The Tenth Justice: Chapter 10


“They decided Grinnell,” Ben said, coming into the office carrying a stack of books.

“How do you know?” Lisa asked, looking up from the paperwork on her desk. “Conference isn’t over yet.”

“Oh, yes, it is,” Ben said, dumping the books on Lisa’s desk. “Osterman just buzzed his clerks and told them they’ll be writing the majority. Veidt finally went to the dark side.”

“Says who?”

“I just saw one of Blake’s clerks in the elevator. He had the biggest shit-eating grin on his face. Historical-monument-destroying prick.”

“I can’t believe this.” Lisa picked up the phone. “Where’s Hollis? How come no one told us?”

“I don’t think now’s such a good time to call. He’s probably pissed about it.”

“Are we definitely doing the dissent?” Lisa asked, returning the phone to its cradle.

“That’s my guess. I’m not sure, though.”

“Why’re you so upset?” Lisa asked. “I thought you were in favor of seeing it as a taking of property.”

“I am,” Ben said. “I just don’t like seeing the vampires win. They played dirty on this one.”

“Did they say what the final vote was?”

“It was five to four. Apparently Osterman convinced Veidt that if New York’s zoning was allowed to protect the church, Grinnell and the other owners were going to bear a disproportionate burden.”

“So Osterman’s decision is based on a disproportionality argument? Are you sure it isn’t challenging the legality of zoning?”

Shaking his head, Ben said, “If they attacked the zoning directly, they couldn’t get all the votes they needed for a majority. Blake’s clerk said that was the only way they could get Veidt on board. So Osterman’s decision is going to say that the benefits of historic monuments are enjoyed by the whole city. Therefore, the preservation of such monuments is a burden that should be borne by the city, not by individuals.”

“So if New York wants to protect the church, it’s going to have to pay Grinnell and Associates the expected future value of the property?”

“You got it,” Ben said. “Grinnell just got the golden ticket, and he doesn’t even know it. He’s going to reap all the profits of a mall complex that he’s never going to have to build. That should teach the city to interfere with a private citizen.”

“How can you think that’s fair? This was so obviously planned by Grinnell. He bought that property with a constitutional lawyer at his side. He knew the city would freak if he said he was going to raze a church to open a mall. And the bigger he said his plans were, the more he knew he’d collect if the Court went his way.”

“C’mon,” Ben said. “This case took three years to reach us. You don’t really believe the whole transaction was legal speculation?”

“I don’t think it was all speculation, but I do think Howard Grinnell is a piece of shit. You read the record—he’s an uptight greedy developer who was born with a silver stick up his ass.”

“That was in the record?” Ben asked. “I never saw that.”

“You know what I mean. I just can’t believe Veidt was such a coward,” Lisa said, flipping her legal pad to a clean page. “We have to write a scathing dissent for this. I want to limit this decision as much as possible.”

“Don’t worry. Veidt’s lack of enthusiasm limits their opinion to this set of facts. By the time we’re done with it, this decision will look like it came out of a traffic court.”

Lisa put her pencil down and took a deep breath. While a halfhearted vote by a justice ensured victory in the case at hand, it usually also led to a halfhearted decision. And if history was any indicator, halfhearted decisions rarely made strong legal precedents.

“Besides,” Ben said, “this decision will be overruled in a year. When Blake steps down, you know we’re going to get a liberal justice.”

“I know,” Lisa admitted. “It’ll just annoy me to see Grinnell take home all that cash.” Looking up from her desk, she added, “Have you thought about how Rick fits into all this?”

“I haven’t figured it out yet, but my guess is that if he knew the decision, he’d try to buy a piece of Grinnell’s action.”

“Have you decided whether you’re going to tell him? Or is there a new plan to catch him on tape?”

“I’m not sure,” Ben said. “I just have to survive Thanksgiving with my family.”

“Where the hell is Ober?” Ben asked Nathan as the two friends stood in their living room, suitcases by their sides.

“He probably got lost on his way home,” Nathan said. “The simpleminded are easily confused.”

“I say we leave his ass,” Lisa said, returning from the kitchen with a can of soda in her hand. “Maybe we’ll get lucky and he’ll miss the flight.”

“Trust me, we don’t want that,” Ben warned. “If he misses the plane, his mother will be on our backs all weekend.” Ben screeched in imitation of Ober’s mom: “You’ve forgotten my baby! Where’s my baby?”

“He’s an only child,” Nathan explained to Lisa. “His mom’s a bit possessed.”

“You mean possessive,” Ben corrected.

“Oh, yes, I mean possessive. Silly me,” Nathan said, repeating the friends’ old high school joke.

“GET ME OUT OF HERE!” Ober announced, flinging open the front door.

“Where the hell were you?” Ben asked.

“There was an emergency at the office,” Nathan said sarcastically. “There was an outburst of rowdy orange-juice-subsidy letter writers who needed swift attention.”

Ober pointed at Lisa. “I didn’t know you were flying with us.”

“And she’s not even paying for it,” Ben said. “My parents are picking up the tab.”

“Are you kidding me?” Ober asked. “If I knew free airfare was involved, I’d have told your mom that I was sleeping with you.”

“I appreciate that,” Ben said. “Now can we get out of here?”

Ober grabbed his suitcase from his room and returned to the living room. “Where’s Eric?” he asked.

“ERIC!” Nathan called out. “WE’RE LEAVING!”

Eric walked down the stairs with a navy duffel bag and joined the group without saying a word to anyone. They all packed into Nathan’s Volvo and headed for National Airport.

“They’re going to lose our luggage,” Lisa said, after the skycap loaded their bags onto a dolly and rolled them toward the conveyor belt.

