J is for Judgment Page 2

Like a comic strip character, I could feel a question mark form above my head. I squinted, leaning closer. “Mac Voorhies is out there?”

“You want me to send him back?”

“I’ll come out,” I said.

I couldn’t believe it. Mac was the man who supervised most of the cases I’d worked for CF. It was his boss, Gordon Titus, who’d fired my sorry ass, and while I’d made my peace with the change in my employment, I could still feel a flush of adrenaline at the thought of the man. Briefly I entertained a little fantasy that Gordon Titus had sent Mac to offer his abject apologies. Fat chance, I thought. I did a hasty survey of the office, hoping it didn’t look like I’d fallen on hard times. The room wasn’t large, but I had my own window, lots of clean white wall space, and burnt orange carpeting in an expensive wool shag. With three framed watercolors and a leafy four-foot ficus plant, I thought the place looked very tasteful. Well, okay, the ficus was a fake (some sort of laminated fabric tinted with accumulated dust), but you really couldn’t tell unless you got up real close.

I would have checked my reflection (Mac’s arrival was already having that effect), but I don’t carry a compact and I already knew what I’d see—dark hair, hazel eyes, not a smidge of makeup. As usual, I was wearing jeans, my boots, and a turtleneck. I licked my palm and ran a hand across my shaggy head, hoping to smooth down any stick-up parts. The week before, in a fit of exasperation, I’d picked up a pair of nail scissors and whacked all my hair off. The results were just about what you’d expect.

I hung a left in the corridor, passing several offices on my way to the front. Mac was standing by Alison’s desk out in the reception area. Mac’s in his early sixties, tall and scowling, with a flyaway halo of wispy gray hair. His brooding black eyes are set slightly askew in a long bony face. In lieu of his usual cigar, he was smoking a cigarette, ash tumbling down the front of his three-piece suit. Mac has never been one to plague himself with attempts at fitness, and his body, at this point, resembles a drawing from a child’s perspective: long arms and legs, foreshortened trunk with a little head stuck on top.

I said, “Mac?”

He said, “Hello, Kinsey,” in a wonderful wry tone.

I was so happy to see him that I started laughing out loud. Like some great galumphing pup, I loped over to the man and flung myself into his arms. This behavior was greeted by one of Mac’s rare smiles, revealing teeth that were tarnished from all the cigarettes he smoked. “It’s been a long time,” he said.

“I can’t believe you’re here. Come on back to my office and we can visit,” I said. “You want some coffee?”

“No, thanks. I just had some.” Mac turned to stub out his cigarette, realizing belatedly that there weren’t any ashtrays in the area. He looked around with puzzlement, his gaze resting briefly on the potted plant on Alison’s desk. She leaned forward.

“Here, why don’t you let me take that?” She removed the cigarette from his fingers and took the burning butt directly to the open window, where she gave it a toss, peering out afterward to make sure it didn’t land in someone’s open convertible in the parking lot.

Mac followed me down the hall, making polite responses as I filled him in on my current circumstances. When we reached my office, he was properly complimentary. We caught up on gossip, exchanging news about mutual friends. The pleasantries gave me time to study the man at close range. The years seemed to be speeding right along for him. He’d lost color. He’d lost about ten pounds by the look of him. He seemed tired and uncertain, which was completely uncharacteristic. The Mac Voorhies of old had been brusque and impatient, fair-minded, decisive, humorless, and conservative. He was a decent man to work for, and I admired his testiness, which was born of a passion for getting the job done right. Now the spark was missing and I was alerted by the loss.

“Are you okay? You don’t seem like your old self somehow.”

He gestured peevishly, in an unexpected flash of energy. “They’re taking all the fun out of the job, I swear to God. Damn executives with all their talk about the bottom line. I know the insurance business…hell, I’ve been at it long enough. CF used to be family. We had a company to run, but we did it with compassion and we respected each other’s turf. We didn’t stab each other in the back and we didn’t short-change any claimants. Now, I don’t know, Kinsey. The turnover’s ridiculous. Agents are run through so fast, they hardly have a chance to unpack their briefcases. All this talk about profit margins and cost containment. Lately I find myself not wanting to go to work.” He paused, looking sheepish, color coming up in his face. “God, would you listen? I’m beginning to sound like a garrulous old fart, which is what I am. They offered me an ‘early retirement package,’ whatever the hell that means. You know, they’re maneuvering to get some of us old birds off the payroll as soon as possible. We earn way too much and we’re too set in our ways.”

Prev page Next page