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Joseph Teller

Depraved Indifference

1

A VERY BAD D.W.I.

'So,' she said, raising herself onto one elbow, just high enough off the bed to reveal a single nipple, still visibly hard. 'What do you do for a living, when you're not busy knocking people down?'

She w as Amanda. At least that was as much of a name as he'd gotten out of her over the hour and twenty minutes since he'd literally knocked her to the ground by being overly aggressive with a sticking revolving door at the Forty-second Street Public Library. Not that all of their time together since that moment had been devoted to small talk, or any other kind of talk, for that matter. Certainly not the last twenty minutes, anyway.

'I'm a lawyer,' said Jaywalker. 'Sort of.'

'Sort of?'

'I'm not practicing these days,' he explained.

'What happened?' she asked. 'You get burned out?'

'No,' he said, 'more like thrown out. I'm serving a three-year suspension.'

'What for?'

'Oh, various things. Cutting corners. Breaking silly rules. Taking risks. Pissing off stupid judges. The usual stuff.'

'They suspend you for those things?'

'It seems so.' He left it at that. He didn't feel any particular need to tell her about the juiciest charge of all, that he'd managed to get caught by a security camera in one of the stairwells of the courthouse, accepting-or at least not exactly fending off-an impromptu expression of heartfelt thanks from an accused prostitute for whom he'd just won a hard-fought acquittal.

'What did you say your name was?' she asked.

'I didn't. But it's Jaywalker.'

It wasn't just a case of tit for tat, his withholding part of his name because she had. The single name was all he had, actually. Harrison J. Walker had years ago elided into Harrison Jaywalker, and not too long after that, the Harrison part had disappeared altogether. So for years now, he'd been known to just about everyone simply as Jaywalker.

'You're that guy!' e xclaimed Amanda, suddenly and self-consciously covering up her wayward nipple with a pillow. 'I knew you looked familiar. I saw you on Page Six. You were dating that…that billionaire heiress murderer! '

Jaywalker winced painfully. Three years ago, had someone asked him to describe his own personal vision of what hell might be like, he might well have replied, 'Showing up on the Entertainment Channel,' or 'Landing on Page Six of the New York Post. ' And thanks to a brief, torrid and not-so-discreet romance with a client named Samara Tannenbaum, he'd managed to accomplish not one but both of those distinctions, and in the short space of a single week.

'Yup,' he acknowledged meekly now, 'that would be me.'

Amanda laughed out loud and threw her head back, her stylishly short blond hair framing her face, in what could easily have been a fashion model's pose. In the process, both of her breasts came completely free of the sheets, causing a decided swelling in Jaywalker's appreciation of her.

'So tell me, mister famous lawyer man,' she said. 'How much do you charge for a drunk-driving case?'

'I don't,' said Jaywalker. 'I'm suspended, remember?'

'Right, but for how much longer?'

Jaywalker shrugged. 'I don't know, seven months, maybe eight.' The fact was, he hadn't exactly been counting the days. If anything, he'd lately been giving some serious consideration to 're-upping' for another three years. Although even as he'd been enjoying his estrangement from the legal profession, his checking account balance was rapidly approaching zero, making such a choice problematic.

'And if you weren't suspended?'

He shrugged again. 'I don't know. I used to get twenty-five hundred, thirty-five hundred, something like that.' And in spite of everything, he found himself already contemplating the variables, just as he used to do. First of all, it would depend on whether they were talking about a plea or a trial. After that, where the case was. A D.W.I. in Manhattan, the Bronx or Brooklyn was no big deal. If there'd been a blood-alcohol test and Amanda's reading hadn't been too high, there was a good chance he could get her a plea to driving while impaired, maybe even a reckless. A couple of appearances, and the case would be done. Queens and Staten Island tended to be a bit tougher. And as you worked your way out into the neighboring counties-Westchester, Nassau and Suffolk, where there was a lower volume of cases-the D.A. s got noticeably more hardassed and could afford to insist upon a plea to the full charge. Not that it mattered all that much, though. What they were talking about here was a fine, a license suspension, or at very worst a revocation, a court-ordered one-day safe-driving course and a substantial increase in her insurance premiums. In other words, a slap on the wrist and a smack on the wallet.

'Where were you arrested?' he asked her. 'And did you take a test?' He couldn't help himself.

'Oh, no,' said Amanda, shaking her head from side to side, with the inevitable ripple effect it caused to the, uh, rest of her. 'It's not me.'

'Oh?' said Jaywalker. 'So who are we talking about?'

'My husband.'

Jaywalker sat up, reflexively reaching around for his pants. His level of appreciation had suddenly shrunk dramatically. Funny how that happened.

'Don't worry,' said Amanda. 'It's not like he's about to walk in on us or anything.'

'How do you know?'

'Because he's in jail, on five million dollars' bail. That's how.'

Jaywalker relaxed ever so slightly. 'Five million dollars,' he echoed. 'It must have been a very bad D.W.I.'

'It was,' said Amanda. 'Nine people died.'

2

JAYWALKER, P.I.

Which, of course, immediately changed everything.

A drunk-driving case is only a drunk-driving case. Until someone dies. When that happens, it blossoms into a vehicular homicide. When nine someones die, it can become a full-blown murder case, especially when the victims are incinerated after the van in which they're riding gets forced off the road, flips three times and explodes.

Jaywalker knew the case. Who didn't? It had led off the evening news, even made the front page of his beloved New York Times, about three weeks ago. The driver of a passenger van had been literally run off the road and down a steep embankment by an oncoming Audi sports car speeding in the wrong lane. It had happened just north of Congers, New York, right before Route 303 ended and joined up with Route 9W. A witness in a pickup truck had seen the whole thing. He'd thought briefly about giving chase to the Audi as it sped off, before deciding instead to stop to see what he could do for the victims.

The answer was nothing.

Within minutes, the van had burned so badly that the newspaper photographs of it revealed only a portion of

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