I previously started a story in the LO category called 'Fox In The Henhouse' about the murder of Mike Logan's wife which I thought was good, but then I lost the mojo for it and I never took it any further. I hope to finish it one day, but in the meantime, I decided to try a different story in the LOCI category with the same character. Hope you like it. Please review if you can - always encouraging, good or bad!
Manhattan - October 1997
"Michael Logan, I've got an appointment with Harold Willis at 3pm?"
The woman sat behind the desk looked him up and down and then pulled open a fat black book, a red fingernail sliding down the page until it landed on his name. "Yes, I've got you here." She looked up again, her expression betraying a faint trace of annoyance. "You're early. Mr Willis is still in with his previous client."
"That's fine," he replied. "I'm waiting on somebody anyway."
"Take a seat," the woman said, waving towards a couple of large black leather armchairs situated in the corner of the room.
Mike did as bidden and glanced at the selection of magazines and papers carefully arranged on the glass coffee table. The Wall Street Journal...The Smithsonian...not a trashy tabloid in sight. Looking around the waiting room, though, he would have been surprised if there had been. Thick red carpet, dark oak panelling and absolutely no noise except the gentle ticking of a grandfather clock in the corner. He was almost afraid to touch anything. The receptionist didn't look like the kind of woman who would appreciate finger marks.
Just as the hands of his watch were slipping past the 3pm mark, he heard the sound of the lift door down the corridor pinging open and hurrying feet and looked up to see Penny striding towards him.
"Hey," she said, somewhat breathlessly, "Am I late?"
"No," he said, "I was early, apparently. He's still in with his previous appointment."
"Thank God," she sat down in the chair opposite his and opened the buttons on her coat. "I didn't think I was going to make it. Rey and I were all the way over in Brooklyn trying to track down some witness in a shooting from last week and I swear every traffic light in the city was out to get me. I eventually had to get him to drop me five blocks down and run the rest of the way." She fluffed her fingers through her hair. "God, I must look like shit."
"You look fine," Mike replied, a small smile playing around the corners of his mouth. She looked better than fine, she looked great, one of the many observations about her that only made this whole process even more painful. "What's the case?"
"Businessman shot in his car last Tuesday. Found with half a kilo of coke in the trunk and blonde hairs all over the passenger seat." She raised her eyebrows. "Go figure."
"Hmmm..." he replied, trying not to show too much envy. It certainly sounded more exciting than his own case load.
"What about you?" she asked. "You have any problem getting here?"
"No. The ferry was on time. Let's just say I wasn't having a particularly taxing day."
She smiled sympathetically. "Stolen lawnmowers again?"
"Oh no," he said with an exaggerated sense of excitement. "It was a barbeque this time!"
"A barbeque, wow!"
"I know! Who knew these things were so expensive? $400, apparently."
"Who knows? I tell you, it's probably a good thing we never moved to Staten Island. We would never have been able to keep up with the neighbours if you've got to buy outdoor cooking equipment at that price."
At that moment, the door at the far end opened and two men in impeccable designer suits walked out. The dragon faced receptionist smiled at them as they both passed but upon seeing Mike watching her, resumed her previous cold expression.
"Do you think she knows we're on a discount here?" he asked, leaning over so that only Penny could hear.
"I wouldn't say that until we get the bill," she replied in equally hushed tones. "I know we're getting some discount but I wouldn't count on it being much, friend of my mother's cousin's husband or no friend of my mother's cousin's husband."
"You can go in now," the receptionist said, barely lifting her head.
They both got to their feet and walked the short distance to the office door, Mike opening it for Penny to walk through first. Inside, they were greeted with a large, airy office with picture windows giving a panoramic view of the city. An older gentlemen stepped out from behind the desk and came towards them, hand outstretched. "You must be Michael and Penelope."
"Hi," Penny said, shaking his hand and watching as Mike did likewise. "It's nice to finally meet you. My mother's mentioned you so often over the years."
"Well I'm glad she remembers me," Harold chuckled, gesturing for them to sit in the large chairs opposite his desk. "I'm only sorry we meet under such unfortunate circumstances."
Mike glanced at Penny out of the corner of his eye and wondered if she thought it was as unfortunate as he did. It was certainly amicable, as far as these things could be, almost surreal. Neither of them had thrown anything – yet.
"I take it you've both read the papers?" They both nodded. "And you're both quite happy with the terms set out therein?"
"Yes," Mike replied.
