“I would like to thank the ladies and gentlemen of the jury. You may rest knowing that you made the right decision.”
Those were her last words before the judge announced the court “adjourned!” Ansley McMillan had won yet another case, this one in favor of a mother whose ex-husband was abusive and who now sought legal custody of their young son. The jury had found favor on the part of the mother thanks to Ansley, who had successfully dredged up substantial evidence that the ex-husband of her client was participating in significant illegal gambling activities with a local street gang. The ex-husband had also been recently on trial himself for being abusive to another woman.
With a hug from the mother - tears in her eyes - Ansley watched the legal guardian place the little boy into the appropriate arms and then approached the appreciative mother.
“Well, I must be going. Mrs. Shaw, congratulations on getting your son back, I am so happy I could be of service to your family.” Ansley noted the sigh of relief as the grateful mother gave her a hug.
“My secretary will file the appropriate paperwork and I will see you in three weeks
to follow up. I’m leaving on vacation tomorrow, but will get the paperwork finished before I leave.”
As she finished the statement, several family members approached the mother and Ansley took her leave. She walked out of the courtroom to find New York bustling about with people, as was usual on a summer afternoon. The sun was shining through a few clouds that, judging by their height and darkness, assured Ansley that storms were imminent. Ansley loved this time of year. Late July brought warm temperatures that reminded her of growing up in the South. She inhaled deeply enjoying the smell of street vendors mixed with summer air. After a moment, she continued her way down the street then decided that the heels that she had chosen to wear to court that morning were not going to carry her all the way back home, so she hailed a cab. She gave the cab driver directions and before she knew it, she was pulling up to her apartment.
Once inside, she noticed the huge pile of luggage sitting in the doorway. Ansley sighed a mixture of excitement and apprehension. She had spent the past two years practically living at her office. She was single and spent most of her time trying to make a name for herself in the legal world. She was the first one there and often the last one to leave every day. She didn’t leave herself much time for extra-curricular activities, so her best friend, Maggie, was thrilled to be taking her away on vacation tomorrow. Ansley couldn’t remember the last time she really relaxed and let herself breathe.
Ansley was the youngest of three children, and the only one who had remained in the U.S. Her parents had been killed in a tragic car accident two years earlier, and Ansley had kept herself in a frenzy to avoid dealing with the loss and the loneliness that often threatened to overcome her. After the accident, Ansley could not take living in Atlanta anymore, so she moved to New York City. One year ago, she finished her law degree at NYU and was now a twenty-six year old lawyer working for a prominent law firm in Manhattan. She had previously obtained degrees in Atlanta, but had never taken the steps to attend law school until her parents died. Everything in her life had panned out just as she had hoped except for the death of her parents. Now, after two years, Ansley was finally ready to start looking to what the future had to offer, rather than lingering on the past.
Once she settled in from a long day and finished the paperwork her secretary needed, Ansley stopped to look in the mirror. Her long brown hair and big green eyes would look so much better with a tan. She smiled at the thought before turning to the side to examine her form. She was trim, but she still had what in her mind were a few too many curves. The spandex yoga pants and oversized sweater she had quickly donned after coming home exaggerated her curves. Ansley smiled, feeling accomplished at having lost a few pounds in preparation for vacation, and she felt confident. She smiled suddenly remembering the vacations that she and her parents had taken to Florida all those years ago. She shivered and tried to brush the thought aside.
“Damn. I can’t believe it’s been two years already,” Ansley said to no one in particular. Maybe if she could get away for a while she could escape the horror and the memories for once. She was elbow deep in thought (and her closet) when she heard a knock at the door.
She had been expecting a visit from Maggie, who lived down the hall. When Maggie moved from Atlanta to New York, Ansley quickly mentioned an apartment available down the hall from her own, and the two friends quickly snapped up the opportunity to live close by.
“Hey Ans, are you about ready for this vacation, or what? I’m finally packed.”
“Yes I am. I think it’s going to be great. I took Baby down the hall to Mrs. Taylor’s apartment she is going to keep an eye on her while we’re gone.”
Baby was Ansley’s Maltese-Poodle mix dog and best friend besides Maggie. She knew that she and Maggie would have a wonderful time, but she hadn’t been away from her job or routine for several years.