“What makes you say that?” Ben asked.

“I just saw what Scrooge here tipped him,” Lisa said, pointing at Ober.

“How much did you tip him?” Nathan asked, watching to make sure that his bags were loaded on the conveyor.

“I gave him a dollar,” Ober said.

“You gave him one dollar for five bags?” Ben asked.

“Good-bye, suitcase, it was nice knowing you!” Lisa called to her luggage.

“What’s wrong with a dollar?” Eric asked.

“For one bag, nothing,” Ben said. “But if you have five bags for five different people, a dollar tip says, ‘Throw these bags in a volcano. I have no use for them.’”

“Just relax,” Eric said as the group walked inside the terminal. Turning to Ober, he added, “Nothing’ll happen. You’ll see.”

With only two days until Thanksgiving, National Airport was swarming with people. Fighting the irate crowds, the friends made their way through the X-ray machine and toward their gate.

Ober scanned the row of shops and eateries that lined the terminal. “I’ll be right back,” he said as he took off in a mad dash.

“Lottery tickets,” Ben said to Lisa.

As the remainder of the group arrived at the boarding gate, they waited at the back of a single, weaving line. Eventually, Ober returned, red-faced and breathing heavily. “Let me guess,” Ben said. “You won.”

“First I bought one ticket and I lost,” Ober explained. “Then I bought another ticket and I lost. Then, I bought a third ticket—”

“And you lost,” Nathan said.

“. . . and I lost,” Ober repeated. “But then, I bought the fourth magical, wonderful ticket . . .”

“And you won.”

“. . . AND I WON!” Ober screamed as everyone in line turned around. “I WON TWENTY BUCKS RIGHT THERE!”

“He has a small chemical imbalance,” Ben explained to the onlookers. “With a little medication, he’ll be fine.”

“You won twenty bucks?” Nathan asked. “What’d you buy us?”

“I didn’t buy you squat,” Ober said. “If you want to make fun of the lottery, you will not reap its rewards.”

“You won twenty bucks and you didn’t buy your friends anything?” Ben asked. “I’m starving here.”

“Me, too,” Eric said. “I’m going to grab a slice of pizza. Does anyone want anything?”

“I’ll take a slice,” Ober said.

“Make it two,” Nathan said.

“Make it three,” Lisa said.

“Ben, do you want a slice?” Eric asked.

“No,” Ben said, looking away. “Thanks.”

When Eric stepped away from the line, Ober tapped Ben on the shoulder. “Don’t be such a hard-ass. He’s trying his best to make up.”

“Too bad,” Ben said. “I’m not ready to make up right now.”

“Just be nice,” Nathan begged. “Even if it’s only for the weekend.”

“Don’t worry,” Ben said. “I’ll be fine.”

“Are you nervous yet?” Ben asked, when the plane landed in Boston.

“A little,” Lisa said, wiping her palms on her jeans.

“You should be,” Ober said. “Because Sheila Addison is about to eat you alive.”

“Did you bring the garlic and the wooden stake?” Nathan asked.

“If you ever feel like there’s a lull in the conversation, just look her straight in the eye and say, ‘Are you my mommy?’ You can always use that in a pinch,” Ben said.

“I’m sure it’ll be fine,” Lisa said.

Shaking his head, Ben said, “Just remember—you wanted to come here. I tried to persuade you to stay home. Therefore, all blood is on your hands.”

“I think I’ll be able to handle it,” Lisa said.

When the plane reached the gate, the narrow aisle filled with people. Ben got up from his seat, but was unable to stand upright in his row. Cocking his head to the right, he crossed his arms and waited impatiently. Directly behind him, Eric was stuck in the same position. “Don’t you just love this?” Eric asked, forcing a laugh.

“Actually, I hate it,” Ben said.

“Listen, can we just pretend it didn’t happen?” Eric asked. “It’ll make for a nicer weekend.”

“No, Eric, we can’t pretend it didn’t happen.” Ben scowled. “No matter how much you want to make it go away, it’s going to be with us for a long while.”

“Why? Why can’t we just start over? I’m sorry already. I’m sorry it happened.”

“You make it sound as if it happened by itself,” Ben said. “But in case you didn’t realize, you’re the one responsible. You did it. Understand?”

“Big deal. I did it—I’ll live with it. Why can’t you?”

Noticing the passengers who started to stare, Ben lowered his voice. “Because I don’t like you anymore. Get that through your damn skull and leave me alone.” As the passengers began to disembark, Ben inched closer toward the aisle. Eventually able to straighten his neck, he stood between Lisa and Nathan.

“What was that all about?” Nathan asked.

“Nothing,” Ben said.

“Is there anything else you forgot to tell me about your family?” Lisa asked.

“Just one thing,” he said, taking a deep breath and smiling at the thought of the coming weekend. “Don’t touch my father’s plate when he’s eating. He’s very territorial.”

“Ben, be serious.”

“You’re on your own, missy. Just keep your head down at all times.”

As they moved through the terminal, Lisa searched the crowd, hoping to identify Ben’s family. Suddenly, a voice screamed out, “Yooo-hooo! Benjamin! Nathan!”

“Oh, God, it’s Ober’s mom,” Ben whispered to Lisa, nodding in the direction of a frosted-blond head bobbing in the crowd. The woman was frantically waving her hands. “Be careful,” he said. “She may try to put a scrunchie on you.”

