The face of the woman who opened the door to him might have been pretty were it not for its zombie cast. Forlorn, sickly pallor. And her hair. Hair always spoke to Blow, but hers, neglected graying blond, only muttered. No help appeared on down with the frayed, faded pink T-shirt over dejected shoulders and listless breasts, the baggy sweat pants and the flipflops.
“Come in,” she said in a half whisper that started as a sigh of relief after Blow introduced himself. She tried a smile then, which worked a miracle, of scale, but dropped away too quickly when she turned and led him into what looked to be ordinarily a comfortable living room. Now it reflected the uncertainty of an injured, distracted family, as unfocused and tentative as the individuals who lived there. The only sense of normalcy Blow noticed was the lingering smokey tang of breakfast bacon and the more recent, inviting aromas of fresh coffee and something stewing, perhaps in a crockpot. The widow motioned him to a sofa, where files and manila envelopes sat before it on a coffee table. He accepted her invitation of coffee, and she went out and returned with a tray holding a carafe, cups, cream and sweetener, and set them on the table.
“Thank you so much for coming,” she said. Her voice had become stronger and less stressed, but a tremor of wariness hovered at the edges. “I understand you might not be able to represent me—us, actually, the boys are visiting friends today—but I need somebody to sort of guide me in the right direction. I'm probly still in shock. I am in shock, Mr. Stone. Been walking around in a daze since...since it happened.”
Her concerns were largely financial, and Blow soon discerned that her familiarity with the fiscal side of her marriage was pretty much limited to the household budget. She appeared to have no understanding of the joint income tax return pointed to on the table, and had no idea what shape her husband's estate was in, how he'd handled savings and investments, what in fact their net worth might have been or how it might translate to a future for her and their sons now that he was gone.
Blow refrained from reading any of the documents she'd made available. “Let's wait until you decide if you want me to represent you, Nancy, or if I'm even able to under the circumstances.” She nodded as if she understood, yet he saw uncertainty in her pale brown eyes.
“Here's how this situation could become difficult. You know I'm already representing someone who could conceivable be charged with murder in Mr. Gunther's death.” She started to speak. He held up a hand and continued. “Now even should this client of mine be charged, he still could be found not guilty. This would depend on the outcome of a trial. And if there's a trial, no matter how it turns out, you might very well be required to testify—either by me or by the prosecutor, but most likely the prosecutor. Either way, you would have to face being questioned on the witness stand, in open court, by both the prosecutor and me. You see how difficult that could become, for both you and me?” She gave the little smile again and nodded.
“That would be what we call a conflict of interest, my representing both the defendant and a witness in the same trial. If that became known to the court, it most likely would result in a mistrial, and I most likely would lose my license to practice law. Not a good thing.” Blow grinned and Nancy Gunther joined in, nodding with more understanding than before.
“That situation would certainly exist if I represented you in a lawsuit against the Colonial Liability, which—although their adjuster won't admit it publicly—wants to prove your husband was murdered, because then they wouldn't have to pay you anything.” You would think that because your interest and my client's are the same, that this be determined not to have been murder, that there would be no conflict. You following me?” She nodded. “And in that narrow sense, it wouldn't be. Unless it came to trial. Then I could no longer represent you.”
She thought for a while, sipping coffee, her brow furrowed. “But if my testimony could help your client get off...I mean, prove he didn't murder Newt...” She didn't finish the question, but her face brightened with hope.
“That's a good point, Nancy. There wouldn't seem to be any conflict then, would there? But let's just say, for the sake of argument only, that while I'm defending my client in the trial, I learn something that could put us in conflict. Now remember, this is just hypothetical. I'm not implying anything else. Let's say this information makes it look as if not only was your husband murdered, but that it wasn't my client?” Her brow furrowed again and she looked steadily at Blow, recognition beginning to appear on her face. Blow continued, his tone softer, “What if this new information pointed at you, Nancy, that you had something to do with causing his murder?”
Her face finished its transformation from helplessness to something harder, less discernible. Her eyes flashed and she uttered a laugh that came out as a single sound, a bark. She held her eyes on Blow's and allowed her expression, a mix of surprise and harsh irony, to remain for several deep breaths as color entered her cheeks. She surprised him with what she said next in a voice tough and flat.
“It's no secret our marriage wasn't happy. He was abusive. He cheated. More than once. There were times I felt like killing him. I came close to pushing him in front of subway train in D.C. once. I think I might have if the boys weren't along. But I didn't kill him, Mr. Stone. That's not to say I wouldn't have, under the right circumstances. But this wasn't it.” A couple more deep breaths. Then, “I see what you mean, though. I guess I will need another lawyer.
“How about this?” She waved a hand at the document-laden coffee table. “Could you handle this for us?”
“Give me a couple days to think about it, Nancy. OK? If not, I'll make sure you have a good lawyer. Don't worry.”