Music City Madness: Chapter 64

Martin followed his GPS directions on I-40 heading east toward a Cracker Barrel exit. He drove through heavy traffic, glancing at the notes in his Steno Book as he made his way toward a low-rent apartment complex nestled behind a Food Lion. He followed the road beyond the leasing office to a shaded, brick-front building with faded white balconies overlooking a picnic area with graffiti-carved tables and a public grill.
He parked in a handicap zone and climbed to the second floor with his black attaché case. He knocked on Paula Presley’s apartment and introduced himself as Martin Hamilton, attorney at law.
“Do I know you?” Paula asked through the gap in the partially open door, where she eyed the lawyer in a double-breasted jacket with wavy blond hair and glasses.
“Is your husband Leland Presley?”
“Yes. What do you want?”
“I’d like to talk with you about him if you don’t mind.”
“What for?”
“May I come in?”
Paula clutched the aluminum baseball bat hidden from Martin’s view behind the door. “How did you find me?”
“My associate contacted someone at your former residence at the hospital.”
“You mean the psyche ward.” Paula opened the door as far as the chain lock allowed. She kept the bat at her side, just in case. “Who sent you?”
Martin pointed inside the apartment. “If I may?”
Paula gripped the bat tighter. She sized up Martin’s stature with his fancy clothes and polite demeanor. Then she slid the chain lock free and opened her apartment. “Just for a second. I have errands to run.”
Martin noticed the bat and moved slowly. He rested his attaché case on a pine coffee table centered with faux flowers in a glass bead vase. “This won’t take long.” He popped the latches and retrieved a folder with copies of legal documents inside. “I’m aware you’ve filed for joint custody of your daughter, Abigail Presley.”
Paula leaned the bat against the wall. “Why do you care?”
“Because I think we can help each other.”
“How?”
“I’ve reached out to your attorney, and he’s verbally agreed to enlist my help as co-counsel in your custody case. I need your signature to formally authorize my participation.”
“My lawyer never mentioned you.”
“He’s been tied up in court.” Martin handed her the co-counsel agreement. “I understand you had some issues in your past.” He glanced about the sparsely furnished room and noticed the lack of any family photos.
“I tried to kill myself when my daughter was eighteen months old. I never meant to hurt her. I had some problems, but they’re behind me now.” She reviewed the pages of legal jargon while she paced inside the small apartment. “I can’t afford to pay another lawyer.”
“My time would be gratis.”
“Gratis?”
“Without charge. Free.”
“Nothing in life comes free, Mr. Hamilton.” She scrutinized the legal paperwork, oblivious to the carefully embedded language acknowledging her consent to release Abby’s medical records. “I can read, but I can’t make heads or tails of what this paper says. I’m not about to sign—”
“It’s a standard co-counsel agreement. Basically, it states you would now have two attorneys working together on your behalf instead of one. I can email the signed copy to your attorney this afternoon.” He analyzed Paula’s body language and the strange way she counted on her fingers while she reviewed the legal documents. “Do you have regular contact with your husband?”
“Only when I have to.”
“I would keep it that way. The less Leland knows about our conversation, the better.”
“And you’re certain you can help me with my daughter?”
“There are no certainties with the law, Mrs. Presley, but the odds are in your favor.”
Paula discretely slid a forged ID badge off the counter and secured it in a drawer. “And what about my past?”
“We can’t ignore it, but I don’t believe it will be the deciding factor.”
“How do you know?”
Martin ignored the smart phone vibrating in his pocket. “I’ve practiced law for a long time now. Your case is not unique. People are human. They make mistakes.”
Paula settled on the fabric loveseat across from Martin. An argument erupted in the apartment upstairs, followed by loud stomping on the ceiling. “When the accident happened, I told myself it was God’s will.”
“Maybe. But I suspect the devil had a hand in it.”
“I had no intention of drowning my daughter. Munchausen by Proxy, the doctors called it.”
“I believe you.”
Paula shifted her position on the loveseat with the legal paperwork on her lap. “Do you have children, Mr. Hamilton?”
“Two boys.”
“You seem like a decent man.”
“I try to do what’s right.”
“Amen to that.” Paula reached for a pen to sign the papers and gave them back. “What’s in this for you?”
“A chance to help someone who deserves a fresh start.”
“But why me? How did you even know about my case?”
“Serendipity, Mrs. Presley. Sometimes people cross paths for a reason.”
“I suppose you’re right.”
Martin closed his attaché case and stood up. “Thank you for your time,” he said as he let himself out. He descended the stairs to the parking lot and found a blob of white bird shit on the roof of his gleaming BMW. He cursed out loud and tried to clean it with a tissue from his pocket, but the effort only made it worse.
He dropped the tissue on the ground and opened the car to settle in the driver’s seat. He checked his voice mail. Then he left the apartment complex and headed for Music Row to meet the infamous Brad Siegel in person.

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