“I’m almost done packing. I can’t remember the last time I really took a break.” Maggie was lifting Ansley’s spirits and Ansley was beginning to look forward to the vacation more and more.
“Swimsuits, frosty cocktail, then hours of doing nothing by the pool sounds like heaven!” Maggie said and they both went back to organizing.
Ansley had won a silent auction bid at a local charity event for a trip on the Majestic cruise ship and a week’s worth of accommodations at a quiet resort that had recently opened a selection of environmentally-friendly condominiums. They pitched in together and extended the trip by a week so they could explore the islands more and enjoy an extended trip back.
“Which formal dress do you think I should take?”
Maggie cocked her head sideways and held her mouth to one side. “I think the pink and black one. Take the black heels and make sure you take a black slip. Oh, and pack that lightweight yellow dress you just bought, it looks super sexy.”
As with most cruises, there were formal and cocktail events that required appropriate attire. Ansley agreed and packed the dresses as neatly as possible.
“Okay. I’m going to go back to my apartment to make sure I’m ready to leave in the morning. I’ll see you at seven?” Maggie sighed and opened the door to let herself out.
“Seven it is. I’m going back to the office to make sure things are in order there.”
Maggie cocked her head sideways and replied, “Ans, you better not plan to work this entire trip.”
Ansley rolled her eyes and then closed the door. She dropped to her sofa with a long sigh. She smiled to herself and zipped the last zipper on her luggage. She was finally ready to go. At least her luggage was. She had not spent much time actually in her office since the custody trial had begun and she wanted to make sure she had everything taken care of. Ansley noticed her stomach rumbling, and couldn’t remember the last time she had eaten. The custody trial had been difficult and very time consuming. She decided to quickly eat a snack of yogurt and granola topped off with a healthy portion of blueberries. She brushed her teeth and with one last look in the mirror, she let her hair cascade down around her shoulders, and headed out the door.
The evening was balmy and a slight breeze moved between the buildings. Dressed more comfortably in her casual attire, Ansley decided to walk the few blocks to her office. A few blocks doesn’t seem like a long way to most people, but in New York, during rush hour, walking a few blocks can take some time. Ansley always took the opportunity to walk in the evenings when the streets were less crowded. Even though she lived in New York, she always marveled at the sounds and smells that moved between the tall buildings. The faint bustling of the streets, people milling about, businesses in various stages of operation - there was a definite hum to the city that was soothing to Ansley’s nervous spirit. Her apartment was situated on a traditional tree-lined street filled with brownstone buildings. The quiet neighborhood was a stark contrast to the craziness of the city that spread around the historic area.
She arrived at the building where her law firm was located, an impressive combination of glass and steel, passed through the security gate, and pressed the button for the elevator. This part of her job always thrilled her. As a little girl, she had dreamed of a marble entryway and long elevator ride to her office. She had succeeded. Her law firm comprised three floors in the building. She shared the top floor with the other attorneys in the office, while the staff, library, and records were housed below. Ansley unlocked the door to the firm offices and turned the lights on to reveal her perfectly neat office at the far end. She had just gotten a promotion in the firm for a large contract case that she had won and she now had a large office on the coveted twenty-seventh floor.
She loved her work and her co-workers, and this office made the years of education and hard work seem worthwhile. She had decorated it nicely with some pictures and a few little things from home. She had placed a rug in the middle of the room. A nice, comfortable couch was positioned on one wall underneath a large print of her favorite painting, “Nighthawks”. On the wall opposite the door, a small TV was hidden away in an armoire. She looked over to her desk and noticed a little note laying there that she had not noticed earlier that morning before court. She picked up the tiny envelope and opened it to reveal a small picture of her sister Natalie who was in Mexico. Natalie was a missionary and Ansley had not heard from her in over six months. She was excited but worried at the same time. Her sister worked in a dangerous area where terrorism and gang activity were everyday events. As a well-informed lawyer, Ansley knew all too well the tragic stories filtering through legal channels. Ansley felt suddenly grateful for the security of New York. Ansley sat down and pulled the letter out.