The five friends made their way through the crowds and watched as Ober was enveloped by his mother’s hug. Wearing an extra long purple sweatshirt and a pair of black leggings, Barbara Oberman could barely contain herself. “William! I missed you more than words!” She squeezed Ober with all her might. “Nathan!” she said, moving toward the group of friends. “Eric! Ben!” She wrapped her arms around each one, a human hugging assembly line. “And you must be Lisa,” Ober’s mother said, extending her hand. “You should know that you’re the first girlfriend Ben’s brought home since—what was her name?—Lindsay something.”

“Lindsay Lucas,” Ober sang. “The psycho from Long Island.”

“Whatever happened to her?” Nathan asked.

“Last I heard, she had hurt herself in a terrible Skee-Ball accident,” Ober said.

His face red, Ben interrupted, “Mrs. Oberman, do you know where my dad is?”

“He and your mom are working late,” she said. “I’ll drop you off at home. Nathan, Eric, I told your parents I’d pick you up as well. I have the minivan.” After they retrieved their baggage, the small group walked to the parking lot and loaded their belongings into the podlike cherry-red minivan.

Pulling off at the West Newton exit, the van left the Massachusetts Turnpike and entered suburbia. Armed and stocked with roving rent-a-cops, the community was determined to remain a safe, clean neighborhood, no matter what the cost. As the minivan followed the curving streets, Ben said, “On your left, you can see Dr. MacKenzie’s house—of the Newton MacKenzies. Naturally it’s the biggest house in Newton.”

“He’s the best plastic surgeon,” Ober’s mother explained.

“This place is unbelievable,” Lisa said, looking around. “I’ve seen suburbia and it’s driving a Volvo.”

After dropping off Eric and Nathan, the Oberman shuttle pulled up to Ben’s house.

“So what are the sleeping arrangements for tonight?” Ober asked as he opened the door.

“Funny,” Ben said as he and Lisa climbed out of the van. “Thanks for the ride, Mrs. Oberman.”

“You’re welcome. Tell your mom I say hi.”

“I definitely will,” Ben said. “And by the way, I’d watch your son while he’s home. He’s been so busy at work, he hasn’t been eating well.”

“I knew you looked skinny!” Ober’s mother said as Ben shut the door and Ober scowled out the window.

“Now that was downright mean,” Lisa said.

“He deserved it,” Ben said as he walked up the path to his house.

Lisa looked up at the modest Colonial-style home. “Nice place.”

As they approached the front steps, the front door opened. “Benjamin!” his mother said. She opened her arms and gave him a long embrace. “You look terrific,” she said. “A bit thin, but otherwise terrific. And you must be Lisa,” she said, extending her hand.

“Nice to meet you,” Lisa said.

“In case you didn’t guess, this is my mom,” Ben said. “She’s the malevolent evil one I was telling you about.”

“Don’t be such a smart-ass,” Ben’s mother said. “I’m trying to make a good impression.” Without question, Ben had inherited his mother’s features: her strong eyes, her quizzical eyebrows, the way her nose crinkled when she laughed. Even their mannerisms seemed to mirror each other. For every quick remark Ben had, his mother had a stronger retort.

Carrying his packed-to-capacity nylon bag, Ben followed Lisa and his mother into the house. When they reached the living room, Mrs. Addison called out, “Michael! They’re here!” From out of the kitchen, Ben’s father appeared, dressed in jeans and a beat-up old Michigan T-shirt.

“Nice to meet you, Mr. Addison. I’m Lisa.”

Taking Lisa’s hand, he said, “Please, call me Michael. Mr. Addison’s my dumpy old dad.”

His hair was longer than Lisa had expected. It must be the old-hippie thing, she thought.

“Why don’t you bring Lisa’s bags upstairs,” Ben’s mother said to Ben. “I wasn’t sure how you two wanted to do the sleeping arrangements, so . . .”

“Mom, we’re not even dating,” Ben said.

“Well, excuse me, Mr. Bachelor,” Ben’s mother said. She turned to Lisa and added, “He says you two aren’t dating, but he hasn’t brought home a woman since Lindsay—what was her name?”

“Lindsay Lucas,” Ben and Lisa said together.

Smiling, Ben’s mother said, “I see you’ve already had this discussion.”

“I refuse to explain,” Ben said. Grabbing Lisa’s bag, he walked toward the stairs. “I’ll be right back.” Walking up to his old room, Ben inhaled the smells of his childhood. It felt good and familiar and safe to be back, he decided. As with every other visit home, he marveled at the illusion that everything around him had gotten smaller—from his old bed, to his old desk, to the Albert Einstein poster on his wall. After a quick trip to the bathroom, he put Lisa’s bags in the guest room and then walked down to the kitchen.

“Awwwww,” he heard Lisa say as he entered the room. “You were so cute!”

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Ben said. “Baby pictures already? What’d it take, two whole minutes? That’s a new record for you, Mom.”

“Leave her alone,” Lisa said, still engrossed in the photos.

“You should see some of the home movies we have,” Ben’s father added.

“Don’t even think of it, Dad,” Ben warned. “Home movies have at least a one-night waiting period.”

“So tell me more about Ben as a little kid,” Lisa said.

“Tell her about the time I lit Jimmy Eisenberg on fire.”

“Oh, shush,” Ben’s mother said. Turning back to Lisa, she continued, “He was so bright. He learned to read when he was two. And by the time he was four, he used to read Michael’s articles.”

“He found a spelling mistake in one of my final drafts,” Ben’s father said proudly. “Tell Lisa about the time you found him up on the roof.”

“Now that’s a story,” Ben’s mother said. “When Ben was five, it was late one night, and I couldn’t find him. I was frantic—”

“Mom, you were frantic?” Ben asked.

