with those people over there? Are you working at a drive-thru?”

“The women in my office are like nagging hemorrhoids.”

“The other one is even more of a ditz. What`s her name?”

“Yeah. That`s Reggie. I could tell you some stories about her, but I don`t wanna ruin your—”

“Davyyyy, Wasss-up bruthaaa!” Just then my boss, John, shot into my office like a lunatic starving for more madness.

“Call ya back,” I said, hanging up on LJ.

“What’s up for the weekend?”

I turned unceremoniously in my black swivel chair. “Not much, really.”

“Listen, I need you to go ahead and do an employment verification on this woman.” He plunked down on my desk a thick manila folder held together by a giant red elastic, like what you’d find on the floor of a shipping and receiving warehouse. “Big domestic case. We gotta dot our i’s and cross our t’s on this one. CYA [Cover Your Ass]. Client says his ex-wife is going out drinking most nights and that she’s an unfit mother for their child.” He removed his gray suit coat, a Jones New York job, and tossed it on a nearby box overflowing with VHS tapes. Propping his foot up on the metal fold-up chair, he tied and then retied his shoe. He looked like a stereotypical mobster from the fifties: clean-shaven, with short, perfectly-manicured dark sideburns, an obnoxiously square neck line. “We can’t screw this one up,” he said

“Of course. Do we want Gale or Don to handle it?” I opened the file. A spelling error, relivant, glared back at me.

“Give it to Gale. Tell him it’s gotta be his best case.”

“We’ll see what else I can find on her.” I sounded out the subject’s last name: “I-z-z-u-p-i-e-t-r-o.”

“Get it done, Dave. Whatever you need to do. And tell Gale to put his other cases on hold for now. Tim Fredrickson from Liberty Mutual was up my ass about his last few cases.” His cell phone started vibrating.

“I gotta take this,” he said, leaving me hanging, as usual.

… On the long table along the far wall in my office stood six large black bins. Each contained numerous hanging green files. At first, I saw only his back to the door. Unable to make out anything more, I didn’t think much of it, but as I got closer, I could sense the agitation. He was fingering through one of the files, rather rapidly. Gimme a break, what did he want now?

“Sorry I’m late,” I said.

“Don’t worry about it, Dave. Good morning.”

I took off my coat. Glancing down at the newspaper spread out on my desk, my eye caught the headline:

“Husband kills wife and then himself.”
My stomach immediately summoned up the sensation felt on a bumpy ride in my father’s old Dodge Granata. “Happened early last night.” He approached my desk with the file open across both palms, like it was a newborn baby.

I let out a deliberate cough. “I just talked to the client yesterday,” I said, and coughed again, though unintentionally this time. “Gale said he came up to his window.” I swallowed the phlegm in my throat to avoid embarrassment. “Told the guy to go away.”

“I knew something was off,” said John, leaning against the doorway now, his mouth twisted.

“I don’t know what to say. I just talked to him yesterday.”

“It’s what I always say. We’ve got to be diligent about the information we provide.”

This one really hit me. How could this have happened? It was supposed to be a straightforward domestic child custody case. But the truth was that the man who had ordered all those hours of surveillance from our firm on his ex-wife had the psychological profile of someone who could do real harm. In fact, John had put the case on hold because, as he said, “The client is acting very erratic. He keeps calling me. There is something off about him, Dave. We’ll need to reevaluate things.”

Gale had said that the client would show up in his car to where Gale was conducting surveillance. He even got out a couple of times and knocked on Gale’s window. Gale told the client to “please leave the area” as he was at risk of blowing his cover. And come to find out, the client was completely obsessed with his ex-wife.

John did in fact reevaluate things in the end, deciding to call off the case completely. A day later, of course, the man wound up killing his wife with a loaded gun and then turned the gun on himself. The biggest victim in all of this: the poor child, a young girl who lost both her parents to murder-suicide. A tragic case, indeed.

*Some of the names were changed for privacy reasons.


This is a familiar story and incredibly sad. One of my best friends, whom I grew up with, was shot and killed by her husband at age 21. He then killed himself. They had a young child.:(

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