The note read:
Just wanted to tell you what I’m up to down here. I’ve been working in this little village at the border of Mexico and Belize, near Chetumal. I’m teaching them how to use the water and sea life in order to live and help preserve the way of life down here. I’ve also been in contact with several missionaries in nearby areas and it looks like I’m going to be staying down here for a while. Ansley, I’m very proud of you. I got your letter about the promotion. I know how hard you have worked for where you are. You finally got your big office! Mom and dad would be proud of you also!
You take care of yourself and keep in touch from time to time. I’m hopefully going to be up there for Christmas because I have someone I want you to meet when I come. One of the other missionaries down here, David, is coming with me. He and I have been working together and I think it may be a permanent thing, if you know what I mean. I hope you have a wonderful vacation! E-mail me when you get home and we’ll start making plans for Christmas. Ice skating in Central Park!!
I love you a lot! Natalie
Ansley was very glad to hear from her sister and she held back the tears that started to well up in her eyes. She longed so to see Natalie, and she longed to know what her brother Cole was doing with his life and family. Cole was the oldest sibling and had gone to Russia to teach botany in Moscow. He had gotten a very good job at a university and was working hard to improve himself. Cole being epileptic had been difficult growing up, but Cole had found a companion that supported his life and goals. Cole was married now to Kathryn, and had been out of touch for a year and no one really knew what his plans were. He was missed very much by Ansley and Natalie and they both worried often for him. When he did communicate with them, he assured them that he was well and safe, but that his busy schedule left him little personal time. He was happy, and that was all that mattered. Ansley knew that Cole and Kathryn were planning to install internet in their rural home later in the year, which would make it much easier for them to communicate.
Ansley was the youngest and the one of the three siblings that had stayed in the United States. With tears in her eyes, she placed the little note in her pocket, and leaned back in her office chair. She sighed heavily and looked up towards the ceiling, “Lord, please keep them
With a heavyhearted sigh, she opened her laptop in order to make sure her flight arrangements had all been confirmed and was pleased to see that they were. She double checked her laptop and calendar, made sure that her vacation response email was set, and decided that it was time to go get some rest before the flight in the morning. She closed her laptop, grabbed the attaché case and cords to hook it up in the hotel, and moved to turn out the light. She turned and looked at her office where she spent most of her hours. She looked out the huge window that revealed a wonderful scene of buildings and lights, and off in the distance was the Brooklyn Bridge. She sighed. With a lock of the door, she was out of her office for three weeks. She couldn’t recall the last time she had been away that long. She wondered if anything would be different when she came back. If only she knew what was in store for her - that everything was about to change.
Out front of her office, she stopped to hail a cab since it was so late and well after dark. While she was standing there, she noticed a man staring at her from across the street. She knew that she had never seen him before but couldn’t help notice his glare in her direction. Before she knew it, she was watching him as he ran across the busy intersection as if it was his nature to defy death. As he approached her, Ansley noticed that he was quite large. It is not uncommon in New York for people to stop and ask directions or get information about local landmarks, but Ansley knew all too well the dangers on the streets.
“I’m sorry to so rudely approach you. My name is Jonathan, but most people call me John, John Lambert.” Ansley shook John’s hand apprehensively.
“Hello Mr. Lambert. Can I help you? I’m sorry but I’m kind of in a hurry and I don’t mean to be rude, but I really need to go.”
John frowned. “I was kind of hoping to talk to you a little bit about a legal matter. I must confess, I know who you are and I was really hoping to get some advice.”
Ansley felt suspicious. The man continued, “I called your office and the night manager stated that you would be out of town for a few weeks and I really need to get your advice so I thought I’d come by and see if you were still here for the day.”
Ansley knew that there was no way the building’s night manager had told someone those details and immediately was set on edge. He smiled and touched Ansley’s arm and proceeded to guide her down the street. Ansley pulled back.
“Excuse me, but I told you I have to go. If you need legal advice, contact my office during business hours and speak to one of my associates.”
Ansley was put off by his touching her arm, and immediately felt a lump rise in her throat. The street was well lit and there were several people milling around, but she felt as though she was being watched and did not like the feeling. She had taken self-defense training, and was licensed to carry a gun, though she often did not. She felt that it was necessary in a city like New York to know how to protect herself. Tonight, she had the gun in the attaché case she was carrying. She had visited a witness in New Jersey last week and had taken the gun with her at the advice of a detective friend who knew the case. She hoped that she didn’t need to use it now.