“I was frantic, looking everywhere for him. I was pulling my hair out. Suddenly, I hear this sound on the roof. Let me tell you, my heart dropped. I ran up through the attic and opened the door to the roof, and there’s Benjamin, wearing his little pajamas and holding a rope in his hand. So I scream, ‘Benjamin, what the hell do you think you’re doing out here?’ And he says to me, ‘Mommy, I was just trying to lasso the moon.’”

“Awwwwww,” Lisa said. “Ever the little overachiever.”

“Oh, well—show’s over,” Ben said, leaving the kitchen. “Good night.”

“Benjamin, come back here,” Ben’s mother said.

Scanning through the pictures, Lisa looked up and asked, “Is this little guy your brother?”

“Yeah,” Ben said with a smile. He then looked over at both his mother and father.

Confused, Lisa was silent.

“That’s Daniel. He passed away when he was twelve,” Ben’s father said. “He had leukemia.”

“I’m sorry,” Lisa said. “I didn’t know.”

“And now you do,” Ben said, trying to make Lisa feel comfortable. Standing behind her, he put his hands on her shoulders. “Don’t worry about it. It’s okay.”

“He was a terrific young man,” Ben’s mother said proudly. “You would’ve really gotten along.”

“Thanks,” Lisa said, unsure of what else to say.

“Maybe we should call it a night.” Ben looked at his watch. “It’s close to midnight.”

“That’s a good idea,” Ben’s mother said, stacking the photo albums in a neat pile. “What do you two have planned for tomorrow?”

“I think we’re going to spend the day in the city. Lisa’s never been to Boston. And we’re supposed to go over to Nathan’s house for dinner.”

“That’s right,” his mother said, getting up from her seat by the kitchen table. “Joan told me that. Just make sure we see you for at least a few hours.”

“We will, Mom. Don’t worry.”

“Nice to meet you both,” Lisa said as she and Ben left the kitchen.

Neither Ben nor Lisa said a word until they reached the second floor. “I’m sorry about bringing up your brother,” Lisa finally said as they entered the guest room.

“It’s okay,” Ben said warmly. “It’s been a while, so we can handle it.”

“It must’ve been a painful loss.”

Sitting on the white Formica desk in the corner of the room, Ben explained, “It was really terrible. He was diagnosed with childhood diabetes when he was ten. And that just led to complications when the leukemia came. He was a medical mess.”

“How old were you when he died?”

“Fourteen,” Ben said, propping his feet up on the chair below the desk. “It was the worst time in my life. I couldn’t sleep for months—I had to start speaking to one of my dad’s friends who was a family psychologist. My mother was a wreck. In fact, if it wasn’t for my father, we’d probably all be in the nuthouse at this point. He really kept it together then.”

“Your parents are great,” Lisa said, sitting on the bed.

“They definitely are,” Ben admitted.

“I’m just surprised you turned out as well as you did,” Lisa added. “I mean, lassoing Earth’s favorite satellite—that can make you a little nuts.”

“Ho-ho. You’re a riot.”

Lisa kicked off her sneakers. “So tell me what happened with you and Eric on the plane. He didn’t say a word the whole way here.”

“Nothing. I told him off. I don’t want to have to deal with his crap anymore.”

“Good,” Lisa said. “I was worried you were going to actually forgive him over time.”

“No way,” Ben said. “I love my friends. I’d do anything for any of them. I’d do anything for you. But life is too short to waste your time on assholes.”

“I don’t even think it’s about being an asshole. I think his actions were a violation of your trust. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the single worst thing you can do to a friend.”

“Listen, you don’t have to tell me. Between Rick and Eric, trust has been the Problem Virtue of the Year.”

At noon the next day, Ben came down to the kitchen, where he saw Lisa and his mother talking. “Well, well, look who finally decided to join us,” Ben’s mother said as she cut vegetables for the following night’s Thanksgiving dinner. Not fooled by Ben’s recent shower and his close shave, she could see the still-tired look in her son’s eyes. “What time were you two up until last night?”

“Probably around four,” Lisa said.

Ben’s mother dropped her knife on the cutting board and stared.

“Mom, calm yourself,” Ben said, rolling his eyes. “We were just talking. Is that okay?”

“It’s none of my business,” his mother said. “I didn’t say a word.”

“You didn’t need to.” Turning to Lisa, he said, “How are you so awake?”

“I can’t sleep late,” Lisa explained. “I’ve been up since seven.”

In mid-yawn, Ben stretched toward the ceiling. “You’re crazy. Sleeping is the source of life.”

Suddenly, the telephone rang. “Hello?” Ben’s mother said, turning away from her vegetable slicing. Pausing for a moment, she responded, “Yes, he’s right here. Hold on one second.” She turned to Ben. “It’s for you. It’s someone named Rick.”

The color drained from Ben’s face. Surprised at her son’s reaction, Ben’s mother handed him the phone. Ben stretched the phone cord so that he was almost standing in the other room. “Hello?”

“Hey, Ben,” Rick said. “How’s everything at home?”

Pulling the cord even farther, Ben moved into the dining room. “What do you want?”

“Nothing,” Rick said. “I just wanted to make sure everything was okay there. And I wanted to wish you and your family a lovely Thanksgiving. Is that okay?”

“No, it’s not okay,” Ben said, struggling to keep his voice low. “I’m hanging up the phone now. If you want to talk to me, call me when I get back to D.C. Otherwise, stay the hell away from my family.”

“Ben, I just want you and your family to have an enjoyable Thanksgiv—”

Ben hung up the phone and forced a smile as he walked back into the kitchen.

“Is everything okay?” his mother asked. “Who was that on the phone? Who’s Rick?”

“It’s just a friend from the Court,” Ben said. “We were having this argument about this case, and he wanted to talk about it. It’s no big deal.”