"And neither of you feel the need to seek alternative, separate representation?"
"We'd...just like to get this over with," Penny replied.
"Very well, very well..." Harold lifted a sheaf of papers from inside a black folder and slid them across the desk. "If you could just sign there for me please, Michael."
Mike looked down at the paper, a helpful cross indicating where he should sign his name. It was clearly the original of the papers he had received through the mail a few weeks earlier. He had read them so thoroughly that he felt as though he knew the content by heart. Picking up the pen to sign them and therefore put a final end to the last three years, he found himself hesitating and could sense her tensing beside him. They had come this far. There was no changing things now, and they both knew it. It just made it so final, seeing it written there in black and white. Quickly, before he had time to say anything, he affixed his signature and slid it back again.
"Perfect, thank you. And now you, Penelope?"
He watched as Harold marked a cross at the straight line neatly positioned next to his own name and slid it across the table again. He saw Penny lick her lips before lifting the pen, could see a tiny vein throbbing in her temple and knew, without asking, that she was feeling the exact same way he was. She didn't look at him again until after she had signed her name and passed the paper back and, even then, it was only a quick glance.
"Well then," Harold looked up and smiled at them both. "Bar any complications, of which I can't see there being any, you should receive the final decree within two weeks."
"Great," Mike said, though the word came out devoid of enthusiasm.
"I'll make sure that you both receive a notarised copy for your records, of course. I have both of your addresses, and the terms of the settlement are thereafter binding as agreed." Harold tapped the papers together. "Do either of you have any questions at this time?"
Mike looked over at Penny and thought he could see a tear shining in the corner of her eye. She shook her head. "No," he replied for both of them.
"Well, thank you both very much for coming today," Harold got to his feet, indicating the meeting was over. "Whilst I appreciate how difficult this must be for you, I must say it is a refreshing change when a couple can agree a divorce settlement as amicably as you have been able to. Most of the time these things become so bitter and protracted."
"I'm glad we were able to buck the trend," Penny said, her voice tight.
Handshakes all round, they left the office and made their way in silence along the corridor to the lift. Mike thought about what he should say. Congratulation? We did it? Thank God it's over? What a huge mistake...? He was prevented from having to make a decision by the arrival of the lift which had three other people already in it. In the way that people do, they all rode silently to the ground floor, no-one seemingly daring to even breathe.
"Well," Mike said when they eventually stepped out onto the busy sidewalk. "I guess that's it." Jamming his hands into the pockets of his leather jacket, he turned to Penny and gave her a crooked smile.
"I guess it is," she said, shaking her windswept hair out of her eyes and meeting his gaze. "I'm going to have to get used to calling myself by my maiden name again...and I'll have to change all my credit cards back. Shit, what a pain in the ass."
At least that's something I don't need to worry about," he laughed. "You...uh...you fancy grabbing a quick drink? We can toast to the start of our marriage-free lives."
"Oh...I wish I could, but I can't," Penny said. "I promised Van Buren that I would go straight back to the house. I've got so much paperwork to catch up on I'll be lucky to get it done by Thanksgiving. But we could do it another time, right? I mean, it's not as if we're never going to see each other..." she trailed off and he knew exactly what she was thinking. Of course they weren't going to see each other. She was still a Manhattan homicide cop and he was out on Staten Island. Besides, who knew divorced couples who still made arrangements to meet up?
"Yeah," he lied, "sure, another time."
Penny looked down, "I...uh...I know that it wasn't mentioned in the settlement but...well I wondered if you wanted the rings back."
"Rings?" She held up her left hand, still bearing the engagement and wedding rings he had bought her. Somehow seeing her still wear them gave him a funny feeling inside. "No," he said. "Keep them."
"Are you sure?" He nodded. "Well...I should go, I guess."
"Yeah," he agreed. "Me too. I got a barbeque thief to bring to justice."
Penny laughed, but this time there was no mistaking the tears in her eyes. Before she could object, he pulled her to him in a final embrace and was rewarded with her equal response. Closing his eyes, he tried to fix the moment in his mind. He knew it would be the last time he would ever get the chance to hold her like this.
"Ok," she said, when they pulled back from each other, "I...I really should go." The tears spilled down her cheeks. "Goodbye Mikey."
"Goodbye Pen." She turned away first and he watched as she hurried down the sidewalk, practically running to get away from him, until she was lost in the crowd of New Yorkers. "I love you."