“Look, I didn’t mean to startle you, but I just need some inf....”
Ansley cut him off, unable to ignore the sinking feeling she had that the man was up to no good. She squared off to him.“Let go. Here’s a business card for one of my associates. Have a good night.”
With that, Ansley walked away from Mr. Lambert aware of the fact that he could follow her. Instead of going straight home, Ansley headed the two blocks to the police station. As an attorney, she was very familiar with the location of various law enforcement offices. Though in the opposite direction of her destination, she wanted to be certain she was not being followed. When she arrived at the police department, she opted not to enter, but rather approached an officer standing outside. She recognized him immediately.
“Hey Brad.” She tried to act calm as she approached.
“Well hello Ansley. Here on business this late?” Brad shook her hand with a warm smile.
“No. Actually, I was wondering if you could call a cab for me? It’s a long story, but I don’t feel like walking home alone tonight.”
Brad shook his head and replied, “No need to call a cab, I can take you home. I’m about to make rounds anyway.”
Ansley smiled at the older man and gladly accepted his offer. “Thanks Brad. I appreciate it.”
Brad called something in over his shoulder radio and then led Ansley to the parking garage where his squad car was parked.
“I heard that you won that case this morning. Congratulations. Our station is the one that arrested the father.”
Brad always kept up with the happenings in the neighborhood, and was always quick to offer Ansley information and support when needed. As a soon-to-be retired detective, he worked mostly at the office, but did routine nighttime patrols in his squad car.
“Thanks. It was a long process, and I’m glad it’s over.”
With a beep, Brad unlocked the appropriate squad car and motioned for Ansley to join him. As she sat in the car, she knew Brad would question her uneasiness. Ansley thought about the interaction and felt that she probably should tell him.
“You know I’m going to ask you about why you didn’t want to walk home. I’ve known you almost as long as you have been in the city and you have always enjoyed walking.” His heavy New York accent made him sound almost cliché, but Ansley adored the tenacity and support of the neighborhoods finest.
“Yes, I know. I don’t know, it was strange. I went to work to tie up loose ends before vacation, and as I walked outside to get a cab, I was approached by someone, which has never happened before quite like this.”
Brad made a groaning sound. “Did you recognize him?”
Ansley shook her head. “No, that’s the weird thing. He knew who I was and what I do, and that I’m going on vacation. He said that my office told him that, but that’s unlikely.”
Brad motioned to a notepad in the console. “Write down what you remember about him, name, face, etc. I’ll do some digging this week and see what I can find.”
Ansley wrote down what she remembered. He was tall, stocky, and looked almost military. “He said his name was John Lambert and that he needed legal advice and only wanted some information from me. Something about his demeanor just seemed off, but this is New York and as we both know, crime has many forms and faces. If he had approached me at the office, or even during the day it wouldn’t have set me off, but at night outside my office, it’s just off.”
Brad nodded his head in agreement then replied, “As I’ve told you before, you can’t be too careful in the city. You live and work in a good neighborhood, but this city is full of people with fucked up agendas. You did the right thing coming to the police department in case he was following you.”
Ansley knew Brad was right. As she finished writing down what she remembered, they arrived at her apartment building.
“Thanks for the ride, Brad. When I get back we’ll have lunch.”
Brad smiled and nodded. “You be careful out there and enjoy your trip.”
Ansley waved as Brad pulled away from the apartment. She was thankful that she had friends and resources in the neighborhood, and felt better having alerted someone about the unusual interaction. As Ansley walked the short distance from the curb to the apartment door, she noted the freshly falling mist and a few raindrops. It would be raining steady soon. She looked up, saw the moon very slightly peaking through the clouds, and felt warm in spite of the raindrops starting to fall heavier. She quickly gathered her things and got inside just as lightning flashed and she could hear the thunder not far behind. Tomorrow would bring her new opportunities and a vacation well earned. Tonight, she would put the unusual events of the evening behind her and chock it up to the downside of being an attorney in the city. Sometimes people get angry and the world of an attorney is not always friendly.