“Benjamin, don’t lie to me,” his mother said.

“Mom, I’m not lying!” Ben insisted. “It’s this jerk from work that I always disagree with. It’s fine. We’ll work it out.”

Before she could say a word, Ben was out of the room. “Lisa, c’mon!” he yelled from the front door.

Getting in his mother’s car, Ben was silent, his lips pursed in anger. He was already inching the car out of the driveway by the time Lisa opened the door and jumped inside.

“Don’t worry about stopping,” Lisa said as Ben pulled out of the driveway. “I’m fine.” Getting no response, she asked, “So what’d he say?”

“Nothing. He was just being an asshole.”

“I assumed that,” Lisa said. “Now tell me what he said.”

“I really don’t want to talk about it,” Ben said. “I just want to enjoy myself today.”

“Just tell me . . .”

“Please,” Ben pleaded. “Let’s just forget about it.”

Lisa was silent until they turned onto the Massachusetts Turnpike. “Are you at least going to tell me where we’re going?”

Taking a deep breath, Ben said, “First, we’re going to Beacon Hill, where you will not only see some of our fair city’s best architecture, but you will also partake in a Vito’s upside-down pizza.”

“An upside-down what?”

“We’ll be eating at a restaurant called Vito’s, where they serve two slices of pizza facing each other. Now stop ruining the story.” Resuming his calm, narrating voice, he continued, “After that, we will walk through the Boston Common and into the heart of downtown.”

“Are we going by the Cheers bar?”

“No, we are not going by the Cheers bar. This isn’t the Freedom Trail. You’ll see this city like a native. Naturally, that will mean that you’ll miss the U.S.S. Constitution, the Cheers bar, Faneuil Hall, and all the other touristy nonsense that people love to snap pictures of, but you’ll be a better person for it.”

“I feel enlightened already.”

“And if you’re lucky, I’ll show you my favorite spot in the whole city.”

“We’re going to the library?”

“I can stop the car anytime,” Ben said.

“I’ll be good. I promise,” Lisa said, pulling an imaginary zipper across her lips.

At four-thirty that afternoon, Ben pulled the car into a small, graveled lot off Memorial Drive. Theirs was the only car in the tiny lot. Lisa looked around suspiciously. “If this is your old make-out place, I’m gonna be sick.”

“It’s not my old make-out place,” Ben said, turning off the engine. “I told you, I’m bringing you to my favorite spot in the city. Did I lie to you about anything so far?”

“There were no skateboarders at Copley Square.”

“It’s freezing out,” Ben said. “Besides that, though.”

“The performers in Harvard Square sucked.”

“The best ones come out at night. Besides that.”

Thinking for a minute, she eventually said, “No, you have not lied about anything else.”

“Then follow me,” Ben said, getting out of the car. He walked against the cold wind that blew off the river and headed toward a narrow bicycle path that ran along the lot. The view from the concrete path was obstructed by a fence of aged and rotted wood currently covered with various spray-painted slogans. At a corner on the path, the wall ended, and Lisa could see that they were walking toward the Charles River. The walkway turned from concrete to wood, leading to a medium-sized boathouse next to the Charles. “This used to belong to Boston University,” Ben explained. “It housed all the equipment for the crew team. All the schools have them up and down the river: Harvard, MIT, Boston College, Northeastern, they’re all along here somewhere. And when B.U. raised enough money, they abandoned this shack for state-of-the-art headquarters closer to their campus.” As he walked to the edge of the dock, he pointed to his right. “From here, we’ll be able to see the sunset bathe the city in light. And that makes this the best spot in the city. The tour is finished. Tah-dah!” he said, turning around and taking a bow.

Lisa sat down and let her feet dangle off the edge of the dock. “You were right. This place is fantastic.”

“Eric’s older brother found it, and he showed it to us,” Ben said, sitting next to Lisa. “This is where I was when I wrote my college essay to get into Columbia, and it’s where I wrote my essay to get into Yale.”

“We should’ve brought the Grinnell decision with us.”

Ben glanced at his watch. “We’ll be able to see the sunset in about twenty minutes.”

“This city gets dark too early. It’s only four-thirty.”

“Wait until the dead of winter,” Ben said. “It’s pitch-black by four-fifteen. By having the country’s earliest sunset, we also get the highest winter suicide rate.”

“Now that’s something to be proud of.” Silent for the next few minutes, they waited for the sun to descend on Boston’s gray horizon. When she saw Ben staring at her, Lisa raised an eyebrow. “You’re thinking about kissing me, aren’t you?”

“You wish,” Ben said, drawing back.

“Oh, please,” Lisa said. “You have that fawning look in your eyes.”

“Lisa, I realize I’ve brought you to a magical place, but not all fantasies come true here.”

“Don’t pull that crap with me,” Lisa said, pointing at Ben. “You have the same look you had the night we worked on the death penalty case.”

“That severely-tired-so-my-exhaustion-is-mistaken-for-passion look? I think you’re right—that’s exactly the same look I had then.”

“Forget it,” Lisa said, shaking her head. “You’re right. Let’s just enjoy the sunset.”

Leaning back on his elbows, Ben stared at the golden-orange hue that colored the top of the State House. After a few minutes, he asked, “Do you really think we’ll be able to catch him?”

“I’m not sure,” Lisa said, shrugging her shoulders. “I mean, I hope we can. He just always seems so prepared for us. Why?”

“Forget I asked.” Ben sat up straight and brushed the dirt and pebbles from his hands. “Just drop it.”

“C’mon, Ben. Is that your answer every time you get upset? Just tell me what you’re thinking. I know you’re scared shitless by this whole thing.”

Ben was silent.

“And you ought to be.”

“What do you want me to say?” Ben finally asked. “Of course I’m scared. My whole professional career is on the line. And at the one point when I’m finally calming down about it, the lowlife calls my house for no purpose except to unnerve me! Let’s see, what else do you want to hear? That I have nightmares about it? That I can’t get it out of my head? That I think I’m way out of my league? Washington is one thing, but it’s different at home.”

“How is it so different?” Lisa asked.

“My parents are here,” Ben said. “That’s it. Period. I don’t want them involved in this.”

“That’s probably why Rick called,” Lisa pointed out. “He knew it’d make you crazy.”

“No? Really?” Ben said sarcastically. “And here I thought he was trying to establish a real friendship between us. After that nice ride in his limo, we have a ton of memories to look back and laugh about.”

Lisa didn’t respond.

“I’m sorry,” Ben said, taking a deep breath. “Can we please start over?”

“Absolutely,” Lisa said with a small smile. “So tell me; what’d Rick say?”

“He said he just wanted to wish me a happy Thanksgiving. I’m sure it’s his way of saying, ‘Don’t forget what we talked about in the limo.’”

“We really should find him and beat the snot out of him,” Lisa said, dangling her feet off the dock.

“You are so right,” Ben said, leaning back on his hands.

“Y’know, if you ever want to talk about it, I’m an open ear.”

“I appreciate it,” Ben smiled. “Now, can we just enjoy the sunset?”

“Is everyone ready to eat?” Ben’s mother asked at precisely seven the following evening.

“What about Dad?” Ben asked, putting out a pitcher of cold water and two bottles of soda.

“He called a little while ago. Someone slashed his back tires, so he’s stuck at work.”

“Slashed his tires? Is he okay?” Lisa asked.

“Do you want me to pick him up?” Ben asked.

“He’s fine,” Ben’s mother said. “He said the tow truck would be there soon enough.”

As Ben and Lisa took their places around the table, Ben’s mother brought out a huge bowl of Caesar salad. “Pass me your bowls.”

Suddenly, the door opened and Ben’s father stepped inside. “Hi, everyone,” he announced. He kissed everyone before sitting at the head of the table. “Good timing by me.”

“That was quick,” Ben’s mother said.

“You won’t believe what happened,” Ben’s father said, pulling off his tie. “Right after I called the towing company, I went outside to change the first tire. I figured that would save me time when they eventually came. Anyway, as I’m in the middle of putting on my spare, this guy drives up and notices that my other tire is flat. He offers me the spare in his car and even helps me put it on. And then when I offered to pay him, he said he couldn’t take money for it—that it was Thanksgiving and all.”

“What’d this guy look like?” Ben asked, hoping to sound casual.

“Blond hair, kind of preppy. Nothing special.”

Lisa and Ben exchanged a look.

“Did he say anything else?” Ben tried to remain calm.

“Nope,” Ben’s father said, shoveling a mound of Caesar salad onto his plate. “He said he recognized me from my columns. And get this: He knew that you worked at the Supreme Court. He remembered that story Cary wrote about you—when you first got your clerkship.”

As his palms grew slick with perspiration, Ben dropped his fork, which crashed against his plate.

“Are you okay?” Ben’s mother asked.

Ben wiped his hands on his pants, picked up his fork, and quickly pulled himself together. “I’m fine. I just haven’t eaten all day.”

Surprised by the casualness of Ben’s father’s reaction, Lisa asked, “Are your tires slashed often?”

“Every once in a while. Whenever I write a column about corruption in the city government, my tires are slashed, my windows are shattered. That’s the life of a columnist. Too many enemies.”

“So this is probably no big deal,” Lisa said, hoping Ben was listening.

“Not for me,” Ben’s father said proudly.

In no mood to hear Michael’s speech about the life of a columnist, Ben’s mother asked, “Anything else happen at work?”

“Not really,” Ben’s father said. “It was a pretty slow news day. Someone was shot downtown. There’s a new police corruption exposé that’s running tomorrow. And my son got engaged. Other than that, it was quiet.”

“What?” Ben asked, snapping back into reality.

“Didn’t you see today’s paper?” Ben’s father reached into his briefcase and pulled out a section of the newspaper. “It’s on page twenty-seven,” he said, handing it to Ben.

Opening the paper, Ben turned to the metro section. At the top of the first column was a large picture of Lisa. Underneath the picture, it said: “Margaret and Shep Schulman of Los Angeles announced the engagement of their daughter, Lisa Marie, to Benjamin Addison, son of Sheila and Michael Addison of Newton. A March wedding is planned.” Ben yelled, “What the hell is this?”

“Let me see,” Lisa said as she grabbed the paper. “Who would do this?”

“Idiot roommates,” Ben whispered.

“Does this mean you’re not getting married?” Ben’s father asked.

“Oh, this is funny,” Ben’s mother said when Lisa passed her the paper. “Who did it? Ober? Nathan?”

“Who else?” Lisa said.

Ignoring his family’s reaction. Ben couldn’t get Rick out of his thoughts. “Ben, are you okay?” his father asked.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Ben said, turning to his father. Motioning toward the newspaper, he added, “I’m sorry about this. I didn’t have a thing to do with it.”

“No, it’s fine,” Ben’s father said. “We like it when we’re completely humiliated. Every self-respecting paper likes to be the victim of a mindless joke every once in a while.”

“You didn’t get in trouble for this, did you?”

“Of course not,” Ben’s father said. “But all day, people were asking me how come I didn’t tell them you were engaged.” As he finished his salad, he continued, “By the way, the president apparently has his short list to fill Blake’s seat on the Court.”

“Who’s on it?” Ben asked, trying to put Rick out of his mind. “Kuttler. Redlich. Who else?”

“Your old friend Judge Stanley is rumored to be on it.”

“It’ll never happen,” Ben said, waving his hand. “That’s the fish he throws to the liberals. I’ll bet a hundred bucks Stanley doesn’t get it.”

“Have you heard any rumors at the Court?” Ben’s father asked.

“Nothing really feeds through there,” Ben explained. “The president’s staff calls some justices for recommendations, but that’s just out of courtesy. Otherwise we hear what you hear.”

“Oh, c’mon now,” Ben’s father said. “You work there. You must hear some rumors. Just this once—feed your dad some inside info.”

“I said I don’t know anything,” Ben insisted. “And don’t put me in that kind of position. Even if I did know something, I couldn’t tell you.”

“Relax,” his father said. “I was only kidding.”

“It was just a joke,” Lisa said.

“Fine,” Ben said, picking at his salad. “It was just a joke. I get it. Har har.”

“Is everything okay at work?” Ben’s mother asked.

“Everything’s fine,” Ben said. “Everything’s wonderful.”

“And what about that firm that’s been recruiting you? Are they still interested?”

“Mom, everything is fine. I’m well on my way to the fast track of the legal world. Nothing can stop me. Now, can we just drop the subject?”

“No. What are you not telling me?” Turning to Lisa, Ben’s mother asked, “What is he not telling me? You can tell me.”

“Mom, leave Lisa alone,” Ben demanded.

“Ben, there’s no reason to raise your voice,” Ben’s father said.

“There is when she won’t mind her own business,” Ben said. “I said drop it.”

“I don’t need that tone at the table,” Ben’s mother said. “Either apologize or leave the room.”

“Leave the room?” Ben asked, forcing a laugh. “Or what? You’ll punish me? Spank me? Maybe you can take away my TV privileges. Or maybe I won’t get a birthday party this year.”

“Benjamin, I’d appreciate it if you’d excuse yourself from the table,” his father said in a low voice.

Ben got up from his seat and stormed upstairs. “I’ll be in my room.”

At eight o’clock, the doorbell rang. “I’ll get it,” Ben’s father said, pushing his chair away from the table. He opened the door and said, “Hey, fellas! C’mon in—we just reached dessert.”

“Do I smell cretins?” Lisa asked, sniffing the air as Ober and Nathan approached the table.

“Hello, boys,” Ben’s mother said.

“Hello, Mrs. Addison,” Ober said, fighting back a smile. “I hope you’re all having a lovely Thanksgiving meal.”

“We were,” Lisa said.

“What brings you two over this evening?” Ben’s mother asked.

“We just wanted to say hello. It’s been so long since we’ve seen you or Mr. Addison,” Ober said. “And, of course, we wanted to say congratulations on your son’s engagement.”

“That’s right,” Nathan said, patting Lisa on the back. “This is a big day for you. The best to you both.”

“Very funny,” Lisa said.

“Oh, c’mon,” Nathan said. “Don’t tell me you didn’t find it funny—the big picture of you, the fake bio—it was genius.”

“And it cost us almost a hundred bucks,” Ober said.

“It was definitely funny,” Lisa admitted. “I just hope you don’t think there aren’t going to be repercussions.”

“Take it like a man,” Ober said, squeezing in next to Lisa so that the two friends shared a seat. “Speaking of which, where is the groom-to-be?”

“He’s up in his room pouting,” Ben’s mother explained.

Ten minutes later, Ober, Nathan, and Lisa walked into Ben’s room. “Well, I guess my punishment’s lifted,” Ben said, sitting on his bed. “I have visitor privileges.”

“Drop it already,” Lisa said, flopping onto Ben’s bed. “They just want to know what’s bothering you.”

“And if I want to tell them, I’ll tell them,” Ben shot back.

“Listen, don’t get upset just because your parents are still treating you like a twelve-year-old,” Lisa said. “That’s what parents are supposed to do. It’s their job. They can obviously tell something’s wrong. Besides, you’re kinda behaving like a twelve-year-old.”

“Do you think Rick was the guy that approached my dad?” Ben asked. He explained the situation to Ober and Nathan.

“I don’t know who it was, but I did think it was too much of a coincidence,” Lisa said.

“Why the hell is he doing this?” Ben asked.

“Why don’t we stop talking about it?” Nathan suggested. “There’s nothing we can do here, and there’s nothing gained by watching you go crazy. When we get back, we’ll sit down and plan a new strategy.”

“But what if—” Ben began.

“Don’t say it,” Nathan interrupted. “Let’s change the subject and move on.”

“I have a new topic,” Ober said, checking out the seven-year-old Albert Einstein calendar that was still attached to the wall. “Let’s talk about why tomorrow is such a special day.”

Ben thought for a moment, then said, “You are so damn pathetic sometimes.”

“What?” Lisa asked, looking at Nathan.

“Tomorrow is the anniversary of the day Ober lost his virginity,” Nathan explained.

“And I became the first of us to obtain that honor,” Ober added, “which will forever annoy Grumpy here.”

“Ben was about to do it with Lindsay Lucas,” Nathan explained, “but since Ober wanted to be the first to lose it, he slept with Shelly Levine, the Skank Machine.”

“You slept with her just to beat Ben?” Lisa asked.

“It wasn’t just to beat Ben,” Ober said. “I also wanted to get to know her better.”

“He did it just to beat me,” Ben said.

“And it’s bothered him since,” Ober said.

“You guys are sick,” Lisa said. “You had a contest to see who had sex first.”

“The only contest was in Ober’s head,” Ben said.

“But I pulled in the gold medal,” Ober said. “Don’t worry, though. Winning the silver is still nice.”

“And what grade was this?” Lisa asked.

“Eleventh,” the three friends said simultaneously.

“That’s not that bad,” Lisa said. “How about you, Nathan? When did you do the deed?”

“That’s a pretty personal question,” Nathan said. “When’d you lose yours?”

“I did it with Chris Weiss in tenth grade in his parents’ bedroom. They were away for the weekend.”

“All right! An early riser!” Ober said.

“Now, when’d you do it?” Lisa asked Nathan.

“Twelfth grade—” Nathan began.

“It was after twelfth,” Ben corrected.

“It was the summer between twelfth grade and college,” Nathan insisted. “Technically, that’s still twelfth grade. And while it may be summer to us now, it was twelfth grade to me back then. It was me and Eleanore Sussman in a small hotel room down by the Jersey shore—my parents have a summer place there.”

“Very tasteful,” Lisa said. “Where’d you do it?” she asked Ben.

“Being the classiest of this trio, I took my date down to the B.U. boathouse. With sleeping bags set up, we did it with style—under the stars and overlooking the city.”

“And how about you?” Lisa asked Ober.

“Me and the Skank Machine went back to her house after a heavy night of drinking and did it in her very own, tastefully decorated bedroom.”

“While her parents were in the next room,” Ben added.

“They weren’t,” Lisa said.

“They didn’t hear a thing,” Ober said, sitting cross-legged on the floor.

“Speaking of great sex, why don’t you have Ober tell you about the affair he had with his boss?” Nathan suggested.

“Absolutely.” Ben started laughing. “That’s a great—”

“It was not an affair,” Ober interrupted. “It was a terrifying seduction.”

“It was an affair and you were a coward,” Nathan said.

“Just tell the story,” Lisa said.

“This all took place during Ober’s brief stint as a public relations assistant,” Ben explained.

“It was a P.R. boutique that specialized in the computer industry,” Ober added.

“And Ober’s supervisor,” Ben continued in a deep, sexy voice, “let’s just say that she specialized in love.”

“Just get to the point,” Ober begged. “She made a pass at me and I refused it. End of story.”

“No, no, no,” Nathan jumped in. “She made a pass at you, and you passed out.”

“You what?” Lisa asked, laughing.

“She called him into her office and she was wearing nothing but a bra, underwear and black garters,” Ben said. “Ober took one look at her and fell over unconscious.”

“I was feeling sick all day,” Ober explained dryly. “I got up too fast, and by the time I got to her office, I was lightheaded.”

“More like intimidated,” Nathan said.

“What’d she do when you passed out?” Lisa asked.

“I’m not sure,” Ober said. “All I know is, when I woke up, she was fanning me with a file folder.”

“But she was still undressed,” Ben added. “Needless to say, though, she was turned off at that point. Fainting is the world’s worst aphrodisiac.”

“Can we move on to something else?” Ober asked.

“Oh, baby,” Nathan said to Ben. “I really love your underwea—” Closing his eyes, Nathan fell to the floor.

“Wham, bam, unconscious, ma’am,” Ben said.

“That’s it. I’m out of here,” Ober said. “If I wanted to be made fun of, I could’ve stayed home tonight.”

“Can you drop me at home?” Nathan asked as Ober walked to the door.

Saying nothing, Ober left the room. “I’ll take that length of silence as a yes,” Nathan said, waving to Ben and Lisa. “See you guys later.”

“See you later,” Ben said as Nathan stepped out.

“You’re so pathetic,” Lisa said, poking Ben in the chest.

“What?”

“That place you took me to yesterday—the boathouse. You were trying to seduce me.”

“Give me a break,” Ben said. “I was doing no such thing.”

Lisa squinted and in a low voice did her best Ben imitation. “Uh, I wrote my essay for Columbia here, and I wrote my essay for Yale here, and I lost—” Switching to a slightly deeper voice, she interrupted, “No, dumb-ass, don’t tell her about the virginity thing—if she finds that out, she’ll never go to bed with us.”

“That’s amazing.” Ben laughed. “You’ve perfectly reproduced my exact thought process.”

“It may not be exact, but it’s close.”

“Do you really believe that?” Ben asked.

“Am I wrong?”

“Do you really believe it?”

“Answer my question,” Lisa said. “Tell me I’m wrong.”

A deep flush spread over Ben’s face. “I’m not saying you’re completely right, but you’re not on another planet.”

“I knew it! You’re so predictable.”

“What are you talking about? I’m not predictable.”

“Are you kidding me?” Lisa asked. “You’re so predictable, I could set my watch to your—”

Before Lisa could finish her sentence, Ben leaned forward and pulled her into a deep, long kiss.

Surprised, Lisa pulled back a bit. “A kiss from Mr. Addison—I’m impressed. I didn’t think you had it in you.”

“Can you shut up?” Ben asked, kissing her again. As Ben wrapped his arms around Lisa, she pushed him backward onto the bed. Straddling him, Lisa furiously unbuttoned Ben’s shirt.

“. . . and let me tell you one more thing,” Ober said, storming back into the room. “HOLY TONGUE-IN-HER-MOUTH, BATMAN!”

“I don’t believe it,” Nathan said.

“Do you mind?” Lisa said. “Some of us are trying to fool around.”

“Oh, you will NEVER live this down,” Ober warned, pulling the door closed, a wide smile spread across his face.

“What’re you going to tell Lindsay Lucas?” Nathan called out as the door shut.

As his head fell back on the bed, Ben said, “Damn.”

“Forget about it,” Lisa said, leaning in and kissing his neck.


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